WILBRAHAM

Harry and Viola were in the log cabin. They had varied their
meeting-places. Best of them all they loved the secret pool, but that
was only for very hot still weather. Rain was falling intermittently
this afternoon, but every now and then the sun shone. The weather made
little difference to their happiness, and the cabin, Harry’s handiwork,
provided them with a shelter when they needed it, which brought them
also a grateful sense of seclusion and joint possession. The Rectory
was empty; Sunday duty was performed by a visiting clergyman; nobody was
in the least likely to disturb them in their retreat. Viola had got rid
of her slight suspicion of Jane, which she had already confessed to
Harry, with happy laughter. “She may not know it,” she had said, “but
of course she’s in love with you, poor child! She couldn’t help being,
if she was only nine instead of thirteen. I was a little jealous of her
being so much with you. But I love her for loving you, and of course
I’m not jealous of anybody now.”

The log cabin was roughly furnished. Not much more would have been
required if it had really been the home of a pioneer. Harry and Viola
had played with the idea of living together in such a cabin, with a new
beautiful world to be tamed all around them, and this as the nest of
their love and companionship. So he had played with the children, but
Viola’s presence had given their cabin a wonderful romantic charm which
it had never had and which it would never lose. Her presence would
illumine every place in which she might rest. Harry’s old castle was
still in shadow because she had not yet visited it.

It was the morning of the day upon which Wilbraham was to take tea with
Bastian, and Viola was to be there to be exhibited to him. Harry had
been concerned at hearing that he had already been to the cottage.

“He has said nothing about it at home,” he said. “This morning at
breakfast he did say that he had thought of going to see your father
this afternoon, but that it looked like raining all day. What does it
mean?”

“Nothing very dreadful,” said Viola. “He and father seem to have got on
very well together yesterday, but perhaps he wasn’t quite sure enough of
him to ask him to the Castle. Perhaps he wants to see what I’m like
first.”

Harry threw her a quick loving look. They were sitting together on a
bench underneath the eaves of the hut. They might not have been taken
for lovers by anyone who had seen them; their caresses were rarer than
might have been expected, fathoms deep in love with one another as they
were; but looks and smiles flashed between them like summer lightning,
and scarcely the lightest word was spoken without emotion.

“When he sees you,” Harry began; but she interrupted him. “Father
doesn’t want to go if he does ask us,” she said. “And I couldn’t go,
Harry dear. I love you so much that I couldn’t keep it back. I’m
afraid I shan’t be able to keep it back this afternoon from Mr.
Wilbraham, if he says anything about you.”

“I’ve asked myself sometimes,” Harry said, thoughtfully, “whether it’s
right to keep it back. You’re so much above everybody else in the
world, Viola, that——”

Again she interrupted him. “Harry darling,” she said, “I’ve thought
about it too. There are lots of things that I know about in the world
that you don’t. I only want to forget them while I’m here with you; and
I can’t if other people know how much I love you, and that you love me.
They wouldn’t let us forget them.”

“What sort of things, Viola dear? I’m not a child, though perhaps they
have tried to keep me one for too long, at home. I’m going to take care
of you, for all our lives. I ought to know as much as you do.”

“I hope you never will, darling,” she said, a little sadly. “I know
that the things I have learnt haven’t spoilt me, or else I shouldn’t
feel so happy as I do in your loving me. But other people might not
believe that. We’re very young, both of us. We love as deeply as
people who are older love, and we know we shall go on loving each other
all our lives. But others wouldn’t believe that. They would try to
part us. They would part us, as long as I stayed here; and there’s such
a little time left. Oh, let us be happy together while it lasts, and
keep our lovely secret.”

“Why should they try to part us, Viola? Who is there? My grandmother
and my mother. If they only saw you!”

She smiled at him. “It wouldn’t be enough,” she said, “whatever I was.
And they wouldn’t look at me with your eyes. Perhaps nobody else would.
What was it made you love me so much, Harry?”

He had told her a hundred times, and now told her again; and she told
him that she had loved him the very first moment she had set eyes on
him, riding up on his gallant horse with his dogs around him. “You were
like a splendid young knight,” she said. “No girl could have helped
loving you. But I love you a thousand times more now than I did then,
and I suppose I shall go on loving you more and more all my life.”

It was like the old stories of his childhood, which had to be told over
and over again, and were better every time they were told. But now it
was not as it had been then, when no variation must be admitted in the
telling. There was always something new—some little discovery that
deepened the sense of perfection and wonderment, some answering thought
that showed them to have been close to one another, even in the hours in
which they were parted and were pasturing on their sweet memories of one
another.

It was with a kind of solemnity of sweetness that Harry dwelt upon
Viola’s trust in him and his manhood. By a thousand little signs it had
been made plain that she knew more of the world than he, but she put all
that knowledge aside and looked up to him and submitted to him as if
infinite wisdom and experience were his. And in truth he had grown
greatly in mental stature since her love had come into his life to
change it so completely. They must have remarked upon it at home if he
had not taken such advantage of the freedom that was granted him and
been so little at home at this time. His mother actually had told him
that he was altered, after he had expressed himself with more than usual
self-confidence when they had talked about the war over the
dinner-table. She was always on the look-out for signs of something
that might take him from her, and she feared the war and what might come
of it with an unreasoning fear, considering the information at her
command. Harry was thinking a great deal about the war now, which does
not mean that there were any times at which he was not thinking about
Viola. With the coming of love his sense of the deeper values of life
had become strengthened. If he had felt himself borne along on a strong
current that would carry him to whatever of action or duty or mere state
of being that was laid down for him, then whatever happened to him was
part of the whole, and nothing in his life would be dissociated from
anything else. It was this sense of unity that lifted his fresh boy’s
adoration of a girl as young and as pure as himself into something
bigger and more rooted than that, beautiful as it is. His love gave the
divine note of joy to all his purpose, sweetened and solemnized it at
the same time. It was not like a great happiness in which he could
forget himself, and which he must also forget for a time if something
more serious had to be faced.

This morning, for the first time, influenced perhaps by the breath from
outside which had come through Wilbraham’s advent upon the scene, which,
however, they put aside from them, they talked about the time when Viola
should have gone away.

Their extreme youth moved them to sadness, which was not wholly painful
because the time was not near yet, and present bliss was only heightened
by the thought of parting. They were so far unlike most young lovers
that no mention was made of writing, or even of meeting again. It was
as if the contact between them was so close and so sure that however far
apart they might be in space, and for whatever time, they would still be
together.

Harry was serious about the future. “I don’t know exactly what is going
to happen,” he said. “I’m supposed to be going to Sandhurst in January,
but that’s a long time ahead. I seem to see the war swallowing up
everything. There’s something to be done here about it, and perhaps it
will be for me to do it. But there’s nothing to show yet. I think
there won’t be till you go away, my darling. I think there’s nothing
that will come in the way of my being with you, and thinking about
nothing but you.”

“Do you think you will have to go and fight, Harry? Oh, surely you’re
too young for that, darling!”

“I’m not too young to love you.”

She thought over this. It was one of the things he sometimes said that
meant more than it seemed to. She loved those speeches of his,
springing from something in him to which she could give all her faith
and all her devotion. They helped her to plumb the depths in him, and
she had never found anything there that did not make her glad and proud
of loving him.

This time her pride brought the tears close to her eyes. There was more
than the sweetness of young love in this—to be loved as something in
full alliance with all the biggest things that a man might be called
upon to do in the world, and to which he must bring all that he was and
all that he had, even his life itself if it should be required of him.

“I shouldn’t want you not to, Harry,” she said.

He did not tell her of his conviction that the war would claim him. She
was his to be protected, and some things she must be spared. When the
time came, she would somehow be concerned in it, because she would be
concerned in everything that he did, and whatever he should want of her
then she would give him. He had as much confidence in her as she in
him.

“The war is like a great shadow over everything,” he said. “We’re in
the sunshine just now, you and I—the most glorious sunshine. I don’t
think that we need fear the shadow for ourselves. But for others—for
some it’s very deep.”

The shadow seemed to creep closer and touch her heart as he spoke. They
were silent for a time, her hand resting in his. The contact
strengthened them both, and the shadow passed away from her. For the
rest of their time together that morning they made love and built their
airy rainbow castles, almost as unsubstantial as those of children. In
fact they played with the idea of having Jane and Pobbles to live with
them. It hardly seemed fair to be using the cabin in which they had a
proprietary share and leave them out of it. They would pass suddenly
from grave to gay in this way, and there were many times when the
children could have taken a full part in their conversation without
being at all in the way.

At about six o’clock that evening Wilbraham was walking along the
woodland path that led from the cottage to the Castle. He walked slowly
with his eyes on the ground all the time, and his face was very
thoughtful. He started violently as he looked up to see Harry standing
in the path in front of him.

For a moment they stood there looking at one another.

“Well?” said Harry.

Wilbraham’s eyes dropped, and he walked on, Harry with him. “You’ve
been meeting here,” he said.

“Yes.”

Another pause. Then from Wilbraham: “You’ve been making love.”

“Making love? I don’t like the expression. We love each other—yes.”

Wilbraham said nothing, and they walked on together. Presently they came
to a fallen tree by the side of the path. “Let’s sit down here and have
it out,” said Wilbraham.

Harry spoke first. “I’m glad you know,” he said. “I’d like all the
world to know; you can tell why, now you’ve seen her. But I suppose it
wouldn’t do for mother and Granny to know—not just yet.”

Wilbraham seemed to pull his determination together. “My dear boy,” he
said, “you mustn’t take it for granted that they’re not to know. It has
come as a complete surprise to me; I don’t know what to do about it
yet.”

Harry laughed. The situation seemed to contain no awkwardness for him,
whatever doubts it might have brought to Wilbraham. “Before you settle
that,” he said, “tell me what you think of her.”

“She’s a very beautiful child,” said Wilbraham, thoughtfully. He laid
no stress on the word “child,” to belittle Harry’s confession of love.
It was as she had struck him.

He had gone into the little parlour to find Bastian there, dressed more
in accordance with what he had seemed to be than on the day before. A
faint smell of his strong tobacco hung about the room, but it had been
tidied, and freshened up with flowers, and tea was laid on the table,
with signs of ceremony and care. Then Viola came in, and he had the
impression of Bastian triumphantly watching him as he introduced her.




He did indeed open his eyes at first sight of her, as her father had
foretold. He would not have been so surprised at the vision of her,
fresh and delicate, very simply dressed in her white frock, with all the
air about her of breeding and refinement, if it had not been for the
memory of Bastian the day before, with his deteriorated tastes, and his
talk of downfall. A flower, he had said of her, growing out of the
mire; but who had tended her growing?

Mrs. Ivimey came in with the tea, and was voluble with Wilbraham about
her ladyship and Sir Harry. Wilbraham’s eyes were on Viola the whole
time, and he saw the colour rise on her soft cheeks as Harry’s name was
mentioned, but made nothing of it at the time.

Nothing more was said about the Castle when Mrs. Ivimey had left the
room. Wilbraham had not given the invitation that might have been
expected of him. He recognized with a sense of gratitude that no hints
towards it need be feared. Bastian showed up much more as a gentleman
than on the afternoon before; his clothes were old enough but no longer
disreputable, and he was obviously entirely free from the influence of
drink. The difference in his speech and bearing seemed to exaggerate
his state of the afternoon before into one of actual drunkenness.

They talked chiefly about books, and more particularly about poetry.
Viola talked very little, but her father sometimes referred to her, as
if to show with pride what she was. Her enthusiasms showed here and
there. Wilbraham’s wonder grew at her.

Harry came to his mind again. He brought his name in deliberately.
“Harry, my pupil, used to shout that out when he first read it. He
loves poetry, and it takes him like that.”

Viola made no reply, but the flush dyed the rose-petal of her cheeks
again. “It’s the youth in him,” her father said. “Poetry brings you
real joy when you’re young, doesn’t it, Viola?”

She had to look up at last, and Wilbraham saw her eyes. She made a
brave effort to speak evenly, but her voice trembled a little as she
said, “Yes, all the beautiful things in the world make you glad.”

Then Wilbraham knew, and a wave of sympathy and tenderness flowed over
him, but was brought up short against the wall that all the aims of the
past years had built up around Harry, and dashed back on him to
overwhelm him. He emerged gasping, but with the instinct strong in him
to keep his knowledge from being seen. In the rest of the time he
stayed at the cottage nothing was said to cause Viola to betray herself
further, but he was observing her all the time, and his bewilderment
grew.

She seemed to have divined that the danger was over, and came out of her
shell and smiled and prattled delightfully. Her happiness was too
strong in her to be kept under, and she would not have been human, or
feminine, if she had not wished to make a pleasant impression upon
Wilbraham, who was so near to Harry. It was the impression of delicious
sparkling youth that came to him most strongly. It was as if the
confession was drawn out of him reluctantly when in his answer to
Harry’s question he said slowly: “She’s a very beautiful child.”

“Why didn’t you teach me what a beautiful thing love is?” asked Harry.
“We’ve read a lot about it together, but I never had an idea of it until
now. I don’t think anybody in the world has ever been so happy as I
am.”

Wilbraham was torn in two again. His appreciations were not all
bookish, and he loved Harry. He saw that in a nature such as his love
would come as a very beautiful thing, and his searching observation of
Viola had revealed nothing in her that could make it less so. And yet—!

“How long have you known her?” he asked.

“What does it matter?” said Harry. “I’ve known her all my life. If I
look back to any time in it, she was there, though I’d never seen her.
We’ve been meeting every day, if that’s what you mean.”

It was what Wilbraham had meant, and he felt discomfort at having asked
the question. It was the discomfort that must come from probing into
this situation, with the fear before him of saying something that would
smirch the bright purity of Harry’s mind. Anything that brought his
actions to the test must do that, if he came to understand what tests
were applicable to his meetings with Viola.

“Why didn’t you tell us?” seemed to be the safest thing to say, and he
said it with a half hope that the answer would give him some handle,
though without mental acknowledgment of the hope.

“Well, I felt somehow that you’d try to stop me,” said the boy. “At
least mother and Granny would. I did nearly tell mother, the first time
I’d seen Viola, but something warned me not to. I’ve been glad since
that I didn’t. It has just been she and I—Viola and I. Oh, how I love
her! I’m glad _you’ve_ seen her. But you must keep it to yourself. We
haven’t much longer together. I can’t have our time spoilt.”

He spoke almost with authority. With every moment Wilbraham felt some
new little emotion of change and development too quick for him to
master. Harry had been the most docile of pupils. Never once since his
first dealings with him as a young child had he had to exercise
authority against desires or inclinations of his. True, he had held the
reins lightly, and never given him a rebuke or a direction that had mood
instead of reason behind it; but it had sometimes crossed his mind that
the boy was too docile, and that his sense of responsibility and
self-mastery might be sapped if he was brought up to give unquestioning
obedience to the directions of his elders. He had mentioned this fear
to Lady Brent, and her answer to it had been of the kind that he had
received once or twice before in his consultations with her, from which
his confidence in her ultimate wisdom had been so firmly fixed. The
same doubt, it seemed, had crossed her own mind. It was to be met by
allowing Harry the fullest possible trust and freedom. If at any time he
overstepped the freedom it was not to be treated as a fault. He was to
be told why it was not advisable for him to do this or that, and the
decision left to him. Once or twice this had happened, and once he had
stuck out for his own will. It was when his nocturnal rambles had been
discovered by chance, shortly after that night upon which Grant had seen
him out in the park. Lady Brent, with calm and admirable
self-restraint, had said: “Very well, Harry. After all, I don’t know
that there’s any harm in it. If I had known of it a year ago I might
have stopped it; but now you’re old enough to do as you like in that
sort of way.”

No one observing the boy, Wilbraham had thought, could say that he was
molly-coddled into submission. Few boys of his age had such freedom
granted to them, or carried a more gallant air before the world; and the
Grants, of whom he had taken counsel, as representing the views of the
world more closely than he in his retirement could do, had supported
him.

And yet, there had been the feeling that Harry was extraordinarily easy
to manage—too amiably submissive, almost, to the guidance of his elders,
and Wilbraham himself particularly.

But now—! Wilbraham mentally shook himself. Was he receiving
instructions from Harry—and almost inclined to accept them submissively?

The little spurt to his pride took him a trifle farther than he had
wished to go. “I don’t think it’s a matter for me to decide on, apart
from your grandmother,” he said.

Harry turned a surprised face on him. “No, it’s for me to decide on,”
he said. “By and by I shall tell Granny—of course. But I don’t in the
least know when it will be. There’s nothing to show yet.”

The phrase struck Wilbraham oddly. Harry had used it once or twice to
him before. “One has to decide upon things with one’s brain,” he said,
“and out of one’s experience—important things that may affect one’s
life. They can’t be left to impulse.”

“The two go together, I suppose,” said Harry, almost with indifference.

It was one of those little speeches upon which Viola would hang as
containing the quintessence of wisdom. She might not have understood
this speech, but Wilbraham did, and it affected him profoundly. Here
was that rarest of characters—one who had never played with his
impulses, to give them scope beyond the guidance of his reason. He
could trust his impulses because their springs were controlled.

“Shall we go on?” said Harry, rising.

Wilbraham rose too, slowly, after a pause of reflection, and they walked
on. Viola’s name was not mentioned again between them.