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'My Son's Wife'

(1913)

He had suffered from the disease of the century since his early youth,
and before he was thirty he was heavily marked with it. He and a few
friends had rearranged Heaven very comfortably, but the reorganisation
of Earth, which they called Society, was even greater fun. It demanded
Work in the shape of many taxi-rides daily; hours of brilliant talk with
brilliant talkers; some sparkling correspondence; a few silences (but on
the understanding that their own turn should come soon) while other
people expounded philosophies; and a fair number of picture-galleries,
tea-fights, concerts, theatres, music-halls, and cinema shows; the whole
trimmed with love-making to women whose hair smelt of cigarette-smoke.
Such strong days sent Frankwell Midmore back to his flat assured that he
and his friends had helped the World a step nearer the Truth, the Dawn,
and the New Order.

His temperament, he said, led him more towards concrete data than
abstract ideas. People who investigate detail are apt to be tired at the
day's end. The same temperament, or it may have been a woman, made him
early attach himself to the Immoderate Left of his Cause in the capacity
of an experimenter in Social Relations. And since the Immoderate Left
contains plenty of women anxious to help earnest inquirers with large
independent incomes to arrive at evaluations of essentials, Frankwell
Midmore's lot was far from contemptible.

At that hour Fate chose to play with him. A widowed aunt, widely
separated by nature, and more widely by marriage, from all that
Midmore's mother had ever been or desired to be, died and left him
possessions. Mrs. Midmore, having that summer embraced a creed which
denied the existence of death, naturally could not stoop to burial; but
Midmore had to leave London for the dank country at a season when Social
Regeneration works best through long, cushioned conferences, two by two,
after tea. There he faced the bracing ritual of the British funeral, and
was wept at across the raw grave by an elderly coffin-shaped female with
a long nose, who called him 'Master Frankie'; and there he was
congratulated behind an echoing top-hat by a man he mistook for a mute,
who turned out to be his aunt's lawyer. He wrote his mother next day,
after a bright account of the funeral:

'So far as I can understand, she has left me between four and five
hundred a year. It all comes from Ther Land, as they call it down here.
The unspeakable attorney, Sperrit, and a green-eyed daughter, who hums
to herself as she tramps but is silent on all subjects except "huntin',"
insisted on taking me to see it. Ther Land is brown and green in
alternate slabs like chocolate and pistachio cakes, speckled with
occasional peasants who do not utter. In case it should not be wet
enough there is a wet brook in the middle of it. Ther House is by the
brook. I shall look into it later. If there should be any little memento
of Jenny that you care for, let me know. Didn't you tell me that
mid-Victorian furniture is coming into the market again? Jenny's old
maid--it is called Rhoda Dolbie--tells me that Jenny promised it thirty
pounds a year. The will does not. Hence, I suppose, the tears at the
funeral. But that is close on ten per cent of the income. I fancy Jenny
has destroyed all her private papers and records of her _vie intime_,
if, indeed, life be possible in such a place. The Sperrit man told me
that if I had means of my own I might come and live on Ther Land. I
didn't tell him how much I would pay not to! I cannot think it right
that any human being should exercise mastery over others in the
merciless fashion our tom-fool social system permits; so, as it is all
mine, I intend to sell it whenever the unholy Sperrit can find a
purchaser.'

And he went to Mr. Sperrit with the idea next day, just before returning
to town.

'Quite so,' said the lawyer. 'I see your point, of course. But the house
itself is rather old-fashioned--hardly the type purchasers demand
nowadays. There's no park, of course, and the bulk of the land is let to
a life-tenant, a Mr. Sidney. As long as he pays his rent, he can't be
turned out, and even if he didn't'--Mr. Sperrit's face relaxed a
shade--'you might have a difficulty.'

'The property brings four hundred a year, I understand,' said Midmore.

'Well, hardly--ha-ardly. Deducting land and income tax, tithes, fire
insurance, cost of collection and repairs of course, it returned two
hundred and eighty-four pounds last year. The repairs are rather a large
item--owing to the brook. I call it Liris--out of Horace, you know.'

Midmore looked at his watch impatiently.

'I suppose you can find somebody to buy it?' he repeated.

'We will do our best, of course, if those are your instructions. Then,
that is all except'--here Midmore half rose, but Mr. Sperrit's little
grey eyes held his large brown ones firmly--'except about Rhoda Dolbie,
Mrs. Werf's maid. I may tell you that we did not draw up your aunt's
last will. She grew secretive towards the last--elderly people often
do--and had it done in London. I expect her memory failed her, or she
mislaid her notes. She used to put them in her spectacle-case.... My
motor only takes eight minutes to get to the station, Mr. Midmore ...
but, as I was saying, whenever she made her will with _us_, Mrs. Werf
always left Rhoda thirty pounds per annum. Charlie, the wills!' A clerk
with a baldish head and a long nose dealt documents on to the table like
cards, and breathed heavily behind Midmore. 'It's in no sense a legal
obligation, of course,' said Mr. Sperrit. 'Ah, that one is dated January
the 11th, eighteen eighty-nine.'

Midmore looked at his watch again and found himself saying with no good
grace: 'Well, I suppose she'd better have it--for the present at
any rate.'

He escaped with an uneasy feeling that two hundred and fifty-four pounds
a year was not exactly four hundred, and that Charlie's long nose
annoyed him. Then he returned, first-class, to his own affairs.

Of the two, perhaps three, experiments in Social Relations which he had
then in hand, one interested him acutely. It had run for some months and
promised most variegated and interesting developments, on which he dwelt
luxuriously all the way to town. When he reached his flat he was not
well prepared for a twelve-page letter explaining, in the diction of the
Immoderate Left which rubricates its I's and illuminates its T's, that
the lady had realised greater attractions in another Soul. She
re-stated, rather than pleaded, the gospel of the Immoderate Left as her
justification, and ended in an impassioned demand for her right to
express herself in and on her own life, through which, she pointed out,
she could pass but once. She added that if, later, she should discover
Midmore was 'essentially complementary to her needs,' she would tell him
so. That Midmore had himself written much the same sort of
epistle--barring the hint of return--to a woman of whom his needs for
self-expression had caused him to weary three years before, did not
assist him in the least. He expressed himself to the gas-fire in terms
essential but not complimentary. Then he reflected on the detached
criticism of his best friends and her best friends, male and female,
with whom he and she and others had talked so openly while their gay
adventure was in flower. He recalled, too--this must have been about
midnight--her analysis from every angle, remote and most intimate, of
the mate to whom she had been adjudged under the base convention which
is styled marriage. Later, at that bad hour when the cattle wake for a
little, he remembered her in other aspects and went down into the hell
appointed; desolate, desiring, with no God to call upon. About eleven
o'clock next morning Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and
Zophar the Naamathite called upon him 'for they had made appointment
together' to see how he took it; but the janitor told them that Job had
gone--into the country, he believed.

Midmore's relief when he found his story was not written across his
aching temples for Mr. Sperrit to read--the defeated lover, like the
successful one, believes all earth privy to his soul--was put down by
Mr. Sperrit to quite different causes. He led him into a morning-room.
The rest of the house seemed to be full of people, singing to a loud
piano idiotic songs about cows, and the hall smelt of damp cloaks.

'It's our evening to take the winter cantata,' Mr. Sperrit explained.
'It's "High Tide on the Coast of Lincolnshire." I hoped you'd come back.
There are scores of little things to settle. As for the house, of
course, it stands ready for you at any time. I couldn't get Rhoda out of
it--nor could Charlie for that matter. She's the sister, isn't she, of
the nurse who brought you down here when you were four, she says, to
recover from measles?'

'Is she? Was I?' said Midmore through the bad tastes in his mouth.
'D'you suppose I could stay there the night?'

Thirty joyous young voices shouted appeal to some one to leave their
'pipes of parsley 'ollow--'ollow--'ollow!' Mr. Sperrit had to raise his
voice above the din.

'Well, if I asked you to stay _here_, I should never hear the last of it
from Rhoda. She's a little cracked, of course, but the soul of devotion
and capable of anything. _Ne sit ancillae_, you know.'

'Thank you. Then I'll go. I'll walk.' He stumbled out dazed and sick
into the winter twilight, and sought the square house by the brook.

It was not a dignified entry, because when the door was unchained and
Rhoda exclaimed, he took two valiant steps into the hall and then
fainted--as men sometimes will after twenty-two hours of strong emotion
and little food.

'I'm sorry,' he said when he could speak. He was lying at the foot of
the stairs, his head on Rhoda's lap.

'Your 'ome is your castle, sir,' was the reply in his hair. 'I smelt it
wasn't drink. You lay on the sofa till I get your supper.'

She settled him in a drawing-room hung with yellow silk, heavy with the
smell of dead leaves and oil lamp. Something murmured soothingly in the
background and overcame the noises in his head. He thought he heard
horses' feet on wet gravel and a voice singing about ships and flocks
and grass. It passed close to the shuttered bay-window.

But each will mourn his own, she saith,
And sweeter woman ne'er drew breath
Than my son's wife, Elizabeth ...
Cusha--cusha--cusha--calling.

The hoofs broke into a canter as Rhoda entered with the tray. 'And then
I'll put you to bed,' she said. 'Sidney's coming in the morning.'
Midmore asked no questions. He dragged his poor bruised soul to bed and
would have pitied it all over again, but the food and warm sherry and
water drugged him to instant sleep.

Rhoda's voice wakened him, asking whether he would have ''ip, foot, or
sitz,' which he understood were the baths of the establishment. 'Suppose
you try all three,' she suggested. 'They're all yours, you know, sir.'

He would have renewed his sorrows with the daylight, but her words
struck him pleasantly. Everything his eyes opened upon was his very own
to keep for ever. The carved four-post Chippendale bed, obviously worth
hundreds; the wavy walnut William and Mary chairs--he had seen worse
ones labelled twenty guineas apiece; the oval medallion mirror; the
delicate eighteenth-century wire fireguard; the heavy brocaded curtains
were his--all his. So, too, a great garden full of birds that faced him
when he shaved; a mulberry tree, a sun-dial, and a dull, steel-coloured
brook that murmured level with the edge of a lawn a hundred yards away.
Peculiarly and privately his own was the smell of sausages and coffee
that he sniffed at the head of the wide square landing, all set round
with mysterious doors and Bartolozzi prints. He spent two hours after
breakfast in exploring his new possessions. His heart leaped up at such
things as sewing-machines, a rubber-tyred bath-chair in a tiled passage,
a malachite-headed Malacca cane, boxes and boxes of unopened stationery,
seal-rings, bunches of keys, and at the bottom of a steel-net reticule a
little leather purse with seven pounds ten shillings in gold and eleven
shillings in silver.

'You used to play with that when my sister brought you down here after
your measles,' said Rhoda as he slipped the money into his pocket. 'Now,
this was your pore dear auntie's business-room.' She opened a low door.
'Oh, I forgot about Mr. Sidney! There he is.' An enormous old man with
rheumy red eyes that blinked under downy white eyebrows sat in an Empire
chair, his cap in his hands. Rhoda withdrew sniffing. The man looked
Midmore over in silence, then jerked a thumb towards the door. 'I reckon
she told you who I be,' he began. 'I'm the only farmer you've got.
Nothin' goes off my place 'thout it walks on its own feet. What about my
pig-pound?'

'Well, what about it?' said Midmore.

'That's just what I be come about. The County Councils are getting more
particular. Did ye know there was swine fever at Pashell's? There _be_.
It'll 'ave to be in brick.'

'Yes,' said Midmore politely.

'I've bin at your aunt that was, plenty times about it. I don't say she
wasn't a just woman, but she didn't read the lease same way I did. I be
used to bein' put upon, but there's no doing any longer 'thout that
pig-pound.'

'When would you like it?' Midmore asked. It seemed the easiest road to
take.

'Any time or other suits me, I reckon. He ain't thrivin' where he is,
an' I paid eighteen shillin' for him.' He crossed his hands on his stick
and gave no further sign of life.

'Is that all?' Midmore stammered.

'All now--excep''--he glanced fretfully at the table beside him--'excep'
my usuals. Where's that Rhoda?'

Midmore rang the bell. Rhoda came in with a bottle and a glass. The old
man helped himself to four stiff fingers, rose in one piece, and stumped
out. At the door he cried ferociously: 'Don't suppose it's any odds to
you whether I'm drowned or not, but them floodgates want a wheel and
winch, they do. I be too old for liftin' 'em with the bar--my time
o' life.'

'Good riddance if 'e was drowned,' said Rhoda. 'But don't you mind him.
He's only amusin' himself. Your pore dear auntie used to give 'im 'is
usual--'tisn't the whisky _you_ drink--an' send 'im about 'is business.'

'I see. Now, is a pig-pound the same thing as a pig-sty?'

Rhoda nodded. ''E needs one, too, but 'e ain't entitled to it. You look
at 'is lease--third drawer on the left in that Bombay cab'net--an' next
time 'e comes you ask 'im to read it. That'll choke 'im off, because
'e can't!'

There was nothing in Midmore's past to teach him the message and
significance of a hand-written lease of the late 'eighties, but Rhoda
interpreted.

'It don't mean anything reelly,' was her cheerful conclusion, 'excep'
you mustn't get rid of him anyhow, an' 'e can do what 'e likes always.
Lucky for us 'e _do_ farm; and if it wasn't for 'is woman--'

'Oh, there's a Mrs. Sidney, is there?'

'Lor, _no_!' The Sidneys don't marry. They keep. That's his fourth
since--to my knowledge. He was a takin' man from the first.'

'Any families?'

'They'd be grown up by now if there was, wouldn't they? But you can't
spend all your days considerin' 'is interests. That's what gave your
pore aunt 'er indigestion. 'Ave you seen the gun-room?'

Midmore held strong views on the immorality of taking life for pleasure.
But there was no denying that the late Colonel Werf's seventy-guinea
breechloaders were good at their filthy job. He loaded one, took it out
and pointed--merely pointed--it at a cock-pheasant which rose out of a
shrubbery behind the kitchen, and the flaming bird came down in a long
slant on the lawn, stone dead. Rhoda from the scullery said it was a
lovely shot, and told him lunch was ready.

He spent the afternoon gun in one hand, a map in the other, beating the
bounds of his lands. They lay altogether in a shallow, uninteresting
valley, flanked with woods and bisected by a brook. Up stream was his
own house; down stream, less than half a mile, a low red farm-house
squatted in an old orchard, beside what looked like small lock-gates on
the Thames. There was no doubt as to ownership. Mr. Sidney saw him while
yet far off, and bellowed at him about pig-pounds and floodgates. These
last were two great sliding shutters of weedy oak across the brook,
which were prised up inch by inch with a crowbar along a notched strip
of iron, and when Sidney opened them they at once let out half the
water. Midmore watched it shrink between its aldered banks like some
conjuring trick. This, too, was his very own.

'I see,' he said. 'How interesting! Now, what's that bell for?' he went
on, pointing to an old ship's bell in a rude belfry at the end of an
outhouse. 'Was that a chapel once?' The red-eyed giant seemed to have
difficulty in expressing himself for the moment and blinked savagely.

'Yes,' he said at last. 'My chapel. When you 'ear that bell ring you'll
'ear something. Nobody but me 'ud put up with it--but I reckon it don't
make any odds to you.' He slammed the gates down again, and the brook
rose behind them with a suck and a grunt.

Midmore moved off, conscious that he might be safer with Rhoda to hold
his conversational hand. As he passed the front of the farm-house a
smooth fat woman, with neatly parted grey hair under a widow's cap,
curtsied to him deferentially through the window. By every teaching of
the Immoderate Left she had a perfect right to express herself in any
way she pleased, but the curtsey revolted him. And on his way home he
was hailed from behind a hedge by a manifest idiot with no roof to his
mouth, who hallooed and danced round him.

'What did that beast want?' he demanded of Rhoda at tea.

'Jimmy? He only wanted to know if you 'ad any telegrams to send. 'E'll
go anywhere so long as 'tisn't across running water. That gives 'im 'is
seizures. Even talkin' about it for fun like makes 'im shake.'

'But why isn't he where he can be properly looked after?'

'What 'arm's 'e doing? E's a love-child, but 'is family can pay for 'im.
If 'e was locked up 'e'd die all off at once, like a wild rabbit. Won't
you, please, look at the drive, sir?'

Midmore looked in the fading light. The neat gravel was pitted with
large roundish holes, and there was a punch or two of the same sort
on the lawn.

'That's the 'unt comin' 'ome,' Rhoda explained. 'Your pore dear auntie
always let 'em use our drive for a short cut after the Colonel died. The
Colonel wouldn't so much because he preserved; but your auntie was
always an 'orsewoman till 'er sciatica.'

'Isn't there some one who can rake it over or--or something?' said
Midmore vaguely.

'Oh yes. You'll never see it in the morning, but--you was out when they
came 'ome an' Mister Fisher--he's the Master--told me to tell you with
'is compliments that if you wasn't preservin' and cared to 'old to the
old understanding', is gravel-pit is at your service same as before. 'E
thought, perhaps, you mightn't know, and it 'ad slipped my mind to tell
you. It's good gravel, Mister Fisher's, and it binds beautiful on the
drive. We 'ave to draw it, o' course, from the pit, but--'

Midmore looked at her helplessly.

'Rhoda,' said he, 'what am I supposed to do?'

'Oh, let 'em come through,' she replied. 'You never know. You may want
to 'unt yourself some day.'

That evening it rained and his misery returned on him, the worse for
having been diverted. At last he was driven to paw over a few score
books in a panelled room called the library, and realised with horror
what the late Colonel Werf's mind must have been in its prime. The
volumes smelt of a dead world as strongly as they did of mildew. He
opened and thrust them back, one after another, till crude coloured
illustrations of men on horses held his eye. He began at random and read
a little, moved into the drawing-room with the volume, and settled down
by the fire still reading. It was a foul world into which he peeped for
the first time--a heavy-eating, hard-drinking hell of horse-copers,
swindlers, matchmaking mothers, economically dependent virgins selling
themselves blushingly for cash and lands: Jews, tradesmen, and an
ill-considered spawn of Dickens-and-horsedung characters (I give
Midmore's own criticism), but he read on, fascinated, and behold, from
the pages leaped, as it were, the brother to the red-eyed man of the
brook, bellowing at a landlord (here Midmore realised that _he_ was that
very animal) for new barns; and another man who, like himself again,
objected to hoof-marks on gravel. Outrageous as thought and conception
were, the stuff seemed to have the rudiments of observation. He dug out
other volumes by the same author, till Rhoda came in with a silver
candlestick.

'Rhoda,' said he, 'did you ever hear about a character called James
Pigg--and Batsey?'

'Why, o' course,' said she. 'The Colonel used to come into the kitchen
in 'is dressin'-gown an' read us all those Jorrockses.'

'Oh, Lord!' said Midmore, and went to bed with a book called _Handley
Cross_ under his arm, and a lonelier Columbus into a stranger world the
wet-ringed moon never looked upon.

* * * * *

Here we omit much. But Midmore never denied that for the epicure in
sensation the urgent needs of an ancient house, as interpreted by Rhoda
pointing to daylight through attic-tiles held in place by moss, gives an
edge to the pleasure of Social Research elsewhere. Equally he found that
the reaction following prolonged research loses much of its grey terror
if one knows one can at will bathe the soul in the society of plumbers
(all the water-pipes had chronic appendicitis), village idiots (Jimmy
had taken Midmore under his weak wing and camped daily at the
drive-gates), and a giant with red eyelids whose every action is an
unpredictable outrage.

Towards spring Midmore filled his house with a few friends of the
Immoderate Left. It happened to be the day when, all things and Rhoda
working together, a cartload of bricks, another of sand, and some bags
of lime had been despatched to build Sidney his almost daily-demanded
pig-pound. Midmore took his friends across the flat fields with some
idea of showing them Sidney as a type of 'the peasantry.' They hit the
minute when Sidney, hoarse with rage, was ordering bricklayer, mate,
carts and all off his premises. The visitors disposed themselves
to listen.

'You never give me no notice about changin' the pig,' Sidney shouted.
The pig--at least eighteen inches long--reared on end in the old sty and
smiled at the company.

'But, my good man--' Midmore opened.

'I ain't! For aught you know I be a dam' sight worse than you be. You
can't come and be'ave arbit'ry with me. You _are_ be'avin' arbit'ry! All
you men go clean away an' don't set foot on my land till I bid ye.'

'But you asked'--Midmore felt his voice jump up--'to have the pig-pound
built.'

''Spose I did. That's no reason you shouldn't send me notice to change
the pig. 'Comin' down on me like this 'thout warnin'! That pig's got to
be got into the cowshed an' all.'

'Then open the door and let him run in,' said Midmore.

'Don't you be'ave arbit'ry with _me_! Take all your dam' men 'ome off my
land. I won't be treated arbit'ry.'

The carts moved off without a word, and Sidney went into the house and
slammed the door.

'Now, I hold that is enormously significant,' said a visitor. 'Here you
have the logical outcome of centuries of feudal oppression--the frenzy
of fear.' The company looked at Midmore with grave pain.

'But he _did_ worry my life out about his pig-sty,' was all Midmore
found to say.

Others took up the parable and proved to him if he only held true to the
gospels of the Immoderate Left the earth would soon be covered with
'jolly little' pig-sties, built in the intervals of morris-dancing by
'the peasant' himself.

Midmore felt grateful when the door opened again and Mr. Sidney invited
them all to retire to the road which, he pointed out, was public. As
they turned the corner of the house, a smooth-faced woman in a widow's
cap curtsied to each of them through the window.

Instantly they drew pictures of that woman's lot, deprived of all
vehicle for self-expression--'the set grey life and apathetic end,' one
quoted--and they discussed the tremendous significance of village
theatricals. Even a month ago Midmore would have told them all that he
knew and Rhoda had dropped about Sidney's forms of self-expression. Now,
for some strange reason, he was content to let the talk run on from
village to metropolitan and world drama.

Rhoda advised him after the visitors left that 'if he wanted to do that
again' he had better go up to town.

'But we only sat on cushions on the floor,' said her master.

'They're too old for romps,' she retorted, 'an' it's only the beginning
of things. I've seen what _I've_ seen. Besides, they talked and laughed
in the passage going to their baths--such as took 'em.'

'Don't be a fool, Rhoda,' said Midmore. No man--unless he has loved
her--will casually dismiss a woman on whose lap he has laid his head.

'Very good,' she snorted, 'but that cuts both ways. An' now, you go down
to Sidney's this evenin' and put him where he ought to be. He was in his
right about you givin' 'im notice about changin' the pig, but he 'adn't
any right to turn it up before your company. No manners, no pig-pound.
He'll understand.'

Midmore did his best to make him. He found himself reviling the old man
in speech and with a joy quite new in all his experience. He wound
up--it was a plagiarism from a plumber--by telling Mr. Sidney that he
looked like a turkey-cock, had the morals of a parish bull, and need
never hope for a new pig-pound as long as he or Midmore lived.

'Very good,' said the giant. 'I reckon you thought you 'ad something
against me, and now you've come down an' told it me like man to man.
Quite right. I don't bear malice. Now, you send along those bricks an'
sand, an' I'll make a do to build the pig-pound myself. If you look at
my lease you'll find out you're bound to provide me materials for the
repairs. Only--only I thought there'd be no 'arm in my askin' you to do
it throughout like.'

Midmore fairly gasped. 'Then, why the devil did you turn my carts back
when--when I sent them up here to do it throughout for you?'

Mr. Sidney sat down on the floodgates, his eyebrows knitted in thought.

'I'll tell you,' he said slowly. ''Twas too dam' like cheatin' a suckin'
baby. My woman, she said so too.'

For a few seconds the teachings of the Immoderate Left, whose humour is
all their own, wrestled with those of Mother Earth, who has her own
humours. Then Midmore laughed till he could scarcely stand. In due time
Mr. Sidney laughed too--crowing and wheezing crescendo till it broke
from him in roars. They shook hands, and Midmore went home grateful that
he had held his tongue among his companions.

When he reached his house he met three or four men and women on
horse-back, very muddy indeed, coming down the drive. Feeling hungry
himself, he asked them if they were hungry. They said they were, and he
bade them enter. Jimmy took their horses, who seemed to know him. Rhoda
took their battered hats, led the women upstairs for hairpins, and
presently fed them all with tea-cakes, poached eggs, anchovy toast, and
drinks from a coromandel-wood liqueur case which Midmore had never known
that he possessed.

'And I _will_ say,' said Miss Connie Sperrit, her spurred foot on the
fender and a smoking muffin in her whip hand, 'Rhoda does one top-hole.
She always did since I was eight.'

'Seven, Miss, was when you began to 'unt,' said Rhoda, setting down more
buttered toast.

'And so,' the M.F.H. was saying to Midmore, 'when he got to your brute
Sidney's land, we had to whip 'em off. It's a regular Alsatia for 'em.
They know it. Why'--he dropped his voice--'I don't want to say anything
against Sidney as your tenant, of course, but I do believe the old
scoundrel's perfectly capable of putting down poison.'

'Sidney's capable of anything,' said Midmore with immense feeling; but
once again he held his tongue. They were a queer community; yet when
they had stamped and jingled out to their horses again, the house felt
hugely big and disconcerting.

This may be reckoned the conscious beginning of his double life. It ran
in odd channels that summer--a riding school, for instance, near Hayes
Common and a shooting ground near Wormwood Scrubs. A man who has been
saddle-galled or shoulder-bruised for half the day is not at his London
best of evenings; and when the bills for his amusements come in he
curtails his expenses in other directions. So a cloud settled on
Midmore's name. His London world talked of a hardening of heart and a
tightening of purse-strings which signified disloyalty to the Cause. One
man, a confidant of the old expressive days, attacked him robustiously
and demanded account of his soul's progress. It was not furnished, for
Midmore was calculating how much it would cost to repave stables so
dilapidated that even the village idiot apologised for putting visitors'
horses into them. The man went away, and served up what he had heard of
the pig-pound episode as a little newspaper sketch, calculated to annoy.
Midmore read it with an eye as practical as a woman's, and since most of
his experiences had been among women, at once sought out a woman to whom
he might tell his sorrow at the disloyalty of his own familiar friend.
She was so sympathetic that he went on to confide how his bruised
heart--she knew all about it--had found so-lace, with a long O, in
another quarter which he indicated rather carefully in case it might be
betrayed to other loyal friends. As his hints pointed directly towards
facile Hampstead, and as his urgent business was the purchase of a horse
from a dealer, Beckenham way, he felt he had done good work. Later, when
his friend, the scribe, talked to him alluringly of 'secret gardens' and
those so-laces to which every man who follows the Wider Morality is
entitled, Midmore lent him a five-pound note which he had got back on
the price of a ninety-guinea bay gelding. So true it is, as he read in
one of the late Colonel Werf's books, that 'the young man of the present
day would sooner lie under an imputation against his morals than against
his knowledge of horse-flesh.'

Midmore desired more than he desired anything else at that moment to
ride and, above all, to jump on a ninety-guinea bay gelding with black
points and a slovenly habit of hitting his fences. He did not wish many
people except Mr. Sidney, who very kindly lent his soft meadow behind
the floodgates, to be privy to the matter, which he rightly foresaw
would take him to the autumn. So he told such friends as hinted at
country week-end visits that he had practically let his newly inherited
house. The rent, he said, was an object to him, for he had lately lost
large sums through ill-considered benevolences. He would name no names,
but they could guess. And they guessed loyally all round the circle of
his acquaintance as they spread the news that explained so much.

There remained only one couple of his once intimate associates to
pacify. They were deeply sympathetic and utterly loyal, of course, but
as curious as any of the apes whose diet they had adopted. Midmore met
them in a suburban train, coming up to town, not twenty minutes after he
had come off two hours' advanced tuition (one guinea an hour) over
hurdles in a hall. He had, of course, changed his kit, but his too heavy
bridle-hand shook a little among the newspapers. On the inspiration of
the moment, which is your natural liar's best hold, he told them that he
was condemned to a rest-cure. He would lie in semi-darkness drinking
milk, for weeks and weeks, cut off even from letters. He was astonished
and delighted at the ease with which the usual lie confounds the unusual
intellect. They swallowed it as swiftly as they recommended him to live
on nuts and fruit; but he saw in the woman's eyes the exact reason she
would set forth for his retirement. After all, she had as much right to
express herself as he purposed to take for himself; and Midmore believed
strongly in the fullest equality of the sexes.

That retirement made one small ripple in the strenuous world. The lady
who had written the twelve-page letter ten months before sent him
another of eight pages, analysing all the motives that were leading her
back to him--should she come?--now that he was ill and alone. Much might
yet be retrieved, she said, out of the waste of jarring lives and
piteous misunderstandings. It needed only a hand.

But Midmore needed two, next morning very early, for a devil's
diversion, among wet coppices, called 'cubbing.'

'You haven't a bad seat,' said Miss Sperrit through the morning-mists.
'But you're worrying him.'

'He pulls so,' Midmore grunted.

'Let him alone, then. Look out for the branches,' she shouted, as they
whirled up a splashy ride. Cubs were plentiful. Most of the hounds
attached themselves to a straight-necked youngster of education who
scuttled out of the woods into the open fields below.

'Hold on!' some one shouted. 'Turn 'em, Midmore. That's your brute
Sidney's land. It's all wire.'

'Oh, Connie, stop!' Mrs. Sperrit shrieked as her daughter charged at a
boundary-hedge.

'Wire be damned! I had it all out a fortnight ago. Come on!' This was
Midmore, buffeting into it a little lower down.

'_I_ knew that!' Connie cried over her shoulder, and she flitted across
the open pasture, humming to herself.

'Oh, of course! If some people have private information, they can afford
to thrust.' This was a snuff-coloured habit into which Miss Sperrit had
cannoned down the ride.

'What! 'Midmore got Sidney to heel? _You_ never did that, Sperrit.' This
was Mr. Fisher, M.F.H., enlarging the breach Midmore had made.

'No, confound him!' said the father testily. 'Go on, sir! _Injecto ter
pulvere_--you've kicked half the ditch into my eye already.'

They killed that cub a little short of the haven his mother had told him
to make for--a two-acre Alsatia of a gorse-patch to which the M.F.H. had
been denied access for the last fifteen seasons. He expressed his
gratitude before all the field and Mr. Sidney, at Mr. Sidney's
farm-house door.

'And if there should be any poultry claims--' he went on.

'There won't be,' said Midmore. 'It's too like cheating a sucking child,
isn't it, Mr. Sidney?'

'You've got me!' was all the reply. 'I be used to bein' put upon, but
you've got me, Mus' Midmore.'

Midmore pointed to a new brick pig-pound built in strict disregard of
the terms of the life-tenant's lease. The gesture told the tale to the
few who did not know, and they shouted.

Such pagan delights as these were followed by pagan sloth of evenings
when men and women elsewhere are at their brightest. But Midmore
preferred to lie out on a yellow silk couch, reading works of a debasing
vulgarity; or, by invitation, to dine with the Sperrits and savages of
their kidney. These did not expect flights of fancy or phrasing. They
lied, except about horses, grudgingly and of necessity, not for art's
sake; and, men and women alike, they expressed themselves along their
chosen lines with the serene indifference of the larger animals. Then
Midmore would go home and identify them, one by one, out of the
natural-history books by Mr. Surtees, on the table beside the sofa. At
first they looked upon him coolly, but when the tale of the removed wire
and the recaptured gorse had gone the rounds, they accepted him for a
person willing to play their games. True, a faction suspended judgment
for a while, because they shot, and hoped that Midmore would serve the
glorious mammon of pheasant-raising rather than the unkempt god of
fox-hunting. But after he had shown his choice, they did not ask by what
intellectual process he had arrived at it. He hunted three, sometimes
four, times a week, which necessitated not only one bay gelding (£94:
10s.), but a mannerly white-stockinged chestnut (£114), and a black
mare, rather long in the back but with a mouth of silk (£150), who so
evidently preferred to carry a lady that it would have been cruel to
have baulked her. Besides, with that handling she could be sold at a
profit. And besides, the hunt was a quiet, intimate, kindly little hunt,
not anxious for strangers, of good report in the _Field_, the servant of
one M.F.H., given to hospitality, riding well its own horses, and, with
the exception of Midmore, not novices. But as Miss Sperrit observed,
after the M.F.H. had said some things to him at a gate: 'It _is_ a pity
you don't know as much as your horse, but you will in time. It takes
years and yee-ars. I've been at it for fifteen and I'm only just
learning. But you've made a decent kick-off.'

So he kicked off in wind and wet and mud, wondering quite sincerely why
the bubbling ditches and sucking pastures held him from day to day, or
what so-lace he could find on off days in chasing grooms and
brick-layers round outhouses.

To make sure he up-rooted himself one week-end of heavy mid-winter rain,
and re-entered his lost world in the character of Galahad fresh from a
rest-cure. They all agreed, with an eye over his shoulder for the next
comer, that he was a different man; but when they asked him for the
symptoms of nervous strain, and led him all through their own, he
realised he had lost much of his old skill in lying. His three months'
absence, too, had put him hopelessly behind the London field. The
movements, the allusions, the slang of the game had changed. The couples
had rearranged themselves or were re-crystallizing in fresh triangles,
whereby he put his foot in it badly. Only one great soul (he who had
written the account of the pig-pound episode) stood untouched by the
vast flux of time, and Midmore lent him another fiver for his integrity.
A woman took him, in the wet forenoon, to a pronouncement on the Oneness
of Impulse in Humanity, which struck him as a polysyllabic _résumé_ of
Mr. Sidney's domestic arrangements, plus a clarion call to 'shock
civilisation into common-sense.'

'And you'll come to tea with me to-morrow?' she asked, after lunch,
nibbling cashew nuts from a saucer. Midmore replied that there were
great arrears of work to overtake when a man had been put away for
so long.

'But you've come back like a giant refreshed.... I hope that
Daphne'--this was the lady of the twelve and the eight-page
letter--'will be with us too. She has misunderstood herself, like so
many of us,' the woman murmured, 'but I think eventually ...' she flung
out her thin little hands. 'However, these are things that each lonely
soul must adjust for itself.'

'Indeed, yes,' said Midmore with a deep sigh. The old tricks were
sprouting in the old atmosphere like mushrooms in a dung-pit. He passed
into an abrupt reverie, shook his head, as though stung by tumultuous
memories, and departed without any ceremony of farewell to--catch a
mid-afternoon express where a man meets associates who talk horse, and
weather as it affects the horse, all the way down. What worried him most
was that he had missed a day with the hounds.

He met Rhoda's keen old eyes without flinching; and the drawing-room
looked very comfortable that wet evening at tea. After all, his visit to
town had not been wholly a failure. He had burned quite a bushel of
letters at his flat. A flat--here he reached mechanically towards the
worn volumes near the sofa--a flat was a consuming animal. As for
Daphne ... he opened at random on the words: 'His lordship then did as
desired and disclosed a _tableau_ of considerable strength and variety.'
Midmore reflected: 'And I used to think.... But she wasn't.... We were
all babblers and skirters together.... I didn't babble much--thank
goodness--but I skirted.' He turned the pages backward for more _Sortes
Surteesianae_, and read: 'When at length they rose to go to bed it
struck each man as he followed his neighbour upstairs, that the man
before him walked very crookedly.' He laughed aloud at the fire.

'What about to-morrow?' Rhoda asked, entering with garments over her
shoulder. 'It's never stopped raining since you left. You'll be
plastered out of sight an' all in five minutes. You'd better wear your
next best, 'adn't you? I'm afraid they've shrank. 'Adn't you best
try 'em on?'

'Here?' said Midmore.

''Suit yourself. I bathed you when you wasn't larger than a leg o'
lamb,' said the ex-ladies'-maid.

'Rhoda, one of these days I shall get a valet, and a married butler.'

'There's many a true word spoke in jest. But nobody's huntin'
to-morrow.'

'Why? Have they cancelled the meet?'

'They say it only means slipping and over-reaching in the mud, and they
all 'ad enough of that to-day. Charlie told me so just now.'

'Oh!' It seemed that the word of Mr. Sperrit's confidential clerk had
weight.

'Charlie came down to help Mr. Sidney lift the gates,' Rhoda continued.

'The floodgates? They are perfectly easy to handle now. I've put in a
wheel and a winch.'

'When the brook's really up they must be took clean out on account of
the rubbish blockin' 'em. That's why Charlie came down.'

Midmore grunted impatiently. 'Everybody has talked to me about that
brook ever since I came here. It's never done anything yet.'

'This 'as been a dry summer. If you care to look now, sir, I'll get you
a lantern.'

She paddled out with him into a large wet night. Half-way down the lawn
her light was reflected on shallow brown water, pricked through with
grass blades at the edges. Beyond that light, the brook was strangling
and kicking among hedges and tree-trunks.

'What on earth will happen to the big rose-bed?' was Midmore's first
word.

'It generally 'as to be restocked after a flood. Ah!' she raised her
lantern. 'There's two garden-seats knockin' against the sun-dial. Now,
that won't do the roses any good.'

'This is too absurd. There ought to be some decently thought-out
system--for--for dealing with this sort of thing.' He peered into the
rushing gloom. There seemed to be no end to the moisture and the racket.
In town he had noticed nothing.

'It can't be 'elped,' said Rhoda. 'It's just what it does do once in
just so often. We'd better go back.'

All earth under foot was sliding in a thousand liquid noises towards
the hoarse brook. Somebody wailed from the house: ''Fraid o' the water!
Come 'ere! 'Fraid o' the water!'

'That's Jimmy. Wet always takes 'im that way,' she explained. The idiot
charged into them, shaking with terror.

'Brave Jimmy! How brave of Jimmy! Come into the hall. What Jimmy got
now?' she crooned. It was a sodden note which ran: 'Dear Rhoda--Mr.
Lotten, with whom I rode home this afternoon, told me that if this wet
keeps up, he's afraid the fish-pond he built last year, where Coxen's
old mill-dam was, will go, as the dam did once before, he says. If it
does it's bound to come down the brook. It may be all right, but perhaps
you had better look out. C.S.'

'If Coxen's dam goes, that means.... I'll 'ave the drawing-room carpet
up at once to be on the safe side. The claw-'ammer is in the libery.'

'Wait a minute. Sidney's gates are out, you said?'

'Both. He'll need it if Coxen's pond goes.... I've seen it once.'

'I'll just slip down and have a look at Sidney. Light the lantern again,
please, Rhoda.'

'You won't get _him_ to stir. He's been there since he was born. But
_she_ don't know anything. I'll fetch your waterproof and some
top-boots.'

''Fraid o' the water! 'Fraid o' the water!' Jimmy sobbed, pressed
against a corner of the hall, his hands to his eyes.

'All right, Jimmy. Jimmy can help play with the carpet,' Rhoda
answered, as Midmore went forth into the darkness and the roarings all
round. He had never seen such an utterly unregulated state of affairs.
There was another lantern reflected on the streaming drive.

'Hi! Rhoda! Did you get my note? I came down to make sure. I thought,
afterwards, Jimmy might funk the water!'

'It's me--Miss Sperrit,' Midmore cried. 'Yes, we got it, thanks.'

'You're back, then. Oh, good!... Is it bad down with you?'

'I'm going to Sidney's to have a look.'

'You won't get _him_ out. 'Lucky I met Bob Lotten. I told him he hadn't
any business impounding water for his idiotic trout without
rebuilding the dam.'

'How far up is it? I've only been there once.'

'Not more than four miles as the water will come. He says he's opened
all the sluices.'

She had turned and fallen into step beside him, her hooded head bowed
against the thinning rain. As usual she was humming to herself.

'Why on earth did you come out in this weather?' Midmore asked.

'It was worse when you were in town. The rain's taking off now. If it
wasn't for that pond, I wouldn't worry so much. There's Sidney's bell.
Come on!' She broke into a run. A cracked bell was jangling feebly down
the valley.

'Keep on the road!' Midmore shouted. The ditches were snorting
bank-full on either side, and towards the brook-side the fields were
afloat and beginning to move in the darkness.

'Catch me going off it! There's his light burning all right.' She halted
undistressed at a little rise. 'But the flood's in the orchard. Look!'
She swung her lantern to show a front rank of old apple-trees reflected
in still, out-lying waters beyond the half-drowned hedge. They could
hear above the thud-thud of the gorged floodgates, shrieks in two keys
as monotonous as a steam-organ.

'The high one's the pig.' Miss Sperrit laughed.

'All right! I'll get _her_ out. You stay where you are, and I'll see you
home afterwards.'

'But the water's only just over the road,' she objected.

'Never mind. Don't you move. Promise?'

'All right. You take my stick, then, and feel for holes in case
anything's washed out anywhere. This _is_ a lark!'

Midmore took it, and stepped into the water that moved sluggishly as yet
across the farm road which ran to Sidney's front door from the raised
and metalled public road. It was half way up to his knees when he
knocked. As he looked back Miss Sperrit's lantern seemed to float in
mid-ocean.

'You can't come in or the water'll come with you. I've bunged up all the
cracks,' Mr. Sidney shouted from within. 'Who be ye?'

'Take me out! Take me out!' the woman shrieked, and the pig from his
sty behind the house urgently seconded the motion.

'I'm Midmore! Coxen's old mill-dam is likely to go, they say. Come out!'

'I told 'em it would when they made a fish-pond of it. 'Twasn't ever
puddled proper. But it's a middlin' wide valley. She's got room to
spread.... Keep still, or I'll take and duck you in the cellar!... You
go 'ome, Mus' Midmore, an' take the law o' Mus' Lotten soon's you've
changed your socks.'

'Confound you, aren't you coming out?'

'To catch my death o' cold? I'm all right where I be. I've seen it
before. But you can take _her_. She's no sort o' use or sense.... Climb
out through the window. Didn't I tell you I'd plugged the door-cracks,
you fool's daughter?' The parlour window opened, and the woman flung
herself into Midmore's arms, nearly knocking him down. Mr. Sidney leaned
out of the window, pipe in mouth.

'Take her 'ome,' he said, and added oracularly:

'Two women in one house,
Two cats an' one mouse,
Two dogs an' one bone--
Which I will leave alone.

I've seen it before.' Then he shut and fastened the window.

'A trap! A trap! You had ought to have brought a trap for me. I'll be
drowned in this wet,' the woman cried.

'Hold up! You can't be any wetter than you are. Come along!' Midmore
did not at all like the feel of the water over his boot-tops.

'Hooray! Come along!' Miss Sperrit's lantern, not fifty yards away,
waved cheerily.

The woman threshed towards it like a panic-stricken goose, fell on her
knees, was jerked up again by Midmore, and pushed on till she collapsed
at Miss Sperrit's feet.

'But you won't get bronchitis if you go straight to Mr. Midmore's
house,' said the unsympathetic maiden.

'O Gawd! O Gawd! I wish our 'eavenly Father 'ud forgive me my sins an'
call me 'ome,' the woman sobbed. 'But I won't go to _'is_ 'ouse!
I won't.'

'All right, then. Stay here. Now, if we run,' Miss Sperrit whispered to
Midmore, 'she'll follow us. Not too fast!'

They set off at a considerable trot, and the woman lumbered behind them,
bellowing, till they met a third lantern--Rhoda holding Jimmy's hand.
She had got the carpet up, she said, and was escorting Jimmy past the
water that he dreaded.

'That's all right,' Miss Sperrit pronounced. 'Take Mrs. Sidney back with
you, Rhoda, and put her to bed. I'll take Jimmy with me. You aren't
afraid of the water now, are you, Jimmy?'

'Not afraid of anything now.' Jimmy reached for her hand. 'But get away
from the water quick.'

'I'm coming with you,' Midmore interrupted.

'You most certainly are not. You're drenched. She threw you twice. Go
home and change. You may have to be out again all night. It's only
half-past seven now. I'm perfectly safe.' She flung herself lightly over
a stile, and hurried uphill by the foot-path, out of reach of all but
the boasts of the flood below.

Rhoda, dead silent, herded Mrs. Sidney to the house.

'You'll find your things laid out on the bed,' she said to Midmore as he
came up. I'll attend to--to this. _She's_ got nothing to cry for.'

Midmore raced into dry kit, and raced uphill to be rewarded by the sight
of the lantern just turning into the Sperrits' gate. He came back by way
of Sidney's farm, where he saw the light twinkling across three acres of
shining water, for the rain had ceased and the clouds were stripping
overhead, though the brook was noisier than ever. Now there was only
that doubtful mill-pond to look after--that and his swirling world
abandoned to himself alone.

'We shall have to sit up for it,' said Rhoda after dinner. And as the
drawing-room commanded the best view of the rising flood, they watched
it from there for a long time, while all the clocks of the house bore
them company.

''Tisn't the water, it's the mud on the skirting-board after it goes
down that I mind,' Rhoda whispered. 'The last time Coxen's mill broke, I
remember it came up to the second--no, third--step o' Mr.
Sidney's stairs.'

'What did Sidney do about it?'

'He made a notch on the step. 'E said it was a record. Just like 'im.'

'It's up to the drive now,' said Midmore after another long wait. 'And
the rain stopped before eight, you know.'

'Then Coxen's dam _'as_ broke, and that's the first of the flood-water.'
She stared out beside him. The water was rising in sudden pulses--an
inch or two at a time, with great sweeps and lagoons and a sudden
increase of the brook's proper thunder.

'You can't stand all the time. Take a chair,' Midmore said presently.

Rhoda looked back into the bare room. 'The carpet bein' up _does_ make a
difference. Thank you, sir, I _will_ 'ave a set-down.'

''Right over the drive now,' said Midmore. He opened the window and
leaned out. 'Is that wind up the valley, Rhoda?'

'No, that's _it_! But I've seen it before.'

There was not so much a roar as the purposeful drive of a tide across a
jagged reef, which put down every other sound for twenty minutes. A wide
sheet of water hurried up to the little terrace on which the house
stood, pushed round either corner, rose again and stretched, as it were,
yawning beneath the moonlight, joined other sheets waiting for them in
unsuspected hollows, and lay out all in one. A puff of wind followed.

'It's right up to the wall now. I can touch it with my finger.' Midmore
bent over the window-sill.

'I can 'ear it in the cellars,' said Rhoda dolefully. 'Well, we've done
what we can! I think I'll 'ave a look.' She left the room and was absent
half an hour or more, during which time he saw a full-grown tree
hauling itself across the lawn by its naked roots. Then a hurdle knocked
against the wall, caught on an iron foot-scraper just outside, and made
a square-headed ripple. The cascade through the cellar-windows
diminished.

'It's dropping,' Rhoda cried, as she returned. 'It's only tricklin' into
my cellars now.'

'Wait a minute. I believe--I believe I can see the scraper on the edge
of the drive just showing!'

In another ten minutes the drive itself roughened and became gravel
again, tilting all its water towards the shrubbery.

'The pond's gone past,' Rhoda announced. 'We shall only 'ave the common
flood to contend with now. You'd better go to bed.'

'I ought to go down and have another look at Sidney before daylight.'

'No need. You can see 'is light burnin' from all the upstairs windows.'

'By the way. I forgot about _her_. Where've you put her?'

'In my bed.' Rhoda's tone was ice. 'I wasn't going to undo a room for
_that_ stuff.'

'But it--it couldn't be helped,' said Midmore. 'She was half drowned.
One mustn't be narrow-minded, Rhoda, even if her position isn't
quite--er--regular.'

'Pfff! I wasn't worryin' about that.' She leaned forward to the window.
'There's the edge of the lawn showin' now. It falls as fast as it rises.
Dearie'--the change of tone made Midmore jump--'didn't you know that I
was 'is first? _That's_ what makes it so hard to bear.' Midmore looked
at the long lizard-like back and had no words.

She went on, still talking through the black window-pane:

'Your pore dear auntie was very kind about it. She said she'd make all
allowances for one, but no more. Never any more.... Then, you didn't
know 'oo Charlie was all this time?'

'Your nephew, I always thought.'

'Well, well,' she spoke pityingly. 'Everybody's business being nobody's
business, I suppose no one thought to tell you. But Charlie made 'is own
way for 'imself from the beginnin'!... But _her_ upstairs, she never
produced anything. Just an 'ousekeeper, as you might say. 'Turned over
an' went to sleep straight off. She 'ad the impudence to ask me for 'ot
sherry-gruel.'

'Did you give it to her,' said Midmore.

'Me? Your sherry? No!'

The memory of Sidney's outrageous rhyme at the window, and Charlie's
long nose (he thought it looked interested at the time) as he passed the
copies of Mrs. Werf's last four wills, overcame Midmore without warning.

'This damp is givin' you a cold,' said Rhoda, rising. 'There you go
again! Sneezin's a sure sign of it. Better go to bed. You can't do any
thin' excep''--she stood rigid, with crossed arms--'about me.'

'Well. What about you?' Midmore stuffed the handkerchief into his
pocket.

'Now you know about it, what are you goin' to do--sir?'

She had the answer on her lean cheek before the sentence was finished.

'Go and see if you can get us something to eat, Rhoda. And beer.'

'I expec' the larder'll be in a swim,' she replied, 'but old bottled
stuff don't take any harm from wet.' She returned with a tray, all in
order, and they ate and drank together, and took observations of the
falling flood till dawn opened its bleared eyes on the wreck of what had
been a fair garden. Midmore, cold and annoyed, found himself humming:

'That flood strewed wrecks upon the grass,
That ebb swept out the flocks to sea.

There isn't a rose left, Rhoda!

An awesome ebb and flow it was
To many more than mine and me.
But each will mourn his ...

It'll cost me a hundred.'

'Now we know the worst,' said Rhoda, 'we can go to bed. I'll lay on the
kitchen sofa. His light's burnin' still.'

'And _she_?'

'Dirty old cat! You ought to 'ear 'er snore!'

At ten o'clock in the morning, after a maddening hour in his own garden
on the edge of the retreating brook, Midmore went off to confront more
damage at Sidney's. The first thing that met him was the pig, snowy
white, for the water had washed him out of his new sty, calling on high
heaven for breakfast. The front door had been forced open, and the flood
had registered its own height in a brown dado on the walls. Midmore
chased the pig out and called up the stairs.

'I be abed o' course. Which step 'as she rose to?' Sidney cried from
above. 'The fourth? Then it's beat all records. Come up.'

'Are you ill?' Midmore asked as he entered the room. The red eyelids
blinked cheerfully. Mr. Sidney, beneath a sumptuous patch-work quilt,
was smoking.

'Nah! I'm only thankin' God I ain't my own landlord. Take that cheer.
What's she done?'

'It hasn't gone down enough for me to make sure.'

'Them floodgates o' yourn'll be middlin' far down the brook by now; an'
your rose-garden have gone after 'em. I saved my chickens, though. You'd
better get Mus' Sperrit to take the law o' Lotten an' 'is fish-pond.'

'No, thanks. I've trouble enough without that.'

'Hev ye?' Mr. Sidney grinned. 'How did ye make out with those two women
o' mine last night? I lay they fought.'

'You infernal old scoundrel!' Midmore laughed.

'I be--an' then again I bain't,' was the placid answer. 'But, Rhoda,
_she_ wouldn't ha' left me last night. Fire or flood, she wouldn't.'

'Why didn't you ever marry her?' Midmore asked.

'Waste of good money. She was willin' without.'

There was a step on the gritty mud below, and a voice humming. Midmore
rose quickly saying: 'Well, I suppose you're all right now.'

'I be. I ain't a landlord, nor I ain't young--nor anxious. Oh, Mus'
Midmore! Would it make any odds about her thirty pounds comin' regular
if I married her? Charlie said maybe 'twould.'

'Did he?' Midmore turned at the door. 'And what did Jimmy say about it?'

'Jimmy?' Mr. Sidney chuckled as the joke took him. 'Oh, _he's_ none o'
mine. He's Charlie's look-out.'

Midmore slammed the door and ran downstairs.

'Well, this is a--sweet--mess,' said Miss Sperrit in shortest skirts and
heaviest riding-boots. 'I had to come down and have a look at it. "The
old mayor climbed the belfry tower." 'Been up all night nursing
your family?'

'Nearly that! Isn't it cheerful?' He pointed through the door to the
stairs with small twig-drift on the last three treads.

'It's a record, though,' said she, and hummed to herself:

'That flood strewed wrecks upon the grass,
That ebb swept out the flocks to sea.'

'You're always singing that, aren't you?' Midmore said suddenly as she
passed into the parlour where slimy chairs had been stranded at
all angles.

'Am I? Now I come to think of it I believe I do. They say I always hum
when I ride. Have you noticed it?'

'Of course I have. I notice every--'

'Oh,' she went on hurriedly. 'We had it for the village cantata last
winter--"The Brides of Enderby."'

'No! "High Tide on the Coast of Lincolnshire."' For some reason Midmore
spoke sharply.

'Just like that.' She pointed to the befouled walls. 'I say.... Let's
get this furniture a little straight.... You know it too?'

'Every word, since you sang it of course.'

'When?'

'The first night I ever came down. You rode past the drawing-room window
in the dark singing it--"And sweeter woman--"'

'I thought the house was empty then. Your aunt always let us use that
short cut. Ha-hadn't we better get this out into the passage? It'll all
have to come out anyhow. You take the other side.' They began to lift a
heavyish table. Their words came jerkily between gasps and their faces
were as white as--a newly washed and very hungry pig.

'Look out!' Midmore shouted. His legs were whirled from under him, as
the table, grunting madly, careened and knocked the girl out of sight.

The wild boar of Asia could not have cut down a couple more
scientifically, but this little pig lacked his ancestor's nerve and fled
shrieking over their bodies.

'Are you hurt, darling?' was Midmore's first word, and 'No--I'm only
winded--dear,' was Miss Sperrit's, as he lifted her out of her corner,
her hat over one eye and her right cheek a smear of mud.

They fed him a little later on some chicken-feed that they found in
Sidney's quiet barn, a pail of buttermilk out of the dairy, and a
quantity of onions from a shelf in the back-kitchen.

'Seed-onions, most likely,' said Connie. 'You'll hear about this.'

'What does it matter? They ought to have been gilded. We must buy him.'

'And keep him as long as he lives,' she agreed. 'But I think I ought to
go home now. You see, when I came out I didn't expect ... Did you?'

'No! Yes.... It had to come.... But if any one had told me an hour
ago!... Sidney's unspeakable parlour--and the mud on the carpet.'

'Oh, I say! Is my cheek clean now?'

'Not quite. Lend me your hanky again a minute, darling.... What a purler
you came!'

'You can't talk. 'Remember when your chin hit that table and you said
"blast"! I was just going to laugh.'

'You didn't laugh when I picked you up. You were going "oo-oo-oo" like a
little owl.'

'My dear child--'

'Say that again!'

'My dear child. (Do you really like it? I keep it for my best friends.)
My _dee-ar_ child, I thought I was going to be sick there and then. He
knocked every ounce of wind out of me--the angel! But I must really go.'

They set off together, very careful not to join hands or take arms.

'Not across the fields,' said Midmore at the stile. 'Come round by--by
your own place.'

She flushed indignantly.

'It will be yours in a little time,' he went on, shaken with his own
audacity.

'Not so much of your little times, if you please!' She shied like a colt
across the road; then instantly, like a colt, her eyes lit with new
curiosity as she came in sight of the drive-gates.

'And not quite so much of your airs and graces, Madam,' Midmore
returned, 'or I won't let you use our drive as a short cut any more.'

'Oh, I'll be good. I'll be good.' Her voice changed suddenly. 'I swear
I'll try to be good, dear. I'm not much of a thing at the best. What
made _you_....'

'I'm worse--worse! Miles and oceans worse. But what does it matter now?'

They halted beside the gate-pillars.

'I see!' she said, looking up the sodden carriage sweep to the front
door porch where Rhoda was slapping a wet mat to and fro. '_I_ see....
Now, I really must go home. No! Don't you come. I must speak to Mother
first all by myself.'

He watched her up the hill till she was out of sight.


THE FLOODS

The rain it rains without a stay
In the hills above us, in the hills;
And presently the floods break way
Whose strength is in the hills.
The trees they suck from every cloud,
The valley brooks they roar aloud--
Bank-high for the lowlands, lowlands,
Lowlands under the hills!

The first wood down is sere and small,
From the hills, the brishings off the hills;
And then come by the bats and all
We cut last year in the hills;
And then the roots we tried to cleave
But found too tough and had to leave--
Polting through the lowlands, lowlands,
Lowlands under the hills!

The eye shall look, the ear shall hark
To the hills, the doings in the hills,
And rivers mating in the dark
With tokens from the hills.
Now what is weak will surely go,
And what is strong must prove it so.
Stand fast in the lowlands, lowlands,
Lowlands under the hills!

The floods they shall not be afraid--
Nor the hills above 'em, nor the hills--
Of any fence which man has made
Betwixt him and the hills.
The waters shall not reckon twice
For any work of man's device,
But bid it down to the lowlands, lowlands,
Lowlands under the hills!

The floods shall sweep corruption clean--
By the hills, the blessing of the hills--
That more the meadows may be green
New-amended from the hills.
The crops and cattle shall increase,
Nor little children shall not cease--
Go--plough the lowlands, lowlands,
Lowlands under the hills!


THE FABULISTS

When all the world would have a matter hid,
Since Truth is seldom friend to any crowd,
Men write in fable, as old Æsop did,
Jesting at that which none will name aloud.
And this they needs must do, or it will fall
Unless they please they are not heard at all.

When desperate Folly daily laboureth
To work confusion upon all we have,
When diligent Sloth demandeth Freedom's death,
And banded Fear commandeth Honour's grave--
Even in that certain hour before the fall
Unless men please they are not heard at all.

Needs must all please, yet some not all for need
Needs must all toil, yet some not all for gain,
But that men taking pleasure may take heed,
Whom present toil shall snatch from later pain.
Thus some have toiled but their reward was small
Since, though they pleased, they were not heard at all.

This was the lock that lay upon our lips,
This was the yoke that we have undergone,
Denying us all pleasant fellowships
As in our time and generation.
Our pleasures unpursued age past recall.
And for our pains--we are not heard at all.

What man hears aught except the groaning guns?
What man heeds aught save what each instant brings?
When each man's life all imaged life outruns,
What man shall pleasure in imaginings?
So it hath fallen, as it was bound to fall,
We are not, nor we were not, heard at all.



Rudyard Kipling

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