Puslapio vaizdai

but always very lovely and very clever, and she was on the crest of every wave, always, and never missed anything except ready money and a really good offer even before Percival Dixon came along-he came via South Africa-and gave her all the money that even she could spend, and bought back Compton Dally for her. Compton Dally had been in the family for hundreds of years, and it was our grandfather, Vera's and mine, who had ruined us all and finally sold it. It was everything for Vera to get it back, even if she had to take Percival Dixon with it; and I confess that for Compton Dally I could almost have taken Percival Dixon myself; but not quite, even for Compton Dally.

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

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

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

I don't mind that, however; even now, after three years of it, I always enjoy going over Compton Dally and the gardens with new-comers. It's such a beautiful old place, so grave and so serene, its splendid Tudor front lifted high on stone terraces, and its courts and corners behind breaking out into all sorts of unexpected. and enchanting antiquities. It symbolizes,

if you begin with the Saxon arches in the cellars, the whole history of England, and means so much more than any person who has ever lived there, or who ever will live there, can ever mean. It's worth the sacrifice of generations of younger sons and myriads of marriageable daughters. What could they all do better than to keep it going? I always recalled this when I wondered how Vera could have married Percival Dixon, and felt almost as much satisfaction as she could feel in the fact that two robust little boys, still at their preparatory school, stood reassuringly behind her and Percival, the elder, too, a thorough Compton, with hardly a trail of Dixon apparent on his ingenuous young countenance. I have the whole history of Compton Dally at the tips of my fingers, and if people give me an opening and show that they care about it, I can talk to them for hours as I take them round, feeling, for my little part and share in it, that, even if Vera were n't as decent as she is, I should put up with a great deal to stay in it and help take care of it.

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

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

It is really very lovely. I don't like hearing it called a dream-garden, naturally; but I do feel always, when I come into it, that it is like sinking into the stillness and magic of a happy dream. The

gypsophila was n't out yet, but it made a mist like drowsiness; white peonies, gray santolina, white roses and silver seathistle, the dreamy spires of white foxgloves, low, purple pansies, and tall irises, white and gray and purple-these, in their twilight colors, were massed against the gray stone walls, and there were four baytrees in stone urns at the corners. The beautiful old stone seat (I found it in Brompton Road, but it might have been. made for Compton Dally three hundred years ago in Italy) was heaped with gray and purple cushions. In the center rose the fluent shaft of the fountain, falling with a musical rustle and murmur into the stone basin where pale goldfish move among water-lilies.

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

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

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

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

Captain Thornton, I saw at once, as

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

Captain Thornton gazed about him quietly, and from the garden looked back at the angel who had led him there. Of course Vera must have looked like an angel to him. I have n't described Vera, and she is difficult to describe. To say that she is pale and dark, with attenuated features and dwelling, melancholy eyes, is only the beginning of it. Of course she is getting on now, she is nearing forty-five, -but she's still lovely; her smile makes me think of a pearl dropped in wine, and behind the melancholy of her eyes is that well of waiting irony. She looks as soft, as tenderly encompassing, as a summer night; but she is really sharp, sharp, sharp. Thwart or vex her, and out leaps the stiletto; or, rather, it would be more exact to say, out come the claws. But women of the Vera type will always, to young men like Captain Thornton, be angels pure and simple. I don't suppose, for one thing, that he 'd ever talked intimately with anyone quite like her. He came, I was to learn, from a remote country rectory where the great ladies of the neighborhood had been unfashionable, matter of fact, and clothed for the most part in tweed and leather, and none of them would have been likely to make much, before the war, of a young soldier. Vera was making much of him, and a fashionable angel is an angel doubly equipped. He would not know what it was that made her so strange in her sweetness; but fashion of that achieved and recondite kind is like a soft incense wafted around a woman. She

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

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

Mrs. Thornton, from one point of view, had a pallid, podgy little face, with wide lips and short nose and a broad, infantile brow above eyes singularly far apart. All the same, and the more I looked at her the more I saw it, it was a delicious face; squared here, stubborn there, sweet by turns and glances. And she was of the loveliest color, with a skin silver-white and thick, shining, pale-gold hair, and eyes. of a deep, dense, meditative blue. All her attributes, however, were invisible to Vera, and I was fully prepared for the glance with which, over Mrs. Thornton's imitation Panama, she presently said to


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"Darling, do take Mrs. Thornton round the water-garden. It's so lovely at this hour. Captain Thornton must wait for it till to-morrow. He's too tired to go farther now."

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

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

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

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

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

I saw already that Mrs. Thornton had taken to me. It was natural that she should. I had taken to her quite tremendously, and she must have felt it; and, besides, a great many women do feel confidence in me at once. I, to be sure, look like anything but an angel, though I, like Vera, have small, pale features and dark hair. But mine 's not a melancholy or mysterious face. My eyebrows dip together over my nose, and my mouth is at

once placid and irascible. I look, in my straight, austere clothes, -the silver buckles on my shoes and the fob of old trinkets at my waist for all adornment,—like a cross between a young priest in his soutane and a Blue-Coat boy; and I think it is the boyish woman, curt and kind and impersonal, who gains the confidence of other


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

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

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

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

"I know; yes," I said, nodding. "I've work, too, though it 's not so sustaining as a hostel. I'm my cousin's secretary,

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