LADY BRENT AND VIOLA

Lady Brent wondered, when Mrs. Clark opened the door to her at Bastian’s
lodgings, how much was known at Royd of what had already happened in
this house. If Mrs. Clark had not discovered who Harry was, which seemed
unlikely, and had not seen Mrs. Brent, she knew well enough whom she was
admitting now. It was not made plain that she expected the visit, but
she expressed no surprise at it, and evidently expected to be
recognized. Lady Brent said a few words to her about her sister at
Royd, as she was being conducted up the stairs. Everything would come
into the light now, and it was much better so.

Viola was alone in the sitting-room. It had been made very tidy, and
was filled with flowers. The great red roses might have been Harry’s
gift to her. The little row of vellum-bound books above the table in
her corner certainly were, for Wilbraham had procured them to his order.

Viola stood by the middle table as they entered. She looked very young
and very beautiful—all the more beautiful because of the colour that was
flooding her delicate skin, and the half-alarmed look in her dark eyes.

Lady Brent waited until the door was shut behind her, searching her with
her eyes, and then went forward and kissed her. Viola did not seem to
have expected this. She was confused, and there was moisture in her
eyes as she greeted Wilbraham, though she smiled at him.

Wilbraham spoke first. “You’ve had Lady Brent’s telegram,” he said.
“And now she’s come herself. Everything is all right, Viola.”

Her tears fell. “If Harry loves you, my dear, that’s enough for me,”
said Lady Brent, taking her hand.

“And you can hardly be blamed for loving him,” said Wilbraham. “We all
love him. I don’t know why, but we do.”

She laughed, as she was meant to do, and dried her tears. “I’ve had a
telegram from him,” she said. “He sent you his dear love.”

Lady Brent showed her pleasure. “I wish he’d told me sooner,” she said.
“You might have been with him at Royd.”

“We’ve all been making a mistake, Viola,” said Wilbraham. “I suppose
I’m most to blame, because I’ve had this lady under observation for a
good many years, and might have known that nothing so important as you
could have escaped her.”

He wanted to keep the interview on a light key, at least until talk
should flow between them. They had both been through a good deal during
the last few days, but the trouble was ended now, and the sooner it
could be forgotten the better.

Lady Brent and Viola were sitting side by side on the sofa. Lady Brent
was not quite ready for the lighter note. “You know that Harry’s
bringing up was different from that of other boys,” she said. “It was
owing to me that it was so, and though I tried to avoid the appearance
of dominating him, I could hardly escape being looked upon as a person
who might take a decisive line either with him or against him. But I
can say very truly that my guiding rule was love for him. I love Harry
very much, and I have trusted him too. I wouldn’t have stood out
against him in anything that he had a right to decide for himself.”

“I’m afraid it was I at first who wanted to keep our secret to
ourselves,” Viola said. “Or at least perhaps not quite at first, for
then we didn’t think about it; but when we first found out that we loved
one another. I think he would have told you then, but I knew more about
the world than he did, and I didn’t think that you would want us to go
on loving one another. Afterwards I did what he wanted.”

“We all do what Harry wants,” said Wilbraham. “He has that sort of way
with him. I’ve done it myself, when I ought to have stood out.”

“Harry is very happy now,” said Viola. “He sent me a long telegram.
Would you like to see it?”

“No,” said Lady Brent, marking the motion she made with her hand, which
showed the warm nest in which Harry’s telegram was reposing. “Keep it
for yourself. I want to ask you if you’d like to come down to Royd now,
or wait till Harry can bring you. You will have a warm welcome
whichever you like to do. He might like to know you are there.”

“I expect the claims of the government service will have to come first,
unreasonable as it may appear,” said Wilbraham, marking her slight
hesitation. “I know they have to with me.”

“I couldn’t get away just now,” she said. “And in August I was going
away for a fortnight with father—if Harry is all right.”

That was what lay like a shadow over the brightness brought by the
recognition of her. The war was to be finished by that hoarded effort
for which those who knew were breathlessly waiting. But the hoard was
chiefly of men, and much of it must be scattered if success was to be
gained by it.

Lady Brent made no pretence of taking it anything but seriously. “I
have friends at the War Office,” she said. “We should get news at Royd
as soon as in London, perhaps sooner.” She made no allusion to the
other reason that Viola had given. How did Harry regard Bastian? She
had talked that over with Wilbraham. They did not know even if he had
met him. He was not to be asked to Royd until Harry gave the word.

Viola still seemed to be hesitating, and Lady Brent took her hesitation
to mean that she would rather not come to Royd without Harry, and
accepted it at once. She talked to her about Harry, and presently Viola
was talking about him too, filling her hungry ears with news of the
times at which she had missed him.

Viola knew that he had been wounded, though he had kept it from her at
the time. “He was very ill after the second wound,” she said. “A man
who was with him wrote to me when he couldn’t, and I got a telegram to
say he was better before I got the letter, so I wasn’t so unhappy as I
might have been. I don’t think he would have got through that if he
hadn’t been so splendidly strong and young, and hadn’t been so devotedly
nursed. All the men he was with loved him, and this one never left
him.”

Lady Brent would not let it be seen how much this news of his past
danger moved her. Here was a thing for which none of her searching
thoughts had prepared her. “He has told us scarcely anything of what
has been happening to him,” she said. “It seemed to lie upon him
heavily.”

“It doesn’t now,” said Viola. “Being at Royd has brought him back. He
has told me all about Jane and Sidney. Do you think I might write to
Jane now, and tell her about us?”

Lady Brent was struck by her entire absence of jealousy. She might have
felt sad that the healing process had not been all her own work. It
showed how unselfishly she loved him, and how sure she was of him.

“Jane is a loyal little soul,” she said. “She will be very pleased to
hear from you, I know.” She smiled at Viola. “The one thing I never
quite gauged at its proper value was the companionship of young people.
I think now that he ought to have had more of it. But he seemed so
happy, with all his own pursuits.”

“Oh, he was happy, I know,” she said, eagerly. “It is wonderful to hear
him talk of his life at Royd. Perhaps I’m not altogether sorry I was
nearly the first, because I got it all. Harry isn’t like anybody else
that ever lived. He’s wonderful. He couldn’t have been quite the same
if he hadn’t been brought up always in that beautiful place, and left a
great deal to himself and the woods and the hills and the sea.”

“I am glad you think of it like that,” said Lady Brent. “But I have
been troubled by something he said to me when he first came home. His
upbringing has made him what he is, but there are many things it didn’t
prepare him for. I think he was dreading going out again, as an
officer. He doesn’t know other young men of his class. He is so
different from them, and they want everybody to be alike. With the men
of simpler lives that he has lived with and fought with he would have
made his way more easily.”

“Yes,” said Viola. “I was very sad at first to think of him thrown into
that rough hard life, but I needn’t have been. And I think now he is
happier about the other.”

She looked at Wilbraham, who said: “We’ve had it out, we three together.
It’s not as serious as you have been thinking. You must remember that
he hasn’t been with young men of his own sort at all; and in the ranks
of course he’d look at them from another angle altogether; and perhaps
he wouldn’t like everything he saw about them—his officers, I mean.
That’s all it is, really—a diffidence about how he’s going to fit in
with them. But of course he’ll make his way, with the other subalterns
and people, just as he did with the men. There’s so much character in
him, as well as everything that young men do value in each other. I
think we persuaded him that he’d be a good deal better off than he has
been, didn’t we, Viola?”

“Oh, he didn’t want very much persuasion. He said he had been worrying
himself about things that didn’t really matter. But he was so much
happier about everything when he came back from Royd. I don’t think
even I could have done that—not alone. It would just have been we two,
keeping out of the world together. And poor Harry is in the world now.”

“Yes,” said Wilbraham, “and well fitted to cope with it. Of course it
came as a shock to him at first. It would have done that anyhow, and he
would have had to square his accounts with it by himself, before he
could have felt himself at his ease. We couldn’t have helped him. If
you’re still troubling yourself about having made mistakes, dear lady, I
don’t think you need. You made very few. You forged the good steel in
him, but it had to be tempered.”

This view of it comforted her. “We shall all be very happy now,” she
said.

When they had talked a little longer, Bastian came in.

Lady Brent rose from the sofa, and they stood looking at one another for
an instant before Bastian shook hands with her, with a laugh. “I wasn’t
prepared for this,” he said. “Have you known who I was?”




“No,” she said. “Your people thought you were on the other side of the
world.”

“I meant them to,” he said. “I’d no use for my people, after the way
they behaved to me. I took rather an absurd name, which was the last
they would recognize me under if they ever came across it, which seemed
unlikely.”

Viola and Wilbraham were in bewilderment. “Lady Brent and I used to
know one another in the old days,” Bastian said to Viola. “It shows how
I’ve cut myself off from that world that I didn’t even know she was Lady
Brent.” He turned to Lady Brent. “It did once occur to me, after we’d
been to Royd, to go to a Public Library and find out who you were, from
a book. But I forgot all about it. I’m a thorough Bohemian you see, and
more comfortable so.”

His light tone did not please her. “If I had known who you were,” she
said, “when you came to Royd, we should have met, and I should have
known Viola before.”

His face changed as he looked quickly from her to Viola. “I’m glad
you’ve made friends now,” he said. “All the same, I doubt if you would
have taken to her two years ago. I’ve got too far away from what I was
when you knew me.”

“Well, it wouldn’t have been you so much that we should have thought
about,” said Wilbraham.

Bastian laughed. “You needn’t worry about me now,” he said to Lady
Brent. “I’ll own that I have had ideas of fighting you when the time
came. I should rather have enjoyed it. I think quite as highly of
Viola as you do of your grandson, and I was going to tell you so.
But—well, I’m glad to know there’s no necessity. I think you’ve behaved
well; but I remember that you always had the reputation of behaving
well. You’ll get some reward for it in this instance, for you know
without my having to take the trouble to prove it to you that Viola’s
birth is as good as her manners, and as for me I shall not intrude upon
you with my debased habits when I’ve once handed Viola over.”

“I used to like you as a little boy,” said Lady Brent, calmly. “You
were mischievous and perverse, and afterwards gave a great deal of
trouble to your parents, who had not deserved it; but I don’t suppose
your habits are so debased as you pretend they are. I shall be very
glad if you will bring Viola down to Royd when you take your holiday, if
she cares to come. I think Harry would like to know that she is there.”

Then Viola accepted the invitation, and Bastian did not refuse it,
though he said that it was many years since he had stayed in a country
house, and he didn’t think he should remember the rules.

Lady Brent told Wilbraham about him afterwards, what his family was and
where they came from, which was near her own girlhood’s home. “I must
say that I am relieved,” she said. “On her father’s side her birth to
all intents and purposes is as good as Harry’s, and on her mother’s it
is no worse. It counts for something. I married before Michael—that is
his real name, and I suppose suggested the Angelo to his freakish
imagination—before he grew up, but I was always hearing stories of his
wildness and extravagance afterwards. There was never much real harm in
him, and there were some very good qualities to balance what harm there
was. His parents were over-strict with him, but they were fond of him,
and I think if he hadn’t taken offence at their attitude towards his
marriage, in which of course they were amply justified, they would have
come round in time.”

“It may have been better for him that they didn’t,” said Wilbraham.
“He’s had to make his own living, which has probably been salutary for
him, and his responsibility to Viola has kept him fairly straight. I
wish he didn’t drink quite so much whisky or smoke such vile tobacco,
but drink hasn’t taken hold of him so much as I thought it had at one
time. If he had been anything like what you’d call a drunkard it would
have affected Viola more. What do you think of Viola?”

“I’m glad she came to Royd, and that Harry met her,” she said.