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Title: Mike Fletcher - A Novel
Author: Moore, George (George Augustus), 1852-1933
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Mike Fletcher - A Novel" ***

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MIKE FLETCHER

A Novel

by

GEORGE MOORE

Author of
"A Mummer's Wife," "Confessions of a Young Man," Etc.

1889



                   TO
           MY BROTHER AUGUSTUS,
       IN MEMORY OF MANY YEARS OF
      MUTUAL ASPIRATION AND LABOUR



CHAPTER I


Oaths, vociferations, and the slamming of cab-doors. The darkness was
decorated by the pink of a silk skirt, the crimson of an opera-cloak
vivid in the light of a carriage-lamp, with women's faces, necks,
and hair. The women sprang gaily from hansoms and pushed through the
swing-doors. It was Lubini's famous restaurant. Within the din was
deafening.

  "What cheer, 'Ria!
   'Ria's on the job,"

roared thirty throats, all faultlessly clothed in the purest linen.
They stood round a small bar, and two women and a boy endeavoured
to execute their constant orders for brandies-and-sodas. They were
shoulder to shoulder, and had to hold their liquor almost in each
other's faces. A man whose hat had been broken addressed reproaches
to a friend, who cursed him for interrupting his howling.

Issued from this saloon a long narrow gallery set with a single line
of tables, now all occupied by reproaches to a friend, who cursed him
for interrupting his howling.

Issued from this saloon a long narrow gallery set with a single line
of tables, now all occupied by supping courtesans and their men. An
odour of savouries, burnt cheese and vinegar met the nostrils, also
the sharp smell of a patchouli-scented handkerchief drawn quickly
from a bodice; and a young man protested energetically against a wild
duck which had been kept a few days over its time. Lubini, or Lubi,
as he was called by his pals, signed to the waiter, and deciding the
case in favour of the young man, he pulled a handful of silver out of
his pocket and offered to toss three lords, with whom he was
conversing, for drinks all round.

"Feeling awfully bad, dear boy; haven't been what I could call sober
since Monday. Would you mind holding my liquor for me? I must go and
speak to that chappie."

Since John Norton had come to live in London, his idea had been to
put his theory of life, which he had defined in his aphorism, "Let
the world be my monastery," into active practice. He did not
therefore refuse to accompany Mike Fletcher to restaurants and
music-halls, and was satisfied so long as he was allowed to
disassociate and isolate himself from the various women who clustered
about Mike. But this evening he viewed the courtesans with more
than the usual liberalism of mind, had even laughed loudly when one
fainted and was upheld by anxious friends, the most zealous and the
most intimate of whom bathed her white tragic face and listened in
alarm to her incoherent murmurings of "Mike darling, oh, Mike!" John
had uttered no word of protest until dear old Laura, who had never,
as Mike said, behaved badly to anybody, and had been loved by
everybody, sat down at their table, and the discussion turned on who
was likely to be Bessie's first sweetheart, Bessie being her youngest
sister whom she was "bringing out." Then he rose from the table and
wished Mike good-night; but Mike's liking for John was sincere, and
preferring his company to Laura's, he paid the bill and followed his
friend out of the restaurant; and as they walked home together he
listened to his grave and dignified admonitions, and though John
could not touch Mike's conscience, he always moved his sympathies. It
is the shallow and the insincere that inspire ridicule and contempt,
and even in the dissipations of the Temple, where he had come to
live, he had not failed to enforce respect for his convictions and
ideals.

In the Temple John had made many acquaintances and friends, and about
him were found the contributors to the _Pilgrim_, a weekly newspaper
devoted to young men, their doings, their amusements, their
literature, and their art. The editor and proprietor of this organ
of amusement was Escott. His editorial work was principally done in
his chambers in Temple Gardens, where he lived with his friend, Mike
Fletcher. Of necessity the newspaper drew, like gravitation, art
and literature, but the revelling lords who assembled there were
a disintegrating influence, and made John Norton a sort of second
centre; and Harding and Thompson and others of various temperaments
and talents found their way to Pump Court. Like cuckoos, some men are
only really at home in the homes of others; others are always ill at
ease when taken out of the surroundings which they have composed to
their ideas and requirements; and John Norton was never really John
Norton except when, wrapped in his long dressing-gown and sitting in
his high canonical chair, he listened to Harding's paradoxes or
Thompson's sententious utterances. These artistic discussions--when
in the passion of the moment, all the cares of life were lost and
the soul battled in pure idea--were full of attraction and charm
for John, and he often thought he had never been so happy. And then
Harding's eyes would brighten, and his intelligence, eager as a wolf
prowling for food, ran to and fro, seeking and sniffing in all John's
interests and enthusiasms. He was at once fascinated by the scheme
for the pessimistic poem and charmed with the projected voyage in
Thibet and the book on the Great Lamas.

One evening a discussion arose as to whether Goethe had stolen from
Schopenhauer, or Schopenhauer from Goethe, the comparison of man's
life with the sun "which seems to set to our earthly eyes, but which
in reality never sets, but shines on unceasingly." The conversation
came to a pause, and then Harding said--

"Mike spoke to me of a pessimistic poem he has in mind; did he ever
speak to you about it, Escott?"

"I think he said something once, but he did not tell me what it was
about. He can speak of nothing now but a nun whom he has persuaded
to leave her convent. I had thought of having some articles written
about convents, and we went to Roehampton. While I was talking to my
cousin, who is at school there, he got into conversation with one of
the sisters. I don't know how he managed it, but he has persuaded her
to leave the convent, and she is coming to see him to-morrow."

"You don't mean to say," cried John, "that he has persuaded one of
the nuns to leave the convent and to come and see him in Temple
Gardens? Such things should not be permitted. The Reverend Mother or
some one is in fault. That man has been the ruin of hundreds, if not
in fact, in thought. He brings an atmosphere of sensuality wherever
he goes, and all must breathe it; even the most virtuous are
contaminated. I have felt the pollution myself. If the woman is
seventy she will look pleased and coquette if he notices her. The
fascination is inexplicable!"

"We all experience it, and that is why we like Mike," said Harding.
"I heard a lady, and a woman whose thoughts are not, I assure you,
given to straying in that direction, say that the first time she saw
him she hated him, but soon felt an influence like the fascination
the serpent exercises over the bird stealing over her. We find but
ourselves in all that we see, hear, and feel. The world is but our
idea. All that women have of goodness, sweetness, gentleness, they
keep for others. A woman would not speak to you of what is bad in
her, but she would to Mike; her sensuality is the side of her nature
which she shows him, be she Messalina or St. Theresa; the proportion,
not the principle is altered. And this is why Mike cannot believe in
virtue, and declares his incredulity to be founded on experience."

"No doubt, no doubt!"

Fresh brandies-and-sodas were poured out, fresh cigars were lighted,
and John descended the staircase and walked with his friends into
Pump Court, where they met Mike Fletcher.

"What have you been talking about to-night?" he asked.

"We wanted Norton to read us the pessimistic poem he is writing, but
he says it is in a too unfinished state. I told him you were at work
on one on the same subject. It is curious that you who differ so
absolutely on essentials should agree to sink your differences at the
very point at which you are most opposed to principle and practice."

After a pause, Mike said--

"I suppose it was Schopenhauer's dislike of women that first
attracted you. He used to call women the short-legged race, that were
only admitted into society a hundred and fifty years ago."

"Did he say that? Oh, how good, and how true! I never could think
a female figure as beautiful as a male. A male figure rises to the
head, and is a symbol of the intelligence; a woman's figure sinks to
the inferior parts of the body, and is expressive of generation."

As he spoke his eyes followed the line and balance of Mike's neck and
shoulders, which showed at this moment upon a dark shadow falling
obliquely along an old wall. Soft, violet eyes in which tenderness
dwelt, and the strangely tall and lithe figure was emphasized by the
conventional pose--that pose of arm and thigh which the Greeks never
wearied of. Seeing him, the mind turned from the reserve of the
Christian world towards the frank enjoyment of the Pagan; and John's
solid, rhythmless form was as symbolic of dogma as Mike's of the
grace of Athens.

As he ascended the stairs, having bidden his friends good-night, John
thought of the unfortunate nun whom that man had persuaded to leave
her convent, and he wondered if he were justified in living in such
close communion of thought with those whose lives were set in all
opposition to the principles on which he had staked his life's value.
He was thinking and writing the same thoughts as Fletcher. They were
swimming in the same waters; they were living the same life.

Disturbed in mind he walked across the room, his spectacles
glimmering on his high nose, his dressing-gown floating. The
manuscript of the poems caught his eyes, and he turned over the
sheets, his hand trembling violently. And if they were antagonistic
to the spirit of his teaching, if not to the doctrine that the Church
in her eternal wisdom deemed healthful and wise, and conducive to the
best attainable morality and heaven? What a fearful responsibility
he was taking upon himself! He had learned in bitter experience that
he must seek salvation rather in elimination than in acceptance of
responsibilities. But his poems were all he deemed best in the world.
For a moment John stood face to face with, and he looked into the
eyes of, the Church. The dome of St. Peter's, a solitary pope,
cardinals, bishops, and priests. Oh! wonderful symbolization of man's
lust of eternal life!

Must he renounce all his beliefs? The wish so dear to him that the
unspeakable spectacle of life might cease for ever; must he give
thanks for existence because it gave him a small chance of gaining
heaven? Then it were well to bring others into the world.... True it
is that the Church does not advance into such sloughs of optimism,
but how different is her teaching from that of the early fathers, and
how different is such dull optimism from the severe spirit of early
Christianity.

Whither lay his duty? Must he burn the poems? Far better that they
should burn and he should save his soul from burning. A sudden vision
of hell, a realistic mediæval hell full of black devils and ovens
came upon him, and he saw himself thrust into flame. It seemed to him
certain that his soul was lost--so certain, that the source of prayer
died within him and he fell prostrate. He cursed, with curses that
seared his soul as he uttered them, Harding, that cynical atheist,
who had striven to undermine his faith, and he shrank from thought of
Fletcher, that dirty voluptuary.

He went out for long walks, hoping by exercise to throw off the gloom
and horror which were thickening in his brain. He sought vainly to
arrive at some certain opinions concerning his poems, and he weighed
every line, not now for cadence and colour, but with a view of
determining their ethical tendencies; and this poor torn soul stood
trembling on the verge of fearful abyss of unreason and doubt.

And when he walked in the streets, London appeared a dismal, phantom
city. The tall houses vanishing in darkness, the unending noise, the
sudden and vague figures passing; some with unclean gaze, others in
mysterious haste, the courtesans springing from hansoms and entering
their restaurant, lurking prostitutes, jocular lads, and alleys
suggestive of crime. All and everything that is city fell violently
upon his mind, jarring it, and flashing over his brow all the horror
of delirium. His pace quickened, and he longed for wings to rise out
of the abominable labyrinth.

At that moment a gable of a church rose against the sky. The gates
were open, and one passing through seemed to John like an angel, and
obeying the instinct which compels the hunted animal to seek refuge
in the earth, he entered, and threw himself on his knees. Relief
came, and the dread about his heart was loosened in the romantic
twilight. One poor woman knelt amid the chairs; presently she rose
and went to the confessional. He waited his turn, his eyes fixed on
the candles that burned in the dusky distance.

"Father, forgive me, for I have sinned!"

The priest, an old man of gray and shrivelled mien, settled his
cassock and mumbled some Latin.

"I have come to ask your advice, father, rather than to confess the
sins I have committed in the last week. Since I have come to live in
London I have been drawn into the society of the dissolute and the
impure."

"And you have found that your faith and your morals are being
weakened by association with these men?"

"I have to thank God that I am uninfluenced by them. Their society
presents no attractions for me, but I am engaged in literary
pursuits, and most of the young men with whom I am brought in contact
lead unclean and unholy lives. I have striven, and have in some
measure succeeded, in enforcing respect for my ideals; never have
I countenanced indecent conversation, although perhaps I have not
always set as stern a face against it as I might have."

"But you have never joined in it?"

"Never. But, father, I am on the eve of the publication of a volume
of poems, and I am grievously afflicted with scruples lest their
tendency does not stand in agreement with the teaching of our holy
Church."

"Do you fear their morality, my son?"

"No, no!" said John in an agitated voice, which caused the old man to
raise his eyes and glance inquiringly at his penitent; "the poem I am
most fearful of is a philosophic poem based on Schopenhauer."

"I did not catch the name."

"Schopenhauer; if you are acquainted with his works, father, you will
appreciate my anxieties, and will see just where my difficulty lies."

"I cannot say I can call to mind at this moment any exact idea of his
philosophy; does it include a denial of the existence of God?"

"His teaching, I admit, is atheistic in its tendency, but I do not
follow him to his conclusions. A part of his theory--that of the
resignation of desire of life--seems to me not only reconcilable with
the traditions of the Church, but may really be said to have been
original and vital in early Christianity, however much it may have
been forgotten in these later centuries. Jesus Christ our Lord is the
perfect symbol of the denial of the will to live."

"Jesus Christ our Lord died to save us from the consequences of the
sin of our first parents. He died of His own free-will, but we may
not live an hour more than is given to us to live, though we desire
it with our whole heart. We may be called away at any moment."

John bent his head before the sublime stupidity of the priest.

"I was anxious, father, to give you in a few words some account of
the philosophy which has been engaging my attention, so that you
might better understand my difficulties. Although Schopenhauer may be
wrong in his theory regarding the will, the conclusion he draws from
it, namely, that we may only find lasting peace in resignation, seems
to me well within the dogma of our holy Church."

"It surprises me that he should hold such opinions, for if he does
not acknowledge a future state, the present must be everything, and
the gratification of the senses the only...."

"I assure you, father, no one can be more opposed to materialism than
Schopenhauer. He holds the world we live in to be a mere
delusion--the veil of Maya."

"I am afraid, my son, I cannot speak with any degree of certainty
about either of those authors, but I think it my duty to warn you
against inclining too willing an ear to the specious sophistries of
German philosophers. It would be well if you were to turn to our
Christian philosophers; our great cardinal--Cardinal Newman--has over
and over again refuted the enemies of the Church. I have forgotten
the name."

"Schopenhauer."

"Now I will give you absolution."

The burlesque into which his confession had drifted awakened new
terrors in John and sensations of sacrilege. He listened devoutly to
the prattle of the priest, and to crush the rebellious spirit in him
he promised to submit his poems; and he did not allow himself to
think the old man incapable of understanding them. But he knew he
would not submit those poems, and turning from the degradation he
faced a command which had suddenly come upon him. A great battle
raged; and growing at every moment less conscious of all save his
soul's salvation, he walked through the streets, his stick held
forward like a church candle.

He walked through the city, seeing it not, and hearing all cruel
voices dying to one--this: "I can only attain salvation by the
elimination of all responsibilities. There is therefore but one
course to adopt." Decision came upon him like the surgeon's knife. It
was in the cold darkness of his rooms in Pump Court. He raised his
face, deadly pale, from his hands; but gradually it went aflame with
the joy and rapture of sacrifice, and taking his manuscript, he
lighted it in the gas. He held it for a few moments till it was well
on fire, and then threw it all blazing under the grate.



CHAPTER II


An odour of spirits evaporated in the warm winds of May which came
through the open window. The rich velvet sofa of early English design
was littered with proofs and copies of the _Pilgrim_, and the stamped
velvet was two shades richer in tone than the pale dead-red of the
floorcloth. Small pictures in light frames harmonized with a green
paper of long interlacing leaves. On the right, the grand piano and
the slender brass lamps; and the impression of refinement and taste
was continued, for between the blue chintz curtains the river lay
soft as a picture of old Venice. The beauty of the water, full of
the shadows of hay and sails, many forms of chimneys, wharfs, and
warehouses, made panoramic and picturesque by the motion of the great
hay-boats, were surely wanted for the windows of this beautiful
apartment.

Mike and Frank stood facing the view, and talked of Lily Young, whom
Mike was momentarily expecting.

"You know as much about it as I do. It was only just at the end that
you spoke to your cousin and I got in a few words."

"What did you say?"

"What could I say? Something to the effect that the convent must be a
very happy home."

"How did you know she cared for you?"

"I always know that. The second time we went there she told me she
was going to leave the convent. I asked her what had decided her to
take that step, and she looked at me--that thirsting look which women
cannot repress. I said I hoped I should see her when she came to
London; she said she hoped so too. Then I knew it was all right. I
pressed her hand, and when we went again I said she would find a
letter waiting for her at the post-office. Somehow she got the letter
sooner than I expected, and wrote to say she'd come here if she
could. Here is the letter. But will she come?"

"Even if she does, I don't see what good it will do you; it isn't as
if you were really in love with her."

"I believe I am in love; it sounds rather awful, doesn't it? but she
is wondrous sweet. I want to be true to her. I want to live for her.
I'm not half so bad as you think I am. I have often tried to be
constant, and now I mean to be. This ceaseless desire of change is
very stupid, and it leads to nothing. I'm sick of change, and would
think of none but her. You have no idea how I have altered since I
have seen her. I used to desire all women. I wrote a ballade the
other day on the women of two centuries hence. Is it not shocking
to think that we shall lie mouldering in our graves while women are
dancing and kissing? They will not even know that I lived and was
loved. It will not occur to them to say as they undress of an
evening, 'Were he alive to-day we might love him.'"


   THE BALLADE OF DON JUAN DEAD

  My days for singing and loving are over,
    And stark I lie in my narrow bed,
  I care not at all if roses cover,
    Or if above me the snow is spread;
    I am weary of dreaming of my sweet dead,
  All gone like me unto common clay.
  Life's bowers are full of love's fair fray,
    Of piercing kisses and subtle snares;
  So gallants are conquered, ah, well away!--
    My love was stronger and fiercer than theirs.

  O happy moths that now flit and hover
    From the blossom of white to the blossom of red,
  Take heed, for I was a lordly lover
    Till the little day of my life had sped;
    As straight as a pine-tree, a golden head,
  And eyes as blue as an austral bay.
  Ladies, when loosing your evening array,
    Reflect, had you lived in my years, my prayers
  Might have won you from weakly lovers away--
    My love was stronger and fiercer than theirs.

  Through the song of the thrush and the pipe of the plover
    Sweet voices come down through the binding lead;
  O queens that every age must discover
    For men, that man's delight may be fed;
    Oh, sister queens to the queens I wed.
  For the space of a year, a month, a day,
  No thirst but mine could your thirst allay;
    And oh, for an hour of life, my dears,
  To kiss you, to laugh at your lovers' dismay--
    My love was stronger and fiercer than theirs.


    ENVOI
  Prince was I ever of festival gay,
  And time never silvered my locks with gray;
    The love of your lovers is as hope that despairs,
  So think of me sometimes, dear ladies, I pray--
    My love was stronger and fiercer than theirs.


"It is like all your poetry--merely meretricious glitter; there is no
heart in it. That a man should like to have a nice mistress, a girl
he is really fond of, is simple enough, but lamentation over the
limbo of unborn loveliness is, to my mind, sheer nonsense."

Mike laughed.

"Of course it is silly, but I cannot alter it; it is the sex and not
any individual woman that attracts me. I enter a ball-room and I see
one, one whom I have never seen before, and I say, 'It is she whom I
have sought, I can love her.' I am always disappointed, but hope is
born again in every fresh face. Women are so common when they have
loved you."

Startled by his words, Mike strove to measure the thought.

"I can see nothing interesting in the fact that it is natural to you
to behave badly to every woman who gives you a chance of deceiving
her. That's what it amounts to. At the end of a week you'll tire of
this new girl as you did of the others. I think it a great shame. It
isn't gentlemanly."

Mike winced at the word "gentlemanly." For a moment he thought of
resentment, but his natural amiability predominated, and he said--

"I hope not. I really do think I can love this one; she isn't like
the others. Besides, I shall be much happier. There is, I know, a
great sweetness in constancy. I long for this sweetness." Seeing by
Frank's face that he was still angry, he pursued his thoughts in the
line which he fancied would be most agreeable; he did so without
violence to his feelings. It was as natural to him to think one way
as another. Mike's sycophancy was so innate that it did not appear,
and was therefore almost invariably successful. "I have been the
lover of scores of women, but I never loved one. I have always hoped
to love; it is love that I seek. I find love-tokens and I do not know
who were the givers. I have possessed nothing but the flesh, and I
have always looked beyond the flesh. I never sought a woman for her
beauty. I dreamed of a companion, one who would share each thought;
I have dreamed of a woman to whom I could bring my poetry, who could
comprehend all sorrows, and with whom I might deplore the sadness of
life until we forget it was sad, and I have been given some more or
less imperfect flesh."

"I," said Frank, "don't care a rap for your blue-stockings. I like a
girl to look pretty and sweet in a muslin dress, her hair with the
sun on it slipping over her shoulders, a large hat throwing a shadow
over the garden of her face. I like her to come and sit on my knee in
the twilight before dinner, to come behind me when I am working and
put her hand on my forehead, saying, 'Poor old man, you are tired!'"

"And you could love one girl all your life--Lizzie Baker, for
instance; and you could give up all women for one, and never wander
again free to gather?"

"It is always the same thing."

"No, that is just what it is not. The last one was thin, this one
is fat; the last one was tall, this one is tiny. The last one was
stupid, this one is witty. Some men seek the source of the Nile, I
the lace of a bodice. A new love is a voyage of discovery. What is
her furniture like? What will she say? What are her opinions of love?
But when you have been a woman's lover a month you know her morally
and physically. Society is based on the family. The family alone
survives, it floats like an ark over every raging flood. But you
may understand without being able to accept, and I cannot accept,
although I understand and love family life. What promiscuity of body
and mind! The idea of never being alone fills me with horror to lose
that secret self, which, like a shy bird, flies out of sight in the
day, but is with you, oh, how intensely in the morning!"

"Nothing pleases you so much as to be allowed to talk nonsense about
yourself."

Mike laughed.

"Let me have those opera-glasses. That woman sitting on the bench is
like her."

The trees of the embankment waved along the laughing water, and in
scores the sparrows flitted across the sleek green sward. The porter
in his bright uniform, cocked hat, and brass buttons, explained the
way out to a woman. Her child wore a red sash and stooped to play
with a cat that came along the railings, its tail high in the air.

"They know nothing of Lily Young," Mike said to himself; and knowing
the porter could not interfere, he wondered what he would think if he
knew all. "If she comes nothing can save her, she must and shall be
mine."

Waterloo Bridge stood high above the river, level and lovely. Over
Charing Cross the brightness was full of spires and pinnacles, but
Southwark shore was lost in flat dimness. Then the sun glowed and
Westminster ascended tall and romantic, St. Thomas's and St. John's
floating in pale enchantment, and beneath the haze that heaved and
drifted, revealing coal-barges moored by the Southwark shore, lay a
sheet of gold. The candour of the morning laughed upon the river;
and there came a little steamer into the dazzling water, her smoke
heeling over, coiling and uncoiling like a snake, and casting
tremendous shadow--in her train a line of boats laden to the edge
with deal planks. Then the haze heaved and London disappeared, became
again a gray city, faint and far away--faint as spires seem in a
dream. Again and again the haze wreathed and went out, discovering
wharfs and gold inscriptions, uncovering barges aground upon the
purple slime of the Southwark shore, their yellow yards pointing like
birds with outstretched necks.

The smoke of the little steamer curled and rolled over, now like a
great snake, now like a great bird hovering with a snake in its
talons; and the little steamer made pluckily for Blackfriars. Carts
and hansoms, vans and brewers' vans, all silhouetting. Trains slip
past, obliterating with white whiffs the delicate distances, the
perplexing distances that in London are delicate and perplexing as
a spider's web. Great hay-boats yellow in the sun, brown in the
shadow--great hay-boats came by, their sails scarce filled with the
light breeze; standing high, they sailed slowly and picturesquely,
with men thrown in all attitudes; somnolent in sunshine and pungent
odour--one only at work, wielding the great rudder.

"Ah! if she would not disappoint me; if she would only come; I would
give my life not to be disappointed.... Three o'clock! She said she
would be here by three, if she came at all. I think I could love
her--I am sure of it; it would be impossible to weary of her--so
frail--a white blonde. She said she would come, I know she wanted
to.... This waiting is agony! Oh, if I were only good-looking!
Whatever power I have over women I have acquired; it was the desire
to please women that gave me whatever power I possess; I was as soft
as wax, and in the fingers of desire was modified and moulded. You
did not know me when I was a boy--I was hideous. It seemed to me
impossible that women could love men. Women seemed to me so beautiful
and desirable, men so hideous and revolting. Could they touch us
without a revulsion of feeling? Could they really desire us? That
is why I could not bear to give women money, nor a present of any
kind--no, not even a flower. If I did all my pleasure was gone;
I could not help thinking it was for what they got out of me that
they liked me. I longed to penetrate the mystery of women's life.
It seemed to me cruel that the differences between the sexes should
never be allowed to dwindle, but should be strictly maintained
through all the observances of life. There were beautiful beings
walking by us of whom we knew nothing--irreparably separated from
us. I wanted to be with this sex as a shadow is with its object."

"You didn't find many opportunities of gratifying your tastes in
Cashel?"

"No, indeed! Of course the women about the town were not to be
thought of." Unpleasant memories seemed to check his flow of words.

Without noticing his embarrassment, Frank said--

"After France it must have been a horrible change to come to Ireland.
How old were you?"

"About fourteen. I could not endure the place. Every day was so
appallingly like the last. There was nothing for me to do but to
dream; I dreamed of everything. I longed to get alone and let my
fancy wander--weaving tales of which I was the hero, building castles
of which I was the lord."

"I remember always hearing of your riding and shooting. No one knew
of your literary tastes. I don't mind telling you that Mount Rorke
often suspected you of being a bit of a poacher."

Mike laughed.

"I believe I have knocked down a pheasant or two. I was an odd
mixture--half a man of action, half a man of dreams. My position in
Cashel was unbearable. My mother was a lady; my father--you know how
he had let himself down. You cannot imagine the yearnings of a poor
boy; you were brought up in all elegance and refinement. That
beautiful park! On afternoons I used to walk there, and I remember
the very moments I passed under the foliage of the great beeches and
lay down to dream. I used to wander to the outskirts of the wood as
near as I dared to the pleasure-grounds, and looking on the towers
strove to imagine the life there. The bitterest curses lie in the
hearts of young men who, understanding refinement and elegance, see
it for ever out of their reach. I used to watch the parade of dresses
passing on the summer lawns between the firs and flowering trees.
What graceful and noble words were spoken!--and that man walking into
the poetry of the laburnum gold, did he put his arm about her? And I
wondered what silken ankles moved beneath her skirts. My brain was on
fire, and I was crazed; I thought I should never hold a lady in my
arms. A lady! all the delicacy of silk and lace, high-heeled shoes,
and the scent and colour of hair that a _coiffeur_ has braided."

"I think you are mad!"

Mike laughed and continued--

"I was so when I was sixteen. There was a girl staying there. Her
hair was copper, and her flesh was pink and white. Her waist, you
could span it. I saw her walking one day on ..."

"You must mean Lady Alice Hargood, a very tall girl?"

"Yes; five feet seven, quite. I saw her walking on the terrace with
your uncle. Once she passed our house, and I smarted with shame of it
as of some restless wound, and for days I remembered I was little
better than a peasant. Originally we came, as you know, of good
English stock, but nothing is vital but the present. I cried and
cursed my existence, my father and the mother that bore me, and that
night I climbed out by my window and roved through the dark about the
castle so tall in the moonlight. The sky that night was like a soft
blue veil, and the trees were painted quite black upon it. I looked
for her window, and I imagined her sleeping with her copper hair
tossed in the moonlight, like an illustration in a volume of Shelley.

"You remember the old wooden statue of a nymph that stood in the
sycamores at the end of the terraces; she was the first naked woman I
saw. I used to wander about her, sometimes at night, and I have often
climbed about and hung round those shoulders, and ever since I have
always met that breast of wood. You have been loved more truly; you
have been possessed of woman more thoroughly than I. Though I clasp a
woman in my arms, it is as if the Atlantic separated us. Did I never
tell you of my first love affair? That was the romance of the wood
nymph. One evening I climbed on the pedestal of my divinity, my cheek
was pale ..."

"For God's sake, leave out the poetics, and come to the facts."

"If you don't let me tell my story in my own way I won't tell it at
all. Out of my agony prayer rose to Alice, for now it pleased me to
fancy there was some likeness between this statue and Lady Alice. The
dome of leafage was sprinkled with the colour of the sunset, and as I
pressed my lips to the wooden statue, I heard dead leaves rustling
under a footstep. Holding the nymph with one arm, I turned and saw a
lady approaching. She asked me why I kissed the statue. I looked away
embarrassed, but she told me not to go, and she said, 'You are a
pretty boy.' I said I had never seen a woman so beautiful. Again
I grew ashamed, but the lady laughed. We stood talking in the
stillness. She said I had pretty hands, and asked me if I regretted
the nymph was not a real woman. She took my hands. I praised hers,
and then I grew frightened, for I knew she came from the castle; the
castle was to me what the Ark of the Covenant was to an Israelite.
She put her arm about me, and my fears departed in the thrilling of
an exquisite minute. She kissed me and said, 'Let us sit down.'"

"I wonder who she was! What was her name? You can tell me."

"No, I never mention names; besides, I am not certain she gave her
right name."

"Are you sure she was staying at the castle? For if so, there would
be no use for her to conceal her name. You could easily have found
it out."

"Oh, yes, she was staying at the castle; she talked about you all.
Don't you believe me?"

"What, all about the nymph? I am certain you thought you ought to
have loved her, and if what Harding says is right, that there is more
truth in what we think than in what we do, I'm sure you might say
that you had been on a wedding-tour with one of the gargoyles."

Mike laughed; and Frank did not suspect that he had annoyed him.
Mike's mother was a Frenchwoman, whom John Fletcher had met in Dublin
and had pressed into a sudden marriage. At the end of three years of
married life she had been forced to leave him, and strange were the
legends of the profanities of that bed. She fled one day, taking her
son with her. Fletcher did not even inquire where she had gone; and
when at her death Mike returned to Ireland, he found his father in a
small lodging-house playing the flute. Scarcely deigning to turn his
head, he said--"Oh! is that you, Mike?--sit down."

At his father's death, Mike had sold the lease of the farm for three
hundred pounds, and with that sum and a volume of verse he went to
London. When he had published his poems he wrote two comedies. His
efforts to get them produced led him into various society. He was
naturally clever at cards, and one night he won three hundred pounds.
Journalism he had of course dabbled in--he was drawn towards it by
his eager impatient nature; he was drawn from it by his gluttonous
and artistic nature. Only ten pounds for an article, whereas a
successful "bridge" brought him ten times that amount, and he
revolted against the column of platitudes that the hours whelmed in
oblivion. There had been times, however, when he had been obliged to
look to journalism for daily bread. The _Spectator_, always open to
young talent, had published many of his poems; the _Saturday_ had
welcomed his paradoxes and strained eloquence; but whether he worked
or whether he idled he never wanted money. He was one of those men
who can always find five pounds in the streets of London.

We meet Mike in his prime--in his twenty-ninth year--a man of various
capabilities, which an inveterate restlessness of temperament had
left undeveloped--a man of genius, diswrought with passion,
occasionally stricken with ambition.

"Let me have those glasses. There she is! I am sure it is she--there,
leaning against the Embankment. Yes, yes, it is she. Look at her. I
should know her figure among a thousand--those frail shoulders, that
little waist; you could break her like a reed. How sweet she is on
that background of flowing water, boats, wharfs, and chimneys; it all
rises about her like a dream, and all is as faint upon the radiant
air as a dream upon happy sleep. So she is coming to see me. She will
keep her promise. I shall love her. I feel at last that love is near
me. Supposing I were to marry her?"

"Why shouldn't you marry her if you love her? That is to say, if this
is more than one of your ordinary caprices, spiced by the fact that
its object is a nun."

The men looked at each other for a moment doubtful. Then Mike
laughed.

"I hope I don't love her too much, that is all. But perhaps she will
not come. Why is she standing there?"

"I should laugh if she turned on her heel and walked away right under
your very nose."

A cloud passed over Mike's face.

"That's not possible," he said, and he raised the glass. "If I
thought there was any chance of that I should go down to see her."

"You couldn't force her to come up. She seems to be admiring the
view."

Then Lily left the embankment and turned towards the Temple.

"She is coming!" Mike cried, and laying down the opera-glass he took
up the scent and squirted it about the room. "You won't make much
noise, like a good fellow, will you? I shall tell her I am here
alone."

"I shall make no noise--I shall finish my article. I am expecting
Lizzie about four; I will slip out and meet her in the street.
Good-bye."

Mike went to the head of the staircase, and looking down the
prodigious height, he waited. It occurred to him that if he fell, the
emparadised hour would be lost for ever. If she were to pass through
the Temple without stopping at No. 2! The sound of little feet and
the colour of a heliotrope skirt dispersed his fears, and he watched
her growing larger as she mounted each flight of stairs; when she
stopped to take breath, he thought of running down and carrying her
up in his arms, but he did not move, and she did not see him until
the last flight.

"Here you are at last!"

"I am afraid I have kept you waiting. I was not certain whether I
should come."

"And you stopped to look at the view instead?"

"Yes, but how did you know that?"

"Ah! that's telling; come in."

The girl went in shyly.

"So this is where you live? How nicely you have arranged the room.
I never saw a room like this before. How different from the convent!
What would the nuns think if they saw me here? What strange
pictures!--those ballet-girls; they remind me of the pantomime.
Did you buy those pictures?"

"No; they are wonderful, aren't they? A friend of mine bought them
in France."

"Mr. Escott?"

"Yes; I forgot you knew him--how stupid of me! Had it not been for
him I shouldn't have known you--I was thinking of something else."

"Where is he now? I hope he will not return while I am here. You did
not tell him I was coming?"

"Of course not; he is away in France."

"And those portraits--it is always the same face."

"They are portraits of a girl he is in love with."

"Do you believe he is in love?"

"Yes, rather; head over heels. What do you think of the painting?"

Lily did not answer. She stood puzzled, striving to separate the
confused notions the room conveyed to her. She wore on her shoulders
a small black lace shawl and held a black silk parasol. She was very
slender, and her features were small and regular, and so white was
her face that the blue eyes seemed the only colour. There was,
however, about the cheek-bones just such tint as mellow as a white
rose.

"How beautiful you are to-day. I knew you would be beautiful when you
discarded that shocking habit; but you are far more beautiful than I
thought. Let me kiss you."

"No, you will make me regret that I came here. I wanted to see where
you lived, so that when I was away I could imagine you writing your
poems. Have you nothing more to show me? I want to see everything."

"Yes, come, I will show you our dining-room. Mr. Escott often gives
dinner-parties. You must get your mother to bring you."

"I should like to. But what a good idea to have book-cases in the
passages, they furnish the walls so well. And what are those rooms?"

"Those belong to Escott. Here is where I sleep."

"What a strange room!" discountenanced by the great Christ. She
turned her head.

"That crucifix is a present from Frank. He bought it in Paris. It is
superb expression of the faith of the Middle Ages."

"Old ages, I should think; it is all worm-eaten. And that Virgin? I
did not know you were so religious."

"I do not believe in Christianity, but I think Christ is
picturesque."

"Christ is very beautiful. When I prayed to Him an hour passed like
a little minute. It always seemed to me more natural to pray to Him
than to the Virgin Mary. But is that your bed?"

Upon a trellis supported by lion's claws a feather bed was laid. The
sheets and pillows were covered with embroidered cloth, the gift of
some unhappy lady, and about the twisted columns heavy draperies hung
in apparent disorder. Lily sat down on the pouff ottoman. Mike took
two Venetian glasses, poured out some champagne, and sat at her feet.
She sipped the wine and nibbled a biscuit.

"Tell me about the convent," he said. "That is now a thing over and
done."

"Fortunately I was not professed; had I taken vows I could not have
broken them."

"Why not? A nun cannot be kept imprisoned nowadays."

"I should not have broken my vows."

"It was I who saved you from them--if you had not fallen in love with
me ..."

"I never said I had fallen in love with you; I liked you, that was
all."

"But it was for me you left the convent?"

"No; I had made up my mind to leave the convent long before I saw
you. So you thought it was love at first sight."

"On my part, at least, it was love at first sight. How happy I am!--I
can scarcely believe I have got you. To have you here by me seems so
unreal, so impossible. I always loved you. I want to tell you about
myself. You were my ideal when I was a boy; I had already imagined
you; my poems were all addressed to you. My own sweet ideal that none
knew of but myself. You shall come and see me all the summer through,
in this room--our room. When will you come again?"

"I shall never come again--it is time to go."

"To go! Why, you haven't kissed me yet!"

"I do not intend to kiss you."

"How cruel of you! You say you will never come and see me again; you
break and destroy my dream."

"How did you dream of me?"

"I dreamed the world was buried in snow, barred with frost--that I
never went out, but sat here waiting for you to come. I dreamed that
you came to see me on regular days. I saw myself writing poems to
you, looking up to see the clock from time to time. Tea and wine were
ready, and the room was scented with your favourite perfume. Ting!
How the bell thrilled me, and with what precipitation I rushed to the
door! There I found you. What pleasure to lead you to the great fire,
to help you to take off your pelisse!"

The girl looked at him, her eyes full of innocent wonderment.

"How can you think of such things? It sounds like a fairy tale. And
if it were summer-time?"

"Oh! if it were summer we should have roses in the room, and only a
falling rose-leaf should remind us of the imperceptible passing of
the hours. We should want no books, the picturesqueness of the river
would be enough. And holding your little palm in mine, so silken and
delicately moist, I would draw close to you."

Knowing his skin was delicate to the touch, he took her arm in his
hand, but she drew her arm away, and there was incipient denial in
the withdrawal. His face clouded. But he had not yet made up his mind
how he should act, and to gain time to think, he said--

"Tell me why you thought of entering a convent?"

"I was not happy at home, and the convent, with its prayers and
duties, seemed preferable. But it was not quite the same as I had
imagined, and I couldn't learn to forget that there was a world of
beauty, colour, and love."

"You could not but think of the world of men that awaited you."

"I only thought of Him."

"And who was he?"

"Ah! He was a very great saint, a greater saint than you'll ever be.
I fell in love with Him when I was quite a little girl."

"What was his name?"

"I am not going to tell you. It was for Him I went into the convent;
I was determined to be His bride in heaven. I used to read His life,
and think of Him all day long. I had a friend who was also in love,
but the reverend mother heard of our conversations, and we were
forbidden to speak any more of our saints."

"Tell me his name? Was he anything like me?"

"Well, perhaps there is a something in the eyes."

The conversation dropped, and he laid his hand gently upon her foot.
Drawing it back she spilt the wine.

"I must go."

"No, dearest, you must not."

She looked round, taking the room in one swift circular glance, her
eyes resting one moment on the crucifix.

"This is cruel of you," he said. "I dreamed of you madly, and why do
you destroy my dream? What shall I do?--where shall I go?--how shall
I live if I don't get you?"

"Men do not mind whom they love; even in the convent we knew that."

"You seem to have known a good deal in that convent; I am not
astonished that you left it."

"What do you mean?" She settled her shawl on her shoulders.

"Merely this; you are in a young man's room alone, and I love you."

"Love! You profane the word; loose me, I am going."

"No, you are not going, you must remain." There was an occasional
nature in him, that of the vicious dog, and now it snarled. "If you
did not love me, you should not have come here," he said interposing,
getting between her and the door.

Then she entreated him to let her go. He laughed at her; then
suddenly her face flamed with a passion he was unprepared for, and
her eyes danced with strange lights. Few words were spoken, only a
few ejaculatory phrases such as "How dare you?" "Let me go!" she
said, as she strove to wrench her arms from his grasp. She caught up
one of the glasses; but before she could throw it Mike seized her
hand; he could not take it from her, and unconscious of danger (for
if the glass broke both would be cut to the bone), she clenched it
with a force that seemed impossible in one so frail. Her rage was
like wildfire. Mike grew afraid, and preferring that the glass should
be thrown than it should break in his hand, he loosed his fingers. It
smashed against the opposite wall. He hoped that Frank had not heard;
that he had left the chambers. He seized the second glass. When she
raised her arm, Mike saw and heard the shattered window falling into
the court below. He anticipated the porter's steps on the staircase
and his knock at the door, and it was with an intense relief and
triumph that he saw the bottle strike the curtain and fall harmless.
He would win yet. Lily screamed piercingly.

"No one will hear," he said, laughing hoarsely.

She escaped him and she screamed three times. And now quite like a
mad woman, she snatched a light chair and rushed to the window. Her
frail frame shook, her thin face was swollen, and she seemed to have
lost control over her eyes. If she should die! If she should go mad!
Now really terrified, Mike prayed for forgiveness. She did not
answer; she stood clenching her hands, choking.

"Sit down," he said, "drink something. You need not be afraid of me
now--do as you like, I am your servant. I will ask only one thing of
you--forgiveness. If you only knew!"

"Don't speak to me!" she gasped, "don't!"

"Forgive me, I beseech you; I love you better than all the world."

"Don't touch me! How dare you? Oh! how dare you?"

Mike watched her quivering. He saw she was sublime in her rage, and
torn with desire and regret he continued his pleadings. It was some
time before she spoke.

"And it was for this," she said, "I left my convent, and it was of
him I used to dream! Oh! how bitter is my awakening!"

She grasped one of the thin columns of the bed and her attitude
bespoke the revulsion of feeling that was passing in her soul;
beneath the heavy curtains she stood pale all over, thrown by the
shock of too coarse a reality. His perception of her innocence was a
goad to his appetite, and his despair augmented at losing her. Now,
as died the fulgurant rage that had supported her, and her normal
strength being exhausted, a sudden weakness intervened, and she
couldn't but allow Mike to lead her to a seat.

"I am sorry; words cannot tell you how sorry I am. Why do you tremble
so? You are not going to faint, say--drink something." Hastily he
poured out some wine and held it to her lips. "I never was sorry
before; now I know what sorrow is--I am sorry, Lily. I am not ashamed
of my tears; look at them, and strive to understand. I never loved
till I saw you. Ah! that lily face, when I saw it beneath the white
veil, love leaped into my soul. Then I hated religion, and I longed
to scale the sky to dispossess Heaven of that which I held the one
sacred and desirable thing--you! My soul! I would have given it to
burn for ten thousand years for one kiss, one touch of these
snow-coloured hands. When I saw, or thought I saw, that you loved me,
I was God. I said on reading your sweet letter, 'My life shall not
pass without kissing at least once the lips of my chimera.'"

Words and images rose in his mind without sensation or effort, and
experiencing the giddiness and exultation of the orator, he strove to
win her with eloquence. And all his magnetism was in his hands and
eyes--deep blue eyes full of fire and light were fixed upon
her--hands, soft yet powerful hands held hers, sometimes were
clenched on hers, and a voice which seemed his soul rose and fell,
striving to sting her with passionate sound; but she remained
absorbed in, and could not be drawn out of, angry thought.

"Now you are with me," he said, "nearly mine; here I see you like a
picture that is mine. Around us is mighty London. I saved you from
God, am I to lose you to Man? This was the prospect that faced me,
that faces me, that drove me mad. All I did was to attempt to make
you mine. I hold you by so little--I could not bear the thought that
you might pass from me. A ship sails away, growing indistinct, and
then disappears in the shadows; in London a cab rattles, appears and
disappears behind other cabs, turns a corner, and is lost for ever. I
failed, but had I succeeded you would have come back to me; I failed,
is not that punishment enough? You will go from me; I shall not get
you--that is sorrow enough for me; do not refuse me forgiveness. Ah!
if you knew what it is to have sought love passionately, the high
hopes entertained, and then the depth of every deception, and now
the supreme grief of finding love and losing. Seeing love leave me
without leaving one flying feather for token, I strove to pluck
one--that is my crime. Go, since you must go, but do not go
unforgiving, lest perhaps you might regret."

Lily did not cry. Her indignation was vented in broken phrases, the
meaning of which she did not seem to realize, and so jarred and
shaken were her nerves that without being aware of it her talk
branched into observations on her mother, her home life, the convent,
and the disappointments of childhood. So incoherently did she speak
that for a moment Mike feared her brain was affected, and his efforts
to lead her to speak of the present were fruitless. But suddenly,
waxing calm, her inner nature shining through the eyes like light
through porcelain, she said--

"I was wrong to come here, but I imagined men different. We know so
little of the world in the convent.... Ah, I should have stayed
there. It may be but a poor delusion, but it is better than such
wickedness."

"But I love you."

"Love me! ... You say you have sought love; we find love in
contemplation and desire of higher things. I am wanting in
experience, but I know that love lives in thought, and not in violent
passion; I know that a look from the loved one on entering a room,
a touch of a hand at most will suffice, and I should have been
satisfied to have seen your windows, and I should have gone away, my
heart stored with impressions of you, and I should have been happy
for weeks in the secret possession of such memories. So I have always
understood love; so we understood love in the convent."

They were standing face to face in the faint twilight and scent of
the bedroom. Through the gauze blind the river floated past,
decorative and grand; the great hay-boats rose above the wharfs and
steamers; one lay in the sun's silver casting a black shadow; a barge
rowed by one man drifted round and round in the tide.

"When I knelt in the choir I lifted my heart to the saint I loved.
How far was He from me? Millions of miles!--and yet He was very near.
I dreamed of meeting Him in heaven, of seeing Him come robed in white
with a palm in His hand, and then in a little darkness and dimness I
felt Him take me to His breast. I loved to read of the miracles He
performed, and one night I dreamed I saw Him in my cell--or was it
you?"

All anger was gone from her face, and it reflected the play of her
fancy. "I used to pray to you to come down and speak to me."

"And now," said Mike, smiling, "now that I have come to you, now that
I call you, now that I hold my arms to you--you the bride-elect--now
that the hour has come, shall I not possess you?"

"Do you think you can gain love by clasping me to your bosom? My
love, though separated from me by a million miles, is nearer to me
than yours has ever been."

"Did you not speak of me as the lover of your prayer, and you said
that in ecstasy the nuns--and indeed it must be so--exchange a
gibbeted saint for some ideal man? Give yourself; make this afternoon
memorable."

"No; good-bye! Remember your promises. Come; I am going."

"I must not lose you," he cried, drunk with her beauty and doubly
drunk with her sensuous idealism. "May I not even kiss you?"

"Well, if you like--once, just here," she said, pointing where white
melted to faint rose.

Mastered, he followed her down the long stairs; but when they passed
into the open air he felt he had lost her irrevocably. The river was
now tinted with setting light, the balustrade of Waterloo Bridge
showed like lace-work, the glass roofing of Charing Cross station was
golden, and each spire distinct upon the moveless blue. The splashing
of a steamer sounded strange upon his ears. The "Citizen" passed! She
was crowded with human beings, all apparently alike. Then the eye
separated them. An old lady making her way down the deck, a young man
in gray clothes, a red soldier leaning over the rail, the captain
walking on the bridge.

Mike called a hansom; a few seconds more and she would pass from him
into London. He saw the horse's hooves, saw the cab appear and
disappear behind other cabs; it turned a corner, and she was gone.



CHAPTER III


Seven hours had elapsed since he had parted from Lily Young, and
these seven hours he had spent in restaurants and music-halls,
seeking in dissipation surcease of sorrow and disappointment. He had
dined at Lubi's, and had gone on with Lord Muchross and Lord Snowdown
to the Royal, and they had returned in many hansoms and with many
courtesans to drink at Lubi's. But his heart was not in gaiety, and
feeling he could neither break a hat joyously nor allow his own to be
broken good-humouredly, nor even sympathize with Dicky, the driver,
who had not been sober since Monday, he turned and left the place.

"This is why fellows marry," he said, when he returned home, and sat
smoking in the shadows--he had lighted only one lamp--depressed by
the loneliness of the apartment. And more than an hour passed before
he heard Frank's steps. Frank was in evening dress; he opened his
cigarette-case, lighted a cigarette, and sat down willing to be
amused. Mike told him the entire story with gestures and descriptive
touches; on the right was the bed with its curtains hanging superbly,
on the left the great hay-boats filling the window; and by insisting
on the cruelest aspects, he succeeded in rendering it almost
unbearable. But Frank had dined well, and as Lizzie had promised
to come to breakfast he was in excellent humour, and on the whole
relished the tale. He was duly impressed and interested by the
subtlety of the fancy which made Lily tell how she used to identify
her ideal lover while praying to Him, Him with the human ideal which
had led her from the cloister, and which she had come to seek in the
world. He was especially struck with, and he admired the conclusion
of, the story, for Mike had invented a dramatic and effective ending.

"Well-nigh mad, drunk with her beauty and the sensuous charm of her
imagination, I threw my arms about her. I felt her limbs against
mine, and I said, 'I am mad for you; give yourself to me, and make
this afternoon memorable.' There was a faint smile of reply in her
eyes. They laughed gently, and she said, 'Well, perhaps I do love you
a little.'"

Frank was deeply impressed by Mike's tact and judgement, and they
talked of women, discussing each shade of feminine morality through
the smoke of innumerable cigarettes; and after each epigram they
looked in each other's eyes astonished at their genius and
originality. Then Mike spoke of the paper and the articles that would
have to be written on the morrow. He promised to get to work early,
and they said good-night.

When Frank left Southwick two years ago and pursued Lizzie Baker to
London, he had found her in straitened circumstances and unable to
obtain employment. The first night he took her out to dinner and
bought her a hat, on the second he bought her a gown, and soon after
she became his mistress. Henceforth his days were devoted to her;
they were seen together in all popular restaurants, and in the
theatres. One day she went to see some relations, and Frank had to
dine alone. He turned into Lubini's, but to his annoyance the only
table available was one which stood next where Mike Fletcher was
dining. "That fellow dining here," thought Frank, "when he ought to
be digging potatoes in Ireland." But the accident of the waiter
seeking for a newspaper forced him to say a few words, and Mike
talked so agreeably that at the end of dinner they went out together
and walked up and down, talking on journalism and women.

Suddenly the last strand of Frank's repugnance to make a friend of
Mike broke, and he asked him to come up to his rooms and have a
drink. They remained talking till daybreak, and separated as friends
in the light of the empty town. Next day they dined together, and a
few days after Frank and Lizzie breakfasted with Mike at his
lodgings. But during the next month they saw very little of him, and
this pause in the course of dining and journalistic discussion,
indicating, as Frank thought it did, a coolness on Mike's part,
determined the relation of these two men. When they ran against each
other in the corridor of a theatre, Frank eagerly button-holed Mike,
and asked him why he had not been to dine at Lubini's, and not
suspecting that he dined there only when he was in funds, was
surprised at his evasive answers. Mistress and lover were equally
anxious to know why they had not been able to find him in any of the
usual haunts; he urged a press of work, but it transpired he was
harassed by creditors, and was looking out for rooms. Frank told
him he was thinking of moving into the Temple.

"Lucky fellow! I wish I could afford to live there."

"I wish you could.... The apartment I have in mind is too large for
me, you might take the half of it."

Mike knew where his comforts lay, and he accepted his friend's offer.
There they founded, and there they edited, the _Pilgrim_, a weekly
sixpenny paper devoted to young men, their doings, their amusements,
their literature, and their art. Under their dual editorship this
journal had prospered; it now circulated five thousand a week, and
published twelve pages of advertisements. Frank, whose bent was
hospitality, was therefore able to entertain his friends as it
pleased him, and his rooms were daily and nightly filled with
revelling lords, comic vocalists, and chorus girls. Mike often craved
for other amusements and other society. Temple Gardens was but one
page in the book of life, and every page in that book was equally
interesting to him. He desired all amusements, to know all things, to
be loved by every one; and longing for new sensations of life, he
often escaped to the Cock tavern for a quiet dinner with some young
barristers, and a quiet smoke afterwards with them in their rooms. It
was there he had met John Norton.

The _Pilgrim_ was composed of sixteen columns of paragraphs in which
society, art, and letters were dealt with--the form of expression
preferred being the most exaggerated. Indeed, the formula of
criticism that Mike and Frank, guided by Harding, had developed, was
to consider as worthless all that the world held in estimation, and
to laud as best all that world had agreed to discard. John Norton's
views regarding Latin literature had been adopted, and Virgil was
declared to be the great old bore of antiquity, and some three or
four quite unknown names, gathered amid the Fathers, were upon
occasion trailed in triumph with adjectives of praise.

What painter of Madonnas does the world agree to consider as the
greatest? Raphael--Raphael was therefore decried as being scarcely
superior to Sir Frederick Leighton; and one of the early Italian
painters, Francesco Bianchi, whom Vasari exhumes in some three or
four lines, was praised as possessing a subtle and mysterious talent
very different indeed from the hesitating smile of La Jaconde. There
is a picture of the Holy Family by him in the Louvre, and of it
Harding wrote--"This canvas exhales for us the most delicious
emanations, sorrowful bewitchments, insidious sacrileges, and
troubled prayers."

All institutions, especially the Royal Academy, St. Paul's Cathedral,
Drury Lane Theatre, and Eton College, were held to be the symbols of
man's earthiness, the bar-room and music-hall as certain proof of his
divine origin; actors were scorned and prize-fighters revered; the
genius of courtesans, the folly of education, and the poetry of
pantomime formed the themes on which the articles which made the
centre of the paper were written. Insolent letters were addressed to
eminent people, and a novel by Harding, the hero of which was a
butler and the heroine a cook, was in course of publication.

Mike was about to begin a series of articles in this genial journal,
entitled _Lions of the Season_. His first lion was a young man who
had invented a pantomime, _Pierrot murders his Wife_, which he was
acting with success in fashionable drawing-rooms. A mute brings
Pierrot back more dead than alive from the cemetery, and throws him
in a chair. When Pierrot recovers he re-acts the murder before a
portrait of his wife--how he tied her down and tickled her to death.
Then he begins drinking, and finally sets fire to the curtains of the
bed and is burnt.

It was the day before publishing day, and since breakfast the young
men had been drinking, smoking, telling tales, and writing
paragraphs; from time to time the page-boy brought in proofs, and
the narrators made pause till he had left the room. Frank continued
reading Mike's manuscript, now and then stopping to praise a
felicitous epithet.

At last he said--"Harding, what do you think of this?--'The Sphynx is
representative of the grave and monumental genius of Egypt, the Faun
of the gracious genius of Rome, the Pierrot of the fantastic genius
of the Renaissance. And, in this one creation, I am not sure that
the seventeenth does not take the palm from the earlier centuries.
Pierrot!--there is music, there is poetry in the name. The soul of an
epoch lives in that name, evocative as it is of shadowy trees, lawny
spaces, brocade, pointed bodices, high heels and guitars. And in
expression how much more perfect is he than his ancestor, the Faun!
His animality is indicated without coarse or awkward symbolism;
without cloven hoof or hirsute ears--only a white face, a long white
dress with large white buttons, and a black skull-cap; and yet,
somehow, the effect is achieved. The great white creature is not
quite human--hereditary sin has not descended upon him; he is not
quite responsible for his acts.'"

"I like the paragraph," said Harding; "you finish up, of course, with
the apotheosis of pantomimists, and announce him as one of the lions
of the season. Who are your other lions and lionesses?"

"The others will be far better," said Mike. He took a cigarette from
a silver box on the table, and, speaking as he puffed at it, entered
into the explanation of his ideas.

Mademoiselle D'Or, the _première danseuse_ who had just arrived from
Vienna, was to be the lioness of next week. Mike told how he would
translate into words the insidious poetry of the blossom-like skirt
that the pink body pierces like a stem, the beautiful springing,
the lifted arms, then the flight from the wings; the posturing, the
artificial smiles; this art a survival of Oriental tradition; this
art at once so carnal and so enthusiastically ideal. "A prize-fighter
will follow the _danseuse_. And I shall gloat in Gautier-like
cadence--if I can catch it--over each superb muscle and each splendid
development. But my best article will be on Kitty Carew. Since Laura
Bell and Mabel Grey our courtesans have been but a mediocre lot."

"You must not say that in the _Pilgrim_--we should offend all our
friends," Harding said, and he poured himself out a brandy-and-soda.

Mike laughed, and walking up and down the room, he continued--

"That it should be so is inexplicable, that it is so is certain; we
have not had since Mabel Grey died a courtesan whom a foreign prince,
passing London, would visit as a matter of course as he would visit
St. Paul's or Westminster Abbey; and yet London has advanced
enormously in all that constitutes wealth and civilization. In Paris,
as in ancient Greece, courtesans are rich, brilliant, and depraved;
here in London the women are poor, stupid, and almost virtuous. Kitty
is revolution. I know for a fact that she has had as much as £1000
from a foreign potentate, and she spends in one day upon her
tiger-cat what would keep a poor family in affluence for a week. Nor
can she say half a dozen words without being witty. What do you think
of this? We were discussing the old question, if it were well for a
woman to have a sweetheart. Kitty said, 'London has given me
everything but that. I can always find a man who will give me five
and twenty guineas, but a sweetheart I can't find.'"

Every pen stopped, and expectation was on every face. After a pause
Mike continued--

"Kitty said, 'In the first place he must please me, and I am very
difficult to please; then I must please him, and sufficiently for him
to give up his whole time to me. And he must not be poor, for
although he would not give me money, it would cost him several
hundreds a year to invite me to dinner and send me flowers. And where
am I to find this combination of qualities?' Can't you hear her
saying it, her sweet face like a tea-rose, those innocent blue eyes
all laughing with happiness? The great stockbroker, who has been with
her for the last ten years, settled fifty thousand pounds when he
first took her up. She was speaking to me about him the other day,
and when I said, 'Why didn't you leave him when the money was
settled?' she said, 'Oh no, I wouldn't do a dirty trick like that;
I contented myself simply by being unfaithful to him.'"

"This is no doubt very clever, but if you put all you have told us
into your article, you'll certainly have the paper turned off the
book-stalls."

The conversation paused. Every one finished his brandy-and-soda, and
the correction of proofs was continued in silence, interrupted only
by an occasional oath or a word of remonstrance from Frank, who
begged Drake, a huge-shouldered man, whose hand was never out of the
cigarette-box, not to drop the lighted ends on the carpet. Mike was
reading Harding's article.

"I think we shall have a good number this week," said Mike. "But we
want a piece of verse. I wonder if you could get something from John
Norton. What do you think of Norton, Harding?"

"He is one of the most interesting men I know. His pessimism, his
Catholicism, his yearning for ritual, his very genuine hatred of
women, it all fascinates me."

"What do you think of that poem he told us of the other night?"

"Intensely interesting; but he will never be able to complete it. A
man may be full of talent and yet be nothing of an artist; a man may
be far less clever than Norton, and with a subtler artistic sense. If
a seal had really something to say, I believe it would find a way of
saying it; but has John Norton really got any idea so overwhelmingly
new and personal that it would force a way of utterance where none
existed? The Christian creed with its tale of Mary must be of all
creeds most antipathetic to his natural instincts, he nevertheless
accepts it.... If you agitate a pool from different sides you must
stir up mud, and this is what occurs in Norton's brain; it is
agitated equally from different sides, and the result is mud."

Mike looked at Harding inquiringly, for a moment wondered if the
novelist understood him as he seemed to understand Norton.

A knock was heard, and Norton entered. His popularity was visible in
the pleasant smiles and words which greeted him.

"You are just the man we want," cried Frank. "We want to publish one
of your poems in the paper this week."

"I have burnt my poems," he answered, with something more of
sacerdotal tone and gesture than usual.

All the scribblers looked up. "You don't mean to say seriously that
you have burnt your poems?"

"Yes; but I do not care to discuss my reasons. You do not feel as I
do."

"You mean to say that you have burnt _The Last Struggle_--the poem
you told us about the other night?"

"Yes, I felt I could not reconcile its teaching, or I should say the
tendency of its teaching, to my religion. I do not regret--besides, I
had to do it; I felt I was going off my head. I should have gone mad.
I have been through agonies. I could not think. Thought and pain and
trouble were as one in my brain. I heard voices.... I had to do it.
And now a great calm has come. I feel much better."

"You are a curious chap."

Then at the end of a long silence John said, as if he wished to
change the conversation--

"Even though I did burn my pessimistic poem, the world will not go
without one. You are writing a poem on Schopenhauer's philosophy.
It is hard to associate pessimism with you."

"Only because you take the ordinary view of the tendency of
pessimistic teaching," said Mike. "If you want a young and laughing
world, preach Schopenhauer at every street corner; if you want a
sober utilitarian world, preach Comte."

"Doesn't much matter what the world is as long as it is not sober,"
chuckled Platt, the paragraph-writing youth at the bottom of the
table.

"Hold your tongue!" cried Drake, and he lighted another cigarette
preparatory to fixing his whole attention on the paradox that Mike
was about to enounce.

"The optimist believes in the regeneration of the race, in its
ultimate perfectibility, the synthesis of humanity, the providential
idea, and the path of the future; he therefore puts on a shovel hat,
cries out against lust, and depreciates prostitution."

"Oh, the brute!" chuckled the wizen youth, "without prostitutes and
public-houses! what a world to live in!"

"The optimist counsels manual labour for all. The pessimist believes
that forgetfulness and nothingness is the whole of man. He says, 'I
defy the wisest of you to tell me why I am here, and being here, what
good is gained by my assisting to bring others here.' The pessimist
is therefore the gay Johnny, and the optimist is the melancholy
Johnny. The former drinks champagne and takes his 'tart' out to
dinner, the latter says that life is not intended to be happy
in--that there is plenty of time to rest when you are dead."

John laughed loudly; but a moment after, reassuming his look of
admonition, he asked Mike to tell him about his poem.

"The subject is astonishingly beautiful," said Mike; "I only speak of
the subject; no one, not even Victor Hugo or Shelley, ever conceived
a finer theme. But they had execution, I have only the idea. I
suppose the world to have ended; but ended, how? Man has at last
recognized that life is, in equal parts, misery and abomination, and
has resolved that it shall cease. The tide of passion has again
risen, and lashed by repression to tenfold fury, the shores of life
have again been strewn with new victims; but knowledge--calm,
will-less knowledge--has gradually invaded all hearts; and the
restless, shifting sea (which is passion) shrinks to its furthest
limits.

"There have been Messiahs, there have been persecutions, but the Word
has been preached unintermittently. Crowds have gathered to listen
to the wild-eyed prophets. You see them on the desert promontories,
preaching that human life must cease; they call it a disgraceful
episode in the life of one of the meanest of the planets--you see
them hunted and tortured as were their ancestors, the Christians of
the reign of Diocletian. You see them entering cottage doors and
making converts in humble homes. The world, grown tired of vain
misery, accepts oblivion.

"The rage and the seething of the sea is the image I select to
represent the struggle for life. The dawn is my image for the
diffusion and triumph of sufficient reason. In a couple of hundred
lines I have set my scene, and I begin. It is in the plains of
Normandy; of countless millions only two friends remain. One of them
is dying. As the stars recede he stretches his hand to his companion,
breathes once more, looking him in the face, joyous in the attainment
of final rest. A hole is scraped, and the last burial is achieved.
Then the man, a young beautiful man with the pallor of long vigils
and spiritual combat upon his face, arises.

"The scene echoes strangely the asceticism that produced it.
Rose-garden and vineyard are gone; there are no fields, nor
hedgerows, nor gables seen picturesquely on a sky, human with smoke
mildly ascending. A broken wall that a great elm tears and rends,
startles the silence; apple-orchards spread no flowery snow, and the
familiar thrushes have deserted the moss-grown trees, in other times
their trees; and the virgin forest ceases only to make bleak place
for marish plains with lonely pools and stagnating streams, where
perchance a heron rises on blue and heavy wings.

"All the beautiful colours the world had worn when she was man's
mistress are gone, and now, as if mourning for her lover and lord,
she is clad only in sombre raiment. Since her lord departed she bears
but scanty fruit, and since her lover left her, she that was glad has
grown morose; her joy seems to have died with his; and the feeling of
gloom is heightened, when at the sound of the man's footsteps a pack
of wild dogs escape from a ruin, where they have been sleeping, and
wake the forest with lugubrious yelps and barks. About the dismantled
porches no single rose--the survival of roses planted by some fair
woman's hand--remains to tell that man was once there--worked there
for his daily bread, seeking a goodness and truth in life which was
not his lot to attain.

"There are few open spaces, and the man has to follow the tracks of
animals. Sometimes he comes upon a herd of horses feeding in a glade;
they turn and look upon him in a round-eyed surprise, and he sees
them galloping on the hill-sides, their manes and tails floating in
the wind.

"Paris is covered with brushwood, and trees and wood from the shore
have torn away the bridges, of which only a few fragments remain. Dim
and desolate are those marshes now in the twilight shedding.

"The river swirls through multitudinous ruins, lighted by a crescent
moon; clouds hurry and gather and bear away the day. The man stands
like a saint of old, who, on the last verge of the desert, turns and
smiles upon the world he conquered.

"The great night collects and advances in shadow; and wandering
vapour, taking fire in the darkness, rolls, tumbling over and over
like fiery serpents, through loneliness and reeds.

"But in the eternal sunshine of the South flowers have not become
extinct; winds have carried seeds hither and thither, and the earth
has waxed lovely, and the calm of the spiritual evenings of the
Adriatic descend upon eternal perfume and the songs of birds. Symbol
of pain or joy there is none, and the august silence is undisturbed
by tears. From rotting hangings in Venice rats run, and that idle
wave of palace-stairs laps in listless leisure the fallen glories of
Veronese. As it is with painters so it is with poets, and wolf cubs
tear the pages of the last _Divine Comedy_ in the world. Rome is his
great agony, her shameful history falls before his eyes like a
painted curtain. All the inner nature of life is revealed to him, and
he sees into the heart of things as did Christ in the Garden of
Gethsemane--Christ, that most perfect symbol of the denial of the
will to live; and, like Christ, he cries that the world may pass from
him.

"But in resignation, hatred and horror vanish, and he muses again on
the more than human redemption, the great atonement that man has made
for his shameful life's history; and standing amid the orange and
almond trees, amid a profusion of bloom that the world seems to have
brought for thank-offering, amid an apparent and glorious victory of
inanimate nature, he falls down in worship of his race that had
freely surrendered all, knowing it to be nothing, and in surrender
had gained all.

"In that moment of intense consciousness a cry breaks the stillness,
and searching among the marbles he finds a dying woman. Gathering
some fruit, he gives her to eat, and they walk together, she
considering him as saviour and lord, he wrapped in the contemplation
of the end. They are the end, and all paling fascination, which is
the world, is passing from them, and they are passing from it. And
the splendour of gold and red ascends and spreads--crown and raiment
of a world that has regained its primal beauty.

"'We are alone,' the woman says. 'The world is ours; we are as king
and queen, and greater than any king or queen.'

"Her dark olive skin changes about the neck like a fruit near to
ripen, and the large arms, curving deeply, fall from the shoulder in
superb indolences of movement, and the hair, varying from burnt-up
black to blue, curls like a fleece adown the shoulders. She is large
and strong, a fitting mother of man, supple in the joints as the
young panther that has just bounded into the thickets; and her rich
almond eyes, dark, and moon-like in their depth of mystery, are fixed
on him. Then he awakes to the danger of the enchantment; but she
pleads that they, the last of mankind, may remain watching over each
other till the end; and seeing his eyes flash, her heart rejoices.
And out of the glare of the moon they passed beneath the sycamores.
And listening to the fierce tune of the nightingales in the dusky
daylight there, temptation hisses like a serpent; and the woman
listens, and drawing herself about the man, she says--

"'The world is ours; let us make it ours for ever; let us give birth
to a new race more great and beautiful than that which is dead. Love
me, for I am love; all the dead beauties of the race are incarnate in
me. I am the type and epitome of all. Was the Venus we saw yesterday
among the myrtles more lovely than I?'

"But he casts her from him, asking in despair (for he loves her) if
they are to renew the misery and abomination which it required all
the courage and all the wisdom of all the ages to subdue? He calls
names from love's most fearful chronicle--Cleopatra, Faustina,
Borgia. A little while and man's shameful life will no longer disturb
the silence of the heavens. But no perception of life's shame touches
the heart of the woman. 'I am love,' she cries again. 'Take me, and
make me the mother of men. In me are incarnate all the love songs of
the world. I am Beatrice; I am Juliet. I shall be all love to
you--Fair Rosamond and Queen Eleanor. I am the rose! I am the
nightingale!'

"She follows him in all depths of the forests wherever he may go. In
the white morning he finds her kneeling by him, and in blue and rose
evening he sees her whiteness crouching in the brake. He has fled to
a last retreat in the hills where he thought she could not follow,
and after a long day of travel lies down. But she comes upon him in
his first sleep, and with amorous arms uplifted, and hair shed to the
knee, throws herself upon him. It is in the soft and sensual scent of
the honeysuckle. The bright lips strive, and for an instant his soul
turns sick with famine for the face; but only for an instant, and in
a supreme revulsion of feeling he beseeches her, crying that the
world may not end as it began, in blood. But she heeds him not, and
to save the generations he dashes her on the rocks.

"Man began in bloodshed, in bloodshed he has ended.

"Standing against the last tinge of purple, he gazes for a last time
upon the magnificence of a virgin world, seeing the tawny forms of
lions in the shadows, watching them drinking at the stream."

"Adam and Eve at the end of the world," said Drake. "A very pretty
subject; but I distinctly object to an Eve with black hair. Eve and
golden hair have ever been considered inseparable things."

"That's true," said Platt; "the moment my missis went wrong her hair
turned yellow."

Mike joined in the jocularity, but at the first pause he asked Escott
what he thought of his poem.

"I have only one fault to find. Does not the _dénouement_ seem too
violent? Would it not be better if the man were to succeed in
escaping from her, and then vexed with scruples to return and find
her dead? What splendid lamentations over the body of the last
woman!--and as the man wanders beneath the waxing and waning moon he
hears nature lamenting the last woman. Mountains, rocks, forests,
speak to him only of her."

"Yes, that would do.... But no--what am I saying? Such a conclusion
would be in exact contradiction to the philosophy of my poem. For it
is man's natural and inveterate stupidity (Schopenhauer calls it
Will) that forces man to live and continue his species. Reason is the
opposing force. As time goes on reason becomes more and more
complete, until at last it turns upon the will and denies it, like
the scorpion, which, if surrounded by a ring of fire, will turn and
sting itself to death. Were the man to escape, and returning find the
woman dead, it would not be reason but accident which put an end to
this ridiculous world."

Seeing that attention was withdrawn from him Drake filled his pockets
with cigarettes, split a soda with Platt, and seized upon the
entrance of half a dozen young men as an excuse for ceasing to write
paragraphs. Although it had only struck six they were all in evening
dress. They were under thirty, and in them elegance and dissipation
were equally evident. Lord Muchross, a clean-shaven Johnnie, walked
at the head of the gang, assuming by virtue of his greater volubility
a sort of headship. Dicky, the driver, a stout commoner, spoke of
drink; and a languid blonde, Lord Snowdown, leaned against the
chimney-piece displaying a thin figure. The others took seats and
laughed whenever Lord Muchross spoke.

"Here we are, old chappie, just in time to drink to the health of the
number. Ha, ha, ha! What damned libel have you in this week? Ha, ha!"

"Awful bad head, a heavy day yesterday," said Dicky--"drunk blind."

"Had to put him in a wheelbarrow, wheeled him into a greengrocer's
shop, put a carrot in his mouth, and rang the bell," shouted
Muchross.

"Ha, ha, ha!" shouted the others.

"Had a rippin' day all the same, didn't we, old Dicky? Went up the
river in Snowdown's launch. Had lunch by Tag's Island, went as far as
Datchet. There we met Dicky; he tooted us round by Staines. There we
got in a fresh team, galloped all the way to Houndslow. Laura brought
her sister. Kitty was with us. Made us die with a story she told us
of a fellow she was spoony on. Had to put him under the bed....
Ghastly joke, dear boy!"

Amid roars of laughter Dicky's voice was heard--

"She calls him Love's martyr; he nearly died of bronchitis, and
became a priest. Kitty swears she'll go to confession to him one of
these days."

"By Jove, if she does I'll publish it in the _Pilgrim_."

"Too late this week," Mike said to Frank.

"We got to town by half past six, went round to the Cri. to have a
sherry-and-bitters, dined at the Royal, went on to the Pav., and on
with all the girls in hansoms, four in each, to Snowdown's."

"See me dance the polka, dear boy," cried the languid lord, awaking
suddenly from his indolence, and as he pranced across the room most
of his drink went over Drake's neck; and amid oaths and laughter
Escott besought of the revellers to retire.

"We are still four columns short, we must get on." And for an hour
and a half the scratching of the pens was only interrupted by the
striking of a match and an occasional damn. At six they adjourned to
the office. They walked along the Strand swinging their sticks, full
of consciousness of a day's work done. Drake and Platt, who had
avenged some private wrongs in their paragraphs, were disturbed by
the fear of libel; Harding gnawed the end of his moustache, and
reconsidered his attack on a contemporary writer, pointing his gibes
afresh.

They trooped up-stairs, the door was thrown open. It was a small
office, and at the end of the partitioned space a clerk sat in front
of a ledger on a high stool, his face against the window. Lounging on
the counter, turning over the leaves of back numbers, they discussed
the advertisements. They stood up when Lady Helen entered. [Footnote:
See _A Modern Lover_.] She had come to speak to Frank about a poem,
and she only paused in her rapid visit to shake hands with Harding,
and she asked Mike if his poems would be published that season.

The contributors to the _Pilgrim_ dined together on Wednesday, and
spent four shillings a head in an old English tavern, where unlimited
joint and vegetables could be obtained for half-a-crown. The
old-fashioned boxes into which the guests edged themselves had not
been removed, and about the mahogany bar, placed in the passage in
front of the proprietress's parlour, two dingy barmaids served actors
from the adjoining theatre with whisky-and-water. The contributors to
the _Pilgrim_ had selected a box, and were clamouring for food.
Smacking his lips, the head-waiter, an antiquity who cashed cheques
and told stories about Mr. Dickens and Mr. Thackeray, stopped in
front of this table.

"Roast beef, very nice--a nice cut, sir; saddle of mutton just up."

All decided for saddle of mutton.

"Saddle of mutton, number three."

Greasy and white the carver came, and as if the meat were a delight
the carver sliced it out. Some one remarked this.

"That is nothing," said Thompson; "you should hear Hopkins grunting
as he cuts the venison on Tuesdays and Fridays, and how he sucks his
lips as he ladles out the gravy. We only enjoy a slice or two,
whereas his pleasure ends only with the haunch."

The evening newspapers were caught up, glanced at, and abused as
worthless rags, and the editors covered with lively ridicule.

The conversation turned on Boulogne, where Mike had loved many
solicitors' wives, and then on the impurity of the society girl and
the prurient purity of her creation--the "English" novel.

"I believe that it is so," said Harding; "and in her immorality we
find the reason for all this bewildering outcry against the slightest
license in literature. Strange that in a manifestly impure age there
should be a national tendency towards chaste literature. I am not
sure that a moral literature does not of necessity imply much laxity
in practical morality. We seek in art what we do not find in
ourselves, and it would be true to nature to represent an unfortunate
woman delighting in reading of such purity as her own life daily
insulted and contradicted; and the novel is the rag in which this
leper age coquets before the mirror of its hypocrisy, rehearsing the
deception it would practise on future time."

"You must consider the influence of impure literature upon young
people," said John.

"No, no; the influence of a book is nothing; it is life that
influences and corrupts. I sent my story of a drunken woman to
Randall, and the next time I heard from him he wrote to say he had
married his mistress, and he knew she was a drunkard."

"It is easy to prove that bad books don't do any harm; if they did,
by the same rule good books would do good, and the world would have
been converted long ago," said Frank.

Harding thought how he might best appropriate the epigram, and when
the influence of the liberty lately acquired by girls had been
discussed--the right to go out shopping in the morning, to sit out
dances on dark stairs; in a word, the decadence and overthrow of the
chaperon--the conversation again turned on art.

"It is very difficult," said Harding, "to be great as the old masters
were great. A man is great when every one is great. In the great ages
if you were not great you did not exist at all, but in these days
everything conspires to support the weak."

Out of deference to John, who had worn for some time a very solid
look of disapproval, Mike ceased to discourse on half-hours passed on
staircases, and in summer-houses when the gardener had gone to
dinner, and he spoke about naturalistic novels and an exhibition of
pastels.

"As time goes on, poetry, history, philosophy, will so multiply that
the day will come when the learned will not even know the names of
their predecessors. There is nothing that will not increase out of
all reckoning except the naturalistic novel. A man may write twenty
volumes of poetry, history, and philosophy, but a man will never be
born who will write more than two, at the most three, naturalistic
novels. The naturalistic novel is the essence of a phase of life
that the writer has lived in and assimilated. If you take into
consideration the difficulty of observing twice, of the time an
experience takes to ripen in you, you will easily understand
_à priori_ that the man will never be born who will write three
realistic novels."

Coffee and cigars were ordered, and Harding extolled the charm and
grace of pastels.

Thompson said--"I keep pastels for my hours of idleness--cowardly
hours, when I have no heart to struggle with nature, and may but
smile and kiss my hand to her at a distance. For dreaming I know
nothing like pastel; it is the painter's opium pipe.... Latour was
the greatest pastellist of the eighteenth century, and he never
attempted more than a drawing heightened with colour. But how
suggestive, how elegant, how well-bred!"

Then in reply to some flattery on the personality of his art,
Thompson said, "It is strange, for I assure you no art was ever less
spontaneous than mine. What I do is the result of reflection and
study of the great masters; of inspiration, spontaneity,
temperament--temperament is the word--I know nothing. When I hear
people talk about temperament, it always seem to me like the strong
man in the fair, who straddles his legs, and asks some one to step
upon the palm of his hand."

Drake joined in the discussion, and the chatter that came from this
enormous man was as small as his head, which sat like a pin's-head
above his shoulders. Platt drifted from the obscene into the
incomprehensible. The room was fast emptying, and the waiter
loitered, waiting to be paid.

"We must be getting off," said Mike; "it is nearly eleven o'clock,
and we have still the best part of the paper to read through."

"Don't be in such a damned hurry," said Frank, authoritatively.

Harding bade them good-night at the door, and the editors walked down
Fleet Street. To pass up a rickety court to the printer's, or to go
through the stage-door to the stage, produced similar sensations
in Mike. The white-washed wall, the glare of the raw gas, the low
monotonous voice of the reading-boy, like one studying a part, or
perhaps like the murmur of the distant audience; the boy coming in
asking for "copy" or proof, like the call-boy, with his "Curtain's
going up, gentlemen." Is there not analogy between the preparation
of the paper that will be before the public in the morning, and the
preparation of the play that will be before its eyes in the evening?

From the glass closet where they waited for the "pages," they could
see the compositors bending over the forms. The light lay upon a red
beard, a freckled neck, the crimson of the volutes of an ear.

In the glass closet there were three wooden chairs, a table, and an
inkstand; on the shelf by the door a few books--the _London
Directory_, an _English Dictionary_, a _French Dictionary_--the
titles of the remaining books did not catch the eye. As they waited,
for no "pages" would be ready for them for some time, Mike glanced at
stray numbers of two trade journals. It seemed to him strange that
the same compositors who set up these papers should set up the
_Pilgrim_.

Presently the "pages" began to come in, but long delays intervened,
and it transpired that some of the "copy" was not yet in type. Frank
grew weary, and he complained of headache, and asked Mike to see the
paper through for him. Mike thought Frank selfish, but there was no
help for it. He could not refuse, but must wait in the paraffin-like
smell of the ink, listening to the droning voice of the reading-boy.
If he could only get the proof of his poem he could kill time by
correcting it; but it could not be obtained. Two hours passed, and
he still sat watching the red beard of a compositor, and the crimson
volutes of an ear. At last the printer's devil, his short sleeves
rolled up, brought in a couple of pages. Mike read, following the
lines with his pen, correcting the literals, and he cursed when the
"devil" told him that ten more lines of copy were wanting to complete
page nine. What should he write?

About two o'clock, holding her ball-skirts out of the dirt, a lady
entered.

"How do you do, Emily?" said Mike. "Just fancy seeing you here, and
at this hour!" He was glad of the interruption; but his pleasure was
dashed by the fear that she would ask him to come home with her.

"Oh, I have had such a pleasant party; So-and-so sang at Lady
Southey's. Oh, I have enjoyed myself! I knew I should find you here;
but I am interrupting. I will go." She put her arm round his neck.
He looked at her diamonds, and congratulated himself that she was
a lady.

"I am afraid I am interrupting you," she said again.

"Oh no, you aren't, I shall be done in half an hour; I have only got
a few more pages to read through. Escott went away, selfish brute
that he is, and has left me to do all the work."

She sat by his side contentedly reading what he had written. At
half-past two all the pages were passed for press, and they descended
the spiral iron staircase, through the grease and vinegar smell of
the ink, in view of heads and arms of a hundred compositors, in
hearing of the drowsy murmur of the reading-boy. Her brougham was at
the door. As she stepped in Mike screwed up his courage and said
good-bye.

"Won't you come?" she said, with disappointment in her eyes.

"No, not to-night. I have been slaving at that paper for the last
four hours. Thanks; not to-night. Good-bye; I'll see you next week."

The brougham rolled away, and Mike walked home. The hands of the
clocks were stretching towards three, and only a few drink-disfigured
creatures of thirty-five or forty lingered; so horrible were they
that he did not answer their salutations.



CHAPTER IV


Mike was in his bath when Frank entered.

"What, not dressed yet?"

"All very well for you to talk. You left me at eleven to get the
paper out as best I could. I did not get away from the printer's
before half-past two."

"I'm very sorry, but you've no idea how ill I felt. I really couldn't
have stayed on. I heard you come in. You weren't alone."

The room was pleasant with the Eau de Lubin, and Mike's beautiful
figure appealed to Frank's artistic sense; and he noticed it in
relation to the twisted oak columns of the bed. The body, it was
smooth and white as marble; and the pectoral muscles were especially
beautiful when he leaned forward to wipe a lifted leg. He turned, and
the back narrowed like a leaf, and expanded in shapes as subtle. He
was really a superb animal as he stepped out of his bath.

"I wish to heavens you'd dress. Leave off messing yourself about.
I want breakfast. Lizzie's waiting. What are you putting on those
clothes for? Where are you going?"

"I am going to see Lily Young. She wrote to me this morning saying
she had her mother's permission to ask me to come."

"She won't like you any better for all that scent and washing."

"Which of these neckties do you like?"

"I don't know.... I wish you'd be quick. Come on!"

As he fixed his tie with a pearl pin he whistled the "Wedding March."
Catching Frank's eyes, he laughed and sang at the top of his voice as
he went down the passage.

Lizzie was reading in one of the arm-chairs that stood by the high
chimney-piece tall with tiles and blue vases. The stiffness and glare
of the red cloth in which the room was furnished, contrasted with the
soft colour of the tapestry which covered one wall. The round table
shone with silver, and an agreeable smell of coffee and sausages
pervaded the room. Lizzie looked up astonished; but without giving
her time to ask questions, Mike seized her and rushed her up and
down.

"Let me go! let me go!" she exclaimed. "Are you mad?"

Frank caught up his fiddle. At last Lizzie wrenched herself from
Mike.

"What do you mean? ... Such nonsense!"

Laughing, Mike placed her in a chair, and uncovering a dish, said--

"What shall I give you this happy day?"

"What do you mean? I don't like being pulled about."

"You know what tune that is? That's the 'Wedding March.'"

"Who's going to be married? Not you."

"I don't know so much about that. At all events I am in love. The
sensation is delicious--like an ice or a glass of Chartreuse. Real
love--all the others were coarse passions--I feel it here, the
genuine article. You would not believe that I could fall in love."

"Listen to me," said Lizzie. "You wouldn't talk like that if you were
in love."

"I always talk; it relieves me. You have no idea how nice she is; so
frail, so white--a white blonde, a Seraphita. But you haven't read
Balzac; you do not know those white women of the North. '_Plus
blanche que la blanche hermine_,' etc. So pure is she that I cannot
think of kissing her without sensations of sacrilege. My lips are not
pure enough for hers. I would I were chaste. I never was chaste."

Mike laughed and chattered of everything. Words came from him like
flour from a mill.

The _Pilgrim_ was published on Wednesday. Wednesday was the day,
therefore, for walking in the Park; for lunching out; for driving in
hansoms. Like a fish on the crest of a wave he surveyed
London--multitudinous London, circulating about him; and he smiled
with pleasure when he caught sight of trees spreading their summer
green upon the curling whiteness of the clouds. He loved the Park.
The Park had always been his friend; it had given him society when no
door was open to him; it had been the inspiration of all his
ambitions; it was the Park that had first showed him ladies and
gentlemen in all the gaud and charm of town leisure. There he had
seen for the first time the panorama of slanting sunshades, patent
leather shoes, horses cantering in the dusty sunlight, or proudly
grouped, the riders flicking the flies away with gold-headed whips.
He loved the androgynous attire of the horsewomen--collars, silk
hats, and cravats. The Park appealed to him intensely and strangely
as nothing else did. He loved the Park for the great pasture it
afforded to his vanity. It was in the Park he saw the fashionable
procuress driving--she who would not allow him to pay even for
champagne in her house; it was in the Park he met the little actress
who looked so beseechingly in his face; it was in the Park he met
fashionable ladies who asked him to dinner and took him to the
theatre; it was in the Park he had found life and fortune, and,
saturated with happiness, with health, tingling with consciousness of
his happiness, Mike passed among the various crowd, which in its
listlessness seemed to balance and air itself like a many-petalled
flower. But much as the crowd amused and pleased him, he was more
amused and pleased with the present vision of his own personality,
which in a long train of images and stories passed within him. He
loved to dream of himself; in dreams he entered his soul like a
temple, seeing himself in various environment, and acting in manifold
circumstances.

"Here am I--a poor boy from the bogs of Ireland--poor people" (the
reflection was an unpleasant one, and he escaped from it); "at all
events a poor boy without money or friends. I have made myself what I
am.... I get the best of everything--women, eating, clothes; I live
in beautiful rooms surrounded with pretty things. True, they are not
mine, but what does that matter?--I haven't the bother of looking
after them.... If I could only get rid of that cursed accent, but I
haven't much; Escott has nearly as much, and he was brought up at an
English school. How pleasant it is to have money! Heigho! How
pleasant it is to have money! Six pounds a week from the paper, and I
could make easily another four if I chose. Sometimes I don't get any
presents; women seem as if they were going to chuck it up, and then
they send all things--money, jewelry, and comestibles. I am sure it
was Ida who sent that hundred pounds. What should I do if it ever
came out? But there's nothing to come out. I believe I am suspected,
but nothing can be proved against me.

"Why do they love me? I always treat them badly. Often I don't even
pretend to love them, but it makes no difference. Pious women, wicked
women, stupid women, clever women, high-class women, low-class women,
it is all the same--all love me. That little girl I picked up in the
Strand liked me before she had been talking to me five minutes. And
what sudden fancies! I come into a room, and every feminine eye fills
with sudden emotion. I wonder what it is. My nose is broken, and my
chin sticks out like a handle. And men like me just as much as women
do. It is inexplicable. True, I never say disagreeable things; and it
is so natural to me to wheedle. I twist myself about them like a
twining plant about a window. Women forgive me everything, and are
glad to see me after years. But they are never wildly jealous.
Perhaps I have never been really loved.... I don't know though--Lady
Seeley loved me. There was an old lady at Margate, sixty if she was a
day (of course there was nothing improper), and she worshipped me.
How nicely she used to smile when she said, 'Come round here that I
may look at you!'--and her husband was quite as bad; he'd run all
over the place after me. So-and-so was quite offended because I
didn't rush to see him; he'd put me up for six months.... Servants
hate Frank; for me they'd do anything. I never was in a lodging-house
in my life that the slavey didn't fall in love with me. People
dislike me; I speak to them for five minutes, and henceforth they run
after me. I make friends everywhere.

"Those Americans wanted me to come and stay six months with them in
New York. How she did press me to come! ... The Brookes, they want me
to come and stay in the country with them; they'd give me horses to
ride, guns to shoot, and I'd get the girls besides. They looked
rather greedily at me just now. How jealous poor old Emily is of
them! She says I'd 'go to the end of the earth for them'--and would
not raise a little finger for her. Dear old Emily, she wasn't a bit
cross the other night when I wouldn't go home with her. I must go and
see her. She says she loved me--really loved me! ... She used to lie
and dream of pulling me out of burning houses. I wonder why I am
liked! How intangible, and yet how real! What a wonderful character I
would make in a novel!"

At that moment he saw Mrs. Byril in the crowd; but notwithstanding
his kind thoughts of her, he prayed she might pass without seeing
him. Perceiving Lady Helen walking with her husband and Harding, he
followed her slim figure with his eyes, remembering what Seymour's
good looks had brought him, for he envied all love, desiring to be
himself all that women desire. Then his thoughts wandered. The
decoration of the Park absorbed him--the nobility of a group of
horses, the attractiveness of some dresses; and amid all this
elegance and parade he dreamed of tragedy--of some queen blowing her
brains out for him--and he saw the fashionable dress and the blood
oozing from the temple, trickling slowly through the sand. Then Lords
Muchross and Snowdown passed, and they passed without acknowledging
him!

"Cads, cads, damn them!" His face changed expression. "I may rise to
any height, queens may fall down and worship me, but I may never undo
my birth. Not to have been born a gentleman! That is to say, of a
long line--a family with a history. Not to be able to whisper, 'I may
lose everything, all troubles may be mine, but the fact remains that
I was born a gentleman!' Those two men who cut me are lords. What a
delight in one's life to have a name all to one's self!" And then
Mike lost himself in a maze of little dreams. A gleam of mail;
escutcheons and castles; a hawk flew from fingers fair; a lady
clasped her hands when the lances shivered in the tourney; and Mike
was the hero that persisted in the course of this shifting little
dream.

The Brookes--Sally and Maggie--stopped to speak to him, and he went
to lunch with them. His interest in all they did and said was
unbounded, and that he might not be able to reproach himself with
waste of time, he contrived by hint and allusion to lay the
foundation for a future intrigue with one of the girls.

Lily Young, however, had never been forgotten; she had been as
constantly present in his mind as this sense of the sunshine and his
own happy condition. She had been parcel of and one with these but
now; as he drove to see her, he separated her from the morning
phenomena of his life, and began to think definitely of her.

Smiling, he called himself a brute, and regretted his failure. But in
her presence his cynicism was evanescent. She sat on a little sofa,
covered with an Indian shawl; behind her was a great bronze, the
celebrated gift of a celebrated Rajah to her mother. Mrs. Young had
been on a tour in the East with her husband, and ever since her house
had been frequented by decrepit old gentlemen interested in Arabi,
and other matters which they spoke of as Eastern questions.

Lily looked at Mike under her eyes as she passed across the room to
get him some tea, and they talked a little while. Then some three or
four great and very elderly historians entered, and she had to leave
him; and feeling he could not prolong his visit he went, conscious of
sensations of purity and some desire of goodness, if not for itself,
for the grace that goodness brings. He paid many visits in this
house, but conversations with learned Buddhists seemed the only
result; a _tête-à-tête_ with Lily seemed impossible. To his surprise
he never met her in society, and his heart beat fast when one evening
he heard she was expected; and for the first time forgetful of the
multitude, and nervous as a school-boy in search of his first love,
he sought her in the crowd. He feared to remain with her, and it
seemed to him he had accomplished much in asking her to come down to
supper. When talking to others his thoughts were with her, and his
eyes followed her. An inquisitive woman noted his agitation, and
suspecting the cause, said, "I see, I see, and I think something may
come of it." Even when Lily left he did not recover his ordinary
humour, and about two in the morning, in sullen weariness and
disappointment, he offered to drive Lady Helen home.

Should he make love to her? He had often wished to. Here was an
opportunity.

"You did not see that I was looking at you tonight; you did not guess
what I was thinking of?"

"Yes, I did; you were looking at and thinking of my arms."

Should he pass his arm round her? Lady Helen knew Lily, and might
tell; he did not dare it, and instead, spoke of her contributions to
the paper. Then the conversation branched into a description of the
Wednesday night festivities in Temple Gardens--the shouting and
cheering of the lords, the comic vocalists, the inimitable Arthur,
the extraordinary Bessie. He told, with fits of laughter, of
Muchross's stump speeches, and how he had once got on the
supper-table and sat down in the very centre, regardless of plates
and dishes. Mike and Lady Helen nearly died of laughter when he
related how on one occasion Muchross and Snowdown, both crying drunk,
had called in a couple of sweeps. "You see," he said, "the look of
amazement on their faces, and the black 'uns were forced into two
chairs, and were waited upon by the lords, who tucked their napkins
under their arms."

"Oh don't, oh don't!" said Lady Helen, leaning back exhausted.

But Mike went on, though he was hardly able to speak, and told how
Muchross and Snowdown had danced the can-can, kicking at the
chandelier from time to time, the sweeps keeping time with their
implements on the sideboard; the revel finishing up with a wrestling
match, Muchross taking the big sweep, and Snowdown the little one.

"You should have seen them rolling over under the dining-room table;
I shall never forget Snowdown's shirt."

"I should like to see one of these entertainments. Do you ever have a
ladies' night? If you do, and the ladies are not supposed to wrestle
with the laundresses in the early light, I should like to come."

"Oh, yes, do come; Frank will be delighted. I'll see that things are
kept within bounds." The conversation fell, and he regretted he must
forego this very excellent opportunity to make love to her.

Next day, changed in his humour, but still thinking of Lily, he went
to see Mrs. Byril, and he stopped a few days with her. He was always
strict in his own room, and if Emily sought him in the morning he
reprimanded her.

She was one of those women who, having much heart, must affect more;
a weak intelligent woman, honest and loyal--one who could not live
without a lover. And with her arms about his neck, she listened to
his amours, and learnt his poetry by heart. Mike was her folly, and
she would never have thought of another if, as she said, he had only
behaved decently to her. "I am sorry, darling, I told you anything
about it, but when I got your beastly letter I wrote to him. Tell me
you'll come and stay with me next month, and I'll put him off.... I
hate this new girl; I am jealous because she may influence you, but
for the others--the Brookes and their friends--the half-hours spent
in summer-houses when the gardener is at dinner, I care not one jot."
So she spoke as she lay upon his knees in the black satin arm-chair
in the drawing-room.

But her presence at breakfast--that invasion of the morning
hours--was irritating; he hated the request to be in to lunch, and
the duty of spending the evening in her drawing-room, instead of in
club or bar-room. He desired freedom to spend each minute as the
caprice of the moment prompted. Were he a rich man he would not have
lived with Frank; to live with a man was unpleasant; to live with a
woman was intolerable. In the morning he must be alone to dream of a
book or poem; in the afternoons, about four, he was glad to
æstheticize with Harding or Thompson, or abandon himself to the charm
of John's aspirations.

John and he were often seen walking together, and they delighted in
the Temple. The Temple is escapement from the omniscient domesticity
which is so natural to England; and both were impressionable to its
morning animation--the young men hurrying through the courts and
cloisters, the picturesqueness of a wig and gown passing up a flight
of steps. It seemed that the old hall, the buttresses and towers, the
queer tunnels leading from court to court, turned the edge of the
commonplace of life. Nor did the Temple ever lose for them its quaint
and primitive air, and as they strolled about the cloisters talking
of art or literature, they experienced a delight that cannot be quite
put into words; and were strangely glad as they opened the iron
gates, and looked on all the many brick entanglements with the tall
trees rising, spreading the delicate youth of leaves upon the weary
red of the tiles and the dim tones of the dear walls.

  "A gentel Manciple there was of the Temple
   Of whom achatours mighten take ensample
   For to ben wise in bying of vitaille."

The gentle shade of linden trees, the drip of the fountain, the
monumented corner where Goldsmith rests, awake even in the most
casual and prosaic a fleeting touch of romance. And the wide steps
with balustrades sweeping down in many turnings to the gardens, cause
vagrant and hurrying steps to pause, and wander about the library and
through the gardens, which lead with such charm of way to the open
spaces of the King's Bench walk.

There, there is another dining-hall and another library. The clock is
ringing out the hour, and the place is filled with young men in
office clothes, hurrying on various business with papers in their
hands; and such young male life is one of the charms of the Temple;
and the absence of women is refreshment to the eye wearied of their
numbers in the streets. The Temple is an island in the London sea.
Immediately you pass the great doorway, studded with great nails, you
pass out of the garishness of the merely modern day, unhallowed by
any associations, into a calmer and benigner day, over which floats
some shadow of the great past. The old staircases lighted by strange
lanterns, the river of lingering current, bearing in its winding so
much of London into one enchanted view. The church built by the
Templars more than seven hundred years ago, now stands in the centre
of the inn all surrounded, on one side yellowing smoke-dried
cloisters, on another side various closes, feebly striving in their
architecture not to seem too shamefully out of keeping with its
beauty. There it stands in all the beauty of its pointed arches and
triple lancet windows, as when it was consecrated by the Patriarch of
Jerusalem in the year 1185.

But in 1307 a great ecclesiastical tribunal was held in London, and
it was proved that an unfortunate knight, who had refused to spit
upon the cross, was haled from the dining-hall and drowned in a well,
and testimony of the secret rites that were held there, and in which
a certain black idol was worshipped, was forthcoming. The Grand
Master was burnt at the stake, the knights were thrown into prison,
and their property was confiscated. Then the forfeited estate of the
Temple, presenting ready access by water, at once struck the
advocates of the Court of Common Pleas at Westminster, and the
students who were candidates for the privilege of pleading therein,
as a most desirable retreat, and interest was made with the Earl of
Lancaster, the king's first cousin, who had claimed the forfeited
property of the monks by escheat, as the immediate lord of the fee,
for a lodging in the Temple, and they first gained a footing there as
his lessees.

Above all, the church with its round tower-like roof was very dear to
Mike and John, and they often spoke of the splendid spectacle of the
religious warriors marching in procession, their white tunics with
red crosses, their black and white banner called Beauseant. It is
seen on the circular panels of the vaulting of the side aisles, and
on either side the letters BEAUSEANT. There stands the church of the
proud Templars, a round tower-like church, fitting symbol of those
soldier monks, at the west end of a square church, the square church
engrafted upon the circular so as to form one beautiful fabric. The
young men lingered around the time-worn porch, lovely with foliated
columns, strange with figures in prayer, and figures holding scrolls.
And often without formulating their intentions in words they entered
the church. Beneath the groined ribs of the circular tower lie the
mail-clad effigies of the knights, and through beautiful gracefulness
of grouped pillars the painted panes shed bright glow upon the
tesselated pavement. The young men passed beneath the pointed arches
and waited, their eyes raised to the celestial blueness of the
thirteenth-century window, and then in silence stole back whither the
knights sleep so grimly, with hands clasped on their breasts and
their long swords.

And seeing himself in those times, clad in armour, a knight Templar
walking in procession in that very church, John recited a verse of
Tennyson's _Sir Galahad_--

  "Sometimes on lonely mountain meres
     I find a magic bark;
   I leap on board; no helmsman steers:
     I float till all is dark.
   A gentle sound, an awful light!
     Three angels bear the holy Grail;
   With folded feet, in stoles of white,
     On sleeping wings they sail.
   Ah, blessed vision! blood of God!
     My spirit beats her mortal bars,
   As down dark tides the glory slides,
     And star-like mingles with the stars."


"Oh! very beautiful. 'On sleeping wings they sail.' Say it again."

John repeated the stanza, his eyes fixed upon the knight.

Mike said--

"How different to-day the girls of the neighbourhood, their
prayer-books and umbrellas! Yet I don't think the anachronism
displeases me."

"You say that to provoke me; you cannot think that all the dirty
little milliners' girls of the neighbourhood are more dignified than
these Templars marching in procession and taking their places with
iron clangour in the choir."

"So far as that is concerned," said Mike, who loved to "draw" John,
"the little girls of the neighbourhood in all probability wash
themselves a great deal oftener than the Templars ever did. And have
you forgotten the accusations that were brought against them before
the ecclesiastical tribunal assembled in London? What about the black
idol with shining eyes and gilded head?"

"Their vices were at least less revolting than the disgustful
meanness of to-day; besides, nothing is really known about the
reasons for the suppression of the Templars. Men who forswear women
are open to all contumely. Oh! the world is wondrous, just wondrous
well satisfied with its domestic ideals."

The conversation came to a pause, and then Mike spoke of Lily Young,
and extolled her subtle beauty and intelligence.

"I never liked any one as I do her. I am ashamed of myself when I
think of her purity."

"The purity of ... Had she been pure she would have remained in her
convent."

"If you had heard her speak of her temptations...."

"I do not want to hear her temptations. But it was you who tempted
her to leave her convent. I cannot but think that you should marry
her. There is nothing for you but marriage. You must change your
life. Think of the constant sin you are living in."

"But I don't believe in sin."

With a gesture that declared a non-admission of such a state of soul,
John hesitated, and then he said--

"The beastliness of it!"

"We have to live," said Mike, "since nature has so willed it, but I
fully realize the knightliness of your revolt against the principle
of life."

John continued his admonitions, and Mike an amused and appreciative
listener.

"At all events, I wish you would promise not to indulge in improper
conversation when I am present. It is dependent upon me to beg of you
to oblige me in this. It will add greatly to your dignity to refrain;
but that is your concern; I am thinking now only of myself. Will you
promise me this?"

"Yes, and more; I will promise not to indulge in such conversation,
even when you are not present. It is, as you say, lowering.... I
agree with you. I will strive to mend my ways."

And Mike was sincere; he was determined to become worthy of Lily. And
now the best hours of his life--hours strangely tense and strangely
personal--were passed in that Kensington drawing-room. She was to him
like the light of a shrine; he might kneel and adore from afar, but
he might not approach. The goddess had come to him like the moon to
Endymion. He knew nothing, not even if he were welcome. Each visit
was the same as the preceding. A sweet but exasperating
changelessness reigned in that drawing-room--that pretty drawing-room
where mother and daughter sat in sweet naturalness, removed from the
grossness and meanness of life as he knew it. Neither illicit
whispering nor affectation of reserve, only the charm of strict
behaviour; unreal and strange was the refinement, material and
mental, in which they lived. And for a time the charm sufficed;
desire was at rest. But she had been to see him, however at variance
such a visit, such event seemed with her present demeanour. And
she must come again! In increasing restlessness he conned all the
narrow chances of meeting her, of speaking to her alone. But no
accident varied the even tenor of their lives, the calm lake-like
impassibility of their relations, and in last resort he urged Frank
to give a dance or an At Home. And how ardently he pleaded, one
afternoon, sitting face to face with mother and daughter. Inwardly
agitated, but with outward calm, he impressed upon them many reasons
for their being of the party. The charm of the Temple, the river, and
glitter of light, the novel experience of bachelors' quarters....
They promised to come.



CHAPTER V


Mike leaned forward to tie his white cravat. He was slight, and white
and black, and he thought of Lily, of the exquisite pleasure of
seeing her and leading her away. And he was pleased and surprised to
find that his thoughts of her were pure.

The principal contributors to the _Pilgrim_ had been invited, and a
selection had been made from the fast and fashionable gang--those who
could be trusted neither to become drunk or disorderly. It had been
decided, but not without misgivings, to ask Muchross and Snowdown.

The doors were open, servants could be seen passing with glasses and
bottles. Frank, who had finished dressing, called from the
drawing-room and begged Mike to hasten; for the housemaid was waiting
to arrange his room, for it had been decided that this room should
serve as a lounge where dancers might sit between the waltzes.

"She can come in now," he shouted. He folded the curtains of his
strange bed; he lighted a silver lamp, re-arranged his palms, and
smiled, thinking of the astonished questions when he invited young
ladies to be seated among the numerous cushions. And Mike determined
he would say that he considered his bed-room far too sacred to admit
of any of the base wants of life being performed there.

It was well-dressed Bohemia, with many markings and varied with
contrasting shades. The air was as sugar about the doorway with the
scent of gardenias; young lords shrank from the weather-stained cloth
of doubtful journalists, and a lady in long puce Cashmere provoked a
smile. Frank received his guests with laughter and epigram.

The emancipation of the women is marked by the decline of the
chaperon, and it was not clear under whose protection the young girls
had come. Beneath double rows of ruche-rose feet passed, and the soft
glow of lamps shaded with large leaves of pale glass bathed the
women's flesh in endless half tints; the reflected light of copper
shades flushed the blonde hair on Lady Helen's neck to auroral
fervencies.

In one group a fat man with white hair and faded blue eyes talked to
Mrs. Bentham and Lewis Seymour. A visit to the Haymarket Theatre
being arranged, he said--

"May I hope to be permitted to form one of the party?"

Harding overheard the remark. He said, "It is difficult to believe,
but I assure you that that Mr. Senbrook was one of the greatest Don
Juans that ever lived."

"We have in this room Don Juan in youth, middle age, and old
age--Mike Fletcher, Lewis Seymour, and Mr. Senbrook."

"Did Seymour, that fellow with the wide hips, ever have success with
women? How fat he has grown!"

"Rather; [Footnote: See _A Modern Lover_.] don't you know his story?
He came up to London with a few pounds. When we knew him first he was
starving in Lambeth. You remember, Thompson, the day he stood us a
lunch? He had just taken a decorative panel to a picture-dealer's,
for which he had received a few pounds, and he told us how he had met
a lady (there's the lady, the woman with the white hair, Mrs.
Bentham) in the picture-dealer's shop. She fell in love with him and
took him down to her country house to decorate it. She sent him to
Paris to study, and it was said employed a dealer for years to buy
his pictures."

"And he dropped her for Lady Helen?"

"Not exactly. Lady Helen dragged him away from her. He never seized
or dropped anything."

"Then what explanation do you give of his success?" said a young
barrister.

"His manner was always gentle and insinuating. Ladies found him
pretty to look upon, and very soothing. Mike is just the same; but of
course Seymour never had any of Mike's brilliancy or enthusiasm."

"Do you know anything of the old gentleman--Senbrook's his name?"

"I have heard that those watery eyes of his were once of entrancing
violet hue, and I believe he was wildly enthusiastic in his love. His
life has been closely connected with mine."

"I didn't know you knew him."

"I do not know him. Yet he poisoned my happiest years; he is the
upas-tree in whose shade I slept. When I was in Paris I loved a lady;
and I used to make sacrifices for this lady, who was, needless to
say, not worthy of them; but she had loved Senbrook in her earliest
youth, and it appears when a woman has once loved Senbrook, she can
love none other. You wouldn't think it, to look at him now, but I
assure you it is so. France is filled with the women he once loved.
The provincial towns are dotted with them. I know eight--eight exist
to my personal knowledge. Sometimes a couple live together, united by
the indissoluble fetter of a Senbrook betrayal. They know their lives
are broken, and they are content that their lives should be broken.
They have loved Senbrook, therefore there is nothing to do but retire
to France. You may think I am joking, but I'm not. It is comic, but
that is no reason why it shouldn't be true. And these ladies neither
forget nor upbraid; and they will attack you like tigers if you dare
say a word against him. This creation of faith is the certain sign of
Don Juan! No matter how cruelly the real Don Juan behaves, the women
he has deceived are ready to welcome him. After years they meet him
in all forgetfulness of wrong. Examine history, and you will find
that the love inspired by the real Don Juan ends only with death. Nor
am I sure that the women attach much importance to his infidelities;
they accept them, his infidelities being a consequential necessity of
his being, the eons and the attributes of his godhead. Don Juan
inspires no jealousy; Don Juan stabbed by an infuriated mistress is a
psychological impossibility."

"I have heard that Seymour used to drive Lady Helen crazy with
jealousy."

"Don Juan disappears at the church-door. He was her husband. The most
unfaithful wife is wildly jealous of her husband."

A sudden silence fell, and a young girl was borne out fainting.

"Nothing more common than for young girls to faint when he is
present. Go," said Harding, "and you will hear her calling his name."
Then, picking up the thread of the paradox, he continued--"But you
can't have Don Juan in this century, our civilization has wiped him
out; not the vice of which he is representative--that is eternal--but
the spectacle of adventure of which he is the hero. No more
fascinating idea. Had the age admitted of Don Juan, I should have
written out his soul long ago. I love the idea. With duelling and
hose picturesqueness has gone out of life. The mantle and the rapier
are essential; and angry words...."

"Are angry words picturesque?"

"Angry words mean angry attitudes; and they are picturesque."

The young men smiled at the fascinating eloquence, and feeling an
appreciative audience about him, Harding continued--

"See Mike Fletcher, know him, understand him, and imagine what he
would have been in the eighteenth century, the glory of adventure he
would have gathered. His life to-day is a mean parody upon an easily
realizable might-have-been. So vital is the idea in him that his life
to-day is the reflection of a life that burned in another age too
ardently to die with death. In another age Mike would have outdone
Casanova. Casanova!--what a magnificent Casanova he would have been!
Casanova is to me the most fascinating of characters. He was
everything--a frequenter of taverns and palaces, a necromancer. His
audacity and unscrupulousness, his comedies, his immortal memoirs!
What was that delightful witty remark he made to some stupid husband
who lay on the ground, complaining that Casanova hadn't fought
fairly? You remember? it was in an avenue of chestnut trees,
approaching a town. Ha! I have forgotten. Mike has all that this man
had--love of adventure, daring, courage, strength, beauty, skill. For
Mike would have made a unique swordsman. Have you ever seen him ride?
Have you ever seen him shoot? I have seen him knock a dozen pigeons
over in succession. Have you ever seen him play billiards? He often
makes a break of a hundred. Have you ever seen him play tennis? He is
the best man we have in the Temple. And a poet! Have you ever heard
him tell of the poem he is writing? The most splendid subject. He
says that neither Goethe nor Hugo ever thought of a better."

"You may include self-esteem in your list of his qualities."

"A platitude! Self-esteem is synonymous to genius. Still, I do not
suppose he would in any circumstances have been a great poet; but
there is enough of the poet about him to enhance and complete his Don
Juan genius."

"You would have to mend his broken nose before you could cite him as
a model Don Juan."

"On the contrary, by breaking his nose chance emphasized nature's
intention; for a broken nose is the element of strangeness so
essential in modern beauty, or shall I say modern attractiveness? But
see that slim figure in hose, sword on thigh, wrapped in rich mantle,
arriving on horseback with Liperello! Imagine the castle balcony, and
the pale sky, green and rose, pensive as her dream, languid as her
attitude. Then again, the grand staircase with courtiers bowing
solemnly; or maybe the wave lapping the marble, the gondola shooting
through the shadow! What encounters, what assignations, what
disappearances, what sudden returnings! So strong is the love idea in
him, that it has suscitated all that is inherent and essential in the
character. It sent him to Boulogne so that he might fight a duel; and
the other day a nun left her convent for him. Curious atavism,
curious recrudescence of a dead idea of man! Say, is it his fault if
his pleasures are limited to clandestine visits; his fame to a
summons to appear in a divorce case; his danger to that most pitiful
of modern ignominies--five shillings a week? ... Bah! this age has
much to answer for."

"But Casanova was a marvellous necromancer, an extraordinary
gambler."

"I know no more enthusiastic gambler than Mike. Have you ever seen
him play whist? At Boulogne he cleaned them all out at baccarat."

"And lost heavily next day, and left without paying."

"The facts of the case have not been satisfactorily established. Have
you seen him do tricks with cards? He used to be very fond of card
tricks; and, by Jove! now I remember, there was a time when ladies
came to consult him. He had two pieces of paper folded up in the same
way. He gave one to the lady to write her question on; she placed it
in a cleft stick and burnt it in a lamp; but the stick was cleft at
both ends, and Mike managed it so that she burnt the blank sheet,
while he read what she had written. Very trivial; inferior of course
to Casanova's immense cabalistic frauds, but it bears out my
contention ... Have you ever read the _Memoirs?_ What a prodigious
book! Do you remember when the Duchesse de Chartres comes to consult
the _cabale_ in the little apartment in the Palais Royal as to the
best means of getting rid of the pimples on her face? ... and that
scene (so exactly like something Wycherley might have written) when
he meets the rich farmer's daughter travelling about with her old
uncle, the priest?"

Mike was talking to Alice Barton, who was chaperoning Lily. Though
she knew nothing of his character she had drawn back instinctively,
but her strictness was gradually annealed in his persuasiveness, and
when he rose to go out of the room with Lily, she was astonished that
she had pleasure in his society.

Lily was more beautiful than usual, the heat and the pleasure of
seeing her admirer having flushed her cheeks. He was penetrated with
her sweetness, and the hand laid on his arm thrilled him. Where
should he take her? Unfortunately the staircase was in stone;
servants were busy in the drawing-room.

"How beautifully Mr. Escott plays the violin!"

The melodious strain reeked through the doorways, filling the
passage.

"That is Stradella's 'Chanson d'Église.' He always plays it; I'm sick
of it."

"Yes, but I'm not. Do not let us go far, I should like to listen."

"I thought you would have preferred to talk with me."

Her manner did not encourage him to repeat his words, and he waited,
uncertain what he should say or do. When the piece was over, he
said--

"We had to turn my bedroom into a retiring-room. I'm afraid we shall
not be alone."

"That does not matter; my mother does not approve of young girls
sitting out dances."

"But your mother isn't here."

"I should not think of doing anything I knew she did not wish me to
do."

The conversation was interrupted by the entrance of Muchross with
several lords, and he was with difficulty dissuaded from an attempt
to swarm up the columns of the wonderful bed. The room was full of
young girls and barristers gathered from the various courts. Some had
stopped before the great Christ. A girl had touched the suspended
silver lamp and spoken of "dim religious light"; but by no word or
look did Lily admit that she had been there before, and Mike felt it
would be useless to remind her that she had. She was the same as she
was every Wednesday in her mother's drawing-room. And the party had
been given solely with a view of withdrawing her from its influence.
What was he to say to this girl? Was he to allow all that had passed
between them to slip? Never had he felt so ill at ease. At last,
fixing his eyes upon her, he said--

"Let us cease this trifling. Perhaps you do not know how painful it
is to me. Tell me, will you come and see me? Do not let us waste
time. I never see you alone now."

"I could not think of coming to see you; it would not be right."

"But you did come once."

"That was because I wanted to see where you lived. Now that I know,
there would be no reason for coming again."

"You have not forgiven me. If you knew how I regret my conduct! Try
and understand that it was for love of you. I was so fearful of
losing you. I have lost you; I know it!"

He cursed himself for the irresolution he had shown. Had he made her
his mistress she would now be hanging about his neck.

"I forgive you. But I wish you would not speak of love in connection
with your conduct; when you do, all my liking for you dies."

"How cruel! Then I shall never kiss you again. Was my kiss so
disagreeable? Do you hate to kiss me?"

"I don't know that I do, but it is not right. If I were married to
you it would be different."

The conversation fell. Then realizing that he was compromising his
chances, he said--

"How can I marry you? I haven't a cent in the world."

"I am not sure I would marry you if you had every cent in the world."

Mike looked at her in despair. She was adorably frail and adorably
pale.

"This is very cruel of you." Words seemed very weak, and he feared
that in the restlessness and pain of his love he had looked at her
foolishly. So he almost welcomed Lady Helen's intrusion upon their
_tête-à-tête_.

"And this is the way you come for your dance, Mr. Fletcher, is it?"

"Have they begun dancing? I did not know it. I beg your pardon."

"And I too am engaged for this dance. I promised it to Mr. Escott,"
said Lily.

"Let me take you back."

He gave her his arm, assuring himself that if she didn't care for him
there were hundreds who did. Lady Helen was one of the handsomest
women in London, and he fancied she was thinking of him. And when he
returned he stood at the door watching her as she leaned over the
mantelpiece reading a letter. She did not put it away at once, but
continued reading and playing with the letter as one might with
something conclusive and important. She took no precaution against
his seeing it, and he noticed that it was in a man's handwriting, and
began _Ma chère amie_. The room was now empty, and the clatter of
knives and forks drowned the strains of a waltz.

"You seemed to be very much occupied with that young person. She is
very pretty. I advise you to take care."

"I don't want to marry. I shall never marry. Did you think I was in
love with Miss Young?"

"Well, it looked rather like it."

"No; I swear you are mistaken. I say, if you don't care about dancing
we'll sit down and talk. So you thought I was in love with Miss
Young? How could I be in love with her while you are in the room? You
know, you must have seen, that I have only eyes for you. The last
time I was in Paris I went to see you in the Louvre."

"You say I am like Jean Gougon's statue."

"I think so, so far as a pair of stays allows me to judge."

Lady Helen laughed, but there was no pleasure in her laugh; it was a
hard, bitter laugh.

"If only you knew how indifferent I am! What does it matter whether I
am like the statue or not? I am indifferent to everything."

"But I admire you because you are like the statue."

"What does it matter to me whether you admire me or not? I don't
care."

He had not asked her for the dance; she had sought him of her
free-will. What did it mean?

"Why should I care? What is it to me whether you like me or whether
you hate me? I know very well that three months after my death every
one will have ceased to think of me; three months hence it will be
the same as if I had never lived at all."

"You are well off; you have talent and beauty. What more do you
want?"

"The world cannot give me happiness. You find happiness in your own
heart, not in worldly possessions.... I am a pessimist. I recognize
that life is a miserable thing--not only a miserable thing, but a
useless thing. We can do no good; there is no good to be done; and
life has no advantage except that we can put it off when we will.
Schopenhauer is wrong when he asserts that suicide is no solution of
the evil; so far as the individual is concerned suicide is a perfect
solution, and were the race to cease to-morrow, nature would
instantly choose another type and force it into consciousness. Until
this earth resolves itself to ice or cinder, matter will never cease
to know itself."

"My dear," said Lewis Seymour, who entered the room at that moment,
"I am feeling very tired; I think I shall go home, but do not mind
me. I will take a hansom--you can have your brougham. You will not
mind coming home alone?"

"No, I shall not mind. But do you take the brougham. It will be
better so. It will save the horse from cold; I'll come back in a
hansom."

Mike noticed a look of relief or of pleasure on her face, he could
not distinguish which. He pressed the conversation on wives,
husbands, and lovers, striving to lead her into some confession. At
last she said--

"I have had a lover for the last four years."

"Really!" said Mike. He hoped his face did not betray his great
surprise. This was the first time he had ever heard a lady admit she
had had a lover.

"We do not often meet; he doesn't live in England. I have not seen
him for more than six months."

"Do you think he is faithful to you all that time?"

"What does it matter whether he is or not? When we meet we love each
other just the same."

"I have never known a woman like you. You are the only one that has
ever interested me. If you had been my mistress or my wife you would
have been happier; you would have worked, and in work, not in
pleasure, we may cheat life. You would have written your books, I
should have written mine."

"I don't want you to think I am whining about my lot. I know what the
value of life is; I'm not deceived, that is all."

"You are unhappy because your present life affords no outlet for your
talent. Ah! had you had to fight the battle! How happy it would have
made me to fight life with you! I wonder you never thought of leaving
your husband, and throwing yourself into the battle of work."

"Supposing I wasn't able to make my living. To give up my home would
be running too great a risk."

"How common all are when you begin to know them," thought Mike.

They spoke of the books they had read. She told him of _Le Journal
d'Amiel_, explaining the charm that that lamentable record of a
narrow, weak mind, whose power lay in an intense consciousness of its
own failure, had for her. She spoke savagely, tearing out her soul,
and flinging it as it were in Mike's face, frightening him not a
little.

"I wish I had known Amiel; I think I could have loved him."

"Did he never write anything but this diary?"

"Oh, yes; but nothing of any worth. The diary was not written for
publication. A friend of his found it among his papers, and from a
huge mass extricated two volumes." Then speaking in praise of the
pessimism of the Russian novels, she said--"There is no pleasure in
life--at least none for me; the only thing that sustains me is
curiosity."

"I don't speak of love, but have you no affection for your
friends?--you like me, for instance."

"I am interested in you--you rouse my curiosity; but when I know you,
I shall pass you by just like another."

"You are frank, to say the least of it. But like all other women, I
suppose you like pleasure, and I adore you; I really do. I have never
seen any one like you. You are superb to-night; let me kiss you." He
took her in his arms.

"No, no; loose me. You do not love me, I do not love you; this is
merely vice."

He pleaded she was mistaken. They spoke of indifferent things, and
soon after went in to supper.

"What a beautiful piece of tapestry!" said Lady Helen.

"Yes, isn't it. But how strange!" he said, stopping in the doorway.
"See how exquisitely real is the unreal--that is to say, how full of
idea, how suggestive! Those blue trees and green skies, those nymphs
like unswathed mummies, colourless but for the red worsted of their
lips,--that one leaning on her bow, pointing to the stag that the
hunters are pursuing through a mysterious yellow forest,--are to my
mind infinitely more real than the women bending over their plates.
At this moment the real is mean and trivial, the ideal is full of
evocation."

"The real and the ideal; why distinguish as people usually
distinguish between the words? The real is but the shadow of the
ideal, the ideal but the shadow of the real."

The table was in disorder of cut pineapple, scattered dishes, and
drooping flowers. Muchross, Snowdown, Dicky the driver, and others
were grouped about the end of the table, and a waiter who styled them
"most amusing gentlemen," supplied fresh bottles of champagne.
Muchross had made several speeches, and now jumping on a chair, he
discoursed on the tapestry, drawing outrageous parallels, and talking
unexpected nonsense. The castle he identified as the cottage where he
and Jenny had spent the summer; the bleary-eyed old peacock was the
chicken he had dosed with cayenne pepper, hoping to cure its
rheumatism; the pool with the white threads for sunlight was the
water-butt into which Tom had fallen from the tiles--"those are the
hairs out of his own old tail." The nymphs were Laura, Maggie, Emily,
&c. Mike asked Lady Helen to come into the dancing-room, but she did
not appear to hear, and her laughter encouraged Muchross to further
excesses. The riot had reached its height and dancers were beginning
to come from the drawing-room to ask what it was all about.

"All about!" shouted Muchross; "I don't care any more about nymphs--I
only care about getting drunk and singing. 'What cheer, 'Ria!'"

"Don't you care for dancing?" said Lady Helen, with tears running
down her cheeks.

"Ra-ther; see me dance the polka, dear girl." And they went banging
through the dancers. Snowdown and Dicky shouted approval.

  "What cheer, 'Ria!
     'Ria's on the job.
   What cheer, 'Ria!
     Speculate a bob.
   'Ria is a toff, and she is immensikoff--
   And we all shouted,
   What cheer, 'Ria!"

Amid the uproar Lady Helen danced with Lily Young. Insidious
fragilities of eighteen were laid upon the plenitudes of thirty! Pure
pink and cream-pink floated on the wind of the waltz, fading out of
colour in shadowy corners, now gliding into the glare of burnished
copper, to the quick appeal of the 'Estudiantina.' A life that had
ceased to dream smiled upon one which had begun to dream. Sad eyes of
Summer, that may flame with no desire again, looked into the eyes of
Spring, where fancies collect like white flowers in the wave of a
clear fountain.

Mike and Frank turned shoulder against shoulder across the room, four
legs following in intricate unison to the opulent rhythm of the 'Blue
Danube'; and when beneath ruche-rose feet died away in little
exhausted steps, the men sprang from each other, and the rhythm of
sex was restored--Mike with Lily, and Frank with Helen, yielding
hearts, hands, and feet in the garden enchantment of Gounod's waltz.

  *        *        *        *        *        *

The smell of burnt-out and quenched candle-ends pervaded the
apartment, and slips of gray light appeared between the curtains. The
day, alas! had come upon them. Frank yawned; and pale with weariness
he longed that his guests might leave him. Chairs had been brought
out on the balcony. Muchross and his friends had adjourned from the
supper-room, bringing champagne and an hysterical lady with them.
Snowdown and Platt were with difficulty dissuaded from attempting
acrobatic feats on the parapet; and the city faded from deep purple
into a vast grayness. Strange was the little party ensconced in the
stone balcony high above the monotone of the river.

Harding and Thompson, for pity of Frank, had spoken of leaving, but
the lords and the lady were obdurate. Her husband had left in
despair, leaving Muchross to bring her home safely to Notting Hill.
As the day broke even the "bluest" stories failed to raise a laugh.
At last some left, then the lords left; ten minutes after Mike,
Frank, Harding, and Thompson were alone.

"Those infernal fellows wouldn't go, and now I'm not a bit sleepy."

"I am," said Thompson. "Come on, Harding; you are going my way."

"Going your way!"

"Yes; you can go through the Park. The walk will do you good."

"I should like a walk," said Escott, "I'm not a bit sleepy now."

"Come on then; walk with me as far as Hyde Park Corner."

"And come home alone! Not if I know it--I'll go if Mike will come."

"I'll go," said Mike. "You'll come with us, Harding?"

"It is out of my way, but if you are all going ... Where's John
Norton?"

"He left about an hour ago."

"Let's wake him up."

As they passed up the Temple towards the Strand entrance, they turned
into Pump Court, intending to shout. But John's window was open, and
he stood, his head out, taking the air.

"What!--not gone to bed yet?"

"No; I have bad indigestion, and cannot sleep."

"We are going to walk as far as Hyde Park Corner with Thompson. Just
the thing for you; you'll walk off your indigestion."

"All right. Wait a moment; I'll put my coat on...."

"I never pass a set of street-sweepers without buttoning up," said
Harding, as they went out of the Temple into the Strand. "The glazed
shoes I don't mind, but the tie is too painfully significant."

"The old signs of City," said Thompson, as a begging woman rose from
a doorstep, and stretched forth a miserable arm and hand.

About the closed wine-shops and oyster-bars of the Haymarket a shadow
of the dissipation of the night seemed still to linger; and a curious
bent figure passed picking with a spiked stick cigar-ends out of
the gutter; significant it was, and so too was the starving dog
which the man drove from a bone. The city was mean and squalid in
the morning, and conveyed a sense of derision and reproach--the
sweep-carriage-road of Regent Street; the Royal Academy, pretentious,
aristocratic; the Green Park still presenting some of the graces of
a preceding century. There were but three cabs on the rank. The
market-carts rolled along long Piccadilly, the great dray-horses
shuffling, raising little clouds of dust in the barren street, the
men dozing amid the vegetables.

They were now at Hyde Park Corner. Thompson spoke of the
_improvements_--the breaking up of the town into open spaces; but he
doubted if anything would be gained by these imitations of Paris. His
discourse was, however, interrupted by a porter from the Alexandra
Hotel asking to be directed to a certain street. He had been sent to
fetch a doctor immediately--a lady just come from an evening party
had committed suicide.

"What was she like?" Harding asked.

"A tall woman."

"Dark or fair?"

He couldn't say, but thought she was something between the two.
Prompted by a strange curiosity, feeling, they knew not why, but
still feeling that it might be some one from Temple Gardens, they
went to the hotel, and obtained a description of the suicide from the
head-porter. The lady was very tall, with beautiful golden hair. For
a description of her dress the housemaid was called.

"I hope," said Mike, "she won't say she was dressed in cream-pink,
trimmed with olive ribbons." She did. Then Harding told the porter he
was afraid the lady was Lady Helen Seymour, a friend of theirs, whom
they had seen that night in a party given in Temple Gardens by this
gentleman, Mr. Frank Escott. They were conducted up the desert
staircase of the hotel, for the lift did not begin working till seven
o'clock. The door stood ajar, and servants were in charge. On the
left was a large bed, with dark-green curtains, and in the middle of
the room a round table. There were two windows. The toilette-table
stood between bed and window, and in the bland twilight of closed
Venetian blinds a handsome fire flared loudly, throwing changing
shadows upon the ceiling, and a deep, glowing light upon the red
panels of the wardrobe. So the room fixed itself for ever on their
minds. They noted the crude colour of the Brussels carpet, and even
the oilcloth around the toilette-table was remembered. They saw that
the round table was covered with a red tablecloth, and that writing
materials were there, a pair of stays, a pair of tan gloves, and some
withering flowers. They saw the ball-dress that Lady Helen had worn
thrown over the arm-chair; the silk stockings, the satin shoes--and a
gleam of sunlight that found its way between the blinds fell upon a
piece of white petticoat. Lady Helen lay in the bed, thrown back low
down on the pillow, the chin raised high, emphasizing a line of
strained white throat. She lay in shadow and firelight, her cheek
touched by the light. Around her eyes the shadows gathered, and as a
landscape retains for an hour some impression of the day which is
gone, so a softened and hallowed trace of life lingered upon her.

Then the facts of the case were told. She had driven up to the hotel
in a hansom. She had asked if No. 57 was occupied, and on being told
it was not, said she would take it; mentioning at the same time that
she had missed her train, and would not return home till late in the
afternoon. She had told the housemaid to light a fire, and had then
dismissed her. Nothing more was known; but as the porter explained,
it was clear she had gone to bed so as to make sure of shooting
herself through the heart.

"The pistol is still in her hand; we never disturb anything till
after the doctor has completed his examination."

Each felt the chill of steel against the naked side, and seeing the
pair of stays on the table, they calculated its resisting force.

Harding mused on the ghastly ingenuity, withal so strangely
reasonable. Thompson felt he would give his very life to make a
sketch. Mike wondered what her lover was like. Frank was overwhelmed
in sentimental sorrow. John's soul was full of strife and suffering.
He had sacrificed his poems, and had yet ventured in revels which had
led to such results! Then as they went down-stairs, Harding gave the
porter Lewis Seymour's name and address, and said he should be sent
for at once.



CHAPTER VI


"I don't say we have never had a suicide here before, sir," said the
porter in reply to Harding as they descended the steps of the hotel;
"but I don't see how we are to help it. Whenever the upper classes
want to do away with themselves they chose one of the big hotels--the
Grosvenor, the Langham, or ourselves. Indeed they say more has done
the trick in the Langham than 'ere, I suppose because it is more
central; but you can't get behind the motives of such people. They
never think of the trouble and the harm they do us; they only think
of themselves."

London was now awake; the streets were a-clatter with cabs; the pick
of the navvy resounded; night loiterers were disappearing and giving
place to hurrying early risers. In the resonant morning the young men
walked together to the Corner. There they stopped to bid each other
good-bye. John called a cab, and returned home in intense mental
agitation.

"It really is terrible," said Mike. "It isn't like life at all, but
some shocking nightmare. What could have induced her to do it?"

"That we shall probably never know," said Thompson; "and she seemed
brimming over with life and fun. How she did dance! ..."

"That was nerves. I had a long talk with her, and I assure you she
quite frightened me. She spoke about the weariness of living;--no,
not as we talk of it, philosophically; there was a special accent of
truth in what she said. You remember the porter mentioned that she
asked if No. 57 was occupied. I believe that is the room where she
used to meet her lover. I believe they had had a quarrel, and that
she went there intent on reconciliation, and finding him gone
determined to kill herself. She told me she had had a lover for the
last four years. I don't know why she told me--it was the first time
I ever heard a lady admit she had had a lover; but she was in an
awful state of nerve excitement, and I think hardly knew what she was
saying. She took the letter out of her bosom and read it slowly. I
couldn't help seeing it was in a man's handwriting; it began, '_Ma
chère amie!_' I heard her tell her husband to take the brougham; that
she would come home in a cab. However, if my supposition is correct,
I hope she burnt the letter."

"Perhaps that's what she lit the fire for. Did you notice if the
writing materials had been used?"

"No, I didn't notice," said Mike. "And all so elaborately planned!
Just fancy--shooting herself in a nice warm bed! She was determined
to do it effectually. And she must have had the revolver in her
pocket the whole time. I remember now, I had gone out of the room for
a moment, and when I came back she was leaning over the
chimney-piece, looking at something."

"I have often thought," said Harding, "that suicide is the
culminating point of a state of mind long preparing. I think that the
mind of the modern suicide is generally filled, saturated with the
idea. I believe that he or she has been given for a long time
preceding the act to considering, sometimes facetiously, sometimes
sentimentally, the advantages of oblivion. For a long time an
infiltration of desire of oblivion, and acute realization of the
folly of living, precedes suicide, and, when the mind is thoroughly
prepared, a slight shock or interruption in the course of life
produces it, just as an odorous wind, a sight of the sea, results in
the poem which has been collecting in the mind."

"I think you might have the good feeling to forbear," said Frank;
"the present is hardly, I think, a time for epigrams or philosophy. I
wonder how you can talk so...."

"I think Frank is quite right. What right have we to analyse her
motives?"

"Her motives were simple enough; sad enough too, in all conscience.
Why make her ridiculous by forcing her heart into the groove of your
philosophy? The poor woman was miserably deceived; abominably
deceived. You do not know what anguish of mind she suffered."

"There is nothing to show that she went to the Alexandra to meet a
lover beyond the fact of a statement made to Mike in a moment of
acute nervous excitement. We have no reason to think that she ever
had a lover. I never heard her name mentioned in any such way. Did
you, Escott?"

"Yes; I have heard that you were her lover."

"I assure you I never was; we have not even been on good terms for a
long time past."

"You said just now that the act was generally preceded by a state of
feeling long preparing. It was you who taught her to read
Schopenhauer."

"I am not going to listen to nonsense at this hour of the morning. I
never take nonsense on an empty stomach. Come, Thompson, you are
going my way."

Mike and Frank walked home together. The clocks had struck six, and
the milkmen were calling their ware; soon the shop-shutters would be
coming down, and in this first flush of the day's enterprise, a last
belated vegetable-cart jolted towards the market. Mike's thoughts
flitted from the man who lay a-top taking his ease, his cap pulled
over his eyes, to the scene that was now taking place in the twilight
bedroom. What would Seymour say? Would he throw himself on his knees?
Frank spoke from time to time; his thoughts growled like a savage
dog, and his words bit at his friend. For Mike had incautiously given
an account in particular detail of his _tête-à-tête_ with Lady Helen.

"Then you are in a measure answerable for her death."

"You said just now that Harding was answerable; we can't both be
culpable."

Frank did not reply. He brooded in silence, losing all perception of
the truth in a stupid and harsh hatred of those whom he termed the
villains that ruined women. When they reached Leicester Square, to
escape from the obsession of the suicide, Mike said--

"I do not think that I told you that I have sketched out a trilogy on
the life of Christ. The first play _John_, the second _Christ_, the
third _Peter_. Of course I introduce Christ into the third play. You
know the legend. When Peter is flying from Rome to escape
crucifixion, he meets Christ carrying His cross."

"Damn your trilogy--who cares! You have behaved abominably. I want
you to understand that I cannot--that I do not hold with your
practice of making love to every woman you meet. In the first place
it is beastly, in the second it is not gentlemanly. Look at the
result!"

"But I assure you I am in no wise to blame in this affair. I never
was her lover."

"But you made love to her."

"No, I didn't; we talked of love, that was all. I could see she was
excited, and hardly knew what she was saying. You are most unjust. I
think it quite as horrible as you do; it preys upon my mind, and if I
talk of other things it is because I would save myself the pain of
thinking of it. Can't you understand that?"

The conversation fell, and Mike thrust both hands into the pockets of
his overcoat.

At the end of a long silence, Frank said--

"We must have an article on this--or, I don't know--I think I should
like a poem. Could you write a poem on her death?"

"I think so. A prose poem. I was penetrated with the modern
picturesqueness of the room--the Venetian blinds."

"If that's the way you are going to treat it, I would sooner not have
it--the face in the glass, a lot of repetitions of words, sentences
beginning with 'And,' then a mention of shoes and silk stockings. If
you can't write feelingly about her, you had better not write at
all."

"I don't see that a string of colloquialisms constitute feelings,"
said Mike.

Mike kept his temper; he did not intend to allow it to imperil his
residence in Temple Gardens, or his position in the newspaper; but he
couldn't control his vanity, and ostentatiously threw Lady Helen's
handkerchief upon the table, and admitted to having picked it up in
the hotel.

"What am I to do with it? I suppose I must keep it as a relic," he
added with a laugh, as he opened his wardrobe.

There were there ladies' shoes, scarves, and neckties; there were
there sachets and pincushions; there were there garters, necklaces,
cotillion favours, and a tea-gown.

Again Frank boiled over with indignation, and having vented his sense
of rectitude, he left the room without even bidding his friend
good-night or good-morning. The next day he spent the entire
afternoon with Lizzie, for Lady Helen's suicide had set his nature in
active ferment.

In the story of every soul there are times of dissolution and
reconstruction in which only the generic forms are preserved. A new
force had been introduced, and it was disintegrating that mass of
social fibre which is modern man, and the decomposition teemed with
ideas of duty, virtue, and love. He interrupted Lizzie's chit-chat
constantly with reflections concerning the necessity of religious
belief in women.

About seven they went to eat in a restaurant close by. It was an old
Italian chop-house that had been enlarged and modernized, but the
original marble tables where customers ate chops and steaks at low
prices were retained in a remote and distant corner. Lizzie proposed
to sit there. They were just seated when a golden-haired girl of
theatrical mien entered.

"That's Lottie Rily," exclaimed Lizzie. Then lowering her voice she
whispered quickly, "She was in love with Mike once; he was the fellow
she left her 'ome for. She's on the stage now, and gets four pounds a
week. I haven't seen her for the last couple of years. Lottie, come
and sit down here."

The girl turned hastily. "What, Lizzie, old pal, I have not seen you
for ages."

"Not for more than two years. Let me introduce you to my friend, Mr.
Escott--Miss Lottie Rily of the Strand Theatre."

"Very pleased to make your acquaintance, sir; the editor of the
_Pilgrim_, I presume?"

Frank smiled with pleasure, and the waiter interposed with the bill
of fare. Lottie ordered a plate of roast beef, and leaned across the
table to talk to her friend.

"Have you seen Mike lately?" asked Lizzie.

"Swine!" she answered, tossing her head. "No; and don't want to. You
know how he treated me. He left me three months after my baby was
born."

"Have you had a baby?"

"What, didn't you know that? It is seven months old; 'tis a boy,
that's one good job. And he hasn't paid me one penny piece. I have
been up to Barber and Barber's, but they advised me to do nothing.
They said that he owed them money, and that they couldn't get what he
owed them--a poor look-out for me. They said that if I cared to
summons him for the support of the child, that the magistrate would
grant me an order at once."

"And why don't you?" said Frank; "you don't like the _exposé_ in the
newspapers."

"That's it."

"Do you care for him still?"

"I don't know whether I do, or don't. I shall never love another man,
I know that. I saw him in front about a month ago. He was in the
stalls, and he fixed his eyes upon me; I didn't take the least
notice, he was so cross. He came behind after the first act. He said,
'How old you are looking!' I said, 'What do you mean?' I was very
nicely made up too, and he said, 'Under the eyes.' I said, 'What do
you mean?' and he said, 'You are all wrinkles.' I said, 'What do you
mean?' and he went down-stairs.... Swine!"

"He isn't good-looking," said Frank, reflectively, "a broken nose, a
chin thrust forward, and a mop of brown curls twisted over his
forehead. Give me a pencil, and I'll do his caricature."

"Every one says the same thing. The girls in the theatre all say,
'What in the world do you see in him?' I tell them that if he
chose--if he were to make up to them a bit, they'd go after him just
the same as I did. There's a little girl in the chorus, and she trots
about after him; she can't help it. There are times when I don't care
for him. What riles me is to see other women messing him about."

"I suppose it is some sort of magnetism, electro-biology, and he
can't help exercising it any more than you women can resist it. Tell
me, how did he leave you?"

"Without a word or a penny. One night he didn't come home, and I sat
up for him, and I don't know how many nights after. I used to doze
off and awake up with a start, thinking I heard his footstep on the
landing. I went down to Waterloo Bridge to drown myself. I don't know
why I didn't; I almost wish I had, although I have got on pretty well
since, and get a pretty tidy weekly screw."

"What do you get?"

"Three ten. Mine's a singing part. Waiter, some cheese and celery."

"What a blackguard he is! I'll never speak to him again; he shall
edit my paper no more. To-night I'll give him the dirty kick-out."

Mike remained the topic of conversation until Lottie said--

"Good Lord, I must be 'getting'--it is past seven o'clock."

Frank paid her modest bill, and still discussing Mike, they walked to
the stage-door. Quick with desire to possess Lizzie wholly beyond
recall, and obfuscated with notions concerning the necessity of
placing women in surroundings in harmony with their natural goodness,
Frank walked by his mistress's side. At the end of a long silence,
she said--

"That's the way you'll desert me one of these days. All men are
brutes."

"No, darling, they are not. If you'll act fairly by me, I will by
you--I'll never desert you."

Lizzie did not answer.

"You don't think me a brute like that fellow Fletcher, do you?"

"I don't think there's much difference between any of you."

Frank ground his teeth, and at that moment he only desired one
thing--to prove to Lizzie that men were not all vile and worthless.
They had turned into the Temple; the old places seemed dozing in the
murmuring quietude of the evening. Mike was coming up the pathway,
his dress-clothes distinct in the delicate gray light, his light-gray
overcoat hanging over his arm.

"What a toff he is!" said Lizzie. His appearance and what it
symbolized--an evening in a boudoir or at the gaming-table--jarred on
Frank, suggesting as it did a difference in condition from that of
the wretched girl he had abandoned; and as Mike prided himself that
scandalous stories never followed upon his loves, the unearthing of
this mean and obscure liaison annoyed him exceedingly. Above all, the
accusation of paternity was disagreeable; but determined to avoid a
quarrel, he was about to pass by, when Frank noticed Lady Helen's
pocket-handkerchief sticking out of his pocket.

"You blackguard," he said, "you are taking that handkerchief to a
gambling hell."

Then realizing that the game was up, he turned and would have struck
his friend had not Lizzie interposed. She threw herself between the
men, and called a policeman, and the quarrel ended in Mike's
dismissal from the staff of the _Pilgrim_.

Frank had therefore to sit up writing till one o'clock, for the whole
task of bringing out the paper was thrown upon him. Lizzie sat by him
sewing. Noticing how pale and tired he looked, she got up, and
putting her arm about his neck, said--

"Poor old man, you are tired; you had better come to bed."

He took her in his arms affectionately, and talked to her.

"If you were always as kind and as nice as you are to-night ...
I could love you."

"I thought you did love me."

"So I do; you will never know how much." They were close together,
and the pure darkness seemed to separate them from all worldly
influences.

"If you would be a good girl, and think only of him who loves you
very dearly."

"Ah, if I only had met you first!"

"It would have made no difference, you'd have only been saying this
to some one else."

"Oh, no; if you had known me before I went wrong."

"Was he the first?"

"Yes; I would have been an honest little girl, trying to make you
comfortable."

Throwing himself on his back, Frank argued prosaically--

"Then you mean to say you really care about me more than any one
else?"

She assured him that she did; and again and again the temptations of
women were discussed. He could not sleep, and stretched at length on
his back, he held Lizzie's hand.

She was in a communicative humour, and told him the story of the
waiter, whom she described as being "a fellow like Mike, who made
love to every woman." She told him of three or four other fellows,
whose rooms she used to go to. They made her drink; she didn't like
the beastly stuff; and then she didn't know what she did. There were
stories of the landlady in whose house she lodged, and the woman who
lived up-stairs. She had two fellows; one she called Squeaker--she
didn't care for him; and another called Harry, and she did care for
him; but the landlady's daughter called him a s----, because he
seldom gave her anything, and always had a bath in the morning.

"How can a girl be respectable under such circumstances?" Lizzie
asked, pathetically. "The landlady used to tell me to go out and get
my living!"

"Yes; but I never let you want. You never wrote to me for money that
I didn't send it."

"Yes; I know you did, but sometimes I think she stopped the letters.
Besides, a girl cannot be respectable if she isn't married. Where's
the use?"

He strove to think, and failing to think, he said--

"If you really mean what you say, I will marry you." He heard each
word; then a sob sounded in the dark, and turning impulsively he took
Lizzie in his arms.

"No, no," she cried, "it would never do at all. Your family--what
would they say? They would not receive me."

"What do I care for my family? What has my family ever done for me?"

For an hour they argued, Lizzie refusing, declaring it was useless,
insisting that she would then belong to no set; Frank assuring her
that hand-in-hand and heart-to-heart they would together, with united
strength and love, win a place for themselves in the world. They
dozed in each other's arms.

Rousing himself, Frank said--

"Kiss me once more, little wifie; good-night, little wife ..."

"Good-night, dear."

"Call me little husband; I shan't go to sleep until you do."

"Good-night, little husband."

"Say little hussy."

"Good-night, little hussy."

Next morning, however, found Lizzie violently opposed to all idea of
marriage. She said he didn't mean it; he said he did mean it, and he
caught up a Bible and swore he was speaking the truth. He put his
back against the door, and declared she should not leave until she
had promised him--until she gave him her solemn oath that she would
become his wife. He was not going to see her go to the dogs--no, not
if he could help it; then she lost her temper and tried to push past
him. He restrained her, urging again and again, and with theatrical
emphasis, that he thought it right, and would do his duty. Then they
argued, they kissed, and argued again.

That night he walked up and down the pavement in front of her door;
but the servant-girl caught sight of him through the kitchen-window
and the area-railings, and ran up-stairs to warn Miss Baker, who was
taking tea with two girl friends.

"He is a-walking up and down, Miss, 'is great-coat flying behind
him."

Lizzie slapped his face when he burst into her room; and scenes of
recrimination, love, and rage were transferred to and fro between
Temple Gardens and Winchester Street. Her girl friends advised her to
marry, and the landlady when appealed to said, "What could you want
better than a fine gentleman like that?"

Frank was conscious of nothing but her, and every vision of Mount
Rorke that had risen in his mind he had unhesitatingly swept away.
All prospects were engulfed in his desire; he saw nothing but the
white face, which like a star led and allured him.

One morning the marriage was settled, and like a knight going to the
crusade, Frank set forth to find out when it could be. They must be
married at once. The formalities of a religious marriage appalled
him. Lizzie might again change her mind; and a registrar's office
fixed itself in his thought.

It was a hot day in July when he set forth on his quest. He addressed
the policeman at the corner, and was given the name of the street and
the number. He hurried through the heat, irritated by the
sluggishness of the passers-by, and at last found himself in front of
a red building. The windows were full of such general announcements
as--Working Men's Peace Preservation, Limited Liability Company, New
Zealand, etc. The marriage office looked like a miniature bank; there
were desks, and a brass railing a foot high preserved the
inviolability of the documents. A fat man with watery eyes rose from
the leather arm-chair in which he had been dozing, and Frank
intimated his desire to be married as soon as possible; that
afternoon if it could be managed. It took the weak-eyed clerk some
little time to order and grasp the many various notions which Frank
urged upon him; but he eventually roused a little (Frank had begun to
shout at him), and explained that no marriage could take place after
two o'clock, and later on it transpired that due notice would have to
be given.

Very much disappointed, Frank asked him to inscribe his name. The
clerk opened a book, and then it suddenly cropped up that this was
the registry office, not for Pimlico, but for Kensington.

"Gracious heavens!" exclaimed Frank, "and where is the registry
office for Pimlico in Kensington?"

"That I cannot tell you; it may be anywhere; you will have to find
out."

"How am I to find out, damn it?"

"I really can't tell you, but I must beg of you to remember where you
are, sir, and to moderate your language," said the clerk, with some
faint show of hieratic dignity. "And now, ma'am, what can I do for
you?" he said, turning to a woman who smelt strongly of the kitchen.

Frank was furious; he appealed again to the casual policeman, who,
although reluctantly admitting he could give him no information,
sympathized with him in his diatribe against the stupidities of the
authorities. The policeman had himself been married by the registrar,
and some time was lost in vain reminiscences; he at last suggested
that inquiry could be made at a neighbouring church.

Frank hurried away, and had a long talk with a charwoman whom he
discovered in the desert of the chairs. She thought the office was
situated somewhere in a region unknown to Frank, which she called St.
George-of-the-Fields; her daughter, who had been shamefully deserted,
had been married there. The parson, she thought, would know, and she
gave him his address.

The heat was intolerable! There were few people in the streets. The
perspiration collected under his hat, and his feet ached so in his
patent leather shoes that he was tempted to walk after the water-cart
and bathe them in the sparkling shower. Several hansoms passed, but
they were engaged. Nor was the parson at home. The maid-servant
sniggered, but having some sympathy with what she discovered was his
mission, summoned the housekeeper, who eyed him askance, and directed
him to Bloomsbury; and after a descent into a grocer's shop, and an
adventure which ended in an angry altercation in a servants' registry
office, he was driven to a large building which adjoined the parish
infirmary and workhouse.

Even there he was forced to make inquiries, so numerous and various
were the offices. At last an old man in gray clothes declared himself
the registrar's attendant, and offered to show him the way; but
seeing himself now within range of his desire, he distanced the old
chap up the four flights of stairs, and arrived wholly out of breath
before the brass railing which guarded the hymeneal documents. A
clerk as slow of intellect as the first, and even more somnolent,
approached and leaned over the counter.

Feeling now quite familiar with a registrar's office, Frank explained
his business successfully. The fat clerk, whose red nose had sprouted
into many knobs, balanced himself leisurely, evidently giving little
heed to what was said; but the broadness of the brogue saved Frank
from losing his temper.

"What part of Oireland do ye come from? Is it Tipperary?"

"Yes."

"I thought so; Cashel, I'm thinking."

"Yes; do you come from there?"

"To be sure I do. I knew you when you were a boy; and is his lordship
in good health?"

Frank replied that Lord Mount Rorke was in excellent health, and
feeling himself obliged to be civil, he asked the clerk his name, and
how long it was since he had been in Ireland.

"Well, this is odd," the clerk began, and then in an irritating
undertone Mr. Scanlon proceeded to tell how he and four others were
driving through Portarlington to take the train to Dublin, when one
of them, Michael Carey he thought it was, proposed to stop the car
and have some refreshment at the Royal Hotel.

Frank tried several times to return to the question of the license,
but the imperturbable clerk was not to be checked.

"I was just telling you," he interposed.

It seemed hard luck that he should find a native of Cashel in the
Pimlico registrar's office. He had intended to keep his marriage a
secret, as did Willy Brookes, and for a moment the new danger
thrilled him. It was intolerable to have to put up with this
creature's idle loquacity, but not wishing to offend him he endured
it a little longer.

When the clerk paused in his narrative of the four gentlemen who had
stopped the car to have some refreshment, Frank made a resolute stand
against any fresh developments of the story, and succeeded in
extracting some particulars concerning the marriage laws. And within
the next few days all formalities were completed, and Frank's
marriage fixed for the end of the week--for Friday, at a quarter to
eleven. He slept lightly that night, was out of bed before eight, and
mistaking the time, arrived at the office a few minutes before ten.
He met the old man in gray clothes in the passage, and this time he
was not to be evaded.

"Are you the gentleman who's come to be married by special license,
sir?"

"Yes."

"Neither Mr. Southey--that is the Registrar--nor Mr. Freeman--that's
the Assistant-Registrar--has yet arrived, sir."

"It is very extraordinary they should be late. Do they never keep
their appointments?"

"They rarely arrives before ten, sir."

"Before ten! What time is it now?"

"Only just ten. I am the regular attendant. I'll see yer through it;
no necessity to hagitate yerself. It will be done quietly in a
private room--a very nice room too, fourteen feet by ten high--them's
the regulations; all the chairs covered with leather; a very nice
comfortable room. Would yer like to see the room? Would yer like to
sit down there and wait? There's a party to be married before you.
But they won't mind you. He's a butcher by trade."

"And what is she?"

"I think she's a tailoress; they lives close by here, they do."

"And who are you, and where do you live?"

"I'm the regular attendant; I lives close by here."

"Where close by?"

"In the work'us; they gives me this work to do."

"Oh, you are a pauper, then?"

"Yease; but I works here; I'm the regular attendant. No need to be
afraid, sir; it's all done in a private room; no one will see you.
This way, sir; this way."

The sinister aspect of things never appealed to Frank, and he was
vastly amused at the idea of the pauper Mercury, and had begun to
turn the subject over, seeing how he could use it for a queer story
for the _Pilgrim_. But time soon grew horribly long, and to kill it
he volunteered to act as witness to the butcher's marriage, one being
wanted. The effects of a jovial night, fortified by some matutinal
potations, were still visible in the small black eyes of the rubicund
butcher--a huge man, apparently of cheery disposition; he swung to
and fro before the shiny oak table as might one of his own carcasses.
His bride, a small-featured woman, wrapped in a plaid shawl,
evidently fearing that his state, if perceived by the Registrar,
might cause a postponement of her wishes, strove to shield him. His
pal and a stout girl, with the air of the coffee-shop about her,
exchanged winks and grins, and at the critical moment, when the
Registrar was about to read the declaration, the pal slipped behind
some friends and, catching the bridegroom by the collar, whispered,
"Now then, old man, pull yourself together." The Registrar
looked up, but his spectacles did not appear to help him; the
Assistant-Registrar, a tall, languid young man, who wore a carnation
in his button-hole, yawned and called for order. The room was lighted
by a skylight, and the light fell diffused on the hands and faces;
and alternately and in combination the whiskied breath and the
carnation's scent assailed the nostrils. Suddenly the silence was
broken by the Registrar, who began to read the declarations. "I
hereby declare that I, James Hicks, know of no impediment whereby I
may not be joined in matrimony with Matilde, Matilde--is it Matilde
or Matilda?"

"I calls her Tilly when I am a-cuddling of her; when she riles me,
and gets my dander up, I says, 'Tilder, come here!'" and the butcher
raised his voice till it seemed like an ox's bellow.

"I really must beg," exclaimed the Registrar, "that the sanctity
of--the gravity of this ceremony is not disturbed by any foolish
frivolity. You must remember ..." But at that moment the glassy look
of the butcher's eyes reached the old gentleman's vision, and a heavy
hiccup fell upon his ears. "I really think, Mr. Freeman, that that
gentleman, one of the contracting parties I mean, is not in a fit
state--is in a state bordering on inebriation. Will you tell me if
this is so?"

"I didn't notice it before," said Mr. Freeman, stifling a yawn, "but
now you mention it, I really think he is a little drunk, and hardly
in a fit ..."

"I ne--ver was more jolly, jolly dog in my life (hiccup)--when you
gentlemen have made it (hiccup) all squ--square between me and my
Tilly" (a violent hiccup),--then suddenly taking her round the waist,
he hugged her so violently that Matilda could not forbear a
scream,--"I fancy I shall be, just be a trifle more jolly still....
If any of you ge--gen'men would care to join us--most 'appy, Tilly
and me."

Lizzie, who had discovered a relation or two--a disreputable father
and a nondescript brother--now appeared on the threshold. Her
presence reminded Frank of his responsibility, so forthwith he
proceeded to bully the Registrar and allude menacingly to his
newspaper.

"I'm sure, sir, I am very sorry you should have witnessed such a
scene. Never, really, in the whole course of my life ..."

"There is positively no excuse for allowing such people ..."

"I will not go on with the marriage," roared the Registrar; "really,
Mr. Freeman, you ought to have seen. You know how short-sighted I am.
I will not proceed with this marriage."

"Oh, please, sir, Mr. Registrar, don't say that," exclaimed Matilda.
"If you don't go on now, he'll never marry me; I'll never be able to
bring 'im to the scratch again. Indeed, sir, 'e's not so drunk as he
looks. 'Tis mostly the effect of the morning hair upon him."

"I shall not proceed with the marriage," said the Registrar, sternly.
"I have never seen anything more disgraceful in my life. You come
here to enter into a most solemn, I may say a sacred, contract, and
you are not able to answer to your names; it is disgraceful."

"Indeed I am, sir; my name is Matilda, that's the English of it, but
my poor mother kept company with a Frenchman, and he would have me
christened Matilde; but it is all the same, it is the same name,
indeed it is, sir. Do marry us; I shan't be able to get him to the
scratch again. For the last five years ..."

"Potter, Potter, show these people out; how dare you admit people who
were in a state of inebriation?"

"I didn't 'ear what you said, sir."

"Show these people out, and if you ever do it again, you'll have to
remain in the workhouse."

"This way, ladies and gentlemen, this way. I'm the regular
attendant."

"Come along, Tilly dear, you'll have to wait another night afore we
are churched. Come, Tilly; do you hear me? Come, Tilda."

Frightened as she was, the words "another night" suggested an idea to
poor Matilde, and turning with supplicating eyes to the Registrar,
she implored that they might make an appointment for the morrow.
After some demur the Registrar consented, and she went away tearful,
but in hope that she would be able to bring him on the morrow, as he
put it, "fit to the post." This matter having been settled, the
Registrar turned to Frank. Never in the course of his experience had
the like occurred. He was extremely sorry that he (Mr. Escott) had
been present. True, they were not situated in a fashionable
neighbourhood, the people were ignorant, and it was often difficult
to get them to sign their names correctly; but he was bound to admit
that they were orderly, and seemed to realize, he would say, the
seriousness of the transaction.

"It is," said the Registrar, "our object to maintain the strictly
legal character of the ceremony--the contract, I should say--and to
avoid any affectation of ritual whatsoever. I regret that you, sir, a
representative of the press ..."

"The nephew and heir to Lord Mount Rorke," suggested the clerk.

The Registrar bowed, and murmured that he did not know he had that
honour. Then he spoke for some time of the moral good the registry
offices had effected among the working classes; how they had allowed
the poor--for instance, the person who has been known for years in
the neighbourhood as Mrs. Thompson, to legalize her cohabitation
without scandal.

But Frank thought only of his wife, when he should clasp her hand,
saying, "Dearest wife!" He had brought his dramatic and musical
critics with him. The dramatic critic--a genial soul, well known to
the shop-girls in Oxford Street, without social prejudices--was deep
in conversation with the father and brother of the bride; the musical
critic, a mild-faced man, adjusted his spectacles, and awaking from
his dream reminded them of an afternoon concert that began unusually
early, and where his presence was indispensable. When the
declarations were over, Frank asked when he should put the ring on.

"Some like to use the ring, some don't; it isn't necessary; all the
best people of course do," said the Assistant-Registrar, who had not
yawned once since he had heard that Frank's uncle was Lord Mount
Rorke.

"I am much obliged to you for the information; but I should like to
have my question answered--When am I to put on the ring?"

The dramatic critic tittered, and Frank authoritatively expostulated.
But the Registrar interposed, saying--

"It is usual to put the ring on when the bride has answered to the
declarations."

"Now all of ye can kiss the bride," exclaimed the clerk from Cashel.

Frank was indignant; the Registrar explained that the kissing of the
bride was an old custom still retained among the lower classes, but
Frank was not to be mollified, and the unhappy clerk was ordered to
leave the room.

The wedding party drove to the Temple, where champagne was awaiting
them; and when health and happiness had been drunk the critics left,
and the party became a family one.

Mike was in his bedroom; he was too indolent to move out of Escott's
rooms, and by avoiding him he hoped to avert expulsion and angry
altercations. The night he spent in gambling, the evening in dining;
and some hours of each afternoon were devoted to the composition of
his trilogy. Now he lay in his arm-chair smoking cigarettes, drinking
lemonade, and thinking. He was especially attracted by the picture he
hoped to paint in the first play of John and Jesus; and from time to
time his mind filled with a picture of Herod's daughter. Closing his
eyes slightly he saw her breasts, scarce hidden beneath jewels, and
precious scarves floated from her waist as she advanced in a vaulted
hall of pale blue architecture, slender fluted columns, and pointed
arches. He sipped his lemonade, enjoying his soft, changing, and
vague dream. But now he heard voices in the next room, and listening
attentively he could distinguish the conversation.

"The drivelling idiot!" he thought. "So he's gone and married
her--that slut of a barmaid! Mount Rorke will never forgive him. I
wouldn't be surprised if he married again. The idiot!"

The reprobate father declared he had not hoped to see such a day, so
let bygones be bygones, that was his feeling. She had always been a
good daughter; they had had differences of opinion, but let bygones
be bygones. He had lived to see his daughter married to a gentleman,
if ever there was one; and his only desire was that God might spare
him to see her Lady Mount Rorke. Why should she not be Lady Mount
Rorke? She was as pretty a girl as there was in London, and a good
girl too; and now that she was married to a gentleman, he hoped they
would both remember to let bygones be bygones.

"Great Scott!" thought Mike; "and he'll have to live with her for the
next thirty years, watching her growing fat, old, and foolish. And
that father!--won't he give trouble! What a pig-sty the fellow has
made of his life!"

Lizzie asked her father not to cry. Then came a slight altercation
between Lizzie and her husband, in which it was passionately debated
whether Harry, the brother, was fitted to succeed Mike on the paper.

"How the fellow has done for himself! A nice sort of paper they'll
bring out."

A cloud passed over Mike's face when he thought it would probably be
this young gentleman who would continue his articles--_Lions of the
Season_.

"You have quarrelled with Mike," said Lizzie, "and you say you aren't
going to make it up again. You'll want some one, and Harry writes
very nicely indeed. When he was at school his master always praised
his writing. When he is in love he writes off page after page. I
should like you to see the letters he wrote to ..."

"Now, Liz, I really--I wish you wouldn't ..."

"I am sure he would soon get into it."

"Quite so, quite so; I hope he will; I'm sure Harry will get into
it--and the way to get into it is for him to send me some paragraphs.
I will look over his 'copy,' making the alterations I think
necessary. But for the moment, until he has learned the trick of
writing paragraphs, he would be of no use to me in the office. I
should never get the paper out. I must have an experienced writer by
me."

Then he dropped his voice, and Mike heard nothing till Frank said--

"That cad Fletcher is still here; we don't speak, of course; we
passed each other on the staircase the other night. If he doesn't
clear out soon I'll have to turn him out. You know who he is--a
farmer's son, and used to live in a little house about a mile from
Mount Rorke Castle, on the side of the road."

Mike thrilled with rage and hatred.

"You brute! you fool! you husband of a bar-girl!--you'll never be
Lord Mount Rorke! He that came from the palace shall go to the
garret; he that came from the little house on the roadside shall go
to the castle, you brute!"

And Mike vowed that he would conquer sloth and lasciviousness, and
outrageously triumph in the gaudy, foolish world, and insult his
rival with riches and even honour. Then he heard Lizzie reproach
Frank for refusing her first request, and the foolish fellow's
expostulations suscitated feelings in Mike of intense satisfaction.
He smiled triumphantly when he heard the old man's talents as
accountant referred to.

"Father never told you about his failure," said Lizzie. Then the
story with all its knots was laboriously unravelled.

"But," said the old man, "my books were declared to be perfect; I was
complimented on my books; I was proud of them books."

"Great Scott! the brother as sub-editor, the father as book-keeper,
the sister as wife--it would be difficult to imagine anything more
complete. I'm sorry for the paper, though;--and my series, what a
hash they'll make of it!" Taking the room in a glance, and imagining
the others with every piece of furniture and every picture, he
thought--"I give him a year, and then these rooms will be for sale. I
shall get them; but I must clear out."

He had won four hundred pounds within the last week, and this and his
share in a play which was doing fairly well in the provinces, had run
up his balance at the bank higher than it had ever stood--to nearly a
thousand pounds.

As he considered his good fortune, a sudden desire of change of scene
suddenly sprang upon him, and in full revulsion of feeling his mind
turned from the long hours in the yellow glare of lamp-light, the
staring faces, the heaps of gold and notes, and the cards flying
silently around the empty space of green baize; from the long hours
spent correcting and manipulating sentences; from the heat and
turmoil and dirt of London; from Frank Escott and his family; from
stinking, steamy restaurants; from the high flights of stairs, and
the prostitution of the Temple. And like butterflies above two
flowers, his thoughts hovered in uncertain desire between the
sanctity of a honeymoon with Lily Young in a fair enchanted pavilion
on a terrace by the sea, near, but not too near, white villas, in a
place as fairylike as a town etched by Whistler, and some months of
pensive and abstracted life, full to overflowing with the joy and
eagerness of incessant cerebration; a summer spent in a quiet
country-side, full of field-paths, and hedge-rows, and shadowy
woodland lanes--rich with red gables, surprises of woodbine and great
sunflowers--where he would walk meditatively in the sunsetting,
seeing the village lads and lassies pass, interested in their homely
life, so resting his brain after the day's labour; then in his study
he would find the candles already lighted, the kettle singing, his
books and his manuscripts ready for three excellent hours; upon his
face the night would breathe the rustling of leaves and the rich
odour of the stocks and tall lilies, until he closed the window at
midnight, casting one long sad and regretful look upon the gold
mysteries of the heavens.

So his reverie ran, interrupted by the conversation in the next room.
He heard his name mentioned frequently. The situation was
embarrassing, for he could not open a door without being heard. At
last he tramped boldly out, slamming the doors after him, leaving a
note for Frank on the table in the passage. It ran as follows--"I am
leaving town in a few days. I shall remove my things probably on
Monday. Much obliged to you for your hospitality; and now, good-bye."
"That will look," he thought, "as if I had not overheard his remarks.
How glad I shall be to get away! Oh, for new scenes, new faces! 'How
pleasant it is to have money!--heigh-ho!--how pleasant it is to have
money!' Whither shall I go? Whither? To Italy, and write my poem? To
Paris or Norway? I feel as if I should never care to see this filthy
Temple again." Even the old dining-hall, with its flights of steps
and balustrades, seemed to have lost all accent of romance; but he
stayed to watch the long flight of the pigeons as they came on
straightened wings from the gables. "What familiar birds they are!
Nothing is so like a woman as a pigeon; perhaps that's the reason
Norton does not like them. Norton! I haven't seen him for ages--since
that morning...." He turned into Pump Court. The doors were wide
open; and there was luggage and some packing-cases on the landing.
The floor-matting was rolled, and the screen which protected from
draughts the high canonical chair in which Norton read and wrote was
overthrown. John was packing his portmanteau, and on either side of
him there was a Buddha and Indian warrior which he had lately
purchased.

"What, leaving? Giving up your rooms?"

"Yes; I'm going down to Sussex. I do not think it is worth while
keeping these rooms on."

Mike expressed his regret. Mike said, "No one understands you as I
do." Herein lay the strength of Mike's nature; he won himself through
all reserve, and soon John was telling him his state of soul: that he
felt it would not be right for him to countenance with his presence
any longer the atheism and immorality of the Temple. Lady Helen's
death had come for a warning. "After the burning of my poems, after
having sacrificed so much, it was indeed a pitiful thing to find
myself one of that shocking revel which had culminated in the death
of that woman."

"There he goes again," thought Mike, "running after his conscience
like a dog after his tail--a performing dog, too; one that likes an
audience." And to stimulate the mental antics in which he was so much
interested, he said, "Do you believe she is in hell?"

"I refrain from judging her. She may have repented in the moment of
death. God is her judge. But I shall never forget that morning; and I
feel that my presence at your party imposes on me some measure of
responsibility. As for you, Mike, I really think you ought to
consider her fate as an omen. It was you ..."

"For goodness' sake, don't. It was Frank who invented the notion that
she killed herself because I had been flirting with her. I never
heard of anything so ridiculous. I protest. You know the absurdly
sentimental view he takes. It is grossly unfair."

Knowing well how to interest John, Mike defended himself
passionately, as if he were really concerned to place his soul in a
true light; and twenty minutes were agreeably spent in sampling,
classifying, and judging of motives. Then the conversation turned on
the morality of women, and Mike judiciously selected some instances
from his stock of experiences whereby John might judge of their
animalism. Like us all, John loved to talk sensuality; but it was
imperative that the discussion should be carried forward with gravity
and reserve. Seated in his high canonical chair, wrapped in his
dressing-gown, John would bend forward listening, as if from the
Bench or the pulpit, awaking to a more intense interest when some
more than usually bitter vial of satire was emptied upon the fair
sex. He had once amused Harding very much by his admonishment of a
Palais Royal farce.

"It was not," he said, "so much the questionableness of the play;
what shocked me most was the horrible levity of the audience, the
laughter with which every indecent allusion was greeted."

The conversation had fallen, and Mike said--

"So you are going away? Well, we shall all miss you very much. But
you don't intend to bury yourself in the country; you'll come up to
town sometimes."

"I feel I must not stay here; the place has grown unbearable." A look
of horror passed over John's face. "Hall has the rooms opposite. His
life is a disgrace; he hurries through his writing, and rushes out to
beat up the Strand, as he puts it, for shop-girls. I could not live
here any longer."

Mike could not but laugh a little; and offended, John rose and
continued the packing of his Indian gods. Allusion was made to
Byzantine art; and Mike told the story of Frank's marriage; and John
laughed prodigiously at the account he gave of the conversation
overheard. Regarding the quarrel John was undecided. He found himself
forced to admit that Mike's conduct deserved rebuke; but at the same
time, Frank's sentimental views were wholly distasteful to him. Then
in reply to a question as to where he was going, Mike said he didn't
know. John invited him to come and stay at Thornby Place.

"It is half-past three now. Do you think you could get your things
packed in time to catch the six o'clock?"

"I think so. I can instruct Southwood; she will forward the rest of
my things."

"Then be off at once; I have a lot to do. Hall is going to take my
furniture off my hands. I have made rather a good bargain with him."

Nothing could suit Mike better. He had never stayed in a country
house; and now as he hurried down the Temple, remembrances of Mount
Rorke Castle rose in his mind--the parade of dresses on the summer
lawns, and the picturesqueness of the shooting parties about the
long, withering woods.


CHAPTER VII


For some minutes longer the men lay resting in the heather, their
eyes drinking the colour and varied lights and lines of the vast
horizon. The downs rose like cliffs, and the dead level of the weald
was freckled with brick towns; every hedgerow was visible as the
markings on a chess-board; the distant lands were merged in blue
vapour, and the windmill on its little hill seemed like a bit out of
a young lady's sketch-book.

"How charming it is here!--how delightful! How sorrow seems to
vanish, or to hang far away in one's life like a little cloud! It is
only in moments of contemplation like this, when our wretched
individuality is lost in the benedictive influences of nature, that
true happiness is found. Ah! the wonderful philosophy of the East,
the wisdom of the ancient races! Christianity is but a vulgarization
of Buddhism, an adaptation, an arrangement for family consumption."

They were not a mile from where John had seen Kitty for a last time.
Now the mere recollection of her jarred his joy in the evening, for
he had long since begun to understand that his love of her had been a
kind of accident, even as her death a strange unaccountable
divagation of his true nature. He had grown ashamed of his passion,
and he now thought that, like Parsifal, instead of yielding, he
should have looked down and seen a cross in the sword's hilt, and the
temptation should have passed. That cruel death, never explained, so
mysterious and so involved in horror! In what measure was he to
blame? In what light was he to view this strange death as a symbol,
as a sign? And if she had not been killed? If he had married her? To
escape from these assaults of conscience he buried his mind in his
books and writings, not in his history of Christian Latin, for now
his history of those writers appeared to him sterile, and he
congratulated himself that he had outgrown love of such paradoxes.

Solemn, and with the great curves of palms, the sky arched above
them, and all the coombes filled with all the mystery of evening
shadow, and all around lay the sea--a rim of sea illimitable.

At the end of a long silence Mike spoke of his poem.

"You must have written a good deal of it by this time."

"No, I have written very little;" and then yielding to his desire to
astonish, confessed he was working at a trilogy on the life of
Christ, and had already decided the main lines and incidents of the
three plays. His idea was the disintegration of the legend, which had
united under a godhead certain socialistic aspirations then prevalent
in Judæa. In his first play, _John_, he introduces two reformers, one
of whom is assassinated by John; the second perishes in a street
broil, leaving the field free for the triumph of Jesus of Nazareth.
In the second play, _Jesus_, he tells the story of Jesus and the
Magdalene. She throws over her protector, one of the Rabbi, and
refuses her admirer, Judas, for Jesus. The Rabbi plots to destroy
Jesus, and employs Judas. In the third play, _Peter_, he pictures the
struggle of the new idea in pagan Rome, and it ends in Peter flying
from Rome to escape crucifixion; but outside the city he sees Christ
carrying His cross, and Christ says He is going to be crucified a
second time, whereupon Peter returns to Rome.

As they descended the rough chalk road into the weald, John said, "I
have sacrificed much for my religion. I think, therefore, I have a
right to say that it is hard that my house should be selected for the
manufacture of blasphemous trilogies."

Knowing that argument would profit him nothing, Mike allayed John's
heaving conscience with promises not to write another line of the
trilogy, and to devote himself entirely to his poem. At the end of a
long silence, John said--

"Now the very name of Schopenhauer revolts me. I accept nothing of
his ideas. From that ridiculous pessimism I have drifted very far
indeed. Pessimism is impossible. To live we must have an ideal, and
pessimism offers none. So far it is inferior even to positivism."

"Pessimism offers no ideal! It offers the highest--not to create life
is the only good; the creation of life is the only evil; all else
which man in his bestial stupidity calls good and evil is ephemeral
and illusionary."

"Schopenhauer's arguments against suicide are not valid, that you
admit, therefore it is impossible for the pessimist to justify his
continued existence."

"Pardon me, the diffusion of the principle of sufficient reason can
alone end this world, and we are justified in living in order that by
example and precept we may dissuade others from the creation of life.
The incomparable stupidity of life teaches us to love our
parents--divine philosophy teaches us to forgive them."

That evening Mike played numerous games of backgammon with Mrs.
Norton; talked till two in the morning to John of literature, and
deplored the burning of the poems, and besought him to write them
again, and to submit them, if need be, to a bishop. He worked hard to
obliterate the effect of his foolish confidences; for he was very
happy in this large country house, full of unexpected impressions for
him. On the wide staircases he stopped, tense with sensations of
space, order, and ample life. He was impressed by the timely meals,
conducted by well-trained servants; and he found it pleasant to pass
from the house into the richly-planted garden, and to see the
coachman washing the carriage, the groom scraping out the horse's
hooves, the horse tied to the high wall, the cowman stumping about
the rick-yard--indeed all the homely work always in progress.

Sometimes he did not come down to lunch, and continued his work till
late in the afternoon. At five he had tea in the drawing-room with
Mrs. Norton, and afterwards went out to gather flowers in the garden
with her, or he walked around the house with John, listening to his
plans for the architectural reformation of his residence.

Mike had now been a month at Thornby Place. He was enchanted with
this country-side, and seeing it lent itself to his pleasure--in
other words, that it was necessary to his state of mind--he strove,
and with insidious inveiglements, to win it, to cajole it, to make it
part and parcel of himself. But its people were reserved.
Instinctively Mike attacked the line and the point of least
resistance, and the point of least resistance lay about three miles
distant. A young squire--a young man of large property and an
unimpeachable position in the county--lived there in a handsome house
with his three sisters. His life consisted in rabbit-shooting and
riding out every morning to see his sheep upon the downs. He was the
rare man who does not desire himself other than he is. But content,
though an unmixed blessing to its possessor, is not an attractive
quality, and Mr. Dallas stood sorely in need of a friend. He loved
his sisters, but to spend every evening in their society was
monotonous, and he felt, and they felt still more keenly, that a nice
young man would create an interest that at present was wanting in
country life. Mike had heard of this young squire and his sisters,
and had long desired to meet him. But they had paid their yearly
visit to Thornby Place, and he could not persuade John to go to Holly
Park.

One day riding on the downs, Mike inquired the way to Henfield of a
young man who passed him riding a bay horse. The question was
answered curtly--so curtly that Mike thought the stranger could not
be led into conversation. In this he was mistaken, and at the end of
half a mile felt he had succeeded in interesting his companion. As
they descended into the weald, Mike told him he was stopping at
Thornby Place, and the young squire told him he was Mr. Dallas. When
about to part, Mike asked to be directed to the nearest inn,
complaining that he was dying of thirst, for he wished to give Mr.
Dallas an excuse for asking him to his house. Mr. Dallas availed
himself of the excuse; and Mike prayed that he might find the ladies
at home. They were in the drawing-room. The piano was played, and
amid tea and muffins, tennis was discussed, allusions were made to
man's inconstancy.

Mike left no uncertainty regarding his various qualities. He liked
hunting as much as shooting, and having regard for the season of the
year, he laid special stress upon his love for, and his prowess in,
the game of tennis. A week later he received an invitation to tennis.
Henceforth he rode over frequently to Holly Park. He was sometimes
asked to stay the night, and an impression was gaining ground there
that life was pleasanter with him than without him.

When he was not there the squire missed the morning ride and the game
of billiards in the evening, and the companion to whom he could speak
of his sheep and his lambs. Mike listened to the little troubles of
each sister in the back garden, never failing to evince the
profoundest sympathy. He was surprised to find that he enjoyed these
conversations just as much as a metaphysical disquisition with John
Norton. "I am not pretending," he often said to himself; "it is quite
true;" and then he added philosophically, "Were I not interested in
them I should not succeed in interesting them."

The brother, the sisters, the servants, even the lap-dog shared in
the pleasure. The maid-servants liked to meet his tall figure in the
passages; the young ladies loved to look into his tender eyes when
they came in from their walk and found him in the drawing-room.

To touch Mike's skin was to touch his soul, and even the Yorkshire
terrier was sensible of its gentleness, and soon preferred of all
places to doze under his hand. Mike came into Dallas' room in the
morning when he was taking his bath; he hung around the young ladies'
rooms, speaking through the half-open doors; then when the doors were
open, the young ladies fled and wrapped themselves in dressing-gowns.
He felt his power; and by insidious intimations, by looks, words,
projects for pleasure, presents, practical jokes, books, and talks
about books, he proceeded joyously in his corruption of the entire
household.

Naturally Mike rode his host's horses, and he borrowed his spurs,
breeches, boots, and hunting-whip. And when he began to realize what
an excellent pretext hunting is for making friends, and staying in
country houses, he bought a couple of horses, which he kept at Holly
Park free of cost. He had long since put aside his poem and his
trilogy, and now thought of nothing but shooting and riding. He could
throw his energies into anything, from writing a poem to playing
chuck-farthing.

The first meet of the hounds was at Thornby Place, and in the vain
hope of marrying her son, Mrs. Norton had invited the young girls of
the entire country-side. Lady Edith Downsdale was especially included
in her designs; but John instantly vetoed her hopes by asking Mike to
take Lady Edith in to lunch. She stood holding her habit; and feeling
the necessity of being brilliant, Mike said, pointing to the hounds
and horses--

"How strange it is that that is of no interest to the artist! I
suppose because it is only parade; whereas a bit of lane with a
wind-blown hedge is a human emotion, and that is always interesting."

Soon after, a fox was found in the plantation that rimmed the lawn,
and seeing that Lady Edith was watching him, Mike risked a fall over
some high wattles; and this was the only notice he took of her until
late in the afternoon, until all hope of hunting was ended. A fox had
been "chopped" in cover, another had been miserably coursed and
killed in a back garden. He strove to make himself agreeable while
riding with her along the hillsides, watching the huntsman trying
each patch of gorse in the coombes. She seemed to him splendid and
charming, and he wondered if he could love her--marry her, and never
grow weary of her. But when the hounds found in a large wood beneath
the hills, and streamed across the meadows, he forgot her, and making
his horse go in and out he fought for a start. A hundred and fifty
were cantering down a steep muddy lane; a horseman who had come
across the field strove to open a strong farm-gate. "It is locked,"
he roared; "jump." The lane was steep and greasy, the gate was four
feet and a half. Mike rode at it. The animal dropped his hind-legs,
Mike heard the gate rattle, and a little ejaculatory cry come from
those he left behind. It was a close shave. Turning in his saddle he
saw the immense crowd pressing about the gate, which could not be
opened, and he knew very well that he would have the hounds to
himself for many a mile.

He raced alone across the misty pasture lands, full of winter water
and lingering leaf; the lofty downs like sea cliffs, appearing
through great white masses of curling vapour. And all the episodes of
that day--the great ox fences which his horse flew, going like a bird
from field to field; the awkward stile, the various brooks,--that one
overgrown with scrub which his horse had refused--thrilled him. And
when the day was done, as he rode through the gathering night,
inquiring out the way down many a deep and wooded lane, happiness
sang within him, and like a pure animal he enjoyed the sensation of
life, and he intoxicated on the thoughts of the friends that would
have been his, the women and the numberless pleasures and adventures
he could have engaged in, were he not obliged to earn money, or were
not led away from them "by his accursed literary tastes."

Should he marry one of the sisters? Ridiculous! But what was there to
do? To-day he was nearly thirty; in ten years he would be a
middle-aged man; and, alas! for he felt in him manifold resources,
sufficient were he to live for five hundred years. Must he marry
Agnes? He might if she was a peeress in her own right! Or should he
win a peerage for himself by some great poem, or by some great
political treachery? No, no; he wanted nothing better than to live
always strong and joyous in this corner of fair England; and to be
always loved by girls, and to be always talked of by them about their
tea-tables. Oh, for a cup of tea and a slice of warm buttered toast!

A good hour's ride yawned between him and Holly Park, but by crossing
the downs it might be reduced to three-quarters of an hour. He
hesitated, fearing he might miss his way in the fog, but the
tea-table lured him. He resolved to attempt it, and forced his horse
up a slightly indicated path, which he hoped would led him to a
certain barn. High above him a horseman, faint as the shadow of a
bird, made his way cantering briskly. Mike strove to overtake him,
but suddenly missed him: behind him the pathway was disappearing.

Fearing he might have to pass a night on the downs, he turned his
horse's head; but the animal was obdurate, and a moment after he was
lost. He said, "Great Scott! where am I? Where did this ploughed
field come from? I must be near the dike." Then thinking that he
recognized the headland, he rode in a different direction, but was
stopped by a paling and a chalk-pit, and, riding round it, he guessed
the chalk-pit must be fifty feet deep. Strange white patches,
fabulous hillocks, and distortions of ground loomed through the white
darkness; and a valley opened on his right so steep that he was
afraid to descend into it. Very soon minutes became hours and miles
became leagues.

"There's nothing for it but to lie under a furze-bush." With two
pocket-handkerchiefs he tied his horse's fore-legs close together,
and sat down and lit a cigar. The furze-patch was quite hollow
underneath and almost dry.

"It is nearly full moon," he said; "were it not for that it would be
pitch dark. Good Lord! thirteen hours of this; I wish I had never
been born!"

He had not, however, finished his first cigar before a horse's head
and shoulders pushed through the mist. Mike sprang to his feet.

"Can you tell me the way off these infernal downs?" he cried. "Oh, I
beg your pardon, Lady Edith."

"Oh, is that you, Mr. Fletcher? I have lost my way and my groom too.
I am awfully frightened; I missed him of a sudden in the fog. What
shall I do? Can you tell me the way?"

"Indeed I cannot; if I knew the way I should not be sitting under
this furze-bush."

"What shall we do? I must get home."

"It is very terrible, Lady Edith, but I'm afraid you will not be able
to get home till the fog lifts."

"But I must get home. I must! I must! What will they think? They'll
be sending out to look for me. Won't you come with me, Mr. Fletcher,
and help me to find the way?"

"I will, of course, do anything you like; but I warn you, Lady Edith,
that riding about these downs in a fog is most dangerous; I as nearly
as possible went over a chalk-pit fifty feet deep."

"Oh, Mr. Fletcher, I must get home; I cannot stay here all night; it
is ridiculous."

They talked so for a few minutes. Then amid many protestations Lady
Edith was induced to dismount. He forced her to drink, and to
continue sipping from his hunting-flask, which was fortunately full
of brandy; and when she said she was no longer cold, he put his arm
about her, and they talked of their sensations on first seeing each
other.

Three small stones, two embedded in the ground, the third, a large
flint, lay close where the grass began, and the form of a bush was
faint on the heavy white blanket in which the world was wrapped. A
rabbit crept through the furze and frightened them, and they heard
the horses browsing.

Mike declared he could say when she had begun to like him.

"You remember you were standing by the sideboard holding your habit
over your boots; I brought you a glass of champagne, and you looked
at me...."

She told him of her troubles since she had left school. He related
the story of his own precarious fortunes; and as they lay dreaming of
each other, the sound of horse's hoofs came through the darkness.

"Oh, do cry out, perhaps they will be able to tell us the way."

"Do you want to leave me?"

"No, no, but I must get home; what will father think?"

Mike shouted, and his shout was answered.

"Where are you?" asked the unknown.

"Here," said Mike.

"Where is here?"

"By the furze-bush."

"Where is the furze-bush?"

It was difficult to explain, and the voice grew fainter. Then it
seemed to come from a different side.

Mike shouted again and again, and at last a horseman loomed like a
nightmare out of the dark. It was Parker, Lady Edith's groom.

"Oh, Parker, how did you miss me? I have been awfully frightened; I
don't know what I should have done if I had not met Mr. Fletcher."

"I was coming round that barn, my lady; you set off at a trot, my
lady, and a cloud of fog came between us."

"Yes, yes; but do you know the way home?"

"I think, my lady, we are near the dike; but I wouldn't be certain."

"I nearly as possible rode into a chalk-pit," said Mike. "Unpleasant
as it is, I think we had better remain where we are until it clears."

"Oh, no, no, we cannot remain here; we might walk and lead the
horses."

"Very well, you get on your horse; I'll lead."

"No, no," she whispered, "give me your arm, and I'll walk."

They walked in the bitter, hopeless dark, stumbling over the rough
ground, the groom following with the horses. But soon Lady Edith
stopped, and leaning heavily on Mike, said--

"I can go no further; I wish I were dead!"

"Dead! No, no," he whispered; "live for my sake, darling."

At that moment the gable of a barn appeared like an apparition. The
cattle which were lying in the yard started from under the horses'
feet, and stood staring in round-eyed surprise. The barn was half
full of hay, and in the dry pungent odour Mike and Lady Edith rested
an hour. Sometimes a bullock filled the doorway with ungainly form
and steaming nostrils; sometimes the lips of the lovers met. In about
half an hour the groom returned with the news that the fog was
lifting, and discovering a cart-track, they followed it over the
hills for many a mile.

"There is Horton Borstal," cried Parker, as they entered a deep
cutting overgrown with bushes. "I know my way now, my lady; we are
seven miles from home."

When he bade Lady Edith good-bye, Mike's mind thrilled with a sense
of singular satisfaction. Here was an adventure which seemed to him
quite perfect; it had been preceded by no wearisome preliminaries,
and he was not likely ever to see her again.

Weeks and months passed, and the simple-minded country folk with whom
he had taken up his abode seemed more thoroughly devoted to him; the
anchor of their belief seemed now deeply grounded, and in the
peaceful bay of their affection his bark floated, safe from
shipwrecking current or storm. There was neither subterfuge or
duplicity in Mike; he was always singularly candid on the subject of
his sins and general worthlessness, and he was never more natural in
word and deed than at Holly Park. If its inmates had been reasonable
they would have cast him forth; but reason enters hardly at all in
the practical conduct of human life, and our loves and friendships
owe to it neither origin or modification.

It was a house of copious meals and sleep. Mike stirred these
sluggish livers, and they accepted him as a digestive; and they
amused him, and he only dreamed vaguely of leaving them until he
found his balance at the bank had fallen very low. Then he packed up
his portmanteau and left them, and when he walked down the Strand he
had forgotten them and all country pursuits, and wanted to talk of
journalism; and he would have welcomed the obscurest paragraphist.
Suddenly he saw Frank; and turning from a golden-haired actress who
was smiling upon him, he said--

"How do you do?" The men shook hands, and stood constrainedly talking
for a few minutes; then Mike suggested lunch, and they turned into
Lubini's. The proprietor, a dapper little man, more like a rich man's
valet than a waiter, whose fat fingers sparkled with rings, sat
sipping sherry and reading the racing intelligence to a lord who
offered to toss him for half-crowns.

"Now then, Lubi," cried the lord, "which is it? Come on; just this
once."

Lubi demurred. "You toss too well for me; last night you did win
seven times running--damn!"

"Come on, Lubi; here it is flat on the table."

Mike longed to pull his money out of his pocket, but he had not been
on terms with Lubi since he had called him a _Marchand de Soupe_, an
insult which Lubi had not been able to forgive, and it was the
restaurateur's women-folk who welcomed him back to town after his
long absence.

"What an air of dissipation, hilarity, and drink there is about the
place!" said Mike. "Look!" and his eyes rested on two gross
men--music-hall singers--who sat with their agent, sipping
Chartreuse. "Three years ago," he said, "they were crying artichokes
in an alley, and the slum is still upon their faces."

No one else was in the long gallery save the waiters, who dozed far
away in the mean twilight of the glass-roofing.

"How jolly it is," said Mike, "to order your own dinner! Let's have
some oysters--three dozen. We'll have a Chateaubriand--what do you
say? And an omelette soufflée--what do you think? And a bottle of
champagne. Waiter, bring me the wine-list."

Frank had spoken to Mike because he felt lonely; the world had turned
a harsh face on him. Lord Mount Rorke had married, and the paper was
losing its circulation.

"And how is the paper going?"

"Pretty well; just the same as usual. Do you ever see it? What do you
think of my articles?"

"Your continuation of my series, _Lions of the Season?_ Very good; I
only saw one or two. I have been living in the country, and have
hardly seen a paper for the last year and a half. You can't imagine
the life I have been leading. Nice kind people 'tis true; I love
them, but they never open a book. That is all very nice for a
time--for three months, for six, for a year--but after that you feel
a sense of alienation stealing over you."

Mike saw that Frank had only met with failure; so he was tempted to
brandish his successes. He gave a humorous description of his
friends--how he had picked them up; how they had supplied him with
horses to ride and guns to shoot with.

"And what about the young ladies? Were they included in the
hospitality?"

"They included themselves. How delicious love in a country house
is!--and how different from other love it is, to follow a girl
dressed for dinner into the drawing-room or library, and to take her
by the waist, to feel a head leaning towards you and a mouth closing
upon yours! Above all, when the room is in darkness--better still in
the firelight--the light of the fire on her neck.... How good these
oysters are! Have some more champagne."

Then, in a sudden silence, a music-hall gent was heard to say that
some one was a splendid woman, beautifully developed.

"Now then, Lubi, old man, I toss you for a sovereign," cried a lord,
who looked like a sandwich-man in his ample driving-coat.

"You no more toss with me, I have done with you; you too sharp for
me."

"What! are you going to cut me? Are you going to warn me off your
restaurant?"

Roars of laughter followed, and the lions of song gazed in admiration
on the lord.

"I may be hard up," cried the lord; "but I'm damned if I ever look
hard up; do I, Lubi?"

"Since you turn up head when you like, why should you look hard up?"

"You want us to believe you are a 'mug,' Lubi, that's about it, but
it won't do. 'Mugs' are rare nowadays. I don't know where to go and
look for them.... I say, Lubi," and he whispered something in the
restaurateur's ear, "if you know of any knocking about, bring them
down to my place; you shall stand in."

"Damn me! You take me for a pump, do you? You get out!"

The genial lord roared the more, and assured Lubi he meant "mugs,"
and offered to toss him for a sovereign.

"How jolly this is!" said Mike. "I'm dying for a gamble; I feel as if
I could play as I never played before. I have all the cards in my
mind's eye. By George! I wish I could get hold of a 'mug,' I'd fleece
him to the tune of five hundred before he knew where he was. But look
at that woman! She's not bad."

"A great coarse creature like that! I never could understand you....
Have you heard of Lily Young lately?"

Mike's face fell.

"No," he said, "I have not. She is the only woman I ever loved. I
would sooner see her than the green cloth. I really believe I love
that girl. Somehow I cannot forget her."

"Well, come and see her to-day. Take your eyes off that disgusting
harlot."

"No, not to-day," he replied, without removing his eyes. Five minutes
after he said, "Very well, I will go. I must see her."

The waiter was called, the bill was paid, a hansom was hailed, and
they were rolling westward. In the pleasure of this little
expedition, Mike's rankling animosity was almost forgotten. He said--

"I love this drive west; I love to see London opening up, as it were,
before the wheels of the hansom--Trafalgar Square, the Clubs, Pall
Mall, St. James' Street, Piccadilly, the descent, and then the
gracious ascent beneath the trees. You see how I anticipate it all."

"Do you remember that morning when Lady Helen committed suicide? What
did you think of my article?"

"I didn't see it. I should have liked to have written about it; but
you said that I wouldn't write feelingly."

Mrs. Young hardly rose from her sofa; but she welcomed them in
plaintive accents. Lily showed less astonishment and pleasure at
seeing him than Mike expected. She was talking to a lady, who was
subsequently discovered to be the wife of a strange fat man, who, in
his character of Orientalist, squatted upon the lowest seat in the
room, and wore a velvet turban on his head, a voluminous overcoat
circulating about him.

"As I said to Lady Hazeldean last night--I hope Mr. Gladstone did not
hear me, he was talking to Lady Engleton Dixon about divorce, I
really hope he did not hear me--but I really couldn't help saying
that I thought it would be better if he believed less in the divorce
of nations, even if I may not add that he might with advantage
believe more in the divorce of persons not suited to each other."

When the conversation turned on Arabi, which it never failed to do in
this house, the perfume-burners that had been presented to her and
Mr. Young on their triumphal tour were pointed out.

"I telegraphed to Dilke," said Sir Joseph, "'You must not hang that
man.' And when Mrs. Young accused him of not taking sufficient
interest in Africa, he said--'My dear Mrs. Young, I not interested in
Africa! You forget what I have done for Africa; how I have laboured
for Africa. I shall not believe in the synthesis of humanity, nor
will it be complete, till we get the black votes.'"

"Mr. Young and Lord Granville used to have such long discussions
about Buddhism, and it always used to end in Mr. Young sending a copy
of your book to Lord Granville."

"A very great distinction for me--a very great distinction for me,"
murmured Buddha; and allowing Mrs. Young to relieve him of his
tea-cup, he said--"and now, Mrs. Young, I want to ask for your
support and co-operation in a little scheme--a little scheme which I
have been nourishing like a rose in my bosom for some years."

Sir Joseph raised his voice; and it was not until he had imposed
silence on his wife that he consented to unfold his little scheme.

Then the fat man explained that in a certain province in Cylone (a
name of six syllables) there was a temple, and this temple had
belonged in the sixth century to a tribe of Buddhists (a name of
seven syllables), and this temple had in the eighth century been
taken from the Buddhists by a tribe of Brahmins (a name of eight
syllables).

"And not being Mr. Gladstone," said Sir Joseph, "I do not propose to
dispossess the Brahmins without compensation. I am merely desirous
that the Brahmins should be bought out by the Indian Government at a
cost of a hundred and fifty or two hundred thousand. If this were
done the number of pilgrims to this holy shrine would be doubled, and
the best results would follow."

"Oh, Mrs. Jellaby, where art thou?" thought Mike, and he boldly took
advantage of the elaborate preparations that were being made for Sir
Joseph to write his name on a fan, to move round the table and take a
seat by Lily.

But Frank's patience was exhausted, and he rose to leave.

"People wonder at the genius of Shakespeare! I must say the stupidity
of the ordinary man surprises me far more," said Mike.

"I'm a poor man to-day," said Frank, "but I would give £25 to have
had Dickens with us--fancy walking up Piccadilly with him afterwards!

"Now I must go," he said. "Lizzie is waiting for me. I'll see you
to-morrow," he cried, and drove away.

"Just fancy having to look after her, having to attend to her wants,
having to leave a friend and return home to dine with her in a small
room! How devilish pleasant it is to be free!--to say, 'Where shall I
dine?' and to be able to answer, 'Anywhere.' But it is too early to
dine, and too late to play whist. Damn it! I don't know what to do
with myself."

Mike watched the elegantly-dressed men who passed hurriedly to their
clubs, or drove west to dinner parties. Red clouds and dark clouds
collected and rolled overhead, and in a chill wintry breeze the
leaves of the tall trees shivered, fell, and were blown along the
pavement with sharp harsh sound. London shrouded like a widow in long
crape.

"What is there to do? Five o'clock! After that lunch I cannot dine
before eight--three hours! Whom shall I go and see?"

A vision of women passed through his mind, but he turned from them
all, and he said--

"I will go and see her."

He had met Miss Dudley in Brighton, in a house where he had been
asked to tea. She was a small, elderly spinster with sharp features
and gray curls. She had expected him to address to her a few
commonplace remarks for politeness' sake, and then to leave her for
some attractive girl. But he had showed no wish to leave her, and
when they met again he walked by her bath-chair the entire length of
the Cliff. Miss Dudley was a cripple. She had fallen from some rocks
when a child playing on the beach, and had injured herself
irremediably. She lived with her maid in a small lodging, and being
often confined to her room for days, nearly every visitor was
welcome. Mike liked this pallid and forgotten little woman. He found
in her a strange sweetness--a wistfulness. There was poetry in her
loneliness and her ruined health. Strength, health, and beauty had
been crushed by a chance fall. But the accident had not affected the
mind, unless perhaps it had raised it into more intense sympathy with
life. And in all his various passions and neglected correspondence he
never forgot for long to answer her letters, nor did he allow a month
to pass without seeing her. And now he bought for her a great packet
of roses and a novel; and with some misgivings he chose Zola's _Page
d'Amour_.

"I think this is all right. She'll be delighted with it, if she'll
read it."

She would have read anything he gave, and seen no harm since it came
from him. The ailing caged bird cannot but delight in the thrilling
of the wild bird that comes to it with the freedom of the sky and
fields in its wings and song. She listened to all his stories, even
to his stories of pigeon-shooting. She knew not how to reproach him.
Her eyes fixed upon him, her gentle hand laid on the rail of her
chair, she listened while he told her of the friends he had made, and
his life in the country; its seascape and downlands, the furze where
he had shot the rabbits, the lane where he had jumped the gate. Her
pleasures had passed in thought--his in action; the world was for
him--this room for her.

There is the long chair in which she lies nearly always; there is the
cushion on which the tired head is leaned, a small beautifully-shaped
head, and the sharp features are distinct on the dark velvet, for the
lamp is on the mantelpiece, and the light falls full on the profile.
The curtains are drawn, and the eyes animate with gratitude when Mike
enters with his roses, and after asking kindly questions he takes a
vase, and filling it with water, places the flowers therein, and sets
it on the table beside her. There is her fire--(few indeed are the
days in summer when she is without it)--the singing kettle suggests
the homely tea, and the saucepan on the hearth the invalid. There is
her bookcase, set with poetry and religion, and in one corner are the
yellow-backed French novels that Mike has given her. They are the
touches the most conclusive of reality in her life; and she often
smiles, thinking how her friends will strive to explain how they came
into her life when she is gone.

"How good of you to come and see me! Tell me about yourself, what you
have been doing. I want to hear you talk."

"Well, I've brought you this book; it is a lovely book--you can read
it--I think you can read it, otherwise I should not have given it to
you."

He remained with her till seven, talking to her about hunting,
shooting, literature, and card-playing.

"Now I must go," he said, glancing at the clock.

"Oh, so soon," exclaimed Miss Dudley, waking from her dream; "must
you go?"

"I'm afraid I must; I haven't dined yet."

"And what are you going to do after dinner? You are going to play
cards."

"How did you guess that?"

"I can't say," she said, laughing; "I think I can often guess your
thoughts."

And during the long drive to Piccadilly, and as he eat his sole and
drank his Pomard, he dreamed of the hands he should hold, and of the
risks he should run when the cards were bad. His brain glowed with
subtle combinations and surprises, and he longed to measure his
strength against redoubtable antagonists. The two great whist
players, Longley and Lovegrove, were there. He always felt jealous of
Lovegrove's play. Lovegrove played an admirable game, always making
the most of his cards. But there was none of that dash, and almost
miraculous flashes of imagination and decision which characterized
Mike, and Mike felt that if he had the money on, and with Longley for
a partner, he could play as he had never played before; and ignoring
a young man whom he might have rooked at écarté, and avoiding a rich
old gentleman who loved his game of piquet, and on whom Mike was used
to rely in the old days for his Sunday dinner (he used to say the old
gentleman gave the best dinners in London; they always ran into a
tenner), he sat down at the whist-table. His partner played
wretchedly, and though he had Longley and Lovegrove against him, he
could not refrain from betting ten pounds on every rubber. He played
till the club closed, he played till he had reduced his balance at
the bank to nineteen pounds.

Haunted by the five of clubs, which on one occasion he should have
played and did not, he walked till he came to the Haymarket. Then he
stopped. What could he do? All the life of idleness and luxury which
he had so long enjoyed faded like a dream, and the spectre of cheap
lodgings and daily journalism rose painfully distinct. He pitied the
street-sweepers, and wondered if it were possible for him to slip
down into the gutter. "When I have paid my hotel bill, I shan't have
a tenner." He thought of Mrs. Byril, but the idea did not please him,
and he remembered Frank had told him he had a cottage on the river.
He would go there. He might put up for a night or two at Hall's.

"I will start a series of articles to-morrow. What shall it be?" An
unfortunate still stood at the corner of the street. "'Letters to a
Light o' Love!' Frank must advance me something upon them.... Those
stupid women! if they were not so witless they could rise to any
height. If I had only been a woman! ... If I had been a woman I should
have liked to have been Ninon de Lanclos."



CHAPTER VIII


When Mike had paid his hotel bill, very few pounds were left for the
card-room, and judging it was not an hour in which he might tempt
fortune, he "rooked" a young man remorselessly. Having thus
replenished his pockets he turned to the whist-table for amusement.
Luck was against him; he played, defying luck, and left the club
owing eighty pounds, five of which he had borrowed from Longley.

Next morning as he dozed, he wondered if, had he played the ten of
diamonds instead of the seven of clubs, it would have materially
altered his fortune; and from cards his thoughts wandered, till they
took root in the articles he was to write for the _Pilgrim_. He was
in Hall's spare bed-room--a large, square room, empty of all
furniture except a camp bedstead. His portmanteau lay wide open in
the middle of the floor, and a gaunt fireplace yawned amid some
yellow marbles.

"'Darling, like a rose you hold the whole world between your lips,
and you shed its leaves in little kisses.' That will do for the
opening sentences." Then as words slipped from him he considered the
component parts of his subject.

"The first letter is of course introductory, and I must establish
certain facts, truths which have become distorted and falsified, or
lost sight of. Addressing an ideal courtesan, I shall say, 'You must
understand that the opening sentence of this letter does not include
any part of the old reproach which has been levelled against you
since man began to love you, and that was when he ceased to be an ape
and became man.

"'If you were ever sphinx-like and bloodthirsty, which I very much
doubt, you have changed flesh and skin, even the marrow of your
bones. In these modern days you are a kind-hearted little woman who,
to pursue an ancient metaphor, sheds the world rosewise in little
kisses; but if you did not so shed it, the world would shed itself in
tears. Your smiles and laughter are the last lights that play around
the white hairs of an aged duke; your winsome tendernesses are the
dreams of a young man who writes "pars" about you on Friday, and
dines with you on Sunday; you are an ideal in many lives which
without you would certainly be ideal-less.' Deuced good that; I
wish I had a pencil to make a note; but I shall remember it. Then
will come my historical paragraph. I shall show that it is only
by confounding courtesans with queens, and love with ambition,
that any sort of case can be made out against the former. Third
paragraph--'Courtesans are a factor in the great problem of the
circulation of wealth, etc.' It will be said that the money thus
spent is unproductive.... So much the better! For if it were given to
the poor it would merely enable them to bring more children into the
world, thereby increasing immensely the general misery of the race.
Schopenhauer will not be left out in the cold after all. Quote
Lecky,--'The courtesan is the guardian angel of our hearths and
homes, the protector of our wives and sisters.'"

"Will you have a bath this morning, sir?" cried the laundress,
through the door.

"Yes, and get me a chop for breakfast."

"I shall tell her (the courtesan, not the laundress) how she may
organize the various forces latent in her and culminate in a power
which shall contain in essence the united responsibilities of church,
music-hall, and picture gallery." Mike turned over on his back and
roared with laughter. "Frank will be delighted. It will make the
fortune of the paper. Then I shall attack my subject in detail.
Dress, house, education, friends, female and male. Then the
money question. She must make a provision for the future.
Charming chapter there is to be written on the old age of the
courtesan--charities--ostentatious charities--charitable bazaars,
reception into the Roman Catholic faith."

"Shall I bring in your hot water, sir?" screamed the laundress.

"Yes, yes.... Shall my courtesan go on the stage? No, she shall be a
pure courtesan, she shall remain unsullied of any labour. She might
appear once on the boards;--no, no, she must remain a pure courtesan.
Charming subject! It will make a book. Charming opportunity for wit,
satire, fancy. I shall write the introductory letter after
breakfast."

Frank was in shoaling water, and could not pay his contributors; but
Mike could get blood out of a turnip, and Frank advanced him ten
pounds on the proposed articles. Frank counted on these articles to
whip up the circulation, and Mike promised to let him have four
within the week, and left the cottage at Henley, where Frank was
living, full of dreams of work. And every morning before he got out
of bed he considered and reconsidered his subject, finding always
more than one idea, and many a witty fancy; and every day after
breakfast the work undone hung like a sword between Hall and him as
they sat talking of their friends, of art, of women, of things that
did not interest them. They hung around each other, loth yet desirous
to part; they followed each other through the three rooms, buttoning
their braces and shirt-collars. And when conversation had worn itself
out, Mike accepted any pretext to postpone the day's work. He had to
fetch ink or cigarettes.

But he was always detained, if not by friends, by the beauty of the
gardens or the river. Never did the old dining-hall and the
staircases, balustraded--on whose gray stone a leaf, the first of
many, rustles--seem more intense and pregnant with that mystic
mournfulness which is the Thames, and which is London. The dull
sphinx-like water rolling through multitude of bricks, seemed to mark
on this wistful autumn day a more melancholy enchantment, and looking
out on the great waste of brick delicately blended with smoke and
mist, and seeing the hay-boats sailing picturesquely, and the tugs
making for Blackfriars, long lines of coal-barges in their wake,
laden so deep that the water slopped over the gunwales, he thought of
the spring morning when he had waited there for Lily. How she
persisted in his mind! Why had he not asked her to marry him instead
of striving to make her his mistress? She was too sweet to be cast
off like the others; she would have accepted him if he had asked her.
He had sacrificed marriage for self, and what had self given him?

Mike was surprised at these thoughts, and pleased, for they proved a
certain residue of goodness in him; at all events, called into his
consideration a side of his nature which he was not wearisomely
familiar with. Then he dismissed these thoughts as he might have the
letter of a determined creditor. He could still bid them go. And
having easily rid himself of them, he noticed the porters in their
white aprons, and the flight of pigeons, the sacred birds of the
Temple, coming down from the roofs. And he loved now more than ever
Fleet Street, and the various offices where he might idle, and the
various luncheon-bars to which he might adjourn with one of the
staff, perhaps with the editor of one of the newspapers. The October
sunlight was warm and soft, greeted his face agreeably as he lounged,
stopping before every shop in which there were books or prints.
Ludgate Circus was always a favourite with him, partly because he
loved St. Paul's, partly because women assembled there; and now in
the mist, delicate and pure, rose above the town the lovely dome.

"None but the barbarians of the Thames," thought Mike, "none other
would have allowed that most shameful bridge."

Mike hated Simpson's. He could not abide the stolid city folk, who
devour there five and twenty saddles of mutton in an evening. He
liked better the Cock Tavern, quiet, snug, and intimate. Wedged with
a couple of chums in a comfortable corner, he shouted--

"Henry, get me a chop and a pint of bitter."

There he was sure to meet a young barrister ready to talk to him, and
they returned together, swinging their sticks, happy in their
bachelordom, proud of the old inns and courts. Often they stayed to
look on the church, the church of the Knight Templars, those terrible
and mysterious knights who, with crossed legs for sign of mission,
and with long swords and kite-shaped shields, lie upon the pavement
of the church.

One wet night, when every court and close was buried in a deep,
cloying darkness, and the church seemed a dead thing, the pathetic
stories of the windows suddenly became dreamily alive, and the organ
sighed like one sad at heart. The young men entered; and in the pomp
of the pipes, and in shadows starred by the candles, the lone
organist sat playing a fugue by Bach.

"It is," said Mike, "like turning the pages of some precious missal,
adorned with gold thread and bedazzled with rare jewels. It is like a
poem by Edgar Allen Poe." Quelled, and in strange awe they listened,
and when the music ceased, unable at once to return to the simple
prose of their chambers, they lingered, commenting on the mock taste
of the architecture of the dining-hall, and laughing at the inflated
inscription over the doorway.

"It is worse," said Mike, "than the Middle Temple Hall--far worse;
but I like this old colonnade, there is something so suggestive in
this old inscription in bad Latin.


     'Vetustissima Templariorum porticu
      Igne consumptâ; an 1679
      Nova hæc sumptibus medii
      Templie extructa an 1681
      Gulielmo Whiteloche arm
      Thesauör.'"


Once or twice a week Hall dined at the Cock for the purpose of
meeting his friends, whom he invited after dinner to his rooms to
smoke and drink till midnight. His welcome was so cordial that all
were glad to come. The hospitality was that which is met in all
chambers in the Temple. Coffee was made with difficulty, delay, and
uncertain result; a bottle of port was sometimes produced; of whiskey
and water there was always plenty. Every one brought his own tobacco;
and in decrepit chairs beneath dangerously-laden bookcases some six
or seven barristers enjoyed themselves in conversation, smoke, and
drink. Mike recognized how characteristically Temple was this
society, how different from the heterogeneous visitors of Temple
Gardens in the heyday of Frank's fortune.

James Norris was a small, thin man, dark and with regular features,
clean shaven like a priest or an actor, vaguely resembling both,
inclining towards the hieratic rather than to the histrionic type. He
dressed always in black, and the closely-buttoned jacket revealed the
spareness of his body. He was met often in the evening, going to dine
at the Cock; but was rarely seen walking about the Temple in the
day-time. It was impossible to meet any one more suasive and
agreeable; his suavity was penetrating as his small dark eyes. He
lived in Elm Court, and his rooms impressed you with a sense of
cleanliness and comfort. The furniture was all in solid mahogany;
there were no knick-knacks or any lightness, and almost the only
æsthetic intentions were a few sober engravings--portraits of men in
wigs and breastplates. He took pleasure in these and also in some
first editions, containing the original plates, which, when you knew
him well, he produced from the bookcase and descanted on their value
and rarity.

Mr. Norris had always an excellent cigar to offer you, and he pressed
you to taste of his old port, and his Chartreuse; there was whiskey
for you too, if you cared to take it, and allusion was made to its
age. But it was neither an influence nor a characteristic of his
rooms; the port wine was. If there was fruit on the sideboard, there
was also pounded sugar; and it is such detail as the pounded sugar
that announces an inveterate bachelorhood. Some men are born
bachelors. And when a man is born a bachelor, the signs unmistakable
are hardly apparent at thirty; it is not until the fortieth year is
approached that the fateful markings become recognizable. James
Norris was forty-two, and was therefore a full-fledged bachelor. He
was a bachelor in the complete equipment of his chambers. He was
bachelor in his arm-chair and his stock of wine; his hospitality was
that of a bachelor, for a man who feels instinctively that he will
never own a "house and home" constructs the materiality of his life
in chambers upon a fuller basis than the man who feels instinctively
that he will, sooner or later, exchange the perch-like existence of
his chambers for the nest-like completeness of a home in South
Kensington.

James Norris was of an excellent county family in Essex. He had a
brother in the army, a brother in the Civil Service, and a brother in
the Diplomatic Service. He had also a brother who composed somewhat
unsuccessful waltz tunes, who borrowed money, and James thought that
his brother caused him some anxiety of mind. The eldest brother, John
Norris, lived at the family place, Halton Grange, where he stayed
when he went on the Eastern circuit. James was far too securely a
gentleman to speak much of Halton Grange; nevertheless, the flavour
of landed estate transpired in the course of conversation. He has
returned from circuit, having finished up with a partridge drive,
etc.

James Norris was a sensualist. His sensuality was recognizable in the
close-set eyes and in the sharp prominent chin (he resembled vaguely
the portrait of Baudelaire in _Les Fleurs du Mal_); he never spoke of
his amours, but occasionally he would drop an observation, especially
if he were talking to Mike Fletcher, that afforded a sudden glimpse
of a soul touched if not tainted with erotism. But James Norris was
above all things prudent, and knew how to keep vice well in hand.

Like another, he had had his love story, or that which in the life of
such a man might pass for a love story. He had flirted a great deal
when he was thirty, with a married woman. She had not troubled, she
had only slightly eddied, stirred with a few ripples the placidity of
a placid stream of life. In hours of lassitude it pleased him to
think that she had ruined his life. Man is ever ready to think that
his failure comes from without rather than from within. He wrote to
her every week a long letter, and spent a large part of the long
vacation in her house in Yorkshire, telling her that he had never
loved any one but her.

James Norris was an able lawyer, and he was an able lawyer for three
reasons. First, because he was a clear-headed man of the world, who
had not allowed his intelligence to rust;--it formed part of the
routine of his life to read some pages of a standard author before
going to bed; he studied all the notorious articles that appeared in
the reviews, attempting the assimilation of the ideas which seemed to
him best in our time. Secondly, he was industrious, and if he led an
independent life, dining frequently in a tavern instead of touting
for briefs in society, and so harmed himself, such misadventure was
counterbalanced by his industry and his prudence. Thirdly, his
sweetness and geniality made him a favourite with the bench. He had
much insight into human nature, he studied it, and could detect
almost at once the two leading spirits on a jury; and he was always
aware of the idiosyncrasies of the judge he was pleading before, and
knew how to respect and to flatter them.

Charles Stokes was the oldest man who frequented Hall's chambers, and
his venerable appearance was an anomaly in a company formed
principally of men under forty. In truth, Charles Stokes was not more
than forty-six or seven, but he explained that living everywhere, and
doing everything, had aged him beyond his years. In mind, however, he
was the youngest there, and his manner was often distressingly
juvenile. He wore old clothes which looked as if they had not been
brushed for some weeks, and his linen was of dubious cleanliness, and
about his rumpled collar there floated a half-tied black necktie.
Mike, who hated all things that reminded him of the casualness of
this human frame, never was at ease in his presence, and his eye
turned in disgust from sight of the poor old gentleman's trembling
and ossified fingers. His beard was long and almost white; he
snuffed, and smoked a clay pipe, and sat in the arm-chair which stood
in the corner beneath the screen which John Norton had left to Hall.

He was always addressed as Mr. Stokes; Hall complimented him and kept
him well supplied with whiskey-and-water. He was listened to on
account of his age--that is to say, on account of his apparent age,
and on account of his gentleness. Harding had described him as one
who talked learned nonsense in sweetly-measured intonations. But
although Harding ridiculed him, he often led him into conversation,
and listened with obvious interest, for Mr. Stokes had drifted
through many modes and manners of life, and had in so doing acquired
some vague knowledge.

He had written a book on the ancient religions of India, which he
called the _Cradleland of Arts and Creeds_, and Harding, ever on the
alert to pick a brain however poor it might be, enticed him into
discussion in which frequent allusion was made to Vishnu and Siva.

Yes, drifted is the word that best expresses Mr. Stokes' passage
through life--he had drifted. He was one of the many millions who
live without a fixed intention, without even knowing what they
desire; and he had drifted because in him strength and weakness stood
at equipoise; no defect was heavy enough for anchor, nor was there
any quality large enough for sufficient sail; he had drifted from
country to country, from profession to profession, whither winds and
waves might bear him.

"Of course I'm a failure," was a phrase that Mr. Stokes repeated with
a mild, gentle humour, and without any trace of bitterness. He spoke
of himself with the naïve candour of a docile school-boy, who has
taken up several subjects for examination and been ploughed in them
all. For Mr. Stokes had been to Oxford, and left it without taking a
degree. Then he had gone into the army, and had proved himself a
thoroughly inefficient soldier, and more than any man before or
after, had succeeded in rousing the ire of both adjutant and colonel.
It was impossible to teach him any drill; what he was taught to-day
he forgot to-morrow; when the general came down to inspect, the
confusion he created in the barrack-yard had proved so complex, that
for a second it had taxed the knowledge of the drill-sergeant to get
the men straight again.

Mr. Stokes was late at all times and all occasions: he was late for
drill, he was late for mess, he was late for church; and when sent
for he was always found in his room, either learning a part or
writing a play. His one passion was theatricals; and wherever the
regiment was stationed, he very soon discovered those who were
disposed to get up a performance of a farce.

When he left the army he joined the Indian bar, and there he applied
himself in his own absent-minded fashion to the study of Sanscrit,
neglecting Hindustani, which would have been of use to him in his
profession. Through India, China, and America he had drifted. In New
York he had edited a newspaper; in San Francisco he had lectured, and
he returned home with an English nobleman who had engaged him as
private secretary.

When he passed out of the nobleman's service he took chambers in the
Temple, and devoted his abundant leisure to writing his memoirs, and
the pleasantest part of his life began. The Temple suited him
perfectly, its Bohemianism was congenial to him, the library was
convenient, and as no man likes to wholly cut himself adrift from his
profession, the vicinity of the law courts, and a modicum of legal
conversation in the evening, sufficed to maintain in his
absent-minded head the illusion that he was practising at the bar.
His chambers were bare and dreary, unadorned with spoils from India
or China. Mr. Stokes retained nothing; he had passed through life
like a bird. He had drifted, and all things had drifted from him; he
did not even possess a copy of his _Cradleland of Arts and Creeds_.
He had lost all except a small property in Kent, and appeared to be
quite alone in the world.

Mr. Stokes talked rarely of his love affairs, and his allusions were
so partial that nothing exact could be determined about him. It was,
however, noticed that he wore a gold bracelet indissolubly fastened
upon his right wrist, and it was supposed that an Indian princess had
given him this, and that a goldsmith had soldered it upon him in her
presence, as she lay on her death-bed. It was noticed that a young
girl came to see him at intervals, sometimes alone, sometimes
accompanied by her aunt. Mr. Stokes made no secret of this young
person, and he spoke of her as his adopted daughter. Mr. Stokes dined
at a theatrical club. All men liked him; he was genial and harmless.

Mr. Joseph Silk was the son of a London clergyman. He was a tall,
spare young man, who was often met about the Temple, striding towards
his offices or the library. He was comically careful not to say
anything that might offend, and nervously concerned to retreat from
all persons and things which did not seem to him to offer
possibilities of future help; and his assumed geniality and
good-fellowship hung about him awkwardly, like the clothes of a
broad-chested, thick-thighed man about miserable limbs. For some time
Silk had been seriously thinking of cutting himself adrift from all
acquaintanceship with Hall. He had, until now, borne with his
acquaintanceship because Hall was connected with a society journal
that wrote perilously near the law of libel; several times the paper
had been threatened with actions, but had somehow, much to Silk's
chagrin, managed to escape. All the actionable paragraphs had been
discussed with Silk; on each occasion Hall had come down to his
chambers for advice, and he felt sure that he would be employed in
the case when it did come off. But unfortunately this showed no signs
of accomplishment. Silk read the paper every week for the paragraph
that was to bring him fame; he would have given almost anything to be
employed "in a good advertising case." But he had noticed that
instead of becoming more aggressive and personal, that week by week
the newspaper was moderating its tone. In the last issue several
paragraphs had caught his eye, which could not be described otherwise
than as complimentary; there were also several new pages of
advertisements; and these robbed him of all hope of an action. He
counted the pages, "twelve pages of advertisements--nothing further
of a questionable character will go into that paper," thought he, and
forthwith fell to considering Hall's invitation to "come in that
evening, if he had nothing better to do." He had decided that he
would not go, but at the last moment had gone, and now, as he sat
drinking whiskey-and-water, he glanced round the company, thinking it
might injure him if it became known that he spent his evenings there,
and he inwardly resolved he would never again be seen in Hall's
rooms.

Silk had been called to the bar about seven years. The first years he
considered he had wasted, but during the last four he applied himself
to his profession. He had determined "to make a success of life,"
that was how he put it to himself. He had, during the last four
years, done a good deal of "devilling"; he had attended at the Old
Bailey watching for "soups" with untiring patience. But lately,
within the last couple of years, he had made up his mind that waiting
for "soups" at the Old Bailey was not the way to fame or fortune. His
first idea of a path out of his present circumstances was through
Hall and the newspaper; but he had lately bethought himself of an
easier and wider way, one more fruitful of chances and beset with
prizes. This broad and easy road to success which he had lately begun
to see, wound through his father's drawing-room. London clergymen
have, as a rule, large salaries and abundant leisure, and young Silk
determined to turn his father's leisure to account. The Reverend Silk
required no pressing. "Show me what line to take, and I will take
it," said he; and young Silk, knowing well the various firms of
solicitors that were dispensing such briefs as he could take,
instructed his father when and where he should exercise his tea-table
agreeabilities, and forthwith the reverend gentleman commenced his
social wrigglings. There were teas and dinners, and calls, and lying
without end. Over the wine young Silk cajoled the senior member of
the firm, and in the drawing-room, sitting by the wife, he alluded to
his father's philanthropic duties, which he relieved with such
sniggering and pruriency as he thought the occasion demanded.

About six months ago, Mr. Joseph Silk had accidentally learnt, in the
treasurer's offices, that the second floor in No. 5, Paper Buildings
was unoccupied. He had thought of changing his chambers, but a second
floor in Paper Buildings was beyond his means. But two or three days
after, as he was walking from his area in King's Bench Walk to the
library, he suddenly remembered that the celebrated advocate, Sir
Arthur Haldane, lived on the first floor in Paper Buildings. Now at
his father's house, or in one of the houses his father frequented, he
might meet Sir Arthur; indeed, a meeting could easily be arranged.
Here Mr. Silk's sallow face almost flushed with a little colour, and
his heart beat as his little scheme pressed upon his mind. Dreading
an obstacle, he feared to allow the thought to formulate; but after a
moment he let it slip, and it said--"Now if I were to take the second
floor, I should often meet Sir Arthur on the doorstep and staircase.
What an immense advantage it would be to me when Stoggard and Higgins
learnt that I was on terms of friendship with Sir Arthur. I know as a
positive fact that Stoggard and Higgins would give anything to get
Sir Arthur for some of their work.... But the rent is very heavy in
Paper Buildings. I must speak to father about it." A few weeks after,
Mr. Joseph transferred his furniture to No. 2, Paper Buildings; and
not long after he had the pleasure of meeting Sir Arthur at dinner.

Mr. Silk's love affairs were neither numerous nor interesting. He had
spent little of his time with women, and little of his money upon
women, and his amativeness had led him into no wilder exploit than
the seduction of his laundress's daughter, by whom he had had a
child. Indeed, it had once been whispered that the mother, with the
child in her arms, had knocked at King's Bench Walk and had insisted
on being admitted. Having not the slightest knowledge or perception
of female nature, he had extricated himself with difficulty from the
scandal by which he was menaced, and was severely mulcted before the
girl was induced to leave London. About every three months she wrote
to him, and these letters were read with horror and burnt in
trembling haste; for Mr. Joseph Silk was now meditating for
matrimonial and legal purposes one of the daughters of one of the
solicitors he had met in Paper Buildings, and being an exceedingly
nervous, ignorant, and unsympathetic man in all that did not concern
his profession, was vastly disturbed at every echo of his
indiscretion.

Harding, in reply to a question as to what he thought of Silk, said--

"What do I think of Silk? Cotton back" ... and every one laughed,
feeling the intrinsic truth of the judgement.

Mr. George Cooper was Mr. Joseph Silk's friend. Cooper consulted Silk
on every point. Whenever he saw a light in Silk's chambers he
thrilled a little with anticipation of the pleasant hour before him,
and they sat together discussing the abilities of various eminent
judges and barristers. Silk told humorous anecdotes of the judges;
Cooper was exercised concerning their morality, and enlarged
anxiously on the responsibility of placing a man on the Bench without
having full knowledge of his private life. Silk listened, puffing at
his pipe, and to avoid committing himself to an opinion, asked Cooper
to have another glass of port. Before they parted allusion was made
to the law-books that Cooper was writing--Cooper was always bringing
out new editions of other people's books, and continually exposed the
bad law they wrote in his conversation. He had waited his turn like
another for "soups" at the Bailey, and like another had grown weary
of waiting; besides, the meditative cast of his mind enticed him
towards chamber practice and away from public pleading before judge
and jury. Silk sought "a big advertising case"; he desired the
excitement of court, and, though he never refused any work, he
dreaded the lonely hours necessary for the perfect drawing up of a
long indictment. Cooper was very much impressed with Silk's
abilities; he thought him too hard and mechanical, not sufficiently
interested in the science of morals; but these defects of character
were forgotten in his homage to his friend's worldly shrewdness. For
Cooper was unendowed with worldly shrewdness, and, like all dreamers,
was attracted by a mind which controlled while he might only attempt
to understand. Cooper's aspirations towards an ideal tickled Silk's
mind as it prepared its snares. Cooper often invited Silk to dine
with him at the National Liberal Club; Silk sometimes asked Cooper to
dine with him at the Union. Silk and Cooper were considered alike,
and there were many points in which their appearances coincided.
Cooper was the shorter man of the two, but both were tall, thin,
narrow, and sallow complexioned; both were essentially clean,
respectable, and middle-class.

Cooper was the son of a Low Church bishop who had gained his mitre by
temperance oratory, and what his Lordship was in the cathedral,
Cooper was in the suburban drawing-rooms where radical politics and
the woman's cause were discussed. When he had a brief he brought it
to the library to show it; he almost lived in the library. He arrived
the moment it was opened, and brought a packet of sandwiches so as
not to waste time going out to lunch. His chambers were furnished
without taste, but the works of Comte and Spencer showed that he had
attempted to think; and the works of several socialistic writers
showed that he had striven to solve the problem of human misery. On
the table were several novels by Balzac, which conversation with
Harding had led him to purchase and to read. He likewise possessed a
few volumes of modern poetry, but he freely confessed that he
preferred Pope, Dryden, and Johnson; and it was impossible to bring
him to understand that De Quincey was more subtle and suggestive than
the author of London.

Generally our souls are made of one conspicuous modern mental aspect;
but below this aspect we are woven and coloured by the spirit of some
preceding century, our chance inheritance, and Cooper was a sort of
product of the pedantry of Johnson and the utilitarian mysticism of
Comte. Perhaps the idea nearest to Cooper's heart was "the woman's
cause." The misery and ignominy of human life had affected him, and
he dreamed of the world's regeneration through women; and though well
aware that Comte and Spencer advocate the application of experience
in all our many mental embarrassments, he failed to reconsider
his beliefs in female virtue, although frequently pressed to do
so by Mike. Some personal animosity had grown out of their desire
to convince each other. Cooper had once even meditated Mike's
conversion, and Mike never missed an opportunity of telling some
story which he deemed destructive of Cooper's faith. His faith was
to him what a microscope is to a scientist, and it enabled him to
discover the finest characteristics in the souls of bar-girls, chorus
girls, and prostitutes; and even when he fell, and they fell, his
belief in their virtue and the nobility of their womanly instincts
remained unshaken.

Mike had just finished a most racy story concerning his first
introduction to a certain countess. Cooper had listened in silence,
but when Mike turned at the end of his tale and asked him what he
thought of his conduct, Cooper rose from his chair.

"I think you behaved like a blackguard."

In a moment Mike was aware he had put himself in the wrong--the story
about the countess could not be told except to his destruction in any
language except his own, and he must therefore forbear to strike
Cooper and swallow the insult.

"You ass, get out; I can't quarrel with you on such a subject."

The embarrassment was increased by Cooper calling to Silk and asking
if he were coming with him. The prudent Silk felt that to stay was to
signify his approval of Mike's conduct in the case of the indiscreet
countess. To leave with Cooper was to write himself down a prig,
expose himself to the sarcasm of several past masters in the art of
gibing, and to make in addition several powerful enemies. But the
instinct not to compromise himself in any issue did not desert him,
and rushing after Cooper he attempted the peace-maker. He knew the
attempt would mean no more than some hustling in the doorway, and
some ineffectual protestation, and he returned a few minutes after to
join in the ridicule heaped upon the unfortunate Cooper, and to vow
inwardly that this was his last evening in Bohemia.

By the piano, smoking a clay pipe, there sat a large, rough, strong
man. His beard was bristly and flame-coloured, his face was crimson
and pimply; lion-like locks hung in profusion about the collar of his
shabby jacket. His linen was torn and thin; crumpled was the necktie,
and nearly untied, and the trousers were worn and frayed, and the
boots heavy. He looked as if he could have carried a trunk
excellently well, but as that thought struck you your eyes fell upon
his hands, which were the long, feminine-shaped hands generally found
in those of naturally artistic temperament, nearly always in those
who practise two or more of the arts. Sands affected all the arts.
Enumerate: He played snatches of Bach on the violin, on the piano,
and on the organ; he composed fragments for all three instruments. He
painted little landscapes after (a long way after) the manner of
Corot, of whom he could talk until the small hours in the morning if
an occasional drink and cigar were forthcoming. He modelled little
statuettes in wax, cupids and nymphs, and he designed covers for
books. He could do all these things a little, and not stupidly,
although inefficiently. He had been a volunteer, and therefore wrote
on military subjects, and had on certain occasions been permitted to
criticize our naval defences and point out the vices and shortcomings
in our military system in the leading evening papers. He was
generally seen with a newspaper under his arm going towards Charing
Cross or Fleet Street. He never strayed further west than Charing
Cross, unless he was going to a "picture show," and there was no
reason why he should pass Ludgate Circus, for further east there were
neither newspapers nor restaurants. He was quite without vanity, and
therefore without ambition, Buddha was never more so, not even after
attaining the Nirvana. A picture show in Bond Street, a half-crown
dinner at Simpson's, or the Rainbow, coffee and cigars after, was all
that he desired; give him that, and he was a pleasant companion who
would remain with you until you turned him out, or in charity, for he
was often homeless, allowed him to sleep on your sofa.

Sands was not a member of the Temple, but Hall's rooms were ever a
refuge to the weary--there they might rest, and there was there ever
for them a drink and a mouthful of food. And there Sands had met the
decayed barrister who held the rooms opposite; which, although he had
long ceased to occupy, and had no use for, he still wished to own, if
he could do so without expense, and this might be done by letting two
rooms, and reserving one for himself.

The unwary barrister, believing in the solvency of whoever he met at
Hall's, intrusted his chambers to Sands, without demanding the rent
in advance. A roof to sleep under had been the chief difficulty in
Sands' life. He thought not at all of a change of clothes, and clean
linen troubled him only slightly. Now almost every want seemed
provided for. Coals he could get from Hall, also occasional
half-crowns; these sufficed to pay for his breakfast; a dinner he
could generally "cadge," and if he failed to do so, he had long ago
learnt to go without. It was hard not to admire his gentleness, his
patience and forbearance. If you refused to lend him money he showed
no faintest trace of anger. Hall's friends were therefore delighted
that the chambers opposite were let on conditions so favourable to
Sands; they anticipated with roars of laughter the scene that would
happen at the close of the year, and looked forward to seeing, at
least during the interim, their friend in clean clothes, and reading
"his copy" in the best journals. But the luxury of having a fixed
place to sleep in, stimulated, not industry, but vicious laziness of
the most ineradicable kind. Henceforth Sands abandoned all effort to
help himself. Uncombed, unwashed, in dirty clothes, he lay in an
arm-chair through all the morning, rising from time to time to mess
some paint into the appearance of some incoherent landscape, or to
rasp out some bars of Beethoven on his violin.

"Never did I imagine any one so idle; he is fairly putrid with
idleness," said Hall after a short visit. "Would you believe it, he
has only ninepence for sole shield between him and starvation. The
editor of the _Moon_ has just telegraphed for the notice he should
have written of the Academy, and the brute is just sending a
'wire'--'nothing possible this week.' Did any one ever hear of such a
thing? To-night he won't dine, and he could write the notice in an
hour."

Besides having contributed to almost every paper in London, from the
_Times_ downwards, Sands had held positions as editor and sub-editor
of numerous journals. But he had lost each one in turn, and was
beginning to understand that he was fated to die of poverty, and was
beginning to grow tired of the useless struggle. No one was better
organized to earn his living than Peter Sands, and no one failed more
lamentably. Had fortune provided him with a dinner at Simpson's, a
cigar and a cup of coffee, he would have lived as successfully as
another. But our civilization is hard upon those who are only
conversationalists, it does not seem to have taken them into account
in its scheme, and, in truth, Peter could not do much more than
æstheticize agreeably.

Paul L'Estrange admitted freely that he was not fitted for a lawyer;
but even before he explained that he considered himself one of those
beings who had slipped into a hole that did not fit them, it was
probable that you had already begun to consider the circumstances
that had brought him to choose the law as a profession; for his vague
intelligence "where nothing was and all things seemed," lay mirrored
in his mild eyes like a landscape in a pool. Over such a partial and
meditative a mind as L'Estrange's, the Temple may exercise a
destructive fascination; and since the first day, when a boy he had
walked through the closes gathering round the church, and had heard
of the knights, had seen the old dining-hall with its many
inscriptions, he had never ceased to dream of the Temple--that relic
of the past, saved with all its traditions out of the ruin of time;
and the memory of his cousin's chambers, and the association and
mutuality of the life of the Temple, the picturesqueness of the wigs
and gowns passing, and the uncommonness of it all had taken root and
grown, overshadowing other ideals, and when the time came for him to
choose a profession, no choice was open to him but the law, for the
law resided in the Temple.

Soon after his father died, the family property was sold and the
family scattered; some went to Australia, some to Canada; but
L'Estrange had inherited a hundred a year from a grand-aunt, and he
lived on that, and what he made by writing in the newspapers, for of
course no one had thought of intrusting him with a brief; and what he
made by journalism varied from a hundred and fifty to two hundred and
fifty a year. Whenever a new scare arose he was busy among blue-books
in the library.

L'Estrange loved to dine at the Cock tavern with a party of men from
the inn, and to invite them to his chambers to take coffee
afterwards. And when they had retired, and only one remained, he
would say, "What a nice fellow so-and-so is; you do meet a nice lot
of fellows in the Temple, don't you?" It seemed almost sufficient
that a man should belong to the Temple for L'Estrange to find him
admirable. The dinners in hall were especially delightful. Between
the courses he looked in admiration on the portraits and old oak
carvings, and the armorial bearings, and would tell how one bencher
had been debarred from election as treasurer because he had, on three
occasions, attended dinner without partaking of any food. Such an
insult to the kitchen could not be forgiven. L'Estrange was full of
such stories, and he relished their historical flavour as a gourmet
an unusually successful piece of cooking. He regarded the Temple and
its associations with love.

When he had friends to dinner in his rooms the dinner was always
brought from the hall; he ordered it himself in the large spacious
kitchen, which he duly admired, and prying about amid the various
meats, he chose with care, and when told that what he desired could
not be obtained that day, he continued his search notwithstanding. He
related that on one occasion he discovered a greengage pie, after
many assurances that there was no such thing in the kitchen. If he
was with a friend he laid his hand on his shoulder, and pointing out
an inscription, he said, "Now one thing I notice about the Temple is
that never is an occasion missed of putting up an inscription; and
note the legal character of the inscriptions, how carefully it is
explained, that, for instance, the cloisters, although they are for
the use of the Inner as well as the Middle Temple, yet it was the
Middle Temple that paid to have them put up, and therefore owns the
property." L'Estrange always spoke of the gardens as "our gardens,"
of the church as "our church." He was an authority on all that
related to the Temple, and he delighted in a friend in whom he might
confide; and to walk about the courts with Hall or Sands, stopping
now and then to note some curious piece of sculpture or date, and
forthwith to relate an anecdote that brought back some of the
fragrance and colour of old time, and to tell how he intended to work
such curious facts into the book he was writing on the Temple, was
the essence and the soul of this dreamy man's little life.

Saturday night is the night of dalliance in the Temple, and not
unfrequently on Sunday morning, leaving a lady love, L'Estrange would
go to church--top hat, umbrella, and prayer-book--and having a sense
of humour, he was amused by the incongruity.

"I have left the accursed thing behind me," he once said to Mr.
Collier, and by such facetiousness had seriously annoyed the immense
and most staid Mr. Collier.

A gaunt, hollow-eyed man was he, worn to a thread by diabetes; and to
keep the disease in check, strictly dieted. His appearance was so
suggestive of illness, that whenever he was present the conversation
always turned on what he might eat and what he must refrain from
touching. A large, gray-skinned man, handsome somewhat like a figure
of Melancholy carved out of limestone. Since he had left Oxford,
where he had taken a double first, he had failed--at the bar, in
literature, and in love. It was said that he had once written an
absurd letter asking a lady, who hoped to marry a duke, to go to
South America with him. This letter had been his only adventure.

He was like a bookcase, a store of silent learning, with this
difference--from the bookcase much may be extracted, from Mr. Edmund
Collier nothing. He reminded you of a dry well, a London fog, an
abandoned quarry, the desert of Sahara, and the North Pole; of all
dull and lugubrious things he seemed the type. Nature had not
afflicted him with passions nor any original thought, he therefore
lived an exemplary existence, his mind fortified with exemplary
opinions, doctrines, and old saws.

"I wonder if he is alive," Mike had once said.

"_Hé, hé, tout au plus_," Harding had replied, sardonically.

Collier was now learning Sanscrit and writing an article for the
_Quarterly_. L'Estrange used, as he said, "to dig at him," and after
many exhausting efforts brought up interesting facts to the effect
that he had just finished his treatise on the Greek participle, and
was about to launch a volume of verses mainly addressed to children.

Collier had once possessed considerable property, but he had invested
some in a newspaper of which he was editor, and he had squandered
much in vague speculation. From the account he gave of his losses it
was difficult to decide whether he had been moved by mercenary or
charitable temptations. Now only the merest competence remained. He
lived in a small garret where no solicitor had penetrated, studying
uninteresting literatures, dimly interested in all that the world did
not care for. He lived in the gloom of present failure, embittered by
the memory of past successes, wearied with long illness, and
therefore constrained to live like a hermit, never appearing anywhere
except in Hall's rooms.

Even Mr. Horace Baird, the recluse of the Temple, was sometimes met
in Hall's chambers. When he lifted his hat, the white locks growing
amid the black, magnificent masses of hair caught the eye, and set
the mind thinking on the brevity of youth, or wondering what
ill-fortune had thus done the work of time. A passing glance told you
that he was unsuccessful in his profession and unfortunate in his
life, and if you spoke to him, an affected gaiety of manner confirmed
the truth of the first impression. Near him sat a patriarchal
barrister who had travelled in the colonies, had had political
appointments, and in vague hopes of further political appointments
professed advanced views, which he endeavoured to redeem with
flavourless humour. There were also two young men who shared chambers
and took in pupils. Fine tales their laundress told of the state of
their sitting-room in the morning, the furniture thrown about, the
table-cloth drenched in whiskey.

There was a young man whose hobby was dress and chorus girls. There
was a young man whose hobby was pet birds; he talked about the
beautiful South American bird he had just bought, and he asked you to
come and see it taking its bath in the morning. Several persons were
writing law-books, which their authors hoped would rival _Chitty on
Contracts_.

The Temple, like a fatherland, never loses its influence over its
children. He who has lived in the Temple will return to the Temple.
All things are surrendered for the Temple. All distances are
traversed to reach the Temple. The Temple is never forgotten. The
briefless barrister, who left in despair and became Attorney-General
of New South Wales, grows homesick, surrenders his position, and
returns. The young squire wearies in his beautiful country house, and
his heart is fixed in the dingy chambers, which he cannot relinquish,
and for which wealth cannot compensate him. Even the poor clerks do
not forget the Temple, and on Saturday afternoons they prowl about
their old offices, and often give up lucrative employments. They are
drawn by the Temple as by a magnet, and must live again in the shadow
of the old inns. The laundresses' daughters pass into wealthy
domesticities, but sooner or later they return to drudge again in the
Temple.

"How awfully jolly!--I do enjoy an evening like this," said Mike,
when the guests had departed.

At that moment a faint footstep was heard on the landing; Hall rushed
to see who was there, and returned with two women. They explained
that they wanted a drink. Mike pressed them to make themselves at
home, and Hall opened another bottle.

"How comfortable you bachelors are here by yourselves," said one.

"I should think we are just; no fear of either of us being such fools
as to break up our home by getting married," replied Mike.

Sometimes Mike and Hall returned early from the restaurant, and wrote
from eight to eleven; then went out for a cup of coffee and a prowl,
beating up the Strand for women. They stayed out smoking and talking
at the corners till the streets were empty. Once they sent a couple
of harlots to rouse a learned old gentleman who lived in Brick Court,
and with bated breath listened from the floor beneath to the dialogue
above.

But to continue this life, which he enjoyed so intensely that he had
even lost his desire to gamble, Mike was forced to borrow. Knowing
how such things are bruited about, Mike chose to go to a woman rather
than to any of his men friends. Mrs. Byril lent him twenty pounds,
wherefore he thought it necessary to lecture Hall for one whole
evening on the immorality of ever accepting money from women; and he
remained for weeks in idleness, smoking and drinking in restaurants
and bar rooms, deaf to Frank's many pleadings for "copy." At last he
roused a little, and feeling he could do nothing in London, proposed
to come and stay with Frank in his cottage at Marlow, and there write
the letters.

It was a bright October afternoon, Frank had gone to the station, and
Lizzie, to appease the baby, had unbuttoned her dress. The little
servant-girl who assisted with the house-work was busy in the
kitchen; for the fatted calf had been killed--that is to say, a pair
of soles, a steak, and a partridge were in course of preparation.
Lizzie thought of the partridge. She had omitted soup from the dinner
so that she might herself see to the fish; the steak, unless
something quite unforeseen occurred, Annie would be able to manage,
but the partridge! Lizzie determined she would find an excuse for
leaving the room; Frank would not like it, but anything would be
better than that the bird should appear in a raw or cindery
condition, which would certainly be the case if she did not see to
it. The jam-pudding was boiling and would be taken out of the pot at
a fixed time. And with baby upon her breast, she watched Sally scrape
and clean the fish and beat the steak; then, hearing the front door
open, she buttoned her dress, put baby in his cot, and went to meet
her visitor. Mike said he had never seen her looking so well; but in
truth he thought she had grown fat and coarse; and in half an hour he
had realized all the detail of their misfortune. He guessed that she
had helped to cook the dinner, that the wine had come from the
public-house, that they had given up their room to him, and were
sleeping in some small cupboard-like place at the end of the passage.

Of the many various unpleasantnesses of married life which had
crowded into his consciousness since he had been in the cottage, this
impressed him the most. He went to sleep thinking of it, and when he
sat down to write next morning (a little study had been arranged for
him), it was the first thought that stirred in him.

"How fearfully unpleasant!--and after having been married for nearly
two years! I could not do it. If I were married--even if I were to
marry Lily, I should insist on having separate rooms. Even with
separate rooms marriage is intolerable. How much better to see her
sometimes, sigh for her from afar, and so preserve one's ideal.
Married! One day I should be sure to surprise her washing herself;
and I know of no more degrading spectacle than that of a woman
washing herself over a basin. Degas painted it once. I'd give
anything to have that picture."

But he could not identify Lily as forming part of that picture; his
imagination did not help him, and he could only see her staid and
gracious, outside all the gross materialism of life. He felt that
Lily would never lose her dignity and loveliness, which in her were
one, and in his mind she ever stood like a fair statue out of reach
of the mud and the contumely of the common street; and ashamed, an
unsuccessful iconoclast, he could not do otherwise than kneel and
adore.

And when at the end of a week he received an invitation to a ball
where he thought she would be, he must perforce obey, and go with
tremulous heart. She was engaged in a quadrille that passed to and
fro beneath blue tapestry curtains, and he noticed the spray of
lilies of the valley in her bodice, so emblematic did they seem of
her. Beneath the blue curtain she stood talking to her partner after
the dance; and he did not go to speak to her, but remained looking.
They only danced together twice; and that evening was realized by him
in a strangely intense and durable perception of faint scent and
fluent rhythm. The sense of her motion, of her frailness, lingered in
his soul ever afterwards. And he remembered ever afterwards the
moments he spent with her in a distant corner--the palm, the gold of
the screen, the movement of her white skirt as she sat down. All was,
as it were, bitten upon his soul--exquisite etchings! Even the pauses
in the conversation were remembered; pauses full of mute affection;
pauses full of thought unexpressed, falling in sharp chasms of
silence. In such hours and in such pauses is the essence of our
lives, the rest is adjunct and decoration. He watched, fearing each
man that looked through the doorway might claim her for the next
dance. His thought swept through his soul edgeways. Did he love her?
Would he love her always? And he was conscious of the contrast his
speech presented, to the tumult that raged and shrieked within him.
Yet he couldn't speak the word, and he cursed his little cowardice.

The ball came and went--a little year with its four seasons; and when
in the hall he stood by her, helping her with her cloak (silk and
gray fur, folding the delicate line of the neck), and became aware
that even those last moments did not hold the word his soul was
whispering, he cursed his cowardice, and, weary of himself, he turned
down the dark street, feeling that he had lost his life.

"Now all is ended," he thought, "I'm like a convict who attempted
escape and has been brought back and yoked again in the sweaty and
manacled gang; and I must continue in and bear with this life of
gross sensuality and dirty journalism, 'which I have borne and yet
must bear'--a wearisome repetition of what has been done and re-done
a thousand times, 'till death-like sleep shall steal on me,' and I
may hear some horrible lodging-house keeper 'breathe o'er my dying
brain a last monotony.' And in various degradations my intellect will
suffer, will decay; but with her refining and elevating influence, I
might be a great writer. It is certain that the kernel of Art is
aspiration for higher things; at all events, I should lead a cleanly
life. If I were married to her I should not write this book. It
certainly is a disgraceful book; and yet it amuses me."

His thoughts paused, then an idea came, and with his pen he pursued
it and the quickly rising flight which followed for a couple of
hours.

"Why should I not write and ask her to marry me?" He smiled at the
thought, but the thought was stronger than he, and he went to bed
thinking of her, and he rose thinking of her; and the desire to write
and tell her that he loved her and wanted her for wife persisted; he
shook it off a dozen times, but it grew more and more poignant, until
it settled on his heart, a lancinating pain which neither work nor
pleasure could remove. Daily he grew feebler, losing at each effort
some power of resistance. One day he took up the pen to write the
irrevocable. But the reality of the ink and paper frightened him.
"Will you be my wife?" seemed to him silly. Even in this crisis
self-esteem lay uppermost in his mind; and he wrote many letters
before he felt certain he had guarded himself against ridicule. At
last he folded up a sheet upon which he had written--"Dearest Lily,
you are the only woman I may love; will you allow me to love you for
ever?" He put this into an envelope and directed it; nothing remained
but to post it. The clock told him he could catch the post if he
started away at once, but he drew back, frightened at the reality of
the post-office, and decided to sleep over his letter.

The night was full of Lily--fair, chaste dreams, whence he rose as
from a bath clothed in the samite of pure delight. While dressing he
felt sure that marriage--marriage with Lily must be the realization
of such dreams, and that it would be folly not to post his letter.
Still, it might be as well to hear the opinion of one who had taken
the important step, and after breakfast he drew Frank into
conversation about Lizzie.

"I am quite happy," he said. "Lizzie is a good wife, and I love her
better to-day than the day I married her; but the price I paid for
her was too high. Mount Rorke has behaved shamefully, and so has
everybody but you. I never see any of the old lot now. Snowdown came
once to dine about a year ago, but I never go anywhere where Lizzie
is not asked. Mount Rorke has only written once since my marriage,
and then it was to say he never wished to see me again. The next I
heard was the announcement of his marriage."

"So he has married again," said Mike, looking at Frank, and then he
thought--"So you who came from the top shall go to the bottom! Shall
he who came from the bottom go to the top?"

"I have not heard yet of a child. I have tried to find out if one is
expected; but what does it matter?--Mount Rorke wouldn't give me a
penny-piece to save me from starvation, and I should have time to
starve a good many times before he goes off the hooks. I don't mind
telling you I'm about as hard up as a man possibly can be. I owe
three quarters' rent for my rooms in Temple Gardens, nearly two
hundred pounds. The Inn is pressing me, and I can't get three hundred
for my furniture, and I'm sure I paid more than fifteen hundred for
what there is there."

"Why don't you sell a share in the paper?"

"I have sold a small part of it, a very small part of it, a fifth,
and there is a fellow called Thigh--you know the fellow, he has
edited every stupid weekly that has appeared and disappeared for the
last ten years--well, he has got hold of a mug, and by all accounts a
real mug, one of the right sort, a Mr. Beacham Brown. Mr. Brown wants
a paper, and has commissioned Thigh to buy him one. Thigh wants me to
sell a half share in the _Pilgrim_ for a thousand, but I shall have
to give Thigh back four hundred; and I shall--that is to say, I shall
if I agree to Thigh's terms--become assistant editor at a salary of
six pounds a week; two pounds a week of which I shall have to hand
over to Thigh, who comes in as editor at a salary of ten pounds a
week. All the staff will be engaged on similar conditions. Thigh is
'working' Beacham Brown beautifully--he won't have a sixpence to
bless himself with when Thigh has done with him."

"And are you going to accept Thigh's terms?"

"Not if I can possibly help it. If your articles send up the
circulation and my new advertising agent can do the West End
tradesmen for a few more advertisements, I shall stand off and wait
for better terms. My new advertising agent is a wonder, the finest in
Christendom. The other day a Bond Street jeweller who advertises with
us came into my office. He said, 'Sir, I have come to ask you if you
circulate thirty thousand copies a week.' 'Well,' I said, 'perhaps
not quite.' 'Then, sir,' he replied, 'you will please return me my
money; I gave your agent my advertisement upon his implicit assurance
that you circulated thirty thousand a week.' I said there must be
some mistake; Mr. Tomlinson happens to be in the office, if you'll
allow me I'll ask him to step down-stairs. I touched the bell, and
told the boy to ask Mr. Tomlinson to step into the office. 'Mr.
Tomlinson,' I said, 'Mr. Page says that he gave you his advertisement
on our implicit assurance that we circulated thirty thousand copies
weekly. Did you tell him that?' Quite unabashed, Tomlinson answered,
'I told Mr. Page that we had more than thirty thousand readers a
week. We send to ten line regiments and five cavalry regiments--each
regiment consists of, let us say, eight hundred. We send to every
club in London, and each club has on an average a thousand members.
Why, sir,' exclaimed Tomlinson, turning angrily on the jeweller, 'I
might have said that we had a hundred thousand readers and I should
have still been under the mark!' The jeweller paid for his
advertisement and went away crestfallen. Such a man as Tomlinson is
the very bone and muscle of a society journal."

"And the nerves too," said Mike.

"Better than the contributors who want to write about the relation
between art and morals."

The young men laughed mightily.

"And what will you do," said Mike, "if you don't settle with Thigh?"

"Perhaps my man will be able to pick up another advertisement or two;
perhaps your articles may send up the circulation. One thing is
certain, things can't go on as they are; at this rate I shall not be
able to carry the paper on another six months."

The conversation fell, and Mike remembered the letter in his side
pocket; it lay just over his heart. Frank's monetary difficulties had
affected his matrimonial aspirations. "For if the paper 'bursts up'
how shall I live, much less support a wife? Live! I shall always be
able to live, but to support a wife is quite another matter. Perhaps
Lily has some money. If she had five hundred a year I would marry
her; but I don't know if she has a penny. She must have some, a few
thousands--enough to pay the first expenses. To get a house and get
into the house would cost a thousand." A cloud passed over his face.
The householder, the payer of rates and taxes which the thought
evoked, jarred and caricatured the ideal, the ideal Mike Fletcher,
which in more or less consistent form was always present in his mind.
He who had always received, would have to make presents. The
engagement ring would cost five-and-twenty pounds, and where was he
to get the money? The ring he would have to buy at once; and his
entire fortune did not for the moment amount to ten pounds. Her
money, if she had any, would pay for the honeymoon; and it was only
right that a woman should pay for her honeymoon. They would go to
Italy. She was Italy! At least she was his idea of Italy. Italy! he
had never been there; he had always intended to keep Italy for his
wedding tour. He was virgin of Italy. So much virginity he had at all
events kept for his wife. She was the emblem and symbol of Italy.

Venice rose into his eyes. He is in a gondola with her; the water is
dark with architrave and pillar; and a half moon floats in a
boundless sky But remembering that this is the Venice of a hundred
"chromos," his imagination filled the well-known water-way with
sunlight and maskers, creating the carnival upon the Grand Canal.
Laughing and mocking Loves; young nobles in blue hose, sword on
thigh, as in Shakespeare's plays; young brides in tumultuous satin,
with collars of translucent pearls; garlands reflected in the water;
scarves thrown about the ample bosoms of patrician matrons. Then the
brides, the nobles, the pearls, the loves, and the matrons disappear
in a shower of confetti. Wearying of Venice he strove to see
Florence, "the city of lilies"; but the phrase only suggested
flower-sellers. He intoxicated upon his love, she who to him was now
Italy. He imagined confidences, sudden sights of her face more
exquisite than the Botticelli women in the echoing picture galleries,
more enigmatic than the eyes of a Leonardo; and in these days of
desire, he lived through the torment of impersonal love, drawn for
the first time out of himself. All beautiful scenes of love from
books, pictures, and life floated in his mind. He especially
remembered a sight of lovers which he had once caught on an hotel
staircase. A young couple, evidently just returned from the theatre,
had entered their room; the woman was young, tall, and aristocratic;
she was dressed in some soft material, probably a dress of
cream-coloured lace in numberless flounces; he remembered that her
hair was abundant and shadowed her face. The effect of firelight
played over the hangings of the bed; she stood by the bed and raised
her fur cloak from her shoulders. The man was tall and thin, and the
light caught the points of the short sharp beard. The scene had
bitten itself into Mike's mind, and it reappeared at intervals
perfect as a print, for he sometimes envied the calm and
healthfulness of honourable love.

"Great Scott! twelve o'clock!" Smiling, conscious of the incongruity,
he set to work, and in about three hours had finished a long letter,
in which he usefully advised "light o' loves" on the advantages of
foreign travel.

"I wonder," he thought, "how I can write in such a strain while I'm
in love with her. What beastliness! I hate the whole thing. I desire
a new life; I have tried vice long enough and am weary of it; I'm not
happy, and if I were to gain the whole world it would be dust and
ashes without her. Then why not take that step which would bring her
to me?" He faced his cowardice angrily, and resolved to post the
letter. But he stopped before he had walked fifty yards, for his
doubts followed him, buzzing and stinging like bees. Striving to rid
himself of them, and weary of considering his own embarrassed
condition, he listened gladly to Lizzie, who deplored Mount Rorke's
cruelty and her husband's continuous ill luck.

"I told him his family would never receive me; I didn't want to marry
him; for days I couldn't make up my mind; he can't say I persuaded
him into it."

"But you are happy now; don't you like being married?"

"Oh, yes, I should be happy enough if things only went better with
us. He is so terribly unlucky. No one works harder than Frank; he
often sits up till three o'clock in the morning writing. He tries
everything, but nothing seems to succeed with him. There's this
paper. I don't believe he has ever had a penny out of it. Tell me,
Mr. Fletcher, do you think it will ever succeed?"

"Newspapers generally fail for want of a concerted plan of appeal to
a certain section of society kept steadily in view; they are nearly
always vague and undetermined; but I believe when four clever pens
are brought together, and write continuously, and with set purpose
and idea, that they can, that they must and invariably do create a
property worth at least twenty thousand pounds."

"Frank has gone to the station to meet Thigh. I distrust that man
dreadfully; I hope he won't rob my poor husband. Frank told me to get
a couple of pheasants for dinner. Which way are you going? To the
post-office? Do you want a stamp?"

"No, thank you, my letter is stamped." He held the letter in the box
unable to loose his fingers, embarrassed in the consideration whether
marriage would permit him to develop his artistic nature as he
intended. Lizzie was looking at him, and it was with difficulty that
he concealed from her the fact that he had not dropped his letter in
the box.

When they returned to the cottage they found Thigh and Frank were
turning over the pages of the last number of the _Pilgrim_.

"Just let's go through the paper," said Frank. "One, two,
three--twelve columns of paragraphs! and I'll bet that in every one
of those columns there is a piece of news artistic, political, or
social, which no other paper has got. Here are three articles, one
written by our friend here, one by me, and one by a man whose name I
am not at liberty to mention; but I may tell you he has written some
well-known books, and is a constant contributor to the _Fortnightly_;
here is a column of gossip from Paris excellently well done; here is
a short story ... What do you think the paper wants?"

Thigh was a very small and very neatly-dressed man. His manner was
quiet and reserved, and he caressed a large fair moustache with his
left hand, on which a diamond ring sparkled.

"I think it wants smartening up all round," he said. "You want to
make it smarter; people will have things bright nowadays."

"Bright!" said Frank; "I don't know where you are going for
brightness nowadays. Just look at the other papers--here is the
_Club_--did you ever see such a rag? Here is the _Spy_--I don't think
you could tell if you were reading a number of last year or this week
if you didn't look at the date! I've given them up for news. I look
to see if they have got a new advertisement; if they have, I send
Tomlinson and see if I can get one too."

Thigh made some judicious observations, and the conversation was
continued during dinner. Frank and Mike vying with each other to show
their deference to Thigh's literary opinions--Lizzie eager to know
what he thought of her dinner.

Thigh said the turbot was excellent, that the cutlets were very nice,
that the birds were splendid; the jam pudding was voted delicious.
And they leaned back in their chairs, their eyes filled with the
torpor of digestion. Frank brought out a bottle of old port, the last
of a large supply which he had had from Mount Rorke's wine merchant.
The pleasure of the wine was in their stomachs, and under its
influence they talked of Tennyson, Leonardo da Vinci, Corot, and the
_Ingoldsby Legends_. The servant had brought in the lamp, cigars were
lighted, the clock struck nine. As yet not a word had been spoken of
the business, and seeing that Mike was deep in conversation with
Lizzie, Frank moved his chair towards Thigh, and said--

"Well, what about buying half of the paper?"

"I'm quite ready to buy half the paper on the conditions I've already
offered you."

"But they won't do. If I have to go smash, I may as well go smash for
a large sum as a small one. To clear myself of debts I must have five
hundred pounds."

"Well, you'll get six hundred; you'll receive a thousand and you'll
give me back four hundred."

"Yes, but I did not tell you that I have sold a small share in the
paper to an old schoolfellow of mine. When I have paid him I shall
have only two hundred, and that won't be of the slightest use to me."

"Oh, you have sold part of the paper already, have you? How do you
know your friend will consent to be bought out? That complicates
matters."

"My friend only did it to oblige me; he is only too anxious to be
bought out. He is in a fearful funk lest he should be compromised in
a libel action."

"Oh, then I think it can be managed. Were I in your place I should
try and get rid of him for nothing. I can't offer you better terms;
it wouldn't pay me to do so; I might as well start a new paper."

"Yes, but tell me, how can I get rid of him for nothing?"

Thigh looked at Frank inquiringly, and apparently satisfied he drew
his chair nearer, stroked his moustache, and said, speaking under his
breath--

"Have you collected what money is owing to the paper lately? Have you
many outstanding debts?"

"We have got some."

"Well, don't collect any money that is owing, but make out a long
statement of the paper's liabilities; don't say a word about the
outstanding debts, and tell your friend that he is responsible as
part owner of the paper for this money. When you have sufficiently
frightened him, suggest that he should sign over his share to you,
you being a man of straw whom it would be useless to proceed against.
Or you might get your printer to press you for money--"

"That won't be difficult."

"Offer him a bill, and then mix the two accounts up together."

At this moment Mike was speaking to Lizzie of love. She told him
there was no real happiness except in married life, assured him that
though they might be beggars to-day, she would not give up her
husband for all the wealth of the three kingdoms.

Very anxious to ascertain the truth about married life, Mike pressed
Lizzie upon several points; the old ache awoke about his heart, and
again he resolved to regenerate his life, and love Lily and none but
her. He looked round the room, considering how he could get away.
Frank was talking business. He would not disturb him. No doubt Thigh
was concocting some swindle, but he (Mike) knew nothing of business;
he had a knack of turning the king at écarté, but was nowhere once
bills and the cooking of accounts were introduced. Should he post the
letter? That was the question, and it played in his ears like an
electric bell. Here was the letter; he could feel it through his
coat, lying over his heart, and there it had lain since he had
written it.

Frank and Thigh continued talking; Lizzie went to the baby, and Mike
walked into the night, looking at the stars. He walked along the
white high-road--to him a road of dreams--towards the white town--to
him a town of chimeras--and leaning over the moon-lit river, shaking
himself free from the hallucination within and without him, he said--

"On one hand I shall belong to one woman. Her house shall be my
house, her friends shall be my friends; the others, the beautiful,
fascinating others, will cease to dream of me, I shall no longer be
their ideal. On the other hand I shall gain the nicest woman, and
surely it must be right to take, though it be for life, the nicest
woman in the world. She will supply what is wanting in my character;
together we shall attain a goal; alone I shall attain none. In twenty
years I shall be a foolish old bachelor whom no one cares for. I have
stated both cases--on which side does the balance turn?"

The balance still stood at equipoise. A formless moon soared through
a white cloud wrack, and broken gold lay in the rising tide. The
sonorous steps of the policeman on the bridge startled him, and
obeying the impulse of the moment, he gave the officer the letter,
asking him to post it. He waited for some minutes, as if stupefied,
pursuing the consequences of his act even into distant years. No, he
would not send the letter just yet. But the officer had disappeared
in some by-streets, and followed by the spirits of future loves, Mike
ran till he reached the post-office, where he waited in nervous
apprehension. Presently steps were heard in the stillness, and
getting between him and the terrible slot, Mike determined to fight
for his letter if it were refused him.

"I met you just now on the bridge and asked you to post a letter;
give it back to me, if you please. I've changed my mind."

The officer looked at him narrowly, but he took the proffered
shilling, and returned the letter.

"That was the narrowest squeak I've had yet," thought Mike.

When he returned to the cottage he found Frank and Thigh still
together.

"Mr. Beacham Brown," said Thigh, "is now half-proprietor of the
_Pilgrim_. The papers are signed. I came down quite prepared. I
believe in settling things right off. When Mrs. Escott comes in, we
will drink to the new _Pilgrim_, or, if you like it better, to the
old _Pilgrim_, who starts afresh with a new staff and scrip, and a
well-filled scrip too," he added, laughing vacuously.

"I hope," said Mike, "that Holloway is not the shrine he is
journeying towards."

"I hope your book won't bring us there."

"Why, I didn't know you were going to continue--"

"Oh, yes," said Thigh; "that is to say, if we can come to an
arrangement about the purchase," and Thigh lapsed into a stony
silence, as was his practice when conducting a bargain.

"By God!" Mike thought, "I wish we were playing at écarté or poker.
I'm no good at business."

"Well," he said at last, "what terms do you propose to offer me?"

Thigh woke up.

"I never bargain," he said. "I'll give you Beacham Brown's cheque for
a hundred and fifty if you will give me a receipt for three hundred,"
and he looked inquiry out of his small, pale blue eyes, and Mike
noticed the diamond ring on the hand that caressed his moustache.

"No," said Mike, "that isn't fair. You don't write a line of the
book. There is not even the excuse of commission, for the book is now
appearing."

"Escott would not have paid you anything like that amount. I think
I'm treating you very liberally. Indeed I don't mind telling you that
I should not offer you anything like such terms if Beacham Brown were
not anxious to have the book; he read your last article in the train,
and came back raving about it."

Bright pleasure passed across Mike's face; he thought Thigh had
slipped in the avowal, and he girt himself for resolute resistance
and cautious attack. But Thigh was the superior strategist. Mike was
led from the subject, and imperceptibly encouraged to speak of other
things, and without interruption he span paradoxes and scattered
jokes for ten minutes. Then the conversation dropped, and annoyed,
Mike fixed his eyes on Thigh, who sat in unmovable silence.

"Well," said Mike, "what do you intend to do?"

"About what?" said Thigh, with a half-waking stare.

"About this book of mine. You know very well that if I take it to
another shop you'll find it difficult to get anything like as good a
serial. I know pretty well what talent is walking about Fleet
Street."

Thigh said nothing, only raised his eyes as if Mike's words were full
of suggestion, and again beguiled, Mike rambled into various
criticisms of contemporary journalism. Friends were laughed at, and
the papers they edited were stigmatized as rags that lived upon the
ingenuity of the lies of advertising agents. When the conversation
again dropped, Thigh showed no inclination of returning to the book,
but, as before, sat in stony silence, and out of temper with himself,
Mike had to ask him again what the terms were.

"I cannot offer you better terms than I have already done."

"Very well; I'll take one hundred and fifty for the serial rights."

"No, for the entire rights."

"No, I'll be damned, I don't care what happens!"

Then Frank joined in the discussion. Every one withdrew the offer he
had made, and all possibility of agreement seemed at an end. Somehow
it was suggested that Thigh should toss Mike whether he should pay
him two hundred or a hundred and fifty. The men exchanged questioning
looks, and at that moment Lizzie entered with a pack of cards, and
Thigh said--

"I'll play you at écarté--the best out of seven games."

Mike realized at once the situation, and he hoped Frank would not
betray him. He saw that Thigh had been drinking. "God has given him
into my hands," he thought; and it was agreed that they should play
the best out of seven games for twenty-five pounds, and that the
loser should have the right to call for a return match. Mike knew
nothing of his opponent's play, but he did not for a moment suspect
him of superior skill. Such a thing could hardly be, and he decided
he would allow him to win the first games, watching carefully the
while, so that he might study his combinations and plans, and learn
in what measure he might pack and "bridge" the cards. There is much
in a shuffle, and already Mike believed him to be no more than an
ordinary club player, capable of winning a few sovereigns from a
young man fresh from the university; and although the cards Mike held
did not warrant such a course, he played without proposing, and when
he lost the trick he scanned his opponent's face, and seeing it
brighten, he knew the ruse had succeeded. But luck seemed to run
inexplicably against him, and he was defeated. In the return match he
met with similar luck, and rose from the table, having lost fifty
pounds. Mike wrote a second I O U for twenty-five pounds, to be paid
out of the hundred and fifty pounds which he had agreed in writing to
accept for the book before sitting down to play. Then he protested
vehemently against his luck, and so well did he act his part, that
even if Thigh had not drunk another glass of whiskey-and-water he
would not have perceived that Mike was simulating an excitement which
he did not feel.

"I'll play you for a hundred pounds--the best out of seven games;
damn the cards! I can beat you no matter how they run!"

"Very well, I don't mind, anything to oblige a friend."

Lizzie besought Mike not to play again, and she nearly upset the
apple-cart by angrily telling Thigh she did not wish her house to be
turned into a gambling hell. Thigh rose from the table, but Frank
apologized for his wife, and begged of him to sit down. The incident
was not without a good effect, for it removed Thigh's suspicions, if
he had any, and convinced him that he was "in for a real good thing."
He laid on the table a cheque, signed Beacham Brown, for a hundred
pounds; Mike produced his nearly completed manuscript. Thigh looked
over the MS., judging its length.

"It is all here?"

"No, there's one chapter to come; that's good enough for you."

"Oh yes, it will do. You'll have to finish it, for you'll want to
write for the paper."

This time the cards were perfectly packed, and Mike turned the king.

"Cards?"

"No, play."

Frank and Lizzie leaned breathless over the table, their faces white
in the light of the unshaded lamp. Mike won the whole five tricks.
But luck was dead against him, and in a few minutes the score stood
at three games all. Then outrageously, for there was no help for it,
as he never would have dared if his opponent had been quite sober, he
packed and bridged the cards. He turned the king.

"Cards?"

"No, play."

Mike won the fourth game, and put Mr. Beacham Brown's cheque in his
pocket.

"I'll play you again," said Thigh.

Mike accepted, and before eleven o'clock Thigh had paid three hundred
pounds for the manuscript and lost all his available spare cash. He
glanced narrowly at Mike, paused as he put on his hat and coat, and
Frank wished Lizzie would leave the room, feeling sure that violent
words were inevitable. But at that moment Mike's shoulders and
knuckles seemed more than usually prominent, and Mr. Beacham Brown's
agent slunk away into the darkness.

"You did turn the king pretty often," said Frank, when the door
closed. "I'm glad there was no row."

"Row! I'd have broken his dirty neck. Not content with swindling poor
Beacham Brown, he tries it on with the contributors. I wish I had
been able to get him to go on. I would willingly have fleeced him of
every penny he has in the world."

Lizzie bade them good-night, and the servant brought in a letter for
Mike, a letter which she explained had been incorrectly addressed,
and had just come from the hotel. Frank took up a newspaper which
Thigh had left on the table. He turned it over, glancing hastily
through it. Then something caught his eye, and the expression of his
face changed. And what caused him pain could be no more than a few
words, for the paper fell instantly from his hands and he sat quite
still, staring into space. But neither the sound of the paper
falling, nor yet the frozen rigidity of his attitude drew Mike's
thoughts from the letter he was reading. He glanced hastily through
it, then he read it attentively, lingering over every word. He seemed
to suck sweetness out of every one; it was the deep, sensual
absorption of a fly in a pot of treacle. His eyes were dim with
pleasure long drawn out; they saw nothing, and it was some moments
before the pallor and pain of Frank's face dispelled the melliferous
Edens in which Mike's soul moved.

"What is the matter, old chap? Are you ill?"

Frank did not answer.

"Are you ill? Shall I get you a drink?"

"No, no," he said. "I assure you it is nothing; no, it is nothing."
He struggled for a moment for shame's sake to keep his secret, but it
was more than he could bear. "Ah!" he said, "it is all over; I'm done
for--read."

He stooped to pick up the paper. Mike took the paper from him and
read--

"Thursday--Lady Mount Rorke, of a son."

Whilst one man hears his doom pronounced, another sees a golden
fortune fallen in his hand, and the letter Mike had just read was
from a firm of solicitors, informing him that Lady Seeley had left
him her entire fortune, three thousand a year in various securities,
and a property in Berkshire; house, pictures, plate--in a word,
everything she possessed. The bitterness of his friend's ill fortune
contrasting with the sweetness of his own good fortune, struck his
heart, and he said, with genuine sorrow in his voice--

"I'm awfully sorry, old chap."

"There's no use being sorry for me, I'm done for; I shall never be
Lord Mount Rorke now. That child, that wife, are paupers; that
castle, that park, that river, all--everything that I was led to
believe would be mine one day, has passed from me irrevocably. It is
terribly cruel--it seems too cruel to be true; all those old
places--you know them--all has passed from me. I never believed Mount
Rorke would have an heir, he is nearly seventy; it is too cruel."

Tears swam in his eyes, and covering his face in his hands he burst
into a storm of heavy sobbing.

Mike was sincere, but "there is something not wholly disagreeable to
us in hearing of the misfortunes even of our best friends," and Mike
felt the old thought forced into his mind that he who had come from
the top had gone to the bottom, and that he who came from the bottom
was going--had gone to the top. Taking care, however, that none of
the triumph ebullient within him should rise into his voice, he
said--

"I am really sorry for you, Frank. You mustn't despair; perhaps the
child won't live, and perhaps the paper will succeed. It must
succeed. It shall succeed."

"Succeed! nothing succeeds with me. I and my wife and child are
beggars on the face of the earth. It matters little to me whether the
paper succeeds or fails. Thigh has got pretty nearly all of it. When
my debts are paid I shall not have enough to set myself up in rooms."

At the end of a painful silence, Mike said--

"We've had our quarrels, but you've been a damned good friend to me;
it is my turn now to stand to you. To begin with, here is the three
hundred that I won from Thigh. I don't want it. I assure you I don't.
Then there are your rooms in Temple Gardens; I'll take them off your
hands. I'll pay all the arrears of rent, and give you the price you
paid for your furniture."

"What damned nonsense! how can you do that? Take three hundred pounds
from you--the price of your book. You have nothing else in the
world!"

"Yes, I have; it is all right, old chap; you can have the money. The
fact is," he said, "Lady Seeley has left me her whole fortune; the
letter I just received is from the solicitors. They say three
thousand a year in various securities, and a property in Berkshire.
So you see I can afford to be generous. I shall feel much hurt if you
don't accept. Indeed, it is the least I can do; I owe it to you."

The men looked at each other, their eyes luminous with intense and
quickening emotions. Fortune had been so derisive that Mike feared
Frank would break into foolish anger, and that only a quarrel and
worse hatred might result from his offer of assistance.

"It was in my box you met her; I remember the night quite well. You
were with Harding." [Footnote: See _Spring Days_.] The men exchanged
an inquiring look. "She wanted me to go home and have supper with
her; she was in love with me then; I might have been her lover. But I
refused, and I went into the bar and spoke to Lizzie; when she went
off on duty I went and sat with you and Harding. Not long after I saw
you at Reading, in the hotel overlooking the river. I was with
Lizzie." [Footnote: See _Spring Days_.]

"You can't accuse me of having cut you out. You could have got her,
and--"

"I didn't want her; I was in love with Lizzie, and I am still. And
strange as it may appear to you, I regret nothing, at least nothing
that concerns Lizzie."

Mike wondered if this were true. His fingers fidgeted with the
cheques. "Won't you take them?"

Frank took them. It was impossible to continue the conversation.
Frank made a remark, and the young men bade each other good-night.

As Mike went up the staircase to his room, his exultation swelled,
and in one of those hallucinations of the brain consequent upon
nerve excitement, and in which we are conscious of our insanity, he
wondered the trivial fabric of the cottage did not fall, and his soul
seemed to pierce the depth and mystery imprisoned in the stars. He
undressed slowly, looking at himself in the glass, pausing when he
drew off his waistcoat, unbuttoning his braces with deliberation.

"I can make nothing of it; there never was any one like me.... I
could do anything, I might have been Napoleon or Cæsar."

As he folded his coat he put his hand into the breast pocket and
produced the unposted letter.

"That letter will drive me mad! Shall I burn it? What do I want with
a wife? I've plenty of money now."

He held the letter to the flame of the candle. But he could not burn
it.

"This is too damned idiotic!" he thought, as he laid it on the table
and prepared to get into bed; "I'm not going to carry that letter
about all my life. I must either post it or destroy it."

Then the darkness became as if charged with a personality sweet and
intense; it seemed to emanate from the letter which lay on the table,
and to materialize strangely and inexplicably. It was the fragrance
of brown hair, and the light of youthful eyes; and in this perfume,
and this light, he realized her entire person; every delicate defect
of thinness. She hung over him in all her girlishness, and he clasped
her waist with his hands.

"How sweet she is! There is none like her."

Then wearying of the strained delight he remembered Belthorpe Park,
now his. Trees and gardens waved in his mind; downs and river lands
floated, and he half imagined Lily there smiling upon them; and when
he turned to the wall, resolute in his search for sleep, the perfume
he knew her by, the savour of the skin, where the first faint curls
begin, haunted in his hallucinations, and intruded beneath the
bed-clothes. One dream was so exquisite in its tenderness, so
illusive was the enchanted image that lay upon his brain, that
fearing to lose it, he strove to fix his dream with words, but no
word pictured her eyes, or the ineffable love they expressed, and yet
the sensation of both was for the moment quite real in his mind. They
were sitting in a little shady room; she was his wife, and she hung
over him, sitting on his knee. Her eyes were especially distinct and
beautiful, and her arms--those thin arms which he knew so well--and
that waist were clothed in a puritanic frock of some blue material.
His happiness thrilled him, and he lay staring into the darkness till
the darkness withered, and the lines of the room appeared--the
wardrobe, the wash-hand-stand, and then the letter. He rose from his
bed. In all-pervading grayness the world lay as if dead; not a whiff
of smoke ascended, not a bird had yet begun, and the river, like a
sheet of zinc, swirled between its low banks.

"God! it is worse than the moonlight!" thought Mike, and went back to
bed. But he could not rest, and when he went again to the window
there was a faint flush in the sky's cheek; and then a bar of rose
pierced the heavy ridge of clouds that hung above the woodland.

"An omen! I will post her letter in the sunrise." And conscious of
the folly, but unable to subdue that desire of romance so inveterate
in him, he considered how he might leave the house. He remembered,
and with pleasure, that he could not pass down the staircase without
disturbing the dog, and he thought of the prolonged barking that
would begin the moment he touched the chain on the front door. He
would have to get out of the window; but the window was twenty feet
from the ground. "A rope! I have no rope! How absurd!" he thought,
and, rejoicing in the absurdity, he drew a sheet from the bed and
made it fast. Going to Lily through a window seemed to relieve
marriage of some of its shame.

"Life wouldn't be complete without her. Yes, that's just it; that
sums it up completely; curious I did not think of that before. It
would have saved such a lot. Yes, life would not be complete without
her. The problem is solved," and he dropped the letter as easily as
if it had been a note asking for seats in the theatre. "I'm married,"
he said. "Good heavens! how strange it seems. I shall have to give
her a ring, and buy furniture. I had forgotten! ... No difficulty
about that now. We shall go to my place in Berkshire."

But he could not go back to bed, and he walked down to the river, his
fine figure swinging beautifully distinct in his light clothing. The
dawn wind thrilled in his chest, for he had only a light coat over
the tasselled silk night-shirt; and the dew drenched his feet as he
swung along the pathway to the river. The old willow was full of
small birds; they sat ruffling their feathers, and when Mike sprang
into the boat they flew through the gray light, taking refuge in some
osier-beds. And as he looked down stream he saw the night clouds
dispersing in the wind. He pulled, making the boat shoot through the
water for about a mile, then touched by the beauty of the landscape,
paused to view it. Cattle lay in the long, moist meadows, harmonizing
in their semi-unconsciousness with the large gray earth; mist hung in
the sedges, floated evanescent upon the surface of the water, within
reach of his oars, floated and went out in the sunshine. But on the
verge of an oak wood, amid tangled and tawny masses of fern and
grass, a hound stopped and looked up. Then the huntsman appeared
galloping along the upland, and turning in his saddle, he blew a
joyful blast.

Mike sat still, his heart close shut, the beauty of the scene in its
quick and core. Then yielding utterly he drove the boat ashore, and
calling to the nearest, to one who had stopped and was tightening his
horse's girths, he offered to buy his horse. A hundred pounds was
asked. "It is not worth it," he thought; "but I must spend my four
thousand a year." The desire to do what others think of doing but
don't do was always active in Mike. He gave his name and address;
and, fearing to miss dealing on such advantageous terms, the owner
consented to allow Mike to try the horse then and there. But the
hounds had got on the scent of a fox. The horn was heard ringing in
the seared wood in the crimson morning, and the hounds streamed
across the meadows.

"I must try him over some fences. Take my boat and row up to Ash
Cottage; I'll meet you there."

"I'll do nothing of the sort!" roared the man in top-boots.

"Then walk across the fields," cried Mike; and he rode at the hedge
and rail, coming down heavily, but before the owner could reach him
he had mounted and was away.

Some hours later, as he approached the cottage, he saw Frank and a
man in top-boots engaged in deep converse.

"Get off my horse instantly!" exclaimed the latter.

"The horse is mine," said Mike, who unfortunately could not control
his laughter.

"Your horse! Certainly not! Get off my horse, or I'll pull you off."

Mike jumped off.

"Since you will have it so, I'll not dispute with you. There is your
horse; not a bad sort of animal--capital sport."

"Now pay me my hundred pounds!" said the owner, between his clenched
teeth.

"You said just now that you hadn't sold me the horse. There is your
horse, and here is the name of my solicitors, if you want to go to
law with me."

"Law with you! I'll give you law!" and letting go the horse, that
immediately began to browse, he rushed at Mike, his whip in the air.

Mike fought, his long legs wide apart, his long arms going like
lightning, straight from the shoulder, scattering blood over necktie
and collar; and presently the man withdrew, cursing Mike for an Irish
horse-stealer.

"I never heard of such a thing!" said Frank. "You got on his horse
and rode away, leaving him standing on the outside of the cover."

"Yes," shouted Mike, delighted with his exploit; "I felt I must go
after the hounds."

"Yes, but to go away with the man's horse!"

"My dear fellow, why not? Those are the things that other fellows
think of doing but don't do. An excitement like that is worth
anything."

While waiting for Lily's answer, Mike finished the last chapter of
his book, and handed the manuscript to Frank. Between the sentences
he had speculated on the state of soul his letter would produce in
her, and had imagined various answers. "Darling, how good of you! I
did not know you loved me so well." She would write, "Your letter
surprised me, but then you always surprise me. I can promise you
nothing; but you may come and see me next Thursday." She would write
at once, of that there could be no doubt; such letters were always
answered at once. He watched the postman and the clock; every double
knock made tumult in his heart; and in his stimulated perceptions he
saw the well-remembered writing as if it lay under his eyes. And the
many communications he received during those days whetted the edge of
his thirst, and aggravated the fever that floated in his brain.

And towards the end of the week, at the end of a long night of
suffering, he went to London. And for the first time, forgetful of
himself, without a thought of the light he would appear in, he told
the cabman where to drive. His heart failed him when he heard that
Miss Young had been ordered abroad by the doctor. And as he walked
away a morbid sense instilled in him that Lily would never be his
bride. Fear for her life persisted, and corrupted all his joy. He
could not listen to Lady Seeley's solicitors, and he could not
meditate upon the new life which Helen had given him. He had
inherited sixty thousand pounds in various securities, yielding three
thousand a year; the estate in Berkshire brought in fifteen hundred a
year; and a sum of twelve hundred pounds lay in the bank for
immediate uses.

"Dear, sweet Helen--she was the best of the lot--none were as sweet
as she. Well, after all, it isn't so strange when one thinks of
it--she hadn't a relation in the world. I must see her grave. I'll
put a beautiful marble tomb over her; and when I'm in Berkshire I'll
go there every day with flowers."

Then a shocking thought appeared in his mind. Accustomed to analyse
all sentiments, he asked his soul if he would give up all she had
given him to have her back in life; and he took courage and joy when
the answer came that he would. And delighted at finding himself
capable of such goodness, he walked in a happier mood. His mind hung
all day between these two women--while he paid the rent that was
owing there in Temple Gardens; while he valued the furniture and
fixtures. He valued them casually, and in a liberal spirit, and wrote
to Frank offering him seven hundred pounds for the place as it stood.
"It is not worth it," he thought, "but I'd like to put the poor
fellow on his legs."

Where should he dine? He wanted distraction, and unable to think of
any better relief, he turned into Lubi's for a merry dinner. The
little gilt gallery was in disorder, Sally Slater having spent the
afternoon there. Her marquis was with her; her many admirers
clustered about the cigarette-strewn table, anxious to lose no word
of her strange conversation. One drunkard insisted on telling
anecdotes about the duke, and asking the marquis to drink with him.

"I tell you I remember the circumstances perfectly--the duke wore a
gray overcoat," said drunkard No. 1.

"Get out! I tell you to get out!" cried drunkard No. 2. "Brave
Battlemoor, I say; long live Battlemoor! Have a drink?--I want
Battlemoor to drink with me."

"For God's sake have a drink with him," said Sally, "and then perhaps
he'll take another box for my benefit."

"What, another?"

"Only a guinea one this time; there's the ticket--fork out. And now I
must be off."

The street echoed with the porter's whistle, half a dozen cabs came
racing for these excellent customers, and to the Trocadero they went.
The acting manager passed them in. Mike, Sally, Marquis, and the
drunkards lingered in the bar behind the auditorium, and
brandies-and-sodas were supplied to them over a sloppy mahogany
counter. A woman screamed on the stage in green silk, and between the
heads of those standing in the entrance to the stalls, her open mouth
and an arm in black swede were seen occasionally.

Tired of drunkenness and slang Mike went into the stalls. The boxes
were bright with courtesans; the young men whispered invitations to
drink, and the chairman, puffing at a huge cigar, used his little
hammer and announced "Miss Sally Slater will appear next." Battlemoor
roared approval, and then in a short skirt and black stockings Sally
rushed to the footlights and took her audience, as it were, by the
throat.

  "Oh, you men, what would you do without us?
     You kiss us, you cuddle and play,
     You win our hearts away.
   Oh, you men, there's something so nice about us."

The "Oh, you men," was given with a shake of the fist and the waggle
of the bustle, in which there was genius, and Mike could not but
applaud. Suddenly he became aware that a pair of opera-glasses were
bracketed upon him, and looking up he saw Kitty Carew sitting with a
young nobleman, and he saw the white line of her teeth, for she was
laughing. She waved him to come to her.

"You dear old sweet," she said, "where have you been all this
time?--Come, kiss me at once." And she bent her head towards him.

"And now Newtimber, good-bye; I want to be with Mike. But you'll not
forget me, you'll come and see me one of these days?" And she spoke
so winningly that the boy hardly perceived that he was dismissed.
Mike and Kitty exchanged an inquiring look.

"Ah! do you remember," she said, "when I was at the Avenue, and you
used to come behind? ... You remember the dear old marquis. When I was
ill he used to come and read to me. He used to say I was the only
friend he had. The dear marquis--and he is gone now. I went to his
grave yesterday, and I strewed the tomb with chrysanthemums, and
every spring he has the first lilac of my garden."

"And who is your lover?"

"I assure you I haven't got one. Harding was the last, but he is
becoming a bore; he philosophizes. I dare say he's very clever, but
people don't kiss each other because they are clever. I don't think I
ever was in love.... But tell me, how do you think I am looking? Does
this dress suit me? Do I look any older?"

Mike vowed he had never seen her so charming.

"Very well, if you think so, I'll tell you what we'll do. As soon as
Coburn has sung his song, we'll go; my brougham is waiting ... You'll
come home and have supper with me."

A remembrance of Lily came over him, but in quick battle he crushed
it out of mind and murmured, "That will be very nice; you know I
always loved you better than any one."

At that moment they were interrupted by cheers and yells. Muchross
had just entered at the head of his gang; his lieutenants, Snowdown
and Dicky the driver, stood beside him. They stood under the gallery
bowing to the courtesans in the boxes, and singing--

     "Two lovely black eyes
        Oh! what a surprise,
      Two lovely black eyes."

"I wish we could avoid those fellows," said Kitty; "they'll only
bother me with questions. Come, let's be off, they'll be up here in a
moment." But they were intercepted by Muchross and his friends in a
saloon where Sally and Battlemoor were drinking with various singers,
waiting their turns.

"Where are you going? You aren't going off like that?" cried
Muchross, catching her by her sleeve.

"Yes, I am; I am going home."

"Let me see you home," whispered Dicky.

"Thanks, Mike is seeing me home."

"You are in love," cried Muchross; "I shan't leave you."

"You are in drink; I'll leave you in charge if you don't loose my
sleeve."

"This joker," cried Sally, "will take a ticket if something wins a
Lincoln, and he doesn't know which." She stood in the doorway, her
arms akimbo. "People are very busy here," she snarled, when a woman
tried to pass.

"I beg your pardon," said the ex-chorus girl.

"And a good thing too," said Sally. "You are one of the busy ones,
just got your salary for shoving, I suppose." There was no competing
with Sally's tongue, and the girl passed without replying.

This queen of song was attired in a flowery gown of pale green, and
she wore a large hat lavishly trimmed with wild flowers; she moved
slowly, conscious of her importance and fame.

But at that moment a man in a check suit said, doffing his cap, "Very
pleased to see you here, Miss Slater."

Sally looked him over. "Well, I can't help that."

"I was at your benefit. Mr. Jackson was there, and he introduced me
to you after the performance."

"No, I'm sure he didn't."

"I beg your pardon, Miss Slater. Don't you remember when Peggy Praed
got on the table and made a speech?"

"No, I don't; you saw _me_ on the stage and you paid your money for
that. What more do you want?"

"I assure you--"

"Well, that's all right, now's your chance to lend me a fiver."

"I'll lend you a fiver or a tenner, if you like, Miss Slater."

"You could not do it if you tried, and now the roast pork's off."

The witticism was received with a roar from her admirers, and
satisfied with her victory, she said--"And now, you girls, you come
and have drinks with me. What will you have, Kitty, what will you
have? give it a name."

Kitty protested but was forced to sit down. The courtesans joined the
comic vocalists, waiting to do their "turns." Lord Muchross and Lord
Snowdown ordered magnums, and soon the hall was almost deserted. A
girl was, however, dancing prettily on the stage, and Mike stood to
watch her. Her hose were black, and in limp pink silk skirts she
kicked her slim legs surprisingly to and fro. After each dance she
ran into the wings, reappearing in a fresh costume, returning at
length in wide sailor's trousers of blue silk, her bosom partially
covered in white cambric. As the band played the first notes of the
hornpipe, she withdrew a few hair-pins, and forthwith an abundant
darkness fell to her dancing knees, almost to her tiny dancing feet,
heavy as a wave, shadowy as sleeping water. As some rich weed that
the warm sea holds and swings, as some fair cloud lingers in radiant
atmosphere, her hair floated, every parted tress an impalpable film
of gold in the crude sunlight of the ray turned upon her; and when
she danced towards the footlights, the bright softness of the threads
clung almost amorously about her white wrists--faint cobwebs hanging
from white flowers were not more faint, fair, and soft; wonderful was
the hair of this dancing girl, suggesting all fabled enchantments,
all visions of delicate perfume and all the poetry of evanescent
colour.

She was followed by the joyous Peggy Praed (sweet minx), the soul and
voice of the small back streets. Screwing up her winsome, comical
face, drawling a word here, accentuating a word there, she evoked, in
an illusive moment, the washing day, the quarrel with the
mother-in-law (who wanted to sleep in the house), tea-time, and the
trip to the sea-side with all its concomitant adventures amid bugs
and landladies. With an accent, with a gesture, she recalled in a
moment a phase of life, creating pictures vivid as they were
transitory, but endowing each with the charm of the best and most
highly finished works of the Dutch masters. Lords, courtesans, and
fellow-artists crowded to listen, and profiting by the opportunity,
Kitty touched Mike on the shoulder with her fan.

"Now we had better go."

"I'm driving to-morrow. Come down to Brighton with us," said Dicky
the driver. "Shall I keep places for you?"

Rising, Kitty laid her hand upon his mouth to silence him, and
whispered, "Yes; we'll come, and good-night."

In the soft darkness of the brougham, gently swung together, the
passing gaslights revealing the blueness of the cushions, a diamond
stud flashing intermittently, they lay, their souls sunk deep in the
intimacy of a companionship akin to that of a nest--they, the
inheritors of the pleasure of the night and the gladness of the
morrow.

Dressing was delirium, and Kitty had to adjure Mike to say no more;
if he did she should go mad. Breakfast had to be skipped, and it was
only by bribing a cabman to gallop to Westminster that they caught
the coach. Even so they would have missed it had not Mike sprung at
risk of limb from the hansom and sped on the toes of his patent
leather shoes down the street, his gray cover coat flying.

"What a toff he is," thought Kitty, full of the pride of her love.
Bessie, whom dear Laura had successfully chaperoned into well-kept
estate, sat with Dicky on the box; Laura sat with Harding in the back
seat; Muchross and Snowdown sat opposite them. The middle of the
coach was taken up by what Muchross said were a couple of bar-girls
and their mashers.

On rolled the coach over Westminster Bridge, through Lambeth, in
picturesqueness and power, a sympathetic survival of aristocratic
days. The aristocracy and power so vital in the coach was soon
communicated to those upon it. And now when Jem Gregory, the
celebrated whip, with one leg swinging over the side, tootled, the
passers-by seemed littler than ever, the hansoms at the corner seemed
smaller, and the folk standing at their poor doors seemed meaner. As
they passed through those hungry streets, ragged urchins came
alongside, throwing themselves over and over, beseeching coppers from
Muchross, and he threw a few, urging them to further prostrations.
Tootle, Jim, tootle; whether they starve or whether they feed, we
have no thought. The clatter of the hooves of the bays resounds
through those poor back-rooms, full of human misery; the notes of our
horn are perhaps sounding now in dying ears. Tootle, Jim, tootle;
what care we for that pale mother and her babe, or that toiling
coster whose barrow is too heavy for him! If there is to be
revolution, it will not be in our time; we are the end of the world.
Laura is with us to-day, Bessie sits on the box, Kitty is with our
Don Juan; we know there is gold in our pockets, we see our courtesans
by us, our gallant bays are bearing us away to pleasure. Tootle, Jim,
my boy, tootle; the great Muchross is shouting derision at the poor
perspiring coster. "Pull up, you devil, pull up," he cries, and
shouts to the ragged urchins and scatters halfpence that they may
tumble once more in the dirt. See the great Muchross, the
clean-shaven face of the libertine priest, the small sardonic eyes.
Hurrah for the great Muchross! Long may he live, the singer of "What
cheer, Ria?" the type and epitome of the life whose outward signs are
drags, brandies-and-soda, and pale neckties.

Gaily trotted the four bays, and as Clapham was approached brick
tenements disappeared in Portland stone and iron railings. A girl was
seen swinging; the white flannels of tennis players passed to and
fro, and a lady stood by a tall vase watering red geraniums. Harding
told Mike that the shaven lawns and the greenhouses explained the
lives of the inhabitants, and represented their ideas; and Laura's
account of the money she had betted was followed by an anecdote
concerning a long ramble in a wood, with a man who had walked her
about all day without even so much as once asking her if she had a
mouth on her.

"Talking of mouths," said Mike, as they pulled up to change horses,
"we had to start without breakfast. I wonder if one could get a
biscuit and a glass of milk."

"Glass of milk!" screamed Muchross, "no milk allowed on this coach."

"Well, I don't think I could drink a brandy-and-soda at this time in
the morning."

"At what time could you drink one then? Why, it is nearly eleven
o'clock! What will you have, Kitty? A brandy?"

"No, I think I'll take a glass of beer."

The beauty of the landscape passed unperceived. But the road was full
of pleasing reminiscences. As they passed through Croydon dear old
Laura pointed out an hotel where she used to go every Sunday with the
dear Earl, and in the afternoons they played cribbage in the
sitting-room overlooking the street. And some miles further on the
sweetness of the past burst unanimously from all when Dicky pointed
out with his whip the house where Bessie had gone for her honeymoon,
and where they all used to spend from Saturday till Monday. The
incident of Bill Longside's death was pathetically alluded to. He had
died of D. T. "Impossible," said Laura, "to keep him from it. Milly,
poor little woman, had stuck to him almost to the last. He had had
his last drink there. Muchross and Dicky had carried him out."

The day was filled with fair remembrances of summer, and the earth
was golden and red; and the sky was folded in lawny clouds, which the
breeze was lifting, revealing beautiful spaces of blue. All the
abundant hedgerows were red with the leaf of the wild cherry, and the
oak woods wore masses of sere and russet leafage. Spreading beeches
swept right down to the road, shining in beautiful death; once a
pheasant rose and flew through the polished trunks towards the yellow
underwood. Sprays trembled on naked rods, ferns and grasses fell
about the gurgling watercourses, a motley undergrowth; and in the
fields long teams were ploughing, the man labouring at the plough,
the boy with the horses; and their smock-frocks and galligaskins
recalled an ancient England which time has not touched, and which
lives in them. And the farm-houses of gables and weary brick,
sometimes well-dismantled and showing the heavy beam, accentuated
these visions of past days. Yes, indeed, the brick villages, the old
gray farm-houses, and the windmill were very beautiful in the endless
yellow draperies which this autumn country wore so romantically. One
spot lingered in Mike's memory, so representative did it seem of that
country. The road swept round a beech wood that clothed a knoll,
descending into the open country by a tall redding hedge to a sudden
river, and cows were seen drinking and wading in the shallows, and
this last impression of the earth's loveliness smote the poet's heart
to joy which was near to grief.

At Three Bridges they had lunch, in an old-fashioned hotel called the
George. Muchross cut the sirloin, filling the plates so full of juicy
meat that the ladies protested. Snowdown paid for champagne, and in
conjunction with the wine, the indelicate stories which he narrated
made some small invasion upon the reserve of the bar-girls; for their
admirers did not dare forbid them the wine, and could not prevent
them from smiling. After lunch the gang was photographed in the
garden, and Muchross gave the village flautist half a "quid," making
him promise to drink their healths till he was "blind."

"I never like to leave a place without having done some good," he
shouted, as he scrambled into his seat.

This sentiment was applauded until the sensual torpor of digestion
intervened. The clamour of the coach lapsed into a hush of voices.
The women leaned back, drawing their rugs about their knees, for it
was turning chilly, arms were passed round yielding waists, hands lay
in digestive poses, and eyes were bathed in deep animal indolences.

Conversation had almost ceased. The bar-girls had not whispered one
single word for more than an hour; Muchross had not shouted for at
least twenty minutes; the only interruption that had occurred was an
unexpected stopping of the coach, for the off-leader was pulling
Dicky so hard that he had to ask Jem to take the ribbons, and now he
snoozed in the great whip's place, seriously incommoding Snowdown
with his great weight. Suddenly awaking to a sense of his
responsibility Muchross roared--

"What about the milk-cans?"

"You'd better be quick," answered Jem, "we shall be there in five
minutes."

One of the customs of the road was a half-crown lottery, the winning
member to be decided by the number of milk-cans outside a certain
farm-house.

"Ease off a bit, Jem," bawled Muchross. "Damn you! give us time to
get the numbers out."

"It ain't my fault if you fall asleep."

"The last stage was five miles this side of Cuckfield, you ought to
know the road by this time. How many are we?"

"Eight," shouted Dicky, blowing the blatant horn. "You're on, Jem,
aren't you? Number two or three will get it; at this time of the year
milk is scarce. Pass on the hat quick; quick, you devil, pass it on.
What have you got, Kitty?"

"Just like my luck," cried Muchross; "I've got eight."

"And I've seven," said Snowdown; "never have I won yet. In the autumn
I get sevens and eights, in the summer ones and twos. Damn!"

"I've got five," said Kitty, "and Mike has got two; always the lucky
one. A lady leaves him four thousand a year, and he comes down here
and rooks us."

The coach swept up a gentle ascent, and Muchross shouted--

"Two milk-cans! Hand him over the quid and chuck him out!"

The downs rose, barring the sky; and they passed along the dead level
of the weald, leaving Henfield on their right; and when a great piece
of Gothic masonry appeared between some trees, Mike told Kitty how it
had been once John Norton's intention to build a monastery.

"He would have founded a monastery had he lived two centuries ago,"
said Harding; "but this is an age of concessions, and instead he puts
up a few gargoyles. Time modifies but does not eradicate, and the
modern King Cophetua marries not the beggar, but the bar-maid."

The conversation fell in silence, full of consternation; and all
wondered if the two ladies in front had understood, and they were
really bar-maids. Be this as it may, they maintained their
unalterable reserve; and with suppressed laughter, Mike persuaded
Dicky, who had resumed the ribbons, to turn into the lodge-gates.

"Who is this Johnny?" shouted Muchross. "If he won't stand a drink,
we don't want none of his blooming architecture."

"And I wouldn't touch a man with a large pole who didn't like women,"
said Laura. At which emphatic but naïve expression of opinion, the
whole coach roared;--even the bar-girls smiled.

"Architecture! It is a regular putty castle," said Kitty, as they
turned out of an avenue of elms and came in view of the house.

Not a trace of the original Italian house remained. The loggia had
been replaced by a couple of Gothic towers. Over the central hall he
had placed a light lantern roof, and the billiard-room had been
converted into a chapel. A cold and corpse-like sky was flying; the
shadows falling filled the autumn path with sensations of deep
melancholy. But the painted legend of St. George overthrowing the
dragon, which John had placed in commemoration of his victories over
himself, in the central hall, glowed full of colour and story; and in
the melodious moan of the organ, and in the resonant chord which
closes the awful warning of the _Dies Iræ_, he realized the soul of
his friend. Castle, window, and friend were now one in his brain, and
seized with dim, undefinable weariness of his companions, and an
irritating longing to see John, Mike said--

"I must go and see him."

"We can't wait here while you are paying visits; who doesn't like
getting drunk or singing, 'What cheer, Ria?' Let's give him a song."
Then the whole coach roared: even the bar-girls joined in.

  "What cheer, Ria?
     Ria's on the job;
   What cheer, Ria?
     Speculate a bob."

As soon as he could make himself heard, Mike said--

"You need not wait for me. We are only five minutes from Brighton.
I'll ride over in an hour's time. Do you wait for me at the Ship,
Kitty."

"I don't think this at all nice of you."

Mike waved his hand; and as he stood on the steps of this Gothic
mansion, listening to the chant, watching the revellers disappearing
in the gray and yellow gloom of the park, he said--

"The man here is the one who has seized what is best in life; he
alone has loved. I should have founded with him a new religious
order. I should walk with him at the head of the choir. Bah! life is
too pitifully short. I should like to taste of every pleasure--of
every emotion; and what have I tasted? Nothing. I have done nothing.
I have wheedled a few women who wanted to be wheedled, that is all."



CHAPTER IX


"And how are you, old chap? I am delighted to see you."

"I'm equally glad to see you. You have made alterations in the place
... I came down from London with a lot of Johnnies and tarts--Kitty
Carew, Laura Stanley and her sister. I got Dicky the driver to turn
in here. You were playing the _Dies Iræ_. I never was more impressed
in my life. You should have seen the coach beneath the great window
... St. George overcoming the Johnnies ... the tumult of the organ ...
and I couldn't stand singing 'Two Lovely Black Eyes.' I sickened of
them--the whole thing--and I felt I must see you."

"And are they outside?"

"No; they have gone off."

Relieved of fear of intrusion, John laughed loudly, and commented
humorously on the spectacle of the Brighton coach filled with
revellers drawn up beneath his window. Then, to discuss the
window--the quality of the glass--he turned out the lamps; the hall
filled with the legend, and their hearts full of it, and delighting
in the sensation of each other, they walked up and down the echoing
hall. John remembered a certain fugue by Bach, and motioning to the
page to blow, he seated himself at the key-board. The celestial
shield and crest still remained in little colour. Mike saw John's
hands moving over the key-board, and his soul went out in worship of
that soul, divided from the world's pleasure, self-sufficing, alone;
seeking God only in his home of organ fugue and legended pane. He
understood the nobleness and purity which was now about him--it
seemed impossible to him to return to Kitty.

Swift and complete reaction had come upon him, and choked with the
moral sulphur of the last twenty-four hours, he craved the breath of
purity. He must talk of Plato's _Republic_, of Wagner's operas, of
Schopenhauer; even Lily was not now so imperative as these; and next
day, after lunch, when the question of his departure was alluded to,
Mike felt it was impossible to leave John; but persecuted with
scruples of disloyalty to Kitty, he resisted his friend's invitation
to stay. He urged he had no clothes. John offered to send the
coachman into Brighton for what he wanted.

"But perhaps you have no money," John said, inadvertently, and a look
of apprehension passed into his face.

"Oh, I have plenty of money--'tisn't that. I haven't told you that a
friend of mine, a lady, has left me nearly five thousand a year. I
don't think you ever saw her--Lady Seeley."

John burst into uncontrollable laughter. "That is the best thing I
ever heard in all my life. I don't think I ever heard anything that
amused me more. The grotesqueness of the whole thing." Seeing that
Mike was annoyed he hastened to explain his mirth. "The
inexplicableness of human action always amuses me; the inexplicable
is romance, at least that is the only way I can understand romance.
When you reduce life to a logical sequence you destroy all poetry,
and, I think, all reality. We do things constantly, and no one can
say why we do them. Frederick the Great coming in, after reviewing
his troops, to play the flute, that to me is intensely romantic. A
lady, whom you probably treated exceedingly badly, leaving you her
property, that too is, to me."

Admonished by his conscience, John's hilarity clouded into a sort of
semi-humorous gravity, and he advised Mike on the necessity of
reforming his life.

"I am very sorry, for there is no one whose society is as attractive
to me as yours; there is no one in whom I find so many of my ideas,
and yet there is no one from whom I am so widely separated; at times
you are sublime, and then you turn round and roll in the nastiest
dirt you can find."

Mike loved a lecture from John, and he exerted himself to talk.

Looking at each other in admiration, they regretted the other's
weaknesses. Mike deplored John's conscience, which had forced him to
burn his poems; John deplored Mike's unsteady mind, which veered and
yielded to every passion. And in the hall they talked of the great
musician and the great king, or John played the beautiful hymns of
the Russian Church, in whose pathetic charm he declared Chopin had
found his inspiration; they spoke of the _Grail_ and the _Romance of
the Swan_, or, wandering into the library, they read aloud the
ever-flowering eloquence of De Quincey, the marmoreal loveliness of
Landor, the nurselike tenderness of Tennyson.

Through all these æstheticisms Lily Young shone, her light waxing to
fulness day by day. Mike had written to Frank, beseeching him to
forward any letters that might arrive. He expected an answer from
Lily within the week, and not until its close did he begin to grow
fearful. Then rapidly his fear increased and unable to bear with so
much desire in the presence of John Norton, he rushed to London, and
thence to Marlow. He railed against his own weakness in going to
Marlow, for if a letter had arrived it would have been forwarded to
him.

"Why deceive myself with false hopes? If the letter had miscarried it
would have been returned through the post-office. I wrote my address
plain enough." Then he railed against Lily. "The little vixen! She
will show that letter; she will pass it round; perhaps at this moment
she is laughing at me! What a fool I was to write it! However, all's
well that ends well, and I am not going to be married--I have escaped
after all."

The train jogged like his thoughts, and the landscape fled in
fleeting visions like his dreams. He laid his face in his hands, and
could not disguise the truth that he desired her above all things,
for she was the sweetest he had seen.

"There are," he said, talking to Frank and Lizzie, "two kinds of
love--the first is a strictly personal appetite, which merely seeks
its own assuagement; the second draws you out of yourself, and is far
more terrible. I have found both these loves, but in different
women."

"Did no woman ever inspire both loves in you?" said Lizzie.

"I thought one woman had."

"Oh, tell us about her."

Mike changed the conversation, and he talked of the newspaper until
it was time to go to the station. He was now certain that Lily had
rejected him. His grief soaked through him like a wet, dreary day.
Sometimes, indeed, he seemed to brighten, but there is often a deeper
sadness in a smile than in a flood of tears, and he was more than
ever sad when he thought of the life he had desired, and had lost;
which he had seen almost within his reach, and which had now
disappeared for ever. He had thought of this life as a green isle,
where there were flowers and a shrine. Isle, flowers, and shrine had
for ever vanished, and nothing remained but the round monotony of the
desert ocean. Then throwing off his grief with a laugh, he eagerly
anticipated the impressions of the visit he meditated to Belthorpe
Park, and his soul went out to meet this new adventure. He thought of
the embarrassment of the servants receiving their new master; of the
attitude of the country people towards him; and deciding that he had
better arrive before dinner, just as if he were a visitor, he sent a
telegram saying that the groom was to meet him at the station, and
that dinner was to be prepared.

Lady Seeley's solicitors had told him that according to her
ladyship's will, Belthorpe was to be kept up exactly as it had been
in her life-time, and the servants had received notice, that in
pursuance of her ladyship's expressed wish, Mr. Fletcher would make
no changes, and that they were free to remain on if they thought
proper. Mike approved of this arrangement--it saved him from a task
of finding new servants, a task which he would have bungled sadly,
and which he would have had to attempt, for he had decided to enjoy
all the pleasures of a country place, and to act the country
gentleman until he wearied of the part. Life is but a farce, and the
more different parts you play in that farce the more you enjoy. Here
was a new farce--he the Bohemian, going down to an old ancestral home
to play the part of the Squire of the parish. It could not but prove
rich in amusing situations, and he was determined to play it. What a
sell it would be for Lily, for perhaps she had refused him because
she thought he was poor. Contemptuous thoughts about women rose in
his mind, but they died in thronging sensations of vanity--he, at
least, had not found women mercenary. Lily was the first! Then
putting thoughts of her utterly aside, he surrendered himself to the
happy consideration of his own good fortune. "A new farce! Yes; that
was the way to look upon it. I wonder what the servants will think! I
wonder what they'll think of me! ... Harrison, the butler, was with
her in Green Street. Her maid, Fairfield, was with her when I saw her
last--nearly three years ago. Fairfield knew I was her lover, and she
has told the others. But what does it matter? I don't care a damn
what they think. Besides, servants are far more jealous of our honour
than we are ourselves; they'll trump up some story about cousinship,
or that I had saved her ladyship's life--not a bad notion that last;
I had better stick to it myself."

As he sought a plausible tale, his thoughts detached themselves, and
it struck him that the gentleman sitting opposite was his next-door
neighbour. He imagined his visit; the invitation to dine; the
inevitable daughters in the drawing-room. How would he be received by
the county folks?

"That depends," he thought, "entirely on the number of unmarried
girls there are in the neighbourhood. The morals and manners of an
English county are determined by its female population. If the number
of females is large, manners are familiar, and morals are lax; if the
number is small, manners are reserved, and morals severe."

He was in a carriage with two unmistakably county squires, and their
conversation--certain references to a meet of the hounds and a local
bazaar--left no doubt that they were his neighbours. Indeed, Lady
Seeley was once alluded to, and Mike was agitated with violent
desires to introduce himself as the owner of Belthorpe Park. Several
times he opened his lips, but their talk suddenly turned into matters
so foreign that he abandoned the notion of revealing his identity,
and five minutes after he congratulated himself he had not done so.

The next station was Wantage Street; and as he looked to see that the
guard had put out his portmanteau, a smart footman approached, and
touching his cockaded hat said, "Mr. Fletcher." Mike thrilled with
pride. His servant--his first servant.

"I've brought the dog-cart, sir; I thought it would be the quickest;
it will take us a good hour, the roads are very heavy, sir."

Mike noticed the coronet worked in red upon the yellow horse-cloth,
for the lamps cast a bright glow over the mare's quarters; and
wishing to exhibit himself in all his new fortune before his
fellow-passengers, who were getting into a humbler conveyance, he
took the reins from the groom; and when he turned into the wrong
street, he cursed under his breath, fancying all had noticed his
misadventure. When they were clear of the town, touching the mare
with the whip he said--

"Not a bad animal, this."

"Beautiful trotter, sir. Her ladyship bought her only last spring;
gave seventy guineas for her."

After a slight pause, Mike said, "Very sad, her ladyship's death, and
quite unexpected, I suppose. She wasn't ill above a couple of days."

"Not what you might call ill, sir; but her ladyship had been ailing
for a long time past. The doctors ordered her abroad last winter,
sir, but I don't think it did her much good. She came back looking
very poorly."

"Now tell me which is the way? do I turn to the right or left?"

"To the right, sir."

"How far are we from Belthorpe Park now?"

"About three miles, sir."

"You were saying that her ladyship looked very poorly for some time
before she died. Tell me how she looked. What do you think was the
matter?"

"Well, sir, her ladyship seemed very much depressed. I heard Miss
Fairfield, her ladyship's maid, say that she used to find her
ladyship constantly in tears; her nerves seemed to have given way."

"I suppose I broke her heart," thought Mike; "but I'm not to blame; I
couldn't go on loving any woman for ever, not if she were Venus
herself." And questioning the groom regarding the servants then at
Belthorpe, he learnt with certain satisfaction that Fairfield had
left immediately after her ladyship's death. The groom had never
heard of Harrison (he had only been a year and a half in her
ladyship's service).

"This is Belthorpe Park, sir--these are the lodge gates."

Mike was disappointed in the lodge. The park he could not
distinguish. Mist hung like a white fleece. There were patches of
ferns; hawthorns loomed suddenly into sight; high trees raised their
bare branches to the brilliancy of the moon.

"Not half bad," thought Mike, "quite a gentleman's place."

"Rather rough land in parts--plenty of rabbits," he remarked to the
groom; and he won the man's sympathies by various questions
concerning the best method of getting hunters into condition. The
rooks talked gently in the branches of some elms, around which the
drive turned through rough undulating ground. Plantations became
numerous; tall, spire-like firs appeared, their shadows floating
through the interspaces; and, amid straight walks and dwarf yews, in
the fulness of the moonlight, there shone a white house, with large
French windows and a tower at the further end. A white peacock asleep
on a window-sill startled Mike, and he thought of the ghost of his
dead mistress.

Nor could he account for his trepidation as he waited for the front
door to open, and Hunt seemed to him aggressively large and pompous,
and he would have preferred an assumption on the part of the servant
that he knew the relative positions of the library and drawing-room.
But Hunt was resolved on explanation, and as they went up-stairs he
pointed out the room where Lady Seeley died, and spoke of the late
Earl. "You want the sack and you shall get it, my friend," thought
Mike, and he glanced hurriedly at the beautiful pieces of furniture
about the branching staircase and the gallery leading into the
various corridors. At dinner he ate without noticing the choiceness
of the cooking, and he drank several glasses of champagne before he
remarked the excellence of the wine.

"We have not many dozen left, sir; I heard that his lordship laid it
down in '75."

Hunt watched him with cat-like patience and hound-like sagacity, and
seeing he had forgotten his cigar-case, he instantly produced a box.
Mike helped himself without daring to ask where the cigars came from,
nor did he comment on their fragrance. He smoked in discomfort; the
presence of the servant irritated him, and he walked into the library
and shut the door. The carved panelling, in the style of the late
Italian renaissance, was dark and shadowy, and the eyes of the
portraits looked upon the intruder. Men in armour, holding scrolls;
men in rich doublets, their hands on their swords; women in elaborate
dresses of a hundred tucks, and hooped out prodigiously. He was
especially struck by one, a lady in green, who played with long white
hands on a spinet. But the massive and numerous oak bookcases,
strictly wired with strong brass wire, and the tall oak fireplace,
surmounted with a portrait of a man in a red coat holding a letter,
whetted the edge of his depression, and Mike looked round with a pain
of loneliness upon his face. Speaking aloud for relief, he said--

"No doubt it is all very fine, everything is up to the mark, but
there's no denying that it is--well, it is dull. Had I known it was
going to be like this I'd have brought somebody down with me--a nice
woman. Kitty would be delightful here. But no; I would not bring her
here for ten times the money the place is worth; to do so would be an
insult on Helen's memory.... Poor dear Helen! I wish I had seen her
before she died; and to think that she has left me all--a beautiful
house, plate, horses, carriages, wine; nothing is wanting; everything
I have is hers, even this cigar." He threw the end of his cigar into
the fireplace.

"How strange! what an extraordinary transformation! And all this is
mine, even her ancestors! How angry that old fellow looks at me--me,
the son of an Irish peasant! Yes, my father was that--well, not
exactly that, he was a grazier. But why fear the facts? he was a
peasant; and my mother was a French maid--well, a governess--well, a
nursery governess, _une bonne_; she was dismissed from her situation
for carrying on (it seems awful to speak of one's mother so; but it
is the fact).... Respect! I love my mother well enough, but I'm not
going to delude myself because I had a mother. Mother didn't like our
cabin by the roadside; father treated her badly; she ran away, taking
me with her. She was lucky enough to meet with a rich manufacturer,
who kept her fairly well--I believe he used to allow her a thousand
francs a month--and I used to call him uncle. When mother died he
sent me back to my father in Ireland. That's my history. There's not
much blue blood in me.... I believe if one went back.... Bah, if
one went back! Why deceive myself? I was born a peasant, and I know
it.... Yet no one looks more like a gentleman; reversion to some
original ancestor, I suppose. Not one of these earls looks more like
a gentleman than I. But I don't suppose my looks would in any measure
reconcile them to the fact of my possession of their property.

"Ah, you old fools--periwigs, armour, and scrolls--you old fools, you
laboured only to make a gentleman of an Irish peasant. Yes, you
laboured in vain, my noble lords--you, old gentleman yonder, you with
the telescope--an admiral, no doubt--you sailed the seas in vain; and
you over there, you mediæval-looking cuss, you carried your armour
through the battles of Cressy and Poictiers in vain; and you, noble
lady in the high bodice, you whose fingers play with the flaxen curls
of that boy--he was the heir of this place two hundred years ago--I
say, you bore him in vain, your labour was in vain; and you, old
fogey that you are, you in the red coat, you holding the letter in
your gouty fingers, a commercial-looking letter, you laboured in
trade to rehabilitate the falling fortunes of the family, and I say
you too laboured in vain. Without labour, without ache, I possess the
result of all your centuries of labour.

"There, that sordid, wizen old lady, a miser to judge by her
appearance, she is eyeing me maliciously now, but I say all her
eyeing is in vain; she pinched and scraped and starved herself for
me. Yes, I possess all your savings, and if you were fifty years
younger you would not begrudge them to me."

Laughing at his folly, Mike said, "How close together lie the sane
and the insane; any one who had overheard me would have pronounced me
mad as a March hare, and yet few are saner." He walked twice across
the room. "But I'm mad for the moment, and I like to be mad. Have I
not all things--talent, wealth, love? I asked for life, and I was
given life. I have drunk the cup--no, not to the dregs, there is
plenty more wine in the cup for me; the cup is full, I have not
tasted it yet. Lily! yes, I must get her; a fool I have been; my
letter miscarried, else she would have written. Refuse me! who would
refuse me? Yes, I was born to drink the cup of life as few have drunk
it; I shall drink it even like a Roman emperor ... But they drank it
to madness and crime! Yet even so; I shall drink of life even to
crime.

"The peasant and the card-sharper shall go high, this impetus shall
carry me very high; and Frank Escott, that mean cad, shall go to the
gutter; but he is already there, and I am here! I knew it would be
so; I felt my destiny, I felt it here--in my brain. I felt it even
when he scorned me in boyhood days. I believe that in those days he
expected me to touch my cap to him. But those days are over, new days
have begun. When to-morrow's sun rises it will shine on what is
mine--down-land, meadow-land, park-land, and wood-land. Strange is
the joy of possession; I did not know of its existence. The stately
house too is mine, and I would see it. But that infernal servant, I
suppose, is in bed. I would not have him find me. I shall get rid of
him. I can hear him saying in his pantry, 'He! I wouldn't give much
for him; I found him last night spying about, examining his fine
things, for all the world like a beggar to whom you had given an old
suit of clothes.'"

Mike took his bed-room candle, and having regard for surprises on the
part of the servants, he roamed about the passages, looking at the
Chippendale furniture on the landings and the pictures and engravings
that lined the walls. Fearing bells, he did not attempt to enter any
of the rooms, and it was with some difficulty that he found his way
back to the library. Throwing himself into the arm-chair, he wondered
if he should grow accustomed to spend his evenings in this
loneliness. He thought of whom he should invite there--Harding,
Thompson, John Norton; certainly he would ask John. He couldn't ask
Frank without his wife, and Lizzie would prejudice him in the eyes of
the county people. Then, as his thoughts detached themselves, he
exclaimed against the sepulchral solemnity of the library. The house
was soundless. At the window he heard the soft moonlight-dreaming of
the rooks; and when he threw open the window the white peacock
roosting there flew away and paraded on the pale sward like a Watteau
lady.

Next morning, rousing in the indolence of a bed hung with curtains of
Indian pattern, Mike said to the footman who brought in his hot
water--

"Tell the coachman that I shall go out riding after breakfast."

"What horse will you ride, sir?"

"I don't know what horses you have in the stable."

"Well, sir, you can ride either her ladyship's hunter or the mare
that brought you from the station in the dog-cart."

"Very well. I'll ride her ladyship's hunter. (My hunter, damn the
fellow," he said, under his breath.) "And tell the bailiff I shall
want him; let him come round on his horse. I shall go over the farms
with him."

The morning was chilly. He stood before the fire while the butler
brought in eggs, kidneys, devilled legs of fowl, and coffee. The
beauty of the coffee-pot caught his eye, and he admired the plate
that made such rich effect on the old Chippendale sideboard. The
peacocks on the window-sills, knocking with their strong beaks for
bread, pleased him; they recalled evenings passed with Helen; she had
often spoken of her love for these birds. He went to the window with
bread for the peacocks, and the landscape came into his eyes: the
clump of leafless trees on the left, rugged and untidy with rooks'
nests; the hollow, dipping plain, melancholy of aspect now, misty,
gray and brown beneath a lowering sky, dipping and then rising in a
long, wide shape, and ringing the sky with a brown line. The terrace
with its straight walks, balustrades, urns, and closely-cropped yews
was a romantic note, severe, even harsh.

One day, wandering from room to room, he found himself in Helen's
bedroom. "There is the bed she died in, there is the wardrobe." Mike
opened the wardrobe. He turned the dresses over, seeking for those he
knew; but he had not seen her for three years, and there were new
dresses, and he had forgotten the old. Suddenly he came upon one of
soft, blue material, and he remembered she wore that dress the first
time she sat on his knees. Feeling the need of an expressive action,
he buried his face in the pale blue dress, seeking in its softness
and odour commemoration of her who lay beneath the pavement. How
desolate was the room! He would not linger. This room must be forever
closed, left to the silence, the mildew, the dust, and the moth. None
must enter here but he, it must be sacred from other feet. Once a
year, on her anniversary, he would come to mourn her, and not on the
anniversary of her death, but on that of their first kiss. He had
forgotten the exact day, and feared he had not preserved all her
letters. Perhaps she had preserved his.

Moved with such an idea he passed out of her bedroom, and calling for
_his_ keys, went into her boudoir and opened her escritoire, and very
soon he found his letters; almost the first he read, ran as follows--


"MY DEAR HELEN,

"I am much obliged to you for your kind invitation. I should like
very much to come and stay with you, if I may come as your friend.
You must not think from this that I have fallen in love with some one
else; I have not. I have never seen any one I shall love better than
you; I love you to-day as well as ever I did; my feelings regarding
you have changed in nothing, yet I cannot come as your lover. I am
ashamed of myself, I hate myself, but it is not my fault.

"I have been your lover for more than a year, and I could not be any
one's lover--no, not if she were Venus herself--for a longer time.

"My heart is full of regret. I am losing the best and sweetest
mistress ever man had. No one is able to appreciate your worth better
than I. Try to understand me; do not throw this letter aside in a
rage. You are a clever woman; you are, I know, capable of
understanding it. And if you will understand, you will not regret;
that I swear, for you will gain the best and most loyal friend. I am
as good a friend as I am a worthless lover. Try to understand, Helen,
I am not wholly to blame.

"I love you--I esteem you far more to-day than I did when I first
knew you. Do not let our love end upon a miserable quarrel--the
commonplace quarrel of those who do not know how to love."


He turned the letter over. He was the letter; that letter was his
shameful human nature; and worse, it was the human nature of the
whole wide world. On the same point, or on some other point, every
human being was as base as he. Such baseness is the inalienable
birth-stain of human life. His poem was no pretty imagining, but the
eternal, implacable truth. It were better that human life should
cease. Until this moment he had only half understood its awful, its
terrifying truth.... It were better that man ceased to pollute the
earth. His history is but the record of crime; his existence is but a
disgraceful episode in the life of one of the meanest of the planets.

We cannot desire what we possess, and so we progress from illusion to
illusion. But when we cease to distinguish between ourself and
others, when our thoughts are no longer set on the consideration of
our own embarrassed condition, when we see into the heart of things,
which is one, then disappointment and suffering cease to have any
meaning, and we attain that true serenity and peace which we
sometimes see reflected in a seraph's face by Raphael.

As Mike's thoughts floated in the boundless atmosphere of
Schopenhauer's poem, of the denial of the will to live, he felt
creeping upon him, like sleep upon tired eyelids, all the sweet and
suasive fascination of death. "How little," he thought, "does any man
know of any other man's soul. Who among my friends would believe that
I, in all my intense joys and desire of life, am perhaps, at heart,
the saddest man, and perhaps sigh for death more ardently, and am
tempted to cull the dark fruit which hangs so temptingly over the
wall of the garden of life more ardently than any one?"

A few days after, his neighbour, Lord Spennymoor, called, and his
visit was followed by an invitation to dinner. The invitation was
accepted. Mike was on his best behaviour. During dinner he displayed
as much reserve as his nature allowed him to, but afterwards,
yielding to the solicitations of the women, he abandoned himself, and
when twelve o'clock struck they were still gathered round him,
listening to him with rapt expression, as if in hearing of delightful
music. Awaking suddenly to a sense of the hour and his indiscretion,
he bade Lord Spennymoor, who had sat talking all night with his
brother in a far corner, good-night.

When the sound of the wheels of his trap died away, when the ladies
had retired, Lord Spennymoor returned to the smoking-room, and at the
end of a long silence asked his brother, who sat smoking opposite
him, what he thought of Fletcher.

"He is one of those men who attract women, who attract nine people
out of ten.... Call it magnetism, electro-biology, give it what name
you will. The natural sciences----"

"Never mind the natural sciences. Do you think that either of my
girls were--Victoria, for instance, was attracted by him? I don't
believe for a moment his story of having saved Lady Seeley from
drowning in Italy, but I'm bound to say he told it very well. I can
see the girls sitting round him listening. Poor Mrs. Dickens, her
eyes were----"

"I shan't ask her here again.... But tell me, do you think he'll
marry?"

"It would be very hard to say what will become of him. He may
suddenly weary of women and become a woman-hater, or perhaps he may
develop into a sort of Baron Hulot. He spoke about his writings--he
may become ambitious, and spend his life writing epics.... He may go
mad! He seemed interested in politics, he may go into Parliament; I
fancy he would do very well in Parliament. A sudden loathing of
civilization may come upon him and send him to Africa or the Arctic
Regions. A man's end is always infinitely more in accordance with his
true character than any conclusion we could invent. No writer, even
if he have genius, is so extravagantly logical as nature."

During the winter months Mike was extensively occupied with the
construction of the mausoleum in red granite, which he was raising in
memory of Helen; and this interest remained paramount. He took many
journeys to London on its account, and studied all the architecture
on the subject, and with great books on his knees, he sat in the
library making drawings or composing epitaphs and memorial poems.

Belthorpe Park was often full of visitors, and when walking with them
on the terraces, his thoughts ran on Mount Rorke Castle, his own
success, and Frank's failure; and when he awoke in the sweet,
luxurious rooms, in the houses where he was staying, his brain filled
with febrile sensations of triumph, and fitful belief that he was
above any caprice of destiny.

It pleased him to write letters with Belthorpe Park printed on the
top of the first page, and he wrote many for this reason. Quick with
affectionate remembrances, he thought of friends he had not thought
of for years, and the sadnesses of these separations touched him
deeply; and the mutability of things moved him in his very entrails,
and he thought that perhaps no one had felt these things as he felt
them. He remembered the women who had passed out of his life, and
looking out on his English park, soaking with rain and dim with mist,
he remembered those whom he had loved, and the peak whence he viewed
the desert district of his amours--Lily Young. She haunted in his
life.

He saw himself a knight in the tourney, and her eyes fixed on him,
while he calmed his fiery dexter and tilted for her; he saw her in
the silk comfort of the brougham, by his side, their bodies rocked
gently together; he saw her in the South when reading Mrs. Byril's
descriptions of rocky coast and olive fields.

The English park lay deep in snow, and the familiar word roses then
took magical significance, and the imagined Southern air was full of
Lily.

"There's a sweet girl here, and I'm sure you would like her; she is
so slender, so blithe and winsome, and so wayward. She has been sent
abroad for her health, and is forbidden to go out after sunset, but
will not obey. I am afraid she is dying of consumption.... She has
taken a great fancy to me. There is no one in our hotel but a few old
maids, who discuss the peerage, and she runs after me to talk about
men. I fancy she must have carried on pretty well with some one, for
she loves talking about _him_, and is full of mysterious allusions."

The romance of the sudden introduction of this girl into the
landscape took him by the throat. He saw himself walking with this
dying girl in the beauty of blue mountains toppling into blue skies,
and reflected in bluer seas; he sat with her beneath the palm-trees;
palms spread their fan-like leaves upon sky and sea, and in the rich
green of their leaves oranges grew to deep, and lemons to paler,
gold; and he dreamed that the knowledge that the object of his love
was transitory, would make his love perfect and pure. Now in his
solitude, with no object to break it, this desire for love in death
haunted in his mind. It rose unbidden, like a melody, stealing forth
and surprising him in unexpected moments. Often he asked himself why
he did not pack up his portmanteau and rush away; and he was only
deterred by the apparent senselessness of the thought. "What slaves
we are of habit! Why more stupid to go than to remain?"

Soon after, he received another letter from Mrs. Byril. He glanced
through it eagerly for some mention of the girl. Whatever there was
of sweetness and goodness in Mike's nature was reflected in his eyes
(soft violet eyes, in which tenderness dwelt), whatever there was of
evil was written in the lips and chin (puckered lips and goat-like
chin), the long neck and tiny head accentuating the resemblance.

Now his being was concentrated in the eyes as a landscape is
sometimes in a piece of sky. He read: "She told me that she had been
once to see her lover in the Temple." It was then Lily. He turned to
Mrs. Byril's first letter, and saw Lily in every line of the
description. Should he go to her? Of course ... When? At once! Should
it not prove to be Lily? ... He did not care ... He must go, and in
half an hour he touched the swiftly trotting mare with the whip and
glanced at his watch. "I shall just do it." The hedges passed behind,
and the wintry prospects were unfolded and folded away. But as he
approached the station, a rumble and then a rattle came out of the
valley, and though he lashed the mare into a gallop, he arrived only
in time to see a vanishing cloud of steam.

The next train did not reach London till long after the mail had left
Charing Cross.

It froze hard during the night, and next morning his feet chilled in
his thin shoes, as he walked to and fro, seeking a carriage holding a
conversational-looking person. At Dover the wind was hard as the
ice-bound steps which he descended, and the sea rolled in dolefully
about the tall cliffs, melting far away into the bleak grayness of
the sky. But more doleful than the bleak sea was sullen Picardy. Mike
could not sleep, and his eyes fed upon the bleak black of swampy
plains, utterly mournful, strangely different from green and gladsome
England. And two margins of this doleful land remained impressed upon
his mind; the first, a low grange, discoloured, crouching on the
plain, and curtained by seven lamentable poplars, and Mike thought of
the human beings that came from it, to see only a void landscape, and
to labour in bleak fields. He remembered also a marsh with osier-beds
and pools of water; and in the largest of these there was a black and
broken boat. Thin sterile hills stretched their starved forms in the
distance, and in the raw wintry light this landscape seemed like a
page of the primitive world, and the strange creature striving with
an oar recalled our ancestors.

Paris was steeped in great darkness and starlight, and the cab made
slow and painful way through the frost-bound streets. The amble and
the sliding of the horse was exasperating, the drive unendurable with
uncertainty and cold, and Mike hammered his frozen feet on the
curving floor of the vehicle. Street succeeded street, all growing
meaner as they neared the Gare de Lyons. Fearing he should miss the
express he called to the impassive driver to hasten the vehicle.
Three minutes remained to take his ticket and choose a carriage, and
hoping for sleep and dreams of Lily, he rolled himself up in a rug
for which he had paid sixty guineas, and fell asleep.

Ten hours after, he was roused by the guard, and stretching his
stiffened limbs, he looked out, and in the vague morning saw towzled
and dilapidated travellers, slipping upon the thin ice that covered
the platform, striving to reach long, rough tables, spread with
coffee, fruit, and wine. Mike drank some coffee, and thinking of Mrs.
Byril's roses, wondered when they should get into the sunshine.

As the train moved out of the platform the twilight vanished into
daylight, the sky flushed, and he saw a scant land, ragged and torn
with twisted plants, cacti and others, gashed and red, and savage as
a negress's lips. So he saw the South through the breath-misted
windows. He lay back; he dozed a little, and awoke an hour after to
feel soft air upon the face, and to see a bush laden with blossom
literally singing the spring. Thenceforth at every mile the land grew
into more frequent bloom. The gray-green olive-tree appeared, a
crooked, twisted tree--habitual phase of the red land--and between
its foliage gray-green brick façades, burnt and re-burnt by the sun.
The roofs of the houses grew flatter and campanile, and the domes
rose, silvery or blue, in the dazzling day. A mountain shepherd,
furnished with water-gourd, a seven-foot staff, and a gigantic pipe,
lingered in the country railway-station. This shepherd's skin was
like coffee, and he wore hair hanging far over his shoulders, and his
beard reached to his waist.

Nice! A town of cheap fashion, a town of glass and stucco. The
pungent odour of the eucalyptus trees, the light breeze stirred not
the foliage, sheared into mathematical lines. It was like yards of
baize dwindling in perspective; and between the tall trunks great
plate-glass windows gleamed, filled with _l'article de Londres_.

He drove to the hotel from which Mrs. Byril had written, and learnt
that she had left yesterday, and that Mrs. and Miss Young were not
staying there. They had no such name on the books. Looking on the sea
and mountains he wondered himself what it all meant.

Having bathed and changed his clothes, he sallied forth in a cab to
call at every hotel in the town, and after three hours' fruitless
search, returned in despair. Never before had life seemed so sad;
never had fate seemed so cruel--he had come a thousand miles to
regenerate his life, and an accident, the accident of a departure,
hastened perhaps only by a day, had thrown him back on the past; he
had imagined a beautiful future made of love, goodness, and truth,
and he found himself thrown back upon the sterile shore of a past of
which he was weary, and of whose fruits he had eaten even to satiety.
After much effort he had made sure that nothing mattered but Lily,
neither wealth nor liberty, nor even his genius. In surrendering all
he would have gained all--peace of mind, unending love and goodness.
Goodness! that which he had never known, that which he now knew was
worth more than gratification of flesh and pride of spirit.

The night was full of tumult and dreams--dreams of palms, and seas,
and endless love, and in the morning he walked into the realities of
his imaginings.

Passing through an archway, he found himself in the gaud of the
flower-market. There a hundred umbrellas, yellow, red, mauve and
magenta, lemon yellow, cadmium yellow, gold, a multi-coloured mass
spread their extended bellies to a sky blue as the blouses.

The brown fingers of the peasant women are tying and pressing all the
miraculous bloom of the earth into the fair fingers of Saxon
girls--great packages of roses, pink lilies, clematis, stephanotis,
and honeysuckle. A gentle breeze is blowing, rocking the umbrellas,
wafting the odour of the roses and honeysuckle, bringing hither an
odour of the lapping tide, rocking the immense umbrellas. One huge
and ungainly sunshade creaks, swaying its preposterous rotundity.
Beneath it the brown woman slices her pumpkin. Mike scanned every
thin face for Lily, and as he stood wedged against a flower-stand, a
girl passed him. She turned. It was Lily.

"Lily, is it possible? I was looking for you everywhere."

"Looking for me! When did you arrive in Nice? How did you know I was
here?"

"Mrs. Byril wrote. She described a girl, and I knew from her
description it must be you. And I came on at once."

"You came on at once to find me?"

"Yes; I love you more than ever. I can think only of you.... But when
I arrived I found Mrs. Byril had left, and I had no means of finding
your address."

"You foolish boy; you mean to say you rushed away on the chance that
I was the girl described in Mrs. Byril's letter! ... A thousand miles!
and never even waited to ask the name or the address! Well, I suppose
I must believe that you are in love. But you have not heard.... They
say I'm dying. I have only one lung left. Do you think I'm looking
very ill?"

"You are looking more lovely than ever. My love shall give you
health; we shall go--where shall we go? To Italy? You are my Italy.
But I'm forgetting--why did you not answer my letter? It was cruel of
you. Deceive me no more, play with me no longer; if you will not have
me, say so, and I will end myself, for I cannot live without you."

"But I do not understand, I haven't had any letter; what letter?"

"I wrote asking you to marry me."

They walked out of the flower market on to the _Promenade des
Anglais_, and Mike told her about his letters, concealing nothing of
his struggle. The sea lay quite blue and still, lapping gently on the
spare beach; the horizon floated on the sea, almost submerged, and
the mountains, every edge razor-like, hard, and metallic, were veiled
in a deep, transparent blue; and the villas, painted white, pink and
green, with open loggias and balconies, completed the operatic
aspect.

"My mother will not hear of it; she would sooner see me dead than
married to you."

"Why?"

"She knows you are an atheist for one thing."

"But she does not know that I have six thousand a year."

"Six thousand a year! and who was the fairy that threw such fortune
into your lap? I thought you had nothing."

Vanity took him by the throat, but he wrenched himself free, and
answered evasively that a distant cousin had left him a large sum of
money, including an estate in Berkshire.

"Well, I'm very glad for your sake, but it will not influence
mother's opinion of you."

"Then you will run away with me? Say you will."

"That is the best--for I'm not strong enough to dispute with mother.
I dare say it is very cowardly of me, but I would avoid scenes; I've
had enough of them.... We'll go away together. Where shall we go? To
Italy?"

"Yes, to Italy--my Italy. And do you love me? Have you forgiven me my
conduct the day when you came to see me?"

"Yes, I love you; I have forgiven you."

"And when shall we go?"

"When you like. I should like to go over that sea; I should like to
go, Mike, with you, far away! Where, Mike?--Heaven?"

"We should find heaven dull; but when shall we go across that sea, or
when shall we go from here--now?"

"Now!"

"Why not?"

"Because here are my people coming to meet me. Now say nothing to my
mother about marriage, or she will never leave my side. I'm more ill
than you think I am--I should have no strength to struggle with her."

Not again that day did Mike succeed in speaking alone with Lily, and
the next day she and her mother and Major Downside, her uncle, went
to spend the day with some friends who had a villa in the environs of
the town. The day after he met mother and daughter out walking in the
morning. In the afternoon Lily was obliged to keep her room. Should
she die! should the irreparable happen! Mike crushed the instinct,
that made him see a poem in the death of his beloved; and he
determined to believe that he should possess her, love her and only
her; he saw himself a new Mike, a perfect and true husband-lover.
Never was man more weary of vice, more desirous of reformation.

He had studied the train service until he could not pretend to
himself there remained any crumb of excuse for further consideration
of it. He wandered about the corridors, a miserable man. On Sunday
she came down-stairs and drove to church with her mother. Mike
followed, and full of schemes for flight, holding a note ready to
slip into her hand, he wondered if such pallor as hers were for this
side of life. In the note it was written that he would wait all day
for her in the sitting-room, and about five, as he sat holding the
tattered newspaper, his thoughts far away in Naples, Algiers, and
Egypt, he heard a voice calling--

"Mike! Mike! Mother is lying down; I think we can get away now, if
there's a train before half-past five."

Mike did not need to consult the time-table. He said, "At last,
at last, darling, come! ... Yes, there is a train for the Italian
frontier at a few minutes past five. We shall have just time to
catch it. Come!"

But in the gardens they met the Major, who would not hear of his
niece being out after sunset, and sent her back. Mike overtook Lily
on the staircase.

"I can endure this no longer," he said; "you must come with me
to-night when every one is in bed. There is a train at two."

"I cannot; I have to pass through my mother's room. She would be sure
to awake."

"Great Scott! what shall we do? My head is whirling. You must give
your mother a sleeping potion, will you? She drinks something before
she goes to bed?"

"Yes, but----"

"There must be no buts. It is a case of life and death. You do not
want to die, as many girls die. To many a girl marriage is life. I
will get something quite harmless, and quite tasteless."

She waited for him in the sitting-room. He returned in a few minutes
with a small bottle, which he pressed into her hand. "And now, _au
revoir_; in a few hours you will be mine for ever."

After leaving her he dined; after dinner went to a gambling hell,
where he lost a good deal of money, and would have lost more, had the
necessity of keeping at least £200 for his wedding-tour not been so
imperative. He wandered about the streets talking to and sometimes
strolling about with the light women, listening to their lamentable
stories--"anything," he thought, "to distract my mind." He was to
meet Lily on the staircase at one o'clock, and now it was half-past
twelve, and giving the poor creature whose chatter had beguiled the
last half-hour a louis, he returned hurriedly to his hotel.

The lift had ceased working, and he ascended the great staircase,
three steps at a time. On the second floor he stopped to reconnoitre.
The _gardien_ lay fast asleep on a bench; he could not do better than
sit on the stairs and wait; if the man awoke he would have to be
bribed. Lily's number was 45, a dozen doors down the passage. At one
o'clock the _gardien_ awoke. Mike entered into conversation with him,
gave him a couple of francs, bade him good-night, and went partly up
the next flight of stairs. Listening for every sound, expecting every
moment to hear a door open, he waited till the clocks struck the
half-hour. Then he became as if insane, and he deemed it would not be
enough if she were to disappoint him to set the hotel on fire and
throw himself from the roof. Something must happen, if he were to
remain sane, and, determined to dare all, he decided he would seek
her in her room and bear her away. He knew he would have to pass
through Mrs. Young's room. What should he do if she awoke, and,
taking him for a robber, raised the alarm?

Putting aside such surmises he turned the handle of her door as
quietly as he could. The lock gave forth hardly any sound, the door
passed noiselessly over the carpet. He hesitated, but only for a
moment, and drawing off his shoes he prepared to cross the room. A
night-light was burning, and it revealed the fat outline of a huge
body huddled in the bed-clothes. He would have to pass close to Mrs.
Young. He glided by, passing swiftly towards the further room,
praying that the door would open without a sound. It was ajar, and
opened without a sound. "What luck!" he thought, and a moment after
he stood in Lily's room. She lay upon the bed, as if she had fallen
there, dressed in a long travelling-cloak, her hat crushed on one
side.

"Lily, Lily!" he whispered, "'tis I; awake! speak, tell me you are
not dead." She moved a little beneath his touch, then wetting a towel
in the water-jug he applied it to her forehead and lips, and slowly
she revived.

"Where are we?" she asked. "Mike, darling, are we in Italy? ... I have
been ill, have I not? They say I'm going to die, but I'm not; I'm
going to live for you, my darling."

Then she recovered recollection of what had happened, and whispered
that she had failed to give her mother the opiate, but had
nevertheless determined to keep her promise to him. She had dressed
herself and was just ready to go, but a sudden weakness had come over
her. She remembered staggering a few steps and nothing more.

"But if you have not given your mother the opiate, she may awake at
any moment. Are you strong enough, my darling, to come with me?
Come!"

"Yes, yes, I'm strong enough. Give me some more water, and kiss me,
dear."

The lovers wrapped themselves in each other's arms. But hearing some
one moving in the adjoining room, the girl looked in horror and
supplication in Mike's eyes. Stooping, he disappeared beneath a small
table; and drew his legs beneath the cloth. The sounds in the next
room continued, and he recognized them as proceeding from some one
searching for clothes. Then Lily's door was opened and Mrs. Young
said--

"Lily, there is some one in your room; I'm sure Mr. Fletcher is
here."

"Oh, mother, how can you say such a thing! indeed he is not."

"He is; I am not mistaken. This is disgraceful; he must be under that
bed."

"Mother, you can look."

"I shall do nothing of the kind. I shall fetch your uncle."

When he heard Mrs. Young retreating with fast steps, Mike emerged
from his hiding.

"What shall I do?"

"You can't leave without being seen. Uncle sleeps opposite."

"I'll hide in your mother's room; and while they are looking for me
here, I will slip out."

"How clever you are, darling! Go there. Do you hear? uncle is
answering her. To-morrow we shall find an opportunity to get away;
but now I would not be found out.... I told mother you weren't here.
Go!"

The morrow brought no opportunity for flight. Lily could not leave
her room, and it was whispered that the doctors despaired of her
life. Then Mike opened his heart to the Major, and the old soldier
promised him his cordial support when Lily was well. Three days
passed, and then, unable to bear the strain any longer, Mike fled to
Monte Carlo. There he lost and won a fortune. Hence Italy enticed
him, and he went, knowing that he should never go there with Lily.

But not in art nor in dissipation did he find escape from her
deciduous beauty, now divided from the grave only by a breath,
beautiful and divinely sorrowful in its transit.

Some days passed, and then a letter from the Major brought him back
over-worn with anxiety, wild with grief. He found her better. She had
been carried down from her room, and was lying on a sofa by the open
window. There were a few flowers in her hands, and when she offered
them to Mike she said with a kind of Heine-like humour--

"Take them, they will live almost as long as I shall."

"Lily, you will get well, and we shall see Italy together. I had to
leave you--I should have gone mad had I remained. The moment I heard
I could see you I returned. You will get well."

"No, no; I'm here only for a few days--a few weeks at most. I shall
never go to Italy. I shall never be your sweetheart. I'm one of God's
virgins. I belong to my saint, my first and real sweetheart. You
remember when I came to see you in the Temple Gardens, I told you
about Him then, didn't I! Ah! happy, happy aspirations, better even
than you, my darling. And He is waiting for me; I see Him now. He
smiles, and opens His arms."

"You'll get well. The sun of Italy shall be our heaven, thy lips
shall give me immortality, thy love shall give me God."

"Fine words, my sweetheart, fine words, but death waits not for
love.... Well, it's a pity to die without having loved."

"It is worse to live without having loved, dearest--dearest, you
will live."

He never saw her again. Next day she was too ill to come down, and
henceforth she grew daily weaker. Every day brought death visibly
nearer, and one day the Major came to Mike in the garden and said--

"It is all over, my poor friend!"

Then came days of white flowers and wreaths, and bouquets and baskets
of bloom, stephanotis, roses, lilies, and every white blossom that
blows; and so friends sought to cover and hide the darkness of the
grave. Mike remembered the disordered faces of the girls in church;
weeping, they threw themselves on each other's shoulders; and the
mournful chant was sung; and the procession toiled up the long hill
to the cemetery above the town, and Lily was laid there, to rest
there for ever. There she lies, facing Italy, which she never knew
but in dream. The wide country leading to Italy lies below her, the
peaks of the rocky coast, the blue sea, the gray-green olives
billowing like tides from hill to hill; the white loggias gleaming in
the sunlight. His thoughts followed the flight of the blue mountain
passes that lead so enticingly to Italy, and as he looked into the
distance, dim and faint as the dream that had gone, there rose in his
mind an even fairer land than Italy, the land of dream, where for
every one, even for Mike Fletcher, there grows some rose or lily
unattainable.



CHAPTER X


In the dreary drawing-room, amid the tattered copies of the _Graphic_
and _Illustrated London News_, he encountered the inevitable idle
woman. They engaged in conversation; and he repeated the phrases that
belong inevitably to such occasions.

"How horrible all this is," he said to himself; "this is worse than
peeping and botanizing on a mother's grave."

He desired supreme grief, and grief fled from his lure; and rhymes
and images thronged his brain; and the poem that oftenest rose in his
mind, seemingly complete in cadence and idea, was so cruel, that
Lily, looking out of heaven, seemed to beg him to refrain. But though
he erased the lines on the paper, he could not erase them on his
brain, and baffled, he pondered over the phenomena of the antagonism
of desired aspirations and intellectual instincts. He desired a poem
full of the divine grace of grief; a poem beautiful, tender and pure,
fresh and wild as a dove crossing in the dawn from wood to wood. He
desired the picturesqueness of a young man's grief for a dead girl,
an Adonais going forth into the glittering morning, and weeping for
his love that has passed out of the sun into the shadow. This is what
he wrote:


        A UNE POETRENAIRE.

  We are alone! listen, a little while,
  And hear the reason why your weary smile
  And lute-toned speaking is so very sweet
  To me, and how my love is more complete
  Than any love of any lover. They
  Have only been attracted by the gray
  Delicious softness of your eyes, your slim
  And delicate form, or some such whimpering whim,
  The simple pretexts of all lovers;--I
  For other reasons. Listen whilst I try
  And say. I joy to see the sunset slope
  Beyond the weak hours' hopeless horoscope,
  Leaving the heavens a melancholy calm,
  Of quiet colour chaunted like a psalm,
  In mildly modulated phrases; thus
  Your life shall fade like a voluptuous
  Vision beyond the sight, and you shall die
  Like some soft evening's sad serenity ...
  I would possess your dying hours; indeed
  My love is worthy of the gift, I plead
  For them.

         Although I never loved as yet,
  Methinks that I might love you; I would get
  From out the knowledge that the time was brief,
  That tenderness whose pity grows to grief,
  My dream of love, and yea, it would have charms
  Beyond all other passions, for the arms
  Of death are stretchéd you-ward, and he claims
  You as his bride. Maybe my soul misnames
  Its passion; love perhaps it is not, yet
  To see you fading like a violet,
  Or some sweet thought away, would be a strange
  And costly pleasure, far beyond the range
  Of common man's emotion. Listen, I
  Will choose a country spot where fields of rye
  And wheat extend in waving yellow plains,
  Broken with wooded hills and leafy lanes,
  To pass our honeymoon; a cottage where
  The porch and windows are festooned with fair
  Green wreaths of eglantine, and look upon
  A shady garden where we'll walk alone
  In the autumn sunny evenings; each will see
  Our walks grow shorter, till at length to thee
  The garden's length is far, and thou wilt rest
  From time to time, leaning upon my breast
  Thy languid lily face. Then later still,
  Unto the sofa by the window-sill
  Thy wasted body I shall carry, so
  That thou mays't drink the last left lingering glow
  Of even, when the air is filled with scent
  Of blossoms; and my spirits shall be rent
  The while with many griefs. Like some blue day
  That grows more lovely as it fades away,
  Gaining that calm serenity and height
  Of colour wanted, as the solemn night
  Steals forward thou shalt sweetly fall asleep
  For ever and for ever; I shall weep
  A day and night large tears upon thy face,
  Laying thee then beneath a rose-red place
  Where I may muse and dedicate and dream
  Volumes of poesy of thee; and deem
  It happiness to know that thou art far
  From any base desires as that fair star
  Set in the evening magnitude of heaven.
  Death takes but little, yea, thy death has given
  Me that deep peace and immaculate possession
  Which man may never find in earthly passion.


The composition of the poem induced a period of literary passion,
during which he composed much various matter, even part of his great
poem, which he would have completed had he not been struck by an idea
for a novel, and so imperiously, that he wrote the book straight from
end to end. It was sent to a London publisher, and it raised some
tumult of criticism, none of which reached the author. When it
appeared he was far away, living in Arab tents, seeking pleasure at
other sources. For suddenly, when the strain of the composition of
his book was relaxed, civilization had grown hateful to him; a
picture by Fromantin, and that painter's book, _Un été dans le
Sahara_, quickened the desire of primitive life; he sped away, and
for nearly two years lived on the last verge of civilization,
sometimes passing beyond it with the Bedouins into the interior, on
slave-trading or rapacious expeditions. The frequentation of these
simple people calmed the fever of ennui, which had been consuming
him. Nature leads us to the remedy that the development of reason
inflicts on the animal--man. And for more than a year Mike thought he
had solved the problem of life; now he lived in peace--passion had
ebbed almost out of hearing, and in the plain satisfaction of his
instincts he found happiness.

With the wild chieftains, their lances at rest, watching from behind
a sandhill, he sometimes thought that the joy he experienced was akin
to that which he had known in Sussex, when his days were spent in
hunting and shooting; now, as then, he found relief by surrendering
himself to the hygienics of the air and earth. But his second return
to animal nature had been more violent and radical; and it pleased
him to think that he could desire nothing but the Arabs with whom he
lived, and whose friendship he had won. But _qui a bu boira_, and
below consciousness dead appetites were awakening, and would soon be
astir.

The tribe had wandered to an encampment in the vicinity of Morocco;
and one day a missionary and his wife came with a harmonium and
tracts. The scene was so evocative of the civilization from which
Mike had fled, that he at once was drawn by a power he could not
explain towards them. He told the woman that he had adopted Arab
life; explaining that the barbaric soul of some ancestor lived in
him, and that he was happy with these primitive people. He too was a
missionary, and had come to warn and to save them from Christianity
and all its corollaries--silk hats, piano playing, newspapers, and
patent medicines. The English woman argued with him plaintively; the
husband pressed a bundle of tracts upon him; and this very English
couple hoped he would come and see them when he returned to town.
Mike thanked them, insisting, however, that he would never leave his
beloved desert, or desert his friends. Next day, however, he forgot
to fall on his knees at noon, and outside the encampment stood
looking in the direction whither the missionaries had gone. A strange
sadness seemed to have fallen upon him; he cared no more for plans
for slave-trading in the interior, or plunder in the desert. The
scent of the white woman's skin and hair was in his nostrils; the
nostalgia of the pavement had found him, and he knew he must leave
the desert. One morning he was missed in the Sahara, and a fortnight
after he was seen in the Strand, rushing towards Lubini's.

"My dear fellow," he said, catching hold of a friend's arm, "I've
been living with the Arabs for the last two years. Fancy, not to have
seen a 'tart' or drunk a bottle of champagne for two years! Come and
dine with me. We'll go on afterwards to the Troc'."

Mike looked round as if to assure himself that he was back again
dining at Lubi's. It was the same little white-painted gallery,
filled with courtesans, music-hall singers, drunken lords, and
sarcastic journalists. He noticed, however, that he hardly knew a
single face, and was unacquainted with the amours of any of the
women. He inquired for his friends. Muchross was not expected to
live, Laura was underground, and her sister was in America. Joining
in the general hilarity, he learnt that as the singer declined the
prize-fighter was going up in popular estimation. A young and drunken
lord offered to introduce him "to a very warm member."

He felt sure, however, that the Royal would stir in him the old
enthusiasms, and his heart beat when he saw in a box Kitty Carew,
looking exactly the same as the day he had left her; but she insisted
on taking credit for recognizing him--so changed was he. He felt
somewhat provincial, and no woman noticed him, and it was clear that
Kitty was no longer interested in him. The conversation languished,
he did not understand the allusions, and he was surprised and a
little alarmed, indeed, to find that he did not even desire their
attention.

A few weeks afterwards he received an invitation to a ball. It was
from a woman of title, the address was good, and he resolved to go.
It was to one of the Queen Anne houses with which Chelsea abounds,
and as he drove towards it he noted the little windows aflame with
light and colour in the blue summer night. On the carved cramped
staircases women struck him as being more than usually interesting,
and the distinguished air of the company moved him with pleasurable
sensations. A thick creamy odour of white flowers gratified the
nostrils; the slender backs of the girls, the shoulder-blades
squeezed together by the stays, were full of delicate lines and
tints. Mike saw a tall blonde girl, slight as a reed, so blonde that
she was almost an albino, her figure in green gauze swaying. He saw a
girl so brown that he thought of palms and cocoa-nuts; she passed him
smiling, all her girlish soul awake in the enchantment of the dance.
He said--

"No, I don't want to be introduced; she'd only bore me; I know
exactly all she would say."

Studying these, he thought vaguely of dancing a quadrille, and was
glad when the lady said she never danced. With a view to astonish
her, he said--

"Since I became a student of Schopenhauer I have given up waltzing.
Now I never indulge in anything but a square."

For a few moments his joke amused him, and he regretted that John
Norton, who would understand its humour, was not there to laugh at
it. Having eaten supper he chose the deepest chair among the
clustered furniture of the drawing-room, and watched in spleenic
interest a woman of thirty flirting with a young man.

The panelled skirt stretched stiffly over the knees, the legs were
crossed, one drawn slightly back. The young man sat awkwardly on the
edge of the sofa nursing his silk foot. She looked at him over her
fan, inclining her blonde head in assent from time to time. The young
man was delicate--a red blonde. The wall, laden with heavy shelves,
was covered with an embossed paper of a deep gold hue. A piece of
silk, worked with rich flowers, concealed the volumes in a light
bookcase. A lamp, set on a tall brass rod, stood behind the lady,
flooding her hair with yellow light, and its silk shade was nearly
the same tint as the lady's hair. The costly furniture, the lady and
her lover, the one in black and white, the other in creamy lace, the
panelled skirt extended over her knees, filled the room like a
picture--an enticing but somewhat vulgar picture of modern refinement
and taste. Mike watched them curiously.

"Five years ago," he thought, "I was young like he is; my soul
thrilled as his is thrilling now."

Then, seeing a woman whom he knew pass the door on her way to the
ball-room, he asked her to come and sit with him. He did so
remembering the tentative steps they had taken in flirtation three
years ago. So by way of transition, he said--

"The last time we met we spoke of the higher education of women, and
you said that nothing sharpened the wits like promiscuous flirtation.
Enchanting that was, and it made poor Mrs.--Mrs.--I really can't
remember--a lady with earnest eyes--look so embarrassed."

"I don't believe I ever said such a thing; anyhow, if I did, I've
entirely changed my views."

"What a pity! but--perhaps you have finished your education?"

"Yes, that's it; and now I must go up-stairs. I am engaged for this
dance."

"Clearly I'm out of it," thought Mike. "Not only do people see me
with new eyes, but I see them with eyes that I cannot realize as
mine."

The drawing-room was empty; all had gone up-stairs to dance, so,
finding himself alone, he went to a mirror to note the changes. At
first he seemed the same Mike Fletcher; but by degrees he recognized,
or thought he recognized, certain remote and subtle differences. He
thought that the tenderness which used to reside in his eyes was
evanescent or gone. This tenderness had always been to him a subject
of surprise, and he had never been able to satisfactorily explain its
existence, knowing as he knew how all tenderness was in contradiction
to his true character; at least, as he understood himself. This
tenderness was now replaced by a lurking evil look, and he remembered
that he had noted such evil look in certain old libertines. Certain
lines about the face had grown harder, the hollow freckled cheeks
seemed to have sunk a little, and the pump-handle chin seemed to be
defining itself, even to caricature. There was still a certain air of
_bravoure_, of truculence, which attracted, and might still charm. He
turned from the mirror, went up-stairs, and danced three or four
times. He remained until the last, and followed by an increasing
despair he muttered, as he got into a hansom--

"If this is civilization I'd better go back to the Arabs."

The solitude of his rooms chilled him in the roots of his mind; he
looked around like a hunted animal. He threw himself into an
arm-chair. Like a pure fire ennui burned in his heart.

"Oh, for rest! I'm weary of life. Oh, to slip back into the
unconscious, whence we came, and pass for ever from the fitful
buzzing of the midges. To feel that sharp, cruel, implacable
externality of things melt, vanish, and dissolve!

"The utter stupidity of life! There never was anything so stupid; I
mean the whole thing--our ideas of right and wrong, love and duty,
etc. Great Scott! what folly. The strange part of it all is man's
inability to understand the folly of living. When I said to that
woman to-night that I believed that the only evil is to bring
children into the world, she said, 'But then the world would come to
an end.' I said, 'Do you not think it would be a good thing if it
did?' Her look of astonishment proved how unsuspicious she is of the
truth. The ordinary run of mortals do not see into the heart of
things, nor do we, except in terribly lucid moments; then, seeing
life truly, seeing it in its monstrous deformity, we cry out like
children in the night.

"Then why do we go to Death with terror-stricken faces and reluctant
feet? We should go to Death in perfect confidence, like a bride to
her husband, and with eager and smiling eyes. But he who seeks Death
goes with wild eyes--upbraiding Life for having deceived him; as if
Life ever did anything else! He goes to Death as a last refuge. None
go to Death in deep calm and resignation, as a child goes to the kind
and thoughtful nurse in whose arms he will find beautiful rest.

"It was in this very room I spoke to Lady Helen for the last time.
She understood very well indeed the utter worthlessness of life. How
beautiful was her death! That white still face, with darkness
stealing from the closed lids, a film of light shadow, symbol of
deeper shadow. The unseen but easily imagined hand grasping the
pistol, the unseen but imagined red stain upon the soft texture of
the chemise! I might have loved her. She saw into the heart of
things, and like a reasonable being, which she was, resolved to rid
herself of the burden. We discussed the whole question in the next
room; and I remember I was surprised to find that she was in no wise
deceived by the casual fallacy of the fools who say that the good
times compensate for the bad. Ah! how little they understand!
Pleasure! what is it but the correlative of pain? Nothing short of
man's incomparable stupidity could enable him to distinguish between
success and failure.

"But now I remember she did not die for any profound belief in the
worthlessness of life, but merely on account of a vulgar love affair.
That letter was quite conclusive. It was written from the Alexandra
Hotel. It was a letter breaking it off (strange that any one should
care to break off with Lady Helen!); she stopped to see him, in the
hope of bringing about a reconciliation. Quite a Bank Holiday sort of
incident! She did not deny life; but only that particular form in
which life had come to her. Under such circumstances suicide is
unjustifiable.

"There! I'm breaking into what John Norton would call my
irrepressible levity. But there is little gladness in me. Ennui hunts
me like a hound, loosing me for a time, but finding the scent again
it follows--I struggle--escape--but the hour will come when I shall
escape no more. If Lily had not died, if I had married her, I might
have lived. In truth, I'm not alive, I'm really dead, for I live
without hope, without belief, without desire. Ridiculous as a wife
and children are when you look at them from the philosophical side,
they are necessary if man is to live; if man dispenses with the
family, he must embrace the cloister; John has done that; but now I
know that man may not live without wife, without child, without God!"

  *        *        *        *        *        *

Next day, after breakfast, he lay in his arm-chair, thinking of the
few hours that lay between him and the fall of night. He sought to
tempt his jaded appetite with many assorted dissipations, but he
turned from all in disgust, and gambling became his sole distraction.
Every evening about eleven he was seen in Piccadilly, going towards
Arlington Street, and every morning about four the street-sweepers
saw him returning home along the Strand. Then, afraid to go to bed,
he sometimes took pen and paper and attempted to write some lines of
his long-projected poem. But he found that all he had to say he had
said in the sketch which he found among his papers. The idea did not
seem to him to want any further amplification, and he sat wondering
if he could ever have written three or four thousand lines on the
subject.

The casual eye and ear still recognized no difference in him. There
were days when he was as good-looking as ever, and much of the old
fascination remained: but to one who knew him well, as Harding did,
there was no doubt that his life had passed its meridian. The day was
no longer at poise, but was quietly sinking; and though the skies
were full of light, the buoyancy and blitheness that the hours bear
in their ascension were missing; lassitude and moodiness were aboard.

More than ever did he seek women, urged by a nervous erethism which
he could not explain or control. Married women and young girls came
to him from drawing-rooms, actresses from theatres, shop-girls from
the streets, and though seemingly all were as unimportant and
accidental as the cigarettes he smoked, each was a drop in the ocean
of the immense ennui accumulating in his soul. The months passed,
disappearing in a sheer and measureless void, leaving no faintest
reflection or even memory, and his life flowed in unbroken weariness
and despair. There was no taste in him for anything; he had eaten of
the fruit of knowledge, and with the evil rind in his teeth, wandered
an exile beyond the garden. Dark and desolate beyond speech was his
world; dark and empty of all save the eyes of the hound Ennui; and by
day and night it watched him, fixing him with dull and unrelenting
eyes. Sometimes these acute strainings of his consciousness lasted
only between entering his chambers late at night and going to bed;
and fearful of the sleepless hours, every sensation exaggerated by
the effect of the insomnia, he sat in dreadful commune with the
spectre of his life, waiting for the apparition to leave him.

"And to think," he cried, turning his face to the wall, "that it is
this _ego_ that gives existence to it all!"

One of the most terrible of these assaults of consciousness came upon
him on the winter immediately on his return from London. He had gone
to London to see Miss Dudley, whom he had not seen since his return
from Africa--therefore for more than two years. Only to her had he
written from the desert; his last letters, however, had remained
unanswered, and for some time misgivings had been astir in his heart.
And it was with the view of ridding himself of these that he had been
to London. The familiar air of the house seemed to him altered, the
servant was a new one; she did not know the name, and after some
inquiries, she informed him that the lady had died some six months
past. All that was human in him had expressed itself in this
affection; among women Lily Young and Miss Dudley had alone touched
his heart; there were friends scattered through his life whom he had
worshipped; but his friendships had nearly all been, though intense,
ephemeral and circumstantial; nor had he thought constantly and
deeply of any but these two women. So long as either lived, there was
a haven of quiet happiness and natural peace in which his shattered
spirit might rock at rest; but now he was alone.

Others he saw with homes and family ties; all seemed to have hopes
and love to look to but he--"I alone am alone! The whole world is in
love with me, and I'm utterly alone." Alone as a wreck upon a desert
ocean, terrible in its calm as in its tempest. Broken was the helm
and sailless was the mast, and he must drift till borne upon some
ship-wrecking reef! Had fate designed him to float over every rock?
must he wait till the years let through the waters of disease, and he
foundered obscurely in the immense loneliness he had so elaborately
prepared?

Wisdom! dost thou turn in the end, and devour thyself? dost thou
vomit folly? or is folly born of thee?

Overhead was cloud of storm, the ocean heaved, quick lightnings
flashed; but no waves gathered, and in heavy sulk a sense of doom lay
upon him. Wealth and health and talent were his; he had all, and in
all he found he had nothing;--yes, one thing was his for
evermore,--Ennui.

Thoughts and visions rose into consciousness like monsters coming
through a gulf of dim sea-water; all delusion had fallen, and he saw
the truth in all its fearsome deformity. On awakening, the implacable
externality of things pressed upon his sight until he felt he knew
what the mad feel, and then it seemed impossible to begin another
day. With long rides, with physical fatigue, he strove to keep at bay
the despair-fiend which now had not left him hardly for weeks. For
long weeks the disease continued, almost without an intermission; he
felt sure that death was the only solution, and he considered the
means for encompassing the end with a calm that startled him.

Nor was it until the spring months that he found any subjects that
might take him out of his melancholy, and darken the too acute
consciousness of the truth of things which was forcing him on to
madness or suicide. One day it was suggested that he should stand for
Parliament. He eagerly seized the idea, and his brain thronged
immediately with visions of political successes, of the parliamentary
triumphs he would achieve. Bah! he was an actor at heart, and
required the contagion of the multitude, and again he looked out upon
life with visionary eyes. Harsh hours fell behind him, gay hours
awaited him, held hands to him.

Men wander far from the parent plot of earth; but a strange fatality
leads them back, they know not how. None had desired to separate from
all associations of early life more than Mike, and he was at once
glad and sorry to find that the door through which he was to enter
Parliament was Cashel. He would have liked better to represent an
English town or county, but he could taste in Cashel a triumph which
he could nowhere else in the world. To return triumphant to his
native village is the secret of every wanderer's desire, for there he
can claim not only their applause but their gratitude.

The politics he would have to adopt made him wince, for he knew the
platitudes they entailed; and in preference he thought of the
paradoxes with which he would stupefy the House, the daring and
originality he would show in introducing subjects that, till then, no
one had dared to touch upon. With the politics of his party he had
little intention of concerning himself, for his projects were to make
for himself a reputation as an orator, and having confirmed it to
seek another constituency at the close of the present Parliament.
Such intention lay dormant in the background of his mind, but he had
not seen many Irish Nationalists before he was effervescing with
rhetoric suitable for the need of the election, and he was sometimes
puzzled to determine whether he was false or true.

Driving through Dublin from the steamer, he met Frank Escott. They
shouted simultaneously to their carmen to stop.

"Home to London. I've just come from Cashel. I went to try to effect
some sort of reconciliation with Mount Rorke; but--and you, where are
you going?"

"I'm going to Cashel. I'm going to contest the town in the Parnellite
interest."

Each pair of eyes was riveted on the other. For both men thought of
the evening when Mike had received the letter notifying that Lady
Seeley had left him five thousand a year, and Frank had read in
the evening paper that Lady Mount Rorke had given birth to a son.
Frank was, as usual, voluble and communicative. He dilated on the
painfulness of the salutations of the people he had met on the
way going from the station to Mount Rorke; and, instead of walking
straight in, as in old times, he had to ask the servant to take
his name.

"Burton, the old servant who had known me since I was a boy, seemed
terribly cut up, and he was evidently very reluctant to speak the
message. 'I'm very sorry, Mr. Frank,' he said, 'but his lordship says
he is too unwell to see any one to-day, sir; he is very sorry, but if
you would write' ... If I would write! think of it, I who was once
his heir, and used the place as if it were mine! Poor old Burton
was quite overcome. He tried to ask me to come into the dining-room
and have some lunch. If I go there again I shall be asked into the
servants' hall. And at that moment the nurse came, wheeling the baby
in the perambulator through the hall, going out for an airing. I
tried not to look, but couldn't restrain my eyes, and the nurse
stopped and said, 'Now then, dear, give your hand to the gentleman,
and tell him your name.' The little thing looked up, its blue eyes
staring out of its sallow face, and it held out the little putty-like
hand. Poor old Burton turned aside, he couldn't stand it any longer,
and walked into the dining-room."

"And how did you get away?" asked Mike, who saw his friend's
misfortune in the light of an exquisite chapter in a novel. "How sad
the old place must have seemed to you!"

"You are thinking how you could put it in a book--how brutal you
are!"

"I assure you you are wrong. I can't help trying to realize your
sensations, but that doesn't prevent me from being very sorry for
you, and I'm sure I shall be very pleased to help you. Do you want
any money? Don't be shy about saying yes. I haven't forgotten how you
helped me."

"I really don't like to ask you, you've been very good as it is.
However, if you could spare me a tenner?"

"Of course I can. Let's send these jarvies away, and come into my
hotel, and I'll write you a cheque."

The sum Frank asked for revealed to Mike exactly the depth to which
he had sunk since they had last met. Small as it was, however, it
seemed to have had considerable effect in reviving Frank's spirits,
and he proceeded quite cheerfully into the tale of his misfortune.
Now it seemed to strike him too in quite a literary light, and he
made philosophic comments on its various aspects, as he might on the
hero of a book which he was engaged on or contemplated writing.

"No," he said, "you were quite wrong in supposing that I waited to
look back on the old places. I got out of the park through a wood so
as to avoid the gate-keeper. In moments of great despair we don't
lapse into pensive contemplation." ... He stopped to pull at the
cigar Mike had given him, and when he had got it well alight, he
said, "It was really most dramatic, it would make a splendid scene in
a play; you might make him murder the baby."

Half an hour after Mike bade his friend good-bye, glad to be rid of
him.

"He's going back to that beastly wife who lives in some dirty
lodging. How lucky I was, after all, not to marry."

Then, remembering the newspaper, and the use it might be to him when
in Parliament, he rushed after Frank. When the _Pilgrim_ was
mentioned Frank's face changed expression, and he seemed stirred with
deeper grief than when he related the story of his disinheritance. He
had no further connection with the paper. Thigh had worked him out of
it.

"I never really despaired," he said, "until I lost my paper. Thigh
has asked me to send him paragraphs, but of course I'm not going to
do that."

"Why not?"

"Well, hang it, after being the editor of a paper, you aren't going
to send in paragraphs on approval. It isn't good enough. When I go
back to London I shall try to get a sub-editorship."

Mike pressed another tenner upon him, and returning to the
smoking-room, and throwing himself into an arm-chair, he lapsed into
dreams of the bands and the banners that awaited him. When animal
spirits were ebullient in him, he regarded his election in the light
of a vulgar practical joke; when the philosophic mood was upon him he
turned from all thought of it as from the smell of a dirty kitchen
coming through a grating.



CHAPTER XI


During the first session Mike was hampered and inconvenienced by the
forms of the House; in the second, he began to weary of its routine.
His wit and paradox attracted some attention; he made one almost
successful speech, many that stirred and stimulated the minds of
celebrated listeners; but for all that he failed. His failure to
redeem the expectations of his friends, produced in him much stress
and pain of mind, the more acute because he was fully alive to the
cause. He ascribed it rightly to certain inherent flaws in his
character. "The world believes in those who believe in it. Such
belief may prove a lack of intelligence on the part of the believer,
but it secures him success, and success is after all the only thing
that compensates for the evil of life."

Always impressed by new ideas, rarely holding to any impression long,
finding all hollow and common very soon, he had been taken with the
importance of the national assembly, but it had hardly passed into
its third session when all illusion had vanished, and Mike ridiculed
parliamentary ambitions in the various chambers of the barristers he
frequented.

It was May-time, and never did the Temple wear a more gracious
aspect. The river was full of hay-boats, the gardens were green with
summer hours. Through the dim sky, above the conical roof of the dear
church, the pigeons fled in rapid quest, and in Garden Court, beneath
the plane-trees, old folk dozed, listening to the rippling tune of
the fountain and the shrilling of the sparrows. In King's Bench Walk
the waving branches were full of their little brown bodies. Sparrows
everywhere, flying from the trees to the eaves, hopping on the golden
gravel, beautifully carpeted with the rich shadows of the
trees--unabashed little birds, scarcely deigning to move out of the
path of the young men as they passed to and fro from their offices to
the library. "That sweet, grave place where we weave our ropes of
sand," so Mike used to speak of it.

The primness of the books, the little galleries guarded by brass
railings, here and there a reading-desk, the sweet silence of the
place, the young men reading at the polished oak tables, the colour
of the oak and the folios, the rich Turkey carpets, lent to the
library that happy air of separation from the brutalities of life
which is almost sanctity. These, the familiar aspects of the Temple,
moved him with all their old enchantments; he lingered in the warm
summer mornings when all the Temple was astir, gossiping with the
students, or leaning upon the balustrades in pensive contemplation of
the fleet river.

But these moods of passive happiness were interrupted more frequently
than they had been in earlier years by the old whispering voice, now
grown strangely distinct, which asked, but no longer through laughing
lips, if it were possible to discern any purpose in life, and if all
thoughts and things were not as vain as a little measure of sand. The
dark fruit that hangs so alluringly over the wall of the garden of
life now met his eyes frequently, tempting him, and perforce he must
stay to touch and consider it. Then, resolved to baffle at all costs
the disease which he now knew pursued him, he plunged in the crowd of
drunkenness and debauchery which swelled the Strand at night. He was
found where prize-fighters brawled, and card-sharpers cajoled; where
hall singers fed on truffled dishes, and courtesans laughed and
called for champagne. He was seen in Lubini's sprawling over luncheon
tables till late in the afternoon, and at nightfall lingering about
the corners of the streets, talking to the women that passed. In such
low form of vice he sought escape. He turned to gambling, risking
large sums, sometimes imperilling his fortune for the sake of the
assuagement such danger brought of the besetting sin. But luck poured
thousands into his hands; and he applied himself to the ruin of one
seeking to bring about his death.

"Before I kill myself," he said, "I will kill others; I'm weary of
playing at Faust, now I'll play at Mephistopheles."

Henceforth all men who had money, or friends who had money, were
invited to Temple Gardens. You met there members of both Houses of
Parliament--the successors of Muchross and Snowdown; and men
exquisitely dressed, with quick, penetrating eyes, assembled there,
actors and owners of race-horses galore, and bright-complexioned
young men of many affections. Rising now from the piano one is heard
to say reproachfully, "You never admire anything I wear," to a grave
friend who had passed some criticism on the flower in the young man's
button-hole.

It was still early in the evening, and the usual company had not yet
arrived. Harding stood on the white fur hearthrug, his legs slightly
apart, smoking. Mike lay in an easy-chair. His eyes were upon
Harding, whom he had not seen for some years, and the sight of him
recalled the years when they wrote the _Pilgrim_ together.

He thought how splendid were then his enthusiasms and how genuine his
delight in life. It was in this very room that he kissed Lily for the
first time. That happy day. Well did he remember how the sun shone
upon the great river, how the hay-boats sailed, how the city rose
like a vision out of the mist. But Lily lies asleep, far away in a
southern land; she lies sleeping, facing Italy--that Italy which they
should have seen and dreamed together. At that moment, he brushed
from his book a little green insect that had come out of the night,
and it disappeared in faint dust.

It was in this room he had seen Lady Helen for the last time; and he
remembered how, when he returned to her, after having taken Lily back
to the dancing-room, he had found her reading a letter, and almost
the very words of the conversation it had given rise to came back to
him, and her almost aggressive despair. No one could say why she had
shot herself. Who was the man that had deserted her? What was he
like? Was it Harding? It was certainly for a lover who had tired of
her; and Mike wondered how it were possible to weary of one so
beautiful and so interesting, and he believed that if she had loved
him they both would have found content.

"Do you remember, Harding, that it was in this room we saw Lady Helen
alive for the last time? What a tragedy that was! Do you remember the
room in the Alexandra Hotel, the firelight, with the summer morning
coming through the Venetian blinds? Somehow there was a sense of
sculpture, even without the beautiful body. Seven years have passed.
She has enjoyed seven years of peace and rest; we have endured seven
years of fret and worry. Life of course was never worth living, but
the common stupidity of the nineteenth century renders existence for
those who may see into the heart of things almost unbearable. I
confess that every day man's stupidity seems to me more and more
miraculous. Indeed it may be said to be divine, so inherent and so
unalterable is it; and to understand it we need not stray from the
question in hand--suicide. A man is houseless, he is old, he is
friendless, he is starving, he is assailed in every joint by cruel
disease; to save himself from years of suffering he lights a pan of
charcoal; and, after carefully considering all the circumstances, the
jury returns a verdict of suicide while in a state of temporary
insanity. Out of years of insanity had sprung a supreme moment of
sanity, and no one understands it. The common stupidity, I should say
the common insanity, of the world on the subject of suicide is quite
comic. A man may destroy his own property, which would certainly be
of use to some one, but he may not destroy his own life, which
possibly is of use to no one; and if two men conspire to commit
suicide and one fails, the other is tried for murder and hanged. Can
the mind conceive more perfect nonsense?"

"I cannot say I agree with you," said Harding; "man's aversion to
suicide seems to me perfectly comprehensible."

"Does it really! Well, I should like to hear you develop that
paradox."

"Your contention is that it is inconceivable that in an already
over-crowded society men should not look rather with admiration than
with contempt on those who, convinced that they block the way,
surrender their places to those better able to fill them; and it is
to you equally inconceivable that a man should be allowed to destroy
his property and not his person. Your difficulty seems to me to arise
from your not taking into consideration the instinctive nature of
man. The average man may be said to be purely instinctive. In popular
opinion--that is to say, in his own opinion--he is supposed to be a
reasonable being; but a short acquaintance shows him to be illumined
with no faintest ray of reason. His sense of right and wrong is
purely instinctive; talk to him about it, and you will see that you
might as well ask a sheep-dog why he herds the sheep."

"Quite so; but I do not see how that explains his aversion to
suicide."

"I think it does. There are two forces in human nature--instinct and
reason. The first is the very principle of life, and exists in all we
see--give it a philosophic name, and call it the 'will to live.' All
acts, therefore, proceed from instinct or from reason. Suicide is
clearly not an instinctive act, it is therefore a reasonable act; and
being of all acts the least instinctive, it is of necessity the most
reasonable; reason and instinct are antagonistic; and the extreme
point of their antagonism must clearly be suicide. One is the
assertion of life, the other is the denial of life. The world is
mainly instinctive, and therefore very tolerant to all assertions of
the will to live; it is in other words full of toleration for itself;
no one is reproved for bringing a dozen children into the world,
though he cannot support them, because to reprove him would involve a
partial condemnation of the will to live; and the world will not
condemn itself.

"If suicide merely cut the individual thread of life our brothers
would rejoice. Nature is concerned in the preservation of the
species, not in the preservation of the individual; but suicide is
more than the disappearance of an individual life, it is a protest
against all life, therefore man, in the interest of the life of the
race, condemns the suicide. The struggle for life is lessened by
every death, but the injury inflicted on the desire of life is
greater; in other words, suicide is such a stimulant to the exercise
of reason (which has been proved antagonistic to life), that man, in
defence of instinct, is forced to condemn suicide.

"And it is curious to note that of all the manners of death which may
bring them fortune, men like suicide the least; a man would prefer to
inherit a property through his father falling a prey to a disease
that tortured him for months rather than he should blow his brains
out. If he were to sound his conscience, his conscience would tell
him that his preference resulted from consideration for his father's
soul. For as man acquired reason, which, as I have shown, endangers
the sovereignty of the will to live, he developed notions of eternal
life, such notions being necessary to check and act as a drag upon
the new force that had been introduced into his life. He says suicide
clashes with the principle of eternal life. So it does, so it does,
he is quite right, but how delightful and miraculously obtuse. We
must not take man for a reasoning animal; ants and bees are hardly
more instinctive and less reasonable than the majority of men.

"But far more than with any ordinary man is it amusing to discuss
suicide with a religionist. The religionist does not know how to
defend himself. If he is a Roman Catholic he says the Church forbids
suicide, and that ends the matter; but other churches have no answer
to make, for they find in the Old and New Testament not a shred of
text to cover themselves with. From the first page of the Bible to
the last there is not a word to say that a man does not hold his life
in his hands, and may not end it when he pleases."

"Why don't you write an article on suicide? It would frighten people
out of their wits!" said Mike.

"I hope he'll do nothing of the kind," said a man who had been
listening with bated breath. "We should have every one committing
suicide all around us--the world would come to an end."

"And would that matter much?" said Mike, with a scornful laugh. "You
need not be afraid. No bit of mere scribbling will terminate life;
the principle of life is too deeply rooted ever to be uprooted;
reason will ever remain powerless to harm it. Very seldom, if ever,
has a man committed suicide for purely intellectual reasons. It
nearly always takes the form of a sudden paroxysm of mind. The will
to live is an almost unassailable fortress, and it will remain
impregnable everlastingly."

The entrance of some men, talking loudly of betting and women,
stopped the conversation. The servants brought forth the card-tables.
Mike played several games of écarté, cheating openly, braving
detection. He did not care what happened, and almost desired the
violent scene that would ensue on his being accused of packing the
cards. But nothing happened, and about one o'clock, having bade the
last guest good-night, he returned to the dining-room. The room in
its disorder of fruit and champagne looked like a human being--Mike
thought it looked like himself. He drank a tumbler of champagne and
returned to the drawing-room, his pockets full of the money he had
swindled from a young man. He threw himself on a sofa by the open
window and listened to the solitude, terribly punctuated by the
clanging of the clocks. All the roofs were defined on the blue night,
and he could hear the sound of water falling. The trees rose in vague
masses indistinguishable, and beyond was the immense brickwork which
hugs the shores. In the river there were strange reflections, and
above the river there were blood-red lamps.

"If I were to fling myself from this window! ... I shouldn't feel
anything; but I should be a shocking sight on the pavement.... Great
Scott! this silence is awful, and those whispering trees, and those
damned clocks--another half-hour of life gone. I shall go mad if
something doesn't happen."

There came a knock. Who could it be? It did not matter, anything was
better than silence. He threw open the door, and a pretty girl,
almost a child, bounded into the room, making it ring with her
laughter.

"Oh, Mike! darling Mike, I have left home; I couldn't live without
you; ... aren't you glad to see me?"

"Of course I'm glad to see you."

"Then why don't you kiss me?" she said, jumping on his knees and
throwing her arms about his neck.

"What a wicked little girl you are!"

"Wicked! It is you who make me wicked, my own darling Mike. I ran
away from home for you, all for you; I should have done it for nobody
else.... I ran away the day--the day before yesterday. My aunt was
annoying me for going out in the lane with some young fellows. I said
nothing for a long time. At last I jumps up, and I says that I would
stand it no longer; I told her straight; I says you'll never see me
again, never no more; I'll go away to London to some one who is
awfully nice. And of course I meant you, my own darling Mike." And
the room rang with girlish laughter.

"But where are you staying?" said Mike, seriously alarmed.

"Where am I staying? I'm staying with a young lady friend of mine who
lives in Drury Lane, so I'm not far from you. You can come and see
me," she said, and her face lit with laughter. "We are rather hard
up. If you could lend me a sovereign I should be so much obliged."

"Yes, I'll lend you a sovereign, ten if you like; but I hope you'll
go back to your aunt. I know the world better than you, my dear
little Flossy, and I tell you that Drury Lane is no place for you."

"I couldn't go back to aunt; she wouldn't take me back; besides, I
want to remain in London for the present."

Before she left Mike filled the astonished child's hands with money,
and as she paused beneath his window he threw some flowers towards
her, and listened to her laughter ringing through the pale morning.
Now the night was a fading thing, and the town and Thames lay in the
faint blue glamour of the dawn. Another day had begun, and the rattle
of a morning cart was heard. Mike shut the window, hesitating between
throwing himself out of it, and going to bed.

"As long as I can remember, I have had these fits of depression, but
now they never leave me; I seem more than ever incapable of shaking
them off."

Then he thought of the wickedness he had done, not of the wickedness
of his life--that seemed to him unlimited,--but of the wickedness
accomplished within the last few hours, and he wondered if he had
done worse in cheating the young man at cards or giving the money he
had won to Flossy. "Having tasted of money, she will do anything to
obtain more. I suppose she is hopelessly lost, and will go from bad
to worse. But really I don't see that I am wholly responsible. I
advised her to go home, I could do no more. But I will get her aunt's
address and write to her. Or I will inform some of the philanthropic
people."

A few days after, he came in contact with some. Their fervour
awakened some faint interest in him, and now, as weary of playing at
Mephistopheles as he was of playing at Faust, he followed the
occupation of his new friends. But his attempts at reformation were
vain, they wore out the soul, and left it only more hopeless than
before; and he remembered John Norton's words, that faith is a gift
from God which we must cherish, or He will take it from us utterly;
and sighing, Mike recognized the great truth underlying a primitive
mode of expression. He had drifted too far into the salt sea of
unfaith and cynicism, ever to gain again the fair if illusive shores
of aspiration--maybe illusive, but no more illusive than the cruel
sea that swung him like a wreck in its current, feeding upon him as
the sea feeds. Nor could he make surrender of his passion of life,
saying--

"I see into the heart of things, I know the truth, and in the calm
possession of knowledge am able to divest myself of my wretched
individuality, and so free myself of all evils, seeking in
absorption, rather than by violent ends, to rid myself of
consciousness."

But this, the religion of the truly wise, born in the sublime East,
could find no roothold in Mike Fletcher--that type and epitome of
Western grossness and lust of life. Religions being a synthesis of
moral aspirations, developed through centuries, are mischievous and
untrue except in the circumstances and climates in which they have
grown up, and native races are decimated equally by the importation
of a religion or a disease. True it is that Christianity was a
product of the East, but it was an accidental and inferior offshoot
from the original religion of the race, not adapted to their needs,
and fitted only for exportation. And now, tainted and poisoned by a
thousand years of habitation in the West, Christianity returns to the
East, virulent and baneful as small-pox, a distinctly demoralizing
influence, having power only to change excellent Buddhists into
prostitutes and thieves. And in such a way, according to the same
laws, Mike had observed, since he had adopted pessimism, certain
unmistakable signs in himself of moral degeneracy.

He had now exhausted all Nature's remedies, save one--Drink, and he
could not drink. Drink has often rescued men, in straits of mental
prostration, from the charcoal-pan, the pistol, and the river. But
Mike could not drink, and Nature sought in vain to re-adjust again,
and balance anew, forces which seemed now irretrievably disarranged.
All the old agencies were exhausted, and the new force, which chance,
co-operating with natural disposition, had introduced, was dominant
in him. Against it women were now powerless, and he turned aside from
offered love.

It is probable that the indirect influences to which we have been
subjected before birth outweigh the few direct influences received by
contagion with present life. But the direct influences, slight as
they may be, are worth considering, they being the only ones of which
we have any exact knowledge, even if in so doing we exaggerate them;
and in striving to arrive at a just estimation of the forces that had
brought about his present mind, Mike was in the habit of giving
prominence to the thought of the demoralizing influence of the
introduction of Eastern pessimism into a distinctly Western nature.
He remembered very well indeed the shock he had received when he had
heard John say for the first time that it was better that human life
should cease.

"For man's history, what is it but the history of crime? Man's life,
what is it but a disgraceful episode in the life of one of the
meanest of the planets? Let us be thankful that time shall obliterate
the abominable, and that once again the world shall roll pure through
the silence of the universe."

So John had once spoken, creating consternation in Mike's soul,
casting poison upon it. But John had buried himself in Catholicism
for refuge from this awful creed, leaving Mike to perish in it. Then
Mike wondered if he should have lived and died a simple, honourable,
God-fearing man, if he had not been taken out of the life he was born
in, if he had married in Ireland, for instance, and driven cattle to
market, as did his ancestors.

One day hearing the organ singing a sweet anthem, he stayed to
listen. It being midsummer, the doors of the church were open, the
window was in his view, and the congregation came streaming out into
the sunshine of the courts, some straying hither and thither, taking
note of the various monuments. In such occupation he spoke to one
whom he recognized at once as a respectable shop-girl. He took her
out to dinner, dazzled and delighted her with a present of jewelry,
enchanted her with assurances of his love. But when her manner
insinuated an inclination to yield, he lost interest, and wrote
saying he was forced to leave town. Soon after, he wrote to a certain
actress proposing to write a play for her. The proposal was not made
with a view to deceiving her, but rather in the intention of securing
their liaison against caprice, by involving in it various mutual
advantages. For three weeks they saw each other frequently; he
wondered if he loved her, he dreamed of investing his talents in her
interest, and so rebuilding the falling edifice of his life.

"I could crush an affection out of my heart as easily as I could kill
a fly," she said.

"Ah!" he said, "my heart is as empty as a desert, and no affection
shall enter there again."

An appointment was made to go out to supper, but he wrote saying he
was leaving town to be married. Nor was his letter a lie. After long
hesitations he had decided on this step, and it seemed to him clear
that no one would suit him so well as Mrs. Byril. By marrying an old
mistress, he would save himself from all the boredom of a honeymoon.
And sitting in the drawing-room, in the various pauses between
numerous licentious stories, they discussed their matrimonial
project.

Dear Emily, who said she suffered from loneliness and fear of the
future as acutely as he, was anxious to force the matter forward. But
her eagerness begot reluctance in Mike, and at the end of a week, he
felt that he would sooner take his razor and slice his head off, than
live under the same roof with her.

In Regent Street one evening he met Frank Escott. After a few
preliminary observations Mike asked him if he had heard lately from
Lord Mount Rorke. Frank said that he had not seen him. All was over
between them, but his uncle had, however, arranged to allow him two
hundred a year. He was living at Mortlake, "a nice little house; our
neighbour on the left is a city clerk at a salary of seventy pounds a
year, on the right is a chemist's shop; a very nice woman is the
chemist's wife; my wife and the chemist's wife are fast friends. We
go over and have tea with them, and they come and have tea with us.
The chemist and I smoke our pipes over the garden wall. All this
appears very dreadful to you, but I assure you I have more real
pleasure, and take more interest in my life, than ever I did before.
My only trouble is the insurance policy--I must keep that paid up,
for the two hundred a year's only an annuity. It makes a dreadful
hole in our income. You might come down and see us."

"And be introduced to the chemist's wife!"

"There's no use in trying to come it over me; I know who you are. I
have seen you many times about the roads in a tattered jacket. You
mustn't think that because all the good luck went your way, and all
the bad luck my way, that I'm any less a gentleman, or you any less a
----"

"My dear Frank, I'm really very sorry for what I said; I forgot. I
assure you I didn't mean to sneer. I give you my word of honour."

They walked around Piccadilly Circus, edging their way through the
women, that the sultry night had brought out in white dresses. It was
a midnight of white dresses and fine dust; the street was as clean as
a ball-room; like a pure dream the moon soared through the azure
infinities, whitening the roadway; the cabmen loitered, following
those who showed disposition to pair; groups gathered round the
lamp-posts, and were dispersed by stalwart policemen. "Move on, move
on, if you please, gentlemen!"

Frank told Mike about the children. He had now a boy five years old,
"such a handsome fellow, and he can read as well as you or I can.
He's down at the sea-side now with his mother. He wrote me such a
clever letter, telling me he had just finished _Robinson Crusoe_, and
was going to make a start on _Gulliver's Travels_. I'm crazy about my
boy. Talk of being tired of living, my trouble is that I shall have
to leave him one day."

Mike thought Frank's love of his son charming, and he regretted he
could find in his own heart no such simple sentiments! Every now and
then he turned to look after a girl, and pulling his moustache,
muttered--

"Not bad!"

"Well, don't let's say anything more about it. When will you come and
see us?"

"What day will suit you--some day next week?"

"Yes, I'm always in in the evening; will you come to dinner?"

Mike replied evasively, anxious not to commit himself to a promise
for any day. Then seeing that Frank thought he did not care to dine
with him, he said--

"Very well, let us say Wednesday."

He bade his friend good-night, and stood on the edge of the pavement
watching him make his way across the street to catch the last
omnibus. Mike's mind filled with memories of Frank. They came from
afar, surging over the shores of youth, thundering along the cliffs
of manhood. Out of the remote regions of boyhood they came, white
crests uplifted, merging and mingling in the waters of life. It
seemed to Mike that, like sea-weed, he and Frank had been washed
together, and they then had been washed apart. That was life, and
that was the result of life, that and nothing more. And of every
adventure Frank was the most distinctly realizable; all else, even
Lily, was a little shadow that had come and gone. John had lost
himself in religion, Frank had lost himself in his wife and child. To
lose yourself, that is the end to strive for; absorption in religion
or in the family. They had attained it, he had failed. All the love
and all the wealth fortune had poured upon him had not enabled him to
stir from or change that entity which he knew as Mike Fletcher. Ten
years ago he had not a shilling to his credit, to-day he had several
thousands, but the irreparable had not altered--he was still Mike
Fletcher. He had wandered over the world; he had lain in the arms of
a hundred women, and nothing remained of it all but Mike Fletcher.
There was apparently no escape; he was lashed to himself like the
convict to the oar. For him there was nothing but this oar, and all
the jewelry that had been expended upon it had not made it anything
but an oar. There was a curse upon it all.

He saw Frank's home--the little parlour with its bits of furniture,
scraggy and vulgar, but sweet with the presence of the wife and her
homely occupations; then the children--the chicks--cooing and
chattering, creating such hope and fond anxiety! Why then did he not
have wife and children? Of all worldly possessions they are the
easiest to obtain. Because he had created a soul that irreparably
separated him from these, the real and durable prizes of life; they
lay beneath his hands, but his soul said no; he desired, and was
powerless to take what he desired.

For a moment he stood, in puzzled curiosity, listening to the fate
that his thoughts were prophesying; then, as if in answer antiphonal,
terrible as the announcing of the chorus, came a quick thought, quick
and sharp as a sword, fatal as a sword set against the heart. He
strove to turn its point aside, he attempted to pass it by, but on
every side he met its point, though he reasoned in jocular and
serious mood. Then his courage falling through him like a stone
dropped into a well, he crossed the street, seeking the place Flossy
had told him of, and soon after saw her walking a little in front of
him with another girl. She beckoned him, leading the way through
numerous by-streets. Something in the sound of certain footsteps told
him he was being followed; his reason warned him away, yet he could
not but follow. And in the shop below and on the stairs of the low
eating-house where they had led him, loud voices were heard and
tramping of feet. Instantly he guessed the truth, and drew the
furniture across the doorway. The window was over twenty feet from
the ground, but he might reach the water-butt. He jumped from the
window-sill, falling into the water, out of which he succeeded in
drawing himself; hence he crawled along the wall, dropped into the
lane, hearing his pursuers shouting to him from the window. There
were only a few children in the lane; he sped quickly past, gained a
main street, hailed a cab, and was driven safely to the Temple.

He flung off his shoes, which were full of water; his trousers were
soaking, and having rid himself of them, he wrapped himself in a
dressing-gown, and went into the sitting-room in his slippers. It was
the same as when it was Frank's room. There was the grand piano and
the slender brass lamps; he had lit none, but stood uncertain, his
bed-room candle in his hand. And listening, he could hear London
along the Embankment--all occasional cry, the rattle of a cab, the
hollow whistle of a train about to cross the bridge at Blackfriars,
the shrill whistle of a train far away in the night. He had escaped
from his pursuers, but not from himself.

"How horribly lonely it is here," he muttered. Then he thought of how
narrowly he had escaped disgraceful exposure of his infamy. "If those
fellows had got hold of my name it would have been in the papers the
day after to-morrow. What a fool I am! why do I risk so much? and for
what?" He turned from the memory as from sight of some disgustful
deformity or disease. Going to the mirror he studied his face for
some reflection of the soul; but unable to master his feelings, in
which there was at once loathing and despair, he threw open the
window and walked out of the suffocating room into the sultry
balcony.

It was hardly night; the transparent obscurity of the summer midnight
was dissolving; the slight film of darkness which had wrapped the
world was evanescent. "Is it day or night?" he asked. "Oh, it is day!
another day has begun; I escaped from my mortal enemies, but not from
the immortal day. Like a gray beast it comes on soft velvet paws to
devour. Stay! oh, bland and beautiful night, thou that dost so
charitably hide our misfortunes, stay!

"I shudder when I think of the new evils and abominations that this
day will bring. The world is still at rest, lying in the partial
purity of sleep. But as a cruel gray beast the day comes on soundless
velvet paws. Light and desire are one; light and desire are the claws
that the gray beast unsheathes; a few hours' oblivion and the world's
torment begins again!" Then looking down the great height, he thought
how he might spring from consciousness into oblivion--the town and
the river were now distinct in ghastly pallor--"I should feel
nothing. But what a mess I should make; what a horrible little mess!"

After breakfast he sat looking into space, wondering what he might
do. He hoped for a visitor, and yet he could not think of one that he
desired to see. A woman! the very thought was distasteful. He rose
and went to the window. London implacable lay before him, a morose
mass of brick, fitting sign and symbol of life. And the few hours
that lay between breakfast and dinner were narrow and brick-coloured;
and longing for the vast green hours of the country, he went to
Belthorpe Park. But in a few weeks the downs and lanes fevered and
exasperated him, and perforce he must seek some new distraction.
Henceforth he hurried from house to house, tiring of each last abode
more rapidly than the one that had preceded it. He read no books, and
he only bought newspapers to read the accounts of suicides; and his
friends had begun to notice the strange interest with which he spoke
of those who had done away with themselves, and the persistency with
which he sought to deduce their motives from the evidence; and he
seemed to be animated by a wish to depreciate all worldly reasons,
and to rely upon weariness of life as sufficient motive for their
action.

The account of two young people engaged to be married, who had taken
tickets for some short journey and shot themselves in the railway
carriage. "Here," he said, "was a case of absolute sanity, a quality
almost undiscoverable in human nature. Two young people resolve to
rid themselves of the burden; but they are more than utilitarians,
they are poets, and of a high order; for, not only do they make most
public and emphatic denial of life, but they add to it a measure of
Aristophanesque satire--they engage themselves to marry. Now marriage
is man's approval and confirmation of his belief in human
existence--they engage themselves to marry, but instead of putting
their threat into execution, they enter a railway carriage and blow
out their brains, proving thereby that they had brains to blow out."

When, however, it transpired that letters were found in the pockets
of the suicides to the effect that they had hoped to gain such
notoriety as the daily press can give by their very flagrant
leave-taking of this world, Mike professed much regret, and gravely
assured his astonished listeners that, in the face of these letters
which had unhappily come to light, he withdrew his praise of the
quality of the brains blown out. In truth he secretly rejoiced that
proof of the imperfect sanity of the suicides had come to light and
assured himself that when he did away with Mike Fletcher, that he
would revenge himself on society by leaving behind him a document
which would forbid the usual idiotic verdict, "Suicide while in a
state of temporary insanity," and leave no loophole through which it
might be said that he was impelled to seek death for any extraneous
reasons whatever. He would go to death in the midst of the most
perfect worldly prosperity the mind could conceive, desiring nothing
but rest, profoundly convinced of the futility of all else, and the
perfect folly of human effort.

In such perverse and morbid mind Mike returned to London. It was in
the beginning of August, and the Temple weltered in sultry days and
calm nights. The river flowed sluggishly through its bridges; the
lights along its banks gleamed fiercely in the lucent stillness of a
sulphur-hued horizon. Like a nightmare the silence of the apartment
lay upon his chest; and there was a frightened look in his eyes as he
walked to and fro. The moon lay like a creole amid the blue curtains
of the night; the murmur of London hushed in stray cries, and only
the tread of the policeman was heard distinctly. About the river the
night was deepest, and out of the shadows falling from the bridges
the lamps gleamed with strange intensity, some flickering sadly in
the water. Mike walked into the dining-room. He could see the sward
in the darkness that the trees spread, and the lilies reeked in the
great stillness. Then he thought of the old days when the _Pilgrim_
was written in these rooms, and of the youthfulness of those days;
and he maddened when he recalled the evenings of artistic converse in
John Norton's room--how high were then their aspirations! The Temple,
too, seemed to have lost youth and gaiety. No longer did he meet his
old friends in the eating-houses and taverns. Everything had been
dispersed or lost. Some were married, some had died.

Then the solitude grew more unbearable and he turned from it, hoping
he might meet some one he knew. As he passed up Temple Lane he saw a
slender woman dressed in black, talking to the policemen. He had
often seen her about the Courts and Buildings, and had accosted her,
but she had passed without heeding. Curious to hear who and what she
was, Mike entered into conversation with one of the policemen.

"She! we calls her old Specks, sir."

"I have often seen her about, and I spoke to her once, but she didn't
answer."

"She didn't hear you, sir; she's a little deaf. A real good sort,
sir, is old Jenny. She's always about here. She was brought out in
the Temple; she lived eight years with a Q.C., sir. He's dead. A
strapping fine wench she was then, I can tell you."

"And what does she do now?"

"She has three or four friends here. She goes to see Mr.--I can't
think of his name--you know him, the red-whiskered man in Dr.
Johnson's Buildings. You have seen him in the Probate Court many a
time." And then in defence of her respectability, if not of her
morals, the policeman said, "You'll never see her about the streets,
sir, she only comes to the Temple."

Old Jenny stood talking to the younger member of the force. When she
didn't hear him she cooed in the soft, sweet way of deaf women; and
her genial laugh told Mike that the policeman was not wrong when he
described her as a real good sort. She spoke of her last 'bus, and on
being told the time gathered up her skirts and ran up the Lane.

Then the policemen related anecdotes concerning their own and the
general amativeness of the Temple.

"But, lor, sir, it is nothing now to what it used to be! Some years
ago, half the women of London used to be in here of a night; now
there's very little going on--an occasional kick up, but nothing to
speak of."

"What are you laughing at?" said Mike, looking from one to the other.

The policemen consulted each other, and then one said--

"You didn't hear about the little shindy we had here last night, sir?
It was in Elm Court, just behind you, sir. We heard some one shouting
for the police; we couldn't make out where the shouting came from
first, we were looking about--the echo in these Courts makes it very
difficult to say where a voice comes from. At last we saw the fellow
at the window, and we went up. He met us at the door. He said,
'Policemen, the lady knocked at my door and asked for a drink; I
didn't notice that she was drunk, and I gave her a brandy-and-soda,
and before I could stop her she undressed herself!' There was the
lady right enough, in her chemise, sitting in the arm-chair, as drunk
as a lord, humming and singing as gay, sir, as any little bird. Then
the party says, 'Policeman, do your duty!' I says, 'What is my duty?'
He says, 'Policeman, I'll report you!' I says, 'Report yourself. I
knows my duty.' He says, 'Policeman, remove that woman!' I says, 'I
can't remove her in that state. Tell her to dress herself and I'll
remove her.' Well, the long and the short of it, sir, is, that we had
to dress her between us, and I never had such a job."

The exceeding difficulties of this toilette, as narrated by the
stolid policeman, made Mike laugh consummately. Then alternately, and
in conjunction, the policemen told stories concerning pursuits
through the areas and cellars with which King's Bench Walk abounds.

"It was from Paper Buildings that the little girl came from who tried
to drown herself in the fountain."

"Oh, I haven't heard about her," said Mike. "She tried to drown
herself in the fountain, did she? Crossed in love; tired of life;
which was it?"

"Neither, sir; she was a bit drunk, that was about it. My mate could
tell you about her, he pulled her out. She's up before the magistrate
to-day again."

"Just fancy, bringing a person up before a magistrate because she
wanted to commit suicide! Did any one ever hear such rot? If our own
persons don't belong to us, I don't know what does. But tell me about
her."

"She went up to see a party that lives in Pump Court. We was at home,
so she picks up her skirts, runs across here, and throws herself in.
I see her run across, and follows her; but I had to get into the
water to get her out; I was wet to the waist--there's about four feet
of water in that 'ere fountain."

"And she?"

"She had fainted. We had to send for a cab to get her to the station,
sir."

At that moment the presence of the sergeant hurried the policemen
away, and Mike was left alone. The warm night air was full of the
fragrance of the leaves, and he was alive to the sensation of the
foliage spreading above him, and deepening amid the branches of the
tall plane-trees that sequestered and shadowed the fountain. They
grew along the walls, forming a quiet dell, in whose garden silence
the dripping fountain sang its song of falling water. Light and shade
fell picturesquely about the steps descending to the gardens, and the
parapeted buildings fell in black shadows upon the sward, and stood
sharp upon the moon illuminated blue. Mike sat beneath the
plane-trees, and the suasive silence, sweetly tuned by the dripping
water, murmured in his soul dismal sorrowings. Over the cup, whence
issued the jet that played during the day, the water flowed. There
were there the large leaves of some aquatic plant, and Mike wondered
if, had the policeman not rescued the girl, she would now be in
perfect peace, instead of dragged before a magistrate and forced to
promise to bear her misery.

"A pretty little tale," he thought, and he saw her floating in
shadowy water in pallor and beauty, and reconciliation with nature.
"Why see another day? I must die very soon, why not at once?
Thousands have grieved as I am grieving in this self-same place, have
asked the same sad questions. Sitting under these ancient walls young
men have dreamed as I am dreaming--no new thoughts are mine. For five
thousand years man has asked himself why he lives. Five thousand
years have changed the face of the world and the mind of man; no
thought has resisted the universal transformation of thought, save
that one thought--why live? Men change their gods, but one thought
floats immortal, unchastened by the teaching of any mortal gods. Why
see another day? why drink again the bitter cup of life when we may
drink the waters of oblivion?"

He walked through Pump Court slowly, like a prisoner impeded by the
heavy chain, and at every step the death idea clanked in his brain.
All the windows were full of light, and he could hear women's voices.
In imagination he saw the young men sitting round the sparely
furnished rooms, law-books and broken chairs--smoking and drinking,
playing the piano, singing, thinking they were enjoying themselves. A
few years and all would be over for them as all was over now for him.
But never would they drink of life as he had drunk, he was the type
of that of which they were but imperfect and inconclusive figments.
Was he not the Don Juan and the poet--a sort of Byron doubled with
Byron's hero? But he was without genius; had he genius, genius would
force him to live.

He considered how far in his pessimism he was a representative of the
century. He thought how much better he would have done in another
age, and how out of sympathy he was with the utilitarian dullness of
the present time; how much more brilliant he would have been had he
lived at any other period of the Temple's history. Then he stopped to
study the style of the old staircase, the rough woodwork twisting up
the wall so narrowly, the great banisters full of shadow lighted by
the flickering lanterns. The yellowing colonnade--its beams and
overhanging fronts were also full of suggestion, and the suggestion
of old time was enforced by the sign-board of a wig-maker.

"The last of an ancient industry," thought Mike. "The wig is
representative of the seventeenth as the silk hat is of the
nineteenth century. I wonder why I am so strongly fascinated with the
seventeenth century?--I, a peasant; atavism, I suppose; my family
were not always peasants."

Turning from the old Latin inscription he viewed the church, so
evocative in its fortress form of an earlier and more romantic
century. The clocks were striking one, two hours would bring the dawn
close again upon the verge of the world. Mike trembled and thought
how he might escape. The beauty of the cone of the church was
outlined upon the sky, and he dreamed, as he walked round the
shadow-filled porch, full of figures in prayer and figures holding
scrolls, of the white-robed knights, their red crosses, their long
swords, and their banner called Beauseant. He dreamed himself Grand
Master of the Order; saw himself in chain armour charging the
Saracen. The story of the terrible idol with the golden eyes, the
secret rites, the knight led from the penitential cell and buried at
daybreak, the execution of the Grand Master at the stake, turned in
his head fitfully; cloud-shapes that passed, floating, changing
incessantly, suddenly disappearing, leaving him again Mike Fletcher,
a strained, agonized soul of our time, haunted and hunted by an idea,
overpowered by an idea as a wolf by a hound.

His life had been from the first a series of attempts to escape from
the idea. His loves, his poetry, his restlessness were all derivative
from this one idea. Among those whose brain plays a part in their
existence there is a life idea, and this idea governs them and leads
them to a certain and predestined end; and all struggles with it are
delusions. A life idea in the higher classes of mind, a life instinct
in the lower. It were almost idle to differentiate between them, both
may be included under the generic title of the soul, and the drama
involved in such conflict is always of the highest interest, for if
we do not read the story of our own soul, we read in each the story
of a soul that might have been ours, and that passed very near to us;
and who reading of Mike's torment is fortunate enough to say, "I know
nothing of what is written there."

His steps echoed hollow on the old pavement. Full of shadow the roofs
of the square church swept across the sky; the triple lancet windows
caught a little light from the gaslight on the buildings; and he
wondered what was the meaning of the little gold lamb standing over
one doorway, and then remembered that in various forms the same
symbolic lamb is repeated through the Temple. He passed under the
dining-hall by the tunnel, and roamed through the spaces beneath the
plane-trees of King's Bench Walk. "My friends think my life was a
perfect gift, but a burning cinder was placed in my breast, and time
has blown it into flame."

In the soporific scent of the lilies and the stocks, the night
drowsed in the darkness of the garden; Mike unlocked the gate and
passed into the shadows, and hypnotized by the heavenly spaces, in
which there were a few stars; by the earth and the many emanations of
the earth; by the darkness which covered all things, hiding the
little miseries of human existence, he threw himself upon the sward
crying, "Oh, take me, mother, hide me in thy infinite bosom, give me
forgetfulness of the day. Take and hide me away. We leave behind a
corpse that men will touch. Sooner would I give myself to the filthy
beaks of vultures, than to their more defiling sympathies. Why were
we born? Why are we taught to love our parents? It is they whom we
should hate, for it was they who, careless of our sufferings,
inflicted upon us the evil of life. We are taught to love them
because the world is mad; there is nothing but madness in the world.
Night, do not leave me; I cannot bear with the day. Ah, the day will
come; nothing can retard the coming of the day, and I can bear no
longer with the day."

Hearing footsteps, he sprang to his feet, and walking in the
direction whence the sound came, he found himself face to face with
the policeman.

"Not able to get to sleep sir?"

"No, I couldn't sleep, the night is so hot; I shall sleep presently
though."

They had not walked far before the officer, pointing to one of the
gables of the Temple gardens, said--

"That's where Mr. Williamson threw himself over, sir; he got out on
the roof, on to the highest point he could reach."

"He wanted," said Mike, "to do the job effectually."

"He did so; he made a hole two feet deep."

"They put him into a deeper one."

The officer laughed; and they walked round the gardens, passing by
the Embankment to King's Bench Walk. Opening the gate there, the
policeman asked Mike if he were coming out, but he said he would
return across the gardens, and let himself out by the opposite gate.
He walked, thinking of what he and the policeman had been saying--the
proposed reduction in the rents of the chambers, the late innovation
of throwing open the gardens to the poor children of the
neighbourhood, and it was not until he stooped to unlock the gate
that he remembered that he was alive.

Then the voice that had been counselling him so long, drew strangely
near, and said "Die." The voice sounded strangely clear in the void
of a great brain silence. Earth ties seemed severed, and then quite
naturally, without any effort of mind, he went up-stairs to shoot
himself. No effort of mind was needed, it seemed the natural and
inevitable course for him to take, and he was only conscious of a
certain faint surprise that he had so long delayed. There was no
trace of fear or doubt in him; he walked up the long staircase
without embarrassment, and in a heavenly calm of mind hastened to put
his project into execution, dreading the passing of the happiness of
his present mood, and the return of the fever of living. He stopped
for a moment to see himself in the glass, and looking into the depths
of his eyes, he strove to read there the story of his triumph over
life. Then seeing the disorder of his dress, and the untidy
appearance of his unshaven chin, he smiled, conceiving in that moment
that it would be consistent to make as careful a toilette to meet
death, as he had often done to meet a love.

He was anxious for the world to know that it was not after a drunken
bout he had shot himself, but after philosophic deliberation and
judicious reflection. And he could far better affirm his state of
mind by his dress, than by any written words. Lying on the bed,
cleanly shaved, wearing evening clothes, silk socks, patent leather
shoes and white gloves? No, that would be vulgar, and all taint of
vulgarity must be avoided. He must represent, even in a state of
symbol, the young man, who having drunk of life to repletion, and
finding that he can but repeat the same love draughts, says: "It is
far too great a bore, I will go," and he goes out of life just as
if he were leaving a fashionable _soirée_ in Piccadilly. That was
exactly the impression he wished to convey. Yes, he would have out
his opera hat and light overcoat. He was a little uncertain whether
he should die in the night, or wait for the day, and considering the
question, he lathered his face. "Curious it is," he thought, "I never
was so happy, so joyous in life before.... These walls, all that I
see, will in a few minutes disappear; it is this I, this Ego, which
creates them; in destroying myself I destroy the world.... How hard
this beard is! I never can shave properly without hot water!"

As he pulled on a pair of silk socks and tied his white necktie he
thought of Lady Helen. Going to bed was not a bad notion--particularly
for a woman, and a woman in love, but it would be ridiculous for a
man. He looked at himself again in the long glass in the door of his
carved mahogany wardrobe, and was pleased to see that, although a
little jaded and worn, he was still handsome. Having brushed his hair
carefully, he looked out the revolver; he did not remember exactly
where he had put it, and in turning out his drawers he came upon a
bundle of old letters. They were mostly from Frank and Lizzie, and in
recalling old times they reminded him that if he died without making
a will, his property would go to the Crown. It displeased him to
think that his property should pass away in so impersonal a manner.
But his mind was now full of death; like a gourmet he longed to taste
of the dark fruit of oblivion; and the delay involved in making out
a will exasperated him, and it was with difficulty that he conquered
his selfishness and sat down to write. Fretful he threw aside the
pen; this little delay had destroyed all his happiness. To dispose of
his property in money and land would take some time; the day would
surprise him still in the world. After a few moments' reflection he
decided that he would leave Belthorpe Park to Frank Escott.

"I dare say I'm doing him an injury ... but no, there's no time for
paradoxes--I'll leave Belthorpe Park to Frank Escott. The aristocrat
shall not return to the people. But to whom shall I leave all my
money in the funds? To a hospital? No. To a woman? I must leave it to
a woman; I hardly know any one but women; but to whom? Suppose I were
to leave it to be divided among those who could advance irrefutable
proof that they had loved me! What a throwing over of reputation
there would be." Then a sudden memory of the girl by whom he had had
a child sprang upon him like something out of the dark. He wondered
for a moment what the child was like, and then he wrote leaving the
interest of his money to her, until his son, the child born in such
a year--he had some difficulty in fixing the date--came of age. She
should retain the use of the interest of twelve thousand pounds, and
at her death that sum should revert to the said child born in ----,
and if the said child were not living, his mother should become
possessor of the entire monies now invested in funds, to do with as
she pleased.

"That will do," he thought; "I dare say it isn't very legal, but it
is common sense and will be difficult to upset. Yes, and I will leave
all my books and furniture in Temple Gardens to Frank; I don't care
much about the fellow, but I had better leave it to him. And now,
what about witnesses? The policemen will do."

He found one in King's Bench Walk, another he met a little further
on, talking to a belated harlot, whom he willingly relinquished on
being invited to drink. Mike led the way at a run up the high steps,
the burly officers followed more leisurely.

"Come in," he cried, and they advanced into the room, their helmets
in their hands. "What will you take, whiskey or brandy?"

After some indecision both decided, as Mike knew they would, for the
former beverage. He offered them soda-water; but they preferred a
little plain water, and drank to his very good health. They were, as
before, garrulous to excess. Mike listened for some few minutes, so
as to avoid suspicion, and then said--

"Oh, by the way, I wrote out my will a night or two ago--not that I
want to die yet, but one never knows. Would you mind witnessing it?"

The policemen saw no objection; in a few moments the thing was done,
and they retired bowing, and the door closed on solitude and death.

Mike lay back in his chair reading the document. The fumes of the
whiskey he had drunk obscured his sense of purpose, and he allowed
his thoughts to wander; his eyes closed and he dozed, his head leaned
a little on one side. He dreamed, or rather he thought, for it was
hardly sleep, of the dear good women who had loved him; and he mused
over his folly in not taking one to wife and accepting life in its
plain naturalness.

Then as sleep deepened the dream changed, becoming hyperbolical and
fantastic, until he saw himself descending into hell. The numerous
women he had betrayed awaited him and pursued him with blazing lamps
of intense and blinding electric fire. And he fled from the light,
seeking darkness like some nocturnal animal. His head was leaned
slightly on one side, the thin, weary face lying in the shadow of the
chair, and the hair that fell thickly on the moist forehead. As he
dreamed the sky grew ghastly as the dead. The night crouched as if in
terror along the edges of the river, beneath the bridges and among
the masonry and the barges aground, and in the ebbing water a lurid
reflection trailed ominously. And as the day ascended, the lamps
dwindled from red to white, and beyond the dark night of the river,
spires appeared upon faint roseate gray.

Then, as the sparrows commenced their shrilling in the garden,
another veil was lifted, and angles and shapes on the warehouses
appeared, and boats laden with newly-cut planks; then the lights that
seemed to lead along the river turned short over the iron girders,
and in white whiffs a train sped across the bridge. The clouds lifted
and cleared away, changing from dark gray to undecided purple, and in
the blank silver of the east, the spaces flushed, and the dawn
appeared in her first veil of rose. And as if the light had
penetrated and moved the brain, the lips murmured--

"False fascination in which we are blinded. Night! shelter and save
me from the day, and in thy opiate arms bear me across the world."

He turned uneasily as if he were about to awake, and then his eyes
opened and he gazed on the spectral pallor of the dawn in the
windows, his brain rousing from dreams slowly into comprehension of
the change that had come. Then collecting his thoughts he rose and
stood facing the dawn. He stood for a moment like one in combat, and
then like one overwhelmed retreated through the folding doors,
seeking his pistol.

"Another day begun! Twelve more hours of consciousness and horror! I
must go!"

  *        *        *        *        *        *

None had heard the report of the pistol, and while the pomp of gold
and crimson faded, and the sun rose into the blueness of morning,
Mike lay still grasping the revolver, the blood flowing down his
face, where he had fallen across the low bed, raised upon lions'
claws and hung with heavy curtains. Receiving no answer, the servant
had opened the door. A look of horror passed over her face; she
lifted his hand, let it fall, and burst into tears.

And all the while the sun rose, bringing work and sorrow to every
living thing--filling the fields with labourers, filling the streets
with clerks and journalists, authors and actors. And it was in the
morning hubbub of the Strand that Lizzie Escott stopped to speak to
Lottie, who was going to rehearsal.

"How exactly like his father he is growing," she said, speaking of
the little boy by the actress's side. "Frank saw Mike in Piccadilly
about a month ago; he promised to come and see us, but he never did."

"Swine.... He never could keep a promise. I hope Willy won't grow up
like him."

"Who are you talking of, mother? of father?"

The women exchanged glances.

"He's as sharp as a needle. And to think that that beast never gave
me but one hundred pounds, and it was only an accident I got that--we
happened to meet in the underground railway. He took a ticket for
me--you know he could always be very nice if he liked; he told me a
lady had left him five thousand a year, and if I wanted any money I
had only to ask him for it. I asked him if he wouldn't like to see
the child, and he said I mustn't be beastly; I never quite knew what
he meant; but I know he thought it funny, for he laughed a great
deal, and I got into such a rage. I said I didn't want his dirty
money, and got out at the next station. He sent me a hundred pounds
next day. I haven't heard of him since, and don't want to."

"Suicide of a poet in the Temple!" shouted a little boy.

"I wonder who that is," said Lizzie.

"Mike used to live in the Temple," said Lottie.

The women read the reporter's account of the event, and then Lottie
said--

"Isn't it awful! I wonder what he has done with his money?"

"You may be sure he hasn't thought of us. He ought to have thought of
Frank. Frank was very good to him in old times."

"Well, I don't care what he has done with his money. I never cared
for any man but him. I could have forgiven him everything if he had
only thought of the child. I hope he has left him something."

"Now I'm sure you are talking of father."





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