The House of the Shadows
BEATRICE KEAN SEYMOUR
SANDAL FARM stands at the top of one of the slopes on the western bank of Thirlmere, the English lake which nowadays supplies all Manchester with water and turns every mill between Thirlmere and Keswick. It is a low, two-storied building, fronted by a well-kept lawn stretching to the edge of the grassy slope which is the lake and the Corporation of Manchester’s excellent roadway. Behind it rise the rugged fells of Armboth and all that wild upland country which stretches away to the valley of Borrowdale and the heights overlooking Derwentwater.
The Audreys, of Westmorland stock, had crossed the county line into Thirlmere at the time of their marriage in the mid 'eighties. And although Manchester’s proposals were even then in the air, the lake lay dark and still, a thing of mystery in its narrowr gorge, yoked as yet to no man's service. The Audreys, a little lost and isolated at Sandal Farm, looked for a sturdy family of growing boys and girls, which fate, howTever, denied them. Not until the fifth year of their marriage was their little daughter born, and that was the end of Bessie Audrey’s family. Perhaps it was rot without significance, therefore, that she should shorten the child’s ccmmonsense name of Charlotte to Sharlie, rather than to the more usual Lottie. Sharlie sounded boyish, and Bessie loved boys. Noisy, dirty, untidy boys—unruly, mischievous, daring.
Eut anything less boyish than little Sharlie Audrey it would be difficult to imagine. Though as a child she went climbing and tramping with her father, there was nothing of the tomboy about her. She was quiet and good, “as deep as the lake,” never giving trouble, and finding a hundred ways of amusing herself without straying into the paths of mischief Bessie had planned for those unborn male children of hers.
Sharlie did not remember Thirlmere as Nature made it. She was not born when Manchester created a furore by proposing to dam the lake at its narrow outlet and raise its level some twenty feet; and the business of constructing the reservoir and building the new roads occupied the
years of her remoter childhood. By the time these were over Manchester had retreated and left behind it no disfiguring sign to interfere with Sharlie’s belief that Thirlmere was the loveliest place in the world, lovelier even than Grasmere, where Grandmother Audrey and her numerous aunts and uncles belonged.
It nearly broke her heart when her mother, fired by a new set of feminine ambitions, decided that Sharlie should go away to school in Blackpool. But nobody knew, not even after she had run away because she couldn’t bear any longer to live where there were no valleys and mountains and where the sound of running water never came. Every time she thought of the white cataracts which scored the side of Helvellyn after a rainy period, every time she remembered the sound of Launchy Gill where, in summer, she went a-picnicking, something dreadful happened inside her. She did not tell anybody this, but after that flight from school she imagined that her father, at least, understood it, understood that she had thought of Launchy Gill once too often.
John Audrey had been once to Blackpool. Perhaps he, too, had felt as she had; had heard nothing but that small faint crying of the heart for things remembered. Certainly he had seemed to know what she meant when she said she simply had to go out and look for a pawnbroker’s. Lucky that he had given her that little gold watch for her birthday.
Sharlie was not sent back to school. John Audrey was mulcted in the sum of four pounds ten—a term’s fees in lieu of the usual notice—but seemed to think he had got his daughter back cheaply, even after he had retrieved the watch. That came a week later.
“Registered package for you, miss,” the postman said, as though he were pleased to see her back and glad that people were sending her things valuable enough to be registered.
These were the days when you pinned your watch, if you were feminine and possessed one, upon your bosom. Sharlie pinned hers there, too.
“Does it look nice on me?” she asked.
“Very nice,” said John Audrey. But he wasn’t looking at the watch, but at the young bosom upon which it was pinned, and thinking that Sharlie, slim and graceful as a Westmorland sycamore, was nearly a woman.
And somehow that was a thought which made him vaguely unhappy for the rest of the day.
Visitors with literary inclinations who came up to the farm for tea when the season had begun, were fond of comparing the quiet girl who waited upon them with Wordsworth’s Lucy, and apt to look disappointed when they heard that her name was Charlotte. And in a way they were right; if you knew your Wordsworth, it was of Lucy you’d think when you first met Sharlie Audrey. “And beauty born of murmuring sound shall pass into her face.” She had grown tall, but remained slim; her hair was gold-brown, and her skin with that warm mixture of pink and brown too, reflected the quiet of the mountain tarns. At sixteen, the gold-brown hair “up,” she looked nineteen.
Bessie was probably right when she said she was the best-educated girl of her class for miles around. The Audreys were no ignora aasants; they spoke the King’s English with no more man the usual grammatical blunders common to all classes, and with only a slight broadening of the vowels. But Sharlie, Bessie understood, knew things. She wrote a good hand, was excellent at figures; had some knowledge of French ("paper” French, Sharlie called it), and could play the piano, though she irritated her mother by preferring the simple melodies to the showy drawing-room pieces with which Bessie's numerous nieces wrestled. She did not know that Sharlie’s simple melodies gave her the same sort of pleasure as the sound of Launchy Gill.
It was in the June of nineteen-three, two months before Sharlie's seventeenth birthday, that a party of young men and women climbed up from the lakeside to Sandal Farm and demanded tea. That, rather, seemed to be the word, and John Audrey, who happened to be in the porch at the
i*ime, resented their tone and their manners. So he demurred that it was only just past three and too early for tea.
“You advertise teas on your board,” said a young man who constituted himself the spokesman of the party. He sat down at one of the white-scrubbed tables and began to mop a handsome face with a handkerchief. “T-E-A-S—teas. No mistake there, I think.”
“None whatever,” said Audrey, but managed somehow to infer that there is a time for all things and that farm people did not expect to haveto provideteaatthreeo’clock in the afternoon, even to people who asked for it politely. A group of impudent Londoners, by their speech, Audrey summed them up; insolent young men and stupid, giggling girls. What, he wondered, were the likes of them doing here? They’d be happier at Blackpool.
“You’d best move on to Grasmere,” he said. “Grasmere!” said one of the girls. “Why, we walked from there this morning. It’s miles. I should drop.”
Nobody took any notice of these remarks. The young man turned to John. “Look here, you can’t refuse to serve us. You show a board, and we’re bona-fide travel-
“This isn’t an inn, young man. This is a farm, and a busy one at that, and I don’t like your manners. Good afternoon.”
And John Audrey went.
But not the party. The party sat on, a little nonplussed; “jiggered,” as it expressed itself. But it had climbed that steep path for tea, and tea it was going to get. At the moment, it is true, it did not quite see how.
They sat there grumbling for ten minutes or so. Nobody came near them. A young girl in green, an obvious flapper of the period, with her hair turned under in a “door-knocker” and surmounted by a hat of huge dimensions in another shade of green, offered the opinion that it was all a “barmy business,” but nobody was urged thereby to movement. They sat there, dogged, undismayed, until the flapper in the green hat was aggravated into yet another protest.
“Come on, Jim. Let’s make a move. This isn’t London, and the people are too bloomin’ independent.
Besides, what he says is right. He doesn’t have to serve us. Hallo, they’ve got a pianner.”
A tune they
recognized but could not have identified was stealing out of the house. Surprise, rather than love of music kept them quiet until it was finished; then, led by their spokesman, the whole party began to clap. Somebody said “Bravo!” And immediately from the doorway Sharlie’s charming face looked out upon them.
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” she said. “You’ll be wanting tea.”
“We’ve been wanting it this last twenty minutes,” the young man the flapper had addressed as Jim assured her. “But weweretold it was too early.”
“Oh, no,” said Sharlie, “not at all,” and disappeared.
“Maudie,”said Jim, addressing the f 1 a p p er, “your star isabout to set, my dear.”
“Rats!” said Maudie. She frowned and swung her legs. The others laughed. -Silence.
Then Sharlie appeared in the doorway again, this time with a laden tray. Jim wished he hadn’t taken off his hat, so that he might now have the pleasure of raising it to this vision of youth and beauty bearing the promise of tea. Instead, he said “Good afternoon,” and did not know that he spoilt it by adding “Miss.” But Sharlie knew. That was the sort of thing her boarding school had taught her—that gentlemen do not address young women, even when they do not know their names, as “Miss.” But this afternoon, for some reason or other, she was sorry that she knew it. She smiled, returned his greeting and began to lay out the cups and saucers and dispose the plates of bread and butter and cake, the jam, honey and steaming teapot with which the tray was piled.
“This, you know,” Jim said, “is a very pleasant surprise. We’d just about given it up. The gentleman we first saw didn’t seem to like us. He wouldn’t serve us.” Sharlie said: “No, Father doesn’t.”
“But he didn’t intend to let anybody else, s’far as we could see.
Told us to go.”
SHARLIE said nothing. She was wondering if this young man was really as handsome as he seemed or whether it was only that his companions were excessively plain and uninteresting—“common,” she called them in her own mind.
“There’s only one thing I’ve got
against this lake of yours,” Jim told her, “there’s too much of it.”
One of his companions laughed. “Don’t you believe him, Miss. What he means is that there aren’t enough, inns.”
Sharlie said: “Yes, it’s a long road for man and beast.”
“I believe you,” said Jim. He was watching the flapper slopping the tea into the saucers and on to the white cloth Sharlie had put over her white scrubbed deal. “It knocked us out a bit, this walk. P’raps your father found us a bit short. No offence, Miss, I’m sure.”
If only he wouldn’t say “Miss.”
Couldn’t he hear for himself that it was wrong? Jim, glancing at the table said: “My hat! Some tea! Can we cut all the cakes?”
It must have been just here that John Audrey got rid
of the farmer who had buttonholed him and came back to the porch unobserved but observing.
“And did you make them?” Jim was asking Sharlie.
Sharlie said yes. Jim smiled at her, twinkling his black eyes.
“Do you know,” he said, “you don’t look half as useful as all that.”
And again Sharlie thought how handsome he was and what a jolly smile he had and hew secondrate he made his friends appear, and what a pity he had anything to do with that girl who wore the wide green hat. Why, she wasn’t half good enough. He wanted looking after—
Then John Audrey called “Sharlie!” from the porch and made her jump. She picked up her tray and went over to him. John took his pipe out of his mouth and looked at her sombrely.
“My girl,” he said, “I told that party they couldn’t have tea here.”
“I know. You said they were too early.” , “Nonsense, too rude.”
“Father, I’m sure they didn’t mean to be rude.”
“Well, perhaps it’s worse to be rude without even knowing you are. But look here, Sharlie, my girl, I reckon there’s no need to entertain folk as well as to feed ’em.”
Sharlie colored, said: “Oh, Father!” and retreated.
A very sober little person went out presently and said: “Four and sixpence, if you please.”
“My, isn’t she smart?” said the flapper.
Jim paid the bill for the party and complimented Sharlie upon her cooking. “Your cakes were as nice as your piano playing. "That was a pretty bit you played.”
“You like Mendelssohn?” Sharlie was pleased.
Not knowing Mendelssohn from anybody else, Jim nevertheless managed to say the right thing. “I like tunes.”
“So do I,” said Sharlie. Somehow it seemed to constitute a bond between them. The party seemed impatient.
“Come on, Jim. Tear yourself away. It’s time we were thinking of stumping it.”
Sharlie, a little pink about the face, smiled inclusively upon them all and upon Jim especially, and walked back to the house. WTien she came out again to clear away she could see them straggling all over the road below, and the loud, empty laugh of the flapper came floating up to her on the hillside. A little frown settled down upon her forehead. His friends were horrid, and a man’s friends, in seme way, were a reflection upon himself. But at least they had none of them left tuppences beneath their plates. She liked them a little for that.
Then more people came to tea, two pleasant-mannered women who knew her country and loved it. They talked to her of Borrowdale and Far Greenup and Dungeon Gill and Aira Force and the Langstrath valley in which only the day before they had nearly got lost. The very names affected Sharlie with a delirious happiness that pushed all memory of Jim and his friends completely out of her mind.
A couple of days later Bessie sent her daughter into Grasmere to see her grandmother. Not that the old lady was ailing; she carried about with her, as do all the Westmorland folk, that intriguing air of a determination to live for ever. But Bessie had a sense of her duties and thought it as well to remember that the old lady was “getting on.” She was nearly seventy.
Sharlie coming into the Grasmere valley was stricken with a sudden desire to look at the view and walked up Red Bank for the purpose. And at the top sitting on the gateway where she had intended to perch, was a masculine figure gazing, not at the view, but down the road in her direction. She decided that it was not worth while to go on. and turning round, stood still to contemplate the view from where she stood. The old grey tower of the church with Helm Crag behind it. splitting the valley in two; the semi-circular dip of Punmail Raise and the Keswick road along which she had come, climbing its eastern side; the whole verdant valley lay stretched out before her, and just to look at it was somehow like quaffing a long, exhilarating drink. "I believe I should die if I ever had to live anywhere else,” she thought, and shut her mind against a sudden devastating vision of Blackpool.
“Good morning.” said an oddly familiar voice behind her. “You've had a long walk.”
She turned and recognized the young man of the tea party. One little bit of her was annoyed; another, curiously pleased and confused. She said good morning and smiled a tittle faintly.
"Often come to Grasmere?"
•Yes,” said Sharlie. "Isn't the view glorious? I climbed the hill t«o look at it.”
“Did you?” Jim smiled. “That's the sort of compliment I wouldn't pay any old view. My crowd’s gone up Helvetiye. So I'm stranded. Mean trick on my last day.” "You go back to-morrow? To London?”
"Rather. Good old London!”
She stared at him. There really were people who thought of towns like that? Howqueer!
“And why didn't you go climbing Helvellyn, too?” ”Not me—the jolly old hillock doesn’t interest me all that much.”
She was speechless with astonishment. She had never before heard Helvellyn referred to as a “hillock.” To her it was a very considerable mountain. It was true, of yourse. that there had been a girl at the Blackpool school zrhp had said: “The English Lakes? You live there? -Well, you wouldn’t think so much of them if you’d ever Jteen to Switzerland or Italy.” Only that was nonsense, of course. It must be nonsense. If not, what else was it? “Which way has
Îour party gone? ly Grisdale?”
He thought that was the name. “It’s easier from our end, from Wytlibum.” she told him. He said, f‘Oh, yes,” as though that was pne of the things he was perfectly willing to take for granted. He stood there, as she was well aware, surveying, not the view, but her. Feelj n g uncomfortable, she turned and moved away.
“I must be going.
I’m on a visit here.”
She said yes. He looked d is a ppointed. ‘‘I was hoping you’d take pity on me and come for a walk,” he told her. “Perhaps you’ll let me walk back with you instead?”
She didn’t want him to do anything of the sort, buc she hadn’„ the faintest idea of how to get rid of him.
Besides, one little bit of her rather liked him. Especially when his black eyes laughed at her in that genai fashion. Some-
how . then, his lack of reverence for her gods did not seem to matter.
They talked as they went. She told him that her father's people had lived in Grasmere for generations; that the grandmother she was going to see remembered the time when nothing on wheels could come into the village. Visitors from Ambleside came by the horse-path over White Moss. He had been to Ambleside, he told her, and up the Kirkstone Pass to some place or other—he forgot its queer name by coach. “A regular fraud,” he said. "We did a lot more walking than coaching, believe me. Why they don’t go round by the road at the top beats me.”
She laughed, omitting to point out that if you went that way you were missing the Pass you went to see. She saiil :
“Have you been to Dove Cottage?”
Yes. lie liked Dove Cottage. It had rained hard all ilay and he had especially liked the big fires they kept burning there. The jolliest things he'd seen in Grasmere. “Your views are all right, but they’re so damp,” he told her. She couldn’t think of the answer to that., so she said: “You don’t like it much up here?”
He smiled at her in open appreciation.
“There are some things I like quite a lot,” he said. "Pity you don’t live in Grasmere, you know, as well as your grandmother.”
She was not equal to this kind of conversation. She was relieved when she came to the point where she turned off to the further end of the village and might dismiss her cavalier.
“What time are you going home? Can’t I see you back?”
"She said: “No, thank you very much. My father is certain to come to meet me.” She held out her hand. “Good-bye.”
“Au revoir. Sounds more cheerful.”
“But you go home to-morrow.”
“I may come back next year.”
“Even though you don’t like the lakes very much?”
“Perhaps it won’t be the lakes I shall come to see next time.”
He smiled at her, and she felt suddenly very shy and afraid.
“Do you know,” he said, “I don’t even know your name?”
She told him and he made a little grimace.
“Charlotte! That wasn’t what I heard'your father call you.”
“No, I’m always called ‘Sharlie.* ”
“That’s better. That’s what I shall call you next time I come.”
“That will be better than ‘Miss,’ ” she said.
“That seems to have hurt you. What’s the matter with it? What’s wrong with calling you ‘Miss’?”
She wasn’t going to hurt his feelings by giving him the real reason. She laughed. “Well, because I don’t like it.” He laughed. “Never you fear,” he said, “you won’t be called ‘Miss’ for long, if you ask me.”
And suddenly she was shy and self-conscious again and anxious for him to be gone.
“But don’t be in too much of a hurry. Don’t get rid öf that ‘Miss’ before I come back next year.”
Her face was scarlet as she turned away towards the village.
She thought: I wish he liked the lakes better, and that his friends weren’t so horrid—and that he hadn’t offended Father.
And presently she thought: Of course he won’t come back. I’ve been silly and very easily flattered. I hope he never comes back.
But he did.
AND he remembered and called her Sharlie, just as he had said he would. He left his objectionable friends behind this time and stayed at the inn at Thirlmere, and for the whole of his fortnight managed to see a good deal of her, despite John Audrey’s not entirely silent disapproval. For the first week he was careful, platonic, discreet. The second week he made fierce and violent love to her which troubled the depths of her soul. She did not respond, but that did not discourage him. And after he had gone back to town his letters came at regular intervals.
She didn’t like them.
“What’s he find to say?” John Audrey demanded, “Do you answer them?”
“No,” said Sharlie. If Sharlie said it he knew it was true, and he was so relieved to hear it that he omitted to notice that she hadn’t answered his first question: “What does he find to say?” There were others he threw at her. “What do you see in him? It beats me. A clurk, you say he is. Racken there’s nothing very interesting about a job like that. What sort of people’s he got? Did he tell you that?”
No people at all. He was an orphan. He lived in rooms in a place called Pimlico.
“Has he asked you to marry him?”
She hesitated a moment, then, “Yes, Father,” she said.
“And you’ve refused him?”
“Yes. Father.” “Then what do all these letters mean? Don’t he Understand plain Etiglish7”
“And so it went
But when kP came up in the spring he wouldn’t take no for an answer. He swept her off her feet. There was a day up there in the jaws of Borrowdale she’d remember till she died. She was frightened delighted, frightened—
“I can’t marry you,” she said. “You'd want to live in London.” “’Course. A wife’s place is at her husband's side.”
“But I can’t live in London. I can’t live anywhere but here. I’d die.” "Sharlie. don't be a little fool. It’s what you get used to. You'll love London. I'll make you love it.”
He alternately bullied and persuaded her. She was thrilled into uneasy acceptance.
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A queer kind of ecstasy was born in her. Not until she had given herself to him, she knew, would it die down.
John Audrey raged and fumed.
“You’re under twenty-one. You can’t marry without my consent. And I don’t consent. You’re throwing yourself away. He’ll make you miserable. He’s not the man for you.”
Sharlie said: “It’s no use your talking like that to me. If you won’t consent, I shall marry Jim without it.”
She was mad, bewitched. She meant to have him, Bessie said. “He’s a Londoner, it’s true—but that’s no crime. He’ll take the girl away. Well, some one would do that sooner or later. It’s natural. And she’s old enough to be married. She wants children, too, maybe. And she’s made up her mind, so you can’t stop her. She’ll only run away if you say she shan’t have him. She’s as obstinate as you when she likes. Best give way if you don’t want trouble.
So eventually Audrey gave way. But he never smiled on Sharlie’s union, and never altered his opinion that she was throwing herself away; that she would live to rue the day.
ÍN THE following July Sharlie Audrey
became Sharlie Anderson and went to live in a six-roomed house in a south-west suburb of London, where there were no fells and valleys, but merely a long high street and row upon row of little houses all exactly similar. And for six whole months she forgot the sound and sight of Launchy Gill.
She went to Thirlmere for the Christmas. She had been married then five months. She looked happy, but paler. And she wasn’t going to have a baby. That was all that Bessie saw.
John saw a little more than that. He saw that the Sharlie he had known had disappeared. She was not dead. She was merely buried—smothered by this new strange Sharlie this young “clurk” of hers had called into being. John liked this new Sharlie a good deal less.
“She’s altered,” was all he would say when they had gone. “She’s not the same girl.”
“She isn’t a girl at all. She’s a woman,” Bessie had said. “You can’t expect to have her a girl all her life. She’s a wife. That’s natural, and pray God she’ll soon be a mother.”
Bessie was in a hurry. She was afraid that Sharlie wouldn’t be in time, that Death would overtake her before she held Sharlie’s son in her arms. But that was her secret. She wasn’t going to have people worried on her account.
Less than a month later Sharlie wrote that she believed she was going to have a child. “I’m not telling Jim until I’m sure,” she said. “It’s our secret.”
In the following September Bessie died. Sharlie’s child was expected the next month. Fate was as mean as that.
Unfit for travel and grief, Sharlie went north-west with a protesting husband. Jim had grown fat and seemed resentful —whether of Bessie’s death at that time or of the inconvenience to which he personally had been put, John Audrey could not decide; but he was shocked by the sight of Sharlie, and suggested that she should stay at Sandal Farm until her trouble was over. But, though he wanted her to stop, it enraged him to see the cool way in which Jim fell in with the suggestion.
By the quiet way in which Sharlie sat with folded hands, still as the mist outside that morning of Jim’s departure, John knew that something had happened—that the old Sharlie was coming back. He dimly understood that she was traveling a painful path and sat there looking at her and hunting for words.
And when they came they weren’t the right words at all. Sharlie heard them and burst into terrible crying.
“He doesn’t want me now,” she said when she grew calmer.
“He’s tired of you? There’s another woman?”
“No, not that. I’m just no use to him. He’s angry the child’s coming. He doesn’t want it.”
She could still hear what he sakl when she had told him. “You little fool!” He had expected her not to have children— to prevent it. He wanted a mistress, not a wife. She was shocked to the soul. After-
wards he had tried to make up to her, and had not understood that nothing could make up for this thing he had done to her. He thought she was obstinate, sulky, not knowing that he had killed something in life that she had cherished, and that nothing he ever did or said could bring it to life again.
Remembering these things, she sat there and cried on her father’s shoulder.
Her aunt, coming over from Grasmere to act as her father’s housekeeper, sniffed at the arrangement with which she was confronted. “The place of a wife at such times is in her husband’s house,” she pronounced. Nobody took any notice of her.
Sharlie’s child, a girl, was born on a wet October day when all the gills were working at full pressure and the countryside was filled with the music of running water.
She called the baby Jennifer. She did not know why, save that Jim had expressed no preferences and that she liked the sound of “Jennifer,” and that her father agreed with her. And when Jennifer was six weeks old Jim wrote that Sharlie was to come home. John wired:
“Sorry, not well enough.”
And two more weeks went by. Then Jim sent a telegram:
“Meeting the ten o’clock, please be on it.”
So Sharlie went home.
Fourteen months later her second child was born. It was a boy. Sharlie called him John. He was delicate and peevish, and Jim’s resentment grew against a wife who, it was evident, not only intended to saddle him with a family he didn’t want, but couldn’t even arrange that they should be hardy. After this second confinement Sharlie realized that her love for her husband was dead, and was terrified because she realized that his passion for her—and she realized it now for what it was—was not. And suddenly London was intolerable. Jim, who had made it a flowering garden, had made it now a desert. There were whole days when she heard nothing whatever but that old, faint crying in her heart for sweet things remembered.
ONLY her sense of duty kept her there at her husband’s side. She was no longer bewitched. She knew what had happened to her; for what a small thing she had thrown away the substance of life. But she meant to pay her own debts. During those first two years of her little son’s life it seemed to her sometimes that she was paying too heavily; that there must be a limit somewhere to the score fate was writing up against her. She was aware that Jim was drinking and she suspected other women. Then her suspicion became a certainty. She confronted Jim with a letter which proved his guilt.
“Well,” he said, “what do you intend to do about it?”
“I’ll not stand in your way,” she said. “You can go to her.” She tried not to show too plainly her gratitude to fate. Jim became maudlin and affectionate.
“I don’t want her,” he said; “I’ve been an idiot. Overlook it, Sharlie. You’re worth a dozen of her—if you weren’t such a bloomin’ little fool.”
She knew what he meant, but she also knew that she wasn’t going to be a “bloomin’ little fool” any longer. She wanted no more of Jim’s children; she wanted no more of him. But he wasn’t letting her go so easily. She saw that. He besought her to give him another chance. It hurt her like a knife-thrust to discover that he could still get at her; that though her respect for him had gone, though she knew this feeling she had for him for what it was, it was not entirely dead, as she had supposed. She took him back, gave him another chance. More, she destroyed the incriminating letter.
For the next year she tried in vain to hide from him the tact that their life together disgusted her; that she wdshed he would leave her alone. And he never left her alone. She grew to hate him.
So far as women and drink were concerned she believed he had reformed. She had nothing, there, against him now, hut she no longer cared for him in any way at all. She wanted to escape, but her sense of duty fettered her. She was aware that he thought her a fool and a Puritan; found it difficult to endure his mocking of her Continued on page 58
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standards of life, of what he called her I “hot air” ideas about love, which she got,
J he said, out óf books, and which made him j .sick. He blamed her because her children ! were delicate and continually ailing, because they were afraid of him, and because they were there at all to plague him. And she loathed his paltry design of marriage and wondered for how much longer she could bear to live with it.
He took care, it,seemed to her, to give her no just cause for leaving him. Once when she suggested a separatioiuhe scared her by telling her he would defehcbhimself. He would see -that she didn’t get the children. Not that he wanted them. He wanted her. In his horrible fashion he cared for her still. He reminded her that she had thrown away her chance of divorce, had condoned his fault and destroyed her evidence. She understood that I he never meant to put himself in her power again.
And all the time there went on tjaat faint crying in her heart to which she dared not listen.
One Saturday afternoon of a cold January day, something happened which I she had never expected. Her little son was recovering from a sharp attack of i bronchitis, and though Jim had come home early he had not managed to arrive in a good temper and the crying of the child angered him. It was a woman’s business to keep a kid quiet; why the devil couldn’t she do it? Her quiet look of scorn enraged him and presently he took the child from its cot and shook it savagely until it could scarcely breathe. Sharlie flew at him, all her outraged motherhood flaming in her face. She knew nothing save that the child might have died in his angry hands. What she said to him she never remembered, but from that day she never spoke j to him unless it was absolutely necessary.
: She had put up with so verymuch, but this i time he had gone too far—had done that which she would never forgive. And Jim, understanding this in his dull and stupid fashion, and angered by her obstinate withdrawal, took again to drink, came home in the early hours of the morning and generally went from bad to worse. Sharlie didn’t care. To him now there I was left no part of her that was vulnerable. Patiently and in silence she was laying her plans, waiting for a favorable opportunity to carry them out. And one wintry afternoon when the little London road was drenched in fog, it came.
JIM, unspeakably drunk, reached home at three o’clock and at once found fault with his dinner, spoilt by nearly two hours’ standing. Sharlie met his I reproaches and grumblings as she had come to meet them all—with the whitp, frozen silence which Jim found particularly aggravating. Suddenly he lifted Ms plate and flung it and its contents'“»t her. Her neat, white linen blouse waslàïl j bespattered and the edge of the platè caught her forehead. The skin was not broken, but a long red mark and a rapid swelling bore witness to the violence of the blow. Sharlie picked up the broken plate, swept the remnants of the meal into a dustpan and still maintained her silence. Jim, observing through his drunken stupidity that she was not seriously hurt, took off his boots and went upstairs, where ten minutes later Sharlie found him stretched across their common bed in a drunken sleep.
She knew that he would not waken for several hours, and at once determined that the plan she had been maturing for so long should that afternoon be carried out. She had laid her scheme, with herfather's assistance, very carefully, and within an hour every piece of furniture which belonged to her was removed from the house, and Jim was left to sleep oif his drink and his temper in a room divested of everything save the bed he sprawled upon.
The next day he presented himself at Sandal Farm. ‘ Perhaps he had really expected to find his wife there, which : only shows that Sharlie’s instinct to go south was a sound one. Furious, and not ! too sober, he was abusively emphatic that. Audrey was in the plot and could tell him, if he chose, where his wife was. But Audrey did not choose.
“You’ll get nothing out of me. if you sit there till doomsday.”
“She's my wife. The law's on my side. You put her up to this."
"You're wrong. Racken there’s no law in England will force a woman to live with i a man against her will. You had your
chance and you threw it away. Any other woman would have left you years ago. You’ve given her four years of hell and you don’t give her another minute of it with any help from me. Now clear out.”
“I’m going to find her,”'Jim declared, “if it takes me a lifetime.”
“That won’t give you a deal o’ scope way you’re going on. Ten years, I racken —if you’re lucky and don’t fall under a ’bus. Clear out of here.”
"I’m going to find her, I tell you. And when I do it’ll be something worse than hell I’ll give her. I’ll put a bullet through her.”
“Clear out,” said Audrey, “before I chuck you over the bank.”
“You’re going to put me up for the night.”
“I’m not an innkeeper. I’ve told you that before. You can sleep in a ditch— where you belong.”
Jim cursed and went. It was the last time Audrey ever saw him.
It was apparent the next morning where Jim Anderson had spent the night. Starting at the Old Hotel, his story had gone well round the neighborhood and Audrey straightened his back and stared the gossips out of countenance. He didn’t really care. Sharlie was out of that scoundrel’? clutches; the misery of the past years was ended. He would never find her.
The only drawback to the scheme these two had hatched between them was that Sharlie could not go back to her lakes and fells. She had known that Jim would start looking for her there and had deliberately gone south. But she had not expected that she would be banished for very long, and the reports that came to her of Jim’s unexpected appearances in the dales and villages were a series of crushing blows to her.
She did not like Devonshire, but she was happier there than upon her visits to Cumberland where the dread of discovery sat for ever in her heart. She knew that Jim could not force her to return to him; nothing and no one could do that; but there were things he could do, and his threat in regard to her children and the information she had gleaned as to her legal position frightened her. But so closely did she cherish the idea of a day when she might “go home,” as she phrased it, without fear, that she would not hear óf Sandal Farm being given up, so that her father might j oin her in Devonshire. She wanted some day to go back and to take her children; she dreamt that some day Sandal Farm should belong to her son, and she sent the boy and his sister frequently to Thirlmere, so that they, too, might come to know and love the hills and valleys for which she longed.
It happened, therefore, that at holiday times she was frequently alone in the little house that, standing right off the road, was accessible only through several fields used by neighboring farmers as pasture for their cattle. People said they would not care to live in so desolate a place; but Sharlie liked solitude, and though she might have felt safer in a town, have been less concerned that the impossible might happen and she be discovered, she would have been a good deal less happy. These were good years, in which her children grew strong and straight and learnt to believe their father dead. And, almost, Sharlie came to believe it, too. Surely, now, she might pluck up the courage to go back to her fells and lakes!
But somehow she never did. At the last moment something always held her back. She thought it must be that as Jennifer grew up she was so constantly reminded of Jim; for the girl, with her rich coloring and dark hair had a look of her father that served to keep alive in her mother’s heart that little spring of fear. Sometimes she began to believe that fate had decided against her—that she would never go back to the place she loved and could not forget. She even stopped going there for holidays because after them her nostalgia seized her in so cruel a grip.
Jennifer was nearly fourteen when she knew that she must stay here in Devonshire until her children were grown. Whilst they remained young and impressionable she would not take the risk.
It was in that year of Jennifer’s fourteenth birthday that Sharlie’slittle Devonshire village was disturbed by a robbery, with murder, at a house at the end of the cul de sac which ran up from the church. The murderer was not discovered, but John Audrey gave Sharlie no peace until she had equipped herself with a revolver and made sure that she knew how to use
it. It was like Sharlie to lock it away in a drawer and forget all about it. For the thing that worried her father and her friends was not the thing that worried her. It was not tramps she was afraid of.
So the years went by, the War dividing them like a curtain.
THE War, at least, had wrought no harm to Sharlie Anderson. There were even times when she wondered if it had wrought her a blessing. Had it resolved for her the problem of her existence? She wished she knew. But when she remembered that young man who had come a’wooing, whose death on the battlefield she could contemplate now so calmly, life seemed a shabby, heartbreaking affair.
But Sharlie was no sentimentalist. Neither had the years been over-crowded with thoughts of the genial, agreeable person with whom she had all those years ago fallen so desperately in love. For his existence had been so lamentably short, and of what came afterwards there had been so much. Yet even that Sharlie was learning also to forget. There were times when it seemed to her that the only grudge she bore Jim Anderson was not for the wrongs of the past, but for the way he had stood and was still standing, straight in the centre of the path down which she wanted to move—the road back to her beloved mountains and valleys. And even that would soon be now at an end. For her children were fast growing up and there would be nothing left to fear.
Jennifer’s engagement in the spring of . nineteen-twenty-four seemed to Sharlie a direct sign that the sun of her long banishment was setting at last. For though the girl was marrying a Devon man and would continue to make her home in the south, her brother’s ambitions lay in the direction of farming and Thirlmere.
“If Jen’s to be married in July, what’s to prevent us going up there immediately afterwards? I’ve had nearly two years’ experience down here and I’d be of some use to grandfather anyway.”
It was thus John put the case with some conclusiveness to his mother, who colored with pleasure like a young girl and agreed that she thought the plan an admirable one.
Fifteen years since that first page, blotted and smeared, had been turned down. Surely the dread in her heart might now lie down and sleep? Surely, if John went to Thirlmere that summer she might go, too? What harm could—he—do any of them now? Fate would not now lift the page. Fifteen years is a long time.
So, whilst Jennifer made the plans for her marriage, Sharlie made plans for the accomplishment of the thing she had wanted for so long to achieve. Life had become a very wonderful thing. She was so happy she could not sleep at night. Her excitement burnt in her cheeks and in her eyes so that her children laughed at her and teased her.
“Anybody’d think it was you who was going to be married, darling,” Jennifer said. “I believe you’re positively glad to get rid of me.”
Sharlie blushed guiltily, and for a moment her heart stood still. Why, she had scarcely thought about Jennifer’s side of it. Had she, then, seen only what she had wanted to see? Had she encouraged this marriage only because it would bring her nearer her own heart’s desire? But a glance at Jennifer’s radiant face dispelled these thoughts. She was only nineteen, but she was the sort of girl who knew her own mind. And you couldn’t push her into anything. Besides, her young farmer was everything Sharlie could have desired her daughter’s husband to be. She had known him for years—as long as she had been in Devon. For Jennifer and he had been at school together.
Fifteen years. It was a long time.
But not too long, it seems, for fate.
IT WAS just a week before Jennifer's marriage day, and Sharlie had seen the girl set off across the field to meet her lover, who was coming back to tea. The table in the little sitting-room was carefully set with its polished china and brightly-glinting silver. It was a beautiful afternoon in mid-July, and Sharlie sat there alone, a book on her knee. She was as fond of reading as ever, and this book was so interesting she had not minded in the least when John, too, had gone off for the afternoon.
Sharlie was still a young woman, and to look at her was to decide that she had Continued on page 62
Continued page 59 ,11. fifteen years ago, to take her ¡ life into her own hands. Her hair was still frown, her skin smooth, her eyes bright. As she sat there reading she looked happy and contented, a woman I with no regrets.
She was so interested in her book or in her thoughts, perhaps, that she did not hear the sound of approaching footsteps until they crunched the gravel beneath her open window. Taken by surprise, she looked up. Strangers did occasionally take the trouble* to come across those three fields which shut her I off from the highway, but it was something unusual if they walked up to the window instead of knocking at the door.
Site stared at the unkempt head beyond the sill.
“Can you give a poor man a drink of water, missis, and a lump of bread and cheese?” asked its owner.
Sharlie did not reply. She went on staring at the head. She knew that her heart was contracting with dismay. For this man’s face, for all its dirt and growth of hair, was strangely familiar. She could not be mistaken. Only one man in the world had eyes of that blackness and lashes of that length.
She had a wild impulse to rise and slam the window, to bolt and bar the house. But still she sat there, looking straight into those bold, black eyes in the dirty, unshaven face so near her own; and even as she sat, like a rabbit fascinated by a [ snake, she saw the light of recognition steal into them.
The face smiled.
“So I’ve found you at last, my beauty, have I?” said Jim Anderson, and in sudden terror Sharlie got up from her seat and made one frantic rush to shut and bar the window. But he was too quick for her. In a second he had leapt on to the window-sill and was insinuating his big, ragged-clothed body into the room. She stood in the middle of the floor, helpless, her mind in some strange fashion noticing with a sharp pang the havoc he was making of her pretty muslin curtains.
He dropped to the floor and took the chair she had just vacated. He smiled and crossed his legs. “That was a slim ! trick you played me all those years ago,” he said. “A deep one, you are, Sharlie, my girl—always were. But I knew I should find you one of these days. I told that precious father of yours so; but the war interrupted me a bit. The war! Suppose you thought that had finished me, didn’t you? Well, it didn’t. I didn’t get as much as a scratch. That makes you wild, I’ll be bound.”
Sharlie said nothing. She felt as though in an instant she had turned to stone.
Jim steadily regarded her.
“Still got that old trick, I see, of keeping quiet and looking scornful. Bit old for it, aren’t you? Lord, but it’s queer running across you in a hole-andcorner like this—about the last place I’d have expected to find you in—”
He glanced round the neat, tastefully decorated room with approval. “But now that I’ve run across you so unexpected, I’m not disposed to grumble. Not a bad idea to stop here a bit. You seem in a comfortable way of business—that I will say. Besides, you owe me something for that dirty trick you played me. A nice way to treat a man, that was. By the way, my dear, there isn’t husband number two, is there?”
Sharlie found her tongue.
“You think that you made marriage so attractive to me that I should risk a second experiment?”
“Been faithful to my memory, have you? Lord, it’s more than I can say of yours. Still, you didn’t get sent to France.” He sat there chuckling.
SHARLIE’S despairing eyes looked at the clock. There were just twenty minutes before Jen and her lover would be in for tea. What on earth could she do? Something -anything—that would prevent either of them learning that this creature with a three-weeks’ growth of hair on his face, his bloodshot eyes and his thick, uneven speech, was Jen’s father. And John? She had forgotten him. Her heart sank. What, in heaven’s name, could she do?
“Upon my word,” Jim went on, looking at her still with that air of approval, “you haven’t altered much. As good-looking as ever. You wear well. Fifteen years is a long time, you know.”
“But not long enough for you or I to have found anything to say to each other,” Sharlie told him. She saw that he was not listening, that his attention was taken at the moment by the sight of a snapshot upon which his eyes had fallen. It was of Jennifer and Arthur; she had taken it herself that spring afternoon, when they had all gone picnicking in the woods—Haynes’s woods, which she loved, because there was a running spring that sang.
Jim got up from his chair, moved over to the mantelshelf and took down the little frame. He screwed up his eyes at the photograph it contained, as though, for all their boldness, the sight of the black eyes had, with the years, grown defective.
“My word, and that’s a pretty pair to be sure,” he observed. “And that’s my daughter, is it, the daughter you’ve kept away from me all these years. What’s become of the boy? Dead, I suppose? Sickly brat. Girl looks hefty enough—I don’t know that I shan’t be proud of this young woman. She does us credit, my dear. Don’t she now?” Sharlie said nothing. Jim went on. “And is this the poor fool who’s going to marry her? Handsome young buck, anyway. Well, I wish him joy. If the girl’s anything like her mother, he’ll have a good time—till she’s tired of him.” The color came creeping like a tide up the dead whiteness of Sharlie’s face. “Get out!” she said.
“Get out!” said Sharlie again.
Jim put back the photograph and stood there smiling at her.
“Now, don’t be unreasonable, my dear. We’ve got a lot to say to each other, you and me. I’m not disposed to bear you any grudge for what you did to me all those years ago, so long as you’re reasonable. That’s all I ask. You took a mean advantage of me—did the dirty on me. Well, here I am, back. If you don’t feel pleased to see me, you can’t deny I’ve got some sort of right to see my own children. And I’m going to stop here and make myself known to ’em, right away.” Sharlie looked at the clock. Ten minutes now. With luck, ten minutes. They were never unpunctual; they respected her household god. Ten minutes in which to get rid of him. And if she didn’t?
If she didn’t, she would brazen it out. She would deny his story; most probably he had no proofs upon his person. She had a sudden vision of Jennifer’s frank young face. Jennifer wouldn’t be easily lied to. She had a way of dragging the truth up out of you. And she wouldn’t be afraid of it. Whatever it did to her she would acknowledge it, Sharlie despaired.
“Jim Anderson,” she said, “take yourself off. If you don’t, you’ll find things unpleasant for you. Tramps are not encouraged in these parts.”
Jim laughed. “Tramp? A tramp, am I? Well, I ain’t got any great liking for my present get-up, my dear, I’ll own. Comes of serving a grateful country. Chance for you to do the handsome by me. I’m your lawful husband—you can’t get away from that. And it wasn’t I done the deserting. And don’t you forget it.”
Sharlie’s face was not good to see. The passion in her dark eyes brimmed over. Her hands, tightly clenched behind her, trembled in spite of herself.
“I give you five minutes to clear out,” she said.
“And supposing I refuse, my dear?” “You won’t refuse if you are wise.” Unimpressed, Jim laughed. The covert threat frightened him as little as it deceived her. For she was conscious of no plan of action. She felt numbed, her brain would not work, and over and over again she was repeating to herself: “What can I do? What can I do?”
Half unconsciously, however, she was edging nearer the door, and as though he thought she was going to run out and call for assistance, the man put out a hand and seized her by the neck of her dress. She resisted him, and the sharp tear of the fabric assailed her. The color rushed to her face. Jim laughed. With all her might she resisted him, and a little china bowl fell headlong from the mantel shelf and shivered itself to pieces upon the tiled hearth.
“Let me go, you brute,” Sharlie said, and with her right hand caught him a blow between the eyes which by the
very surprise of it sent him staggering back to his chair.
THE sudden weight of his body sent it into splinters, and he sprawled grotesquely. He got to his feet slowly, his face congested with anger and mortification, his eyes red, like coals, and slowly he advanced toward her, a leg of the chair held in a murderous grip. With his free hand he seized a small table and pushed it before him, penning her into a corner.
Fear mounted to white panic, an hysteria wherein instinct alone survived and Sharlie retreated, fingers writhing with horror of him. Relentless ferocity stamped his sodden face as he advanced, cutting off retreat, and pressing her agaihst the little oaken desk by the door.
Her blood beat in her ears, her hands rattled behind her against the wood, as she read in his suffused eyes, in the whitened knuckles around the chair leg, the answer to her years of fear. Then her shaking fingers touched a key—the key to the drawer in the little oaken desk in which, so long ago, she had placed the loaded revolver.
Her eyes never left Jim’s face. With a quick in-breath she turned the key, pulled the handle ever so slightly, her breast heaving, eyes stormy, dark with desperation. He was smashing down the work of her whole life, making straw of her years of effort, snatching from her that hope of peace among her fells and valleys. He was giving her no chance at all to be pitiful. He was forcing her to do this thing. Her fingers could feel the cold steel of the revolver.
She met his sudden lunge with a hand at his breast. His right arm flashed upward. He towered like a giant and, with the roar of the pistol, like a giant he crashed at her feet.
FOR a moment or two Sharlie looked wildly around the little room and backed away in horror from the prone, ragged-clad figure on her floor. Then, throwing the weapon aside, she forced herself into some semblance of calmness. Hurrying across the window, she looked out. In the distance she could see two figures running. It was a quiet afternoon and that shot would have carried. She recognized the ¿reen of Jennifer’s frock. There was just time. She came back to the side of that still figure, knelt on the floor, placed her hand beneath the tattered, filthy coat and listened for the heartbeat. There was none.
And across her well-swept carpet a thin, red stream was beginning to flow. She felt very sick.
Bracing herself to the effort, she ransacked the dead man’s pockets for any paper or document which could reveal his relationship to her. But she found nothing save a dirty handkerchief and the remains of his last meal. She got unsteadily to her feet, avoiding that thin, red stream as she would have avoided the plague, and feeling dreadfully sick. Very carefully she disarranged her neatly-set tea-table, added to the displacément of the furniture and staggered to the porch just as Jennifer and her fiance came up.
“The shot!” Jennifer cried. “Mother, darling, you’re not hurt?”
Sharlie was marvellously calm.
“A dangerous character,” she said. “I had to defend myself. The revolver went off.”
“Is he hurt?”
“Dead. Arthur had better go for the police.”
But Arthur went in and looked at the scene of the operations whilst, quite unnecessarily, Jennifer supported her mother.
“Nasty - looking customer,” Arthur said, presently emerging. “Jolly plucky of you, Mrs. Anderson. You two mind staying here while I go to the station?” Sharlie leant her head back against the wall of the porch and said nothing. She seemed not to hear. Jennifer leant forward and took her hand.
“Mother, darling, are you afraid?” Sharlie moved her head, sat up and smiled.
“Afraid?” she said. “My dear, I think I shall never be afraid again, as long as I live.”