AUGUST

Harry stood at a window of his room in the tower, looking out on to the
trees, which tossed and struggled against the gale. Heavy clouds were
racing across the sky and at no long intervals gusts of rain rattled
against the westward window.

Harry had asked for this room as his own a year or two before. It
filled the whole space of the tower on its top story, except for the
corner in which was the spiral stone stairway, and had windows on all
four sides. In front was the park, and from this height could be caught
a glimpse of the sea across the tops of the trees beyond it, but this
afternoon it was blotted out by the grey mist which seemed to take the
colour from everything, though the month was August and the deep rich
tones of the woods would ordinarily have stood out boldly. Below the
three other windows lay the long irregular roofs of the ancient house,
with the courtyards enclosed, and the outbuildings, the gardens, the
orchard,—a fascinating bird’s-eye view containing all sorts of curious
surprises. Harry had never been tired of it as a child, and found it
interesting now, though it had ceased to hold any new discovery. The
room had not been used until he had taken to it, though it had contained
some old pieces of furniture. He had added to them whatever had taken
his fancy from the many unoccupied rooms of the house, and brought
whatever he wanted for his own pursuits here. He was never disturbed in
this room, and never entered it except when he wanted to be alone. He
did his work downstairs in the room that was still called the
schoolroom; he read in the library, where Wilbraham usually kept him
company; he sat and talked with his mother and grandmother in the rooms
they occupied. It was of the essence of this room that he could be
alone in it when he wanted to be alone, which was not very often, for he
was no recluse. If the elders had made themselves free of entrance to
it, its charms for him would have gone; but Lady Brent had said that it
was to be his only, without his having asked more than that he should be
allowed to have what he wanted in it. “It’s right that he should be
able to get away from us sometimes, indoors as well as out,” she had
said to Mrs. Brent. “He’s not to feel himself chained to our society.”

Harry stood at the window, looking out not upon the courts and gardens,
laid out beneath him, but across the trees to where the sea was, if he
could have seen it for the mist. It was holiday time with him. He had
come up here after luncheon thinking to make out the treasure island map
that he had promised to Jane and Pobbles before they had gone away to
the seaside. This was part of a game they had invented, sitting in
their log cabin one wet afternoon. Harry was by no means above games
that were no more than games, though he was too old to turn reality into
a game, and this was a fascinating one that they had hit upon
together—the designing of the ideal island upon which the vicissitudes
of life might one day cause them all to be wrecked. They had
contributed its features, one by one—sandy beaches, and coral pools to
bathe in; bread-fruit and grapes and oranges; a great hollow tree
halfway up a mountain that they could make into a house, as was done by
that didactic but resourceful Swiss of the name of Robinson; a hidden
hoard of treasure which would include gold cups and plates and dishes
for domestic use; a spring of miraculously clear water, discovered just
when they were dying of thirst, and slightly flavoured with pineapple
(this was Pobbles’s idea); a hut in which a marooned sailor had left
behind him every sort of tool that could come in handy, he himself
having been taken off the island, on Jane’s suggestion, so as to avoid
the nuisance of a skeleton: these were a few of the amenities that were
to be found on this accommodating island, and they were increased every
time the subject came up for discussion. Harry had promised to draw a
map for them, including the already settled geographical features, and
adding any others that might occur to him in the meantime. He had drawn
the outline of the island on a handsome scale, and inked it in
carefully. Then he had got tired of it. The eager pleasure of the
children was wanted to give salt to this game. He could not employ
himself for a whole afternoon over it.

He missed those little friends of his, especially Jane, with her quick
ways and eager loyalty, which made her so companionable, though never
tiresomely clinging, as is the way with admiring children. He had not
known how much they had come to mean to him during this last year in
which they had been his constant companions, until they had gone away
and he had been left to the society of his elders. Between him and
Wilbraham, especially, there was some community of taste. He owed a good
deal of his love of fine literature to Wilbraham, and there was much
that he could share with him that was beyond the understanding of the
children. They were only children, and he had told them none of his
secret thoughts. Jane was very quick of understanding, and had
developed considerably during the year he had known her; perhaps he
might have come to confide some of them to her if they had ever been
alone together. But Pobbles was her inseparable shadow, and he had
never wanted it otherwise. With all their immaturity, they appealed to
the spirit of youth in him, and their companionship gave him something
that he could not get from his elders. That was why he missed them so
much on this wild wet afternoon, when he was debarred from his usual
pursuits out of doors, and there seemed to be nothing worth doing
indoors. And yet it was not them so much that he missed—though he did
not know it—as the companionship and inspiration of answering youth.
Perhaps they had had something to do with arousing the need of it in
him, but they were too young to satisfy it. He had been supremely happy
in his childhood and youth—far more consistently happy than most boys of
his age, and happier than he consciously knew. But the time for that
life was coming to an end; unless some change came to him he would gain
less and less contentment from it as he grew older.

He had not yet grasped the magnitude of the change that was even then
all around him, and would soon draw him, as an atom in the whole
sensitive world, into its vortex.

For the great war had begun. As Harry stood at the window, the German
hordes were over-running Belgium and France, England was hurrying
feverishly into the breach, throughout the length and breadth of the
country nothing else was talked of but the war; only here and there in
some remote place the menace of the great conflagration was unheeded as
yet; but very soon there would be no place where its weight did not
fall.

It was talked of at the Castle. Wilbraham already had his maps up in
the library, and his little flags to stick into them. He and Lady Brent
disputed about it over the table. Wilbraham thought it would all be
over, and the Germans taught their sharp lesson, in a few weeks. Lady
Brent, remembering similar prophecies about an immeasurably less
formidable enemy fifteen years before, thought it would be longer. It
might take a whole year to bring it to an end. Longer it could not
take, because all Europe would be bankrupt if it did. They argued quite
impersonally. They would not be touched by it themselves.

Harry had not caught fire over it yet. His life had been quite divorced
from anything that went on in the world outside Royd, except in what he
had learnt from books. Neither home nor foreign politics meant anything
to him, and he never looked at a newspaper, except in idle moments. His
one regret was that the war would be over before he should gain his
commission, in two or three years’ time. That seemed to be agreed upon.
At present there were no individual deeds to excite his imagination. He
took but a languid interest in it as yet, though every day there seemed
to be some increase in its importance. This afternoon it weighed a
little on him, with all the rest, but a break in the clouds would have
set his mind free of it, and for the moment of every other vaguely felt
dissatisfaction.

There was no sign of any break in the heavy clouds, but some weather
sense which he had acquired in his open-air life gave him the feeling
that the storm was nearing its end. At any rate, he must go out,
whether it cleared or not. He was getting mopy, shut up in the house.
He knew by experience that that rare feeling never persisted when he was
once out of doors.

A furious gust drove the rain against the windows and blotted out all
the landscape as he turned to leave the room; but he felt better already
for his decision. He would go for a gallop towards the sea. It would be
invigorating to have the rain and the wind in his face, and perhaps the
storm would be over by the time he reached the shore. It would be grand
to see the sun break over the waves, and watch them dashing themselves
against the rocks.

He put on his oldest breeches and gaiters and a riding raincoat and went
out to the stables. He told no one that he was going out, wanting to
escape dissuasion from his mother and grandmother in the drawing-room,
and Wilbraham in the library. They let him take his way in these
matters, but it was not to be expected from middle-aged human nature
that he would be allowed to go out in this weather without some
remonstrance.

He had two horses of his own, Clive, a bay, and Circe, a black blood
mare, and his own groom, Fred Armour, the head coachman’s son, who was
only a year older than himself, and a friend of his lifetime. Ben, his
big black retriever, who followed him everywhere, had already expressed
his delighted agreement with the sensible course he had shown himself
about to take. He knew he was admitted to the house on condition that
he did not raise his voice in it, and beyond a few subdued yaps of
appreciation he had followed Harry downstairs with no more than ecstatic
wrigglings and sweeps of his feathered tail. But, once outside, his
enthusiasm broke loose and brought on the scene other members of his
race at a loose end for something to do. There was a terrific canine
commotion as Harry called for Fred, and the first thing to be done was
to bring disappointment to all but Siren, a deer hound, and Rollo, a
Great Dane, by shutting them up again. The three bigger dogs could keep
up with Circe, galloping freely; the others must reserve themselves for
expeditions when the blood was less insistent on rapid motion.

Fred Armour, a cheerful brown-faced red-headed young man, neat and
active in his stable kit, seemed also to have been affected by the
dismal weather, for he did what was required of him without his usual
grin or ready flow of words. It was not until he had saddled and
bridled Circe and brought her out that he said: “I’m off to-morrow, Sir
Harry. Father’s said yes, and her ladyship has given her consent,
though she don’t like it.”




Harry stared at him, holding the mare, who was dancing with impatience.
He understood nothing until Fred told him that he was joining up with
the County Yeomanry—the first man on the Royd estate to go, or, as it
seemed afterwards, to think of going. The time had not yet come when
the call for recruits penetrated the out-of-the-way corners of England.
Harry was surprised, as his grandmother had apparently been, that Fred
should have thought of going. But his impulse was one of envy when he
was told about it, not of dissuasion. “I’m nearly as old as you,” he
said, “but it will take me a couple of years to get my commission. It
will all be over by then.”

“Yes, I suppose so,” said Fred. “But there’s a lot to be trained, in
case they want them. I shall come back when they’ve done with me. Her
ladyship says I can, though she’s upset like at my wanting to go.”

Harry had something to think about as he rode out into the park, and
after a sharp canter over the drenched grass, with the rain and the wind
fretting the mare so that it was all he could do to hold her, slowed to
a trot as he entered a ride through the woods. It was not so much of
the war. Fred would have a few months of training as a trooper, and
then he would probably come back; he was not, after all, greatly to be
envied there, and Harry had no particular wish to hurry on his own
longer training, since the time was so far distant when he could expect
to get his commission. But Fred had told him of others who were likely
to follow his example now that the ice had once been broken—another lad
from the stables, two from the gardens, some from the village. A cousin
of his, from some distance off, who had already served in the Yeomanry,
had joined a regular cavalry regiment, and was already in France,
fighting. It was from him that the impulsion had first come.

It was a fine thing to respond like that to your country’s call, almost
before it was sounded. It was what Harry’s own forefathers would have
done, and had done in many an instance that he had read about in old
books in which he had pored to find out what he could about the knightly
stock from which he had sprung. They would have collected their
servants and tenants around them and ridden off at their head to offer
themselves—a small band, perhaps, but a sturdy one, well horsed and
equipped and well versed in the man’s business of giving and receiving
blows. It could not be quite like that in this war, when boys of his
age, even if capable of raising their followers, would have to go
through the mill of learning and training before they could be of any
use. But the readiness with which Fred’s cousin had been accepted and
sent out to fight disturbed him somewhat, both on his own account and on
that of the men and youths who owed him allegiance. There was nobody in
the village of Royd or on all the wide Castle lands, so far as he knew,
who had done any of the soldiering that is open to young men in times of
peace. Supposing he himself had been of full age to fight, he would
still have had to wait until he had learnt his business, and he could
have given a lead to nobody. Why hadn’t it been suggested to him that
he should join the County Yeomanry, or why had he not thought of it
himself? The Sir Harry of the time of the Napoleonic wars had been in
command of it; almost every man of his tenantry had belonged to it. Now
it drew its recruits from other parts of the county; no one from Royd
had served in it for a generation or more. It had never occurred to him
that it would be a good thing for him in his position to do so.

Royd was ruled by a woman. That was the explanation of this lapse in
its ancient duties and responsibilities, now for the first time
apparent. And he was ruled by a woman, though the yoke had hitherto
been but lightly felt. Fred Armour could go off, though not without
having some opposition to encounter; others could talk of doing so. He
must stay where he was until the appointed time.

Well, the time was not far distant now. In January he would go up for
his examination, and after that the new life would begin for him—the
man’s life, in which, though still under tutelage, he would be free at
times to go where he would. He had rather dreaded exchanging his life
at Royd for it, for that had been a life full of the satisfaction of all
the desires he had felt, and it had never seemed to him either narrow or
confined. But this sense of a woman’s domination was beginning to prick
him. He thought that at least he would put it to his grandmother that
Royd ought to have been represented in the Yeomanry. It might have been
a small matter, in times of peace, but it was one that would not have
escaped a male head of Royd. And he must see to it himself that any man
who wanted to join up with the troops in training should have no
difficulty put in his way. As for himself, there seemed to be nothing
to be done but to wait until his time came. Fred might, perhaps, see
some fighting, if Lady Brent were right and Wilbraham were wrong about
the war lasting on into the next year; that was the advantage of
belonging to the ranks. For officers, the training must be much longer,
and his would not be finished if the war lasted for two years, which it
seemed to be agreed was an impossibility.

He shook his thoughts from him as he came out of the wood and galloped
again on the crisp turf of the hilltop, between the gorse and the
heather and the outcropping rocks.

He was on high ground here. The rain had ceased, though the wind was
buffeting him so furiously that he had to keep his head down as he rode,
and even the mare was soon submissive to being pulled down to a trot and
then to a walk. The light was stronger now and the clouds driven along
by the wind seemed to be higher; there was no sign of a break in them,
but there was the feeling that at any time they might be rent asunder
and let through a shaft of sunlight. The mist had all gone, and the sea
lay, a grey, turbulent expanse, apparently near at hand, though at its
nearest point it was still some two miles distant.

The sight of the sea always had a calming effect upon Harry, whether it
lay blue and calm or was lashed to angry motion. It was his outlook
into the world beyond the bounds of his home. When he had least felt
himself circumscribed something had yet urged him now and then to ride
to the shore and to let his spirit go out across the boundless waters.
And now, as he saw the great spaces of sea and sky in front of him his
thoughts lightened. As his physical world had this wide outlet into the
greater world beyond it, so his life, bound hitherto within limits that
he was outgrowing, would soon open into something wider and freer. And
just as he would return to the sheltered haunts of his home, loving it
all the more for his glimpse of the unsheltered sea, so with the life
which had been so happy there. It was coming to an end for him, but was
all the more to be treasured on that account as long as it lasted.

He came to a break in the rocky cliff which led down to a little sandy
bay, on the edge of which was what had once been a fisherman’s cottage.
The cliff had broken away in front of it and it had been abandoned as
dangerous some years before. Only its walls were standing, but there
was a place among the ruins in which he could tie up his horse if he
wanted to walk by the sea. He did so now, and went down to the sands,
followed by the dogs. The sun came out as he did so, and great masses
of clouds were torn asunder and piled up to be rolled away before the
wind, instead of forming a thick curtain between him and the sky.

He shouted for joy at the lifting of the grey oppression, and became a
boy again as by a sudden impulse he stripped to bathe and ran over the
sands to meet the shock of the great waves that were rolling up them.