Red Pottage, by Mary Cholmondeley

Chapter XXVII

The main difference between people seems to be that one man can come under obligations on which you can rely — is obligable; and another is not. As he has not a law within him, there’s nothing to tie him to.

EMERSON.

FATHER,” said Teddy to Lord Newhaven, “Do, do be a horse, and I will ride you in the water.”

“Me, too,” said Pauly.

“I am not anxious to be a horse, Teddy. I’m quite content as I am.”

Lord Newhaven was stretched in an easy but undefensive attitude on the heathery bank, with his hands behind his head. His two sons rushed simultaneously at him and knelt on his chest.

“Promise,” they cried, punching him. “Two turns each.” There was a free fight, and Lord Newhaven promised.

“Honour bright. Two turns each, and really deep.”

“Honour bright,” said Lord Newhaven.

His two sons got off his chest, and Teddy climbed on his back in readiness as his father sat up and began to unlace his boots.

“Higher,” said Teddy over his shoulder, his arms tightly clasped round his father’s neck, as Lord Newhaven rolled up his trousers.

“You young slave-driver, they won’t go up any higher.”

“You did say ‘Honour Bright.’”

“Well, Shylock, I am ‘honour bright.’”

“You had them over your knees last time.”

“I had knickerbockers on, then.”

“Won’t these do the same?”

“They won’t come up another inch.”

“Then one, two, three — off!” shrieked Teddy, digging his heels into the parental back.

The horse displayed surprising agility. It curveted, it kicked, it jumped a little drain, it careered into the water, making a tremendous splashing.

The two boys screamed with delight.

But at last the horse sat down on the bank gasping, wiped its forehead, and, in spite of frenzied entreaties, proceeded to put on its socks and boots.

Lord Newhaven was not to be moved a second time. He lit a cigarette, and observed that the moment for sailing boats had arrived.

The boats were accordingly sailed. Lord Newhaven tilted his hat over his eyes and acted umpire.

“It is not usual to sail boats upside down,” he said, seeing Teddy deliberately upset his.

“They are doing it out there,” said Teddy, who had a reason for most things. And he continued to sail his boat upside down.

Lord Newhaven got up, and swept the water with his eye. His face became keen. Then his glance fell anxiously on the children.

“Teddy and Pauly,” he said, “promise me that you will both play on this one bit of sand, and not go in the water till I come back.”

They promised, staring bewildered at their father.

In another moment Lord Newhaven was tearing through the brushwood that fringed the water’s edge.

As he neared the boathouse he saw another figure trying to shove out the remaining boat.

It was Doll. Lord Newhaven pushed her off and jumped in.

Doll was almost speechless. His breath came in long gasps. The sweat hung on his forehead. He pointed to the black upturned boat.

“This one leaks,” said Lord Newhaven sharply.

“It’s got to go all the same, and sharp,” said Doll, hoarsely.

Lord Newhaven seized up a fishing-tin, and thrust it into Doll’s hands.

“You bale while I row,” he said, and he rowed as he had never rowed before.

“Who is it?” he said, as the boat shot out into the open.

Doll was baleing like a madman.

“Scarlett,” he said. “And he’s over one of the springs. He’ll get cramp.”

Lord Newhaven strained at his oars.

Consciousness was coming back, was slowly climbing upwards, upwards through immense intervals of time and space, to where at last with a wrench pain met it half-way. Hugh stirred feebly in the dark of a great forlornness and loneliness.

“Rachel,” he said, “Rachel.”

His head was gently raised, and a cup pressed to his lips. He swallowed something.

He groped in the darkness for a window, and then opened his eyes. Lord Newhaven withdrew a pace or two, and stood looking at him.

Their eyes met.

Neither spoke, but Hugh’s eyes, dark with the shadow of death, said plainly, “Hast thou found me, oh mine enemy?”

Then he turned them slowly, as an infant turns them, to the sky, the climbing woods, leaning over each other’s shoulders to look at him, to the warm earth on which he lay. At a little distance was stretched a small rough-haired form. Hugh’s eyes fixed on it. It lay very still.

“Crack,” he said suddenly, raising himself on his elbow.

There was neither speech nor language. Crack’s tail, that courteous member, made no sign.

“He was under the boat,” said Lord Newhaven, looking narrowly at the exhausted face of the man he had saved, and unable for the life of him to help a momentary fellow-feeling about the little dog.

Hugh remembered. It all came back, the boat, Crack’s dying gasps, the agonised struggle, the strait gate of death, the difficult passage through it, the calm beyond. He had almost got through, and had been dragged back.

“Why did you interfere?” he said, in sudden passion, his eyes flaming in his white face.

A dull colour rose to Lord Newhaven’s cheek.

“I thought it was an accident,” he said. “If it was not I beg your pardon.”

There was a moment’s silence.

“It was an accident,” said Hugh hoarsely, and he turned on his elbow and looked fixedly at the water, so that his companion might not see the working of his face.

Lord Newhaven walked slowly away in the direction of Doll, whose distant figure followed by another was hurrying towards them.

“And so there is a Rachel as well, is there?” he said to himself, vainly trying to steel himself against his adversary.

“How is he now?” said Doll, coming within earshot.

“He’s all right, but you’d better get him into dry clothes and yourself too.”

“Change on the bank,” said Doll, seizing a bundle from the keeper. “It’s as hot as an oven in the sun. Why Scarlett’s sitting up! I thought when we laid into him on the bank that he was too far gone, didn’t you? I suppose”— hesitating — Crack?”

Lord Newhaven shook his head.

“I must go back to my boys now,” he said, “or they will be getting into mischief.”

Doll nodded. He and Lord Newhaven had had a hard fight to get the leaking boat to land with Hugh at the bottom of it. It had filled ominously when Doll ceased baleing to help to drag in the heavy unconscious body.

There had been a moment when, inapprehensive as he was Doll had remembered with a qualm that Lord Newhaven could not swim.

“Every fellow ought to swim,” was the moral he drew from the incident and repeated to his wife, who, struck by the soundness of the remark, repeated it to the Gresleys.

Lord Newhaven retraced his steps slowly along the bank in his water-logged boots. He was tired and he did not hurry, for he could see in the distance two small figures sitting faithfully on a log where he had left them.

“Good little chaps,” he said half aloud.

In spite of himself his thoughts went back to Hugh. His feelings towards him had not changed, but they had been forced during the last half-hour out of their original intrenchments into the open, and were liable to attack from new directions.

It was not that he had virtually saved Hugh’s life, for Doll would never have got him into the leaking boat and kept it afloat single-handed. That first moment of enthusiasm when he had rubbed the senseless limbs and breathed into the cold lips, and had felt his heart leap when the life came halting back into them, that moment had passed and left him cold.

But Hugh’s melancholy eyes, as they opened once more on this world and met his unflinching, haunted him, and the sudden anger at his interference. It was the intrenchment of his contempt that Lord Newhaven missed.

A meaner nature would not have let him off so easily as Hugh had done.

“It was an accident,” he said to himself unwillingly. “He need not have admitted that, but I should have been on a gridiron if he had not. In different circumstances that man and I might have been friends. And if he had got into a scrape of this kind a little further afield I might have helped to get him out of it. He feels it. He has aged during the last two months. But as it is — Upon my word, if he were a boy I should have had to let him off. It would have been too bloodthirsty. But he is seven and twenty. He is old enough to know better. She made a fool of him, of course. She made a greater one of me once, for I— married her.

Lord Newhaven reviewed with a dispassionate eye his courtship and marriage.

“A wood anemone,” he said to himself; “I likened her to a wood anemone. Good Lord! And I was thirty years of age, while this poor devil is twenty-seven.”

Lord Newhaven stopped short with fixed eyes.

“I believe I should have to let him off,” he said half-aloud. “I believe I would let him off if I was not as certain as I stand here that he will never do it.”

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37