The End of the Dream


Mary Cholmondeley

First published in 1921.

This web edition published by eBooks@Adelaide.

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The End of the Dream

The first time I saw Essie was a few weeks before her marriage with my brother Ted. I knew beforehand that she would certainly be very pretty for the simple reason that Ted would never have been attracted by a plain woman. For him plain women did not exist, except as cooks, governesses, caretakers and charwomen.

Ted is the best fellow in the world, and when he brought her to see me I instantly realised why he had chosen her; but I found myself wondering why she had chosen him—she was charming, lovely, shy, very young and diffident, and with the serenest temperament I have ever seen. She was evidently fond of him, and grateful to him. Later on I learned—from her, never from him—the distress and anxiety from which he had released her and her mother. There was a disreputable brother, and other entanglements, and complicated money difficulties.

Ted simply swooped down, and rescued her, and ordered her to marry him, which she did.

“She is a cut above me, Essie is,” he used to say rubbing his hands, and looking at her with joyful pride. It was true. Essie looked among us like a race horse among cart horses. She belonged, not by birth, but by breeding to a higher social plane than that on which we Hopkinses had our boisterous being. I was resentfully on the alert to detect the least sign of arrogance on her part. I expected it. But gradually the sleepless suspicion of the great middle class to which Ted and I belonged was lulled to rest. I had to own to myself that Essie was a simple, humble, and rather timid creature.

I went to stay with them a few months after their marriage in their new home in Kensington. Ted was outrageously happy, and she seemed well content, amused by him, rather in the same way that a child is amused by a large dog.

He had actually suggested before he met Essie that I should keep house for him, but I told him I preferred to call my soul my own. Essie apparently did not want to call anything her own. She let him have his way in everything, and it was a benevolent and sensible way, but it had evidently never struck him that she might have tastes and wishes even if she did not put them forward. He was absolutely autocratic, and without imagination.

Before they had been married a month he had prevailed on her to wear woollen stockings instead of silk ones, because he always wore woollen socks himself.

He chose the wallpapers of the house without any reference to her, though of course she accompanied him everywhere. He chose the chintzes for the drawing-room, and the curtains, and very good useful materials they were, not ugly, but of a garish cheerfulness. Indeed, he furnished the whole house without a qualm, and made it absolutely conventional. It is strange how very conventional people press towards the mark, how they struggle to be conventional, when it is only necessary to drift to become so.

Ted exerted himself, and Essie laughed, and said she liked what he liked. If she had not been so very pretty her self-effacement would have seemed rather insipid, but somehow she was not insipid. She liked to see him happy in his own prosaic efficient inartistic way, and I don’t think she had it in her power to oppose him if she had wanted to, or indeed anyone. She was by nature yielding, a quality which men like Ted always find adorable.

I remember an American once watching Ted disporting himself on the balcony, pushing aside all Essie’s tubs of flowering tulips to make room for a dreadful striped hammock.

“The thing I can’t understand about you English women,” said the visitor to Essie, “is why you treat your men as if they were household pets.”

“What an excellent description of an English husband,” said Essie. “That is just what he is.”

“What’s that? What’s that?” said Ted, rushing in from the balcony, but as he never waited for an answer Essie seldom troubled to give him one.

Perhaps I should never have known Essie if I had not fallen ill in her house. Ted and she were kindness itself, but as I slowly climbed the hill of convalescence I saw less of him and more of her. He was constantly away, transacting business in various places, and I must own a blessed calm fell upon the house when the front door slammed, and he was creating a lucrative turmoil elsewhere. The weather was hot, and we sat out evening after evening in the square garden. Gradually, very gradually, a suspicion had arisen in my mind that there was another Essie whose existence Ted and I had so far never guessed. I saw that she did—perhaps by instinct—what wise women sometimes do of set purpose. She gave to others what they wanted from her, not necessarily the best she had to give. Ted had received from her exactly what he hoped and desired, and—he was happy.

The evening came when I made a sudden demand on her sympathy. In the quiet darkness of the square garden I told her of a certain agonising experience of my own which in one year had pushed me from youth into middle age, and had turned me not to stone, but into a rolling stone.

“I imagined it was something of that kind that was the matter with you,” she said in her gentle rather toneless voice.

“You guessed it,” I said amazed. I had thought I was a closed book to the whole world. “You never spoke of your idea to Ted?”

“Never. Why should I?”

There was a long silence.

The noise of Kensington High Street reached us like the growl of some tired animal. An owl came across from Holland Park and alighted in a tree near us.

“You should have married him,” said Essie at last.

“Married him!” I exclaimed, “but you don’t understand.” And I went over the whole dreadful story again—at full length. Love affairs are never condensed. If they are told at all they are recounted in full.

“I don’t see that any of those things matter,” she said when I had finished, or rather when I paused.

“Where is he now?”

“In Turkistan, I believe.”

“Why not go to Turkistan?” She spoke as if it were just round the corner.

“Turkistan!”

“Well, it’s somewhere on the map, I suppose. What does it matter where it is.”

“And perhaps when I got there I might find he had set up a harem of Turkistan women.”

“You might.”

“Or that he had long since left for America.”

“Just so.”

“Or that he did not want me.”

“All these things are possible.”

The owl began to call through the dusk, and, not far away, somewhere in the square a gentle lady owl’s voice answered him.

“There are things,” said Essie, “which one can measure, and it is easy to know how to act about them, and whether it is worth while to act at all. Most things one can measure, but there are in life just a few things, a very few, which one cannot measure, or put a value on, or pay a certain price for, and no more, because they are on a plane where foot-rules and weighing machines and money do not exist. Love is one of these things. When we begin to weigh how much we will give to love, what we are willing to sacrifice for it, we are trying to drag it down to a mercantile basis and to lay it on the table of the money changers on which things are bought and sold, and bartered and equivalent value given.”

“You think I don’t love him,” I said, cut to the quick.

“I am sure,” said Essie, “that you don’t love him yet, but I think you are on the road. Who was it who said

‘The ways of love are harder

Than thoroughfares of stones.’

Whoever it was, he knew what he was talking about. You have found the thoroughfare stony, and you rebel and are angry, very angry, and desert your fellow traveller. He, poor man, did not make the road. I expect he is just as angry and foot-sore as you are.”

“He was a year ago. I don’t know what he is now. It is a year since he wrote.”

Essie knitted in silence.

At last I said desperately:

“I have told you everything. Do you think it’s possible he still cares for me?”

Essie waited a long minute before answering.

“I don’t know,” she said, and then added, “but I think you will presently go to Turkistan and find out.”

Reader, I went to Turkistan, and was married there, and lived there and in Anatolia for many happy years. But that is another story. I did not start on that voyage of discovery till several months after that conversation. I had battered myself to pieces against the prison bars of my misery, and health ruthlessly driven away was slow to return.

As I lived with Ted and Essie I became aware that he was becoming enormously successful in money matters. There were mysterious expeditions, buyings and sellings of properties, which necessitated sudden journeys. Immense transactions passed through his competent hands, and presently the possibility of a country house was spoken of. He talked mysteriously of a wonderful old manor house in Essex, which he had come upon entirely by chance, which would presently come into the market, and which might be acquired much below its value, so anxious was the owner—a foreign bigwig—to part with it at once.

Ted prosed away about this house from teatime till bedtime. Essie listened dutifully, but it was I who asked all the questions.

Ted hurried away next morning, not to return for several days, one of which he hoped to spend in Essex.

“You don’t seem much interested about the country house,” I said at tea time. I was slightly irritated by the indifference which seemed to enwrap Essie’s whole existence.

“Don’t you care about it? It must be beautiful from Ted’s account.”

“If he likes it I shall like it.”

“What a model wife you are. Have you no wishes of your own, no tastes of your own, Essie?”

She looked at me with tranquil eyes.

“I think Ted is happy,” she said, “and I am so glad the children are both exactly like him.”

“Yes, but—”

“There is no but in my case. Ted rescued me from an evil entanglement and eased my mother’s life. And he set his kind heart on marrying me. I told him I could not give him much, but he did not mind. I don’t think men like Ted understand that there is anything more that—that might be given; which makes a very wonderful happiness when it is given. Our marriage was on the buying and selling plane. We each put out our wares. I saw very well that he would be impossible—for me at least—to live with unless I gave way to him entirely. Dear Ted is a benevolent tyrant. He would become a bully if he were opposed, and bullies are generally miserable. I don’t oppose him. I think he is content with his bargain, and as fond of me as a man can be of a lay figure. My impression is that he regards me as a model wife.”

“He does, he does. He is absolutely, blissfully happy.”

“He would be just as happy with another woman,” said Essie, “if she were almost inanimate. It was a comfort to me to remember that when I nearly died three years ago.”

“Yes, Ted is all right,” I said, “but how about you? I used to think you were absolutely characterless, and humdrum, but I know better now. Don’t you—miss anything?”

“No,” said Essie, “nothing. You see,” she added tranquilly with the faintest spice of malice, “I lead a double life.”

I gasped, staring at her open-mouthed, horror-stricken. She ignored my crass imbecility, and went on quietly:

“I don’t know when it began, but I suppose when I was about five years old. I found my way to the enchanted forest, and I went there in my dreams every night.”

“In your dreams!” I stuttered, enormously reassured, and idiotically hoping that she had not noticed my hideous lapse.

“In my dreams. I had an unhappy childhood, but I never was unhappy any more after I learned the way through the forest. Directly I fell asleep I saw the track among the tree trunks, and then after a few minutes I reached the wonderful glade and the lake, and the little islands. One of the islands had a temple on it. I fed the swans upon the lake. I twined garlands of flowers. I climbed the trees, and looked into the nests. I swung from tree to tree, and I swam from island to island. I made a little pipe out of a reed from the lake, and blew music out of it. And the rabbits peeped out of their holes to listen, and the squirrels came hand by hand along the boughs, and the great kites with their golden eyes came whirling down. Even the little moles came up out of the ground to listen.”

I gazed at her, astonished.

“I did not wear any clothes,” said Essie, “and I used to lie on the moss in the sun. It is delicious to lie on moss, warm moss in the sun. Once when I was a small child I asked my governess when those happy days would come back when we should wear no clothes, and she told me I was very naughty. I never spoke to her of the dream forest again. She did not understand any more than you did the first moment. I think the natural instinct of the British mind if it does not understand is to look about for a lurking impropriety. I saw other children sometimes, but never close at hand. They went to the temple singing, garlanded and gay, but when I tried to join them I passed through them. They never took any notice of me.”

“Were you a ghost?”

“I think not. I imagine I am an old old soul who has often been in this world before, and by some strange accident I have torn a corner of the veil that hides our past lives from us, and in my dreams I became once more a child as I had really been once, hundreds and hundreds of years ago, perhaps in Greece or Italy.”

“And do you still have that dream every night?”

“Not for many years past. I lost my way to the forest for several years, until I was again in great trouble. That was when—then one night when I had cried myself to sleep I saw the same track through the thicket, and I found the forest again. Oh! how I rejoiced! And in the middle of the forest was a garden and a wonderful old house, standing on a terrace. And there was no lake any more. It was a different place altogether, in England no doubt. And the house door was open. It was a low arched door with a coat of arms carved in stone over it. And I went in. And as I entered all care left me, and I was happy again, as I was among the islands in the lake. I can’t tell you why I was so happy. I have sometimes asked myself, but it is a question I can’t answer. It seemed my real home. I have gone back there every night since I was seventeen, and I know the house by heart. There is only one room I shrink from, though it is one of the most beautiful in the house. It is a small octagonal panelled room leading out of the banqueting hall where the minstrels gallery is. It looks on to the bowling green, and one large picture hangs in it, over the carved mantelpiece. A Vandyck I think it must be. It is a portrait of a cavalier with long curls holding his plumed hat in his hand.”

“Did you meet people in the house?”

“No, not at first, not for several years, but I did not miss them. I did not want companionship; I felt that I was with friends, and that was enough. I wanted the repose, and the beauty and the peace which I always found there. I steeped myself in peace, and brought it back with me to help me through the day. The night was never long enough for me. And I always came back, rested, and refreshed, and content, oh! so deeply content. I am a very lucky person, Beatrice.”

“It explains you at last,” I said. “You have always been to me an enigma, during the five years I have known you.”

“The explanation was too simple for you.”

“Do you call it simple? I don’t. I should hardly be able to believe it if it were not you who had told me. And the house was always empty? You never saw anyone there?”

“It was never empty, but I could not see the people who lived in it. I could see nothing clearly, and I had no desire to pry or search. I was often conscious of someone near me, who loved me and whom I loved. And I could hear music sometimes, and sweet voices singing, but I could never find the room where the music was. But then I did not try to find it. Sometimes when I looked out of the windows I could see a dim figure walking up and down the terrace, but not often.”

“Was it a man or a woman?”

“A man.”

“And you never went out to the bowling green and spoke to him?”

“I never thought of such a thing. I never even saw his face till—till that Christmas I was so ill with pneumonia. Then I fled to the house, and for the first time I could find no rest in it. And I went into the octagonal room, and sat down near the window and leaned my forehead against the glass. My head was burning hot, and the glass was hot too. Everything was hot. And there was a great dreadful noise of music. And suddenly it seemed as if I went deeper into the life of the house, where the light was clearer. It was as if a thin veil were withdrawn from everything. And the heat and the pain were withdrawn with the veil. And I was light and cool, and at ease once more. And the music was like a rippling brook. And he came into the room. I saw him quite clearly at last. And oh! Beatrice, he was the cavalier of the picture, dressed in blue satin with a sword. And he stood before me with his plumed hat in his hand.

“And as I looked at him a gentle current infinitely strong seemed to take me. I floated like a leaf upon it. I think, Beatrice, it was the current of death. I felt it was bearing me nearer and nearer to him and to my real life, and leaving further and further behind my absurd little huddled life here in Kensington, which always has seemed rather like a station waitingroom.

“We neither of us spoke, but we understood each other, and we loved each other. We had long loved each other. I saw that. And presently he knelt down at my feet and kissed my hands. Doesn’t that sound commonplace, like a cheap novelette? but it wasn’t. It wasn’t . . . and then as we looked at each other the gentle sustaining current seemed to fail beneath me. I struggled, but it was no use. It ebbed slowly away from me, leaving me stranded on an aching shore alone, in the dark, where I could not breathe or move. And I heard our doctor say, “she is going.” But I wasn’t going. I had nearly, nearly gone, and I was coming back. And then there was a great turmoil round me, and I came back in agony into my own room and my own bed, and found the doctor and nurse beside me giving me oxygen, and poor Ted as white as a sheet standing at the foot of the bed. . . . They forced me to—to stay. I had to take up life again.”

And for the first time in all the years I had known her Essie was shaken with sudden weeping.

“That was three years ago,” she said brokenly.

For a time we sat in silence hand in hand.

“And do you still go back there?”

“Every night.”

“And you meet him?”

“Yes and no. I am sometimes aware of his presence, but I never see him clearly as I did that once. I think at that moment I was able to see him because I was so near death that I was very close to those on the other side of death. My spirit had almost freed itself from the body, so I became visible to him and he to me. I have studied the pictures of Charles the First’s time, and his dress was exactly of that date, almost the same as that well-known picture—I think it is Charles the First—of a man with his hand on his hip, standing beside a white horse. Do you think it is wrong of me to have a ghostly lover, who must have lived nearly three hundred years ago?”

“Not wrong, but strange. It is a little like “The Brushwood Boy,” and “Peter Ibbetson,” and Stella Benson’s “This is the end.” I suppose we have all been on this earth before, but the cup of Lethe is well mixed for most of us, and we have no memory of previous lives. But you have not drunk the cup to the dregs, and somehow you have made a hole in the curtain of oblivion in two places. Through one of those holes you saw one of your many childhoods, probably in Greece, a couple of thousand years ago. Through the other hole you saw, in comparatively modern times your early womanhood. Perhaps you married your beautiful cavalier with the curls.”

“No,” said Essie with decision, “I have never been married to him, or lived in his house. It is my home, but I have never lived there. I know nothing about him except that we love each other, and that some day we shall really meet, not in a dream.”

“In the Elysian fields?”

“Yes, in the Elysian fields.”

At this moment the front door slammed, and Ted banged up the stairs, and rushed in. If I had not known him I should have said he was drunk.

He was wildly excited, he was crimson. He careered round the room waving his arms, and then plumped on to the sofa, and stretched out his short legs in front of him.

“I’ve bought it. I’ve got it,” he shouted. “Do you hear? I’ve bought it dirt cheap. The young ass is in such a hurry, and he’s apparently so wealthy he doesn’t care. And two hundred acres of timber with it. Such timber. Such walnut, and chestnut and oak. The timber alone is worth the money, I’ve got it. It’s mine.”

“The house in Essex?”

“Kenstone Manor, in Essex. It’s a nailer. It’s a—a—an old world residence. It has no central heating, no bathrooms, no electric light, obsolete drainage and the floors are giving way. I shall have to put in everything, but I shall do it without spending a penny. I shall do it by the timber, and it’s nine miles from a station, that’s partly why no one wanted it. But the railroad is coming. No one knows that yet except a few of us, but it will be there in five years, with a station on the property. Then I shall sell all the land within easy reach of the station in small building lots for villas. I shall make a pile.”

Ted’s round eyes became solemn. He was gazing into the future, leaning forward, a stout hand on each stout knee.

“Teddy shall go to Eton,” he said, “and I shall put him in the Guards.”

A week later Ted took us down by motor to see Kenstone. It was too far for us to return the same day, so he engaged rooms for us in the village inn. His “buyer” was to meet him, and advise him as to what part of the contents of the house he should offer to take over by private treaty before the sale.

On a gleaming day in late September we sped along the lovely Essex lanes, between the pale harvested fields.

“There’s the forest,” shouted Ted, leaning back from his seat in front, and pointing to a long ridge of trees which seemed to stretch to the low horizon beyond the open fields.

“When we’re over the bridge we’re on the—the property,” yelled Ted.

We lurched over the bridge, and presently the forest came along the water’s edge to meet us, and we turned sharply through an open gateway into a private road.

Such trees I had never seen. They stood in stately groups of birch and oak and pine with broad glades of grass and yellowing bracken between them.

“Ancient deer park once,” shouted Ted. “Shall be again.”

Essie paid little attention to him. We had made a very early start, and she was tired. She leaned back in the car with half closed eyes.

The trees retreated on each side of the road, and the wonderful old house came suddenly into sight, standing above its long terrace with its stone balustrade.

Ted gave a sort of yelp.

“Oh Essie!” I cried. “Look—look! It’s perfect.”

She gazed languidly for a moment, and then she sat up suddenly, and her face changed. She stared wildly at the house, and put out her hands as if to ward it off.

The car sped up to the arched doorway, with its coat of arms cut in grey stone, and Ted leaped out and rushed up the low steps to the bell.

“Not here! Not here!” gasped Essie, clinging to the car. “I can’t live here.” She was trembling violently.

“Dear Essie,” I said amazed, “we can’t remain in the car. Pull yourself together, and even if you don’t like the place don’t hurt Ted’s feelings by showing it.”

She looked at me like one dazed, and inured to obedience got out, and we followed Ted into the house. We found ourselves in a large square hall. She groaned and leaned against the wall.

“I can’t bear it,” she whispered to me. “It’s no use, I can’t bear it.”

“A glass of water, quick,” I said to Ted, who turned beaming to us expecting a chorus of admiration. “Essie is overtired.”

“What is the matter?” I said to her as he hurried away. “What’s wrong with this exquisite place?”

“It’s the house I come to at night,” she said brokenly. “The dream house. I knew it directly I saw it. Look! There’s the minstrels’ gallery.”

I could only stare at her amazed.

Kind Ted hurried back, splashing an overfull tumbler of water as he came, on the polished oak floor.

She sipped a little, but her hands shook so much that I had to hold the glass for her.

“Cheero, old girl,” said Ted, patting her cheek, but Essie did not cheero.

“The lady ought to lie down,” said the old woman who had opened the door to us. “There’s a sofy in the morning-room.”

I supported Essie into an octagonal room leading out of the great hall, and laid her on a spacious divan of dim red damask.

“Leave her alone with me for a bit,” I said to Ted. “She is overwrought. We made a very early start.”

“I seem to have gone blind,” she whispered when Ted had departed. “Everything is black.”

“You turned faint. You will be all right in a few minutes.”

“Shall I? Would you mind telling me, Beatrice, is there—is there a picture over the fireplace?”

“Yes.”

“What kind of picture?”

“It is a life-size portrait of a young cavalier with curls, in blue satin, holding his hat in his hand.”

“I knew it,” she groaned.

There was a long silence.

“I can’t bear it,” she said. “You may say that is silly, Beatrice, but all the same I can’t. My life will break in two. If Ted lives here—I shall have nowhere to go.”

“I don’t think it silly, dear, but I don’t understand. This is your old home where you lived nearly three hundred years ago, and to which you have so often come back in your dreams. Now you are coming back to it as your home once more. It seems to me a beautiful and romantic thing to have happened, and after the first surprise surely it must seem the same to you. You have always been so happy here.”

“I can see a little now,” she said. “Where is the glass of water?”

She sat up and drank a little, and then dabbed some of the water on her forehead.

“I’m all right now,” she said, pushing back her wet hair.

“Don’t move. Rest a little; you have had a shock.”

She did not seem to hear me. She rose slowly to her feet, and stood in front of the picture.

“Yes,” she said to the cavalier. “It’s you, only not quite you either. You are not really as handsome as that you know, and you have a firmer mouth and darker brows.”

The cavalier smiled at her from the wall: a somewhat insipid supercilious face I thought, but a wonderful portrait.

The old caretaker came back.

“The gentleman said you’d be the better for something to eat,” she said, “and that you would take it in the hall.”

Through the open door I saw the chauffeur unstrapping the baskets from Fortnum and Mason.

“Whose portrait is that?” said Essie.

“Henry Vavasour Kenstone,” said the old woman in a parrot voice. “Equerry to our martyred King, by Vandyck. You will observe the jewelled sword and the gloves sewed with pearls. The sword and the gloves are preserved in the banqueting ‘all in a glass case.”

Essie turned away from the picture, and sat down feebly by the window.

The clinking of plates, and Ted’s cheerful voice reached us, and the drawing of a cork.

“Our Mr. Rupert, the present owner, favours the picture,” said the woman proudly in her natural voice, “and when he come of age three years ago last Christmas there was a grand fancy ball and ’e was dressed exackerly to match the picture, with a curled wig and all. And ’e wore the actual sword, and the very gloves, at least ’e ‘eld ’em in ‘is ‘and. They was too stiff to put on. ‘E did look a picture. And ‘is mother being Spanish ‘ad a lace shawl on ‘er ‘ead, a duchess she was in ‘er own right, and she might a been a queen to look at her. I watched the dancing from the gallery, me having been nurse in the family, and a beautiful sight it was.”

Essie’s dark eyes were fixed intently on the garrulous old servant.

“Three years ago last Christmas,” she said sharply. “Are you sure of that?”

“And wouldn’t I be sure that took ’im from the month ma’am, but ’e don’t look so like the picture when ’e ain’t dressed to match, and without the yaller wig,” and she wandered out of the room, evidently more interested in the luncheon preparations than in us.

Ted hurried in. When was he not in a hurry?

“Luncheon, luncheon,” he said. “Don’t wait for me, Essie. Rather too long a drive for my little woman. Give her a glass of port, Beatrice. I have to see Rodwell about the roof. Shan’t be half a mo. He’s got to catch his train. Mr. Kenstone, the Duke, I mean, will be here in ten minutes. If he turns up before I’m back give him a snack. They’ve sent enough for ten.”

We did not go in to luncheon.

Essie sank down on the divan. I sat down by her, and put my arms round her. She leaned her head against my shoulder.

“You heard what that woman said,” she whispered. “You see he did not live hundreds of years ago as I thought. The dress deceived me. He’s alive now. He’s twenty-four.”

My heart ached for her, but I could find no word to comfort her in her mysterious trouble.

As we looked out together through the narrow latticed windows the lines came into my mind:

“ casements opening on the foam

Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.”

It seemed to me that poor Essie was indeed a captive in some “faery land forlorn,” and that invisible perilous seas were foaming round her casement windows.

She gave a slight shudder, and started up.

A man was walking slowly up and down the bowling green.

“It is he,” she said. “I’ve seen him walk there a hundred times.”

She watched the tall dignified figure pace up and down, and then turned her eyes from him to me. They were wide, and the pupils dilated.

“Beatrice,” she said solemnly, “I must not meet that man. He must not see me, for his sake, and for mine. All his life long he must go on thinking as he does now, that I am . . . a dream.”

“The old woman says he starts for Spain today.”

Ted’s roundabout figure was suddenly seen trundling out across the grass towards the distant pacing figure.

“Who is that?” said Essie frowning.

“Who is that? Why, it’s Ted of course.”

“And who is Ted?”

“Who is Ted?” I echoed staring at her. “What on earth do you mean?”

She seemed to make a great mental effort.

“Yes,” she said. “Yes. It is Ted. My husband. I forgot. You see I’ve never seen him here before.”

“You will soon grow accustomed to seeing him here,” I said cheerfully.

She shook her head.

The two men met, and moved together towards the house.

Essie looked round her in sudden panic.

“I can’t stay here,” she said. “It’s a trap. Where can I go?”

Her eyes searched the room. There was no other door in it. She looked at the narrow latticed windows. Her eyes came back to me with sheer terror in them, such as I have seen in a snared wild animal.

“You must stay here,” I said, “if you don’t want to meet him. They will reach the open door into the garden long before you could cross the hall. Stay quietly where you are, and I will tell Ted you are unwell, and are resting.”

The two men were already in the hall. I went out to them, closing the door resolutely behind me.

Rupert Maria Wenceslao di Soto, Duke of Urrutia, was a tall grave young man of few words, with close cropped hair and a lean clean shaven face.

Ted introduced him to me, and then pressed him to have some luncheon. The long table down the banqueting hall shewed an array of which Fortnum and Mason might justly have been proud.

The Duke was all courtesy and thanks, but had already lunched. His car would be here in ten minutes to take him to London. If agreeable to Mr. Hopkins he would say one word on business. He had called to modify his agent’s letter about the mantelpieces. He was willing to sell them all as agreed at a valuation, except one.

“Which one?” asked Ted, instantly changing from the exuberant host into the cautious business man.

“The one in the south parlour,” said the Duke, waving his hand towards the door of the room in which was Essie. “I desire to make it clear, as my agent has not done so, that everything in that room I intend to take with me, so that in my future home in the Pyrenees there may be one chamber exactly the same as my late mother’s room in my old home here.”

The explanation quite bowled over Ted. The business man gave way to the man of sentiment.

“Most creditable, I’m sure. Filial piety, most creditable. I don’t recall the mantlepiece in question, but of course as your Grace wishes to keep it, I agree at once. Between gentlemen, no difficulties, everything open to arrangement, amicable settlement.”

The old woman, dissolved in tears, interrupted Ted’s eloquence to tell “Mr. Rupert” that his car was at the door.

The Duke led her gently out of the hall, his hand on her shoulder, and then came back.

“I will detain you no longer from your luncheon,” he said. “With your permission I will spend a few moments in my mother’s chamber. It has many beautiful associations for me. I should like to see it once more before I leave for Spain.”

Ted hastened towards the door, but I barred the way.

“Dear Ted,” I said, “Essie is very ill. No one must go in.”

“No one go in!” said Ted flushing darkly. “I am astonished at you, Beatrice. The Duke wishes to see his mother’s room once more, on bidding farewell to his ancestral home, and you take upon yourself to forbid it.”

“My sister-in-law is ill,” I said, addressing the Duke, “it would distress her if a stranger were to go in suddenly.”

“I understand perfectly, Madam,” he said coldly, and made as if to take his leave.

“Stop,” said Ted, purple in the face. “My wife is unwell. She is overtired, but she is the kindest, most tender-hearted woman in the world. It would cut her to the heart if she found out afterwards she had prevented your Grace’s seeing this room for the last time. Wait one moment, while I go in and explain it to her, and help her to walk a few steps to the settle here.”

And Ted, with a furious glance at me, pushed past me, and went into the room.

“It would be a great kindness to my sister, who is very nervous,” I said to the Duke, “if you would wait a moment in the garden.”

He instantly went towards the open door into the garden. Then I darted after Ted. Between us we would hurry Essie into one of the many other rooms that opened into the hall.

She was standing by the window frantically endeavouring to break the lattice of the central casement, which was a little larger than the others.

There was blood on her hand.

Ted was speaking, but she cut him short.

“Not in here,” she said passionately. “I won’t have it. He mustn’t come in here.”

“He must come in if I say so,” said Ted. The colour had left his face. I had seen him angry before now, but never so angry as this.

“No,” said Essie, “he must not.”

She came and stood before her husband.

“Haven’t I been a good wife to you these five years past,” she said. “Haven’t I done my best to make you happy? Haven’t I obeyed you in everything, everything, everything—till now?”

He stared at her open-mouthed. She had never opposed him before.

She fell on her knees before him, and clasped his feet with her bleeding hands.

“If you love me,” she said, “send him away. I refuse to see him.”

“You are hysterical,” said Ted, “or else you’re stark staring mad. I’ve spoilt you and given way to you till you think you can make any kind of fool of me. Get up at once, and cease this play acting, and come into the hall.”

“He’s in the garden,” I broke in. “You can pass through the hall, Essie.”

She rose to her feet, and her vehemence dropped from her. Her eyes were rivetted on Ted. She paid no heed to what I said. She had no attention to give to anything but her husband.

“I will not come out,” she said, and she sat down again on the divan.

“Then by—he shall come in,” said Ted, and before I could stop him he strode to the door, calling loudly to the Duke to enter.

There was a moment’s pause, in which we heard a step cross the hall. Then the Duke came in, and Ted introduced him to Essie. She bowed slightly, but he did not. He stared at her, transfixed, overwhelmed.

At that moment the discreet voice of Mr. Rodwell was heard in the doorway.

“Can I have one last word, Mr. Hopkins? A matter of some importance.”

“Yes, yes,” said Ted darting to the door, thankful to escape. As he left the room he said to me, “Take Essie at once into the hall. At once, do you hear?”

He might as well have said, “Take her to the moon.”

The Duke and Essie gazed at each other with awed intentness. There was sheer amazement on his face, blank despair on hers. They were entirely absorbed in each other. As I stood in the background I felt as if I were a ghost, that no word of mine could reach their world.

At last he spoke, stammering a little.

“Madam, on the night of my coming of age I left the dancers, and came in here, and behold! you were sitting on that divan, all in white.”

“Yes,” said Essie.

“We saw each other for the first time,” he said, trembling exceedingly.

“Yes.”

“And I knelt at your feet.”

“Yes.”

A suffocating compassion overcame me. It was unendurable to pry upon them, oblivious as they were of my presence. I left the room.

“He will go out of her life in five minutes,” I said to myself, “never to return. Poor souls. Poor souls. Let them have their say.”

I had never seen Romance before, much less such a fantastic romance as this, in a faery land as forlorn as this. My heart ached for them.

Presently I heard Ted’s voice in the distance shouting a last message to the departing Rodwell, and I went back to the octagonal room.

He was kneeling at her feet, her pale hands held in his, and his face bowed down upon them.

“You must go,” she said faintly.

He shuddered.

“You must go,” she repeated. “To me you can only be a picture. To you I am only a dream.”

“Yes, it is time to go,” I said suddenly in a hoarse voice. I obliged them to look at me, to listen to me.

Slowly he released her hands, and got upon his feet. He was like a man in a trance.

“Go! Go!” I said sharply. Something urgent in my voice seemed to reach his shrouded faculties.

He looked in bewildered despair at Essie.

“Go!” she repeated with agonised entreaty, paler than I had ever seen a living creature.

Still like a man in a trance he walked slowly from the room, passing Ted in the doorway without seeing him. In the silence that followed we heard his motor start and whirl away.

“He’s gone,” said Essie, and she fainted.

We had considerable difficulty in bringing her round, and, angry as I was with Ted, I could not help being sorry for him when for some long moments it seemed as if Essie had closed her eyes on this world for good.

But Ted, who always knew what to do in an emergency, tore her back by sheer force from the refuge to which she had fled, and presently her mournful eyes opened and recognised us once more. We took her back in the motor to the village inn, and I put her to bed.

Rest, warmth, silence, nourishment, these were all I could give her. Instinctively I felt that the presence of the remorseful distressed Ted was unendurable to her, and I would not allow him to come into her room, or to sit up with her as he was anxious to do.

I took his place in an armchair at her bedside, having administered to her a sedative which I fortunately had with me, and was profoundly thankful when her even breathing shewed me that she was asleep.

I have known—who has not?—interminable nights, and nights when I dreaded the morning, but I think the worst of them was easier to bear than the night I kept watch beside Essie.

She was stricken. I could see no happiness for her in her future life, and I loved her. And I loved poor blundering Ted also. I grieved for them both. And I was sorry for the Duke too.

When the dawn was creeping ghostlike into the room and the night-light was tottering in its saucer, Essie stirred and woke. She lay a long time looking at me, an unfathomable trouble in her eyes.

“Beatrice,” she said at last, “I could not find the way back.”

“Where, dearest?”

“To the house. I tried and tried, but it was no use. It is lost, lost, lost. Everything is lost.”

I did not answer. I tried to put my trust in Time, and in the thought that she would presently see her children in its rooms and playing in its gardens, and would realise that Kenstone was in a new sense her home, though not in the old one.

I brought her breakfast to her in her room, and then, in spite of my entreaties, she got up and dressed and came downstairs. But when a chastened and humble Ted timidly approached her to ask whether she would like to see the house once more before returning to London in a few hours time, she shook her head and averted her eyes. It was evident to me that she was determined never to set foot in it again.

He did not insist, and she was obviously relieved when he left the room. He signed to me to follow him and then told me that he had just received a letter from the Duke asking him to accept the Vandyck in the octagonal room as a present, as on second thoughts he felt it belonged to the house and ought to remain there. The Duke had not started after all, as his ship had been delayed one day. He wrote from the house close at hand where he had been staying till his departure.

“It’s worth thousands,” said Ted. “Thousands. These bigwigs are queer customers. What an awful fool he is to part with it just out of sentiment. But of course I shall never sell it. It shall be an heirloom. I’ve told him so,” and Ted thrust the letter into his pocket and hurried away.

Our rooms were airless, and Essie allowed me to establish her in a wicker armchair under a chestnut tree in the old-fashioned inn garden still brave with Michaelmas daisies and purple asters. The gleaming autumn morning had a touch of frost in it. I wrapped her fur motor cloak round her, and put her little hat on her head. She remained passive in my hands in a kind of stupor. Perhaps that might be the effect of the sedative I told myself. But I knew it was not so.

Essie was drinking her cup of anguish to the dregs. She did not rebel against it. She accepted her fate with dumb docility. She was not bearing it. She was not capable of an effort of any kind. She underwent it in silence.

I told her to try to sleep again, and she smiled wanly at me and obediently closed her eyes. As I went into the house to snatch an hour’s rest and pack I turned and looked back at her motionless figure sunk down in her chair, her little grey face, pinched and thin like a squirrel’s against the garish hotel cushion, her nerveless hands lying half open, palm upwards on her knee.

A faint breeze stirred, and from the yellow tree a few large fronded leaves of amber and crimson eddied slowly down, and settled, one on her breast and the others in the grass at her feet. She saw them not. She heeded them not. She heeded nothing. Her two worlds had clashed together, and the impact had broken both. They lay in ruins round her.

And so I looked for the last time on Essie.


Reader, I thought I could write this story to the end, but the pen shakes in my hand. The horror of it rushes back upon me. Ted’s surprise at hearing that the Duke had gone to Essie in the garden, and that he had persuaded her to drive with him to London. Then his growing anxiety and continually reiterated conviction that we should find her in London, his uncomprehending fury when we reached London and—she was not there. And then at last his tardy realisation and desolation.

I did what little I could to blunt the edge of his suffering when the first fever fit of rage was past.

“Dear Ted, she did not like the house. She told me she could not live in it.”

“But she would have liked it when I had gutted it. I should have transformed it entirely. Electric light, bathrooms, central heating, radiators, dinner lift, luggage lift,” Ted’s voice broke down, and struggled on in a strangled whisper. “Inglenooks, cosy corners, speaking tubes, telephone, large French windows to the floor. She would not have known it again.”

He hid his face in his hands.

I almost wished the paroxysms of anger back again.

“Oh! Beatrice, to leave me for another man when we were so happy together, because of a house; and an entire stranger, whom she did not want even to speak to, whom she was positively rude to. It could not have been our little tiff, could it? She must have been mad.”

“You have hit on the truth,” I said. “She was mad, quite mad. And mad people always turn against those whom they—love best.”


It is all a long time ago. I married a year later, and a year later still Ted married again, a sensible good-humoured woman, and was just as happy as he had been with Essie, happier even. In time he forgot her, but I did not. She had sailed away across “perilous seas.” She had passed beyond my ken. I could only hold her memory dear. And at last she became to me, what for so many years she had been to her lover—a dream.

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