The Lie by
(From The Blue Magazine and Harper's Bazar)
The hours had passed with the miraculous rapidity which tinctures
time when one is on the river, and now overhead the moon was a gorgeous
yellow lantern in a greyish purple sky.
The punt was moored at the lower end of Glover's Island on the
Middlesex side, and rose and fell gently on the ebbing tide.
A girl was lying back amidst the cushions, her hands behind her
head, looking up through the vague tracery of leaves to the soft
moonlight. Even in the garish day she was pretty, but in that
enchanting dimness she was wildly beautiful. The hint of strength
around her mouth was not quite so evident perhaps. Her hair was the
colour of oaten straw in autumn and her deep blue eyes were dark in the
But despite her beauty, the man's face was averted from her. He was
gazing out across the smoothly-flowing water, troubled and thoughtful.
A good-looking face, but not so strong as the girl's in spite of her
prettiness, and enormously less vital.
Ten minutes before he had proposed to her and had been rejected.
It was not the first time, but he had been very much more hopeful
than on the other occasions.
The air was softly, embracingly warm that evening. Together they had
watched the lengthening shadows creep out across the old river. And it
was spring still, which makes a difference. There is something in the
year's youth—the sap is rising in the plants—something there is,
anyway, beyond the sentimentality of the poets. And overhead was the
great yellow lantern gleaming at them through the branches with ironic
But, in spite of everything, she had shaken her head and all he
received was the maddening assurance that she “liked” him.
“I shall never marry,” she had concluded. “Never. You know why.”
“Yes, I know,” the man said miserably. “Carruthers.”
And so he was looking out moodily, almost savagely, across the water
when the temptation came to him.
He would not have minded quite so much if Carruthers had been alive,
but he was dead and slept in the now silent Salient where a little
cross marked his bed. Alive one could have striven against him, striven
desperately, although Carruthers had always been rather a proposition.
But now it seemed hopeless—a man cannot strive with a memory. It was
not fair—so the man's thoughts were running. He had shared Carruthers'
risks, although he had come back. This persistent and exclusive
devotion to a man who would never return to her was morbid. Suddenly,
his mind was made up.
“Olive,” he said.
“Yes,” she replied quietly.
“What I am going to tell you I do for both our sakes. You will
probably think I'm a cad, but I'm taking the risk.” He was sitting up
but did not meet her eyes.
“What on earth are you talking about?” she demanded.
“You know that—apart from you—Carruthers and I were pals?”
“Yes,” she said wondering. And suddenly she burst out petulantly.
“What is it you want to say?”
“He was no better than other men,” he replied bluntly. “It is wrong
that you should sacrifice your life to a memory, wrong that you should
worship an idol with feet of clay.”
“I loath parables,” she said coldly. “Will you tell me exactly what
you mean about feet of clay?” The note in her voice was not lost on the
man by her side.
“I don't like telling you—under other conditions I wouldn't. But I
do it for both our sakes.”
“Then, for goodness sake, do it!”
“I came across it accidentally at the Gordon Hotel at Brighton. He
stayed there, whilst he was engaged to you, with a lady whom he
described as Mrs. Carruthers. It was on his last leave.”
“Why do you tell me this?” she asked after a silence; her voice was
low and a little husky.
“Surely, my dear, you must see. He was no better than other men. The
ideal you have conjured up is no ideal. He was a brave soldier, a
darned brave soldier, and—until we both fell in love with you—my pal.
But it is not fair that his memory should absorb you. It's—it's
“I suppose you think I should be indignant?” There was no emotion of
any kind in her voice.
“I simply want you to see that your idol has feet of clay,” he said,
with the stubbornness of a man who feels he is losing.
“What has that to do with it? You know I loved him.”
“Other girls have loved——” he said bitterly.
“And forgotten? Yes, I know,” she interrupted him. “But I do not
forget, that is all.”
“But after what I have told you. Surely——”
“You see I knew,” she said, even more quietly than before.
“Yes. It was I who was with him. It was his last leave,” she added
And only the faint noise of the water and the wistful wind in the
trees overhead broke the silence.