Nedda, her blue head-gear trailing, followed along at the boy's side while he passed through the orchard and two fields; and when he threw himself down under an ash-tree she, too, subsided, waiting for him to notice her.
"I am here," she said at last.
At that ironic little speech Derek sat up.
"It'll kill him," he said.
"But--to burn things, Derek! To light horrible cruel flames, and burn things, even if they aren't alive!"
Derek said through his teeth:
"It's I who did it! If I'd never talked to him he'd have been like the others. They were taking him in a cart, like a calf."
Nedda got possession of his hand and held it tight.
That was a bitter and frightening hour under the faintly rustling ash-tree, while the wind sprinkled over her flakes of the may blossom, just past its prime. Love seemed now so little a thing, seemed to have lost warmth and power, seemed like a suppliant outside a door. Why did trouble come like this the moment one felt deeply?
The church bell was tolling; they could see the little congregation pass across the churchyard into that weekly dream they knew too well. And presently the drone emerged, mingling with the voices outside, of sighing trees and trickling water, of the rub of wings, birds' songs, and the callings of beasts everywhere beneath the sky.
In spite of suffering because love was not the first emotion in his heart, the girl could only feel he was right not to be loving her; that she ought to be glad of what was eating up all else within him. It was ungenerous, unworthy, to want to be loved at such a moment. Yet she could not help it! This was her first experience of the eternal tug between self and the loved one pulled in the hearts of lovers. Would she ever come to feel happy when he was just doing what he thought was right? And she drew a little away from him; then perceived that unwittingly she had done the right thing, for he at once tried to take her hand again. And this was her first lesson, too, in the nature of man. If she did not give her hand, he wanted it! But she was not one of those who calculate in love; so she gave him her hand at once. That went to his heart; and he put his arm round her, till he could feel the emotion under those stays that would not be drawn any closer. In this nest beneath the ash-tree they sat till they heard the organ wheeze and the furious sound of the last hymn, and saw the brisk coming-forth with its air of, 'Thank God! And now, to eat!' till at last there was no stir again about the little church--no stir at all save that of nature's ceaseless thanksgiving....
Tod, his brown face still rueful, had followed those two out into the air, and Sheila had gone quickly after him. Thus left alone with his sister-in-law, Felix said gravely:
"If you don't want the boy to get into real trouble, do all you can to show him that the last way in the world to help these poor fellows is to let them fall foul of the law. It's madness to light flames you can't put out. What happened this morning? Did the man resist?"
Her face still showed how bitter had been her mortification, and he was astonished that she kept her voice so level and emotionless.
"No. He went with them quite quietly. The back door was open; he could have walked out. I did not advise him to. I'm glad no one saw his face except myself. You see," she added, "he's devoted to Derek, and Derek knows it; that's why he feels it so, and will feel it more and more. The boy has a great sense of honour, Felix."
Under that tranquillity Felix caught the pain and yearning in her voice. Yes! This woman really felt and saw. She was not one of those who make disturbance with their brains and powers of criticism; rebellion leaped out from the heat in her heart. But he said:
"Is it right to fan this flame? Do you think any good end is being served?" Waiting for her answer, he found himself gazing at the ghost of dark down on her upper lip, wondering that he had never noticed it before.
Very low, as if to herself, she said:
"I would kill myself to-day if I didn't believe that tyranny and injustice must end."
"In our time?"
"Are you content to go on working for an Utopia that you will never see?"
"While our laborers are treated and housed more like dogs than human beings, while the best life under the sun--because life on the soil might be the best life--is despised and starved, and made the plaything of people's tongues, neither I nor mine are going to rest."
The admiration she inspired in Felix at that moment was mingled with a kind of pity. He said impressively:
"Do you know the forces you are up against? Have you looked into the unfathomable heart of this trouble? Understood the tug of the towns, the call of money to money; grasped the destructive restlessness of modern life; the abysmal selfishness of people when you threaten their interests; the age-long apathy of those you want to help? Have you grasped all these?"
Felix held out his hand. "Then," he said, "you are truly brave!"
She shook her head.
"It got bitten into me very young. I was brought up in the Highlands among the crofters in their worst days. In some ways the people here are not so badly off, but they're still slaves."
"Except that they can go to Canada if they want, and save old England."
She flushed. "I hate irony."
Felix looked at her with ever-increasing interest; she certainly was of the kind that could be relied on to make trouble.
"Ah!" he murmured. "Don't forget that when we can no longer smile we can only swell and burst. It IS some consolation to reflect that by the time we've determined to do something really effectual for the ploughmen of England there'll be no ploughmen left!"
"I cannot smile at that."
And, studying her face, Felix thought, 'You're right there! You'll get no help from humor.'...
Early that afternoon, with Nedda between them, Felix and his nephew were speeding toward Transham.
The little town--a hamlet when Edmund Moreton dropped the E from his name and put up the works which Stanley had so much enlarged--had monopolized by now the hill on which it stood. Living entirely on its ploughs, it yet had but little of the true look of a British factory town, having been for the most part built since ideas came into fashion. With its red roofs and chimneys, it was only moderately ugly, and here and there an old white, timbered house still testified to the fact that it had once been country. On this fine Sunday afternoon the population were in the streets, and presented all that long narrow-headedness, that twist and distortion of feature, that perfect absence of beauty in face, figure, and dress, which is the glory of the Briton who has been for three generations in a town. 'And my great-grandfather'--thought Felix--'did all this! God rest his soul!'
At a rather new church on the very top they halted, and went in to inspect the Morton memorials. There they were, in dedicated corners. 'Edmund and his wife Catherine'--'Charles Edmund and his wife Florence'--'Maurice Edmund and his wife Dorothy.' Clara had set her foot down against 'Stanley and his wife Clara' being in the fourth; her soul was above ploughs, and she, of course, intended to be buried at Becket, as Clara, dowager Lady Freeland, for her efforts in regard to the land. Felix, who had a tendency to note how things affected other people, watched Derek's inspection of these memorials and marked that they excited in him no tendency to ribaldry. The boy, indeed, could hardly be expected to see in them what Felix saw--an epitome of the great, perhaps fatal, change that had befallen his native country; a record of the beginning of that far-back fever, whose course ran ever faster, which had emptied country into town and slowly, surely, changed the whole spirit of life. When Edmund Moreton, about 1780, took the infection disseminated by the development of machinery, and left the farming of his acres to make money, that thing was done which they were all now talking about trying to undo, with their cries of: "Back to the land! Back to peace and sanity in the shade of the elms! Back to the simple and patriarchal state of feeling which old documents disclose. Back to a time before these little squashed heads and bodies and features jutted every which way; before there were long squashed streets of gray houses; long squashed chimneys emitting smoke-blight; long squashed rows of graves; and long squashed columns of the daily papers. Back to well-fed countrymen who could not read, with Common rights, and a kindly feeling for old 'Moretons,' who had a kindly feeling for them!" Back to all that? A dream! Sirs! A dream! There was nothing for it now, but--progress! Progress! On with the dance! Let engines rip, and the little, squash-headed fellows with them! Commerce, literature, religion, science, politics, all taking a hand; what a glorious chance had money, ugliness, and ill will! Such were the reflections of Felix before the brass tablet:
"IN LOVING MEMORY OF EDMUND MORTON AND HIS DEVOTED WIFE CATHERINE.
AT REST IN THE LORD. A.D., 1816."
From the church they went about their proper business, to interview a Mr. Pogram, of the firm of Pogram & Collet, solicitors, in whose hands the interests of many citizens of Transham and the country round were almost securely deposited. He occupied, curiously enough, the house where Edmund Morton himself had lived, conducting his works on the one hand and the squirearchy of the parish on the other. Incorporated now into the line of a long, loose street, it still stood rather apart from its neighbors, behind some large shrubs and trees of the holmoak variety.
Mr. Pogram, who was finishing his Sunday after-lunch cigar, was a short, clean-shaved man with strong cheeks and those rather lustful gray-blue eyes which accompany a sturdy figure. He rose when they were introduced, and, uncrossing his fat little thighs, asked what he could do for them.
Felix propounded the story of the arrest, so far as might be, in words of one syllable, avoiding the sentimental aspect of the question, and finding it hard to be on the side of disorder, as any modern writer might. There was something, however, about Mr. Pogram that reassured him. The small fellow looked a fighter--looked as if he would sympathize with Tryst's want of a woman about him. The tusky but soft-hearted little brute kept nodding his round, sparsely covered head while he listened, exuding a smell of lavender-water, cigars, and gutta-percha. When Felix ceased he said, rather dryly:
"Sir Gerald Malloring? Yes. Sir Gerald's country agents, I rather think, are Messrs. Porter of Worcester. Quite so."
And a conviction that Mr. Pogram thought they should have been Messrs. Pogram & Collet of Transham confirmed in Felix the feeling that they had come to the right man.
"I gather," Mr. Pogram said, and he looked at Nedda with a glance from which he obviously tried to remove all earthly desires, "that you, sir, and your nephew wish to go and see the man. Mrs. Pogram will be delighted to show Miss Freeland our garden. Your great-grandfather, sir, on the mother's side, lived in this house. Delighted to meet you; often heard of your books; Mrs. Pogram has read one--let me see--'The Bannister,' was it?"
"'The Balustrade,'" Felix answered gently.
Mr. Pogram rang the bell. "Quite so," he said. "Assizes are just over so that he can't come up for trial till August or September; pity--great pity! Bail in cases of arson--for a laborer, very doubtful! Ask your mistress to come, please."
There entered a faded rose of a woman on whom Mr. Pogram in his time had evidently made a great impression. A vista of two or three little Pograms behind her was hastily removed by the maid. And they all went into the garden.
"Through here," said Mr. Pogram, coming to a side door in the garden wall, "we can make a short cut to the police station. As we go along I shall ask you one or two blunt questions." And he thrust out his under lip:
"For instance, what's your interest in this matter?"
Before Felix could answer, Derek had broken in:
"My uncle has come out of kindness. It's my affair, sir. The man has been tyrannously treated."
Mr. Pogram cocked his eye. "Yes, yes; no doubt, no doubt! He's not confessed, I understand?"
Mr. Pogram laid a finger on his lips.
"Never say die; that's what we're here for. So," he went on, "you're a rebel; Socialist, perhaps. Dear me! Well, we're all of us something, nowadays--I'm a humanitarian myself. Often say to Mrs. Pogram--humanity's the thing in this age--and so it is! Well, now, what line shall we take?" And he rubbed his hands. "Shall we have a try at once to upset what evidence they've got? We should want a strong alibi. Our friends here will commit if they can--nobody likes arson. I understand he was sleeping in your cottage. His room, now? Was it on the ground floor?"
Mr. Pogram frowned, as who should say: Ah! Be careful! "He had better reserve his defence and give us time to turn round," he said rather shortly.
They had arrived at the police station and after a little parley were ushered into the presence of Tryst.
The big laborer was sitting on the stool in his cell, leaning back against the wall, his hands loose and open at his sides. His gaze passed at once from Felix and Mr. Pogram, who were in advance, to Derek; and the dumb soul seemed suddenly to look through, as one may see all there is of spirit in a dog reach out to its master. This was the first time Felix had seen him who had caused already so much anxiety, and that broad, almost brutal face, with the yearning fidelity in its tragic eyes, made a powerful impression on him. It was the sort of face one did not forget and might be glad of not remembering in dreams. What had put this yearning spirit into so gross a frame, destroying its solid coherence? Why could not Tryst have been left by nature just a beer-loving serf, devoid of grief for his dead wife, devoid of longing for the nearest he could get to her again, devoid of susceptibility to this young man's influence? And the thought of all that was before the mute creature, sitting there in heavy, hopeless patience, stung Felix's heart so that he could hardly bear to look him in the face.
Derek had taken the man's thick, brown hand; Felix could see with what effort the boy was biting back his feelings.
"This is Mr. Pogram, Bob. A solicitor who'll do all he can for you."
Felix looked at Mr. Pogram. The little man was standing with arms akimbo; his face the queerest mixture of shrewdness and compassion, and he was giving off an almost needlessly strong scent of gutta-percha.
"Yes, my man," he said, "you and I are going to have a talk when these gentlemen have done with you," and, turning on his heel, he began to touch up the points of his little pink nails with a penknife, in front of the constable who stood outside the cell door, with his professional air of giving a man a chance.
Invaded by a feeling, apt to come to him in Zoos, that he was watching a creature who had no chance to escape being watched, Felix also turned; but, though his eyes saw not, his ears could not help hearing.
"Forgive me, Bob! It's I who got you into this!"
"No, sir; naught to forgive. I'll soon be back, and then they'll see!"
By the reddening of Mr. Pogram's ears Felix formed the opinion that the little man, also, could hear.
"Tell her not to fret, Mr. Derek. I'd like a shirt, in case I've got to stop. The children needn' know where I be; though I an't ashamed."
"It may be a longer job than you think, Bob."
In the silence that followed Felix could not help turning. The laborer's eyes were moving quickly round his cell, as if for the first time he realized that he was shut up; suddenly he brought those big hands of his together and clasped them between his knees, and again his gaze ran round the cell. Felix heard the clearing of a throat close by, and, more than ever conscious of the scent of gutta-percha, grasped its connection with compassion in the heart of Mr. Pogram. He caught Derek's muttered, "Don't ever think we're forgetting you, Bob," and something that sounded like, "And don't ever say you did it." Then, passing Felix and the little lawyer, the boy went out. His head was held high, but tears were running down his cheeks. Felix followed.
A bank of clouds, gray-white, was rising just above the red-tiled roofs, but the sun still shone brightly. And the thought of the big laborer sitting there knocked and knocked at Felix's heart mournfully, miserably. He had a warmer feeling for his young nephew than he had ever had. Mr. Pogram rejoined them soon, and they walked on together,
"Well?" said Felix.
Mr. Pogram answered in a somewhat grumpy voice:
"Not guilty, and reserve defence. You have influence, young man! Dumb as a waiter. Poor devil!" And not another word did he say till they had re-entered his garden.
Here the ladies, surrounded by many little Pograms, were having tea. And seated next the little lawyer, whose eyes were fixed on Nedda, Felix was able to appreciate that in happier mood he exhaled almost exclusively the scent of lavender-water and cigars.
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