CONFIDENCES

Whatever it was that Lady Brent and Lady Avalon had plotted between
them, it needed no adjustment of Lady Brent’s statement to
Wilbraham—that henceforth she should meddle no more in Harry’s life—to
help or hinder it. They had only to stand aside and perhaps to
congratulate one another upon the way their desires were being
fulfilled. Only Mrs. Brent went about with a downcast face and air, and
but for the kindness Harry showed her might as well have been back in
London. She also wrote to Wilbraham, and told him that Harry and Sidney
seemed to be falling more and more in love with one another every day.

“Of course it’s hard on me,” she wrote. “But it’s what mothers are made
for, I suppose. You do everything for your children and sink yourself
entirely, and then some girl steps in and takes it all from you.
However, I’m not going to show her that I feel it. She’s got the better
of me once more. The girl doesn’t take the slightest trouble about
me—doesn’t think I’m worth it, I suppose—and for myself I don’t care
about her. But she is the right sort of girl for Harry to marry, or at
any rate to fall in love with. Whatever I am, I’m fair, and I can see
that. I should hate anybody who would take him away from me, so it
might just as well be her as anybody. They’re happy together, and Harry
is more like his old self. I’m sure they’ve not said anything to one
another yet. They take Jane Grant with them whenever they can get hold
of her, and they wouldn’t want to do that if it had gone very far with
them. The moment they want to go off by themselves I shall know what to
expect, and I’ll let you know, but I hope you’ll be down here before
then. We are very glad you are coming. Harry often talks about you.
How I wish it was all like it used to be! But it never will be again.”

Harry and Sidney rode together, and Harry found a horse for Jane and
taught her to ride. Lady Avalon had a car at Royd and sometimes they
motored over to Poldaven, where everything was now ready for the
reception of a family of distinction. But Lady Avalon had gone back to
London, and Sidney stayed on at Royd. There was no talk of her going
away.

Jane could not be always with them. She had been let off afternoon
lessons, by special request, but had to occupy herself with them in the
mornings.

One hot morning Harry and Sidney motored over to Poldaven Castle. It
was an old stone house, not very big, which stood on a boldly jutting
cliff with the sea on three sides of it. There was generally some wind
hereabouts, and there was a strong fresh wind this morning, though among
the woods of Royd it was close and still.

They went down to a little sheltered garden below the house. It had
been partly hollowed out of the rock, and was partly rock-strewn grass
and gorse and fern tamed into some semblance of ordered ground, but not
too much to take from the charm of its wildness. Steps cut in the rock
led down to it from above, and steps had been made from it to the sea,
which lay fifty or sixty feet below. They sat on a stone bench
overlooking the heaving emerald mass of the sea, and the waves breaking
in a high tide against the cliffs and the huge scattered rocks that
littered the shore.

They were very good friends now, these two. It was Jane who had brought
them together, for she greatly admired both of them, and would not be
content until they admired one another. So they laughed at her and
affected a wondering awe at each other’s perfections when they were in
her presence; and when they were alone together they sometimes kept up
the game, to prevent themselves falling into sadness over their private
troubles.

They were both a little sad now, as they sat on the sun-warmed rock and
looked out on the surge of the waves. Nature was so bright and fresh
and happy, and seemed to be inviting a mood to respond to her own. She
could put on this air of perpetual laughing youthfulness, though age-old
and subject to moods very different. It seemed ungracious not to laugh
and be happy with her.

“It’s lovely here,” Sidney said. “If only things would go right!
You’re the most perfect person in the world, Harry. I ought to be quite
happy being here with you, but I want somebody else. I’m wanting him
rather badly just at present.”

“Well, you’re everything you ought to be, but I want somebody else too,”
he said.

He rose impulsively and leant against the wall of the little terrace
with one arm resting on it, and looked down at her. “I’ve thought I’d
tell you for some time,” he said. “I want to tell somebody. I can’t
tell Jane; she’s too young. But you’re in the same boat as I am; you’ll
understand. And we’re friends too, aren’t we?—always have been.”

She had appeared startled at his announcement, but her face was soft as
he finished. “Oh, yes, we’re friends,” she said. “I’m so glad you’ve
told me, Harry. Do you know I’ve wondered sometimes whether there was
somebody. You so often look—well, you look like I feel. You’re enjoying
yourself, but there’s somebody you’re thinking of all the time who isn’t
there. Do tell me about it.”

He told her about his meeting with Viola on the moor, and how they had
seen one another constantly afterwards and loved one another. Sidney’s
eyes were kind as she listened, but there was a little frown of
puzzlement on her face. It was to be supposed that she wanted to
“place” this lovely girl who had come to Harry as a revelation when he
had been only a boy, and whom he adored still. He had told her nothing
about her so far, except that her father was an artist and they had been
holiday-making at Royd. There were many questions she wanted to ask.

“Have you got a photograph of her, Harry?” was the first that she asked.
She wanted to satisfy herself that he was not idealizing somebody not
worthy of him.

Half unwillingly he took his case out of his pocket, and Viola’s
photograph out of it. “It isn’t as beautiful as she is,” he said, “but
it’s like her in some ways.”

Sidney took the card and looked at it for a long time. It was of Viola
as Harry had first known her, young and sweet and untroubled.

“She’s very lovely,” she said, slowly. Then she looked up at him with a
smile. “I’m so glad, Harry. I shouldn’t like to think of you in love
with somebody who wasn’t like that. But I think she’d have to be, for
you to fall in love with her. Have you seen her since?”

Yes, he had seen her two or three times before he had been sent abroad,
and he had been with her since he had come back, before he had come to
Royd. She was in London, working in a government office. He was going
to London for a few days before his leave was up, and would see her
again after that before he went to France.

He spoke as if he was troubled about it, and she knew why. But there
was a lot to learn about it yet. And there was something about the
beginnings of this love affair that she could not quite reconcile with
her knowledge of Harry.

“Of course you’re both frightfully young,” she said. “Noel and I are of
an age to get married if they’d let us, but I suppose you could hardly
expect them to think that you were. But mightn’t they accept your
engagement, and let her be here with you?”

He came and sat on the seat beside her again. “Of course we shall be
married some day,” he said. “But we never thought about that, or about
what you call an engagement—I mean we didn’t think of it in the way that
older people would. We were just happy loving each other.”

“Oh, I know,” she said. “It’s a lovely time that—perhaps the best of
all. But afterwards you come down to the earth a little. I suppose it
has been like that with you, hasn’t it? There are one’s people to be
considered, and what they are likely to think about it. I suppose
nobody knows—at Royd.”

“Wilbraham does—my tutor, you know. Nobody else does.”

She showed surprise at this. “Did he find out you were seeing her?” she
asked.

He stirred uneasily. He did not answer her question directly. “I don’t
suppose you’d realize quite how it was with me here, before I went
away,” he said. “They’d kept me shut up. I was happy enough, but I knew
absolutely nothing about the world. From what I’ve learnt since, I know
it must look as if we had met surreptitiously. Perhaps we did, and yet
it wasn’t like that either. It was the most natural thing in the world
for us to be together as we were. At first I even thought of telling my
mother about it. I don’t know now when it first dawned upon me that
they wouldn’t have approved—or why. I shouldn’t have cared much if they
had known. But it was such a beautiful secret between Viola and me; I
didn’t want it to be spoiled by other—older people—coming in.”

“Mr. Wilbraham knew,” she said.

“He’d seen her. He knew what she was like. He’s a dear old thing—full
of understanding and sympathy. I don’t know why he didn’t tell Granny.
I didn’t ask him not to. I wouldn’t have done that; that would have
looked as if I had done something I was ashamed of. I’ve had an idea
since that he had some sort of feeling that we were two men together,
and it wasn’t for us to be directed in our affairs by a woman.
Something like that. Granny has always been very much at the head of
things here.”

“Yes, I see,” she said. “But now you’re older, Harry; and it has
lasted? That sort of love, when you’re _very_ young, doesn’t _always_
last, you know. Wouldn’t Lady Brent accept it now? It would be so
lovely if she could come here, and you could be happy with her as long
as you’re in England. You wouldn’t have to go away to London to see her
then.”

There was silence for a time, except for the noise of the waves on the
rocks, and the plaintive cry of the gulls wheeling above them. Harry
sat looking on the rocky floor, Sidney out to sea.

“I’ve had to decide such a lot of things for myself lately,” he said.
“I’d decided not to do that.”




She thought his tone sounded as if he were wavering about his decision.
She did not look at him, but said: “With Noel and me it’s a very
ordinary sort of difficulty. He’s not what they’d call a good match.
But I suppose they won’t hold out if we show that we mean to have our
own way. If they do, well, I shall wait till I’m twenty-one and marry
him—just like that. But, of course, it would make a lot of difference
if they smiled on us now, instead of keeping us apart. The real reason
why we’ve come down here is because if he comes home on leave I should
see him, and they don’t want me to; and partly, I suppose, because they
think you and I might get to like each other, now we’re both grown up.
Why can’t they let us be happy in our own way—the older people? They’ve
done what they wanted, or if they haven’t they’re probably rather sorry
for it now. I should be very glad if Noel were in the sort of position
that my sisters’ husbands are. But I shouldn’t love him any better for
it. It’s love that counts.”

“Yes, of course,” said Harry. “Well, both you and I are going to get
what we want by and by. I suppose we shall have to wait about the same
time for it. But you never know what’s going to happen to you in these
days. If I were to get killed, I should have missed something I ought
to have had. You’d say it wouldn’t make much difference to me, but I
don’t look at it like that; and anyhow it would make a difference to
Viola, all her life.”

Her eyes had filled with tears. “It just doesn’t do to think about
that,” she said, “or to talk about it.”

He looked at her quickly, and put his hand on hers as it lay on the
stone between them. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to be a
brute. We take it like that, you know; it doesn’t make any difference
to us. Nobody worries about it. But, of course it’s different for you.”

She dried her eyes. “It won’t happen to Noel or you,” she said. “We
shall all four of us be happy by and by. But why shouldn’t you be happy
now, Harry? Is it necessary that you should keep it a secret still?”

The troubled look returned to his face. “I’m different from other men,”
he said. “Everything was spared me when I was young. I’ve had to learn
everything since I grew up, and it isn’t a pleasant world to learn in
now. But whatever I have to do I must do now on my own responsibility.
I should have to ask for Viola to come here. I couldn’t do that. When
she comes here, she’ll come of her own right—the right that I shall give
her.”

“But if you were to tell them about her, Harry——”

“Yes, that’s what I’ve thought of doing. But I can’t do that either.
They might accept her, but if they didn’t—it’s like it is with you.
They want something else.”

She sighed. “I’m glad you’ve told me, at any rate,” she said. “It puts
_everything_ right now. You know about me and I know about you. I
suppose Jane doesn’t know?”

“No. And we mustn’t tell her. I wish I could, but it wouldn’t be fair
on her. She’ll be the first person I shall tell on that happy day when
I can tell everybody.”