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Title: Love's Usuries
Author: Creswicke, Louis
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 "Love's Usuries" ***

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                            _Love's Usuries_

                                   BY

                             LOUIS CRESWICKE
                   _Author of "Magnetism and Mystery"_


                                 London
                             HENRY J. DRANE
                             SALISBURY HOUSE
                  SALISBURY SQUARE, FLEET STREET, E.C.



    [_Several of the following stories are reprinted by kind
    permission of the Editor of_ "BLACK AND WHITE," _in which
    journal they originally appeared. "On the Eve of the Regatta"
    is reprinted by kind permission of the Editor of_ "THE
    GENTLEWOMAN."]



    TO

    H. F. PREVOST BATTERSBY,

    IN APPRECIATION
    OF MUCH GOOD FELLOWSHIP.



  Is happiness courted in vain?
  A will o' the wisp--nothing more?
  A bubble? a dream? a refrain?
  Is happiness courted in vain
  A certain begetter of pain--
    A fruit with an asp at the core?
  Is happiness courted in vain
    A will o' the wisp----Nothing more!



CONTENTS


                                        PAGE
  LOVE'S USURIES                           7
  A QUAINT ELOPEMENT                      25
  TROOPER JONES OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE      53
  THE "CELIBATE" CLUB (DIALOGUE)          70
  IN THE CRADLE OF THE DEEP               78
  SOME CRAZY PATCHWORK                    94
  "THE SOUL OF ME"                       112
  IN A CORNFIELD (DIALOGUE)              131
  ON THE EVE OF THE REGATTA              136
  PEACH BLOOM                            151
  TWIN SOULS (DIALOGUE)                  176
  PAIN'S PENSIONERS                      182
  FOR LOVE OR SCIENCE?                   201
  ROMANCE OF THE COULISSES               228



Love's Usuries.

  "The star of love is a flower--a deathless token,
  That grows beside the gate of unseen things."


Among friends, parting for a lengthy spell has its disadvantages. They
age in character and physique, and after the reconnoitre there is a
pathetic consciousness of the grudging confessions which time has
inscribed on the monumental palimpsest. My meeting with Bentham after a
severance of years was bleak with this pathos. But he was gay as ever,
and better dressed than he used to be in the old art school days, with a
self-respecting adjustment of hat and necktie that had been unknown in
Bohemia; for he was no longer a boy, but a man, and a noted one, and
fortune had stroked him into sleekness. The gender of success must be
feminine: she is so capricious. Hitherto her smiles have been for
veterans grown hoary in doing; now she opens her arms for youngsters
grown great merely by daring. Bentham, it must be owned, had dared
uncommonly well, and success had pillowed his head in her lap while she
twined the bay with her fingers. But lines round his mouth and fatigued
cynicism on the eyelids betrayed the march of years, and, more, the
thinker, who, like most thinkers, plumbs to exhaustion in a bottomless
pit. For all that he was excellent company. On his walls hung
innumerable trophies of foreign travel and unique specimens of his own
art-bent and with these, by gesture or by anecdote, he gave an
unconscious synopsis of the skipped pages in our friendship's volume.

"This," he said, "is the original of 'Earth's Fair Daughters,' the
canvas that brought me to the front; and here"--handing an album--"is
the presentment of my benefactress."

"Benefactress?" I queried.

"Yes. I don't attempt to pad you with the social tarra-diddle that
genius finds nuggets on the surface of the diggings. Fame was due to
myself, and fortune to Mrs Brune--a dear old creature who bought my
pictures with a persistence worthy a better cause. She died, leaving me
her sole heir."

"And hence these travels?"

"Yes. When I lost sight of you in Paris I hewed a new route to notice. I
played at being successful, bought my own pictures through
dealers--_incog._, of course--at enormous prices. That tickled the ears
of the Press."

"But how about commission?"

"Oh, the dealers earned it, and my money was well invested. I became
talked about. The public knew nothing of my talent, and people love to
talk of what they understand least."

"You belittle yourself, Bentham. You felt your work was sound--that you
were bound to become great."

"True; otherwise I could not have stooped to play the charlatan. Without
it my work might as well have been rotten for all the public could
judge. Charlatanism is the only 'open sesame' to the world's cave, once
you get inside you may be as honest as you please. All is fair in love
or art or war, and there is a consolation in knowing that one's aim is
Jesuitical, and not merely base. Had it not been for Mrs Brune--good
soul--and the gambling instinct, I might be still, like you and Grey's
'gem of purest ray serene,' flashing my facets in the desert."

From Mrs Brune's portrait he devolved on one or two others of persons
distinguished in the art sphere, whose autographs, with cordial or
extravagant expressions of devotion, scrambled octopus-wise over the
card.

"And here," he said, handling an album bound in chicken skin, adorned
with the grace of Watteau's rurality--"here are my Flower Martyrs."

"What does that mean?" asked I, knowing him for an eccentric of
eccentrics.

"Don't you remember the quotation, 'Butchered to make a Roman holiday?'
It struck me once I should like to make an index of the flower lives
that had been sacrificed on the Altar of Selfishness."

"And this is the index?"

"No, not exactly. I soon tired of the experiment, for there was such
wholesale murder it was impossible to keep pace with it. I then confined
myself to the martyrs, the veritable martyrs broken on the rack of human
emotion. Here are a few--with remarks and dates--they have each a little
history of love or heroism or----" he shuffled for a term.

"Lunacy," I offered.

"Yes, that is the best word. They convey little histories of lunacy--my
own and others."

"May I inspect them?"

"You may," he conceded, throwing himself into an arm-chair and looking
over his elbow at the open page. "First," he said, "some rose leaves."
He coughed slightly, and stirred the fire with caution, as though it
shaped some panorama he feared to disarrange. Then he began his story:--

"First some rose leaves shaken into the finger-glass of a great
actress--you know Lalage?--on the night when all Paris was intoxicated
by her. It was my supper, and she honoured me. Many men would gladly
have been that rose--to lay down its life for a touch of her
finger-tips: several have parted with all that life holds dear for less
than that."

He struck a match and lit a cigarette, throwing the case to me, and then
proceeded:--

"The bowls were fragrant with attar, and those petals like fairy boats
skimmed over the scented surface of the water. They seemed very red
then, but they are faded enough now."

He again stared at the fire as though to assist his memory by its
pictures.

"Lalage is a great artist, and like all great artists her contact brings
completeness and a sense of fulfilment to everything--colour, purpose,
expression. I had just heard her in the _role_ of Chimene, in the
wonderful scene when, not daring to avow her love for Rodrigue, she
should have uttered '_Va-je ne te hais point_,' and where she merely
stood with moving lips--powerless to articulate from the suppressed
immensity of her passion. We, of the audience, by one consent seemed to
shiver--to shudder as though a polar breeze had swept over the tropic
night--so tragic, so real, so ardent, this unspeakable, this unspoken
confession."

"And what of Mons. Redan?" I questioned.

"The Count that turned actor? He played the part of Rodrigue, and he
told me afterwards that there were times when a sob would choke him as
he listened."

"And Redan loved her?"

"Loved? Oh, pale, anæmic, wan-complexioned word to run in leash with
Redan. He loved her so much that he was willing to barter name,
possessions, career for the warmth of her lips."

"And she?"

"And she----" he said, suddenly disturbing his fire panorama with a dash
of the poker. "Well, she took them."

There was silence for a moment or two as I turned the page--silence that
was accentuated by the falling ash, which dropped white and weightless
like the thousand lives that sink daily to dust exhausted with hope
deferred. Then he eyed the vegetable mass that faced me.

"A camellia," he explained, "crushed and brown. It was plucked from the
dead breast of a woman. It was the solitary witness of the last act of a
tragedy. The Prince K. was more than a kind patron--an almost friend to
me. He valued my apprehension of art, and shadowed me from the hour I
first began to paint little Gretchen carrying her father's cobblings to
their owners. He bought the picture, and ceaselessly employed me to make
sketches of her in some way or another--as a queen--as a boy--as a
_danseuse_. He loved to see her in all disguises, for she had the true
model's faculty for lending herself to, and developing every pose. Then
came the question of marriage--it is inevitable when a man meets a girl
with eyes like altar lights, clear and holy beacons of God. Marriage,
between a prince of the blood and the child of a shoemaker!"

Bentham gave vent to a low laugh, which was quite devoid of merriment.
It is the trick of those who spend their lives in plumbing the
unfathomable; it translates the meagreness and vacuity of their lore.

"Of course the family was outraged," he went on; "his mother appealed,
grovelled on her knees, so it is said, and in the end he gave way. He
agreed to part from his beloved. But he asked that she might sit for me,
and would sometimes muse for hours over the latest travail of my brush.
Then he became engaged to the Countess Dahlic--there is no accounting
for the moral weakness of men under family pressure--and the wedding day
was fixed. All this time he had kept his word. He had never spoken to or
seen Gretchen, and she, poor child, was dying--yes, dying slowly--not as
we die, but fading like twilight, imperceptibly, fainting like high
purpose, blighted by the coarse breath of the million."

He knocked the end off his cigarette and stared for a while at the
gas-smoked ceiling.

"Then--one day when the marriage was close at hand, when flags hung from
the housetops and garlands across the streets, there was a stir in the
house of the cobbler. Gretchen had been sitting to me as a Spanish maid
in a mantilla, with a camellia in her hair and on her chest. Dressed so,
she was found locked in the arms of the Prince. Both were dead--and the
camellia was crushed to brown as you see. It came into my possession
with the lace which belonged to me--an art property that is now too
entangled with the human and with the divine ever to be used lightly
again."

"A sad story," I sighed, turning the leaf. "Poor child, so young and
pretty and----"

"Good," he added. "It is astonishing to calculate the amount of virtue
which lurks about unlabelled by the wedding ring."

       *       *       *       *       *

"That," he said, turning over a fresh page, "was once a bunch of
violets; it should have belonged to Jacquaine."

"Who was Jacquaine?"

"She was a romantic creature, full of music and passionate inspiration;
but she had one fault, that of inventing ideals. Don't you find that
most women come to grief over this pastime?"

He scarcely demanded a reply, but went on as though thinking aloud.

"She made a deity of her husband, who was a clever 'cellist, but merely
a man. When he became dazzled with a vulgar, opulent, overblown person,
Jacquaine would not view it as a temporary fascination. Her soul was not
adapted to the analysis of triviality. She ran away from him.
Husband-like, he was too proud or pig-headed--I won't venture to decide
which--to chase her. Meanwhile, with the perversity of woman, she pined
for him, and haunted every concert room to hear the voice of his art. By
degrees the very intensity of her soul's longing seemed to creep into
his hands and sob its despair through his fingers. His technical skill
came forth through a halo, as though crowned with the fire of her
thought which surrounded and encompassed it. Of course, the world saw
but the amplification of his artistic faculty, and his fortune was made.
Then a beautiful charmer metaphorically wiped away his tears, for he had
yearned for his wife in the enigmatical fashion of weak creatures who
prefer to morally gamble and deplore their losses rather than save.
Jacquaine became poor as well as sorrowful; she pined for her husband's
love, but whenever she would have craved it, other women courted him.
Her talent waned as his expanded. At this juncture Broton, the
millionaire, who had always admired her, gave a big supper to Bohemia,
leaving her husband out. The entertainment was mightily enjoyable, for
Broton's wine was sound and his guests witty. When the fun was fast and
furious I happened to cross a drawing-room in search of brandy and
seltzer. Not a soul was there, but on the verandah I spotted our host
and Jacquaine. The earnestness of his expression and pose were a
contrast to his usual stolidity and to her apparently callous mood. He
was offering to her what showed like a bunch of violets enfolded in a
note. For the moment I fancied she had given acceptance, but suddenly
she sprang from the chair, threw the bouquet and paper on the floor, and
ruthlessly ground her heel into them. Then she stalked away--he
following and remonstrating."

"What happened?"

"Well, in my zest for flower history I leapt forward to rescue this
little bouquet and found that which I imagined to be a note was in fact
a cheque for £8000."

"Signed by him?"

"Yes; made payable to bearer."

"What did you do?"

"What I knew she would have desired. I enclosed it in an envelope
addressed to him and left it before daybreak at his own house."

"Without a word?"

"Without a word."

"And this is the bouquet?"

"Yes. It is the only souvenir I have of one who was dear to me. Whether
I loved because I pitied or pitied because I loved I cannot say. There
are some riddles which no one can solve."

"You never tried?"

"No. She was a noble woman, and her husband, too, was a decent fellow,
as far as men go. They were admirably fitted by nature for each other,
but matrimony dislocated them. That is another of the riddles that
frustrate us."

To avert further comment Bentham folded the page and lounged deeper into
his chair, as though overcome by fatigue.

Presently he resumed.

"That is a pansy. It was pressed in a book. It marked the place. We read
the poem together, she and I, that creature of warm wax pulsating with
childish naivetes and provoking contrariety. We read it together in the
orange gardens of the hotel looking out over a green transparency of
Mediterranean. I wonder if the scent of orange blossom, warmed by the
breath of the sea, is an intoxicant, if it soaks in at the pores and
quickens the veins to madness? Mine never seemed so palpitating with
delirium as in those days with her by my side, and the free heavens and
ocean for her setting. Yet she was ready to leave me without changing
the indefinitude which always accompanied her words and actions, to
leave me on the morrow--for I was anchored to a studio and some
commissions to which I was pledged. But though she had a certain prosaic
flippancy of speech which spelt discouragement, my heart refused a
literal translation of her idiom. On the last day I determined to sound
her, and subtly contrived to wrest her attention with this poem. We read
it together. Her soft cheek neared mine with a downy magnetism, and
vagrant fibrils of tawny hair danced with the wind against my ear. After
the second verse I placed this pansy as a mile-stone to colour our
travels on the open page. She assisted me to flatten the curling leaves,
and my huge hand extinguished her tiny one. Then I whispered--oh, never
mind what I whispered--it was a line of nature that the artistic reserve
of the poet had omitted. She closed the book and covered her face with
her hands to hide the trouble and the tears which puckered it. I made a
nest for her in my arms, but she fluttered free out into the orange
orchards and so to the house. All day I wandered about sore and sulky.
At night I tried to see her, and was informed she was ill. On the morrow
I was startled to find she had gone with her friends by the early
train."

"And did you not hear from her?"

"Yes, she left a letter behind; I should like to show it you--to see
what you make of it."

He rose and from his bureau extracted a note; then he resumed his seat
and tossed me the almost illegible scrawl:--

    DEAR LIONEL,--All this time I have been too blessed--too
    supremely happy to face the truth. You do not know my real name
    nor my grievous history, and the more I love and honour you the
    harder becomes the revelation. I can endure it no more--so
    good-bye.

"And was that all?"

"Absolutely. I pressed the pansy in the poem, and vowed--such vows are
cheap--never to trust a woman again. But, after all, what claim have we
to view our love as a priceless gift when we invariably demand cent. per
cent. in kind? I have argued this out with myself, and realise that I
was her debtor, I was first an artist whom she had patronised and
then--a man whom she had----"

"Well?"

"I was going to say--ennobled. Don't you think there are some women who,
by power of faith, transmute even clay-footed idols into gold?"

I shook my head and prepared to turn over the leaf, but he made as
though to remove the book.

"That last one is a marguerite. It tells a very bald narrative--just a
common instance of man's blockheadedness and Fate's topsy-turvydom."

Bentham threw aside his cigarette and closed his eyes. He was looking
worn and old.

"I think I have told you all," he continued presently, "except about
these petals. They were gathered from the ground as her fingers shredded
them to discover whether I loved her _passionement_ or _pas du tout."_

"The same person?"

"No, another; she was what is called a coquette--an innocent girl baby,
who played with men's hearts as children probe sawdust dolls--from a
spirit of inquiry. For some silly wager she flirted with a man staying
in the hotel, an uncouth provincial clown whom I ignored. But it
maddened me. I started for the States to accept a commission that had
been offered--that my love for her had held in the balance--and--and I
never saw her alive again."

There was a long pause, during which the clock on the chimney ticked its
forever--never--without remorse. Gradually the synopsis became more
complete, for I could trace the outlines of the buried hours in
Bentham's grey, impassive face. Then he went on as though
soliloquising:--

"Now I return to it, England seems wider--its population smaller. It is
as if we lived in a great silence like that in the rarified atmosphere
of Swiss heights. Yet the streets are in a turmoil. Beaming girls and
bedizened harridans flaunt in the Row, carriages roll, and polite and
impolite jostle each other for gain or gaiety. There are great singers
at the Opera, great pictures on the Line, great festivities everywhere.
There is a _frou-frou_ of silken skirts, with the scent and the laughter
of happy women round and about me, from dawn till nightfall. Yet my soul
shivers somewhere outside. Shivers"--he repeated, shrinking into his
coat as though midsummer were March--"Why is it? I have lived and loved
and--as you know--recovered, but now--oh, Louis, is there anything so
mutely desolate as fresh spade prints on a grassless grave?"



A Quaint Elopement

  "Ah! little sweetheart, the romance
  Of life, with all its change and chance,
  Is but a sealed book to thee."


It took Ralph Hilyard over twelve hours to journey from Southampton to
St Malo on that momentous June night. The sea tossed and bounded and
roared, but he kept his footing on deck, well satisfied with Nature's
frenzied accompaniment to his own tempestuous thoughts. He was being
borne to the historic town where She, from infancy to womanhood, had
dwelt; he would meet those frank blue Breton eyes adjured for a
year--eyes, whose innocence in one less well descended might have spelt
ignorance--he would adore the graceful form, that, while clamouring of
beauty, hinted all unconsciously of the _haute noblesse_, the ghost of
which abides in St Malo to this moment, though the substance has long
since passed away. He would risk all for the encounter, he told himself.
Round the subject his mind had revolved for three hundred and sixty-four
days; on the three hundred and sixty-fifth his thoughts had sprung to
action--he had set sail.

Her people, an austere mother--who loathed the name of the Republic and
rigidly clamped her door against both the bourgeoisie and our British
nation of shopkeepers--and her brother, Le Sieur de Quesne, a foolish
and thoroughly useless fine gentleman, occupied "La Chaumais," their
ancestral domain, near St Servan, on the river Rance. This domain was
almost as hermetically sealed as a convent, and far more gloomy. It
served to perfection as a prison for the peccant Leonie, when it was
discovered that, during a fortnight's stay with an aunt in Paris, she
had ventured to eye as a lover a portionless upstart, an artist who
worked for mere bread in the Quartier Latin. Here, for twelve months,
the poor delinquent was incarcerated. In this mouldy mansion she either
knitted or stared vacantly out at the rank unkempt grass and the
dilapidated fences, kept by poverty unrepaired, while her parent
reiterated stories of the grand old days when the tapestried chairs,
woefully faded, had been fresh and beauteous, and when the de Quesne
nobles had flitted from the splendours of the Tuilleries to hold rural
court within those blackened portals now so severe of aspect, so
melancholy and silent with the pulselessness of stagnation.

A sore punishment this for having confessed in her heart's _naivete_ a
passion for a hero of the brush, a vagrant in velveteen who painted
pictures and--vulgarian!--sold them to any patronising passer-by. It was
penalty dire enough for a _debutante_ who had but sipped Paris, it waxed
doubly dreadful to inquiring Eve within scent of the apple tree. There
were tears at first, sobs of despair, then dumb contumacy, and
latterly--when the spring weather returned again--kicks! But the pricks
of family pride were sharp to lunge against, and many drops of heart's
blood were spilt in the exercise. Restrictions only grew more rigid, and
the poor little damsel, who had tricoteed sombrely in the ancestral
dungeon during the winter, was, in summer, never permitted to roam
without the vigilant companionship of the substantial retainer
Valentine, a worthy who, from her elaborately starched _coiffe_ to the
heels of her _sabots_, was strongly imbued with a sense of conscientious
vassalage to "Madame," as Leonie's mother in these degenerate days
condescended to be styled.

But love, which laughs at iron bars, makes also mock at the effrontery
of blue blood. There came a day, not long after Ralph Hilyard's sudden
arrival at St Malo, when, Valentine's expansive back being for a moment
turned, a two-lined scribble on a shred of drawing paper was placed in
Mademoiselle de Quesne's hands.

It said curtly, with concise eloquence:--

"I want you. I can live without you no longer."

The opportunity presented itself in this wise. Though cut off from all
other pleasures of youth, Leonie was, at midsummer, for the short six
weeks' season, allowed to bathe in the sea, attended by the faithful
Valentine. She crossed daily to St Malo on the "_Pont Roulant_"--a
quaint structure that, moved by chains and steam, plies the water on
sand-embedded rails--and there joined in the acquatic gambols of the
merry crowd. With the strange inconsistency of the narrow, her
relatives, who had almost tabooed society, permitted her to indulge her
taste for swimming, a sport in which she excelled. This laxity probably
owed its origin to routine cultivated in the girl's childhood, and
retained--as were all the observances of Madame's distinguished
household--still intact and unchallenged.

At St Malo, as the tide ebbed, all the delightfully _insouciant_ and
cheery French world congregated. The sands near the giant rock that
marks the ideal resting-place of Chateaubriand were dotted with tents--a
perfect army of mushrooms--which served as disrobing shelters for the
bathers. From these emerged a brilliant throng of masqueraders of both
sexes, who tripped to the tide with varying degrees of elegant
assurance. As Leonie's lithe figure, with its natty tunic and cherry
waist-band, slipped from the tent (Valentine for the moment was
arranging the shed raiment) a gamin with bare limbs and furled shrimping
net lurched up against her. There was unusual audacity in the eye of the
youngster, but the disrespect was forgiven when a missive, crunched in
his plump palm, was transferred to hers.

She clasped her hands, drew a long breath of rapturous surprise, and
devoutly whispered:--

"_Que Dieu soit beni!_"

The Catholic and Breton temperament is so finely interwoven that even
this sudden overstepping of family restrictions had to her its pious
side. She could there and then, in effervescent thankfulness, have knelt
to worship all the infinitesimal saintlings of whom her lover had never
heard, but who, with her, were active pioneers to mercy. Besides this,
love, which, when real, touches the religious string in every breast,
had so long played an accompaniment to prayer and worship, that her
first action was almost mechanically devotional. Her second, in
contrast, was crudely mundane. Valentine, complacency beaming from her
triple chins, loomed expansively in the doorway of the tent, so Leonie,
slipping the billet in her mouth, sped for protection to the ocean, the
only haven where she could be free from company and espionage.

She battled against the waves till she neared the protective raft in
deep water where timorous bathers never ventured. Then she hoisted
herself up, took the scrap of paper from its hiding place, and re-read
it, crossing herself devoutly and crying with childish exultation:--

"Oh sea, beloved sea, you have brought him to me at last! Never, never
shall he depart but with Leonie!"

As she declaimed, a man's head appeared above the arch of the waves, and
on the instant they recognised each other.

He sprang to the raft and deposited himself, radiant and dripping, by
her side. They were too far at sea to be minutely observed. The
roisterers on the beach could do no more than discern a couple of
resting forms, a common sight in the bathing season.

"I arrived a week ago, and have been dodging you ever since," he
explained.

"_Mon cheri_," she only said. Love's babyhood learns speech with
difficulty.

"I have searched here in the morning when the soldiers parade--I have
loafed up and down the St Servan Street till I know all the good
people's wardrobes that hang to air--I have sneaked about the forts, and
been nearly 'run in' for a spy. I almost despaired of seeing you, but
now, at last, we are together."

His tone was dramatic with genuine ecstasy. Since their parting life's
fruit for him seemed to have been pared and segmented with a steel
knife--at this moment he felt as one who stands free to eat in a
luscious raining orchard.

Leonie answered him never a word. She was speechless with stupefied
satisfaction. She only laughed, looked down at her dainty sand shoes as
she bobbed them in and out of the sparkling water, then, with a
caressing glance at his drenched head, laughed again.

The English language sounded beautiful indeed, but her happiness found
no sufficiently comprehensive outlet in that scarcely familiar tongue.

"Little one," he said, earnestly, "do you love me enough to be mine, to
take me for now and always?"

She nodded only, but her beautiful blue eyes, borrowing intensity from
the azure sky, seemed to answer and envelop him with an embrace of
adoration.

"You must obey me; you must trust me much, very much," he explained,
seriously, seeing the gaiety of her mood.

"To obey--to trust? Of course! Is not all enclosed in love? Have I not
said, 'I love you?'"

"Enough to leave everyone, to come----"

"How? Valentine?" she cried, with a sudden look of terror; "she
waits----"

"To-day," he admitted, "but to-morrow? You will be here in the same
place?" He leapt up and knelt imploringly on the dancing planks.

"Yes," she whispered.

"And from that hour you will give yourself to me?" he insisted.

"To you I gave myself a year ago," she said, with solemnity, her candid
Breton eyes beaming like a bluer heaven upon him.

He moved uneasily.

"You will not regret?" he urged, in some anxiety.

"Shall I regret that there is a God? that when we love He speaks with
us?"

He pressed her hands and kissed them. Her faith was vastly simple, yet
vastly complete.

That night he wandered about the restricted area of St Malo long after
the Curfew--La Noyette, as it is termed--had sounded and the private
dwellings were closed. He was distraught with misgivings. Was he a
latent blackguard? he asked himself, or had he yet the courage to
withdraw, to leave this innocent girl buried in her dungeon,
inconsolable and doubting his fidelity?

No, he had not the courage. Fate held out its magnet--he must go whither
it should lead. He was not an apostle--merely a man, an atom in the
fortuitous system to be swept where destiny should decide. Need he, an
artist, be more chivalrous--he put it baldly--more conventional and
self-abnegating than other men? Must he, when the delicious moment of
love's ripening had arrived, forbear to pluck, to eat? As he had loved
this Breton girl a year ago he loved her, despite their severance,
to-day. Nay, more, for in this year had he not flung himself headlong
into the orgies of his Bohemian life to strangle recollection, and had
he not been haunted by memory's unresting ghost, the more exquisite, the
more endearing for its intangible, ineffaceable outlines? He recalled
some verses of homage to the city he had encountered in an old St Malo
record:--

  "Quiconque t'a connue aime ton souvenir
  Et vers toi, tot ou tard, desire revenir."

He had come back to the "Souvenir" and realised how the character of
this _Ville d'elite_ so "_douce et pieuse_," so grandly sombre, so
exquisitely poetic and noble, was expressed and summed up in her, his
queenly, gracious Leonie. He decided finally that, come what might, she
should be won!

The next day he was seated on the raft full half an hour before she
appeared. In the lap of the waves he espied a purple-suited nymph,
enwound with a sash of Roman red, extending white arms that glistened
like newly chiselled marble in the green spray. Her pretty lips laughed
as she swam towards him, the sole atom in an immensity of chrysoprase.

That day the usual crowd on the shore was thinned; a market and fair of
some kind at St Servan had lured visitors and St Malouians to the other
side of the Pont Roulant. The beach was comparatively deserted, and even
the boatman who was deputed to row about the bathing course for purposes
of rescue, was, with his craft, apparently off duty.

"How well you swim," said her lover, admiringly, as he greeted the young
girl and noted enviously the drippings from her disfiguring cap that
were privileged to alight upon her dimpled cheeks. He was tempted to put
an arm round the pretty panting figure, but resisted.

"It is my one _passe temps_. I have swam half to Cezambre and back," she
exclaimed proudly, indicating, by a glance over her shoulder, an island
that reared its rocks some two miles distant.

He flushed slightly.

"It is there that I want you to swim--now, when you have rested."

"Too far," she sighed; "we could never get back."

"We should never come back," he announced with determination.

"Valentine? She will think I drown."

"She would prefer to bury you at La Chaumais?"

Leonie laughed.

"Are you ready?" he said, arresting further objections and crushing a
word of endearment that rose to his lips. To be successful he must be
matter-of-fact. Everything now depended on promptness and a cool head.
He pulled a knotted string and lifted from the water a cork belt.

"You must run no risk of fatigue," he said, fitting it to her fragile
form. "Now, let us start. Valentine will soon be on the _qui vive_."

Without demur she accepted his hand and leapt with him from the far side
of the raft.

The sea stretched a sheet of silver under a sky of gauzy opal, shot with
flame from the dozing sun; wind and tide were in their favour. Before
long they had passed from the sight of the shore to the shade of the
giant rock, whose railed summit, dedicated to Chateaubriand, seems to
commune with and command the elements. Cezambre in the distance was as
yet merely an apparent triangle of spikes jutting from mid ocean, but
towards it they plied their way valiantly, two moving human dots, on the
breast of the vast abyss. Once she laughed uproariously to relieve her
happiness, but he checked her.

"We must reserve our forces, my darling, every breath in us. Valentine
will give the alarm directly. She will wait and wait, and then there
will be a hue and cry. It will be a matter of life and death. Do you
understand?"

In the earnestness of his face she read for the first time all that this
adventurous swim would mean for them both.

"If they come," she panted, "you will not leave me, you will not give me
back to them?"

His jaws clenched hard.

"Never!" he vowed. "We will go under first!"

He trod the water for a moment while he scanned the expanse behind them.
"Go on," he begged of her; "I will catch you up: spare yourself as much
as you can."

His precaution was needless; nothing was to be seen on the still surface
of the sea, and, as the rock now screened the shore, it was impossible
to guess what might be taking place there. Presently he gained on her.

"Safe so far," he said. "Don't speak; float a little."

He caught the side of the life-belt she wore and swam out, drawing her
in the direction of the island. Some sailing boats fluttered across the
horizon, but their route lay in an opposite direction to that of the
swimmers, who had now left the rocks and were well in the open.
Gradually the St Malo coast grew more indistinct, and by degrees in
front of them the spikes that had represented Cezambre developed into
rocks. Then Leonie assembled her flagging forces and struck out with
renewed zest. The sun was going down, and a cool breeze came up behind
them and seemed to give them impetus and freshened courage. Before
twilight they had safely piloted themselves to shore.

As they rose from the depths he flung his arms round her with a sense of
ecstatic relief.

"Now, dearest, we must brave it out; go to the coastguard's hut,
and"--he pointed to an oilskin satchel which he had worn across his
shoulders--"buy him."

Leonie cast on her lover a glance of awe and pride and worship. He
seemed to be God and fairy tale miraculously combined. She believed
herself to be treading Elysium as they took their way to the humble
stone cabin occupied by the coastguard and his son, the only inhabitants
of the island. Her young brain reeled with the intoxication of freedom.
How much rosier than any she had before seen were the sea-pinks that
flowered their way; how surprisingly azure the common bluebells that
nodded and waved and seemed, as they passed, to be ringing chimes to
celebrate her happiness. And even the potatoes that grew in the little
garden plot where this coastguard Crusoe toiled, had they not a world of
wonder in their blossoms, in their golden eyes, which watched and
watched and glowed, as she believed, before the triumphant coming of
their Love?

A rude hobbledehoy of the St Malo peasant class opened the hut door and
stared. Then he said something in his opaque _patois_ which only Leonie
could elucidate. She had often imitated the vulgar of her race from
sheer _plaisanterie_.

She replied in the same key, and, seeing that the youth comprehended,
the artist prompted a duologue.

"He says," Leonie began by explaining, "the coastguard is ill, he cannot
leave him to go ashore, and does not know what to do. He refuses to take
us back in his boat."

"He is under the delusion we want to go back? Good! Give him money and
say we will stop here and attend his sick man."

This explanation ensured their entry. The boy was evidently relieved of
a burden. The hut was composed merely of two rooms, in one of which a
weather-beaten old man was evidently bedridden from pain. He looked
askance at the two bathers, but at the same time his son put a coin into
the sufferer's hand. The youth, with the acumen of his kind, understood
the relative value of eloquence and action.

"Clothes--food," Leonie translated at her lover's request.

The boy shook his head. Then his eyes fell on the rough suit belonging
to his father which was slung across the end of the bed.

"That might do for me," the artist cogitated, with wrinkled brow, "but
for you?" He looked seriously at his sweetheart. The boy's eyes followed
his glance and read it. The sick man turned in his bed, groaned, and
wondered when these troublesome people were going away.

Leonie rubbed a gentle hand on the invalid's shoulder; it was presumably
the seat of the worst pain. He suffered rheumatism in its most acute
form, so the coastguard explained between his throes. He was afraid to
seek help from the land, lest his condition should be known and he be
removed from his post. Their silence was implored with tears and
prayers--he would give them food and shelter if they would keep his
secret. They promised assuringly.

Meanwhile the lad had disappeared into the inner room--it suggested a
combined kitchen and workshop--and came back dangling from his arm some
fragmentary portions of his wardrobe, which he displayed with pride.

"If madame would condescend?" he hinted.

At the word "madame" Leonie blushed delightedly.

He led the way into the kitchen, and deposited the dry clothes on a
chair.

Ralph remained by the sick man, rubbing the afflicted limb, and
expressing himself in the vilest French he knew in hope to imitate the
local jargon.

He spoke sufficiently to crave bread and drink, and to learn that these
were only obtained when fetched from the land in the island boat. His
son, the coastguard said, was seldom allowed to go ashore, lest he
should commit himself and divulge the fact that illness kept his sire
from duty. Fortunately the boat had been provisioned that morning, and
there was food for several days.

During the conversation the artist adjusted the coastguard's overcoat
and trousers, which latter were three inches too short for his lengthy
British limbs.

Presently a transformed Leonie emerged from the inner chamber. "An ideal
fisher boy," the painter thought, as his enraptured eye travelled up and
down the coarse blue clothing. When it reached some loose locks of her
shining hair he became puzzled. She, divining his thought, felt in the
pocket of her newly-acquired coat, and drew forth a maze of gold, soft
as fleece of raw silk fresh from the cocoon, and gave it him.

He began to scold at the sacrifice.

"It is a web to entangle your love for always," she murmured, with
cooing lips, which seemed, there and then, to suck the heart out of him.

He would fain have swept the coastguard and his son from the hut, but
the exuberant _patois_ of "madame," the more exuberant by reason of her
characteristic disguise, broke out, demanding of the lad refreshment,
and illustrating her request with significant pantomime. The childish
joy of this noble Breton damsel as she devoured the rude meal in company
with their quaint hosts delighted him, and the charming _abandon_ with
which she threw herself into the comedy of the situation brought heat to
his already tingling blood.

Suddenly she grew grave.

"I was so hungry I forgot to ask a blessing," whereupon the buoyant
little creature uprose from her seat and offered a prayer. The short
Latin sentence was familiar to Ralph's ear; it was common to the whole
Catholic Church; but now it had a parenthesis--a parenthesis during
which her loving eyes looked first to his, then heavenward--a
parenthesis of praise and thanksgiving _for him_.

He bent his head to hide the flush that overspread his cheeks, and, for
an instant, he buried his face in his hands.

When the meal was over, Leonie ran into the potato garden. She gathered
some loose weeds of which he did not know the name, picking here and
there carefully that all of them should be of the right sort.

"I could not go to sleep and leave the old man to his pains," she said.
"Of these"--she pointed to the herbs--"the poor people make poultices
when they suffer."

He took the bundles from her hands and kissed her fingers. "You shall
sleep, dearest, and I will devote myself to the poor fellow. We have
reason to be very grateful to him."

"Very well, doctor," she laughed. "You must be careful to stew the
leaves very soft."

Then she walked in and commanded the boy to get grass in a bag for a
pillow, declaring merrily that some fishing nets and canvas in the
kitchen would make her a couch fit for a queen.

The poultices certainly soothed, though they did not cure, the sufferer.
This fact Ralph painfully discovered during the long hours of the night.
His limbs were weary, and though the floor at the foot of the
coastguard's bed was hard, he yearned heartily for rest. But the poor
invalid, by whose side the son snored obdurately, hourly implored
relief. Faithful to his word, the nurse, uprose at intervals and put
fresh leaves in the stewpan, warming them on a rustic stove till soft
enough for use. This lasted till day dawn. Then the lad went forth
a-shrimping, and Ralph decided to refresh himself with a plunge in the
sea. Washing utensils, he had discovered, were unknown in Cezambre.

He was speeding down the garden in bathing suit when he caught a glimpse
of his purple dolphin riding the waves.

"I squeezed myself out of the window so as not to wake you," she
spluttered, through the surf. "I thought, _mon cheri_, you would repose
for ever."

"The old man is very thankful to you for your prescription." He avoided
the confession of his night's unrest. "We must gather some more of those
herbs to-day."

"Perhaps, but not till evening. You don't know that we must hide. There
may come strangers for trips on boats from St Servan, and one is never
sure."

"Your people?"

"Oh no; they would do nothing so _roturier_--English and Americans----"

"They would not know us; you forget what a good gamin my noble lady
makes."

"I did forget," she chuckled. "I will dig potatoes, and you may take the
boy to the other side of the island. The strangers only go there to
stare one moment at the rocks and cry 'Oh!'"

When at midday the trippers landed at Cezambre, they saw no one but an
urchin bent double over a spade. His face was covered with mud, some of
which was also spattered on the floss silk of his hair.

A tourist addressed him, and received a reply in broad _patois_ which he
could not understand.

The youth was very voluble, despite the irresponsiveness of the
audience; he waved his hand indicating the beauties of the island with
an air of ownership. Now and then he punctuated his speech by rubbing
his fustian arm across his nose in true plebeian fashion. The tourists
were delighted, and, before departing, dropped a silver coin into his
grimy but exquisitely shaped palm.

When Ralph returned she met him, dancing and rubbing the mud from her
cheeks.

"See," she said, tossing the coin in the air, "this is the first wedding
present we have had. I will cut Cezambre upon it and wear it for ever.
But first you will come with me."

She took his hand and led the way to a curious cave carved in the rocks,
in the centre of which was a cross. The walls were frescoed with common
shells, the offerings, she explained, of poor pilgrims who had been
worshippers at this primitive shrine.

With unconscious grace she prostrated herself in prayer.

He watched her in silence, his artist eye greedily tracing the
picturesque in every line of this innocent devotion, though his panting
heart longed to intrude on the sanctity of her worship. Presently she
lifted her hand to his and drew him to his knees by her side.

Softly, like the sonorous gong from some grand cathedral belfry, she
commenced to recite or chant in Latin.

"Speak with me," she whispered, repeating the melodious words with an
accent of reverential appreciation.

He did as she bade. The fervour of her devotion communicated itself to
him, he followed word for word to the end. The burthen, though not the
absolute meaning of the sentences, inspired him--it was the ceremony of
marriage they quoted, it was God's blessing they mutually invoked.

       *       *       *       *       *

When they had returned to the potato garden, and were plucking herbs for
the poultices he had promised to renew during his midnight vigils, he
suddenly remarked:--

"We must leave here for the English coast as soon as we can get a
fishing smack to take us along."

"Leave here?" she uttered in dismay. "I would remain for ever."

He gave a short gasp, clutched her hands, and looked straight into the
transparent blue depths of her eyes. Then he moved away a step or two
and shook his head.

"It is inevitable; we must go to England--give ourselves over to law and
parson."

"Here it is better," she cooed; "you are king and I am priest." But he
dissented.

"I never had much respect for Church or State. I appreciate them as one
appreciates steel to sharpen one's blade against."

She did not understand. Only the simplest English formed her vocabulary,
but she saw he disagreed with her.

"Here we are everything," she said; "we make laws straight from God for
ourselves."

He shrugged his shoulders and sighed. "Those, I find, are the toughest
laws of all! Come, darling, let us ask the boy yonder about the fishing
boats."

They were informed that one might possibly pass on the following night.
He borrowed from the youth a piece of hard chalk that acted in lieu of
pencil, and begged Leonie to write with it on some rough paper which had
served to wrap stores from the land.

"Tell your mother that we have decided, after three days on this island,
to leave for Brighton, on the British coast, there to marry. A year ago
we asked her blessing on our love, and she refused it; we pray that she
will now be more lenient."

"No good," murmured Leonie, translating, however, what he had dictated.

Below, he scribbled the address of an hotel in England, where a reply
might meet them.

"She is sure," he said, folding the note, "to call me a blackguard, and
as certain, I hope, to consent."

"My best and dearest," cried the girl in prospective contradiction of
anything that might be pronounced against him.

Twenty-four hours later, when the fishing smack alluded to hove in
sight, the missive was handed to the coastguard's son. He was ordered to
take it inland on the morrow, and deliver it without fail, at "La
Chaumais."

"But supposing my brother should not write? Supposing he should come?"

"That is what I hope. Le Sieur will support the dignity of the De
Quesnes--he will engage with the law and leave us to engage with only
love."

So the next evening they put out to sea through the gossamer scarves of
moving twilight--the man in his coastguard kit gay to frivolity, the
girl in fisher disguise, meditative, half tearful. She breathed not a
word while her straining eyes could clutch the outline of the land from
the embrace of night; but when all was wrapped in gloom she lifted her
gaze to the star-spangled heavens, and murmured with folded hands,
"_Cher Royaume de Cezambre, adieu!_"



Trooper Jones of the Light Brigade.

  "To get myself in courage--crush out fears;
  To strive with fate for something more than gold."


A year or two ago I received an envelope containing a lock of flame-red
hair wrapped in a soiled linen rag. By this token I knew that old
Sergeant Kemp--the name is a pseudonym, for reasons which will be
seen--Sergeant Kemp, formerly of the Light Brigade, was dead. This
knowledge unseals my lips, and permits me to divulge an extraordinary
episode of the charge of Balaclava which was related to me by the
veteran, and which, as far as I can judge, has entirely escaped the
research of the romanticist and historian.

My original intention in going to see the old hero was to interview him
and learn if he could throw any new light on the tragic and immemorial
events of '54-5-6, through which, with the exception of a slight wound
in the wrist, he had passed unscathed.

I propitiated him with gifts of tobacco, and, having found the "open
sesame" to the cave of his reminiscences, visited him often. My object
was to filch, surreptitiously as it were, the treasures I coveted,
before their valuable crudity could suffer the unconscious adulteration
to which such goods are liable at the hands of the professional
story-monger. But I found, when the strings of his tongue were unloosed,
he had very little more to relate about the events of the campaign than
is already recorded. In fact, like many an actor in the drama of life,
he really knew less about the general _mise-en-scene_ than I, who had
only reviewed it through the lorgnon of Tennyson and other contemporary
writers. Seeing, however, that a shade of disappointment was cast by the
fogginess of his disclosures, the old fellow one day abruptly asked if I
could keep a secret were he to tell it me. I vowed my complete
trustworthiness, but at the same time remonstrated that confidences so
hampered would be of absolutely no use to the work I had on hand. He
rose laboriously from his chair--lumbago had almost crippled him--and
produced from a tin box a soiled rag containing the curl of red hair
which is now in my possession.

"This 'air," he explained in mumbling tones, "was cut off the 'ead of
Trooper Jones of ours--in times of war one 'asn't much truck with the
barber," he parenthesised. "We called 'im 'Carrots,' as bein' most
convenient and discriptive like. And that there bit of shirt belonged to
my pal Jenkins, as good a chap as ever wore shako. It's the 'istory of
'em both as I've 'alf a mind to tell you, but you must be mum as old
bones about it--at all events till this 'ere bloke's a-carried out feet
foremost."

"And then?" I said, with unbecoming eagerness.

"Then you can jest do what ye darn please; the 'ole three of us 'll be
orf dooty together."

So he related to me in a fragmentary manner, halting now and again and
blowing clouds from his pipe as if to assist his ruminations, the
strange history of Trooper Jones, almost word for word as I have set it
down. He began:--

"It was in May that we got orders to embark.... I can remember turning
out at four in the mornin' to march to the dockyard, and 'ow the green
lanes was all a-sproutin' and a-shinin', and 'ow the sky was that pink
and streaky, for all the world like a prime rasher. But that's neither
'ere nor there.... We 'ad been billeted in the villages nigh Portsmouth
for several days, and my comrade, James Jenkins, and I 'ad been
quartered at an inn kept by Jones' father and 'is sister--a strappin'
girl, and as like her brother as one bullet's like another. They was
twins, them two--with top-knots the colour o' carrots, mouths as wide as
oyster-shells, allus grinnin', and a power of freckles that made their
faces as yeller as speckled eggs. But Jenny Jones was a stunner, she
was; she served at the bar, and gave the boys as good as they gave--'ot
sauce for the cheeky and a clout o' the 'ead if need be when mi lady's
blood was up. Woman-like, she was that contrary, wi' a tongue as sharp
as a razor for some o' us, and all butter and honey and eyes like a
sucking-calf whenever Jenkins so much as showed 'is nose. And 'e, 'e was
that sweet on 'er as though she'd been a Wenus cast in sugar."

The old fellow blew a mighty whiff from his pipe, a whiff that was akin
to a sigh, and for a few moments he became apparently fogged by the
retrospective haze that surrounded him. He seemed disinclined to relate
more, but as I remained silent he presently resumed:--

"I won't tell you of all the 'arrowin' sights of that there mornin', the
women--mothers and wives and sweethearts--a-snivellin' and a-sobbin',
the men lookin' all awry, as though they'd swallered a chemist shop and
couldn't get the taste out o' their mouths. All this wi' shoutin' of
orders, and noise of the 'orses bein' slung up the ship's side and let
down the main 'atchway into the 'old, and the playin' of the band, and
the cheerin' of the crowd in the dockyard, and the crews in the 'arbour,
and the youngsters on the _Victory_--old fellers they must be
now--a-roarin' fit to split 'emselves from the yards and riggin' so long
as we 'ad ears to 'ear.

"I, bein' som'at of a bachelor by instink, 'ad no gal to wish me
God-speed; but Jenkins, poor chap, was in the same boat. Jenny Jones 'ad
not put 'erself about to see 'im nor 'er brother orf, and as they stood
alongside one another looking that solemn and glum, I couldn't 'elp
thinkin' o' the 'eartlessness of wenches in general and that there in
pertikilar.

"But soon I thought no more on the subjec', for there was other things
to mind. There was dinner, and givin' out of sea kit and gettin' our
ration of grog--three parts water it was to one o' rum then, but it grew
to 'alf a gill and a gill a day later on."

"About Jenkins?" I reminded, seeing that his brain reeled with the
reminiscence of bygone potations.

"Oh, I didn't see 'im at that time. We went below to the stable; our
beasts was stood wi' heels to the ship's sides and their sorry 'eads
a-facin' of each other. They was awful bad, and mighty funky of the
lurchin's of the ship. I found Jones down there--'e was a-bathin' of 'is
'orse's nose with water and vinegar, and a-cheerin' of 'im up to eat,
which he wouldn't do for all the coaxin'. 'Carrots' spent all 'is spare
time at that there game, givin' short answers and cursin' freely now and
agin. But 'e did 'is work right enough--cleaned stalls, polished and
burnished 'is saddle and accoutrements like the best of us--though
whenever I looked at 'im there was some'at shifty in his eye and an odd
turn o' the 'ead, as though 'e'd been a-sneakin' rum, or a-doin'
somethin' as was contrary to regilations. And one day he turns on me
savage like:--

"'What the ---- are you lookin' at me for? Can't you mind your own
bloomin' business,' sez 'e. So I ups and sez what came to me all of a
flash:--

"'Yer no more Ben Jones than I be, and what's more----'

"Before I gets out another word 'e grips 'old of my hands and looks as
though 'e was a-goin' down on 'is bended knees afore me.

"'For Gord's sake, Bill, don't blow on me. I've been a-dodgin' of you so
careful, and you was the only one I was a-feared on. I've allus been
civil to 'e, Bill--I'll give 'e my rations of grog, Bill--I'll do
anythin' for ye so long as yer leaves me alone.'

"All this came a-rushin' from 'is mouth like a water-shoot in summer
that 'as been froze for 'arf the year. Then I slaps my knee and bursts
into a roar.

"'Good Gord, Jenny,' sez I, 'this 'ere is a go! It's a desp'rate game
you're a-playin' of.'

"'D'ye think,' she sez, 'I'd play it if I weren't desp'rate, too? 'Ere
was Jim and I just married, and I not on the "strength" and 'e a-goin'
sails set for the grave. Oh! I seed it, sure as I stands 'ere, and I sez
to mysel', wot's the fun of bein' twin with Ben if can't go like 'im,
an' fight shoulder to shoulder with my Jim? Wot's the good of this 'ere
life without 'im, a-fillin' and a-swillin' and nothin' more?--for that's
all's left for wummin when their 'earts is cut in two.'

"I put up my 'and, for there was someone a-comin', and we went on
a-cleanin' of the stalls; but d'rectly I was able I stalked Trooper
Jones and got the rest o' the 'istory out o' 'im. Course, I asks after
Ben, our real 'Carrots.' And she larfs with 'er mouth a-gape and 'er
white strong teeth a-shinin'.

"'Ben?' she sez, 'O, 'e was that sick 'e couldn't say me nay; he was
jist rolled up in bed like a worm, and fit to stay there a week or two.
Nothing pisonous, mind you; but all's fair in love or war, and this 'ere
game is both. So I got 'is kit and jist marched along at daybreak wi'
the lot of you. You should 'a' seed Jim's face when 'e recognises me. He
didn't guess whether 'e was glad nor glum, so he cussed like a good 'un,
and that did dooty either way.'

"Young Jenny larfed till the tears came a-rollin' down 'er uniform.

"'Yer brother's in for a nasty business," sez I.

"'Not a bit of it. I've settled it. 'E'll dye 'is carrots and imigrate.
Father'll see to 'im; 'e never 'ad the constitootion as was given to
compensate me for being a----'

"'Hold,' sez I, 'the timbers 'ave ears. I am a-goin' to forget as
there's any amphibus animals 'ereabouts; there's only troopers and
'osses as I knows of.'

"'Gord bless you, Bill! None of the other chaps 'ave twigged, and I've
scarce throwed a word at Jim since we got afloat. But I looked at 'im
and 'e at me, and folks with one 'eart between 'em don't need for
words.'"

Here the narrator put a square thumb over the brim of his pipe and
pressed the weed almost tenderly.

"In time," he went on, "I got quite proud o' young Jones, 'e was as
smart a dragoon as any, an 'orsemaster every inch of 'im. Why, the way
'ed whisper into the ear of them beasts would make 'em meek were they
contrary ever so....

"It took us over fifty days a-journeyin' past Malta and Constantinople
and the Black Sea. I was landed fust with one or two others to report
oursel's to Gen'ral the Earl of Lucan, who was a-commandin' of the
Cavalry Division. Jones and Jenkins and the rest of our fellers came
over fully accoutred in 'orse-boats, each at the 'ead of 'is charger. We
soon 'ad work enough, I can tell you, a tent pitchin' and gettin'
rations and makin' oursel's understood. The town was choke full o'
ruffians, Turks, Jews, Armenians, Greeks, all a-jawing in diff'rent
tongues and a quarrellin' like magpies over a bit of offal. 'Ere Jones
was full o' spirits, a-larfin' and a-swearin' with the best of us. 'E
'ad a way about 'im as licked the sourest grumbler into shape. And the
gals, such as they was, fancied 'is jovial mug and made eyes at 'im. It
was a rum sight to watch the poor things a-wastin' ammunishun on one of
their own sex. I mind me of a wivandeer of the Chasseurs D'Afrique, a
smart young lass in red trousers and a dark tunic, with 'er plumed 'at
all cockeye on 'er head, and 'er legs astride the saddle--she was quite
took up with Jones. And afterwards the Bulgarian gals was nuts on 'im,
too. Jones would give us real pantomimes a-snatchin' o' kisses from one
or another of 'em when they came to fill their wessels at the well.

"'E was good at work or play was 'Carrots.' Right well 'e came out of it
when we 'ad to turn our 'ands to odd jobs, such as mowin' and reapin'
and cookin', cos 'is fingers weren't thumbs like ours war. And at
skirmishin' and outpost drill, and a-chargin' in line and by squadrons,
he was real smart too; 'e took to them manoeuvres as a duck takes to
water, with niver a growl nor a grumble, 'owever 'ard the work.

"But a bad day it was for 'im when the cholera broke up our camp at
Devno; it takes the strong 'uns fust, and then swoops down
promiscus-like. Poor Jenkins got bad just as we was a-tired of buryin'
an' 'earin' nothin' but the 'Dead March,' which made the sick all of a
tremble to know which would be the next to be took. 'E was down with it
the wery day as we got orders to start for the Crimea. We was to march
the next mornin' for Varna, and most of the night was spent in packin'
up.

"Jones, 'e comes to me like one stark mad, beatin' of 'is breast and
a-cursin' at the back o' 'is teeth.

"'Jim's that bad,' says 'e, 'they don' know as whether there's any 'ope
for 'im.'

"'They're preparin' of arabas to carry the sick,' sez I, to console 'im.

"'Gord, Gord,' 'e sez, 'that's jest it. All the sick as might get well
will go, and the others--they'll be left be'ind afore the breath's out
of 'em. I 'eard someone a-sayin' there was no use in movin' of 'em as
was as good as dead.'

"And sure enough next mornin' I larnt that Jones was right. Revelly
sounded at three, and by six every man was on parade. Arabas, drawn by
bufferloes, was packed wi' sick, the dyin' was left in 'ospital with
orderleys and a sawbones to keep 'em company. They must ha' 'eard us
marchin', marchin' away--them poor, animated corpses, with jest the
regilation number o' gasps between 'em and eternity--but most on us was
too busy to think on abstrac' things at sich a time."

"How about Jenkins?" I asked, seeing that my friend's mind had gone
wool-gathering over the whole panorama of the war.

"Oh, 'e was safe enough; 'e took a turn for the better at the last
moment, and they moved 'im into the arabas along with the rest, but
Jones looked 'iself badly enough. 'E comes to me the nex' night and
brings this 'ere lock of 'air in 'is 'and.

"'If I'm took,' sez 'e, 'give it to Jim and tell 'im to wear it on 'is
'eart for the love of "Carrots" as was.'

"I put the 'air in my 'aversack careless-like, and gave 'im a drink o'
rum neat, which was better nor talk. It kippers the cholera out o' one
fine.

"'The likes of you and me is always spared,' sez I, a-larfin'; 'rubbish
ain't marketable aloft.'

"And spared 'e was, and would 'ave been to this day, along with this
'ere lumber, but for 'is cussed fool'ardiness....

"Things was lively for a bit afore and after the victory o' the Alma,
the pertikilars of which I have reported to you. I scarce clapped eyes
on Jones or Jenkins, but they was engaged in skirmishin' along with the
rest of us.

"On the day that Captain Nolan came a-gallopin' in with that there
momentous paper, Jones sez to me, 'There's somethin' up,' and we saw
Lord Lucan and Lord Cardigan a-lookin' at them guns. The enemy had
ranged 'em across the walley about a mile and a-'arf orf, with a field
batt'ry on the 'ill on our left front, and another between the redoubts
and the walley on our right. Captain Nolan was a-pointin', and the
generals was a-confabulatin'. Then we was told to mount and move orf at
a trot. The first thing that 'appens was poor Captain Nolan a-gettin'
shot almost afore we broke into a gallop. 'E was struck by a bit o'
shell, and d'rectly after the guns began a-playin' on us all, and the
air was 'eavy with groans and curses and screams of men and 'orses
a-fallin' to right and left like nine-pins. Jenkins and Jones was with
me on the right of the line, Jenkins as blue as a corpse, and Jones
flushed and savage-like, avoidin' as best 'e could the 'orses without
riders as still kept pace with us, and the press of men and beasts
a-jostlin' to close to the centre. We couldn't see where we was a-goin'
cos o' the power 'o smoke, nor 'ear 'cos o' the boomin' and bustin' and
bumpin' round the 'ill-side. Then bang I goes. A shell 'ad caught my
poor 'orse in the shoulder, and over 'e rolls and I under 'im,
fortunately covered from the explodin' pieces as would 'ave settled me
'ad they 'ave reached me. Jest as I was beginnin' to wonder whether I
was really breathin', over my 'ead comes the second line a-gallopin' for
all they was worth. 'Twas a near squeak that, and I was mighty 'mazed to
find that never a 'oof 'ad come nigh so much as a finger o' me. At last
I got clear of my poor beast--'e was only a dead 'ulk, all 'is fore
quarters bein' blown away--and tried to stand. It was precious
difficult, an' as I was limpin' in an 'op-and-go fashun, I chanced on
Jenkins who 'ad likewise been bowled over, an' was lyin' under 'is 'orse
in a pool o' blood. Jones was a-kneelin' by 'is side with 'is left arm
clean ripped up. I suspects a splinter from the same shell as caught
Jenkins 'ad struck 'im.

"''Elp me to draw 'im out,' sez 'Carrots,' with never a quiver o' the
eye.

"I lent a 'and, and Jones with 'is only arm was a-strugglin' to move
'im, but we soon saw we was only causin' of the poor chap unnecessary
aginy.

"'It's all up wi' me,' sez Jenkins in a failin' voice. 'Clear out sharp,
they're a-firm' from the flank o' the batt'ry at them as is dismounted.'

"'Take care of Jenny,' sez 'e with 'is last breath, and wrings my 'and.

"Then Jones begins a-kneelin' alongside of 'im a-callin' 'im by every
sweet name as could be thought on. Oh! it was a pitiful sight to see a
big dragoon a-huggin' of another, a-kissin' of 'is lips and 'is 'ands,
and 'im stone dead, a-smilin' up at the sky.

"This 'ere 'appened in a minite like, for d'rectly afterwards I sees
Jones leap up and catch a 'orse wot 'ad lost 'is rider and mount 'im. 'E
just looks once at 'is poor comrade, and out at the 'ills and the guns
a-vomitin' smoke. Then 'e starts off--not a-ridin' like woman, nor man,
nor 'ero, but a-gallopin' like the wery Devil 'isself, straight into the
jaws of 'ell."

       *       *       *       *       *

There was a pause, during which the old trooper knocked out the ashes of
his pipe against the arm of his chair.

"That was the last wot I sees of 'Carrots,'" he said, with a dry smile.



The "Celibate" Club (Dialogue).

    _Characters._

    Miss HAGAR HUNCH, _President;_ Miss DORA DARLISH, _Secretary_;
    Mrs EGERTON and Mrs CLARE GRAHAM, _Visitors_; and the
    "CELIBATES," eight in number.


SCENE I.--THE CLUB ROOM.

Miss HUNCH. Oh, Mrs Egerton, you are just in time. We are now to take
the oath binding ourselves to refuse all offers of marriage.

Mrs EGERTON. Perhaps I had better retire; as wife, and mother of a
family, I----

Miss HUNCH. Certainly not; we welcome any witness, and, after all, we
owe much to married women, since everyone of them is a Curtius who, by a
leap into the chasm of publicity, may save a doomed multitude!

Mrs CLARE GRAHAM (_laughing_). Gracious! I did not know I could leap
anywhere. Pray tell me how it is done.

Miss HUNCH (_glaring through her spectacles_). The subject is too
serious for trifling. Marriage is calculated to pen the free instincts
of the feminine community. You know our motto, _Aut viam inveniam aut
faciam_?

Mrs EGERTON. I see it all over the room, but that doesn't tell me what
it means.

Miss HUNCH. It means we will find a road out of our bondage--or make
one!

Mrs CLARE GRAHAM (_giggling_). Sail from Scylla into Charybdis, eh? You
see I allow the tragedy of both destinations.

Miss HUNCH (_sarcastically_). A kind concession, but a frivolous. Still,
we prefer the risk of the unknown to the horror of the known.

Mrs GRAHAM to Mrs EGERTON (_aside_). What on earth does she mean? How
many times has she been married?

Mrs EGERTON (_aside_). Hush. You mustn't offend the prejudices of the
club. Ah, how do you do, Miss Darlish?

DORA DARLISH (_joining them_). Charming rooms, aren't they? So glad to
see you here, Clare.

Mrs CLARE GRAHAM. Thank you, but I feel rather like a fish out of water.
It takes a long time to cultivate amphibiousness----

DORA. Oh, we're not amphibious--we mean to keep high and dry----

Mrs CLARE GRAHAM. I thought you didn't forswear love and romance and all
that kind of thing, but----

DORA. Nor do we. We look on love as the divine revelation of life----

Mrs CLARE GRAHAM. Oh! And then?

DORA. When love has ceased to be love, we----

Mrs CLARE GRAHAM. Scramble to the bank to sun yourselves till ready for
another dive? I must tell Charlie----

DORA. Don't. You will put wrong constructions on things. Of course we
would merely preserve the right to scramble out in self-defence----

Mrs CLARE GRAHAM (_laughing_). I thought so! How about amphibians? You
ought to re-christen the club!

Miss HUNCH (_speaking above the buzz of conversation_). Let us join
hands and make oath that, however pressed to marry, we will refuse.

    (_The_ "CELIBATES" _join hands_.)

Mrs CLARE GRAHAM (_clutching_ DORA'S _dress and whispering_). Dora,
don't be a fool. You know Charlie is devoted to you----

Miss HUNCH (_severely_). Let me beg silence while the oath is taken.

CHORUS OF THE "CELIBATES" (_with clasped hands_). We solemnly swear
that, however pressed to marry, we will refuse.

Mrs CLARE GRAHAM (_pulling_ DORA _to her side_). Dora, I'm disgusted
with you. Only yesterday you gave my brother a book with an inscription.

DORA. Well?

Mrs CLARE GRAHAM. I read it--there was something about "Pure romance of
love, Idyllic and ideal as could be, All policy and prudence far above."

DORA. I'm not ashamed of it. Why shouldn't our love be idyllic and
ideal? Why should wedlock of soul mean padlock of individual?

Mrs CLARE GRAHAM (_angrily_). Why, indeed? But don't talk against policy
and prudence. Your theory seems the quintessence of both!


SCENE II.--MRS GRAHAM'S DRAWING-ROOM.

    (CHARLIE CHEYNE _and his sister_ Mrs CLARE GRAHAM _are seated_.)

Mrs CLARE GRAHAM. Now I have told you the whole story surely you don't
intend to proceed with your absurd courtship?

CHARLIE. I mean to marry Dora, if that's what you're driving at.

Mrs CLARE GRAHAM. It's impossible! However much she wanted to accept she
would be bound--as a matter of honour--to refuse.

CHARLIE (_stroking his chin contemplatively_). After all, marriage is
merely a matter of form, and if it pleases Dora----

Mrs CLARE GRAHAM (_warmly_). To please Dora you'll let Jane's boy
inherit the estates?

CHARLIE. Still, Dora loves me, and she will do anything I ask.

Mrs CLARE GRAHAM (_rising irately to leave the room_). I tell you she
won't! Women with convictions are obstinate as Cork pigs.

    (_Enter_ DORA _in a Parisian bonnet._)

CHARLIE. Oh, Dora, here you are! We've been expecting you for hours.

DORA. I'm afraid I've disturbed the conversation; I see Clare is
ruffled.

Mrs CLARE GRAHAM (_abruptly_). No, I was going out. Good-bye. (_She goes
out._)

DORA. She is in a huff with me about something. Why?

CHARLIE (_hesitatingly_). No--that is--she was angry with me.

DORA. About?

CHARLIE. Oh, because you and I agree with each other so well on all
subjects, marriage included.

DORA (_pressing his hand_). My beloved!

CHARLIE. I said it was a rotten institution--or something of the kind.

DORA (_charmingly_). An effete conventionality----

CHARLIE (_putting his arm round her waist_). Only suited to reckless
people who risk the disappointments of the future for the effervescence
of the present.

DORA. What did she say?

CHARLIE. She began to talk about my sister's boy inheriting the
property, as though we cared.

DORA. Will he?

CHARLIE. Of course. It's entailed. But he's a fine lad, and we, who will
be all in all to each other, need not grudge it him.

DORA (_thoughtfully_). I suppose not.

CHARLIE. I believe that is the source of Jane's affection for me. She
knows how safe I am in the matter of marriage.

DORA. Then you have never contemplated it?

CHARLIE (_emphatically_). Never!

DORA (_horrified_). And you made love to me without any idea of
proposing?

CHARLIE. You forget: you explained your creed at the outset.

DORA (_paling_). Then you deliberately availed yourself of the
opportunity----

CHARLIE (_drawing his moustache over the corners of his lips_). Of
adoring a girl whose theories corresponded with my own? Yes.

DORA (_with tears in her eyes_). Oh! You mean you would not have loved
me if your courtship had involved marriage?

CHARLIE. I can't say. We both abhor to be handicapped by legalities,
don't we? We both enjoy the same rights of independence----

DORA (_rising angrily_). Then, if loving me had necessitated the
surrender of your liberty you could not have done it?

CHARLIE (_earnestly_). Could you?

DORA (_sobbing_). Could I? I would have loved you always.

CHARLIE (_taking her in his arms_). I would have loved you in the same
way.

DORA. Not if I had wanted to marry you?

CHARLIE. I won't say. You never put me to the test.

DORA (_excitedly_). But if I should? Oh, Charlie--tell me, would
you--won't you--marry me?

    (Mrs GRAHAM _enters, and, finding them in each others arms,
    prepares to leave_.)

CHARLIE. Clare! We want your congratulations. Dora has proposed to me,
and I am to name the happy day.

Mrs CLARE GRAHAM. What! And how about her oath?

DORA (_blushing_). Oh, I only vowed that, however pressed to marry, I
would refuse. But I was not pressed; was I, Charlie?

CHARLIE (_sedately_). Certainly not.



In the Cradle of the Deep.

  "But the sweet child heart you may always keep,
  For then the stars will be yours and the deep,
  The boundless deep. Good night."


It had been a long engagement, commenced by him between the ages of
knickerbocker and tobacco, and encouraged by her as a development of the
Prince Bountiful and Cinderella romances of the schoolroom. A charming
contract, drawn up without sign and seal and cemented after the manner
of barbaric hordes by heterogeneous offerings precious to the engaging
parties, such as guinea-pigs, bird's eggs, looted apples, and, later on,
prizes in vellum, deposited with blushing triumph into the concavity of
a Dolly Varden pinafore. Parents wagged their heads and forbade, but the
veto was conditional; the wisdom of the serpent was allied to a certain
downiness of the dove, for hints at expectations in the future of the
impecunious suitor necessitated an attitude both Janus-faced and
revolving. Their perspicacity was duly rewarded, for later on the
vacuous pockets of the young subaltern--he had gone to thicken the "thin
red line"--became plethoric with inherited revenues of a deceased uncle
on the mother's side, a personage for whom malt had been the Brahma of
idolatry, who had laid up for himself a tidy treasure despite the
corruptions of rust and moth.

No sooner were the legacy dues arranged than Victor Dorrien, in a letter
beautifully ebullient if ungrammatical, demanded permission to import
his chosen one to share a temporary exile in India where, for the nonce,
he was tied by technical obligations. He vowed that celibacy was dull,
and soldiering monotonous; and, moreover, that, without the sweetheart
of his youth to tease and plague him, there would no glint on the
avuncular guineas.

The letter was a hearty one, and went the round of the family circle to
a chorus of satisfied praise. The chorus did it. Someone has said that
"perpetual representation amounts to inculcation," and this phrase ably
describes the uses of chorus. Continued reiteration makes gospel truth.
The family chorus on the subject of matrimony is the mainstay of
parental soloists, its note brings the recalcitrant or frisking lamb to
"mark time," and subsequently dictates the pace of a quick march to the
impending sacrifice. Social excitement is almost as sustaining as
fanatical enthusiasm; it is the intoxicant which inflames half the
actors that strut through the world's dramas of marriage, murder, or
martyrdom. It sustained and inflamed little Elsie, who, dizzy with
congratulations, valedictory gushings, present receiving, dress trying,
and orange-blossom choosing, ignored the importance of life's
destination in the enjoyment of the surrounding and immediate scenery.
There was great leave-taking and kerchief-waving and some coursing of
tears down kindred cheeks and noses as the bride-elect was deposited,
with wedding-cake, dress, and addenda, on board the s.s. _Kenilworth_,
in temporary charge of a _passée_ matron of skittish proclivities and
Anglo-Indian epidermis. This obliging lady had volunteered to personify
decorum until arrival in Bombay, when her youthful charge would be
transferred to the chaperonage of Dorrien's sister, on whom the
observances of marriage etiquette depended. Elsie was in no way averse
from the arrangement. All was so novel and so exciting that the Columbus
instinct outbalanced the romantic one. The world had much to offer and
the suburbs very little. There was certainly a well-grown curate, an
Oxford man, ingrained with pedantry and pomposity, and delicately
veneered with artistic ethics; also a retired bookmaker's son, who wore
loud ties and restricted "unmentionables," and who spent money lavishly
nursing a constituency, no one knew where. On the other hand stood
Victor as she remembered him, sound in wind and limb, handsome, honest,
and professedly devoted. Her choice was unhesitating, and she started
forth with dancing heart.

As usual came the inevitable _dies non_, when the unfledged traveller
makes a first bow to the Channel, followed by one or two squeamish days,
when the Bay of Biscay as lauded in poesy and the Bay of Biscay as
discovered in practice are two quite antagonistic things. After which,
with rarified complexion, the sufferer forgets his troubles, and mounts
the deck to enjoy a beatific spell of brine and breeze.

So in due course did Elsie. She found Mrs Willis, who was an old
campaigner, busily engaged in conversation, or its equivalent, the
note-comparing, gossip-scavengering tattle which is inherent to feminine
camp followers of a certain age. Her companions were one Major Lane and
his friend, Captain Burton Aylmer, the latter a person of some celebrity
in military circles where sport was supreme. He looked lazy, long, and
languid, and to those who had seen him neither tent-pegging nor polo
playing, who knew nothing of the spearing of veteran boars, whose tushes
fringed his mantel at home, nor of the "man eater" duel, which in
hunting annals had made his name historical, he seemed effete, if not
affected. He was lolling at full length in a rattan chair, listening
indolently to the flippant duologue of the major and the grass widow.
The lady did not interest him. Her type was too cheap. She represented
one of an order that seemed to be chromo-lithographed in reams for the
benefit of garrisons in Great Britain, India, and the Colonies; but when
he discovered in her the chaperone of a young _ingenue_, with fringeless
forehead and skin like new milk dashed with sunset, his nonchalance
subsided, and he became almost polite. Mrs Willis was prompt to detect
the change of tactics, and swift to solve the problem. She plumed
herself not a little on the possession of a decoy duck, capable of
luring so desirable a prey as Captain Burton Aylmer into her social
toils.

"Be civil to him, my dear," she advised when in private. "Half the women
on board would give their eyes to get him in tow. He is very
_difficile_." Mrs Willis affected the slangy in talking to young girls.
She thought it gave a contemporaneous flavour to the intercourse.

"He seemed to me pleasant enough," breathed Elsie, who was quite
unscienced in complexities of character.

"He can be when he chooses. They say Lady Staines would have given her
back hair for him and followed him barefoot across Asia--but he didn't
see it!"

"Oh!"

"He is very accustomed to that sort of thing. His heart is quite
tear-toughened, a kind of spongiopiline--receptive and impermeable at
the same time."

"Perhaps you do him an injustice; there may never have been a question
of his heart?"

"His sponsor so soon? Beware, little girl; they say he never loved since
a certain queen of society threw him over for strawberry leaves."

"Threw him over!" A line of Tennyson regarding the value of coronets
flashed across her. She wondered with a girlish contemplative scepticism
how this bronzed physique, this heroic modelling, this almost womanly
gentleness of expression had failed, having won, to hold.

       *       *       *       *       *

Hour after hour passed in the usual shipboard routine, by which every
day became the exact counterpart of its forerunner. Only to Elsie was
each moment a joy and a revelation. It was impossible to disregard the
fact that, from being a juvenile of no account, she had developed into a
personage--a personage, whose humble servitor society had been ready
enough to serve. In the conquest there was no elation such as might have
existed for maturer women. She was too absorbed with the all ruling
presence to heed what happened around. The wind was only fresh when it
carried his voice to her ear, the waves only buoyant when they danced
beneath their mutual pacings; day was light, because she shared it with
him; night was dark, because they were apart.

At last Mrs Willis betrayed signs of alarm. "A mild flirtation is all
very well, but people will talk; you must really be careful, Elsie! What
will Victor Dorrien say when he comes to claim his bride?"

Dorrien! His bride! The words mentally thrust Bradshaw into the binding
of Keats; she suffocated as though she had steamed direct from Eden to
seaside lodgings. Was she indeed affianced to this almost unremembered
lover of her childhood, and was she indeed journeying straight into his
arms? How came it that the purpose of her voyage had been almost
forgotten, that the seconds had grown so full of actuality as to outsize
the horizon, the zenithed sunshine so blinding, that all surroundings
seemed enveloped in atmospheric haze?

Each morning in her cabin she registered a vow that the coming day
should be the last of illusion, that the stern facts of destiny should
be faced; each night her fevered, impatient brain cried for dawn, to
prove by the sight of the noble outlines, the sound of the beloved
voice, that the end was not yet come. It was scarcely his utterances
that attracted; perhaps the knowledge of his soul grew best from what he
failed to say, what he failed to seem. But she saw the weary boredom of
his eyes change to fire as her glance sought his, and she knew her
lightest speech sped like spores upon the wind to find a root and
resting place within his heart. She yearned to hint at her projected
fate--she yearned, yet dreaded. Dissection of the sentimental mosaic of
years is no facile undertaking, so many scraps and fragments go to the
gradual making of the romantic whole, and she dared not approach the
culminating tangle of the love story without explaining in detail the
nascence and growth of the dilemma.

Thus with the course of the vessel drifted the craft of emotion, past
Suez, through the broil of the Red Sea, out again into a sapphire ocean.

Mrs Willis, looking ahead, saw breakers and imminent wreck.

"You are both mad," she thundered at Elsie. "This must cease; you must
tell him that in a few days, immediately on your arrival in Bombay in
fact, you are to marry."

"I cannot."

"But, child, think of it. What can you do? You _must_ go to Dorrien's
sister's house--it is all arranged--you will be married the next day.
You know I do not land, and that there will be no one but the Dorriens
to take care of you. You could not even return to England without delay
that would be scandalous."

All this poured in a breath from the agitated chaperone, who had
awakened too late to a sense of her responsibilities.

"I will tell him to-morrow--to-morrow night ... it will be the last,"
sobbed Elsie to the pillows in her restricted berth. And when dinner was
ended, the final meal on board--for the vessel was steaming extra knots
per hour in order to reach port at daybreak--these lovers met for their
farewell. They paced the dimly-lighted deck in silence, with weighted
feet, and hearts that scarcely pulsed lest the bumper of anguish might
run over. Then, behind the wheel, where the gusts of laughter from the
expectant and happy travellers could not reach them, they halted--still
silent, staring with parched, despairing eyes at the swirling water and
the long track of dimpled silver that spread like the trail of an ocean
comet in their wake. The night showed serene and purple, a universe in
regal repose, only the ship, throbbing with insensate activity, rushed
panting to doom; on, on, on, while precious moments flashed fast--a
shower of jewels falling into the abyss, never to be retrieved. There
was no Joshua to hold time in a spell; nothing to stay the deepening
hours from waning into a disastrous dawn.

She spoke. His profile cut dark against the ocean reflections; there was
no fear of meeting his eyes.

"To-morrow morning we shall touch Bombay. I am going there to be
married, Captain Aylmer." Silence again. The ship's machinery rotated
evenly--mercilessly. His face was sunk in shadow, she could but guess
that her speech was heard.

"Is it not news to you?"

Her words, like drunken footsteps on stony soil, reeled despite an
affectation of steadiness.

"No; I was told you would marry unless----"

"Unless what?" she quavered.

"Unless you changed your mind--refused."

"Mr Dorrien's sister is my only friend in Bombay. If I refuse--leave her
house--I shall be alone. I shall be helpless when Mrs Willis and you are
gone."

A light hand, hot and feverish, shot its flame through his thin coat
sleeve. He shivered.

"That is what I am coming to. Stand away from me--do not look at me--I
want to say something which sticks very hard."

He shrank back into deeper shadow. There was horrible stillness. She
stood transfixed, chilling, as Lot's wife must have stood when crystal
after crystal replaced the warm and buoyant rivulets of being.

"Elsie--I may call you that just once--you must not refuse. If you do,
you will be without any friendship but mine--and my friendship would be
worse than deadliest enmity. The reason you must have guessed. It has
kept me tongue-tied till now--a coward, a blackguard, some might say.
The reason is because"--his voice blurred hoarsely through a strangled
sob--"because I am married already."

A convulsive gasp from her--scarcely audible--no word.

He clutched at a rail and resumed almost grimly, cauterising his gaping
wound with reality's searing iron,

"My wife is in a sanatorium, mentally deranged. A virtuous woman, but
she was wedded to mysticism and morphia, and loved me never a bit."

The fall of pitiful tears, tears from the sweet blue of her guileless
eyes, came hissing against the red-hot cicatrice. His strength almost
failed. Such innocence, such loneliness needed protection. But his! This
man who had brought down wild beasts in the open, found deadlier tussle
in the confines of his brain. He quavered--his firm jaws clenched.
Reason is muscular, but nature is subtle and crafty. With a jerk, a
twist, reason is overthrown, but it takes time and heart's blood to
stretch nature prone and panting.

When he next spoke his voice was hard--uneven.

"Elsie, for God's sake help me! Don't cry, or I must open my arms and
hold you in them for ever, come what may. We have needed no words to
translate love's language in--no signs to show we were each to each the
complement that Heaven has made and laws of men have marred; we shall
need no oath to bind us to remembrance. Good-bye. Some day, when you are
older, you may know what it costs a fellow to protect a woman from her
greatest enemy--himself."

The sound smote her heart, harsh and grating, like rusty steel. She
could not scan the ashen mask that hid the rage of conflict; merciful
darkness had enveloped the death struggle with a gossamer pall. There
was not even a clasp of hands to tell his going; she knew it, but still
stood there, as the vessel glided on into the sweltering night's
maturity over a placid sea, under a placid sky, while human passions
raged and rent themselves in useless agony.

       *       *       *       *       *

Two hours later all was silent; most of the passengers, overcome with
the tropical temperature and restlessness, were sinking into the fevered
sleep that comes only when night's noon has turned a cool shoulder to
the scorchings of the day. On the open deck, to catch what breeze there
might be, the men slumbered, with forms inartistically outspread; the
women, in a more sheltered nook, though not far removed, were stretched
on couches all in a row like shrouded corpses awaiting the resurrection.
Night looked down as on some pillaged city where only the dead are left
to keep each other ghostly company. Suddenly, from among them there
uprose a small, white wraith--lithe, barefooted, with wandering hair. It
fled, looking nor right nor left--its footfall light as
snowflakes--straight on, to where the ship's track threw a ruffled
tongue across the stillness of the water. In a single flash the silver
ripples gaped, parted, closed again, enfolding in the bosom of the deep
the fair frail atom--an atom that seemed, in the immensity, scarce
larger than the feather from a seagull's wing. Then the serene face of
the ocean smiled smoothly as ever, hugging its hidden secret till the
bursting of the grand chorus when the sea gives up its dead.

       *       *       *       *       *

And Burton Aylmer, afar off, with outstretched, grey-flanneled limbs,
lay motionless, his hands clasped beneath his head, his eyes staring
with haggard scepticism at the floating ultramarine of the heavens. His
lips moved as though framing a prayer, but he was only muttering to
himself, parrot-wise, the burden of the ritual that bound him to "a
virtuous woman, wedded to mysticism and morphia," who loved him "never a
bit."



Some Crazy Patchwork.

  "Oh, love's but a dance,
  Where time plays the fiddle."


I.

She was constitutionally a matchmaker, and though recognising the
infirmity was not without its advantages, I refused to be made an
accessory after the fact. I declined to lend myself to the introduction
of my best masculine friend, Lorraine, to my best feminine one, Clair
Conway. There was no petty jealousy at bottom of the dissent, for sixty
winters had rolled over this philosophic head; it was merely that I
shirked the responsibility of meddling with Fate.

But my sister, Sarah Sargent, had no such qualms. "Matchmaker!" she
exclaimed. "Perhaps so--a woman without romance is like an exotic
without scent; and what woman could know a lovely girl, and a man who is
intellectually gifted and eligible to boot, without planning to
introduce them?"

About Clair Conway's beauty there admitted little dispute, though it was
complex to apprehend. Every feature was in drawing, but nowhere
arrogantly classical. A faint scumbling, which poets might have
described as the mists of youth's Aurora, endowed the face with a
soothing indefinitude. In effect, it acted like dew on summer turf which
drapes the emerald crispness in silver sheen. The only obvious
irregularity was a contumacious tooth which peeped impertinently over
the centre of the lower lip, dimpling its fulness with a tiny shadow. In
that dimple lurked the most fascinating lisp that was ever modelled--a
lisp not sufficiently full-bodied to disturb the accent, but strong
minded enough to put stress upon it. Her figure was in the bud. It had
small natural curves, which hinted at feminality, but it was fitted far
too well; the tailor had forced a masculine exactness which was foreign
to the subject and to the statuesque creasings of her neck.

To me from her youth she had always been a centre of interest. She was
like some half-studied volume of _belles lettres_--full of temptations,
subtleties, prose melodies, poetic realisms. Her speech was fragile, and
her words, subdued by their passage through the dimple, lagged now and
then. Her expression was seldom either animated or pensive; never did
green and yellow melancholy chase the vermeil from her cheek, seldom did
excitement heighten it. She was as serene as innocence and as
clean-eyed, the very woman I would have worshipped had youth quickened
in my veins.

"I knew Philip would admire her," my sister related, when describing the
kettledrum she had given in furtherance of her scheme, "so I introduced
them at once!"

"Lorraine's fancies are protean, my good Sarah. They are the result of
appreciative faculty. Someone--I think Emerson--says that 'love is a
mutual perception of the same truth,' or something to that effect.
Unfortunately, as the artist soul is always in pursuit of new truths,
the deduction is perilous."

"But," argued she, "Clair is the white light of truth itself. One might
go about studying nuances, contrasting tones, and yet value that truth
eternally. I expected Mr Lorraine would appreciate her for this reason.
He is a colour theorist, and with his knowledge of values he can gauge
the true beauty of white light."

"Well, and the result?" I questioned, with interest; for I myself had
seen him spy out Clair from among crowds of women, watched his eyes lean
on her, on the picturesque brim of her hat and the curling feathers
which insinuated themselves against the contour of her transparent ear,
but had afterwards escaped to avoid participation in Sarah's plot.

"They seemed designed for each other," my sister pursued, "and I
introduced them, quite informally, of course. All the girls had
appropriate cavaliers, and I started some music to give a spurt to the
conversation."

"Music is certainly an excellent dam for discoursive shallows," I
muttered in soliloquy.

"Whether the introduction pleased her or not," she continued, heedless
of my remark, "I could scarcely observe. She is an equable enigma."

"A puzzle that is a wonder rather than a challenge," I agreed. "And
Lorraine?"

"He, with his whole soul--and not a driblet of it as usual--beaming in
his eyes faced her on the ottoman. The light from the hanging lamp
treated him kindly. It threw some ripples on the silvery edge of his
hair, and shrouded the cynical depths of his eyes in pensive shadow."

"If you were a younger woman, Sarah, I should say you were in love with
him yourself."

"You may say what you please. He had dropped his eye-glass--his solace
in boredom, as you know--and was listening, interestedly listening,
while she talked."

"Perhaps you exaggerated his interest?"

"No; there is a way of listening with the eyes as well as with the ears.
I could see his fixed on the lisp dimple as it dipped. Then the music
began; I turned over the leaves, and struggled to applaud, flatter,
question, but my brain was with them."

"Much better have left them alone," I grunted.

"After all, they are your best friends--he is your prince of poets, and
she is your ideal heroine."

"One does not express friendship by laying traps--but go on," I urged,
curious in spite of myself.

"Tea was distributed, and, either from laziness or diplomacy, Philip
never vacated his perch. He sat intently watching her while she dipped
inquiring fingers into each tier of the muffinière, and piled a huge
meal on the Japanese plate at her elbow. She seemed bent on advertising
a Cassowary digestion."

"An implied antithesis to poetic ideals," I volunteered, to enhance my
sister's discomfiture.

"Perhaps so," owned Sarah, vexedly. "Girls are very contrary. But," she
continued, "he perseveringly looked on with his quaint air of critical
inquiry while she spread her handkerchief upon her lap, distending every
corner in ostentatious preparation for her feast."

"Talking to him meanwhile?"

"Yes, _par parenthese_--between the nibbles at a chocolate bouchée, an
anchovy muffin, two biscuits, and a tartine."

"My good Sarah, it is scarcely hospitable to register the appetites of
your guests."

"I was really burning to hear them talk, but Percy Vansittart
buttonholed me to say the muffinière had run short of supplies. We rang
for a fresh consignment, then more music was proposed. I induced Vaudin
to sing those exquisite verses of Philip's--about the poet's tears, you
know, which froze to pearls on the neck of the woman he loved."

"Just the thing to annoy Lorraine!"

"He ought to have been highly flattered. At the end of the song," Sarah
pursued, "people began to go, and I thought I would take a seat in their
direction without disturbing the conversation."

"In fact you played the eavesdropper?"

"I merely wanted to catch some stray sentence as guide to the situation.
Had I felt _de trop_ I should have moved. I approached cautiously and
affected to be busy with plates and dishes on a neighbouring table.
Philip's attitude was full of interest--he was intent on some argument
apparently.

"'I believe a pin is the orthodox weapon,' I heard him saying with
questioning eagerness; to which Clair replied, 'Take my advice next time
and try a darning-needle.'

"A darning-needle! My curiosity was aroused, and, as the subject seemed
to admit of invasion I adroitly wedged in.

"'A darning-needle? for what?'

"'Oh,' she exclaimed with _empressement_, 'we were talking
of periwinkles--discussing the efficacy of pins _versus_
darning-needles--what do you say?'"


II.

After the routing of my sister Sarah, I should have given up interest in
her proceedings had not a letter from Clair reached me. It referred to a
commission for book illustrations that I had secured for her. From this
she volunteered her own patch of information--a crudely-contrastive one,
but not without its value in the harmonious scheme.

"To-day," she wrote, "I was introduced to your _rara avis_, Philip
Lorraine. Lady Sargent cannot praise him enough. Continued praise of one
individual to another is boring, don't you think so? It is a moral
throwing of the gauntlet. Besides, I always suspect the dear creature of
designs. Something about her mode of introduction is Autolycus like; one
feels like a pedlar's pack with all its little trinkets and tawdrinesses
spread out for the buyer. Ah, you don't know your sister. To me she is a
dear transparent soul with her whole purport printed on the surface like
a sandwich board. She thinks the woman world is ranged in three
tiers--the top story for eighteen-year-olds. Everything there must be
out on approval. It's no good ticketing yourself 'Not for sale,' nor
even pricing yourself at a prohibitive figure--no good whatever. She
brings round her customers, provides them with her own lorgnon in the
form of opinion, and pads them with conversational treatises on the
subject in hand, like a Cook's guide to a party of tourists.

"'She has more refinement than that,' I can hear you say.

"Refinement, yes. Flowers do not grow with their roots uppermost, but we
know they have roots all the same. Her social smile is a very guileless
plant, but I detect how far its ramifications extend.

"Her second shelf is scarcely better, it is for the mothers, mild
brooding creatures whose brains perform kaleidoscopic revolutions with
the same _materia_--dinner _menus_, infant food, servants' industries,
and wardrobe renovations. 'The idea,' she would say, 'of a woman earning
her share of the family income, contributing three hundred or so to the
housekeeping instead of saving! It is unconventional, and, consequently,
bad form.'

"And the last shelf is for the matrons, dowagers,
chaperones--middlewomen of the matrimonial market like her dear
misguided self--social seals of respectability stamped with the impress
of a Buckingham Palace curtsy; godmothers for the distribution of
hall-marked silver and hall-marked morality, dragons----. But I forget
your friend, the poet. Of course he thought I was 'trotted out;' of
course I hated him for thinking it. I pretended never to have heard of
him or read his works. Literature was practically barred, for I
confessed I loathed poets. He agreed, quoted Coventry Patmore, who says
a poet is one degree removed from a saint--or Balaam's ass. Well, men
saints are chilly, and donkeys are troublesome, and kick. I told him so.
Yet I abhor compromises! I can't say what I do care for; certainly not
being thrown at men's heads like stale eggs at election time!

"And what do you think we talked of?

"Not the modern girl, you may be sure. Mr Lorraine is romantic, and
thinks that intelligent women are bound to be ill-shod, splay-waisted,
and brusque. I had half a mind to undeceive him, but he might have
imagined I was accentuating my points. We talked of all sorts of
things--neutral things. I believe we should have liked each other had I
been some nice young married woman with a red star for 'Sold' dabbed on
my frame. We always admire pictures that are so ticketed, don't
we?--from sheer perversity, I suppose.

"I ate a huge tea. Byron hated women with healthy appetites; I daresay
Mr Lorraine does the same. He watched the muffins and the cakes
disappear with an almost zoological interest. I was on the verge of
inquiring if he ever visited the lions at feeding time--but a song
interposed.

"During this I intuitively felt his eye exploring, 'totting me up,' so
to speak.

"Vaudin, the tenor, was singing exquisitely. The words were from Mr
Lorraine's last book--they were beautiful, and I knew every line, but
affected ignorance.

"'What is that tune?' I questioned with vulgar simplicity.

"'The one the old cow died of,' he answered.

"'But the words aren't bad?'

"'Think so?' he drawled, putting up his eyeglass and surveying the
singer, as though the voice came from a marionette.

"I proceeded with some chocolate cakes, too nervous for the moment to
meet his eye. He did not observe it, however, but resumed his interest
in the departure of the edibles. It seemed absorbing! I wonder if he
will write a poem on _gourmandes!_ What fun to illustrate it and
surprise him! He does not know that I illustrate--what a horrible
discovery! To find in this piece of plastic putty a nineteenth century
working woman!

"If he had not been a poet and a _parti_ he might have been very
charming! As Lady Sargent's dear friend, of course he shares her
opinions about the shelves, and my mind was bent on dispelling that
old-worldism, on stamping, 'Not for sale' into my speech somehow. But
there was little opportunity, I saw he had mentally pronounced me such a
silly little girl.

"'Did I play tennis?'--'Loved it.'

(Truthfully, it has no attractions for me. It was a recreation once, now
it is a profession, and one cannot adopt two professions, but I didn't
tell him that.)

"'Did I dance?'--'No.'

(I was forced into this admission. Balls I forswear--the shelf is bad
enough, but to literally earn a husband by the "sweat of one's face" is
humiliating.)

"'No, I never danced,' was my answer. 'I had no superfluous energy to
work off.'

"Then we skimmed more trivialities.

"'Had he seen the new roller shaving apparatus?'

"'Did I approve Ladies' Tea Associations?'

"'Did he prefer German to French food, and was he a connoisseur of
birds'-nest soup or frizzled frogs?'

"'Scarcely, but in his youth he had tackled periwinkles. That was
valiant?'

"'Not at all. I was his match. I had eaten forty-two at a sitting!'

"'All self-picked with a pin?' he queried.

"'No,' I confessed, triumphantly, 'with a surer weapon still.'

"'I believe a pin is the orthodox weapon,' he advanced.

"'Take my advice next time and try a darning-needle.'

"Here Lady Sargent overheard us. You should have seen her face of
disgust! Poor dear, how promptly her castle of Eros was blown to
smithereens!"


III.

Two days later we were talking of the divine afflatus, and the relation
of great work to character, when Lorraine demanded my opinion as to the
analogy between thought and conversation.

"Speech was given us to hide our thoughts," I said, quoting Tallyrand
without in the least agreeing with him.

"I fancied you would say that," he replied, and opened his note-book to
refer to some jottings which had evidently been recently made, and which
supplied, strangely enough, another impromptu and bizarre patch to the
unconventional whole so recklessly commenced by my sister Sarah.

I append the jottings shown me by their writer as a problem for
unravelment. They began:--

"Charming because she is perplexing, or perplexing because she is
charming? It is impossible to say. At anyrate, the external pencillings
are pretty. Her manner at times betrays pre-disposition to enmity, for
the flippant pose is merely a disguise. Is it enmity, or is it reserve?
One must take into account the larger reticence of larger natures in
serious matters. A woman who can be good reading to the clown must fail
to attract the scholar. Yet me she keeps on the bare threshold of
comprehension. Is it because there is a barn at the back, or a palace?
Most people open up their drawing-rooms at once, and parade their
bric-a-brac. Is she given to this want of hospitality in speech, this
loitering in the open air, or am I alone treated as a burglar--an
intruder, who longs to drag the arras from her sanctum door?"

The next page rambled on in this fashion:--

"There is an initial stage of some characters which is purely parabolic,
though every phase of the stage has its analogy in the actual. The
difficulty is the tracing of corroborations. With so much promise one
looks for some fulfilment, but she contrives to make out of the very
postponement of promise a larger reiteration of it. She permits no
shadow of negation that might disappoint, no growth of hope that might
encourage. Her talk is so well conventionalised to suit the tonic and
dominant of social exigence that one must avoid the vulgarian error of
striving after a literal transcription of it."

A day later had been scrawled, with a dash of irritation in the
caligraphy, a third note:--

"Of dispositions like hers that are worthy analysis, it is expedient to
restrain the lesser deduction in order to gain the full breadth of the
greater; one must look through the eyelashes at the substantial flesh
and blood perfections to achieve the infinite spiritual possibilities
deduced by the instinctive calculus.... Spiritual possibilities! Am I
mad to seek for them in a woman-creature with the appetite of a
schoolboy and an avowed _penchant_ for periwinkles?"

"That last clause," Lorraine said as I came to it, "is merely an
ebullition of annoyance. I mean to proceed with my analysis more
cool-headedly. The subject is interesting."

"Yes, proceed with it; but I won't warrant the coolness."

"What do you bet?" smiled he thoughtfully.

"My dear fellow, I don't bet on certainties."

Just then the advent of visitors interrupted the discussion, and a whole
fortnight passed without my seeing either the poet or my sister.

I had begun to relegate the patchwork romance to the store-cupboard of
memory, when into my room rushed Sarah with almost juvenile impetuosity.

"Look at this! Did you ever hear anything so crazed?" She threw a scrap
of paper on the table. It was addressed to Clair, and I read it aloud:--

    DEAR LADY,--You loathe poets. I therefore desire to adopt
    another calling. Cab-driving might suit me, but I fear I am
    lacking in the necessary command of language to ensure success.
    I could sweep a crossing with neatness and precision, and can
    pick periwinkles with unrivalled velocity. To this end I have
    been practising daily with a darning-needle and a stop-watch.
    Have you any objection to entering the lists against me, the
    winner of course claiming whatever guerdon he or she may desire?

The note was in Lorraine's handwriting, and affixed to it was a copy of
Clair's answer:--

    DEAR MR LORRAINE,--Your poetic gifts will, I fear, militate
    against advance as a crossing sweeper. The occupation admits of
    no impressionism, and requires uniform scrupulosity. With regard
    to the tournament, I accept your challenge, provided, of course,
    there is a competent umpire.

"What do you think of that?" questioned my sister with concern.

"I think, my good Sarah, it is the oddest piece of work you ever set
your hand to, and that you have let us both in for substantial damages
in the form of wedding presents."



"The Soul of Me."

  "'The wrong was mine!' he cried. 'I left my dove'
  (He flung him down upon the clay),
  'And now I find her flown--ah, well away!'"


After long sauntering in the Antipodes, I was naturally anxious to hear
of him--of his inner life particularly--for his fame as a worldling had
skirted the globe. The north wind had trumpeted of it; the south had
whispered poetically, if insidiously; the east had contradicted the
poetry and accentuated the venom, and western zephyrs had harmonised the
whole with a dulcet cadence of admiration and pity. In his profession,
however, public opinion was unanimous in proclaiming him pre-eminent.
The signature of Wallace Wray--"Woll" we called him--at the corner of a
canvas lured the artist mind to praise and thanksgiving; it did more, it
loosed some sluggish thousands from speculative coffers--coffers that,
prompt enough to gape at safe investment, could stand in the face of the
divine afflatus, hermetically sealed. He had reached the peak on
Parnassus where criticism drops crippled and diagnosis wrings its hands;
his dexterity of brush had become a species of sleight-of-hand,
backgrounded by the mysterious tissue of philosophy, science, and
emotion, which, commonly called genius, defies ken or comparison.

He had been a singular youth, the solitary output of one of Nature's
quaintest moulds, and from what I learnt, the singularity had become
pronounced rather than mellowed by the glaze of time. Yet, as I
remembered him--it was five years since we had met--he was an excellent
fellow, a mass of incongruity, courageous, sensitive--morbidly
so--modest, with a humility deduced from keen self-knowledge, a generous
companion and a witty, dispensing the fine flavour of his humour through
a countenance as nearly classical as individuality of expression would
permit.

This countenance now showed its presentment on the Academy walls. It was
this portrait, done by his own hand, which roused my admiration and
awoke a greed for more of him. Around me, the wagging of gossip tongues
fanned the air, and scraps, hints, fragments of scandal were wafted to
my ears as I stood amazed to salute his art in the superb masterpiece of
portraiture.

From the confused babble I was straining to sift a grain of truth. It
seemed that Wallace Wray had been outraging the feelings of his
admirers, had dealt them a slap in the face as cleanly, or rather as
dirtily, as a realistic brush could deal it. In the nick of time, Spry,
a brother of the craft and the very sieve I needed, jostled at my elbow.

"Splendid likeness--the best he has ever done, eh? He calls it 'The Body
of Me.' Ha! ha! The Corporation of H---- commissioned, it, and luckily
he got it finished before he took leave of his senses."

"Senses!" I echoed, stupidly. "What is wrong? What has he been saying,
doing?"

"More antics! Haven't you seen 'The Soul of Me,' there, in the next
room?"

And Spry, scarcely waiting for dissent, led off, inviting me, by
backward twists of the head, to follow his pioneering.

The crowd was too great for conversation, but it was easy to know from
the congested state of the room in a particular spot where Wray's work
must be hung. When patience was nearly exhausted we reached it. Comments
and criticisms were freely bandied aloud.

"Decidedly morbid," spake a sightseer in disgust.

"Hideous! I wouldn't own such a picture for worlds," confided one woman
to another.

"It is astounding," an art critic remarked to his companion, whose face
I knew. "What power, what genius, yet----"

"Genius is a loganstone," said the other, shaking his head. "It rocks
and rocks, but a stalk of asphodel may shift it from its centre."

"For 'asphodel' translate 'woman,'" the critic replied, "and you solve
the riddle."

At this moment a gap opened; it was sufficiently wide to reveal the
subject without the frame of the picture.

On a slab of wood in semi-darkness lay a drowned woman. The rays from a
lamp, held aloft by a bargee or coal-heaver, flickered down on the
green-grey features that had already lost the expression which
accompanies the first beatitude of death. Some outcast, as the worn
finery proved; young in years, we knew by the modelling of her throat;
aged in worldliness, by the hard set of her features, the sparse strands
of faded hair that might once have glittered. The folds of the frayed
gown hung lank, heavy with dark drops of liquid mud which oozed and fell
slowly to the ground, already a morass of wharf drippings that reflected
pallidly the meagre gleams of the uplifted lamp. The magnificent anatomy
of a beautiful arm, a shapely bosom--bared, it seemed, in an effort to
reanimate--showed that this was no plebeian waif driven by stress of
poverty over the water's edge. On the elbow was grim evidence of Wray's
realistic mood--a bruise, wide and purple, and higher up, the dull
indenture of a water-rat's tooth.

"Well," said Spry, watching my mute amazement, "he has left no part of
his gruesome task undone; he has gloated in it--look!--even to the
snipping of the linen."

A definite jag on the front of the shift--the place which is usually
inscribed with the name of the owner--was carefully insisted on. It was
the highest light in the picture, and seemed to emphasise a piteous
degradation and still more piteous consciousness thereof.

"Wray turned moralist?" a bystander sneered.

"We may find sermons in stones, but we don't want 'em on canvas,"
bounced another, a "port-wine-flavoured" personage, who ogled for
applause with the confidence of the self-crowned wag.

I eyed him with swelling spleen, and shot a dart at Spry which was
intended to ricochet.

"Wasn't it Flaubert who said that, in the hands of an artist, a
disembowelled ox would make as fine a subject as any other?"

"I don't know," returned Spry, "but, anyway, about this work there are
ugly tales afloat. It is too true--unpleasantly, unnecessarily true."

It indeed appeared to be inhumanly horrible--a vulture swoop of the
brush--and, much as I appreciated Wray as a friend and worshipped him as
a disciple, I was forced to recognise a want of reserve, some lack of
sentiment in the handling--say, rather, over-handling--of so repellant a
subject. His aim seemed to lie in choking sentiment--suffocating it in
loathliness and disgust. There was a violence of passion that suggested
the manner of Prudhon--suggested it, but, giant-like, overshadowed it
with the brawny vigour of modern actuality.

I turned from the picture to the crowd, blinked dazedly to find myself
again facing daylight and colour, and stretched myself awake as far as
environing shoulders would allow. Looking away from this squalid scene,
I became suddenly aware of an unusual amount of paint and gilding on the
walls--an art tawdriness that had not before obtruded itself. My taste
for the reproduction of veined marble and glossy parquet, for pretty
pussies and portraits of gentlefolk was exhausted. I made for the
turnstiles, and nodded to Spry to get quit of him.

"I'm off," I said, curtly, "to look up Wray and offer my
congratulations."

       *       *       *       *       *

Green Park, bedecked in spring raiment, seemed to me at that moment a
welcome oasis of verdure in the midst of the swirl of Piccadilly; it
offered no impediment to the bubbling flood of conjecture that Wray's
strange _chef d'oeuvre_ had let loose.

So far as I knew him--and our friendship, though spasmodic by reason of
my wanderings, had existed since our teens--he was the last man to sneak
voluntarily into the shadowy niches of life; his nature clung to
radiance and his sentiment revolted at the opacity of pessimism. Why,
then, this sudden hectic of the sensational? Why, indeed, unless the
genius, the loganstone, as suggested by the fellow in the exhibition,
had rocked till it tilted?

In the midst of my mental tussle, while twisting the pros and cons in
favour of lunacy, and walking with bent head and irresponsible stride, I
fell foul of an obstacle. It was Lawrence Vane, the poet, who, being
well known to me, chose this mode of salute.

"Your _moutons_ are causing you trouble," he laughed. "Debts?--love
affairs?"

"I have neither," I replied, without a vestige of humour.

He was a breezy fellow, good tempered and sound, but at the moment he
was out of place. Despite my abruptness he wheeled round and kept pace
with me.

"You were totting up your virtues then?" he pursued.

"I can do that on my fingers. It was Wray's vagaries that puzzled me. I
am on my way to him."

His cheery mood vanished.

"Don't go near him," he burst out. "He is a beast; I loathe him."

"He is my friend." (This with an accent on the last word.)

"I expected that. They were my friends once, but I never go there now."

"They?" I inquired. I had forgotten the report of Wray's marriage, five
years before. It had taken place in Rome on the eve of my departure from
England.

"He and his wife. You met her? No? She was the sweetest girl that ever
stept."

"Was?" I exclaimed. "Is she dead?"

"Dead to us, to society, to happiness. She left her husband within the
year."

"Poor fellow!"

It was well to have met Lawrence before going to Wray's studio--awkward
situations might have ensued. I delved for more of the domestic history.

"She was the prey of mischief-makers--there were so many who envied her.
People whispered cruelly of her mysterious elfish beauty, and women
coveted her golden hair; for nothing women resent so much as Nature's
own coronation of sovereignty. She was only eighteen, and believed in
him--worse luck for her. Afterwards she became jealous and tried the
spur. It makes some beasts go and some stand stock still. He gibbed.
Rash people--men--quoted Byron, told her that constancy was woman's
greatest vice; others--women--bragged of the equality of man and woman,
hinted at levelling down when you can't level up."

"He had cared for her?"

"It was a love match. But you can't plant figs in the midst of thistles.
He was easygoing, hated a smart, so there was no uprooting, and the fig
tree perished!"

There were tears in Lawrence's eyes, but he began whistling a music hall
air in affectation of nonchalance.

"Well," I said, extending a hand as we neared Buckingham Gate, "it is
miserably sad, but thanks for instructing me. I shall be saved unlucky
allusions."

"You mean to see him?" he asked, dejectedly.

"Certainly."

With a wry sneer of dissatisfaction he bade me good-bye, and I continued
my way to the studio.

Lawrence Vane's view struck me as narrow and one-sided. He ignored the
fact that Wray was one of the most courted men in London, that in
England and America his genius drew to him followers, patrons, friends
of all ranks, and that, as a natural consequence, there were warm
corners in women's hearts for this spoilt child of fortune. With the
world beckoning, the fair sex flinging petals from the rose gardens of
love and admiration, he had needed more than human dexterity to pick his
way through the scented labyrinths that were continually twining around
his feet.

I found him in, and he greeted me with his rare smile. In an instant I
observed that he was no longer the same Wray, whose presentiment he
himself had painted for the Corporation of H----, no longer the
harum-scarum painter I had known five years ago; it seemed as though he
had thrown all the buoyancy of colour and tissue--the veritable body of
him--on the canvas, and had left merely a shadow of the original to walk
the earth.

The studio, a temporary one, was on the ground floor. It looked out on
the bustle and swarm of the Buckingham Palace Road, where the roar of
traffic was accompanied by wafts of martial music from the adjacent
parade ground. It made a bizarre accompaniment to our reunion.

I strained his hand, shook it more than once as an assurance. I wished
to convey to him that I was not ignorant, nor curious--in fact, that I
believed in him. My allegiance was unshaken by Lawrence Vane's history.
I gave him the faith of friendship, which is a closer grained quality
than the faith of love.

We stood among his pictures and gossiped of art, praising H's
brush-work, wondering at R's anatomy, arguing L's historical accuracy,
and talking of everything warily--on the brink, as it were, of a plunge,
like timid girls at a river, dipping now a finger, a foot, an arm, in
the chilly depths, and wavering. When at last we were seated he took a
header.

"You've seen my portrait?"

"At the Academy? Just come from it."

"You think I've flattered myself?" he said, with his head on one side,
his eyes asking more than the question.

"It would not have done you justice three years ago," I evaded.

"Good! I wished the husk to be a thing of beauty. You think it a work
that will live?"

"Assuredly, or the Corporation of H----would not have unbuttoned to it.
It keeps its heart well within the limits of its waistcoat."

"And the other--the kernel?"

I looked at him and arched an interrogative eyebrow.

"The other picture? 'The Soul of Me?'"

"Of course I've seen it. It's magnificent work, Woll, but I don't like
it."

"Crude realism, eh?" he said, leaning sideways and bending a palette
knife backwards and forwards on the back of his chair.

"More," I said--"exaggeration."

He paled. I thought it was in offence at my critical presumption.

"There was none," he averred. "You shall see the original sketch," and
he paced to an easel that stood, covered with a cloth, in a distant
corner. He unveiled it.

"Ugh!" My cry was inevitable. I resisted the impulse to shroud my eyes,
but my teeth clenched on words.

It was the same picture with a terrible difference. Vivid, almost
glaring, in the black gloom and silence, the woman's form represented a
combination of all the debasement and degradation of the world. Evil
spirits seemed to mock and writhe and gibber in the sludge of the
foreground; the iridescent atmosphere hung with noisome miasmic dews,
even the face of the bargee glowed like a fiend in the glare of his
lamp, held viciously aloft to reveal in its completeness the whole
squalid history of spiritual failure.

"Who was she?" I whispered at last--it was a sight to shackle the
tongue--and his answer hissed back like the sound of searing iron on
sweating flesh:--

"It was my _wife_."

Heaven forgive me, I shrank from him. The man who could thus portray
accurately, unmercifully, this tale of hideous defilement--the victim
his wife, however sinning--must be himself either morally debased or
partially insane.

He saw the gesture, and moved away to the foot of the model throne and
waited.

I could think of nothing but the ghastly achievement, could stand only
with bulged eyes staring at it, a dry, dusty flavour parching my tongue.
At last I broke from the horrible fascination--a fascination that almost
prompted me to snatch his knife and rip the canvas from end to end.

I flung down the cloth.

"Sit there," he almost commanded, and pointed to an arm-chair at some
distance from him.

"You may shun me. It is what I wanted--deserved. To that end I confessed
it, 'The Soul of Me.'"

Then on a sudden his meaning dawned.

"The body," he went on, "was painted before I learnt what colour the
soul was. I will tell you."

"No, no!" I remonstrated, perceiving the tension of his set jaws. "It
will pain you, and do no good."

"Pain?" he said. "There is no pain that eats into the heart like
silence. The knowledge of guilt hidden corrodes like an acid. It must
have been that which taught the Catholic Church the value of
confession."

"Possibly," I said, moving from my distant chair to his side, and
grasping his hand. "But remember I am not a priest; I am only, and
always, a friend."

"I know, I know," he said, hurriedly, staring out across the room at the
humming, busy road. "My confession is not to you. All that humanity can
do the priests have done. You stare? Yes, I've turned myself inside out
for them; but all their altar flowers cannot scent a foul soul, nor can
their sanctuary lights illumine its crooked corners. I'm no historian,
but I've heard of cases where private penance, remorse, and religious
absolution have totally failed to wipe clean the hearts of intellectual
men--they of the world, sinners, needing absolution of the world. Such
men, who live in the open, and trumpet their triumphs there, need, too,
to howl their confessions from the housetop, carve their contrition,
like the wisdom of Asoka, on the immemorial rocks as an outcry to the
generations."

He started up, and began to stride about the room. His face was full of
passionate grief, and his wandering eyes passed beyond me as though
watching a sunset.

I thought of the loganstone, and of the frail woman, the stalk of
asphodel, who had unhinged it. The great painter, sensitive ever to
colour and beauty and flattery and happiness, to pin-pricks and to
sneers, had dropped in pieces before a real strain--sin for which he
held himself responsible, remorse that found no outlet wide enough for
his great transcendent heart.

Presently he stood still before his picture, threw back the curtain, and
surveyed it with folded arms.

"She was pure," he muttered, half to himself; "sweet, sweet as new milk
from warm udders in cowslip time, and I--I brought her to my cobwebbed
life without so much as a preliminary sweep of the broom. She thought me
like herself, and I dared not undeceive her; but others--curse
them!--they taught her. She was pure as milk, I said--ay, for milk
absorbs poison quicker than things less pure. She breathed the taint
from the loathly atmosphere of my world--of the world that had been
mine.... But I loved her ... would have won her back--cringed to her.
She spurned me, spited me through herself, evaded me, till"--a
shuddering horror stifled his voice--"till, by chance, I came on
_that_."

I followed him to the easel, and placed an affectionate arm on his
shoulder.

"Well, old man, you must clear out of this. Come along with me back to
the Bush, and drop this nightmare."

"Drop it?" he flouted; "why, the world reeks of it!"

"Not now. You say that even the priests absolve you."

"Cheap contrition! cheap absolution! how one cuddles them at first--at
first! But in time we feel our canker--it grows under the clean Church
wrappings--in time we learn that where our sanctuary is, there, alone,
can our penance be. Hence this picture. It accompanies the portrait, a
gift to the nation. You can't think what a going down on the marrow
bones it was--down on the stones for every rascal to gaze and prod at,
an attitude for eternity."

"You'll come to Australia?" I repeated, adhering obstinately to my
matter-of-fact bent.

"As you please. I feel clean enough for your company now, for I have
committed suicide--not vulgarly, by murdering myself, but suicide
spiritually. I have given up the ghost by working out the pitch through
the point of my brush, and the carcass is yours to bury where or how you
will."



In a Cornfield (Dialogue).

    (_The field is divided by a stile and a hedge from some
    pastures._)


HE (_bent double in the act of gathering poppies_). And what would you
vote about?

SHE (_with hand extended to receive them_). Oh, anything--everything!

HE. And the candidate who paid most compliments would get most votes,
eh?

SHE. It would depend on how he paid them.

HE (_looking up and laughing_). Then it's the quality, and not the
quantity, which tells?

SHE. Nothing would "tell," as you call it, if we did not approve his
principles.

HE. Not even the offer of a new bonnet?

SHE. That would be bribery and corruption!

HE. But some _bonbonnières_ at Christmas time?

SHE. Oh, everyone accepts them.

HE. Then the vote would depend on the excellence of the confectioner?

SHE. Do not chaff on serious subjects.

HE. I was never more serious in my life!

SHE (_pouting_). Then you are horribly rude and unkind! Don't pick any
more poppies; the bunch is too large already.

HE. Let me take it for you.

SHE (_with warmth_). I don't want you to do anything for me. It is time
you learnt that woman can be independent if she choose.

HE (_with a merry twinkle in his eye_). You will permit me to carry your
sunshade?

SHE (_simmering_). No; I don't want services from people who laugh at
one.

HE (_drawing his moustache carefully over his lips_). I am not laughing.

SHE. Then you ought to be. There is no excuse for a man arguing
seriously against woman's emancipation.

HE. I thought you wished me to be serious.

SHE (_tossing her head_). You know very well what I wish.

    (_They reach the stile._)

HE. Let me help you over.

SHE. I don't need any help. Women can climb stiles as well as men.

HE (_turning away_).Of course.

SHE (_amazed because he does not insist_). I wish you hadn't come. I
wouldn't have asked you to pick poppies for me if----

HE (_interrupting_). I came as your escort--nothing more.

SHE. I don't require any escort. You can go home by the road.

    (_His face falls. The roads are hot and dusty, and the fields
    green and fragrant. Besides this, he has curved his spine flower
    gathering for two hours in the hope of gratifying her._)

HE. You will not send me off like this? Lilla, darling, don't let us
quarrel about trifles.

SHE. Woman's independence is not a trifle.

HE (_laughing_). Of course not.

    (_The laugh is fatal._)

SHE (_indignantly_). Good-bye!

HE. What do you mean? I am coming with you.

SHE. Never!

He (_looking at her askance_). Lilla!

SHE. I mean it.

HE. And your decision----

SHE. Is irrevocable!

    (_Her foot is on the step of the stile. Her right hand holds the
    poppies and supports the open sunshade which rests on her
    shoulder. She turns her back on him._)

HE (_in a huff_). Oh, very well.

    (_He commences walking towards the road gate. She half mounts
    the stile, looks across the field, then pauses. He, some yards
    off, is fumbling with the chain of the gate._)

SHE (_after making another movement towards the field and then shrinking
back_). Frank!

    (_He does not hear._)

SHE (_louder_). Frank!

HE (_not moving_). Yes.

SHE. Come here.

    (_He obeys. She remains seated on the top rung of the stile._)

SHE. Frank!

HE (_by the side of her_). Well?

SHE (_in rather an anxious voice, and pointing across the field_).
What's that?

HE. A bull.

SHE. Oh!

HE. Well?

SHE. Frank, are you sure you didn't mean to laugh at me?

HE. Quite sure.

SHE. You apologise?

HE. As much as you like.

SHE. And you'll never oppose woman's independence?

HE. Never!

SHE. Then you may carry my poppies for me.

HE. And come home with you?

SHE. If you promise not to tease.

HE (_leaping over the stile_). I promise.

SHE (_following leisurely and glancing warily across the field_). And,
Frank, dear, hadn't you better cover the poppies with your
handkerchief----

HE. Why?

SHE. Oh, because--isn't it rather glary in the field? They might fade,
you know.



On the Eve of the Regatta.

  "'Why dost thou look so pale, my love?'
  'I hear the raven, not the dove,
  And for the marriage peal, a knell.'"


"A year to-morrow since our wedding day."

He lounged opposite to her in a Canadian canoe, now talking, now
soliloquising. Her eyes were closed, the fine pallor of her face, the
steely lights of her dusky hair showed contrastingly against cushions of
amber silk which propped her head. Grey was the background and
green--grey with falling gauzes of twilight, green with luxuriance of
leafage in its emerald prime.

They had paddled to Shiplake at set of sun, starting from their
house-boat, moored in Henley Reach, to return through the shady
backwater, which coiled like a slumberous silver snake through the heart
of a mossy lane. Here they lingered under a languishing tree--a very
Narcissus pining over its own image in the water, and shedding subtle
resinous odours of gum and sap upon the mellow air--determined to enjoy
Nature in mood of most infinite peace. Time passed unheeded, and
silence, the euphonious silence of dual solitude, was only broken by the
casual twang of lute strings, or the sudden enunciation of a
half-modelled thought.

"A year to-morrow since our wedding day." His voice thrilled with love
and tenderness, its tone caressed her ears, though her eyes remained
closed.

"You have been happy, dearest?" he said, leaning forward and clasping
one of her warm, white hands.

"Very happy."

"And had all you anticipated?"

"All--more," she breathed, with opening eyelids, "you have been very
good, very generous to me."

"Good? Can selfishness be mistaken for goodness? You said you loved fine
dresses, it became my pleasure to choose you the finest in the
world--you longed for jewels, and it was my pride to search for gems to
match your beauty."

"I was very greedy--too greedy. I care less for such things now. Poverty
makes one worldly, selfish, mercenary; don't you think so? I was so
poor!--the very rustle of silk was music to my ears, and the lustre of
precious stones seemed to conjure majesty and beauty in a flash."

"And now you have nothing left to long for?" He bent over her hand and
kissed it, and the little canoe, like a fairy cockle, began suddenly to
shake and dip in the swell of an unusual tide.

"Nothing, dear," she answered him, while her eye scanned the waves that
had so strangely ruffled their nook. "I wonder if some launch is passing
to swell the river so?"

"Scarcely; that bend in the creek would save the wash from reaching us."

"But the water is agitated; look! it seems as though a high wind were
raking the face of it." She gazed curiously up, and then down the
backwater.

The trees were swaying with a soft unheard whisper of wind, and in the
deepest shadow companies of gnats were playing hide-and-seek with each
other. No sound but the hum of insect life reached them.

"It is strange," she went on, stretching her hand to the quaking water
and withdrawing suddenly from the chill touch of it, "very strange; it
looks as though the sleeping river had suddenly awoken."

"Dear little pottle of whims"--so he had christened her--"what new
romance will she weave?"

"Oh, there is nothing romantic about that. If it were grass, the 'uncut
hair of graves,' it would be different."

"Different! Is grass portentous? churchyard grass especially?"

"Every green blade of the earth must be 'churchyard grass' as you call
it. It all springs up from life that was." She plucked a tuft from the
bank as she spoke, and laid its moist blades in her lap.

"Then where's the omen?

"A silly one--an old Teutonic superstition. They believe that if the
second husband of a woman treads the grave of the first, the grass will
wave till the corpse awakes from its rest."

At this he chuckled joyously, her voice was so appropriately tragic.

"But here we've no second husbands, and no tombs; only a fanciful little
wife who has burst the bonds of the matter of fact."

"Was I so prosaic?" She stared at the dancing gnats and flicked at them
dreamily with her glove. "Ah, perhaps so--in the days when the pinch of
penury forced one to be tough and calculating. You could not imagine,
Harry, the fret of blue blood in starved veins. To be poor makes one
mean, grasping, heartless; once rich, we can become amiable, virtuous,
heroic even."

"And poetic, eh?" he said, flushing at the recollection of
transformations that his love and his wealth had wrought for Cinderella.
"Come, we must not forget the Lowthers' dinner, we're due there now."

With this he paddled out from their retreat, carefully--for the dusk was
closing round them--into the open river.

All along the banks a misty vapour, rising from the earth, twisted and
wreathed till it wrapped the tow-path in gloom. Deep shadows stretched
their quaint deformities fantastically across the wave, mingling
deceitfully with black clumps of tall reeds, into which the canoe
occasionally glided with a dangerous swish.

The distance from the backwater to the Reach was fortunately short.
Coloured lights from the numerous house-boats that were gathered in line
to view the morrow's regatta guided them, and from the merry laughter
which assailed their ears they learnt the geographical position of Sir
Eustace Lowther's floating fairyland, styled ironically "The Raft."

"We're famishing," roared someone from its balcony.

"So are we," came in duet from the canoe.

"Take care of the ice-box," called another voice from the gloom, as a
paddle hit some obstacle in the darkness.

"Fiz cooling," explained a guest, appreciatingly. "Your hand?"

Lady Rolleston gave it, and was escorted up the steps to the feasting
place.

It was set out with a studied view to polite vagabondage. Deftly
manoeuvred forks, two-pronged twigs mounted in silver, and clasp knives
with chased and monogrammed handles, garden lanterns in frames of
fretted iron, osier baskets bursting with an incongruous burden of river
flowers and hot-house fruits, champagne in old Bohemian mugs, ices to be
dug from crystal troughs with silver trowels, all these heterodoxies
accentuated the bizarrerie which made "The Raft" such an unique and
enviable lounging place.

Among the guests were three painters, a peer, a novelist, an actress of
note, and one or two women whose beauty was, if not classical, at least
effervescent and exhilarating. Merry talk prevailed as a matter of
course, and bets were freely exchanged on the prospects of the crews.

"I hope to-morrow won't be a pelting day like last year; it was
ghastly," said one of the belles to Sir Henry Rolleston.

"I didn't find it ghastly," he chuckled; "but then I wasn't at Henley.
It was my wedding day."

"Lucky is the bridegroom that the rain rains on seems to be your version
of the proverb," chirruped his companion.

"We've been lucky enough, sun or no sun," he said, looking across at his
wife, whose lovely face wore a decidedly bored expression.

She was being worried by the peer, who, on the
"if-you-want-a-thing-well-done-do-it-yourself" principle, was vaunting
his own attitude towards the agricultural question.

"I never had such a wretched time," went on the beauty, "we were moored
higher up last year, by the island, near where you are now. But it
wasn't all the rain, it was poor Kelly's accident--you knew him, Basil
Kelly? Drowned, poor fellow, in the dark--canoe washed ashore in the
morning."

"Hush," exclaimed Sir Harry, looking across the table and lowering his
voice. "I never knew the poor fellow, but my wife did; they were boy and
girl chums for years. He was master at the Grammar School near her, and
a capital oar."

"That's what I couldn't make out. Did you see what the papers said?"

"The papers were purposely kept from us. It was too deplorable a subject
to be mooted on our wedding day."

"Did she ever know?"

"Yes, later, and bore it very well. She was indignant at the suggestion
of suicide, but has never alluded to the subject since."

"Harry," called Lady Rolleston from the opposite side, "Sir Eustace
wants to know why you moored so far up?"

"Oh," he replied, "partly because I was a bit late and partly because
we're best out of the thick of it. I enjoy seeing the start almost as
much as the finish."

"We have the Club grounds to go to if we like," explained Lady
Rolleston, as they mounted to the balcony where the thrumming of guitars
had already commenced.

All the racing visitors were gathered in knots in the blue darkness;
companies of performers, niggers, German bands, and banjoists were
skimming along from house-boat to house-boat, making music to the guests
and indulging in mild badinage with each other. The moon peered out from
the heavens through a silvery haze, and one by one the timorous blinking
stars grew more audaciously golden as the night became darker.

On "The Raft" most of the company disposed themselves in groups, and
boisterously chorused the musical sentiments of a young man who had
boarded the boat to recite of love-making on modern methods. Lady
Rolleston, exhausted from the fatigue of entertaining the indefatigable
agriculturist, sat somewhat apart on a long cane chair. She fanned
herself, and from time to time applauded. It was a pleasure to
contemplate the boyish zest with which her husband led the roar. Song
after song followed, and then came a "breakdown" from a young "Middy,"
whose spirits were infectious. At last, when the rampage had almost
ceased, Harry Rolleston became aware of his wife's silence and exceeding
pallor.

"It's awfully late, we must be off, or we shall face daylight before we
know where we are."

Jovial farewells were exchanged, parting bets quoted, then the pair
descended into darkness.

The river was now almost deserted; its face like a black mirror giving
forth only exaggerated reflections of such illuminations as still glowed
along the length of the Reach. These, however, served well to steer by,
and they neared their own house-boat with little difficulty. Outside,
though the night was sultry, tiny breezes that came and went fanned the
skin like the breath of babes. Under the roof, however, not a whiff of
air could penetrate, and, within the room, the atmosphere seemed hot and
asphyxiating.

Maud Rolleston, as she threw off her gown, complained.

"The air here is stifling, I should like to sleep on deck."

"Impossible," her husband said, "you would have the sun routing you in
an hour or two."

"Then we must keep the door open. I don't suppose there are burglars
about."

"Burglars? I'd like to catch them--but damp--one can't fight that."

"It is too hot to be damp," she asserted, laying a hand on the frilled
pillows of her tiny bunk.

"But dangerous mists rise up from the river," he argued, warningly.

"I am not afraid of mists," she said, and in her long silk bedgown she
tripped to the outer door, opened it, and returned to fling herself in
abandonment of fatigue upon her tiny couch.

As accompaniment to her slumbers the lapping of the tide against the
house-boat steps made a soft, incessant music, while the swishing of
reeds by the river bank sighed a sweet response to the whispered
endearments of the wind. On the air still floated drowsily the sound of
strings from guitars, and the muffled echo of voices that sang in other
house-boats farther down the stream. Then by degrees, within the space
of an half-hour, came a greater hush--the hush of a sleeping world worn
out with laughter and laziness.

       *       *       *       *       *

And Maud Rolleston, dreaming, grew paler under the moonbeams that peered
through the lace shroudings of the narrow window. She sighed sometimes
in her sleep, now and again lifting her head upon an elbow, as though to
look out on the expanse of water that purled almost silently to its
inevitable future. Her eyes were open, expressionless, but tearful. In
the crystal seemed a reflection of the water's suddenly ruffled surface
which the moon was dappling with points of silver....

By and by she put her feet to the ground, hesitatingly at first, and
then gliding through the open door, she stood on an old Moorish
prayer-carpet that covered the head of the steps. Two nautilus shells
holding their burden of giant mignonette shielded her from the air; but
it broke at times fragrantly from the scented forest of blossoms.

With a lily in her hand, backgrounded thus by stars and midnight, she
might have represented a virgin saint on a missal, but her arms were
bare and extended, and she seemed rather to be a prophetess, a sybil,
uttering invocation.

Her lips scarce moved, but they sighed a name, "Basil."

The ruffled waters, at the steps of the boat, swayed and parted. The
visage of a dead man looked out from the depths to her. His hair hung
lank about his brow, the tide washed it along in passing, as it washed
the weeds from the face of the lilies.

"Basil," she murmured.

"You called to me? Or was it but the haunting of a name that once did
melt like honey from your lip?"

"I called...."

"Was it the wail of love?--Ah no, perchance it was a sigh--the pitiful
sigh of happiness compassionate--happiness regretting sorrow?..."

"It was love alone that cried."

"Searching?"

"And finding not!"

"But why doth love cry here--here by the wet tomb of dead men? what may
it find where the waters slide and shift, and the fishes twist, and the
reeds tangle?"

"Rest."

"Where satins shimmer not, and gems are few, save those bled from the
heart of despair--frozen in flowing...."

"The rarest----"

"Where no song ever swells, and the dirge of the river pleads and pleads
for the soul of faith murdered...."

"And saves it."

"Doth love come here to find rest that no earth could give, here, in the
cradle of the weeds: to wear jewels, rarer than rubies of the crown,
tears of passion, ice-bound and spurned? Doth it come to sing the
river's anthem, to wash itself white and holy, and save its soul for
ever?"

"It comes."

       *       *       *       *       *

Close by among the rushes a wood pigeon stirred in its sleep and cooed,
and the river at the foot of the house-boat step yawned like a bath of
silver, pale and cold. Over the gulf swayed the warm, white body of a
dreaming woman. Her arms were flung out, and a soft sob, sweeter than
the dove's note, a sob of rest and rapture and realisation broke from
her lips.

       *       *       *       *       *

Far across the fields, the note of the chanticleer rang out; the gulf
closed, the porch of the house-boat stood empty, and the moon and the
stars paled at what they had seen. Then they hid their heads and wept in
the dawn.



Peach Bloom.

  "'Twas only a dream--a boy's first passion,
  A foolish love, and a mock of bliss."


I.

His first love; this is what his heart called her. But his head and a
poignant memory offered many negations. There was, for instance, the
girl who sold papers outside bounds, when fourteen-year-old
effervescence converted a toast-and-water emotion into an intoxicating
passion. And his best chum, Harry's sister, whom he had never seen, but
whose photograph had lodged in his breast pocket--she, for a short time,
had presided in that revolutionary area called his heart. He had the
photograph still, with its central yellowy patches, which betrayed
repeated collisions with an ardent nose above the place aimed at by his
moustacheless lips. When the down began to grow like the feathers on a
nestling bird, there had been someone else--a fairy all gauze and wings,
a chameleon creature that changed her soft transparencies under the
magic of limelight for a limited sum nightly during the pantomime
season. Being somewhat of an idealist, his mind retained the fairy
element in spite of rather harsh contradictions in the way of healthy
appetite, indifferent pronunciation, and dubious finery. Of course he
recovered the illusion, as he had recovered the measles, and, moreover,
allowed his fancy a few other experimental flights before he encountered
Carol Silver.

The introduction was made by Harry Burnley at the time when, let loose
from Sandhurst, their movements hung on the voice of the _Gazette_; it
was made with reluctance, for Harry was well versed in his friend's
inflammability, and had himself for Carol more than a brotherly regard.
However, the day was Sunday, and opportunities for detaching himself
from Tyndall being scarce, Harry could but pursue his customary route to
the Silvers' house, accompanied by his friend and guest.

But Yate Tyndall was not thrust under fire without warning.

"She's an awfully nice girl," jerked his chum, as they crunched the
gravelled drive to the house; "but it's no good fooling around in that
quarter--everyone knows she's gone on Rosser, some say engaged, but I
don't think it's come to that."

"What's he in?" questioned Yate, soldier-like believing that every man
that is a man and not a vegetable must be "in" something.

"Oh, he's waiting for the _Gazette_ as we are. He scraped in through the
militia, as much to his own amazement as to everyone else's."

Yate's opinion of Miss Silver's suitor shrivelled.

He was himself a mightily clever youngster who had passed into Sandhurst
straight from the schoolroom. Perhaps fate had favoured him in providing
on the mother's side some German profundity and on the father's a sturdy
vertebral column and proportionate wrappings of British muscle; perhaps
it had not, for inside the profundity was a luxuriant growth of romance,
and through the British muscle coursed subdued but dangerous fires.

"He's a good-looking chap," explained Harry--for Rosser was an old
friend--"a dashing rider, and a capital shot--everyone likes him."

"Lucky fellow," grunted Yate. "I've often observed that the failures are
quite the most popular."

"Because it's their popularity that does for them." Harry, who had
occupied a humble position on the nethermost hem of the Sandhurst list,
was conscious that his own anxiety for cavalry was due rather to the
"beggars can't be choosers" system of the idle and popular ones than to
a direct equestrian penchant.

"And women pet them; they'd prefer a fool who can pot rabbits and do a
barn-dance to Homer himself," growled Yate.

"I expect Homer in the flesh was a bit flabby," said Harry,
contemplatively rubbing the knob of his stick over an immaculate chin.
At this moment the door was opened, and they were invited to follow
straight through the house to where the conservatory gave on to a rose
garden; Miss Silver and her mother were there reading, said the maid.

From the top of the steps Yate caught a pretty glimpse of Sabbath
repose. The lawn and the standard roses were formal enough, but there
were acacia trees on the left, and, under them, grouped artistically, an
Indian drugget, a tea table, and long basket chairs. In one of these
Carol lay curled up like the letter S, with head deep in a frilled
cushion. Harry, from his point of vantage, whispered, "She reminds me of
a lettuce." The soft green of a shimmering tea gown tipped with
transparencies of lemon-tinted gauze was gratifying to parched eyes in
over-ripe midsummer.

Yate frowned. He was not on friendly enough terms to appreciate a joke
which might be overheard.

Harry proceeded to shout a jovial self-announcement, upon which she
lifted her eyes from what seemed an absorbing theme.

Yate's quick glance, in the moment of introduction, observed the book
was upside down. Her thoughts had evidently been fixed on something more
intensely earnest still. Rosser, perhaps, he thought to himself--he had
already begun to detest Rosser.

Her face brightened when she greeted them, and she commenced talking
with almost excited volubility.

"I'm so glad you've come."

Harry's expression widened to a grin; his mouth was one of those
expansive ones which are born grinning. It sealed for him the reputation
of good nature.

"Sunday in the suburbs is such a dull thing, one feels quite
asphyxiated, even to the marrow," she said, addressing herself to Harry,
and veering weathercock-wise in the direction of Tyndall.

"I thought ladies saved that day for gossip and scandal?" said Yate,
dropping, after the fashion of male monsters, into the smallest of
chairs indicated by her. Harry had appropriated a footstool, which
brought his grasshopper outlines against the green of her gown, and was
already resuming his customary pastime of sucking the knob of his
walking stick, a survival of babyhood which was doubtless responsible
for the awning-like upper lip wherein lurked his impressive joviality.

"Oh, so they do, but at this season of the year all the women wear their
old bonnets and their faded summer gowns--they're not even worth
abusing."

"Then you do enjoy a little vinegar?" volunteered Yate, with eyes that
declared her all honey.

"No, it's too crude; but I like spice--just a pinch or two to leaven
appreciation."

Mrs Silver at this moment loomed expansively in the distance.
Harry leapt up to join her, and only the acacia leaves above
were eavesdroppers to the rest of the conversation. It flowed
evenly, sometimes stopping against an impedimental stone of
argument--occasionally gushing with iridescent bubbles from the force of
energetic collision. Yate was a serious thinker and a confident talker.
Carol had by nature that light quality of intellectual exuberance which,
ornamental and active as foam, has no kinship with real erudition. They
were speaking of Yate's career, the first steps, the coveted Victoria
Cross, the laurels, and a warm blush underlay the bronze of the young
soldier's cheek.

"A year ago," she said, "I was rampant with your ambition, now I cannot
forget that the rungs of a soldier's ladder are made of dead men."

"What are a few lives compared with a country's greatness?"

"Only a subtraction from a multiplicity of mourners whom death rejects,
the numberless babes bereft, the women starved of love."

"Surely love were a petty consideration, a paralysis to the hand of----"

"Don't you remember what Byron says?" she uttered, her glance fastening
itself on the floating mists of sunset, "'Love is of man's life a thing
apart, 'tis woman's whole existence.' If war costs him his life, it
takes her whole existence too!"

"Yes, but--but--" stammered Yate, fighting with a wave of sentimentality
deeper than any to which he had been accustomed, "women nowadays don't
love in that way."

"The more fools they if they do," she answered, flippantly, coming
abruptly from the clouds, and flicking at a gnat with the stem of her
fan. "Have some tea, it is iced and flavoured with lemon peel, _a la
Russe_."

"No tea, thanks. There is Burnley waving at us. I think he has an
engagement, and means me to be off."

"Not yet, surely. If you are not booked for anything you need not
hurry."

"Thanks. I should be glad to stay. I say, Harry, there's no good
dragging me to the Waymans, is there?"

"Besides," interposed Carol, as her mother approached, "he has not been
introduced to mamma."

"I beg your pardon," said Burnley, posing himself with mock formality,
"Mrs Silver, let me present to you my friend Yate Tyndall--he's poor but
pleasant."

"The fact of poverty is an unpleasantness of itself," affirmed Yate,
extending a hearty hand to Carol's mother.

The expression of the salutation was scarcely valedictory, and Harry
Burnley found himself doomed to solitary departure.


II.

There was--after the manner of suburban vogue--a tennis club in Weytown.
To this the _élite_ of Weytown society, composed mostly of shelved
officers in various degrees of dilapidation, and their growing families,
belonged. Here the Burnleys and Silvers had met, from the years of
teetotum to those of flirtation, and here, outside the cabalistically
marked acre, in their search for truant tennis balls, had Carol and
Rosser commenced the engagement which some said was serious, and others
declared to be but a boy and girl pastime.

When the Burnleys' visitor, Yate Tyndall, appeared upon the scene, which
he did almost immediately after his introduction to the Silvers, there
was spoon diet for the gossips in plenty. Where Carol was, there the six
feet two of the lumbering youth perambulated also; where she was
not--and the colour of her caprices was changeable as the iridescence of
soap-suds--there, _pro tem._, was the soldierly figure extinct.

Burnley laughed, then he chaffed, then he warned. Reminiscences of
Rosser were flaunted, dabbed forth like blisters, their unpleasantness
being excused by their curative intent; but to no avail. Then Harry,
never tolerant of home tattle, suddenly lent himself as its mouthpiece.
Carol was a flirt--nay, more; Rosser, her childhood's one chum, her
girlhood's sweetheart, had been but two months absent, and she had
picked up with, to her, the merest stranger, etc. etc. Harry further
hinted at spiderly instincts, and hummed, "Will you walk into my
parlour" somewhat portentously. The fact was that there was slight
abrasion of his own heart's surface, but that he overlooked to
view himself heroically, as most of us do, and believed his
animus was purely in the interest of his friend. But the friend
rejected salvation--flouted it--and in a few days the subject was
emphatically--Yate could be repulsively emphatic when roused--closed
between them.

On the tennis ground Carol and her new admirer made an almost daily
group. They seldom played, but they wore flannels in compliment to the
surroundings, and dallied with time in talking what one, at least, of
them believed to be philosophy. But, as before said, Carol's moods were
never stationary. She had a mischievous wit and an effervescent,
infectious sprightliness about her--it was a constitutional
characteristic rather than the immediate outcome of gaiety. This made
acquaintances consider her one of the happiest girls in the world. But
of late her friends were prone to notice a suspicious drowsy pinkness of
the eyelids, a sad pucker of the lip corners which argued complexly with
the gusts of exuberance that followed any fit of pre-occupation. And
Yate, as he grew in knowledge of her, could have testified to other
moods still--ugly ones--had he not been too neck-deep in emotion, too
loyal, too profoundly worshipful of the secrets of Nature to notice
anything but beauty in the characteristics of an ungarnished reality
like hers. Besides this, though he was but a youth, he had cosmopolitan
blood in his veins, and cosmopolitan dilution means poetry at a very
early age--poetry which clothes womanhood with mystery, and makes her a
ravishing mixture of puny weakness and irresistible strength. To him she
was the handwriting on the wall of Belshazzar, a sign for wonderment and
awe and dumb prostration, a problem too sublime for solution, though the
key to many exalted enigmas lay, alas! merely with Rosser.

Of this Yate suspected a little--a very little. He never fully knew--nor
indeed did she--how far the man was responsible for the development of
the ineradicable events which crowded that autumn-tinted period. Once he
spoke of him. It was when they had rambled from the tennis regions to
where the edge of an adjacent common was banked with trees and dotted
with seats arabesqued with initials by the playful penknives of holiday
hordes. She had been capricious all day--moody, petulant--snappish, in
vulgar phrase.

"Won't you tell me what bothers you?" he said, addressing the coil of
her hair, for her face was bent to some hieroglyphics traced by her
sunshade in the sandy ground.

"You!" she blurted.

"Shall I go?" he asked, meekly. "I've offered to do so often if it would
make you happier."

"It wouldn't--nothing would make me happier."

"Why are you miserable?"

"I'm not," she muttered, and a heavy tear fell with a thud on the back
of her glove.

He lifted the hand to his lips and kissed away the drop before it had
time to sink in.

"Would it make you glad to know that if this were poison I would take
it, to share even so much of you?"

"It _is_ poison, rank, acid poison, straight out of my wicked heart----"

"Then empty it; let me drain it, that there may be room for nothing but
love."

"Love is a vaster emptiness--it is only a shadow thrown by ourselves."

"You have proved it so?" he questioned, anxiously. "You have loved?"

"I have loved," she breathed, with a weary accent on the middle word.

There was a long pause while they looked intently into the evening
mists, which were weaving themselves into a veil of purple tissue over
the horizon. A horrible tremor had seized him, and his next words, when
they found voice, came thickly out from the burial place of a sob.

"Was it--was it Rosser?"

She merely bowed her head without looking at him.

He rose mutely, stretched his arms to right and left, drew himself to
full length like some huge dog wakened from slumber, then for some
moments he stood with hands clenched on his stick before he spoke.

"I suppose it must be 'good-bye.'"...

She looked at him dreamily.

"Need it?"

He leapt to her side.

"Do you mean that you do not want me to go--that you would rather I
stayed?"

"Much rather."

"And he?"

"He has ceased to exist for me!"

A torrent of hot blood seemed to burst from Yate's frozen brain, as
watershoots from the glaciers in summer.

"God! have you given him up?"

"I made a misstatement. I should have said _I have ceased to exist for
him_."

"That means that you love him?"

She faced round angrily.

"How dare you suggest such things of me? Do you think that women like I
are made the same as slippers, to wait till footsore wanderers have need
of them? Do you imagine I would waste an eyelash in weeping for milk
wantonly spilt?"

"Yet you cried?" he ventured, very softly.

"I cried from desolation. Can't you understand the loss of the illusion
being more lamentable even than the loss of the reality? Come, let us go
back," she added, "it is growing dark."

They wandered homewards lingeringly. The summer dusk was full of sweet
mystery, of hazy, promising indefinitude; the heath led to the high
road, and from thence they came under the darkness of trees,
copper-beech and acacia trees, which made a fringed avenue along the
back of the Silvers' orchard.

They halted as they reached the wicket. Each longed to express
something, but the something was in so many volumes they could not
decide whence to light on their quotation. At last she said:--

"I feel you are good and loyal and true. I wish I were worthy you."

He took her hand in his wide palms and smiled.

"Don't flatter me--if flattery it can be called. I question whether
saintliness in broadcloth is lovable; but I appreciate the compliment
the more for its being undeserved."

"Boy, you are frivolous; if you weren't so good I should not have qualms
about----"

"Do you know," he interposed abruptly, "how the Orientals prostrate
themselves before their divinity? I would do more."

He flung himself on the ground at her feet, his forehead against the
earth, and with a quick touch placed his head beneath her heel.

She uttered a sharp cry and stooped to him--to lift him. Had it been
Rosser's, she thought, the act would have loomed magnificent; as it was,
the combined self-abasement--the devotion, the allegiance of it--was
crude and colourless. For her there were no passionate illuminations to
preserve the margin of the sublime. She had argued love to be but the
shadow cast by ourselves, and at that moment her soul's lamp lighted
only conceptions that were blurred, formless, and grotesque.

But as he rose he caught her in his arms, and she did not resist them.
She lay inert, like a wounded animal after long strife, and pleaded as
though for physical or mental refuge.

"Make me love you! Make me love you!"

And so he kissed her.

It was a kiss that might have awakened a statue to tenderness. The wine
of her lips, as he pressed and bruised and crushed them, intoxicated
him. He forgot Rosser.


III.

The next day a stone Galatea faced the mirror. There was a purple stain
upon her mouth--a tiny swelling that would not disappear. It was
scarcely perceptible, but it burnt brand-like on her heart; it glared
at, and mocked her, and seemed to beckon with horrible witch-like
fingers along the grimy gutters that fringe the paved paths to despair.

Loveless surrender! What more unredeemed debasement! Yet she would have
vowed her being to lifelong slavery for Gordon Rosser's sake, and held
such sacrifice but glorification. One kiss! What was it? Was it gold or
was it mud? Mud, mud, mud, which only the magic of love's alchemy could
transmute to gold and pearl. Yet the mud had served its purpose. Was it
not sufficient to defile the temple that had been consecrated to an
unworthy idol, break down its altars, obliterate all memory of misguided
worship--child-like, unreasoning faiths?

But her revenge--her curse on the falsity had come home to roost. It not
only branded her--it seared the innocent! Poor, poor Yate! What had he
done that a suffering girl should have clung to him to avert mental
death in an ocean of despond, while he had imagined it but a dancing
duet on the waves of love? And she had aided the deception. It had been
to gain time, to kill regret, to help in wrenching the weeds she had
mistaken for flowers from the garden of her life. Well, she had failed,
and the travesty must cease. But before it ceased that which she had
striven to do as a duty to herself she would now do as a duty to Yate.
She chose paper and a pen with deliberation, and wrote very
proportionately and legibly:--

    DEAR MR. ROSSER,--Pray do not consider yourself bound to return
    as you suggested, and resume our childish relations. Your long
    silence has proved you now know your own mind, and I have
    already found someone worthy of a woman's esteem and
    affection.--Your sincere friend,

                                                       CAROL SILVER.

She reserved the posting till night, after the coming of Yate, who was
due at dinner. In the evening the young man arrived. He had fought his
way on foot through a deluge of rain and a thundering blast. The tussle
suited his mood, which had rebelled against the suavity of conveyance to
his enchanting goal. A handsome colour glowed through the tan of his
cheeks, and the sombre green-grey of his eyes shone gallant and golden
with the illuminations of love. At first glimpse of him Carol recognised
in his personality that almost godlike quality which welds mere dust
into heroes. What devotion he was prepared to give her! A crown of
sovereignty to lift the chosen one above princes and peoples, pain and
penury, and privation. But the diadem was too large, too massive; her
poor ignoble head might sink under it. And then princes and peoples
would become but a mob, antagonistic or inane, and the pinch of pain,
privation, and penury would eternally grip at the strings of her
love-famished heart.

She showed him her renouncement of Rosser, and sent it forth to post.
His heart bounded, for her composure deceived him and masked the cost of
the decisive action.

After dinner, Mrs Silver, complaining of the elements outside and the
leaden temperature within, retired to lie down in the adjacent boudoir.
They were alone. On a distant pedestal a lamp, petalled like a poppy,
threw sleepy rays across the room; at the piano some smaller flowers
leant their rose blush to the winking candles. She was seated at the
keys in a gown, gauzy white, with two dreamy hands expressing some
twilight theme of Schumann's--a reverie of sorrow and sighing. He sat
passive, but it was the passivity of the spinning-top. His greedy eyes
looked at the wandering fingers and longed to detain them, leant on the
mignonette which cast a languid breath from the muslin folds of her
bodice--fastened gladly, almost possessively, on the tiny blue speck
that marred the outline of her under lip. Poor sweet speck! Oh, that it
might there remain for ever as seal royal of the eternity of his truth!
At last she lifted her hands and rose. He rose in sympathy and advanced,
half afraid; restrained by the indefinable awe with which we all
approach joys that are too delicious to be seized.

For a moment she scanned him earnestly but not regretfully, and, as she
gazed, she noted the passage of his eyes as they travelled
conqueror-wise to the dark flaw on the margin of her mouth. His glance
let loose the words that had swelled her heart with pent-up purpose.

She held out her hand. He grasped it eagerly; but there was a stiff
wrist and elbow at the back of it which dictated the distance from him
to her.

"Yate--Mr Tyndall--I want you to go away!"

"What!--now?--this moment?"

"Yes, and for ever!"

She spoke deliberately, without a quaver of sorrow, and every word on
his heart spat like hailstones coming down a chimney on live coal.

His huge frame trembled and swayed an instant. Then he laughed. It was a
jarring, joyless convulsion.

"You don't mean it--you are doing it to try me--say you don't, Carol, my
darling."

"But I do," she explained. "Listen. I have behaved infamously to you. I
will take all the blame. You were so good, so noble, so loving. You came
just when I was dying of heartbreak--people do die of it, no matter what
the philosophers say. You saved me, you lifted me to life and womanly
pride, you prevented me from writing cringing letters to----in short you
saved me from throwing myself at Mr Rosser's head. Nay, don't speak. I
told you I had loved him."

"You love him still!" he cried.

"No. I showed you my letter this evening to prove it. But that is no
reason for loving you."

"But you'll try and love me? I would make you--you said I might," he
murmured, as though coaxing trust from a child.

"No," she said, disengaging her hand and brushing it across her eyes as
if to sweep away a blighting memory. "No, it was then I knew myself,
then I took courage to face the future without him--without you----"

"But because you refuse him, why----"

"I will not become a thief. Because my own gold has been filched and
squandered I should be no less a thief were I to fill my purse with what
I can never earn--never repay."

"My love is a free gift, Carol--I don't make reservations," he mumbled,
hopelessly, for he knew her tones dictated rather than argued.

"Won't you see that it is because your gift is so lavish, so
rare--because I cannot return--I cannot take it? Offerings of real worth
cannot be so accepted without degradation. Dear Yate, good-bye. Some day
when you have recovered this you will know I am right. Perhaps, even,
you may place me, faults and all, in some special heart-niche reserved
for defunct yet exotic truths."

She affected flippancy, but her mirth hung lank, like the curls of a
drowning man.

He bent over her hand and kissed it.

Then he said thickly, in a drunkard's voice, "I'll go ... by the garden
way----" and rushed out.

She heard the conservatory door bang behind him, and lost the sound of
his footsteps in the howl of the storm.

They took him over the soaking lawn, along the orchard, out by the
wicket, into the avenue of copper-beech and acacia where last night they
had stood together. There he beat his head against the senseless bark of
the dripping trees and wept aloud. And the burst of his sobs mingled
with the roaring of the wind as it swept over him and expended its wild
tumult against the closed windows of her house.



Twin Souls (Dialogue).


    _Characters._

    ARDILAUN VYSE, _a popular poet; and_ CYNICUS NEERE, _an old
    bachelor._


SCENE--A SMOKING-ROOM.

ARDILAUN. I can't think why we discuss it. It's as useless to expect
sentiment from you as----

CYNICUS. To import coals to Newcastle. Who hawks goods in a stocked
market?

ARDILAUN. One likes sympathy.

CYNICUS. I sympathise profoundly; but talking about a leak doesn't stop
it.

ARDILAUN. This can't be stopped. It means the wreck of two
lives--Letitia's and mine.

CYNICUS. Together?

ARDILAUN. Together! Why, the universe would be re-created! It is
severment that ruins. There is she, brilliant, beautiful, famous, tied
for life to a money-grubber on 'Change: a wretch who cuts the leaves of
her books with his thumb, and snores over them like an apoplectic pug.

CYNICUS. He earns his dose.

ARDILAUN. Money again! That's all you think of--it's all my wife thinks
about. Petty parsimonies, cramping retrenchments, harrowing details of
household economy----

CYNICUS. Very necessary, even in the _menage_ of a popular poet.

ARDILAUN. They needn't be flaunted. To come in and read your most
brilliant stanzas to a woman who never looks up from darning----

CYNICUS. Your socks?

ARDILAUN. When you know of another who would listen to every word and
criticise----

CYNICUS. Pick holes, not mend them!

ARDILAUN. Who would share your highest exaltations and lift you----

CYNICUS. Off your feet, till you bashed your crown against the hard fact
of orthodox opinion.

ARDILAUN. What is opinion to souls the law of the higher intelligence
has made twin?

CYNICUS. A thorny briar, with twenty prickles to the rose.

ARDILAUN. What were a thousand prickles to one such rose?

CYNICUS. I concede, Letitia is too fine a prize to be lost for a
scratch--a thousand scratches.

ARDILAUN. Well said--now you speak like a man.

CYNICUS. She must be grasped and all the little spikes allowed to probe
their way through the skin. You can rise at cock-crow and salve your
wounds with morning dew--you rival the lark sometimes, don't
you?--you----

ARDILAUN. Nothing to laugh at. I find my best inspirations at sunrise,
when the first glow of day blushes through the trees.

CYNICUS (_scratching his chin and looking at the ceiling_). Letitia
sleeps till nine. Her inspirations blaze best in moonlight. At dawn her
rest commences and is never broken--no, not even by the "apoplectic
pug." He slinks off on tip-toe to his money-grubbing in the city.

ARDILAUN. Does she work so hard?

CYNICUS. Books like Letitia's are not written without mental strain.
Poets may weave, like spiders, from their innermost, but authors grind.

ARDILAUN. Noble woman! Yet she shows no signs of fatigue.

CYNICUS. The "pug" again. Snacks before she goes out, snacks when she
comes home; oysters and stout at eleven, by his orders. Saves the
digestion and helps to recuperate, he thinks.

ARDILAUN. But eating in the usual way----

CYNICUS. Couldn't be done by genius; nothing so conventional.

ARDILAUN. Me you put outside the pale?

CYNICUS. Oh no; you've your vagaries, though not as to time. How about
the vegetarian diet and distilled water?

ARDILAUN. The simplicity of the philosophers.

CYNICUS. Troublesome to keep going?

ARDILAUN. Not so; my meals are perfect--fit for a king.

CYNICUS. Your wife's recipes, I suppose? Our English cooks are dolts at
vegetable dressing.

ARDILAUN. They are. She superintends--she prefers cookpots to poetry.
That is the hard part of it. Were it Letitia----

CYNICUS. The vegetables might go to the----

ARDILAUN. Nothing of the kind. A clever woman could master such trivial
details in a trice.

CYNICUS. And pen her books with a squint eye on the saucepan?

ARDILAUN. You say she only works at night.

CYNICUS. And your matutinal repast?

ARDILAUN. My milk and lentils at eight--anyone could manage that----

CYNICUS. And Letitia's coffee and roll in bed at nine, her _déjeuner à
la Fourchette_ at eleven, your lunch at one, her snack at four, your tea
at five----

ARDILAUN. Come, you're overdrawing it. We should at least have dinner
together.

CYNICUS. Yes; Letitia is what you call a flesh-eater and wine-bibber
like myself. We'd have a good square meal, finishing up with some fine
"fruity." I forgot; in the ideal household the "pug's" noted port would
be conspicuous by its absence.

ARDILAUN. Poets don't gamble to fill their cellars.

CYNICUS. So they go empty. Poor Letitia!

ARDILAUN. Letitia would prefer love to the rarest vintage that was ever
pressed.

CYNICUS. How about the machinery? The nectar of the gods won't drive a
cog-wheel.

ARDILAUN. I suppose I have machinery, as you call it?

CYNICUS. Greased on special principles, too. Drop your principles and
bang goes everything.

ARDILAUN. Puns won't silver your moral bolus. You can't convince me.

CYNICUS. Morally? I don't attempt to, but practically I can show you it
is one thing to love flowers, rave over their colour and scent, and
another to crack your spine in digging and hoeing, watering,
slug-catching, and all the rest of it.

ARDILAUN. You've shifted your premises.

CYNICUS. Pardon me; instead of preaching I used the Kodak. Tableau: Two
precious exotics; to right, the "pug," armed with spade and
watering-pot; to left, your wife, darning-needle in hand, impaling
slugs.

ARDILAUN. Bosh! You're too irritating for words; I'm off. (_Exit in a
rage._)

CYNICUS. To develop the negative, eh?



Pain's Pensioners.

  "Love's wings are over-fleet,
  And like the panther's feet
        The feet of love."


The little travelling clock on his mantel struck with soft, gong-like
chime; it seemed to speak from a great way off, like a person facing
you, who answers your questions with an absent eye. Half-past six, and
he was due from the Continent every moment. His lamp--green-shaded
because his vision was weak from over-work--some soda water and a spirit
stand were awaiting him on the table, and a small mass of letters and
papers was congregated in front of his chair. All these were tones in
the gamut of expectation that found its keynote in myself.

We had been "inseparables" before his going, and we would be so never
again I felt convinced. She had absorbed him: mind, desire, future were
packed in the little palm of her hand. Yet I was not vulgarly jealous. I
loved Aubrey Yeldham better than I could have loved a brother, but I had
seen her and had caught the reflection of his sentiment, though in a
tempered degree. I had met her but once, for on the day after our chance
encounter--in a verdurous Devon lane where she had lost her bearings and
we had come to her assistance--I had been summoned to the bedside of a
sick relative in town. Returning to the old haunts, I naturally expected
to resume our fishing expeditions in the picturesque valley of the Exe,
but I soon discovered Yeldham to have found other pellucid purple depths
that interested him superlatively. I had watched the drama from a
distance, and administered cautions with the cool pulse of an umpire.
But he was past redemption. I suspected the truth when I made an
impressionist sketch of her--milky complexion, dead copper chevelure and
pulpy eyelids like some Greuze dreamer--and saw his greedy eyes fixed on
the canvas, not daring to name a price, too delicate to crave a
charitable dole. I learnt more from the attitude of reverence, almost of
awe, wherewith he received the gift from my hands and hurriedly carried
it to his own sanctum, hid it from me, the maker of it, as though to
veil its charms from alien eye. I knew Aubrey Yeldham well, had shared
many of his escapades, and winked apprehensively at others. But here I
was of no use, and decided we had come to the supreme moment of
life--there is always one--when we must let things slide.

Her name was Ruth Lascelles, and she was a widow; that was the sum total
of our knowledge of her. She might have been twenty, but we estimated
her age at twenty-five, deducing our theory from a certain fatigued
languor of voice and expression that accorded ill with the girlish satin
of her skin. This was arrived at on the first day of our meeting--we had
not discussed her since. I had not been Yeldham's friend, his disciple,
a mental sitter at his feet, without learning to walk warily where the
fuse of his passions flickered. For some time there was a tacit
agreement to ignore the impending danger, to talk of trivialities,
wheeling round the central idea without ever settling there. But one
morning when he had called at the little farm cottage where she lived
and had found her flown without a word or a regret, his despair had been
too much for him. The whole story rolled from his lips: his love for
her, her seeming reciprocity, their wanderings in the woods, her
reliant, trusting attitude--which had taught him to wish himself some
knight of the Round Table and not a mere besmirched man of many
passions--her flutterings of childish gaiety and sombre philosophy that
had tinted her speech garishly as rainbows on thunder-clouds: he gave
forth all, and asked, with an expression jejune as Sahara, what the
sudden flight could mean.

I was so out of it, as the phrase is, that I could volunteer small
elucidation: that she was a coquette of the first order seemed the most
feasible solution, and I offered it. He derided the notion--it was
apparently so frivolous a venture that it failed to anger him--he never
set hands on the cudgels for defence. "She is not shallow," he had
merely said, and his poor brain had tackled the enigma so often and to
so little purpose that its purport had become an unmeaning and vacuous
reiteration. But one day, after we had returned to town and were working
well in harness, he with his book, I with my illustrations for it, he
burst out afresh.

"She unintentionally let out where she lived: it is a little village on
the coast of France. She must have returned."

"Well?" I said, suspending my work and pretending to extract a hair from
the fine point of my drawing-pen.

"Well," he burst out, "the world is our oyster, and if we shirk opening
it we can't hope to filch pearls!"

"That means?" I hinged expectantly.

"That means, in plain words, that I don't intend to give up the biggest
pearl that God ever sent to make a man rich."

"You intend to follow her?" I questioned--needlessly, indeed, for his
kindling eye contained a fire of decision and energy that for fourteen
days, since the sorry one of her disappearance, had smouldered.

"Yes, follow her, make her love me by every art, divine or devilish--I
don't care which, so long as she loves me--and keep her till the same
grave closes over us."

And he went.

He had been absent but a week when I received the telegram announcing
his intended return. I stood--with my back against the mantel, and hands
warming themselves behind my sheltering coat-tails--eager to recognise
his rampant mount of the stairs, to feel the clasp of his hand or its
thump on my shoulder-blade, and hear his cheery "Congratulate me, old
fellow!" that I knew must come. A cab stopped outside, and a key turned
in the lock. Then a slow, heavy tread ascended. We met in the passage.
There was no need for more than a glance at him to abridge the
exuberance of welcome that had bubbled to my lips. I settled with the
cabman, and in a cowardly fashion lingered unduly outside among the rugs
and the travelling impedimenta. I felt somehow that he would prefer to
come face to face with his home in silence. He drank a pretty stiff dose
of brandy before sitting down, and moved the lamp away from his eyes.

"Letters," I indicated.

"Bother letters! Open them or throw them in the fire."

I did neither, but transferred them to his bureau. Then, seeing he was
disinclined for conversation, I relit my old briar pipe that had been
suffered to go out, and lolled in an arm-chair facing the fender.
Presently I surveyed him from the side of an eye. His chin was sunk on
his chest, he was staring at his boots with the blank look of a gambler
who has staked his last. There was something in his attitude that made
me wish myself a dog or a woman, that I might lick, or croon, or croodle
some softness into that stony mask. The silence was so long--so pregnant
with unsyllabled anguish--that at last I closed a warm hand over his
fingers as they clasped the arm-end of his chair.

"Well?"

"Well," he said, huskily, starting a little from his coma and poking a
coal with the toe of his boot, "it's over."

"So I suppose; and the pearl was not----"

"Not for my handling," he interrupted. "I knew you'd think something
hard of her, but you won't, you won't when I tell you----"

He stretched his hand to his glass and emptied it before continuing.

"It came about sooner than I intended--the horizon was so serene I
wanted to lay-to for a bit--but it was no use. We were talking of
something--I forget what--and I made a quotation. You know the chap who
said, 'Show me a woman's clothes at different periods of her life and I
will tell you her history'?"

"Yes; I forget his name, but I think it was a Frenchman."

"Well, I quoted him. Pretended to a like perspicacity: it was a
sneaking, cowardly ruse to know more of her."

"Had she told you nothing?"

"All this week I had known no more than what we both knew or
surmised--that there was a secret panel somewhere."

"And in your tapping for hollows----?"

"The spring flew; yes, but not as you suppose. I pretended that a sight
of even a few of her past dresses might suggest a fragmentary romance,
though of course she was too young for histories such as were meant by
the originator of the idea. She is only twenty-four," he parenthesised,
"was married at nineteen; I learnt that."

"Well?"

"She snapped at my offer--was almost ardent in her wish to test me.

"'I could show you the most important dresses I have worn in the last
seven years,' she said. 'I used to clothe myself in gowns to match my
moods at one time,' she added.

"I saw myself face to face with the last fence, and baulked. I began
backing out. There were soft places, I could not tell how deep or how
soft, beyond, and I was nervous.

"'Come,' she urged, spurring with almost excited insistence, 'if you
outline with the smallest correctness I will supply the lights and
shades truthfully.'

"She said the last words with pathetic emphasis that frightened me.

"I determined to change the subject. Caught the little finger of her
left hand and kissed it. Did I tell you she had never shaken hands with
me with her right--that she had explained she kept it for secular and
the other for sacred use? I kissed it, in the centre of her palm, and
her body curled like a sensitive plant with the warmth of my lips. I
blushed for having doubted her purity or her love."

He buried his head in his hands and seemed disinclined to reveal more.
But after a long pause he began afresh.

"I'm telling you everything--exactly as it happened--that you may
reverence her. She's too clean and transparent to be clouded by vulgar
doubt," he said, rather to himself than to me.

"She insisted on my accompanying her to a sparsely-furnished room," he
went on. "The walls were fitted with hooks and slides to improvise a
wardrobe.

"'I have kept some of my gowns since I was a girl,' she sighed.

"'Those, I suppose, that were episodic?' I affected to laugh to waive
her seriousness.

"'Oh, the everyday ones were thrown away--worn out: these were most of
them connected with'--she hesitated--'eventful occasions.'

"I again wavered--allusions to these eventful occasions seemed to
portend grief to her and pain incidentally to me.

"I caught her wrist as it turned the handle of the wardrobe door, and
remonstrated. 'I refuse to see them; I know nothing of clothes and I'm
not a detective, I won't pry into your past secrets, either of sorrow or
of joy.'

"Her hand shook in my clasp.

"'Don't stop me,' she cried, imperatively. 'Help me--I want you to know
them.'

"'So be it,' I said, and pushed back the door. Then she suddenly flung
herself in front of it, between me and the row of dainty frocks and
shimmering laces. She looked like Cassandra--in a soft, yellowy flannel
gown with loose sleeves falling away from her pink arms that blushed
with the heaving blood in her warm breasts--like Cassandra guarding the
gate of a citadel, though her lips said in a tone richer than wine,
sweeter than music, 'Kiss me first.'"

There was a long pause--Yeldham sat blankly staring at the coals, and I
gazed intently into the mists of nicotine that curled upwards to the
ceiling. Through them I could conjure a vision of her bronzed coronal
and Aubrey's massive muscularity, and could picture her glowing arms
around his neck--a convolvulus entwining a Gothic column.

"There are some kisses," he said presently, "that are worth the whole
sum of human pleasure. Pleasure! Faugh!--a rotten word--belonging to
those who only half live!"

He handled a cigarette mechanically and lit it.

"Well," he continued, "the first dress was white. A virginal thing of
simple gauze and flummery, with a frontage of puffings to make up for
bust development. Quite a girl's dress. Women, you know, are less
generous in the matter of--chiffon, don't they call it?--and more so in
the matter of flesh. It was her debût dress--I supposed--but she
contradicted.

"'No,' she explained, 'not quite that. One's debût is a hazy affair: all
excitement, wonder, blush, and clumsiness, with little or no enjoyment.
Yet how many of us would give the long, grey end of life for that first
night's dappling of peach bloom? It was the frock I wore on the evening
I first met my husband.'

"She spoke his name with a dull accent of grief, and I buried myself
amongst the flippery. Her kiss was moist on my lips, and I had no taste
for allusions to the dead man.

"The next thing was a riding habit--torn across the skirt.

"'A cropper,' I remarked; 'and enjoyed, or this memento would scarcely
be here?'

"'That,' she allowed, sadly, 'is a natural inference--correct in this
case, but not in all.' I glanced hurriedly along the line for relics of
crape--but she resumed my enlightenment. 'This was a souvenir of a grand
day's hunting and a broken ankle.'

"'And someone?' I hinted.

"'Yes; George--my husband--carried me home.'

"I turned abruptly to a party frock--the colour of a rose. There was a
green patch on the right breast--the blurr of crushed flowers.

"'No occasion to state what this means,' I snapped irritably. I was
seized with a desire to close the wardrobe on these trophies of
conquest.

"'No,' she said, with a quiver of the lips, 'we were married soon
after.'

"I threw myself into an arm-chair in the sulks, but she moved on to show
another gown--a bed or invalid gown--worn and faded.

"'An illness,' I said; 'you had no strength left for coquetry?'

"'Puerperal fever,' she explained. 'My baby died, and my brain--it
seemed to get paroxysms of depression and exaltation. Don't you think
that a supernatural power ordains our moods, shifts the evenness of
balance, makes us sometimes irresponsible?'

"There was a lambent excitement in her manner, which was usually gentle,
almost lethargic.

"'We can't be responsible for our brains in illness, particularly fever.
But you recovered?' I said, pointing to some fine azure drapery
encrusted with Japanese gold.

"'I recovered; yes, but I never wore that.'

"'It belonged to someone you loved?'

"'It was mine,' she said, 'and was worn by a woman I hated. She borrowed
it one night after coming over in the rain; she used to attend me
devotedly during my illness.'

"'Yet you hated her?' I asked, taking my cue from the curl of her lip.

"'Not then. In those days I thought men were true--George truest of
all--and women good.'

"I smiled, but she was quite serious.

"'In this way;' she explained, 'I imagined that if they sinned, it was
either for sheer love or for bare life.'

"I looked down at the gold storks on the heavy eastern silk, and said,
'And when did you change your opinion?'

"'When I hung away this gown, and determined it should never touch me.'

"'This woman showed you a new type?'

"'Yes,' she replied, very simply, 'she neither loved nor starved.'

"For a long time the poor girl remained mute, staring at the ill-fated
blue garment, and one of white cambric that hung the last on the hooks.
I rose to put my arm round her, to break the skein of unpleasant
associations, but she moved away, and said in a hard, almost defiant,
voice:--

"'There is one more; tell me its tale if you can, and if not----'

"She paused while I took the fine lace and lawn into my fingers; it
seemed a summer dress, scarcely crushed; in front, however, and on the
sleeve was a splash of dull red-brown.

"'Paint?' I suggested, 'or blood. An accident, perhaps?' and in
questioning I met her eyes.

"'Don't, don't!' I cried, 'don't speak!' I flung myself back in the
chair, and covered my face to avoid the sight of hers--the expression of
horror that was staring from it.

"'I will, I must speak. Yes, blood; his blood. Oh!' she exclaimed,
standing in front of me in that Cassandra-like attitude I had noticed
before, 'I can see it now. George had gone to the country--so he had
said--and I, to pass the time, dined with an uncle at Bignards. You know
the room--the thousand lights and loaded tables, the chink of glass and
glow of silver--the gay and brilliant company that is always there? We
dined, and were leaving afterwards for the Opera. My uncle passed out
first, and I was about to follow him, when, at a little table _a deux_,
I saw George and her; George looking down, down into her eyes and her
bosom, with a hot red flush in his cheeks, and a lifted wine-glass in
his hand. I don't know what happened; I burst between them, flung the
glass from his fingers, and then----'

"I thought she must scream, but only a gasp escaped her. She looked at
something on the ground and added in an awed, strangely intense voice,
'He was dead!'

"The tone compelled me to her side; a torrent of agony seemed frozen at
her lips.

"'Hush! Hush!' I implored. 'Your brain was deranged: you had been
ill----'

"I had recovered. Did you never read of the Reymond affair? I am that
miserable woman. Lucky, some people have called me, because in France
they are human and class such deeds as _crimes passionels_.'

"My words I cannot remember. They were violent reiterations of love,
assurances that I had read and recalled the catastrophe--the fatal
result of a glass splint probing an artery--and had pitied her before I
knew her. I protested, raved, threatened, vowed I had come with the one
object of linking my life to hers, and that now, more than ever, my mind
was fixed.

"But she remained cold, almost severe. 'You remember,' she said, 'how I
fled from you to spare myself a Tantalus torture--a hungering for
spiritual peace, a thirsting for rare devotion which you seemed to be
offering with laden hands?'

"'Your longings must have been slight!' I scoffed, ungenerously.

"'Listen,' she cried, still standing rigid, though the thrilling tone of
her voice confessed her emotion. 'The verdict of acquittal was merely a
doom to perpetual remorse. "A life for a life," was cried to me from
even the day-break cheeping of the birds. I thought to make atonement by
fasting and prayer: I hoped for it in attending the stricken--walking
hand-in-hand with disease. On stormy nights I fancied I might save some
drowning soul from wreck; earn an innocent life at the cost of my own; I
was ready--craving of God the hour and the opportunity, but it never
came. I have knelt and starved, I have nursed the sick to health, I have
rescued a child from the depths, and yet I live!'

"I clutched her gown, kissed it, abjured her to leave her theories of
atonement with Heaven, and trust her future and its serenity to me. But
she put me aside.

"'Oh, Aubrey, be merciful--spare me all you can, for I am like a pilgrim
who faints in sight of the Great Road. I know now that it is not the
pulse of life, but the colour and the scent of it that make one's
sacrifice. I believe that every guilty soul must have his moment of high
opportunity--of expiation, and this is mine. You are brave, you are
great, you are generous. Shall you tempt me--and stay; or will you save
me--and go?'"

Poor Yeldham's voice broke to a hoarse whisper, and I laid a sympathetic
hand upon his knee.

"And you, Aubrey, you went?"

"I am here," he answered, with a groan that was more pitiful than tears.



For Love or Science?

  "This morn a throstle piped to me,
    ''Tis time that mates were wooed and won--
  The daffodils are on the lea.'"


There is always a store of benevolence and magnanimity in the heart that
beats at an altitude of nearly four feet from the ground. Wit, wisdom,
and energy may go pit-a-pat "at the double" on lower levels, but great
soulèdness and probity only come to their perfection in a steadier
region.

Beyond these last-quoted virtues Ralph Danby had few. He was rather
lethargic and decidedly clumsy. His six-feet-three of flesh and blood
was knotty with muscle, but, in the garments of the polite, the
muscularity showed like adipose tissue and spoilt him. In feature he was
pronounced perfect.

"Perfect as regenerate man can well be," raved a lady artist, who,
before he had been in Hampstead a week, had implored him to pose for a
painting of early Scandinavian classicism. He wore a Vandyke beard--not
because he liked it, but to avoid the casualties of his native
clumsiness, which made shaving as farcical as Heidelberg duelling--and
permitted its amber waves to roam caressingly close to his chin with a
negligence that was the more graceful because unstudied.

At first, when it became known that young Dr Danby intended stepping
into his father's practice, Hampstead resented it. Cabinet Councils of
"tabbies," assembling over their postprandial Bohea, declared they would
none of him. A retired Army doctor, forsooth! What would become of their
nervous ailments, their specially feminine disorders? If they had the
finger-ache, he would be bound to suggest amputation; if liver or
neuralgia, he would insist on active employment--those were the only
formulæ known to regimental sawbones, poor benighted things!

But when he came, when it saw the benign blue eyes and lordly physique
of the new practitioner, the feline chorus changed its note, while
neuralgia, _migraine_, and other indefinite and not unbecoming disorders
became quite epidemical in his neighbourhood. Only a few daring persons
ventured to harbour opinions in opposition to the _vox populi_, and
those speedily argued themselves ignorant or prejudiced, or both.

There existed perhaps but one person of his acquaintance who was
absolutely indifferent to the impression created in his new
surroundings--the one and only person for whose goodwill Ralph Danby had
ever cared. He had known her at Gibraltar, a laughing, rosy bride,
brought out by the senior Major, a man almost double her years. But that
seemed ages ago. The Major had been gathered to his fathers, and Mrs
Cameron, with her baby girl, to the great regret of the regiment, had
returned to the vicinity, if not to the care, of her parents in Maida
Vale.

It was this departure, though it would have surprised him had he been
told so, that inspired Ralph Danby with the notion that Army doctoring
was a bore. He came to the conclusion that real work was all he wanted.
What a field was open in metropolitan life with its suffering and pain
for a man's labours--a man who was otherwise good for nothing! And then
the reward--the smiles of the relieved--that existed always, when other
satisfaction failed.

He realised he was down on his luck, but diagnosed no further, and sent
in his papers. Farewell dinners followed, and the mess tried to carry
him round the table at the risk of collective apoplexy (for he was a
huge favourite in every sense of the word), then the _Peninsula_ weighed
anchor, and Gibraltar saw him no more.

It was some time, however, after taking over his new work that he
ventured to call on Mrs Cameron. He respected her widowhood; he feared
the renewal of his acquaintance might revive unhappy recollections; but
he went at last.

He was pathetically nervous when introduced into the tiny drawing-room
where Phoebe sat alone. But the moment he heard her rippling laughter he
was reassured. The room was small, and Ralph was big and clumsy. In his
advance one of those Algerian tables, so admirably constructed to bark
the shins or bang the knees of unsuspecting mortals, gave way before him
and scattered its _bric-à-brac_ far and wide. This trifling incident
served to put him on his old footing at once, and in fact to establish
his identity, for Danby's reputation for wreckage had been universal as
well as costly.

"At it again, you see, Mrs Cameron!" exclaimed he, as he hastened to
right the impediment. "Allow me. I am so sorry. Allow me!" he gasped,
while grovelling with her on the floor in search of some errant trinket
which had rolled into space. She "laughed a merry laugh and said a sweet
say" of forgiveness, while he noted a transient blush on her downy
cheek. He was not a vain man, but he harboured a tiny wonder whether it
had been born at sight of him or of the mere exertion of stooping.

"I have a practice quite near here," he volunteered aloud. "It was the
stooping," decided the inward mentor regretfully.

"How curious!"

He did not think it so, but agreed.

"It _is_ strange. My father is old, and he was quite pleased to retire
when he found me fit for the berth. I thought life at Gib awfully
monotonous, and was glad enough to throw it up."

He had not complained before Phoebe Cameron left, but the question of
his sentiments did not come under discussion. They talked of old friends
a little scrappily and with some constraint--so much had happened since
they had met, and numerous recollections had to be skipped--until his
hostess asked:--

"Would you like to see my wee Phoebe? She is growing wonderfully. She is
nearly two years old now!"

Her voice sank with an inflexion of sorrow. The age of her child
recalled the long blank which occupied the centre of her lifetime's
sheet.

The big man's heart thrilled with pity. He longed to open his wide,
protecting arms and fold the fragile creature to his breast; she seemed
so sweet, so brave, yet so lonely.

But he answered bluntly enough:--

"Produce the youngster. I suppose she'll call me 'Dot Dandy' as the
other kids used to!"

Phoebe was absent for a few moments, and then returned with a toddling
article, half embroidery, half flesh, with cheeks like apples, and eyes
wide with youthful criticism.

"This is Doctor Danby," introduced her parent, lifting the child and
placing her on the guest's capacious knee, though still supporting the
tiny waist with an assuring hand.

He and the juvenile scanned each other carefully. The grey eyes, the
bronze curls, and rosy mouth--they were the exact presentments of her
mother. He stooped and kissed them one by one.

Before an outsider he would have been for ever compromised, but fond
mammas can see nothing extraordinary in any affectionate demonstration
towards their offspring!

"Who am I, Phoebe?" asked he, dwelling tenderly on the name shared alike
by parent and child.

"Ow is Dot Dandy," was the lisped reply. "Mammy, is Dot Dandy nice?"

Mrs Cameron hurriedly lifted the loquacious imp from its impromptu
perch. Again "Dot" noticed a delicious flush on the transparent cheek,
and his heart leaped within him.

"Pooh!" sneered the inward mentor again, "the lassie is substantial--too
substantial for any woman to carry without colouring!"

"Mammy, is Dot Dandy nice?" clamoured Phoebe minor again.

Her mother took the precaution of ringing for the nurse before replying.

"Yes, darling. Very nice."

That time she _did_ blush. Ralph could have sworn it!

How he reached home he never knew. The biggest men are the largest fools
sometimes. His enormous heart drew its own pattern of her perfections,
and coloured it with her beauty round and about. Her reflections of him
never extended beyond the locality of her brain. He did not look half
smart out of uniform--was awkward as ever, but kind-hearted, and her
baby liked him! If it were ill, he would be the person to send for. But
Phoebe must be taught not to chatter! Had it been anyone else but
Dot----!

Danby's coachman, when not cogitating on the off-chances suggested by
"straight tips" from stablemen in the mews, used to puzzle himself in
the days which followed at the frequency of the doctor's visits to the
tiny house in Maida Vale. He became conversant with the pattern of the
window curtains, and began to cultivate a lively interest in the
headgear of the "superior young person" who wheeled Miss Cameron's
go-cart. As a reward of his attentions, the "superior young person,"
whose encyclopædic qualities were unbounded, certified to a fact he had
long suspected, that there was absolutely no sickness in the
establishment!

But Ralph Danby was happily unconscious of the delicate supervision of
man and maid, and pursued the even tenor of his way in a delightful
state of beatitude till one day he overstepped the bounds of public
thoroughfare and found himself face to face with a warning to
trespassers. In fact, he made an ass of himself and proposed.

Without rhyme or reason he placed his six-foot-three of cumbersome
manhood at the disposal of a woman from whom he afterwards confessed he
had never received the smallest encouragement. She had certainly never
objected to his continual presence, but, to those who have known each
other in a garrison town where daily meetings and calls are common,
visits are not noted with the same importance as metropolitan
formalities of like description.

Mrs Cameron had not yet returned to society, and consequently cultivated
few acquaintances. Her intimates called as frequently as Ralph, whose
arrival was never objectless. Sometimes there was a doll to be delivered
to Phoebe minor; occasionally he produced tickets for some lecture on
infancy or education; now and then he brought music which he especially
wished to hear (he could recognise "God Save the Queen" if played at the
end of a programme); and once he had ventured to offer flowers! But the
quick march came to an abrupt halt through his own folly. Because one
morning he found her with a complexion more like a rose petal than
usual, because the birds made a perfect din of song outside, and the
spring sun seemed to pour through every crack and cranny and say,
"Winter is past," he thought her heart must be as love-flushed as his
own. Always downright--blunt some people said--he invaded where angels
might have feared to tread.

"Mrs Cameron--Phoebe--I love you. Will you marry me? Will you let me
make you happy again?"

Two dove-grey eyes blinked wide with amazement; then, seeing the reality
of his emotion, she stepped back a pace, and seemed to freeze as she
stood.

The birds sounded discordantly; the sunshine lost all its warmth--it was
but a winter gleam after all; the rose-bloom of her cheek changed to
deadly pallor. Big man as he was, he grew giddy as he looked. He knew at
once the magnitude of his vanity and his mistake, and cursed himself for
having spoken.

"Doctor Danby, I--I--you do me honour. I thank you very much, but oh!
why did you spoil our friendship with such folly?"

"Folly? To love you? I have never done a wiser thing in my life!"

"Pray do not speak of love. You know--you must know--that word to me is
dead for ever!"

"But some day, in the future, you might----"

"My future, Doctor Danby, belongs to my child. I shall never allow any
interest to come before my love for her. Will you understand this, and
forgive and forget to-day as though it had never been?"

He was not a really vain man, or her frigid words, her rejection of his
love, would have sent him from the house angered and mortified, never to
return. But he was large-souled and childishly tender of heart, and
thought, even in his disappointment, that, in her unprotected state, she
might at times have need of him.

Because his demand had exceeded his deserts, and because he had received
a merited snub for his rashness, there was no reason, he argued, that
she should be deprived the right of using him as her friend.

He smiled a sickly assent and extended his hand.

"Good-bye, and I may come and see you sometimes still? It is not as if
there were anyone else----"

Mrs Cameron interrupted hurriedly.

"Please do, and we will never reopen this subject again!"

"Never again!" swore poor Danby as he left the house--and he meant it.

In his own sanctum he conned over every speech of hers and found the
interview had been bald to desolation. Not one green blade of sympathy
even had she given to cheer the dreary wilderness of his life. She had
wished to keep him as her friend, certainly; but that in itself was a
dubious compliment. Had she cared for him ever so little, and felt bound
by duty for her child's sake to sacrifice love, she would have avoided
painful chances of meeting.

"She has evidently no fear of falling in love with me," groaned Ralph to
himself. "I am not even sufficiently interesting to be dangerous."

This rankled for some time. He continued on his daily rounds,
endeavouring, if possible, to avoid passing through the street in which
his frosty idol dwelt. With dreary, lustreless eyes he received the
blandishments of the feminine throng which had elevated him to
popularity; with tired, joyless heart he buried himself in his lonely
home after the treadmill hours were over. Only some exceptional case of
suffering or technical interest had power to rouse him. He was but happy
when ministering to the physical pain of others; if possible, he would
have shared it. In mental trouble the absolute prick and smart of bodily
injury seems a welcome inconvenience, for at least it admits of hope,
the continued hope of recovery, to give impetus to life. He was neither
mawkish nor sentimental--his years of scientific training had pruned
such tendencies; but the inborn sympathy with his fellow-men which had
prompted him to the choice of medicine as a career permeated every
tissue of his medical knowledge and supplemented a powerful element of
healing peculiarly its own. He had been ever ready to throw heart and
soul into any case of interest or alarm, but now his patients found him
more than ever devoted. They did not know that in their service alone
the heart's blood of the man was kept from anæsthesia. For nearly a
month Ralph Danby avoided the house in Mervan Street; then with the
inconsistency symbolic of great minds, he decided to go there at once.
He counselled himself that half a loaf was better than no bread, and
came rightly to the conclusion that if he intended calling again, the
more he postponed the ordeal the more impossible would be the resumption
of the old relations which had existed so happily before he had made a
fool of himself.

On the doorstep he trembled--absolutely trembled (he who, in Egypt, had
bandaged wound after wound, while bullets peppered the air with their
metal hail)--but once in her presence, her serene composure was
infectious, he was himself again, and almost forgot his last unhappy
visit and the miserable interregnum of mental nothingness from which he
had suffered. He might have been uneasy or constrained, but her calm
suavity left him no opportunity. About her manner there was no spark of
vanity, no simpering nor restraint--she was merely a well-bred young
hostess entertaining an intimate friend.

In novels heroines are credited with the exhibition of complex emotions
on the smallest provocation, but women of breeding in the nineteenth
century are too good actresses to hang their hearts on their sleeves
without exceptional cause. So Ralph Danby's little brougham came and
went as of yore, and only in the solitary evenings, when reason
unprejudiced criticised his actions, did he realise that again was he
building a palace of Eros, and again its foundation was nothing but
sand!

One evening, in the midst of his mental accusations, came a note:--

    Please come soon. Phoebe seems very ill.--P. C.

He hailed a hansom and was off in a moment.

The child was asleep in her crib, and Mrs Cameron watched uneasily by
her side. The flushed face, hurrying pulse, the dry skin, and spasmodic
breathing showed signs of fever. There were cases of diphtheria about,
and he looked grave. But he decided to cause no unnecessary anxiety, and
promised to return later. Then there was no concealing it; great care,
he said, must be exercised, as the child was young and not over-strong.
He put his opinion in that form to avoid being an alarmist, though the
symptoms of the disease were unfavourable, and he dreaded the worst. But
his own hope was so great that it tempered his report with consolation,
for he had not the heart to warn Phoebe's mother of his fears.

After hours of anxious watching he could not but own to himself that no
progress was made, and that the crisis must be awaited with dread.
Should he tell her? Dared he? In front of him lay the probably dying
little creature that was first in her life--before himself, before
anything. Should she perish, there would be no barrier in the world
between them; Mrs Cameron would have no duty but to herself!

A warm flush underlay his features--not the flush of pride or of
satisfaction; it was the dye of shame for thoughts which placed himself
and his egoistic desires before the life of the innocent being whose
fate seemed to lie in his hands. It lasted not a moment, for he rose and
left the house with a face quite ashen grey, whence all the light and
fire of youth had faded. He was not long absent, for he had secured a
passing hansom and paid a doubled fare for doubled speed.

He found Mrs Cameron alone with the child, while the nurse, worn out and
weary, dozed in an adjacent room. Little Phoebe, who, earlier in the
day, had been restless to a frightful degree, flinging about her waxen,
chubby arms distractedly in the effort to gain breath, now lay almost
motionless. Her mother, little experienced in any phase of illness,
imagined that some slight improvement had taken place, but Ralph Danby
knew better. The dull bluish pallor of the hitherto rosy skin; the rapid
pulsation and agonised breathing; the feeble, sad croak that could not
develop force enough for a cry--all told him there was no time to be
lost.

He hastily opened the case for which he had journeyed home, and produced
a small silver tube.

Mrs Cameron watched his movements with anxiety.

"What are you going to do?"

She was standing near the crib, midway between it and a table whereon he
had deposited the case. As her eyes met his she read, by an
extraordinary intuition which comes to most of us when reason fails,
that he purposed some extreme course of action.

"What are you going to do?" she reiterated, somewhat sharply.

"I must give our little patient relief--instant relief--by means of
this," he answered, hastily. She seemed to be wasting time with
questions when every moment was precious. Still she stood motionless in
front of him.

"How?" she persisted, in a voice so hollow that he could scarcely
recognise it.

"I cannot explain now. You must trust me."

"How?" she cried, imperatively. "I will know." A light was dawning on
her. She was recalling a case of which she had read in some old paper
where the doctor lost his life to save the patient.

Danby frowned slightly, and his face looked worn and old. He was
unaccustomed to be doubted or to have his authority questioned.

"If you will know, I shall insert this in the throat," he replied,
deliberately advancing towards the cot, "and remove the mucus by
suction."

"But you might catch the disease?"

"Possibly."

"You might--you might die?"

"Well?"

He was bending towards the child, and gently rubbing the tube with his
handkerchief. With a sudden movement she flung herself between him and
the crib, and placed her outstretched palms against his broad chest.

"You--shall--not!"

Her agonised touch, the expression of her wild, troubled eyes, made
Dot's heart thump within him, but his face showed no sign.

With seeming severity he clasped her wrists and drew her to the
adjoining dressing-room.

"It is a matter of life and death--your child's. I dared not tell you
how serious--I hoped to save you alarm. Now there is no time to spare."

With that he returned to the room, closed the door, and locked it,
leaving her in a passion of tears on the other side. Then he rang for
the nurse, and proceeded.

       *       *       *       *       *

Though at first his very soul seemed shaken with suppressed emotion, in
a few seconds the sight of the infant's sufferings, its near approach to
suffocation, overwhelmed all remembrance of his own personality, and
restored the equilibrium. One thought of the woman, and his frame had
throbbed and shivered like the forest trees in March; another, the
greater, nobler thought of his science, his sacred mission at the hands
of his Maker, and the trembling fingers grew steady.

With accuracy and judgment he inserted the shining channel into the
windpipe of the sufferer; with patience and deliberation he held the end
of the instrument in his mouth and sucked!

And all the while from the inner room came the sound of sobs--the
passionate wail of the woman who had betrayed herself, who stood
self-accused of neglecting her child. He heard the grievous sound as he
strained the poisonous mucus from the tiny throat and breathed the
death-laden air into his lungs. He knew that he swayed on the bridge
between life and eternity; that possibly--nay, probably--he should never
hear the sweet enchantment of her voice again; that if he should die it
must be without so much as a pressure from her hand; and yet the great
heart never wavered, but beat evenly like the pulse of some grand
cathedral clock, which, spite of marriage chime or funeral knell,
pursues its steadfast purpose for ever.

At last the work was over, and its reward, the free respiration of the
little sufferer, was assured. Then a feeling of dizziness crept over his
brain, and he hastened home, but not before summoning his partner to
relieve him.

When Doctor Davis arrived, he learnt from the nurse and Mrs Cameron what
had taken place. He was a practical, prosaic person, cumbered with a
delicate wife and up-growing children, and censured Danby's conduct as
foolhardy in the extreme.

"Is he bound to catch it?" asked Phoebe, with concern.

"Most certainly," replied the physician, scowling. He liked Ralph, and
thought him much too sound a fellow to be lost through idiocy. "I
believe there have been cases to the contrary--some solitary
exceptions."

"But even then," pursued she, anxiously, "he need not die? He will
recover?"

"Ten to one against it," said the doctor, bluntly, quite unconscious
that the ghastly pallor of his questioner was due to more than weary
watching by her child.

But Danby did recover. His magnificent constitution pulled him through
in a manner little short of the miraculous. Perhaps hope had some occult
healing power unknown to those who watched and tended him.

At the end of six weeks the burly "Dot" was himself again, and once more
made his way to the little house in Mervan Street in glad expectation. A
terrible disappointment awaited him. Phoebe major was not at home!
Phoebe minor, however, executed gleeful saltations in honour of his
arrival.

"How is 'oo, Dot Dandy? Twite, twite well? Phoebe pray Dod every day
make Dot well!"

The big man stooped and kissed the tiny prattler, and thus avoided the
necessity for speech. His heart seemed to have risen in his throat, and
made a huge lump there.

Hurriedly taking his departure, he determined to call another day, but
though he went again and again, it was with no better luck. Then he
understood that Mrs Cameron's repeated absences were not the result of
accident, but of design. She had been kind in her daily inquiries after
him, but now that he had recovered, she was decided they should not
meet.

A few days later the child had a feverish cold, and to his chagrin he
heard that Doctor Davis had been sent for. That made it quite evident he
was not wanted. He made no effort to go, but smarted under the sense of
injury. His better reason argued that as she had intentionally broken
with him, she could not demand his attendance on the infant without risk
of unavoidable meeting. But why had she so behaved? Had he not saved her
child, the light of her life, the aim of her future? Had he not
determined studiously to forget her accidental show of anxiety for him,
prompted by ignorance of the child's immediate danger? Why had she asked
after him daily? Why had little knots of flowers been left by bairn and
nurse, and why, ah, why! had the wee lips uttered a prayer for him?

"Perhaps the child had acted of her own impulse," sighed his modesty.

"Perhaps she had been so taught," panted his hope.

At last he determined to end the estrangement or let friendship perish
in the attempt. He wanted nothing but her forgiveness; that he felt he
deserved.

He knew every afternoon at five the nurse was relieved by Mrs Cameron,
who watched in the nursery while the babe slept. That hour, therefore,
was chosen for his visit. He mounted the stairs two at a time and rapped
at the familiar door. There was no answer. He turned the handle and
entered.

Phoebe major sat at the open window idle. She was reading the picture
promise of the clouds. Phoebe minor in a cot slept rosily in the far
corner of the room.

"Good afternoon," he whispered softly, in order not to disturb the
little slumberer.

Mrs Cameron extended a hand, but no smile greeted him. She scarcely
turned from her study of the skies. Poor Danby's heart felt sore and
heavy laden. He asked a few trivialities regarding the invalid's health,
and each query received an appropriate reply--nothing more.

He had taken a seat facing hers by the window, but even then only a
profile view of the face he loved was accorded him.

At length he could endure no longer.

"Mrs Cameron, I regret having come instead of Davis. He was engaged. I
had no idea I should be so unwelcome. Have I offended you irremediably?"

"No. Yes!" she corrected.

"How?"

He bent forward to induce her gaze to rest on him, but was foiled.

"If you will not tell me, how can I make amends? Was it because I locked
you from your own room?"

"No."

He noticed the tight grasp of her soft fingers against the window-sill.
She was not as callous as she wished to appear.

"Was it because I treated the child without your leave?"

"No."

Her frame shook slightly, and two crystal drops which she was too proud
to wipe away stood in her eyes.

Very gently he covered her hand with his own great one; very softly he
whispered in a voice he could scarcely steady:--

"Was it because I seemed ungrateful for the little love you offered me?"

The two tears rolled down her cheeks and dropped upon his wrist. With
quivering mouth she strove to frame what her face confessed would be a
lie.

He no longer hesitated, but caught her to his breast and crushed the
naughty falsehood with his lips.

How long the operation would have lasted it is impossible to guess, for
two shining eyes set in slumber-flushed cheeks peered suddenly from the
distant cot, and a prattling voice, unabashed and lusty, shouted:--

"Tiss me too--Dot Dandy!"



Romance of the Coulisses.

  "Menez moi dit ma belle
  A la rive fidele
      Ou l'on aime toujours."


The difficulty of apprehending the female character is well-nigh
insurmountable. Woman has been called chameleon, weathercock, enigma;
but an enigma has a solution which may be reached by patience or
accident, a weathercock will confess the bent of the wind for however
short a space, and the colour of a chameleon can be periodically proved
by its dietary. But woman--she is a reiterating question, an argument
sans crux, a volume with uncut leaves dotted about through the most
exciting chapters. Without the right clue you must dip and skip, now
pricked, now irritated, till you approach a frenzy bordering on madness.
For you like to know the sort of creature you are dealing with--a
painter especially, since his fame hangs on his knowledge--hence these
ruminations round Betty.

Betty? you say--do we not all know her? Does not her dimpled face peer
out of the weekly papers, and do not their columns expose and magnify
every little detail of her life--her fads, her fancies, and her follies?
Cannot we see her night after night whisking her mazy skirts in the
limelight, and opening the carnation folds of her lips to patter
enchanting nonsense and pout promises brittle as pie crust? Dear little
Betty! How her twinkling feet make merry, light as sea-foam frothing on
shells; how our pulses throb and dance in pace with hers; how our ears
dote on the fragile, cooing tones of her dainty voice as it coquettes
with banalities, flirts with the very bars of melody that silly men have
tried to make witty and pretty. But the prettiness and wittiness are
Betty's; do we not all know that? Do we not know that the shiver of the
violins is only quaint when Betty shudders at the whisper of a kiss,
that the cyclone of strings and wind fades exquisitely, "like a rose in
aromatic pain," simply because Betty, our whimsical dear, chooses to
sigh for having shuddered? And when at last she cries, to think she
sighs for that at which she shuddered, we all clap our hands to
splitting--not, oh, not at the music, but in wild collective rapture
over the vagaries of our Betty!

In this way I thought I knew her every trick and wile and whim, till I
came to paint her picture, till one after another my charcoal lines were
flicked from the canvas, and I succumbed to that paralysing sense of
total defeat which is almost always the punishment of swollen ambition.
What was wrong? I asked myself. What had I missed? The pose, the
expression, the throb of motion? Weeks passed--then I worked again, made
a new study, and consulted my cousin Laura. She knew something of
dancing, and was at that time practising ballet steps, a necessary
accompaniment--so she had been told--to her debût in comic opera.

"The face is perfection," she said. "The little droop in the left
eye--she must have been born winking--and the upward curve at the corner
of the lip, they couldn't be improved."

I shook my head. Laura's verdict was unsatisfactory. The human mind so
often demands an opinion when it really wants a looking-glass.

"Perhaps if I could get more action--more of the warmth which goes with
action----?"

"It would affect the flesh tint, certainly. You should see me
pirouetting at Dupres'--a peony isn't in it."

"I should like to see you," I said, jumping at a probable solution of my
difficulties, "particularly in daylight. One gets better to the core
of----"

"With women," Laura interrupted, "it's safest to reject the core."

"Cynic. You admit the downiest have the hardest hearts--like peaches,
eh?"

"I didn't mean to be cynical. You can avoid the hard part. It is better
than choosing the human plantains that have none: smooth, soapy, insipid
things, they clog in no time."

"But pears eat straight through--sweet to the pip," I said, gazing
quizzically at my latest sketch. "Betty is a pear."

Laura laughed generously.

"Foolish boy, keep your illusions. You can clean your brushes in them.
Degas saw wonderful things in his models--things hidden from the vulgar
eye."

"I am glad you mentioned Degas. I mean to see more than this Betty of
the Ballet. Take me to your class."

"Oh, I don't dance in the class. I have a private lesson when the girls
are gone. You can come this afternoon at four."

We made a long journey on the top of an omnibus to a hole somewhere in
Lambeth. Squalor appeared to grope under railway arches, and penury to
moan through flapping fragments of clothing that swung at intervals
along the narrow paths, behind rows of second-hand furniture and groups
of dishevelled infants.

"A choice locality," I growled.

"Cheap," exclaimed Laura. "When you put your shoulder to the wheel you
mustn't mind greasing your jacket."

She was a plucky girl--glad, like many others, to grasp the only
opportunity of self-support. My uncle, a Cheshire parson, had died
peacefully, leaving four girls and six boys with bucolic appetites to
the charge of Providence.

"Here we are at last," my cousin said, leaping down with agility, and
hardly stopping the omnibus for her exit.

We alighted almost in front of a quaint building which looked like an
excrescence--a wart--on the visage of a dilapidated chapel. Laura led
the way up a garden in size somewhat larger than a postage-stamp, where
two heartseases, sole invaders of the desolate gravel, tried to blink
golden eyes through a canopy of dust. The door was opened by a youth who
mingled an air of proprietorship with the aspect of a waiter at a
third-rate café. He waved a hand to rooms, or rather cabins, on the
right, through which Laura led me. Cabin the first contained a dining
table and a fossil piano utilised as shelf for sundries and sideboard;
cabin the second, apparently a sleeping chamber, held a bed, dressing
table, and a diminutive bracket on which might have stood a hand basin;
while cabin the third--little more than a wooden box papered with
promiscuous remnants of a decorator's stock--stored a plank upraised by
volunteer legs enlisted from haphazard sources, a basin, a bottle of
cloudy water, and a cracked wall mirror.

There Laura slipped off her walking shoes, and announced her intention
to make a change of toilette.

I forthwith escaped through the further door, and found myself in a
large, bare room, facing a middle-aged man, who was evidently the
dancing master, M. Dupres.

I explained my presence and my interest in the ballet.

"I am accompanying my cousin, Miss Lorimer"--this was the stage name by
which she was known--"in order to paint the pose of one of my sitters. I
want more vibrating actuality, and hope to sketch it here."

"Mais certainement--of course. Ze beauty of ze human form is never so
fine as when it moves to my vish. You vill see."

Laura entered in a short, fan-pleated frock with black silk
knickerbockers, and lacy frills shrouding the knees. Her silken hose and
shiny pumps make her already graceful as she chasséd by way of
experiment across the bare boards from the orange-toothed piano at one
end to the camp chairs at the other. The ballet-master made his way to a
small conservatory--a hospital for effete bulbs and straggling, deformed
geraniums--and snatching up a watering-can laid the dust which already
began to thicken the air.

Then operations began. To me they were deeply interesting, because
Betty's face and form were continually before my eyes, and the one thing
wanting to make my work a chef-d'oeuvre was, I hoped, on the verge of
discovery. Laura placed herself in an attitude, glanced at her
instructor, who had armed himself with a fiddle, and with its first
tones commenced a series of evolutions. Sketch-book in hand, I followed
her movements, now noting a six-step shuffle straight a-down the length
of the boards; now sketching the action of her arms, which, balancing
that of the feet, swayed inversely with every bend of the knees. Then
came an etherealised milkmaid step that might have been termed an arm
akimbo gallop had not the two wrists been pressed abnormally forward
against the waist, with their pink palms glowing outwards. In this pose
poor Laura's limbs looked obdurate as sawdust, while Betty's had bent
like wax to the will of the modeller. Meanwhile, the fiddle fluttered,
and the master now and then exemplified the grace of any particular
attitude he desired. You could observe his beautiful build, the symmetry
of every movement, despite the impediment of two gouty-looking feet
encased in cloth-covered boots of original design. His features were
certainly distinguished, and the trimness of his prematurely blanched
hair made a curious contrast to the general dilapidation of the
surroundings. His poses, one quickly following the other, were all
picturesque. With every turn of the head, or bend of a knee, or stretch
of an arm, some fresh revelation of physical equipoise delighted the
eye.

Laura went through various new movements of a Spanish Carmen-like
fandango with head uplifted and a bravura pout of the chin, after which
we preceded her through the dressing-room, where she was left to
readjust her walking dress. A sense of disappointment weighed on me. All
these attitudes, all these evolutions I had seen in their perfection
through the medium of Betty. No grace of motion could equal hers, no
actuality portrayed by another could be half as exquisite as even the
baldest reminiscence of her.

On the wall of the little bed-chamber where M. Dupres courteously
accompanied me were many photographs, faded but still recognisable, of
himself dressed in tights or other theatrical frippery. He took evident
pleasure in watching my appreciation of the curious attitudes in
which--to show off in their fullest perfection the lithe muscles and
magnificent symmetry of his agile frame--he had been portrayed.

"You must have danced a great deal?" I questioned, seeing that some
remark was required of me.

"Danced!" he said, lifting his eyes to the smudgy ceiling. "Yes, it is
feefteen year ago, but I remember it like jesterday. All overe in vone
moment; a coup de fouet ve call it."

I begged for an explanation.

"I vas ze first--ze very first. One leap into ze air I could do--so
high," he said, lifting his hand descriptively; "a leap zat no vone
vould dare--my fortune vas made. Pupils came from all ze countries to
learn from me some leetle 'pas,' but zere vas no time. Zen, vone night
zere came a king to see me--me, ze king of ze dance--ah! I may say zat
now it is all gone! I danced; ze air vas no lighter zan I ... ze people
shouted, zey called, zey encored. Again I danced, high, high, higher,
and zen--crack!"

He brought his two hands together with a sharp click. His face was
convulsed with emotion, and presently he took a handkerchief from his
pocket and wiped the damp from his brow.

"Yes," he continued, "it is feefteen year--but to me it is to-day.
Zere--in my leg was a break"--he pointed to the place a little above his
ankle and below the calf. "You could put a fingere into it--that vone
muscle vas my fortune--it vas gone--split in vone moment."

His sad eyes stared blankly out from the cracked unclean window as
though reviewing a vast panorama of his early years.

"How sad; terrible! Is this a common accident?" I inquired of him.

"Common? Yes, ze coup de fouet; but zis vas vorse. For long I lay in
bed, my brain made mad to know zat all vas overe, zat all vas lost. Zey
offered me half vage to teach, but no--not vere I had been ze first--ze
very first. I left England and my friends, I hoped for evere."

"Was that not foolish?" I asked, viewing the greasy curtains and other
surrounding evidences of poverty.

"Voolish? Ah, ve are all vools vhen ve love. I had loved: she vas almost
mine, but she vas too young, a child dancer of feefteen summers. So
sveet, so beautiful. She learnt from me my art, every jeste, every
perfection. She vould have been my vife, my queen--but after zis, I ran.
Vhen my senses came I knew that I could be no more rich--only a poor
dead dog in her vay. For zis I fled ze country. I came back after
feefteen year, no longer ze great Salvador, but plain M. Dupres--back to
hear of Betty----"

"Betty!" I echoed.

"Yes, the first dancer in London--my leetle Betty--you have zeen her?"
And he lifted a hand to a portrait over his pillow.

I recognised with dismay the child face--the merry smile at the corner
of the lip.

"This is the very woman I am trying to paint."

"Sapristi!" he exclaimed, and again wiped his brow. "You vill keep my
zecret? Ze years of zacrifice, let them not be known to her." His face
was wrinkled and livid with anxiety.

"Your confidence is sacred; I am honoured by it," I said, extending a
hand, for Laura just then opened the door upon us.

She laughed whimsically at my almost emotional leave-taking of a total
stranger, and chaffed me about it when we got outside.

"I have much to be grateful for to him--to you," I said. "My picture is
almost achieved. I may be worthy to follow at the heels of Degas yet."

When Betty next came to the studio she thought my painting was
completed, and skipped about in front of the canvas with the genuine joy
of gratified vanity.

"Why didn't you tell me it was done, and I needn't have got into these,"
she said, lifting the hem of her gauze skirt to her lips--a fascinating
trick which, to use her own expression, invariably "brought down the
house."

I looked at the laughing row of white teeth and thought of Dupres.

"You still want a touch or two. Just get into position for one moment."

"You'll spoil me," she warned, jumping to her place on the "throne," and
shooting out an ankle that would have unhinged Diogenes.

"Nothing could spoil you," I said gallantly, and a paint tube levelled
in the direction of my head was the reward of my politeness.

"You don't aim as well as you dance. How did you learn--at a training
school, or where?"

"To dance? Bah! training schools can't teach the fine poetry of
movement. They knock the prose into you, but--but the poetry I learnt
from--O--a man who was great in his day."

"Salvador?" I ventured.

She blushed faintly.

"How did you know?"

"You gave the cue. Salvador was the greatest name I could think of----"

"You know something of dancing, then?"

"Very little. I have heard he had an accident or something that affected
his career."

"Yes; it turned his head. He was to have married me, but, like all men,
he was ungrateful. He changed--changed quite suddenly."

"How so?"

"I nursed him night and day. He had no mother, no sister, and I thought
I could be all the world to him. Little girls are romantic, and he was
too ill to know. Before he recovered consciousness I sent an old woman
to attend him; but one fine day, when well enough, he bolted."

"Where?"

"Lord knows!" (Betty's language was not Johnsonian.) "Do you think I was
going to crawl after him and grovel----?"

"There is no grovelling where love levels."

"But it didn't level," she said, angrily, as though the reproach
stung--"it didn't level. I would have chucked my whole future for him: I
would now, while he.... O, don't talk of it," she exclaimed huskily,
whisking the back of her hand across her eyes: "I tell myself it was all
for the best."

The tone implied a query, but I made no answer. There were heart thrills
in the air, and my brush, pregnant with their subtle rhythm, was
travailling fast.

"Why don't you say it was?" she persisted. "You know that love--real
love--is worse than handcuffs."

"'A cloying treacle to the wings of independence'--eh? Keats would have
been glad of the treacle nevertheless."

"Perhaps. Wouldn't we just drown in it if we could?... But, after all, I
should have been a fat lump of domesticity by now," she laughed,
straightening her lithe limbs and resuming her conventional smile.

In a moment she had become the world's Betty again--bewitching, coy,
insouciante Betty.

But a tear-drop still clung to her eyelashes.


THE END



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TRANSCRIBER'S NOTES


1. Passages in italics are surrounded by _underscores_.

2. Passages in bold are indicated by #bold#.

3. The words Phoebe, d'oeuvre, manoeuvres and manoeuvred use "oe"
ligature in the original.

4. Other than the changes listed above, printer's inconsistencies
in spelling, punctuation, hyphenation, and ligature usage have been
retained.





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