Laura was neither dishevelled nor in tears: perhaps such scenes were no novelty to her. She leant against the frame of the open window, looking out over the sunlit garden full of flowers, over the wide expanse of turf that sloped down to a wide, shallow river all sparkling in western light, and over airy fields on the other side of it to the roofs of the distant village strung out under a break of woody hill.
“Are you sure you want him? He used to have a hot temper when he was a young man, and you know, Berns, it would be tiresome if there were any open scandal.”
“Scandal be hanged,” said Bernard Clowes. “You do as you’re told.” His wife gave an almost imperceptible shrug of the shoulders as if to disclaim further responsibility. She was breathing rather hurriedly as if she had been running, and her neck was so white that the shadow of her sunlit wistaria threw a faint lilac stain on the warm, fine grain of her skin. And the haggard look returned to Bernard’s eyes as he watched her, and with it a wistfulness, a weariness of desire, “hungry, and barren, and sharp as the sea.” Laura never saw that hunger in his eyes. If he spared her nothing else he spared her that.
“You do as I tell you, old girl,” his harsh voice had softened again. “There won’t be any row. Honestly I’d like to have old Lawrence here for a bit, I’m not rotting now. He had almost four years of it—almost as long as I had. I’ll guarantee it put a mark on him. It scarred us all. It’ll amuse me to dine him and Val together, and make them talk shop, our own old shop, and see what the war’s done for each of us: three retired veterans, that’s what we shall be, putting our legs under the same mahogany: three old comrades in arms.” He gave his strange, jarring laugh. “Wonder which of us is scarred deepest?”
Wanhope and Castle Wharton—or, to give them their due order, Wharton and Wanhope, for Major Clowes’ place would have gone inside the Castle three times over—were the only country houses in the Reverend James Stafford’s parish. The village of Chilmark—a stone bridge, crossroads, a church with Norman tower and frondlike Renaissance tracery, and an irregular line of school, shops, and cottages strung out between the stream and chalky beech-crested hillside occupied one of those long, winding, sheltered crannies that mark the beds of watercourses along the folds of Salisbury Plain. Uplands rose steeply all along it except on the south, where it widened away into the flats of Dorsetshire. Wharton overlooked this expanse of hunting country: a formidable Norman keep, round which, by gradual accretion, a dwelling-place had grown up, a history of English architecture and English gardening written in stone and brick and grass and flowers. One sunny square there was, enclosed between arched hedges set upon pillars of carpenters’ work, which still kept the design of old Verulam: and Yvonne of the Castle loved its little turrets and cages of singing birds, and its alleys paved with burnet, wild thyme, and watermints, which perfume the air most delightfully, not passed by as the rest, but being trodden upon and crushed.