THE RETURN

Harry came home a few days after Lady Avalon and Sidney had come to
Royd, and two days before they had been going away. But they were
persuaded, without much difficulty, to stay a little longer. At least,
Lady Avalon accepted Lady Brent’s invitation to prolong their visit, and
informed Sidney that she had done so. “You see how it is,” said Sidney
to Jane, with whom she was now fast friends, much to the maturing of
Jane’s behaviour, but not to the spoiling of her, as her parents
gratefully remarked.

“She’s a thoroughly nice unaffected girl,” said Grant, “and she’ll be a
nice friend for Jane, especially if what we think is going to happen
does happen.”

“I’m not sure she’s not putting ideas into Jane’s head,” said Miss
Minster. “I know they have secrets together, and I’ve a sort of notion
that they’re on the eternal subject of love.”

“Well,” said Grant, “girls will talk about love, I suppose, and if they
talk nicely I don’t know that there’s much harm done.”

“Jane ought to have learnt how to talk nicely about love by this time,”
said Miss Minster, with obvious reference. “I think Lady Sidney is all
right really, or I should perhaps advise you both differently. Whether
she’s going to set her cap at Harry or not I don’t know, and I don’t
suppose Jane would tell me if I asked her. But I’m pretty sure that they
have discussed it.”

Mrs. Grant listened to this without remark, but was a little disturbed
at the idea of Jane having secrets which she would not impart to Miss
Minster. Would she impart them to her? It would mark a stage if Jane
were not ready to tell her everything.

She was considering the advisability of approaching Jane on the matter
when Jane approached her. “I’ve got a secret with Sidney, mother,” she
said, in her abrupt but open way. “It’s something she’s told me about
herself. She says she’d rather I didn’t tell you just yet, if you don’t
mind, but she doesn’t mind my telling you that there is a secret. You
don’t mind, do you?”

“What a lot of ’minds’!” said Mrs. Grant. “No, darling, I don’t mind at
all, unless it’s something that you think you ought to tell me.”

“Oh, no, it’s nothing of that sort,” said Jane. “It’s something about
herself which she doesn’t want people to know yet. I’m going to tell it
to Harry when he comes home, so that we can all three enjoy ourselves
together.”

Mrs. Grant, with the idea in her head that Sidney had confided to Jane
that she retained a tender memory of Harry which might become more
tender still, was a little surprised at this way of putting it; but it
did not take her long to understand the truth when Jane had left her.
She smiled and kept her own counsel, and liked Sidney all the better;
for she must have known that if Jane told her that there was a secret
she would guess what the secret was, little as Jane might suspect it.

Harry sent a wire in the morning to say that he was coming by a train
that would arrive in the late afternoon. Only Mrs. Brent drove to the
station to meet him, but they were all waiting for him in front of the
Castle, the Grants inclusive, and there was scarcely a villager who was
not somewhere on the road, or in the more public parts of the park to
see him drive by.

His smiling excitement at this greeting from old friends—the only
friends he had had up till two years before—made him seem at first
exactly what he had been. But there was none of the little group at the
Castle, except Lady Avalon and Sidney, who had not the impression, after
the first greeting, of his having become much older. His fair boy’s
beauty had developed into the sunburnt hardness of a man. He was
extraordinarily handsome in his smart khaki kit, but he looked years
older than his age, which was not much over nineteen; and his speech and
manner had altered. It would be another eighteen months before he would
be legally his own master and the master of his ancient Castle, and all
that went with it; but he seemed to have come into the house as its
master, and to give it a meaning that it had never had while it had been
ruled by a woman.

It was not too late for tea, which provided an opportunity for everybody
of getting used to the new Harry, as they sat on the terrace and made
play with their cups and conversation. There were adjustments to be
made, and the necessity for them to be covered up. Harry talked freely
to everybody. His manner was perfect with his grandmother, to whom he
showed deference, while she, of course, behaved with her usual calm and
let nothing appear of all that she was thinking. Mrs. Brent kept her
eyes on him all the time, and had an air almost of bewilderment. She
did not try to assert herself, but accepted gratefully the notice he
gave her from time to time. Lady Avalon was the only person present who
asked him questions about his experiences, but it soon became evident
that he had nothing to tell that was personal to himself. He answered
the questions, but with a slight change in the frank manner of his
speech when they touched upon his own experiences apart from the
operations in which he had taken part. His mother told Mrs. Grant
afterwards that he had said to her during the drive that he wanted to
forget everything that had happened since he had left home—at least he
didn’t want to talk about it. They had yet to learn how far his
experiences had changed him, and to gather whether or no they were such
as to have left a painful mark upon his life; but he would give them no
help in coming to their conclusions. His life in the ranks was to
remain as it had been, a sealed book to them.

With Sidney Harry was friendly, but no more. They talked a little of
their childhood, and laughed over some of their memories, but it was
not, apparently, to be the basis of any special degree of intimacy
between them. Sidney retired a little into her shell after a time, and
watched.

Harry was more like his old self with Jane than with anybody. Beyond a
single remark about her growth he had not shown himself aware of any
change in her. He seemed to want to take up their friendship at exactly
the place where it had stopped. He asked her many questions about
Pobbles, and said he would write to him. His manner towards her was that
of a grown man to a child whom he loves. Even Lady Avalon did not
mistake it for anything else, for she told Lady Brent afterwards that it
was rather extraordinary that he should not see that Jane was already
growing into a very pretty girl, with the implication that the fact
might dawn upon him as time went on.

Jane herself showed a high but modest pride in the value he put upon
her. “Now you see what he’s like,” she told Sidney. “When we three can
be together and enjoy ourselves—well, we shall enjoy ourselves. I
consider that Harry is about the nicest friend that anybody can have.
He doesn’t forget you when he’s away.”

“He hasn’t forgotten _you_,” said Sidney. “I’m beginning to wonder
whether I shan’t be a little in the way.”

Jane showed surprise at this, and Sidney laughed and said: “Darling old
thing you are! You don’t know what you’re worth; but you will in a year
or two. Anyhow, I’m not jealous of you, and I like Harry for remembering
his old friends and not wanting to drop them for new ones. Of course I
knew him before you did, but not as he is now. He’s older than I should
have thought, and I think he looks rather sad. You’ve got to cheer him
up, and if I’m wanted to help I shall be quite ready.”

“Of course you’ll be wanted to help,” said Jane. “You’ll be seeing more
of him, for one thing, as you will be staying in the house. I suppose
you won’t mind my being his _chief_ friend though, if you like somebody
else better.”

“I should be a horrid sort of creature if I did,” said Sidney. “You
won’t suffer from me when you’re not here.”

Harry and Sidney strolled together in the garden after dinner, with the
full concurrence of their elders, except possibly of Mrs. Brent, who had
not yet recovered from her air of slight bewilderment, and was quieter
than she had been for the last few days.

They talked about Jane, and for the first time Harry seemed to regard
Sidney with interest. Hitherto he had been merely friendly with her on
the surface, as with one who was there but didn’t matter much. “Oh,
yes, we’re real friends,” she said, with her free and pleasant smile.
“I suppose you can only see that she’s a child, but I’ve never treated
her like one. I began like that because girls of that age love being
talked to as if they were grown up, but I very soon found out what a lot
there was in her. If she’s a child in some ways still, as of course she
is, it makes her all the more fascinating. She’s one in a thousand.
She’ll make all the difference to me down here, if I can get hold of her
sometimes.”

“She’s a real person,” Harry said. “If you and she have made friends it
will be jolly for all three of us. We can all be friends together.”

“That’s what Jane wants,” said Sidney. “She’s devoted to you, and I
believe she’s also devoted to me, though not so much so. We can go and
get hold of her to-morrow morning, can’t we? She has a holiday on
Saturday.”

“Oh yes. I’m very glad you want to. I was half afraid you might think
she was too young for you.”

“I suppose you mean that you were half afraid you’d have to dance
attendance on me, when you’d rather have been with Jane; but you see you
need fear nothing of that sort.”

They looked at one another. There was just light enough to catch an
expression of face. Then they both laughed, and became friends from
that moment.

“We’d settled that Jane was to tell you,” said Sidney, “but I think I
might as well do it myself. I’m engaged to somebody, but the engagement
is not smiled upon. In fact it isn’t recognized at all, and can’t be
spoken of. But Jane and I thought that if you knew of it it would make
things more comfortable all round for us three.”

Harry asked her questions and showed a friendly sympathy towards her
love affair. But the idea of it seemed to make him rather sad too, and
Sidney did not make the mistake of thinking that his sadness was due to
any disappointment created by what she had told him. Indeed her
information had cleared the air, which held more of friendliness and
companionship in it than before, as if he were relieved at having it
quite understood that he would not be expected to make love to her, but
short of that would give her all the friendship that she wanted, and be
glad to take in return all that she had to give to him.

She had a good deal to give him. That baby’s friendship which seemed to
have meant nothing to him had kept him alive in her heart. He was not
quite like other men to her. Something of his childhood lingered about
him, though he had advanced so far on the hard road of manhood, and but
for her memories of him would have seemed to her much older than his
years. She felt the desire to encourage in him those gleams of boyish
laughter and irresponsibility which had once or twice shone out through
the half-weary indifference of his attitude. She thought that he must
have been through a harsh disillusioning experience, and was too tired
in spirit to accept all at once the freedom of his release. Her own
lover, who was some years older than Harry, had told her that it needed
a good deal of resolution and self-hardening to go through the ranks,
and that sometimes only the remembrance of her had kept him up to it.
She thought she knew more than other girls were likely to know what it
must have meant to Harry, who did not seem even to want to speak of it.
The maternal instinct which is in all women drew her to sympathy with
him. She and Jane between them would get rid of that sadness and
tiredness that lay over him. If Jane was too young, and she too
occupied with somebody else to give him the consolation that would
quickly heal such wounds as he was suffering from, he would still,
surely, respond to their affection, and forget his troubles. She must
not talk too much about her own happiness. That seemed to depress him,
kind as he was about it. Of course it was love he wanted, though he
might not know it. It was a pity that Jane was not a few years older,
or that she herself was the only unmarried one of all her sisters. She
did not suppose that there was anybody else in these parts, from what
she remembered of them, who would be good enough for Harry. But perhaps
it was just as well. She and he and Jane would enjoy themselves
together, and show the world, if the world happened to take notice and
be interested, that a man and two girls could be the best of friends
with no question of love affecting their intercourse.

Perhaps that evening they might have got further into intimacy, but
Harry had still something to do before he could feel himself free to
take his enjoyment in the youthful companionship that had been so
fortunately provided for him.

“I’m very glad you’re to be here for a bit,” he said. “There aren’t many
young people about and it would have been a bit dull for me, though I
should have tried my best to keep it from my mother and grandmother. I
think I must go in and have a talk with Granny now, if you don’t mind.
I haven’t seen her alone since I came back.”

But apparently Mrs. Brent had decided that there was to be no talk
between those two alone, as long as she could prevent it. Lady Avalon
and Sidney said good night soon after ten o’clock, and when they had
gone Mrs. Brent said: “Come out for a little with me, Harry dear. It’s
quite warm, and I don’t even want a wrap. If you’re tired, as I expect
you are, you can go straight to bed when we’ve just had a little
stroll.”




Lady Brent sat like a sphinx. Harry said: “All right, mother. But I’m
not tired. We’ll go out for ten minutes and then I’ll have a little
talk with Granny.”

Directly they were in the garden, Mrs. Brent said in a querulous tone:
“Why should you want to have a talk with her? She took you away from me
a lot when you were a child, but now it’s different. She ought not to
have any more authority over you than I have.”

Harry laughed at her. “Authority!” he echoed. “I don’t feel like
anybody having much authority over me now, little mother.” He spoke
tenderly, but there was a hint of impatience in his tone, which she
detected.

“I’m sure I don’t want to direct you in any way,” she said. “I only
want to feel that you’re mine now that you’ve grown up, and not hers.
Nobody in the world loves you as much as I do. I suppose you’ll marry
some day, and I shan’t grumble at that when the time comes. But until
then I want to feel that you and I are all in all to one another.”

He answered only her reference to his grandmother. “You’re my mother,”
he said. “In one way you’ve always been more to me than Granny. But I
owe her a good deal, and I mustn’t forget it. I haven’t done much for
her since I went away. Now that I’ve got what I wanted, and have come
back again, I want to make up for that—to both of you.”

“It was very cruel of you to cut yourself off from us as you did,
Harry,” she said. “You needn’t have done it. Even she wouldn’t have
prevented you doing what you wanted to do, when once you’d done it.”

“We needn’t talk about that,” he said, decisively. “It’s all over now.
It’s what I want to tell her. You must let me have a little talk with
her when we go in, please, mother.”

“You mean you want me to go to bed while you sit and talk to her alone.
Why should you want that? Why shouldn’t I be there too?”

“Well, because you’re not friendly to her, and I want to be—poor old
Granny! I suppose you’ve never got on well together. I used to feel
it, though I didn’t think about it much. I think you both tried to keep
it from me. I’d much rather you tried to get rid of that feeling,
mother dear. It makes me unhappy, and you can’t hide it from me any
longer. After all, Royd is her home. I’m rather sorry you left it. I
liked to think of it with you and her here, just as it used to be.”

“Oh, I couldn’t stay here when you had gone. It was too much to ask of
anybody. I suppose she’ll always be here—at least till you come of age
and are master instead of her. Couldn’t we go away together—I don’t
mean now, but after you’ve been here a little, to London or
somewhere—just you and I together? I’ve had so little of you, Harry,
all to myself. All the dull years here, while she has been everything
and I have been nothing, I’ve looked forward to it—to having you to
myself for a little, when you were grown up.”

She peered into his face, and saw a frown on it; but when he spoke it
had cleared, and he spoke very kindly. “I may have to go to London
before my leave is up,” he said. “But I should want to go alone. And I
don’t want to be away from Royd more than I can help. You’ve always
belonged to Royd, mother, ever since I can remember. When I’m with you
I’d rather be here than anywhere. Please don’t spoil it for me by
making things difficult with Granny. I think I’ll go in to her now. I
mustn’t keep her up late.”

She expostulated, plaintively, as they went towards the house together.
She felt that he was slipping from her, and that nothing would be as she
had pictured it, but she had not the self-control to spare him her
complaints and appeals. He was always kind, but he was firm too, with a
man’s firmness towards a weak and foolish woman. He had grown
immeasurably in mental stature, and his determination impressed itself
upon her increasingly. That mention of authority over him with which
she had begun now seemed foolish even to her. As they went into the
house she said: “Of course I don’t want to treat you like a boy any
more. I only want to be sure that you don’t love anybody better than
me. You do love me best, don’t you, Harry?”

He bent down and kissed her. “You know I love you, mother,” he said.
“Now I’ll go and talk to Granny. Come and see me when I go to bed—say
in half an hour—as you used to.”

That comforted her a little, and she went upstairs, while he went into
the drawing-room where Lady Brent was still sitting where they had left
her.

“Well, Granny dear,” he said. “I thought we’d have a little talk. I’ve
got things to tell you.”

She laid down her work, and looked at him fondly, sitting in a low chair
opposite to her, so young in appearance, as he sat there with his long
legs stretched out, but, as she felt, so old in experience, and so
different from the boy he had been.

“Please don’t think, dear Harry,” she said, “that you owe me any
explanation of anything. I’ve had a long time to think it all out, you
know. I think I understand most things. Don’t you want it treated as
if it was all over now, and begin again, much as it was before? If so,
I want that too. We’ve got you at home now, and we want to be all happy
together.”

His face cleared as he spoke. “It’s very good of you to put it like
that,” he said. “Yes, of course I want it to be as much as possible
what it used to be as long as I can be here with you. There’s a good
deal I want to forget.”

“I’m afraid you’ve been through a very hard time, Harry.”

“Not harder than others, Granny. It’s not a bad thing to learn what you
have to learn in a hard school. Perhaps you learn it all the quicker.”

There was a pause before she said: “It has troubled me a good deal—the
thought of your going straight from the life you lived here into the
ranks. It wasn’t that that we’d tried to prepare you for.”

“Oh, the ranks!” he said. “You needn’t let that worry you, Granny. I’m
glad I went into the ranks. I’d rather do it that way than any.”

She showed some surprise at this. “I’ve thought it over and over,” she
said. “But I’ve never thought of it in that way. It was the roughness
and coarseness I hated for you. Isn’t that what you want to forget?”

He was silent for a time, looking down. Then he burst out: “It’s
learning what the beastliness of life is that I want to forget. That’s
what I’d never known. I never minded hard work—doing what others do.
And I doubt whether I should have been let down so easily with people
like myself—on the outside, I mean. No, I was nearer to the men who had
lived simpler lives. I understood them better than I should have done
the others. And they were good to me too. I don’t think I should have
wanted to get a commission if I hadn’t felt I ought to. I should have
been content to go on till the end of it. But now it’s all got to begin
again. Oh, don’t let’s talk of it. I’ve got a month here, where it’s
quiet and clean and beautiful. Let’s forget what’s past and what’s
coming. I never meant to talk of it. I only wanted to tell you what I
was going to do, and to thank you for letting me go my own way.”

Poor Lady Brent went to bed that night with something new to think
about. She could not sleep, and wrote a long letter to Wilbraham in
London. “We might have thought of that,” she wrote in the course of it.
“It wouldn’t have been the little hardships that would trouble him. He
had prepared himself for all that, with the life out of doors that he
had led here. And he would understand the men he was with, because he
was friends with everybody about here. I’m sure they must have loved
him too, and all the more because he wasn’t like them. The others would
have expected him to be like them. I am full of trouble about him. It
looks to me now as if we had prepared him for nothing, so as to save him
pain. Life has come as a shock to him, and he has not got over it yet.
But one thing I’m sure of—he must work it out for himself. I shall
meddle with him no more. I am not sure that I have not made a great
mistake.”