THE END OF THE SUMMER

It was a golden day in September, which is perhaps the most beautiful of
all English months, though touched with a gentle melancholy that may be
either soothing or saddening, according to circumstances. Regarded as
the time for taking up a new spell of work or duty after the relaxation
of summer holiday, it is a delightful month, especially when the
surroundings in which the work is to be done are such as existed at
Royd. The Grant family had returned from the seaside and the
Vicar-novelist was positively revelling in his enjoyment of home, and
declaring that the best day of a holiday was its last. He had acquired
a splendid idea for a novel which should excel all previous novels of
his by many degrees, and put into the shade a large number of novels by
other writers who had hitherto enjoyed a success in advance of his own.
He had sat down to write the first chapter on the morning after their
arrival at the Vicarage, and felt to the full the restful charm of his
clean, comfortable room, with all his books and conveniences around him,
and the garden outside in the full coloured glow of its autumn
profusion.

Jane and Pobbles had resumed their studies under the guidance of Miss
Minster, and if they were without the experience of satisfaction on that
account which their father enjoyed, there was yet satisfaction to be
gained from returning to the society of Harry, to whom they had an
enormous amount of information to impart.

Harry had also begun work again. The next three months were to be
strenuous ones for him, with many hours to be spent with Wilbraham and
many more with an army coach who had been called in to supplement
Wilbraham’s deficiencies. This was Mr. Hamerton, an obscure man of
middle age, who hated coaching embryo subalterns, hated the society of
women, and enjoyed life only when in the embrace of the purest of pure
mathematics. He was probably the most serenely happy of all the
inhabitants of Royd Castle at this time. His hours with Harry were
strictly defined, and his pupil, though not an enthusiast in mathematics
as he would have liked him to be, showed intelligence and application.
The house was not always full of fresh people with whom he had to begin
all over again, and he was not expected to spend valuable hours in
desultory and desolating conversation with the ladies of the house
itself, whom he met only at meal-times. He had most of his time to
himself in the large quiet house, which he seldom quitted, and Harry had
given up to him his room in the tower, from the top of which he could
observe the stars through a telescope of more respectable dimensions
than it was customary to find in a country house. Mr. Hamerton,
retiring to the absolute seclusion of his room, and the hours of
undisturbed study or astronomical contemplation so happily accorded him,
would rub his hands with furtive glee over his good fortune in having
obtained such employment as this; and the relief to all other members of
the household in having him out of the way was unspeakable.

Harry was with the children in the log cabin. They had been home a
fortnight, but this was the first time that they had succeeded in
drawing Harry there, though they had raced up to it themselves at the
first possible moment after their return.

It was Saturday afternoon. They had had a picnic tea, with the “billy”
boiled on a fire made of sticks outside, and everything in orthodox
backwoods fashion. Jane and Pobbles had looked forward to it enormously,
but somehow it had not been quite the success that they had anticipated,
though Harry had made himself very busy with the preparations, and on
the outside everything had seemed to be as it had been before they went
away. Now he and Jane were sitting on the bench outside the cabin,
while Pobbles had reluctantly retired to fulfil a half-hour’s engagement
with Miss Minster, consequent upon some scholastic failure on his part
earlier in the week.

The two of them had been talking, as they had been wont to talk, playing
with the idea of such a life as this as a real life and not a
make-believe. But the virtue had gone out of such play for Harry. Even
now, as he did his best to respond to Jane and not to let her see that
his heart was no longer in any game, he was thinking of the last time he
had sat where he was sitting now, with Viola, and talked in something of
the same way, but with how different a meaning behind the talk!

The talk died down. In Jane’s sensitive little soul was the knowledge
that Harry’s heart was not in it. She looked up at him and saw his eyes
fixed on something beyond the green and russet of the trees in front of
them, and caught the look of yearning in his face.

“Aren’t you happy, Harry?” she asked. “I’ll go away and not bother you,
if you’d like me to.”

He turned quickly to her, full of compunction that he should have failed
her after all. He had been so determined that the children should see
no difference in him. Why, indeed, should there be any towards them? He
had looked forward to their return after Viola had gone away. His
affection for them, because of their childhood, was in some ways nearer
to his love for Viola than other affections of his life; they would
console him for the loss of her. And they had done so; but his longing
for her was so great, and no consolation was of much avail to ease it.

“Of course I don’t want you to go away, dear,” he said. “I’d rather
have you with me than anybody. No, I’m not unhappy—perhaps a little sad
sometimes. Lots of things have happened since you went away, you know.
I shall be going away myself before long, and as long as the war lasts
nothing will be quite like what it was before.”

“Is it only the war that makes you sad?” she asked. “If there’s anything
else, I wish you’d tell me, now we’re alone together. Of course, with
Pobbles I suppose I’m rather like a boy, and with you, too, when we’re
all three together. But I’m not always like that—inside, I mean. I’m
really more grown up than you’d think.”

Harry put his arm around her thin shoulders and gave her a fraternal
hug. “You’re a dear,” he said. “I don’t really think of you as like a
boy. There’s something comforting about your being a girl, though I
don’t think about you as being grown up, either.”

“Well then, tell me, Harry,” she said, coaxingly. “We’re real friends,
aren’t we? I’d tell you if there was anything that was making me
unhappy. I suppose I should tell mother first, but after her I’d tell
you—because we’re friends.”

The inclination came to him to pour out his burdened heart to her, but
he put it aside. She was a dear loyal little soul, and it would assuage
his longing to talk to her about Viola; but he could not burden her with
a secret, to relieve his own burden. “I’m not really unhappy,” he said,
“only rather sad. There is something—perhaps I’d tell you if you were
older, because we’re friends. Anyhow, being friends with you makes me
less sad. I didn’t mean you to know anything.”

“Of course I should know,” she said. “But I won’t ask you any more if
you don’t want to tell me.”

He smiled at her affectionately. “You’ll be the first person I shall
tell when I tell anybody,” he said. He thought for a moment, with a
frown of concentration. “I don’t think there’s any harm in our having a
little secret together—one of our play secrets. If I ever have anything
rather important to tell you—something that I shouldn’t want other
people not to know, but I should like to tell you first—I shall come
here very early in the morning and put a little note just under the
window sill, in the crack, do you see?”

“Oh, yes,” said Jane, her face alight. “That’ll be lovely. I don’t
mind your not telling me now, Harry, if you’ll do it like that, so that
I shall know before anybody else. Thanks ever so much.”

The return of Pobbles at this moment, with his soul as emancipated as
his body, changed the current of their conversation. For the rest of
their time together Harry was all that he had been as a companion, and
Jane exercised a more rigid control over Pobbles than the women of a
family usually bring to bear upon the men. But every now and then she
looked at Harry with a glance that belied the extreme masculinity of her
deportment. How much did she guess, with her budding woman’s mind and
her wholly woman’s sympathies? Nothing of the truth, it may be
supposed; but her instincts told her that there was a change in him that
would not pass away through the solution of any difficulty that might be
troubling him, and that he would never be quite the same as he had been
before.

Others had noted it besides Jane. The Grants and Miss Minster talked it
over that evening as they sat in their pretty drawing-room after dinner,
to the adornment of which had been added an old walnut wood bureau and a
pair of Sheffield plate candlesticks, brought home as spoil from the
seaside town where they had been staying. Grant’s eyes rested on them
with satisfaction many times during their conversation. The war might
be entering upon a stage which promised a far longer and harder struggle
than any one had hitherto anticipated, and royalties as well as other
payments might be affected by it; but Grant’s royalties had come in
lately to an encouraging extent and there was still good old furniture
to be picked up at bargain prices if you kept your eyes open, and plenty
of room in the Vicarage for more.

Not to appear to be criticizing our clerico-novelist too severely for a
detachment that was shared by thousands who were afterwards personally
drawn into the turmoil, it may be said that nobody at this time, unless
it was those at the very heart of it, gauged the immensity of the
disaster that was settling down upon Europe and would presently involve
the whole civilized world. In future years, with the knowledge of the
more than four years of war that were then still to come in retrospect,
it will be difficult for the student to understand just how life was
altered and how it remained unaffected, and the slow stages that England
passed through until there was nobody anywhere whose life remained what
it had been before the war.

In those early days there was immense interest in the incidents of
warfare, more, indeed, than was taken at a later date, when the lock of
vast armies on a line that remained very nearly the same until the end
had reduced the expectation of surprise; the papers were eagerly read
every morning for the hoped for news of decisive success, but unless
there was a personal interest in it, as there was not at this time at
Royd, the war did not obscure other interests, or even affect them.




The advent of Mr. Hamerton had brought the approaching change in Harry’s
life more into evidence. “I think he’s taking it all very seriously,”
Mrs. Grant said. “Thank goodness he is too young to go and fight, but,
of course, it will bring it nearer to him, going to Sandhurst; and,
anyhow, it will be a great change in his life.”

“I think he is worrying a bit that he’s not old enough to go and fight,”
said Grant. “Most boys of his age—nearly old enough, but not
quite—would feel like that about it.”

“He has changed a good deal since we went away,” said Mrs. Grant. “He
seems to me older altogether. I think the children feel it too. He’s
just as sweet to them as ever, but Pobbles said this evening that he
wasn’t nearly so much fun to play with.”

“Pobbles brings everything to that test,” said Miss Minster. “If he
does not mend his ways, I anticipate an evil future for him.”

“You’ve always been hard on Pobbles,” said Mrs. Grant. “There’s very
little that’s really wrong with Pobbles.”

“Thanks chiefly to me,” said Miss Minster. “I’m inclined to think that
there’s friction again at the Castle. Poor Mrs. Brent was as lugubrious
as possible when she came yesterday, and Mr. Wilbraham has the same
disagreeable air as he used to go about with earlier in the summer.”

“That’s true about Wilbraham,” said Grant. “He has been seeing a great
deal of a London artist who was lodging at Mrs. Ivimey’s on the common.
Perhaps it has made him discontented with his lot here once more.”

“Has he said anything to you about it?” asked Mrs. Grant.

“No. Curiously enough, he didn’t seem to want to talk much about the
artist. He just said that he was an interesting fellow to talk to, but
they’d decided not to ask him to the Castle. He had his daughter with
him, and I suppose they’d have had to ask her too, though Wilbraham
didn’t give that as a reason, and only just mentioned her. But he seems
to have gone up to talk to the father most afternoons.”

“You know the village gossip about the artist, don’t you?” said Mrs.
Grant.

“I don’t encourage village gossip,” said the Vicar.

“How very superior you are!” said Miss Minster. “I love it.”

“Perhaps you would rather I didn’t tell you what they say, dear,”
suggested Mrs. Grant.

“I think it’s my duty to hear it,” said the Vicar with a grin.

“Well, they say he was a hard drinker, and the number of empty bottles
he left behind him was past belief.”

“Perhaps Mr. Wilbraham went there to drink with him,” said Miss Minster,
“and that accounts for his moroseness.”

“You oughtn’t to say a thing like that,” said Grant. “Wilbraham is a
teetotaler. None of them drink anything at the Castle.”

“Perhaps that’s why he liked going to see the artist,” said Miss
Minster, impenitently.

“And he doesn’t even drink a glass of claret when he lunches or dines
here. No, you ought not to say that, even in fun. I think what’s the
matter with him is that his teaching of Harry is coming to an end. Of
course he has been here for many years, and I suppose he’ll have to look
about for something else to do. I don’t suppose he really likes handing
Harry over to Hamerton for a lot of his work. In fact, he said as much.
He’s devoted to the boy.”

“Everybody is,” said Mrs. Grant, “and at the Castle everything centres
round him. Poor Lady Brent seems more stiff and stand-offish than ever.
I suppose she feels it too, that everything she has lived for, for years
past, is coming to an end, and now it will be tested whether she has
been right in bringing a boy up as she has Harry, shut away from the
world.”

“I shouldn’t call Lady Brent stiff and stand-offish,” said Grant.

“I only meant in everything that has to do with Harry. One would like
to talk to her about him, but——”

“Surely she’s always ready for that!” interrupted Miss Minster.

“Only on the surface. She wouldn’t think of telling one anything that
she must be feeling about the future. Oh, I do hope everything will turn
out right. It is dangerous to keep a boy shut up as Harry has been, but
I think it will pay with him. He’s good right through, and he’s a
splendid boy too—physically, I mean.”

“A good man on a horse,” said Grant, in a voice indicative of quotation
marks. “Yes, he’s not been mollycoddled. I’m afraid he’ll have some
rude shocks when he gets among other young fellows of his age, but he’ll
be just as good as they are in the things that young men admire, and he
has a fine character to carry him through. I hope she’ll be justified
in the course she has taken. I think she will.”

September wore itself out, to the sadness of October, but in days now
and then the boon of summer seemed to linger. Early one sunny morning,
when the grass was drenched with dew and sparkling gossamer curtains
hung upon all the bushes, little Jane ran through the garden and up to
the wood where the log cabin was.

The day before Harry had come to tea with the children in the
school-room. They had had an uproarious game together afterwards, and
Pobbles had said that it was more fun to play with him now than it had
been before the holidays. Jane, too, had felt that there was a
difference in him, and had been not the least uproarious of the three.
There was a weight removed; perhaps Harry would tell her what his secret
was now.

Harry had kissed both her and Pobbles, who was just not too old to take
the attention as anything but a compliment on saying good-bye. He had
said nothing to Jane, but had given her a quick look which she
interpreted at once.

That was why she had got up as early as possible that dewy, sparkling
morning and was running to the cabin as fast as her long thin legs would
take her.

Between the board which formed the sill of the window and the vertical
half-logs beneath it was a space which she had often examined before,
but with no result. Now she drew from it a piece of folded paper. It
was Harry’s promised message to her—first of anybody:

“Dear little Jane—I’m off to be a soldier. Good-bye, dear, and love
from HARRY.”

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