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Title: The frantic master

Author: Mrs. Douglas Pulleyne

Release date: March 27, 2024 [eBook #73273]

Language: English

Original publication: London: Chapman and Hall Ld, 1927

Credits: Al Haines






"And in particular I may mention Sophocles the poet, who was once asked in my presence, 'How do you feel about love, Sophocles? Are you still capable of it?' To which he replied, 'Hush, if you please; to my great delight I have escaped from it, and feel as if I had escaped from a frantic and savage master.'"

The Republic of Plato.




The incident, in essentials true, of the soldiers in the railway carriage, overheard by "Cyprian," is the seed from which this book grew. To explain his attitude, it is, therefore, included with acknowledgments to that Editor of the "PIONEER" who first recorded it for me. "Shoan and the Mermaid" is also true, as an example of a tale told to the Nicobarese by a traveller, and retold by them, and may be found in Sir Richard Temple's Census Report, preserved to the best of my belief in the Offices of the Chief Commissioner in the Andamans.

I make no apologies to my old friends, Scarecrow, Friend-of-England and others for describing them under their own names, feeling sure that they would expect no evil magic to come of it. To the workers of the Mission at Car Nicobar, one of whom it is well-known spent twelve years in the islands translating the Prayer Book into Nicobarese, I would say that little Jellybrand is only the portrait of a type I have met—of which is the Kingdom of Heaven, and which neither looks for nor will find recognition on earth for much simple heroism.

A somewhat delightful brother of mine may be inclined to suspect a portrait in "Peter." Let me assure him that I have known many Peters.

Printed in Great Britain
by Burleigh Ltd., at



This fulfilled promise, possibly, by now, nearly forgotten by you, will find the four of us in different countries, or even different continents; but find you it will, to recall to your minds a memory of five long weeks, during which we formed a perfect square; when, alike under the Colombo palms or the hot rocks of Aden, among the lights of Port Said or in the shadow of Gibraltar, the discussion, ever and again, would veer round to that which the fool hath said in his heart.

People on this earth evolve and alter; it is to you, as I knew you then, that this is addressed. Try to put back the clock and think as you thought then.

I have still in your neat hand-writing, "C"—I wonder whether your prescriptions are as clear to read?—the account of your conversion to that Spiritualistic Theosophy which used to make "L.B." impatient. I inserted the page in the first book I wrote for you all, but which, to the agent's surprise, I suddenly withdrew, doubting lest I was still too near the Three of you and those endless conversations to have made my characters impersonal enough and, also, doubting the fairness of putting into cold print anything which had been given me in the special circumstances of our friendship.

So Cyprian and Ferlie come late on the scene to show you by their problem much that I have left unsaid (even to you, "L.B.") during the star-spangled nights in tropical waters and, afterwards, in the grey streets of Westminster and those greyer and darker streets elsewhere, down which the Other Half live and the Men in Black go to and fro.

Let me say now, since it was hardly permitted for me to tell you then, that what you did was one of the bravest things I have ever known a man do. This, in case you have, in retrospection, doubted and regretted the impulse as abnormal or unbalanced.

Some travellers across my horizon last winter recognized your photograph, and I gathered from them that you are now on the way to be reckoned among the Senior and the Great.

To you, "C," I have always wished to confess, in acknowledgment of your wisdom as physician and psychologist, that your warning nearly came true and, two years ago, I thought a great deal about it, and you, in hospital.

And of you, "L.L.": I have often wondered whether you found your Golden Girl according to Le Gallienne? Well, I owe much to the passing of our ships: hence this dedication.

I have only the one wish for you all Three, but particularly will "L.B." understand it: it is, that to the end of the voyage you may be able to trust the Pilot you have chosen.

Under a signature only part familiar to you,




When a man has been turned down by the Only Girl (although she isn't, and never was) and, subsequently, finds her present in the same batch of dinner-guests as himself, it is hardly to be expected that he will prove the life and soul of the party.

But, thought Mrs. Carmichael, vexed with herself for a blundering hostess who ought to have known, and still more vexed with Cyprian Sterne for not having waited until after the 17th to try his luck with Muriel, there was no need for him to gloom at his soup as if he were gauging its depths for a suicidal dive and there was no need for him to have waved aside the champagne. Champagne was clearly indicated on the occasion, medicinally, if not (as she felt inclined to insist, herself, despite appearances) in felicitation.

Cyprian always showed himself so ridiculously sensitive. And Muriel looked so ... adamant. Yes, that was the word; hard and bright like a crystal prism you could not see through clearly, however often the attractive suggestion of buried rainbows within might tempt you to hold it close to your eyes. With the closeness even the rainbows became blurred.

"An incarnation of the three B's which constitute the Perfect Woman," said her men-admirers.

Brain, Beauty and Breeding. All by heredity. No wonder she behaved as if she had the right to wealth also, of a standard not to be extracted from the scholarly pockets of Cyprian and his like.

Had he a like? Mrs. Carmichael doubted. She wondered what mislaid edition of Persian verse or Grecian ethics was, even now, spoiling the symmetry of his evening coat. A little bowed, the shoulders, even when he stood upright. The scrutiny of the very blue eyes a little fixed when he addressed you with that air of seeing behind things which betrays the short-sighted. Interesting, the long dreamy face, but hardly handsome. And his acknowledged cleverness did not flash in your face like Muriel's, so that, waiving her awareness of his Double Firsts at Oxford and all that, she had been heard to tick him off as "a dry old stick." Encouraging his transparent admiration the while. Minx!

One had wished he would hurry up and propose and get the inevitable yearnings for a premature grave over and then forget. And now he had completed the first item on that programme—most inconsiderately before the 17th—and the yearnings were upon him and he was ruining his end of the dinner-party.

Muriel sat opposite him and it was comprehensible that he should not want to look at her and, therefore, incomprehensible why he insisted on trying to.

As usual, she was worth looking at. Those very fair women, particularly when dressed in soft watery greens, recalled old legends of sirens who floated gold hair about their insinuating bodies, luring mankind by music and provocative laughter to its destruction despite the warning, eternally present, of white bones on the sand.

A pity that Cyprian's mental vision was as myopic as his physical when it came to those bones.

Mrs. Carmichael could see them quite clearly herself: here, the skull of Major Ames (a nice little man, and of course, that hunting tragedy had proved an accident, although at the time They said...) there, the femur, rather nobbly, of Maurice Waring who had parted, not exactly with his life, to be sure, but certainly with his wife since sighting the siren's shining head. But those two had never got on anyhow, and if, eventually, he managed the divorce ... how much more nearly would he and Muriel prove birds of a feather than she and poor Cyprian with his good old-fashioned conviction that this modern laxity in matrimonial matters was a national menace. Refreshing, to find a man like Cyprian, even though as he was not safely religious one was inclined to wonder, when it came to personal influence, would Muriel...? Mrs. Carmichael's subconscious musings (for consciously she was smiling eager attention to ex-Colonel Maddock's—he was now, by virtue of a dead American wife, by way of being a millionaire, which is far better—account of his last yachting cruise, and praying Providence for the strength and the strategy to resist suggestions that she and Robin should join him next time) were shattered by the despairing howl of what sounded like a soul in torment. Only, it emanated from regions too nearly at the top of the house to be described as "nether."

"It's that child again," remarked Robin accusingly down the long table, interrupted in an intense discussion with Miss Mabel Clement, the playwright: "I have always said we would suffer for it if you were so weak with her in the beginning."

"To any child born in the East, English nursery-life is impossibly terrifying," and Mrs. Carmichael apologetically sought the support of her guests. "Since Peter went to school she has had to sleep alone. It's all very well for Robin to call me weak but I can't believe it is good for a child's nerves to..."

Another wail crescendoed to the uttermost heights of horror and died away.

"That noise does not improve mine," Robin Carmichael answered dryly: "What is the nurse thinking of?"

"It's her evening out."

And, inwardly, his wife sighed for their return to Burma where servants did not have evenings out, and ... and people were too enslaved to official etiquette to show their feelings at dinner-parties.

A chair grated harshly back, rumpling the rug on the polished parquet floor.

"Let me go up to her for a moment," said Cyprian, "I undertook to visit the nursery when I arrived but was told she had gone to sleep."

Well, if it would take his mind off himself and his stricken face from the vicinity of the Hon. Mrs. Porter, who was beginning to wear a worried look. Mrs. Carmichael knew that Robin would say that it was all wrong, of course, in the morning, but she could hardly let Ferlie howl throughout dinner and, if the parlour-maid went up, Rose would have to hand round the fish single-handed and she was under notice to go, and therefore, under no obligation to behave. In Burma there had always been someone to sit with Ferlie if she woke.

"Tell her to go to sleep at once then," and Ferlie's mother favoured Cyprian with an indulgent smile. His fondness for the child was really too quaint. In the circumstances, pathetic.

The incident might well arouse Muriel's better nature ... but no, not quite.

It would, in all likelihood, encourage her worse one, since she was no character in a book written with a mission behind it. Already her clear eyes were glinting humorously and something she remarked to Captain Wright, in an undertone, had just made that young gentleman, who never at any time required much encouragement to giggle, choke violently into his napkin. Why couldn't Cyprian realize that he didn't in the least want Muriel, but a Womanly Woman of Yesterday?

* * * * * *

Meanwhile, Cyprian, incapable of perceiving his desire for any woman, save one who was the figment of his own imagination, clothed in a blurred semblance to Muriel Vane, mounted the stairs to an airy room with a sloping roof which lent queer profundities to the dancing shadows born of Ferlie's night-light. Found Ferlie sitting up among the pillows with the sheet over her head and the fear of the devil in her soul. Ferlie, at seven, was afraid of darkness, being accidentally buried alive, and wolves. Not lions and tigers: only wolves. This, since she had never seen a wolf; though tigers, looking loose and heavy, had been marched across her horizon more than once by excitedly shouting coolies, when everyone was in holiday camp and Mr. Carmichael had been out shooting. They inspired sympathy rather than respect in that condition, and lions, naturally, slipped into the same category of beasts one's father could, if he so desired, bring home on poles and transform into carpets for the bungalow. Wolves were different. She had a book concerning their activities in a land called Siberia. They chased people there for miles and miles over stuff like ground-rice pudding, commonly known as "snow," and even ate the sleigh. England, in which she now found herself, might very easily resemble Siberia in this particular: it was cold also, and snow came with cold. The birth of the being-buried-alive fear dated from a conversation overheard between her parents anent the accuracy of the Bible with regard to the reappearance from the grave of one, Lazarus.

Her father was a thoughtful sceptic, but Ferlie did not find him out for many years. Her mother's views were founded on the Book of Common Prayer and the story, "There, but for the Grace of God ..." though she was divided in her mind whether Bunyan had invented the one and Gladstone said the other, or vice versa. Her own father, a bishop, and a busy one, had rather taken her catechism for granted when he confirmed her, on the assumption that a daughter educated in a godly ecclesiastical household and never exposed to the youthful heresies of a boarding-school must necessarily be in a perpetual state of knowledgeable grace. And he had passed on his gaiters as a matter of course before retiring to her elder brother.

Her husband explained away miracles by Euclidean methods which struck terror to her orthodox heart.

"A possible and recorded case of suspended animation," had been his verdict on Lazarus. "Occurs every day. Read Hudson's Psychic Phenomena." Mrs. Carmichael had no intention of doing any such thing.

"There are countless instances of people being buried alive," continued Mr. Carmichael. And, after racking his brains for two, cited them in clear convincing tones. Ferlie had scooped the last grains of melting sugar out of an empty cocoa-cup and thoughtfully left the room. Mrs. Carmichael vaguely hoped that God was not listening to the conversation and then forgot all about it. So did Robin. Ferlie remembered. Always at night in this England, deprived of her patiently crooning Burmese nurse, she remembered. The wigwam of sheets and blankets was to shut out Fear.

She knew the footsteps on the stairs which were coming to the rescue now; though he was not, in his customary accomplished fashion, taking two steps at a time.

"Is that you, Cyprian?"

"Yes, old lady."

"I thought it might be Satan."

"Why Satan?"

She came out of her fastness with a shudder.

"They call him the Prince of Darkness, you know. This is the witching hour when I think he probberly might..."

"Might what?" Vainly he tried to sort the tumbled bed-clothes. Her Viyella night-dress was dripping wet.

"Might take an' bury me in the Tomb," said Ferlie in a hoarse whisper. Cyprian tried to make his laugh aggressively reassuring.

"Who on earth suggested such nonsense to you?"

"It can't be nonsense if it's in the Bible. An' in a book by a man named Hudson. He makes the kitchen soap 'cos Cook told me so when I asked. He must be clever for every person to buy his soap. An' he buried Lazarus."

It was beyond Cyprian's power to disentangle her from this web. The servants must have been frightening the child. It was common knowledge that the best of nurses were often grossly imaginative.

He stroked the russet mop of fluff resting against his shoulder and resorted to practical conversation. Except that it concerned her own private affairs and was therefore connected with Teddy-bears, the duck-pond in the park, the little-girl-next-door, and other important personages of summers six to ten, it was conducted as gravely as though they were of an age.

Cyprian did not really understand anything about talking down to a child's level and that was why Ferlie loved him. She detected the simple sincerity behind his sometimes complicated language and when he used words beyond her ken it was seldom she failed to grasp the drift.

Neither the child nor the man realized that each being sensitive to a fault, they affected one another atmospherically and their true conversation existed in emotions experienced side by side rather than in sentences interchanged. Thus, to-night, her quick intuition arrived at the cause of that veiled look in his eyes.

"Are you going to be married to that Vane girl?" she enquired, betraying instantaneously to Cyprian that there were those who disapproved of his matrimonial projects.

He answered, "No," quietly, after an instant's pause.

"Why not?" asked Ferlie suspiciously. "Nurse says she's a hussy."

"No one should have said such a thing to you."

"It wasn't to me: it was to Rose. Rose used to live in her house, an'..."

"It doesn't matter what either Rose or Nurse says," said Cyprian. "But who told you about my marrying anyone, Ferlie?"

"I think that was just in my head," struggling to remember where the impression had first indented itself upon her responsive brain. "Why aren't you...?"

He saw there was no help for it and replied patiently, "She does not want to marry me; that's all."

"Then she's a dam fool," said Ferlie with complete conviction. He was genuinely shocked.

"You must never say that of anyone, dear, even if you don't like them."

"Dad says it of mostly all peoples, whether he likes them or not."

"That's different."


"He's grown-up."

"How can grown-ups...?"

"And he's a man," Cyprian went on, desperately aware that he was not doing very well. "Ladies don't use such words."

Then Ferlie played her trump card. "Miss Vane does," she said coldly.

Cyprian preserved a masterly silence. Good gracious! she was modern enough, of course. Muriel! There was music in her name ... and in her throat when she sang ... and in the delicate hands moving over the keys of the grand piano downstairs; for she always played to them after dinner in the evenings. She had the whitest throat he had ever seen and the most beautiful hands.

"Why do people always want to marry other people?" insisted his companion, alive to mysteries unsolved and femininely peevish in consequence. Cyprian considered this himself before attempting to clear it up.

"I suppose they grow lonely living just for themselves," he said at last.

"I don't believe that there girl would make loneliness feel better," declared Ferlie.

"You don't understand, dear." She cuddled his sleeve, ecstatically sympathetic with that which she did understand, his tone of voice.

"Are you so sorry you can't get married, Cyprian? Why not make Miss Cartwright marry you astead? She'd do it, I daresay, 'f I begged her for my sake. She says she'd do most things for me, only not run upstairs backwards at her timerlife. An' she cooks lovely choclick fudge. Miss Vane can't, I'm sure. You ask her."

"I think you are probably right about that."

"Then we've settled it," much relieved. "I wouldn't go marrying anyone myself 'less they had a hand for fudge. I'll tell Miss Cartwright to-morrow that you want to get married to her this directly immejantly, an' I was to ask her not to say 'No' like Miss Vane."

"Good God!" exclaimed Cyprian rousing himself. "I beg your pardon—I mean—you must never say that, Ferlie. But neither must you say anything to Miss Cartwright. Promise! It's just—you see, this must be a dead secret between you and me, about Miss Vane and all." Happy thought! He might trust Ferlie to the stake with their numerous unique secrets.

"But, Cyprian, why..."

"Dear, my dear," said the man, speaking more to the beauty of her upturned face than to the child, "when you want to marry it is only the one person who counts. The one person with all her faults and weaknesses—because those, too, are part of her. Chocolate fudge (and there are more kinds of that than you know) doesn't come into it with the averagely decent man. You just love the person or you don't. You will understand all about it some day, when you are older."

The comforting arms which stole round his neck might have understood all about it now.

"Do you really love that Miss Vane?"

"Heaven help me, I do!"

"Can't you stop if you want to?"

"Apparently not; but one doesn't want to. That's the ridiculous part ... the thing grips you, like invisible iron hands, to drag you along a road of withered flowers, forcing you to breathe the rot of that Dead Sea fruit which fills the air with the bitter fumes of jealousy and passion.... Fruit?"

"Cyprian, didn't you not bring me up a cryssalized apricot?"

He nearly chuckled as he stumbled back along his "withered paths" to Reality.

"Sorry, Little Thing. I forgot. You shall have a whole box to-morrow."

"I shan't get a moment's peace to eat them unless we have it as a secret," she suggested wheedlingly.

"Oh!" he cried, delightedly hugging her, "You'll be a woman so much too soon."

"Mother says..." she began dreamily, and that reminded him.

"She said I was to tell you to go to sleep at once."

"Such a silly sort of thing to say to a child!" said Ferlie, palpably quoting, "Sleep is like that marrying feeling of yours: it can't be made to go or stop ... Cyprian..."


"You did a wriggle. You aren't goin' away."

"Not if you'll shut your eyes," he undertook feebly. "But, you know, there is really nothing to be afraid of, Ferlie, whether I am here or not."

She knew better. "And that's another thing you can't let go nor stop, neither," she told him.

Considering it, with her head growing heavier every moment against his shoulder, Cyprian came to the conclusion that she was right. The darkness deepened about them as someone shut the door between hall and stairs.



"Whoever you get married to, you will always like me best, won't you?"

"Why, of course," said Cyprian. "Of course..."

Her breathing became contentedly regular.

* * * * * *

Downstairs, Muriel Vane had been very clever at his expense.

More like a siren than ever, perched behind the looming rock of the grand piano, a few gleaming threads of escaping hair picked out against the background of polished wood, while, every now and again, her fingers rippled the accompanying chords of some haunting French song.

She usually sang in French.

"To shock folk in legitimate ignorance," she informed Captain Wright, leaning over her with every symptom of shortly shedding his bones in the vicinity.

"Dear Muriel!" placidly reproved Mrs. Carmichael. She did not understand sung French, or for that matter, any but the brand which, by dint of firm repetition, brings you your hot water and "Du thé—pas chocolat. Pas!" in Parisian hotels at eight a.m.

Muriel's sort of French was of little use to anyone but foreigners, and there were so seldom foreigners present.

"Sing 'Sanson et Dalila'," begged the Hon. Mrs. Porter, feeling surer of her ground when dealing with passion in opera, where, however unbridled, it remained respectably unconvincing to the mind of the British matron.

"I was saving that till Cyprian Sterne had finished rocking the cradle upstairs," said Muriel. "It happens, quite unsuitably, to be his favourite song, and the hand that rocks the cradle rules the girls—in that its action suggests a future peacefully free from that domestic duty for them."

"I have sent up two messages," Mrs. Carmichael anticipated her husband plaintively, "but he replied that he was not feeling very well to-night and would join us after dinner."

"I have repeatedly said——" began Mr. Carmichael, but was firmly interrupted: "I know you have, dear, but if half an hour with Ferlie amuses him, I think it would be better to leave him alone to-night." She looked across, meaningly, at Muriel and closed her lips. Tact was a thing nobody seemed able to acquire who had not been born with it.

Muriel made a little grimace and burst suddenly into a very simple melody:

"J'ai pris un bluet Fluet
Enclos parmi l'herbe
Et quelqu'un m'a dit; Mon Dieu!
Il n'est pas de bleu plus bleu
Que ce bleu superbe.
Moi, qui sais ce que je sais—
J'ai souri sans lui rien dire
Car à tes yeux je pensais—
Sans rien dire, sans rien dire."

The notes quickened with heartless mirth, and the pure voice rang out again:

"Au rosiers fleuris j'ai pris."

Mrs. Carmichael, ruminating that the piano, at any rate, kept Muriel out of mischief, here clutched thankfully, decided that the song concerned roses, and framed an intelligent appreciation, on that hypothesis, against its finish.

Cyprian walked into the room as the last verse, reckless with desire, was sweetening the air:

"J'ai pris un pavé, trouvé
Au fond de cratère
Et quelqu'un m'a dit, Mon Dieu!
Plus dur pavé ne se peut
Trouver dans la terre.
Moi, qui sais ce que je sais—
J'ai pleuré sans lui rien dire,
Car à ton cœur je pensais—
Sans rien dire... Sans rien dire...."

"I always like songs about flowers, don't you?" queried their hostess of the world.

And "Here you are at last," her husband remarked to Cyprian before Muriel's curving lips could make the most of that joke; "you really should not spoil Ferlie."

"She is such a highly-strung child," the Hon. Mrs. Porter volunteered languidly, waving a gold-tipped ostrich feather, though, had she stopped to consider the matter, she would have discovered that she was cold in her chair near the door.

"Never yet," said Colonel Maddock, who adopted the criticizing privileges of an unofficial uncle in the house, "have I met the fortunate mother whose children were not exceptionally highly-strung. What does the term mean exactly?"

"That they need a disciplined existence," said Mr. Carmichael. "All these modern methods of making things easy for children are wrong. Life is not easy. They must be fitted to overcome difficulties."

"Self-reverence, self-knowledge, self-control!" mocked Muriel, with accusing eyes on Captain Wright who was trying to press her hand behind the music-stand. "I cannot bear a man, particularly, without self-control; and the child is father to the man—in Ferlie's case."

Cyprian dejectedly decided that he had let himself go, rather, at the scene of the proposal. She had looked so infinitely desirable.

"Ferlie was frightened," he said, rather lamely. "I think, perhaps, the servants——"

"There!" cried Mrs. Carmichael. "What did you tell Robin about English servants?"

"You should discipline her out of being frightened," declared Muriel. "Why make it easy for a child to go to sleep with night-lights and such nonsense? Think of all the insomnia she will have to battle against in future years. Let her learn to overcome——"

Mr. Carmichael was looking so stiff that his wife intervened.

"Dear Muriel! You do talk such nonsense. Robin did not mean that."

"No?" Muriel turned limpid eyes on Cyprian. "And what line did you take with her?"

"We talked a little," he said, blinking quickly at the carpet, "and presently she fell asleep. I must thank her for affording me the excuse to get rid of a slight headache."

"I thought you were not yourself at dinner," said Mrs. Porter forgivingly. "You are fond of children?"

"No," said Cyprian, somewhat bluntly. He was not fond of children.

"Really! Ferlie is so devoted to you."

"She is about the first child I have ever addressed, and will probably be the last."

"If she were a normal specimen, the first time you addressed her would have been the last," said Muriel, "I have heard you doing it. I am glad when you are with me you talk down to my level, Cyprian. I have not Ferlie's pristine trust in dictionarial expressions. I should imagine that you were swearing at me half the time."

"I think he talks very good English," said Mrs. Carmichael kindly. "We none of us speak enough like books these days."

Mabel Clement who, during the greater part of the evening had been scrutinizing Muriel and Captain Wright with a view to working them into her new satire, "The Man-Eater," came out of a frowning wilderness of thought, wherein the others had completely forgotten her, to say that the ideal language, as yet unborn, should consist merely of a riot of sound, expressing the emotion it was required to convey.

"Our spelling is execrable, our grammar clumsy, and the elegant diction of the one-time popular novelist of the Jane Austen calibre was affected in the extreme. Life is too short for these chains of superfluous sentences, and far too short for us to master all the tongues of Babel before we can test the mentality of other nations. It should be possible to invent a tongue, common to all, conveying to the brain, by sound, what it is desired to express."

"Let's begin to invent it now," Muriel suggested rapturously: "Colonel Maddock! Whu-u! Why! Whu-u-u! Isn't my meaning perfectly clear?" She tilted her flower-face up to his, drawing in her breath in a series of staccato jerks.

The Colonel grinned down amiably as he inhaled the fragrance of a delicate hair-wash.

"I know!" Captain Wright bawled triumphantly from his corner: "she wants a drink!"

In the storm of merriment which followed, Mabel Clement smiling resignedly, retired again into the fastness of her soul, while Cyprian crossed the room to a tray containing, Eastern fashion, several long bottles and a syphon.

While the party were breaking up in a fizzling glitter of glasses, Mrs. Carmichael drew close and gently touched his sleeve. Then and there the memories were blotted out of occasions when he had wondered how a clever man like Carmichael stood her! Madonna-sweet, her smile at that moment.

"Wait a bit after the others leave," she said in an undertone; "Robin and I have been wondering about your plans. And I want to consult you over Ferlie's school."

The note on which the last word was spoken broke in two. When she and her husband returned to Burma they would be minus encumbrances. Subtly conveying her own need of a little sympathy in the only idiom she knew, Mrs. Carmichael remained unaware that in so doing she represented to Cyprian the beauty of the Essentially Feminine.

She kissed Muriel "Good night," reflecting cattily how boring women's kisses must seem to her after ... and staved off the Colonel's last broad approach to the forthcoming pleasure-cruise in the yacht.

"Good night, Mrs. Porter."

"Good night, dear. Such a pleasant... Yes, thank you, that is my vanity bag, though at my time of life you may well be wondering ... and Muriel with a Vinolia complexion has no business to own such a thing."

"Robin, will you... Ah! Here is the parlour-maid...."

A low-murmured plea from Captain Wright, whose arms encircled Muriel's cloak.... The diamond glitter of answering eyes....

Good night.... Good-night.


"Seems almost a pity," said Mr. Carmichael.

His wife looked her grey-eyed agreement.

"The one post promises security for life, a fixed salary...."

"And is so eminently your line, Cyprian."

"At the moment," said Cyprian, "a secure haven and a tranquil time to brood upon my good fortune in it are the last attractions the world can offer me. I feel restless. I know I am probably being a fool but, since my mother died, there is nothing that need prevent me from being a fool if I so desire."

Mrs. Carmichael had a feeling that any young man who rounded off his sentence with, "if I so desire" at this stage of his career, was intended by Heaven for a University donship and not the vicissitudes of a miner's existence. She was quite right.

"The Company which has offered you the post of Secretarial Manager and What-Not of its—er—machinations," went on Mr. Carmichael, "will, in all likelihood, burst before the year's end and leave you stranded. The Burmese mines are overdone and I hardly believe in this new discovery and your avaricious expectations. What is promised? Rubies?"

"I got such a pretty aquamarine straight from the Mogok mines once," murmured his wife, "through a friend who ..."

"You won't find any rubies, ten to one," warned Robin.

"But I may find something else again which is of even more importance to me," said Cyprian.

Neither of his companions asked what that was. He went on slowly: "Some force outside myself seems to be urging me away from England for the present. I fear the facetious would describe me as a quitter, but, for certain natures, it is always safest to quit ... temptations. I have never dared to do anything else myself, and a superficial peace at Oxford just now would multiply mine unbelievably, though I am sensible of the honour done me by their offer of the appointment."

"You are only twenty-eight, are you not?"

"Yes. For a humble tutor and lecturer to get such a chance..."

"Free house and garden," chirped Mrs. Carmichael, seeing womanly visions and dreaming womanly dreams, "and with prospects of becoming a master in time. What a pity..."

She knew, alas, that Muriel would refuse to be dazzled.

"Well, since you seem to have made up your mind to throw up a good thing for a doubtful one"—Mr. Carmichael never wasted time on vain regrets—"I agree that your science and geological knowledge will be invaluable to your employers and I had better tell you what I have seen of the district."

The talk drifted into generalities, and Mrs. Carmichael began to price Ferlie's winter coat and remind herself to impress it upon the matron at Peter's school that Peter was really an Exceptional Boy. She believed in a private appeal to the only woman in an establishment full of unimaginative men. Pictured the red-roofed bungalow in Rangoon without the children's toys annoying her husband in the verandah. Remembered all the other Colonial mothers and wondered why that made the pain worse instead of better. Rejoiced that she had, at least, got the better of Robin in the matter of Ferlie's education. None of your hard modern schools, over-developing brain and body at the expense of femininity. Reaction must set in soon on this count, and Muriel Vane was nothing if not a warning. There could come a revival of the old-fashioned home-school, where it was so fortunate that the kind Miss Maynes had welcomed the thought of having Peter for the holidays.

They could not have agreed to take just any boy, they had told her—in fact none had, up to date, been offered them—but, in the circumstances, "Why, it is really our duty, dear Mrs. Carmichael."

Yes, Lady Vigor's daughter had always remained with them and, naturally, they had taken her to the seaside. How impossible, thought Ferlie's mother, to have entrusted Ferlie or Peter to Aunt Brillianna.

Brillianna Trefusis, a maternal aunt of Robin's, who was, nevertheless, not more than five years his senior, was an eccentric lady who travelled a great deal, spoke boldly and wore a disconcerting air suggesting that life amused her. And she did not go to church!

Mused Ferlie's mother, it was all very well for the men-folk to content themselves with prayer by proxy, reaping where their loyal wives had sown, but if the women were also to desert the old and tried paths to that Better Land, Far, Far Away, the chances were that the Judgment would fall due before anyone had reached those Eternal Bowers, and the travellers find themselves shooed into Outer Darkness to the tune of "Depart, ye Cursed!" And Ferlie was so responsive to her surroundings: Aunt B. could easily have raised doubts in her mind as to the authenticity of Lazarus and Jonah, and when once you began to pick and choose...

"No, I am afraid she is still out in the park, Cyprian. What's that? Crystallized apricots? Oh, but you really shouldn't. I could give them to her when she comes in.... Well, if you will ... she's sure to be near the pond. Thank you, Peter is quite well. So odd! He says his form master asked him where he had learnt the secret of perpetual motion. Such a silly sort of thing to say to a child."

Cyprian had never met the exiled Peter, on the occasion of whose swift banishment he had first recognized a kindred spirit in the Ferlie, white-faced and dumb, presented to him in the Carmichaels' drawing-room with the motherly rebuke, "And, Cyprian, this is the one I intended to ask you to be godfather to, only Robin put me off, insisting that you would not know what the term meant."

He visualized Peter, after winning his sister's confidence, as a wiry mortal of nine summers, permanently unlaced boots and an enquiring expression; this last suggesting a soul too perfectly in tune, if not with the Infinite, at least with the Infinitely Annoying, as connected with problems of Eternal Research, for the peace of mind of those in charge of him.

"Isn't it funny, when you come to think of it"—thus Mrs. Carmichael when Cyprian had gone—"that a woman's 'No' can alter the whole course of a man's life?"

"Not nearly so thoroughly as can a woman's 'Yes,' believe me. He is jolly well out of that one."

"The trouble is that you can't persuade him of it. Such an ideal situation for him, Robin. A free house and garden..."

"Nice Society," went on Robin, a little grimly, "church bells within ear-shot, so that one can imbibe atmospheric religion from an arm-chair, and the golf-links closed on Sunday. But you're right: it would have suited him—in the end. If ever I saw an Oxford don in embryo, it is Cyprian."

"He's so Nice," his wife lingered over the word. "One realizes at once how high-principled..."

"Oh, he's all that ... and he listens to the Abbey organ regularly."

"Simple and obtuse," Linda Carmichael continued. "And she's quite heartless. Do you know, Robin, sometimes she behaves almost as if she were not a lady."

Mrs. Carmichael couldn't understand why Robin sniggered at this superlative condemnation.

"She wants the Man-with-the-Stick," he briefly summed up Muriel.

Mrs. Carmichael did not pursue that idea. It was so bluntly lowering to the dignity of Womanhood as to make her feel mildly uncomfortable. There were wife-beaters in the slums—very sad—but she always closed fastidious eyes to the thought that among Us, also, the thing called Human Nature could betray itself in crude unmentionable ways.

Exploited as it might be in these days, Human Nature always seemed to her to have an undressed sound.

Her own marriage had been a reticent affair: separate dressing-rooms and so on.

There was something about Muriel, though her father's first cousin was an Earl, which reminded one of the pictures kept in the house because they were classical but which one did not look at very closely and hung in darkish corners of the landing. Necessary to Art but hardly to Life.

* * * * * *

While Cyprian was laying in stocks of quinine, dark glasses and thin pyjamas, and the Carmichaels were busily embracing relations whom they never set eyes on except at the "Ave atque Vale" occupying the two separate ends of their four-yearly "leaves," and while Peter was interesting himself in illicit Natural History during class hours, and Ferlie in members of her own sex as a regiment, in class and out, Muriel was brooding over her bones and finding them tasteless.

She came out of her bath one morning after washing her hair and, having given the damp cloud a desultory rub with a large fluffy towel, tossed that shield from her and paused before the long pier-glass.

"And God, who made that body for delight"—

She quoted under her breath—

"Should there have stayed and left a perfect thing,
Nor added to your loveliness a soul.
So had He spared you sharpest suffering;
Dark waves of night that o'er your spirit roll.
And sobs which shake you through the lonely night...."

Where had she read the words? Some literary magazine. Author? Hamilton Fyffe? Was it? Or Fyfe? Remembered she had thought that clever when, very young, she came across it. Someone had scrawled against the margin, "I fear me Fyffe is very inexperienced. No woman without a soul has held a man for long."

Did she want to hold any man for long? Did she ever want to "fall in love"? What bosh it all was—this thirst of milk-blooded girls for the soul-mate.

"It's positively terrifying to see Truth naked," remarked Muriel to her own white reflection. Or was it not better to be free from mental corsets—as well as the ordinary sort? She raised herself on tiptoes, clasping her rounded arms above her head as the thought rippled into merriment across her face: "If Cyprian were my husband and came in now, accidentally, he would apologize and flee, and be too much of a gentleman even to mention it again on our meeting later. He's the type of man who would never forget that though its wife was its wife she was still a 'lady'."

Footsteps, and a knock at her door disturbed these cogitations. A known voice greeted her through it.

"May I come in, Muriel?"

"Oh, is that you, Twinkle? Yes, so far as I'm concerned you can come in. Better leave your gentleman-friend outside on the mat though—for his sake, not for mine."

A thickset, handsome girl entered languidly, took in the situation at a glance and sat down upon the unmade bed.

"You are a One!" Her voice drawled richly. "I suppose I can smoke while you dress?"

"Puff away! I'll have one too while I finish my air-bath. It fills me with optimism to take it in front of the glass."

Twinkle ran critical eyes over this unbashful nymph.

"You're all right," she said candidly. "A bit thin. Thinking of posing as an artist's model?"

"Glory! It never occurred to me."

"It's a possible treatment for your complaint, my dear."

"What do you mean?" A deepening of the carnation tint on Muriel's soft cheek.

Twinkle did not appear to notice.

"Enough eyes on your tout ensemble to satisfy even your thirst for admiration. The joy of seeing, say, thirty individuals all occupied in reproducing your beauty for general display in some gallery. After-results ... qui sait? The artist's model...."

"Meets artists," finished Muriel, recovering herself: "I am out after bigger game. I had thought of going into training on your lines."

"The stage is over-stocked with people seeking auditions who have not the slightest talent," warned Miss Ruth Levine, commonly known as Twinkle, probably because it was the most unsuitable nickname that could possibly be found for her. "You might prove a happy exception."

"I'd get a walking-on chorus part, at any time," Muriel confidently assured her, "with nothing to do but kick and use my eyes."

"M-m! You've been reading some reliable literature, wherein the pure-hearted Gladiola Trevelyan, who is only on this degrading beat in order to supply calves' foot jelly for little cripple sister Winnie at home, finds the young earl's card in her dressing-room. In real life you'll discover it is the son of the local butcher who leaves his in a Rolls Royce and that the marquises' cheques are to be mistrusted more often than honoured."

"Truly enough, gold paint can disguise a lead coronet. We've one in our family—my second cousin's. Anyone is welcome to him for me. Money I must have, Twinkle, or I may as well commit suicide."

"You are doing that by inches while you waste time emptying old pocket-books."

"My little weakness," admitted Muriel frankly. "I take what comes while keeping my eyes on the final goal."

"What the devil is your goal? One man or several?"

"You are an honest woman," laughed Muriel. "I don't mind confessing for your private ear, that I simply do not know." She flung herself face downwards on the tumbled satin quilt, cupping her face in her pink palms.

"To look it in the face: I have seen marriage at close quarters and found it distinctly uninspiring. Father and Mother! My God! How they bore one another! They try to go their separate ways and yet cling to a snarling respectability."

"Why don't they get a divorce?"

"Too expensive. Besides, there is no just cause or impediment. I could forgive them if either had risen to a guilty passion. But that would have smirched the family escutcheon, you see; merely being rude to one another doesn't. Then they have not got me off their hands yet. Dad would sell me to the highest bidder to-morrow. I am marketable stock for some degenerate duke with no age-limit, provided he is rich. Not so easy to find, eh? As for a love-match with an impecunious captain, whose inspiriting moustache bristles to touch one's holy hand before the ring adorns it and, a year later, remains quiescent against one's immovable lip-salve—well, I ask you! Every Sweet Young Thing thinks her matrimonial drama will be acted to muted violins in 'Just a little love, a little kiss,' and is perfectly prepared to 'Give him all her life for this.' Now, I'm not."

"The alternative is a profession. Mannequin?"

"Golly! Not enough men in it. And your Model idea would have to be carried out in dark secrecy. Mother would poison me!"

"You carry out a number of things in secrecy with complete success."

"Pff! Not what you think. I know my market value."

Twinkle's dark gaze became fixed and speculative. "Any of your folk ever died in an asylum?" she enquired suddenly.

"I suppose you are being funny. But, as a matter of fact, my grandmother's sister did, and there was an uncle, who gore-ily cut his throat, of unsound mind. Why? Do I look as if I meditated such a drastic solution of my problems?"

Twinkle decisively knocked out her cigarette and stood up.

"Never mind.... Curiosity, I guess."

Muriel became dimly interested in this dispassionate friend's disapproval of something.

"Do I fill you with disgust?"

"No—with pity," was the unexpected reply. "You don't understand what you are up against, Muriel. But I've seen types like you before; and they are born, not made."

They went out together, presently.

"I have only got till lunch-time," warned the actress. "Matinee at two. Performance again at 8.30. A dog's life!"

"You wouldn't change with me!"

"Holy snakes! I would not!" Her vehemence startled, for the moment, in one so remotely calm. She pulled herself together as quickly. "No, I am fitted for my job. Some day I shall be the Big Noise all right."

Muriel glanced at the sure, emotionless face. Not pretty; La Gioconda, refined and Semiticized—if one might use the word. Beautifully tinted eyes, heavy lidded and calculating, not for gain, but as if their owner were perpetually weighing up the world and did not, like Brillianna Trefusis, find it at all amusing.

That Twinkle's distrait attitude at Marshall's silk-stocking counter was due to Muriel's own looming future the latter never guessed.

"I've seen 'em"—so ran the thoughts of the Jewess—"always devoid of natural feeling at the start, but unable to live without a man's eye upon them. The market value of passion glibly at the tongue's end. Never sentimentally eroto-maniacal; better if they were. Then, suddenly, the day when the craving for admiration merges into sex-realization. No actual desire perhaps, for the love of an individual: no realization of Love in the abstract as a desirable thing. A sudden startled awakening and, with neither religion nor moral sense behind.... If one could warn ... but there is always the chance that I am misreading her and am utterly in the wrong. She's no 'modern' product anyhow."

"Musings without method," remarked Muriel, having lingered to reduce the youth at the ribbon-counter to a state of drivelling imbecility with her smile: "Are you meditating upon some subtle gesture for your great act that will bring the curtain down in a storm of sobs more soul-satisfying than applause?"

"I was simply letting my mind run wild on the subject of heredity as a factor in folks' lives. There are few things admitted heredity now except those which are sexual, and I was wondering how far the psycho-analysts had really got going on that subject, apart from the sex-chart. One has heard of hypnotism as a cure at early stages for ... some things."

"If I went to a hypnotist to be cured of anything," said Muriel, "what's the betting the gentleman in the chair would find the positions reversed and himself masquerading as victim?"

"I have no doubt you'd do your damnedest," said Ruth, dryly.

* * * * * *

It was not long before Cyprian sailed for the East.

Captain Wright, temporarily insane, though he was the only one who did not know it, began to drink at unusual hours. Muriel had taken three months to sicken of him and considered him exceedingly ungrateful. Weak.

Cyprian had shown himself much stronger. He went down to Ferlie's school to say good-bye to her.

"Like an uncle to the child, you know," her mother had told the Misses Mayne; who beamed over the avuncular visit, brooding on the Degrees and reflecting what a good thing it might be should he recommend the school while in the East.

"You will come back soon?"

"It will seem very soon, Ferlie."

"You promise, Cyprian?"

Nothing had ever succeeded in getting a respectful prefix out of Ferlie, though Mrs. Carmichael was uneasy lest the Misses Mayne should not feel quite happy over the familiar mode of address.

"Of course I promise. And I'll write if you will."

"I'll write," said Ferlie, "when I have things to say." A sensible resolution which might be more widely adhered to.

Cyprian carried away with him the memory of delicate hands, laughing eyes and a poignantly sweet voice ... a memory which left the same ache as does a solitary aloof star on a summer evening.

But always it was followed by the haunting comfort of Ferlie's clinging arms.


"French is to be talked from the time the rising-bell rings in the morning to the time the dressing-bell rings for supper at night."

So ran Rule 9, at St. Dorothea's Home School for Girls. It was relaxed on Saturdays at twelve after the hour in the gymnasium.

At ten minutes to twelve the gloomy cavern, known as the Glory Hole, rang with noise which, according to the ancient series of L. T. Meade's school-stories, stocking the library, should have been punctuated with "silvery ripples of girlish laughter." It wasn't. The parrot-house at the Zoo would have been nearer the mark. A harassed prefect presided, noting the names of people who insisted on forestalling the cuckoo-clock.

"Parlez-vous Français, Margery, ou je dirai Mademoiselle."

"Ma foi! N'est-ce pas que c'est douze heures?"

"Le cuckoo a cuckooé, je suis positive."

"Doris, vous sotte-ane, c'est ma place que vous prendre."

Moods and tenses were blandly ignored at St. Dorothea's outside the actual French class.

"Naw," denied Doris, resolutely blocking the partition wherein she had thrust her own gym shoes. "Je partage cet morceau de le shelf avec Ferlie."

"Mais, avant Ferlie, j'ai avez baggé!"

This last effort could not pass muster even on a Saturday.

"Margery, 'bag' n'est pas Français et c'est argot. Prenez un point de conversation."

"Mais si je fait cela je ne peut pas jouez hockey. Soyez une sport, Mary."

There was an understanding that whosoever lost six marks during the week for failing to observe Rule 9 was relegated to the ranks of the crocodile, with the junior class of all, after lunch, instead of being permitted to join in the usual Saturday games.

Margery was a constant offender; and the Fourth Form A. were to play the Fourth Form B.!

"Si vous ne jouerez pas, ce sera un tiroir," prophesied Ferlie ingeniously, after pausing an instant to consider the French for a "draw" at hockey.

The clock whirred. "Cuckoo! Cuckoo!"

"Thank God!" said Margery Craven, piously.

The prefect fled, pretending not to hear.

"I thought you weren't playing either, Ferlie?"

"I am not—that's why I said if you can't play centre-forward in my place the A's will be about level with the B's. You and I combined give the A's the advantage."

"Why isn't Ferlie playing?" asked Doris Martell.

"Don't you know?" and Margery's air was fraught with mystery. "The co-rrespondent from Far Cathay has asked—and obtained—permission to take the Favourite of the Upper Fourth to the Zoo."

"Lucky little beast!"

"How long is he going to stop in England, Ferlie?"

"Only six months this time. Father and Mum never take such short leave, but Cyprian has had malaria..."

"It's a beautiful name," mused Doris with upturned eyes. "No wonder she blushes!"

"Silly ass!"

"What beats me," said Margery, "is how Martha and Mary allow Ferlie to gad about with a genuine trousered male in an expensive tailored suit and all the appurtenances thereof. Because even if he does look forty he's not really your uncle, is he, Ferlie?"

"No, thank the Lord! I shouldn't feel nearly so comfy with him if he were."

"She confesses to feeling comfy with him," Margery informed the others. "Brazen hussy! And she a 'Sunlight Fairy'!"

Ferlie forgot Cyprian in a sudden righteous indignation. "You shut it, Margery! Lot of grinning shriekers! Thought yourselves very funny, didn't you? You wouldn't laugh if it were your mess."

For Ferlie's instinctive courtesy, rooted in a horror of hurting people's feelings and combined with a certain dreamy trustfulness in human nature, characteristic of her, had landed her in a false position which, during the past week, had been the joke of the school.

A dean's wife, far-famed for excellent work among the business girls of the suburbs, and convinced that the road to salvation for all budding womanhood lay via the fold of a Purity Society organized by her, had now conceived the idea of interesting the girls' schools in a campaign of mutual prayer and interchange of friendly letters with these unknown female correspondents of the working-class, all virgin pilgrims up the Hill of Difficulty, pledged not to permit male travellers to carry their bundles nor waste their time in frivolous communications. The Misses Mayne, generally known to their pupils, in terms of disrespectful affection, as "Martha" and "Mary," approved of the plan and accorded the dean's wife half an hour one Sunday afternoon, following Bible Class, to set forth her appeal for supporters in the school.

At the close of an earnest address she had suggested that any of them willing to join the League and correspond with another young woman, forlornly in search of true friendship, would hold up a hand.

Ferlie, having arrived late from an imperfectly learnt collect, happened to be sitting at a front desk, eschewed by early arrivals as too nearly under the eye of Martha for perfect ease. Not having paid particular attention to the proceedings, but gleaning from the speaker's tense expression that something was expected of the school—possibly a penny a week to the Blind Babies' Fund—she mechanically raised her hand, wondering the while whether there would be time after the Zoo to take Cyprian to that new tea-shop where you could always get hot dough-nuts, fresh and jammy. Hers was the only hand raised. The role of "Sunlight Fairy," by letter, to a factory girl did not appeal to the Margeries and Dorises of the Upper Fourth, and the senior school members were struggling with finishing exams and wanted no extra correspondence thrust upon them in their scant leisure. Had she only known it, the dean's wife was about the fourth of a series of well-meaning women that term obsessed with schemes for benefiting England's blossoming womanhood. To put it coarsely, St. Dorothea's had "had some."

Margery was the most interested in Ferlie's future radiance as a "Fairy." The dean's wife, impressed by such single-minded strength of character, had invited her to tea and presented her with a blue card depicting a rising sun shooting an inquisitive searchlight on the face of a worried-looking young woman wending her way up a crowded thoroughfare either in quest of true friendship or a factory.

"And it's quite time you began," said Margery severely, at the termination of Ferlie's bitter harangue.

The bell for the reading of the week's marks interrupted them; following which rite a strong smell of Irish stew combined with apple pudding, in the hall, did duty for a lunch menu.

And, "I will not eat the bottom bit of my suet to-day," Margery resolved in a fierce whisper as they filed to their seats.

The conversation over the gravied onions made about four times the volume of sound as on a French day.

The Misses Mayne, one at each end of the long table, beamed indulgently. "Martha," the practical one, who was also the junior of the two sisters, confined her remarks to the state of the hockey field and reminders that stockings were to be changed immediately on the team's return.

"Mary" brightened life at her post by little reminiscences of the ways in which she had spent her Saturdays at school, "when hockey for girls was quite out of the question, my dears," and the Magic Lantern, with views of foreign countries in colours, existed still as a delirious mid-term treat.

All went contentedly until the last helping of apple pudding had been served out, and then Mary settled her glasses and allowed her kindly faded eyes to rest on one particular plate.

"Now, Margery"—a sudden hush followed the raising of the gentle tones—"are you going to conquer that pudding or are you going to let that pudding conquer you?"

The luckless Margery, who had brought an empty paper bag to lunch with felonious intent, started guiltily and reddened to the forehead.

"You know it is by overcoming—always by overcoming—the weaknesses in ourselves that we develop into worth-while members of the world's community," Mary continued.

"Or by coming it over other people," muttered Ferlie, sympathizing with Margery's sensations towards the grey mound of suet pushed to one side of her plate.

"It—it always makes me feel sick, Miss Mayne," faltered Margery hysterically.

"Imagination!" came from Martha's end of the table. "How can good wholesome food make anyone feel sick?"

Margery's mouth took an obstinate curve. She was not going to be intimidated by Martha, anyhow.

That lady, with twenty years' experience of Margeries behind her, probably sensed rebellion and decided the moment had arrived for brisk disciplinary methods.

"Eat it up, Margery, and don't be foolish," she said.

Margery sat very still.

The rest of the table did not want to witness her downfall, nor seem, by respectful silence, to approve the idiosyncrasies of Martha and Mary. Why should anyone eat the beastly pudding who did not want to? The fees were paid just the same.

Strained low-toned comments on the progress of the new tennis court began to be heard; but Mary was wiser than Martha, as of old. Far wiser. Long and humble study of the New Testament had inclined her heart to keep its Law. She ruled, in fact, by love.

"I think we'll leave it to Margery's own Brave Self," she told her sister. "She understands that it is for her own good, mentally and physically, that we desire her to eat it. Do not distress yourself, my child. Just think the matter over carefully and then decide which of your two natures is to Win the Fray. If, to-day, you decide to leave it..."

She smiled watery encouragement at Margery, by this time incapable of eating anything. Lunch finished a little hurriedly.

Said Martha that night in the private sitting-room, where she and Mary were wont to dissect characters and debate the handling of them:

"A little giddy."

"But warm-hearted," defended Mary.

"Shallow," said Martha.

"It is a question of guidance, Sister," insisted Mary.

Martha remained unconverted.

"Obstinacy must be dealt with firmly," she said. "You will be at a loss next Saturday over the apple pudding."

Came a knock at the door, and Margery stood beside the tinted reproduction of the Good Shepherd near it, looking at Mary over the stand crammed with photos of dear departed pupils who, with Youth's heartlessness, had supplied her, since, with no other memories of their passing.

"I've decided to c-conquer the p-pudding," announced Margery. And felt almost rewarded by the spiritual ecstasy of affection in Mary's little eyes.

* * * * * *

Cyprian did not recognize the sisters for the last of a long line of sanctified Englishwomen who, in the past, have run Happy Home-Schools for the daughters of unmodern mothers, many of whom lived abroad and who cherished the suspicion that dear Daphne or Nora would not be prevented from over-working to the detriment of her health at a modern establishment which dealt in Oxford examiners rather than in embroidery classes.

It was Ferlie who grew critical of the Miss Maynes's curriculum, with the conclusion of her fourteenth birthday, and so of their blatant efforts to coerce in the straight and narrow way.

To Cyprian, the sisterless bookworm, the ladies recalled his deceased aunts, a couple who belonged, by rights, to a Victorian novel and at whose separate funerals a special hearse had to be requisitioned for the wreaths.

And all the flowers were symbolically white.

Ferlie, the out-reaching experimentalist, wondered whether such of Cyprian's aunts as remained above ground were exactly the type of people to direct the electrical currents in a houseful of twentieth century youth.

"Mary could have whistled for my brave and better nature," she told Cyprian this afternoon, in relating the incident of the pudding, with a resentment he considered entirely out of proportion to the fact that she had not minded the suet herself. He admitted that, as a sane man, he never ate things which he did not like, nor did he know anybody who, having attained years of discretion, believed such a course necessary to salvation.

"But, you see, it must be difficult, Ferlie, to legislate for so many tastes and, despite certain things of which you may disapprove, the Misses Mayne seem kind to you all."

"I think I could do with less kindness and more common sense," she persisted, "and far less prayer!"

He looked at the eager profile, bordered by a riot of autumn-tinted curls, and wondered, a little anxiously, whether Ferlie was growing up a sceptic like her father. And himself. And most of his friends.

He would rather she took both Testaments at a gulp like a pill, in the unquestioning faith that they would purge her as with hyssop according to promise.

He recognized his attitude to be decidedly illogical. Perhaps the simplicity of Mrs. Carmichael was not quite such a matter for humorous reflection, after all. Supposing the Woman-of-the-Future, no longer sheltered from the rough and tumble of things, began universally to don the materialistic armour suited to her defence, and ceased to set her marching song to the awe-inspiring chant:

"We love Thine altar, Lord;
Oh, what on earth so dear?
For there in faith adored,
We find Thy presence near!"

The singers might possess the undeveloped minds of little children. They might. Nevertheless...

"They are such good women, Ferlie."

"I don't consider them any better members of the world's community than you," Ferlie informed him carelessly, adding, "and they have, according to their ideas, much more to gain by being good."

Cyprian did not quite know what to answer. A less humble man might have suspected that he was fast becoming the child's ideal. He only knew that they cared a great deal for one another and that Life, for him, seemed less meaningless, though more unreal, when they were together.

He had chosen the Zoo because it was the nearest open-air entertainment within reach, by tram, of the suburb which contained St. Dorothea's, and Ferlie was not, under Rule 6, allowed to attend indoor places of amusement in term-time. And surely, at fourteen, it was a reasonable spot to take Ferlie, the animal-lover, for recreation.

"But the tea here is beastly," she stated candidly, and he undertook to follow where she should lead when the hour for nourishment approached.

There were long stretches of walking between the enclosures of the Big and Bloodthirsty caged inhabitants which Ferlie favoured. The two strolled along contentedly, exchanging current news.

Presently: "You know she's abroad, Cyprian?"


"You didn't try to find out?"

"Not this time, Ferlie. What's the use?"

Ferlie was frowning.

"Aunt Brillianna asked me for a visit at Christmas. And I went. I like her. She doesn't talk rot to me just because I am not grown up. She goes on like you do. And one wet afternoon another woman came in and said that the Vane girl had gone abroad after a nervous break-down, and Aunt B. said, 'Oh, that's what they've decided to call it? The uttermost ends of the earth would not effect a cure.' And I am telling you, Cyprian, because I feel that if it means that she has been ill, you would rather know."

"Thanks, old lady."

"But, Cyprian——"


"I can't be a hypocrite about it. I don't really hope it is as bad as smallpox, but if anything does make me hope that Martha and Mary's Day of Judgment is true in every detail, it's her."

"But why, Ferlie?"

"If she came back would you ask her again now?" she asked, ignoring explanation.

He revolved the possibility in his mind, seeking, as ever with her, the meticulously accurate answer her candid eyes deserved.

"I hardly know. I have never met another woman whom I wanted—that way. But then, in my life out East, I see very few Englishwomen, and they are generally married. I have guarded the thought of her, as the Perfect One for me, so long in my heart that, sometimes, I doubt whether any woman could be all that one imagines her when one—cares. It is not fair to endow your Ideal with the qualities which suit you and then blame her for not acting always according to your conceptions."

She walked on silently for some way with bent head and her cheeks unusually flushed. Then she spoke again, rapidly.

"I have got to tell you, Cyprian. From what I have heard, now and again, I think that if you did ask now, you—you'd get the answer you wanted once. There aren't a lot of men like there used to be, and—and I don't understand what it is all about but there is Something.... Well, anyway, you'd stand a good chance now. So I've got to tell you."

"You don't want me to take that chance, Ferlie?"

She turned her face from him, unanswering. And Cyprian incomprehensibly knew that he would never seek out Muriel Vane with that question on his lips; that her image would slowly drift out of his dreams and that before it receded for ever he could make no effort to call it back. Could not? Then it was true that no man worshipped only at one shrine in a lifetime? It was the Ideal and not the Individual to which he burnt his incense! The most startling part of this discovery was that nothing mattered at the moment save that Ferlie would be glad of it.

"As the years go by, one must change," he said diffidently.

She drew a long breath and spoke nonchalantly lest it should be interpreted as relief.

"She must be quite an old woman by now. At least twenty-six or twenty-seven."

Cyprian's laughter shattered the imperceptible barrier of restraint.

"How old do you think I am, Ferlie?"

She surveyed him critically. "Well, you are never any particular age to me because, underneath, I feel you are about mine; but the other girls don't think you look more than forty."

"They are a little premature. I am only thirty-five."

"It's a good age, you know," said Ferlie gravely. "How terribly short Life is; over before you have got anywhere."

"You think I have wasted mine, up to date?"

"It all depends on what you want in the end. Do you know I have a feeling sometimes that we are all just as much in cages as these animals, and can't get out without breaking something. The cages Chance dropped us into when we were born. Think how enormous and how interesting the earth is! And how much of it shall you and I ever see unless we break away from the particular bits we are imprisoned in? Just look at that old lion. He has settled down, quite pleased, forgetting that there was a time when he, or his ancestors, walked where they wished for miles in the jungle. And a lot of us copy him. Satisfied in captivity because it is comfortable. We don't remember what it was like in the days of our freedom but common-sense tells us it was unsheltered and unsure. My ancestors may have been gipsies and, if I had the courage, I might be one again by breaking things. Ordinarily, Martha and Mary have got me till I am seventeen; then it will be some finishing place in France for a year, and then Mother comes home and I shall be considered luckier than most girls in squeezing a Season or so out of Burma before Dad retires."

"During which you will marry, Ferlie, and settle down like a well-behaved little lioness and..."

"Live Mother's life all over again for her—ugh!"

She stared at the lion.

"No I shan't. It can stay there if it likes, and all the other fool-animals who don't know their own strength. I've got some inkling of mine. I am going to get out of the cage."

A passing keeper warned her not to shake the bars and not to go so near, Miss.

She ignored him, clinging fervently to her subject.

"That old elephant could turn the howdah off his back, kill at least twenty people and overset the monkey-house inside quarter of an hour. And, instead, he just walks stupidly up and down, up and down."

"Please don't put ideas into his head in passing," begged Cyprian.

"Well, he's only an animal and so would misuse his regained power. But a man needn't," said Ferlie, hot-footed on the trail of great discoveries, "a man needn't... Are you happy, Cyprian?"

"I—I've hardly thought about it."

"You ought to have thought about it. You have been thirty-five years in a world where there is unlimited happiness and unlimited misery. And you haven't yet decided which you want to choose: Spring days, and stars, and the smell of the sea, and flowers, and experiments in queer forces electrifying every creature that lives and breathes, or somnambulisticism ... listen, I made that word up, I think—in a stuffy old cage, the bars of which are conventions which ought to be broken into smither——"

"Ferlie, you are making that lion angry by beating the umbrella on his bars."

"He can have it if he wants it," she said, hurling it into the cage. "Martha made me bring it because she knows I hate carrying one. Said you always knew a gentlewoman by the make of her umbrella. I should think that anyone having to carry a special sort of umbrella to prove her gentility must be——"

"Good Lord!" exclaimed Cyprian as the lion crunched through silk and spokes, roaring insults at Ferlie the while, "Do come away. The keeper is on his way back here and everybody is looking at us."

Everybody is looking at us! That last truth would have vexed him more but for the tolerant amusement on the face of a lady standing near them. She seemed past middle age and indifferent to the fact, being practically and severely costumed in dark grey, while her iron-grey hair fitted so tidily into her toque that one immediately divined it was shingled. She fixed Cyprian with a placid eye.

"The unfortunate lion," she said, "breaking his teeth, like the rest of us, on an illusion flung like a challenge at his head by Youth in rebellion!"

Cyprian lifted his hat awkwardly in acknowledgment of the remark, inwardly deciding, a little acidly, that she might have realized he was, possibly, as near Ferlie's age as hers. But Ferlie, herself, twisted about with a rapturous greeting.

"Why, it's Aunt Brillianna!"

Aunt Brillianna accompanied them to the tea-shop, picking up the thread of Ferlie's discourse just where the end had blown loose.

"And when you have got out of your cage, Ferlie, and are no more mentioned by the long-suffering Misses Mayne, except in secret and grieving prayer, and when you have trodden on your mother's heart and taken unholy satisfaction in the fascinatingly soft squelch of it, and when you have seen the iron enter into your unbelieving father's soul on your flat refusal to mate with the most promising and dyspeptically desk-chained member of his service, and when you have laid the foundations for a new Utopia where everyone will find himself uncaged and free and—if I mistake not—naked, will there really be enough blue-birds in the trees to go round?"

"You are only pretending to laugh at me, Aunt B.; you know quite well what I want."

"Six eclairs, four dough-nuts, two cream-buns, a strawberry-ice and a dose of castor oil," Aunt Brillianna promptly informed the attendant in lace cap and apron: adding with a scrutinizing glance at her white face, "you look as if you could do with that list and some over, yourself, my dear child."

The tea-girl blushed and, reading sincerity in the friendly smile, admitted that she had had a particularly long day owing to Them being shorthanded.

"Never mind," encouraged Aunt B., "I'll stand you treat with this niece of mine, provided the moment you get off duty you settle down to it at any place where the cakes are not so well-known to you as these."

Cyprian protested at her making herself responsible for their own three teas.

"Don't be silly," she advised him, "I am quite old enough to make a nephew of you if I wish. Ferlie is my great-niece and it is quite useless to try and hide the ghastly fact. And I have quite a lot of money scattered about in odd corners of the earth. Some day Ferlie shall have some to build a Temple to her Freedom goddess or god. She will find, sooner or later, that the bars she objects to are made of gold. You ought to know that. How are rubies?"

"Ferlie has told you what I do?"

"Ferlie has told me much more of all you have left undone. Quite unintentionally she has painted a portrait of you in your true colours. I doubt if you could paint her—or any woman—in hers."

"I hope the picture did not impress you altogether unfavourably?"

"We are discarding the fallacy nowadays that Love is blind," said Aunt B. inconsequently. "While young and clear-eyed it has excellent sight. Later, it takes to dark-glasses of its own choice, and so gives an impression of sightlessness. Ferlie knows you better now than she ever will know you, Edward ... or, no, that's not the name—What is it, Ferlie?"

"It's 'Cyprian,'" announced Ferlie from a bath of cream and jam, "and you're frightening him to death, Aunt B."

"Can't help that. He's rather embarrassing me by being so palpably embarrassed. Don't blink like that, Cyprian. Are you young enough to join Ferlie in those poisonous cakes or would you prefer a scone?"

Cyprian coldly selected an éclair.

"Happy man!" said Aunt B., twinkling all over, "The sweets of life are tasteless against my false teeth. A watercress sandwich, now..."

She was a startling contrast to Cyprian's late-lamented aunts, influencing the life of Little Puddington, even under their heavy slabs of marble, by the trail of Guilds, Club-rooms, and Organ endowments left behind them. And Martha and Mary would have said, with one accord, that a woman's glory was her hair. A wig, or at least, a discreet frame, if not an actual transformation, would be preferable to that shameless modern shingling.

Brillianna Trefusis was too obviously one of those new elderly women who no longer found the Presence on the altar of wood and stone, and as obviously was Ferlie in love with her.

She caused Cyprian to leap finally in his chair at this stage of his conclusions. Intercepting his interrogative glance at Ferlie, exceeding the Safety First limit as to ice-cream, "You'll like me when you come to know me better," Aunt B. assured him.


When Ferlie was seventeen and a half, and the finishing school loomed ahead with its extra music lessons and picture gallery tours, Peter, too, began to have ideas about cages. He did not quite describe them in Ferlie's way but proved himself worthily her brother and, up to a certain point, allowed himself to be influenced by her opinions.

At nineteen, when Caius College claimed him, he showed signs of forging ahead at a pace which left her a little breathless. The enquiring expression had sobered, on the development of a well-chiselled nose, into the self-assured look of someone who has things to tell the world. To Ferlie he first imparted samples of these.

His reform scheme for the suffering Universe was to be based, of course, on psychics. As a first step towards bursting upon Humanity in the guise of Universal Healer, he had taken Havelock Ellis in large indigestible doses, concluding inflexibly that all trouble dated, not so much from Adam and Eve as from Lilith, who made of them Two, instead of One, like herself.

"Originally, we were in all probability One Perfect Sex," he told Ferlie. "Artificial experimenting caused the split, which, naturally, left one sex the complement of the other. We find the old allegory of Jupiter dividing by sword the race of gods which, having created, he had begun to fear. Ever since, each has been looking for its true half in order to regain the lost power the Perfect Whole first possessed."

"But surely the bi-sexual insects are the lowest in the scale of Evolution," argued Ferlie, shrinking somewhat from the suggestion that Peter's new Heaven and Earth, amalgamated, would contain no marrying nor giving in marriage. Because, though she, at fourteen, had pledged herself to eternally single blessedness, she rather liked to see other people marrying and driving away in their best clothes, looking happy. One never saw the same people again, somehow, after they had driven away. The couple which returned in their place seemed always to be a couple that asked nothing better of life than to sit still. The driving away spelt Adventure but, perhaps, they came back before they had reached that.

Ferlie was quite sure that, having once begun to drive away, she would never turn back.

"And you see"—she had lost Peter and returned with a jump to find him grazing in new pastures—"half the hysteria at the back of crime and all unhappiness is sexual. The economic conditions in this country which condemn so many women to single cursedness are disgraceful. And how can anything vitally important be accomplished for the Good of the Universe and the control of its illimitable forces, when this sex-hunt, and natural procreation, curtails such a disproportionate amount of human time and energy? The natural functions necessary for the continuance of the Race should be exercised almost as unconsciously as in the case of trees and plants, without stultifying analysation of emotion. It is time we strove for a simpler and less sentimental Ideal..."

Ferlie agreed that everyone who wanted to get married should be able to do so by means of a State Dowry, equal for all, but she did not see how Peter's Reform Scheme was to provide sufficient male mates even then.

"And is it a doctor you will call yourself, dear?"

"I shall be the First of my Kind," said Peter in tones which admitted no doubt of it. "Once through the usual exams, so as to give the old-fashioned geezers no handle—I have always felt Barker should have tempered the wind to the shorn lambs of his period—I shall strike out on Lines of My Own. I shall not attempt to explain them to you yet. But, first of all, there must come a Breaking Away!" He made a wide gesture with his arms, and Ferlie, furtively sympathizing with this draw-a-long-breath attitude, suspected that Peter would probably excel himself in the Breaking Away, whatever happened afterwards.

"I may have to deal a blow to many existing institutions and suffer a bit for my convictions," went on Peter, looking as if this would not prove the least enjoyable part of the campaign, "for instance, Marriage must go."

"Oh, really, Peter? I am rather sorry."

"It is a starkly barbarous survival of prehistoric ages; and now half the people who uphold, or at least weakly condone it, are making vows they do not intend to keep before altars whose sacrificial fires have long been cold."

He talked very well, thought Ferlie, and probably did not mean all he said.

"But, Peter, do you really think that the majority of people have stopped believing in God?"

"Few have stopped who ever believed. Many have never believed who assumed they did because the Christian ethics were necessary to the civilization which they found comfortable. Scientific minds are now demanding proof, and finding none, of many things upon which those ethics are said to be based. Therefore they begin to have the courage of their convictions. Lack of that has, up to now, caused them to accept marriage on the surface and to deny it by secret act. They have entered into lying contracts which are not only against Nature but against common sense, because they feared to be pioneers.

"In all great movements there must be pioneers. It's not a pleasant job, pioneering; nor is it for cowards. At present, my own brain refuses to admit the existence of a Personal God, who can be cajoled or roused to anger according to the behaviour of a swarm of little ants on one of the countless millions of whirling globes He is said to have made in His spare time. The Herd Law, developed by the strongest of those little ants, is followed by the weak majority under the guise of a Divine Law, until a stronger little ant than the first one comes along and amends it to suit himself, still sounding the Divinity slogan. Whatever name is given to this religion or binding principle, the non-courageous part of the Herd, which is the greater part, follow, etc., etc., and etc."

Visions of Peter followed by a Herd released from lawful matrimony caused Ferlie an instant's misgiving.

Of course it was admitted that the marriage service had been somewhat unfortunately reformed already once in the past by Cranmer, who, influenced by German relatives, had introduced the Germanic idea of servile obedience for the woman, absent in the old Catholic form. The modern Anti-Reformationists were rightly demanding fresh revision and omissions. "Stronger ants," she supposed. But, if they proved less strong than the Peters, would Free Love make a superior substitute to an institution hitherto regarded as God-given, though Cranmerized? Even if God had become, for the Scientific Mind, as obsolete as Cranmer? Whoever re-created two imperfect sexes out of One Perfect Sex had made a very thorough job of it. Besides, were all Peter's ideas quite so shiningly new as he touchingly considered them?

"You really have remarkable powers of assimilation for your age," said Peter, "and, unlike many women, are not hysterically upset by the Unobvious." (Ferlie hoped that Cyprian might, also, appreciate these newly-developed qualities when he came home.) "And, therefore, I feel inclined to trust you with an important secret."

"You know you can, Peter."

He braced himself for confession.

"I have met a woman," said Peter.

Somehow Ferlie had thought as much.

"Slightly older than myself," he went on. "She is a hospital nurse and, naturally, we have discovered much common ground to explore in discussion. The nurse, I always maintain, can form a more accurate estimate of the patient than can the doctor. Phyllis agrees with me that, in most cases, mental control should be established first, and hypnotic influence be given a more important place than medicine. The theory should be practised, not talked about. The advertisement earned by Coué and Hickman and their friends, becoming mingled with ridicule, injures their cause. Jesus of Nazareth avoided advertisement. He wisely foresaw the harm it did; and he never pretended to be doing anything that a disciple could not also do who sufficiently developed his will-power and self-confidence."

"You—you won't talk like this to Martha and Mary? At present, you see, Peter, they think you are so nice."

He waved a lofty hand at the mention of these shorn lambs of his generation.

"I have told you I believe in tempering the wind."

Nevertheless, although it was splendid to be considered fully protected against the searching elements of Truth, Ferlie felt that her wool might have been thicker after his final announcement.

"Phyllis and I, likewise, see eye to eye on this pioneering question. We are convinced we have a mission. It shall be carried out, not by word of mouth, but by example. We suit one another. We are healthy and, from a medical point of view, know all there is to be known about contraception. At present we meet in secret. I feel I owe it to the Old Folk to put my views squarely to them before coming fearlessly out into the open to state that, in the eyes of the God we serve, we consider ourselves married without the intervention of a priest or State official. Phyllis has no parents—thank goodness!—to bring pressure to bear upon her in the form of hysterical tears. We shall live together without cheapening our private relationship by becoming parties to a ceremony which, in our case, is tantamount to a farce. We shall remain faithful to one another without the urge of a public vow, loyal without the necessity of bonds to keep us so. Should we, eventually, decide to have children, they will be brought up on like principles and taught the utter unimportance of sex except for purposes of healthy propagation, and it will be a point of honour for each parent to do his, or her, utmost to fulfil the responsibility entailed at their birth, uncoerced by any Court of Law. Since the whole union will be based on reason, not sentiment, everything is bound to run smoothly. It is all very simple, really."

Ferlie knew that Cyprian would consider it lamentably complicated. And wasn't Cyprian a little more experienced than Peter? If Cyprian had married Muriel—and an unaccountable coldness stole over Ferlie at the thought—it would certainly have been according to Herd Law, if not God's.

"You mean, Peter darling—Do you mean that you are living with this woman now?"

"Please remember that you are referring to My Wife, in the Eyes of God."

But Ferlie was considering the eyes of their uncle, the bishop. She wondered whether, as an only sister, she had done her duty by Peter. Mary might be a stupid old thing but she was led to believe, in spite of oneself, that she walked with God. Inspired by this realization Margery had conquered the pudding.

The Influence of The Good Woman was Mary's favourite subject for a Sunday Talk.

Mankind, she would say—she never called them "Men"—were uplifted by it, comforted in sorrow, healed in sickness, converted on death-beds.

"A lady with a lamp shall stand, etc...."

Peter, despite his lordly airs, was slightly pinker than usual and his eyes sought space above Ferlie's head. He had a beautiful skin, she thought. She did hope Phyllis was nice. She knew that her mother would have given up hope right away but, perhaps, parents, and even Cyprians, were a little out of date.

The Young were marching onwards, still soldiers, though not exactly Christian ones; because the old Christian Leader was out of date too. He was now just Jesus of Nazareth, the Founder of Christianity, as the Buddha was Gaudama Theiddatha, the Founder of Buddhism, and Mohammed the Founder of—was it Islam or Allah?

Said Peter, making a successful break-away from a pause which threatened to become uncomfortable, "I will introduce Phyllis to you, Ferlie; on the Q.T. We are relying on your support."

"Dear Peter," touched by this beautiful confidence in her affection. "Only I do hope you are both quite sure."

She wasn't a bit sure herself.

* * * * * *

Phyllis did nothing to decrease her uneasiness. That lady proved to be pale-faced and regular of profile, with quick dark eyes which never came to rest on any one object for long. Mrs. Carmichael had a weakness for people who looked at you, as she was in the habit of saying, "dead straight in the face." In thinking it out Ferlie remembered that very few ever did. Why should they? And, of those few more than one had been proved, later, own brother to Ananias. But, whether or no Phyllis was own sister to Sapphira, she scarcely glanced at Ferlie in shaking hands. She might, decided Peter's sister, be incessantly calculating sums in mental arithmetic. The fluttering of her eyelids apparently shut out visions which sought to steal between her brain and the addition and subtraction.

The interview was hardly a screaming success. Ferlie was irresistibly and unreasonably reminded of Muriel Vane and wondered, depressedly, on the way home, if she were going to develop into one of those women who mistrust their own sex.

She was Aunt Brillianna's guest at the time, and the latter swiftly noticed her problematical silences, but put them down to anxiety over the mail which brought distressing news of Mr. Carmichael. The doctors talked sagely of an operation and he was taking sick leave.

"If he should have to retire now he won't get his 'K,'" Ferlie reminded Aunt B., reading from her mother's inconsequent scrawl.

Aunt B. dryly tendered it as her opinion that the Family of Carmichael was great enough to survive that loss. "Leave us our nobility" had best described her attitude since the Houses of Trefusis and Carmichael had united. The ancestral title would ever carry more weight with her than any that might possibly be earned or bought by some Son of Trade with nothing to recommend him but Board School brains or a Bank Balance.

Ferlie, however, received a clearer idea of the workings of her mother's mind.

One returned from Exile with letters after one's name, the reward of thirty-odd years of labour, and in Europe people knew not what they meant nor even the order in which to write them. The Handle, an unmistakeable sign of services rendered, they could understand and respect, whether or no the man who wore it had received the just reward of his deeds.

"Your father," wrote Mrs. Carmichael, "will be the only one of the Family to have had his career cut short, if this illness presages early retirement. And this with you nearly grown-up and Peter becoming more expensive every term...!"

Ferlie could have foretold that, apart from the question of expense, Peter, at the moment, was unlikely to exercise a soothing influence on his mother's shattered nerves. She had an idea that Aunt Brillianna would prove the only satisfactory exponent of his case, but Peter had not been moved to confide in Aunt B.

* * * * * *

His parents came, heard, but found themselves unable to conquer him. Peter was a stauncher supporter of truth than of tact. His mother took refuge in unlimited tears; his father in the only ethics he favoured, i.e., those founded on the honour of the House of Carmichael. Decently-bred people simply "did not do" these things. Peter hotly denied that his bodily functions were at variance with those of the organ-grinder. This was the most unkindest cut of all. No Carmichael had ever ground an organ for a living and the comparison was odious.

Peter wanted to introduce Phyllis to them as his wife in the eyes of whatever God the Family severally worshipped. His father adopted the time-honoured attitude which forbade his son to bring That Woman in contact with the crystal purity of mother and sister. Ferlie, holding to the view that "better a little lie than much great unhappiness," refrained from publishing it abroad that she had already been subjected to the contamination of Phyllis.

Peter and his latch-key departed the house and were no more seen, and his irate father's emotions were presently smothered in a whirl of soft-footed nurses and suavely-smiling physicians.

"If Peter could only have waited!" wailed his mother. But Youth waits on nobody.

Once free of the Nursing Home Mr. Carmichael took a practical line: Peter found his allowance stopped. Then it was that he diabolically exemplified his theories regarding the common Brotherhood of Man by obtaining an organ and a particularly chilly-looking monkey who danced to the tune of "O solo mio," thus rendered by a Carmichael outside the paternal library window. No one could have guessed how the farce would end.

The last act was exclusively organized by Phyllis. The very opposition had lent Phyllis a fictitious value in Peter's eyes and his philosophy became for him the bread of life. To Ferlie, alone, he brought his accounts of Phyllis's unfathomable comprehension of his own soul. "Mixed into me as honey in wine," etc., etc.

Phyllis assumed the same proportions for Peter as had Muriel Vane for Cyprian; she was the Perfect Mate. And then Phyllis met a well-to-do surgeon, with reputation already established, who was not merely ruling an ethereally beautiful Kingdom in the Clouds. To Ferlie came Peter, wild-eyed and incredulous.

"But she said—But she understood that she was My Wife," he repeated again and again, as if by the repetition he could find the key to the riddle.

"And, you see, Peter," said Ferlie simply, "if she had been married to you in the ordinary way——"

But that was going ahead too quickly for Peter.

"She said... She promised..." Surely that creed should be all-sufficient which admitted the word of a mortal soul to be its bond.

Mrs. Carmichael's sense of injury against That Creature for having caught Peter was now transformed into indignation because she had let him go.

His father, the danger safely over, resumed his man-of-the-world pose as though he had never departed from it, produced an extra ten-pound note, or so, and told his wife that boys would be boys.

Only Ferlie fully realized that by such means boys become men.

Aunt B., meeting Peter accidentally soon afterwards in the Tube, immersed in illustrated volumes whose pages unblushingly revealed to his neighbours on either side aspects of the human frame the existence of which they had, hitherto, blandly ignored, nodded her shingled locks in Sybillic understanding.

"Buses and Tubes are the most natural places to study the shapes of one's fellow-creatures," she remarked. "I see you are determined it is to be Medicine, Peter."

"Medicine must be the preliminary," Peter replied, unshaken in his resolve to arrive at summits unattained, albeit it seemed he would be obliged to scale them unpartnered.

"I am going abroad for the winter," Aunt B. informed him. "I may, or I may not, return with the swallows. When Ferlie is in her Parisian convent and you memorizing the seventeen Latin names for the stomach, or some equally uninspiring anatomical organ, in Caius, no one will be needing a garrulous old woman who finds it difficult to keep her fingers out of other folks' pies. I suppose when I see you and Ferlie again you will both have quite a lot of advice to give me as to where I should ornament a bath-chair for the remainder of my days."

If Aunt B. had been able to face the English winter, or, if on deciding not to do anything so disagreeable, she had left an address behind her for regular correspondents to bombard with the Family scandals, her departure might not have affected Ferlie's whole future. As it did.

* * * * * *

Peter had come down for the Short Vacation that Season, and Ferlie had clung in damp farewell round the high collars of Martha and Mary, and returned to town to lay in stores of more advanced underclothing than had been permitted under their care in preparation for her departure to be "finished."

The fortnight after Christmas she spent at the home of Margery Craven, now a red-cheeked Diana of the hunting-field, collecting brushes and masks of more than legitimate four-footed victims.

Thence, an unintelligible letter from Peter recalled Ferlie. It was so unusual for Peter to condescend to anything longer than a telegram that Ferlie took the train home with forebodings she tried vainly to allay. Something had gone wrong, he said. Plans for everyone had altered and she was needed.

She reached their town house to learn from the parlour-maid that her father had been taken back to the Nursing Home; that her mother was with him now there, at the moment, and that Mr. Peter had ordered tea in the library.

Ferlie sought him without even waiting to shed her muff and furs. It was always rather dark in the library, but the uncertain shadows cast by the red lick of flaming tongues in the deep grate, where a new log was crackling, could not altogether account for an odd bleared look about Peter's eyes. He was sitting in a crimson leather arm-chair, his shoulders hunched, his hands on his knees.

"Hullo!" he hailed her unconvincingly; and he spoke as if he had a cold. "I couldn't meet you—had to do some important messages for Mother." Then he explained.

Even if Mr. Carmichael's second operation proved successful, he would never return to Burma; in which case Ferlie could not go to Paris, nor Peter back to Caius. It would be impossible for his father to put him through the prolonged and expensive medical course on a pension reduced by high income tax, increased rates of living, and the expense of interminable doctors' fees which they might have to meet in the future.

The town house must, necessarily, be sold. Mrs. Carmichael would feel most the change to cramped quarters; she had been a Somebody among other Somebodies in the East. Moreover, out there, the "K" was considered a foregone conclusion with regard to her husband.

Ferlie's own disappointment receded into the background as she measured the full force of this second blow which Fate had dealt Peter.

"It will mean——" she faltered after a long pause, and stopped.

"Anything a fellow can get," said Peter, his air-castles a blur of undefined hues at his feet like the ruined rainbows of melted snow.

Ferlie wondered if it were true about the darkest hour coming before dawn. Wished that she could hear Cyprian's views on the subject.

During the next few weeks, however, she found herself consoling, rather than consulting, people. Her mother and Peter were too immersed in their particular aspects of the trouble to question whether Ferlie herself did not require most support, freshly transplanted as she was from a world devoid of responsibility to one teeming with seemingly unsolvable problems.


"I suppose you had better go," said Ferlie's mother. "One had not intended you to 'come out' so soon; but as it is impossible to tell what the future will hold for any of us, it will be better for you to miss no opportunity of meeting people and making friends. Peter will no longer be able to bring men down from Cambridge for us to know."

That took her off on a different track from Lady Cardew's dance invitation to Ferlie.

"Poor Peter," she said, "he looks so white and wretched and I am sure the thought of his ruined future is keeping your father back."

Ferlie said she had no heart for dancing. She, also, was looking white but as nothing had ruined her career it could only be caused by their common anxiety for Mr. Carmichael. As a matter of fact, when one has seen as little of one's father as had Ferlie it was not him one missed so much as his Presence and that which he stood for in a household.

There is no law that children and parents should be one flesh and it was with her mother Ferlie had corresponded; not with the man whose ideas on children's upbringing dovetailed with Mary's thread-bare creed concerning "Her that overcometh the pudding," with the added clause that should life not provide sufficient obstacles upon which to test the will they must be artificially fashioned.

In the end Ferlie went to Lady Cardew's dance, clad in virgin white, reminiscent of her confirmation, since Mrs. Carmichael's mind was nothing if not unoriginal and Ferlie did not really care.

White was not exactly the fashion for débutantes that Season, so it was unavoidable that she should look like a snowdrop which had somehow mistaken the time of year and arrived among a riot of summer flowers.

So, doubtless, would the young man have put it, lounging in rather a tired fashion in the vicinity of the Refreshments (liquid), had he possessed poetical leanings. As it was, conscious of the quickening of a somewhat jaded appetite for débutantes, he decided that he would dance this evening, after all.

Lady Cardew was greatly relieved by this decision. Girls were plentiful, men few; and she always prided herself upon eschewing that modern form of invitation which requests a girl to bring her "dancing-partner."

Ferlie was more fortunate than many in the possession of a brother whose good nature could usually be relied upon, although he did not describe himself as a dancing-man. But Peter had not been able to come to-night.

Lord Clifford Greville-Mainwaring, aged twenty-six, had lately, by an unforeseen railway accident, succeeded to his uncle's estate. For a wonder, not only were these considerable, but the means to maintain them were adequate. He was the Catch of the Season and perfectly aware of that interesting truth. Mammas had a furtive eye upon him; daughters a calculating one, as they weighed his tall but rather meagre proportions against the knowledge that Jack here and Eric there, if infinitely better-looking, were obliged to admit that their chins were their fortunes.

Dancers are born, not made. Ferlie was a Lucky One. Clifford Greville-Mainwaring began to enjoy her ingenuous enjoyment. She acknowledged very recent escape from school but wore a mystifyingly philosophical air which intrigued him. He had been fully prepared to initiate her into the mysteries of a first flirtation; always excepting, he supposed, the school music or drawing-master of ascetic or bulbous personal appearance.

But she had proved very unapproachable, even behind the most sheltering palms in the conservatory with its cunningly shaded lights. And he did not want to frighten her.

"There is something about you," he said, "which reminds one of a tune one has heard and lost and which one always hopes someone will come along humming so that one may recapture it for ever."

"But there are some tunes," Ferlie replied, "which, having recaptured, one would give a great deal to lose again."

His was not a very fertile brain and he clung passionately to his simile, which had struck him as perfect in its way; so passionately that anyone more sophisticated than Ferlie might have suspected him, with perfect justification, of being a little drunk. But she was growing sleepy and merely thought it exceedingly civil of him to insist on seeing her home.

His own car replaced the taxi that had brought her. She took leave of her hostess impervious to the launched arrows of half-a-hundred eyes.

Had Greville-Mainwaring not given his chauffeur leave of absence and so found himself obliged to drive the new Crossley, Ferlie might not have been so ready to accord him polite permission to call. So indifferent that permission. She was really uncertain of the correct procedure and, in her preoccupied state, took the easiest course, and then forgot Mainwaring in finding a letter from Cyprian awaiting her on the hall table.

Not till Lady Cardew put in an ecstatic appearance on the following Sunday afternoon did Mrs. Carmichael learn that her daughter had been considered "the success of the evening."

"Quite like an advertisement for Pompeian Scent or Powder, or whatever it is that is supposed to attract the elusive male," said Lady Cardew, warmly sympathetic with Mrs. Carmichael's reverse of fortune and very much alive to the possibility of doing her a real good turn. "My dear! Only imagine if something came of it!"

Mrs. Carmichael was a little fluttered. One had pictured Ferlie being introduced by her father, in due course, to the eligible officials of Burma. Though that dream had faded this was, to put it tritely, so sudden. And Ferlie's own silence seemed remarkable. Lady Cardew misread it.

"Girlish dignity, Linda. She could hardly assume anything on an evening's acquaintance, even if these modern young people waste very little time. And though there are the usual rumours that Clifford has been a bit wild, you and I, as women of the world, realize that it is better for a young man to have That Kind of Thing behind him than before."

* * * * * *

On the strength of this exciting conversation Greville-Mainwaring received a warmly uncritical reception when he casually arrived with his card-case the following week.

It must be confessed that, up to half an hour previously, he had forgotten Ferlie as completely as the tune so glibly cited on the night of the dance. He was going to a bridge party in the neighbourhood and the sudden recognition of her windows reminded him of a half-finished piece of work.

It might be amusing to take her out driving, with Briggs discreetly officiating at the wheel and the car half-closed. At any rate, he might as well see her again. Now he came to think of it, that unembarrassed survey of her fellow-creatures could not foreshadow Victorian innocence. And Clifford prided himself upon knowing the modern dancing girl for exactly what she was.

He was annoyed to find Ferlie "out." Gropingly, he fancied that she should have remained at home during calling hours, until his expected visit. Evidently, such a course had not occurred to her.

Mrs. Carmichael gave him tea at one end of the big drawing-room, full of Eastern spoil, and Peter strolled in for his, late, abstracted and unimpressed.

"I've heard that Ferlie is a decent dancer," he said.

And, "We shall always regret that if she, eventually, has a Season in Simla," said Mrs. Carmichael, "her father and I will not be there to see her a social success. Simla is always full of pretty girls, but, sometimes, I think that Ferlie has unusual charm."

Mainwaring, thwarted in his desire to see her again, began to agree. With Mr. Carmichael at home Clifford might, possibly, have been weighed himself in the balance and found wanting. The cooler judgment of Ferlie's father would not have placed the worldly goods, with which this young man might undertake to endow his daughter, favourably against the fact that he did not look as if he could ever have earned even a small portion of them on his own account, either in the past or future. The signs of dissipation on the not ill-looking, but weak, face must have stung to criticism the Puritan elements of a mind belonging essentially to the labourer who has borne the burden and the heat of the day. As things were, Peter took a more healthy interest in the make of the man's car than in his character, and Mrs. Carmichael saw no further than that here was a possibility of Ferlie's making up for that "K," lost to their branch of the Family.

Accordingly, Clifford Greville-Mainwaring began, rather frequently, to be found in the drawing-room of the house about to be sold over the Family's heads, and Ferlie, in a few hastily-bought frocks, frequented Thés Dansant and Private Views under the complacent eye of Lady Cardew; at which functions Clifford, invariably hovering, fascinated by her indifference to his marked attentions, waited to take her home.

Ferlie, too, waited for something these days, but nobody realized that it was the mail. Doubtful whether she realized it herself until that inevitable event from which, in looking back afterwards, she dated her "growing up."

Champagne-cup, mingled with the strains of "Wyoming" in a softly-lit private ball-room, made up Clifford's vacillating mind for him; the touch of his hands upon her thinly silk-and-chiffon-covered knees made up Ferlie's for her. There was no mistaking the passionate warmth of her refusal. Till this moment her swift glimpses of "Society," overshadowed as they were by anxiety for the future, had affected her only as part of a drugging dream. Now she awakened to the direction in which she was drifting.

"But you don't understand," said Clifford, too amazed for coherent thought, "I meant to ask you to marry me!"

"I know you did," admitted Ferlie gravely; "no one has ever asked me such a thing before, but I knew at once what you meant. And if you are disappointed I am very sorry that I don't want to."

She had a feeling that the rejection of one's first marriage proposal should be couched in more elegant diction, but, really, there seemed nothing more to say than just that. Marriage meant living with a person for always. She was quite certain that she did not wish to live with Lord Clifford Greville-Mainwaring for always. She enjoyed dancing with him but, when you came to think of it, dancing played an extraordinarily small part in one's existence. She was puzzled because Clifford did not seem to understand her point of view at all, and she wished he would sit further off. They were returning home in the Crossley, with Briggs driving. Later, Peter, descending the turn of the staircase, overheard Clifford's parting words.

"My dear girl, you don't know me yet! I shall go on coming until I get a different answer. That's the sort of man I am."

Ferlie decided it would be hopeless to explain the sort of woman she was, and wondered how often she could contrive to be absent when Clifford called in this optimistic fashion throughout the week. She was, somehow, inclined to surmise that his resolution would not survive a week's rebuffs and she wondered why she had not noticed before that he used some sort of scent on his hair. Meanwhile,

"That chap and Ferlie," said Peter, having faded away unnoticed to his mother's sitting-room, "are brazenly approaching matrimony to-night under the umbrella-stand. From what I could gather Ferlie seems to consider it an over-rated institution."

Mrs. Carmichael's embroidery dropped on her lap.

"You do not mean to say she is refusing him, Peter? When Lady Cardew and I have worked so hard."

"Oh, have you?" asked Peter. "Why?"

"It is a mystery to me," said his mother, "how short-sighted men can be. Do you happen to know his income?"

"I happen to have noticed his shoes," Peter retorted: "they are the genuine co-respondent article, and no mistake."

"I don't know what you mean."

"Do you like the chap, Mother?"

"What's wrong with him? There is nothing to dislike so far as I can see."

"That's just it," Peter admitted. "There is nothing to like or dislike—except his shoes."

Mrs. Carmichael decided that Peter was just being tiresome.

"It might mean a great deal to you if Ferlie accepted him," she declared. "He would be sure to make a settlement upon her—and if you could even borrow money, Peter, just now——"

Peter started slightly and began to whistle out of tune. Still whistling, he strolled to the door. On the threshold he broke off to say: "Well, of course, it's none of my business. To me there seems nothing to take hold of in the man, one way or another." A little pause, and then, "But it's Ferlie's pigeon, after all."

They waited for Ferlie to announce her dubious tidings, but, to her mother's surprise, Ferlie said nothing.

This was making Mainwaring too exclusively her pigeon. Mrs. Carmichael tackled her at the hair-dressing hour when the lights were low. Extracted confession.

"But, my darling, do you realize...?" So obviously, Ferlie didn't.

She stood behind her mother and her eyes sought the shadows of tapping branches on the window with a wistful strained expression. The mail that week was late....

Yes, she had resolved three years earlier that she did not want to marry. He had suggested that type of husband which men in her father's position were usually able to provide for their daughters and she had scorned the nebulous suitor. Did He remember?

It was a long time since she had heard of Muriel Vane. After her return from abroad Muriel had gravitated to a different "Set." There were Rumours. Lady Cardew palpably refrained from quoting them in the presence of the Spotless Young of the Right Set. If Muriel had attracted Cyprian what would he have thought of Phyllis?

Peter looked quite stern at any mention of that quite ordinary Christian name now. Ferlie wondered if it were principle or whether he still considered himself irrevocably yoked to Phyllis's memory...

What was her mother saying about Peter? Mrs. Carmichael's plaintive tones duetted with the singing of the kettle laying the foundations for her nightly cup of cocoa.

"And, of course, you must do just as you think best.... Poor Peter! Your father's convalescence is being so retarded with worry. Though, I'm sure, at my time of life it isn't very easy to begin to do without things. You, fresh from school, young and strong, will probably not miss luxuries.... And ... your happiness is all that matters, darling. I wouldn't for the world persuade you against your inclination.... Your father always says I've been too weak with my children.... I wonder whether Peter will ever get over it? Lady Cardew thought Lord Clifford Greville-Mainwaring such a desirable young man. Your father and I would have been so much relieved—for that Simla Season may never come off. I was relying on the Durrants, but Gwen Durrant will soon be leaving school herself. There was the question of your passage-money too. Do you know there are more than a million superfluous women in England...?

"... Well, good night, darling. Yes, I'm disappointed, but you mustn't think of Us; only of Yourself. No, thank you. I don't think I feel like cocoa to-night, after all..."

* * * * * *

Two days later, a Ferlie with brooding lips, who had twice circumvented Clifford's indications that he came of the Bull-dog Breed, sought Peter where he was engaged in discarding superfluous treasures for which there would be neither nor lot in the life to come.

"Are you sorry, too, about this marriage, Peter?"

He avoided her direct gaze.

"Girls do marry," he said, rather banally.

"I know they do. But there's such a thing as—being in love."

Peter sat back on his haunches, busily dissecting the corpse of a camera.

"I wonder!" cryptically. Said Ferlie, "You always thought queerly about these things."

"Perhaps I still think queerly about them. That is, if common sense is queer.... Phyllis professed to be in love with me. Of course you are naturally more religious. I suppose you inherit it from Mother. I do not mean that you are an orthodox Churchwoman—save the mark! But your sentiments are religious, Ferlie. Love, the Sacrament! ... and so on. I know that Love is a joke invented by Nature to enable her to work out her own ends. If you ask me what I think of Mainwaring I say he just can't be thought about. Whatever he's heading to be he has not got there yet. You could make pretty much what you liked of him. Also, you probably wouldn't see very much of him after that first honeymoon farce was played through. And then you could live your own life; one which might be made as interesting and as full as you pleased. And, you see, it isn't as if there were Anyone Else on the mat."

So that was what Peter thought about it. And now Ferlie knew.

In the light of which knowledge she opened a certain despatch-case and re-read the letters she had received from Cyprian since writing to inform him that she had left school.

The mining life seemed lonely enough and a thread of tiredness stole in and out of the neatly-formed syllables. Ferlie, with faint misgivings, asked herself whether Cyprian were not one of those men who might be described in a book as having made a mess of his life. Instinctive wisdom whispered that Muriel would have made a greater mess of it for him had she given herself the opportunity; but it was doubtful that Cyprian, even now, believed that. No credit to him to be so faithful to his ideals; it was just the way he was made.

"And if I had an Ideal," Ferlie told herself, "I could be faithful to it too."

At tea her mother asked her if she had a cold....

Articles of furniture were already beginning to disappear from the house; two valuable pictures had gone to Christie's. Ferlie suggested: "Margery wants me to go back for a few days. If you don't mind, Mother, I should like to go."

"Only till Monday, then," said her mother, rather miserably; "Next week the packing begins in earnest."

They were chivalrous to Ferlie in their studious avoidance of Clifford Greville-Mainwaring's name.

At the back of her brain flitted the ghost of a memory: the Zoological Gardens and a lion's cage. Somebody had told her that the bars of those other cages, the existence of which she had guessed at, were made of gold. Was Mainwaring unconsciously forging them now for her? She decided to discuss the matter with Margery. There was no nonsense about Margery. Her practical scrutiny of the situation might lay the spectres of those unborn dreams filming Ferlie's vision.

* * * * * *

And Margery, once approached, certainly made things sound simpler.

"You have no reasonable objection to the man?"

"I don't like his touching me."

"Do you like the thought of anyone's touching you? Not experimented yet?"

Ferlie shook her head, her face bent low over the glove-satchet she was sorting.

"Yet everyone, even in our effete, old-fashioned Guard of Die-Hards, has to tackle Sex in the long run," Margery reminded her. "Otherwise, how would the world go on? The Modern Aristocracy, alias The Smart Set which gets put on the stage, believes in facing more facts than usually exist. But it is a truth that, in marriage, familiarity breeds indifference to many matters one would have shied at the very mention of before."

"How do you know?" questioned Ferlie resentfully.

"I have watched my girl-friends marry and invited their confidences afterwards," said Margery with a retrospective smile. "Life is a muddle of rough and smooth for them all, whether they went into it with wilfully closed eyes or curiously wide-open ones. I'll tell you someone else who always seemed to me to be looking for sacramental happiness and getting terribly hurt when he found what he thought was trouble, just like you. The man who ought to have been your uncle and wasn't. I gather some folks have extra sensitive feet on the world's highway, and a too unshaken belief in the everlasting beauty of the hedge-flowers. By the way, do you know about that Vane woman he was so keen on when you were a kid at school?"

"Only that she turned out—not very nice."

Margery laughed queerly but did not pursue the subject.

"It's a mercy," she said, "that your Cyprian-man will have cut his wisdom-teeth by the time he sees her again. Do you ever hear from him now?"

"N-not lately."

"Well, his avuncular advice would probably coincide with mine if he were here. All men are like peas, and most women, when it comes to the Year-after-the-Wedding. Even Tristran and Iseult would have pretty surely grown fat at forty when the children were growing poetical. At forty everyone grows either fat or thin and begins to mistrust moonlight for reading the Book of Life by. In Cliff Mainwaring—I used to know him in his college days—you will have a husband who will never set the Thames alight, nor need to. And you'll live very peaceable in consequence. I shall expect to be asked to stay with you."

And that was what Margery thought about it.


"I have surprising news for you," wrote Mrs. Carmichael, "Cyprian is at Home! His Company has sent him to attend some Conference in connection with the mines. I have not seen him myself. He called when I was out and of course Peter is away at Wimbledon seeing your father's cousin about that clerkship. Cyprian left a note to say he had been lent a flat by a friend. One of those self-contained affairs in Jermyn Street. Service-flats, I think they are called, with the kind of lift which always terrifies me that you are supposed to work yourself by pressing buttons and not a hall-porter. I should not dream of going there unless Peter were with me and, as likely as not, poor Peter would forget which buttons these days, himself, and shoot us into the wrong flat when it would be most awkward to explain.

"Cyprian said he should be in all Sunday if any of us cared to ring him up. You had better write and tell him that I shall be at Richmond this weekend myself, seeing your father in the Home. I suppose you will be returning on Monday and can arrange to meet him then and relate our distressing news."

For a wonder, Mrs. Carmichael did not forget to add Cyprian's full address. Followed the plaintive reminder that Lord Clifford had asked to be allowed to take Ferlie to a matinée on Monday; that the poor fellow was looking very pulled down and she was quite certain that if Ferlie put off Cyprian till Tuesday he would quite understand. P.S.—"My new georgette was ruined by that horrid little dog of the Glennies' which cost a hundred guineas. I would not pay that to have my carpet and my friends' dresses spoilt, and I don't believe it, though Lady Cardew tells me it is a fact, but she is never very lucid in these matters."

The strong point of this letter, also, being anything but its lucidity, Ferlie did not waste time considering which of the canine commandments framed for drawing-rooms had been violated at her mother's expense. Three words, only, hammered at her brain: "Cyprian is Home."

(1) That explained his silence of the past weeks.

(2) He would be in all Sunday.

(3) She must see him before Monday's matinée.

Her way instantaneously seemed to grow clear and hard, like a path on ice. Perhaps Cyprian had escaped the rules of captivity away there among his lonely scattered mines.

Cyprian, who had come to her rescue in nursery-days when Hell loomed before her in the glowing grate, near the yawning tomb of the toy-cupboard and when the night-light, which should have illumined the tired pilgrim's path to a Heaven of sunny dreams, had blown out.... "And ... you will always like me best, Cyprian?" ... "Of course ... Of course."

If anyone could now prevent the barred gates from closing upon her, it must be Cyprian. If he failed she would go to the matinée, thought Ferlie. It would not matter where she went, if Cyprian failed.

"But," protested Margery, later, "I thought you were motoring up with Dad on Monday? The only possible train from here on Sunday does not reach town till just before dinner."

"It will do quite well," said Ferlie. "And I really must go."

At the station Margery launched her parting shaft.

"Good-bye ... My Lady! ... Remember, you can be happy, plus money, with many a person whom you could not live beside for an hour in a little cottage with roses round the door."

And she slammed down the window of the compartment for the traveller's last gestures of farewell.

So motionless sat Ferlie during the next two hours that an artist, thus minded, could have made a detailed portrait of her before the train sighed gustily up Victoria platform.

Rain, in the evening air, and black and gold puddles reflecting the passing figures.

She made her way along to the cloak-room and deposited the box which did duty for a week-end of light dresses, but her suit-case went with her into the taxi. The man received indifferently her stammering request to be taken to the Jermyn Street address.

Inside the taxi it was hot and steamy. The last occupant had mingled scent and cigarettes. Ferlie dropped both windows and allowed the rush of cool damp air from the flickering streets to whirl her hair about her face. She passed a chamois leather over her eyelids and nose, and shrugged impatiently at the reflection the narrow strip of glass gave back to her under a withered spray of lilies-of-the-valley.

She paid the taxi and waited to watch the man drive away, before turning into the bare stone hallway to read the minute directions on the lift. Although a more adventurous spirit than her mother she decided to walk up. Her watch told her that it was a quarter to eight.

* * * * * *

Cyprian had spent most of the time, since a late cup of tea, in writing. He was very busy. This could not be counted as coming home on Leave and he did not expect to have more than six short weeks in England.

Whimsically, he wondered, as the twilight deepened what it was all about—this busy-ness with regard to somebody else's affairs. Since he had chosen to turn his back upon a sheltered and unruffled peace (or would it have been stultification?) and taken the sea-ways towards more glowing suns than ever dawned upon the University towns of England, what Grail had he been pursuing? He had earned his bread and a little butter. For the rest there had remained the distant echoes of a siren's singing, now without power to lure him closer, and Ferlie's gradually maturing letters.

Had he wanted Ferlie to grow up? She had shown precocious signs of it during his last Leave. If he had lost his little companion of the Zoological Gardens England must now become as lonely as Burma. There was the influence of that strange woman who had had tea with them: the aunt. Her name had made him think of hair-oil. Cyprian laid down his pen. In the brightness of the firelight he had not noticed his omission to turn up the electric reading-lamp; and the East ages the eyes. He ought to feel younger than he did. One had to take malaria into account. How old was Ferlie now? Nearly eighteen? Still a child to thirty-nine....

No one had rung him up. He particularly refrained from asking Ferlie to do so in his note, in case she too should be very busy these days. There would be gaieties in town for the Carmichaels' daughter at eighteen, and hordes of young men who did complicated things with their feet in ball-rooms. Young men, so much younger than Cyprian, that they could not have shared his short career as a soldier, early invalided out in the first push.

Sometimes now, when he coughed, he wondered whether the surgeon had succeeded in extracting quite all the bits of shrapnel.

Ferlie, in those days, had not even attained the dignity of flapperdom. Too small for khaki-worship. And it was during those years, he had heard, that Muriel began to lose her silver-fair head. He remembered his one last futile attempt to win her before returning to Burma. His hand, the forefinger stained with ink, stretched irresolutely towards the telephone. As if in direct answer to the impulse a bell rang. The electric bell of his flat. Curious. The valet of his rooms used a latch-key, discreetly, when the flat's occupant was out, and had already taken his dinner order. The hand-lift would do the remaining work of the evening in bringing up the meal and taking it down.

He crossed the room and switched on the crimson-shaded lamp in the lobby. The dim silhouette of a feminine figure was outlined on the frosted glass of the staircase door. He slipped back the catch.

She stood in the frame of the dark fluted doorway.

White fox furs at her throat, fresh violets nestling in them from some country hot-house; above, the hair of a Beata Beatrix escaped from under her soft grey suede travelling hat.

So this was Ferlie. Ferlie, whose letters had grown mature.

"How long do we have to stand here and look at one another, Cyprian?"

The tremulous laughter of her greeting broke the spell.

Cyprian, blinking in the red lamp-light, was beginning to believe her an apparition. He stood aside to let her pass and slipped back the travelling wrap from her shoulders with hands which were not quite steady.

"I did not think you would be coming so late as this," he said. "You never rang up, Ferlie."

"No." ... She curled into a chair beside the narrow fireplace and held out chilled fingers to the blaze.

"I have been in the country all this week. I only came up this afternoon; the first train after I got Mother's letter. You wrote to Mother; not to me."

He ignored that.

"But, my dear—where are you dining?"

("Men," thought Ferlie. "Oh, Men!") She repudiated the thought of food with a gesture.

"Turn up the light, Cyprian. I want to look at you."

He obeyed and, kneeling, stirred the fire. She noticed the hair upon his temples, iron-grey; the little tired lines about his eyes and mouth; the quick nervousness of the sensitive hands. The East had taken its toll of the scholarly dreamer who had allowed his life to drift out on the tide rather than remain upon smooth shores to face a woman's "No."

With lightning rapidity the impression was registered on her heart that Cyprian wanted taking care of. She was not absolutely right. He was a giver himself. He wanted someone to take care of. Another flash, this time searching out the exact truth: Cyprian was not used to women.

"There has been no one since Muriel," decided Ferlie; and feared that name no more.

A gust of wind through the open door fluttered to her feet a sheet of close fine writing, the Greek e's betraying his classics and every letter standing out in equal value. It was the report on which he had been engaged that afternoon. She stooped and handed it back to him.

"I have interrupted you, Cyprian."

"Of course you have. What else have I ever existed for but to keep my temper under your interruptions, Ferlie?"

"There is so much to say," and she drank him in with happy eyes.

He ran one thumb along the edge of the paper, still faintly worried.

"But I must arrange something. You can't go without any dinner at all. I've ordered 'for one' up here and, of course, you must eat mine. I'll see if it's what you like."

There was a hint of exasperation in her voice as she checked his advance upon the bell.

"Do they allow you such small helpings? I can share your dinner when they send it up, if you will insist upon making me eat when I don't want to."

She pulled him down beside her, by his sleeve, into the other chair.

"Do you know you have not even said that you are glad to see me?"

"Glad? Why, Ferlie, you know——" he broke off to stare back at her, and then repeated, "Glad?"

"You have not changed," said Ferlie slowly, "I suppose I have?"

This was frank coquetry and she felt a little ashamed when, with unsuspecting disregard of the fact, he said,

"Stand up again. I haven't made any of the correct remarks. Why, your skirts are as short as they were before!"

"Shorter, Silly! Fashion now decrees that one must put up one's skirts and let down one's hair on leaving school."

"I am glad they have left your hair alone."

"There was not much sense in trying to 'put up' a head, bobbed by Nature, when Art was busy bobbing all Nature's long locks. This bush will never grow beyond my shoulders, if I live to be eighty. I inherit it from Aunt B. That was why she shingled, you know."

His scrutiny came to rest on the widely set grey irises, circled by their dark golden fringe.

"No. You have not grown up," he decided. "You will probably eat all the ice-cream to-night and leave me the cutlets. We were always Jack Spratt and his wife."

She nodded gravely and he added, "Also, you will not want your wine dry."

"I am ignorant enough to have imagined, hitherto, that all wine must, of necessity, be wet. However, water out of your wash-stand carafe will do for me. I expect your tooth-glass is luxuriously patterned to be in keeping with the rest of things here."

They chattered inconsequently till the lift arrived with its first burden of dishes, and not until the dessert had returned to the depths whence it had mysteriously emerged and after they had made themselves as ridiculous as two picnicking children, did Ferlie get down to the Family news.

She touched very lightly upon her "dancing partner," Clifford Greville-Mainwaring, but the deepened tinge of her face did not escape Cyprian because, by then, he was finding it difficult not to look at her all the time.

"I am incredibly sorry about your father," he said, shying away from an uncomfortable idea. "You all strike me as being wonderfully plucky."

"It's worst for Peter," said Ferlie. And sat silent for a while considering the problem of Peter.

Quite by chance, Cyprian glanced at the clock and remarked in startled tones that it was past eleven.

"Is it?" she asked indifferently.

Her arms were clasped round her knees and her chin resting on them. Sometimes she rocked herself gently backwards and forwards. He smiled to himself, remembering the pose since she was seven.

"I am thinking it is about time I saw you home," he said. "Mrs. Carmichael will be wondering what on earth we are doing."

"No she will not. There is no one at home, Cyprian, and I am not expected back till to-morrow."

"But where have you arranged to spend the night?"

She gave that little shrug of the shoulders, once characteristic of fourteen-year-old Ferlie shrugging the Inessential off her horizon.

"Here, I think," she said with wide eyes on the ruby coals.

Cyprian laughed. Then he protested, in his amusement, at the simplicity of Ferlie grown-up. Presently, he sobered and began to attempt explanations; to all of which she turned a dispassionately deaf ear.

"Come on, dear," said Cyprian at last.

"Where to?"

Driving it home that this unexpected arrival on his doorstep had, in very sooth, been a Ferlie-esque escapade from which he must extricate her; if she would lend herself to extrication. He was honestly puzzled.

Of course, he realized that, since they were Themselves, and not another couple, her outlook was perfectly reasonable. Ferlie and he. A law unto themselves long ago, when she awoke at night to scream because her surroundings were dark and lonely. A law unto themselves when he received her at the hands of Martha and Mary, mistrusters of men in general, but willing to admit him into the fold on account of that farcical avuncular status. A law unto themselves in their unnaturally unusual correspondence with its sprawled confidences on one side and its restrained admissions on the other of his need of her in the background of his life.

That need was within him still, but it must be his part to limit it now that she was grown up: to take over the reins of friendship and—and normalize it.

"Well, Cyprian," said Ferlie, quietly watching him, "are you, even now, an occupant of a cage in the greater Zoological Garden, outside the walls of which I promised you, a long while ago, that I always intended to remain?"

This was utter nonsense. Ferlie, with her talk of cages at fourteen, was not to be encouraged, but Ferlie, holding similar views at eighteen, was, most distinctly, to be brought up short.

He shifted the chair impatiently and she forestalled his reply.

"I suppose," she said, "that some buy their freedom in the course of years with the big price of experience, but others are born free. If you have not bought yours yet you will some day. But I was born free. Peter, too, I think. He has the courage of his beliefs; he is no captive to past customs, nor is the fear of the neighbour the beginning of his wisdom. If we walk into cages it will be of our own free will, and not because any stale bait can tempt us from within, nor any pursuing hounds scare us from without."

"Ferlie," said the bewildered man beside her, "will you please tell me exactly what you mean?"

She shook a tangled lock out of her eyes and, at that moment, in the gilding firelight, he had an odd fancy that a man might fill his hands with sovereigns who had the courage to plunge them into her hair. Involuntarily, he touched the ruffled rebellious head.

"You and I have always understood one another," he reminded her.

She imprisoned his fingers between her two soft palms.

"It is a good many years now, Cyprian, since you and I became friends. Whenever I have had need of you and you could possibly reach me, you have always come. We have had to face separation for what has seemed a vitally long time to me since your last leave. To you, already mentally settled and developed, it may not have seemed so long. But I have been half afraid that your return would separate us more surely than, so far, has the sea. To test that fear, I came to-night, because I have need of you, Cyprian. To-night, not to-morrow. When I was little, what help could you have given me by waiting for the daylight? I used to think you could save me from the tomb which was all ready to close on me. Now it is a cage of which I am afraid. I want to stay with you until that fear is past. I want to assure myself of you; to re-learn you in the light of my increased knowledge of life. To-night, not to-morrow. For to-morrow I have to make a decision concerning that cage, and the decision depends upon what I may learn of you in the little time we have together to-night. I knew how you would shrink from offending Convention; therefore I have frustrated Convention. We have only a few more free hours in which to pick up the threads which may have got dropped and twisted. Upon the untangling of them rests my decision of to-morrow. I have gone to sleep in your arms so often that it is a very natural thing for me to remain beside you now until we can both sleep—at rest, in one another's presence again. I need you, Cyprian, just now. And I want you to realize just how much, or how little, you need me."

All but mesmerized, he listened. That which was hide-bound in him, and entirely reticent British, put up a dull fight against the naked simplicity of her words. He said weakly: "Dear, you are so young. You do not understand."

"I understand 'What a Young Girl Ought to Know,'" and she bubbled over with quick mockery. "Curiously enough, the knowledge neither distresses nor shames me. This isn't the Victorian era. But all that I understand, or misunderstand, about the threadbare 'Facts of Life,' affects neither of us with regard to this situation. We have cherished our hours in the past, scattered here and there, each like a desert oasis. We have come to another now. Later, very much later, I think I shall probably fall asleep in this chair and then you may cover me up and depart in peace, yourself, to bed. And to-morrow we can breakfast somewhere together as if I had just come upon the morning train and you had met me, and no one need hear that we spent a happy night, or thereabouts, re-discovering one another."

Stirred to the depths and vexed with himself for his susceptibility to her moods, Cyprian withdrew his hand into safety.

"You always had a way of making the unnatural seem perfectly natural and ordinary."

"What forms your opinion on what is 'natural'?" asked Ferlle, abruptly.

His brain groped around in the dark awhile before he found an answer.

"There is a daimon in every man," he insisted in low tones, speaking more to himself than to her, "which forces upon him the knowledge when a thing is not Right, even though it may be Natural."

And then, that very daimon, thus invoked, spoke to him in the ensuing silence.

The same child who had fallen asleep on his shoulder in the past was beside him now, expectant of the same "crystallized apricot" of comfort. Let him take heed that it was such comfort as healed and did not merely drug. What, for all her dreams, could she have grasped of the Powers which spin the dice for good or evil? Eighteen to thirty-nine! Supposing he yielded to this childish defiance of the Unwritten Law and anyone came to know? He got up and crossing to the window, flung it wide. The roar of London traffic rushed upwards on the rising wind. He stood, his profile directed at the struggling smoke-befogged stars; his shoulders, so moulded to desk-work, a little bowed. Far below him, the haunches of a large black draught-horse lumbered towards a mews. Its heavy deliberation touched a chord of memory: a fragment of verse—Yeats, wasn't it?—assailed him in warning.

"The years like great black oxen plough the land, While God the Ploughman gathers in" ... Gathers in ... Gathers in ... The grain?

There had been a clever fantastical novel he believed written round the theme, and he had seen it filmed.

Someone in it had found the long-desired elixir of Youth.

At the time this had not seemed impossible, but now ... "While God, the Ploughman..." Anyway, He did not hold back the great black oxen. The inexorable ploughing, sowing and garnering must go on. Eighteen to thirty-nine. How possible to take advantage of Ferlie's crystal faith and unanalysed affection? If her words veiled the faint suggestion that her need of him was as great as his need of her—wonderingly, reverently, he repeated it to himself, "his need of her"—he must pretend, for the present at any rate, that he did not hear it. He must be just to her Youth, that glorious jewel of Life which she wore with such careless indifference.

"The years like great black oxen tread the world, And God the Herdsman goads them on behind."

That was it....

"Cyprian." Her voice brought him down from the clouds and he closed the window with a slight sense of chill. "Cyprian, look at me."

He raised his eyes to hers, to drop them again immediately.

"Can you tell me, honestly," she asked him, "that you consider it would be what is called a 'sin' for me to lean upon our friendship in the way I choose, to-night?"

He shook his head at that but he would not answer.

"Cyprian, look at me." Nor would he do that again. His eyelids blinked—their old short-sighted trick—over her head, at the sapphire resting against her white throat, at the dying embers, at the hearth-rug where lay, kicked free by its owner, a glass-buckled Cinderella shoe.

And she knew that she would be proved helpless against his refusal so much as to look at his conception of the Forbidden Thing: for every flutter of his eyelids was the drawing of a shutter which blocked from her another window of his soul.

* * * * * *

"And now," said Cyprian at last, his voice dry with exhaustion, "Would you mind going?"

Instantaneously, Ferlie turned her back and thrust her foot into the errant shoe. In the doorway she faced him, her cloak over her arm.

"You have never asked that of me before," she said, "and you will never be required to say it again."

Half paralysed he heard the front door bang. In another moment the wave of reaction set in. What in thunder was he thinking of to allow her to go out into Jermyn Street at this hour of the night, alone?

He snatched his hat and followed, gaining on her by the fact that he could take the lift. She was passing under the stone arch leading to the pavement as he crashed back the gates.

"Ferlie!" he called after her, "Wait." But she did not stop nor turn her head at the sound of his footsteps hurrying along behind her. A taxi crawled near with its flag up. He was just too late to prevent her getting into it. With feverish presence of mind he noted the number. Fortune favoured him, for it was caught in a block of cars returning from the theatres, as another car ejected its passenger on the other side of the road.

Cyprian, too fiercely anxious at the moment to see the humour of the situation, gave his penny-novelette directions. The driver awarded him an indifferent glance and held out his hand for earnest money. He was used to minding his own business in his profession.

Once in full pursuit of Ferlie's taxi Cyprian found himself on the verge of unnatural mirth. His third night in England; and he and Ferlie playing hide-and-seek, in and out of the London traffic, like any hardened human satyr and some nymph of the by-streets. And why? What was this intangible, invisible Thing which had suddenly interposed itself between them? A silly whim on her part, an instinct-driven refusal on his and the shadow had assumed these gigantic proportions.

Outside the Carmichaels' town residence, with its Sale-advertising boards and closed blinds, Ferlie alighted.

From the prompt departure of her driver one might divulge that she paid him without examining the fare. On her own front door-step, wrestling with her latch-key, Cyprian reached her.

"Ferlie, don't be a little goose!"

Her eyes meeting his in the reflection of the street lamp were as hard as pebbles.

"Only Beckett is here," she said, referring to the old butler, "and he has put up the chain. Since you must let me in for a silly betrayal of my unexpected return you had better come down into the basement and see if you can hoist me through his bedroom window, if he sleeps with it open. His room is next to the pantry and silver-chest. If I set an alarm going accidentally, he will only think it is a burglar at last and plunge his head further under the clothes."

"But, Ferlie——" She was half-way down the area steps and he, less familiar with the house, followed stumblingly.

Beckett's window was open and quite near it stood a rain-barrel. She tossed the cloak she had not troubled to put on into Cyprian's arms.

"I can't take that with me," she said, and, before he could recover his breath to protest, she had reached the summit of the barrel. An instant she swayed on the edge of it, balancing herself by means of a pipe running down from the bathroom window. She was now only a shadowy shape poised above him in the darkness.

"Somewhere," the coldly-spoken sentence stole down to him after she drew herself up on to Beckett's window-ledge, "I have heard it said that 'to the pure all things are impure.'"

The blank black square of her egress stared unfathomably back at Cyprian, standing below it with the loose unfolded cloak, emptied of its owner, in his arms.


Her father said, "Well, if he is a decent chap, and Ferlie likes him, she is lucky." Adding, a little later, from his pillows, his brow considerably smoother than it had been for some time past, "At any rate, he will never leave his wife a pauper."

Her mother said, "Oh, my darling! I always knew you'd come to see." ... And aye had let the tears down fall in thanksgiving that there existed no Jock o' Hazeldean to abstract the bride at the last moment.

Peter said, "There will be lots of girls ready to scratch your eyes out with envy, Old Thing."

Lady Cardew said, "My dear, I thought from the very first that it was Meant."

While, to Ferlie, Clifford said, "I was perfectly sure you would come round in the end. I know women!"

And Beckett lost his bet with the cook; perhaps because he was less inclined to put his head under the clothes at night than one might think.

Cyprian said nothing at all. He was, apparently, most tremendously busy; though, as Mrs. Carmichael justly remarked, "One would have imagined he would make an effort to come in, considering how interested he had always been in dear Ferlie as a child."

Dear Ferlie as a woman was beginning to show herself a little disconcerting. A dignified demeanour was all very well for one so soon to wear the title of Lady Clifford Greville-Mainwaring, but this complete aloofness to the arrival of satin-lined boxes and sealed wooden cases was almost irritating. People were constantly coming up to the scratch, too, and relations who, in the event of the prospective bridegroom's comparative penury, would have considered pepper-pots quite suitable for the state of life unto which it had pleased God to call Ferlie, were, in present circumstances, producing eight-day clocks and jewellery.

Dear Clifford, also, was singularly blessed in a dearth of relatives who would, otherwise, have been entitled to run appraising eyes over the girl destined to assist him bear the burden of an ancient name.

"Not but that," as Ferlie's mother more than once pointed out to congratulating friends, "the Carmichaels could hold their heads as high as the Greville-Mainwarings in that respect." She trusted Lady Cardew had rubbed it into the Duchess. The Duchess herself, a first cousin of Clifford's father, emerged presently, from the mist of introductions, as an untidy, acidly cheerful old lady, much more interested in horse-racing than in Clifford; though she had been overheard to express a hope that his fiancée had not bitten off more than she could chew. Which vulgarity reconvinced Ferlie's mother that everybody in the Peerage had not got in, so to speak, by the front door.

The Carmichaels were unmistakably "front door" people, even though Ferlie's particular branch might remain collateral for some years to come in default of railway accidents and infantile epidemics.

There was no earthly reason to delay the wedding. The doctors had not made up their minds as to the date of Mr. Carmichael's operation and the sooner his wife was free to devote all her energies to this decision the better.

Lady Cardew advised haste on account of her own private recollection that Clifford had, more than once, been guilty of changing a matrimonially-inclined mind. Had she imparted this news to Ferlie the latter might have insisted on delay; at least until Cyprian should be completely out of her range, in Burma. As it was, he received a silver-edged invitation to the wedding with everybody else; though Mrs. Carmichael hoped to give him to understand quite clearly that he had fallen from grace, when they met face to face on the Day.

He had decided—nearly—to refuse it.

He had decided—nearly—that Ferlie could never have meant anything at all by that most particularly Ferlie-esque mood.

He had decided—nearly—that he had done Right.

But the Daimon produced nothing to demonstrate that virtue brings its own reward.

He had made two attempts to see Ferlie and arrive at some sort of an explanation, but on each occasion she had deliberately frustrated him.

He had found it impossible to make his letter of congratulation anything but stereotyped. Cyprian was not good at expressing himself except in reports where exhaustive information was required in condensed form. It would be more than necessary for him to send Ferlie a wedding present.

Nothing impersonal could prove of interest in the ancestral halls of Mainwaring. Yet, there did not seem to be any personal message that Ferlie would be likely to welcome from him at the moment. A younger man had felt more cause for resentment, that Ferlie, during the short intimate moments when she hailed their recovered friendship, had not confided in him her intention of marrying this man. Cyprian was, himself, incapable of resentment against her, however well-deserved.

By chance, he caught sight of something in a jeweller's window which attracted him for unanalysable reasons: it was a small golden apple attached to a slender gold chain. By means of a catch, cunningly concealed under the leaf, it split in half, revealing a tiny magnifying mirror and a minute powder-puff. Round the mirror was engraved the legend, "To the Fairest."

Cyprian bought the apple, caused it to be packed and sealed, and wrote the address in the shop; whence he despatched it to Ferlie, omitting even to enclose his card.

She did not acknowledge it but, at least, she did not send it back.

* * * * * *

With the dawning of her wedding day a fatalistic calm descended upon his tortured mentality, preparing him to see the thing decently through.

On account of Mr. Carmichael's illness the ceremony and reception were to be comparatively "quiet." But when Cyprian arrived, in response to exultant bells, at the fashionable church's door, whence a strip of red carpet protruded like a derisive tongue, his muffled senses perceived quite a formidable array of guests in wedding-garments who ostensibly came to pray and remained to stare.

An immaculate gentleman, blandly manipulating yards of scarlet cords suggestive of a royal lynching, inquired of him, "whether he were on the side of the bride or the bridegroom," and, receiving an inarticulate reply, pushed him into the end of the last pew and left him to his own devices with a hymn-book.

The organ blared joyously, as if the organist aimed at drowning the torrent of whispering and the squeaks of enraptured greeting uniting the pews.

Here and there, was a face known to Cyprian through the medium of the illustrated papers.

Fragments of conversation were wafted backwards through the lily-scented air.

"The mother really landed him, I believe."

"Yes, the Glennies are furious, and Mona Glennie says..."

"But he was never actually engaged to her, was he?"

"Wild oats. What young man doesn't... No. The Vane girl was older than he was. The attraction at that establishment was the Samaritan Actress."

"Well, it's the first time I have heard a member of the tribe of Abraham described as a Samaritan."

"You don't understand. Why, she took in the Vane when all doors..."

Cyprian sat back and opened the hymn-book at random. Did he feel things more intensely than these folk and was it a disgrace to be thin-skinned?

Muriel, and now ... Ferlie. "The One before the Last." But Muriel had figured in the life of a different man from the Cyprian who sat here watching for Ferlie. If intense desire could be construed by the high gods and accepted as prayer, he did most intensely desire Ferlie to be happy.

The buzz of conversation thickened into low murmurings and died. The bridegroom had entered by a side door and was speaking to someone in a front pew.

Almost immediately the Voluntary changed to Lohengrin's "Wedding March," and a clump of rose-coloured dresses, presumably belonging to bridesmaids in the porch, took individual form and clustered round someone in white.

From his post at the back Cyprian had not been able to gather more than that Ferlie's future husband was tall and rather thin but, on turning his head now, his eyes encountered hers fully. He was startled by the impression that he was staring into the face of a perfect stranger. How ghastly white she looked! The fraction of a moment and the eyes dropped, even as his own had dropped before hers the night she had wished to keep him at her side.

She was passing by on Peter's arm. The pair of them looked as if they ought still to be going to school.

Peter's face wore precisely the same expression as must have adorned it when he first took his place at roll-call among the sixth-form "Bloods."

The bridesmaids twittered behind large bouquets of sweet-peas.

Everybody was standing. Everybody was howling a hymn, what time all craned their necks and stealthily mounted hassocks to stare at Ferlie ... Ferlie, who hated people to see her at emotional moments.... He would wake in a little while to find her beside him, seeking shelter from the Thing which had whitened her face with terror....

"Dearly Beloved, we are gathered together in the sight of God..." Ah, well, if the man thought so.

Cyprian felt certain that, whatever God had seen fit to do in Cana of Galilee, He was not presiding amongst these wedding-guests.

Every now and then a gap in the swaying pews would give him a glimpse of Ferlie's mother dabbing at her face with a handkerchief, in token that she must be regarded as bereft of a daughter against her will. At intervals, she was, doubtless, thanking God that she had done her duty.

Cyprian again sought refuge in the hymn-book.

The mutterings up at the altar were stilled and various people had escaped from confinement to wander through the vestry-door in the wake of the chief actors in this religious farce. Or was it tragedy?

While bitter thought was crowding thus against bitter thought in his mind, his gaze became involuntarily fixed upon the lines of the hymn the choir was singing to fill in time:

"O Perfect Love, all human thought transcending!
Lowly we kneel in prayer before Thy Throne,
That theirs may be the love that knows no ending
Whom Thou for evermore doth join in one."

But—Good Gracious!—thought Cyprian, in the light of blinding revelation, he and Ferlie did not need all this to make them one. They had always known that they were one, united by some mystic Force which had its roots in a Far Beginning and its branches in the Eternities.

Then why were they building these barriers deliberately between them and their united freedom?

"With childlike trust which fears not pain nor death."

He had missed the rest of the second verse, but that last line was a perfect description of Ferlie's approach to Love in the abstract. (The woman in front of him would not stop sniffing.)

"Grant them the joy which brightens earthly sorrow,
Grant them the peace which calms all earthly strife;
And to Life's day the glorious unknown morrow
That dawns upon eternal love and life...."

It was over. In a dream he had seen her flit by him, glancing neither to the left nor to the right, but this time she was not clinging to Peter.

With her departure the church became a happy tumult of rising sound. The organist had pulled out everything in the diapason line that his fingers could reach, and Cyprian escaped along the flower-strewn carpet, and so to his taxi, with a great longing upon him for the silence of catacombs.

The philosophic sensations which had followed his sleepless night were no proof now against his throbbing nerves. Ferlie, also, he remembered, experienced physical suffering in mental sorrow. The knowledge formed another of the cobweb-threads binding them to one another.

In Mrs. Carmichael's drawing-room people were now shaking hands with her. There was more noise and a great deal of affected laughter. Cyprian, avoiding the Family, including the uplifted Peter, slipped into an ante-room in search of whisky and soda.

He could not face Ferlie before all that crowd. He could not.

From the ante-room he made his way to an apartment containing a bowl of goldfish. He remembered it commanded a view of the stairs. If she passed up or down the staircase, unattended, he might reasonably expect to have her for a moment to himself. He waited for a long while, watching the goldfish go round and round in circles. They roused misty recollections of Ferlie's nonsensical talk of the general imprisonment of human spirits.

When she did come, although she passed right through the room in her white veil and flowing draperies, he nearly failed to step forward from that sheltered corner by the bookcase.


She started violently and swung round.

"Oh! It's you, is it?"

She spoke on a high-pitched delirious note. Naturally, people were agreeing any girl would be over-excited who had achieved this marriage.

Her whole appearance shocked Cyprian, who knew the real Ferlie.

"I never acknowledged your gift, Cyprian. The Apple of Discord. Clever of you to think of that. Not that I needed a material reminder of the fact that you and I had at last experienced ... shall we call it a misunderstanding?"

The words raced one another to a close, and she ended on the edge of shrill laughter. He flinched as if she had struck him in the face.

The tale of their years for that instant reversed, he looked back at her with the eyes of a hurt and bewildered child. Shaded them with his hand against the pain as he replied:

"You know that is neither fair nor true."

"I no longer know what is true," said Ferlie.

Half beside himself with the sight of her thus altered, he caught her wrists and held them.

"Because you have formed a new and all-absorbing tie for the future, is it necessary to mock at that older discarded friendship which stretches out a hand to you from the past?"

A slow flush crept up her face and the grey eyes widened on a look of anger and intense pain.

"Mock? No, Cyprian, I am not Muriel Vane—kind to men in order to be cruel. If I seem to indulge in that particular vein of cruelty, it is because I know of no other way to be kind ... now."

He saw the thin gleam of a gold chain which lost itself in the folds of transparent softness near her throat, and was superseded by a visible string of pearls—"the gift of the Bridegroom."

Then she wrenched herself away and left him there, staring uncomprehendingly at the goldfish going round and round.


Cyprian did not return to the flat. He went out into the restless London streets. Block after block he passed, from the more fashionable quarters to the outskirts of the park, walking swiftly to escape pursuing Memory, until at last the damp darkness of the river divided the myriad scintillating eyes of the city.

Further along the Embankment dead forms lay huddled where the shadows lay deepest, every now and again to start erect, galvanized into life by the angry flash of a police-lantern.

As he paused to strike a match against a stone bench, shaped like an incompleted coffin, one of these corpses twitched itself upright.

"Fit ter drop!" it muttered, still in the throes of uneasy slumber; "Gawd! fer one bloody night to fergit meself in."

Cyprian replaced his pipe in his pocket and fumbled.

"Here," he said, "I don't know who you are, and you don't know who I am, but if you, too, are in need of sleep and a little forgetting, go and buy it with this, which will not buy it for me."

With the astonished gratitude of a "Gawd bless yer bleedin' eyes, Gov'ner" (even here it was God, God, God, thought Cyprian, who refused to be shut out of Man's tortured intellect even while it anathematized His works) this invisible wreck of Humanity, made in His image, slouched away to drink itself blind to sorrow for a short time in some starless rat-hole known only to its kind.

And Cyprian sat and smoked on the deserted seat, still redolent with the effluvia of rotting rags, until a suspicious arc of light searched him out in his sins and a voice, hoarse with hectorings, commanded him to move on.

Morning found him so far from home that a sleepy taxi-driver whom he hailed rolled a jaundiced eye on receiving the directions of this individual whose damp, crumpled clothes and unclean collar showed unmistakable evidence of an unusual brand of night-on-the-tiles, and Cyprian was obliged to disburse half the fare in advance.

His physical exhaustion stood him now in good stead and he slept deeply on the shabby leather cushions the whole way back to the flat. Slept again on his undisturbed bed, afterwards, till the scandalized valet roused him for tea; his first meal in twenty-four hours.

Before he set sail for the East, he made one attempt, and only one, to renew correspondence with Ferlie.

The letter conveyed nothing to her of the true state of his mind. In despair he had closed it on a pathetic admission, "I fear I have no gift of expression." She answered him, but her own methods of expression were, as usual, fantastic. In the letter she enclosed a small gold key. "A gift for a gift, Cyprian. I suppose it was inevitable that you should shut the gates upon me. I send the sign that only you can unlock them."

He placed the key upon his watch-chain, and, with Herculean efforts of self-control, refrained from any attempts to discover her meaning.

She had always been such a rebel; she had always been so sure of the light within her and, alas, she had always been so sure of the light within him.

A few weeks later, when, the honeymoon accomplished, Ferlie and her husband had returned to town, Mr. Carmichael died.

The operation proved successful enough but, somehow, he never really rallied. Perhaps the predominant feeling that his day's work was now ended lessened the incentive to live.

He smiled with grim satisfaction the afternoon Peter came to see him; a Peter who had already begun to regard the Human Form Divine in the same light as the Butcher regards the liver and kidneys which he slaps down upon the marble slab to dissect for purchasing housewives; a Peter who would be decidedly happier using the knife than saving the unwary limb that might stray his way.

Peter's hair was untidy, his eyes bloodshot, his collar unhygienic, and his finger-nails in half-mourning. His appearance was altogether unsterilized and self-assured. He cried, with a loud voice. His opinions on certain experimental operations, his criticisms on those neighbouring embryo surgeons at work on the same yellow preserved leg as himself, his versions, punctuated with spasms of hearty merriment, of the latest hospital yarn, portraying his fellow-students as a set of inquisitive young ghouls more triumphant over an eminent physician's sponge forgotten in a victim's intestines than troubled with sympathy for the latter's bereaved relatives.

"And I'll tell you exactly what they did to you, Father; it's old Gumboil's favourite amusement. First he cuts open the..."

"Peter, I am surprised at you!" broke in his horrified mother.

Thus had the path of Peter been made smooth and his way plain by Ferlie's brilliant marriage.

"I staked little enough on her," said Mr. Carmichael, relishing the jest of Martha and Mary's antiquated establishment. "Your mother was mistrustful of education for her own sex; she did quite well for herself without it, didn't she? Ferlie seems to have justified the conviction that the old-fashioned girl gets the matrimonial plums. At any rate, you will owe your sister a good deal. See that she stays happy."

Of his son-in-law, whom he only saw once, he said very little.

"Impossible to judge them by the young men of my day. This type did well enough in the War crisis."

He did not leave his wife badly off. With Peter on the way to being floated, and Ferlie secure, she had her widow's pension to herself, besides a little private means and the sum the big town-house eventually fetched when Ferlie bought it, pandering to a dream of her mother's that Peter might one day practise there and retain the Carmichael traditions in the old setting. Till that satisfactory day it could nearly always be sub-let.

Somewhat doubtful of the Christian aspect of her husband's expressed desire for cremation Mrs. Carmichael, while respecting his wishes, determined that the rest of the funeral obsequies should be sufficiently orthodox to disarm his Creator.

"No proper tombstone, you see," she complained damply to Ferlie. "The design should, so obviously, have been a severe cross, quite plain, with perhaps a weeping angel praying. Then a dove of peace hovering, and maybe a few lilies. The simpler the better, you know. And a scroll at the foot, or an open book with one of those grand old texts—Isaiah, is it, or Ecclesiasticus?—anyway, one of the Prophets—'Fear not for I have redeemed thee.' So comforting. Or else the one about panting for living waters that always makes me feel thirsty myself. Your dear father was so fond of rhetoric."

Ferlie, not quite sure whether the weeping angel was destined to wear a delicate semblance to the bereaved wife, nor convinced that the cross could be considered suitably symbolic of the faith of one who had ever regarded it as the undeserved gibbet, brought upon him by himself, of a well-meaning Eastern agitator nearly two thousand years ago, was inclined to demur.

"Father never evinced either the slightest fear of his condemnation hereafter, nor any faith in an ultimate redemption," she protested, "and I think it would have been rather hypocritical to parade a thirst for living waters after death in anyone who can hardly be described as having gasped for them during life."

Then, responding to her mother's grievously shocked demeanour, she relented into explanation.

"I think I never admired Father so much in his life as I did at his death. He closed his eyes, restfully and unfearingly, upon the consciousness of work well done and principles truly upheld. What business is it of ours if they were mistaken principles? So many people, who profess to cling to the creeds supported by the Churches, live as if they had none, and then drift out on a tide of terrified remorse and shame. But, personally, I would not feel fit to intercede for Father's 'forgiveness,' if he really requires to be forgiven for being true to his lights."

Ferlie's mother was too religious to see it, and, since it seems to follow that the brighter the hope of Eternal Life, the blacker the garb in which it must be approached, there was much melodious moaning at the bar when her husband's ashes were interred upon the shores of that Eternal Sea which brought us hither and upon which, in imagination, she had safely launched his sceptical soul.

A week later she was still sewing bands of crepe on to Peter's various coats and seeking consolation in those little details of mournful respect she was able to accord her Dead.

* * * * * *

In due course, Aunt Brillianna, returning from the uttermost ends of Italy, was overwhelmed by the volume of water which had poured under the Family Bridge during her inexcusable retirement.

As the younger relatives, who had expectations at her hands, remarked: "Anything might have happened to her at her time of life." Why, Death had happened to her nephew!

To Ferlie at the Black Towers she went: that historical country residence of long-ago Greville-Mainwarings.

The place bored Clifford, Ferlie informed her, and just now he was obliged to be in town.

Clifford let her do what she liked at Black Towers, so long as she did not offend old Jardine, the retainer who acted as head seneschal and cherished insurmountable objections to innovation of any kind.

"It's a grim-looking pile," said Aunt Brillianna, sniffing the odour of musty armour in the subdued hall. "You look as if you had been living among ghosts, child."

"It's quite natural that I should not look very well just now," said Ferlie.

And Aunt B. scolded herself for not having foreseen that it would be so. Family Name to carry on and all the rest of it.

But where was this Clifford? A flattering portrait of him—life-size, in oils—blocked one end of the dining-room. She studied it for a long time; made a few non-committal noises; reserved her opinion until she had scrutinized his Father and Grandfather in the long Gallery above. And when she had made up her mind she still reserved her opinion for the benefit of her own reflection in the bedroom mirror.

"Presentably aristocratic. On the downward grade. Will Ferlie act as a strong enough brake, even with a child in her arms? Lord! What a mouth! A few more years shall roll and then if degeneracy does not set in I'll—anyway, I'll leave Ferlie all my emeralds," resolved the old lady.

She would hardly have been reassured could she have seen the original of the portrait at that instant in Ruth Levine's flat.

"And Peter?" inquired Aunt B.

"Peter, when he is not classifying the internal machinery of some antiquated corpse, is examining Roman Catholicism."

"Whatever for?" asked Aunt B. interested.

"For the fun of listening to Mother arguing against it, I think," said Ferlie, unenthusiastically. "I told Mother that, if her views were really so strong, she had better tell him that she had no objection to his conversion."

Aunt B. chuckled. "You have become very wise in your generation, Ferlie. And did she?"

"She could not resist correcting the term to 'perversion'," said Ferlie, "and it would have been so easy to have kept it at 'vert'."

"Her father, the bishop, must often have shown himself impressively sarcastic upon the query, 'Can there any good come out of the Vatican?'" mused Aunt B. "And your mother always had an indefensible memory for things best forgotten."

"What on earth does it matter to anybody but Peter? His argument is that, as he has no time to go into the matter of a Personal God's existence thoroughly himself and is by no means convinced that the same Deity has ceased to exist at the bidding of admirable rationalists like Father, it is best for him to join a cocksure religion, wherein he knows what he has got to believe and he knows what he has got to do. I think Peter could only be held by a religion that was cocksure. And he is, also, a little mistrustful of his own judgment these days, and certainly all for strengthening the matrimonial chain."

"And your own views, Ferlie?"

"To give according as one receives," said Ferlie wearily.

Far from satisfied was Brillianna Trefusis on her way back to town. She had been told that Cyprian Sterne had shown little or no interest in Ferlie's affairs and her shrewd brain was being interrogative. What had he thought of this marriage who knew the Ferlie-nature so well?

"Perhaps—Another Woman," reasoned Aunt B., "though, somehow, the idea does not fit. I used to consider the situation dangerous because the child got such little understanding at home. But, apart from the difference in ages, those two 'belonged'."

Then she warned herself that her imagination was getting out of hand. Ferlie, at present, would have been more unnatural without moods than with them.

* * * * * *

Who could tell that, on opposite sides of the Equator, Ferlie and Cyprian were both battling against that apathy which descends, like a canopy of darkness, upon ultra-sensitive spirits who have reached their limit of controlled mental suffering, blinding a vision ordinarily (since the high gods are just) unusually clear to distinguish between immortal and merely mortal beauty, and affecting them with that terror, however diffidently one may approach the Example, which wrung a cry of agony from the Leader of all Christs, whose lips were silent in the utmost extremities of bodily pain?

And these, as yet devoid of the Christ-Power assured to every struggling heart that responds to its stirring, whose sun is withdrawn and who possesses no artificial light to relieve the paralysing blackness of the Shadowy Valleys of Self-mistrust, may well lose their way in strange unexplored by-paths before they win through into the open country to find the dawn-star shining still above the distant hills.


Up the valley, beyond the well-established mines, where Burmese, European and International pariah digs the disguised jewels from Earth's mountainous breasts, Cyprian sat limply in an office with red wooden walls, smiling to himself at the remembrance of the untravelled folk who might picture ruby-mining as a series of endless descents into Aladdin's cave.

The washing of the ruby dust was about the most interesting part. The routine work and the daily examination of the naked coolies, who had even been known to swallow promising earth-stained lumps of treasure, in the hope of secreting them later for private exploitation, very soon lost its excitement. The rough surroundings and dusty atmosphere were, in themselves, the ordinary lot of colonists and pioneers, but the average man had some purpose for their endurance.

Cyprian was conscious of none. He sometimes asked himself, seriously, what he had done in binding himself to drive, interminably, another man's plough. There appeared to be no reason why he should remain, save the natural reluctance of his type to look back before the furrow was run. And that might not be for some while yet.

His Company's mine, a small one, had been a secret discovery above the area in those wilds where the mines were supposed to reach. He contrasted the life he had chosen with that of the average business man. The roads he travelled from the green banks of the Irrawadi, more than fifty miles into the interior, lay through a bewildering loveliness of mountain pass and rocky defile.

The country on either side of the river, steaming down which one encountered the unique floating villages of the log-raftsmen, remained primitively Eastern the whole way to Bhamo, where Burma joins hands with China.

The philosophy of Gautama's fatalistic children was beginning to soak into Cyprian's ego. From this point of the valley, breathing incessantly an atmosphere of absorbing toil connected with those open workings from which the Byon, or ruby-earth, was hauled up by washers of half a dozen different nationalities, he grew almost able to persuade himself that Ferlie's England of tall houses and dignified streets humming with modern traffic, belonged to a lost pre-existence.

Nevertheless, after three more years of monotony endured on lethargic river-boat, irresponsive mule-back, or at the inexorable office-desk, always, more or less, drawn apart from his fellow-men, he suspected that it was nearing the time when he should be born again. It was so long since he had slept well at night. Sometimes he imagined the pain in his heart had lulled, but each mail-day, blank of news he did not expect, roused it again.

He could have remained longer at head-quarters now, had he so chosen, but Cyprian never really fitted in with his pioneering countrymen of the East, and round about his part of the world there were few women.

Burma had solved the problem of loneliness for the forest officers and others in her own particular way. And Cyprian, in the noonday of his life, tormented by insomnia, had begun to look upon it as an inevitable way.

A dull throbbing ache in his temples made him lay down his pen. He could take Leave, of course. The idea nauseated him. For what reason should he wish to take Leave now? Even if Ferlie were unhappy with the tall futile individual he had seen her marry, what could Cyprian do? For him the road stretched thus solitary to the end of the horizon, lengthened by the fruitless wooing of the sleep that had deserted his tired plodding brain. If he stopped working, inaction would only increase the pressure of thoughts which work held at bay.

* * * * * *

And then ... the thing happened so quickly. There was no battling with decisions; no weighing pros and cons, and the Daimon had simply held its peace.

One day as he walked up the hill to his inelaborate bungalow he began to nurse a delirious fancy that the Country, herself, was holding his head in an iron grip, and only the Country herself could draw out those claws pressing into his temples on either side.

And, when he reached the four-roomed residence, the Country Herself was awaiting him, as it had awaited, to some purpose, many another transplanted Briton whose national sense of proportion had become blunted after long rooting in alien soil.

She sat there, patiently, outside the dyed bamboo chick, a lemon-coloured lungi swathed about her hips, a white muslin jacket concealing her contours, and frangipani blossoms nestling like stars in the midnight of her hair. Her age, was, perhaps, sixteen, but her smile revealed that placidity of soul suggesting many adventurous incarnations. They called her Hla Byu, or Beauty Fair.

Her father was with her: a practical, soft-spoken, obliging old gentleman, who had heard the Thakin was a lonely Thakin, and unmarried, and thought that, for the exceptionally reasonable sum of Rs.200 something might be arranged to the mutual advantage of all parties.

Some atrophied instinct tried to whisper dead words to Cyprian's wearied spirit as he paused in the doorway, one hand separating the rattling strands of bead and bamboo, to gaze at Hla Byu with bodily, but not mental, concentration. In response to that fixed regard her smile intensified, becoming a happy thing reflected again in her eyes.

"Ohe, Thakin "—and her voice was honey-soft—"It may be in my hands to heal the river-fever."

Thus he construed the quick-spoken sentence. His smarting lids were lowered in token that he did not wish to argue the matter to its close. But he held aside the pattering curtains for her to enter and let them fall again behind him with the noise of dried leaves laughing in a hot breeze.

* * * * * *

From the first the experiment acted as a narcotic. He had never discussed with other men of his acquaintance the modes and methods employed by all who adopt what is generally known as the Burma Habit.

During the War, just after his own swift flight from the mines to the trenches, and his almost immediate rejection after that early knock-out, an opportunity had been afforded him, by chance, of observing the question from the viewpoint of the British soldier.

It clothed in an unearthly beauty what had, till then, struck Cyprian as wholly sordid and unclean. But that soldier had certainly taken part in an exceptionally pathetic human drama, which he proceeded to relate with the utmost naiveté, flavoured by almost untranslatable epithets of Tommyese.

One travelled third in trains those days unless one was the engine-driver or had made a corner in lead before it became the staff of life.

There was a lot of khaki coming up from Southampton; tired, wet-looking khaki which had seen better days but none so worthy of its cloth. It steamed with damp because the Mother Country had greeted the shipload of travellers from across the Channel with her customary flood of hopeless tears. The slippery platforms were picturesque, after a fashion, from behind a window-pane of the lingering train. It was waiting for the hospital train to leave first.

Then three soldiers had stopped outside Cyprian's carriage window.

"'Old 'ard, mates," said a voice, checking his companions from further exploration, "this 'ere is practically hempty."

Cyprian retired behind his paper as, with squelching boots and reeking bundles, they proceeded to instal themselves.

"Bit of orl right, eh?" sighed the first with a creek of content as he settled down to scrutinize the grey streaming pane. "The very rain smells different."

Cyprian had scented an Optimist.

"Hell!" was the reply in startlingly convincing tones, "I'll be floated out o' me blasted boots if I tries to stand up again."

This was obviously the Pessimist.

"All the same, them boots could take the prize at the beauty show if Hathi's 'ere was put alongside 'em for comparison," declared the Optimist, giving a poke at the footgear of Number Three.

His were certainly gaping in all likely and unlikely places, while with the size of them one rightly connected the mode of address. The Hathi smiled absent-mindedly as a man used to exciting comment upon extremities, in more senses than one.

"'E keeps 'is like that a-purpose to show 'is Archiebald socks," commented the Pessimist, disgustedly. "I ain't 'ad so much sock on me nine toes for six months as the Hathi 'as kep' on 'is corns for the 'ole of the last push."

"You ought ter 'a kep' that missin' toe to sell, you ought," chaffed the Optimist. "We could 'ave 'ad a auction in barricks after the last big Bosch fungeral, always supposing we git barricks over our 'eads once more in the sweet By 'n By."

The Pessimist snorted.

"I wouldn't miss 'em none if we didn't," he stated flatly. "It's my belief they'll be so sick of the sight and stink of soldiers that they'll disband the bloomin' army."

"Always s'posin' there's any army left to disband," volunteered Hathi in the soft even tones of the philosopher.

"One can't but 'ope," said the Optimist, producing a square packet from an inner pocket and proceeding to unwrap it. "'Ope and smoke is all the army 'as to feed on these days."

"'Ullo!" broke from the Pessimist, as the packet revealed cigarettes; "where d'ye raise that, Rooseveldt?"

"These 'ere," returned the fortunate possessor, "was give to me by 'oo might be called a member of the yaller Fair Sex and I've 'ad 'em treasured in oilskin the best part of a year waiting for this moment."

"An' we'll 'ope for 'ooever was with you at the moment," suggested the Pessimist.

His companion shook his head sadly.

"I ain't allowed the privilege of sharin' wi' you, matey," he said, "though with a generous nature like mine the situation goes crool 'ard. Fact is, I took a oath to smoke these with me solitary self on the first day I set foot on the 'ome shores—always s'posin' I 'ad a foot left to set on 'em."

"That sort of oath is 'ated in 'eaven," said the Pessimist, incredulous.

"It's 'ated worse on earth," replied the Optimist, eyeing him speculatively.

The Philosopher spoke. "Why don't you buy a penny packet of fags if you want 'em? I see a Mother's Darling runnin' round jes' now wiv a right pritty lil tray. I wouldn't want anyone's fags 'oo didn't want me to 'ave 'em."

"You correck that," commanded the Optimist threateningly. "I tell you it's a slap-up genuine affydavid that stands in my way. 'Ave you ever known me refuse a pal me own wipe—alway' s'posin' 'e was in the kind o' trouble wot needed a wipe?"

Apparently they hadn't, for the Philosopher prodded him gently in the belt with the toe of his boot by way of stemming his rising indignation, and the Pessimist hung unresentfully out of the window.

"This way, sonny," he yelled, on sighting the said Mother's Darling. "'Urry your twinklin' tootsies!"

But the cigarette boy did not hear.

"Try 'im with 'Cuthbert'," advised the Optimist sympathetically, "or Rodney. Rodney is a nice name," he mused. "I once 'ad a gawd-child named Rodney. It died o' croup."

"O blast the bloomin' train!" (in effect) exclaimed the Pessimist impatiently as the engine showed signs of restlessness. "'Ere, you!"

But the boy sighted him too late as, with a shrill warning, the engine lurched forward and the long line of carriages rattled after it, protesting, out of the station.

The Pessimist flung himself backwards with an unprintable expression. His nerves were obviously needing a Woodbine.

"I'll have to commit perjury, I suppose," said the Optimist sadly, handing him the oilskin-guarded case. "It's punishable by law but I'll look to you and Hathi to bail me out."

"Quit foolin'," commanded the Philosopher, "and tell us, afore we help ourselves, wot's makin' you so greedy-like the very day you ought to be bustin' to share your soul with your pals?"

"Always s'posin' they ain't got none of their own," murmured the Optimist, throwing him a box of matches.

"I ain't foolin'. There's a regular romance about them cigarettes you indelicate spirits is about to enjoy without appreciatin' of."

"Regular your Granny!" growled the Pessimist. "Which of your beauty gals robbed Dadda's case for this little lot? Why, they're Burmese!" he finished in astonishment.

For answer the Optimist nodded to Hathi.

"You was up at the Daggone a fair piece?" he inquired.

Hathi reflected.

"When we was quartered at Rangoon? You bet!"

"You'll mind them festival nights afore the battalion was ordered for Bosch fightin'?"

"I mind all them festivals," broke in the Pessimist.

"You minded too many festivals if I don't mis-remember," retorted the Optimist. "I 'eard wot the sergeant said afterwards about you, my man."

"It's a temple wot makes your mouth water, that," ruminated the Philosopher, turning the discussion.

"It ain't the temple wot affects me that way," said the Optimist decisively, "it's wot sits on the steps."

"I ain't seen none to equal the Daggone lot," agreed the Pessimist.

And, in a flash, behind Cyprian's paper, light broke upon a vision of the Shwe Dagon Pagoda at festival time with its flight of steps bright with humanity in coats of many colours. Yellow-robed, shaven priests, gay-turbaned sweet-sellers, picturesque beggars and always girls, girls. Girls in soft lungis of peach-coloured silk, heliotrope, dull-rose and lemon; for unlike the Hindu woman the Burmese has an artistic sense of colour highly developed.

Cyprian had never seen a native of Burma crudely clad. His thoughts wandered.

"She 'adn't got the sort of name a parson could 'a got round his tongue at the font," the Optimist was saying when he again turned his attention to him, "Always supposin' she'd want 'im in that capacity. She wore them frangipani flowers be'ind 'er ears. Woof! Whot a jolly stink they 'ad."

The other two puffed acquiescence.

"Used ter remind me of a Putney bus on a 'ot day," soliloquized the Pessimist, "I once picked up a lady's 'andkerchief in a Putney bus. But no matter...."

"That's a tale of 'is gloomy past, that is," said the Optimist to the Philosopher with a wink. "It'll be better kep' in its cawfin."

"So'll that yarn of lil Frangipani, if I ain't much mistook," snapped the Pessimist.

A slow grin stole over the imperturbable countenance of the Philosopher, but he did not speak.

"Funny goods, wimmin!" mused the story-teller, letting the remark pass. "There's two sorts, when all's said and done—the sort a man keeps in 'is 'ome, and the sort a man keeps in 'is 'eart."

"Lil Frangipani being the 'earty kind," suggested the Philosopher.

The Optimist searched his inner garments again.

"I got 'er 'ere," he said, and half-shamefacedly produced an envelope containing a few crumpled snapshots taken with a large-sized Kodak. He handed it to the Philosopher in silence and the Pessimist peered over his shoulder.

"Why, I know 'er!" he exclaimed in triumph.

The Optimist greeted the information with scorn.

"You!" he said. "Why, she never ain't 'ad nothin' to do with a gentleman wot Gawd 'adn't blessed with blue eyes and a pleasant countenance."

"Wot's wrong with my countenance?" demanded the incensed Pessimist.

"There ain't nothin' right that I kin see," insisted the Optimist.

"'E got it at the same shop as yours came from," the Philosopher gently reminded him.

"Wherever 'e got it from 'e was 'ad," insisted the Optimist.

"Well, if you call your eyes blue—" began the Pessimist.

"I don't," interrupted the other. "But she did, and that was good enough."

"They say them extry small ones is colour-blind and stone deaf," stated the Pessimist. "It's along o' the life they lead."

"I've 'eard tell the same o' you," returned the Optimist, "but I never pays no 'eed to gossip."

Again the Philosopher interposed.

"We'll take it she wasn't neither," he said soothingly. "And anyway you 'appened to be to 'er taste and she 'appened to be to yours."

"We kep' company, as you might say," continued the Optimist, "for—'ow long was we stationed there, Hathi?"

"Best part of a year," replied the Philosopher.

"So! Gawd, 'ow time moves along. I wouldn't 'a bin on-reasonable if the lil gal 'ad kep' 'er 'and in wi' one or two of the next smartest privates in the regiment...."

"Wot's that?" ejaculated the Pessimist, but the speaker took no notice.

"But s'welp me if she looked at another blighter the 'ole time."

"S'welp me if she didn't!" came from the Pessimist. "I tells yer I knows 'er."

"And I tells yer, yer never was able to tell one gal from another, out there," contradicted the Optimist.

"I'd know that one in my sleep, anyway," went on the Pessimist.

"That's how you probably know her best," put in the Philosopher, "it's a touchin' tale of a too-trustin' little 'eart, I don't think."

"Seein' as 'ow you're smokin' her fags..." began the Optimist.

"Let 'im git on with the yarn," remonstrated the Philosopher.

"Garn!" said the Pessimist, "I was only pullin' of 'is leg. Wot 'appened to the little picture?"

"You've said it," declared the Optimist, mollified. "She were a picture; in 'er pale yellow lungi, wiv a blue scarf and the flowers all over 'er on a festival day, she could 'a walked out wiv the Prince of Wales and 'ad the folk all lookin' at 'er instead of 'im." He sighed dreamy-eyed at the view of Eastbourne Pier over the Philosopher's head. "As I say, she was mighty fond of me," he continued simply. "And I thought a 'eap too much of 'er even to 'ave a dekko at any of 'er little friends in pink and blue. There was one Chinese woman, 'oo 'ad green dragons on 'er silk coat, and she gave me the R.S.V.P. eye more'n once, but I was always goin' shoppin' wiv Mother."

"I know that Chinese woman," said the Pessimist again.

"Then don't tell Mother about it," advised the Optimist. "The Hathi 'ere, 'e knows too little about trouble, and you, you knows too much for your 'ealth. Well, my gal she 'ad been popular all 'er life and 'ad saved a tidy pile of rupees which she was for puttin' down my socks, willin'. 'See 'ere,' I told 'er, 'I can't no-'ow treat you different from as if you was a lady-maid airin' the pram in 'Yde Park,' I says. 'You keeps your chinkers, my dear'!"

"'Old 'ard," interrupted the Pessimist, "'owd you talk to 'er in that bat?"

"She knew three words of English to six words o' Urdu," explained the Optimist, "and I knowed two o' Urdu to one of Burmese. And our kind o' friendship did not need talkin' much at that o'clock."

"A he-male and a she-female under ninety niver need none at no o'clock," said the Philosopher decidedly.

"Then came the rumour that we was to shift," went on the Optimist. "I telled 'er, and she sung out somethink upsettin'. She wanted me to chuck the army and join 'er in keepin' 'ouse out Signal Pagoda way and be as 'appy as two little birds in a chimbly. She didn't see as 'ow my missus at 'ome could be reckoned a just cause or impediment neither. She'd got 'er divorce from two 'usbands easy enough in the past. Divorce is easy come by, accordin' to their rules, it seems."

"Which, takin' it all round, ain't surprisin'," said the Pessimist.

"I put it to her this way at last. 'See 'ere, Ladybird,' I sez, ''is Majesty, the Bara Raj, 'e finds 'e can't do without me sword-arm in a tamasha agoin' on agin a low-down lot o' soowar ke bachars called Bosches,' I says. 'The British Raj 'e sends a chit for Private Cobb to come along and give 'im a 'and, so naturally I replies, "Anything to oblige." Now, 'ow could you expect me to do 'im down after that?' I sez. 'Them Bosches, they've been eatin' babies and boilin' the Raj's own Aunties in oil," I sez. That kind o' soothed 'er and she begins to see I'd 'ave to go. 'You not come back,' she says. ''Course I come back,' I sez (for you know 'ow one 'as to work wiv wimmin) 'I come back with a necklace o' Boschy teeth,' I sez, 'and you can wear it on the next bara din to the Daggone. That took 'er fancy some but, would you believe it, she didn't swaller me all at once. 'You not remember me, 'ome," says she, 'you buljao.' 'Never, on your life!' I tells 'er, 'you ain't the sort a man forgits easy.'

"The next time I sees 'er she brings me the fags, all wrapped up in oilskin and air-tight in a little tin. She got me to promise I'd smoke 'em when I were 'ome to keep me from forgittin' 'ow I was to come back. They ain't the three-rupee a 'undred kind as you can smell a mile neither."

"The day the orders was 'eard definite I was a-wanderin' round the wharf takin' a look at the ship wot was to land the troops Gawd knowed where, when I seed someone a-hailin' me from a sampan on the river. It was jes' after them sampans 'ad been put out o' bounds because of them two blasted Crusoes in B. Company wot 'ad drowned themselves axidentally foolin' round in one. And they bein' a disgrace to the regiment in not knowin' ow to swim, to my thinkin'."

"S wimmin' don't 'elp none in that river, bless you!" said the Philosopher. "No man ain't never saved 'oo tries divin' stunts in that current."

"Well, you listen," said the Optimist. "I looked 'ard and I seed that the sampan was full o' fruit, and on top o' the fruit, perky as Charley's Aunt, was that little yeller lungi seated. 'Course I answered the wave o' 'er 'and, when the sampan gits near the wharf she pointed at the fruit and then to me. She'd collected it from all over the shop for me to 'ave on my journey."

"You never giv us none," said the Pessimist.

"You'll hear why," replied the speaker. "No one could 'a exactly told wot 'appened after that, but there was a barge comin' down stream, between the jetty and the sampan, and a steam-launch comin' up opposite. The barge got in the way of me view fust and then everyone 'eard a shout and the barge let out over its far end with ropes, and then the sampan swept past 'er with a chunk missin' and a speck of yeller 'angin' on, while the fruit was floatin' about on top of the water."

"Gawd!" remarked the Pessimist. "Did they git 'er?"

The narrator paused. "Some men in a boat comin' up-stream lugged 'er in," he said. "The man wot was rowin' the sampan 'ad gone down, and so, o' course, they knew they needn't expect 'im up again inside a week, and then it would be some miles along the river. But they got the little gal ashore and took 'er to the 'ospital. 'Er 'air was 'angin' down and 'er little face was the colour of the inside of a banana, and 'er silk lungi all tore and stained green."

"What did you do?" asked the Philosopher.

"What a man could. I went round to the 'ospital and they wouldn't let me up, but I 'eard as 'ow 'er ribs was stove in. Through 'er lung they stuck and that was 'ow they couldn't save 'er."

"Didn't you see 'er again at all?"

"Next afternoon I turned up to inquire, and a Burmese nurse said the gal 'ad been askin' to see me as she knowed she was dying. They took me up. There was screens all round the bed because she couldn't get better, jes' like an English 'ospital. And O Gawd, some 'o them wimmin in the ward as I passed, didn't they look 'arf ill! 'Wot's this ward?' I asked the nurse, and an English matron wot 'ad come to take my name and address said they were mostly police cases. She didn't seem to like my face none, but she showed me to me little friend. I Gawd-damned the 'ole blasted lot o' them when I see 'er, an' jes' knelt down and put me 'ands on 'er little 'ands and sez: 'See 'ere Ladybird, 'ow you goin' to wear that Boschy tooth necklace if you don't get well?' She opened 'er eyes wide as saucers for a minute, and then she sees me and smiles a baby twisted smile. She gasps a bit and I put me ear down close so's she wouldn't feel it any effort to speak a piece. 'No buljao,' she whispers, so faint I couldn't 'ardly 'ear. 'Never on your life!' sez I, and I meant it. Then I brings out the fags to show 'er where I keeps 'em in an inner pocket. She looks at 'em and, 'Soomoke,' she sez. I thought at fust she wanted me to smoke one then and there, and I'd 'ave done it if Gawd Almighty 'ad pointed out as it was against the rules. But then 'er tiny fingers nipped mine an' I kep' still. 'Don't you be afeared,' I said, 'I ain't goin' to leave you yet,' thinkin' I'd put my tongue out at the matron if she tried to shift me. With that she kinds of seems to settle. 'Soomoke 'ome,' she gasps; and I answers, 'I'll smoke the bleedin' caseful, beginning the fust day I sets foot in Blighty, and I'll blow back the smoke to the East so's all smoke you see think it's my lot comin' to tell you as I ain't nearly bulgaoed, nor goin' to'."

The Optimist stopped and coughed violently. Then he got up and fussing with the window-strap let the pane down with a bang. The rain had ceased, and breaths of English Spring blew in across the wet fields.

"These 'ere do irritate the throat after a while," said the Philosopher sympathetically.

"And wot happened next?" asked the Pessimist, who had no fine perceptions.

The man at the window turned on him with eyes still glistening from the effects of his cough.

"Wot 'appened next?" he repeated scornfully. "Oh, 'er and me did a barn dance down the ward, of course!"

The Philosopher handed him back his matches and the photograph which he was re-studying.

"It's got to come to all on us," he said thoughtfully. "And I bet, matey, it come easier to that lil girl there than if she'd 'ad to face it later without a pal at 'er side."

"That's so," assented the Optimist cheerfully, but he tucked the tin case of cigarettes away with reverent fingers. "What troubles me," he said confidentially, "is these 'ere pictures. I can't 'ardly take 'em 'ome to my missus and explain—particularly the poser where me arm's aholdin' of 'er waist. Under the banana tree. We got 'em took by a Eurasian mugger wot I'd met."

"Don't you show 'em," warned the Pessimist.

"It ain't a question o' showin," said his friend. "You don't know my missus. She's a-meetin' me at Waterloo and if she don't turn out me pockets in the station she'll do it in the bus."

"My 'ole Umbrella is meetin' me too," said the Pessimist, "and she'll find me all ready to tell 'er that 'ere is the fust petticoat I've brushed agin' for a twelve-month. So don't you go suggestin' nothin' different, in a pally way, if you do 'appen to be near."

"Let's 'ope your pockets'll bear you out if I do," said the Optimist.

The Philosopher shifted his position and leant forward. "You take my tip, 'ole love," he said impressively to the Optimist. "Jes' you wipe out that lil yaller gal. She's in safer 'ands than yours now and you can't git at 'er with cigarette smoke, nor nothin' else. You tear them photographs right now and put them out of the winder. It ain't no good explainin' 'em to a woman—least of all to one wiv marriage lines. I know, 'cos once I tried it on. My old missus is one of them earnest Christians wot do a lot more forgivin' than forgettin', and 'er forgivin' of me 'as been more'n I can bear for the last five years. Now, whenever we 'as words, I git the wust of it straight off, owin' to the 'andle I giv' 'er agin' me. You all of you poke fun at me for bein' quiet-like, but if you'd seed my missus, or 'eard 'er, you'd know where I got the 'abit of 'oldin' me tongue. I go on tip-toe now when there's a gal around 'oo suits me."

The Optimist gazed at him admiringly.

"You're deep," he announced with conviction.

"Nothin' in me pockets or in me kit," wound up the Philosopher, "is nothin' on me conscience or on me wife's, and no bustin' of the 'appy 'ome. You wipe that lil Frangipani off the slate and forgit the stink o' them flowers."

The Optimist shuffled the photographs thoughtfully.

"Seems 'ard," he said, running his fingers round the rims. "Still—'ere goes!"

He tore them up slowly and the fragments were whirled away into space by the draught outside.

One small piece floated back to his feet.

"This 'ere is the tail of 'er lungi," he said, picking it up.

And then, since there is nothing conceivable in God's world so sentimental as the British soldier, he slipped it into the cigarette-case where it could tell no tales.

The Philosopher rose to shut the window for there was a nip in the air. He looked back up the line and down on the footboards where a couple of shreds still clung.

"That the best place for them," he said with conviction, drawing up the glass. Then he muttered a profound truth.

"Honesty may be the best policy," he said, "but it ain't the one wot keeps a weddin'-ring from wearin' loose."

Fortified by which assurance, Cyprian had seen the three Galahads alight on Waterloo platform, ten minutes later, each to imprint a chaste salute on the nearest portion of waiting wife, which presented itself at the carriage door with a string bag, a shabby umbrella and dewy eyes.

And as, now, in recalling the whole scene which had deeply impressed him at the time, he compared the insignia of the string bag with that of the white frangipani flower, the cynicism of the Greek Philosopher crossed his mind, who summed up the whole conditions of life, since male and female created He them, in the words:



Hla Byu's outlook was too Eastern to be contemplated by any woman of the West. Very much the dog's point of view.

There is endless talk about the faithfulness of dogs, but does not experience teach that it really consists of faithfulness to a master rather than to one master? The dog who loses one master, to be kindly adopted by another, suffers from the change only until he has grown accustomed to the new touch upon his head. His heart beats as happily in a little while to the new tread along the garden walk. He is still faithful in his allegiance—to the hand that feeds him. When the old master returns he will remember, till then he will philosophize.

The Burmese woman who is sold to the white man has this advantage over his dog. The Unexpected does not occur. She knows that she will, possibly, change masters more than once in her life. She may prefer one to another, but, in most cases, the change is accepted philosophically and is followed by few heart-burnings and useless regrets. So that the man be just to her and kind, so that he clothe her and approve of her housekeeping, she is content. Her lighthearted affection goes to the children, who are bone of her bone, and of whom she need not stand in awe.

If the man has any notion of fair play, when the time comes for him to leave her, he will provide for the children; if he deny all responsibility, there are still the missions, who look upon such things with solemn and sentimental eyes, and are, consequently, helpful.

Cyprian learnt during the next two years to understand this enduring passivity of the Buddha's children. Not that they followed blindly the precepts of the Great Teacher: they had simply adapted them to the changing times and needs of the Race.

Little Hla Byu was a regular attendant on festival occasions at the Aracan Pagoda in Mandalay. She knelt before the big gold Buddha, solid from many coatings of precious metal, when the flickering candles dripped grease, and the scent of the incense-sticks penetrated through the scent of perspiring humanity.

There, she prayed for her son. She did not consciously connect him with the foreign father who might, any day, desert her for a woman of his own race, and legitimately deny all that linked him to his former life. She prayed quaintly, mechanically, regarding the proceeding in the light of a charm, and with no very clear idea as to who should hear the prayer. The priests should know. But the priests, indeed, if they knew anything up at their bare stone monastery, should have taught that the Master could not hear the cry of human suffering or desire, even if he would, since he had obtained the final Silence, "where beyond these voices there is peace." But, to Hla Byu, spirits there must be—Someone, Anyone. Prayer could do no harm, anyway, and might certainly do good. Contemplation was not for the Burman-in-the-street, but any follower of the Buddha can hold a wooden rosary and repeat two thousand times in a dull monotone, some such golden truth as that "Honesty is the best policy," before leaving the lighted Pagoda and going back to the bazaar to cheat his brother.

At least, her creed gave some outlet to those emotions which the practical things of life cannot satisfy.

She was richer than Cyprian, who had none. The simple honesty of her beautified their relationship. Nature, surely, must have meant just this simplicity between the sexes in ministering to each other's needs. He knew that Ferlie would have been struck with the hypocrisy of Society-life in the big towns of Burma.

There the white women-folk knew of such as little Hla Byu but pretended ignorance. No aspiring mother would encourage her daughter to join hands with an ex-public-school boy at the beginning of his career and flit away into the jungles to share the making of his future. That was Hla Byu's part. But, later, when the same future was assured, when the public-school boy had become submerged in the fever-eaten official with a bank-book and, possibly, a passion-ravaged past, then it was the turn of some clear-eyed débutante to receive with thankfulness God's gift of a good man's love—and his motor-car.

* * * * * *

Cyprian's face, bent over the official note-paper upon which he had been idly sketching while listening to the klop-klop of the postman's mule mounting the hill, was less lean now and far less strained. The great bitterness curving the corners of his mouth was contradicted by the level calm with which his eyes looked out across to the horizon despite their awareness that the Lot had fallen unto him in a rugged ground.

A slight stir in the vicinity of the waste-paper basket caused him to turn his head, and, with an oddly detached air, he surveyed for some moments the explorations therein of a naked baby.

Its creamy amber skin shone like satin in the sunlight, relieved by its stiff cap of black hair. And the eyes riveted suddenly upon Cyprian's were widely set apart and, most incongruously, most tellingly, blue.

The man, unexpectedly, with a brusque movement of his head, shook down the eye-glasses he used to correct his astigmatic vision when concentrating for long upon close writing, and the small inquiring face receded, mercifully blurred.

But its marked and precocious intelligence remained branded upon his mentality as if somebody had pasted an imperfectly-developed photograph there.

"One is responsible," and he turned the word over in his mind, stupidly probing its meaning.

Hla Byu picked up the restless bundle as she flitted into the shaded gloom of the sitting-room, out of the white glare blocked by the verandah chicks.

Cyprian absently received his letters from her hands.

"The school is in Maymyo," he said inconsequently. "It will be best for him to go where there will be others like him."

The puzzled wonderment of her expression merged into amusement. She had learnt something of this man during the last two years. Something, also, of latent powers in herself which he would have paid much, in after life, to have left unstirred. She gave a tiny exclamatory chirp of laughter.

"At fourteen months, Thakin? That would, indeed, be somewhat early, even for him."

With relief he recalled that the time for such decisions was not yet. One might drift a little longer....

But Fate disproved that. Among the official letters lay one in a strange handwriting. He turned it over incuriously, but there was a seal on the back which quickened his interest. He could not recollect where he had seen it before. The first words of the letter startled him.

"Dear Ferlie's Cyprian,"—Stiffening, he turned the sheet over to read the signature, "B. Trefusis." Then he remembered. A tea-shop.... Ferlie buried in ice-cream and, to the right of her, a vivacious shingled head ... the same seal on a thin white wrinkled finger, curved over a plate of honey-coloured scones. He spread the letter out upon the blotting-paper and, resting his drawn forehead on sheltering palms, read it slowly through.

"If you were ever a friend of Ferlie's, try and come to her. Once, I should have said, if you were ever a friend of Ferlie's try and leave her. I never considered you a successful substitute for the uncle she did not possess, but the very difference in age between you, which I deplored, I now rejoice in. Perhaps, she will confide in you; perhaps, you will be able to help where the few that are near and dear to her are excluded from helping.

"For all I know, you may have forgotten that there ever was a Ferlie. This may find you with another woman at your side. You may have ties—children; then, for their sakes, come and hold out your hand in friendship to a child you once knew. I am not satisfied with the little I gleaned about her marriage. I am not satisfied with the accounts I heard of you then. The only thing I am satisfied about is that Ferlie needs you and would tell you what she will not tell me. Perhaps, you may have the key to the whole situation; perhaps, you know nothing. At any rate, if you were ever a friend of Ferlie's come and learn."

After all, the ties which held him were slenderer than cobwebs; surprising the ease with which he snapped them.

Hla Byu did not question. She merely accepted. But her slanting brows creased painfully.

"Will the Thakin let me come back to him?"

Through the rising tumult of his mind he detected the note of alarm.

"There is nothing to fear," he told her. "I will arrange for regular money to be supplied to you. The child shall be provided for all during his life."

The momentary relief in her face struck a feeling of shame to Cyprian's soul. There were men, he knew, who would consider him quixotic. He blinked away the thought. Custom could not lessen the dominion of the Daimon in this matter. Responsible. For all that he had made of life. For the weakness which had originally driven him from his acknowledged sphere. For the narrowness which had spurned Ferlie's confidence in its rightful setting; for the indecision which had kept him from following his truest instincts to love and to declare his love; for the apathetic purposelessness through which he had accepted Burma's bribe of Hla Byu, and the child with the questioning blue eyes.

"What will happen no one can foretell," he said. "Serve another Thakin, or wait; in either case you can always appeal to me for your needs."

Seemingly satisfied, she nodded and then turned from him to hide something on her lashes which made rainbows of the sunshine. She had always been a little afraid of him, although he never got drunk, nor beat her, nor threw things about the house as she knew, from her friends, so many foreign masters did. He was always silent, work-absorbed, apart from her—it was like living with the marble Buddha on the river-bank, who eternally contemplated, in the regulation attitude, the water traffic slipping by on its very mortal affairs, from town to town. She clutched the baby to her in a spasm of passionate regret—although, of course, there remained nothing to regret since their future was assured.

"It has been peace here, Thakin?" she said, on a timid note of interrogation.

He laid a gentle hand upon the yielding shoulder; her tiny bones felt soft like a kitten's bones.

"It is never peace for long, child," he answered.

* * * * * *

He had wired the date of his arrival to Miss Trefusis; the compromise of a reply to the letter he had not felt capable of answering. But he was not prepared to see the severely stately figure of that decisive lady waiting at the docks.

She greeted him as if they had parted yesterday.

"People remain vivid to me," she said in explanation, leading him to the closed limousine. "We are motoring to my place near town, and your heavy luggage can go by train. You are coming to stay with me until you've had time to choose your roost. On the way down in the car I can elucidate. Meanwhile, a brief catechism will clear the air. Married?"

Cyprian shook his head.

"I am glad," said the old lady. "Your having no responsibilities will simplify matters. Was leave due to you?"

"I took 'Urgent Private Affairs'."

"Good. They should more than occupy your attention. Get in."

Her hand directed him towards the car.

Cyprian obeyed, hypnotized. Once they were seated she swung sideways to look him full in the face.

"Do you know why I have risked this? For love of Ferlie. You might have consigned me to the devil, had you developed into an official of high standing, very much married, with a brace of inarticulate, spectacled children. Instinct told me that you were alone in spirit, even if among your fellow-men; overworking, and living at the bottom of a mine, not of rubies, but of buried hopes. Was I right?"

He nodded, blinking nervously at his hands. Her voice had lost its hard-edged clarity.

"When I saw you two, one afternoon at the Zoo—you remember?—I thought that the link, strengthening between you as the years went on, was wholly unnatural. You were Ferlie's sun, though neither of you realized it. And she stood to you for refreshment and comfort and utter peace. Again—Was I right?"

He stirred uneasily.

"Can you not spare me this?"

"No," said Aunt Brillianna emphatically. "I can spare you nothing if Ferlie is to be spared a little. Listen."

She lowered her tone and, above the humming of the car, her voice ran on earnestly. Pain was again wrenching at his nerves and the sentences sounded blurred and disconnected....

"And no one knows the real truth. They are not, officially, separated, but she lives alone at Black Towers with John, her little boy...."

A companion of lesser perception might have faltered discouraged before his immobility. This one had the good sense to keep her eyes upon the shifting hedges.

"She tells us nothing, and lives like a nun, cloistered in her pathetic youth behind the walls of that crumbling old tomb. Mainwaring fills the town house with his friends, and there are queer stories afloat about him. He has never shown any interest in the child—looks upon its arrival as a duty mutually performed. There has been no public quarrel; no cruelty that we know of, and the rumours, however unsavoury, do not provide the evidence for divorce proceedings. In any case, Ferlie has joined the Church of Rome. Gave no explanation why; merely announced it as an accomplished fact. I saw a marble statue once, called 'Endurance.' It was in a private show, by an unknown man. A nude figure with hands extended to push back some invisible advancing foe. I bought it. There is terror in the face, lest the unknown power should crush completely; but there is also cold resistance and the strength of despair. I will show you the thing. You, who remember Ferlie as so poignantly alive...."

The speaker broke off for a moment.

"... But I must come to the incident which prompted my letter to you. I had gone unexpectedly to Black Towers, and only John greeted me in that mausoleum of a hall. He is a Ferlie product all right, but only just four. And ... one never knows.... The servants told me that Lady Greville-Mainwaring was at home but could not be disturbed. I asked if she were ill. They denied that and, politely resistant to further inquiries, supplied me with papers, afternoon tea, and, being well acquainted with my erratic habits, asked if I would stay the night. I said 'yes,' and turned my whole attention to John in the hope of discovering what his mother was doing.

"'No one could ever go up between five and six,' he informed me. 'But go up where, John?' I asked. With some difficulty I extracted the fact that Ferlie was in the West Tower. I knew there were unused rooms in the towers. I asked him what his mother did there between five and six, and he said she shut the door and 'just was quiet,' adding proudly that he took her up messages if it was important.

"I hated the sound of these proceedings which he evidently regarded as normal. 'This is important, John,' I said. 'We won't tell anybody else, but you take me up to Mother.' He demurred at first—thought the occasion did not justify that weary journey—but, at last, I persuaded him. The steps were high and dark and narrow. We might have been perambulating in Dante's Purgatory as we circled round and round. We stopped outside the door of a circular room. So strict were her orders that she had ceased to expect intrusion, and only a curtain hid her from us. I stood for some while behind it, listening to the silence. John, queer intense little soul that he is, sat down on the top step nursing his legs, for he was never very strong and I suppose they ached from the climb. And suddenly perched up at that height in the dark, relieved only by the spears of ghost-coloured light shooting through the slit windows behind us on the stair, I lost my nerve and felt that, dishonourable or not, I must know what Ferlie was doing. If she had turned into a witch in that setting I was not prepared to be surprised."

Miss Trefusis stopped to wipe from her face the dampness which had gathered there. She gave a little gasp and moistened her lips.

"Cyprian. I stood and peeped through the curtain folds at a room soaked in gold light. I thought I was demented until I realized that the rays of the western sun must touch this turret last of any room in the house, and then they struck through a round aperture glazed with orange glass. When no longer dazzled by the discovery I found Ferlie. The place was unfurnished save for a cushioned oak chair in which she was sitting, motionless as if she had been dead for years. On the palm of one opened hand lay a spherical object which retained at one spot a pin-point of reflected light like a minute star. On this it seemed to me Ferlie's eyes were fixed, and, even when throwing discretion to the winds, I went in to her she neither spoke nor stirred.

"I stooped low to her face and realized that she could not be aware of my presence. She was in some sort of a trance. Terrified, my first idea was to rush for help. Mercifully, I thought better of it. I did not know what kind of help was needed. I could only guess that Ferlie was self-hypnotized. But with what object? And had the thing been accidental, or deliberate. Not daring to pick up what she held in her hand I saw it was a small golden apple.

"I went back to John and asked him where the nearest doctor lived. We were some while whispering while I dug for information, and during that delay I heard Ferlie give a long sigh. Back I sped to her side. The apple had rolled into her lap and her body relaxed as I hovered round like a distracted hen. Then, to my joy, I perceived that she was realizing me. She did not seem astonished, and lifting her head spoke as if hardly out of a dream.

"'Nearly,' she said. 'Very nearly. But there is always some Presence standing between him and myself—and it is not God.'

"I was tactful and apologetic, putting the blame of my intrusion on to John and pretending I saw nothing out of the way in finding her in the turret.

"But, later, by deduction and confidences half-won, I arrived at some sort of explanation. Ferlie had been dipping deep into the ultra-ancient and ultra-modern volumes of every species of literature which stock the Black Towers library.

"'Do you believe that mankind have lost the power of communicating with one another by thought-transference?' she asked me. 'If they ever had it,' I said, determined not to encourage her.

"But her face checked my inclination to snub.

"'Christ had it,' she said. 'He healed from a distance, and promised that all He did we might do. No one seems to have taken that promise seriously enough to test it—unless perhaps the Christian Scientists.'

"'I'd prefer to rely upon the twopenny post, myself,' I insisted. She shook her head and said, 'That would not be right in my case, Aunt B. I may only struggle to attain the fulfilment of the promise.'

"'With whom do you want to communicate by this unnatural method,' I asked. But she would not tell me. Only by accident I stumbled upon that item.

"Late that same night I heard through my open window a faint sound of somebody crying. It was one of those desperately still star-saturated nights. I was up in an instant and along the corridor without waiting for a candle. Ferlie's room was next to John's. Through his open door I watched her, but this time I did not rush in to put to flight any stray ministering angel who might be in the offing. Cyprian, it is a terrible thing to come, unawares, upon a soul in Gethsemane. What has lain between you two in the past I do not know; what may lie between you in the future I dare not think. But I at my eavesdropping post grew colder and colder. If Ferlie continued much longer to carry this secret burden I was certain she would go out of her mind. And I am convinced that whatever the stereotyped and doubtless to your mind worthy, principles to which you have succumbed in this matter, no man can count himself wholly irresponsible whose name is thus centred in a woman's prayers."

The great car swept forward, increasing speed along a clear stretch of road. Between the occupants for some moments there reigned an unbroken silence.

Then Cyprian spoke, still without moving; his rigidity outlined against the transparent pane.

"How far are we from Black Towers?"

"We pass within thirty miles of it."

"Then...." Their eyes met.

Aunt B.'s head jerked suddenly forward.

"I thought you'd understand." ...


The Autumn twilight was thickening with milky opal reflections when they rolled through the heavy iron gates of the park. Gigantic trees shadowed the curving drive; every now and then sending a swirl of jewel-coloured leaves to join their brothers carpeting the soft turf.

They passed one copper beech, tinted like the understrands of Ferlie's hair. But, though the grounds were obviously well cared-for, nothing could relieve a brooding sense of desolation, due to the over-luxuriant vegetation which darkened the surroundings of an already dark, if beautiful, house.

Well-merited the name, Cyprian thought, as the solid old turret towers rose at last, picked out in inky silhouette against the flaming aftermath of sunset cloud.

Upon the flight of black marble steps a child was standing; a miniature bull's-eye lamp in his hands. He had evidently been trying to light it with the aid of a box of matches which would not strike.

A footman came down the stairs as the car drew up, and his expression of surprise gave way to placid recognition of its lady-occupant.

"Her ladyship said she was expecting you, Madam, but did not think that you would be arriving till Wednesday."

"I have brought a friend of hers with me," Miss Trefusis told him. "Where is she?"

The man did not answer; he had turned back to speak to his colleagues, now gathering about the limousine.

Jardine, the old butler, with the forceful impassive face, informed them that her ladyship should be told. He left them before the hall fire and glided away.

"I always regard him as a sort of Keeper of the Keys," whispered Miss Trefusis, hysterical with fatigue and achievement.

Cyprian took out his watch as if suddenly reminded of something, but he did not look at the time; only at the securing ring of a small gold key dangling from the watch-chain.

"He has been in the Family so many years," went on Aunt Brillianna, "that Ferlie says he believes himself a kind of Influence on the Greville-Mainwaring destinies."

The child, whose lamp one of the footmen had lighted now, passed through the hall, carrying it carefully. She called to him.

"Come here, John. Don't you know me to-day? Where is your mother?"

He was advancing towards her but checked himself at the inquiry.

"She said not to take no one up the stairs," he informed them with emphasis. "She are having a key made for the door."

He spoke clearly and with only a slight slurring of the S's which could not be described as a lisp but which gave a more human childishness to his unnatural gravity.

Scarcely concealing the effort it cost, Cyprian raised his head and looked at him. Yes. That hair, also, would have flaunted a rebellious crop of sunny waves had they been allowed to grow. He was too white and frail-looking for prettiness but it was with his mother's wide steady gaze that he returned Cyprian's survey which shifted first.

"Nonsense!" said Aunt B. on a low quaver of amusement, "you can't afford to be jealous of Ferlie's son."

Cyprian replied with a vexed laugh,

"Don't read me so clearly out loud. There are some things a man wishes to hide from himself."

She rose, holding out her hand to John.

"Take us to the foot of the stairs, laddie. I do not want you to go up. We may hear Mother coming down."

John hesitated, but, finally, led the way, vouchsafing one piece of news as he pushed back a nail-studded door.

"I have got a tricycle."

It gave Aunt B. her opening. At the foot of the stairs she turned and gestured to Cyprian, standing behind her.

"The key is not yet made to lock you out," she reminded him in an undertone. And aloud to John, "Show me the tricycle."

Was it not yet made? Cyprian asked himself; or, rather, would the lock be too rusty for it to turn, after such long disuse?

Up and always up. And Ferlie climbed thus, daily, the ascent of her lonely Purgatory for the little hour when she might unmask her suffering, and face the truth that her soul was exceeding heavy.

It was a long time to Cyprian before he stood outside that door. It had a heavy looped iron handle like that which turns the latch of a church.

He paused but heard no sound within.

His hand grasping the ring was steady; the oaken panels swung back easily under that strong pressure.

She was leaning against the Gothic window, and the lingering touch of long sun-fingers rested upon her head in comforting caress.

He spoke her name in a whisper. Her head turned slowly but she did not move. So often had he come to her at this time and, so often, faded back into the gloaming.

His shoulders relaxed as dawned the explanation for her dumb acceptance of his presence. He crossed the threshold with outstretched hands.

"My dear ... Oh, my dear..."

She crumpled up in his arms, not unconscious, but sick with shock.

The last red ray withdrew from the turret, leaving them in the gloom of a grave from which resurrection seemed very far away.

* * * * * *

The presence of Aunt B. made all the difference to the situation. She effaced herself and entertained John, but lent a more commonplace air to his visit than would have seemed possible, in the circumstances.

The erratic arrivals and departures of Lady Greville-Mainwaring's elderly aunt had ceased to be a matter for comment in the servants' hall. Jardine palpably respected her uncompromising utterances; John met her as an equal, and Cyprian and Ferlie, at peace in one another's companionship along the garden walks, passionately blessed her in their hearts. She had done wisely in warning Cyprian that Ferlie's appearance must startle him. She wore the look of some Inquisition victim whom the torturer's power had reduced to that exhaustion which ceases to feel. Instead of the limp body, incapable of further suffering, Ferlie betrayed a like condition of soul.

"Was this change of religion any use?" Cyprian asked her.

Her eyes might swiftly have become sightless as she replied, "There was no 'change.' It had to be that or Father's way of thinking. And I could not trust my small strength with Father's self-sufficient philosophy. This represented one more cage, but a necessary one, if I was to obtain enough self-discipline to enable me to live. You know I am not being dramatic. Sometimes I thought of that way out, only it did not seem quite fair to John, until he should be old enough to understand about heredity and choose for himself."

"You—you don't make yourself exactly clear."

"No. Well, never mind! ... Peter, by chance, knocked up against a clever Jesuit. I do admire that much-criticized sect, Cyprian. Their hard logic; their cold positivity of thought. This one thrilled one's sense of humour first by a speech made to a Church of England padre, which, beginning on a note of toleration crashed to conclusion on a chord of glorious bigotry. 'After all,' he assured his vacillating companion, 'We both serve the same Master; you in your way, I in His.'

"Later, this man was discussing the conversion of a well-known statesman with Peter. 'He was too intellectual,' said the Jesuit, 'to be satisfied longer with less than all the Truth his brain could assimilate.' That speech impressed Peter as, doubtless, it was meant to do, with his tendency to brain-worship. He, also, began to be sure that the World's Thinkers, among whom he would like to be numbered some time, must, universally, find the Whole Truth here.

"And you know, Cyprian, he is clever. They did not make the mistake of approaching him on the sentimental, or even the romantically beautiful side, of the religion. He is certainly a more valuable ally to the Catholic Church than undoctrinal I."

"The thing has not yet interfered with Peter's instinctive love of liberty," Cyprian pointed out. "Whereas, you and I are, surely, threatened by its precepts."

He went no further. Not yet had he broached to her that which he understood to be passing in Aunt Brillianna's mind; more tentatively in his own. But Ferlie smiled with wistful understanding.

"There is no public cause for a divorce, that I know of," she said quietly, "And, apart from Catholicity, isn't divorce rather impossible as a solution for Us?"

She was placing her finger upon something which formed the basis of their mutual pride. They did not give to take back again, whatever the type of altar to which they had dedicated the gift.

The mockery of her marriage-service struck him afresh.... "That theirs may be the love which knows no ending, Whom Thou for evermore doth join in one...."

"Dear," and his voice was vibrant with pain, "How could you ever have imagined that any public vows could unite you to him, who were already part of..."

Habit of mind checked him; Ferlie was braver.

"Of you," she finished steadily.

They walked the whole length of the lawn before she added,

"You did not realize that, Cyprian, while there was time. If you had realized it I should not have been free. There was no time to give you time to weigh your love. When you held back my light seemed clear."

"And I had no light," he said shortly.

"You haven't told me whether you now share these modern views about divorce," she reminded him. "Even the Church you nominally belong to is divided in its opinions on the subject. Its members talk very fluently, and go on their way, self-convinced. Like Peter, who, at nineteen, could talk himself into that sort of convinced state about anything."

"There are exceptional circumstances..." Cyprian began, but she stopped him then.

"And now you are going to do it! No, Cyprian. You must be either 'for' or 'against,' with principle at the back of you. Don't you see that everybody's exceptional circumstances would always be his own? That is how the Individual now dethrones God in favour of himself."

"Ferlie, you forget you have not yet told me your circumstances. And I have a right to know."

He watched her clouded face and waited. Twice she seemed about to speak but the constrained reticence of the past two years still fettered her tongue.

"I have never told anyone," she said huskily. "I don't know how much I ought to tell. I only believe that it may be a divorcing matter, according to Law; if I had not put myself under Catholic discipline."

He placed his hands on her shoulders and pushed her down on to a moss-upholstered bench near which, perched on a pillar, mocked a laughing stone faun.

"You must tell me," he said. And took his place beside her, covering her hand with his own.

Presently, with an obvious effort, she asked,

"You will not have forgotten Muriel Vane?"

His fingers contracted and she paused to reflect that if Cyprian had not remained so true in the abstract to his First Vision he would hardly have been Cyprian; and her god.

But she could not long mis-read the expression of raw disgust on his face as she lifted hers. It puzzled her.

"Nothing would hurt now, Cyprian—if you knew. She is—not quite normal now. Not since a long time has she——"

"I know all that." His tone was cruelly hard. "For a long while I would not allow myself to believe those rumours.... And once I thought to put her before you! It is that I shall never forget." Even so does a man resent his mistakes on their object instead of on himself.

"Cyprian, don't. Haven't the years taught you compassion?"

He shrugged that view away.

"What compassion is possible, or even right and decent?"

"You may feel inclined to shun a leper but, surely, you would desire to help him, too?"

She surprised him.

"What makes you think of it that way?"

"Experience," said Ferlie, so low that he hardly caught the word.

She braced herself for explanation.

"You once met a woman called Ruth Levine." She went on without heeding his start of acquiescence. "She has been very good to Muriel Vane. Muriel's people separated; then her mother died. Her father took to drugs, or something; they were a queer family, degenerating, like—like so many. And Muriel developed into—what people said. Ruth thought she had foreseen it and might have done something to prevent it happening. I should have imagined that impossible; often it is caused by heredity insanity. Anyhow, she saved Muriel from the usual kind of 'Home.' It is always the woman, Ruth says, who is judged; men so affected can often live undetected or screened from public criticism.... Ruth knew Clifford before I married him and when I concluded that, for John's sake—if only for that—there must be a complete break between Clifford and myself, she came to ask me to get divorced, as she had cared for him first. She was quite matter-of-fact about it. I told her that I could not dream of using the evidence she offered to supply. I told her that Clifford and I had privately arranged to live apart but that I was a Catholic and it was not in my power to unsay vows once spoken. I told her that I did not think she understood why Clifford ought to be in other hands than those of women. She looked at me as if I were crazy and went away.... I—I don't know any more, Cyprian."

Ferlie's voice had almost vanished. Suddenly her head went down upon her knees and her body shook with dry sobbing.

Cyprian, with half-closed eyes which did not wish to see, was wondering whether he had understood.

She had conjured up dark visions the like of which had rarely crossed his horizon. He was inclined, like many self-sheltered individuals, to blink at the most sinister of Life's shadows, as if by so doing he could blink them out of existence as easily as out of his thoughts.

His inarticulate prayer: "Et ne nos indue as in tentationem!" A wise one with reference to the safety of his individual soul but hardly conducive of expansive sympathy to others.

The horror he experienced in hearing this child, a score of years younger than himself, approaching for commonplace—as indeed they might be elsewhere in the world, for all he cared—issues which, until now, he had always succeeded in pushing far from his own sphere of action, hindered him from pressing her further.

* * * * * *

He might never have realized the immensities at stake for her, but that Chance interfered to drive his newly-acquired knowledge home.

At that moment Jardine was seen to be coming across the lawn, a silver salver in his hand.

Cyprian aroused Ferlie in time. When the old butler stood before them, with the telegram, she was presentably calm.

"Mrs. Minchin sent me out with it, your ladyship; it was addressed to her. His lordship wishes her to inform you that he is arriving to-night and would like one of the cars to meet the 8.15." Mrs. Minchin was the housekeeper.

Ferlie took the yellow envelope from the tray and, as she did so, Cyprian wondered whether it were only in his imagination that a look passed between mistress and man, electric with mutual warning.

Just the flash of an eyelid, and Jardine was pursuing his majestic course over the grass, his back-view impervious to criticism and comment. Not until the last glimpse of his black coat-tails had disappeared behind the yew-bushes did Ferlie rise to her feet and face Cyprian beside the laughing faun. Again that illusory sightlessness filmed her dilated pupils. She looked through him and beyond into a blank pall of darkness.

"Cyprian," the voice was dead like her face, "Take me away."

He fancied the half-human leering thing of stone stirred in evil exultation. The twisted weather-beaten features made an unholy contrast to those others of still soft flesh on a level with them.

"I have nothing more to say to you than that," she said, when he did not answer. "I will tell you nothing more. Whether you go with us or not, John and I leave here to-night—in time. You could not trust me five years ago; can you trust me now?"

"It was not you five years ago; it was my own creed that I could not trust."

"But now it is different, Cyprian. You have out-lived one stage of self-mistrust now."

Did man ever arrive beyond the reach of that urging Power in a world peopled with mortal flesh, he wondered.

Strange that, in forcing a decision upon himself concerning Ferlie's future, Cyprian forgot the very existence of Hla Byu and his son. It was not his intention to conceal from Ferlie the temporary loss of will-power which had changed the tenour of his life during the last two years. But the Burmese girl, received in a moment of sick physical weakness and retained in pure apathy of soul, had existed so mistily for the real Cyprian that, the practical arrangements for her safe-keeping concluded, she simply slipped out of the picture. When he did remember her she had become so superfluous among the host of living memories he and Ferlie were storing up that he could not bring himself to recall her, even by speech.

"I know too thoroughly by what means the latent forces of the body can accomplish the spirit's murder"—she was speaking again and he recollected himself—"But you and I have nothing to do with such perishable links. Nor do we require witnesses to ratify a spiritual marriage for which we should not have been prepared without these last enforced years of disciplined control."

She stopped, confronted with his unyielding silence, and, all at once, grew limp and human by that other inhuman watcher in stone. Her shoulders relaxed, bowed and aged beneath their invisible burden.

"I am not playing the part of Eve. It is all right. I promised that you should never need to ask me, a second time, to leave you. I understand. I am going now, alone."

He drew towards her then.

"You are going with me. I am giving you no choice. Do you understand? This decision is mine, not yours. You are going where I shall take you and under whatsoever conditions I lay down, now, and during your whole future. The responsibility is mine; you have got to put your trust in me."

Was it credible that the ripple of breeze through the swaying stalks of a bed of tall Madonna lilies drowned a satyr-laugh of derision?

Standing shoulder to shoulder they made no attempt to touch one another's hands.

So might the Little Saint of Assisi have mythically wedded Poverty, while Chastity and Obedience supported her on either hand.

Said Ferlie, "I have nothing to give you that you have not already. Everything of yours has been guarded safely behind a locked door. And, Cyprian, you have the key."

* * * * * *

To Miss Trefusis he outlined his scheme and found her a little dubious.

"But, my dear man, this is the twentieth century. Why not meet this fly-by-night lord and arrange matters with modern sanity over a whisky and soda?"

"You are the only modern one of us three," he reminded her, amusedly recognizing that her unusually broad views, contact with which he had once feared for Ferlie, were responsible for their present re-union. "Ferlie tells me that she has no evidence for a divorce, nor can she seek it, in consideration of the Church she has joined."

"Bless my soul!" exclaimed Aunt B., exasperated that any Church should continue to consider joined what she had been at such infinite pains to put asunder. "Surely you, Cyprian, are old enough to smile at sects and Churches! Ferlie would not be true to type if, at her age, a cardinal did not seem too picturesque to be a liar. And, believe me, the Pope was the only safe substitute for you."

"You, surely, are not advocating collusion?" asked Cyprian, tickled, in spite of himself, at this feminine Juggernaut, the wheels of whose common-sense responded to no brake till she had guided them triumphantly past her goal.

"I don't believe there is 'no cause,'" she snapped: "If he is a gentleman he will make one, since he has obviously admitted her right to leave him. It can't affect the child's inheritance. An atom of patience, and the whole affair might be straightened out with a minimum of scandal."

"There is no necessity for even a perfectly respectable scandal," Cyprian assured her. "Ferlie is coming out to Burma with me, to live there as my sister. After a time, the man can get his marriage annulled if he wishes, on the ground of desertion; but that is unlikely to affect us."

Miss Trefusis searched his face with an expression of mingled admiration and incredulity on her own.

"Yes, I am afraid you mean what I think you mean," she said. "You are more of a child than she is, and I'd like to shake you. I'd almost rather you eloped healthily—without a new wedding-ring."

"I am so sorry to disappoint you," Cyprian said.

She laid a hand on his arm which he immediately imprisoned in his.

"Excelsior, then! Go and freeze to death upon your mountain top, both of you. I have interfered enough in bringing your bodily forms together. I dare not dig inquisitive fingers into your souls."

It was arranged that her chauffeur should return with them to the coast so as to render negligible the chance of delay if any suspicion were aroused.

"But there is no earthly reason why Clifford should want to argue it out with me," said Ferlie.

* * * * * *

At the last moment she gave way to a curious attack of nerves, and again Cyprian suspected that the incident was due to some secret reminder conveyed to her by Jardine.

From the step of the limousine, into which the sleeping John had been carried, she let go Cyprian's arm and darted back up the steps.

"Aunt B.! You will go home yourself to-night, won't you? Take the Daimler!"

"Hurry, child! It is twenty minutes to eight. Yes. I am all ready to start, and you can trust me to take care of myself."

"Come, Ferlie, don't waste any more time."

She ignored even that quiet voice, looking uncertainly at Jardine who dropped his eyes with an almost imperceptible movement of his head.

"You will see my aunt comfortably off, Jardine?"

"Ferlie, don't be foolish! Since when have I needed dry-nursing? Make her get in, Cyprian. There, darling! There. Shut the door. That's right, Cyprian. Write to me, both of you. What is she shaking about? I won't let Clifford eat me in any case. Good-bye. Look after her, Cyprian. Good-bye! Good-bye!"

They were whirled out of her sight.

* * * * * *

Whereupon, the temptation of Eve descended upon Aunt B.

She had never met this husband of Ferlie's and, on reconsidering that fact, it seemed that Ferlie herself had always intervened in the past to prevent a meeting. There was really no need for her to hurry home to-night; she might even serve the fugitives best by staying to produce some plausible reason for Ferlie's sudden "journey to town."

Jardine, to her amazement, was respectfully inhospitable in his opposition to this proposed change of plan. He made it unmistakably clear that he wished to be rid of her. And the more insistently he conveyed that impression, the more obstinately did Miss Trefusis desire to see the owner of Black Towers.

To settle the matter out of hand she went to her room, unpacked a dinner dress of silver-grey velvet, and came downstairs wearing it and an assured air which discouraged argument.

Said Jardine to her in the hall where he was hovering like a distressed bat among the chain-mailed ancestors.

"It is to be expected that his lordship will dine in his own apartments, Madam. I have not put off the dinner hour to suit his late arrival."

Therefore, at 8.15 precisely, Aunt B. found herself frustrated thus far, at the end of the long table.

Half-way through the meal came the sounds of arrival: the footman's hurrying steps and a man's voice in the hall.

She strained her ears, but silence soon followed the retreating feet and then Jardine came in to ask if she would have coffee on the terrace.

"Too chilly," was her cross verdict, and he agreed that the little drawing-room and a fire would be more comfortable.

Even after she had drunk the coffee and was immersed in the newspaper, she remained aware of the old servant's flitting presence. He appeared to be finding matters to occupy him in the small drawing-room and only after she had twice looked up inquiringly over the printed page did he make reluctantly for the door.

She sat on when the paper, restlessly devoured, had slipped from her knees to the floor. Soft radiance glowed about her through orange silk shades, etherealizing the dignified feminine figure with its close-fitting crown of silvery hair. The features, in repose not unlike Ferlie's, were attractively gentle. She leant back in the dark tapestried chair and thought of the lovers, of the long trail which lay before them, of the spiritual courage supporting their rare decision. Could a man and a woman live under such conditions, loving as these two loved?

And something told her that it was just because they so loved that the improbable became possible.

If they failed that Utopian ideal in the end— She broke off her reflections with a sigh.

"Who is to judge?" she asked aloud of the flames on the open hearth. "Who is to judge These, or Any?"

A man on the terrace, rolling a cigarette with uncertain fingers, heard the quiet question and paused in his occupation. His eyes glittered oddly over the flickering match, just struck, and the face, as he lifted it starwards, was not unlike the face of the deriding faun, aged by the battering years into a very surely alive satyr.

* * * * * *

Cold, suffocating darkness in the hall, and the comforting impassive bulk of old Jardine.

Later, a square of corpse-coloured light, and the black marble steps making a row of ebony mirrors for the waning moon. Beyond them, the blurred lines of Ferlie's Daimler, heralding escape to the dainty simplicity of the lavender-scented garden and rooms sweet with the pot-pourri of clean sane memories.

Finding her voice, she turned fiercely upon the man supporting her trembling descent.

"And you knew—and remained silent, while she was facing That!"

His slow gesture was controlled but unyielding.

"For forty years, Madam, I have served the Greville-Mainwarings. As their like dies out so does my like die out which has learnt the lesson of silence."

He closed the door of the car upon her, adding with cold dignity,

"Her ladyship chose to become a Greville-Mainwaring."


"Do you know what I think, Cyprian?" asked John, lost in admiration for the ingenuity which had lined the channel leading from his sand-castle with practically watertight slates and stones, "I think you've got a Brain."

"So that's what your mother tells Miss Trefusis of you," deduced Cyprian. "By the way, I have an uneasy suspicion that she intended you to address me as 'Uncle.'"

"What for?"

"As a mark of well-deserved respect, I fancy, and in token of my thinning locks."

"You don't look like 'uncle.'"

"Oh, I don't know. Considering I had reached a man's estate when your mother was not much higher than you——"

"Did Mother call you 'Uncle' then?"

"Just you ask her if not why not," advised Cyprian.

John mused awhile.

"Anyhow, I won't," he decided.

"Won't ask her?"

"Will call you by your real name."

"That's what she said," Cyprian admitted. "But, as man to man, John, I must warn you that she will probably have the last word in the matter, even if it is an inconsistent one. I have known her longer than you have."

"But I have known her most," returned John in some agitation. "She was my mother first."

Cyprian took warning.

"God bless you, yes. She would be the first to admit it. Go your rebel way, then, and get the better of the woman. I shan't interfere. I have my own troubles."

The conversation took place on a sunny portion of the Brittany coast where Ferlie had, for some weeks, been trustfully waiting for John and Cyprian to decide that they liked one another. Neither of them possessing gaily expansive natures the discovery took time.

A neutrality pact had been sealed earlier on this particular afternoon when Cyprian, armed with an offering of peppermint rock, having fallen unawares into the well of sea-water outside John's castle, had aroused in himself a throng of dimly ecstatic recollections and intimations of the Immortality of Childhood, as the poet simply puts it, and so flung himself whole-heartedly into the business of constructing an aqueduct, a smouldering ambition of his childhood, ever frustrated by the inopportune interference of the old and wise....

"You," said John presently, touched by his conscientious absorption, "may have the 'nother stick of peppermint rock when you've done."

"If it's to save your life I will accept it but I feel it only honest to confess that I am not allowed to eat sweets between meals."

"Neither am I when Mother comes out with us.... I want Mother."

"So do I want her. But I am man enough to put the aqueduct before the yearnings of my softer nature."

"Well, but you don't want to be sick."

Cyprian dropped the spade to look at him.

"What on earth are we going to do about it?" he asked at length. John showed him.

"And now," said Cyprian bitterly, "as, prompted by a kind and noble heart, I bought you the beastly stuff, I suppose she'll blame me!"

"I won't tell," John assured him faintly. And didn't.

* * * * * *

Almost immediately after this incident sealing his position in John's world, Cyprian received news of his Company's affiliation to a branch of mines in another district, and of his own transfer to a station more or less populated.

It meant a fresher beginning for himself and Ferlie in Burma than if he had remained under the eye of old acquaintances. He would be now, practically, in a managing position with much sedentary office-work in head-quarters and only a limited amount of inspecting.

But Ferlie and he would find it difficult to isolate themselves from their neighbours, even if Cyprian's reputation as a recluse preceded him and Ferlie's advertised one as a widow.

Fortunate for her now that the Burma Season had never materialized before her father's enforced retirement; for, though Burma is not the size of a London suburb, news there travels in more persistent circles.

As things were, the few remaining officials who had known her father well enough to remember he had a daughter would hardly connect the knowledge with the advent of "Mrs. Clifford" to keep house for a brother, up-country, who was not a Member of the Services. Cyprian felt that the change might result in a more normal and wholesome life for Ferlie, at her age, than he could originally have offered her, and she owned to rejoicing in the prospect of medical aid should John get ill.

The first time she saw their bungalow of dark crimson wood, with its shingled roof and white painted verandah, the porch trembled beneath the red tubes of blossoming kuskwalis, the subtle velvet scent of which mingled with the thick creamy sweetness pouring from the waxen stars of two leafless frangipani trees in the garden.

"Cyprian, how beautiful!" as the loose crowns showered over her with every gust of breeze. "I wonder why there is something sorrowful in the message their scent holds for me."

But he remembered that the lilies sentinelling the church for Ferlie's wedding had been numerous enough to saturate the air with a similar sickly-sweet fragrance.

Since they were seeking forgetfulness in these surroundings he said nothing.

The radiance of their life together during the next few months was an amazement to his unintrospective soul.

He had sometimes wondered on what foundation rested Ferlie's invincible faith that, in this purely spiritual companionship, they would not be tempted beyond their strength to trample the Code.

He did not know that, since John's birth and her husband's development in a direction which made normal married life with him impossible, Ferlie, with her passion for complete understanding unclouded by merciful ignorance, had delved into strange formidably-backed volumes in her efforts to tear out by the roots the tragedy which had shattered her innocence. She had shrunk at first towards asceticism as an answer to the racking question "What shall we do to be saved?"—from Self; a mankind weak and bewildered but sub-conscious, nevertheless, of an attainable state of grace synonymous with Immortality.

But, with Cyprian dwelling still in her heart, and refusing to be ejected even during this complete reaction, she had been forced to seek a more modified code than that of the professed nun.

Quite by chance, she discovered it in Chrysostom's outcry against the anti-pagan, but, as he considered it, also the anti-Christian, custom, which had become known among some of his contemporary ascetics; who lived at the side of virgins in uplifting and intimate companionship, the chastity of which was never called in question. More than one Father of the Church, cast in sterner mould, had felt it his duty to reprove and deplore this method of cheating the devil. Among them, and the fact had caused Ferlie some amusement, leavened with a queer aching, there was Cyprian's own namesake insistent on the "weakness" of her sex and the "wanton" tendencies of youth.

But it was significant that even Chrysostom acknowledged that in such seemingly unnatural friendships there was room for a love deeper and more lasting than any found in the fulfilment of legitimate bodily passion.

Upon such an admission Ferlie had built her temple to Love, and in the lonely turret at Black Towers learnt something of the power of concentrated thought.

Of her studies Cyprian remained unaware.

Sex-psychology had never obsessed him as it has so many modern minds. He knew that Tolstoy, for whom he retained a very real admiration, had developed into a married ascetic, but had been inclined to smile at the humour presented in the situation of a man, married and with his own quiver quite literally full, advocating a higher life, rooted in celibacy, to his fellows.

The apple eaten, where the merit of flinging away the core and informing the world that the fruit was sour?

But for that abnormally sensitive streak in him, which forced him to respond to the suggestion of an idealistic love as naturally as the sunflower to the sun, Cyprian might have degenerated into the egotistical scholar, thick-visioned as to the needs of Humanity, and justly derided by ribald undergraduates as "the product of a long line of maiden aunts."

This, supposing Muriel Vane had not wounded him in time and sent him fleeing into the desert to hide his hurt.

The same streak, unsatisfied and hungry, had enabled him to close his eyes, temporarily, to the tenets of the rigid creed natural to this type, when Hla Byu smiled up at him in the pitiless sunlight; the same streak, legacy perhaps of some long-dead Tristrannic ancestor—hardening at the sight of Ferlie's suffering, had inspired the courage preparing him to set at defiance every other normally narrow instinct of his senses which shrank from the abnormal, and had led him to accept a position at her side, for which, once, more bitterly than the severe Cyprian of bygone centuries, he would have condemned a fellow-man.

The fact remained that he and Ferlie, and Ferlie's son by the rival he had every reason to consider better dead, had entered into a kingdom so glad with light and deep with peace; its ways so rich with psychological exploration; its gates so strengthened with spiritual discipline, that they became nearly oblivious to the world of non-mystics, who would neither have understood these strangers in their midst, nor have desired to understand.

And the eye of the materialist is critical and his tongue, unsheathed, a two-edged sword.

* * * * * *

The first intimation either of them had that other mortal inhabitants of the earth were interested in them, as fellow-pilgrims to the goal of pensioned and idle security, occurred after a period of nearly six months, when Sterne's good-looking little widowed sister might reasonably be expected to have started advertising her weeds in the exchange and barter column of the Pioneer.

"Weeds? My dear fellow, she's never worn 'em. Flits about 'clothed in white'—what-do-you-call-it 'mystic, wonderful,' and flaunts a promising scarlet head."

"Scarlet, did you say? You're colour-blind. I've only seen her from the road, myself, but she'd rank as a 'Beaut' with that hair if she had a face like a mince-pie."

"Fancy old Diogenes possessing a sister like that! I was with him at G. and he never mentioned her."

"Must be a 'half.' She's twenty years younger at least. What's the name?"

"She's a Mrs. Clifford."

This conversation took place in a long low building, flanked by a hard tennis court and dignified by the title, "Club." The speakers were congregated at a kind of counter commonly known as the "Bar." Cyprian did not frequent it and Ferlie was still postponing her public appearance.

The wives had found her difficult of access during the customary calling hours, and mildly resented a reticence which might almost be described as unfriendly.

John mingled with the other children in the so-called "Gardens" of the Station, at first entirely as an onlooker, in charge of the impassive Burmese servant, but, later, in the capacity of a leader, of few words and indomitable energy.

John, at Black Towers, during those short years of his life when his mother, like Cyprian, was hiding from an Argus-eyed Society, had existed as a dreamer of dreams and an inventor of games peopled by imaginary companions. It was not long before the notion struck him to cast the youth of the Station for the various roles hitherto filled by bolsters, chain-armour and stuffed animals.

Ferlie noted with satisfaction that he fitted his own niche in Cyprian's heart, and, while remonstrating, she was secretly entertained when Cyprian discoursed with him in the terms of an equal.

"He simply inspires me with multi-syllabic expressions," pleaded Cyprian, "I think it is his insuperable gravity."

At that she sighed a little.

"One would imagine he had already learnt that, though we may make a game of Life, Life is often more successful in making game of us."

To which he answered, "Nonsense," adding, most inexcusably, the over-worked saw, "I am the Master of my Fate; I am the Captain of my Soul."

"I am delighted to hear you say so," Ferlie told him, "I can remember a time when your soul captained you pretty thoroughly, though, pagan that you are, you could hardly own to such domination."

She sometimes reflected upon that self-sufficiency which induced him to dismiss the Churches as unreliable excrescences upon a useful ethical foundation.

Cyprian was, undoubtedly, one of the characters which cling passionately to the Christian Commandments and let the Christ pass by.

"The woman Thou gavest me," accused Adam, meanly ungrateful, and, "The Brain Thou gavest me," blamed Cyprian and all his calibre.

Man's mentality, thought Ferlie, had not altered much since Eden, though he did not, now, make the Woman the sole excuse for his shortcomings, being obliged to admit that she was more often an inspiration than an obstruction to Faith. But there were other gifts for whose shoddiness and lack of wearing-power he could still taunt their Giver, and among them ranked that Brain which was incapable of surrendering to belief in One who could so love the world.

Ferlie, her own conscience still at rest with that Great Lover, simply because of her trust in a love which, knowing all, forgives, had never attempted to probe the blank agnosticism to which Cyprian speechlessly held. She was sensible of the admiration due to an intellect which, in the face of such pessimism, could stand for Right merely for Right's sake. He had no guide but an instinctive sense of duty and when that failed him he looked to her love. Only hers in all the world, remembered Ferlie, exultantly hugging the realization of his aloofness to her heart.

And then.

* * * * * *

"Mother," said John, "there are a nice little nigger-boy in the verandah, and a grown-up nigger-girl, too. And she's crying," he added as an afterthought.

Ferlie, suspicious of the diseases John might contract from mendicants on the steps of the picturesque but unclean pagodas had, nevertheless, acquired a well-merited reputation for filling the hungry with good things. To John, who knew by heart the exciting nursery epic dealing with a dusky youthful band, whose ranks dwindled in the course of their unforeseen adventures, from ten to one ("So he got married and then there were none!") all members of the Eastern races were descendants of that fortunate survivor.

"You didn't touch the little boy, John darling," asked Ferlie with misgiving.

She recalled the burnt-out lepers which crouched at the gilded god's feet, unmolested in sun-soaked apathy.

"They're very clean niggers," evaded John, "And they don't want you; it's Cyprian."

Now Cyprian did not suffer gladly these invasions of his premises by the lame, the halt and the blind.

He had more than once given Ferlie to understand that, in his opinion, charity to the guileless Burman should begin anywhere but at home. Therefore, it struck her that the couple announced by John would, in all likelihood, be connected with the labourers in the mines. Perhaps a dismissed washer whose wife and child had come to effect his reconciliation with Authority.

She found Hla Byu shrinking in the shadow of the riotous creepers, and smiled upon her.

Then turned particular attention to John's "nice little nigger." The first glimpse showed her that he was remarkably fair even for a young high-class Burman child, but after a closer inspection a bewildered and then an inscrutable expression came over her face. She looked from the child back to the tear-stained and apologetic mother.

Ferlie did not yet know much Burmese.

"Who are you?" she inquired haltingly.

The woman replied in clipped English.

"I come to see the Thakin."

The child screwed up his eyes in a way wholly familiar. They were exceeding blue: Cyprian's eyes in a small cream-coloured face.

John, regarding him with unbated interest, reiterated,

"Aren't he a nice little nigger?"

It seemed a very long while to Ferlie before Cyprian came home.

* * * * * *

As luck would have it, he had undertaken to meet a business acquaintance at the Club, demi-officially, to discuss the contract for some new machinery. They concluded the conversation in the now nearly empty bar-room, since it had been prolonged late and club-members were drifting home.

One man lingered; a breezy loud-voiced individual from Cyprian's former district, to whom Life was one long smoking-room yarn. Forrester had shown himself rather perturbed when the news leaked out that Sterne, on departing for his Leave, had provided for his Burmese "keep." Creating these Quixotic precedents! All very well for a blooming bachelor of his amiably inexpensive habits, but how in hell was a man with a missus and kids in England to pension off every little bit of yellow fluff that drifted his way?

Therefore, he was delighted, on this particular evening to run across Sterne in the one place where he could refer to the matters pertaining to men in general.

"Hullo, Sterne!" he roared joyously. "Have one with me. You'll need it. Saw your latest lune-de-mielle toiling up the long, long trail just now in search of your bungalow. She wasn't alone, neither. It's a good-looking kid, I must say. But isn't Mrs. Clifford going to sit up and take notice? You shouldn't have such characteristic eyes, man."

"Did you say you'd have a drink?" asked Cyprian jerkily.

"No, no, it's my shout. And it's no use your trying to change the conversation. Homer has nodded and we all know about it. Where you slipped up was in letting your past know your present address."

Cyprian saw the thing through, his brain working busily. He had been a fool not to gauge the possibility of Hla Byu's reappearance, considering the terms on which they had parted. And he could not excuse himself for having omitted to tell Ferlie. He supposed that his reluctance to do so sprang from the fact that, since their long acquaintance dated from her childhood, it was difficult for him to accept her even now as altogether a woman and, moreover, a woman who had touched pitch without being defiled.

He climbed the hill in the dusk, his face troubled, trying to decide how far Hla Byu would have succeeded in making herself understood. Unfortunately, his own memory convinced him that little Thu Daw's eyes would not take very much understanding of either Ferlie's instinct or her intelligence.

He had not the remotest idea what he was going to say to satisfy her of the strange truth that his very heart-hunger for her was responsible for Thu Daw.

Once more the word leapt out as if written in letters of flame across the blackening hill-side. No explanation could make him anything but "responsible" for his son, as surely as Ferlie was for hers.

He swung back the garden-gate and clashed it behind him, thereupon hastening his footsteps, urged by a nauseating desire to get this scene with Ferlie over.

And saw her in the grey gloom, coming to meet him between the two long borders of flaming lilies with his child in her arms.

When she reached him it was to lift a face glorified with the forgiveness he had not asked.

"My very dear," she said, "Why did you not tell me?"

Even thus far could Ferlie trust her earthly god.


So Cyprian did very little explaining.

Hla Byu settled down like a shadow over their existence in one of the rooms, awaiting suggestions, and for some time none were forthcoming.

John welcomed the addition of Thu Daw to the household, but he was the only person to whom the addition was not fraught with strain.

Neither Cyprian nor Ferlie knew quite how to handle the question of Thu Daw's eyes and the message they carried.

Cyprian was broodingly silent during those days and looked tired. Till, at last, Ferlie stole into his office, balanced herself on the edge of the writing-table and sat there swinging abstracted legs.

He gave her time; only laying down his pen and sitting back in his chair.

"Perhaps," she said presently, "I am being rather careless in my handling of high explosives. Women and gunpowder can seldom come to a perfect understanding."

"Which being interpreted is——?"

"That I have no right to force my opinions upon anyone so much older than myself as you are—and I do realize that a woman cannot feel with a man."

"I know one who seems to," Cyprian told her gently.

Her mouth smiled gratefully at that but she kept her head bent over the tangling fingers in her lap.

"Cyprian. One should not try to run before one can walk. In some ways I am stupidly ignorant about practical facts.... Is this life too great a strain on you?"

Then, as he hesitated, while searching for her exact meaning, she went on in a swift rush of breathlessness.

"Let me get it out—somehow.... Man cannot help his dual nature. Women mostly can. If you have found Her helpful—I know you are without the mystical help religion brings in its wake—when my absence was more than you could bear, I would be willing to subordinate my prejudices on this gigantic question, to your common-sense, and let her help again should there be times when my presence may be more than you can bear. After all, she is the—mother of your son."

The last sentence was whispered and she did not move as his chair creaked.

"Ferlie!" For the first time in their lives there was a very real anger in the eyes which, unflinching now, captured hers and held them steady. His lips closed in a thin line and for a full minute she watched him, almost fearfully, as he framed his reply.

"How dare you?" he asked at long last. "How dare you?"

He got up and walked to the open door, to stand in it with his back to her, looking up and down the verandah. The act was instinctive since they were always alone, but he drew the glass panels together with a quick snapping of the latch before turning to face her again.

"You can only be a child, indeed, to come cold-bloodedly to any man with such an insult in your mind; most of all to the man you profess to respect."

"Respect! Oh, Cyprian——" But he could not spare her anything just then. He was too cruelly wounded.

"How can you—how can I believe that you have the smallest respect for me when I see myself, through this indefensible proposal of yours, as you must see me? Cannot you understand that what constituted a drug to deaden the physical suffering—I repeat the word, for that mental pain was physical to me caused by your withdrawal and your silence in a life which had been unconsciously centred in you for nearly eleven years—must affect me like a corroding poison, even in retrospect, now that sanity and mental control have returned with your presence?"

She stirred restlessly, struck with the justification for this point of view.

"Then, there is the moral aspect. Sometimes, I think that you, despite your genuine religious mysticism, are absolutely unmoral in your normal outlook. One can condone wrong too far. Your very compassion for that which right-minded people should shun becomes, of its injurious weakness, a sin. But—Good God!—who am I to talk to you of sin. I have not denied that you are infinitely above me, but I did not grasp you considered the gulf between us quite so wide as this morning you have made it out to be."


The anguish in her voice roused him to some realization as to how far he had lost his temper. Still dazed with the shock she had afforded him, he saw her crumple up like a victim of lightning herself, across the solid writing-desk.

He went to her then and gathered her against his angrily-beating heart.

Strange that neither of them wondered what lay hidden in the heart of Hla Byu.

Ferlie, whenever she met her about the house, would smile kindly in place of the conversation which was impossible, and Thu Daw's picturesque little mother invariably smiled back, but her slanting brows lent enigma to this acknowledgment of the white woman's recognition.

She had been told that her Thakin, on whose generous supplies she had patiently lived apart, had returned across the great water, bringing with him a sister. But this was no sister, determined Hla Byu. Once, also, in careless answer to discreet questioning, the Thakin had informed her that he was alone in the world; except for herself, she had understood.

She came of a race to which love is the be-all and end-all of its women-folk's existence. The Impassive Teacher had not succeeded in releasing them from its bondage. For this reason must a Burmese woman be re-born as a man before she can attain Nirvana.

Hla Byu, once established by Cyprian in his house, finally ceased to worry about any Nirvana that did not include him. Naturally quick and full of initiative, she gleaned something from the orderly regulation of his days and more from close association with the class-refinement of his habits. He was truly one of the greater Thakins and not one of that set which dines in the costume it also uses for sleeping; though, doubtless, it seemed sensible to choose one's coolest garments for the exertion of eating, thought Hla Byu, in those past days when she had been able to compare notes with other women in her position.

And, now, she was eminently suited for the post to which Ferlie relegated her: that of nurse-companion to John and Thu Daw. There was little enough for her to do but to superintend the games of her son with the Thakin's acknowledged nephew and to watch Thu Daw's latent intelligence developing daily along the lines of a European child's.

Yet, as the weeks slipped by, she did not appear to find them happy and the unguessed-at resentment, veiled under her submissive demeanour, was smouldering into a gnawing flame which hurt while it burnt. To Cyprian she had become more than a stranger, being of less account in his life than a table or chair.

The star-flowers she gathered to wear drew appreciative comments from Ferlie, which, oddly enough, angered her so that she ceased entirely from thus decorating the polished ebony of her hair. She had brought with her new lungis of soft gay silk, rejoicing in them as his gifts, but she might have gone in rags for all he remarked of her daintiness and charm. Not so immune does a man become on account of a sister's presence.

Even Thu Daw failed to sweeten the bitterness of her cup of humiliation. He would stretch out welcoming arms to Ferlie now for her to carry him away to look at pictures with John, and his Burmese mother began to feel alienated from the foreign blood in his veins. A child was of his father's nationality.

No one read her soul nor conceived the approach of the ultimate crisis.

One night Ferlie heard Cyprian call to her from the room he occupied at the far end of the long verandah. She had not begun to undress and hurried along to him immediately, carrying a hurricane lantern since scorpions sometimes lay out on the cool stone after dark.

He stood in the doorway, his face queerly expressive.

"I want you to look at this."

In the pale-lemon flame of an oil reading-lamp, the room showed shadow-streaked, but the air was saturated with the sweet heavy scent of some freshly-plucked flower.

He took the lantern from her hand and lifted it high, flinging its rays across the bed.

His pillow and counterpane were invisible for a mass of starry blooms whose warm sweetness petalled this prepared fairy couch. Ferlie caught her breath, uncertain whether she most wanted to laugh or to cry. True to her immortal tendency to snatch beauty from every corner of the world, however close it lurked, she said swiftly, "Cyprian, it's pretty! It's so pretty. Look just at the prettiness of it. But oh ... if only it had not been ... inevitable!"

He answered, simply enough, without facing her,

"I guessed you'd say that. I never dreamed of this. I never do seem to foresee things. But, however you look at it, she must go."

It was not then that they discovered she had already gone.

* * * * * *

She was taken out of the river very early in the morning when a silver film of dew veiled the rushes and new buds were blossoming to life upon the soaking trees. Flame-of-the-forest reared its scorching beauty above her when they laid her limp upon the shore; her bright draperies draggled, and the once shining coil of her hair hanging in a tangled shroud over her breast.

And so Cyprian saw her when summoned to identify her as his "servant." Well and truly had she served a Master more crushingly exacting than he.

In the haunted days—and nights—which followed for him, Cyprian felt that, but for Ferlie's gentle patience and sense of vision, he might easily have lost his reason.

At first he was merely stunned. Later, when he thawed to understanding of the part his own impotent hand had taken in directing the tragedy, he spoke of himself as a murderer.

Ferlie stepped in and sternly banished the word.

"It is pure hysteria that makes you use it," she told him. "I blame myself more than you, for I am a woman and should have been enough in sympathy with another women's mind to have prevented this. If you are a murderer then I am a murderess."

He railed at her foolishness but sped off on another track.

"Why should this have happened to me?" in bewildered anger. "No other man of my acquaintance has ever had to face such an experience, and I have done no more than what so many do. In this custom there is no disgrace to the woman. She usually settles down, in the end, with one of her own race. I—Ferlie, believe me—I tried to play the game. She need never have done it. I tell you there was no disgrace."

"There was something else though," she reminded him, "and that left her little choice. It is as I said, Cyprian; no one seems able to escape its scourge."

"But they don't love like that," he persisted. "How can they? There is no link but that frail fleshly one of which a man remains vaguely ashamed the whole time."

"There is that link," and she pointed to Thu Daw, perilously employed with a coloured wooden mallet and a rusty nail.

She moved across the room to take it away from him and, substituting a woollen ball, returned to lay her arm lightly about Cyprian's bowed shoulders.

"There has been enough in the past," he said. "Why should Fate have picked me out for this extra bruising?"

Thought Ferlie of the declaration that whom the gods love they chasten.

"Perhaps, Cyprian, because you are so worth while to try and teach things to."

But this was cold and cryptic comfort and she knew it.

In the night she heard him restlessly passing from room to room till, finally, his footsteps paused on the verandah. She slipped a wrap about her shoulders and went to him where he leant against the open trellis-work of the porch, astir with shivering leaves.

His face, clear-cut against a sheet of trembling moonlight, was drawn and ghastly, and when she touched his arm his whole body started violently.

"Cyprian," said Ferlie sharply, "Can't you take your medicine like a man?"

The taunt stung him to an effort of self-control.

"It's that damned frangipani," he told her apologetically, "And it is part of Burma—and so of my life henceforth—eternally."

She slipped a hand in his and drew him down the garden-walk till they stood beneath the trees, stiff with their own sweetness.

"You have got to face that scent, here and now. You have got to think of it for what it is: a rich passionate fragrance embodying all that was generous and brave and joyous in the spirit of Hla Byu. That is what she would have wished, Cyprian. That is what she is wishing now."

The velvet glory of the night was musical with faint sound and every flower and shrub raised a deified shadow to the searching purity of the inscrutable stars. Now and again a delicate moth rippled by, like the ghost of some dead blossom, on an unknown quest into the Unknown.

"And there, God rest her soul!" said Ferlie, presently.

The man at her side felt the Amen he could not bring himself to utter.

What he did reply was, "My dear, I love you. It's all right now because of that.... It will be all right."

* * * * * *

At the Club a few days later...

"Did you hear that Mrs. Clifford has adopted her brother's Indiscretion?"

"Lord! ... Wonder what he told her?"

"Maybe, that the lady represented the mourning and destitute widow of some mining accident."

"Mourning and destitute widow of your grandfather! Haven't you seen the kid?"

"I have. Never imagined anything so uncanny. The eyes, you know. Same old delphinium blue—but that might be explained away as a freak of Nature. Not much the identical trick of screwing 'em up and blinking at you! That's what betrays the whereabouts of Pussy."

"I don't care what he's told her. She's been married and is certainly no fool. She must be a good sort."

And, in that capacity, Ferlie found herself welcomed by the male population of the station when she, perforcedly, began to drift in and out of social gatherings. She was inclined to regret the precious hours thus wasted outside the borders of their Kingdom.

"We have so much past unhappiness to overtake, as yet, Cyprian."

But a whole year had slipped by and he decided that it was wiser that she should make friends with people now that she had no longer any excuse for isolation.

She had received a curious epistle from Clifford, through Aunt Brillianna, to whom he had sent it under the impression that Ferlie was occupying some Villa of hers in Italy.

"I hope you will agree," he wrote, "that I have, at least, proved myself no dog-in-the-manger. The only thing which might make it necessary for me to worry you with divorce proceedings would be if anything happened to John.

"You see, granted that you are right in considering the Greville-Mainwarings a decadent lot, it remains my job to carry on the line somehow, and the heirs would have to be legitimate. I am not actually apologizing for any lurid behaviour (as you might describe it) of the last four years, but I have notions of fair play and we are not living in the reign of the lady who wept to wear a crown. I might have more reason to weep if she were wearing it now.

"Mercifully, matrimony is not, these days, the shackled and testamentary thing it was reckoned to be before the Jews originally lost Jerusalem. If ever you outgrow your mysterious ideas and want to marry again, let me know and I'll see what I can do for you. For myself, I am content with the present position so long as there is John to carry on the title some time or other.

"I wish you well, Ferlie, and, if it comforts you, I do not think it would do any harm if you occasionally prayed for my unregenerate soul."

Ferlie laid this sheet before Cyprian, without comment.

"Swine," was his exact expression.

"Do you really feel like that, or is it only pose?"

"Pose? How do you suppose any average man would feel?"

"You're not the average man."

At the moment neither was his face good to look upon. She removed the letter and deserted the subject. And prayed quite a lot more for Clifford's weakened soul.

At the beginning of the next Cold Weather her mother died.

"We had drifted apart since my marriage," she told Cyprian, remorsefully tearful, "But, at the end of the first year, when I realized that things were hopeless and that Clifford and I must separate, I could not conquer the feeling that she should have been capable of protecting me instead of selling me to a title that had existed too long. After all, I was so very young to throw in my lot with any man."

"I got no thanks for trying to protect you from this one," said Cyprian.

She smiled up at him with wet lashes.

"Poor Mother! I see now that she thought she was doing her utmost for me."

Soon after, a happier species of news came from Peter.

Peter had qualified smartly and accepted a hard-worked job in a mental institution, which had offered him scant opportunity for leisurely experiment and involved very considerable strain on nerves already somewhat stretched by exams.

That old friend of the Carmichaels, Colonel Maddock, had now made him the unique offer of a free trip on his yacht which, he declared, had, like himself, entered on a very new lease of life. He was determined as a "Last Kick" to sail it again in Eastern waters, and required the attendance of a qualified medical man on this somewhat, at his age, hazardous undertaking. Peter, he pointed out, would be none the worse for a sea-trip, combining business with pleasure, and he would be able to find time for a certain amount of useful reading.

Peter gave details of their tour, adding that he was not sorry to get the chance of inquiring into the methods by which lunacy was treated in the East, and, also, that he was beginning to be "rather keen" on leprosy, the most common disease ever cured by psychical, or "miraculous," powers of old. He studiously refrained from mentioning Cyprian but, from the fact that his letter came direct to Ferlie, it would appear that Aunt B. had entrusted him with some sort of outline of the true facts.

"He was always rather a delightful person," said Ferlie, "But I am not sure that, in his present phase, he is likely to be particularly sympathetic."

"Peter! Why, I always imagined him at the head of the newest Communistic Party: his hand against every settled law of man or nature, from birth and vaccination to death and burial."

"That was Peter at twenty, seeking the freedom of the Universe. Peter at twenty-five, is a martinet for the regulations of taxes by Cæsar and of emotions by the Church through the Seven Sacraments."

"Never heard of them!"

"That is your loss, Cyprian," Ferlie assured him.

"I admit to having hoped," he said, ignoring the snub, "that you would think yourself out of that particular creed towards which circumstances forced you. The majority of your priests, in this country especially, hardly inspire me to follow, as an unquestioning disciple, in their footsteps."

"Nor me, as a rule," she owned calmly, "But what have the priests to do with the creed?"

"It is a priest-ridden creed. The Protestant section, at least, leave one to deal direct with the Highest Authority."

"Have you studied the teaching of either party?"

"I have not. There is no need. One judges the tree by the fruits. The Roman version of the law produces bigots; the Protestant produces——"


He laughed, and they left it at that. He knew himself to be soaked in prejudice and dreaded lest they should try to influence her against the visions which kept her at his side—those Men in Black. Had they not delivered over one of their, since acknowledged, girl-saints to the stake and its flames for seeing visions and dreaming dreams in which their own uninspired blindness could not share?

Infallible? Infallible!

He knew nothing of that other Cyprian, with whose condemnation she was familiar. He only knew that, having Ferlie, he meant to hold.


Certain inevitable consequences followed after Ferlie had once put in a public appearance.

It was hardly to be supposed that, in a land where women were scarce and men plentiful, her sovereign-coloured hair was to be allowed to glow unseen by the male contingent, nor her rather absent-minded aloofness to pass unchallenged by the solid phalanx of self-contented wives.

She could not be described as a general favourite. Her thoughts were elsewhere; she was obliged to act a part which failed to interest her whenever she descended the hill to mix with her own kind.

The men, slow-witted as to any point of feminine psychology that did not exactly jump to the eyes, were not aware of any concealing veil, and summed her up as quite a little bit of All-Right and decidedly a "Beaut," but women are not so easily deceived in one another. They were quick to suspect that this Ishmaelitish woman, too obviously pretty to need the support of her own sex, and round whose chair the men showed signs of clustering (of course!) had not put all her cards on the table.

They attempted to dismiss her nervily distracted attitude, her laggardly recognition of individuals to whom she had once been introduced, and her complete detachment from all rules of official status, as affectation.

The words would not quite fit because her manner was, if anything, unnaturally natural, and she was inclined to think startling things out loud when over-excited. They began to discuss her rather a lot in her absence so that new-comers became rather prejudiced before meeting her and convinced that here was a to-be-discouraged specimen of their sex, seeking notoriety. And notoriety with women in a circle on the "Ladies'" side of the Club means "Men"; while "Men" may mean anything.

Ferlie was to blame, in that she made no effort to conciliate. She had not, it must be remembered, known initiation as a débutante into the ritual pertaining unto the Mammon of Precedence. All women were alike to her, from the Leading Lady to the Most Junior Bride whom everybody had voted, "of the Country, my dear." Not all men, because, very shortly, they showed signs of desiring, one by one, to make an individual impression. They began to discuss Themselves with her, preparatory to fathoming that complex of laughter and jarringly grave philosophy which was Herself. And here, her youth affected matters. Her past tragedy had separated her, for some while, from her fellows: her knowledge of character necessarily rested upon her own experience. She was, as Cyprian had warned her, over-pitiful to confidences she should have checked, and tendered tolerant sympathy where a hurt, deliberately inflicted, would have proved the only curative physic.

This, since, ultra-sensitive to pain herself, she could not believe in the thickness of some folk's skins. Her encouragement therefore, of some unbalanced youth, whose voiced cravings for the Good, the True and the Beautiful, were rooted in a most natural desire to hold a pretty girl's hand, lacked wisdom, to say the least of it.

Some time passed before Cyprian began to speculate on her habit of drifting into corners accompanied by this pair of Shooting Boots or that, while a restrained current of Christian hostility, founded on the useful direction to be angry and sin not, oozed insinuatingly from the Women's Fellowship. He knew them for Nice Women, and was sorry; likewise puzzled. In his opinion, Ferlie should have taken all hearts by storm. By which he betrayed nearly as deep a simplicity of soul as Ferlie herself.

However, the Club, representing as it did the unimportant world outside their fairy gates, occupied too small a proportion of their days for him to put his misgivings into words, and not until Digby Maur came to the Station did a certain incident drive him to her with protest-framing lips.

Digby Maur was not his real name. Everybody knew that. But whether his mother had called him Maung Man, or whether his father was truly a connection of a certain Digby St. Maur, who had retired from the country with a string of exciting letters after his name, was never, so to speak, put on paper. People said things and people winked or maintained a priggish silence. Anyhow, Somebody had manipulated the wires of State to make a Government Servant of the man who called himself Digby Maur; who had received most of his education in a type of school connected with the Missions, and whose brain, if not his character, was inherited from one who did not come forward to share the resultant fruits of it.

In appearance Digby Maur was unexpected. Tall, supple, small-boned, his skin weakly tea-coloured and with hair so black and shiny that it might have been enamelled on to his head, his eyes were fine and slanted very little under their dark brows; his mouth was weak and romantically bitter.

He was a man with a grievance, and a passionate aptitude for slashing canvas with the warm bright hues of the Eastern land to which one of his parents belonged. His talent for drawing had smoothed the way for those who had placed him in a profession where it could be exercised in moderation. The Turneresque fruits of his recreation did not concern them.

But they did concern Ferlie, to whom he showed them, and enthralled her. For her he unbandaged his secret wounds. He understood that the world in general considered his nebulous father had done the decent thing by him. What was his grouse? What more could the fellow expect? All unknown to them, and him, his paternal grandfather had achieved a great reputation as an artist before he died. As things were, his own canvases told Digby much.

"If I'd only had the chance!" he said to Ferlie. "The power is within me. I feel it. And I know that I could make my mark; perhaps found an entirely new school of painting! Japan has, long ago, evolved her own style. It has outstripped primitive India and Burma. Say you believe in me! The faith of even one human soul would be an inspiration."

"Take it," Ferlie's admiring gaze told him, fixed upon a sure, swift, impressionistic splashing of Gul Mohur trees against a faintly emerald sky. The pictures spoke to her in some subtly intimate manner; she, the unswerving huntress after all elusive beauty.

She and Digby began to hold long colour-struck conversations and, under fire of her encouragement, he neglected his office table for his easel.

To a few discerning eyes, in the modern Art Schools of England, his latent genius might have been apparent, but to the handful of earth-bound treasure-seekers in the out-stations to which Digby was ever sent, the paintings remained somewhat incomprehensible efforts at self-expression.

Ferlie glimpsed the tragedy behind them; wondered complicated things about little Thu Daw and finally submitted to sit for an impression of herself, full-length against a background of those same fiery branches of blossom.

"The trees in my garden are now in full bloom," he told her. "My bungalow fronts the river and we shall be in perfect seclusion. Think of the sunlight flung back from those flower-flames to become entangled in your hair! A scattered splendour of strewn petals at your feet, shadowed to scarlet where the light falls low on the grass.

"I shall call the picture 'Imprisoned Flames,' and shall give it to you."

"I shall give it to Cyprian," said Ferlie, smiling.

"To your brother? Would he appreciate it? Could he? He doesn't"—with a laugh—"appreciate me."

Ferlie felt that to be true.

Cyprian and she had seemed, almost by tacit consent, to avoid discussion of Digby Maur. But then, they seldom discussed anybody, happy egoists that they were.

In this case Cyprian had definite reasons for his dislike though they were not reasons he would be likely to confide in Ferlie. His respect for Womanhood in the abstract was stringently old-fashioned for days when the modern débutante has been known to discuss the works of Havelock Ellis with her partner, between dances, at the latest fashionable night-club. Sometimes, in odd corners of the bar, men raised their eyebrows and shrugged at the mention of Digby's name. He was not boycotted by any means, but he was not exploited before their women-folk.

"What can you expect? This mania for 'enlightening' education which develops the vices of both Races and the—well, one can't but believe in the truth of the saying. Left to itself, the bazaar element triumphs, and why not?—so that it flourishes in the bazaar. Oil and water will never mix. And even under this broad-minded administration one must draw the line somewhere."

Cyprian heard, marked, learnt and inwardly digested.

Came a day when he overheard.

He had taken a hand at bridge, where the table stood close to the half-open door of the bar, and he sat nearest the voices which occasionally floated through into the card-room.

"What gets my goat is, that her brother should allow it."

"Do you think he knows?"

"She has had no use for anybody but—That—lately."

"It was a case of mutual attraction at first sight."

"Well, either someone ought to tackle him or he ought to tackle her."

"You don't be a damn fool! It ain't anybody's business to tackle a grown man about the doings of a married woman in his house. My wife says——"

Low murmurings.

"It can't be true!"

"Fact, I assure you. Cecily saw her actually going through his garden-gates."

"I must say I can't see the fascination these fellows seem to exercise."

"And you'd think a girl like that——"

"My dear fellow, do remember she is a married woman. Probably Sterne could do nothing, even if he wanted to, with that hair! What I say is, there can't be smoke without fire."

When Cyprian revoked, Dummy got up and, muttering of thirst, ordered drinks all round before closing the glass doors.

The bridge-players avoided Cyprian's eyes in saying good night.

He walked home slowly, his head buzzing.

What in the name of all that was impossible did they think and mean? What had Ferlie been doing, and—here the sting!—what had she been concealing from him?

She had, in fact, decided that the picture was to be a birthday surprise. She was still young enough to attach a joyous importance to anniversaries which he was beginning to regard as intervals of mourning, best celebrated by a black tie.

It would not have proved difficult to extract her simple secret had he not been too inwardly disturbed to approach her with an unprejudiced mind.

As it was, he began by applying an unflatteringly descriptive adjective to Digby Maur's name, which brought the championing colour to her cheek, before he demanded if it were true that she had visited him at his house.

Her chilled affirmative produced an equally chilled request for explanation. And now Cyprian, himself, might have remembered her much-discussed hair, the legacy of an Irish grandmother famed for a quick tongue and a plucky elopement. It made her granddaughter say the sort of thing easier said than forgotten.

"Narrow, narrow, narrow! You who ought to be so merciful to your fellow-creatures."

"No one in his senses attempts to show mercy to a poisonous reptile."

"That's simply melodrama. Digby Maur is a man whose position, you, at least, should hesitate to criticize."

"Thanks for the timely reminder. I had, of course, forgotten a good deal that you must constantly recollect. All the same, I will not have you visiting this pseudo-artist on the transparent pretence of arraigning his pictures."

"Did you say 'pretence,' Cyprian?"

He wanted to hurt her though in his heart he was ashamed. He twitched his shoulders impatiently.

"Very well," and her calm was heavy-laden. "To leave you no excuse for using the word again, understand that, in future, I will go where I please, when I please, and without pretence."

"Do you mean that exactly, Ferlie?"

"You have no right to prevent me."

For him that ended the discussion.

"I suppose not," he answered, and walked out of the room.

She made a quick movement as if to follow.

What she counted a sense of justice prevented her. It would not be fair to Digby Maur—poor boy!—to leave him with his picture uncompleted, merely on account of Cyprian's unprovoked animosity.

When Cyprian understood he would be sorry. But for his accusatory attitude she might have been quite willing to tell him the truth. She was a little eager to punish him and terribly miserable because she had left her pride no choice but to do so.

Meanwhile, he was asking himself what on earth she could see in Maur. The answer, as he supplied it, gave him furiously to think. Perhaps ... Youth.

An impossibly unsuitable comparison struck him. Worshipping whole-heartedly at Ferlie's shrine, what had he seen in Hla Byu? No wonder Ferlie refused to admit his right to protect her. He had forfeited it by his failure to protect himself from the insidious fascination of slant-eyed laughter and Youth's intense happiness.

Was Ferlie really attracted to——? But at this point Cyprian flung himself, with drawn brows, into his work.

They lived through three days of such Purgatory as only the great Lovers of this earth can inflict periodically upon themselves.

Then Ferlie, becoming desperate, betrayed her impatience to Digby, wildly immersed in his burnt siennas, chrome yellows and Venetian reds.

"You see, I dare say, Cyprian may be common-sensically right about my not coming here," she suggested with some hesitation.

"You stood up to his prejudices for my sake? You defied him for me?"

"I did nothing of the sort," contradicted Ferlie, hotly aware that that was exactly what she had done, and wondering why. If Digby took a day longer over his wretched picture she felt that, in the course of it, she should heave a stone at it and him.

She was angry with Cyprian for having upset her pleasure in it, angry with herself for not having explained accurately what was happening during the afternoons she spent in Digby Maur's garden. But—poor Digby again!—she all but laughed at the pathetic figure he cut with the splotches of brilliant paint on his forehead where he had run his fingers through his sleek hair in despairing moments connected with hers.

Her expression, as she regarded him in his neglected and, to the Club folk, unrecognizable state, reconsidering the ill-mated stock from which he sprang, became maternally tender.

He drew his brush with a last sweep across the canvas background and flung it down joyfully.


She smiled back, sensing with her uncanny insight all the delight of achievement tingling in his weary limbs.

That he should mis-read her sympathy was inevitable. The time was ripe for a climax of some sort on his side.

... His hot kisses scorched her throat and her disgustedly closed eyes. His arms imprisoning her were hungry.

It was a long while before she had hurt him sufficiently to make him understand....

Cyprian, savagely covering sheets of office paper with close paragraphs he constantly re-read and re-wrote, heard her hurried step along the drive and dully noticed that she had not stopped to sneck the gate and, therefore, the waterman's white cow would get at the lilies again. He supposed Maur had been talking more Art drivel. Why could he not find courage to check this nonsensical friendship once and for all? She did not really consider that he had no right to object.

His pen went flying as she flung herself against his chair. She curled up on his knees, hiding her face in his shoulder and breathing quickly as if she had been running. He glanced abstractedly at a running rivulet of ink down a confidential report. His relief to find her within reach again, and to know the cold mutual politeness of the last three days ended, was so great that all anxiety and doubt went out in thankful amusement at the unexpectedness of her. He wondered if she had blown up the whole Station with an experimental bomb, or whether she had merely been cut by the Leading Lady. At any rate, he was there to fill the post of Whipping Boy, and—Heavens—how willingly!

"Ferlie," he said, half-stifled by those dear slender arms, "What have you been doing?"

"Oh, Cyprian, I'm sorry, sorry, sorry. Just go on forgiving me hard. You have proved yourself so ghastlily in the right. Some men exist who are not ready for toleration of their weaknesses and sympathy in their sorrows. Sooner or later, they misunderstand what you offer them and turn into Circe's beasts—and blame your attitude for the change.... I suppose he had some reason to say I'd asked for it; but I didn't know...."

He took her flushed face between his palms and turned it round.

"Did he say that?"

"Yes. And more. Much more. But it was what he did that matters.

"Go on."

"He caught hold of me and held me against him and kissed me ... all over ... I thought I had done with that brand of kisses for ever. And he wouldn't let me move. And at last I got a chance to b-bite ... and, oh, Cyprian, it was all so hopelessly vulgar! I'm bruised with the smirch of it. I'll never leave the house again till I die, unless you are with me to tell me whom I can safely speak to. I'll never trust my wits, henceforth, beyond the front gate. I—what are you laughing at? Don't laugh! Why are you finding it funny, when I only want you to wash me and—and comfort me?"

"It's all very well, but I am glad this has happened, my dear."


"You needed some such"—he was about to say "lesson" and veered away from the priggishness of the word—"experience, to keep you in my despised conventional way. Now, tell me. Are Maur's intentions strictly—er—honourable?"

"Honourable! What are you talking about, and will you stop smiling?"

Her head tucked itself out of sight again under his chin and he rested his lips an instant on it before explaining.

"I mean, is he wanting to marry you?"

"I am sure I don't know. I should think it hardly likely now. If so, he can't have considered that my reception of his advances augured matrimonial bliss. But you were all out to put him in a lethal chamber before and now you seem to be excusing him."

"To him, I am your somewhat elderly brother; you are a widow, and of age, who lives with me pending the next suitor on the scene. No one could imagine, who does not know the truth, that there will not be several others, and, amongst them, someone to whom you might reasonably be expected to listen. I have my own small sense of Justice, you see," Cyprian finished dryly. "And I, of all men, should have learnt to be merciful."

"Touché," admitted Ferlie. "It is my turn to tell you to go on. But what do you expect me to do about his lunatic scheming and dreaming?"

"I expect you, just for this once, to do as you are told. What I am going to do is what I should have done in the first place: forbid him to speak to my—sister. So much is simple. But I am looking ahead, and I think you should, in the circumstances, cultivate women-friends more and men less!"

She made a little face before she said meekly.

"They don't seem so anxious to cultivate me, you see, as the men."

He chuckled. "I'd noticed that."

"You have no right to start being unexpected, Cyprian, at this stage of things. It's so humiliating when I have been browsing contentedly on the belief that I can foresee all that you are likely to foresee and notice."

"It is not the first time, is it, that I have made an effort to exceed my rights?"

"Please resist the temptation to go on driving it home. According to the Book you should be striding the room muttering dire threats through your clenched teeth."

"Concerning your behaviour or his?"

Then, as she wriggled her annoyance, the laughter in the heart of him materialized.

"My dear, I am incapable, at the moment, of taking anything seriously except the fact that you have come back to me. Which is a matter rather for rejoicing than for imprecations. If I seem to pass off this occurrence as unimportant, it is only because it is so over-shadowed by the importance of the realization that I exist again for you."

"I have never imagined you existed for anyone else," she protested indignantly. "Another time you'll know that when it looks as if I were thinking of someone else it's really that I am concentrating extra hard on something connected with your happiness."

"I'll remember," Cyprian promised, slightly catching his breath.

* * * * * *

They had dismissed Digby Maur and his picture too airily. His suffering was intense enough to cause his hatred of Cyprian to reflect again on Ferlie.

Everybody in the Club could see that he and Mrs. Clifford no longer held sweet converse together nor walked in that House of Rimmon as friends. Its numerous unmystical members openly rejoiced that Sterne had, at last, put his foot down.

The iron entered into Digby Maur's soul. His was not the nature to forgo visions of public revenge. Ferlie was involved in them because, although he had unjustifiably presumed upon her frank comradeship to the extent of insulting her, his desire, outweighing the elements of purer passion which she had primarily awakened in him, was an emotion more likely to breed wounded resentment than humble submission, on the well-deserved withdrawal of its star.

Ferlie, though secretly confessing herself blame-worthy, realized too thoroughly by now that dynamite, in proximity with a match-box however innocently decorated, is not a reliable combination, and, having once capitulated to Cyprian's judgment, could be safely trusted to abide by it.

Hence, even an armed truce was out of the question. She welcomed with relief the news that Digby had taken casual leave and gone to Rangoon.

"It shows he has accepted the position and means to be sensible," she told Cyprian. "When he returns we can meet as club-acquaintances and it will be forgotten that we ever appeared to be anything more."

"Burma does not forget," he said cloudily, and she understood that he had learnt that lesson bitterly enough.

She might have been less sanguine of a happy ending to her own affair if she had connected with Maur's departure a detailed announcement in the Rangoon papers of a forthcoming Art Exhibition, on a large scale, and for which contributions were invited in the form of original sketches, paintings, leather-work, pottery and all the usual articles universally acknowledged, on such occasions, a joy for ever.

Shrewdly positive that he possessed a work of Art worth exhibiting, and a golden opportunity of advertising his hitherto unexploited talent, Digby Maur had well-timed his leave. All individuals occupying the local seats of the Mighty would be present; besides, at this height of the Season, many outside visitors.

There must follow comment and inquiries as to the identity of the artist who had produced "Imprisoned Flames."

He was right. There were visitors, and, among them, a millionaire on a private steam-yacht and his personal physician; a young man with an inquisitive expression, reddish hair and a loud happy voice which he dogmatically raised upon matters which the Elderly and Unenterprising had long elected to approach with caution.

In due course the new-comers found themselves conducted by the residents, to the Art Show, where the chief item was already admitted to be a unique painting which most people only remembered as the Girl and the Gul Mohurs, though the artist had baptized it more erotically.

Said Peter to his neighbour, after a cursory glance, "Why, that's my sister!"

Several people turned, and, amongst them, a hovering Anglo-Burman, referred to in hushed tones as the artist.

Colonel Maddock put up his eye-glass with an astounded, "Bless my soul! It is Ferlie. Where on earth did the little minx have it done?"

"It's damned good," said Peter. "Probably it is Cyprian's. I'd like to have a copy. When we run them to earth we will ask them why they never told us it was here."

The Colonel and Peter never discussed the fugitives.

Aunt B., mistrusting the frailty of human flesh, had not mentioned the relationship under which they were masquerading. They might have already dropped it in anticipation of the divorce to which in common sense they must finally succumb. Better, she thought, to let Ferlie tell her own tale to Peter. She had not foreseen that Ferlie would delay too long in replying to Peter's letter, on the basis that least said on paper soonest mended.

So Peter and the Colonel only knew that the two were together and that Ferlie's name was Mrs. Clifford to stave off the world's curiosity.

Digby Maur was already lionized, and, being Digby Maur, his head already felt a little light.

He longed for Ferlie and Cyprian to hear of his triumph at first hand, and appreciated, with a tinge of malice, that the daily papers would afford Cyprian a resentful shock over the publicity bestowed upon the painting of Ferlie.

He decided to find means of introducing himself to explain that the picture was not for sale.

The opportunity occurred sooner than he expected, by way of a lady who had once known the man reputed to be Digby Maur's father, and who felt sorry for the quasi-European son, and glad of his success. She had met the Colonel, and, aware of the respect in which the Banks held him, thought to put the young artist in touch with a possible order for Burmese sketches. Finding herself near Peter she manœuvred the two opposite one another and was about to explain that Digby was the artist of "that red painting," when a friend jostled against her in the crowd and engaged her in conversation. Peter and Digby, barely introduced, were left face to face.

"I must say you have not even a family resemblance to your brother," hazarded Digby.

"Which is not surprising," and Peter eyed him with interest, "seeing that I have no brother."

Maur recalled the Club conclusion of Cyprian's relationship to Ferlie.

"I should have said your half-brother, Mr. Sterne."

"Oh, you've met old Cyprian? No, he is not even my half-brother, though people used to take him for an uncle. He is just an old family friend. But if you have met him you may know my kiddie-sister. She is staying with him in Burma at present."

A sudden unhealthy pallor left his companion's face putty-coloured.

"I didn't catch your name," Peter was saying when Digby recovered his breath. "Mine's Carmichael. My sister is a Mrs. Clifford."

He slightly over-emphasized the unfamiliar title.

The eyes scrutinizing him narrowed.

"I have had the honour of painting Mrs. Clifford."

"By Jove! Then it was you——" Peter studied him afresh and stopped, faintly uneasy. This man must know Ferlie quite well. What on earth had made him suppose Cyprian his brother—or hers? Better not inquire, lest he should put his foot on some unexplained situation. He drifted into enthusiastic comment on the portrait and escaped to warn Colonel Maddock of the artist's identity. He had been prepared for an equivocal attitude from the narrow-minded, who might criticize Ferlie's staying with a friend of Cyprian's calibre. Odd of Cyprian to rush her off like that to Burma. The uncle part could be overdone. Aunt B. had said they were living in the wilds and seeing no one, so it had appeared not to matter. He had assumed them lost to both hemispheres till Ferlie should become stronger after her troubles and able to make some satisfactory arrangement with Clifford.

She should have confided in her mother, or her only brother long ago. Of course he saw that she could not be left to the care of a chap who, from Aunt B.'s hints, was little better than a maniac on one point, however sane he might be on all others. Like the Vane woman, he would probably end in a Home, unless—and Peter eagerly recalled certain experiments he had been requested to make in Ruth Levine's flat and on the efficacy of which he was now awaiting her final verdict. He was so "keen" on insanity and if his ideas consolidated into success there seemed no limit to his horizon.

His gaze into space grew abstracted and he dismissed Maur's inquiry with a shrug. People always took for granted that old Cyprian was some sort of a relation: this fellow had obviously noticed that Ferlie did not use the prefix "Uncle," and had assumed the rest.

Rum chap, Cyprian. A queer friend for her to have stuck to all these years. He really must hint to her, though, that she could not, in any country, pay an indefinite visit to a man friend, however elderly, without asking for the acidulated comments of catty women and coarse-minded men.

By the time he found the Colonel that gentleman had already been presented to Maur; who had made hay to some purpose; having decided to try another tack and assume Cyprian something different from a brother, this time.

"Yes, I have had the great privilege of painting Mrs. Clifford, sir. Do you happen to be acquainted with her husband?"

The Colonel was grateful for the lead. He thought Peter had suggested that Ferlie was posing as a widow. Much better to have admitted separation, since, at this distance, awkward questions could not be answered anyway.

"I have met him and have no desire to meet him again. You can take it from me, Mr. Maur, that she was altogether wise in insisting that they should live their lives apart. As for your picture of her I should have much pleasure..." etc., etc.

He certainly thought he must have done Ferlie a good turn if this man should be a talker. The chances were now people would get to know the husband was impossible. He blandly concentrated on the picture.

"This one is not for sale," Digby assured him. "But if I can persuade Mrs. Clifford to sit again—and I think that will be possible—I should be happy to execute you a fresh order, though I never reproduce. I wonder if a bank of our red lilies and the hint of a gold pagoda-roof in the middle distance, reflected in water—you have visited the lakes?"

Maddock eventually gave the order for another portrait, subject to Ferlie's acquiescence.

"We shall be hoping to arrange a meeting soon. Must run up to Mandalay first."

However, after an interview with Peter, they both came to the conclusion that Ferlie should not have left her nearest friends so much in the dark as to her tactics.

"Aunt B. declared that she was calling herself a widow," said Peter, "hence the 'Mrs. Clifford.' It was easier to avoid publicity and the interest of the folk who covet their neighbour's peace of mind. The 'brother' mistake is fishy preceding his attitude to you. We must pick our way if we don't want to get Ferlie's name handed round with the ice-cream at every official show going. When we see her I shall put it to her straight."

Digby Maur's leave at an end, Government House had shaken him warmly by the hand. He had gained for himself a reputation, and the power to shatter one.


"Ferlie," said Cyprian, one morning, pushing back his chair from the breakfast-table, "are you feeling all right?"

"Feeling all—what do you mean?"

"You're not, then?"

Her smile was uncertain.

"Don't be silly! Why should I be feeling wrong?"

"That's just what I have been asking myself for more than a week. The Hot Weather is not nearly upon us yet."

"I'm quite well," she insisted listlessly.

"Then, what is the matter?"



"Cyprian, don't tease," and her unnerved vexation contained, he imagined, a hint of alarm; "there is nothing the matter. Though I see you are determined to believe that a lie."

"It is one," he replied, opening the newspaper.

She resorted to a stormy exit.

What else could she do when he was right? It seemed sometimes a great deal too high, the price she was paying to preserve their flawless peace. At least, it had been flawless until Digby Maur returned from Rangoon, but not to fall easily into his niche as a casual acquaintance.

She wondered, when she sat staring at him on the river-bank below the garden with its wild, concealing foliage, why she had never before thought of comparing his eyes to a snake's.

He painted on, grimly speechless, but when they travelled over her, devoid of expression, coldly alive, she could have fled in panic. And she had got to see the thing out or everyone would learn that Cyprian had brought her here under false colours and that, somewhere in England, dwelt her husband, complacently aware of their flight.

The scandal would force Cyprian to resign, to whom public criticism of his private affairs, even in simple matters, was real torture. For him, through her, to be obliged to retire on an inadequate pension in a tempest of slander was unthinkable.

Why had she been such a fool as to shrink from confiding, by letter, in Peter?

It had seemed immaterial whether she did so or not, considering that, in Rangoon, one could safely assume nobody had heard of her existence, and he and the Colonel were not contemplating a long stay anywhere.

Peter at present, she knew, made a remorselessly logical Catholic with no time for visions unsanctioned by the Pope. Order and discipline everywhere, if you please, for Peter, once as thoroughly lawless as he now showed himself law-ridden. But Peter was an extremist in everything. He had really little use for the non-fanatic who hesitates to sacrifice, at any rate, his neighbour's Life and Limb, for his opinions. But, while he had made his submission to Rome in calm, wholehearted conviction, which might or might not, in another ten years, be followed by as calm and wholehearted a recantation, annulled in its turn by a general clear-up of his whole life and a death-bed repentance—"for, though it may be a darned uncomfortable religion to live in, it's the only tidy one to die in," had ever, like Charles Stuart, maintained Peter—Ferlie had crept through the gate as a battered ship creeps gratefully into an unexpectedly discovered harbour, anchorless, after the storm.

She had found there warmth and healing and a kind of companionship among the angels that only very sensitive worshippers of abstract holiness know. The Unseen Hosts were to her lone spirit so really present at the altar steps that she could no longer consider the most deserted church empty. Doctrinally, she was unsound. Authority had recognized the bewildered pulsing of a heart too bruised for searching examination, and admitted her with far less circumspection than they accorded Peter of the minutely inquiring habit of mind.

The Peters are well known later to deny; not so the Ferlies.

By reason of that very loyal complex in her was Ferlie passively chained to the Force from which she had once drawn strength, since there could be no severing of her fetters without a severance also from those who had comforted her in affliction. How mean to accept the sweets and deny the obligations incurred! To question only the rules which affected her personal desires!

That Force had stood by her in her darkness: therefore she must stand by it now that she walked in sunshine.

Yet, Cyprian was wondering whether she would outthrow superstition when happiness set in, and she was sure that, if so, he would soon persuade himself, for her sake, that, though divorce in itself might be an evil thing, in their case it became a necessary good. Clifford could be trusted to make things easy; he to whom all women were merely, Woman.

The doors would swing wide on very little pressure (... Et ne nos inducas in tentationem).

Since, white-faced and petrified, she had undertaken to deceive Cyprian, and steal by secret ways and unworthy evasions into Digby Maur's garden, yielding him the triumph of another picture in return for his promised silence, she had conversed with him only in monosyllables and, since he earnestly desired to complete the commission which might set him on the road to future recognition, he had borne her self-absorbed misery without making any attempt to counteract it or effect a reconcilation. His feelings towards her at that time were an irreconcilable mixture of angry desire and aching remorse.

The picture completed, it was his intention to make a final effort to re-arouse her forfeited pity. If she should throw up the sponge before he were ready he determined to stick at nothing which should force her and that canting Sterne to eat the dust of the same humiliation they had publicly heaped upon him.

He was incapable of believing that they were not lovers in the term's worst accepted sense. And what man has done man can do, and the woman who takes one step in that direction will take another, he promised himself.

Ferlie, nervous of Cyprian's penetration in the matter, attacked Digby one afternoon, when the work was about half finished.

"I don't think you quite understand," she said, "the strain this deception is putting upon me. Cyprian is inventing reasons in his own mind for my looking so ill. But I simply can't sleep."

"Tell him then."

"Do you really imagine that he would allow you to finish this, if I did?"

"In that case I should distinctly advise you not to tell him."

"Oh, you are a cad!" she burst out. "What man, worthy of the name, would take advantage of a private confidence inadvertently yielded, to further his own ends?"

"You forget," he said, "your Cyprian never, from the beginning, would admit that I was worthy of the name. Do you happen to know the terms in which he forbade me your company?"

"Whatever he said he was right."

"Why not, therefore, resign yourself to the worst where my actions are under discussion?"

"We had an agreement before T consented to this course," she reminded him. "I suppose you will not forget it."

"I denied any intention of employing tactics which had already failed to make you see my side." There was a sneer in his voice. "I have, nevertheless, abided by the word of a—no, I'll spare you. You started this conversation, not I."

She relapsed into hopeless silence.

"Do you think I have not suffered too?" he asked, more humanely. "Once, you would have noticed that I am hardly looking as if my own nights were undisturbed."

Then, as she answered nothing, "You had better ask Sterne where he intends to bring up his son that no stigma shall attach to his name in future as he seems persuaded it does to mine."

"You could save yours if you wished," she said, in tired tones. "It is what we are that matters, not what other people think we are."

"You may not be the hypocrite you seem. But as for your reputed brother ..."

"I think, if I were you, I'd leave it at that," Ferlie told him, so significantly that he paused and passed the rest of the sentence off with an unpleasant laugh.

"I don't understand exactly what you remind me of," was his next opening. "Have you, in England, any legends referring to the spirits of trees? We, in Burma, people our mountains and rivers and trees with 'nats,' which are powerfully angelic or demoniac spirits, but the tree-nats are the most popular, I think. I might have painted you as my conception of a Gul Mohur Nat, but, then, you would have had to stand nude among the shadows—hardly visible, but still nude, with the dull golden reflections of the flowers upon your pale skin."

Ferlie looked back steadily into the hard brightness of his eyes.

The attitude of purely English Club members might be, in part, responsible for the character-development here of weak expansiveness into bitter withdrawal, and natural animal passion to the impotent rage of unnatural excesses which lent him a spurious sense of power.

The real power on this occasion lay in her own self-control, and she knew it.

She spoke impersonally. "There is a story of the first Old Master to paint from the nude. It is not a story that appeals to me, somehow. The model and the artist regarded the occasion so sacred as to warrant their joint attendance at Mass first. Myself, I feel that they should never have realized the suggestion of lust, in anything so aloof as Art, enough to anticipate its interference."

She astonished and disconcerted him where he had hoped to disconcert her.

"You would, therefore, have raised no objection?" rather lamely.

"I should assuredly have refused—you. There is a form of Art, which only artists of a higher evolution than you are fit to practise. My objection would not have been founded on any idea that the human body must be concealed to all for the sake of those who misread its allegorical beauty."

He unscrewed a fresh tube with savagely nervous fingers, and descended to cheap reviling.

"Sterne, I gather, is one of the fortunately evolved specimens who do not misread the allegory and are, hence, privileged without the artist's excuse."

"Your thoughts just bore me," said Ferlie flatly. "I can see them passing across your face and they are ugly enough to mar any work you attempt. And, underneath all my angry disgust, I am sorry for you. If you came across a wounded snake what would you do?"

The palette crashed to the ground as he took a pace forward, clenching his stained hands.

"Put it out of its pain," he said.

A faint shadow of that hypnotic power, which Peter had so long suspected and, finally, developed in himself, supported her.

"If you are, as I believe you to be, a true artist under your skin," and she kept very still, "you will practise the restraint which should enable you to put your picture before your—passions. I have stood long enough for to-day."

She turned swiftly and retreated through the trees; nor did he attempt to call her back.

* * * * * *

Towards the end of the week Cyprian, who had left Ferlie at the Club surrounded by a new batch of English papers, and ridden out, himself, to an inspection connected with his work at some distance, returned late in the afternoon, to find her missing.

"Your sister, Mr. Sterne? No. She only stayed at the Club about a quarter of an hour."

Someone had seen her walking towards the river-path.

"Then I'll go home that way, skirting the hill," said Cyprian. "The servant met me with a telegram for her, having been to the bungalow and found her out."

He rode slowly off, flicking at the flies with his crop. Once on the narrow path above the bank he let the horse pick its own way. The back compounds of one or two bungalows, set far apart, straggled to the bushy slope above the water, but the vicinity of the river was too feverish in the evening to be popular, and it struck Cyprian as particularly unwise of Ferlie to choose this spot for a walk, in her present languid state of health.

He made up his mind to tackle her outright when they got home and insist upon knowing what was worrying her. He had taken refuge in patience, but she sometimes needed rousing by sharper methods.

There might have arrived a letter from Peter criticizing what Cyprian felt to be none of that gentleman's business. As an only brother, and older than Ferlie, it was possible that Peter's scruples had outweighed his discretion. Cyprian, having overcome his own, was not prepared for re-discussion of the situation with anybody. To have and to hold, whatever the future brought to either of them. He would plough the furrow now to the very end.

As he registered this resolve afresh, he heard voices ahead, but their owners were hidden behind a natural crescent of thick undergrowth which somebody had attempted, in the past, to train as a rude hedge. Above the tumble of scattered bushes appeared the ragged outline of a garden, flanked by two huge Gul Mohurs.

Cyprian recognized them as those which stood in Digby Maur's compound, reflecting with satisfaction that the latter had remained largely invisible since his return from leave.

The ruin of decaying vegetation on the dank path muffled the sound of his horse's hoofs and he had passed within a few yards of the foliage concealing the speakers when the identity of one was revealed to him.

"I told you yesterday that you make me pity you, in spite of myself," Ferlie was saying excitedly. "I am speaking cold sense when I repeat that it will be impossible for me to hide much longer from Cyprian that I am not spending my afternoons at the Club. I actually had to go there to-day to avoid questions before he went out into the district."

"Well, it's no use," Digby Maur's huskily uneven tones replied. "You're great on 'control' and all that, and the means you employ to get here do not concern me. You will continue to come for as long as I need you, because you can't help yourself; and I am not nearly finished with you yet."

Cyprian, on this statement, became entirely primitive man, and did not wait to consider the metamorphosis. He dismounted, crashed through the interlacing branches, and found himself standing between Ferlie and the individual who had made this astounding claim on her time.

The air was pregnant with the labouring emotions of a drama as old as the world.

Digby Maur recovered first from the intrusion, for, aware that he now had his back to the wall he was, also, reliant on the sharpness of his teeth. Sterne was the kind of man to sell his soul in avoiding a scandal should such a drastic price be required of him.

"Good evening," he said. "These are my grounds and you will be ready to admit that even my humble home is my castle?"

For answer, the intruder stepped forward and slashed him across the face with the riding-crop.

The insolently poised figure reeled backwards as Cyprian spoke to Ferlie.

"The horse is here. I am going to put you up on it and lead it home. You don't look fit to walk."

Without a word she went with him down the slope. She would have refused his help in mounting only that he lifted her bodily and set her sideways on the saddle, putting the reins between her nerveless fingers.

The dull thudding progress of the horse was out of time with her quickening pulses.... Something in the life of Cyprian and herself was over, and of the new phase which loomed ahead she was afraid.

Arrived at the house she motioned him away and slipped unaided to the ground. He tossed the reins to a servant and followed her up the path to his office. She sank into a chair and sat motionless resting her chin in her palms, dimly aware that he had passed into his dressing-room. She heard the splutter of a syphon, and immediately he returned to push a weak mixture towards her. "Drink it up," he ordered in matter-of-fact tones. "And then, just when you're ready, Ferlie, you can begin."

So he had not forgotten his promise. Cyprian never made the same mistake twice. It took a long while for her to tell him, and during the whole recital he refrained from interruption. When she ended he drew a deep breath and stretched out a hand through the gathering dusk to lay it over hers in the old protective way.

"I have this to say," he told her. "We are through with any childish arguments concerning one another's rights. You have taken no irrevocable vows to obey me—in fact, I believe the word has lately been deleted from the orthodox marriage service, has it not?—but our united brains must be clear upon the point that two cannot walk together unless they are agreed, and, as it is impossible for two human souls of widely different impulses to agree identically upon the treatment of every problem they may be called upon to solve, it is necessary that in final decisions one should yield precedence to the other. In visionary matters beyond my ken I am willing to sit at your feet. Over practical matters and the verdicts that affect our material welfare, I claim precedence, Ferlie. You gave it to me when you gave yourself into my keeping at Black Towers. I am responsible for you; not you for me. Are you satisfied for this to be so?"

It was not in her power to speak, but she bowed her weary puzzled head over his hand and rested it there. He laid his free one upon her hair and continued speaking, while he absently smoothed the ruffled "bob."

"Yes? Well, in the circumstances, you had no shadow of right to take the law into your own hands and act deliberately against my wishes, just because my trust in you was too complete for me to conceive the possibility of such a thing. If that trust between us is to remain solid, our problems, in the future, will have to be shared. Neither must spare the other for a mistaken sense of self-sacrifice. You would not hide your joys from me—why, then, your sorrows? Again, I ask you: are you satisfied that I am right?"

"You know," said Ferlie's muffled tones. "You know...."

"Do I? Then I am going to extract a promise from you, here and now, that you will be fair with me, as I have been fair with you. Did I lie to you after the return of Hla Byu into our joint lives? Did I leave you and withdraw to fight my battle alone when she drowned herself? I wonder whether the earthly years make a difference, Ferlie, after all? I wonder whether you are capable of understanding what love means to a man who has lived nearly half a century without it, and who suddenly finds himself face to face with its illimitable mysteries? Surely, you will admit the fact that, since my probation has been double yours, I have earned the inevitable right to lead before I follow?"

Even then she did not stir under the strengthening touch of his sensitive fingers.

"Lead on," she said....


Said the Most Important Lady, she always knew that there was something queer about it. "Looks as if the whole of his ultimate objections to Mr. Maur were rooted in the fact that he knew Maur would probably let it out."

"But how did Maur himself find it out?"

"Probably the girl told him."

"Sounds hardly possible. Why should she?"

"My dear! He is not a young man exactly and she was obviously attracted by Maur. Hence these stripes!"

"Have you seen his face?"

"The men are rather inclined to doubt Maur's version."

"My dear! The men! She'd have had them all in tow if she hadn't suddenly concentrated upon Maur and disgusted everybody. Men are wax when it comes to a red head and a white skin. Children!"

"But what does Maur exactly say?"

"Apparently Sterne saw green over the portrait-sittings and insulted him. Maur referred him to his own little indiscretion and all parties began to snarl about their rights. The girl appears to have played the part of passive resister to both sides. That Type of Woman.... Well, Sterne lost his temper and hit Maur unawares when he was quite defenceless, and then the girl rushed between them and gave away the true relationship. From what one gathers, she was infatuated with Maur—got him to paint her twice over for an excuse to be with him—and, while he remained under the impression that she was Sterne's widowed sister, he admits to having considered the possibilities of matrimony. His discovery of what she really was—you know they say the husband divorced her and is still alive?—startled him into confessing that his feelings had altered in one respect.

"There was nothing for it then but for her to go home with Sterne; and Maur can hardly be blamed for doing his duty by this credulous Station which has also been suffering under the delusion that all was square and above-board."

"For the sake of the natives alone, one's got to be so down upon That Sort of Thing in this country."

"All the same," drawled the more tolerant voice of Somebody's Husband, "I don't see how anybody has suffered particularly except the Eternal Triangle. I've always considered Sterne a jolly decent fellow, and Mrs. Clifford not nearly so red-haired as Maur has probably painted her."

"Well, I think the whole business is fishy. There's something horrid about a household, in any case, which brazenly maintains that kind of Burmese child; and John is probably the co-respondent's son of the divorce case. The co-respondent can't be Sterne or, surely, he'd have married her. Probably the real man bunked after marrying her, and Sterne, aware that his own past would not bear too close a scrutiny, took pity on her and..."

"Aren't we getting on a little fast, Dolly? It makes a good story, I'll admit, but we couldn't hold to it in the face of a summons for libel, and you know you want to send the boys to Winchester."

In the bar one heard a good bit of low chuckling.

"And Diogenes wearing the air of a Trappist monk through the whole joke!"

"All the same, when it comes to bringing a woman of that stamp into a respectable God-fearing district, and introducing her to its wives and daughters under false pretences, it's a bit thick."

"Of course he'll have to go."

"Good God, yes! He'll have to go."

"And I shouldn't be sorry to kick out Digby Maur along with him."

"Oh, Maur! His doings cut no ice. But, somehow, we have looked upon Sterne as a creature with principles, and I, for one, am sorry for this smash-up."

"Personally, I was dashed keen on the little lady."

"Well, none of the crowd were better than they should be. Still, I am glad that someone has whacked Maur. I can't quite believe in his injured innocence. If he didn't deserve a licking for this he's simply asked for it elsewhere, for many moons. But I hate a rotten show of this sort in any Station. I wish Sterne would hurry up and get out. But wherever they go in Burma now, people can hardly be expected to call."

* * * * * *

Yes, most decidedly Cyprian would have to go. The children complicated matters, particularly Thu Daw. Otherwise, things were made easier by Peter's telegram which Cyprian had forgotten to give Ferlie until the morning after that interview in Digby Maur's garden.

It was a long telegram explaining that Maddock had been invited to betake himself, and party, on a visit to the Andaman Islands, where an old friend of his was acting as Chief Commissioner.

"Bring John and come self Cyprian if possible," ended the telegram.

"It's so like Peter to prepay the reply in order to give me no time to think," said Ferlie. "Do we go, Cyprian?"

That they should separate she did not contemplate for a moment. But he glanced at Thu Daw before raising questioning eyes to her.

She picked up the gurgling golden-skinned atom and smiled at him over its head.

"Why! We have no choice in the matter."

"I haven't, my dear, but you..."

"Have none either, then," said Ferlie.

He had sent in his resignation.

"And from now on," he said inconsequently, "it is to be the truth?"

"Why not?" she asked. "Can anything hurt us so long as we are together?"

His answering smile was very wistful.

"I had great ideas of protecting and caring for the woman I loved when I was twenty-eight," he said.

"And I had great ideas of protecting the man I loved when I was seven," said Ferlie.

She gently placed little Thu Daw on his feet and took up her position along the side of his chair, drawing his arm around her.

"When you come to think of it, Cyprian, it was very stupid of us not to guess that we couldn't live without one another. The night I was frightened, and you came up and told me about Muriel! Do you remember I wanted you to marry the vicar's daughter in my sublime faith that her home-made chocolate fudge would utterly console? And you promised that whoever you married you'd always love me best. And then, I was the first to marry, eleven years later. Oh, Cyprian, Cyprian! I want to get out—I want to get out of the cage."

Her sudden sobbing hurt him.

"Don't, dear. We are out. To me, we seem the great exception to every rule on earth."

"But earth isn't the end of everything," Ferlie gasped, "and you'll see that too, some day; even if I were to take advantage of your blindness now. Is there not one corner in all this wide world where you and I can hide ourselves with John and Thu Daw and live out our friendship in peace?"

"Dear, you've given me the key and I have turned the lock. The bolt is on the inside. I yielded up some none-too-solid convictions to your mysticism; cannot you, in return, yield a little of your mysticism to my common sense? We are in the twentieth century: it is a day of elastic ideas for all who have imbibed the plain truth that to live in peace we must let our neighbours live in peace. The minimum observance of Herd Law, and Civilization is satisfied. As a woman who has divorced her husband—in the last divorce bill we can find cause for that without touching upon more personal reasons—you'd be remarried to a man who had had a son by a dead Burmese girl. The position would, at least, be comprehensible, even to the narrow-minded. Why are we torturing ourselves with the precepts of a dead Jewish Teacher, whose dead words are only kept in evidence by those to whose interest it is to exploit them?"

He spoke with quick diffidence, pricked by the thought that he was literally attacking her God.

The circumstances in which they were living might meet with the censure of the Church's accumulated wisdom and understanding of human nature, but he would have had her oppose directly the inflexible word of One who taught all lovers that His Name is Love.

She pulled herself together and stood up, spreading wide her arms as if to embrace the light which eluded her.

"This much I will yield, Cyprian. Let me try and find some quiet place where we can be alone and think. I am glad we have been forced to sever all artificial connection with our fellow-men. Bless Aunt B.! We have enough money to go where we please, and when I have chosen a refuge where we can be, figuratively, apart in the desert, when we have had time to forget the harsh inharmonies of the past weeks; when there is no need any longer for us to live under the shadow of a lie, then I will promise you to approach the whole question with an open mind; to make sure that my sense of values is rightly adjusted. And there we can decide, at rest in one another's trust, which of us two in these visionary matters, as you describe them, is finally to follow and which to lead."

Before he could answer John walked into the room; the broad-brimmed cow-boy hat which he usually wore for shade, pressed flat against the back of his head like a plate. The Burman boy, who accompanied him daily on his afternoon jaunts, silently disappeared as he caught sight of the master and mistress.

"How funny you look, John," said Ferlie. "Pull your hat on properly if you are going out."

But John demurred.

"The Lord Jesus wears his topee like this," he informed them pleasantly.

And, "O crumbs!" exclaimed Cyprian collapsing. "Yet another Infant Samuel!"

But his amusement was short-lived. John had a grievance and had come to report it.

"Mother," he said, "there was one tea-party in the Gardens and nobody didn't let me go to it."

"How do you mean, darling?"

"It was Jimbo's birthday this day. And I tooked him the red coal-truck what Po Sein did make me to-morrow. And I saw's Jimbo going to the party and his nurse saw'd me and didn't stop, and Jimbo runned back an' she was werry angry. An' he said he could not take the truck, 'cos his mother said he wasn't not to play with me any more. An' he said Derrick's mother said he wasn't not to play with me neither, an' then his nurse comed up and told Po Sein we couldn't come up that road 'cos it was Mrs. Grey's party and Jimbo must go away at once."

Ferlie turned to look blankly at Cyprian. The sins of the fathers...

For the first time in her life he swore thoroughly and completely in her presence, and without apologizing. Then he pushed back his chair and swung John up on his shoulder.

"We have no time to think of parties now, you and I. Don't you know that we are going away in the train? And I do believe you've not packed a thing."

But when the pair of them had vanished down the verandah, shouting, Ferlie knelt down beside the baby on the floor whence it was surveying her with the puzzled concentrated gaze of the man she worshipped.

"Little thing, forgive them!" she whispered. "They, who know not what they do...."

As soon as it was possible the four of them, and Po Sein, boarded the evening express for Rangoon, and the house on the hill with the frangipani trees stood forlornly empty for quite a long time.

* * * * * *

They had decided to account for themselves verbally and not attempt the written word. Accordingly, they arrived, unwelcomed, to take up their quarters in the hotel, and it was agreed that Ferlie should send for Peter, while Cyprian sought an interview with Maddock.

Eventually, the exact opposite transpired. Peter, wearing a Head-of-the-Family air, presented himself before Cyprian with "my sister" possessively decorating his lips, and Ferlie ran the old Colonel, accidentally, to earth on the yacht, in the meantime.

Just as well, perhaps; for, while Cyprian was quite equal to Peter's lofty dutifulness, Ferlie was much more likely to prove a match for the Colonel.

He had known her all her life but they had not met since her marriage. She did not mean to make a Father-Confessor of him, but his mellowness invited confidence. He had outlived all passionate visions of altering his neighbours' landmarks and had developed, instead, a distinct sense of humour.

Ferlie imagined Peter to be lacking a little in that commodity.

"Well, young woman!" was the Colonel's greeting as he unbashfully embraced her. "So you are playing truant and, likewise, leading the future Lord John Greville-Mainwaring astray from his ancient heritage. Are any of us to be enlisted as peace-makers?"

"Peace is my present objective," said Ferlie, "but I do not anticipate that Black Towers will supply it, Uncle Ricky, even at your invitation."

"What's the trouble, Duckie? I've given up trying to fit square pegs into round holes at my time of life. I'm a lonely old man and the secrets of a pretty girl would just about rejuvenate me."

"Yes, you're nice and old," she agreed pathetically; "it's the young who are so cruel."

"The young! Well, I'm... And who has been accusing you of dyeing that burning bingled bush? Show me the woman, for it was never no lady!"

"Uncle Ricky! You've asked Cyprian, John and me to join you. There'll be a Fourth Child too if we come. Will you be quite serious and listen to me for at least a quarter of an hour?"

He noted the tired shadows under her eyes and drew her arm through his.

"You come into my cubby-hole," he commanded.

He heard her out over American iced drinks with fruit floating in them. He was sane and sea-bronzed and unexclamatory.

"Of course, m'dear," he told her in the end, "the position would just about have killed your poor mother."

"I can't help being glad that I have been spared the hopeless task of trying to make darling Mother understand, this side of her tombstone," owned Ferlie. "But I've always been sure that if Father had not been so ill, he would have positively forbidden me to marry that particular Catch of the Season."

"Ill or well, he never knew, any more than the rest of us, that you cared for—anyone else," he reminded her.

"That was because Anyone Else wouldn't admit that he cared for me—no, not even to himself. And I couldn't force him to, though I did try. I knew we 'belonged.' But there was Peter and Mother and Margery Craven and Lady Cardew and everyone sighing over my hesitation, and at last it seemed the only thing to do to yield. Right up to the Wedding Voluntary I wondered if, perhaps, Cyprian might not rouse up and rescue me. But he only sent me a golden apple, and not a line with it! I began to believe that I'd mistaken what I knew was the truth about Cyprian and me."

He leant forward and patted her hand.

"What's finished is finished. The question now is to find the shortest cut to regularizing the affair. Divorce?"

"I'm a Catholic, you know."

"So? Most short-sighted of you. I thought it was just another dish Peter wanted to taste. But he, too, is going to set up a row of names, like ninepins, for me to knock down. Rude names that suit Biblical Royalty but not the sort of people one knows. Tut! tut! You were always a complicated couple. What of our self-restrained hero?"

"Cyprian? He—he is against divorce on principle, but..."

"Quite so! Quite so! Circumstances over which he has no control! By Gad, I'd take that line myself if you were the woman in the case!"

"Uncle Ricky! You've been a Christopher Columbus all your life. Don't you know one spot on this troublesome earth where Cyprian and I could have a peaceful holiday with the babies? He's had to retire, and without work and nowhere to go—Oh, don't you see we can't come to any conclusion while we are occupying the situation of living targets to Society's very natural curiosity?"

"Where on earth do you suppose you'd like to be?"

"Somewhere with sea and sands and open sky and trees and warmth and loveliness and ..."

"Here, Ferlie! Put the brake on. You want a tropical island, fully supplied with everything but worry."

She jumped at that.

"An island! Yes. You are going to the Andamans. What are they like?"

"Populated where habitable, alas!"

"Don't tease. There must be an odd one among the number, where we might picnic."

"Under what flag? I mean, with what suitable excuse? You'd be hunted up and fêted and asked to Government House.... No, but let me think."

When he next raised his head she saw a solution had struck him.

"It's a daft scheme enough," he muttered. "But you are just a pair of lunatics at present, so here goes."

He pulled open a drawer and unrolled a couple of maps, selecting one to push towards her.

"These are the Nicobars; the nearest of 'em is twenty-four hours' journey from Port Blair of the Andamans. The Nicobarese are a totally different race from the Andamanese aboriginals, and a solitary missionary lives among them obeying the letter of the Christian Law with more spiritual optimism than horse-sense.

A ship takes his mails from Port Blair every three months, and, once a year, the Chief Commissioner inspects the tin church on bamboos, the dozen beehive huts and the wooden shanty which constitutes the Settlement of Car Nicobar. The missionary has a luxurious wooden house of three or four rooms and a verandah.

He has to flavour his diet with quinine, and so will you if you join him. Mind, I don't advocate it, I'm merely putting it to you that, as I know him, I can run down there—it won't alter our course enough to matter—and introduce you as friends of mine who—well, desire to study the flora and fauna of the islands!

He'll offer to put you up at the Settlement, overwhelmed by the prospect of your company, but of course, if you prefer it, I suppose you can build yourselves huts, or get the converted sheep of his fold to build them for you——"

"Oh, huts!" cried Ferlie. "Of course, huts!"

He paused to study her transformed face.

"Bless my soul!" said the Colonel. "And I half expected to be dismissed as an old fool for my pains!"

* * * * * *

Cyprian and Peter interrupted them making detailed lists of stores and physic.

Cyprian had been finding Peter a little difficult; Peter had been finding Cyprian, to use his own desperate expression, "as little open to reason as Balaam's donkey."

"Which saw the guiding angel and was prepared to follow it, while Balaam was only likely to bump his nose against a tree," said Cyprian. And then resorted to brutality.

"Do you think it in the best of taste to criticize Ferlie and myself when our destiny has been completely blasted in order that yours might flourish?" he inquired.

"What are you getting at? Ferlie is a Catholic."

"Driven to become one by a marriage to which she was driven by necessity for money. Has it never struck you that Ferlie and I meant a great deal to one another before Greville-Mainwaring appeared upon her horizon—and her family's?"

Peter looked blank.

"The little idiot never said so!"

"No. She did not consider herself at all, Peter."

"All the same, that being true, you gave her up to him pretty coolly, if I remember rightly. Even Mother remarked that you seemed to have lost interest in Ferlie."

"I was cowardly enough to leave that particular decision to Ferlie," admitted Cyprian. "I bear my share of all now. But I hardly see where you come in."

"What you've told me certainly rather slams the door in my face. I thought Ferlie had cut loose simply because Clifford was impossible; not because you were the only possible dispenser of her happiness. But as to Clifford—have you heard anything about my hypnotic experiments?"

"I know the line you've taken up. It must be hellish work."

"I suppose that's the best way to describe dragging folks out of hell," said Peter. "It's not always their own fault that they are there, you know. To my way of thinking, unfortunate products, like Clifford, and the Vane woman, are less worthy of censure than you with your Burmese kid."

Cyprian made no reply to this. His close-lipped control appealed to Peter as could have neither anger nor attempted self-justification.

"Never mind," he added, "you're a damned good fellow, Cyprian, and you'll be relieved to hear that I'm not going to shove my oar in any more. As Ferlie's only brother I considered I had no choice but to tackle you. It's a rotten business, and I am more sorry than I can say for you both; but, after all, I'm not Ferlie's confessor."

"That's all right, old chap," said Cyprian.

So Peter, though tempted to facetiousness, was inclined to be encouraging about the island.

"We could leave them the small motor-boat," he suggested to Maddock. "We never use it, Uncle Rick."

"Ferlie has wheedled more than half the contents of the yacht out of me already," grumbled the Colonel, who was immensely in his element as the only genuine man-of-the-world in the party untrammelled by Creed or Convention. "Look round my cabin, Sterne; mark down what suits you. Don't mind me."

"I wonder," said Peter, "when we call to fetch them, three months hence, before the monsoon sets in, whether they'll be tattooed all over and chastely clothed in the Nicobarese Sunday gear of half a coco-nut and an old top-hat?"

Thus, by a maintained flow of chaff, the sense of incipient strain in the atmosphere was dispelled.

Cyprian regarded Ferlie ruefully when she first broke the news.

"And you really want to disappear into this incomparably rural retreat?"

"Don't you think it's a perfect plan? We shall, at least, have time to breathe."

"Yes, there'll be plenty of time—for everything," he agreed.

One matter troubled the Colonel.

"It'll have to be as Mr. and Mrs. Sterne, you know, Ferlie. Not that that little Jellybrand is of a suspicious nature—they won't want a passport from him, hereafter, to prove that of such is the Kingdom of Heaven. But, hang it all, I'm standing sponsor for you, and I desire to take my undeservedly unblemished reputation to the grave. And you and Cyprian don't look at one another with either a brotherly or a sisterly regard. Best make it 'Ferlie Sterne,' and no questions asked."

"As if it were necessary for me to wear Cyprian's hat to indicate that I have belonged to him since the world began," stormed Ferlie. "All this bother comes from Civilization's idiotic habit of changing a woman's name. I am just 'Ferlie Marguerite' in this Evolution, and that's all about it. I'd rather be 'Ferlie Cyprian' than 'Sterne'; which is only half his name, because it certainly wasn't his mother's."

But Uncle Ricky was not going to be drawn into any more Ferlie-esque controversy.

"In whatever capacity you belonged to Cyprian twelve thousand years ago," he said, "and in whatever capacity you intend to belong to him when there is no more marrying and giving in marriage, you're landing on Car Nicobar as his lawful, or unlawful, wife."


Robinson Crusoe had had, as yet, little time to do more than leave his footprints on the stretch of white sand sliding into the summer seas of Car Nicobar, and the tide washed those out very quickly. Wilder, lovelier, more brilliant were these islands than the Andamans, while the Andamanese and the Nicobarese proved to be separate races indeed, having no connection with one another.

Their very huts and canoes were secular in design. The Nicobarese names, marking the different islands on the map, fascinated Ferlie. Chowra, Teressa, Bompoka, Trinkat and Katehal of the Central Group, and Great and Little Nicobar, with their satellites, Kondul and Pulo Milo in the south, varied as to dialect in a language so primitive that, as the Reverend Gabriel Jellybrand mournfully complained, there seemed no words to express either "gratitude" or "forgiveness." Which abstract nouns once eliminated from the Christian religion, his sermons became uphill work.

For some years he had toiled in seclusion among this semi-civilized yellowish flock, of whom it was said that, until Christianity came to their territory, never one had been known to steal or lie.

Originally acknowledged to be of Indo-Chinese extraction, they were Malayan-Mongolian in type; often above average height, well-made, simple, lazy and cowardly, but very good-natured and polite to strangers.

This, then, was the people among whom Ferlie and Cyprian came, with their respective sons, to reflect upon the sequel to Eden's story and decide what parts they would play in it themselves.

Gabriel Jellybrand accepted their arrival as a direct answer to prayer, for he had been sick of a fever lately and very lonely. His weak green eyes, rounded like marbles behind an enormous pair of sun-glasses, protruded so unusually that Ferlie expected them to pop out and hit her when she made clear her ambition to choose the quietest corner of the quietest island and erect a row of Nicobarese huts.

The padre invariably fought a losing battle with the letter "w."

"But there is no need to do that," he persisted. "The little bungalow w-which the forest officer uses on inspection is standing empty. There w-won't be enough beds, but if you say you've brought hammocks—a most original idea!"

He led the way to the Settlement, clad in a cotton cassock, tied round with a black cord which swung out and scourged anybody who ventured too near him when he held up the garment to leap from rock to rock, revealing an expanse of white cotton sock below a short tussore trouser-leg.

From time to time he would lose his topee, and then a faithful bodyguard of Baptismal Candidates, palpably prepared for total immersion at any moment, would hasten to hand him a large khaki umbrella, lined with green, which they took it by turns to carry again after the topee had been recovered from the puddle or overhanging branch which had claimed it.

"You might have warned us that he was a Comic Turn," Cyprian told Haddock reproachfully.

"Describe him to me again at our next meeting," said the Colonel, for whom Jellybrand betrayed a pathetically guileless admiration.

"Uncle Ricky has always had a number of the queerest friends," Ferlie whispered. "Generally they are lame dogs who would have perished in some one of the world's ditches but for him. This one, at any rate, seems too nearly an imbecile to take any interest in the obstruse riddles of our existence."

The jungle road, strewn with bamboo leaves, twisted them out on to a cleared space among the coco-nut trees, where a tiny church, which would have lost itself in an ordinary-sized drawing-room, stood on stilts, as indeed, did everything in the form of a building, so that, to reach the platforms on which they were built, it was necessary to run up a short step-ladder.

The interior of the church was fraught with the pathos of primitive endeavour. There was a crucifix, smothered in fading hibiscus heads; a great many common candles, some of which were, nakedly, two shortened corpses stuck one on top of the other to attain the regulation length; a canopy of bamboo and coloured paper, enshrining a Madonna with a broken nose imperfectly mended by means of hot wax, which gave her a somewhat rakish appearance; the crudest of moral-enforcing missionary prints; a framed St. Paul (after whom the building was named) so literally "in the pink" as to impress one instantaneously with his possible value in a football scrum, and—Oh, lift up your heads!—a small shiny harmonium on which the little padre had, in the course of a year, just learnt to accompany his flock with one finger, though he had not yet given up hope of bringing the other nine into requisition somewhen. For the rest, they relied upon a catechist with a concertina, who knew seven hymns which he performed in strict rotation.

"But now that you have come..." said Jellybrand, eyeing Ferlie with eager expectancy. And she had not the heart to erect a barrier of doctrinal differences, for her protection, between his hungry enthusiasm and the harmonium stool.

"I see you have started a shop," said Colonel Maddock emerging from a thatched fastness, wherein lay heaped up some yards of calico, red flannel, a few tin pots and pans, coloured prints, packets of tea, pounds of sugar and several bright glass necklaces.

"Oh, dear me, yes. W-would you believe it? Mr. Pell, here—w-where are you, Mr. Pell?—a most unselfish person, w-who always acts on the excellent principle that it is more blessed to give than to receive, w-was left in charge of the shop w-when I w-was over at Nankauri, visiting. And—w-would you believe it?—he gave every single thing away w-without taking any coco-nuts in payment! Of course, the people are ready now to let the Government start any number of shops...."

Mr. Pell, hitching up the nether garments which were the outward and visible sign of his inward state of grace, beamed urbanely upon the newcomers.

"This," said Jellybrand, indicating a gentleman with a string of cowrie shells about his middle and a battered English straw upon his head, "is Friend-of-England, the chief of the village. He is not yet a member of my little community though he w-wishes us w-well, I am sure.

"A long w-while ago, he had forty devils extracted from him by the menluana, or w-witch doctors, and it is hardly surprising that, under their conscientious exorcism, he nearly died. All the men in the village sat round him in a circle and on anyone's perceiving a devil he pounced on it, w-wrapped it in a leaf, and put it in the corner of the house.

"Every year, the Chief Commissioner, w-when he inspects us from Port Blair, presents him w-with a suit of clothes in virtue of his position; but he reserves them for festivals and always puts them away w-when it rains.

"The two beside him are Mr. Corney Grain and Mr. Don Juan. The traders coming to the islands give them those names in fun, but I hope to baptize them soon and then they w-will be Peter and Paul—much more suitable."

Ferlie wondered why.

A man with enormous calves supporting a very small body approached the speaker confidentially and, presently, Jellybrand interpreted.

"This is James Snook. He and Friend-of-England have both, as you see, got elephantiasis. A lot of them suffer from it—most unfortunate. He w-wishes to show you his new house."

Encouraged to proceed, James waved the party towards a thatched beehive supported on four rickety poles, seeming not to possess, at first sight, either door or window. However, a ladder discovered underneath the contraption vanished into a yawning hole, and Cyprian and Ferlie braved this first, to fall gasping on to a palm-plaited floor which bounded like a spring mattress beneath them. They could not stand upright and there was a thick warmth of atmosphere and almost total darkness until Mr. Snook removed a loose lump of thatch from the wall.

In one corner of the room lay his cooking utensils opposite the rag bundle on which he slept nightly, after blocking out all oxygen.

The walls were covered with works of art cut from any ancient illustrated paper which had happened to fall into his hands from the padre's stock. They were hung, for the most part, upside down, and thus Pavlova waved mocking legs at a Mission print of Christ crucified, into the Figure of which the enlightened James had brilliantly bethought himself to hammer real nails.

Above, glared a garish painting on talc of a Hindu deity with six arms.

Truly, Gabriel Jellybrand stood in need of that optimism which accompanies the faith of all Heaven's "little children."

* * * * * *

The steam-yacht pushed off again with the evening tide, leaving Cyprian and Ferlie wandering back from the shore, the coco-nut trees chattering above their heads in the falling breeze. Occasionally she picked up Thu Daw whose legs were not, as yet, quite to be trusted, and would carry him away to the left or to the right, down slight inclines into some cave of dark foliage.

"And is this Heaven?" asked John, following out some private train of thought connected with Jellybrand and the concertina, the owner of which could be heard practising in the distance.

"'Over the fields of glory,' you know, Mother, and 'over the jasper sea'!"

"Not that Heaven, yet," said Ferlie. "This is more like the Garden of Paradise in your Hans Andersen."

"I sometimes wish," said Cyprian, "that you and John were not so inordinately well read."

"Anyway," finished John, after a thoughtful pause, "will I be let sleep in one of them kennels to-night?"

"There! He has said it." Cyprian rounded on Ferlie. "I trust, Ferlie, you are going to permit us the unromantic shelter of the forest bungalow, but I have not really any hope. Of course, if John honestly finds it coincides with his conception of the Simple Life to share the couch of James Snook—but I noticed several holes in the roof of the bungalow which should give primitive colour to the place for our satisfaction and more holes in the floor, which intuition tells me represent the overcrowded tenement lodgings of considerable families of snakes and rats."

"Firstly," said Ferlie, "you are sleeping out of doors. We will sling our hammocks between trees, under the mosquito nets. Secondly, John, you are not so much as to enter a kennel without leave. I don't know whether that elephantiasis is catching. Thirdly, an educated man's intuition should assure him that snakes and rats seldom dwell together in sunny amity."

"Scorpions, then," insisted Cyprian gloomily.

"Fourthly, a perforated roof cannot affect us until the Rains, and there will be ample time before they break, should we still be here, for you to have constructed us a model mansion with hot and cold water laid on and clematis and cabbages before and behind respectively.... Do I hear the sweet chiming of the village bells?"

"You do," replied Cyprian. "And, if I mistake not, shortly they will be drowned by the pious fervour of the village choir."

When they emerged at the clearing the bell was, indeed, ringing to Evensong.

Jellybrand had added a voluminous surplice and a limp stole to his attire, but had raptly removed his white canvas shoes instead of his topee, in absent-minded imitation of his parishioners.

A procession was forming outside the church led by Mr. Pell in the capacity of cross-bearer; in fact, it was Mr. Pell's top-hat that caused the padre to recollect that he was being reverent the wrong end for the colour of his skin, before the red-breeched row of boys proceeded to "survey the wondrous cross" in the highest key of which the concertina was capable.

The Unsaved of the village were cutting bamboo decorations, in the background, for a moonlight festival about to be held with the object of securing a mate for a lonely demon, who had been bringing bad luck to the community and was expected to depart in peace as soon as a she-demon could be found to share his flitting.

Ferlie and Cyprian stood some way apart from the two groups of worshippers while the crimson sunlight streamed across the stems of the coco-nut palms, and stained the uplifted cross as its followers passed, two by two, into the toy church and the last notes of the hymn thinned into silence.

The words were dragged out painfully by the child-voices singing in a strange tongue of a strange story, brought to them by strangers from another land.

"His dying crimson like a robe,
Spread o'er His Body on the Tree;
Then am I dead to all the globe,
And all the globe is dead to me."

Ferlie left Cyprian among the lengthening shadows and, herself, moved slowly across the sunlit space, and so up the wooden steps, into the tiny forlorn mansion of God.

* * * * * *

By the time they had decided to settle the bungalow as their headquarters, and making expeditions in the motor-boat to the neighbouring islands whenever they desired complete isolation, Cyprian, whose instincts for research had awakened with the cessation of his ordinary work, brought Ferlie an oddly carved board covered with paintings and punctured sketches.

"The padre calls these Henta. They are samples of the form in which the Nicobarese preserve their legends, and I ask you to look at the tangled thread of Christianity running through the whole. Jellybrand has been explaining. The first man offended the Chief of the Spirits at the instigation of the first woman. The Spirit's name, Deuse, savours of the mission teaching by your Church. Here, you see Deuse, in arresting négligé, surrounded by his cooking-pots, and below him huts, trees, birds and dancing figures. Also mermaids and mermen, because dugongs and whales are indigenous to these waters. The Henta are made to please the iwi-ka, or good spirits, and to alarm iwi-pot or demons."

"You are an inquisitive soul, Cyprian. Are you hitting at the Missions, or what?"

"No. Except that, but for them, in this Eden we should have been able to escape the story of the Fall. Apart from that teaching, the people believe their origin dates from the time a shipwrecked sailor was cast up on these shores with a pet dog. By her he had a son whom she concealed in her leaf petticoat, or ngong, and this son, on attaining years of discretion, slew his father and married his mother to continue the race.

"Therefore, the young men wear a bow of coco-nut leaves on their foreheads, representing the ears of the dog-ancestor, and all dogs are well treated in her honour."

"And poor little Jellybrand is trying to replace their allegories with ours? The one they will really appreciate will be Jonah and the whale."

"The most ridiculous part of it all to me is the way that each race, temporarily in power here, has striven to produce a different form of Christianity. Think of the waste labour since 1756, after the Danish Mission departed and was followed by the Dutch. When the Dutch attempt at colonization failed, the Jesuits and Moravians were inspired to try their luck till the British took over with Danish consent in order to try and stop the piracy then rife in these waters. But I don't understand Jelly's line, Ferlie. He is not a Roman."

"In England he would belong to what was once known as the High Church Party, but now has developed into Anglo-Catholicism. I can easily imagine that his successor will probably have ultra-Protestant and anti-Catholic notions and solemnly smash the pink St. Paul and the battered Madonna which to-day are the pride of the converts."

"I think he is an amazing specimen," said Cyprian.

"I think he is an amazing duck.... And doesn't he just remind me of a white rat!"

"Mother," and John broke in upon Cyprian's amusement, "I've found a house and they say the man in it is going to have a baby. Come and see how he does it."

Ferlie looked at him.

"The daily round and common task will furnish all you need to ask here, I can foresee, my son," she told him.

"Dare we investigate?" asked Cyprian, when he had recovered his gravity. "He may have discovered something interesting in the way of a rite."

He had. The hut he referred to was, to the islanders, tabu, or forbidden, since an unfortunate husband, about to become a father, was imprisoned within it beside his wife, sharing her troubles by sympathetic imitation. He was deprived of the luxury of a bath and betel-chewing and, for some while before, he had not been allowed to bind any objects together nor to attend feasts. Moreover, a whole month must elapse, after the child's birth, before he would be permitted to escape.

Friend-of-England, whom they chanced upon in the vicinity, described the custom in much-broken English, and Ferlie managed to keep a straight face while Cyprian examined the texture of coco-nut leaves and wished, for the time being, that he had never been born at all, or, at any rate, that nobody knew how.

"Ought John to discover these things?" he asked Ferlie later; "isn't it spoiling his innocence rather young?"

She laughed at him. "I should be sorry to think that you had lost yours in learning of them," she said. "Nature did not fall with the Fall. But so long as Mankind is content to lie supine, including all Nature in his own disgrace, so long will the serpent insinuate horror into the man-made Eden."

"I suppose, in due course, you will interpret; but sometimes I do not know whether to regard you as a totally unnatural product of Super-civilization or merely a successful example of the triumph of mind over matter."

He did not know, either, how to read the look she gave him.

"In a little while, my dear," she said, "you will be able to decide."

* * * * * *

The days fled by; long days of lethargic rest. The children had grown popular with the Mission, and one lady member in particular had attached herself to them as a kind of voluntary nurse. This left the two Explorers time for longer expeditions round the islands than they could have taken with John and Thu Daw.

One day they lost themselves in a more impenetrable part of the forest, where ten yards of experimenting with paths was sufficient to shut out the sky and enclose inexperienced travellers in a leafy tomb. On escaping from it, stained and breathless, just as they were beginning to think they had better make their peace with the invisible heavens, preparatory to holding it for ever, they nearly fell over the bank of an unexpected river.

Ferlie contemplated it awhile in silence and then turned deliberately back a little way into the jungle.

"You can have that palm tree all to yourself," she told Cyprian.

But he was still attitudinizing, incomprehensive, on the bank of the river when she returned in a somewhat scantily improvised bathing dress.


"Aren't you ready?"

The quiver of amusement in the challenge did it. He flung back his head and laughed outright.

"Why not? But, oh, Ferlie, you are incorrigible!"

She was trailing her feet in the water when he joined her, forgetful of all problems not directly connected with the cool green water.

"I shall dive off and swim to that log," pointing to one barely visible near the opposite bank. "From there I shall encourage your amateur efforts and proffer suitable advice."

Said Ferlie: "I shall be sitting on the most comfortable end of the log long before your slow-coach head has emerged from the weedy depths to be mistaken for a floating coco-nut by some water-fowl in search of a raft."

But as she slipped into the water, the log on which they anticipated basking rolled over without rhyme or reason into deep water. It splashed lazily upstream breaking the green jade surface into a million ripples before, having yawned in their faces with thoughtful deliberation, it sank gracefully out of sight.

After an instant's smitten silence they collapsed backwards on the soft mud above the bank, sobbing with relieved merriment.

"Which is the most comfortable end of him?" gasped Cyprian.

Cheated of their swim, they threw themselves on to higher ground and stretched full length along the warm grass.

She was wet to her arm-pits and Digby Maur might have long sought a more suitable subject for a River Nat.

The sense of comfort and physical well-being, as he lay sunning himself, occupied Cyprian too completely for his attention to rivet itself at once upon the near intimacy of her, outlined on an emerald shield, defenceless in her slim fairness against his eyes.

Idly tossing twigs into the stream, one missed its mark and alighted on her bare shoulder.

She smiled in absent acknowledgment, but her gaze remained fixed upon the shifting reflections ahead.

He studied her then, with sleepy interest and, by the subconscious link between them, was aware that she knew his attitude of mind to be both puzzled and interrogative. He gathered that something was busily revolving in her brain which she would not yet disclose.

And as the leaves above them made changing patterns upon his own rapidly browning limbs, he forgot the scantiness of his attire and this outright defiance of all safeguarding law which stood between him and the whip of that Master Force from whose dominion she had despairingly wondered whether Mankind would ever be free.

Once-known sentences in Greek intruded, word by word, upon his brain, till the whole resolved itself into a fragment from Plato's immortal Republic preserved fresh, since, on the earlier waxen tablets of the mind, impressions remain cut singly and deep, though neglected for long periods in the crowded years which follow:

Greek text

He saw himself again, an angular youth still in the magic teens, wrestling studiously with the paragraph; his sympathies completely with Thrasymachus of Chalcedon and his subsequent bull-like attack upon Polemarchus and Socrates, when, "playing the fool together in mutual complaisance," they had expanded the drivellings of old Cephalus concerning the abatement of his appetites into an interminable and exceedingly toilsome-to-translate discussion on the nature of Justice.

Words, words, words, thought Cyprian, now as then. The ancient writers of all nations might philosophize and analyse and theorize through pages of intellectual war, but still Justice struggled to dwell upon this globe, and still the Frantic Master scourged men on to deeds which drove her out. With what object? The perpetual propagation of a mortal race, apparently doomed (while the chemical atoms of mud and water to which they clung, held together) to blind burrowings for some Philosopher's Stone upon which might be engraved the key to their existence.

Always that awareness, stifling their half-developed senses, of bodily decay and rotting death, mental and physical, till the spirit cried out like a terrified child in the imprisonment of a gradually enveloping Darkness.

Was it wonderful if the mind strove to drug realization of the conditions under which it existed by resorting to fruitless accumulation of metal and mummified matter, materially precious only because so far as Man knew, there was not enough of it to go round? Was it wonderful if, wearying of this empty labour, he passed from the opium dreams of wealth to the cocaine illusions of power over his fellows, or acted yet another part, inebriate with meditation upon a solitary mountain top, or grovelled in a secret cave, denying access to any who might wish to awaken him from dreams to cold reality once more?

Was not the ascetic, hugging and hoarding his visions, as useless a product as the miser hugging and hoarding his gold?—and the mystic, luxuriating in a religious mirage, as much a glutton for prayer as his Epicurean neighbour might prove himself a glutton for pleasure?

What did he, himself, desire of the gods that be, asked Cyprian. Ferlie? And of Ferlie, what? Her white limbs entwined in his, ever and anon, throughout the years, in the thirsting hope that much yielding to a fitful and passing emotion would so unite him with her Being that nothing could separate them again?...

"For sudden ... a peace out of pain...
Then a light, then thy breast,
Oh, thou, soul of my soul! I shall clasp thee again,
And with God be the rest!"

Not this way lay the road to that satisfied unity. And she knew it. God, yes! How terribly well she must know it! He, in Thu Daw, she, in John, had yielded to the Earth that heritage it demanded of all living creatures which crawled upon its face. They had added their quota to Creation, lest Life perish here before its incomprehensible purpose should have been fulfilled.

Was another life required of them to perfect the love they bore one another? All life is by no means conceived in love. Did not that which was weigh more precious in the scales of Eternity than any conceived in duty to the natural law of a source called "God"? And yet ... out here, where one could almost listen to the pulses of Nature beating, unregulated and unquickened by the fevers which dull the senses of Earth's normal sons and daughters, how had these barriers melted which the crowded places interposed between his Self and Hers? What law but the natural one was good in the eyes of Nature's Creator?

And Nature bade him reach out to her his starving arms. He stirred among the shrivelling strands of fibre, strewing the turf, and sat up, clasping his hands about his knees.

Still she did not look at him, and savagely he tore in imagination at the filmy veil barring him out of her dreams.

But she spoke, dispassionately as an oracle, from her strongly splendid aloofness.

"Think it out a little further, Cyprian, before you decide."

He felt the Master's lash about his body; and was stung by it to sharpened understanding.

Deliberately and fearlessly, Ferlie was challenging his faith. By it she would rise or fall.

If it drove him along that path of desire which led but to the grave, she would follow because her own will was pledged to his, "through all the beauty and all the loving of the eternal years...." She did not believe that this momentary impulse was grounded in his faith.

He saw, as in a drowning panorama, all the forms of all the acknowledged great lovers who had staked their gift of life upon Desire and, with the fading of that frail rainbow thing, had discovered themselves upon the edge of the burnt-out desert, Age, beyond which flowed only the bitterly black waters of Death. With the inexorable tread of the years Ferlie and he would be dying slowly before one another's watching eyes. The end must come in sweating battle with the impotency of those same bodies, glowing now in the deceiving radiance of a sun which would, some day, itself be darkened. Of what avail then the agonizing vows, sealed lip to lip in the sheltering purple shadows of dead nights whose beauty was now a scorching memory to contrast with the starless darkness of the opening tomb? (Ferlie had always been able to visualize that tomb.) There must be some other fulfilment for the love which has kept watch o'er its immortality. Some other road than this, along which the faithless "Little Ones" had stumbled with bleeding feet down the revealing arches of the years.... One was risking all for a shadow.... But as one saw the shadow it was that of a very mighty reality.... Behind every shadow there must be a substance. Ferlie had decided that herself ... already. In this, it was, fairly, hers to lead.

"Lead on," echoed Cyprian aloud of his heart, remembering when she had used the selfsame words to him.

She put out, to touch his, a hand still cool and damp with undried crystals of moisture.

"It is extraordinary to remember," she said, "that the crocodile had probably never set eyes on a human being before. There is, practically, no animal life in these forests, so Jelly told me, except pigs and birds. In the interior there are rumours of bison and, of course, the hamadryad we have always with us."

"Yes, your Garden of Paradise is certainly not serpentless," Cyprian answered, a note of amusement now in his voice.

She got up and shook the clinging twigs from her hair.

"I am dry. I must go and dress. The one thing which calms my fear of serpents is a discovery that if you keep still when they are about, and leave them alone, they invariably leave you alone."


On returning home, they passed close to their own village which seemed unusually noisy.

Half-way across the Settlement John came to meet them in charge of Naomi, the shining light among Jellybrand's converts. John was armed to the teeth, a shaped coco-nut husk upon his head and a wooden spear in his hands.

"Mother," he called out, on sighting them, "there was a deaded man took out of one kennel, only they have tooken him away to Heaven now and everybody are very angry about it."

"You appear to have been seeing life during our absence, John," said Cyprian, as Ferlie questioned Naomi.

"One man make himself dead," that lady explained pleasantly. "'Nother village angry with his family."

The Settlement, when they reached it, appeared also, to be on the defensive. Little Jellybrand, bustling about with a shot-gun, which Cyprian instinctively recognized as a more dangerous weapon to its owner than to anything he aimed it at, explained that James Snook had, indeed, hanged himself from one of the stilts of his hut, having had trouble of some sort with his family while not in particularly good health. One of his sons had, lately, caught an evil spirit and launched it triumphantly on the deep in a small model canoe. The canoe landed its invisible occupant near the hut of an enemy's village and, hence, these furious preparations to meet a revengeful raid.

Three members of the Mission village's aristocracy, Scarecrow, Kingfisher and Captain Johnson, one of whom wore a bowler hat, green with age, and another, a child's tam-o'-shanter, legacies both of passing traders, had painted their faces scarlet and prepared quarter-staves dipped in pig's blood. Helmets of coco-nut husk were being rapidly distributed.

"W-we have these troubles periodically, w-would you believe it?" said Jellybrand. "There is no cause for alarm, but one has to show that the Mission is quite able to defend itself, should the raiders come on here. I am shutting up all my children in the Mission School and shall patrol outside it to-night w-with a loaded weapon."

He waved his gun valiantly at Cyprian and then let it off accidentally within a yard of Friend-of-England, who despite his elephantiasis, leapt lightly into the air.

"That ought to teach them to keep away from a loaded gun," the Defender of the Young remarked placidly, having ascertained that no one had received a pellet in the back.

"Young Brown has been detailed off to parade your house to-night, Mr. Sterne, and he will rouse you if your assistance is required."

Young Brown, a veteran of sixty, roused nothing but Cyprian's bitter enmity by the tumult of his snoring outside the bathroom door.

Luckily, the quarrel petered out in the village, where there was enough noise to attract every ghost in the cemetery, and as one party was getting the worst of a species of warfare worthy of Tweedledum and Tweedledee, the women interfered and separated the combatants with dahs. Whereupon, all broken fingers were displayed and bandaged, and the enemy remained on to feast with the raided party, returning peacefully homewards after a couple of days.

"Mr. Toms," the Government agent of doubtful nationality, made a note in his diary that, "James Snook, elder and landowner of Car Nicobar, committed suicide by hanging himself, owing to domestic troubles with his children, whom his ghost will, no doubt, exceedingly trouble."

* * * * * *

A few days later, the padre fell upon Ferlie and the children when they were sunning themselves in a sand-pit, clad in sea-weed, bathing costumes and shells. He, literally, fell upon them sliding down the soft slope and subsiding gracefully into Ferlie's lap, hitting Cyprian en route, a swinging blow with the cord of what the latter called the "wedding garment." He asked them if they would care to drive with him into the interior to view a moonlight festival that night. He made the suggestion rather wistfully as though aware that these twain needed no outside excitement to keep them interested in one another.

Ferlie, her conscience pricking, tendered him radiant thanks. After his departure Cyprian demurred.

"It's a track through the jungle where a Red Indian would knock his shins every five minutes, and if the blighter intends driving us out behind Slippery Sam at night, I prophesy that you will spend the small hours of the morning sitting in a cactus hedge and consigning him elsewhere."

Slippery Sam, a one-eyed horse, by whose exertions the padre proudly made his rounds, was nearly as great a danger to the community as his shot-gun.

Jellybrand had bought him, cheap, of a trader because his one eye, making him nervous, he was a consistent kicker.

However, though there happened to be a brilliant moon which silvered the palms and blackened their shadows to thick treacley pools, Slippery Sam, with Ferlie behind the driver and Cyprian perched on the back seat of the rocking tonga, appeared that evening to be in spiritual rather than spirited mood.

"He's really a very nice horse," Jellybrand's mild accents assured them, "and w-would you believe it?—he loves ripe coco-nuts."

"I saw you picking yours to-day, Padre," said Ferlie. "What do you expect to make off your plantation?"

He sighed. "It's only an experiment of mine. I am so anxious to have a chancel lamp. One that burns perpetually, you know. My Party is coming on so at Home. All the Anglo-Catholic churches have them, I am told. It is so unfortunate that I can only afford a night-light in a glass. I have pasted red paper over the glass, as you have probably noticed. It isn't altogether impressive as a substitute, but it pleases the children."

"Of whom you are the most childish," thought Cyprian; but aloud he said, "do you seriously think that, if your Mission left the natives in peace for one year, there would be a Christian left in the islands at the end of that time?"

"The Lord is mindful of His own," returned Jellybrand reproachfully. "One puts one's trust in the rising generation. But the mothers will hide the children at census times, lest the Government spirit them away to school!"

"Wise women!" muttered Cyprian; but the speaker, unhearing, went on:

"I have had twelve babies born this year and baptized them all. Twelve among the Converted! It is God's will to provide the children."

"You can call it that if you like," Cyprian admitted. And Ferlie, uncertain that he was going to behave well throughout the drive, plunged into a dissertation on sweet potatoes.

Another mile and a half and the road became exciting enough for private prayer. All at once, a darksome pit yawning at the feet of Slippery Sam, he freed himself of his master's mild restraint by a coolly-timed kick at a vital piece of harness where he had been led by knowledge of Nicobarese psychology to expect the feeble co-operation of a bit of frayed string with his leather shackles, and proceeded to crop by the wayside.

"I am afraid we will have to get out," regretted the padre's dulcet tones.

From a hedge that was, luckily, not cactus, Ferlie succumbed to the retort courteous.

"I am out," she said.

No word came from Cyprian, and she was just wondering whether one of them ought not to be lowered, like Sinbad, into the pit in search of his mangled bones, when an angry pattering announced his arrival from the dark behind them.

"Why, where did we shed you?" in amazement.

"Half a mile back," he stormed. "I howled like a maniac, but you were engrossed in invoking your patron saint, and the padre, Slippery Sam."

They continued their way on foot down paths wherein they feared much evil, between patches of moonlight, bursting brightly enough through the interlacing branches to have enabled them to read a letter.

Weird sounds guided them to a ring of scantily-clad revellers round a bonfire and a young lady, attired in rings of silver wire which crawled up her legs and arms, impeding free movement.

The Chief of the family, who introduced himself as "Captain Tin Belly," told them that the girl was mafai or bewitched, and there to be fêted. She had been very ill and was inspired by convalescence to prophesy on the heels of an extraordinary dream.

Thus, also, were witch-doctors licensed, but if the aspirant to that honour was, later, doomed a failure he was again relegated to private life.

Mr. Toms, who had arrived at the festivities, proved a useful interpreter.

"This lady was cured by English prescription," he told Ferlie. "That which you doubtless use, when Eno's Salts are added to water with some turpentine and powdered camphor. They gave twice a day for belly-ache."

Wild chanting heralded another procession from a neighbouring village, the members of which beat a pig-skin drum and bore aloft the corpse of a sacrificial pig, while indignant squealing from the rear betrayed the whereabouts of more pigs, bound for burnt offering.

The great dance of the evening was executed to hand-clapping, accompanied by a low monotone introducing here and there odd English phrases, culled from the Converted, in compliment to the foreigners present.

"Where-is-my-hat-safe-in-the-arms-of-Jesus-give- him-more-pig-God-save-the-King," one man sang piously in passing Ferlie.

"Is Delilah the hors d'œuvre or only the dessert?" asked Cyprian, watching the hoisting of the Amazon in silver armour to an honourable situation beside the dead pig.

Mr. Toms announced that she would now heal people by her touch and the art of shampooing.

"Plenty little cannibalism in the islands," he reassured them cheerfully. "When discovered in the past, on Camorta Island, for secret rites, it very punishable. The Nicobarese a simple people and a musical."

"One had guessed as much," said Cyprian, putting his hands to his ears as the chorus grew deafening.

Captain Tin Belly presented them each with a plaited palm-leaf box from a shrine bristling with votive bananas. The boxes were not the same size and the discovery seemed to worry him; he measured them several times in the faint expectation that one would grow in the process.

On the way home, with Slippery Sam consistently practising the double-shuffle, Ferlie asked: "Padre, do you never grow tired of smiling at them and appreciating their customs, and settling their infantile disputes? Don't you often give up hope?"

His pathetic pink-rimmed brown eyes were glorious with vision as he answered: "I never grow tired of praying for them; and then one hopes again."

As Cyprian said afterwards to Ferlie, "One can hypnotise oneself into any state of semi-imbecility through prayer."

He remained restlessly convinced that whether or no the islands were going to bring him any closer to Ferlie's visions they were not going to bring him any closer to her God.

Nor to the God of the Reverend Gabriel Jellybrand.

* * * * * *

An incident which occurred during the following week seemed to confirm that impression.

Ferlie never forgot that evening; the last which spelt peace for them for many a long day.

The children had built a camp-fire on the edge of the jungle; not for warmth, but because it was a good way to dry the wet things of juvenile adventurers who had been assisting at fish-spearing or canoe-racing throughout the day.

Mr. Toms and Friend-of-England would often join them in the murmuring twilight and the elder folk drew near also, when he and the old Nicobarese spun little stories and island legends for John's benefit.

The favourite, related again on this particular occasion, was the story of Shoan and the Mermaid.

It had, originally, been invented by the traveller, De Roepstoff, who knew that the cachelot lived in Nicobarese waters and that, according to the natives, the mermaid is the whale's daughter. De Roepstoff, re-visiting the islands years later, had the tale re-told him as one of their own.

Mr. Toms related it now in English, periodically assisted by Friend-of-England in Nicobarese.

"Come all Nicobarese and foreigners, old and young, men and women, boys and girls, youths and maidens, and listen to a story.

"There was formerly a man by the name of Arang, whose wife had borne (him) three sons and three daughters. He made himself a nice house and possessed much property. One day he went out on the sea with his eldest son, called Shoan, and wanted to fish with hook and line.

"Strong wind got up and heavy sea sprung up. Then it happened that one of the outriggers of the canoe broke and both sank into the sea.

"Arang was drowned, but the boy crawled up on the back of the canoe and cried: "'What shall I do? My father is dead; what am I to do?'

"Whish! It is the whale arriving.

"'Why are you crying, child?'

"'Oh, my father is dead; I cannot survive; how shall I get home? (lit.: 'there is no road.') What am I to do? My father is dead.'

"'Sit down on my back. I know the road,' said the whale.

"'Oh no, I will not,' said the boy. 'I am afraid. I do not know the road as my father is dead.'

"But after a while Shoan did sit on the back of the whale.

"Whish! Off they went, quickly, swiftly! The whale is the chief of the sea. At sight all got afraid of him.

"The flying fish flew in all directions; the turtle dived down suddenly; the shark sank down (below) his fin; the sea-snake dug himself into the sand; the ilu danced along the sea; the dugong hugged her young one; the dolphins fled, for they were afraid of the whale.

"Thus (sped) the two. By and by, they arrived at the country of the whale. It was a big domed house. The walls were of red coral, the steps were made of tridachua.

"In the house they saw the daughter of the whale, whose name was Giri.

"'Do you like this boy?' said the whale.

"'All right, let him stay,' said Giri.

"'Do you like to stay, Shoan?'

"'I am willing to stay here.'

"Then Shoan became the servant of Giri.

"Giri's face was like that of a woman; below she was shaped like a fish-tail; her breast was the colour of mother-o'-pearl; her back was like gold; her eyes were like stars; her hair like seaweed.

"She said to Shoan, 'What work do you do?'

"'I collect coco-nuts in the jungle.'

"'Never mind, we have no coco-nuts, but what other work can you do?"

"'I can make boats.'

"'We do not want boats, (but) what other work do you know?'

"'I know how to spear fish.'

"'Don't! You must not do it, (for) we love the fish. My father is a chief among the fish. Never mind; comb my hair.'

"Shoan remained. He combed her hair. They (used) to joke together, and they married.

"Said Shoan: 'How is it, wife, that you do not possess a looking-glass, although your face is so nice?'

"'I want a looking-glass; look out for one.'

"'In my parents' house in the village there is one looking-glass (but) I do not know the road.'

"'Never mind! I know the road; sit on my back and I will bring you near the land. I cannot walk in your country but do (I pray you) return quickly.'

"Then Shoan returned to the village. He came to (lit.: "saw") his father's house.

"'Who is there?' said his mother.

"'It is I, Shoan.'

"'No (you are not). Shoan died with his father on the sea.'

"'Look at my face. I am Shoan, your son.'

"He came up into the house. When they heard (about it) all the people (of the village) came. They asked many questions and Shoan answered. He told the story about the whale, and the story of his marriage with Giri. The people laughed and said he was telling lies. Shoan got so angry. He ran away with the looking-glass. The people went after him and speared him, and thus killed Shoan.

"Giri stops in the sea near the coral banks, and she sings and calls. In the night, when the moon is high, fishermen hear a sound like singing and crying of a woman. They ask other people (about it) and wonder, for they do not know (about) Giri. Giri will not return alone (that is why) she sings and calls out, 'Come (back), Shoan! Come back, Shoan....'"

Ferlie used to love to think she could hear the voice of Giri, crying loudest when the nights were happiest, since the Grey Lady of Sorrow loves best to walk in quiet places which have once known laughter and love.

She and Cyprian lingered after the tale was finished and the children in bed, dreamily feeding the red heap of dying logs with grass and leaves and rousing little spurts of angry blue flame.

To them came Jellybrand to crouch, rather exhaustedly Ferlie thought, in the violet shadow; his chin thrust forward; his thin shoulders hunched.

"It is difficult," he said presently, "to know quite how to act when immorality creeps unexpectedly into my small garden."

Cyprian glanced up at him sharply, but his ferrety eyes were fanatically searching the embers for an answer to the question troubling him.

"The Nicobarese are really a moral people. The w-women have equal rights w-with the men; in fact, being so necessary for the continuance of the race, they are really considered more valuable than the men. And, though among the Unconverted, a divorce can easily be arranged by the co-respondent's paying the injured husband a fine of pigs, one seldom hears of such a disastrous necessity."

There was a pause, during which Ferlie cleared her throat nervously.

Then Cyprian sat upright. "And by this you are leading up to tell us, Padre...?"

"That there is a couple of professing Christians, living in sin in the midst of the Mission," said Jellybrand dejectedly.

It was out, and Ferlie sighed a little tired sigh. So, even here, they were to meet with criticism. She was past interesting herself as to how he had guessed. She hoped Cyprian would be patient with him. But Cyprian, blinking rapidly in a manner that foreboded battle answered: "I should have thought that what you may call 'living in sin' was nobody's business but their own."

Little Jellybrand looked his amazement at this unsympathetic attitude, from one to the other.

"How can it not be my business?" he asked in a hurt voice. "I am here to see that they set a good example to one another. And these were two of my own children. I baptized them with my own hands."

This naïve admission drew a choking laugh from Ferlie. As the padre turned his astonished face towards her Cyprian exclaimed impatiently:

"Good Lord, man! Are you referring to two of the natives?"

"Who else could I be referring to?"

Ferlie, with a final gulp of relief, rushed to the rescue. "It's all right, Padre. We were stupid. Please tell us more."

Encouraged again, he confessed that he was having great trouble with two actual communicants in the Mission—Naomi and Kingfisher.

Naomi was, virtually, the wife of Young Brown. She had played her star part in the most complete Wedding Mass, decked out in the scarlet robes of the Mission calico, two years ago, amid the general rejoicings of a family much enriched by Young Brown's substantial dowry of pigs and pandanas. The pair had no children, and, a twelve-month later, Kingfisher, who had been showing marked interest in the Bible Class regularly attended by the young wife, was brought forward by her for enrolment in the True Fold.

The toiling priest had thanked Heaven before the paper swathed night-light for this unexpected windfall in addition to the slow fruits of his labours.

Some months after the baptism Naomi produced a son whom Young Brown's common-sense did not permit him to regard as an answer to prayer, and, on his refusal to lay claim to the child, Naomi and Kingfisher had boldly taken unto themselves a hut on the outskirts of the Settlement, whence neither consistent appeals to their better nature nor the threat of excommunication could dislodge them.

"This is my man," was all Naomi had to say about it. And confronted with the Woman's Credo her Father-in-God found himself helpless.

"The villagers consider that I ought to be able to put a curse on them," he complained worriedly. "The Mission is losing prestige by my very patience and I fear a great deal of harm may be done to the Cause. I am wondering whether I should appeal to the Chief Commissioner at Port Blair, since the Nicobars, being under his jurisdiction as well as the Andamans, he would be able to have the couple tried and sentenced for bigamy."

Cyprian took his head in his hands.

"Oh, my hat!" he groaned. "If I were the Chief Commissioner, Padre, I would have you locked up for a dangerous lunatic. Living in sin! Had they ever heard the word before you taught it them? By what authority do you keep a healthy young female animal tied, for sentimental reasons of your own introduction here, to a man who is incapable of giving her a child? Anyone sane would tell you that the Law was made for man and not man for the Law. Let the poor unfortunates alone, for God's sake."

Painfully, Jellybrand replied to him.

"There was a Man whom many accounted insane, but Him only do I serve and from Him do I take my authority. And He said: 'Thou shalt not commit adultery'."

For a moment nobody moved.

Then Cyprian threw a stone shatteringly into the fire. It lay there unaffected by the ruin of hot ashes.

"These people are not Jews any more than we are. Why should any of us follow the letter of the Jewish Law?"

"Hear how He amplified it to the multitude upon the mountain who were not Jews," said the Padre, and a hectic spot burnt on each cheek-bone as he recited: "'Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, thou shalt not commit adultery, but I say unto you that whosoever looketh upon a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.... But I say unto you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, committeth adultery, and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.'"

Cyprian rose disturbingly, trampling the smouldering branches under his feet and kicking the stone back into the cool dewy forest.

"I am going to bed," he said. "I prefer logic to theology. And my logical conclusion is that anyone who applies the word 'sin' to these folks would be quite prepared to try a tiger before twelve good men and true, and hang him, for devouring a human intruder in his jungle."

They heard his footsteps mounting the wooden stairs of the bungalow blurred black against a starry horizon. From the distance stole the sound of breakers on the coral reefs; the children's hammocks were just visible under an ingenious canopy of mosquito-netting.

"And will you also go away?"

The question was asked more to himself than to Ferlie, but she replied to it gently; she, who hated hypocrisy from the depths of a soul which felt plunged into it.

"No, Padre. I understand what you feel. I belong to a Church much criticized for its adamant attitude towards such logic as is Cyprian's."

"You cannot think," he told her in a broken voice, "w-what it has meant to me to have you two here. Merely to w-watch you both makes me less lonely. It used to be my dream, before I vowed myself to celibacy, that one day a w-woman might stand to me, even me, in the same relationship that you stand to him. I could be tempted to pray for it, even now."

She shivered slightly.

"And God would reply that you know not what you ask," she said, so low that he did not catch the words, and went on speaking: "But sometimes I have thought that, in spite of the perfect unity between you, w-which turns this self-chosen isolation into an Utopia of contentment, there is yet something troubling you; something deep and painful. Forgive me if I am mistaken. Living apart, as I do—I have deliberately chosen Mission work, you know, though Colonel Maddock offered to help me to a Living—one's instincts become sharpened, like a dog's when someone it knows is in trouble."

Then Ferlie made a resolve she would have found impossible to justify but, in after-life, found it impossible to regret. Peter had always condemned her as doctrinally unsound, and wondered that the Church could not see it.

Perhaps the Church did see it but was wiser than Peter in its utterly trained patience.

Poor Cyprian, who, in these lost islands, could not escape the pursuit of the Men in Black.

* * * * * *

Every Saturday evening the communicants of the toy church arrived in a complacent body, turn-about to kneel under the struggling night-light and receive mild directions from their harassed shepherd, balanced on the harmonium stool behind a yard of green baize, as to the speedy restoration of unlawfully-acquired coco-nuts and pigs illicitly retained in huts to which they did not belong. Most defrauded neighbours could be certain of recovering the fowl that was lost, before the metal bell was jerked by Young Brown for Sunday Mass.

That Ferlie should contemplate lending herself to such a farce acted as the final blister on Cyprian's already irritated spirit. Having divulged her intention, he let fall a few dangerous remarks; quite clever remarks most of them. She only turned on him the straight grey look he was learning to accept as impervious to outside influence.

"I understand that you were going to preserve an open mind on all these subjects with a view to embracing my ideas?"

"How does this affect your ideas, Cyprian?"

"I fail to see what support you can expect from that religious maniac in our affairs."

"I am not requiring either his support or his advice over our affairs."

"In the name of Heaven what are you requiring from him?"

"If you did not require it yourself—in the name of Heaven—you would know."

"Ferlie, will you promise to resist the temptation to confide in him, just because he wears a last century's fashion in angelic uniform?"

His tone roused her to real anger.

"There are things which you are not at liberty to say to me. Every human soul knows of shadowed places within its circle which even the angels dare not enter."

He got up, took some native fishing-tackle off the window-sill and made for the door.

"I won't intrude again. If you'll not be needing the boat to-day for the children, I suppose you can have no objection if I take Kingfisher, my fellow-sinner, and go fishing."

She saw the pair of them from her window, plunging into the jungle, while she was washing Thu Daw.

The little chap was beginning to say whole sentences in English, though he seldom honoured anybody but John with his conversation.

Drearily, Ferlie blamed herself for the reticence which had prevented her from attempting to make clear her reasons for admitting territory from which all but Divine Love must be locked out. She was steadied by that conviction. And Cyprian would come back. She must try and satisfy him before seeking satisfaction anywhere herself.


Cyprian took the motor-boat to a further point than he had originally intended choosing.

Kingfisher, who had fastened his canoe behind it, with forethought concerning creeks which did his intelligence justice, found his companion, even for a foreigner, exceedingly stupid over the fishing. Cyprian, on the other hand, was regretting proper tackle, and finding Kingfisher's methods irritatingly childish.

Everybody in the islands was childish. Jellybrand with his weak chin and his goggles, and his ridiculous tuft of hair sticking out at the back, and his lisping faith; the natives with their infantile intellects, not half a degree removed from John's, and now Ferlie with her clouded illogical trust in the differing satellites of a long-dead Teacher, who, to Cyprian's mind, had shown less courage in deciding the doubtful question of the Life-to-Come than had the Buddha. Cyprian recalled the words of one modern writer, "Buddhism is the religion of men; not of children." Assuredly, had the Christ only professed to preach the religion of children. Well, Ferlie was a child. She would outgrow it, and he, in the light of his extra experience, must be patient.

It never occurred to him that there might be something childish in his angry flight from the thing that had annoyed him. He decided to give her time to get this uncomfortable mood over before he went back and, consequently, steered the boat towards a likely-looking creek biting into what was known as the mainland.

To his astonishment he was checked by Kingfisher, who, for some time past, had been shading his eyes and muttering at the reflection of trees in water so clear that it was difficult not to believe that there was no material substance to the drowned world it mirrored.

He now clutched Cyprian's arm, indicating that they must not land. The latter was in no temper to be thwarted.

"Is it ghosts or devils which will prevent you, Kingfisher? Or is the ground tabu on account of a birth or a death?"

The man could not explain himself any more clearly than to insist that it would be unsafe to land.

His fear was very genuine and when he had gauged Cyprian's obstinacy he climbed resignedly into his canoe, from the motor-boat, and cut it adrift.

"All right!" Cyprian agreed cheerfully, "If you fish long enough you may catch a whale. I am going to explore."

He beached the motor-boat, and the jungle swallowed him up.

Then Kingfisher did a very sensible thing: he seized his paddles and made for home.

* * * * * *

Ferlie was going down the forest road to the shore to meet the fishermen. Long before he saw her Kingfisher heard her singing to herself and thought, for a little while, that it was Giri.

"Oh, ye'll tak the high road and I'll tak the low road,"

... and ever the last two lines filled the green gloom with haunting sorrow....

"But me and my true love will never meet again
On the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond."

But there was no sorrow in Ferlie's face just then.

It was the little padre who wiped the joy out of it after he had seen Kingfisher.

* * * * * *

In a few moments everybody in the Settlement had collected round the two of them while the sun reached out long scarlet-sleeved arms through the plain glass window of the church and took St. Paul in a ruddy embrace.

The agent's face was grotesquely serious, thought Ferlie. No one could make her understand why for quite a long time.

It sounded so incredible—the thing they were telling her. A patch of colour from a boy's adventure book. That there existed a tribe of savages, within reach of a comparatively civilized Mission Settlement, whose hand was against every human being and against whom every man's hand was raised in enmity; that Kingfisher's trained sight had noticed signs of them along the shore in a vicinity to which they seldom came, and that Cyprian, ignoring Kingfisher's warning, had landed on that particular stretch of beach—this was the gist of it all.

"But what will they do to Cyprian?" asked Ferlie, desperately incredulous. "He is unarmed and, they can see, unaggressive; if they are not cannibals why should they want to interfere with him?"

"They shoot at sight," explained Jellybrand slowly. "They do not wait to find out if harm is intended. They strike first, even at the neighbouring tribes, w-which go in terror of them. They are called the Shorn Pen."

She turned on him in cold fury.

"And you never warned us!"

"They live so far afield; right out in Great Nicobar. How w-was one to dream——? The Andamanese have a similar tribe to cope w-with, the Jarawas. But they, like the Shorn Pen, are so seldom seen that one forgets. For centuries the Shorn Pen have managed to isolate themselves from the remaining islanders, and they are now practically a different people. Markedly Malayan. Intermarriage and contact with foreigners has altered the ordinary Nicobarese and civilized him."

She became, of a sudden, stoically calm.

"What are we going to do about it first?"

Jellybrand and Mr. Toms, having decided on a search-party, had a little difficulty in organizing their men, and, since this too was necessary, in arming them.

The people, by nature, were no heroes, and it took more than the sight of the foreign lady's stricken insensibility to induce them to collect canoes at this late hour, when the labours of the day should be over.

The padre's influence did more than Mr. Toms' promises of reward, but little Jelly, having finally shouldered his shot-gun, was surprised to find Ferlie prepared to accompany them armed with a small despatch case and Cyprian's revolver.

"The children, Mrs. Sterne," he stammered. "Surely you w-will remain w-with them."

"There will be Naomi and Young Brown," said Ferlie coolly. "And I want to explain that, should anything happen to us, those converts who take care of the boys till my brother and Colonel Maddock return will be very substantially rewarded for their trouble. I have left a note with Naomi."

The hardness of her voice frightened him.

"Nothing should happen," he said haltingly. "Really——"

She was not listening.

"John," she called, "Come here."

He came, dragging his imitation spear, and she knelt down putting her arms about him.

"I have got to go away for a little while, John. If I do not get back very soon, wait for Uncle Peter and look after Thu Daw. And when Uncle Peter comes, tell him that Mother went away to follow Cyprian wherever he had gone. Can you repeat it after me? Say, 'Wherever he had gone.'"

He spoke the words wonderingly, straining back, boylike, from the close pressure of her arms.

He was always proud to be entrusted with a commission and the charge of Thu Daw. Only when she had hurried a little way down the road, walking between the padre and Mr. Toms, some intuition made him drop his weapon and run after her, crying, "Mother! Mother!"

She whirled back to meet him and lift him against her heart.

"You are a man," she told him. "And one day you will stay by your woman, please God, as I am going to choose to stay by my man to-night and through Eternity."

Jellybrand surveyed the little scene, his face troubled, but he did not again try to prevent her from joining them.

In the canoe he leaned forward and touched her cold hand.

"The smallest boy," he said softly. "Did you adopt him?"

"No. He is Cyprian's. His mother is dead."

He was puzzled, but not inquisitive. Ferlie added dully, "That was before we found one another."

"I see." said her companion compassionately. And did not.

It took a long time in the canoes, under Kingfisher's guidance, to arrive at the spot where, eventually, they caught sight of the dim outlines of the motor-boat.

There was no sign of any living thing on the shimmering starlit shore. The canoes crept closer and closer, under the shadow of the bank, cutting the water noiselessly as otters. The foremost one, containing Kingfisher, had only just been beached when he took a sudden flying leap into the creek. They heard him scruffling with someone on the far side of the motor-boat.

The two struggled out into the open; two naked forms grappling in the stream where the water was just shallow enough to allow a precarious footing.

"Keep quiet!" commanded the padre in Nicobarese, whispering, as another of their party splashed to the leader's relief.

"There! They've got him.... Yes. It is one of the Shorn Pen!"

The man was dragged towards the bank and a dozen willing hands stretched out to draw him up. Scarecrow, who, generally, showed more initiative than his fellows, stepped forward to act as spokesman. Fingers were firmly pressed against the prisoner's mouth, lest his alarmed shout should attract his friends.

"Tell him," said Jellybrand, "that if he gives us the information we require, no harm shall come to him; but that on his making the least sound it w-will be the w-worse for him. Our revenge w-will be horrible," he informed the man himself with the utmost placidity.

The latter had, evidently, made up his mind not to risk shouting. Or, maybe, he was only a stray member of the tribe, lured back to the motor-boat out of curiosity.

To get him to speak, however, was another matter. His dialect, also, differed from that of his interlocutors.

"He must speak," said Ferlie. "He shall speak. He will speak under torture."

"Mrs. Sterne!"

She wheeled round upon the padre as he advanced hastily to her side, pushing him back into the arms of his huddling flock.

"Let me be!" cocking the revolver. "Stand aside, any one of you who does not want to be shot. But if I shoot this wild beast to bits, inch by inch, I will know where Cyprian is to-night."

This, Ferlie, the long-suffering and so-compassionate of all human pain. There may have been an hour, far back in some forgotten life, when she stood, herself a half-savage incarnation of Womanhood, surrounded by her slaves, directing the slow doing-to-death of a feudal enemy who had deprived her of mate or son.

Whether or no, the present captive, who had obviously never set eyes until that moment on a white woman, was startled by the impression that she was an avenging devil, it was certain he considered her supernatural.

He broke shuddering from his gaolers to prostrate himself at her feet in crawling supplication.

In due time they extracted from him a promise to lead them to "the place where they had put the white man."

Yes, the white man had come there in the boat. Yes, he had walked in the jungle. Yes, he had been captured. The rest was not clear.

Jellybrand saw that, although they might be moving directly into a trap, there was nothing for it but to go on. Everybody understood that there would probably be a scrap. They must rely upon the terrorizing effect of their fire-arms. He stopped to make the sign of the cross.

Ferlie noticed that unsympathetically. She felt insanely cruel, and he avoided those wild eyes.

It was not long before they arrived at a fired clearing, the centre of which showed the remains of an earth-oven. A low bamboo platform, beyond, supported a primitive hammock of plaited grass, hung round with queer indistinguishable objects.

The whole thing suggested a funeral pyre; not an unlikely idea, since the padre knew that the Jarawas in the Andamans burnt the bodies of their dead.

Ferlie was the first to push aside the grass and leaves completely screening the still form on that rude dais.

And then the birds of the forest rose in fluttering distress, disturbed by the exceeding bitter cry of a soul in torment.

Cyprian lay there with an arrow, dimly discernible, pinning his coat to the dark stain which had spread over his breast. They held the dancing torches high, and poured brandy between his lips, but he did not appear to swallow; they splashed his face with water from a flask and listened desperately for the beating of his heart. His hands were clammy cold.

The arrow had pierced clean through his coat to the other side of the shoulder; after cutting off the barbed head they were able to remove the shaft. And Ferlie, having done all she could with no result, flung herself moaning like a wounded thing upon the charred ground.

All at once she raised her tortured face to the priest's and out of the extremity of her suffering challenged him.

"You talk of faith! Use yours. You talk of prayer. Pray! You believe there is Someone to pray to: speak to Him, then, but do not come near me nor try to take this revolver from me, until I see whether the God you uphold as faithful answers faithful prayer."

It was fruitless to attempt comfort; utterly hopeless to argue. He knew that her face would remain imprinted on his memory to his dying day, wearing just such a look as must have shadowed the faces of those sorrowing women who stood beneath the Cross of the Beloved.

But he also considered the danger of resorting to such prayer before the marvelling undeveloped intellects of the adult children round him, so hardly-won to Christ. Their faith was ever-ready to rise or fall to the success or failure of a sign. How could he thus tempt the Lord his God?

His hesitation scorched her to scorn.

"You are afraid!" she said. "And there is not even God left."

"Hush!" he pleaded. "Hush, child. W-wait and I w-will pray ... that His w-will be done."

It was a strange scene: the girl writhing in her mental agony at the foot of the savage bier; the frail diminutive figure of the little shepherd, in his unsuitable draggled white robe, who had proved himself, whatever his weakness, no hireling to his Master's flock; the scared human animal, naked as his Creator made him, starting from the grasp of the hybrid agent clad in khaki shorts and bowler hat; and, behind, the straight smooth-skinned forms of the Nicobarese, leaning on spear and long bow, awaiting the miracle their Christian witch-doctor must, surely, perform upon the white woman's man, who lay so still in the dead light of torch and mocking star.

Jellybrand knelt forlornly on the earth. It has been shown that St. Francis—the "little sheep of Christ"—was small and starved of appearance with no physical beauty but his transfiguring trust....

"Our Father——" And that was all.

For coincidence or miracle, at the same moment the man on the rickety erection twitched one hand faintly and opened glazed eyes.

"For God's sake get the arrow out!" he muttered, and once more relapsed into unconsciousness.

* * * * * *

Ferlie never remembered how they got him home.

From the fact that those present ever after respected her as a superwoman, she supposed she must have taken over charge again of the reins she had relinquished, for the time being, to the padre and his God.

In her dreams she would often hear the padre's voice saying,

"Let him bleed; it is best."

She had necessary things with her in the despatch-case. It was really blood-poisoning they had to fear, for the actual hurt proved not serious.

They had reason to be glad of the glassy night-harbour and the smooth stealing of their canoe.

Their prisoner they took with them, it being the padre's inspiration to load him with gifts and send him back to his tribe with a wholesome narrative of good returned for evil.

He obviously expected protracted death, but Ferlie was now indifferent to his fate, where she sat silent in the bows, holding Cyprian's head on her knees.

Mr. Toms clung to a theory that the Shorn Pen, amazed at the appearance of their quarry, had left him for dead at a popular festival ground, in charge of the prisoner, wishing to display him to the rest of their tribe before burning him with due ceremony. Probably, not more than three or four were responsible for the actual outrage....

Several delirious nights dragged between drawn-out days of tireless nursing before Cyprian opened comprehending eyes upon the world.

Before that hour came Gabriel Jellybrand had learnt more than he had ever sought to know of his new friends. He took his turn at watching beside the fever-stricken bed and was able to spare Ferlie a considerable amount of the sick raving that wrung her heart.

Sometimes, Cyprian, who so seldom needed to emphasize his speech with oaths, would break out into frantic blasphemies entirely alien to his mentality.

"It is nothing." And the padre would describe other sick-beds at which he had officiated. "He is not worse. It is as if he were speaking in a foreign language, absorbed at some time or other by his sub-conscious mind."

But always the sick man returned to the same poignant theme; that Ferlie was his and the barrier between them a figment of her imagination.

"Do not distress yourself over that delusion either," Jellybrand implored her.

"No," said Ferlie at last, shocked by revelations of the restraint it had been Cyprian's part to endure. "That is not delusion. That is Truth.... And now you know...."

"My poor child," he answered, "I ought to have understood.... I am not very clever, you see. I only w-went to a cheap school. My mother w-was a w-widow and did mending for Colonel Maddock at one time, in order to give me my chance. He w-was very good to us. But I only got through my exams by much prayer.... My mother prayed too, and that helped. I w-was able to visit her as an ordained priest before she died.... I, wh-wo w-was so stupid and—and not very strong. W-we both felt that God had w-worked a miracle."

She saw that he was shying away from her admission, eager to show that he claimed no right to pry into more than she willed to confide in him.

It was inevitable then that she should make known to him the circumstances which had driven them to seek temporary refuge at some spot where they would not be hampered by the living lie represented in their lives side by side.

"And even here," she finished pathetically, "there was you to deceive."

He thought it all out for some while before his slow wits responded gropingly.

"You see, though God understands, His 'little ones' can't. And it is forbidden to cause them to stumble.... And so again... There were only three magi w-who came across the thirsty desert in their w-wisdom to the Cradle. But many shepherds clustered about it, simple and adoring, w-who imagined the star to have been lit in the Heavens that very night by some supernatural hand. The w-wise men did not seek to convince them, by astronomical data, that it had probably existed before the w-world began. They merely followed them and adored."

"But they did not accept the shepherds' view," objected Ferlie. "They reserved their own. What matter, if it was the same star and led them to the same Cradle?"

"I know—I know. But, by action, they accepted the belief of the simple folk. They conformed, outwardly, for the sake of those 'little ones'..."

He passed his hand over the back of his head, accentuating the tuft of hair, like a drake's tail.

"I am so sorry for the W-wise; they have such heavy responsibilities."


The day came, at last, when she was able to approach the subject with Cyprian, lying in a hammock beside her under the trees.

He had, up to now, avoided all reference to his unsatisfactory departure, armed with fishing tackle, into hostile territory.

As she sat making tea, late in the whispering afternoon, preparatory to hailing the padre from his drudging attempts in the Mission school to explain the evil of coveting your neighbour's pig, likewise his pandanus grove and his coco-nuts and anything that is his, including his wife, she looked up to catch Cyprian's whimsical expression.

"Which of us apologizes this time, Ferlie? Me?"

"I'll let you off," she replied shakily, "If you'll make adequate restitution by getting well."

"I am well."

She took his cup of tea to him and placed it within reach of the uninjured arm. His stiffened shoulder still prevented free use of the other.

"The monsoon will be breaking soon," dreamily twisting a floating curl round his finger as she stooped, "Shall we remain on here and beset the even tenor of Jelly's existence with a similar problem to his bigmatical ones?"

"Cyprian. He is a little saint!"

"I know it. You are both saints, and I eye the haloes with envy, but not much hope. I want you, as well as your halo."

"Take!" said Ferlie. But she went back to her chair and sat looking at John chasing Thu Daw across the clearing.

He followed their flight and then said, "We can't stay. 'Unto each his mother beach, bloom and bird and land.'"

"That's true," agreed Ferlie, and rolled Thu Daw's ball back to him from under her chair.

"What will we do about it, Cyprian?"

"What indeed? John's future is clear. Winchester, I suppose, and Oxford, and so to Black Towers, finally. You are right to remind me where the greater responsibility lies. At an English school, would he find himself out of it? Would they take him?"

"If we could circumvent the first question he could live the other down."

"Why should he be forced to live down my—sins?"

"The alternative is Burma, and, there, you and I have much to live down, whatever course we take."

"Ferlie! For God's sake reassure me on one point."

To that stifled passion she instinctively reached out comforting hands.

"You—you are not thinking of separation?"

She said, "I hardly know. It seems to me we cannot go back now on what we have done. As we might tell Peter, 'there must be pioneers!' ... But I do think our pioneering is going to lie along a very rough road and I am afraid—for you."

The sight of Jellybrand on his way from the school checked Cyprian's reply. The padre beamed joyously as Ferlie waved him to the second straw chair.

"W-would you believe it? My choir can now sing the w-whole of 'There's a Friend for little children,' by heart. W-we are going to have it at Benediction to-night. The Bishop is not quite certain w-whether I ought to be allowed Benediction, as an extra service, but I hope to be able to persuade him to my point of view when he visits us. He's not a very Protestant Bishop, and most w-wide minded."

"Does it make any difference to Friend-of-England and Co. which you have?" asked Cyprian.

"Nothing makes any difference to them, but it makes a very great difference to me to be allowed to teach and practise w-what I believe to be necessary."

"If I were the Bishop," said Ferlie, "I shouldn't be able to help feeling that you must know best and that you mattered more than he did. He has so much to encourage him. Does your brain never bother you into believing the work useless and the source of all your inspiration a dream?"

He crossed his knees, displaying a badly cobbled rent in the trailing uniform he loved too proudly to lay aside more often than was absolutely essential. "Even my poor intellect questions sometimes. Doubts come and go, but nothing can take away one's past spiritual experiences."

"I don't know that a single unlooked-for spiritual experience can influence a mind which leans naturally towards agnosticism," put in Cyprian suddenly. "There is a work-a-day agnosticism which satisfies most men, supported by certain ethics, coloured with what for nearly the last two thousand years has been regarded as Christianity.... It is not my fault if I have not a temperament which can rest content on Faith. I did not make my brain."

"That is just the point," said Ferlie. "You are incapable of making a single thing about yourself. But you are able, if you wish, to insist that your brain, and all the attributes of your particular temperament shall serve instead of rule you. Faith is within the reach of all who reach out towards it. The Christ, whose ethics you adopt, explained that whenever He met educated doubting men."

"But sometimes," said Jellybrand, "one fears to presume."

Ferlie saw that he was thinking of that night in the forest when she had defied him to test his own faith for her sake, and she replied,

"Perhaps that should be considered an experience especially given to me."

Unexpectedly, he chuckled.

"W-would you like to spend a happy hour now torturing our prisoner? It might entertain the invalid. I have often w-wondered w-what I should have done if he had not confessed and you had proceeded to carry out your intention of making a second St. Sebastian of him w-with revolver bullets."

"Did she intend doing that?" asked Cyprian. "Ferlie, what a joke!"

"It was no joke, I assure you," contradicted Jellybrand, "She stood there—w-would you believe it?—w-with that horrid little w-weapon pointing in all directions at once, and rank murder in her face."

Then Ferlie said a horrible thing. So horrible for her that the padre dropped his tea-cup and Cyprian raised himself upright to meet her blazing eyes.

"I'd have re-crucified Christ!" said Ferlie.

In the petrified silence which followed Cyprian extended his one arm. She went to him, startled into comprehension of her own words, and hid her face in his sleeve.

"It's all right," muffled tones assured them. "Do you suppose that, because you don't understand, all Heaven doesn't?"

Neither answered, till Cyprian said uncertainly,

"You might make me terribly conceited, Ferlie."

"Or terribly humble," she answered, still in the dark.

Jellybrand mopped up, with his handkerchief, the mess he had made, and poured himself out some more tea. His wrist was unsteady and he slopped the milk afresh over the table.

"I meant to tell you both"—they heard his words stumbling towards them through a clogging mist—"I have thought a good deal about you—and prayed. But, somehow—I suppose because I am not quite sure of my right to advise—light has not come to me yet. The solution slowly dawning may be a mirage. I must leave you to judge of that. It is not for me to follow the w-wise across the desert. My place is in the fields w-with the blind flocks. Still, since you must go back and live practical lives in a practical w-world, there is such a thing as rendering unto Cæsar. In this case—to a custom, if an unlawful custom, as many considered Cæsar's tribute. Yet, the disciples were permitted to pay that, to give their enemies no handle. You could pay it—this tribute to our so-called Civilization—by obtaining your divorce and contracting, according to the law of the land, to live together as it permits you. A marriage in a registry office counts as no marriage to a Catholic; but this you know. Your lives together after it w-would be a matter for yourselves and your own consciences, supposing you can continue to live together under the same conditions you have observed up to now. If you find you cannot, then I, honestly, see no w-way out but the one w-which seems to spell living death to both of you—separation.

"There is another consideration. The Roman Communion and its rules are outside my scope. You know best w-whether it w-will permit a w-wife separated from her husband, in such special circumstances, to remain under the innocent protection of another man, in a state fulfilling the demands of both Civil and the Ecclesiastical Law. In my own very humble opinion—and I speak after much consideration—the thing is permissible. But I live so far beyond the reach of those dogmatic burdens w-with which Man impedes his progress to bear as offerings along the steep road to God. Clever theologians w-would, doubtless, frustrate my arguments, in one sentence. I can only say that I do not think they could alter my feeling in the matter.

"The views of any Church are immaterial to one of you, who has been, hitherto, a law unto himself. They are not immaterial to me; but my heart is ready to let the situation rest between you and the Greatest of all Lovers, who sees further than His disciples in the Church."

The speaker pushed his untasted tea aside with a little clinking jerk of china, and moved swiftly away from the two under the restless palms.

In the distance they watched him climb the steps of the toy ark and, a moment later, the cracked bell clanged.

* * * * * *

Cyprian spoke first, when the cadences of the concertina would have been inciting to hilarity most listeners superior to the Nicobarese and inferior to the angels.

"Did you ever hear of Er, the son of Armenius? No. You never trod the mill of the ordinary Greek classics. Er was a brave man who was killed in battle, and the story goes that, ten days later, his body was discovered quite fresh. The twelfth day they laid him on a funeral pyre, when he wisely came to life again. He brought news that he had been permitted to see the other world and return, and described a long and complicated vision—Socrates' idea of the justice meted out to Man after death.

"While I was ill my brain was troubling itself with an account of the method by which the sky's vault was held together, in the vision, at either end, by a belt of light."

"What are 'whorls'?" Ferlie asked him suddenly.

He laughed, his fingers busy with her hair.

"I can well believe that I babbled about them. Er's idea of the eight whorls, inserted in one another was founded on the Greeks' conception of astronomy. Never mind. I'll lend you the translation....

"I am only prefacing my own vision (if you can call it that when you know) with the mention of all this, to show you how my mind has been running on Plato for the sake of one passage in his Republic, portraying Earthly Love as a frantic and savage Master."

Said Ferlie, "He is a Master who can be enslaved."

"Your faith tells you so. I only saw it in my—dream. Do you know that I believe, like Er, I have been dead?"

"You were dead. Your heart had stopped beating. You must have been unconscious for a long time. And now, being you, you are wondering whether knowledge acquired during an experience in Death should be pushed aside by your well-balanced living mind. What did you see?"

"It was not exactly a seeing. It was a knowing. I was dead and I knew I was dead. But I was still alive, most terribly and poignantly. You were the Dead—on this side of the Dark, belted down, like Er's universe, from the light. But I was struggling so passionately to return and be dead with you here, rather than alive with all those other Living, that, like Er, I think I was shown the way to break through....

"One has heard of people in trances waking in the grave. Can you be sure with me, Ferlie, that this was more than a trance?"

"God knows I can!" she said earnestly.

"You need not have been afraid. I would have wrenched the way through to you if you had not come back to me. For that reason I took your revolver."

After a silence he said, "Then I see now why I was allowed to find the way. I was not worth such a sacrifice ... the sacrifice of your unfinished work here. That is quite clear."

"Ah, never! Never till that night did I know the depths of my own weakness. For the memory I must go humbly all my days. Cyprian, believe, rather, that you have been allowed the vision because only through its acceptance can you receive the strength which must make me strong."

"Well, whatever the explanation," said Cyprian, "it is only certain, as it was to another man before me, that, whereas I was blind, now I see. I see the truth of the Resurrection."

Bright with revelation was Ferlie's face.

"Dear, it is enough and more than enough. The rest follows as it is needed, making all things possible for us who can look forward into Eternity. I fear nothing, in whatever shadowy valley our steps may be turned ... now. The light will break some time when our eyes are strong to bear it. We have been united in all things save the one thing that was needful: belief in the Life Everlasting. Without that faith our love must have mastered us. And I knew it. Your Frantic Master drives as his slaves those who see no further than the end of this fragment of life. Cyprian, my lover, do you not understand how it is that I am not afraid to stay beside you now?"

Across the gilded bamboo leaves the children's voices stole to mingle incongruously with the shouts of the returning fishermen, to the drawling melody of——

"A Friend Who never changeth, Whose love will never die.
Our earthly friends may fail us,
And change with changing years ..."

Cyprian slipped out of the hammock and raised Ferlie to her feet.

* * * * * *

Yet, finally, the leadership, even in mystical matters, was to devolve on him.

There were only thin wooden walls to the little forest bungalow.

Ferlie and he had been sleeping indoors since his illness so that she might have all medicines and the paraphernalia for nursing within easy reach.

Therefore, it happened that in turning his head restlessly to escape an intruding beam of moonlight through the curtainless door, he roused himself with sudden completeness, straining to catch the echoes of quiet sobbing.

He only paused an instant.

Ferlie was lying face downwards: her forehead on her arms, which gleamed lily-coloured in the pure light.

He knelt beside her, attempting to raise her head.

"My dear... My dear..."

She grasped thankfully at the steadying sensitive fingers. "Help me, Cyprian! You were always, really, the stronger. Help me to conquer it.... I know you have thought that everything mattered a great deal more to you than to me. That I was satisfied with the knowledge that the end is not yet. But sometimes—at night—Heaven is very far away and earth is most powerfully real, and doubts creep over me, who have laid the great burden of this faith on you, whether I am fit to bear the burden of my own human loving. You see, Cyprian, there is one instinct given to women at Creation; the roots of which are in Creation itself.

"John is mine by duty and Thu Daw is yours by desire, but I want—and, at the moment, I'd sell my soul to eternal death to make it come true—your son in my arms ... through love...."

So came again to Cyprian the inexorable phantom of that Master of whose subjection he had been made falsely confident by the soothing sympathy of a celibate's idealism and the magic of Ferlie's trust, a few short hours back.

Though he came in the form of an angel of light; though he came in the form of a roaring lion; though now in a more mysterious guise than either, it was the same despotic power which drove and drew.

How to battle now with this image of shadowy radiance? And, after all, why? He summed up the matter afresh. If there was not truth here it was nowhere, and only in following the truth could man be set free of his ills. Thus had taught that same Nazarene, whose spoken word of two thousand years ago was causing all the trouble; since even in the sceptical circles of modern scientific research men were to be found to follow the gleam along His trail. Across which lay Ferlie exhausted; himself hesitating above her in the knowledge that she would yield, inevitably, to the guidance of his groping hands in the dark.

He had said to her, "I see the truth of the Resurrection," and she had replied that all else followed; but she had not then meant to signify the strength for this sacrifice. And he saw, blindingly, that there might be no half-measures. The ghost of an unborn child barred the way of compromise.

Shaken with pain, mental and physical, Cyprian of the once all-satisfying ethical agnosticism called with the impotent despair which is akin to anger upon that Lover who stood between them as lovers, and who was becoming in conception unwaveringly the same as the God who brooded over the disciplined Churches.

"Why should Ferlie let them torture her?" he had asked fiercely again and again of himself in the past, and now that the power lay with him to stay the hated pressure he found himself weakly refraining instead with the question, "why should I let them torture me?"

Even if separation had spelt material death for them both, Ferlie's Church would concentrate only upon the spiritual death their life together must effect.

Had not the time really come to dismiss as out-worn sentimentality this talk of a soul's death?

His own, such as it was, and if he might barter, and gladly, for the fathomable happiness of To-day, despite that secret glimpse of wisdom imparted during his unconscious hours. But what of Ferlie's soul, such as That was, and now in his keeping—a stainless loyal Existent?

He had fought to make it see with material vision and the mastering Force had fought on his side.

Yes, she had indeed fallen, spent, in the fearful starlessness and it was his at last exultingly to lead.

Incoherent shreds of forgotten argument worried him. Magi or shepherds ... the wise with their great responsibilities....

He became contemptuously aware of the aguish shaking of his body. How did one pray? ... How did one pray? ... The opalescent tropical dawn found him still at her side, his hold unrelaxed of hands now at rest, the glory of her hair making a halo about the face of a very tired sleeping child.

Above the dim blue mists still shrouding the patient jungle the sun floated, a scarlet ball, heralding the resurrection of another day.

Resurrection. That whisper continued with its insistence upon horizons beyond the vision of all earthly eyes.

Others, like the legendary Er, had proved that the pulsing of the soul does not cease with the pulsing of the heart; nevertheless it was well-nigh impossible to rest one's faith in this matter upon the experiences of others. Just in this matter. One was prepared to believe the incredible statements of scientists and astronomers without wrestling individually with their proofs. Why not, therefore, the vision of those who had eyes to see and ears to hear beyond the grave? His own past contact with that death-state was failing to inspire now that his body felt, once more, gloriously alive. One had to remember not to forget.

"Nothing," had said that exasperating duplicate of St. Francis in the islands, "can take away one's spiritual experiences."

To that slender link with the future he must trust. Many had not so much and yet walked untroubled.

Was there not some special revelation for those who, not having seen, were yet ready outside Gethsemane's gates with the bitter admission, "Thou has conquered, O pale Galilean"? The wraith of the dying Emperor, forced to accept such defeat, seemed to smile mockingly at him from the distorted patches of light and shade outside.

Cyprian appreciated afresh that Ferlie would hardly prove courageous enough to face her own defeat now without waiting on his decision. His to lead, forward or back.

And with the poignant realization something snapped. He rose stiffly to his feet to stand a moment at the window, drawing the salt sea-breeze into his lungs.

The surrender had become suddenly possible.

He lifted tired eyes to the on-stealing light and his lips moved. They framed the one word which Ferlie, waking, might have recognized as representing the clarion call of her utter triumph.

"Vicisti," said Cyprian.