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Title: Sister Teresa
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 "Sister Teresa" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



SISTER TERESA

BY GEORGE MOORE

LONDON T. FISHER UNWIN ADELPHI TERRACE

_First Edition, 1901_

_Second Edition (entirely rewritten), 1909_



PREFACE

A weaver goes to the mart with a divided tapestry, and with half in
either hand he walks about telling that whoever possesses one must,
perforce, possess the other for the sake of the story. But
allegories are out of place in popular editions; they require linen
paper, large margins, uncut edges; even these would be insufficient;
only illuminated vellum can justify that which is never read. So
perhaps it will be better if I abandon the allegory and tell what
happened: how one day after writing the history of "Evelyn Innes"
for two years I found myself short of paper, and sought vainly for a
sheet in every drawer of the writing-table; every one had been
turned into manuscript, and "Evelyn Innes" stood nearly two feet
high.

"Five hundred pages at least," I said, "and only half of my story
finished.... This is a matter, on which I need the publisher's
opinion."

Ten minutes after I was rolling away in a hansom towards Paternoster
Square, very anxious to persuade him that the way out of my
difficulty would be to end the chapter I was then writing on a full
close.

"That or a novel of a thousand pages," I said.

"A novel of a thousand pages!" he answered. "Impossible! We must
divide the book." It may have been to assuage the disappointment he
read on my face that he added, "You'll double your money."

My publisher had given way too easily, and my artistic conscience
forthwith began to trouble me, and has never ceased troubling me
since that fatal day. The book the publisher puts asunder the author
may not bring together, and I shall write to no purpose in one
preface that "Evelyn Innes" is not a prelude to "Sister Teresa" and
in another that "Sister Teresa" is not a sequel to "Evelyn Innes."
Nor will any statement of mine made here or elsewhere convince the
editors of newspapers and reviews to whom this book will be sent for
criticism that it is not a revised edition of a book written ten
years ago, but an entirely new book written within the last eighteen
months; the title will deceive them, and my new book will be thrown
aside or given to a critic with instructions that he may notice it
in ten or a dozen lines. Nor will the fact that "Evelyn Innes"
occupies a unique place in English literature cause them to order
that the book shall be reread and reconsidered--a unique place I
hasten to add which it may easily lose to-morrow, for the claim made
for it is not one of merit, but of kind.

"Evelyn Innes" is a love story, the first written in English for
three hundred years, and the only one we have in prose narrative.
For this assertion not to seem ridiculous it must be remembered that
a love story is not one in which love is used as an ingredient; if
that were so nearly all novels would be love stories; even Scott's
historical novels could not be excluded. In the true love story love
is the exclusive theme; and perhaps the reason why love stories are
so rare in literature is because the difficulty of maintaining the
interest is so great; probably those in existence were written
without intention to write love stories. Mine certainly was. The
manuscript of this book was among the printers before it broke on me
one evening as I hung over the fire that what I had written was a
true love story about a man and a woman who meet to love each other,
who are separated for material or spiritual reasons, and who at the
end of the story are united in death or affection, no matter which,
the essential is that they should be united. My story only varies
from the classical formula in this, that the passion of "the lovely
twain" is differentiated.

It would be interesting to pursue this subject, and there are other
points which it would be interesting to touch upon; there must be a
good deal for criticism in a book which has been dreamed and
re-dreamed for ten years. But, again, of what avail? The book I now
offer to the public will not be read till I am dead. I have written
for posterity if I have written for anybody except myself. The
reflection is not altogether a pleasant one. But there it is; we
follow our instinct for good or evil, but we follow it; and while the
instinct of one man is to regard the most casual thing that comes
from his hand as "good enough," the instinct of another man compels
him to accept all risks, seeking perfection always, although his work
may be lost in the pursuit.

My readers, who are all Balzacians, are already thinking of Porbus
and Poussin standing before _le chef d'oeuvre Inconnu_ in the studio
of Mabuse's famous pupil--Frenhofer. Nobody has seen this picture
for ten years; Frenhofer has been working on it in some distant
studio, and it is now all but finished. But the old man thinks that
some Eastern woman might furnish him with some further hint, and is
about to start on his quest when his pupil Porbus persuades him that
the model he is seeking is Poussin's mistress. Frenhofer agrees to
reveal his mistress (_i.e._, his picture) on condition that Poussin
persuades his mistress to sit to him for an hour, for he would
compare her loveliness with his art. These conditions having been
complied with, he draws aside the curtain; but the two painters see
only confused colour and incoherent form, and in one corner "a
delicious foot, a living foot escaped by a miracle from a slow and
progressive destruction."

In the first edition of "Evelyn Innes" (I think the passage has been
dropped out of the second) Ulick Dean says that one should be
careful what one writes, for what one writes will happen. Well,
perhaps what Balzac wrote has happened, and I may have done no more
than to realise one of his most famous characters.

G.M.



SISTER TERESA



I

As soon as Mother Philippa came into the parlour Evelyn guessed there
must be serious trouble in the convent.

"But what is the matter, Mother Philippa?"

"Well, my dear, to tell you the truth, we have no money at all."

"None at all! You must have some money."

"As a matter of fact we have none, and Mother Prioress won't let us
order anything from the tradespeople."

"Why not?"

"She will not run into debt; and she's quite right; so we have to
manage with what we've got in the convent. Of course there are some
vegetables and some flour in the house; but we can't go on like this
for long. We don't mind so much for ourselves, but we are so anxious
about Mother Prioress; you know how weak her heart is, and all this
anxiety may kill her. Then there are the invalid sisters, who ought
to have fresh meat."

"I suppose so," and Evelyn thought of driving to the Wimbledon
butcher and bringing back some joints.

"But, Mother, why didn't you let me know before? Of course I'll help
you."

"The worst of it is, Evelyn, we want a great deal of help."

"Well, never mind; I'm ready to give you a great deal of help... as
much as I can. And here is the Prioress."

The Prioress stood resting, leaning on the door-handle, and Evelyn
was by her side in an instant.

"Thank you, my child, thank you," and she took Evelyn's arm.

"I've heard of your trouble, dear Mother, and am determined to help
you; so you must sit down and tell me about it."

"Reverend Mother ought not to be about," said Mother Philippa. "On
Monday night she was so ill we had to get up to pray for her."

"I'm better to-day. If it hadn't been for this new trouble--" As the
Prioress was about to explain she paused for breath, and Evelyn
said:

"Another time. What does it matter to whom you owe the money? You owe
it to somebody, and he is pressing you for it--isn't that so? Of
course it is, dear Mother. Well, I've come to bring you good news.
You remember my promise to arrange a concert tour as soon as I was
free? Everything has been arranged; we start next Thursday, and with
fair hope of success."

"How good of you!"

"You will succeed, Evelyn; and as Mother Philippa says, it is very
good of you."

The Prioress spoke with hesitation, and Evelyn guessed that the nuns
were thinking of their present necessities.

"I can let you have a hundred pounds easily, and I could let you have
more if it were not--" The pause was sufficiently dramatic to cause
the nuns to press her to go on speaking, saying that they must know
they were not taking money which she needed for herself. "I wasn't
thinking of myself, but of my poor people; they're so dependent upon
me, and I am so dependent upon them, even more than they are upon
me, for without them there would be no interest in my life, and
nothing for me to do except to sit in my drawing-room and look at the
wall paper and play the piano."

"We couldn't think of taking money which belongs to others. We shall
put our confidence in God. No, Evelyn, pray don't say any more."

But Evelyn insisted, saying she would manage in such a way that her
poor people should lack nothing. "Of course they lack a great deal,
but what I mean is, they'll lack nothing they've been in the habit
of receiving from me," and, speaking of their unfailing patience in
adversity, she said: "and their lives are always adversity."

"Your poor people are your occupations since you left the stage?"

"You think me frivolous, or at least changeable, Reverend Mother?"

"No, indeed; no, indeed," both nuns cried together, and Evelyn
thought of what her life had been, how the new occupations which had
come into it contrasted with the old--singing practice in the
morning, rehearsals, performances in the evening, intrigues,
jealousies; and the change seemed so wonderful that she would like
to have spoken of it to the nuns, only that could not be done without
speaking of Owen Asher. But there was no reason for not speaking of
her stage life, the life that had drifted by. "You see, my old
friends are no longer interested in me." A look of surprise came
into the nuns' faces. "Why should they be? They are only interested
in me so long as I am available to fill an engagement. And the
singers who were my friends--what should I speak to them about? Not
of my poor people; though, indeed, many of my friends are very good:
they are very kind to each other."

"But we mustn't think of taking the money from you that should go to
your poor people."

"No, no; that is out of the question, dear Mother. As I have told
you, I can easily let you have a hundred pounds; and as for paying
off the debts of the convent--that I look upon as an obligation, as
a _bonne bouche_, I might say. My heart is set on it." "We can
never thank you enough."

"I don't want to be thanked; it is all pleasure to me to do this for
you. Now goodbye; I'll write to you about the success of the
concerts. You will pray that I may be a great success, won't you?
Much more depends upon your prayers than on my voice."

Mother Philippa murmured that everything was in God's hands.

The Prioress raised her eyes and looked at Evelyn questioningly.
"Mother Philippa is quite right. Our prayers will be entirely
pleasing to God; He sent you to us. Without you our convent would be
broken up. We shall pray for you, Evelyn."



II

The larger part of the stalls was taken up by Lady Ascott's party;
she had a house-party at Thornton Grange, and had brought all her
friends to Edinburgh to hear Evelyn. Added to which, she had written
to all the people she knew living in Edinburgh, and within reach of
Edinburgh, asking them to come to the concert, pressing tickets upon
them.

"But, my dear, is it really true that you have left the stage? One
never heard of such a thing before. Now, why did you do this? You
will tell me about it? You will come to Thornton Grange, won't you,
and spend a few days with us?"

But in Thornton Grange Evelyn would meet many of her old friends, and
a slight doubt came into her eyes.

"No, I won't hear of a refusal. You are going to Glasgow; Thornton
Grange is on your way there; you can easily spend three days with
us. No, no, no, Evelyn, you must come; I want to hear all about your
religious scruples."

"That is the last thing I should like to speak about. Besides,
religious scruples, dear Lady Ascott--"

"Well, then, you shan't speak about them at all; nobody will ask you
about them. To tell you the truth, my dear, I don't think my friends
would understand you if you did. But you will come; that is the
principal thing. Now, not another word; you mustn't tire your voice;
you have to sing again." And Lady Ascott returned to the
concert-hall for the second part of the programme.

After the concert Evelyn was handed a letter, saying that she would
be expected to-morrow at Thornton Grange; the trains were as
follows: if she came by this train she would be in time for tea, and
if she came by the other she would be just in time for dinner.

"She's a kind soul, and after all she has done it is difficult to
refuse her." So Evelyn sent a wire accepting the invitation....
Besides, there was no reason for refusing unless--A knock! Her
manager! and he had come to tell her they had taken more money that
night than on any previous night. "Perhaps Lady Ascott may have some
more friends in Glasgow and will write to them," he added as he bade
her good-night.

"Three hundred pounds! Only a few of the star singers would have
gathered as much money into a hall," and to the dull sound of gold
pieces she fell asleep. But the sound of gold is the sweetest
tribute to the actress's vanity, and this tribute Evelyn had missed
to some extent in the preceding concerts; the others were artistic
successes, but money had not flowed in, and a half-empty
concert-room puts an emptiness into the heart of the concert singer
that nothing else can. But the Edinburgh concert had been different;
people had been more appreciative, her singing had excited more
enthusiasm. Lady Ascott had brought musical people to hear her, and
Evelyn awoke, thinking that she would not miss seeing Lady Ascott
for anything; and while looking forward to seeing her at Thornton
Grange, she thought of the money she had made for the poor nuns, and
then of the money awaiting her in Glasgow.... It would be nice if by
any chance Lady Ascott were persuaded to come to Glasgow for the
concert, bringing her party with her. Anything was possible with
Lady Ascott; she would go anywhere to hear music.

"But what an evening!" and she watched the wet country. A high wind
had been blowing all day, but the storm had begun in the dusk, and
when she arrived at the station the coachman could hardly get his
horses to face the wind and rain. In answer to her question the
footman told her Thornton Grange was about a mile from the station;
and when the carriage turned into the park she peered through the
wet panes, trying to see the trees which Owen had often said were the
finest in Scotland; but she could only distinguish blurred masses,
and the yellow panes of a parapeted house.

"How are you, my dear Evelyn? I'm glad to see you. You'll find some
friends here." And Lady Ascott led her through shadowy drawing-rooms
curtained with red silk hangings, filled with rich pictures, china
vases, books, marble consol tables on which stood lamps and tall
candles. Owen came forward to meet her.

"I am so glad to meet you, Miss Innes! You didn't expect to see me? I
hope you're not sorry."

"No, Sir Owen, I'm not sorry; but this is a surprise, for Lady Ascott
didn't tell me. Were you at the concert?"

"No, I couldn't go; I was too ill. It was a privation to remain at
home thinking--What did you sing?"

Evelyn looked at him shrewdly, believing only a little in his
illness, and nearly convinced he had not gone to the concert because
he wished to keep his presence a secret from her... fearing she
would not come to Thornton Grange if she knew he were there.

"He missed a great deal; I told him so when I returned," said Lady
Ascott.

"But what can one do, Miss Innes, when one is ill? The best music in
the world--even your voice when one is ill--. Tell me what you
sang."

"Evelyn is going to sing at Glasgow; you will be able to go there
with her."

The servant announced another guest and Lady Ascott went forward to
meet him. Guest after guest, and all were greeted with little cries
of fictitious intimacy; and each in turn related his or her journey,
and the narratives were chequered with the names of other friends
who had been staying in the houses they had just come from. Evelyn
listened, thinking of her poor people, contrasting their
simplicities with the artificialities of the gang--that is how she
put it to herself--which ran about from one house to another,
visiting, calling itself Society, talking always, changing the
conversation rapidly, never interested in any subject sufficiently
to endure it for more than a minute and a half. The life of these
people seemed to Evelyn artificial as that of white mice, coming in
by certain doors, going out by others, climbing poles, engaged in
all kinds of little tricks; yet she was delighted to find herself
among them all again, for her life had been dull and tedious since
she left the convent; and this sudden change, taking her back to art
and to her old friends, was very welcome; and the babble of all
these people about her inveigled her out of her new self; and she
liked to hear about so many people, their adventures, their ideas,
misfortunes, precocious caprices.

The company had broken up into groups, and one little group, of which
Evelyn was part, had withdrawn into a corner to discuss its own
circle of friends; and all the while Evelyn's face smiled, her eyes
and her lips and her thoughts were atingle. Nonsense! Yes, it was
nonsense! But what delicious nonsense! and she waited for somebody
to speak of Canary--the "love machine," as he was called. No sooner
had the thought come into her mind than somebody mentioned his name,
telling how Beatrice, after sending him away in the luggage-cart, had
yielded and taken him back again. "He is her interest," Evelyn said
to herself, and she heard that Canary still continued to cause
Beatrice great unhappiness; and some interesting stories were told
of her quarrels--all her quarrels were connected with Canary. One of
the most serious was with Miss ----, who had gone for a walk with him
in the morning; and the guests at Thornton Grange were divided
regarding Miss ----'s right to ask Canary to go for a walk with her,
for, of course, she had come down early for the purpose, knowing
well that Beatrice never came downstairs before lunch.

"Quite so." The young man was listened to, and he continued to argue
for a long while that it was not reasonable for a woman to expect a
man to spend the whole morning reading the _Times_, and that
apparently was what Beatrice wished poor Canary to do until she
chose to come down. Nevertheless, the general opinion was in favour
of Beatrice and against the girl.

"Beatrice has been so kind to her," and everybody had something to
say on this point.

"But what happened?" Evelyn asked, and the leader of this
conversation, a merry little face with eyes like wild flowers and a
great deal of shining hair, told of Beatrice's desperate condition
when the news of Miss ----'s betrayal reached her.

"I went up and found her in tears, her hair hanging down her back,
saying that nobody cared for her. Although she spends three thousand
a year on clothes, she sits up in that bedroom in a dressing-gown
that we have known for the last five years. "Well, Beatrice," I
said, "if you'll only put on a pair of stays and dress yourself and
come downstairs, perhaps somebody will care for you."

A writer upon economic subjects who trailed a black lock of hair over
a bald skull declared he could see the scene in Beatrice's bedroom
quite clearly, and he spoke of her woolly poodle looking on, trying
to understand what it was all about, and his allusion to the poodle
made everybody laugh, for some reason not very apparent, and Evelyn
wondered at the difference between the people she was now among and
those she had left--the nuns in their convent at the edge of
Wimbledon Common, and her thoughts passing back, she remembered the
afternoon in the Savoy Hotel spent among her fellow-artists.

Her reverie endured, she did not know how long; only that she was
awakened from it by Lady Ascott, come to tell her it was time to go
upstairs to dress for dinner. Now with whom would she go down? With
Owen, of course, such was the etiquette in houses like Thornton
Grange. It was possible Lady Ascott might look upon them as married
people and send her down with somebody else--one of those young men!
No! The young men would be reserved for the girls. As she suspected,
she went down with Owen. He did not tell her where he had been since
she last saw him; intimate conversation was impossible amid a
glitter of silver dishes and anecdotes of people they knew; but
after dinner in a quiet corner she would hear his story. And as soon
as the men came up from the dining-room Owen went straight towards
her, and she followed him out of hearing of the card-players.

"At last we are alone. My gracious! how I've looked forward to this
little talk with you, all through that long dinner, and the formal
talk with the men afterwards, listening to infernal politics and
still more infernal hunting. You didn't expect to meet me, did you?"

"No; Lady Ascott said nothing about your being here when she came to
the concert."

"And perhaps you wouldn't have come if you had known I was here?"

"Is that why you didn't come to the concert?"

"Well, Evelyn, I suppose it was. You'll forgive me the trickery,
won't you?" She took his hand and held it for a moment. "That touch
of your hand means more to me than anything in the world." A cloud
came into her face which he saw and it pained him to see it. "Lady
Ascott wrote saying she intended to ask you to Thornton Grange, so I
wrote at once asking her if she could put me up; she guessed an
estrangement, and being a kind woman, was anxious to put it right."

"An estrangement, Owen? But there is no estrangement between us?"

"No estrangement?"

"Well, no, Owen, not what I should call an estrangement."

"But you sent me away, saying I shouldn't see you for three months.
Now three months have passed--haven't I been obedient?"

"Have three months passed?"

"Yes; It was in August you sent me away and now we are in November."

"Three months all but a fortnight."

"The last time I saw you was the day you went to Wimbledon to sing
for the nuns. They have captured you; you are still singing for
them."

"You mustn't say a word against the nuns," and she told anecdotes
about the convent which interested her, but which provoked him even
to saying under his breath, "Miserable folk!"

"I won't allow you to speak like that against my friends."

Owen apologised, saying they had taken her from him. "And you can't
expect me to sympathise with people or with an idea that has done
this? It wouldn't be human, and I don't think you would like me any
better if I did--now would you, Evelyn? Can you say that you would,
honestly, hand upon your heart?--if a heart is beating there still."

"A heart is beating--"

"I mean if a human heart is beating."

"It seems to me, Owen, I am just as human, more human than ever, only
it is a different kind of humanity."

"Pedantry doesn't suit women, nor does cruelty; cruelty suits no one
and you were very cruel when we parted."

"Yes, I suppose I was, and it is always wrong to be cruel. But I had
to send you away; if I hadn't I should have been late for the
concert. You don't realise, Owen, you can't realise--" And as she
said those words her face seemed to freeze, and Owen thought of the
idea within her turning her to ice.

"The wind! Isn't it uncanny? You don't know the glen? One of the most
beautiful in Scotland." And he spoke of the tall pines at the end of
it, the finest he had ever seen, and hoped that not many would be
blown down during the night. "Such a storm as this only happens once
in ten years. Good God, listen!" Like a savage beast the wind seemed
to skulk, and to crouch.... It sprang forward and seized the house
and shook it. Then it died away, and there was stillness for a few
minutes.

"But it is only preparing for another attack," Evelyn said, and they
listened, hearing the wind far away gathering itself like a robber
band, determined this time to take the castle by assault. Every
moment it grew louder, till it fell at last with a crash upon the
roof.

"But what a fool I am to talk to you about the wind, not having seen
you for three months! Surely there is something else for us to talk
about?"

"I would sooner you spoke about the wind, Owen."

"It is cruel of you to say so, for there is only one subject worth
talking about--yourself. How can I think of any other? When I am
alone in Berkeley Square I can only think of the idea which came
into your head and made a different woman of you." Evelyn refrained
from saying "And a much better woman," and Owen went on to tell how
the idea had seized her in Pisa. "Remember, Evelyn, it played you a
very ugly trick then. I'm not sure if I ought to remind you."

"You mean when you found me sitting on the wall of an olive-garth?
But there was no harm in singing to the peasants."

"And when I found you in a little chapel on the way to the
pine-forest--the forest in which you met Ulick Dean. What has become
of that young man?"

"I don't know. I haven't heard of him."

"You once nearly went out of your mind on his account."

"Because I thought he had killed himself."

"Or because you thought you wouldn't be able to resist him?"

Evelyn did not answer, and looking through the rich rooms,
unconsciously admiring the gleaming of the red silk hangings in the
lamplight, and the appearance of a portrait standing in the midst of
its dark background and gold frame, she discovered some of the
guests: two women leaning back in a deep sofa amid cushions
confiding to each other the story of somebody's lover, no doubt; and
past them, to the right of a tall pillar, three players looked into
the cards, one stood by, and though Owen and Evelyn were thinking of
different things they could not help noticing the whiteness of the
men's shirt fronts, and the aigrette sprays in the women's hair, and
the shapely folds of the silken dresses falling across the carpet.

"Not one of these men and women here think as you do; they are
satisfied to live. Why can't you do the same?"

"I am different from them."

"But what is there different in you?"

"You don't think then, Owen, that every one has a destiny?"

"Evelyn, dear, how can you think these things? We are utterly
unimportant; millions and billions of beings have preceded us,
billions will succeed us. So why should it be so important that a
woman should be true to her lover?"

"Does it really seem to you an utterly unimportant matter?"

"Not nearly so important as losing the woman one loves." And looking
into her face as he might into a book, written in a language only a
few words of which he understood, he continued: "And the idea seems
to have absorbed you, to have made its own of you; it isn't
religion, I don't think you are a religious woman. You usen't to be
like this when I took you away to Paris. You were in love with me,
but not half so much in love with me as you are now with this idea,
not so subjugated. Evelyn, that is what it is, you are subjugated,
enslaved, and you can think of nothing else."

"Well, if that is so, Owen--and I won't say you are utterly wrong--
why can't you accept things as they are?"

"But it isn't true, Evelyn? You will outlive this idea. You will be
cured."

"I hope not."

"You hope not? Well, if you don't wish to be cured it will be
difficult to cure you. But now, here in this house, where everything
is different, do you not feel the love of life coming back upon you?
And can you accept negation willingly as your fate?"

Evelyn asked Owen what he meant and he said:

"Well, your creed is a negative one--that no man shall ever take you
in his arms again, saying, 'Darling, I am so fond of you!' You would
have me believe that you will be true to this creed? But don't I
know how dear that moment is to you? No, you will not always think
as you do now; you will wake up as from a nightmare, you will wake
up."

"Do you think I shall?" Soon after their talk drifted to Lady Ascott
and to her guests, and Owen narrated the latest intrigues and the
mistake Lady Ascott had been guilty of by putting So-and-so and
So-and-so to sleep in the same corridor, not knowing that their
_liaison_ had been broken off at least three months before.

"Jim is now in love with Constance."

"How very horrible!"

"Horrible? It is that fellow Mostyn who has put these ideas into your
head!"

"He has put nothing into my head, Owen."

"Upon my word I believe you're right. It is none of his doing. But he
has got the harvesting; ah, yes, and the nuns, too. You never loved
me as you love this idea, Evelyn?"

"Do you think not?"

"When you were studying music in Paris you were quite willing I
should go away for a year."

"But I repaid you for it afterwards; you can't say I didn't. There
were ten years in which I loved you. How is it you have never
reproached me before?"

"Why should I? But now I've come to the end of the street; there is a
blank wall in front of me."

"You make me very miserable by talking like this."

They sat without speaking, and Lady Ascott's interruption was
welcome.

"Now, my dear Sir Owen, will you forgive me if I ask Evelyn to sing
for us? You'd like to hear her sing--wouldn't you?"

Owen sprang to his feet.

"Of course, of course. Come, Miss Innes, you will sing for us. I have
been boring you long enough, haven't I? And you'll be glad to get to
the piano. Who will accompany you?"

"You, Sir Owen, if you will be kind enough."

The card-players were glad to lay down their cards and the women to
cease talking of their friends' love affairs. All the world over it
is the same, a soprano voice subjugating all other interests;
soprano or tenor, baritone much less, contralto still less. Many
came forward to thank her, and, a little intoxicated with her
success, she began to talk to some of her women friends, thinking it
unwise to go back into a shadowy corner with Owen, making herself
the subject of remark; for though her love story with Owen Asher had
long ceased to be talked about, a new interest in it had suddenly
sprung up, owing to the fact that she had sent Owen away, and was
thinking of becoming a nun--even to such an extent her visit to the
convent had been exaggerated; and as the women lagging round her had
begun to try to draw from her an account of the motives which had
induced her to leave the stage, and the moment not seeming opportune,
even if it were not ridiculous at any moment to discuss spiritual
endeavour with these women, she determined to draw a red herring
across the trail. She told them that the public were wearying of
Wagner's operas, taste was changing, light opera was coming into
fashion.

"And in light opera I should have no success whatever, so I was
obliged to turn from the stage to the concert-room."

"We thought it was the religious element in Wagner."

A card party had come from a distant drawing-room and joined in the
discussion regarding the decline of art, and it was agreed that
motor-cars had done a great deal to contribute--perhaps they had
nothing to do with the decline of Wagner--but they had contributed
to the decline of interest in things artistic. This was the opinion
of two or three agreeable, good-looking young men; and Evelyn forgot
the women whom she had previously been talking to; and turning to the
men, she engaged in conversation and talked on and on until the
clock struck eleven. Then the disposition of every one was for bed.
Whispers went round, and Lady Ascott trotted upstairs with Evelyn,
hoping she would find her room comfortable.

It was indeed a pleasant room, wearing an air of youthfulness, thanks
to its chintz curtains. The sofa was winning and the armchairs
desirable, and there were books and a reading-lamp if Evelyn should
feel disposed to draw the armchair by the fire and read for an hour
before going to bed. The writing-table itself, with its pens and its
blotting-book, and notepaper so prettily stamped, seemed intended to
inveigle the occupant of the room into correspondence with every
friend she had in the world; and Evelyn began to wonder to whom she
might write a letter as soon as Lady Ascott left the room.

The burning wood shed a pleasant odour which mingled pleasantly with
that of the dressing-table; and she wandered about the room, her
mind filled with vague meditations, studying the old engravings,
principally pictures of dogs and horses, hounds and men, going out
to shoot in bygone costumes, with long-eared spaniels to find the
game for them. There was a multitude of these pictures on the walls,
and Evelyn wondered who was her next-door neighbour. Was it Owen? Or
was he down at the end of the passage? In a house like Thornton
Grange the name of every one was put on his or her door, so that
visitors should not wander into the wrong room by accident, creating
dismay and provoking scandal. Owen, where was he? A prayer was
offered up that he might be at the other end of the house. It would
not be right if Lady Ascott had placed him in the adjoining room, it
really would not be right, and she regretted her visit. What evil
thing had tempted her into this house, where everything was an
appeal to the senses, everything she had seen since she had entered
the house--food, wine, gowns? There was, however, a bolt to her
door, and she drew it, forgetful that sin visits us in solitude, and
more insidiously than when we are in the midst of crowds; and as she
dozed in the scented room, amid the fine linen, silk, and laces, the
sins which for generations had been committed in this house seemed to
gather substance, and even shape; a strange phantasmata trooped past
her, some seeming to bewail their sins, while others indulged
themselves with each other, or turned to her, inciting her to sin
with them, until one of them whispered in her ear that Owen was
coming to her room, and then she knew that at his knock her strength
would fail her, and she would let him in.

Her temptations disappeared and then returned to her; at last she saw
Owen coming towards her. He leaned over the bed, and she saw his
lips, and his voice sounded in her ears. It told her that he had
been waiting for her; why hadn't she come to his room? And why had
he found her door bolted? Then like one bereft of reason, she
slipped out of bed and went towards the door, seeing him in the
lucidity of her dream clearly at the end of the passage; it was not
until her hand rested on the handle of his door that a singing began
in the night. The first voice was joined by another, and then by
another, and she recognised the hymn, for it was one, the _Veni
Creator_, and the singers were nuns. The singing grew more distinct,
the singers were approaching her, and she retreated before them to
her room; the room filled with plain chant, and then the voices
seemed to die or to be borne away on the wind which moaned about the
eaves and aloft in the chimneys. Turning in her bed, she saw the
dying embers. She was in her room--only a dream, no more. Was that
all? she asked as she lay in her bed singing herself to sleep, into
a sleep so deep that she did not wake from it until her maid came to
ask her if she would have breakfast in her room or if she were going
down to breakfast.

"I will get up at once, Mérat, and do you look out a train, or ask
the butler to look out one for you; we are going to Glasgow by the
first quick train."

"But I thought Mademoiselle was going to stay here till Monday."

"Yes, Mérat, I know, so did I; but I have changed my mind. You had
better begin to pack at once, for there is certain to be a train
about twelve."

Evelyn saw that the devoted Mérat was annoyed; as well she might be,
for Thornton Grange was a pleasant house for valets and lady's
maids. "Some new valet," Evelyn thought, and she was sorry to drag
Mérat away from him, for Mérat's sins were her own--no one was
answerable for another; there was always that in her mind; and what
applied to her did not apply to anybody else.

"Dear Lady Ascott, you'll forgive me?" she said during breakfast,
"but I have to go to Glasgow this afternoon. I am obliged to leave
by an early train."

"Sir Owen, will you try to persuade her? Get her some omelette, and I
will pour out some coffee. Which will you have, dear? Tea or coffee?
Everybody will be so disappointed; we have all been looking forward
to some singing to-night."

Expostulations and suggestions went round the table, and Evelyn was
glad when breakfast was over; and to escape from all this company,
she accepted Owen's proposal to go for a walk.

"You haven't seen my garden, or the cliffs? Sir Owen, I count upon
you to persuade her to stay until to-morrow, and you will show her
the glen, won't you? And you'll tell me how many trees we have lost
in last night's storm."

Owen and Evelyn left the other guests talking of how they had lain
awake last night listening to the wind.

"Shall we go this way, round by the lake, towards the glen? Lady
Ascott is very disappointed; she said so to me just now."

"You mean about my leaving?"

"Yes, of course, after all she had done for you, the trouble she had
taken about the Edinburgh concert. Of course they all like to hear
you sing; they may not understand very well, still they like it,
everybody likes to hear a soprano. You might stay."

"I'm very sorry, Owen, I'm sorry to disappoint Lady Ascott, who is a
kindly soul, but--well, it raises the whole question up again. When
one has made up one's mind to live a certain kind of life--"

"But, Evelyn, who is preventing you from living up to your ideal? The
people here don't interfere with you? Nobody came knocking at your
door last night?"

"No."

"I didn't come, and I was next door to you. Didn't it seem strange to
you, Evelyn, that I should sleep so near and not come to say
good-night? But I knew you wouldn't like it, so I resisted the
temptation."

"Was that the only reason?"

"What do you mean?"

"Of course, I know you wouldn't do anything that would displease me;
you've been very kind, more kind than I deserve, but--"

"But what?"

"Well, it's hard to express it. Nothing happened to prevent you?"

"Prevent me?"

"I don't mean that you were actually prevented, but was there another
reason?"

"You mean a sudden scruple of conscience? My conscience is quite
healthy."

"Then what stayed you was no more than a fear of displeasing me? And
you wanted to come to see me, didn't you?"

"Of course I did. Well, perhaps there was another reason... only...
no, there was no other reason."

"But there was; you have admitted that there was. Do tell me."

And Owen told her that something seemed to have held him back when
the thought came of going to her room. "It was really very strange.
The thought was put into my mind suddenly that it would be better
for me not to go to your room."

"No more than a sudden thought? But the thought was very clear and
distinct?"

"Yes; but between waking and sleeping thoughts are unusually
distinct."

"You don't believe in miracles, Owen?" And she told him of her dream
and her sudden awaking, and the voices heard in her ears at first,
then in the room, and then about the house. "So you see the nuns
kept us apart."

"And you believe in these things?"

"How can I do otherwise?"

Owen sighed, and they walked on a few paces. The last leaves were
dancing; the woods were cold and wet, the heavy branches of the
fir-trees dripping with cold rain, and in the walks a litter of
chestnut-leaves.

"Not a space of blue in the sky, only grey. It will be drearier still
in Glasgow; you had better stay here," he said, as they walked round
the little lake, watching the water-fowl moving in and out of the
reeds, and they talked for some time of Riversdale, of the lake
there, and the ducks which rose in great numbers and flew round and
round the park, dropping one by one into the water. "You will never
see Riversdale again, perhaps?"

"Perhaps not," she answered; and hearing her say it, his future life
seemed to him as forlorn as the landscape.

"What will you do? What will become of you? What strange
transformation has taken place in you?"

"If--But what is the use of going over it again?"

"If what?"

"What would you have me do? Marriage would only ruin you, Owen, make
you very unhappy. Why do you want me to enter on a life which I feel
isn't mine, and which could only end in disaster for both of us." He
asked her why it would end in disaster, and she answered, "It is
impossible to lay bare one's whole heart. When one changes one's
ideas one changes one's friends."

"Because one's friends are only the embodiment of one's ideas. But I
cannot admit that you would be unhappy as my wife."

"Everybody is unhappy when they are not doing what Nature intended
them to do."

"And what did Nature intend you to do? Only to sing operas?"

"I should be sorry to think Nature intended me for nothing else.
Would you have me go on singing operas? I don't want to appear
unreasonable, but how could I go on singing even if I wished to go
on? The taste has changed; you will admit that light opera is the
fashion, and I shouldn't succeed in light opera. Whatever I do you
praise, but you know in the bottom of your heart there are only a few
parts which I play well. You may deceive yourself, you do so because
you wish to do so, but I have no wish to deceive myself and I know
that I was never a great singer; a good singer, an interesting
singer in certain parts if you like, but no more. You will admit
that?"

"No, I don't admit anything of the kind. If you leave the stage what
will you do with your time? Your art, your friends--"

"No one can figure anybody else's life: everybody has interests and
occupations, not things that interest one's neighbour, but things
that interest herself."

"So it is because light opera has come into fashion again that you
are going to give up singing? Such a thing never happened before: a
woman who succeeded on the stage, who has not yet failed, whose
voice is still fresh, who is in full possession of her art, to say
suddenly, 'Money and applause are nothing to me, I prefer a few
simple nuns to art and society.' Nothing seems to happen in life,
life is always the same; _rien ne change mais pourtant tout arrive_,
even the rare event of a successful actress relinquishing the
stage."

"It is odd," she said as they followed the path through the wintry
wood, startled now and again by a rabbit at the end of the alley, by
a cock pheasant rising up suddenly out of the yew hedges, and,
beguiled by the beauty of the trees, they passed on slowly, pausing
to think what a splendid sight a certain wild cherry must be in the
spring-time. At the end of the wood Owen returned to the subject of
their conversation.

"Yes, it is strange that an actress should give up her art."

"But, Owen, it isn't so strange in my case as in any other; for you
know I was always a hothouse flower. You took me away to Paris and
had me trained regardless of expense, and with your money it was
easy to get an engagement."

"My money had nothing to do with your engagements."

"Perhaps not; but I only sang when it pleased me; I could always say,
'Well, my good man, go to So-and-so, she will sing for you any parts
you please'; but I can only sing the parts I like."

"You think, then, that if you had lived the life of a real actress,
working your way up from the bottom, what has happened wouldn't have
happened; is that what you mean?"

"It is impossible for me to answer you. One would have to live one's
life over again."

"I suppose no one will ever know how much depends upon the gift we
bring into the world with us, and how much upon circumstances," and
Owen compared the gift to the father's seed and circumstances to the
mother's womb.

"So you are quite determined?" And they philosophised as they went,
on life and its meaning, on death and love, admiring the temples
which an eighteenth-century generation had built on the hillsides.
"Here are eight pillars on either side and four at either end,
serving no purpose whatever, not even shelter from the rain. Never
again in this world will people build things for mere beauty," Owen
said, and they passed into the depths of the wood, discovering
another temple, and in it a lad and lass.

"You see these temples do serve for something. Why are we not
lovers?" And they passed on again, Owen's heart filled with his
sorrow and Evelyn's with her determination.

She was leaving by the one train, and when they got back to the house
the carriage was waiting for her.

"Good-bye, Owen."

"Am I not to see you again?"

"Yes, you will see me one of these days."

"And that was all the promise she could make me," he said, rushing
into Lady Ascott's boudoir, disturbing her in the midst of her
letters. "So ends a _liaison_ which has lasted for more than ten
years. Good God, had I known that she would have spoken to me like
this when I saw her in Dulwich!"

Even so he felt he would have acted just as he had acted, and he went
to his room thinking that the rest of his life would be
recollection. "She is still in the train, going away from me, intent
on her project, absorbed in her desire of a new life ... this
haunting which has come upon her."



III

And so it was. Evelyn lay back in the corner of the railway carriage
thinking about the poor people, and about the nuns, about herself,
about the new life which she was entering upon, and which was dearer
to her than anything else. She grew a little frightened at the
hardness of her heart. "It certainly does harden one's heart," she
said; "my heart is as hard as a diamond. But is my heart as hard as
a diamond?" The thought awoke a little alarm, and she sat looking
into the receding landscape. "Even so I cannot help it." And she
wondered how it was that only one thing in the world seemed to
matter--to extricate the nuns from their difficulties, that was all.
Her poor people, of course she liked them; her voice, she liked it
too, without, however, being able to feel certain that it interested
her as much as it used to, or that she was not prepared to sacrifice
it if her purpose demanded the sacrifice. But there was no question
of such sacrifice: it was given to her as the means whereby she
might effect her purpose. If the Glasgow concert were as successful
as the Edinburgh, she would be able to bring back some hundreds of
pounds to the nuns, perhaps a thousand. And what a pleasure that
would be to her!

But the Glasgow concert was not nearly so successful: her manager
attributed the failure to a great strike which had just ended; there
was talk of another strike; moreover her week in Glasgow was a wet
one, and her manager said that people did not care to leave their
houses when it was raining.

"Or is it," she asked, "because the taste has moved from dramatic
singing to _il bel canto?_ In a few years nobody will want to hear
me, so I must make hay while the sun shines."

Her next concert succeeded hardly better than the Glasgow concert;
Hull, Leeds, Birmingham were tried, but only with moderate success,
and Evelyn returned to London with very little money for the
convent, and still less for her poor people.

"It is a disappointment to me, dear Mother?"

"My dear child, you've brought us a great deal of money, much more
than we expected."

"But, Mother, I thought I should be able to bring you three thousand
pounds, and pay off a great part of your mortgage."

"God, my child, seems to have thought differently."

The door opened.

"Now who is this? Ah! Sister Mary John."

"May I come in, dear Mother?"

"Certainly."

"You see, I was so anxious to see Miss Innes, to hear about the
concert tour--"

"Which wasn't a success at all, Sister Mary John. Oh, not at all a
success."

"Not a success?"

"Well, from an artistic point of view it was; I brought you some of
the notices," and Evelyn took out of her pocket some hundreds of
cuttings from newspapers. It had not occurred to her before, but now
the thought passed through her mind, formulating itself in this way:
"After all, the mummeress isn't dead in me yet; bringing my notices
to nuns! Dear me! how like me!" And she sat watching the nuns, a
little amused, when the Prioress asked Sister Mary John to read some
passages to her.

"Now I can't sit here and hear you read out my praises. You can read
them when I am gone. A little more money and a little less praise
would have suited me better, Sister Mary John."

"Would you care to come into the garden?" the nun asked. "I was just
going out to feed the birds. Poor things! they come in from the
common; our garden is full of them. But what about singing at
Benediction to-day? Would you like to try some music over with me
and forget the birds?"

"There will be plenty of time to try over music."

The door opened again. It was the porteress come to say that
Monsignor had just arrived and would like to speak with the
Prioress.

"But ask him to come in.... Here is a friend of yours, Monsignor. She
has just returned from--"

"From a disastrous concert tour, having only made four hundred pounds
with six concerts. My career as a prima donna is at an end. The
public is tired of me."

"The artistic public isn't tired of you," said Sister Mary John.
"Read, Monsignor; she has brought us all her notices."

"Oh, do take them away, Sister Mary John; you make me ashamed before
Monsignor. Such vanity! What will he think of my bringing my notices
to read to you? But you mustn't think I am so vain as that,
Monsignor; it was really because I thought the nuns would be
interested to hear of the music--and to excuse myself. But you know,
Mother, once I take a project in hand I don't give it up easily. I
have made up my mind to redeem this convent from debt, and it shall
be done. My concert tour was a failure, but I have another idea in
my head; and I came here to tell it to you. I don't know what
Monsignor will think of it. I have been offered a good deal of money
to go to America to sing my own parts, for Wagner is not yet dead in
America."

"But, Miss Innes, I thought you intended to leave the stage?"

"I have left the stage, but I intend to go back to it. That is a
point on which I will have to talk to Monsignor." Evelyn waited for
the prelate to speak.

"Such determination is very unusual, and if the cause be a good one I
congratulate you, Mother Prioress, on your champion who, to defend
you, will start for the New World."

"Well, Monsignor, unless you repudiate the motives of those who went
to Palestine to fight for the Holy Sepulchre, why should you
repudiate mine?"

"But I haven't said a word; indeed--"

"But you will talk to me about it, won't you? For I must have your
opinion before I go, Monsignor."

"Well, now I think I shall disappear," said Sister Mary John. "I'm
going to feed the birds."

"But you asked me to go with you."

"That was before Monsignor came. But perhaps he would like to come
with us. The garden is beautiful and white, and all the birds are
waiting for me, poor darlings!"

The nuns, Evelyn and Monsignor went down the steps.

"There is a great deal of snow in the sky yet," said Sister Mary
John, pointing to the yellow horizon. "To-night or to-morrow it will
fall, and the birds will die, if we don't feed them."

A flock of speckled starlings flew into a tree, not recognising
Evelyn and Monsignor, but the blackbirds and thrushes were tamer and
ran in front, watching the visitors with round, thoughtful eyes, the
beautiful shape of the blackbird showing against the white
background, and everybody admiring his golden bill and legs. The
sparrows flew about Sister Mary John in a little cloud, until they
were driven away by three great gulls come up from the Thames, driven
inland by hard weather. A battle began, the gulls pecking at each
other, wasting time in fighting instead of sharing the bread, only
stopping now and then to chase away the arrogant sparrows. The
robin, the wisest bird, came to Sister Mary John's hand for his
food, preferring the buttered bread to the dry. There were rooks in
the grey sky, and very soon two hovered over the garden, eventually
descending into the garden with wings slanted, and then the seagulls
had to leave off fighting or go without food altogether. A great
strange bird rose out of the bushes, and flew away in slow, heavy
flight. Monsignor thought it was a woodcock; and there were birds
whose names no one knew, migrating birds come from thousands of
miles, from regions where the snow lies for months upon the ground;
and Evelyn and the prelate and the nuns watched them all until the
frosty air reminded the prelate that loitering was dangerous. Sister
Mary John walked on ahead, feeding the birds, forgetful of Monsignor
and Evelyn; a nun saying her rosary stopped to speak to the
Prioress; Evelyn and Monsignor went on alone, and when they came
towards St. Peter's Walk no one was there, and the moment had come,
Evelyn felt, to speak of her project to return to the stage in order
to redeem the convent from debt.

"You didn't answer me, Monsignor, when I said that I would have to
consult you regarding my return to the stage."

"Well, my dear child, the question whether you should go back to the
stage couldn't be discussed in the presence of the nuns. Your
motives I appreciate; I need hardly say that. But for your own
personal safety I am concerned. I won't attempt to hide my anxiety
from you."

"But it is possible to remain on the stage and lead a virtuous life."

"You have told me yourself that such a thing isn't possible; from
your own mouth I have it."

Evelyn did not answer, but stood looking at the prelate, biting her
lips, annoyed, finding herself in a dilemma.

"The motive is everything, Monsignor. I was speaking then of the
stage as a vanity, as a glorification of self."

"The motive is different, but the temptations remain the same."

"I'm afraid I can't agree with you. The temptation is in oneself, not
in the stage, and when oneself has changed... and then many things
have happened."

"You are reconciled to the Church, it is true, and have received the
Sacraments--"

"More than that, Monsignor, more than that." But it was a long time
before he could persuade her to tell him. "You don't believe in
miracles?"

"My dear child, my dear child!"

After that it was impossible to keep herself from speaking, and she
told how, at Thornton Grange, in the middle of the night, she had
heard the nuns singing the _Veni Creator_.

"The nuns told me, Monsignor, their prayers would save me, and they
were right."

"But you aren't sure whether you were dreaming or waking."

"But my experience was shared by Sir Owen Asher, who told me next
morning that he had thought of coming to my room and was
restrained."

"Did he say that he, too, heard voices?"

She had to admit that Owen had not said that he had heard voices,
only that a restraint had been put upon him.

"The restraint need not have been a miraculous one."

"You think he didn't want to come to see me? I beg your pardon,
Monsignor."

"There is nothing to beg my pardon for. I am your confessor, your
spiritual adviser, and you must tell everything to me; and it is my
duty to tell you that you place too much reliance upon miracles.
This is not the first time you have spoken to me about miraculous
interposition."

"But if God is in heaven and His Church upon earth, why shouldn't
there be miracles? Moreover, nearly all the saints are credited with
having performed miracles. Their lives are little more than records
of miracles they have performed."

"I cannot agree with you in that. Their lives are records of their
love of God, and the prayers they have offered up that God's wrath
may be averted from a sinful world, and the prayers they have
offered up for their souls."

"What would the Bible be without its miracles? Miracles are recorded
in the Old and in the New Testaments. Surely miracles cannot have
ceased with the nineteenth century? Miracles must be inherent in
religion. To talk of miracles going out of fashion--"

"But, Miss Innes, I never spoke of miracles going out of fashion. You
misunderstand me entirely. If God wills it, a miracle may happen
to-morrow, in this garden, at any moment. Nobody questions the power
of God to perform a miracle, only we mustn't be too credulous,
accepting every strange event as a miracle; and you, who seemed so
difficult to convince on some points, are ready enough to believe--"

"You mean, Monsignor, because I experienced much difficulty in
believing that the sins I committed with Owen Asher were equal to
those I committed with Ulick Dean."

"Yes, that was in my mind; and I doubt very much that you are not of
the same opinion still."

"Monsignor, I have accepted your opinion that the sin was the same in
either case, and you have told me yourself that to acquiesce is
sufficient. You don't mind my arguing with you a little, because in
doing so I become clear to myself?"

"On the contrary, I like you to argue with me; only in that way can
you confide all your difficulties to me. I regret that,
notwithstanding my opinion, you still believe you are not putting
yourself in the way of temptation by returning to the stage."

"I know myself. If I didn't feel sure of myself, Monsignor, I
wouldn't go to America. Obedience is so pleasant, and your ruling is
so sweet--"

"Nevertheless, you must go your own way; you must relieve this
convent from debt. That is what is in your mind."

"I am sorry, Monsignor, for I should have liked to have had your
approval."

"It was not, then, to profit by my advice that you consulted me?"

Evelyn did not answer, and the singer and the prelate walked on in
silence, seeing Sister Mary John among her blackbirds and thrushes,
sparrows and starlings, accepting her crumbs without fear, no
stranger being by. The starlings, however, again flew into a tree
when they saw Evelyn and Monsignor, and some of the other birds
followed them.

"The robin follows her like a dog; and what a saucy little bird he
is! Look at him, Monsignor! isn't he pretty, with his red breast and
black, beady eyes?"

"Last winter, Monsignor, he spent on the kitchen clock. He knows our
kitchen well enough, and will go back there if a thaw does not begin
very quickly. But look," continued Sister Mary John, "I have two
bullfinches following me. Aren't they provoking birds? They don't
build in our garden, where their nests would be safe, stupid birds!
but away in the common. I'd like to have a young bird and teach him
to whistle."

Evelyn and Monsignor stayed a moment watching the birds, thinking of
other things, and then turned into St. Peter's Walk to continue
their talk.

"The afternoon is turning cold, and we can't stop out talking in this
garden any longer; but before we go in I beg of you--"

"To agree that you should return to the stage?"

"For a few months, Monsignor. I don't want to go to America feeling
that you think I have acted wrongly by going. The nuns will pray for
me, and I believe in their prayers; and I believe in yours,
Monsignor, and in your advice. Do say something kind."

"You are determined upon this American tour?"

"I cannot do otherwise. There is nothing else in my head."

"And you must do something? Well, Miss Innes, let us consider it from
a practical point of view. The nuns want money, it is true; but they
want it at once. Five thousand pounds at the end of next year will
be very little use to them."

"No, Monsignor, the Prioress tells me--"

"You are free to dispose of your money in your own way--in the way
that gives you most pleasure."

"Oh, don't say that, Monsignor. I have had enough pleasure in my
life." And they turned out of St. Peter's Walk, feeling it was
really too cold to remain any longer in the garden.

"Well, Miss Innes, you are doing this entirely against my advice."

"I'm sorry, but I cannot help myself; I want to help the nuns.
Everybody wants to do something; and to see one's life slipping
away--"

"But you've done a great deal."

"It doesn't seem to me I have done anything. Now that I have become a
Catholic, I want to do something from the Catholic point of view, or
from the religious point of view, if you like. Will you recommend to
me some man of business who will carry out the sale of my house for
me, and settle everything?"

"So that you may hand over to the nuns the money that the sale of
your pictures and furniture procures at Christie's?"

"Yes; leaving me just sufficient to go to America. I know I must
appear to you very wilful, but there are certain things one can only
settle for oneself."

"I can give you the address of my solicitor, a very capable and
trustworthy man, who will carry out your instructions."

"Thank you, Monsignor; and be sure nothing will happen to me in
America. In six months I shall be back."

Evelyn went away to Mr. Enterwick, the solicitor Monsignor
recommended, and the following month she sailed for America.



IV

Her pictures and furniture were on view at Christie's in the early
spring, and all Owen's friends met each other in the rooms and on
the staircase.

The pictures were to be sold on Saturday, the furniture, china, and
enamels on the following Monday.

"The pictures don't matter so much, although her own portrait is
going to be sold. But the furniture! Dear God, look at that brute
trying the springs of the sofa where I have sat so often with her.
And there is the chair on which I used to sit listening to her when
she sang. And her piano--why, my God, she is selling her piano!--
What is to become of that woman? A singer who sells her piano!"

"My dear friend, I suppose she had to sell everything or nothing?"

"But she'll have to buy another piano, and she might have kept the
one I gave her. It is extraordinary how religion hardens the heart,
Harding. Do you see that fellow, a great nose, lumpy shoulders,
trousers too short for him, a Hebrew barrel of grease--Rosental. You
know him; I bought that clock from him. He's looking into it to see
if anything has been broken, if it is in as good condition as when
he sold it. The brutes have all joined the 'knock-out,' and there--"

As he said these words young Mr. Rowe, who believed himself to be
connected with society, and who dealt largely in pictures, without,
however, descending to the vulgarity of shop-keeping (he would
resent being called a picture-dealer), approached and insisted on
Sir Owen listening to the story of his difficulties with some county
councillors who could not find the money to build an art gallery.

"But I object to your immortality being put on the rates."

"You write books, Mr. Harding; I can't."

As soon as he left them, Harding, who knew the dealer kind, the
original stock and the hybrid, told an amusing story of Mr. Rowe's
beginnings; and Owen forgot his sentimental trouble; but the story
was interrupted by Lady Ascott coming down the room followed by her
attendants, her literary and musical critics.

"Every one of them most interesting, I assure you, Sir Owen. Mr.
Homer has just returned from Italy--"

"But I know Mr. Homer; we met long ago at Innes' concerts. If I am
not mistaken you were writing a book then about Bellini."

"Yes, 'His Life and Works.' I've just returned from Italy after two
years' reading in the public libraries."

Lady Ascott's musical critic was known to Owen by a small book he had
written entitled "A Guide to the Ring." Before he was a Wagnerian he
was the curator of a museum, and Owen remembered how desirous he was
to learn the difference between Dresden and Chelsea china. He had
dabbled in politics and in journalism; he had collected hymns,
ancient and modern, and Owen was not in the least surprised to hear
that he had become the director of a shop for the sale of religious
prints and statues, or that he had joined the Roman Church, and the
group watched him slinking round on the arm of a young man, one who
sang forty-nine songs by all the composers in Europe in exactly the
same manner.

"He is teaching Botticelli in his three manners," said Lady Ascott,
"and Cyril is thinking of going over to Rome."

"Asher, let us get away from this culture," Harding whispered.

"Yes, let's get away from it; I want to show you a table, the one on
which Evelyn used to write her letters. We bought it together at the
Salle Druot."

"Yes, Asher, yes; but would you mind coming this way, for I see
Ringwood. He goes by in his drooping mantle, looking more like an
umbrella than usual. Lady Ascott has engaged him for the season, and
he goes out with her to talk literature--plush stockings, cockade.
Literature in livery! Ringwood introducing Art!"

Owen laughed, and begged Harding to send his joke to the comic
papers.

"An excellent subject for a cartoon."

"He has stopped again. Now I'm sure he's talking of Sophocles. He
walks on.... I'm mistaken; he is talking about Molière."

"An excellent idea of yours--'Literature in livery!'"

"His prose is always so finely spoken, so pompous, that I cannot help
smiling. You know what I mean."

"I've told you it ought to be sent to the papers. I wish he would
leave that writing-table; and Lady Ascott might at least ask him to
brush his coat."

"It seems to me so strange that she should find pleasure in such
company."

"Men who will not cut their hair. How is it?"

"I suppose attention to externals checks or limits the current of
feeling... or they think so."

"I am feeling enough, God knows, but my suffering does not prevent me
from selecting my waistcoat and tying my tie."

Harding's eyes implied acquiescence in the folding of the scarf (it
certainly was admirably done) and glanced along the sleeves of the
coat--a rough material chosen in a moment of sudden inspiration; and
they did not miss the embroidered waistcoat, nor the daring brown
trousers (in admirable keeping withal), turned up at the ends, of
course, otherwise Owen would not have felt dressed; and, still a
little conscious of the assistance his valet had been to him, he
walked with a long, swinging stride which he thought suited him,
stopping now and again to criticise a friend or a picture.

"There's Merrington. How absurdly he dresses! One would think he was
an actor; yet no man rides better to hounds. Lady Southwick! I must
have a word with her."

Before leaving Harding he mentioned that she attributed her lapses
from virtue, not to passionate temperament, but to charitable
impulses. "She wouldn't kiss--" and Owen whispered the man's name,
"until he promised to give two thousand pounds to a Home for Girl
Mothers."

"Now, my dear Lady Southwick, I'm so delighted to see you here. But
how very sad! The greatest singer of our time."

"She was exceedingly good in two or three parts."

A dispute arose, in which Owen lost his temper; but, recovering it
suddenly, he went down the room with Lady Southwick to show her a
Wedgewood dessert service which he had bought some years ago for
Evelyn, pressing it upon her, urging that he would like her to have
it.

"Every time you see it you will think of us," and he turned on his
heel suddenly, fearing to lose Harding, whom he found shaking hands
with one of the dealers, a man of huge girth--"like a waggoner,"
Owen said, checking a reproof, but he could not help wishing that
Harding would not shake hands with such people, at all events when
he was with him.

"These are the Chadwells, whom--" (Harding whispered a celebrated
name) "used to call the most gentlemanly picture-dealers in
Bond-street." Harding spoke to them, Owen standing apart absorbed in
His grief, until the word "Asher" caught his ear.

"Of whom are you speaking?"

"Of you, of Sir Owen Asher." And Harding followed Owen, intensely
annoyed.

"Not even to a gentlemanly picture-dealer should you--"

"You are entirely wrong; I said 'Sir Owen Asher.'"

"Very strange you should say 'Sir Owen Asher'; why didn't you say Sir
Owen?"

Harding did not answer, being uncertain if it would not be better to
drop Asher's acquaintance. But they had known each other always. It
would be difficult.

"The sale is about to begin," Asher said, and Harding sat down angry
with Asher and interested in the auctioneer's face, created, Harding
thought, for the job... "looking exactly like a Roman bust. Lofty
brow, tight lips, vigilant eyes, voice like a bell.... That damned
fellow Asher! What the hell did he mean--"

The auctioneer sat at a high desk, high as any pulpit, and in the
benches the congregation crowded--every shade of nondescript, the
waste ground one meets in a city: poor Jews and dealers from the
outlying streets, with here and there a possible artist or
journalist. As the pictures were sold the prices they fetched were
marked in the catalogues, and Harding wondered why.

Around the room were men and women of all classes; a good many of Sir
Owen's "set" had come--"Society being well represented that day," as
the newspapers would put it. All the same, the pictures were not
selling well, not nearly so well as Owen and Harding anticipated.
Harding was glad of this, for his heart was set on a certain drawing
by Boucher.

"I would sooner you had it, Harding, than anybody else. It would be
unendurable if one of those picture-dealers should get it; they'd
come round to my house trying to sell it to me again, whereas in
your rooms--"

"Yes," said Harding, "it will be an excuse to come to see me. Well,
if I can possibly afford it--"

"Of course you can afford it; I paid eighty-seven pounds for it years
ago; it won't go to more than a hundred. I'd really like you to have
it."

"Well, for goodness' sake don't talk so loud, somebody will hear
you."

The pictures went by--portraits of fair ladies and ancient admirals,
landscapes, underwoods and deserts, flower and battle pieces,
pathetic scenes and gallantries. There was a time when every one of
these pictures was the hope and delight of a human being, now they
went by interesting nobody....

At last the first of Evelyn's pictures was hoisted on the easel.

"Good God!" isn't it a miserable sight seeing her pictures going to
whomsoever cares to bid a few pounds. But if I were to buy the whole
collection--"

"I quite understand, and every one is a piece of your life."

The pictures continued to go by.

"I can't stand this much longer."

"Hush!"

The Boucher drawing went up. It was turned to the right and to the
left: a beautiful girl lying on her belly, her legs parted slightly.
Therefore the bidding began briskly, but for some unaccountable
reason it died away. "Somebody must have declared it to be a
forgery," Owen whispered to Harding, and a moment after it became
Harding's property for eighty-seven pounds--"The exact sum I paid
for it years ago. How very extraordinary!"

"A portrait by Manet--a hundred pounds offered, one hundred," and two
grey eyes in a face of stone searched the room for bidders. "One
hundred pounds offered, five, thirty, thirty-five, forty, fifty,"
and so on to two hundred.

"Her portrait will cost me a thousand," Owen whispered to Harding,
and, catching the auctioneer's eyes, he nodded again. Seven hundred.
"Will they never stop bidding? That fellow yonder is determined to
run up the picture." Eight hundred and fifty! The auctioneer raised
his hammer, and the watchful eyes went round the room in search of
some one who would pay another ten pounds for Evelyn's portrait by
Manet. Eight hundred and fifty--eight hundred and fifty. Down came
the hammer. The auctioneer whispered "Sir Owen Asher" to his clerk.

"It's a mercy I got it for that; I was afraid it would go over the
thousand. Now, come, we have got our two pictures. I'm sick of the
place."

Harding had thought of staying on, just to see the end of the sale,
but it was easier to yield to Owen than to argue with him; besides,
he was anxious to see how the drawing would look on his wall. Of
course it was a Boucher. Stupid remarks were always floating about
Christie's. But he would know for certain as soon as he saw the
drawing in a new light.

He was muttering "It is genuine enough," when his servant opened the
door--"Sir Owen Asher."

"I see you have hung up the drawing. It looks very well, doesn't it.
You'll never regret having taken my advice."

"Taken your advice!" Harding was about to answer. "But what is the
use in irritating the poor man? He is so much in love he hardly
knows what he is saying. Owen Asher advising me as to what I should
buy!"

Owen went over and looked into Harding's Ingres.

"Every time one sees it one likes it better." And they talked about
Ingres for some time, until Owen's thoughts went back to Evelyn, and
looking from the portrait by Ingres to the drawing by Boucher he
seemed suddenly to lose control; tears rose to his eyes, and Harding
watched him, wondering whither Owen's imagination carried him. "Is
he far away in Paris, hearing her sing for the first time to Madame
Savelli? Or is he standing with her looking over the bulwarks of the
_Medusa_, seeing the shape of some Greek island dying in the
twilight?" And Harding did not speak, feeling the lover's meditation
to be sacred. Owen flung himself into an arm-chair, and without
withdrawing his eyes from the picture, said, relying on Harding's
friendship:

"It is very like her, it is really very like her. I am much obliged
to you, Harding, for having bought it. I shall come here to see it
occasionally."

"And I'll present you with a key, so that when I am away you can
spend your leisure in front of the picture.... Do you know whom I
shall feel like? Like the friend of King Condules."

"But she'll not ask you to conspire to assassinate me. My murder
would profit you nothing. All the same, Harding, now I come to think
of it, there's a good deal of that queen in Evelyn, or did she
merely desire to take advantage of the excuse to get rid of her
husband?"

"Ancient myths are never very explicit; one reads whatever psychology
one likes into them. Perhaps that is why they never grow old."

The door opened... Harding's servant brought in a parcel of proofs.

"My dear Asher, the proof of an article has just come, and the editor
tells me he'll be much obliged if I look through it at once."

"Shall I wait?"

"Well, I'd sooner you didn't. Correcting a proof with me means a
rewriting, and--"

"You can't concentrate your thoughts while I am roving about the
room. I understand. Are you dining anywhere?"

"I'm not engaged."

The thought crossed Harding's mind when Owen left the room that it
would be better perhaps to write saying that the proofs detained
him, for to spend the evening with Owen would prove wearisome. "No
matter what the subject of conversation may be his mind will go back
to her very soon.... But to leave him alone all the evening would be
selfish, and if I don't dine with him I shall have to dine
alone...." Harding turned to his writing-table, worked on his proof
for a couple of hours, and then went to meet Owen, whom he found
waiting for him at his club.

"My dear friend, I quite agree with you," he said, sitting down to
the table; "what you want is change."

"Do you think, Harding, I shall find any interest again in anything?"

"Of course you will, my dear friend, of course you will." And he
spoke to his friend of ruined palaces and bas-reliefs; Owen listened
vaguely, begging of him at last to come with him.

"It will give you ideas, Harding; you will write better."

Harding shook his head, for it did not seem to him to be his destiny
to relieve the tedium of a yachting excursion in the Mediterranean.



V

"One cannot yacht in the Baltic or in the Gulf of Mexico," Owen said,
and he went to the Mediterranean again to sail about the _Ægean_
Islands, wondering if he should land, changing his mind, deciding
suddenly that the celebrated site he was going to see would not
interest him. He would stand watching the rocky height dying down,
his eyes fixed on the blue horizon, thinking of some Emperor's
palace amid the Illyrian hills, till, acting on a sudden impulse, he
would call an order to the skipper, an order which he would
countermand next day. A few days after the yacht would sail towards
the Acropolis as though Owen had intended to drop anchor in the
Piræeus. But he was too immersed in his grief, he thought, to be
able to give his attention to ruins, whether Roman or Greek. All the
same, he would have to decide if he would return to the islands. He
did not know them all; he had never been to Samos, famous for its
wine and its women.... The wine cloyed the palate and no woman
charmed him in the dance; and he sailed away wondering how he might
relieve the tedium of life, until one day, after long voyaging,
sufficiently recovered from his grief and himself, he leaned over
the taffrail, this time lost in admiration of the rocks and summits
above Syracuse, the Sicilian coasts carrying his thoughts out of the
present into the past, to those valleys where Theocritus watched his
"visionary flocks."

"'His visionary flocks,'" he repeated, wondering if the beautiful
phrase had floated accidentally into his mind, hoping that it was
his own, and then abandoning hope, for he had nearly succeeded in
tracing the author of the phrase; but there was a vision in it more
intense than Tennyson's. "Visionary flocks!" For while the shepherds
watched Theocritus dreamed the immortal sheep and goats which tempt
us for an instant to become shepherds; but Owen knew that the real
flocks would seem unreal to him who knew the visionary ones, so he
turned away from the coasts without a desire in his heart to trouble
the shepherds in the valley with an offer of his services, and
walked up and down the deck thinking how he might obtain a
translation of the idyls.

"Sicily, Sicily!"

It was unendurable that his skipper should come at such a moment to
ask him if he would like to land at Palermo; for why should he land
in Sicily unless to meet the goatherd who in order to beguile
Thyrsis to sing the song of Daphnis told him that "his song was
sweeter than the music of yonder water that is poured from the high
face of the rock"? It was in Sicily that rugged Polyphemus, peering
over some cliffs, sought to discern Galatea in the foam; but before
Owen had time to recall the myth an indenture in the coast line,
revealing a field, reminded him how Proserpine, while gathering
flowers on the plains of Enna with her maidens, had been raped into
the shadows by the dark god. And looking on these waves, he
remembered that it was over them that Jupiter in the form of a bull,
a garlanded bull with crested horns, had sped, bearing Europa away
for his pleasure. Venus had been washed up by these waves! Poseidon!
Sirens and Tritons had disported themselves in this sea, the bluest
and the beautifullest, the one sea that mattered, more important
than all the oceans; the oceans might dry up to-morrow for all he
cared so long as this sea remained; and with the story of Theseus
and "lonely Ariadne on the wharf at Naxos" ringing in his ears he
looked to the north-east, whither lay the Cyclades and Propontis.
Medea, too, had been deserted--"Medea deadlier than the sea." Helen!
All the stories of the "Iliad" and the "Odyssey" had been lived
about these seas, from the coasts of Sicily to those of Asia Minor,
whence Æneas had made his way to Carthage. Dido, she, too, had been
deserted. All the great love stories of the world had been lived
about these shores and islands; his own story! And he mused for a
long time on the accident--if it were an accident--which had led him
back to this sea. Or had he returned to these shores and islands
merely because there was no other sea in which one could yacht?
Hardly, and he remembered with pleasure that his story differed from
the ancient stories only in this, that Evelyn had fled from him, not
be from her. And for such a woeful reason! That she might repent her
sins in a convent on the edge of Wimbledon Common, whereas Dido was
deserted for--

Again his infernal skipper hanging about. This time he had come with
news that the _Medusa_ was running short of provisions. Would Sir
Owen prefer that they should put in at Palermo or Tunis?

"Tunis, Tunis."

The steerman put down the helm, and the fore and aft sails went over.
Three days later the _Medusa_ dropped her anchor in the Bay of
Tunis, and his skipper was again asking Owen for orders.

"Just take her round to Alexandria and wait for me there," he
answered, feeling he would not be free from England till she was
gone. It was his wish to get away from civilisation for a while, to
hear Arabic, to learn it if he could, to wear a bournous, to ride
Arab horses, live in a tent, to disappear in the desert, yes, and to
be remembered as the last lover of the Mediterranean--that would be
_une belle fin de vie, après tout_.

Then he laughed at his dreams, but they amused him; he liked to look
upon his story as one of the love stories of the world. Rome had
robbed Dido of her lover and him of his mistress. So far as he could
see, the better story was the last, and his thoughts turned
willingly to the Virgil who would arise centuries hence to tell it.
One thing, however, puzzled him. Would the subject-matter he was
creating for the future poet be spoilt if he were to fall in love
with an Arab maiden, some little statuette carved in yellow ivory?
Or would it be enhanced? Would the future Virgil regard her as an
assuagement, a balm? Owen laughed at himself and his dream. But his
mood drifted into sadness; and he asked if Evelyn should be
punished. If so, what punishment would the poet devise for her? In
Theocritus somebody had been punished: a cruel one, who had refused
to relieve the burden of desire even with a kiss, had been killed by
a seemingly miraculous interposition of Love, who, angered at the
sight of the unhappy lover hanging from the neck by the lintel of
the doorpost, fell from his pedestal upon the beloved, while
he stood heart-set watching the bathers in the beautiful
bathing-places.

But Owen could not bring himself to wish for Evelyn's death by the
falling of a statue of Our Lady or St. Joseph; such a death would be
a contemptible one, and he could not wish that anything contemptible
should happen to her, however cruelly she had made him suffer. No,
he did not wish that any punishment should befall her; the fault was
not hers. And he returned in thought to the end which he had devised
for himself--a passing into the desert, leaving no trace but the
single fact that on a certain day he had joined a caravan. Going
whither? Timbuctoo? To be slain there--an English traveller seeking
forgetfulness of a cruel mistress--would be a romantic end for him!
But if his end were captivity, slavery? His thoughts turned from
Timbuctoo to one of the many oases between Tunis and the Soudan. In
one of these it would be possible to make friends with an Arab
chieftain and to live. But would she, whose body was the colour of
amber, or the desert, or any other invention his fancy might devise,
relieve him from the soul-sickness from which he suffered? It seemed
to him that nothing would. All the same, he would have to try to
forget her, "Evelyn, Evelyn."

The bournous which his Arab servant brought in at that moment might
help him. A change of language would be a help, and he might become
a Moslem--for he believed in Mohammedanism as much as in
Christianity; and an acceptance of the Koran would facilitate
travelling in the desert. That and a little Arabic, a few mouthfuls,
and no Mahdi would dare to enslave him.... But if he were only sure
that none would!

Outside horses were stamping, his escort, seven Arab horses with
seven Arabs from the desert, or thereabout, in high-pummelled
saddles, wearing white bournous, their brown, lean hands grasping
long-barrelled guns with small carven stocks. The white Arab which
Owen had purchased yesterday waited, the saddle empty; and, looking
at him before mounting, Owen thought the horse the most beautiful
thing he had ever seen, more like an ornament than a live thing, an
object of luxury rather than of utility. Was he really going to ride
this horse for many hours? To do so seemed like making a drudge of
some beautiful woman. The horse's quarters curved like a woman's, a
woman's skin was hardly finer, nor were a woman's wrists and hands,
though she cared for them ever so much, shaping them with files, and
polishing them with powders, more delicate than the fetlock and hoof
of this wonderful horse. Nor was any woman's eye more beautiful, nor
any woman's ears more finely shaped; and the horse's muzzle came to
such a little point that one would have been inclined to bring him
water in a tumbler. The accoutrements were all Arab; and Owen
admired the heavy bits, furnished with many rings and chains, severe
curbs, demanding the lightest handling, without being able to guess
their use. But in the desert one rides like the Arab, and it would
be ridiculous to go away to the Sahara hanging on to a snaffle like
an Irishman out hunting.

So he mounted, and the cavalcade started amid much noise and dust,
which followed it until it turned from the road into the scrub. A
heavy dew had fallen during the night, and it glittered like silver
rain, producing a slight mirage, which deceived nobody, but which
prevented Owen from seeing what the country was like, until the sun
shone out. Then he saw that they were crossing an uncultivated
rather than a sterile plain, and the word "wilderness" came up in
his mind, for the only trees and plants he saw were wildings, wild
artichokes, tall stems, of no definite colour, with hairy fruits;
rosemary, lavender and yellow broom, and half-naked bushes stripped
of their foliage by the summer heat, covered with dust; nowhere a
blade of grass--an indurated plain, chapped, rotted by stagnant
waters, burnt again by the sun. And they rode over this plain for
hours, the horses avoiding the baked earth, choosing the softer
places where there was a litter of leaves or moss. Sometimes the
cavalcade divided into twos and threes, sometimes it formed into a
little group riding to the right or left, with Owen and his dragoman
in front, Owen trying to learn Arabic from the dragoman, the lesson
interrupted continually by some new sight: by a cloud of thistledown
hovering over a great purple field, rising and falling, for there
was not wind enough to carry the seed away; by some white vapour on
the horizon, which his dragoman told him was the smoke of Arabs
clearing the scrub.

"A primitive method, and an easy one, saving the labour of billhook
and axe." About nine o'clock he saw some woods lying to the
north-west. But the horses' heads were turned eastward to avoid an arm
of a great marsh, extending northward to the horizon. It was then
that, wearying of trying to get his tongue round certain Arabic words,
he rode away from his dragoman, and tried to define the landscape as a
painter would; but it was all too vast, and all detail was lost in
the vastness, and all was alike. So, abandoning the pictorial, he
philosophised, discovering the fallacy of the old saying that we owe
everything to the earth, the mother of all. "We owe her very little.
The debt is on her side," he muttered. "It is we who make her so
beautiful, finding in the wilderness a garden and a statue in a
marble block. Man is everything." And the words put the thought into
his mind that although they had been travelling for many hours they
had not yet seen a human being, nor yet an animal. Whither the Arabs
had gone the dragoman could not tell him; he could only say they came
to this plain for the spring pasture; their summer pastures were
elsewhere, and he pointed to an old olive, brown and bent by the
wind, telling Owen it was deemed a sacred tree, to which sterile
women came to hang votive offerings. Owen reined up his horse in
front of it, and they resumed their journey, meeting with nothing
they had not met with before, unless, perhaps, a singular group of
date-palms gathered together at one spot, forerunners of the desert,
keeping each other company, struggling for life in a climate which
was not theirs.

At eleven o'clock a halt was made in the bed of a great river
enclosed within steep mudbanks, now nearly as dry as the river they
had crossed in the morning; only a few inches of turbid water, at
which a long herd of cattle was drinking when they arrived; the
banks planted with great trees, olives, tamarisks, and masticks. At
three o'clock they were again in the saddle, and they rode on,
leaving to the left an encampment (the dragoman told Owen the name of
the tribe), some wandering horses, and some camels. The camels, who
appeared to have lost themselves, did not gallop away like the
horses, but came forward and peaceably watched the cavalcade
passing, absent-minded, bored ruminants, with something always on
their minds. The sobriety of these animals astonished him. "They're
not greedy, and they are never thirsty. Of what do they remind me?"
And Owen thought for a while, till catching sight of their long
fleecy necks, bending like the necks of birds, and ending in long
flexible lips (it was the lips that gave him the clue he was
seeking), he said, "The Nonconformists of the four-footed world,"
and he told his joke to his dragoman, without, however, being able
to make him understand.

"These Arabs have no sense of humour," he muttered, as he rode away.

The only human beings he saw on that long day's journey were three
shepherds--two youths and an old man; the elder youth, standing on a
low wall, which might be Roman or Carthaginian, Turkish or Arabian
(an antiquarian would doubtless have evolved the history of four
great nations from it), watched a flock of large-tailed sheep and
black goats, and blew into his flageolet, drawing from it, not
music, only sounds without measure or rhythm, which the wind carried
down the valley, causing the sheep-dog to rise up from the rock on
which he was lying and to howl dismally. Near by the old man walked,
leaning on the arm of the younger brother, a boy of sixteen. Both
wore shepherd's garb--tunics fitting tight to the waist, large
plaited hats, and sandals cut from sheep-skin. The old man's eyes
were weak and red, and he blinked them so constantly that Owen
thought he must be blind; and the boy was so beautiful that one of
the Arabs cried out to him, in the noble form of Arab salutation:

"Hail to thee, Jacob, son of Isaac; and hail to thy father."

Owen repeated the names "Jacob!" "Isaac!" a light came into his face,
and he drew himself up in his saddle, understanding suddenly that he
had fallen out of the "Odyssey," landing in the very midst of the
Bible; for there it was, walking about him: Abraham and Isaac, the
old man willing to sacrifice his son to please some implacable God
hidden behind a cloud; Jacob selling his birthright to Esau, the
birthright of camels, sheep, and goats. And down his mind floated the
story of Joseph sold by his brethren, and that of Ruth and Boaz:
"Thy people shall be my people, thy God shall be my God," a story of
corn rather than of flocks and herds. For the sake of Boaz she would
accept Yahveh. But would he accept such a God for Evelyn's sake, and
such a brute?--always telling his people if they continued to adore
him they would be given not only strength to overcome their enemies,
but even the pleasure of dashing out the brains of their enemies'
children against the stones; and thinking of the many apocalyptic
inventions, the many-headed beasts of Isaiah, the Cherubim and
Seraphim, who were not stalwart and beautiful angels, but
many-headed beasts from Babylonia, Owen remembered that these
revolting monsters had been made beautiful in the Ægean: sullen
Astaarte, desiring sacrifice and immolation, had risen from the
waters, a ravishing goddess with winged Loves marvelling about her,
Loves with conches to their lips, blowing the glad news to the world.

"How the thought wanders!" he said, "A moment ago I was among the
abominations of Isaiah. Now I am back, if not with the Greek Venus,
'whom men no longer call the Erecine,' at all events with an
enchanting Parisian, nearly as beautiful, and more delightful--a
voluptuous goddess, laughing amid her hair, drawn less austerely
than Ingres, but much more firmly than Boucher or Fragonard... a
fragrant goddess."

And meditating with half his mind, he admired the endurance of his
horse with the other, who, though he could neither trot, nor gallop,
nor walk, could amble deliciously.

"If not a meditative animal himself, his gait conduces to
meditation," Owen said, and he continued to dream that art could
only be said to have flourished among Mediterranean peoples, until
he was roused from his reverie by his horse, who suddenly pricked up
his ears and broke into a canter. He had been travelling since six
in the morning, and it was now evening; but he was fresh enough to
prick up his ears, scenting, no doubt, an encampment, the ashes of
former fires, the litter left by some wayfarers, desert wanderers,
bedouins, Hebrews.

Owen began his dream again, and he could do so without danger, for
his horse hardly required the direction of the bridle even in the
thick wood; and while admiring his horse's sagacity in avoiding the
trees he pursued his theological fancies, an admirable stillness
gathering the while, shadows descending, unaccompanied by the
slightest wind, and no sound. Yes, a faint sound! And reigning in
his horse, he listened, and all the Arabs about him listened, to the
babble coming up through the evening--a soft liquid talking like the
splashing of water, or the sound of wings, or the mingling of both,
some language more liquid than Italian. What language was being
spoken over yonder? One of the Arabs answered, "It is the voice of
the lake."

As the cavalcade rode out of the wood the lake lay a glittering
mirror before Owen, about a mile wide; he could not determine its
length, for the lake disappeared into a distant horizon, into a
semblance of low shores, still as stagnant water, reflecting the
golden purple of the sunset, and covered with millions of waterfowl.
The multitude swimming together formed an indecisive pattern, like a
vague, weedy scum collected on the surface of a marsh. Ducks, teal,
widgeon, coots, and divers were recognisable, despite the distance,
by their prow-like heads, their balance on the water, and their
motion through it, "like little galleys," Owen said. Nearer, in the
reeds agitated with millions of unseen inhabitants, snipe came and
went in wisps, uttering an abrupt cry, going away in a short,
crooked flight and falling abruptly. In the distance he saw grey
herons and ibises from Egypt. The sky darkened, and through the dusk,
from over the hills, thousands of birds continued to arrive,
creating a wind in the poplars. Like an army marching past,
battalion succeeded battalion at intervals of a few seconds; and the
mass, unwinding like a great ribbon, stretched across the lake. Then
the mist gathered, blotting out everything, all noise ceased, and
the lake itself disappeared in the mist.

Turning in the saddle, Owen saw a hillock and five olive-trees. A
fire was burning. This was the encampment.



VI

He had undertaken this long journey in the wilderness for the sake of
a few days' falconry, and dreaded a disappointment, for all his life
long, intermittently of course, he had been interested in hawks. As
a boy he had dreamed of training hawks, and remembered one taken by
him from the nest, or maybe a gamekeeper had brought it to him, it
was long ago; but the bird itself was remembered very well, a large,
grey hawk--a goshawk he believed it to be, though the bird is rare
in England. As he lay, seeking sleep, he could see himself a boy
again, going into a certain room to feed his hawk. It was getting
very tame, coming to his wrist, taking food from his fingers, and,
not noticing the open window, he had taken the hawk out of its cage.
Was the hawk kept in a cage or chained to the perch? He could not
remember, but what he did remember, and very well, was the moment
when the bird fluttered towards the window; he could see it resting
on the sill, hesitating a moment, doubting its power of flight. But
it had ventured out in the air and had reached a birch, on which it
alighted. There had been a rush downstairs and out of the house, but
the hawk was no longer in the birch, and was never seen by him
again, yet it persisted in his memory.

The sport of hawking is not quite extinct in England, and at various
times he had caused inquiries to be made, and had arranged once to
go to the New Forest and on another occasion to Wiltshire. But
something had happened to prevent him going, and he had continued to
dream of hawking, of the mystery whereby the hawk could be called
out of the sky by the lure--some rags and worsted-work in the shape
of a bird whirled in the air at the end of a string. Why should the
hawk leave its prey for such a mock? Yet it did; and he had always
read everything that came under his hand about hawking with a
peculiar interest, and in exhibitions of pictures had always stood a
long time before pictures of hawking, however bad they might be.

But Evelyn had turned his thoughts from sport to music, and gradually
he had become reconciled to the idea that his destiny was never to
see a hawk strike down a bird. But the occasion long looked for had
come at last, to-morrow morning the mystery of hawking would cease
to be a mystery for him any longer; and as he lay in his tent,
trying to get a few hours' sleep before dawn, he asked himself if
the realisation of his dream would profit him much, only the certain
knowledge that hawks stooped at their prey and returned to the lure;
another mystery would have been unravelled, and there were few left;
he doubted if there was another; all the sights and shows with which
life entices us were known to him, all but one, and the last would
go the way the others had gone. Or perhaps it were wiser to leave
the last mystery unravelled.

Wrapping himself closer in his blanket he sought sleep again,
striving to quiet his thoughts; but they would not be quieted. All
kinds of vain questions ran on, questions to which the wisest have
never been able to find answers: if it were good or ill-fortune to
have been called out of the great void into life, if the gift of
life were one worth accepting, and if it had come to him in an
acceptable form. That night in his tent it seemed clear that it would
be better to range for ever, from oasis to oasis with the bedouins,
who were on their way to meet him, than to return to civilisation.
Of civilisation it seemed to him that he had had enough, and he
wondered if it were as valuable as many people thought; he had found
more pleasure in speaking with his dragoman, learning Arabic from
him, than in talking to educated men from the universities and such
like. Riches dry up the soul and are an obstacle to the development
of self. If he had not inherited Riversdale and its many occupations
and duties, he would be to-day an instinctive human being instead of
a scrapbook of culture. For a rich man there is no escape from
amusements which do not amuse; Riversdale had robbed him of himself,
of manhood; what he understood by manhood was not brawn, but
instincts, the calm of instincts in contradiction to the agitation of
nerves. It would have been better to have known only the simple
life, the life of these Arabs! Now they were singing about the camp
fires. Queer were the intervals, impossible of notation, but the
rhythms might be gathered... a symphony, a defined scheme.... The
monotony of the chant hushed his thoughts, and the sleep into which
he fell must have been a deep one.

A long time seemed to have passed between sleeping and waking....

Throwing his blanket aside, he seized his revolvers. The night was
filled with cries as if the camp had been attacked. But the
disturbances was caused by the stampeding of the horses; three had
broken their tethers and had gone away, after first tumbling into
the reeds, over the hills, neighing frantically. As his horse was
not one of the three it did not matter; the Arabs would catch their
horses or would fail to catch them, and indifferent he stood watching
the moon hanging low over the landscape, a badly drawn circle, but
admirably soft to look upon, casting a gentle, mysterious light down
the lake. The silence was filled with the lake's warble, and the
ducks kept awake by the moon chattered as they dozed, a soft cooing
chatter like women gossiping; an Arab came from the wood with dry
branches; the flames leaped up, showing through the grey woof of the
tent; and, listening to the crackling, Owen muttered "Resinous
wood... tamarisk and mastic." He fell asleep soon after, and this
time his sleep was longer, though not so deep... He was watching
hawks flying in pursuit of a heron when a measured tramp of hooves
awoke him, and hard, guttural voices.

"The Arabs have arrived," he said, and drawing aside the curtain of
his tent, he saw at least twenty coming through the blue dusk, white
bournous, scimitars, and long-barrelled guns! "Saharians from the
desert, the true bedouin."

"The bedouin but not the true Saharian," his dragoman informed him.
And Owen retreated into his tent, thinking of the hawks which the
Arabs carried on their wrists, and how hawking had been declining in
Europe since the sixteenth century. But it still flourished in
Africa, where to-day is the same as yesterday.

And while thinking of the hawks he heard the voices of the Arabs
growing angrier. Some four or five spurred their horses and were
about to ride away; but the dragoman called after them, and Owen
cried out, "As if it matters to me which hawk is flown first." The
quarrel waxed louder, and then suddenly ceased, and when Owen came
out of his tent he saw an Arab take the latchet of a bird's hood in
his teeth and pull the other end with his right hand. "A noble and
melancholy bird," he said, and he stood a long while admiring the
narrow, flattened head, the curved beak, so well designed to rend a
prey, and the round, clear eye, which appeared to see through him
and beyond him, and which in a few minutes would search the blue air
mile after mile.

The hawk sprang from the wrist, and he watched the bird flying away,
like a wild bird, down the morning sky, which had begun in orange,
and was turning to crimson. "Never will they get that bird back! You
have lost your hawk," Owen said to the Arab.

The Arab smiled, and taking a live pigeon out of his bournous, he
allowed it to flutter in the air for a moment, at the end of a
string. A moment was sufficient; the clear round eye had caught
sight of the flutter of wings, and soon came back, sailing past,
high up in the air.

"A fine flight," the Arab said, "the bird is at pitch; now is the
time to flush the covey." A dog was sent forward, and a dozen
partridges got up. And they flew, the terrible hawk in pursuit,
fearing their natural enemy above them more than any rain of lead.
Owen pressed his horse into a gallop, and he saw the hawk drop out
of the sky. The partridge shrieked, and a few seconds afterwards some
feathers floated down the wind.

Well, he had seen a falcon kill a partridge, but would the falconer
be able to lure back his hawk? That was what he wanted to see, and,
curious and interested as a boy in his first rat hunt, he galloped
forward until stopped by the falconer, who explained that the moment
was always an anxious one, for were the hawk approached from behind,
or approached suddenly, it "might carry"--that is to say, might bear
away its prey for a hundred yards, and when it had done this once it
would be likely to do so again, giving a good deal of trouble. The
falconer approached the hawk very gently, the bird raised its head to
look at the falconer, and immediately after dipped its beak again
into the partridge's breast.

Owen expected the bird to fly away, but, continuing to approach, the
falconer stooped and reaching out his hand, drew the partridge
towards him, knowing the hawk would not leave it; and when he had
hold of the jesses, the head was cut from the partridge and opened,
for it is the brain the hawk loves; and the ferocity with which this
one picked out the eye and gobbled it awoke Owen's admiration again.

"Verily, a thing beyond good and evil, a Nietzschean bird."

He had seen a hawk flown and return to the lure, he had seen a hawk
stoop at its prey, and had seen a hawk recaptured; so the mystery of
hawking was at an end for him, the mystery had been unravelled, and
now there was nothing for him to do but to watch other birds and to
learn the art of hawking, for every flight would be different.

The sun had risen, filling the air with a calm, reposeful glow; the
woods were silent, the boughs hung lifeless and melancholy, every
leaf distinct at the end of its stem, weary of its life, "unable to
take any further interest in anything" Owen said, and the cavalcade
rode on in silence.

"A little too warm the day is, without sufficient zest in it," one of
the falconers remarked, for his hawk was flying lazily, only a few
yards above the ground, too idle to mount the sky, to get at pitch;
and as the bird passed him, Owen admired the thin body, and the
javelin-like head, and the soft silken wings, the feathered thighs,
and the talons so strong and fierce.

"He will lose his bird if he doesn't get at pitch," the falconer
muttered, and he seemed ashamed of his hawk when it alighted in the
branches, and stood there preening itself in the vague sunlight. But
suddenly it woke up to its duty, and going in pursuit of a
partridge, stooped and brought it to earth.

"A fine kill; we shall have some better sport with the ducks."

Owen asked the dragoman to translate what the falconer said.

"He said it was a fine kill. He is proud of his bird."

Some Arabs rode away, and Owen heard that a boat would be required to
put up the ducks; and he was told the duck is the swiftest bird in
the air once it gets into flight, but if the peregrine is at pitch
it will stoop, and bring the duck to earth, though the duck is by
five times the heavier bird. The teal is a bird which is even more
difficult for the hawk to overtake, for it rises easier than the
duck; but if the hawk be at pitch it will strike down the quick teal.
One of the Arabs reined in his horse, and following the line of the
outstretched finger Owen saw far away in a small pool or plash of
water three teal swimming. As soon as the hawk swooped the teal
dived, but not the least disconcerted, the hawk, as if understanding
that the birds were going to be put up, rose to pitch and waited,
"quite professional like," Owen said. The beautiful little drake was
picked out of a tuft of alfa-grass. But perhaps it was the snipe that
afforded the best sport.

At mid-day the falconers halted for rest and a meal, and Owen passed
all the hawks in review, learning that the male, the tercel, is not
so much prized in falconry as the female, which is larger and
fiercer. There was not one Barbary falcon, for on making inquiry
Owen was told that the bird he was looking at was a goshawk, a much
more beautiful hawk it seemed to him than the peregrine, especially
in colour; the wings were not so dark, inclining to slate, and under
the wings the breast was white, beautifully barred. It stood much
higher than the other hawks; and Owen admired the bird's tail, so
long, and he understood how it governed the bird's flight, even
before he was told that if a hawk lost one of its tail feathers it
would not be able to fly again that season unless the feather was
replaced; and the falconer showed Owen a supply of feathers, all
numbered, for it would not do to supply a missing third feather with
a fourth; and the splice was a needle inserted into the ends of the
feathers and bound fast with fine thread. The bird's beauty had not
escaped Owen's notice, but he had been so busy with the peregrines
all the morning that he had not had time to ask why this bird wore
no hood, and why it had not been flown. Now he learnt that the
gosshawk is a short-winged hawk, which does not go up in the air, and
get at pitch, and stoop at its prey like the peregrine, but flies
directly after it, capturing by speed of wing, and is used
principally for ground game, rabbits, and hares. He was told that it
seized the hare or the rabbit by the hind quarters and moved up,
finding the heart and lungs with its talons. So he waited eagerly
for a hare to steal out of the cover; but none appeared, much to the
bird's disappointment--a female, and a very fine specimen, singularly
tame and intelligent. The hawk seemed to understand quite well what
was happening, and watched for an opportunity of distinguishing
herself, looking round eagerly; and so eager was she that sometimes
she fell from the falconer's wrist, who took no notice, but let her
hang until she fluttered up again; and when Owen reproved his
cruelty, he answered:

"She is a very intelligent bird and will not hang by her legs longer
than she wants to."

It was in the afternoon that her chance came, and a rare one it was.
Two bustards rose out of a clump of cacti growing about a deserted
hermitage. The meeting of the birds must have been a chance one, for
they went in different directions, and flying swiftly, soon would
have put the desert between themselves, and the falconers, and each
other, if the bird going eastward had not been frightened by the
Arabs coming up from the lake, and, losing its head, it turned back,
and flying heavily over the hawking party, gave the goshawk her
single chance, a chance which was nearly being missed, the hawk not
making up her mind at once to go in pursuit; she had been used for
hunting ground game; and for some little while it was not certain
that the bustard would not get away; this would have been a pity,
for, as Owen learned afterwards, the bird is of great rarity, almost
unknown.

"She will get him, she will get him!" the falconer cried, seeing his
hawk now flying with determination, and a moment after the bustard
was struck down.

As far as sport was concerned the flight was not very interesting,
but the bustard is so rarely seen and so wary a bird that even the
Arabs, who are not sportsmen, will talk with interest about it, and
Owen rode up curious to see this almost fabulous bird, known in the
country as the habara, a bird which some ornithologists deny to be
the real bustard. Bustard or no bustard, the bird was very
beautiful, six or seven pounds in weight, the size of a small turkey,
and covered with the most beautiful feathers, pale yellow speckled
with brown, a long neck and a short, strong beak, long black legs
with three toes, the fourth, the spur, missing. That a hawk should
knock over a bustard had not happened often, and he regretted that
he knew not how to save the bird's skin, for though stuffed birds
are an abomination, one need not always be artistic. And there were
plenty at Riversdale. His grandfather had filled many cases, and this
rare bird merited the honour of stuffing. All the same, it would
have to be eaten, and with the trophy hanging on his saddle bow Owen
rode back to the encampment, little thinking he was riding to see
the flight which he had been longing to see all his life.

One of the falconers had sent up a cast of hawks, and an Arab had
ridden forward in the hope of driving some ducks out of the reeds;
but instead a heron rose and, flopping his great wings, went away,
stately and decorative, into the western sky. The hawks were far
away down on the horizon, and there was a chance that they might
miss him; but the falconer waved his lure, and presently the hawks
came back; it was then only that the heron divined his danger, and
instead of trying to outdistance his pursuers as the other birds had
done, and at the cost of their lives, he flopped his wings more
vigorously, ringing his way up the sky, knowing, whether by past
experience or by instinct, that the hawks must get above him. And
the hawks went up, the birds getting above the heron. Soon the
attack would begin, and Owen remembered that the heron is armed with
a beak on which a hawk might be speared, for is it not recorded that
to defend himself the heron has raised his head and spitted the
descending hawk, the force of the blow breaking the heron's neck and
both birds coming down dead together.

"Now will this happen?" he asked himself as he watched the birds now
well above the heron. "That one," Owen cried, "is about to stoop."

And down came the hawk upon the heron, but the heron swerved
cleverly. Owen followed the beautiful shape of the bird's long neck
and beak, and the trailing legs. The second hawk stooped. "Ah! now
he is doomed," Owen cried. But again the heron dodged the hawk
cleverly, and the peregrine fell past him, and Owen saw the tail go
out, stopping the descent.

Heron and hawks went away towards the desert, Owen galloping after
them, watching the aerial battle from his saddle, riding with loose
rein, holding the rein lightly between finger and thumb, leaving his
horse to pick his way. Again a hawk had reached a sufficient height
and stooped; again the heron dodged, and so the battle continued,
the hawks stooping again and again, but always missing the heron,
until at last, no doubt tired out, the heron failed to turn in time:
heron and hawk came toppling out of the sky together; but not too
quickly for the second hawk, which stooped and grappled the prey in
mid-air.

Owen touched his horse with the spur; and, his eyes fixed on the spot
where he had seen the heron and hawks falling, he galloped,
regardless of every obstacle, forgetful that a trip would cost him a
broken bone, and that he was a long way from a surgeon.

But Owen's horse picked his way very cleverly through the numerous
rubble-heaps, avoiding the great stones protruding from the sand....
These seemed to be becoming more numerous; and Owen reined in his
horse.... He was amid the ruins of a once considerable city, of
which nothing remained but the outlying streets, some doorways, and
many tombs, open every one of them, as if the dead had already been
resurrected. Before him lay the broken lid of a sarcophagus and the
sarcophagus empty, a little sand from the desert replacing the ashes
of the dead man. Owen's horse approached it, mistaking it for a
drinking trough; "and it will serve for one," he said, "in a little
while after the next rainfall. Some broken capitals, fragments of
columns, a wall built of narrow bricks, a few inscriptions... all
that remains of Rome, dust and forgetfulness."

About him the Arabs were seeking a heron and hawks; a falconer
galloped across the plain, waving a lure, in pursuit of another
hawk, so Owen was informed by his dragoman--as if falcon or heron
could interest him at that moment--and he continued to peer into the
inscription, leaving the Arabs to find the birds. And they were
discovered presently among some marbles, the heron's wings
outstretched in death, the great red wound in its breast making it
seem still more beautiful.



VII

The lake water was salt, but there was a spring among the hills, and
when the hawks were resting (they rested every second day) Owen
liked to go there and lie under the tamarisks, dreaming of Sicily,
of "the visionary flocks" and their shepherds no less visionary,
comparing the ideal with the real, for before him flocks grazed up
the hillside and his eyes followed the goats straying in quest of
branches, their horns tipped with the wonderful light which threw
everything into relief--the bournous of the passing bedouin, the
woman's veil, whether blue or grey, the queer architecture of the
camels and dromedaries coming up through a fold in the hills from
the lake, following the track of the caravans, their long, bird-like
necks swinging, looking, Owen thought, like a great flock of
migrating ostriches.

It was pleasant to lie and dream this pastoral country and its
people, seen through a haze of fine weather which looked as if it
would never end. The swallows had just come over and were tired;
Owen was provoking enough to drive them out of the tamarisks just to
see how tired they were, and was sorry for one poor bird which could
hardly keep out of his way. Whence had they come? he asked,
returning to a couch of moss. Had any of them come from Riversdale?
Perhaps some had been hatched under his own eaves? (Any mention of
Riversdale was sufficient to soften Owen's heart.) And now under the
tamarisks his thoughts floated about that bleak house and its
colonnade, thinking of a white swallow which had appeared in the
park one year; friends were staying with him, every one had wanted
to shoot it, but leave had not been granted; and his natural
kindness of heart interested him as he lay in the shade of the
tamarisks, asking himself if the white swallow would appear,
thinking that the bird ought to nod to him as it passed, smiling at
the thought, and the smile dying as his dragoman approached; for he
was coming to teach him Arabic. Owen liked to exercise his
intelligence idly; a number of little phrases had already been picked
up, and his learning he tried on the bedouins as they came up the
hill from the lake, preferring speech with them rather than with his
own people, for his own people might affect to understand him, his
dragoman might have prompted them, whereas the new arrivals afforded
a more certain examination, and Owen was pleased when the bedouin
understood him.

Next day he was hawking, and the day after he was again under the
tamarisks learning Arabic, and so the days went by between sport and
study without his perceiving them until one morning Owen found the
spring in possession of a considerable caravan, some five and twenty
or thirty camel-drivers and horsemen; and anxious to practise the
last phrases he had acquired, he went forward to meet the Saharians,
for they were easily recognisable as such by the blacker skin and a
pungent blackness in the eyes. The one addressed by Owen delighted
him by answering without hesitation:

"From Laghouat."

The hard, guttural sound he gave to the syllables threw the word into
wonderful picturesqueness, enchanting Owen. It was the first time he
had heard an Arab pronounce this word, so characteristically
African; and he asked him to say it again for the pleasure of
hearing it, liking the way the Saharian spoke it, with an accent at
once tender and proud, that of a native speaking of his country to
one who has never seen it.

"How far away is--?"

Owen tried to imitate the guttural.

"Fifteen days' journey."

"And what is the road like?"

With the superlative gesture of an Arab the man showed the smooth
road passing by the encampment, moving his arms slowly from east to
west to indicate the circuit of the horizon.

"That is the Sahara," he added, and Owen could see that for the
bedouin there was nothing in the world more beautiful than empty
space and low horizons. It was his intention to ask what were the
pleasures of the Sahara, but he had come to the end of his Arabic
and turned to his dragoman reluctantly. Dragoman and Saharian
engaged in conversation, and presently Owen learned that the birds in
the desert were sand grouse and blue pigeons, and when the Saharian
gathered that these did not afford sufficient sport he added, not
wishing a stranger should think his country wanting in anything:

"There are gazelles."

"But one cannot catch gazelles with hawks."

"No," the Saharian answered, "but one can catch them with eagles."

"Eagles!" Owen repeated. "Eagles flying after gazelles!" And he
looked into the Arab's face, lost in wonderment, seeing a
picturesque cavalcade going forth, all the horses beautiful,
champing at their bits.

"But the Arab is too picturesque," he thought; for Owen, always
captious, was at that moment uncertain whether he should admire or
criticise; and the Arabs sat grandly upright in their high-pummelled
saddles of red leather or blue velvet their slippered feet thrust
into great stirrups. He liked the high-pummelled saddles; they were
comfortable to ride long distances in, and it was doubtless on these
high pummels that the Arabs carried the eagles (it would be
impossible to carry so large a bird on a gloved hand); and criticism
melted into admiration. He could see them riding out with the eagles
tied to the pummels of their saddles, looking into the yellow
desert; the adjective seemed to him vulgar--afterwards he discovered
the desert to be tawny. "It must be a wonderful sight... the gazelle
pursued by the eagle!" So he spoke at once to his dragoman,
telling him that he must prepare for a long march to the desert.

"To the desert!" the dragoman repeated.

"Yes, I want to see gazelles hunted by eagles," and the grave Arab
looked into Owen's blonde face, evidently thinking him a petulant
child.

"But your Excellency--" He began to talk to Owen of the length of the
journey--twenty days at least; they would require seven, eight, or
ten camels; and Owen pointed to the camels of the bedouins from the
Sahara. The dragoman felt sure that his Excellency had not examined
the animals carefully; if his Excellency was as good a judge of
camels as he was of horses, he would see that these poor beasts
required rest; nor were they the kind suited to his Excellency. So
did he talk, making it plain that he did not wish to travel so far,
and when Owen admitted that he had not fixed a time to return to
Tunis the dragoman appeared more unwilling than ever.

"Well, I must look out for another dragoman"; and remembering that
one of his escort spoke French, and that himself had learned a
little Arabic, he told the dragoman he might return to Tunis.

"Well, my good man, what do you want me to do?" And seeing that the
matter would be arranged with or without him, the Arab offered his
assistance, which was accepted by Owen, and it now remained for the
new dragoman to pay commission to the last, and for both to arrange
with the Saharians for the purchase of their camels and their
guidance. Laghouat was Owen's destination; from thence he could
proceed farther into the desert and wander among the different
archipelagoes until the summer drove him northward.

The sale of the camels--if not their sale, their hire--for so many
months was the subject of a long dispute in which Owen was advised
not to interfere. It would be beneath his dignity to offer any
opinion, so under the tamarisks he sat smoking, watching the Arabs
taking each other by the shoulders and talking with an extraordinary
volubility. It amused him to watch two who appeared to have come to
an understanding. "They're saying, 'Was there ever any one so
unreasonable? So-and-so, did you hear what he said?'" Drawing long
pipes from their girdles, these two would sit and smoke in silence
till from the seething crowd a word would reach them, and both would
rush back and engage in the discussion as violently as before.

Sometimes everything seemed to have been arranged and the dragoman
approached Owen with a proposal, but before the proposal could be
put into words the discussion was renewed.

"In England such a matter as the sale of a few camels would not
occupy more than half a dozen minutes."

"All countries have their manners and all have their faults," the
dragoman answered, an answer which irritated Owen; but he had to
conceal his irritation, for to show it would only delay his
departure, and he was tired of hawking, tired of the lake and
anxious to see the great desert and its oases. And he felt it to be
shameful to curse the camels. Poor animals! they had come a long way
and required a few days' rest before beginning their journey
homewards.

Three days after they were judged to be sufficiently rested; this did
not seem to be their opinion, for they bleated piteously when they
were called upon to kneel down, so that their packs might be put
upon them, and upon inquiring as to the meaning of their bleats Owen
was told they were asking for a cushion--"Put a cushion on my back
to save me from being skinned."

"Hail to all!"

And the different caravans turned north and south, Owen riding at the
head of his so that he might think undisturbed, for now that
everything had been decided, he was uncertain if the pleasure he
would get from seeing gazelles torn by eagles, would recompense him
for the trouble, expense, and fatigue of this long journey. He
turned his horse to the right, and moved round in his saddle, so
that he might observe the humps and the long, bird-like necks and the
shuffling gait of the camels. They never seemed to become ordinary to
him, and he liked them for their picturesqueness, deciding that the
word "picturesque" was as applicable to them as the word "beautiful"
is applicable to the horse. He liked to see these Arab horses
champing at their cruel bits, arching their crests; he liked their
shining quarters, his own horse a most beautiful, courageous, and
faithful animal, who would wait for him for hours, standing like a
wooden horse; Owen might let him wander at will: for he would answer
his whistle like a dog and present the left side for him to mount,
from long habit no doubt. And the moment Owen was in the saddle his
horse would draw up his neck and shake all the jingling
accoutrements with which he was covered, arch his neck, and spring
forward; and when he did this Owen always felt like an equestrian
statue. And he admired the camel-drivers, gaunt men so supple at the
knee that they could walk for miles, and when the camel broke into a
trot the camel-driver would trot with him. And the temperance of
these men was equal to that of their beasts, at least on the march;
a handful of flour which the camel-driver would work into a sort of
paste, and a drink from a skin was sufficient for a meal. Running by
the side of their beasts, they urged them forward with strange
cries; and they beguiled the march with songs. His musical instincts
were often awakened by these and by the chants which reached him
through the woof of his tent at night. He fell to dreaming of what a
musician might do with these rhythms until his thoughts faded into a
faint sleep, from which he was awakened suddenly by the neighing of
a horse: one had suddenly taken fire at the scent of a mare which a
breeze had carried through the darkness.

The first bivouacs were the pleasantest part of his journey, despite
the fact that he could find no answer to the question why. he had
undertaken it, or why he was learning Arabic; all the same, these
days would never be forgotten; and he looked round... especially
these nights, every one distinct in his mind, the place where
yesterday's tent had been pitched, and the place where he had laid
his head a week ago, the stones which three nights ago had prevented
him from sleeping.

"These experiences will form part of my life, a background, an
escapement from civilisation when I return to it. We must think a
little of the future--lay by a store like the bees"; and next
morning he looked round, his eyes delighting in the beauty of the
light. Truly a light sent from beyond skies in which during the
course of the day every shade of blue could be distinguished. A thin,
white cloud would appear towards evening, stretch like a skein of
white silk across the sky, to gather as the day declined into one
white cloud, which would disappear, little by little, into the
sunset. As Owen rode at the head of his cavalcade he watched this
cloud, growing smaller, and its diminishing often inspired the
thought of a ship entering into a harbour, sail dropping over sail.

The pale autumn weather continued day after day; everything in the
landscape seemed fixed; and it seemed impossible to believe that
very soon dark clouds would roll overhead, and wind tear the trees,
and floods dangerous to man and horse rush down the peaceful river
beds, now nearly dry, only a trickle of water, losing itself among
sandy reaches.

During the long march of twenty days the caravan passed through
almost every kind of scenery--long plains in which there was nothing
but reeds and tussocked grass, and these plains were succeeded by
stony hills covered with scrub. Again they caught sight of Arab
fires in the morning like a mist, at night lighting up the horizon;
and a few days afterwards they were riding through an oak forest
whose interspaces were surprisingly like the tapestries at
Riversdale, only no archer came forward to shoot the stag; and he
listened vainly, for the sounds of hunting horns.

On debouching from the forest they passed through pleasantly watered
valleys, the hillsides of which were cultivated. It was pleasant to
see fields again, though they were but meagre Arab fields. All the
same Owen was glad to see the blue shadows of the woods marking the
edge of these fields, for they carried his thoughts back to England,
to his own fields, and in his mood of mind every remembrance of
England was agreeable. He was beginning to weary of wild nature, so
it was pleasant to see an Arab shepherd emerge from the scrub and
come forward to watch for a moment and then go away to the edge of a
ravine where his goats were browsing, and sit upon a rock, followed
by a yellow dog with a pointed face like a fox. It was pleasant,
too, to discover the tents of the tribe at a little distance, and
the next day to catch sight of a town, climbing a hill so steep that
it was matter for wonderment how camels could be driven through the
streets.

The same beautiful weather continued--blue skies in which every shade
of blue could be studied; skies filled with larks, the true English
variety, the lark which goes about in couples, mounting the blue
air, singing, as they mounted, a passionate medley of notes,
interrupted by a still more passionate cry of two notes repeated
three or four times, followed again by the same disordered cadenzas.
The robin sings in autumn, and it seemed strange to Owen to hear this
bird singing a solitary little tune just as he sings it in England--a
melancholy little tune, quite different from the lark's passionate
outpouring, just its own quaint little avowal, somewhat
autobiographical, a human little admission that life, after all, is
a very sad thing even to the robin? Why shouldn't it be? for he is a
domestic bird of sedentary habits, and not at all suited to this
African landscape. All the same, it was nice to meet him there. A
blackbird started out of the scrub, chattered, and dived into a
thicket, just as he would in Riversdale.

"The same things," Owen said, "all the world over." On passing
through a ravine an eagle rose from a jutting scarp; and looking up
the rocks, two or three hundred feet in height, Owen wondered if it
was among these cliffs the bird built its eerie, and how the young
birds were taken by the Arabs. Crows followed the caravan in great
numbers, and these reminded Owen of his gamekeeper, a solid man, six
feet high, with reddish whiskers, the most opaque Englishman Owen had
ever seen. "'We must get rid of some of them,'" Owen muttered,
quoting Burton. "'Terrible destructive, them birds,'"

Among these remembrances of England, a jackal running across the
path, just as a fox would in England, reminded Owen that he was in
Africa; and though occasionally one meets an adder in England, one
meets them much more frequently in the North of Africa. It was
impossible to say how many Owen had not seen lying in front of his
horse like dead sticks. As the cavalcade passed they would twist
themselves down a hole. As for rats, they seemed to be everywhere,
and at home everywhere, with the adders and with the rabbits; any
hole was good enough for the rat. The lizards were larger and uglier
than the English variety, and Owen never could bring himself to look
upon them with anything but disgust--their blunt head, the viscous
jaws exuding some sort of scum; and he left them to continue their
eternal siesta in the warm sand.

That evening, after passing through a succession of hills and narrow
valleys, the caravan entered the southern plain, an immense
perspective of twenty or thirty miles; and Owen reined up his horse
and sat at gaze, watching the dim greenness of the alfa-grass
striped with long rays of pale light and grey shadows. But the
extent of the plain could not be properly measured, for the sky was
darkening above the horizon.

"The rainy season is at hand," Owen said; and he watched the clouds
gathering rapidly into storm in the middle of the sky. Now and
again, when the clouds divided, a glimpse was gotten of a range of
mountains, seven crests--"seven heads," the dragoman called them,
and he told Owen the name in Arabic. These mountains were reached
the following day, and, after passing through numberless defiles,
the caravan debouched on a plain covered with stones, bright as if
they had been polished by hand--a naked country torn by the sun, in
which nothing grew, not even a thistle. In the distance were hills
whose outline zigzagged, now into points like a saw, and now into
long sweeping curves like a scythe; and these hills were full of
narrow valleys, bare as threshing-floors. The heat hung in these
valleys, and Owen rode through them, choking, for the space of a long
windless day, in which nothing was heard except the sound of the
horses' hooves and the caw of a crow flying through the vague
immensity.

But the ugliness of these valleys was exceeded by the ugliness of the
marsh at whose edge they encamped next day--a black, evil-smelling
marsh full of reeds and nothing more. The question arose whether
potable water would be found, and they all went out, Owen included,
to search for a spring.

After searching for some time one was found in possession of a number
of grey vultures and enormous crows, ranged in a line along the
edges, and in the distance these seemed like men stooping in a hurry
to drink. It was necessary to fire a gun to disperse these sinister
pilgrims. But in the Sahara a spring is always welcome, even when it
carries a taste of magnesia; and there was one in the water they had
discovered, not sufficient to discourage the camels, who drank
freely enough, but enough to cause Owen to make a wry face after
drinking. All the same, it was better than the water they carried in
the skins. The silence was extraordinary, and, hearing the teeth of
the camels shearing the low bushes of their leaves, Owen looked
round, surprised by the strange resonance of the air and the
peculiar tone of blue in the sky, trivial signs in themselves, but
recognisable after the long drought. He remembered how he had
experienced for the last few days a presentiment that rain was not
far off, a presentiment which he could not attribute to his
imagination, and which was now about to be verified. A large cloud
was coming up, a few heavy drops fell, and during the night the rain
pattered on the canvas; and he fell asleep, hoping that the morning
would be fine, though he had been told the rain would not cease for
days; and they were still several days' journey from Laghouat, where
they would get certain news of eagles and gazelles, for the Arab who
had first told Owen about the gazelle-hunters admitted (Owen cursed
him for not having admitted it before) that the gazelles did not
come down from the hills until after the rains and the new grass
began to spring up.

All the next day the rain continued. Owen watched it falling into the
yellow sand blown into endless hillocks; "Very drie, very drie," he
said, recalling a phrase of his own north country. Overhead a low
grey sky stooped, with hardly any movement in it, the grey moving
slowly as the caravan struggled on through grey and yellow colour--
the colour of emptiness, of the very void. It seemed to him that he
could not get any wetter; but there is no end to the amount of
moisture clothes can absorb, a bournous especially, and soon the rain
was pouring down Owen's neck; but he would not be better off if he
ordered the caravan to stop and his servants to pitch his tent under
a sand-dune. Besides, it would be dangerous to do this, for the wind
was rising, and their hope was to reach a caravansary before
nightfall.

"And it is not yet mid-day," Owen said to himself, thinking of the
endless hours that lay before him, and of his wonderful horse, so
courageous and so patient in adversity, never complaining, though he
sank at every step to over his fetlocks in the sand. Owen wondered
what the animal was thinking about, for he seemed quite cheerful,
neighing when Owen leaned forward and petted him. To lean forward
and stroke his horse's neck, and speak a few words of encouragement
to one who needed no encouragement, was all there was for him to do
during that long day's march.

"If he could only speak to me," Owen said, feeling he needed
encouragement; and he tried to take refuge in the past, trying to
memorise his life, what it had been from the beginning, just as if
he were going to write a book. When his memory failed him he called
his dragoman and began an Arabic lesson. It is hard to learn Arabic
at any time, and impossible to learn it in the rain; and after
acquiring a few words he would ride up and down, trying the new
phrases upon the camel-drivers, admirable men who never complained,
running alongside of their animals, urging them forward with strange
cries. Owen admired their patience; but their cries in the end
jarred his highly-strong nerves, and he asked himself if it were not
possible for them to drive camels without uttering such horrible
sounds, and appealed to the dragoman, who advised him to allow the
drivers to do their business as they were in the habit of doing it,
for it was imperative they should reach the caravansary that night.
The wind was rising, and storms in the desert are not only
unpleasant, but dangerous. Owen tried to fall asleep in the saddle,
and he almost succeeded in dozing; anyhow, he seemed to wake from
some sort of stupor at the end of the day, just before nightfall,
for he started, and nearly fell, when his dragoman called to him,
telling him they were about to enter the ravine on the borders of
which the caravansary was situated.

The first thing he saw were three palm-trees, yellow trees torn and
broken, and there were two more a little farther on; and there was a
great noise in their crowns when the caravan drew up before the
walls of the caravansary--five palms, the wind turning their crowns
inside out like umbrellas, horrible and black, standing out in livid
lines upon a sky that was altogether black; four; great walls, and
on two sides of the square an open gallery, a shelter for horses; in
the corner rooms without windows, and open doorways. Owen chose one,
and the dragoman spoke of scorpions and vipers; and well he might do
so, for Owen drove a hissing serpent out of his room immediately
afterwards, killing it in the corridor. And then the question was,
could the doorway be barricaded in such a way as to prevent the
intrusion of further visitors?

The wind continued to rise, and he lay rolled in his blanket,
uncomfortable, frightened, listening to the wind raging among the
rocks and palms, and, between his short, starting sleeps, wondering
if it would not have been better to lie in the ravine, in some
crevice, rather than in this verminous and viperous place.

Next day he had an opportunity of contrasting the discomfort of the
caravansary with a bivouac under a rainy sky; for at nightfall,
within two days' journey of Laghouat, the caravan halted in a
desolate valley, shut in between two lines of reddish hills
seemingly as barren as the valley itself. After long searching in
the ravines a little brushwood was collected, and an attempt was made
to light a fire, which was unsuccessful. The only food they had that
night was a few dates and biscuits, and these were eaten under their
blankets in the rain, Owen having discovered that it was wetter in
his tent than without. This discomfort was the most serious he had
experienced, yet he felt it hardly at all, thinking that perhaps it
would have been very little use coming to the desert in a railway
train or in a mail coach. Only by such adventures is travel made
rememberable, and, looking out of his blankets, he was rewarded by a
sight which he felt would not be easily forgotten--the camels on
their knees about the drivers, who were feeding them from their
hands, the poor beasts leaning out their long necks to take what was
given to them--a wretched repast, yet their grunts were full of
satisfaction.

In the morning, however, they were irritable, and bleated angrily
when asked to kneel down so that their packs might be put upon them;
but in the end they submitted, and Owen noticed a certain strain of
cheerfulness in their demeanour all that day. Perhaps they scented
their destination. Owen's horse certainly scented a stable within a
day's journey of Laghouat, for he pricked up his ears, and there was
nothing else but the instinct of a stable that could have induced
him to do so, for on their left was a sinister mountain--sinister
always, Owen thought, even in the sunlight, but more sinister than
ever in the rainy season, wrapped in a cloud, showing here and there
a peak when the clouds lifted. And no mountain seemed harder to
leave behind than this one. Owen, who knew that Laghouat was not
many miles distant, rode on in front, impatient to see the oasis
rise out of the desert. The wind still raged, driving the sand; and
before him stretched endless hillocks of yellow sand; and he
wandered among these, uncertain whither lay the road, until he
happened upon a little convoy bringing grain to the town. The convoy
turned to the left.... His mistake was that he had been looking to
the right.

Laghouat, built among rocks, some of which were white, showed up high
above the plain; and, notwithstanding his desire for food and
shelter, he sat on his horse at gaze, interested in the ramparts of
this black town, defended by towers, outlined upon a grey sky.



VIII

"When a woman has seen the guest she no longer cares for the master."
An old hunter had told him this proverb, a lame, one-eyed man, an
outcast from his tribe, or very nearly, whose wife was so old that
Owen's presence afforded him no cause for jealousy, a friend of the
hunter who owned the eagles, so Owen discovered, but not until the
end of a week's acquaintance, which was strange, for he had seen a
great deal of this man in the last few days. The explanation he gave
one night in the café where Owen went to talk and drink with the
Spahis; coming in suddenly, and taking Owen away into a corner, he
explained that he had not told him before that his friend Tahar, he
who owned the eagles, had gone away to live in another oasis,
because it had not occurred to him that Owen was seeking Tahar,
fancying somehow that it was another--as if there were hundreds of
people in the Sahara who hunted gazelles with eagles!

"_Grand Dieu_!" and Owen turned to his own dragoman, who happened to
be present. "_A-t-on jamais!_... _Ici depuis trois semaines!_"

The dragoman, who expected an outburst, reminded Owen of the progress
he had made in Arabic, and of the storms of the last three weeks,
the rain and wind which had made travelling in the desert
impossible, and when Owen spoke of starting on the morrow the
dragoman shook his head, and the wind in the street convinced Owen
that he must remain where he was.

"_Mais si j'avais su_--"

The dragoman pointed out to him the terrible weather they had
experienced, and how glad he had been to find shelter in Laghouat.

"_Oui, Sidna, vous êtes maintenant au comble de regrets, mats pour
rien au monde vous n'auriez fait ces étapes vers le sud_."

Owen felt that the man was right, though he would not admit it; the
camels themselves could hardly have been persuaded to undertake
another day's march; his horse--well, the vultures might have been
tearing him if he had persevered, so instead of going off in one of
his squibby little rages, which would have made him ridiculous, Owen
suddenly grew sad and invited the hunter to drink with him, and it
was arranged that as soon as the wind dropped the quest for Tahar
should be pursued.

He would be found in an oasis not more than two days' journey from
Laghouat, so the hunter said, but the dragoman's opinion was that
the old hunter was not very sure; Tahar would be found there, and if
he were not there he was for certain in another oasis three or four
days still farther south.

"But I cannot travel all over the Sahara in search of eagles."

"If _Sidna_ would like to return to Tunis?"

But to return to Tunis would mean returning to England, and Owen felt
that his business in the desert was not yet completed; as well
travel from one oasis to another in quest of eagles as anything
else, and three days afterwards he rode at the head of his caravan,
anxious to reach Ain Mahdy, trying to believe he had grown
interested in the Arab, and would like to see him living under the
rule of his own chief, even though the chief was, to a certain
extent, responsible to the French Government; still, to all intents
and purposes he would be a free Arab. Yes, and Owen thought he would
like to see a Kaid; and wondering what his reception would be like,
he rode through the desert thinking of the Kaid, his eyes fixed on
the great horizons which had re-appeared, having been lost for many
days in mist and rain.

An exquisite silence vibrated through the great spaces, music for
harps rather than for violins, and Owen rode on, reaching the oasis,
as he had been told he would, at the end of the second day's
journey. When he arrived the Kaid was engaged in administering
justice, and Owen was forced _de faire un peu l'anti-chambre_; but
this was not disagreeable to him. The Arab court-house seemed to him
an excellent place for a lesson in the language; and the case the
Kaid was deciding was to his taste. A man was suing for divorce, and
for reasons which would have astonished Englishmen, and cause the
plaintiff to be hurled out of civilised society; but in the Sahara
the case did not strike anybody as unnatural; and Owen listened to
the woman telling her misfortunes under a veil. But though deeply
interested he was forced to leave the building; the flies plagued
him unendurably, and presently he found the flies had odious
auxiliaries in the carpet, and after explaining his torture to the
dragoman, who was not suffering at all, he left the building and
walked in the street.

Half an hour after the Kaid came forward to meet him with a little
black sheep in his arms, struggling, frightened at finding itself
captured, bleating painfully. The wool was separated, and Owen was
invited to feel this living flesh, which in a few hours he would be
eating; it would have been impolite to the Kaid to refuse to feel
the sheep's ribs, so Owen complied, though he knew that doing so
would prevent him from enjoying his dinner, and he was very hungry
at the time. The sheep's eyes haunted him all through the meal, and
his pleasure was still further discounted by the news that though
the eagles were at Ain Mahdy, the owner having left them--

"Having left them," Owen repeated. "Good God! I was told he was
here."

"He left here three days ago."

Owen cursed his friend in Laghouat. If he had only told him in the
beginning of the week! The dragoman answered:

"_Sidna, vous vous en souvenez_"

"Speak to me in Arabic, damn you! There is nothing to do here but to
learn Arabic."

"Quite true, _Sidna_, we shall not be able to start to-morrow; the
rains are beginning again."

"Was there ever such luck as mine, to come to the desert, where it
never rains, and to find nothing but rain?"--rain which Owen had
never seen equalled except once in Connemara, where he had gone to
fish, and it annoyed him to hear that these torrential rains only
happened once every three or four years in the Sahara. He was too
annoyed to answer his dragoman.... _Enfin_, Tahar had left his
eagles at Ain Mahdy, and Owen fed them morning and evening, gorging
them with food, not knowing that one of the great difficulties is to
procure in the trained eagle sufficient hunger to induce him to
pursue the quarry. It was an accident that some friend of Tahar's
surprised Owen feeding the eagles and warned him.

"These eagles will not be able to hunt for weeks now."

Owen cursed himself and the universe, Allah and the God of Israel,
Christ and the prophets.

"But, _Sidna_, their hunger can be excited by a drug, and this drug
is Tahar's secret."

"Then to-morrow we start, though there be sand storms or rain storms,
whatever the weather may be."

The dragoman condoned Owen's mistake in feeding the eagles.

"The gazelles come down from the mountains after the rains; we shall
catch sight of some on our way."

A few hours after he rode up to Owen and said, "Gazelles!"

When he looked to the right of the sunset Owen could see yellow,
spotted with black; something was moving over yonder among the
patches of rosemary and lavender.

The gazelles were far away when the caravan reached the rosemary, but
their smell remained, overpowering that of the rosemary and
lavender; it seemed as if the earth itself breathed nothing but
musk, and Owen's surprise increased when he saw the Arabs collecting
the droppings, and on asking what use could be made of these he was
told that when they were dried they were burnt as pastilles; when
the animal had been feeding upon rosemary and lavender they gave out
a delicious odour.

Then the dragoman told Owen to prepare for sand grouse; and a short
while afterwards one of the Arabs cried, "Grouse! Grouse!" and a
pack of thirty or forty flew away, two falling into the sand.

They came upon a river in flood, and while the Arabs sought a ford
Owen went in search of blue pigeons, and succeeded in shooting
several; and these were plucked and eaten by the camp fire that
night, the coldest he had known in the Sahara. When the fire burnt
down a little he awoke shivering. And he awoke shivering again at
daybreak; and the cavalcade continued its march across a plain, flat
and empty, through which the river's banks wound like a green
ribbon.... Some stunted vegetation rose in sight about midday, and
Owen thought that they were near the oasis towards which they were
journeying; but on approaching he saw that what he had mistaken for
an oasis was but the ruins of one that had perished last year owing
to a great drought, only a few dying palms remaining. Oases die, but
do new ones rise from the desert? he wondered. A ragged chain of
mountains, delightfully blue in the new spring weather, entertained
him all the way across an immense tract of barren country; and at
the end of it his searching eyes were rewarded by a sight of his
destination--some palms showing above the horizon on the evening
sky.



IX

As the caravan approached the beach he caught sight of an Arab, or
one whom he thought was an Arab, and riding straight up to him, Owen
asked:

"Do you know Tahar?"

"The hunter?"

"Yes," and breathing a sigh, he said he had travelled hundreds of
miles in search of him--"and his eagles."

"He left here two or three days ago for Ain Mahdy."

"Left here! Good God!" and Owen threw up his arms. "Left two days
ago, and I have come from Ain Mahdy, nearly from Tunis, in search of
him! We have passed each other in the desert," he said, looking
round the great plain, made of space, solitude, and sun. It had
become odious to him suddenly, and he seemed to forget everything.

As if taking pity on him, Monsieur Béclère asked him to stay with him
until Tahar returned.

"We will hunt the gazelles together."

"That is very kind of you."

And Owen looked into the face of the man to whom he had introduced
himself so hurriedly. He had been so interested in Tahar, and so
overcame by the news of his absence, that he had not had time to
give a thought to the fact that the conversation was being carried
on in French. Now the thought suddenly came into his mind that the
man he was speaking to was not an Arab but a Frenchman. "He must
certainly be a Frenchman, no one but a Frenchman could express
himself so well in French."

"You are very kind," he said, and they strolled up the oasis
together, Owen telling Monsieur Béclère that at first he had
mistaken him for an Arab. "Only your shoulders are broader, and you
are not so tall; you walk like an Arab, not quite so loosely, not
quite the Arab shuffle, but still--"

"A cross between the European spring and the loose Arab stride?"

"Do you always dress as an Arab?"

"Yes, I have been here for thirty-one years, ever since I was
fourteen." Owen looked at him.

"Here, in an oasis?"

"Yes, in an oasis, a great deal of which I have created for myself.
The discovery of a Roman well enabled me to add many hundred
_hectares_ to my property.

"The rediscovery of a Roman well!"

"Yes. If the Sahara is barren, it is because there is no water." Owen
seemed to be on the verge of hearing the most interesting things
about underground lakes only twenty or thirty feet from the surface.
"But I will tell you more about them another time."

Owen looked at Béclère again, thinking that he liked the broad, flat
strip of forehead between the dark eyebrows, and the dark hair,
streaked with grey, the eyes deep in the head, and of an acrid
blackness like an Arab's; the long, thin nose like an Arab's--a face
which could have had little difficulty in acquiring the Arab cast of
feature; and there had been time enough to acquire it, though
Béclère was not more than forty-five.

"No doubt you speak Arabic like French."

"Yes, I speak modern Arabic as easily as French. The language of the
Koran is different." And Béclère explained that there was no writing
done in the dialects. When an Arab wrote to another, he wrote in the
ancient language, which was understood everywhere.

"You have learned a little Arabic, I see," Béclère said, and Owen
foresaw endless dialogues between himself and Monsieur Béclère, who
would instruct him on all the points which he was interested in. The
orchards they were passing through (apricot, apple, and pear-trees)
were coming into blossom.

"I had expected oranges and lemons."

"They don't grow well here, but we have nearly all our own
vegetables--haricot-beans, potatoes, artichokes, peas."

"Of course there are no strawberries?"

"No, we don't get any strawberries. There is my house." And within a
grove of beautiful trees, under which one could sit, Owen caught
sight of a house, half Oriental, half European. He admired the flat
roofs and the domes, which he felt sure rose above darkened rooms,
where Béclère and those who lived with him slept in the afternoons.
"You must be tired after your long ride, and would like to have a
bath."

Owen followed Béclère through a courtyard, where a fountain sang in
dreamy heat and shade, bringing a little sensation of coolness into
the closed room, which did not strike him as being particularly
Moorish, notwithstanding the engraved brass lamps hanging from the
ceiling, and the Oriental carpet on the floor, and the screen inlaid
with mother-of-pearl. Owen did not know whether linen sheets were a
European convention, and could be admitted into an Eastern
dwelling-house, but he was not one of those who thought everything
should be in keeping. He liked incongruities, being an inveterate
romancist and only a bedouin by caprice. One appreciates sheets after
months of pilgrimage, and one appreciates a good meal after having
eaten nothing for a long while better than sand-goose roasted at the
camp fire. More than the pleasure of the table was the pleasure of
conversation with one speaking in his native language. Béclère's mind
interested him; it was so steady, it looked towards one point always.
That was his impression when he left his host after a talk lasting
till midnight; and, thinking of Béclère and his long journey to him,
he sat by his window watching stars of extraordinary brilliancy, and
breathing a fragrance rising from the tropical garden beneath him--a
fragrance which he recognised as that of roses; and this set him
thinking that it was the East that first cultivated roses; and amid
many memories of Persia and her poets, he threw himself into bed,
longing for sleep, for a darkness which, in a few hours, would pass
into a delicious consciousness of a garden under exquisite skies.

His awakening was even more delightful than he anticipated. The
fragrance that filled his room had a magic in it which he had never
known before, and there was a murmur of doves in the palms and in
the dovecot hanging above the dog-kennel. As he lay between sleeping
and waking, a pair of pigeons flew past his window, their shadows
falling across his bed. An Arab came to conduct him to his bath; and
after bathing he returned to his room, glad to get into its sunlight
again, and to loiter in his dressing, standing by the window,
admiring the garden below, full of faint perfume. The roses were
already in blossom, and through an opening in the ilex-trees he
caught sight of a meadow overflowing with shadow, the shadow of
trees and clouds, and of goats too, for there was a herd feeding and
trying to escape from the shepherd (a young man wearing a white
bournous and a red felt cap) towards the garden, where there were
bushes. On the left, amid a group of palms, were the stables, and
Owen thought of his horse feeding and resting after his long
journey. And there were Béclère's horses too. Owen had not seen them
yet; nor had he seen the dog, nor the pigeons. This oasis was full
of pleasant things to see and investigate, and he hurried through his
meal, longing to get into the open air and to gather some roses. All
about him sounds were hushing, and lights breaking, and shadows
floating, and every breeze was scented. As he followed the
finely-sanded walks, he was startled by a new scent, and with dilating
nostrils tried to catch it, tried to remember if it were mastick or
some resinous fir; and, walking on like one in a trance, he admired
Béclère's taste in the planting of this garden.

"A strange man, so refined and intelligent--why does he live here?...
Why not?"

Returning suddenly to the ilex-trees, which he liked better than the
masticks, or the tamarisks, or any fir, he sat down to watch the
meadow, thinking there was nothing in the world more beautiful than
the moving of shadows of trees and clouds over young grass, and
nothing more beautiful than a young shepherd playing a flute: only
one thing more beautiful--a young girl carrying an amphora I She
passed out of the shadows, wearing a scarlet haik and on her arms and
neck a great deal of rough jewellery.

"She is going to the well," he said. The shepherd stopped playing and
advanced to meet her. Boy and girl stood talking for a little while.
He heard laughter and speech... saw her coming towards him. "She
will follow this path to the house, and I shall see her better." A
little in front of the ilex-trees she stopped to look back upon the
shepherd, leaning the amphora upon her naked hip. The movement
lasted only a moment, but how beautiful it was! On catching sight of
Owen, she passed rapidly up the path, meeting Béclère on his way.

"Speaking to him in Arabic," Owen said, as he continued to admire the
beautiful face he had just seen--a pointed oval, dark eyes, a small,
fine nose, red lips, and a skin the colour of yellow ivory. "Still a
child and already a woman, not more than twelve or thirteen at the
very most; the sun ripens them quickly." This child recalled a dream
which he had let drop in Tunis--a dream that he might go into the
desert and find an Arab maiden the colour of yellow ivory, and live
with her in an oasis, forgetful.... Only by a woman's help could he
ever forget Evelyn. The old bitterness welled up bitter as ever.
"And I thought she was beginning to be forgotten."

In his youth he had wearied of women as a child wearies of toys. Few
women had outlasted the pleasure of a night, all becoming equally
insipid and tedious; but since he had met Evelyn he had loved no
other. Why did he love her? How was it he could not put her out of
his mind? Why couldn't he accept an Arab girl--Béclère's girl? She
was younger and more beautiful. If she did not belong to Béclère--
Owen looked up and watched them, and seeing Béclère glance in the
direction of the shepherd, he added, "Or to the shepherd."

The girl went into the house, and Béclère came down to meet his
guest, apologising for having left him so long alone.... He talked
to him about the beauty of the morning. The rains were over, or
nearly, but very often they began again.

"_Cella se pent qu'elle ne soit qu'une courte embellie, mais
profitons en_," and they turned to admire the roses.

"A beautiful girl, the one you were just speaking to."

"Yes... yes; she is the handsomest in the oasis, and there are many
handsome girls here. The Arab race is beautiful, male and female.
Her brother, for instance, the shepherd--"

"Her brother," Owen thought. "Ah!" They stopped to watch the
shepherd, a boy of sixteen. "About two years older than his sister,"
Owen remarked, and Béclère acquiesced. The boy had begun to play his
flute again. He played at first listlessly, then with all his soul,
and then with extraordinary passion. Owen watched the balance of his
body and arms, and the movement, extraordinarily voluptuous, of his
neck and head. He played on, his breath coming at times so feebly
that there was hardly any sound at all, at other times awaking music
loud and imperative; and the two men stood listening, for how many
minutes they did not know, but for what seemed to them a long while.
Their reverie stopped when the music ceased. It was then that a
dun-coloured dove with a lilac neck flew through the garden and took
refuge in a palm, seen for a moment as she alighted on the flexible
djerrid on a background of blue air. She disappeared into the heart
of the tree; the leaves were again stirred. She cooed once or twice,
and then there was a hush and a stillness in every leaf.

"You would like to see my property?"

Owen said he would like to see all the oasis, or as much as they
could see of it in one day without fatiguing themselves.

"You can see it all in a day, for it is but a small island, about a
thousand Arabs in the villages."

"So many as that?"

"Well, there has to be, in order to save ourselves from the predatory
bands which still exist, for, as I daresay you have already learned,
the Arabs are divided into two classes--the agricultural and the
nomadic. We have to be in sufficient numbers to save ourselves from
the nomads, otherwise we should be pillaged and harried from year's
end to year's end--all our crops and camels taken."

"Border warfare--the same as existed in England in the Middle Ages."

Béclère agreed that the unsettled vagrant civilisation which existed
in the North of Africa up to 1830--which in 1860 was beginning to
pass away, and the traces of which still survived in the nineties--
resembled very much the border forays for which Northumberland is
still famous; and, walking through the palm-groves towards the Arab
village, they talked of the Arab race, listening all the while to
the singing of doves and of streams, Owen listless and happy.

"But I shall remember her again presently, and the stab will be as
bitter as ever!"

Béclère did not believe that the Arab race was ever as great a race
as we were inclined to give it credit for being.

"All the same, if it hadn't been for your ancestors, we might have
all been Moslems now," Owen said, stopping to admire what remained
of the race which had conquered Spain and nearly conquered France.
"Now they are outcasts of our civilisation--but what noble outcasts!
That fellow, he is old, and without a corner, perhaps, where to lay
his head, but he walks magnificently in his ragged bournous. He is
poor, but he isn't a beggar; his life is sordid, but it isn't
trivial; he retains his grand walk and his solemn salute; and if he
has never created an art, himself is proof that he isn't without the
artistic sentiment."

Béclère looked at Owen in surprise, and Owen, thinking to astonish
him, added:

"His poverty and his filth are sublime; he is a Jew from Amsterdam
painted by Rembrandt, or a Jew from Palestine described by the
authors of the Pentateuch."

"The Jew is a tougher fellow to deal with; he cannot be eradicated,
but the Arab was very nearly passing away. If he had insisted on
remaining the noble outcast which you admire, he would not have
survived the Red Indian many hundreds of years. I don't contest
whether to lose him would be a profit or a loss, but when
civilisation comes the native race must accept it or extinction."

"I suppose you're right," Owen answered, "I suppose you're right."

And they stopped to look at an Arab town; some of it was in the plain
below, some of it ran up the steep hillside, on the summit of which
was a ruined mosque.

"Why did they choose to build up such a steep hillside?"

"The oasis is limited, and the plain is devoted to orchards. Look at
the village! If you were to visit their town, you would not find a
street in which a camel could turn round, hardly any windows, and
the doors always half closed. They are still suspicious of us and
anxious to avoid our inquisition. Yes, that is the characteristic of
the Arab, to conceal himself; and his wife, and his business from
us."

"One can sympathise with the desire to avoid inquisition, and
notwithstanding the genius of your race--no one is more sympathetic
to you than I am--yet it is impossible not to see that your fault is
red tapeism, and that is what the Arab hates. You see I understand."

"I don't think I am unsympathetic, and the Arabs don't think it.
Perhaps there is no man in Africa who can travel as securely as I
can--even in the Soudan I should be well received--and what other
European could say as much? There must be something of the Arab in
me, otherwise I shouldn't have lived amongst them so long, nor
should I speak Arabic as easily as I do, nor should I look--remember,
you thought I was an Arab."

"Yes, at first sight."

The admission was given somewhat unwillingly, not because Owen saw
Béclère differently, he still saw an Arab exterior, but he had begun
to recognise him as a Frenchman. Race characteristics are generally
imaginary; there are, shall we say, twenty millions of Frenchmen in
France, and every one is different; how therefore is it possible to
speak of race characteristics? Still, if one may differentiate at
all between the French and English races (but is there a French and
English race?) we know there is a negro race because it is black--
however, if there be any difference between England and France, the
difference is that France is more inclined to pedantry than England.
If one admits any race difference, one may admit this one; and, with
such thoughts in his mind, Owen began to perceive Béclère as the
typical French pedagogue, a clever man, one who if he had remained
in Paris would have become _un membre de l'Institut_.

Béclère, _un membre de l'Institut_, talking to the beautiful girl
whom Owen had seen that morning! Owen smiled a little under his
moustache, and, as there was plenty of time for meditation while
waiting for Tahar to return from Ain Mahdy, he spent a great deal of
time wondering if any sensual relations existed between Béclère and
this girl. Béclère as a lover appeared to him anomalous and
disparate--that is how Béclère would word it himself, but these
pedants were very often serious sensualists. We easily associate
conventional morality with red-tapeism, for it seems impossible to
believe that the stodgy girl who spends her morning in the British
Museum working at the higher mathematics or Sanscrit is likely to
spend her afternoon in bed, yet this is what happens frequently; the
real sensualist is the pedant; "and, if one wants love, the real
genuine article," whispered a thought, "one must seek it among
clergymen's daughters."

That girl Béclère's mistress! Why not? The thought pleased and amused
him, reconciled him to Béclère, whom he never should have thought
capable of such fine discrimination. But it did not follow that
because Béclère had chosen a beautiful girl to love he was
susceptible to artistic influences, sculpture excepted. Of the other
arts Owen felt instinctively that Béclère knew nothing; indeed,
yester evening, when he, Owen, had spoken of "The Ring," Béclère had
answered that his business in life had not allowed him to cultivate
musical tastes. He had once liked music, but now it interested him
no longer.

"Tastes atrophy."

"Of course they do," Owen had answered, and Béclère's knowledge of
himself propitiated Owen, who recognised a clever man in the remark,
a man of many sympathies, though the exterior was prosaic. All the
same Owen would have wished for some music in the evening, and for
some musical assistance, for while waiting for the eagles to arrive
he spent his time thinking how he might write the songs he heard
every morning among the palm-trees; written down they did not seem
nearly as original as they did on the lips, and Owen suspected his
notation to be deficient. A more skilful musician would be able to
get more of these rhythms on paper than he had been able to do, and
he regretted his failures, for it would be interesting to bring home
some copies of these songs just to show...

But he would never see her again, so what was the good of writing
down these songs? What was the good of anything? A strange thing
life is, and he paused to consider how the slightest event, the fact
that he was unable to give complete expression on paper to an Arab
rhythm, brought the old pain back again, and every pang of it. Even
the society of Béclère was answerable for his suffering, and he
thought how he must go away and travel again; only open solitude and
wandering with rough men could still his pain; primitive Nature was
the one balm.... That fellow Tahar--why did he delay? Owen thought
of the eagles, the awful bird pursuing the fleeting deer, and
himself riding in pursuit. This was the life that would cure him--
how soon? In three months? in six? in ten years? It would be strange
if he were to become a bedouin for love of her, and he walked on
thinking how they had lain together one night listening to the
silence, hearing nothing but an acacia moving outside their window.
Béclère was coming towards him and the vision vanished.

"No news of Tahar yet?"

"No; you are forgetting that we are living in an oasis, where letters
are not delivered, and where we bring news of ourselves, and where
no news is understood to mean that the spring we were hastening
towards was dry, or that a sand-storm--"

"Sand-storms are rare at this season of the year."

"An old bedouin like Tahar is safe enough. To-morrow or the day
after... but I see you are impatient, you are growing tired of my
company."

Owen assured Béclère he was mistaken, only a sedentary life was
impossible to him, and he was anxious to be off again.

"So there is something of the wanderer in you, for no business calls
you."

"No, my agent manages everything for me; it is, I suppose, mere
restlessness." And Owen spoke of going in quest of Tahar.

"To pass him again in the desert," and they went towards the point
where they might watch for Tahar, Béclère knowing by the sun the
direction in which to look. There was no route, nothing in the empty
space extending from their feet to the horizon--a line inscribed
across the empty sky--nothing to be seen although the sun hung in
the middle of the sky, the rays falling everywhere; it would have
seemed that the smallest object should be visible, but this was not
so--there was nothing. Even when he strained his eyes Owen could not
distinguish which was sand, which was earth, which was stone, even
the colour of the emptiness was undecided. Was it dun? Was it tawny?
Striving to express himself, Owen could find nothing more explicit
to say than that the colour of the desert was the colour of
emptiness, and they sat down trying to talk of falconry. But it was
impossible to talk in front of this trackless plain, _cela coupe la
parole_, flowing away to the south, to the west, to the east, ending--
it was impossible to imagine it ending anywhere, no more than we
can imagine the ends of the sky; and the desert conveyed the same
impression of loneliness--in a small way, of course--as the great
darkness of the sky; "for the sky," Owen said, half to himself, half
to his companion, "is dark and cold the moment one gets beyond the
atmosphere of the earth."

"The desert is, at all events, warm," Béclère interjected.

Hot, trackless spaces, burning solitudes through which nobody ever
went or came. It was the silence that frightened Owen; not even in
the forest, in the dark solitudes avoided by the birds, is there
silence. There is a wind among the tree-tops, and when the wind is
still the branches sway a little; there is nearly always a swaying
among the branches, and even when there is none, the falling of some
giant too old to subsist longer breaks the silence, frightens the
wild beast, who retires growling. The sea conveys the same sense of
primal solitude as the forest, but it is less silent; the sea tears
among the rocks as if it would destroy the land, but when its rage
is over the sea laughs, and leaps, and caresses, and the day after
fawns upon the land, drawing itself up like a woman to her lover, as
voluptuously. Nowhere on earth only in the desert, is there silence;
even in the tomb there are worms, but in some parts of the desert
there are not even worms, the body dries into dust without decaying.
Owen imagined the resignation of the wanderer who finds no water at
the spring, and lies down to die amid the mighty indifference of
sterile Nature; and breaking the silence, somewhat against his will,
he communicated his thoughts to Béclère, that an unhappy man who
dare not take his life could not do better than to lose himself in
the desert. Death would come easily, for seeing nothing in front of
him but an empty horizon, nothing above him but a blank sky, and for
a little shelter a sand dune, which the wind created yesterday and
will uncreate to-morrow he would come to understand all that he need
know regarding his transitory and unimportant life. Does Nature care
whether we live or die? We have heard often that she cares not a jot
for the individual.... But does she care for the race--for mankind
more than for beastkind? His intelligence she smiles at, concerned
with the lizard as much as with the author of "The Ring." Does she
care for either? After all, what is Nature? We use words, but words
mean so little. What do we mean when we speak of Nature? Where does
Nature begin? Where does she end? And God? We talk of God, and we do
not know whether he sleeps, or drinks, or eats, whether he wears
clothes or goes naked; Moses saw his hinder parts, and he used to be
jealous and revengeful; but as man grows merciful God grows merciful
with him, we make him to our own likeness, and spend a great deal of
money on the making.

"Yes, God is a great expense, but government would be impossible
without him."

Béclère's answer jarred Owen's mood a little, without breaking it,
however, and he continued to talk of how words like "Nature," and
"God," and "Liberty" are on every lip, yet none is able to define
their meaning. Liberty he instanced as a word around which poems
have been written, "yet no poet could tell what he was writing
about; at best we can only say of liberty that we must surrender
something to gain something; in other words, liberty is a compromise,
for no one can be free to obey every impulse the moment one enters
into his being.

"Good God, Béclère! it is terrible to think one knows nothing, and
life, like the desert, is full of solitude."

Béclère did not answer, and, forgetful that it was impossible to
answer a cry of anguish, Owen began to suspect Béclère of thoughts
regarding the perfectibility of mankind, of thinking that with
patience and more perfect administration, &c. But Béclère was
thinking nothing of the kind; he was wondering what sort of reason
could have sent Owen out of England. Some desperate love affair
perhaps, his wife may have run away from him. But he did not try to
draw Owen into confidence, speaking instead of falconry and Tahar's
arrival, which could not be much longer delayed.

"After all, if you had not missed him in the desert we never should
have known each other."

"So much was gained, and if you ever come to England--" Béclère
smiled. "So you think we shall never meet again, and that we are
talking out our last talk on the edge of this gulf of sand?"

"We shall meet again if you come to the desert to hunt with eagles."

"But you will not come to England?" Béclère did not think it
necessary to answer. "But in France? You will return to France some
day?"

"Why should I? Whom do I know in France? _Je ne suis plus un des
vôtres. Qu'irais-je y faire?_ But we are not talking for the last
time, Tahar has yet to arrive, he will be here to-morrow and we'll
go hunting; and after our hunting I hope to induce you to stop some
while longer. You see, you haven't seen the desert; the desert isn't
the desert in spring. To see the desert you will have to stop till
July. This sea of sand will then be a ring of fire, and that sky,
now so mild, will be dark blue and the sun will hang like a furnace
in the midst of it. Stay here even till May and you will see the
summer, _chez lui_."



X

At the beginning of July Owen appeared on the frontiers of Egypt
shrieking for a drink of clean water, and saying that the desire to
drink clean water out of a glass represented everything he had to
say for the moment about the desert; all the same, he continued to
tell of fetid, stale, putrid wells, and of the haunting terror with
which the Saharian starts in the morning lest he should find no
water at the nearest watering-place, only a green scum fouled by the
staling of horses and mules I Owen was as plain-spoken as
Shakespeare, so Harding said once, defending his friend's use of the
word "sweat" instead of "perspiration." There was no doubt the
language was deteriorating, becoming euphonistic; everybody was a
euphonist except Owen, who talked of his belly openly, blurting out
that he had vomited when he should have said he had been sick. There
were occasions when Harding did not spare Owen and laughed at his
peculiarities; but there was always a certain friendliness in his
malice, and Owen admired Harding's intelligence and looked forward
to a long evening with him almost as much as he had looked forward
to a drink of clean water. "It will be delightful to talk again to
somebody who has seen a picture and read a book," he said, leaning
over the taff-rail of the steamer. But this dinner did not happen
the day he arrived in London--Harding was out of town! And Owen
cursed his luck as he walked out of the doorway in Victoria Street.
"Staying with friends in the country!" he muttered. "Good God! will
he never weary of those country houses, tedious beyond measure--with
or without adultery," he chuckled as he walked back to his club
thinking out a full-length portrait of his friend--a small man with
high shoulders, a large overhanging forehead, walking on thin legs
like one on stilts. But Harding's looks mattered little; what people
sought Harding for was not for his personal appearance, nor even for
his writings, though they were excellent, but for his culture. A
curious, clandestine little man with a warm heart despite the
exterior. Owen had seen Harding's eyes nil with tears and his voice
tremble when he recited a beautiful passage of English poetry; a
passionate nature, too, for Harding would fight fiercely for his
ideas, and his life had been lived in accordance with his beliefs. As
the years advanced his imaginative writing had become perhaps a
little didactic; his culture had become more noticeable--Owen
laughed: it pleased him to caricature his friends--and he thought of
the stream of culture which every hostess could turn on when Harding
was her guest. The phrase pleased him: a stream of culture flowing
down the white napery of every country house in England, for Harding
travelled from one to another. Owen had seen him laying his plans at
Nice, beginning his year as an old woman begins a stocking (setting
up the stitches) by writing to Lady So-and-so, saying he was coming
back to England at a certain time. Of course Lady So-and-so would
ask him to stay with her. Then Harding would write to the nearest
neighbour, saying, "I am staying with So-and-so for a week and shall
be going on to the north the week after next--now would it be
putting you to too much trouble if I were to spend the interval with
you?" News of these visits would soon get about, and would suggest
to another neighbour that she might ask him for a week. Harding
would perhaps answer her that he could not come for a week, but if
she would allow him to come for a fortnight he would be very glad
because then he would be able to get on to Mrs.----. In a very short
time January, February, March, and April would be allotted; and Owen
imagined Harding walking under immemorial elms gladdened by great
expanses of park and pleased in the contemplation of swards which
had been rolled for at least a thousand years. "A castellated wall,
a rampart, the remains of a moat, a turreted chamber must stir him
as the heart of the war horse is said to be stirred by a trumpet. He
demands a spire at least of his hostess; and names with a Saxon ring
in them, names recalling deeds of Norman chivalry awaken remote
sympathies, inherited perhaps; sonorous titles, though they be new
ones, are better than plain Mr. and Mrs.; 'ladyship' and 'lordship'
are always pleasing in his ears, and an elaborate escutcheon more
beautiful than a rose. After all, why not admire the things of a
thousand years ago as well as those of yesterday?" Owen continued to
think of Harding's admiration of the past. "It has nothing in common
with the vulgar tuft-hunter, deeply interested in the peerage,
anxious to get on. Harding's admiration of the aristocracy is part
of himself; it proceeds from hierarchical instinct and love of
order. He sees life flowing down the ages, each class separate, each
class dependent upon the other, a homogeneous whole, beautiful on
account of the harmony of the different parts, each melody going
different ways but contributing to the general harmony. He sees life
as classes; tradition is the breath of his nostrils, symbol the
delight of his eyes." Owen's thoughts divagated suddenly, and he
thought of the pain Harding would experience were he suddenly flung
into Bohemian society. He might find great talents there--but even
genius would not compensate him for disorder and licence. The dinner
might be excellent, but he would find no pleasure in it if the host
wore a painting jacket; a spot of ink on the shirt cuff would
extinguish his appetite, and a parlourmaid distress him, three
footmen induce pleasant ease of thought.

"A man born out of his time, in whom the disintegration of custom,
the fusing of the classes, produces an inner torment." And wondering
how he bore it, Owen began to think of an end for Harding, deciding
that sullen despair would take possession of him if the House of
Lords were seriously threatened. He would leave some seat of ancient
story, and proceed towards the midlands, seeking some blast furnace
wherein to throw himself. "A sort of modern Empedocles." And Owen
laughed aloud, for he was very much amused at his interpretation of
his friend's character. It was one which he did not think even his
friend would resent. "On the contrary, it would amuse him." And he
picked up a newspaper from the club table.

The first words he saw were "Evelyn Innes in America." "So she has
gone back to the stage, and without writing to me...." He sank back
in his armchair lost in a great bitterness but without resentment.
Next day, acting on a sudden resolve, he started for New York. But
he did not remain there very long, only a few days, returning to
England, exasperated, maddened against himself, unable to explain
the cause of his misfortune to Harding.

"I suppose you'll use it in a novel some day. I don't care if you do,
but you will never be able to explain how it happened." Harding
followed his friend into the study, thinking of the excellent cigar
which would be given to him more perhaps than of the story--a man
who suddenly finds his will paralysed. "It was just that, paralysis
of will, for after dinner when the time came to go to her I sat
thinking of her, unable to get out of my chair, saying to myself, 'In
five minutes, in five minutes,' and as the minutes went by I looked
at the clock, saying to myself, 'If I don't go now I shall be late.'
I can't explain, but it was almost a relief when I found it was too
late."

"What I don't understand is why you didn't go next day?"

"Nor do I; for naturally I wanted to see her, only I couldn't go,
something held me back, and in despair I returned to England, unable
to endure the strain. There you have it, Harding; don't ask me any
more for I can't tell you any more. During the voyage I was near out
of my mind, and could have thrown myself overboard, yet I couldn't
go to see her, though she is the only person I really care to see.
Of course friends are different," he added apologetically.

"And you could not forget her in the desert?" "No, it only made me
worse. Amid the sands her image would appear more distinct than
ever. Now why is it that one loves one woman more than another, and
what is there in this woman that enchants me, and from whom I cannot
escape in thought?... Yet I didn't go to see her in New York."

"But would you go if she wrote to you?" "Oh, if she wrote--that would
be different, but she never will. There is no doubt, Harding, love
is a sort of madness, and it takes every man; none can look into his
life without finding that at some time or another he was mad; the
only thing is that it has taken me rather badly, and cure seems
farther off than ever. Why is it, Harding, that a man should love
one woman so much more than another? It certainly isn't because she
has got a prettier face, or a more perfect figure, or a more sensual
temperament; for there is no end to pretty faces, perfect figures,
and sensual temperaments. Evelyn was pretty well furnished with
these things. I am prepared to admit that she was, but of course
there are more beautiful women and more sensual women, more charming
women, cleverer women--I suppose there are--yet no one ever charmed
me, enchanted me--that is the word--like this woman, and I can find
no reason for the enchantment in her or in myself, only this, that
she represents more of the divine essence out of which all things
have come than any other woman."

"The divine essence?"

"Well, one has to use these words in order to be understood; but you
know what I mean, Harding, the mystery lying behind all phenomena, the
Breath, esoteric philosophers would say, out of which all things
came, which drew the stars in the beginning out of chaos, creating
myriads of things or the appearance of different things, for there
is only one thing. That is how the mystics talk--isn't it? You know
more about them than I do. If to every man some woman represented
more of this impulse than any other woman, he would be unable to
separate himself from her; she would always be a light in his life
which he would follow, a light in the mind--that is what Evelyn is
to me; I never understood it before, it is only lately--"

"The desert has turned you into a poet, I see, into a mystic."

"Hardly that; but in the desert there are long hours and nothing--
only thought; one has to think, if one isn't a bedouin, just to save
oneself from going mad: the empty spaces, the solitude, the sun! One
of these days when you have finished your books, I should like to
write one with you; my impressions of the desert as I rode from
oasis to oasis, seeking Tahar--"

"Who was he?"

"He was the man who had the eagles. Haven't I told you already how--?"

"Yes, yes, Asher, but tell me did you meet Tahar, and did you see
gazelles hunted?"

"Yes, and larger deer. My first idea was hawking and we went to a
lake. One of these days I must tell you about that lake, about its
wild fowl, about the buried city and the heron which was killed. We
found it among Roman inscriptions. But to tell of these things--my
goodness, Harding, it would take hours!"

"Don't try, Asher. Tell me about the gazelles."

"How we went from oasis to oasis in quest of this man who always
eluded us, meeting him at last in Béclère's oasis. But you haven't
heard about Béclère's, the proprietor, you might say, of one oasis;
he discovered a Roman well, and added thousands of acres; but if I
began to tell about Béclère's we should be here till midnight."

"I should like to hear about the gazelles first."

"I never knew you cared so much for sport, Harding; I thought you
would be more interested in the desert itself, and in Béclère's. It
spoils a story to cut it down to a mere sporting episode. There
doesn't seem to be anything to tell now except I tell it at length:
those great birds, nearly three feet high, with long heads like
javelins, and round, clear eyes, and lank bodies, feathered thighs,
and talons that find out instinctively the vital parts, the heart and
the liver; the bird moves up seeking these. And that is what is so
terrible, the cruel instinct which makes every life conditional on
another's death. We live upon dead things, cooked or uncooked."

"But how are these birds carried?"

"That is what I asked myself all the way across the desert. The hawks
are carried on the wrist, but a bird three feet high cannot be
carried on the wrist. The eagle is carried on the pummel of the
saddle."

"And how are the gazelles taken and the eagles recaptured?"

"They answer to the lure just like a hawk. The gazelles come down
into the desert after the rains to feed among the low bushes,
rosemary and lavender. In the plain, of course, they have no chance,
the bird overtakes them at once; fleet as they are, wings are
fleeter, and they are over-taken with incredible ease, the bird just
flutters after them. But the hunt is more interesting when there are
large rocks between which the gazelles can take cover; then the bird
will alight on the rock and wait for the deer to be driven out, and
the deer dreads the eagle so much that sometimes they won't leave
the rocks, and we pick them up in our hands. The instinct of the
eagle is extraordinary, as you will see; the first gazelle was a
doe, and the eagle swept on in front, and, turning rapidly, flew
straight into the hind's face, the talons gathered up ready to
strangle her. But the buck will sometimes show fight, and, not caring
to face the horns, the eagle will avoid a frontal attack and sweep
round in the rear, attacking the buck in the quarters and riding him
to death, just as a goshawk rides a rabbit, seeking out all the
while the vital parts."

"But gazelles are such small deer; now it would be more interesting
with larger deer."

"We killed some larger deer and some sheep, wild sheep I mean, or
goats, it is hard to say which they are; the courage of the birds is
extraordinary, they will attack almost anything, driving the sheep
headlong over the precipices. We caught many a fox. The eagle
strikes the fox with one talon, reserving the other to clutch the
fox's throat when he turns round to bite. Eagles will attack wolves;
wolves are hunted in Mongolia with eagles, the fight must be
extraordinary. One of these days I must go there."

"If Evelyn Innes doesn't return to you."

"One must do something," Owen answered.

"Life would be too tedious if one were not doing something. Have
another cigarette, Harding." And he went to the table and took one
out of a silver box. "Do have one; it comes out of her box, she gave
me this box. You haven't seen the inscription, have you?" And
Harding had to get up and read it; he did this with a lack of
enthusiasm and interest which annoyed Owen, but which did not
prevent him from going to the escritoire and saying, "And in this
pigeon-hole I keep her letters, eight hundred and fifty-three,
extending over a period of ten years. How many letters would that be
a year, Harding?"

"My dear Asher, I never could calculate anything." "Well, let us
see." Owen took a pencil and did the sum, irritating Harding, who
under his moustache wondered how anybody could be so self-centred,
so blind to the picture he presented. "Eighty-five letters a year,
Harding, more than one a week; that is a pretty good average, for
when I saw her every day I didn't write to her."

"I should have thought you would write sometimes."

"Yes, sometimes we used to send each other notes."

"Will he never cease talking of her?" Harding said to himself; and,
tempted by curiosity, he got up, lighted another cigarette, and sat
down, determined to wait and see. Owen continued talking for the
next half-hour. "True, he hasn't had an opportunity of speaking to
anybody about her for the last year, and is letting it all off upon
me."

"There is her portrait, Harding; you like it, don't you?"

Harding breathed again under his moustache. The portrait brought a
new interest into the conversation, for it was a beautiful picture.
A bright face which seemed to have been breathed into a grey
background--a grey so beautiful, Harding had once written, that
every ray of sunlight that came into the room awoke a melody and a
harmony in it, and held the eye subjugated and enchanted. Out of a
grey and a rose tint a permanent music had been made... and, being
much less complete than an old master, it never satisfied. In this
picture there were not one but a hundred pictures. To hang it in a
different place in the room was to recreate it; it never was the
same, whereas the complete portraits of the old masters have this
fault--that they never rise above themselves. But a ray of light set
Evelyn's portrait singing like a skylark--background, face, hair,
dress--cadenza upon cadenza. When the blinds were let down, the music
became graver, and the strain almost a religious one. And these
changes in the portrait were like Evelyn herself, for she varied a
good deal, as Owen had often remarked to Harding; for one reason or
for some other--no matter the reason: suffice it to say that the
picture would be like her when the gold had faded from her hair and
no pair of stays would discover her hips. And now, sitting looking at
it, Owen remembered the seeming accident which had inspired him to
bring Evelyn to see the great painter whose genius it had been to
Owen's credit to recognise always. One morning in the studio Evelyn
had happened to sit on the edge of a chair; the painter had once
seen her in the same attitude by the side of her accompanist, and he
had told her not to move, and had gone for her grey shawl and placed
it upon her shoulders. A friend of Owen's declared the portrait to be
that of a housekeeper on account of the shawl--a strange article of
dress, difficult to associate with a romantic singer. All the same,
Evelyn was very probable in this picture; her past and her future
were in this disconcerting compound of the commonplace and the rare;
and the confusion which this picture created in the minds of Owen's
friends was aggravated by the strange elliptical execution. Owen
admitted the drawing to be not altogether grammatical; one eye was a
little lower than the other, but the eyes were beautifully drawn--the
right eye, for instance, and without the help of any shadow.

"Look at the face," he said to Harding, "achieved with shadow and
light, the light faintly graduated with a delicate shade of rose."

He compared the face to a jewel the most beautiful in the world, and
the background to eighteenth-century watered silk.

"The painter conjures," Harding said, "and she rises out of that grey
background."

"Quite so, Harding."

Owen sat, his eyes fixed on the picture, his thoughts far away,
thinking that it would be better, perhaps, if he never saw her
again. Not to see her again! The words sounded very gloomy; for he
was thinking of his ancestors at Riversdale, in their tomb, and
himself going down to join them.

"I think, Asher, it is getting late; I must go now."

The friends bade each other good-night among the footmen who closed
the front door.

In his great, lonely bedroom, full of tall mahogany furniture, Owen
lay down; and he asked himself how it was that he had left America
without seeing her. His journey to America was one of the uncanniest
things that had ever happened in his life. Something seemed to have
kept him from her, and it was impossible for him to determine what
that thing was, whether some sudden weakening of the will in himself
or some spiritual agency. But to believe in the transference of human
thought, and that the nuns could influence his action at three
thousand miles distance, seemed as if he were dropping into some
base superstition. Between sleeping and waking a thought emerged
which kept him awake till morning: "Why had Evelyn returned to the
stage?" When he saw her last at Thornton Grange her retirement
seemed to be definitely fixed. Nothing he could say had been able to
move her. She was going to retire from the stage.... But she had not
done so. Now, who had persuaded her? Was it Ulick Dean? Were these
two in America together? The thought of Evelyn in New York with
Ulick Dean, going to the theatre with her, Ulick sitting in the
stalls, listening, just as he, Owen, had listened to her, became
unendurable; he must have news of her; only from her father could he
get reliable news. So he went to Dulwich, uncertain if he should
send in his card begging for an interview, or if he should just push
past the servant into the music-room, always supposing Innes were at
home.

"Mr. Innes is at home," the servant-girl answered.

"Is he in the music-room?"

"Yes, sir. What name?"

"No name is necessary. I will announce myself," and he pushed past
the girl.... "Excuse me, Mr. Innes, for coming into your house so
abruptly, but I was afraid you mightn't see me if I sent in my name,
and it would be impossible for me to go back to London without
seeing you. You don't know me."

"I do. You are Sir Owen Asher."

"Yes, and have come because I can't live any longer without having
some news of Evelyn. You know my story--how she sent me away. There
is nothing to tell you; she has been here, I know, and has told you
everything. But perhaps you don't know I have just come from the
desert, having gone there hoping to forget her, and have come out of
the desert uncured. You will tell me where she is, won't you?"

Innes did not answer for some while.

"My daughter went to America."

"Yes, I know that. I have just come from there, but I could not see
her. The last time we met was at Thornton Grange, and she told me
she had decided definitely to leave the stage. Now, why should she
have gone back to the stage? That is what I have come to ask you."

This tall, thin, elderly man, impulsive as a child, wearing his heart
on his sleeve, crying before him like a little child, moved Innes's
contempt as much as it did his pity. "All the same he is suffering,
and it is clear that he loves her very deeply." So perforce he had
to answer that Evelyn had gone to America against the advice of her
confessor because the Wimbledon nuns wanted money.

"Gone to sing for those nuns!" Owen shrieked. And for three minutes
he blasphemed in the silence of the old music-room, Innes watching
him, amazed that any man should so completely forget himself. How
could she have loved him?

"She is returning next week; that is all I know of her movements...
Sir Owen Asher."

"Returning next week! But what does it matter to me whether she
returns or not? She won't see me. Do you think she will, Mr. Innes?"

"I cannot discuss these matters with you, Sir Owen," and Innes took
up his pen as if anxious for Sir Owen to leave the room so that he
might go on copying. Owen noticed this, but it was impossible for
him to leave the room. For the last twelve years he had been
thinking about Innes, and wanted to tell him how Evelyn had been
loved, and he wanted to air his hatred of religious orders and
religion in general.

"I am afraid I am disturbing you, but I can't help; it," and he
dropped into a chair. "You have no idea, Mr. Innes, how I loved your
daughter."

"She always speaks of you very well, never laying any blame upon
you--I will say that."

"She is a truthful woman. That is the one thing that can be said."

Innes nodded a sort of acquiescence to this appreciation of his
daughter's character; and Owen could not resist the temptation to
try to take Evelyn's father into his confidence, he had been so long
anxious for this talk.

"We have all been in love, you see; your love story is a little
farther back than mine. We all know the bitterness of it--don't we?"

Innes admitted that to know the bitterness of love and its sweetness
is the common lot of all men. The conversation dropped again, and
Owen felt there was to be no unbosoming of himself that afternoon.

"The room has not changed. Twelve years ago I saw those old
instruments for the first time. Not one, I think, has disappeared.
It was here that I first heard Ferrabosco's pavane."

Innes remembered the pavane quite well, but refused to allow the
conversation to digress into a description of Evelyn's playing of
the _viola da gamba_. But if they were not to talk about Evelyn
there was no use tarrying any longer in Dulwich; he had learned all
the old man knew about his daughter. He got up.... At that moment
the door opened and the servant announced Mr. Ulick Dean.

"How do you do, Mr. Innes?" Ulick said, glancing at Owen; and a
suspicion crossed his mind that the tall man with small, inquisitive
eyes who stood watching him must be Owen Asher, hoping that it was
not so, and, at the same time, curious to make his predecessor's
acquaintance; he admitted his curiosity as soon as Innes introduced
him.

"The moment I saw you, Sir Owen, I guessed that it must be you. I had
heard so much about you, you see, and your appearance is so
distinctive."

These last words dissipated the gloom upon Owen's face--it is always
pleasing to think that one is distinctive. And turning from Sir Owen
to Innes, Ulick told him how, finding himself in London, he had
availed himself of the opportunity to run down to see him. Owen sat
criticising, watching him rather cynically, interested in his youth
and in his thick, rebellious hair, flowing upwards from a white
forehead. The full-fleshed face, lit with nervous, grey eyes,
reminded Owen of a Roman bust. "A young Roman emperor," he said to
himself, and he seemed to understand Evelyn's love of Ulick. Would
that she had continued to love this young pagan! Far better than to
have been duped by that grey, skinny Christian. And he listened to
Ulick, admiring his independent thought, his flashes of wit.

Ulick was telling stories of an opera company to which it was likely
he would be appointed secretary. A very unlikely thing indeed to
happen, Owen thought, if the company were assembled outside the
windows, within hearing of the stories which Ulick was telling about
them. Very amusing were the young man's anecdotes and comments, but
it seemed to Owen as if he would never cease talking; and Innes,
though seeming to enjoy the young man's wit, seemed to feel with Owen
that something must be done to bring it to an end.

"We shall be here all the afternoon listening to you, Ulick. I don't
know if Sir Owen has anything else to do, but I have some parts to
copy; there is a rehearsal to-night."

Ulick's manner at once grew so serious and formal that Innes feared
he had offended him, and then Owen suddenly realised that they were
both being sent away. In the street they must part, that was Owen's
intention, but before he could utter it Ulick begged of him to wait
a second, for he had forgotten his gloves. Without waiting for an
answer he ran back to the house, leaving Uwen standing on the
pavement, asking himself if he should wait for this impertinent
young man, who took it for granted that he would.

"You have got your gloves," he said, looking disapprovingly at the
tight kid gloves which Ulick was forcing over his fingers. "Do you
remember the way? As well as I remember, one turns to the right."

"Yes, to the right." And talking of the old music, of harpsichords
and viols, they walked on together till they heard the whistle of
the train.

"We have just missed our train."

There was no use running, and there was no other train for half an
hour.

"The waiting here will be intolerable," Owen said. "If you would care
for a walk, we might go as far as Peckham. To walk to London would
be too far, though, indeed, it would do both of us good."

"Yes, the evening is fine--why not walk to London? We can inquire out
the way as we go."



XI

"A Curious accident our meeting at Innes's."

"A lucky one for me. Far more pleasant living in this house than in
that horrible hotel."

Owen was lying back in an armchair, indulging in sentimental
and fatalistic dreams, and did not like this materialistic
interpretation of his invitation to Ulick to come to stay with him
at Berkeley Square. He wished to see the hand of Providence in
everything that concerned himself and Evelyn, and the meeting with
this young man seemed to point to something more than the young man's
comfort.

"Looked at from another side, our meeting was unlucky. If you hadn't
come in, Innes would have told me more about Evelyn. She must have
an address in London, and he must know it."

"That doesn't seem so sure. She may intend to live in Dulwich when
she returns from America."

"I can't see her living with her father; even the nuns seem more
probable. I wonder how it was that all this time you and she never
ran across each other. Did you never write to her?"

"No; I was abroad a great deal. And, besides, I knew she didn't want
to see me, so what was the good in forcing myself upon her?"

It was difficult for Owen to reprove Ulick for having left Evelyn to
her own devices. Had he not done so himself? Still, he felt that if
he had remained in England, he would not have been so indifferent;
and he followed his guest across the great tessellated hall towards
the dining-room in front of a splendid servitude.

The footmen drew back their chairs so that they might sit down with
the least inconvenience possible; and dinner at Berkeley Square
reminded Ulick of some mysterious religious ceremony; he ate,
overawed by the great butler--there was something colossal,
Egyptian, hierarchic about him, and Ulick could not understand how
it was that Sir Owen was not more impressed.

"Habit," he said to himself.

At one end of the room there was a great gold screen, and "in a dim,
religious light" the impression deepened; passing from ancient
Thebes to modern France, Ulick thought of a great cathedral. The
celebrant, the deacon and the subdeacon were represented by first
and second footmen, the third footman, who never left the sideboard,
he compared to the acolyte, the voice of the great butler proposing
different wines had a ritualistic ring in it; and, amused by his
conception of dinner in Berkeley Square, Ulick admired Owen's dress.
He wore a black velvet coat, trousers, and slippers. His white
frilled shirt and his pearl studs reminded Ulick of his own plain
shirt with only one stud, and he suspected vulgarity in a single
stud, for it was convenient, and would therefore appeal to waiters
and the middle classes. He must do something on the morrow to redeem
his appearance, and he noticed Owen's cuffs and sleeve-links, which
were superior to his own; and Owen's hands, they, too, were
superior--well-shaped, bony hands, with reddish hair growing about
the knuckles. Owen's nails were beautifully trimmed, and Ulick
determined to go to a manicurist on the morrow. A delicious perfume
emerged when Owen drew his handkerchief from his coat pocket; and all
this personal care reminded Ulick of that time long ago when Owen was
Evelyn's lover and travelled with her from capital to capital,
hearing her sing everywhere. "Now he will never see her again," he
thought, as he followed Owen back to his study, hoping to persuade
him into telling the story of how he had gone down to Dulwich to
write a criticism of Innes's concert, and how he had at once
recognised that Evelyn had a beautiful voice, and would certainly win
a high position on the lyric stage if she studied for it.

It was a solace to Owen's burdened heart to find somebody who would
listen to him, and he talked on and on, telling of the day he and
Evelyn had gone to Madame Savelli, and how he had had to leave Paris
soon after, for his presence distracted Evelyn's attention from her
singing-lessons. "In a year," Madame Savelli had said, "I will make
something wonderful of her, Sir Owen, if you will only go away, and
not come back for six months."

"He lives in recollection of that time," Ulick said to himself, "that
is his life; the ten years he spent with her are his life, the rest
counts for nothing." A moment after Owen was comparing himself to a
man wandering in the twilight who suddenly finds a lamp: "A lamp
that will never burn out," Ulick said to himself. "He will take that
lamp into the tomb with him."

"But I must read you the notices." And going to an escritoire covered
with ormolu--one of those pieces of French furniture which cost
hundreds of pounds--he took out a bundle of Evelyn's notices. "The
most interesting," he said, "were the first notices--before the
critics had made up their mind about her."

He stopped in his untying of the parcel to tell Ulick about his
journey to Brussels to hear her sing.

"You see, I had broken my leg out hunting, and there was a question
whether I should be able to get there in time. Imagine my annoyance
on being told I must not speak to her."

"Who told you that?"

"Madame Savelli."

"Oh, I understand I You arrived the very day of her first
appearance?"

Owen threw up his head and began reading the notices.

"They are all the same," he said, after reading half a dozen, and
Ulick felt relieved. "But stay, this one is different," and the long
slip dismayed Ulick, who could not feel much interest in the
impression that Evelyn had created as Elsa--he did not know how many
years ago.

"'Miss Innes is a tall, graceful woman, who crosses the stage with
slow, harmonious movements--any slight quickening of her step
awakening a sense of foreboding in the spectator. Her eyes, too, are
of great avail, and the moment she comes on the stage one is
attracted by their strangeness--grave, mysterious, earnest eyes,
which smile rarely; but when they do smile happiness seems to mount
up from within, illuminating her life from end to end. She will never
be unhappy again, one thinks. It is with her smile she recompenses
her champion knight when he lays low Telramund, and it is with her
smile she wins his love--and ours. We regret, for her sake, there
are so few smiles in Wagner: very few indeed--not one in 'Senta' nor
in 'Elizabeth.'" The newspaper cutting slipped from Owen's hand, and
he talked for a long time about her walk and her smile, and then
about her "Iphigenia," which he declared to be one of the most
beautiful performances ever seen, her personality lending itself to
the incarnation of this Greek idea of fate and self-sacrifice. But
Gluck's music was, in Owen's opinion, old-fashioned even at the time
it was written--containing beautiful things, of course, but somewhat
stiff in the joints, lacking the clear insight and direct expression
of Beethoven's. "One man used to write about her very well, and
seemed to understand her better than any other. And writing about
this performance he says--Now, if I could find you his article." The
search proved a long one, but as it was about to be abandoned Owen
turned up the cutting he was in search of.

"'Her nature intended her for the representation of ideal heroines
whose love is pure, and it does not allow her to depict the violence
of physical passion and the delirium of the senses. She is an artist
of the peaks, whose feet may not descend into the plain and follow
its ignominious route,' And then here: 'He who has seen her as the
spotless spouse of the son of Parsifal, standing by the window, has
assisted at the mystery of the chaste soul awaiting the coming of
her predestined lover,' And 'He who has seen her as Elizabeth,
ascending the hillside, has felt the nostalgia of the skies awaken
in his heart,' Then he goes on to say that her special genius and
her antecedents led her to 'Fidelio,' and designed her as the
perfect embodiment of Leonore's soul--that pure, beautiful soul made
wholly of sacrifice and love,' But you never saw her as Leonore so
you can form no idea of what she really was,"

"I will read you what she wrote when she was studying 'Fidelio':
'Beethoven's music has nothing in common with the passion of the
flesh; it lives in the realms of noble affections, pity, tenderness,
love, spiritual yearnings for the life beyond the world, and its joy
in the external world is as innocent as a happy child's. It is in
this sense classical--it lives and loves and breathes in spheres of
feeling and thought removed from the ordinary life of men. Wagner's
later work, if we except some scenes from "The Ring"--notably the
scenes between Wotan and Brunnhilde--is nearer to the life of the
senses; its humanity is fresh in us, deep as Brunnhilde's; but
essential man lives in the spirit. The desire of the flesh is more
necessary to the life of the world than the aspirations of the soul,
yet the aspirations of the soul are more human. The root is more
necessary to the plant than its flower, but it is by the flower and
not by the root that we know it."

"Is it not amazing that a woman who could think like that should be
capable of flinging up her art--the art which I gave her--on account
of the preaching of that wooden-headed Mostyn?" Sitting down
suddenly he opened a drawer, and, taking out her photograph, he
said: "Here she is as Leonore, but you should have seen her in the
part. The photograph gives no idea whatever; you haven't seen her
picture. Come, let me show you her picture: one of the most beautiful
pictures that ---- ever painted; the most beautiful in the room, and
there are many beautiful things in this room. Isn't it extraordinary
that a woman so beautiful, so gifted, so enchanting, so intended by
life for life should be taken with the religious idea suddenly? She
has gone mad without doubt. A woman who could do the things that she
could do to pass over to religion, to scapulars, rosaries,
indulgencies! My God! my God!" and he fell back in his armchair, and
did not speak again for a long time. Getting up suddenly, he said,
"If you want to smoke any more there are cigars on the table; I am
going to bed."

"Well, it is hard upon him," Ulick said as he took a cigar; and
lighting his candle, he wandered up the great green staircase by
himself, seeking the room he had been given at the end of one of the
long corridors.



XII

"Did it ever occur to you," Owen said one evening, as the men sat
smoking after dinner, after the servant had brought in the whisky
and seltzer, between eleven and twelve, in that happy hour when the
spirit descends and men and women sitting together are taken with a
desire to communicate the incommunicable part of themselves--"did it
ever occur to you," Owen said, blowing the smoke and sipping his
whisky and seltzer from time to time, "that man is the most
ridiculous animal on the face of this earth?"

"You include women?" Ulick asked.

"No, certainly not; women are not nearly so ridiculous, because they
are more instinctive, more like the animals which we call the lower
animals in our absurd self-conceit. As I have often said, women have
never invented a religion; they are untainted with that madness, and
they are not moralists. They accept the religions men invent, and
sometimes they become saints, and they accept our moralities--what
can they do, poor darlings, but accept? But they are not interested
in moralities, or in religions. How can they be? They are the
substance out of which life comes, whereas we are but the spirit, the
crazy spirit--the lunatic crying for the moon. Spirit and substance
being dependent one on the other, concessions have to be made; the
substance in want of the spirit acquiesces, says, 'Very well, I will
be religious and moral too.' Then the spirit and the substance are
married. The substance has been infected--"

"What makes you say all this, Asher?"

"Well, because I have just been thinking that perhaps my misfortunes
can be traced back to myself. Perhaps it was I who infected Evelyn."

"You?"

"Yes, I may have brought about a natural reaction. For years I was
speaking against religion to her, trying to persuade her; whereas if
I had let the matter alone it would have died of inanition, for she
was not really a religious woman."

"I see, I see," Ulick answered thoughtfully.

"Had she met you in the beginning," Owen continued, "she might have
remained herself to the end; for you would have let her alone.
Religion provokes me... I blaspheme; but you are indifferent, you
are not interested. You are splendid, Ulick."

A smile crossed Ulick's lips, and Owen wondered what the cause of the
smile might be, and would have asked, only he was too interested in
his own thoughts; and the words, "I wonder you trouble about
people's beliefs" turned him back upon himself, and he continued:

"I have often wondered. Perhaps something happens to one early in
life, and the mind takes a bias. My animosity to religion may have
worn away some edge off her mind, don't you see? The moral idea that
one lover is all right, whereas any transgression means ruin to a
woman, was never invented by her. It came from me; it is impossible
she could have developed that moral idea from within--she was
infected with it."

"You think so?" Ulick replied thoughtfully, and took another cigar.

"Yes, if she had met you," Owen continued, returning to his idea.

"But if she had met me in the beginning you wouldn't have known her;
and you wouldn't consent to that so that she might be saved from
Monsignor?"

"I'd make many sacrifices to save her from that nightmare of a man;
but the surrender of one's past is unthinkable. The future? Yes. But
there is nothing to be done. We don't know where she is. Her father
said she would be in London at the end of the week; therefore she is
in London now." "If she didn't change her mind." "No, she never
changes her mind about such things; any change of plans always
annoyed her. So she is in London, and we do not know her address.
Isn't it strange? And yet we are more interested in her than in any
other human being."

"It would be easy to get her address; I suppose Innes would tell us.
I shouldn't mind going down to Dulwich if I were not so busy with
this opera company. The number of people I have to see,
five-and-twenty, thirty letters every day to be written--really I
haven't a minute. But you, Asher, don't you think you might run down
to Dulwich and interview the old gentleman? After all, you are the
proper person. I am nobody in her life, only a friend of a few
months, whereas she owes everything to you. It was you who
discovered her--you who taught her, you whom she loved."

"Yes, there is a great deal in what you say, Ulick, a great deal in
what you say. I hadn't thought of it in that light before. I suppose
the lot does fall to me by right to go to the old gentleman and ask
him. Before you came we were getting on very well, and he quite
understood my position."

Several days passed and no step was taken to find Evelyn's address in
London.

"If I were you, Asher, I would go down to-morrow, for I have been
thinking over this matter, and the company of which I am the
secretary of course cannot pay her what she used to get ten years
ago, but I think my directors would be prepared to make her a very
fair offer, and, after all, the great point would be to get her back
to the stage."

"I quite agree, Ulick, I quite agree." "Very well, if you think so go
to Dulwich." "Yes, yes, I'll go." And Owen came back that evening,
not with Evelyn's address, but with the news that she was in London,
living in a flat in Bayswater. "Think of that," Owen said, "a flat
in Bayswater after the house I gave her in Park Lane. Think of that!
Devoted to poor people, arranging school treats, and making
clothes."

"So he wouldn't give you her address?"

"When I asked him, he said, and not unreasonably, 'If she wanted to
see you she would write.' What could I answer? And to leave a letter
with him for her would serve no purpose; my letter would not
interest her; it might remain unanswered. No, no, mine is the past;
there is no future for me in her life. If anybody could do anything
it is you. She likes you."

"But, my good friend, I don't know where she is, and you won't find
out."

"Haven't I been to see her father?"

"Oh, her father! A detective agency would give us her address within
the next twenty-four hours, and the engagement must be filled up
within a few weeks."

"I can't go to a detective agency and pay a man to track her out--no,
not for anything."

"Not even to save her from Monsignor?"

"Not even that. There are certain things that cannot be done. Let us
say no more."

A fortnight later Owen was reading in the corner by the window about
five o'clock, waiting for Ulick to come home--he generally came in
for a cup of tea--and hearing a latchkey in the door, he put down
his book.

"Is Sir Owen in?"

"Sir Owen is in the study, sir."

And Ulick came in somewhat hurriedly. There was a light in his eyes
which told Owen that something had happened, something that would
interest him, and nothing could interest him unless news of Evelyn.

"Have you seen her?" and Owen took off his spectacles.

"Yes," Ulick answered, "I have seen her."

"You met her?"

"Yes."

"By accident?"

"Yes."

"Tell me about it."

Ulick was too excited to sit down; he walked about the hearthrug in
order to give more emphasis to his story.

"My hansom turned suddenly out of a large thoroughfare into some mean
streets, and the neighbourhood seemed so sordid that I was just
going to tell the driver to avoid such short cuts for the future
when I caught sight of a tall figure in brown holland. To meet
Evelyn in such a neighbourhood seemed very unlikely, but as the cab
drew nearer I could not doubt that it was she. I put up my stick, but
at that moment Evelyn turned into a doorway."

"You knocked?"

Ulick nodded.

"What sort of place was it?"

"All noise and dirt; a lot of boys."

"A school?"

"It seemed more like a factory. Evelyn came forward and said, 'I will
see you in half an hour, if you will wait for me at my flat,' 'But I
don't know the address,' I said. She gave me the address, Ayrdale
Mansions, and I went away in the cab; and after a good deal of
driving we discovered Ayrdale Mansions, a huge block, all red brick
and iron, a sort of model dwelling-houses, rather better."

"Good Lord!"

"I went up a stone staircase."

"No carpet?"

"No. Mérat opened the door to me. I told her I had met Miss Innes in
a slum; she followed me into the drawing-room, saying, 'One of these
days Mademoiselle will bring back some horrid things with her.'"

"Good Lord! Tell me what her rooms were like?"

"The flat is better than you would expect to find in such a building.
It is the staircase that makes the place look like a model
dwelling-house. There is a drawing-room and a dining-room."

"What kind of furniture has she in the drawing-room?"

"An oak settle in the middle of the room and--"

"That doesn't sound very luxurious."

"But there are photographs of pictures on the walls, Italian saints,
the Renaissance, you know, Botticelli and Luini; her writing-table
is near the window, and covered with papers; she evidently writes a
great deal. Mérat tells me she spends her evenings writing there
quite contented."

"That will do about the room; now tell me about herself."

"She came in looking very like herself."

"Glad to see you?"

"I think she was. She didn't seem to have any scruples about seeing
me. Our meeting was pure accident, so she was not responsible."

"Tell me, what did she look like?"

"Well, you know her appearance? She hasn't grown stouter her hair
hasn't turned grey."

"Yet she has changed?"

"Yes, she has changed; but--I don't know exactly how to word it--an
extraordinary goodness seems to have come into her face. It always
seemed to me that a great deal of her charm was in the kindness
which seemed to float about her and to look out of her eyes, and
that look which you know, or which you don't know--"

"I know it very well."

"Well, that look is more apparent than ever. I noticed it especially
as she leaned over the table looking at me."

"I know, those quiet, kindly eyes, steady as marble. A woman's eyes
are more beautiful than a man's because they are steadier. Yes, it
is impossible to look into her eyes and not to love her; her thick
hair drawn back loosely over the ears. There never was anybody so
winsome as she. You know what I mean?"

"How he loves her!" Ulick said to himself; "how he loves her! All his
life is reflected in his love of her."

"Are you going to see her again?" Owen asked suddenly.

"Well, yes."

"Did she raise no difficulties?"

"No."

"You didn't speak to her about your plans to induce her to accept the
engagement?"

"Not yet."

"Shall you?"

"I suppose so, but I cannot somehow imagine that she will ever go
back to the stage. She said, having made money enough for the nuns,
she had finished with the stage for ever, and was glad of it."

"Once an idea gets into our minds we become the slaves of it, and her
mind was always more like a man's than a woman's mind."

This point was discussed, Ulick pretending not to understand Owen's
meaning in order to draw him into confidences.

"She has asked you to go to see her, so I suppose she likes you. I
wish you well. _Anything_ rather than Monsignor should get her. You
have my best wishes."

"What does he mean by saying I have his best wishes? Does he mean
that he would prefer me to be her lover, if that would save her from
religion? Would he use me as the cat uses the monkey to pull the
chestnuts out of the fire, and then take them from me." But he did
not question Owen as to his meaning, and showed no surprise when a
few days afterwards Owen came into the drawing-room, interrupting
him in his work, saying:

"Have you forgotten?"

"Forgotten what?"

"Why, that you have an appointment with Evelyn."

"So I have, so I have!" he said, laying down his pen. "And if I don't
hasten, I shall miss it."

Owen took his hat, saying, "Your hat wants brushing; you mustn't go
to her with an unbrushed hat."

Ulick ran away north, casting one glance back. Owen--would he sit in
his study thinking of his lost happiness or would he try to forget
it in some picture-dealer's shop?



XIII

"Has Mr. Dean come in?"

"No, Sir Owen."

"What time is it?"

"Eight o'clock."

"Dinner is quite ready?"

"Quite ready, Sir Owen."

"I don't think there is any good in waiting. Something must have
detained Mr. Dean."

"Very well, Sir Owen."

The butler left the room surprised, for if there was one thing that
Sir Owen hated it was to dine by himself, yet Owen had not screamed
out a single blasphemy, or even muttered a curse, and wondering at
his master's strange resignation, the butler crossed the hall,
hoping Sir Owen's health was not run down. He put the evening paper
by Sir Owen, for there had been some important racing that day, and
sometimes Sir Owen would talk quite affably. There were other times
when he would not say a word, and this was one of them. He pushed
the paper away, and went on eating, irritated by the sound of his
knife and fork on his plate, the only sound in the dining-room, for
the footmen went silently over the thick pile carpet, receiving
their directions by a gesture from the great butler.

After dinner Owen had recourse to the evening paper, and he read it,
and every other paper in his room, advertisements and all, asking
himself what the devil had happened to Ulick. Some of his operatic
friends must have asked him to dinner. A moment after it seemed to
him that Ulick was treating his house like a hotel. "Damn him! he
might have easily sent me a telegram." At half-past ten the footman
brought in the whisky, and Owen sat sipping his drink, smoking
cigars, and wondering why Ulick had net come home for dinner; and
the clock had struck half-past eleven before Ulick's latchkey was
heard in the door.

"I hope you didn't wait dinner for me?"

"We waited a little while. Where have you been?"

"She asked me to stay to dinner."

"Oh, she asked you to stay to dinner!" Such a simple explanation of
Ulick's absence Owen hadn't thought of, and, reading his face, Ulick
hastened to tell him that after dinner they had gone to a concert.

"Well, I suppose you were right to go with her; the concert must have
been a great break in her life.... Sitting there all the evening,
writing letters, trying to get situations for drunken men, girl
mothers, philanthropy of every kind. How she must have enjoyed the
concert! Tell me about it; and tell me how she was dressed."

Ulick had not remarked Evelyn's dress very particularly, and Owen was
angry with him for only being able to tell him that she wore a pale
silk of a faint greenish colour.

"And her cloak?"

"Oh, her cloak was all right; it seemed warm enough."

Owen wanted to know what jewellery she wore, and complained that she
had sold all the jewellery he had given her for the nuns. Ulick was
really sorry for him. Now, what did she think of the singing? To
please him Ulick attributed all his criticism of the singers to
Evelyn, and Owen said:

"Extraordinary, isn't it? Did she say that she regretted leaving the
stage? And what did she say about me?"

Ulick had been expecting this question.

"She hoped you were very well, and that you did not speak unkindly of
her."

"Speak unkindly of her!" and Owen's thoughts seemed to fade away.

Cigar after cigar, drink after drink, until sleep settled in their
eyes, and both went to bed too weary to think of her any more.

But next day Owen remembered that Ulick had not told him if he had
driven Evelyn home after the concert, and the fact that he had not
mentioned how they had parted was in itself suspicious; and he
determined to question Ulick. But Ulick was seldom in Berkeley
Square; he pleaded as his excuse business appointments; he had
business appointments all over London; Owen listened to his
explanations, and then they talked of other things. In this way Owen
never learnt on what terms Evelyn and Ulick were: whether she wrote
to him, whether they saw each other daily or occasionally. It was
not natural to think that after a dinner and a concert their
intimacy should cease as suddenly as it had begun. No doubt they
dined together in restaurants, and they went to concerts. Every hour
which he spent away from Berkeley Square he spent with her ...
possibly. To find out if this were true he would have to follow
Ulick, and that he couldn't do. He might question him? No, he
couldn't do that. And, sitting alone in his study in the evening,
for Ulick had gone out after dinner, he asked himself if he could
believe that Ulick was with the directors of the opera company. It
was much more likely that he was in the Bayswater flat, trying to
persuade Evelyn to return to the stage. So far he was doing good
work, but the only means he had of persuading her was through her
senses, by making love to her. Her senses had kindled for him once,
why shouldn't they kindle again? It would be a hard struggle between
the flesh and the idea, the idea which urged her in one direction,
and the flesh which drew her in another. Which would prevail? Ulick
was young, and Owen knew how her senses flared up, how certain music
set her senses on fire and certain literature. "All alone in that
flat," and the vision becoming suddenly intense he saw Ulick leading
her to the piano, and heard the music, and saw her eyes lifted as
she had lifted them many times to him--grey marble eyes, which would
never soften for him again.

He had known her for so many years, and thought of her so intensely
that every feature of her face could be recalled in its minutest
line and expression; not only the general colour of her face, but
the whiteness of the forehead, and where the white skin freckled.
How strange it was that freckles should suit her, though they suited
no other woman! And the blue tints under the eyes, he remembered
them, and how the blue purpled, the rose red in the cheeks, and the
various changes--the greys in the chin, the blue veins reticulating
in the round white neck, and the pink shapes of the ear showing
through the shadow. Her hair was visible to him, its colour in the
light and in the shadow; and her long thin hands, the laces she wore
at the wrists, her rings, the lines of the shoulders, and of the
arms, the breasts--their size, their shape, and their very weight--
every attitude that her body fell into naturally. From long knowledge
and intense thinking he could see her at will; and there she was at
the end of the sofa crossing and uncrossing her lovely legs, so long
from the knees, showing through the thin evening gown; he thought of
their sweetness and the seduction of the foot advancing, showing an
inch or two beyond the skirt of her dress. And then she drew her
rings from her fingers, dropping them into her lap, and
unconsciously placed them again over the knuckles.

A great deal he would give--everything--for Ulick's youth, so that he
might charm her again. But of what avail to begin again? Had he not
charmed her before? and had not her love flowed past him like water,
leaving nothing but a memory of it; yet it was all he had--all that
life had given him. And it was so little, because she had never
loved him. Every other quality Nature had bestowed upon her, but not
the capacity for loving. For the first time it seemed to him he had
begun to understand that she was incapable of love--in other words,
of giving herself wholly to anybody. A strange mystery it was that
one who could give her body so unreservedly should be so
parsimonious about her soul. To give her body and retain herself was
her gift, above all other women, thereby remaining always new,
always unexpected, and always desirable. In the few visits to Paris
which had been allowed to him by her, and by Madame Savelli, she had
repaid him for the long abstinences by an extraordinary exaltation
and rapture of body and of intellect, but he had always experienced
a strange alienation, even when he held her in his arms--perhaps
then more than ever did he feel that she never was, and never could
be, his. The thought had always been at the back of his mind:
"Tomorrow I shall be far from her, and she will be interested in
other things. All she can give me is her body--a delicious possession
it is--and a sweet friendliness, a kindliness which sometimes seems
like love, but which is not." Some men would regard her as a cold
sensualist; maybe so, though indeed he did not think that it was so,
for her kindliness precluded such a criticism. But even if it were
so, such superficial thinking about her mattered little to him who
knew her as none other could ever know her, having lived with her
since she was two or three and twenty till five and thirty--thinking
of her always, noting every faintest shade of difference, comparing
one mood with another, learning her as other men learn a difficult
text from some ancient parchment, some obscure palimpsest--that is
what she was, something written over. There was another text which
he had never been able to master; and he sat in his chair conscious
of nothing but some vague pain which--becoming more and more
definite--awoke him at last. Though he had studied her so closely
perhaps he knew as little of her as any one else, as little as she
knew of herself. Of only one thing was there any surety, and that
was she could only be saved by an appeal to the senses.

So he had done right in encouraging her friendship with Ulick,
sending Ulick to her, putting his natural jealousy aside--preferring
to suffer rather than that she should be lost. God only knew how he
was suffering day by day, hour by hour; but it were better that he
should suffer than that she should be abandoned to the spiritual
constriction of the old Roman python. It was horrible to think, but
the powerful coils would break and crush to pulp; then the beast
would lubricate and swallow. Anything were better than this; Ulick's
kisses would never be more to Evelyn than the passing trance of the
senses; she never would love him as other women loved, giving their
souls: she had never given her soul, why should she give it now?
But, good God! if after some new adventure she should return to the
python?

His heart failed him; but only for a moment. Ulick might prove to her
the futility of her endeavour to lead a chaste life; and once that
was established she would become the beautiful, enchanting being
that he had known; but she would never return to him. If she only
returned to herself! The spirit of sacrifice tempted him, despite
the suffering he was enduring--a suffering which he compared to
sudden scaldings: he was being scalded to death by degrees, covered
from head to foot with blisters. A telegram in the hall for Ulick, a
hesitation in Ulick's voice, a sudden shifting of the eyes--anything
sufficed--and therewith he was burnt to the bone, far beyond the
bone, into the very vitals. Even now in his study, he waited another
scalding. At any moment Ulick might come in, and though he never
betrayed himself by any word or look, still his presence would
suggest that he had just come from Evelyn. Perhaps he had been
walking with her in the park? But why wait in Berkeley Square? If a
martyrdom of jealousy he must endure, let it be at Riversdale. Out of
sight would not mean out of mind; but he would not be constantly
reminded of his torment; there would be business to attend to which
would distract his mind, and when he returned in a few days to
Berkeley Square merciful Fate would have settled everything: she
would be gone away with Ulick to be cured, or would remain behind, a
living food for the serpent.

The valet was told that he must be ready to catch the half-past four
train; and Ulick, when he returned from a long walk with Evelyn at
half-past six, learnt that Sir Owen had gone to Riversdale.

"Sir Owen says, sir, he hopes to see you when he returns."

But what business had taken Sir Owen out of London, and so suddenly?
The placid domestic could only tell him that Sir Owen often went to
Riversdale on business connected with the estate. "Sir Owen often
gets a wire from his agent." But this sudden call to see his agent
did not strike Ulick as very likely; far more likely that Asher had
gone out of town because he suspected--

"Poor chap! it must be dreadful seeing me come in and out of the
house, suspecting every time I am going to or coming from her. But
it was his own will that I should try to get her back to the stage
and away from Monsignor. All the same, it must have been devilishly
unpleasant." Ulick was very sorry for Owen, and hoped that if he did
succeed in tempting Evelyn away from Monsignor Owen would not hate
him for having done so. Nothing is more common than to hate one's
collaborator. Ulick laughed and suddenly grew serious. "His years are
against him. Old age, always a terror, becomes in an affair of this
kind a special terror, for there is no hope; she will never go back
to him, so I might as well get her. If I don't, Monsignor will"; and
a smile appeared again on his face, for he had begun to feel that he
would succeed in persuading Evelyn to accept the engagement, and to
do that would mean taking him on as a lover.

When he lighted a cigar the conviction was borne in upon him, as the
phrase goes, that to travel in an opera company without a mistress
would be unendurable.... Where could he get one equal to Evelyn?
Nowhere. No one in the company was comparable to her; and of course
he loved her, and she loved him: differently, in some strange way he
feared, but still she loved him, or was attracted to him--it did not
matter which so long as he could succeed in persuading her to accept
the engagement which his directors were most anxious to conclude. As
they walked through Kensington Gardens that afternoon he had noticed
how she had begun to talk suddenly on the question whether it would
be permissible for a woman in certain circumstances to take a second
lover, if her life with her first were entirely broken, and so on.
He had answered perfunctorily, and as soon as possible turned the
conversation upon other things. But it had come back--led back by
her unconsciously to the moral question. So it would seem that she
was coming round. But there was something hysterical, something so
outside of herself--something so irresponsible in her yielding to
him, that he did not altogether like the adventure which he had
undertaken, and asked himself if he loved her sufficiently, finding
without difficulty many reasons for loving her. Nowhere could he
find anybody whom he admired more, or who interested him more. He
had loved her, and they had spent a pleasant time together in that
cottage on the river. A memory of it lit up his sensual imagination,
and he determined to continue the experience just as any other young
man would. Evelyn had denied herself to him in Italy for some
strange reason; whatever that reason was it had been overcome, and
once she yielded herself she was glorious. What happened before
would happen again, and if things did not turn out as pleasantly as
he hoped they would--that is to say, if she would not remain in the
opera company, well, the fault would not be with him. She sang very
well, though not as well as Owen thought; and he went upstairs to
dress for dinner, thinking how pleasant it was to live in Berkeley
Square.

They were dining together in a restaurant, and as she came forward to
meet him he said to himself, "She looks like accepting the
engagement." And when he spoke about it to her he only reminded her
that by returning to the stage she would be able to make more money
for her poor people, for he felt it were better not to argue. To
take her hand and tell her that it was beautiful was much more in his
line, to put his arm about her when they drove back together in the
hansom, and speak to her of the cottage at Reading--this he could do
very well; and he continued to inflame her senses until she withdrew
herself from his arm, and he feared that he was compromising his
chance of seeing her on the morrow.

"But you will come to the park, won't you? Remember, it is our last
day together."

"Not the last," she said, "the last but one. Yes, I will see you
to-morrow. Now goodbye."

"May I not go upstairs with you?"

"No, Ulick, I cannot bring you up to my flat; it is too late."

"Then walk a little way."

"But if I were to accept that engagement do you think I could remain
a Catholic?"

Ulick could see no difficulty, and begged of her to explain.

His question was not answered until they had passed many lamp-posts,
and then as they retraced their steps she said:

"Travelling about with an opera company do you think I could go to
Mass, above all to Communion?"

"But you'll be on tour; nobody will know."

"What shall I do when I return to London?"

"Why look so far ahead?"

"All my friends know that I go to Mass."

"But you can go to Mass all the same and communicate."

"But if you were my lover?"

"Would that make any difference?"

"Of course it would make a difference if I were to continue to go to
Mass and communicate; I should be committing a sacrilege. You cannot
ask me to do that."

Ulick did not like the earnestness with which she spoke these words.
That she was yielding, however, there could be little doubt, and
whatever doubt remained in his mind was removed on the following day
in the park under the lime-trees, where they had been sitting for
some time, talking indolently--at least, Ulick had been talking
indolently of the various singers who had been engaged. He had done
most of the talking, watching the trees and the spire showing between
them, enjoying the air, and the colour of the day, a little heedless
of his companion, until looking up, startled by some break in her
voice, he saw that she was crying.

"Evelyn, what is the matter? You are crying. I never saw you cry
before."

She laughed a little, but there was a good deal of grief in her
laughter, and confessed herself to be very unhappy. Life was proving
too much for her, and when he questioned her as to her meaning, she
admitted in broken answers that his departure with the company was
more than she could bear.

"Why, then, not come with us? You'll sign the agreement?"

And they walked towards Bayswater together, talking from time to
time, Ulick trying not to say anything which would disturb her
resolution, though he had heard Owen say that once she had made a
promise she never went back upon it.

There was all next day to be disposed of, but he would be very busy,
and she would be busy too; she would have to make arrangements, so
perhaps it would be better they should not meet.

"Then, at the railway station the day after to-morrow," and he bade
her goodbye at her door.

Owen was in his study writing.

"I didn't know you had returned, Asher."

"I came back this afternoon," and he was on the point of adding, "and
saw you with Evelyn as I drove through the park." But the admission
was so painful a one to make that it died upon his lips, finding
expression only in a look of suffering--a sort of scared look, which
told Ulick that something had happened. Could it be that Owen had
seen them in the park sitting under the limes? That long letter on
the writing-table, which Owen put away so mysteriously--could it be
to Evelyn? Ulick had guessed rightly. Owen had seen them in the park,
and he was writing to Evelyn telling her that he could bear a great
deal, but it was cruel and heartless for her to sit with Ulick under
the same trees. He had stopped in the middle of the letter
remembering that it might prevent her from going away with Ulick,
and so throw her back into the power of Monsignor. Even so, he must
write his letter; one has oneself to consider, and he could bear it
no longer.

"I see you are writing, and I have many letters to write. You will
excuse me?" And Ulick went to his room. After writing his letters,
he sent word to Owen that he was dining out. "He will think I am
dining with her, but no matter; anything is better than that we two
should sit looking at each other all through the evening, thinking
of one thing and unable to speak about it."

Next day he was out all day transacting business, thinking in the
intervals, "To-morrow morning she will be in the station," sometimes
asking himself if Owen had written to her.

But the letter he had caught sight of on Owen's table had not been
posted. "After all, what is the good in writing a disagreeable
letter to her? If she is going away with Ulick what does it matter
under what trees they sat?" Yet everything else seemed to him
nothing compared with the fact that she and Ulick had pursued their
courtship under the limes facing the Serpentine; and Owen wondered
at himself. "We are ruled by trifles," he said; all the same he did
not send the letter.

And that night Owen and Ulick bade each other goodbye for the last
time.

"Perhaps I shall see you later on in the year; in about six months'
time we shall be back in London."

Owen could not bring himself to ask if Evelyn had accepted the
engagement--what was the good? To ask would be a humiliation, and he
would know to-morrow; the porter at her flat would tell him whether
she was in London.



XIV

"Mr. Dean left this morning, Sir Owen."

The butler was about to add, "He left about an hour ago, in plenty of
time to catch his train," but guessing Sir Owen's humour from his
silence, he said nothing, and left the footman to attend on him.

"So he has persuaded her to go away with him. ... I wonder--" And
Owen began to think if he should go to Ayrdale Mansions himself to
find out. But if she had not gone away with Ulick, and if he should
meet her in the street, how embarrassing it would be! Of what should
he speak to her? Of the intrigue she had been carrying on with Ulick
Dean? Should he pretend that he knew nothing of it? She would be
ashamed of this renewal of her affection for Ulick, though she had
not gone away with him; and if she had not gone, it would be only on
account of Monsignor. He sat irresolute, his thoughts dropping away
into remembrances of the day before--the two sitting together under
the lime-trees. That was the unendurable bitterness; it was easy to
forgive her Ulick, he was nothing compared to this deliberate
soiling of the past. If she could not have avoided the park, she
might have avoided certain corners sacred to the memory of their
love-story--the groves of limes facing the Serpentine being
especially sacred to his memory.

"But only man remembers; woman is the grosser animal." And in his
armchair Owen meditated on the coarseness of the female mind, always
careless of detail, even seeming to take pleasure in overlaying the
past with the present. "A mistake," he thought. "We should look upon
every episode as a picture, and each should hang in a place so
carefully appointed that none should do injury to another. But few
of us pay any regard to the hanging of our lives--women none at all.
The canvases are hooked anywhere, any place will suffice, no matter
whether they are hung straight or crooked; and a great many are left
on the floor, their faces turned to the wall; and some are hidden
away in cellars, where no memory ever reaches them. Poor canvases!"
And then, his thoughts reverting suddenly to his proposed visit to
Ayrdale Mansions, he asked himself what answer he could give if he
were asked to explain Ulick's presence at Berkeley Square--proofs of
his approval of Ulick's courtship; his motives would be
misunderstood. Never again would his love of her be believed in.

"I have been a fool--one always is a fool, and acts wrongly, when one
acts unselfishly. Self is our one guide--when we abandon self, we
abandon the rudder."

He would have just been content to keep Evelyn as his friend, and she
would have been willing to remain friends with him if he did not
talk against religion, or annoy her by making love to her. "There is
a time for everything," and he thought of his age. Passionate love
should melt into friendship, and her friendship he might have had if
he had thought only of himself; it would have been a worthy crown
for the love he had borne for her during so many years. Now there
was nothing left for him but a nasty sour rind of life to chew to the
end--it was under his teeth, and it was sour enough, and it never
would grow less sour. His sadness grew so deep that he forgot
himself in it, and was awakened by the sound of wheels.

"Somebody coming to call. I won't see anybody," and he rang the bell.
"I am not at home to anybody."

"But, Sir Owen, Mr. Dean--"

"Mr. Dean!" And Owen stood aghast, wondering what could have brought
Ulick back again.

"Are you at home to Mr. Dean, sir?"

"Yes, yes," and at the same moment he caught sight of Ulick coming
across the hall. "What has happened?" he said as soon as the door
was closed.

"She tried to poison herself last night."

"Tried to poison herself! But she is not dead?"

"No, she's not dead, and will recover."

"Tried to poison herself!"

"Yes, that is what I came back to tell you. We were to have met at
the station, but she didn't turn up; and, after waiting for a
quarter of an hour, I felt something must have happened, and drove
to Ayrdale Mansions."

"Tried to kill herself!"

"I'm afraid I have no time to tell you the story. Mérat will be able
to tell it to you better than I. I must get away by the next train.
There is no danger; she will recover."

"You say she will recover?" and Owen drew his hands across his eyes.
"I'm afraid I can hardly understand."

"But if you will just take a cab and go up to Ayrdale Mansions, you
will find Mérat, who will tell you everything."

"Yes, yes. You are sure she will recover?"

"Quite."

"But you--you are going away?"

"I have to, unless I give up my appointment. Of course, I should like
to stay behind; but there is no danger, absolutely none, only an
overdose of chloral."

"She suffered a great deal from sleeplessness. Perhaps it was an
accident."

Ulick did not answer, and the elder man drove in one direction and
the younger in another.

"Mérat, this is terrible!"

"Won't you come into the drawing-room, Sir Owen?"

"She is in no danger?"

"No, Sir Owen."

"Can I see her?"

"Yes, of course, Sir Owen; but she is still asleep, and the doctor
says she will not be able to understand or recognise anybody for
some hours. You will see her if you call later."

"Yes, I'll call later; but first of all, tell me, Mérat, when was the
discovery made?"

"She left a letter for me to say she was not to be called, and
knowing she had gone out for many hours, and finding her clothes and
her boots wet through, I thought it better not to disturb her. Of
course, I never suspected anything until Mr. Dean came."

"Yes, she was to meet him at the station." And as he said these words
he remembered that Mérat must know of Evelyn's intimacy with Ulick.
She must have been watching it for the last month, and no doubt
already connected Evelyn's attempted suicide in some way with Mr.
Dean, but the fact that they had arranged to meet at the railway
station did not point to a betrayal.

"There was no quarrel between them, then, Sir Owen?"

"None; oh, none, Mérat."

"It is very strange."

"Yes, it is very strange, Mérat; we might talk of it for hours
without getting nearer to the truth. So Mr. Dean came here?"

"Yes. When I opened the door he said, 'Where is mademoiselle?' and I
said, 'Asleep; she left a note that she was not to be called.'
'Then, Mérat, something must have happened, for she was to meet me
at the railway station. We must see to this at once.' Her door was
locked, but Mr. Dean put his shoulder against it. In spite of the
noise, she did not awake--a very few more grains would have killed
her."

"Grains of what?"

"Chloral, Sir Owen. We thought she was dead. Mr. Dean went for the
doctor. He looked very grave when he saw her; I could see he thought
she was dead; but after examining her he said, 'She has a young
heart, and will get over it.'"

"So that is your story, Mérat?"

"Yes, Sir Owen, that is the story. There is no doubt about it she
tried to kill herself, the doctor says."

"So, Mérat, you think it was for Mr. Dean. Don't you know
mademoiselle has taken a religious turn?"

"I know it, Sir Owen."

And he attributed the present misfortune to Monsignor, who had
destroyed Evelyn's mind with ceremonies and sacraments.

"Good God! these people should be prosecuted." And he railed against
the prelate and against religion, stopping only now and again when
Mérat went to her mistress's door, thinking she heard her call. "You
say it was between eleven and twelve she came back?"

"It was after twelve, Sir Owen."

"Now where could she have been all that time, and in the rain,
thinking how she might kill herself?"

"It couldn't have been anything else, Sir Owen. Her boots were soaked
through as if she had been in the water, not caring where she went."

Owen wondered if it were possible she had ventured into the
Serpentine.

"The park closes at nine, doesn't it, Sir Owen?" They talked of the
possibility of hiding in the park and the keepers not discovering
Evelyn in their rounds; it was quite possible for her to have
escaped their notice if she hid in the bushes about the Long Water.

"You think, Sir Owen, that she intended to drown herself?"

"I don't know. You say her boots were wet through. Perhaps she went
out to buy the chloral--perhaps she hadn't enough."

"Well, Sir Owen, she must have been doubtful if she had enough
chloral to kill herself, for this is what I found." And the maid
took out of her pocket several pairs of garters tied together.

"You think she tied these together so that she might hang herself?"

"There is no place she could hang herself except over the banisters.
I thought that perhaps she feared the garters were not strong enough
and she might fall and break her legs."

"Poor woman! Poor woman!" So if the garters had proved stronger, she
would have strangled there minute by minute. Nothing but religious
mania--that is what drove her to it."

"I am inclined to think, Sir Owen, it must have been something of
that kind, for of course there were no money difficulties."

"The agony of mind she must have suffered! The agony of the suicide!
And her agony, the worst of all, for she is a religious woman." Owen
talked of how strange and mysterious are the motives which determine
the lives of human beings. "You see, all her life was in disorder--
leaving the stage and giving me up. Mérat, there is no use in
disguising it from you. You know all about it. Do you remember when
we met for the first time?"

"Yes, Sir Owen; indeed I do." And the two stood looking at each
other, thinking of the changes that time had made in themselves. Sir
Owen's figure was thinner, if anything, than before; his face seemed
shrunken, but there were only a few grey hairs, and the maid thought
him still a very distinguished-looking man--old, of course; but
still, nobody would think of him as an old man. Mérat's shoulders
seemed to be higher than they were when he last saw her; she had
developed a bust, and her black dress showed off her hips. Her hair
seemed a little thinner, so she was still typically French; France
looked out of her eyes. "Isn't it strange? The day we first met we
little thought that we would come to know each other so well; and
you have known her always, travelled all over Europe with her. How I
have loved that woman, Mérat! And here you are together, come from
Park Lane to this poor little flat in Bayswater. It is wonderful,
Mérat, after all these years, to be sitting here, talking together
about her whom we both love, you have been very good to her, and have
looked after her well; I shall never forget it to you."

"I have done my best, Sir Owen; and you know mademoiselle is one of
those whom one cannot help liking."

"But living in this flat with her, Mérat, you must feel lonely. Do
you never wish for your own country?"

"But I am with mademoiselle, Sir Owen; and if I were to leave her, no
one else could look after her--at least, not as I can. You see, we
know each other so well, and everything belonging to her interests
me. Perhaps you would like to see her, Sir Owen?"

"I'd like to see her, but what good would it do me or her? I'll see
her in the evening, when I can speak to her. To see her lying there
unconscious, Mérat--no, it would only put thoughts of death into my
mind; and she will have to die, though she didn't die last night,
just as we all shall have to die--you and I, in a few years we shall
be dead."

"Your thoughts are very gloomy, Sir Owen."

"You don't expect me to have gay thoughts to-day, do you, Mérat? So
here is where you live, you and she; and that is her writing-table?"

"Yes; she sits there in the evening, quite contented, writing
letters."

"To whom?" Owen asked. "To no one but priests and nuns?"

"Yes, she is very interested in her poor people, and she has to write
a great many letters on their behalf."

"I know--to get them work." And they walked round the room. "Well,
Mérat, this isn't what we are accustomed to--this isn't like Park
Lane."

"Mademoiselle only cares for plain things now; if she had the money
she would spend it all upon her poor people. It was a long time
before I could persuade her to buy the sofa you have been sitting on
just now; she has not had it above two months."

"And all these clothes, Mérat--what are they?"

"Oh, I have forgotten to take them away." And Mérat told him that
these were clothes that Evelyn was making for her poor people--for
little boys who were going upon a school-treat, mostly poor Irish;
and Owen picked up a cap from the floor, and a little crooked smile
came into his face when he heard it was intended for Paddy Sullivan.

"All the same, it is better she should think about poor people than
about religion."

"Far better, Sir Owen, far better. Sometimes I'm afraid she will
bring back things upon her. She comes back tired and sleeps; but
when she spends her time in churches thinking of her sins, or what
she imagines to be sins, Sir Owen, I hear her walking about her room
at night, and in the morning she tells me she hasn't slept at all."

"What you tell me is very serious, Mérat. All the same, all the same--
jackets and coats for Paddy Sullivan's children. Well, it is very
touching. There never was anybody quite so good, do you think there
was, Mérat?"

"That is the reason why we all love her; and you do, too, Sir Owen,
though you pretend to hate goodness and to despise--"

"No, Mérat, no. Tell mademoiselle, if she wakes, that I am coming
back to see her this evening late--the later the better, I suppose,
for she is not likely to fall asleep again once she awakes."

Mérat mentioned between nine and ten o'clock, and, to distract his
thoughts, Owen went to the theatre that evening, and was glad to
leave it at ten, before the play was over.

"Is she awake?"

"She has been awake some time. I think you will be able to have a
little talk with her." And Owen stole into the room with so little
noise that Evelyn did not hear him, and all the room was seen and
understood before she turned: the crucifix above the bedstead, the
pious prints, engravings which they had bought in Italy--Botticelli
and Filippo Lippi. She lay in a narrow iron bed, and all the form
that he knew so well covered in a plain nightgown such as he had
never seen before, but in keeping, he thought, with the rest of the
room, and in conformity--such was his impression, there was no time
for thinking--with her present opinions. The smallness of the chest
of drawers surprised him. Where did she keep her clothes? It might
be doubted if she possessed more than two or three gowns. Where were
they hanging? The few chairs and the dressing-table, on which he
caught sight of some ivory brushes he had given her, seemed the only
furniture in the room.

"Evelyn!"

"Oh, it is you, Owen. So you have come to see me. You are always
kind."

"My dear Evelyn, there never can be any question of kindness between
you and me. You will always be Evelyn, and I am only thinking now of
how glad I am to have found you again."

"Found me again!" And her thoughts seemed to float away, her mind not
being strong enough yet to think connectedly. "How did you hear
about me?" Before he could answer she said, "I suppose Ulick--" And
then, with an effort to remember, she added, "Yes, Mérat told me he
had come here," and the effort seemed to fatigue her.

"Perhaps it would be better if you didn't talk."

"Oh, no," she said, taking his hand, detaining it for a moment and
then losing it; "tell me."

And he told her, speaking very gently so that his voice might not
tire her, that Ulick had called at Berkeley Square.

"He told me you weren't going away with him."

A slight shudder passed through Evelyn's face, and she asked, "Where
is Ulick?"

"He has gone away. If he had stayed he would have lost his post as
secretary to the opera company."

Evelyn did not appear to hear the explanation, and it was some time
before she said:

"He has gone away. I don't think we shall see much of him again,
either you or I, Owen."

Owen did not resist asking if she regretted this, and she answered
that she did not regret it at all. "And now you understand, Owen,
what kind of woman I am; how hopeless everything is." In spite of
herself, a little trace of her old wit returning to her, she added,
"You see what an unfortunate man you are in your choice of a
mistress."

Owen could not answer; and a moment after he remembered that it is
only those who feel as deeply as Evelyn who can speak as lightly,
otherwise they would not be able to resist the strain; and the
strain was a very terrible one, he could see that, for she turned
over in bed, and a little later he perceived that she had been
crying. Turning suddenly, she exclaimed:

"Owen, Owen, I am very frightened!"

"Frightened of what, dear one?"

"I don't know, Owen, I can't tell you; but I am very frightened, for
he seems not to be very far away and may come again."

"And who is 'he'?"

"It is impossible to tell you--a darkness, a shadow that seems always
by me, and who was very near me last night. A little more chloral
and I should not be here talking to you!"

"It is terrible, Evelyn, terrible! And how should I have lived?"

"You lived before me and you will live after me. Suicide is a mortal
sin, so Monsignor would tell me. We are forbidden to kill ourselves
even to escape sin, and that seems strange; for how shall I ever
believe that God would not have forgiven me, that he would not have
preferred me to kill myself than to have--?" And her voice died
away, Owen wondered whether for lack of strength or unwillingness to
express herself in words.

"My dear Evelyn! my dear Evelyn!"

"You don't understand, Owen; I am so different from what I was once.
I know it, I feel it, the difference, and it can't be helped."

"But it can be helped, Evelyn. You've been living by yourself,
spending whole days and nights alone, and you've been suffering from
want of sleep--something had to happen; but now that it has happened
you will get quite well, and if you had only done what I asked you
before--if we had been married--I"

"Don't let us talk about it, Owen; you don't understand how different
I am, how impossible--I--don't want to be unkind, you have been very
good to me always; and, understanding you as I seem to understand
you now, I am sorry you should have made such a bad choice, and that
I was not more satisfactory."

"But you are perfectly satisfactory, Evelyn. If I am satisfied, who
should have the right to grumble? The pain of losing you is better
than the pleasure of winning anybody else.... So you think, Evelyn,
you will never return to the stage?"

She did not answer, and, with dilated eyes, she looked through the
room till Owen turned, wondering if he should see anything; and he
was about to ask her if she saw the shadow again which she had
spoken of a while ago, but refrained from speaking, seeing that the
time was not one for questions.

"Evelyn," he said, "I will come to see you to-morrow. You are tired
to-night."



XV

"She will fall asleep again, and to-morrow will be quite well. But
what a near escape!" And he lingered with Mérat, feeling it were
better she should know everything, yet loth to tell her that he had
known all the while that Ulick was trying to persuade Evelyn to go
away with him. But Mérat must know that Ulick had been staying at
Berkeley Square.

"I suppose Monsignor comes here to see her?"

"He has been here, Sir Owen."

Owen would have liked to question her, but it did not seem honourable
to do so, and after a little talk about the danger of yielding to
religious impulses, he noticed that Mérat was drifting from him,
evidently thinking such discussions useless.

On the landing he told her that Ulick had gone away with the opera
company, and that it was not likely that he and mademoiselle would
see each other again.

"But when Mr. Dean comes back to London?" Mérat answered.

"Well, hardly even then; after a crisis like this she will not be
anxious to see him. You know, Mérat, he was staying with me at
Berkeley Square; and I knew of his visits here, only it seemed to me
the only way to save her from religion was by getting her to go back
to the stage."

Owen took breath; he had told his story, or as much as was necessary,
omitting the fact that he was an accomplice in the love-making which
had led to attempted suicide.

"You don't think I was right?"

"Well, Sir Owen, you see, I don't think mademoiselle will ever go
back to the stage."

"You think that, Mérat? Well, then, the only thing to save her from
religion is marriage. I don't mind telling you, nor is there any
need to tell you--you must know--that I have always wanted her to be
my wife, only she would not marry me, and for some reason impossible
to get at."

"Mademoiselle is like nobody else; _elle avait toujours son idée_."

"_Parfaitement, comme disent les paysannes de chez vous, d'une bête
qui ne ressemble pas au troupeau et qui allait toujours._"

"_Oui, mademoiselle a eu toujours son idée_. So Sir Owen thinks it
was fear of going back to the stage that persuaded mademoiselle to--"

"Something like that, Mérat. She liked Mr. Dean."

"But you are first in her thoughts, Sir Owen."

"That isn't astonishing. We have known each other so long. Now, after
what has happened, perhaps she will think differently about
marriage, do you understand, Mérat. She may think differently
to-morrow, for instance, and it would be better for all of us--for
you, for myself, for her. Don't you agree?"

"Well, Sir Owen, there is nothing I should like more than to see
mademoiselle married, only--"

"Only you don't think she'll marry me?"

"_Comme monsieur a dit, elle a eu toujours son idée._"

"But after the great shock surely she will see that marriage is the
only way." Owen continued to talk of marriage a little while longer,
and all the way home his thoughts ran on his chance of persuading
Evelyn to marry him. It did not seem possible that she could refuse
after the shock. The chances were all with him: he would catch her
in a moment when her faith in religion would be weakened, for she
must see that it had not saved her from attempted suicide; all the
chances were in his favour, and he hardly doubted at all he would be
able to persuade her to marry him. Once she agreed she would carry
it out; nothing she hated as much as any alteration of plan.

His mind wandered back into the past years, and he recalled little
facts significant of her character. However loud the storm she would
cross the Channel, though there was no reason for it--merely, as she
said, because it had been arranged to cross that day. He could
remember the dress she wore on that occasion, and the expression of
her face. Other instances equally trivial floated into his mind,
every one strangely vivid, delighting him because they were
characteristic of her. If he could only get her to say she would
marry him. It would be unnecessary to explain why he had sent Ulick
to her. Or he might explain. It didn't matter. Ulick would pass out
of their lives, and all this miserable business would be forgotten.

The quickest way of being married was in a registry office, but would
Evelyn look upon a civil marriage as sufficient? Once the civil
marriage was an accomplished fact, she could be married afterwards
in Church, even in a Catholic church; he would go there if it
pleased her to go. Besides, Evelyn really looked upon marriage more
as a civil than as a religious obligation. His thoughts continued to
chatter, keeping him up late, till long after midnight, and awaking
him early. And the sun seemed to him to have dawned on his wedding
day. But even if they were to be married in a registry office a best
man would be required. So his thoughts went to Harding, whom he knew
to be in London. But Harding would be busy with his writing until
the afternoon, and Owen strode about Bond Street, visiting the shops
of various picture dealers, welcoming any acquaintance whom he
happened to meet, walking to the end of the street with him, and
spending the last hour--from three to four--in the National Gallery,
whither he had gone to see some new acquisitions. But the new
pictures did not interest him. "My thoughts are elsewhere."

And turning from the new Titian, it seemed to him that he might drive
to Victoria Street; Harding's work must be over for the day.

"My dear Harding, you don't mind my interrupting you?" And he envied
his friend's interest in his manuscripts when the writer put them
away.

"You are not disturbing me; my secretary didn't come to-day, and
everything is habit. I can no longer write except by dictation."

"If I had known that I would have called in the morning."

"Again some drama in which Evelyn Innes is concerned," Harding said
to himself.

"Harding, I have come to ask your advice; you'll give me the very
best. But you will have to hear the whole story."

"Well, I am a story-teller, and like to hear stories."

Owen told him how he had met Ulick Dean at Innes', and had invited
him to stop at Berkeley Square, and how gradually the idea that he
could make use of Ulick in order to tempt Evelyn back to the stage
had come into his mind. Anything to save her from religion, from
Monsignor.

Owen caught Harding looking at him from under his shaggy eyebrows,
and anger had begun to colour his cheeks when Harding said:

"Don't you remember, Asher, coming here a couple of years ago, and--"

"Yes, I know. You predicted that Ulick Dean and I would become
friends, and you are right; we did."

"And you preferred that Evelyn should be his mistress rather than
that she shall go over to Monsignor?"

"I am not ashamed to confess I did; anything seemed better--but there
is no use arguing the point. What I have come to tell you is that
rather than go away with him she tried to kill herself." And he told
Harding the story.

"What an extraordinary story! But nothing is extraordinary in human
nature. What we consider the normal never happens. Nature's course
is always zigzag, and no one can predict a human action."

"Well, then, my good friend, when you have done philosophising--I
don't mean to be rude, but you see my nerves have been at strain for
the last four-and-twenty hours; you will excuse me. My notion now is
that everything has happened for the best." And he confided to
Harding his hopes of being able to persuade Evelyn to marry him.
"Only by marriage can she be saved, and I think I can persuade her."
And he babbled about her appearance last night after her long sleep,
comparing her with the portrait in his room. The painter had omitted
nothing of her character; all that had happened he read into the
picture--the restless spiritual eyes, and the large voluptuous
mouth, and the small high temples which Leonardo would like to draw.
The painting of this picture was as illusive as Evelyn herself, the
treatment of the reddish hair and the grey background.

And Harding listened, saying, "So this is the end."

"You think she will marry me?"

"Everything in nature is unexpected, that is all I can tell you. Art
is logic, Nature incoherency."

"Well, let us hope that Nature will be a little more coherent
to-morrow than she was last night, and that Evelyn will do the right
thing. Women generally marry when it is pressed upon them
sufficiently, don't you think so, Harding?"

"I hope it will be so, since you desire it."

"And you will be my best man, won't you?"

"I shall be only too pleased. Now, if you wait for me while I change
my boots we'll go out together." And the two men crossed the Green
Park talking of the great moral laxity of the time they lived in;
whereas in the eighteenth century men were even accused of boasting
of their successes, now the conditions were reversed, men never
admitting themselves to be anything else but virtuous; women, on the
contrary, publishing their _liaisons_, and taking little pleasure in
them until they were known to everybody.

"_Liaisons_ have become as official as marriages. Who doesn't know--"
And Harding mentioned a number of celebrated 'affairs' which had
been going on for ten, some twenty years. "The real love affair of
her ladyship now is probably some little tenor or drawing-master,
and Cecil's a little milliner; but her ladyship and Cecil are forced
to keep up appearances, for if they didn't who would talk about them
any more?"

"You should write that as a short story," Owen suggested. And the two
friends began to argue as to the number of lovers which fell to the
lot of fashionable women, from the age of twenty-three to fifty. Two
or three ladies were mentioned whose _liaisons_ reached a couple of
hundred, and there was another about whom they were not agreed, for
some of her _liaisons_ had lasted so long that Owen did not believe
she had had more than fifty lovers.

"It is impossible to imagine any time for a young man more propitious
than the present, or any society more agreeable than London. Morals,
as the newspapers would say, are in abeyance, conscience is looked
upon as pedantic, especially in women, and unbecoming." As the two
walked up St. James' Street together, Harding noticed that Owen,
notwithstanding his chatter about morals, was thinking of Evelyn,
and took very little interest in the display of the season--in the
slim nobility of England, fresh from Oxford, all in frock coats for
the first time, delighting in canes, and deerskin gloves, in collars
and ties, the newest fashion, going down the street in pairs,
turning into their clubs, lifting their hats to the women who drove
past in victorias and electric broughams.

"Never were women more charming than they are now," Owen said, in
order not to appear too much immersed in his own thoughts, and he
picked a woman out, pretending to be interested in her. "That one
leaning a little to the left, her white dog sitting beside her."

"Like a rose in Maytime."

"Rather an orchid in a crystal glass."

Harding accepted the correction.

"Do you know who she is, Harding?"

The question was a thoughtless one, for no one knows the whole of the
peerage, not even Harding, and it was painful for him to admit that
he did not know the lady, who happened to be an earl's daughter--
somebody he really should have known. Not having been born a peer
himself, he had, as a friend once said, resolved to make amends for
the mistake in his birth by never knowing anybody who hadn't a
title. But this criticism was not a just one; Harding was not a
snob. It has already been explained that love of order and tradition
were part of his nature; the reader remembers, no doubt, Harding's
idiosyncrasies, and how little interested he was in writers, and
painters, avoiding always the society of such people. But his face
brightened presently, for a very distinguished woman bowed to him,
and he was glad to tell Owen he was going to stay with her in the
autumn. The Duchess had just returned from Palestine, and it was
beginning to be whispered she had gone there with a young man. The
talk turned again on the morality of London, and exciting stories
were told of a fracas which had occurred between two well-known men.
So their desks had been broken open, and packets of love letters
abstracted. New scandals were about to break to blossom, other
scandals had been nipped in the bud.

Harding said nothing wittier had been said for many generations than
the _mot_ credited to a young girl, who had described a ball given
that season by the women of forty as "The Hags' Hop." Somebody else
had called it "The Roaring Forties." Which was the better
description of the two? "The Roaring Forties" seemed a little
pretentious, and preference was given to the more natural epigram,
"The Hags' Hop."

"We were all virtuous in the fifties, now licence has reached its
prime, and we shall fall back soon into decadence."

Harding, who was something of an historian, was able to illustrate
this prophecy by reference to antiquity. When the life of the senses
and understanding reached its height, as it did in the last stages
of the Roman Empire, a reaction came. St. Francis of Assisi was
succeeded by Alexander VI.; Luther soon followed after. "And in
twenty years hence we shall all become moral again. Good heavens! the
first sign of it has appeared--Evelyn."

Piccadilly flowed past, the stream of the season, men typical of
England in their age as in their youth, typical of their castles,
their swards, and lofty woods, of their sports and traditions,
hunting, shooting, racing, polo playing; the women, too, typical of
English houses and English parks, but not so typical; only
recognisable by a certain reflected light; an Englishman makes woman
according to his own image and likeness, taking clay often from
America. The narrow pavements of Bond Street were thronged, women
getting out of their carriages, intent on their shopping, bowing to
the men as they ran into the shops, making amends for the sombre
black of the men's coats by a delirium of feathers, skirts, and pink
ankles. And nodding to their friends, bowing to the ladies in the
carriages, Harding and Owen edged their way through the crowd.

"The street at this hour is like a ballroom, isn't it?" Owen said. "I
want to get some cigars." And they turned into a celebrated store,
where half a dozen assistants were busily engaged in tying up
parcels of five hundred or a thousand cigars, or displaying
neatly-made paper boxes containing a hundred cigarettes.

"When will men give up smoking pipes, I should like to know?"

"I thought you were a pipe smoker?"

"So I was, but I can t bear the smell any longer."

"Yet you smoke cigars?"

"Cigars are different."

"How was it the change came?"

"I don't know." Owen ordered a thousand cigars to be sent to Berkeley
Square.

It was late for tea, and still too early for dinner.

"I am sorry to ask you to dine at such an early hour, but I daresay
we shan't have dinner till half-past seven."

But Harding remembered his tailor: some trousers. And he led Owen
towards Hanover Square, wondering if Owen would approve of his
choice?

"It was like you to choose that grey."

Now what was there to find fault with in the grey he had chosen? They
turned over the tailor's pattern sheet. Daring, in the art of
dressing, is the prescriptive right of the professional just as it
is in writing. Owen was a professional dresser, whereas he, Harding,
was but an amateur; and that was why he had chosen a timid,
insignificant grey. At once Owen discovered a much more effective
cloth; and he chose a coat for Harding, who wanted one--the same
rough material which Harding had often admired on Owen's shoulders.
But would such a dashing coat suit him as well as it did its
originator, and dare he wear the fancy waistcoats Owen was pressing
upon him?

"They suit you, Asher, but you still go in at the waist, and brown
trousers look well on legs as straight as billiard cues."

"Is there nothing we can do for you, Sir Owen?"

Owen spoke about sending back a coat which he was not altogether
satisfied with.

"Every suit of clothes I have, Harding, costs me fifty pounds."

Harding raised his thick eyebrows, and Owen explained that only one
suit in six was worth wearing.

"There is more truth in what you say than appears. I once wore a suit
of clothes for six years! And they were as good as new when--"

But Owen refused to be interested in Harding's old clothes. "If I'm
not married to-morrow I shall never marry. You don't believe me,
Harding? Now, of what are you thinking? Of that suit of clothes which
you have had for six years or of my marriage--which?"

At the moment that Owen interrupted him Harding was thinking that
perhaps a woman who had attempted suicide to escape from another man
would not drift as easily into marriage as Owen thought; but, of
course, he did not dare to confess such an opinion.

"You don't mind dining at half-past seven?"

"Not in the least, my good friend, not in the least." Going towards
Berkeley Square they continued to speak about Evelyn.... She would
have to refuse Owen to-night or accept him: so he would know his
fate to-night.

"Just fancy," he said, "to-morrow I am either going to be married
or--" And he stared into the depths of a picture about which he
thought he would like to have Harding's opinion, but it did not matter
what anybody thought of pictures until he knew what Evelyn was going
to do. None had any interest for him; but they could not talk of
Evelyn during dinner, the room being full of servants, and he was
forced to listen to Harding, who was rather tiresome on the subject of
how a collection of pictures had better be formed, and the proposal to
go to France to seek for an Ingres did not appeal to him.

"I hope you don't mind my smoking a pipe," Harding said as they rose
from table.

"No," he said, "smoke what you like, I don't care; smoke in my study,
only raise the window. But you'll excuse me, Harding. My appointment
is for eight."

As he was about to leave the room a footman came in, saying that Miss
Innes' maid would like to see him, and, guessing that something had
happened, Owen said:

"It is to tell me I'm not to go to see her; something disagreeable
always--" And he left the room abruptly.

"I have shown the maid into the morning-room, Sir Owen."

"Now, what is the matter, Mérat?"

"Perhaps you had better read the letter first, Sir Owen, and then we
can talk."

"I can't read without my glasses; do you read it, Mérat." Without
waiting for her to answer he returned to the dining-room. "I have
forgotten my glasses, Harding, that is all; you will wait for me."
His hand trembled as he tried to fix the glasses on his nose.

"MY DEAR OWEN,--I am afraid you will be disappointed, and I am
disappointed too, for I should like to see you; but I think it would
be better, and Monsignor, who was here to-day, thinks it would be
better, that we should not see each other... for the present. I have
recovered a good deal, but am still far from well; my nerves are
shattered. You know I have been through a great deal; and though I am
sure you would have refrained from all allusions to unpleasant
topics, still your presence would remind me too much of what I don't
want to think about. It is impossible for me to explain better. This
letter will seem unkind to you, who do not like unkind letters; but
you will try to understand, and to see things from my point of view,
and not to rave when I tell you that I am going to a convent--not to
be a nun; that, of course, is out of the question; but for rest, and
only among those good women can I find the necessary rest.

"My first thought was to go to Dulwich to my father, but--well, here
is a piece of news that will interest you--he has been appointed
_capelmeister_ to the Papal choir, the ambition of his life is
fulfilled, and he started at once for Rome. It is possible that
three or four months hence, when he is settled, he will write to ask
me to go out to join him there, and Monsignor would like me to do
this, for, of course, my duty is by my father, who is no longer as
young as he used to be. I don't like to leave him, but the matter
has been carefully considered; he has been here with Monsignor, and
the conclusion arrived at is, that it is better for me to go to the
convent for a long rest. Afterwards ... one never knows; there is no
use making plans.   "EVELYN."

"No use making plans; I should think not, indeed," Owen cried. "Never
will she come out of that convent, Mérat, never! They have got her,
they have got her! You remember the first day we met, you and I, in
the Rue Balzac, and you have been with her ever since; you were with
us in Brussels when she sang 'Elizabeth,' and in Germany--do you
remember the night she sang 'Isolde'? So it has come to this, so it
has come to this; and in spite of all we could do. Do you remember
Italy, Mérat? Good God! Good God!" And he fell into a chair and did
not speak again for some time. "It would have been better if Ulick
Dean had persuaded her to go away with him. It was I who told him to
go to see her and kept him in my house because I knew that this
damned priest would get her in the end."

"But, Sir Owen, for mademoiselle to be a nun is out of the
question... if you knew what convents were."

"Oh, Mérat, don't talk to me, don't talk to me; they have got her!"

Then a sudden idea seized him.

"Come into the dining-room," he said. "You know Mr. Harding? He is
there." He passed out of the room, leaving the door open for Mérat
to follow through. "Harding, read this letter." He stood watching
Harding while he read; but before Harding was half-way down the page
he said: "You see, she is going into a convent. They have got her,
they have got her! But they shan't get her as long as I have a
shoulder with which to force in a door. The doors of those mansions
where she has gone to live are not very strong, are they, Mérat? She
shall see me; she shall not go to that convent. That blasted priest
shall not get her. Those ghouls of nuns!" And he was about to break
from the room when Mérat threw herself in front of him.

"Remember, Sir Owen, she has been very ill; remember what has
happened, and if you prevent her from going to the convent--"

"So, Mérat, you're against me too? You want to drive her into a
convent, do you?"

"Sir Owen, you hardly know what you are saying. I am thinking of what
might happen if you went to Ayrdale Mansions and forced in the door.
Sir Owen, I beg of you."

"Then if you oppose me you are responsible. They will get her, I tell
you; those blasted ghouls, haunters of graveyards, diggers of
graves, faint creatures who steal out of the light, mumblers of
prayers! You know, Harding, what I say is true. God!" He raised his
fist in the air and fell back into an armchair, screaming oaths and
blasphemies without sense. It was on Harding's lips to say, "Asher,
you are making a show of yourself." "_Vous vous donnez en spectacle_"
were the words that crossed Mérat's mind. But there was something
noble in this crisis, and Harding admired Owen--here was one who was
not afraid to shriek out and to rage. And what nobler cause for a
man's rage?

"The woman he loves is about to be taken out of the sunlight into the
grey shadow of the cloister. Why shouldn't he rage?"

"To sing of death, not of life, and where the intelligence wilts and
bleaches!" he shrieked. "What an awful end! don't you understand?
Devils! devils!" and he slipped from his chair suddenly on to the
hearthrug, and lay there tearing at it with his fingers. The elegant
fribble of St. James' Street had passed back to the primeval savage
robbed of his mate.

"You give way to your feelings, Asher."

At these words Asher sprang to his feet, yelling:

"Why shouldn't I give way to my feelings? You haven't lost the most
precious thing on God's earth. You never cared for a woman as I do;
perhaps you never cared for one at all. You don't look as if you
did." Owen's face wrinkled; he jibbered at one moment like a
demented baboon, at the next he was transfigured, and looked like
some Titan as he strode about the room, swearing that they should
not get her.

"But it all depends upon herself, Owen; you can do nothing," Harding
said, fearing a tragedy. But Owen did not seem to hear him, he could
only hear his own anger thundering in his heart. At last the storm
seemed to abate a little, and he said that he knew Harding would
forgive him for having spoken discourteously; he was afraid he had
done so just now.

"But, you know, Harding, I have suspected this abomination; the taint
was in her blood. You know those Papists, Harding, how they cringe,
how shamefaced they are, how low in intelligence. I have heard you
say yourself they have not written a book for the last four hundred
years. Now, why do you defend them?"

"Defend them, Asher? I am not defending them."

"Paralysed brains, arrested intelligences." He stopped, choked,
unable to articulate for his haste. "That brute, Monsignor Mostyn--
at all events I can see him, and kick the vile brute." And taken in
another gust of passion, Owen went towards the door. "Yes, I can
have it out with him."

"But, Asher, he is an old man; to lay hands upon him would be ruin."

"What do I care about ruin? I am ruined. They have got her, and her
mind will be poisoned. She will get the abominable ascetic mind. The
pleasure of the flesh transferred! What is legitimate and beautiful
in the body put into the mind, the mind sullied by passions that do
not belong to the mind. That is what papistry is! They will poison
that pure, beautiful woman's mind. That priest has put them up to
it, and he shall pay for it if I can get at him to-night!" Owen broke
away suddenly, leaving Harding and Merat in the dining-room, Harding
regretting that he had accepted Owen's invitation to dinner... If
Asher and Monsignor were to meet that night? Good Lord! ... Owen
would strike him for sure, and a blow would kill the old man.

"Merat, this is very unfortunate.... Not to be able to control one's
temper. You have known him a long time.... I hope nothing will
happen. Perhaps you had better wait."

"No, Mr. Harding, I can't wait; I must go back to mademoiselle." And
the two went out together, Harding turning to the right, jumping
into a cab as soon as he could hail one, and Merat getting into
another in order to be in time to save her mistress from her madman
lover.



XVI

Three hours after Harding and Mérat had left Berkeley Square, Owen
let himself in with his latch-key. He was very pale and very weary,
and his boots and trousers were covered with mud, for he had been
splashing through wet streets, caring very little where he went. At
first he had gone in the direction of the river, thinking to rouse
up Monsignor, and to tell him what he thought of him, perhaps to
give him a good thrashing; but the madness of his anger began to die
long before reaching the river. In the middle of St. James's Park the
hopelessness of any effort on his part to restrain Evelyn became
clear to him suddenly, and he uttered a cry, walking on again, and
on again, not caring whither he walked, splashing on through the
wet, knowing well that nothing could be done, that the inevitable
had happened.

"It would have been better if she had died," he often said; "it would
have been much better if she had died, for then I should be free,
and she would be free. Now neither is free."

There were times when he did not think at all, when his mind was
away; and, after a long absence of thought, the memory of how he had
lost her for ever would strike him, and then it seemed as if he
could walk no longer, but would like to lie down and die. All the
same, he had to get home, and the sooner he got home the better, for
there was whisky on the table, and that would dull his memory; and,
tottering along the area railings, he thought of the whisky,
understanding the drunkard for the first time and his temptations.
"Anything to forget the agony of living!"

Three or four days afterwards he wrote to her from Riversdale.
Something had to be written, though it was not very clear that
anything could be gained by writing, only he felt he must write just
to wish her goodbye, to show that he was not angry, for he would
like her to know that he loved her always; so he wrote:

"For the last four days I have been hoping to get a letter from you
saying you had changed your mind, and that what was required to
restore you to health was not a long residence in a convent, but the
marriage ceremony. This morning, when my valet told me there were no
letters, I turned aside in bed to weep, and I think I must have lain
crying for hours, thinking how I had lost my friend, the girl whom I
met in Dulwich, whom I took to Paris, the singer whose art I had
watched over. It was a long time before I could get out of bed and
dress myself, and during breakfast tears came into my eyes; it was
provoking, for my servant was looking at me. You know how long he
has been with me, so, yielding to the temptation to tell somebody, I
told him; I had to speak to somebody, and I think he was sorry for
me, and for you. But he is a well-bred servant, and said very
little, thinking it better to leave the room on the first
opportunity.

"Merat, who brought your letter, told me you said I would understand
why it was necessary for you to go to a convent for rest. Well, in a
way, I do understand, and, in a way, I am glad you are going, for at
all events your decision puts an end to the strife that has been
going on between us now for the last three years. It was first
difficult for me to believe, but I have become reconciled to the
belief that you will never be happy except in a chaste life. I
daresay it would be easy for me, for Ulick, or for some other man
whom you might take a fancy to, to cause you to put your idea behind
you for a time. Your senses are strong, and they overpower you. You
were, on more than one occasion, nearly yielding to me, but if you
had yielded it would have only resulted in another crisis, so I am
glad you did not. It is no pleasure to make love to a woman who
thinks it wrong to allow you to make love to her, and, could I get
you as a mistress, strange as it will seem to you, upon my word,
Evelyn, I don't think I would accept you. I have been through too
much. Of course, if I could get back the old Evelyn, that would be
different, but I am very much afraid she is dead or overpowered;
another Evelyn has been born in you, and it overpowers the old. An
idea has come into your mind, you must obey it, or your life would be
misery. Yes, I understand, and I am glad you are going to the
convent, for I would not see you wretched. When I say I understand,
I only mean that I acquiesce--I shall never cease to wonder how such
a strange idea has come into your mind; but there is no use arguing
that point, we have argued it often enough, God knows! I cannot go
to London to bid you goodbye. Goodbyes are hateful to me. I never go
to trains to see people off, nor down to piers to wave handkerchiefs,
nor do I go to funerals. Those who indulge their grief do so because
their grief is not very deep. I cannot go to London to bid you
goodbye unless you promise to see me in the convent. Worse than a
death-bed goodbye would be the goodbye I should bid you, and it,
too, would be for eternity. But say I can go to see you in the
convent, and I will come to London to see you.

"Yours,

"OWEN."

       *       *       *       *       *

"MY DEAR OWEN,--You have written me a beautiful letter. Not one word
of it would I have unwritten, and it is a very great grief to me
that I cannot write you a letter which would please you as much as
your letter pleases me. No woman, since the world began, has had
such a lover as I have had, and yet I am putting him aside. What a
strange fatality! Yet I cannot do otherwise. But there is
consolation for me in the thought that you understand; had it been
otherwise, it would have been difficult for me to bear it. You know
I am not acting selfishly, but because I cannot do otherwise. I have
been through a great deal, Owen, more, perhaps, even than you can
imagine. That night! But we must not speak of it, we must not speak
of it! Rest is required, avoidance of all agitation--that is what
the doctor says, and it agitates me to write this letter. But it must
be done. To see you, to say goodbye to you, would be an agitation
which neither of us could bear, we should both burst into tears; and
for you to come to see me in the convent would be another agitation
which must be avoided. The Prioress would not allow me to see you
alone, if she allowed me to see you at all. No, Owen, don't come to
see me either in London or in the convent. Leave me to work out my
destiny as best I can. In three or four months perhaps I shall have
recovered. Until then,

"Yours ever,

"EVELYN."



XVII

In a letter to Monsignor, Evelyn wrote:

"I have just sent a letter to my father, in which I tell him, amid
many hopes of a safe arrival in Rome, not unduly tired, and with all
the dear instruments intact, unharmed by rough hands of porters and
Custom House officers, that, one of these days, in three or four
months, when I am well, I look forward to contributing the _viola da
gamba_ part of a sonata to the concert of the old instrumental music
which he will give when he has put his choir in order: you know I
used to play that instrument in my young days. A more innocent wish
never entered into the heart of a human being, you will say, yet
this letter causes me many qualms, for I cannot help thinking that I
have been untruthful; I have--lied is, perhaps, too strong a word--
but I have certainly equivocated to the Prioress, and deceived her,
I think, though it is possible, wishing to be deceived, she lent
herself to the deception. Now I am preferring an accusation against
the dear Prioress! My goodness, Monsignor, what a strange and
difficult thing life is, and how impossible to tell the exact truth!
If one tries to be exact one ends by entangling the thread, and
getting it into very ugly knots indeed. In trying to tell the truth,
I have been guilty of a calumny against the Prioress, nothing short
of that, Monsignor, nothing short of that--against the dear
Prioress, who deserves better of me, for her kindness towards me
since I have been to the convent has never ceased for a single
instant!

"One of her many kindnesses is the subject of this letter. When I
arrived here the nuns were not decided, and I was not decided,
whether I should live in the convent as I did before, as a guest, or
whether, in view of the length of my probable residence in the
convent, I should be given the postulant's cap and gown. Mother Mary
Hilda thought it would be dangerous to open the doors of the
novitiate to one who admitted she was entering the religious life
only as an experiment, especially to one like myself, an opera
singer, who, however zealously she might conform to the rule, would
bring a certain atmosphere with her into the novitiate, one which
could not fail to affect a number of young and innocent girls, and
perhaps deleteriously. I think I agree with Mother Mary Hilda. All
this I heard afterwards from Mother Philippa, who, in her homely way,
let out the secret of these secret deliberations to me--how the
Prioress, who desired the investiture, said that every postulant
entered the novitiate as an experiment. 'But believing,' Mother Mary
Hilda interrupted, 'that the experiment will succeed, whereas, in
her case, the postulant does not believe at all.'

"As it was impossible for the Mothers to decide I was sent for, and
asked whether I thought the experiment would succeed or fail.' But
what experiment?--I had to ask. And the Prioress and Mother Hilda
were not agreed, their points of view were not the same; mine was,
again, a different point of view, mine being, as you know, a
determination to conquer a certain thing in my nature which had
nearly brought about my ruin, and which, if left unchecked, would
bring it about. Room for doubt there was none, and, after such an
escape as mine, one does not hesitate about having recourse to
strong remedies. My remedy was the convent, and, my resolve being to
stay in the convent till I had conquered myself, it did not at the
time seem to me a falsehood to say that I put myself in the hands of
God, and hoped the experiment would succeed. Mother Mary Hilda, who
is very persistent, asked me what I meant by conquering myself, and I
answered, a subjugation of that part of me which was repellent to
God. At these words the Prioress's face lit up, and she said, 'Well,
Mother Hilda, I suppose you are satisfied?' Mother Hilda did not
answer, but I could see that she was not satisfied; and I am not
satisfied either, for I feel that I am deceiving the nuns.

"But, Monsignor, if a different answer had been given, if I had said
that I looked upon the convent as a refuge where a difficult time
might be passed, two or three months, it does not seem to me that I
would have answered the nuns more truthfully. The Prioress seems to
think with me in this, going so far as to suggest that there are
occasions when we do well not to try to say everything, for the very
simple reason that we do not know everything--even about ourselves;
and she seemed glad that I had not said more, and took me there and
then to her room, and, in the presence of Mother Philippa and Mother
Mary Hilda, said, 'Now, we must hide all this fair hair under a
little cap.' I knelt in front of the Prioress, and she put a white
cap on my head, and pinned a black veil over it; and when she had
done this she drew me to her and kissed me, saying, 'Now you look
like my own child, with all your worldly vanities hidden away. I
believe Monsignor Mostyn would hardly know his penitent in her new
dress.'

"I think I can see you smile as you read this, and I think I can hear
you thinking, 'Once an actress always an actress.' But there is not
sufficient truth in this criticism to justify it, and if such a
thought does cross your mind, I feel you will suppress it quickly in
justice to me, knowing, as you must know, that a badge gives courage
to the wearer, putting a conviction into the heart that one is not
alone, but a soldier in a great army walking in step towards a
definite end. This sounds somewhat grandiloquent, but it seems to me
somewhat like the truth. Trying to get into step is interesting and
instructive, and the novitiate, though hardly bearable at times, is
better than sitting in the lonely guest-room. Mother Hilda's
instruction in the novitiate seems childish, yet why is it more
childish than a hundred other things? Only because one is not
accustomed to look at life from the point of view of the convent. As
a guest, I felt it to be impossible to remain in the convent for
three months, and it pleased me, I admit it, and interested me, I
admit it, to try to become part of this conventual life, so
different, so strangely different, from the life of the world, so
remote from common sympathies. In speaking of this life, one hardly
knows what words to employ, so inadequate are words to express one's
meaning, or shall I say one's feeling? 'Actress again,' I hear your
thoughts, Monsignor; 'a woman desirous of a new experience, of new
sensations.' No, no, Monsignor, no; but I confess that the pure
atmosphere of the convent is easier and more agreeable to breathe
than the atmosphere of the world and its delight. To her whose quest
is chastity, it is infinitely agreeable to feel that she is living
among chaste women, the chastity of the nuns seems to penetrate and
enfold me. To the hunted animal a sense of safety is perhaps a
greater pleasure than any other, and one is never really unhappy,
however uncomfortable one's circumstances may be, if one is doing
what one wants to do.... But I am becoming sententious."

In another letter to Monsignor she said:

"This morning I received a long and delightful letter from my father
telling me about the progress he is making, or I should say the
progress that the choir is making under his direction, and how
convinced he found everybody of the necessity of a musical
reformation of some kind, and how gratifying it was to find them
ready to accept his reading of the old music as the one they had been
waiting for all this time. But, Monsignor, does my father exaggerate?
For all this sounds too delightful to be true. Is it possible that
his ideas meet with no opposition? Or is it that an opposition is
preparing behind an ambuscade of goodwill? Father is such an
optimist that any enthusiasm for his ideas convinces him that
stupidity has ended in the world at last. But you will not be duped,
Monsignor, for Rome is your native city, and his appointment of
_capelmeister_ is owing to you, and the kindly reception of my
father's ideas--if they have been received as he thinks--is also
owing to you. You will not be deceived, as he would easily be, by
specious appearance, and will support him in the struggle that may
be preparing under cover. I know you will. "His letter is entirely
concerned with music; he does not tell me about his daily life, and,
knowing how neglectful he is of material things, thinking only of
his ideas, I am not a little anxious about him: how he is lodged, and
if there is anybody by him who will see that he has regular meals.
He will neglect his meals if he is allowed to neglect them, so, in
the interests of the musical reformation, somebody should be charged
to look after him, and he should not be allowed to overwork himself;
but it will be difficult to prevent this. The most we can hope for
is that he shall get his meals regularly, and that the food be of
good quality and properly cooked. The food here is not very good, nor
very plentiful; to feel always a little hungry is certainly trying,
and the doctor has spoken to the Prioress on the subject, insisting
that nourishing food is necessary to those suffering from nervous
breakdown, and healthy exercise; of healthy exercise there is
plenty, for the nuns dig their own garden; so I am a reformer in a
small way, and I can assure you my reformation is appreciated by the
nuns, who thank me for it; my singing at Benediction is better
appreciated on a full than on an empty stomach, especially when it
is the song that fills the stomach. And it is my singing that
enables Mother Philippa, who looks after the catering, to spend more
money at the baker's and the butcher's. There has been an
improvement, too, in the cooking; a better watch is kept in the
kitchen, and not only my health but the health of the entire
community is improved.

"We are a little more joyous now than we were, and every day I seem
to be better able to appreciate the happiness of living among people
who share one's ideas. One cannot love those whose ideas are
different, at least I cannot; a mental atmosphere suitable to our
minds is as necessary as fresh air is to our lungs. And I feel it a
great privilege to be allowed to live among chaste women, no longer
to feel sure of my own unworthiness, no longer; it is terrible to
live always at war with oneself. The eyes of the nuns and their
voices exhale an atmosphere in which it seems to me my soul can
rise, and very often as I walk in the garden with them I feel as if
I were walking upon air. Owen Asher used to think that intellectual
conversation kindled the soul; so it does in a way; and great works
of art enkindle the soul and exalt it; but there is another
exaltation of soul which is not discoverable in the intellect, and I
am not sure that it is not the greater: the exaltation of which I
speak is found in obedience, in submission, yes, and in ignorance,
in trying--I will not say to lower oneself--but in trying to bring
oneself within the range of the humble intelligence and to
understand it. And there is plenty of opportunity for this in the
convent. To explain what I mean, and perhaps to pass away the tedium
of an afternoon which seems long drawn out, I will put down here for
you, Monsignor, the conversation, as much as I can remember of it,
which introduced me to the inhabitants of the novitiate.

"When Mother Hilda recited the Litany of Our Lady, and we had risen
to our feet, she said:

"'Now, Evelyn, you must be introduced to your sisters--Sister Barbara
I think you have met, as she sings in the choir. This is Sister
Angela; this tall maypole is Sister Winifred, and this little being
here is Sister Jerome, who was the youngest till you came. Aren't
you pleased, Jerome, to have one younger than yourself?' The novices
said, 'How do you do?' and looked shy and awkward for a minute, and
then they forgot me in their anxiety to know whether recreation was
to be spent indoors or out.

"'Mother, we may go out, mayn't we? Oh, thank you so much, it is such
a lovely evening. We need not wear cloaks, need we? Oh, that is all
right, just our garden shoes.' And there was a general scurry to the
cells for shoes, whilst Mother Hilda and I made our way downstairs,
and by another door, into the still summer evening.

"'How lovely it is!' I said, feeling that if Mother Hilda and I could
have spent the recreation hour together my first convent evening
would have been happy. But the chattering novices soon caught us up,
and when we were sitting all a-row on a bench, or grouped on a
variety of little wooden stools, they asked me questions as to my
sensations in the refectory, and I could not help feeling a little
jarred by their familiarity.

"'Were you not frightened when you felt yourself at the head of the
procession? I was,' said Winifred.

"'But you didn't get through nearly so well as Sister Evelyn; you
turned the wrong way at the end of the passage and Mother had to go
after you,' said Sister Angela. 'We all thought you were going to
run away.' And they went into the details as to how they had felt on
their arrival, and various little incidents were recalled,
illustrating the experience of previous postulants, and these were
productive of much hilarity.

"'What did you all think of the cake?' said Sister Barbara suddenly.

"'Was it Angela's cake?' asked Mother Hilda. 'Angela, I really must
congratulate you; you will be quite a distinguished _chef_ in time.'

"Sister Angela blushed with delight, saying, 'Yes, I made it
yesterday, Mother; but, of course, Sister Rufina stood over me to
see that I didn't forget anything.'

"'Ah, well, I don't think I cared very much for the flavouring,' said
Sister Barbara in pondering tones.

"'You seemed to me to be enjoying it very much at the time,' I said,
joining the conversation for the first time; and when I added that
Sister Barbara had eaten four slices of bread and butter the laugh
turned against Barbara, and every one was hilarious. It is evident
that Sister Barbara's appetite is considered an excellent joke in
the novitiate.

"Of course I marvelled that grown-up women should be so easily
amused, and then remembered a party at the Savoy Hotel (on leaving
it I went to the presbytery to confess to you, Monsignor). I had to
admit to myself that the talk at Louise Helbrun's party did not move
on a higher level; our conversation did not show us to be wiser than
the novices, and our behaviour was certainly less exemplary.
Everything is attitude of mind, and the convent attitude towards life
is curiously sympathetic to me... at present. My doubts lest it
should not always be so is caused by the fury of my dislike to my
former attitude of mind; something tells me that such fury as mine
cannot be maintained, and will be followed by a certain reaction. I
don't mean that I shall ever again return to a life of sin, that
life is done with for ever. Even if I should fall again--the thought
is most painful to me--but even if that should happen it would be a
passing accident, I never could again continue in sin, for the memory
of the suffering sin has caused me would be sure to bring me back
again and force me to take shelter and to repent.

"I know too much belief in one's own power of resistance is not a
good thing, but I can hardly bear to think of the suffering I
endured during those weeks with Ulick Dean, walking in Hyde Park,
round that Long Water, talking of sin and its pleasures, feeling
every day that I was being drawn a little nearer to the precipice,
that I was losing every day some power of resistance. It is
terrifying to lose sense of the reality of things, to lose one's own
will, to feel that one is merely a stone that has been set rolling.
To feel like this is to experience the obtuse and intense sensations
of nightmare, and this I know well. Have I not told you, Monsignor,
of the dreams from which I suffered, which brought me to you, and
which forced me to confession, those terrific dreams which used to
drive me dazed from my bed, flying through the door of my room into
the passage to wake up before the window, saying to myself:

"'Oh, my God! it is a dream, it is a dream, thank God, it is only a
dream!'

"But I must not allow myself to dwell on that time, to do so throws
me back again, and I have almost escaped those fits of brooding in
which I see my soul lost for ever. Sooner than go back to that time
I would become a nun, and remain here until the end of my life,
eating the poorest food, feeling hungry all day; anything were
better than to go back to that time!"

In another letter she said:

"I am afraid I shall always continue to be looked upon as an actress
by the Prioress, and St. Teresa's ecstasies and ravishments, with
added miracles and prophecies, would not avail to blot out the
motley which continues in her eyes, though it dropped from me three
years ago.

"'My dear Evelyn, you have hardly any perception of what our life
is,' she said to me yesterday. 'You know it only from the outside,
you are still an actress, you are acting on a different stage, that
is all.' And it seemed to me that the Prioress thought she was
speaking very wisely, that she flattered herself on her wisdom, and
rejoiced not a little in my discomfiture, visible on my face, for
one cannot control the change of expression, 'which gives one away,'
as the phrase goes. She laughed, and we walked on together, I
genuinely perplexed and pathetically anxious to discover if she had
spoken the truth, fearing lest I might be adapting myself to a new
part, not quite sure, hoping, however, that something new had come
into my life. On such occasions one peers into one's heart, but
however closely I peer it is impossible for me to say that the
Prioress is right or that she was wrong. Everybody will say she is
right, of course, for it is so obvious that a prima donna who
retires to a convent must think of the parts she has played, of her
music, and the applause at the end of every evening, applause
without which she could not live. To say that no thought of my stage
life ever crosses my mind would be to tell a lie that no one would
believe; all thoughts cross one's mind, especially in a convent of a
contemplative Order where the centre of one's life is, as Mother Mary
Hilda would say, the perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament
exposed upon the altar; where, as she teaches, next to receiving
Holy Communion, this hour of prayer and meditation in the presence
of our Lord is the central feature of our spiritual life, the axis
on which our spiritual progress revolves.

"This was the subject of yesterday's lesson; nevertheless, during the
meditation thoughts came and went, and I found much difficulty in
trying to fix my mind. Perhaps I shall never learn how to meditate
on--shall I say the Cross?--I shall never be able to fix my
attention. Thoughts of the heroes and heroines of legends come and
go in my mind, mixing with thoughts of Christ and His apostles; yet
there is little of me in these flitting remembrances. My stage life
does not interest me any longer, but the Prioress does not see it as
I do, far away, a tiny speck. My art was once very real to me, and I
am surprised, and a little disappointed sometimes, that it should
seem so little now. But what I would not have, if I could change it,
is the persistency with which I remember my lovers; not that I
desire them, oh, no; but in the midst of a meditation on the Cross a
remembrance catches one about the heart, and, closing the eyes, one
tries to forget; and, Monsignor, what is worse than memory is our
powerlessness to regret our sins. We may not wish to sin again, but
we cannot regret that we have sinned. How is one to regret that one
is oneself? For one's past is as much oneself as one's present. Has
any saint attained to such a degree of perfection as to wish his
past had never existed?

"Another part of my life which I remember very well--much better than
my stage life--is the time I spent working among the poor under your
direction. My poor people are very vivid in my memory; I remember
their kindness to each other, their simplicities, and their
patience. The patience of the poor is divine! But the poor people
who looked to me for help had to be put aside, and that was the
hardest part of my regeneration. Of course I know that I should have
perished utterly if I had not put them aside, but even the thought
of my great escape does not altogether satisfy me, and I would that
I might have escaped without leaving them, the four poor women whom
I took under my special protection, and who came to see me the day
before I came to the convent to ask me not to leave them. Four poor
women, poor beyond poverty, came to ask me not to go into the
convent. 'The convent will be always able to get on without you,
miss.' Such poverty as theirs is silent, they only asked me not to
leave them, not to go to the convent. Among them was poor Lena, a
hunchback seamstress, who has never been able to do more than keep
herself from starving. It is hard that cripples should have to
support themselves. She has, I think, always lived in fear lest she
should not be able to pay for her room at the end of the week, and
her food was never certain. How little it was, yet to get it caused
her hours and hours of weary labour. Three and sixpence a week was
all she could earn. Poor Lena, what has become of her? So little of
the money which my singing brings to the convent would secure her
against starvation, yet I cannot send her a penny. Doesn't it seem
hard, Monsignor? And if she were to die in my absence would not the
memory of my desertion haunt me for ever? Should I be able to forgive
myself? You will answer that to save one's soul is everybody's first
concern, but to sacrifice one's own soul for the poor may not be
theological, but it would be sublime. You who are so kind,
Monsignor, will not reprove me for writing in this strain, writing
heresy to you from a convent devoted to the Perpetual Adoration of
the Sacrament, but you will understand, and will write something
that will hearten me, for I am a little disheartened to-day. You will
write, perhaps, to the Reverend Mother, asking her if I may send Lena
some money; that would be a great boon if she would allow it. In my
anxiety to escape from the consequences of my own sins I had almost
forgotten this poor girl, but yesterday she came into my mind. It
was the lay sisters who reminded me of the poor people I left; the
lay sisters are what is most beautiful in the convent.

"Yesterday, when the grass was soaked with dew and the crisp leaves
hung in a death-like silence, one of them, Sister Bridget, came down
the path carrying a pail of water, 'going,' she said, answering me,
'to scrub the tiles which covered the late Reverend Mother's grave.
Ah, well, Mother's room must have its weekly turn out.' How
beautiful is the use of the word 'room' in the phrase, and when I
pointed out to her that the tiles were still clean her answer was
that she regarded the task of attending the grave not as a duty but
as a privilege. Dear Sister Bridget, withered and ruddy like an
apple, has worked in the community for nearly thirty years. She has
been through all the early years of struggle: a struggle which has
begun again--a struggle the details of which were not even told her,
and which she has no curiosity to hear. She is content to work on to
the end, believing that it was God's will for her to do so. The lay
sisters can aspire to none of the convent offices; they have none of
the smaller distractions of receiving guests, and instructing
converts and so forth, and not to have as much time for prayer as
they desire is their penance. They are humble folk, who strive in a
humble way to separate themselves from the animal, and they see
heaven from the wash-tub plainly. In the eyes of the world they are
ignorant and simple hearts. They are ignorant, but of what are they
ignorant? Only of the passing show, which every moment crumbles and
perishes. I see them as I write--their ready smiles and their
touching humility. They are humble workers in a humble vineyard, and
they are content that it should be so."



XVIII

"You see, Evelyn," the Prioress said, "it is contrary to the whole
spirit of the religious life to treat the lay sisters as servants,
and though I am sure you don't intend any unkindness, they have
complained to me once or twice that you order them about."

"But, my dear Mother, it seems to me that we are all inferior to the
lay sisters. To slight them--" "I am sure you did not do so
intentionally."

"I said, 'Do hurry up,' but I only meant I was in a hurry. I don't
think anything you could have said could have pained me more than
that you should think I lacked respect for the lay sisters."

Seeing that Evelyn was hurt the Prioress said:

"The sisters have no doubt forgotten all about it by now."

But Evelyn wanted to know which of the sisters had complained, so
that she might beg her pardon.

"She doesn't want you to beg her pardon."

"I beg you to allow me, it will be better that I should. The benefit
will be mine."

The Prioress shook her head, and listened willingly to Evelyn, who
told her of her letter to Monsignor. "Now, wasn't it extraordinary,
Mother, that I should have written like that about Sister Bridget,
and to-day you should tell me that the lay sisters complained about
me? If the complaint had been that I was inclined to put the active
above the contemplative orders and was dissatisfied with our life
here--"

"Dissatisfied!" the Prioress said.

"Only this, Mother: I have been reading the story of the Order of the
Little Sisters of the Poor, and it seems to me so wonderful that
everything else, for the moment, seems insignificant."

The Reverend Mother smiled.

"Your enthusiasms, my dear Evelyn, are delightful. The last book you
read, the last person you meet--"

"Do you think I am so frivolous, so changeable as that, dear Mother?"

"Not changeable, Evelyn, but spontaneous."

"It would seem to me that everything in me is of slow growth--but why
talk of me when there is Jeanne to talk about; marvellous,
extraordinary, unique--" Evelyn was nearly saying "divine Jeanne,"
but she stopped herself in time and substituted the word "saintly."
"No one seems to me more real than this woman, no one in literature;
not Hamlet, nor Don Quixote, not Dante himself starts out into
clearer outline than this poor servant-girl--a goatherd in her
childhood." And to the Prioress, who did not know the story of this
poor woman, Evelyn told it, laying stress--as she naturally would--
on Jeanne's refusal to marry a young sailor, whom she had been
willing to marry at first, but whom she refused to marry on his
returning after a long voyage. When he asked her for whom she had
refused him, she answered for nobody, only she did not wish to marry,
though she knew of no reason why she should not. It was not caprice
but an instinct which caused Jeanne to leave her sweetheart, and to
go on working in humble service attending on a priest until he died,
then going to live with his sister, remaining with her until she
died, and saving during all these long twenty years only
four-and-twenty pounds--all the money she had when she returned to the
little seaport town whence she had come: a little seaport town where
the aged poor starved in the streets, or in garrets in filth and
vermin, without hope of relief from any one.

It was to this cruel little village, of which there are many along
the French coast, and along every coast in the world, that Jeanne
returned to rent a garret with an old and bedridden woman, unable to
help herself. Without the poor to help the poor the poor would not
be able to live, and this old woman lived by the work of Jeanne's
hands for many a year, Jeanne going every morning to the
market-place to find some humble employment, finding it sometimes,
returning at other times desperate, but concealing her despair from
her bedridden companion, telling her as gaily as might be that they
would have to do without any dinner that day. So did they live until
two little seamstresses--women inspired by the same pity for the
poor as Jeanne herself--heard of her, and asked the _curé_, in whom
this cruel little village had inspired an equal pity, to send for
Jeanne. She was asked to give her help to those in greater need than
she--the blind beggars and such like who prowled about the walls of
the churches.

On leaving the priest it is related that she said: "I don't
understand, but I never heard any one speak so beautifully." But
next day when she went to see the priest she understood everything,
sufficient at all events for the day which was to take to her garret
a blind woman whom the seamstresses had discovered in the last
stages of neglect and age. There was the bedridden woman whom Jeanne
supported, and who feared to share Jeanne's charity with another, and
resented the intrusion; she had to be pacified and cajoled with some
little present of food, for the aged and hungry are like animals--
food appeases them, silences many a growl; and the blind woman was
given a corner in the garret. "But how is she to be fed?" was the
question put to Jeanne next morning, and from that question the
whole Order of the Little Sisters of the Poor started. Jeanne,
inspired suddenly, said, "I will beg for them," and seizing a basket
she went out to beg for broken victuals.

"There is a genius for many things besides the singing of operas,
painting pictures, and writing books," Evelyn said, "and Jeanne's
genius was for begging for her poor people. And there is nothing
more touching in the world's history than her journey in the
milk-cart to the regatta. You see, dear Mother, she was accustomed to
beg from door to door among squalid streets, stopping a passer-by,
stooping under low doorways, intruding everywhere, daring everything
among her own people, but frightened by the fashionable folk _en
grande toilette_ bent on amusement. It seems that her courage almost
failed her, but grasping the cross which hung round her neck, she
entered a crowd of pleasure-seekers, saying, 'Won't you give me
something for my poor people?' Now, Mother, isn't the story a
wonderful one? for there was genius in this woman, though it was only
for begging: a tall, thin, curious, fantastic figure, considered
simple by some, but gifted for her task which had been revealed to
her in middle age."

"But why, Evelyn, does that seem to you so strange that her task
should have been revealed to her in middle age?"

Evelyn looked at the Reverend Mother for a while unable to answer,
then went on suddenly with her tale, telling how that day, at that
very regatta, a man had slapped Jeanne in the face, and she had
answered, "You are perfectly right, a box on the ears is just what
is suited to me; but now tell me what you are going to give me for
my poor people." At another part of the ground somebody had begun to
tease her--some young man, no doubt, in a long fashionable grey
frock-coat with race-glasses hung round his neck, had ventured to
tease this noble woman, to twit her, to jeer and jibe at her
uncouthness, for she was uncouth, and she stood bearing with these
jeers until they apologised to her. "Never mind the apology," she
had answered; "you have had your fun out of me, now give me
something for my poor people." They gave her five francs, and she
said, "At that price you may tease me as much as you please."

Evelyn asked if it were not extraordinary how an ignorant and uncouth
woman, a goatherd during her childhood, a priest's servant till she
was well on in middle age, should have been able to invent a system
of charity which had penetrated all over Europe. Every moment Evelyn
expected the Prioress to check her, for she was conscious that she
was placing the active orders above the contemplative, Jeanne above
St. Teresa, and, determined to see how far she could go in this
direction without being reproved, she began to speak of how Jeanne,
after having made the beds and cleaned the garret in the morning,
took down a big basket and stood receiving patiently the
remonstrances addressed to her, the blind woman saying, "I am
certain and sure you will forget to ask for the halfpenny a week
which I used to get from the grocery store, you very nearly forgot it
last week, and had to go back for it." "But I'll not make a mistake
this time," Jeanne would answer. Her bed-ridden friend would reprove
her, "But you did forget to ask for my soup." To bear patiently with
all such unjust remonstrances was part of Jeanne's genius, and
Evelyn asked the Reverend Mother if it were not strange that a woman
like Jeanne had never inspired some great literary work.

"I spoke just now of Hamlet, Don Quixote, but Falstaff himself is not
more real than Jeanne, and her words are always so wonderful,
wonderful as Joan of Arc's. When the old woman used to hide their
food under the bed-clothes and sell it for food for the pigs,
leaving the Little Sisters almost starving, Jeanne used to say,
'So-and-so has not been as nice as usual this afternoon.' How is it,
Mother, that no great writer has ever given us a portrait of Jeanne?"

"Well, Jeanne, my dear Evelyn, has given us her own portrait. What
can a writer add to what Nature has given? No one has ever yet given
a portrait of a great saint, of St. Teresa--what can any one tell us
that we do not already know?"

"St. Teresa's life passed in thought, whereas Jeanne's passed in
action."

"Don't be afraid, Evelyn," the Prioress said, "to say what you mean,
that perhaps the way of the Little Sisters of the Poor is a better
way than ours."

"It seems so, Mother, doesn't it?"

"It is permissible to have doubts on such a subject--which is the
better course, mercy or prayer? We have all had our doubts on this
subject, and it is the weakness of our intelligences that causes
these doubts to arise."

"How is that, Mother?"

"It is easy to realise the beauty of the relief of material
suffering. The flesh is always with us, and we realise so easily
that it suffers that there are times when relief of suffering seems
to us the only good. But in truth bread and prayer are as necessary
to man, one as the other. You have never heard the story of the
foundation of our Order? It will not appeal to the animal sympathies
as readily as the foundation of the Sisters of the Poor, but I don't
think it is less human." And the Reverend Mother told how in Lyons a
sudden craving for God had occurred in a time of extraordinary
prosperity. Three young women had suddenly wearied of the pleasure
that wealth brought them, and had without intercommunication decided
that the value of life was in foregoing it, that is to say,
foregoing what they had always been taught to consider as life; and
this story reaching as it did to the core of Evelyn's own story, was
listened to by her with great interest, and she heard in the quiet
of the Reverend Mother's large room, in which the silence when the
canaries were not shrilling was intense, how a sign had been
vouchsafed to these three young women, daughters of two bankers and
a silk merchant, and how all three had accepted the signs vouchsafed
to them and become nuns.

"I am not depreciating the active Orders when I say they are more
easily understood by the average man than--shall I say the Carmelite
or any contemplative Order, our own for example. To relieve
suffering makes a ready appeal to his sympathies, but he is
incapable of realising what the world would be were it not for our
prayers. It would be a desert. In truth the active and the
contemplative Orders are identical, when we look below the surface."

"How are they identical, Mother?"

"In this way: the object of the active Orders is to relieve
suffering, but the good they do is not a direct good. There will
always be suffering in the world, the little they relieve is only
like a drop taken out of the ocean. It might even be argued that if
you eliminate on one side the growth is greater on the other; by
preserving the lives of old people one makes the struggle harder for
others. There is as much suffering in the world now as there was
before the Little Sisters began their work--that is what I mean."

"Then, dear Mother, the Order does not fulfil its purpose."

"On the contrary, Evelyn, it fulfils its purpose, but its purpose is
not what the world thinks it is; it is by the noble example they set
that the Little Sisters of the Poor achieve their purpose. It is by
forsaking the world that they achieve their purpose, by their
manifestation that the things of this world are not worth
considering. The Little Sisters pray in outward acts, whereas the
contemplative Orders pray only in thought. The purpose, as I have
said, is identical; the creation of an atmosphere of goodness,
without which the world could not exist. There are two atmospheres,
the atmosphere of good and the atmosphere of evil, and both are
created by thought, whether thought in the concrete form of an act
or thought in its purest form--an aspiration. Therefore all those
who devote themselves to prayer, whether their prayers take the form
of good works or whether their prayer passes in thought, collaborate
in the production of a moral atmosphere, and it is the moral
atmosphere which enables man to continue his earthly life. Yourself
is an instance of what I mean. You were inspired to leave the stage,
but whence did that inspiration come? Are you sure that our prayers
had nothing to do with it? And the acts of the Little Sisters of the
Poor all over the world--are you sure they did not influence you?"

Evelyn thought of Owen's letter, the last he had written to her, for
in it he reminded her that she had nearly yielded to him. But was it
she who had resisted? She attributed her escape rather to a sudden
realisation on his part that she would be unhappy if he persisted.
Now, what was the cause of this sudden realisation, this sudden
scruple? For one seemed to have come into Owen's mind. How wonderful
it would be if it could be attributed to the prayers of the nuns,
for they had promised to pray for her, and, as the Prioress said,
everything in the world is thought: all begins in thought, all
returns to thought, the world is but our thought.

While she pondered, unable to believe that the nuns' prayers had
saved her, unwilling to discard the idea, the Prioress told of the
three nuns who came to England about thirty years ago to make the
English foundation. But of this part of the story Evelyn lost a
great deal; her interest was not caught again until the Prioress
began to tell how a young girl in society, rich and beautiful, whose
hand was sought by many, came to the rescue of these three nuns with
all her fortune and a determination to dedicate her life to God. Her
story did not altogether catch Evelyn's sympathies, and the Prioress
agreed with Evelyn that her conduct in leaving her aged parents was
open to criticism. We owe something to others, and it appears that
an idea had come into her mind when she was twelve years old that
she would like to be a nun, and though she appeared to like
admiration and to encourage one young man, yet she never really
swerved from her idea, she always told him she would enter a
convent.

Evelyn did not answer, for she was thinking of the strange threads
one finds in the weft of human life. Every one follows a thread, but
whither do the threads lead? Into what design? And while Evelyn was
thinking the Prioress told how the house in which they were now
living had been bought with five thousand out of the thirty thousand
pounds which this girl had brought to the convent. The late Prioress
was blamed for this outlay. Blame often falls on innocent shoulders,
for how could she have foreseen the increased taxation? how could she
have foreseen that no more rich postulants would come to the
convent, only penniless converts turned out by their relations, and
aged governesses? A great deal of the money had been lost in a
railway, and it was lost at a most unfortunate time, only a few days
before the lawyer had written to say that the Australian mine in
which most of their money was invested had become bankrupt.

"There was nothing for us to do," the Prioress said, "but to mortgage
the property, and this mortgage is our real difficulty, and its
solution seems as far off as ever. There seems to be no solution. We
are paying penal interest on the money, and we have no security that
the mortgagee will not sell the property. He has been complaining
that he can do better with his money, though we are paying him five
and six per cent.

"And if he were to sell the property, Mother, you would all have to
go back to your relations?"

"All of us have not relations, and few have relations who would take
us in. The lay sisters--what is to become of them?--some of them old
women who have given up their lives. Frankly, Evelyn, I am at my
wits' end."

"But, Mother, have I not offered to lend you the money? It will be a
great pleasure to me to do it, and in some way I feel that I owe the
money."

"Owe the money, Evelyn?"

The women sat looking at each other, and at the end of a long silence
the Prioress said:

"It is impossible for us to take your money, my child?"

"But something must be done, Mother."

"If you were staying with us a little longer--"

"I have made no plans to leave you." And to turn the conversation
from herself Evelyn spoke of the crowds that came to Benediction.

"To hear you, dear, and when you leave us our congregation will be
the same as it was before, a few pious old Catholic ladies living on
small incomes who can hardly afford to put a shilling into the
plate." Evelyn spoke of the improvement of the choir, and the
Prioress interrupted her, saying, "Don't think for a moment that any
reformation in the singing of the plain chant is likely to bring
people to our church; the Benedictine gradual _versus_ the Ratisbon."
And the Prioress shrugged her shoulders contemptuously. "What has
brought us a congregation is you, my dear--your voice and your story
which is being talked about. The story is going the rounds that you
are going to become a nun, and that interests everybody. An opera
singer entering a convent! Such a thing was never heard of before,
and they come to hear you."

"But, Mother, I never said I was going to join the Order. I only came
here in the hope--"

"And I accepted you as a postulant in the hope that you would
persevere. All this seems very selfish, Evelyn. It looks as if we
were only thinking! of your money; but you know it isn't so."

"Indeed, I do, Mother. I know it isn't so."

"When are you going to leave us?"

"Well, nothing is decided. Every day I expect to hear from my father,
and if he wishes--"

"But if he doesn't require you? By remaining with us you may find you
have a vocation. Other women have persevered and discovered in the
end--" The Prioress's face changed expression, and Evelyn began to
think that perhaps the Prioress had discovered a vocation in
herself, after long waiting, and though she had become Prioress
discovered too late that perhaps she had been mistaken. "You have no
intention of joining the Order?"

"You mean to become a novice and then to become a nun and live here
with you?"

"You need say no more."

"But you don't think I have deceived you, Mother?"

"No, I don't blame anybody, only a hope has gone. Besides, I at
least, Evelyn, shall be very sorry to part with you, sorry for many
reasons which I may not tell you... in the convent we don't talk of
our past life." And Evelyn wondered what the Prioress alluded to.
"Has she a past like mine? What is her story?"

The canaries began singing, and they sang so loudly the women could
hardly hear themselves speak. Evelyn got up and waved her
handkerchief at the birds, silencing them.

       *       *       *       *       *

Late that night a telegram came telling Evelyn that her father was
dangerously ill, and she was to start at once for Rome.



XIX

The wind had gathered the snow into the bushes and all the corners of
the common, and the whole earth seemed but a little brown patch, with
a dead grey sky sweeping by. For many weeks the sky had been grey,
and heavy clouds had passed slowly, like a funeral, above the low
horizon. The wind had torn the convent garden until nothing but a few
twigs remained; even the laurels seemed about to lose their leaves.
The nuns had retreated with blown skirts; Sister Mary John had had to
relinquish her digging, and her jackdaw had sought shelter in the
hen-house.

One night, when the nuns assembled for evening prayer, the north wind
seemed to lift the roof as with hands; the windows were shaken; the
nuns divined the wrath of God in the wind, and Miss Dingle, who had
learned through pious incantation that the Evil One would attempt a
descent into the convent, ran to warn the porteress of the danger. At
that moment the wind was so loud that the portress listened,
perforce, to the imaginings of Miss Dingle's weak brain, thinking, in
spite of herself, that some communication had been vouchsafed to her.
"Who knows," her thoughts said, "who can say? The ways of Providence
are inscrutable." And she looked at the little daft woman as if she
were a messenger.

As they stood calculating the strength of the lock and hinges the
door-bell suddenly began to jingle.

"He wouldn't ring the bell; he would come down the chimney," said
Miss Dingle.

"But who can it be?" said the portress, "and at this hour."

"This will save you." Miss Dingle thrust a rosary into the nun's hand
and fled down the passage. "Be sure to throw it over his neck."

The nun tried to collect her scattered thoughts and her courage.
Again the bell jingled; this time the peal seemed crazier than the
first, and, rousing herself into action, she asked through the
grating who it might be.

"It is I, Sister Evelyn; open the door quickly, Sister Agnes."

The nun held the door open, thanking God it was not the devil, and
Evelyn dragged her trunk through the door, letting it drop upon the
mat abruptly.

"Tell dear Mother I want to speak to her--say that I must see her--be
sure to say that, and I will wait for her in the parlour."

"There is no light there; I will fetch one."

"Never mind, don't trouble; I don't want a light. But go to the
Reverend Mother and tell her I must see her before any one else."

"Of course, Sister Evelyn, of course." And the portress hurried away,
feeling that things had happened in a life which was beyond her life,
beyond its scope. Perhaps Sister Evelyn had come to tell the Prioress
the Pope himself was dead, or had gone mad; something certainly had
happened into which it was no business of hers to inquire. And this
vague feeling sent her running down the passage and up the stairs,
and returning breathless to Evelyn, whom she found in a chair nearly
unconscious, for when she called to her Evelyn awoke as from sleep,
asking where she was.

"Sister Evelyn, why do you ask? You are in Wimbledon Convent, with
Sister Agnes; what is the matter?"

"Matter? Nothing and everything." She seemed to recover herself a
little. "I had forgotten, Sister Agnes, I had forgotten. But the
Prioress, where is she?"

"In her room, and she will see you. But you asked me to go to the
Prioress saying she must see you--have you forgotten, Sister Evelyn?
You know the way to her room?"

Evelyn did not answer; and feeling perhaps that she might lose her
way in the convent, Sister Agnes said she would conduct her to the
Prioress, and opened the door for her, saying, "Reverend Mother,
Sister Evelyn."

There was a large fire burning in the room, and Evelyn was conscious
of the warmth, of bodily comfort, and was glad to sit down.

"You are very cold, my child, you are very cold. Don't trouble to
speak, take your time and get warm first." And Evelyn sat looking
into the fire for a long time. At last she said:

"It is warm here, Mother, I am so glad to be here. But perhaps you
will turn me away and won't have me. I know you won't, I know you
won't, so why did I come all this long way?"

"My dear child, why shouldn't we be glad to have you back? We were
sorry to part with you."

"That was different, that was different."

These answers, and the manner in which they were spoken even more
than the answers themselves, frightened the Prioress; but unable to
think of what might have happened, she sat wondering, waiting for
Evelyn to reveal herself. The hour was late, and Evelyn showed no
signs of speaking. Perhaps it would be better to ring for one of the
lay sisters, and ask her to show Evelyn to her room.

"You will stay here to-night?"

"Yes, if you will allow me."

"Allow you, my dear child! Why speak in this way?"

"Oh, Mother, I am done for, I am done for!"

"You haven't told me yet what has happened."

Evelyn did not answer; she seemed to have forgotten everything, or to
be thinking of one thing, and unable to detach her thoughts from it
sufficiently to answer the Prioress's question.

"Your father--"

"My father is dead," she answered. And the Prioress, imagining her
father's death to be the cause of this mental breakdown, spoke of the
consolations of religion, which no doubt Mr. Innes had received, and
which would enable Mr. Innes's soul to appear before a merciful God
for judgment.

"There is little in this life, my dear; we should not be sorry for
those who leave it--that is, if they leave it in a proper disposition
of soul."

"My father died after having received the Sacraments of the Church.
Oh, his death!" And thinking it well to encourage her to speak, the
Prioress said:

"Tell me, my dear, tell me; I can understand your grief and
sympathise with you; tell me everything."

And like one awakening Evelyn told how for days he had fluctuated
between life and death, sometimes waking to consciousness, then
falling back into a trance. In spite of the hopes the doctors had
held out to him he had insisted he was dying.

"'I am worn to a thread,' he said, 'I shall flicker like that candle
when it reaches the socket, and then I shall go out. But I am not
afraid of death: death is a great experience, and we are all better
for every experience. There is only one thing--'

"He was thinking of his work, he was sorry he was called away before
his work was done; and then he seemed to forget it, to be absorbed in
things of greater importance."

Sometimes the wind interrupted the Prioress's attention, and she
thought of the safety of her roofs; Evelyn noticed the wind, and her
notice of it served to accentuate her terror. "It is terror," the
Prioress said to herself, "rather than grief."

"I waited by his bedside seeing the soul prepare for departure. The
soul begins to leave the body several days before it goes; it flies
round and round like a bird that is going to some distant country. I
must tell you all about it, Mother. He lay for hours and hours
looking into a corner of the room. I am sure he saw something there;
and one night I heard him call me. I went to him and asked him what
he wanted; but he lay quiet, looking into the corner of the room, and
then he said, 'The wall has been taken away,' I know he saw something
there. He saw something, he learnt something in that last moment that
we do not know. That last moment is the only real moment of our
lives, the only true moment--all the rest is falsehood, delirium,
froth. The rest of life is contradictions, distractions, and lies,
but in the moment before death I am sure everything becomes quite
clear to us. Then we learn what we are. We do not know ourselves
until then. If I ask who am I, what am I, there is no answer. We do
not believe in ourselves because we do not know who we are; we do not
know enough of ourselves to believe in anything. We do not believe;
we acquiesce that certain things are so because it is necessary to
acquiesce, but we do not believe in anything, not even that we are
going to die, for if we did we should live for death, and not for
life."

"Your father's death has been a great grief to you; only time will
help you to recover yourself."

"Recover myself? But I shall never recover, no, Mother, never, never,
never!"

The Prioress asked when Mr. Innes had died.

"I can't remember, Mother; some time ago."

The Prioress asked if he were dead a week.

"Oh, more than that, more than that."

"And you have been in Rome ever since? Why did you not come here at
once?"

"Why, indeed, did I not come here?" was all Evelyn could say. She
seemed to lose all recollection, or at all events she had no wish to
speak, and sat silent, brooding. "Of what is she thinking?" the
Prioress asked herself, "or is she thinking of anything? She seems
lost in a great terror, some sin committed. If she were to confess to
me. Perhaps confession would relieve her." And the Prioress tried to
lead Evelyn into some account of herself, but Evelyn could only say,
"I am done for, Mother, I am done for!" She repeated these words
without even asking the Prioress to say no more: it seemed to her
impossible to give utterance to the terror in her soul. What could
have happened to her?"

"Did you meet, my child, either of the men whom you spoke to me of?"

The question only provoked a more intense agony of grief.

"Mother, Mother, Mother!" she cried, "I am done for! let me go, let
me leave you."

"But, my child, you can't leave us to-night, it is too late. Why
should you leave us at all?"

"Why did I ever leave you? But, Mother, don't let us talk any more
about it. I know myself; no one can tell me anything about myself; it
is all clear to me, all clear to me from the beginning; and now, and
now, and now--"

"But, my child, all sins can be forgiven. Have you confessed?"

"Yes, Mother, I confessed before I left Italy, and then came on here
feeling that I must see you; I only wanted to see you. Now I must
go."

"No, my child, you mustn't go; we will talk of this to-morrow."

"No, let us never talk of it again, that I beseech you, Mother;
promise me that we shall never talk of it again."

"As you like, as you like. Perhaps every one knows her own soul
best.... It is not for me to pry into yours. You have confessed, and
your grief is great."

The Prioress went back to her chair, feeling relieved, thinking it
was well that Evelyn had confessed her sin to some Italian priest who
did not know her, for it would be inconvenient for Father Daly to
know Evelyn's story. Evelyn could be of great use to them; it were
well, indeed, that she had not even confessed to her. She must not
leave the convent; and arriving at that conclusion, suddenly she rang
the bell. Nothing was said till the lay sister knocked at the door.
"Will you see, Sister Agnes, that Sister Evelyn's bed is prepared for
her?"

"In the guest-room or in the novitiate, Reverend Mother?"

"In the novitiate," the Prioress answered.

Evelyn had sunk again into a stupor, and, only half-conscious of what
was happening to her, she followed the lay sister out of the
Prioress's room.

"It is very late," the Prioress said to herself, "all the lights in
the convent should be out; but the rule doesn't apply to me." And she
put more coal on the fire, feeling that she must give all her mind to
the solution of the question which had arisen--whether Evelyn was to
remain with them to-morrow. It had almost been decided, for had she
not told Sister Agnes to take Evelyn to the novitiate? But Evelyn
might herself wish to leave to-morrow, and if so what inducements,
what persuasion, what pressure should be used to keep her? And how
far would she be justified in exercising all her influence to keep
Evelyn? The Prioress was not quite sure. She sat thinking. Evelyn in
her present state of mind could not be thrown out of the convent. The
convent was necessary for her salvation in this world and in the
next.

"She knows that, and I know it."

The Prioress's thoughts drifted into recollections of long ago; and
when she awoke from her reverie it seemed that she must have been
dreaming a long while: "too long" she thought; "but I have not
thought of these things for many a year.... Evelyn has confessed, her
sins are behind her, and it would be so inconvenient--" The
Prioress's thoughts faded away; for even to herself she did not like
to admit that it would be inconvenient for Evelyn to confess to
Father Daly the sins she had committed--if she had committed any.
Perhaps it might be all an aberration, an illusion in the interval
between her father's death and her return to the convent. "Her sins
have been absolved, and for guidance she will not turn to Father Daly
but to me." The Reverend Mother reflected that a man would not be
able to help this woman with his advice. She thought of Evelyn's
terror, and how she had cried, "I am done for, I am done for!" She
remembered the tears upon Evelyn's cheeks and every attitude so
explicit of her grief.

"A penitent if ever there was one, one whom we must help, whom we
must lead back to God. Evelyn must remain in the convent. To-morrow
we must seek to persuade her. But it will not be difficult." Then,
listening to the wind, the Prioress remembered that the convent roof
required re-slating. "Who knows? Perhaps what happened may have been
divinely ordered to bring her back to us? Who knows? who knows?" She
thought of the many other things the convent required: the chapel
wanted re-decorating, and they had to spare every penny they could
from their food and clothing to buy candles for the altar; another
item of expense was the resident chaplain; and when in bed she lay
thinking that perhaps to-morrow she would find a way out of the
difficulty that had puzzled her so long.



XX

"Yes, dear Mother, if you are willing to keep me I shall be glad to
remain. It is good of you. How kind you all are!"

Very little more than that she could be induced to say, relapsing,
after a few words, into a sort of stupor or dream, from which very
often it was impossible to rouse her; and the Prioress dreaded these
long silences, and often asked herself what they could mean, if the
cause were a fixed idea... on which she was brooding. Or it might be
that Evelyn's mind was fading, receding. If so, the responsibility of
keeping her in the convent was considerable. A little time would,
however, tell them. Any religious instruction was, of course, out of
the question, and books would be fatal to her.

"Her mind requires rest," the Prioress said. "Even her music is a
mental excitement."

"I don't think that," Sister Mary John answered. "And as for work, I
have been thinking I might teach her a little carpentry. If plain
carpentry does not interest her sufficiently, she might learn to work
at the lathe."

"Your idea is a very good one, Sister Mary John. Go to her at once
and set her to work. It is terrible to think of her sitting brooding,
brooding."

"But on what is she brooding, dear Mother?"

"No doubt her father's death was a great shock."

And Sister Mary John went in search of Evelyn, and found her
wandering in the garden.

"Of what are you thinking, Sister?" As Evelyn did not answer, Sister
Mary John feared she resented the question. "You don't like me to
walk with you?"

"Yes I do, I don't mind; but I wonder if the Prioress likes me to be
here. Can you find out for me?"

"Why should you think we do not wish to have you here?"

"Well, you see, Sister--oh, it is no use talking." Her thoughts
seemed to float away, and it might be five or ten minutes before she
would speak again.

"I wish you would come to the woodshed, Sister. If not, I must leave
you."

"Oh, I'll go to the woodshed with you."

"And will you help me with my work?"

"I help you with your work!"

There was a long, narrow table in the woodshed--some planks laid upon
two tressels; and the walls were piled with all kinds of sawn wood,
deal planks, and rough timber, and a great deal of broken furniture
and heaps of shavings. The woodshed was so full of rubbish of all
kinds that there was only just room enough to walk up and down the
table. Sister Mary John was making at that time a frame for
cucumbers, and Evelyn watched her planing the deal boards, especially
interested when she pushed the plane down the edge of the board, and
a long, narrow shaving curled out of the plane, but asking no
questions.

"Now, wouldn't you like to do some work on the other side of the
table, Sister?"

Evelyn did not answer, and it was not that day nor the next, but at
the end of the week, that she was persuaded to take the pincers and
pull the nails out of an old board.

"And when you have done that, I will show you how to plane it."

She seemed to have very little strength--or was it will that she
lacked? The pincers often fell from her hands, and she would stand,
lost in reverie.

"Now, Sister, you have only pulled two nails out of that board in the
last ten minutes; it is really very tiresome of you, and I am waiting
for it."

"Do you really mean that you are waiting for this board? Do you want
it?"

"But of course; I shouldn't have asked you to draw the nails out of
it if I didn't," And it was by such subterfuges that she induced
Evelyn to apply herself. "Now, you won't think of anything until you
have drawn out every nail, will you? Promise me." Sister Mary John
put the pincers into her hand, and when the board was free of nails,
it seemed that Evelyn had begun to take an interest in the fate of
the board which she had prepared. She came round the table to watch
Sister Mary John planing it, and was very sorry when the nun's plane
was gapped by a nail which had been forgotten.

"This iron will have to go to the grinders."

"I am so sorry, Sister. Will you forgive me?"

"Yes, I'll forgive you; but you must try to pay attention."

When the cucumber-frame was finished Sister Mary John was busy making
some kitchen chairs, and the cutting out of the chair-backs moved
Evelyn's curiosity.

"Shall you really be able to make a chair that one can sit upon?"

"I hope so."

"Have you ever made one before?"

"Well, no, this is my first chair, but I made several stools."

The mystery of dovetailing was explained to Evelyn, and she learned
that glue was required.

"Now you may, if you like, melt the glue for me."

There was a stove in the adjoining shed, and Sister Mary John lighted
a fire and told Evelyn that she was to keep stirring the glue. "And
be sure not to let it burn." But when she came back twenty minutes
after, she found that Evelyn had wandered away from the stove to the
farther end of the shed to watch a large spider.

"Oh, Sister, just look at the spider! There is a fly in the web; see
how he comes out to seize his prey!"

"But, my goodness, Evelyn! what about my glue? There it is, all burnt
in the pot, and I shall have to take it to the kitchen and get hot
water and scrape it all out. It is really very tiresome of you."

When she returned with the glue, Evelyn said:

"You see, Sister, it is difficult to fix one's thoughts on a
glue-pot; the glue melts so slowly, and, watching the spider, I lost
count of the time. But I think I should like to saw something."

"That's a very good idea."

A saw was put into her hand, and half an hour after the sister came
to see how Evelyn had been getting on. "Why, you will be a first-rate
carpenter; you have sawn those boards capitally, wandering a little
from the line, it is true, but you will do better to-morrow."

Whenever Sister Mary John heard the saw cease she cried out, "Now,
Sister Evelyn, what are you thinking about? You are neglecting your
work." And Evelyn would begin again, and continue until her arm
ached.

"Here is Mother Abbess."

"See, dear Mother, what Evelyn has been doing. She sawed this board
through all by herself, and you see she has sawn it quite straight,
and she has learned how to plane a board; and as for glueing, she
does it capitally!"



XXI

"What are you looking for, Sister Evelyn?"

"Veronica asked me to go into the garden; I think it was to gather
some laurel-leaves, but I can't remember where they grow."

"Never mind the leaves, I will gather them for you. Take my spade and
dig a little while. It is pleasanter being in the open air than in
that hot sacristy."

"But I don't know how to dig. You'll only laugh at me."

"No, no. See, here is a bed of spring onions, and it wants digging
out. You press the spade in as far as you can, pull down the handle,
and lift out the earth. I shall be some little while away, and I
expect you will have dug some yards. You can dig as far as this. Try,
Evelyn, make up your mind that you will; if you make up your mind,
you will succeed."

Evelyn promised.

"But you won't stay a long time, will you?" she called after the nun.
"Now I know why Sister Mary John wears men's boots." And she stooped
to pin up her skirt.

All the while the sky was clearing, the wind drove the clouds
westward, breaking up the dark masses, scattering, winnowing, letting
the sun through. Delicious was the glow, though it lasted but for a
few minutes--perhaps more delicious because it was so transitory.
Another patch of wind-driven clouds came up, and the world became
cold and grey again. A moment afterwards the clouds passed, the sun
shone out, and the delicious warmth filled mind and body with a
delight that no artificial warmth could; and, to enjoy the glowing of
the sun, Evelyn left her digging, and wandered away through the
garden, stopping now and then to notice the progress of the spring. A
late frost had cut the blossoms of the pear and the cherry; the
half-blown blossom dropped at the touch of the finger, and Evelyn
regretted the frost, thinking of the nets she had made.

"They'll be of very little use this year." And she wondered if the
currant and gooseberry-bushes had escaped; the apples had, for they
were later, unless there was another frost. "And then my nets will be
of no use at all; and, I have worked so hard at them!"

The lilac-bushes were not yet in leaf--only some tiny green shoots.
"We shall not have any lilac this year till the middle of May. Was
there ever such a season?" Larks were everywhere, ascending in short
flights, trilling as they ascended; and Evelyn listened to their
singing, thinking it most curious--quaint cadenzas in which a note
was wanting, like in the bagpipes, a sort of aerial bagpipes. But on
a bare bough a thrush sang, breaking out presently into a little tune
of five notes. "Quite a little tune; one would think the bird had
been taught it." She waited for him to sing it again, but, as if not
wishing to waste his song, being a careful bird, he continued a sort
of recitative; then, thinking his listener had waited long enough for
his little aria, he broke out again. "There it is, five notes--a
distinct little tune." Why should he sing and no other thrush sing
it? There was a robin; but he sang the same little roundelay all the
year.... A little, pale-brown bird, fluttering among the bushes,
interested her; but it was some time before she could catch fair
sight of it. "A dear little wren!" she said. "It must have its nest
about here." She sought it, knowing its beautifully woven house, with
one hole, through which the bird passes to feed a numerous progeny,
and expected to find it amid the tangle of traveller's-joy which
covered an old wall.

In the convent garden there was a beautiful ash-tree, under which
Evelyn had often sat with the nuns during recreation, but it showed
no signs of coming into leaf; and the poplars rose up against the
bright sky, like enormous brooms. The hawthorns had resisted the
frost better than the sycamores. One pitied the sycamore and the
chestnut-trees most of all; and, fearing they would bear no leaves
that year, Evelyn stood with a black and shrivelled leaf in her hand.
"Autumn, before the spring has begun," she said. "But here is Jack."
And she stooped to pick up the great yellow tom-cat, whom she
remembered as a kindly, affectionate animal; but now he ran away from
her, turning to snarl at her. "What can have happened to our dear
Jack?" she asked herself. And Miss Dingle, who had been watching her
from a little distance, cried out:

"You'll not succeed in catching him; he has been very wicked lately,
and is quite changed. The devil must have got into him, in spite of
the blue ribbon I tied round his neck."

"How are you, Miss Dingle?"

Miss Dingle evinced a considerable shyness, and muttered under her
breath that she was very well. She hoped Evelyn was the same; and ran
away a little distance, then stopped and looked back, her curiosity
getting the better of her. "Ordinary conversation does not suit her,"
Evelyn said to herself. And, when they were within speaking distance
again, Evelyn asked her what had become of the blue ribbon she had
tied round the cat's neck to save him from the devil.

"He tore it off--I mean the devil took it off. I can't catch him. If
you'd try?--if you'd get between him and that bush. It is a pity to
see a good cat go to the devil because we can't get a bit of blue
ribbon on his neck."

Evelyn stood between the cat and the bush, and creeping near, caught
him by the neck, and held him by the forepaws while Miss Dingle tried
to tie the ribbon round his neck; but Jack struggled, and raising one
of his hind paws obliged Evelyn to loose him.

"There is no use trying; he won't let it be put on his neck."

"But what will become of him? He will get more and more savage." Miss
Dingle ran after the cat, who put up his tail and trotted away,
eluding her. She came back, telling Evelyn that she might see the
devil if she wished. "That is to say, if you are not afraid. He's in
that corner, and I don't like to go there. I have hunted him out of
these bushes--you need not be afraid, my rosary has been over them
all."

Evelyn could see that Miss Dingle wished her to exorcise the
dangerous corner, and she offered to do so.

"You have two rosaries, you might lend me one."

"No, I don't think I could. I want two, one for each hand, you
see.... I have not seen you in the garden this last day or two.
You've been away, haven't you?"

"I've been in Rome."

"In Rome! Then why don't you go and hunt him out... frighten him
away? You don't need a rosary if you have touched the precious
relics. You should be able to drive him out of the garden, and out of
the park too, though the park is a big place. But here comes Sister
Mary John. You will tell me another time if you've brought back
anything that the Pope has worn."

Sister Mary John came striding over the broken earth, followed by her
jackdaw. The bird stopped to pick up a fat worm, and the nun sent
Miss Dingle away very summarily.

"I can't have you here, Alice. Go to the summer-house and worry the
devil away with your holy pictures. I've no time for you, dear," she
said to the jackdaw, who had alighted on her shoulder; "and I have
been looking for you everywhere," she said, turning from her bird to
Evelyn. "You promised me--But I suppose digging tired you?"

"No, it was not that, Sister, only the sun came out and the warmth
was so delicious; I am afraid I am easily beguiled."

"We are all easily beguiled," Sister Mary John answered somewhat
sharply. "Now we must try to get on with our digging. You can help me
a little with it, can't you?" And looking up and down a plot about
ten yards long and twenty feet wide, protected by a yew-hedge, she
said, "This is the rhubarb-bed. And this piece," she said, walking to
another plot between the yew-hedge and the gooseberry bushes, "will
have to be dug up. We were short of vegetables last year."

"You speak very lightly, Sister, of so much digging. Do you never get
tired?" So that she might not lose heart altogether, Sister Mary John
told her one of these beds had been dug up in autumn, and that no
more would be required than the hoeing out of the weeds.

"Is hoeing lighter work than digging?"

"You will find out soon." Evelyn set to work; but when she had
cleared a large piece of weeds she had to go over the ground again,
having missed a great many. "But you will soon get used to the work.
Now, there's the dinner bell. Are you so tired as all that?"

"Well, you see, I have never done any digging before."

After dinner Sister Mary John without further words told her she was
to go in front with the dibble and make holes for the potatoes, for
an absent-minded person could not be trusted with the seed potatoes--
she would be sure to break the shoots. The next week they were
engaged in sowing French beans and scarlet runners, and Evelyn
thought it rather unreasonable of the sister to expect her to know by
instinct that French beans should not be set as closely together as
the scarlet runners, and she laughed outright when the sister said,
"But surely you know that broad beans must be trodden firmly into the
ground?" Sister Mary John noticed her laugh. "Work in the garden
suits her," she said to herself, "she is getting better; only we must
be careful against a relapse. Now, Evelyn, we must weed the flower
beds, or there will be no flowers for the Virgin in May." And they
weeded and weeded, day after day, filling in the gaps with plants
from the nursery. A few days later came the seed sowing, the
mignonette, sweet pea, stocks, larkspur, poppies, and nasturtiums--
all of which should have been sown earlier, the nun said, only the
season was so late, and the vegetables had taken all their time.

"They all like to see flowers on the altar, but not one of them will
tie up her habit and dig, and they are as ignorant as you are, dear."

"Sister, that is unkind. I have learned as much as can be expected in
a month."

"You aren't so careless as you were." The two women walked a little
way, and then they sat for a long time looking into the distant park,
enjoying the soft south wind blowing over it. Evelyn would have liked
to have sat there indefinitely, and far too soon did the nun remind
her that time was going by and they must return to their work. "We
have had some warm nights lately and the wallflowers are out; come
and look at them, dear." And forgetful of her, Sister Mary John rose
and went towards the flower garden. Evelyn was too tired to follow,
and she sat watching Sister Mary John, who seemed as much part of the
garden as the wind, or the rain, or the sun.



XXII

A cold shower struck the windows of the novitiate.

"Was there ever such weather? Will it never cease raining and
blowing?" the novices cried, and they looked through the panes into
the windy garden. Next day the same dark clouds rolled overhead, with
gleams of sunshine now and then lighting up the garden and the
distant common, where sometimes a horseman was seen galloping at the
close of day, just as in a picture.

"How wet he will be when he gets home!" a novice would sometimes say,
and the conversation was not continued.

"I wonder if we shall ever have fine weather again?" broke in
another.

"One of these days it will cease raining," Mother Hilda said, for she
was an optimist; and very soon she began to be looked upon as a
prophetess, for the weather mended imperceptibly, and one afternoon
the sky was in gala toilette, in veils and laces: a great lady
stepping into her carriage going to a ball could not be more
beautifully attired. An immense sky brushed over with faint wreathing
clouds with blue colour showing through, a blue brilliant as any
enamel worn by a great lady on her bosom; and the likeness of the
clouds to plumes passed through Evelyn's mind, and her eyes wandering
westward, noticed how the sky down there was a rich, almost
sulphurous, yellow; it set off the white and blue aerial
extravagances of the zenith. The garden was still wet and cold, but a
warm air was coming in, and the voices of the nuns and novices
sounded so innocent and free that Evelyn was moved by a sudden
sympathy to join them.

Under yonder trees the three Mothers were walking, looking towards
Evelyn now and then; she was the subject of their conversation, the
Prioress maintaining it would be a great benefit to her to take the
veil.

"But, dear Mother, do you think she will ever recover her health
sufficiently for her to decide, and for us to decide, whether she has
a vocation?" Mother Hilda asked.

"It seems to me that Evelyn is recovering every day. Do you remember
at first whole days passed without her speaking? Now there are times
when she joins in the conversation."

Mother Mary Hilda did not answer, and a little aggressive glance shot
out of the Prioress's eyes.

"You don't like to have her in the novitiate. I remember when she
returned from Rome--"

"It seems to me that it would be just as well for her to live in the
convent as an oblate, occupying the guest-room as before."

"Now, why do you think that, Hilda? Let us have things precise."

"Her life as an opera singer clings about her."

"On the contrary, I cannot discover any trace of her past life in
her. In the chapel she seems very often overcome, and for piety seems
to set an example to us all."

"You see, dear Mother, I am responsible for the religious education
of some half-dozen young and innocent girls, and, though I like
Evelyn herself very much, her influence--"

"But what influence? She doesn't speak."

"No matter; it is known to every one in the convent that she has once
been a singer, though they don't know, perhaps, she was on the stage;
and she creates an atmosphere which I assure you--"

"Of course, Hilda, you can oppose me; you always oppose. Nothing is
easier than opposition. Your responsibilities, I would not attempt to
deny that they exist, but you seem to forget that I, too, have
responsibilities. The debts of the convent are very pressing. And
Mother Philippa, too, has responsibilities."

"It would be a great advantage if Evelyn could discover she had a
vocation. Four or five, perhaps six hundred a year--she must have at
least that, for opera singers are very well paid, so I have always
heard--would--"

"But, Mother Philippa, the whole question is whether Evelyn has a
vocation. We know what the advantages would be," said Mother Hilda in
a low, insinuating voice which always exasperated the Reverend
Mother.

"I think it would be better to wait," Mother Philippa answered. "You
see, she is suffering from a great mental breakdown; I think she
should have her chance like another." And, turning to the Prioress,
she said, "Dear Mother, do you think when Evelyn recovers her health
sufficiently to arrive at a decision that she will stay with us?"

"Not if a dead set is made against her, and if she is made to feel
she has no vocation, and that her influence is a pernicious one."

"Dear Mother, I never said--"

"Well, don't let us discuss the matter any more for the moment. Of
course, if you decide that Evelyn is not to remain in the novitiate--"

"It is for you to decide the matter. You are Reverend Mother here, it
is for us to obey; only since you ask me--"

"Ask you, Hilda? But you tell me nothing. You merely oppose. What is
your dislike to Evelyn?"

"Dislike!"

"I am sure there is no dislike on Mother Hilda's part," Mother
Philippa said; "I am quite sure of that, Reverend Mother. Evelyn's
health is certainly improving, and I hope she will soon be able to
sing for us again at Benediction. Haven't you noticed that our
congregation is beginning to fall away? And you won't deny that the
fact that an opera singer wishes to enter our convent gives a
distinction--"

"It depends, Mother Philippa, in what sense you use the word
'distinction.' But I see you don't agree with me; you think with the
Prioress that Evelyn is--"

"Don't let us argue this question any more. Hilda, go and tell Evelyn
I want her."

"How Hilda does try to thwart me, to make things more difficult than
they are!"

"Evelyn, my dear child, I have sent for you to ask if you feel well
enough to-day to sing for us at Benediction?"

"Oh, yes, dear Mother, why shouldn't I sing for you? What would you
like me to sing?"' The Prioress hesitated, and then asked Evelyn to
suggest some pieces, and after several suggestions Evelyn said:

"Perhaps it would be better if I were to call Sister Mary John, if
you will allow me, Mother." And she went away, calling to the other
nun, who came quickly from the kitchen garden in her big boots and
her habit tucked up nearly to her knees, looking very much more like
a labouring woman than a musician.

"We were talking just now of what Evelyn would sing for us at
Benediction; perhaps you had better go away and discuss the matter
between you."

"Will you sing Stradella's 'Chanson d'Eglise' or will you sing
Schubert's 'Ave Maria'? Nothing is more beautiful than that."

"I will sing the 'Ave Maria.'"

The nun sat down to play it, but she had not played many bars when
Evelyn interrupted her. "The intention of the single note, dear
Sister, the octave you are striking now, has always seemed to me like
a distant bell heard in the evening. Will you play it so."



XXIII

And the idea of a bell sounding across the evening landscape was in
the mind of the congregation when Sister Mary John played the octave;
and the broken chords she played with her right hand awoke a
sensation of lights dying behind distant hills.

It is almost night, and amid a lonely landscape a harsh rock appears,
and by it a forlorn woman stands--a woman who is without friend or
any mortal hope--and she commends herself to the care of the Virgin.
She begins to sing softly, tremulous, like one in pain and doubt,
"Ave Maria, hearken to the Virgin's cry." The melody she sings is
rich, even ornate, but the richness of the phrase, with its two
little grace notes, does not mitigate the sorrow at the core; the
rich garb in which the idea is clothed does not rob the song of its
humanity.

Evelyn's voice filled with the beauty of the melody, and she sang the
phrase which closes the stanza--a phrase which dances like a puff of
wind in an evening bough--so tenderly, so lovingly, that acute tears
trembled under the eyelids. And all her soul was in her voice when
she sang the phrase of passionate faith which the lonely,
disheartened woman sings, looking up from the desert rock. Then her
voice sank into the calm beauty of the "Ave Maria," now given with
confidence in the Virgin's intercession, and the broken chords passed
down the keyboard, uniting with the last note of the solemn octaves,
which had sounded through the song like bells heard across an evening
landscape.

"How beautifully she sings it!" a man said out loud, and his
neighbour looked and wondered, for the man's eyes were full of tears.

"You have a beautiful voice, child," said the Prioress when they came
out of church, "and it is a real pleasure to me to hear you sing, and
it will be a greater pleasure when I know that for the future your
great gift will be devoted to the service of God. Shall we go into
the garden for a little walk before supper? We shall have it to
ourselves, and the air will do you good."

It was the month of June, and the convent garden was in all the
colour of its summer--crimson and pink; and all the scents of the
month, stocks and sweetbriar, were blown up from St. Peter's Walk. In
the long mixed borders the blue larkspurs stood erect between
Canterbury bells and the bush peonies, crimson and pink, and here and
there amid furred leaves, at the end of a long furred stalk, flared
the foolish poppy, roses like pale porcelain clustered along the low
terraced walk and up the house itself, over the stucco walls; but
more beautiful than the roses were the delicate petals of the
clematis, stretched out like fingers upon the walls.

An old nun was being wheeled up and down the terrace in a bath-chair
by one of the lay sisters, that she might enjoy the sweet air.

"I must say a word to Sister Lawrence," the Prioress said, "she will
never forgive me if I don't. She is the eldest member of our
community; if she lives another two years, she will complete half a
century of convent life."

As they drew near Evelyn saw two black eyes in a white, almost
fleshless face. The eyes alone seemed to live, and the shrunken
figure, huddled in many shawls, gave an impression of patriarchal
age. Evelyn saw by her veil that Sister Lawrence was a lay sister,
and the old nun tried to draw herself up in her chair as they
approached, and kissed the hand of the Prioress.

"Well, Sister, how are you feeling? I have brought you our new
musical postulant to look at. I want to know what you think of her.
You must know, Evelyn," said the Prioress, "that Sister Lawrence is a
great judge of people's vocations; I always consult her about my new
postulants."

Sister Lawrence took Evelyn's hands between hers and gazed into her
face so earnestly that Evelyn feared her innermost thoughts were
being read. Then, with a little touch of wilfulness, that came oddly
from one so old and venerable, the Sister said:

"Well, Reverend Mother, she is pretty anyhow, and it is a long time
since we had a pretty postulant."

"Really, Sister Lawrence, I am ashamed of you," said the Prioress
with playful severity; "Sister Evelyn will be quite disedified."

"Mother, if I like them to be pretty it is only because they have one
more gift to bring to the feet of our dear Lord. I see in Sister
Evelyn's face that she has a vocation. I believe she is the
providence that God has sent to help us through our difficulties."

"We are all praying," said the Prioress, "that it may be so."

"Well, Hilda, you'll agree with me now, I think, that we have every
reason to hope."

"Hope for what, dear Mother?"

"That we shall discover a vocation in Evelyn. You heard what Sister
Lawrence said, and she has had great experience."

"It is possible to God, of course, that an opera singer may find a
vocation for the religious life, and live happily in a community of
nuns devoted to Perpetual Adoration."

"But you don't believe God desires that such a thing should come to
pass?"

"I shouldn't like to say that, it would be too presumptuous; but it
would be entirely out of the ordinary course."

The Prioress began to wonder if Mother Hilda suspected that some
great sin committed while she was in Rome was the cause of Evelyn's
nervous breakdown; and the Mistress of the Novices, as she walked by
the side of the Prioress, began to wonder why the Prioress wished
that Evelyn should become a nun. It might be that the Prioress, who
was a widow, was interested in the miracle of the great shock which
had caused Evelyn to relinquish her career and to turn to the Church!
That might be her motive, she reflected. Those who have lived in the
world are attracted and are interested in each other, and are to some
extent alien to the real nun, to her who never doubts her vocation
from the first and resolves from the first to bring her virginity to
God--it being what is most pleasing to him. It might be that the
Prioress was influenced, unconsciously, of course, by some such
motive; yet it was strange that she should be able to close her eyes
to Evelyn's state of mind. The poor woman was still distracted and
perplexed by a great shock which had happened before she came to the
convent and which had been aggravated by another when she went to
Rome; she had returned to them as to a refuge from herself. Such
mental crises often happened to women of the world, to naturally
pious women; but natural piety did not in the least mean a vocation,
and Mother Hilda had to admit to herself that she could discover no
sign of a vocation in Evelyn. How were it possible to discover one?
She was not herself, and would not be for a long while, if she ever
recovered herself. Mother Prioress had chosen to admit her as a
postulant.... Even that concession Mother Hilda did not look upon
with favour. Why not go one step farther and make Miss Dingle a
postulant? It seemed to her that if Mother Prioress insisted that
Evelyn should take the white veil at present, a very serious step
would be taken. It was the Mistress of the Novices who would be
responsible for Evelyn's instruction, and Evelyn was hardly ever in
the novitiate; she was always singing, or working in the garden.



XXIV

"I am afraid, dear Mother, her progress towards recovery is slow."

"I don't agree with you. A great nervous breakdown! That journey to
Rome, only to see her father die before her eyes, was a great shock--
such a one as it would take anybody a long time to recover from.
Evelyn is very highly-strung, there can be no doubt of that. I wonder
how it is that you don't understand?"

"But I do understand, dear Mother, only I find it hard to believe
that the time has come for her to take the white veil."

"Or that it will ever come?"

"The other day she said in the novitiate she was sure she would go to
hell, and that she wouldn't be able to bear the uncertainty much
longer...."

"What ever did she mean? You must have misunderstood her, Mother
Hilda." And the Prioress determined to talk to Evelyn "on the first
occasion"--the first occasion with the Prioress meant the very next
minute. So she went in search of her, and finding her by the
fishpond, quite unaware that any one was watching her, the thought
crossed the Prioress's mind that Hilda might be right after all:
Evelyn might be sitting there thinking how, after a short struggle,
the water would end the misery that was consuming her.

"Evelyn, dear, of what are you thinking?"

"Only of the fish, dear Mother. You know they are quite deaf; fish
haven't ears. There is a legend, however, of a boy playing the flute
and the fish leaping to listen."

"If her health doesn't improve," the Prioress said to herself, "we
shall not be able to keep her.

"Evelyn, dear, you are not looking very well; I am afraid you haven't
been sleeping lately."

"Last night I hardly closed my eyes, dear Mother, and to-day there is
no reality anywhere. One begins to hate everything--the shapes of the
trees, the colour of the sky."

"It is just what I suspected," the Prioress said to herself, "she was
thinking of suicide. Suicide in a convent--such a thing has never
happened. Yet why shouldn't such a thing happen? Everything happens
in this world."

But, notwithstanding some alarming relapses, Evelyn's health
continued to improve, slowly, but it continued to improve; and after
a long day's work in the garden she would talk quite cheerfully,
saying that that night for sure she would get some hours of sleep.
The Prioress listened, saying to herself, "There is no doubt that
manual work is the real remedy, the only remedy." Sister Mary John
was of the same opinion, and the Prioress relied on Sister Mary John
to keep Evelyn hoeing and digging when it was fine, and making nets
in the work-shop when it was wet. She was encouraged to look after
the different pets; and there were a good many to look after; her
three cats occupied a good deal of her time, for the cats were always
anxious to kill her tame birds. One cat had killed several, so the
question had arisen whether he should be drowned in the fishpond or
trained to respect caged birds. The way to do this, Evelyn had been
told, was to put a caged bird on the ground in front of the cat, and,
standing over him with a cane, strike swiftly and severely the moment
the cat crouched to spring. A cat above all other animals hates to be
beaten, for a cat is probably one of the most sagacious animals, more
even than a dog, though he does not care to show it. The beating of
the cat was repellent to Evelyn, but Sister Mary John had no such
scruples, and the beatings proved so efficient that the cat would run
away the moment he was shown a bird in a cage. In turn each of the
cats received its lesson, and henceforth Evelyn's last presents--
blackbirds, thrushes, linnets, and bull-finches--lived in safety.

The feeding of these birds and the cleaning of the aviary occupied
two hours a day during the winter. She had also her greenhouse to
attend to; herself and Sister Mary John, with some help from the
outside, had built one, and hot-water pipes had been put in; and her
love of flowers was so great that she would run down the garden even
when the ground was covered with snow to stoke up the fire, if she
thought she had forgotten to do so, saying that they would have no
tulips, or lily of the valley, or azaleas for the altar, if the
temperature were allowed to drop. Her talk was all about her garden,
and when the spring returned she was working there constantly with
Sister Mary John in the morning till the Angelus rang at twelve; then
they went into dinner, and as soon as dinner was over Evelyn returned
with Sister Mary John to the garden and worked till it was time to go
into church for Benediction. Or sometimes they left the garden when
the other nuns went there for recreation, having music to try over,
for now, since she had recovered her health, Evelyn sang every day at
Benediction.

"There is no reason why she should remain any longer with us," the
Prioress often said, "unless there is some hope of her staying
altogether. You will admit, Hilda, that her health is much improved,
and that she is capable now of arriving at some decision."

"There is no doubt her health is improving."

"And her piety--have you noticed it? She almost sets us an example."

Mother Hilda did not answer, and the Prioress understood her silence
to mean that she would hardly look upon Evelyn as an example for the
convent to follow.

"Well, something will have to be decided." And one evening the
Prioress asked Mother Philippa and Mother Hilda to her room after
evening prayers.

"We were talking of Evelyn the other day in the garden, Hilda, and
you admitted that she was in a state now to decide whether she should
go or stay."

"You mean, dear Mother, that Evelyn must either leave us or join the
community?"

"Or show some signs that she wishes to join it. Her postulancy has
been unduly prolonged; it is nearly a year since she returned from
Rome, and she was a postulant for six months before that."

"You think that if she hadn't a vocation she would have left us
before? But are you not forgetting that she was suffering from a
nervous breakdown, and came here with the intention of seeking rest
rather than becoming one of us?"

"Her health has been mending this long while. Really, Hilda--"

"I am sorry, Mother, if I seem stubborn."

"Not stubborn, but I should like to hear you explain your reasons for
thinking Evelyn has not a vocation. And Mother Philippa is most
anxious to hear them, too."

Mother Philippa listened, thinking of her bed, wondering why Mother
Mary Hilda kept them up by refusing to agree with the Prioress.

"I am afraid I shall not be able to say anything that will convince
you. I have had some experience--"

"We know that you are very experienced, otherwise you would not be
the Mistress of the Novices. You don't believe in Evelyn's vocation?"

"I'm afraid I don't, and--"

"And what, Mother Hilda? We are here for the purpose of listening to
you. We shall be influenced by everything you say, so pray speak your
mind fully."

"About Evelyn? But that is just my point; there is nothing for me to
say about her. I hardly know her; she has hardly been in the
novitiate since she returned from Rome." "You think before taking the
veil she should receive more religious instruction from you?"

"She certainly should. I grant you Evelyn is a naturally pious woman,
and that counts for a great deal; but what I attach importance to is
that she is still alien to the convent, knowing hardly anything of
our rule, of our observances. A novice spends six months in the
novitiate with me learning obedience, how to forget herself, how she
is merely an instrument, and how the greatest purpose of her life is
to obey."

"It is impossible to overestimate the value of obedience, but there
are some--I will not say who can dispense with obedience, of course
not, but who cannot put off their individualities, who cannot become
the merely typical novice--that one who would tell you, if she were
asked to describe the first six months of her life in the convent,
that all she remembered was a great deal of running up and down
stairs. There are some who may not be moulded, but who mould
themselves; and they are not the worst, sometimes they are the best
nuns. For instance, Sister Mary John--who will doubt her vocation?
And yet there is not a more headstrong nun in our community. I don't
wish to say one word against Sister Mary John, who is an example to
us all; it is only to answer your objection that I mentioned her."

"Sister Mary John is quite different," Mother Hilda answered. And,
after waiting some moments for Mother Hilda to continue, the Prioress
said:

"You would wish her, then, to spend some time longer with you in the
novitiate?"

"I am not sure it would be of any use. There is another matter about
which I hardly like to speak; still, I must remind you that the
convent has never been the same since she came here. She has not been
herself since she came back from Rome, but now she is regaining
herself, and you cannot have failed to notice that both Sister Mary
John and Veronica are drawn towards her. I am sure they are not aware
of it, and would resent my criticism as unjust. Not only Sister Mary
John and Veronica, but all of us; it seems to me that we all talk too
much about her... I am sometimes almost glad that she is so little in
the novitiate. Her influence on such simple-minded young women as
Sister Jerome and Sister Barbara must be harmful--how could it be
otherwise, coming out of another world? and her voice, too--you don't
agree with me?" And Mother Hilda turned to Mother Philippa. Mother
Philippa shook her head, and confessed she had not the slightest
notion of what Mother Hilda meant.

"But you have, dear Mother?"

"Yes, I know very well what you mean, only I don't agree with you.
Her singing, of course, gives her an exceptional position in the
convent, but I don't think she avails herself of it; indeed, her
humility has often seemed to me most striking."

"In that I agree with you," Mother Hilda answered; "so I feel that
perhaps, after all, I may be misjudging her."

At this concession the Prioress's manner softened at once towards the
Mistress of the Novices.

"Well, Hilda, come, tell me, have you said everything you have to
say? Have you given us your full reasons for not wishing Evelyn to
take the veil if she should decide to do so? I see you hesitate. I
asked you here to-night so that you might speak your mind. Let
everything be said. There is no use telling me afterwards that you
didn't say things because you thought I wouldn't like to hear them.
Say everything."

Pressed by the Prioress, Mother Hilda admitted that she was concerned
regarding the motive which actuated the Prioress and Mother Philippa.

"I include her."

Mother Philippa looked up suddenly. The Prioress smiled.

"My motive!" said Mother Philippa.

"Nothing is farther from my thought than to attribute a wrong motive
to anybody, but I am not quite sure, dear Mother, that you would be
as anxious for Evelyn to join our community if she had no money...
and no voice."

"Situated as we are, we cannot accept penniless women as choir
sisters. You know that well enough--am I not right, Mother Philippa?"

And Mother Philippa agreed that no one could be admitted into the
convent as a choir sister unless she brought some money with her.

"But you hold a different opinion, Hilda?"

"I understand that we cannot admit as a choir sister a woman who has
no money; but that is quite different from admitting an opera singer
because she has money and can sing for us. It seems to me that nuns
devoted to Perpetual Adoration should not yield themselves to money
considerations."

"Yield to money considerations--no; but as long as we live upon
earth, we shall live dependent upon money in some form or another.
Our pecuniary embarrassments--you know all about them. I need not
refer to the mortgagee, who, at any moment, may foreclose. Think of
what it would be if this house were to be put up for sale, and we had
all to return to our relations. How many are there who have relations
who would take them in? And the lay sisters--what would become of
them and our duties towards them--they who have worked for us all
these years? Sister Lawrence--would you like to see her on the
roadside, or carried to the workhouse? Spiritual considerations come
first, of course, but we must have a house to live in and a chapel to
pray in. Do you never think of these things, Hilda?"

"Yes, and I appreciate the anxiety our pecuniary difficulties cause
you, dear Mother. I am not indifferent, I assure you, but I cannot
help feeling that anything were better than we should stop, instead
of going forward, towards the high ideal--"

"Well, Hilda, are you prepared to risk it? We have a chance of
redeeming the convent from debt--will you accept the responsibility?"

"Of what, dear Mother?"

"Of refusing to agree that Evelyn shall be allowed to take the white
veil, if she wishes to take it."

"But taking the white veil will not enable us to get hold of her
money. We shall have to wait till she is professed."

"But if she is given the white veil," the Prioress answered sternly,
"she will be induced to remain. The fact of her taking the white veil
is a great inducement, and a year hence who knows--"

"Well, dear Mother, you will act, I am sure, for the best. Perhaps it
would have been better if you had not consulted me; but, having
consulted me, I had to tell you what I think. I am aware that in
practical matters I am but a very poor judge. Remember, I passed,
like Veronica, from the schoolroom to the convent. But you know the
world."

"It is very kind of you to admit so much; but it seems to me, Hilda,
you are only admitting that much so as to give a point to your
contention, or what I suppose is your contention--that those who
never knew the world may attain to a more intense spirituality than
poor women such as myself and Mother Philippa here, who did not enter
the convent as early in life as you did... but who renounced the
world."

The sharp tone of the Prioress's voice, when she mentioned Mother
Philippa's name, awoke the nun, who had been dozing.

"Well, Mother Philippa, what is your opinion?"

"It seems to me," the nun answered, now wide awake, "that it is a
matter for Evelyn to decide. You think I was asleep, but I wasn't; I
heard everything you said. You were discussing your own scruples of
conscience, which seem to me quite beside the question. Our
conscience has nothing to do with the matter; it is all a question
for Evelyn to decide herself... as soon as she is well, of course."

"And she is now quite well. I will see her to-morrow on the subject."

On this the Prioress rose to her feet, and the other two nuns
understood that the interview was at an end.

"Dear Mother, I know how great your difficulties are," said Mother
Hilda, "and I am loth to oppose your wishes in anything. I know how
wise you are, how much wiser than we--but however foolishly I may
appear to be acting, you will understand that I cannot act
differently, feeling as I do."

"I understand that, Hilda; we all must act according to our lights.
And now we must go to bed, we are breaking all the rules of the
house."



XXV

After breakfast Veronica came to Evelyn, saying that dear Mother
would like to speak to her. Evelyn nodded, and went gaily to see the
Prioress in her room on the ground-floor. Its long French windows,
opening on to the terrace-walk, appealed to her taste; and the
crowded writing-table, on which stood a beautiful crucifix in yellow
ivory. Papers and tin boxes were piled in one corner. But there was
no carpet, and only one armchair, over-worn and shabby. There were
flowers in vases and bowls, and, in a large cage, canaries uttered
their piercing songs.

"I like your room, dear Mother, and wish you would send for me a
little oftener. All your writing--now couldn't I do some of it for
you?"

"Yes, Evelyn, I should like to use you sometimes as a secretary... if
you are going to remain with us."

"I don't know what you mean, Mother."

"Well, sit down. I have sent for you because I want to have a little
talk with you on this subject." And she spoke of Evelyn's postulancy;
of how long it had lasted. It seemed to the Prioress that it would be
better, supposing Evelyn did not intend to remain with them, for her
to live with them as an oblate, occupying the guest-chamber.

"Your health doesn't permit much religious instruction; but one of
these days you will realise better than you do now what our life is,
and what its objects are."

So did the Prioress talk, getting nearer the point towards which she
was making, without, however, pressing Evelyn to answer any direct
question, leading her towards an involuntary decision.

"But, dear Mother, I am safe here, you know."

"And yet you fear, my dear child, you have no vocation?"

"Well, it seems extraordinary that I--"

"More extraordinary things have happened in the world than that;
besides, there is much time for you to decide. No one proposes that
you should be admitted to the Order to-morrow; such a thing, you
know, is impossible, but the white veil is a great help. Evelyn,
dear, this question has been running in my mind some time back--is it
well for you to remain a postulant any longer? The white veil, again
I say, is such a help."

"A help for what, dear Mother?"

"Well, it will tell you if you have a vocation; at the end of the
year you will know much better than you know now."

"I a nun!" Evelyn repeated.

"In a year you will be better able to decide. Extraordinary things
have happened."

"But it would be extraordinary," Evelyn said, speaking to herself
rather than to the nun.

"I have spoken to Mother Hilda and Mother Philippa on the subject,
and they are agreed that if you are to remain in the convent it would
be better for you to take the white veil."

"Or do they think that it would be better for me to leave the
convent?"

"It would be impossible for us to think such a thing, my dear child."

"But what I would wish to understand, dear Mother, is this--have I to
decide either to leave the convent or to take the white veil?"

"Oh, no; but you have been so long a postulant."

"But when I went to Rome my postulancy--"

"Even so, you have been a postulant for over a year; and, should you
discover that you have no vocation, the fact of having been a novice,
of having worn the white veil, will be a protection to you ever
afterwards, should you return to the world."

"You think so, dear Mother?"

And the Prioress read in Evelyn's face that she had touched the right
note.

"Yes, to have a name, for instance--not only the veil, but the name.
I have been thinking of a name for you--what do you think of
'Teresa'?"

"Teresa!" Evelyn answered. And her thoughts went to the great nun
whose literature she had first read in the garden outside, when she
walked there as a visitor. It was under a certain tree, where she had
often sat since with Mother Hilda and the novices, that she had first
read the "Autobiography" and "The Way of Perfection." There were the
saints' poems, too; and, thinking of them, a pride awoke in her that
for a time, at least, she should bear the saint's name. The Prioress
was right, the saint's name would fortify her against her enemy; and
her noviceship would be something to look back upon, and the memory
of it would protect her when she left the convent.

"I am glad that we shall have you, at all events, for some months
more with us--some months more for sure, perhaps always. But take
time to consider it."

"Dear Mother, I am quite decided."

"Think it over. You can tell me your decision some time in the
afternoon, or to-morrow."

It was a few days after that the Prioress took Evelyn up to the
novitiate, where the novices were making the dress that Evelyn was to
wear when she received the white veil.

"You see, Teresa, we spare no expense or trouble on your dress," said
the Prioress.

"Oh, it is no trouble, dear Mother." And Sister Angela rose from her
chair and turned the dress right side out and shook it, so that
Evelyn might admire the handsome folds into which the silk fell.

"And see, here is the wreath," said Sister Jerome, picking up a
wreath of orange-blossoms from a chair.

"And what do you think of your veil, Sister Teresa? Sister Rufina did
this feather-stitch. Hasn't she done it beautifully?"

"And Sister Rufina is making your wedding-cake. Mother Philippa has
told her to put in as many raisins and currants as she pleases. Yours
will be the richest cake we have ever had in the convent." Sister
Angela spoke very demurely, for she was thinking of the portion of
the cake that would come to her, and there was a little gluttony in
her voice as she spoke of the almond paste it would have upon it.

"It is indeed a pity," said Sister Jerome, "that Sister Teresa's
clothing takes place so early in the year."

"How so, Sister Jerome?" Evelyn asked incautiously.

"Because if it had been a little later, or if Monsignor had not been
delayed in Rome--I only thought," she added, stopping short, "that
you would like Monsignor to give you the white veil--it would be
nicer for you; or if the Bishop gave it," she added, "or Father
Ambrose. I am sure Sister Veronica never would have been a nun at all
if Father Ambrose had not professed her. Father Daly is such a little
frump."

"That will do, children; I cannot really allow our chaplain to be
spoken of in that manner." And Mother Hilda looked at Evelyn,
thinking, "Well, the Prioress has had her way with her."

The recreation-bell rang, and the novices clattered down the stairs
of the novitiate, their childish eagerness rousing Evelyn from the
mild stupor which still seemed to hang about her mind; and she smiled
at the novices and at herself, for suddenly it had all begun to seem
to her like a scene in a play, herself going to take the white veil
and to become a nun, at all events, for a while. "Now, how is all
this to end?" she asked herself. "But what does it matter?" Clouds
seemed to envelop her mind again, and she acquiesced when the
Prioress said:

"I think your retreat had better begin to-day."

"When, Mother?"

"Well, from this moment."

"If Teresa will come into the garden with me," said Mother Hilda.

It was impossible for the Prioress to say no, and a slaty blush of
anger came into her cheek. "Hilda will do all she can to prevent
her." Nor was the Prioress wholly wrong in her surmise, for they had
not walked very far before Evelyn admitted that the idea of the white
veil frightened her a great deal.

"Frightens you, my dear child?"

"But if I had a vocation I should not feel frightened. Isn't that so,
Mother Hilda?"

"I shouldn't like to say that, Teresa. One can feel frightened and
yet desire a thing very much; desire and fear are not incompatible."

Tears glistened in her eyes, and she appealed to Mother Hilda,
saying:

"Dear Mother, I don't know why I am crying, but I am very unhappy.
There is no reason why I should be, for here I am safe."

"Will she ever recover her mind sufficiently to know what she is
doing?" Mother Hilda asked herself.

"It is always," Evelyn said, "as if I were trying to escape from
something." Mother Hilda pressed her to explain. "I cannot explain
myself better than by telling that it is as if the house were burning
behind me, and I were trying to get away."

That evening Mother Hilda consulted the Prioress, telling her of
Evelyn's tears and confusion.

"But, Hilda, why do you trouble her with questions as to whether she
would like to be a nun or not? As I have said repeatedly, the veil is
a great help, and, in a year hence, Teresa will know whether she'd
like to join our community. In the meantime, pray let her be in peace
and recover herself." The Prioress's voice was stern.

"Only this, dear Mother--"

"The mistake you make, Hilda, seems to me to be that you imagine
every one turns to religion and to the convent for the same reason,
whereas the reasons that bring us to God are widely different. You
are disappointed in Teresa, not because she lacks piety, but because
she is not like Jerome or Angela or Veronica, whom we both know very
well. Each seeks her need in religion, and you are not acquainted
with Teresa's, that is all. Now, Hilda, obedience is the first of all
the virtues, and I claim yours in all that regards Teresa." Mother
Hilda raised her quiet eyes and looked into the Prioress's face, and
then lowered them again. "We should be lacking in our duty," the
Prioress continued, "if we don't try to keep her by all legitimate
means. She will receive the white veil at the end of the week; try to
prepare her for her clothing, instruct her in the rule of our house;
no one can do that as well as you."

Lifting her eyes again for a moment, Mother Hilda answered that it
should be as the Prioress wished--that she would do her best to
instruct Teresa; and she moved away slowly, the Prioress not seeking
to detain her any longer in her room.



XXVI

Next day in the novitiate Mother Hilda explained to Evelyn how the
centre of their life was the perpetual adoration of the Blessed
Sacrament exposed on the altar.

"Our life is a life of expiation; we expiate by our prayers and our
penances and our acts of adoration the many insults which are daily
flung at our divine Lord by those who not only disobey His
commandments, but deny His very presence on our altars. To our
prayers of expiation we add prayers of intercession; we pray for the
many people in this country outside the faith who offend our Lord
Jesus Christ more from ignorance than from malice. All our little
acts of mortification are offered with this intention. From morning
Mass until Benediction our chapel, as you know, is never left empty
for a single instant of the day; two silent watchers kneel before the
Blessed Sacrament, offering themselves in expiation of the sins of
others. This watch before the Blessed Sacrament is the chief duty
laid upon the members of our community. Nothing is ever allowed to
interfere with it. Unfailing punctuality is asked from every one in
being in the chapel at the moment her watch begins, and no excuse is
accepted from those who fail in this respect. Our idea is that all
through the day a ceaseless stream of supplication should mount to
heaven, that not for a single instant should there be a break in the
work of prayer. If our numbers permitted it we should have Perpetual
Adoration by day and night, as in the mother house in France; but
here the bishop only allows us to have exposition once a month
throughout the night, and all our Sisters look forward to this as
their greatest privilege."

"It is a very beautiful life, Mother Hilda; but I wonder if I have a
vocation?"

"That is the great question, my dear," and a cloud gathered in Mother
Hilda's face, for it had come into her mind to tell Evelyn that she
hardly knew anything of the religious life as yet; but remembering
her promise to the Prioress, she said: "Obedience is the beginning of
the religious life, and you must try to think that you are a child in
school, with nothing to teach and everything to learn. The
experience of your past life, which you may think entitles you
to consideration--"

"But, dear Mother, I think nothing of the kind; my whole concern is
to try to forget my past life. Ah, if I could only--" Mother Hilda
wondered what it must be to bring that look of fear into Evelyn's
eyes, but she refrained from questioning her, saying:

"I beg of you to put all the teachings of the world as far from your
mind as possible. It will only confuse you. What we think wise the
world thinks foolish, and the wisdom of the world is to us a vanity."

"If it were only a vanity," Evelyn answered. And her thoughts moved
away from the Mother Mistress to herself, wondering how it was that
this conventual life was so sympathetic to her, finding a reason in
the fact that her idea had alienated her from the world; she had come
here in quest of herself, and had found something, not exactly
herself, perhaps, but at all events a refuge from one side of
herself, and many other things--a group of women who thought as she
did. But would the convent always be as necessary to her as it was
to-day? And what a grief it would be to the nuns when the term of her
noviceship ended. Would she find courage to tell them that she did
not wish to take final vows? But she must listen to Mother Hilda who
was instructing her in the virtue of obedience. After obedience came
the rule of silence.

"But I don't know how the work in the garden will be done if one
isn't allowed to speak."

"The work in the garden must wait until your retreat is over. Now go,
my dear; I am waiting for Sisters Winifred and Veronica, who are
coming to me for their Latin lesson."

"May I go into the garden?"

It amused Evelyn to ask the question, so strange did it seem that she
should ask, like a little child, permission to go into the garden;
and as she went along the passages she began to fear that the old
Evelyn was on her way back, the woman who had disappeared for so many
months. Be that as it may, she was not altogether Sister Teresa on
the day of her clothing, though she tried to imitate the infantile
glee of the novices, and of the nuns too; for they were nearly as
childish as the novices. In spite of herself she wearied of the
babble and the laughter over orange-blossoms and wedding-cake,
especially of Sister Jerome's babble. She was particularly noisy that
afternoon; her unceasing humour had begun to jar, and Evelyn had
begun to feel that she must get away from it all, and she asked leave
to go into the garden.

Ah, the deep breath she drew! How refreshing it was after the long
time spent in church in the smell of burning wax and incense. "The
incense of the earth is sweeter," she said; and the sound of the wind
in the boughs reminded her of the voice of the priest intoning the
"Veni Creator." "Nature is more musical," and her eyes strayed over
the great park to its rim miles away, indistinct, though the sky was
white as white linen above it, only here and there a weaving of some
faint cream tones amid clouds rising very slowly; a delicious warmth
fell out of the noonday sky, enfolding the earth; and, discomforted
by her habit--a voluminous trailing habit with wide hanging sleeves--
she stood on the edge of the terrace thinking that the stiff white
head-dress made her feel more like a nun than her vows.

"Of what am I thinking?" she asked herself, for her thoughts seemed
to go out faintly, like the clouds; she seemed more conscious of the
spring-time than she had ever been before, of a sense of delight
going through her when, before her eyes, the sun came out, lighting
up the distant inter-spaces and the stems of the trees close by. The
ash was coming into leaf, but among the green tufts, every bough
could still be traced. The poplars looked like great brooms, but they
were reddening, and in another week or two would be dark green again.
The season being a little late, the lilacs and laburnums were out
together; pink and white blossoms had begun to light up the close
leafage of the hawthorns, and under the flowering trees grass was
springing up, beautiful silky grass. "There is nothing so beautiful
in the world as grabs," Evelyn thought, "fair spring grass." The
gardener was mowing it between the flower beds, and it lay behind his
hissing scythe along the lawn in irregular lines.

"There is the first swallow, just come in time to see the tulips, the
tall May tulips which the Dutchmen used to paint."

So did Evelyn think, and her eyes followed Sister Mary John's
jackdaw. He seemed to know the hour of the day, and was looking out
for his mistress, who generally came out after dinner with food for
him, and speech--the bird seemed to like being spoken to, and always
put his head on one side so that he might listen more attentively. A
little further on Evelyn met three goslings straying under the
flowering laburnums, and she returned them to their mother in the
orchard. Something was moving among the potato ridges, and wondering
what it could be, she discovered the cat playing with the long-lost
tortoise. How funny her great fluffy tom-cat looked, as he sat in
front of the tortoise, tapping its black head whenever it appeared
beyond the shell. All cats are a beautiful shape, but this one was a
beautiful colour, "grey as a cloud at even"; but to leave him playing
with the tortoise would be cruel to the tortoise, so she decided to
carry the cat to the other end of the garden, where the sparrows were
picking up the green peas.

The pear blossom had disappeared some weeks ago, and now the apple
was in bloom. Some trees were later than others, and there were still
tight pink knots amid the brown boughs. Evelyn sat down and closed
her eyes, so that she might enjoy more intensely the magic of this
Maytime. Every now and again a breeze shook the branches, shedding
white blossom over the bright grass, and faint shadows rushed out and
retreated The sun was swallowed up in a sudden cloud. A dimness came
and a chill, but not for long enduring; the world was lit up, all the
lilac leaves were catching the light and dancing in the breeze. "How
living the world is, no death anywhere." Then her eyes turned to the
convent, for at that moment she caught sight of one of the lay
sisters coming towards her, evidently the bearer of a message. Sister
Agnes had come to tell her that a lady had called to see her.

"The lady is in the parlour. Mother Hilda is with her"

"But her name?"

Sister Agnes could not give Evelyn her visitor's name; but on the way
to the parlour they were met by the Prioress, who told Evelyn that
the lady who had come to see her was a French lady, Mademoiselle
Helbrun.

"Louise! Dear Mother, she is an actress, one of the women I used to
sing with."

"Perhaps you had better not see her, and you may count upon me not to
offend her; she will understand that on the day of your clothing--"

"No, no, dear Mother, I must see her."

"Teresa, one never uses the word 'must' to the Prioress, nor to any
one in the convent; and on the day of your clothing it seems to me
you might have remembered this first rule of our life."

"Of course I am very sorry, Mother; but now that she has come I am
afraid it would agitate me more not to see her than to see her. It
was the surprise of hearing her name after such a long while--there
is no reason I can think of--"

"Teresa, it is for me to think, it is for you to obey."

"Well, Mother, if you will allow me."

"Ah, that is better. Of course she has come here to oppose your being
here. How will you answer her?"

"Louise is an old friend, and knows me well, and will not argue with
me, so it seems to me; and if she should ask me why I'm here and if I
intend to remain, it will be easy for me to answer her, "I am here
because I am not safe in the world."

"But she'll not understand."

"Yes she will, Mother. Let me see her."

"Perhaps you are fight, Teresa; it will be better for you to see her.
But it is strange she should have come this afternoon."

"Some intuition, some voice must have told her."

"Teresa, those are fancies; you mustn't let your mind run on such
things."

They were at the door of the parlour. Evelyn opened it for the
Prioress, allowing her to pass in first.

"Louise, how good of you to come to see me. How did you find my
address? Did Mérat give it to you?"

"No, but I have heard--we all know you are thinking of becoming a
nun."

"If you had been here a little earlier," the Prioress said, "you
would have been in time for Teresa's clothing." And there was an
appeal in the Prioress's voice, the appeal that one Catholic makes to
another. The Prioress, of course, assumed that Louise had been
brought up a Catholic, though very likely she did not practise her
religion; few actresses did. So did the Prioress's thoughts run as
she leaned forward; her voice became winning, and she led Louise to
ask her questions regarding the Order. And she told Louise that it
was a French Order originally, wearying her with the story of the
arrival of the first nuns. "How can Evelyn stop here listening to
such nonsense?" she thought. And then Mother Hilda told Louise about
Evelyn's singing at Benediction, and the number of converts she had
won to the Church of Rome.

"As no doubt you know. Mademoiselle Helbrun, once people are drawn
into a Catholic atmosphere--"

"Yes, I quite understand. So you sing every day at Benediction, do
you, Evelyn? You are singing to-day? It will be strange to hear you
singing an 'Ave Maria.'"

"But, Louise, if I sing an 'O Salutaris,' will you sing Schubert's
'Ave Maria'?"

"No, you sing Schubert's 'Ave Maria' and I will sing an 'O
Salutaris.'"

Evelyn turned to the Prioress.

"Of course, we shall be only too glad if Mademoiselle Helbrun will
sing for us."

"The last time we saw each other, Louise, was the day of your party
in the Savoy Hotel."

"Yes, didn't we have fun that day? We were like a lot of children.
But you went away early."

"Yes, that day I went to Confession to Monsignor."

"Was it that day? We noticed something strange in you. You seemed to
care less for the stage, to have lost your vocation."

"We hope she has begun to find her vocation," Mother Hilda answered.

"But that is just what I mean--in losing her vocation for the stage
she has gained, perhaps, her vocation for the religious life."

"Vocation for the stage?"

"Yes, Mother Hilda," the Prioress said, turning to the Mistress of
the Novices, "the word vocation isn't used in our limited sense, but
for anything for which a person may have a special aptitude."

"That day of your party--dear me, how long ago it seems, Louise! How
much has happened since then? You have sung how many operas? In whose
company are you now?" Before they were aware of it the two singers
had begun to chatter of opera companies and operas. Ulick Dean was
secretary of the opera company with which Louise was travelling. They
were going to America in the autumn. The conversation was taking too
theatrical a turn, and the Prioress judged it necessary to intervene.
And without anybody being able to detect the transition, the talk was
led from America to the Pope and the Papal Choir.

"May we go into the garden, dear Mother?" Evelyn said, interrupting.
Her interruption was a welcome one; the Prioress in her anxiety to
change the subject had forgotten Mr. Innes's death and Evelyn's
return to Rome. She gave the required permission, and the four women
went out together.

"Do you think we shall be able to talk alone?"

"Yes, presently," Evelyn whispered. Soon after, in St. Peter's Walk,
an opportunity occurred. The nuns had dropped behind, and Evelyn led
her friend through the hazels, round by the fish-pond, where they
would be able to talk undisturbed. Evelyn took her friend's arm.
"Dear Louise, how kind of you to come to see me. I thought I was
forgotten. But how did you find me out?"

"Sir Owen Asher, whom I met in London, told me I would probably get
news of you here."

Evelyn did not answer.

"Aren't you glad to see me?"

"Of course I am. Haven't I said so? Don't you see I am? And you have
brought beautiful weather with you, Louise. Was there ever a more
beautiful day? White clouds rising up in the blue sky like great
ships, sail over sail."

"My dear Evelyn, I have not come to talk to you about clouds, nor
green trees, though the birds are singing beautifully here, and it
would be pleasant to talk about them if we were going to be alone the
whole afternoon. But as the nuns may come round the corner at any
minute I had better ask you at once if you are going to stop here?"

"Is that what you have come to ask me?"

Evelyn got up, though they had only just sat down.

"Evelyn, dear, sit down. You are not angry with me for asking you
these questions? What do you think I came here for?"

"You came here, then, as Reverend Mother suspected, to try to
persuade me away? You would like to have me back on the stage?"

"Of course we should like to have you back among us again. Owen
Asher--"

"Louise, you mustn't speak to me of my past life."

"Ulick--"

"Still less of him. You have come here, sent by Owen Asher or by
Ulick Dean--which is it?"

"My dear Evelyn, I came here because we have always been friends and
for old friendship's sake--by nobody."

These words seemed to reassure her, and she sat down by her friend,
saying that if Louise only knew the trouble she had been through.

"But all that is forgotten... if it can be forgotten. Do you know if
our sins are ever forgotten, Louise?"

"Sins, Evelyn? What sins? The sin of liking one man a little better
than another?"

"That is exactly it, Louise. The sin and the shame are in just what
you have said--liking one man better than another. But I wish,
Louise, you wouldn't speak to me of these things, for I'll have to
get up and go back to the convent."

"Well, Evelyn, let us talk about the white clouds going by, and how
beautiful the wood is when the sun is shining, flecking the ground
with spots of light; birds are singing in the branches, and that
thrush! I have never heard a better one." Louise walked a little way.
Returning to Evelyn quickly, she said, "There are all kinds of birds
here--linnets, robins, yes, and a blackbird. A fine contralto!"

"But why, Louise, do you begin to talk about clouds and birds?"

"Well, dear, because you won't talk about our friends."

"Or is it because you think I must be mad to stay here and to wear
this dress? You are quite wrong if you think such a thing, for it was
to save myself from going mad that I came here."

"My dear Evelyn, what could have put such ideas into your head?"

"Louise, we mustn't talk of the past. I can see you are astonished at
this dress, yet you are a Catholic of a sort, but still a Catholic. I
was like you once, only a change came. One day perhaps you will be
like me."

"You think I shall end in a convent, Evelyn?"

Evelyn did not answer, and; not knowing exactly what to say next,
Louise spoke of the convent garden.

"You always used to be fond of flowers. I suppose a great part of
your time is spent in gardening?"

An angry colour rose into Evelyn's cheek.

"You don't wish me," she said, "to talk about myself? You think--
Never mind, I don't care what you think about me."

Louise assured her that she was mistaken; and in the middle of a long
discourse Evelyn's thoughts seemed suddenly to break away, and she
spoke to Louise of the greenhouse which she had made that winter,
asking her if she would like to come to see it with her.

"A great deal of it was built with my own hands, Sister Mary John and
I. You don't know her yet; she is our organist, and an excellent
one."

At that moment Evelyn laid her hand on Louise's arm, and a light
seemed to burst into her face.

"Listen!" she said, "listen to the bird! Don't you hear him?"

"Hear what, dear?"

"The bird in the branches singing the song that leads Siegfried to
Brunnhilde."

"A bird singing Wagner?"

"Well, what more natural than that a bird should sing his own song?"

"But no bird--" A look of wonder, mingled with fear, came into
Louise's face.

"If you listen, Louise." In the silence of the wood Louise heard
somebody whistling Wagner's music. "Don't you hear it?"

Louise did not answer at once. Had she caught some of Evelyn's
madness... or was she in an enchanted garden?

"It is a boy in the park, or one of the nuns."

"Nuns don't whistle, and the common is hundreds of yards away. And no
boy on the common knows the bird music from 'Siegfried'? Listen,
Louise, listen! There it goes, note for note. Francis is singing well
to-day."

"Francis!"

"Look, look, you can see him! Now are you convinced?"

And the wonder in Louise's face passed into a look of real fear, and
she said:

"Let us go away."

"But why won't you listen to Francis? None of my birds sings as he
does. Let me tell you, Louise--"

But Louise's step hastened.

"Stop! Don't you hear the Sword motive? That is Aloysius."

Louise stopped for a moment, and, true enough, there was the Sword
motive whistled from the branches of a sycamore. And Louise began to
doubt her own sanity.

"You do hear him, I can see you do."

"What does all this mean?" Louise said to the Reverend Mother,
drawing her aside. "The birds, the birds, Mother Superior, the
birds!"

"What birds?"

"The birds singing the motives of 'The Ring.'"

"You mean Teresa's bullfinches, Mademoiselle Helbrun? Yes, they
whistle very well."

"But they whistle the motives of 'The Ring!'"

"Ah! she taught them."

"Is that all? I thought she and I were mad. You'll excuse me, Mother
Superior? May I ask her about them?"

"Of course, Mademoiselle Helbrun, you can." And Louise walked on in
front with Evelyn.

"Mother Superior tells me you have taught bullfinches the motives of
'The Ring,' is it true?"

"Of course. How could they have learned the motives unless from me?"

"But why the motives of 'The Ring'?"

"Why not, Louise? Short little phrases, just suited to a bird."

"But, dear, you must have spent hours teaching them."

"It requires a great deal of patience, but when there is a great
whirl in one's head--"

Evelyn stopped speaking, and Louise understood that she shrank from
the confession that to retain her sanity she had taught bullfinches
to whistle,

"So she is sane, saner than any of us, for she has kept herself sane
by an effort of her own will," Louise said to herself.

"Some birds learn much quicker than others; they vary a great deal."

"My dear Evelyn, it is ever so nice of you. Just fancy teaching
bullfinches to sing the motives of 'The Ring,' It seemed to me I was
in an enchanted garden. But tell me, why, when you had taught them,
did you let them fly away?"

"Well, you see, they can only remember two tunes. If you teach them a
third they forget the first two, and it seemed a pity to confuse
them."

"So when a bullfinch knows two motives you let him go? Well, it is
all very simple now you have explained it. They find everything they
want in the garden. The bullfinch is a homely little bird, almost as
domestic as the robin; they just stay here, isn't that it?"

"Sometimes they go into the park, but they come every morning to be
fed. On the whole, Francis is my best bird; but there is another who
in a way excels him--Timothy. I don't know why we call him Timothy;
it isn't a pretty name, but it seems suited to him because I taught
him 'The Shepherd's Pipe'; and you know how difficult it is, dropping
half a note each time? Yet he knows it nearly all; sometimes he will
whistle it through without a mistake. We could have got a great deal
of money for him if he had been sold, and Reverend Mother wanted me
to sell him, but I wouldn't."

And Evelyn led Louise away to a far corner.

"He is generally in this corner; these are his trees." And Evelyn
began to whistle.

"Does he answer you when you whistle?"

"No; scraping one's feet against the gravel, some little material
noise, will set him whistling." And Evelyn scraped her feet. "I'm
afraid he isn't here to-day. But there is the bell for Benediction.
We must not keep the nuns waiting." And the singers hurried towards
the convent, where they met the Prioress and the Mistress of the
Novices and Sister Mary John.

"Dear me, how late you are, Sister!" said Sister Mary John. "I
suppose you were listening to the bullfinches. Aren't they wonderful?
But won't you introduce me to Mademoiselle Helbrun? It would be
delightful, mademoiselle, if you would only sing for us."

"I shall be very pleased indeed."

"Well, we have only got two or three minutes to decide what it is to
be. Will you come up to the organ loft?"

And that afternoon the Wimbledon laity had the pleasure of hearing
two prima donne at Benediction.



XXVII

One day in the last month of Evelyn's noviceship--for it was the
Reverend Mother's plans to put up Evelyn for election, provided she
could persuade Evelyn to take her final vows--Sister Mary John sat at
the harmonium, her eyes fixed, following Evelyn's voice like one in a
dream. Evelyn was singing Stradella's "Chanson d'Eglise," and when
she, had finished the nun rose from her seat, clasping her friend's
hand, thanking her for her singing with such effusion that the
thought crossed Evelyn's mind that perhaps her friend was giving to
her some part of that love which it was essential to the nun to
believe belonged to God alone; and knowing Sister Mary John so well,
she could not doubt that, as soon as the nun discovered her
infidelity to the celestial Bridegroom, she would separate herself at
once from her. A tenderness in the touch of the hand, an ardour in
the eye, might reveal the secret to her, or very likely a casual
remark from some other nun would awaken her conscience to the danger
--an imaginary danger, of course--but that would not be her idea.
Formal relations would be impossible between them, one of them would
have to leave; and, without this friendship, Evelyn felt she could
not live in the convent.

The accident she foresaw happened two days after, when sitting in the
library writing. Veronica came in. Evelyn had seen very little of her
lately, and at one time Evelyn, Veronica, and Sister Mary John had
formed a little group, each possessing a quality which attracted the
others; but, insensibly, musical interests and literary interests--
Sister Mary John had begun to teach Evelyn Latin--had drawn Evelyn
and Sister Mary John together, excluding Veronica a little. This
exclusion was more imaginary than real. But some jealousy of Sister
Mary John had entered her mind; and Evelyn had noticed, though Sister
Mary John had failed to notice, that Veronica had, for some time
past, treated them with little disdainful airs. And now, when she
opened the door, she did not answer Evelyn at once, though Evelyn
welcomed her with a pretty smile, asking her whom she was seeking.
There was an accent of concentrated dislike in Veronica's voice when
Evelyn said she was looking for Sister Mary John.

"I heard her trampling about the passage just now; she is on her way
here, no doubt, and won't keep you waiting."

The word "trampling" was understood by Evelyn as an allusion to the
hobnails which Sister Mary John wore in the garden. Veronica often
dropped a rude word, which seemed ruder than it was owing to the
refinement and distinction of her face and her voice. A rude word
seemed incongruous on the lips of this mediæval virgin; and Evelyn
sat nibbling the end of the pen, thinking this jealousy was
dangerous. Sister Mary John only had to hear of it. The door opened
again; this time it was Sister Mary John, who had come to ask Evelyn
what was the matter with Veronica.

"I passed her in the passage just now, and when I asked her if she
had seen you, she said she really was too busy to speak to me; and, a
moment after, she stood a long while to play with the black kitten,
who was catching flies in the window."

"There is no doubt that Veronica has changed; lately she has been
rather rude to me."

"To you, Teresa? Now, what could she be rude about to you?" The nun's
face changed expression, and Evelyn sat reading it, "Do you think she
is jealous of the time we spend together? We have been together a
great deal lately."

"But it is necessary that we should be--our music."

"Yes, our music, of course; but I was thinking of other times."

Evelyn knew that Sister Mary John was thinking of the time they had
spent reading the Breviary together--four great volumes, one for
every season of the year. It was Sister Mary John who had taught her
to appreciate the rich, mysterious tradition of the Church, and how
these books of ritual and observances could satisfy the mind more
than any secular literature. There was always something in the Office
to talk about, something new amid much that remained the same--the
reappearance of a favourite hymn.

"All the same, Sister, we should not take so much pleasure in each
other's society. Veronica is quite right."

At that moment Evelyn was called away by the portress, who had come
to tell her that Mother Hilda wanted her in the novitiate, and Sister
Mary John was left thinking in the library that Veronica was
certainly right, and every moment the conviction grew clearer. It
must have been forming in her mind for a long time past, for, within
five minutes after Evelyn had left the room, the nun determined to go
straight to the Prioress and tell her that her life was being
absorbed by Evelyn and beg her to transfer her to the Mother House in
France. Never to see Evelyn again! Her strength almost failed her as
she went towards the door. But what would it profit her to see Evelyn
for a few years if she should lose her for eternity? A little
courage, and they would meet to part no more. In a few years both
would be in heaven. A confusion of thought began in her; she
remembered many things, that she no longer loved Christ as she used
to love him. She no longer stood before the picture in which Christ
took St. Francis in His arms, saying to Christ, "My embrace will be
warmer than his when thou takest me in thy arms." She had often
thought of herself and Evelyn in heaven, walking hand in hand. Once
they had sat enfolded in each other's arms under a flowering
oleander. Christ was watching them! And all this could only point to
one thing, that her love of Evelyn was infringing upon her love of
God. And Evelyn, too, had questioned her love of God as if she were
jealous of it, but she had answered Evelyn that nuns were the brides
of Christ, and must set no measure on their love of God. "There is no
lover," she had said, "like God; He is always by you, you can turn to
Him at any moment. God wishes us to keep all our love for Him." She
had said these things, but how differently she had acted, forgetful
of God, thinking only of Evelyn, and her vows, and not a little of
the woman herself.

The revelation was very sudden.... Sister Mary John seemed to find
somebody in herself of whom she knew nothing, and a passion in
herself unknown to her before. Therefore, to the Prioress she went at
once to tell her everything.

"Mother, I have come to ask you if you will transfer me to the Mother
House in France."

The Reverend Mother repeated the words in astonishment, and listened
to Sister Mary John, who was telling her that she had found herself
in sin.

"My life is falling to pieces, Mother, and I can only save myself by
going away."

A shipwreck this was, indeed, for all the Prioress's plans! If Sister
Mary John left, how was Evelyn to be persuaded to take the veil? "At
every moment I am confronted with some unexpected obstacle." She
tried to argue with Sister Mary John; but the nun was convinced she
must go. So the only thing to do was to make terms.

"Teresa must know nothing of what has happened, on that I insist.
There is too much of this kind of thing going on in my convent; I
have heard of it among the younger nuns, all are thinking of visions.
But among you women, who have been in the convent for many years, I
had thought--"

"Mother, we are all weak; the flesh errs, and all we can do is to
check ourselves, to pray, and take such measures as will save us from
falling into sin again. Of what you said just now about the younger
nuns I know nothing, nor has any vision been vouchsafed to me, only I
have stumbled."

The Prioress did not answer; she was thinking how Sister Mary John
might be transferred.

"Mrs. Cater is going to France next month, you can travel with her."

"So a month must pass! I thought of leaving to-day or to-morrow, but
I see that is impossible. A month! How shall I endure it?"

"No one will know," the Prioress answered, with a little vehemence.
"It is a secret between us, I repeat, and I forbid you to tell any
one the reason of your leaving. Teresa will be professed in a few
weeks, I hope; she has reached the critical moment of her life, and
her mind must not be disturbed. The raising of such a question, at
such a time, might be fatal to her vocation."

The Prioress rose from her chair, and, following Sister Mary John to
the door, impressed upon her again that it was essential that no one
should ever know why she had left the convent.

"You can tell Teresa before you leave, but she must hear nothing of
it till the moment of your leaving. I give you permission merely to
say goodbye to her on the day you leave, and in the interval you will
see as little of each other as possible."

But when Sister Mary John said that Sister Elizabeth could accompany
Evelyn as well as she could, the Prioress interrupted her.

"You must always accompany her when she sings at Benediction; you
must do nothing to let her suspect that you are leaving the convent
on her account. You promise me this? You can tell her what you like,
of course when you are leaving, but not before. Of course, there is
no use arguing with you again, Sister Mary John. You are determined,
I can see that; but I do assure you that your leaving us is a sore
trial to us, more than you think for."

In the passage Sister Mary John came unexpectedly upon Evelyn
returning from the novitiate.

"Well, I have got through my Latin lesson, and Mother Hilda is
delighted at my progress. She flatters herself on her instruction,
but any progress I have made is owing to you.... But what is the
matter, Sister? Why do you move away?" Evelyn put her hand on the
nun's shoulder.

"Don't, Sister; I must go."

"Why must you go?"

"Teresa, try to think--" She was about to say "of God, and not of
me," but her senses seemed to swoon a little at that moment, and she
fell into Evelyn's arms.

"Teresa! Teresa! What is this?"

It was the Prioress coming from her room.

"A sudden giddiness, Mother," the nun answered.

"Just as I was telling her of my Latin lesson in the novitiate, that
I could learn Latin with her better than with Mother Hilda."

"We met in the passage," Sister Mary John said, moving away.

"And a sudden giddiness came over her," Evelyn explained.

"Teresa, Sister Cecilia, who is our sacristan, is a little slow; she
wants help, you are just the one to help her, and come with me."



XXVIII

And Evelyn followed the Prioress into a fragrance of lavender and
orris-root; she was shown the vestments laid out on shelves, with
tissue-paper between them. The most expensive were the white satin
vestments, and these dated from prosperous times; and she was told
how once poverty had become so severe in the convent that the
question had arisen whether these vestments should be sold, but the
nuns had declared that they preferred bread and water, or even
starvation, to parting with their vestments.

"These are for the priest," the Prioress said, "these are for the
deacon and subdeacon, and they are used on Easter Sundays, the
professed days of the Sisters, and the visits of the Bishop; and
these vestments with the figure of Our Lady, with a blue medallion in
the centre of the cross, are used for all feasts of the Virgin."

On another shelf were the great copes, in satin and brocade, gold and
white, with embroidered hoods and orphries, and veils to match; and
the processional banners were stored in tall presses, and with them,
hanging on wire hooks, were the altar-curtains, thick with gold
thread; for the high altar there were curtains and embroidered
frontals, and tabernacle hangings, and these, the Prioress explained,
had to harmonise with the vestments; and the day before Mass for the
Dead the whole altar would have to be stripped after Benediction and
black hangings put up.

"Cecilia will tell you about the candles. They have all to be of
equal length, Teresa, and it should be your ambition to be
economical, with as splendid a show as possible. No candle should
ever be allowed to burn into its socket, leaving less than the twelve
ordained by the Church for Exposition."

As soon as the Prioress left them, Sister Cecilia told Evelyn that
she would have to work very hard indeed, for it was the Prioress's
whim not to use the ordinary altar cloths with an embroidered hem,
but always cloths on which lace frontals were lightly tacked; and
Evelyn was warned that the sewing on of the lace, without creasing
the white linen, required great care; and the spilling of a little
wax could not be passed over, the cloth would have to go to the wash.

It was as she said; they had to work hard, and they were always
behindhand with their work. She learned from Cecilia that, apart from
the canonical directions for Divine Service, there existed an
unwritten code for pious observances--some saints were honoured by
having their banner exhibited during the octave of the feast, while
others were allowed little temporary altars on which some relic could
be exposed. The Sisters themselves were often mistaken regarding what
had been done on previous anniversaries; but the Prioress's memory
was unfailing, and one of the strictest rules of the house was that
the sacristan took orders from none but the Prioress. And when a
discussion arose between Cecilia and Evelyn, one of them went to the
Prioress to ask her to say which was right.

Sister Cecilia was stupid and slow, and very soon Evelyn had absorbed
most of the work of the sacristy doing it as she pleased, until one
day, the Prioress coming in to see what progress had been made, found
St. Joseph's altar stripped, save for a single pair of candlesticks
and two flower vases filled with artificial flowers. Evelyn was
admonished, but she dared to answer that she was not interested in
St. Joseph, though, of course, he was a worthy man.

"My dear Teresa, I cannot allow you to speak in this way of St.
Joseph; he is one of the patrons of the convent. Nor can I allow his
altar to be robbed in this fashion. Have you not thought that we are
looking forward to the time when you should be one of us?"

Behind them stood Sister Cecilia, overcome with astonishment that a
mere novice should dare to speak to the Prioress on terms of
equality. When the Prioress left the room she said:

"You didn't answer the Prioress just now when she asked if you had
forgotten that you were soon to become one of us."

"How could I answer... I don't know."

This answer seemed to exhaust Sister Cecilia's interest in the
question, and, handing Evelyn two more candles, she asked, "Do you
want me any more?"

On Evelyn saying she did not, she said:

"Well, then, I may go and meditate in the chapel."

"On what is she going to meditate?" Evelyn wondered; and from time to
time her eyes went towards the nun, who sat crouched on her haunches,
now and again beating her ears with both hands--a little trick of
hers to scatter casual thoughts, for even sacred things sometimes
suggested thoughts of evil to Sister Cecilia, and her plan to reduce
her thoughts to order was to slap her ears. Evelyn watched her,
wondering what her thoughts might be. Whatever they were, they led
poor Cecilia into disgrace, for that evening she forgot to fill the
lamp which burnt always before the tabernacle, it being the rule that
the Easter light struck on Holy Saturday should be preserved through
the year, each new wick being lighted upon the dying one. And Sister
Cecilia's carelessness had broken the continuity. She was severely
reprimanded, ate her meals that day kneeling on the refectory floor,
and for many a day the shameful occurrence was remembered. And her
place was taken by Veronica, who, delighted at her promotion, wore a
quaint air of importance, hurrying away with a bundle of keys hanging
from her belt by a long chain, amusing Evelyn, who was now under
Veronica's orders.

"Yes, it is rather strange, isn't it, Sister? But I can't help it. Of
course you ought to be in my place, and I can't think why dear Mother
has arranged it like this."

Nuns employed in the sacristy might talk, and in a few days
Veronica's nature revealed itself in many little questions.

"It is strange you should wish to be a nun."

"But why is it strange, Veronica?"

"For you are not like any of us, nor has the convent been the same
since you came."

"Are you sorry that I wish to be a nun?"

"Sorry, Sister Teresa? No, indeed. God has chosen you from the
beginning as the means He would employ to save us; only I can't see
you as a nun, always satisfied with the life here."

"Every one doesn't know from childhood what she is going to do. But
you always knew your vocation, Veronica."

"I cannot imagine myself anything but a nun, and yet I am not always
satisfied. Sometimes I am filled with longings for something which I
cannot live without, yet I do not know what I want. It is an
extraordinary feeling. Do you know what I mean, Sister?"

"Yes, dear, I think I do."

"It makes me feel quite faint, and it seizes me so suddenly. I have
wanted to tell you for a long time, only I have not liked to. There
are days when it makes me so restless that I cannot say my prayers,
so I know the feeling must be wrong. Something in the quality of your
voice stirs this feeling in me; your trill brings on this feeling
worse than anything. You don't know what I mean?"

"Perhaps I do. But why do you ask?"

"Because your singing seems to affect no one as it does me.... I
thought it might affect you in the same way--what is it?"

"I wouldn't worry, Veronica, you will get over it; it will pass."

"I hope it will." Evelyn felt that Veronica had not spoken all her
mind, and that the incident was not closed. The novice's eyes were
full of reverie, and behind her the open press exhaled a fragrance of
lavender. "You see," she said, turning, "Father Ambrose is coming
to-morrow. I wonder what he will think of you? He'll know if you have
a vocation."

Father Ambrose, an old Carmelite monk and the spiritual adviser of
the Prioress, was known to be a great friend of Veronica's, and
whenever he came to the convent Veronica's excitement started many
little pleasantries among the novices. Next day Evelyn waited for one
of these to arise. She had not long to wait; all the novices and
postulants with Mother Hilda were sitting under the great tree. The
air was warm, and Mother Hilda guided the conversation occasionally.
Every one was anxious to talk, but every one was anxious to think
too, for every one knew she would be questioned by the aged monk, and
that the chance of being accepted as a nun depended, in no small
measure, on his opinion of her vocation.

"Have you noticed, Sister Teresa, how beaming Sister Veronica has
looked for the last day or two? I can't think what has come to her."

"Can't you, indeed? You must be very slow. Hasn't she been put into
the sacristy just before Father Ambrose's visit; now she will be able
to put out his vestments herself. You may be sure we shall have the
best vestments out every day, and she will be able to have any amount
of private interviews behind our backs."

"Now, children, that will do," said Mother Hilda, noticing Veronica's
crimson cheeks as she bent over her work.

Evelyn wondered, and that evening in the sacristy Veronica broke into
expostulations with an excitement that took Evelyn by surprise.

"How could I not care for Father Ambrose! I have known him all my
life. Once I was very ill with pleurisy. I nearly died, and Father
Ambrose anointed me, and gave me the last Sacraments. I had not made
my first Communion then. I was only eleven, but they gave me the
Sacrament, for they thought I was dying, and I thought so too, and I
promised our Lord I would be a nun if I got well. I never told any
one except Father Ambrose, and he has helped me all through to keep
my vow, so you see he has been everything to me; I have never loved
any one as I love Father Ambrose. When he comes here I always ask him
for some rule or direction, so that I may have the happiness of
obeying him till his next visit; and it is so trying, is it not,
Sister Teresa, when the novices make their silly little jokes about
it? Of course, they don't understand, they can't; but to me Father
Ambrose means everything I care for; besides, he is really a saint. I
believe he would have been canonised if he had lived in the Middle
Ages. He has promised to profess me. It is wrong, I know, but really
I should hardly care to be professed if Father Ambrose could not be
by. We must have these vestments for him." Evelyn was about to take
them out. "No, allow me."

Veronica took the vestments out of her hand, a pretty colour coming
into her cheeks as she did so. And Evelyn understood her jealousy,
lest any other hands but hers should lay the vestments out that he
was to wear, and she turned her head so that Veronica might not think
she was being watched. And the little nun was happy in the corner of
the sacristy laying out the vestments, putting the gold chalice for
him to use, and the gold cruets, which Evelyn had never seen used
before."

"You see, being a monk, he has a larger amice than the ordinary
priest." And Veronica produced a strip of embroidery which she tacked
on the edge of the amice, so that it might give the desired
appearance when the monk drew it over his head on entering or leaving
the sacristy.

A few days after Evelyn came upon this amice with the embroidery edge
put away in a secret corner, so that it should not be used in the
ordinary way; and, as she stood wondering at the child's love for the
aged monk, Sister Agnes came to tell her she was wanted to bid Sister
Mary John goodbye.

"To bid Sister Mary John goodbye!"

"Yes, Sister Teresa, that is what the Prioress told me to tell you."

Evelyn hurried to the library. Sister Mary John was standing near the
window, and she wore a long black cloak over her habit, and had a
bird-cage in her hand. Evelyn saw the sly jackdaw, with his head on
one side, looking at her.

"What is the meaning of this, Sister? You don't tell me you are going
away? And for how long?"

"For ever, Sister; we shall never see each other again. I promised
the Prioress not to tell you before. It was a great hardship, but I
gave my promise, she allowing us to see each other for a few minutes
before I left."

"I can't take in what you're saying. Going away for ever? Oh, Sister,
this cannot be true!" And Evelyn stood looking at the nun, her eyes
dilated, her fingers crisped as if she would hold Sister Mary John
back. "But what is taking you away?"

"That is a long story, too long for telling now; besides, you know
it. You know I have been very fond of you, Teresa; too fond of you."

"So that's it. And how shall I live here without you?"

"You are going to enter the convent, and as a nun you will learn to
live without me; you will learn to love God better than you do now."

"One moment; tell me, it is only fair you should tell me, how our
love of each other has altered your love of God?"

"I can never tell you, Teresa, I can only say that I never
understood, perhaps, as I do now, that nothing must come between the
soul and God, and that there is no room for any other love in our
hearts. We must remember always we are the brides of Christ, you and
I, Sister."

"But I am not professed, and never shall be."

"I hope you will, Sister, and that all your love will go to our
crucified Lord."

They stood holding each other's hands.

"Won't you let me kiss you before you go?"

"Please let me go; it will be better not. The carriage is waiting; I
must go."

"But never, never to see you again!"

"Never is a long while; too long. We shall meet in heaven, and it
would be unwise to forfeit that meeting for a moment of time on this
earth."

"A moment of time on this earth," Evelyn answered. She stood looking
out of the window like one dazed; and taking advantage of her
abstraction Sister Mary John left the room. The Prioress came into
the library.

"Mother, what does this mean? Why did you let her go?"

The Prioress sat down slowly and looked at Evelyn without speaking.

"Mother, you might have let her stay, for my sake."

"I allowed her to see you before she left, and that was the most I
could do, under the circumstances."

"The most you could do under the circumstances? I don't understand.
Mother, you might have asked her to wait. She acted on impulse."

"No, Teresa, she came to me some weeks ago to tell me of her
scruples."

"Scruples! Her love of me, you mean?"

"I see she has told you. Yes."

The Prioress was about to ask her about her vows; but the present was
not the moment to do so, and she allowed Evelyn to go back to the
sacristy.



XXIX

"Veronica, she has gone away for good--gone away to France. All I
could do--Now I am alone here, with nobody."

"But, Teresa, I don't understand. What are you speaking about?"
Evelyn told her of Sister Miry John's departure. "You cared for her a
great deal, one could see that."

"Well, she was the one whom I have seen most of since I have been
here... except you, Veronica." A look appeared in the girl's face
which suggested, very vaguely, of course, but still suggested, that
Veronica was jealous of the nun who had gone. Evelyn looked into the
girl's face, trying to read the dream in it, until she forgot
Veronica, and remembered the nun who had gone; and when she awoke
from her dream she saw Veronica still standing before her with a
half-cleaned candlestick in her hand.

"She seemed so determined, and all I could say only made her more so;
yet I told her I was very fond of her... and she always seemed to
like me. Why should she be so determined?"

"I should have thought you would have guessed, Teresa."

Evelyn begged Veronica to explain, but the girl hesitated, looking at
her curiously all the time saying at last:

"It seems to me there can be only one reason for her leaving, and
that was because she believed you to be her counterpart."

"Her counterpart--what's that?"

"Have you been so long in the convent without knowing what a
counterpart is, Teresa? The convent is full of counterparts. Did you
never see one in the garden, in a shady corner? You spent many hours
in the garden. I am surprised. Are you telling the truth, Sister?"

Evelyn opened her eyes.

"Telling the truth! But do they come in the summer-time in the
garden, while the sun is out?"

"Yes, they do; and very often they come to one in the evening... but
more often at night."

Evelyn stood looking into Veronica's face without speaking, and at
that moment the bell rang.

"We have only just got time," Veronica said, "to get into chapel."

"What can she mean? Counterparts visiting the nuns in the twilight...
at night! Who are these counterparts?" Evelyn asked herself. "The
idle fancies of young girls, of course." But she was curious to hear
what these were, and on the first favourable opportunity she
introduced the subject, saying:

"What did you mean, Veronica, when you said that it was strange I had
been in the convent so long without finding my counterpart?"

"I didn't say that, Teresa. I said without a counterpart finding you
out, or that is what I meant to say. It is the counterpart which
seeks us, not we the counterpart. It would be wrong for us to seek
one. You know what I said about your singing, how it disturbed me and
prevented me from praying? Well, sometimes a memory of your singing
precedes the arrival of my counterpart."

"But did you not say that Sister Mary John was my counterpart?"

Veronica answered that Sister Mary John may have thought so.

"But she is a choir sister." And to this Veronica did not know what
answer to make. The silence was not broken for a long while, each
continuing her work, wondering when the other would speak. "Have all
the nuns counterparts?"

"I don't know anything about the choir sisters, but Rufina and Jerome
have. Cecilia is too stupid, and no counterpart ever seems to come to
her. Sister Angela has the most beautiful counterpart in the world,
except mine!" And the girl's eyes lit up.

Evelyn was on the point of asking her to describe her visitor, but,
fearing to be indiscreet, she asked Veronica to tell her who were the
counterparts, and whence they came. Veronica could tell her nothing,
and, untroubled by theory or scruple, she seemed to drift away--
perhaps into the arms of her spiritual lover. On rousing her from her
dream Evelyn learnt that Sister Angela, who was fond of reading the
Bible, had discovered many texts anent counter-partial love. Which
these could be Evelyn wondered, and Veronica quoted the words of the
Creed, "Christ descended into hell."

"But the counterpart doesn't emanate out of hell?"

A look of pain came into the nun's face, and she reminded Evelyn that
Christ was away for three days between his death and his
resurrection, and there were passages she remembered in Paul, in the
Epistle to the Romans, which seemed to point to the belief that he
descended into hell, at all events that he had gone underground; but
of this Veronica had no knowledge, she could only repeat what Sister
Angela had said--that when Christ descended into hell, the warders of
the gates covered their faces, so frightened were they, not having
had time to lock the gates against him, and all hell was harrowed.
But Christ had walked on, preaching to those men and women who had
been drowned in the Flood, and they had gone up to heaven with him.

"But, Veronica, those who are in hell never come out of it."

"No, they never come out of it; only Christ can do all things, and He
descended into hell, not to watch the tortures of the damned--you
couldn't think that, Sister Teresa?--but to save those who had died
before His coming. Once we had a meditation on a subject given to us
by Mother Hilda from one of the Gospels: Three men were seen coming
from a tomb, two supporting a man standing between them, the shadow
of the Cross came from behind; and the heads of two men touched the
sky, but the head of the man they supported passed through the sky,
and far beyond it, for the third man was our Lord coming out of
hell."

"But, Veronica, you were telling me about the counterparts."

"Well, Sister Teresa, the counterparts are those whom Christ redeemed
in those three days, and they come and visit every convent."

"In what guise do they come?" Evelyn asked. And she heard that the
arrival of the counterpart was always unexpected, but was preceded by
an especially happy state of quiet exaltation.

"Have you never felt that feeling, Sister Teresa? As if one were
detached from everything, and ready to take flight."

"Yes, dear, I think I know what you mean. But the counterpart is a
sort of marriage, and you know Christ says that there is neither
marriage, nor giving in marriage, when the kingdom of God shall come
to pass."

"Not giving in marriage," the girl answered, "as is understood in the
world, but we shall all meet in heaven; and the meeting of our
counterpart on earth is but a faint shadow of the joy we shall
experience after death--an indwelling, spirit within spirit, and
nothing external. That is how Mother Hilda teaches St. Teresa when we
read her in the novitiate."

"Sister Teresa is wonderful--her ravishments when God descended upon
her and she seemed to be borne away. But I didn't think that any one
among you experienced anything like that. It doesn't seem to me that
a counterpart is quite the same; there is something earthly."

"No, Sister, nothing earthly whatever."

"But, Veronica, you said that Sister Mary John left the convent
because she believed me to be her counterpart. I am in the world, am
I not?"

A perplexed look came into Veronica's face, and she said:

"There are counterparts and counterparts."

"And you think I am a wicked counterpart? You wouldn't like me to be
yours?"

"I didn't say that, Sister; only mine is in heaven."

"And when did he come last to you?" Evelyn asked, as she folded up
the vestments.

"Teresa, you are folding those vestments wrong. You're not thinking
of what you're doing." And the vestments turned the talk back to
Father Ambrose.

"Surely the monk isn't the counterpart you were speaking of just
now?"

"No, indeed, my counterpart is quite different from Father Ambrose;
he is young and beautiful. Father Ambrose has got a beautiful soul,
and I love him very dearly; but my counterpart is, as I have said, in
heaven, Sister."

The conversation fell, and Evelyn did not dare to ask another
question; indeed, she determined never to speak on the subject again
to Veronica. But a few days afterwards she yielded to the temptation
to speak, or Veronica--she could not tell which was to blame in this
matter, but she found herself listening to Veronica telling how she
had, for weeks before meeting with her counterpart, often felt a soft
hand placed upon her, and the touch would seem so real that she would
forget what she was doing, and look for the hand without being able
to find it.

"One night it seemed, dear, as if I could not keep on much longer,
and all the time I kept waking up. At last I awoke, feeling very cold
all over; it was an awful feeling, and I was so frightened that I
could hardly summon courage to take my habit from the peg and put it
upon my bed. But I did this, for, if what was coming were a wicked
thought, it would not be able to find me out under my habit. At last
I fell asleep, lying on my back with arms and feet folded, a position
I always find myself in when I awake, no matter in what position I
may go to sleep. Very soon I awoke, every fibre tingling, an
exquisite sensation of glow, and I was lying on my left side
(something I am never able to do), folded in the arms of my
counterpart. I cannot give you any idea of the beauty of his flesh,
and with what joy I beheld and felt it. Luminous flesh, and full of
tints so beautiful that they cannot be imagined. You would have to
see them. And he folded me so closely in his arms, telling me that it
was his coming that had caused the coldness; and then telling of his
love for me, and how he would watch over me and care for me. After
saying that, he folded me so closely that we seemed to become one
person; and then my flesh became beautiful, luminous, like his, and I
seemed to have a feeling of love and tenderness for it. I saw his
face, but it is too lovely to speak about. How could I think such a
visitation sinful? for all my thoughts were of pure love, and he did
not kiss me; but I fell asleep in his arms, and what a sleep I slept
there! When I awoke he was no longer by me."

"But why should you think it was sinful, dear?"

"Because our counterpart really is, or should be, Jesus Christ; we
are His brides, and mine was only an angel."

"But you've said, dear, that those who were drowned in the Flood come
down to those living now upon earth to prepare them--" The sentence
dropped away on Evelyn's lips; she could not continue it, for it
seemed to her disgraceful to draw out this girl into speaking of
things which were sacred to her, and which had a meaning for her that
was pure. Her love was for God, and she was trying to explain; and
the terms open to her were terms of human love, which she, Evelyn,
with a sinful imagination, misconstrued, involuntarily perhaps, but
misconstrued nevertheless.

At that moment Sister Angela came into the sacristy, and, seeing
Sister Veronica and Teresa looking at each other in silence, a look
of surprise came into her face, and she said:

"Now, you who are always complaining that the work of the sacristy is
behindhand, Veronica--"

Veronica awoke from her dream.

"I know, Sister, we ought not to waste time talking, but Teresa asked
me about my counterpart." Evelyn felt the blood rising to her face,
and she turned away so that Angela might not see it.

"And you've told her?"

"Yes. And you, Sister Angela, have got a counterpart; won't you tell
Teresa about him?"

And then, unable to repress herself at that moment, Evelyn turned to
Angela, saying:

"It began about Sister Mary John--who left the convent to my great
grief, so Veronica tells me, because she believed herself to be my
counterpart."

At this, Angela's face grew suddenly very grave, and she said:

"Of course, Teresa, she would leave the convent if she believed that;
but there was no reason for her believing it?"

"None," Evelyn answered, feeling a little frightened. "None. But what
do you mean?"

"Only this, that our counterparts are in heaven; but there are
counterparts and counterparts. One--I cannot explain now, dear, for I
was sent by the Prioress to ask you, Veronica, to go to her room; she
wants to speak to you. And I must go back to the novitiate. I
suppose," she added, "Veronica has told you that our counterparts are
a little secret among ourselves? Mother Hilda knows nothing of them.
It would not do to speak of these visitations; but I never could see
any harm, for it isn't by our own will that the counterpart comes to
us; he is sent."

Evelyn asked in what Gospel Christ's descent into hell is described,
and heard it was in that of Nicodemus; her estimation of Angela went
up in consequence. Angela was one of the few with intellectual
interests; and it was Evelyn's wish to hear about this Gospel that
led her, a few days afterwards, to walk with Angela and Veronica in
the orchard. Angela was delighted to be questioned regarding her
reading, and she told all she knew about Nicodemus. Veronica walked a
little ahead, plucking the tall grasses and enjoying the beautiful
weather. Evelyn, too, enjoyed the beautiful weather while listening
to the story of the harrowing of hell, as described by Nicodemus.
There were no clouds anywhere, and the sky, a dim blue overhead,
turned to grey as it descended. The June verdure of the park was a
wonderful spectacle, so many were the varying tints of green; only a
few unfledged poplars retained their russet tints. Outside the
garden, along the lanes, all the hedges overflowed with the great
lush of June; nettles and young ivy, buttercups, cow-parsley in
profusion, and in the hedge itself the white blossom of the hawthorn.
"The wild briar," Evelyn said to herself, "preparing its roses for
some weeks later, and in the low-lying lands, where there is a dip in
the fields, wild irises are coming into flower, and under the larches
on the banks women and children spend the long day chattering. Here
we talk of Nicodemus and spiritual loves."

Angela, an alert young woman, whose walk still retained a dancing
movement, whose face, white like white flowers and lit with laughing
eyes, set Evelyn wondering what strange turn of mind should have
induced her to enter a convent. Locks of soft golden hair escaped
from her hood, intended to grow into long tresses, but she had
allowed her hair to be cut. An ideal young mother, she seemed to
Evelyn to be; and the thought of motherhood was put into Evelyn's
mind by the story Angela was telling, for her counterpart had been
drowned in Noah's deluge when he was four years old.

"But he is a dear little fellow, and he creeps into my bed, and lies
in my arms; his hair is all curls, and he told me the story of his
drowning, how it happened five thousand years ago. He was carried
away in his cot by the flood, and had floated away, seeing the tops
of trees, until a great brown bear, weary of swimming, laid hold of
the cot and overturned it."

Veronica, who had heard Nicodemus's description of the harrowing of
hell many times, returned to them, a bunch of wild flowers in her
hand.

"Are not these Bright Eyes beautiful? They remind me of the eyes of
my baby; his eyes are as blue as these." And she looked into the
little blue flower. "Sister Teresa hasn't yet met a counterpart, but
that is only because she doesn't wish for it; one must pray and
meditate, otherwise one doesn't get one." And Evelyn learned how
Rufina had waited a long time for her counterpart. One day an
extraordinary fluttering began in her breast, and she heard the being
telling her not to forget to warn the doctor that he had grown a
little taller, and had come now to reach the end of toes and fingers.
Evelyn wanted to understand what that meant, but Angela could not
tell her, she could only repeat what Rufina had told her; and a look
of reproval came into Veronica's face when Angela said that when
Rufina was asked what her counterpart was like she said that it was
like having something inside one, and that lately he seemed to be
much in search of her mouth and tongue; and when she asked him what
he was like he replied that he was all a kiss."

"It really seems to me--" A memory of her past life checked her from
reproving the novices for their conversation; they were innocent
girls, and though their language seemed strange they were innocent at
heart, which was the principal thing, whereas she was not. And the
talk went on now about Sister Cecilia, who had been long praying for
a counterpart, but whose prayers were not granted.

"She is so stupid; how could a counterpart care about her? What could
he say?" Angela whispered to Veronica, pressing the bunch of flowers
which Veronica had given to her lips.

"Cecilia isn't pretty. But our counterparts don't seek us for our
beauty," Veronica answered, Evelyn thought a little pedantically,
"otherwise mine never would have found me." And the novices laughed.

The air was full of larks, some of them lost to view, so high were
they; others, rising from the grass, sang as they rose.

"Listen to that one, how beautifully that bird sings!" And the three
women stood listening to a heaven full of larks till the Angelus bell
called their thoughts away from the birds.

"We have been a long time away. Mother Hilda will be looking for us."
And they returned slowly to the Novice Mistress, Evelyn thinking of
Cecilia. "So it was for a counterpart she was praying all that time
in the corner of the chapel; and it was a dream of a counterpart that
caused her to forget to fill the sacred lamp."



XXX

It was the day of the month when the nuns watched by day and night
before the Sacrament. Cecilia's watch came at dawn, at half-past two,
and the last watcher knocked at her cell in the dusk, telling her she
must get up at once. But Cecilia answered:

"I cannot get up, Sister, I cannot watch before the Sacrament this
morning."

"And why, Sister? Are you ill?"

"Yes, I am very ill."

"And what has made you ill?"

"A dream, Sister."

And seeing it was Angela who had come to awaken her, Cecilia rose
from her pillow, saying, "A horrible dream, not a counterpart like
yours, Angela; oh! I can't think of it! It would be impossible for me
to take my watch."

And walking down the passage, not knowing what to make of Cecilia's
answers, Angela stopped at Barbara's cell to tell her Cecilia was ill
and could not take her watch that morning.

"And you must watch for her."

"Why... what is it?"

"I can tell you no more, Cecilia's ill."

And she hurried away to avoid further questions, wondering what
reason stupid Cecilia would give Mother Hilda for her absence from
chapel and the row there would be if she were to tell that a
counterpart had visited her! If she could only get a chance to tell
Cecilia that she must say she was ill! If she didn't--Angela's
thoughts turned to her little counterpart, from whom she might be
separated for ever. No chance of speaking happened as the procession
moved towards the refectory; and after breakfast the novices bent
their heads over their work, when Mother Hilda said:

"I hear, Cecilia, that you were so ill this morning that you couldn't
take your watch."

"It wasn't illness--not exactly."

"What, then?"

"A bad dream, Mother."

"It must have been a very bad dream to prevent you from getting up to
take your watch. I'm afraid I don't believe in dreams." The novices
breathed more freely, and their spirits rose when Mother Hilda said,
"The cake was heavy; you must have eaten too much of it. Barbara, you
must take notice of this indigestion, for you are fond of cake." The
novices laughed again, and thought themselves safe. But after
breakfast the Prioress sent for Cecilia, and they saw her leave the
novitiate angry with them all--she had caught sight of their smiles
and dreaded their mockery, and went to the Prioress wondering what
plausible contradiction she could give to Angela's story of the ugly
counterpart, so she was taken aback by the first question.

"Now, what is it that I hear about a refusal to get up to take your
watch? Such a thing--"

"Not laziness, Mother. Mother, if you knew what my dream was, you
would understand it was impossible for me to watch before the
Sacrament."

"A dream!"

Cecilia didn't answer.

"You can tell me your dream...I shall be able to judge for myself."

"No, no; it is too frightful!" And Cecilia fell upon her knees.

"One isn't responsible for one's dreams."

"Is that so, Mother? But if one prays?"

"But you don't pray for dreams?"

"Not for the dream I had last night."

"Well, for what did you pray? Praying for dreams, Cecilia, is
entirely contrary to the rule, or to the spirit of the rule."

"But Veronica, Angela, Rufina--they all pray that their counterparts
may visit them."

"Counterparts!" the old woman answered. "What are you talking about?"

"Must I tell you?"

"Of course you must tell me."

"But it will seem like spite on my part."

"Spite! Spite?"

"Because they have gotten beautiful counterparts through their
prayers, whereas--Oh, Mother, I cannot tell you."

The Prioress forgot the stupid girl at her feet.

"Counterparts!"

"Who visit them."

"Counterparts visiting them! You don't mean that anybody comes into
the convent?"

"Only in dreams."

Cecilia tried to explain, but stumbled in her explanation so often
that the Reverend Mother interrupted her:

"Cecilia, you are talking nonsense! I have never heard anything like
it before!"

"But what I am telling you, Mother, is in the gospel Nicodemus--"

"Gospel of Nicodemus!"

"The harrowing of hell!"

"But what has all this got to do--I cannot understand you."

The story was begun again and again.

"Veronica's counterpart an angel, with luminous tints in his flesh;
Angela's a child drowned in Noah's flood! But--" The Prioress checked
her words. Had all the novices taken leave of their senses? Had they
gone mad?... It looked like it. Anyhow, this kind of thing must be
put a stop to and at once. She must get the whole truth out of this
stupid girl at her feet, who blubbered out her story, obviously
trying to escape punishment by incriminating others.

"So you were praying that an angel might visit you; but what came was
quite different?"

"Mother, Mother!" howled Cecilia; "it was a dwarf, but I didn't want
him in my bed. I've been punished enough.... Anything more horrible--"

"In your bed!... anything so horrible? What do you mean?"

"Am I to tell you? Must I?"

"Certainly."

"After all, it was only a dream."

"Go on."

"First I was awakened by a smell coming down the chimney."

"But there are no chimneys."

"I'm telling what I thought. There was a smell, which sometimes
seemed to collect in one corner of the room, sometimes in another. At
last it seemed to come from under the bed and... he crawled out."

"Who crawled out!"

"The dwarf--a creature with a huge head and rolling eyes and a great
tongue. That is all I saw, for I was too frightened; I heard him say
he was my counterpart, but I cried out, Mother, that it was not true.
He laughed at me, and said I had prayed for him. Then it seemed,
Mother, I was running away from him, only I was checked at every
moment by the others--Veronica, Barbara, and Angela--who put their
feet out so that I might fall; and they caught me by the arms; and
all were laughing, saying, 'Look at Sister Cecilia's counterpart; she
has got one at last and is running away from him. But he shall get
her; he shall get her.' I ran on until I found myself in a corner,
between two brick walls, and the dwarf standing in front of me,
rolling up his night-shirt in his hands, and telling me he was in
great agony; for his punishment was to swallow all the souls of the
nuns who had made bad Communions, and that I was to come at once with
him. I wouldn't go, but he took me by both hands, dragging me towards
the chapel. I told him Father Daly would sprinkle holy water upon
him; but he didn't seem to mind, Mother. If I hadn't been awakened by
Barbara knocking at my; door I don't know--"

"Now you see, my dear child, what comes of praying for
counterparts.... This must be seen into at once."

"But you will not say that I told you?"

"Cecilia, I have heard enough; it isn't for you to ask me to make any
promises. Be sure, I shall try to act for the best. Mother Hilda and
Mother Philippa know nothing of these stories?"

"Nothing; it is entirely between the novices."

"You can go now, and remember not a word of what has passed between
us, not a word."

"But I must confess to Father Daly. My mind wouldn't be at rest if I
didn't, for the dwarf did take me in his arms."

"You can confess to Father Daly if you like; but I can't see you have
committed any sin; you've been merely very foolish." And the Prioress
turned towards the window, wondering if she should consult with
Father Daly. The secret would not be kept; Angela and Veronica would
speak about it, and there were others more or less implicated, no
doubt, and these would have recourse to Father Daly for advice, or to
Mother Hilda.

"Come in. So it is you, Teresa? Disturbing me! No, you are not
disturbing me; I am not busy, and if I were it wouldn't matter. You
want to talk to me. Now, about what?"

There was only one subject which would cause Evelyn to hesitate, so
the Prioress guessed that she had come to tell her that she wished to
leave the convent.

"Well, Teresa, be it so; I cannot argue with you any more about a
vocation. I suppose you know best."

"You seem very sad, Mother?"

"Yes, I am sad; but you are not the cause of my sadness, though what
you have come to tell me is sad enough. I was just coming to the
conclusion, when you came into the room, that things must take their
course. God is good; his guiding hand is in everything, so I suppose
all that is happening is for the best. But it is difficult to see
whither it is tending, if it be not towards the dissolution of the
Order."

"The dissolution of the Order, Mother!"

"Well, if not of its dissolution, at all events of a change in the
rule. You know that many here--Mother Philippa, Sister Winifred,
aided and abetted by Father Daly--are anxious for a school, and we
can only have a school by becoming an active Order. You have helped
us a great deal, and our debts are no longer as pressing as they
were; but we still owe a good deal of money, and as you do not intend
to become a member of the community you will take your money away
with you. And this fact will strengthen the opposition against me."

The Prioress lay back in her chair, white and frail, exhausted by the
heat.

"May I pull down the blind, Mother?"

"Yes, you may, dear; the sun is very hot."

"Your determination to leave us isn't the only piece of bad news
which reached me this morning. Have you heard of Sister Cecilia's
adventure with her counterpart?" Evelyn nodded and tried to repress a
smile. "It is difficult not to smile, so ridiculous is her story; and
if I didn't look upon the matter as very serious, I shouldn't be able
to prevent myself from smiling."

"But you will easily be able, Mother, to smile at this nonsense.
Veronica, who is a most pious girl, will not allow her mind to dwell
on counterparts since she knows it to be a sin, or likely to lead to
sin, and Angela and the others--if there are any others--"

"That will not make an end to the evil. Everything, my dear Teresa,
declines. Ideas, like everything else, have their term of life.
Everything declines, everything turns to clay, and I look upon this
desire for spiritual visitations as a warning that the belief which
led to the founding of this Order has come to an end! From such noble
prayers as led to the founding of this Order we have declined to
prayers for the visitation of counterparts."

Evelyn was about to interrupt, but the Prioress shook her head,
saying, "Well, if not the whole of the convent, at all events part of
it--several novices." And she told Evelyn the disease would spread
from nun to nun, and that there was no way of checking it.

"Unless by becoming an active order," Evelyn answered, "founding a
school."

The old woman rose to her feet instantly, saying that she had spoken
out of a moment of weakness; and that it would be cowardly for her to
give way to Mother Philippa and Sister Winifred; she would never
acquiesce in any alteration of the rule.

"But you, too," she said, "are inclined towards the school?"

Evelyn admitted she was thinking of the poor, people whom she had
left to their fate, so that she might save herself from sin; and the
talk of the two women dropped from the impersonal to the personal,
Evelyn telling the Prioress a great deal more of herself than she had
told before, and the Prioress confiding to Evelyn in the end her own
story, a simple one, which Evelyn listened to with tears in her eyes.

"Before I came here I was married, and before I was married I often
used to come to the convent, for I was fond of the nuns, and was a
pious girl. But after my marriage I was captured by life--the vine of
life grew about me and held me tight. One day, passing by the door of
the convent, my husband said, 'It is lucky that love rescued you, for
when I met you you were a little taken by the convent, and might have
become a nun if you hadn't fallen in love. You might have shut
yourself up there and lived in grey habit and penances!' That day I
wore a grey silk dress, and I remember lifting the skirt up as we
passed the door and hitting the kerbstone with it. 'Shut up in that
prison-house! Did I ever seriously think of such a thing?' These were
my words, but God, in his great goodness and wisdom, resolved to
bring me back. A great deal is required to save our souls, so deeply
are we enmeshed in the delight of life and in the delight of one
another.... God took my husband from me after an illness of three
weeks. That happened forty years ago. I used to sit on the seashore,
crying all day, and my little child used to put his arms about me and
say, 'What is mammie crying for?' Then my child died; seemingly
without any reason, and I felt that I could not live any longer amid
the desires and activities of the world. I'll not try to tell you
what my grief was; you have suffered grief, and can imagine it.
Perhaps you can. I left my home and hurried here. When I saw you
return, soon after your father's death; I couldn't but think of my
own returning. I saw myself in you."

"But, Mother, do you regret that you came here?"

The old nun did not answer for some time.

"It is hard to say, Teresa. There are deceptions everywhere, in the
convent as in the world; and the mediocrity of the Sisters here is
tiresome; one longs for a little more intelligence. And, as I was
saying just now, everything declines; an idea ravels like a sleeve.
Are you happy here?... You are not; I see it in your eyes."

"The only ones who are happy here," Evelyn answered, "I am sure, are
those like Veronica, who pass from the schoolroom to the novitiate."

"You think that? But the convent is a great escapement. You came
here, having escaped death only by an accident, and when you went to
Rome to see your father you came back distraught, your mind unhinged,
and it was months before you could believe that your sins could be
forgiven. If you leave here, what will become of you? You will return
to the stage."

Evelyn smiled sadly.

"You will meet your lovers again. Temptation will be by you; you are
still a young woman. How old are you, Teresa?"

"Thirty-eight. But I no longer feel young."

"Then, do you not think it better to spend the last term with us? I
am an old woman, Teresa, and you are the only friend I have in the
convent, the only one who knows me; it would be a great charity if
you were to remain with me.... But you fear I shall live too long?
No, Teresa, the time will not be very long."

"Mother, don't talk like that, it only grieves me. As long as you
wish me to stay I'll stay."

"But if I weren't here you would leave?" Evelyn did not answer. "You
would be very lonely?"

"Yes, I should be lonely." And then, speaking at the end of a long
silence, she said, "Why did you send away Sister Mary John? She was
my friend, and one must have a friend--even in a convent."

"Teresa, I begged of her to remain. And you are lonely now without
her?"

"I should be lonelier, Mother, if you weren't here."

"We will share our loneliness together."

Evelyn seemed to acquiesce.

"My dear child, you are very good; you have a kind heart. One sees it
in your eyes."

She left the Prioress's room frightened, saying. "Till the Prioress's
death."



XXXI

Father Daly paced the garden alley, reading his Breviary, and,
catching sight of him, Sister Winifred, a tall, thin woman, with a
narrow forehead and prominent teeth, said to herself, "Now's my
chance."

"I hope you won't mind my interrupting you, Father, but I have come
to speak to you on a matter of some importance. It will take some
minutes for me to explain it all to you, and in confession, you see,
our time is limited. You know how strict the Prioress is that we
shouldn't exceed our regulation three minutes."

"I know that quite well," the little man answered abruptly; "a most
improper rule. But we'll not discuss the Prioress, Sister Winifred.
What have you come to tell me?"

"Well, in a way, it is about the Prioress. You know all about our
financial difficulties, and you know they are not settled yet."

"I thought that Sister Teresa's singing--"

"Of course, Sister Teresa's singing has done us a great deal of good,
but the collections have fallen off considerably; and, as for the
rich Catholics who were to pay off our debts, they are like the ships
coming from the East, but whose masts have not yet appeared above the
horizon."

"But does the Prioress still believe that these rich Catholics will
come to her aid?"

"Oh, yes, she believes; she tells us that we must pray, and that if
we pray they will come. Well, Father, prayer is very well, but we
must try to help ourselves, and we have been thinking it over; and,
in thinking it over, some of us have come to very practical
conclusions."

"You have come to the conclusion that perhaps a good deal of time is
wasted in this garden, which might be devoted to good works?"

"Yes, that has struck us, and we think the best way out of our
difficulties would be a school."

"A school!"

"Something must be done," she said, "and we are thinking of starting
a school. We've received a great deal of encouragement. I believe I
could get twenty pupils to-morrow, but Mother Prioress won't hear of
it. She tells us that we are to pray, and that all will come right.
But even she does not depend entirely upon prayer; she depends upon
Sister Teresa's singing."

"A most uncertain source of income, I should say."

"So we all think."

They walked in silence until within a few yards of the end of the
walk; and, just as they were about to turn, the priest said:

"I was talking at the Bishop's to a priest who has been put in charge
of a parish in one of the poorest parts of South London. There is no
school, and the people are disheartened; and he has gone to live
among them, in a wretched house, in one of the worst slums of the
district. He lives in one of the upper rooms, and has turned the
ground floor, which used to be a greengrocer's shop, into a temporary
chapel and school, and now he is looking for some nuns to help him in
the work. He asked me if I could recommend any, and I thought of you
all here, Sister Winifred, with your beautiful church and garden,
doing, what I call, elegant piety. It has come to seem to me
unbearably sad that you and I and these few here, who could do such
good work, should be kept back from doing it."

"I am afraid our habit, Father, makes that sort of work out of the
question for us." And Sister Winifred dropped her habit for a moment
and let it trail gracefully.

"Long, grey habits, that a speck of dirt will stain, are very
suitable to trail over green swards, but not fit to bring into the
houses of the poor, for fear they should be spoiled. "Oh," he cried,
"I have no patience with such rules, such petty observances. I have
often asked myself why the Bishop chose to put me here, where I am
entirely out of sympathy, where I am useless, where there is nothing
for me to do really, except to try to keep my temper. I have spoken of
this matter to no one before, but, since you have come to speak to me,
Sister Winifred, I, too, must speak. Ever since I've been here I've
been longing for some congenial work--work which I could feel I was
intended to do. It seems hard at times to feel one's life slipping
away and the work one could do always withheld from one's reach. You
understand?"

"Indeed, I do. It is the fate of many of us here, Father Daly."

"Now, if you could make a new foundation--if some three or four of
you--if the Bishop would send me there."

"Of course, we might go and do good work in the district you speak
of, but I doubt whether the Bishop would recognise us as a new
foundation."

"I daresay he wouldn't." And they walked a little way in silence.
"You were telling me of your project for a school, Sister Winifred."

Sister Winifred entered into the details. But she had unduly excited
Father Daly, and he could not listen.

"My position here," he said, interrupting her, "is an impossible one.
The only ones here who consider my advice are the lay sisters, the
admirable lay sisters who work from morning till evening, and forego
their prayers lest you should want for anything. You know I'm treated
very nearly with contempt by almost all the choir sisters. You think
I don't know that I am spoken of as a mere secular priest? Every
suggestion of mine meets with a rude answer. You have witnessed a
good deal of this, Sister Winifred. I daresay you've forgotten, but I
remember it all... you have come to speak to me here because the
Prioress will not allow you to spend more than three minutes in the
confessional, arrogating to herself the position of your spiritual
adviser, only allowing to me what is to her no more than the
mechanical act of absolution. In her eyes I am a mere secular priest,
incapable of advising those who live in an Order! Do you think I
haven't noticed her deference to the very slightest word that Father
Ambrose deigns to speak to her? Her rule doesn't apply to his
confessional, only to mine--a rule which I have always regarded as
extremely unorthodox; I don't feel at all sure that the amateur
confessional which she carries on upstairs wouldn't be suppressed
were it brought under the notice of Rome; I have long been determined
to resist it, and I beg of you, Sister Winifred, when you come to me
to confession to stay as long as you think proper. On this matter I
now see that the Prioress and I must come to an understanding."

"But not a word. Father Daly, must we breathe to her of what I have
come to tell you about. The relaxation of our Order must be referred
to the Bishop, and with your support."

They walked for some yards in silence, Father Daly reflecting on the
admirable qualities of Sister Winifred, her truthfulness and her
strength of character which had brought her to him; Sister Winifred
congratulating herself on how successfully she had deceived Father
Daly and thinking how she might introduce another subject into the
conversation (a delicate one it was to introduce); so she began to
talk as far away as possible from the subject which she wished to
arrive at. The founders of the Orders seemed to her the point to
start from; the conversation could be led round to the question of
how much time was wasted on meditation; it would be easy to drop a
sly hint that the meditations of the nuns were not always upon the
Cross; she managed to do this so adroitly that Father Daly fell into
the trap at once.

"Love of God, of course, is eternal; but each age must love God in
its own fashion, and our religious sentiments are not those of the
Middle Ages." The exercises of St. Ignatius did not appeal in the
least to Father Daly, who disapproved of letting one's thoughts brood
upon hell; far better think of heaven. Too much brooding on hell
engenders a feeling of despair, which was the cause of Sister
Teresa's melancholia. Too intense a fear of hell has caused men, so
it is said, to kill themselves. It seems strange, but men kill
themselves through fear of death. "I suppose it is possible that fear
of hell might distract the mind so completely--Well, let us not talk
on these subjects. We were talking of--" The nun reminded the priest
they were talking of the exercises of St. Ignatius. "Let us not speak
of them. St. Ignatius's descriptions of the licking of the flames
round the limbs of the damned may have been suitable in his time, but
for us there are better things in the exercises."

"But do you not think that the time spent in meditation might be
spent more profitably, Father? I have often thought so."

"If the meditation were really one."

"Exactly, Father, but who can further thoughts; thought wanders, and
before one is aware one finds oneself far from the subject of the
meditation."

"No doubt; no doubt."

"It was through active work that Sister Teresa was cured." "If any
fact has come to your knowledge, Sister, it is your duty to tell it
to me, the spiritual adviser of the nuns, notwithstanding all the
attempts of the Prioress to usurp my position."

"Well, Father, if you ask me--"

"Yes, certainly I ask you." And Sister Winifred told how, through a
dream, Sister Cecilia had been unable to go down from her cell to
watch before the Sacrament.

"We are not answerable for our dreams," the priest answered.

"No; but if we pray for dreams?"

"But Cecilia could not desire such a dream?"

"Not exactly that dream." And so the story was gradually unfolded to
the priest.

"What you tell me is very serious. The holy hours which should be
devoted to meditation of the Cross wasted in dreams of counterparts!
A strange name they have given these visitations, some might have
given them a harsher name." Father Daly's thoughts went to certain
literature of the Middle Ages. "The matter is, of course, one that is
not entirely unknown to me; it is one of the traditional sins of the
convent, one of the plagues of the Middle Ages. The early Fathers
suffered from the visits of Succubi. What you tell me is very
alarming. Would it not be well for me to speak to the Prioress on the
subject?"

"No, on no account."

"But she must be exceedingly anxious to put a stop to such a
pollution of the meditation?"

"Yes, indeed, I will say that nobody is more opposed to it; but she
is one of these women who, though she sees that something is wrong,
will not go to the root of the wrong at once. The tendency of her
mind is towards the contemplative, and not towards the active orders,
and she will not give way to the relaxation of the rule. You had
better just take the matter into your hands, feeling sure she will
approve of the action in the end. A word or two on the subject in
your sermon on Sunday would be very timely."

Father Daly promised to think the matter over, and Sister Winifred
said:

"But you must know we shall have much opposition?"

"But who will oppose us?"

"Those who have succeeded in getting counterparts will not surrender
them easily." And Sister Winifred was persuaded to mention the names
of the nuns incriminated in this traffic with the spirits of the
children who had been drowned in Noah's flood.

"Beings from the other world!" Father Daly cried, alarmed that not
one of the nuns had spoken on this subject to him in the convent.
"This is the first time a nun has spoken to me--"

"All will speak to you on this matter when you explain to them the
danger they are incurring--when you tell them in your sermon. There
is the bell; now I must fly. I will tell you more when I come to
confession this afternoon." As she went up the path she resolved to
remain ten minutes in the confessional at least, for such a breach of
the rule would challenge the Prioress's spiritual authority, and in
return for this Father Daly would use his influence with the Bishop
to induce the Prioress to relax the rule of the community. To make
her disobedience more remarkable, she loitered before slipping into
the confessional, and the Prioress, who had just come into the
chapel, noticed her. But without giving it another thought the
Prioress began her prayers. At the end of five minutes, however, she
began to grow impatient, and at the end of ten minutes to feel that
her authority had been set aside.

"You've been at least ten minutes in the confessional, Sister
Winifred."

"It is hard, indeed, dear Mother, if one isn't allowed to confess in
peace," Sister Winifred answered. And she tossed her head somewhat
defiantly.

"All the hopes of my life are at an end," the Prioress said to Mother
Hilda." Every one is in rebellion against me; and this branch of our
Order is about to disappear. I feel sure the Bishop will decide
against us, and what can we do with the school? Sister Winifred will
have to manage it herself. I will resign. It is hard indeed that this
should happen after so many years of struggle; and, after redeeming
the convent from its debts, to be divided in the end."



XXXII

Next Sunday Father Daly took for his text, "And all nations shall
turn and fear the Lord truly, and shall bury their idols" (Toby xiv.
6).

"Yes, indeed, we should bury our idols." And then Father Daly asked
if our idols were always external things, made of brass and gold, or
if they were not very often cherished in our hearts--the desires of
the flesh to which we give gracious forms, and which we supply with
specious words; "we think," he said, "to deceive ourselves with those
fair images born of our desires; and we give them names, and
attribute to them the perfections of angels, believing that our
visitations are angels, but are we sure they are not devils?"

The Prioress raised her eyes, and looked at him long and steadily,
asking herself what he was going to say next.

He went on to tell how one of the chief difficulties of monastic life
was to distinguish between the good and the evil visitant, between
the angel and the demon; for permission was often given to the demon
to disguise himself as an angel, in order that the nun and the monk
might be approved. Returning then to the text, he told the story of
Tobit and Tobias's son, and how Tobias had to have resort to burning
perfumes in order to save himself from death from the evil spirit,
who, when he smelt the perfume, fled into Egypt and was bound by an
angel. "We, too, must strive to bind the evil spirit, and we can do
so with prayer. We must have recourse to prayer in order to put the
evil spirit to flight. Prayer is a perfume, and it ascends sweeter
than the scent of roses and lilies, greeting God's nostrils, which
are in heaven."

The Prioress thought this expression somewhat crude, and she again
looked at the preacher long and steadfastly, asking herself if the
text and Father Daly's interpretation of it were merely coincidences,
or if he were speaking from knowledge of the condition of convents...
Cecilia, had she told him everything? The Prioress frowned. Sister
Winifred was careful not to raise her eyes to the preacher, for she
was regretting his words, foreseeing the difficulties they would lead
her into, knowing well that the Prioress would resent this
interference with her authority, and she would have given much to
stop Father Daly; but that, of course, was impossible now, and she
heard him say that the angel who bound the evil spirit in Egypt four
thousand years ago is to-day the symbol of the priest in the
confessional, and it was only by availing themselves of that
Sacrament, not in any invidious sense, but in the fullest possible
sense, confiding their entire souls to the care of their spiritual
adviser, that they could escape from the evil spirits which
penetrated into monasteries to-day no less than before, as they had
always done, from the earliest times; for the more pious men and
women are, the more they retire from the world, the more delicate are
the temptations which the devil invents. Convents dedicate to the
Adoration of the Sacrament, to meditation on the Cross, convents in
which active work is eschewed are especially sought by the evil
spirits, "the larvæ of monasticism," he called them. An abundance of
leisure is favourable to the hatching of these; and he drew a picture
of how the grub first appears, and then the winged moth, sometimes
brown and repellant, sometimes dressed in attractive colours like the
butterfly. The soul follows as a child follows the butterfly, from
flower to flower through the sunshine, led on out of the sunshine
into dark alleys, at the end of which are dangerous places, from
whence the soul may never return again.

"Nuns and monks of the Middle Ages, those who knew monasticism better
than it ever could be known in these modern days, dreaded these larvæ
more than anything else, and they had methods of destroying them and
repelling the beguilements of evil spirits better than we have, for
the contemplative orders were more kindred to those earlier times
than to-day. Monasticism of today takes another turn. Love of God is
eternal, but we must love God in the idiom and spirit of our time."
And Father Daly believed that there was no surer method of escaping
from the danger than by active work, by teaching, which, he argued,
was not incompatible with contemplation, not carried to excess; and
there were also the poor people, and to work for them was always
pleasing to God. Any drastic changes were, of course, out of the
question, but he had been asked to speak on this subject, and it
seemed to him that they should look to Nature for guidance, and in
Nature they found not revolution but evolution; the law of Nature was
progression. Why should any rule remain for ever the same? It must
progress just as our ideas progress. He wandered on, words coming up
in his mouth involuntarily, saying things which immediately after
they were said he regretted having said, trying to bring his sermon
to a close, unable to do so, obliged, at last, to say hurriedly that
he hoped they would reflect on this matter, and try to remember he
was always at their service and prepared to give them the best
advice.

As soon as Mass was over Mother Hilda went to the Prioress. "We'll
speak on this matter later." And the Prioress went to her room,
hurriedly. The nuns hung about the cloister, whispering in little
groups, forgetful of the rule; the supporters of the Prioress
indignant with the priest, who had dared to call into question the
spiritual value of their Order, and to tell them it would be more
pleasing to God for them to start a school. It was felt even by the
supporters of the school that the priest had gone too far, not in
advocating the school, but in what he had said regarding the
liability of the contemplative orders to be attacked by demons, for
really what he had said amounted to that.



XXXIII

When the news arrived that Father Daly had been transferred suddenly
by the Bishop to another parish, Sister Winifred walked about in
terror, expecting every minute to bring her a summons to the
Prioress's room. A shiver went through her when she thought of the
interview which probably awaited her; but as the morning wore away
without any command reaching her, she began to take pleasure in the
hope that she had escaped, and in the belief that the Prioress was
afraid of an explanation. No doubt that was it; and Sister Winifred
picked up courage and the threads of the broken intrigue, resolving
this time to confine herself to laying stress on the necessitous
condition of the convent, which was still in debt, and the
impossibility of Sister Teresa's singing redeeming it entirely.

It would have been wiser if she had conducted her campaign as she
intended to do, but the temptation was irresistible to point out,
occasionally, that those who did not agree with her were the very
nuns--Angela, Veronica, Rufina, and one or two others--who had
confessed to the sin of praying for the visitations of counterparts
during the hour of meditation and other hours. By doing this she
prejudiced her cause. Her inuendoes reached the ears of the Bishop
and Monsignor Mostyn, who came to the convent to settle the
difficulty of an alteration in the rule; she was severely
reprimanded, and it was decreed that the contemplative Orders were
not out of date, and that nuns should be able to meditate on the
Cross without considering too closely the joys that awaited the
brides of Christ in heaven. St. Teresa's writings were put under ban,
only the older nuns, who would not accept the words of the saint too
literally, being allowed to read them. "Added to which," as Monsignor
said, "the idle thoughts of the novices are occupying too much of our
attention. This is a matter for the spiritual adviser of the novices,
and Father Rawley is one who will keep a strict watch."

The Bishop concurred with Monsignor, and then applied his mind to the
consideration of the proposed alteration of the rule, deciding that
no alteration could receive his sanction, at all events during the
life of the present Prioress. Sister Winifred was told that the
matter must be dropped for the present. It so happened that Monsignor
came upon her and Evelyn together before the Bishop left; and he
tried to reconcile them, saying that when the Prioress was called to
God--it was only a question of time for all of us, and it didn't seem
probable that she would live very long; of course, it was a very
painful matter, one which they did not care to speak about--but after
her death, if it should be decided that the Order might become a
teaching Order, Sister Teresa would be the person who would be able
to assist Sister Winifred better than any other.

"But, Monsignor," Evelyn said, "I do not feel sure I've a vocation
for the religious life."

Out of a shrivelled face pale, deeply-set eyes looked at her, and it
seemed that she could read therein the disappointment he felt that
she was not remaining in the convent. She was sorry she had
disappointed him, for he had helped her; and she left him talking to
Sister Winifred and wandered down the passage, not quite certain
whether he doubted her strength to lead a chaste life in the world,
or could she attribute that change of expression in his eyes to
wounded vanity at finding that the living clay put into his hands was
escaping from them unmoulded... by him? Hard to say. There was a fear
in her heart! Now was it that she might lack the force of character
to leave the convent when the time came... after the Prioress's
death? Life is but a ceaseless uprooting of oneself. Sister Winifred
might be elected....

"Who will have the strength to turn the convent into an active Order
when I am gone?" the Prioress often asked Evelyn, who could only
answer her that she hoped she would be with them for many a day yet.
"No, my dear, not for many months. I am a very old woman." She
questioned Evelyn regarding Mother Philippa's administration; and
Evelyn disguised from her the disorder that had come into the
convent, not telling how the nuns spent a great deal of time visiting
each other in their cells, how in the garden some walked on one side
and some on the other, how the bitterest enmities had sprung up. But,
though she was not told these things, the Prioress knew her convent
had fallen into decadence, and sometimes she said:

"Well, I haven't the strength to restore dignity to this Order; so it
had better disappear, become an active Order. But who among you will
be able to reorganise it? Mother Philippa--what do you think, dear?"

"Mother Philippa is an excellent woman," Evelyn answered; "but as an
administrator--"

"You don't believe in her?"

"Only when she is guided by another, one superior to herself."

"One who will see that the rule is maintained?"

Evelyn was thinking of Mother Hilda.

"Mother Hilda," she said, "seems to me too quiet, too subtle, too
retiring." And the Prioress agreed with her, saying under her breath:

"She prefers to confine herself to the education of her novices. So
what is to be done?"

From Mother Hilda Evelyn's thoughts went to Sister Mary John, and it
seemed to her she never realised before the irreparable loss the
convent had sustained. But what was the good in reminding the
Prioress of Sister Mary John? No doubt, lying back there in her
chair, the old mind was thinking of the nun she had lost, and who
would have proved of such extraordinary service in the present
circumstances. While looking at the Prioress, thinking with her (for
it is true the Prioress was thinking of Sister Mary John), Evelyn
understood suddenly, in a single second, that if Sister Mary John had
not left Sister Winifred would not have come forward with the project
of a school, nor would there have been any schism. But in spite of
all her wisdom, the Prioress had not known, until this day, how
dependent they were on Sister Mary John. A great mistake had been
made, but there was no use going into that now.

A bell rang, and Evelyn said:

"Now, Mother, will you take my arm and we'll go down to chapel
together?"

"And after Benediction I will take a turn in the garden with you,"
the Prioress said.

She was so weary of singing Gounod's "Ave Maria" that she accentuated
the vulgarity of the melody, and wondered if the caricature would be
noticed. "The more vulgarly it is sung the more money it draws." And
smiling at the theatrical phrase, which had arisen unexpectedly to
her lips, she went into the garden to join the Prioress.

"Come this way, dear; I want to talk to you." And the Prioress and
the novice wandered away from the other nuns towards the fish-pond,
and stood listening to the gurgle of the stream and to the whisper of
the woods. An inspiring calm seemed to fall out of the sky, filling
the heart with sympathy, turning all things to one thing, drawing the
earth and sky and thoughts of men and women together.

"Teresa, dear, when you leave us what do you intend to do? You have
never told me. Do you intend to return to the stage?"

"Mother, I cannot bear to think of leaving you." The old nun raised
her eyes for a moment, and there was a great sadness in them, for she
felt that without Evelyn her death would be lonely.

"We came here for the same reason, or very nearly. I stayed, and you
are going."

"And which do you think is the better part, Mother?"

The nun did not answer for a long time, and Evelyn's heart seemed to
beat more quickly as she waited for the answer.

"These are things we shall never know, whether it is better to go or
to stay. All the wisdom of the ages has never solved this question--
which ever course we take; it costs a great deal to come here."

"And it costs a great deal to remain in the world. Something terrible
would have happened to me. I should have killed myself. But you know
everything, Mother; there is no use going over that story again."

"No, there is none. Only one thing remains to be said, Teresa--to
thank you for remaining with me. You are a gift from God, the best I
have received for a long time, and if I reach heaven my prayers will
always be with you."

"And, Mother, if you reach heaven, will you promise me one thing,
that you will come to me and tell me the truth?"

"That I promise, and I will keep my promise if I am allowed."

The ripple of the stream sounded loud in their ears, and the skies
became more lovely as Evelyn and the Prioress thought of the promise
that had been asked and been given.

"I'll ask you to do some things for me." And she gave Evelyn
instructions regarding her papers. "When you have done all these
things you will leave the convent. You will not be able to remain. I
have seen a great deal of you, more than I saw of any other novice,
and I know you as if you were my own child.... I am very old, and you
are still a young woman."

"Mother, I am nearly, forty, and my trials are at an end, or nearly."

"Truly, a great trial. I am old enough now, Teresa, to speak about it
without shame. A great trial, yet one is sorry when it is over. And
you still believe that a calamity would have befallen you?"

"And a great calamity nearly did befall me."

They sat side by side, their eyes averted, knowing well that they had
reached a point beyond which words could not carry them.

"We are always anxious to be understood, every one wants to be
understood. But why? Of what use?"

"Mother, we must never speak on this subject again, for I love you
very dearly, and it is a great pain to me to think that your death
will set me free."

"It seems wrong, Teresa, but I wouldn't have you remain in the
convent after me; you are not suited to it. I knew it all the while,
only I tried to keep you. One is never free from temptation. Now you
know everything.... We have been here long enough."

"We have only been here a few minutes," Evelyn answered; "at least it
has only seemed a few minutes to me. The evening is so beautiful, the
sky is so calm, the sound of the water so extraordinary in the
stillness! Listen to those birds, the chaffinch shrieking in that
aspen, and the thrush singing all his little songs somewhere at the
end of the garden."

"And there is your bullfinch, dear. He will remain in the convent to
remind them of you when you have left."

The bird whistled a stave of the Bird Music from "Siegfried," and
then came to their feet to pick. Evelyn threw him some bread, and
they wandered back to the novices, who had forgotten their
differences, and were sitting under their tree with Mother Hilda
discussing a subject of great interest to them.

"We haven't seen them united before for a long time."

"That odious Sister Winifred waiting for your death, thinking only of
her school."

"That is the way of the world, and we find the world everywhere, even
in a convent. Her idea comes before everything else. Only you,
Teresa, are good; you are sacrificing yourself to me; I hope it will
not be for long."

"But we said, Mother, we wouldn't talk of that any more. Now, what
are the novices so eager about?"

Sister Agatha ran forward to tell them that it had been suddenly
remembered that the thirtieth of the month would be Sister Bridget's
fortieth anniversary of her vows.

"Forty years she has been in the convent, and we are thinking that we
might do something to commemorate the anniversary."

"I should like to see her on an elephant, riding round the garden.
What a spree it would be!" said Sister Jerome.

The words were hardly out of her mouth when she regretted them,
foreseeing allusions to elephants till the end of her days, for
Sister Jerome often said foolish things, and was greatly quizzed for
them. But the absurdity of the proposal did not seem to strike any
one; only the difficulty of procuring an elephant, with a man who
would know how to manage the animal, was very great. Why not a
donkey? They could easily get one from Wimbledon; the gardener would
bring one. But a donkey ride seemed a strange come-down after an
elephant ride, and an idea had suddenly struck Sister Agatha.

"Sister Jerome doesn't mean a real elephant, I suppose. We might
easily make a very fine elephant indeed by piling the long table from
the library with cushions, stuffing it as nearly as possible into the
shape of an elephant."

"And the making of the elephant would be such a lark!" cried Sister
Jerome.

Mother Hilda raised no objection, and the Prioress and Evelyn walked
aside, saying:

"Well, it is better they should be making elephants than dreaming of
counterparts."



XXXIV

The creation of the beast was accomplished in the novitiate, no one
being allowed to see it except the Prioress. The great difficulty was
to find beads large enough for the eyes, and it threatened to
frustrate the making of their beast. But the latest postulant
suggested that perhaps the buttons off her jacket would do, they were
just the thing,' and the legs of the beast were most natural and
life-like; it had even a tail.

As no one out of the novitiate had seen this very fine beast, the
convent was on tip-toe with excitement, and when, at the conclusion
of dinner, the elephant was wheeled into the refectory, every one
clapped her hands, and there were screams of delight. Then the saddle
was brought in and attached by blue ribbons. Sister Bridget, who did
not seem quite sure that the elephant was not alive, was lifted on it
and held there; and was wheeled round the refectory in triumph, the
novices screaming with delight, the professed, too. Only Evelyn stood
silent and apart, sorry she could not mix with the others, sharing
their pleasures. To stand watching them she felt to be unkind, so she
went into the garden, and wandered to the sundial, whence she could
see Richmond Park; and looking into the distance, hearing the
childish gaiety of the nuns, she remembered Louise's party at the
Savoy Hotel years and years ago. The convent had ceased to have any
meaning for her; so she must return, but not to the mummers, they,
too, had faded out of her life. She did not know whither she was
going, only that she must wander on... as soon as the Prioress died.
The thought caused her to shudder, and, remembering that the old
woman was alone in her room, she went up to ask her if she would care
to come into the garden with her. The Prioress was too weak to leave
her room, but she was glad to have Evelyn, and to listen to her
telling of the great success of the elephant.

"Of course, my dear, the recreations here must seem to you very
childish. I wonder what your life will be when I'm gone?"

"To-morrow you will be stronger, and will be able to come into the
garden."

But the old nun never left her room again, and Evelyn's last memory
of her in the garden was when they had sat by the fish-pond, looking
into the still water, reflecting sky and trees, with a great carp
moving mysteriously through a dim world of water-weed and flower.
There were many other memories of the Prioress which lingered through
many years, memories of an old woman lying back in her chair, frail
and white, slipping quite consciously out of life into death. Every
day she seemed to grow a trifle smaller, till there was hardly
anything left of her. It was terrible to be with her, so conscious
was she that death was approaching, that she and death were drawing
nearer and nearer, and to hear her say, "Four planks are the only
habit I want now." Another time, looking into Evelyn's eyes, she
said, "It is strange that I should be so old and you so young."

"But I don't feel young, Mother." And every day the old woman grew
more and more dependent upon Evelyn.

"You are very good to me. Why should you wait here till I am dead?
Only it won't be long, dear. Of what matter to me that the convent
will be changed when I am dead. If I am a celestial spirit, our
disputes--which is the better, prayer or good works--will raise a
smile upon my lips. But celestial spirits have no lips. Why should I
trouble myself? And yet--"

Evelyn could see that the old woman could not bear to think that her
life's work was to fall to pieces when she was gone.

"But, dear Mother, we all wish that what we have done shall remain;
and we all wish to be remembered, at least for a little while. There
is nothing more human. And your papers, dear Mother, will have to be
published; they will vindicate you, as nothing else could."

"But who is to publish them?" the Prioress asked. "They would require
to be gone over carefully, and I am too weak to do that, too weak
even to listen to you reading them."

Evelyn promised the Prioress again that she would collect all the
papers, and, as far as she could, select those which the Prioress
would herself select; and the promise she could see pleased the dying
woman. It was at the end of the week that the end came. Evelyn sat by
her, holding her hand, and hearing an ominous rattling sound in the
throat, she waited, waited, heard it again, saw the body tremble a
little, and then, getting up, she closed the eyes, said a little
prayer, and went out of the room to tell the nuns of the Prioress's
death, surprised at what seemed to her like indifference, without
tears in her eyes, or any manifestation of grief. There could be
none, for she was not feeling anything; she seemed to herself to be
mechanically performing certain duties, telling Mother Philippa, whom
she met in the passage, in a smooth, even voice, that the Prioress
had died five minutes ago, without any suffering, quite calmly. Her
lack of feeling seemed to her to give the words a strange ring, and
she wondered if Mother Philippa would be stirred very deeply.

"Dead, Sister, dead? How terrible! None of us there. And the prayers
for the dying not said. Surely, Teresa, you could have sent for us. I
must summon the community at once." And the sub-Prioress hurried
away, feeling already on her shoulders the full weight of the convent
affairs.

In a few moments the Sisters, with scared faces, were hurrying from
all parts of the house to the room where the Prioress lay dead.
Evelyn felt she could not go back, and she slipped away to look for
Veronica, whom she found in the sacristy.

"Veronica, dear, it is all over."

The girl turned towards her and clasped her hands.

"Auntie is dead," was all she said, and, dropping into a chair, her
tears began to flow.

"Dear Veronica, we both loved her very much."

"So we did, Sister; the convent will be very different without her.
Whom will they elect? Sister Winifred very possibly. It won't matter
to you, dear, you will go, and we shall have a school; everything
will be different."

"But many weeks will pass before I leave. Your aunt asked me to put
her papers in order; I shall be at work in the library for a long
while."

"Oh, I am so glad, Sister. I thought perhaps you would go at once."
And Veronica dried her tears. "But, dear, we can't talk now. I must
join the others in the prayers for the dead, and there will be so
much to do."

"We shall have to strip the altar, I suppose?"

"Oh, yes, the whole chapel--we shall want all our black hangings. But
I must go."

At that moment a Sister hurried in to say the bell was to be tolled
at once, and Evelyn went with Veronica to the corner of the cloister
where the ropes hung, and stood by listlessly while Veronica dragged
at the heavy rope, leaving a long interval between each clang.

"Oughtn't we to go up, Sister?" Veronica asked again.

"No, I can't go back yet," Evelyn answered. And she went into the
garden and followed the winding paths, wondering at the solemn
clanging, for it all seemed so useless.

The chaplain arrived half an hour afterwards, and next day several
priests came down from London, and there was a great assembly to
chant the Requiem Mass. But Evelyn, though she worked hard at
decorating the altar, was not moved by the black hangings, nor by the
doleful chant, nor by the flutter of the white surplice and the
official drone about the grave. All the convent had followed the
prelates down the garden paths; by the side of the grave Latin
prayers were recited and holy water was sprinkled. On the day the
Prioress was buried there were few clouds in the sky, sunshine was
pretty constant, and all the birds were singing in the trees; every
moment Evelyn expected one of her bullfinches to come out upon a
bough and sing its little stave. If it did, she would take his song
for an omen. But the bullfinches happened to be away, and she wished
that the priests' drone would cease to interrupt the melody of the
birds and boughs. The dear Prioress would prefer Nature's own music,
it was kinder; and the sound of the earth mixed with the stones
falling on the coffin-lid was the last sensation. After it the
prelates and nuns returned to the convent, everybody wondering what
was going to happen next, every nun asking herself who would be
elected Prioress.

"Dear Mother, it is all over now," Evelyn said to Mother Hilda in the
passage, and the last of the ecclesiastics disappeared through a
doorway, going to his lunch.

"Yes, dear Teresa, it is all over so far as this world is concerned.
We must think of her now in heaven."

"And to-morrow we shall begin to think for whom we shall vote--at
least, you will be thinking. I am not a choir sister, and am leaving
you."

"Is that decided, Teresa?"

"Yes, I think so. Perhaps now would be the time for me to take off
this habit; I only retained it at the Prioress's wish. But, Mother,
though I have not discovered a vocation, and feel that you have
wasted much time upon me, still, I wouldn't have you think I am
ungrateful."

"My dear, it never occurred to me to think so." And the two women
walked to the end of the cloister together, Evelyn telling Mother
Hilda about the Prioress and the Prioress's papers.

And from that day onward, for many weeks, Evelyn worked in the
library, collecting her papers, and writing the memoir of the late
Prioress, which, apparently, the nun had wished her to do, though why
she should have wished it Evelyn often wondered, for if she were a
soul in heaven it could matter to her very little what anybody
thought of her on earth. How a soul in heaven must smile at the
importance attached to this rule and to these exercises! How trivial
it all must seem to the soul!... And yet it could not seem trivial to
the soul, if it be true that by following certain rules we get to
heaven. If it be true! Evelyn's thoughts paused, for a doubt had
entered into her mind--the old familiar doubt, from which no one can
separate herself or himself, from which even the saints could not
escape. Are they not always telling of the suffering doubt caused
them? And following this doubt, which prayers can never wholly
stifle, the old original pain enters the heart. We are only here for
a little while, and the words lose nothing of their original
freshness by repetition; and, in order to drink the anguish to its
dregs, Evelyn elaborated the words, reminding herself that time is
growing shorter every year, even the years are growing shorter.

"The space is very little between me and the grave."

Some celebrated words from a celebrated poet, calling attention to
the brevity of life, came into her mind, and she repeated them again
and again, enjoying their bitterness. We like to meditate on death;
even the libertine derives satisfaction from such meditation, and
poets are remembered by their powers of expressing our great sorrow
in stinging terms. "Our lives are not more intense than our dreams,"
Evelyn thought; "and yet our only reason for believing life to be
reality is its intensity. Looked at from the outside, what is it but
a little vanishing dust? Millions have preceded that old woman into
the earth, millions shall follow her. I shall be in the earth too--in
how many years? In a few months perhaps, in a few weeks perhaps.
Possibly within the next few days I may hear how long I may expect to
live, for what is more common than to wake with a pain, and on
consulting a doctor to see a grave look come into his face, and to
hear him tell of some mortal disease beyond his knife's reach? Words
come reluctantly to one's tongue. "How long have I to live?" "About a
year, about six months; I cannot say for certain."

Doctors are answering men and women in these terms every day, and
Evelyn thought of some celebrated sayings that life's mutability has
inspired. She remembered some from the Bible, and some from
Shakespeare; and those she remembered from Fitzgerald, from his "Omar
Khayyam," took her back to the afternoon she spent with Owen by the
Serpentine, to the very day when he gave her the poem to read,
thinking to overcome her scruples with literature.

"There were no scruples in me then. My own business, 'The Ring,' is
full of the pagan story of life and death. We have babbled about it
ever since, trying to forget or explain it, without, however, doing
either; I tried to forget it on the stage, and did not succeed, but
it was not fear of death that brought me here. The nuns do not
succeed better than I; all screens are unavailing, for the wind is
about everywhere--a cold, searching wind, which prayers cannot keep
out; our doorways are not staunch--the wind comes under the door of
the actress's dressing-room and under the door of the nun's cell in
draughts chilling us to the bone, and then leaving us to pursue our
avocations for a time in peace. The Prioress thought that in coming
here she had discovered a way to heaven, yet she was anxious to
defend herself from her detractors upon earth. If she had believed in
her celestial inheritance she would have troubled very little, and I
should be free to go away now. Perhaps it is better as it is," she
reflected. And it seemed to her that no effort on her part was called
for or necessary. She was certain she was drifting, and that the
current would carry her to the opposite bank in good time; she was
content to wait, for had she not promised the Prioress to perform a
certain task? And it was part of her temperament to leave nothing
undone; she also liked a landmark, and the finishing of her book
would be a landmark.

She was even a little curious to see what turn the convent affairs
would take, and as she sat biting the end of her pen, thinking, the
sound of an axe awoke her from her reverie. Trees were being felled
in the garden; "and an ugly, red-brick building will be run up, in
which children of city merchants will be taught singing and the
piano." Was it contempt for the world's ignorance in matters of art
that filled her heart? or was she animated with a sublime pity for
those parents who would come to her (if she remained in the convent,
a thing she had no intention of doing) to ask her, Evelyn Innes, if
she thought that Julia would come to something if she were to
persevere, or if Kitty would succeed if she continued to practice
"The Moonlight Sonata," a work of the beauty of which no one in the
convent had any faintest comprehension? She herself had some gifts,
and, after much labour, had brought her gifts to fruition, not to any
splendid, but to some fruition. It was not probable that any one who
came to the convent would do more than she had done; far better to
learn knitting or cooking--anything in the world except music. Her
gift of singing had brought her to this convent. Was it really so?
Was her gift connected in some obscure way with the moral crisis
which had drawn her into this convent? There seemed to be a
connection, only she did not seem to be able to work it out. But
there must be one surely, otherwise her poor people, whom she loved
so dearly, would not have been abandoned. A very cruel abandonment it
was, and she pondered a long while on this subject without arriving
at any other conclusion except that for her to remain in the convent
to teach music to the children of rich merchants, who had villas in
Wimbledon, was out of the question. Her poor people were calling to
her, and the convent had no further concern in her life. Of that she
was sure. It was no longer the same convent. The original aspiration
had declined; the declension had been from the late Prioress to
Sister Winifred, who, knowing that her own election to Prioress was
impossible, had striven to get Mother Philippa elected Prioress and
herself sub-Prioress--a very clever move on her part, for with Mother
Philippa as Prioress the management of the school would be left to
her, and the school was what interested her. Of course, the money
they made would be devoted to building a chapel, or something of that
kind; but it was the making of money which would henceforth be the
pleasure of the convent. Evelyn took a certain pleasure in listening
negligently to Mother Winifred, who seemed unable to resist the
desire to talk to her about vocations whenever they met. From
whatever point they started, the conversation would soon turn upon a
vocation, and Evelyn found herself in the end listening to a story of
some novice who thought she had no vocation and had left the convent,
but had returned.

"And very often," Mother Winifred would say sententiously, "those who
think themselves most sure of their vocation find themselves without
one."

And Evelyn would answer, "Those who would take the last place are put
up first--isn't that it, Mother Winifred?"

Very often as they walked round the great, red-brick building, with
rows of windows on either side facing each other, so that the sky
could be seen through the building, Evelyn said:

"But do you not regret the trees?" She took pleasure in reminding
every nun that they sacrificed the beauty of the garden in the hope
of making a little money; and these remarks, though they annoyed
Mother Winifred, did not prevent her from speaking with pride of the
school, now rapidly advancing towards completion, nor did Evelyn's
criticism check her admiration of Evelyn herself. It seemed to Evelyn
that Mother Winifred was always paying her compliments, or if she
were not doing that, she would seek opportunities to take Evelyn into
her confidence, telling her of the many pupils they had been
promised, and of the conversions that would follow their teaching.
The girls would be impressed by the quiet beauty of the nun's life;
some of them would discover in themselves vocations for the religious
life, and a great many would certainly go away anxious for
conversion; and, even if their conversions did not happen at once,
though they might be delayed for years, sooner or later many
conversions would be the result of this school. And the result of all
this flummery was:

"Now, why should you not stay with us, dear, only a little while
longer? It would be such a sad thing if you were to go away, and find
that, after all, you had a vocation for the religious life, for if
you return to us you will have to go through the novitiate again."

"But, Mother Winifred, you always begin upon the supposition that I
have a vocation. Now, supposing you begin upon the other supposition
--that I have not one."

Mother Winifred hesitated, and looked sharply at Evelyn; but, unable
to take her advice, on the very next opportunity she spoke to Evelyn
of the vocation which she might discover in herself when it was too
late.

"You have forgotten what I said, Mother Winifred."

Mother Winifred laughed, but, undaunted, she soon returned with some
new argument, which had occurred to her in the interval, as she
prayed in church, or in her cell at night, and the temptation to try
the effect of the new argument on Evelyn was irresistible.

"Dear Sister Teresa--you see the familiar name comes to my tongue
though you have put off the habit--we shall be a long time in
straitened circumstances. A new mortgage has had, as you know, to be
placed on the property in order to get money to build the school; the
school will pay, but not at once."

Evelyn protested she was not responsible for this new debt. She had
advised the Prioress and Mother Winifred against it, warning them
that she did not intend to remain in the convent.

"But we always expected that you would remain."

And in this way Evelyn was made to feel her responsibility so much
that in the end she consented to give up part of her money to the
nuns. So long as she had just enough to live upon it did not matter,
and she owed these nuns a great deal. True that she had paid them ten
times over what she owed them, but still, it was difficult to measure
one's debts in pounds, shillings, and pence. However, that was the
way the nuns wanted her to measure them, and if she could leave them
fifteen hundred pounds--. And as soon as this sum was agreed upon,
Sister Winifred never lost an opportunity of regretting that the
convent was obliged to accept this magnificent donation, hinting that
the Prioress and herself would be willing (and there would be no
difficulty in obtaining the consent of the choir sisters) to accept
Evelyn's services for three years in the school instead of the money.

"Five hundred a year we shall be paying you, but the value of your
teaching will be very great; mothers will be especially anxious to
send their daughters to our school, so that they may get good singing
lessons from you."

"And when I leave?"

"Well, the school will have obtained a reputation by that time. Of
course, you will be a loss, but we must try to do without you."

"Three years in this convent!"

"But you are quite free here; you come and go as you please. After
all, your intention in leaving the convent is to teach music. Why not
teach music here?"

The argument was an ingenious one, but Evelyn did not feel that it
would appeal to her in the least, either to continue living in the
convent after she had finished her book, or to go back to the convent
to give singing lessons three or four times a week.

It would be preferable for her to give fifteen hundred pounds to the
convent, and so finish with the whole thing; and this she intended to
do, though she put Mother Winifred off with evasion, leaving her
thinking that perhaps after all she would teach for some little while
in the convent. It was necessary to do this, for Mother Winifred
could persuade Mother Philippa as she pleased; and it had occurred to
Evelyn that perhaps Mother Winfred might arrange for her expulsion.
Nothing could be easier than to tell her that somebody's friend was
going to stay with them in the convent, that the guest-room would be
wanted. To leave now would not suit Evelyn at all. The late
Prioress's papers belonged to the convent; and to deceive Mother
Winifred completely Evelyn agreed to give some singing lessons, for
they had already begun to receive pupils, though the school was not
yet finished.

This teaching proved very irksome to her, for it delayed the
completion of her book, and she often meditated an escape, thinking
how this might be accomplished while the nuns played at ball in the
autumn afternoon. Very often they were all in the garden, all except
Sister Agnes, the portress, and she often left her keys on the nail.
So it would be easy for Evelyn to run down the covered way and take
the keys from the nail and open the door. And the day came when she
could not resist the temptation of opening the door, not with a view
to escape; but just to know what the sensation of the open door was
like. And she stood for some time looking into the landscape,
remembering vaguely, somewhere at the back of her mind, that she
could not take the Prioress's papers with her, they did not belong to
her; the convent could institute an action for theft against her, the
Prioress not having made any formal will, only a memorandum saying
she would like Evelyn to collect her papers.

So it was necessary for her to lock the gate again, to restore the
keys to the nail, and return to the library. But in a few weeks more
her task would be done, and it would be pleasanter to go away when it
was done; and, as it has already been said, Evelyn liked landmarks.
"To pass out is easy, but the Evelyn that goes out will not be the
same as the Evelyn who came in." And a terror gathered in her mind,
remembering that she was forty, and to begin life again after forty,
and after such an experience as hers, might prove beyond her
strength. Doubts enter into every mind, doubt entered into hers;
perhaps the convent was the natural end of her life, not as a nun,
but as an oblate. The guest-room was a pleasant room, and she could
live more cheaply in the convent than elsewhere. There are cowardly
hours in every life, and there were hours when this compromise
appealed to Evelyn Innes. But if she remained she would have to
continue teaching under Mother Winifred's direction. A little revolt
awoke in her. She could not do that; and she began to think what
would happen to her when she left the convent. There would not be
money enough left her to sit down in a small flat and do nothing; she
would have to work. Well, she would have to do that in any case, for
idleness was not natural to her, and she would have to work for
somebody besides herself--for her poor people--and this she could do
by giving singing lessons. Where? In Dulwich? But to go back to the
house in which she lived her life, to the room which used to be hung
with the old instruments, and to revive her mother's singing classes?
No, she could not begin her life from exactly the same point at which
she left off. And gradually the project formed in her mind of a new
life, a life which would be at once new and old. And the project
seemed to take shape as she wrote the last pages of her memoir of the
late Prioress.

"It is done, and I have got a right to my own manuscript; they cannot
take that from me." And she went into the sacristy, her manuscript in
her hand.

The cool, sweet room seemed empty, and Veronica emerged from the
shadow, almost a shadow. There were two windows, lattice panes, and
these let the light fall upon the counter, along which the vestments
were laid for the priest. The oak press was open, and it exhaled an
odour of orris root and lavender, and Veronica, standing beside it, a
bunch of keys at her girdle, once more reminded Evelyn of the
mediæval virgin she had seen in the Rhenish churches.

"I have finished collecting your aunt's papers."

"And now you are going to leave us?"

There was a sob in the girl's voice, and all Evelyn's thoughts about
her seemed to converge and to concentrate. There was the girl before
her who passed through life without knowing it, interested in putting
out the vestments for an old priest, hiding his amice so that no
other hands but hers should touch it; this and the dream of an angel
who visited her in sleep and whose flesh was filled with luminous
tints constituted all she knew of life, all she would ever know.
There were tears in her eyes now, there was a sob in her voice; she
would regret her friend for a day, for a week, and then the convent
life would draw about her like great heavy curtains. Evelyn
remembered how she had told her of a certain restlessness which kept
her from her prayers; she remembered how she had said to her, "It
will pass, everything will pass away." She would become an old nun,
and would be carried to the graveyard just as her aunt had been. When
would that happen? Perhaps not for fifty years. Sooner or later it
would happen. And Evelyn listened to Veronica saying the convent
would never be the same without her, saying:

"Once you leave us you will never come back."

"Yes, I shall, Veronica; I shall come once or twice to see you."

"Perhaps it would be better for you not to come at all," the girl
cried, and turned away; and then going forward suddenly as Evelyn was
about to leave the sacristy, she said:

"But when are you leaving? When are you leaving?"

"To-morrow; there is no reason why I should wait any longer."

"We cannot part like this." And she put down the chalice, and the
women went into a chill wind; the pear-trees were tossing, and there
were crocuses in the bed and a few snowdrops.

"You had better remain until the weather gets warmer; to leave in
this bleak season! Oh, Sister, how we shall miss you! But you were
never like a nun."

They walked many times to and fro, forgetful of the bleak wind
blowing.

"It must be so, you were never like a nun. Of course we all knew, I
at least knew... only we are sorry to lose you."

The next day a carriage came for Evelyn. The nuns assembled to bid
her goodbye; they were as kind as their ideas allowed them to be,
but, of course, they disapproved of Evelyn going, and the fifteen
hundred pounds she left them did not seem to reconcile them to her
departure. It certainly did not reconcile Mother Winifred, who
refused to come down to wish her goodbye, saying that Evelyn had
deceived them by promising to remain, or at all events led them to
think she would stay with them until the school was firmly
established. Mother Philippa apologised for her, but Evelyn said it
was not necessary.

"After all, what Mother Winifred says is the truth, only I could not
do otherwise. Now, goodbye, I'll come to see you again, may I not?"

They did not seem very anxious on this point, and Evelyn thought it
quite possible she might never see the convent again, which had meant
so much to her and which was now behind her. Her thoughts were
already engaged in the world towards which she was going, and
thinking of the etiolated hands of the nuns she remembered the brown
hands of her poor people; it was these hands that had drawn her out
of the convent, so she liked to think; and it was nearly the truth,
not the whole truth, for that we may never know.



XXXV

The blinds of 27, Berkeley Square were always down, and when Sir
Owen's friends called the answer was invariably the same: "No news of
Sir Owen yet; his letters aren't forwarded; business matters are
attended to by Mr. Watts, the secretary." And Sir Owen's friends went
away wondering when the wandering spirit would die in him.

It was these last travels, extending over two years, in the Far East,
that killed it; Owen felt sure of that when he entered his house,
glad of its comfort, glad to be home again; and sinking into his
armchair he began to read his letters, wondering how he should answer
the different invitations, for every one was now more than six months
old, some going back as far as eighteen months. It seemed absurd to
write to Lady So-and-so, thanking her for an invitation so long gone
by. All the same, he would like to see her, and all his friends, the
most tedious would be welcome now. He tore open the envelopes,
reading the letters greedily, unsuspicious of one amongst them which
would make him forget the others--a letter from Evelyn. It came at
last under his hand, and having glanced through it he sank back in
his chair, overcome, not so much by surprise that she had left her
convent as at finding that the news had put no great gladness into
his heart, rather, a feeling of disappointment.

"How little one knows about oneself!" But he wasn't sorry she had
left the convent. A terrible result of time and travel it would be if
his first feeling on opening her letter were one of disappointment.
He was sorry she had been disappointed, and thought for a long time
of that long waste of life, five years spent with nuns. "We are
strange beings, indeed," he said. And getting up, he looked out the
place she wrote from, discovering it to be a Surrey village, probably
about thirty miles from London, with a bad train service; and having
sent a telegram asking if it would suit her for him to go down to see
her next day, he fell back in his chair to think more easily how his
own life had been affected by Evelyn's retreat from the convent; and
again he experienced a feeling of disappointment. "A long waste of
life, not only of her life, but of mine," for he had travelled
thousands of miles... to forget her? Good heavens, no! What would his
life be without remembrance of Evelyn? He had come home believing
himself reconciled to the loss of Evelyn, and willing to live in
memories of her--the management of his estate a sufficient interest
for his life, and his thoughts were already engaged in the building
of a new gatehouse; after all, Riversdale was his business, and he
had come home to work for his successor while cherishing a dream--
wasn't it strange? But this letter had torn down his dream and his
life was again in pieces. Would he ever be at rest while she was
abroad? Would it not have been better for them both if she had
remained in her convent? The thought seemed odiously selfish. If she
were to read his disappointment on hearing that she was no longer in
the convent? ... Telepathy! There were instances! And his thoughts
drifted away, and he seemed to lose consciousness of everything,
until he was awakened by the butler bringing back her reply.

Now he would see her in twenty-four hours, and hear from her lips a
story of adventure, for it is an adventure to renounce the world, the
greatest, unless a return to the world be a greater. She had known
both; and it would be interesting to hear her tell both stories--if
she could tell her stories; she might only be half aware of their
interest and importance.

"God only knows what she is like now! A wreck, a poor derelict woman,
with no life to call her own. The life of an actress which I gave
her, and which was so beautiful, wrecked; and the life of a nun,
which she insisted on striving after, wrecked." A cold, blighting
sorrow like a mist came up, it seemed to penetrate to his very bones,
and he asked why she had left the convent--of what use could she be
out of it?... only to torment him again. Twenty times during the
course of the evening and the next morning he resolved not to go to
see her, and as many times a sudden desire to see her ripped up his
resolution; and he ordered the brougham. "Five years' indulgence in
vigils and abstinences, superstitions must have made a great change
in her; utterly unlike the Evelyn Innes whom I discovered years ago
in Dulwich, the beautiful pagan girl whom I took away to Paris." He
was convinced. But anxious to impugn his conviction, he took her
letter from his pocket, and in it discovered traces, which cheered
him, of the old Evelyn.

"She must have suffered terribly on finding herself obliged after
five years to retreat, and something of the original spirit was
required for her to fight her way out, for, of course, she was
opposed at every moment."

The little stations went by one by one: the train stopped nine or ten
times before it reached the penultimate.

"In the next few minutes I shall see her. She is sure to come to the
station to meet me. If she doesn't I'll go back--what an end that
would be! A strange neighbourhood to choose. Why did she come here?
With whom is she living? In a few minutes I shall know."

The train began to slacken speed. "Why, there she is on the
platform." The train rushed by her, the first-class carriages
stopping at the other end; and, calling to the porter to take his bag
out of the carriage, he sprang out, tall and thin. "Like one who had
never had the gout," she said, as she hurried to meet him, smiling,
so intimately did his appearance bring back old times. "He is so like
himself, and better dressed than I am; the embroidered waistcoat
still goes in at the waist; and he still wears shirts with mauve
stripes. But he is a good deal greyer... and more wrinkled than I
am."

"So it is you, Evelyn. Let me look at you." And, holding both her
hands, he stood looking into the face which he had expected to find
so much changed that he hardly found it changed at all, his eyes
passing over, almost without notice, the white hairs among the red,
and the wrinkles about the eyes and forehead, which, however, became
more apparent when she smiled. His touch was more conclusive of
disappointment than his eyes; her hands seemed harder than they used
to be, the knuckles had thickened, and, not altogether liking his
scrutiny, she laughed, withdrawing her hands.

"Where is your valet, Owen?"

It was then that he saw that her teeth had aged a little, yellowed a
little; a dark spot menaced the loss of one of the eye-teeth if not
attended to at once. But her figure seemed the same, and to get a
back view he dropped his stick. No, the convent had not bent her; a
tall, erect figure was set off to advantage by a dark blue linen
dress, and the small, well-reared head and its roll of thick hair by
the blue straw hat trimmed with cornflowers.

"Her appearance is all right; the vent must be in her mind," he said,
preparing himself for a great disillusionment as soon as their talk
passed out of the ordinary ruts.

"My valet? I didn't bring him. You might not be able to put him up."

"I shouldn't."

"But is there any one to carry my bag? I'll carry it myself if you
don't live too far from here."

"About a mile. We can call at the inn and tell them to send a fly for
your bag--if you don't mind the walk."

"Mind the walk--and you for companionship? Evelyn, dear, it is
delightful to find myself walking with you, and in the country," he
added, looking round.

"The country is prettier farther on."

Owen looked round without, however, being able to give his attention
to the landscape.

"Prettier farther on? But how long have you been here?"

"Nearly two years now. And you--when did you return?"

"How did you know I was away?"

"You didn't write."

"I returned yesterday."

"Yesterday? You only read yesterday my letter written six months
ago."

"We have so much to talk about, Evelyn, so much to learn from each
other."

"The facts will appear one by one quite naturally. Tell me, weren't
you surprised to hear I had left the convent? And tell me, weren't
you a little disappointed?"

"Disappointed, my dear Evelyn? Should I have wired to you, and come
down here if--. It seemed as if the time would never pass."

"I don't mean that you aren't glad to see me. I can see you are. But
admit that you were disappointed that I hadn't succeeded--"

"I see what you mean. Well, I was disappointed that you were
disappointed; I admit so much." And, walking up the sunny road, he
wondered how it was that she had been able to guess what his thoughts
were on reading her letter. After all, he was not such a brute as he
had fancied himself, and her divination relieved his mind of the fear
that he lacked natural feeling, since she had guessed that a certain
feeling of disappointment was inevitable on hearing that she had not
been able to follow the chosen path. But how clever of her! What
insight!

"I hope you don't misunderstand. I cannot put into words the
pleasure--."

"I quite understand. Even if we turn out of our path sometimes, we
don't like others to vacillate... conversions, divagations, are not
sympathetic."

"Quite true. The man who knows, or thinks he knows, whither he is
going commands our respect, and we are willing to follow--"

"Even though he is the stupider?"

"Which is nearly always." And they ceased talking, each agreeably
surprised by the other's sympathy.

It was on his lips to say, "We are both elderly people now, and must
cling to each other." But no one cares to admit he is elderly, and he
did not speak the words for his sake and for hers, and he refrained
from asking her further questions about the convent; for he had come
to see a woman, loved for so many years, and who would always be
loved by him, and not to gratify his curiosity; he asked why she had
chosen this distant country to live in.

"Distant country? You call this country distant? You, who have only
just come back--"

"Returned yesterday from the Amur."

"From the Amur? I thought I was _the_ amour."

"So you are. I am speaking now of a river in Manchuria."

'Manchuria? But why did you go there?"

"Oh, my dear Evelyn, we have so much to tell each other that it seems
hopeless. Can you tell me why you--no, don't answer, don't try to
tell why you went to the convent; but tell me why you came to live in
this neighbourhood?"

"Well, the land is very cheap here, and I wanted a large piece of
ground."

"Oh, so you've settled here?"

"Yes; I've built a cottage... But I haven't been able to lay the
garden out yet."

"Built a cottage?"

"What is there surprising in that?"

"Only this, that I returned home resolved to do some building at
Riversdale--a gate lodge," and he talked to her of the gate lodge he
had in mind, until he became aware of the incongruity. "But I didn't
come here to talk to you of gate lodges. Tell me, Evelyn, how do you
spend your time?"

"I go to town every morning to teach singing; I have singing-classes."

"So you are a singing-mistress now. Well, everything comes round at
last. Your mother--"

"Yes, everything comes round again," she said, sighing; "and the
neighbourhood isn't inconvenient. There is a good train in the
morning and a good train in the evening; the one you came by is a
wretched one, but if you had come by the later train you would have
seen less of me. You're not sorry?"

"My dear Evelyn, don't be affected. I'm trying to take it all in. You
have retreated from the convent, and are now a singing-mistress. Have
you lost your voice?"

"I'm afraid a good deal of it." And, pointing with her parasol, she
said, "There is the inn; I will tell them to fetch your bag."

As she went towards the "Stag and Hounds" he congratulated himself
that the earlier woman still subsisted in the later, there could be
no doubt of that, and in sufficient proportion for her to create a
new life, and out of nothing but her own wits, for if she had escaped
from the convent with her intelligence, or part of it, she hadn't
escaped with her money; the nuns had got her money safe enough. She
would be loth to admit it, but it could not be otherwise. So out of
her own wits she had negotiated the purchase of a large piece of
ground (she had said a large piece), and built a cottage, and a very
pretty cottage too, he was sure of that; and his face assumed a blank
expression, for he was away with her in some past time, in the midst
of an architectural discussion. But returning gradually from this
happy past, her intelligence seemed to him like some strong twine or
wire! "How clever of her to have discovered this country where land
was cheap!" And he looked round, seeing its beauty because she lived
in it. Above all, to have found work to do, no easy matter when one
has torn oneself and one's past to shreds, as she had done. No doubt
she was making quite a nice little income by teaching; and, in
increasing admiration, he walked round the dusty inn and the
triangular piece of grass in front of it. A game of bat-and-trap was
in progress, and he conceived a love for that old English game,
though till now he thought it stupid and vulgar. The horse-pond
appealed to him as a picturesque piece of water, and, standing back
from it, he admired the rows of trees on the further bank--pollards
of some kind--and, still more, the reflections of these trees in the
dark green water; and his eyes followed the swallows, dipping and
gliding through the moveless air. A spire showed between the trees, a
girl and some children were gathering wild flowers in the hedgerows.
How like England! But here was Evelyn!

"Did you ever see a more beautiful evening? And aren't you glad that
the evening in which I see you again is--one would like to call it
beatific, only I don't like the word; it reminds me of the convent
you have left."

"One goes away in order that one may return home, Owen."

"Quite true; and all my travels were necessary for me to admire your
long, red road winding gracefully up the hillside between tall
hedges, full of roses, convolvulus, and ivy, under trees throwing a
pleasant shade." And coming suddenly upon an extraordinary fragrance,
he threw up his head, and, with dilated nostrils, cried out,
"Honeysuckle!"

"Yes, isn't it sweet?" she said. And, standing under a cottage porch,
he thought of the days gone by; and their memory was as overpowering
as the vine.

"I have brought you no present."

"Owen, you only returned yesterday."

"All the same, I should have brought you something. A bunch of wild
flowers I can give you, and I will begin my nosegay with a branch of
this honeysuckle. There are dog-roses in the hedges. I used to send
you expensive flowers, but times have changed." And he insisted on
returning to the brook, having seen, so he said, some forget-me-nots
among the sedges. And with these and some sprays of a little pink
flower, which he told her was the cuckoo-flower, they walked, telling
and asking each other the names of different wayside weeds till they
arrived at the cottage.

"There is my cottage."

And Owen saw, some twenty or thirty yards from the roadside, the
white gables of a cottage thrusting over against a space of blue sky.
Flights of swallows flew shrieking past, and the large elms on the
right threw out branches so invitingly that Owen thought of long
hours passed in the shade with books and music; but, despite these
shady elms, the cottage wore a severe air--a severe cottage it was,
if a cottage can be severe. Owen was glad Evelyn hadn't forgotten a
verandah.

"A verandah always suggests a Creole. But there is no Creole in you."

"You wouldn't have thought my cottage severe if you hadn't known that
I had come from a convent, Owen. You like it, all the same."

Owen fell to praising the cottage which he didn't like.

"On one thing I did insist--that the hall was to be the principal
room. What do you think of it? And tell me if you like the
chimney-piece. There are going to be seats in the windows. Of course,
I
haven't half finished furnishing." And she took him round the room,
telling how lucky she had been picking up that old oak dresser with
handles, everything complete for five pounds ten, and the oak settle
standing in the window for seven.

"I can't consider the furniture till I have put these flowers in
water." So he fetched a vase and filled it, and when his nosegay had
been sufficiently admired, he said "But, Evelyn, I must give you some
flower-vases.... And you have no writing-table."

"Not a very good one. You see, I have had to buy so many things."

"You must let me give you one. The first time you come up to London
we will go round the shops."

"You'll want to buy me an expensive piece, unsuitable to my cottage,
won't you, Owen?" She led him through the dining-room past the
kitchen, into which they peeped.

"Eliza's cooking an excellent dinner!" he said. And they went through
the kitchen into the garden.

"You see what a piece of ground I have. We are enclosing it." And
Owen saw two little boys painting a paling. "Now, do you like the
green? It was too green, but this morning I put a little yellow into
it; it is better now." They walked round the acre of rough ground
overlooking the valley, Owen saying that Evelyn was quite a landed
proprietor.

"But who are these boys? You have quite a number," he said, coming
upon three more digging, or trying to dig.

"They are digging the celery-bed."

"But one is a hunchback, he can't do much work; and that one has a
short leg; the third boy seems all right, but he isn't more than
seven or eight. I am afraid you won't have very much celery this
year." They passed through the wicket into the farther end of
Evelyn's domain, which part projected on the valley, and there they
came upon two more children, one of whom was blind.

"This poor child--what work can he do?"

"You'd be surprised; and his ear is excellent. We're thinking of
putting him to piano-tuning."

"We are thinking?"

"Yes, Owen; these little boys live here with me in the new wing. I'm
afraid they are not very comfortable there, but they don't complain."

"Seven little crippled boys, whom you look after!"

"Six--the seventh is my servant's son; he is delicate, but he isn't a
cripple. We don't call him her son here, she is nominally his aunt."

"You look after these boys, and go up to London to earn their
living?"

"I earn sufficient to run my little establishment."

As they returned to the cottage, one of the boys thrust his spade
into the ground.

"Please, miss, may we stay up a little longer this evening? It won't
be dark till nine or half-past, miss."

"Yes, you can stay up." And Owen and Evelyn went into the house. "I
do hope, Owen, that Eliza's cooking will not seem to you too utterly
undistinguished."

"You have forgotten, Evelyn, that I have been living on hunter's fare
for the last two years."

At that moment Eliza put the soup-tureen on the table.

"Why, the soup is excellent! An excellent soup, Eliza!"

"There is a chicken coming, Sir Owen, and Miss Innes told me to be
sure to put plenty of butter on it before putting it into the oven,
that that was the way you liked it cooked."

"I am glad you did, Eliza; the buttering of the chicken is what we
always overlook in England. We never seem to understand the part that
good butter plays in cooking; only in England does any one talk of
such a thing as cooking-butter." And he detained Eliza, who fidgeted
before him, thinking of the vegetables waiting in the kitchen, of
what a strange man he was, while he told her that his cook, a
Frenchman, always insisted on having his butter from France, costing
him, Owen, nearly three shillings a pound.

"Law, Sir Owen!" And Eliza went back to the kitchen to fetch her
vegetables, and Evelyn laughed, saying:

"You have succeeded in impressing her."

"You have cooked the chicken excellently well, Eliza, and the butter
you used must have been particularly good," he said, when the servant
returned with the potatoes and brussels sprouts. But he was anxious
for her to leave the room so that he might ask Evelyn if she
remembered the chickens they used to eat in France.

"Evelyn, dear, shall we ever be in France again?"

"My poor little boys, what would happen to them while I was away? For
you, who care about sweets, Owen, I'm afraid Eliza will seem a little
behind the times; afraid of a failure, we decided on a rice pudding."

"Excellent; I should like nothing better."

Owen was in good humour, and she asked him if he had brought
something to smoke--a cigar.

"Some cigarettes. I have given up smoking cigars, stinking things!"

"But you used to be so fond of cigars, Owen?"

"Oh, a long time ago. Didn't you notice that man in the trap in front
of us as we came from the station? That vile cigar, the whole evening
smelt of it."

"My dear Owen!"

Then he got up from the table and went to the piano and waited there
for Evelyn, who was talking to Eliza about the purchase of another
bed and where it should be placed in the dormitory, a matter so
trivial that a dozen words should suffice to settle it, so he
thought; but they kept on talking, and when Eliza left the room she
took up some coarse sewing. To bring her to the piano he struck a few
notes, saying:

"The Muses are awake, Evelyn."

"No, Owen, no; I am in no mood for singing."

When he asked her if she never sang, the answer was, "Sometimes I go
to the piano when I am restless; I sing a little, yes, a little into
my muff; you know what I mean. But this evening I would sooner talk.
You said we had so much to talk about." He admitted she knew what his
feelings were better than he knew them himself. It would be a pity to
waste this evening in music (this evening was consecrate to
themselves), and from talking of Elizabeth and Isolde they drifted
into remembrances of the old days so dear to him. But he had always
reproached Evelyn with a fault, a certain restlessness; it was rare
for her to settle herself down to a nice quiet chat, and this was a
serious fault in a woman, a fault in everybody, for a nice quiet chat
is one of the best things in life. He was prone to admit, however,
that when the mood for a chat was upon her nobody could talk or
listen as she could by a fireside. Yielding to her humour, like a
bird she would talk on and on with an enthusiasm and an interest in
what she was saying which made her a wonder and a delight; and seeing
that by some good fortune he had come upon her in one of these rare
humours, he did not regret her refusal to sing, and watched her at
his feet listening to him with an avidity which was enchanting,
making him feel that there was nothing in the world but he and she.
She had once said, enchanting him with the admission, for it was so
true, that if she were alone with a man for an evening he must hate
her very much if he was not to fall in love with her. On reminding
her of her saying she admitted that she had forgotten it. It seemed
to him that his dead mistress had come to life again. Her eyes shone
with something of their old light, and he said to himself, "The
convent has faded out of her mind and out of her face."
Interpenetrated with her sweet atmosphere, which had for ever haunted
him, he breathed like one who hears music going by. Every moment was
a surprise. The next great surprise being the discovery that the
convent had not quelled the daring of her thought--it came and went
swallow-like, as before.

"Because there were no men in the convent. Though I am virtuous,
Owen, and must remain so, I can't live without men. If I am deprived
of men's society for a few days I wilt."

The picture of herself painted in these few words, Evelyn wilting
amid the treble of the nuns like a plant in an uncongenial soil,
delighted Owen, enabling him to forget the sad fact that she was
virtuous and would have to remain so. For she was still his Evelyn, a
hero worshipper, with man for her hero always, even though it were a
priest. A moment of the thought caused him a sigh, but he was in the
seventh heaven when she told him the first letter she had written
when she left the convent was for him. He had maligned her in
thinking the past had no meaning for her. For who was so faithful to
her friends? Again he forgot everything but himself sitting by her,
seeing her bright eyes, listening to her voice, absorbed by her
atmosphere; and talking and listening by turns he was carried away in
a delicious oblivion of everything except the sensation of the
moment. It seemed to him like floating down the current of some
enchanted river; but even in enchanted rivers there are eddies,
otherwise the enchantment of the current and the flowery banks under
which it flows would become monotonous, and presently Owen was caught
in an eddy. The stream flowed gaily while he told her of his
experience in the desert; she was interested in the gazelles and in
the eagles, though qualifying the sport as cruel, and in his
synthesis of the desert--a desire for a drink of clean water. Nor did
she resent his allusion to his meeting with Ulick at Dowlands,
interrupting him, however, to tell him that Ulick had married Louise.

"Married Louise!"

Louise! What an evocation of past times was in this name! And their
talk passed into a number of little sallies.

"Well, he'll spend a great deal of her money for her."

"No, he is doing pretty well for himself."

It seemed like listening to a fairy tale to hear that Ulick was doing
very well for himself; and travelling back to the convent, by those
mysterious roads which conversation follows, Owen learned that it was
at the end of the first year of her postulancy that Evelyn had heard
of her father's illness. Up to that moment he had not noticed a
change in her humour, not until he began to question her as to her
reason for suddenly returning from Rome to the convent. It was then
that a strange look came into her face; she got up from her chair and
walked about the room, gloomy and agitated, sitting down in a corner
like one overcome, whelmed in some extraordinary trouble. When he
went to her she crossed the room, settling herself in another corner,
tucking herself away into it. His question had awakened some terrific
memory; and perforce he did not dare to ask her what her trouble was,
none that she could confide to him, that was clear, and he began to
think that it would be better to leave her for a while. He could go
out and speak with the little boys, for a memory like the one which
had laid hold of her must pass away suddenly, and his absence would
help to pass it. If she were not better when he returned it would be
well for him to seek some excuse to sleep at the inn, for her
appearance in the corner frightened him; and standing by the window,
looking into the quiet evening, he railed against his folly. Any one
but himself would have guessed that there was some grave reason for
her life in the convent. Such an end as this to the evening that had
begun so well! "My God, what am I to do!" And, turning impulsively,
he was about to fling himself at her feet, beseeching of her to
confide her trouble, but something in her appearance prevented him,
and in dismay he wondered what he had said to provoke such a change.
What had been said could not be unsaid, the essential was that the
ugly thought upon her like some nightmare should be forgotten. Now
what could he say to win her out of this dreadful gloom? If he were
to play something!

A very few bars convinced him that music would prove no healer to her
trouble. To lead her thoughts out of this trouble--was there no way?
What had they been talking about? The bullfinches which she had
taught to whistle the motives of "The Ring"; but such a laborious
occupation could only have been undertaken for some definite purpose,
to preserve her sanity, perhaps, and it would be natural for a woman
to resent any mention of mental trouble such as she had suffered from
on her return from Rome. Something had happened to her in Rome--what?
And he sat for a long time, or what seemed to him a long time,
perplexed, fearing to speak lest he might say something to irritate
her, prolonging her present humour.

"If I had only known, Evelyn, if I had only known!" he said, unable
to resist the temptation of speech any longer. As she did not answer,
he added, after a moment's pause, "I think I shall go out and talk to
those boys." But on his way to the door he stopped. "I wish that brig
had gone down."

"That brig? What do you mean?"

"The boat which took me round the world and brought me back, and
which I am going to sell, my travelling days being over." Seeing she
was interested, he continued to tell her how the _Medusa_ had been
declared no longer seaworthy, and of his purchase of another yacht.

"But you said you wished the brig had gone down."

And, seizing the pretext, he began to tell her of the first thing
that came into his head; how he had sailed some thousands of miles
from the Cape to the Mauritius, explaining the mysteries of great
circle sailing, and why they had sailed due south, though the
Mauritius was in the north-west, in order that they might catch the
trade winds. Before reaching these there were days when the sailors
did little else but shift the sails, trying to catch every breeze
that fluttered about them, tacking all the while, with nothing to
distract them but the monotonous albatross. The birds would come up
the seas, venturing within a few yards of the vessel, and float away
again, becoming mere specks on the horizon. Again the specks would
begin to grow larger, and the birds would return easily on moveless
wings.

"When one hears the albatross flies for thousands of miles one
wonders how it could do this without fatigue; but one wonders no
longer when one has seen them fly, for they do not weary themselves
by moving their wings, their wings never move, they float month after
month until the mating instinct begins to stir in them, and then in
couples they float down the seas to the pole. There is nothing so
wonderful as the flight of a bird; and it seemed to me that I never
could weary of watching it. But I did weary of the albatross, and one
night, after praying that I might never see one again, I was awakened
by the pitching of the vessel, by the rattling of ropes, and the
clashing of the blocks against swaying spars. I had been awakened
before by storms at sea. You remember, Evelyn, when I returned to
Dulwich--I had been nearly wrecked off the coast of Marseilles?"
Evelyn nodded. "But the sensation was not like anything I had ever
experienced at sea before, and interested and alarmed I climbed,
catching a rope, steadying myself, reaching the poop somehow."

"'We're in the trades, Sir Owen!' the man at the helm shouted to me.
'We're making twelve or fourteen knots an hour; a splendid wind!'

"The sails were set and the vessel leaned to starboard, and then the
rattle of ropes began again and the crashing of the blocks as she
leaned over to port. Such surges, you have no idea, Evelyn,
threatening the brig, but slipping under the keel, lifting her to the
crest of the wave. Caught by the wind for a moment she seemed to be
driven into the depths, her starboard grazing the sea or very nearly.
The spectacle was terrific; the lone stars and the great cloud of
canvas, the whole seeming such a little thing beneath it, and no one
on deck but the helmsman bound to the helm, and well for him--a slip
would have cost him his life, he would have been carried into the
sea. An excellent sailor, yet even he was alarmed at the canvas we
carried, so he confided to me; but my skipper knew his business, a
first-rate man that skipper, the best sailor I have ever met. There
are few like him left, for the art of sailing is nearly a lost art,
and the difficulty of getting men who can handle square sails is
extraordinary. But this one, the last of an old line, came up, crying
out quite cheerfully, "Sir Owen, we're in luck indeed to have caught
the trades so soon."

"Day after day, night after night, we flew like a seagull. 'Record
sailing,' my skipper often cried to me, telling me the number of
knots we had made in the last four-and-twenty hours."

"And the albatrosses, I hope you didn't catch one?"

"One day the skipper suggested that we should, the breast feathers
being very beautiful; and, the wind having slackened a little, a hook
was baited with a piece of salt pork, which the hungry bird seized.
As soon as he was drawn on board he flapped about more helpless than
anything I have ever seen, falling into everything he could fall
into, biting several of the crew. You know the sonnet in which
Baudelaire compares the bird on the wing to the poet with the Muse
beside him, and the albatross on deck to the poet in the
drawing-room. You remember the sonnet, how the sailors teased the bird
with their short black pipes."

"But the breast feathers?"

"We didn't kill the bird; I wouldn't allow him to be killed. We threw
him overboard, and down into the sea he went like a log."

Evelyn asked if he were drowned.

"Albatrosses don't drown. He swam for a time and fluttered, and at
last succeeded in getting on the wing. I was very glad to see him
float away, and was still more glad a few minutes afterwards, for
before the bird was out of sight a sign appeared in the heavens, and
I began to think of the story of 'The Ancient Mariner.' You know--"

"Yes, I know the story, how all his misfortunes arose from the
killing of an albatross. But what was the sign?"

"A dull yellow like a rainbow, only more pointed, and my skipper said
to me, 'Sir Owen, that is one of them hurricanes; if I knew which way
she was going I'd try to get out of the way as fast as I could, for
we shall be torn to pieces in a very few minutes.' I assure you it
was an anxious moment watching that red, yellow light in the sky; it
grew fainter, and eventually disappeared, and the skipper said, 'We
have just missed it.' A few days afterwards we came into the
Mauritius, and the first thing we saw was a great vessel in the
ports, her iron masts twisted and torn just like hairpins, Evelyn.
She had been caught in the tornado, a great three-masted vessel....
We should have gone down like an open boat."

"And after you left the Mauritius your destination was--"

"Borneo, Sumatra, the Malay Archipelago."

"But what were you seeking in the Malay Archipelago?"

"What does one ever seek? One seeks, no matter what; and, not being
able to see you, Evelyn, I thought I would try to see everything in
the world."

"But there is nothing to see in Borneo?"

"Well, you will laugh when I tell you, but it seemed to me that I'd
like to see the orang-outang in his native forests. I had been to
Greece, and I knew the Italian Renaissance--"

"And after so much art to see an orang-outang in a tree would be a
new experience, Owen."

"Soon there will be no more higher apes, if medical science continues
to progress; no more gorillas or chimpanzees."

"In a world without gorillas life will not be worth living. I quite
understand."

Owen laughed.

"I should be sorry for anything to disappear. The poor mother is
speared, for she will fight for her little one; ugly as he may be in
our eyes he is beautiful in hers."

"But you didn't do this, Owen?"

"No; after two or three days in a forest one wearies of it; and after
all it wasn't very likely that I should have got a snapshot. The
camera is my weapon."

"And after the orang-outang which you failed to meet?"

"I spent some time in Japan."

"And then?"

"Well, then, I went to Manchuria, to the Amur, a country almost
forgotten." And he told her how the eagles drove the wild sheep over
the precipices, and of a wolf hunt with eagles."

"You have seen now everything the world has to show?"

"Very nearly, and after seeing it all I come back to the one thing
that interests me."

Tears rose to Evelyn's eyes; such an avowal of love a woman hardly
ever hears.

The voices of the children playing in the garden reached their ears,
and Evelyn said:

"They should have been in bed long ago, but, Owen, your being here
makes everything so exceptional."

"Really? I'm glad of that," he answered shyly, fearing to say
anything which would carry her thoughts back among unpleasant
memories. But it was quite safe to speak of her love of the poor, and
of poor children. "What inspired you to start this home, Evelyn?"

"Well, you see, I had to have something to work for, some interest;
and not having any children of my own... They really must go to bed."

"But, Evelyn, why will you interrupt our talk? Let us go on talking;
tell me about the convent. Your adventures are so much more wonderful
than mine. You haven't half told me what there is to tell--the
Prioress and the sub-Prioress, you never liked her?"

A smile gathered about her lips, and he asked her what she was
smiling at; and it was with some difficulty he persuaded her to tell
him about Sister Winifred and Father Daly."

"Counterparts! counterparts!" he said. "And Cecilia giving the whole
show away because her counterpart was a dwarf! How could you live
among such babies?"

"After all, Owen, are they any more babies than we are? Our interests
are just as unreal."

"Your interest here is not as unreal; their hope is to build a wall
of prayer between a sinful world and the wrath of God. Such silliness
passes out of perception."

"Your perception? We come into the world with different perceptions;
but do not let us drift into argument, not this evening, Owen."

"Quite so, let us not drift into argument.... I am sorry you charged
me with being disappointed that you didn't remain in the convent; you
see I didn't know of the wonderful work you were doing here. Your
kindness is more than a nun's kindness." But he feared his casual
words might provoke her, and hastened to ask her about Sister
Winifred, at length persuading her into the admission that Sister
Winifred used to whip the children.

"I'm sure she liked whipping them. Women who shut themselves out from
life develop cruelty. I can quite understand how she would like to
hear them cry."

"Tell me more about the nuns."

"No, Owen, I wouldn't speak ill of the nuns. Don't press me to speak
ill of them. You don't know, Owen, what might have become of me had
it not been for the convent. I don't know what might have become of
me. I might have drifted away and nothing have ever been heard of me
again." A dark look gathered in her face, "vanishing like the shadow
of a black wing over a sunny surface," Owen said to himself, "Now
what has frightened her? Not her love of me, for that love she always
looked on as legitimate." He remembered how she used to cling to that
view, while admitting it to be contrary to the teaching of the
Church. Did she still cling to this belief? "Probably, for we do hot
change our instinctive beliefs," he said, and longed to question her;
but not daring, and, thinking a lighter topic of conversation
desirable, he told her he would like to teach Eliza how to make
coffee.

"There is only one way of making coffee" he said, and he had learned
the secret from a friend, who had always the best coffee. He had
known him as a bachelor, he had known him as a married man, and
afterwards as a divorced man, but in these different circumstances
the coffee remained the same. So he said, "My good friend how is it
that your cooks make equally good coffee?" And the friend answered
that it was himself who had taught every cook how to make coffee; it
was only a question of boiling water. And, still talking of the
making of coffee, they wandered into the garden and stood watching
the little boys all arow, their heads tucked in for Eliza's son to
jump over them, and they were laughing, enjoying their play,
inspired, no doubt, by the dusk and the mystery of yon great moon
rising out of the end of the grey valley.

"I'm afraid Jack will hurt the others, or tire them; they really must
go to bed. You'll excuse me, Owen, I shall be back with you in about
half an hour?"

He strolled through the wicket about the piece of waste ground,
thinking of the change that had come over her when he spoke of her
return from Rome. Possibly she had met Ulick in Rome and had fled
from him, or some other man. But he was not in the least curious to
inquire out her secret, sufficient it was for him to know that her
mood had passed. How suddenly it had passed! And how fortunate his
mention of the yacht! Her attention had suddenly been distracted, now
she was as charming as before... gone to look after those little
boys, to see that their beds were comfortable, and that their
night-shirts had buttons on them. Every day in London their living was
earned in tiresome lessons to pupils who had no gift for singing, but
had to be encouraged for the sake of their money, which was spent on
this hillside.

"Such is the mysterious way of life. Our rewards are never those we
anticipate, but we are rewarded."

The money he had spent on her had brought her to this hillside to
attend on six cripples, destitute little boys. After all what better
reward could he have hoped for? But a great part of his love of her
had been lost. Never again would he take her hand or kiss her again.
So his heart filled with a natural sadness and a great tenderness,
and he stood watching the smoke rising from the cottagers' chimneys
straight into the evening air. She had told him that one of her
little boys had come from that village, and to hear how the child had
been adopted he must scramble down this rough path. The moment was
propitious for a chat with the cottagers, whom he would find sitting
at their doors, the men smoking their pipes, the women knitting or
gossiping, "the characteristic end of every day since the beginning
of the world," he said, "and it will be pleasant to read her portrait
in these humble minds."

"A fine evening, my man?"

"Fine enough, sir; the wheat rick will be up before the Goodwood
races, the first time for the last thirty years." And the talk turned
on the price of corn and on the coming harvest, and then on Miss
Innes, who sometimes came down to see them and sang songs for the
children.

"So she sings for the children? She used to do that in Italy."

"Has she been in Italy, sir?"

To interest them he told how Evelyn had sung in all the opera houses
of Europe; and then, fearing his confessions were indiscreet, he
asked the woman nearest him if she was the mother of the little boy
Evelyn had taken to live with her.

"No, sir, 'e is Mrs. Watney's son in the next cottage." And Owen
moved away to interrogate Mrs. Watney, who told him that her son was
not a cripple.

"'Is limbs be sound enough, only the poor little chap 'ad the
small-pox badly when he was four, and 'as been blind ever since. A
extraordinary 'appy child; and Miss Innes has promised to 'ave him
taught the pianna."

"A piano-tuner must have a good ear, and Miss Innes says his ear is
perfect. He'll whistle anything he hears."

Owen bade the cottagers good-night and climbed up the hillside again.
The lights were burning in the boy's dormitory, so Evelyn must still
be there, and finding a large stone among the rough ground where he
could sit he waited for her, interested in the round moon, looking
like the engraved dial of some great clock, and in the grey valley
and the sullen sky passing overhead into a dim blueness, in which he
could detect a star here and there. The evening hummed a little
still, and the sounds of voices, the last sounds to die out of a
landscape, became rare and faint. One by one the gossiping folk under
the hill crept within doors, and Owen was so absorbed by the silence
that he did not hear Evelyn approaching; and when she spoke he hardly
answered her, and she, as if participating already in his emotion,
stood by him, not asking for words from him, looking with him into
the solitude of the valley, seeking to see beyond the veils of blue
mist gathering and blotting out all detail, creeping up intimately
tender. What could he say to her worth saying at such a moment? he
began to ask himself; and just then a song came from a hawthorn
growing by the edge of the hill, a solitary song, mysterious and
strange, a passionate strain which freed their souls, till, walking
about this dusky hillside, the lovers seemed to lose their bodies and
to become all spirit; and they walked on in silence, speech seeming a
sacrilege.

"So now you are going to settle down at Riversdale; your travels are
over?"

"Yes, they are over. I shall travel no more. I didn't find what I
sought."

"And what was that?"

And her words as she spoke them sounded to Owen passionate, tender,
and melancholy as the nightingale; and his words, too, seemed to
partake of the same passionate melancholy.

"Forgetfulness of you."

"So you wished to forget me? I am sorry."

"Sorry that I haven't forgotten you? That, Evelyn, is impossible for
me to believe; it isn't human to wish ourselves forgotten."

"No, Owen, I don't wish you to forget me, I am glad you have not; but
I am sorry there was any need for you to seek forgetfulness."

"And is there any need?"

"Yes, for the Evelyn you loved died years ago."

"Oh, Evelyn, don't say that; she is not dead?"

"Perhaps not altogether, a trace here and there, a slight flavour,
but not a woman who could bring you happiness as you understand
happiness, Owen."

"All the happiness I ever had I owe to you. How can I thank you for
those ten years?"

"But you paid for them with a great deal of sorrow."

"Had it not been for you, Evelyn, I shouldn't have lived at all. How
often have I told you that? I have seen all the world, and yet I have
only seen one thing in the world--you."

"Owen, you mustn't speak to me like that."

"While that bird is singing you are afraid to listen to me! How
passionately it sings, but how little it feels compared with what I
am feeling. Why did you say that the Evelyn of old is dead?"

"Well, Owen, don't you know that we are always dying, always
changing. You are in love, not with me, but with your memory of me."

"A great deal of my love is memory, of course, still--"

Words again seemed vain, foolish, even sacrilegious, so little could
he convey to her of what he believed to be the truth, and they walked
in silence through the fragrance of the soft night, thinking of the
colour of the sky, in which the sunset was not yet quite dead. His
memory of his love of this woman long ago in Dulwich, in Paris, and
in all the cities and scenes they had visited together, raised him
above himself; and he felt that her soul mingled with his in an
ecstatic sadness beyond words, but which the nightingale sang
clearly; the stars, too, sang it clearly; and they stood mute in the
midst of the immortal symphony about them. "Evelyn, I love you. How
wonderful our lives have been!" But what use to break the music,
audible and inaudible, with such weak words? The villagers under the
hill could speak as well; the bird in the bush and the stars above it
were speaking for him; and he was content to listen.

The silence of the night grew more intense, there were millions of
stars, small and great, and the moon now shone amidst them alone, "of
different birth," divided from them for ever as he was divided from
this woman, whose arm touched his as they walked through the
darkness, divided for ever, unable to communicate his soul to hers.
Did she understand what he was feeling--the mystery of their lives
written in the stars, sung by the nightingale and breathed by the
flowers? Did she understand? Had the convent rule left her sufficient
sensibility to understand such simple human truths?

"How sweetly the tobacco plant smells!" she said.

"Yes, doesn't it? But what is the meaning of our story? My finding
you at Dulwich--Evelyn, have you ever thought enough about it? How
extraordinary that event was, extraordinary as the stars above us; my
going down that evening and hearing you sing? Do you remember the
look with which you greeted me--do you remember that cup of tea?"

"It was coffee."

"And then all our meetings in the garden under the cedar-tree?"

"You used to say we looked like a picture by Marcus Stone when we sat
under it."

"Never mind what we looked like. Think of it! Of our journey to
Paris, and my visit to Brussels to hear you sing."

"And Madame Savelli, who wouldn't let me speak to you; she said I
might tire my voice."

"Yes, how I hated her and Olive that day! You sang 'Elizabeth,' and
when you walked up, to the sound of flutes and clarionettes,'
seemingly to the stars, there was something in the way you did it
that put a fear into my heart. It was all predestined from the
beginning."

"So you believe, Owen, that the end is fated, and that I was created
to come back after many wanderings to help these poor little crippled
boys?"

"Is that the meaning of it all, Evelyn?"

"Maybe--who knows?--that meaning as well as another." And through the
dusk he could see her eyes shining with something of their old light.

"Was it fated from the beginning that I should only, meet you here to
part with you again? Is that the meaning you read in the song of the
nightingale, in the stare of the moon and the perfume of the garden?
There is a meaning, Evelyn, in our lives for certain, but are you
reading it aright?"

For a moment the meaning of their lives seemed clear to them. Life
had a meaning! for a moment, they were both sure of it; they had met
for something, there was a design in life, and though they were
separated on earth they seemed to move in celestial circles, just as
the stars moved in that great design above them, each sphere rolling
on, filled with love for its sister sphere, guided and controlled
each by the other, yet always apart. Owen walked thinking how,
billions of years hence, all those lights might wax into one light,
all souls to one soul, all ends to one end. For one moment he Height
possess Evelyn's soul as he had never been able to possess it on
earth... perhaps.

"I love you now just as much as I loved you before, perhaps more, for
there is memory to aid me."

"You are in love with memory, not with me."

Her words went to his heart, as the thorn of the rose is said to go
to the nightingale's heart, and, unable to answer her, he listened.
"How wonderfully the bird sings, the interpreter of the primal
melancholy from which we never escape... since the beginning of time,
its interpreter."

"Is he telling his own story, or is he telling ours?"

"Both, for all love songs are as ours, made of the same intense
passionate melancholy. Why is love the most melancholy of all joys?
With what passionate melancholy he enchants her who is sitting in the
nest close by! The origin of art is sex; woman is a reed, and our
desire--"

"Hush! Listen to the nightingale! His discourse is better than
yours."

"How absorbed he is in his song, stave after stave; he seems to say,
'You want more tunes? If that is all, you shall have more.' Hush!" And
they listened to the rich warble, sounding so strange in the midst of
the lonely country. "A love-call of three notes, which he repeats
before passing into cadenzas. Hush!" The bird started again, and this
time as if encouraged by the success of his last efforts.

"What flutings! What trills! What runs! Pearls and jewels scattered.
Little tunes of three or four notes, casting a spell about the
hillside, followed by passionate cadenzas."

Another bird answered far away out of the stillness, the same sweet
strain it was; and listening, they seemed to hear the same strain
within their hearts--a silent, mysterious song. All the world seemed
singing the same sweet strain of melancholy, now when the moon passed
out of the dusk--shining high up in the heavens, with stars above and
beneath--Owen thought of some mysterious music-maker. Flocks of
various coloured stars, flaming Jupiter high up in the sky, red Mars
low down in the horizon, the Great Bear beautifully distinct, the
polar star at an angle--the star whereby Owen used to steer. All the
world seemed to be going to the same sweet strain, the soul,
seemingly freed, rose to the lips, and, in her pride, sought words
wherewith to tell the passionate melancholy of the night and of life.
But the soul could not tell it; only the nightingale, who, without
knowing it, was singing what the soul may only feel.

"The bird is telling me what your voice used to tell me long ago."

The lovers wandered through the garden, suffused with delicate
scents, and Owen told her of the legend of the nightingale and the
swallow, a legend coming down from some barbaric age, from a king
called Pandion, who, despite his wife's beauty, fell in love with her
sister, and ravished her in some town in Thessaly, the name of which
Owen could not remember. Fearing, however, that his lust would reach
his wife's ears, Pandion cut out the girl's tongue. This barbarous
act, committed before Greece was, had been redeemed by the Grecian
spirit, which had added that the girl; though without tongue to tell
the cruel deed, had, nevertheless, hands wherewith to weave it. The
weft of her misfortune only inspired another barbarous deed: Pandion
killed both sisters and his son Italus. Again the Grecian spirit
touched the legend, changing the tongueless girl into a swallow, a
bird with a little cry, and fleet wings to carry its cry all over the
world, and the unhappy wife into the bird "which sleeps all day and
sings all night." "Sophocles," Owen said, "speaks of the nightingale
as moaning all the night in ivy clusters, moaning or humming. A
strange expression his seems to us, our musical sense being different
from that of the antique world, if the antique world really possessed
any musical sense." The lovers wandered round the house, listening to
the bird's sweet singing, stopping at the hill's steep side so that
they might listen better.

"Now the bird is telling of sorrows other than ours--isn't that so,
Evelyn? I don't seem to recognise anything of ourselves in its song;
it is singing a new song."

"Perhaps," Evelyn answered, "now it is singing the sadness of the
mother under the hill for her son."

"I went to see her, she is not unhappy; she is happy that her son is
With you."

"But another child died last year; and for her, if she is listening,
the bird is certainly singing the death of that child."

When they had completed once more the round of the garden, the bird
seemed to have again changed his intervals; a gaiety seemed to have
come into his singing, and Owen said:

"Now his music is lighter; he is singing an inveigling little story,
the story of first love. Look, Evelyn, do you see that boy and girl
walking under the hedge with their arms entwined? They, too, have
stopped to listen to the nightingale, but the song they really hear
comes out of their own hearts."

Then the song changed, suddenly acquiring a strange, voluptuous
accent, which carried Owen's thoughts back to a night when he had
been awakened out of his sleep by a woman's voice singing, and,
starting up in bed, he had listened, rousing himself sufficiently
from sleep to distinguish that the voice he was listening to was
Evelyn's. The song was a love-call, and, believing it to be such, he
had thrown aside the curtain, and had found her leaning out of her
window, singing the Star Song, not to the evening star, as in the
opera, but to the morning star shining white like a diamond out of
the dawning of the sky. The valley under the castle walls was
submerged in mist, and the distant hillside was indistinguishable.
The castle seemed to stand by the side of some frozen sea, so intense
was the silence. He had always looked back upon this morning as one
of the great moments of his life, and going to her room like going to
some great religious rite. Each man must worship where he finds the
Godhead.

"Who knows," he said to Evelyn, "that the bird in the nest close by
does not listen with the same rapture--"

"As you, in the box, used to listen to me on the stage? For the
comparison to hold good, I should have sung Italian music, roulades.
Listen to those cadenzas!"

"How melancholy are their gaieties!"

"Yes, aren't they?" she answered. "How poignant the two notes!--with
which _il commence son grand air_."

"But our love-call ended years ago," she said, with an accent of
regret in her voice. And they walked towards the house, Owen dreading
that some sudden impulse might throw her into his arms and her mind
might be unhinged again, and he would lose her utterly. So he spoke
to her of the first; thing that came into her mind, and what came
first was a memory of Moschus's lament for Bion and the brevity of
human life as contrasted with the long life of the world.

"'The mallows wither in the garden, and the green parsley--' how does
it go?" And he tried to remember as they went upstairs. "'The mallows
wither in the garden--' no, that is not how it begins. 'Ah me! when
the mallows wither in the garden, and the green parsley, and the
curled tendrils of the anise, on a later day these live again and
spring in another year; but we men, we, the great and mighty, or
wise, when once we have died in the hollow earth we sleep, gone down
into silence, a fight long and endless and unawakening sleep."

"Begin, ye Sicilian Muses, begin the Dirge!"

And Evelyn listened, saying, "How very beautiful! how very
wonderful!"

"But you believe, Evelyn, that we do live again?"

"It is too late to argue that question; it is nearly midnight. I hope
you will like your room. Eliza has unstrapped your portmanteau, I
see. Your bed is comfortable, I think."

It surprised him that she should follow him into his room, and stand
there talking to him, talking even about the bed he was to sleep in.
It would have been easy to lay his hands upon her shoulder, saying,
"Evelyn, are we to be parted?" but something held him back. And he
listened to her story of the buying of the bed, hearing that it had
been forgotten in the interest excited by the rumour of certain
portfolios filled with engravings supposed to be of great value. The
wardrobe, too, had been bought at the same auction, and he looked
into its panels, praising them.

"But you want more light." She went over and lighted the candles on
the dressing-table, accomplishing the duties of hostess quite
unconcerned, ignoring the past. "One would think she had forgotten
it," he said to himself. "Are we to part like this? But it is for her
to decide. So quiet, so self-contained; it doesn't seem even to occur
to her." He waited, incapable of speech or action, paralysed, till
she bade him good-night. As soon as the door closed, or a moment
after, he began to realise his mistake. What he should have done was
to lay his hand upon her shoulder and lead her to the window-seat,
and sit with her there till a greyness came into the sky and a cold
air rustled in the trees. "Of course, of course," he muttered, for he
could see himself and her in the dawn together, united again and
tasting again in a kiss infinity. In her kiss he had tasted that
unity, that binding together of the mortal to the immortal, of the
finite to the infinite, which Paracelsus--He tried to recall the
words, "He who tastes a crust of bread has tasted of the universe,
even to the furthest star." She had always been his universe, and he
had always believed that she had come out of the star-shine like a
goddess when it pleases Divinity to lie with a mortal. Of this he was
sure, that he had never kissed her except in this belief.... This had
sanctified their love, whereas other men knew love as an animal
satisfaction. It had always seemed to him that there was something
essential in her, something which had always been in human nature and
which always would be. This light, this joy, and this aspiration he
had seen in certain moments: when she walked on the stage as
Elizabeth or Elza, she had always seemed to reflect a little of that
light which floats down through the generations ... illuminating "the
liquid surface of man's life." But a change had come, darkening that
light, causing it to pass, at least into eclipse. He drew his hand
across his eyes--a phase of her life was hidden from him; yet it,
too, may have had a meaning.... We understand so little of life. No,
no, it had no meaning in his mind, and we are only concerned with our
own minds. All the same, the fact remained--she had had to seek rest
in a convent; and the idea that had driven her there, though now
lying at the bottom of her mind, might be brought to the surface--any
chance word; he had had proof. Perhaps it was as well that he had not
laid his hand upon her shoulder and asked her to stay with him, for
by what spectacle of remorse, of terror, might he not have been
confronted to-morrow or the next day? Cured! Nobody is ever cured.
Never again would she be the same woman as had left Dulwich to go to
Paris with him, he knew that well enough; and he, too, was very far
indeed from being the same Owen Asher who had gone to Dulwich to hear
a concert of Elizabethan music.

A period for every one, for every one a season. The gates of love
open, and we pass into the garden and out of it by another gate,
which never opens for us again. To linger by a closed or a closing
gate is not wise: the tarrying lover is a subject for contempt and
jeers; better to pass out quickly and to fare on, though it requires
courage to fare on through the autumn, knowing that after autumn
comes winter. True, the winds would grow harder. The autumn of their
lives was not over, the skies were still bright above them, and the
winds soft and low. The winds would grow harder, but they must still
fare on through the snow. But there is a joy by the hearth when the
yule-log is burning. So thanking God that he had not attempted to
detain her, he wandered to the window to watch the stars, which
seemed to him like a golden net; and he asked who had cast that net,
and if he and she were parcel of some great draught which, at some
indefinite date, would be drawn out of the depths, and if, when that
time came, they would remember the joy and sorrow they had endured
upon earth, or if all would be swept into forgetfulness. At some
indefinite date they might meet among the stars, but what stellar
infinities might be drawn together mattered little to him; his sole
interest was in this lag end of their journey--if their lives should
be united henceforth or lived separately.

Nothing repeats itself, so it was well he had not asked her to stay
with him. Of mistress and lover a fitting end had been written long
ago, just as the end of those stars was written long before the stars
came into being; but it might well be that they might take the road,
this lag end of it, together as husband and wife. If he didn't marry
--he could marry nobody but her--what would he do with his life? what
sort of end? He had no heart for further travels, and feared to wear
away the years amid books and pictures, collecting rare porcelain and
French furniture; there is very little else for an old man. With her
the lag end of the journey would be delectable. In the same house
together, leading her in the evenings to the piano! Even if she had
lost part of her voice, sufficient remained to recall the old days
when he used to journey thousands of miles to hear her; and he lay
quite still, listening to the sweet thought of marriage, singing like
a bird in the acacia-tree, trill after trill, and then a run--
delicious crescendos reaching to the stars, diminuendos sinking into
the valley.

The bird suddenly ceased, and with its song in his brain Owen dozed,
awakening at dawn, remembering her, how she had built herself a
cottage, and settled her life here among four or five little crippled
boys. Could she undo her life to follow him? Uprooted, transplanted,
her brain might give way again, and this time without hope of
recovery. Or was he cheating himself, trying to find reasons for not
asking her to marry him--perhaps his manifest duty towards her. Owen
looked into his soul, asking himself if he were acting from a selfish
or an unselfish motive.

Sleep seemed as far away as ever, and, getting out of bed, he drew
the curtains, seeking the landscape, still hidden in the mist, only a
few tree-tops showing over the grey vapour--the valley filled with
it--and over the hidden hill one streak of crimson. A rook cawed and
flew away into the mist, leaving Owen to wonder what the bird's
errand might be; and this rook was followed by others, and seeing
nothing distinctly, and knowing nothing of himself or of this woman
whom he had loved so long, he returned to his bed frightened,
counting his years, asking himself how many more he had to live.

A knock! Only Eliza bringing his bath water. Good heavens! he had
been asleep. "Eliza, what time is it?"

"Half-past eight, Sir Owen. Miss Innes will be soon home from Mass to
give the little boys their breakfast."

"Home from Mass!" he muttered. And he learned from Eliza that Miss
Innes got up every morning at seven, for a Catholic gentleman lived
in the neighbourhood who had a private chaplain. "And she goes to
Mass," Owen muttered, "every morning, and comes back to give the
little boys their breakfast!"

There was no Catholic gentleman within a mile of Riversdale, he was
thankful to say, and his thankfulness on the point was proof to him
of how years and circumstances had estranged him from Evelyn; for,
though he would not obstruct or forbid, it would be impossible for
him to keep a sneer out of his face when she told him she had been to
the sacraments or refrained from meat on Friday. "What a strange
notion it is to think that a priest can help one," he said, thinking
then that his presence would be a sneer, however he might control his
tongue or his face; she would feel that he held her little
observances in contempt, and her, too, just a little. How could it be
otherwise? How could he admire one who slipped her neck into a
spiritual halter and allowed herself to be led? Yet he loved her--or
was it the memory of their love that he loved? Which? He loved her
when he saw her among the crippled children distributing porridge and
milk, or maybe it was not love, but admiration.

"My dear, I didn't know you would be down so soon. If you will only
go into the garden and wait for me, I shan't be long."

"Now then, children, you must hurry with your porridge; Sir Owen is
waiting for his breakfast."

"My dear Evelyn, I am not in a hurry. Let the children take their
time."

And he went into the garden to think if life at Riversdale would suit
her as well as this life. It would be impossible for him to accompany
her to chapel, and if he did not do so there would be an
estrangement.... Nor could he allow Riversdale to be turned into an
orphanage. Perhaps he would allow her to do anything; that pleased
her; all the same, she would feel that the permission did not come
out of his instinct, only out of a desire to please her.

"Well, Owen," she said as soon as he had finished breakfast, "I don't
want to hurry you, but if you are to catch that train we must start
at once."

It was one of her off days, and she was going to spend it at the
cottage. There were a great many things for her to do. She never had
much time, but she would go to the station with him.

"But you have already walked two miles."

"Ah! Eliza has told you?"

"Yes, that you go to Mass every morning."

Owen seemed to regret the fact, and when he broke silence again it
was to inquire into the expenses of the orphanage and to deplore the
necessity which governed her life of going to London every day,
returning home late, and he offered her a subscription which would
cover the entire cost. But his offer of money seemed to embarrass
her, and he understood that her pleasure was to go to London to work
for these children, for only in that way could the home be entirely
her own. If she were to accept help from the outside it would drift
away from her and from its original intention, just as the convent
had done. Nor was it very likely that she would care to give up her
work and come to live at Riversdale, as his wife, of course as his
wife, and it would pain her to refuse him.... Better leave things as
they were.

"You are right," he said, "not to live in London; one avoids a great
deal of loneliness. One is more lonely in London than anywhere I
know. The country is the natural home of man. Man is an arborial
animal," he added, laughing, "and is only happy among trees."

"And woman, what is she? A material animal?"

"I suppose so. You have your children; I have my trees."

The words seemed to have a meaning which eluded them, and they
pondered while they descended the hillside until the piece of
low-lying land came into view and the bridge crossing the sluggish
stream, amid whose rushes he had gathered the wild forget-me-not. As
he was about to speak of them he remembered her singing classes, and
that yester evening had worn away without hearing her sing. "You have
lost all interest in music, I fear. You think of it now as a means of
making money... for your children," he added, so that his words might
not wound her.

"And you, Owen, does music still interest you,"--she nearly said,
"now that I am out of it?" but stopped, the words on her lips.

"Yes," he said, "I think it does," and there was an eagerness in his
voice when he said, "I have been trying my hand at composition again,
and I have written a good many songs and some piano pieces, one for
piano and violin."

"A sonata?"

"Well, something in that way... not very strict in form perhaps."

"That doesn't matter."

"When you come to see me I should like to show you some of my things.
You will come to see me when you are in London... when you have a
moment?"

"Evelyn always keeps her promises," he said to himself, and he did
not give up hope that she would come to see him, although nearly two
weeks went by without his hearing from her. Then a note came, saying
that she had been kept busy and had not been able to find spare time,
but yesterday a pupil had written saying she would not come to her
lesson, "so now I can come to you."

"Miss Innes, Sir Owen."

His face lighted up, and laying his book aside he sprang out of his
chair, and all consciousness of time ceased in his mind till she
began to put on her glove.

"You have only just arrived, and already you are going."

"My dear Owen, I have been here an hour, and the time has passed
quickly for you because you have been playing your music over for me
and I have been singing... humming, for it is hardly singing now."

"I am sorry, Evelyn, the time has seemed so long to you. I didn't
intend to bore you. You said you would like to see some of my music."

"So I did, Owen, and some of the best things you have composed are
among those you have shown me. Your writing has improved a great
deal."

"I am so glad you think so. When will you come again?"

"The first spare hour."

"Really? You promise."

They saw each other at intervals. Sometimes the intervals were very
long, and Owen would write to her complaining, and he would get a
note telling that her time was not her own, and that a great deal of
money was necessary for her boys. But she would try to come and see
him next week, and he would write begging her not to disappoint him,
as he was giving a concert and wanted her help to compose the
programme.

A great deal of time was spent in Berkeley Square, more than she
could afford, trying pieces over; and she would often say, "My dear
Owen, I really must go now or I shall miss my train at Victoria." He
always looked disappointed when she said she was going, and he never
could understand why she would not sing at his concerts. It was very
difficult even to persuade her to come to one.

"You see, I cannot sleep here, Owen. I have to go to a hotel."

One day she got a letter from him which she feared to open. "It is to
ask me to help him to compose another programme, and I haven't got a
minute."

She was mistaken. The letter was to tell her that he had been elected
president of the new choral society... "a group of young musicians."
The envelope enclosed a programme, and she read: "President, Sir Owen
Asher, Bart." "I'm glad, I'm glad," she said as she walked up the
room. "He has some natural talent for music, and if he hadn't been
born a rich man and spent his life doing other things he might have
done something in music. If he had begun younger... if he hadn't met
me... a good many ifs; but there it is, and that is how it has
ended."





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