But the monotonous round of Lucy’s
life, with its dreams and its fond imaginings, was
interrupted by news of a different character.
An official letter came to her from Parkhurst to say
that the grave state of her father’s health
had decided the authorities to remit the rest of his
sentence, and he would be set free the next day but
one at eight o’clock in the morning. She
knew not whether to feel relief or sorrow; for if
she was thankful that the wretched man’s long
torture was ended, she could not but realise that
his liberty was given him only because he was dying.
Mercy had been shown him, and Fred Allerton, in sight
of a freedom from which no human laws could bar him,
was given up to die among those who loved him.
Lucy went down immediately to the
Isle of Wight, and there engaged rooms in the house
of a woman who had formerly served her at Hamlyn’s
It was midwinter, and a cold drizzle
was falling when she waited for him at the prison
gates. Three years had passed since they had parted.
She took him in her arms and kissed him silently.
Her heart was too full for words. A carriage
was waiting for them, and she drove to the lodging-house;
breakfast was ready, and Lucy had seen that good things
which he liked should be ready for him to eat.
Fred Allerton looked wistfully at the clean table-cloth,
and at the flowers and the dainty scones; but he shook
his head. He did not speak, and the tears ran
slowly down his cheeks. He sank wearily into a
chair. Lucy tried to induce him to eat; she brought
him a cup of tea, but he put it away. He looked
at her with haggard, bloodshot eyes.
‘Give me the flowers,’ he muttered.
They were his first words. There
was a large bowl of daffodils in the middle of the
table, and she took them out of the water, deftly dried
their stalks, and gave them to him. He took them
with trembling hands and pressed them to his heart,
then he buried his face in them, and the tears ran
afresh, bedewing the yellow flowers.
Lucy put her arm around her father’s
neck and placed her cheek against his.
she whispered. ‘You must try and forget.’
He leaned back, exhausted, and the
pretty flowers fell at his feet.
‘You know why they’ve let me out?’
She kissed him, but did not answer.
‘I’m so glad that we’re together
again,’ she murmured.
‘It’s because I’m going to die.’
’No, you mustn’t die.
In a little while you’ll get strong again.
You have many years before you, and you’ll be
He gave her a long, searching look;
and when he spoke, his voice had a hollowness in it
that was strangely terrifying.
‘Do you think I want to live?’
The pain seemed almost greater than
Lucy could bear, and for a moment she had to remain
silent so that her voice might grow steady.
‘You must live for my sake.’
‘Don’t you hate me?’ he asked.
‘No, I love you more than I ever did. I
shall never cease to love you.’
‘I suppose no one would marry you while I was
His remark was so inconsequent that
Lucy found nothing to say. He gave a bitter,
’I ought to have shot myself.
Then people would have forgotten all about it, and
you might have had a chance. Why didn’t
you marry Bobbie?’
‘I haven’t wanted to marry.’
He was so tired that he could only
speak a little at a time, and now he closed his eyes.
Lucy thought that he was dozing, and began to pick
up the fallen flowers. But he noticed what she
‘Let me hold them,’ he moaned, with the
pleading quaver of a sick child.
As she gave them to him once more,
he took her hands and began to caress them.
’The only thing for me is to
hurry up and finish with life. I’m in the
way. Nobody wants me, and I shall only be a burden.
I didn’t want them to let me go. I wanted
to die there quietly.’
Lucy sighed deeply. She hardly
recognised her father in the bent, broken man who
was sitting beside her. He had aged very much
and seemed now to be an old man, but it was a premature
aging, and there was a horror in it as of a process
contrary to nature. He was very thin, and his
hands trembled constantly. Most of his teeth
had gone; his cheeks were sunken, and he mumbled his
words so that it was difficult to distinguish them.
There was no light in his eyes, and his short hair
was quite white. Now and again he was shaken
with a racking cough, and this was followed by an
attack of such pain in his heart that it was anguish
even to watch it. The room was warm, but he shivered
with cold and cowered over the roaring fire.
When the doctor whom Lucy had sent
for, saw him, he could only shrug his shoulders.
‘I’m afraid nothing can
be done,’ he said. ’His heart is all
wrong, and he’s thoroughly broken up.’
‘Is there no chance of recovery?’
‘I’m afraid all we can do is to alleviate
‘And how long can he live?’
‘It’s impossible to say. He may die
to-morrow, he may last six months.’
The doctor was an old man, and his
heart was touched by the sight of Lucy’s grief.
He had seen more cases than one of this kind.
‘He doesn’t want to live. It will
be a mercy when death releases him.’
Lucy did not answer. When she
returned to her father, she could not speak.
He was apathetic and did not ask what the doctor had
said. Lady Kelsey, hating the thought of Lucy
and her father living amid the discomfort of furnished
lodgings, had written to offer the use of her house
in Charles Street; and Mrs. Crowley, in case they wanted
complete solitude, had put Court Leys at their disposal.
Lucy waited a few days to see whether her father grew
stronger, but no change was apparent in him, and it
seemed necessary at last to make some decision.
She put before him the alternative plans, but he would
have none of them.
‘Then would you rather stay here?’ she
He looked at the fire and did not
answer. Lucy thought the sense of her question
had escaped him, for often it appeared to her that
his mind wandered. She was on the point of repeating
it when he spoke.
‘I want to go back to the Purlieu.’
Lucy stifled a gasp of dismay.
She stared at the wretched man. Had he forgotten?
He thought that the house of his fathers was his still;
and all that had parted him from it was gone from
his memory. How could she tell him?
‘I want to die in my own home,’ he faltered.
Lucy was in a turmoil of anxiety.
She must make some reply. What he asked was impossible,
and yet it was cruel to tell him the whole truth.
‘There are people living there,’ she answered.
‘Are there?’ he said, indifferently.
He looked at the fire still. The silence was
‘When can we go?’ he said at last.
‘I want to get there quickly.’
‘We shall have to go into rooms.’
‘I don’t mind.’
He seemed to take everything as a
matter of course. It was clear that he had forgotten
the catastrophe that had parted him from Hamlyn’s
Purlieu, and yet, strangely, he asked no questions.
Lucy was tortured by the thought of revisiting the
place she loved so well. She had been able to
deaden her passionate regret only by keeping her mind
steadfastly averted from all thoughts of it, and now
she must actually go there. The old wounds would
be opened. But it was impossible to refuse, and
she set about making the necessary arrangements.
The rector, who had been given the living by Fred
Allerton, was an old friend, and Lucy knew that she
could trust in his affection. She wrote and told
him that her father was dying and had set his heart
on seeing once more his old home. She asked him
to find rooms in one of the cottages. She did
not mind how small nor how humble they were.
The rector answered by telegram. He begged Lucy
to bring her father to stay with him. She would
be more comfortable than in lodgings, and, since he
was a bachelor, there was plenty of room in the large
rectory. Lucy, immensely touched by his kindness,
gratefully accepted the invitation.
Next day they took the short journey across the Solent.
The rector had been a don, and Fred
Allerton had offered him the living in accordance
with the family tradition that required a man of attainments
to live in the neighbouring rectory. He had been
there now for many years, a spare, grey-haired, gentle
creature, who lived the life of a recluse in that
distant village, doing his duty exactly, but given
over for the most part to his beloved books. He
seldom went away. The monotony of his daily round
was broken only by the occasional receipt of a parcel
of musty volumes, which he had ordered to be bought
for him at some sale. He was a man of varied learning,
full of remote information, eccentric from his solitariness,
but with a great sweetness of nature. His life
was simple, and his wants were few.
In this house, in rooms lined from
floor to ceiling with old books, Lucy and her father
took up their abode. It seemed that Fred Allerton
had been kept up only by the desire to get back to
his native place, for he had no sooner arrived than
he grew much worse. Lucy was busily occupied
with nursing him and could give no time to the regrets
which she had imagined would assail her. She
spent long hours in her father’s room; and while
he dozed, half-comatose, the kindly parson sat by the
window and read to her in a low voice from queer,
One day Allerton appeared to be far
better. For a week he had wandered much in his
mind, and more than once Lucy had suspected that the
end was near; but now he was singularly lucid.
He wanted to get up, and Lucy felt it would be brutal
to balk any wish he had. He asked if he might
go out. The day was fine and warm. It was
February, and there was a feeling in the air as if
the spring were at hand. In sheltered places the
snowdrops and the crocuses gave the garden the blitheness
of an Italian picture; and you felt that on that multi-coloured
floor might fitly trip the delicate angels of Messer
Perugino. The rector had an old pony-chaise,
in which he was used to visit his parishioners, and
in this all three drove out.
‘Let us go down to the marshes,’ said
They drove slowly along the winding
road till they came to the broad salt marshes.
Beyond glittered the placid sea. There was no
wind. Near them a cow looked up from her grazing
and lazily whisked her tail. Lucy’s heart
began to beat more quickly. She felt that her
father, too, looked upon that scene as the most typical
of his home. Other places had broad acres and
fine trees, other places had forest land and purple
heather, but there was something in those green flats
that made them seem peculiarly their own. She
took her father’s hand, and silently their eyes
looked onwards. A more peaceful look came into
Fred Allerton’s worn face, and the sigh that
broke from him was not altogether of pain. Lucy
prayed that it might still remain hidden from him
that those fair, broad fields were his no longer.
That night, she had an intuition that
death was at hand. Fred Allerton was very silent.
Since his release from prison he had spoken barely
a dozen sentences a day, and nothing served to wake
him from his lethargy. But there was a curious
restlessness about him now, and he would not go to
bed. He sat in an armchair, and begged them to
draw it near the window. The sky was cloudless,
and the moon shone brightly. Fred Allerton could
see the great old elms that surrounded Hamlyn’s
Purlieu; and his eyes were fixed steadily upon them.
Lucy saw them, too, and she thought sadly of the garden
which she had loved so well, and of the dear trees
which old masters of the place had tended so lovingly.
Her heart filled when she thought of the grey stone
house and its happy, spacious rooms.
Suddenly there was a sound, and she
looked up quickly. Her father’s head had
fallen back, and he was breathing with a strange noisiness.
She called her friend.
‘I think the end has come at last,’ she
‘Would you like me to fetch the doctor?’
‘It will be useless.’
The rector looked at the man’s
wan face, lit dimly by the light of the shaded lamp,
and falling on his knees, began to recite the prayers
for the dying. A shiver passed through Lucy.
In the farmyard a cock crew, and in the distance another
cock answered cheerily. Lucy put her hand on
the good rector’s shoulder.
‘It’s all over,’ she whispered.
She bent down and kissed her father’s eyes.
A week later Lucy took a walk by the
seashore. They had buried Fred Allerton three
days before among the ancestors whom he had dishonoured.
It was a lonely funeral, for Lucy had asked Robert
Boulger, her only friend then in England, not to come;
and she was the solitary mourner. The coffin
was lowered into the grave, and the rector read the
sad, beautiful words of the burial service. She
could not grieve. Her father was at peace.
She could only hope that his errors and his crimes
would be soon forgotten; and perhaps those who had
known him would remember then that he had been a charming
friend, and a clever, sympathetic companion.
It was little enough in all conscience that Lucy asked.
On the morrow she was leaving the
roof of the hospitable parson. Surmising her
wish to walk alone once more through the country which
was so dear to her, he had not offered his company.
Lucy’s heart was full of sadness, but there
was a certain peace in it, too; the peace of her father’s
death had entered into her, and she experienced a new
feeling, the feeling of resignation.
Now her mind was set upon the future,
and she was filled with hope. She stood by the
water’s edge, looking upon the sea as three years
before, when she was staying at Court Leys, she had
looked upon the sea that washed the shores of Kent.
Many things had passed since then, and many griefs
had fallen upon her; but for all that she was happier
than then; since on that distant day and
it seemed ages ago there had been scarcely
a ray of brightness in her life, and now she had a
great love which made every burden light.
Low clouds hung upon the sky, and
on the horizon the greyness of the heavens mingled
with the greyness of the sea. She looked into
the distance with longing eyes. Now all her life
was set upon that far-off corner of unknown Africa,
where Alec and George were doing great deeds.
She wondered what was the meaning of the silence which
had covered them so long.
‘Oh, if I could only see,’ she murmured.
She sent her spirit upon that vast
journey, trying to pierce the realms of space, but
her spirit came back baffled. She could not know
what they were at.
If Lucy’s love had been able
to bridge the abyss that parted them, if in some miraculous
way she had been able to see what actions they did
at that time, she would have witnessed a greater tragedy
than any which she had yet seen.