MRS. BRENT KNOWS

Royd Castle was empty, except for the servants, for the first time for
twenty years. Everybody had gone away, including Lady Brent, who,
however, was not very far off, for she was only visiting Lady Avalon for
a few days at Poldaven.

To the Grants, left to themselves, after the unusual amount of society
they had lately enjoyed, there was a sense of emptiness, though their
own summer life was in full swing, and the Vicar had a bright new idea
for a novel, which was keeping his thoughts happily employed. There were
to be a young man and two girls, and nobody was to know which of the
girls the young man was really in love with until the last chapter.

“Of course I got the idea from those three,” he told his wife, “although
it couldn’t be exactly like them. Harry and Sidney might be, but the
second girl would have to be older than Jane, but still rather young.
She would be a sort of confidante of the other two, who would be
inclined to fall in love with one another. Then she would gradually
find that she was in love with the young man herself. I should make it
rather pathetic, but not overdo it, of course. She would keep her
feelings to herself, out of loyalty to her friend. I haven’t quite
worked it out yet, but the reality would come in a flash. The young man
would find that it was she he was in love with. I shouldn’t be able to
leave the other girl in the air. There might be somebody else for her.
It will come all right, now my brain has begun to work on it. I should
have to make her very charming, so that it would seem as if the man
_must_ be in love with her.”

“You mustn’t make it too like Harry and Sidney,” said Mrs. Grant.

“Oh, I should be careful about that, though their way with each other
has been very attractive to watch. They’re so frank, and so completely
friendly—a very delightful pair of young people I call them. It would
be much more effective to have young lovers behaving like that to one
another than the usual sort of love affair that one meets with in
fiction. The odd thing about it, though, is that they have parted now
and nothing has come of it all.”

Mrs. Grant laughed. “Perhaps it’s because they weren’t lovers after
all,” she said, “and were so frank and friendly with each other because
they weren’t. You must be careful about that, David.”

But he would not admit that Harry and Sidney weren’t in love with one
another. It was clear for everybody to see. Of course Harry was rather
an exceptional young man. That was plain from the way he had come back
to Royd as if he were master there already. There was tremendous
strength of character in him, and even Lady Brent recognized it, and did
not seek to direct him in any way. It was very likely that he had made
up his mind that it would not be right to engage himself to Sidney until
the war was over. But it was also likely that they had an understanding
between themselves. It could hardly be otherwise.

“He has certainly altered,” said Mrs. Grant. “He goes his own way as
one would hardly have expected of him in some respects. I don’t know
why he should have wanted to be with Mr. Wilbraham for a week before he
went to France. Poor Mrs. Brent was rather sad about it, especially
when he wrote to say that he was not coming down again.”

“And now she’s gone posting up to London to get hold of him. I’ve no
patience with Mrs. Brent. She has greatly deteriorated. Well, I must
be getting on with my work. I shall very soon be ready to make a start
on the first chapter.”

Jane had been very subdued in demeanour since Sidney and Harry had both
departed, and frequently sought her mother’s company. She came to her
this morning, when her lessons were done, and sat with her in the garden
as she worked.

“Did father say that there was going to be a great attack on the Germans
soon?” she asked, after a little desultory conversation.

“It has been expected for some time. I suppose it can’t be long before
it comes now.”

“I suppose that’s why Harry’s leave has been cut short. Will there be a
great many of our people killed, mother?”

“I’m afraid so, dear.”

“Harry might be,” said Jane. “He’s very brave.”

“You mustn’t let yourself dwell on that, darling. He has been spared so
far.”

“Did you know he had been wounded?”

Mrs. Grant looked at her in surprise. “Not seriously,” she said.

“Sidney and I both think he was, though he wouldn’t tell us, and said we
weren’t to talk about it. Have you noticed he always keeps his sleeve
buttoned when he’s playing tennis?”

Mrs. Grant hadn’t noticed particularly, but said that she remembered now
that he did.

“Well, he’s got an awful great scar in his arm. We saw it once by
accident. A Turk did it with a bayonet. When we found out, he did tell
us a little, and about the time he was in hospital. He told us about an
orderly who had been frightfully good to him, and said he saved his life
when he was very ill, by nursing him all the time. He liked to talk
about him; his name was Tom Weller. Sidney thought he couldn’t have been
so ill just from a wound in the arm, and then he said he’d had a little
shell wound in the body, but he wouldn’t tell us any more. We think it
must have been a serious one. We found out afterwards that he didn’t go
to hospital for his bayonet wound at all.”

Mrs. Grant was conscious of a feeling of surprise and some discomfort.
She knew that Harry was not likely to fail in any of a young man’s
courageous work, and yet she had thought of him as having got off
lightly, except in the hardships of a trooper’s life. And that he had
never mentioned even the actions in which he had been wounded seemed so
to accentuate the division that he had made between himself and those
who loved him. He might have died and they would have known nothing.
Apparently he had been very near to death. She wondered whether Jane
had any theory to account for his unusual reticence about himself.

“I’m very glad Lady Brent will hear about him now,” she said. “It’s
dreadful to think what might have happened when they couldn’t have got
to him.”

“Well, they couldn’t, anyhow, when he was in Egypt. He says it was much
better that they shouldn’t have been anxious about him, and as it turned
out there was no need to have been anxious. I must say I’m rather glad
we didn’t know, though it’s horrid to think of our enjoying ourselves at
home when Harry was nearly dying. Sidney and I both told him that we
wanted to know everything about him now, and he promised to.”

“To write to you?”

“Yes; or to let us have a message. You see we’re real friends, mother
dear. We’ve had a lovely time together and enjoyed ourselves
frightfully; but it hasn’t been quite all enjoying ourselves. Sidney
and I both know that Harry dreads things. I don’t mean being wounded,
or anything like that. But everything is so different for him. What we
both got to know was that he wanted it to be like it used to be here as
much as ever it could be. That’s why he won’t talk about the war. We
could make him forget it; so we were sometimes more lively than we
really felt. I’m sure I don’t feel at all lively now.”

Her mother stole a glance at her, as she sat with a calm face looking
out in front of her.

“Well, darling,” she said, “you’ll have Harry home on leave again. I’m
sure both you and Sidney have done a lot for him since he’s been home
this time. There was a sort of strain on him at first which wasn’t
there afterwards.”

“Did you notice that? I’m very glad. Of course Sidney did more than I
did. She was with him more, and she’s older. But they were both very
sweet to me. I think I did help. I love them both. I love Sidney. I
wish——”

She broke off abruptly. “I think I can guess what Sidney’s secret is,”
said her mother, after a pause. “I think she meant me to, you know,
when she told you you could tell me that there was a secret.”

Jane looked at her eagerly. “I don’t suppose she really meant me not to
tell you,” she said.

“If I’ve found it out for myself, she wouldn’t mind you talking about
it. I shouldn’t mention it to anybody else. I thought, when you told
me, that perhaps she was in love with somebody, and that was why you and
she and Harry could all be friends together so happily.”

Jane breathed a sigh of relief. “Yes, that’s it exactly,” she said.
“How clever you are, mother! I’m glad you knew. His name is Noel
Chancellor. I’ve seen his photograph. He is very good-looking, but of
course not so good-looking as Harry. I can’t help thinking that if
she’d never seen him she would be in love with Harry.”

“Perhaps. But it doesn’t always come like that. And he’s not in love
with her, you see, though there’s nobody else, for him.”

“No, he isn’t.” Jane spoke very decisively. “She’s such a dear that I
did think once that he might have been a little, although he knew about
Noel, without being able to help it. But he’s not the least little bit.
I don’t know how I know that, but I do.”

“I suppose you know that they think he is, at the Castle.”

“Oh, yes. And Lady Avalon will be annoyed when she finds out. But we
can’t help that.”

Mrs. Grant smiled. She loved that “we” that came into Jane’s speech.
“What about Lady Brent?” she said. “You were such friends with Lady
Brent before Harry came home.”

“I am still. Of course she wouldn’t say anything to me about that. I’m
not quite sure that she does expect it. At any rate, I know she was
glad for me to be with them. She knew all right that we were helping
Harry. Lady Brent sees a lot, though she doesn’t talk much.”

Mrs. Grant found food for thought in this, and shared it later with Miss
Minster. Neither of them had ever been able to make up their minds
finally about Lady Brent.

“Supposing she doesn’t really expect anything to come of it!” she said.
“I’m inclined to trust Jane when she thinks that she doesn’t.”

“I’ve liked her much better since she took Jane into her confidence,”
said Miss Minster. “I’m sorry for her now. I think she lays her plans
deeply and then has to sit and do nothing while she sees them fail. But
it needs a lot of self-restraint to sit and do nothing. Yes, I’m sorry
for her.”

“You think Jane is right then?”

“I don’t know. Lady Brent would look farther than most people. She
wouldn’t need to look much farther than I do in this. What I think is
that Harry isn’t ready for it yet, and won’t be till the war is over.
When that oppression is removed from him I think he’s quite likely to
fall in love with Lady Sidney. That’s what I think, and I shouldn’t
wonder if Lady Brent thought the same. Then it wouldn’t make her quite
so superhuman as she appears. She’d just be waiting.”

This view could not be combated without disclosures. As far as it
affected Lady Brent it seemed to be the best explanation of her
attitude. “Anyhow she’s a wonderful woman,” said Mrs. Grant, “and I
also like her better than I did, although I never disliked her.”

“The person I don’t like so well,” said Miss Minster, “is Mrs. Brent. I
hope we’ve seen the last of her here for the present.”

But they had not, for almost immediately she had spoken a telegram was
brought in from Mrs. Brent, announcing her arrival that afternoon, and
asking Mrs. Grant to take her in, as there was nobody at the Castle. She
also asked Mrs. Grant to meet her at Burport, which seemed to indicate
that she had something of importance to disclose to her.

She looked scared and unhappy as she greeted her friend on the platform.
“I hope you didn’t mind my asking you to put me up,” she said. “I
believe she’s coming back to-morrow, and I wanted to have a long talk
with you first.”

By “she” Mrs. Grant understood her to refer to Lady Brent, whom she
seldom referred to in any other way. “I’m very glad to have you,” she
said. “I hope nothing is wrong. Have you seen Harry?”




“I’ll tell you when we get into the carriage.”

When they were settled and driving away, she said: “Have I seen Harry?
I think you’ll be surprised when I tell you how and where I’ve seen him.
I’ve never had such a shock in my life. I don’t know what to do about
it. I had to come straight down to see her. She must deal with it. I
can’t; it’s beyond me. I only hope it won’t be beyond her. I must tell
you all from the beginning.”

She entered into a long explanation of how she had written to Harry at
Wilbraham’s flat where he was staying. He had come to see her, and had
been kind but had seemed annoyed with her for coming up to London when
he had not expected it. He had told her that he was very much engaged,
and could not see much of her before he went abroad. He had not
vouchsafed any account of how he was engaged, but had come to see her
once again, in the morning, but had refused to stay to lunch or to make
any engagement for the evening. She spoke with some resentment, and not
as she had ever spoken about Harry before. It was as if she felt more
annoyed at being neglected than sorry at not having him with her.

Mrs. Grant sat silent, and she entered on another long explanation about
the Bastians, and her early friendship with Bastian’s wife. Then Mrs.
Grant began to be extremely interested.

“What possessed me to find out all about them just at this time, and go
to see the girl, I can’t think,” she said. “I think it was Providence
leading me. I’d forgotten all about Mrs. Clark, the woman they lodge
with, being Mrs. Ivimey’s sister, and fortunately—or unfortunately—she
didn’t open the door to me. The maid said she was in, but had a young
gentleman with her. She looked rather knowing as she said it, and I
thought it would be amusing to see what the young gentleman was like.
You can imagine what I felt when she showed me into the room and I found
Harry there.”

She looked as if she expected an exclamation of surprise at this climax;
but Mrs. Grant had already been prepared for it by her rigmarole. “That
explains a great deal,” she said. “I suppose they had met here.”

“Yes, two years ago, when Harry was a boy—hardly more than a child.
Could you believe it of him, and keeping it secret all that time, and
ever since?”

“What happened?” asked Mrs. Grant, adjusting her thoughts to many
things.

“They were sitting side by side on the sofa. I never had such a shock
in my life. I could only stand there and stare. She jumped up, of
course. I hadn’t given my name, and she didn’t even know who I was.
Harry looked very black, and stood up too. It was as if a sword was
piercing my heart to see my son look at me like that.”

She paused for a moment. It occurred to Mrs. Grant that she had
rehearsed her tale beforehand, and that phrase had come to her as an
effective one. It did not seem to represent what she was actually
feeling, though it may have represented what she thought she ought to
feel.

“I could only gasp out, ’Harry! You here!’ He said, ’Yes, mother!’
Then he took hold of the girl’s hand, and said, ’This is Viola. We have
loved each other for a long time.’ That was absolutely all he said, and
she said nothing, but just looked at me, as if she was frightened, as I
dare say she was.”

“Oh, I hope you——”

She did not continue. Mrs. Brent would tell her what she had done.

She did not tell her at once, and Mrs. Grant’s heart sank as she
expatiated further on what she had felt. “The very thing,” she said,
“that we’d all sacrificed ourselves to prevent, during the whole of
Harry’s boyhood. I was absolutely _stunned_. There they stood hand in
hand in front of me, and waited for me to say something. And what
_could_ I say? Harry—my boy! And a girl like that! Oh, I shall never
get over it. And I can’t think what _she’ll_ say, though there’s one
thing—she can’t blame me for it.”

Mrs. Grant had been thinking rapidly. She had heard about Viola from
Mrs. Ivimey. Her impression of her had been of a very young and
beautiful girl, of whom nice things were said naturally. It needed some
little effort of imagination to connect her with Harry, and certainly it
was rather surprising that Harry, of all people, should have cherished
that kind of secret. But the picture of the pair of them standing there
hand in hand waiting for the speech which she dreaded to be told had not
come rose before her. “Oh, he couldn’t have gone on loving her for two
whole years unless she was sweet and good,” she said.

Mrs. Brent bridled in offence. “That didn’t come in when _I_ was
married,” she said. “She’s no better than I was. Her mother wasn’t
brought up as I had been, though there was nothing against her. It
simply can’t be allowed. _I_ can’t do anything. Harry won’t listen to
me. This girl has taken him away from me. Of course it’s all explained
now—why he was so different to me when he came home—oh, and why he
didn’t write, and everything. He wrote to her. He _is_ different.
She’s made him so. He isn’t like my son any more. I’m only thankful
that it didn’t happen, or at least I didn’t know about it, while I was
living down here.”

It seemed probable that she was congratulating herself that the whole of
her interests in life were no longer bound up in Harry. This was no
very comforting thought to Mrs. Grant. “I wish you’d tell me how it
ended,” she said.

“It ended in Harry being very unkind to me,” she said, with the first
signs of real emotion. “He said that if I had taken the girl as my
daughter—as if I could have done that!—all the difficulties would have
been ended. As it was he would not see me again before he went to
France. Young people are very cruel. I’m his mother who have been
everything to him, and now I’m nothing. I came away and left him there.
It’s all over for me. I’ve lost my son, and this girl who isn’t fit for
him has got him. But I don’t think she’ll be allowed to keep him. I
shall see her to-morrow. She won’t be pleased at the end of all her
plotting and scheming. But I shall be surprised if she doesn’t think of
_something_ that will put an end to it.”

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