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One Woman: Being the Second Part of a Romance of Sussex written by Alfred Ollivant who was an English novelist. This book was published in 1921. And now republish in ebook format. We believe this work is culturally important in its original archival form. While we strive to adequately clean and digitally enhance the original work, there are occasionally instances where imperfections such as missing pages, poor pictures or errant marks may have been introduced due to either the quality of the original work. Despite these occasional imperfections, we have brought it back into print as part of our ongoing global book preservation commitment, providing customers with access to the best possible historical reprints. We appreciate your understanding of these occasional imperfections, and sincerely hope you enjoy reading this book.
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Being the Second Part of a Romance of Sussex
THE CARRIER'S CART
PART I. DEEPENING DUSK
CHAPTER I. THE HOSTEL
CHAPTER II. COW GAP
CHAPTER III. THE WATCHMAN ON THE HEAD
CHAPTER IV. ALF
CHAPTER V. THE CREEPING DEATH
CHAPTER VI. THE COLONEL LEARNS A SECRET
CHAPTER VII. THE MAN FROM THE NORTH
CHAPTER VIII. THE CHERUB
CHAPTER IX. THE SHADOW OF ROYAL
CHAPTER X. BOBS
CHAPTER XI. THE RUSSET-COATED CAPTAIN
CHAPTER XII. RUTH WAKES
CHAPTER XIII. NIGHTMARE
CHAPTER XIV. SHADOWS
CHAPTER XV. THE LANDLORD
CHAPTER XVI. THE GRANDMOTHER
CHAPTER XVII. THE CHALLENGE
CHAPTER XVIII. A SKIRMISH
CHAPTER XIX. PITCHED BATTLE
CHAPTER XX. THE VANQUISHED
CHAPTER XXI. THUNDER
PART II. TROUBLED DAWN
CHAPTER XXII. THE BETRAYAL
CHAPTER XXIII. THE COLONEL FACES DEFEAT
CHAPTER XXIV. THE PILGRIMS
CHAPTER XXV. RED IN THE MORNING
CHAPTER XXVI. THE AVALANCHE MOVES
CHAPTER XXVII. THE GROWING ROAR
CHAPTER XXVIII. OLD TOWN
CHAPTER XXIX. FOLLOW YOUR LEADER
CHAPTER XXX. THE END OF THE WORLD
CHAPTER XXXI. THE COLONEL
CHAPTER XXXII. THE DAY OF JUDGEMENT
CHAPTER XXXIII. BEAU-NEZ
CHAPTER XXXIV. THE STATION
CHAPTER XXXV. IN THE EVENING
CHAPTER XXXVI. RUTH FACES THE STORM
CHAPTER XXXVII. MRS. LEWKNOR
CHAPTER XXXVIII. SUSPENSE
CHAPTER XXXIX. THE VALLEY OF DECISION
CHAPTER XL. VICTORY AND REVENGE
An old-fashioned carrier's cart, such as you may still meet on the roads of Sussex, tilted, one-horsed, and moving at the leisurely pace of a bye-gone age, turned East at the Turnpike, and made slowly along the Lewes-Beachbourne road under the northern scarp of the Downs one evening of autumn in 1908. In it, at the back of the driver, were a young man and a young woman, the only passengers, ensconced among hen-coops, flitches of bacon, and baskets of greens.
They sat hand-in-hand.
The woman was a noble creature, about her the majestic tranquillity of a great three-decker that comes to rest in sunset waters after its Trafalgar. The man, but for a certain wistfulness about his eyes which betokened undue sensibility, was not remarkable. Till he spoke you would have said he was a gentleman—that is to say if your eyes confined their scrutiny to his face and refused to see his hands, his boots, his clothes. When he spoke you would have recognised at once that he was Sussex of the soil as, surely, was the woman beside him; though the speech of both was faintly marred with the all-pervading cockney accent of those who have passed beyond the village-green into the larger world of the England of to-day.
Both ca-a-ad musically enough; but less by far than the little carrier, whose round back blocked the view of the road, and the twitching ears of old mare Jenny. For nearly fifty years, man and boy, Isaac Woolgar had travelled twice a day, six days a week, the road on which he was travelling now. He had seen the long-horns—those "black runts" so familiar to old-world Sussex—give place to horses in the plough upon the hill; the horses in their turn supplanted on the road by motors; and men using the legs God had given them to trundle wheels instead of walk. Undisturbed, he plodded on his way, accompanied always by the wires lifted on tall black poles, crowned with tiers of tiny porcelain chimney-pots unknown in his youth, which had linked Lewes with Beachbourne these forty years; and he would so plod until he died. The Star on the hill in Old Town, Beachbourne, marked one end of his day's journey; and the equally ancient Lamb, at Aldwoldston, black-timbered and gabled too, marked the other. He had never been further "oop country," as he called it, than Heathfield. Lewes was the utmost term of his wanderings West, Beau-nez East; while the sea at Newhaven had bounded him on the South. Within this tiny quadrilateral, which just about determined also the wanderings of an old dog-fox in Abbot's Wood, he had passed his life; and nothing now would ever induce him to pass the bounds he had allotted himself.
To the man and woman in the cart old Mus. Woolgar had been a familiar figure from childhood. The little girl skipping by the market-cross in Aldwoldston would stop to watch him start; the little boy would wait at Billing's Corner on the top of the hill to see him come along the New Road past Motcombe at the end of his journey. Long before either had been aware of the other's existence the old carrier had served as an invisible link between them.
Now the two were married.
Ruth Boam had become Mrs. Ernie Caspar that afternoon in the cathedral-church of Aldwoldston, on the mound among the ash-trees above Parsons' Tye and the long donkey-backed clergy-house that dates from the fourteenth century.
It had been a very quiet wedding. The father and mother of the bride had stumped across from Frogs' Hall, at the foot of the village, Ruth accompanying them, her little daughter in her arms. For the rest, Dr. and Mrs. Trupp had come over from Beachbourne with Mr. Pigott and his wife in the chocolate-bodied car driven by the bridegroom's brother.
Alf had not entered the church to see Ernie married. He had mouched sullenly down to the river instead, and stood there during the service, his back to the church, looking across the Brooks to old Wind-hover's dun and shaven flank with eyes that did not see, and ears that refused to hear.
After the ceremony the car-party returned to Beachbourne by way of the sea—climbing High-'nd-over, to drop down into Sea-ford, and home by Birling Gap and Beau-nez. From the almost violent gesture with which Alf had set his engines in motion and drawn out of the lane under the pollarded willows of Parson's Tye, he at least had been glad to turn his back on the scene.
Ruth and her husband had returned to Frogs' Hall with the old folk.
Later, as the sun began to lower behind Black Cap into the valley of the Ouse, they went up River Lane and picked up the carrier's cart by the market-cross.
For the moment they were leaving little Alice with her grandmother while they settled into the Moot, Old Town, where Ernie had found a cottage close to his work, not a quarter of a mile from the home of his father and mother in Rectory Walk.
The carrier's cart moved slowly on under the telegraph wires on which the martins were already gathering: for it was September. Now and then Ernie raised the flap that made a little window in the side of the tilt, and looked out at the accompanying Downs, mysterious in the evening.
"They're still there," he announced comfortably, "and like to be yet a bit, I reckon."
"They move much same pace as us doos, seems to me," said Ruth.
"We should get there afoor them yet though," answered Ernie.
"Afoor the Day of Judgment we might, if so be we doosn't die o breathlessness first," the woman replied.
"You'd like a car to yourself you would," chaffed Ernie. "And Alf drivin you."
Ruth turned in her lips.
They moved leisurely forward, leaving Folkington clustered about its village-green upon the right, passing the tea-gardens at Wannock, and up the long pull to Willingdon, standing among old gardens and pleasant fig-trees. Once through the village the woods of Hampden Park green-bosomed upon the left, blocked out the marshes and the splendid vision of Pevensey Bay. Now the road emerged from the shelter of hedges and elm-trees and flowed with a noble billowy motion between seas of corn that washed the foot of the Downs and swept over Rodmill to the outposts of Beachbourne. Between the road and the Downs stood Motcombe, islanded in the ruddy sea, amongst its elms and low piggeries. Behind the farm, at the very foot of the hill, was Huntsman's Lodge where once, when both were boys, Alf had betrayed his brother on the occasion of the looting of the walnut-tree.
Ern pointed out the spot to his bride and told the tale. Ruth listened with grim understanding.
"That's Alf," she said.
"Mr. Pigott lived there that time o day," Ern continued. "One of the five Manors of Beachbourne, used to be—I've heard dad say. Belonged to the Salwyns of Friston Place over the hill—the clergy-folk. The farm's where the Manor-house used to be; and the annual sheep-fair was held in a field outside from William the Conqueror till a few years back."
He pointed to one of a little row of villas on the left which looked over the allotment gardens to the Downs.
"That's where Mr. Pigott lives now. My school-master he were that time o day."
"Who's Mr. Pigott?" Ruth asked.
Ernie rootled her with a friendly elbow.
"My guv'nor, stoopid! Manager of the Southdown Transport Company. Him that was at the wedding—with the beard. Settin along o Mrs. Trupp."
"Oh, Mr. Pigott!" answered Ruth. Now that the strain of the last two years was over at last, she brimmed over with a demure naughtiness. "Well, why couldn't you say so, then? You are funny, men are."
The cart climbed the steep hill to Billing's Corner and Ernie looked down the familiar road to the Rectory and even caught a peep of the back of his old home. Then they turned down Church Street with its old-world fragrance of lavender and yesterday.
On the left the parish-church, long-backed and massive-towered upon the Kneb, brooded over the centuries it had seen come and go.
"Dad says the whole history of Beachbourne's centred there," said Ernie in awed voice. "Steeped in it, he says."
Ernie, who had been leaning forward to peep at the Archdeacon posed in the entrance of St. Michael's, now dropped back suddenly, nudging his companion.
A lean woman with white hair and wrathful black eyebrows, her complexion still delicate as a girl's, was coming up the hill.
"Mother," whispered Ernie.
It was Ruth's turn to raise the flap and peer forth stealthily at the figure passing so close and so unconsciously on the pavement.
So that was the woman who had opposed her marriage with such malevolent persistency!
Ruth observed her enemy with more curiosity than hostility, and received a passing impression of a fierce unhappy face.
"She don't favour you no-ways," she said, as she relapsed into a corner. "Where's dad though?"
Ernie shook his head.
"He's never with her," he said. "I ca-a-n't call to mind as ever I've seen them out together, not the pair of them."
"I'd ha liked him to have been at the wedding," murmured Ruth a thought discontentedly.
"And he'd ha liked it too, I'll lay," Ernie answered. "Only she'd never have let him."
The cart stopped; and the two passengers descended at the old Star opposite the Manor-house, which bore the plate of Mr. William Trupp, the famous surgeon.
On the Manor-house steps a tall somewhat cadaverous man was standing. He was so simply dressed as almost to be shabby; and his straw hat, tilted on the back of his head, disclosed a singularly fine forehead. There was something arresting about the man and his attitude: a delicious mixture of mischievous alertness and philosophical detachment. He might have been a mediæval scholar waiting at the door of his master; or a penitent seeking absolution; or, not least, a youth about to perpetrate a run-away knock.
Ernie across the road watched him with eyes in which affection and amusement mingled. Then the door opened, and the scholar-penitent-youth was being greeted with glee by Bess Trupp.
Ernie turned to his wife.
"My old Colonel," he said confidentially. "What I was in India with. Best Colonel the Hammer-men ever had—and that's saying something."
"Colonel Lewknor, aren't it?" asked Ruth.
"That's him," said Ernie keenly. "Do you knaw him?"
"He was over at Auston last summer," answered Ruth, "lecturin we got to fight Germany or something. I went, but I didn't pay no heed to him. No account talk, I call that."
Together they dropped down Borough Lane and turned to the left along the Moot where dwelt the workers of Old Town—a few in flint cottages set in gardens, rank with currant bushes, a record of the days, not so long ago, when corn flowed down both sides of Water Lane, making a lake of gold between the village on the hill and the Sea-houses by the Wish; and most in the new streets of little red houses that looked up, pathetically aware of their commonness, to the calm dignity of the old church upon the Kneb above.
At one of these latter Ernie stopped and made believe to fumble with a key. Ruth, who had not seen her new home, was thrilling quietly, as she had been throughout the journey, though determined not to betray her emotion to her mate.
The door opened and they entered.
A charming voice from the kitchen greeted them.
"Ah, there you are—punctual to the minute!"
A woman, silver-haired and gracious, turned from deft busy-ness at the range.
"Oh, Mrs. Trupp!" cried Ruth, looking about her.
The table was laid already, and gay with flowers; the fire lit, the kettle on the boil, the supper ready.
"It is kind," said Ruth. "Was this you and Miss Bess?"
"Perhaps we had a hand in it," laughed the other. "She couldn't be here, as she's got a meeting of her Boy Scouts. But she sent her best wishes. Now I hand over the key to the master; and my responsibilities are over!" And she was gone with the delicious ripple of laughter Ernie had loved from babyhood.
Ruth was now thirsting to explore her new home, but Ernie insisted on supping first. This he did with malicious deliberation. When at length he was satisfied they went upstairs together, he leading the way.
"This is our room!" he said with ill-disguised complacency, stepping aside.
The bridal chamber was swept and garnished. In it were more flowers, bowls of them; and the furniture simple, solid, and very good, was of a character rarely found in houses of that class.
Ernie enjoyed the obvious pleasure of his bride as she touched and glanced and dipped like some large bird flitting gracefully from piece to piece.
Then she paused solemnly and looked about her.
"Reckon it must ha cost a tidy penny," she said.
"It did," Ernie answered.
She cocked a soft brown eye at him.
"Could you afford it, Ernie?"
"I could not," said Ernie, standing grimly and with folded arms.
At the moment her eyes fell on a card tied to the bed-post on which was written: From Mr., Mrs. and Miss Trupp. Ruth's eyes caressed the bed, and her fingers stroked the smooth wood.
"It's like them," she said. "None o your cheap trash."
"Ah," answered Ernie. "Trust them. They're just all right, they are."
Before the looking-glass on the chest of drawers Ruth now took off her hat.
She was perhaps too simple, too natural, too near to earth to be shy at this the supreme moment of a woman's life. At least she was too wary to show it.
"Rich folks they have two little beds laid alongside, these days," she said, speaking from her experience as a maid. "I wouldn't think it was right myself. Only you mustn't judge others." She added in her slow way, as she patted her hair—"I wouldn't feel prarperly married like only in a prarper two-bed."
Ernie drew down the blind.
Then he marched upon his bride deliberately and with remorseless eyes. Suddenly she turned and met him with a swift and lovely smile, dropping her mask, and discovering herself to him in the surprising radiance of a moon that reveals its beauty after long obscurity. She laid her hands upon his shoulders in utter surrender. He gathered her gradually in his arms; and closing his eyes, dwelt on her lips with the slow and greedy passion of a bee, absorbed in absorption, and drinking deep in the cloistered seclusion of a fox-glove bell,
"You're prarperly married all right," he said. "And you ca-a-n't get out of it—not no-ways."
Dr. Trupp of Beachbourne, as he was generally known—Mr. Trupp, to give him his correct title—was a genuinely great man.
His father had been a book-seller in Torquay; and he himself never lost the greater qualities of the class from which he sprang. He was very simple and very shrewd. Science had not blunted the fine intuitions which his brusque manner half concealed. Moreover, he trusted those intuitions perhaps unconsciously as do few men of his profession; and they rarely played him false. In early manhood his integrity, his sound common sense, and practical idealism had won for him the love of a singularly noble girl who might have married one of the best of her inevitably artificial class. Later in life indeed Evelyn Trupp often would amuse her father and annoy her mother by affirming that she was far prouder of being the wife of Mr. Trupp of Beachbourne than of having been Miss Moray of Pole. And she had good cause. For her husband was no longer the country doctor at whom the county families had sniffed. He was "Trupp of Beachbourne," whose fame had spread, quietly it is true, from Sussex, through England to the outer world. And if there was some difference of opinion as to whether Mr. Trupp had made Beachbourne, or Beachbourne had made him, there was no question that the growth of the town, and its deserved popularity as a health-resort was coincident with his residence there.
At least the event justified the young surgeon's courage and originality in the choice of a site for his life-long campaign. Indeed had he stayed in London it is certain that he would never have achieved the work he was able to consummate in the town girdled by the southern hills and washed by Northern Seas. And that work was no mean contribution to the welfare of the race. Mr. Trupp was a pioneer in the organized attack on perhaps the deadliest and most pertinacious enemy that threatens the supremacy of Man—the tubercle bacillus. And his choice of a point-d'appui from which to conduct his offensive was no small factor in his success.
He was, moreover, one of the men who in the last years of the nineteenth century and the earlier years of this set himself to stem the tide of luxury which in his judgment was softening the spines of the younger generation. And the helpful buffets which gave him his name, and were responsible at least for some of his triumphs, were not the outcome of spasms of irritability but of a deliberate philosophy.
For Mr. Trupp, despite his kind heart, never forgot that Man with all his aspirations after heaven had but yesterday ceased to be an animal and still stood on the edge of the slough from which he had just emerged, up to his hocks in mud, the slime yet trickling from his shaggy sides.
"Don't give him sympathy," he would sometimes say to an astonished father. "What he wants is the Big Stick ... Stop his allowance. He'll soon get well. Necessity's the best doctor.... Take her mother away from her. The mothers make half the invalids.... Let her get up early in the morning and take the kitchen-maid tea in bed. She's a useful citizen at all events."
He saw his country, so he believed, sinking into a dropsical coma before his eyes, just for want of somebody to kick it awake; and the sight made him sick and fearful.
Often riding with his daughter of evenings after the day's work he would pause a moment beside the flag-staff on Beau-nez and look North East across the waste of sea dull or shining at his feet.
"Can you hear him growling, Bess?" he asked his companion once.
Bess knew her father's ogre, and the common talk.
"Is Germany the Brute?" she asked.
Her father shook his head.
"One of them," he answered. "Wherever Man is there the Brute is—keep that in mind when you're married, my dear. And he's always sleeping after a gorge or ravenous before one. Our Brute's asleep now he's got his belly full. Theirs"—nodding across the water—"is prowling for his prey."
To Mr. Pigott he confided his belief that there was only one thing that could save England.
"What's that?" asked the old school-master.
"A bloody war," replied Mr. Trupp.
Many other men were saying the same thing, but few of his intellectual calibre, and none of his radical views.
His own part in staying the rot that in his belief threatened to corrupt the country he loved with such a deep if critical love, was clear enough. It was the business of him and his colleagues to give the nation the health that made for character, just as it was that of the school-master to give them the character that made for health. And he tackled his side of national education with a will: the Sun, the Sea, the Air being the assistants in whom he trusted.
His old idea, cherished through a life-time, of an open-air hostel, where he could have under his immediate supervision children without their mothers, and wives without their husbands, sought always more urgently for expression as the years slipped by. It was not, however, till the twentieth century was well upon its way, that all the conditions necessary for the safe launching of his project were fulfilled.
His chance came when Colonel Lewknor and his wife crossed his path on retirement from the Sendee.
Rachel Lewknor took up the old surgeon's plan with the fierce yet wary courage of her race.
Here was her chance, heaven-sent. Thus and thus would she fulfil her cherished dream and make the money to send her grandson, Toby, to Eton like his father and grandfather before him.
Like most soldiers, she and the Colonel were poor. All through their working lives any money they might have saved against old age they had invested in the education of their boy; stinting themselves in order to send young Jock to his father's school and afterwards to start him in his father's regiment. On retirement therefore they had little but a pittance of a pension on which to live. The question of how to raise the capital to buy the site and build the hostel was therefore the most urgent of the earlier difficulties that beset Mrs. Lewknor.
Mr. Trupp said frankly that he could lend the money and would do so at a pinch; but he made it clear that he would rather not. He, too, was starting his boy Joe in the Hammer-men, and like all civilians of those days had an exaggerated idea of the expenses of an officer in the Army. Moreover, he had determined that when the time and the man came Bess should marry where she liked; and the question of money should not stand in her way.
Happily Mrs. Lewknor's problem solved itself as by miracle.
Alf Caspar, who had his garage in the Goffs at the foot of Old Town and, in spite of the continued protests of Mrs. Trupp and Bess, still drove for Mr. Trupp (the old surgeon refusing steadfastly to keep a car of his own), had from the start evinced an almost prurient interest in the conception of the hostel. In the very earliest days when Mr. Trupp and Mrs. Lewknor talked it over as they drove through Paradise, the beech-hangar between old Town and Meads, to visit the prospective site in Cow Gap, he would sit at his wheel manipulating his engine to ensure the maximum of silent running, his head screwed round and big left ear reaching back to lick up what was passing between the two occupants of the body of the car.
Later, when it had actually been decided to embark upon the scheme, he said to Mr. Trupp one day in his brightest manner:
"Should be a paying proposition, sir, with you behind it."
The old surgeon eyed his chaffeur through his pince-nez shrewdly.
"If you like to put £3,000 or so into it, Alfred, you wouldn't do yourself any harm," he said.
Alf sheathed his eyes in that swift bird-like way of his, and tittered.
"Three thousand pounds!" he said. "Me!" ....
A few days later when Mr. Trupp called at the Colonel's tiny villa in Meads. Mrs. Lewknor ran out to him, eager as a girl.
She had received from Messrs. Morgan and Evans, the solicitors in Terminus Road, an offer of the sum required on behalf of a client on the security of a first mortgage.
"It's a miracle!" she cried, her eyes sparkling like jewels.
"Or a ramp!" said the Colonel from behind. "D'you know anything about the firm, Trupp?"
"I've known and employed em ever since I've been here," replied the old surgeon. "They're as old as Beachbourne and a bit older. A Lewes firm really, and they still have an office there. But as the balance of power shifted East they shifted with it."
"They don't say who their client is," commented the Colonel.
"I'll ask em," the other answered.
That afternoon he drove down to Terminus Road, and leaving Alf in the car outside, entered the office.
He and Mr. Morgan were old friends who might truly be accounted among the founders of modern Beachbourne.
"Who's your client?" asked Mr. Trupp, gruff and grinning. "Out with it!"
Mr. Morgan shook his smooth grey head, humour and mystery lurking about his mouth and in his eyes.
"Wishes to remain anonymous," he said. "We're empowered to act on his behalf."
He strolled to the window and peeped out, tilting on his toes to overlook the screen which obscured the lower half of it.
What he saw seemed to amuse him, and his amusement seemed to re-act in its turn on Mr. Trupp.
"Is he a solid man?" asked the surgeon.
"As a rock," came the voice from the window.
The other seemed satisfied; the contract forthwith was signed; and Mrs. Lewknor bought her site.
Cow Gap was an ideal spot for the hostel.
It is carved out of the flank of Beau-nez; the gorse-covered hill encircling it in huge green rampart that shelters it from the prevailing Sou-West gales. Embedded in the majestic bluff that terminates the long line of the South Downs and juts out into the sea in the semblance of a lion asleep, head on his paws, it opens a broad green face to the sea and rising sun. The cliff here is very low, and the chalk-strewn beach, easy of access from above, is seldom outraged by skirmishers from the great army peopling the sands along the front towards the Redoubt and the far Crumbles. A spur of the hill shuts it off from the aristocratic quarter of the town, known as Meads, which covers with gardened villas the East-ward foot-hills of Beau-nez and ceases abruptly at the bottom of the Duke's Drive that sweeps up the Head in graceful curves.
In this secluded coombe, that welcomes the sun at dawn, at dusk holds the lingering shadows, and is flecked all day with the wings of passing sea-birds, after many months of delay and obstructions victoriously overcome, Mrs. Lewknor began to build her house of bricks and mortar in the spring of the year Ruth and Ernie Caspar set out together to construct the future in a more enduring medium.
The house, long and low, with balconies broad as streets, and windows everywhere to catch the light, rose layer by layer out of the turf on the edge of the cliff. All the summer and on into the autumn it was a-building. A white house with a red roof, plain yet picturesque, it might have been a coastguard station and was not. Partaking of the character of the cliffs on which it stood and the green Downs in which it was enclosed, it seemed a fitting tenant of the great coombe in which, apart from a pair of goal-posts under the steep of the hill at the back, it was the only evidence of the neighbourhood of Man.
Mr. Trupp watched the gradual realisation of the dream of a lifetime with the absorbed content of a child who observes the erection of a house of wooden bricks. And he was not alone.
When at the end of the day's work Alf now drove his employer, as he often did, to Cow Gap to study progress, he, too, would descend and poke and pry amid skeleton walls and crude dank passages with sharp eyes and sharper whispered questions to labourers, foreman, and even the architect. Never a Sunday passed but found him bustling across the golf-links before church, to ascend ladders, walk along precarious scaffoldings, and march with proprietory air and incredible swagger along the terraces of the newly laid-out gardens that patched with brown the green quilt of the coombe.
Once, on such a Sunday visit, he climbed the hill at the back to obtain a bird's-eye view of the building. Amid spurting whin-chats and shining gossamers, he climbed in the brilliant autumn morning till he had almost reached the crest. He was lost to the world and the beauty lavished all about him; his eyes shuttered to the whispered suggestions of the infinite; his heart closed to the revealing loveliness of Earth, round-limbed and bare, as he revolved in the dark prison-house of self the treadmill of his insect projects. The sidesman of St. Michael's, spruce, scented, oiled, in fancy waistcoat, with boots of glace kid, and waxed moustache, moving laboriously between sky and sea, was civilised man at the height of his imperfection and vain-glorious in his fatuous artificiality.
Suddenly a bare head and collarless stark neck blurted up out of a deep gorse-clump before him.
"Who goes there?" came a challenge, deep and formidable, as the roar of some jungle lord disturbed in his covert.
Alf collapsed as a soap-bubble, blown from a clay pipe and brilliant in the sunshine, bursts at the impact of an elemental prickle. He fled down the hill incontinently.
The man who had barked, shoulder-deep in gorse, his eyes still flashing, turned to the woman squandered beneath him in luxurious splendour. Native of the earth on which she lay, and kin to it as some long-limbed hind of the forest, she regarded him with amused content. The sudden battle-call of her male roused what there was of primitive in her, soothed, and flattered her womanhood. Comfortably she fell back upon the sense of security it called up, delighting behind half-drawn lids in the surprising ferocity of her man. That roar of his, startling the silence like a trumpet-note, had spoken to her deeps. Swiftly, and perhaps for the first time, she recognised what the man above her stood for in her life, and why one with whom she did not pretend to be in love so completely satisfied her most urgent present need. He was a break-water behind which she lay with furled sails after a hazardous voyage over uncharted deeps. Outside was still the roar and batter of seas. The sound of guns booming overhead as she lay, stripped of her canvas, and rocking pleasantly in the inner waters, did not alarm, rather indeed lulled, her to sleep: for they spoke to her of protection at last.
"Who was it, Ernie?" she murmured, raising a lazy head from the hands on which they were pillowed, the dark hair strewn about her like wind-slashed rain.
The man turned, outraged still and bristling.
"Alf!" he snorted. "Just bob me head over the hawth at him. That was enough—quite enough! I knaw the colour of Alf's liver."
He stood above her with his air of a fighting male.
She had never seen him like that before; and she regarded him critically and with approval.
"Ern," she called quietly, with a chuckle, deep and secret as the gurgle of water pouring from a long-throated jug; and with a faint movement of her hips she made room for him in the sand beside her.
Honeymoons are not for the class that does the world's dirty work; but joy can be seized by the simple of heart even in the conditions we impose upon the poor.
Ernie Caspar after his marriage with Ruth Boam settled down with his bride in Old Town to enjoy the fruits of victory.
The young couple had been lucky to find a cottage in the Moot; for even in those days accommodation for the working-class was as hard to find in Beachbourne as elsewhere. The cottage, too, was appropriately situated for them in every way. It was close to the yard of the Southdown Transport Company, where Ernie's work lay; and at the bottom of Borough Lane, at the top of which was the Manor-house, where lived Mr. and Mrs. Trupp, who had seen Ruth through her trouble, and had befriended Ernie from his boyhood.
"D'you remember that first time ever we rode up to Old Town together tarp o the bus?" asked Ernie of his bride, one evening as they passed the great doctor's house on the way to Beau-nez.
"Hap I do," Ruth answered, amused at her lover's intense seriousness.
"And do you remember what I said to you?" insistently.
"Ne'er a word," answered Ruth, casual and teasing—"only it was no-account talk. That's all I remember."
"I pointed you out Mr. Trupp's house," Ernie continued solemnly, "and I says to you—He brought me into the world, I says. That's what he done."
The old roguish black-bird look, which after her winter of despair had been creeping slowly back to Ruth's face in this new spring, gleamed sedately now.
"I mind me now," she said. "Leastwise I don't remember what you said, but I remembers what I answered."
"What did you answer then?" asked Ernie, suspiciously.
"He done well, was what I says," answered the young woman gravely.
"He did," replied Ernie with exaggerated pomp. "And he done better to settle issalf at my door so I could be his friend if so be he ever gotten into trouble."
"One thing I knaw," said Ruth, serious in her turn now. "They're the two best friends e'er a workin woman had."
"They are," Ernie agreed. "And she's my god-mother."
It was the fact in his life of which on the whole he was most proud and certainly the one for which he was least responsible. "And she aren't yours," he continued, puffed up and self-complacent. "And never will be." He added finally to curb her arrogance. "See she was dad's friend afore ever they married, eether of them."
Ruth checked her husband's snobbishness with a tap.
"You are grand," she said.
Close to the cottage of the young couple was the lovely old Motcombe garden, public now, pierced by the bourne from which the town derives its name. The garden with its ancient dove-cot, ivy-crowned, its splendid weeping ashes, its ruined walls, compact of native flint and chalk, the skeletons of afore-time barns and byres, stands between the old parsonage house and older parish-church that crowns the Kneb above and, with its massive tower, its squat shingled spire peculiar to Sussex, set four-square to the winds of time, seems lost in a mist of memories.
Beyond the church, a few hundred yards further up the hill, at the back of Billing's Corner in Rectory Walk, Ernie's parents still dwelt.
Anne Caspar did not visit Ruth. Indeed, she ignored the presence of her daughter-in-law; but those steel-blue eyes of hers sought out and recognized in a hard flash the majestic peasant girl who now haunted Church Street at shopping hours as the woman who had married her son. Ernie's mother was in fact one of those who make it a point of duty, as well as a pleasure, never to forgive. She had neither pardoned Ruth for daring to be her daughter-in-law, nor forgotten her sin. And both offences were immeasurably accentuated by Ruth's crime in establishing herself in the Moot.
"Settlin on my door-step," she said. "Brassy slut!"
"Just like her," her second son answered; and added with stealthy malice, "Dad visits em. I seen im."
Alf, for all his acuteness, had never learned the simple lesson that his mother would not tolerate the slightest criticism of her old man.
"And why shouldn't he?" she asked sharply. "Isn't Ern his own flesh-and-blood? He's got a heart, dad has, if some as ought to ave aven't."
"No reason at all," answered Alf, looking down his nose. "Why shouldn't he be thick in with her—and with her child for the matter of that? I see him walkin in the Moot the other day near the Quaker meeting-house hand-in-hand with little Alice. Pretty as a Bible picture it struck me."
Anne Caspar stared stonily.
"Who's little Alice?" she asked.
"Her love-child," answered Alf. "Like your grand-child as you might say—only illegit o course."
His mother breathed heavily.
"Is Ern the father?" she asked at last in a sour flat voice.
"Not him!" jeered Alf. "She's a rich man's cast-off, Ruth is. Made it worth Ern's while. That's where it was. See, cash is cash in this world."
Anne laid back her ears as she rummaged among her memories,
"I thought you told me," she began slowly, "as Ern—"
"Never!" cried Alf. "Ern had nothin to do with it, who-ever had."
"Who was the father?" asked Anne, not above a little feminine curiosity.
Alf shook his head cunningly.
"Ah," he said, "now you're askin!" and added after a moment's pause:—
"She was all-the-world's wench one time o day, your daughter was. That's all I can tell you."
Anne stirred a saucepan thoughtfully. She did not believe Alf: for she knew that Ernie was far too much his father's son to be bought disgracefully, and she remembered suddenly a suggestion that Mr. Pigott had lately thrown out to the effect that Alf himself had not been altogether proof against the seductions of this seductive young woman his brother had won. It struck her now that there might be something in the story after all, unlikely as it seemed: for she remarked that Alf always pursued his sister-in-law with the covert rancour and vindictiveness of the mean spirit which has met defeat.
But however doubtful she might be in her own heart of Alf's tale, the essential facts about Ruth were not in dispute: her daughter-in-law was the mother of an illegitimate child and had settled down with that child not a quarter of a mile away. Everybody knew the story, especially of course the neighbours she would least wish to know it—the Archdeacon and Lady Augusta in the Rectory across the way. For over thirty years Anne had lived in her solid little blue-slated house, the ampelopsis running over its good red face, the tobacco plants sweet on summer evenings in the border round the neat and tidy lawn, holding her nose high, too high her enemies averred, and priding herself above all women on her respectability—and now!
No wonder Ernie, bringing home his bride and his disgrace, infuriated her.
"Shamin me afore em all!" she muttered time and again with sullen wrath to the pots and pans she banged about on the range.
She never saw the offender now except on Sundays when he came up to visit his father, which he did as regularly as in the days before his marriage. The ritual of these visits was always the same. Ernie would come in at the front-door; she would give him a surly nod from the kitchen; he would say quietly—"Hullo, mum!" and turn off into the study where his dad was awaiting him.
The two, Anne remarked with acrimony, grew always nearer and—what annoyed her most—talked always less. Edward Caspar was an old man now, in body if not in years; and on the occasion of Ernie's visits father and son rarely strolled out to take the sun on the hill at the back or lounge in the elusive shade of Paradise as in former days. They were content instead to sit together in the austere little study looking out on to the trees of the Rectory, Lely's famous Cavalier, the first Lord Ravensrood, glancing down from the otherwise bare walls with wistful yet ironic eyes on his two remote descendants enjoying each other beneath in a suspicious communion of silence.
Thus Anne always found the pair when she brought them their tea; and the mysterious intimacy between the two was all the more marked because of her husband's almost comical unawareness of his second son. The genuine resentment Anne experienced in the matter of Edward's unvarying attitude towards his two sons she visited, regardless of justice, upon Alf.
"Might not be a son to your father the way you go on!" she said censoriously.
"And what about him," cried Alf, not without reason. "Might not be a father to your son, seems to me."
It would, however, have taken more than Anne Caspar's passionate indignation at the action of Ernie and his bride in establishing themselves in the Moot to cloud the lives of the newly-married couple. Ern was now twenty-eight, and Ruth four years younger. They had the present, which they enjoyed; they did not worry about the future; and the past inevitably buries itself in time.
"We're young yet, as Mr. Trupp says," remarked Ernie. "We've got it all afore us. Life's not so bad for all they say. I got you: and you got me; and the rest don't matter."
They were lying on Beau-nez in the dusk above Cow Gap, listening to the long-drawn swish of the sea, going and coming with the tranquil rhythm that soothes the spirit of man, restless in Time, with rumours of forgotten Eternity.
"And we both got little Alice," murmured Ruth, eyes resting on his with affectionate confidence, sure of his love for her and the child that was not his.
"Keep me cosy, Ern," whispered the luxurious creature with a delicious mixture of entreaty and authority snuggling up against him. She was lying, her face lifted flower-wise to the moon that hung above her bubble-like and benignant, her eyes closed, her lips tilted to tempt the pollen-bearing bee, while about them the lovely laughter brimmed and dimpled.
"I'll keep you cosy, my beauty," replied Ernie, with the busy seriousness of the male intent on love. "I'll give you plenty beside little Alice to think of afore I'm done with you. I'll learn you. Don't you worrit. I know what you want."
"What then?" asked Ruth, deep and satisfied.
"Why, basketfuls o babies—armfuls of em, like cowslips till you're fairly smothered, and spill em over the field because you can't hold em all."
Perhaps he was right. Certainly after the battle and conflict of the last two years Ruth felt spiritually lazy. She browsed and drowsed, content that Ernie for the time being should master her. It was good for him, too, she saw, so long as he would do it, correcting his natural tendency to slackness; and she had little doubt that she could assume authority at will in the future, should it prove necessary. Meanwhile that spirit of adventure which lurked in her; distinguished her from her class; and had already once led her into danger and catastrophe, was lulled to sleep for the moment.
The hill at the back of Cow Gap is steep, and towards the crest the gorse grows thick and very high. In the heart of this covert, dense enough to satisfy the most jealous lovers, Ernie had made a safe retreat. He had cut away the resisting gorse with a bill-hook, rooted up the stumps, stripped the turf and made a sleeping-place of sand brought up from the shore. In a rabbit-hole hard by, he hid a spirit-lamp and sundry stores of tea and biscuits; while Mrs. Trupp routed out from her coach-house an immense old carriage umbrella dating from Pole days which, when unfurled, served to turn a shower.
Ruth and Ernie called their hiding-place the Ambush; for in it they could harbour, seeing all things, yet themselves unseen. And there, through that brilliant autumn, they would pass their week-ends, watching Under-cliff, as the hostel was called, rising up out of the saucer of the coombe beneath them. They would leave little Alice with a neighbour, and lock up the cottage in the Moot, which Ruth was swiftly transfiguring into a home. On Saturday evenings, after a hard afternoon's work, stripping, papering, painting, making the old new and the dull bright, the pair would walk up Church Street, turn to the left at Billing's Corner, and dropping down Love Lane by the Rectory, cross the golf links and mount the hill by the rabbit-walk that leads above Paradise, past the dew-pond, on to the broad-strewn back of Beau-nez. Up there, surrounded by the dimming waters and billowing land, they would wait till the Head was deserted by all save a tethered goat and watchful coastguard; till in the solitude and silence the stars whispered, and the darkening turf, grateful for the falling dew, responded sweetly to their pressing feet. Then the young couple, taking hands, would leave the crest and find their way with beating hearts along the track that led through the covert to their couching-place, where none would disturb them except maybe a hunting stoat; and only the moon would peep at them under the shaggy eyebrow of the gorse as they rejoiced in their youth, their love, their life.
And then at dawn when the sun glanced warily over the brim of the sea and none was yet astir save the kestrel hovering in the wind; and the pair of badgers—who with the amazing tenacity of their kind still tenanted the burrows of their ancestors within a quarter of a mile of the tents and tabernacles of man—rooted and sported clumsily on the dewy hillside beneath; they would rise and slip bare-foot down the hill, past the hostel, on to the deserted beach, there to become one with the living waters, misty and lapping, as at night they had entered into communion with earth and sky and the little creaking creatures of the dark.
"This is life," Ernie said on one such Sabbath dawn, sinking into the waters with deep content. "Wouldn't old dad just love this?"
"If it were like this all the time!" Ruth answered a thought wistfully as she floated with paddling hands, sea and sky, as it was in the beginning, enveloping her. "Like music in church. Just the peace that passeth understanding, as my Miss Caryll'd say."
"Ah," said Ernie, speaking with the profound sagacity that not seldom marks the words of the foolish. "Might be bad for us. If there was nothing to fight we'd all be like to go to sleep. That's what Mr. Trupp says."
"Some of us might," said Ruth, the girl slyly peeping forth from her covering womanhood.
"Look at Germany!" continued the wise man, surging closer. "Look at what the Colonel said the other night at the Institute. We're the rabbits; and Germany's the python, the Colonel says."
"That for Germany!" answered Ruth, splashing the water with the flat of her hand in the direction of the rising sun.
"And she's all the while a-creepin—a-creepin—closer acrarst the sea," said Ernie, edging nearer—"for to SWALLOW US UP!" And with a rush he engulfed her young body in his arms.
On one of the last days of that brilliant October, just before the grey curtain of rains descended to blot out autumn fields and twinkling waters, Colonel Lewknor and his wife moved into the hostel.
On that first evening Mrs. Lewknor came down the broad stair-case in "review order," as she called it, to celebrate the consummation of the first stage of her project, and found her husband standing at the sea-ward window of the hall, a Mestophelian figure, holding back the curtain and peeping out. Quietly she came and stood beside him, about her shoulders the scarlet cape a Rajput Princess had given her after Lord Curzon's durbar.
The house, which was the solitary building in the great coombe, stood back some hundred yards from the cliff along which the coast-guard's path to Beau-nez showed up white-dotted in the darkness. The Colonel was staring out over the misty and muffled waters, mumbling to himself, as was his way.
"We shall get a nice view from here, anyway," he said with his satyr-like chuckle.
She laid her hand upon his shoulder.
"Of what?" she asked.
"The landing," he replied.
She rippled off into a delicious titter. After thirty years of married life her Jocko was still for Rachel Lewknor the most entertaining of men.
"You and Mr. Trupp!" she said. "A pair of you!" For the two men had drawn singularly close since the Colonel on retirement had established himself in Meads.
The old soldier in truth came as something of a revelation to the great surgeon, who delighted in the other's philosophical mind, his freedom from the conventional limitations and prejudices of the officer-caste, his wide reading and ironical humour.
On his evening ride one day about this time Mr. Trupp and Bess came upon the Colonel halted at the flag-staff on the top of the Head, and gazing out over the wide-spread waters with solemn eyes, as though watching for a tidal wave to sweep up out of the East and overwhelm his country. Mr. Trupp knew that the old soldier was often at that spot in that attitude at that hour, a sentinel on guard at the uttermost end of the uttermost peninsula that jutted out into the Channel; and he knew why.
"Well, is it coming?" the doctor growled, half serious, half chaffing.
The Colonel, standing with his hat off, his fine forehead and cadaverous face thrusting up into the blue, answered with quiet conviction.
"It's coming all right."
"It's been coming all my time," answered the other sardonically. "If it don't come soon I shall miss it. In the seventies it was Russia. Any fool, who wasn't a criminal or a traitor or both, could see that a clash was inevitable. Two great races expanding at incredible speed in Asia, etc., etc. Then in the nineties it was France. Any man in his right mind could see it. It was mathematically demonstrable. Two great races expanding in Africa, etc., etc.... And now it's Germany..." He coughed and ended gruffly, "Well, you may be right this time."
"We were right about William the Conqueror," said the Colonel urbanely. "He came."
"But that was some time ago, my daughter tells me," replied Mr. Trupp. "And you've been wrong every time since."
Bess giggled; and the Colonel adjusted his field-glasses with delicate precision.
"If you say it's going to rain and keep on saying it long enough you'll probably prove right in the end," he remarked. "It's dogged as does it in the realm of speculation as elsewhere in my experience."
The old surgeon and his daughter turned their backs on the flagstaff and the solitary watchman beside it, and jogged towards the sunset red-strewn behind the white bluff of the Seven Sisters Newhaven-way.
Two figures topped the brow of Warren Hill in front and came swiftly over the short turf towards them. It was Saturday: Ruth and Ernie were on their way to their secret covert above Cow Gap as usual.
"About your last week-end up here before the weather breaks, I should say," chaffed the old surgeon as he passed them.
Ernie laughed a little nervously.
"Yes, sir. Just what I were a-sayin to Ruth," he answered. He had thought his secret known to none.
"Well, I hope the police won't catch you," remarked the other with a grin as he rode on.
"Never!—not unless someone was to give us away, sir!" said Ruth demurely, as she looked across the sea under lowered brows.
Bess called back reassuringly over her shoulder:
"You're all right, Ruth. I'll square Mr. Trupp."
The riders struck Duke's Drive and dropped down into Meads.
"How happy Ernie looks now!" said Bess. "It's delightful to see him."
"Yes," replied her father—"too happy. He's going to sleep again—just what I told you. And when he's well away in the land of dreams IT'll pounce on him once more."
That evening over his coffee Mr. Trupp returned to the subject, which was a favourite with him.
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