The tall, soldierly young figure was
standing motionless and stiff, as though on guard,
on the river-shore beyond the bend. Whatever
apprehensions, whatever regrets, whatever fears may
have warred within Beauvayse, whatever consciousness
may have been his of having taken an irrevocable step,
bound to bring disgrace and reproach, sorrow, and
repentance upon the innocent as upon the guilty, he
showed no sign as he came to meet them, and lifted
the Service felt from his golden head, and held out
an eager hand for Lynette’s. She gave it
shyly, and with the thrill of contact Beauvayse’s
last scruple fled. He turned his beautiful, flushed
face and shining eyes upon the Mother, and asked with
“Ma’am, is not this mine?”
“First tell me, do you know that there is nothing
Her stern eyes searched his.
He laughed and said, as he kissed the slender hand:
“It holds everything for me!”
“Another question. Are you aware that my
ward is a Catholic?”
“My wife will be of my mother’s faith.
I would not have her of any other.”
The Mother gave Beauvayse her own
hand then, that was marred by many deeds of charity,
but still beautiful.
Those two, linked together for a moment
in their mutual love of her, made for Lynette a picture
never to be forgotten. Then Beauvayse said, in
the boyish tone that made the man irresistible:
“You have made me awfully happy!”
“Make her happy,” the
Mother answered him, with a tremble in her rich, melancholy
tones, “and I ask no more.”
Her own heart was bleeding, but she
drew her black draperies over the wound with a resolute
hand. Was not here a Heaven-sent answer to all
her prayers for her beloved? she asked herself, as
she looked at the girl. Eyes that beamed so,
cheeks that burned with as divine a rose, had looked
back at Lady Biddy Bawne out of her toilet-glass, upon
the night of that Ascot Cup-Day, when Richard had
asked her to be his wife. But Richard’s
eyes had never worn the look of Beauvayse’s.
Richard’s hand had never so trembled, Richard’s
face had never glowed like this. Surely here was
Love, she told herself, as they went back to the place
of trodden grass where the tea-making had been.
The Sisters, basket and trestle-laden,
were already in the act of departure. The black
circle of the dead fire marked where the giant kettle
had sung its hospitable song. Little Miss Wiercke
and her long-locked organist, the young lady from
the Free Library and her mining-engineer, had strolled
away townwards, whispering, and arm-in-arm; the Mayor’s
wife was laying the dust with tears of joy as she
trudged back to the Women’s Laager beside a
husband who pushed a perambulator containing a small
boy, who had waked up hungry and wanted supper; the
Colonel and Captain Bingo Wrynche had been summoned
back to Staff Headquarters, and a pensive little black-eyed
lady in tailor-made alpaca and a big grey hat, who
was sitting on a tree-stump knocking red ants out
of her white umbrella, as those three figures moved
out of the shadows of the trees, jumped up and hurried
to meet them, prattling:
“I couldn’t go without
saying a word.... You have been so beset with
people all the afternoon that I never got a chance
to put my oar in. Dear Reverend Mother, everything
has gone off so well. No clergyman will ever
preach again about Providence spreading a table in
the wilderness without my coming back in memory to
to-day. May we walk back together? I am a
mass of ants, and mosquito-bitten to a degree, but
I don’t think I ever enjoyed myself so much.
No, Lord Beauvayse, the path is narrow, and I have
a perfect dread of puff-adders. Please go on
before us with Miss Mildare. No!... Oh,
what ...? You haven’t ...?”
It was then that Lady Hannah dropped
the white umbrella and clapped her hands for joy.
Something of mastery and triumph in the young man’s
face, something in the pale radiance of the girl’s,
something of the mingled joy and anguish of the pierced
maternal heart shining in the Mother’s great
grey eyes, had conveyed to the exultant little woman
that the plant that had thriven upon the arid soil
of Gueldersdorp had borne a perfect blossom with a
heart of ruby red.
“Oh, you dears! you two beautiful
dears! how happy you look!” she crowed.
“I must kiss you both!” She did it.
“Say that this isn’t to be kept secret!”
She clasped her tiny hands with exaggerated entreaty.
“For the sake of the Gueldersdorp Siege Gazette,
and its seven hundred subscribers all perishing for
news, tell me I may let the cat out of the bag in
my next Weekly Column. Only say that people may
As her black eyes snapped at Beauvayse,
and her tiny hands dramatically entreated, he had
an instant of hesitation, palpable to one who stood
by. In an instant he pulled himself together.
“The whole world may know, as far as I am concerned.”
“It is best,” said the
Mother’s soft, melodious voice, “that our
world, at least, should know.”
“And when oh, when Is It To Be?”
begged Lady Hannah.
Confound the woman! Why could
she not let well alone? A sullen anger burned
in Beauvayse as he said, and not in the tone of the
“As soon as we can possibly manage it.”
The Mother’s voice said, coldly and clearly:
“I do not approve of long engagements.
If the marriage takes place, it must be soon.”
With the consciousness of one who
is impelled to take a desperate leap, Beauvayse found
“It cannot be too soon.”
“Then ... before the Relief?”
cried Lady Hannah, and Beauvayse heard himself answering:
“If Lynette agrees?”
The rapture of submission in her look
was intoxicating. He reached out his hand and
laid it lightly on her shoulder. Then, without
another word, they went on together, and the tall,
soldierly figure in brown, and the slender shape in
the green skirt and little white coat, with the dainty
plumed hat crowning the squirrel-coloured hair, were
seen in darkening relief against the flaming orange
of the sky.
“A Wedding under Fire.
Bridal Ceremony in a Beleaguered City,” murmured
the enthusiastic journalist. Her gold fountain-pen,
hanging at her chatelaine, seemed to wriggle like
a thing of life, as she imagined herself aiding, planning,
assisting at, and finally sitting down to describe
the ceremony and the wedding-veil on the little Greek
head. She babbled as her quick, bird-like gait
carried her along beside the tall, stately-moving
figure in the black habit:
“Dear Bridget ... I may
call you that for the sake of old days?”
“If you like.”
“This must make you very happy.
Society mothers of marriageable daughters will tear
their transformations from their heads, and dance upon
them in despair, when they hear that Beau s’est
range. But that I don’t hold forth
to worldly ears I would enlarge upon the immense social
advantages of such a union for that dear child.”
“Of course, I am aware that it is an excellent
Were her ears so unworldly? The
phrase rankled in her conscience like a thorn.
And in what respect were those Society mothers less
managing than the nun? she asked herself. Could
any of them have been more astute, more eager, more
bent on hooking the desirable parti for their
girls than she had shown herself just now? And
was this, again, an unworldly voice whispering to
her that the publicity ensured by a paragraph penned
by this gossip-loving little lady would fix him even
more securely, bind him more strongly, make it even
less possible for him to retreat, should he desire
it by burning his boats behind him, so that
he had no alternative but to go on? She sickened
with loathing of herself. But for her there was
no retreat either. Here Lady Hannah helped her
unawares. With a side-glance at the noble face
beside her, pale olive-hued, worn and faded beyond
the age of the woman by her great labours and her
greater griefs, the arched black eyebrows sprinkled
of late with grey, the eyelids thin over the mobile
eyeballs, purpled with lack of sleep and secret, bitter
weeping, the close-folded, deeply cut, eloquent mouth
withered like a japonica-bloom that lingers on in
frost, the strong, salient chin framed in the snowy,
starched guimpe, she faltered:
“You don’t shy at the
notion of the par the announcement in the
Siege Gazette, I mean?...”
“Upon the contrary, I approve
of it,” said the Mother, and walked on very
fast, for the bells of the Catholic Church were ringing
“Is it good-night, or may I
come in?” Beauvayse whispered to Lynette in
She dipped her slender fingers in
the little holy-water font beside the door, and held
them out to him.
“Come in,” she answered,
and held white, wet fingers out to him. He touched
them with a puzzled smile.
“Am I to? Ah, I remember!”
Their eyes met, and the golden radiance
in hers passed into his blood. He bared his high,
fair head as she made the sign of the Cross, and followed
her in and up the nave as Father Wix, in purple Lenten
stole over the snowy cotta starched and ironed by
Sister Tobias’s capable hands, began to intone
the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary. The Sisters
were already in their places a double row
of black-draped figures, the Mother at the end of
the first row, Lady Hannah in the chair beside her,
where Lynette had always sat until now. It was
not without a pang that the one saw her place usurped
by a stranger; it was piercing pain to the other to
feel the strange presence at her side. But something
had already come between these two, dividing them.
Something invisible, impalpable as air, but nevertheless
thrusting them apart with a force that might not be
Only the elder of the two as yet knew
clearly what it meant. The younger was too dizzy
with her first heady draught from the cup of joy, held
to her lips by the strong, beautifully-shaped brown
hand that rested on Beauvayse’s knee as he sat,
or propped up Beauvayse’s chin as he knelt,
stiff as a young crusader on a monument, beside her.
But the Mother knew. Would not the God Who had
been justly offended in her, His vowed servant, that
day, exact to the last tittle the penalty? She
knew He would.
Rosary ended, the thin, kind-eyed
little elderly priest preached, taking for the text
of his discourse the Introit from the Office of Quinquagesima.
“Esto mihi in Deum protectorum,
et in locum refugii, ut salvum me facias.”
“Be Thou unto me a God, a protector,
and a place of refuge, to save me: for Thou art
Then the O Salutaris was sung,
and followed by the Litany of the Holy Name.
The church was crowded. A Catholic
congregation is always devout, but these people, well-dressed
or ill-dressed, prosperous or poor, pale-faced and
hollow-eyed every one, joined in the office with passion.
The responses came like the beating of one wave of
human anguish upon the Rock of Ages.
“Have mercy on us!”
Hungry, they cried to One Who had
hungered. Sinking with weariness, they appealed
to One Who had known labours, faintings, agonies, and
“Have mercy on us!”
He had drunk of Death for them, had been buried and
had risen again.
Death was all about them. They
could hear the beating of his wings, could see the
red sweep of his blood-wet, dripping scythe. And
they prayed as they had never prayed before these
“Have mercy on us!”
They sang the Tantum Ergo,
and the cloud of incense rose from the censer in the
priest’s hand. Then, at the thin, sweet
tinkle of the bell, and the first white gleam of the
Unspeakable Mystery upheld by the servant of the Altar,
the heads bowed and sank as when a sudden wind sweeps
over a field of ripened corn. Only one or two
remained unmoved, one of these a man’s head,
young and crisply-waved, and golden....
And then came the orderly crowding
to the door, and they were outside under the great
violet sky, throbbing with splendid stars, breathing
the tainted air that came from the laagers and the
trenches. But oh, was there ever a sweeter night,
following upon a sweeter day?
Beauvayse’s hand found and pressed
Lynette’s. She looked up and saw his eyes
shining in the starlight. He looked down and saw
the Convent lily transformed into a very rose of womanhood.
“I am on duty at Staff Bombproof
South to-night. What I would give to be free
to walk home with you!”
Lady Hannah’s jangling laugh came in.
“Haven’t you had the whole
day? Greedy, unconscionable young man! Say
good-night to her, and be off and get some food into
you. Don’t say you haven’t any appetite.
I am hungry enough to be interested even in minced
mule and spatch-cocked locusts, after all this.
Good-night! I must kiss you again, child!
I hope you don’t mind?”
Lynette gave her cheek, asking:
“Where is the Mother?”
The voice of Sister Tobias answered out of the purplish
“She has gone on with Sister
Hilda-Antony and Sister Cleophee, dearie. She
is going to sleep at the Convent with them, and I was
to give you her love, and say good-night.”
Say good-night! On this of all
nights was Lynette to be dismissed without even the
Mother’s kiss? She gave back Beauvayse’s
parting hand-pressure almost mechanically. Then
she heard his voice, close at her ear, say pantingly:
“No one will see.... Please, dearest!”
She turned her head, and their lips
met under cover of the pansy-coloured darkness....
Then he was gone with Lady Hannah, and Lynette was
walking home to the Convent bombproof, explaining
to the astonished Sisters that the Mother knew; that
the Mother approved of her engagement to Lord Beauvayse;
and that they would probably be married very soon.
Before the Relief ...
“‘Before the Relief.’
Well, no one but Our Lord knows when that’s to
be.... And so you’re very happy, are you,
Even as she gave her shy assent in
answer to Sister Tobias’s question, its commonplace
homeliness, like the feeling of the thick dust and
the scattered debris underfoot, brought back Lynette
for a moment out of the golden, diamond-dusted, pearl-gemmed
dream-world in which she had been straying, to wonder,
Was she really very happy?
She asked herself the question sitting
with the Sisters at their little scanty supper.
She asked herself as she knelt with them in prayer,
as she lay in bed, the Mother’s place vacant
beside her Was she happy after all?
She had drunk sweetness, but there
had been a tang of something in the cup that cloyed
the palate and sickened the soul. She had learned
the love of man, and in a measure it had cast out
fear, that had been her earlier lesson.
To be held and taken and made his
completely, what must it be like? She glowed
in the darkness at the thought. And then the recollection
of a ruthless strength that had rent away the veil
of innocence from a woman-child surged back upon her.
Just think. Suppose you laid your hand in the warm, strong clasp that
thrilled delight to every nerve, and set your heart beating, beating, and, drawn
by the shining grey-green jewel-eyes and the mysterious, wooing smile upon the
beautiful lips, and the coaxing, caressing tones of the voice that so allured,
you gave up all else that had been so dear, and went away with him? What
Suppose the smiling face of Love should
turn out to be nothing but a mask hiding the gross
and brutal leer of Lust, what then? She saw that
other man’s dreadful face, painted in hot and
living colours upon the darkness. She writhed
as if to tear her lips from the savage, furious mouth.
She shuddered and grew cold there in the sultry heat.
The clasp of the protecting mother-arms might have
driven away her terror, but she was alone. It
would have been sweet to be alone that night if she
had been happy.
Why had the Mother shunned her?
She knew that she had. Why had she felt, even
with the glamour of his presence about her,
and the music of his voice in her ears, that all was
Why, even with the lifting of her
burden, in the unutterable relief of hearing, from
the lips that had been her law, that her dreadful secret
need never be revealed, had she felt consternation
and alarm? The words were written in fiery letters,
on the murky dark of the bombproof, where the tiny
lamp that had hung before the Tabernacle on the altar
of the Convent chapel now burned, a twinkling red
star, before the silver Crucifix that hung upon the
“He is not to be told. I command you never
to tell him!”
The doubt germinated and presently
pushed through a little spear. Had those lips
given right counsel or wrong? Ought he to be told?
Was it dishonest, was it traitorous, to hide the truth?
And yet, what are the lives of even the upright, and
clean, and continent among men, compared with the
life of a girl bred as she had been? The sin had
not been hers. She, the victim, was blameless.
And yet, and yet ...
To this girl, who had learned to see
the Face of Christ and of His Mother reflected in
one human face that had smiled down upon her, waking
in the little white bed in the Convent infirmary from
the long, recuperating sleep that turns the tide of
brain-fever, the thought that a shadow of deceit could
mar its earnest, candid purity was torture. Months
back they had said to her the lips that
had given her the first kiss she had received since
a dying woman’s cold mouth touched the sleeping
face of a yellow-haired baby held to her in a strong
man’s shaking hands, as the trek-waggon rolled
and rumbled over the veld:
“The man who may one day be
your husband will have the right to know.”
It was a different voice to the one
that had commanded, “You are never to tell him!”
Lynette lay listening to those two voices until the
alarm-clock belled and the Sisters rose at midnight
for matins. Then she lay listening to the soft
murmur of voices in the dark, as the red lamp glimmered
before the silver Christ upon the wall. The nuns
needed no light, knowing the office by heart:
“Delicta quis intelligit?
ab occultis meis munda me, et ab alienis parce servo
tuo” “Who can comprehend
what sin is? Cleanse me from my hidden sins,
and from those of others save Thy servant.”
The antiphon followed the Gloria,
and then the soft womanly voices chanted the twenty-third
“Quis ascendit in montem
Domini?” “Who shall ascend
to the Mount of the Lord, and who shall dwell in His
holy Sanctuary? Those who do no ill and are pure....
Who do not give their heart to vain desires, or deceive
their neighbour with false oaths.”
Or deceive ... with false oaths.
To marry a man, letting him think you ... something
you were not ... did not that amount to deceiving by
a false oath?
Lynette lay very still. The last
“Hail, Mary!” over, the Sisters returned
silently to bed. Wire mattresses creaked under
superimposed weight. Long breaths of wakefulness
changed into the even breathing of slumber. The
only one who snored was Sister Tobias, a confirmed
nasal soloist, whose customary cornet-solo was strangely
missing. Was Sister Tobias lying awake and remembering
Sister Tobias was the only other person
in the Convent besides the Mother, who knew.
She had helped her faithfully and tenderly to nurse
Lynette through the long illness that had followed
the finding of that lost lamb upon the veld.
She was a homely creature of saintly virtues, the Mother’s
staff and right hand. And it was she who had asked
Lynette if she was happy?
Somebody was moving. The grey
light of dawn was filtering down the drain-pipe ventilators
and through the chinks in the tarpaulins overhead.
A formless pale figure came swiftly to Lynette’s
bedside. She guessed who it must be. She
sat up wide awake, and with her heart beating wildly
in her throat.
“Dearie!” The whisper
was Sister Tobias’s. She could make out
the glimmer of the white, plain nightcap framing the
narrow face with the long, sagacious nose and wise,
kindly, patient eyes. “Are you awake, dearie?”
“Yes,” Lynette whispered
back, shuddering. The dry, warm, hard hand felt
about for her cold one, and found and took it.
Lips came close to her ear, and breathed:
“Dearie, this grand young gentleman
you’re engaged to be married to ...”
“Has he been told? Does he know?”
The long, plain face was close to
Lynette’s. In the greying light she could
see it clearly. Her heart beat in heavy, sickening
thuds. Her teeth chattered, and whole body shook
as if with ague, as she faltered:
“The Mother says he is not to be
There was a dead silence. It
was as if an iron shutter had suddenly been pulled
down and clamped home between them. Then Sister
Tobias said in a tone devoid of all expression:
“The Mother knows best, dearie, of course.
Lie down and go to sleep.”
Then silence settled back upon the
Convent bombproof, but sleep did not come to everybody