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Chapter 30

In the early hours of his all-night sitting Felix had first only memories, and then Kirsteen for companion.

"I worry most about Tod," she said. "He had that look in his face when he went off from Marrow Farm. He might do something terrible if they ill-treat Sheila. If only she has sense enough to see and not provoke them."

"Surely she will," Felix murmured.

"Yes, if she realizes. But she won't, I'm afraid. Even I have only known him look like that three times. Tod is so gentle--passion stores itself in him; and when it comes, it's awful. If he sees cruelty, he goes almost mad. Once he would have killed a man if I hadn't got between them. He doesn't know what he's doing at such moments. I wish--I wish he were back. It's hard one can't pierce through, and see him."

Gazing at her eyes so dark and intent, Felix thought: 'If YOU can't pierce through--none can.'

He learned the story of the disaster.

Early that morning Derek had assembled twenty of the strongest laborers, and taken them a round of the farms to force the strike-breakers to desist. There had been several fights, in all of which the strike-breakers had been beaten. Derek himself had fought three times. In the afternoon the police had come, and the laborers had rushed with Derek and Sheila, who had joined them, into a barn at Marrow Farm, barred it, and thrown mangolds at the police, when they tried to force an entrance. One by one the laborers had slipped away by a rope out of a ventilation-hole high up at the back, and they had just got Sheila down when the police appeared on that side, too. Derek, who had stayed to the last, covering their escape with mangolds, had jumped down twenty feet when he saw them taking Sheila, and, pitching forward, hit his head against a grindstone. Then, just as they were marching Sheila and two of the laborers away, Tod had arrived and had fallen in alongside the policemen--he and the dog. It was then she had seen that look on his face.

Felix, who had never beheld his big brother in Berserk mood, could offer no consolation; nor had he the heart to adorn the tale, and inflict on this poor woman his reflection: 'This, you see, is what comes of the ferment you have fostered. This is the reward of violence!' He longed, rather, to comfort her; she seemed so lonely and, in spite of all her stoicism, so distraught and sad. His heart went out, too, to Tod. How would he himself have felt, walking by the side of policemen whose arms were twisted in Nedda's! But so mixed are the minds of men that at this very moment there was born within him the germ of a real revolt against the entry of his little daughter into this family of hotheads. It was more now than mere soreness and jealousy; it was fear of a danger hitherto but sniffed at, but now only too sharply savored.

When she left him to go up-stairs, Felix stayed consulting the dark night. As ever, in hours of ebbed vitality, the shapes of fear and doubt grew clearer and more positive; they loomed huge out there among the apple-trees, where the drip-drip of the rain made music. But his thoughts were still nebulous, not amounting to resolve. It was no moment for resolves--with the boy lying up there between the tides of chance; and goodness knew what happening to Tod and Sheila. The air grew sharper; he withdrew to the hearth, where a wood fire still burned, gray ash, red glow, scent oozing from it. And while he crouched there, blowing it with bellows, he heard soft footsteps, and saw Nedda standing behind him transformed.

But in the midst of all his glad sympathy Felix could not help thinking: 'Better for you, perhaps, if he had never returned from darkness!'

She came and crouched down by him.

"Let me sit with you, Dad. It smells so good."

"Very well; but you must sleep."

"I don't believe I'll ever want to sleep again."

And at the glow in her Felix glowed too. What is so infectious as delight? They sat a long time talking, as they had not talked since the first fatal visit to Becket. Of how love, and mountains, works of art, and doing things for others were the only sources of happiness; except scents, and lying on one's back looking through tree-tops at the sky; and tea, and sunlight, flowers, and hard exercise; oh, and the sea! Of how, when things went hard, one prayed--but what did one pray to? Was it not to something in oneself? It was of no use to pray to the great mysterious Force that made one thing a cabbage, and the other a king; for That could obviously not be weak-minded enough to attend. And gradually little pauses began to creep into their talk; then a big pause, and Nedda, who would never want to sleep again, was fast asleep.

Felix watched those long, dark lashes resting on her cheeks; the slow, soft rise of her breast; the touching look of trust and goodness in that young face abandoned to oblivion after these hours of stress; watched the little tired shadows under the eyes, the tremors of the just-parted lips. And, getting up, stealthy as a cat, he found a light rug, and ever more stealthily laid it over her. She stirred at that, smiled up at him, and instantly went off again. And he thought: 'Poor little sweetheart, she WAS tired!' And a passionate desire to guard her from trials and troubles came on him.

At four o'clock Kirsteen slipped in again, and whispered: "She made me promise to come for her. How pretty she looks, sleeping!"

"Yes," Felix answered; "pretty and good!"

Nedda raised her head, stared up at her aunt, and a delighted smile spread over her face. "Is it time again? How lovely!" Then, before either could speak or stop her, she was gone.

"She is more in love," Kirsteen murmured, "than I ever saw a girl of her age."

"She is more in love," Felix answered, "than is good to see."

"She is not truer than Derek is."

"That may be, but she will suffer from him."

"Women who love must always suffer."

Her cheeks were sunken, shadowy; she looked very tired. When she had gone to get some sleep, Felix restored the fire and put on a kettle, meaning to make himself some coffee. Morning had broken, clear and sparkling after the long rain, and full of scent and song. What glory equalled this early morning radiance, the dewy wonder of everything! What hour of the day was such a web of youth and beauty as this, when all the stars from all the skies had fallen into the grass! A cold nose was thrust into his hand, and he saw beside him Tod's dog. The animal was wet, and lightly moved his white-tipped tail; while his dark-yellow eyes inquired of Felix what he was going to give a dog to eat. Then Felix saw his brother coming in. Tod's face was wild and absent as a man with all his thoughts turned on something painful in the distance. His ruffled hair had lost its brightness; his eyes looked as if driven back into his head; he was splashed with mud, and wet from head to foot. He walked up to the hearth without a word.

"Well, old man?" said Felix anxiously.

Tod looked at him, but did not answer.

"Come," said Felix; "tell us!"

"Locked up," said Tod in a voice unlike his own. "I didn't knock them down."

"Heavens! I should hope not."

"I ought to have."

Felix put his hand within his brother's arm.

"They twisted her arms; one of them pushed her from behind. I can't understand it. How was it I didn't? I can't understand."

"I can," said Felix. "They were the Law. If they had been mere men you'd have done it, fast enough."

"I can't understand," Tod repeated. "I've been walking ever since."

Felix stroked his shoulder.

"Go up-stairs, old man. Kirsteen's anxious."

Tod sat down and took his boots off.

"I can't understand," he said once more. Then, without another word, or even a look at Felix, he went out and up the stairs.

And Felix thought: 'Poor Kirsteen! Ah, well--they're all about as queer, one as the other! How to get Nedda out of it?'

And, with that question gnawing at him, he went out into the orchard. The grass was drenching wet, so he descended to the road. Two wood-pigeons were crooning to each other, truest of all sounds of summer; there was no wind, and the flies had begun humming. In the air, cleared of dust, the scent of hay was everywhere. What about those poor devils of laborers, now? They would get the sack for this! and he was suddenly beset with a feeling of disgust. This world where men, and women too, held what they had, took what they could; this world of seeing only one thing at a time; this world of force, and cunning, of struggle, and primitive appetites; of such good things, too, such patience, endurance, heroism--and yet at heart so unutterably savage!

He was very tired; but it was too wet to sit down, so he walked on. Now and again he passed a laborer going to work; but very few in all those miles, and they quite silent. 'Did they ever really whistle?' Felix thought. 'Were they ever jolly ploughmen? Or was that always a fiction? Surely, if they can't give tongue this morning, they never can!' He crossed a stile and took a slanting path through a little wood. The scent of leaves and sap, the dapple of sunlight--all the bright early glow and beauty struck him with such force that he could have cried out in the sharpness of sensation. At that hour when man was still abed and the land lived its own life, how full and sweet and wild that life seemed, how in love with itself! Truly all the trouble in the world came from the manifold disharmonies of the self-conscious animal called Man!

Then, coming out on the road again, he saw that he must be within a mile or two of Becket; and finding himself suddenly very hungry, determined to go there and get some breakfast.

John Galsworthy