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Title: Vanitas - Polite Stories (Lady Tal—A Worldly Woman—The Legend of Madame Krasinska)
Author: Lee, Vernon, 1856-1935
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 "Vanitas - Polite Stories (Lady Tal—A Worldly Woman—The Legend of Madame Krasinska)" ***

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Canada Team (http://www.pgdpcanada.net)



The Crown Copyright Series
1892

VANITAS

Polite Stories

by

VERNON LEE,

Author of "Hauntings," Etc.



London
William Heinemann
1892

[All rights reserved]



_ALLA BARONESSA E. FRENCH-CINI._

_PISTOIA PER IGNO._



    MY DEAR ELENA,

    We had a conversation once, walking on your terrace, with the
    wind-rippled olives above and the quietly nodding cypress tufts
    below--about such writings as you chose to compare with carved
    cherry-stones. We disagreed, for it seemed to me that the world
    needed cherry-stone necklaces as much as anything else; and that
    the only pity was that most of its inhabitants could not afford
    such toys, and the rest despised them because they were made of
    such very cheap material. Still, lest you should wonder at my
    sending such things to you, I write to declare that my three
    little tales, whatever they be, are not carved cherry-stones.

    For round these sketches of frivolous women, there have gathered
    some of the least frivolous thoughts, heaven knows, that have ever
    come into my head; or rather, such thoughts have condensed and
    taken body in these stories. Indeed, how can one look from outside
    on the great waste of precious things, delicate discernment,
    quick feeling and sometimes stoical fortitude, involved in
    frivolous life, without a sense of sadness and indignation? Or what
    satisfaction could its portrayal afford, save for the chance that
    such pictures might mirror some astonished and abashed creature;
    or show to men and women who toil and think that idleness, and
    callousness, and much that must seem to them sheer wickedness, is
    less a fault than a misfortune. For surely it is a misfortune not
    merely to waste the nobler qualities one has, but to have little
    inkling of the sense of brotherhood and duty which changes one,
    from a blind dweller in caves, to an inmate of the real world of
    storms and sunshine and serene night and exhilarating morning.
    And, if miracles were still wrought nowadays, as in those times
    when great sinners (as in Calderon's play) were warned by plucking
    the hood off their own dead face, there would have been no waste
    of the supernatural in teaching my Madame Krasinska that poor
    crazy paupers and herself were after all exchangeable quantities.

    Of my three frivolous women, another performed the miracle
    herself, and abandoned freely the service of the great Goddess
    Vanitas. While the third ... and there is the utter pity of the
    thing, that frivolous living means not merely waste, but in many
    cases martyrdom.

    That fact, though it had come more than once before my eyes, would
    perhaps never have been clear to my mind, but for our long talks
    together about what people are and might be. A certain indignation
    verging on hatred might have made these stories of mine utterly
    false and useless, but for the love of all creatures who may
    suffer with which you lit up the subject. And for this reason the
    proof sheets of my little book must go first to that old bishop's
    villa on the lowest Apennine spur, where the chestnuts are
    dropping, with a sound of rustling silk, on to the sere leaves
    below, and the autumn rain storms are rushing by, veiling the
    plain with inky crape, blotting out that distant white shimmer,
    which, in the sunlight, was Florence a moment ago.
                                                          VERNON LEE.
     CHELSEA, _October_, 1891.



CONTENTS.
                                     PAGE

  LADY TAL                              7

  A WORLDLY WOMAN                     123

  THE LEGEND OF MADAME KRASINSKA      225



LADY TAL.


The church of the Salute, with its cupolas and volutes, stared in at
the long windows, white, luminous, spectral. A white carpet of moonlight
stretched to where they were sitting, with only one lamp lit, for fear
of mosquitoes. All the remoter parts of the vast drawing-room were deep
in gloom; you were somehow conscious of the paintings and stuccos of
the walls and vaulted ceilings without seeing them. From the canal rose
plash of oar, gondolier's cry, and distant guitar twang and quaver
of song; and from the balconies came a murmur of voices and women's
laughter. The heavy scent of some flower, vague, white, southern,
mingled with the cigarette smoke in that hot evening air, which seemed,
by contrast to the Venetian day, almost cool.

As Jervase Marion lolled back (that lolling of his always struck one
as out of keeping with his well-adjusted speech, his precise mind, the
something conventional about him) on the ottoman in the shadow, he was
conscious of a queer feeling, as if, instead of having arrived from
London only two hours ago, he had never ceased to be here at Venice,
and under Miss Vanderwerf's hospitable stuccoed roof. All those years
of work, of success, of experience (or was it not rather of study?)
of others, bringing with them a certain heaviness, baldness, and
scepticism, had become almost a dream, and this present moment and the
similar moment twelve years ago remaining as the only reality. Except
his hostess, whose round, unchangeable face, the face of a world-wise,
kind but somewhat frivolous baby, was lit up faintly by the regular
puffs of her cigarette, all the people in the room were strangers to
Marion: yet he knew them so well, he had known them so long.

There was the old peeress, her head tied up in a white pocket-handkerchief,
and lolling from side to side with narcoticised benevolence, who, as it
was getting on towards other people's bedtime, was gradually beginning
to wake up from the day's slumber, and to murmur eighteenth-century
witticisms and Blessingtonian anecdotes. There was the American
Senator, seated with postage-stamp profile and the attitude of a bronze
statesman, against the moonlight, one hand in his waistcoat, the other
incessantly raised to his ear as in a stately "Beg pardon?" There
was the depressed Venetian naval officer who always made the little
joke about not being ill when offered tea; the Roumanian Princess who
cultivated the reputation of saying spiteful things cleverly, and wore
all her pearls for fear of their tarnishing; the English cosmopolitan
who was one day on the Bosphorus and the next in Bond Street, and
was wise about singing and acting; the well turned out, subdued,
Parisian-American æsthete talking with an English accent about modern
pictures and ladies' dresses; and the awkward, enthusiastic English
æsthete, who considered Ruskin a ranter and creaked over the marble
floors with dusty, seven-mile boots. There was a solitary spinster fresh
from higher efforts of some sort, unconscious that no one in Venice
appreciated her classic profile, and that everyone in Venice stared at
her mediæval dress and collar of coins from the British Museum. There
was the usual bevy of tight-waisted Anglo-Italian girls ready to play
the guitar and sing, and the usual supply of shy, young artists from the
three-franc pensions, wandering round the room, candle in hand, with
the niece of the house, looking with shy intentness at every picture
and sketch and bronze statuette and china bowl and lacquer box.

The smoke of the cigarettes mingled with the heavy scent of the flowers;
the plash of oar and snatch of song rose from the canal; the murmur
and laughter entered from the balcony. The old peeress lolled out her
Blessingtonian anecdotes; the Senator raised his hand to his ear and
said "Beg pardon?" the Roumanian Princess laughed shrilly at her own
malignant sayings; the hostess's face was periodically illumined by her
cigarette and the hostess's voice periodically burst into a childlike:
"Why, you don't mean it!" The young men and women flirted in undertones
about Symonds, Whistler, Tolstoy, and the way of rowing gondolas, with
an occasional chord struck on the piano, an occasional string twanged on
the guitar. The Salute, with its cupolas and volutes, loomed spectral in
at the windows; the moonlight spread in a soft, shining carpet to their
feet.

Jervase Marion knew it all so well, so well, this half-fashionable,
half-artistic Anglo-American idleness of Venice, with its poetic setting
and its prosaic reality. He would have known it, he felt, intimately,
even if he had never seen it before; known it so as to be able to make
each of these people say in print what they did really say. There is
something in being a psychological novelist, and something in being a
cosmopolitan American, something in being an inmate of the world of
Henry James and a kind of Henry James, of a lesser magnitude, yourself:
one has the pleasure of understanding so much, one loses the pleasure
of misunderstanding so much more.

A singing boat came under the windows of Palazzo Bragadin, and as much
of the company as could, squeezed on to the cushioned gothic balconies,
much to the annoyance of such as were flirting outside, and to the
satisfaction of such as were flirting within. Marion--who, much to poor
Miss Vanderwerf's disgust, had asked to be introduced to no one as yet,
but to be allowed to realise that evening, as he daintily put it, that
Venice was the same and he a good bit changed--Marion leaned upon the
parapet of a comparatively empty balcony and looked down at the canal.
The moonbeams were weaving a strange, intricate pattern, like some
old Persian tissue, in the dark water; further off the yellow and red
lanterns of the singing boat were surrounded by black gondolas, each
with its crimson, unsteady prow-light; and beyond, mysterious in the
moonlight, rose the tower and cupola of St. George, the rigging of
ships, and stretched a shimmering band of lagoon.

He had come to give himself a complete holiday here, after the grind of
furnishing a three-volume novel for Blackwood (Why did he write so much?
he asked himself; he had enough of his own, and to spare, for a dainty
but frugal bachelor); and already vague notions of new stories began
to arrive in his mind. He determined to make a note of them and dismiss
them for the time. He had determined to be idle; and he was a very
methodical man, valuing above everything (even above his consciousness
of being a man of the world) his steady health, steady, slightly depressed
spirits, and steady, monotonous, but not unmanly nor unenjoyable routine
of existence.

Jervase Marion was thinking of this, and the necessity of giving himself
a complete rest, not letting himself be dragged off into new studies of
mankind and womankind; and listening, at the same time, half-unconsciously,
to the scraps of conversation which came from the other little
balconies, where a lot of heads were grouped, dark in the moonlight.

"I do hope it will turn out well--at least not too utterly awful," said
the languid voice of a young English manufacturer's heir, reported to
live exclusively off bread and butter and sardines, and to have no
further desires in the world save those of the amiable people who
condescended to shoot on his moors, yacht in his yachts, and generally
devour his millions, "it's ever so long since I've been wanting a
sideboard. It's rather hard lines for a poor fellow to be unable to
find a sideboard ready made, isn't it? And I have my doubts about it
even now."

There was a faint sarcastic tinge in the languid voice; the eater of
bread and butter occasionally felt vague amusement at his own ineptness.

"Nonsense, my dear boy," answered the cosmopolitan, who knew all about
acting and singing; "it's sure to be beautiful. Only you must _not_ let
them put on that rococo cornice, quite out of character, my dear boy."

"A real rococo cornice is a precious lot better, I guess, than a beastly
imitation Renaissance frieze cut with an oyster knife," put in a gruff
New York voice. "That's my view, leastways."

"I think Mr. Clarence had best have it made in slices, and each
of you gentlemen design him a slice--that's what's called original
nowadays--_c'est notre façon d'entendre l'art aujourd'hui_," said the
Roumanian Princess.

A little feeble laugh proceeded from Mr. Clarence. "Oh," he said, "I
shouldn't mind that at all. I'm not afraid of my friends. I'm afraid of
myself, of my fickleness and weak-mindedness. At this rate I shall never
have a sideboard at all, I fear."

"There's a very good one, with three drawers and knobs, and a ticket
'garantito vero noce a lire 45,' in a joiner's shop at San Vio, which I
pass every morning. You'd much better have that, Mr. Clarence. And it
would be a new departure in art and taste, you know."

The voice was a woman's; a little masculine, and the more so for a
certain falsetto pitch. It struck Marion by its resolution, a sort
of highbred bullying and a little hardness about it.

"Come, don't be cruel to poor Clarence, Tal darling," cried Miss
Vanderwerf, with her kind, infantine laugh.

"Why, what have I been saying, my dear thing?" asked the voice, with
mock humility; "I only want to help the poor man in his difficulties."

"By the way, Lady Tal, will you allow me to take you to Rietti's one
day?" added an æsthetic young American, with a shadowy Boston accent;
"he has some things you ought really to see, some quite good tapestries,
a capital Gubbio vase. And he has a carved nigger really by Brustolon,
which you ought to get for your red room at Rome. He'd look superb. The
head's restored and one of the legs, so Rietti'd let him go for very
little. He really is an awfully jolly bit of carving--and in that red
room of yours----"

"Thanks, Julian. I don't think I seem to care much about him. The fact
is, I have to see such a lot of ugly white men in my drawing-room, I
feel I really couldn't stand an ugly black one into the bargain."

Here Miss Vanderwerf, despite her solemn promise, insisted on
introducing Jervase Marion to a lady of high literary tastes, who
proceeded forthwith to congratulate him as the author of a novel by
Randolph Tomkins, whom he abominated most of all living writers.

Presently there was a stir in the company, those of the balcony came
trooping into the drawing-room, four or five young men and girls,
surrounding a tall woman in a black walking-dress; people dropped in to
these open evenings of Mrs. Vanderwerf's from their row on the lagoon or
stroll at St. Mark's.

Miss Vanderwerf jumped up.

"You aren't surely going yet, dearest?" she cried effusively. "My
darling child, it isn't half-past ten yet."

"I must go; poor Gerty's in bed with a cold, and I must go and look
after her."

"Bother Gerty!" ejaculated one of the well turned out æsthetic young
men.

The tall young woman gave him what Marion noted as a shutting-up look.

"Learn to respect my belongings," she answered, "I must really go back
to my cousin."

Jervase Marion had immediately identified her as the owner of that
rather masculine voice with the falsetto tone; and apart from the voice,
he would have identified her as the lady who had bullied the poor young
man in distress about his sideboard. She was very tall, straight, and
strongly built, the sort of woman whom you instinctively think of as
dazzlingly fine in a ball frock; but at the same time active and
stalwart, suggestive of long rides and drives and walks. She had
handsome aquiline features, just a trifle wooden in their statuesque
fineness, abundant fair hair, and a complexion, pure pink and white,
which told of superb health. Marion knew the type well. It was one
which, despite all the years he had lived in England, made him feel
American, impressing him as something almost exotic. This great
strength, size, cleanness of outline and complexion, this look of
carefully selected breed, of carefully fostered health, was to him
the perfect flower of the aristocratic civilization of England. There
were more beautiful types, certainly, and, intellectually, higher
ones (his experience was that such women were shrewd, practical, and
quite deficient in soul), but there was no type more well-defined and
striking, in his eyes. This woman did not seem an individual at all.

"I must go," insisted the tall lady, despite the prayers of her hostess
and the assembled guests. "I really can't leave that poor creature alone
a minute longer."

"Order the gondola, Kennedy; call Titta, please," cried Miss Vanderwerf
to one of the many youths whom the kindly old maid ordered about with
motherly familiarity.

"Mayn't I have the honour of offering mine?" piped the young man.

"Thanks, it isn't worth while. I shall walk." Here came a chorus
of protestations, following the tall young woman into the outer
drawing-room, through the hall, to the head of the great flight of
open-air stairs.

Marion had mechanically followed the noisy, squabbling, laughing crew.
The departure of this lady suggested to him that he would slip away to
his inn.

"Do let me have the pleasure of accompanying you," cried one young man
after another.

"_Do_ take Clarence or Kennedy or Piccinillo, darling," implored Mrs.
Vanderwerf. "You can't really walk home alone."

"It's not three steps from here," answered the tall one. "And I'm sure
it's much more proper for a matron of ever so many years standing to go
home alone than accompanied by a lot of fascinating young creatures."

"But, dear, you really don't know Venice; suppose you were spoken to!
Just think."

"Well, beloved friend, I know enough Italian to be able to answer."

The tall lady raised one beautifully pencilled eyebrow, slightly, with a
contemptuous little look. "Besides, I'm big enough to defend myself, and
see, here's an umbrella with a silver knob, or what passes for such in
these degenerate days. Nobody will come near that."

And she took the weapon from a rack in the hall, where the big
seventeenth-century lamp flickered on the portraits of doges in crimson
and senators in ermine.

"As you like, dearest. I know that wilful must have her own way," sighed
Miss Vanderwerf, rising on tiptoe and kissing her on both cheeks.

"Mayn't I really accompany you?" repeated the various young men.

She shook her head, with the tall, pointed hat on it.

"No, you mayn't; good-night, dear friends," and she brandished her
umbrella over her head and descended the stairs, which went sheer down
into the moonlit yard. The young men bowed. One, with the air of a
devotee in St. Mark's, kissed her hand at the bottom of the flight
of steps, while the gondolier unlocked the gate. They could see him
standing in the moonlight and hear him say earnestly:

"I leave for Paris to-morrow; good-night."

She did not answer him, but making a gesture with her umbrella to those
above, she cried: "Good-night."

"Good-night," answered the chorus above the stairs, watching the tall
figure pass beneath the gate and into the moonlit square.

"Well now," said Miss Vanderwerf, settling herself on her ottoman again,
and fanning herself after her exertions in the drawing-room, "there is
no denying that she's a strange creature, dear thing."

"A fine figure-head cut out of oak, with a good, solid, wooden heart,"
said the Roumanian Princess.

"No, no," exclaimed the lady of the house. "She's just as good as
gold,--poor Lady Tal!"


II.

"Tal?" asked Marion.

"Tal. Her name's Atalanta, Lady Atalanta Walkenshaw--but everyone calls
her Tal--Lady Tal. She's the daughter of Lord Ossian, you know."

"And who is or was Walkenshaw?--is, I presume, otherwise she'd have
married somebody else by this time."

"Poor Tal!" mused Miss Vanderwerf. "I'm sure she would have no
difficulty in finding another husband to make up for that fearful old
Walkenshaw creature. But she's in a very sad position for so young a
creature, poor girl."

"Ah!" ejaculated Marion, familiar with ladies thus to be commiserated,
and remembering his friend's passion for romance, unquenchable by many
seriocomic disenchantments, "separated from her husband--that sort of
thing! I thought so."

"Now, why did you think that, you horrid creature?" asked his hostess
eagerly. "Well, now, there's no saying that you're not _real_
psychological, Jervase. Now _do_ tell what made you think of such a
thing."

"I don't know, I'm sure," answered Marion, suppressing a yawn. He hated
people who pried into his novelist consciousness, all the more so that
he couldn't in the least explain its contents. "Something about her--or
nothing about her--a mere guess, a stupid random shot that happens to
have hit right."

"Why, that's just the thing, that you haven't hit quite right. That is,
it's right in one way, and wrong in another. Oh, my! how difficult it is
just to explain, when one isn't a clever creature like you? Well, Lady
Tal isn't separated from her husband, but it's just the same as if she
were----"

"I see. Mad? Poor thing!" exclaimed Marion with that air of concern
which always left you in doubt whether it was utterly conventional, or
might not contain a grain of sympathy after all.

"No, he's not mad. He's dead--been dead ever so long. She's one and
thirty, you know--doesn't look it, does she?--and was married at
eighteen. But she can't marry again, for all that, because if she
marries all his money goes elsewhere, and she's not a penny to bless
herself with."

"Ah--and why didn't she have proper settlements made?" asked Marion.

"That's just it. Because old Walkenshaw, who was a beast--just a
beast--had a prejudice against settlements, and said he'd do much better
for his wife than that--leave her everything, if only they didn't plague
him. And then, when the old wretch died, after they'd been married a
year or so, it turned out that he had left her everything, but only on
condition of her not marrying again. If she did, it would all go to the
next of kin. He hated the next of kin, too, they say, and wanted to keep
the money away from him as long as possible, horrid old wretch! So there
poor Tal is a widow, but unable to marry again."

"Dear me!" ejaculated Marion, looking at the patterns which the
moonlight, falling between the gothic balcony balustrade, was making on
the shining marble floor; and reflecting upon the neat way in which the
late Walkenshaw had repaid his wife for marrying him for his money; for
of course she had married him for his money. Marion was not a stoic, or
a cynic, or a philosopher of any kind. He fully accepted the fact that
the daughters of Scotch lords should marry for money, he even hated
all sorts of sentimental twaddle about human dignity. But he rather
sympathised with this old Walkenshaw, whoever Walkenshaw might have
been, who had just served a mercenary young lady as was right.

"I don't see that it's so hard, aunt," said Miss Vanderwerf's niece, who
was deeply in love with Bill Nettle, a penniless etcher. "Lady Tal might
marry again if she'd learn to do without all that money."

"If she would be satisfied with only a little less," interrupted the
sharp-featured Parisian-American whom Mrs. Vanderwerf wanted for a
nephew-in-law. "Why, there are dozens of men with plenty of money who
have been wanting to marry her. There was Sir Titus Farrinder, only last
year. He mayn't have had as much as old Walkenshaw, but he had a jolly
bit of money, certainly."

"Besides, after all," put in the millionaire in distraction about the
sideboard, "why should Lady Tal want to marry again? She's got a lovely
house at Rome."

"Oh, come, come, Clarence!" interrupted Kennedy horrified; "why, it's
nothing but Japanese leather paper and Chinese fans."

"I don't know," said Clarence, crestfallen. "Perhaps it isn't lovely. I
thought it _rather_ pretty--don't you really think it _rather_ nice,
Miss Vanderwerf?"

"Any house would be nice enough with such a splendid creature inside
it," put in Marion. These sort of conversations always interested him;
it was the best way of studying human nature.

"Besides," remarked the Roumanian Princess, "Lady Tal may have had
enough of the married state. And why indeed should a beautiful creature
like that get married? She's got every one at her feet. It's much more
amusing like that----"

"Well, all the same, I _do_ think it's just terribly sad, to see a
creature like that condemned to lead such a life, without anyone to
care for or protect her, now poor Gerald Burne's dead."

"Oh, her brother--her brother--do you suppose she cared for _him_?"
asked the niece, pouring out the iced lemonade and Cyprus wine. She
always rebelled against her aunt's romanticalness.

"Gerald Burne!" said Marion, collecting his thoughts, and suddenly
seeing in his mind a certain keen-featured face, a certain wide curl of
blond hair, not seen for many a long year. "Gerald Burne! Do you mean an
awfully handsome young Scotchman, who did something very distinguished
in Afghanistan? You don't mean to say he was any relation of Lady
Atalanta's? I never heard of his being dead, either. I thought he must
be somewhere in India."

"Gerald Burne was Lady Tal's half-brother--her mother had married a
Colonel Burne before her marriage with Lord Ossian. He got a spear-wound
or something out in Afghanistan," explained one of the company.

"I thought it was his horse," interrupted another.

"Anyhow," resumed Miss Vanderwerf, "poor Gerald was crippled for life--a
sort of spinal disease, you know. That was just after old Sir Thomas
Walkenshaw departed, so Tal and he lived together and went travelling
from one place to another, consulting doctors, and that sort of thing,
until they settled in Rome. And now poor Gerald is dead--he died two
years ago--Tal's all alone in the world, for Lord Ossian's a wretched,
tipsy, bankrupt old creature, and the other sisters are married. Gerald
was just an angel, and you've no idea how devoted poor Tal was to
him--he was just her life, I do believe."

The young man called Ted looked contemptuously at his optimistic
hostess.

"Well," he said, "I don't know whether Lady Tal cared much for her
brother while he was alive. My belief is she never cared a jackstraw
for anyone. Anyway, if she _did_ care for him you must admit she didn't
show it after his death. I never saw a woman look so utterly indifferent
and heartless as when I saw her a month later. She made jokes, I
remember, and asked me to take her to a curiosity shop. And she went
to balls in London not a year afterwards."

The niece nodded. "Exactly. I always thought it perfectly indecent. Of
course Aunt says it's Tal's way of showing her grief, but it's a very
funny one, anyhow."

"I'm sure Lady Tal must regret her brother," said the Roumanian Princess.
"Just think how convenient for a young widow to be able to say to all
the men she likes: 'Oh, do come and see poor Gerald.'"

"Well, well!" remarked Miss Vanderwerf. "Of course she did take her
brother's death in a very unusual way. But still I maintain she's not
heartless for all that."

"Hasn't a pretty woman a right to be heartless, after all?" put in
Marion.

"Oh, I don't care a fig whether Lady Tal is heartless or not," answered
Ted brusquely. "Heartlessness isn't a social offence. What I object to
most in Lady Tal is her being so frightfully mean."

"Mean?"

"Why, yes; avaricious. With all those thousands, that woman manages to
spend barely more than a few hundreds."

"Well, but if she's got simple tastes?" suggested Marion.

"She hasn't. No woman was ever further from it. And of course it's so
evident what her game is! She just wants to feather her nest against a
rainy day. She's putting by five-sixths of old Walkenshaw's money, so as
to make herself a nice little _dot_, to marry someone else upon one of
these days."

"A judicious young lady!" observed Marion.

"Well, really, Mr. Kennedy," exclaimed the Roumanian Princess, "you are
ingenious and ingenuous! Do you suppose that our dear Tal is putting by
money in order to marry some starving genius, to do love in a cottage
with? Why, if she's not married yet, it's merely because she's not met a
sufficient _parti_. She wants something very grand--a _Pezzo Grosso_, as
they say here."

"She couldn't marry as long as she had Gerald to look after," said Miss
Vanderwerf, fanning herself in the moonlight. "She was too fond of
Gerald."

"She was afraid of Gerald, that's my belief, too," corrected the niece.
"Those big creatures are always cowards. And Gerald hated the notion
of her making another money marriage, though he seems to have arranged
pretty well to live on old Walkenshaw's thousands."

"Of course Gerald wanted to keep her all for himself; that was quite
natural," said Miss Vanderwerf; "but I think that as long as he was
alive she did not want anyone else. She thought only of him, poor
creature----"

"And of a score of ball and dinner-parties and a few hundred
acquaintances," put in Ted, making rings with the smoke of his cigarette.

"And now," said the Princess, "she's waiting to find her _Pezzo Grosso_.
And she wants money because she knows that a _Pezzo Grosso_ will marry a
penniless girl of eighteen, but won't marry a penniless woman of thirty;
she must make up for being a little _passée_ by loving him for his own
sake, and for that, she must have money."

"For all that, poor Tal's very simple," wheezed the old peeress,
apparently awakening from a narcotic slumber. "She always reminds me of
an anecdote poor dear Palmerston used to tell----"

"Anyhow," said Kennedy, "Lady Tal's a riddle, and I pity the man who
tries to guess it. Good-night, dear Miss Vanderwerf--good-night, Miss
Bessy. It's all settled about dining at the Lido, I hope. And you'll
come, too, I hope, Mr. Marion."

"I'll come with pleasure, particularly if you ask the enigmatic Lady
Tal."

"Much good it is to live in Venice," thought Jervase Marion, looking out
of his window on to the canal, "if one spends two hours discussing a
young woman six foot high looking out for a duke."


III.

Jervase Marion had registered three separate, well-defined, and solemn
vows, which I recapitulate in the inverse order to their importance.
The first was: Not to be enticed into paying calls during that month at
Venice; the second, Not to drift into studying any individual character
while on a holiday; and the third, a vow dating from more years back
than he cared to think of, and resulting from infinite bitterness of
spirit, Never to be entrapped, beguiled, or bullied into looking at the
manuscript of an amateur novelist. And now he had not been in Venice ten
days before he had broken each of these vows in succession; and broken
them on behalf, too, of one and the same individual.

The individual in question was Lady Atalanta Walkenshaw, or, as he had
already got accustomed to call her, Lady Tal. He had called upon Lady
Tal; he had begun studying Lady Tal; and now he was actually untying
the string which fastened Lady Tal's first attempt at a novel.

Why on earth had he done any of these things, much less all? Jervase
Marion asked himself, leaving the folded parcel unopened on the large
round table, covered with a black and red table-cloth, on which were
neatly spread out his writing-case, blotter, inkstand, paper-cutter,
sundry packets of envelopes, and boxes of cigarettes, two uncut
_Athenæums_, three dog-eared French novels (Marion secretly despised all
English ones, and was for ever coveting that exquisite artistic sense,
that admirable insincerity of the younger Frenchmen), a Baedeker, a
Bradshaw, the photograph, done just before her death, of his mother in
her picturesque, Puritan-looking widow's cap, and a little portfolio for
unanswered letters, with flowers painted on it by his old friend, Biddy
Lothrop.

Marion gave the parcel, addressed in a large, quill-pen hand, a look of
utter despair, and thrusting his hands ungracefully but desperately into
the armhole of his alpaca writing-jacket, paced slowly up and down his
darkened room on a side canal. He had chosen that room, rather than
one on the Riva, thinking it would be less noisy. But it seemed to him
now, in one of his nervous fits, as if all the noises of the world
had concentrated on to that side canal to distract his brain, weaken
his will, and generally render him incapable of coping with his own
detestable weakness and Lady Tal's terrible determination. There was a
plash of oar, a grind of keel, in that side canal, a cry of _Stali_ or
_Premè_ from the gondoliers, only the more worrying for its comparative
rareness. There was an exasperating blackbird who sang Garibaldi's hymn,
in separate fragments, a few doors off, and an even more exasperating
kitchen-maid, who sang the first bars of the umbrella trio of _Boccaccio_,
without getting any further, while scouring her brasses at the window
opposite, and rinsing out her saucepans, with a furtive splash into the
canal. There was the bugle of the barracks, the bell of the parish
church, the dog yelping on the boats of the Riva; everything in short
which could madden a poor nervous novelist who has the crowning
misfortune of looking delightfully placid.

Why on earth, or rather how on earth, had he let himself in for all
this? "All this" being the horrible business of Lady Atalanta, the
visits to pay her, the manuscript to read, the judgment to pass, the
advice to give, the lies to tell, all vaguely complicated with the song
of that blackbird, the jar of that gondola keel, the jangle of those
church bells. How on earth could he have been such a miserable worm?
Marion asked himself, pacing up and down his large, bare room, mopping
his head, and casting despairing glances at the mosquito curtains, the
bulging yellow chest of drawers painted over with nosegays, the iron
clothes-horse, the towel-stand, the large printed card setting forth in
various tongues the necessity of travellers consigning all jewels and
valuables to the secretary of the hotel at the Bureau.

He could not, at present, understand in the very least why he had given
that young woman any encouragement; for he must evidently have given her
some encouragement before she could have gone to the length of asking so
great a favour of a comparative stranger. And the odd part of it was,
that when he looked into the past, that past of a few days only, it
seemed as if, so far from his having encouraged Lady Tal, it had been
Lady Tal who had encouraged him. He saw her, the more he looked, in the
attitude of a woman granting a favour, not asking one. He couldn't even
explain to himself how the matter of the novel had ever come up. He
certainly couldn't remember having said: "I wish you would let me see
your novel, Lady Tal," or "I should be curious to have a look at that
novel of yours;" such a thing would have been too absurd on the part of
a man who had always fled from manuscripts as from the plague. At the
same time he seemed to have no recollection either of her having said
the other thing, the more or less humble request for a reading. He
recollected her saying: "Mind you tell me the exact truth--and don't be
afraid of telling me if it's all disgusting rubbish." Indeed he could
see something vaguely amused, mischievous, and a little contemptuous in
the handsome, regular Scotch face; but that had been afterwards, after
he had already settled the matter with her.

It was the sense of having been got the better of, and in a wholly
unintelligible way, which greatly aggravated the matter. For Marion did
not feel the very faintest desire to do Lady Atalanta a service. He
would not have minded so much if she had wheedled him into it,--no man
thinks the worse of himself for having been wheedled by a handsome young
woman of fashion,--or if she had been an appealing or pathetic creature,
one of those who seem to suggest that this is just all that can be done
for them, and that perhaps one may regret not having done it over their
early grave.

Lady Tal was not at all an appealing woman; she looked three times as
strong, both in body and in mind, with her huge, strongly-knit frame,
and clear, pink complexion, and eyes which evaded you, as himself and
most of his acquaintances. And as to wheedling, how could she wheedle,
this woman with her rather angular movements, brusque, sarcastic,
bantering speech, and look of counting all the world as dust for an
Ossian to trample underfoot? Moreover, Marion was distinctly aware of
the fact that he rather disliked Lady Tal. It was not anything people
said about her (although they seemed to say plenty), nor anything she
said herself; it was a vague repulsion due to her dreadful strength, her
appearance of never having felt anything, the hardness of those blue,
bold eyes, the resolution of that well-cut, firmly closing mouth, the
bantering tone of that voice, and the consequent impression which she
left on him of being able to take care of herself to an extent almost
dangerous to her fellow-creatures. Marion was not a sentimental
novelist; his books turned mainly upon the little intrigues and
struggles of the highly civilized portion of society, in which only the
fittest have survived, by virtue of talon and beak. Yet he owned to
himself, in the presence of Lady Atalanta Walkenshaw, or rather behind
her back, that he did like human beings, and especially women, to have
a soul; implying thereby that the lady in question affected him as being
hampered by no such impediment to digestion, sleep, and worldly
distinction.

It was this want of soul which constituted the strength of Lady Tal.
This negative quality had much more than the value of a positive one.
And it was Lady Tal's want of soul which had, somehow, got the better of
him, pushed him, bullied him, without any external manifestation, and by
a mere hidden force, into accepting, or offering to read that
manuscript.

Jervase Marion was a methodical man, full of unformulated principles
of existence. One of these consisted in always doing unpleasant duties
at once, unless they were so unpleasant that he never did them at all.
Accordingly, after a turn or two more up and down the room, and a minute
or two lolling out of the window, and looking into that kitchen on the
other side of the canal, with the bright saucepans in the background,
and the pipkins with carnations and sweet basil on the sill, Marion cut
the strings of the manuscript, rolled it backwards to make it lie flat,
and with a melancholy little moan, began reading Lady Tal's novel.

"Violet----" it began.

"Violet! and her name's Violet too!" ejaculated Marion to himself.

"Violet is seated in a low chair in the gloom in the big bow window at
Kieldar--the big bow window encircled by ivy and constructed it is said
by Earl Rufus before he went to the crusades and from which you command
a magnificent prospect of the broad champaign country extending for many
miles, all dotted with oaks and farmhouses and bounded on the horizon by
the blue line of the hills of B----shire--the window in which she had
sat so often and cried as a child when her father Lord Rufus had married
again and brought home that handsome Jewish wife with the _fardée_ face
and the exquisite dresses from Worth--Violet had taken refuge in that
window in order to think over the events of the previous evening and
that offer of marriage which her cousin Marmaduke had just made to
her----"

"Bless the woman!" exclaimed Marion, "what on earth is it all about?"
And he registered the remark, to be used upon the earliest occasion in
one of his own novels, that highly-connected and well-dressed young
women of the present generation, appear to leave commas and semicolons,
all in fact except full stops and dashes, to their social inferiors.

The remark consoled him, also, by its practical bearing on the present
situation, for it would enable him to throw the weight of his criticisms
on this part of Lady Tal's performance.

"You must try, my dear Lady Atalanta," he would say very gravely, "to
cultivate a--a--somewhat more lucid style--to cut down your sentences a
little--in fact to do what we pedantic folk call break up the members of
a period. In order to do so, you must turn your attention very seriously
to the subject of punctuation, which you seem to have--a--well--rather
neglected hitherto. I will send for an invaluable little work on the
subject--'Stops: and how to manage them,' which will give you all
necessary information. Also, if you can find it in the library of any
of our friends here, I should recommend your studying a book which I
used in my boyhood,--a great many years ago, alas!--called 'Blair's
Rhetoric.'"

If that didn't quench Lady Tal's literary ardour, nothing ever would.
But all the same he felt bound to read on a little, in order to be able
to say he had done so.


IV.

Jervase Marion fixed his eyes, the eyes of the spirit particularly, upon
Lady Tal, as he sat opposite her, the next day, at the round dinner
table, in Palazzo Bragadin.

He was trying to make out how on earth this woman had come to write the
novel he had been reading. That Lady Tal should possess considerable
knowledge of the world, and of men and women, did not surprise him in
the least. He had recognised, in the course of various conversations,
that this young lady formed an exception to the rule that splendid big
creatures with regular features and superb complexions are invariably
idiots.

That Lady Tal should even have a certain talent--about as cultivated as
that of the little boys who draw horses on their copy books--for plot and
dialogue, was not astonishing at all, any more than that her sentences
invariably consisted either of three words, or of twenty-seven lines,
and that her grammar and spelling were nowhere. All this was quite
consonant with Lady Tal's history, manner, talk, and with that particular
beauty of hers--the handsome aquiline features, too clean-cut for
anything save wood or stone, the bright, cold, blue eyes, which looked
you in the face when you expected it least, and which looked away from
you when you expected it least, also; the absence of any of those little
subtle lines which tell of feeling and thought, and which complete
visible beauty, while suggesting a beauty transcending mere visible
things. There was nothing at all surprising in this. But Jervase Marion
had found in this manuscript something quite distinct and unconnected
with such matters: he had found the indications of a soul, a very
decided and unmistakable soul.

And now, looking across the fruit and flowers, and the set out of old
Venetian glass on Miss Vanderwerf's hospitable table, he asked himself
in what portion of the magnificent person of Lady Atalanta Walkenshaw
that soul could possibly be located.

Lady Tal was seated, as I have remarked, immediately opposite Marion,
and between a rather battered cosmopolitan diplomatist and the young
millionaire who had been in distress about a sideboard. Further along
was the Roumanian Princess, and opposite, on the other side of Marion,
an elderly American siren, in an extremely simple white muslin frock, at
the first glance the work of the nursery maid, at the second of Worth,
and symbolising the strange, dangerous fascination of a lady whom you
took at first for a Puritan and a frump. On the other sat Miss Gertrude
Ossian, Lady Tal's cousin, a huge young woman with splendid arms and
shoulders and atrocious manners, who thought Venice such a bore because
it was too hot to play at tennis and you couldn't ride on canals, and
consoled herself by attempting to learn the guitar from various effete
Italian youths, whom she alarmed and delighted in turn.

Among this interesting company Lady Tal was seated with that indefinable
look of being a great deal too large, too strong, too highly connected,
and too satisfied with herself and all things, for this miserable,
effete, plebeian, and self-conscious universe.

She wore a beautifully-made dress of beautifully-shining silk, and her
shoulders and throat and arms were as beautifully made and as shining as
her dress; and her blond hair was as elaborately and perfectly arranged
as it was possible to conceive. That blond hair, verging upon golden,
piled up in smooth and regular plaits and rolls till it formed a kind of
hard and fantastic helmet about her very oval face, and arranged in a
close row of symmetrical little curls upon the high, white, unmarked
forehead, and about the thin, black, perfectly-arched eyebrows--that
hair of Lady Tal's symbolised, in the thought of Marion, all that was
magnificent, conventional, and impassive in this creature. Those blue
eyes also, which looked at you and away from you, when you expected each
least, were too large, under the immense arch of eyebrow, to do more
than look out indifferently upon the world. The mouth was too small in
its beautiful shape for any contraction or expression of feeling, and
when she smiled, those tiny white teeth seemed still to shut it. And
altogether, with its finely-moulded nostrils, which were never dilated,
and its very oval outline, the whole face affected Marion as a huge
and handsome mask, as something clapped on and intended to conceal. To
conceal what? It seemed to the novelist, as he listened to the stream of
animated conventionalities, of jokes unconnected with any high spirits,
that the mask of Lady Atalanta's face, like those great stone masks in
Roman galleries and gardens, concealed the mere absence of everything.
As Marion contemplated Lady Tal, he reviewed mentally that manuscript
novel written in a hand as worn down as that of a journalist, and with
rather less grammar and spelling than might be expected from a nursery
maid; and he tried to connect the impression it had left on his mind
with the impression which its author was making at the present moment.

The novel had taken him by surprise by its subject, and even more by its
particular moral attitude. The story was no story at all, merely the
unnoticed martyrdom of a delicate and scrupulous woman tied to a vain,
mean, and frivolous man; the long starvation of a little soul which
required affections and duties among the unrealities of the world. Not
at all an uncommon subject nowadays; in fact, Marion could have counted
you off a score of well-known novels on similar or nearly similar
themes.

There was nothing at all surprising in the novel, the surprising point
lay in its having this particular author.

Little by little, as the impression of the book became fainter, and
the impression of the writer more vivid, Marion began to settle his
psychological problem. Or rather he began to settle that there was
no psychological problem at all. This particular theme was in vogue
nowadays, this particular moral view was rife in the world; Lady Tal
had read other people's books, and had herself written a book which was
extremely like theirs. It was a case of unconscious, complete imitation.
The explanation of Lady Tal's having produced a novel so very different
from herself, was simply that, as a matter of fact, she had not produced
that novel at all. It was unlike herself because it belonged to other
people, that was all.

"Tell me about my novel," she said after dinner, beckoning Marion into
one of the little gothic balconies overhanging the grand canal; the
little balconies upon whose cushions and beneath whose drawn-up awning
there is room for two, just out of earshot of any two others on the
other balconies beyond.

Places for flirtation. But Lady Tal, Marion had instinctively understood,
was not a woman who flirted. Her power over men, if she had any, or
chose to exert it, must be of the sledge-hammer sort. And how she could
possibly have any power over anything save a mere gaping masher, over
anything that had, below its starched shirt front, sensitiveness,
curiosity, and imagination, Marion at this moment utterly failed to
understand.

The tone of this woman's voice, the very rustle of her dress, as she
leaned upon the balcony and shook the sparks from her cigarette into the
dark sky and the dark water, seemed to mean business and nothing but
business.

She said:

"Tell me all about my novel. I don't intend to be put off with mere
remarks about grammar and stops. One may learn all about that; or can't
all that, and style, and so forth, be put in for one, by the printer's
devil? I haven't a very clear notion what a printer's devil is, except
that he's a person with a thumb. But he might see to such details, or
somebody else of the same sort."

"Quite so. A novelist of some slight established reputation would do as
well, Lady Tal."

Marion wondered why he had made that answer; Lady Tal's remark was
impertinent only inasmuch as he chose to admit that she could be
impertinent to him.

Lady Tal, he felt, but could not see, slightly raised one of those
immensely curved eyebrows of hers in the darkness.

"I thought that you, for instance, might get me through all that,"
she answered; "or some other novelist, as you say, of established
reputation, who _was_ benevolently inclined towards a poor, helpless
ignoramus with literary aspirations."

"Quite apart from such matters--and you are perfectly correct in
supposing that there must be lots of professed novelists who would most
gladly assist you with them--quite apart from such matters, your novel,
if you will allow me to say a rude thing, is utterly impossible. You are
perpetually taking all sorts of knowledge for granted in your reader.
Your characters don't sufficiently explain themselves; you write as if
your reader had witnessed the whole thing and merely required reminding.
I almost doubt whether you have fully realized for yourself a great part
of the situation; one would think you were repeating things from
hearsay, without quite understanding them."

Marion felt a twinge of conscience: that wasn't the impression left by
the novel, but the impression due to the discrepancy between the novel
and its author. That hateful habit of studying people, of turning them
round, prodding and cutting them to see what was inside, why couldn't he
leave it behind for awhile? Had he not come to Venice with the avowed
intention of suspending all such studies?

Lady Tal laughed. The laugh was a little harsh. "You say that because
of the modelling of my face--I know all about modelling of faces, and
facial angles, and cheek-bones, and eye cavities: I once learned to
draw--people always judge of me by the modelling of my face. Perhaps
they are right, perhaps they are wrong. I daresay I _have_ taken too
much for granted. One ought never to take anything for granted, in the
way of human insight, ought one? Anyhow, perhaps you will show me when
I have gone wrong, will you?"

"It will require a good deal of patience----" began Marion.

"On your part, of course. But then it all turns to profit with you
novelists; and it's men's business to be patient, just because they
never are."

"I meant on your part, Lady Tal. I question whether you have any notion
of what it means to recast a novel--to alter it throughout, perhaps not
only once, but twice, or three times."

"Make me a note of the main wrongness, and send me the MS., will you?
I'll set about altering it at once, you'll see. I'm a great deal more
patient than you imagine, Mr. Marion, when I want a thing--and I do
want this--I want to write novels. I want the occupation, the interest,
the excitement. Perhaps some day I shall want the money too. One makes
pots of money in your business, doesn't one?"

Lady Atalanta laughed. She threw her cigarette into the canal, and with
a crackle and a rustle of her light dress, straightened her huge person,
and after looking for a moment into the blue darkness full of dim houses
and irregularly scattered lights, she swept back into the hum of voices
and shimmer of white dresses of Miss Vanderwerf's big drawing-room.

Jervase Marion remained leaning on the balcony, listening to the plash
of oar and the bursts of hoarse voices and shrill fiddles from the
distant music boats.


V.

The temptations of that demon of psychological study proved too great
for Marion; particularly when that tempter allied himself to an equally
stubborn though less insidious demon apparently residing in Lady
Atalanta: the demon of amateur authorship. So that, by the end of ten
days, there was established, between Lady Tal's lodgings and Marion's
hotel, a lively interchange of communication, porters and gondoliers for
ever running to and fro between "that usual tall young lady at San Vio,"
and "that usual short, bald gentleman on the Riva." The number of
parcels must have been particularly mysterious to these messengers,
unless the proverbially rapid intuition (inherited during centuries of
intrigue and spying) of Venetian underlings arrived at the fact that the
seemingly numberless packets were in reality always one and the same,
or portions of one and the same: the celebrated novel travelling to and
fro, with perpetual criticisms from Marion and corrections from Lady
Atalanta. This method of intercourse was, however, daily supplemented by
sundry notes, in the delicate, neat little hand of the novelist, or the
splashing writing of the lady, saying with little variation--"Dear Lady
Atalanta, I fear I may not have made my meaning very clear with respect
to Chapter I, II, III, IV--or whatever it might be--will you allow me
to give you some verbal explanations on the subject?" and "Dear Mr.
Marion,--_Do_ come _at once_. I've got stuck over that beastly chapter
V, VI, or VII, and positively _must_ see you about it."

"Well, I never!" politely ejaculated Miss Vanderwerf regularly every
evening--"if that Marion isn't the most _really_ kind and patient
creature on this earth!"

To which her friend the Princess, the other arbitress of Venetian
society in virtue of her palace, her bric-à-brac, and that knowledge of
Marie Corelli and Mrs. Campbell-Praed which balanced Miss Vanderwerf's
capacity for grasping the meaning of Gyp--invariably answered in her
best English colloquial:

"Well, my word! If that Lady Tal's not the most impudent amateur
scribble-scrabble of all the amateur scribble-scrabbles that England
produces."

Remarks which immediately produced a lively discussion of Lady Tal
and of Marion, including the toilettes of the one and the books
of the other, with the result that neither retained a single moral,
intellectual, or physical advantage; and the obvious corollary, in the
mind of the impartial listener, that Jervase Marion evidently gave up
much more of his time to Lady Tal and her novel than to Miss Vanderwerf
and the Princess and their respective salons.

As a matter of fact, however, although a degree of impudence more
politely described as energy and determination, on the part of Lady Tal;
and of kindness, more correctly designated as feebleness of spirit, on
the part of Marion, had undoubtedly been necessary in the first stages
of this intercourse, yet nothing of either of these valuable social
qualities had been necessary for its continuation. Although maintaining
that manner of hers expressive of the complete rights which her name of
Ossian and her additional inches constituted over all things and people,
Lady Tal had become so genuinely enthusiastic for the novelist's art as
revealed by Marion, that her perpetual intrusion upon his leisure was
that merely of an ardent if somewhat inconsiderate disciple. In the
eyes of this young lady, development of character, foreshortening of
narrative, construction, syntax, nay, even grammar and punctuation, had
become inexhaustible subjects of meditation and discussion, upon which
every experience of life could be brought to bear.

So much for Lady Tal. As regards Marion, he had, not without considerable
self-contempt, surrendered himself to the demon of character study.
This passion for investigating into the feelings and motives of his
neighbours was at once the joy, the pride, and the bane and humiliation
of Marion's placid life. He was aware that he had, for years and years,
cultivated this tendency to the utmost; and he was fully convinced that
to study other folks and embody his studies in the most lucid form was
the one mission of his life, and a mission in nowise inferior to that of
any other highly gifted class of creatures. Indeed, if Jervase Marion,
ever since his earliest manhood, had given way to a tendency to withdraw
from all personal concerns, from all emotion or action, it was mainly
because he conceived that this shrinkingness of nature (which foolish
persons called egoism) was the necessary complement to his power of
intellectual analysis; and that any departure from the position of
dispassioned spectator of the world's follies and miseries would mean
also a departure from his real duty as a novelist. To be brought into
contact with people more closely than was necessary or advantageous for
their intellectual comprehension; to think about them, feel about them,
mistress, wife, son, or daughter, the bare thought of such a thing
jarred upon Marion's nerves. So, the better to study, the better to be
solitary, he had expatriated himself, leaving brothers, sisters (now his
mother was dead), friends of childhood, all those things which invade a
man's consciousness without any psychological profit; he had condemned
himself to live in a world of acquaintances, of indifference; and, for
sole diversion, he permitted himself, every now and then, to come abroad
to places where he had not even acquaintances, where he could look
at faces which had no associations for him, and speculate upon the
character of total strangers. Only, being a methodical man, and much
concerned for his bodily and intellectual health, he occasionally
thought fit to suspend even this contact with mankind, and to spend six
weeks, as he had intended spending those six weeks at Venice, in the
contemplation of only bricks and mortar.

And now, that demon of psychological study had got the better of his
determination. Marion understood it all now from the beginning: that
astonishing feebleness of his towards Lady Atalanta, that extraordinary
submission to this imperious and audacious young aristocrat's orders.
The explanation was simple, though curious. He had divined in Lady
Atalanta a very interesting psychological problem, considerably before
he had been able to formulate the fact to himself: his novelist's
intuition, like the scent of a dog, had set him on the track even before
he knew the nature of the game, or the desire to pursue. Before even
beginning to think about Lady Atalanta, he had begun to watch her; he
was watching her now consciously; indeed all his existence was engrossed
in such watching, so that the hours he spent away from her company, or
the company of her novel, were so many gaps in his life.

Jervase Marion, as a result both of that shrinkingness of nature, and
of a very delicate artistic instinct, had an aversion of such coarse
methods of study as consist in sitting down in front of a human being
and staring, in a metaphorical sense, at him or her. He was not a man of
theories (their cut-and-driedness offending his subtlety); but had he
been forced to formulate his ideas, he would have said that in order to
perceive the real values (in pictorial language) of any individual, you
must beware of isolating him or her; you must merely look attentively
at the moving ocean of human faces, watching for the one face more
particularly interesting than the rest, and catching glimpses of its
fleeting expression, and of the expression of its neighbours as it
appears and reappears. Perhaps, however, Marion's other reason against
the sit-down-and-stare or walk-round-and-pray system of psychological
study was really the stronger one in his nature, the more so that he
would probably not have admitted its superior validity. This other
reason was a kind of moral scruple against getting to know the secret
mechanism of a soul, especially if such knowledge involved an appearance
of intimacy with a person in whom he could never take more than a merely
abstract, artistic interest. It was a mean taking advantage of superior
strength, or the raising of expectations which could not be fulfilled;
for Marion, although the most benevolent and serviceable of mortals, did
not give his heart, perhaps because he had none to give, to anybody.

This scruple had occurred to Marion almost as soon as he discovered
himself to be studying Lady Tal; and it occurred to him once or twice
afterwards. But he despatched it satisfactorily. Lady Tal, in the first
place, was making use of him in the most outrageous way, without scruple
or excuse; it was only just that he, in his turn, should turn her to
profit with equal freedom. This reason, however, savoured slightly of
intellectual caddishness, and Marion rejected it with scorn. The real
one, he came to perceive, was that Lady Tal gratuitously offered herself
for study by her quiet, aggressive assumption of inscrutability. She
really thrust her inscrutability down one's throat; her face, her
manner, her every remark, her very novel, were all so many audacious
challenges to the more psychological members of the community. She
seemed to be playing on a gong and crying: "Does anyone feel inclined
to solve a riddle? Is there any person who thinks himself sufficiently
clever to understand me?" And when a woman takes up such an attitude,
it is only natural, human and proper that the first novelist who comes
along that way should stop and say: "I intend to get to the bottom of
you; one, two, three, I am going to begin."

So Jervase Marion assiduously cultivated the society of Lady Atalanta,
and spent most of his time instructing her in the art of the novelist.


VI.

One morning Marion, by way of exception, saw and studied Lady Tal
without the usual medium of the famous novel. It was early, with the
very first autumn crispness in the blue morning, in the bright sun which
would soon burn, but as yet barely warmed. Marion was taking his usual
ramble through the tortuous Venetian alleys, and as usual he had found
himself in one of his favourite haunts, the market on the further slope
of the Rialto.

That market--the yellow and white awnings, and the white houses against
the delicate blue sky; the bales and festoons of red and green and blue
and purple cotton stuffs outside the little shops, and below that the
shawled women pattering down the bridge steps towards it; the monumental
display of piled up peaches and pears, and heaped up pumpkins and
mysterious unknown cognate vegetables, round and long, purple, yellow,
red, grey, among the bay leaves, the great, huge, smooth, green-striped
things, cut open to show their red pulp, the huger things looking as if
nature had tried to gild and silver them unsuccessfully, tumbled on to
the pavement; the butchers' shops with the gorgeous bullocks' hearts
and sacrificial fleeced lambs; the endless hams and sausages--all this
market, under the blue sky, with this lazy, active, noisy, brawling,
friendly population jerking and lolling about it, always seemed to
Marion one of the delightful spots of Venice, pleasing him with a sense
(although he knew it to be all false) that here _was_ a place where
people could eat and drink and laugh and live without any psychological
troubles.

On this particular morning, as this impression with the knowledge of its
falseness was as usual invading Marion's consciousness, he experienced
a little shock of surprise, incongruity, and the sudden extinction of
a pleasingly unreal mood, on perceiving, coming towards him, with hand
cavalierly on hip and umbrella firmly hitting the ground, the stately
and faultlessly coated and shirted and necktied figure of Lady Atalanta.

"I have had a go already at _Christina_," she said, after extending
to Marion an angular though friendly handshake, and a cheerful frank
inscrutable smile of her big blue eyes and her little red mouth. "That
novel is turning me into another woman: the power of sinning, as the
Salvationists say, has been extracted out of my nature even by the
rootlets; I sat up till two last night after returning from the Lido,
and got up this morning at six, all for the love of _Christina_ and
literature. I expect Dawson will give me warning; she told me yesterday
that she 'had never _know_ any other lady that writes so much or used
them big sheets of paper, quite _henormous_, my lady.' Dear old place,
isn't it? Ever tasted any of that fried pumpkin? It's rather nasty but
quite good; have some? I wonder we've not met here before; I come here
twice a week to shop. You don't mind carrying parcels, do you?" Lady Tal
had stopped at one of the front stalls, and having had three vast yellow
paper bags filled with oranges and lemons, she handed the two largest to
Marion.

"You'll carry them for me, won't you, there's a good creature: like
that I shall be able to get rather more rolls than I usually can. It's
astonishing how much sick folk care for rolls. I ought to explain I'm
going to see some creatures at the hospital. It takes too long going
there in the gondola from my place, so I walk. If you were to put those
bags well on your chest like that, under your chin, they'd be easier to
hold, and there'd be less chance of the oranges bobbing out."

At a baker's in one of the little narrow streets near the church of the
Miracoli, Lady Atalanta provided herself with a bag of rolls, which she
swung by the string to her wrist. Marion then perceived that she was
carrying under her arm a parcel of paper-covered books, fastened with an
elastic band.

"Now we shall have got everything except some flowers, which I daresay
we can get somewhere on the way," remarked Lady Tal. "Do you mind coming
in here?" and she entered one of those little grocer's shops, dignified
with the arms of Savoy in virtue of the sale of salt and tobacco, and
where a little knot of vague, wide-collared individuals usually hang
about among the various-shaped liqueur bottles in an atmosphere of stale
cigar, brandy and water, and kitchen soap.

"May--I--a--a--ask for anything for you, Lady Tal?" requested Marion,
taken completely by surprise by the rapidity of his companion's
movements. "You want stamps, I presume; may I have the honour of
assisting you in your purchase?"

"Thanks, it isn't stamps; it's snuff, and you wouldn't know what
sort to get." And Lady Tal, making her stately way through the crowd
of surprised loafers, put a franc on the counter and requested the
presiding female to give her four ounces of _Semolino_, but of the good
sort----"It's astonishing how faddy those old creatures are about their
snuff!" remarked Lady Tal, pocketing her change. "Would you put this
snuff in your pocket for me? Thanks. The other sort's called _Bacubino_,
it's dark and clammy, and it looks nasty. Have you ever taken snuff? I
do sometimes to please my old creatures; it makes me sneeze, you know,
and they think that awful fun."

As they went along Lady Atalanta suddenly perceived, in a little green
den, something which attracted her attention.

"I wonder whether they're fresh?" she mused. "I suppose you can't tell a
fresh egg when you see it, can you, Mr. Marion? Never mind, I'll risk
it. If you'll take this third bag of oranges, I'll carry the eggs--they
might come to grief in your hands, you know."

"What an odious, odious creature a woman is," thought Marion. He
wondered, considerably out of temper, why he should feel so miserable
at having to carry all those oranges. Of course with three gaping
bags piled on his chest there was the explanation of acute physical
discomfort; but that wasn't sufficient. It seemed as if this terrible,
aristocratic giantess were doing it all on purpose to make him miserable.
He saw that he was intensely ridiculous in her eyes, with those yellow
bags against his white waistcoat and the parcel of snuff in his coat
pocket; his face was also, he thought, streaming with perspiration, and
he couldn't get at his handkerchief. It was childish, absurd of him to
mind; for, after all, wasn't Lady Atalanta equally burdened? But she,
with her packets of rolls, and packet of books, and basket of eggs, and
her umbrella tucked under her arm, looked serene and even triumphant in
her striped flannel.

"I beg your pardon--would you allow me to stop a minute and shift the
bags to the other arm?" Marion could no longer resist that fearful agony.
"If you go on I'll catch you up in a second."

But just as Marion was about to rest the bags upon the marble balustrade
of a bridge, his paralysed arm gave an unaccountable jerk, and out flew
one of the oranges, and rolled slowly down the stone steps of the
bridge.

"I say, don't do that! You'll have them all in the canal!" cried Lady
Atalanta, as Marion quickly stooped in vain pursuit of the escaped
orange, the movement naturally, and as if it were being done on purpose,
causing another orange to fly out in its turn; a small number of
spectators, gondoliers and workmen from under the bridge, women nursing
babies at neighbouring windows, and barefooted urchins from nowhere in
particular, starting up to enjoy the extraordinary complicated conjuring
tricks which the stout gentleman in the linen coat and Panama hat had
suddenly fallen to execute.

"Damn the beastly things!" ejaculated Marion, forgetful of Lady Atalanta
and good breeding, and perceiving only the oranges jumping and rolling
about, and feeling his face grow redder and hotter in the glare on that
white stone bridge. At that moment, as he raised his eyes, he saw,
passing along, a large party of Americans from his hotel; Americans whom
he had avoided like the plague, who, he felt sure, would go home and
represent him as a poor creature and a snob disavowing his "people." He
could hear them, in fancy, describing how at Venice he had turned flunky
to one of your English aristocrats, who stood looking and making game
of him while he ran after her oranges, "and merely because she's the
daughter of an Earl or Marquis or such like."

"Bless my heart, how helpless is genius when it comes to practical
matters!" exclaimed Lady Atalanta. And putting her various packages down
carefully on the parapet, she calmly collected the bounding oranges,
wiped them with her handkerchief, and restored them to Marion,
recommending him to "stick them loose in his pockets."

Marion had never been in a hospital (he had been only a boy, and in
Europe with his mother, a Southern refugee, at the time of the War),
the fact striking him as an omission in his novelist's education. But
he felt as if he would never wish to describe the one into which he
mechanically followed Lady Tal. With its immense, immensely lofty wards,
filled with greyish light, and radiating like the nave and transepts
of a vast church from an altar with flickering lights and kneeling
figures, it struck Marion, while he breathed that hot, thick air,
sickly with carbolic and chloride of lime, as a most gruesome and
quite objectionably picturesque place. He had a vague notion that the
creatures in the rows and rows of greyish white beds ought to have St.
Vitus's dance or leprosy or some similar mediæval disease. They were
nasty enough objects, he thought, as he timidly followed Lady Tal's
rapid and resounding footsteps, for anything. He had, for all the
prosaic quality of his writings, the easily roused imagination of a
nervous man: and it seemed to him as if they were all of them either
skeletons gibbering and screeching in bed, or frightful yellow and red
tumid creatures, covered with plasters and ligatures, or old ladies
recently liberated from the cellar in which, as you may periodically
read in certain public prints, they had been kept by barbarous nephews
or grandchildren----

"Dear me, dear me, what a dreadful place!" he kept ejaculating, as he
followed Lady Atalanta, carrying her bags of oranges and rolls, among
the vociferating, grabbing beldames in bed, and the indifferent nuns and
serving wenches toiling about noisily: Lady Tal going methodically her
way, businesslike, cheerful, giving to one some snuff, to another an
orange or a book, laughing, joking in her bad Italian, settling the
creatures' disagreeable bed-clothes and pillows for them, as if instead
of cosseting dying folk, she was going round to the counters of some
huge shop. A most painful exhibition, thought Marion.

"I say, suppose you talk to her, she's a nice little commonplace
creature who wanted to be a school-mistress and is awfully fond of
reading novels--tell her--I don't know how to explain it--that you
write novels. See, Teresina, this gentleman and I are writing a book
together, all about a lady who married a silly husband--would you like
to hear about it?"

Stroking the thin white face, with the wide forget-me-not eyes, of
the pretty, thin little blonde, Lady Tal left Marion, to his extreme
discomfort, seated on the edge of a straw chair by the side of the bed,
a bag of oranges on his knees and absolutely no ideas in his head.

"She is so good," remarked the little girl, opening and shutting a
little fan which Lady Tal had just given her, "and so beautiful. Is she
your sister? She told me she had a brother whom she was very fond of,
but I thought he was dead. She's like an angel in Paradise."

"Precisely, precisely," answered Marion, thinking at the same time what
an uncommonly uncomfortable place Paradise must, in that case, be. All
this was not at all what he had imagined when he had occasionally
written about young ladies consoling the sick; this businesslike,
bouncing, cheerful shake-up-your-pillows and shake-up-your-soul mode
of proceeding.

Lady Tal, he decided within himself, had emphatically no soul; all he
had just witnessed, proved it.

"Why do you do it?" he suddenly asked, as they emerged from the hospital
cloisters. He knew quite well: merely because she was so abominably
active.

"I don't know. I like ill folk. I'm always so disgustingly well myself;
and you see with my poor brother, I'd got accustomed to ill folk, so I
suppose I can't do without. I should like to settle in England--if it
weren't for all those hateful relations of mine and of my husband's--and
go and live in the East End and look after sick creatures. At least I
think I should; but I know I shouldn't."

"Why not?" asked Marion.

"Why? Oh, well, it's making oneself conspicuous, you know, and all that.
One hates to be thought eccentric, of course. And then, if I went to
England, of course I should have to go into society, otherwise people
would go and say that I was out of it and had been up to something or
other. And if I went into society, that would mean doing simply nothing
else, not even the little I do here. You see I'm not an independent
woman; all my husband's relations are perpetually ready to pull me to
pieces on account of his money! There's nothing they're not prepared to
invent about me. I'm too poor and too expensive to do without it, and
as long as I take his money, I must see to no one being able to say
anything that would have annoyed him--see?"

"I see," answered Marion.

At that moment Lady Atalanta perceived a gondola turning a corner, and
in it the young millionaire whom she had chaffed about his sideboard.

"Hi, hi! Mr. Clarence!" she cried, waving her umbrella. "Will you take
me to that curiosity-dealer's this afternoon?"

Marion looked at her, standing there on the little wharf, waving her
red umbrella and shouting to the gondola; her magnificent rather wooden
figure more impeccably magnificent, uninteresting in her mannish
flannel garments, her handsome pink and white face, as she smiled that
inexpressive smile with all the pearl-like little teeth, more than ever
like a big mask----

"No soul, decidedly no soul," said the novelist to himself. And he
reflected that women without souls were vaguely odious.


VII.

"I have been wondering of late why I liked you?" said Lady Tal one
morning at lunch, addressing the remark to Marion, and cut short in her
speech by a burst of laughter from that odious tomboy of a cousin of
hers (how could she endure that girl? Marion reflected) who exclaimed,
with an affectation of milkmaid archness:

"Oh, Tal! how _can_ you be so rude to the _gentleman_? You oughtn't to
say to people you wonder why you like them. Ought she, Mr. Marion?"

Marion was silent. He felt a weak worm for disliking this big blond girl
with the atrocious manners, who insisted on pronouncing his name _Mary
Anne_, with unfailing relish of the joke. Lady Tal did not heed the
interruption, but repeated pensively, leaning her handsome cleft chin on
her hand, and hacking at a peach with her knife: "I have been wondering
why I like you, Mr. Marion (I usedn't to, but made up to you for
_Christina's_ benefit), because you are not a bit like poor Gerald. But
I've found out now and I'm pleased. There's nothing so pleasant in this
world as finding out _why_ one thinks or does things, is there? Indeed
it's the only pleasant thing, besides riding in the Campagna and
drinking iced water on a hot day. The reason I like you is because you
have seen a lot of the world and of people, and still take nice views
of them. The people one meets always think to show their cleverness by
explaining everything by nasty little motives; and you don't. It's nice
of you, and it's clever. It's cleverer than your books even, you know."

In making this remark (and she made it with an aristocratic indifference
to being personal) Lady Atalanta had most certainly hit the right nail
on the head. That gift, a rare one, of seeing the simple, wholesome,
and even comparatively noble, side of things; of being, although a
pessimist, no misanthrope, was the most remarkable characteristic of
Jervase Marion; it was the one which made him, for all his old bachelor
ways and his shrinking from close personal contact, a man and a manly
man, giving this analytical and nervous person a certain calmness and
gentleness and strength.

But Lady Tal's remark, although in the main singularly correct, smote
him like a rod. For it so happened that for once in his life Marion had
not been looking with impartial, serene, and unsuspecting eyes upon one
of his fellow-sufferers in this melancholy world; and that one creature
to whom he was not so good as he might be, was just Lady Tal.

He could not really have explained how it was. But there was the
certainty, that while recognising in Lady Tal's conversation, in her
novel, in the little she told him of her life, a great deal which was
delicate, and even noble, wherewithal to make up a somewhat unusual and
perhaps not very superficially attractive, but certainly an original and
desirable personality, he had got into the habit of explaining whatever
in her was obscure and contradictory by unworthy reasons; and even of
making allowance for the possibility of all the seeming good points
proving, some day, to be a delusion and a snare. Perhaps it depended
upon the constant criticisms he was hearing on all sides of Lady
Atalanta's character and conduct: the story of her mercenary marriage,
the recital of the astounding want of feeling displayed upon the
occasion of her brother's death, and that perpetual, and apparently too
well founded suggestion that this young lady, who possessed fifteen
thousand a year and apparently spent about two, must be feathering her
nest and neatly evading the intentions of her late lamented. Moreover
there was something vaguely disagreeable in the extraordinary absence of
human emotion displayed in such portion of her biography as might be
considered public property.

Marion, heaven knows, didn't like women who went in for _grande passion_;
in fact passion, which he had neither experienced nor described, was
distinctly repulsive to him. But, after all, Lady Tal was young, Lady
Tal was beautiful, and Lady Tal had for years and years been a real and
undoubted widow; and it was therefore distinctly inhuman on the part of
Lady Tal to have met no temptations to part with her heart, and with her
jointure. It was ugly; there was no doubt it was ugly. The world, after
all, _has_ a right to demand that a young lady of good birth and average
education should have a heart. It was doubtless also, he said to himself,
the fault of Lady Atalanta's physique, this suspicious attitude of his;
nature had bestowed upon her a face like a mask, muscles which never
flinched, nerves apparently hidden many inches deeper than most folk's:
she was enigmatic, and a man has a right to pause before an enigma.
Furthermore----But Marion could not quite understand that furthermore.

He understood it a few days later. They had had the usual _séance_ over
_Christina_ that morning; and now it was evening, and three or four
people had dropped in at Lady Tal's after the usual stroll at Saint
Mark's. Lady Tal had hired a small house, dignified with the title of
Palazzina, on the Zattere. It was modern, and the æsthetic colony at
Venice sneered at a woman with that amount of money inhabiting anything
short of a palace. They themselves being mainly Americans, declared
they couldn't feel like home in a dwelling which was not possessed of
historical reminiscences. The point of Lady Tal's little place, as she
called it, was that it possessed a garden; small indeed, but round
which, as she remarked, one solitary female could walk. In this garden
she and Marion were at this moment walking. The ground floor windows
were open, and there issued from the drawing-room a sound of cups and
saucers, of guitar strumming and laughter, above which rose the loud
voice, the aristocratic kitchen-maid pronunciation of Lady Atalanta's
tomboy cousin.

"Where's Tal? I declare if Tal hasn't gone off with Mary Anne! Poor Mary
Anne! She's tellin' him all about _Christina_, you know; how she can't
manage that row between Christina and Christina's mother-in-law, and the
semicolons and all that. _Christina's_ the novel, you know. You'll be
expected to ask for _Christina_ at your club, you know, when it comes
out, Mr. Clarence. I've already written to all my cousins to get it from
Mudie's----"

Marion gave a little frown, as if his boot pinched him, as he walked
on the gravel down there, among the dark bushes, the spectral little
terra-cotta statues, with the rigging of the ships on the Giudecca canal
black against the blue evening sky, with a vague, sweet, heady smell of
_Olea fragrans_ all round. Confound that girl! Why couldn't he take a
stroll in a garden with a handsome woman of thirty without the company
being informed that it was only on account of Lady Tal's novel. That
novel, that position of literary adviser, of a kind of male daily
governess, would make him ridiculous. Of course Lady Tal was continually
making use of him, merely making use of him in her barefaced and brutal
manner: of course she didn't care a hang about him except to help her
with that novel: of course as soon as that novel was done with she would
drop him. He knew all that, and it was natural. But he really didn't see
the joke of being made conspicuous and grotesque before all Venice----

"Shan't we go in, Lady Tal?" he said sharply, throwing away his
cigarette. "Your other guests are doubtless sighing for your presence."

"And this guest here is not. Oh dear, no; there's Gertrude to look after
them and see to their being happy; besides, I don't care whether they
are. I want to speak to you. I can't understand your thinking that
situation strained. I should have thought it the commonest thing in the
world, I mean, gracious---- I can't understand your not understanding!"

Jervase Marion was in the humour when he considered Lady Tal a
legitimate subject of study, and intellectual vivisection a praiseworthy
employment. Such study implies, as a rule, a good deal of duplicity on
the part of the observer; duplicity doubtless sanctified, like all the
rest, by the high mission of prying into one's neighbour's soul.

"Well," answered Marion--he positively hated that good French Alabama
name of his, since hearing it turned into Mary Anne--"of course one
understands a woman avoiding, for many reasons, the temptation of one
individual passion; but a woman who makes up her mind to avoid the
temptation of all passion in the abstract, and what is more, acts
consistently and persistently with this object in view, particularly
when she has never experienced passion at all, when she has not even
burnt the tips of her fingers once in her life----; that does seem
rather far fetched, you must admit."

Lady Tal was not silent for a moment, as he expected she would be.
She did not seem to see the danger of having the secret of her life
extracted out of her.

"I don't see why you should say so, merely because the person's a woman.
I'm sure you must have met examples enough of men who, without ever
having been in love, or in danger of being in love--poor little
things--have gone through life with a resolute policy of never placing
themselves in danger, of never so much as taking their heart out of
their waistcoat pockets to look at it, lest it might suddenly be jerked
out of their possession."

It was Marion who was silent. Had it not been dark, Lady Tal might have
seen him wince and redden; and he might have seen Lady Tal smile a very
odd but not disagreeable smile. And they fell to discussing the
technicalities of that famous novel.

Marion outstayed for a moment or two the other guests. The facetious
cousin was strumming in the next room, trying over a Venetian song which
the naval captain had taught her. Marion was slowly taking a third cup
of tea--he wondered why he should be taking so much tea, it was very
bad for his nerves,--seated among the flowering shrubs, the bits of old
brocade and embroidery, the various pieces of bric-à-brac which made the
drawing-room of Lady Tal look, as all distinguished modern drawing-rooms
should, like a cross between a flower show and a pawnbroker's, and as if
the height of modern upholstery consisted in avoiding the use of needles
and nails, and enabling the visitors to sit in a little heap of
variegated rags. Lady Tal was arranging a lamp, which burned, or rather
smoked, at this moment, surrounded by lace petticoats on a carved
column.

"Ah," she suddenly said, "it's extraordinary how difficult it is to get
oneself understood in this world. I'm thinking about _Christina_, you
know. I never _do_ expect any one to understand anything, as a matter of
fact. But I thought that was probably because all my friends hitherto
have been all frivolous poops who read only the Peerage and the sporting
papers. I should have thought, now, that writing novels would have made
you different. I suppose, after all, it's all a question of physical
constitution and blood relationship--being able to understand other
folk, I mean. If one's molecules aren't precisely the same and in the
same place (don't be surprised, I've been reading Carpenter's 'Mental
Physiology'), it's no good. It's certain that the only person in the
world who has ever understood me one bit was Gerald."

Lady Tal's back was turned to Marion, her tall figure a mere dark mass
against the light of the lamp, and the lit-up white wall behind.

"And still," suddenly remarked Marion, "you were not--not--_very_ much
attached to your brother, were you?"

The words were not out of Marion's mouth before he positively trembled
at them. Good God! what had he allowed himself to say? But he had no
time to think of his own words. Lady Tal had turned round, her eyes fell
upon him. Her face was pale, very quiet; not angry, but disdainful. With
one hand she continued to adjust the lamp.

"I see," she said coldly, "you have heard all about my extraordinary
behaviour, or want of extraordinary behaviour. It appears I did surprise
and shock my acquaintances very much by my proceedings after Gerald's
death. I suppose it really is the right thing for a woman to go into
hysterics and take to her bed and shut herself up for three months at
least, when her only brother dies. I didn't think of that at the time;
otherwise I should have conformed, of course. It's my policy always to
conform, you know. I see now that I made a mistake, showed a want of
_savoir-vivre_, and all that--I stupidly consulted my own preferences,
and I happened to prefer keeping myself well in hand. I didn't seem to
like people's sympathy; now the world, you know, has a right to give one
its sympathies under certain circumstances, just as a foreign man has
a right to leave his card when he's been introduced. Also, I knew
that Gerald would have just hated my making myself a _motley to the
view_--you mightn't think it, but we used to read Shakespeare's sonnets,
he and I--and, you see, I cared for only one mortal thing in the world,
to do what Gerald wanted. I never have cared for any other thing,
really; after all, if I don't want to be conspicuous, it's because
Gerald would have hated it--I never shall care for anything in the world
besides that. All the rest's mere unreality. One thinks one's alive, but
one isn't."

Lady Atalanta had left off fidgeting with the lamp. Her big blue eyes
had all at once brightened with tears which did not fall; but as she
spoke the last words, in a voice suddenly husky, she looked down at
Marion with an odd smile, tearing a paper spill with her large,
well-shaped fingers as she did so.

"Do you see?" she added, with that half-contemptuous smile, calmly
mopping her eyes. "That's how it is, Mr. Marion."

A sudden light illuminated Marion's mind; a light, and with it something
else, he knew not what, something akin to music, to perfume, beautiful,
delightful, but solemn. He was aware of being moved, horribly grieved,
but at the same moment intensely glad; he was on the point of saying he
didn't know beforehand what, something which, however, would be all
right, natural, like the things, suddenly improvised, which one says
occasionally to children.

"My dear young lady----"

But the words did not pass Marion's lips. He remembered suddenly by what
means and in what spirit he had elicited this unexpected burst of
feeling on the part of Lady Tal. He could not let her go on, he could
not take advantage of her; he had not the courage to say: "Lady Tal, I
am a miserable cad who was prying into your feelings; I'm not fit to be
spoken to!" And with the intolerable shame at his own caddishness came
that old shrinking from any sort of spiritual contact with others.

"Quite so, quite so," he merely answered, looking at his boots and
moving that ring of his mother's up and down his watch chain. "I quite
understand. And as a matter of fact you are quite correct in your remark
about our not being always alive. Or rather we _are_ usually alive, when
we are living our humdrum little natural existence, full of nothing at
all; and during the moments when we do really seem to be alive, to be
feeling, living, we are not ourselves, but somebody else."

Marion had had no intention of making a cynical speech. He had been
aware of having behaved like a cad to Lady Tal, and in consequence,
had somehow informed Lady Tal he considered her as an impostor. He
had reacted against that first overwhelming sense of pleasure at the
discovery of the lady's much-questioned soul. Now he was prepared to
tell her that she had none.

"Yes," answered Lady Tal, lighting a cigarette over the high lamp,
"that's just it. I shall borrow that remark and put it into _Christina_.
You may use up any remark of mine, in return, you know."

She stuck out her under lip with that ugly little cynical movement which
was not even her own property, but borrowed from women more trivial than
herself like the way of carrying the elbows, and the pronunciation of
certain words: a mark of caste, as a blue triangle on one's chin or a
yellow butterfly on one's forehead might be, and not more graceful or
engaging.

"One thinks one has a soul sometimes," she mused. "It isn't true. It
would prevent one's clothes fitting, wouldn't it? One really acts
in this way or that because _it's better form_. You see here on the
Continent it's good form to tear one's hair and roll on the floor, and
to pretend to have a soul; we've got beyond that, as we've got beyond
women trying to seem to know about art and literature. Here they do, and
make idiots of themselves. Just now you thought I'd got a soul, didn't
you, Mr. Marion? You've been wondering all along whether I had one. For
a minute I managed to make you believe it--it was rather mean of me,
wasn't it? I haven't got one. I'm a great deal too well-bred."

There was a little soreness under all this banter; but how could she
banter? Marion felt he detested the woman, as she put out her elbow and
extended a stiff handsome hand, and said:

"Remember poor old _Christina_ to-morrow morning, there's a kind man,"
with that little smile of close eyes and close lips. He detested her
just in proportion as he had liked her half an hour ago. Remembering
that little gush of feeling of his own, he thought her a base creature,
as he walked across the little moonlit square with the well in the
middle and the tall white houses all round.

Jervase Marion, the next morning, woke up with the consciousness of
having been very unfair to Lady Tal, and, what was worse, very unfair to
himself. It was one of the drawbacks of friendship (for, after all, this
was a kind of friendship) that he occasionally caught himself saying
things quite different from his thoughts and feelings, masquerading
towards people in a manner distinctly humiliating to his self-respect.
Marion had a desire to be simple and truthful; but somehow it was
difficult to be simple and truthful as soon as other folk came into
play; it was difficult and disagreeable to show one's real self; that
was another reason for living solitary on a top flat at Westminster, and
descending therefrom in the body, but not in the spirit, to move about
among mere acquaintances, disembodied things, with whom there was no
fear of real contact. On this occasion he had let himself come in
contact with a fellow-creature; and behold, as a result, he had not only
behaved more or less like a cad, but he had done that odious thing of
pretending to feel differently from how he really did.

From how he had really felt at the moment, be it well understood. Of
course Marion, in his capacity of modern analytical novelist, was
perfectly well aware that feelings are mere momentary matters; and that
the feeling which had possessed him the previous evening, and still
possessed him at the present moment, would not last. The feeling, he
admitted to himself (it is much easier to admit such things to one's
self, when one makes the proviso that it's all a mere passing phase,
one's eternal immutable self, looking on placidly at one's momentary
changing self), the feeling in question was vaguely admiring and
pathetic, as regarded Lady Tal. He even confessed to himself that there
entered into it a slight dose of poetry. This big, correct young woman,
with the beautiful inexpressive face and the ugly inexpressive manners,
carrying through life a rather exotic little romance which no one
must suspect, possessed a charm for the imagination, a decided value.
Excluded for some reason (Marion blurred out his knowledge that the
reasons were the late Walkenshaw's thousands) from the field for
emotions and interests which handsome, big young women have a right to,
and transferring them all to a nice crippled brother, who had of course
not been half as nice as she imagined, living a conventional life, with
a religion of love and fidelity secreted within it, this well-born and
well-dressed Countess Olivia of modern days, had appealed very strongly
to a certain carefully guarded tenderness and chivalry in Marion's
nature; he saw her, as she had stood arranging that lamp, with those
unexpected tears brimming in her eyes.

Decidedly. Only that, of course, wasn't the way to treat it. There
was nothing at all artistic in that, nothing modern. And Marion was
essentially modern in his novels. Lady Tal, doing the Lady Olivia, with
a dead brother in the background, sundry dukes in the middle distance,
and no enchanting page (people seemed unanimous in agreeing that Lady
Tal had never been in love) perceptible anywhere; all that was pretty,
but it wasn't the right thing. Jervase Marion thought Lady Tal painfully
conventional (although of course her conventionality gave all the value
to her romantic quality) because she slightly dropped her final _g_'s,
and visibly stuck out her elbows, and resolutely refused to display
emotion of any kind. Marion himself was firmly wedded to various modes
of looking at human concerns, which corresponded, in the realm of
novel-writing, to these same modern conventionalities of Lady
Atalanta's. The point of it, evidently, must be that the Lady of his
novel would have lived for years under the influence of an invalid
friend (the brother should be turned into a woman with a mortal malady,
and a bad husband, something in the way of Emma and Tony in "Diana of
the Crossways," of intellectual and moral quality immensely superior to
her own); then, of course, after the death of the Princess of Trasimeno
(she being the late Gerald Burne), Lady Tal (Marion couldn't fix on a
name for her) would gradually be sucked back into frivolous and futile
and heartless society; the _hic_ of the whole story being the slow
ebbing of that noble influence, the daily encroachments of the baser
sides of Lady Tal's own nature, and of the base side of the world.
She would have a chance, say by marrying a comparatively poor man, of
securing herself from that rising tide of worldly futility and meanness;
the reader must think that she really was going to love the man, to
choose him. Or rather, it would be more modern and artistic, less
romantic, if the intelligent reader were made to foresee the dismal
necessity of Lady Tal's final absorption into moral and intellectual
nothingness. Yes--the sort of thing she would live for, a round of
monotonous dissipation, which couldn't amuse her; of expenditure merely
for the sake of expenditure, of conventionality merely for the sake
of conventionality;--and the sham, clever, demoralised women, with
their various semi-imaginary grievances against the world, their
husbands and children, their feeble self-conscious hankerings after
mesmerism, spiritualism, Buddhism, and the other forms of intellectual
adulteration----he saw it all. Marion threw his cigar into the canal,
and nursed his leg tighter, as he sat all alone in his gondola, and
looked up at the bay trees and oleanders, the yellow straw blinds of
Lady Tal's little house on the Zattere.

It would make a capital novel. Marion's mind began to be inundated
with details: all those conversations about Lady Tal rushed back into
it, her conventionality, perceptible even to others, her disagreeable
parsimoniousness, visibly feathering her nest with the late Walkenshaw's
money, while quite unable to screw up her courage to deliberately forego
it, that odd double-graspingness of nature.

That was evidently the final degradation. It would be awfully plucky to
put it in, after showing what the woman had been and might have been;
after showing her coquettings with better things (the writing of that
novel, for instance, for which he must find an equivalent). It would
be plucky, modern, artistic, to face the excessive sordidness of this
ending. And still--and still----Marion felt a feeble repugnance to
putting it in; it seemed too horrid. And at the same moment, there
arose in him that vague, disquieting sense of being a cad, which had
distressed him that evening. To suspect a woman of all that----and yet,
Marion answered himself with a certain savageness, he knew it to be the
case.


VIII.

They had separated from the rest of the picnickers, and were walking up
and down that little orchard or field--rows of brown maize distaffs and
tangles of reddening half trodden-down maize leaves, and patches of tall
grass powdered with hemlock under the now rather battered vine garlands,
the pomegranate branches weighed down by their vermilion fruit, the
peach branches making a Japanese pattern of narrow crimson leaves
against the blue sky--that odd cultivated corner in the God-forsaken
little marsh island, given up to sea-gulls and picnickers, of Torcello.

"Poor little Clarence," mused Lady Tal, alluding to the rather
feeble-minded young millionaire, who had brought them there, five
gondolas full of women in lilac and pink and straw-coloured frocks,
and men in white coats, three guitars, a banjo, and two mandolins, and
the corresponding proportion of table linen, knives and forks, pies,
bottles, and sweetmeats with crinkled papers round them. "Poor little
Clarence, he isn't a bad little thing, is he? He wouldn't be bad to a
woman who married him, would he?"

"He would adore her," answered Jervase Marion, walking up and down that
orchard by Lady Tal's side. "He would give her everything the heart of
woman could desire; carriages, horses, and diamonds, and frocks from
Worth, and portraits by Lenbach and Sargent, and bric-à-brac, and--ever
so much money for charities, hospitals, that sort of thing----and----and
complete leisure and freedom and opportunities for enjoying the company
of men not quite so well off as himself."

Marion stopped short, his hands thrust in his pockets, and with that
frown which made people think that his boots pinched. He was looking
down at his boots at this moment, though he was really thinking of that
famous novel, his, not Lady Tal's; so Lady Tal may have perhaps thought
it was the boots that made him frown, and speak in a short, cross little
way. Apparently she thought so, for she took no notice of his looks, his
intonation, or his speech.

"Yes," she continued musing, striking the ground with her umbrella,
"he's a good little thing. It's good to bring us all to Torcello, with
all that food and those guitars, and banjos and things, particularly as
we none of us throw a word at him in return. And he seems so pleased. It
shows a very amiable, self-effacing disposition, and that's, after all,
the chief thing in marriage. But, Lord! how dreary it would be to see
that man at breakfast, and lunch, and dinner! or if one didn't, merely
to know that there he must be, having breakfast, lunch and dinner
somewhere--for I suppose he would have to have them--that man existing
somewhere on the face of the globe, and speaking of one as 'my wife.'
Fancy knowing the creature was always smiling, whatever one did, and
never more jealous than my umbrella. Wouldn't it feel like being one of
the fish in that tank we saw? Wouldn't living with the Bishop--is he a
bishop?--of Torcello, in that musty little house with all the lichen
stains and mosquito nests, and nothing but Attila's throne to call
upon--be fun compared with that? Yes, I suppose it's wise to marry
Clarence. I suppose I shall do right in making him marry my cousin. You
know"--she added, speaking all these words slowly--"I could make him
marry anybody, because he wants to marry me."

Marion gave a little start as Lady Tal had slowly pronounced those two
words, "my cousin." Lady Tal noticed it.

"You thought I had contemplated having Clarence myself?" she said,
looking at the novelist with a whimsical, amused look. "Well, so I have.
I have contemplated a great many things, and not had the courage to do
them. I've contemplated going off to Germany, and studying nursing; and
going off to France, and studying painting; I've contemplated turning
Catholic, and going into a convent. I've contemplated--well--I'm
contemplating at present--becoming a _great_ novelist, as you know. I've
contemplated marrying poor men, and becoming their amateur charwoman;
and I've contemplated marrying rich men, and becoming--well, whatever a
penniless woman does become when she marries a rich man; but I've done
that once before, and once is enough of any experience in life, at least
for a person of philosophic cast of mind, don't you think? I confess I
have been contemplating the possibility of marrying Clarence, though I
don't see my way to it. You see, it's not exactly a pleasant position to
be a widow and not to be one, as I am, in a certain sense. Also, I'm
bored with living on my poor husband's money, particularly as I know he
wished me to find it as inconvenient as possible to do so. I'm bored
with keeping the capital from that wretched boy and his mother, who
would get it all as soon as I was safely married again. That's it. As a
matter of fact I'm bored with all life, as I daresay most people are;
but to marry this particular Clarence, or any other Clarence that may be
disporting himself about, wouldn't somehow diminish the boringness of
things. Do you see?"

"I see," answered Marion. Good Heavens, what a thing it is to be a
psychological novelist! and how exactly he had guessed at the reality of
Lady Atalanta's character and situation. He would scarcely venture to
write that novel of his; he might as well call it _Lady Tal_ at once. It
was doubtless this discovery which made him grow suddenly very red and
feel an intolerable desire to say he knew not what.

They continued walking up and down that little orchard, the brown
maize leaves all around, the bright green and vermilion enamel of the
pomegranate trees, the Japanese pattern, red and yellow, of the peach
branches, against the blue sky above.

"My dear Lady Tal," began Marion, "my dear young lady, will you
allow--an elderly student of human nature to say--how--I fear it must
seem very impertinent--how thoroughly--taking your whole situation as if
it were that of a third person--he understanding its difficulties--and,
taking the situation no longer quite as that of a third person, how
earnestly he hopes that----"

Marion was going to say "you will not derogate from the real nobility
of your nature." But only a fool could say such a thing; besides, of
course, Lady Tal _must_ derogate. So he finished off:

"That events will bring some day a perfectly satisfactory, though
perhaps unforeseen, conclusion for you."

Lady Tal was paying no attention. She plucked one of the long withered
peach leaves, delicate, and red, and transparent, like a Chinese visiting
card, and began to pull it through her fingers.

"You see," she said, "of the income my husband left me, I've been taking
only as much as seemed necessary--about two thousand a year. I mean
necessary that people shouldn't see that I'm doing this sort of thing;
because, after all, I suppose a woman could live on less, though I am
an expensive woman.--The rest, of course, I've been letting accumulate
for the heir; I couldn't give it him, for that would have been going
against my husband's will. But it's rather boring to feel one's keeping
that boy,--such a nasty young brute as he is--and his horrid mother out
of all that money, merely by being there. It's rather humiliating, but
it would be more humiliating to marry another man for his money. And I
don't suppose a poor man would have me; and perhaps I wouldn't have a
poor man. Now, suppose I were the heroine of your novel--you know you
_are_ writing a novel about me, that's what makes you so patient with
me and _Christina_, you're just walking round, and looking at me----"

"Oh, my dear Lady Tal--how--how can you think such a thing!" gobbled out
Marion indignantly. And really, at the moment of speaking, he did feel a
perfectly unprofessional interest in this young lady, and was
considerably aggrieved at this accusation.

"Aren't you? Well, I thought you were. You see I have novel on the
brain. Well, just suppose you _were_ writing that novel, with me for
a heroine, what would you advise me? One has got accustomed to having
certain things--a certain amount of clothes, and bric-à-brac and horses,
and so forth, and to consider them necessary. And yet, I think if one
were to lose them all to-morrow, it wouldn't make much difference. One
would merely say: 'Dear me, what's become of it all?' And yet I suppose
one does require them--other people have them, so I suppose it's right
one should have them also. Other people like to come to Torcello in five
gondolas with three guitars, a banjo, and lunch, and to spend two hours
feeding and littering the grass with paper bags; so I suppose one ought
to like it too. If it's right, I like it. I always conform, you know;
only it's rather dull work, don't you think, considered as an interest
in life? Everything is dull work, for the matter of that, except dear
old _Christina_. What do you think one might do to make things a little
less dull? But perhaps everything is equally dull----"

Lady Tal raised one of those delicately-pencilled, immensely arched
eyebrows of hers, with a sceptical little sigh, and looked in front of
her, where they were standing.

Before them rose the feathery brown and lilac of the little marsh at the
end of the orchard, long seeding reeds, sere grasses, sea lavender, and
Michaelmas daisy; and above that delicate bloom, on an unseen strip of
lagoon, moved a big yellow and brown sail, slowly flapping against the
blue sky. From the orchard behind, rose at intervals the whirr of a
belated cicala; they heard the dry maize leaves crack beneath their
feet.

"It's all very lovely," remarked Lady Tal pensively; "but it doesn't
somehow fit in properly. It's silly for people like me to come to such a
place. As a rule, since Gerald's death, I only go for walks in civilized
places: they're more in harmony with my frocks."

Jervase Marion did not answer. He leaned against the bole of a peach
tree, looking out at the lilac and brown sea marsh and the yellow sail,
seeing them with that merely physical intentness which accompanies great
mental preoccupation. He was greatly moved. He was aware of a fearful
responsibility. Yet neither the emotion nor the responsibility made him
wretched, as he always fancied that all emotion or responsibility must.

He seemed suddenly to be in this young woman's place, to feel the
already begun, and rapid increasing withering-up of this woman's soul,
the dropping away from it of all real, honest, vital interests. She
seemed to him in horrible danger, the danger of something like death.
And there was but one salvation: to give up that money, to make herself
free----Yes, yes, there was nothing for it but that. Lady Tal, who
usually struck him as so oppressively grown up, powerful, able to cope
with everything, affected him at this moment as a something very young,
helpless, almost childish; he understood so well that during all those
years this big woman in her stiff clothes, with her inexpressive face,
had been a mere child in the hands of her brother, that she had never
thought, or acted, or felt for herself; that she had not lived.

Give up that money; give up that money; marry some nice young fellow
who will care for you; become the mother of a lot of nice little
children----The words went on and on in Marion's mind, close to his
lips; but they could not cross them. He almost saw those children of
hers, the cut of their pinafores and sailor clothes, the bend of their
blond and pink necks; and that nice young husband, blond of course, tall
of course, with vague, regular features, a little dull perhaps, but
awfully good. It was so obvious, so right. At the same time it seemed
rather tame; and Marion, he didn't know why, while perceiving its
extreme rightness and delightfulness, couldn't help wincing a little bit
at the prospect----

Lady Tal must have been engaged simultaneously in some similar
contemplation, for she suddenly turned round, and said:

"But after all, anything else might perhaps be just as boring as all
this. And fancy having given up that money all for nothing; one would
feel such a fool. On the whole, my one interest in life is evidently
destined to be _Christina_, and the solution of all my doubts will be
the appearance of the 'New George Eliot of fashionable life'; don't you
think that sounds like the heading in one of your American papers, the
Buffalo _Independent_, or Milwaukee _Republican_?"

Marion gave a little mental start.

"Just so, just so," he answered hurriedly: "I think it would be a fatal
thing--a very fatal thing for you to--well--to do anything rash, my dear
Lady Tal. After all, we must remember that there is such a thing as
habit; a woman accustomed to the life you lead, although I don't deny it
may sometimes seem dull, would be committing a mistake, in my opinion a
great mistake, in depriving herself, for however excellent reasons, of
her fortune. Life is dull, but, on the whole, the life we happen to live
is usually the one which suits us best. My own life, for instance,
strikes me at moments, I must confess, as a trifle dull. Yet I should be
most unwise to change it, most unwise. I think you are quite right in
supposing that novel-writing, if you persevere in it, will afford you
a--very--well--a--considerable interest in life."

Lady Tal yawned under her parasol.

"Don't you think it's time for us to go back to the rest of our rabble?"
she asked. "It must be quite three-quarters of an hour since we finished
lunch, so I suppose it's time for tea, or food of some sort. Have you
ever reflected, Mr. Marion, how little there would be in picnics, and in
life in general, if one couldn't eat a fresh meal every three-quarters
of an hour?"


IX.

Few things, of the many contradictory things of this world, are more
mysterious than the occasional certainty of sceptical men. Marion was
one of the most sceptical of sceptical novelists; the instinct that
nothing really depended upon its supposed or official cause, that
nothing ever produced its supposed or official effect, that all things
were always infinitely more important or unimportant than represented,
that nothing is much use to anything, and the world a mystery and
a muddle; this instinct, so natural to the psychologist, regularly
honeycombed his existence, making it into a mere shifting sand, quite
unfit to carry the human weight. Yet at this particular moment, Marion
firmly believed that if only Lady Atalanta could be turned into a
tolerable novelist, the whole problem of Lady Atalanta's existence would
be satisfactorily solved, if only she could be taught construction,
style, punctuation, and a few other items; if only one could get into
her head the difference between a well-written thing, and an ill-written
thing, then, considering her undoubted talent----for Marion's opinion
of Lady Tal's talent had somehow increased with a bound. Why he should
think _Christina_ a more remarkable performance now that he had been
tinkering at it for six weeks, it is difficult to perceive. He seemed
certainly to see much more in it. Through that extraordinary difficulty
of expression, he now felt the shape of a personality, a personality
contradictory, enigmatical, not sure of itself, groping, as it were,
to the light. _Christina_ was evidently the real Lady Tal, struggling
through that overlaying of habits and prejudices which constituted the
false one.

So, _Christina_ could not be given too much care; and certainly no novel
was ever given more, both by its author and by its critic. There was
not a chapter, and scarcely a paragraph, which had not been dissected
by Marion and re-written by Lady Tal; the critical insight of the one
being outdone only by the scribbling energy of the other. And now, it
would soon be finished. There was only that piece about Christina's
reconciliation with her sister-in-law to get into shape. Somehow or
other the particular piece seemed intolerably difficult to do; the more
Lady Tal worked at it, the worse it grew; the more Marion expounded his
views on the subject, the less did she seem able to grasp them.

They were seated on each side of the big deal table, which, for the
better development of _Christina_, Lady Tal had installed in her
drawing-room, and which at this moment presented a lamentable confusion
of foolscap, of mutilated pages, of slips for gumming on, of gum-pots,
and scissors. The scissors, however, were at present hidden from view,
and Lady Tal, stooping over the litter, was busily engaged looking for
them.

"Confound those beastly old scissors!" she exclaimed, shaking a heap of
MS. with considerable violence.

Marion, on his side, gave a feeble stir to the mass of paper, and said,
rather sadly: "Are you sure you left them on this table?"

He felt that something was going wrong. Lady Tal had been unusually
restive about the alterations he wanted her to make.

"You are slanging those poor scissors because you are out of patience
with things in general, Lady Tal."

She raised her head, and leaning both her long, well-shaped hands on the
table, looked full at Marion:

"Not with things in general, but with things in particular. With
_Christina_, in the first place; and then with myself; and then with
you, Mr. Marion."

"With me?" answered Marion, forcing out a smile of pseudo-surprise. He
had felt all along that she was irritated with him this morning.

"With you"--went on the lady, continuing to rummage for the scissors--"with
you, because I don't think you've been quite fair. It isn't fair to put
it into an unfortunate creature's head that she is an incipient George
Eliot, when you know that if she were to slave till doomsday, she couldn't
produce a novel fit for the _Family Herald_. It's very ungrateful of me
to complain, but you see it is rather hard lines upon me. You can do all
this sort of thing as easy as winking, and you imagine that everyone
else must. You put all your own ideas into poor _Christina_, and you
just expect me to be able to carry them out, and when I make a hideous
hash, you're not satisfied. You think of that novel just as if it were
you writing it--you know you do. Well, then, when a woman discovers at
last that she can't make the beastly thing any better; that she's been
made to hope too much, and that too much is asked of her, you understand
it's rather irritating. I am sick of re-writing that thing, sick of
every creature in it."

And Lady Tal gave an angry toss to the sheets of manuscript with the
long pair of dressmaker's scissors, which she had finally unburied.
Marion felt a little pang. The pang of a clever man who discovers
himself to be perpetrating a stupidity. He frowned that little frown
of the tight boots.

Quite true. He saw, all of a sudden, that he really had been
over-estimating Lady Tal's literary powers. It appeared to him
monstrous. The thought made him redden. To what unjustifiable lengths
had his interest in the novel--the novel in the abstract, anybody's
novel; and (he confessed to himself) the interest in one novel in
particular, his own, the one in which Lady Tal should figure--led him
away! Perceiving himself violently to be in the wrong, he proceeded
to assume the manner, as is the case with most of us under similar
circumstances (perhaps from a natural instinct of balancing matters)
of a person conscious of being in the right.

"I think," he said, dryly, "that you have rather overdone this novel,
Lady Tal--worked at it too much, talked of it too much too, sickened
yourself with it."

"--And sickened others," put in Lady Atalanta gloomily.

"No, no, no--not others--only yourself, my dear young lady," said Marion
paternally, in a way which clearly meant that she had expressed the
complete truth, being a rude woman, but that he, being a polite man,
could never admit it. As a matter of fact, Marion was not in the least
sick of _Christina_, quite the reverse.

"You see," he went on, playing with the elastic band of one of the
packets of MS., "you can't be expected to know these things. But no
professed novelist--no one of any experience--no one, allow me to say
so, except a young lady, could possibly have taken such an overdose of
novel-writing as you have. Why, you have done in six weeks what ought to
have taken six months! The result, naturally, is that you have lost all
sense of proportion and quality; you really can't see your novel any
longer, that's why you feel depressed about it."

Lady Tal was not at all mollified.

"That wasn't a reason for making me believe I was going to be George
Eliot and Ouida rolled into one, with the best qualities of Goethe and
Dean Swift into the bargain," she exclaimed.

Marion frowned, but this time internally. He really had encouraged Lady
Tal quite unjustifiably. He doubted, suddenly, whether she would ever
get a publisher; therefore he smiled, and remarked gently:

"Well, but--in matters of belief, there are two parties, Lady Tal.
Don't you think you may be partly responsible for this--this little
misapprehension?"

Lady Tal did not answer. The insolence of the Ossian was roused. She
merely looked at Marion from head to foot; and the look was ineffably
scornful. It seemed to say: "This is what comes of a woman like me
associating with Americans and novelists."

"I've not lost patience," she said after a moment; "don't think that.
When I make up my mind to a thing I just do it. So I shall finish
_Christina_, and print her, and publish her, and dedicate her to you.
Only, catch me ever writing another novel again!--and"--she added,
smiling with her closed teeth as she extended a somewhat stiff hand to
Marion--"catch you reading another novel of mine again either, now that
you've made all the necessary studies of me for _your_ novel!"

Marion smiled politely. But he ran downstairs, and through the narrow
little paved lane to the ferry at San Vio with a bent head.

He had been a fool, a fool, he repeated to himself. Not, as he had
thought before, by exposing Lady Tal to disappointment and humiliation,
but by exposing himself.

Yes, he understood it all. He understood it when, scarcely out of Lady
Tal's presence, he caught himself, in the garden, looking up at her
windows, half expecting to see her, to hear some rather rough joke
thrown at him as a greeting, just to show she was sorry---- He
understood it still better, when, every time the waiter knocked in the
course of the day, he experienced a faint expectation that it might be a
note from Lady Tal, a line to say: "I was as cross as two sticks, this
morning, wasn't I?" or merely: "don't forget to come to-morrow."

He understood. He and the novel, both chucked aside impatiently by
this selfish, capricious, imperious young aristocrat: the two things
identified, and both now rejected as unworthy of taking up more of her
august attention! Marion felt the insult to the novel--her novel--almost
more than to himself. After all, how could Lady Tal see the difference
between him and the various mashers of her acquaintance, perceive that
he was the salt of the earth? She had not wherewithal to perceive it.
But that she should not perceive the dignity of her own work, how
infinitely finer that novel was than herself, how it represented all
her own best possibilities; that she should be ungrateful for the
sensitiveness with which he had discovered its merit, _her_ merits, in
the midst of that confusion of illiterate fashionable rubbish----

And when that evening, having his coffee at St. Mark's, he saw Lady
Tal's stately figure, her white dress, amongst the promenaders in the
moonlight, a rabble of young men and women at her heels, it struck him
suddenly that something was over. He thought that, if Lady Tal came to
London next spring, he would not call upon her unless sent for; and he
was sure she would not send for him, for as to _Christina_, _Christina_
would never get as far as the proof-sheets; and unless _Christina_
re-appeared on the surface, he also would remain at the bottom.

Marion got up from his table, and leaving the brightly illuminated
square and the crowd of summer-like promenaders, he went out on to the
Riva, and walked slowly towards the arsenal. The contrast was striking.
Out here it looked already like winter. There were no chairs in front of
the cafés, there were scarcely any gondola-lights at the mooring places.
The passers-by went along quickly, the end of their cloak over their
shoulder. And from the water, which swished against the marble landings,
came a rough, rainy wind. It was dark, and there were unseen puddles
along the pavement.

This was the result of abandoning, for however little, one's principles.
He had broken through his convictions by accepting to read a young
lady's MS. novel. It did not seem a very serious mistake. But through
that chink, what disorderly powers had now entered his well-arranged
existence!

What the deuce did he want with the friendship of a Lady Tal? He had
long made up his mind to permit himself only such friendship as could
not possibly involve any feeling, as could not distress or ruffle him
by such incidents as illness, death, fickleness, ingratitude. The
philosophy of happiness, of that right balance of activities necessary
for the dispassionate student of mankind, consisted in never having
anything that one could miss, in never wanting anything. Had he not long
ago made up his mind to live contemplative only of external types, if
not on a column like Simon Stylites, at least in its meaner modern
equivalent, a top flat at Westminster?

Marion felt depressed, ashamed of his depression, enraged at his shame;
and generally intolerably mortified at feeling anything at all, and
still more, in consequence, at feeling all this much.

As he wandered up and down one of the stretches of the Riva, the
boisterous wind making masts and sails creak, and his cigar-smoke fly
wildly about, he began, however, to take a little comfort. All this,
after all, was so much experience; and experience was necessary for the
comprehension of mankind. It was preferable, as a rule, to use up other
people's experience; to look down, from that top flat at Westminster,
upon grief and worry and rage _in corpore vili_, at a good five storeys
below one. But, on reflection, it was doubtless necessary occasionally
to get impressions a little nearer; the very recognition of feeling in
others presupposed a certain minimum of emotional experience in oneself.

Marion had a sense of humour, a sense of dignity, and a corresponding
aversion to being ridiculous. He disliked extremely having played the
part of the middle-aged fool. But if ever he should require, for a
future novel, a middle-aged fool, why, there he would be, ready to hand.
And really, unless he had thus miserably broken through his rules of
life, thus contemptibly taken an interest in a young lady six-foot
high, the daughter of a bankrupt earl, with an inexpressive face and a
sentimental novel, he would never, never have got to fathom, as he now
fathomed, the character of the intelligent woman of the world, with
aspirations ending in frivolity, and a heart entirely rusted over by
insolence.

Ah, he _did_ understand Lady Tal. He had gone up to his hotel; and shut
his window with a bang, receiving a spout of rain in his face, as he
made that reflection. Really, Lady Tal might be made into something
first-rate.

He threw himself into an arm-chair and opened a volume of the
correspondence of Flaubert.


X.

"I am glad to have made an end of _Christina_," remarked Lady Tal,
when they were on Miss Vanderwerf's balcony together. _Christina_ had
been finished, cleaned up, folded, wrapped in brown paper, stringed,
sealing-waxed and addressed to a publisher, a week almost ago. During
the days separating this great event from this evening, the last of Lady
Atalanta's stay in Venice, the two novelists had met but little. Lady
Tal had had farewell visits to pay, farewell dinners and lunches to eat.
So had Jervase Marion; for, two days after Lady Tal's return to her
apartment near the Holy Apostles at Rome, he would be setting out for
that dear, tidy, solitary flat at Westminster.

"I am glad to have made an end of _Christina_," remarked Lady Tal, "it
had got to bore me fearfully."

Marion winced. He disliked this young woman's ingratitude and brutality.
It was ill-bred and stupid; and of all things in the world, the novelist
from Alabama detested ill-breeding and stupidity most. He was angry
with himself for minding these qualities in Lady Tal. Had he not long
made up his mind that she possessed them, _must_ possess them?

There was a pause. The canal beneath them was quite dark, and the room
behind quite light; it was November, and people no longer feared lamps
on account of mosquitoes, any more than they went posting about in
gondolas after illuminated singing boats. The company, also, was
entirely collected within doors; the damp sea-wind, the necessity for
shawls and overcoats, took away the Romeo and Juliet character from
those little gothic balconies, formerly crowded with light frocks and
white waistcoats.

The temperature precluded all notions of flirtation; one must intend
business, or be bent upon catching cold, to venture outside.

"How changed it all is!" exclaimed Lady Tal, "and what a beastly place
Venice does become in autumn. If I were a benevolent despot, I should
forbid any rooms being let or hotels being opened beyond the 15th of
October. I wonder why I didn't get my bags together and go earlier!
I might have gone to Florence or Perugia for a fortnight, instead of
banging straight back to Rome. Oh, of course, it was all along of
_Christina_! What were we talking about? Ah, yes, about how changed
it all was. Do you remember the first evening we met here, a splendid
moonlight, and ever so hot? When was it? Two months ago? Surely more.
It seems years ago. I don't mean merely on account of the change of
temperature, and leaving off cotton frocks and that: I mean we seem to
have been friends so long. You will write to me sometimes, won't you,
and send any of your friends to me? Palazzo Malaspini, Santi Apostoli
(just opposite the French Embassy, you know), after five nearly always,
in winter. I wonder," continued Lady Tal, musingly, leaning her tweed
elbow on the damp balustrade, "whether we shall ever write another novel
together; what do you think, Mr. Marion?"

Something seemed suddenly to give away inside Marion's soul. He saw, all
at once, those big rooms, which he had often heard described (a woman of
her means ought to be ashamed of such furniture, the Roumanian Princess
had remarked), near the Holy Apostles at Rome: the red damask walls, the
big palms and azaleas, with pieces of embroidery wrapped round the pots,
the pastel of Lady Tal by Lenbach, the five hundred photographs dotted
about, and fifteen hundred silver objects of indeterminable shape
and art, and five dozen little screens all covered with odd bits of
brocade--of course there was all that: and the door curtain raised, and
the butler bowing in, and behind him the whitish yellowish curl, and
pinky grey face of Clarence. And then he saw, but not more distinctly,
his writing-table at Westminster, the etchings round his walls, the
collection of empty easy-chairs, each easier and emptier, with its
book-holding or leg-stretching apparatus, than its neighbor. He became
aware of being old, remarkably old, of a paternal position towards this
woman of thirty. He spoke in a paternal tone--

"No!" he answered, "I think not. I shall be too busy. I must write
another novel myself."

"What will your novel be about?" asked Lady Tal, slowly, watching her
cigarette cut down through the darkness into the waters below. "Tell
me."

"My novel? What will my novel be about?" repeated Marion, absently. His
mind was full of those red rooms at Rome, with the screens, and the
palms, and odious tow-coloured head of Clarence. "Why, my novel will
be the story of an old artist, a sculptor--I don't mean a man of the
Renaissance, I mean old in years, elderly, going on fifty--who was silly
enough to imagine it was all love of art which made him take a great
deal of interest in a certain young lady and her paintings----"

"You said he was a sculptor just now," remarked Lady Tal calmly.

"Of course I meant in her statues--modelling--what d'you call it----"

"And then?" asked Lady Tal after a pause, looking down into the canal.
"What happened?"

"What happened?" repeated Marion, and he heard his own voice with
surprise, wondering how it could be his own, or how he could know it
for his, so suddenly had it grown quick and husky and unsteady--"What
happened? Why--that he made an awful old fool of himself. That's all."

"That's all!" mused Lady Tal. "Doesn't it seem rather lame? You don't
seem to have got sufficient _dénouement_, do you? Why shouldn't we
write that novel together? I'm sure I could help you to something more
conclusive than that. Let me see. Well, suppose the lady were to answer:
'I am as poor as a rat, and I fear I'm rather expensive. But I _can_
make my dresses myself if only I get one of those wicker dolls, I call
them Theresa, you know; and I _might_ learn to do my hair myself; and
then I'm going to be a great painter--no, sculptor, I mean--and make
pots of money; so suppose we get married.' Don't you think Mr. Marion,
that would be more _modern_ than your _dénouement_? You would have to
find out what that painter--no, sculptor, I beg your pardon--would
answer. Consider that both he and the lady are rather lonely, bored,
and getting into the sere and yellow---- We ought to write that novel
together, because I've given you the ending--and also because I really
can't manage another all by myself, now that I've got accustomed to
having my semicolons put in for me----"

As Lady Atalanta spoke these words, a sudden downpour of rain drove her
and Marion back into the drawing-room.



A WORLDLY WOMAN.


I.

"But why should you mind who buys your pots, so long as your pots are
beautiful?" asked the girl.

"Because as things exist at present, art can minister only to the
luxury of the rich, idle classes. The people, the people that works and
requires to play, and requires something to tell it of happier things,
gets no share in art. The people is too poor to possess beautiful
things, and too brutish to care for them: the only amusement it can
afford is getting drunk. And one wearies and sickens of merely adding
one's grain of sand to the inequality and injustice of existing social
conditions--don't you see, Miss Flodden?"

Leonard Greenleaf stopped short, his breathlessness mingling with the
annoyance at having let himself be carried away by his ideas, and
producing a vague sense of warm helplessness.

"Of course," he went on, taking up a big jar of yellow Hispano-Moorish
lustre ware, and mechanically dusting it with the feather brush, "it's
absurd to talk like that about such things as pots, and it's absurd to
talk like that to you."

And raising his head he gave a furtive little glare at the girl, where
she stood in a golden beam of dust and sunlight, which slanted through
his workshop.

Miss Valentine Flodden--for such was the name on the family card which
she had sent in together with that of Messrs. Boyce--made rather a
delightful picture in that yellow halo: the green light from under the
plane trees filtering in through the door behind her, and gleams of
crimson and glints of gold flickering, in the brown gloom wherever an
enamel plate or pot was struck by a sunbeam, winnowed by the blind which
flapped in the draught. Greenleaf knew by some dim, forgotten experience
or unaccountable guess-work, that she was what was called, in the
detestable jargon of a certain set, a pretty woman. He also recognised
in her clothes--they were would-be manly, far more simple and practical
than those of the girls he knew, yet telling of a life anything but
practical and simple--that she belonged to that same set of persons;
a fact apparent also in her movements, her words and accent, nay in
the something indefinable in her manner which seemed to take things
for granted. But he didn't care for her being beautiful. His feeling
was solely of vague irritation at having let himself speak--he had
quite unnecessarily told her he intended giving up the pottery next
year--about the things which were his very life, to a stranger; a
stranger who had come with a card to ask advice about her own amateur
work, and from out of a world which was foreign and odious to him, the
world of idleness and luxury. Also, he experienced slight shame at
a certain silly, half-romantic pleasure at what was in reality the
unconscious intrusion of a fashionable eccentric. This girl, who had
been sent on from Boyce & Co.'s for information which they could not
give, must evidently have thought she was coming to another shop,
otherwise she would never have come all alone; she evidently took him
for a shopman, otherwise she would not have staid so long nor spoken
so freely. It was much better she should continue to regard him as a
shopman; and indeed was it not his pride to have shaken off all class
distinctions, and to have become a workingman like any other?

It was this thought which made him alter his tone and ask with grave
politeness, "Is there any further point upon which I can have the
pleasure of giving you any information?"

Miss Flodden did not answer this question. She stood contemplating the
old warped oaken floor, on whose dust she was drawing a honeysuckle
pattern with the end of her parasol.

"Why did you say that you ought not to speak about such things
to--people, Mr. Greenleaf?" she asked. "Of course, one's a Philistine,
and in outer darkness, but still----"

She had raised her eyes full upon him. They were a strange light blue,
darkening as she spoke, under very level brows, and she had an odd way
of opening them out at one. Like that, with her delicate complexion, and
a little vagueness about the mouth, she looked childish, appealing, and
rather pathetic.

"All these things are very interesting," she added quickly; "at least
they must be if one understands anything about them."

Greenleaf was sorry. He didn't know exactly why; but he felt vaguely as
if he had been brutal. He had made her shut up--for he recognised that
the second part of her speech was the reaction against his own; and that
was brutal. He ought not to have let the conversation depart from the
technicalities of pottery, as he had done by saying he intended giving
it up, and then bursting into that socialistic rhapsody. It wasn't fair
upon her.

By this time the reaction had completely set in with her. Her face had a
totally different expression, indifferent, bored, a little insolent--the
expression of her society and order.

"It's been very good of you," she said, looking vaguely round the room,
with the shimmer of green leaves and the glint of enamel in its brown
dustiness, "to tell me so many things, and to have given up so much
of your time. I didn't know, you know, from Messrs. Boyce, that I was
breaking in upon you at your work. I suppose they were so kind because
of my father having a collection--they thought that I knew more about
pottery than I do."

She stretched out her hand stiffly. Leonard Greenleaf did not know
whether he ought to take it, because he guessed that she did not know
whether she ought to offer it him. Also he felt awkward, and sorry to
have shut her up.

"I should--be very happy to tell you anything more that I could, Miss
Flodden," he said; "besides, the owners of Yetholme must be privileged
people with us potters."

"If--if ever you be passing anywhere near Eaton Square--that's where I
live with my aunt," she said, "won't you come in and have a cup of tea?
Number 5; the number is on the card. But," she added suddenly, with a
little laugh, which was that social stiffening once more, "perhaps you
never do pass anywhere near tea-time; or you pass and don't come in. It
would be a great waste of your time."

What had made her stiffen suddenly like that was a faint smile which had
come into Greenleaf's face at the beginning of her invitation. He had
understood, or thought he understood, that his visitor had grasped the
fact of his being a sort of gentleman after all, and that she thought it
necessary to express her recognition of the difference between him and
any other member of the firm of Boyce & Co. by asking him to call.

"Of course you are a great deal too busy," she repeated. "Perhaps
some day you will let me come to your studio again--some day next
year--good-bye."

"Shall I call you a hansom?" he asked, wondering whether he had been
rude.

"Thank you; I think I'll go by the Underground. You cross the big
square, and then along the side of the British Museum, don't you? I made
a note of the way as I came. Or else I'll get a 'bus in Tottenham Court
Road."

She spoke the words _'bus_ and _Underground_, he thought, with a little
emphasis. She was determined to have her fill of eccentricity, now that
she had gone in for pottery, and for running about all alone to strange
places, and scoring out everything save her own name on the family card.
At least so Greenleaf said to himself, as he watched the tall, slight
young figure disappearing down the black Bloomsbury street, and among
the green leaves and black stems of the Bloomsbury square. An unlikely
apparition, oddly feminine in its spruce tailoring, in that sleepy part
of the world, whence fashion had retreated long, long ago, with the last
painted coach which had rumbled through the iron gates, and the last
link which had been extinguished in the iron extinguishers of the rusty
areas.


II.

Greenleaf had a great disbelief in his own intuitions; perhaps because
he vibrated unusually to the touch of other folks' nature, and that the
number and variety of his impressions sometimes made it difficult to
come to a cut-and-dry conclusion. There was in him also a sensitiveness
on the subject of his own beliefs and ideals which made him instinctively
avoid contact with other folk, and avoid even knowing much about them.
He often felt that in a way he was very unfit to be a Socialist and an
agitator; for besides the absurd attraction that everything beautiful,
distinguished, exotic, exercised upon him, and a corresponding repugnance
to the coarse and sordid sights of the world, he knew himself to look at
people in an excessively subjective way, never seeking spontaneously to
understand what they themselves were trying to do and say, but analysing
them merely from the series of impressions which he received. Just as
his consciousness of being a born æsthete and aristocrat had pushed
him into social questions and democratic views; so also his extreme
conscientiousness occasionally made him attempt, rather abortively,
to behave to others as he might wish to be behaved to himself, his
imagination being taxed to the utmost by the inquiry as to what
behaviour would be altruistic and just under the circumstances.

This preamble is necessary to explain various inconsistencies in our
hero's conduct, and more particularly at this moment, the inconsistency
of suddenly veering round in his suppositions about Miss Valentine
Flodden. In his monotonous life of artistic work and social study--in
those series of quiet days, as like one another as the rows of black
Bloomsbury houses with their garlanded door-lintels and worn-out
doorsteps, as the spear-heads of the railings, the spikes of blossom on
the horse-chestnuts, and the little lions on the chain curbs round the
British Museum--the weekly firing of his pottery kiln at Boyce's Works
near Wandsworth, the weekly lecture to workingmen down at Whitechapel,
the weekly reception in the sooty rooms of Faber, the Socialist poet
and critic who had married the Socialist painter--all these were the
landmarks of Greenleaf's existence, and landmarks of the magnitude of
martello towers along a sea-shore. So that anything at all unexpected
became, in his life of subversive thoughts and methodical activity, an
incident and an adventure.

Thus it was that the visit of Miss Flodden, although he repeatedly noted
its utter unimportance to himself and everyone else, became the theme of
much idle meditation in the intervals of his work and study. He
felt it as extraordinarily strange. And feeling it in this way, his
conscientious good sense caused him to analyse it as sometimes almost
unusually commonplace.

It was in consequence of repeatedly informing himself that after all
nothing could be more natural than this visit, that he took the step
which brought him once more into contact with the eccentricity of the
adventure. For he repeated so often to himself how natural it was that
a girl with a taste for art should care for pottery (particularly as
her father owned the world-famous Yetholme collection), and caring for
pottery should go for information to Messrs. Boyce's the decorators, and
being referred by Boyce's to himself should come on, at once, and quite
alone, to the studio of his unknown self; he identified Miss Flodden so
completely with any one of the mature maidens who carried their peacock
blue and sage green and amber beads, and interest in economics, archæology
and so forth freely through his world, that he decided to give Miss
Flodden the assistance which he would have proffered to one of the
independent and studious spinsters of Bloomsbury and West Kensington.
Accordingly he took a sheet of paper with "Boyce & Co., Decorators,"
stamped at the head of it, and wrote a note directed to Miss Valentine
Flodden, Eaton Square, saying that as she would doubtless be interested
in examining the Rhodian and Damascene pottery of the British Museum,
which she had told him she knew very imperfectly, he ventured to enclose
an introduction to the Head of the Department, whom she would find a
most learned and amiable old gentleman; the fact of her connection with
the famous Yetholme collection would, for the rest, be introduction
enough in itself.

After posting the note and the enclosure, Leonard Greenleaf reflected,
with some wonder and a little humiliation, that he had chosen a sheet of
Boyce's business paper to write to Miss Flodden; while he had selected a
sheet with the name of his old Oxford college for writing to the Head of
the Department. But it was not childish contradictoriness after all; at
least so he told himself. For old Colonel Hancock Dunstan (one never
dropped the Colonel even in one's thoughts) had a weakness in favour of
polite society and against new-fangled democracy, and liked Greenleaf
exactly because he had better shaped hands and a better cut coat than
other men who haunted the Museum. And as to Miss Flodden, why, it seemed
more appropriate to keep things on the level of pottery and decoration,
and therefore to have Boyce & Co. well to the fore.

Greenleaf had made up his mind that Fate would never again bring him
face to face with Miss Flodden, and that he would certainly take no
steps towards altering Fate's intentions. It was for this very reason
that he had introduced the lady to his old friend of the Museum: for it
is singular how introducing someone to somebody else keeps up the sense
of the someone's presence; and how, occasionally, one insists upon such
vicarious company. But, as stated already, he never dreamed, at least he
thought he never dreamed, to see his eccentric young visitor again.

Such being the case, it might seem odd, had not his experience of human
feelings destroyed all perception of oddity, that Greenleaf experienced
no surprise when, obeying a peremptory scrawl from the former terror
of Pashas and the present terror of scholars, he found himself one
afternoon in Colonel Dunstan's solemn bachelor drawing-room, and in the
presence once more of Miss Valentine Flodden.

Colonel Hancock Dunstan, who in his distant days had gone to Mecca
disguised as a pilgrim, dug up Persian temples, slain uncivil Moslems
with his own hand, and altogether constituted a minor Eastern question
in his one boisterous self, had now settled down (a Government post
having been created expressly to keep him quiet) into a life divided
between furious archæological disputes and faithful service of the
fair sex. He was at this moment promenading his shrunken person--which
somehow straightened out into military vigour in the presence of young
ladies--round a large table spread with innumerable cups of tea, plates
of strawberries and dishes of bonbons. Of this he partook only in
the spirit, offering it all, together with the service of a severe
housekeeper and a black, barefooted Moor, for the consumption of his
fair guests. The other guest, indeed, a gaunt and classic female
archæologist, habited in peacock plush, was fair only in mind; and
Colonel Dunstan, devoted as he was to all womankind, was wont to neglect
such intellectual grace when in the presence of more obvious external
beauty. Hence, at this moment, the poor archæological lady, accustomed
to a shower of invitations to lunch, tea, dinner, and play-tickets from
the gallant though terrible old man, was abandoned to the care of the
housekeeper until she could be passed over to that of Greenleaf. And
Colonel Dunstan, with his shrunken tissues and shrunken waistcoat
regaining a martial ampleness, as the withered rose of Dr. Heidegger's
experiment regained colour and perfume in the basin of Elixir of Youth,
was wandering slowly about (for he never sat still) heaping food and
conversation on Miss Flodden. He was informing her, among anecdotes
of dead celebrities, reminiscences of Oriental warfare, principles
of Persian colour arrangement, and panegyrics of virtuous incipient
actresses, that Greenleaf was a capital fellow, although he would
doubtless have been improved by military training; a scholar, and
the son of a great scholar (Thomas Greenleaf's great edition of the
"Mahabarata," which she should read some day when he, Colonel Dunstan,
taught her Sanskrit), and that, for the rest, philanthropy, socialism,
and the lower classes were a great mistake, of which the Ancient
Persians would have made very short work indeed. To Greenleaf also
he conveyed sundry information, not troubling to make it quite
intelligible, for Colonel Dunstan considered that young men ought to be
taught their place, which place was nowhere. So from various mutterings
and ejaculations addressed to Miss Flodden, such as, "Ah, your great
aunt, the duchess--what a woman she was! she had the shoulders of the
Venus of Milo--I always told her she ought to ride out in the desert to
excavate Palmyra with me;" and "that dear little cousin of yours--why
didn't she let me teach her Arabic?" it became gradually apparent to
Greenleaf that the old gentleman, who seemed as versed in Burke's
Peerage and Baronetage as in cuneiform inscriptions, had known many
generations of ladies of the house of Flodden. Nay, most unexpected of
all, that the young lady introduced by Greenleaf had been a familiar
object to the learned and hot-tempered Colonel ever since she had left
the nursery. Greenleaf experienced a slight pang on this discovery:
he had forgotten, in his own unworldliness, that worldly people like
Colonel Dunstan and Miss Flodden probably moved in the same society.

"And your sister, how is she?" went on the old gentleman; "is she as
bright as ever, now she is married, and has she got that little _air
mutin_ still? It's months since I've seen her; why didn't you bring her
with you, my dear? And does _she_ also take an interest in Rhodian pots,
the dear, beautiful creature?"

Miss Flodden's face darkened as he slowly spun out his questions.

"I don't know what my sister is doing. I don't live with her any longer,
Colonel Dunstan; and she is always busy rushing about with people; and
I'm busy with pots and practising the fiddle; I've turned hermit since
quite a long time."

"Well, well, practising the fiddle isn't a bad thing; Orpheus with his
lute, you know. But you'd much better let me teach you Greek, my dear,
and come to Asia Minor next winter with me. Lady Betty's coming, and
we'll see what we can dig up among those sots of Turks. You can get
capital tents at that fellow's--what's his name--in Piccadilly. And how
are your people? I saw your brother Herbert the other day at a sale. He
told me your father was determined not to let us have your collection,
more's the pity! And what's become of that nice young fellow, Hermann
Struwë, who used to be at your house? He hasn't got a wife yet, eh?"

Miss Flodden took no notice of these questions. She passed them over in
disdainful silence, Greenleaf thought, till she suddenly said coldly:

"I should think Mr. Struwë will have no more difficulty in finding a
wife than in hiring a shooting, or buying a sham antique."

She was a very beautiful woman, Greenleaf said to himself. She was very
tall (Greenleaf wondered whether the women of that lot, of the idlers,
were always a head taller than those of his acquaintance), and slender
almost to thinness, with a rigid, undeveloped sort of grace which
contrasted with the extreme composure--that sort of taking things for
granted--of her manner. Old Mr. Dunstan had just alluded to her mother
having been a Welshwoman; and Greenleaf thought he saw very plainly the
Celt in this superficially Saxon-looking girl. That sharp perfection
of feature--features almost over-much chiselled and finished in every
minutest detail--that excessive mobility of mouth and eyes, did not
belong to the usual kind of English pretty women. She was so much of
a Celt, despite her Northumbrian name, that the pale-brown of her
hair--hair crisp and close round her ears--gave him almost the impression
of a wig; underneath it must really be jet black.

Notwithstanding a slight weariness at Colonel Dunstan's social
reminiscences and questions, she seemed pleased and rather excited at
finding herself in the sanctuary of his learning. While quietly taking
care of the old gentleman, and much concerned lest he should stumble
over chairs and footstools in his polite haverings, she let her eyes
ramble over the expanse of books which covered the walls, evidently
impressed by all that must be in them. And from the timid though
pertinacious fashion in which she questioned him, it was clear that she
thought him an oracle, although an oracle rather difficult to keep to
the point.

"And now," she finally said, with a little suppressed desperation,
"won't you show me some of the Rhodian ware, Colonel Dunstan? It would
be so awfully good of you."

Colonel Dunstan suddenly unwrinkled himself with considerable
importance. He had forgotten the Rhodian ware, and rather resented its
existence. Why, bless you! _He_ didn't possess such things as pots; and
as to going to the Museum, it was the most cold-taking place in the
world. He would show her his books some day, and the casts of the
cuneiform inscriptions. She must come to tea again soon with him. Did
she know Miss Tilly Tandem, who had just been engaged by Irving? He
should like them to meet. That was her photograph.

"But," said Miss Flodden--Val Flodden it appeared she was called--"mayn't
I--couldn't I--be allowed to see those Rhodian pots also?" She was
dreadfully crestfallen, and had a little disappointed eagerness, like a
child.

"Of course you can," Colonel Dunstan answered, with infinite disdain.
"_I_ don't think anything of Rhodian ware, you know--mere debased copy
of the old Persian. Those Greeks of the islands were a poor lot, then as
now. Believe me, those Greeks have always been a set of confounded liars
and their account of Salamis will be set right some day. But if you want
to see it, why of course you can. Greenleaf, take Miss Val Flodden to
see the Rhodian ware some day soon; do you hear, Greenleaf, eh?"

"Yes, sir." Greenleaf had always said sir to Colonel Dunstan, like a
little boy, or a subordinate. It made up for a kind of contempt with
which the learned, but worldly and hot-tempered old gentleman very
unreasonably inspired him. Greenleaf was full of prejudices, like all
very gentle and apostolic persons.

"There's Greenleaf--go with him some morning," said Colonel Dunstan,
regaining his temper; "but, bless me! Why haven't you had any more
strawberries, Miss Val?"


III.

The discovery that he had introduced two people who had already been
acquainted for years, depressed Greenleaf with something more than the
mere sense of slight comicality. Indeed, Greenleaf, like many apostolic
persons, was deficient in the sense of the comic, and destitute of all
fear of social solecisms. As he waited under the portico of the Museum,
the pigeons fluttering from the black temple frieze on to the sooty
steps, and the rusty students pressing through the swinging glass doors,
he felt a vague dissatisfaction--the sort of faint crossness common in
children, and of which no contact with the world, the contact with its
grating or planing powers, had cured this dreamer; but such crossness
leaves in the candid mind a doubt of possible vicariousness, of being
caused by something not its ostensible reason, or being caused by the
quite undefinable. When at last, from out of the blue haze and gauzy
blackness of the Bloomsbury summer, there emerged an object of interest,
and the slender recognised figure detached itself from the crowd of
unreal other creatures, on foot, in cabs, and behind barrows, he was
aware of a certain flat and prosaic quality in things since that
tea-party at Colonel Dunstan's. And he was very angry with himself, and
consequently with everything else, when it struck him suddenly that
perhaps he was annoyed at the little eccentric adventure--the adventure
of the lady dropped from the clouds and never seen again--turning into
a humdrum acquaintance, which might even linger on, with a girl about
whose family he now knew everything, who, on her side, was now certain
that he was a gentleman, and who did really and seriously intend to find
out all about pots.

They walked quickly upstairs, exchanging very few words, save on the
subject of umbrellas and umbrella tickets; and when they had arrived in
the pottery room, they became wonderfully business-like. Miss Flodden
was business-like simply because she was extraordinarily interested
in the matter in hand; and Greenleaf was business-like because he was
ashamed of having perhaps thought about Miss Flodden apart from pottery,
and therefore most anxious, for his own moral dignity, to look at her
and pottery as indissolubly connected.

As the narrator of this small history is unhappily an ignoramus on the
subject of pottery, prudence forbids all attempt to repeat the questions
of Miss Flodden and the answers of Greenleaf on the subject of clay,
colours, fixing glaze and similar mysteries. These were duly discussed
for some time while the patient assistant unlocked case after case, and
let them handle the great Hispano-Moorish dishes, heraldic creatures
spreading wings among their arabesques of yellow brown goldiness; the
rotund vases and ewers where Roman consuls and Jewish maidens and Greek
gods were crowded together, yellow and green and brown, on the deep
sea-blue of Castel Durante and Gubbio majolica; the fanciful scalloped
blue upon blue nymphs and satyrs of seventeenth century Savona, which
looked as if the very dishes and plates had wished to wear furbelows and
perukes; and the precious pieces, cracked and broken, of Brusa tiles and
Rhodian and Damascene platters, with the gorgeous crimson tulips--opening
vistas of Oriental bean-fields--and fantastic green and blue fritillaries
standing almost in relief on the thick white glaze.

"I suppose it's being brought up among the Yetholme collection that makes
you know so much about pottery?" remarked Greenleaf, in considerable
surprise: "you haven't been to this part of the Museum before?"

Miss Flodden raised her pale blue luminous eyes.

"Do you know, I've never been to the Museum since I was a tiny girl, at
least, except once, when my married sister conducted a party of New York
friends. I thought we were going to see stuffed birds, and I was so
surprised to see all those beautiful Greek things--I had seen statues
once when we went to Rome--I wanted so much to look at them a little,
but my friends thought they weren't in good repair, and wanted to have
tea and go to the park, so they scooted me round among the Egyptian
things and the reading rooms and out by the door. Yes, the little I know
I have learned by playing with our things at home. Some day you must see
them, Mr. Greenleaf."

Greenleaf did not answer for a moment. Good heavens! here was a young
woman of twenty-four or twenty-five who had spent part of every year of
her life in London, and had been only once to the British Museum, and
then had expected to see stuffed birds! And the girl apparently an
instinctive artist, extraordinarily quick and just in her appreciations.

Then there were other things to do, besides opening galleries on Sundays
and promenading East-end workmen in company with young men from Toynbee
Hall! And Greenleaf's heart withered--as one's mouth withers at the
contact of strong green tea or caper sauce--with indignation at all the
waste of intellectual power and intellectual riches implied in this
hideous present misarrangement of all things. Was it possible that the
so-called upper classes, or at least some members thereof, were in one
way as much the victims of injustice and barbarism as the lower classes,
off whose labour they basely subsisted?

The thought came over him as his eyes met Miss Flodden's face--that
delicately chiselled, mobile young face which was suddenly contracted
with a smile of cynical, yet resigned bitterness. He made that reflection
once more, when with the wand-bearing custodian imperturbably occupying
the only seat in the place, they leaned upon the glass case, and she
asked him, and he told her, about the various currents in art history--the
form element of ancient Greece, the colour element of the Orientals,
the patterns of Persian ware, the outline figures on Greek and Etruscan
vases--things which he imagined every child to know, and about which, as
about Greeks, Orientals, and Etruscans, and Latin and geography and most
matters, this girl seemed completely ignorant.

"My word," she exclaimed, and that little piece of slang grated horribly
on Greenleaf's nerves; "how very interesting things are when one knows
something about them! Do you suppose all things would be equally
interesting if one knew about them? Or would it only be every now and
then, just as with other matters, balls, and picnics, and so forth? Or
does one get interested whenever one does anything as hard as one can,
like hard riding, or rowing, or playing tennis properly? Some books seem
so awfully interesting, you know; but there are such a lot of others
that one would just throw into the fire if they didn't belong to Mudie.
But somehow a thread seems always to be wanting. It's like trying to
play a game without knowing the rules. How have you got to know all
these things, Mr. Greenleaf? I mean all the connections between things;
and could anybody get the connecting links if they tried, or must one
have a special vocation?"

Greenleaf was embarrassed how to answer. He really could not realise
the extraordinary emptiness in this young woman's mind; and at the same
time he felt strangely touched and indignant, as he did sometimes when
giving some little street Arab a good thing which it had never eaten
before, and did not clearly know how to begin eating.

"Have you--have you--never read at all methodically?" he asked. He
really meant, "Have you never received any education?"

Miss Flodden reflected for a moment. "No. Somehow one never thought of
reading as a methodical thing, as a business, you know. Dancing and
hunting and playing tennis and seeing people, all that's a business,
because one has to do it. At least one has to do it as long as one
hadn't turned into a savage; everyone else has to do it. Of course,
there's the fiddle; I've practised that rather methodically, but it was
because I liked the sound of the thing so much, and I once had a little
German--my brother's German crammer for diplomacy--who taught me. And
then one knew that, unless one got up at five in the morning and did it
regularly, it wouldn't be done at all. But reading is different. One
just picks up a book before dinner, or while being dressed. And the
books are usually such rot."

It was getting late, and Greenleaf conducted Miss Flodden back to her
parasol, where it was waiting among the vast and shabby umbrellas of
the studious, very incongruous in its semi-masculine, yet rather futile
smartness, at the door of the reading-room.

"It is all very beautiful," remarked Miss Flodden, as they descended the
Museum steps, with the pigeons fluttering all round in the dim, smoky
air, nodding her head pensively.

"What?" asked Greenleaf. He had an almost conventual hatred of noise
and bustle, which seemed to him, perhaps because he had elected to work
among them, the utter profanation of life; and to his æsthetic soul,
the fact that many thousands of people lived among smoke and smuts, and
never saw a clear stream, a dainty meadow of grass and daisies, or a sky
just washed into blueness by a shower, was one of the chief reasons for
condemning modern industrial civilisation.

"Why, all that--the pale blue mist with the black houses quite soft,
like black flakes against it, and the green of the trees against the
black walls, and the moving crowd." Then, as if suddenly taking courage
to say something rather dreadful, she said: "Tell me about Colonel
Dunstan. Is he really so learned, does he know such a lot of things?"

Greenleaf laughed at the simplicity with which she asked this. She
seemed to have a difficulty in realising that anyone could know
anything.

"Yes, he knows a great lot of things. He is one of the first Orientalists
in Europe, I believe--at least my father, who was an Oriental scholar
himself, used to say so; and he is a great archæologist, besides his
knowledge of Eastern things, and of course he knows more about Oriental
art, and in fact all art, than almost anyone."

"Does he know," hesitated Miss Flodden, "what you were telling me about
the different currents of ancient art, Persian and Greek and Etruscan,
and the way in which artists lived then--all that you were telling me
just now?"

Greenleaf laughed. "Good gracious, yes; I know nothing compared with
him. Why, most of the little I know I learned at his lectures. Shall I
hail that hansom for you, Miss Flodden?"

They were crossing Bedford Square. The birds were singing in the plane
trees, and from the open windows of a solemn Georgian house, with its
courses of white stone, and its classic door frieze, came the notes of
a sonata of Mozart. All was wonderfully peaceful under the hazy summer
sky.

"No--not yet. Tell me, then: since Colonel Dunstan knows so many
interesting things, why in the world does he live like that?"

"Like what, Miss Flodden?"

"Why, as if--well, as if he knew nothing at all. Why does he go every
afternoon a round of calls on silly women, gossiping about their
dresses, and listening to all--well--the horrid, because it often
_is_ horrid, nonsense and filth people talk? I used to meet him about
everywhere, when I used still to go into the world. He often came to my
sister's--I thought he was just an old--well, an old creature like the
rest of them, collecting gossip to retail it next door. Since he really
knows all about beautiful things, why doesn't he stick to them--why does
he go about with stupid folk--he must know lots of clever ones?"

"Because--because Colonel Dunstan is a man of the world," answered
Greenleaf bitterly; "because he cares about art, and history, and
philosophy, but he also cares for pretty women, and pretty frocks,
and good manners, and white hands."

"But--why shouldn't one care--doesn't everyone care--for--well, good
manners?"

He had spoken with such violence that Miss Flodden had turned round. Her
question died away as she looked into his face. It had hitherto struck
her merely by its great kindness, and a sort of gentle candour which
was rare. Now, the clean-shaven features and longish hair gave her the
impression of a fanatic priest, at least what she imagined such to be.

"In this world, as it now exists," continued Greenleaf in an undertone,
which was almost a hiss, "things are so divided that a man must choose
between people who are pretty and pleasant and well-mannered; and people
who are ugly and brutish and hateful, because the first are idle and
unjust, and the second overworked and oppressed. Nowadays, more even
than when Christ taught it, a man cannot serve both God and Mammon; and
God, at present, at least God's servants, live among the ignorant, and
dirty, and suffering. Shan't I stop that hansom for you, Miss Flodden?"

"Yes," she answered with a catch in her breath, as if overcome by
surprise, almost as by an attack.

"Good-bye," he said, closing the flaps of the hansom.

Miss Flodden's hand mechanically dropped on to one of them, and her
head, with the little black bonnet all points and bows of lace, was
looking straight into space, as one overcome by great astonishment.

Greenleaf sickened with shame at his vehemence.

"You will let me show you the Etruscan things some day?" he cried, as
the hansom rolled off.

Ah, could he never, never learn to restrain himself? What business had
he to talk of such things to such a woman. To let the holy of holies
become, most likely, a subject of mere idle curiosity and idle talk?


IV.

As Greenleaf looked up from the article on the "Rochdale Pioneers
and Co-operation" and glanced out of the window at the smoke-veiled,
soot-engrained Northern towns, and the bleak-green North country
hillsides which flashed past the express, he did not realise at all
clearly that he was going to see once more Miss Val Flodden, and see
her in the unexpected relations of hostess and guest.

She had indeed, during their last ramble through the British Museum,
said something vague about his coming to Yetholme if ever he came
North; but he had given the invitation no weight and had forgotten it
completely. His journey was due to a circumstance more important in his
eyes than the visit of a young lady to his studio, and would be crowned
by an event far more satisfactory than the meeting with a stray
acquaintance.

For Sir Percy Flodden had at last decided to sell the famous Yetholme
collection of majolica and Palissy ware; and the South Kensington
authorities had selected Leonard Greenleaf, potter and writer on
pottery, to verify the catalogue and conclude the purchase. It was one
of Greenleaf's socialist maxims that no important works of art should be
hidden from public enjoyment in the houses of private collectors; an Act
of Parliament, in his opinion, should force all owners to sell to the
nation, supposing that arguments in favour of true citizenship and
true love of art had failed to make them bestow their property gratis.
Greenleaf had agitated during several years to induce the public to make
the first bid for the Yetholme collection; difficulties of all kinds
had stood in the way, and the owner himself had become restive in the
negotiations; but now, at last, this immortal earthenware had been saved
from further private collections and secured for the enjoyment of
everybody.

This being the case, it was not wonderful if Miss Flodden was thrown
into the shade by her family collection; and if Greenleaf had gradually
got to think very little about her of late--I say of late, because until
the Yetholme sale had diverted his mind from theory to practice, Miss
Flodden had played a certain part in Greenleaf's thoughts. Her sudden
intrusion upon the monotony of his existence had made him ponder once
more upon his undergraduate's dream of reclaiming the upper as well as
the lower classes; a dream which had gradually vanished before practical
contact with the pressing want of the poor. He had forgotten, during the
last five or six years, that the leisured classes existed otherwise than
as oppressors of the overworked ones. But now there had returned to the
surface his constitutional craving for harmony, his horror of class
warfare, a horror all the greater that in this very gentle soul there
was a possibility of intense hatred. Why should not the whole of society
work out harmoniously a new and better social order? After all, he
and his chosen friends belonged to the privileged class, and only
the privileged class could give the generous initiative required to
counteract the selfish claiming of rights from below. Mankind was not
wicked and perverse; and the injustice, wantonness, and cruelty of the
rich were, doubtless, a result of their ignorance: they must be shown
that they could do without so many things and that other folk were
wanting those things so very much. And, half consciously, the image of
Val Flodden rose up to concentrate and typify the ideas she had evoked.
She was the living example of the ignorance of all higher right and
wrong, of all the larger facts of existence, in which the so-called
upper classes lived on no better than heathen blacks.

In these reflections Greenleaf had never claimed for Miss Flodden any
individual superiority: to do so would have been to diminish her value
as a type and an illustration. She had become, in his thoughts,
the natural woman as produced, or rather as destroyed, by the evil
constitution of idle society. She appeared, indeed, to have a personal
charm, but this was doubtless a class peculiarity which his inexperience
perceived as an individual one. It was the sole business of idle folk,
Greenleaf said to himself, to make themselves charming, and they
doubtless carried this quality as high as blacksmiths do strength of
arm, and sempstresses nimbleness of finger: for the occasional examples
of idle folk without any charm at all quickly faded from Greenleaf's
logical memory. Also, he forgot for the moment, that many women, neither
ignorant nor idle, the three Miss Carpenters for instance, who lived in
a servantless flat in Holborn and worked in the East End, had as much
charm, though not quite the same; and that there were tricks of manner
and speech, affectations of school-boy slang, yokel ways, about Miss
Flodden herself, which affected his sensitive nerves as ungraceful.
But, be this as it may, the acquaintance with Miss Flodden had set his
thoughts on the disadvantages of the upper classes, and he found it
convenient to use Miss Flodden as an illustration thereof.

Besides, every now and then, Greenleaf had felt, in those long talks
at the Museum, a curious pang of pity for her. In Greenleaf's nature,
more thoughtful than logical, the dominating forces were a kind of
transcendent æstheticism, and an extraordinary, also transcendent,
compassion--compassion which, coming upon him in veritable stabs, went
to his head and soon passed the boundaries of individual pain and wrong.
This man, who aspired towards the future and really hankered painfully
after the past, was like some mediæval monk all quivering at the
sufferings of a far-distant, impersonal Godhead, for the sake of whose
wrongs he could even hate fiercely, and for the sake of whose more than
individual sufferings he could feel, every now and then, overwhelming
pity for some small, ill-treated bird, or beast, or man. That this
girl--intelligent and good--had been brought up not merely in utter
indifference to real evil (tempered only by a vague fear of a black man
who carried you to hell and a much blacker man who turned you out of
society) but in ignorance of every one of the nobler and more beautiful
activities of life; this perception of moral and intellectual starvation,
veiled his mind with tears and made him spiritually choke, like the
sight of a supperless ragged child, or of a dog that had lost its master.

Such impressions had been common enough in their two or three meetings.
They had met several times in the Museum, and once at Messrs. Boyce's
works, the utter unworldliness of Greenleaf's mind preventing his asking
himself, even once, whether such proceedings did not display unusual
recklessness on the part of a girl belonging to Miss Flodden's set; so
much that he did not even take heed of Miss Flodden's occasional remarks
showing that this liberty, this familiarity with a man and a stranger,
were possible only because she had deliberately turned her back on her
former companions. Indifferent to personal matters, he had not even
understood very plainly (although he had a pleasant, vague sense of
something similar) that unfamiliarity with the class and type to which
he belonged had given the girl a sense of absolute safety which allowed
her to go about and discuss everything with this man from a different
sphere, as she might have done with another woman. This knowledge was
vague and scarce conscious, taking the form rather of indignation
with Miss Flodden's world and pity for Miss Flodden's self, whenever,
incidentally, she said things which revealed the habit of an opposite
state of things, the habit of a woman's liberty of action, speech and
feeling being cramped by disbelief in men's purity and honour, or rather
by knowledge of their thinly varnished baseness.

Thus it had come about during that dim and delicate London June that
the young lady from Eaton Square had become a familiar figure in
the mind, if not in the life, of the Socialist potter of Church Street,
Bloomsbury. There was, of course, a certain exotic strain in the matter;
and as they rambled among the solemn sitting Pharaohs, the Roman Emperors
and headless Greek demigods, and the rows of glass cases in the cool,
empty Museum, Greenleaf occasionally experienced, while discussing
various forms of art and describing dead civilisations, a little shock
of surprise on realising the nature of his companion, on catching every
now and then an intonation and an expression which told of ball-rooms
and shooting-houses, on perceiving suddenly, silhouetted against the
red wall, or reflected in a glass case, the slender, dapper figure in
its plain, tight clothes; the tight, straight-featured head beneath its
close little bonnet. But this sense of the unusual and the exotic was
subdued by the sense of the real, the actually present, just as, in some
foreign or Eastern town, our disbelief in the possibility of it all is
oddly moulded into a sort of familiarity by the knowledge that we are
our ourselves, and ourselves are on the spot.

It was different now; as his train jogged slowly along the banks of the
Tweed, between the bare, green hills and the leafy little ravines of
Northumberland. A couple of months' separation had gradually reduced
Miss Flodden to an unfamiliar, and almost an abstract being. She was
the subject no longer of impressions, but merely of reflections; and
of reflections which had grown daily more general, as the perfume of
individuality faded away. Greenleaf lived so much more in his thoughts
than in his life that creatures very speedily got to represent nothing
but problems to him. At this moment his main interest in life was to
secure the Yetholme collection of majolica and Palissy work; the fact
that he was going, in a few minutes, to meet Miss Flodden was not more
important than the fact that he would have to get his portmanteau out
of the van. And as to Miss Flodden, she represented to him, in a rather
rubbed-out way, the problem of upper class want of education and moral
earnestness.

It seemed to him also, as he shook hands with Miss Flodden, in her cart
at Yetholme station, and took his place beside her in the vehicle, that
not only all his own feelings about Miss Flodden, but Miss Flodden
herself had changed. She had grown so much more like everybody else, he
thought, or he had got to see her so much more in her reality. There was
nothing exotic about her now, wrapped in a big, fuzzy cloak, a big cap
drawn over her head, concealing the close, light-brown curls, and making
her face so very much less keen in feature. He wondered why he had seen
so much of the Celt in her, and such a far-fetched nervous fineness. She
seemed also, in her almost monosyllabic conversation, mainly preoccupied
with his portmanteau, the hours of his train, the names of the villages
and hills they passed, and similar commonplace matters; whereas, in
London he had noted the eager insistence with which she had immediately
set the conversation and firmly kept it on intellectual and artistic
problems.

The cart rolled away by high-lying fields of pale green barley and oats
shivering in the cold breeze, between the stunted hedges, whence an
occasional wind-warped thorn-tree rose black against the pale yellow
afternoon sky, with every now and then a bunch of blue cranesbill, or a
little fluttering group of poppies, taking the importance of bushes and
trees in this high, bleak, Northern country. Great savage dogs, with
chests and pointed ears like the antique Cerberus, came barking out of
the black stone cottages; and over the fields, from the tree-tops just
visible in the river valley below, circled innumerable rooks, loudly
cawing. The road made a sudden dip, and they were on a level with the
wide, shingly bed of the Tweed, scattered sheep grazing along the banks.
Then a black belfry appeared among black ash trees; a row of black
cottages bordered the road with their hollyhocks and asters; and the
cart rolled in between rows of rook-peopled trees, and stopped at last
before a long, black stone house, sunk, as in some parts of Scotland,
into a kind of trench. There was a frightful alarum of dogs of all
kinds, rushing up from all directions. But Miss Flodden led Greenleaf
into the house and through various passages, without any human being
appearing, save a boy, to whom she threw the reins at the door. At last,
in a big, dark drawing-room, a child was discovered helping herself to
milk and bread and jam at a solitary table.

"They're all out," she said, taking no notice of Greenleaf, although
scanning him with the critical eyes of six or seven. "Cut me a scone,
Val, and put butter on it, but not too much."

"This is a step-sister of mine," explained Miss Flodden, laconically,
nodding in the child's direction, as she threw aside her cloak, drew off
her gloves, and began pouring out tea. "I say, leave that scone alone
until I can cut it for you. It's rather hard lines on one for the family
to have its tea and leave us only the cold dregs."

She looked listless and calm and bored. Greenleaf wondered how he could
ever have romanced about this handsome, commonplace young woman. Then he
began to speculate as to where the famous collection was kept.


V.

"It's very unfair of me, of course," Miss Flodden remarked next morning,
as she handed down plate after plate, jar after jar, to Greenleaf,
seated, the catalogue before him and the pen in his hand, at a long deal
table--"it's very unfair, and it isn't at all business, but I used to
think I should like to see you again; and now, on account of these pots,
I dislike you."

Greenleaf looked up in astonishment. It was as if the veil of
sullenness, preventing his recognition of Miss Flodden ever since his
arrival, had suddenly been torn asunder by a burst of passion. The girl
was standing by the glass case, dusting a Limoges platter with a feather
brush, her mannish coat and short skirt covered with dust. She spoke in
an undertone, and her eyes were looking down upon the platter; but it
struck him at once that she was a Celt once more, and that the Celtic
waywardness and emotion were bursting out the more irresistibly for
that long repression due to the Spartan undemonstrativeness of smart
society. He noticed also a trait he had forgotten, and which had seemed
to be, long ago at the Museum, a sort of mark of temperament, telling
of inherited ferocity in this well-bred young lady; two of her little
white teeth, instead of being square pearls, like their companions, were
pointed and sharp, like those of a wild animal. And as she raised her
eyes, their light, whitish blue, flashed angrily.

"Excuse my being so rude, Mr. Greenleaf," she added very coldly,
"you have been so good, showing and explaining a lot of things to me,
that it's only fair you should know that, on account of the pots, I
have--well, got to dislike you. You see," she went on, turning her back
to him, "they were my toys. They were the only people, except the trees
and the river, one had to talk to sometimes."

Greenleaf had noticed at dinner last night, and again this morning at
lunch, that Miss Flodden seemed to have very little in common with her
family, and, indeed, scarcely any communication at all.

Sir Percy Flodden, an old gentleman with a beautiful white beard, and
beautiful soft manners, but a deficiency in further characteristics, had
found leisure, in the intervals of organising Primrose meetings, making
speeches at Conservative dinners, writing letters to the _Times_ about
breeds of cattle, and hunting and fishing a great deal, to get married
a second time, and to produce a large number of younger fishermen and
huntresses, future Primrose Leaguers and writers to the _Times_. The
second wife being dead, and sundry aunts installed in her place, the
younger generation of Floddens, after gradually emerging from the
nursery, ran wild in brooks and streams, stables and haylofts, until
the boys were packed off to civilisation and Eton, pending further
civilisation and Sandhurst; and the girls were initiated into their
proper form of civilisation by being taken to a drawing-room and then
hustled into further female evolution by an energetic and tactful
married sister. The elder girls were now at home, preparing clothes for
various balls and packing trunks for various visits; and the elder boys
had come back on holidays, with fishing-rods, coin collections, the
first three books of Euclid, and the last new thing in slang; as to the
younger half-brothers and sisters, they were still in the phase of the
hayloft and stable, emerging only to partake of gigantic breakfasts and
teas.

Among all these good-natured and well-mannered, but somewhat dull
creatures, Val Flodden moved in an atmosphere of her own, somewhat of a
stranger, considerably of a puzzle, and regarded with the mixed awe and
suspicion due to her having been recently an admittedly pretty woman,
and now showing signs of becoming an undoubtedly eccentric one. Besides,
there was the fact that Val Flodden was partially a Celt, and that her
father and brothers were most emphatically Saxons.

All this it has been necessary to explain that the reader might
understand that Greenleaf might have understood Miss Flodden's
passionate clinging to her sole companions at Yetholme, the old crockery
of her grandfather's collection.

But although Greenleaf did actually take in a portion of the situation,
he was mainly impressed by the want of public spirit exhibited by the
young lady; so inevitably do we expect other folk to possess even our
most eccentric standards, and to rule their feelings and actions by
notions of which they have probably never even heard.

Miss Flodden had broken through all rules in manifesting her feelings
about the pots; Greenleaf never dreamed of taking advantage of her false
move, but with his usual simplicity, encouraged by a plain-spokenness,
which never struck him as otherwise than natural, he answered very
gravely: "Of course I understand how fond you must be of these beautiful
things, and how much it must have been to you--it would be to anyone who
cared for art, even if not specially interested like you in pottery--to
have them constantly before you. But you ought to remember that you are
parting with them for the advantage of others."

Miss Flodden flushed a little. It was probably from surprise and shame
at this man's stupidity. She must have felt as if she herself had
alluded to the necessity of selling these heirlooms, as if she herself
had done the incredible thing of pointing out the pecuniary advantage.
Then, apparently, she reflected that if this man was so obtuse, he could
not help himself; but that he was doubtless honest in his intentions.
For she added coldly, and hiding her contemptuous face from him with a
jar held at arms' length:

"Of course I know that it's for the benefit of my brothers and sisters.
I don't grudge them the money, heaven knows, and when one's broke,
one's broke. Only it's sad to think what sort of things--what stupid
amusements and useless necessaries these lovely things will be exchanged
for, merely because the world is so idiotically constituted. You see,
the possession of these pots ought to give everyone more pleasure than
the possession of an additional horse, or an extra frock."

Greenleaf was as much taken aback at her misconception of his meaning as
she had been at her supposed understanding of it.

"Good gracious, Miss Flodden, I didn't mean the advantage of your
brothers and sisters. But surely you ought to reflect that these pots
passing from a private house in Northumberland to the South Kensington
Museum, will mean that hundreds of people will be afforded pleasure,
instead of only one or two--one, namely yourself, by your own account.
Besides, do you really think that any private individual has a moral
right to keep for himself any object capable of giving a noble kind of
pleasure to his fellows, merely because the present state of society
allows him to possess more money than his neighbours, and to lock up
things as his property? Surely art belongs to all who can enjoy it!"

There was something fault-finding in Greenleaf's tone, owing to the fact
that he could not realise such ideas, so very familiar to himself, not
being equally familiar to everyone else.

Miss Flodden set down the jar she was dusting, keeping her wrist
balanced on its edge, and looked at Greenleaf with surprise in her blue
eyes, which concentrated, and seemed to grow darker and deeper by the
concentration.

"Really," she asked incredulously, "are you speaking seriously? But
then--what would become of luxury and so forth?"

"The active would enjoy it as well as the idle--or rather, there would
be no longer either active or idle; everyone would work and enjoy
equally, and equally fairly and rationally."

"Then," went on Miss Flodden slowly, the sequence of thoughts bursting
with difficulty on to her mind, "no one would have things, except for
real enjoyment and as a result of fairly earning them? People would all
have books and beautiful trees and fields to look at, and pictures and
music; but no diamonds, or stepping horses, or frocks from Worth--the
things one has because other folk have them."

Greenleaf smiled: she seemed to him, talking of these things which "one"
had because "others" had them, things so futile, so foreign to his mind,
extraordinarily like a child talking of the snakes, whales, and ogres,
represented by tables and chairs, and hearthrugs.

"Of course not."

"At that rate," went on the girl, "there would no longer be any need for
marrying and giving in marriage. One would live quite free; free to work
at what one liked, and look about without folks worrying one."

Greenleaf did not follow her thought, for his own thoughts were too
foreign to the habits she was alluding to.

"I don't see," he added simply, "why people shouldn't marry or be given
in marriage because every one worked and had leisure. Some mightn't,
perhaps, because some would always, perhaps, want to work too much, and
because things matter to me--I mean to some--more than other people. But
I can't see why others shouldn't marry and be given in marriage, Miss
Flodden."

A little contraction passed across the girl's face, and she answered in
a hurried, husky voice:

"No, no; that would be all over."

And they fell again to the catalogue. It was a very hard day's work,
that first one, for the catalogue was in horrid confusion; and they
really could not have had time to talk much about other things, for they
went on with merely a brief space for lunch, and Greenleaf was sent for
a walk with one of the boys at tea time, while Miss Flodden unwillingly
entertained some neighbours. Then at dinner the conversation, in which
she took no part, rolled mainly upon local pedigrees, crops, how many
fish the boys had caught, in what houses friends were staying, whom
sundry young ladies of the neighbourhood were likely to marry, and how
many bags had been made at the various shoots. Still, despite these
irrelevant interests, Miss Flodden seemed to have understood why
Greenleaf had expected her to like the sale of the collection, and
Greenleaf to have understood why Miss Flodden should have been vexed
at the collection being sold. At least there was a sense of mutual
comprehension and good-will, such as the morning had scarcely promised.
And when, after fretting a little over more bags of game and more
local pedigrees, with his host and the boys after dinner, Greenleaf
returned to find the ladies in various stages of somnolence, over the
drawing-room fire; he experienced an odd sense of the naturalness of
things when Miss Flodden asked whether he could play the piano, and took
her violin out of its case.

Miss Flodden did not play exactly well, for it appears that very few
people do; and she, of course, had had but little opportunity of
learning. Yet, in a way, she played the fiddle much better, Greenleaf
felt, than he himself, who was decidedly a proficient, could play the
piano. For there was in her playing the expression not merely of talent,
but of extraordinary, passionate, dogged determination to master the
instrument. It was as much this as the actual execution which gave the
charm to her performance. To Greenleaf the charm was immense. He nearly
always played, when he did play, with men; and he hated the way in which
the fiddle crushes the starched hideous shirt, the movement of bowing
rucks the black sleeve and hard white cuff too high above the red,
masculine wrist; and among the dreams of his life there had always been
a very silly one, of a younger sister--he always thought of her as
called Emily--who would have learned the violin, and who would have
stood before him like this, bow in hand, while he looked up from his
piano. It seems odd, perhaps, that the fair violinist should never have
appeared to his mind as a possible wife; but so it was. And so it was
that this image, which had dawned upon his school-boy fancy long before
the delectableness of marriage could ever be understood, and when his
solitary little soul still smarted at his dull, grown-up, companionless
home--so it was that the image of "Emily"--the imaginary sister with the
violin--had gradually taken the place in his heart of that grave Miss
Delia Carpenter, the only woman whom he had ever loved, and who had told
him she was in love with another.

The family was beginning to disperse; the girls to wake up yawning from
their novels or their embroidery; the father to start suddenly from his
slumber over the _Times_; the boys, having satisfied themselves in the
newspapers about the number of brace of grouse, had sneaked off to
prepare flies for the next day's fishing; and still the duet went on,
the image of "Emily" gradually acquiring the blue eyes (its own had
been brownish) and clear-cut, nervous features (she had hitherto had
an irregular style of beauty) of Val Flodden.

"That's enough," said Miss Flodden, putting her violin tenderly--she had
the same rather unwonted tenderness with some of the majolica--into its
case, and looking round at the sleepy faces of the family. "Jack, give
Mr. Greenleaf his candle. And," she added, as they shook hands, "you'll
tell me some more about how it will be when everybody works and has
leisure, won't you, to-morrow?"

That night Greenleaf saw in his dreams his father's rectory among the
south country pines, the garden and paddock, the big library and loft
full of books; and among it all there wandered about, rather dim in
features, but unhesitatingly recognised, that imaginary sister, the
violinist Emily.


VI.

"Tell me more about the Miss Carpenters," said Miss Flodden shyly,
keeping her eyes fixed on the rapidly flowing twist of water between the
big shingle, where every now and then came the spurt of a salmon's leap.

They were seated, after tea, and another hard day's cataloguing, under
some beech trees that overhung the Tweed. From the fields opposite--no
longer England, already Scotland--came the pant and whirr of a
threshing-machine; while from the woods issued the caw of innumerable
rooks, blackening the sky. A heron rose from among the reeds of the
bank, and mounted, printing the pale sky with his Japanese outline.
There was incredible peacefulness, not unmixed with austerity, in the
gurgle of the water, the green of the banks, the scent of damp earth.

Greenleaf, who was very reserved about his friends, so much that one
friend might almost have imagined him to possess no others, had somehow
slid into speaking of his little Bloomsbury world to this girl, who was
so foreign to it. It had come home to him how utterly Miss Flodden had
lived out of contact with all the various concerns of life, and out of
sight of the people who have such. Except pottery and violin music, come
into her existence by the merest accident, and remaining there utterly
isolated, she had no experience, save of the vanities of the world.
But what struck him most, and seemed to him even more piteous, was her
habit of regarding these vanities as matters not of amusement, but of
important business. To her, personally, it would seem, indeed, that
frocks, horses, diamonds, invitations to this house or that, and all the
complications of social standing, afforded little or no satisfaction.
But then she accepted the fact of being an eccentric, a creature not
quite all it should be; and she expected everyone else to be different,
to be seriously engaged in the pursuit of the things she, personally,
and owing to her eccentricity, did not want.

It was extraordinary how, while she expressed her own distaste for
various weaknesses and shortcomings, she defended those who gave way to
them as perfectly normal creatures. Greenleaf was horrified to hear her
explain, with marvellous perception of how and wherefore, and without
any blame, the manner in which women may gradually allow men not their
husbands to pay their dressmaker's bills, and gradually to become
masters of their purse and of themselves: the necessity of a new frock
at some race or ball, the desire to outshine another woman, to get
into royalty's notice, and the fear of incensing a husband already
hard up--all this seemed to Miss Flodden perfectly natural and
incontrovertible; and she pleaded for those who gave way under such
pressure.

"Of course I wouldn't do it," she said, twisting a long straw in
her hands; "it strikes me as bad form, don't you know; but then I'm
peculiar, and there are so many things in the world which other folk
don't mind, and which I can't bear. I don't like some of their talk, and
I don't like their not running quite straight. But then I seem to have
been born with a skin less than one ought to have."

Greenleaf listened in silent horror. In the course of discussing how
much the world might be improved by some of his socialistic plans,
this young lady of four or five and twenty had very simply and quietly
unveiled a state of corruption, of which, in his tirades against wealth
and luxury, he had had but the vaguest idea. "You see," Miss Flodden
had remarked, "it's because one has to have so many things which one's
neighbours have, whether they give one much pleasure or not, that a
woman gets into such false positions, which make people, if things get
too obvious, treat her in a beastly, unjust way. But women have always
been told that they _must_ have this and that, and go to such and such a
house, otherwise they'd not keep up in it all; and then they're fallen
upon afterwards. It's awfully unfair. Why, of course, if one hadn't
always been told that one _must_ have frocks, and carriages, and _must_
go to Marlborough House, one wouldn't get married. Of course it's
different with me, because I'm queer, and I like making pots, and am
willing to know no one. But then that's all wrong, at least my married
sister is always saying so. And, of course, I'm not going to marry,
however much they bore me about it."

"You speak as if women got married merely for the sake of living like
their neighbours," remarked Greenleaf; "that's absurd."

Miss Flodden, seated on a stone, looked up at him under his beech tree.
Her face bore a curious expression of incredulity dashed with contempt.
Could he be a Pharisee?

"There may be exceptions," she answered, "and perhaps you may know some.
But if a woman were secure of her living, and did not want things, why
should she get married?" It was as if she had said, Why should a Hindoo
widow burn herself? "There must be some inducement," she added, looking
into the water and plucking at the grass, "to give oneself into the
keeping of another person." Her face had that same contraction, as once
when she had mentioned the matter before.

"Good God," thought Greenleaf, "into what ugly bits of life had this
girl been forced to look!" And he felt a great pity and indignation
about things in general.

Miss Flodden sent a stone skimming across the river, as if to dismiss
the subject, and then it was that she said rather hesitatingly:

"Tell me more about the Miss Carpenters."

She had an odd, timid curiosity about Greenleaf's friends, about
everyone who did anything, as if she feared to intrude on them even in
thought.

Greenleaf had spoken about them before and not unintentionally. These
three sisters, living in their flat off Holborn, doing all their
housework themselves, and yet finding time to work among the poor, to
be cultivated and charming, were a stalking horse of his, an example he
liked to bring before this member of fast society.

He had taken his refusal by one of the sisters with a philosophy which
had astonished himself, for he certainly had thought that Delia was very
dear to him. She was dear in a way now. But he felt quite pleased at
her marriage with young Farquhar of the Museum, and he rather enjoyed
talking about her. He told Miss Flodden of Maggie Carpenter's work among
the sweaters, and of the readings of English literature she and Clara
gave to the shop-girls; and he was a little shocked, when he told her of
the young woman from Shoolbred's who had borrowed a volume of Webster,
that Val Flodden had never heard of that eminent dramatist, and thought
he was the dictionary. He described the little suppers they gave in
their big kitchen, where the one or two guests helped to lay the table
and to wash up afterwards, previous to going to the highest seats in the
Albert Hall, or to some socialist lecture; then the return on foot
through the silent, black Bloomsbury streets. He made it sound even more
idyllic than it really was. Then he spoke of Delia and the piano lessons
she gave and the poems she wrote. He even repeated two of the poems out
loud and felt that they were very beautiful.

"They can never bore themselves," remarked Miss Flodden, pensively.

"Bore themselves?" responded Greenleaf.

"Yes: bore themselves and feel they just _must_ have something different
to think about, like birds beating against cage bars." Then, after a
pause, she said vaguely and hesitatingly: "I wish there were a chance
for one to know the Miss Carpenters."

Greenleaf brightened up. This was what he wished. "Of course you shall
know them, if you care, Miss Flodden, only----"

"Only--you mean that they would think me a bore and an intruder."

"No," answered Greenleaf, he scarcely knew why, "that's not what I
meant. But you must remember that you and they belong to different
classes of society."

Miss Flodden's face contracted. "Ah," she exclaimed angrily. "Why must
you throw that in my face? You have said that sort of thing several
times before. Why do you?"

Why, indeed? For Greenleaf could not desist, every now and then, from
bringing up that fact. It made the girl quiver, but he could not help
himself; it was an attempt to find out whether she was really in
earnest, which he occasionally doubted; and also it was a natural
reaction against certain cynical assumptions, certain takings for
granted on Miss Flodden's part that the vanity and corruption of her
miserable little clique permeated the whole of the world--of the world
which did not even know, in many instances, that there was such a thing
as a smart lot!

But now he was sorry.

"Indeed," he said sorrowfully, "such a gulf between classes unfortunately
still exists. In our civilisation, where luxury and the money which buys
it go for so much, those who work must necessarily be separate from
those who play."

"Heaven knows you have no right to abuse us for having money," exclaimed
Miss Flodden, much hurt. "Why, if I don't get married, and I shan't, I
shall never have a penny to bless myself with."

"It's a question of the lot one belongs to," answered Greenleaf
unkindly; but added, rather remorsefully: "Would you like me to give you
a letter for the Miss Carpenters when next you go to town? I have," he
hesitated a little, "talked a good deal about you with them."

"Really!" exclaimed Miss Flodden quickly. "That's awfully good of you--I
mean to give me a letter--only I fear it will bore them. I shall be
going to town for a week or two in October. May I call on them then, do
you think?"

"Of course." And Greenleaf, who was a business-like man, drew out his
pocket-book, full of little patterns for pots and notes for lectures,
and wrote on a clean page:

"Mem.: Letter for the Miss Carpenters for Miss Flodden."

"I will write it to-night or to-morrow; you shall have it before I
leave. By the way, that train the day after to-morrow is at 6.20, is
it not?"

"Yes," answered Miss Flodden. "I wish you could stay longer."

And they walked home.

As they wandered through the high-lying fields of green oats and yellow
barley, among whose long beards the low sun made golden dust, with the
dark, greenish Cheviots on one side, purple clouds hanging on their moor
sides, and the three cones of the Eildons rising, hills of fairy-land,
faint upon the golden sunset mist--as they wandered talking of various
things, pottery, philosophy, and socialism, Greenleaf felt stealing
across his soul a peacefulness as unlike his usual mood, as this
northern afternoon, with soughing grain and twittering of larks, was
different from the grime and bustle of London. He knew, now, that Miss
Delia Carpenter's refusal had been best for him; his nature was too
thin to allow of his giving himself both to a wife and family, and to
the duties and studies which claimed him; he would have starved the
affections of the first while neglecting the second. His life must
always be a solitary one with his work. But into this rather cheerless
solitude, there seemed to be coming something, he could scarcely tell
what. Greenleaf believed in the possible friendship between a man and
a woman; if it had not existed often hitherto, that was the fault of
our corrupt bringing up. But it was possible and necessary; a thing
different from, more perfect and more useful, than any friendship
between persons of the same sex. But more different still, breezier,
more robust and serene, than love even at its best. And had he not
always wished for that sister, that Emily who had never existed?
Of course he did not contemplate seeing very much of Miss Flodden;
still less did he admit to himself that this strange, reserved, yet
outspoken girl might be the friend he craved for. But he felt a curious
satisfaction, despite his better reason, which protested against
everything abnormal, and which explained a great deal by premature
experience of the world's ugliness--he felt a satisfaction at Miss
Flodden's aversion to marriage. He could not have explained why, but he
knew in a positive manner that this girl never had been, and never would
be, in love; that this young woman of a frivolous and fast lot, was a
sort of female Hippolytus, but without a male Diana; and he held tight
to the knowledge as to a treasure.


VII.

The next day, Greenleaf was a little out of conceit with himself and
the world at large: a vague depression and irritation got hold of
him. Before breakfast, while ruminating over a list of books for Miss
Flodden's reading, he had mechanically taken up a volume which lay on
the drawing-room table. There were not many books at Yetholme, except
those which were never moved from the library shelves; and the family's
taste ran to Rider Haggard and sporting novels; while the collection
put in his room, and bearing the name of _Valentine Flodden_, consisted
either of things he already knew by heart--a selection from Browning, a
volume of Tolstoy, and an Imitation of Christ;--or of others--as sundry
works on Esoteric Buddhism, a handbook of Perspective, and a novel by
Marie Corelli--which he felt little desire to read. The book that he
took up was from the Circulating Library, Henry James's "Princess
Casamassima." He had read it, of course, and dived into it--the last
volume it was--at random. Do authors ever reflect how much influence
they must occasionally have, coming by accident, to arouse some latent
feeling, or to reinforce some dominant habit of mind? Certainly Henry
James had been possessed of no ill-will towards Miss Val Flodden, whom
indeed he might have made the heroine of some amiable story. Yet Henry
James, at that moment, did Val Flodden a very bad turn. Greenleaf got
up from the book, after twenty minutes' random reading, in a curiously
suspicious and aggressive mood. Of course he never dreamed that he, a
gentleman of some independent means, a scholar, a man who had known
the upper classes long before he had ever come in contact with the
lower, could have anything in common with poor Hyacinth, the socialist
bookbinder, pining for luxury and the love of a great lady; neither
was there much resemblance between Christina Light, married to Prince
Casamassima, and this young Val Flodden married to nobody; yet the book
depressed him horribly, by its suggestion of the odd freaks of curiosity
which relieve the weariness of idle lives. And the depression was such,
that he could not hold his tongue on the subject.

"Have you read that book--the 'Princess Casamassima'--Miss Flodden?" he
asked at breakfast.

"Yes," answered the girl; "isn't it good? and so natural, don't you
think?"

"You don't mean that you think the Princess natural--you don't think
there ever could be such a horrible woman?"

He was quite sure there might be, indeed the fear of such an one quite
overpowered him at this very moment; and he asked in hopes of Miss
Flodden saying that there were no Princess Casamassimas.

Something in his tone appeared to irritate Miss Flodden. She thought him
pharisaical, as she sometimes did, and considered it her duty to give
him a setting down with the weight of her superior worldly wisdom.

"Of course I think her natural; only she might be more natural still."

"You mean more wicked?" asked Greenleaf sharply.

"No, not more wicked. The woman in the book may be intended to be
wicked; but she needn't have been so in real life. Not at all wicked.
She's merely a clever woman who is bored by society, and who wants to
know about a lot of things and people. Heaps of women want to know about
things because they're bored, but it's not always about nice things
and nice people, as in the case of the Princess. She may have done
mischief--she shouldn't have played with that wretched little morbid
bookbinding boy; women oughtn't to play with men even when they're
fools, indeed especially not then. But that wasn't inevitable. Hyacinth
_would_ run under her wheels. Of course I shouldn't have cared for that
chemist creature either, nor for that Captain Sholto; he behaved rather
like a cad all round, don't you think? But after all, they all talked
very well; about interesting things--real, important things--didn't
they?"

"And you think that to hear people talk about _real, important things_
is a great delight, Miss Flodden?" asked Greenleaf, with a bitterness
she did not fully appreciate.

"You would understand it if you had lived for years among people who
talked nothing but gossip and rot," she answered sadly, rising from her
place.

No more was said that morning about the Princess Casamassima. Miss
Flodden was rather silent during their cataloguing work, and Greenleaf
felt vaguely sore, he knew not what about.

Throughout the day, there kept returning to his mind those words, "You
see they talked very well, about interesting things, important, _real_
things, didn't they?" and the simple, taking-things-for-granted tone
in which they had been said. Women of her lot, Miss Flodden had once
informed him, would go great lengths for the sake of a new frock or a
pair of stepping horses. Was it not possible that some of them, to
whom frocks and horses had been offered in too great abundance, might
transfer their desire for novelty to interesting talk and _real_ things?

That was their last afternoon together. The catalogue had been finished
with. Miss Flodden took Greenleaf for a drive in her cart. They sped
along under the rolling clouds of the blustering northern afternoon,
the rooks, in black swarms, cawing loudly, and the pee-wits screeching
among the stunted hedges and black stones of the green, close-nibbled
pastures; it was one of those August days which foretell winter.
Greenleaf could never recollect very well what they had talked about,
except that it had been about a great variety of things, which the
blustering wind had seemed to sweep away like the brown beech leaves
in the hollows. The fact was that Greenleaf was not attending. He kept
revolving in his mind the same idea, with the impossibility of solving
it. He was rather like a man in love, who cannot decide whether or not
he is sufficiently so to make a declaration and feels the propitious
moment escaping. Greenleaf was not in love; had he been, had there been
any chance of his being so, Val Flodden would not have been there in the
cart by his side; she had once told him, in one of her fits of abstract
communicativeness, that people in love were despicable, but for that
reason to be pitied, and that to let them fall in love was to be
unkind to them, and to prepare a detestable exhibition for oneself. So
Greenleaf was not in love. But he was as excited as if he had been.
He felt that a great suspicion had arisen within him; and that this
suspicion was about to deprive him of a friendship to which he clung as
to a newly-found interest in life.

About Miss Flodden he did not think--that is to say, whether he might be
running the risk of depriving _her_ of something. He had not made love
to her, so what could he deprive her of? Besides he thought of Miss
Flodden exclusively as of the person who was probably going to deprive
him of something he wanted. Deprive him if his suspicions should be
true. For if his suspicions were true, there was no alternative to
giving up all relations with her. He was not a selfish man, trying to
save himself heartburns and disenchantments. He was thinking of his
opinions, solely. It was quite impossible that they should become the
toys of an idle, frivolous woman. Such a thing could not be. The sense
of sacrilege was so great that he did not even say to himself that such
a thing could _not be allowed_: to him it took the form of impossibility
of its being at all.

Greenleaf was in an agony of doubt; he kept on repeating to himself--"Is
she a Princess Casamassima?" so often, that at last he found it quite
natural to put the question, so often formulated internally, out loud to
her. Of course if she were a Princess Casamassima, her denial would be
worth nothing; but when we cannot endure a suspicion against someone, we
do not, in our wild desire to have it denied at any price, stop short to
reflect that the denial will be worthless. A denial; he wanted a denial,
not for the sake of justice towards her, but for his own peace of mind.
He was on the very point of putting that strange question to her, when,
in the process of a conversation in which he had taken part as in a
dream, there suddenly came the unasked-for answer.

They must have been talking of the Princess Casamassima again, and
of the uninterestingness of most people's lives. Greenleaf could not
remember. It was all muddled in his memory, only there suddenly flashed
a sentence, distinct, burning, out of that forgotten confusion.

"It's odd," said Miss Flodden's high, occasionally childish voice; "but
I've always found that the people who bored one least were either very
clever or very fast."

They were clattering into a little border town, with low black houses
on either side, and a square tower, with a red tile extinguisher, and a
veering weather-cock, closing the distance and connecting the grey, wet
flags below with the grey, billowy sky above.

Greenleaf, although forgetful of all save theories, remembered for a
long time that street and that tower. He did not answer, for his heart
was overflowing with bitterness.

So it was true; and it just had to be. He had let his belief become the
plaything of a capricious child. He had lost his dear friend. It was
inevitable.

Greenleaf did not say a word, and showed nothing until his departure.
But his letter to Miss Flodden, thanking for the hospitality of
Yetholme, was brief, and it contained no allusion to any future meeting,
and no promised introduction to the Miss Carpenters. Only at the end was
this sentence: "I have lately been re-reading Henry James's 'Princess
Casamassima': and I agree with you completely now as to the naturalness
of her character."


VIII.

Some ten years later found Leonard Greenleaf once more--but this time
with only a brougham and a footman to meet him--on his way to stay in
a country house. He had been left penniless by his attempts to start
co-operative workshops: and overwork and worry had made him far too weak
to be a tolerable artisan; so, after having given up his pottery, those
long years ago, because it ministered exclusively to rich men's luxury,
he had been obliged to swallow the bitterness of perfecting rich men's
dwellings in the capacity of Messrs. Boyce & Co.'s chief decorator; and
now he was bent upon one of these hated errands.

Time, and the experience of many failures, had indeed perplexed poor
Greenleaf's socialistic schemes a little, and had left him doubtful
how to hasten the millennium, except by the slow methods of preaching
morality and thrift; but time had rather exasperated his hatred of the
idleness and selfishness of the privileged classes, to whose luxury
he now found himself a minister. And, as he looked out of his window
while dressing for dinner (those evening clothes, necessary for such
occasions, had become a badge of servitude in his eyes), he felt that
old indignation arise with unaccountable strength, and choke him with
his own silence. It was a long, low house, the lawn spread, with
scarcely any fall, down to the river brink; a wide band of green, then a
wide band of shimmering, undecided blue and grey, reflecting the coppery
clouds and purple banks of loose-strife, and then beyond and higher up
in the picture, flat meadows, whose surface was beginning to be veiled
in mist, and whose boundary elms were growing flat and unsubstantial,
like painted things. There were birds twittering, and leaves rustling:
a great sense of peacefulness, for the family and guests were doubtless
within doors busy dressing. Suddenly, there was a plash of oars, and a
peal of laughter; and, after a minute, two men and a woman came hurrying
up the green lawn, against whose darkening slopes their white clothes
made spots of unearthly whiteness in the twilight. They were noisy, and
Greenleaf hated their laughter; but suddenly the lady stopped short a
moment, and said to her companions in a tone of boredom and irritation:
"Oh, shut up; can't you let one look about and listen to things once in
a way?"

There was more laughter, and they all disappeared indoors. Greenleaf
leaned upon his window, wondering where he had heard that voice
before--that voice, or rather one different, but yet very like it.

Downstairs, after a few civil speeches about the pleasure of having the
assistance of so great an artistic authority, and sundry contradictory
suggestions about styles of furniture and architecture, Greenleaf's host
and hostess requested him to join in a little game devised for the
removal of precedence in the arrangement of places at table. The game,
which had been suggested that very moment by one of the various tall,
blond and moustached youths hanging about the drawing-room, consisted
in hiding all the men behind a door curtain, whence projected, as sole
clue to their identity, their more or less tell-tale feet, by which the
ladies were to choose their partners. The feet, so Greenleaf said to
himself, were singularly without identity; he saw in his mind's eye
the row of projecting, pointed-toed, shining pumps, cut low upon the
fantastic assortment of striped, speckled, and otherwise enlivened silk
stockings. Among them all there could only be a single pair betraying
the nature of their owner, and it was his. They said, or would say, in
the mute but expressive language of their square-toedness (Greenleaf
felt as if they might have elastic sides even, although his democratic
views had always stopped short before that), that their owner was the
curate, the tutor, the house-decorator, in fine, the interloper. He
wondered whether, as good nature to himself and consideration for the
other guests must prompt, those feet would be immediately selected
by the mistress of the house, or whether they would be left there
unclaimed, when all the others had marched cheerfully off.

But his suspense was quickly converted into another feeling, when among
the laughter and exclamations provoked by the performance, a voice came
from beyond the curtain, saying slowly: "I think I'll have this pair."
The voice was the same he had heard from the lawn, the same he had heard
years ago in the British Museum, and on the banks of the Tweed--the same
which once or twice since, but at ever-increasing intervals, he had
tried in vain to recall to his mind's hearing. The voice--but grown
deeper, more deliberate and uniformly weary--of Val Flodden.

Greenleaf heard vaguely the introductory interchange of names performed
by his hostess; and felt in his back the well-bred smile of amusement
of the couples still behind, as the lady took his unprepared arm and
walked him off in the helter-skelter move to the dining-room; and it
was as in a dream that he heard his name pronounced, with the added
information, on the part of his companion, that it was a long time since
they had last met.

"Yes," answered Greenleaf, as the servant gently pushed him and his
chair nearer the table; "it must be quite a lot of years ago. I have
come here," he added, he scarce knew why--but with a vague sense of
protest and self-defence--"about doing up the house."

"Yes, to be sure--it is all going to be overhauled and made beautiful
and inappropriate," replied the lady, with a faint intonation of
insolence, Greenleaf thought, in her bored voice.

"It is not always easy, is it," rejoined Greenleaf, "to make things
appropriate?"

"And beautiful? I suppose not. We aren't any of us very appropriate to a
river-bank, with cows lowing and scythes being whetted and all that sort
of thing, when one comes to think of it."

"Oh, I do think cows are such interesting creatures--don't you?" put in
the charming voice of a charming, charmingly dressed, innocent looking
woman opposite, who was evidently the accredited fool of the party.
"Sir Robert took us to see a lot of his--all over the dairies, you
know--this afternoon, while you were punting."

Another lady, also very charming and charmingly dressed, but neither
innocent nor foolish, made some comment on this speech to the man next
to her; he said something in his turn, there was a general suppressed
laugh, and the innocent looking lady laughed too; but protesting they
oughtn't to say such things.

Greenleaf's mind, little accustomed to the charms of innuendoes
and slippery allusions, had not followed the intricacies of the
conversation. An astonishing girl, beautiful with the beauty of a
well-bred horse, sat next to him, and tried to perplex him with sundry
questions which she knew he could not follow; but she speedily found
there was no rise to be got out of him, and bestowed elsewhere her
remarks, racy in more senses than one. So Greenleaf sat silent, looking
vaguely at the pools of light beneath the candle-shades, in which the
rose petals strewn about, the roses lying loosely, took warm old ivory
tints, and the silver--the fantastic confusion of chased salt-cellars
and menu-holders and spoons and indescribable objects--flashed blue
and lilac on its smooth or chiselled surfaces. From the table the
concentrated, shaded light led upwards to the opal necklace of the lady
opposite, the blue of the opals changing, with the movement of her head,
to green, burning and flickering into fiery sparks; then Greenleaf
noticed, sometimes modelled into roundness and sometimes blurred into
flatness in the shadow, the black sleeves of the men, the arms of the
women, ivory like the rose petals where they advanced beneath the
candle-shades; and behind, to the back of the shimmer of the light
stuffs and the glare of white shirt-fronts, the big footmen, vague,
shadowy, moving about. A man opposite, with babyish eyes and complexion,
was telling some story about walking from a punt into the water, which
raised the wrath of the girl near Greenleaf; others added further
details, which she laughingly tried to deny; there was something about
having fastened her garter with a diamond star, and the river having to
be dragged for it. Another man, gaunt and languid, said something about
not hiding old damask under rose-leaves; but being unnoticed by his
hostess, went on about "Parsifal" to his neighbour, the lady interested
in cows. There were also allusions to the other Cowes, the place, and
to yachting; and a great many to various kinds of sport and to gambling
and losing money; indeed, it was marvellous how much money was lost and
bankruptcy sustained (technically called _getting broke_).

The men were mostly more good-looking than not; the women, it seemed
to Greenleaf, beautiful enough, each of them, to reward a good month's
search. There was a smell, cool and white and acute, of gardenias, from
the buttonholes, and a warmer, vaguer one of rose petals; the mixture of
black coats and indescribable coloured silk, and of bare arms and necks,
the alternations of concentrated light and vague shadow, the occasional
glint and glimmer of stones, particularly that warm ivory of roses among
the silver, struck Greenleaf, long unaccustomed to even much slighter
luxury, as extraordinarily beautiful, like some Tadema picture of Roman
orgies. And the more beautiful it seemed to him, with its intentional,
elaborate beauty, the more did it make him gnash his teeth with the
sense of its wickedness, and force him, for his own conscience' sake, to
conjure up other pictures: of grimy, gaslit London streets, and battered
crowds round barrows of cheap, half-spoilt food.

The lady who had once been called Val Flodden, and whose name--and he
fancied he had heard it before--was now Mrs. Hermann Struwë, addressed
him with the necessary politeness, and asked him one or two questions
about his work and so forth, in a conventional, bored tone. But,
although the knowledge that this was his old acquaintance, and the
recognition, every now and then, of the fact, put his feelings into a
superficial flutter, Greenleaf's mind kept revolving the fact that this
woman was really quite a stranger to him; and the apparently somewhat
contradictory fact that this was what, after all, he had known she would
end in. He noted that among these beautiful and self-satisfied women,
with their occasional cleverness and frequent unseemliness of word and
allusion, the former Val Flodden was in a way conspicuous, not because
she was better looking, but because she was more weary, more reckless,
because one somehow expected her to do more, for good or bad, than the
others.

"I don't see exactly which of the party could have reported the case,"
said the woman with the opals, "at least, the crucifix could scarcely
have done so ... well, well."

There was a great deal of laughter, as the hostess gave the signal
for rising; but over it and the rustle and crackle of the ladies'
frocks, the voice of Mrs. Hermann Struwë was heard to say in languid,
contemptuous tone: "I think your story is a little bit beastly, my dear
Algy."

Fortunately for Greenleaf, the men did not stay long at table, as
smoking was equally allowed all over the house and in the ladies'
presence. For Greenleaf, whose conversation with other men had for years
turned only on politics, philosophy, or business, was imbued, much as a
woman might have been, with a foregone conviction that as soon as idle
men were left to themselves they began to discuss womankind. And there
was at the table one man in particular, a long, black, nervous man, with
a smiling, jerky mouth, an odd sample of Jewry acclimatised in England,
a horrid, half-handsome man, with extraordinarily bland manners and
an extraordinarily hard expression, obstinate and mocking, about whom
Greenleaf felt that he positively could not sit out any of _his_
conversation on women, and, of course, _his_ conversation _would_ turn
on women; partly, perhaps, because the fellow had been introduced as Mr.
Hermann Struwë.

Her husband--_that_ was her husband! Greenleaf kept repeating to
himself, as he answered as best he could his host's remarks about
Elizabethan as against Queen Anne. It was only now when he thought of
her in connection with this man that Greenleaf realised that he was
really a little upset by this meeting with his old acquaintance. And
the thought went on and on, round and round, in his head, when he had
followed the first stragglers who went to smoke their cigarettes with
the ladies, and answered the interrogations of the æsthetic man who had
talked about old damask and Wagner. The man in question, delighted to
lay hold of so great an authority as Greenleaf, had also noticed that
Greenleaf had known Mrs. Hermann Struwë at some former period. He had
evidently been snubbed a little by the lady, and partly from a desire to
hear her artistic capacities pooh-poohed by a professional (since every
amateur imagines himself the only tolerable one), and partly from a
natural taste for knowing what did not concern him, he had set very
artfully to pump poor Greenleaf, who, at best, was no match for a wily
man of the world.

"Miss Flodden had a good deal of talent--quite a remarkable talent--as a
draughtsman, had she only studied seriously," he answered emphatically,
seeing only that the fellow wished for some quotable piece of running
down. "It is, in fact, a pity"--but he stopped. He was really not
thinking of that. The long drawing-room opened with all its windows on
to the lawn, and you could see, at the bottom of that, the outlines of
trees and boats in the moonlight, and Chinese lanterns hanging about the
flotilla of moored punts and canoes and skiffs, to which some of the
party had gone down, revealing themselves with occasional splashings,
thrummings on the banjo, and little cries and peals of laughter. Nearer
the house a couple was walking up and down on the grass, the light of
the drawing-room lamps catching their faces with an odd, yellow glow
every now and then, and making the woman's white frock shimmer like
silver against the branches of the big cedars. "It appears Lady Lilly
told her mother she was going to try on a frock, but somehow on the way
there she met Morton's coach, so she thought she'd get on to it and have
some change of air and she changed the air so often that by the evening
she had contrived to win sixty pounds at Sandown," said one of the
promenading couples, pausing in the stream of light from the window.
"Oh, bless your soul, she doesn't mind it's being told; she thinks it
an awful joke, and so it was."

That man--that Val Flodden should have married that man--Greenleaf kept
repeating to himself, and the recollection of her words about never
getting married, about a world where there would be no diamonds and no
stepping horses, and also, as she expressed it, no marrying and giving
in marriage, filled Greenleaf's mind as with some bitter, heady dram.
And he had thought of her as a sort of unapproachable proud amazon, or
Diana of Hippolytus, incapable of any feeling save indignation against
injustice and pity for weak and gentle things. Oh Lord, oh Lord! It was
horrible, horrible, and at the same time laughable. And just that man,
too--that narrow, obstinate looking creature with the brain and the
heart (Greenleaf knew it for a certainty) of a barn-door cock! And yet,
was he any worse than the others, the others who, perhaps, had a little
more brains and a little more heart, and who all the same lived only to
waste the work of the poor, to make debts, to gamble, to ruin women, and
to fill the world with filthy talk and disbelief in better things? Was
he worse than all the other manly, well-mannered, accomplished, futile,
or mischievous creatures? Was he worse than _she_?

"Ah, well, of course; you have known her so much more than I have,"
said the æsthetic man, puffing at his cigarette, opposite to Greenleaf.
"But now, I should have thought there would have always been something
lacking in anything that woman would do. A certain--I don't know what
to call it--but, in short, proper mental balance and steadiness. I
consider, that for real artistic quality, it is necessary that one
should possess some sort of seriousness, of consistency of character--of
course you know her so much better, Mr. Greenleaf--but now I can't
understand a really artistic woman--after refusing half a dozen other
fellows who were at least gentlemen, suddenly choosing a tubbed Jew like
that--and apparently not seeing that he is only a tubbed Jew," the
æsthetic man stopped, disappointed in not getting a rise from Greenleaf,
but Greenleaf was scarcely listening.

A man had sat down to the piano and was singing, on the whole, rather
well. Some of the people were standing by him, others were in little
groups, men and women nearly all smoking equally, scattered about the
big white room with the delicate blue china, and the big stacks of pale
pink begonias. Mrs. Hermann Struwë was standing near the piano, leaning
against the long, open window, the principal figure in a group of two
other women and a man. In her fanciful, straight-hanging dress of
misty-coloured crape, her hair, elaborately and tightly dressed, making
her small head even smaller, and her strong, slender neck, with the
black pearls around it, drawn up like a peacock's, she struck Greenleaf
as much more beautiful than before, and even much taller; but there
had been a gentleness, a something timid and winning, in her former
occasional little stoop, which was now quite gone. She looked young, but
young in quite another way; she was now very thin, and her cheeks were
hollowed very perceptibly.

The bland, blurred man at the piano was singing with all his might,
and with considerable voice and skill; but the music, of his own
composition, was indecorously passionate as he sang it, at least taken
in connection with the words, culled from some decadent French poet, and
which few people would have deliberately read out aloud. The innocent
lady who had talked about cows even made some faint objection, to
which the singer answered much surprised, by blandly pointing out the
passionate charm of the words, and assuring her that she did not know
what real feeling was. And when he had finished that song, and begun
another, one of the two other women actually moved away, while the
other buried her head in a volume of _Punch_; there was a little murmur,
"Well, I think he is going a little too far." But Mrs. Hermann Struwë
never moved.

"I can't make out that woman," remarked Greenleaf's new acquaintance,
the æsthetic man; "she's usually by ways of being prudish, and has a
way of shutting up poor Chatty when he gets into this strain. Only
yesterday, she told him his song was beastly, and it wasn't half as
bad as this one. I expect she's doing it from cussedness, because her
husband was bored at her being too particular yesterday; because, of
course, he'll be bored by her not being particular enough to-day."

Greenleaf walked up to a picture, and thence slunk off to the door. As
he was leaving the room, he looked back at the former Miss Flodden: she
was still standing near the piano, listening composedly, but he thought
that her thin face bore an expression of defiance.

He was so excited that he opened his room door too quickly to give
effect to a practical joke, consisting of a can of water balancing on
its angle as it stood ajar, and intended to tumble on his head while
he was passing in; a delicate jest which the girl who had sat next to
him--she of the punt, diamond garter and coach adventures--occasionally
practised on the new inmates of what she technically called "houses."


IX.

The next morning, after surveying the house with his host, and making
elaborate plans for its alteration with his hostess, Greenleaf was going
for a stroll outside the grounds, when he suddenly heard his name called
by the voice of her who had once been Val Flodden, but of whom he already
thought only as Mrs. Hermann Struwë. She arose from under a big cedar,
among whose sweeping branches she had been seated reading.

"Are you going for a walk?" she asked, coming towards him in her white
frock, incredibly white against the green lawn, and trailing her also
incredibly white parasol after her.

"Is it true that you go back to town this afternoon?"

"Yes," answered Greenleaf, laconically.

"Then," she said, "I will come with you a little way."

They walked silently through a little wood of beeches, and out into the
meadows by the river. Greenleaf found it too difficult to say anything,
and, after all, why say anything to her?

"Look here," began Mrs. Hermann Struwë, suddenly stopping short by the
water's brink. "I want to speak to you quite plainly, Mr. Greenleaf.
Quite plainly, as one does, don't you know, to a person one isn't likely
ever to meet again. I didn't want to speak to you yesterday,
because--well--because I disliked you too much."

Greenleaf looked up from the grasses steeping at the root of a big
willow, in the water.

"Why?" he asked blankly, but a vague pain invading his consciousness,
with the recollection of the library at Yetholme, of the catalogue and
the dusty majolica, when Miss Flodden had said once before that she
disliked him, because he was taking away the pots.

"But I've thought over it," she went on, not noticing his interruption;
"and I see again, what I recognised years ago--only that every now and
then I can't help forgetting it and feeling bad--namely, that it was
quite natural on your part--I mean your never having introduced me to
the Miss Carpenters, nor even written to me again." She spoke slowly
and very gently, with just a little hesitation, as he remembered so well
her having done those years ago in Northumberland.

An unknown feeling overwhelmed Greenleaf and prevented his speaking--the
feeling, he vaguely understood, of having destroyed, of having killed
something.

"I don't reproach you with it. I never really did. I understood very
soon that it was quite natural on your part to take me for a Princess
Casamassima. I had done nothing to make you really know me, and I had no
right to expect you to take me on my own telling. And there must have
been so many things to make you suspect my not deserving to know your
friends, or to learn about your ideas. It wasn't that," she added,
hurriedly, "that I wished really to explain, because, as I repeat,
although I sometimes feel unreasonable and angry, like last night, when
something suddenly makes me see the contrast between what I might have
been, and what I am, I don't bear you any grudge. What I wanted to tell
you, Mr. Greenleaf, is that I wasn't unworthy of the confidence, though
it wasn't much, which you once placed in me. I was not a Princess
Casamassima; I was not a humbug then, saying things and getting you to
say them for the sake of the novelty. And I'm not really changed since.
I wasn't a worthless woman then; and I haven't really become a worthless
woman now. Shall we go towards home? I think I heard the gong."

They were skirting the full river, with its fringe of steeping
loose-strife and meadow-sweet, and its clumps of sedge, starred with
forget-me-not, whence whirred occasional water-fowl. From the field
opposite there came every now and then the lazy low of a cow.

"It was very different, wasn't it, on the Tweed," she said, looking
round her; "the banks so steep and bare, and all that shingle. Do you
remember the heron? Didn't he look Japanese? I hate all this," and she
dug up a pellet of green with her parasol point, and flung it far into
the water.

"Of course," she went on, "to you it must seem the very proof of your
suspicions having been justified, I mean your finding me again--well, in
this house. And, perhaps, you may remember my telling you, all those
years ago at Yetholme, that I would never marry."

She raised her eyes from the ground and looked straight into his, with
that odd deepening of colour of her own. She had guessed his thoughts:
that sentence about not marrying and being given in marriage was ringing
in his mind; and he felt, as she looked into his face, that she wished
above all to clear herself from that unspoken accusation.

"I never should have, most likely," she went on. "Although you must
remember that all my bringing up had consisted in teaching me that a
woman's one business in life _is_ to marry, to make a good marriage, to
marry into this set, a man like my husband. For a long while before I
ever met you, I had made up my mind that although this was undoubtedly
the natural and virtuous course, I would not follow it, that I would
rather earn my living or starve; and I had been taught that to do
either, to go one's own ways and think one's own thoughts, was
scandalous. It was about this that I had broken with my sister. She had
bothered me to marry one of a variety of men whom she unearthed for the
purpose; and we quarrelled because I refused the one she wanted me to
have most--the one, as a matter of fact, who is now my husband. I tell
you all these uninteresting things because I want you to know that I was
in earnest when I told you I did not want the things a woman gets by
marrying. I was in earnest," she went on, stopping and twisting a long
willow leaf round her finger, the tone of her voice changing suddenly
from almost defiant earnestness to a sad, helpless little tone, "but it
was of no good. I saw--you showed me--that I was locked, walled into the
place into which I had been born; you made me feel that it was useless
for an outsider to try to gain the confidence of you people who work and
care about things; that your friends would consider me an intruder,
that you considered me a humbug--you slammed in my face the little door
through which I had hoped to have escaped from all this sort of thing."

And she nodded towards the white house, stretched like a little
encampment upon the green river bank, with the flotilla of boats and
punts and steam launches, moored before its windows.

"Then," said Greenleaf, a light coming into his mind, a light such
as would reveal some great ruin of flood or fire to the unconscious
criminal who has opened the sluice or dropped the match in the dark,
"then you sat out that song last night to make me understand...?"

"It was very childish of me, and also very unjust," answered Mrs.
Hermann composedly. "Of course you couldn't help it. I don't feel angry
with you. But sometimes, when I remember those weeks when I gradually
understood that it was all to be, and I made up my mind to live out the
life for which I had been born--and, now that the pots were sold--well,
to sell myself also to the highest bidder--sometimes I did feel a little
bad. You see when one is really honest oneself, it is hard to be
misunderstood--and the more misunderstood the more one explains
oneself--by other people who are honest."

They walked along in silence; which Greenleaf broke by asking as in a
dream--"And your violin?"

"Oh! I've given that up long ago--my husband didn't like it, and as he
has given me everything that I possess, it wouldn't be business, would
it, to do things he dislikes? If it had been the piano, or the guitar,
or the banjo! But a woman can't lock herself up and practice the fiddle!
People would think it odd. And now," she added, as they came in sight
of the little groups of variegated pink and mauve frocks, and the
white boating-clothes under the big cedars, "good-bye, Mr. Greenleaf;
and--be a little more trustful to other people who may want your
friendship--won't you? I shall like to think of that." She stretched out
her hand, with the thin glove loosely wrinkled over the arm, and she
smiled that good, wide-eyed smile, like that of a good, serious child
who wishes to understand.

Greenleaf did not take her hand at once.

"You have children at least?" he asked hoarsely.

She understood his thought, but hesitated before answering.

"I have three--somewhere--at the sea-side, or some other place where
children ought to be when their parents go staying about,"--she answered
quickly--"they are quite happy, with plenty of toys, now; and they will
be quite happy when they grow up, for they will have plenty of money,
and they will be their father's image--good-bye!"

"Good-bye," answered Greenleaf, and added, after he had let go her hand,
"It is very generous of you to be so forgiving. But your generosity
makes it only more impossible for me ever to forgive myself."

Out of the station of that little group of river houses the line goes
almost immediately on to a long bridge. It was in process of repair,
and as the train moved slowly across, Greenleaf could see, on the upper
river reach, close beneath him, a flotilla of boats, canoes, and skiffs
of various sizes, surrounding a punt, and all of them gay with lilac
and pale green and pale pink frocks, and white flannels, and coloured
sashes and cushions, and fantastic umbrellas. Some of the ladies were
scrambling from one of the skiffs into the punt, which was pinned into
its place by the long pole held upright in the green, glassy water,
reflecting the pink, green, lilac, and white, the red cushions, and the
shimmering greyness of the big willows. There was much laughter and
some little shrieks, and the twang of a banjo; and it looked altogether
like some modern Watteau's version of a latter-day embarkation for the
island of Venus. And, in the little heap of bright colours, Greenleaf
recognised, over the side of a skiff, the parasol, white, incredibly
white, of the former Val Flodden.



THE LEGEND OF MADAME KRASINSKA.


It is a necessary part of this story to explain how I have come by it,
or rather, how it has chanced to have me for its writer.

I was very much impressed one day by a certain nun of the order calling
themselves Little Sisters of the Poor. I had been taken to these
sisters to support the recommendation of a certain old lady, the former
door-keeper of his studio, whom my friend Cecco Bandini wished to place
in the asylum. It turned out, of course, that Cecchino was perfectly
able to plead his case without my assistance; so I left him blandishing
the Mother Superior in the big, cheerful kitchen, and begged to be shown
over the rest of the establishment. The sister who was told off to
accompany me was the one of whom I would speak.

This lady was tall and slight; her figure, as she preceded me up the
narrow stairs and through the whitewashed wards, was uncommonly elegant
and charming; and she had a girlish rapidity of movement, which caused
me to experience a little shock at the first real sight which I caught
of her face. It was young and remarkably pretty, with a kind of
refinement peculiar to American women; but it was inexpressibly,
solemnly tragic; and one felt that under her tight linen cap, the hair
must be snow white. The tragedy, whatever it might have been, was now
over; and the lady's expression, as she spoke to the old creatures
scraping the ground in the garden, ironing the sheets in the laundry, or
merely huddling over their braziers in the chill winter sunshine, was
pathetic only by virtue of its strange present tenderness, and by that
trace of terrible past suffering.

She answered my questions very briefly, and was as taciturn as ladies of
religious communities are usually loquacious. Only, when I expressed my
admiration for the institution which contrived to feed scores of old
paupers on broken victuals begged from private houses and inns, she
turned her eyes full upon me and said, with an earnestness which was
almost passionate, "Ah, the old! The old! It is so much, much worse for
them than for any others. Have you ever tried to imagine what it is to
be poor and forsaken and old?"

These words and the strange ring in the sister's voice, the strange
light in her eyes, remained in my memory. What was not, therefore, my
surprise when, on returning to the kitchen, I saw her start and lay hold
of the back of the chair as soon as she caught sight of Cecco Bandini.
Cecco, on his side also, was visibly startled, but only after a moment;
it was clear that she recognised him long before he identified her. What
little romance could there exist in common between my eccentric painter
and that serene but tragic Sister of the Poor?

A week later, it became evident that Cecco Bandini had come to explain
the mystery; but to explain it (as I judged by the embarrassment of
his manner) by one of those astonishingly elaborate lies occasionally
attempted by perfectly frank persons. It was not the case. Cecchino had
come indeed to explain that little dumb scene which had passed between
him and the Little Sister of the Poor. He had come, however, not to
satisfy my curiosity, or to overcome my suspicions, but to execute a
commission which he had greatly at heart; to help, as he expressed it,
in the accomplishment of a good work by a real saint.

Of course, he explained, smiling that good smile under his black
eyebrows and white moustache, he did not expect me to believe very
literally the story which he had undertaken to get me to write. He only
asked, and the lady only wished, me, to write down her narrative without
any comments, and leave to the heart of the reader the decision about
its truth or falsehood.

For this reason, and the better to attain the object of appealing to
the profane, rather than to the religious, reader, I have abandoned the
order of narrative of the Little Sister of the Poor; and attempted to
turn her pious legend into a worldly story, as follows:--


I.

Cecco Bandini had just returned from the Maremma, to whose solitary
marshes and jungles he had fled in one of his fits of fury at the
stupidity and wickedness of the civilised world. A great many months
spent among buffaloes and wild boars, conversing only with those wild
cherry-trees, of whom he used whimsically to say, "they are such
good little folk," had sent him back with an extraordinary zest for
civilisation, and a comic tendency to find its products, human and
otherwise, extraordinary, picturesque, and suggestive. He was in this
frame of mind when there came a light rap on his door-slate; and two
ladies appeared on the threshold of his studio, with the shaven face and
cockaded hat of a tall footman over-topping them from behind. One of
them was unknown to our painter; the other was numbered among Cecchino's
very few grand acquaintances.

"Why haven't you been round to me yet, you savage?" she asked, advancing
quickly with a brusque hand-shake and a brusque bright gleam of eyes
and teeth, well-bred but audacious and a trifle ferocious. And dropping
on to a divan she added, nodding first at her companion and then at the
pictures all round, "I have brought my friend, Madame Krasinska, to see
your things," and she began poking with her parasol at the contents of a
gaping portfolio.

The Baroness Fosca--for such was her name--was one of the cleverest and
fastest ladies of the place, with a taste for art and ferociously frank
conversation. To Cecco Bandini, as she lay back among her furs on that
shabby divan of his, she appeared in the light of the modern Lucretia
Borgia, the tamed panther of fashionable life. "What an interesting
thing civilisation is!" he thought, watching her every movement with the
eyes of the imagination; "why, you might spend years among the wild folk
of the Maremma without meeting such a tremendous, terrible, picturesque,
powerful creature as this!"

Cecchino was so absorbed in the Baroness Fosca, who was in reality not
at all a Lucretia Borgia, but merely an impatient lady bent upon amusing
and being amused, that he was scarcely conscious of the presence of
her companion. He knew that she was very young, very pretty, and very
smart, and that he had made her his best bow, and offered her his least
rickety chair; for the rest, he sat opposite to his Lucretia Borgia of
modern life, who had meanwhile found a cigarette, and was puffing away
and explaining that she was about to give a fancy ball, which should be
the most _crâne_, the only amusing thing, of the year.

"Oh," he exclaimed, kindling at the thought, "do let me design you a
dress all black and white and wicked green--you shall go as Deadly
Nightshade, as Belladonna Atropa----"

"Belladonna Atropa! why my ball is in comic costume" ... The Baroness
was answering contemptuously, when Cecchino's attention was suddenly
called to the other end of the studio by an exclamation on the part of
his other visitor.

"Do tell me all about her;--has she a name? Is she really a lunatic?"
asked the young lady who had been introduced as Madame Krasinska,
keeping a portfolio open with one hand, and holding up in the other a
coloured sketch she had taken from it.

"What have you got there? Oh, only the Sora Lena!" and Madame Fosca
reverted to the contemplation of the smoke-rings she was making.

"Tell me about her--Sora Lena, did you say?" asked the younger lady
eagerly.

She spoke French, but with a pretty little American accent, despite her
Polish name. She was very charming, Cecchino said to himself, a radiant
impersonation of youthful brightness and elegance as she stood there
in her long, silvery furs, holding the drawing with tiny, tight-gloved
hands, and shedding around her a vague, exquisite fragrance--no, not
a mere literal perfume, that would be far too coarse but something
personal akin to it.

"I have noticed her so often," she went on, with that silvery young
voice of hers; "she's mad, isn't she? And what did you say her name was?
Please tell me again."

Cecchino was delighted. "How true it is," he reflected, "that only
refinement, high-breeding, luxury can give people certain kinds of
sensitiveness, of rapid intuition! No woman of another class would have
picked out just that drawing, or would have been interested in it
without stupid laughter."

"Do you want to know the story of poor old Sora Lena?" asked Cecchino,
taking the sketch from Madame Krasinska's hand, and looking over it at
the charming, eager young face.

The sketch might have passed for a caricature; but anyone who had spent
so little as a week in Florence those six or seven years ago would have
recognised at once that it was merely a faithful portrait. For Sora
Lena--more correctly Signora Maddalena--had been for years and years one
of the most conspicuous sights of the town. In all weathers you might
have seen that hulking old woman, with her vague, staring, reddish
face, trudging through the streets or standing before shops, in her
extraordinary costume of thirty years ago, her enormous crinoline, on
which the silk skirt and ragged petticoat hung limply, her gigantic
coal-scuttle bonnet, shawl, prunella boots, and great muff or parasol;
one of several outfits, all alike, of that distant period, all alike
inexpressibly dirty and tattered. In all weathers you might have seen
her stolidly going her way, indifferent to stares and jibes, of which,
indeed, there were by this time comparatively few, so familiar had she
grown to staring, jibing Florence. In all weathers, but most noticeably
in the worst, as if the squalor of mud and rain had an affinity with
that sad, draggled, soiled, battered piece of human squalor, that
lamentable rag of half-witted misery.

"Do you want to know about Sora Lena?" repeated Cecco Bandini,
meditatively. They formed a strange, strange contrast, these two women,
the one in the sketch and the one standing before him. And there was to
him a pathetic whimsicalness in the interest which the one had excited
in the other. "How long has she been wandering about here? Why, as long
as I can remember the streets of Florence, and that," added Cecchino
sorrowfully, "is a longer while than I care to count up. It seems to
me as if she must always have been there, like the olive-trees and
the paving stones; for after all, Giotto's tower was not there before
Giotto, whereas poor old Sora Lena--But, by the way, there is a limit
even to her. There is a legend about her; they say that she was once
sane, and had two sons, who went as Volunteers in '59, and were killed
at Solferino, and ever since then she has sallied forth, every day,
winter or summer, in her best clothes, to meet the young fellows at the
Station. May be. To my mind it doesn't matter much whether the story
be true or false; it is fitting," and Cecco Bandini set about dusting
some canvases which had attracted the Baroness Fosca's attention. When
Cecchino was helping that lady into her furs, she gave one of her little
brutal smiles, and nodded in the direction of her companion.

"Madame Krasinska," she said laughing, "is very desirous of possessing
one of your sketches, but she is too polite to ask you the price of it.
That's what comes of our not knowing how to earn a penny for ourselves,
doesn't it, Signor Cecchino?"

Madame Krasinska blushed, and looked more young, and delicate, and
charming.

"I did not know whether you would consent to part with one of your
drawings," she said in her silvery, child-like voice,--"it is--this
one--which I should so much have liked to have--... to have ... bought."
Cecchino smiled at the embarrassment which the word "bought" produced in
his exquisite visitor. Poor, charming young creature, he thought; the
only thing she thinks people one knows can sell, is themselves, and
that's called getting married. "You must explain to your friend," said
Cecchino to the Baroness Fosca, as he hunted in a drawer for a piece of
clean paper, "that such rubbish as this is neither bought nor sold; it
is not even possible for a poor devil of a painter to offer it as a gift
to a lady--but,"--and he handed the little roll to Madame Krasinska,
making his very best bow as he did so--"it is possible for a lady
graciously to accept it."

"Thank you so much," answered Madame Krasinska, slipping the drawing
into her muff; "it is very good of you to give me such a ... such a
very interesting sketch," and she pressed his big, brown fingers in her
little grey-gloved hand.

"Poor Sora Lena!" exclaimed Cecchino, when there remained of the visit
only a faint perfume of exquisiteness; and he thought of the hideous old
draggle-tailed mad woman, reposing, rolled up in effigy, in the
delicious daintiness of that delicate grey muff.


II.

A fortnight later, the great event was Madame Fosca's fancy ball, to
which the guests were bidden to come in what was described as comic
costume. Some, however, craved leave to appear in their ordinary
apparel, and among these was Cecchino Bandini, who was persuaded,
moreover, that his old-fashioned swallow-tails, which he donned only
at weddings, constituted quite comic costume enough.

This knowledge did not interfere at all with his enjoyment. There was
even, to his whimsical mind, a certain charm in being in a crowd among
which he knew no one; unnoticed or confused, perhaps, with the waiters,
as he hung about the stairs and strolled through the big palace rooms.
It was as good as wearing an invisible cloak, one saw so much just
because one was not seen; indeed, one was momentarily endowed (it seemed
at least to his fanciful apprehension) with a faculty akin to that of
understanding the talk of birds; and, as he watched and listened he
became aware of innumerable charming little romances, which were
concealed from more notable but less privileged persons.

Little by little the big white and gold rooms began to fill. The ladies,
who had moved in gorgeous isolation, their skirts displayed as finely as
a peacock's train, became gradually visible only from the waist upwards;
and only the branches of the palm-trees and tree ferns detached
themselves against the shining walls. Instead of wandering among
variegated brocades and iridescent silks and astonishing arrangements of
feathers and flowers, Cecchino's eye was forced to a higher level by the
thickening crowd; it was now the constellated sparkle of diamonds on
neck and head which dazzled him, and the strange, unaccustomed splendour
of white arms and shoulders. And, as the room filled, the invisible
cloak was also drawn closer round our friend Cecchino, and the
extraordinary faculty of perceiving romantic and delicious secrets in
other folk's bosoms became more and more developed. They seemed to him
like exquisite children, these creatures rustling about in fantastic
dresses, powdered shepherds and shepherdesses with diamonds spirting
fire among their ribbons and top-knots; Japanese and Chinese embroidered
with sprays of flowers; mediæval and antique beings, and beings hidden
in the plumage of birds, or the petals of flowers; children, but
children somehow matured, transfigured by the touch of luxury and
good-breeding, children full of courtesy and kindness. There were, of
course, a few costumes which might have been better conceived or better
carried out, or better--not to say best--omitted altogether. One grew
bored, after a little while, with people dressed as marionettes,
champagne bottles, sticks of sealing-wax, or captive balloons; a young
man arrayed as a female ballet dancer, and another got up as a wet
nurse, with baby _obligato_ might certainly have been dispensed with.
Also, Cecchino could not help wincing a little at the daughter of the
house being mummed and painted to represent her own grandmother, a
respectable old lady whose picture hung in the dining-room, and whose
spectacles he had frequently picked up in his boyhood. But these were
mere trifling details. And, as a whole, it was beautiful, fantastic.
So Cecchino moved backward and forward, invisible in his shabby black
suit, and borne hither and thither by the well-bred pressure of the
many-coloured crowd; pleasantly blinded by the innumerable lights,
the sparkle of chandelier pendants, and the shooting flames of jewels;
gently deafened by the confused murmur of innumerable voices, of
crackling stuffs and soughing fans, of distant dance music; and inhaling
the vague fragrance which seemed less the decoction of cunning perfumers
than the exquisite and expressive emanation of this exquisite bloom of
personality. Certainly, he said to himself, there is no pleasure so
delicious as seeing people amusing themselves with refinement: there is
a transfiguring magic, almost a moralising power, in wealth and elegance
and good-breeding.

He was making this reflection, and watching between two dances, a tiny
fluff of down sailing through the warm draught across the empty space,
the sort of whirlpool of the ball-room--when a little burst of voices
came from the entrance saloon. The multi-coloured costumes fluttered
like butterflies toward a given spot, there was a little heaping
together of brilliant colours and flashing jewels. There was much
craning of delicate, fluffy young necks and heads, and shuffle on
tiptoe, and the crowd fell automatically aside. A little gangway was
cleared; and there walked into the middle of the white and gold
drawing-room, a lumbering, hideous figure, with reddish, vacant face,
sunk in an immense, tarnished satin bonnet; and draggled, faded, lilac
silk skirts spread over a vast dislocated crinoline. The feet dabbed
along in the broken prunella boots; the mangy rabbit-skin muff bobbed
loosely with the shambling gait; and then, under the big chandelier,
there came a sudden pause, and the thing looked slowly round, a gaping,
mooning, blear-eyed stare.

It was the Sora Lena.

There was a perfect storm of applause.


III.

Cecchino Bandini did not slacken his pace till he found himself, with
his thin overcoat and opera hat all drenched, among the gas reflections
and puddles before his studio door; that shout of applause and that
burst of clapping pursuing him down the stairs of the palace and
all through the rainy streets. There were a few embers in his stove;
he threw a faggot on them, lit a cigarette, and proceeded to make
reflections, the wet opera hat still on his head. He had been a fool, a
savage. He had behaved like a child, rushing past his hostess with that
ridiculous speech in answer to her inquiries: "I am running away because
bad luck has entered your house."

Why had he not guessed it at once? What on earth else could she have
wanted his sketch for?

He determined to forget the matter, and, as he imagined, he forgot it.
Only, when the next day's evening paper displayed two columns describing
Madame Fosca's ball, and more particularly "that mask," as the reporter
had it, "which among so many which were graceful and ingenious, bore off
in triumph the palm for witty novelty," he threw the paper down and gave
it a kick towards the wood-box. But he felt ashamed of himself, picked
it up, smoothed it out and read it all--foreign news and home news, and
even the description of Madame Fosca's masked ball, conscientiously
through. Last of all he perused, with dogged resolution, the column of
petty casualties: a boy bit in the calf by a dog who was not mad; the
frustrated burgling of a baker's shop; even to the bunches of keys and
the umbrella and two cigar-cases picked up by the police, and consigned
to the appropriate municipal limbo; until he came to the following
lines: "This morning the _Guardians of Public Safety_, having been
called by the neighbouring inhabitants, penetrated into a room on the
top floor of a house situate in the Little Street of the Gravedigger
(Viccolo del Beccamorto), and discovered, hanging from a rafter, the
dead body of Maddalena X. Y. Z. The deceased had long been noted
throughout Florence for her eccentric habits and apparel." The paragraph
was headed, in somewhat larger type: "Suicide of a female lunatic."

Cecchino's cigarette had gone out, but he continued blowing at it all
the same. He could see in his mind's eye a tall, slender figure, draped
in silvery plush and silvery furs, standing by the side of an open
portfolio, and holding a drawing in her tiny hand, with the slender,
solitary gold bangle over the grey glove.


IV.

Madame Krasinska was in a very bad humour. The old Chanoiness, her
late husband's aunt, noticed it; her guests noticed it; her maid noticed
it: and she noticed it herself. For, of all human beings, Madame
Krasinska--Netta, as smart folk familiarly called her--was the least
subject to bad humour. She was as uniformly cheerful as birds are
supposed to be, and she certainly had none of the causes for anxiety or
sorrow which even the most proverbial bird must occasionally have. She
had always had money, health, good looks; and people had always told
her--in New York, in London, in Paris, Rome, and St. Petersburg--from
her very earliest childhood, that her one business in life was to amuse
herself. The old gentleman whom she had simply and cheerfully accepted
as a husband, because he had given her quantities of bonbons, and was
going to give her quantities of diamonds, had been kind, and had been
kindest of all in dying of sudden bronchitis when away for a month,
leaving his young widow with an affectionately indifferent recollection
of him, no remorse of any kind, and a great deal of money, not to speak
of the excellent Chanoiness, who constituted an invaluable chaperon.
And, since his happy demise, no cloud had disturbed the cheerful life
or feelings of Madame Krasinska. Other women, she knew, had innumerable
subjects of wretchedness; or if they had none, they were wretched from
the want of them. Some had children who made them unhappy, others were
unhappy for lack of children, and similarly as to lovers; but she had
never had a child and never had a lover, and never experienced the
smallest desire for either. Other women suffered from sleeplessness, or
from sleepiness, and took morphia or abstained from morphia with equal
inconvenience; other women also grew weary of amusement. But Madame
Krasinska always slept beautifully, and always stayed awake cheerfully;
and Madame Krasinska was never tired of amusing herself. Perhaps it was
all this which culminated in the fact that Madame Krasinska had never in
all her life envied or disliked anybody; and that no one, apparently,
had ever envied or disliked her. She did not wish to outshine or
supplant any one; she did not want to be richer, younger, more
beautiful, or more adored than they. She only wanted to amuse herself,
and she succeeded in so doing.

This particular day--the day after Madame Fosca's ball--Madame Krasinska
was not amusing herself. She was not at all tired: she never was;
besides, she had remained in bed till mid-day: neither was she unwell,
for that also she never was; nor had anyone done the slightest thing
to vex her. But there it was. She was not amusing herself at all. She
could not tell why; and she could not tell why, also, she was vaguely
miserable. When the first batch of afternoon callers had taken leave,
and the following batches had been sent away from the door, she threw
down her volume of Gyp, and walked to the window. It was raining: a
thin, continuous spring drizzle. Only a few cabs, with wet, shining
backs, an occasional lumbering omnibus or cart, passed by with wheezing,
straining, downcast horses. In one or two shops a light was appearing,
looking tiny, blear, and absurd in the gray afternoon. Madame Krasinska
looked out for a few minutes; then, suddenly turning round, she brushed
past the big palms and azaleas, and rang the bell.

"Order the brougham at once," she said.

She could by no means have explained what earthly reason had impelled
her to go out. When the footman had inquired for orders she felt at
a loss: certainly she did not want to go to see anyone, nor to buy
anything, nor to inquire about anything.

What _did_ she want? Madame Krasinska was not in the habit of driving
out in the rain for her pleasure; still less to drive out without
knowing whither. What did she want? She sat muffled in her furs, looking
out on the wet, grey streets as the brougham rolled aimlessly along. She
wanted--she wanted--she couldn't tell what. But she wanted it very much.
That much she knew very well--she wanted. The rain, the wet streets, the
muddy crossings--oh, how dismal they were! and still she wished to go
on.

Instinctively, her polite coachman made for the politer streets, for the
polite Lung' Arno. The river quay was deserted, and a warm, wet wind
swept lazily along its muddy flags. Madame Krasinska let down the glass.
How dreary! The foundry, on the other side, let fly a few red sparks
from its tall chimney into the grey sky; the water droned over the weir;
a lamp-lighter hurried along.

Madame Krasinska pulled the check-string.

"I want to walk," she said.

The polite footman followed behind along the messy flags, muddy and full
of pools; the brougham followed behind him. Madame Krasinska was not at
all in the habit of walking on the embankment, still less walking in the
rain.

After some minutes she got in again, and bade the carriage drive home.
When she got into the lit streets she again pulled the check-string and
ordered the brougham to proceed at a foot's pace. At a certain spot she
remembered something, and bade the coachman draw up before a shop. It
was the big chemist's.

"What does the Signora Contessa command?" and the footman raised his hat
over his ear. Somehow she had forgotten. "Oh," she answered, "wait a
minute. Now I remember, it's the next shop, the florist's. Tell them to
send fresh azaleas to-morrow and fetch away the old ones."

Now the azaleas had been changed only that morning. But the polite
footman obeyed. And Madame Krasinska remained for a minute, nestled in
her fur rug, looking on to the wet, yellow, lit pavement, and into the
big chemist's window. There were the red, heart-shaped chest protectors,
the frictioning gloves, the bath towels, all hanging in their place.
Then boxes of eau-de-Cologne, lots of bottles of all sizes, and boxes,
large and small, and variosities of indescribable nature and use, and
the great glass jars, yellow, blue, green, and ruby red, with a spark
from the gas lamp behind in their heart. She stared at it all, very
intently, and without a notion about any of these objects. Only she knew
that the glass jars were uncommonly bright, and that each had a ruby, or
topaz, or emerald of gigantic size, in its heart. The footman returned.

"Drive home," ordered Madame Krasinska. As her maid was taking her out
of her dress, a thought--the first since so long--flashed across her
mind, at the sight of certain skirts, and an uncouth cardboard mask,
lying in a corner of her dressing-room. How odd that she had not seen
the Sora Lena that evening.... She used always to be walking in the lit
streets at that hour.


V.

The next morning Madame Krasinska woke up quite cheerful and happy. But
she began, nevertheless, to suffer, ever since the day after the Fosca
ball, from the return of that quite unprecedented and inexplicable
depression. Her days became streaked, as it were, with moments during
which it was quite impossible to amuse herself; and these moments grew
gradually into hours. People bored her for no accountable reason, and
things which she had expected as pleasures brought with them a sense of
vague or more distinct wretchedness. Thus she would find herself in the
midst of a ball or dinner-party, invaded suddenly by a confused sadness
or boding of evil, she did not know which. And once, when a box of new
clothes had arrived from Paris, she was overcome, while putting on one
of the frocks, with such a fit of tears that she had to be put to bed
instead of going to the Tornabuoni's party.

Of course, people began to notice this change; indeed, Madame Krasinska
had ingenuously complained of the strange alteration in herself. Some
persons suggested that she might be suffering from slow blood-poisoning,
and urged an inquiry into the state of the drains. Others recommended
arsenic, morphia, or antipyrine. One kind friend brought her a box of
peculiar cigarettes; another forwarded a parcel of still more peculiar
novels; most people had some pet doctor to cry up to the skies; and one
or two suggested her changing her confessor; not to mention an attempt
being made to mesmerise her into cheerfulness.

When her back was turned, meanwhile, all the kind friends discussed the
probability of an unhappy love affair, loss of money on the Stock
Exchange, and similar other explanations. And while one devoted lady
tried to worm out of her the name of her unfaithful lover and of the
rival for whom he had forsaken her, another assured her that she was
suffering from a lack of personal affections. It was a fine opportunity
for the display of pietism, materialism, idealism, realism, psychological
lore, and esoteric theosophy.

Oddly enough, all this zeal about herself did not worry Madame
Krasinska, as she would certainly have expected it to worry any other
woman. She took a little of each of the tonic or soporific drugs; and
read a little of each of those sickly sentimental, brutal, or politely
improper novels. She also let herself be accompanied to various doctors;
and she got up early in the morning and stood for an hour on a chair
in a crowd in order to benefit by the preaching of the famous Father
Agostino. She was quite patient even with the friends who condoled about
the lover or absence of such. For all these things became, more and
more, completely indifferent to Madame Krasinska--unrealities which had
no weight in the presence of the painful reality.

This reality was that she was rapidly losing all power of amusing
herself, and that when she did occasionally amuse herself she had to pay
for what she called this _good time_ by an increase of listlessness and
melancholy.

It was not melancholy or listlessness such as other women complained of.
They seemed, in their fits of blues, to feel that the world around them
had got all wrong, or at least was going out of its way to annoy them.
But Madame Krasinska saw the world quite plainly, proceeding in the
usual manner, and being quite as good a world as before. It was she
who was all wrong. It was, in the literal sense of the words, what
she supposed people might mean when they said that So-and-so was _not
himself_; only that So-and-so, on examination, appeared to be very much
himself--only himself in a worse temper than usual. Whereas she... Why,
in her case, she really did not seem to be herself any longer. Once, at
a grand dinner, she suddenly ceased eating and talking to her neighbour,
and surprised herself wondering who the people all were and what they
had come for. Her mind would become, every now and then, a blank; a
blank at least full of vague images, misty and muddled, which she was
unable to grasp, but of which she knew that they were painful, weighing
on her as a heavy load must weigh on the head or back. Something had
happened, or was going to happen, she could not remember which, but she
burst into tears none the less. In the midst of such a state of things,
if visitors or a servant entered, she would ask sometimes who they were.
Once a man came to call, during one of these fits; by an effort she was
able to receive him and answer his small talk more or less at random,
feeling the whole time as if someone else were speaking in her place.
The visitor at length rose to depart, and they both stood for a moment
in the midst of the drawing-room.

"This is a very pretty house; it must belong to some rich person. Do you
know to whom it belongs?" suddenly remarked Madame Krasinska, looking
slowly round her at the furniture, the pictures, statuettes, nicknacks,
the screens and plants. "Do you know to whom it belongs?" she repeated.

"It belongs to the most charming lady in Florence," stammered out the
visitor politely, and fled.

"My darling Netta," exclaimed the Chanoiness from where she was seated
crocheting benevolently futile garments by the fire; "you should not
joke in that way. That poor young man was placed in a painful, in a very
painful position by your nonsense."

Madame Krasinska leaned her arms on a screen, and stared her respectable
relation long in the face.

"You seem a kind woman," she said at length. "You are old, but then you
aren't poor, and they don't call you a mad woman. That makes all the
difference."

Then she set to singing--drumming out the tune on the screen--the
soldier song of '59, _Addio, mia bella, addio_.

"Netta!" cried the Chanoiness, dropping one ball of worsted after
another. "Netta!"

But Madame Krasinska passed her hand over her brow and heaved a great
sigh. Then she took a cigarette off a cloisonné tray, dipped a spill in
the fire and remarked,

"Would you like to have the brougham to go to see your friend at
the Sacré Coeur, Aunt Thérèse? I have promised to wait in for Molly
Wolkonsky and Bice Forteguerra. We are going to dine at _Doney's_ with
young Pomfret."


VI.

Madame Krasinska had repeated her evening drives in the rain. Indeed
she began also to walk about regardless of weather. Her maid asked her
whether she had been ordered exercise by the doctor, and she answered
yes. But why she should not walk in the Cascine or along the Lung' Arno,
and why she should always choose the muddiest thoroughfares, the maid
did not inquire. As it was, Madame Krasinska never showed any repugnance
or seemly contrition for the state of draggle in which she used to
return home; sometimes when the woman was unbuttoning her boots, she
would remain in contemplation of their muddiness, murmuring things which
Jefferies could not understand. The servants, indeed, declared that the
Countess must have gone out of her mind. The footman related that she
used to stop the brougham, get out and look into the lit shops, and that
he had to stand behind, in order to prevent lady-killing youths of a
caddish description from whispering expressions of admiration in her
ear. And once, he affirmed with horror, she had stopped in front of a
certain cheap eating-house, and looked in at the bundles of asparagus,
at the uncooked chops displayed in the window. And then, added the
footman, she had turned round to him slowly and said,

"They have good food in there."

And meanwhile, Madame Krasinska went to dinners and parties, and gave
them, and organised picnics, as much as was decently possible in Lent,
and indeed a great deal more.

She no longer complained of the blues; she assured everyone that she
had completely got rid of them, that she had never been in such spirits
in all her life. She said it so often, and in so excited a way, that
judicious people declared that now that lover must really have jilted
her, or gambling on the Stock Exchange have brought her to the verge of
ruin.

Nay, Madame Krasinska's spirits became so obstreperous as to change her
in sundry ways. Although living in the fastest set, Madame Krasinska had
never been a fast woman. There was something childlike in her nature
which made her modest and decorous. She had never learned to talk slang,
or to take up vulgar attitudes, or to tell impossible stories; and she
had never lost a silly habit of blushing at expressions and anecdotes
which she did not reprove other women for using and relating. Her
amusements had never been flavoured with that spice of impropriety, of
curiosity of evil, which was common in her set. She liked putting on
pretty frocks, arranging pretty furniture, driving in well got up
carriages, eating good dinners, laughing a great deal, and dancing a
great deal, and that was all.

But now Madame Krasinska suddenly altered. She became, all of a sudden,
anxious for those exotic sensations which honest women may get by
studying the ways, and frequenting the haunts, of women by no means
honest. She made up parties to go to the low theatres and music-halls;
she proposed dressing up and going, in company with sundry adventurous
spirits, for evening strolls in the more dubious portions of the town.
Moreover, she, who had never touched a card, began to gamble for large
sums, and to surprise people by producing a folded green roulette cloth
and miniature roulette rakes out of her pocket. And she became so
outrageously conspicuous in her flirtations (she who had never flirted
before), and so outrageously loud in her manners and remarks, that her
good friends began to venture a little remonstrance....

But remonstrance was all in vain; and she would toss her head and laugh
cynically, and answer in a brazen, jarring voice.

For Madame Krasinska felt that she must live, live noisily, live
scandalously, live her own life of wealth and dissipation, because ...

She used to wake up at night with the horror of that suspicion. And in
the middle of the day, pull at her clothes, tear down her hair, and rush
to the mirror and stare at herself, and look for every feature, and
clutch for every end of silk, or bit of lace, or wisp of hair, which
proved that she was really herself. For gradually, slowly, she had come
to understand that she was herself no longer.

Herself--well, yes, of course she was herself. Was it not herself who
rushed about in such a riot of amusement; herself whose flushed cheeks
and over-bright eyes, and cynically flaunted neck and bosom she saw
in the glass, whose mocking loud voice and shrill laugh she listened
to? Besides, did not her servants, her visitors, know her as Netta
Krasinska; and did she not know how to wear her clothes, dance, make
jokes, and encourage men, afterwards to discourage them? This, she often
said to herself, as she lay awake the long nights, as she sat out the
longer nights gambling and chaffing, distinctly proved that she really
was herself. And she repeated it all mentally when she returned, muddy,
worn out, and as awakened from a ghastly dream, after one of her long
rambles through the streets, her daily walks towards the station.

But still.... What of those strange forebodings of evil, those muddled
fears of some dreadful calamity ... something which had happened, or was
going to happen ... poverty, starvation, death--whose death, her own? or
someone else's? That knowledge that it was all, all over; that blinding,
felling blow which used every now and then to crush her.... Yes, she had
felt that first at the railway station. At the station? but what had
happened at the station? Or was it going to happen still? Since to the
station her feet seemed unconsciously to carry her every day. What was
it all? Ah! she knew. There was a woman, an old woman, walking to the
station to meet.... Yes, to meet a regiment on its way back. They came
back, those soldiers, among a mob yelling triumph. She remembered the
illuminations, the red, green, and white lanterns, and those garlands
all over the waiting-rooms. And quantities of flags. The bands played.
So gaily! They played Garibaldi's hymn, and _Addio, Mia Bella_. Those
pieces always made her cry now. The station was crammed, and all the
boys, in tattered, soiled uniforms, rushed into the arms of parents,
wives, friends. Then there was like a blinding light, a crash.... An
officer led the old woman gently out of the place, mopping his eyes. And
she, of all the crowd, was the only one to go home alone. Had it really
all happened? and to whom? Had it really happened to her, had her
boys.... But Madame Krasinska had never had any boys.

It was dreadful how much it rained in Florence; and stuff boots do wear
out so quick in mud. There was such a lot of mud on the way to the
station; but of course it was necessary to go to the station in order to
meet the train from Lombardy--the boys must be met.

There was a place on the other side of the river where you went in and
handed your watch and your brooch over the counter, and they gave you
some money and a paper. Once the paper got lost. Then there was a
mattress, too. But there was a kind man--a man who sold hardware--who
went and fetched it back. It was dreadfully cold in winter, but the
worst was the rain. And having no watch one was afraid of being late
for that train, and had to dawdle so long in the muddy streets. Of
course one could look in at the pretty shops. But the little boys were
so rude. Oh, no, no, not that--anything rather than be shut up in an
hospital. The poor old woman did no one any harm--why shut her up?

"_Faites votre jeu, messieurs_," cried Madame Krasinska, raking up the
counters with the little rake she had had made of tortoise-shell, with a
gold dragon's head for a handle--"_Rien ne va plus--vingt-trois--Rouge,
impair et manque_."


VII.

How did she come to know about this woman? She had never been inside
that house over the tobacconist's, up three pairs of stairs to the left;
and yet she knew exactly the pattern of the wall-paper. It was green,
with a pinkish trellis-work, in the grand sitting-room, the one which
was opened only on Sunday evenings, when the friends used to drop in and
discuss the news, and have a game of _tresette_. You passed through the
dining-room to get through it. The dining-room had no window, and was
lit from a skylight; there was always a little smell of dinner in it,
but that was appetising. The boys' rooms were to the back. There was
a plaster Joan of Arc in the hall, close to the clothes-peg. She was
painted to look like silver, and one of the boys had broken her arm,
so that it looked like a gas-pipe. It was Momino who had done it,
jumping on to the table when they were playing. Momino was always the
scapegrace; he wore out so many pairs of trousers at the knees, but he
was so warm-hearted! and after all, he had got all the prizes at school,
and they all said he would be a first-rate engineer. Those dear boys!
They never cost their mother a farthing, once they were sixteen; and
Momino bought her a big, beautiful muff out of his own earnings as a
pupil-teacher. Here it is! Such a comfort in the cold weather, you can't
think, especially when gloves are too dear. Yes, it is rabbit-skin, but
it is made to look like ermine, quite a handsome article. Assunta, the
maid of all work, never would clean out that kitchen of hers--servants
are such sluts! and she tore the moreen sofa-cover, too, against a nail
in the wall. She ought to have seen that nail! But one mustn't be too
hard on a poor creature, who is an orphan into the bargain. Oh, God! oh,
God! and they lie in the big trench at San Martino, without even a cross
over them, or a bit of wood with their name. But the white coats of the
Austrians were soaked red, I warrant you! And the new dye they call
magenta is made of pipe-clay--the pipe-clay the dogs clean their white
coats with--and the blood of Austrians. It's a grand dye, I tell you!

Lord, Lord, how wet the poor old woman's feet are! And no fire to warm
them by. The best is to go to bed when one can't dry one's clothes; and
it saves lamp-oil. That was very good oil the parish priest made her a
present of ... Aï, aï, how one's bones ache on the mere boards, even
with a blanket over them! That good, good mattress at the pawn-shop!
It's nonsense about the Italians having been beaten. The Austrians were
beaten into bits, made cats'-meat of; and the volunteers are returning
to-morrow. Temistocle and Momino--Momino is Girolamo, you know--will be
back to-morrow; their rooms have been cleaned, and they shall have a
flask of real Montepulciano.... The big bottles in the chemist's window
are very beautiful, particularly the green one. The shop where they sell
gloves and scarfs is also very pretty; but the English chemist's is the
prettiest, because of those bottles. But they say the contents of them
is all rubbish, and no real medicine.... Don't speak of San Bonifazio!
I have seen it. It is where they keep the mad folk and the wretched,
dirty, wicked, wicked old women.... There was a handsome book bound
in red, with gold edges, on the best sitting-room table; the Æneid,
translated by Caro. It was one of Temistocle's prizes. And that
Berlin-wool cushion ... yes, the little dog with the cherries looked
quite real....

"I have been thinking I should like to go to Sicily, to see Etna, and
Palermo, and all those places," said Madame Krasinska, leaning on the
balcony by the side of Prince Mongibello, smoking her fifth or sixth
cigarette.

She could see the hateful hooked nose, like a nasty hawk's beak, over
the big black beard, and the creature's leering, languishing black eyes,
as he looked up into the twilight. She knew quite well what sort of man
Mongibello was. No woman could approach him, or allow him to approach
her; and there she was on that balcony alone with him in the dark, far
from the rest of the party, who were dancing and talking within. And to
talk of Sicily to him, who was a Sicilian too! But that was what she
wanted--a scandal, a horror, anything that might deaden those thoughts
which would go on inside her.... The thought of that strange, lofty
whitewashed place, which she had never seen, but which she knew so well,
with an altar in the middle, and rows and rows of beds, each with its
set-out of bottles and baskets, and horrid slobbering and gibbering old
women. Oh ... she could hear them!

"I should like to go to Sicily," she said in a tone that was now common
to her, adding slowly and with emphasis, "but I should like to have
someone to show me all the sights...."

"Countess," and the black beard of the creature bent over her--close to
her neck--"how strange--I also feel a great longing to see Sicily once
more, but not alone--those lovely, lonely valleys...."

Ah!--there was one of the creatures who had sat up in her bed and was
singing, singing "Casta Diva!" "No, not alone"--she went on hurriedly,
a sort of fury of satisfaction, of the satisfaction of destroying
something, destroying her own fame, her own life, filling her as she
felt the man's hand on her arm--"not alone, Prince--with someone to
explain things--someone who knows all about it--and in this lovely
spring weather. You see, I am a bad traveller--and I am afraid ... of
being alone...." The last words came out of her throat loud, hoarse, and
yet cracked and shrill--and just as the Prince's arm was going to clasp
her, she rushed wildly into the room, exclaiming--

"Ah, I am she--I am she--I am mad!"

For in that sudden voice, so different from her own, Madame Krasinska
had recognised the voice that should have issued from the cardboard mask
she had once worn, the voice of Sora Lena.


VIII.

Yes, Cecchino certainly recognised her now. Strolling about in that
damp May twilight among the old, tortuous streets, he had mechanically
watched the big black horses draw up at the posts which closed that
labyrinth of black, narrow alleys; the servant in his white waterproof
opened the door, and the tall, slender woman got out and walked quickly
along. And mechanically, in his wool-gathering way, he had followed the
lady, enjoying the charming note of delicate pink and grey which her
little frock made against those black houses, and under that wet, grey
sky, streaked pink with the sunset. She walked quickly along, quite
alone, having left the footman with the carriage at the entrance of that
condemned old heart of Florence; and she took no notice of the stares
and words of the boys playing in the gutters, the pedlars housing their
barrows under the black archways, and the women leaning out of window.
Yes; there was no doubt. It had struck him suddenly as he watched her
pass under a double arch and into a kind of large court, not unlike that
of a castle, between the frowning tall houses of the old Jews' quarter;
houses escutcheoned and stanchioned, once the abode of Ghibelline
nobles, now given over to rag-pickers, scavengers and unspeakable
trades.

As soon as he recognised her he stopped, and was about to turn: what
business has a man following a lady, prying into her doings when she
goes out at twilight, with carriage and footman left several streets
back, quite alone through unlikely streets? And Cecchino, who by this
time was on the point of returning to the Maremma, and had come to the
conclusion that civilisation was a boring and loathsome thing, reflected
upon the errands which French novels described ladies as performing,
when they left their carriage and footman round the corner.... But the
thought was disgraceful to Cecchino, and unjust to this lady--no, no!
And at this moment he stopped, for the lady had stopped a few paces
before him, and was staring fixedly into the grey evening sky. There
was something strange in that stare; it was not that of a woman who is
hiding disgraceful proceedings. And in staring round she must have
seen him; yet she stood still, like one wrapped in wild thoughts. Then
suddenly she passed under the next archway, and disappeared in the dark
passage of a house. Somehow Cecco Bandini could not make up his mind, as
he ought to have done long ago, to turn back. He slowly passed through
the oozy, ill-smelling archway, and stood before that house. It was
very tall, narrow, and black as ink, with a jagged roof against the
wet, pinkish sky. From the iron hook, made to hold brocades and Persian
carpets on gala days of old, fluttered some rags, obscene and ill-omened
in the wind. Many of the window panes were broken. It was evidently one
of the houses which the municipality had condemned to destruction for
sanitary reasons, and whence the inmates were gradually being evicted.

"That's a house they're going to pull down, isn't it?" he inquired in a
casual tone of the man at the corner, who kept a sort of cookshop, where
chestnut pudding and boiled beans steamed on a brazier in a den. Then
his eye caught a half-effaced name close to the lamp-post, "Little
Street of the Grave-digger." "Ah," he added quickly, "this is the street
where old Sora Lena committed suicide--and--is--is that the house?"

Then, trying to extricate some reasonable idea out of the extraordinary
tangle of absurdities which had all of a sudden filled his mind, he
fumbled in his pocket for a silver coin, and said hurriedly to the man
with the cooking brazier,

"See here, that house, I'm sure, isn't well inhabited. That lady has
gone there for a charity--but--but one doesn't know that she mayn't
be annoyed in there. Here's fifty centimes for your trouble. If that
lady doesn't come out again in three-quarters of an hour--there! it's
striking seven--just you go round to the stone posts--you'll find her
carriage there--black horses and grey liveries--and tell the footman to
run upstairs to his mistress--understand?" And Cecchino Bandini fled,
overwhelmed at the thought of the indiscretion he was committing, but
seeing, as he turned round, those rags waving an ominous salute from the
black, gaunt house with its irregular roof against the wet, twilight
sky.


IX.

Madame Krasinska hurried though the long black corridor, with its
slippery bricks and typhoid smell, and went slowly but resolutely up
the black staircase. Its steps, constructed perhaps in the days of
Dante's grandfather, when a horn buckle and leathern belt formed the
only ornaments of Florentine dames, were extraordinarily high, and worn
off at the edges by innumerable generations of successive nobles and
paupers. And as it twisted sharply on itself, the staircase was lighted
at rare intervals by barred windows, overlooking alternately the black
square outside, with its jags of overhanging roof, and a black yard,
where a broken well was surrounded by a heap of half-sorted chickens'
feathers and unpicked rags. On the first landing was an open door,
partly screened by a line of drying tattered clothes; and whence
issued shrill sounds of altercation and snatches of tipsy song. Madame
Krasinska passed on heedless of it all, the front of her delicate frock
brushing the unseen filth of those black steps, in whose crypt-like
cold and gloom there was an ever-growing breath of charnel. Higher and
higher, flight after flight, steps and steps. Nor did she look to the
right or to the left, nor ever stop to take breath, but climbed upward,
slowly, steadily. At length she reached the topmost landing, on to which
fell a flickering beam of the setting sun. It issued from a room, whose
door was standing wide open. Madame Krasinska entered. The room was
completely empty, and comparatively light. There was no furniture in it,
except a chair, pushed into a dark corner, and an empty bird-cage at the
window. The panes were broken, and here and there had been mended with
paper. Paper also hung, in blackened rags, upon the walls.

Madame Krasinska walked to the window and looked out over the
neighbouring roofs, to where the bell in an old black belfry swung
tolling the Ave Maria. There was a porticoed gallery on the top of a
house some way off; it had a few plants growing in pipkins, and a drying
line. She knew it all so well.

On the window-sill was a cracked basin, in which stood a dead basil
plant, dry, grey. She looked at it some time, moving the hardened earth
with her fingers. Then she turned to the empty bird-cage. Poor solitary
starling! how he had whistled to the poor old woman! Then she began to
cry.

But after a few moments she roused herself. Mechanically, she went to
the door and closed it carefully. Then she went straight to the dark
corner, where she knew that the staved-in straw chair stood. She dragged
it into the middle of the room, where the hook was in the big rafter.
She stood on the chair, and measured the height of the ceiling. It was
so low that she could graze it with the palm of her hand. She took off
her gloves, and then her bonnet--it was in the way of the hook. Then
she unclasped her girdle, one of those narrow Russian ribbons of silver
woven stuff, studded with niello. She buckled one end firmly to the big
hook. Then she unwound the strip of muslin from under her collar. She
was standing on the broken chair, just under the rafter. "Pater noster
qui es in cælis," she mumbled, as she still childishly did when putting
her head on the pillow every night.

The door creaked and opened slowly. The big, hulking woman, with the
vague, red face and blear stare, and the rabbit-skin muff, bobbing on
her huge crinolined skirts, shambled slowly into the room. It was the
Sora Lena.


X.

When the man from the cook-shop under the archway and the footman
entered the room, it was pitch dark. Madame Krasinska was lying in the
middle of the floor, by the side of an overturned chair, and under a
hook in the rafter whence hung her Russian girdle. When she awoke from
her swoon, she looked slowly round the room; then rose, fastened her
collar and murmured, crossing herself, "O God, thy mercy is infinite."
The men said that she smiled.

Such is the legend of Madame Krasinska, known as Mother Antoinette Marie
among the Little Sisters of the Poor.


  _Printed by_ BALLANTYNE, HANSON & CO
  _Edinburgh and London_



       *       *       *       *       *



Transcriber's note:

One page of advertising has been moved from the beginning of the text to
the end of the listings following this note.

Missing punctuation has been silently added, especially quotation marks.
Hyphenation is inconsistent.

The following additional changes have been made to the text:

 Wanderwerf ==> Vanderwerf (... implored Mrs. Vanderwerf ...)
 Musuem     ==> Museum (... to the South Kensington Museum ...)
 facon      ==> façon (... c'est notre façon ...)

In the advertising following this note, the name Bacharcah was corrected
to read Bacharach.



       *       *       *       *       *



  _Mr. William Heinemann's List._


  VICTORIA:
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  Author of "The Real Lord Byron," etc.
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       *       *       *       *       *

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 THE WORKS OF HEINRICH HEINE.
 Translated by CHARLES GODFREY LELAND, M.A., F.R.L.S. (Hans Breitmann).
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  By Professor ANDREW F. WEST, Ph.D.            [_In October._


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  By REAR-ADMIRAL COLOMB, COL. MAURICE, R.A., MAJOR HENDERSON, STAFF
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     The writers, who are well-known authorities on international
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     well-known war artist.                   [_Nearly ready._


THE GENTLE ART OF MAKING ENEMIES.
  As pleasingly exemplified in many instances, wherein the serious
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  on to indiscretions and unseemliness, while overcome by an undue sense
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THE JEW AT HOME.
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THE NEW EXODUS.
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PRINCE BISMARCK. An Historical Biography.
  By CHARLES LOWE, M.A. With Portraits.
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     _The Times_.--"Is unquestionably the first important work which
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ADDRESSES. By HENRY IRVING.
  Small crown 8vo. With Portrait by J. M'N. Whistler.
                                              [_In the Press._


STRAY MEMORIES.
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LITTLE JOHANNES. By FREDERICK VAN EEDEN.
  Translated from the Dutch by CLARA BELL.
  With an Introduction by ANDREW LANG. Illustrated.
                                            [_In Preparation._
     * * _Also a Large Paper Edition._
      *


LIFE OF HEINRICH HEINE. By RICHARD GARNETT, LL. D.
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THE SPEECH OF MONKEYS. By Professor R. L. GARNER.
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     _Daily Chronicle_.--"A real, a remarkable, contribution to our
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     _Daily Telegraph_.--"An entertaining book."


THE OLD MAIDS' CLUB. By I. ZANGWILL, Author of "The Bachelors' Club."
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     _National Review_.--"Mr. Zangwill has a very bright and a very
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     _Athenæum_.--"Most strongly to be recommended to all classes of
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WOMAN--THROUGH A MAN'S EYEGLASS. By MALCOLM C. SALAMAN.
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     _Daily Graphic._--"A most amusing book."

     _Daily Telegraph._--"Written with brightness and elegance, and
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     _Daily Chronicle._--"It is the very thing for a punt cushion or a
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     _Literary World._--"We gladly commend this delightful little work
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THE LIFE OF HENRIK IBSEN. By HENRIK JÆGER. Translated by CLARA BELL.
  With the Verse done into English from the Norwegian Original
  by EDMUND GOSSE.
  Crown 8vo, cloth, 6_s._

     _Academy._--"We welcome it heartily. An unqualified boon to the
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DE QUINCEY MEMORIALS.
  Being Letters and other Records here first Published, with
  Communications from COLERIDGE, The WORDSWORTHS, HANNAH MORE,
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     _Daily Telegraph._--"Few works of greater literary interest have
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THE WORD OF THE LORD UPON THE WATERS.
  Sermons read by His Imperial Majesty the Emperor of Germany,
  while at Sea on his Voyages to the Land of the Midnight Sun.
  Composed by Dr. RICHTER, Army Chaplain, and Translated from the
  German by JOHN R. MCILRAITH. 4to, cloth, 2_s._ 6_d._

     _Times._--"The Sermons are vigorous, simple, and vivid in
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THE HOURS OF RAPHAEL, IN OUTLINE. Together with the Ceiling of the
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  By MARY E. WILLIAMS. Folio, cloth, £2 2_s._ net.


THE PASSION PLAY AT OBERAMMERGAU, 1890.
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  &c. &c. 4to, cloth, 2_s._ 6_d._

     _Spectator._--"This little book will be read with delight by
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THE GARDEN'S STORY; or, Pleasures and Trials of an Amateur Gardener.
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     _Scotsman._--"It deals with a charming subject in a charming
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IDLE MUSINGS: Essays in Social Mosaic.
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     _Saturday Review._--"Light, brief, and bright."

       *       *       *       *       *


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In Three Volumes.

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     KITTY'S FATHER. By FRANK BARRETT. Author of "Lieutenant
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     THE COUNTESS RADNA. By W. E. NORRIS, Author of "Matrimony," &c.
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     ORIOLE'S DAUGHTER. A Novel. By JESSIE FOTHERGILL, Author of "The
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In Two Volumes.

     WOMAN AND THE MAN. A Love Story. By ROBERT BUCHANAN, Author of
     "Come Live with Me and be My Love," "The Moment After," "The
     Coming Terror," &c.                    [_In preparation._

     A KNIGHT OF THE WHITE FEATHER. By "TASMA," Author of "The Penance
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     A LITTLE MINX. By ADA CAMBRIDGE, Author of "A Marked Man," "The
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In One Volume.

     THE NAULAHKA. A Tale of West and East. By RUDYARD KIPLING and
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     DUST. By BJÖRNSTJERNE BJÖRNSON. Translated from the Norwegian.
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     THE SECRET OF NARCISSE. By EDMUND GOSSE. Crown 8vo.
                                                [_In October._

     MADEMOISELLE MISS and Other Stories. By HENRY HARLAND, Author
     of "Mea Culpa," &c. Small crown 8vo.     [_In the Press._

     THE DOMINANT SEVENTH. A Musical Story. By KATE ELIZABETH CLARKE.
     Crown 8vo, cloth, 5_s._
        _Speaker._--"A very romantic story."

     PASSION THE PLAYTHING. A Novel. By R. MURRAY GILCHRIST. Crown
     8vo, cloth, 6_s._
        _Athenæum._--"This well-written story must be read to be
        appreciated."



_Heinemann's International Library._

EDITED BY EDMUND GOSSE.


_New Review._--"If you have any pernicious remnants of literary
chauvinism I hope it will not survive the series of foreign classics of
which Mr. William Heinemann, aided by Mr. Edmund Gosse, is publishing
translations to the great contentment of all lovers of literature."

    _Times._--"A venture which deserves encouragement."

    _Each Volume has an Introduction specially written by the Editor._

       Price, in paper covers, 2_s._ 6_d._ each, or cloth, 3_s._ 6_d._


IN GOD'S WAY. From the Norwegian of BJÖRNSTJERNE BJÖRNSON.

    _Athenæum._--"Without doubt the most important and the most
    interesting work published during the twelve months..... There are
    descriptions which certainly belong to the best and cleverest
    things our literature has ever produced. Amongst the many
    characters, the doctor's wife is unquestionably the first. It
    would be difficult to find anything more tender, soft, and refined
    than this charming personage."


PIERRE AND JEAN. From the French of GUY DE MAUPASSANT.

    _Pall Mall Gazette._--"So fine and faultless, so perfectly
    balanced, so steadily progressive, so clear and simple and
    satisfying. It is admirable from beginning to end."

    _Athenæum._--"Ranks amongst the best gems of modern French
    fiction."


THE CHIEF JUSTICE. From the German of KARL EMIL FRANZOS,
  Author of "For the Right," &c.

    _New Review._--"Few novels of recent times have a more sustained
    and vivid human interest."

    _Christian World._--"A story of wonderful power ... as free from
    anything objectionable as 'The Heart of Midlothian.'"


WORK WHILE YE HAVE THE LIGHT. From the Russian of Count LYOF TOLSTOY.

    _Liverpool Mercury._--"Marked by all the old power of the great
    Russian novelist."

    _Manchester Guardian._--"Readable and well translated; full of
    high and noble feeling."


FANTASY. From the Italian of MATILDE SERAO.

    _National Observer._--"The strongest work from the hand of a woman
    that has been published for many a day."

    _Scottish Leader._--"The book is full of a glowing and living
    realism.... There is nothing like 'Fantasy' in modern literature....
    It is a work of elfish art, a mosaic of light and love, of right
    and wrong, of human weakness and strength, and purity and wantonness,
    pieced together in deft and witching precision."


FROTH. From the Spanish of Don ARMANDO PALACIO-VALDÉS.

    _Daily Telegraph._--"Vigorous and powerful in the highest degree.
    It abounds in forcible delineation of character, and describes
    scenes with rare and graphic strength."


FOOTSTEPS OF FATE. From the Dutch of LOUIS COUPERUS.

    _Daily Chronicle._--"A powerfully realistic story which has been
    excellently translated."

    _Gentlewoman._--"The consummate art of the writer prevents this
    tragedy from sinking to melodrama. Not a single situation is
    forced or a circumstance exaggerated."


PEPITA JIMÉNEZ. From the Spanish of JUAN VALERA.

    _New Review_ (Mr. George Saintsbury):--"There is no doubt at all
    that it is one of the best stories that have appeared in any
    country in Europe for the last twenty years."


THE COMMODORE'S DAUGHTERS. From the Norwegian of JONAS LIE.

    _Athenæum._--"Everything that Jonas Lie writes is attractive and
    pleasant; the plot of deeply human interest, and the art noble."


THE HERITAGE OF THE KURTS. From the Norwegian of BJÖRNSTJERNE BJÖRNSON.

    _Pall Mall Gazette._--"A most fascinating as well as a powerful
    book."

    _National Observer._--"It is a book to read and a book to think
    about, for, incontestably, it is the work of a man of genius."


  _In the Press._

 LOU. From the German of BARON V. ROBERTS.

 DONA LUZ. From the Spanish of JUAN VALERA.

 WITHOUT DOGMA. From the Polish of H. SIENKIEWICZ.



_Popular 3s. 6d. Novels._

CAPT'N DAVY'S HONEYMOON, The Blind Mother, and The Last Confession.
  By HALL CAINE, Author of "The Bondman," "The Scapegoat," &c.

THE SCAPEGOAT. By HALL CAINE, Author of "The Bondman," &c.

    _Mr. Gladstone writes_:--"I congratulate you upon 'The Scapegoat'
    as a work of art, and especially upon the noble and skilfully
    drawn character of Israel."

    _Times._--"In our judgment it excels in dramatic force all his
    previous efforts. For grace and touching pathos Naomi is a
    character which any romancist in the world might be proud to have
    created."

THE BONDMAN. A New Saga. By HALL CAINE. Twentieth Thousand.

    _Mr. Gladstone._--"'The Bondman' is a work of which I recognise
    the freshness, vigour, and sustained interest no less than its
    integrity of aim."

    _Standard._--"Its argument is grand, and it is sustained with a
    power that is almost marvellous."


DESPERATE REMEDIES. By THOMAS HARDY, Author of "Tess of the
D'Urbervilles," &c.

    _Saturday Review._--"A remarkable story worked out with abundant
    skill."


A MARKED MAN: Some Episodes in his Life. By ADA CAMBRIDGE, Author of
"Two Years' Time," "A Mere Chance," &c.

    _Morning Post._--"A depth of feeling, a knowledge of the human
    heart, and an amount of tact that one rarely finds. Should take a
    prominent place among the novels of the season."


THE THREE MISS KINGS. By ADA CAMBRIDGE, Author of "A Marked Man."

    _Athenæum._--"A charming study of character. The love stories are
    excellent, and the author is happy in tender situations."


NOT ALL IN VAIN. By ADA CAMBRIDGE, Author of "A Marked Man," "The Three
Miss Kings," &c.

    _Guardian._--"A clever and absorbing story."

    _Queen._--"All that remains to be said is 'read the book.'"


UNCLE PIPER OF PIPER'S HILL. By TASMA. New Popular Edition.

    _Guardian._--"Every page of it contains good wholesome food, which
    demands and repays digestion. The tale itself is thoroughly
    charming, and all the characters are delightfully drawn. We
    strongly recommend all lovers of wholesome novels to make
    acquaintance with it themselves, and are much mistaken if
    they do not heartily thank us for the introduction."


IN THE VALLEY. By HAROLD FREDERIC, Author of "The Lawton Girl," "Seth's
Brother's Wife," &c. With Illustrations.

    _Times._--"The literary value of the book is high; the author's
    studies of bygone life presenting a life-like picture."


PRETTY MISS SMITH. By FLORENCE WARDEN, Author of "The House on the
Marsh," "A Witch of the Hills," &c.

    _Punch._--"Since Miss Florence Warden's 'House on the Marsh,' I
    have not read a more exciting tale."


NOR WIFE, NOR MAID. By Mrs. HUNGERFORD, Author of "Molly Bawn," &c.

    _Queen._--"It has all the characteristics of the writer's work,
    and greater emotional depth than most of its predecessors."

    _Scotsman._--"Delightful reading, supremely interesting."


MAMMON. A Novel. By Mrs. ALEXANDER, Author of "The Wooing O't," &c.

    _Scotsman._--"The present work is not behind any of its
    predecessors. 'Mammon' is a healthy story, and as it has been
    thoughtfully written it has the merit of creating thought in its
    readers."


DAUGHTERS OF MEN. By HANNAH LYNCH, Author of "The Prince of the Glades,"
&c.

    _Daily Telegraph._--"Singularly clever and fascinating."

    _Academy._--"One of the cleverest, if not also the pleasantest,
    stories that have appeared for a long time."


A ROMANCE OF THE CAPE FRONTIER. By BERTRAM MITFORD, Author of "Through
the Zulu Country," &c.

    _Observer._--"This is a rattling tale, genial, healthy, and
    spirited."

'TWEEN SNOW AND FIRE. A Tale of the Kafir War of 1877. By BERTRAM
MITFORD.


THE MASTER OF THE MAGICIANS. By ELIZABETH STUART PHELPS and HERBERT D.
WARD.

    _Athenæum._--"A thrilling story."


LOS CERRITOS. A Romance of the Modern Time. By GERTRUDE FRANKLIN
ATHERTON, Author of "Hermia Suydam," and "What Dreams may Come."

    _Athenæum._--"Full of fresh fancies and suggestions. Told with
    strength and delicacy. A decidedly charming romance."


A MODERN MARRIAGE. By the Marquise CLARA LANZA.

    _Queen._--"A powerful story, dramatically and consistently carried
    out."

    _Black and White._--"A decidedly clever book."



_Popular Shilling Books._


MADAME VALERIE. By F. C. PHILIPS, Author of "As in a Looking-Glass," &c.


THE MOMENT AFTER: A Tale of the Unseen. By ROBERT BUCHANAN.

    _Athenæum._--"Should be read--in daylight."

    _Observer._--"A clever _tour de force._"

    _Guardian._--"Particularly impressive, graphic, and powerful."


CLUES; or, Leaves from a Chief Constable's Note-Book.
  By WILLIAM HENDERSON, Chief Constable of Edinburgh.

    _Mr. Gladstone._--"I found the book full of interest."


A VERY STRANGE FAMILY. By F. W. ROBINSON, Author of "Grandmother's
Money," "Lazarus in London," &c.

    _Glasgow Herald._--"An ingeniously devised plot, of which the
    interest is kept up to the very last page. A judicious blending
    of humour and pathos further helps to make the book delightful
    reading from start to finish."



_Dramatic Literature._

THE PLAYS OF ARTHUR W. PINERO.

With Introductory Notes by MALCOLM C. SALAMAN. 16mo, Paper Covers, 1_s._
6_d._; or Cloth, 2_s._ 6_d._ each.


THE TIMES: A Comedy in Four Acts. With a Preface by the Author. (Vol. I.)

    _Daily Telegraph._--"'The Times' is the best example yet given of
    Mr. Pinero's power as a satirist. So clever is his work that it
    beats down opposition. So fascinating is his style that we cannot
    help listening to him."

    _Morning Post._--"Mr. Pinero's latest belongs to a high order of
    dramatic literature, and the piece will be witnessed again with
    all the greater zest after the perusal of such admirable
    dialogue."


THE PROFLIGATE: A Play in Four Acts. With Portrait of the Author, after
  J. MORDECAI. (Vol. II.)

    _Pall Mall Gazette._--"Will be welcomed by all who have the true
    interests of the stage at heart."


THE CABINET MINISTER: A Farce in Four Acts. (Vol. III.)

    _Observer._--"It is as amusing to read as it was when played."


THE HOBBY HORSE: A Comedy in Three Acts. (Vol. IV.)

    _St. James's Gazette._--"Mr. Pinero has seldom produced better or
    more interesting work than in 'The Hobby Horse.'"


LADY BOUNTIFUL. A Play in Four Acts. (Vol. V.)


THE MAGISTRATE. A Farce in Three Acts. (Vol. VI.)

    To be followed by Dandy Dick, The Schoolmistress, The Weaker Sex,
    Lords and Commons, The Squire, and Sweet Lavender.



  The Crown Copyright Series.

  _Crown 8vo, cloth extra, price 5s. each._

  ACCORDING TO ST. JOHN. By AMÉLIE RIVES, Author
  of "The Quick or the Dead."

  _Scotsman._--"... It has beauty and brightness, and a kind
  of fascination which carries the reader on till he has read to the
  last page."

  THE PENANCE OF PORTIA JAMES. By TASMA,
  Author of "Uncle Piper of Piper's Hill," &c.

  _Athenæum._--"A powerful novel."

  INCONSEQUENT LIVES. A Village Chronicle. By
  J. H. PEARCE, Author of "Esther Pentreath," &c.

  _Saturday Review._--"A vivid picture of the life of Cornish
  fisher-folk. It is unquestionably interesting."

  A QUESTION OF TASTE. By MAARTEN MAARTENS,
  Author of "An Old Maid's Love," &c.

  _National Observer._--"There is more than cleverness; there
  is original talent, and a good deal of humanity besides."

  COME LIVE WITH ME AND BE MY LOVE. By
  ROBERT BUCHANAN, Author of "The Moment After,"
  "The Coming Terror," &c.

  _Daily Telegraph._--"We will conclude this brief notice by
  expressing our cordial admiration of the skill displayed in its
  construction, and the genial humanity that has inspired its
  author in the shaping and vitalising of the individuals created
  by his fertile imagination."

  VANITAS. By VERNON LEE, Author of "Hauntings," &c.

  THE O'CONNORS OF BALLINAHINCH. By Mrs.
  HUNGERFORD, Author of "Molly Bawn," &c.

  A BATTLE AND A BOY. By BLANCHE WILLIS
  HOWARD, Author of "Guenn," &c.


  LONDON: WILLIAM HEINEMANN,
  21 BEDFORD STREET, W.C.





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