LOVE

On a February morning Viola walked through the woods of Royd, along the
path by which Harry had hastened to meet her in those bright summer days
that were now so far off. Jane was with her. They talked as they
walked, and sometimes even smiled. No one would have guessed at the
sorrow that lay like a numbing weight upon one of them, and had so
saddened the other that she seemed in these days to have left most of
her childhood behind her.

They talked of this and that, but at any moment they might fall into
talk of Harry. They were never together for long without mention of
him. Jane was the only person to whom Viola spoke of him freely. Lady
Brent, who hid the ruin of her life and of her hopes as best she could,
seemed to cling to her presence at Royd, but they could not talk
together yet about Harry, though his name was not avoided between them.
Mrs. Brent had been to Royd and had gone away again. Her visit had been
painful enough; her sorrow was great and her laments had been ceaseless.
But jealousy had prevented her trying to get a response from Viola.
With Wilbraham, whom she had seen once since the fatal news had come,
she had spoken of him, but then it had been as if she hardly understood
what had happened. Her father had been very kind to her, but with no
direct effort to console her for what was beyond consolation. She had
come to Royd after a few days, and had been there ever since.

They were talking of Sidney Pawle as they walked together through the
wood, to which the leafless trees admitted gleams of winter sunshine, so
different from the splashes of vivid light that had quivered through the
leaves on to the deep rich greenness of summer. Sidney had gone away
from Poldaven, but Jane had heard from her a few days before, with the
news of her engagement, now permitted, though grudgingly. She had told
Jane that she meant to be married whenever Noel could get his leave, but
had not yet broken the intention to her parents.

“I am sure she is right,” Viola said. “Even if he gets killed
afterwards she will have had him all her very own.”

Jane hesitated a moment before she said, rather brusquely: “She thinks
of him as her very own now.”

“Oh, yes,” said Viola, almost indifferently.

Jane stuck to her point. “You had Harry all your very own,” she said.
“There wasn’t anybody else. He liked me and Sidney, but there wasn’t
really anybody else but you.” It was by that unafraid directness, which
was part of her nature, that she had made her way with Viola, where
nobody else had gained any access to her tortured bewildered mind. She
could say anything to her, because there was only truth and love behind
her words.

“I know,” said Viola. “I’m very glad Sidney is going to be happy—as
long as it lasts—but I don’t believe they can possibly love each other
as much as Harry and I did. That’s what makes it so cruel that he was
killed. There was never anybody like him. Why were we allowed to know
each other and to love each other if it was just to be like that?”

“That’s what I mean,” said Jane. “You did love each other, and even if
you’re awfully miserable now you’d rather be that than never have known
Harry.”

“It doesn’t seem to matter much whether I’m miserable or not,” Viola
said. “Everybody who has said anything to me about it has seemed to
think that’s the chief thing—that I shall get over it in time. What
does it matter whether I get over it or not? It’s Harry’s being killed
that matters.”

“I know,” said Jane. “Older people don’t seem to understand, though
they only mean to be kind. It’s all so different to what I’d ever
thought it would be, if anything like that happened with somebody you
loved very much. There’s part of you goes on doing the same things
almost as if you’d forgotten, and even perhaps enjoying yourself
sometimes; and there’s part of you that never forgets. Of course it
isn’t the same for me as it is for you,” she added on a note of
humility, “but I know enough to understand.”

“Oh, my dear, I know how much you loved Harry. It’s what makes me love
you. I think I love you better than anybody, just because of that. It
all comes back to Harry, you see. Poor Lady Brent loved him, and I’m
desperately sorry for her. Sometimes it seems as if I’m more sorry for
her than I am for myself. It isn’t like being sorry for oneself; I
don’t seem to count. But I’m sorry for her. She’s old, but she isn’t
hard, as many old people are. And there are so many other things than
just Harry that she has lost.”

“What sort of things?”

“Oh, everything that he was, or was going to be—everything she had
thought about and looked forward to all the time he was growing up. I
suppose they were all part of Harry to her; but they weren’t very much
to me. I think I was even a little jealous of them. Once when we were
at the log cabin, and talked about going away to a new country—you know,
just as you used to talk, half in fun—I thought, oh, how I wish we
could, and he would work for me and I would work for him. I wished he
wasn’t Sir Harry Brent at all, with all that belonged to him, but just
Harry, who only belonged to me.”

“Of course that would have been best of all. But he was Harry just the
same, and that’s what matters most to Lady Brent.”

“Oh, yes, I know. But all the rest does matter to her, poor dear, and I
don’t wonder at it—for her. Everything that meant so much to her has
come to an end. He was the last Brent, and even Royd itself is nothing
to her now. I should think that was a great pity myself, if it were
anybody else. I think she would have liked to talk about it to me,
after the first. But I just couldn’t. I couldn’t now—only to you.
You’re the only person who really knows how little it matters—to me.”

Jane was silent. She had heard that talk, and tried to adjust her mind
to it. Her father, deeply shocked at Harry’s death, and of some comfort
to her in his exposition of the Christian faith in immortality, had yet
let his mind run upon some aspects of the loss that had seemed to her,
in the first outbreak of her grief, almost to belittle it. He had
talked about the loss to Viola, not only of Harry, but of what she would
have had as Harry’s wife—even as his widow. He had taken it for granted
that some day she would get over her grief at Harry’s death. It was not
to be expected that she would think of the material benefits that would
have come to her, now; but afterwards she would.

Was this so? Jane had talked to her mother, who had told her, striving
hard to be honest with her, that few people were altogether free from
worldly desires when they grew older, and that the most bitter grief was
assuaged by time. Jane had listened, but held to her opinion that Viola
would never get over Harry’s loss, and that nothing she had lost besides
would ever matter to her. But she had been a little shaken. Now she
felt that she was justified in her faith in Viola. Not even the loss of
all that saddened others who also loved Harry, but not as she did,
mattered to her; the loss of those things to herself she did not think
about, nor ever would.

They had come a long way through the ride. “I’m going to take you to a
place I haven’t been to since Harry died,” Viola said, as she turned to
a faintly defined track through the wood. “I’ve wanted to go, but I
couldn’t by myself.”

She spoke without more emotion than had marked her speech hitherto, and
as they threaded their way through the trees, which grew closely here,
she told Jane how Harry had led her to the woodland pool on the morning
after they had first met, and how they had spent long summer hours in
that green retreat, happy in their love.

Jane felt that she was going to a holy place. Harry had never mentioned
this secret pool to her, though he had shown her many secrets of the
woods.

The hardly discernible path by which they had turned aside was soon lost
in the tangle of undergrowth. Viola told her that they had never gone
to the pool by the same way, so as not to leave a track; but she went on
unhesitatingly, “I think I could find my way to it blindfold,” she said.

Presently they came to the pool. Viola caught her breath and gave a
little shiver as she stood on its brink. The sun had gone behind the
clouds, and the waters were cold and steely, but there was no wind, and
they reflected as in a mirror the bare trees, which had once been
arrassed with their leafy tapestry, to close in this hidden temple.
“It’s not the same,” she said. “It isn’t secret any more. I wish I
hadn’t come.”

She turned, and there was the great tree, with the jutting roots under
its spreading canopy upon which she had sat as a queen crowned by
Harry’s adoring love. She seemed to recoil, and gave a cry which echoed
forlornly through the naked woods. Then she sank on to the ground
beside the mossed roots crying, “Oh, Harry! My darling! Oh, my
darling!”

The suddenness of it had brought Jane’s heart to her mouth. Viola was
sobbing as if her heart would break. It was the first time Jane had seen
her abandon herself to her despairing grief. Her own love and sorrow
welled up in her. She knelt beside Viola, embracing her as she lay
there, and mingling her tears with hers, but not speaking.

For a long time both of them wept together. Viola’s sobs decreased in
violence, but she cried piteously and forlornly. “Oh, Harry, I do want
you so,” she sobbed. “Why have you gone away from me?”

Jane rose to her knees. Viola, still lying against the roots, with her
head buried on her arm, caught her hand and held it. The pressure
thrilled Jane through and through. She could console, in this
unconsolable grief. She felt as if it were a trust from Harry to do so.
Viola was not quite alone in the world, if she could still cling to her
in her bitter trouble. She bent down again and kissed her, and Viola’s
arms went round her neck. “Don’t cry any more,” she said through her own
falling tears. “Harry hasn’t left you. He’s alive and happy. Perhaps
he’s looking at us now. He loves you as much as you love him.”

Viola’s sobs ceased for the moment. “He did,” she said. “Oh, if I knew
he loved me still I could bear never seeing him any more. But he’s
dead. They killed Harry, Jane. Can you believe it? My darling Harry!
He kissed me here when he was alive and we talked and talked such a
little time ago. I can hear him now this very minute and feel him by
me. But he is dead. I must keep on saying it or I can’t believe it.
Harry is dead.”

Her sobs broke out afresh. Jane rose to her feet, “No,” she said, with
a solemn look on her child’s face. “Harry isn’t dead. He won’t like to
see you giving way like that. Just for a time you can’t help it, I
know; but you’ve cried enough. Get up now, Viola, and let’s talk about
Harry.”

Viola arose obediently, and dried her eyes. “I’ve always tried to be
brave,” she said, “because I knew Harry would like it. He wouldn’t have
gone away from me if he could have helped it. I’m sorry I said what I
did just now, but it was too much for me seeing this place. I shan’t
come here again. Let’s go away.”

Jane hesitated. “Wouldn’t you rather stay, and talk about him here?”
she said. “It brought him more back to you to come here. It was too
much for you at first; but now you’ve got over that——”

Viola stood and looked about her. Her cheeks were wet with her tears,
and at intervals a tremor passed through her body; but she was not
weeping now, and the quieter look was returning to her face.

“It is the same place, after all,” she said, as if slowly recognizing
it. “But it’s bare—like my heart is. I used to think it welcomed us
when we came here, it was so quiet and beautiful. It’s beautiful now,
though. Harry would have loved it like this. Yes, we’ll stay here a
little, Jane dear. Look, this is just where I used to sit, and Harry
would always lie on the grass. In other places he used to sit by me,
but here he said I was a queen, and he must be at my feet. Come and sit
by me on my poor throne, Jane, and we’ll talk about him.”

They sat side by side. Jane nestled to her with her arm around her
waist, and for a time they said nothing. The sunlight fell upon them,
filtering through the interlaced branches, as they sat still in a
contact which was a solace to both of them. Grief does not set abiding
marks upon the young. But for the traces of her tears Viola was as
fresh and fair as when she had sat there for Harry to worship her. It
was only in her tender reliant heart that the wound was quivering and
throbbing. She was widowed of her love, though she had never been wed.
There was no one who could comfort her, except the still younger girl
who shared her love and her grief, and was nestling to her.

The silence of the woods lay all about them, but it was not the iron
silence of deep winter. There was a sense of reviving life in the
February sunshine, and the hazy purple of the already swelling
leaf-buds.

Viola bent over Jane and kissed her. “You do comfort me, dear,” she
said. “I thought nothing could ever comfort me again, but you do. You
loved my darling Harry.”

Jane buried her face on Viola’s breast and cried softly, and Viola’s
tears came again, but not with the abandonment she had lately shown.
They were healing tears of love and sympathy.

Jane dried her eyes, still leaning against Viola, and said: “I’m very
glad you brought me here. Now I know. Now I know for certain.”

“What do you know, dear?” Viola asked her gently. She felt the stirrings
of love in her towards this child, so loyal and so steel-true. Her
quiet tears, leaning on her breast, had brought out the child in her.
She had been dreadfully hurt too, and needed for herself the consolation
that she had only thought of giving, with a strength and wisdom beyond
her years. Viola kissed her again as she asked her question.

“I know that Harry is alive,” said Jane, sitting upright and looking out
across the waters of the pool, upon which there was not a tremor. It
was as if it had hushed itself to listen. “This place seems to be full
of him. I know why. It’s because of the love that it holds. Love
can’t die; it’s there for always. Harry loves you just as much as he
did when you came here together. I believe he loves me too, just as he
used to when I was little. Once he sent me a message, before anybody,
because we were friends. Now I believe he’s sending me a message again.
He loves you. Yes, he does. It isn’t that he did love you, and then he
died and you’ve only got that to remember. He loves you now, and he’ll
never leave off loving you, till you see him again, and are happy
together as you used to be.”

Viola’s eyes had been fixed on her, as if fascinated. Her utterance was
almost prophetic in its rapt intensity. When she had spoken she nestled
to Viola again, and said in a softer tone: “It makes me almost happy
now, believing that. Don’t you feel that it’s true?”

“Do you really _believe_ we shall meet again some day?” Viola asked.
“If you’d asked me—before—I should have said I believed that. But it
hasn’t given me any comfort, up till now. I suppose I didn’t really
believe it, as I used to believe I should meet him again the next day
here. If I could only know it!”

“But don’t you _feel_ that Harry’s alive?” said Jane. “I do. If you
can’t feel it yet it’s only because you’ve been so sad and so puzzled
that you haven’t known. But if I can feel it you will be able to more
still, because Harry loved you so much. I think he wants you to feel it
now.”

It was Viola’s turn now to look out across the water. “It would be like
Harry,” she said, slowly. “Oh, Jane, if it’s only true!”

She put her hand to her breast, and a smile broke out upon her face—such
a smile as had not lightened it these many days.

“Of course it’s true,” said Jane, in her decisive way. “It’s part of our
religion. We say every Sunday in church: ’I believe in the resurrection
of the dead, and the life of the world to come.’”

“Ah, but that’s not the same. I want to think of Harry as alive now.
It seemed to come to me just now that he really is—like the sun breaking
through the clouds. If _that’s_ true, Jane dear—if _that’s_ true, that
my darling Harry is alive now somewhere, just like he used to be, and
loving me all the time, and I only have to wait for a little before I
see him again——”

“You won’t even have to wait,” said Jane, “if you know he’s loving you,
and you can go on loving him because he’s alive, and not only remember
what he was when he was here.”

“No. It will only be like what it was when he went away before. My
heart was going out to him always, and when he came back all the parting
was forgotten, and it was sweeter than if we hadn’t parted. Oh, Jane,
fancy seeing Harry just like he used to be, beautiful and laughing and
happy! Do you think it’s possible that it can be really like that—that
he’s somewhere now—not lying out there in France, but just as he was
when we loved each other so much? Tell me you really believe it, and
are not saying it only to comfort me.”

Jane clung to her again. “I’m sure of it,” she said. “It’s Harry’s
message. You don’t mind it coming through me, do you? It’s a message
to you; he wants me to give it you. It’s not in words, as if he were
speaking. It’s all through me. Harry wants your love just as much now
as ever he did, and he loves you just as much too.”

Viola sat silent, with a tender look in her eyes, and a smile upon her
lips. Presently she said: “Harry once saw something, not belonging to
the world which everybody can see, and when he told me I knew at once
why he had seen it, because there had never been anything in the way
with him. There never has been. You could look deep, deep, deep into
him, and never find anything there that wasn’t beautiful and true. I
wonder if there’s another place where people like that really belong—no,
not a place, but something they belong to all the time they’re in the
world, and that goes on just the same for them when they have left the
world. I think there must be, Jane, and that’s how it is with Harry.
That would make him here, with us, wouldn’t it?”

“Yes,” said Jane, softly. “That’s what I feel about it. It’s all love.
I can’t explain exactly, but when he was here with his body there was
something else more important still, and just as real. It’s love that
is real—like a person. Can you understand?”

“Yes, I think I can, and it’s what I meant, too, that is so comforting.
What I loved most in him when he was here is just what he is still, and
I can go on loving it, because it didn’t die when he was killed. I
wonder if he thought that too. I couldn’t bear to think of him being
killed, so he never talked about it.”

“Wasn’t that because he thought it didn’t _really_ matter?”

“Oh, how it matters to me! But perhaps God took him so that he should
never be spoilt, not the least little bit. Oh, but I would have tried
so hard to be worthy of him, if only he’d been left to me, just for a
little little time longer. He said I helped him. I believe I did, when
he was unhappy—because the world wasn’t like it had been to him here,
and I knew more about the world than he did, poor darling!”




“It’s very hard indeed, and you can’t quite understand it all. But when
you say to yourself, it’s all it seems somehow to put it more right.
And the text says, God is love, so that would come in too, though I
don’t quite know how till I think about it more. But what I’m quite
certain of is that Harry couldn’t have been _wasted_. I think that’s
what poor Lady Brent can’t see. All of him that we loved is alive
somewhere. I’m more and more sure of that every moment. I believe it’s
what Harry is trying to say to us. Let’s just say we believe it, Viola
dear. Perhaps it will even make him more happy if we do. I believe it.
I believe Harry is alive and that he knows about us, and some day you
will see him again, and you will be happier together than you have ever
been. Say it, Viola.”

“The last letter Harry wrote to me,” said Viola, musingly, “he said he
should love me always, always, always. Do you think he meant what we’ve
been saying, Jane, though he wouldn’t write about being killed?”

“I expect he did. I’m sure he must have believed it, and I’m sure he
wants you to believe it now. Say it, Viola. Say you believe it.”

Viola rose and stood before her. A smile was on her lips, and there was
a light in her eyes. “I do believe it,” she said, “and it will make
everything different to me all through my life. Harry will be with me
always.”

She turned and stood, looking up to the clear space of sky above the
pool. “Oh, Harry, my darling,” she said very softly, and tenderly, “can
you hear me—your own Viola, who loves you so? I do love you, darling,
now and for ever.”