AFTERWARDS

Lady Brent and Wilbraham sat by the fire in the hour before dinner. The
summer had quite gone now. The rain, driven by a gale of wind, was
lashing the window panes. There was an impression of luxury and shelter
in the handsome closely curtained room with the wood fire on the hearth
and the soft light of lamps and candles. But there was little sense of
comfort in the hearts of its occupants. Lady Brent knitted as she
talked, and to outside view there was no sign of the sadness and
emptiness which lay upon her and over the whole house. Wilbraham was in
frowning, sombre mood. They talked in low voices. It was a week since
Harry had left them, but they had not yet begun to get used to his
absence. Their life went on, but it seemed now to be devoid of all
meaning. It was almost as if death had come to the house and its shadow
still lay on it.

“I hope you won’t go,” Lady Brent was saying. “After all, your tutorship
of Harry was only part of your life here. You have been one of our
little family for over ten years. I should feel Harry’s going more if
you went, too; and so, of course, would Charlotte.”

Wilbraham stirred uneasily. “It is very kind of you to put it like
that,” he said. But her words had not removed the frown from his face,
and he did not say that he would stay.

There was silence for a time. Then Wilbraham said, suddenly: “Do you
remember that evening at dinner when Harry asked about hurrying up his
training, and you told him that enlistment wouldn’t be the course for
him to follow, whatever it might be for others?”

“Oh, yes, perfectly. Why do you ask?”

“Because afterwards, when we were alone together, he came back to it.”

“Ah!” she said. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

He gave a short laugh. “I thought you’d ask that,” he said. “I wish I
had, sometimes, though I doubt if it would have made any difference.”

“What did he say?”

“He began by saying that he was going to ask me to do something for him.
I could do it or not, as I thought right, but I wasn’t to tell you about
it in either case.”

She was silent, and her needles clicked steadily. But there had been
the slightest pause in the regular sound of them.

“It was only to save you and his mother anxiety,” Wilbraham hurried to
say. “I had to give the promise, or he wouldn’t have told me what was
in his mind. It was to find out for him whether it was possible to get
his commission sooner by enlisting. Well, I said at once that I
couldn’t do that behind your back, and I told him that it was impossible
in any case for him to enlist before he was eighteen. He seemed to be
satisfied. In fact, he said that he had only wanted to be quite sure
that he was leaving nothing undone that he could do. I thought it was
off his mind. He never said anything more to me about it.”

“Well, I think you acted rightly,” she said, after a pause. “I had
thought it all out. It had seemed to me possible that he might come to
think it was his duty to enlist, as the war went on. I had asked myself
whether it would be right to keep him back, if that happened, and had
come to the conclusion that there was nothing to be gained by his
enlisting—from his point of view, I mean. It seemed to me as I said
then, on the first opportunity for saying anything, that—well, you heard
what I said. I thought he had accepted it.”

“So did I. I’m glad I’ve told you, but I’m not sure that you could have
done anything. I believe he was satisfied to leave it alone then. It
came to him afterwards—not that he could hurry up his training as an
officer, but that it was his duty to go off and get into the lines as
quickly as possible. He knew you wouldn’t sanction that, and I’d
already told him that you’d have the power to stop his enlisting. So he
thought it all out for himself, and kept his own counsel.”

“That is what happened,” she said, calmly. “I have thought that out,
too. I think he was right, you know—dear Harry.”

He looked up in surprise at this.

“I couldn’t have sanctioned it,” she said. “And yet I should have
sympathized with him—much more than he had any idea of. I’m proud of
him. But, oh, how I wish he could have trusted me a little more.”

She laid down her work on her lap and gazed into the fire. Wilbraham
was stirred by her utterance, so unlike her, with her calm self-control
and entire command over all her emotions, to which even now, after years
of knowing her, and the springs of her conduct, he had small clue.

She took up her work again, and spoke with as much calmness as before.
“I’ve sometimes asked myself,” she said, “whether I wasn’t getting so
much interested in carrying out a great experiment as to forget what it
all tended to. But I don’t think I can fairly lay that to my charge. I
have loved the boy too much to treat him just as the object of an
experiment. If at any time I had thought that I—that we—were not doing
rightly by him in keeping him here away from everything that might have
prepared him for the future, in the way that other boys are prepared for
it—I should have given up the idea, and let the world in on us—and on
him. At the beginning I don’t think I had any thought of carrying the
seclusion as far as I have done. That was only to have been for his
childhood. But it has been so fascinating to see him grow up here and
only become stronger and finer as he got older. I don’t think he has
missed anything that would have been for his good. Anything that he has
missed has been made up to him in other ways. His intense love of
nature—none of us have been able to share that with him to increase his
love for it, but I have watched it with a glad heart. It has seemed as
if my plan had been helped by it, in a way I couldn’t have expected—or
at least not to that extent. And the way the people all love him here!
He had got right down into their hearts as he couldn’t have done unless
he had lived with them day after day, all the year round, and for year
after year, so that they have been his friends outside his home, and not
people away from here or coming here from time to time with whom they
could have no concern. Everything has encouraged me to go on. Even the
extra freedom that he has taken to himself of late has pleased me. He
hasn’t felt himself fettered. He has had the life he wanted, and surely
it must have been the best life one could have given him, if it has made
him so happy.”

“Yes,” said Wilbraham. “He has made himself happy, and he can be
trusted.”

The unhappy look on his face had not lightened during her long speech,
and he spoke now as if to reassure himself that what she had said was
true. Ever since Harry had gone off before dawn on that morning a week
ago, leaving messages of love and farewell for his mother and
grandmother, he had been asking himself the meaning of it, and whether
it was right for him any longer to keep back from Lady Brent what he
knew about Harry and she didn’t.

How much had Viola had to do with it? Nothing, he was sure, in
persuasion of Harry. But Wilbraham knew that his love for her had
changed the whole current of his life. Perhaps he wouldn’t have gone
off like that if he had never seen her.

If Wilbraham could have made up his mind to tell Lady Brent everything,
he would have been able to gain from her some consolation in return. He
needed it at this time. She was the only person who knew of his
temptation, and she had been good to him about it in the past.

The poor man was going through a bad time on his own account. Perhaps
he was just emerging from it, but its effects were still heavy on him.
After seeing Viola and her father together, in an atmosphere so
different from that in which he had first seen Bastian alone, he had had
a vivid sense of shame, which had increased after he had seen Harry.
The idealism of their fresh youth had made his own lapse look very ugly
to him, and still more the knowledge which he had not admitted to
himself until later that he was still playing with the idea of drinking
with Bastian, though rejecting the possibility of being caught once more
in the toils.

But the toils had caught him, though that first glass of whisky that he
had drunk with Bastian had also been the last. Village gossip, if it
connected his name with that of Bastian as a big drinker, had done him
an injustice. He had gone to see Bastian two or three times, and had
told him straight out the first time the truth about himself. Bastian
had treated the confidence with ready sympathy, and Wilbraham had never
seen the whisky bottle while he was with him. He had said that he
didn’t really care about it himself, which Wilbraham took as a speech of
politeness. If there was foundation for village gossip, he must have
given cause for it at other times of the day.

Bastian might be able to drink or refrain from drinking at pleasure, but
for poor Wilbraham the mischief had been done with that one glass. He
had had periods of longing of late years, always at rarer intervals, but
none of them had been so strong as this. He was tortured; sometimes he
was on the point of asking Bastian for God’s sake to give him something.
He was drawn there in a way he could not explain; his irritated brain
rejected reasoning, and he would not keep away. It was certainly the
fact that he had drunk spirits at the cottage that attracted him, and
yet he was fighting the desire all the time. But once again he talked
to Viola there, and he had thoughts of Harry always before him. When for
the last time he saw Bastian and said good-bye to him he knew that the
danger of a fall was over.

But the craving had continued. Bastian had been gone nearly a month,
and he still felt it, though now it was at last getting weaker. There
was no danger of falling at Royd. There was no public house there, no
wine or spirits were drunk at the Castle, and he had attained enough
mastery of himself to have no temptation to go further where he could
get drink.

His own troubles had prevented his mind from being filled with thoughts
of Harry, and he was now blaming himself for a possible carelessness
towards signs which might have shown him what the boy must have been
making up his mind to during the last month. He had seen him sad, after
Viola’s departure, and he had never mentioned her name to Wilbraham, as
he had done once or twice before. So far as Wilbraham knew, no letters
passed between them. The post-bag came to the Castle once a day and was
unlocked by Lady Brent. It would have been unlike Harry to arrange for
letters to be sent to him through a secret source; Wilbraham was pretty
sure that he had not done so.

In his effort to distract his mind from the urgency that was riding it,
Wilbraham had gone about among the tenantry more than usual. He had
kept his ears open for signs that Harry’s meetings with Viola had become
known, and could find none. He had gone to see Mrs. Ivimey once since
Bastian’s departure, and she had been loud in her praises of “the young
lady.” She had even said that if things hadn’t been as they were, by
which he imagined her to be alluding chiefly to Bastian’s drinking
habits, she and Sir Harry would have made “a pretty pair.” Wilbraham
was sure, from her way of saying it, that she had no idea, or suspicion,
of their having met. The woods were of great extent, and, apart from a
few rarely frequented paths and rides, almost as little known as when
they had been primeval forest. A few woodmen were employed in them, but
at this time they were at work felling at the other end of the manor.
It seemed almost certain that no one had ever seen the two together.




Harry’s sadness would pass. He was still a boy, in years hardly more
than a child, and Viola was no older. If they were thrown together over
years, their young love might ripen into the love of a life-time; as it
was, it would probably die down to a fragrant memory—a love-idyll of
summer woods, happy and innocent, but no more than the budding of love
in the tender hearts of two pretty children. Wilbraham even thought
that Harry might have put it aside from him, at least for a time. His
poise of mind was so in advance of his years that it would not be
surprising if that were so. He had thrown himself ardently into the
three months’ work asked of him, and if he was no longer merry and
light-hearted, as he had been, he seemed to be in full possession of
himself and concentrated in purpose. By and by, when Wilbraham had
passed through his own troubles, he might talk to him about Viola, and
find out how it lay with them. At present there seemed to be nothing to
do but to follow Harry’s example and concentrate his mind upon the
important business in hand, which was Harry’s preparation for his coming
examination.

So Wilbraham had thought and so he had acted, with a troubled longing
for the time when he should once more be free of his own burden. But
now he doubted. One thing was fairly clear. By going away Harry would
be in touch again with Viola as he could not be at Royd. Wilbraham did
not suppose that to be the sole or even the chief reason for his going
away, but it had probably counted in his decision.

Harry had ridden off on his horse, before dawn, probably some hours
before dawn, for nothing had been seen of him in the country in which he
was known. He had worn his oldest riding suit, and as far as could be
said had taken scarcely anything with him. His short note to his
grandmother, and longer letter to his mother had said that he was going
to enlist, and it was supposed that he intended to offer himself and his
horse to a cavalry regiment. He begged that no attempt should be made
to follow or to stop him doing what he had fully made up his mind to.
He would write in a few days, when affairs had been settled for him, but
after that he would not write at all until he had won his commission in
the field. He made no apology for taking the decision into his own
hands, and offered no explanation of it. But it was plain that he meant
to run no risk of being prevented from following out the course he had
laid down for himself.

Mrs. Brent had been full of lamentations. Lady Brent had taken it very
calmly, though the shock it was to her had been apparent in the
seriousness and sadness of her manner. A few inquiries were made as to
whether Harry had been seen riding away, and then they had waited for
his promised letter.

It came on the fourth day, with a London postmark. He had been accepted
for enlistment. He was in barracks, well and happy. His letter—to his
mother—was of the shortest, but contained expressions of affection which
did something to soothe her trouble.

On the outside his action was that of a spirited boy who had made up his
mind to go off and fight and was not to be hampered by the fears and
objections of his elders. But to Wilbraham there was more in it than
that. He thought that Harry might have made up his mind to the course
he had taken if he had not met Viola, but that he would not have carried
it out in quite the same way. Then, his mother and grandmother would
have been the only people whom he had to consider. Now they hardly
counted. He had acted, if not with want of kindness, still with
something of the insensibility of youth towards the claims of its
elders. They would not hear from him again for months, perhaps for
years—though a lapse of years seemed unlikely at that time. But Viola
would hear from him. It was hard on the older people who loved him.
Wilbraham knew that it was bearing hardly upon Lady Brent.

“I might find out something about him if I went to London,” Wilbraham
said, after neither of them had spoken for a time.

She looked up at him quickly, and laid down her work. “I should be so
glad to know where he is,” she said. “I should like him to know—if it
were only possible to get it to him—that I should make no effort now to
go against him. I could, you know. It would not be difficult to find
him; at least, it would not be impossible. But I shall take no steps to
override his will. If he knew that, surely he would not want to keep
himself cut off from us! He could write, and before he was sent abroad
he could come here for a few days. Oh, if only you could find out where
he is, and let him know that!”

“I’ll go up and try, if you like,” said Wilbraham.

It had surprised him a little that she had not asked how or where he
would try. He would go straight to Bastian, whose address he knew, and
see Viola. In making the offer he had half intended, if she pressed
him, to unburden himself to her about Viola. He did not know whether he
was relieved or disappointed that she asked him no questions. She
seemed to be too excited to think about it, though she did say, later
on, that he could go to Mr. Gulliver, the Brent solicitor, but that if
he did so Mr. Gulliver was to be told not to interfere with Harry’s
actions.

“The sooner the better,” said Wilbraham. “I’d better go up to-morrow.”

She made no demur, and was silent for a time. Then she looked at him
kindly, and said: “There’s no danger for you now, is there?”

He was overcome with a wave of self-pity, brought out by the sympathy of
her tone. “I’ve been through a bad time,” he said. “I think it’s
coming to an end. I don’t think there’s any danger now.”

“I’ve seen it, of course,” she said, “and have been very sorry for you.”

He had not thought that she had noticed. Some explanation seemed due to
her. “I did drink some spirits,” he said, with a gulp. “Just once. I
thought I was safe, but it brought on the craving. I’ve had my lesson.
I know that I’m different from other men now. It’s not in my power to
be temperate. It has to be nothing at all from now onwards.”

“I think it’s the only way,” she said. “And for years together here you
haven’t missed it, have you?”

“No,” he said. “It was very wrong to do it at all. I’m ashamed of
myself—after you’ve done what you have for me.”

One thing she had done was to go without wine at table, except on the
rare occasions on which there had been guests at the Castle. That had
been for his sake, and he knew it well enough, though she had never
mentioned it. She deserved his confidence.

“It was when I went to see Bastian—the artist,” he said. “After the
first time I told him how it was with me, and he never drank anything
himself while I was with him.”

“In the village they say he was a heavy drinker.”

It surprised him to hear that she had heard about Bastian. When he had
told her that there was no necessity to ask him to the Castle, she had
seemed to lose all interest in him, and had never mentioned his name
since.

“I should think he drinks a lot,” he said. “He did when I was with him.
But he seems to be one of those men who don’t get caught by it. To say
he is a heavy drinker would be rather unfair. He has his young daughter
to look after, and I think he’d be careful what he did for her sake.
He’s a gentleman, though he seems to have come down in the world, and a
man of refinement.”

He was feeling his way towards a confession. She had been so kind to
him, and so wonderful in her understanding of what had impelled Harry to
the course he had taken, though it had hit her hard, that his
inclination was to tell her, and trust her to take the view of it that
he had taken himself. But there was a fence to take before he could
make a clean breast of it. He had given no promise to Harry, but Harry
had trusted him to keep his secret. It might be right to tell Lady
Brent of what had happened, but Harry would not think so. It wanted just
the slight pressure, unconscious on her part, of what it would bring
forth, to overcome his reluctance to give away Harry’s secret.

So he gave her an opening to ask him about Bastian, and about Viola.
But she did not take it. She seemed to be thinking of something else.
“It would be sad,” she said, half indifferently, “if his drinking were
to affect a young daughter. I think I should like you to go to London
to-morrow. It would be a great comfort to poor Charlotte to know where
Harry is; and to me, too. And to be able to get messages to him.”

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