ON THE MOOR

As he rode towards home an hour or two later, Harry felt as if all the
stains upon life had been washed away, just as the wind and rain had
scoured the heavens of their dark load of cloud. The sun, now declining
towards the west, shone in a sky of clean blue; the wind was dropping
every minute, but was still fresh as he cantered across the moor. He
rode with his head up, singing blithely, and drinking in through all his
senses the sparkling glory of a world set free from the tyranny of storm
and gloom.

He had thought out nothing to a definite conclusion, and yet the
perplexities which had surrounded him as he started out on his ride
seemed to have disappeared. The war, which had affected him so little,
now lay in the background of his mind as a real and a very big thing,
and it seemed to him fixed and certain that somehow and at some time it
would profoundly affect his life; but at present he had nothing to do
but to await what should be coming to him. His place at Royd must also
undergo a change, and that, too, would come, in its time, as it would
come. Whatever should happen, he was ready for it, and his mind was
free and happy, but also strangely expectant. He was in the current of
some power outside himself, but in complete harmony with it, and at the
same time in free possession of himself, just as he had lately exulted
in his youth and strength as his body had been borne on the motion of
the mighty waters. Ever since that night of still and unearthly beauty,
when the vision had come to him of a living power in nature for a sign
of which he had yearned, he had thought of himself as controlled by
strong yet gentle and beneficent forces, which, if he yielded himself to
them, would lead him along paths that he would best fulfil himself in
treading. The feeling was stronger at some times than others. It had
never been so obscured as it had been a few hours earlier, but now, in
the sun and the wind, it was very strong. He felt himself calmed and
uplifted in spirit, as if by a tangible communion with the guiding
influences. They seemed to be telling him, or to have told him, that
his shadowed mood need never have been; that they had something in store
for him, some experience, some happening, which would give him renewed
faith in their guidance. There was a sense almost of being indulged, by
an assurance out of the common run.

But his mood was as far as possible from being analytical, as he rode on
singing and calling to his dogs, which sprang round him rejoicing as he
did in the exhilaration of quick motion and the strength and poise of
muscle and sinew. His mind had cleared, and he was free to give himself
up to the joy of living, all the more keenly for the whisper that had
come to him of something new and exciting in preparation for him.

The boy, the horse and the dogs—they had had the fine, fresh world to
themselves throughout the afternoon, except for the strong birds of the
sea and the little birds of the gorsy common. No buildings lay upon the
path that Harry had taken to the shore, nor very near it, for he had
ridden through the wood by a narrow ride, little used, and across the
open ground had kept out of the way of trodden paths. There were sheep
on this wide stretch of upland, and a shepherd might occasionally have
been seen there. Otherwise it was little frequented; a human figure on
it would arouse curiosity.

A human figure came into view as Harry had traversed the greater part of
the open space, and the woods of Royd were a mile or so in front of him.
It was the figure of a woman, and was immediately between him and the
point towards which he was riding. He knew all the people who lived in
the scattered cottages and farms between Royd and the sea; there were
not many of them, and none just here. He wondered who it could be going
in that direction, and what she was doing so far away from human
habitation.

As he rode on, he saw that it was a girl, and a stranger, which was
somewhat surprising, as the nearest place to which strangers came was
miles away. He had left off singing, but one of the dogs barked, and
the girl turned round, evidently startled and perhaps a little alarmed.
He was near enough now to see her face. She was very young, hardly more
than a child, for her hair was not knotted up under her hat, but tied
behind with a big bow. She was tall and slim. The wind took her skirts
as she stood there, and revealed the supple grace of her young figure,
firmly but lightly poised against it. She was dressed in a coat and
skirt of brown tweed, with a hat of soft straw firmly pinned on to her
graceful head. So much Harry took in before he came near enough to see
her face.

Her features were fine and true, and she had a delicate skin, its colour
freshened by the wind. Her eyes were dark, with a starry radiance in
them; her lips were slightly parted as she looked at him approaching.
She was beautiful, with the beauty half of a child, half of a woman.

Harry reined in his horse as he came up to her, and for an appreciable
instant they looked into one another’s eyes without speaking. Then the
girl said: “I have lost my way. I don’t know where I’m going to,” and
laughed and blushed at the same time.

Harry laughed, too, and slipped down off his horse. “Where do you want
to go?” he asked. “I’ll show you the way, if you tell me.”

She was staying with her father, she said, at a cottage on the edge of
the woods; she had come out when the rain had ceased to walk towards the
sea, but it was farther than she had thought, and when she had turned
back to see the unbroken line of the woods before her there was nothing
to tell her which point to make for.

The woman with whom she was lodging was the widow of a man who had
worked in the Royd woods; he had died the year before and she had been
given a pension and allowed to remain on in her cottage. It was in a
group of three or four, about a mile from the Castle and a mile and a
half from the village, which formed the nearest approach to an outlying
hamlet that was to be found on the Royd lands. It was rather surprising
that anybody should take lodgings there, though with the deep woods
behind it and the moor in front, and the sea within view, many people
might have chosen it to make holiday in, if it had come within their
knowledge.

“Oh, Mrs. Ivimey,” said Harry, pointing. “That’s a mile and more away
over there. I’m afraid you can’t have much sense of direction.”

They both laughed at that. It seemed the most natural thing for them to
talk and laugh together. The secluded life that Harry had lived had
brought some shyness into the way he addressed himself to strangers,
though his natural manner was free and open. But this girl, walking
freely over the windy moor, seemed to be in some way allied to those
living influences of nature with which his contact was so real. And the
spirit of youth informed all her looks and her ways and met the
answering youth in him. There was no room for shyness in speaking to
her, and as he neither felt nor showed it, her response was frank, too.
“I’m a Londoner,” she said. “You couldn’t expect me to find my way
about here, where the paths wind about anyhow, and everything is the
same.”

He was walking beside her now in the direction he had pointed out. He
had made no offer to accompany her and she made no comment upon his
doing so. It seemed that they must have a great deal to say to one
another and that the best way was to walk together until some of it at
least should have been said.

“Everything the same!” exclaimed Harry. “Why, every inch of it is
different! I have never been to London, but the streets of a town must
be much more alike than this is.”

They laughed again at that, and the girl threw a glance at him, walking
by her side, while Circe, held by his strong brown hand, curveted on the
close turf and the dogs ranged here and there, a little subdued from
their bounding energy, but still keenly interested in all that lay about
them. The raindrops sparkled still upon gorse and grass and bramble,
larks sang in the clear spaces of the sky, and the dying wind brought a
salty thymy fragrance with it. The blood in the veins thrilled to the
sweet glad freshness of it all, and youth called to youth as they trod
the springy turf together.

There was such a lot to be explained. Everything that was said opened
up endless more things to be said. He told her that he had lived all his
life at Royd; she told him that she had seldom been away from London.
But, whereas he showed himself quite content with the unusual
limitations of his life, she spoke of hers with regret. “I’ve always
wanted the country,” she said; “I’ve never been so happy as I have been
here, for the last two days. Even the storm this morning, I didn’t
mind. It was something big and grand, and I knew the sun would shine
and it would all be lovely again.”

They talked on and on. They had made friends, as children make friends,
liking each other, and pouring themselves out in endless little
confidences.

“My name is Harry Brent. I live at Royd Castle with my mother and
grandmother.”

“Oh yes, of course; you’re Sir Harry Brent. Mrs. Ivimey has talked about
you.

“My name is Viola Bastian. My father called me that out of a beautiful
poem. He is an artist, but nobody buys his pictures, so he paints
scenery at a theatre. We are very poor.”

It didn’t seem odd to Harry that this beautiful girl, whose speech was
refined and whose clothes were such as a sister or cousin of his own
might have worn, should be the daughter of a scene painter, who was also
very poor. Nor did he blench in the least at a further statement, which
explained, at least, the clothes. “I have to work and help father. He
didn’t want me to go on the stage, and I should have hated it, too. I
am with a dressmaker in Dover Street—Nadine. She makes things chiefly
for quite young girls. I have to show them off. It is hard work in the
season, but I get a good long holiday, and if father can get away too,
and we have enough money, we go into the country for part of it. That
is why we are here now.”




It was all very interesting, as anything she might have told him about
herself would have been interesting. He knew nothing of states of life
other than those which were immediately around him; he accepted
everything she told him as quite natural to her, though he thought it a
pity that she should have to work so hard and could not live in the
country, as he did, since she loved it. She was what he saw and heard
her to be, and what she did and where she lived was quite unimportant,
except as she might feel them to be important.

But how did she come to be what she was under such conditions of
parentage and environment? If it did not occur to Harry in his
all-embracing ignorance to ask himself that question, it might very well
have been asked by others with more experience of life than his. She
was as frank in her address as he was, showed no sense of the social
difference between them in any _mauvaise honte_ or explanatory
questions. It must have made itself plain to a listener that she was
indeed a rare flower of unsullied girlhood, as innocent in essence as
Harry himself, who had been kept from contact with the world outside his
castle of romance, since she had lived at its crowded centre and
remained unspotted by it.

They had not half finished their confidences by the time they came
within sight of the cottage at which she was staying—or, rather, of the
smoke from its chimney, which rose from behind a corner of the wood
jutting out into the moor. Perhaps it was some acquired sophistication
that caused her to stop there and to prepare to say good-bye, out of
sight of the cottage itself and whoever might see them from it. But,
whatever it was, Harry felt the same disinclination to being looked upon
by eyes that might have been questioning or curious. She was for him
alone—one of his cherished innocent secrets—all the more to be kept to
himself because it was like no other secret that he had ever had before.
A secret must be shared by some one, or it is no secret, but only a
deception. Harry’s secret had been between him and nature, or between
him and an imaginary Harry who owed all initiative to the real Harry.
But this was his and hers, and hers as much as his. She could keep it a
warm nestling secret, or destroy it by a word. Which would she do?

“Good-bye,” she said, holding out her slender girl’s hand, and looking
him straight in the eyes, as she had looked at him when first they had
met. He took her hand, and the touch of it thrilled him. It was soft
and firm and cool, like no hand that he had ever had in his, though he
had taken the hands of other girls not noticeably different in shape or
size from this one.

There was the hint of a question in her look. Was it to be good-bye?

Harry had no such thought. “There is a lot I want to talk to you
about,” he said. “Tomorrow afternoon—no, I don’t want to wait till the
afternoon—tomorrow morning I will come; quite early.”

Her eyes softened, and she smiled. “Very well,” she said, and waited
for him to tell her where and when he would come.

They were to meet on the outskirts of the wood. He would show her a
ferny pool in the very heart of it, which he thought nobody but himself
knew of. “It will be very hot to-morrow,” he said, throwing a
weatherwise eye at the heavens. “We shall be cool and quiet there.”

Suddenly he felt shy of her, mounted his horse, and cantered away, his
dogs following him. Then he felt uneasy at the thought that she might
have found him rudely abrupt, and when he had gone a few hundred yards
he turned to look back. She was still standing where he had left her,
and waved her hand to him.

He had the impulse to turn and ride back to her, but cantered on, with a
flame of joy shooting up in his heart. When he looked back again, she
had gone.