Peter, home after his first important absence, found that his former
life had shrunk. He had seen things on a generous scale. Only for four
days had he been away, but it was an epoch.
He went immediately to find Miranda, trembling with impatience. But he
was struck shy when they met. Peter had imagined this meeting as a
perfect renewal of their last moments together. He had seen himself
thrilling into a passionate welcome, taking up his life with Miranda
where it had abruptly ceased with the arrival of Uncle Henry four days
ago. But at sight of her the current of his eagerness was checked. It
was that curious moment of lovers who have lived through so many
meetings in imagination that the actual moment cannot be fulfilled.
“You’re back,” she said awkwardly, hardly able to look at him.
“I’ve just this moment come.” Peter thought it was the staring daylight
that put this constraint upon them. Then he saw in his fancy the welcome
he had expected–very different from this–and, as though he were acting
something many times rehearsed, he kissed Miranda with an intended joy.
Miranda’s constraint was now broken.
“I have missed you dreadfully,” she whispered.
She held him tight, urged by the piteous memory of four empty days; and
Peter, rising at her passion, strained her truthfully towards him. The
disillusion of meeting fell away from them both.
Soon he was talking to her of Oxford, and the great life he had shared.
He did not realise that a strain of arrogant enthusiasm came into his
tale–a suggestion that in these last four days he had flapped the wings
of his ambition in high air and dazzling sunshine. Miranda was chilled,
feeling she had been in the cold, divining that Peter had a little grown
away from her in the things he recounted with such unnecessary joy. At
last she interrupted him.
“You haven’t missed me, Peter.”
“But I have,” answered Peter, passing in a breath to tell of his
encounter with the dons of Gamaliel. Miranda put her hand into his, but
Peter, graphically intent upon his tale, insensibly removed it for a
“I don’t want to hear,” said Miranda suddenly.
She slipped from where they sat, and, killing him with her eyes, walked
Peter was struck into dismay. Remorse for his selfish intentness upon
glories Miranda had not shared shot him through. But he stayed where she
had left him, sullenly resentful. She need not have been so violent. How
ugly was her voice when she told him she did not want to hear. Peter
noticed in her swinging dress a patched rent, and her dusty shoes down
at the heel. Spitefully he called into his mind, for contrast and to
support him in his resentment, the quiet and ordered beauty of the life
he had just seen. He retired with dignity to the house, and made
miserable efforts to forget that Miranda was estranged.
Mrs. Paragon wanted to hear all that Peter had seen and done. Peter told
again his tale without enthusiasm. Then his father also must hear. Peter
talked of Oxford, wondering, as he talked, where Miranda had gone, and
whether she would forgive him even if he admitted he was to blame. His
experiences now had lost all their charm. He had taken a vain pleasure
in glorifying them to Miranda, but the glory now was spoiled.
Mr. Paragon was delighted to hear Peter describing his first serious
introduction to polite company without seeming violently pleased.
Clearly Oxford was not going to corrupt him. Peter spoke almost with
distaste of his fine friends.
“Well, my boy,” said Mr. Paragon, “you don’t seem to think much of this
“It’s all right, father,” answered Peter, absently dwelling on Miranda.
“What did you talk about? Mostly trash, I suppose?”
“Yes, father.” Peter was now at Miranda’s feet, asking her to forgive
A little later Mr. Smith came in, and the time passed heavily away. Mr.
Smith was trying to dissuade Mr. Paragon from taking part in an angry
demonstration of railway men who had struck work in the previous week.
Already there had been rioting. To-night Mr. Paragon was to address a
meeting in the open air, and his talk was loud and bitter. Peter heard
all this rhetoric with faint disgust. He was at that time in all things
his father’s disciple. But to-night his brain was dancing between a
proud girl, with eyes that hurt, swinging away from him in her patched
frock and dusty shoes, and a long, low-lit table elegant with silver and
glass. He could not listen to these foolish men; and when Mr. Smith had
reached the summit of his theme in a call to “shoot them down,” and when
his father was clearly making ready utterly to destroy his enemy, Peter
went impatiently from the room.
Mrs. Paragon made ready her husband for the meeting without regarding
Mr. Smith’s gloomy fears of disorder and riot. It had always been Mr.
Paragon’s amusement to speak in public, and she had decided that
politics could have no serious results. For a few minutes she watched
him diminish up the long street, and then returned to the kitchen where
Mr. Smith, balancing on his toes, talked still of the dark necessities
of blood and iron.
Two hours later Peter’s father was brought home dead, with a bullet in
Peter sat stonily where Miranda left him earlier in the day. It was now
quite dark, the evening primrose shining in tall clusters, very pale,
within reach of his hand. Since a cab had jingled into hearing, stopped
beside the house, and jingled away, hardly a sound had broken into his
thoughts. Each rustle of the trees or lightest noise of the garden
raised in him a riot of excitement; for he felt that Miranda would come,
and he lived moment by moment intensely waiting. He was sure she would
not be able to sleep without making her peace.
Several times he moaned softly, and asked for her aloud. Once he was
filled with bitterest anger, and started to go back into the house. He
hated her. His brilliant future should not be linked with this rude and
shabby girl. Then, in sharp remorse, he asked to be forgiven. Tears of
self-pity had followed tears of anger and tears of utter pain, and had
dried on his cheeks as he rigidly kept one posture on the narrow bench.
He felt to-night that he had the power to experience and to utter all
the sorrow of the world, and mixed with his pain there were sensations
of the keenest luxury.
At last a footstep sounded. He began to tremble unendurably; but in the
next instant he knew it was not Miranda. He had not recovered from his
disappointment when his mother stood beside him.
He looked at her vaguely, not yet recalled from his raging thoughts. She
called his name, and there was something in her voice that startled him.
The moon which was now coming over the house poured its light upon her
face. Swiftly Peter was aware of some terrible thing struggling for
expression. His mother’s eyes were clouded as though she was dazed from
the effect of some hard and sudden blow. Her lips were drawn tight as
though she suffered. She stood for a moment, and once or twice just
failed to speak.
“Peter,” she said at last, “I have to tell you something.”
Peter stared at her, quickly beginning to fear.
“Don’t be frightened, dear boy.” Peter saw the first tears gather and
“Mother, you are hurt.”
Her tears now fell rapidly as she stooped and strained Peter towards
her. She could not bear to see his face as she told him.
“Something terrible has happened. There has been a fight in the streets
Her arms tightened about him. Peter knew his father was dead.
“We are alone, Peter,” she said at last.
Then she rose, and there were no more tears. Erect in the moonlight,
she seemed the statue of a mourning woman.
“He is lying in our room, Peter. Won’t you come?”
Peter instinctively shuddered away. Then, feeling as though a weight had
just been laid on him, he asked:
“Can I help you, mother? Is there anything to do?”
“Uncle Henry is here. Come when you can.”
Peter watched her move away towards the house. Self died outright in him
as, filled with worship, he saw her, grave and beautiful, going to the
Soon he wondered why, now that trouble had really come, he could not so
easily be moved. The tears, which so readily had started from his eyes
as he had brooded on his quarrel with Miranda, would not flow now for
his father. His imagination could not at once accept reality. He sat as
his mother had left him, sensible of a gradual ache that stole into his
brain. Time passed; and, at last, as the ache became intolerable, he
heard himself desperately repeating to himself the syllables:
He would never again see his father. Then his brain at last awoke in a
vision of his father, an hour ago or so, confronting Mr. Smith. Peter’s
emotion first sprang alive in a sharp remorse. He had that evening found
his father insufferable.
Peter could no longer sit. He walked rapidly up and down the garden,
giving rein to self-torment. He had always thought of his father, and
now remembered him most vividly, as one who had read with him the books
which first had opened his mind. His father shone now upon Peter crowned
with all the hard, bright literature of revolt.
A harsh cry suddenly broke up the silence of the garden. A newsboy ran
shrieking a special edition, with headlines of riot and someone killed.
The cry struck Peter motionless. He had realised so far that his father
was dead. Now he remembered the riot. The newsboy had shouted of a
charge of soldiers.
Why had Peter not accepted his father’s gospel? Why had he not stood
that evening by his father’s side? The enemies of whom his father had so
often talked to Peter were real, and had struck him down. All the idle
rhetoric that had slept unregarded in Peter’s brain now rang like a
challenge of trumpets. He saw his father as one who had tried to teach
him a brave gospel of freedom, who had resisted tyranny, and died for
Peter cursed the oppressor with clenched hands. In the tumble of his
thoughts there intruded pictures, quite unconnected, of the life he had
known at his first school–encounters with the friendly roughs, their
common hatred of the police, the comfortable, oily embrace of the woman
who had picked him from the snow. He felt now that he was one of these
struggling people, that he ought that night to have stood with his
father. In contrast with the warm years in which he had gloried in the
life of his humbler school his later comparative solitude coldly
emphasized his kinship with the dispossessed.
Scarcely twenty-four, hours ago Peter had feasted with the luxurious
enemies of the poor. He had come from them, vainglorious and eager to
claim their fellowship. For this he had been terribly punished. Peter
felt the hand of God in all this. It seemed like destiny’s reward for
disloyalty to all his father had taught.
He went into the house, and soon was looking at the dead man. His mother
moved about the room, obeying her instinct to put all into keeping with
the cold severity of that still figure. Peter looked and went rapidly
away. He felt no tie of blood or affection. He was looking at death–at
something immensely distant.
Nevertheless, as he went from the oppressive house, this chill vision of
death consecrated in his fancy the figure, legendary now, of a martyred
prophet of revolt. By comparison he hardly felt his personal loss of a
As he passed into the garden, he saw into the brilliantly lighted room
next door. Mr. Smith sprawled with his head on the table, sobbing like a
child. Peter, in a flash, remembered him as he had stood not two hours
ago beside his father, shrilly repeating an hortation to shoot them
down. In that moment Peter had his first glimpse of the irony of life.
He felt impulsively that he ought to comfort that foolish bowed figure
whose babble had been so rudely answered.
Then, as Mr. Smith was seen to wipe his watery eyes with a spotted
handkerchief, Peter grew impatient under that sting of absurdity which
in life pricks the holiest sorrow. He turned sharply away, and in the
path he saw Miranda.
She put out her arm with a blind gesture to check the momentum of his
recoil from the lighted window. He caught at her hand, but his fingers
closed upon the rough serge of her sleeve. His passion leaped instantly
to a climax. It was one of those rare moments when feeling must find
pictured expression; when every barrier is down between emotion and its
gesture. Miranda stood before him, the reproach of his disloyalty, a
perfect figure of the life he must embrace. His hand upon her dress shot
instantly into his brain a memory of that mean moment when he had nursed
his wrongs upon her homeliness. A fierce contrition flung him without
pose or premeditation on his knees beside her. As she leaned in wonder
towards him, he caught the fringe of her frayed skirt in his hands, and,
in a moment of supreme dedication, kissed it in a passion of worship.