The Dark Cottage

Mary Cholmondeley

First published in The Romance of His Life: and other romances, John Murray, 1921.

This web edition published by eBooks@Adelaide.

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The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005

The Dark Cottage

The soul’s dark cottage, battered and decayed

Lets in new light through chinks that time has made.

Edmund Waller.

Part 1: 1915

John Damer was troubled for his country and his wife and his child.

At first he had been all patriotism and good cheer. “It will be a short war and a bloody one. The Russians will be in Berlin by Christmas. We shall sweep the German flag from the seas. We are bound to win.”

He had stood up in his place in the House and had said something of that kind, and had been cheered.

But that was a year ago.

Now the iron had entered into England’s soul, and into his soul. He had long since volunteered, and he was going to France tomorrow after an arduous training. He had come home to say good-bye.

He might never come back. He might never see his Catherine, his beautiful young wife, again, or his son Michael, that minute, bald, amazing new comer with the waving clenched fists, and the pink soles as soft as Catherine’s cheek.

And as John Damer, that extremely able successful wealthy man of thirty, sat on the wooden bench in the clearing he suddenly realised that, for the first time in his life, he was profoundly unhappy.

How often he had come up here by the steep path through the wood, as a child, as a lad, as a man, and had cast himself down on the heather, and had looked out across that wonderful panorama of upland and lowland, with its scattered villages and old churches, and the wide band of the river taking its slow curving course among the level pastures and broad water meadows.

That river had given him the power to instal electric light in his home, the dignified Elizabethan house, standing in its level gardens, below the hill. He could look down on its twisted chimneys and ivied walls as he sat. How determined his father had been against such an innovation as electric light, but he had put it in after the old man’s death. There was enough water power to have lit forty houses as large as his.

Far away in the haze lay the city where his factories were. Their great chimneys were visible even at this distance belching forth smoke, which, etherealised by distance, hung like a blue cloud over the city. He liked to look at it. That low lying cloud reminded him of his great prosperity. And all the coal he used for the furnaces came from his own coal fields.

But who would take care of all the business he had built up if he fell in this accursed war? Who would comfort Catherine, and who would bring up his son when he grew beyond his mother’s control?

Yet this was England, spread out before his eyes, England in peril calling to him her son who dumbly loved her, to come to her aid.

His eyes filled with tears, and he did not see his wife till she was close beside him, standing in a thin white gown, holding her hat by a long black ribbon, the sunshine on her amber hair.

She was pale, and her very beauty seemed veiled by grief.

She sat down by him, and smiled valiantly at him. Presently she said gently:

“Perhaps in years to come, John, you and I shall sit together on this bench as old people, and Michael will be very kind, but rather critical of us, as quite behind the times.”

And then had come the parting, the crossing, the first sound as of distant thunder; and then interminable days of monotony; and mud, and lack of sleep, and noise unceasing; and a certain gun which blew out the candle in his dug-out every time it fired—and then! a rending of the whole world, and himself standing in the midst of entire chaos and overthrow, with blood running down his face.

“I’m done for,” he said, as he fell forward into an abyss of darkness and silence, beyond the roar of the guns.

Part 2: 1965

It was fifty years later.

Michael’s wife, Serena, was waiting for her husband. The gallery in which she sat was full of memorials of the past. The walls were covered with portraits of Damers. Michael’s grandfather in a blue frock coat and light grey trousers. Michael’s father, John Damer, ruddy and determined in tweeds, with a favourite dog. Michael himself, not so ruddy, nor so determined, in white smock and blue stockings. Michael’s mother, beautiful and austere in her robe of office.

Presently an aeroplane droned overhead, which she knew meant the departure of the great Indian doctor, and a moment later Michael came slowly down the landing steps in the garden, and entered the gallery.

“The operation has been entirely successful,” he said.

They looked gravely at each other.

“It seems incredible,” she said.

“He said it was a simple case, that all through those years while Father was unconscious the skull had been slowly drawing together and mending itself, that he only released a slight lesion in the brain. He has gone back to Lucknow for an urgent case, but he says he will look in again in a couple of days time if I let him know there is an adverse symptom. He said he felt sure all would go well, but that we must guard him from sudden shocks, and break to him very gradually that it is fifty years since he was hit at Ypres.”

“He’ll wake up in his own room where he has lain so long,” said Serena.

“Has the nurse changed yet?”

“Yes. We made up the uniform from the old illustrated papers. Blue gown, white cap and a red cross on the arm.”

“We had better get into our things, too,” said Michael nervously.

“The blue serge suit is on your bed, and a collar and a tie. I found them in the oak chest. They must have been forgotten.”

“And you?”

“I will wear your Mother’s gown which she wore at your christening. She kept it all her life.”

A few minutes later Michael, uneasy in a serge suit which was too tight for him, and his wife in a short grey gown entered the sick room and sat down one on each side of the bed. The nurse, excited and self-conscious in her unfamiliar attire, withdrew to the window.

The old, old man on the bed stirred uneasily, and his white beard quivered. His wide eyes looked vacantly at his son, as they had looked at him all Michael’s life. Serena, with a hand that trembled a little, poured a few drops into a spoon, and put them into the half-open lips.

Then they held their breath and watched.

John Damer frowned. A bewildered look came into his vacant eyes, and he closed them. And he, who had spoken no word for fifty years, said in a thin quavering voice:

“The guns have ceased.”

He opened his eyes suddenly. They wandered to the light, and fell upon the nurse near the window.

“I am in hospital,” he said.

“No. You are in your own home,” said Michael, laying his hand on the ancient wrinkled hand.

The dim sunken eyes turned slowly in the direction of the voice.

“Father,” said the old man looking full at Michael. “Father! well, you do look blooming.”

The colour rushed to Michael’s face. He had expected complications, and had prepared numberless phrases in his mind to meet imaginary dilemmas. But he had never thought of this.

“Not Father,” said Serena intervening. “You are forgetting. Father died before you married, and you put up that beautiful monument to him in the Church.”

“So I did,” said the old man, testily. “So I did, but he is exactly like him all the same, only Father never wore his clothes too tight for him and a made up tie—never.”

Michael, the best dressed man of his day, was bereft of speech.

“You’re a little confused still,” said Serena. “You were wounded in the head at Ypres. You have been ill a long time.”

There was a silence.

“I remember,” said John Damer at last. “Have they taken the Ridge?”

“Yes, long ago.”

“Long ago? Oh! can it be-is it possible? Have we?”—the old man reared himself suddenly in bed, and raised two thin gnarled arms. “Have we—won the war?”

“Yes,” said Michael, as Serena put her arms round his father, and laid him back on his pillow. “We have won the war.”

John Damer lay back panting, trembling from head to foot.

“Thank God,” he said, and in his sunken lashless eyes two tears gathered, and ran down the grey furrows of his cheeks, and lost themselves in his long white beard.

They gave him the sedative which the doctor had left ready for him, and when he had sunk back into unconsciousness, they stole out of the room.

They went back to the picture gallery looking on the gardens, and Michael gazed long at the portrait of his grandfather in the blue frock coat.

“Am I so like him?” he said with a sort of sob.

“Very like.”

He sat down and hid his face in his hands.

“Poor soul,” he said. “Poor soul. He’s up against it. Do you know I had almost forgotten we had ‘won the war’ as he called it. There have been so many worse conflicts since that act of supreme German folly and wickedness.”

“Not what he would call wars,” said Serena. “He only means battles with soldiers in uniforms, and trenches and guns.”

“How on earth are we to break to him that his wife is dead, and that I am his son, and that he is eighty years of age, and that Jack is his grandson.”

“It must come to him gradually.”

“In the meanwhile I shall take off these vile clothes and get back into my own. Serena, what can a made-up tie be, and why is it wrong?”

Michael tore off his tie and looked resentfully at it at arm’s length. “It is just like the pictures, it seems correct, and it fastens all right with a hook and eye.”

“It is the first time your taste in dress has been questioned, and naturally it pricks,” said Serena smiling at her husband. “It is lucky Jack did not hear it.”

“I don’t know who Jack inherits his slovenliness and his clumsiness from,” said Michael. “Why on earth can’t he sit on his smock without crumpling it. I can. He may be a great intellect, I think he is; he takes after my mother, there is no doubt, but he can’t fold his cloak on his shoulder, he can’t help a woman into her aeroplane, and he is so careless that he can’t alight in London on a roof without coming down either on the sky doorway, or the sky-light. He has broken so many sky-lights and jammed so many roof doors that nowadays he actually goes to ground and sneaks up in the lift.”

Serena was accustomed to these outbursts of irritation. They meant that her nervous, highly strung Michael was perturbed about something else. In this case the something else was not far to seek. He recurred to it at once.

“Will Father ever understand about Jack and Catherine? Will he ever in his extreme old age understand about anything?”

“His mind is still thirty,” said Serena. “The Iceland brain specialist said that as well as Ali Khan, and all the other doctors. That is where they say the danger lies, and where the tragedy lies.”

“But how are we to meet it,” said Michael walking up and down. Presently he stopped in front of his wife and said as one who has solved a problem!

“I think on the whole I had better leave the matter of breaking things to Father entirely in your hands. It will come better from you than from me.”

And the pictures of the various wives of the various ancestors heard once more the familiar phrase, to which their wifely ears had been so well accustomed in their day from the lips of their lords, when anything uncomfortable had to be done.

So Michael left it to Serena, and in the weeks which followed she guided her father-in-law, with the endless tenderness of a mother teaching a child to walk, round some very sharp corners, which nearly cost him his life, which, so deeply was her heart wrung for him, she almost hoped would cost him his life.

With a courage that never failed him, and which awed her, he learned slowly that he was eighty years of age, that his wife had died ten years ago, at sixty, that Michael was his son, and that he had a very clever grandson called John after him, one of the ablest delegates of the National Congress, and a grand-daughter called Catherine. She tried to tell him how they had lost a few months earlier their eldest son, Jasper, one of the pioneers of a new movement which was costing as many lives as flight had cost England fifty years earlier.

“He failed to materialise at the appointed spot,” said Serena, “I sometimes wonder whether his Indian instructor kept back something essential. The Indians have known for generations how to disintegrate and materialise again in another place, but it does not come easy to our Western blood. Jasper went away, but he never came back.”

John Damer looked incredulously at Serena, and she saw that he had not understood. She never spoke of it again.

As the days passed John, fearful always of some new pang, nevertheless asked many questions of Serena when he was alone with her.

“Tell me about my wife. She was just twenty when I left her.”

“She grieved for you with her whole heart.”

“Did she—marry again? I would rather know if she did. She would have been right to do so in order to have someone to help her to bring up Michael.”

“She never married again. How could she when you were alive, and in the house.”

“I forgot.”

“She hoped to the last you would be completely restored. All the greatest doctors in the world were called in, and they assured her it was only a question of time. Wonderful discoveries had been made in the Great War as to wounds in the head. But they only gradually learnt to apply them. And the years passed and passed.”

“It would have been kinder to let me die.”

“Did doctors let people die when you were young?”

John shook his head.

“They are the same now,” she said.

“And I suppose Catherine spent her life here, caring for her child, and me, and the poor. She loved the poor.”

“She cared for you and Michael, and she worked ceaselessly for the cause of the oppressed. She battled for it. She went into Parliament as it was called in those days, as soon as the age for women members was lowered from thirty to twenty-one. She strove for the restriction of the White Slave Traffic, and for safeguarding children from the great disease. Some terrible evils were abated by her determined advocacy. But she always said she did not meet the same opposition the first women doctors did a hundred years ago, or as Florence Nightingale had to conquer when she set out to improve the condition of the soldier in hospital and in barracks, and to reduce the barbarities of the workhouses.”

“I should have thought she would have been better employed in her own home, that she would have been wiser to leave these difficult subjects, especially the White Slave Traffic—to men.”

“They had been left to men for a long time,” said Serena.

The day came when he was wheeled out into the garden in the old mahogany wheel chair which his father had used in the last years of his life.

Serena was sitting beside him. When was she not beside him! Michael, at a little distance, was talking to two of the gardeners.

“Why do Michael and the gardeners wear smock frocks and blue stockings?”

“It is so comfortable for one thing, and for another it is the old national peasant dress. We naturally all wish to be dressed alike nowadays, at any rate when we are in the country, just as the Scotch have always done.”

“I remember,” said John, “when I was a small child a splendid old man of ninety, Richard Hallmark, who used to come to church in a smock frock and blue worsted stockings and a tall black hat. His grown-up grandsons in bowler hats and ill-made coats and trousers looked contemptible beside him, but I believe they were ashamed of him.”

His dim eyes scanned the familiar lawns and terraces of the gardens that had once been his, and the wide pasture lands beyond.

It was all as it had been in his day. Nevertheless he seemed to miss something.

“The rooks,” he said at last. “I don’t hear them. What has become of the rookery in the elms?”

“They’ve gone,” she said. “Ten years ago. Michael felt it dreadfully. Even now he can hardly speak of it. I hope, Father, you will never reproach him about it.”

“Did he shoot them?” asked the old man in a hollow voice.

“No, no. He loved them, just as you did, but when he installed the Power Station he put it behind the elm wood to screen it from the house, and he did not remember, no one remembered, the rookery. You see rooks build higher than any other birds, and that was not taken into account in the radiation. At first everything seemed all right. The old birds did not appear to notice it. Even the smallest birds could pass through the current it was so slight. But when the spring came it proved too much for the fledgelings. They died as they were hatched out in the nest. Then the old birds made the most fearful outcry, and left the place.”

“There has always been a rookery at Marcham,” said John, his voice shaking with anger. “I suppose I shall hear of Michael shooting the foxes next.”

Serena did not answer. She looked blankly at him.

Presently John asked that his chair might be wheeled up the steep path through the wood to the little clearing at the top. Michael eagerly offered to draw the chair himself, but John refused. He had been distant towards his son since he had heard about the rookery.

Serena, with the help of a gardener, conveyed him gently to the heathery knoll, just breaking into purple.

John looked out once more with deep emotion at the familiar spot in the golden stillness of the September afternoon.

“I sat here with my wife the last afternoon before I went to the front,” he said in his reedy old man’s voice. “The heather was out as it is now.”

His eyes turned to the peaceful landscape, the wooded uplands, the river, the clustered villages, and far away the city and the tall chimneys of his factories. As he looked he gave a gasp, and his jaw fell.

“The factories aren’t working,” he said.

“Yes, dear, indeed they are.”

“They’re not. Not a sign of smoke. It used to hang like a curtain over the city.”

“Or like a shroud,” said Serena looking fixedly at him. “It hung over the grimy overworked mothers, and the poor grimy fledglings of children in the little huddled houses. The factories consume their own smoke now.”

“There was a law to that effect in my time,” said John, “but nobody obeyed it.”

“No one,” she agreed. “No one.”

As he looked it seemed as if a cloud of dust rose from the factories, and eddied in the air. As it drew near it resembled a swarm of bees.

“What on earth is that?” he asked.

“It is the work people going home to the garden city behind the hill. It would not do for them to live near the factories, would it? The ground is marshy. There are five or six streams there. And the gas from the factories has killed all the trees. What was not good for trees could not be good for children.”

“They all lived there in my time. It was handy for work. There was always a great demand for houses. I know I had to build more.”

Serena’s eyes fell.

The flight of aeroplanes passed almost overhead followed by two enormous airships waddling along like monstrous sausages.

“Are those Zeppelins?”

“They are aero busses built on the German models. They superseded the ground electrics a few years ago. Those two are to carry back the workers who are more or less deficient, and can’t be trusted to fly an aeroplane; the kind of people who used to be shut up in asylums. They can do sufficient work under supervision to pay for their own maintenance. We group with them the hysterical and the melancholy, and people who can’t take the initiative, and those who suffer from inertia and tend to become blood suckers and to live on the energies of others. Their numbers grow fewer every year.”

Serena and Michael talked long about his father that night.

“But surely he must have seen it was a crime to house his factory hands like that.”

“He didn’t seem to. You see he compared well with many employers. He doesn’t know—how could he, that his generation let us in. We paid their bill. All the wickedness and the suffering of the great black winter had their root in the blindness and self-seeking of his generation and the one before him.”

“He’s never been the same to me since he found I killed the rookery. What’s a rookery to a thousand children reared in a smoky swamp. What will he think of me when he hears that I stalked and shot the last fox in the county?”

“He must not hear it. We must guard him,” said Serena, “and I pray that his life may not be long. It can’t be, I think, and we have been warned that any sudden shock will kill him. I wish he could have a joyful shock and die of it, but there aren’t any joyful shocks left for him in this world I am afraid.”

“Have you explained to him that his grandchildren are coming home tomorrow from the Rocky Mountains?”

“I have told him that they are coming, but not that they have been in the Rockies. He might think it rather far to go for a fortnight’s fishing.”

“Serena, what on earth will Father make of Jack. Jack is so dreadfully well-informed. I hardly dare open my mouth in his presence. Jack says he is looking forward to meeting his grandfather, and realising what he calls his feudal point of view.”

“Jack only means by that expounding to his grandfather his own point of view. I don’t think your Father will take to him, but he will love Catherine; she is so like your Mother, and she never wants to realise any point of view.”

Jack arrived first with his servant and a large hamper of fish. The air lorry followed with the tents and the fishing tackle and the mastiffs.

“But where is Catherine,” asked Michael, as Jack came in pulling off his leather helmet and goggles.

Jack grinned and said with a spice of malice:

“Catherine fell into the sea.”

“She didn’t!” said Serena. “That’s the second time. How tiresome. She always has a cold on her chest if she gets wet.”

“Where did you leave her?” asked Michael.

“In mid-Atlantic. We kept to the highway. It was her own fault. I warned her not to loop the loop with that old barge of hers, but she would try and do it. She was fastened in all right. I saw to that, but her stuff was loose, and you should have seen all her fish and kettles and the electric cooker shooting out one after another into the deep. It was in trying to grab something that she lost control, and fell, barge and all after her crockery into the sea. I circled round—that is why I am a quarter-of-an-hour late—till I sighted one of the patrol toddling up, old Granny Queen Elizabeth it was. Catherine wirelessed to me that she was all right, and would start again as soon as she was dry and had had a cigarette, so I came on.”

Catherine arrived an hour later, full of apologies about the lost crockery, and the electric cooker, and was at once put into a hot bath by her mother and sent to bed.

After the arrival of his grandchildren John spent more and more of his time in the clearing in the wood. He shrank instinctively from the sense of movement and life in the house, and his sole prop, Serena, seemed unable to be so constantly with him as before.

He was never tired of gazing at the gracious lines of the landscape. Perhaps he loved that particular place because he had sat there with his wife on their last afternoon together, perhaps also because, in a world where all seemed changed, that alone, save for the cloud on the horizon, was unchanged. He was at home there.

Jack took a deep and inquisitive interest in his grandfather which made him often stroll up the hill to smoke a pipe on the bench near him. Sometimes John pretended to be asleep when he heard his grandson’s whistle on the path below him. He was bewildered by this handsome, quick-witted, cocksure, bearded young man who it seemed was already at twenty-three a promising Fatigue Eliminator, and might presently become a Simplyfier. His grand-daughter, Catherine, he had not yet seen, as she was in quarantine owing to a cold, and the Catarrh Inspector had only today pronounced her free from infection.

“You sleep a great deal, Grandfather,” said Jack, coming so suddenly into view that John had not time to close his eyes. “Don’t you find so much sleep tends to retard cerebral activity?”

“I don’t happen to possess cerebral, or any other form of activity,” said John, coldly.

“Do you mean you wish er—to resume the reins? Father and I were talking of it last night. Everything he has is yours, you know, by law.”

John shook his head, and looked at his powerless hands.

“Reins are not for me,” he said.

“Well, in my opinion, grandfather,” said Jack, with approval, not wholly devoid of patronage, “you’re right. A great deal of water has passed under the bridge since your day.”

“This clearing in the wood is the same,” John said. “That is why I like it, and my old home looks just the same—from here.”

There was a moment’s silence while Jack lit his pipe.

John suddenly said, “I put in the electric light. My father never would hear of it, but I did it.”

He thought it was just as well that his magnificent grandson should know that he had done something when he held the reins.

“That is one of the many things I have been wishing to discuss with you, grandfather. You installed electric light in the house and stables and garage, but there was power enough to light a town. While you were doing it, why didn’t you light the church and the village as well?”

“I never thought of it.”

“But it must have made you very uncomfortable to feel you had not shared the benefit of it with the community. The village lies at your very gates. You must have hated the feeling that you had lit yourself up, and left them in the dark. It was essential, absolutely essential for your workers’ well-being that they should have light. Even in your day the more intelligent among the agricultural labourers were beginning to migrate to the towns. We only got them back by better conditions in lighting and housing, and facilities for movement and amusement.”

“Electric light in cottages was unheard of in my time,” said John. “It never entered my head.”

“Just so,” said Jack. “That seems so odd, so incomprehensible to us unless we can seize the feudal point of view. You confirm the classics on the subject. I have questioned numbers of very old men who were in their prime before the war like you, grandfather, but I have not found their opinions as definite as yours, because they have insensibly got all their edges worn off so to speak by lifelong contact with the two younger generations. Your unique experience is most interesting. Never entered your head. There you have the feudal system in a nutshell. No sense of communal life at all. I’ll make a note of it—I’m compiling a treatise on the subject. You were against female suffrage, too, I remember. I’ve been reading up your record. You voted several times against it.”

“I did. I consider woman’s sphere is in the home.”

“Just so. That was the point of view, and there is a lot to say for it considering the hash women made of power when first they got it, though not so enormous a hash as the Labour Party. You know, I suppose, we’ve had three Labour Governments since the great war?”

“I always prophesied a Labour Government would come, and I feared it. I knew they had not sufficient education to rule. No conception of foreign policy.”

“Not an atom. I agree with you. Not a scrap. Thirty years ago most of our rulers hadn’t an idea where India was, or why we must complete the transAfrican railway in case we lost control of the Suez Canal. They actually opposed it. They nearly piloted the Ship of State on to the rocks.”

John frowned.

“Now what I want to know is,” said Jack, extending two long blue stockinged legs, and enjoying himself immensely, “why instead of opposing female suffrage you did not combine to place the franchise on an educational basis, irrespective of sex; the grant of the vote to be dependant on passing certain examinations, mainly in history and geography. Or, if you were resolved to delay as much as possible the entrance of women into politics, why didn’t you give better national education. You did neither. You let loose a horde of entirely ignorant and irresponsible men and women out of your national schools. You say you foresaw that a Labour Government was inevitable, but you don’t seem to have made any preparation, or taken any precaution to insure its efficiency when it did come.”

John was silent.

“They were also hostile men and women,” continued the young man. “That was the worst of it. Were you at Lille when you were fighting in France?”


“Well, the East Lancashires were. They were all miners, and the thing that interested them most was the devastated mines, ruined by the Germans in their retreat. And they saw the remains of the bath houses at the pit heads. Those baths had been there before the war. Every miner could go back clean to his own home, instead of having to wash in his own kitchen. Grandfather, you owned coal-mines. Why didn’t you and the other coal-owners put up baths at the pit heads? You would have liked it if you had been a miner. And just think what it would have saved your wife. The English miners got them by threats after they had seen the wrecks of them in France. But why didn’t the English coal-owners copy French methods, if they hadn’t the imagination to think them out for themselves? Why did they only concede when they could not help it? Reforms were wrung out of the governing class in your day by threats and strikes. That is what, for nearly thirty years, ruined our class with Labour when it came into power. Why didn’t your generation foresee that?”

“We didn’t see the danger,” said John, “as you see it. Everyone can be wise after the event.”

“Just so. But if you couldn’t foresee the danger, why didn’t you see at the time the justice of their claims, men like you, grandfather, who fought for justice for the smaller nations? It seems to me, the national characteristic of the upper classes fifty years ago must have been opposition to all change, a tendency to ignore symptoms which really were danger signals, and an undeveloped sense of justice . . ., which only acted in certain grooves. The result was the uneducated came into power, embittered, without a shred of confidence in the disinterestedness of the educated. The Commonwealth—”

“The what?”

“The Commonwealth—you used to call it the Empire—nearly went upon the rocks.”

Jack’s young face became awed and stern and aged, as John had seen men’s faces become when they charged through the mud in the dawn.

“I was in Liverpool,” Jack said, “all through the Black Winter. It needn’t have been. It never, never need have been if there had been justice and sympathy in England for Labour forty years before. But there was not. So they paid us back in our own coin. We had no justice from them. My God! I can’t blame them.”

Serena, coming quietly up the path, saw the two men looking fixedly at each other, both pallid in the soft sunshine. The same shadow of suffering seemed to have fallen on the beautiful young face, and on the old one.

“You must not talk any more,” she said to John, casting a reproachful glance at her son. “You are over-tired.”

Jack took the hint, kissed his mother’s hand, and walked slowly away. He was deeply moved.

John shivered. A deathlike coldness was creeping over him, was laying an icy hand upon his heart. He turned to his sole comforter, Serena, watching him with limpid grieved eyes.

“Your grand-daughter, Catherine, is coming up to see you in a few minutes,” she said, trying as always to guard him against surprise. “How cold your hands are, Father. I could not let her see you till she had been disinfected after her chill for fear she might give it to you.”

He was not listening.

“Serena,” he said feebly. “The world is not my world any longer. I am a stranger and a sojourner in it. All my landmarks are swept away. I wish I could be swept away, too.”

Serena took his cold hands in hers, and held them to her breast.

“Father,” she said, “unless you and countless others, all the best men of your time had given your lives for your country, we should have no country today. You bled for us, you kept it for us, for your son, and your son’s son: and we all honour and thank you for what you have done for us.”

John Damer’s eyes looked full at her in a great humility.

“I see now,” he said, in his thin quavering voice, “that I only died for my country. I did not live for her. I took things more or less as I found them. I was blind, blind, blind.”

She would fain have lied to him, but her voice failed her.

He looked piercingly at her.

“Did the others—all those who never fought—there were so many who did not fight—and those who fought and came back—did they live for her, did they try to make a different England, to make her free and happy—after the war?”

“Some did,” said Serena, “but only a minority.”

She saw his eyes fix suddenly. His face became transfigured.

“She’s coming up the path,” he said, in an awed whisper. “Catherine is coming.”

Serena followed his rapt gaze and saw her daughter coming towards them in a white gown, her hat hanging by a ribbon in her hand, the sunshine upon her amber hair.

“Catherine,” said the old man, “Catherine, you have come to me at last. You said we should sit here together when I was old. You’ve come at last.”

And he, who for fifty years had not walked a step, without help, raised himself to his full height, and went to meet her with outstretched arms.

They caught him before he fell, and one on each side of him supported him back to the bench.

He sank down upon it, blue to the lips. Serena laid the trembling white head upon her daughter’s breast. The bewildered young girl put her arms gently round him in silence.

John Damer sighed once in supreme content, and then—breathed no more.

This web edition published by:

The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005