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Title: Sinister Street, vol. 2
Author: MacKenzie, Compton, 1883-1972
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 "Sinister Street, vol. 2" ***

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produced from scanned images of public domain material


SINISTER STREET

BY

COMPTON MACKENZIE

AUTHOR OF "CARNIVAL," "YOUTH'S ENCOUNTER," ETC.

NEW YORK

D. APPLETON AND COMPANY

1919

COPYRIGHT, 1914, BY D. APPLETON AND COMPANY



CONTENTS

BOOK ONE

DREAMING SPIRES

CHAPTER                           PAGE

I. THE FIRST DAY 3

II. THE FIRST WEEK                  32

III. THE FIRST TERM                 47

IV. CHEYNE WALK                     63

V. YOUTH'S DOMINATION               84

VI. GRAY AND BLUE                  110

VII. VENNER'S                      143

VIII. THE OXFORD LOOKING-GLASS     165

IX. THE LESSON OF SPAIN            183

X. STELLA IN OXFORD                209

XI. SYMPATHY                       225

XII. 202 HIGH                      245

XIII. PLASHERS MEAD                269

XIV. 99 ST. GILES                  288

XV. THE LAST TERM                  308

XVI. THE LAST WEEK                 319

XVII. THE LAST DAY                 333


BOOK TWO

ROMANTIC EDUCATION

CHAPTER                           PAGE

I. OSTIA DITIS                     349

II. NEPTUNE CRESCENT               371

III. THE CAFÉ D'ORANGE             401

IV. LEPPARD STREET                 427

V. THE INNERMOST CIRCLE            481

VI. TINDERBOX LANE                 496

VII. THE GATE OF IVORY             552

VIII. SEEDS OF POMEGRANATE         583

IX. THE GATE OF HORN               602

X. THE OLD WORLD                   652

EPILOGICAL LETTER TO
JOHN NICOLAS MAVROGORADATO         655



BOOK ONE

DREAMING SPIRES

    Bright memories of young poetic pleasure
      In free companionship, the loving stress
    Of all life-beauty, lull'd in studious leisure,
      When every Muse was jocund with excess
      Of fine delight and tremulous happiness;
    The breath of an indolent unbridled June,
    When delicate thought fell from the dreamy moon:
      But now strange care, sorrow, and grief oppress.

      ROBERT BRIDGES.



CHAPTER I

THE FIRST DAY


Michael felt glad to think he would start the adventure of Oxford from
Paddington. The simplicity of that railway station might faintly
mitigate alarms which no amount of previous deliberation could entirely
disperse. He remembered how once he had lightly seen off a Cambridge
friend from Liverpool Street and, looking back at the suburban tumult of
the Great Eastern Railway, he was grateful for the simplicity of
Paddington.

Michael had been careful that all his heavy luggage should be sent in
advance; and he had shown himself gravely exacting toward Alan in this
matter of luggage, writing several times to remind him of his promise
not to appear on the platform with more than a portmanteau of moderate
size and a normal kit-bag. Michael hoped this precaution would prevent
at any rate the porters from commenting upon the freshness of him and
his friend.

"Oxford train?" inquired a porter, as the hansom pulled up. Michael
nodded, and made up his mind to show his esteem when he tipped this
promethean.

"Third class?" the porter went on. Michael mentally doubled the tip, for
he had neglected to assure himself beforehand about the etiquette of
class, and nothing could have suited so well his self-consciousness as
this information casually yielded.

"Let me see, you didn't have any golf-clubs, did you, sir?" asked the
porter.

Michael shook his head regretfully, for as he looked hurriedly up and
down the platform in search of Alan, he perceived golf-clubs everywhere,
and when at last he saw him, actually even he had a golf-bag slung over
his shoulder.

"I never knew you played golf," said Michael indignantly.

"I don't. These are the governor's. He's given up playing," Alan
explained.

"Are you going to play?" Michael pursued. He was feeling rather envious
of the appearance of these veteran implements.

"I may have a shot," Alan admitted.

"You might have told me you were going to bring them," Michael grumbled.

"My dear old ass, I never knew I was, until the governor wanged them
into my lap just as I was starting."

Michael turned aside and bought a number of papers, far too many for the
short journey. Indeed, all the way they lay on the rack unregarded,
while the train crossed and recrossed the silver Thames. At first he was
often conscious of the other undergraduates in the compartment, who
seemed to be eying him with a puzzled contempt; but very soon, when he
perceived that this manner of looking at one's neighbor was general, he
became reconciled to the attitude and ascribed it to a habit of mind
rather than to the expression of any individual distaste. Then suddenly,
as Michael was gazing out of the window, the pearly sky broke into
spires and pinnacles and domes and towers. He caught his breath for one
bewitched moment, before he busied himself with the luggage on the rack.

On the platform Michael and Alan decided to part company, as neither of
them felt sure enough whether St. Mary's or Christ Church were nearer to
the station to risk a joint hansom.

"Shall I come and see you this afternoon?" Michael rashly offered.

"Oh, rather," Alan agreed, and they turned away from one another to
secure their cabs.

All the time that Michael was driving to St. Mary's, he was regretting
he had not urged Alan to visit him first. A growing sensation of shy
dread was making him vow that once safe in his own rooms at St. Mary's
nothing should drag him forth again that day. What on earth would he say
when he arrived at the college? Would he have to announce himself? How
would he find his rooms? On these points he had pestered several Old
Jacobeans now at Oxford, but none of them could remember the precise
ceremonies of arrival. Michael leaned back in the hansom and cursed
their inefficient memories.

Then the cab pulled up by the St. Mary's lodge, and events proceeded
with unexpected rapidity. A cheerful man with red hair and a round face
welcomed his luggage. The cabman was paid the double of his correct
fare, and to Michael's relief drove off instantly. From a sort of glass
case that filled half the interior of the lodge somebody very much like
a family butler inquired richly who Michael was.

"Mr. C. M. S. Fane?" rolled out the unctuous man.

Michael nodded.

"Is there another Fane?" he asked curiously.

"No, sir," said the head porter, and the negative came out with the
sound of a drawn cork. "No, sir, but I wished to hessateen if I had your
initials down correct in my list. Mr. C. M. S. Fane," he went on,
looking at a piece of paper. "St. Cuthbert's. Four. Two pair right. Your
servant is Porcher. Your luggage has arrived, and perhaps you'll settle
with me presently. Henry will show you to your rooms. Henry! St.
Cuthbert's. Four. Two pair right."

The red-headed under-porter picked up Michael's bag, and Michael was
preparing to follow him at once, when the unctuous man held up a warning
hand. Then he turned to look into a large square pigeon-hole labeled
Porcher.

"These letters are for you, sir," he explained pompously. Michael took
them, and in a dream followed Henry under a great gothic gateway, and
along a gravel path. In a doorway numbered IV, Henry stopped and shouted
"Porcher!" From an echoing vault came a cry in answer, and the scout
appeared.

"One of your gentlemen arrived," said Henry. "Mr. Fane." Then he touched
his cap and retired.

"Any more luggage in the lodge, sir?" Porcher asked.

"Not much," said Michael apologetically.

"There's a nice lot of stuff in your rooms," Porcher informed him. "Come
in yesterday morning, it did."

They were mounting the stone stairway, and on each of the floors Michael
was made mechanically aware by a printed notice above a water-tap that
no slops must be emptied there. This prohibition stuck in his mind
somehow as the first ascetic demand of the university.

"These are your rooms, sir, and when you want me, you'll shout, of
course. I'm just unpacking Mr. Lonsdale's wine."

Michael was conscious of pale October sunlight upon the heaped-up
packing-cases; he was conscious of the unnatural brilliancy of the fire
in the sunlight; he was conscious that life at Oxford was conducted with
much finer amenities than life at school. Simultaneously he was aware of
a loneliness; yet as he once more turned to survey his room, it was a
fleeting loneliness which quickly perished in the satisfaction of a
privacy that hitherto he had never possessed. He turned into the
bedroom, and looked out across the quad, across the rectangle of vivid
green grass, across the Warden's garden with its faint gaiety of
autumnal flowers and tufted gray walls, and beyond to where the elms of
the deer-park were massed against the thin sky and the deer moved in
leisurely files about the spare sunlight.

It did not take Michael long to arrange his clothes; and then the
problem of undoing the packing-cases presented itself. A hammer would be
necessary, and a chisel. He must shout for Porcher. Shouting in the
tremulous peace of this October morning would inevitably attract more
attention to himself than would be pleasant, and he postponed the
summons in favor of an examination of his letters. One after another he
opened them, and every one was the advertisement of a tailor or
hairdresser or tobacconist. The tailors were the most insistent; they
even went so far as to announce that representatives would call upon him
at his pleasure. Michael made up his mind to order his cap and gown
after lunch. Lunch! How should he obtain lunch? Where should he obtain
lunch? When should he obtain lunch? Obviously there must be some precise
manner of obtaining lunch, some ritual consecrated by generations of St.
Mary's men. The loneliness came back triumphant, and plunged him
dejectedly down into a surprisingly deep wicker-chair. The fire crackled
in the silence, and the problem of lunch remained insoluble. The need
for Porcher's advice became more desperate. Other freshmen before him
must have depended upon their scout's experience. He began to practice
calling Porcher in accents so low that they acquired a tender and
reproachful significance. Michael braced himself for the performance
after these choked and muffled rehearsals, and went boldly out on to the
stone landing. An almost entranced silence held the staircase, a
silence that he could not bring himself to violate. On the door of the
rooms opposite he read his neighbor's name--_Mackintosh_. He wished he
knew whether Mackintosh were a freshman. It would be delightful to make
him share the responsibility of summoning Porcher from his task of
arranging Lonsdale's wine. And who was Lonsdale? _No slops must be
emptied here! Mackintosh! Fane!_ Here were three announcements hinting
at humanity in a desolation of stillness. Michael reading his own name
gathered confidence and a volume of breath, leaned over the stone
parapet of the landing and, losing all his courage in a sigh, decided to
walk downstairs and take his chance of meeting Porcher on the way.

On the floor beneath Michael read _Bannerman_ over the left-hand door
and _Templeton-Collins_ over the right-hand door. While he was pondering
the personality and status of Templeton-Collins, presumably the
gentleman himself appeared, stared at Michael very deliberately, came
forward and, leaning over the parapet, yelled in a voice that combined
rage, protest, disappointment and appeal with the maximum of sound:
"Porcher!" After which, Templeton-Collins again stared very deliberately
at Michael and retired into his room, while Michael hurried down to
intercept the scout, hoping his dismay at Templeton-Collins' impatience
would not be too great to allow him to pay a moment's attention to
himself.

However, on the ground floor the silence was still unbroken, and
hopelessly Michael read over the right-hand door _Amherst_, over the
left-hand door _Lonsdale_. What critical moment had arrived in the
unpacking of Lonsdale's wine to make the scout so heedless of
Templeton-Collins' call? Again it resounded from above, and Michael
looking up involuntarily, caught the downward glance of
Templeton-Collins himself.

"I say, is Porcher down there?" the latter asked fretfully.

"I think he's unpacking Lonsdale's wine."

"Who's Lonsdale?" demanded Templeton-Collins. "You might sing out and
tell him I want him."

With this request Templeton-Collins vanished, leaving Michael in a
quandary. There was only one hope of relieving the intolerable
situation, he thought, which was to shout "Porcher" from where he was
standing. This he did at the very moment the scout emerged from
Lonsdale's rooms.

"Coming, sir," said Porcher in an aggrieved voice.

"I think Mr. Templeton-Collins is calling you," Michael explained,
rather lamely he felt, since it must have been obvious to the scout that
Michael himself had been calling him.

"And I say," he added hurriedly, "you might bring me up a hammer or
something to open my boxes, when you've done."

Leaving Porcher to appease the outraged Templeton-Collins, Michael
retreated to the security of his own rooms, where in a few minutes the
scout appeared to raise the question of lunch.

"Will you take commons, sir?"

Michael looked perplexed.

"Commons is bread and cheese. Most of my gentlemen takes commons. If you
want anything extra, you go to the kitchen and write your name down for
what you want."

This sounded too difficult, and Michael gratefully chose commons.

"Ale, sir?"

Michael nodded. If the scout had suggested champagne, he would have
assented immediately.

Porcher set to work and undid the cases; he also explained where the
china was kept and the wood and the coal. He expounded the theory of
roll-calls and chapels, and was indeed so generous with information on
every point of college existence that Michael would have been glad to
retain his services for the afternoon.

"And the other men on this staircase?" Michael asked, "are any of them
freshers?"

"Mr. Mackintosh, Mr. Amherst, and the Honorable Lonsdale is all
freshmen. Mr. Templeton-Collins and Mr. Bannerman is second year. Mr.
Templeton-Collins had the rooms on the ground floor last term. Very
noisy gentleman. Very fond of practicing with a coach-horn. And he don't
improve," said Porcher meditatively.

"Do you mean on the coach-horn?" Michael asked.

"Don't improve in the way of noise. Noise seems to regular delight him.
He'd shout the head off of a deaf man. Did you bring any wine, sir?"

Michael shook his head.

"Mr. Lonsdale brought too much. Too much. It's easier to order it as you
want it from the Junior Common Room. Anything else, sir?"

Michael tried to think of something to detain for a while the voluble
service of Porcher, but as he seemed anxious to be gone, he confessed
there was nothing.

Left alone again, Michael began to unpack his pictures. Somehow those
black and red scenes of Montmartre and the landscapes of the Sussex
downs with a slight atmosphere of Japan seemed to him unsatisfactory in
this new room, and he hung them forthwith in his bedroom. For his
sitting-room he resolved to buy certain pictures that for a long time he
had coveted--Mona Lisa and Primavera and Rembrandt's Knight in Armor and
Montegna's St. George. Those other relics of faded and jejune
aspirations would label him too definitely. People would see them
hanging on his walls and consider him a decadent. Michael did not wish
to be labeled in his first term. Oxford promised too much of
intellectual romance and adventure for him to set out upon his Odyssey
with the stepping-stones of dead tastes hung round his neck. Oxford
should be approached with a stainless curiosity. Already he felt that
she would only yield her secret in return for absolute surrender. This
the grave city demanded.

After his pictures Michael unpacked his books. The deep shelves set in
the wall beside the fireplace looked alluring in their emptiness, but
when he had set out in line all the books he possessed, they seemed a
scanty and undistinguished crowd. The pirated American edition of
Swinburne alone carried itself with an air: the Shelley and the Keats
were really editions better suited to the glass and gloom of a seaside
lodging: the school-books looked like trippers usurping the gothic
grandeur of these shelves. Moreover, the space was eked out with
tattered paper editions that with too much room at their disposal
collapsed with an appearance of ill-favored intoxication. Michael
examined his possessions in critical discontent. They seemed to
symbolize the unpleasant crudity of youth. In the familiar surroundings
of childhood they had seemed on the contrary to testify to his maturity.
Now at Oxford he felt most abominably young again, yet he was able to
console himself with the thought that youth would be no handicap among
his peers. He took down the scenes of Montmartre even from the walls of
his bedroom and pushed them ignominiously out of sight under the bed.

Michael abandoned the contemplation of his possessions, and looked out
of his sitting-room window at the High. There was something salutary in
the jangle of the trams, in the vision of ordinary people moving
unconsciously about the academic magnificence of Oxford. An
undergraduate with gown wrapped carelessly round his neck flashed past
on a bicycle, and Michael was discouraged by the sense of his diabolic
ease. The luxury of his own rooms, the conviction of his new
independence, the excitement of an undiscovered life all departed from
him, and he was left with nothing but a loneliness more bitter even than
when at Randell House he had first encountered school.

Porcher came in presently with lunch, and the commons of bread and
cheese with the ale foaming in a silver tankard added the final touch to
Michael's depression. He thought that nothing in the world, could
express the spirit of loneliness so perfectly as a sparse lunch laid for
one on a large table. He wandered away from its melancholy invitation
into the bedroom and looked sadly down into the quad. In every doorway
stood knots of senior men talking: continually came new arrivals to hail
familiarly their friends after the vacation: scouts hurried to and fro
with trays of food: from window to window gossip, greetings,
appointments were merrily shouted. Michael watched this scene of
intimate movement played against the background of elms and gray walls.
The golden fume of the October weather transcended somehow all
impermanence, and he felt with a sudden springing of imagination that so
had this scene been played before, that so forever would it be played
for generations to come. Yet for him as yet outside the picture
remained, fortunately less eternal, that solitary lunch. He ate it
hurriedly and as soon as he had finished set out to find Alan at Christ
Church.

Freedom came back with the elation of walking up the High; and in the
Christ Church lodge Michael was able to ask without a blush for Alan's
rooms. The great space of Tom quad by absorbing his self-consciousness
allowed him to feel himself an unit of the small and decorative
population that enhanced the architecture there. The scattered, groups
of friends whose voices became part of the very air itself like the
wings of the pigeons and the perpetual tapping of footsteps, the two
dons treading in slow confabulation that wide flagged terrace, even
himself were here forever. Michael captured again in that moment the
crystallized vision of Oxford which had first been vouchsafed to him
long ago by that old print of St. Mary's tower. He turned reluctantly
away from Tom quad, and going on to seek Alan in Meadows, by mistake
found himself in Peckwater. A tall fair undergraduate was standing alone
in the center of the quad, cracking a whip. Suddenly Michael realized
that his father had been at Christ Church; and this tall fair
whip-cracker served for him as the symbol of his father. He must have
often stood here so, cracking a whip; and Michael never came into
Peckwater without recreating him so occupied on a fine autumn afternoon,
whip in hand, very tall and very fair in the glinting sunlight.

Dreams faded out, when Michael ran up the staircase to Alan's rooms; but
he was full-charged again with all that suppressed intellectual
excitement which he had counted upon finding in Oxford, but which he had
failed to find until the wide tranquillity of Tom quad had given him, as
it were, the benediction of the University.

"Hullo, Alan!" he cried. "How are you getting on? I say, why do they
stick 'Mr.' in front of your name over the door? At St. Mary's we drop
the 'Mr.' or any other sort of title. Aren't you unpacked _yet?_ You are
a slacker. Look here, I want you to come out with me at once. I've got
to get some more picture-wire and a gown and a picture of Mona Lisa."

"Mona how much?" said Alan.

"La Gioconda, you ass."

"Sorry, my mistake," said Alan.

"And I saw some rattling book-shops as I came up the High," Michael went
on. "What did you have for lunch? I had bread and cheese--commons we
call it at St. Mary's. I say, I think I'm glad I don't have to wear a
scholar's gown."

"I'm an exhibitioner," said Alan.

"Well, it's the same thing. I like a commoner's gown best. Where did you
get that tea-caddy? I don't believe I've got one. Pretty good view from
your window. Mine looks out on the High."

"Look here," asked Alan very solemnly, "where shall I hang this picture
my mater gave me?"

He displayed in a green frame The Soul's Awakening.

"Do you like it?" Michael asked gloomily.

"I prefer these grouse by Thorburn that the governor gave me, but I like
them both in a way," Alan admitted.

"I don't think it much matters where you hang it," Michael said. Then,
thinking Alan looked rather hurt, he added hastily: "You see it's such a
very square room that practically it might go anywhere."

"Will you have a meringue?" Alan asked, proffering a crowded plate.

"A meringue?" Michael repeated.

"We're rather famous for our meringues here," said Alan gravely. "We
make them in the kitchen. I ordered a double lot in case you came in."

"You seem to have found out a good deal about Christ Church already,"
Michael observed.

"The House," Alan corrected. "We call it--in fact everybody calls it the
House."

Michael was inclined to resent this arrogation by a college not his own
of a distinct and slightly affected piece of nomenclature, and he wished
he possessed enough knowledge of his own peculiar college customs to
counter Alan's display.

"Well, hurry up and come out of the House," he urged. "You can't stay
here unpacking all the afternoon."

"Why do you want to start buying things straight away?" Alan argued.

"Because I know what I want," Michael insisted.

"Since when?" Alan demanded. "I'm not going to buy anything for a bit."

"Come on, come on," Michael urged. He was in a hurry to enjoy the luxury
of traversing the quads of Christ Church in company, of strolling down
the High in company, of looking into shop windows in company, of finally
defeating that first dismal loneliness with Alan and his company.

It certainly proved to be a lavish afternoon. Michael bought three
straight-grained pipes so substantially silvered that they made his own
old pipes take on an attenuated vulgarity. He bought an obese tobacco
jar blazoned with the arms of his college and, similarly blazoned, a
protuberant utensil for matches. He bought numerous ounces of those
prodigally displayed mixtures of tobacco, every one of which was vouched
for by the vendor as in its own way the perfect blend. He bought his cap
and his gown and was measured by the tailor for a coat of Harris tweed
such as everybody seemed to wear. He found the very autotype of Mona
Lisa he coveted, and farther he was persuaded by the picture-dealer to
buy for two guineas a signed proof of a small copperplate engraving of
the Primavera. This expenditure frightened him from buying any more
pictures that afternoon and seemed a violent and sudden extravagance.
However, he paid a visit to the Bank where, after signing his name
several times, he was presented with a check book. In order to be
perfectly sure he knew how to draw a check, he wrote one then and there,
and the five sovereigns the clerk shoveled out as irreverently as if
they were chocolate creams, made him feel that his new check-book was
the purse of Fortunatus.

Michael quickly recovered from the slight feeling of guilt that the
purchase of the Botticelli print had laid upon his conscience, and in
order to assert his independence in the face of Alan's continuous
dissuasion, he bought a hookah, a miniature five-barred gate for a
pipe-rack, a mother-of-pearl cigarette-holder which he dropped on the
pavement outside the shop and broke in pieces, and finally seven ties of
knitted silk.

By this time Michael and Alan had reached the Oriental Café in
Cornmarket Street; and since it was now five o'clock and neither of them
felt inclined to accept the responsibility of inviting the other back to
tea, they went into the café and ate a quantity of hot buttered toast
and parti-colored cakes. The only thing that marred their enjoyment and
faintly disturbed their equanimity was the entrance of three exquisitely
untidy undergraduates who stood for a moment in the doorway and surveyed
first the crowded café in general, and then more particularly Michael
and Alan with an expression of outraged contempt. After a prolonged
stare one of them exclaimed in throaty scorn:

"Oh, god, the place is chock full of damned freshers!"

Whereupon he and his companions strode out again.

Michael and Alan looked at each other abashed. The flavor had departed
from the tea: the brilliant hues of the cakes had paled: the waitress
seemed to have become suddenly critical and haughty. Michael and Alan
paid their bill and went out.

"Are you coming back to my rooms?" Michael asked. Yet secretly he half
hoped that Alan would refuse. Dusk was falling, and he was anxious to be
alone while the twilight wound itself about this gray city.

Alan said he wanted to finish unpacking, and Michael left him quickly,
promising to meet him again to-morrow.

Michael did not wander far in that dusk of fading spires and towers, for
a bookshop glowing like a jewel in the gloom of an ancient street lured
him within. It was empty save for the owner, a low-voiced man with a
thin pointed beard who as he stood there among his books seemed to
Michael strangely in tune with his romantic surroundings, as much in
tune as some old painting by Vandyck would have seemed leaning against
the shelves of books.

A little wearily, almost cynically, Mr. Lampard bade Michael good
evening.

"May I look round?" Michael asked.

The bookseller nodded.

"Just come up?" he inquired.

"To-day," Michael confessed.

"And what sort of books are you interested in?"

"All books," said Michael.

"This set of Pater for instance," the bookseller suggested, handing
Michael a volume bound in thick sea-green cloth and richly stamped with
a golden monogram. "Nine volumes. Seven pounds ten, or six pounds
fifteen cash." This information he added in a note of disdainful
tolerance.

Michael shook his head and looked amused by the offer.

"Of course, nobody really cares for books nowadays," Mr. Lampard went
on. "In the early 'nineties it was different. Then everybody cared for
books."

Michael resented this slur upon the generation to which he belonged.

"Seven pounds ten," he repeated doubtfully. How well those solid
sea-green volumes would become the stately bookshelves of his room.

"What college?" asked Mr. Lampard. "St. Mary's? Ah, there used to be
some great buyers there. Let me see, Lord William Vaughan, the Marquis
of Montgomery's son, was at St. Mary's, and Mr. Richard Meysey. I
published his first volume of poems--of course, you've read his books.
He was at St. Mary's. Then there was Mr. Chalfont and Mr. Weymouth.
You've heard of The Patchbox? I still have some copies of the first
number, but they're getting very scarce. All St. Mary's men and all
great book buyers. But Oxford has changed in the last few years. I
really don't know why I go on selling books, or rather why I go on not
selling them."

Mr. Lampard laughed and twisted his beard with fingers that were very
thin and white. Outside in the darkness a footfall echoed along some
entry. The sound gave to Michael a sense of communion with the past, and
the ghosts of bygone loiterers were at his elbow.

"Perhaps after all I will take the Pater," he said. "Only I may not be
able to pay you this term."

The bookseller smiled.

"I don't think I shall worry you. Do you know this set--Boccaccio,
Rabelais, Straparola, Masuccio, etc. Eleven guineas bound in watered
silk. They'll always keep their price, and of course all the
photogravures are included."

"All right. You might send them too."

Michael could not resist the swish of the watered silk as Volume One of
the Decameron was put back into its vacancy. And as he hurried down to
College the thought that he had spent nineteen pounds one shilling
scarcely weighed against the imagination of lamplight making luminous
those silken backs of faded blue and green and red and gold, against
those silk markers and the consciousness that now at last he was a buyer
of books, a buyer whose spirit would haunt that bookshop. He had
certainly never regretted the seventeen-and-sixpence he had spent on the
pirated works of Swinburne, and then he was a wretched schoolboy
balanced on the top of a ladder covetous of unattainable splendors, a
pitiable cipher in the accounts of Elson's bookshop. At Lampard's he was
already a personality.

All that so far happened to Michael not merely in one day at Oxford, but
really during his whole life was for its embarrassment nothing in
comparison with the first dinner in hall. As he walked through the
Cloisters and heard all about him the burble of jolly and familiar
conversation, he shuddered to think what in a minute he must face. The
list of freshmen, pinned up on the board in the Lodge, was a
discouraging document to those isolated members of public schools other,
than Eton, Winchester, Harrow or Charterhouse. These four seemed to have
produced all but six or seven of the freshmen. Eton alone was
responsible for half the list. What chance, thought Michael, could he
stand against such an impenetrable phalanx of conversation as was bound
to ensue from such a preponderance? However, he was by now at the top of
the steps that led up to hall, and a mild old butler was asking his
name.

"You'll be at the second freshmen's table. On the right, sir. Mr.
Wedderburn is at the head of your table, sir."

Michael was glad to find his table at the near end of hall, and
hurriedly taking his seat, almost dived into the soup that was quickly
placed before him. He did not venture to open a conversation with either
of his neighbors, but stared instead at the freshman occupying the
armchair at the head of the table, greatly impressed by his judicial
gravity of demeanor, his neat bulk and the profundity of his voice.

"How do you become head of a table?" Michael's left-hand neighbor
suddenly asked.

Michael said he really did not know.

"Because what I'm wondering," the left-hand neighbor continued, "is why
they've made that ass Wedderburn head of our table."

"Why, is he an ass?" Michael inquired.

"Frightful ass," continued the left-hand neighbor, whom Michael
perceived to be a small round-faced youth, very fair and very pink.
"Perfectly harmless, of course. Are you an Harrovian?"

Michael shook his head.

"I thought you were a cousin of my mother," said the left-hand neighbor.

Michael looked astonished.

"His name's Mackintosh. What's your name?"

Michael told him.

"My name's Lonsdale. I think we're on the same staircase--so's
Mackintosh. It's a pity he's an Harrovian, but I promised my mother I'd
look him up."

Then, after surveying the table, Lonsdale went on in a confidential
undertone:

"I don't mind telling you that the Etonians up here are a pretty poor
lot. There are two chaps from my house who are not so bad--in fact
rather good eggs--but the rest! Well, look at that ass Wedderburn. He's
typical."

"I think he looks rather a good sort," said Michael.

"My dear chap, he was absolutely barred. M' tutor used to like him, but
really--well--I don't mind telling you, he's really an æsthete."

With this shocked condemnation, Lonsdale turned to his other neighbor
and said in his jerky and somewhat mincing voice that was perfectly
audible to Michael:

"I say, Tommy, this man on my right isn't half bad. I don't know where
he comes from, His name's Fane."

"He's from St. James'."

"Where on earth's that?"

"London."

"Why, I thought it was a kind of charity school," said Lonsdale. Then he
turned to Michael again:

"I say, are you really from St. James'?"

Michael replied coldly that he was.

"I say, come and have coffee with me after hall. One or two O. E.'s are
coming in, but you won't mind?"

"Why, do you want to find out something about St. James'?" demanded
Michael, frowning.

"Oh, I say, don't be ratty. It's that ass Tommy. He always talks at the
top of his voice."

Lonsdale, as he spoke, looked so charmingly apologetic and displayed
such accomplished sang-froid that Michael forgave him immediately and
promised to come to coffee.

"Good egg!" Lonsdale exclaimed with the satisfaction of having smoothed
over an awkward place. "I say," he offered, "if you'd like to meet
Wedderburn, I'll ask him, too. He seems to have improved since he's been
up at the Varsity. Don't you think that fat man Wedderburn has improved,
Tommy?"

Tommy nodded.

"One day's done him no end of good."

"I say," Lonsdale offered, "you haven't met Fane. Mr. Fane--Mr.
Grainger. I was just saying to Fane that the Etonians are a rotten lot
this term."

"One or two are all right," Grainger admitted with evident reluctance.

"Well, perhaps two," Lonsdale agreed. "This dinner isn't bad, what?"

By this time the conversation at the table had become more general, and
Michael gradually realized that some of the alarm he had felt himself
had certainly been felt by his companions. Now at any rate there was a
perceptible relaxation of tension. Still the conversation was only
general in so much as that whenever anybody spoke, the rest of the
table listened. The moment the flow of his information dried up,
somebody else began pumping forth instruction. These slightly nervous
little lectures were delivered without any claim to authority and they
came up prefaced by the third person of legendary narrative.

"They say we shall all have to interview the Warden to-morrow."

"They say on Sunday afternoon the Wagger makes the same speech to the
freshers that he's made for twenty years."

"They say we ought to go head of the river this year."

"They say the freshers are expected to make a bonner on Sunday night."

"They say any one can have commons of bread and cheese by sending out
word to the buttery. It's really included in the two-and-fourpence for
dinner."

"They say they charge a penny for the napkin every night."

So the information proceeded, and Michael had just thought to himself
that going up to Oxford was very much like going to school again, when
from the second-year tables crashed the sound of a concerted sneeze. The
dons from high table looked coldly down the hall, expressing a vague,
but seemingly impotent disapproval, for immediately afterward that
sternutation shook the air a second time.

Michael thought the difference between school and Oxford might be
greater than he had supposed.

The slowest eater at the second freshmen's table had nervously left half
his savory; Wedderburn without apparent embarrassment had received the
Sub-Warden's permission to rise from dinner; Lonsdale hurriedly
marshaled as many of his acquaintances as he could, and in a large and
noisy group they swarmed through the moonlight toward his rooms.

Michael was interested by Lonsdale's sitting-room, for he divined at
once that it was typical, just a transplanted Eton study with the
addition of smoking paraphernalia. The overmantel was plumed with small
photographs of pleasant young creatures in the gay nautical costumes of
the Fourth of June and festooned hats of Alexandra or Monarch, of the
same pleasant young creatures at an earlier and chubbier age, of the
same pleasant young creatures with penciled mustaches and the white
waistcoat of Pop. In addition to their individual commemorations the
pleasant young creatures would appear again in house groups, in winning
house elevens, and most exquisitely of all in Eton Society. Michael
always admired the photographs of Pop, for they seemed to him to
epitomize all the traditions of all the public-schools of England, to
epitomize them moreover with something of that immortality of captured
action expressed by great Athenian sculpture. In comparison with Pop the
Harrow Philathletic Society was a barbarous group, with all the
self-consciousness of a deliberate archaism. Besides the personal
photographs in Lonsdale's room there were studies of grouse by Thorburn;
and Michael, remembering Alan's grouse, felt in accord with Lonsdale and
with all that Lonsdale stood for. Knowing Alan, he felt that he knew
Lonsdale, and at once he became more at ease with all his contemporaries
in Lonsdale's room. Michael looked at the colored prints of Cecil
Aldin's pictures and made up his mind he would buy a set for Alan: also
possibly he would buy for Alan the Sir Galahad of Watts which was rather
better than The Soul's Awakening.

After Lonsdale's pictures Michael surveyed Lonsdale's books, the
brilliantly red volumes of Jorrocks, the two or three odd volumes of the
Badminton library, and the school books tattered and ink-splashed. More
interesting than such a library were the glossy new briars, the virgin
meerschaum, the patent smoking-tables and another table evidently
designed to make drinking easy, but by reason of the complexity of its
machinery actually more likely to discourage one forever from
refreshment. The rest of the space, apart from the furniture bequeathed
by the noisy Templeton-Collins when he moved to larger rooms above, was
crowded with the freshmen whom after hall Lonsdale had so hastily
gathered together unassorted.

"I ordered coffee for sixteen," announced the host. "I thought it would
be quicker than making it in a new machine that my sister gave me. It
just makes enough for three, and the only time I tried, it took about an
hour to do that ... who'll drink port?"

Michael thought the scout's prophecies about the superfluity of
Lonsdale's wine were rather premature, for it seemed that everybody
intended to drink port.

"I believe this is supposed to be rather good port," said Lonsdale.

"It is jolly good," several connoisseurs echoed.

"I don't know much about it myself. But my governor's supposed to be
rather a judge. He said 'this is wasted on you and your friends, but I
haven't got any bad wine to give you.'"

Here everybody held up their glasses against the light, took another sip
and murmured their approval.

"Do you think this is a good wine, Fane?" demanded Lonsdale, thereby
drawing so much attention to Michael that he blushed to nearly as deep a
color as the port itself.

"I like it very much," Michael said.

"Do you like it, Wedderburn?" asked Lonsdale, turning to the freshman
who had sat in the armchair at the head of the second table.

"Damned good wine," pronounced Wedderburn in a voice so rich with
appreciation and so deep with judgment that he immediately established a
reputation for worldly knowledge, and from having been slightly derided
at Eton for his artistic ambitions was ever afterward respected and
consulted. Michael envied his air of authority, but trembled for
Wedderburn's position when he heard him reproach Lonsdale for his lack
of any good pictures.

"You might stick up one that can be looked at for more than two
seconds," Wedderburn said severely.

"What sort of picture?" asked Lonsdale.

"Primavera, for instance," Wedderburn suggested, and Michael's heart
beat in sympathy.

"Never heard of the horse," Lonsdale answered. "Who owned her?"

"My god," Wedderburn rumbled, "I'll take you to buy one to-morrow,
Lonny. You deserve it after that."

"Right-O!" Lonsdale cheerfully agreed. "Only I don't want my room to
look like the Academy, you know."

Wedderburn shook his head in benevolent contempt, and the conversation
was deflected from Lonsdale's artistic education by a long-legged
Wykehamist with crisp chestnut hair and a thin florid face of dimpling
smiles.

"Has anybody been into Venner's yet?" he asked.

"I have," proclaimed a dumpy Etonian whose down-curving nose hung over a
perpetually open mouth. "Marjoribanks took me in just before hall. But
he advised me not to go in by myself yet awhile."

"The second-year men don't like it," agreed the long-legged Wykehamist
with a wise air. "They say one can begin to go in occasionally in one's
third term."

"What is Venner's?" Michael asked.

"Don't you know?" sniffed the dumpy Etonian who had already managed to
proclaim his friendship with Marjoribanks, the President of the Junior
Common Room, and therefore presumably had the right to open his mouth a
little wider than usual at Michael.

"I'm not quite sure myself," said Lonsdale quickly. "I vote that Cuffe
explains."

"I'm not going to explain," Cuffe protested, and for some minutes his
mouth was tightly closed.

"Isn't it just a sort of special part of the J. C. R.?" suggested the
smiling Wykehamist, who seemed to wish to make it pleasant for
everybody, so long as he himself would not have to admit ignorance. "Old
Venables himself is a ripper. They say he's been steward of the J. C. R.
for fifty years."

"Thirty-two years," corrected Wedderburn in his voice of most
reverberant certitude. "Venner's is practically a club. You aren't
elected, but somehow you know just when you can go in without being
stared at. There's nothing in Oxford like that little office of
Venner's. It's practically made St. Mary's what it is."

All the freshmen, sipping their port and lolling back in their new
gowns, looked very reverent and very conscious of the honor and glory of
St. Mary's which they themselves hoped soon to affirm more publicly than
they could at present. Upon their meditations sounded very loud the
blast of a coach-horn from above.

"That's Templeton-Collins," said Michael.

"Who's he?" several demanded.

"He's the man who used to live in these rooms last year," said Lonsdale
lightly, as if that were the most satisfactory description for these
freshmen, as indeed for all its youthful heartlessness it was.

"Let's all yell and tell him to shut up that infernal row," suggested
Wedderburn sternly. Already from sitting in an armchair at the head of a
table of freshmen he was acquiring an austere seniority of his own.

"To a second-year blood?" whispered somebody in dread surprise.

"Why not take away the coach-horn?" Lonsdale added.

However, this the freshmen were not prepared to do, although with
unanimity they invited Templeton-Collins to refrain from blowing it.

"Keep quiet, little boys," shouted Templeton-Collins down the stairs.

The sixteen freshmen retreated well pleased with their audacity, and the
long-legged Wykehamist proclaimed delightedly that this was going to be
a hot year. "I vote we have a bonner."

"Will you light it, Sinclair?" asked another Wykehamist in a cynical
drawl.

"Why not?" Sinclair retorted.

"Oh, I don't know. But you always used to be better at theory than
practice."

"How these Wykehamists love one another," laughed an Etonian.

This implied criticism welded the four Winchester men present in
defiance of all England, and Michael was impressed by their haughty and
bigoted confidence.

"Sunday night is the proper time for a bonner," said Wedderburn. "After
the first 'after.'"

"'After'?" queried another.

"Oh, don't you know? Haven't you heard?" several well-informed freshmen
began, but Wedderburn with his accustomed gravity assumed the burden of
instruction, and the others gave way.

"Every Sunday after hall," he explained, "people go up to the J. C. R.
and take wine and dessert. Healths are drunk, and of course the
second-year men try to make the freshers blind. Then everybody goes
round to one of the large rooms in Cloisters for the 'after Common
Room.' People sing and do various parlor tricks. The President of the J.
C. R. gives the first 'after' of the term. The others are usually given
by three or four men together. Whisky and cigars and lemon-squash. They
usually last till nearly twelve. Great sport. They're much better than
private wines, better for everybody. That's why we have them on Sunday
night," he concluded rather vaguely.

The unwieldy bulk of sixteen freshmen was beginning to break up into
bridge fours. Friendships were already in visible elaboration. The first
evening had wonderfully brought them together. Something deeper than the
superficial amity of chance juxtaposition at the same table was now
begetting tentative confidences that would ultimately ripen to
intimacies. Etonians were discovering that all Harrovians were not the
dark-blue bedecked ruffians of Lords nor the aggressive boors of Etonian
tradition. Harrovians were beginning to suspect that some Etonians might
exist less flaccid, less deliberately lackadaisical, less odiously
serene than the majority of those they had so far only encountered in
summer holidays. Carthusians found that athletic prowess was going to
count pleasantly in their favor. Even the Wykehamists extended a
cordiality that was not positively chilling, and though they never lost
an opportunity to criticize implicity all other schools, and though
their manners were so perfect that they abashed all but the more
debonair Etonians, still it was evident they were sincerely trying to
acknowledge a little merit, a little good-fellowship among these strange
new contemporaries, however exuberantly uneducated they might appear to
Wykeham's adamantine mold.

Michael did not thrust himself upon any of these miniature societies in
the making, because the rather conscious efforts of diverse groups to
put themselves into accord with one another made him shy and restless.
Nobody yet among these freshmen seemed able to take his neighbor for
granted, and Michael fancied that himself as the product of a
day-school appeared to these cloistered catechumens as surprising and
disconcerting and vaguely improper as a ballet-girl or a French count.
At the same time he sympathized with their bewilderment and gave them
credit for their attempt not to let him think he confused their social
outlook. But the obviously sustained attempt depressed him with a sense
of fatigue. After all, his trousers were turned up at the bottom and the
last button of his waistcoat was undone. Failure to comply with the
Draconic code of dress could not be attributed to him, as mercilessly it
had served to banish into despised darkness a few scholars whose
trousers frayed themselves upon their insteps and whose waistcoats were
ignobly buttoned to the very end.

"An Old Giggleswickian," commented some one in reference to one of these
disgraced scholars, with such fanatic modishness that Michael was
surprised to see he wore the crude tie of the Old Carthusians; such
inexorable scorn consorted better with the rich sobriety of the Old
Wykehamist colors.

"Why, were you at school with him?" asked Michael quickly.

"Me? At Giggleswick?" stammered the Carthusian.

"Why not?" said Michael. "You seem to know all about him."

"Isn't your name Fane?" demanded the Carthusian abruptly, and when
Michael nodded, he said he remembered him at his private school.

"That'll help me along a bit, I expect," Michael prophesied.

"We were in the same form at Randell's. My name's Avery."

"I remember you," said Michael coldly. And he thought to himself how
little Avery's once stinging wit seemed to matter now. Really he thought
Avery was almost attractive with his fresh complexion and deep blue
eyes and girlish sensitive mouth, and when he rose to go out of
Lonsdale's room, he was not sorry that Avery rose too and walked out
with him into the quad.

"I say," Avery began impulsively. "Did I make an ass of myself just now?
I mean, do you think people were sick with me?"

"What for?"

"I mean did I sound snobbish?" Avery pursued.

"Not more than anybody else," Michael assured him, and as he watched
Avery's expression of petulant self-reproach he wondered how it was
possible that once it mattered whether Avery knew he had a governess and
wore combinations instead of pants and vest.

"I say, aren't you rather keen on pictures? I heard you talking to
Wedderburn. Do come up to my room some time. I'm in Cloisters. Are you
going out? You'll have to buck up. It's after nine."

They had reached the lodge, and Michael, nodding good-night, was ushered
out by the porter. As he reached the corner of Longwall, Tom boomed his
final warning, and over the last echoing reverberation sounded here and
there the lisp of footsteps in the moonlight.

Michael wandered on in meditation. From lighted windows in the High came
a noise of laughter and voices that seemed to make more grave and more
perdurable the spires and towers of Oxford, deepening somehow the
solemnity of the black entries and the empty silver spaces before them.
Michael pondered the freshmen's chatter and apprehended dimly how this
magical sublunary city would convert all that effusion of naïve
intolerance to her own renown. He stood still for a moment rapt in an
ecstasy of submission to this austere beneficence of stone that
sheltered even him, the worshiper of one day, with the power of an
immortal pride. He wandered on and on through the liquid moonshine,
gratefully conscious of his shadow that showed him in his cap and gown
not so conspicuous an intruder as he had seemed to himself that morning.

So for an hour he wandered in a tranced revelry of aspirations, until at
last breathlessly he turned into the tall glooms of New College Street
and Queen's Lane, where as he walked he touched the cold stones,
forgetting the world.

In the High he saw his own college washed with silver, and the tower
tremulous in the moonlight, fine-spun and frail as a lily.

It was pleasant to nod to one or two people standing in the lodge. It
was pleasant to turn confidently under the gateway of St. Cuthbert's
quad. It was pleasant to be greeted by his own name at the entrance of
his staircase. It was the greatest contentment he had ever known to see
the glowing of his fire, and slowly to untie under the red-shaded light
the fat parcels of his newly-bought books.

Outside in the High a tram rumbled slowly past. The clock struck ten
from St. Mary's tower. The wicker chair creaked comfortably. The watered
silk of the rich bindings swished luxuriously. This was how Boccaccio
should be read. Michael's mind was filled with the imagination of that
gay company, secluded from the fever, telling their gay stories in the
sunlight of their garden. This was how Rabelais should be read: the very
pages seemed to glitter like wine.

Midnight chimed from St. Mary's tower. One by one the new books went
gloriously to their gothic shelves. The red lamp was extinguished.
Michael's bedroom was scented with the breath of the October night. It
was too cold to read more than a few sentences of Pater about some
splendid bygone Florentine. Out snapped the electric light: the room was
full of moonshine, so full that the water in the bath tub was gleaming.



CHAPTER II

THE FIRST WEEK


The first two or three days were busy with interviews, initiations,
addresses, and all the academic panoply which Oxford brings into action
against her neophytes.

First of all, the Senior Tutor, Mr. Ardle, had to be visited. He was a
deaf and hostile little man whose side-whiskers and twitching eyelid and
manner of exaggerated respect toward undergraduates combined to give the
impression that he regarded them as objectionable discords in an
otherwise justly modulated existence.

Michael in his turn went up the stairs to Mr. Ardle's room, knocked at
the door and passed in at the don's bidding to where he sat sighing amid
heaps of papers and statistical sheets. The glacial air of the room was
somehow increased by the photographs of Swiss mountains that crowded the
walls.

"Mr.?" queried the Senior Tutor. "Oh, yes, Mr. Fane. St. James'. Your
tutor will be the Dean--please sit down--the Dean, Mr. Ambrose. What
school are you proposing to read?"

"History, I imagine," said Michael. "History!" he repeated, as Mr. Ardle
blinked at him.

"Yes," said the Senior Tutor in accents of patient boredom. "But we have
to consider the immediate future. I suggest Honor Moderations and Literæ
Humaniores."

"I explained to you that I wanted to read History," said Michael,
echoing himself involuntarily the don's tone of patient boredom.

"I have you down as coming from St. James'," snapped the Senior Tutor.
"A school reputed to send out good classical scholars, I believe."

"I'm not a scholar," Michael interrupted. "And I don't intend to take
Honor Mods."

"That will be for the college to decide."

"Supposing the college decided I was to read Chinese?" Michael inquired.

"There is no need for impertinence. Well, well, for the present I have
put you down for the lectures on Pass Moderations. You will attend my
lectures on Cicero, Mr. Churton on the Apologia, Mr. Carder on Logic,
and Mr. Vereker for Latin Prose. The weekly essay set by the Warden for
freshmen you will read to your tutor Mr. Ambrose."

Then he went on to give instructions about chapels and roll-calls and
dining in hall and the various regulations of the college, while the
Swiss mountains stared bleakly down at the chilly interview.

"Now you'd better go and see Mr. Ambrose," said the Senior Tutor, and
Michael left him. On the staircase he passed Lonsdale going up.

"What's he like?" asked Lonsdale.

"Pretty dull," said Michael.

"Does he keep you long?"

Michael shook his head.

"Good work," said Lonsdale cheerfully. "Because I've just bought a dog."
And he whistled his way upstairs.

Michael wondered what the purchase of a dog had got to do with the
Senior Tutor, but relinquished the problem on perceiving Mr. Ambrose's
name on the floor below.

The Dean's room was very much like the Senior Tutor's, and the
interview, save that it was made slightly more tolerable by the help of
a cigarette, was of much the same chilliness owing to Michael's
reiterated refusal to read Honor Moderations.

"I expected a little keenness," said Mr. Ambrose.

"I shall be keen enough when I've finished with Pass Mods," said
Michael. "Though what good it will be for me to read the Pro Milone and
the Apology all over again, when I read them at fifteen, I don't know."

"Then take Honor Moderations?" the Dean advised.

"I've given up classics," Michael argued, and as the cigarette was
beginning to burn his fingers and the problem of disposing of it in the
Dean's room seemed insoluble, he hurried out.

Lonsdale was whistling his way downstairs from his interview with Mr.
Ardle.

"Hallo, Fane, what did he say to you?"

"I think all these dons are very much like schoolmasters," growled
Michael resentfully.

"They can't help it," said Lonsdale. "I asked old Ardle if I could keep
a dog in college, and he turned as blue as an owl. Any one would think
I'd asked him if I could breed crocodiles."

In addition to these personal interviews the freshmen had certain
communal experiences to undergo. Among these was their formal reception
into the University, when they trooped after the Senior Tutor through
gothic mazes and in some beautiful and remote room received from the
Vice-Chancellor a bound volume of Statuta et Decreta Universitatis. This
book they carried back with them to college, where in many rooms it
shared with Ruff's Guide and Soapy Sponge's Sporting Tour an
intellectual oligarchy. Saturday morning was spent in meeting the Warden
at the Warden's Lodgings, where they shook hands with him in nervous
quartets. Michael when he discussed this experience with his fellows
fancied that the Warden's butler had left a deeper impression than the
Warden himself. On Sunday afternoon, however, when they gathered in the
hall to hear the annual address of welcome and exhortation, the great
moon-faced Warden shone undimmed.

"You have come to Oxford," he concluded, "some of you to hunt foxes,
some of you to wear very large and very unusual overcoats, some of you
to row for your college and a few of you to work. But all of you have
come to Oxford to remain English gentlemen. In after life when you are
ambassadors and proconsuls and members of Parliament you will never
remember this little address which I have the honor now of delivering to
you. That will not matter, so long as you always remember that you are
St. Mary's men and the heirs of an honorable and ancient foundation."

The great moon-faced Warden beamed at them for one moment, and after
thanking them for their polite attention floated out of the hall. The
pictures of cardinals and princes and poets in their high golden frames
seemed in the dusk faintly to nod approval. The bell was ringing for
evening chapel, and the freshmen went murmurously along the cloisters to
take their places, feeling rather proud that the famous quire was their
quire and looking with inquisitive condescension at the visitors who sat
out of sight of those candle-starred singers.

In hall that night the chief topic of conversation was the etiquette and
ritual of the first J. C. R. wine.

Michael to his chagrin found himself seated next to Mackintosh, for
Mackintosh, cousin though he was of the sparkish Lonsdale, was a gloomy
fellow scornful of the general merriment. As somebody had quickly said,
sharpening his young wit, he was more of a wet-blanket than a
Mackintosh.

"I suppose you're coming to the J. C. R.?" Michael asked.

"Why should I? Why should I waste my time trying to keep sober for the
amusement of all these fools?"

"I expect it will be rather a rag," said Michael hopefully, but he found
it tantalizing to hear farther down the table snatches of conversation
that heard more completely would have enlightened him on several points
he had not yet mastered in the ceremony of wine in the J. C. R. However,
it was useless to speculate on such subjects in the company of the
lugubrious Mackintosh. So they talked instead of Sandow exercises and
mountain-climbing in Cumberland, neither of which topics interested
Michael very greatly.

Hall was rowdy that evening, and the dons looked petulantly down from
high table, annoyed to think that their distinguished visitors of Sunday
evening should see so many pieces of bread flung by the second-year men.
The moon-faced Warden was deflected from his intellectual revolutions
round a Swedish man of science, and sent the butler down to whisper a
remonstrance to the head of one of the second-year tables. But no sooner
had the butler again taken his place behind the Warden's chair than a
number of third-year men whose table had been littered by the ammunition
of their juniors retaliated without apparent loss of dignity, and
presently both years combined to bombard under the Scholars. Meanwhile
the freshmen applauded with laughter, and thought their seniors were
wonderful exemplars for the future.

After hall everybody went crowding up the narrow stairs to the J. C. R.,
and now most emphatically the J. C. R. presented a cheerful sight, with
the red-shaded lamps casting such a glow that the decanters of wine
stationed before the President's place looked like a treasure of rubies.
The two long tables were set at right angles to one another, and the
President sat near their apex. All along their shining length at regular
intervals stood great dishes of grapes richly bloomed, of apples and
walnuts and salted almonds and deviled biscuits. The freshmen by
instinct rushed to sit altogether at the end of the table more remote
from the door. As Michael looked at his contemporaries, he perceived
that of the forty odd freshmen scarcely five-and-twenty had come to
this, the first J. C. R. Vaguely he realized that already two sets were
manifest in the college, and he felt depressed by the dullness of those
who had not come and some satisfaction with himself for coming.

The freshmen stared with awe at Marjoribanks, the President of the J. C.
R., and told one another with reverence that the two men on either side
of him were those famous rowing blues from New College, Permain and
Strutt; while some of them who had known these heroes at school sat
anxiously unaware of their presence and spoke of them familiarly as Jack
Permain and Bingey. There were several other cynosures from New College
and University near the President's chair, a vivid bunch of Leander
ties. There were also one or two old St. Mary's men who had descended to
haunt for a swift week-end the place of their renown, and these were
pointed out by knowing freshmen as unconcernedly as possible.

One by one the President released the decanters, and round and round
they came. Sometimes they would be held up by an interesting
conversation; and when the sherry and the port and the burgundy were all
standing idle, a shout of "pass along the wine" would go up, after which
for a time the decanters would swing vigorously from hand to hand. Then
suddenly Marjoribanks was seen to be bowing to Permain, and Permain was
bowing solemnly back to his host. This was a plain token to everybody
that the moment for drinking healths had arrived. A great babel of
shouted names broke out at the end of the Common Room remote from the
freshmen, so tremendous a din that the freshmen felt the drinking of
their own healths at their end would pass unnoticed. So they drank to
one another, bowing gravely after the manner of their seniors.

Michael had determined to take nothing but burgundy, and when he had
exchanged sentiments with the most of his year, he congratulated himself
upon the comparative steadiness of his head. Already in the case of one
or two reckless mixers he noticed a difficulty in deciding how many
times it was necessary to clip a cigar, an inclination to strike the
wrong end of a match and a confusion between right and left when the
decanters in their circulation paused before them.

After the first tumult of good wishes had died down, Marjoribanks lifted
his glass, looked along to where the freshmen were sitting and shouted
"Cuffe!" Cuffe hastily lifted his glass and answering "Marjorie!"
drained his salute of acknowledgment. Then he sat back in his chair with
an expression, Michael thought, very like that of an actress who has
been handed a bouquet by the conductor. But Cuffe was not to be the only
recipient of honor, for immediately afterward Marjoribanks sang out
"Lonsdale!" Lonsdale was at the moment trying to explain to Tommy
Grainger some trick with the skin of a banana which ought to have been
an orange and a wooden match which ought to have been a wax vesta.
Michael, who was sitting next to him, prodded anxiously his ribs.

"What's the matter?" demanded Lonsdale indignantly. "Can't you see I'm
doing a trick?"

"Marjoribanks is drinking your health," whispered Michael in an agony
that Lonsdale would be passed over.

"Hurrah!" shouted Lonsdale, rising to his feet and scandalizing his
fellows by his intoxicated audacity. "Where is the old ripper!" Then
"Mark over!" he shouted and collapsed into Tommy Grainger's lap.
Everybody laughed, and everybody, even the cynosures from New College
and University, began to drink Lonsdale's health without heel-taps.

"No heelers, young Lonsdale," they called mirthfully.

Lonsdale pulled himself together, stood up, and, balancing himself with
one hand on Michael's shoulder, replied:

"No heelers, you devils? No legs, you mean!" Then he collapsed again.

Soon all the freshmen found that their healths were now being drunk, all
the freshmen, that is, from Eton or Winchester or Harrow. Michael and
one or two others without old schoolfellows among the seniors remained
more sober. But then suddenly a gravely indolent man with a quizzical
face, who the day before in the lodge had had occasion to ask Michael
some trifling piece of information, cried "Fane!" raising his glass.
Michael blushed, blessed his unknown acquaintance inwardly and drank
what was possibly the sincerest sentiment of the evening. Other senior
men hearing his name, followed suit, even the great Marjoribanks
himself; and soon Michael was very nearly as full as Lonsdale. An
immense elation caressed his soul, a boundless sense of communal life, a
conception of sublime freedom that seemed to be illimitable forever. The
wine was over. Down the narrow stone stairs everybody poured. At the
foot on the right was a little office--the office of Venables, the
steward of the J. C. R., the eleusinian and impenetrable sanctum of
seniority called Venner's. Wine-chartered though they were, the freshmen
did not venture even to peep round the corner of the door, but hurried
out into the cloisters, where they walked arm-in-arm shouting.

Michael could have fancied himself at a gathering of mediæval witches.
The moon temporarily clouded over by the autumnal fog made the corbels
and gargoyles and sculptured figures above the cloisters take on a
grotesque vivacity, as the vapors curled around them. The wine humming
in his head: the echoing shouts of his companions: the decorative effect
of the gowns: the chiming high above of the bells in the tower: all
combined to create for Michael a nightmare of exultation. He was aware
of a tremendous zest in doing nothing, and there flowed over him a
consciousness that this existence of shout and dance along these
cloisters was really existence lived in a perpetual expression of the
finest energy. The world seemed to be going round so much faster than
usual that in order to keep up with this new pace, it was necessary for
the individual like himself to walk faster, to talk faster, to think
faster, and finally to raise to incoherent speed every coherent faculty.
Another curious effect of the wine, for after all Michael admitted to
himself that his mental exhilaration must be due to burgundy, was the
way in which he found himself at every moment walking beside a different
person. He would scarcely have finished an excited acceptance of
Wedderburn's offer to go to-morrow and look at some Dürer woodcuts, when
he would suddenly find himself discussing sympathetically with Lonsdale
the iniquity of the dons in refusing to let him keep his new dog in one
of the scouts' pigeon-holes in the lodge.

"After all," Lonsdale pointed out earnestly, "they're never really full,
and the dog isn't large--of course I don't expect to keep him in a
pigeon-hole when he's full grown, but he's a puppy."

"It's absurd," Michael agreed.

"That's the word I've been looking for," Lonsdale exclaimed. "What was
it again? Absurd! You see what I say is, when one scout's box is full,
move the poor little beast into another. It isn't likely they'd all be
full at the same time. What was that word you found just now? Absurd!
That's it. It is absurd. It's absurd!"

"And anyway," Michael pointed out, "if they were all full they could
chain him to the leg of the porter's desk."

"Of course they could. I say, Fane, you're a damned good sort," said
Lonsdale. "I wish you'd come and have lunch with me to-morrow. I don't
think I've asked very many chaps: I want to show you that dog. He's in a
stable off Holywell at present. Beastly shame! I'm not complaining, of
course, but what I want to ask our dons is how would they like to be
bought by me and shut up in Holywell?"

And just when Michael had a very good answer ready, he found himself
arm-in-arm with Wedderburn again, who was saying in his gravest voice
that over a genuine woodcut by Dürer it was well worth taking trouble.
But before Michael could disengage Wedderburn's Dürer from Lonsdale's
dog, he found himself running very fast beside Tommy Grainger who was
shouting:

"Five's late again! Six, you're bucketing! Bow, you're late! Two, _will_
you get your belly down!"

Then Grainger stopped suddenly and asked Michael in a very solemn tone
whether he knew what was the matter with the crew. Michael shook his
head and watched the others steer their devious course toward him and
Grainger.

"They're too drunk to row," said Grainger.

"Much too drunk," Michael agreed.

When he had pondered for a moment or two his last remark, he discovered
it was extraordinarily funny. So he was seized with a paroxysm of
laughter, and the more he laughed, the more he wanted to laugh. When
somebody asked him what he was laughing at, he replied it was because he
had left the electric light burning in his room. Several people seemed
to think this just as funny as Michael thought it, and they joined him
in his mirth, laughing unquenchably until Wedderburn observed severely
in his deepest voice:

"Buck up, you're all drunk, and they're coming out of Venner's."

Then like some patient profound countryman he shepherded them all up to
the large room on a corner staircase of Cloisters, where the "after" was
going to be held. The freshmen squeezed themselves together in a corner
and were immensely entertained by the various performers, applauding
with equal rapture a light comedian from Pembroke, a tenor from Corpus,
a comic singer from Oriel and a mimic from professional London. They
drank lemon squashes to steady themselves: they joined in choruses: they
cheered and smoked cigars and grew more and more conscious as the
evening progressed that they belonged to a great college called St.
Mary's. Their enthusiasm reached its zenith, when the captain of the
Varsity Eleven (a St. Mary's man even as they were St. Mary's men) sang
the St. Mary's song in a voice whose gentleness of utterance and sighing
modesty in no way abashed the noisy appreciation of the audience. It was
a wonderful song, all about the triumphs of the college on river and
cricket-field, in the Schools, in Parliament and indeed everywhere else.
It had a fine rollicking chorus which was repeated twice after each
verse. And as there were about seventeen verses, by the time the song
was half over the freshmen had learned the words and were able to sing
the final chorus with a vigor which positively detonated against the
windows and contrasted divertingly with the almost inaudible soloist.

Last of all came Auld Lang Syne, when everybody stood up on chairs and
joined hands, seniors, second-year men and freshmen. Auld Lang Syne
ended with perhaps the noisiest moment of all because although Lonsdale
had taken several lemon squashes to steady himself, he had not taken
enough to keep his balance through the ultimate energetic repetition,
when he collapsed headlong into a tray of syphons and glasses, dragging
with him two other freshmen. But nobody seemed to have hurt himself, and
downstairs they all rushed, shouting and hulloaing, into the cool
moonlight.

The guests from New College and University and the "out-of-college" men
hurried home, for it was close upon midnight. In the lodge the freshmen
foregathered for a few minutes with the second-year men, and as they
talked they knew that the moment was come when they must proclaim
themselves free from the restrictions of school, and by the kindling of
a bonfire prove that they were now truly grown up. Bundles of faggots
were seized from the scouts' holes: in the angle of St. Cuthbert's quad
where the complexion of the gravel was tanned by the numberless bonfires
of past generations the pile of wood grew taller and taller: two or
three douches of paraffin made the mass readily inflammable: a match was
set, and with a roar the bonfire began. From their windows second-year
men, their faces lighted by the ascending blaze, looked down with
pleasant patronage upon the traditional pastime of their juniors. The
freshmen danced gleefully round the pyre of their boyhood, feeding it
with faggots and sometimes daringly and ostentatiously with chairs: the
heat became intense: the smoke surged upward, obscuring the bland
aspectful moon. Slowly upon the group of law-breakers fell a silence, as
they stood bewitched by the beauty of their own handiwork. The riotous
preparations and annunciatory yells had died away to an intimate murmur
of conversation. From the lodge came Shadbolt the unctuous head-porter
to survey for a moment this mighty bonfire: conscious of their
undergraduate dignity the freshmen chaffed him, until he retired with
muttered protests to summon the Dean.

"What will the Dean do?" asked one or two less audacious ones as they
faded into various doorways, ready to obliterate their presence as soon
as authority should arrive upon the scene.

"What does the Dean matter?" cried others, flinging more faggots on to
the fire until it crackled and spat and bellowed more fiercely than
ever, lighting up with its wavy radiance the great elms beyond the
Warden's garden and the Palladian fragment of New quad whence the dons
like Georgian squires pondered their prosperity.

Presently against the silvery space framed by the gateway of St.
Cuthbert's tower appeared the silhouette of the Dean, lank and tall with
college cap tip-tilted down on to his nose and round his neck a gown
wrapped like a shawl. Nearer he came, and involuntarily the freshmen so
lately schoolboys took on in their attitude a certain anxiety. Somehow
the group round the bonfire had become much smaller. Somehow more
windows looking upon the quad were populated with flickering watchful
faces.

"Great Scott! What can Ambrose do?" demanded Lonsdale despairingly, but
when at last the Dean reached the zone of the fire, there only remained
about eight freshmen to ascertain his views and test his power. The Dean
stood for a minute or two, silently warming his hands. In a ring the
presumed leaders eyed him, talking to each other the while with slightly
exaggerated carelessness.

"Well, Mr. Fane?" asked the Dean.

"Well, sir," Michael replied.

"Damned good," whispered Lonsdale ecstatically in Michael's ear. "You
couldn't have said anything better. That's damned good."

Michael under the enthusiastic congratulations of Lonsdale began to feel
he had indeed said something very good, but he hoped he would soon have
an opportunity to say something even better.

"Enjoying yourself, Mr. Lonsdale?" inquired the Dean.

"Yes, sir. Are you?" answered Lonsdale.

"Splendid," murmured Michael.

A silence followed this exchange of courtesies. The bonfire was
beginning to die down, but nobody ventured under the Dean's eye to put
on more faggots. Under-porters were seen drawing near with pails of
water, and though a cushion aimed from a window upset one pail, very
soon the bonfire was a miserable mess of smoking ashes and the moon
resumed her glory. From an upper window some second-year men chanted in
a ridiculous monotone:

"The Dean--he was the Dean--he was the Dean--he was the Dean! The
Dean--he was the Dean he was--the Dean he was--the Dean!!"

Mr. Ambrose did not bother to look up in the direction of the glee, but
took another glance at Michael, Lonsdale, Grainger and the other
stalwarts. Then he turned away.

"Good night," Lonsdale called after the retreating figure of the tall
hunched don, and not being successful in luring him back, he poured his
scorn upon the defaulters safe in their rooms above.

"You are a lot of rotters. Come down and make another."

But the freshmen were not yet sufficiently hardy to do this. One by one
they melted away, and Lonsdale marked his contempt for their
pusillanimity by throwing two syphons and his gown into the Warden's
garden. After which he invited Michael and his fellow die-hards to drink
a glass of port in his rooms. Here for an hour they sat, discussing
their contemporaries.

In the morning Shadbolt was asked if anybody had been hauled for last
night's bonner.

"Mr. Fane, Mr. Grainger and the Honorable Lonsdale," he informed the
inquirer. Together those three interviewed the Dean.

"Two guineas each," he announced after a brief homily on the foolishness
and inconvenience of keeping everybody up on the first Sunday of term.
"And if you feel aggrieved, you can get up a subscription among your
co-lunatics to defray your expenses."

Michael, Grainger and Lonsdale sighed very movingly, and tried to look
like martyrs, but they greatly enjoyed telling what had happened to the
other freshmen and several second-year men. It was told, too, in a
manner of elaborate nonchalance with many vows to do the same
to-morrow.



CHAPTER III

THE FIRST TERM


His first term at Oxford was for Michael less obviously a period of
discovery than from his pre-figurative dreams he had expected. He had
certainly pictured himself in the midst of a society more intellectually
varied than that in which he found himself; and all that first term
became in retrospect merely a barren noisy time from which somehow after
numberless tentative adjustments and developments emerged a clear view
of his own relation to the college, and more particularly to his own
"year." These trials of personality were conducted with all the help
that sensitiveness could render him. But this sensitiveness when it had
registered finely and accurately a few hazardous impressions was often
sharp as a nettle in its action, so sharp indeed sometimes that he felt
inclined to withdraw from social encounters into a solitude of books.
Probably Michael would have become a recluse, if he had not decided on
the impulse of the moment to put down his name for Rugby football. He
was fairly successful in the first match, and afterward Carben, the
secretary of the college club, invited him to tea. This insignificant
courtesy gave Michael a considerable amount of pleasure, inasmuch as it
was the first occasion on which he had been invited to his rooms by a
second-year man. With Carben he found about half a dozen other seniors
and a couple of freshmen whom he did not remember to have noticed
before; and the warm room, whose murmurous tinkle was suddenly hushed
as he entered, affected him with a glowing hospitality.

Michael had found it so immediately easy to talk that when Carben made a
general observation on the row of Sunday night's celebration, Michael
proclaimed enthusiastically the excellence of the bonfire.

"Were you in that gang?" Carben asked in a tone of contemptuous
surprise.

"I was fined," Michael announced, trying to quench the note of
exultation in deference to the hostility he instinctively felt he was
creating.

"I say," Carben sneered, "so at last one of the 'bloods' is going to
condescend to play Rugger. Jonah," he called to the captain of the
Fifteen who was lolling in muscular grandeur at the other end of the
room, "we've got a college blood playing three-quarter for us."

"Good work," said Jones, with a toast-encumbered laugh. "Where is he?"

Carben pointed to Michael who blushed rather angrily.

"No end of a blood," Carben went on. "Lights bonfires and gets fined all
in his first week."

The two freshmen sniggered, and Michael made up his mind to consult
Lonsdale about their doom. He was pensively damned if these two asses
should laugh at him. There had already been talk of ragging one or two
freshmen whose raw and mediocre bearing had offended the modish
perceptions of the majority. When the proscription was on foot, Michael
promised his injured pride that he would denounce them with their red
wrists and their smug insignificance.

"You were at St. James', weren't you?" asked Jones. "Did you know
Mansfield?"

"I didn't know him--exactly," said Michael, "but--in fact--we thought
him rather a tick."

"Thanks very much and all that," said Jones. "He was a friend of mine,
but don't apologize."

There was a general laugh at Michael's expense from which Carben's
guffaw survived. "Jonah was never one for moving in the best society,"
he said with an implication in his tone that the best society was
something positively contemptible.

Michael retired from the conversation and sat silent, counting with cold
dislike the constellated pimples on Carben's face. Meanwhile the others
exercised their scornful wit upon the "bloods" of the college.

"Did you hear about Fitzroy and Gingold?" Carben indignantly demanded.
"Gingold was tubbing yesterday and Fitzroy was coaching. 'Can't you keep
your fat little paunch down? I don't want to look at it,' said Fitzroy.
That's pretty thick from a second-year man to a third-year man in front
of a lot of freshers. Gingold's going to jack rowing, and he's quite
right."

"Quite right," a chorus echoed.

Michael remembered Fitzroy very blithely intoxicated at the J. C. R.; he
remembered, too, that Fitzroy had drunk his health. This explosion of
wrath at the insult offered to Gingold's dignity irritated Michael. He
felt sure that Gingold had a fat little paunch and that he thoroughly
deserved to be told to keep it out of sight. Gingold was probably as
offensive as Jones and Carben.

"These rowing bloods think they've bought the college," somebody was
wisely propounding.

"We ought to go head of the river this year, oughtn't we?" Michael
inquired with as much innocence as he could muster to veil the armed
rebuke.

"Well, I think it would be a d'd good thing, if we dropped six places,"
Carben affirmed.

How many pimples there were, thought Michael, looking at the secretary,
and he felt he must make some excuse to escape from this room whose
atmosphere of envy and whose castrated damns were shrouding Oxford with
a dismal genteelness.

"Oh, by the way, before you go," said Carben, "you'd better let me put
your name down for the Ugger."

"The what?" Michael asked, with a faint insolence.

"The Union."

Michael, occupied with the problem of adjustment, had no intention of
committing himself so early to the Union and certainly not under the
sponsorship of Carben.

"I don't think I'll join this term."

He ran down the stairs from Carben's rooms and stood for a moment
apprehensively upon the lawn. Then sublime in the dusk he saw St. Mary's
tower and, refreshed by that image of an aspiration, he shook off the
memory of Carben's tea-party as if he had alighted from a crowded Sunday
train and plunged immediately into deep country.

In hall that night Lonsdale asked Michael what he had been doing, and
was greatly amused by his information, so much amused that he called
along the table to Grainger:

"I say, Tommy, do you know we've got a Rugger rough with us?"

Several people murmured in surprise.

"I say, have you really been playing Rugger?"

"Well, great Scott!" exclaimed Michael, "there's nothing very odd in
that."

"But the Rugger roughs are all very bad men," Lonsdale protested.

"Some are," Michael admitted. "Still, it's a better game than Socker."

"But everybody at St. Mary's plays Socker," Lonsdale went on.

Michael felt for a while enraged against the pettiness of outlook that
even the admired Lonsdale displayed. How ridiculous it was to despise
Rugby football because the college was so largely composed of Etonians
and Harrovians and Wykehamists and Carthusians. It was like schoolboys.
And Michael abruptly realized that all of them sitting at this
freshmen's table were really schoolboys. It was natural after all that
with the patriotism of youth they should disdain games foreign to their
traditions. This, however, was no reason for allowing Rugby to be
snuffed out ignominiously.

"Anyway I shall go on playing Rugger," Michael asserted.

"Shall I have a shot?" suggested Lonsdale.

"It's a most devilish good game," Michael earnestly avowed.

"Tommy," Lonsdale shouted, "I'm going to be a Rugger rough myself."

"I shall sconce you, young Lonsdale, if you make such a row," said
Wedderburn severely.

"My god, Wedders, you are a prize ass," chuckled the offender.

Wedderburn whispered to the scout near him.

"Have you sconced me?" Lonsdale demanded.

The head of the table nodded.

Lonsdale was put to much trouble and expense to avenge his half-crown.
Finally with great care he took down all the pictures in Wedderburn's
room and hung in their places gaudy texts. Also for the plaster Venus of
Milo he caused to be made a miniature chest-protector. It was all very
foolish, but it afforded exquisite entertainment to Lonsdale and his
auxiliaries, especially when in the lodge they beheld Wedderburn's
return from a dinner out of college, and when presently they visited him
in his room to enjoy his displeasure.

Michael's consciousness of the sharp division in the college between
two broad sections prevented him from retiring into seclusion. He
continued to play Rugby football almost entirely in order to hear with a
delighted irony the comments of the "bad men" on the "bloods." Yet many
of these "bad men" he rather liked, and he would often defend them to
his critical young contemporaries, although on the "bad men" of his own
year he was as hard as the rest of the social leaders. He was content in
this first term to follow loyally, with other heedless ones, the trend
of the moment. He made few attempts to enlarge the field of his outlook
by cultivating acquaintanceship outside his own college. Even Alan he
seldom visited, since in these early days of Oxford it seemed to him
essential to move cautiously and always under the protection of numbers.
These freshmen in their first term found a curious satisfaction in
numbers. When they lunched together, they lunched in eights and twelves;
when they dined out of college, as they sometimes did, at the Clarendon
or the Mitre or the Queen's, they gathered in the lodge almost in the
dimensions of a school-treat.

"Why do we always go about in such quantity?" Michael once asked
Wedderburn.

"What else can we do?" answered Wedderburn. "We must subject each other
to--I mean--we haven't got any clubs yet. We're bound to stick
together."

"Well, I'm getting rather fed up with it," said Michael. "I feel more
like a tourist than a Varsity man. Every day we lunch and dine and take
coffee and tea in great masses of people. I'm bored to tears by half the
men I go about with, and I'm sure they're bored to tears with me. We
don't talk about anything but each other's schools and whether A is a
better chap than B, or whether C is a gentleman and if it's true that D
isn't really. I bought for my own pleasure some rather decent books; and
every other evening about twelve people come and read them over each
other's shoulders, while I spend my whole time blowing cigarette ash
off the pictures. And when they've all read the story of the nightingale
in the Decameron, they sit up till one o'clock discussing who of our
year is most likely to be elected president of the J. C. R. four years
from now."

But for all Michael's grumbling through that first term he was beginning
to perceive the blurred outlines of an intimate society at Oxford which
in the years to come he would remember. There was Wedderburn himself
whose square-headed solidity of demeanor and episcopal voice masked a
butterfly of a temperament that flitted from flower to flower of
artistic experiment or danced attendance upon freshmen, the honey of
whose future fame he seemed always able to probe.

"I wonder if you really are the old snob you try to make yourself," said
Michael. "And yet I don't think it is snobbishness. I believe it's a
form of collecting. It's a throw back to primitive life in a private
school. One day in your fourth year you'll give a dinner party for about
twelve bloods and I shall come too and remind you just when and how and
where you picked them all up before their value was perfectly obvious.
Partly of course it's due to being at Eton where you had nothing to do
but observe social distinction in the making and talk about Burne-Jones
to your tutor."

"My dear fellow," said Wedderburn deeply, "I have these people up to my
rooms because I like them."

"But it is convenient always to like the right people," Michael argued.
"There are lots of others just as pleasant whom you don't like. For
instance, Avery----"

"Avery!" Wedderburn snorted.

"He's not likely ever to be captain of the 'Varsity Eleven," said
Michael. "But he's amusing, and he can talk about books."

"Patronizing ass," Wedderburn growled.

"That's exactly what he isn't," Michael contradicted.

"Damnable poseur," Wedderburn rumbled.

"Oh, well, so are you," said Michael.

He thought how willfully Wedderburn would persist in misjudging Avery.
Yet himself had spent most delightful hours with him. To be sure, his
sensitiveness made him sharp-tongued, and he dressed rather too well.
But all the Carthusians at St. Mary's dressed rather too well and
carried about with them the atmosphere of a week-end in a sporting
country-house owned by very rich people. This burbling prosperity would
gradually trickle away, Michael thought, and he began to follow the
course of Avery four years hence directed by Oxford to--to what? To some
distinguished goal of art, but whether as writer or painter or sculptor
he did not know, Avery was so very versatile. Michael mentally put him
on one side to decorate a conspicuous portion of the ideal edifice he
dreamed of creating from his Oxford society. There was Lonsdale.
Lonsdale really possessed the serene perfection of a great work of art.
Michael thought to himself that almost he could bear to attend for ever
Ardle's dusty lectures on Cicero in order that for ever he might hear
Lonsdale admit with earnest politeness that he had not found time to
glance at the text the day before, that he was indeed sorry to cause Mr.
Ardle such a mortification, but that unfortunately he had left his Plato
in a sadler's shop, where he had found it necessary to complain of a
saddle newly made for him.

"But I am lecturing on Cicero, Mr. Lonsdale. The Pro Milone was not
delivered by Plato, Mr. Lonsdale."

"What's he talking about?" Lonsdale whispered to Michael.

"Nor was it delivered by Mr. Fane," added the Senior Tutor dryly.

Lonsdale looked at first very much alarmed by this suggestion, then
seeing by the lecturer's face that something was still wrong, he assumed
a puzzled expression, and finally in an attempt to relieve the situation
he laughed very heartily and said:

"Oh, well, after all, it's very much the same." Then, as everybody else
laughed very loudly, Lonsdale sat down and leaned back, pulling up his
trousers in gentle self-congratulation.

"Rum old buffer," he whispered presently to Michael. "His eye gets very
glassy when he looks at me. Do you think I ought to ask him to lunch?"

Michael thought that Avery, Wedderburn and Lonsdale might be considered
to form the nucleus of the intimate ideal society which his imagination
was leading him on to shape. And if that trio seemed not completely to
represent the forty freshmen of St. Mary's, there might be added to the
list certain others for qualities of athletic renown that combined with
charm of personality gave them the right to be set up in Michael's
collection as types. There was Grainger, last year's Captain of the
Boats at Eton, who would certainly row for the 'Varsity in the spring.
Michael liked to sit in his rooms and watch his sprawling bulk and
listen for an hour at a time to his naïve theories of life. Grainger
seemed to shed rays of positive goodness, and Michael found that he
exercised over this splendid piece of youth a fascination which to
himself was surprising.

"Great Scott, you are an odd chap," Grainger once ejaculated.

"Why?"

"Why, you're a clever devil, aren't you, and you don't seem to do
anything. Have I talked a lot of rot?"

"A good deal," Michael admitted. "At least, it would be rot if I talked
it, but it would be ridiculous if you talked in any other way."

"You _are_ a curious chap. I can't make you out."

"Why should you?" asked Michael. "You were never sent into this world to
puzzle out things. You were sent here to sprawl across it just as you're
sprawling across that sofa. When you go down, you'll go into the
Egyptian Civil Service and you'll sprawl across the Sahara in exactly
the same way. I rather wish I were like you. It must be quite
comfortable to sit down heavily and unconcernedly on a lot of people. I
can't imagine a more delightful mattress; only I should feel them
wriggling under me."

"I suppose you're a Radical. They say you are," Grainger lazily
announced through puffed-out fumes of tobacco.

"I suppose I might be," said Michael, "if I wanted to proclaim myself
anything at all, but I'd much rather watch you sprawling effectively and
proclaiming yourself a supporter of Conservatism. I've really very
little inclination to criticize people like you. It's only in books I
think you're a little boring."

Term wore on, and a pleasurable anticipation was lent to the coming
vacation by a letter which Michael received from his mother.

     CARLINGTON ROAD,

     November 20th.

     Dearest Michael,

     I'm so glad you're still enjoying Oxford. I quite agree with you it
     would be better for me to wait a little while before I visit you,
     though I expect I should behave myself perfectly well. You'll be
     glad to hear that I've got rid of this tiresome house. I've sold it
     to a retired Colonel--such an objectionable old man, and I'm really
     so pleased he's bought it. It has been a most worrying autumn
     because the people next door were continually complaining of
     Stella's piano, and really Carlington Road has become impossible.
     Such an air of living next door, and whenever I look out of the
     window the maid is shaking a mat and looking up to see if I'm
     interested. We must try to settle on a new house when you're back
     in town. We'll stay in a hotel for a while. Stella has had to take
     a studio, which I do not approve of her doing, and I cannot bear to
     see the piano going continually in and out of the house. There are
     so many things I want to talk to you about--money, and whether you
     would like to go to Paris during the holidays. I daresay we could
     find a house at some other time.

     Your loving

     Mother.

From Stella about the same time, Michael also received a letter.

     My dear old Michael,

     I seem to have made really a personal success at my concert, and
     I've taken a studio here because the man next door--a most
     _frightful_ bounder--said the noise I made went through and through
     his wife. As she's nearly as big round as the world, I wasn't
     flattered. Mother is getting very fussy, and all sorts of strange
     women come to the house and talk about some society for dealing
     with Life with a capital letter. I think we're going to be rather
     well off, and Mother wants to live in a house she's seen in Park
     Street, but I want to take a house in Cheyne Walk. I hope you like
     Cheyne Walk, because this house has got a splendid studio in the
     garden and I thought with some mauve brocades it would look
     perfectly lovely. There's a very good _paneled_ room that you could
     have, and of course the studio would be half yours. I am working
     at a Franck concerto. I'm being painted by rather a nice youth, at
     least he would be nice, if he weren't so much like a corpse. I
     suppose you'll condescend to ask me down to Oxford next term.

     Yours ever,

     Stella.

     P.S.--I've come to the conclusion that mere brilliancy of execution
     isn't enough. Academic perfection is all very well, but I don't
     think I shall appear in public again until I've lived a little. I
     really think life is rather exciting--unless it's spelt with a
     capital letter.

Michael was glad that there seemed a prospect of employing his vacation
in abolishing the thin red house in Carlington Road. He felt he would
have found it queerly shriveled after the spaciousness of Oxford. He was
sufficiently far along in his first term to be able to feel the
privilege of possessing the High, and he could think of no other word to
describe the sensation of walking down that street in company with
Lonsdale and Grainger and others of his friends.

Term drew to a close, and Michael determined to mark the occasion by
giving a dinner in which he thought he would try the effect of his
friends all together. Hitherto the celebrations of the freshmen had been
casual entertainments arranged haphazard out of the idle chattering
groups in the lodge. This dinner was to be carefully thought out and
balanced to the extreme of nice adjustment. This terminal dinner might,
Michael thought, almost become with him a regular function, so that
people would learn to speak with interest and respect of Fane's terminal
dinners. In a way, it would be tantamount to forming a club, a club
strictly subjective, indeed so personal in character as really to
preclude the employment of the sociable world. At any rate, putting
aside all dreams of the future, Michael made up his mind to try the
effect of the first. It should be held in the Mitre, he decided, since
that would give the company an opportunity of sailing homeward
arm-in-arm along the whole length of the High. The guests should be
Avery, Lonsdale, Wedderburn, Grainger, and Alan. Yet when Michael came
to think about it, six all told seemed a beggarly number for his first
terminal dinner. Already Michael began to think of his dinner as an
established ceremony of undergraduate society. He would like to choose a
number that should never vary every term. He knew that the guests would
change, that the place of its celebration would alter, but he felt that
some permanency must be kept, and Michael fixed upon eleven as the
number, ten guests and himself. For this first dinner five more must be
invited, and Michael without much further consideration selected five
freshmen whose athletic prowess and social amiableness drew them into
prominence. But when he had given all the invitations Michael was a
little depressed by the conventional appearance of his list. With the
exception of Alan as a friend from another college, and Avery, his list
was exactly the same as any that might have been drawn up by Grainger.
As Michael pondered it, he scented an effluence of correctness that
overpowered his individuality. However, when he sat at the head of the
table in the private room at the Mitre, and surveyed round the table his
terminal dinner party, he was after all glad that on this occasion he
had deferred to the prejudices of what in a severe moment of
self-examination he characterized as "snobbishness." In this room at the
Mitre with its faded red paper and pictures of rod and gun and
steeplechase, with its two waiters whiskered and in their garrulous
subservience eloquent of Thackerayan scenes, with its stuffed ptarmigan
and snipe and glass-enshrined giant perch, Michael felt that a more
eclectic society would have been out of place.

Only Avery's loose-fronted shirt marred the rigid convention of the
group.

"_Who's_ that man wearing a pie-frill?" whispered Alan sternly from
Michael's right.

Michael looked up at him with an expression of amused apprehension.

"Avery allows himself a little license," said Michael. "But, Alan, he's
really all right. He always wears his trousers turned up, and if you saw
him on Sunday you'd think he was perfectly dressed. All Old Carthusians
are."

But Alan still looked disapprovingly at Avery, until Lonsdale, who had
met Alan several times at the House, began to talk of friends they had
in common.

Michael was not altogether pleased with himself. He wished he had put
Avery on his left instead of Wedderburn. He disliked owning to himself
that he had put Avery at the other end of the table to avoid the
responsibility of listening to the loudly voiced opinions which he felt
grated upon the others. He looked anxiously along toward Avery, who
waved a cheery hand. Michael perceived with pleasure and faint relief
that he seemed to be amusing his neighbor, a Wykehamist called
Castleton.

Michael was glad of this, for Castleton in some respects was the
strongest influence in Michael's year, and his friendship would be good
for Avery. Wedderburn had implied to Michael that he considered
Castleton rather over-rated, but there was a superficial similarity
between the two in the sort of influence they both possessed, and
jealousy, if jealousy could lurk in the deep-toned and immaculate
Wedderburn, might be responsible for that opinion. Michael sometimes
wondered what made Castleton so redoubtable, since he was no more
apparently than an athlete of ordinary ability, but Wykehamist opinion
in the college was emphatic in proclaiming his solid merit, and as he
seemed utterly unaware of possessing any quality at all, and as he
seemed to add to every room in which he sat a serenity and security, he
became each day more and more a personality impossible to neglect.

Opposite to Avery was Cuffe, and as Michael looked at Cuffe he was more
than ever displeased with himself. The invitation to Cuffe was a
detestable tribute to public opinion. Cuffe was a prominent freshman,
and Michael had asked him for no other reason than because Cuffe would
certainly have been asked to any other so representative a gathering of
St. Mary's freshmen as this one might be considered. But a
representative gathering of this kind was not exactly what Michael had
intended to achieve with his terminal dinner. He looked at Cuffe with
distaste. Then, too, in the middle of the table were Cranborne, Sterne,
and Sinclair, not one of whom was there from Michael's desire to have
him, but from some ridiculous tradition of his suitableness. However, it
was useless to resent their presence now and, as the champagne went
round, gradually Michael forgot his predilections and was content to see
his first terminal dinner a success of wine and good-fellowship.

Soon Lonsdale was on his feet making a speech, and Michael sat back and
smiled benignly on the company he had collected, while Lonsdale
discussed their individual excellencies.

"First of all," said Lonsdale, "I want to propose the health of our
distinguished friend, Mr. Merivale of Christ Church. For he's a jolly
good fellow and all that. My friend Mr. Wedderburn's a jolly good
fellow, too, and my friend Mr. Sterne on my center is a jolly good
fellow and a jolly good bowler and so say all of us. As for my friend
Tommy Grainger--whom I will not call Mister, having known him since we
were boys together--I will here say that I confidently anticipate he
will get his blue next term and show the Tabs that he's a jolly good
fellow. I will not mention the rest of us by name--all jolly good
fellows--except our host. He's given us a good dinner and good wine and
good company, which nobody can deny. So here's his health."

Then, in a phantasmagoria in which brilliant liqueurs and a meandering
procession of linked arms and the bells of Oxford and a wet night were
all indistinguishably confused in one strong impression, Michael passed
through his first terminal dinner.



CHAPTER IV

CHEYNE WALK


The Christmas vacation was spent in searching London for a new house.
Mrs. Fane, when Carlington Road was with a sigh of relief at last
abandoned, would obviously have preferred to go abroad at once and
postpone the consideration of a future residence; but Michael with
Stella's support prevailed upon her to take more seriously the problem
of their new home.

Ultimately they fixed upon Chelsea, indeed upon that very house Stella
had chosen for its large studio separated by the length of a queer
little walled garden from the rest of the house. Certainly 173 Cheyne
Walk was better than 64 Carlington Road, thought Michael as, leaning
back against the parapet of the Embankment, he surveyed the mellow
exterior in the unreal sunlight of the January noon. Empty as it was, it
diffused an atmosphere of beauty and comfort, of ripe dignity and
peaceful solidity. The bow windows with their half-opaque glass seemed
to repulse the noise and movement of the world from the tranquil
interior they so sleekly guarded. The front door with its shimmering
indigo surface and fanlight and dolphin-headed knocker and on either
side of the steps the flambeaux-stands of wrought iron, the
three-plaster medallions and the five tall windows of the first story
all gave him much contemplative pleasure. He and his mother and Stella
had in three weeks visited every feasible quarter of London and as
Michael thought of Hampstead's leaf-haunted by-streets, of the still
squares of Kensington, even of Camden Hill's sky-crowned freedom, he was
sure he regretted none of them in the presence of this sedate house
looking over the sun-flamed river and the crenated line of the long
Battersea shore.

Michael was waiting for Mrs. Fane, who as usual was late. Mr. Prescott
was to be there to give his approval and advice, and Michael was anxious
to meet this man who had evidently been a very intimate friend of his
father. He saw Prescott in his mind as he had seen him years ago, an
intruder upon the time-shrouded woes of childhood, and as he was trying
to reconstruct the image of a florid jovial man, whose only definite
impression had been made by the gold piece he had pressed into Michael's
palm, a hansom pulled up at the house and someone, fair and angular with
a military awkwardness, alighting from it, knocked at the door. Michael
crossed the road quickly and asked if he were Mr. Prescott. Himself
explained who he was and, opening the front door, led the way into the
empty house. He was conscious, as he showed room after room to Prescott,
that the visitor was somehow occupied less with the observation of the
house than with a desire to achieve in regard to Michael himself a
tentative advance toward intimacy. The January sun that sloped thin
golden ladders across the echoing spaces of the bare rooms expressed for
Michael something of the sensation which Prescott's attitude conveyed to
him, the sensation of a benign and delicate warmth that could most
easily melt away, stretching out toward certain unused depths of his
heart.

"I suppose you knew my father very well," said Michael at last, blushing
as he spoke at the uninspired obviousness of the remark.

"About as well as anybody," said Prescott nervously. "Like to talk to
you about him some time. Better come to dinner. Live in Albany. Have a
soldier-servant and all that, you know. Must talk sometimes. Important
you should know just how your affairs stand. Suppose I'm almost what you
might call your guardian. Of course your mother's a dear woman. Known
her for years. Always splendid to me. But she mustn't get too
charitable."

"Do you mean to people's failings?" Michael asked.

Michael did not ask this so much because he believed that was what
Prescott really meant as because he wished to encourage him to speak out
clearly at once so that, when later they met again, the hard shyness of
preliminary encounters would have been softened. Moreover, this empty
house glinting with golden motes seemed to encourage a frankness and
directness of intercourse that made absurd these roundabout
postponements of actual problems.

"Charitable to societies," Prescott explained. "I don't want her to
think she's got to endow half a dozen committees with money and
occupation."

"Stella's a little worried about mother's charities," Michael admitted.

"Awful good sort, Stella," Prescott jerked out. "Frightens me
devilishly. Never could stand very clever people. Oh, I like them very
much, but I always feel like a piece of furniture they want to move out
of their way. Used to be in the Welsh Guards with your father," he added
vaguely.

"Did you know my father when he first met my mother?" Michael asked
directly, and by his directness tripped up Prescott into a headlong
account.

"Oh, yes, rather. I sent in my papers when he did. Chartered a yacht and
sailed all over the Mediterranean. Good gracious, twenty years ago! How
old we're all getting. Poor old Saxby was always anxious that no kind
of"--Prescott gibbed at the word for a moment or two--"no kind of slur
should be attached.... I mean, for instance, Mrs. Fane might have had to
meet the sort of women, you know, well, what I mean is ... there was
nothing of the sort. Saxby was a Puritan, and yet he was always a
rattling good sort. Only of course your mother was always cut off from
women's society. Couldn't be helped, but I don't want her now to overdo
it. Glad she's taken this house, though. What are you going to be?"

Michael was saved from any declaration of his intentions by a ring at
the front door, which shrilled like an alarm through the empty house.
Soon all embarrassments were lost in his mother's graceful and elusive
presence that seemed to furnish every room in turn with rich
associations of leisure and tranquillity, and with its fine assurance to
muffle all the echoes and the emptiness. Stella, who had arrived with
Mrs. Fane, was rushing from window to window, trying patterns of chintz
and damask and Roman satin; and all her notions of decoration that she
flung up like released birds seemed to flutter for a while in a
confusion of winged argument between her and Michael, while Mr. Prescott
listened with an expression on his wrinkling forehead of admiring
perplexity. But every idea would quickly be gathered in by Mrs. Fane,
and when she had smoothed its ruffled doubts and fears, it would fly
with greater certainty, until room by room and window by window and
corner by corner the house was beautifully and sedately and
appropriately arranged.

"I give full marks to Prescott," said Stella later in the afternoon to
Michael. "He's like a nice horse."

"I think we ought to have had green curtains in the spare room," said
Michael.

"Why?" demanded Stella.

And when Michael tried to discover a reason, it was difficult to find
one.

"Well, why not?" he at last very lamely replied.

There followed upon that curiously staccato conversation between Michael
and Prescott in the empty house a crowded time of furnishing, while Mrs.
Fane with Michael and Stella stayed at the Sloane Street Hotel, chosen
by them as a convenient center from which to direct the multitudinous
activities set up by the adventure of moving. Michael, however, after
the first thrills of selection had died down, must be thinking about
going up again and be content to look forward on the strength of
Stella's energetic promises to coming down for the Easter vacation and
entering 173 Cheyne Walk as his home.

Michael excused himself to himself for not having visited any old
friends during this vacation by the business of house-hunting. Alan had
been away in Switzerland with his father, but Michael felt rather guilty
because he had never been near his old school nor even walked over to
Notting Hill to give Viner an account of his first term. It seemed to
him more important that he had corresponded with Lonsdale and Wedderburn
and Avery than that he should have sought out old friends. All that
Christmas vacation he was acutely conscious of the flowing past of old
associations and of a sense of transition into a new life that though as
yet barren of experience contained the promise of larger and worthier
experiences than it now seemed possible to him could have happened in
Carlington Road.

On the night before he went up Michael dined with Prescott at his rooms
in the Albany. He enjoyed the evening very much. He enjoyed the darkness
of the room whose life seemed to radiate from the gleaming table in its
center. He enjoyed the ghostly motions of the soldier-servant and the
half-obscured vision of stern old prints on the walls of the great
square room, and he enjoyed the intense silence that brooded outside the
heavily curtained windows. Here in the Albany Michael was immeasurably
aware of the life of London that was surging such a little distance
away; but in this modish cloister he felt that the life he was aware of
could never be dated, as if indeed were he to emerge into Piccadilly and
behold suddenly crinolines or even powdered wigs they would not greatly
surprise him. The Albany seemed to have wrung the spirit from the noisy
years that swept on their course outside, to have snatched from each its
heart and in the museum of this decorous glass arcade to have preserved
it immortally, exhibiting the frozen palpitations to a sensitive
observer.

"You're not talking much," said Prescott.

"I was thinking of old plays," said Michael.

Really he was thinking of one old play to which his mother had been
called away by Prescott on a jolly evening forgotten, whose value to
himself had been calculated at half-a-sovereign pressed into his hand.
Michael wished that the play could be going to be acted to-night and
that for half-a-sovereign he could restore to his mother that jolly
evening and that old play and his father. It seemed to him
incommunicably sad, so heavily did the Albany with its dead joys rest
upon his imagination, that people could not like years be frozen into a
perpetual present.

"Don't often go to the theater nowadays," said Prescott. "When Saxby was
alive"--Michael fancied that "alive" was substituted for something that
might have hurt his feelings--"we used to go a lot, but it's dull going
alone."

"Must you go alone?" asked Michael.

"Oh, no, of course I needn't. But I seem to be feeling oldish. Oldish,"
repeated the host.

Michael felt the usurpation of his own youth, but he could not resist
asking whether Prescott thought he was at all like his father, however
sharply this might accentuate the usurpation.

"Oh, yes, I think you are very like," said Prescott. "Good Lord, what a
pity, what a pity! Saxby was always a great stickler for law and order,
you know. He hated anything that seemed irregular or interfered with
things. He hated Radicals, for instance, and motor cars. He had much
more brain than many people thought, but of course," Prescott hurriedly
added, as if he wished to banish the slightest hint of professional
equipment, "of course he always preferred to be perfectly ordinary."

"I like to be ordinary," Michael said; "but I'm not."

"Never knew anybody at your age who was. I remember I tried to write
some poetry about a man who got killed saving a child from being run
over by a train," said Prescott in a tone of wise reminiscence. "You
know, I think you're a very lucky chap," he added. "Here you are all
provided for. In your first term at Oxford. No responsibilities except
the ordinary responsibilities of an ordinary gentleman. Got a charming
sister. Why, you might do anything."

"What, for example?" queried Michael.

"Oh, I don't know. There's the Diplomatic Service. But don't be in a
hurry. Wait a bit. Have a good time. Your allowance is to be four
hundred a year at St. Mary's. And when you're twenty-one you come into
roughly seven hundred a year of your own, and ultimately you'll have at
least two thousand a year. But don't be a young ass. You've been brought
up quietly. You haven't _got_ to cut a dash. Don't get in a mess with
women, and, if you do, come and tell me before you try to get out of
it."

"I don't care much about women," said Michael. "They're disappointing."

"What, already?" exclaimed Prescott, putting up his eyeglass.

Michael murmured a dark assent. The glass of champagne that owing to the
attention of the soldier-servant was always brimming, the dark discreet
room, and the Albany's atmosphere of passion squeezed into the mold of
contemporary decorum or bound up to stand in a row of Thackeray's books,
all combined to affect Michael with the idea that his life had been
lived. He felt himself to belong to the period of his host, and as the
rubied table glowed upon his vision more intensely, he beheld the old
impressionable Michael, the nervous, the self-conscious, the sensitive
slim ghost of himself receding out of sight into the gloom. Left behind
was the new Michael going up to the Varsity to-morrow morning for his
second term, going up with the assurance of finding delightful friends
who would confirm his distaste for the circumscribed past. Only a
recurrent apprehension that under the table he seemed called upon to
manage a number of extra legs, or perhaps it was only a slight
uncertainty as to which leg was crossed over the other at the moment,
made him wonder very gently whether after all some of this easy
remoteness were not due to the champagne. The figure of his host was
receding farther and farther every moment, and his conversation reached
Michael across a shimmering inestimable space of light, while finally he
was aware of his own voice talking very rapidly and with a half-defiant
independence of precisely what he wished to say. The evening swam past
comfortably, and gradually from the fumes of the cigar smoke the figure
of Prescott leaning back in his shadowy armchair took on once again a
definite corporeal existence. A clock on the mantelpiece chimed the
twelve strokes of midnight in a sort of silvery apology for obtruding
the hour. Michael came back into himself with a start of confusion.

"I say, I must go."

Prescott and he walked along the arcade toward Albany Courtyard.

"I say," said Michael, with his foot on the step of the hansom, "I think
I must have talked an awful lot of rot to-night."

"No, no, no, my dear boy; I've been very much interested," insisted
Prescott.

And all the jingling way home Michael tried to rescue from the labyrinth
of his memory some definite conversational thread that would lead him to
discover what he could have said that might conceivably have mildly
entertained his host.

"Nothing," he finally decided.

Next morning Michael met Alan at Paddington, and they went up to Oxford
with all the rich confidence of a term's maturity. Even in the drizzle
of a late January afternoon the city assumed in place of her eternal and
waylaying beauty a familiarity that for Michael made her henceforth more
beautiful.

After hall Avery came up to Michael's room, and while the rain dripped
endlessly outside, they talked lazily of life with a more clearly
assured intimacy than either of them could have contemplated the term
before.

Michael spoke of the new house, of his sister Stella, of his dinner with
Prescott at the Albany, almost indeed of the circumstances of his birth,
so easy did it seem to talk to Avery deep in the deep chair before the
blazing fire. He stopped short, however, at his account of the dinner.

"You know, I think I should like to turn ultimately into a Prescott," he
affirmed. "I think I should be happy living in rooms at the Albany
without ever having done a very great deal. I should like to feel I was
perfectly in keeping with my rooms and my friends and my servant."

"But you wouldn't be," Avery objected, "if you thought about it."

"No, but I shouldn't think about it," Michael pointed out. "I should
have steeled myself all my life not to think about it, and when your
eldest son comes to see me, Maurice, and drinks a little too much
champagne and talks as fast as his father used to talk, I shall know
just exactly how to make him feel that after all he isn't quite the
silly ass he will be inclined to think himself about the middle of his
third cigar."

Michael sank farther back into the haze of his pipe and, contemplating
dreamily the Mona Lisa, made up his mind that she would not become his
outlook thirty years hence. Some stern old admiral with his hand on the
terrestrial globe and a naval engagement in the background would better
suit his mantelpiece.

"I wonder what I shall be like at fifty," he sighed.

"It depends what you do in between nineteen and fifty," said Avery. "You
can't possibly settle down at the Albany as soon as you leave the
Varsity. You'll have to do something."

"What, for example?" Michael asked.

"Oh, write perhaps."

"Write!" Michael scoffed. "Why, when I can read all these"--he pointed
to his bookshelves--"and all the dozens and dozens more I intend to buy,
what a fool I should be to waste my time in writing."

"Well, I intend to write," said Avery. "In fact, I don't mind telling
you I intend to start a paper as soon as I can."

Michael laughed.

"And you'll contribute," Avery went on eagerly.

"How much?"

"I'm talking about articles. I shall call my paper--well, I haven't
thought about the title--but I shall get a good one. It won't be like
the papers of the nineties. It will be more serious. It will deal with
art, of course, and literature, and politics, but it won't be decadent.
It will try to reflect contemporary undergraduate thought. I think it
might be called The Oxford Looking-Glass."

"Yes, I expect it will be a looking-glass production," said Michael. "I
should call it The World Turned Upside Down."

"I'm perfectly serious about this paper," said Avery reproachfully.

"And I'm taking you very seriously," said Michael. "That's why I won't
write a line. Are you going to have illustrations?"

"We might have one drawing. I'm not quite sure how much it costs to
reproduce a drawing. But it would be fun to publish some rather advanced
stuff."

"Well, as long as you don't publish drawings that look as if the
compositor had suddenly got angry with the page and thrown asterisks at
it, and as long as----"

"Oh, shut up," interrupted the dreaming editor, "and don't fall into
that tiresome undergraduate cynicism. It's so young."

"But I am young," Michael pointed out with careful gravity. "So are you.
And, Maurice, really you know for me my own ambitions are best. I've got
a great sense of responsibility, and if I were to start going through
life trying to do things, I should worry myself all the time. The only
chance for me is to find a sort of negative attitude to life like
Prescott. You'll do lots of things. I think you're capable of them. But
I'd rather watch. At least in my present mood I would. I'd give anything
to feel I was a leader of men or whatever it is you are. But I'm not.
I've got a sister whom you ought to meet. She's got all the positive
energy in our family. I can't explain, Maurice, just exactly what I'm
feeling about existence at this moment, unless I tell you more about
myself than I possibly can--anyway yet a while. I don't want to do any
harm, and I don't think I could ever feel I was in a position to do any
good. Look here, don't let's talk any more. I meant to dream myself into
an attitude to-night, and you've made me talk like an earnest young
convert."

"I think I'll go round and consult Wedderburn about this paper," said
Avery excitedly.

"He thinks you're patronizing," Michael warned him.

Avery pulled up, suddenly hurt:

"Does he? I wonder why."

"But he won't, if you ask his advice about reproducing advanced
drawings."

"Doesn't he like me?" persisted Avery. "I'd better not go round to his
rooms."

"Don't be foolish, Maurice. Your sensitiveness is really all spoiled
vanity."

When Avery had hesitatingly embarked upon his expedition to Wedderburn,
Michael thought rather regretfully of his presence and wished he had
been more sympathetic in his reception of the great scheme. Yet perhaps
that was the best way to have begun his own scheme for not being
disturbed by life. Michael thought how easily he might have had to
reproach himself over Lily Haden. He had escaped once. There should be
no more active exposure to frets and fevers. Looking back on his life,
Michael came to the conclusion that henceforth books should give him his
adventures. Actually he almost made up his mind to retire even from the
observation of reality, so much had he felt, all this Christmas
vacation, the dominance of Stella and so deeply had he been impressed by
Prescott's attitude of inscrutable commentary.

Michael was greatly amused when two or three evenings later he strolled
round to Wedderburn's rooms to find him and Maurice Avery sitting in
contemplation of about twenty specimen covers of The Oxford
Looking-Glass that were pinned against the wall on a piece of old
lemon-colored silk. He was greatly amused to find that the reconciling
touch of the Muses had united Avery and Wedderburn in a firm
friendship--so much amused indeed that he allowed himself to be
nominated to serve on the obstetrical committee that was to effect the
birth of this undergraduate bantling.

"Though what exactly you want me to do," protested Michael, "I don't
quite know."

"We want money, anyway," Avery frankly admitted. "Oh, and by the way,
Michael, I've asked Goldney, the Treasurer of the O.U.D.S. to put you
up."

"What on earth for?" gasped Michael.

"Oh, they'll want supers. They're doing The Merchant of Venice. Great
sport. Wedders is going to join. I want him to play the Prince of
Morocco."

"But are you running the Ouds as well as The Oxford Looking-Glass?"
Michael inquired gently.

In the end, however, he was persuaded by Avery to become a member, and
not only to join himself but to persuade other St. Mary's freshmen,
including Lonsdale, to join. The preliminary readings and the rehearsals
certainly passed away the Lent term very well, for though Michael was
not cast for a speaking part, he had the satisfaction of seeing
Wedderburn and Avery play respectively the Princes of Morocco and
Arragon, and of helping Lonsdale to entertain the professional actresses
who came up from London to take part in the production.

"I think I ought to have played Lorenzo," said Lonsdale seriously to
Michael, just before the first night. "I think Miss Delacourt would have
preferred to play Jessica to my Lorenzo. As it is I'm only a gondolier,
an attendant, and a soldier."

Michael was quite relieved when this final lament burst forth. It seemed
to set Lonsdale once more securely in the ranks of the amateurs. There
had been a dangerous fluency of professional terminology in "my
Lorenzo."

"I'm only a gondolier, an attendant, and a mute judge," Michael
observed.

"And I don't think that ass from Oriel knows how to play Lorenzo,"
Lonsdale went on. "He doesn't appreciate acting with Miss Delacourt. I
wonder if my governor would be very sick if I chucked the Foreign Office
and went on the stage. Do you think I could act, if I had a chance? I'm
perfectly sure I could act with Miss Delacourt. Don't forget you're
lunching with me to-morrow. I don't mind telling you she threw over a
lunch with that ass from Oriel who's playing Lorenzo. I never heard such
an idiotic voice in my life."

Such conversations coupled with requests from Wedderburn and Maurice
Avery to hear them their two long speeches seemed to Michael to occupy
all his leisure that term. At the same time he enjoyed the rehearsals in
the lecture rooms at Christ Church, and he enjoyed escaping sometimes to
Alan's rooms and ultimately persuading Alan to become a gondolier, an
attendant and a soldier. Moreover, he met various men from other
colleges, and he began to realize faintly thereby the individuality of
each college, but most of all perhaps the individuality of his own
college, as when Lonsdale came up to him one day with an expression of
alarm to say that he had been invited to lunch by the man who played
Launcelot Gobbo.

"Well, what of it?" said Michael. "He probably wants to borrow your
dog."

"He says he's at Lincoln," Lonsdale stammered.

"So he is."

"Well, I don't know where Lincoln is. Have you got a map or something of
Oxford?"

The performance of The Merchant of Venice took place and was a great
success. The annual supper of the club took place, when various old
members of theatrical appearance came down and made speeches and told
long stories about their triumphs in earlier days. Next morning the
auxiliary ladies returned to London, and in the afternoon the
disconsolate actors went down to the barges and encouraged their various
Toggers to victory.

Lonsdale forgot all about Miss Delacourt when he saw Tommy Grainger
almost swinging the St. Mary's boat into the apprehensive stern of the
only boat which stood between them and the headship, and that evening
his only lament was that the enemy had on this occasion escaped. The
Merchant of Venice with its tights and tinsel and ruffs faded out in
that Lenten week of drizzling rain, when every afternoon Michael and
Lonsdale and many others ran wildly along the drenched towing-path
beside their Togger. And when in the end St. Mary's failed to catch the
boat in front, Michael and Lonsdale and many others felt each in his own
way that after all it had been greatly worth while to try.

Michael came down for the Easter vacation with the pleasant excitement
of seeing 173 Cheyne Walk furnished and habitable. In deference to his
mother's particular wish he had not invited anybody to stay with him,
but he regretted he had not been more insistent when he saw each room in
turn nearly twice as delightful as he had pictured it.

There was his mother's own sitting-room whose rose du Barri cushions and
curtains conformed exactly to his own preconceptions, and there was
Stella's bedroom very white and severe, and his own bedroom pleasantly
mediæval, and the dining-room very cool and green, and the drawing-room
with wallpaper of brilliant Chinese birds and in a brass cage a blue and
crimson macaw blinking at the somber Thames. Finally there was the
studio to which he was eagerly escorted by Stella.

"I haven't done anything but just have it whitewashed," she said. "I
wanted you to choose the scheme, as I'm going to make all the noise."

The windy March sunlight seemed to fill the great room when Michael and
his sister entered it.

"But it's absolutely empty," he exclaimed, and indeed there was nothing
in all that space except Stella's piano, looking now almost as small and
graceful as in Carlington Road it had seemed ponderous.

"You shall decorate the room," she said. "What will you choose?"

Michael visualized rapidly for a moment, first a baronial hall with
gothic chairs and skins and wrought-iron everywhere, with tapestries and
blazonries and heavy gold embroideries. Then he thought of crude and
amazing contrasts of barbarous reds and vivid greens and purples, with
Persian rugs and a smell of joss-sticks and long low divans. Yet, even
as Michael's fancy decked itself with kaleidoscopic intentions, his mind
swiftly returned to the keyboard's alternations of white and black, so
that in a moment exotic splendors were merged in esoteric significance.

"I don't think we want anything," he finally proclaimed. "Just two or
three tall chairs and a mask of somebody--Beethoven perhaps--and black
silk curtains. You see the piano wouldn't go with elaborate
decorations."

So every opportunity of prodigal display was neglected, and the studio
remained empty. To Michael, all that windy Eastertide, it was an
infallible thrill to leave behind him the sedate Georgian house and,
crossing the little walled rectangle of pallid grass, to pause and
listen to the muffled sound of Stella's notes. Never had any entrance
seemed to him so perfect a revelation of joy within as now when he was
able to fling wide open the door of the studio and feel, while the power
and glory of the sonata assailed him, that this great white room was
larger even than the earth itself. Sitting upon a high-backed chair,
Michael would watch the white walls melting like clouds in the sun,
would see their surface turn to liquid light, and fancy in these clear
melodies of Stella that he and she and the piano and the high-backed
chair were in this room not more trammeled than by space itself. Alan
sometimes came shyly to listen, and while Stella played and played,
Michael would wonder if ever these two would make for him the union that
already he was aware of coveting. Alan was rosy with the joy of life on
the slopes of the world, and Stella must surely have always someone
fresh and clean and straight like Alan to marvel at her.

"By Jove, she must have frightfully strong wrists and fingers," said
Alan.

Just so, thought Michael, might a shepherd marvel at a lark's powerful
wings.

April went her course that year with less of sweet uncertainty than
usual, and Michael walked very often along the Embankment dreaming in
the sunshine as day by day, almost hour by hour, the trees were
greening. Chelsea appealed to his sense of past greatness. It pleased
him to feel that Carlyle and Rossetti might have walked as he was
walking now during some dead April of time. Moreover, such heroes were
not too far away. Their landscape was conceivable. People who had known
them well were still alive. Swinburne and Meredith, too, had walked
here, and themselves were still alive. In Carlington Road there had been
none of this communion with the past. Nobody outside the contemporary
residents could ever have walked along its moderately cheerful
uniformity.

Michael, as he pondered the satisfaction which had come from the change
of residence, began to feel a sentimental curiosity about Carlington
Road and its surrounding streets. It was not yet a year since he had
existed there familiarly, almost indigenously; but the combination of
Oxford and Cheyne Walk made him feel a lifetime had passed since he had
been so willingly transplanted. One morning late in April and just
before he was going up for the summer term, he determined to pay a visit
to the scenes of his childhood. It was an experience more depressing
than he had imagined it would be. He was shocked by the sensation of
constraint and of slightly contemptible limitation that was imposed upon
his fancy by the pilgrimage. He thought to himself, as he wandered
between the rows of thin red houses, that after the freedom of the river
Carlington Road was purely intolerable. It did not possess the
narrowness that lent a mysterious intimacy. The two rows of houses did
not lean over and meet one another as houses lean over, almost seeming
to gossip with one another, in ancient towns. They gave rather the
impression of two mutually unattractive entities propelled into
contiguity by the inexorable economy of the life around. The two rows
came together solely for the purpose of crowding together a number of
insignificant little families whose almost humiliating submission to the
tyranny of city life was expressed pathetically by the humble flaunting
of their window-boxes and in their front gardens symbolically by the
dingy parterres of London Pride. Michael wondered whether a spirit
haunting the earth feels in the perception of its former territory so
much shame as he felt now in approaching 64 Carlington Road. When he
reached the house itself, he was able to expel his sentiment for the
past by the trivial fact that the curtains of the new owner had
dispossessed the house of its personality. Only above the door, the
number in all its squat assurance was able to convince him that this was
indeed the house where he had wrestled so long and so hardly with the
problems of childhood. There, too, was the plane-tree that, once an
object of reproach, now certainly gave some distinction to the threshold
of this house when every area down the road owned a lime-tree identical
in age and growth.

Yet with all his distaste for 64 Carlington Road Michael could scarcely
check the impulse he had to mount the steps and, knocking at the door,
inform whomsoever should open it that he had once lived in this very
house. He passed on, however, remembering at every corner of every new
street some bygone unimportant event which had once occupied his whole
horizon. Involuntarily he walked on and on in a confusion of
recollections, until he came to the corner of the road where Lily Haden
lived.

It was with a start of self-rebuke that he confessed to himself that
here was the ultimate object of his revisitation. He had scarcely
thought of Lily since the betrayal of his illusions on that brazen July
day when last he had seen her in the garden behind her house. If he had
thought of her at all, she had passed through his mind like the memory,
or less even than the definite memory, like the consciousness that never
is absent of beautiful days spent splendidly in the past. Sometimes
during long railway journeys Michael had played with himself the game of
vowing to remember an exact moment, some field or effect of clouds which
the train was rapidly passing. Yet though he knew that he had done this
a hundred times, it was always as impossible to conjure again the vision
he had vowed to remember as it had been impossible ever to remember the
exact moment of falling asleep.

After all, however, Lily could not have taken her place with these
moments so impossible to recapture, or he would not have come to himself
with so acute a consciousness of her former actuality here at the corner
of Trelawney Road. It was almost as uncanny as the poem of Ulalume, and
Michael found himself murmuring, "Of my most immemorial year," half
expectant of Lily's slim form swaying toward him, half blushful already
in breathless anticipation of the meeting.

Down the road a door opened. Michael's heart jumped annoyingly out of
control. It was indeed her door, and whoever was coming out hesitated in
the hall. Michael went forward impulsively, but the door slammed, and a
man with a pencil behind his ear ran hurriedly down the steps. Michael
saw that the windows of the house were covered with the names of
house-agents, that several "to let" boards leaned confidentially over
the railings to accost passers-by. Michael caught up the man, who was
whistling off in the opposite direction, and asked him if he knew where
Mrs. Haden had gone.

"I wish I did," said the man, sucking his teeth importantly. "No, sir,
I'm afraid I don't. Nor anybody else."

"You mean they went away in a hurry," said Michael shamefaced.

"Yes, sir."

"And left no address?"

"Left nothing but a heap of tradesmen's bills in the hall."

Michael turned aside, sorry for the ignominious end of the Hadens, but
glad somehow that the momentary temptation to renew his friendship with
the family, perhaps even his love for Lily, was so irremediably
defeated.

In the sunset that night, as he and Stella sat in the drawing-room
staring over the incarnadined river, Michael told his sister of his
discovery.

"I'm glad you're not going to start that business again," she said.
"And, Michael, do try not to fall in love for a bit, because I shall
soon have such a terrible heap of difficulties that you must solve for
me disinterestedly and without prejudice."

"What sort of difficulties?" Michael demanded, with eyes fixed upon her
cheeks warm with the evening light.

"Oh, I don't know," she half whispered. "But let's go away together in
the summer and not even take a piano."



CHAPTER V

YOUTH'S DOMINATION


On May Morning, when the choir boys of St. Mary's hymned the rising sun,
Michael was able for the first time to behold the visible expression of
his own mental image of Oxford's completeness, to pierce in one dazzling
moment of realization the cloudy and elusive concepts which had
restlessly gathered and resolved themselves in beautiful obscurity about
his mind. He was granted on that occasion to hold the city, as it were,
imprisoned in a crystal globe, and by the intensity of his evocation to
recognize perfectly that uncapturable quintessence of human desire and
human vision so supremely displayed through the merely outward glory of
its repository.

All night Michael and a large party of freshmen, now scarcely to be
called freshmen so much did they feel they possessed of the right to
live, had sustained themselves with dressed crab and sleepy
bridge-fours. During the gray hour of hinted dawn they wandered round
the college, rousing from sleep such lazy contemporaries as had vowed
that not all the joys and triumph of May Morning on the tower should
make them keep awake, during the vigil. Even so with what it contained
of ability to vex other people that last hour hung a little heavily upon
the enthusiasts. Slowly, however, the sky lightened: slowly the cold
hues and blushes of the sun's youth, that stood as symbol for so much
here in St. Mary's, made of the east one great shell of lucent color.
The gray stones of the college lost the mysterious outlines of dawn and
sharpened slowly to a rose-warmed vitality. The choir boys gathered like
twittering birds at the base of the tower: energetic visitors came half
shyly through the portal that was to give such a sense of time's
rejuvenation as never before had they deemed possible: dons came
hurrying like great black birds in the gathering light: and at last the
tired revelers, Michael and Wedderburn, Maurice Avery and Lonsdale and
Grainger and Cuffe and Castleton and a score besides equipped in cap and
gown went scrambling and laughing up the winding stairs to the top.

For Michael the moment of waiting for the first shaft of the sun was
scarcely to be endured: the vision of the city below was almost too
poignant during the hush of expectancy that preceded the declaration of
worship. Then flashed a silver beam in the east: the massed choir boys
with one accord opened their mouths and sang just exactly, Michael said
to himself, like the morning stars. The rising sun sent ray upon ray
lancing over the roofs of the outspread city until with all its spires
and towers, with all its domes and houses and still, unpopulous streets
it sparkled like the sea. The hymn was sung: the choir boys twittered
again like sparrows, and, bowing their greetings to one another, the
dons cawed gravely like rooks. The bells incredibly loud here on the
tower's top crashed out so ardently that every stone seemed to nod in
time as the tower trembled and swayed backward and forward while the sun
mounted into the day.

Michael leaned over the parapet and saw the little people busy as emmets
at the base of the tower on whose summit he had the right to stand.
Intoxicated with repressed adoration, the undergraduates sent hurtling
outward into the air their caps, and down below the boys of the town
scrambled and fought for these trophies of May Morning.

Michael through all the length of that May day dreamed himself into the
heart of England. He had refused Maurice's invitation to a somewhat
mannered breakfast-party at Sandford Lasher, though when he saw the
almost defiantly jolly party ride off on bicycles from the lodge, he was
inclined to regret his refusal. He wished he had persuaded Alan, now
sleeping in the stillness of the House unmoved by May Morning
celebrations, to rise early and come with him on some daylong jaunt far
afield. It was a little dull to sit down to breakfast in the college
shorn of revelers, and for another two hours unlikely to show any sign
of life on the part of those who had declined for sleep the excitement
of eating dressed crab and playing bridge through the vigil. After
breakfast it would still be only about seven o'clock with a hot-eyed
languor to anticipate during the rest of the morning. Michael almost
decided to go to bed. He turned disconsolately out of the lodge and
walked round Cloisters, out through one of the dark entries on to the
lawns of New Quad gold-washed in the morning stillness. It seemed
incredible that no sign should remain here of that festal life which had
so lately thronged the scene. Michael went up to the J.C.R. and ate a
much larger breakfast than usual, after which, feeling refreshed, he
extracted his bicycle from the shed and at the bidding of a momentary
impulse rode out of Oxford toward Lechlade.

It had been an early spring that year, and the country was far more
typical than usual of old May Morning. Michael nowadays disliked the
sensation of riding a bicycle, and though gradually the double
irritation of no sleep and a long ride unaccompanied wore off, he was
glad to see Lechlade spire and most glad of all to find himself deep in
the grass by the edge of the river. Lying on his back and staring up at
the slow clouds, he was glad he had refused to attend Maurice's
mannered breakfast. Soon he fell asleep, and when he woke the morning
had gone and it was time for lunch. Michael felt magnificently at ease
with the country after his rest, and when he had eaten at the inn, he
went back to the river's bank and slept away two hours more. Then for a
while in the afternoon, so richly endowed with warmth and shadows that
it seemed to have stolen a summer disguise, he walked about level
water-meadows very lush and vivid, painted with gay and simple flowers
and holding in their green embroidered lap all England. Riding back to
Oxford, Michael thought he would have tea at an inn that stood beside a
dreaming ferry. He was not sure of the inn's name, and deliberately he
did not ask what sweet confluence of streams here happened, whether it
were Windrush or Evenlode or some other nameless tributary that was
flowing into the ancestral Thames.

Michael thought he would like to stay on to dinner and ride back to
Oxford by moonlight. So with dusk falling he sat in the inn garden that
was faintly melodious with the plash of the river and perfumed with
white stocks. A distant clock chimed the hour, and Michael, turning for
one moment to salute the sunset, went into the somber inn parlor.

At the table another undergraduate was sitting, and Michael hoped a
conversation might ensue since he was attracted to this solitary inmate.
His companion, however, scarcely looked up as he took his seat, but
continued to stare very hard at a small piece of writing-paper on the
table before him. He scarcely seemed to notice what was put on the table
by the serving-maid, and he ate absently with his eyes still fixed upon
his paper. Michael wondered if he were trying to solve a cipher and
regretted his preoccupation, since the longer he spent in his silent
company the more keenly he felt the attraction of this strange youth
with the tumbled hair and drooping lids and delicately carved
countenance. At last he put away the pencil he had been chewing instead
of his food, and slipped the paper into the pocket of his waistcoat.
Then with an expression of curiosity so intense as to pucker up his pale
forehead into numberless wrinkles the pensive undergraduate examined the
food on the plate before him.

"I think it's rather cold by now," said Michael, unable to keep silence
any longer in the presence of this interesting stranger.

"I was trying to alter the last line of a sonnet. If I knew you better,
I'd read you the six alternative versions. But if I read them to you
now, you'd think I was an affected ass," he drawled.

Michael protested he would like to hear them very much.

"They're all equally bad," the poet proclaimed gloomily. "What made you
come to this inn? I didn't know that anybody else except me had ever
been here. You're at the Varsity, I suppose?"

Michael with a nod announced his college.

"I'm at Balliol. At Balliol you find the youngest dons and the oldest
undergraduates in Oxford."

"I think just the reverse is true of St. Mary's," Michael suggested.

"Well, certainly the youngest thing I ever met is a St. Mary's man. I
refer to the ebullient Avery whom I expect you know."

"Oh, rather. In fact, he's rather a friend of mine. He's keen on
starting a paper just at present."

"I know. I know," said the poet. "He's asked me to be one of the
forty-nine sub-editors. Are you another?"

"I was invited to be," Michael admitted. "But instead I'm going to
subscribe some of the capital required. My name's Fane."

"Mine's Hazlewood. It's rather jolly to meet a person in this inn.
Usually I only meet fishermen more flagrantly mendacious than anywhere
else. But they've got bored with me because I always unhesitatingly go
two pounds better than the biggest juggler of avoirdupois present. Have
you ever thought of the romance in Troy measure? I can imagine Paris
weighing the charms of Helen--no--on second thoughts I'm being forced.
Don't encourage me to talk for effect. How did you come to this inn?"

"I don't know," said Michael, wrestling as he spoke with the largest
roast chicken he had ever seen. "I think I missed a turning. I've been
at Lechlade all day."

"We may as well ride back together," Hazlewood proposed.

After dinner they talked and smoked for a while in the inn parlor, and
then with half-a-moon high in the heavens they scudded back to Oxford.
Hazlewood invited Michael to come up to his rooms for a drink.

"Do you know many Balliol people?" he asked.

Michael named a few acquaintances who had been the fruit of his acting
in The Merchant of Venice.

"I daresay some of that push will be in my rooms. Other people use my
rooms almost more than I do myself. I think they have a vague idea
they're keeping a chapel, or else it's a relief from the unparagoned
brutality of the college architecture."

Hazlewood was right in his surmise, for when he and Michael reached his
rooms, they seemed full of men. It was impossible to say at once how
many were present because the only light was given by two gigantic wax
candles that stood on either side of the fireplace in massive
candlesticks of wrought iron.

"Mr. Fane of St. Mary's," said Hazlewood casually, and Michael was dimly
aware of multitudinous nods of greeting and an unanimous murmur of
expostulation with Hazlewood for his lateness.

"I suppose you know that this is a meeting of the Chandos, Guy?" the
chorus sighed, in a climax of exasperated patience.

"Forgot all about it," said Hazlewood. "But I suppose I can bring a
visitor."

Michael made a move to depart, feeling embarrassed by the implied
criticism of the expostulation.

"Sit down," said Hazlewood peremptorily. "If I can't bring a visitor I
resign from the Society, and the five hundred and fiftieth meeting will
have to be held somewhere else. I call upon Lord Comeragh to read us his
carefully prepared paper on The Catapult in Mediæval Warfare."

"Don't be an affected ass, Guy," said Comeragh. "You know you yourself
are reading a paper on The Sonnet."

"Rise from the noble lord," said Hazlewood. "The first I've had in a
day's fishing. I say, Fane, don't listen to this rot."

The company settled back in anticipation of the paper, while the host
and reader searched desperately in the dim light for his manuscript.

Michael found the evening a delightful end to his day. He was
sufficiently tired by his nocturnal vigil to be able to accept the
experience without any prickings of self-consciousness and doubt as to
whether this Balliol club resented his intrusion. Hazlewood's room was
the most personal that so far he had seen in Oxford. It shadowed forth
for Michael possibilities that in the sporting atmosphere of St. Mary's
he had begun to forget. He would not have liked Tommy Grainger or
Lonsdale to have rooms like this one of Hazlewood's, nor would he have
exchanged the society of Grainger and Lonsdale for any other society in
Oxford; but he was glad to think that Hazlewood and his rooms existed.
He lay back in a deep armchair watching the candlelight flicker over the
tapestries, and the shadows of the listeners in giant size upon their
martial and courtly populations. He heard in half-a-dream the level
voice of Hazlewood enunciating his theories in graceful singing
sentences, and the occasional fizz of a replenished glass. The tobacco
smoke grew thicker and thicker, curling in spirals about the emaciated
loveliness of an ivory saint. The paper was over: and before the
discussion was started somebody rose and drew back the dull green
curtains sown with golden fleur-de-lys. Moonbeams came slanting in and
with them the freshness of the May night: more richly blue gathered the
tobacco smoke: more magical became the room, and more perfectly the
decorative expression of all Oxford stood for. One by one the members of
the Chandos Society rose up to comment on the paper, mocking and
earnest, affected and sincere, always clever, sometimes humorous,
sometimes truly wise with an apologetic wisdom that was the more
delightful.

Michael came to the conclusion that he liked Balliol, that most unjustly
had he heard its atmosphere stigmatized as priggish. He made up his mind
to examine more closely at leisure this atmosphere, so that from it he
might extract the quintessential spirit. Walking with Hazlewood to the
lodge, he asked him if the men he had met in his room would stand as
representatives of the college.

"Yes, I should think so," said Hazlewood. "Why, are you making
exhaustive researches into the social aspects of Oxford life? It takes
an American to do that really well, you know."

"But what is the essential Balliol?" Michael demanded.

"Who could say so easily? Perhaps it's the same sort of spirit, slightly
filtered down through modern conditions, as you found in Elizabethan
England."

Michael asked for a little more elaboration.

"Well, take a man connected with the legislative class, directly by
birth and indirectly by opportunities, give him at least enough taste
not to be ashamed of poetry, give him also enough energy not to be
ashamed of football or cricket, and add a profound satisfaction with
Oxford in general and Balliol in particular, and there you are."

"Will that description serve for yourself?" Michael asked.

"For me? Oh, great scott, no! I'm utterly deficient in proconsular
ambitions."

They had reached the lodge by now, and Michael left his new friend after
promising very soon to come to lunch and pursue further his acquaintance
with Balliol.

When Michael got back to college, Avery was hard at work with Wedderburn
drawing up the preliminary circular of The Oxford Looking-Glass. Both
the promoters insisted that Michael should listen to their announcement
before he told them anything about himself or his day.

_"The Oxford Looking-Glass" Avery began, "is intended to reflect
contemporary undergraduate thought."_

"I prefer 'will reflect,'" Wedderburn interrupted, in bass accents of
positive opinion.

"I don't think it very much matters," said Michael, "as long as you
don't think that 'contemporary undergraduate thought' is too
pretentious. The question is whether you can see a ghost in a mirror,
for a spectral appearance is just about as near as undergraduate thought
ever reaches toward reality."

Neither Avery nor Wedderburn condescended to reply to his criticism, and
the chief promoter went on:

_"Some of the subjects which The Oxford Looking-Glass will reflect will
be Literature, Politics, Painting, Music, and the Drama."_

"I think that's a rotten sentence," Michael interrupted.

"Well, of course, it will be polished," Avery irritably explained. "What
Wedders and I have been trying to do all the evening is to say as simply
and directly as possible what we are aiming at."

"Ah!" Michael agreed, smiling. "Now I'm beginning to understand."

"_It may be assumed_," Avery went on, "_that the opinion of those who
are 'knocking at the door_' (in inverted commas)----"

"I shouldn't think anybody would ever open to people standing outside a
door in inverted commas," Michael observed.

"Look here, Michael," Avery and Wedderburn protested simultaneously,
"will you shut up, or you won't be allowed to contribute."

"Haven't you ever heard of the younger generation knocking at the door
in Ibsen?" fretfully demanded Maurice. _"That the opinion of those who
are knocking at the door," he continued defiantly, "is not unworthy of
an audience."_

"But if they're knocking at a door," Michael objected, "they can't be
reflected in a mirror; unless it's a glass door, and if it's a glass
door, they oughtn't to be knocking on it very hard. And if they don't
knock hard, there isn't much point----"

"_The Editor in chief_," pursued Maurice, undaunted by Michael's attempt
to reduce to absurdity the claims of The Oxford Looking-Glass, "_will be
M. Avery (St. Mary's), with whom will be associated C. St. C. Wedderburn
(St. Mary's), C. M. S. Fane (St. Mary's), V. L. A. Townsend (B.N.C.)_. I
haven't asked him yet, as a matter of fact, but he's sure to join
because he's very keen on Ibsen. _W. Mowbray (Univ.)._ Bill Mowbray's
very bucked at the scheme. He's just resigned from the Russell and
joined the Canning. They say at the Union that a lot of the principal
speakers are going to follow Chamberlain's lead for Protection. _N. R.
Stewart (Trinity)._ Nigel Stewart is most tremendously keen, and rather
a good man to have, as he's had two poems taken by The Saturday Review
already. _G. Hazlewood (Balliol)_----"

"That's the man I've come to talk about," said Michael. "I met him
to-day."

Avery asked if Michael liked old Guy and was obviously pleased to hear
he had been considered interesting. "For in his own way," said Avery
solemnly, "he's about the most brilliant man in the Varsity. I'd sooner
have him under me than all the rest put together, except of course you
and Wedders," he added quickly. "I'm going to take this prospectus round
to show him to-morrow. He may have some suggestions to make."

Michael joined with the Editor in supposing that Hazlewood might have a
large number of suggestions. "And he's got a sense of humor," he added
consolingly.

For a week or two Michael found himself deeply involved in the
preliminaries of The Oxford Looking-Glass, and the necessary discussions
gave many pleasant excuses for dinner parties at the O.U.D.S. or the
Grid to which Townsend and Stewart (both second-year men) belonged.
Vernon Townsend wished to make The Oxford Looking-Glass the organ of
advanced drama; but Avery, though he was willing for Townsend to be as
advanced as he chose within the limits of the space allotted to his
progressive pen, was unwilling to surrender the whole of the magazine to
drama, especially since under the expanding ambitions of editorship he
had come to the conclusion he was a critic himself, and so was the more
firmly disinclined to let slip the trenchant opportunity of pulverizing
the four or five musical comedies that would pass through the Oxford
theater every term. However, Townsend's demand for the drama and
nothing but the drama was mitigated by his determination as a Liberal
that The Oxford Looking-Glass should not be made the mouthpiece of the
New Toryism represented by Mowbray; and Maurice was able to recover the
control of the dramatic criticism by representing to Townsend the
necessity for such unflinching exposition of Free Trade and Palmerston
Club principles as would balance Mowbray's torrential leadership of the
Tory Democrats. "So called," Townsend bitterly observed, "because as he
supposed they were neither Tories nor Democrats."

Mowbray at the end of his second year was certainly one of the
personalities of undergraduate Oxford. For a year and a term he had
astonished the Russell Club by the vigor of his Radicalism; and then
just when they began to talk of electing him President and were looking
forward to this Presidency of the Russell as an omen of his future
Presidency of the Union itself, he resigned from the Russell, and
figuratively marched across the road to the Canning, taking with him
half a dozen earnest young converts and galvanizing with new hopes and
new ambitions the Oxford Tories now wilting under the strain of the Boer
war. Mowbray managed to impart to any enterprise the air of a
conspiracy, and Michael never saw him arrive at a meeting of The Oxford
Looking-Glass without feeling they should all assume cloaks and masks
and mutter with heads close together. Mowbray did indeed exist in an
atmosphere of cabals, and his consent to sit upon the committee of The
Oxford Looking-Glass was only a small item in his plot to overthrow
Young Liberalism in Oxford. His rooms at University were always thronged
with satellites, who at a word from him changed to meteors and whizzed
about Oxford feverishly to outshine the equally portentous but less
dazzling exhalations of Liberal opinion.

Stewart of Trinity represented an undergraduate type that perhaps had
endured and would endure longer than any of the others. He would have
been most in his element if he had come up in the early nineties, but
yet with all his intellectual survivals he did not seem an anachronism.
Perhaps it was as well that he had not come up in the nineties, since
much of his obvious and youthful charm might have been buried beneath
absurdities which in those reckless decadent days were carried sometimes
to moral extremes that destroyed a little of the absurdity. As it was,
Stewart was perhaps the most beloved member of Trinity, whether he were
feeding Rugger blues on plovers' eggs or keeping an early chapel with
the expression of an earthbound seraph or playing tennis in the Varsity
doubles or whether, surrounded by Baudelaire and Rollinat and Rops and
Huysmans, he were composing an ode to Satan, with two candles burning
before his shrine of King Charles the Martyr and a ramshorn of snuff and
glasses of mead waiting for casual callers.

With Townsend, Mowbray, and Stewart, thought Michael, added to
Wedderburn's Pre-Raphaelitism and staid Victorian romance, to
Hazlewood's genuine inspiration, and with Maurice Avery to whip the
result into a soufflée of exquisite superficiality, it certainly seemed
as if The Oxford Looking-Glass might run for at least a year. But what
exactly was himself doing on the committee? He could contribute, outside
money, nothing of force to help in driving the new magazine along to
success. Still, somehow he had allowed his name to appear in the
preliminary circular, and next October when the first number was
published somehow he would share however indirectly in the credit or
reproach accruing. Meanwhile, there were the mere externals of this
first summer term to be enjoyed, this summer term whose beginning he had
hailed from St. Mary's tower, this dream of youth's domination set
against the gray background of time's endurance that was itself spun of
the fabric of dreams.

Divinity and Pass Moderations would occur some time at the term's end,
inexplicable as such a dreary interruption seemed in these gliding
river-days which only rain had power for a brief noontide or evening to
destroy. Yet, as an admission that time flies, the candidates for Pass
Mods and Divvers attended a few sun-drowsed lectures and never omitted
to lay most tenderly underneath the cushions of punt or canoe the
text-books of their impertinent examinations. Seldom, however, did
Cicero or the logical Jevons emerge in that pool muffled from sight by
trellised boughs of white and crimson hawthorn. Seldom did Socrates have
better than a most listless audience or St. Paul the most inaccurate
geographers, when on the upper river the punt was held against the bank
by paddles fast in the mud; for there, as one lay at ease, the world
became a world of tall-growing grasses, and the noise of life no more
than the monotony of a river's lapping, or along the level water meadows
a faint sibilance of wind. This was the season when supper was eaten by
figures in silhouette against the sunset, figures that afterward drifted
slowly down to college under the tree-entangled stars and flitting
assiduous bats, with no sound all the way but the rustle of a bird's
wing in the bushes and the fizz of a lighted match dropped idly over the
side of the canoe. This was the season when for a long while people sat
talking at open windows, and from the Warden's garden came sweetly up
the scent of May flowers.

Sometimes Michael went to the Parks to watch Alan play in one or two of
the early trial matches, and sometimes they sat in the window of Alan's
room looking out into Christ Church meadows. Nothing that was important
was ever spoken during these dreaming nights, and if Michael tried to
bring the conversation round to Stella, Alan would always talk of
leg-drives and the problems that perpetually presented themselves to
cover-point. Yet the evenings were always to Michael in retrospect
valuable, betokening a period of perfect happiness from the lighting of
the first pipe to the eating of the last meringue.

Eights Week drew near, and Michael decided after much deliberation that
he would not ask either his mother or Stella to take part in the
festival. One of his reasons, only very grudgingly admitted, for not
inviting Stella was his fear lest Alan might be put into the shade by
certain more brilliant friends whom he would feel bound to introduce to
her. Having made up his own mind that Alan represented the perfection of
normal youth, he was unwilling to admit dangerous competitors. Besides,
though by now he had managed to rid himself of most of his
self-consciousness, he was not sure he felt equal to charging the
battery of eyes that mounted guard in the lodge. The almost savage
criticism of friends and relatives indulged in by the freshmen's table
was more than he could equably contemplate for his own mother and
sister.

So Eights Week arrived with Michael unencumbered and delightfully free
to stand in the lodge and watch the embarrassed youth, usually so
debonair and self-possessed, herding a long trail of gay sisters and
cousins toward his room where even now waited the inevitable salmon
mayonnaise. Lonsdale in a moment of filial enthusiasm had invited his
father and mother and only sister to come up, and afterward had spent
two days of lavish regret for the rashness of the undertaking.

"After all, they can only spend the day," he sighed hopefully to
Michael, "You'll come and help me through lunch, won't you, and we'll
rush them off by the first train possible after the first division is
rowed. I was an ass to ask them. You won't mind being bored a bit by my
governor? I believe he's considered quite a clever man."

Michael, remembering that Lord Cleveden had been a distinguished
diplomatist, was prepared to accept his son's estimate.

"They're arriving devilish early," said Lonsdale, coming up to Michael's
room with an anxious face on the night before.

Ever since his fatal display of affection, he had taken to posting, as
it were, bulletins of the sad event on Michael's door.

"Would you be frightfully bored if I asked you to come down to the
station and meet them? It will be impossible for me to talk to the three
of them at once. I think you'd better talk about wine to the governor.
It'll buck him rather to think his port has been appreciated. Tell him
how screwed we made the bobby that night when we were climbing in late
from that binge on the Cher, and let down glass after glass of the
governor's port from Tommy's rooms in Parsons' Quad."

Michael promised to do his best to entertain the father, and without
fail to support the son at the ceremony of meeting his people next
morning.

"I say, you've come frightfully early," Lonsdale exclaimed, as Lord and
Lady Cleveden with his sister Sylvia alighted from the train.

"Well, we can walk round my old college," suggested Lord Cleveden
cheerfully. "I scarcely ever have an opportunity to get up to Oxford
nowadays."

"I say, I'm awfully sorry to let you in for this," Lonsdale whispered to
Michael. "Don't encourage the governor to do too much buzzing around at
the House. Tell him the mayonnaise is getting cold or something."

Soon they arrived at Christ Church, and Michael rather enjoyed walking
round with Lord Cleveden and listening to his stately anecdotes of
bygone adventure in these majestic quadrangles.

"I wonder if Lord Saxby was up in your time?" asked Michael as they
stood in Peckwater.

"Yes, knew him well. In fact, he was a connection of mine. Poor chap, he
died in South Africa. Where did you meet him? He never went about much."

"Oh, I met him with a chap called Prescott," said Michael hurriedly.

"Dick Prescott? Good gracious!" Lord Cleveden exclaimed, "I haven't seen
him for years. What an extraordinary mess poor Saxby made of his life,
to be sure."

"Did he?" asked Michael, well aware of the question's folly, but
incapable of not asking it.

"Terrible! Terrible! But it was never a public scandal."

"Oh," gulped Michael humbly, wishful he had never asked Lord Cleveden
about his father.

"I can't remember whether my old rooms were on that staircase or this
one. Saxby's I think were on this, but mine surely were on that one.
Let's go up and ask the present owner to let us look in," Lord Cleveden
proposed, peering the while in amiable doubt at the two staircases.

"Oh, no, I say, father, really, no, no," protested his son. "No, no; he
may have people with him. Really."

"Ah, to be sure," Lord Cleveden agreed. "What a pity!"

"And I think we ought to buzz round St. Mary's before lunch," Lonsdale
announced.

"Do they make meringues here nowadays?" inquired Lord Cleveden
meditatively.

"No, no," Lonsdale assured him. "They've given up since the famous cook
died. Look here, we absolutely must buzz round St. Mary's. And our
crême caramel is a much showier sweet than anything they've got at the
House."

The tour of St. Mary's was conducted with almost incredible rapidity,
because Lonsdale knew so little about his own college that he omitted
everything except the J.C.R., the hall, the chapel, the buttery and the
kitchen.

"Why didn't you ask Duncan Mackintosh to lunch, Arthur dear?" Lady
Cleveden inquired.

"My dear mother," said Arthur, "he's quite impossible."

"But Sir Hugh Mackintosh is such a charming man," said Lady Cleveden,
"and always asks us to stay with him when we're in Scotland."

"Yes, but we never are," Lonsdale pointed out. "And I'm sorry to hurt
your feelings, mother, about a relation of yours, but Mackintosh is
really absolutely impossible. He's the very worst type of Harrovian."

Michael felt bound to support his friend by pointing out that Mackintosh
was so eccentric as to dislike entertainment of any kind, and urged a
theory that even if he had been asked, he would certainly have declined
rather offensively.

"He's not a very bonhomous lad," said Lonsdale, and with that sentence
banished Mackintosh for ever from human society.

After lunch the host supposed in a whisper to Michael that they ought to
take his people out in a punt. Michael nodded agreement, and weighed
down by cushions the party walked through the college to where the
pleasure craft of St. Mary's bobbed at their moorings.

Lonsdale on the river possessed essentially the grand manner, and his
sister who had been ready to laugh at him gently was awed into
respectful admiration. Even Lord Cleveden seemed inclined to excuse
himself, if ever in one of the comprehensive and majestic indications of
his opinion he disturbed however slightly the equilibrium of the punt.
Lonsdale stood up in the stern and handled the ungainly pole with the
air of a Surbiton expert. His tendency toward an early rotundity was no
longer noticeable. His pink and cheerful face assumed a grave
superciliousness of expression that struck with apologetic dismay the
navigators who impeded his progress. Round his waist the rich hues of
the Eton Ramblers glowed superbly.

"Thank you, sir. Do you mind letting me through, sir? Some of these
toshers ought not to be trusted with a punt of their own." This comment
was for Michael and uttered in a voice of most laryngeal scorn so
audible that the party of New College men involved reddened with dull
fury. "Try and get along, please, sir. You're holding up the whole
river, sir. I say, Michael, this is an absolute novices' competition."

After an hour of this slow progress Lonsdale decided they must go back
to college for tea, an operation which required every resource of
sangfroid to execute successfully. When he had landed his father and
mother and sister, he announced that they must all be quick over tea and
then buzz off at once to see the first division row.

"I think we shall go head to-night," Lonsdale predicted very
confidentially. "I told Tommy Grainger he rowed like a caterpillar
yesterday."

But after all it was not to be the joyful privilege of Lonsdale's people
to see St. Mary's bump New College in front of their own barge, and
afterward to behold the victorious boat row past in triumph with the
westering sun making glow more richly scarlet the cox's blazer and shine
more strangely beautiful the three white lilies in his buttonhole.

"Now you've just got time to catch your train," said Lonsdale, when the
sound of the last pistol-shots and plaudits had died away. And "Phew!"
he sighed, as he and Michael walked slowly down the station-hall, "how
frightfully tiring one's people are when imported in bulk!"

Eights Week came to an end with the scarlet and lilies still second; and
without the heartening effect of a bump-supper the candidates for Pass
Mods applied themselves violently to the matter in hand. At the end of
the examination, which was characterized by Lonsdale as one of the most
low-down exhibitions of in-fighting he had ever witnessed, the
candidates had still a week of idleness to recover from the dastardly
blows they had received below their intellectual belts.

It was the time of the midsummer moon; and the freshmen in this the last
week of their state celebrated the beauty of the season with a good deal
of midsummer madness. Bonfires were lit for the slightest justification,
and rowdy suppers were eaten in college after they had stayed on the
river until midnight, rowdy suppers that demanded a great expense of
energy before going to bed, in order perhaps to stave off indigestion.

On one of these merry nights toward one o'clock somebody suggested that
the hour was a suitable one for the ragging of a certain Smithers who
had made himself obnoxious to the modish majority not from any overt act
of contumely, but for his general bearing and plebeian origin. This
derided Smithers lived on the ground floor of the Palladian fragment
known as New Quad. The back of New Quad looked out on the deer-park, and
it was unanimously resolved to invade his rooms from the window, so that
surprise and alarm would strike at the heart of Smithers.

Half a dozen freshmen--Avery, Lonsdale, Grainger, Cuffe, Sinclair, and
Michael--all rendered insensitive to the emotions of other people by the
amount of champagne they had drunk, set out to harry Smithers. Michael
alone possibly had a personal slight to repay, since Smithers had been
one of the freshmen who had sniggered at his momentary mortification in
the rooms of Carben, the Rugby secretary, during his first week. The
others were more vaguely injured by Smithers' hitherto undisturbed
existence. Avery disliked his face: Lonsdale took exception to his
accent: Grainger wanted to see what he looked like: Cuffe was determined
to be offensive to somebody: and Sinclair was anxious to follow the
fashion.

Not even the magic of the moonlit park deterred these social avengers
from their vendetta. They moved silently indeed over the filmy grass and
paused to hearken when in the distance the deer stampeded in alarm
before their progress, but the fixed idea of Smithers' reformation kept
them to their project, and perhaps only Michael felt a slight sense of
guilt in profaning this fairy calm with what he admitted to himself
might very easily be regarded as a piece of stupid cruelty. Outside
Smithers' open window they all stopped; then after hoisting the first
man onto the dewy sill, one by one they climbed noiselessly into the
sitting-room of the offensive Smithers. Somebody turned on the electric
light, and they all stood half-abashed, surveying one another in the
crude glare that in contrast with the velvet depths and silver shadows
of the woodland they had traversed seemed to illuminate for one moment
an unworthy impulse in every heart.

The invaders looked round in surprise at the photographs of what were
evidently Smithers' people, photographs like the groups in the parlors
of country inns or the tender decorations of a housemaid's mantelpiece.

"I say, look at that fringe," gurgled Avery, and forthwith he and
Lonsdale collapsed on the sofa in a paroxysm of strangled mirth.

Michael, as he gradually took in the features of Smithers' room, began
to feel very much ashamed of himself. He recognized the poverty that
stood in the background of this splendid "college career" of Percy or
Clarence or whatever other name of feudal magnificence had been awarded
to counterbalance "Smithers." No doubt the champagne in gradual reaction
was over-charging him with sentiment, but observing in turn each tribute
from home that adorned with a pathetic utility this bleak room dedicated
for generations to poor scholars, Michael felt very much inclined to
detach himself from the personal ragging of Smithers and go to bed. What
seemed to him in this changed mood so particularly sad was that on the
evidence of his books Smithers was not sustained by the ascetic glories
of learning for the sake of learning. He was evidently no classical
scholar with a future of such dignity as would compensate for the
scraping and paring of the past. To judge by his books, he was at St.
Mary's to ward off the criticism of outraged Radicals by competing on
behalf of the college and the university in scientific knowledge with
newer foundations like Manchester or Birmingham. Smithers was merely an
advertisement of Oxford's democratic philanthropy, and would only gain
from his university a rather inferior training in chemistry at a
considerably greater personal cost but with nothing else that Oxford
could and did give so prodigally to others more fortunately born.

At this point in Michael's meditations Smithers woke up, and from the
bedroom came a demand in startled cockney to know who was there. The
reformers were just thinking about their reply, when Smithers, in a long
nightgown and heavy-eyed with sleep, appeared in the doorway between his
two rooms.

"Well, I'm jiggered!" he gasped. "What are you fellers doing in my
sitting-room?"

It happened that Cuffe at this moment chose to take down from the wall
what was probably an enlarged portrait of Smithers' mother in order to
examine it more closely. The son, supposing he meant to play some trick
with it, sprang across the room, snatched it from Cuffe's grasp, and
shouting an objurgation of his native Hackney or Bermondsey, fled
through the open window into the deer-park.

Cuffe's expression of dismay was so absurd that everybody laughed very
heartily; and the outburst of laughter turned away their thoughts from
damaging Smithers' humble property and even from annoying any more
Smithers himself with proposals for his reformation.

"I say, we can't let that poor devil run about all night in the park
with that picture," said Grainger. "Let's catch him and explain we got
into his rooms by mistake."

"I hope he won't throw himself into the river or anything," murmured
Sinclair anxious not to be involved in any affair that might spoil his
reputation for enjoying every rag without the least reproach ever
lighting upon him personally.

"I say, for goodness' sake, let's catch him," begged Michael, who had
visions of being sent to explain to a weeping mother in a mean street
that her son had died in defending her enlargement.

Out into the moon-washed park the pursuers tumbled, and through its
verdurous deeps of giant elms they hurried in search of the outlaw.

"It's like a scene in The Merry Wives of Windsor," Michael said to
Avery, and as he spoke he caught a glimpse of the white-robed Smithers,
running like a young druid across a glade where the moonlight was
undimmed by boughs.

He called to Smithers to go back to his rooms, but whether he went at
once or huddled in some hollow tree half the night Michael never knew,
for by this time the unwonted stampeding of the deer and the sound of
voices in the Fellows' sacred pleasure-ground had roused the Dean, who
supported by the nocturnal force of the college servants was advancing
against the six disturbers of the summer night. The next hour was an
entrancing time of hot pursuit and swift evasion, of crackling dead
branches and sudden falls in lush grass, of stealthy procedure round
tree-trunks, and finally of scaling a high wall, dropping heavily down
into the rose-beds of the Warden's garden and by one supreme effort of
endurance going to ground in St. Cuthbert's quad.

"By Jove, that was a topping rag," puffed Lonsdale, as he filled six
glasses with welcome drink. "I think old Shadbolt recognized me. He
said: 'It's no use you putting your coat over your 'ead, sir, because I
knows you by your gait.'"

"I wonder what happened to Smithers," said Michael.

"Damned good thing if he fell into the Cher," Avery asserted. "I don't
know why on earth they want to have a bounder like that at St. Mary's."

"A bounder like what?" asked Castleton, who had sloped into the room
during Avery's expression of opinion.

Castleton was greeted with much fervor, and a disjointed account of the
evening's rag was provided for his entertainment.

"But why don't you let that poor devil alone?" demanded the listener.

At this time of night nobody was able to adduce any very conclusive
reason against letting Smithers alone, although Maurice Avery insisted
that men like him were very bad for the college.

Dawn was breaking when Michael strolled round Cloisters with Castleton,
determined to probe through the medium of Castleton's common sense and
Wykehamist notions the ethical and æsthetic rights of people like
Smithers to obtain the education Oxford was held to bestow impartially.

"After all, Oxford wasn't founded to provide an expensive three years of
idleness for the purpose of giving a social cachet to people like
Cuffe," Castleton pointed out.

"No, no," Michael agreed, "but no institution has ever yet remained true
to the principles of its founder. The Franciscans, for instance, or
Christianity itself. The point surely is not whether it has evolved into
something inherently worthless, but whether, however much it may have
departed from original intentions, it still serves a useful purpose in
the scheme of social order."

"Oh, I'm not grumbling at what Oxford is," Castleton went on. "I simply
suggest that the Smitherses have the right, being in a small minority,
to demand courtesy from the majority, and, after all, Oxford is serving
no purpose at all, if she cannot foster good manners in people who are
supposed to be born with a natural tendency toward good manners. I
should be the first to regret an Oxford with the Smitherses in the
majority, but I think that those Smitherses who have fought their way in
with considerable difficulty should not go down with the sense of hatred
which that poor solitary creature must surely feel against all of us."

Michael asked Castleton if he had ever talked to him.

"No, I'm afraid I haven't. I'm afraid I'm too lazy to do much more than
deplore theoretically these outbursts of rowdy superiority. Now, as I'm
beginning to talk almost as priggishly as a new sub-editor of The
Spectator might talk, to bed."

The birds were singing, as Michael walked back from escorting Castleton
to his rooms. St. Mary's tower against the sky opening like a flower
seemed to express for him a sudden aspiration of all life toward
immortal beauty. In this delicate hour of daybreak all social
distinctions, all prejudices and vulgarities became the base and
clogging memories of the night before. He felt a sudden guilt in
beholding this tranquil college under this tranquil dawn. It seemed,
spread out for his solitary vision, too incommunicable a delight. And
suddenly it struck him that perhaps Smithers might be standing outside
the gate of this dream city, that he, too, might wish to salute the
sunrise. He blushed with shame at the thought that he had been of those
who rushed to drive him away from his contemplation.

Straightway when Michael reached his own door, he sat down and wrote to
invite Smithers to his third terminal dinner, never pausing to reflect
that so overwhelming an hospitality after such discourtesy might
embarrass Smithers more than ever. Yet, after he had worried himself
with this reflection when the invitation had been accepted, he fancied
that Smithers sitting on his right hand next to Guy Hazlewood more
charming than Michael had ever known him, seemed to enjoy the
experience, and triumphantly he told himself that contrary to the
doctrine of cynics quixotry was a very effective device.



CHAPTER VI

GRAY AND BLUE


When Michael, equipped with the prospect of reading at least fifty
historical works in preparation for the more serious scholastic
enterprise of his second year, came down for the Long Vacation, he found
that somehow his mother had changed. In old days she had never lost for
an instant that air of romantic mystery with which Michael as a very
little boy for his own satisfaction had endowed her, and with which, as
he grew older, he fancied she armed herself against the world of
ordinary life. Now after a month or two of Chelsea's easy stability Mrs.
Fane had put behind her the least hint of the unusual and seemed
exceptionally well suited by her surroundings. Michael at first thought
that perhaps in Carlington Road, to which she always came from the great
world, however much apart from the great world her existence had been
when she was in it, his mother had only evoked a thought of romance
because the average inhabitant was lower down the ladder of the more
subtly differentiated social grades than herself, and that now in Cheyne
Walk against an appropriate background her personality was less
conspicuous. Yet when he had been at home for a week or two he realized
that indeed his mother had changed profoundly.

Michael put together the few bits of outside opinion he could muster and
concluded that an almost lifelong withdrawal from the society of other
women had now been replaced by an exaggerated pleasure in their
company. What puzzled him most was how to account for the speed with
which she had gathered round her so many acquaintances. It was almost as
if his father in addition to bequeathing her money enough to be
independent of the world had bequeathed also enough women friends to
make her forget that she had ever stood in any other relation to
society.

"Where does mother get hold of all these women?" Michael asked Stella
irritably, when he had been trapped into a rustling drawing-room for the
whole of a hot summer afternoon.

"Oh, they're all interested in something or other," Stella explained.
"And mother's interested in them. I expect, you know, she had rather a
rotten time really when she was traveling round."

"But she used always to be so vague and amusing," said Michael, "and now
she's as fussy and practical as a vicar's wife."

"I think I know why that is," Stella theorized meditatively. "I think if
I ever gave up everything for one man I should get to rely on him so
utterly that when he wasn't with me any sort of contact with other
people would make me vague."

"Yes, but then she would be more vague than ever now," Michael argued.

"No; the reaction against dependence on one person would be bound to
make her change tremendously, if, as I think, a good deal of the
vagueness came after she ran away with father."

Michael looked rather offended by Stella's blunt reference.

"I rather wish you wouldn't talk quite so easily about all of that," he
said. "I think the best thing for you to do is to forget it."

"Like mother, in fact," Stella pointed out. "Do you know, Michael, I
believe by this time she is entirely oblivious of the fact that in her
past there has been anything which was not perfectly ordinary, almost
dull. Really by the way she worries me about the simplest little things,
you'd think--however, as I know you have rather a dread of perfect
frankness in your only sister, I'll shut up and say no more."

"What things?" asked Michael sharply. Stella's theories about the
freedom of the artist had already worried him a good deal, and though he
had laughed them aside as the extravagant affectations of a gifted
child, now that, however grudgingly he must admit the fact, she was
really grown up, it would never do for her without a protest from him to
turn theories into practice.

"Oh, Michael!" Stella laughed reprovingly. "Don't put on that
professorial or priestly air or whatever you call it, because if you
ever want confidences from me you'll have just to be humbly
sympathetic."

Michael sternly demanded if she had been keeping up her music, which
made Stella dance about the studio in tempestuous mirth.

"I don't see anything to giggle at in such a question," Michael
grumbled, and simultaneously reproached himself for a method of obloquy
so cheap. "Anyway, you never talk about your music now, and whatever you
may say, you don't practice as much as you used. Why?"

For answer Stella sat down at the piano, and played over and over again
the latest popular song until Michael walked out of the studio in a
rage.

A few days later at breakfast he broached the subject of going away into
the country.

"My dear boy, I'm much too busy with the Bazaar," said Mrs. Fane.

Michael sighed.

"I don't think I can possibly get away until August, and then I've half
promised to go to Dinard with Mrs. Carruthers. She has just taken up
Mental Science--so interesting and quite different from Christian
Science."

"I hate these mock-turtle religions," said Michael savagely.

Mrs. Fane replied that Michael must learn a little toleration in very
much the same tone as she might have suggested a little Italian.

"But why don't you and Stella go away somewhere together? Stella has
been quite long enough in London for the present."

"I've got to practice hard for my next concert," said Stella, looking
coldly at her brother. "You and Michael are so funny, mother. You
grumble at me when I don't practice all day, and yet when it's really
necessary for me to work, you always suggest going away."

"I never suggested your coming away," Michael contradicted. "As a matter
of fact, I've been asked to join a reading-party in Cornwall, and I
think I'll go."

The reading-party in question consisted besides Michael of Maurice
Avery, Guy Hazlewood, Castleton, and Stewart. Bill Mowbray also joined
them for the first two days, but after receiving four wires in reference
to the political candidature of a friend in the north of England, he
decided that his presence was necessary to the triumph of Tory Democracy
and left abruptly in the middle of the night with a request to forward
his luggage when it arrived. When it did arrive, the reading-party sent
it to await at Univ Mowbray's arrival in October, arguing that such an
arrangement would save Bill and his friends much money, as he would
indubitably spend during the rest of the vacation not more than
forty-eight hours on the same spot.

The reading-party had rooms in a large farmhouse near the Lizard; and
they spent a very delightful month bathing, golfing, cliff-climbing,
cream-eating, fishing, sailing, and talking. Avery and Stewart also did
a certain amount of work on the first number of The Oxford
Looking-Glass, work which Hazlewood amused himself by pulling to pieces.

"I'm doing an article for the O.L.G. on Cornwall," Avery announced one
evening.

"What, a sort of potted guide?" Hazlewood asked.

Maurice made haste to repudiate the suggestion.

"No, no; it's an article on the uncanny place influence of Cornwall."

"I think half of that uncanniness is due to the odd names hereabouts,"
Castleton observed. "The sign-posts are like incantations."

"Much more than that," Avery earnestly assured him. "It really affects
me profoundly sometimes."

Hazlewood laughed.

"Oh, Maurice, not profoundly. You'll never be affected profoundly by
anything," he prophesied.

Maurice clicked his thumbs impatiently.

"You always know all about everybody and me in particular, Guy, but
though, as you're aware, I'm a profound materialist----"

"Maurice is plumbing the lead to-night," Hazlewood interrupted, with a
laugh. "He'll soon transcend all human thought."

"Here in Cornwall," Maurice pursued, undaunted, "I really am affected
sometimes with a sort of horror of the unknown. You'll all rag me, and
you can, but though I've enjoyed myself frightfully, I don't think I
shall ever come to Cornwall again."

With this announcement he puffed defiance from his pipe.

"Shut up, Maurice!" Hazlewood chaffed. "You've been reading Cornish
novelists--the sort of people who write about over-emotionalized young
men and women acting to the moon in hut-circles or dancing with their
own melodramatic Psyches on the top of a cromlech."

"Do you believe in presentiments, Guy?" Michael broke in suddenly.

"Of course I do," said Hazlewood. "And I'd believe in the inherent
weirdness of Cornwall, if people in books didn't always go there to
solve their problems and if Maurice weren't always so facile with the
right emotion at the right moment."

"I've got a presentiment to-night," said Michael, and not wishing to say
more just then, though he had been compelled against his will to admit
as much, he left the rest of the party, and went up to his room.

Outside the tamarisks lisped at intervals in a faint wind that rose in
small puffs and died away in long sighs. Was it a presentiment he felt,
or was it merely thunder in the air?

Next morning came a telegram from Stella in Paris:

    _join me here rather quickly._

Michael left Cornwall that afternoon, and all the length of the
harassing journey to London he thought of his friends bathing all day
and talking half through the intimate night, until gradually, as the
train grew hotter, they stood out in his memory like cool people
eternally splashed by grateful fountains. Yet at the back of all his
regrets for Cornwall, Michael was thinking of Stella and wondering
whether the telegram was merely due to her impetuous way or whether
indeed she wanted him more than rather quickly.

It was dark when he reached London, and in the close August night the
street-lamps seemed to have lost all their sparkle, seemed to glow
luridly like the sinister lamps of a dream.

"I'm really awfully worried," he said aloud to himself, as through the
stale city air the hansom jogged heavily along from Paddington to
Charing Cross.

Michael arrived at Paris in the pale burning blue of an August morning,
and arriving as he did in company with numerous cockney holiday-makers,
something of the spirit of Paris was absent. The city did not express
herself immediately as Paris unmistakable, but more impersonally as the
great railway-station of Europe, a center of convenience rather than the
pulsing heart of pleasure. However, as soon as Michael had taken his
seat in the bony fiacre and had ricocheted from corner to corner of half
a dozen streets, Paris was herself again, with her green jalousies and
gilded letterings, her prodigality of almost unvarying feminine types,
those who so neatly and so gayly hurried along the pavements and those
who in soiled dressing-jackets hung listlessly from upper windows.

Stella's address was near the Quai d'Orsay; and when Michael arrived he
found she was living in rooms over a bookseller's shop with a view of
the Seine and beyond of multitudinous roofs that in the foreground
glistened to the sun like a pattern of enamel, until with distance they
gradually lost all definition and became scarcely more than a woven
damascene upon the irresolute horizon of city and sky.

Michael never surrendered to disillusion the first impression of his
entrance that August morning. In one moment of that large untidy room
looking over the city that most consciously of all cities has taken
account of artists he seemed to capture the symbol of the artist's
justification. Stella's chestnut hair streamed down her straight back
like a warm drift of autumn leaves. She had not finished dressing yet,
and the bareness of her arms seemed appropriate to that Hungarian dance
she played. All the room was permeated with the smell of paint, and
before an easel stood a girl in long unsmocked gown of green linen.
This girl Michael had never seen, but he realized her personality as
somehow inseparably associated with that hot-blooded Bacchante on whose
dewy crimson mouth at the moment her brush rested. Geranium flowers,
pierced by the slanting rays of the sun, stood on the window-sill of an
inner room whose door was open. Stella did not stop to finish the dance
she was playing, but jumped up to greet Michael, and in the fugitive
silence that followed his introduction to her friend Clarissa Vine, he
heard the murmur of ordinary life without which drowned by the lightest
laugh nevertheless persisted unobtrusive and imperturbable.

Yet, for all Michael's relief at finding Stella at least superficially
all right, he could not help disapproving a little of that swift change
of plan which, without a word of warning to himself before the arrival
of the telegram in Cornwall, had brought her from London to Paris. Nor
could he repress a slight feeling of hostility toward Miss Clarissa Vine
whose exuberant air did not consort well with his idea of a friend for
Stella. He was certainly glad, whether he were needed or not, that he
had come rather quickly. Clarie was going to paint all that morning, and
Michael, who was restless after his journey, persuaded Stella to abandon
music for that day and through the dancing streets of Paris come
walking.

The brother and sister went silently for a while along the river's bank.

"Well," said Michael at last, "why did you wire for me?"

"I wanted you."

Stella spoke so simply and so naturally that he was inclined to ask no
more questions and to accept the situation as one created merely by
Stella's impetuousness. But he could not resist a little pressure, and
begged to know whether there were no other reason for wanting him but a
fancy for his company.

Stella agreed there might be, and then suddenly she plunged into her
reasons. First, she took Michael back to last autumn and a postscript
she had written to a letter.

"Do you remember how I said that academic perfection was not enough for
an artist, that there was also life to be lived?"

Michael said he remembered the letter very well indeed, and asked just
how she proposed to put her theory to the test.

"I told you that a youth was painting me."

"But you also said he looked like a corpse," Michael quickly
interjected. "You surely haven't fallen in love with somebody who looks
like a corpse?"

"I'm not in love with his outside, but I am fascinated by his inside,"
Stella admitted.

Michael looked darkly for a moment, overshadowed by the thought of the
fellow's presumption.

"I never yet met a painter who had very much inside," he commented.

"But then, my dearest Michael, I suppose you'll confess that your
acquaintanceship with the arts as practiced not talked about is rather
small."

Michael looked round him and eyed all Paris with comprehensive
hostility.

"And I suppose this chap is in Paris now," he said. "Well, I can't do
anything. I suppose for a long time now you've been making a fool of
yourself over him. What have you fetched me to Paris for?"

He felt resentful to think that his hope of Stella and Alan falling in
love with one another was to be broken up by this upstart painter whom
he had never seen.

"I've certainly not been making a fool of myself," Stella flamed. "But
I thought I would rather you were close at hand."

"And who's this Clarissa Vine?" Michael indignantly demanded.

"She's the girl I traveled with to Paris."

"But I never heard of her before. All this comes of your taking that
studio before we moved to Cheyne Walk."

By the token that Stella did not contradict him, Michael knew that all
this had indeed come from that studio, and to show his disapproval of
the studio, he began to rail at Clarissa.

"I can't bear that overblown type of girl. I suppose every night she'll
sit and talk hot air till three o'clock in the morning. I shall go mad,"
Michael exclaimed, aghast at the prospective futility of the immediate
future.

Stella insisted that Clarissa was a good sort, that she had had an
unhappy love-affair, that she thought nothing of men but only of her
art, that she made one want to work and was therefore a valuable
companion, and, finally, to appease if possible Michael's mistrust of
Clarie by advertising her last advantage, Stella said that she could not
stand George Ayliffe.

Michael announced that, as Miss Vine had scarcely condescended to
address a single word to him in the quarter of an hour he was waiting
for Stella to dress, it was impossible for him to say whether he could
stand her or not, but that he was still inclined to think she was
thoroughly objectionable.

"Well, to-night at our party, you shall sit next to her," Stella
promised.

"Party?" interrogated Michael, in dismay.

"We're having a party in our rooms to-night."

"And this fellow Ayliffe is coming, I suppose?"

She nodded.

"And I shall have to meet him?"

She nodded again very cheerfully.

They went back to fetch Clarie out to lunch, but rather decently,
Michael was bound to admit, she made some excuse for not coming, so that
he and Stella were able to spend the afternoon together. It was a jolly
afternoon, for though Stella had closed her lips tightly to any more
confidences, she and Michael enjoyed themselves wandering in a
light-hearted dream, grasping continually at those airy bubbles of
vitality that floated upward sparkling from the debonair streets.

The party at the girls' rooms that evening seemed to Michael, almost
more than he cared to admit to the side of him conscious of being
Stella's brother, a recreation of ideal Bohemia. He knew the influence
of the rich August moon was responsible for most of the enchantment and
that the same people encountered earlier in the day in the full glare of
the sunlight would have seemed to him too keenly aware of the effect at
which they were aiming. But to resist their appeal, coming as they did
from the heart of Paris to this long riverside room with its lamps and
shadows, was impossible. Each couple that entered seemed to relinquish
slowly on the threshold a mysterious intimacy which set Michael's heart
beating in the imagination of what altitudes it might not have reached
along the path of romantic passions. Every young woman or young man who
entered solitary and paused in the doorway, blinking in search of
familiar faces, moved him with the respect owed by lay worldlings to
great artists. Masterpieces brooded over the apartment, and Michael
tolerated in his present mood of unqualified admiration personalities so
pretentious, so vain, so egotistical, as would in his ordinary temper
have plunged him into speechless gloom.

Oxford after this assembly of frank opinions and incarnate enthusiasms
seemed a colorless shelter for unfledged reactionaries, a nursery of
callow men in the street. Through the open windows the ponderous and
wise moon commented upon the scintillations of the outspread city whose
life reached this room in sound as emotionally melodious, as
romantically real as the sea-sound conjured by a shell. Here were
gathered people who worked always in that circumfluent inspiration, that
murmur of liberty, that whisper of humanity. What could Oxford give but
the bells of out-worn beliefs, and the patter of aimless footsteps? How
right Stella had been to say that academic perfection was vain without
the breath of life. How right she was to find in George Ayliffe someone
whose artistic sympathy would urge her on to achievements impossible to
attain under Alan's admiration for mere fingers and wrists.

Michael watched this favorite of his sister all through the evening. He
tried to think that Ayliffe's cigarette-stained fingers were not so very
unpleasant, that Ayliffe's cadaverous exterior was just a noble
melancholy, that Ayliffe's high pointed head did not betray an almost
insufferable self-esteem, and, what was the hardest task of all, he
tried to persuade himself that Ayliffe's last portrait of Stella had not
transformed his splendidly unconcerned sister into a self-conscious
degenerate.

"How do you like George's picture of Stella?"

The direct inquiry close to his ear startled Michael. He had been
leaning back in his chair, listening vaguely to the hum of the guests'
conversation and getting from it nothing more definite than a sense of
the extraordinary ease of social intercourse under these conditions.
Looking round, he saw that Clarissa Vine had come to sit next to him and
he felt half nervous of this concentrated gaze that so evidently
betokened a determination to probe life and art and incidentally himself
to the very roots.

"I think it's a little thin, don't you?" said Clarie.

Michael hated to have his opinion of a painting invited, and he resented
the painter's jargon that always seemed to apply equally to the subject
and the medium. It was impossible to tell from Miss Vine's question
whether she referred to Stella's figure or to Ayliffe's expenditure upon
paint.

"I don't think it's very like Stella," Michael replied, and consoled
himself for the absence of subtlety or cleverness in such an answer by
the fact that at least it was a direct statement of what he thought.

"I know what you mean," said Clarissa, nodding seriously.

Michael hoped that, she did. He could not conceive an affirmation of
personal opinion delivered more plainly.

"You mean he's missed the other Stella," said Clarissa.

Michael bowed remotely. He told himself that contradiction or even
qualified agreement would be too dangerous a proceeding with a person of
Clarissa's unhumorous earnestness.

"I said so when I first saw it," cried Clarissa triumphantly. "I said,
'my god, George, you've only given us half of her!'"

Michael took a furtive glance at the portrait to see whether his initial
impression of a full-length study had been correct, and, finding that it
was, concluded Clarissa referred to some metaphysical conception of her
own.

From the amplification of this he edged away by drawing attention to the
splendor of the moon.

"I know what you mean," said Clarissa. "But I like sunshine effects
best."

"I wasn't really thinking about painting at that moment," Michael
observed, without remembering that all his mind was supposed to be
occupied with it.

"You know _you're_ very paintable," Clarissa went on. "I suppose you've
sat to heaps of people. All the same, I wish you'd let _me_ paint you. I
should like to bring out an aspect I daresay lots of people have never
noticed."

Michael was not proof against this attack, and, despising the while his
weak vanity, asked Clarissa what was the aspect.

"You're very passionate, aren't you?" she said, shaking Michael's
temperament in the thermometer of her thought.

"No; rather the reverse," said Michael, as he irritably visualized
himself in a tiger-skin careering across one of Clarissa's florid
canvases.

"All the same, I wish you _would_ sit for me," persisted Clarissa.

Michael made up his mind he must speak seriously to Stella about this
friend of hers. It was really very unfair to involve him in this way
with a provocative young paintress who, however clever she might be, was
most obviously unsympathetic to him. What a pity Maurice Avery was not
here! He would so enjoy skating on the thin ice of her thought. Yet ice
was scarcely an appropriate metaphor to use in connection with her.
There should be some parallel with strawberries to illustrate his notion
of Clarissa, who was after all with her precious aspirations and
constructive fingers a creature of the sun. Yet it was strange and
rather depressing to think that English girls could never get any nearer
to the Mænad than the evocation of the image of a farouche dairymaid.

All the time that Michael had been postulating these conclusions to
himself, he had been mechanically shaking his head to Clarissa's
request. "What can you be thinking about?" she asked, and at the moment
mere inquisitiveness unbalanced the solemnity of her search for truth.
Stella had gone to the piano, and someone with clumsy hair was testing
the pitch of his violin. So Michael assumed the portentous reverence of
a listening amateur and tried to suggest by his attitude that he was
beyond the range of Clarissa's conversation. He did not know who had
made the duet that was being played, nor did he greatly care, since,
aside from his own participation in what it gave of unified emotion to
the room, on its melodies he, as it were, voyaged from heart to heart of
everyone present. There had been several moments during his talk with
Clarissa when he had feared to see vanish that aureole with which he had
encircled this gathering, that halo woven by the mist of his imagination
and illuminated by the essential joy of the company. But now, when all
were fused by the power of the music in a brilliance that actually
pierced his apprehension with the sense of its positive being, Michael's
aureole gleamed with the same comparative reality. Traveling from heart
to heart, he drew from each the deepdown sweetness which justified all
that was extravagant in demeanor and dress, all that was flaunting in
voice and gesture, all that was weak in achievement and ambition. Even
Clarissa's prematurity seemed transferred from the cause to the effect
of her art, so that here and there some strain of music was strong
enough to sustain her personality up to the very point of abandon at
which her pictures aimed. As for George Ayliffe, Michael watching him
was bound to acknowledge that, seen thus in repose with all the
wandering weaknesses of his countenance temporarily held in check by the
music, Stella's affection for him was just intelligible. He might be
said to possess now at least some of the graceful melancholy of a
pierrot, and suddenly Michael divined that Ayliffe was much more in love
with Stella than she was or ever could be in love with him. He realized
that Ayliffe, with fixed eyes sitting back and absorbing her music, was
aware of the hopelessness of his desire, aware it must be for ever
impossible for Stella to love him, as impossible as it was for him to
paint a great portrait of her. Michael was sorry for Ayliffe because he
knew that those anxious and hungry eyes of his were losing her
continually even now in complexities that could never by him be
unraveled, in depths that could never be plumbed.

More suggestive, however, than the individual listeners were the players
themselves, so essentially typical were they of their respective
instruments; and they were even something more than typical, for they
did ultimately resemble them. The violinist must himself have answered
in these harmonious wails to the lightest question addressed to him. His
whole figure had surely that very look of obstinate surprise which
belongs to a violin. The bones in that lean body of his might have been
of catgut, so much did he play with his whole frame, so little
observably with his hands merely. As for Stella, apart from the
simplicity of her coloring, it was less easy to find physically a
resemblance to the piano, and yet how well her personality consorted
with one. Were she ignorant of the instrument, it would still be
possible to compare her to a piano with her character so self-contained
and cool and ordered that yet, played upon by people or circumstances,
could reveal with such decorous poignancy the emotion beneath, emotion,
however, that was always kept under control, as in a piano the pressure
or release of a pedal can swell or quell the most expressive chord.

There was something consolatory to Michael in the way Stella's piano
part corrected the extreme yearning of the violin. On ascending notes of
the most plangent desire the souls of the listeners were drawn far
beyond the capacity of their own artistic revelation. It became almost
tragical to watch their undisciplined soaring regardless of the height
from which they must so swiftly fall. Yet when the violin had
thoughtlessly lured them to such a zenith that had the music stopped
altogether on that pole a reaction into disappointed sobs might not have
been surprising, Stella with her piano brought them back to the normal
course of their hopes, seemed to bear tenderly each thwarted spirit down
to earth and to set it back in the lamps and shadows of this long
riverside room, while with the wistfulness of that cool accompaniment
she mitigated all the harshness of disillusion. Michael looked sharply
across at Ayliffe during this rescue and wondered how often by Stella
herself had he been just as gently treated.

The duet came to an end, and was followed by absurd games and absurdly
inadequate refreshments, until almost all together the guests departed.
From the street below fainter and fainter sounded their murmurous talk,
until it died away, swallowed up in the nightly whisper of the city.

Ayliffe stayed behind for a time, but he could not survive Michael's too
polite "Mr. Ayliffe," although he did not perhaps realize all the
deadliness of this undergraduate insult. Clarissa went off to bed after
expressing once more her wish that Michael would sit for her.

"Oh, what for? Of course he will, Clarie," cried Stella.

"Of course I won't," said Michael, ruffling.

"What do you want him to sit for?" Stella persisted, paying not the
least regard to Michael's objection.

"Oh, something ascetic," said Clarie, staring earnestly into space as if
the pictorial idea was being dangled from the ceiling.

"Just now it was to be something passionate," Michael pointed out
scornfully. He suspected Clarissa's courage in the presence of Stella's
disdainful frankness.

"Ah, perhaps it will be both!" Clarie promised, and "Good night, most
darling Stella," she murmured intensely. Then with one backward look of
reproach for Michael she walked with rather self-conscious sinuousness
out of the room and up to bed.

"My hat, Stella, where did you pick up that girl? She's like a
performing leopard!" Michael burst out. "She's utterly stupid and
utterly second-rate and she closes her eyes for effect and breathes into
your face and doesn't wear stays."

"I get something out of all these queer people," Stella explained.

"New-art flower-vases, I should think," scoffed Michael. "Why on earth
you wanted to fetch me from Cornwall to look after you in this crowd of
idiots I can't imagine. I may not be a great pianist in the making, and
I'm jolly glad I'm not, if it's to make one depend on the flattery of
these fools."

"You know perfectly well that most of the evening you enjoyed yourself
very much. And you oughtn't to be horrid about my friends. I think
they're all so dreadfully touching."

"Yes, and touched," Michael grumbled. "You're simply playing at being in
Bohemia. You'd be the first to laugh at me, if I dressed up Alan and
Maurice Avery and half a dozen of my friends in velvet jackets and
walked about Paris with them, smelling of onions."

"My dear Michael," Stella argued, "do get out of your head the notion
that I dressed these people up. I found them like that. They're not
imported dolls."

"Well, you're not bound to know them. I tell you they all hang on to you
because you have money. That compensates for any jealousy they might
feel because you are better at your business than any of them are at
theirs."

"Rot!" Stella ejaculated.

However, the argument that might have gone on endlessly was quenched
suddenly by the vision of the night seen by Stella and Michael
simultaneously. They hung over the sill entranced, and Michael was so
closely held by the sorcery of the still air that he was ready to
surrender instantly his provocative standpoint of intolerance. The
contest between prejudice and sentiment was unequal in such conditions.
No one could fail to forgive the most outrageous pretender on such a
night; no one could wish for Stella better associates than the
moonstruck company which had entered so intangibly, had existed in
reality for a while so blatantly, but was now again dissolved into
elusive specters of a legendary paradise.

"I suppose what's really been the matter with me all the evening,"
confessed Michael, on the verge of going to bed, "is that I've felt out
of it all, not so much out of sympathy with them as acutely aware that
for them I simply didn't exist. That's rather galling. Now at Oxford,
supposing your friend Ayliffe were suddenly shot down among a lot of men
in my year, he would be out of sympathy with us, and we should be out of
sympathy with him, even up to the point of debagging him, but we should
all be uncomfortably aware of his existence. Seriously, Stella, why did
you send for me? Not surely just to show me off to these unappreciative
enthusiasts?"

"Perhaps I wanted a standard measure," Stella whispered, with a gesture
of disarming confidingness. "Something heavy and reliable."

"My dear girl, I'm much too much of a weathercock, or if you insist on
me being heavy, let's say a pendulum. And there's nothing quite so
confoundedly unreliable as either. Enough of gas. Good night."

There followed a jolly time in Paris, but for Michael it would have been
a jollier time if he could have let himself go with half the ridiculous
pleasure he had derived from lighting bonfires in St. Cuthbert's quad or
erecting a cocoanut shy in the Warden's garden. He was constantly aware
of a loss of dignity which worried him considerably and for which he
took himself to task very sternly. Finally he attributed it to one of
two reasons, either that he felt a sense of constraint in Stella's
presence on her account, or that his continued holding back was due to
his difficulty in feeling any justification for extravagant behavior,
when he had not the slightest intention of presenting the world with the
usufruct of his emotions in terms of letters or color or sound.

"I really think I'm rather jealous of all these people," he told Stella.
"They always seem to be able to go on being excited, and everything that
happens to them they seem able to turn to account. Now, I can do nothing
with my experience. I seize it, I enjoy it for a very short time. I
begin to observe it with a warm interest, then to criticize, then to be
bored by it, and finally I forget it altogether and remain just as I was
before it occurred except that I never can seize the same sort of
experience again. Perhaps it's being with you. Perhaps you absorb all
the vitality."

Stella looked depressed by this suggestion.

"Let's go away and leave all these people," she proposed. "Let's go to
Compiègne together, and we'll see if you're depressed by me then. But if
you are, oh, Michael, I shan't know what to do! Only you won't be, if
we're in Compiègne. It was such a success last time. In a way, you know,
we really met each other there for the first time."

It was a relief to say farewell to Clarissa and her determination to
produce moderately good pictures, to Ayliffe and his morbid hopes, to
all that motley crowd, so pathetic and yet so completely self-satisfied.
It was pleasant to arrive in Compiègne and find that Madame Regnier's
house had not changed in three years, that the three old widows had not
suffered from time's now slow and kindly progress, that M. Regnier still
ate his food with the same noisy recklessness, that the front garden
blazed with just the same vermilion of the geranium flowers.

For a week they spent industrious days of music and reading, and long
mellow afternoons of provincial drowsiness that culminated in the simple
pleasures of cassis and billiards at night. Michael wrote a sheaf of
long letters to all his friends, among others to Lonsdale, who on
hearing that he was at Compiègne wrote immediately to Prince Raoul de
Castéra-Verduzan, an Eton contemporary, and asked him to call upon
Michael. The young prince arrived one morning in a 70 h.p. car and by
his visit made M. Regnier the proudest bourgeois in France. Prince
Raoul, who was dressed, so Stella said, as brightly as it was possible
even for a prince to dress nowadays, insisted that Michael and his
sister must become temporary members of the Société du Sport de
Compiègne. This proposal at first they were inclined to refuse, but M.
Regnier and Madame Regnier and the three old widows were all so highly
elated at the prospect of knowing anybody belonging to this club, and
were so obviously cast down when their guests seemed to hesitate, that
Michael and Stella, more to please the Pension Regnier than themselves,
accepted Prince Raoul's offer.

It was amusing, too, this so excessively aristocratic club where every
afternoon Princesses and Duchesses and the wives of Greek financiers sat
at tea or watched the tennis and polo of their husbands and brothers and
sons. Stella and Michael played sets of tennis with Castéra-Verduzan and
the vicomte de Miramont, luxurious sets in which there were always four
little boys to pick up the balls and at least three dozen balls to be
picked up. Stella was a great success as a tennis-player, and their
sponsor introduced the brother and sister to all the languidly beautiful
women sitting at tea, and also to the over-tailored sportsmen who were
cultivating a supposedly Britannic seriousness of attitude toward their
games. Soon Michael and Stella found themselves going out to dinner and
playing bridge and listening to much admiration of England in a
Franco-cockney accent that was the result of a foreign language mostly
acquired from grooms. With all its veneer of English freedom, it was
still a very ceremonious society, and though money had tempered the
rigidity of its forms and opinions, there was always visible in the
background of the noisiest party Black Papalism, a dominant Army and the
hope of the Orleanist succession. Verduzan also took them for long
drives in the forest, and altogether time went by very gayly and very
swiftly, until Stella woke up to the fact that her piano had been silent
for nearly a fortnight. Verduzan was waiting with his impatient car in
the prim road outside the Pension Regnier when she made this discovery,
and he looked very much mortified when she told him that to-day she
really ought to practice.

"But you must come because I have to go away to-morrow," he declared.

"Ah, but I've been making such wonderful resolutions ever since the sun
rose," Stella said, shaking her head. "I must work, mustn't I, Michael?"

"Oh, rot, she must come for this last time, mustn't she, Fane?"

Michael thought that once more might not spoil her execution
irreparably.

"Hurrah, you can't get out of it, Miss Fane!"

The car's horn tooted in grotesque exultation. Stella put on her
dust-cloak of silver-gray, and in a few minutes they were racing through
the forest so fast that the trees on either side winked in a continuous
blur or where the forest was thinner seemed like knitting-needles to
gather up folds of landscape.

After they had traversed all the wider roads at this speed, somewhere
in the very heart of the forest Raoul turned sharply off along a
wagoner's track over whose green ruts the car jolted abominably, but
just when it would have been impossible to go on, he stopped and they
all got out.

"You don't know why I've brought you here," he laughed.

Michael and Stella looked their perplexity to the great delight of the
young man. "Wait a minute and you'll see," he chuckled. He was leading
the way along a narrow grass-grown lane whose hedges on either side were
gleaming with big blackberries.

"We shall soon be right out of the world," said Stella. "Won't that
worry you, Monsieur?"

"Well, yes, it would for a very long time," replied the Prince, in a
tone of such wistfulness as for the moment made him seem middle-aged.
"But, look," he cried, and triumphant youth returned to him once more.

The lane had ended in a forest clearing whose vivid turf was looped with
a chain of small ponds blue as steel. On the farther side stood a
cottage with diamonded lattices and a gabled roof and a garden full of
deep crimson phlox glowing against a background of gnarled and somber
hawthorns. Cottage and clearing were set in a sweeping amphitheater of
beechwoods.

"It reminds me of Gawaine and the Green Knight," said Michael.

"I'll take you inside," Raoul offered.

They walked across the small common silently, so deeply did they feel
they were trespassing on some enchantment. From the cottage chimney
curled a film of smoke that gave a voiceless voice to the silence, and
when as they paused in the lych-gate, Castéra-Verduzan clanged the bell,
it seemed indeed the summons to waken from a spell sleepers long ago
bewitched.

"Surely nobody is going to answer that bell," said Stella.

"Why, yes, of course, Ursule will open it. Ursule! Ursule!" he cried.
"C'est moi, Monsieur Raoul."

The cottage door opened and, evidently much delighted, Ursule came
stumping down the path. She was an old woman whose rosy face was
pectinated with fine wrinkles as delicate as the pluming of a moth's
wing, while everything about her dress gave the same impression of
extreme fineness, though the stuff was only a black bombazine and the
tippet round her shoulders was of coarse lace. When she and Raoul had
talked together in rapidest French, Ursule like an old queen waved them
graciously within.

They sat in the white parlor on tall chairs of black oak among the
sounds of ticking clocks and distant bees and a smell of sweet herbs and
dryness.

"And there's a piano!" cried Stella, running to it. She played the Cat's
Fugue of Domenico Scarlatti.

"You could practice on that piano?" Raoul anxiously inquired. "It
belonged to my sister who often came here. More than any of us do. She's
married now."

The sadness in Raoul's voice had made Michael suppose he was going to
say his sister was dead.

"Then this divine place belongs to you?" Stella asked.

"To my sister and me. Ursule was once my nurse. Would you be my guests
here, although I shall be away? For as long as you like. Ursule will
look after you. Do say 'yes.'"

"Why, what else could we say?" Michael and Stella demanded
simultaneously.

It was a disappointment to the Regniers when Michael and Stella came
back to announce their retreat into the fast woodland, but perhaps M.
Regnier found compensation in going down to his favorite café that
afternoon and speaking of his guests, Monsieur and Mademoiselle Fêne,
now staying with M. le prince de Castéra-Verduzan at his hunting-lodge
in the forest.

Later that afternoon with their luggage and music Raoul brought Michael
and Stella back to the cottage in his car, after which he said good-bye.
Ursule was happy to have somebody to look after, and the cottage that
had seemed so very small against the high beeches of the steep country
behind was much larger when it was explored. It stretched out a
rectangular wing of cool and shadowed rooms toward the forest. In this
portion Ursule lived, and there was the pantry, and the kitchen embossed
with copper pans, and the still-room which had garnered each flowery
year in its course. Coterminous with Ursule's wing was a flagged court
where a stone well-head stained with gray and orange lichen mirrored a
circumscribed world. Beyond into an ancient orchard whose last red
apples ripened under the first outstretched boughs of the forest tossed
an acre of garden with runner-beans still in bloom.

In the part of the cottage where Stella and Michael lived, besides the
white parlor with the piano, there was the hall with a great hooded
fireplace and long polished dining-table lined and botched by the homely
meals of numberless dead banqueters; and at either end of the cottage
there were two small bedrooms with frequent changing patterns in dimity
and chintz, with many tinted china ornaments and holy pictures that all
combined to present the likeness of two glass cases enshrining an
immoderately gay confusion of flowers and fruit and birds.

Here in these ultimate September days of summer's reluctant farewell
life had all the rich placidity of an apricot upon a sun-steeped wall.
Michael, while Stella practiced really hard, read Gregorovius' History
of the Papacy; and when she stopped suddenly he would wake half-startled
from the bloody horrors of the tenth century narrated laboriously with
such cold pedantry, and hear above the first elusive silence swallows
gathering on the green common, robins in their autumnal song, and down a
corridor the footfalls and tinkling keys of Ursule.

It was natural that such surroundings should beget many intimate
conversations between Michael and Stella, and if anything were wanting
to give them a sense of perfect ease the thought that here at Compiègne
three years ago they had realized one another for the first time always
smoothed away the trace of shyness.

"Whether I had come out to Paris or not," asked Michael earnestly,
"there never would have been anything approaching a love-affair between
you and that fellow Ayliffe?" He had to recur to this uneasy theme.

"There might have been, Michael. I think that people who like me grow to
rely tremendously on themselves require rather potty little people to
play about with. It's the same sort of pleasure one gets from eating
cheap sweets between meals. With somebody like George, one feels no need
to bother to sustain one's personality at highest pitch. George used to
be grateful for so little. He really wasn't bad."

"But didn't you feel it was undignified to let him even think you might
fall in love with him? I don't want to be too objectionably fraternal,
but if Ayliffe was as cheap as you admit, you ran the risk of cheapening
yourself."

"Only to other people," Stella argued, "not to myself. My dear Michael,
you've no idea what a relief it is sometimes to play on the piano a
composition that is really easy--ridiculously, fatuously easy."

"But you wouldn't choose that piece for public performance," Michael
pointed out. He was beginning to feel the grave necessity of checking
Stella's extravagance.

"Surely the public you saw gathered round me in Paris wasn't very
important?" She laughed in almost contemptuous remembrance.

"Then why did you wire for me if the whole affair was so trivial as you
make out now?"

"I wanted a corrective," Stella explained.

"But how am I a corrective outside the fact that I'm your brother? And,
you know, I don't believe you would consider that relationship had much
to do with my importance one way or the other."

"In fact," said Stella, laughing, "what you're really trying to do is to
work the conversation round to yourself. One reason why you're a
corrective to George is that you're a gentleman."

"There you are!" cried Michael excitedly, and as if with that word she
had released a spring that was holding back all the pent-up conclusions
of some time past, he launched forth upon the display of his latest
excavation of life. "We all half apologize for using the word
'gentleman,' but we can't get on without it. People say it means nothing
nowadays. Although if it ever meant anything, it should mean more
nowadays than it did in the past, since every generation should add
something to its value. I haven't been able to talk this out before,
because you're the only person who knows what I was born and at the same
time is able to understand that for me to think about my circumstances
rather a lot doesn't imply any very morbid self-consciousness. _You're_
all right. You have this astonishing gift which would have guaranteed
you self-expression whatever you had been born. When one sees an artist
up to your level, one doesn't give a damn for his ancestors or his
family or his personal features apart from the security of the art's
consummation. Perhaps I have a vague inclination toward art myself, but
inclinations are no good without something to lean up against at the
end. These people who came to your party that night in Paris are in a
way much happier, or rather much more secure than me. However far they
incline without support, they're most of them inclining away from a
top-heavy suburban life. So if they become failures, they'll always have
the consolation of knowing they had either got to incline outward or be
suffocated."

Michael stopped for a while and stared out through the cottage lattices
at the stretch of common, at the steel-blue chain of ponds and the
narrow portal that led to this secluded forest-world, and away down the
lane to where on either side of the spraying brambles a plantation of
delicate birch-trees was tinted with the diaphanous brown and gold and
pale fawn of their last attiring.

"If I could only find in life itself," said Michael, sighing, "a path
leading to something like this cottage."

"But, meanwhile, go on," Stella urged. "Do go on with your
self-revelation. It's so fascinating to me. It's like a chord that never
resolves itself, or a melody flitting in and out of a symphony."

"Something rather pathetic in fact," Michael suggested.

"Oh, no, much too elusive and independent to be pathetic," she assured
him.

"My difficulty is that by natural inheritance I'm the possessor of so
much I can never make use of," Michael began again. "I'm not merely
discontented from a sense of envy. That trivial sort of envy doesn't
enter my head. Indeed, I don't think I'm ever discontented or even
resentful for one moment, but if I _were_ the head of a great family I
should have my duties set out in a long line before me, and all my
theories of what a gentleman owes to the state would be weighted down
with importance, or at any rate with potential significance, whereas
now----" he shrugged his shoulders.

"I don't see much difference really," Stella said. "You're not
prevented from being a gentleman and proving it on a smaller scale
perhaps."

"Yes, yes," Michael plunged on excitedly. "But crowds of people are
doing that, and every day more and more loudly the opinion goes up that
these gentlemen are accidental ornaments, rather useless, rather
irritating ornaments of contemporary society. Every day brings another
sneer at public schools and universities. Every new writer who commands
any attention drags out the old idol of the Noble Savage and invites us
to worship him. Only now the Noble Savage has been put into corduroy
trousers. My theory is that a gentleman leavens the great popular mass
of humanity, and however superficially useless he may seem, his
existence is a pledge of the immanence of the idea. Popular education
has fired thousands to prove themselves not gentlemen in the present
meaning of the term, but something much finer than any gentleman we know
anything about. And they are _not_, they simply and solidly are _not_.
The first instinct of the gentleman is respect for the past with all it
connotes of art and religion and thought. The first instinct of the
educated unfit is to hate and destroy the past. Now I maintain that the
average gentleman, whatever situation he is called upon to face, will
deal with it more effectively than these noble savages who have been
armed with weapons they don't know how to use and are therefore so much
the more dangerous, since every weapon to the primitive mind is a weapon
of offense. Had I been Lord Saxby instead of Michael Fane, I could have
proved my theory on the grand scale, and obviously the grand scale even
for a gentleman is the only scale that is any good nowadays."

"I wonder if you could," murmured Stella. "Anyway, I don't see why you
shouldn't ultimately attain to the grand scale, if you begin with the
small scale."

"But the small scale means just a passive existence that hurts nobody
and fades out of memory at the moment of death," Michael grumbled.

"Well, if your theory of necessary ornaments is valid," Stella pointed
out, "you'll find your niche."

"I shall be a sort of Prescott. That's the most I can hope for," Michael
gloomily announced. "Yet after all that's pretty good."

Stella looked at him in surprise, and said that though she had known
Michael liked Prescott, she had no idea he had created such an
atmosphere of admiration. She was eager to find out what Michael most
esteemed in him, and she plied him indeed with so many questions that he
finally asked her if she did not approve of Prescott.

"Of course I approve of him. No one could accept a refusal so
wonderfully without being approved. But naturally I wanted to find out
your opinion of him. What could be more interesting to a girl than to
know the judgment of others on a person she might have married?"

Michael gazed at her in astonishment and demanded her reason for keeping
such an extraordinary event so secret.

"Because I didn't want to introduce an atmosphere of curiosity into your
relationship with him. You know, Michael, that if I had told you, you
would always have been examining him when you thought he wasn't looking.
And of course I never told mother, who would have examined him through
her lorgnettes whether he were looking or not."

It seemed strange to Michael, as he and Stella sat here with the
woodland enclosing them, that she could so fearlessly accept or refuse
what life offered. And yet he supposed the ability to do so made of her
the artist she was. Thinking of her that night, as he sat up reading in
the clock-charmed room where lately she had played him through the dawn
of the English Constitution, he told himself that even this cottage
which so essentially became them both, was the result of Stella's appeal
to Raoul de Castéra-Verduzan, an appeal in which his own personality had
scarcely entered. Castéra-Verduzan! Prescott! Ayliffe! What folly it had
been for him to make his own plans for her and Alan. Yet it had seemed
so obvious and so easy that these two should fall in love with each
other. Michael wondered whether he were specially privileged in being
able to see through to a sister's heart, whether other brothers went
blindly on without an inkling that their sisters were loved. It was
astonishing to think that the grave Prescott had stepped so far and so
rashly from his polite seclusion as to accept the risk of ridicule for
proposing to a girl whose mother's love for a friend of his own he had
spent his life in guarding. Michael put out the lamp and, lighting a
candle, went along the corridor to bed. From the far end he heard
Stella's voice calling to him and turned back to ask her what she
wanted. She was sitting up in bed very wide-eyed, and, in that dainty
room of diminutive buds and nosegays all winking in the soft
candlelight, she seemed with her brown hair tied up with a scarlet bow
someone disproportionately large and wild, yet someone whom for all her
largeness and wildness it would still be a joy devotedly to cherish and
protect.

"Michael, I've been thinking about what you said," she began, "and you
mustn't get cranky. I wish you wouldn't bother so much about what you're
going to be. It will end in your simply being unhappy."

"I don't really bother a great deal," Michael assured her. "But I do
feel a sort of responsibility for being a nobody, so very definitely a
nobody."

"The people who ought to have felt that responsibility were mother and
father," said Stella.

"Yes, logically," Michael agreed. "But I think father did feel the
responsibility rather heavily, and it's a sort of loyalty I have for him
which makes me so determined to justify myself."

That night the equinoctial gales began. Stella and Michael had only two
or three walks more down the wide glades where the fallen leaves
trundled and swirled, and then it would be time to leave this forest
house. Raoul did not manage to come back to Compiègne in time to say
good-bye, and so at the moment of departure they took leave of old
Ursule and the cottage very sadly, for it seemed, so desolate and gusty
was the October morning, that never again would they possess for their
own that magical corner of the world.

The equinoctial gales died away in a flood of rain, and the fine weather
came back. London welcomed their return with a gracious calm. The Thames
was a sheet of trembling silver, and the distant roofs and spires and
trees of the Surrey shore no more than breath upon a glass. In this
luminous and immaterial city the house in Cheyne Walk stood out with the
pleasant aspect of its demure reality, and Mrs. Fane like one of those
clouded rose pastels on the walls of her room was to both of them after
their absence from London herself for a while as they had known her in
childhood.

"Dear children, how charming to see you looking so well. I'm not quite
sure I like that very Scotch-looking skirt, darling Stella. I'm so glad
you've enjoyed yourselves together. Is it a heather mixture? And I was
in France, too. But the trains are so oddly inconvenient. Mrs.
Carruthers' most interesting! I wish, darling Stella, you would take up
Mental Science. Ah, but I forgot, you have your practicing."

It was time to go up to Oxford after the few days that Stella and
Michael spent in making arrangements for a series of Brahms recitals in
one of the smaller concert halls. Alan met Michael on the platform at
Paddington. This custom they had loyally kept up each term, although
otherwise their paths seemed to be diverging.

"Good vac?" Michael asked.

"Oh, rather! I've been working at rather a tricky slow leg-break.
Fifty-five wickets for 8.4 during the vac. Not bad for a dry summer. I
was playing for the Tics most of the time. What did you do?"

Michael during the journey up talked mostly about Stella.



CHAPTER VII

VENNER'S


The most of Michael's friends had availed themselves of the right of
seniority to move into more dignified rooms for their second year. These
"extensions of premises," as Castleton called them, reached the limit of
expansion in the case of Lonsdale who, after a year's residence in two
small ground-floor rooms of St. Cuthbert's populous quad, had acquired
the largest suite of three in Cloisters. Exalted by palatial ambitions,
he spent the first week of term in buttonholing people in the lodge, so
that after whatever irrelevant piece of chatter he had seized upon as
excuse he might wind up the conversation by observing nonchalantly:

"Oh, I say, have you chaps toddled round to my new rooms yet? Rather
decent. I'm quite keen on them. I've got a dining-room now. Devilish
convenient. Thought of asking old Wedders to lay in a stock of pictures.
It would buck him up rather."

"But why do you want these barracks?" Michael asked.

"Oh, binges," said Lonsdale. "We ought to be able to run some pretty
useful binges here. Besides, I'm thinking of learning the bagpipes."

Wedderburn had moved into the Tudor richness of the large gateway room
in St. Cuthbert's tower. Avery had succeeded the canorous
Templeton-Collins on Michael's staircase, and had brought back with him
from Flanders an alleged Rubens to which the rest of the furniture and
the honest opinions of his friends were ruthlessly sacrified. Michael
alone had preferred to remain in the rooms originally awarded to him. He
had a sentimental objection to denying them the full period of their
participation in his own advance along the lines he had marked out for
himself. As he entered them now to resume the tenure interrupted by the
Long Vacation he compared their present state with the negative effect
they had produced a year ago. Being anxious to arrange some decorative
purchases he had made in France, Michael had ordered commons for himself
alone. How intimate and personal that sparse lunch laid for one on a
large table now seemed! How trimly crowded was now that inset bookcase
and what imprisoned hours it could release to serve his pleasure! There
was not now indeed a single book that did not recall the charmed
idleness of the afternoon it commemorated. Nor was there one volume that
could not conjure for him at midnight with enchantments eagerly expected
all the day long.

It was a varied library this that in three terms he had managed to
gather together. When he began, ornate sets like great gaudy heralds had
proclaimed those later arrivals which were after all so much the more
worshipful. The editions of luxury had been succeeded by the
miscellanies of mere information, works that fired the loiterer to
acquire them for the sake of the knowledge of human by-ways they
generally so jejunely proffered. And yet perhaps it was less for their
material contents that they were purchased than for the fact that in
some dead publishing season more extravagant buyers had spent four or
five times as much to partake of their accumulated facts and fortuitous
illustrations. With Michael the passion for remainders was short-lived,
and he soon pushed them ignobly out of the way for the sake of those
stately rarities that combined a decorous exterior with the finest
flavor of words and a permanent value that was yet subject to mercantile
elation and depression.

If among these ambassadors of learning and literature was to be
distinguished any predominant tone, perhaps the kindliest favor had been
extended toward the more unfamiliar and fantastic quartos of the
seventeenth century, those speculative compendiums of lore that though
enriched by the classic Renaissance were nevertheless more truly the
eclectic consummation of the Middle Ages. The base of their thought may
have been unsubstantial, a mirage of philosophy, offering but a
Neo-Platonic or Gnostic kaleidoscope through which to survey the
universe; but so rich were their tinctures and apparels, so diverse was
the pattern of their ceremonious commentary, and so sonorous was their
euphony that Michael made of their reading a sanctuary where every night
for a while he dreamed upon their cadences resounding through a world of
polychromatic images and recondite jewels, of spiritual maladies and
minatory comets, of potions for revenge and love, of talismans, to
fortune, touchstones of treasure and eternal life, and strange
influential herbs. Mere words came to possess Michael so perilously that
under the spell of these Jacobeans he grew half contemptuous of thought
less prodigally ornate. The vital ideas of the present danced by in
thin-winged progress unperceived, or rather perceived as bloodless and
irresolute ephemerides. When people reproached him for his willful
prejudice, he pointed out how easy it would always be to overtake the
ideas of the present and how much waste of intellectual breath would be
avoided by letting his three or four Oxford years account for the most
immediately evanescent. Oxford seemed to him to provide an opportunity,
and more than an opportunity--an inexpugnable command to wave with most
reluctant hands farewell to the backward of time, around whose brink
rose up more truthful dreams than those that floated indeterminate,
beckoning through the mist across the wan mountains of the future.

On the walls Michael's pictures had been collected to achieve through
another medium the effect of his books. Mona Lisa was there not for her
lips or eyes, but rather for that labyrinth of rocks and streams behind;
and since pictures seldom could be found to provide what he sought in a
picture, there were very few of them in his sitting-room. One hour of
the Anatomy of Melancholy or of Urn Burial could always transform the
pattern of the terra-cotta wall paper to some diagrammatic significance.
Apart from the accumulation of books and pictures, he had changed the
room scarcely at all. Curtains and covers, chairs and tables, all
preserved the character of the room itself as something that existed
outside the idiosyncrasies of the transient inhabitants who read and
laughed and ate and talked for so comparatively fleeting a space of time
between its four walls. With all that he had imposed of what in the
opinion of his contemporaries were eccentricities of adornment, the
rooms remained, as he would observe to any critic, essentially the same
as his own. Instead of college groups which marked merely by the height
of the individual's waistcoat-opening the almost intolerable fugacity of
their record, there were Leonardo and Blake and Frederick Walker to
preserve the illusion of permanence, or at least of continuity. Instead
of the bleached and desiccated ribs of momentarily current magazines
cast away in sepulchral indignity, there were a hundred quartos whose
calf bindings had the durableness and sober depth of walnut furniture,
furniture, moreover, that was still in use.

Yet it was in Venner's office where Michael found the perfect fruit of
time's infinitely fastidious preservation, the survival not so much of
the fittest as of the most expressive. Here, indeed, whatever in his own
rooms might affect him with the imagination of the eternal present of
finite conceptions, was the embodiment of the possible truth of those
moments in which at intervals he had apprehended, whether through
situations or persons or places, the assurance of immortality. Great
pictures, great music and most of all great literature would always
remain as the most obvious pledge of man's spiritual potentiality, but
these subtler intimations of momentary vision had such power to impress
themselves that Michael could believe in the child Blake when he spoke
of seeing God's forehead pressed against the window panes, could believe
that the soul liberated from the prison of the flesh had struggled in
the very instant of her recapture to state the ineffable. To him Blake
seemed the only poet who had in all his work disdained to attempt the
recreation of anything but these moments of positive faith. Every other
writer seemed clogged by human conceptions of grandeur. Most people,
seeking the imaginative reward of their sensibility, would obtain the
finest thrill that Oxford could offer from the sudden sight of St.
Mary's tower against a green April afterglow, or of the moon-parched
High Street in frost. Michael, however, found in Venner's office, just
as he had found in that old print of St. Mary's tower rather than in the
tower itself, the innermost shrine of Oxford, the profoundest revelation
of the shining truth round which the mysterious material of Oxford had
grown through the Middle Ages.

Michael with others of his year had during the summer term ventured
several times into Venner's, but the entrance of even a comparatively
obscure senior had always driven them out. They had not yet enjoyed the
atmosphere of security without which a club unlike an orchard never
tastes sweet. Now, with the presence of a new year's freshmen and with
the lordship of the college in their own hands, since to the
out-of-college men age with merciless finger seemed already to be
beckoning, Michael and his contemporaries in their pride of prime
marched into Venner's after hall and drank their coffee.

Venner's office was one of the small ground-floor rooms in Cloisters,
but it had long ago been converted to the present use. An inner
storeroom, to which Venner always retired to make a cup of squash or to
open a bottle of whisky, had once been the bedroom. The office itself
was not luxuriously furnished, and the accommodation was small. A
window-seat with a view of the college kitchens, a square table, and a
couple of Windsor chairs were considered enough for the men who
frequented Venner's every night after hall, and who on Sunday nights
after wine in J.C.R. clustered there like a swarm of bees. Venner's own
high chair stood far back in the corner behind his high sloping desk on
which, always spread open, lay the great ledger of J.C.R. accounts. On
the shelves above were the account books of bygone years in which were
indelibly recorded the extravagances of more than thirty years of St.
Mary's men. Over the fireplace was a gilt mirror of Victorian design
stuck round with the fixture cards of the university and the college,
with notices of grinds and musical clubs and debating societies; in
fact, with all the printed petty news of Oxford. A few photographs of
winning crews, a book-case with stores of college stationery, a
Chippendale sideboard with a glass case of priced cigars on top, and an
interesting drawerful of Venner's relics above the varnished wainscot
completed the furniture. The wall-paper was of that indefinite brownish
yellow which one finds in the rooms of old-fashioned solicitors, and of
that curious oily texture which seems to produce an impression of great
age and at the same time of perfect modernity.

Yet the office itself, haunted though it was by the accumulated
personalities of every generation at St. Mary's, would scarcely have
possessed the magical effect of fusion which it did possess, had not all
these personalities endured in a perpetual present through the
conservative force of Venner himself. John Venables had been Steward of
the Junior Common Room for thirty-three years, but he seemed to all
these young men that came within the fragrancy of his charm to be as
much an intrinsic part of the college as the tower itself. The
moon-faced Warden, the dry-voiced dons, the deer park, the elms, the
ancient doors and traceries, the lawns and narrow entries, the groinings
and the lattices, were all subordinate in the estimation of the
undergraduates to Venner. He knew the inner history of every rag; he
realized why each man was popular or unpopular or merely ignored; he was
a treasure-house of wise counsel and kindly advice; he held the keys of
every heart. He was an old man with florid, clean-shaven face, a pair of
benignant eyes intensely blue, a rounded nose, a gentle voice and most
inimitable laugh. Something there was in him of the old family butler, a
little more of the yeoman-farmer, a trace of the head game-keeper, a
suspicion of the trainer of horses, but all these elements were blended
to produce the effect of someone wise and saintly and simple who could
trouble himself to heal the lightest wounds and could rouse with a look
or a gesture undying affection.

With such a tutelary spirit, it was not surprising the freedom of
Venner's should have been esteemed a privilege that could only be
conferred by the user's consciousness of his own right. There was no
formal election to Venner's: there simply happened a moment when the St.
Mary's man entered unembarrassed that mellow office and basked in that
sunny effluence. In this ripe old room, generous and dry as sherry wine,
how pleasant it was to sit and listen to Venner's ripe old stories: how
amazingly important seemed the trivial gossip of the college in this
historic atmosphere: how much time was apparently wasted here between
eight and ten at night, and what a thrill it always was to come into
college about half-past nine of a murky evening and stroll round
Cloisters to see if there was anybody in Venner's. It could after all
scarcely be accounted a waste of time to sit and slowly mature in
Venner's, and sometimes about half-past nine the old man would be alone,
the fire would be dying down and during the half-hour that remained of
his duty, it would be possible to peel a large apple very slowly and
extract from him more of the essence of social history than could be
gained from a term's reading of great historians even with all the extra
lucidity imparted by a course of Mr. So-and-So's lectures.

Michael found that Venner summed up clearly for him all his own
tentative essays to grasp the meaning of life. He perceived in him the
finest reaction to the prejudice and nobility, the efficiency and folly
of aristocratic thought. He found in him the ideal realization of his
own most cherished opinions. England, and all that was most inexplicable
in the spirit of England, was expressed by Venner. He was a landscape, a
piece of architecture, a simple poem of England. One of Venner's
applauded tricks was to attach a piece of string to the tongs for a
listener to hold to his ears, while Venner struck the tongs with the
poker and evoked the sound of St. Mary's chimes. But the poker and tongs
were unnecessary, for in Venner's own voice was the sound of all the
bells in England. Communion with this gracious, this tranquil, this
mellow presence affected Michael with a sense of the calm certainty of
his own life. It lulled all the discontent and all the unrest. It
indicated for the remainder of his Oxford time a path which, if it did
not lead to any outburst of existence, was at least a straight path,
green bordered and gay with birdsong, with here and there a sight of
ancient towers and faiths, and here and there an arbor in which he and
his friends could sit and talk of their hopes.

"Venner," said Lonsdale one evening, "do you remember the Bishop of
Cirencester when he was up? Stebbing his name was. My mother roped him
in for a teetotal riot she was inciting this vac."

"Oh, yes, I think he was rather a wild fellow," Venner began, full of
reminiscence. "But we'll look him up."

Down came some account-book of the later seventies, and all the festive
evenings of the Bishop, spent in the period when undergraduates were
photographed with mutton-chop whiskers and bowler hats, lay revealed for
the criticism of his irreverent successors.

"There you are," chuckled Venner triumphantly. "What did I say? One
dozen champagne. Three bottles of brandy. All drunk in one night, for
there's another half dozen put down for the next day. Ah, but the men
are much quieter nowadays. Not nearly so much drinking done in college
as there used to be. Oh, I remember the Bishop--Stebbing he was then. He
put a cod-fish in the Dean's bed. Oh, there was a dreadful row about it!
The old Warden kicked up such a fuss."

And, as easily as one Arabian night glides into another, Venner glided
from anecdote to anecdote of episcopal youth.

"I thought the old boy liked the governor's port," laughed Lonsdale.
"'What a pity everybody can't drink in moderation,' said Gaiters. Next
time he cocks his wicked old eye at me, I shall ask him about that
cod-fish."

"What's this they tell me about your bringing out a magazine?" Venner
inquired, turning to Maurice Avery.

"Out next week, Venner," Maurice announced importantly.

"Why, whatever do you find to write about?" asked Venner. "But I suppose
it's amusing. I've often been asked to write my own life. What an idea!
As if I had any time. I'm glad enough to go to bed when I get home,
though I always smoke a pipe first. We had two men here once who brought
out a paper. Chalfont and Weymouth. I used to have some copies of it
somewhere. They put in a lot of skits of the college dons. The Warden
was quite annoyed. 'Most scurrilous, Venables,' he said to me, I
remember. 'Most scurrilous.'" Venner chuckled at the remembrance of the
Warden's indignation.

"This is going to be a very serious affair, Venner," explained somebody.
"It's going to put the world quite straight again."

"Ho-ho, I suppose you're one of these Radicals," said Venner to the
editor. "Dear me, how anyone can be a Radical I can't understand. I've
always been a Conservative. We had a Socialist come up here to lecture
once in a man's rooms--a great Radical this man was--Sir Hugh Gaston--a
baronet--there's a funny thing, fancy a Radical baronet. Well, the men
got to hear of this Socialist coming up and what do you think they did?"
Venner chuckled in anticipatory relish. "Why, they cropped his hair down
to nothing. Sir Hugh Gaston was quite upset about it, and when he made a
fuss, they cut his hair too, though it was quite short already. There
was a terrible rowdy set up then. The men are very much quieter
nowadays."

The door opened as Venables finished his story, and Smithers came in to
order rather nervously a tin of biscuits. The familiar frequenters of
Venner's eyed in cold silence his entrance, his blushful wait and his
hurried exit.

"That's a scholar called Smithers," Venner explained. "He's a very quiet
man. I don't suppose any of you know him even by sight."

"We ragged him last term," said Michael, smiling at his friends.

"He's a bounder," declared Avery obstinately.

"He hasn't much money," said Venner. "But he's a very nice fellow. You
oughtn't to rag him. He's very harmless. Never speaks to anybody. He'll
get a first, I expect, but there, you don't think anything of that, I
know. But the dons do. The Warden often has him to dinner. I shouldn't
rag him any more. He's a very sensitive fellow. His father's a
carpenter. What a wonderful thing he should have a son come up to St.
Mary's."

The rebuke was so gently administered that only the momentary silence
betrayed its efficacy.

One day Michael brought Alan to be introduced to Venables, and it was a
pleasure to see how immediately the old man appreciated Alan.

"Why ever didn't you come to St. Mary's?" asked Venner. "Just the place
for you. Don't you find Christ Church a bit large? But they've got some
very good land. I've often done a bit of shooting over the Christ Church
farms. The Bursar knows me well. 'Pleased to see you, Mr. Venables, and
I hope you'll have good sport.' That's what he said to me last time I
saw him. Oh, he's a very nice man! Do they still make meringues at your
place? I don't suppose you ever heard the story of the St. Mary's men
who broke into Christ Church. It caused quite a stir at the time. Well,
some of our men were very tipsy one night at the Bullingdon wine, and
one of them left his handkerchief in the rooms of a Christ Church man,
and what do you think they did? Why, when they got back to college, this
man said he wasn't going to bed without his handkerchief. Did you ever
hear of such a thing? So they all climbed out of St. Mary's at about two
in the morning and actually climbed into Christ Church. At least they
thought it was Christ Church, but it was really Pembroke. Do you know
Pembroke? I don't suppose you've even been there. Our men always cheer
Pembroke in the Eights--Pemmy, as they call it--because their barge is
next to us. But fancy breaking in there at night to look for a
handkerchief. They woke up every man in the college, and there was a
regular set-to in the quad, and the night porter at Pembroke got a most
terrible black eye. The President of the J.C.R. had to send an apology,
and it was all put right, but this man who lost his handkerchief,
Wilberforce his name was, became a regular nuisance, because for ever
afterward, whenever he got drunk, he used to go looking for this old
handkerchief. There you see, that's what comes of going to the
Bullingdon wine. Are you a member of the Bullingdon?"

"He's a cricketer, Venner," Michael explained.

"So was this fellow Wilberforce who lost his handkerchief, and what do
you think? One day when we were playing Winchester--you're not a
Wykehamist, are you?--he came out to bat so drunk that the first ball he
hit, he went and ran after it himself. It caused quite a scandal. But
you don't look one of that sort. Will you have a squash and a biscuit?
The men like these biscuits very much. There's been quite a run on
them."

Michael was anxious to know how deep an impression Venner had made on
Alan.

"You've got nobody like him at the House?" he asked.

Alan was bound to admit there was indeed nobody.

"He's an extraordinary chap," said Michael. "He's always different, and
yet he's always absolutely the same. For me he represents Oxford. When
one's in his company, one feels one's with him for ever, and yet one
knows that people who have gone down can feel just the same, and that
people who haven't yet come up will feel just the same. You know, I do
really think that what it sets out to do St. Mary's does better than any
other college. And the reason of that is Venner's. It's the only
successful democracy in the world."

"I shouldn't have called it a democracy," said Alan. "Everybody doesn't
go there."

"But everybody can go there. It depends entirely on themselves."

"What about that fellow Smithers you were talking about?" Alan asked.
"He seems barred."

"But he won't be," Michael urged hopefully.

"He'd be happier at the House all the same," Alan said. "He'd find his
own set there."

"But so he can at St. Mary's."

"Then it isn't a democracy," Alan stoutly maintained.

"I say, Alan," exclaimed Michael, in surprise. "You're getting quite a
logician."

"Well, you always persist in treating me like an idiot," said Alan. "But
I _am_ reading Honor Mods. It's a swat, but I've got to get some sort of
a class."

"You'll probably get a first," said Michael.

Yet how curious it was to think of Alan, whom he still regarded as
chiefly a good-looking and capable athlete, taking a first class in a
school he himself had indolently passed over. Of course he would never
take a first. He was too much occupied with the perfection of new
leg-breaks. And what would he do after his degree, his third in greats?
A third was the utmost Michael mentally allowed him in the Final
Schools.

"I suppose you'll ultimately try for the Indian Civil?" Michael asked.
"Do you remember when we used to lie awake talking in bed at Carlington
Road? It was always going to be me who did everything intellectual; you
were always the sportsman."

"I am still. Michael, I think I've got a chance of my blue this year. If
I can keep that leg-break," he added fervidly. "There's no slow
right-hander of much class in the Varsity. I worked like a navvy at that
leg-break last vac."

"I thought you were grinding for Mods," Michael reminded him, with a
smile.

"I worked like a navvy at Mods," said Alan.

"You'll be a proconsul, I really believe." Michael looked admiringly at
his friend. "And do you know, Alan, in appearance you're turning into a
regular viking."

"I meant to have my hair cut yesterday," said Alan, in grave and
reflective self-reproof.

"It's not your hair," cried Michael. "It's your whole personality. I
never appreciated you until this moment."

"I think you talk more rot nowadays than you used to talk even," said
Alan. "So long, I must go back and work."

The tall figure with the dull gold hair curling out from the green cap
of Harris tweed faded away in the November fog that was traveling in
swift and smoky undulations through the Oxford streets. What a strangely
attractive walk Alan had always had, and now it had gained something of
determination, whether from leg-breaks or logic Michael did not know.
But the result was a truer grace in the poise of his neck; a longer and
more supple swing from his tapering flanks.

Michael went on up the High and stood for a moment, watching the
confusion caused by the fog at Carfax, listening to the fretful tinkles
of the numerous bicycles and the jangling of the trams and the shouts of
the paper-boys. Then he walked down Cornmarket Street past the shops
splashing through the humid coils of vapor their lights upon the
townspeople, loiterers and purchasers who thronged the pavements.
Undergraduates strolled along, linked arm in arm and perpetually
staring. How faithfully each group resembled its forerunners and
successors. All had the same fresh complexions, the same ample green
coats of Harris tweed, the same gray flannel trousers. Only in the
casual acknowledgments of his greeting when he recognized acquaintances
was there the least variation, since some would nod or toss their heads,
others would shudder with their chins, and a few would raise their arms
in a fanlike gesture of social benediction. Michael turned round into
the Broad where the fog made mysterious even the tea-tray gothic of
Balliol, and Trinity with its municipal ampelopsis. A spectral cabman
saluted him interrogatively from the murk. A fox-terrier went yapping
down the street at the heels of a don's wife hurrying back to Banbury
Road. A belated paper-boy yelled, "Varsity and Blackheath Result,"
hastening toward a more profitable traffic. The fog grew denser every
minute, and Michael turned round into Turl Street past many-windowed
Exeter and the monastic silence of Lincoln. There was time to turn aside
and visit Lampard's bookshop. There was time to buy that Glossary of
Ducange which he must have, and perhaps that red and golden Dictionary
of Welby Pugin which he ought to have, and ultimately, as it turned out,
there was time to buy half a dozen more great volumes whose connection
with mediæval history was not too remote to give an excuse to Michael,
if excuse were needed, for their purchase. Seven o'clock chimed
suddenly, and Michael hurried to college, snatched a black coat and a
gown out of Venner's and just avoided the sconce for being more than a
quarter of an hour late for hall.

Michael was glad he had not missed hall that night. In Lampard's
alluring case of treasures he had been tempted to linger on until too
late, and then to take with him two or three new books and in their
entertainment to eat a solitary and meditative dinner at Buol's. But it
would have been a pity to have missed hall when the electric light
failed abruptly and when everybody had just helped themselves to baked
potatoes. It would have been sad not to have seen the Scholars' table so
splendidly wrecked or heard the volleys of laughter resounding through
the darkness.

"By gad," said Lonsdale, when the light was restored and the second year
leaned over their table in triumphant exhaustion. "Did you see that bad
man Carben combing the potatoes out of his hair with a fork? I say,
Porcher," he said to his old scout who was waiting at the table, "do
bring us some baked potatoes."

"Isn't there none left?" inquired Porcher. "Mr. Lonsdale, sir, you'd
better keep a bit quiet. The Sub-Warden's looking very savage--very
savage indeed."

At this moment Maurice Avery came hurrying in to dinner.

"Oh, sconce him!" shouted everybody. "It's nearly five-and-twenty past."

"Couldn't help it," said Maurice very importantly. "Just been seeing the
first number of the O.L.G. through the press."

"By gad," said Lonsdale. "It's a way we have in the Buffs and the Forty
Two'th. Look here, have we all got to buy this rotten paper of yours?
What's it going to cost?"

"A shilling," said Maurice modestly.

"A bob!" cried Lonsdale. "But, my dear old ink-slinger, I can buy the
five-o'clock Star for a half-penny."

Maurice had to put up with a good deal of chaff from everybody that
night.

"Let's have the program," Sinclair suggested.

The editor was so much elated at the prospect of to-morrow's great event
that he rashly produced from his pocket the contents bill, which
Lonsdale seized and immediately began to read out:

    "THE OXFORD LOOKING-GLASS.
    No. I.
    _"Some Reflections. By Maurice Avery._

"What are you reflecting on, Mossy?"

"Oh, politics," said Maurice lightly, "and other things."

"My god, he'll be Prime Minister next week," said Cuffe.

    _"Socrates at Balliol. By Guy Hazlewood._

"And just about where he ought to have been," commented Lonsdale. "Oh,
listen to this! Whoo-oop!

    _"The Failure of the Modern Illustrator._

"But wait a minute, who do you think it's by? C. St. C. Wedderburn!
Jolly old Wedders! The Failure of the Modern Illustrator. Wedders! My
god, I shall cat with laughing. Wedders! A bee-luddy author."

"Sconce Mr. Lonsdale, please," said Wedderburn, turning gravely to the
recorder by his chair.

"What, half a crown for not really saying bloody?" Lonsdale protested.

That night after hall there was much to tell Venner of the successful
bombardment with potatoes, and there was some chaff for Avery and
Wedderburn in regard to their forthcoming magazine. Parties of
out-of-college men came in after their dinner, and at half-past eight
o'clock the little office was fuller than usual, with the college gossip
being carried on in a helter-skelter of unceasing babble. Just when
Fitzroy the Varsity bow was enunciating the glories of Wet Bobbery and
the comparative obscurities of Dry Bobbery and just when all the Dry
Bobs present were bowling the contrary arguments at him from every
corner at once, the door opened and a freshman, as fair and floridly
handsome as a young Bacchus, walked with curious tiptoe steps into the
very heart of the assembly.

Fitzroy stopped short in his discourse and thrummed impatiently with
clenched fists upon his inflated chest, as gorillas do. The rest of the
company eyed the entrance of the newcomer in puzzled, faintly hostile
silence.

"Oh, Venner," said the intruder, in loftiest self-confidence and
unabashed clarity of accent. "I haven't had those cigars yet."

He hadn't had his cigars yet! Confound his impudence, and what right had
he to buy cigars, and what infernal assurance had led him to suppose he
might stroll into Venner's in the third raw week of his uncuffed
fresherdom? Who was he? What was he? Unvoiced, these questions quivered
in the wrathful silence.

"The boy was told to take them up, sir," said Venner. Something in
Venner's manner toward this newcomer indicated to the familiars that he
might have deprecated this deliberate entrance armored in
self-satisfaction. Something there was in Venner's assumption of
impersonal civility which told the familiars that Venner himself
recognized and sympathized with their as yet unspoken horror of
tradition's breach.

"I rather want them to-night," said the newcomer, and then he surveyed
slowly his seniors and even nodded to one or two of them whom presumably
he had known at school. "So if the boy hasn't taken them up," he
continued, "you might send up another box. Thanks very much."

He seemed to debate for a moment with himself whether he should stay,
but finally decided to go. As he reached the door, he said that, by
Jove, his cigarette had gone out, and "You've got a light," he added to
Lonsdale, who was standing nearest to him. "Thanks very much." The door
of Venner's slammed behind his imperturbableness, and a sigh of pent-up
stupefaction was let loose.

"Who's your young friend, Lonny?" cried one.

"He thought Lonny was the Common Room boy," cried another.

"Venner, give the cigars to Mr. Lonsdale to take up," shouted a third.

"He's very daring for a freshman," said Venner. "Very daring. I thought
he was a fourth year Scholar whom I'd never seen, when he first came in
the other day. Most of the freshmen are very timid at first. They think
the senior men don't like their coming in too soon. And perhaps it's
better for them to order what they want when I'm by myself. I can talk
to them more easily that way. With all the men wanting their coffee and
whiskies, I really can't attend to orders so well just after hall."

"Who is he, Venner?" demanded half a dozen indignant voices.

"Mr. Appleby. The Honorable George Appleby. But you ought to know him.
He's an Etonian."

Several Etonians admitted they knew him, and the Wykehamists present
seized the occasion to point out the impossibility of such manners
belonging to any other school.

"He's a friend of yours, then?" said Venner to Lonsdale.

"Good lord, no, Venner!" declared Lonsdale.

"He seemed on very familiar terms with you," Venner chuckled wickedly.

Lonsdale thought very hard for two long exasperated moments and then
announced with conviction that Appleby must be ragged, severely ragged
this very night.

"Now don't go making a great noise," Venner advised. "The dons don't
like it, and the Dean won't be in a very good temper after that
potato-throwing in hall."

"He must be ragged, Venner," persisted Lonsdale inexorably. "There need
be no noise, but I'm hanged if I'm going to have my cigarette taken out
of my hand and used by a damned fresher. Who's coming with me to rag
this man Appleby?"

The third-year men seemed to think the correction beneath their dignity,
and the duty devolved naturally upon the second-year men.

"I can't come," said Avery. "The O.L.G.'s coming out to-morrow."

"Look here, Mossy, if you say another word about your rotten paper, I
won't buy a copy," Lonsdale vowed.

Michael offered to go with Lonsdale and at any rate assist as a
spectator. He was anxious to compare the behavior of Smithers with the
behavior of Appleby in like circumstances. Grainger offered to come if
Lonny would promise to fight sixteen rounds without gloves, and in the
end he, with Lonsdale, Michael, Cuffe, Sinclair, and three or four
others, marched up to Appleby's rooms.

Lonsdale knocked upon the door, and as he opened it assumed what he
probably supposed to be an expression of ferocity, though he was told
afterward he had merely looked rather more funny than usual.

"Oh, hullo, Lonsdale," said Appleby, as the party entered. "Come in and
have a smoke. How's your governor?"

Lonsdale seemed to choke for breath a moment, and then sat down in a
chair so deep that for the person once plunged into its recesses an
offensive movement must have been extremely difficult.

"Come in, you chaps," Appleby pursued in hospitable serenity. "I don't
know any of your names, but take pews, take pews. Venner hasn't sent up
the cigars I ordered."

"We know," interrupted Lonsdale severely.

"But I've some pretty decent weeds here," continued Appleby, without a
tremor of embarrassment. "Who's for whisky?"

"Look here, young Apple-pip, or whatever your name is, what you've got
to understand is that...."

Appleby again interrupted Lonsdale.

"Can we make up a bridge four? Or are you chaps not keen on cards?"

"What you require, young Appleby," began Lonsdale.

"You've got it right this time," said Appleby encouragingly.

"What you require is to have your room bally well turned upside down."

"Oh, really?" said Appleby, with a suave assumption of interest.

"Yes," answered Lonsdale gloomily, and somehow the little affirmative
that was meant to convey so much of fearful intent was so palpably
unimpressive that Lonsdale turned to his companions and appealed for
their more eloquent support.

"Tell him he mustn't come into Venner's and put on all that side. It's
not done. He's a fresher," gasped Lonsdale, obviously helpless in that
absorbing chair.

"All right," agreed Appleby cheerfully. "I'll send the order up to you
next time."

Immediately afterward, though exactly how it happened Lonsdale could
never probably explain, he found himself drinking Appleby's whisky and
smoking one of Appleby's cigars. This seemed to kindle the spark of his
resentment to flame, and he sprang up.

"We ought to debag him!" he cried.

Appleby was thereupon debagged; but as he made no resistance to the
divestiture and as he continued to walk about trouserless and dispense
hospitality without any apparent loss of dignity, the debagging had to
be written down a failure. Finally he folded up his trousers and put on
a dressing-gown of purple velvet, and when they left him, he was
watching them descend his staircase and actually was calling after them
to remind Venner about the cigars, if the office were still open.

"Hopeless," sighed Lonsdale. "The man's a hopeless ass."

"I think he had the laugh, though," said Michael.



CHAPTER VIII

THE OXFORD LOOKING-GLASS


Roll-calls were not kept at St. Mary's with that scrupulousness of
outward exterior which, in conjunction with early rising, such a
discipline may have been designed primarily to secure. On the morning
after the attempted adjustment of Appleby's behavior, a raw and vaporous
November morning, Michael at one minute to eight o'clock ran collarless,
unbrushed, unshaven, toward the steps leading up to hall at whose head
stood the Dean beside the clerkly recorder of these sorry matutinal
appearances. Michael waited long enough to see his name fairly entered
in the book, yawned resentfully at the Dean, and started back on the
taciturn journey that must culminate in the completion of his toilet.
Crossing the gravel space between Cloisters and Cuther's worldly quad,
he met Maurice Avery dressed finally for the day at one minute past
eight o'clock. Such a phenomenon provoked him into speech.

"What on earth.... Are you going to London?" he gasped.

"Rather not. I'm going out to buy a copy of the O.L.G."

Michael shook his head, sighed compassionately, and passed on. Twenty
minutes later in Common Room he was contemplating distastefully the
kedgeree which with a more hopeful appetite he had ordered on the
evening before, when Maurice planked down beside his place the first
number of The Oxford Looking-Glass.

"There's a misprint on page thirty-seven, line six. It ought to be 'yet'
not 'but.' Otherwise I think it's a success. Do you mind reading my
slashing attack on the policy of the Oxford theater? Or perhaps you'd
better begin at the beginning and go right through the whole paper and
give me your absolutely frank opinion of it as a whole. Just tell me
candidly if you think my Reflections are too individual. I want the
effect to be more----"

"Maurice," Michael interrupted, "do you like kedgeree?"

"Yes, very much," Maurice answered absently. Then he plunged on again.
"Also don't forget to tell me if you think that Guy's skit is too
clever. And if you find any misprints I haven't noticed, mark them down.
We can't alter them now, of course, but I'll speak to the compositor
myself. You like the color? I wonder whether it wouldn't have been
better to have had dark blue after all. Still----"

"Well, if you like kedgeree," Michael interrupted again, "do you like it
as much in the morning as you thought you were going to like it the
night before?"

"Oh, how the dickens do I know?" exclaimed Maurice fretfully.

"Well, will you just eat my breakfast and let me know if you think I
ought to have ordered eggs and bacon last night?"

"Aren't you keen on the success of this paper?" Maurice demanded.

"I'll tell you later on," Michael offered. "We'll lunch together quietly
in my rooms, and the little mulled claret we shall drink to keep out
this filthy fog will also enormously conduce to the amiableness of my
judgment."

"And you won't come out with me and Nigel Stewart to watch people
buying copies on their way to leckers?" Maurice suggested in a tone of
disappointment. Lonsdale arrived for breakfast at this moment, just in
time to prevent Michael's heart from being softened. The newcomer was at
once invited to remove the editor.

"Have you bought your copy of the O.L.G. yet, Lonny?" Maurice demanded,
unabashed.

"Look here, Moss Avery," said Lonsdale seriously, "if you promise to
spend the bob you screw out of me on buying yourself some soothing
syrup, I'll ..."

But the editor rejected the frivolous attentions of his audience, and
left the J.C.R. Michael, not thinking it very prudent to remind Lonsdale
of last night's encounter with Appleby, examined the copy of The Oxford
Looking-Glass that lay beside his plate.

It was a curious compound of priggishness and brilliance and
perspicacity and wit, this olive-green bantling so meticulously hatched,
and as Michael turned the pages and roved idly here and there among the
articles that by persevering exhortation had been driven into the fold
by the editor, he was bound to admit the verisimilitude of the image of
Oxford presented. Maurice might certainly be congratulated on the
variety of the opinions set on record, but whether he or that Academic
Muse whose biographies and sculptured portraits nowhere exist should be
praised for the impression of corporate unanimity that without question
was ultimately conveyed to the reader, Michael was not sure. It was a
promising fancy, this of the Academic Muse; and Michael played with the
idea of elaborating his conception in an article for this very
Looking-Glass which she invisibly supported. The Oxford Looking-Glass
might serve her like the ægis of Pallas Athene, an ægis that would
freeze to academic stone the self-confident chimeras of the twentieth
century. Michael began to feel that his classical analogies were
enmeshing the original idea, involving it already in complexities too
manifold for him to unravel. His ideas always fled like waking dreams at
the touch of synthesis. Perhaps Pallas Athene was herself the Academic
Muse. Well enough might the owl and the olive serve as symbols of
Oxford. The owl could stand for all the grotesque pedantry, all the
dismal hootings of age, all the slow deliberate sweep of the don's mind,
the seclusions, the blinkings in the daylight and the unerring
destruction of intellectual vermin; while the olive would speak of age
and the grace and grayness of age, of age each year made young again by
its harvest of youth, of sobriety sun-kindled to a radiancy of silver
joy, of wisdom, peace, and shelter, and Attic glories.

Michael became so nearly stifled by the net of his fancies that he
almost rose from the table then and there, ambitious to take pen in hand
and test the power of its sharpness to cut him free. He clearly saw the
gray-eyed goddess as the personification of the spirit of the
university: but suddenly all the impulse faded out in self-depreciation.
Guy Hazlewood would solve the problem with his pranked-out allusiveness,
would trace more featly the attributes of the Academic Muse and
establish more convincingly her descent from Apollo or her identity with
Athene. At least, however, he could offer the idea and if Guy made
anything of it, the second number of The Oxford Looking-Glass would hold
more of Michael Fane than the ten pounds he had laid on the table of its
exchequer. Inspired by the zest of his own fancy, he read on
deliberately.

    _Some Reflections. By Maurice Avery._

The editor had really succeeded in reflecting accurately the passing
glance of Oxford, although perhaps the tortuous gilt of the frame with
which he had tried to impart style to his mirror was more personal to
Maurice Avery than general to the university. Moreover, his glass would
certainly never have stood a steady and protracted gaze. Still with all
their faults these paragraphic reflections did show forth admirably the
wit and unmatured cynicism of the various Junior Common Rooms, did
signally flash with all the illusion of an important message, did
suggest a potentiality for durable criticism.

    _Socrates at Balliol._ _By Guy Hazlewood._

There was enough of Guy in his article to endear it to Michael, and
there was so much of Oxford in Guy that whatever he wrote spontaneously
would always enrich the magazine with that adventurous gaiety and
childlike intolerance of Athene's favorites.

    _The Failure of the Modern Illustrator._
    _By C. St. C. Wedderburn._

Here was Wedders writing with more distinction than Michael would have
expected, but not with all the sartorial distinction of his attire.

"Let us turn now to the illustrators of the sixties and seventies, and
we shall see...." Wedderburn in the plural scarcely managed to convey
himself into print. The neat bulk began to sprawl: the solidity became
pompous: the profundity of his spoken voice was lacking to sustain so
much sententiousness.

    _Quo Vadis?_ _By Nigel Stewart._

Nigel's plea for the inspiration of modernity to make more vital the
decorative Anglicanism whose cause he had pledged his youth to advance,
was with all its predetermined logic and emphasis of rhetorical
expression an appealing document. Michael did not think it would greatly
serve the purpose for which it had been written, but its presence in The
Oxford Looking-Glass was a guarantee that the youngest magazine was not
going to ignore the force that perhaps more than any other had endowed
Oxford with something that Cambridge for all her poets lacked. Michael
himself had since he came up let the practice of religion slide, but his
first fervors had not burned themselves out so utterly as to make him
despise the warmth they once had kindled. His inclination in any
argument was always toward the Catholic point of view, and though he
himself allowed to himself the license of agnostic speech and agnostic
thought, he was always a little impatient of a skeptical non-age and
very contemptuous indeed of an unbelief which had never been tried by
the fire of faith. He did not think Stewart's challenge with its
plaintive under-current of well-bred pessimism would be effective save
for the personality of the writer, who revealed his formal grace
notwithstanding the trumpeting of his young epigrams and the tassels of
his too conspicuous style. With all the irritation of its verbal
cleverness, he rejoiced to read _Quo Vadis_? and he felt in reading it
that Oxford would still have silver plate to melt for a lost cause.

Under the stimulus of Nigel Stewart's article, Michael managed to finish
his breakfast with an appetite. As he rose to leave the Common Room,
Lonsdale emerged from the zareba of illustrated papers with which he had
fortified his place at table.

"Have you been reading that thing of Mossy's?" he asked incredulously.

Michael nodded.

"Isn't it most awful rot?"

"Some of it," Michael assured him.

"I suppose it would be only sporting to buy a copy," sighed Lonsdale. "I
suppose I ought to buzz round and buck the college up into supporting
it. By Jove, I'll write and tell the governor to buy a copy. I want him
to raise my allowance this year, and he'll think I'm beginning to take
an interest in what he calls 'affairs.'"

Michael turned into Venner's before going back to his own rooms.

"Hullo, is that the paper?" asked Venner. "Dear me, this looks very
learned. You should tell him to put some more about sport into it--our
fellows are all so dreadfully wild about sport. They'd be sure to buy it
then. Going to work this morning? That's right. I'm always advising the
men to work in the morning. But bless you, they don't pay any attention
to me. They only laugh and say, 'what's old Venner know about it?'"

Michael, sitting snugly in the morning quiet of his room, leaned over to
poke the fire into a blaze, eyed with satisfaction November's sodden
mists against his window, and settled himself back in the deep chair to
The Oxford Looking-Glass.

    _Oxford Liberalism. By Vernon Townsend._
    _A Restatement of Tory Ideals. By William Mowbray._

These two articles Michael decided to take on trust. From their perusal
he would only work himself up into a condition of irritated neutrality.
Indeed, he felt inclined to take all the rest of the magazine on trust.
The tranquillity of his own room was too seductive. Dreaming became a
duty here. It was so delightful to count from where he sat the books on
the shelves and to arrive each time at a different estimate of their
number. It was so restful to stare up at Mona Lisa and traverse without
fatigue that labyrinth of rocks and streams. His desk not yet deranged
by work or correspondence possessed a monumental stability of neatness
that was most soothing to contemplate. It had the restfulness of a
well-composed landscape where every contour took the eye easily onward
and where every tree grew just where it was needed for a moment's halt.
The olive-green magazine dropped unregarded onto the floor, and there
was no other book within reach. The dancing fire danced on. Far away
sounded the cries of daily life. The chimes in St. Mary's tower struck
without proclaiming any suggestion of time. How long these roll-call
mornings were and how rapidly dream on dream piled its drowsy outline.
Was there not somewhere at the other end of Oxford a lecture at eleven
o'clock? This raw morning was not suitable for lectures out of college.
Was not Maurice coming to lunch? How deliciously far off was the time
for ordering lunch. He really must get out of the habit of sitting in
this deep wicker-chair, until evening licensed such repose.

Some people had foolishly attended a ten-o'clock lecture at St. John's.
What a ludicrous idea! They had ridden miserably through the cold on
their bicycles and with numb fingers were now trying to record scraps of
generalization in a notebook that would inevitably be lost long before
the Schools. At the same time it was rather lazy to lie back like this
so early in the morning. Why was it so difficult to abandon the Sirenian
creakings of this chair? He wanted another match for his second pipe,
but even the need for that was not violent enough to break the luxurious
catalepsy of his present condition.

Then suddenly Maurice Avery and Nigel Stewart burst into the room, and
Michael by a supreme effort plunged upward onto his legs to receive
them.

"My hat, what a frowst!" exclaimed Maurice, rushing to the window and
letting in the mist and the noise of the High.

"We're very hearty this morning," murmured Stewart. "I heard Mass at
Barney's for the success of the O.L.G."

"Nigel and I have walked down the High, rounded the Corn, and back along
the Broad and the Turl," announced Maurice. "And how many copies do you
think we saw bought by people we didn't know?"

"None," guessed Michael maliciously.

"Don't be an ass. Fifteen. Well, I've calculated that at least four
times as many were being sold, while we were making our round. That's
sixty, and it's not half-past ten yet. We ought to do another three
hundred easily before lunch. In fact, roughly I calculate we shall do
five hundred and twenty before to-night. Not bad. After two thousand we
shall be making money."

"Maurice bought twenty-two copies himself," said Stewart, laughing, and
lest he should seem to be laughing at Maurice thrust an affectionate arm
through his to reassure him.

"Well, I wanted to encourage the boys who were selling them," Maurice
explained.

"They'll probably emigrate with the money they've made out of you,"
predicted Michael. "And what on earth are you going to do with
twenty-two copies? I find this one copy of mine extraordinarily in the
way."

"Oh, I shall send them to well-known literary people in town. In fact,
I'm going to write round and get the best-known old Oxford men to give
us contributions from time to time, without payment, of course. I expect
they'll be rather pleased at being asked."

"Don't you think it may turn their heads?" Michael anxiously suggested.
"It would be dreadful to read of the sudden death of Quiller-Couch from
apoplectic pride or to hear that Hilaire Belloc or Max Beerbohm had
burst with exultation in his bath."

"It's a pity you can't be funny in print," said Maurice severely. "You'd
really be some use on the paper then."

"But what we've really come round to say," interposed Stewart, "is that
there's an O.L.G. dinner to-night at the Grid; and then afterward we're
all going across to my digs opposite."

"And what about lunch with me?"

Both Maurice and Nigel excused themselves. Maurice intended to spend all
day at the Union. Nigel had booked himself to play fug-socker with three
hearty Trindogs of Trinity.

"But when did you join the Union?" Michael asked the editor.

"I thought it was policy," he explained. "After all, though we laugh at
it here, most of the Varsity does belong. Besides, Townsend and Bill
Mowbray were both keen. You see they think the O.L.G. is going to have
an influence in Varsity politics. And, after all, I am editor."

"You certainly are," Michael agreed. "Nothing quite so editorial was
ever conceived by the overwrought brain of a disappointed female
contributor."

Michael always enjoyed dining at the Grid. Of all the Oxford clubs it
seemed to him to display the most completely normal undergraduate
existence. Vincent's, notwithstanding its acknowledged chieftaincy,
depended ultimately too much on a mechanically apostolic succession. It
was an institution to be admired without affection. It had every
justification for calling itself The Club without any qualifying prefix,
but it produced a type too highly specialized, and was too definitely
Dark Blue and Leander Pink. In a way, too, it belonged as much to
Cambridge, and although violently patriotic had merged its individuality
in brawn. By its substitution of co-option for election, its Olympic
might was now scarcely much more than the self-deification of Roman
Emperors. Vincent's was the last stronghold of muscular supremacy. Yet
it was dreadfully improbable, as Michael admitted to himself, that he
would have declined the offer of membership.

The O.U.D.S. was at the opposite pole from Vincent's, and if it did not
offend by its reactionary encouragement of a supreme but discredited
spirit, it offended even more by fostering a premature worldliness. For
an Oxford club to take in The Stage and The Era was merely an exotic
heresy. On the walls of its very ugly room the pictures of actors that
in Garrick Street would have possessed a romantic dignity produced an
effect of strain, a proclamation of mounte-bank-worship that differed
only in degree from the photographs of actresses on the mantelpiece of a
second-rate room in a second-rate college. The frequenters of the
O.U.D.S. were always very definitely Oxford undergraduates, but they
lacked the serenity of Oxford, and seemed already to have planted a foot
in London. The big modern room over the big cheap shop was a restless
place, and its pretentiousness and modernity were tinged with
Thespianism. Scarcely ever did the Academic Muse enter the O.U.D.S.,
Michael thought. She must greatly dislike Thespianism with all that it
connoted of mildewed statuary in an English garden. Yet it would be
possible to transmute the O.U.D.S., he dreamed. It had the advantage of
a limited membership. It might easily become a grove where Apollo and
Athene could converse without quarreling. Therefore, he could continue
to frequent its halls.

The Bullingdon was always delightful; the gray bowlers and the white
trousers striped with vivid blue displayed its members, in their
costume, at least, as unchanging types, but the archaism made it a club
too conservative to register much more than an effect of peculiarity.
The Bullingdon had too much money, and not enough unhampered humanity to
achieve the universal. The Union, on the other hand, was too
indiscriminate. Personality was here submerged in organization.
Manchester or Birmingham could have produced a result very similar.

The Grid, perhaps for the very fact that it was primarily a dining-club,
was the abode of discreet good-fellowship. Its membership was very
strictly limited, and might seem to have been confined to the seven or
eight colleges that considered themselves the best colleges, but any man
who deserved to be a member could in the end be sure of his election.
The atmosphere was neither political nor sporting nor literary, nor
financial, but it was very peculiarly and very intimately the elusive
atmosphere of Oxford herself. The old rooms looking out on the
converging High had recently been redecorated in a very crude shade of
blue. Members were grumbling at the taste of the executive, but Michael
thought the unabashed ugliness was in keeping with its character. It was
as if unwillingly the club released its hold upon the externals of
Victorianism. Such premises could afford to be anachronistic, since the
frequenters were always so finely sensitive to fashion's lightest
breath. Eccentricity was not tolerated at the Grid except in the case of
the half-dozen chartered personalities who were necessary to set off the
correctness of the majority. The elective committee probably never made
a mistake, and when somebody like Nigel Stewart was admitted, it was
scrupulously ascertained beforehand that his presence would evoke
affectionate amusement rather than the chill surprise with which the
Grid would have greeted the entrance of someone who, however superior to
the dead level of undergraduate life, lacked yet the indefinable
justification for his humors.

Michael on the evening of the Looking-Glass dinner went up the narrow
stairs of the club in an aroma of pleasant anticipation, which was not
even momentarily dispersed by the sudden occurrence of the fact that he
had forgotten to take his name off hall, and must therefore pay two
shillings and fourpence to the college for a dinner he would not eat. In
the Strangers' Room were waiting the typical guests of the typical
members. Here and there nods were exchanged, but the general atmosphere
was one of serious expectancy. In the distance the rattle of crockery
told of dinners already in progress. Vernon Townsend came in soon after
Michael, and as Townsend was a member, Michael lost that trifling
malaise of waiting in a club's guest-room which the undergraduate might
conceal more admirably than any other class of man, but nevertheless
felt acutely.

"Not here yet, I suppose," said Townsend.

It was unnecessary to mention a name. Nigel Stewart's habits were
proverbial.

"Read my article?" asked Townsend.

"Splendid," Michael murmured.

"It's going to get me the Librarianship of the Union," Townsend
earnestly assured Michael.

Michael was about to congratulate the sanguine author without disclosing
his ignorance of the article's inside, when Bill Mowbray rushed
breathlessly into the room. Everybody observed his dramatic entrance,
whereupon he turned round and rushed out again, pausing only for one
moment to exclaim in the doorway:

"Good god, that fool will never remember!"

"See that?" asked Townsend darkly, as the Tory Democrat vanished.

Michael admitted that he undoubtedly had.

"Bill Mowbray has become a poseur," Townsend declared. "Or else he knows
his ridiculous article on Toryism was too badly stashed by mine," he
added.

"We shan't see him again to-night," Michael prophesied.

Townsend shrugged his shoulders.

"We shall, if he can make another effective entrance," he said a little
bitterly.

Maurice Avery and Wedderburn arrived together. The combination of having
just been elected to the Grid and the birth of the new paper had given
Maurice such an effervescence of good spirits as even he seldom boasted.
Wedderburn in contrast seemed graver, supplying in company with Maurice
a solidity to the pair of them that was undeniably beneficial to their
joint impression. They were followed almost immediately by Guy
Hazlewood, who with his long legs came sloping in as self-possessed as
he always was. Perhaps his left eyelid drooped a little lower than it
was accustomed, and perhaps the sidelong smile that gave him a
superficial resemblance to Michael was drawn down to a sharper point of
mockery, but whatever stored-up flashes of mood and fancy Guy had to
deliver, he always drawled them out in the same half-tired voice
emphasized by the same careless indolence of gesture. And so this
evening he was the same Guy Hazlewood, sure of being with his clear-cut
pallor and effortless distinction of bearing, the personality that
everyone would first observe in whatever company he found himself.

"Nigel not here, of course," he drawled. "Let's have a sweep on what
he's been doing. Five bob all round. I say he's just discovered Milton
to be a great poet and is now, reading Lycidas to a spellbound group of
the very heartiest Trindogs in Trinity."

"I think he saw The Perfect Flapper," said Maurice "and has been trying
ever since to find out whether she were a don's daughter or a theatrical
bird of passage."

"I think he's forgotten all about it," pronounced Wedderburn very deeply
indeed.

"I hope he saw that ass Bill Mowbray tearing off in the opposite
direction and went to fetch him back," said Townsend.

"I think he's saying Vespers for the week before last," Michael proposed
as his solution.

Stewart himself came in at that moment, and in answer to an united
demand to know the reason of his lateness embraced in that gentle and
confiding air of his all the company, included them all as it were in an
intimate aside, and with the voice and demeanor of a strayed archangel
explained that the fearful velocity of a pill was responsible for his
unpunctuality.

"But you're quite all right now, Nigel?" inquired Guy. "You could almost
send a testimonial?"

"Oh, rather," murmured Nigel, with tender assurance lighting up his
great, innocent eyes. "I expect, you know, dinner's ready." Then he
plunged his arm through Guy's, and led the way toward the private
dining-room he had actually not forgotten to command.

Dinner, owing to Avery's determined steering of the conversation, was
eaten to the accompaniment of undiluted shop. Never for a moment was any
topic allowed to oust The Oxford Looking-Glass from discussion. Even Guy
was powerless against the editor intoxicated by ambition's fulfillment.
Maurice sat in triumphant headship with only Mowbray's vacant place to
qualify very slightly the completeness of his satisfaction. He hoped
they all liked his scheme of inviting well-known, even celebrated, old
Oxford men to contribute from time to time. He flattered himself they
would esteem the honor vouchsafed to them. He disclaimed the wish to
monopolize the paper's criticism and nobly invited Townsend to put in
their places a series of contemporary dramatists. He congratulated Guy
upon his satiric article and assured him of his great gifts. He
reproached Michael for having written nothing, and vowed that many of
the books for which he had already sent a printed demand to their
publishers must in the December issue be reviewed by Michael. He
arranged with Nigel Stewart and Wedderburn at least a dozen prospective
campaigns to harry advertisers into unwilling publicity.

At nine-o'clock, the staff of The Oxford Looking-Glass, reflecting now a
very roseate world, marched across the High to wind up the evening in
Stewart's digs. On the threshold the host paused in sudden dismay.

"Good lord, I quite forgot. There's a meeting of the De Rebus
Ecclesiasticis in my digs to-night. They'll all be there; what shall I
do?"

"You can't possibly go," declared everybody.

"Mrs. Arbour," Nigel called out, hurriedly dipping into the landlady's
quarters. "Mrs. Arbour."

Mrs. Arbour assured him comfortably of her existence as she emerged to
confer with him in the passage.

"There may be one or two men waiting in my rooms. Will you put out
syphons and whisky and explain that I shan't be coming."

"Any reason to give, sir?" asked Mrs. Arbour.

The recalcitrant shook his seraphic head.

"No, sir," said Mrs. Arbour cheerfully, "quite so. Just say you're not
coming? Yes, sir. Oh, they'll make themselves at home without you, I'll
be bound. It's not likely to be a very noisy party, is it, sir?"

"Oh, no. It's the De Rebus Ecclesiasticis, Mrs. Arbour."

"I see, sir. Foreigners. I'll look after them."

Nigel having disposed of the pious debaters, joined his friends again,
and it was decided to adjourn to Guy's digs in Holywell. Arm in arm the
six journalists marched down the misted High. Arm in arm they turned
into Catherine Street, and arm in arm they walked into the Proctor
outside the Ratcliffe Camera. To him they admitted their membership of
the university. To him they proffered very politely their names and the
names of their colleges, and with the same politeness agreed to visit
him next morning. The Proctor raised his cap and with his escort faded
into the fog. Arm in arm the six journalists continued their progress
into Holywell. Guy had digs in an old house whose gabled front leaned
outward, whose oriel windows were supported by oaken beams worm-eaten
and grotesquely carved. Within, a wide balustraded staircase went
billowing upward unevenly. Guy's room that he shared with two
intellectual athletes from his own college was very large. It was
paneled all round up to the ceiling, and it contained at least a dozen
very comfortable armchairs. He had imposed upon his partners his own
tastes and with that privilege had cut off electric light and gas, so
that lit only by two Pompeian lamps, the room was very shadowy when they
all came in.

"Comeragh and Anstruther are working downstairs, I expect," Guy
explained, as one by one, while his guests waited in the dim light, he
made a great illumination with wax candles. Then he poked up the fire
and set glasses ready for anyone's need. Great armchairs were pulled
round in a semicircle: pipes were lit: the stillness and mystery of the
Oxford night crept along the ancient street, a stillness which at
regular intervals was broken by multitudinous chimes, or faintly now and
then by passing footfalls. Unexcited by argument the talk rippled in
murmurous contentment.

Michael was in no mood himself for talking, and he sat back listening
now and then, but mostly dreaming. He thought of the conversation in
that long riverside room in Paris with its extravagance and
pretentiousness. Here in this time-haunted Holywell Street was neither.
To be sure, Christianity and the soul's immortality and the future of
England and contemporary art were running the gauntlet of youth's
examination, but the Academic Muse had shown the company her ægis, had
turned everything to unpassionate stone, and softened all presumption
with her guarded glances. It was extraordinary how under her guidance
every subject was stripped of obtrusive reality, how even women,
discussed never so grossly, remained untarnished; since they ceased to
be real women, but mere abstractions wanton or chaste in accordance with
the demands of wit. The ribaldry was Aristophanic or Rabelaisian with as
little power to offend, so much was it consecrated and refined by
immemorial usages. Michael wished that all the world could be touched by
the magical freedom and equally magical restraint of the Academic Muse,
and as he sat here in this ancient room, hoped almost violently that
never again would he be compelled to smirch the present clarity and
steadiness of his vision.



CHAPTER IX

THE LESSON OF SPAIN


Perhaps Michael enjoyed more than anything else during his accumulation
of books the collection of as many various editions of Don Quixote as
possible. He had brought up from London the fat volume illustrated by
Doré over which he had fallen asleep long ago and of which owing to
Nurse's disapproval he had in consequence been deprived. Half the pages
still showed where they had been bent under the weight of his small
body: this honorable scar and the familiar musty smell and the book's
unquestionable if slightly vulgar dignity prevented Michael from
banishing it from the shelf that now held so many better editions.
However much the zest in Doré's illustrations had died away in the
flavor of Skelton's English, Michael could not abandon the big volume
with what it held of childhood's first intellectual adventure. The shelf
of Don Quixotes became in all his room one of the most cherished objects
of contemplation. There was something in the "Q" and the "X" repeated on
the back of volume after volume that positively gave Michael an
impression in literal design of the Knight's fantastic personality. The
very soul of Spain seemed to be symbolized by those sere quartos of the
seventeenth century, nor was it imperceptible even in Smollett's cockney
rendering bound in marbled boards. Staring at the row of Don Quixotes on
a dull December afternoon, Michael felt overwhelmingly a desire to go to
Spain himself, to drink at the source of Cervantes' mighty stream of
imagination which with every year's new reading seemed to him to hold
more and more certainly all that was most vital to life's appreciation.
He no longer failed to see the humor of Don Quixote, but even now tears
came more easily than laughter, and he regretted as poignantly as the
Knight himself those times of chivalry which with all the extravagance
of their decay were yet in essence superior to the mode that ousted them
into ignominy. Something akin to Don Quixote's impulsive dismay Michael
experienced in his own view of the twentieth century. He felt he needed
a constructive ideal of conduct to sustain him through the long
pilgrimage that must ensue after these hushed Oxford dreams.

Term was nearly over. Michael had heard from Stella that she was going
to spend two or three months in Germany. Her Brahms recitals, she wrote,
had not been so successful as she ought to have made them. In London she
was wasting time. Mother was continually wanting her to come to the
theater. It seemed almost as if mother were trying to throw her in the
way of marrying Prescott. He had certainly been very good, but she must
retreat into Germany, and there again work hard. Would not Michael come
too? Why was he so absurdly prejudiced against Germany? It was the only
country in which to spend Christmas.

The more Stella praised Germany, the more Michael felt the need of going
to a country as utterly different from it as possible. He did not want
to spend the vacation in London. He did not want his mother to talk
vaguely to him of the advantage for Stella in marrying Prescott. The
idea was preposterous. He would be angry with his mother, and he would
blurt out to Prescott his dislike of such a notion. He would thereby
wound a man whom he admired and display himself in the light of the
objectionably fraternal youth. In the dreary and wet murk of December
the sun-dried volumes of Cervantes spoke to him of Spain.

Maurice Avery came up to his room, fatigued with fame and disappointed
that Castleton with whom he had arranged to go to Rome had felt at the
last moment he must take his mother to Bath. To him Michael proposed
Spain.

"But why not Rome?" Maurice argued. "As I originally settled."

"Not with me," Michael pointed out. "I don't want to go to Rome now. I
always feel luxuriously that there will occur the moment in my life when
I shall say, 'I am ready to go to Rome. I must go to Rome.' It's a fancy
of mine and nothing will induce me to spoil it by going to Rome at the
wrong moment."

Maurice grumbled at him, told him he was affected, unreasonable, and
even hinted Michael ought to come to Rome simply for the fact that he
himself had been balked of his intention by the absurdly filial
Castleton.

"I do think mothers ought not to interfere," Maurice protested. "My
mother never interferes. Even my sisters are allowed to have their own
way. Why can't Mrs. Castleton go to Bath by herself? I'm sure Castleton
overdoes this 'duty' pose. And now you won't come to Rome. Well, will
you come to Florence?"

"Yes, and be worried by you to move on to Rome the very minute we arrive
there," said Michael. "No, thanks. If you don't want to come to Spain,
I'll try to get someone else. Anyway, I don't mind going by myself."

"But what shall we do in Spain?" asked Maurice fretfully.

Michael began to laugh.

"We can dance the fandango," he pointed out. "Or if the fandango is too
hard, there always remains the bolero."

"If we went to Rome," Maurice was persisting, but Michael cut him short.

"It's absolutely useless, Mossy. I am not going to Rome."

"Then I suppose I shall have to go to Spain," said Maurice, in a much
injured tone.

So in the end it was settled chiefly, Michael always maintained, because
Maurice found out it was advisable to travel with a passport. As not by
the greatest exaggeration of insecurity could a passport be deemed
necessary for Rome, Maurice decided it was an overrated city and became
at once fervidly Spanish, even to the extent of saying "gracias"
whenever the cruet was passed to him in hall. Wedderburn at the last
moment thought he would like to join the expedition: so Maurice with the
passport in his breast pocket preferred to call it.

There were two or three days of packing in London, while Maurice stayed
at 173 Cheyne Walk and was a great success with Mrs. Fane. The Rugby
match against Cambridge was visited in a steady downpour. Wedderburn
fetched his luggage, and the last dinner was eaten together at Cheyne
Walk. Mrs. Fane was tenderly, if rather vaguely, solicitous for their
safety.

"Dearest Michael," she said, "do be careful not to be gored by a bull.
I've never been to Spain. One seems to know nothing about it. Mr. Avery,
do have some more turkey. I hope you don't dreadfully dislike garlic.
Such a pungent vegetable. Michael darling, why are you laughing? Isn't
it a vegetable? Mr. Wedderburn, do have some more turkey. A friend of
mine, Mrs. Carruthers, who is a great believer in Mental Science ...
Michael always laughs at me when I try to explain.... Hark, there is the
cab, really. I hope it won't be raining in Spain. 'Rain, rain, go to
Spain.' So ominous, isn't it? Good-bye, dearest boy, and write to me at
Mrs. Carruthers, High Towers, Godalming."

"I say, I know Mrs. Carruthers. She lives near us," Maurice exclaimed.

"Come on," his friends insisted. "You haven't time now to explain the
complications of Surrey society."

"I'm so glad," said Mrs. Fane. "Because you'll be able to see that
Michael remembers the address."

"I never forget addresses, mother," protested Michael.

"No, I know. I always think everyone is like me. Merry Christmas, and do
send a post card to Stella. She was so hurt you wouldn't go to Germany."

In the drench and soak of December weather they drove off in the
four-wheeler. On such a night it seemed more than ever romantic to be
setting out to Spain, and all the way to Victoria Maurice tried to
decide by the occasional gleam of a blurred lamp-light how many pesetas
one received for an English sovereign.

The crossing to Dieppe was rough, but all memories of the discomfort
were wiped out when next day they saw the Sud Express looking very long
and swift and torpedo-like between the high platforms of that white
drawing-room, the Gare d'Orleans. Down they went all day through France
with rain speckling the windows of their compartment, past the naked
poplar trees and rolling fallows until dusk fell sadly on the flooded
agriculture. Dawn broke as they were leaving behind them the illimitable
Landes. Westward the Atlantic clouds swept in from the Bay of Biscay,
parting momentarily to reveal rifts of milky turquoise sky. Wider and
wider grew the rifts, and when the train passed close to the green
cliffs of St. Jean de Luz, the air was soft and fragrant: the sea was
blue. At Irun they were in Spain, and Michael, as he walked up and down
the platform waiting for déjeuner, watched, with a thrill of conviction
that this was indeed a frontier, the red and blue toy soldiers and the
black and green toy soldiers dotted about the toy landscape.

Maurice was rather annoyed that nobody demanded their passports and that
every official should seem so much more anxious to examine their railway
tickets, but when they reached Madrid and found that no bull-fights
would be held before the spring, he began to mutter of Rome and was
inclined to obliterate the Spaniards from the category of civilization,
so earnestly had he applied himself by the jiggling light of the train
to the mastery of all the grades from matador to banderillo.

In Seville, however, Maurice admitted he could not imagine a city more
perfectly adapted to express all that he desired from life. Seville with
her guitars and lemon-trees, her castanets and oranges and fans, her
fountains and carnations and flashing Andalusians, was for him the city
to which one day he would return and dream. Here one day he could come
when seriously he began to write or paint or take up whatever destiny in
art was in store for him. Here he would forget whatever blow life might
hold in the future. He would send everybody he knew to Seville,
notwithstanding Michael's objection that such generosity would recoil
upon himself in his desire to possess somewhere on earth the opportunity
of oblivion. Maurice and Wedderburn both bought Spanish cloaks and hats
and went with easels to sit beside the Guadalquiver that sun-stained to
the hue of its tawny banks was so contemptuous of their gentlemanly
water-colors, as contemptuous as those cigarette-girls that came
chattering from the tobacco-factory every noon. Michael preferred to
wander over the roofs of the cathedral, until drowsed by the scent of
warm stone he would sit for an hour merely conscious that the city lay
below and that the sky was blue above.

After Seville they traveled to Granada, to Cadiz and Cordova and other
famous cities; and in the train they went slowly through La Mancha where
any windmill might indeed be mistaken for Pentapolin of the Naked Arm,
and where at the stations the water-carriers even in January cried
"agua, agua," so that already the railway-carriages seemed parched by
the fierce summer sun. They traveled to Salamanca and Toledo, and last
of all they went to Burgos where Maurice and Wedderburn strove in vain
to draw corner after corner of the cathedral, in the dust and shadows of
whose more remote chantries Michael heard many Masses. A realization of
the power of faith was stirred in him by these Masses that every day of
every year were said without the recognition of humanity. These
mumblings of ancient priests, these sanctus-bells that rattled like
shaken ribs, these interminable and ceremonious shufflings were the
outward expression of the force that sustained this fabric of Burgos and
had raised in Seville a cathedral that seemed to crush like a stupendous
monster the houses scattered about in its path, insignificant as a heap
of white shells. Half of these old priests, thought Michael, were
probably puppets who did not understand even their own cracked Latinity,
yet their ministrations were almost frightening in their efficacy: they
were indeed the very stones of Burgos made vocal.

Listening to these Masses, Michael began to regret he had allowed all
his interest in religion to peter out in the irritation of compulsory
chapel-keeping at Oxford. Here in Burgos, he felt less the elevating
power of faith than the unrelenting and disdainful inevitableness of its
endurance. At Bournemouth, when he experienced the first thrill of
conversion, he had been exultingly aware of a personal friendliness
between himself and God. Here in Burgos he was absorbed into the divine
purpose neither against his will nor his desire, since he was
positively aware of the impotency of his individuality to determine
anything in the presence of omnipotence. He told himself this sense of
inclusion was a sign of the outpouring once more of the grace of God,
but he wished with a half whimsical amusement that the sensation were
rather less like that of being contemptuously swept by a broom into the
main dust-heap. Yet as on the last morning of his stay in Burgos Michael
came away from Mass, he came away curiously fortified by his observation
of the moldy confessionals worn down by the knees of so many penitents.
That much power of impression at least had the individual on this
cathedral.

When Michael lay awake in the train going northward he remembered very
vividly the sense of subordination which in retrospect suddenly seemed
to him to reveal the essential majesty of Spain. The train stopped at
some French station. Their carriage was already full enough, but a
bilious and fussy Frenchman insisted there was still room, and on top of
him broke in a loud-voiced and assertive Englishman with a meek wife. It
was intolerable. Michael, Wedderburn, and Maurice displayed their most
polite obstructiveness, but in the end each of them found himself
upright, stiff-backed and exasperated. Michael thought regretfully of
Spain, and remembered those peasants who shared their crusts, those
peasants with rank skins of wine and flopping turkeys, those peasants
who wrought so inimitably their cigarettes and would sit on the floor of
the carriage rather than disarrange the comfort of the three English
travelers. Michael went off into an uneasy sleep trying to arrange
synthetically his deductions, trying to put Don Quixote and Burgos
Cathedral and the grace of God and subordination and feudalism and
himself into a working theory of life. And just when the theory really
seemed to be shaping itself, he was awakened by the Englishman prodding
his wife.

"What is it, dear?" she murmured.

"Did you pack those collars that were in the other chest of drawers?"

"I think so, dear."

"I wish you'd know something for a change," the husband grumbled.

The Frenchman ground his teeth in swollen sleep, exhaling himself upon
the stale air of the compartment. Maurice was turning over the pages of
a comic paper. Wedderburn snored. It was difficult to achieve
subordination of one's personality in the presence of other
personalities so insistently irritating.

Stella had not come back from Germany when Michael reached home, which
was a disappointment as he had looked forward to planning with her a
journey back to Spain as soon as possible. His mother during this
vacation had lapsed from Mental Science into an association to prevent
premature burial.

"My dearest boy, you have no idea of the numbers of people buried alive
every year," she said. "I have been talking to Dick Prescott about it. I
cannot understand his indifference. I intend to devote all my time to
it. We are going to organize a large bazaar next season. Banging their
foreheads against the coffins! It's dreadful to think of. Do be careful,
Michael. I have written a long letter to Stella explaining all the
precautions she ought to take. Who knows what may happen in Germany?
Such an impulsive nation. At least the Kaiser is. Don't laugh, my dear
boy, it's so much more serious than you think. Would you like to come
with me to Mrs. Carruthers' and hear some of the statistics? Gruesome,
but most instructive. At three o'clock. You needn't wait for tea, if
you're busy. The lecturer is an Eurasian. Where _is_ Eurasia, by the
by?"

Michael kissed his mother with affectionate amusement.

"Will you wear the mantilla I brought you from Spain? Look, it's as
light as burnt tissue paper."

"Dearest Michael," she murmured reproachfully, "you ought not to laugh
about sacred subjects.... I don't really see why we shouldn't have a
car. We must have a consultation with Dick Prescott."

After dinner that night Michael wrapped up some stained and faded
vestments he had brought for Viner and went off to see him at Netting
Hill. He told himself guiltily in the hansom that it was more than a
year since he had been to see old Viner, but the priest was so heartily
glad to welcome him and accepted so enthusiastically his propitiatory
gifts, that he felt as much at ease as ever in the smoke-hung room.

"Well, how's Oxford? I was coming up last term, but I couldn't get away.
Have you been to see Sandifer yet? Or Pallant at Cowley, or Canon
Harrowell?"

Michael said he had not yet taken advantage of Viner's letters of
introduction to these dignitaries. He had indeed heard Pallant preach at
the church of the Cowley Fathers, but he had thought him too much
inclined to sacrifice on the altar of empirical science.

"I hate compromise," said Michael.

"I don't think Pallant compromises, but I think he does get hold of men
by offering them Catholic doctrine in terms of the present."

Michael shrugged his shoulders.

"This visit to Spain seems to have made you very bigoted," Viner
observed, smiling.

"I haven't made up my mind one way or the other about Christianity,"
Michael said. "But when I do I won't try to include everybody, to say to
every talkative young Pragmatist with Schiller's last book in his
pocket, 'come inside, you're really one of us.' I shan't invite every
callow biologist to hear Mass just because a Cowley Dad sees nothing in
the last article on spontaneous generation that need dismay the
faithful. I'm getting rather fed up with toleration, really; the only
people with any fanaticism now are the rationalists. It's quite
exhilarating sometimes to see the fire of disbelief glowing in the eyes
of a passionate agnostic."

"Our Lord Himself was very tolerant," said Viner.

"Yes, tolerant to the weaknesses of the flesh, tolerant to the woman
taken in adultery, tolerant to the people without wine at Cana, but he
hadn't much use for people who didn't believe just as He believed."

"Isn't it rather risky to slam the door in the face of the modern man?"

"But, Mr. Viner," Michael protested, "you can't betray the myriads of
the past because the individual of to-day finds his faith too weak to
sustain him in their company, because the modern man wants to reëdit
spiritual truths just as he has been able to reëdit a few physical facts
that apparently stand the test of practical experiment. While men have
been rolling along intoxicated by the theory of physical evolution, they
may have retrograded spiritually."

"Of course, of course," the priest agreed. "By the way, your faith seems
to be resisting the batterings of external progress very stoutly. I'm
glad, old chap."

"I'm not sure that I have much faith, but I certainly haven't given up
hope," Michael said gravely. "I think, you know, that hope, which is
after all a theological virtue, has never had justice at the hands of
the theologians. Oh, lord, I wish earnest young believers weren't so
smug and timid. Or else I wish that I didn't feel the necessity of
coordinating my opinions and accepting Christianity as laid down by the
Church. I should love to be a sort of Swedenborgian with all sorts of
fanciful private beliefs. But I want to force everything within the
convention. I hate Free Thought, Free Love, and Free Verse, and yet I
hate almost equally the stuffy people who have never contemplated the
possibility of their merit. Do you ever read a paper called The
Spectator? Now I believe in what The Spectator stands for, and I admire
its creed enormously, but the expression of its opinions makes me spue.
If only earnest young believers wouldn't treat Almighty God with the
same sort of proprietary air that schoolgirls use toward a favorite
mistress."

"Michael, Michael!" cried Viner, "where are you taking me with your
coördinating impulses and your Spectators and your earnest young
believers? What undergraduate paradox are you trying to wield against
me? Remember, I've been down nearly twenty years. I can no longer turn
mental somersaults. I thought you implied _you_ were a believer."

"Oh, no, I'm watching and hoping. And just now I'm afraid the anchor is
dragging. Hope does have an anchor, doesn't she? I'm not asking, you
know, for the miracle of a direct revelation from God. The psychologists
have made miracles of that sort hardly worth while. But I'm hoping with
all my might to see bit by bit everything fall away except faith.
Perhaps when I behold God in one of his really cynical moods ... I'm
groping in the dark after a hazy idea of subordination. That's
something, you know. But I haven't found my own place in the scheme."

"You see you're very modern, after all," said Viner, "with your
coördinations and subordinations."

"But I don't want to assert myself," Michael explained. "I want to
surrender myself, and I'm not going to surrender anything until I am
sure by faith that I'm not merely surrendering the wastage of myself."

Michael left Viner with a sense of the pathetic sameness of the
mission-priest's existence. He had known so well before he went that,
because it was Monday, he would find him sitting in that armchair,
smoking that pipe, reading that novel. Every other evening he would be
either attending to parochial clubs in rooms of wood and corrugated
iron, or his own room would be infested with boys who from year to year,
from month to month, never changed in general character, but always gave
the same impression of shrill cockney, of boisterous familiarity, of
self-satisfied election. To-morrow morning he would say Mass to the same
sparse congregation of sacristan and sisters-of-mercy and devout old
maids. The same red-wristed server would stump about his liturgical
business in Viner's wake, and the same coffee pot put in the same place
on the same table by the same landlady would await his return. There was
a dreariness about the ministrations of this Notting Hill Mission which
had been absent from the atmosphere of Burgos Cathedral. No doubt
superficially even at Burgos there was a sameness, but it was a glorious
sameness, a sameness that approximated to eternity. Long ago had the
priests learned subordination. They had been absorbed into the
omnipotence of the church against which the gates of hell could not
prevail. Viner remained, however much as he might have surrendered of
himself to his mission work, essentially an isolated, a pathetic
individual.

As usual, Michael met Alan at Paddington, and he was concerned to see
that Alan looked rather pale and worried.

"What problems have you been solving this vac?" Michael asked.

"Oh, I've been swatting like a pig for Mods," said Alan hopelessly. "You
are a lucky lazy devil."

Even during the short journey to Oxford Alan furtively fingered his
text-books, while he talked to Michael about a depressing January in
London.

"Never mind. Perhaps you'll get your Blue next term," said Michael. "And
if you aren't determined to play cricket all the Long, we'll go away and
have a really sporting vac somewhere."

"If I'm plowed," said Alan gloomily, "I've settled to become a chartered
accountant."

Michael enjoyed his second Lent term. With an easy conscience he
relegated Rugby football into the limbo of the past. He decided such
violent exercise was no longer necessary, and he was getting to know so
many people at other colleges that the cultivation of new personalities
occupied all his leisure. After Maurice and Wedderburn came back from
Spain, they devoted much of their time to painting, and The Oxford
Looking-Glass became a very expensive business on account of the
reproduction of their drawings. Moreover, the circulation decreased in
ratio with the increase of these drawings, and the five promoters who
did not wish to practice art in the pages of their magazine convoked
several meetings of protest. Finally Maurice was allowed to remain
editor only on condition that he abstained from publishing any more
drawings.

Nigel Stewart's meeting of the De Rebus Ecclesiasticis together with the
visit to Spain induced Michael to turn his attention to that side of
undergraduate life interested in religion. He went to see Canon
Harrowell, and even accepted from him an invitation to a breakfast at
which he met about half a dozen Klebe men who talked about bishops.
Afterward Canon Harrowell seemed anxious to have a quiet talk with him
in the library, but Michael made an excuse, not feeling inclined for
self-revelation so quickly on top of six Klebe men and the eggs and
bacon. He went to see Father Pallant at Cowley, but Father Pallant
appeared so disappointed that he had brought him no scientific problems
to reconcile with Catholic dogma, and was moreover so contemptuous of
Dom Cuthbert Manners, O.S.B. and Clere Abbey that Michael never went to
see him again. He preferred old Sandifer, who with all the worldly
benefits of good wine, good food, and pleasant company, offered in
addition his own courtly Caroline presence that added to wit and
learning and trenchant theology made Michael regret he had not called
upon him sooner.

Nigel Stewart took Michael to a meeting of De Rebus Ecclesiasticis, at
which he met not only the six Keble men who had talked about bishops at
Canon Harrowell's breakfast, but about twenty more members of the same
college, all equally fervid and in his opinion equally objectionable.
Michael also went with Nigel Stewart to Mass at St. Barnabas', where he
saw the same Keble men all singing conspicuously and all conveying the
impression that every Sunday they occupied the same place. By the end of
the term Michael's aroused interest in religion at Oxford died out. He
disliked the sensation of belonging to a particular school of thought
within a university. The ecclesiastical people were like the ampelopsis
at Trinity: they were highly colored, but so inappropriate to Oxford,
that they seemed almost vulgar. It was ridiculous they should have to
worship in Oxford at a very ugly modern church in the middle of very
ugly modern slums, as ridiculous as it was to call in the aid of
American creepers to cover up the sins of modern architects.

Yet Michael was at a loss to explain to himself why the ecclesiastical
people were so obviously out of place in Oxford. After all, they were
the heirs of a force which had persisted there for many years almost in
its present aspect: they were the heirs after a fashion of the force
that kept the Royal Standard flying against the Parliament. But they had
not inherited the spirit of mediæval Oxford. They were too
self-conscious, too congregational. As individuals, perhaps they were in
tone with Oxford, but, eating bacon and eggs and talking about bishops,
they belonged evidently to Keble, and Michael could not help feeling
that Keble like Mansfield and Ruskin Hall was in Oxford, but not in the
least of Oxford. The spirit of mediæval Oxford was more typically
preserved in the ordinary life of the ordinary graduate; and yet it was
a mistake to think of the spirit of Oxford at any date. That spirit was
dateless and indefinable, and each new manifestation which Michael was
inclined to seize upon, even a manifestation so satisfying as Venner's,
became with the very moment that he was aware of it as impossible to
determine as a dream which leaves nothing behind but the almost violent
knowledge that it was and exasperatingly still is.

The revived interest lasted a very short time in its communal aspect,
and Michael retreated into his mediæval history, still solicitous of
Catholicism in so far as to support the papacy against the Empire in the
balance of his judgment, but no longer mingling with the Anglican
adherents of the theory, nor even indeed committing himself openly to
Christianity as a general creed. Indeed, his whole attitude to religion
was the result of a reactionary bias rather than of any impulse toward
constructive progression. He would have liked to urge himself forward
confidently to proclaim his belief in Christianity, but he could acquire
nothing more positive than a gentle skepticism of the value of every
other form of thought, a gentleness that only became scornfully
intolerant when provoked by ignorance or pretentious statement.

Meanwhile, The Oxford Looking-Glass, though inclining officially to
neither political party, was reflecting a widespread interest in social
reform. Michael woke up to this phenomenon as he read through the sixth
number on a withering March day toward the end of term. Knowing Maurice
to be a chameleon who unconsciously acquired the hue of his
surroundings, Michael was sure that The Oxford Looking-Glass by this
earnest tone indicated the probable tendency of undergraduate energy in
the hear future. Yet himself, as he surveyed his acquaintances, could
not perceive in their attitude any hint of change. In St. Mary's the
debating clubs were still debating the existence of ghosts: the essay
clubs were still listening to papers that took them along the by-ways of
archæology or sport. Throughout the university the old habit of mind
persisted apparently. The New College manner that London journalists
miscalled the Oxford manner still prevailed in the discussion of
intellectual subjects. In Balliol when any remark trembled on the edge
of a generalization, somebody in a corner would protest, "Oh, shut up,
fish-face!" and the conversation at once veered sharply back to golf or
scandal, while the intellectual kitten who had been playing with his
mental tail would be suddenly conscious of himself or his dignity and
sit still. In Exeter the members of the Literary Society were still
called the Bloody Lits. Nothing anywhere seemed as yet to hint that the
traditional flippancy of Oxford which was merely an extension of the
public-school spirit was in danger of dying out. Oxford was still the
apotheosis of the amateur. It was still surprising when the Head of a
House or a don or an undergraduate achieved anything in a manner that
did not savor of happy chance. It was still natural to regard Cambridge
as a provincial university, and to take pleasure in shocking the earnest
young Cambridge man with the metropolitan humors and airy self-assurance
of Oxford.

Yet The Oxford Looking-Glass reflected another spirit which Michael
could not account for and the presence of which he vaguely resented.

"The O.L.G. is getting very priggish and serious and rather dull," he
complained to Maurice.

"Not half so dull as it would be if I depended entirely on casual
contributions," replied the editor. "I don't seem to get anything but
earnestness."

"Oxford is becoming the home of living causes," sighed Michael. "That's
a depressing thought. Do you really think these Rhodes Scholars from
America and Australia and Germany are going to affect us?"

"I don't know," Maurice said. "But everybody seems keen to speculate on
the result."

"Why don't you take up a strong line of patronage? Why don't you
threaten these pug-nosed invaders with the thunders of the past?"
Michael demanded fiercely.

"Would it be popular?" asked Maurice. "Personally of course I don't care
one way or the other, but I don't want to let the O.L.G. in for a lot of
criticism."

"You really ought to be a wonderful editor," said Michael. "You're so
essentially the servant of the public."

"Well, with all your grumbles,", said Maurice, "ours is the only serious
paper that has had any sort of a run of late years."

"But it lacks individuality," Michael complained. "It's so damned
inclusive. It's like The Daily Telegraph. It's voluminous and
undistinguished. It shows the same tepid cordiality toward everything,
from a man who's going to be hanged for murder to a new record at
cricket. Why can't you infect it with some of the deplorable but rather
delightfully juvenile indiscretion of The Daily Mail?"

"The Daily Mail," Maurice scoffed. "That rag!"

"A man once said to me," Michael meditatively continued, "that whenever
he saw a man in an empty railway compartment reading The Daily
Telegraph, he always avoided it. You see, he knew that man. He knew how
terrible it would be to listen to him when he had finished his
Telegraph. I feel rather like that about the O.L.G. But after all," he
added cheerfully, "nobody does read the O.L.G. The circulation depends
on the pledges of their pen sent round to their friends and relations by
the casual contributors. And nobody ever meets a casual contributor. Is
it true, by the way, that the fossilized remains of one were found
in-that great terra incognita--Queen's College?"

But Maurice had left him, and Michael strolled down to the lodge to see
if there were any letters. Shadbolt handed him an invitation to dinner
from the Warden. As he opened it, Lonsdale came up with a torn replica
of his own.

"I say, Michael, this is a rum sort of binge for the Wagger to give. I
spotted all the notes laid out in a row by old Pumpkin-head's butler.
You. Me. Tommy Grainger. Fitzroy. That ass Appleby. That worm Carben.
And Smithers. There may have been some others too. I hope I don't get
planted next the Pumpkinette."

"Miss Wagger may not be there," said Michael hopefully. "But if she is,
you're bound to be next her."

"I say, Shadbolt," Lonsdale demanded, "is this going to be a big squash
at the Wagger's?"

"The Warden has given me no instruction, sir, about carriages. And so I
think we may take it for granted as it will be mostly confined to
members of the college, sir. His servant tells me as the Dean is going
and the Senior Tutor."

"And there won't be any does?"

"Any what, sir?"

"Any ladies?"

"I expect as Miss Crackanthorpe will be present. She very rarely
absconds from such proceedings," said Shadbolt, drawing every word with
the sound of popping corks from the depths of his pompousness.

Michael and Lonsdale found out that to the list of guests they had
established must be added the names of Maurice, Wedderburn and two
freshmen who were already favorably reported through the college as good
sportsmen.

Two evenings later, at seven o'clock, Michael, Maurice, Lonsdale,
Wedderburn, and Grainger, bowed and starched, stood in Venner's,
drinking peach bitters sharpened by the addition of gin.

"The men have gone in to hall," said Venner. "You ought to start round
to the Warden's lodgings at ten past seven. Now don't be late. I expect
you'll have a capital dinner."

"Champagne, Venner?" asked Lonsdale.

"Oh, bound to be! Bound to be," said Venner. "The Warden knows how to
give a dinner. There's no doubt of that."

"Caviare, Venner?" asked Maurice.

"I wouldn't say for certain. But if you get an opportunity to drink any
of that old hock, be sure you don't forget. It's a lovely wine. I wish
we had a few dozen in the J.C.R. Now don't go and get tipsy like some of
our fellows did once at a dinner given by the Warden."

"Did they, Venner?" asked everybody, greatly interested.

"It was just after the Transvaal war broke out. Only three or four years
ago. There was a man called Castleton, a cousin of our Castleton, but a
very different sort of man, such a rowdy fellow. He came out from the
Warden's most dreadfully tipsy, and the men were taking him back to his
rooms, when he saw little Barnaby, a Science don, going across New quad.
He broke away from his friends and shouted out, 'there's a blasted
Boer,' and before they could stop him, he'd knocked poor little Barnaby,
a most nervous fellow, down in the wet grass and nearly throttled him.
It was hushed up, but Castleton was never asked again you may be sure,
and then soon after he volunteered for the front and died of enteric. So
you see what comes of getting tipsy. Now you'd better start."

Arm in arm the five of them strolled through Cloisters until they came
to the gothic door of the Warden's Lodgings. Up the Warden's majestic
staircase they followed the butler into the Warden's gothic drawing-room
where they shook hands with the great moon-faced Warden himself, and
with Miss Crackanthorpe, who was very much like her brother, and nearly
as round on a much smaller scale. They nodded to the Dean, mentally
calculating how many roll-calls they were behind, for the Dean
notwithstanding the geniality of his greeting had one gray eye that
seemed unable to forget it belonged to the Dean. They nodded to Mr.
Ardle, the Senior Tutor, who blinked and sniffed and bowed nervously in
response. Fitzroy beamed at them: Smithers doubtfully eyed them. The two
freshmen reputed to be good sportsmen smiled grateful acknowledgments of
their condescension. Appleby waved his hand in a gesture of such bland
welcome that Lonsdale seemed to gibber with suppressed mortification and
rage.

"Will you lay five to one in bobs that I don't sit next the
Pumpkinette?" whispered Lonsdale to Michael, as they went downstairs to
dinner.

"Not a halfpenny," laughed Michael. "You will. And I shall get Ardle."

Upon the sage-green walls of the dining-room hung the portraits of three
dead Wardens, and though the usual effect of family pictures was to make
the living appear insignificant beside them, Michael felt that
Pumpkin-head even in the presence of his three ferocious and learned
forerunners had nothing to fear for his own preëminence. Modern life
found in him a figure carved out of the persistent attributes of his
office, and therefore already a symbol of the universal before his
personality had been hallowed by death or had expressed itself in its
ultimate form under the maturing touch of art and time. This quality in
the host diffused itself through the room in such a way that the whole
dinner party gained from it a dignity and a stability which made more
than usually absurd the superficial actions of eating and drinking, and
the general murmur of infinitely fugacious talk.

Michael taking his first glance round the table after the preliminary
shynesses of settling down, was as much thrilled by his consciousness of
the eternal reality of this dinner party as he would have been if by a
magical transference he could have suddenly found himself pursuing some
grave task in the picture of a Dutch master. He had been to many dinners
in Oxford of which commemorative photographs had been made by
flashlight, and afterward when he saw the print he could scarcely
believe in his own reality, still less in that of the dinner, so
ludicrously invented seemed every group. He wished now that a painter
would set himself the problem of preserving by his art some of these
transitory entertainments. He began to imagine himself with the
commission to set on record the present occasion. He wished for the
power to paint those deeper shadows in which the Warden's great round
face inclined slowly now toward Fitzroy with his fair complexion and
military rigor of bearing, now toward Wedderburn whose evening dress
acquired from the dignity of its owner the richness of black velvet.
More directly in the light of the first lamp sat Maurice and Appleby
opposite to one another, both imparting to the assemblage a charming
worldliness, Maurice by his loose-fronted shirt, Appleby by the
self-esteem of his restless blue eyes. The two freshmen on either side
of the Dean wonderfully contrasted with his gauntness, and even more did
the withered Ardle, who looked like a specimen of humanity dried as
plants are dried between heavy books, contrast with the sprawling bulk
of Grainger. On the other side, Michael watched with amusement Miss
Crackanthorpe with shining apple-face bobbing nervously between Smithers
pale and solid and domed like a great cheese, and Lonsdale cool and
pink as an ice. In the background from the shadows at either end of the
room the sage-green walls materialized in the lamplight: the three dead
Wardens stared down at the table: and every fifteen minutes bells chimed
in St. Mary's tower.

"And how is The Oxford Looking-Glass progressing, Avery?" inquired the
Warden, shining full upon the editor in a steady gaze. "No doubt it
takes up a great deal of your valuable time?"

The Dean winked his gray decanal eye at the champagne: the Senior Tutor
coughed remotely like a grasshopper: Lonsdale prodded Michael with his
elbow and murmured that "the Wagger had laid Mossy a stymie."

Maurice admitted the responsibility of the paper for occupying a
considerable amount of his _leisure_, but consoled himself for this by
the fact that certainly, The Oxford Looking-Glass was progressing very
well indeed.

"We don't altogether know what attitude to take up over the Rhodes
Bequest," said Maurice. Then boldly he demanded from the Warden what
would be the effect of these imposed scholars from America and Australia
and Africa.

"The speculation is not without interest," declared the Warden. "What
does Fitzroy think?"

Fitzroy threw back his shoulders as if he were going to abuse the Togger
and said he thought the athletic qualifications were a mistake. "After
all, sir, we don't want the Tabs--I mean to say we don't want to beat
Cambridge with the help of a lot of foreigners."

"Foreigners, Fitzroy? Come, come, we can scarcely stigmatize Canadians
as foreigners. What would become of the Imperial Idea?"

"I think the Imperial Idea will take a lot of living up to," said
Wedderburn, "when we come face to face with its practical expression.
Personally I loathe Colonials except at the Earl's Court Exhibition."

"Ah, Wedderburn," said the Warden, "you are luckily young enough to be
able to be particular. I with increasing age begin to suffer from that
terrible disease of age--toleration."

"But the Warden is not so very old," whispered Miss Crackanthorpe to
Lonsdale and Michael.

"Oh, rather not," Lonsdale murmured encouragingly.

"I think they'll wake up Oxford," announced Smithers; then, as everyone
turned to hear what more he would say, Smithers seemed inclined to melt
into silence, but with a sudden jerk of defiance, he hardened himself
and became volubly opinionative.

"There's no doubt," he continued, "that these fellows will make the
average undergrad look round him a bit." As Smithers curtailed
undergraduate to the convention of a lady-novelist, a shudder ran round
the dinner party. Almost the butler instead of putting ice into the
champagne might have slipped it down the backs of the guests.

"In fact, what ho, she bumps," whispered Lonsdale. "Likewise pip-ip, and
tootle-oo."

"Anyway, he won't be able to ignore them," said Smithers.

"We hope not, indeed," the Warden gravely wished. "What does Lonsdale
think? Lord Cleveden wrote to me to say how deeply interested he was by
the whole scheme--a most appreciative letter, and your father has had a
great experience of colonial conditions."

"Has he?" said Lonsdale. "Oh, yes, I see what you mean. You mean when he
was Governor. Oh, rather. But I never knew him in those days." Then
under his breath he muttered to Michael: "Dive in, dive in, you rotter,
I'm getting out of my depth."

"I think Oxford will change the Rhodes Scholars much more profoundly
than the Rhodes Scholars will change Oxford," said Michael. "At least
they will if Oxford hasn't lost anything lately. Sometimes I'm worried
by that, and then I'm not, for I do really feel that they must be
changed. Civilization must have some power, or we should all revert."

"And are we to regard these finished oversea products as barbarians?"
asked the Warden.

"Oh, yes," said Michael earnestly. "Just as much barbarians as any
freshmen."

Everybody looked at the two freshmen on either side of the Dean and
laughed, while they laughed too and tried to appear pleasantly flattered
by the epithet.

"And what will Oxford give them?" asked the Dean dryly. He spoke with
that contempt of generalizations of which all dons made a habit.

"Oh, I don't know," said Michael. "But vaguely I would say that Oxford
would cure them of being surprised by themselves or of showing surprise
at anybody else. Marcus Aurelius said what I'm trying to say much better
than I ever can. Also they will gain a sense of humor, or rather they
will ripen whatever sense they already possess. And they'll have a sense
of continuity, too, and perhaps--but of course this will depend very
much on their dons--perhaps they'll take as much interest in the world
as in Australia."

"Why will that depend on their dons?" challenged Mr. Ambrose.

"Oh, well, you know," explained Michael apologetically, "dons very often
haven't much capacity for inquisitiveness. They get frightened very
easily, don't they?"

"Very true, very true," said the Warden. "But, my dear Fane, your
optimism and your pessimism are both quixotic, immensely quixotic."

Later on in the quad when the undergraduate members of the dinner party
discussed the evening, Maurice rallied Michael on his conversation.

"If you can talk your theories, why can't you write them?" he
complained.

"Because they'd be almost indecently diaphanous," said Michael.

"Good old Fane!" said Grainger. "But, I say, you are an extraordinary
chap, you know."

"He did it for me," said Lonsdale. "Pumpkin-head would have burst, if
I'd let out I didn't know what part of the jolly old world my governor
used to run."



CHAPTER X

STELLA IN OXFORD


Alan, when he met Michael at Paddington, was a great deal more cheerful
than when they had gone up together for the previous term. He had
managed to achieve a second class in Moderations, and he had now in view
a term of cricket whose energy might fortunately be crowned with a blue.
Far enough away now seemed Greats and not very alarming Plato and
Aristotle at these first tentative encounters.

Michael dined with Alan at Christ Church after the Seniors' match, in
which his host had secured in the second innings four wickets at a
reasonable price. Alan casually nodded to one or two fellow hosts at the
guest table, but did not offer to introduce Michael. All down the hall,
men were coming in to dinner and going out of dinner as unconcernedly as
if it had been the dining-saloon of a large hotel.

"Who is that man just sitting down?" Michael would ask.

"I don't know," Alan would reply, and in his tone would somehow rest the
implication that Michael should know better than to expect him to be
aware of each individual in this very much subdivided college.

"Did you hear the hockey push broke the windows of the socker push in
Peck?" asked one of the Christ Church hosts.

"No, really?" answered Alan indifferently.

After hall as they walked back to Meadows', Michael tried to point out
to him that the St. Mary's method of dining in hall was superior to that
of the House.

"The dinner itself is better," Alan admitted. "But I hate your system of
all getting up from table at the same time. It's like school."

"But if a guest comes to St. Mary's he sits at his host's regular table.
He's introduced to everybody. Why, Alan, I believe if you'd had another
guest to-night, you wouldn't even have introduced me to him. He and I
would have had to drink coffee in your rooms like a couple of dummies."

"Rot!" said Alan. "And whom could you have wanted to meet this evening?
All the men at the guests' table were absolute ticks."

"I've never met a House man who didn't think every other House man
impossible outside the four people in his own set," retorted Michael.
"And yet, I suppose, you'll say it's the best college?"

"Of course," Alan agreed.

Up in his rooms they pondered the long May day's reluctant death, while
the coffee-machine bubbled and fizzed and The Soul's Awakening faintly
kindled by the twilight was appropriately sentimental.

"Will you have a meringue?" Alan asked. "I expect there's one in the
cupboard."

"I'm sure there is," said Michael. "It's very unlikely that there is a
single cupboard in the House without a meringue. But no, thanks, all the
same."

They forsook the window-seat and pulled wicker-chairs very near to the
tobacco-jar squatting upon the floor between them: they lit their pipes
and sipped their coffee. For Alan the glories of the day floated before
him in the smoke.

"It's a pity," he said, "Sterne missed that catch in the slips. Though
of course I wasn't bowling for the slips. Five for forty-eight would
have looked pretty well. Still four for forty-eight isn't so bad in an
innings of 287. The point is whether they can afford to give a place to
another bowler who's no earthly use as a bat. It seems a bit of a tail.
I went in eighth wicket both innings. Two--first knock. Blob--second.
Still four for forty-eight was certainly the best. I ought to play in
the first trial match." So Alan voiced his hopes.

"Of course you will," said Michael. "And at Lord's. I think I shall ask
my mother and sister up for Eights," he added.

Alan looked rather disconcerted.

"What's the matter?" Michael asked. "You won't have to worry about them.
I'll explain you're busy with cricket. Stella inquired after you in a
letter this week."

During the Easter vacation Alan had stayed once or twice in Cheyne Walk,
and Stella who had come back from an arduous time with music and musical
people in Germany had seemed to take a slightly sharper interest in his
existence.

"Give her my--er--love, when you write," said Alan very nonchalantly.
"And I don't think I'd say anything about those four wickets for
forty-eight. I don't fancy she's very keen on cricket. It might bore
her."

No more was said about Stella that evening, and nothing indeed was said
about anything except the seven or eight men competing for the three
vacancies in the Varsity eleven. At about a quarter to ten Alan
announced as usual that "those men will be coming down soon for cocoa."

"Alan, who are these mysterious creatures that come down for cocoa at
ten?" asked Michael. "And why am I never allowed to meet them?"

"They'd bore you rather," said Alan. "They're people who live on this
staircase. I don't see them any other time."

Michael thought Alan would be embarrassed if he insisted on staying, so
to his friend's evident relief he got up to go.

"You House men are like a lot of old bachelors with your fads and
regularities," he grumbled.

"Stay, if you like," said Alan, not very heartily. "But I warn you
they're all awfully dull, and I've made a rule to go to bed at half-past
ten this term."

"So long," said Michael hurriedly, and vanished.

A few days later Michael had an answer from his mother to his invitation
for Eights Week:

     173 CHEYNE WALK,

     S.W.

     May 5.

     My dearest Michael,

     I wish you'd asked me sooner. Now I have made arrangements to help
     at the Italian Peasant Jewelry Stall in this big bazaar at
     Westminster Hall for the Society for the Improvement of the
     Condition of Agricultural Laborers all over the world. I think
     you'd be interested. It's all about handicrafts. Weren't you
     reading a book by William Morris the other day? His name is
     mentioned a great deal always. I've been meeting so many
     interesting people. If Stella comes, why not ask Mrs. Ross to
     chaperone her? Such a capital idea. And do be nice about poor Dick
     Prescott. Stella is so young and impulsive. I wish she could
     understand how _much much_ happier she would be married to a nice
     man, even though he may be a little older than herself. This
     tearing all over Europe cannot be good for her. And now she talks
     of going to Vienna and studying under somebody with a perfectly
     impossible name beginning with L. Not only that, but she also talks
     of unlearning all she has learned and beginning all over again.
     This is most absurd, and I've tried to explain to her. She should
     have thought of this man beginning with L before. At her age to
     start scales and exercises again does seem ridiculous. I really
     dread Stella's coming of age. Who knows what she may not take it
     into her head to do? I can't think where she gets this curious vein
     of eccentricity. I'll write to Mrs. Ross if you like. Stella, of
     course, says she can go to Oxford by herself, but that I will not
     hear of, and I beg you not to encourage the idea, if she suggests
     it to you.

     Your loving

     Mother.

Michael thought Mrs. Ross would solve the difficulty, and he was glad
rather to relieve himself of the responsibility of his mother at Oxford.
He would have had to be so steadily informative, and she would never
have listened to a word. Stella's view of the visit came soon after her
mother's.

     173 CHEYNE WALK,

     S.W.

     May 8.

     Dear M.,

     What's all this about Mrs. Ross chaperoning me at Oxford? Is it
     necessary? At a shot I said to mother, "No, quite unnecessary." But
     of course, if I should disgrace you by coming alone, I won't. Isn't
     Mrs. Ross a little on the heavy side? I mean, wouldn't she rather
     object to me smoking cigars?

"Great scott!" interjaculated Michael.

     I'm going to Vienna soon to begin music all over again, so be very
     charming to your only sister,

     Stella.

     P.S.--Do crush mother over Prescott.

Michael agreed with his mother in thinking a chaperone was absolutely
necessary for Stella's visit to Oxford, and since the threat of cigars
he cordially approved of the suggestion that Mrs. Ross should come.
Moreover, he felt his former governess would approve of his own attitude
toward Oxford, and he rather looked forward to demonstrating it to her.
In the full-blooded asceticism of Oxford Michael censured his own
behavior when he was seventeen and looked back with some dismay on the
view of himself at that time as it appeared to him now. He was as much
shocked by that period now as at school in his fifteenth year he had
been shocked by the memory of the two horrid little girls at Eastbourne.
Altogether this invitation seemed an admirable occasion to open the door
once again to Mrs. Ross and to let her personality enter his mind as the
sane adjudicator of whatever problems should soon present themselves. It
would be jolly for Alan, too, if his aunt came up and saw him playing
for the Varsity in whatever cricket match was provided to relieve the
tedium of too much rowing.

So finally, after one or two more protests from Stella, it was arranged
that she should come up for Eights Week under the guardianship of Mrs.
Ross.

Michael took care some time beforehand to incorporate a body of
assistant entertainers. Lonsdale in consideration of Michael having
helped him with his people for one day last year was engaged for the
whole visit. Maurice was made to vow attendance for at least every other
occasion. Wedderburn volunteered his services. Guy Hazlewood, who was
threatened with Schools, was let off with a lunch. Nigel Stewart spoke
mysteriously of a girl whose advent he expected on which account he
could not pledge himself too straightly. Rooms were taken in the High.
Trains were looked out. On Saturday morning Lonsdale and Michael went
down to the station to meet Mrs. Ross and Stella.

"I think it was a very bad move bringing me," said Lonsdale, as they
waited on the platform. "Your sister will probably think me an awful
ass, and ..."

But the train interrupted Lonsdale's self-depreciation, and he sustained
himself well through the crisis of the introductions. Michael thought
Mrs. Ross had never so well been suited by her background as now when
tall and straight and in close-fitting gray dress she stood in the
Oxford sunlight. Stella, too, in that flowered muslin relieved Michael
instantly of the faint anxiety he had conceived lest she might appear in
a Munich garb unbecoming to a reserved landscape. It was a very
peculiarly feminine dress, but somehow she had never looked more like a
boy, and her gray eyes, as for one moment she let them rest wide open on
the city's towers and spires, were more than usually gray and pellucid.

"I say, I ordered a car to meet us," said Lonsdale. "I thought we should
buzz along quicker."

"What you really thought," said Michael, "was that you would have to
drive my sister in a hansom."

"Oh, no, I say, really," protested Lonsdale.

"I'm much more frightened of you than you could ever be of me," Stella
declared.

"Oh no, I say, really, are you? But I'm an awful ass, Miss Fane," said
Lonsdale encouragingly. "Hallo, here's the jolly old car."

As they drove past the castle, Lonsdale informed Stella it was the
county gaol, and when they reached the gaol he told her it was probably
Worcester College, or more familiarly Wuggins.

"You'll only have to tell her that All Souls is the County Asylum and
that Queens is a marmalade factory, and she'll have a pretty good notion
of the main points of interest in the neighborhood," said Michael.

"He always rags me," explained Lonsdale, smiling confidentially round at
the visitors. "I say, isn't Alan Merivale your nephew?" he asked Mrs.
Ross. "He's playing for the Varsity against Surrey. Sent down some very
hot stuff yesterday. We ought to buzz round to the Parks after lunch and
watch the game for a bit."

Wedderburn, who had been superintending the preparations for lunch, met
them in the lodge with a profound welcome, having managed to put at
least twenty years on to his age. Lunch had been laid in Lonsdale's
rooms, since he was one of the few men in college who possessed a
dining-room in addition to a sitting-room. Yet, notwithstanding that
Michael had invited the guests and that they were lunching in Lonsdale's
rooms, to Wedderburn by all was the leadership immediately accorded.

The changeless lunch of Eights Week with its salmon mayonnaise and cold
chicken and glimpses through the windows of pink and blue dresses going
to and fro across the green quadrangles, with its laughter and talk and
speculations upon the weather, with its overheated scout and scent of
lilac and hawthorn, went its course: as fugitive a piece of mirthfulness
as the dance of the mayflies over the Cher.

After lunch they walked to the Parks to watch Alan playing for the
Varsity. Wedderburn, who with people to entertain feared nothing and
nobody, actually went coolly into the pavilion and fetched out Alan who
was already in pads, waiting to go in. Michael watched very carefully
Alan's meeting with Stella, watched Alan's face fall when he saw her
beside Maurice and marked how nervously he fidgeted with his gloves.
There was a broken click from the field of play. It was time for Alan to
go in. Michael wished very earnestly he could score a brilliant century
so that Stella hearing the applause could realize how much there was in
him to admire. Yet ruefully he admitted to himself the improbability of
Stella realizing anything at all about the importance of cricket.
However, he had scarcely done with his wishing, when he saw Alan coming
gloomily back from the wicket, clean bowled by the very first ball he
had received.

"Of course, you know, he isn't played for his batting," he hastened to
explain to Stella.

She, however, was too deeply engaged in discussing Vienna with Maurice
to pay much attention, even when Alan sat down despondently beside them,
unbuckling his pads. It was just as Michael had feared, fond though he
was of Maurice.

The last Varsity player was soon out, and Wedderburn proposed an early
tea in his rooms to be followed by the river. Turning into Holywell,
they met Guy Hazlewood, who said without waiting to be introduced to
Mrs. Ross and Stella:

"My dear people, I fall upon your necks. Suggest something for me to do
that for one day and one night will let me entirely forget Schools. We
can't bear our digs any longer."

"Why don't you give a party there on Monday night," suggested Wedderburn
deeply.

"Let me introduce you to Mrs'sss ... my sissss ... Mr. H'wood," mumbled
Michael in explanation of Wedderburn's proposal.

"What a charming idea," drawled Guy. "But isn't it rather a shame to ask
Miss Fane to play? Anyway, I daren't."

"Oh, no," said Stella. "I should rather like to play in Oxford."

So after a kaleidoscope of racing and a Sunday picnic on the upper
river, when everybody ate as chickens drink with a pensive upward glance
at the trend of the clouds, occurred Guy Hazlewood's party in Holywell,
which might more truly have been called Wedderburn's party, since he at
once assumed all responsibility for it.

The digs were much more crowded than anybody had expected, chiefly on
account of the Balliol men invited.

"Half Basutoland seems to be here," Lonsdale whispered to Michael.

"Well, with Hazlewood, Comeragh and Anstruther, all sons of Belial, what
else can you expect?" replied Michael.

Stella had seemed likely at first to give the favor of her attention
more to Hazlewood than to anybody else, but Maurice was in a dauntless
mood and, with Guy handicapped by having to pretend to assent to
Wedderburn's suggestions for entertainment, he managed at last to
monopolize Stella almost entirely. Alan had declined the invitation with
the excuse of wanting a steady hand and eye for to-morrow. But Michael
fancied there was another reason.

Stella played three times and was much applauded.

"Very sporting effort, by Jove," said Lonsdale, and this was probably
the motive of most of the commendation, though there was a group of
really musical people in the darkest corner who emerged between each
occasion and condoled with Michael on having to hear his sister play in
such inadequate surroundings.

Michael himself was less moved by Stella's playing than he had ever
been. Nor was this coldness due to any anxiety for her success. He was
sure enough of that in this uncritical audience.

"Do you think Stella plays as well as she did?" he asked Mrs. Ross.

"Perhaps this evening she may be a little excited," Mrs. Ross suggested.

"Perhaps," said Michael doubtfully. "But what I mean is that, if she
isn't going to advance quite definitely, there really isn't any longer
an excuse for her to arrogate to herself a special code of behavior."

"Stella says a great deal more than she does," Mrs. Ross reassured him.
"You'd be surprised, as indeed I was surprised, to find how simple and
childlike she really is. I think an audience is never good for her."

"But, after all, her life is going to be one audience after another in
quick succession," Michael pointed out.

"Gradually an audience will cease to rouse her into any violence of
thought or accentuation of superficial action--oh, Michael," Mrs. Ross
exclaimed, breaking off, "what dreadfully long words you're tempting me
to use, and why do you make me talk about Stella? I'd really rather talk
about you."

"Stella is becoming a problem to me," said Michael.

"And you yourself are no longer a problem to yourself?" Mrs. Ross
inquired.

"Not in the sense I was, when we last talked together."

Michael was a little embarrassed by recalling that conversation. It
seemed to link him too closely for his pleasure to the behavior which
had led up to it, to be a part of himself at the time, farouche and
uncontrolled.

"And all worries have passed away?" persisted Mrs. Ross.

"Yes, yes," said Michael quickly. "For one thing," he added as if he
thought he had been too abrupt, "I'm too comfortably off to worry much
about anything. Boredom is the only problem I shall ever have to face.
Seriously though, Mrs. Ross, I really am rather shocked when I think of
myself as sixteen and seventeen." Michael was building brick by brick a
bridge for Mrs. Ross to step over the chasm of three years. "I seem to
see myself," he persevered, "with very untidy hair, with very loose
joints, doing and saying and thinking the most impossible things. I
blush now at the memory of myself, just as I should blush now with
Oxford snobbishness to introduce a younger brother like myself then, say
to the second-year table in hall." Michael paused for a moment, half
hoping Mrs. Ross would assure him he had caricatured his former self,
but as she said nothing, he continued: "When I came up to Oxford I found
that the natural preparation for Oxford was not a day-school like St.
James', but a boarding-school. Therefore I had to acquire in a term what
most of my contemporaries had been given several years to acquire. I
remember quite distinctly my father saying to my mother, 'By gad,
Valérie, he ought to go to Eton, you know,' and my mother disagreeing,
'No, no, I'm sure you were right when you said St. James'.' That's so
like mother. She probably had never thought the matter out at all. She
was probably perfectly vague about the difference between St. James' and
Eton, but because it had been arranged so, she disliked the idea of any
alteration. I'm telling you all this because, you know, you provided as
it were the public-school influence for my early childhood. After you I
ought to have passed on to a private school entirely different from
Randell House, and then to Eton or Winchester. I'm perfectly sure I
could have avoided everything that happened when I was sixteen or
seventeen, if I'd not been at a London day-school."

"But is it altogether fair to ascribe everything to your school?" asked
Mrs. Ross. "Alan for instance came very successfully, as far as
normality is concerned, through St. James'."

"Yes, but Alan has the natural goodness of the average young Englishman.
Possibly he benefited by St. James'. Possibly at Eton, and with a
prospect of money, he would have narrowed down into a mere athlete, into
one of the rather objectionable bigots of the public-school theory. Now
I was never perfectly normal. I might even have been called morbid and
unhealthy. I should have been, if I hadn't always possessed a sort of
curious lonely humor which was about twice as severe as the conscience
of tradition. At the same time, I had nothing to justify my abnormality.
No astounding gift of genius, I mean."

"But, Michael," interrupted Mrs. Ross, "I don't fancy the greatest
geniuses in the world ever justified themselves at sixteen or
seventeen."

"No, but they must have been upheld by the inner consciousness of
greatness. You get that tremendously through all the despondencies of
Keats' letters for instance. I have never had that. Stella absorbed all
the creative and interpretative force that was going. I never have and
never shall get beyond sympathy, and even the value that gives my
criticism is to a certain extent destroyed by the fact that the moment I
try to express myself more permanently than by mouth, I am done."

"But still, I don't see why a day-school should have militated against
the development of that sympathetic and critical faculty."

"It did in this way," said Michael. "It gave me too much with which to
sympathize before I could attune my sympathy to criticism. In fact I was
unbalanced. Eton would have adjusted this balance. I'm sure of that,
because since I've been at Oxford I find my powers of criticism so very
much saner, so very much more easily economized. I mean to say, there's
no wastage in futile emotions. Of course, it's partly due to being
older."

"Really, Michael," Mrs. Ross protested, "if you talk like this I shall
begin to regret your earlier extravagance. This dried-up self-confidence
seems to me not quite normal either."

"Ah, that's only because I'm criticizing my earlier self. I really am
now in a delightful state of cool judgment. Once I used to want
passionately to be like everybody else. I thought that was the goal of
social happiness. Then I wanted to be violently and conspicuously
different from everybody else. Now I seem to be getting near the right
mean between the two extremes. I'm enjoying Oxford enormously. I can't
tell you how happy I am here, how many people I like. And I appreciate
it so much the more because to a certain extent at first it was a
struggle to find that wide normal road on which I'm strolling along now.
I'm so positive that the best of Oxford is the best of England, and that
the best of England is the best of humanity that I long to apply to the
world the same standards we tacitly respect--we undergraduates. I
believe every problem of life can be solved by the transcendency of the
spirit which has transcended us up here. You remember I used to say you
were like Pallas Athene? Well, just those qualities in you which made me
think of that resemblance I find in Oxford. Don't ask me to say what
they are, because I couldn't explain."

"I think you have a great capacity for idealization," said Mrs. Ross
gravely. "I wonder how you are going to express it practically. I wonder
what profession you'll choose."

"I don't suppose I shall choose a profession at all," said Michael.
"There's no financial reason--at any rate--why I should."

"Well, you won't have to decide against a profession just yet," said
Mrs. Ross. "And now tell me, just to gratify my curiosity, why you think
Stella's playing has deteriorated--if you really think it has."

"Oh, I didn't say it had," Michael contradicted in some dismay. "I
merely said that to-night it did not seem up to her level. Perhaps she
was anxious. Perhaps she felt among all these undergraduates, as I felt
in my first week. Perhaps she's thinking what schoolboys they all are,
and how infinitely youthful they appear beside those wild and
worldly-wise Bohemians to whose company she has been accustomed for so
long. I long to tell her that these undergraduates are really so much
wiser, even if literature means Mr. Soapy Sponge's Sporting Tour, and
art The Soul's Awakening, and religion putting on a bowler to go and
have a hot breakfast at the O.U.D.S. after chapel, and politics the
fag-ends of paternal or rather ancestral opinion, and life a hot bath
and changing after a fox-hunt or a grouse-drive."

Farther conversation was stopped by Wedderburn driving everybody down to
supper with pastoral exhortations in his deepest bass. Michael, after
his talk with Mrs. Ross, was relieved to find himself next to Lonsdale
and sheltered by a quivering rampart of jellies from more exacting
company.

"These Basutos aren't so bad when you talk to them," said Lonsdale.
"Comeragh was at m'tutor's. I wonder if he still collects bugs. I rather
like that man Hazlewood. I thought him a bit sidy at first, but he's
rather keen on fishing. I don't think much of the girl that Trinity
man--what's his name--Stewart has roped in. She looks like something
left over from a needlework stall. I say, your sister jolly well knows
how to punch a piano. Topping, what? Mossy's been very much on the spot
to-night. He and Wedders are behaving like a couple of theatrical
managers. Why didn't Alan Merivale turn up? I was talking to some of the
cricket push at the Club, and it doesn't look a hundred quid to a tanner
on his Blue. Bad luck. He's a very good egg."

Michael listened vaguely to Lonsdale's babble. He was watching the
passage of the cigars and cigarettes down the table. Thank heaven,
Stella had let the cigars go by.

The party of 196 Holywell broke up. Outside in the shadowy street of
gables they stood laughing and talking for a moment. Guy Hazlewood,
Comeragh and Anstruther looked down from the windows at their parting
guests.

"It's been awfully ripping," these murmured to their hosts. The hosts
beamed down.

"We've been awfully bucked up by everything. Special vote of thanks to
Miss Fane."

"You ought all to get Firsts now," said Wedderburn.

Then he and Lonsdale and Michael and Maurice set off with Stella and
Mrs. Ross to the High Street rooms. In different directions the rest of
the party vanished on echoing footsteps into the moon-bright spaces,
into the dark and narrow entries. Voices faint and silvery rippled along
the spell-bound airs of the May night. The echoing footsteps died out to
whispers. There was a whizzing of innumerable clocks, and midnight began
to clang.

"We must hurry," said the escort, and they ran off down the High toward
St. Mary's, reaching the lodge on the final stroke.

"Shall I come up to your rooms for a bit?" Maurice suggested to Michael.

"I'm rather tired," objected Michael, who divined that Maurice was going
to talk at great length about Stella.

He was too jealous of Alan's absence that evening to want to hear
Maurice's facile enthusiasm.



CHAPTER XI

SYMPATHY


Mrs. Ross and Stella left Oxford two days after the party, and Michael
was really glad to be relieved of the dread that Stella in order to
assert her independence of personality would try to smash the glass of
fashion and dint the mold of form. Really he thought the two occasions
during her visit on which he liked her best and admired her most were
when she was standing on the station platform. Here she was expressed by
that city of spires confusing with added beauty that clear sky of
Summer. Here, too, her personality seemed to add an appropriate
foreground to the scene, to promise the interpretation that her music
would give, a promise, however, that Michael felt she had somehow
belied.

Alan dropped out of the Varsity Eleven the following week, and he was in
a very gloomy mood when Michael paid him a visit of condolence.

"These hard wickets have finished me off," he sighed. "I shall take up
golf, I think."

The bag of clubs he had brought up on his first day was lying covered
with gray fluff under the bed.

"Oh, no, don't play golf," protested Michael, "you've got two more years
to get your Blue and all your life to play golf, which is a rotten game
and has ruined Varsity cricket."

"But one can be alone at golf," said Alan.

"Alone?" repeated Michael. "Why on earth should you want to play an
outdoor game alone?"

"Because I get depressed sometimes," Alan explained. "What good am I?"

Michael began to laugh.

"It's nothing to laugh at," said Alan sadly. "I've been thinking of my
future. I shall never have enough money to marry. I shall never get my
Blue. I shall get a fourth in Greats. Perhaps I shan't even get into the
Egyptian Civil Service. I expect I shall end as a bank clerk. Playing
cricket for a suburban club on Saturday afternoons. That's all I see
before me. When is Stella going to Vienna?"

"I don't know that she is going," said Michael. "She always talks a
great deal about things which don't always come off."

"I was rather surprised she seemed to like that man Avery so much," Alan
said. "But I suppose he pretended to know an awful lot about music. I
don't think I care for him."

"Some people don't," Michael admitted. "I think women always like him,
though."

"Yes, I should think they did," Alan agreed bitterly. "Sorry I'm so
depressing. Have a meringue or something."

"Alan, why, are you in love with Stella?" Michael challenged.

"What made you think I was?" countered Alan, looking alarmed.

"It's pretty obvious," Michael said. "And curiously enough I can quite
understand it. Generally, of course, a brother finds it difficult to
understand what other people can see in his sister, but I'm never
surprised when they fall in love with Stella."

"A good many have?" asked Alan, and his blue eyes were sharpened by a
pain deeper than that of seeing a catch in the slips missed off his
bowling.

Michael nodded.

"Oh, I've realized for a long time how utterly hopeless it was for me,"
Alan sighed. "I'm evidently going to be a failure."

"Would you care for some advice?" inquired Michael very tentatively.

"What sort of advice?" Alan asked.

Michael took this for assent, and plunged in.

"Let her alone," he adjured his friend. "Let her absolutely alone. She's
very young, you know, and you're not very old. Let her alone for at
least a year. I suggest two years. Don't see much of her, and don't let
her think you care. That would interest her for a week, and really,
Alan, it's not good for Stella to think that everybody falls in love
with her. I don't mind about Maurice. It would do him good to be turned
down."

"Would he be?" demanded Alan gloomily.

"Of course, of course ... it seems funny to be talking to you about love
... you used to be so very scornful about it.... I expect you know
you'll fall in love pretty deeply now.... Alan, I'm frightfully keen you
should marry Stella. But let her alone. Don't let her interfere with
your cricket. Don't take up golf on account of her."

Michael was so much in earnest with his exhortation to Alan that he
picked up a meringue and was involved in the difficulties of eating it
before he was aware he was doing so. Alan began to laugh, and the heavy
airs of disappointment and hopelessness were lightened.

"It's funny," said Michael, "that I should have an opportunity now of
talking to you about love and cricket."

"Funny?" Alan repeated.

"Don't you remember three years ago on the river one night how I wished
you would fall in love, and you said something about it being bad for
cricket?"

"I believe I do remember vaguely," said Alan.

Michael saw that after the explanation of his depression he wanted to
let the subject drop, and since that was the very advice he had
conferred upon Alan, he felt it would be unfair to tempt him to
elaborate this depression merely to gratify his own pleasure in the
retrospect of emotion. So Stella was not discussed again for a long
while, and as she did after all go to Vienna to study a new technique,
the abstention was not difficult. Michael was glad, since he had
foreseen the possibility of a complication raveled by Maurice. Her
departure straightened this out, for Maurice was not inclined to gather
strength from absence. Other problems more delicate of adjustment even
than Stella began to arise, problems connected with the social aspects
of next term.

Alan would still be in college. Scholars at Christ Church were allowed
sometimes to spend even the whole of their four years in college.
Michael tried in vain to persuade him to ask leave to go into digs. Alan
offered his fourth year to companionship with Michael, but nothing would
induce him to emerge from college sooner. And why did Michael so
particularly want him? There were surely men in his own college with
whom he was intimate enough to share digs. Michael admitted there were
many, but he did not tell Alan that the real reason he had been so
anxious for his partnership was to have an excuse to escape from an
arrangement made lightly enough with Maurice Avery in his first or
second term that in their third year they should dig together. Maurice
had supposed the other day that the arrangement stood, and Michael, not
wishing to hurt his feelings, had supposed so too. A few days later
Maurice had come along with news of rooms in Longwall. Should he engage
them? Michael said he hated Longwall as a prospective dwelling-place,
and Maurice had immediately deferred to his prejudice.

It was getting unpleasantly near a final arrangement, for the
indefatigable Maurice would produce address after address, until Michael
seemed bound ultimately to accept. Lonsdale and Grainger had invited him
to dig with them at 202 High. Michael suggested Maurice as well, but
they shook their heads. Wedderburn was already partially sharing, that
is to say, though he had his own sitting-room he was in the same house
and would no doubt join in the meals. Maurice was not to be thought of.
Maurice was a very good fellow but--Maurice was--but--and Michael in
asking Lonsdale and Grainger why they declined his company, asked
himself at the same time what were his own objections to digging with
Maurice. He tried to state them in as kindly a spirit as he could, and
for a while he told himself he wished to be in digs with people who
represented the broad stream of normal undergraduate life; he accused
himself in fact of snobbishness, and justified the snobbishness by
applying it to undergraduate Oxford as a persistent attribute. As time
went by, however, and Maurice produced rooms on rooms for Michael's
choice, he began almost to dislike him, to resent the assumption of a
desire to dig with him. Where was Maurice's sensitiveness that it could
not react to his unexpressed hatred of the idea of living with him? Soon
it would come to the point of declaring outright that he did not want to
dig with him. Such an announcement would really hurt his feelings, and
Michael did not want to do that. As soon as Maurice had receded into the
background of casual encountership, he would take pleasure in his
company again. Meanwhile, however, it really seemed as if Maurice were
losing all his superficial attractiveness. Michael wondered why he had
never before noticed how infallibly he ran after each new and petty
phase of art, how vain he was too, and how untidy. It was intolerable to
think of spending a year's close association with all those paint-boxes
and all that modeling wax and all those undestroyed proof-sheets of The
Oxford Looking-Glass. Finally, he had never noticed before how many
cigarettes Maurice smoked and with what skill he concealed in every sort
of receptacle the stained and twisted stumps that were left over. That
habit would be disastrous to their friendship, and Michael knew that
each fresh cigarette lighted by him would consume a trace more of the
friendship, until at last he would come to the state of observing him
with a cold and mute resentment. He was in this attitude of mind toward
his prospective companion, when Maurice came to see him. He seemed
nervous, lighting and concealing even more cigarettes than usual.

"About digs in Longwall," he began.

"I won't live in Longwall," affirmed Michael.

"Do you think you could find anybody else?"

"Why, have you got hold of some digs for three?" asked Michael
hopefully. This would be a partial solution of the difficulty, as long
as the third person was a tolerably good egg.

Maurice seemed embarrassed.

"No; well, as a matter of fact, Castleton rather wants to dig with me.
The New College man he was going to live with is going down, and he had
fixed up some rather jolly digs in Longwall. He offered me a share, but
of course I said I was digging with you, and there's no room for a
third."

"I can go in with Tommy Grainger and Lonny," said Michael quickly.

Maurice looked much relieved.

"As long as you don't feel I've treated you badly," he began.

"That's all right," said Michael, resenting for the moment Maurice's
obvious idea that he was losing something by the defection. But as soon
as he could think of Maurice unlinked to himself for a year, his
fondness for him began to return and his habit of perpetually smoking
cigarettes was less irritating. He accepted Maurice's invitation to stay
at Godalming in July with an inward amusement roused by the penitence
which had prompted it.

Stella's unexpectedly prompt departure to Vienna had left Michael free
to make a good many visits during the Long Vacation. He enjoyed least
the visit to High Towers, because he found it hard not to be a little
contemptuous of the adulation poured out upon Maurice by his father and
mother and sisters. Mr. Avery was a stockbroker with a passion for
keeping as young as his son. Mrs. Avery was a woman who, when her son
and her husband were not with her, spoiled the dogs, and sometimes even
her daughters. She was just as willing to spoil Michael, especially when
his politeness led him into listening in shady corners of the
tennis-lawn to Mrs. Avery's adorations of Maurice. He found Godalming
oppressive with the smart suburbanity of Surrey. He disliked the
facility of life there, the facile thought, the facile comfort, the
facile conversation. Everything went along with a smoothness that suited
the civilized landscape, the conventional picturesqueness and the
tar-smeared roads. After a week Michael was summoned away by a telegram.
Without a ruse, he would never have escaped from this world of
light-green Lovat tweeds, of fashionable rusticity and carefully pressed
trousers.

"Dear Mrs. Avery," he wrote, preening himself upon the recuperative
solitude of empty Cheyne Walk whence his mother had just departed to
France. "I enjoyed my visit so much, and so much wish I had not been
called away on tiresome business. I hope the garden-party at the
Nevilles was a great success, and that the High Towers croquet pair
distinguished themselves. Please remember me to Mr. Avery."

"Thank Heaven that's done!" he sighed, and lazily turned the pages of
Bradshaw to discover how to reach Wedderburn in the depths of South
Wales.

The vacation went by very quickly with quiet intervals in London between
his visits, of which he enjoyed most the fortnight at Cressingham
Hall--a great Palladian house in the heart of the broad Midlands. It was
mid-August with neither shooting nor golf to disturb the pastoral calm.
Lonsdale was trying under Lord Cleveden's remonstrances to obtain a
grasp of rural administration. So he and his sister Sylvia with Michael
drove every day in a high dogcart to various outlying farms of the
estate. Lonsdale managed to make himself very popular, and after all as
he confided to Michael that was the main thing.

"And how's his lordship, sir?" the tenant would inquire.

"Oh, very fit," Lonsdale would reply. "I say, Mr. Hoggins, have you got
any of that home-brewed beer on draught? My friend Mr. Fane has heard a
good deal about it."

In a cool farm-parlor Lonsdale and Michael would toast the health of
agriculture and drink damnation to all Radicals, while outside in the
sun were Sylvia with Mrs. Hoggins, looking at the housewife's
raspberries and gooseberries.

"I envy your life," said Michael.

"A bit on the slow side, don't you think?"

"Plenty of time for thinking."

"Ah," said Lonsdale. "But then I've got no brains. I really haven't, you
know. The poor old governor's quite worried about it."

However, when after dinner Lord Cleveden bade his son and his guest draw
up their chairs and when, as he ceremoniously circulated the port, he
delivered majestic reminiscences of bygone celebrities and notorieties,
Michael scarcely thought that anything would ever worry him very much,
not even a dearth of partridges, still less a dearth of brains in his
only son.

"Dear Lady Cleveden," he wrote, when once again he sat in the empty
house in Cheyne Walk. "London is quite impossible after Cressingham."

And so it was with the listless August people drooping on the
Embankment, the oily river and a lack-luster moon.

Michael was surprised at such a season to get a telegram from Prescott,
inviting him to dine at the Albany. His host was jaded by the hot London
weather, and the soldier-servant waited upon him with more solicitude
than usual. Prescott and Michael talked of the commonplace for some
time, or rather Michael talked away rather anxiously while Prescott lent
him a grave attention. At last Michael's conversation exhausted itself,
and for a few minutes there was silence, while Prescott betrayed his
nervousness by fidgeting with the ash on his cigar. At last he burnt
himself and throwing away the cigar leaped forthwith into the tide of
emotion that was deepening rapidly around his solitary figure.

"Daresay your mother told you I wanted to marry Stella. Daresay Stella
told you. Of course, I realize it's quite absurd. Said so at once, and
of course it's all over now. Phew! it's fearfully hot to-night. Always
feel curiously stranded in London in August, but I suppose that's the
same with most people."

Michael had an impulse to ask Prescott to come away with him, but the
moment for doing so vanished in the shyness it begot, and a moment later
the impulse seemed awkwardly officious. Yet by Prescott's confidence
Michael felt himself committed to a participation in his existence that
called for some response. But he could not with any sincerity express a
regret for Stella's point of view.

"Mother was very anxious she should accept you," said Michael, and
immediately he had a vision of Prescott like the puppet of an
eighteenth-century novelist kneeling to receive Stella's stilted
declaration of her refusal.

"Your mother was most extraordinarily gracious and sympathetic. But of
course I'm a man of fifty. I suppose you thought the idea very
ridiculous."

"I don't think Stella is old enough to marry," said Michael.

"But don't you think it's better for girls to marry when they're young?"
asked Prescott, and as he leaned forward, Michael saw his eyes were very
bright and his actions feverish. "I've noticed that tendencies recur in
families. Time after time. I don't like this Viennese business, yet if
Stella had married me I shouldn't have interfered with her," he added,
with a wistfulness that was out of keeping with his severely
conventional appearance. "Still, I should have always been in the
background."

"Yes, I expect that was what she felt," said Michael.

He did not mean to be brutal, but he saw at once how deeply he had
wounded Prescott, and suddenly in a panic of inability to listen any
longer, he rose and said he must go.

As he was driving to Waterloo Station on the following afternoon to go
down to Basingstead, he saw vaguely on the posters of the starved August
journals "Suicide of a Man About Town." At Cobble Place newspapers were
read as an afterthought, and it was not until late on the day after that
above a short paragraph the headline "Tragedy in the Albany" led him on
to learn that actually Prescott was the man about town who had killed
himself.

Michael's first emotion was a feeling of self-interest in being linked
so closely with an event deemed sufficiently important to occupy the
posters of an evening paper. For the moment the fact that he had dined
with Prescott a few hours beforehand seemed a very remarkable
coincidence. It was only after he had had to return to London and
attend the inquest, to listen to the coroner's summing up of the
evidence of depression and the perspiring jury's delivery of their
verdict of temporary insanity he began to realize that in the crisis of
a man's life his own words or behavior might easily have altered the
result. He was driving to Waterloo Station again in order to take up the
thread of his broken visit. On the posters of the starved August
journals he read now with a sharp interest "Cat Saves Household in
Whitechapel Fire." This cat stood for him as the symbol of imaginative
action. He bought the evening papers at Waterloo, and during the journey
down to Hampshire read about this cat who had saved a family from an
inquest's futile epitaph, and who even if unsuccessful would have been
awarded the commendatory platitudes of the coroner.

Michael had not said by what train he would arrive, and so after the
journey he was able to walk to Basingstead through lanes freshening for
evening. By this time the irony of the cat's fortuitous interference was
blunted, and Michael was able to see himself in clearer relation to the
fact of Prescott's death. He was no longer occupied by the strange
sensation of being implicated in one of the sufficiently conspicuous
daily deaths exalted by the press to the height of a tragedy. Yet for
once the press had not been so exaggerative. Prescott's life was surely
a tragedy, and his death was only not a tragedy because it had violated
all the canons of good form and had falsified the stoicism of nearly
fifty years. Yet why should not the stoic ideal be applied to such a
death? It was an insult to such perfect manners to suppose that a
hopeless love for a girl had led him to take his life. Surely it would
be kinder to ascribe it to the accumulative boredom of August in London,
or possibly to a sudden realization of vulgarity creeping up to the very
portals of the Albany.

Michael was rather anxious to believe in this theory, because he was
beginning to reproach himself more seriously than when the cat had first
obtruded a sardonic commentary on his own behavior in having given away
to the panic of wishing to listen no longer to the dead man's
confidences. With all his personal regrets it was disconcerting to think
of a man whose attitude to life had seemed so correct making this
hurried exit, an exit too that left his reputation a prey to the public,
so that his whole existence could be soiled after death by the
inquisitive grubbing of a coroner. Prescott had always seemed secure
from an humiliation like this. The mezzotints of stern old admirals, the
soldier-servant, the fashionable cloister in which he lived, the
profound consciousness he always betrayed of the importance of restraint
whether in morals or cravats had seemed to combine in unrelaxing
guardianship of his good form. The harder Michael thought about the
business, the more incredible it appeared. Himself in an earlier mood of
self-distrust had accepted Prescott as an example to whose almost
contemptuous attitude of withdrawal he might ultimately aspire. He had
often reproached himself for outlived divergencies of thought and
action, and with the example of Prescott he had hammered into himself
the possibility of eternal freedom from their recurrence. And now he
must admit that mere austerity unless supported by a spiritual
encouragement to endure was liable at any moment to break up pitiably
into suicide. The word itself began to strike him with all the force of
its squalid associations. The fresh dust of the Hampshire lanes became a
gray miasma. Loneliness looped itself slowly round his progress so that
he hurried on with backward glances. The hazel-hedges were somber and
monotonous and defiled here and there by the rejected rags of a tramp.
The names of familiar villages upon the signposts lost their intimations
of sane humanity, and turned to horrible abstractions of the dead life
of the misshapen boot or empty matchbox at their foot. The comfortable
assurance of a prosperous and unvexed country rolling away to right and
left forsook him, and only the pallid road writhed along through the
twilight. "My nerves are in a rotten state," he told himself, and he was
very glad to see Basingstead Manor twinkling in the night below, while
himself was still walking shadowless in a sickly dusk.

In the drawing-room of Cobble Place all was calm, as indeed, Michael
thought, why on earth should it not be? Mrs. Carthew's serene old age
drove out the last memory of the coroner's court, and here was Mrs. Ross
coming out of a circle of lamplight to greet him, and here in Cobble
Place was her small son sleeping.

"You look tired and pale, Michael," said Mrs. Ross. "Why didn't you wire
which train you were coming by? I would have met you with the chaise."

"Poor fellow, of course he's tired!" said Mrs. Carthew. "A most
disturbing experience. Come along. Dinner will do him good."

The notion of suicide began to grow more remote from reality in this
room, which had always been to Michael soft and fragrant like a great
rose in whose heart, for very despair of being able ever to express in
words the perfection of it, one swoons to be buried. The evening went
the calm course of countless evenings at Cobble Place. Michael played at
backgammon with Mrs. Carthew: Joan Carthew worked at the accounts of a
parochial charity: May Carthew knitted: Mrs. Ross, reading in the
lamplight, met from time to time Michael's glances with a concern that
never displayed itself beyond the pitch of an unexacting sympathy. He
was glad, as the others rustled to greet the ten strokes of the clock,
to hear Mrs. Ross say she would stay up for a while and keep him
company.

"Unless you want to work?" she added.

Michael shook his head.

When the others had gone to bed, he turned to her:

"Do you know, Mrs. Ross, I believe I could have prevented Prescott's
death. He began to talk about Stella, and I felt embarrassed and came
away."

"Oh, my dear Michael, I think you're probably accusing yourself most
unfairly. How could you have supposed the terrible sequel to your
dinner?"

"That's just it. I believe I did know."

"You thought he was going to kill himself?"

"No, I didn't think anything so definite as that, but I had an intuition
to ask him to come away with me, and I was afraid he'd think it rather
cheek and, oh, Mrs. Ross, what on earth good am I? I believe I've got
the gift of understanding people, and yet I'm afraid to use it. Shall I
ever learn?"

Michael looked at Mrs. Ross in despair. He was exasperated by his own
futility. He went on to rail at himself.

"The only gift I have got! And then my detestable self-consciousness
wrecks the first decent chance I've had to turn it to account."

They talked for some time. At first Mrs. Ross consoled him, insisting
that imagination affected by what had happened later was playing him
false. Then she seemed to be trying to state an opinion which she found
it difficult to state. She spoke to Michael of qualities which in the
future with one quality added would show his way in the world clear and
straight before him. He was puzzled to guess at what career she was
hinting.

"My dear Michael, I would not tell you for anything," she affirmed.

"Why not?"

"Why not? Why, because with all the ingenuous proclamations of your
willingness to do anything that you're positive you can do better than
anything else, I'm quite, quite sure you're still the rather perverse
Michael of old, and as I sit here talking to you I remember the time
when I told you as a little boy that you would have been a Roundhead in
the time of the Great Rebellion. How angry you were with me! So what I
think you're going to do--I almost said when you're grown up--but I mean
when you leave Oxford, I shall have to tell you after you have made up
your own mind. I shall have to give myself merely the pleasure of
saying, 'I knew it.'"

"I suppose really I know what you think I shall do," said Michael
slowly. "But you're wrong--at least, I think you're wrong. I lack the
mainspring of the parson's life. Talk to me about Kenneth instead of
myself. How's he getting on?"

"Oh, he's splendid at five years old, but I want to give him something
more than I ever managed to give you."

"Naturally," said Michael, smiling. "He's your son."

"Michael, would you be surprised if I told you that I thought of...."
Mrs. Ross broke off abruptly. "No, I won't tell you yet."

"You're full of unrevealed mysteries," said Michael.

"Yes, it's bedtime for me. Good night."

Two mornings later Michael had a letter from his mother in London. He
wondered why he should be vaguely surprised by her hurried return.
Surely Prescott's death could not have been a reason to bring her home.

     173 CHEYNE WALK,

     S.W.

     My dearest Michael,

     I'm so dreadfully upset about poor Dick Prescott. I have so few old
     friends, so very few, that I can't afford to lose him. His devotion
     to your father was perfectly wonderful. He gave up everything to
     us. He remained in society just enough to be of use to your father,
     but he was nearly always with us. I think he was fond of me, but he
     worshiped him. Perhaps I was wrong in trying to encourage the idea
     of marrying Stella. But I console myself by saying that that had
     nothing to do with this idea of his to take his own life. You see,
     when your father died, he found himself alone. I've been so
     selfishly interested in reëntering life. He had no wish to do so.
     Michael, I can't write anything more about it. Perhaps, dearest
     boy, you wouldn't mind giving up some of your time with the
     Carthews, and will come back earlier to be with me in London for a
     little time.

     Your loving

     Mother.

     P.S.--I hope the funeral was properly done.

Michael realized with a start the loneliness of his mother, and in his
mood of self-reproachfulness attacked himself for having neglected her
ever since the interests of Oxford had arisen to occupy his own life so
satisfyingly. He told Mrs. Ross of the letter, and she agreed with him
in thinking he ought to go back to London at once. Michael had only time
for a very short talk with old Mrs. Carthew before the chaise would
arrive.

"There has been a fate upon this visit," said the old lady. "And I'm
sorry for it. I'd promised myself a great many talks with you. Besides,
you'll miss Alan now, and he'll be disappointed, and as for Nancy,
she'll be miserable."

"But I must go," Michael said.

"Of course you must go," said Mrs. Carthew, thumping with her stick on
the gravel path. "You must always think first of your mother."

"You told me that before on this very path a long time ago," said
Michael thoughtfully. "I didn't understand so well why at the time. Now,
of course," he added shyly, "I understand everything. I used to wonder
what the mystery could be. I used to imagine all sorts of the most
extraordinary things. Prisons and lunatic asylums among others."

Mrs. Carthew chuckled to herself.

"It's surprising you didn't imagine a great deal more than you did.
How's Oxford?"

"Ripping," said Michael. "And so was your advice about Oxford. I've
never forgotten. It was absolutely right."

"I always am absolutely right," said Mrs. Carthew.

The wheels of the chaise were audible; and Michael must go at once.

"If I'm alive in two years, when you go down," said Mrs. Carthew, "I'd
like to give you some advice about the world. I'm even more infallible
about the world. Although I married a sailor, I'm a practical and
worldly old woman."

Michael said good-bye to all the family standing by the gate of Cobble
Place, to Mrs. Ross with the young Kenneth now in knickerbockers by her
side and soon, thought Michael, a subject fit for speculation; to
delightful May and Joan; to the smiling Carthew cook; all waving to him
in the sunlight with the trim cotoneaster behind them.

It gave Michael a consciousness of a new and most affectionate intimacy
to find his mother alone in the house in Cheyne Walk. It was scarcely
yet September, and the desolation of London all around seemed the more
sharply to intagliate upon his senses the fineness of his mother's
figure set in the frame of that sedate house. They had tea together in
her own room, and it struck him with a sudden surprise to see her once
again in black. The room with its rose du Barri and clouded pastels
sustained her beauty and to her somber attire lent a deeper poignancy;
or perhaps it was something apart from the influence of the room, this
so incontestable pathos, and was rather the effect of the imprisonment
of her elusiveness by a chain whose power Michael had not suspected.
Always, for nearly as many years as he could remember, when he had
kissed her she had seemed to evade the statement of any positive and
ordinary affection. Her personality had fluttered for a moment to his
embrace and fled more than swiftly. In one moment as Michael kissed her
now, the years were swept away, and he was sitting up for an extra half
hour at the seaside, while she with her face flushed by another August
sunset was leaning over him. The river became the sea, and the noise of
the people on the Embankment were the people walking on the promenade
below. In one moment as Michael kissed her now, her embrace gave to him
what it had not given during all the years between--a consciousness that
he depended upon her life.

"Dearest boy," she murmured, "how good of you to come back so quickly
from the Carthews!"

"But I would much rather be with you," said Michael.

Indeed, as he sat beside her holding her hand, he wondered to himself
how he had been able to afford to miss so many opportunities of sitting
like this, and immediately afterward wondered at himself for being able
to sit like this without any secret dread that he was making himself
absurd by too much demonstrativeness. After all, it was very easy to
show emotion even to one's mother without being ridiculous.

"Poor Dicky Prescott," she said, and tears quickly blurred her great
gray eyes and hung quivering on the shadowy lashes beneath. Michael held
her hand closer when he saw she was beginning to cry. He felt no awe of
her grief, as he had when she told him of his father's death. This
simpler sorrow brought her so much nearer to him. She was speaking of
Prescott's death as she might have spoken of the loss of a cherished
possession, a dog perhaps or some familiar piece of jewelry.

"I shall never get used to not having him to advise me. Besides, he was
the only person to whom I could talk about Charles--about your father.
Dicky was so bound up with all my life. So long as he was alive, I had
some of the past with me."

Michael nodded with comprehending gravity of assent.

"Darling boy, I don't mean that you and darling Stella are not of course
much more deeply precious to me. You are. But I can't help thinking of
that poor dear man, and the way he and Charles used to walk up and down
the quarter-deck, and I remember once Charles lent him a stud. It's the
silly little sentimental memories like that which are so terribly
upsetting when they're suddenly taken away."

Now she broke down altogether, and Michael with his arms about her, held
her while she wept.

"Dearest mother, when you cry I seem to hold you very safely," he
whispered. "I don't feel you'll ever again be able to escape."

She had ceased from her sobbing with a sudden shiver and catch of the
breath and looked at him with frightened eyes.

"Michael, he once said that to me ... before you were born. Before ...
on a hillside it was ... how terribly well I remember."

Michael did not want her to speak of his father. He felt too helpless in
the presence of that memory. The death of Prescott was another matter, a
trivial and pathetic thing. Quickly he brought his mother back to that,
until she was tired with the flowing of many tears.

Michael spent the rest of the Long Vacation with his mother in London,
and gradually he made himself a companion to her. They went to theaters
together, because it gave her a sentimental pleasure to think how much
poor Dicky Prescott would have enjoyed this piece once upon a time.
Between them was the unspoken thought of how much somebody else would
have enjoyed this piece also. Michael teased his mother lightly about
her bazaars, until she told him he was turning into a second Prescott
himself. He discussed seriously the problem of Stella, but he did not
say a word of his hope that she would fall in love with Alan. Alan,
however, who was already back in town, came to spend week-ends that were
very much like the week-ends spent at Carlington Road in the past. Mrs.
Fane enjoyed dining with her son and his friend. She asked the same sort
of delightfully foolish questions about Oxford that she used to ask
about school. In October Mrs. Carruthers arrived back in town, and by
this time Mrs. Fane was ready to begin again to flit from charity to
charity, and from fad to fad. Yet, however much she seemed to become
again her old elusive, exquisite self, Michael never again let her
escape entirely from the intimacy which had been created by the
sentimental shock of Prescott's death, and he went up for his third year
at Oxford with a feeling that somehow during this vacation he had grown
more sure of himself and to his mother more precious.

"What have you done this vac?" they asked him in Venner's on the night
of reunion.

"Nothing very much," he said, and to himself he thought less than usual
in fact, and yet really in one way such a very great deal.



CHAPTER XII

2O2 HIGH


The large room at 202 High Street which Michael shared with Grainger and
Lonsdale was perhaps in the annals of university lodgings the most
famous. According to tradition, the house was originally part of the
palace of a cardinal. Whether it had been the habitation of
ecclesiastical greatness or not, it had certainly harbored grandeur of
some kind; to this testified the two fireplaces surmounted by
coats-of-arms in carved oak that enhanced this five-windowed room with a
dignity which no other undergraduate lodging could claim. The house at
this period was kept by a retired college cook, who produced for dinner
parties wonderful old silver which all his tenants believed to have been
stolen from the kitchen of his college. The large room of 202 High gave
the house its character, but there were many other rooms besides.
Wedderburn, for instance had on the third story a sitting-room whose
white paneling and Georgian grace had been occupied by generations of
the transitory exquisites of art and fashion. Downstairs in the aqueous
twilight created by a back garden was the dining-room which the four of
them possessed in common. As for the other lodgers, none were St. Mary's
men, and their existence was only alluded to by Michael and his friends
when the ex-cook charged them for these strangers' entertainments.

Michael was the first to arrive at Two Hundred and Two, and he
immediately set to work to arrange in the way that pleased him best the
decorative and personal adjuncts contributed by Grainger, Lonsdale, and
himself. For his own library he found a fine set of cupboards which he
completely filled. The books of Grainger and Lonsdale he banished to the
dining-room, where their scant numbers competed for space on the shelves
with jars of marmalade, egg-cups, and toast-racks. The inconvenience of
the confusion was helpfully obviated first by the fact that their
collection, or rather their accumulation, was nearly throughout in
duplicate owing to the similar literary tastes and intellectual travaux
forcés of Grainger and Lonsdale, and secondly by the fact that for a
year to neither taste nor intellect was there frequent resort. With
their pictures Michael found the same difficulty of duplication, but as
there were two fireplaces he took an ingenious delight in supporting
each fireplace with similar pictures, so that Thorburn's grouse, Cecil
Aldin's brilliant billiard-rooms, Sir Galahad and Eton Society were to
be found at either end. Elsewhere on the spacious walls he hung his own
Blakes and Frederick Walkers, and the engraving of the morning stars
singing together he feathered with the photographic souvenirs of
Lonsdale's fagdom. As for the pictures that belonged to the ex-cook,
mostly very large photogravures of Marcus Stone such as one sees in the
corridors of theaters, these he took upstairs and with them covered
Wedderburn's white-paneled walls after he had removed the carefully hung
Dürers to the bathroom. This transference wasted a good deal of time,
but gave him enough amusement when Wedderburn arrived to justify the
operation. The pictures all disposed, he called for a carpenter to hang
Grainger's triumphal oars and Lonsdale's hunting trophies of masks, pads
and brushes, and surveyed with considerable satisfaction the
accumulative effect of the great room now characterized by their joint
possessions. Michael was admiring his work when Lonsdale arrived and
greeted him boisterously.

"Hullo! I say, are we all straight? How topping! But wait a bit. I've
got something that's going to put the jolly old lid on this jolly old
room. What's the name of the joker who keeps these digs? Macpherson?"

He shouted from the landing to the ex-cook.

"I say, send up the packing-case that's waiting for me downstairs."

Michael inquired what was inside.

"Wait a bit, my son," said the beaming owner. "I've got something in
there that's going to make old Wedders absolutely green. I've thought
this out. I told my governor I was going into digs with some of the
æsthetic push and didn't want to be cut out, so he's lent me this."

"What on earth is it?" Michael asked on a note of ambiguous welcome.

The packing-case shaped like a coffin had been set down on the floor by
the ex-cook and his slave. Lonsdale was wrenching off the top.

"I had a choice between a mummy and a what d'ye call it, and I chose the
what d'ye call it," said Lonsdale.

He had torn the last piece of the cover away, and lying in straw was
revealed the complete armor of a Samurai.

"Rum-looking beggar. Worth twenty of those rotten statues of
Wedderburn's. It was a present to the governor from somebody in the
East, but as I promised not to go to dances in it, he lent it to me.
Rather sporting of him, what? Where shall we put him?"

"I vote we hide it till this evening," suggested Michael, "and then put
it in Wedder's bed. He'll think he's in the wrong room."

"Ripping!" cried Lonsdale. "In pyjamas, what?"

That Japanese warrior never occupied the æsthetic niche that Lord
Cleveden from his son's proposal may have thought he would occupy.
Otherwise he played an important part in the life of Two Hundred and
Two. Never did any visitor come to stay for the week-end, but Sammy, as
he was soon called, was set to warm his bed. To Lonsdale, returning home
mildly drunk from Trinity Clareter or Phoenix Wine, he was always ready
to serve as a courteous listener of his rambling account of an evening's
adventures. He was borrowed by other digs to annoy the landladies: he
went for drives in motor cars to puzzle country inns. Lonsdale tried to
make him into a college mascot, and he drove in state to the St. Mary's
grind on the box seat of the coach. He was put down on the pavement
outside the lodge with a plate for pennies and a label "Blind" round his
neck. But Sammy's end was a sad one. He had been sent to call on the
Warden, and was last seen leaning in a despondent attitude against the
Warden's gothic door. Whether the butler broke him up when Sammy fell
forward onto his toes, or whether he was imprisoned eternally in a coal
cellar, no one knew. Lord Cleveden was informed he had been stolen.

If Michael had tried hard to find two people in whose company it would
be more difficult to work than with any other pair in the university, he
could scarcely have chosen better than Lonsdale and Grainger. Neither of
them was reading an Honor School, and the groups called H2 or C3 or X26,
that with each term's climax they were compelled to pass in order to
acquire the degree of bachelor of arts, produced about a week before
their ordeal a state of irritable industry, but otherwise were unheeded.
Michael was not sorry to let his own reading beyond the irreducible
minimum slide during this gay third year. He promised himself a fourth
year, when he would withdraw from this side of Oxford life and in some
cloistered digs work really hard. Meanwhile, he enjoyed 202 High as the
quintessence of youth's amenity.

Some of the most enduring impressions of Oxford were made now, though
they were not perhaps impressions that marked any development in himself
by intellectual achievements or spiritual crises. In fact, at the time
the impressions seemed fleeting enough; and it was only when the third
year was over, when Two Hundred and Two was dismantled of every vestige
of this transient occupation that Michael in summoning these impressions
from the past recaptured, often from merely pictorial recollections, as
much of Oxford as was necessary to tell him how much Oxford had meant.

There were misty twilights in November when Lonsdale came back spattered
with mud after a day with the Bicester or the V.W.H. At such an hour
Michael, who had probably been sitting alone by the roaring fire, was
always ready to fling away his book, and, while Lonsdale grunted and
labored to pull off his riding-boots to hear the tale of a great run
across a great piece of country.

There was the autumn afternoon when Grainger stroked St. Mary's to
victory in the Coxwainless Fours. Another oar was hung in Two Hundred
and Two, and a bonfire was made in Cuther's quad to celebrate the
occasion. Afterward Grainger himself triumphantly drunk between Michael
and Lonsdale was slowly persuaded along the High and put to bed, while
Wedderburn prescribed in his deepest voice a dozen remedies.

There were jovial dinner parties when rowing men from Univ and New
College sat gigantically round the table and ate gigantically and
laughed gigantically, and were taken upstairs to Wedderburn's dim-lit
room to admire his statues of Apollo, his old embroideries and his Dürer
woodcuts. These giants in their baggy blanket trousers, their
brass-buttoned coats and Leander ties nearly as pink as their own
faces, made Wedderburn's white Apollos look almost mincing and the
embroideries rather insipid. There were other dinner parties even more
jovial when the Palace of Delights, otherwise 202 High, entertained the
Hotel de Luxe, otherwise 230 High, the abode of Cuffe, Sterns, and
Sinclair, or the Chamber of Horrors, otherwise 61 Longwall, where
Maurice and Castleton lived. After dinner the guests and the hosts would
march arm in arm down to college and be just in time to make a
tremendous noise in Venner's, after which they would visit some of the
second-year men, and with bridge to wind up the evening would march arm
in arm up the High and home again.

In the Lent term there were windy afternoons with the St. Mary's
beagles, when after a long run Lonsdale and Michael would lose the
college drag and hire a dogcart in which they would come spanking back
to Oxford with the March gale dying in their wake and the dusk gathering
fast. In the same term there was a hockey cup-match, when St. Mary's was
drawn to play an unfamiliar college on the enemy's ground. 202 High
wondered how on earth such an out-of-the-way ground could possibly be
reached, and the end of it was that a coach was ordered in which a dozen
people drove the mile or so to the field of play, with Lonsdale blowing
the horn all the way down High Street and Cornmarket Street and the
Woodstock Road.

Michael during the year at Two Hundred and Two scarcely saw anybody who
was not in the heart of the main athletic vortex of the university. In
one way, his third year was a retrogression, for he was nearer to the
life of his first year than to his second. The Oxford Looking-Glass had
created for him a society representing various interests. This was now
broken up, partly by the death of the paper, partly by the more highly
intensified existence of the founders. Maurice certainly remained the
same and was already talking of starting another paper. But Wedderburn
was beginning to think of a degree and was looking forward to entering
his father's office and becoming in another year a prosperous partner in
a prosperous firm. Guy Hazlewood had gone down and was away in
Macedonia, trying to fulfill a Balliol precept to mix yourself up in the
affairs of other nations or your own as much as possible. Townsend and
Mowbray thought now of nothing but of being elected President of the
Union, and as Michael was not a member and hated politics he scarcely
saw them. Nigel Stewart had gone to Ely Theological College. The Oxford
Looking-Glass was shattered into many pieces. Alan, however, Michael saw
more often than last year, because Alan was very popular at Two Hundred
and Two.

Michael more and more began to assume the opinions and the attitude of
his companions. He began more and more rigidly to apply their somewhat
naïve standards in his judgment of the world. He was as intolerant and
contemptuous as his friends of any breach of what he almost stated to
himself as the public-school tradition. Oxford was divided into Bad Men
and Good Eggs. The Bad Men went up to London and womanized--some even of
the worst womanized in Oxford: they dressed in a style that either by
its dowdiness or its smartness stamped them: they wore college colors
round their straw hats and for their ties: they were quiet,
surreptitious, diligent, or blatantly rowdy in small sections, and at
least half the colleges in the Varsity contained nothing but Bad Men.
The Good Eggs went up to London and got drunk; and if they womanized no
one must know anything about it. Drink was the only vice that should be
enjoyed communely; in fact, if it were enjoyed secretly, it transformed
the victim into the very worst of Bad Men. The Good Eggs never made a
mistake in dress: they only wore old school colors or Varsity club
colors: they were bonhomous, hearty, careless, and rowdy in large
groups. Only the men from about eight colleges were presumed to be Good
Eggs: the rest of the Varsity had to demonstrate its goodness.

Michael sometimes had misgivings about this narrowly selected paucity of
Good Eggs. He never doubted that those chosen were deservedly chosen,
but he did sometimes speculate whether in the masses of the Bad Men
there might not be a few Good Eggs unrecognized as Eggs, unhonored for
their Goodness. Yet whenever he made an excursion into the midst of the
Bad Men, he was always bound to admit the refreshment of his very firm
prejudice in favor of the Good Eggs. What was so astonishing about Good
Eggery was the members' obvious equipment for citizenship of the world
as opposed to the provincialism of Bad Mannery. Unquestionably it was
possible to meet the most intelligent, the most widely read Bad Men; but
intellect and culture were swamped by their barbarous self-proclamation.
They suffered from an even bitterer snobbishness than the Good Eggs. In
the latter case, the snobbishness was largely an inherited pride: with
the Bad Men it was obviously an acquired vanity. Where, however, Michael
found himself at odds with Good Eggery was in the admission to titular
respect of the Christ Church blood. This growing toleration was being
conspicuously exemplified in the attitude of St. Mary's, that most
securely woven and most intimate nest of Good Eggery.

When Michael had first come up there had been an inclination at his
college to regard with as much contemptuous indifference an election to
the Bullingdon as an election to the Union. It was tacitly understood at
St. Mary's that nothing was necessary to enhance the glory of being a
St. Mary's man. Gradually, however, the preponderance of Etonian
influence outweighed the conventional self-sufficiency of the
Wykehamists, and several men in Michael's year joined the Bullingdon,
one of the earliest of these destroyers of tradition being Lonsdale. The
result of this action was very definitely a disproportion in the
individual expenditure of members of the college. St. Mary's had always
been a college for relatively rich men, but in accordance with the
spirit of the college to form itself into an aristocratic republic, it
had for long been considered bad form to spend more than was enough to
sustain each member of this republic on an equality with his fellows.

Now Lonsdale was so obviously a Good Egg that it did not matter when he
played with equal zest roulette and polo or hunted three times a week or
wore clothes of the last extreme of fashion. But Michael and Grainger
were not sure they cared very much for all of Lonsdale's friends from
the House. Certainly they were Etonians and members of the Bullingdon,
but so many of their names were curiously familiar from the hoardings of
advertisements that neither Michael nor Grainger could altogether
believe in their assumption of the privilege of exclusion on the ground
of inherited names.

"I think these Bullingdon bloods are rather rotters," protested Michael,
after an irritating evening of vacuous wealth.

"I _must_ ask them in sometimes," apologized Lonsdale.

"Why?" rumbled Wedderburn, and on his note of interrogation the
Bullingdon bloods were impaled to swing unannaled.

"I don't think all this sort of thing is very good for the college,"
debated Grainger. "It's all very well for you, Lonny, but some of the
second-year men behave rather stupidly. Personally I hate roulette at
St. Mary's. As for some of the would-be fresher bloods, they're like a
lot of damned cavalry subalterns."

"You can't expect the college to be handed over entirely to the rowing
push," said Lonsdale.

"That's better than turning Venner's into Tattersall's," said
Wedderburn.

The effect of enlarging the inclusiveness of Good Eggery was certainly
to breed a suspicion that it was largely a matter of externals; and
therefore among the St. Mary's men who disliked the application of money
as a social standard an inclination grew up to suppose that Good Eggery
might be enlarged on the other side. The feeling of the college, that
elusive and indefinable aroma of opinion, declared itself unmistakably
in this direction, and many Bad Men became Good Eggs.

"We're all growing older," said Michael to Wedderburn in explanation of
the subtle change manifesting itself. "And I suppose a little wiser.
Castleton will be elected President of the J.C.R. at the end of this
year. Not Tommy Grainger, although he'll be President of the O.U.B.C.,
not Sterne, although he'll be in the Varsity Eleven. Castleton will be
elected because he never has believed and he never will believe in mere
externals."

Nevertheless for all of his third year, with whatever fleeting doubts he
had about the progress of St. Mary's along the lines laid down by the
Good Eggery of earlier generations, Michael remained a very devoted
adherent of the principle. He was able to perceive something more than
mere externals in the Best Eggery. This was not merely created by money
or correct habiliment or athletic virtuosity. This existed inherently in
a large number of contemporary undergraduates. Through this they
achieved the right to call themselves the Best. It was less an assertion
of snobbishness than of faith. Good Eggery had really become a religion.
It was not inconsistent with Christianity: indeed, it probably derived
itself from Christianity through many mailclad and muscular
intercedents. Yet it shrank from anything definitely spiritual as it
would have shrunk from the Salvation Army. Men who intended to be
parsons were of course exceptions, but parsons were regarded as a facet
of the existing social order rather than as trustees for the heirs of
universal truth. Social service was encouraged by fashion, so long as it
meant no more than the supporting of the College Mission in the slums of
Bristol by occasional week-ends. Members of the college would play
billiards in the club for dockhands under or over seventeen, would
subscribe a guinea a year, and as a great concession would attend the
annual report in the J.C.R. There must, however, be no more extravagance
in religion and social service than there should be in dress. The
priestly caste of Good Eggery was represented not by the parsons, but by
the schoolmasters and certain dons. The schoolmasters were the most
powerful, and tried to sustain the legend common to all priestly castes
that they themselves made the religion rather than that they were mere
servants of an idea. Mature Good Eggs affected to laugh at the
schoolmasters whose leading-strings they had severed, but an instinctive
fear endured, so that in time to come Good Egglets would be handed over
for the craft to mold as they had molded their fathers. It could
scarcely be denied that schoolmasters like priests were disinclined to
face facts: it was indubitable that they lived an essentially artificial
life: it was certain that they fostered a clod-headed bigotry, that they
were tempted to regard themselves as philanthropists, that they feared
dreadfully the intrusion of secular influence. It could scarcely be
denied that the Schoolmasterdom of England was a priestcraft as powerful
and arrogant as any which had ever been. But they were gentlemen, that
is to say they shaved oftener than Neapolitan priests; they took a cold
bath in the morning, which probably Calvin's ministers never did; they
were far more politely restrained than the Bacchantes and not less
chaste than the Vestal Virgins. These clean and honest, if generally
rather stupid gentlemen, were the wielders of that afflatus, the
public-school spirit, and so far as Michael could see at present, Good
Eggs were more safe morally with that inspiration than they might have
been with any other. And if a touch of mysticism were needed, it might
be supplied by Freemasonry at the Apollo Lodge; while the Boy Scouts
were beginning to show how admirably this public-school spirit could
blow through the most unpromising material of the middle classes.

Michael so much enjoyed the consciousness of merit which is the supreme
inducement offered by all successful religions, and more than any by
Good Eggery, that he made up his mind quite finally that Good Eggery
would carry him through his existence, however much it were complicated
by the problem of Bad Mannery. During that year at Two Hundred and Two
he grew more and more deeply convinced that to challenge any moral
postulate of Good Eggery was merely contumacious self-esteem. One of the
great principles of Good Eggery was that the Good Egg must only esteem
himself as a valuable unit in Good Eggery. His self-esteem was entitled
to rise in proportion with the distance he could run or kick or throw or
hit.

Analyzed sharply, Michael admitted that Good Eggery rested on very frail
foundations, and it was really surprising with what enthusiasm it
managed to sustain the Good Eggs themselves, so that apparently without
either spiritual exaltation or despair, without disinterested politics
or patriotism, without any deep humanity even, the Good Eggs were still
so very obviously good. Certainly the suicide of Prescott made Michael
wonder how much that rather ignominious surrender by such a Good Egg
might have been avoided with something profounder than Good Eggery at
the back of life's experience. But suicide was an accident, Michael
decided, and could not be used in the arguments against the fundamental
soundness of Good Eggery as the finest social nourishment in these days
of a bourgeoning century.

Meanwhile, at St. Mary's the Good Eggs flourished, and time went by with
unexampled swiftness. In the last days of the Lent term, after St.
Mary's had been defeated by Christ Church in the final of the
Association Cup, Michael, Grainger and Lonsdale determined to drown woe
by a triple Twenty-firster. Every contemporary Good Egg in St. Mary's
and several from other colleges were invited. Forty Good Eggs, groomed
and polished and starched, sat down at the Clarendon to celebrate this
triple majority. Upon that banquet age did not lay one hesitant touch.
The attainment of discretion was celebrated in what might almost have
been hailed as a debauch of youthfulness. Forty Good Eggs drank
forty-eight bottles of Perrier Jouet '93. They drank indeed the last
four dozen gages of that superb summer stored in the J.C.R., the last
four dozen lachrymatories of the 1893 sun, nor could it be said that
vintage of Champagne had funeral games unworthy of its foam and fire.
Forty Good Eggs went swinging out of the Clarendon about half-past nine
o'clock, making almost more noise than even the Corn had ever heard.
Forty Good Eggs went swinging along toward Carfax, swinging and singing,
temporarily deified by the last four dozen of Perrier Jouet '93. Riotous
feats were performed all down the High. Two trams were unhorsed. Hansoms
were raced. Bells were rung. Forty Good Eggs, gloriously, ravishingly
drunk, surged into the lodge. There was just time to see old Venner. In
the quiet office was pandemonium. Good Eggs were dancing hornpipes; Good
Eggs were steadying themselves with cognac; Good Eggs were gently
herded out of the little office as ten o'clock chimed. "Bonner! Bonner!"
the forty Good Eggs shouted, and off they went not to St. Cuthbert's,
but actually to the great lawn in front of New Quad. Third-year men when
they did come into college roaring drunk took no half-measures of
celebration. Excited freshmen and second-year men came swarming out of
Cloisters, out of Parsons' Quad, out of Cuther's to support these wild
seniors. What a bonfire it was! Thirty-one chairs, three tables, two
doors, twelve lavatory seats, every bundle of faggots in college and
George Appleby's bed. Somebody had brought Roman candles. O exquisite
blue and emerald stars! Somebody else had brought Chinese crackers as
big as red chimneys. O sublime din! Lonsdale was on the roof of
Cloisters trying to kill a gargoyle with hurtling syphons. Michael was
tossing up all by himself to decide whether he should tell the Senior
Tutor or the Warden what he really thought of him. A fat welterweight, a
straggler from New College, had been shorn of his coat-tails, and was
plunging about like an overgrown Eton boy. With crimson faces and
ruffled hair and scorched shirt-fronts the guests of the Twenty-firster
acclaimed to-night as the finest tribute ever paid to years of
discretion.

Next morning the three hosts paid ten guineas each to the Dean.

"I thought you people were supposed to have come of age," he said
sardonically.

So incomparably slight was the hang-over from Perrier Jouet '93 that
Grainger, Lonsdale, and Michael smiled very cheerfully, produced their
check books, and would, if Mr. Ambrose had not been so discouraging,
have been really chatty.

After Collections of Lent term, that opportunity accepted by the college
authorities to be offensive in bulk, Michael felt his historical
studies were scarcely betraying such an impulse toward research as might
have been expected of him at this stage. Mr. Harbottle, the History
tutor, an abrupt and pleasant man with the appearance of a cat and the
manners of a dog, yapped vituperations from where he sat with all the
other dons in judgment along the High Table in Hall.

The Warden turned on his orbit and shone full-faced upon Michael.

"A little more work, Mr. Fane, will encourage us all. Your Collection
papers have evidently planted a doubt in Mr. Harbottle's mind."

"He never does a stroke of honest work, Warden," yapped the History
tutor. "If he stays up ten years he'll never get a Fourth."

"In spite of Mr. Harbottle's discouraging prophecy, we must continue to
hope, Mr. Fane, that you will obtain at least a Second next term."

"Next term!" Michael gasped. "But I was expecting to take Schools next
year."

"I'm afraid," said the Warden, "that according to Mr. Ambrose the fabric
of the college will scarcely survive another year of your residence. I
believe I echo your views, Mr. Ambrose?"

The Dean blinked his gray eye and finally said that possibly Mr. Fane
would change next term, adding that a more immediately serious matter
was a deficit of no less than seven chapels. Michael pointed out that he
designed in his fourth year to go as it were into industrious solitude
far away from St. Mary's.

"Are you suggesting Iffley?" inquired the Warden.

"Oh, no, not so far as that; but right away," said Michael. "Somewhere
near Keble. Miles away."

"But we have to consider next term," the Warden urged. "Next term, I
take it, you will still be occupied with the fashionable distractions of
High Street?"

"I'll make an offer," barked Mr. Harbottle. "If he likes to do another
Collection paper at the beginning of next term, and does it
satisfactorily, I will withdraw my opposition, and as far as I'm
concerned he can take his Schools next year."

"What luck?" asked everybody in the lodge when Michael had emerged from
the ordeal.

"I had rather a hot time," said Michael. "Still Harbottle behaved like a
gentleman on the whole."

Maurice arrived in the lodge soon after Michael, and conveyed the
impression that he had left the tutorial forces of the college reeling
under the effect of his witty cannonade. Then Michael went off to
interview the Dean in order to adjust the difficulty which had been
created by the arrears of his early rising. With much generosity he
admitted the whole seven abstentions, and was willing not merely to stay
up a week to correct the deficit, but suggested that he should spend all
the Easter vacation working in Oxford.

So it fell out that Michael managed to secure his fourth year, and in
the tranquillity of that Easter vacation it seemed to him that he began
to love Oxford for the first time with a truly intense passion and that
a little learning was the least tribute he could offer in esteem. It was
strange how suddenly history became charged with magic. Perhaps the
Academic Muse sometimes offered this inspiration, if one spent hours
alone with her. Michael was sad when the summer term arrived in its
course. So many Good Eggs would be going down for ever after this term,
and upon Two Hundred and Two High brooded the shadow of dissolution.
Alan again hovered on the edge of the Varsity Eleven, but a freshman who
bowled rather better the same sort of ball came up, and it seemed
improbable he would get his Blue. However, the disappointment was
evidently not so hard for Alan to bear nowadays. He was indeed becoming
gravely interested in philosophy, and Michael was forced to admit that
he seemed to be acquiring most unexpectedly a real intellectual grasp of
life. So much the better for their companionship next year in those
rooms in St. Giles' which Michael had already chosen.

The summer term was going by fast. It was becoming an experience almost
too fugitive to be borne, this last summer term at Two Hundred and Two.
Michael, Grainger, and Lonsdale had scarcely known how to endure some
offensive second-year men from Oriel being shown their room for next
year. They resented the thought of these Oriel men leaning out of the
window and throwing cushions at their friends and turning to the left to
keep a chapel at Oriel, instead of scudding down to St. Mary's on the
right. Wedderburn was always the one who voiced sentimentally the
unexpressed regrets of the other three. He it was who spoke of the grime
and labor of the paternal office, of Life with a capital letter as large
as any lady novelist's, and of how one would remember these evenings and
the leaning-out over a cushioned window-sill and the poring upon this
majestic street.

"We don't realize our good luck until it's too late really," said
Wedderburn seriously. "We've wasted our time, and now we've got to go."

"Well, dash it all, Wedders," said Lonsdale, "don't talk as if we were
going to bolt for a train before hall. We aren't going down for three
weeks yet, and jolly old Michael and jolly old Tommy aren't going down
for another year."

"Lucky devils!" sighed Wedderburn. "By gad, if I only had my time at the
Varsity all over again."

But just when Wedderburn had by his solemnity almost managed really to
impress the company with a sense of fleeting time, and when even upon
Lonsdale was descending the melancholy of the deep-dyed afternoon,
across the road they could see sauntering three men whom they all knew
well.

"Tally-ho-ho-ho-whooop!" shouted Lonsdale.

The three men saluted thus came upstairs to the big room of Two Hundred
and Two, and a bout of amiable ragging and rotting passed away the hour
before dinner and restored to the big room itself the wonted air of
imperishable good-fellowship.

"Lucky you lads turned up," said Lonsdale. "Old Wedders has been moping
in his window-seat like a half-plucked pigeon. We're dining in hall
to-night, are you?"

The newcomers were dining in hall, and so in a wide line of brilliant
ties and ribbons the seven of them strolled down to college.

There were very few people in hall that night, and Venner's was
pleasantly empty. Venner himself was full of anecdotes, and as they sat
on the table in the middle of the room, drinking their coffee, it seemed
impossible enough to imagine that they would not be forever here
drinking their coffee on a fine June evening.

"Going down soon, Venner," said Wedderburn, who was determined to make
somebody sad.

"What a pity you're not taking a fourth year!" said Venner. "You ought
to have read an Honor School. I always advise the men to read for
honors. The dons like it, you know."

"Got to go and earn my living, Venner," said Wedderburn.

"That's right," said Venner cheerfully. "Then you'll be married all the
sooner, or perhaps you're not a marrying man."

"Haven't found the right girl yet, Venner," said Wedderburn.

"Oh, there's plenty of time," chuckled Venner. "You don't want to be
thinking about girls up here. Some of our men go getting engaged before
they've gone down, and it always messes them up in the Schools."

Maurice Avery came in while Venner was speaking. He seemed restless and
worried, and as Venner went on his restlessness increased.

"But very few of our men have got into trouble here with girls. We had
one man once who married a widow. He was dreadfully chaffed about it,
and couldn't stand it any longer. The men never let him alone."

"Married a widow, while he was still up?" people asked incredulously.

"Why, yes," said Venner. "And actually brought her down for Eights and
introduced her to the Warden on the barge. She was a most severe-looking
woman, and old enough to be his mother. There was some trouble once at
202 High--that's where you are, isn't it?" He turned to Lonsdale. "But
there won't be any more trouble because Macpherson vowed he wouldn't
have a servant-girl in the house again."

"I suppose that's why we have that perspiring boy," grumbled Wedderburn.
"But what happened, Venner?"

"Well, the usual thing, of course. There were five of our men living
there that year, and she picked out the quietest one of the lot and said
it was him. He had to pay fifty pounds, and when he'd paid it all, the
other four came up to him one by one and offered to pay half."

Everybody laughed, and Maurice suddenly announced that he was in a devil
of a fix with a girl.

"A girl at a village near here," he explained. "There's no question of
her having a baby or anything like that, you know; but her brother
followed me home one night, and yesterday her father turned up. I got
Castleton to talk to him. But it was damned awkward. He and old
Castleton were arguing like hell in our digs."

Maurice stopped and, lighting a cigarette, looked round him as if
expectant of the laughter which had hailed Venner's story. Nobody seemed
to have any comment to make, and Michael felt himself blushing violently
for his friend.

"Bit chilly in here to-night, Venner," said Lonsdale.

"You are a confounded lot of prigs!" said Maurice angrily, and he walked
out of Venner's just as Castleton came in.

"My dear old Frank Castleton," said Lonsdale immediately, "I love you
very much and I think your hair is beautifully brushed, but you really
must talk to our Mr. Avery very, very seriously. He mustn't be allowed
to make such a bee-luddy fool of himself by talking like a third-rate
actor."

"What do you mean?" asked Castleton gruffly.

Lonsdale explained what Maurice had done, and Castleton looked
surprised, but he would not take part in the condemnation.

"You're all friends of his in here," he pointed out. "He probably
thought it was a funny story." There was just so much emphasis on the
pronoun as made the critics realize that Castleton himself was really
more annoyed than he had superficially appeared.

An awkwardness had arisen through the inculpation of Maurice, and
everybody found they had work to do that evening. Quickly Venner's was
emptied.

Michael, turning out of Cloisters to stroll for a while on the lawns of
New Quad before he gave himself to the generalizations of whatever
historian he had chosen to beguile this summer night, came up to
Maurice leaning over the parapet by the Cher.

"Hullo, are you going to condescend to speak to me after the brick I
dropped in Venner's?" asked Maurice bitterly.

"I wish you wouldn't be so theatrically sarcastic," complained Michael,
who was half-unconsciously pursuing the simile which lately Lonsdale had
found for Maurice's behavior.

"Well, why on earth," Maurice broke out, "it should be funny when Venner
tells a story about some old St. Mary's man and yet be"--he paused,
evidently too vain, thought Michael a little cruelly, to stigmatize
himself--"and yet be considered contrary to what is _done_ when I tell a
story about myself, I don't quite know, I must admit."

"It was the introduction of the personal element which made everybody
feel uncomfortable," said Michael. "Venner's tale had acquired the
impersonality of a legend."

"Oh, god, Michael, you do talk rot sometimes!" said Maurice fretfully.
"It's nothing on earth but offensive and very youthful priggishness."

"I wonder if I sounded like you," said Michael, "when I talked rather
like you at about seventeen."

Maurice spluttered with rage at this, and Michael saw it would be
useless to remonstrate with him reasonably. He blamed himself for being
so intolerant and for not having with kindlier tact tried to point out
why he had made a mistake; and yet with all his self-reproach he could
not rid himself of what was something very near to active dislike of
Maurice at that moment.

But Maurice went on, unperceiving.

"I hate this silly pretense up here--and particularly at St.
Mary's--that nobody ever looks at a woman. It's nothing but infernal
hypocrisy. Upon my soul, I'm glad I'm going down this term. I really
couldn't have stood another year, playing with the fringe of existence.
It seems to me, Michael, if you're sincere in this attitude of yours,
you'll have a very dismal waking up from your dream. As for all the
others, I don't count them. I'm sick of this schoolboy cant. Castleton's
worth everybody else in this college put together. He was wonderful with
that hulking fellow who came banging at the door of our digs. I wonder
what you'd have done, if you'd been digging with me."

"Probably just what Castleton did," said Michael coldly. "You evidently
weren't at home. Now I must go and work. So long."

He left Maurice abruptly, angry with him, angry with himself. What could
have induced Maurice to make such a fool of himself in Venner's? Why
hadn't he been able to perceive the difference of his confession from
Venner's legendary narration which, unfettered by the reality of present
emotions, had been taken under the protection of the comic spirit? The
scene in retrospect appeared improbable, just as improbable in one way,
just as shockingly improbable as the arrival of an angry rustic father
at some Varsity digs in Longwall. And why had he made the recollection
worse for himself by letting Maurice enlarge upon his indignation? It
had been bad enough before, but that petulant outbreak had turned an
accidental vulgarity into vulgarity itself most cruelly vocal. Back in
Two Hundred and Two, Michael heard the comments upon Maurice, and as
Grainger and Lonsdale delivered their judgment, he felt they had all
this time tolerated the offender merely for a certain capacity he
possessed for entertainment. They spoke of him now, as one might speak
of a disgraced servant.

"Oh, let Maurice drop," said Michael wearily. "It was one of those
miserable aberrations from tact which can happen to anybody. I've done
the same sort of thing myself. It's an involuntary spasm of
bad-manners, like sneezing over a crowded railway-carriage."

"Well, I suppose one must make allowances," said Grainger. "These
artistic devils are always liable to breaks."

"That's right," said Michael. "Hoist the Union Jack. It's an
extraordinary thing, the calm way in which an Englishman is always ready
to make art responsible for everything."

Next day Maurice overtook Michael on the way to a lecture.

"I say," he began impetuously, "I made an awful fool of myself yesterday
evening. What shall I do?"

"Nothing," said Michael.

"I was really horribly worried, you know, and I think I rather jumped at
the opportunity to get the beastly business off my chest, as a sort of
joke."

"Come and dine at the Palace of Delights this evening," Michael invited.
"And tell Frank Castleton to come."

"We can't afford to be critical during the last fortnight of jolly old
Two Hundred and Two," said Michael to Lonsdale and Grainger, when they
received rather gloomily at first the news of the invitation.

Maurice in the course of the evening managed to reinstate himself. He so
very divertingly drew old Wedders on the subject of going down.

The last week of the summer term arrived, and really it was very
depressing that so many Good Eggs were irrevocably going to be lost to
the St. Mary's J.C.R.

"I think my terminal dinner this term will have to be the same as my
first one," said Michael. "Only twice as large."

So they all came, Cuffe and Sterne and Sinclair and a dozen more. And
just because so many of the guests were going down, not a word was said
about it. The old amiable ragging and rotting went on as if the college
jokes of to-night would serve for another lustrum yet, as if Two Hundred
and Two would merely be empty of these familiar faces for the short
space of a vacation. Not a pipe was gone from its rack; not a picture
was as yet deposed; not a hint was given of change, either by the
material objects of the big room or by the merry and intimate community
that now thronged it. Then the college tenor was called upon for a song,
and perhaps without any intention of melancholy he sang O Moon of My
Delight. Scarcely was it possible even for these Good Eggs, so rigidly
conscious of each other's rigidity, not to think sentimentally for a
moment how well the turning down of that empty glass applied to them.
The new mood that descended upon the company expressed itself in
reminiscence; and then, as if the sadness must for decency's sake be
driven out, the college jester was called upon for the comic song whose
hebdomadal recurrence through nine terms had always provoked the same
delirious encore. Everything was going on as usual, and at a few minutes
to midnight Auld Lang Syne ought not to have been difficult. It had been
sung nearly as often as the comic song, but it was shouted more
fervently somehow, less in tune somehow, and the silence at its close
was very acute. Twelve o'clock was sounding; the guests went hurrying
out; and, leaning from the windows of Two Hundred and Two, Grainger,
Lonsdale, Wedderburn, and Michael heard their footsteps clattering down
the High.

"I suppose we'd better begin sorting out our things to-morrow," said
Michael.



CHAPTER XIII

PLASHERS MEAD


Stella came back from Vienna for a month in the summer. Indeed she was
already arrived, when Michael reached Cheyne Walk. He was rather anxious
to insist directly to her that her disinclination to marry Prescott had
nothing to do with his death. Michael did not feel it would be good for
Stella at nineteen to believe to that extent in her power. One or two of
her letters had betrayed an amount of self-interest that Michael
considered unhealthy. With this idea in view, he was surprised when she
made no allusion to the subject, and resented a little that he must be
the one to lead up to it.

"Oh, don't let's talk of what happened nearly a year ago," protested
Stella.

"You were very much excited by it at the time," Michael pointed out.

"Ah, but lots of things have happened since then."

"What sort of things?"

He disapproved of the suggestion that the suicide of a lifelong friend
was a drop in the ocean of incident that swayed round Stella.

"Oh, loves and deaths and jealousies and ambitions," said she lightly.
"Things do happen in Vienna. It's much more eventful than Paris. I don't
know what made me come back to London. I'm missing so much fun."

This implication that he and his mother were dull company for her was
really rather irritating.

"You'd better go and look up some of your Bohemian friends," he advised
severely. "They're probably all hanging about Chelsea still. It's not
likely that any of them is farther on with his art than he was two years
ago. Who was that bounder you were so fond of, and that girl who
painted? Clarissa Vine, wasn't she called? What about her?"

"Poor old George," said Stella. "I really must try and get hold of him.
I haven't seen Clarie for some time. She made a fool of herself over
some man."

The result of Michael's sarcastic challenge was actually a tea-party in
the big studio at 173 Cheyne Walk, which Stella herself described as
being like turning out a lumber-room of untidy emotions.

"They're as queer as old-fashioned clothes," she said. "But rather
touching, don't you think, Michael? Though after all," she added
pensively, "I haven't gone marching at a very great pace along that
triumphant career of mine. I don't know that I've much reason to laugh
at them. Really in one way poor Clarie is in a better position than me.
At least she can afford to keep the man she's living with. As for George
Ayliffe, since he gave up trying to paint the girls he was in love with,
he has become 'one of our most promising realists.'"

"He looks it," said Michael sourly.

What had happened to Stella during this last year? She had lost nearly
all her old air of detachment. Formerly a radiance of gloriously
unpassionate energy had shielded her from any close contact with the
vulgar or hectic or merely ordinary life round her. Michael had doubted
once or twice the wisdom of smoking cigars and had feared that artistic
license of speech and action might be carried too far, but, looking
back on his earlier opinion of Stella, he realized he had only been
doubtful on his own account. He had never really thought she ran the
least danger of doing anything more serious in its consequence than
would have been enough to involve him or his mother in a brief
embarrassment. Now, though he was at a loss to explain how he was aware
of the change, she had become vulnerable. With this new aspect of her
suddenly presented, he began to watch Stella with a trace of anxiety. He
was worried that she seemed so restless, so steadily bored in London. He
mistrusted the brightening of her eyes, when she spoke of soon going
back to Vienna. Then came a week when Stella was much occupied with
speculations about the Austrian post, and another week when she was
perturbed by what she seemed anxious to suppose its vagaries. A hint
from Michael that there was something more attractive in Vienna than a
new technique of the piano made her very angry; and since she had always
taken him into her confidence before, he tried to persuade himself that
his suspicion was absurd and to feel tremendously at ease when Stella
packed up in a hurry and went back with scarcely two days' warning of
her departure to Vienna.

It was a sign of the new intimacy of relation between himself and his
mother that Michael was able to approach naturally the subject of
Stella's inquietude.

"My dear boy, I'm just as much worried as you are," Mrs. Fane assured
him. "I suppose I ought to have been much more unpleasant than I can
ever bear to make myself. No doubt I ought to have forbidden her quite
definitely to go back--or perhaps I should have insisted on going back
with her. Though I don't know what I would have done in Vienna. They
make pastry there, don't they? I daresay there are very good tea-shops."

"I think it would have been better," said Michael firmly. Mrs. Fane
turned to him with a shrug of helplessness.

"My dear boy, you know how very unpleasant Stella can be when she is
crossed. Really very unpleasant indeed. Girls are so much more difficult
to manage than boys. And they begin by being so easy. But after eighteen
every month brings a new problem. Their clothes, you know. And of course
their behavior."

"It's quite obvious what's the matter," said Michael. "Funny thing. I've
never concerned myself very much with Stella's love-affairs before, but
this time she seemed less capable of looking after herself."

"Would you like to go out to Vienna?" she suggested.

"Oh, no, really, I must go away and work. Besides I shouldn't do any
good. Nor would you," Michael added abruptly.

"I wish Dick Prescott were alive," his mother sighed. "Really, you know,
Michael, I was shocked at Stella's callousness over that business."

"Well, my dear mother, be fair. It wasn't anything to do with Stella,
and she has no conventional affections. That's one comfort--you do know
where you are with her. Now, let's leave Stella alone and talk about
your plans. You're sure you don't mind my burying myself in the country?
I must work. I'm going down into Oxfordshire with Guy Hazlewood."

Michael had met Guy the other evening in the lobby of a theater. He had
come back from Macedonia with the intention of settling somewhere in the
country. He was going to devote himself to poetry, although he exacted
Michael's pledge not to say a word of this plan for fear that people
would accuse him of an affected withdrawal. He was sensitive to the
strenuous creed of his old college, to that atmosphere of faint contempt
which surrounded a man who was not on the way toward administering
mankind or acres. He had not yet chosen his retreat. That would be
revealed in a flash, if his prayer were to be granted. Meanwhile why
should not Michael accompany him to some Cotswold village? They would
ride out from Oxford on bicycles and when they had found the ideal inn,
they would stay there through August and September, prospecting the
country round. Michael was flattered by Guy's desire for his
companionship. Of all the men he had known, he used to admire Guy the
most. Two months with him would be a pleasure he would not care to
forego, and it was easy enough to convince himself that he would be
powerless to influence Stella in any direction and that anyway, whether
he could or could not, it would be more serviceable for her character to
win or lose her own battles.

Michael and Guy left Oxford in the mellow time of an afternoon in
earliest August and rode lazily along the Cheltenham road. At nightfall,
just as the stripling moon sank behind a spinney of firs that crowned
the farthest visible dip of that rolling way ahead across the wold, they
turned down into Wychford. The wide street of the town sloped very
rapidly to a valley of intertwining streams whence the air met them
still warm with the stored heat of the day, yet humid and languorous
after the dry upland. On either side, as they dipped luxuriously down
with their brakes gently whirring, mostly they were aware of many white
hollyhocks against the gray houses that were already bloomed with dusk
and often tremulous with the voyaging shadows of candle-light. At the
Stag Inn they found a great vaulted parlor, a delicate roast of lamb, a
salad very fragrant with mint and thyme, cream and gooseberries and ale.

"This is particularly good ale," said Guy.

"Wonderful ale," Michael echoed.

Once again they filled their pewter mugs.

"It seems to me exceptionally rich and tawny," said Guy.

"And it has a very individual tang," said Michael. "Another quart, I
think, don't you?"

"Two, almost," Guy suggested, and Michael agreed at once.

"I vote we stay here," said Guy.

"I'll wire them to send along my books to-morrow," decided Michael.

After supper they went on down the street and came to the low parapet of
a bridge in one of whose triangular bays they stood, leaning over to
count in the stream below the blurred and jigging stars. Behind them in
the darkness was the melodious roar of falling water, and close at hand
the dusty smell of ivy. Farther exploration might have broken the spell
of mystery; so in silence they pored upon the gloom, until the rhythmic
calm and contemplation were destroyed by a belated wagon passing over
the bridge behind them. They went back to the Stag and that night in
four-posters slept soundly.

Next morning Michael and Guy went after breakfast to visit the bridge on
which they had stood in the starlight. It managed curiously to sustain
the romantic associations with which they had endowed it on the night
before. A mighty sycamore, whose roots in their contest with the floods
had long grappled in desperate convolutions with the shelving bank of
the stream below, overshadowed the farther end: here also at right
angles was a line of gabled cottages crumbling into ruin and much
overgrown with creepers. They may have been old almshouses, but there
was no sign of habitation, and they seemed abandoned to chattering
sparrows whose draggled nests were everywhere visible in the ivy. Beyond
on the other side of the bridge the stream gurgled toward a sluice that
was now silent; and beyond this, gray buildings deep embowered in elms
and sycamores surrounded what was evidently a mill pool. They walked on
to where the bridge became a road that in contrast with the massed trees
all round them shone dazzlingly in the sunshine. A high gray wall
bounded the easterly side; on the west the road was bordered by a low
quickset hedge that allowed a view of a wide valley through which the
river, having gathered once more its vagrant streams and brooks, flowed
in prodigal curves of silver as far as the eye could follow. The hills
that rose to right and left of the valley in bald curves were at this
season colorless beside the vivider green of the water-meadows at their
base, which was generally indeterminate on account of plantations whence
at long intervals the smoke of hidden mills and cottages ascended. When
the road had traversed the width of the valley, it trifurcated. One
branch followed westward the gentle undulations of the valley; a second
ran straight up the hill, disappearing over a stark sky-line almost
marine in its hint of space beyond. The main branch climbed the hill
diagonally to the right and conveyed a sense of adventure with a
milestone which said fifty miles to an undecipherable town.

Michael and Guy took this widest road for a while, but they soon paused
by a gate to look back at Wychford. The sun shone high, and the beams
slanting transversely through the smoke of the chimneys in tier upon
tier gave the clustered gray roofs a superficial translucence like that
of an uncut gem. The little town built against the hill nowhere
straggled, and in its fortified economy and simplicity of line it might
have been cut on wood by a mediæval engraver. Higher up along the hill's
ridge went rocketing east and west the windswept highway from Oxford
over the wold to Gloucestershire. They traced its course by the
telegraph-poles whose inclinations had so long been governed by the wind
that the mechanic trunks were as much a natural feature of the landscape
as the trees, themselves not much less lean and sparse. It was a view of
such extension that roads more remote were faint scars on the hills,
and the streams of the valley narrowed ultimately to thin blades of
steel. The traffic of generations might be thought to have converged
upon this town, so much did it produce the effect of waiting upon that
hillside, so little sense did it have of seeming to obtrude its presence
upon the surroundings.

Gradually the glances of Guy and Michael came back from the fading
horizons of this wide country to concentrate first upon the town and
then upon the spire that with glittering weather-vane rose lightly as
smoke from the gray fabric of its church, until finally they must have
rested simultaneously upon a long low house washed by one stream and by
another imprisoned within a small green island.

"It's to let," said Michael.

"I know," said Guy.

The unspoken thought that went sailing off upon the painted board was
only expressed by the eagerness with which they stared at the proffered
house.

"I might be able to take it," said Guy at last.

Michael looked at him in admiration. Such a project conceived in his
company did very definitely mark an altogether new stage and, as it
seemed to him, a somewhat advanced stage in his relationship with the
world.

They discovered the entrance immediately behind the almshouses in the
smell of whose ivy they had lingered on the bridge last night. They
passed through a wooden gateway in a high gray wall and, walking down a
stained gravel path between a number of gnarled fruit trees trimmed as
espaliers to conform with an antique mode of insuring fertility, they
came at last round an overgrown corner close against the house. Seen
from the hillside, it had quickly refined itself to be for them at least
the intention of that great view, of that wide country of etched-in
detail. The just background had been given, the only background that
would have enabled them to esteem all that was offered here in this form
of stone well-ordered, gray, indigenous, the sober crown of the valley.

Guy from the moment he saw it had determined to take this house: his
inquiries about the rent and the drains, his discussion of the terms of
the agreement, of the dampness within, of the size of the garden were
the merest conventions of the house-hunter, empty questions whose
answers really had very slight bearing on the matter in hand. Here he
said to Michael he would retire: here he would live and write poetry:
here life would be escorted to the tread of great verse: here an eremite
of art he would show forth the austerity of his vocation.

Meanwhile, Michael's books arrived, and at Guy's exhortation he worked
in the orchard of Plashers Mead--so the small property of some twenty
acres was called. Guy was busy all day with decorators and carpenters
and masons. The old landlord had immediately surrendered his house to so
enterprising a tenant; an agreement for three years had been signed; and
Guy was going to make all ready in summer that this very autumn with
what furniture he had he might inhabit his own house set among these
singing streams.

Michael found it a little hard to pay the keenest attention to Anson's
or to Dicey's entertainment of his curiosity about the Constitution, too
much did the idea of Guy's emancipation alluringly rustle as it were in
the tree-tops, too much did the thought of Guy's unvexed life draw
Michael away from his books. And even if he could blot out Guy's
prospect, it was impossible not to follow in fancy the goldfinches to
their thistle-fields remote and sunny, the goldfinches with their
flighted song.

Summer passed, and Michael did not find that the amount of information
he had absorbed quite outweighed a powerful impression, that was shaping
in his mind, of having wasted a good deal of time in staring at trees
and the funnels of light between them, in listening to the wind and the
stream, to the reapers and the progress of time.

One evening in mid-September he and Guy went after supper to see how
some newly painted room looked by candlelight. They sat on a couple of
borrowed windsor chairs in the whitewashed room that Guy had chosen for
his own. Two candles stuck on the mantelpiece burned with motionless
spearheads of gold, and showed to their great satisfaction that by
candlelight as well as by day the green shelves freshly painted were
exactly the green they had expected. When they blew out the candles,
they realized, such a plenitude of silver light was left behind, that
the full moon of harvest was shining straight in through the easterly
bow window which overhung the stream.

"By gad, what a glorious night!" sighed Guy, staring out at the orchard.
"We'll take a walk, shall we?"

They went through the orchard where the pears and pippins were lustered
by the sheen and glister of the moon. They walked on over grass that
sobbed in the dewfall beneath their footsteps. They faded from the world
into a web of mist when trees rose suddenly like giants before them and
in the depths of whose white glooms on either side they could hear the
ceaseless munching of bullocks at nocturnal pasturage. Then in a moment
they had left the mist behind them and stood in the heart of the valley,
watching for a while the willows jet black against the moon, and the
gleaming water at their base.

"I wish you were going to be up next term," said Michael. "I really can
hardly bear to think of you here. You are a lucky devil."

"Why don't you come and join me?" Guy suggested,

"I wish I could. Perhaps I will after next year. And yet what should I
do? I've dreamed enough. I must decide what I'm going to _try_ to do,
at any rate. You see, I'm not a poet. Guy, you ought to start a sort of
lay monastery--a house for people to retreat into for the purpose of
meditation upon their careers."

"As a matter of fact, it would be a jolly good thing if some people did
do that."

"I don't know," said Michael. "I should get caught in the web of the
meditation. I should hear the world as just now we heard those bullocks.
Guy, Wychford is a place of dreams. You'll find that. You'll live on and
on at Plashers Mead until everything about you turns into the sort of
radiant unreality we've seen to-night."

The church-clock with raucous whizz and clangor sounded ten strokes.

"And time," Michael went on, "will come to mean no more than a brief
disturbance of sound. Really I'm under the enchantment already. I'm
beginning to wonder if life really does hold a single problem that could
not be dissolved at once by this powerful moonshine."

Next day Michael said he must go back to London to-morrow since he
feared that if he dallied he would never go back. Guy could not dissuade
him from his resolve.

"I don't want to spoil my picture of you in this valley," Michael
explained. "You know, I feel inclined to put Plashers Mead into the
farthest recesses of my heart, so that whatever happens when I go down
next year, it will be so securely hidden that I shall have the mere
thought of it for a refuge."

"And more than the thought of it, you silly ass," Guy drawled.

They drove together to the railway station five miles away. In the
sleepy September heat the slow train puffed in. Hot people with bunches
of dahlias were bobbing to one another in nearly all the compartments.
Michael sighed.

"Don't go," said Guy. "It's much too hot."

Michael shook his head.

"I must."

Just then a porter came up to tell Guy there were three packing-cases
awaiting his disposal in the luggage-office.

"Some of my books," he shouted, as the train was puffing out. Michael
watched from the window Guy and the porter, the only figures among the
wine-dark dahlias of the platform.

"What fun unpacking them," he thought, and leaned back regretfully to
survey the placid country gliding past.

Yet even after that secluded and sublunary town where Guy in retrospect
seemed to be moving as remotely as a knight in an old tale, London, or
rather the London which shows itself in the neighborhood of great
railway termini, impressed Michael with nearly as sharp a romantic
strangeness, so dreadfully immemorial appeared the pale children,
leaning over scabrous walls to salute the passing train. Always, as one
entered London, one beheld these children haunting the backs of houses
whose frontal existence as a mapped-out street was scarcely credible. To
Michael they were goblins that lived only in this gulley of fetid
sunlight through which the trains endlessly clanged. Riding through
London in a hansom a few minutes later, the people of the city became
unreal to him, and only those goblin-children remained in his mind as
the natural inhabitants. He drove on through the quiet streets and
emerged in that space of celestial silver which was called Chelsea; but
the savage roar of the train, as it had swept through those gibbering
legions of children, was still in Michael's ears when the hansom pulled
up before the sedate house in Cheyne Walk.

The parlormaid showed no surprise at his unexpected arrival, and
informed him casually with no more indication of human interest than
would have been given by a clock striking its mechanical message of
time that Miss Stella was in the studio. That he should have been
unaware of his sister's arrival seemed suddenly to Michael a too
intimate revelation of his personality to the parlormaid, and he
actually found himself taking the trouble to deceive this machine by an
affectation of prior knowledge. He was indeed caught up and imprisoned
by the coils of infinitely small complications that are created by the
social stirrings of city life. The pale children seen from the train
sank below the level of ordinary existence, no longer conspicuous in his
memory, no longer even faintly disturbing. As for Plashers Mead and the
webs of the moon, they were become the adventure of a pleasant dream. He
was in fact back in town.

Michael went quickly to the studio and found Stella not playing as he
hoped, but sitting listless. Then he realized how much at the very
moment the parlormaid told him of Stella's return he had feared such a
return was the prelude to disaster. Almost he had it on his lips to ask
abruptly what was the matter. It cost him an effort to greet her with
just that amount of fraternal cordiality which would not dishonor by its
demonstrativeness this studio of theirs. He was so unreasonably glad to
see her back from Vienna that a gesture of weakness on her side would
have made him kiss her.

"Hullo, I didn't expect to see you," was, however, all he said.

"Nor did I you," was what she answered.

Presently she began to give him an elaborate account of the journey from
Austria, and Michael knew that exactly in proportion to its true
insignificance was the care she bestowed upon its dreariness and dust.

Michael began to wish it were not exactly a quarter-of-an-hour before
lunch. Such a period was too essentially consecrated to orderly ideas
and London smoothness for it to admit the intrusion of anything more
disturbing than the sound of a gong. What could have brought Stella back
from Vienna?

"Did you come this morning?" he asked.

"Oh, no. Last night. Why?" she demanded. "Do I look as crumpled as all
that?"

For Stella to imply so directly that something had happened which she
had expected to change materially even her outward appearance was
perhaps a sign he would soon be granted her confidence. He rather wished
she would be quick with it. If he were left too long to form his own
explanations, he would be handicapped at the crucial moment. Useless
indeed he were imagining all this, he thought in supplement, as the
lunch-gong restored by its clamor the atmosphere of measured life where
nothing really happens.

After lunch Stella went up to her room: the effect of the journey, she
turned round to say, still called for sleep. Michael did not see her
again before dinner. She came down then, looking very much older than he
had ever seen her, whether because she was dressed in oyster-gray satin
or was in fact much older, Michael did not know. She grumbled at him for
not putting on a dinner jacket.

"Don't look so horrified at the notion," she cried petulantly. "Can't
you realize that after a year with long-haired students I want a
change?"

After dinner Michael asked her to come and play in the studio.

"Play?" she echoed. "I'm never going to play again."

"What perfect rot you are talking," said Michael, in a damnatory
generalization which was intended to cover not merely all she had been
saying, but even all she had been doing almost since she first announced
her intention of going to Vienna.

Stella burst into tears.

"Come on, let's go to the studio," said Michael. He felt that Stella's
tears were inappropriate to the dining-room. Indeed, only the fact that
she was wearing this evening frock of oyster-gray satin, and was
therefore not altogether the invulnerable and familiar and slightly
boyish Stella imprinted on his mind, prevented him from being shocked to
the point of complete emotional incapacity. It seemed less of an outrage
to fondle however clumsily this forlorn creature in gray satin, even
though he did find himself automatically and grotesquely saying to
himself "Enter Tilburina stark mad in white satin and the Confidante
stark mad in white muslin."

"Come along, come along," he begged her. "You must come to the studio."

Michael went on presenting the studio with such earnestness that he
himself began to endow it with a positively curative influence; but when
at last Stella had reached the studio, not even caring apparently
whether on the way the parlormaid saw her tears, and when she had
plunged disconsolately down upon the divan, still weeping, Michael
looked round at their haven with resentment. After all, it was merely an
ungainly bleak whitewashed room, and Stella was crying more bitterly
than before.

"Look here, I say, why don't you tell me what you're crying about? You
can't go on crying forever, you know," Michael pointed out. "And when
you've stopped crying, you'll feel such an ass if you haven't explained
what it was all about."

"I couldn't possibly tell anybody," said Stella, looking very fierce.
Then suddenly she got up, and so surprising had been her breakdown that
Michael scarcely stopped to think that her attitude was rather unusually
dramatic.

"But I'm damned if I _will_ give up playing," she proclaimed; and,
sitting down at the piano, forthwith she began to play into oblivion her
weakness.

It was a very exciting piece she played, and Michael longed to ask her
what it was called, but he was afraid to provoke in her any renewal of
self-consciousness; so he enjoyed the fiery composition and Stella's
calm with only a faint regret that he would never know its name and
would never be able to ask her to play it again. When she had finished,
she swung round on the stool and asked him what had happened to Lily
Haden.

"I don't know--really--they've left Trelawny Road," he said, feeling
vaguely an unfair flank attack was being delivered.

"And you never think of her, I suppose?" demanded Stella.

"Well, no, I don't very much."

"Yet I can remember," said Stella, "when you were absolutely miserable
because she had been flirting with somebody else."

"Yes, I was very miserable," Michael admitted. "And you were rather
contemptuous about it, I remember. You told me I ought to be more
proud."

"And don't you realize," Stella said, "that just because I did remember
what I told you, I made my effort and began to play the piano again?"

Michael waited. He supposed that she would now take him into her
confidence, but she swung round to the keyboard, and when she had
finished playing she had become herself again, detached and cool and
masterful. It was incredible that the wet ball of a handkerchief half
hidden by a cushion could be her handkerchief.

Michael made up his mind that Stella's unhappiness was due to a
love-affair which had been wrecked either by circumstance or
temperament, and he tried to persuade himself of his indignation against
the unknown man. He was sensible of a desire to punch the fellow's
head. With the easy exaggerations of the night-time he could picture
himself fighting duels with punctilious Austrian noblemen. He went so
far as mentally to indite a letter to Alan and Lonsdale requesting their
secondary assistance. Then the memory of Lily began to dance before him.
He forgot about Stella in speculations about Lily. Time had softened the
trivial and shallow infidelity of which she had been guilty. Time with
night for ally gave her slim form an ethereal charm. He had been reading
this week of the great imaginative loves of the Middle Ages, and of that
supple and golden-haired girl he began to weave an abstraction of
passion like the Princess of Trebizond. He slept upon the evocation of
her beauty just as he was setting forth upon a delicate and intangible
pursuit. Next morning Michael suggested to Stella they should revisit
Carlington Road.

"My god, to think we once lived here!" exclaimed Stella, as they stood
outside Number 64. "To me it seems absolutely impossible, but then of
course I was much more away from it than you ever were."

Stella was so ferocious in her mockery of their childish haunts and
habitations that Michael began to perceive her old serene contempt was
become tinged with bitterness. This morning she was too straightly in
possession of herself. It was illogical after last night.

"Well, thank heaven, everything does change," she murmured. "And that
ugly things become even more ugly."

"Only for a time," objected Michael. "In twenty years if we visit
Carlington Road we shall think how innocent and intimate and pretty it
all is."

"I wasn't thinking so much of Carlington Road," said Stella. "I was
really thinking of people."

"Even they become beautiful again after a time," argued Michael.

"It would take a very long time for some," said Stella coldly.

Michael had rather dreaded his mother's return, with Stella in this
mood, and he was pleased when he found that his fears had been
unjustifiable. Stella in fact was very gentle with her mother, as if she
and not herself had suffered lately.

"I'm so glad you're back, darling Stella, and so delighted to think you
aren't going to Petersburg to-morrow, because the man at Vienna whose
name begins with that extraordinary letter...."

"Oh, mother," Stella laughed, "the letter was quite ordinary. It was
only L."

"But the name was dreadful, dear child. It always reminded one of furs.
A most oppressive name. So that really you'll be in London all this
winter?"

"Yes, only I shan't play much," said Stella.

"Mrs. Carruthers is so anxious to meet you properly," Mrs. Fane said.
"And Mabel Carruthers is really very nice. Poor girl! I wish you could
be friends with her. She's interested in nothing her mother does."

Michael was really amazed when Stella, without a shrug, without even a
wink at him, promised simply to let Mrs. Carruthers "meet her properly,"
and actually betrayed as much interest in Mabel Carruthers as to inquire
how old she was.

Maurice arrived at Cheyne Walk, just before Michael went up for term, to
say he had taken a most wonderful studio in Grosvenor Road. He was
anxious that Michael should bring his sister to see it, but Stella would
not go.

"Thanks very much, my dear," she said to him, "but I've seen too much of
the real thing. I'm in no mood just now for a sentimental imitation."

"I think you ought to come," said Michael. "It would be fun to see
Maurice living in Grosvenor Road with all the Muses. Castleton will have
such a time tidying up after them when he joins him next year."

But Stella would not go.



CHAPTER XIV

99 ST. GILES


It was strange to come up to Oxford and to find so many of the chief
figures in the college vanished. For a week Michael felt that in a way
he had no business still to be there, so unfamiliar was the college
itself inhabited by none of his contemporaries save a few Scholars. Very
soon, however, the intimacy of the rooms in St. Giles which he shared
with Alan cured all regrets, and with a thrill he realized that this
last year was going to be of all the years at Oxford the best, indeed
perhaps of all the years of his life the best.

College itself gave Michael a sharper sense of its entity than he had
ever gathered before. He was still sufficiently a part of it not to feel
the implicit criticism of his presence that in a year or two, revisiting
Oxford, he would feel; and he was also far enough away from the daily
round to perceive and admire the yearly replenishment which preserved
its vigor notwithstanding the superficially irreparable losses of each
year. There were moments when he regretted 202 High with what now seemed
its amazingly irresponsible existence, but 202 High had never given him
quite the same zest in returning to it as now 99 St. Giles could give.
Nothing had ever quite equaled those damp November dusks, when after a
long walk through silent country Michael and Alan came back to the din
of Carfax and splashed their way along the crowded and greasy Cornmarket
toward St. Giles, those damp November dusks when they would find the
tea-things glimmering in the firelight. Buttered toast was eaten; tea
was drunk; the second-best pipe of the day was smoked to idle cracklings
of The Oxford Review and The Star; a stout landlady cleared away, and
during the temporary disturbance Michael pulled back the blinds and
watched the darkness and fog slowly blotting out St. John's and the
alley of elm-trees opposite, and giving to the Martyrs' Memorial and
even to Balliol a gothic and significant mystery. The room was quiet
again; the lamps and the fire glowed; Michael and Alan, settled in deep
chairs, read their History and Philosophy; outside in the November night
footsteps went by; carts and wagons occasionally rattled; bells chimed;
outside in the November murk present life was manifesting its
continuity; here within, the battles and the glories, the thoughts, the
theories and the speculations of the past for Michael and Alan moved
across printed pages under the rich lamplight.

Dinner dissolved the concentrated spell of two hours. But dinner at 99
St. Giles was very delightful in the sea-green dining-room whose
decorations had survived the departing tenant who created them. Michael
and Alan did not talk much; indeed, such conversation as took place
during the meal came from the landlady. She possessed so deft a capacity
for making apparently the most barren observations flower and fruit with
intricate narrations, that merely an inquiry as to the merit of the
lemon-sole would serve to link the occasion with an intimate revelation
of her domestic past.

After dinner Michael and Alan read on toward eleven o'clock, at which
hour Alan usually went to bed. It was after his departure that in a way
Michael enjoyed the night most. The mediæval chronicles were put back on
their shelf; Stubbs or Lingard, Froude, Freeman, Guizot, Lavisse or
Gregorovius were put back; round the warm and silent room Michael
wandered uncertain for a while; and at the end of five minutes down came
Don Quixote or Adlington's Apuleius, or Florio's Montaigne, or Lucian's
True History. The fire crumbled away to ashes and powder; the fog stole
into the room; outside was now nothing but the chimes at their measured
intervals, nothing but the noise of them to say a city was there; at
that hour Oxford was truly austere, something more indeed than austere,
for it was neither in time nor in space, but the abstraction of a city.
Only when the lamps began to reek did Michael go up to bed by
candlelight. In his vaporous room, through whose open window the sound
of two o'clock striking came very coldly, he could scarcely fancy
himself in the present. The effort of intense reading, whether of bygone
institutions or of past adventure, had left him in the condition of
physical freedom that saints achieve by prayer. He was aware of nothing
but a desire to stay forever like this, half feverish with the triumph
of tremendous concentration, to undress in this stinging acerbity of
night air, and to lie wakeful for a long time in this world of dreaming
spires.

99 St. Giles exercised just that industrious charm which Michael had
anticipated from the situation. The old house overlooked such a wide
thoroughfare that the view, while it afforded the repose of movement,
scarcely ever aroused a petty inquisitiveness into the actions of the
passers-by. The traffic of the thoroughfare like the ships of the sea
went by merely apprehended, but not observed. The big bay-window hung
over the street like the stern-cabin of a frigate, and as Michael sat
there he had the impression of being cut off from communication, the
sense of perpetually leaving life astern. The door of 99 St. Giles did
not open directly on the street, but was reached by a tortuous passage
that ran the whole depth of the house. This entrance helped very much
the illusion of separation from the ebb and flow of ordinary existence,
and was so suggestive of a refuge that involuntarily Michael always
hurried through it that the sooner he might set his foot on the steep
and twisted staircase inside the house. There was always an excitement
in reaching this staircase again, an impulse to run swiftly up, as if
this return to the sitting-room was veritably an escape from the world.
Here the books sprawled everywhere. At 202 High they had filled the
cupboards in orderly fashion. Here they overflowed in dusty cataracts,
and tottered upward in crazy escalades and tremulous piles. All the
shelves were gorged with books. Moreover, Michael every afternoon bought
more books. The landlady held up her hands in dismay as, crunching up
the paper in which they had been wrapped, he considered in perplexity
their accommodation. More space was necessary, and the sea-green
dining-room was awarded shelves. Here every morning after breakfast came
the exiles, the dull and the disappointing books which had been banished
from the sitting-room. Foot by foot the sea-green walls disappeared
behind these shelves. In Lampard's bookshop Michael was certainly a
personality. Lampard himself even came to tea, and sat nodding his
approbation.

As for Alan, he used to stay unmoved by the invading volumes. He had
stipulated at the beginning that one small bookcase should be reserved
for him. Here Plato and Aristotle, Herodotus and Thucydides always had
room to breathe, without ever being called upon to endure the
contamination of worm-eaten bibliophily.

"Where the deuce has my Stubbs got to?" Michael would grumble, delving
into the musty cascade of old plays and chap books which had temporarily
obliterated the current literature of the week's work.

Alan would very serenely take down Plato from his own trim and
unimpeded shelves, and his brow would already be knitted with the effort
of fixing half-a-dozen abstractions before Michael had decided after a
long excavation that Stubbs had somehow vanished in the by-ways of
curious reading.

Yet notwithstanding the amount of time occupied by arranging and buying
and finding books, Michael did manage to absorb a good deal of history,
even of that history whose human nature has to be sought arduously in
charters, exchequer-rolls and acts of parliament. Schools were drawing
near; the dates of Kings and Emperors and Popes in their succession
adorned the walls of his bedroom, so that even while he was cleaning his
teeth one fact could be acquired.

Only on Sunday evenings did Michael allow himself really to reënter the
life of St. Mary's. These Sunday evenings had all the excitement of a
long-interrupted reunion. To be sure, Venner's was thronged with people
who seemed to be taking life much too lightly; but Tommy Grainger was
there, still engaged with a pass-group. People spoke hopefully of going
head this year. Surely with Tommy and three other Blues in the boat, St.
Mary's must go head. The conversation was so familiar that it was almost
a shock to find so many of the faces altered. But Cuffe was still there
with his mouth perpetually open just as wide as ever. Sterne was still
there and likely, so one heard, to make no end of runs next summer.
George Appleby was very much in evidence since Lonsdale's departure.
George Appleby was certainly there, and Michael rather liked him and
accepted an invitation to lunch. In hall the second-year men were not
quite as rowdy as they used to be, and when they were rowdy, somehow to
Michael and the rest of the fourth year they seemed to lack the
imagination of themselves when they--but after all the only true judges
of that were the Princes and Cardinals and Poets staring down from
their high golden frames. The dons, too, at High Table might know, for
there they sat, immemorial as ever.

Wine in Common Room was just the same, and it really was very jolly to
be sitting between Castleton--that very popular President of J.C.R.--and
Tommy Grainger. There certainly was a great and grave satisfaction in
leading off with a more ceremonious health drinking than had ever been
achieved in the three years past. Michael found it amusing to catch the
name of some freshman and, shouting abruptly a salute, to behold him
wriggle and blush and drink his answer and wonder who on earth was
hailing _him_. Michael often asked himself if it really were possible he
could appear to that merry rout at the other end of J.C.R. in truly
heroic mold. He supposed, with a smile at himself for so gross a fraud,
that he really did for them pass mortal stature and that already he had
a bunch of legends dangling from his halo. Down in Venner's after wine,
Michael fancied the shouts of the freshmen wandering round Cloisters
were more raucous than once they had seemed. Sometimes really they were
almost irritating, but the After was capital, although the new comic
song of the new college jester lacked perhaps a little the perfect lilt
of "Father says we're going to beat them." Yet, after all, the Boer war
had been over three years now: no doubt "Father says we're going to beat
them" would have sounded a little stale. Last term, however, at Two
Hundred and Two it had rung as fresh as ever. But the singer was gone
now. It was meet his song should perish with his withdrawal from the
Oxford scene. Still the After was quite good sport, and Michael was glad
to think he and Grainger and Sterne were giving the last After but one
of this term. He bicycled back to the digs with his head full of
chatter, of clinking glasses and catchy tunes. Nevertheless, all
consciousness of the evening's merriment faded out, as he hurried up the
crooked staircase to the sitting-room where Alan, upright at the table
amid Thucydidean commentaries, was reading under the lamp's immotionable
rays, his hair glinting with what was now rare gold.

During this autumn term neither Michael nor Alan spoke of Stella except
as an essentially third person. She was in London, devoting so much of
herself so charmingly to her mother that Mrs. Fane nearly abandoned
every other interest in her favor. There were five Schumann recitals, of
which press notices were sent to 99 St. Giles. Michael as he read them
handed them on to Alan.

"Jolly good," said he, in a tone of such conventional praise that
Michael really began to wonder whether he had after all changed his mind
instead of merely concealing his intention. However, since conversation
between these two had been stripped to the bare bones of intercourse,
Michael could not bring himself to violate this habit of reserve for the
sake of a curiosity the gratification of which in true friendship should
never be demanded, nor even accepted with deeper attention than the
trivial news of the day casually offered. Nor would Michael have felt it
loyal to Alan to try from Stella to extract a point of view regarding
him. Anyway, he reassured himself, nothing could be done at present.

Toward the end of term Mrs. Ross wrote a letter to Michael whose news
was sufficiently unexpected to rouse the two of them to a conversation
of greater length than any they had had since term began.

     COBBLE PLACE,

     November 30.

     My dear Michael,

     You will be surprised to hear that I have become a Catholic, or I
     suppose I should say to you, if you still adhere to your theories,
     a Roman Catholic. My reasons for this step, apart of course from
     the true reason--the grace of God--were, I think, connected a good
     deal with my boy. When your friend Mr. Prescott killed himself, I
     felt very much the real emptiness of such a life that on the
     surface was so admirable, in some ways so enviable. I am dreadfully
     anxious that Kenneth--he is Kenneth Michael now--I hope you won't
     be vexed I should have wished him to have Michael also--well, as I
     was saying--that Kenneth should grow up with all the help that the
     experience of the past can give him. It has become increasingly a
     matter of astonishment to me how so many English boys manage to
     muddle through the crises of their boyhood without the Sacraments.
     I'm afraid you'll be reading this letter in rather a critical
     spirit, and perhaps resenting my implication that you, for
     instance, have come through so many crises without the Sacraments.
     But I'm not yet a good enough theologian to argue with you about
     the claims of your Church. Latterly I've felt positively alarmed by
     the prospect of grappling with Kenneth's future. I have seen you
     struggle through, and I know I can say win a glorious victory over
     one side of yourself. But I have seen other things happen, even
     from where I live my secluded life. If my husband had not been
     killed I might not perhaps have felt this dread on Kenneth's
     account. But I like to think that God in giving me that great
     sorrow has shown His purpose by offering me this new and unimagined
     peace and security and assurance. I need scarcely say I have had a
     rather worrying time lately. It is strange how when love and faith
     are the springs of action one must listen with greater patience
     than one could listen for any lesser motive to the opinions of
     other people.

     Joan and Mary whom I've always thought of as just wrapped up in the
     good works of their dear good selves, really rose in their wrath
     and scorched me with the fieriest opposition. I could not have
     believed they had in them to say as much in all their lives as they
     said to me when I announced my intention. Nor had I any idea they
     knew so many English clergymen. I believe that to gratify them I
     have interviewed half the Anglican ministry. Even a Bishop was
     invoked to demonstrate my apostacy. Nancy, too, wrote furious
     letters. She was not outraged so much theologically, but her sense
     of social fitness was shattered.

     My darling old mother was the only person who took my resolve
     calmly. "As long as you don't try to convert me," she said, "and
     don't leave incense burning about the house, well--you're old
     enough to know your own mind." She was so amusing while Joan and
     Mary were marshaling arguments against me. She used to sit playing
     "Miss Milligan" with a cynical smile, and said, when it was all
     over and in spite of everyone I had been received, that she had
     really enjoyed Patience for the first time, as Joan and Mary were
     too busy to prevent her from cheating.

     How are you and dear old Alan getting on? Of course you can read
     him this letter. I've not written to him because I fancy he won't
     be very much interested. Forgive me that I did not take you into my
     confidence beforehand, but I feared a controversy with a real
     historian about the continuity of the Anglican church.

     My love to you both at Oxford.

     Your affectionate

     Maud Ross.

"Great scott!" Michael exclaimed, as he finished the letter. "Alan!
could you ever in your wildest dreams have imagined that Mrs. Ross, the
most inveterate Whig and Roundhead and Orange bigot, at least whenever
she used to argue with me, would have gone over?"

"What do you mean?" Alan asked, sinking slowly to earth from his
Platonic _ovpavos_. "Gone over where?"

"To Rome--become a Roman Catholic."

"Who?" gasped Alan, staggered now more than Michael. "Mrs. Ross--Aunt
Maud?"

"It's the most extraordinary thing I ever heard," said Michael.
"She--and Kenneth," he added rather maliciously, seeing that Alan's
Britannic prejudice was violently aroused. "I'll read you her letter."

Plato was shut up for the evening before Michael was halfway through,
and almost before the last sentence had been read, Alan's wrath
exploded.

"It's all very fine for her to laugh like that at Joan and Mary and
Nancy," he said, coloring hotly. "But they were absolutely right, and
Mrs. Ross--I mean Aunt Maud----"

"I was afraid you were going to disown the relationship," Michael
laughed.

"Aunt Maud is absolutely wrong. Why, my uncle would have been furious.
Even if _she_ became a Catholic she had no business to take Kenneth with
her. The more I think of it--you know, it really is a bit thick."

"Why do you object?" Michael asked curiously. "I never knew you thought
about religion at all, except so far as occasionally to escort your
mother politely to Matins, and that was after all to oblige her more
than God. Besides, you're reading Greats, and I always thought that the
Greats people in their fourth year abstained from anything like a
definite opinion for fear of losing their First."

"I may not have a definite opinion about Christianity," said Alan. "But
Catholicism is ridiculous, anyway--it doesn't suit English people."

"There you're treading on the heels of the School of Modern History
which you affect to despise. You really don't know, if I may say so,
what could or could not suit the English people unless you know what
has or has not suited them."

"Why don't you become a Catholic yourself," challenged Alan, "if you're
so keen on them?"

"For a logician," said Michael, "your conclusion is bad, being entirely
unrelated to any of our premises. Secondly, were I inclined to label
myself as anything, I should be disposed to label myself as a Catholic
already."

"Oh, I know that affectation!" scoffed Alan.

"Well, the net result of our commentary is that you, like everybody
else, object to Mrs. Ross changing her opinions, because you don't like
it. Her position is negligible, the springs of action being religious.
Now if my mother went over to Rome I should be rather bucked on her
account."

"My dear chap, if you don't mind my saying so," suggested Alan as
apologetically as his outraged conventionality would allow, "your mother
has always been rather given to--er--all sorts of new cults, and it
wouldn't be so--er--noticeable in her case. But supposing Stella----"

Michael looked at him sharply.

"Supposing Stella did?" he asked.

"Oh, of course she's artistic and she's traveled and--oh, well, I don't
know--Stella's different."

At any rate, thought Michael, he was still in love with Stella. She was
evidently beyond criticism.

"You needn't worry," said Michael. "I don't think she ever will."

"You didn't think Aunt Maud ever would," Alan pointed out.

"And, great scott, it's still absolutely incredible," Michael murmured.

Although in the face of Alan's prejudice Michael had felt very strongly
that Mrs. Ross had done well by her change of communion, or rather by
her submission to a communion, for he never could remember her as
perfervid in favor of any before, at the same time to himself he rather
regretted the step, since it destroyed for him that idea he had kept of
her as one who stood gravely holding the balance. He dreaded a little
the effect upon her of a sudden plunge into Catholicism, just as he had
felt uneasy when eight or nine years ago Alan had first propounded the
theory of his uncle being in love with her. Michael remembered how the
suggestion had faintly shocked his conception of Miss Carthew. It was a
little disconcerting to have to justify herself to Nancy, or indeed to
anyone. It seemed to weaken her status. Moreover, his own deep-implanted
notion of "going over to Rome" as the act of a weakling and a
weather-cock was hard to allay. His own gray image of Pallas Athene
seemed now to be decked with meretricious roses. He was curious to know
what his mother would think about the news. Mrs. Fane received it as
calmly as if he had told her Mrs. Ross had taken up palmistry; to her
Catholicism was only one of the numberless fads that made life amusing.
As for Stella, she did not comment on the news at all. She was too much
occupied with the diversions of the autumn season. Yet Stella was
careful to impress on Michael that her new mode of life had not been
dictated by any experience in Vienna.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Don't think I'm drowning care," she wrote. "I made a damned fool of
myself and luckily you're almost the only person who knows anything
about it. I've wiped it out as completely as a composition I've learned
and played and done with. Really I find this pottering life that mother
and I lead very good for my music. I'm managing to store up a reserve of
feeling. The Schumann recitals were in some ways my best efforts so far.
Just now I'm absolutely mad about dancing and fencing; and as mother's
life is entirely devoted to the theory of physical culture at this
exact moment, we're both happy."

Michael told Alan what Stella said about dancing and fencing, and he was
therefore not surprised when Alan informed him, with the air of one who
really has discovered something truly worth while, that there was a
Sword club at Oxford.

"Hadn't you better join as well next term?" he suggested. "Rather good
ecker, I fancy."

"Much better than golf," said Michael.

"Oh, rather," Alan agreed, in lofty innocence of any hidden allusion to
his resolve of last summer.

For the Christmas vacation Michael went to Scotland, partly because he
wanted to brace himself sharply for the last two terms of his Oxford
time, but more because he had the luxurious fancy to stay in some town
very remote from Oxford, there meditating on her spires like gray and
graceful shapes of mist made perdurable forever. Hitherto Oxford had
called him back, as to a refuge most severe, from places whose warmth or
sensuousness or gaiety was making her cold beauty the more desirable.
Now Michael wished to come back for so nearly his ultimate visit as to a
tender city of melting outlines. Therefore to fulfill this vision of
return he refused Guy Hazlewood's invitation to Plashers Mead. It seemed
to him that no city nearer than Aberdeen would give him the joy of
charging southward in the train, back to the moist heart of England and
that wan aggregation of immaterial domes and spires.

Aberdeen was spare and harsh enough even for Michael's mood, and there
for nearly five weeks of northeasterly weather he worked at political
economy. It was a very profitable vacation; and that superb and frozen
city of granite indifferent to the howling North sent him back more
ready to combat the perilous dreams which like the swathes of mist
destroying with their transmutations the visible fabric of Oxford
menaced his action.

Certainly it needed the physical bracing of his sojourn at Aberdeen to
keep Michael from dreaming away utterly his last Lent term. February was
that year a month of rains from silver skies, of rains that made Oxford
melodious with their perpetual trickling. They were rains that lured him
forth to dabble in their gentle fountains, to listen at the window of
Ninety-nine to their rippling monody, and at night to lie awake
infatuated.

Still, even with all the gutterspouts in Oxford jugging like
nightingales and with temptation from every book of poetry to abandon
history, Michael worked fairly steadily, and when the end of term
surprised him in the middle of his industry, he looked back with
astonishment at the amount of apposite reading accomplished in what
seemed, now so cruelly swift were the hours, a mere week of rain.

He obtained leave to stay up during the Easter vacation, and time might
have seemed to stand still, but that Spring on these rathe mornings of
wind and scudded blue sky was forward with her traceries, bringing with
every morning green Summer visibly nearer. The urgency of departure less
than the need for redoubled diligence in acquiring knowledge obsessed
Michael all this April. Sitting in the bay-window at Ninety-nine on
these luminous eves of Spring, he vexed himself with the thought of
disturbing so soon his books, of violating with change the peaceful
confusion achieved in two terms. The fancy haunted him that for the
length of the Long Vacation 99 St. Giles would drowse under the
landlady's nick-nacks brought out to replace his withdrawn treasures;
that nothing would keep immortal the memory of him and Alan save their
photographs in frames of almost royal ostentation. Vaguely through his
mind ran the notion of becoming a don, that forever he might stay here
in Oxford, a contemplative intellectual cut-off from the great world.
For a week the notion ripened swiftly, and Michael worked very hard in
his determination to proceed from a First to the competition for a
Fellowship. The notion ripened too swiftly, however, and fell with a
plump, fit for nothing, when he suddenly realized he would have to stay
on in Oxford alone, since of all his friends he could see not one who
would be likely in the academic cloister to accompany his meditations.
With a gesture of weary contempt Michael flung Stubbs into the corner,
and resolved that, come what might in the History Schools, for what
remained of his time at Oxford he would enjoy the proffered anodyne.

After he had disowned his work, he took to wandering rather aimlessly
about the streets; but their aspect, still unfrequented as yet by the
familiar figures of term-time, made him feel sad. Guy Hazlewood was
summoned by telegram from where at Plashers Mead he was presumed to have
found abiding peace. He came bicycling in from the Witney road at noon
of a blue April day so richly canopied with rolling clouds that the
unmatured season took on some of June's ampler dignity. After lunch they
walked to Witham Woods, and Guy tried to persuade Michael to come to
Wychford when the summer term was over. He was full of the plan for
founding that lay monastery, that cloister for artists who wished
between Oxford and the world a space unstressed by anything save ordered
meditation. Michael was captured anew by the idea he had first
propounded, and they talked gayly of its advantages, foreseeing, if the
right people could be induced to come, a period of intense stimulation
against a background of serenity. Then Guy began to talk of how day by
day he was subduing words to rhyme and meter.

"And you, what would you do?" he asked.

At once Michael realized the futility of their scheme for him.

"I should only dream away another year," he said rather sadly, "and so
if you don't mind, old chap, I think I won't join you."

"Rot!" Guy drawled. "I've got it all clear now in my mind. Up at seven.
At breakfast we should take it in turns to read aloud great poetry. From
eight to ten retire to our cells, and work at a set piece--a sonnet or
six lines of prose. Ten to eleven a discussion on what we'd done. Eleven
to one work at our own stuff. One o'clock lunch with some reading aloud.
All the afternoon to do what we like. Dinner at seven with more reading
aloud, and in the evening reading to ourselves. Not a word to be spoken
after nine o'clock, and bed at eleven. After tea twice a week we might
have academic discussions."

"It sounds perfect," said Michael, "if you're already equipped with the
desire to be an artist, and what is more important if deep down in
yourself you're convinced you have the least justification for ambition.
But, Guy, what a curious chap you are. You seem to have grown so much
younger since you went down."

Guy laughed on a note of exultation that sounded strange indeed in one
whom when still at Balliol Michael had esteemed as perhaps the most
perfect contemporary example of the undergraduate tired by the
consciousness of his own impeccable attitude. Guy had always possessed
so conspicuously that Balliol affectation of despising accentuations of
seriousness, of humor, of intention, of friendship, of everything indeed
except parlor rowdiness with cushions and sofas, that Michael was almost
shocked to hear the elaborately wearied Guy declare boisterously:

"My dear chap, that is the great secret. The moment you go down, you do
grow younger."

He must be in love, thought Michael suddenly; and, so remote was love
seeming to him just now, he blushed in the implication by his inner self
of having penetrated uninvited the secret of a friend.

Guy talked all tea-time of the project, and when they had eaten enough
bread and honey, they set out for Oxford by way of Godstow. The generous
sun was blanched by watery clouds. A shrewd wind had risen while they
sat in the inn, and the primroses looked very wan in the shriveled
twilight. Michael had Guy's company for a week of long walks and snug
evenings, but the real intimacy which he had expected would be
consummated by this visit never effected itself somehow. Guy was more
remote in his mood of communal ambitions than he was at Oxford, living
his life of whimsical detachment. After he went back to Plashers Mead,
Michael only missed the sound of his voice, and was not conscious of
that more violent wrench when the intercourse of silence is broken.

It happened that year St. Mark's Eve fell upon a Sunday, and Michael,
having been reading the poems of Keats nearly all the afternoon, was
struck by the coincidence. Oxford on such an occasion was able to
provide exactly the same sensation for him as Winchester had given to
the poet. Michael sat in his window-seat looking out over the broad
thoroughfare of St. Giles, listening to the patter and lisp of Sabbath
footfalls, to the burden of the bells; and as he sat there with the city
receding in the wake of his window, he was aware more poignantly than
ever of how actually in a few weeks it would recede. The bells and the
footsteps were quiet for a while: the sun had gone: it was the vesper
stillness of evening prayer: slowly the printed page before him faded
from recognition. Already the farther corners of the room were black,
revealing from time to time, as a tongue of flame leaped up in the
grate, the golden blazonries of the books on the walls. It was
everywhere dark when the people came out of church, and the footsteps
were again audible. Michael envied Keats the power which he had known to
preserve forever that St. Mark's Eve of eighty years ago in Winchester.
It was exasperating that now already the footfalls were dying away, that
already their sensation was evanescent, that he could not with the wand
of poetry forbid time to disturb this quintessential hour of Oxford. Art
alone could bewitch the present in the fashion of that enchantress in
the old fairy tale who sent long ago a court to sleep.

What was the use of reading history unless the alchemy of literature had
transcended the facts by the immortal presentation of them? These
charters and acts of parliament, these exchequer-rolls and raked-up
records meant nothing. Ivanhoe held more of the Middle Ages than all of
Maitland's fitting and fussing, than all of Stubbs' ponderous
conclusions. The truth of Ivanhoe, the truth of the Ingoldsby Legends,
the truth of Christabel was indeed revealed to the human soul through
the power of art to unlock for one convincing moment truth with the same
directness of divine exposition as faith itself.

Now here was Oxford opening suddenly to him her heart, and he was
incapable of preserving the vision. The truth would state itself to him,
and as he tried to restate it, lo, it was gone. Perhaps these moments
that seemed to demand expression were indeed mystical assurances of
human immortality. Perhaps they were not revealed for explanation. After
all, when Keats had wrought forever in a beautiful statement the fact of
a Sabbath eve, the reader could not restate why he had wrought it
forever. Art could do no more than preserve the sense of the fact: it
could not resolve it in such a way that life would cease to be the
baffling attempt it was on the individual's part to restate to himself
his personal dreams.

Oh, this clutching at the soul by truth, how damnably instantaneous it
was, how for one moment it could provoke the illusion of victory over
all the muddled facts of existence: how a moment after it could leave
the tantalized soul with a despairing sense of having missed by the
breadth of a hair the entry into knowledge. By the way, was there not
some well-reasoned psychological explanation of this physical condition?

The sensation of St. Mark's Eve was already fled. Michael forsook the
chilling window-seat and went with lighted candle to search for the
psychological volume which contained a really rational explanation of
what he had been trying to apprehend. He fumbled among his books for a
while, but he could not find the one he wanted. Then, going to pull down
the blinds, he was aware of Oxford beyond the lamplit thoroughfare, with
all her spires and domes invisible in the darkness, the immutable city
that neither mist nor modern architects could destroy, the immortal
academy whose spirit would surely outdare the menace of these reforming
Huns armed with Royal Commissions, and wither the cowardly betrayers of
her civilization who, even now before the barbarian was at her gates,
were cringing to him with offers to sell the half of her heritage of
learning. Michael, aware of Oxford all about him in the darkness, wished
he could be a member of Convocation and make a flaming speech in defense
of compulsory Greek. That happened to be the proposed surrender to
modern conditions which at the moment was agitating his conservative
passion.

"Thank heaven I live when I do," he said to himself. "If it were 2000
A.D., how much more miserable I should be."

He went down to dinner and, propping The Anatomy of Melancholy against
the cruet, deplored the twentieth century, but found the chicken rather
particularly good.



CHAPTER XV

THE LAST TERM


Michael meant to attend the celebration of May Morning on St. Mary's
tower, but when the moment came it was so difficult to get out of bed
that he was not seen in the sun's eye. This lapse of enthusiasm saddened
him rather. It seemed to conjure a little cruelly the vision of speeding
youth.

The last summer-term was a period of tension. Michael found that
notwithstanding his vow of idleness the sight of the diligence of the
other men in view of Schools impelled him also to labor feverishly. He
was angry with himself for his weakness, and indeed tried once or twice
to join on the river the careless parties of juniors, but it was no
good. The insistent Schools forbade all pleasure, and these leafy days
were spent hour after hour of them at his table. Eights Week came round,
and though the college went head of the river, for Michael the
achievement was merely a stroke of irony. For three years he and his
friends, most of whom were now fled, had waited for this moment, had
counted upon this bump-supper, had planned a hundred diversions for this
happy date. Michael now must attend without the majority of them, and he
went in rather a critical frame of mind, for though to be sure Tommy
Grainger was drunk in honor of his glorious captaincy, it was not the
bump-supper of his dreams. Victory had come too late.

Tired of the howling and the horse-play, tired of the fretful
fireworks, he turned into Venner's just before ten o'clock.

"Why aren't you with your friends, making a noise?" asked Venner.

"Ought to go home and work," Michael explained.

"But surely you can take one night off. You used always to be well to
the fore on these occasions."

"Don't feel like it, Venner."

"You mustn't work too hard, you know," said the old man, blinking kindly
at him.

"Oh, it's not work, Venner. It's age."

"Why, what a thing to say. Hark! They're having a rare time to-night. I
don't expect the dons'll say much. They expect a bit of noise after a
bump-supper. Why ever don't you go out and do your share?"

Venner was ready to go home, and Michael leaving the little office in
his company paused irresolutely in Cloisters for a moment. It was no
good. He could not bring himself to be flung into that vortex of
ululation. He turned away from its direction and walked with Venner to
the lodge.

"Don't forget to mark me down as out of college, Shadbolt," he warned
the porter. "I don't want to be hauled to-morrow morning for damage done
in my absence."

The porter held up his hand in unctuous deprecation.

"There is no fear of my making a mistake, Mr. Fane. I was observing your
egress, sir," he said pompously, "and had it registered in my book
before you spoke."

Shadbolt unlocked the door for Michael and Venner to pass out into the
High. Michael walked with Venner as far as St. Mary's bridge, and when
the old man had said good night and departed on his way home, he stood
for a while watching the tower in the May moonlight. He could hear the
shouts of those doing honor to the prowess of the Eight. From time to
time the sky was stained with blue and green and red from the Roman
candles. To himself standing here now he seemed as remote from it all as
the townsfolk loitering on the bridge in the balmy night air to listen
to the fun. Already, thought Michael, he was one of the people, small as
emmets, swarming at the base of this slim and lovely tower. He regretted
sharply now that he had not once more, even from distant St. Giles,
roused himself to salute from the throbbing summit May Morning. It was
melancholy to stand here within the rumor of the communal joy, but
outside its participation; and presently he started to walk quickly back
to his digs, telling himself with dreadful warning as he went that
before Schools now remained scarcely more than a week.

Alan was in a condition of much greater anxiety even than Michael.
Michael had nothing much beyond a moral pact with the college
authorities to make him covet a good class: to Alan it was more
important, especially as he had given up the Sudan and was intending to
try for the Home Civil Service.

"However, I've given up thinking of a First, and if I can squeeze a
Second, I shall be jolly grateful," he told Michael.

The day of Schools arrived. The Chief Examiner had caused word to be
sent round that he would insist on the rigor of the law about black
clothes. So that year many people went back to the earlier mode of the
university examination and appeared in evening-dress. The first four
days went by with their monotony of scratching pens, their perspiring
and bedraggled women-candidates, their tedious energy and denial of
tobacco. Alan grew gloomier and gloomier. He scarcely thought he had
even escaped being plowed outright. For the fourth night preparatory to
the two papers on his Special Subject, Michael ordered iced asparagus
and quails in aspic, a bottle of champagne and two quarts of cold black
coffee. He sat up all night, and went down tight-eyed and pale-faced to
the final encounter. In the afternoon he emerged, thanked heaven it was
all over, and, instead of celebrating his release as he had intended
with wine and song, slept in an armchair through the benign June
evening. Alan, who had gone to bed at his usual hour the night before,
spent his time reading the credentials of various careers offered to
enterprising young men by the Colonies. The day after, however, nothing
seemed to matter except that the purgatorial business was done forever,
and that Oxford offered nearly a fortnight of impregnable idleness.

This fortnight, when she was so prodigal with her beauty and when her
graciousness was a rich balm to the ordeal she had lately exacted, was
not so poignant as Michael had expected. Indeed, it was scarcely
poignant at all so far as human farewells went, though there was about
it such an underlying sadness as deepens the mellow peace of a fine
autumn day.

It seemed to Michael that in after years he would always think of Oxford
dowered so with Summer, and brooding among her trees. Matthew Arnold had
said she did not need June for beauty's heightening. That was true. Her
beauty was not heightened now, but it was displayed with all the grave
consciousness of an unassertive renown. Michael dreaded more the loss of
this infoliated calm than of any of the people who were enjoying its
amenity. There were indeed groups upon the lawns that next year would
not form themselves, that forever indeed would be irremediably
dispersed; but the thought of himself and other members scattered did
not move him with as much regret as the knowledge that next year himself
would have lost the assurance that he was an organic part of this
tutelary landscape. The society of his contemporaries was already broken
up: the end of the third year had effected that. This farewell to
Oxford herself was harder, and Michael wished that from the very first
moment of his arrival he had concentrated upon the object of a
Fellowship. Such a life would have suited him well. He would not have
withered like so many dons: he would each year have renewed his youth in
the stream of freshmen. He would have been sympathetic, receptive, and
worldly enough not to be despised by each generation in its course. Now,
since he had not aimed at such a career, he must go. The weather
opulently fine mocked his exit.

Michael and Alan had decided to stay up for Commemoration. Stella and
Mrs. Fane had been invited: Lonsdale and Wedderburn were coming up:
Maurice was bringing his mother and sisters. For a brief carnival they
would all be reunited, and rooms would be echoing to the voices of their
rightful owners. Yet after all it would be but a pretense of reviving
their merry society. It was not a genuine reunion this, that was
requiring women to justify it. Oxford, as Michael esteemed her, was
already out of his reach. She would be symbolized in the future by these
rooms at 99 St. Giles, and Michael made up his mind that no intrusion of
women should spoil for him their monastic associations. He would stay
here until the last day, and for Commemoration he would try to borrow
his old rooms in college, thus fading from this wide thoroughfare
without a formal leave-taking. He would drop astern from the bay-window
whence for a time he had watched the wrack and spume of the world
drifting toward the horizon in its wake. Himself would recede so with
the world, and without him the bay-window would hold a tranquil course,
unrocked by the loss or gain of him or the transient voyagers of each
new generation. Very few eves and sunsets were still his to enjoy from
this window-seat. Already the books were being stacked in preparation
for their removal to the studio at 173 Cheyne Walk. Dusty and derelict
belongings of him and Alan were already strewn about the landings
outside their bedrooms. Even the golf-bag of Alan's first term, woolly
now with the accumulated mildew of neglect, had been dragged from its
obscurity. Perhaps it would be impossible to drop astern as
imperceptibly as he would have liked. Too many reminders of departure
littered the rooms with their foreboding of finality.

"I'm shore I for one am quite sorry you're going," said the landlady. "I
never wish to have a nicer norer quieter pair of gentlemen. It's to be
hoped, I'm shore, that next term's comings-ins from St. John's will be
half as nice. Yerse, I shall be very pleased to have these coverlets--I
suppose you would call them coverlets--and you're leaving the shelves in
the dining-room? Yerse, I'm shore they'll be as handy as anything for
the cruets and what not. And so you're going to have a dinner here to
eleven gentlemen--oh, eleven in all, yerse, I see."

It was going to be rather difficult, Michael thought, to find exactly
the ten people he wished to invite to this last terminal dinner. Alan,
Grainger, and Castleton, of course. Bill Mowbray and Vernon Townsend.
And Smithers. Certainly, he would ask Smithers. And why not George
Appleby, who was Librarian of the Union this term, and no longer
conceivable as that lackadaisical red rag which had fluttered Lonsdale
to fury? What about the Dean? And if the Dean, why not Harbottle, his
History tutor? And for the tenth place? It was really impossible to
choose from the dozen or so acquaintances who had an equal claim upon
it. He would leave the tenth place vacant, and just to amuse his own
fancy he would fill it with the ghost of himself in the December of his
first term.

Michael, when he saw his guests gathered in the sea-green dining-room of
99 St. Giles, knew that this last terminal dinner was an anachronism.
After all, the prime and bloom of these eclectic entertainments had been
in the two previous years. This was not the intimate and unusual society
he had designed to gather round him as representative of his four years
at the Varsity. This was merely representative of the tragical
incompleteness of Oxford. It was certainly a very urbane evening, but it
was somehow not particularly distinctive of Oxford, still less of
Michael's existence there. Perhaps it had been a mistake to invite the
two dons. Perhaps everyone was tired under the strain of Schools.
Michael was glad when the guests went and he sat alone in the
window-seat with Alan.

"To-morrow, my mother and Stella are coming up," he reminded Alan. "It's
rather curious my mother shouldn't have been up all the time, until I'm
really down."

"Is that man Avery coming up?" Alan asked.

Michael nodded.

"I suppose your people see a good deal of him now he's in town," said
Alan, trying to look indifferent to the answer.

"Less than before he went," said Michael. "Stella's rather off studios
and the Vie de Bohême."

"Oh, he has a studio?"

"Didn't you know?"

"I don't take very much interest in his movements," Alan loftily
explained.

They smoked on for a while without speaking.

"I must go to bed," announced Alan at last.

"Not yet, not yet," Michael urged him. "I don't think you've quite
realized that this is our last night in Ninety-nine."

"I've settled to stay on here during Commem Week," said Alan. "Your
people are staying at the Randolph?"

Michael nodded, wondering to himself if it were possible that Alan could
really have been so far-sighted as to stay on in St. Giles for the sake
of having the most obvious right to escort his mother and Stella home.
"But why aren't you going into college?" he asked.

"Oh, I thought it would be rather a fag moving in for so short a time.
Besides, it's been rather ripping in these digs."

Michael looked at him gratefully. He had himself feared to voice his
appreciation of this last year with Alan: he was feeling sentimental
enough to dread on Alan's side a grudging assent to his enthusiasm.

"Yes, it has been awfully ripping," he agreed.

"I should like to have had another year," sighed Alan. "I think I was
just beginning to get a dim sort of a notion of philosophy. I wonder how
much of it is really applicable?"

"To what? To God?" asked Michael.

"No, the world--the world we live in."

"I don't fancy, you know," said Michael, "that the intellectual part of
Oxford is directly applicable to the world at all. What I mean to say
is, that I think it can only be applied to the world through our
behavior."

"Well, of course," said Alan, "that's a truism."

Michael was rather disconcerted. The thought in his mind had seemed more
worthy of expression.

"But the point is," Alan went on, "whether our philosophic education,
our mental training has any effect on our behavior. It seems to me that
Oxford is just as typically Oxford whatever a man reads."

"That wasn't the case at school," said Michael. "I'm positive for
instance the Modern side was definitely inferior to the Classical
side--in manners and everything else. And though at Oxford other
circumstances interfere to make the contrast less violent, it doesn't
seem to me one gains the quintessence of the university unless one reads
Greats. Even History only supplies that in the case of men
exceptionally sensitive to the spirit of place. I mean to say sensitive
in such a way that Oxford, quite apart from dons and undergraduates, can
herself educate. I'm tremendously anxious now that Oxford should become
more democratic, but I'm equally anxious that, in proportion as she
offers more willingly the shelter of her learning to the people, the
learning she bestows shall be more than ever rigidly unpractical, as
they say."

"So you really think philosophy is directly applicable?" said Alan.

"How Socratic you are," Michael laughed. "Perhaps the Rhodes Scholars
will answer your question. I remember reading somewhere lately that it
was confidently anticipated the advent of the Rhodes Scholars would
transform a provincial university into an imperial one. That may have
been written by a Cambridge man bitterly aware of his own provincial
university. Yet a moment's reflection should have taught him that
provincialism in academic matters is possibly an advantage. Florence and
Athens were provincial. Rome and London and Oxford are metropolitan--much
more dangerously exposed to the metropolitan snares of superficiality
and of submerged personality with the corollary of vulgar display.
Neither Rome nor London nor Oxford has produced her own poets. They have
always been sung by the envious but happy provincials. Rome and London
would have treated Shelley just as Oxford did. Cambridge would have
disapproved of him, but a bourgeois dread of interference would have let
him alone. As for an imperial university, the idea is ghastly. I figure
something like the Imperial Institute filled with Colonials eating
pemmican. The Eucalyptic Vision, it might be called."

"And you'd make a distinction between imperial and metropolitan?" Alan
asked.

"Good gracious, yes. Wouldn't you distinguish between New York and
London? Imperialism is the worst qualities of the provinces gathered up
and exhibited to the world in the worst way. A metropolis takes
provincialism and skims the cream. It is a disintegrating, but for
itself a civilizing, force. A metropolis doesn't encourage creative art
by metropolitans. It ought to be engaged all the time in trying to make
the provincials appreciate what they themselves are doing."

"I think you're probably talking a good deal of rot," said Alan
severely. "And we seem to have gone a long way from my question."

"About the application of philosophy?"

Alan nodded.

"Dear man, as were I a Cantabrian provincial, I should say. Dear man!
Doesn't it make you shiver? It's like the 'Pleased to meet you,' of
Americans and Tootingians. It's so terribly and intrusively personal. So
informative and unrestrained, so gushing and----"

"I wish you'd answer my question," Alan grumbled, "and call me what you
like without talking about it."

"Now I've forgotten my answer," said Michael. "And it was a wonderful
answer. Oh, I remember now. Of course, your philosophy is applicable to
the world. You coming from a metropolitan university will try to infect
the world with your syllogisms. You will meet Cambridge men much better
educated than yourself, but all of them incompetent to appreciate their
own education. You will gently banter them, trying to allay their
provincial suspicion of your easy manner. You will----"

"_You_ will simply not be serious," said Alan. "And so I shall go to
bed."

"My dear chap, I'm only talking like this because if I were serious, I
couldn't bear to think that to-night is almost the end of our fourth
year. It is, in fact, the end of 99 St. Giles."

"Well, it isn't as if we were never going to see each other again," said
Alan awkwardly.

"But it is," said Michael. "Don't you realize, even with all your
researches into philosophy, that after to-night we shall only see each
other in dreams? After to-night we shall never again have identical
interests and obligations."

"Well, anyway, I'm going to bed," said Alan, and with a good-night very
typical in its curtness of many earlier ones uttered in similar accents,
he went upstairs.

Michael, when he found himself alone, thought it wiser to follow him. It
was melancholy to watch the moon above the empty thoroughfare, and to
hear the bells echoing through the spaces of the city.



CHAPTER XVI

THE LAST WEEK


Michael's old rooms in college were lent to him for three or four days
as he had hoped they would be. The present occupant, a freshman, was not
staying up for Commemoration, and though next term he would move into
larger rooms for his second year, his effects had not yet been
transferred. Michael found it interesting to deduce from the evidence of
his books and pictures the character of the owner with whom he had
merely a nodding acquaintance. On the whole, he seemed to be a dull
young man. The photographs of his relatives were dull: his books were
dull and unkempt: his pictures were dull, narrative rather than
decorative. Probably there was nothing in the room that was strictly
individual, nothing that he had acquired to satisfy his own taste. Every
picture had probably been brought to Oxford because its absence would
not be noticed in whatever spare bedroom it had previously been hung.
Every book seemed either a survival of school or the inexpensive pastime
of a railway journey. The very clock on the mantelpiece, which was still
drearily ticking, looked like the first prize of a consolation race,
rather than the gratification of a personal choice. Michael reproached
the young man for being able to spend three terms a year without an
attempt to garnish decently the gothic bookshelves, without an effort to
leave upon this temporary abode the impression of his lodging. He almost
endowed the room itself with a capacity for criticism, feeling it must
deplore three terms of such undistinguished company. Yet, after all, he
had left nothing to tell of his sojourn here. Although he and the dull
young freshman had both used this creaking wicker-chair, for their
successors neither of them could preserve the indication of their
precedence. One relic of his own occupation, however, he did find in the
fragments of envelopes which he had stuck to the door on innumerable
occasions to announce the time of his return. These bits of paper that
straggled in a kite's tail over the oak door had evidently resisted all
attempts to scrub them off. There were usually a few on every door in
college, but no one had ever so extensively advertised his movements as
Michael, and to see these obstinate bits of tabs gave him a real
pleasure, as if they assured him of his former existence here. Each one
had marked an ubiquitous hour that was recorded more indelibly than many
other occasions of higher importance.

There was not, however, much time for sentimentalizing over the past, as
somewhere before one o'clock his mother and Stella would arrive, and
they must be met. Alan came with him to the railway station, and it was
delightful to see Wedderburn with them, and in another part of the train
Maurice with his mother and sisters. They must all have lunch at the
Randolph, said Wedderburn immediately. Mrs. Fane was surprised to find
the Randolph such a large hotel, and told Michael that if she had known
it were possible to be at all comfortable in Oxford, she would have come
up to see him long before. In the middle of lunch Lonsdale appeared,
having according to his own account traced Michael's movements with
tremendous determination. He was introduced to Mrs. Fane, who evidently
took a fancy to him. She was looking, Michael thought, most absurdly
young as Lonsdale rattled away to her, himself quite unchanged by a
year at Scoone's and a recent failure to enter the Foreign Office.

"I say, this is awfully sporting of you, Mrs. Fane. You know, one feels
fearfully out of it, coming up like this. Terribly old, and all that.
I've been mugging away for the Diplomatic and I've just made an awful
ass of myself. So I thought I wouldn't ask my governor to come up. He's
choking himself to pieces over my career at present, but I've had an
awfully decent offer from a man I know who runs a motor business, and I
don't think I've got the ambassadorial manner, do you? I think I shall
be much better at selling cars, don't you? I say, which balls are you
going to? Because I must buzz round and see about tickets."

Lonsdale's last question seemed to demand an answer, and Mrs. Fane
looked at Michael rather anxiously.

"Michael, what balls are we going to?" she inquired.

"Trinity, the House, and the Apollo," he told her.

"What house is that? and I don't think I ever heard of Apollo College.
It sounds very attractive. Have I said something foolish?" Mrs. Fane
looked round her, for everyone was laughing.

"The House is Christ Church, mother," said Michael, and then swiftly he
remembered his father might have made that name familiar to her. If he
had, she gave no sign; and Michael blushing fiercely, went on quickly to
explain that the Apollo was the name of the Masonic Lodge of the
university. Stella and Mrs. Fane rested that afternoon, and Michael with
Wedderburn, Lonsdale, and several other contemporaries spent a jolly
time in St. Mary's, walking round and reviving the memories of former
rags. Alan had suggested that, as he would be near the Randolph, he
might as well call in and escort Mrs. Fane and Stella down to tea in
Michael's rooms. Mrs. Avery with Blanche and Eileen Avery had also been
invited, and there was very little space left for teacups. Wedderburn,
however, assisted by Porcher on whom alone of these familiar people time
had not laid a visible finger, managed to make everybody think they had
enjoyed their tea. Afterward there was a general move to the river for a
short time, but as Lonsdale said, it must be for a very short time in
order that everyone might be in good form for the Trinity ball. Mrs.
Fane thought she would like to stay with Michael and talk to him for a
while. It was strange to see her sitting here in his old room, and to be
in a way more sharply aware of her than he had ever been, as he watched
her fanning herself and looking round at the furniture, while the echoes
of laughter and talk died away down the stone staircase without.

"Dear Michael," she said. "I wish I'd seen this room when you lived in
it properly."

He laughed.

"When I lived in it properly," he answered, "I should have been made so
shy by your visit that I think you'd have hated me and the room."

"You must have been so domestic," said his mother. "Such a curious thing
has happened."

"Apropos of what?" asked Michael, smiling.

"You know Dick Prescott left Stella all his money, well----"

"But, mother, I didn't know anything about it."

"It was rather vague. He left it first to some old lady whom he intended
to live four or five years, but she died this week, and so Stella
inherits it at once. About two thousand a year. It's all in land, and
will have to be managed. Huntingdonshire, or some country nobody
believes in. It's all very difficult. She must marry at once."

"But, mother, why because she is to be better off and own land in
Huntingdonshire, is she to marry at once?" asked Michael.

"To avoid fortune-hunters, odd foreign counts, and people."

"But she's not twenty-one yet," he objected.

"My dearest boy, I know, I know. That's why she must marry. Don't you
see, when she's of age, she'll be able to marry whom she likes, and you
know how headstrong Stella is."

"Mother," said Michael suddenly, "supposing she married Alan?"

"Delightful boy," she commented.

"You mean he's too young?"

"For the present, yes."

"But you wouldn't try to stop an engagement, would you?" he asked very
earnestly.

"My dearest Michael, if two young people I were fond of fell in love, I
should be the last person to try to interfere," Mrs. Fane promised.

"Well, don't say anything to Alan about Stella having more money. I
think he might be sensitive about it."

"Darling Stella!" she sighed. "So intoxicated with poverty--the notion
of it, I mean."

"Mother," said Michael suddenly and nervously, "you know, don't you,
that the day after to-morrow is the House ball--the Christ Church ball?"

"Where your father was?" she said gently, pondering the past.

He nodded.

"I'll show you his old rooms," Michael promised.

"Darling boy," she murmured, putting out her hand. He held it very
tightly for a moment.

Next day after the Trinity ball Alan, who was very cheerful, told
Michael he thought it would be good sport to invite everybody to tea at
99 St. Giles.

"Oh, I particularly didn't want that to happen," said Michael, taken
aback.

Alan was puzzled to know his reason.

"You'll probably think me absurd," said Michael. "But I rather wanted to
keep Ninety-nine for a place that I could remember as more than all
others the very heart of Oxford, the most intimate expression of all I
have cared for up here."

"Well, so you can, still," said Alan severely. "My asking a few people
there to tea won't stop you."

"All the same, I wish you wouldn't," Michael persisted. "I moved into
college for Commem just to avoid taking anybody to St. Giles."

"Not even Stella?" demanded Alan.

Michael shook his head.

"Well, of course, if you don't want me to, I won't," said Alan
grudgingly. "But I think you're rather ridiculous."

"I am, I know," Michael agreed. "But thanks for honoring me. Do you
think Stella has altered much since she was in Vienna, and during this
year in town?"

"Not a bit," Alan declared enthusiastically. "And yet in one way she
has," he corrected himself. "She seems less out of one's reach."

"Or else you know better how to stretch," Michael laughed.

"Oh, I wasn't thinking of her attitude to me," said Alan a little
stiffly.

"Most generalizations come down to a particular fact," Michael answered.
But he would not tease Alan too much because he really wished him to
have confidence.

After the Trinity ball it seemed to Michael now not very rash to sound
Stella about her point of view with regard to Alan. For this purpose he
invited her to come in a canoe with him on the Cher. Yet when together
they were gliding down the green tunnels of the stream, when all the
warmth of June was at their service, when neither question nor answer
could have cast on either more than a momentary shadow, Michael could
not bring himself to approach the subject even indirectly. They
discussed lazily the success of the Trinity ball, without reference to
the fact that Stella had danced three-quarters of her program with Alan.
She did not even bother to say he was a good dancer, so much was the
convention of indifference demanded by the brother and sister in their
progress along this fronded stream.

That night in the Town Hall Michael did not dance a great deal himself
at the Masonic ball. He sat with Lonsdale in the gallery, and together
they much diverted themselves with the costumes of the Freemasons. It
was really ridiculous to see Wedderburn in a red cloak and inconvenient
sword dancing the Templars quadrille.

"I think the English are curious people," said Michael. "How absurd that
all these undergraduates should belong to an Apollo Lodge and wear these
aprons and dress up like this! Look at Wedders!"

"Enter Second Ruffian, what?" Lonsdale chuckled.

"I suppose it does take the place of religion," Michael ejaculated, in a
tone of bewilderment. "Can you see my sister and Alan Merivale
anywhere?" he added casually.

"When's that coming off?" asked Lonsdale. He had taken to an eyeglass
since he had been in London, and the enhanced eye glittered very wisely
at Michael.

"You think?"

"What? Rather! My dear old bird, I'll lay a hundred to thirty. Look at
them now."

"They're only dancing," said Michael.

"But what dancing! Beautiful action. I never saw a pair go down so
sweetly to the gate. By the way, what are you going to do now you're
down?"

Michael shrugged his shoulders.

"I suppose you wouldn't like to come into the motor business?"

"No, thanks very much," said Michael.

"Well, you must do something, you know," said Lonsdale, letting fall his
eyeglass in disapproval. "You'll find that out in town."

Michael was engaged for the next dance to one of Maurice's sisters. Amid
the whirl of frocks, as he swung round this pretty and insipid creature
in pink crêpe-de-chine, he was dreadfully aware that neither his nor her
conversation mattered at all, and that valuable time was being robbed
from him to the strains of the Choristers waltz. Really he would have
preferred to leave Oxford in a manner more solemn than this, not tangled
up with frills and misses and obvious music. Looking down at Blanche
Avery, he almost hated her. And to-morrow there would be another ball.
He must dance with her again, with her and with her sister and with a
dozen more dolls like her.

Next morning, or rather next noon, for it was noon before people woke
after these balls that were not over until four o'clock, Michael looked
out of his bedroom window with a sudden dismay at the great elms of the
deer park, deep-bosomed, verdurous, entranced beneath the June sky.

"This is the last whole day," he said, "the last day when I shall have a
night at the end of it; and it's going to be absolutely wasted at a
picnic with all these women."

Michael scarcely knew how to tolerate that picnic, and wondered
resentfully why everybody else seemed to enjoy it so much.

"Delicious life," said his mother, as he punted her away from the
tinkling crowd on the bank. "I'm not surprised you like Oxford, dear
Michael."

"I like it--I liked it, I mean, very much more when it was altogether
different from this sort of thing. The great point of Oxford--in fact,
the whole point of Oxford--is that there are no girls."

"How charmingly savage you are, dear boy," said his mother. "And how
absurd to pretend you don't care for girls."

"But I don't," he asserted. "In Oxford I actually dislike them very
much. They're out of place except in Banbury Road. Dons should never
have been allowed to marry. Really, mother, women in Oxford are wrong."

"Of course, I can't argue with you. But there seem to me to be a great
many of them."

"Great scott, you don't think it's like this in term-time, do you?"

"Isn't it?" said Mrs. Fane, apparently very much surprised. "I thought
undergraduates were so famously susceptible. I'm sure they are, too."

"Do you mean to say you really thought this Commem herd was always
roaming about Oxford?"

"Michael, your Oxford expressions are utterly unintelligible to me."

"Don't you realize you are up here for Commem--for Commemoration?" he
asked.

"How wonderful!" she said. "Don't tell me any more. It's so romantic, to
be told one is 'up' for something."

Michael began to laugh, and the irritation of seeing the peaceful banks
of the upper river dappled with feminine forms, so that everywhere the
cattle had moved away to browse in the remote corners of the meadows,
vanished.

The ball at Christ Church seemed likely to be the most successful and to
be the one that would remain longest in the memories of those who had
taken part in this Commemoration. Nowhere could an arbiter of pleasure
have found so perfect a site for his most elaborate entertainment.
There was something very strangely romantic in this gay assembly
dancing in the great hall of the House, so that along the cloisters
sounded the unfamiliar noise of fiddles; but what gave principally the
quality of romance and strangeness was that beyond the music, beyond the
fantastically brilliant hall, stretched all around the dark quadrangles
deserted now save where about their glooms dresses indeterminate as
moths were here and there visible. The decrescent moon would scarcely
survive the dawn, and meanwhile there would be darkness everywhere away
from the golden heart of the dance in that great hall spinning with
light and motion.

Alan was evidently pleased that he was being able to show Stella his own
college. He wore about him an air of confidence that Michael did not
remember to have seen so plainly marked before. He and Stella were
dancing together all the time here at Christ Church, and Michael felt
he, too, must dance vigorously, so that he should not find himself
overlooking them. He was shy somehow of overlooking them, and when
Blanche Avery and Eileen Avery and half a dozen more cousins and sisters
of friends had been led back to their chaperones, Michael went over to
his mother and invited her to walk with him in the quadrangles of Christ
Church. She knew why he wanted her to walk with him, and as she took his
arm gently, she pressed it to her side. He thought again how
ridiculously young she seemed and how the lightness of her touch was no
less than that of the ethereal Eileen or the filmy Blanche. He wished he
had asked her to dance with him, but yet on second thoughts was glad he
had not, since to walk with her thus along these dark cloisters, down
which traveled fainter and fainter the fiddles of the Eton Boating Song,
was even better than dancing. Soon they were in Peckwater, standing
silent on the gravel, almost overweighted by that heavy Georgian
quadrangle.

"He lived either on that staircase or that one," said Michael. "But all
the staircases and all the rooms in Peck are just the same, and all the
men who have lived in them for the past fifty years are just the same.
The House is a wonderful place, and the type it displays best changes
less easily than any other."

"I didn't know him when he lived here," she murmured.

With her hand still resting lightly upon his sleeve, Michael felt the
palpitation of long-stored-up memories and emotions. As she stood here
pensive in the darkness, the years were rolling back.

"I expect if he were alive," she went on softly, "he would wonder how
time could have gone by so quickly since he was here. People always do,
don't they, when they revisit places they've known in younger days? When
he was here, I must have been about fifteen. Funny, severe,
narrow-minded old father!"

Michael waited rather anxiously. She had never yet spoken of her life
before she met his father, and he had never brought himself to ask her.

"Funny old man! He was at Cambridge--Trinity College, I think it was
called."

Then she was silent for a while, and Michael knew that she was linking
her father and his father in past events; but still she did not voice
her thoughts, and whatever joys or miseries of that bygone time were
being recalled were still wrapped up in her reserve: nor did Michael
feel justified in trying to persuade her to unloose them, even here in
this majestic enclosure that would have engulfed them all as soon as
they were free.

"You're not cold?" he tenderly demanded.

Surely upon his arm she had shivered.

"No, but I think we'll go back to the ballroom," she sighed.

Michael felt awed when their feet grated again in movement over the
gravel. Behind them in the quadrangle there were ghosts, and the noise
of walking here seemed sacrilegious upon this moonless and heavy summer
night. Presently, however, two couples came laughing into the lamplight
at the corner. The sense of decorous creeds outraged by his mother's
behavior of long ago vanished in the relief that present youth gave with
its laughing company and fashionable frocks. Beside such heedlessness it
were vain to conjure too remorsefully the past. After all, Peckwater was
a place in which young men should crack whips and shout to one another
across window-boxes; here there should be no tombs. Michael and his
mother went on their way to the hall, and soon the music of the waltzing
filled magically the lamplit entries of the great college, luring them
to come back with light hearts, so importunate was the gaiety.

Michael rather reproached himself afterward for not trying to take
advantage of his mother's inclination to yield him a more extensive
confidence. He was sure Stella would not have allowed the opportunity to
slip by so in a craven embarrassment; or was it rather a fine
sensitiveness, an imaginative desire to let the whole of that history
lie buried in whatever poor shroud romance could lend it? As he was
thinking of Stella, herself came toward him over the shining floor of
the ballroom emptied for the interval between two dances. How delicately
flushed she was and how her gray eyes were lustered with joy of the
evening, or perhaps with fortunate tidings. Michael was struck by the
direct way in which she was coming toward him without bothering through
self-consciousness to seem to find him unexpectedly.

"Come for a walk with me in the moonlight," she said, taking his arm.

"There's no moon yet, but I'll take you for a walk."

The clock was striking two, as they reached Tom quad, and the
decrescent moon to contradict him was already above the roofs. They
strolled over to the fountain and stood there captured by loveliness,
silent themselves and listening to the talk and laughter of shimmering
figures that reached them subdued and intermittent from the flagged
terraces in the distance.

"I suppose," said Stella suddenly, "you're very fond of Alan?"

"Rather, of course I am."

"So am I."

Then she blushed, and her cheeks were very crimson in the moonlight.
Michael had never seen her blush like this, had never been aware before
of her maidenhood that now flooded his consciousness like a bouquet of
roses. Hitherto she had always been for Michael a figure untouched by
human weakness. Even when last summer he had seen her break down
disconsolate, he had been less shocked by her grief than by its
incongruity in her. This blush gave to him his only sister as a woman.

"The trouble with Alan is that he thinks he can't marry me because I
have money, whereas he will be dependent on what he earns. That's
rubbish, isn't it?"

"Of course," he agreed warmly. "I'll tell him so, if you like."

"I don't think he'd pay much attention," she said. "But you know, poor
old Prescott left me a lot of land."

Michael nodded.

"Well, it's got to be managed, hasn't it?"

"Of course," said Michael. "You'll want a land agent."

"Why not Alan?" she asked. "I don't want to marry somebody in the Home
Civil Service. I want him to be with me all day. Wouldn't you?"

"You've not told mother?" Michael suggested cautiously.

"Not yet. I shall be twenty-one almost at once, you know."

"What's that got to do with it?"

He was determined that in Stella's behavior there should be no
reflection, however pale, of what long ago had come into the life of an
undergraduate going down from Christ Church. He wished for Stella and
Alan to have all the benisons of the world. "You've no right to assume
that mother will object," he told her.

But Stella did not begin to speak, as she was used, of her determination
to have her own way in spite of everybody. She was a softer Stella
to-night; and that alone showed to Michael how right he had been to wish
with all his heart that she would fall in love with Alan.

"There he is!" she cried, clapping her hands.

Michael looked up, and saw him coming across the great moonlit space,
tall and fair and flushed as he should be coming like this to claim
Stella. Michael punched Alan to express his pleasure, and then he
quickly left them standing by the fountain close together.



CHAPTER XVII

THE LAST DAY


At sunrise when the stones of Oxford were the color of lavender, a
photograph was taken of those who had been dancing at the Christ Church
ball; after which, their gaiety recorded, the revelers went home.
Michael was relieved when Alan offered to drive his mother and Stella
back to the Randolph. He was not wishing for company that morning, but
rather to walk slowly down to college alone. He waited, therefore, to
see the dancers disappear group by group round various corners, until
the High was desolate and he was the only human figure under this
virginal sky. In his bedroom clear and still and sweet with morning
light he did not want to go to bed. The birds fluttering on the lawns,
the sun sparkling with undeterrent rays of gold not yet high and fierce,
and all the buildings of the college dreaming upon the bosom of this
temperate morn made him too vigilant for beauty. It would be wrong to
sleep away this Oxford morning. With deliberate enjoyment he changed
from ruffled evening dress into flannels.

In the sitting-room Michael looked idly through the books, and glanced
with dissatisfaction at the desquamating backs of the magazines. There
was nothing here fit to occupy his attention at such a peerless hour.
Yet he still lingered by the books. Habit was strong enough to make him
feel it necessary at least to pretend to read during the hours before
breakfast. Finally in desperation he pulled out one of the magazines,
and as he did so a small volume bound in paper fell onto the floor. It
was Manon Lescaut, and Michael was pleased that the opportunity was
given to him of reading a book he had for a long time meant to read.
Moreover, if it were disappointing, this edition was so small that it
would fit easily into his pocket and be no bother to carry. He wondered
rather how Manon Lescaut had come into this bookshelf, and he opened it
at an aquatint of ladies deject and lightly clothed--_c'est une douzaine
de filles de joie_, said the inscription beneath. Here, Michael feared,
was the explanation of how the Abbé Prévost found himself squeezed away
between Pearson's and The Strand. Here at last was evidence in these
rooms of a personal choice. Here spoke, if somewhat ignobly, the
character of the purchaser. Michael slipped the small volume into his
pocket and went out.

The great lawns in front of New Quad stretched for his solitary pleasure
in the golden emptiness of morn. At such an hour it were vain to repine;
so supreme was beauty like this that Michael's own departure from Oxford
appeared to him as unimportant as the fall of a petal unshaken by any
breath of summer wind. With the air brimming to his draught and with
early bees restless along the herbaceous border by the stream's parapet,
Michael began to read Manon Lescaut. He would finish this small volume
before breakfast, unless the fumes of the sun should drug him out of all
power to award the Abbé his fast attention. The great artist was
stronger than the weather, and Michael read on while the sun climbed the
sky, while the noises of a new day began, while the footsteps of
hurrying scouts went to and fro.

It was half-past eight when he finished that tale of love. For a few
moments he sat dazed, visualizing that dreadful waste near New Orleans
where in the sand it was so easy for the star-crossed Chevalier to bury
the idol of his heart.

Porcher was surprised to find Michael up and wide awake.

"You oughtn't to have gone and tired yourself like that, sir," he said
reproachfully.

Michael rather resented putting back the little book among those
magazines. He felt it would be almost justifiable to deprive the owner
of what he so evidently did not esteem, and he wondered if, when he had
cut the pages with his prurient paper-knife the purchaser had wished at
the end of this most austere tale that he had not spent his money so
barrenly. _C'est une douzaine de filles de joie._ It was a bitter
commentary on human nature, that a mere aquatint of these poor naked
creatures jolting to exile in their tumbril should extort half a crown
from an English undergraduate to probe their history.

"Dirty-minded little beast," said Michael, as he confiscated the edition
of Manon Lescaut, placing it in his suitcase. Then he went out into St.
Mary's Walks, and at the end of the longest vista sat down on a
garden-bench beside the Cherwell. Before him stretched the verdurous way
down which he had come; beyond, taking shape among the elms, was the
college; to right and left were vivid meadows where the cattle were
scarcely moving, so lush was the pasturage here; and at his side ran the
slow, the serpentine, the tree-green tranquil Cher.

As he sat here among the bowers of St. Mary's, the story he had just
read came back to him with a double poignancy. He scarcely thought that
any tale of love could purify so sharply every emotion but that of pity
too profound for words. He wondered if his father had loved with such a
devotion of self-destruction as had inspired des Grieux. It was strange
himself should have been so greatly moved by a story of love at the
moment when he was making ready to enter the world. He had not thought
of love during all the time he had been up at Oxford. Now he went back
in memory to the days when Lily had the power to shake his soul, even as
the soul of des Grieux had been shaken in that inn-yard of Amiens, when
coming by the coach from Arras he first beheld Manon. How trivial had
been Lily's infidelity compared with Manon's: how shallow had been his
own devotion beside the Chevalier's. But the love of des Grieux for
Manon was beyond the love of ordinary youth. The Abbé by his art had
transmuted a wild infatuation, a foolish passion for a wanton into
something above even the chivalry of the noblest lover of the Middle
Ages. It was beyond all tears, this tale; and the dry grief it now
exacted gave to Michael in some inexplicable way a knowledge of life
more truly than any book since Don Quixote. It was an academic tale,
too: it was told within the narrowest confines of the most rigid form.
There was not in this narrative one illegitimate device to excite an
easy compassion in the reader: it was literature of a quality marmoreal,
and it moved as only stone can move. The death of Manon in the
wilderness haunted him even as he sat here: almost he too could have
prostrated himself in humiliation before this tragedy.

"There is no story like it," said Michael to the sleek river. _N'exigez
point de moi que je vous décrive mes sentiments, ni que je vous rapporte
mes dernières expressions._ And it was bought by an undergraduate for
half a crown because he wanted to stare like the peasant-folk. _C'est
une douzaine de filles de joie._ How really promising that illustration
must have looked: how the coin must have itched in his pocket: how
carefully he must have weighed the slimness of the book against his
modesty: how easy it had been to conceal behind those magazines.

But he could not sit here any longer reconstructing the shamefaced
curiosity of a dull young freshman, nor even, with so much to arrange
this last morning, could he continue to brood upon the woes of the
Chevalier des Grieux and Manon Lescaut. It was time to go and rouse
Lonsdale. Lonsdale had slept long enough in those ground-floor rooms of
his where on the first day of the first term the inextricable Porcher
had arranged his wine. It did not take long to drag Lonsdale out of bed.

"You slack devil, I've not been to bed at all," said Michael.

"More silly ass you," Lonsdale yawned. "Now don't annoy me while I'm
dressing with your impressions of the sunrise." Michael watched him eat
his breakfast, while he slowly and with the troublesome aid of his
eyeglass managed to focus once again the world.

"I was going to tell you something deuced interesting about myself when
you buzzed off this morning. You've heard of Queenie Molyneux--well,
Queenie ..."

"Wait a bit," Michael interrupted. "I haven't heard of Queenie
Molyneux."

"Why, she's in the Pink Quartette."

Michael still looked blank, and Lonsdale adjusting his eyeglass looked
at him in amazement.

"The Pink Quartette in My Mistake."

"Oh, that rotten musical comedy," said Michael. "I haven't seen it."

Lonsdale shook his head in despair, and the monocle tinkled down upon
his plate. When he had wiped it clean of marmalade, he asked Michael in
a compassionate voice if he _never_ went to the theater, and with a sigh
returned to the subject of Queenie.

"It's the most extraordinary piece of luck. A girl that everyone in town
has been running after falls in love with me. Now the question is, what
ought I to do? I can't afford to keep her, and I'm not cad enough to
let somebody else keep her, and use the third latchkey. My dear old
chap, I don't mind telling you I'm in the deuce of a fix."

"Are you very much in love with her?" Michael asked.

"Of course I am. You don't get Queenies chucked at your head like
turnips. Of course I'm frightfully keen."

"Why don't you marry her?" Michael asked.

"What? Marry her? You don't seem to understand who I'm talking about.
Queenie Molyneux! She's in the Pink Quartette in My Mistake."

"Well?"

"Well, I can't marry a chorus-girl."

"Other people have," said Michael.

"Well, yes, but--er--you know, Queenie has rather a reputation. I
shouldn't be the first."

"The problem's too hard for me," said Michael.

In his heart he would have liked to push Manon Lescaut into Lonsdale's
hands and bid him read that for counsel. But he could not help laughing
to himself at the notion of Lonsdale wrestling with the moral of Manon
Lescaut, and if the impulse had ever reached his full consciousness, it
died on the instant.

"Of course, if this motor-car business is any good," Lonsdale was
saying, "I might be able in a year or two to compete with elderly
financiers. But my advice to you ..."

"You asked for my advice," said Michael, with a smile.

"I know I did. I know I did. But as you haven't ever been to see My
Mistake--the most absolutely successful musical comedy for years--why,
my dear fellow, I've been thirty-eight times!... and my advice to you is
'avoid actresses.' Oh, yes, I know it's difficult, I know, I know."

Lonsdale shook his head so often that the monocle fell on the floor, and
his wisdom was speechless until he could find it again.

Michael left him soon afterward, feeling rather sadly that the horizon
before him was clouding over with feminine forms. Alan would soon be
engaged to his sister. It was delightful, of course, but in one way it
already placed a barrier between their perfect intercourse. Maurice
would obviously soon be thinking of nothing but women. Already even up
at Oxford a great deal of his attention had been turned in that
direction: and now Lonsdale had Queenie. This swift severance from youth
by all his friends, this preoccupation with womanhood was likely to be
depressing, thought Michael, unless himself also fell in love. That was
very improbable, however. Love filled him with fear. The Abbé Prévost
that morning had expressed for him in art the quintessence of what he
knew with sharp prevision love for him would mean. He felt a dread of
leaving Oxford that quite overshadowed his regret. Here was shelter--why
had he not shaped his career to stay forever in this cold peace? And,
after all, why should he not? He was independent. Why should he enter
the world and call down upon himself such troubles and torments as had
vexed his youth in London? From the standpoint of moral experience he
had a right to stay here: and yet it would be desolate to stay here
without a vital reason, merely to grow old on the fringe of the
university. Could he have been a Fellow, it would have been different:
but to vegetate, to dream, to linger without any power of art to put
into form even what he had experienced already, that would inevitably
breed a pernicious melancholy. On the other hand, he might go to
Plashers Mead. He might almost make trial of art. Guy would inspire him,
Guy living his secluded existence with books above a stream. Whatever
occurred to him in the way of personal failure, he could on his side
encourage Guy. His opinion might be valuable, for although he seemed to
have no passion to create, he was sure his judgment was good. How Guy
would appreciate Manon; and perhaps like so many classics he had taken
it as read, nor knew yet what depths of pity, what profundities of
beauty awaited his essay.

Michael made up his mind that instead of going to London this afternoon
he would ride over to Wychford and either stay with Guy or in any case
announce his speedy return to stay with him for at least the rest of the
summer. Alan would escort his mother and Stella home. It would be easier
for Alan that way. His mother would be so charming to him, and
everything would soon be arranged. With this plan to unfold, Michael
hurried across to Ninety-nine. Alan was already up. Everything was
packed. Michael realized he could already regard the digs without a pang
for the imminence of final departure. Perhaps the Abbé Prévost had
deprived him of the capacity for a merely sentimental emotion, at any
rate for the present.

Alan looked rather doubtful over Michael's proposal.

"I hate telling things in the train," he objected.

"You haven't got to tell anything in the train," Michael contradicted.
"My mother is sure to invite you to dinner to-night, and you can tell
her at home. It's much better for me to be out of it. I shall be back in
a few days to pack up various things I shall want for Plashers Mead."

"It's a most extraordinary thing," said Alan slowly, "that the moment
you think there's a chance of my marrying your sister, you drop me like
a hot brick."

Michael touched his shoulder affectionately.

"I'm more pleased about you and her than about anything that has ever
happened," he said earnestly. "Now are you content?"

"Of course, I oughtn't to have spoken to her," said Alan. "I really
don't know, looking back at last night, how on earth I had the cheek. I
expect I said a lot of rot. I ought certainly to have waited until I was
in the Home Civil."

"You must chuck that idea," said Michael. "Stella would loathe the Civil
Service."

"I can't marry ..." Alan began.

"You've got to manage her affairs. She has a temperament. She also has
land." Then Michael explained about Prescott, and so eloquent was he
upon the need for Stella's happiness that Alan began to give way.

"I always thought I should be too proud to live on a woman," he said.

"Don't make me bring forward all my arguments over again," Michael
begged. "I'm already feeling very fagged. You'll have all your work cut
out. To manage Stella herself, let alone her piano and let alone her
land, is worth a very handsome salary. But that's nothing to do with it.
You're in love with each other. Are you going to be selfish enough to
satisfy your own silly pride at the expense of her happiness? I could
say lots more. I could sing your praises as ..."

"Thanks very much. You needn't bother," interrupted Alan gruffly.

"Well, will you not be an ass?"

"I'll try."

"Otherwise I shall tell you what a perfect person you are."

"Get out," said Alan, flinging a cushion.

Michael left him and went down to the Randolph. He found Stella already
dressed and waiting impatiently in the lobby for his arrival. His mother
was not yet down.

"It's all right," he began, "I've destroyed the last vestige of Alan's
masculine vanity. Mother will be all right--if," said Michael severely,
pausing to relish the flavor of what might be the last occasion on which
he would administer with authority a brotherly admonition. "_If_ you
don't put on a lot of side and talk about being twenty-one in a couple
of months. Do you understand?"

Stella for answer flung her arms round his neck, and Michael grew purple
under the conspicuous affront she had put upon his dignity.

"You absurd piece of pomposity," she said. "I really adore you."

"For God's sake don't talk in that exaggerated way," Michael muttered.
"I hope you aren't going to make a public ass of Alan like that. He'd be
rather sick."

"If you say another word," Stella threatened, "I'll clap my hands and go
dancing all round this hotel."

At lunch Michael explained that he was not coming to town for a day or
two, and his mother accepted his announcement with her usual gracious
calm. Just before they were getting ready to enter their cab to go to
the station, Michael took her aside.

"Mother, you'll be very sympathetic, won't you?" Then he whispered to
her, fondling her arm. "They really are so much in love, but Alan will
never be able to explain how much, and I swear to you he and Stella were
made for each other."

"But they don't want to be married at once?" asked Mrs. Fane, in some
alarm.

"Oh, not to-morrow," Michael admitted. "But don't ask them to have a
year's engagement. Will you promise me?"

"Why don't you come back to-night and talk to me about it?" she asked.

"Because they'll be so delightful talking to you without me. I should
spoil it. And don't forget--Alan is a _slow_ bowler, but he gets
wickets."

Michael watched with a smile his mother waving to him from the cab
while still she was vaguely trying to resolve the parting metaphor he
had flung at her. As soon as the cab had turned the corner, he called
for his bicycle and rode off to Wychford.

He went slowly with many roadside halts, nor was there the gentlest rise
up which he did not walk. It was after five o'clock when he dipped from
the rolling highway down into Wychford. There were pink roses everywhere
on the gray houses. As he went through the gate of Plashers Mead, he
hugged himself with the thought of Guy's pleasure at seeing him so
unexpectedly on this burnished afternoon of midsummer. The leaves of the
old espalier rustled crisply: they were green and glossy, and the
apples, still scarcely larger than nuts, promised in the autumn when he
and Guy would be together here a ruddy harvest. The house was
unresponsive when he knocked at the door. He waited for a minute or two,
and then he went into the stone-paved hall and up the steep stairs to
the long corridor, at whose far end the framed view of the open doorway
into Guy's green room glowed as vividly as if it gave upon a high-walled
sunlit garden. The room itself was empty. There were only the books and
a lingering smell of tobacco smoke, and through the bay-window the
burble of the stream swiftly flowing. Michael looked out over the
orchard and away to the far-flung horizon of the wold beyond.

Here assuredly, he told himself, was the perfect refuge. Here in this
hollow waterway was peace. From here sometimes in the morning he and Guy
would ride into Oxford, whence at twilight they would steal forth again
and, dipping down from the bleak road, find Plashers Mead set safe in a
land that was tributary only to the moon. Guy's diamond pencil, with
which he was wont upon the window to inscribe mottoes, lay on the sill.
Michael picked it up and scratched upon the glass: _The fresh green lap
of fair King Richard's land_, setting the date below.

Then suddenly coming down past the house with the stream he saw in a
canoe Guy with a girl. The canoe swept past the window and was lost
round the bend, hidden immediately by reeds and overarching willows. Yet
Michael had time to see the girl, to see her cheeks of frailest rose, to
know she was a fairy's child and that Guy was deep in love. Although the
fleet vision thrilled him with a romantic beauty, Michael was
disheartened. Even here at Plashers Mead, where he had counted upon
finding a cloister, the disintegration of life's progress had begun. It
would be absurd for him to intrude now upon Guy. He would scarcely be
welcomed now in this June weather. After all, he must go to London; so
he left behind him the long gray house and walked up the slanting hill
that led to the nearest railway station. By the gate where he and Guy
had first seen Plashers Mead, he paused to throw one regret back into
that hollow waterway, one regret for the long gray house on its green
island circled by singing streams.

There were two hours to wait at the station before the train would
arrive. He would be in London about half-past nine. Discovering a meadow
pied with daisies, Michael slept in the sun.

When he woke, the grass was smelling fresh in the shadows, and the sun
was westering. He went across to the station and, during the ten minutes
left before his train came in, walked up and down the platform in the
spangled airs of evening, past the tea-roses planted there, slim tawny
buds and ivory cups dabbled with creamy flushes.

It was dark when Michael reached Paddington, and he felt depressed,
wishing he had come back with the others. No doubt they would all be at
the theater. Or should he drive home and perhaps find them there?

"Know anything about this golf-bag, Bill?" one porter was shouting to
another.

Michael went over to look at the label in case it might be Alan's bag.
But it was an abandoned golf-bag belonging to no one: there were no
initials even painted on the canvas. This forsaken golf-bag doubled
Michael's depression, and though he had always praised Paddington as the
best of railway stations, he thought to-night it was the gloomiest in
London. Then he remembered in a listless way that he had forgotten to
inquire about his suit case, which had been sent after him from Oxford
to Shipcott, the station for Wychford. It must be lying there now with
Manon Lescaut inside. He made arrangements to recapture it, which
consummated his depression. Then he called a hansom and drove to Cheyne
Walk. They had all gone to the Opera, the parlormaid told him. Michael
could not bear to stay at home to-night alone: so, getting back into the
hansom, he told the man to drive to the Oxford Music-hall. It would be
grimly amusing to see on the programs there the theatrical view of St.
Mary's tower.


THE END OF THE FIRST BOOK



BOOK TWO

ROMANTIC EDUCATION

    Sancta ad vos anima atque istius inscia culpae
    descendam, magnorum haud umquam indignus avorum.

    VIRGIL.

    For Fancy cannot live on real food:
    In youth she will despise familiar joy
    To dwell in mournful shades, as they grow real,
    Then buildeth she of joy her fair ideal.

    ROBERT BRIDGES.



CHAPTER I

OSTIA DITIS


When Michael reached the Oxford Music-hall he wondered why he had
overspurred his fatigue to such a point. There was no possibility of
pleasure here, and he would have done better to stay at home and cure
with sleep what was after all a natural depression. It had been foolish
to expect a sedative from contact with this unquiet assemblage. In the
mass they had nothing but a mechanical existence, subject as they were
to the brightness or dimness of the electrolier that regulated their
attention. Michael did not bother to buy a program. From every podgy
hand he could see dangling the lithograph of St. Mary's tower with its
glazed moonlight; and he was not sufficiently aware of the glib atom who
bounced about the golden dazzle of the stage to trouble about his name.
He mingled with the slow pace of the men and women on the promenade.
They were going backward and forward like flies, meeting for a moment in
a quick buzz of colloquy and continuing after a momentary pause their
impersonal and recurrent progress. Michael was absorbed in this
ceaseless ebb and flow of motion where the sidelong glances of the
women, as they brushed his elbow in the passing crowd, gave him no
conviction of an individual gaze. Once or twice he diverted his steps
from the stream and tried to watch in a half-hearted way the
performance; but as he leaned over the plush-covered barrier a woman
would sidle up to him, and he would move away in angry embarrassment
from the questioning eyes under the big plumed hat. The noise of popping
corks and the chink of glasses, the whirr of the ventilating fans, the
stentorophonic orchestra, the red-faced raucous atom on the stage
combined to irritate him beyond further endurance; and he had just
resolved to walk seven times up and down the promenade before he went
home, when somebody cried in heartiest greeting over his shoulder,
"Hullo, Bangs!"

Michael turned and saw Drake, and so miserable had been the effect of
the music-hall that he welcomed him almost effusively, although he had
not seen him during four years and would probably like him rather less
now than he had liked him at school.

"_My_ lord! fancy seeing you again!" Drake effused.

Michael found himself shaken warmly by the hand in support of the
enthusiastic recognition. After the less accentuated cordiality of
Oxford manners, it was strange to be standing like this with clasped
hands in the middle of this undulatory crowd.

"I _say_, Bangs, old man, we must have a drink on this."

Drake led the way to the bar and called authoritatively for two whiskies
and a split Polly.

"Quite a little-bit-of-fluffy-all-right," he whispered to Michael,
seeming to calculate with geometrical eyes the arcs and semicircles of
the barmaid's form. She with her nose in the air poured out the liquid,
and Michael wondered how any of it went into the glass. As a matter of
fact, most of it splashed onto the bar, whence Drake presently took his
change all bedewed with alcohol, and, lifting his glass, wished Michael
a jolly good chin-chin.

"'D luck," Michael muttered in response.

"_My_ lord!" Drake began again. "Fancy meeting you of all people. And
not a bit different. I said to myself: 'I'm jiggered if that isn't old
Bangs,' and--well, _my_ lord! but I was surprised. Do you often come out
on the randan?"

"Not very often," Michael admitted. "I just happened to be alone
to-night."

"Good for you, old sport. What have you been doing since you left
school?"

"I'm just down from Oxford," Michael informed him.

"Pretty good spree up there, eh?"

"Oh, yes, rather," said Michael.

"Well, I had the chance to go," said Drake. "But it wasn't good enough.
It's against you in the City, you know. Waste of time really, except of
course for a parson or a schoolmaster."

"Yes, I expect it would have been rather a waste of time for you,"
Michael agreed.

"Oh, rotten! So you moved from--where was it?--Carlington Road?"

"Yes, we moved to Cheyne Walk."

"Let's see. That's in Hampstead, isn't it?"

"Well, it's rather nearer the river," suggested Michael. "Are you still
in Trelawny Road?"

"Yes, still in the same old hovel. My hat! Talking of Trelawny Road, it
_is_ a small world. Who do you think I saw last week?"

"Not Lily Haden?" Michael asked, in spite of a wish not to rise so
quickly to Drake's hook.

"You're right. I saw the fair Lily. But where do you think I saw her?
Bangs, old boy, I tell you I'm not a fellow who's easily surprised. But
this knocked me. Of course, you'll understand the Hadens flitted from
Trelawny Road soon after you stopped calling. So who knows what's
happened since? I give you three guesses where I saw her."

"I hate riddles," said Michael fretfully.

"At the Orient," said Drake solemnly. "The Orient Promenade. You could
have knocked me down with a feather."

Michael stared at Drake, scarcely realizing the full implication of what
he just announced. Then suddenly he grasped the horrible fact that
revealed to him here in a music-hall carried a double force. His one
instinct for the moment was to prevent Drake from knowing into what
depths his news had plunged him.

"Has she changed?" asked Michael, and could have kicked himself for the
question.

"Well, of course there was a good deal of powder," said Drake. "I'm not
easily shocked, but this gave me a turn. She was with a man, but even if
she hadn't been, I doubt if I'd have had the nerve to talk to her. I
wouldn't have known what to say. But, of course, you know, her mother
was a bit rapid. That's where it is. Have another drink. You're looking
quite upset."

Michael shook his head. He must go home.

"Aren't you coming down West a bit?" asked Drake, in disappointment.
"The night's still young."

But Michael was not to be persuaded.

"Well, don't let's lose sight of each other now we've met. What's your
club? I've just joined the Primrose myself. Not a bad little place. You
get a rare good one-and-sixpenny lunch. You ought to join. Or perhaps
you're already suited?"

"I belong to the Bath," said Michael.

"Oh, of course, if you're suited, that's all right. But any time you
want to join the Primrose just let me know and I'll put you up. The sub
isn't really very much. Guinea a year."

Michael thanked him and escaped as quickly as he could. Outside even in
Oxford Street the air was full of summer, and the cool people sauntering
under the sapphirine sky were as welcome to his vision as if he had
waked from a fever. His head was throbbing with the heat of the
music-hall, and the freshness of night-air was delicious. He called a
hansom and told the driver to go to Blackfriars Bridge, and from there
slowly along the Embankment to Cheyne Walk. For a time he leaned back in
the cab, thinking of nothing, barely conscious of golden thoroughfares,
of figures in silhouette against the glitter, and of the London roar
rising and falling. Presently in the quiet of the shadowy cross-streets
he began to appreciate what seemed the terrible importance to himself of
Drake's news.

"It concerns me," he began to reiterate aloud. "It concerns me--me--me.
It's useless to think that it doesn't. It concerns me."

Then a more ghastly suggestion whispered itself. How should he ever know
that he was not primarily responsible? The idea came over him with
sickening intensity; and upright now he saw in the cracked mirrors of
the cab a face blanched, a forehead clammy with sweat, and over his
shoulder like a goblin the wraith of Lily. It was horrible to see so
distorted that beautiful memory which time had etherealized out of a
reality, until of her being nothing had endured but a tenuous image of
earliest love. Now under the shock of her degradation he must be dragged
back by this goblin to face his responsibility. He must behold again
close at hand her shallow infidelity. He must assure himself of her
worthlessness, hammer into his brain that from the beginning she had
merely trifled with him. This must be established for the sake of his
conscience. Where the devil was this driver going?

"I told you down the Embankment," Michael shouted through the trap.

"I can't go down the Embankment before I gets there, can I, sir?" the
cabman asked reproachfully.

Michael closed the trap. He was abashed when he perceived they were
still only in Fleet Street. Why had he gone to The Oxford to-night? Why
had he spoken to Drake? Why had he not stayed at Wychford? Why had he
not returned to London with the others? Such regrets were valueless. It
was foredoomed that Lily should come into his life again. Yet there was
no reason why she should. There was no reason at all. Men could hardly
be held responsible for the fall of women, unless themselves had upon
their souls the guilt of betrayal or desertion. It was ridiculous to
argue that he must bother because at eighteen he had loved her, because
at eighteen he had thought she was worthy of being loved. No doubt the
Orient Promenade was the sequel of kissing objectionable actors in the
back gardens of West Kensington. Yet the Orient Promenade? That was a
damnable place. The Orient Promenade? He remembered her kisses. Sitting
in this cab, he was kissing her now. She had ridden for hours deep in
his arms. Not Oxford could cure this relapse into the past. Every spire
and every tower had crashed to ruins around his staid conceptions, so
that they too presently fell away. Four years of plastic calm were
unfashioned, and she was again beside him. Every passing lamp lit up her
face, her smoldering eyes, her lips, her hair. The goblin took her
place, the goblin with sidelong glances, tasting of scent, powdered,
pranked, soulless, lost. What was she doing at this moment? What
invitation glittered in her look? Michael nearly told the driver to turn
his horse. He must reach the Orient before the show was done. He must
remonstrate with her, urge her to go home, help her with money, plead
with her, drag her by force away from that procession. But the hansom
kept on its way. All down the Embankment, all along Grosvenor Road the
onrushing street-lamps flung their balls of light with monotonous
jugglery into the cab. To-night, anyhow, it was too late to find her. He
would sleep on whatever resolve he took, and in the morning perhaps the
problem would present itself in less difficult array.

Michael reached home before the others had come back from the Opera, and
suddenly he knew how tired he was. To-day had been the longest day he
could ever remember. Quickly he made up his mind to go to bed so that he
would not be drawn into the discussion of the delightful engagement of
Stella and Alan. He felt he could hardly face the irony of their
happiness when he thought of Lily. For a while he sat at the window,
staring at the water and bathing his fatigue in the balm of the generous
night. Even here in London peace was possible, here where the reflected
lamps in golden pagodas sprawled across the width of the river and where
the glutted tide lapped and sucked the piers of the bridge, nuzzled the
shelving strand and swirled in sleepy greed around the patient barges at
their moorings. A momentary breeze frilled the surface of the stream,
blurring the golden pagodas of light so that they jigged and glittered
until the motion died away. Eastward in the sky over London hung a tawny
stain that blotted out the stars.

From his window Michael grew more and more conscious of the city
stirring in a malaise of inarticulate life beneath that sinister stain.
He was aware of the stealthy soul of London transcending the false
vision of peace before his eyes. There came creeping over him the
dreadful knowledge that Lily was at this moment living beneath that
London sky, imprisoned, fettered, crushed beneath that grim suffusion,
that fulvid vile suffusion of the nocturnal sky. He began to spur his
memory for every beautiful record of her that was stamped upon it. She
was walking toward him in Kensington Gardens: not a contour of her
delicate progress had been blunted by the rasp of time. Five years ago
he had been the first to speak: now, must it be she who sometimes spoke
first? Seventeen she had told him had been her age, and they had kissed
in the dark midway between two lamps. No doubt she had been kissed
before. In that household of Trelawny Road anything else was
inconceivable. The gray streets of West Kensington in terrace upon
terrace stretched before him, and now as he recalled their barren stones
it seemed to him there was not one corner round which he might not
expect to meet her face to face. "_Michael, why do you make me love you
so?_" That was her voice. It was she who had asked him that question.
Never before this moment had he realized the import of her demand. Now,
when it was years too late to remedy, it came out of the past like an
accusation. He had answered it then with closer kisses. He had released
her then like a ruffled bird, secure that to-morrow and to-morrow and
to-morrow she would nestle to his arms for cherishing. And now if he
thought more of her life beneath that lurid stain he would go mad; if he
conjured to himself the vision of her now--had not Drake said she was
powdered and painted? To this had she come. And she was here in London.
Last week she had been seen. It was no nightmare. It was real, horrible
and real. He must go out again at once and find her. He must not sit
dreaming here, staring at the silly Thames, the smooth and imperturbable
Thames. He must plunge into that phantasmagoric city; he must fly from
haunt to haunt; he must drag the depths of every small hell; he must
find her to-night.

Michael rose, but on the instant of his decision his mother and Stella
drove up. Alan was no longer with them. He must have gone home to
Richmond. How normal sounded their voices from the pavement below.
Perhaps he would after all go down and greet them. They might wonder
otherwise if something had happened. Looking at himself as he passed the
mirror on his way down, he saw that he really was haggard. If he pleaded
a headache, his countenance would bear him out. In the end he shouted to
them over the balusters, and both of them wanted to come up with
remedies. He would not let them. The last thing his mood desired was the
tending of cool hands.

"I'm only fagged out," he told them. "I want a night's sleep."

Yet he knew how hard it would be to fall asleep. His brain was on fire.
Morning, the liquid morning of London summer, was unimaginable. He shut
the door of his room and flung himself down upon the bed. Contact with
the cool linen released the pent-up tears, and the fire within burnt
less fiercely as he cried. His surrender to self-pity must have lasted
half an hour. The pillow-case was drenched. His body felt battered. He
seemed to have recovered from a great illness. The quiet of the room
surprised him, as he looked round in a daze at the familiar objects. The
cataclysm of emotion so violently expressed had left him with a sense
that the force of his grief must have shaken the room as it had shaken
him. But everything was quiet; everything was the same. Now that he had
wept away that rending sense of powerlessness to aid her, he could
examine the future more calmly. Already the numbness was going, and the
need for action was beginning to make itself felt. Yet still all his
impulses were in confusion. He could not attain to any clear view of his
attitude.

He was not in love with her now. He was neither covetous of her kisses
nor in any way of her bodily presence. To his imagination at present she
appeared like one who has died. It seemed to him that he desired to
bring back a corpse, that over a lifeless form he wished to lament the
loss of beauty, of passion and of youth. But immediately afterward, so
constant was the impression of her as he had last known her, so utterly
incapable was Drake's account to change his outward picture of her, he
could not conceive the moral disintegration wrought by her shame. It
seemed to him that could he be driving with her in a hansom to-night,
she would lie still and fluttered in his arms, the Lily of five years
ago whom now to cherish were an adorable duty.

Therefore, he was in love with her. Otherwise to every prostitute in
London he must be feeling the same tenderness. Yet they were of no
account. Were they of no account? _C'est une douzaine de filles de
joie._ When he read Manon this morning--how strange! this morning he had
been reading Manon at Oxford--he was moved with pity for all poor light
women. And Lily was one of them. They did not banish them to New Orleans
nowadays, but she was not less an outcast. It was not because he was
still in love with her that he wished to find her. It was because he had
known her in the old days. He bore upon his own soul the damning weight
that in the past she had said, "_Michael, why do you make me love you
so?_" If there was guilt, he shared the guilt. If there was shame, he
was shameful. Others after him had sinned against her casually, counting
their behavior no more than a speck of dust in the garbage of human
emotion with which she was already smirched. He may not have seduced
her, but he had sinned against her, because while loving her he had let
her soul elude him. He had made her love him. He had trifled with her
sensuousness, and to say that he was too young for blame was cowardly.
It was that very youth which was the sin, because under society's laws,
whatever fine figure his love might seem to him to have cut, he should
have known that it was a profitless love for a girl. He shared in the
guilt. He partook of the shame. That was incontrovertible.

Suddenly a new aspect of the situation was painfully visible. Had not
his own mother been sinned against by his father? That seemed equally
incontrovertible. Prescott had known it in his heart. Prescott had said
to him in the Albany on the night he killed himself that he wanted to
marry Stella in order to be given the right to protect her. Prescott
must always have deplored the position in which his friend's mistress
had been placed. That was a hard word to use for one's mother. It seemed
to hiss with scorn. No doubt his father would have married her, if Lady
Saxby had divorced him. No doubt that was the salve with which he had
soothed his conscience. Something was miserably wrong with our rigid
divorce law, he may have said. He must have cursed it innumerable times
in order to console his conscience, just as himself at eighteen had
cursed youth when he could not marry Lily. His mother had been sinned
against. Nothing could really alter that. It was useless to say that the
sinner had in the circumstances behaved very well, that so far as he was
able he had treated her honorably. But nothing could excuse his father's
initial weakness. The devotion of a lifetime could not wash out his
deliberate sin against--and who was she? Who was his mother? Valérie ...
and her father was at Trinity, Cambridge ... a clergyman ... a
gentleman. And his father had taken her away, had exposed her to the
calumny of the world. He had afterward behaved chivalrously at any rate
by the standards of romance. But by what small margin had his own mother
escaped the doom of Lily? All his conceptions of order and safety and
custom tottered and reeled at such a thought. Surely such a realization
doubled his obligation to atone by rescuing Lily, out of very
thankfulness to God that his own mother had escaped the evil which had
come to her. How wretchedly puny now seemed all his own repinings. All
he had gained for his own character had been a vague dissatisfaction
that he could not succeed to the earldom in order to prove the sanctity
of good breeding. There had been no gratitude; there had been nothing
but a hurt conceit. The horror of Drake's news would at least cure him
forever of that pettiness. Already he felt the strength that comes from
the sight of a task that must be conquered. He had been moved that
morning by the tale of Manon Lescaut. This tale of Lily was in
comparison with that as an earthquake to the tunneling of a mole beneath
a croquet-lawn. And now must he regard his father's memory with
condemnation? Must he hate him? He must hate him, indeed, unless by his
own behavior he could feel he had accepted in substitution the burden of
his father's responsibility. And he had admired him so much dying out
there in Africa for his country. He had resented his death for the sake
of thousands more unworthy living comfortably at home.

"All my standards are falling to pieces," thought Michael. "Heroes and
heroines are all turning into cardboard. If I don't make some effort to
be true to conviction, I shall turn to cardboard with the rest."

He began to pace the room in a tumult of intentions, vows and
resolutions. Somehow before he slept he must shape his course. Four
years had dreamed themselves away at Oxford. Unless all that education
was as immaterial as the fogs of the Isis, it must provide him now with
an indication of his duty. He had believed in Oxford, believed in her
infallibility and glory, he had worshiped all she stood for. He had
surrendered himself to her to make of him a gentleman, and unless these
four years had been a delusion, his education must bear fruit now.

Michael made up his mind suddenly, and as it seemed to him at the moment
in possession of perfect calm and clarity of judgment, that he would
marry Lily. He had accepted marriage as a law of his society. Well,
then that law should be kept. He would test every article of the creed
of an English gentleman. He would try in the fire of his purpose honor,
pride, courtesy, and humility. All these must come to his aid, if he
were going to marry a whore. Let him stab himself with the word. Let him
not blind himself with euphemisms. His friends would have no euphemisms
for Lily. How Lonsdale had laughed at the idea of marrying Queenie
Molyneux, and she might have been called an actress. How everybody would
despise his folly. There would not be one friend who would understand.
Least of all would his mother understand. It was a hard thing to do; and
yet it would be comparatively easy, if he could be granted the grace of
faith to sustain him. Principles were rather barren things to support
the soul in a fight with convention. Principles of honor when so very
personal were apt to crumple in the blast of society's principles all
fiercely kindled against him. Just now he had thought of the
thankfulness he owed to God. Was it more than a figure of speech, an
exaggerative personification under great emotion of what most people
would call chance? At any rate, here was God in a cynical mood, and the
divine justice of this retributive situation seemed to hint at something
beyond mere luck. And if principles were strong enough to sustain him to
the onset, faith might fire him to the coronation of his
self-effacement. He made up his mind clearly and calmly to marry Lily,
and then he quickly fell into sleep, where as if to hearten him he saw
her slim and lovely, herself again, treading for his dreams the ways of
night like a gazelle.

Next morning when Michael woke, his resolve purified by sleep of
feverish and hysterical promptings was fresh upon his pillow. In the
fatigue and strain of the preceding night the adventure had caught a
hectic glow of exaltation. Now, with the sparrows twittering and the
milkman clanking and yodeling down Cheyne Walk and the young air puffing
the curtains, his course acquired a simplicity in this lucid hour of
deliberation, which made the future normal and even obvious. There was a
great relief in this fresh following breeze after the becalmed inaction
of Oxford: it seemed an augury of life's importance that so immediately
on top of the Oxford dream he should find such a complete dispersion of
mist and so urgent a fairway before him. The task of finding Lily might
easily occupy him for some time, for a life like hers would be made up
of mutable appearances and sudden strange eclipses. It might well be a
year before she was seen again on the Orient Promenade. Yet it was just
as likely that he would find her at once. For a moment he caught his
breath in thinking of the sudden plunge which that meeting would
involve. He thought of all the arguments and all the dismay that the
revelation of his purpose would set in motion. However, the marriage had
to be. He had threshed it all out last night. But he might reasonably
hope for a brief delay. Such a hope was no disloyalty to his
determination.

Stella was already at breakfast when he came downstairs. Michael raised
his eyebrows in demand for news of her and Alan.

"Mother was the sweetest thing imaginable," she said. "And so we're
engaged. I wanted to come and talk to you last night, but I thought you
would rather be left alone."

"I'm glad you're happy," he said gravely. "And I'm glad you're safe."

Stella looked at him in surprise.

"I've never been anything but safe," she assured him.

"Haven't you?" he asked, looking at her and reproving himself for the
thought that this gray-eyed sister of his could ever have exposed
herself to the least likelihood of falling into Lily's case. Yet there
had been times when he had felt alarmed for her security and happiness.
There had been that fellow Ayliffe, and more serious still there had
been that unknown influence in Vienna. Invulnerable she might seem now
in this cool dining-room on a summer morning, but there had been times
when he had doubted.

"What are you looking at?" she asked, flaunting her imperious boyishness
in his solemn countenance.

"You. Thinking you ought to be damned grateful."

"What for?"

"Everything."

"You included, I suppose," she laughed.

Still it had been rather absurd, Michael thought, as he tapped his egg,
to suppose there was anything in Stella's temperament which could ever
link her to Lily. Should he announce his quest for her approbation and
sympathy? It was difficult somehow to begin. Already a subtle change had
taken place in their relation to each other since she was engaged to
Alan. Of course, his reserve was ridiculous, but he could not bring
himself to break through now. Besides, in any case it were better to
wait until he had found Lily again. It would all sound very
pretentiously noble in anticipation, and though she would have every
right to laugh, he did not want her to laugh. When he stood on the brink
of marriage, they would none of them be able to laugh. There was a grim
satisfaction in that.

"When does mother suggest you should be married?" he asked.

"We more or less settled November. Alan has given up the Civil Service.
That's my first piece of self-assertion. He's coming for me this
morning, and we're going to lunch at Richmond."

"You've never met Mr. and Mrs. Merivale?"

Stella shook her head.

"Old Merivale's a ripping old boy. Always making bad puns. And Mrs.
Merivale's a dear."

"They must both be perfect to have been the father and mother of Alan,"
said Stella.

"I shouldn't get too excited over him," Michael advised. "Or over
yourself, either. You might give me the credit of knowing all about it
long before either of you."

"Darling Michael," she cried, bounding at him like a puppy.

"When you've done making an ass of yourself you might chuck me a roll."

Alan arrived soon after breakfast, and he and Michael had a few minutes
together, while Stella was getting ready to go out.

"Were your people pleased?" Michael asked.

"Oh, of course. Naturally the mater was a little nervous. She thought I
seemed young. Talked a good deal about being a little boy only yesterday
and that sort of rot."

"And your governor?"

"He supposed I was determined to steal her," said Alan, with a whimsical
look of apology for the pun. "And having worked that off he spent the
rest of the evening relishing his own joke."

Stella came down ready to start for Richmond. Both she and Alan were in
white, and Michael said they looked like a couple of cricketers. But he
envied them as he waved them farewell from the front door through which
the warm day was deliciously invading the house. Their happiness
sparkled on the air as visibly almost as the sunshine winking on the
river. Those Richmond days belonged imperishably to him and Alan, yet
for Alan this Saturday would triumph over all the others before. Michael
turned back into the house rather sadly. The radiance of the morning had
been dislustered by their departure, and Michael against his will had
to be aware of the sense of exclusion which lovers leave in their wake.
He waited indoors until his mother came down. She was solicitous for the
headache of last night, and while he was with her he was not troubled by
regrets for the break-up of established intercourse. He asked himself
whether he should take her into his confidence by announcing the tale of
Lily. Yet he did not wish to give her an impression of being more
straightly bound to follow his quest than by the broadest rules of
conduct. He felt it would be easier to explain when the marriage had
taken place. How lucky for him that he was not financially dependent!
That he was not, however, laid upon him the greater obligation. He could
find, even if he wished one, no excuse for unfulfillment.

Michael and his mother talked for a time of the engagement. She was
still somewhat doubtful of Alan's youth, when called upon to adapt
itself to Stella's temperament.

"I think you're wrong there," said Michael. "Alan is rather a rigid
person in fundamentals, you know, and his youth will give just that
flexibility which Stella would demand. In another five years he would
have been ensconced behind an Englishman's strong but most unmanageable
barrier of prejudice. I noticed so much his attitude toward Mrs. Ross
when she was received into the Roman Church. I asked him what he would
say if Stella went over. He maintained that she was different. I think
that's a sign he'll be ready to apply imagination to her behavior."

"Yes, but I hope he won't think that whatever she does is right," Mrs.
Fane objected.

"Oh, no," laughed Michael. "Imagination will always be rather an effort
for Alan. Mother, would you be worried if I told you I wanted to go away
for a while--I mean to say, go away and perhaps more or less not be
heard of for a while?"

"Abroad?" she asked.

"Not necessarily abroad. I'm not going to involve myself in a dangerous
undertaking; but I'm just sufficiently tired of my very comfortable
existence to wish to make an experiment. I may be away quite a short
time, but I might want to be away a few months. Will you promise me not
to worry yourself over my movements? Some of the success of this
undertaking will probably depend on a certain amount of freedom. You can
understand, can't you, that the claims of home, however delightful,
might in certain circumstances be a problem?"

"I suppose you're taking steps to prepare my mind for something very
extremely unpleasant," she said.

"Let's ascribe it all to my incurably romantic temperament," Michael
suggested.

"And I'm not to worry?"

"No, please don't."

"But when are you going away?"

"I'm not really going away at all," Michael explained. "But if I didn't
come back to dinner one night or even the next night, would you be
content to know quite positively that I hadn't been run over?"

"You're evidently going to be thoroughly eccentric. But I suppose," she
added wistfully, "that after your deserted childhood I can hardly expect
you to be anything else. Yet it seems so comfortable here." She was
looking round at the chairs.

"I'm not proposing to go to the North Pole, you know," Michael said,
"but I don't want to obey dinner-gongs."

"Very noisy and abrupt," she agreed.

Soon they were discussing all kinds of substitutions.

"Mother, what an extraordinary lot you know about noise," Michael
exclaimed.

"Dearest boy, I'm on the committee of a society for the abatement of
London street noises."

"So deeply occupied with reform," he said, patting her hand.

"One must do something," she smiled.

"I know," he asserted. "And therefore you'll let me ride this new
hobby-horse I'm trying without thinking it bucks. Will you?"

"You know perfectly well that you will anyhow," said Mrs. Fane, shaking
her head.

Michael felt justified in letting the conversation end at this
admission. Maurice Avery had invited him to come round to the studio in
order to assist at Castleton's induction, and Michael walked along the
Embankment to 422 Grosvenor Road.

The large attic which ran all the width of the Georgian house was in a
state of utter confusion, in the midst of which Castleton was hard at
work hammering, while Maurice climbed over chairs in eager advice, and
at the Bechstein Grand a tall dark young man was playing melodies from
Tchaikovsky's symphonies.

"Just trying to make this place a bit comfortable," said Castleton. "Do
you know Cunningham?" He indicated the player, and Michael bowed.

"Making it comfortable," Michael repeated. "My first impression was just
the reverse. I suppose it's no good asking you people to give me lunch?"

"Rather, of course," Maurice declared. "Castleton, it's your turn to buy
lunch."

"One extraordinary thing, Michael," said Castleton, "is the way in which
Maurice can always produce a mathematical reason for my doing something.
You'd think he kept a ledger of all our tasks."

"We can send old Mother Wadman if you're tired," Maurice offered.
Castleton, however, seemed to think he wanted some fresh air; so he and
Cunningham went out to buy things to eat.

"I was fairly settled before old Castleton turned up," Maurice
explained, "but we shall be three times as comfortable when he's
finished. He's putting up divans."

Maurice indicated with a gesture the raw material on which Castleton was
at work. They were standing by the window which looked out over
multitudinous roofs.

"What a great rolling sense of human life they do give," said Michael.
"A sea really with telegraph poles and wires for masts and rigging, and
all that washing like flotillas of small boats. And there's the
lighthouse," he pointed to the campanile of Westminster Chapel.

"The sun sets just behind your lighthouse, which is a very bad simile
for anything so obscurantist as the Roman Church," said Maurice. "We're
having such wonderful green dusks now. This is really a room made for a
secret love-affair, you know. Such nights. Such sunny summer days. What
is it Browning says? Something about sparrows on a housetop lonely. We
two were sparrows. You know the poem I mean. Well, no doubt soon I shall
meet the girl who's meant to share this with me. Then I really think I
could work."

Michael nodded absently. He was wondering if an attic like this were not
the solution of what might happen to him and Lily when they were
married. Whatever bitterness London had given her would surely be driven
out by life in a room like this with a view like this. They would be
suspended celestially above all that was worst in London, and yet they
would be most essentially and intimately part of it. The windows of the
city would come twinkling into life as incomprehensibly as the stars.
Whatever bitterness she had guarded would vanish, because to see her in
a room like this would be to love her. How well he understood Maurice's
desire for a secret love-affair here. Nobody wanted a girl to perfect
Plashers Mead. Even Guy's fairy child at Plashers Mead had seemed an
intrusion; but here, to protect one's loneliness against the
overpowering contemplation of the life around, love was a necessity. And
perhaps Maurice would begin to justify the ambition his friends had for
his career. It might be so. Perhaps himself might find an inspiration in
an attic high up over roofs. It might be. It might be so.

"What are you thinking about?" Maurice asked.

"I was thinking you were probably right," said Michael.

Maurice looked pleasantly surprised. He was rather accustomed to be
snubbed when he told Michael of his desire for feminine companionship.

"I don't want to get married, you know," he hastily added.

"That would depend," said Michael. "If one married what is called an
impossible person and lived up here, it ought to be romantic enough to
make marriage rather more exciting than any silvery invitation to St.
Thomas' Church at half-past two."

"But why are you so keen about marriage?" Maurice demanded.

"Well, it has certain advantages," Michael pointed out.

"Not among the sparrows," said Maurice.

"Most of all among the sparrows," Michael contradicted. He was becoming
absorbed by his notion of Lily in such surroundings. It seemed to remove
the last doubt he had of the wisdom or necessity of the step he proposed
to take. They would be able to reënter the world after a long
retirement. For her it should be a convalescence, and for him the
opportunity which Oxford denied to test academic values on the
touchstone of human emotions. It was obvious that his education lacked
something, though his academic education was finished. He supposed he
had apprehended dimly the risk of this incompletion in Paris during that
first Long Vacation. It was curious how already the quest of Lily had
assumed less the attributes of a rescue than of a personal desire for
the happiness of her company. No doubt he must be ready for a shock of
disillusion when they did meet, but for the moment Drake's account of
her on the Orient Promenade lost all significance of evil. The news had
merely fired him with the impulse to find her again.

"It is really extraordinarily romantic up here," Maurice exclaimed,
bursting in upon his reverie.

"Yes, I suppose that's the reason," Michael admitted.

"The reason of what?" Maurice asked.

"Of what I was thinking," Michael said.

Maurice waited for him to explain further, but Michael was silent; and
almost immediately Castleton came back with provision for lunch.

Soon after they had eaten Michael said he would leave them to their
hammering. Then he went back to Cheyne Walk and, finding the house still
and empty in the sunlight, he packed a kit-bag, called a hansom-cab, and
told the driver to go to the Seven Sisters Road.



CHAPTER II

NEPTUNE CRESCENT


The existence of the Seven Sisters Road had probably not occurred to
Michael since in the hazel-coppices of Clere Abbey he had first made of
it at Brother Aloysius' behest the archetype of Avernus, and yet his
choice of it now for entrance to the underworld was swift as instinct.
The quest of Lily was already beginning to assume the character of a
deliberate withdrawal from the world in which he familiarly moved. With
the instant of his resolve all that in childhood and in youth he had
apprehended of the dim territory, which in London sometimes lay no
farther away than the other side of the road, demanded the trial of his
experience.

That he had never yet been to the Seven Sisters Road gave it a mystery;
that it was not very far from Kentish Town gave it a gruesomeness, for
ever since Mrs. Pearcey's blood-soaked perambulator Kentish Town had
held for him a macaber significance: of the hellish portals mystery and
gruesomeness were essential attributes. The drive was for a long time
tediously pleasant in the June sunshine; but when the cab had crossed
the junction of the Euston Road with the Tottenham Court Road, unknown
London with all its sly and labyrinthine romance lured his fancy onward.
Maple's and Shoolbred's, those outposts of shopping civilization, were
left behind, and the Hampstead Road with a hint of roguery began. He was
not sure what exactly made the Hampstead Road so disquieting. It was
probably a mere trick of contrast between present squalor and the
greenery of its end. The road itself was merely grim, but it had a
nightmare capacity for suggesting that deviation by a foot from the
thoroughfare itself would lead to obscure calamities. Those bright
yellow omnibuses in which he had never traveled, how he remembered them
from the days of Jack the Ripper, and the horror of them skirting the
Strand by Trafalgar Square on winter dusks after the pantomime. Even now
their painted destinations affected him with a dismay that real people
could be familiar with this sinister route.

Here was the Britannia, a terminus which had stuck in his mind for years
as situate in some gray limbo of farthest London. Here it was, a tawdry
and not very large public-house exactly like a hundred others. Now the
cab was bearing round to the right, and presently upon an iron railway
bridge Michael read in giant letters the direction Kentish Town behind a
huge leprous hand pointing to the left. The hansom clattered through the
murk beneath, past the dim people huddled upon the pavement, past a
wheel-barrow and the obscene skeletons and outlines of humanity chalked
upon the arches of sweating brick. Here then was Kentish Town. It lay to
the left of this bridge that was the color of stale blood. Michael told
the driver to stop for one moment, and he leaned forward over the apron
of the cab to survey the cross-street of swarming feculent humanity that
was presumably the entering highway. A train roared over the bridge; a
piano organ gargled its tune; a wagon-load of iron girders drew near in
a clanging tintamar of slow progress. Michael's brief pause was enough
to make such an impression of pandemoniac din as almost to drive out his
original conception of Kentish Town as a menacing and gruesome suburb.
But just as the cab reached the beginning of the Camden Road, he caught
sight of a slop-shop where old clothes smothered the entrance with their
mucid heaps and, just beyond, of three houses from whose surface the
stucco was peeling in great scabs and the damp was oozing in livid
arabesques and scrawls of verdigris. This group restored to Kentish Town
a putative disquiet, and the impression of mere dirt and noise and
exhalations of fried fish were merged in the more definite character
allotted by his prefiguration.

The Camden Road was, in contrast with what had gone before, a wide and
easy thoroughfare which let in the blue summer sky; and it was not for
some minutes that Michael began to notice what a queerness came from the
terraces that branched off on either side. The suggestion these terraces
could weave extended itself to the detached houses of the main road. In
the gaps between them long parallelograms of gardens could be seen
joining others even longer that led up to the backs of another road
behind. Sometimes it seemed that fifty gardens at once were visible,
circumscribed secretive pleasure-grounds in the amount of life they
could conceal, the life that could prosper and decay beneath their
arbors merely for that conspiracy of gloating windows. It was impossible
not to speculate upon the quality of existence in these precise
enclosures; and to this the chapels of obscure sects that the cab
occasionally passed afforded an indication. To these arid little
tabernacles the population stole out on Sunday mornings. There would be
something devilish about these reunions. Upon these pinchbeck creeds
their souls must surely starve, must slowly shrink to desiccated imps.
Anything more spiritually malevolent than those announcements chalked
upon the black notice-board of the advent of the hebdomadal messiah, the
peregrine cleric, the sacred migrant was impossible to imagine. With
what apostolic cleverness would he impose himself upon these people, and
how after the gravid midday meal of the Sabbath he would sit in those
green arbors like a horrible Chinese fum. The cabman broke in upon
Michael's fantastic depression by calling down through the trap that
they were arrived at the Nag's Head and what part of Seven Sisters Road
did he want.

Michael was disappointed by the Seven Sisters Road. It seemed to be
merely the garish mart of a moderately poor suburban population. There
was here nothing to support the diabolic legend with which under the
suggestion of Brother Aloysius he had endowed it. Certainly of all the
streets he had passed this afternoon there had been none less
inferential of romance than this long shopping street.

"What number do you want, sir?" the driver repeated.

"Well, really I want rooms," Michael explained. "Only this seems a bit
noisy."

"Yes, it is a bit boisterous," the cabman agreed.

Michael told him to drive back along the Camden Road; but when he began
to examine the Camden Road as a prospective place of residence, it
became suddenly very dull and respectable. The locked-up chapels and the
quiet houses declined from ominousness into respectability, and he
wondered how he had managed only a quarter of an hour ago to speculate
upon the inner life they adumbrated. Nothing could be less surreptitious
than those chatting nursemaids, and actually in one of the
parallelograms of garden a child was throwing a scarlet ball high into
the air. The cab was already nearing the iron railway bridge of Kentish
Town, and Michael had certainly no wish to lodge in a noisy slum.

"Try turning off to the left," he called to the driver through the roof.

The maneuver seemed likely to be successful, for they entered almost
immediately a district of Victorian terraces, where the name of each
street was cut in stone upon the first house; and so fine and
well-proportioned was each superscription that the houses' declension
from gentility was the more evident and melancholy.

Michael was at last attracted to a crescent of villas terminating an
unfrequented gray street and, for the sake of a pathetic privacy,
guarded in front by a sickle-shaped inclosure of grimy Portugal laurels.
Neptune Crescent, partly on account of its name and partly on account of
the peculiar vitreous tint which the stone had acquired with age,
carried a marine suggestion. The date _1805_ in spidery numerals and the
iron verandas, which even on this June day were a mockery, helped the
illusion that here was a forgotten by-way in an old sea-port. A card
advertising Apartments stood in the window of Number Fourteen. Michael
signaled the driver to stop: then he alighted and rang the bell. The
Crescent was strangely silent. Very far away he could hear the whistle
of a train. Close at hand there was nothing but the jingle of the
horse's harness and the rusty mewing of a yellow cat which was wheedling
its lean body in and out of the railings of the falciform garden.

Soon the landlady opened the door and stood inquisitively in the narrow
passage. She was a woman of probably about thirty-five with stubby
fingers; her skin was rather moist, but she had a good-natured
expression, and perhaps when the curl-papers were taken out from her
colorless hair, and when lace frills and common finery should soften her
turgid outlines she would be handsome in a labored sort of way. The
discussion with Mrs. Murdoch about her vacant rooms did not take long.
Michael had made up his mind to any horrors of dirt and discomfort, and
he was really pleasantly surprised by their appearance. As for Mrs.
Murdoch, she was evidently too much interested to know what had brought
Michael to her house to make any difficulties in the way of his
accommodation.

"Will you want dinner to-night?" she asked doubtfully.

"No, but I'd like some tea now, if you can manage it; and I suppose you
can let me have a latchkey?"

"I've got the kettle on the boil at this moment. I was going out myself
for the evening. Meeting my husband at the Horseshoe. There's only one
other lodger--Miss Carlyle. And she's in the profession."

As Mrs. Murdoch made this announcement, she looked up at the fly-frecked
ceiling, and Michael thought how extraordinarily light and meaningless
her eyes were and how curiously dim and heavy this small sitting-room
was against the brilliancy of the external summer.

"Well, then, tea when I can get it," said Mrs. Murdoch cheerfully. "And
the double-u is just next your bedroom on the top floor. That's all, I
think."

She left him with a backward smile over her shoulder, as if she were
loath to relinquish the study of this unusual visitor to Neptune
Crescent.

Michael when he was alone examined the chairs that were standing about
the room as stiff as grenadiers in their red rep. He stripped them of
their antimacassars and pulled the one that looked least uncomfortable
close to the window. Outside, the yellow cat was still mewing; but the
cab was gone and down the gray street that led to Neptune Crescent here
and there sad-gaited wayfarers were visible. Two or three sparrows were
cheeping in a battered laburnum, and all along the horizon the blue sky
descending to the smoke of London had lost its color and had been turned
to the similitude of tarnished metal. A luxurious mournfulness was in
the view, and he leaned out over the sill scenting the reasty London
air.

It was with a sudden shock of conviction that Michael realized he was in
Neptune Crescent, Camden Town, and that yesterday he had actually been
in Oxford. And why was he here? The impulse which had brought him must
have lain deeper in the recesses of his character than those quixotic
resolutions roused by Drake's legend of Lily. He would not otherwise
have determined at once upon so complete a demigration. He would have
waited to test the truth of Drake's story. His first emotional despair
had vanished with almost unaccountable ease. Certainly he wanted to be
independent of the criticism of his friends until he had proved his
purpose unwavering, and he might ascribe this withdrawal to a desire for
a secluded and unflinching contemplation of a life that from Cheyne Walk
he could never focus. But ultimately he must acknowledge that his
sojourn here, following as it did straight upon his entrance into the
underworld through the disappointing portals of the Seven Sisters Road,
was due to that ancient lure of the shades. This experience was
foredoomed from very infancy. It was designated in childish dreams to
this day indelible. He could not remember any period in his life when
the speculum of hidden thought had not reflected for his fear that
shadow of evil which could overcast the manifestations of most ordinary
existence. Those days of London fog when he had sat desolately in the
pinched red house in Carlington Road; those days when on his lonely
walks he had passed askance by Padua Terrace; the shouting of murders by
newspaper-boys on drizzled December nights; all those dreadful
intimations in childhood had procured his present idea of London. With
the indestructible truth of earliest impressions they still persisted
behind the outward presentation of a normal and comfortable procedure in
the midst of money, friends, and well-bred conventions. Nor had that
speculum been merely the half-savage fancy of childhood, the endowment
by the young of material things with immaterial potencies. Phantoms
which had slunk by as terrors invisible to the blind eyes of grown-ups
had been abominably incarnate for him. Brother Aloysius had been
something more than a mere personification, and that life which the
ex-monk had indicated as scarcely even below the surface, so easy was it
to enter, had he not entered it that one night very easily?

Destiny, thought Michael, had stood with pointed finger beside the
phantoms and the realities of the underworld. There for him lay very
easily discernible the true corollary to the four years of Oxford. They
had been years of rest and refreshment, years of armament with wise and
academic and well-observed theories of behavior that would defeat the
victory of evil. It was very satisfactory to discover definitely that he
was not a Pragmatist. He had suspected all that crew of philosophers. He
would bring back Lily from evil, not from any illusion of evil. He would
not allow himself to disparage the problem before him by any
speciousness of worldly convenience. It was imperative to meet Lily
again as one who moving in the shadows meets another in the nether
gloom. They had met first of all as boy and girl, as equals. Now he must
not come too obviously from the world she had left behind her. Such an
encounter would never give him more than at best a sentimental appeal;
at worst it could have the air of a priggish reclamation, and she would
forever elude him, she with secret years within her experience. His
instinct first to sever himself from his own world must have been
infallible, and it was on account of that instinct that now he found
himself in Neptune Crescent leaning over the window-sill and scenting
the reasty London air.

And how well secluded was this room. If he met Lonsdale or Maurice or
Wedderburn, it would be most fantastically amusing to evade them at the
evening's end, to retreat from their company into Camden Town; into
Neptune Crescent unimaginable to them; into this small room with its red
rep chairs and horsehair sofa and blobbed valances and curtains; to
this small room where the dark blue wall-paper inclosed him with a
matted vegetation and the picture of Belshazzar's Feast glowered above
the heavy sideboard; to this small room made rich by the two thorny
shells upon the mantelpiece, by the bowl of blond goldfish in ceaseless
dim circumnatation, and by those colored pampas plumes and the bulrushes
in their conch of nacreous glass.

Mrs. Murdoch came in with tea which he drank while she stood over him
admiringly.

"Do you think you'll be staying long?" she inquired.

Michael asked if she wanted the rooms for anyone else.

"No. No. I'm really very glad to let them. You'll find it nice and quiet
here. There's only Miss Carlyle, who's in the profession and comes in
sometimes a little late. Mr. Murdoch is a chemist. But of course he
hasn't got his own shop now."

She paused, and seemed to expect Michael would comment on Mr. Murdoch's
loss of independence; so he said, "Of course not," nodding wisely.

"There was a bit of trouble through his being too kind-hearted to a
servant-girl," said Mrs. Murdoch, looking quickly at the door and
shaking her curl-papers. "Yes. Though I don't know why I'm telling you
straight off as you might say. But there, I'm funny sometimes. If I take
to anybody, there's nothing I won't do for them. Alf--that _is_ my old
man--he gets quite aggravated with me over it. So if you happen to get
into conversation with him, you'd better not let on you know he used to
have a shop of his own."

Michael, wondering how far off were these foreshadowed intimacies with
his landlord, promised he would be very discreet, and asked where Mr.
Murdoch was working now.

"In a chemist's shop. Just off of the Euston Road. You know," she said,
beaming archly. "It's what you might call rather a funny place. Only he
gets good money, because the boss knows he can trust him."

Michael nodded his head in solemn comprehension of Mr. Murdoch's
reputation, and asked his landlady if she had such a thing as a
postcard.

"Well, there. I wonder if I have. If I have, it's in the kitchen
dresser, that's a sure thing. Perhaps you'd like to come down and see
the kitchen?"

Michael followed her downstairs. There were no basements in Neptune
Crescent, and he was glad to think his bedroom was above his
sitting-room and on the top floor. It would have been hot just above the
kitchen.

"Miss Carlyle has her room here," said Mrs. Murdoch, pointing next door
to the kitchen. "Nice and handy for her as she's rather late sometimes.
I hate to hear anybody go creaking upstairs, I do. It makes me nervous."

The kitchen was pleasant enough and looked out upon a narrow strip of
garden full of coarse plants.

"They'll be very merry and bright, won't they?" said Mrs. Murdoch,
smiling encouragement at the greenery. "It's wonderful what you can do
nowadays for threepence."

Michael asked what they were.

"Why, sunflowers, of course, only they want another month yet. I have
them every year--yes. They're less trouble than rabbits or chickens. Now
where did I see that postcard?"

She searched the various utensils, and at last discovered the postcard
stuck behind a mutilated clock.

"What _will_ they bring out next?" demanded Mrs. Murdoch, surveying it
with affectionate approbation. "Pretty, I call it."

A pair of lovers in black plush were sitting enlaced beneath a pink
frosted moon.

"Just the thing, if you're writing to your young lady," said Mrs.
Murdoch, offering it to Michael.

He accepted it with many expressions of gratitude, but when he was in
his own room he laughed very much at the idea of sending it to his
mother in Cheyne Walk. However, as he must write and tell her he would
not be home for some time, he decided to go out and buy both writing
materials and unillustrated postcards. When he came back he found Mrs.
Murdoch feathered for the evening's entertainment. She gave him the
latchkey, and from his window Michael watched her progress down Neptune
Crescent. Just before her lavender dress disappeared behind the Portugal
laurels she turned round and waved to him. He wondered what his mother
would say if she knew from what curious corner of London the news of his
withdrawal would reach her to-night.

The house was very still, and the refulgence of the afternoon light
streaming into the small room fused the raw colors to a fiery
concordancy. Upon the silence sounded presently a birdlike fidgeting,
and Michael going out onto the landing to discover what it was, caught
to his surprise the upward glance of a thin little woman in untidy pink.

"Hulloa!" she cried. "I never knew there was anybody in--you did give me
a turn. I've only just woke up."

Michael explained the situation, and she seemed relieved.

"I've been asleep all the afternoon," she went on. "But it's only
natural in this hot weather to go to sleep in the afternoon if you don't
go out for a walk. Why don't you come down and talk to me while I have
some tea?"

Michael accepted the invitation with a courtesy which he half suspected
this peaked pink little creature considered diverting.

"You'll excuse the general untidiness," she said. "But really in this
weather anyone can't bother to put their things away properly."

Michael assented, and looked round at the room. It certainly was untidy.
The large bed was ruffled where she had been lying down, and the soiled
copy of a novelette gave it a sort of stale slovenry. Over the foot hung
an accumulation of pink clothes. On the chairs, too, there were clothes
pink and white, and the door bulged with numberless skirts. Miss Carlyle
herself wore a pink blouse whose front had escaped the constriction of a
belt. Even her face was a flat unshaded pink, and her thin lips would
scarcely have showed save that the powder round the edges was slightly
caked. Yet there was nothing of pink's freshness and pleasant crudity in
the general effect. It was a tired, a frowsy pink like a fondant that
has lain a long while in a confectioner's window.

"Take a chair and make yourself at home," she invited him. "What's your
name?"

He told her "Fane."

"You silly thing, you don't suppose I'm going to call you Mr. Fane, do
you? What's your other name? Michael? That's Irish, isn't it? I used to
know a fellow once called Micky Sullivan. I suppose they call you Micky
at home."

He was afraid he was invariably known as Michael, and Miss Carlyle
sighed at the stiff sort of a name it was.

"Mine's Poppy," she volunteered. "That's much more free and easy. Or I
think so," she added rather doubtfully, as Michael did not immediately
celebrate its license by throwing pillows at her. "Are you really
lodging here?" she went on. "You don't look much like a pro."

Michael said that was so much the better, as he wasn't one.

"I've got you at last," cried Poppy. "You're a shop-walker at
Russell's."

He could not help laughing very much at this, and the queer pink room
seemed to become more faded at the sound of his merriment. Poppy looked
offended by the reception of her guess, and Michael hastened to restore
her good temper by asking questions of her.

"You're on the stage, aren't you?"

"I usually get into panto," she admitted.

"Aren't you acting now?"

"Yes, I don't think. You needn't be funny."

"I wasn't trying to be funny."

"You mind your business," she said bitterly. "And I'll look after mine."

"There doesn't seem to be anything very rude in asking if you're acting
now," said Michael.

"Oh, shut up! As if you didn't know."

"Know what?" he repeated.

He looked so genuinely puzzled that Poppy seemed to make an effort to
overcome her suspicion of his mockery.

"It's five years since I went on the game," she said.

Michael blushed violently, partly on her account, partly for his own
stupidity, and explained that Mrs. Murdoch had told him she was in the
profession.

"Well, you didn't expect her to say 'my ground-floor front's a gay
woman,' did you?"

He agreed that such an abrupt characterization would have surprised him.

"Well, I'm going out to get dinner now," she announced.

"Why don't you dine with me?" Michael suggested.

She looked at him doubtfully.

"Can you afford it?"

"I think I could manage it."

"Because if we _are_ in the same house that doesn't say you've got to
pay my board, does it?" she demanded proudly.

"Once in a way won't matter," Michael insisted. "And we might go on to a
music hall afterward."

"Yes, we might, if I hadn't got to pay the woman who's looking after my
kid for some clothes she's made for him," said Poppy. "And sitting with
you at the Holborn all night won't do that. No, you can give me dinner
and then I'll P.O. I'm not going to put on a frock even for you, because
I never get off only when I'm in a coat and skirt."

Michael rose to leave the room while Poppy got ready.

"Go on, sit down. As you're going to take me out to dinner, you can talk
to me while I dress as a reward."

In this faded pink room where the sun was by now shining with a splendor
that made all the strewn clothes seem even more fusty and overblown,
Michael could not have borne to see a live thing take shape as it were
from such corruption. He made an excuse therefore of letters to be
written and left Poppy to herself, asking to be called when she was
ready.

Michael's own room upstairs had a real solidity after the ground-floor
front. He wondered if it were possible that Lily was inhabiting at this
moment such a room as Poppy's. It could not be. It could not be. And he
realized that he had pictured Lily like Manon in the midst of luxury,
craving for magnificence and moving disdainfully before gilded mirrors.
This Poppy Carlyle of Neptune Crescent belonged to another circle of the
underworld. Lily would be tragical, but this little peaked creature
downstairs was scarcely even pathetic. Indeed, she was almost grotesque
with the coat and skirt that was to insure her getting off. Of course
her only chance was to attract a jaded glance by her positive plainness,
her schoolma'am air, her decent unobtrusiveness. Yet she was plucky, and
she had accepted the responsibility of supporting her child. There was,
too, something admirable in the candor with which she had treated him.
There was something friendly and birdlike about her, and he thought how
when he had been first aware of her movements below he had compared them
to a bird's fidgeting. There was something really appealing about the
gay woman of the ground-floor front. He laughed at her description; and
then he remembered regretfully that he had allowed her to forego what
might after all have been for her a pleasant evening because she must
pay for some clothes the woman who was looking after her child. He could
so easily have offered to give her the money. No matter, he could make
amends at once and offer it to her now. It would be doubtless an unusual
experience for her to come into contact with someone whose rule of life
was not dictated by the brutal self-interest of those with whom her
commerce must generally lie. She would serve to bring to the proof his
theory that so much of the world's beastliness could be cleansed by
having recourse to the natural instincts of decent behavior without any
grand effort of reformation. Nevertheless, Michael did feel very
philanthropic when he went down to answer Poppy's summons.

"I say," he began at once. "It was stupid of me just now not to suggest
that I should find the money for your kid's clothes. Look here, we'll go
to the Holborn after dinner and----" he paused. He felt a delicacy in
inquiring how much exactly she might expect to lose by giving him her
company--"and--er--I suppose a couple of pounds would buy something?"

"I say, kiddie, you're a sport," she said. "Only look here, don't go and
spend more than what you can afford. It isn't as if we'd met by chance,
as you might say."

"Oh no, I can afford two pounds," Michael assured her.

"Where shall we go? I know a nice room which the woman lets me have for
four shillings. That's not too much, is it?"

He was touched by her eager consideration for his purse, and he
stammered, trying to explain as gently as he could that the two pounds
was not offered for hire.

"But, kiddie, I can't bring you back here. Not even if you do lodge
here. These aren't gay rooms."

"I don't want to go anywhere with you," said Michael. "The money is a
present."

"Oh, is it?" she flamed out. "Then you can keep your dirty money.
Thanks, I haven't come down to charity. Not yet. If I'm not good enough
for you, you can keep your money. I believe you're nothing more than a
dirty ponce. I've gone five years without keeping a fellow yet. And I'm
not going to begin now. That's very certain. Are you going out or am I
going out? Because I don't want to be seen with you. You and your
presents. Gard! I should have to be drunk on claret and lemon before I
went home with you."

Michael had nothing to say to her and so he went out, closing the front
door quickly upon her rage. His first impression when he gained the
fresh air was of a fastidious disgust. Here in the Crescent the orange
lucency of the evening shed such a glory that the discoloration of the
houses no longer spoke of miserably drawn-out decay, but took on rather
the warmth of live rock. The deepening shadows of that passage where the
little peaked creature had spat forth her fury made him shudder with the
mean and vicious passions they now veiled. Very soon, however, his
disgust died away. Looking back at Neptune Crescent, he knew there was
not one door in all that semicircle which did not putatively conceal
secrets like those of Number Fourteen. Like poisonous toadstools in
rankness and gloom, the worst of human nature must flourish here. It was
foolish to be disgusted; indeed, already a half-aroused curiosity had
taken its place, and Michael regretted that he had not stayed to hear
what more she would have said. How far she had been from appreciating
the motives that prompted his offer of money. Poppy's injustice began to
depress him. He felt, walking southward to Piccadilly, an acute sense of
her failure to be grateful from his point of view. It hurt him to find
sincerity so lightly regarded. Then he realized that it was her vanity
which had been touched. _Hell knows no fury like a woman scorned._ The
ability to apply such a famous generalization directly to himself gave
Michael a great satisfaction. It was strange to be so familiar with a
statement, and then suddenly like this to be staggered by its truth. He
experienced a sort of pride in linking himself on to one of the great
commonplaces of rhetoric. He need no longer feel misjudged, since Poppy
had played a universal part. In revulsion he felt sorry for her. He
hated to think how deeply her pride must have been wounded. He could not
expect her to esteem the reason which had made him refuse her. She could
have little comprehension of fastidiousness and still less could she
grasp the existence of an abstract morality that in its practical
expression must have seemed to her so insulting. That, however, did not
impugn the morality, nor did it invalidate the desire to befriend her.
Impulse had not really betrayed him: the mistake had been in his
tactlessness, in a lack of worldly knowledge. Moreover, Poppy was only
an incident, and until Lily was found he had no business to turn aside.
Nevertheless, he had learned something this evening; he had seen proved
in action a famous postulate of feminine nature, and the truth struck
him with a sharpness that no academic demonstration had ever had the
power to effect.

On the whole, Michael was rather pleased with himself as he rode on the
front seat of the omnibus down Tottenham Court Road in the cool of the
evening.

At the Horseshoe he alighted and went into the saloon bar on the chance
of seeing what Mr. Murdoch looked like; but there was no sign of the
landlady and her husband. The saloon bar smelt very strongly of spilt
stout; and a number of men, who looked like draymen in tailcoats and
top-hats, were arguing about money. He was glad to leave the tavern
behind; and in a Soho restaurant he ate a tranquil dinner, listening
with much amusement to the people round him. He liked to hear each petty
host assure his guests that he had brought them to a place of which very
few but himself knew. All the diners under the influence of this
assurance stared at one another like conspirators.

Just before nine o'clock. Michael reached the Orient Palace of
Varieties, and with excitement bubbling up within him, notwithstanding
all his efforts to stay unmoved, he joined the throng of the Promenade.
He looked about him at first in trepidation. Although all the way from
Camden Town he had practiced this meeting with Lily, now at its approach
his presence of mind vanished, and he felt that to meet her suddenly
without a longer preparation would lead him to make a fool of himself.
However, in the first quick glance he could not see anyone who resembled
her, and he withdrew to the secluded apex of the curving Promenade
whence he could watch most easily the ebb and flow of the crowd. That on
the stage a lady of the haute école was with a curious wooden rapidity
putting a white horse through a number of tricks did not concern his
attention beyond the moment. For him the Promenade was the performance.
Certainly at the Orient it was a better staged affair than that weary
heterogeneous mob at The Oxford. At the Orient there was an unity of
effect, an individuality, and a conscious equipment. At The Oxford the
whole business had resembled a suburban parade. Here was a real
exposition of vice like the jetty of Alexandria in olden days. Indeed,
so cynical was the function of the Orient Promenade that the frankness
almost defeated its object, and the frequenters instead of profiting by
the facilities for commerce allowed themselves to be drugged into
perpetual meditation upon an attractive contingency.

Seen from this secluded corner, the Promenade resembled a well-filled
tank in an aquarium. The upholstery of shimmering green plush, the dim
foreground, the splash of light from the bar in one corner, the gliding
circumambient throng among the pillars and, displayed along the barrier,
the bright-hued ladies like sea-anemones--there was nothing that spoiled
the comparison. Moreover, the longer Michael looked, the more nearly was
the effect achieved. At intervals women whose close-fitting dresses
seemed deliberately to imitate scales went by: and generally the people
eyed one another with the indifferent frozen eyes of swimming fish.
There was indeed something cold-blooded in the very atmosphere, and it
was from, this rapacious and vivid shoal of women that he was expecting
Lily to materialize. Yet he was better able to imagine her in the luxury
of the Orient than sleeping down the sun over a crumpled novelette in
such a room as Poppy's in Camden Town.

The evening wore itself away, and the motion in that subaqueous air was
restful in its continuity. Michael was relieved by the assurance that he
had still a little time in which to compose himself to face the shock he
knew he must ultimately expect from meeting Lily again. The evening wore
itself away. The lady of the haute école was succeeded by a band of
Caucasian wrestlers, by a troupe of Bolivian gymnasts, by half a dozen
cosmopolitan ebullitions of ingenuity. The ballet went its mechanical
course, and as each line of dancers grouped themselves, it was almost
possible to hear the click of the kaleidoscope's shifting squares and
lozenges. Michael wondered vaguely about the girls in the ballet and
whether they were happy. It seemed absurd to think that down there on
the stage there were eighty or ninety individuals each with a history,
so little more did they seem from here than dolls. And on the Promenade
where it was quite certain that every woman had a history to account for
her presence there, how utterly living had quenched life. The ballet was
over, and he passed out into the streets.

For a fortnight Michael came every evening to the Orient without finding
Lily. They were strange evenings, these that were spent in the heart of
London without meeting anyone he knew. It was no doubt by the merest
chance that none of his friends saw him at the Orient, and yet he began
to fancy that actually every evening he did, as it were, by some
enchantment fade from the possibility of recognition. He felt as if his
friends would not perceive his presence, so much would they in that
circumambient throng take on the characteristics of its eternal motion.
They too, he felt, irresponsive as fish, would glide backward and
forward with the rest. Nor did Michael meet anyone whom he knew at any
of the restaurants or cafés to which he went after the theater. By the
intensity of his one idea, the discovery of Lily, he cut himself off
from all communion with the life of the places he visited. He often
thought that perhaps acquaintances saw him there, that perhaps he had
seemed deliberately to avoid their greetings and for that reason had
never been hailed. Yet he was aware of seeing women whom he had seen the
night before, mostly because they bore a superficial likeness to Lily;
and sometimes he would be definitely conscious of a dress or a hat,
perceiving it in the same place at the same hour, but never meeting the
wearer's glance.

He did not make any attempt to be friendly with Poppy after their
unpleasant encounter, and he always tried to be sure they would not meet
in the hall or outside the front door. That he was successful in
avoiding her gave him a still sharper sense of the ease with which it
was possible to seclude one's self from the claims of human intercourse.
He was happy in his room at Neptune Crescent, gazing out over the
sickle-shaped garden of Portugal laurels, listening in a dream to the
distant cries of railway traffic and reading the books which every
afternoon he brought back from Charing Cross Road, so many books indeed
that presently the room in 14 Neptune Crescent came curiously to
resemble rooms in remote digs at Oxford, where poor scholars imposed
their books on surroundings they could not afford to embellish. Mrs.
Murdoch could not make Michael out at all. She used to stand and watch
him reading, as if he were performing an intricate surgical operation.

"I never in all my life saw anyone read like you do," she affirmed.
"Doesn't it tire your eyes?"

Then she would move a step nearer and spell out the title of the book,
looking sideways at it like a fat goose.

"Holy Living and Holy Dying. Ugh! Enough to give you the horrors, isn't
it? And only this morning they hung that fellow at Pentonville. This
_is_ Tuesday, isn't it?"

After three or four days of trying to understand him, Mrs. Murdoch
decided that Alf must be called in to solve his peculiarity.

Mr. Alfred Murdoch was younger than Michael had expected. He could
scarcely have been more than forty, and Michael had formed a
preconception of an elderly chemist reduced by misfortune and misdeeds
to the status of one of those individuals who with a discreet manner
somewhere between a family doctor and a grocer place themselves at the
service of the public in an atmosphere of antiseptics. Mr. Murdoch was
not at all like this. He was a squat swarthy man with one very dark eye
that stared fixedly regardless of the expression of its fellow. Michael
could not make up his mind whether this eye were blind or not. He
rather hoped it was, but in any case its fierce blankness was very
disconcerting. Conversation between Michael and Mr. Murdoch was not very
lively, and Mrs. Murdoch's adjutant inquisitiveness made Michael the
more monosyllabic whenever her husband did commit himself to a direct
inquiry.

"I looked for you in the Horseshoe the other evening," said Michael
finally, at a loss how in any other way to give Mr. Murdoch an
impression that he took the faintest interest in his existence.

"In the Horseshoe?" repeated Mr. Murdoch, in surprise. "I never go to
the Horseshoe only when a friend asks me in to have one."

Michael saw Mrs. Murdoch frowning at him, and, perceiving that there was
a reason why her husband must not suppose she had been to the Horseshoe
on the evening of his arrival, he said he had gathered somehow, he did
not exactly know where or why or when, that Mr. Murdoch was often to be
found in the Horseshoe. He wished this awkward and unpleasant man would
leave him and cock his rolling eye anywhere else but in his room.

"Bit of a reader, aren't you?" inquired the chemist.

Michael admitted he read a good deal.

"Ever read Jibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire?" continued the
chemist.

"Some of it."

Mr. Murdoch said in that case it was just as well he hadn't bought some
volumes he'd seen on a barrow in the Caledonian Road.

"Four-and-six, with two books out in the middle," he proclaimed.

Michael could merely nod his comment, though he racked his brains to
think of some remark that would betray a vestige of cordiality. Mr.
Murdoch got up to retire to the kitchen. He evidently did not find his
tenant sympathetic. Outside on the landing Michael heard him say to his
wife: "Stuck up la-di-da sort of a----, isn't he?"

Presently the wife came up again.

"How did you like my old man?"

"Oh, very much."

"Did you notice his eye?"

Michael said he had noticed something.

"His brother Fred did that for him."

She spoke proudly, as if Fred's act had been a humane achievement. "When
they were boys," she explained. "It gives him a funny look. I remember
when I first met him it gave me the creeps, but I don't notice it really
now. Would you believe he couldn't see an elephant with it?"

"I wondered if it were blind," said Michael.

"Blind as a leg of mutton," said Mrs. Murdoch, and still there lingered
in her accents a trace of pride. Then suddenly her demeanor changed and
there crept over her countenance what Michael was bound to believe to be
an expression of coyness.

"Don't say anything more to Alf about the Horseshoe. You see, I only
gave you the idea I was meeting him, because I didn't really know you
very well at the time. Of course really I'd gone to see my sister. No,
without a joke, I was spending the evening with a gentleman friend."

Michael looked at her in astonishment.

"My old man wouldn't half knock me about, if he had the least suspicion.
But it's someone I knew before I was married, and that makes a
difference, doesn't it?"

"Does your husband go out with lady friends he knew before he was
married?" Michael asked, and wondered if Mrs. Murdoch would see an
implied reproof.

"What?" she shrilled. "I'd like to catch him nosing after another
woman. He wouldn't see a hundred elephants before I'd done with him. I'd
show him."

"But why should you have freedom and not he?" Michael asked.

"Never mind about him. You let him try. You see what he'd get."

Michael did not think the argument could be carried on very profitably.
So he showed signs of wanting to return to his book, and Mrs. Murdoch
retired. What extraordinary standards she had, and how bitterly she was
prepared to defend a convention, for after all in such a marriage the
infidelity of the husband was nothing but a conventional offense: she
obviously had no affection for him. The point of view became very
topsyturvy in Neptune Crescent, Michael decided.

On the last evening of the fortnight during which he had regularly
visited the Orient, Michael went straight back to Camden Town without
waiting to scan the cafés and restaurants until half-past twelve as he
usually had. This abode in Neptune Crescent was empty, and as always
when that was the case the personality of the house was very vivid upon
his imagination. As he turned up the gas-jet in the hall, the cramped
interior with its fusty smell and its thread-bare staircarpet
disappearing into the upper gloom round the corner seemed to be
dreadfully closing in upon him. The old house conveyed a sense of having
the power to choke out of him every sane and orderly and decent impulse.
For a whim of tristfulness, for the luxury of consummating the ineffable
depression the house created in him, Michael prepared to glance at every
one of the five rooms. The front door armed with the exaggerated
defenses of an earlier period in building tempted him to lock and
double-lock it, to draw each bolt and to fasten the two clanking chains.
He had the fantastic notion to do this so that Mr. and Mrs. Murdoch and
Poppy might stay knocking and ringing outside in the summer night, while
himself escaped into the sunflowers of the back garden and went climbing
over garden wall and garden wall to abandon this curious mixture of
salacity and respectableness, of flimsiness and solidity, this quite
indefinably raffish and sinister and yet in a way strangely cozy house.
He opened gingerly the door of the ground-floor front. He peered
cautiously in, lest Poppy should be lying on her bed. The gas-jet was
glimmering with a scarcely perceptible pinhead of blue flame, but the
light from the passage showed all her clothes still strewn about. From
the open door came out the faint perfume of stale scent which mingled
with the fusty odor of the passage in a most subtle expression of the
house's personality. He closed the door gently. In the silence it seemed
almost as if the least percussion would rouse the very clothes from
their stupor of disuse. In the kitchen was burning another pinhead of
gas, and the light from the passage reaching here very dimly was only
just sufficient to give all the utensils a ghostly sheen and to show the
mutilated hands at a quarter past five upon the luminous face of the
clock. This unreal hour added the last touch to unreality, and when
Michael went upstairs and saw the books littering his room, even they
were scarcely sound guarantors of his own actuality. He had a certain
queasiness in opening the door of the Murdochs' bedroom, and he was
rather glad when he was confronted here by a black void whose secrecy he
did not feel tempted to violate. With three or four books under his arm
he went upstairs to bed. As he leaned out of the window two cats yawled
and fizzed at one another among the laurels, and then scampered away
into muteness. From a scintillation of colored lights upon the horizon
he could hear the scrannel sounds of the railway come thinly along the
night air. Nothing else broke the silence of the nocturnal streets.
Michael felt tired, and he was disappointed by his failure to find
Lily. Just as he was dozing off, he remembered that his Viva Voce at
Oxford was due some time this week. He must go back to Cheyne Walk
to-morrow, and on this resolution he fell asleep.

Michael woke up with a start and instantly became aware that the house
was full of discordant sounds. For a minute or two he lay motionless
trying to connect the noise with the present, trying to separate his
faculties from the inspissate air that seemed to be throttling them. He
was not yet free from the confusion of sleep, and for a few seconds he
could only perceive the sound almost visibly churning the clotted
darkness that was stifling him. Gradually the clamor resolved itself
into the voices of Mr. Murdoch, Mrs. Murdoch and Poppy at the pitch of
excitement. Nothing was intelligible except the oaths that came up in a
series of explosions detached from the main din. He got out of bed and
lit the gas, saw that it was one o'clock, dressed himself roughly, and
opened the door of his room.

"Yes, my lad, you thought you was very clever."

"No, I didn't think I was clever. Now then."

"Yes! You can spend all your money on that muck. The sauce of it. In a
hansom!"

Here Poppy's voice came in with a malignant piping sound.

"Muck yourself, you dirty old case-keeper!"

"You call me a case-keeper? What men have I ever let you bring back
here?"

Mrs. Murdoch's voice was swollen with wrath.

"You don't know how many men I haven't brought back. So now, you great
ugly mare!" Poppy howled.

"The only fellow you've ever brought to my house is that one-eyed----
who calls himself my husband. Mister _Mur_doch! Mis-ter _Murdoch!_ And
you get out of my house in the streets where you belong. I don't want
no two-and-fours in _my_ house."

"Hark at her!" Poppy cried, in a horrible screaming laugh. "Why don't
you go back on the streets yourself? Why, I can remember you as one of
the old fourpenny Hasbeens when I was still dressmaking; a dirty drunken
old teat that couldn't have got off with a blind tramp."

Michael punctuated each fresh taunt and accusation with a step forward
to interfere; and every time he held himself back, pondering the
impossibility of extracting from these charges and countercharges any
logical assignment of blame. It made him laugh to think how
extraordinarily in the wrong they all three were and at the same time
how they were all perfectly convinced they were right. The only factor
left out of account was Mrs. Murdoch's own behavior. He wondered rather
what effect that gentleman friend would produce on the husband. He
decided that he had better go back to bed until the racket subsided.
Then, just as he was turning away in the midst of an outpouring of
vileness far more foul than anything uttered so far, he heard what
sounded like a blow. That of course could not be tolerated, and he
descended to intervene.

The passage was the field of battle, and the narrow space seemed to give
not only an added virulence to the fight, but also an added grotesquery.
When Michael arrived at the head of the staircase, Alf had pinned his
wife to the wall and was shouting to Poppy over his shoulder to get back
into her own room. Poppy would go halfway, but always a new insult would
occur to her, and she would return to fling it at Mrs. Murdoch, stabbing
the while into its place again a hatpin which during her retreats she
always half withdrew.

As for Mrs. Murdoch, she was by now weeping hysterically and
occasionally making sudden forward plunges that collapsed like jelly.

Michael paused at the head of the stairs, wondering what to say. It
seemed to him really rather a good thing that Alf was restraining his
wife. It would be extremely unpleasant to have to separate the two women
if they closed with each other. He had almost decided to retire upstairs
again, when Poppy caught sight of him and at once turned her abuse in
his direction.

"What's it got to do with you?" she screamed. "What's the good in you
standing gaping there? We all know what _you_ are. We all know what
she's always going up to _your_ room for."

Mrs. Murdoch was heaving and puffing and groaning, and while Alf held
her, his rolling eye with fierce and meaningless stare nearly made
Michael laugh. However, he managed to be serious, and gravely advised
Poppy to go to bed.

"Don't you dare try to order me about!" she shrieked. "Keep your
poncified ways for that fat old maggot which her husband can't hardly
hold, and I don't blame him. She's about as big as a omnibus."

"Oh, you wicked woman," sobbed Mrs. Murdoch. "Oh, you mean, hateful
snake-in-the-grass! Oh, you filth!"

"Hold your jaw," commanded Alf. "If you don't want me to punch into
you."

"All day she's in his room. Let him stand up and deny it if he can, the
dirty tyke. Why don't you punch into _him,_ Alf?" Poppy screamed.

Still that wobbling eye, blank and ferocious, was fixed upon vacancy.

"Let _me_ look after Mrs. Murdoch I _don't_ think!" shouted Poppy. "And
be a man, even if you can't keep your old woman out of the lodger's
room. ---- ----! I wouldn't half slosh his jaw in, if I was a man,
the ---- ----!"

It was a question for Michael either of laughing outright or of being
nauseated at the oaths streaming from that little woman's thin magenta
lips. He laughed. Even with her paint, she still looked so respectable.
When he began to laugh, he laughed so uncontrollably that he had to hold
on to the rail of the balusters until they rattled like ribs.

Michael's laughter stung the group to frenzied action. Mrs. Murdoch spat
in her husband's face, whereupon he immediately loosed his grip upon her
shoulders. In a moment she and Poppy were clawing each other. Michael,
though he was still laughing unquenchably, rushed downstairs to part
them. He had an idea that both of the women instantly turned and
attacked him. The hat-stand fell over: the scurfy front-door mat slid up
and down the oil cloth: there was a reek of stale scent and dust and
spirituous breath.

At last Michael managed to secure Poppy's thin twitching arms and to
hold her fast, though she was kicking him with sharp-heeled boots and he
was weak with inward laughter. Mrs. Murdoch in the lull began fecklessly
to gather together the strands of her disordered hair. Alf, who had gone
to peep from the window of the ground-floor front in case a policeman's
bull's-eye were glancing on Neptune Crescent, reappeared in the doorway.

"What a smell of gas!" he exclaimed nervously.

There was indeed a smell of gas, and Michael remembered that Poppy in
her struggle had grasped the bracket. She must have dislocated the lead
pipe rather badly, for the light was already dimming and the gas was
rushing out fast. The tumultuous scene was allayed. Mr. Murdoch hurried
to cut off the main. Poppy retired into her room, slammed and locked the
door. Michael went upstairs to bed, and just as darkness descended upon
the house he saw his landlady painfully trying to raise the hat-stand,
while with the other arm she felt aimlessly for strands of tumbled
hair.

Next morning Michael was surprised to see Mrs. Murdoch enter very
cheerfully with his tea; her hair that so short a time since had seemed
eternally intractable had now shriveled into subjugatory curl-papers: of
last night's tear-smudged face remained no memory in this beaming
countenance.

"Quite a set-out we had last night, didn't we?" she said expansively.
"But that Poppy, really, you know, she is the limit. Driving home with
my old man in a hansom cab. There's a nice game to get up to. I was
bound to let her have it. I couldn't have held myself in."

"I suppose you'll get rid of her now," said Michael.

"Oh, well, she's not so bad in some ways, and very quiet as a rule. She
was a bit canned last night, and I suppose I'd had one or two myself.
Oh, well, it wouldn't do, would it, if we never had a little enjoyment
in this life?"

She left him wondering how he would ever be able to readjust his
standards to the topsyturvy standards of the underworld, the topsyturvy
feuds and reconciliations, the hatreds; the loves and jealousies and
fears. But to-day he must leave this looking-glass world for a time.

Mrs. Murdoch was very much upset by his departure from Neptune Crescent.

"It seems such a pity," she said. "And just as I was beginning to get
used to your ways. Oh, well, we'll meet again some day, I hope, this
side of the cemetery."

Michael felt some misgivings about ordering a hansom after last night,
but Mrs. Murdoch went cheerfully enough to fetch one. He drove away from
Neptune Crescent, waving to her where she stood in the small doorway
looking very large under that rusty frail veranda. He also waved rather
maliciously to Poppy, as he caught sight of her sharp nose pressed
against the panes of the ground-floor front.



CHAPTER III

THE CAFÉ D'ORANGE


Michael came back to Cheyne Walk with a sense of surprise at finding
that it still existed; and when he saw the parlormaid he half expected
she would display some emotion at his reappearance. After Neptune
Crescent, it was almost impossible to imagine a female who was not
subject to the violence of her mutable emotions. Yet her private life,
the life of the alternate Sunday evening out, might be as passionate and
gusty as any scene in Neptune Crescent. He looked at the
tortoise-mouthed parlormaid with a new interest, until she became waxily
pink under his stare.

"Mrs. Fane is in the drawing-room, sir." It was as if she were rebuking
his observation.

His mother rose from her desk when he came to greet her.

"Dearest boy, how delightful to see you again, and so thoughtful of you
to send me those postcards."

If she had asked him directly where he had been, he would have told her
about Neptune Crescent, and possibly even about Lily. But as she did
not, he could reveal nothing of the past fortnight. It would have seemed
to him like the boring recitation of a dream, which from other people
was a confidence he always resented.

"Stella and Alan are in the studio," she told him.

They chatted for a while of unimportant things, and then Michael said he
would go and find them. As he crossed the little quadrangle of pallid
grass and heard in the distance the sound of the piano he could not keep
back the thought of how utterly Alan's company had replaced his own. Not
that he was jealous, not that he was not really delighted; but a period
of life was being rounded off. The laws of change were being rather
ruthless just now. Both Alan and Stella were so obviously glad to see
him that the fleck of bitterness vanished immediately, and he was at
their service.

"Where have you been?" Stella demanded. "We go to Richmond. We send
frantic wires to you to join us on the river, and when we come back
you're gone. Where have you been?"

"I've been away," Michael answered, with a certain amount of
embarrassment.

"My dear old Michael, we never supposed you'd been hiding in the
cistern-cupboard for a fortnight," said Stella, striking three chords of
cheerful contempt.

"I believe he went back to Oxford," suggested Alan.

"I am going up to-morrow," Michael said. "When is your Viva?"

"Next week. Where are you going to stay?"

"In college, if I can get hold of a room."

"Bother Oxford," interrupted Stella. "We want to know where you've been
this fortnight."

"You do," Alan corrected.

"I'll tell you both later on," Michael volunteered. "Just at present I
suppose you won't grudge me a secret. People who are engaged to be
married should show a very special altruism toward people who are not."

"Michael, I will not have you being important and carrying about a
secret with you," Stella declared.

"You can manage either me or Alan," Michael offered. "But you simply
shall not manage both of us. Personally, I recommend you to break-in
Alan."

With evasive banter he succeeded in postponing the revelation of what he
was, as Stella said, up to.

"We're going in for Herefords," Alan suddenly announced without
consideration for the trend of the talk. "You know. Those white-faced
chaps."

Michael looked at him in astonishment.

"I was thinking about this place of Stella's in Huntingdonshire," Alan
explained. "We went down to see it last week."

"Oh, Alan, why did you tell him? He doesn't deserve to be told."

"Is it decent?" Michael asked.

"Awfully decent," said Alan. "Rather large, you know."

"In fact, we shall belong to the squirearchy," cried Stella, crashing
down upon the piano with the first bars of Chopin's most exciting
Polonaise and from the Polonaise going off into an absurd impromptu
recitative.

"We shall have a dog-cart--a high and shining dog-cart--and we shall go
bowling down the lanes of the county of Hunts--because in books about
people who live in the county and of the county and by with or from the
county dog-carts invariably bowl--we shall have a herd of Herefordshire
bulls and bullocks and bullockesses--and my husband Alan with a straw in
his mouth will go every morning with the bailiff to inspect their
well-being--- and three days every week from November to March we shall
go hunting in Huntingdon--and when we aren't actually hunting in
Huntingdon we shall be talking about hunting--and we shall also talk
about the Primrose League and the foot-and-mouth disease and the
evolutions of the new High Church Vicar--we shall...."

But Michael threw a cushion at her, and the recitative came to an end.

They all three talked for a long while more seriously of plans for life
at Hardingham Hall.

"You know dear old Prescott requested me in his will that I would hyphen
his name on to mine, whether I were married or single," said Stella. "So
we shall be Mr. and Mrs. Prescott-Merivale. Alan has been very good
about that, though I think he's got a dim idea it's putting on side.
Stella Prescott-Merivale or The Curse of the County! And when I play I'm
going to be Madame Merivale. I decline to be done out of the Madame! and
everybody will pronounce it Marivahleh and I shall receive the unanimous
encomia of the critical press."

"Life will be rather a rag," said Michael, with approbation.

"Of course it's going to be simply wonderful. Can't you see the
headlines? From Chopin to Sheep. Madame Merivale, the famous Virtuosa,
and her Flock of Barbary Long-tails."

It was all so very remote from Neptune Crescent, Michael thought. They
really were going to be so ridiculously happy, these two, in their
country life. And now they were talking of finding him a house close to
Hardingham Hall. There must be just that small Georgian house, they
vowed, where with a large garden of stately walks and a
well-proportioned library of books he could stay in contented retreat.
They promised him, too, that beyond the tallest cedar on the lawn a
gazebo should command the widest, the greenest expanse of England ever
beheld.

"It would so add to our reputation in the county of Hunts," said Stella,
"if you were near by. We should feel so utterly Augustan. And of course
you'd ride a nag. I'm not sure really that you wouldn't have to wear
knee-breeches. I declare, Michael, that the very idea makes me feel like
Jane Austen, or do I mean Doctor Johnson?"

"I should make up your mind which," Michael advised.

"But you know what I mean," she persisted. "The doctor's wife would
come in to tea and tell us that her husband had dug up a mummy or
whatever it was the Romans left about. And I should say, 'We must ask my
brother about it. My brother, my dear Mrs. Jumble, will be sure to know.
My brother knows everything.' And she would agree with a pursed-up
mouth. 'Oh, pray do, my dear Mrs. Prescott-Merivale. Everyone says your
brother is a great scholar. It's such a pleasure to have him at the
Lodge. So very distinguished, is it not?'"

"If you're supposed to be imitating Jane Austen, I may as well tell you
at once that it's not a bit like it."

"But I think you ought to come and live near us," Alan solemnly put in.

"Of course, my dear, he's coming," Stella declared.

"Of course I'm not," Michael contradicted. But he was very glad they
wanted him; and then he thought with a pang how little they would want
him with Lily in that well-proportioned library. How little Lily would
enjoy the fat and placid Huntingdon meadows. How little, too, she would
care to see the blackbird swagger with twinkling rump by the shrubbery's
edge or hear him scatter the leaves in shrill affright. In the quick
vision that came to him of a sleek lawn possessed by birds, Michael
experienced his first qualm about the wisdom of what he intended to do.

"And how about Michael's wife?" Alan asked.

Michael looked quite startled by a query so coincident with his own.

"Oh, of course we shall find someone quite perfect for him," Stella
confidently prophesied.

"No, really," said Michael to hide his embarrassment. "I object.
Matchmaking ought not to begin during an engagement."

Stella paid no heed to the protest, and she began to describe a
lady-love who should well become the surroundings in which she intended
to place him.

"I think rather a Quakerish person, don't you, Alan? Rather neat and
tiny with a great sense of humor and...."

"In fact, an admirable sick nurse," Michael interposed, laughing.

Soon he left them in the studio and went for a walk by the side of the
river, thinking, as he strolled in the shade of the plane-trees, how
naturally Stella would enter the sphere of English country life now that
by fortune the opportunity had been given to her of following in the
long line of her ancestors. That she would be able to do so seemed to
Michael an additional reason why he should consider less the security of
his own future, and he was vexed with himself for that fleeting
disloyalty to his task.

Michael stayed at 202 High for his Viva. He occupied Wedderburn's old
white-paneled room, which he noted with relief was still sacred to the
tradition of a carefully chosen decorousness. The Viva was short and
irrelevant. He supposed he had obtained a comfortable third, and really
it seemed of the utmost unimportance in view of what a gulf now lay
between him and Oxford. However, he mustered enough interest to stay in
Cheyne Walk until the lists were out, and during those ten days he made
no attempt to find Lily.

Alan got a third in Greats and Michael a first in History. Michael's
immediate emotion was of gladness that Alan had no reason now to feel
the disappointment. Then he began to wonder how on earth he had achieved
a first. Many letters of congratulation arrived; and one or two of the
St. Mary's dons suggested he should try for a fellowship at All Souls.
The idea occupied his fancy a good deal, for it was attractive to have
anything so remote come suddenly within the region of feasibleness. He
would lose nothing by trying for it, and if he succeeded what a
congenial existence offered itself. With private means he would be able
to divide his time between Oxford and London. There would really be
nothing to mar the perfect amenity of the life that seemed to stretch
before him. Since he apparently had some talent (he certainly had not
worked hard enough to obtain a first without some talent) he would
prosecute the study of history. He would make himself famous in a select
sort of way. He would become the authority of a minor tributary to the
great stream of research. A set of very scholarly, very thorough works
would testify to his reputation. There were plenty of archaic problems
still to be solved. He cast a proprietary glance over the centuries, and
he had almost decided to devote himself to the service of Otto I and
Sylvester II, when in a moment the thought of Lily, sweeping as visibly
before his mind as the ghost in an Elizabethan play, made every kind of
research into the past seem a waste of resolution. He tore up the
congratulatory letters and decided to let the future wait a while. This
pursuit of Lily was a mad business, no doubt, but to come to grips with
the present called for a certain amount of madness.

Alan remonstrated with him, when he heard that he had no intention of
trying for All Souls.

"You are an extraordinary chap. You were always grumbling when you were
up that you didn't know what you ought to do, and now when it's
perfectly obvious you won't make the slightest attempt to do it."

"Used I to grumble?" asked Michael.

"Well, not exactly grumble. But you were always asking theoretical
questions which had no answer," said Alan severely.

"What if I told you I'd found an answer to a great many of them?"

"Ever since I've been engaged to Stella you've found it necessary to be
very mysterious. What are you playing at, Michael?"

"It's imaginable, don't you think, that I might be making up my mind to
do something which I considered more vital for me than a fellowship at
All Souls?"

"But it seems so obvious after your easy first that you should clinch
it."

"I tell you it was a fluke."

"My third wasn't a fluke," said Alan. "I worked really hard for it."

"Thirds and firsts are equally unimportant in the long run," Michael
argued. "You have already fitted into your place with the most complete
exactitude. There's no dimension in your future that can possibly
trouble you. Supposing I get this fellowship? It will either be too big
for me, in which case I shall have to be perpetually puffing out my
frills and furbelows to make a pretense of filling it, or it will be too
small, and I shall have to pare down my very soul in order to squeeze
into it most uncomfortably."

"You'll never do anything," Alan prophesied. "Because you'll always be
doubting."

"I might get rid finally of that sense of insecurity," Michael pointed
out. "With all doubts and hesitations I'm perfectly convinced of one
great factor in human life--the necessity to follow the impulse which
lies deeper than any reason. Reason is the enemy of civilization. Reason
carried to the _nth_ power can always with absurd ease be debauched
by sentiment, and sentiment is mankind's wretched little lament for
disobeying impulse. Women preserve this divinity because they are
irrational. The New Woman claims equality with man because she claims to
be as reasonable as men. She has fixed on voting for a Member of
Parliament as the medium to display her reasonableness. The franchise is
to be endowed with a sacramental significance. If the New Women win,
they will degrade themselves to the slavery of modern men. But of course
they won't win, because God is so delightfully irrational. By the way,
it's worth noting that the peculiar vestment with which popular fancy
has clothed the New Woman is called rational costume. You often hear of
'rationals' as a synonym for breeches. What was I saying? Oh, yes, about
God being irrational. You never know what he'll do next. He is a
dreadful problem for rationalists. That's why they have abolished him."

"You're confusing two different kinds of reason," said Alan. "What you
call impulse--unless your impulse is mere madness--is what I might call
reason."

"In that case I recommend you as a philosopher to set about the
reconstruction of your terminology. I'm not a philosopher, and therefore
I've given this vague generic name 'impulse' to something which
deserves, such a powerful and infallible and overmastering impetus does
it give to conduct, a very long name indeed."

"But if you're going through life depending on impulse," Alan objected,
"you'll be no better off than a weathercock. You can't discount reason
in this way. You must admit that our judgments are modified by
experience."

"The chief thing we learn from experience is to place upon it no
reliance whatever."

"It's no good arguing with you," Alan said. "Because what you call
impulse I call reason, and what you call reason I call imperfect logic."

"Alan, I can't believe you only got a third. For really, you know, your
conversation is a model of the philosophic manner. Anyway, I'm not going
to try to be a Fellow of All Souls and you are going to be a country
squire. Let's hold on to what certainties we can."

Michael would have liked to lead him into a discussion of the problem
of evil, so that he might ascertain if Alan had ever felt the
intimations of evil which had haunted his own perceptions. However, he
thought he had tested to the utmost that third in Greats, and therefore
he refrained.

There was a discussion that evening about going away. August was already
in sight and arrangements must be made quickly to avoid the burden of it
in London. In the end, it was arranged that Mrs. Fane and Stella and
Alan should go to Scotland, where Michael promised to join them, if he
could get away from London.

"If you can get away!" Stella scoffed. "What rot you do talk."

But Michael was not to be teased out of his determination to stay where
he was, and in three or four days he said good-bye to the others
northward bound, waving to them from the steps of 173 Cheyne Walk on
which already the August sun was casting a heavy heat untempered by the
stagnant sheen of the Thames.

That evening Michael went again to the Orient Promenade; but there was
no sign of Lily, and it seemed likely that she had gone away from London
for a while. After the performance he visited the Café d'Orange in
Leicester Square. He had never been there yet, but he had often noticed
the riotous exodus at half-past twelve, and he argued from the quality
of the frequenters who stood wrangling on the pavement that the Café
d'Orange would be a step lower than any of the night-resorts he had so
far attended. He scarcely expected to find Lily here. Indeed, he was
rather inclined to think that she was someone's mistress and that
Drake's view of her at the Orient did not argue necessarily that she had
yet sunk to the promiscuous livelihood of the Promenade.

Downstairs at the Café d'Orange was rather more like a corner of hell
than Michael had anticipated. The tobacco smoke which could not rise in
these subterranean airs hung in a blue murk round the gaudy hats and
vile faces, while from the roof the electric lamps shone dazzlingly down
and made a patchwork of light and shade and color. In a corner left by
the sweep of the stairs a quartet of unkempt musicians in seamy tunics
of beer-stained scarlet frogged with debilitated braid were grinding out
ragtime. The noisy tune in combination with the talking and laughter,
the chink of glasses and the shouted acknowledgments of the waiters made
such a din that Michael stood for a moment in confusion, debating the
possibility of one more person threading his way through the serried
tables to a seat.

There were three arched recesses at the opposite end of the room, and in
one of these he thought he could see a table with a vacant place. So
paying no heed to the women who hailed him on the way he moved across
and sat down. A waiter pounced upon him voraciously for orders, and soon
with an unrequited drink he was meditating upon the scene before him in
that state of curious tranquillity which was nearly always induced by
ceaseless circumfluent clamor. Sitting in this tunnel-shaped alcove, he
seemed to be in the box of a theater whence the actions and voices of
the contemplated company had the unreality of an operatic finale. After
a time the various groups and individuals were separated in his mind, so
that in their movements he began to take an easily transferred interest,
endowing them with pleasant or unpleasant characteristics in turn. Round
him in the alcove there were strange contrasts of behavior. At one table
four offensive youths were showing off with exaggerated laughter for the
benefit of nobody's attention. Behind them in the crepuscule of two
broken lamps a leaden-lidded girl; ivory white and cloying the air with
her heavy perfume, was arguing in low passionate tones with a cold-eyed
listener who with a straw was tracing niggling hieroglyphics upon a
moist surface of cigarette-ash. In the deepest corner a girl with a high
complexion and bright eyes was making ardent love to a partially drunk
and bearded man, winking the while over her shoulder at whoever would
watch her comedy. The other places were filled by impersonal women who
sipped from their glasses without relish and stared disdainfully at each
other down their powdered noses. At Michael's own table was a blotchy
man who alternately sucked his teeth and looked at his watch; and
immediately opposite sat a girl with a merry, audacious and somewhat
pale face of the Gallic type under a very large and round black hat
trimmed with daisies. She was twinkling at Michael, but he would not
catch her eye, and he looked steadily over the brim of her hat toward
the raffish and rutilant assemblage beyond. Along two sides of the wall
were large mirrors painted with flowers and bloated Naiads; here in
reflection the throng performed its antics in numberless reduplications.
Advertisements of drink decorated the rest of the space on the walls,
and at intervals hung notices warning ladies that they must not stay
longer than twenty minutes unless accompanied by a gentleman, that they
must not move to another table unless accompanied by a gentleman, and
with a final stroke of ironic propriety that they must not smoke unless
accompanied by a gentleman. The tawdry beer hall with its reek of
alcohol and fog of tobacco smoke, with its harborage of all the flotsam
of the underworld, must preserve a fiction of polite manners.

Michael was not allowed to maintain his attitude of disinterested
commentary, for the girl in the daisied hat presently addressed him, and
he did not wish to hurt her feelings by not replying.

"You're very silent, kiddie," she said. "I'll give you a penny for
them."

"I really wasn't thinking about anything in particular," said Michael.
"Will you have a drink?"

"Don't mind if I do. Alphonse!" she shouted, tugging at the arm of the
overloaded waiter who was accomplishing his transit. "Bring me a hot
whisky-and-lemon. There's a love."

Alphonse made the slightest sign of having heard the request and passed
on. Michael held his breath while the girl was giving her order. He was
expecting every moment that the waiter would break over the alcove in a
fountain of glass.

"I've taken quite a fancy to whisky-and-lemon hot," she informed
Michael. "You know. Anyone does, don't they? Get a sudden fit and keep
on keeping on with one drink, I mean. This'll be my sixth to-night. But
I'm a long way off being drunk, kiddie. Do you like my new hat? I reckon
it'll bring me luck."

"I expect it will," Michael said.

"You are serious, aren't you? When I first saw you I thought you was the
spitting image of a fellow I know--Bert Saunders, who writes about the
boxing matches for Crime Illustrated. He's more of a bright-eyes than
you are, though."

The whisky-and-lemon arrived, and she drank Michael's health.

"Funny-tasting stuff when you come to think of it," she said
meditatingly. "What's your name, kiddie?"

He told her.

"Michael," she repeated. "You're a Jew, then?"

He shook his head.

"Well, kid, I suppose you know best, but Michael is a Jewish name, isn't
it? Michael? Of course it is. I don't mind Jew fellows myself. One or
two of them have been very good to me. My name's Daisy Palmer."

The conversation languished slightly, because Michael since his
encounter with Poppy at Neptune Crescent was determined to be very
cautious.

"You look rather French," was his most audacious sally toward the
personal.

"Funny you should have said that, because my mother was a stewardess on
the Calais boat. She was Belgian herself."

Again the conversation dropped.

"I'm waiting for a friend," Daisy volunteered. "She's been having a row
with her fellow, and she promised to come on down to the Orange and tell
me about it. Dolly Wearne is her name. She ought to have been here by
now. What's the time, kid?"

It was after midnight, and Daisy began to look round anxiously.

"I'm rather worried over Doll," she confided to Michael, "because this
fellow of hers, Hungarian Dave, is a proper little tyke when he turns
nasty. I said to Doll, I said to her, 'Doll, that dirty rotter you're so
soft over'll swing for you before he's done. Why don't you leave him,' I
said, 'and come and live along with me for a bit?'"

"And what did she say?" Michael asked.

But there was no answer, for Daisy had caught sight of Dolly herself
coming down the stairs, and she was now hailing her excitedly.

"Oh, doesn't she look shocking white," exclaimed Daisy. "Doll!" she
shouted, waving to her. "Over here, duck."

The four offensive youths near them in the alcove mimicked her in
exaggerated falsetto.

"---- to you," she flung scornfully at them over her shoulder. There was
a savage directness, a simple coarseness in the phrase that pleased
Michael. It seemed to him that nothing except that could ever be said to
these young men. Whatever else might be urged against the Café
d'Orange, at least one was able to hear there a final verdict on
otherwise indescribable humanity.

By this time Dolly Wearne, a rather heavy girl with a long retreating
chin and flabby cheeks, had reached her friend's side. She began
immediately a voluble tale:

"Oh, Daisy, I put it across him straight. I give you my word, I told him
off so as he could hardly look me in the face. 'You call yourself a
man,' I said, 'why, you dirty little alien.' That's what I called him. I
did straight, 'you dirty little---- '"

"This is my friend," interrupted Daisy, indicating Michael, who bowed.
It amused him to see how in the very middle of what was evidently going
to be a breathless and desperate story both the girls could remember the
convention of their profession.

"Pleased to meet you," said Dolly, offering a black kid-gloved hand with
half-a-simper.

"What will you drink?" asked Michael.

"Mine's a brandy and soda, please. 'You dirty little alien,' I said."
Dolly was helter-skelter in the track of her tale again.

"Go on, did you? And what did he say?" asked Daisy admiringly.

"He never said nothing, my dear. What could he say?"

"That's right," nodded Daisy wisely.

"'For two years,' I said, 'you've let a girl keep you,' I said, 'and
then you can go and give one of my rings to that Florrie. Let me get
hold of her,' I said. 'I'll tear her eyes out.' 'No, you won't, now
then,' he said. 'Won't I? I will, then,' and with that I just lost
control of my feelings, I felt that wild...."

"What did you do, Doll?" asked Daisy, plying her with brandy to soothe
the outraged memory.

"What did I do? Why, I spat in his tea and came straight off down to the
Orange. 'Yes,' I said, 'you can sit drinking tea while you break my
heart.' Don't you ever go and have a fancy boy, Daise. Why, I was a
straight girl when I first knew him. Straight--well, anyway not on the
game like what I am now." Here Dolly Wearne began to weep with bitter
self-compassion. "I've slaved for that fellow, and now he serves me like
dirt."

"Go on. Don't cry, duck," Daisy begged. "Come home with me to-night and
we can send and fetch your things away to-morrow. I wouldn't cry over
him," she said fiercely. "There's no fellow worth crying over. The best
of them isn't worth crying over."

The four offensive youths in the alcove began to mock Dolly's tears, and
Michael, who was already bitten with some of the primitive pugnacity of
the underworld, rose to attack them.

"Sit down," Daisy commanded. "I wouldn't mess my hands, if I was you,
with such a pack of filth. Sit down, you stupid boy. You'll get us all
into trouble."

Michael managed by a great effort to resume his seat, but for a minute
or two he saw the beerhall through a mist of rage.

Gradually Dolly's tears ceased to flow, and after another brandy she
became merely more abusive of the faithless Dave. Her cheeks swollen
with crying seemed flabbier than ever, and her long retreating chin
expressed a lugubrious misanthropy.

"Rotten, I call it, don't you?" said the sympathetic Daisy, appealing to
Michael.

He agreed with a profound nod.

"And she's been that good to him. You wouldn't believe."

Michael thought it was rather risky to embark upon an enumeration of
Dolly's virtuous acts. He feared another relapse into noisy grief.

At this moment the subject of Daisy's eulogy rose from her seat and
stared very dramatically at a corner of the main portion of the
beerhall.

"My God!" she said, with ominous calm.

"What is it, duck?" asked Daisy, anxiously peering.

"My God!" Daisy repeated intensely. Then suddenly she poured forth a
volley of obloquy, and with an hysterical scream caught up her glass
evidently intending to hurl it in the direction of her abuse. Daisy
seized one arm: Michael gripped the other, and together they pulled her
back into her chair. She was still screaming loudly, and the noise of
the beerhall, hitherto scattered and variable in pitch, concentrated in
a low murmur of interest. Round about them in the alcove the neighbors
began to listen: the girl who had been arguing so passionately with the
cold-eyed man stopped and stared; the partially drunk and bearded man
collapsed into a glassy indifference, while his charmer no longer winked
over her shoulder at the spectators of her wooing; the four offensive
youths gaped like landed trout; even the blotchy-faced man ceased to
look at his watch and confined himself to sucking steadily his teeth.

It seemed probable, Michael thought, that there was going to be rather a
nasty row. Dolly would not listen to persuasion from him or her friend.
She was going to attack that Florrie; she was going to mark that Florrie
for life with a glass; she was going to let her see if she could come it
over Doll Wearne. It would take more than Florrie to do that; yes, more
than half-a-dozen Florries, it would.

The manager of the Orange had been warned, and he was already edging his
way slowly toward the table. The friends of Florrie were using their
best efforts to remove her from the temptation to retaliate. Though she
declared loudly that nothing would make her quit the Orange, and
certainly that Dolly less than anybody, she did suffer herself to be
coaxed away.

Dolly, when she found her rival had retreated, burst into tears again
and was immediately surrounded by a crowd of inquisitive sympathizers,
which made her utterly hysterical. Michael, without knowing quite how it
had happened, found that he was involved in the fortunes and enmities
and friendships of a complete society. He found himself explaining to
several bystanders the wrong which Dolly had been compelled to endure at
the hands of Hungarian Dave. It was extraordinary how suddenly this
absurd intrigue of the underworld came to seem tremendously important.
He felt that all his sense of proportion was rapidly disappearing. In
the middle of an excited justification of Dolly's tears he was aware
that he and his surroundings and his attitude were to himself
incredible. He was positively in a nightmare, and a prey to the
inconsequence of dreams. Or was all his life until this moment a dream,
and was this reality? One fact alone presented itself clearly, which was
the necessity to see the miserable Dolly safely through the rest of the
evening. He felt very reliant upon Daisy, who was behaving with
admirable composure, and when he asked her advice about the course of
action, he agreed at once with her that Dolly must be persuaded into a
cab and be allowed in Daisy's rooms in Guilford Street a freedom of rage
and grief that was here, such was the propriety of the Orange, a very
imprudent display of emotion.

"She'll be barred from coming down here," said Daisy. "Come on, let's
get her home."

"Where's that Florrie?" screamed Dolly.

"She's gone home. So what's the use in your carrying on so mad? The
manager's got his eye on us, Doll. Come on, Doll, let's get on home. I
tell you the manager's looking at us. You are a silly girl."

"---- the manager," said Dolly obstinately. "Let him look."

"Why don't you come and see if you can find Florrie outside?" Daisy
suggested.

Dolly was moved by this proposal, and presently she agreed to vacate the
Orange, much to Michael's relief, for he was expecting every moment to
see her attack the manager with the match-stand that was fretting her
fingers. As it happened, Daisy's well-meant suggestion was very unlucky
because Hungarian Dave, the cause of all the bother, was standing on the
pavement close to the entrance.

Daisy whispered to Michael to get a cab quickly, because Hungarian Dave
was close at hand. He looked at him curiously, this degraded individual
in whose domestic affairs he was now so deeply involved. A very
objectionable creature he was, too, with his greasy hair and large red
mouth. His cap was pulled down over the eyes, and he may have wished not
to be seen; but an instinct for his presence made Dolly turn round, and
in a moment she was in the thick of the delight of telling him off for
the benefit of a crowd increasing with every epithet she flung. It was
useless now to attempt to get her away, and Michael and Daisy could only
drag her back when she seemed inclined to attack him with finger-nails
or hatpin.

"Get a cab," cried Daisy. "Never mind what she says. Get a cab, and
we'll put the silly thing into it and drive off. The coppers will be
here in a moment."

Michael managed to hail a hansom immediately, but when he turned back to
the scene of the pavement the conditions of the dispute were entirely
changed. Hungarian Dave, infuriated or frightened, had knocked Dolly
down, and she was just staggering to her feet, when a policeman stepped
into the circle.

"Come on, move along," he growled.

The bully had merged himself in the ring of onlookers, and Dolly, with a
cry of fury, flung herself in his direction.

"Stop that, will you?" the policeman said savagely, seizing her by the
arm.

"Go on, it's a dirty shame," cried Daisy. "Why don't you take the fellow
as knocked her down?"

Michael by this time had forced his way through the crowd, rage beating
upon his brain like a great scarlet hammer.

"You infernal ass," he shouted to the constable. "Haven't you got the
sense to see that this woman was attacked first? Where is the blackguard
who did it?" he demanded of the stupid, the gross, the vilely curious
press of onlookers. No one came forward to support him, and Hungarian
Dave had slipped away.

"Move on, will you?" the policeman repeated.

"Damn you," cried Michael. "Will you let go of that woman's arm?"

The constable with a bovine density of purpose proceeded apparently to
arrest the wretched Dolly, and Michael maddened by his idiocy felt that
the only thing to do was to hit him as hard as he could. This he did.
The constable immediately blew his whistle. Other masses of inane bulk
loomed up, and Michael was barely able to control himself sufficiently
not to resist all the way to Vine Street, as two of them marched him
along, and four more followed with Daisy and Dolly. A spumy trail of
nocturnal loiterers clung to their wake.

Next morning Michael appeared before the magistrate. He listened to the
charge against him and nearly laughed aloud in court, because the whole
business so much resembled the trial in Alice in Wonderland. It was not
that the magistrate was quite so illogical as the King of Hearts; but he
was so obviously biassed in favor of the veracity of a London
policeman, that the inconsequence of the nightmare which had begun last
night was unalterably preserved. Michael, aware of the circumstances
which had led up to what was being made to appear as wantonly riotous
behavior in Leicester Square, could not fail to be exasperated by the
inability of the magistrate to understand his own straightforward story.
He began to sympathize with the lawless population. The law could only
seem to them an unintelligent machine for crushing their freedom. If the
conduct of this case were a specimen of administration, it was obvious
that arrest must be synonymous with condemnation. The magistrate in the
first place seemed dreadfully overcome by the sorrow of beholding a
young man in Michael's position on the police-court.

"I cannot help wondering when I see a young man who has had every
opportunity ..." the magistrate went on in a voice that worked on the
stale air of the court like a rusty file.

"I'm not a defaulting bank clerk," Michael interrupted. "Is it
impossible for you to understand----"

"Don't speak to me like that. Keep quiet. I've never been spoken to like
that in all my experience as a magistrate. Keep quiet."

Michael sighed in compassion for his age and stupidity.

"Are there any previous convictions against Wearne and Palmer?" the
magistrate inquired. He was told that the woman Palmer had not hitherto
appeared, but that Wearne had been previously fined for disorderly
conduct in Shaftesbury Avenue. "Ah!" said the magistrate. "Ah!" he
repeated, looking over the rim of his glasses. "And the case against the
male defendant? I will take the evidence of Constable C11254."

"Your worship, I was on duty yesterday evening at 12.25 in Leicester
Square. Hearing a noise in the direction of the Caffy Dorringe and
observing a crowd collect, I moved across the road to disperse it. The
defendant Wearne was using obscene language to an unknown man; and
wishing to get her to move on I took hold of her arm. The male
defendant, also using very obscene language, attempted to rescue her and
struck me on the chest. I blew my whistle...."

The ponderous constable with his thick red neck continued a sing-song
narrative.

When Michael's turn came to refute some of the evidence against him, he
merely shrugged his shoulders.

"It's really useless, you know, for me to say anything. If 'damn you' is
obscene, then I was obscene. If a girl is knocked down by a bully and on
rising to her feet is instantly arrested by a dunderhead in a blue
uniform, and if an onlooker punches this functionary, then I did assault
the constable."

"This sort of insolence won't do," said the magistrate trembling with a
curious rarefied passion. "I have a very good mind to send you to prison
without the option of a fine, but in consideration...."

Somehow or other it was made to appear a piece of extraordinary
magnanimity on the part of the magistrate that Michael was only fined
three guineas and costs.

"I wish to pay the fines of Miss Palmer and Miss Wearne," he announced.

Later in the morning Michael, with the two girls, emerged into the
garish summer day. Not even yet was the illusion of a nightmare
dissipated, for as he looked at his two companions, feathered, frilled
and bedraggled, who were walking beside him, he could scarcely
acknowledge even their probable reality here in the sun.

"I shan't drink hot whisky-and-lemon again in a hurry," vowed Daisy. "I
knew it was going to bring me bad luck when I said it tasted so funny."

"But you said your hat was going to be lucky," Michael pointed out.

"Yes, I've been properly sucked in over that," Daisy agreed.

"Nothing ever brings me luck," grumbled Dolly resentfully.

As Michael looked at the long retreating chin and down-drawn mouth he
was inclined to agree that nothing could invigorate this fatal
mournfulness with the prospect of good fortune.

"I reckon I'll go home and have a good lay down," said Daisy. "Are you
going to have dinner with me?" she asked, turning to Dolly.

"Dinner?" echoed Dolly. "Nice time to talk to anyone about their dinner,
when they've got the sick like I have! Dinner!"

They had reached Piccadilly Circus by now, and Michael wondered if he
might not put them into a cab and send them back to Guilford Street. He
found it embarrassing when the people slowly turned away from Swan and
Edgar's window to stare instead at him and his companions.

Daisy pressed him to come back with them, but he promised he would call
upon her very soon. Then he slipped into her hand the change from the
second five-pound note into which the law had broken.

"Is this for us?" she asked.

He nodded.

"You are a sport. Mind you come and see us. Come to tea. Doll's going to
live with me a bit now, aren't you, Doll?"

"I suppose so," said Doll.

Michael really admired the hospitality which was willing to shelter
this lugubrious girl, and as he contemplated her, looking in the
sunlight like a moist handkerchief, he had a fleeting sympathy with
Hungarian Dave.

When the girls had driven off, Michael recovered his ordinary appearance
by visiting a barber and a hosier. The effect of the shampoo was almost
to make him incredulous of the night's event, and he could not help
paying a visit to the Café d'Orange, to verify the alcove in which he
had sat. The entrance of the beerhall was closed, however, and he stood
for a moment like a person who passes a theater which the night before
he has seen glittering. As Michael was going out of the bar, he thought
he recognized a figure leaning over the counter. Yes, it was certainly
Meats. He went up and tapped him on the shoulder, addressing him by
name. Meats turned round with a start.

"Don't you remember me?" asked Michael.

"Of course I do," said Meats nervously. "But for the love of Jerusalem
drop calling me by that name. Here, let's go outside."

In the street Michael asked him why he had given up being Meats.

"Oh, a bit of trouble, a bit of trouble," said Meats.

"You are a strange chap," said Michael. "When I first met you it was
Brother Aloysius. Then it was Meats. Now----"

"Look here," said Meats, "give over, will you? I've told you once. If
you call me that again I shall leave you. Barnes is what I am now. Now
don't forget."

"Come and have a drink, and tell me what you've been doing in the four
years since we met," Michael suggested.

"B-a-r-n-e-s. Have you got it?"

Michael assured him that everything but Barnes as applicable to him had
vanished from his mind.

"Come on, then," said Barnes. "We'll go into the Afrique, upstairs."

Michael fancied he had met Barnes this time in a reincarnation that was
causing him a good deal of uneasiness. He had lost the knowingness which
had belonged to Meats and the sheer lasciviousness which had seemed the
predominant quality of Brother Aloysius. Instead, sitting at the round
marble table opposite Michael saw an individual who resembled an actor
out of work in the lowest grades of his profession. There was the cheesy
complexion, and the over-fashioned suit of another season too much worn
and faded now to flaunt itself objectionably, but with its dismoded
exaggerations still conveying an air of rococo smartness; perhaps,
thought Michael, these signs had always been obvious and it had merely
been his own youth which had supposed a type to be an exception.
Certainly Barnes could not arouse now anything but a compassionate
amusement. How this figure with its grotesque indignity as of a puppet
temporarily put out of action testified to his own morbid heightening of
common things in the past. How incredible it seemed now that this Barnes
had once been able to work upon his soul with influential doctrine.

"What have you been doing with yourself?" Michael asked again.

"Oh, hopping and popping about. I've got the rats at present."

"Where are you living?"

Barnes looked at Michael in suspicious astonishment. "What do you want
to know for?" he asked.

"Mere inquisitiveness," Michael assured him. "You really needn't treat
me like a detective, you know."

"My mistake," said Barnes. "But really, Fane. Let's see, that is your
name? Thought it was. I don't often forget a name. No, without swank,
Fane, I've been hounded off my legs lately. I'm living in Leppard
Street. Pimlico way."

"I'd like to come and see you some time," said Michael.

"Here, straight, what _is_ your game?" Barnes could not conceal his
suspicion.

"Inquisitiveness," Michael declared again. "Also I rather want a Sancho
Panza."

"Oh, of course, any little thing I can do to oblige," said Barnes very
sarcastically.

It took Michael a long time to convince him that no plot was looming,
but at last he persuaded him to come to 173 Cheyne Walk, and after that
he knew that Barnes could not refuse to show him Leppard Street.



CHAPTER IV

LEPPARD STREET


While they were driving to Cheyne Walk, Michael extracted from Barnes an
outline of his adventures since last they had met. The present narrative
was probably not less cynical than the account of his life related to
Michael on various occasions in the past; but perhaps because his
imagination had already to some extent been fed by reality, he could no
longer be shocked. He received the most sordid avowals calmly, neither
blaming Barnes nor indulging himself with mental goose-flesh. Yet amid
all the frankness accorded to him he could not find out why Barnes had
changed his name. He was curious about this, because he could not
conceive any shamelessness too outrageous for Barnes to reveal. It would
be interesting to find out what could really make even him pause; no
doubt ultimately, with the contrariness of the underworld, it would turn
out to be something that Michael himself would consider trivial in
comparison with so much of what Barnes had boasted. Anyway, whether he
discovered the secret or not, it would certainly be interesting to study
Barnes, since in him good and evil might at any moment display
themselves as clearly as a hidden substance to a reagent flung into a
seething alembic. It might perhaps be assuming too much to say that
there was any good in him; and yet Michael was unwilling to suppose that
all his conversions were merely the base drugs of a disordered morality.
Apart from his philosophic value, Barnes might very actually be of
service in the machinery of finding Lily.

At 173 Cheyne Walk Barnes looked about him rather bitterly.

"Easy enough to behave yourself in a house like this," he commented.

Here spoke the child who imagines that grown-up people have no excuse to
be anything but very good. There might be something worth pursuing in
that thought. A child might consider itself chained more inseverably
than one who apparently possesses the perfectiveness of free-will. Had
civilization complicated too unreasonably the problem of evil? It was a
commonplace to suppose that the sense of moral responsibility increased
with the opportunity of development, and yet after all was not the
reverse true?

"Why should it be easier to behave here than in Leppard Street?" Michael
asked. "I do wish you could understand it's really so much more
difficult. I can't distinguish what is wrong from what is right nearly
so well as you can."

"Well, in my experience, and my experience has done its bit I can tell
you," said Barnes in self-satisfied parenthesis. "In my experience most
of the difficulties in this world come from wanting something we haven't
got. I don't care what it is--a woman or a drink or a new suit of
clothes. Money'll buy any of them. Give me ten pounds a week, and I
could be a bloody angel."

"Supposing I offered you half as much for three months," suggested
Michael. "Do you think you'd find life any easier while it lasted?"

"Well, don't be silly," said Barnes. "Of course I should. If you'd
walked home every night with your eyes on the gutter in case anybody had
dropped a threepenny bit, you'd think it was easier. It's not a bit of
good your running me down, Fane. If you were me, you'd be just the same.
Those monks at the Abbey used to jaw about holy poverty. The man who
first said that ought to be walking about hell with donkey's ears on his
nob. What's it done for me? I ask you. Why, it's made me so that I'd
steal a farthing from one blind man to palm it off as half-a-quid on
another."

"Tell me about Leppard Street," said Michael, laughing. "What's it
like?"

"Well, you go and punch a few holes in a cheese rind. That's what it
looks like. And then go and think yourself a rat who's lost all his
teeth, and you've got what it feels like to be living in it."

"Supposing I said I'd like to try?" asked Michael. "What would you
think?"

"Think? I shouldn't think two seconds. I should know you were having a
game. What good's Leppard Street to you, when you can sit here bouncing
up and down all day on cushions?"

"Experience," said Michael.

"Oh, rats! Nothing's experience that you haven't had to do."

"Well, I'll give you five pounds a week," Michael offered, "if you'll
keep yourself free to do anything I want you to do. I shouldn't want
anything very dreadful, of course," he added.

It was difficult for Michael to persuade Barnes that he was in earnest,
so difficult indeed that, even when he produced five sovereigns and
offered them directly to him, he had to disclose partially his reason
for wishing to go to Leppard Street.

"You see, I want to find a girl," he explained.

"Well, if you go and live in Leppard Street you'll lose the best girl
you've got straight off. That's all there is to it."

"You don't understand. This girl I used to know has gone wrong, and I
want to find her and marry her."

It seemed to Michael that Barnes' manner changed in some scarcely
definable way when he made this announcement. He pocketed the five
pounds and invited Michael to come to Leppard Street whenever he liked.
He was evidently no longer suspicious of his sincerity, and a perky, an
almost cunning cordiality had replaced the disheartened cynicism of his
former attitude. It encouraged Michael to see how obviously his resolve
had impressed Barnes. He accepted it as an augury of good hap.
Involuntarily he waited for his praise; and when Barnes made no allusion
to the merit of his action, he ascribed his silence to emotion. This was
proving really a most delightful example of the truth of his theory. And
it was clever of Barnes--it was more than clever, it was truly
imaginative of him--to realize without another question the need to
leave for a while Cheyne Walk.

"But is there a vacant room?" Michael asked in sudden dread of
disappointment.

"Look here, you'd better see the place before you decide on leaving
here," Barnes advised. "It isn't a cross between Buckingham Palace and
the Carlton, you know."

"I suppose it's the name that attracts me," said Michael. "It sounds
ferocious."

"I don't know about the name, but old Ma Cleghorne who keeps the house
is ferocious enough. Never mind." He jingled the five sovereigns.

"I'll go up and pack," said Michael. "By the way, I haven't told you yet
that I was run in last night."

"In quod you mean?" asked Barnes. "Whatever for?"

"Drunk and disorderly in Leicester Square."

"These coppers are the limit," said Barnes emphatically. "The absolute
limit. Really. They'll pinch the Archbishop of Canterbury for looking
into Stagg and Mantle's window before we know where we are."

Michael left Barnes in the drawing-room, and as he turned in the doorway
to see if he was at his ease, he thought the visitor and the macaw on
its perch were about equally exotic.

They started immediately after lunch and, as always, the drive along the
river inspired Michael with a jolly conception of the adventurousness of
London. It was impossible to hear the gurgle of the high spring-tide
without exulting in the movement of the stream that was washing out with
its flood all the listlessness of the hot August afternoon. When Chelsea
Bridge was left behind, the mystery of the banks of a great river
sweeping through a great city began to be more evident. The whole
character of the Embankment changed at every hundred yards. First there
was that somber canal which, flowing under the road straight from the
Thames, reappeared between a cañon of gloomy houses and vanished again
underground not very unlike the Styx. Then came what was apparently a
large private house which had been gutted of the tokens of humanity and
filled with monstrous wheels and cylinders and pistons, all moving
perpetually and slowly with a curious absence of noise. Under Grosvenor
Road Bridge they went, the horse clattering forward and a train crashing
overhead. Out again from slimy bricks and girders dripping with the
excrement of railway-engines, they came into Grosvenor Road. They passed
the first habitations of Pimlico, two or three terraces and isolated
houses all different in character. There could scarcely be another road
in London so varied as this. Maurice had been wise to have his studio in
Grosvenor Road. From the Houses of Parliament to Chelsea Bridge was an
epitome of London.

The hansom turned to the left up Clapperton Street, a very wide
thoroughfare of houses with heavy porticoes, a very wide and very gray
street, of a gray that almost achieved the effect of positive color, so
insistent was it. Michael remembered that there had been a Clapperton
Street murder, and he wondered behind which of those muslin curtains the
poison had been mixed. It was a street of quite extraordinarily sinister
respectableness. It brooded with a mediocre prosperity, very wide and
very gray and very silent. The columns of the porticoes were checked off
by the window of the cab with dull regularity, and the noise of the
horse's hoofs echoed hollowly down the empty street, to which every
evening men with black shiny bags would come hurrying home. It was
impossible to imagine a nursemaid lolling over a perambulator in
Clapperton Street. It was impossible to imagine that anyone lived here
but dried-up little men with greenish-white complexions and
hatchet-shaped whiskers and gnawed mustaches, dried-up little men whose
wives kept arsenic in small triangular cupboards by the bed.

"I wouldn't mind having lodgings here," said Barnes. He had caught sight
of a square of cardboard at the farther end of the street. This was the
outpost of an array of apartment cards, for the next street was full of
them. The next street was evidently a little nearer to the period of
final dilapidation; but Michael fancied that, in comparison with the
middle-aged respectableness of Clapperton Street, this older and now
very swiftly decaying warren of second-rate apartments was almost
attractive. Street followed street, each one, as they drew nearer to
Victoria Station, being a little more raffish than its predecessor, each
one being a little less able to resist the corrosion of a persistently
inquinating migration. Sometimes, and with a sharp effect of contrast,
occurred prosperous squares; but even these, with their houses so
uniformly tall and ocherous, delivered a presage of irremediable
decadency.

Suddenly the long ranks of houses, which were beginning to seem
endless, vanished upon the margin of a lake of railway lines. Just
before the hansom would have mounted the slope of an arcuated bridge, it
swung to the right into Leppard Street, S.W. The beginning of the street
ran between two high brown walls crowned with a ruching of broken glass:
these guarded on one side the escarp of the railway, on the other a coal
yard. At the farther end the street swept round to an exit between two
rows of squalid dwellings called Greenarbor Court, an exit, however,
that was barred to vehicles by a row of blistered posts. Some fifty
yards before this the wall deviated to form a recess in which five very
tall houses rose gauntly against the sky from the very edge of the
embankment. Standing as they did upon a sort of bluff and flanked on
either side by blind walls, these habitations gave an impression of
quite exceptional height. This was emphasized by the narrow oblong
windows of which there may have been nearly fifty. The houses were built
of the same brick as the walls, and they had deepened from yellow to the
same fuscous hue. This promontory seemed to serve as an appendix for the
draff of the neighborhood's rubbish. The ribs of an umbrella; a child's
boot; a broken sieve; rags of faded color, lay here in the gutter
undisturbed, the jetsam of a deserted beach.

"Here we are," said Barnes. "Here's Leppard Street that you've been so
anxious to see."

"It looks rather exciting," Michael commented.

"Oh, it's the last act of a Drury Lane melodrama I don't think.
Exciting?" Barnes repeated. "You know, Fane, there's something wrong
with you. If you think this is exciting, you'd go raving mad when I
showed you some of the places where I've lived. Well, here we are,
anyhow. Number One--the corner house."

They walked up the steps which were gradually scaling in widening
ulcers of decay: the handle of the bell-pull hung limply forward like a
parched tongue: and the iron railings of a basement strewn with potato
parings were flaked with rust, and here and there decapitated.

Barnes opened the door.

"We'll take your bag up to my room first, and then we'll go downstairs
and talk to Ma Cleghorne about your room, that is if you don't change
your mind when you've seen the inside."

Michael had no time to notice Barnes' room very much. But vaguely he saw
a rickety bed with a patchwork counterpane and frowzy recesses masked by
cheap cretonnes in a pattern of disemboweled black and crimson fruits.
After that glimpse they went down again over the grayish staircarpet
that was worn to the very filaments. Barnes shouted to the landlady in
the basement.

"She'll have a fit if she hears me calling down to her," he said to
Michael. "You see, just lately I've been very anxious to avoid meeting
her."

He jingled with satisfaction the sovereigns in his pocket.

They descended into the gloom that smelt of damp cloths and the stale
soapiness of a sink. They peeped into the front room, as they went by:
here a man in shirt-sleeves was lying under the scattered sheets of a
Sunday paper upon a bed that gave an effect of almost oriental luxury,
so much was it overloaded with mattresses and coverlets. Indeed; the
whole room seemed clogged with woolly stuffs, and the partial twilight
of its subterranean position added to the impression of airlessness. It
was as if these quilted chairs and heavy hairy curtains had suffocated
everything else.

"That's Cleghorne," said Barnes. "I reckon he'd sleep Rip van Winkle
barmy."

"What's he do?" whispered Michael, as they turned down the passage.

"He snores for a living, he does," said Barnes.

They entered the kitchen, and through the dim light Michael saw the
landlady with her arms plunged into a steaming cauldron. Outside, two
trains roared past in contrary directions; the utensils shivered and
chinked; the ceiling was obscured by pendulous garments which exhaled a
moist odorousness; on the table a chine of bacon striated by the
carving-knife was black with heavy-winged flies.

"I've brought a new lodger, Mrs. Cleghorne," said Barnes.

"Have you brought your five weeks' rent owing?" she asked sourly.

He laid two pounds on the table, and Mrs. Cleghorne immediately cheered
up, if so positive an expression could be applied to a woman whose
angularities seemed to forbid any display of good-will. Michael thought
she looked rather like one of the withered nettles that overhung the
wall of the sunken yard outside the kitchen window.

"Well, he can have the top-floor back, or he can have the double rooms
on the ground floor which of course is unfurnished. Do you want me to
come up and show you?"

She inquired grudgingly and rubbed the palm of her hand slowly along her
sharp nose as if to express a doubtful willingness.

"Perhaps Mr. Cleghorne ..." Michael began.

"Mis-ter Cleghorne!" she interrupted scornfully, and immediately she
began to dry her arms vigorously on a roller-towel which creaked
continuously.

"Oh, I don't want to disturb him," said Michael.

"Disturb him!" she sneered. "Why, half Bedlam could drive through his
brains in a omnibus before he'd move a little finger to trouble hisself.
Yes," she shouted, "Yes!" Her voice mingling with the creak of the
roller seemed to be grating the air itself, and with every word it grew
more strident. "Why, the blessed house might burn before he'd even put
on his boots, let alone go and show anyone upstairs, though his wife can
work herself to the bone for him. Disturb him! Good job if anyone could
disturb him. If I found a regiment of soldiers in the larder, he'd only
grunt. Asthmatic! Yes, some people 'ud be very pleased to be asthmatic,
if they could lie snorting on a bed from morning to night."

Mrs. Cleghorne's hands were dry now, and she led the way along the
passage upstairs, sniffing as she passed her crapulous husband. She
unlocked the door of the ground-floor rooms, and they entered. It was
not an inspiring lodging as seen thus in its emptiness, with drifts of
fluff along the bare dusty boards. The unblacked grate contained some
dried-up bits of orange peel; with the last summons of the late tenant
the bellrope had broken, and it now lay invertebrate; by the window,
catching a shaft of sunlight, stood a drain pipe painted with a
landscape in cobalt-blue and probably once used as an umbrella stand.

"That's all I got for two months' rent," said Mrs. Cleghorne bitterly,
surveying it. "And it's just about fit for my old man to go and bury his
good-for-nothing lazy head in, and that's all. The bedroom's in here, of
course." She opened the folding doors whose blebs of paint had been
picked off up to a certain height above the floor, possibly as far as
some child had been able to reach.

The bedroom was rather dustier than the sitting-room, and it was much
darker owing to a number of ferns which had been glued upon the
window-panes. Through this mesh could be seen the nettle-haunted square
of back garden; and beyond, over a stucco wall pocked with small
pebbles, a column of smoke was belching into the sky from a stationary
engine on the invisible lake of railway lines.

"Do you want to see the top-floor back?" Mrs. Cleghorne asked.

"Well, if you wouldn't mind." Michael felt bound to apologize to her,
whatever was suggested.

She sighed her way upstairs, and at last flung open a door for them to
enter the vacant room.

The view from here was certainly more spacious, and a great deal of the
permeating depression was lightened by looking out as it were over
another city across the railway, a city with streamers of smoke, and
even here and there a flag flying. At the same time the room itself was
less potentially endurable than the ground-floor; there was no fireplace
and the few scraps of furniture were more discouraging than the positive
emptiness downstairs. Michael shuddered as he looked at the gimcrack
washstand through whose scanty paint the original wood was visible in
long fibrous sores. He shuddered, too, at the bedstead with its pleated
iron laths furred by dust and rust, and at the red mattress exuding
flock like clustered maggots.

"This is furnished, of course," said Mrs. Cleghorne, complacently
sucking a tooth. "Well, which will you have?"

"I think perhaps I'll take the ground-floor rooms. I'll have them done
up."

"Oh, they're quite clean. The last people was a bit dirty. So I gave
them an extra-special clear-out."

"But you wouldn't object to my doing them up?" persisted Michael.

"Oh, no, I shouldn't _object,"_ said Mrs. Cleghorne, and in her accent
was the suggestion that equally she would not be likely to derive very
much pleasure from the fruition of Michael's proposal.

They were going downstairs again now, and Mrs. Cleghorne was evidently
beginning to acquire a conviction of her own importance, because
somebody had contemplated with a certain amount of interest those two
empty rooms on the ground floor; in the gratification of her pride she
was endowing them with a value and a character they did not possess.

"I've always said that, properly cared for, those two rooms are worth
any other two rooms in the house. And of course that's the reason I'm
really compelled to charge a bit more for them. I always say to everyone
right out--if you want the two best rooms in the house, why, you must
pay according. They're only empty now because I've always been
particular about letting them. I won't have anybody, and that's a fact.
Mr. Barnes here knows I'm really fond of those rooms."

They had reentered them, and Mrs. Cleghorne stood with arms admiringly
akimbo.

"They really are a beautiful lodging," she declared. "When would you
want them from?"

"Well, as soon as I can get them done up," said Michael.

"I see. Perhaps you could explain a little more clearly just what you
was thinking of doing?"

Michael gave some of his theories of decoration, while Mrs. Cleghorne
waited in critical audience; as it were, feeling the pulse of the
apartments under the stimulus of Michael's sketch of their potentiality.

"All white?" the landlady echoed pessimistically. "That sounds very
gloomy, doesn't it? More like a outhouse or a coal-cellar than a nice
couple of rooms."

"Well, they couldn't look rottener than what they do at present," Barnes
put in. "So if you take my advice, you'll say 'yes' and be very
thankful. They'll look clean, anyway."

The landlady threw back her head and surveyed Barnes like a snake about
to strike.

"Rotten?" she sniffed. "I'm sure this gentleman here isn't likely to
find a nicer and cheaper pair of rooms or a more convenient and a
quieter pair of rooms anywhere in Pimlico. A lot of people is very
anxious to be in this neighborhood."

Mrs. Cleghorne was much offended by Barnes' criticism, and there was a
long period of dubiety before it was settled that Michael should be
accepted as a tenant.

"I've never cared for white," she said, in final protest. "Not since I
was married."

Reminded of Mr. Cleghorne's existence in the basement, she hurried
forthwith to rout him out. As she disappeared, Michael saw that she was
searching in the musty folds of her skirt in order to deposit in her
purse the month's rent he had paid in advance.

A couple of weeks passed while the decorators worked hard; and Michael
returned from an unwilling visit to Scotland to find them ready for him.
He got together a certain amount of furniture, and toward the end of
August he moved into Leppard Street.

Barnes on account of the prosperity which had come to him through
Michael's money had managed to dress himself in a series of outrageously
new and fashionable suits, and on the afternoon of his patron's arrival
he strutted about the apartments.

"Very nice," he said. "Very nice, indeed. I reckon old Ma Cleghorne
ought to be very pleased with herself. Some of these pictures are a bit
too religious for me just at present, but everyone to their own taste,
that's what I always say. To their own taste," he repeated. "Otherwise,
what's the good in being given an opinion of your own?"

Michael felt it was time to explain to Barnes more particularly his
quest of Lily.

"You don't know a girl called Lily Haden?" he asked.

"Lily Haden," said Barnes thoughtfully. "Lily Hopkins. A great fat girl
with red...."

"No, no," Michael interrupted. "Lily Haden. Tall. Slim. Very fair hair.
Of course she may have another name now."

"That's it, you see," said Barnes wisely.

"Wherever she is, whatever she's doing, I must find her," Michael went
on.

"Well, if you go about it in that spirit, you'll soon find her," Barnes
prophesied.

Michael looked at him sharply. He thought he noticed in Barnes' manner a
suggestion of humoring him. He rather resented the way in which Barnes
seemed to encourage him as one might encourage a child.

"You understand I want to marry her?" Michael asked fiercely.

"That's all right, old chap. I'm not trying to stop you, am I?"

"But why are you talking as if I weren't in earnest?" Michael demanded.
"When I first told you about it you were evidently very pleased, and now
you've got a sneer which frankly I tell you I find extraordinarily
objectionable."

Barnes looked much alarmed by Michael's sudden attack, and explained
that he meant nothing by his remarks beyond a bit of fun.

"Is it funny to marry somebody?" Michael demanded.

"Sometimes it's very funny to marry a tart," said Barnes.

Michael flushed. This was a directness of speech for which he was not
prepared.

"But when I first told you," Michael said, "you seemed very pleased."

"I was very pleased to find I'd evidently struck a nice-mannered
lunatic," said Barnes. "You offered me five quid a week, didn't you?
Well, you didn't offer me that to give you good advice, now did you?"

Michael tried to conceal the mortification that was being inflicted
upon him. He had been very near to making a fool of himself by supposing
that his announcement had aroused admiration. Instead of admiring him,
Barnes evidently regarded him as an idiot whom it were politic to
encourage on account of the money this idiot could provide. It was an
humiliating discovery. The chivalry on which he congratulated himself
had not touched a single chord in Barnes. Was it likely that in Lily
herself he would find someone more responsive to what he still
obstinately maintained to himself was really rather a fine impulse?
Michael began to feel half sorry for Barnes because he could not
appreciate nobility of motive. It began to seem worth while trying to
impose upon him the appreciation which he felt he owed. Michael was
sorry for his uncultivated ideals, and he took a certain amount of
pleasure in the thought of how much Barnes might benefit from a close
association with himself. He did not regret the whim which had brought
them to Leppard Street. Whatever else might happen, it would always be
consoling to think that he would be helping Barnes. In half a dream
Michael began to build up the vision of a newer and a finer Barnes, a
Barnes with sensitiveness and decent instincts, a Barnes who would
forsake very willingly the sordid existence he had hitherto led in order
to rise under Michael's guidance and help to a wider and better life.
Michael suddenly experienced a sense of affection for Barnes, the
affection of the missionary for the prospective convert. He forgave him
his cynical acceptance of the five pounds a week, and he made up his
mind not to refer to Lily again until Barnes should be able to esteem at
its true value the step he proposed to take.

Michael looked round at the new rooms he had succeeded in creating out
of the ground floor of 1 Leppard Street. These novel surroundings would
surely be strong enough to make the first impression upon Barnes. He
could not fail to be influenced by this whiteness and cleanliness, so
much more white and clean where everything else was dingy and vile. It
was all so spare and simple that it surely must produce an effect.
Barnes would see him living every day in perfect contentment with a few
books and a few pictures. He must admire those cherry-red curtains and
those green shelves. He must respect the cloistral air Michael had
managed to import even into this warren of queer inhabitants whom as yet
he had scarcely seen. It was romantic to come like this into a small
secluded world which did not know him; to bring like this a fresh
atmosphere into a melancholy street of human beings who lived
perpetually in a social twilight. Michael's missionary affection began
to extend beyond Barnes and to embrace all the people in this house. He
felt a great fondness for them, a great desire to identify himself with
their aspirations, so that they would be glad to think he was living in
their midst. He began to feel very poignantly that his own existence
hitherto had been disgracefully unprofitable both to himself and
everybody else. He was grateful that destiny had brought him here to
fulfill what was plainly a purpose. But what did fate intend should be
his effect upon these people? To what was he to lead them? Michael had
an impulse to kneel down and pray for knowledge. He wished that Barnes
were not in this white room. Otherwise he would surely have knelt down,
and in the peace of the afternoon sunlight he might have resigned
himself to a condition of spirit he had coveted in vain for a very long
time.

Just then there was a tap at the door, and a middle-aged man with
blinking watery eyes and a green plush smoking-cap peeped round the
corner.

"Come in," Michael cheerfully invited him.

The stranger entered in a slipshod hesitant manner. He looked as if all
his clothes were on the verge of coming off, so much like a frayed
accordion did his trousers rest upon the carpet slippers; so wide a
space of shirt was visible between the top of the trousers and the
bottom of the waistcoat; so utterly amorphous was his gray alpaca coat.

"What I really came down for was a match," the stranger explained.

Michael offered him a box, and with fumbling hands he stored it away in
one of his pockets.

"You don't go in for puzzles, I suppose?" he asked tentatively. "But any
time I can help. I'm the Solutionist, you know. Don't let me keep you.
Good afternoon, Mr. Barnes. I'm worrying out this week's lot in The
Golden Penny very slowly. I've really had a sort of a headache the last
few days--a very nasty headache. Do you know anything about cricketers?"
he asked, turning to Michael. "Famous cricketers, of course, that is?
For instance, I cannot think what this one can be."

He produced after much uncertainty a torn and dirty sheet of some penny
weekly.

"I've got all the others," he said to Michael. "But one picture will
often stump you like this. No joke intended." He smiled feebly and
pointed to a woman holding in one hand the letter S, in the other the
letter T.

"What about Hirst?" Michael asked.

"Hirst," repeated the Solutionist. "Her S T. That's it. That's it." In
his excitement he began to dribble. "I'm very much obliged to you, sir.
Her S. T. Yes, that's it."

He began to shuffle toward the door.

"Anything you want solved at any time," he said to Michael. "I'm only
just upstairs, you know, in the room next to Mr. Barnes. I shall be most
delighted to solve anything--anything!"

He vanished, and Michael smiled to think how completely some of his
problems would puzzle the Solutionist.

"What's his name?" he inquired of Barnes.

"Who? Barmy Sid? Sydney Carvel, as he calls himself. Yet he makes a
living at it."

"At what?" Michael asked.

"Solving those puzzles and sending solutions at so much a time. He took
fifteen-and-six last week, or so he told me. You can see his
advertisement in Reynolds. Barmy Sid I call him. He says he used to be a
conjurer and take his ten pounds a week easily. But he looks to me more
like one of these here soft fellows who ought to be shut up. You should
see his room. All stuck over with bits of paper. Regular dust-hole,
that's what it is. Did you hear what he said? Solve anything--anything!
He hasn't solved how to earn more than ten bob a week, year in year out.
Silly----! That's what he is, barmy."

Michael's hope of entering into a close relation with all the lodgers of
1 Leppard Street was falsified. None of them except Barmy Sid once
visited his rooms; nor did he find it at all easy to strike up even a
staircase acquaintance. Vaguely he became aware of the various
personalities that lurked behind the four stories of long narrow
windows. Yet so fleeting was the population that the almost weekly
arrivals and departures perpetually disorganized his attempts to observe
them as individuals or to theorize upon them in the mass. No doubt
Barnes himself would have left by now, had he not been sustained by
Michael's subsidy; and it was always a great perplexity to Michael how
Mrs. Cleghorne managed to pay the rent, since apparently half the
inquilines of a night and even some of the less transient lodgers
ultimately escaped owing her money.

It was a silent and a dreary house, and although children would
doubtless have been a nuisance, Michael sometimes wished that the
landlady's strict regulation no longer to take them in could be relaxed.
All the five houses of Leppard Street seemed to be untenanted by
children, which certainly added a touch to their decrepitude. In
Greenarbor Court close at hand the pavements writhed with children, and
occasionally small predatory bands advanced as far as Leppard Street to
play in a half-hearted manner with some of the less unpromising rubbish
that was moldering there. On the steps of Number Three, two pale little
girls in stammel petticoats used to sit for hours over a grocer's shop
of grit and waste paper and refined mud. They apparently belonged to the
basement of Number Three, for Michael often saw them disappear below at
twilight. Michael thought of the children who swarmed above the walls of
the embankment before Paddington Station, and he wondered what sort of a
desolate appearance these five houses must present for voyagers to and
from Victoria. They must surely stand up very forbidding in abandonment
to those who were traveling back to their cherished dolls-houses in
Dulwich. From his bedroom window he could not actually see the trains,
but always he could hear their shrieking and their clangor, and he
looked almost with apprehension at St. Ursula in her high serene
four-poster reposing tranquilly upon the white wall. Nothing except the
trains could vex her sleep; for in this house was a perpetual silence.
Even when Mrs. Cleghorne was vociferously arguing with her husband, the
noise of her rage down in the basement among the quilts and coverlets
never penetrated beyond the door at the head of the inclosing staircase,
save in sounds of fury greatly minified. So silent was the house that
had it not been for the variety of the smells, Michael might easily have
supposed that it really was empty and that life here was indeed an
illusion. The smells, however, of onions or hot blankets or machine-oil
or tom-cats or dirty bicycles proclaimed emphatically that a community
shared these ascending mustard-colored walls, that human beings passed
along the stale landings to frowst behind those finger-stained doors of
salmon-pink. Sometimes, too, Michael emerging into the passage from his
room would hear from dingy altitudes descend the noise of a door
hurriedly slammed; and sometimes he would see go down the ulcerous steps
in front of the house depressing women in black, or unshaven men with
the debtor's wary and furtive eye. The only lodgers who seemed to be
permanent were Barnes and Carvel the Solutionist. Barnes on the strength
of Michael's allowance used to go up West, as he described it, every
night. He used to assure Michael, when toward two o'clock of the next
afternoon he extracted himself from bed, that he devoted himself with
the greatest pertinacity to obtaining definite news of Lily Haden. The
Solutionist occasionally visited Michael with a draggled piece of
newspaper, and often he was visible in the garden attending to a couple
of Belgian hares who lived in a packing-case marked Fragile among the
nettles of the back-yard.

After he had spent a week or so in absorbing the atmosphere of Leppard
Street, Michael felt it was time for him to move forth again at any rate
into that underworld whose gaiety, however tawdry and feverish, would be
welcome after this turbid backwater. There was here the danger of being
drugged by the miasma that rose from this unreflecting surface. He felt
inclined to renew his acquaintance with Daisy Palmer, and to hear from
her the sequel to the affair of Dolly Wearne and Hungarian Dave. He
found her card with the Guilford Street address and went over to
Bloomsbury, hoping to find her in to tea. The landlady looked surprised
when he inquired for Miss Palmer.

"Oh, she's been gone this fortnight," the woman informed him. Michael
asked where she was living now.

"I don't know, I'm sure," said the landlady, and as she was already
slowly and very unpleasantly closing the door, Michael came away a
little disconsolate. These abrupt dematerializations of the underworld
were really very difficult to grapple with. It gave him a sense of the
futility of his search for Lily (though lately he had prosecuted it
somewhat lazily) when girls, who a month ago offered what was presumably
a permanent address, could have vanished completely a fortnight later.
Perhaps Daisy would be at the Orange. He would take Barnes with him this
evening and ask his opinion of her and Dolly and Hungarian Dave.

The beerhall downstairs looked exactly the same as when he had visited
it a month ago. Michael could sympathize with the affection such places
roused in the hearts of their frequenters. There was a great deal to be
said for an institution that could present, day in, day out, a steady
aspect to a society whose life was spent in such extremes of elation and
despair, of prosperity and wretchedness, and whose actual lodging was
liable to be changed at any moment for better or worse.

"Not a bad place, is it?" said Barnes, looking round in critical
approval at the prostitutes and bullies hoarded round the tables puddly
with the overflow of mineral waters and froth of beer.

"You really like it?" Michael asked.

"Oh, it's cheerful," said Barnes. "And that's something nowadays."

Michael perceived Daisy before they were halfway across the room. He
greeted her with particular friendliness as an individual among these
hard-eyed constellations.

"Hulloa!" she cried. "Wherever have you been all this time?"

"I called at Guilford Street, but you were gone."

"Oh, yes. I left there. I couldn't stand the woman there any longer. Sit
down. Who's your friend?"

Michael brought Barnes into the conversation, and suggested moving into
one of the alcoves where it was easier to talk.

"No, come on, sit down here. Fritz won't like it, if we move."

Michael looked round for the protector, and she laughed.

"You silly thing! Fritz is the waiter."

Michael presently grew accustomed to being jogged in the back by
everyone who passed, and so powerful was the personality of the Orange
that very soon he, like the rest of the crowd, was able to discuss
private affairs without paying any heed to the solitary smoking
listeners around.

"Where's Dolly?" he asked.

"Oh, I had to get rid of her very sharp," said Daisy. "She served me a
very nasty trick after I'd been so good to her. Besides, I've taken up
with a fellow. Bert Saunders. He does the boxing for Crime Illustrated."

"You told me I was like him," Michael reminded her.

"That's right. I remember now. I'm living down off Judd Street in a
flat. Why don't you come round and see me there?"

"I will," Michael promised.

"Wasn't Bert Saunders the fellow who was keeping Kitty Metcalfe?" asked
Barnes.

"That's right. Only he gave her the push after she hit Maudie Clive over
the head with a port-wine glass in the Half Moon upstairs."

"I knew Kitty," said Barnes, shaking his head to imply that acquaintance
with Kitty had involved a wider experience than fell to most men.
"What's happened to her?"

"Oh, Gard, don't ask me," said Daisy. "She's got in with a fellow who
kept a fried-fish place in the Caledonian Road, and I've never even seen
her since."

"And what's happened to Dolly?" asked Michael.

"Oh, good job if that love-boy of hers does punch into her. Silly cow!
She ought to know better. Fancy going off as soft as you like with that
big-mouthed five-to-two, and after I'd just given her six of my new
handkerchiefs."

Michael wished he could have an opportunity of explaining to Barnes that
on account of Daisy's friendship for Dolly, he and she and the cast-off
had spent a night in the police-cells. He thought it would have amused
him.

"Where's the Half Moon?" he asked instead.

Daisy said it was a place in Glasshouse Street for which she had no very
great affection. However, Michael was anxious to see it; and soon they
left the Orange to visit the Half Moon.

It was a public-house with nothing that was demirep in its exterior; but
upstairs there was a room frequented after eleven o'clock by ladies of
the town. They walked up a narrow twisting staircase carpeted with
bright red felt and lit by a red-shaded lamp, and found themselves in a
room even more densely fumed with tobacco smoke than downstairs at the
Orange. In a corner was an electric organ which was fed with a stream of
pennies and blared forth its repertory of ten tunes with maddening
persistence. One of these tunes was gay enough to make the girls wish to
dance, and always with its recurrence there was a certain amount of
cake-walking which was immediately stopped by a commissionaire who stood
in the doorway and shouted "Order, please! Quiet, please! No dancing,
ladies!" To the nearest couple he always whispered that the police were
outside.

Daisy, having stigmatized the Half Moon as the rottenest hole within a
mile of the Dilly, proceeded to become more cheerful with every penny
dropped into the slot; and finally she invited Michael to come back with
her to Judd Street, as her boy had gone down to Margate to see Young
Sancy, a prospective lightweight champion, who was training there.

"Anyway, you can see me home," she said. "Even if you don't come in.
Besides, my flat's all right. It is, really. You know. Comfortable. He's
very good to me, is Bert, though he's a bit soppified. He dresses very
nice, and he earns good money. Well, three pound a week. That's not so
bad, is it?"

"That's all right," said Barnes. "With what you earn as well."

"There's a nerve," said Daisy. "Well, I can't stay moping indoors all
the evening, can I? But he's most shocking jealous is Bert. And he calls
me his pussy-cat. Puss, puss! There's a scream. He's really a bit soft,
and his eyes is awful. But it's nice, so here's luck." She drained her
glass. "'Do you love me, puss?' he says. Silly thing! But they think a
lot of him at the office. His governor came down to see him the other
morning about something he's been writing. I don't know what it was. I
hate the sight of his writing. I carry on at him something dreadful, and
then he says, 'My pussy-cat mustn't disturb me.'"

Daisy shrieked with laughter at the recollection, and Michael who was
beginning to be rather fearful for her sobriety suggested home as a good
move.

"I shan't go if you don't come back with me," she declared.

Since their incarceration Michael had a tender feeling for Daisy, and he
promised to accompany her. She would not go in a hansom, however; nor
would she allow Barnes to make a third; and in the end she and Michael
went wandering off down Shaftesbury Avenue through the warm September
night.

Michael enjoyed walking with her, for she rambled on with long tales of
her past that seemed the inconsequent threads of a legendary Odyssey. He
flattered himself with her companionship, and told himself that here at
last was a demonstration of the possibility of a true friendship with a
woman of that class with whom mere friendship would be more improbable
than with any woman. It was really delightful to stroll with her
homeward under this starlit sky of London; to wander on and on while she
chattered forth her history. There had been no hint of any other
relation between them; she was accepting him as a friend. He was proud
as they walked through Russell Square, overshadowed by the benign trees
that hung down with truculent green sprays in the lamplight; he felt a
thrill in her companionship, as they dawdled along the railings of
Brunswick Square in the acrid scent of the privet. It was curious to
think that from the glitter and jangle of the Half Moon could rise this
friendship that was giving to all the houses they passed a strange
peacefulness. He fancied that here and there the windows were blinking
at them in drowsy content, when the gas was extinguished by the unknown
bedfarer within. Judd Street shone before them in a lane of lamps, and
beyond, against the night, the gothic cliff of St. Pancras Station was
indistinctly present. They turned down into Little Quondam Street, and
presently came to a red brick house with a pretentious portico.

"Our flat's in here. Agnes House, it's called. Come in and have one
before you go home," she invited.

Michael entered willingly. He was glad to show so quickly his confidence
in their new friendship.

Agnes House was only entitled to the distinction of a name rather than a
number, because the rest of the houses in Quondam Street were shabby,
small, and old. It was a new building three stories high, and it was
already falling to pieces, owing to work which must have been
exceptionally dishonest to give so swiftly the effect of caducity. This
collapse was more obvious because it was not dignified by the charm of
age; and Agnes House in its premature dissolution was not much more
admirable than a cardboard box which has been left out in the rain.
Upon Michael it made an impression as of something positively corrupt in
itself apart from any association with depravity: it was like a young
person with a vile disease whose condition nauseated without arousing
pity.

"Rather nice, eh?" said Daisy, as she lit the gas in the kitchen of the
flat. "Sit down. I'll get some whisky. There's a bathroom, you know. And
it's grand being on the ground floor. I should get the hump, if we was
upstairs. I always swore I'd never live in a flat. Well, I don't really
call them safe, do you? Anything might happen and nothing ever be found
out."

Michael as he saw the crude pink sheets of Crime Illustrated strewn
about the room was not surprised that Daisy should often get nervous
when left alone. These horrors in which fashion-plates with mangled
throats lay weltering in pools of blood could scarcely conduce to a
placid loneliness, and Michael knew that she probably spent a great deal
of every day in solitude. Her life with Crime Illustrated to fright her
fancy must always be haunted by presentiments of dread at the sound of a
key in the latch. It was curious, this half childlike existence of the
underworld always upon the boundaries of fear. Michael could see the
villainous paper used for every kind of domestic service--to wrap up a
piece of raw meat, to contain the scraps for the cat's dinner, and
spread half over the kitchen table as a cloth whereon the disks of
grease lay like great thunder-drops. It would be very natural, when the
eyes never rested from these views of sordid violence, to expect evil
everywhere. Himself, as he sat here, was already half inclined to accept
the underworld's preoccupation with crime as a truer judgment of human
nature than was held by a sentimental civilization, and he began to
wonder whether a good deal of his own privacy had not been spent in a
fool's paradise of security. The moated grange and the dark tower were
harmless rococo terrors beside the maleficent commonplace of Agnes
House.

"The kitchen's in a rare old mess, isn't it?" said Daisy looking round
her. "It gives Bert the rats to see it like this."

"Are you fond of him?" Michael asked. He was anxious to display his
friendly interest.

"Oh, he's all right. But I wouldn't ever get fond of _any_body. It
doesn't pay with men. The more you give them, the more they think they
can do as they like with you."

"I don't understand why you live with him, if he's nothing better than
all right," said Michael.

"Well, I'm used to him, and he's not always in the way like some fellows
are."

Michael would have liked to ask her about the beginning of her life as
it was now conducted. Daisy was so essentially of the streets that it
was impossible to suppose she had ever known a period of innocency. Her
ancestry seemed to go back to the doxies of the eighteenth century, and
beyond them to Alsatian queens, and yet farther to the tavern wenches of
François Villon and the Chronique Scandaleuse. There was nothing
pathetic about her; he could not imagine her ever in a position to be
wronged by a man. She was in very fact the gay woman who was bred first
from some primordial heedlessness unchronicled. She would be a hard
subject for chivalrous treatment, so deeply would she inevitably despise
it. Nevertheless, he wanted to try to bring home to her the quality of
the feeling she had inspired in him. He was anxious to prove to her the
reality of a friendliness untainted by any thought of the relation in
which she might justifiably think he would prefer to stand.

"There's something extraordinarily attractive about being friends," he
began. "Isn't it a great relief for you to meet someone who wishes to
be nothing more than a friend?"

"Friends," Daisy repeated. "I don't know that I think much of friends.
You don't get much out of _them_, do you?"

"Is that all anybody is for," Michael asked in disappointment. "To get
something out of?"

"Well, naturally. Anyone can't live on nothing, can they?"

"But I don't see why a friend shouldn't be as profitable as an ephemeral
... as a lover ... well, what I mean is, as a man you meet at eleven and
say good-bye to next morning. A friend could be quite as generous."

"I never knew anyone in this world give anything unless they wanted
twice as much back in return," said Daisy.

"Why do you suppose I gave you money the other day and paid your fine in
the police court?" he asked, for, though he did not like it, he was so
anxious to persuade her of the feasibleness of friendship, that he could
not help making the allusion.

"I suppose you wanted to," she said.

"As a friend," he persisted.

"Oh, all right," she agreed with him lazily. "Have it your own way. I'm
too sleepy to argue."

"Then we are friends?" Michael asked gravely.

"Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. A couple of old talk-you-deads joring over a
clothes-line. Get on with it, Roy--or what's your name? Michael, eh?
That's right."

"Good! Now, supposing I ask your advice, will you give it to me?"

"Advice is very cheap," said Daisy.

"I used to know a girl," Michael began.

"A straight-cut?"

"Oh, yes. Certainly. Oh, rather. At least in those days she was."

"I see. And now she's got a naughty little twinkle in her eye."

"Look here. Do listen seriously," Michael begged. "She isn't a
straight-cut any longer."

"Well, what did I tell you? That's what I said. She's gone gay."

"I want to get her away from this life," Michael announced, with such
solemnity that Daisy was insulted.

"Why, what's the matter with it? You're as bad as a German ponce I knew
who joined the Salvation Army. Don't you try taking me home to-night to
our loving heavenly father. It gives me the sick."

"But this girl was brought up differently. She was what is called a
'lady.'"

"More shame for her then," said Daisy indignantly. "She ought to have
known better."

It was curious this sense of intrusion which Lily's fall gave to one so
deeply plunged. There was in Daisy's attitude something of the
unionist's toward foreign blackleg labor.

"Well, you see," Michael pointed out. "As even you have no pity for her,
wouldn't it be right for me to try to get her out of the life
altogether?"

"How are you going to do it? If she was walking about with a sunshade
all day, before you sprang it on her...."

"I had nothing to do with it," Michael interrupted. "At least not
directly."

"Well, what are you pulling your hair out over?" she demanded in
surprise.

"I feel a certain responsibility," he explained. "Go on with what you
were saying."

"If she left a nice home," Daisy continued, "to live gay, she isn't
going to be whistled back to Virginia the same as you would a dog. Now,
is she?"

"But I want to marry her," said Michael simply.

Daisy stared at him in commiseration for his folly.

"You must be worse than potty over her," she gasped.

"Why?"

"Why? Why, because it doesn't pay to marry that sort of girl. She'll
only do you down with some fancy fellow, and then you'll wish you hadn't
been such a grass-eyes."

A blackbeetle ran quickly across the gaudy oilcloth, and Michael sitting
in this scrofulous kitchen had a presentiment that Daisy was right.
Sitting here, he was susceptible to the rottenness that was coeval with
all creation. It called forth in him a sense of futility, so that he
felt inclined to surrender his resolve to an universal pessimism. Yet in
the same instant he was aware of the need for him to do something, even
if his action were to carry within itself the potential destruction of
more than he was setting out to accomplish.

"When do you see her?" asked Daisy. "And what does _she_ say about being
married?"

"Well, as a matter of fact, I haven't seen her for nearly five years,"
Michael explained rather apologetically. "I'm searching for her now.
I've got to find her."

"Strike me, if you aren't the funniest---- I ever met," Daisy exclaimed.

She leaned back in her chair and began to laugh. Her mockery was for
Michael intensified by the surroundings through which it was echoing.
The kitchen was crowded with untidy accumulations, with half-washed
plates and dishes, with odds and ends of attire; but the laughter seemed
to be ringing through a desert. Perhaps the illusion of emptiness was
due to the pictures nailed without frames to the walls of the room,
whose eyes watched him with unnatural fixity; and yet so homely was the
behavior of the people in the pictures that by contrast suddenly they
made the kitchen seem unreal. Indeed, the whole house, no more
substantial than a house in a puppet-show, betrayed its hollowness. It
became an interior very much like those glimpses of interiors in Crime
Illustrated. The slightest effort of fancy would have shown Daisy Palmer
cloven by a hatchet, yet coquettish enough even in sanguinary death to
display lisle-thread stockings and the scalloped edge of a white
petticoat. There was nothing like this of which to dream in Leppard
Street. Death would come as slowly and wearily thither as here he would
enter sensationally.

Daisy ceased to rock herself with mirth.

"No, really," she said. "It's a shame to laugh, but you are the limit.
Only you did ask my advice, and I tell you straight you'll be sorry if
you do marry her. What's she like, Wandering Willie? Have some cocoa if
I make it? Go on, do. I'll boil it on the gas-ring."

Michael was touched by her attention, and he accepted the offer of
cocoa. Then he began to describe Lily's appearance. He could not,
however much she might laugh, keep off the object of his quest. Lily
was, after all, the only rational explanation of his present mode of
life.

"She sounds a bit washed out according to your description of her,"
Daisy commented. "Still, everyone to their own fancy, and if you like
blue-eyed bottles of peroxide, that's your look-out."

They were drinking the cocoa she had made, and the flame of the gas-ring
gave just the barren comfort that the kitchen seemed to demand. Another
blackbeetle hurried over the oilcloth. A belated fly buzzed angrily
against the shade of the electric light. Daisy yawned and looked up at
the metal clock with its husky tick.

Suddenly there was the sound of a latchkey in the outer door. She leaped
up.

"Gard, supposing that's Bert come back from Margate!"

She pushed Michael hurriedly across the passage into the front room,
commanding him to keep quiet and stay in an empty curtained recess. Then
she hurried back to the kitchen, leaving him in a very unpleasant frame
of mind. He heard through the closed door Daisy's voice in colloquy with
a deeper voice. Evidently Bert had come back; but his return had been so
abrupt that he had had no time to prevent himself being placed in this
ridiculous position. Would he have to stay in this recess all night? He
peered out into the room, which was in a filigree of bleak shadows made
by the street lamp shining through the muslin curtains of the window.
Through a desolation of undrawn blinds the houses of Little Quondam
Street were visible across the road. The unused room smelt moldy, and if
Michael had ever pictured himself in the complexity of a clandestine
affair, this was not at all the romantic environment he would have
chosen for his drama. This was really damned annoying, and he made a
step in the direction of the kitchen to put an end to the
misunderstanding. Surely Saunders would have realized that his visit to
Daisy was harmless: and yet would he? How stupid she had been to hustle
him out of the way like this. Naturally the fellow would be suspicious
now. Would that hum of conversation never stop? It reminded him of the
fly which had been buzzing round the lamp. Supposing Saunders came in
here to fetch something? Was he to hide ignominiously behind this
confounded curtain, and what on earth would happen if he were
discovered? Michael boiled with rage at the prospect of such an
indignity. Saunders would probably want to fight him. A man who spent
his life helping to produce Crime Illustrated was no doubt deep-dyed
himself in the vulgar crudity of his material.

Ten minutes passed. Still that maddening hum of talk rose and fell. Ten
more minutes passed; and Michael began to estimate the difficulty of
climbing out of the window into the street. It had been delightful, this
experience, until he had entered this cursed flat. He should have parted
from Daisy on the doorstep, and then he would have carried home with him
the memory of a friendship that belonged to the London starlight. The
whole relation had been ruined by entering this scabrous building.

He must have been here for more than an hour. It was insufferable. He
would go boldly into the kitchen and brave Saunders' violence. Yet he
could not do that because Daisy would be involved by such a step. What
could they be talking about? It was really unreasonable for people who
lived together to sit up chatting half the night. At last he heard the
sound of an opening door; there were footsteps in the passage; another
door-opened; after a minute or two somebody walked out into the street.
Michael had just sighed with relief, when he heard footsteps coming
back; and the buzz of conversation began again in a lighter timbre. This
was simply intolerable. He was evidently going to stay here until the
filigree of shadows faded in the dawn. Saunders must have brought in a
friend with him. Another half hour passed and Michael had reached a
stage of cynicism which disclaimed any belief in friendship. Not again
would he so easily let himself be made ridiculous. Then he became
conscious of a keen desire to see this Saunders whom, by the way, he was
supposed to resemble. It was tantalizing to miss the opportunity of
comparison.

The hum of conversation stopped. Soon afterward Daisy came into the room
and whispered that he could creep out now, but that he must not slam the
front door. She would see him at the Orange to-morrow.

When they reached the passage, she called back through the kitchen:

"Bert, do you know you left the front door open?"

Idiotically and uxoriously floated from the inner bedroom: "Did I, pussy
cat? Puss must shut it then."

Daisy dug Michael violently in the ribs to express her inward hilarity;
then suddenly she pulled him to her and kissed him roughly. In another
second he was in the lamplight of Little Quondam Street. As in a
nightmare it converged before him: a lean dog was routing in some
garbage: a drunken man, reeling along the pavement opposite, abused him
in queer disjointed obscenities without significance.

Barnes was sitting in Michael's room, when he got back to Leppard
Street.

"What ho," he said sleepily. "You've been enjoying yourself with that
piece, then?"

Michael regarded him angrily.

"What do you mean?"

"Oh, chuck it, Fane. You needn't look so solemn; she's not a bad bit of
goods, either. I've heard of her before."

Michael turned away from him. He knew it would be useless to try to
convince Barnes that there was nothing between him and Daisy. Moreover,
if he told the true tale of the evening, he would only make himself out
utterly absurd. It was a pity that an evening which had promised such a
reward for his theories should now be tainted. But when Barnes had
slouched upstairs to bed, Michael realized how little his insinuations
had mattered. The adventure had been primarily a comic experience; it
had displayed him once more grotesquely reflected in the underworld's
distorting mirror.

On the following night Michael went to the Café d'Orange, and heard
Daisy's account of the wonderful way in which she had fooled Bert
Saunders.

"But really, you know," she said. "It did give me a turn. Fancy him
coming back all of a sudden like that, and bringing in that fighting
fellow. What a terrible thing, if Bert had found out you was in there
and put him up to bashing your face. Oh, but Bert's all right with his
pussy-cat."

"But why didn't you let me stay where I was?" Michael asked. "And
introduce me quite calmly. He couldn't have said anything."

"Couldn't he?" Daisy cried. "I reckon he could then. I reckon he could
have said a lot. If he hadn't, I'd have given him the chuck right away.
I don't want no fellow hanging around me that hasn't got the pluck to go
for anyone he finds messing about with his girl. _Couldn't_ he have said
anything?"

Michael was again face to face with topsyturvydom. It really was time to
meditate on the absurdity of trying to control these people of the
underworld with laws and regulations and penalties which had been
devised to control individuals who represented moral declension from the
standards of a genteel civilization. Mrs. Murdoch, Poppy, Barnes,
Daisy--they all inverted the very fabric of society. They were moral
antipodeans to the magistrate or the legislator or the social reformer.
They were pursuing and acting up to their own ideals of conduct: they
were not fleeing or falling away from a political morality. Was it
possible, then, to say that evil was something more than a mere failure
to conform to goodness? Was it possible to declare confidently the
absolutism of evil? In this topsyturvydom might there not be perceived a
great constructive force?

Michael pondered these questions a good deal. He had not enough evidence
as yet to provide him with a synthesis; but as he sat through the rapid
darkening of the September dusks, it seemed to him that very often he
was trembling upon the verge of a discovery. Leppard Street came to
stand as a dark antechamber with massive curtains drawn against the
light, the light which in the past he had only perceived through the
chinks of impenetrable walls. Leppard Street was Dante's obscure wood
of the soul; it rustled with a thousand intimations of spiritual events.
Leppard Street was dark, but Michael did not fear the gloom, because he
knew that he was winning here with each new experience a small advance;
at Oxford he had merely contemplated the result of the former
pilgrimages of other people. With a quickening of his ambition he told
himself that the light would be visible when he married Lily, that
through her salvation he would save himself.

Michael did not reënter his own world, whose confusion of minor problems
would have destroyed completely his hope to stand unperplexed before the
problems of the underworld, the solution of which might help to solve
the universe or at any rate his own share in the universe. He did not
tell his mother or Stella where he was living, and their letters came to
him at his club. They did not worry him, although Stella threatened a
terrible punishment if he did not appear in their midst in time to give
her away in November. This he promised to do in spite of everything. He
was faithful to his search for Lily, and he even went so far as to call
upon Drake to ask if he had ever seen her since that night at the
Orient. But he had not. Michael did not vex himself over the failure to
discover Lily's whereabauts. Having placed himself at the nod of
destiny, he was content to believe that if he never found her he must be
content to look elsewhere for the expression of himself. September
became October. It would be six years this month since first they met,
and she was twenty-two now. Could seventeen be captured anew?

One afternoon from his window Michael was pondering the etiolated season
whose ghostliness was more apparent in Leppard Street, because no fall
of leaves marked material decline. Hurrying along the brindled walls
from the direction of Greenarbor Court was a parson whose walk was
perfectly familiar, though he could not affix it to any person he knew.
Yes, he could. It was Chator's, the dear, the pious and the bubbling
Chator's; and how absurdly the same as it used to be along the corridors
of St. James'. Michael rushed out to meet him, and had seized and shaken
his hand before Chator recognized him. When he did, however, he was
twice as much excited as Michael, and spluttered forth a fountain of
questions about his progress during these years with a great deal of
information about his own. He came in eagerly at Michael's invitation,
and so much had he still to ask and tell that it was a long time before
he wanted to know what had brought Michael to Leppard Street.

"How extraordinary to find you here, my dear fellow! This isn't my
district, you know. But the Senior Curate is ill. Greenarbor Court! I
say, what a dreadful slum!" Chator looked very intensely at Michael, as
if he expected he would offer to raze it to the ground immediately. "I
never realized we had anything quite so bad in the parish. But what
really is extraordinary about running across you like this is that a man
who's just come to us from Ely was talking about you only yesterday. My
goodness, how ..."

"It's no larger than a grain of sand," Michael interrupted quickly.

"What is?" asked Chator, with his familiar expression of perplexity at
Michael.

"You were going to comment on the size of the world, weren't you?"

"I suppose you'll rag me just as much as ever, you old brute." Chator
was beaming with delight at the prospect. "But seriously, this man
Stewart--Nigel Stewart. I think he was at Trinity, Oxford. You do know
him?"

"Nigel isn't here, too?" Michael exclaimed.

"He's our deacon."

"Oh, how priceless you'll both be in the pulpit," said Michael. "And
to-morrow's Sunday. Which of you will be preaching at Mass?"

"My dear fellow, the Vicar always preaches at Mass. I shall be preaching
at Evening Prayer. Why don't you come to supper in the Clergy House
afterward?"

"How do you like your Vicar?"

"Oh, very sound, very sound," said Chator, shaking his head.

"Does he take the ablutions at the right moment?" asked Michael,
twinkling.

"Oh, yes. Oh, yes. He's very sound. Quite all right. I was afraid at
first he was going to be a leetle High Church. But he's not. Not a bit.
We had a procession this June on Corpus Christi. The people liked it.
And of course we've got the children."

They talked for an hour of old friends, of Viner, of Dom Cuthbert and
Clere Abbey and schooldays, until at last Chator had to be going.

"You will come on Sunday?"

"Of course. But what's the name of your church?"

"My dear fellow, that shows you haven't heard your parochial Mass," said
Chator, with mock seriousness. "St. Chad's is our church."

"It sounds as if you had a saintly fish for Patron," said Michael.

"I say, steady. Steady. St. Chad, you know, of Lichfield."

Michael laughed loudly.

"My dear old Chator, you are just as inimitable as ever. You haven't
changed a bit. Well, Saint Chad's--Sunday."

From the window he watched Chator hurrying along beside the brindled
walls. He thought how every excited step he took showed him to be
bubbling over with the joy of telling Nigel Stewart of such a
coincidence in the district of the Senior Curate.

Michael suggested to Barnes that he should come with him to church on
Sunday, and Barnes, who evidently thought his salary demanded deference
to Michael's wishes, made no objection. It was an October evening
through which a wintry rawness had already penetrated, and the interior
of St. Chad's with its smell of people and warm wax and stale incense
was significant of comfort and shelter. The church, a dreary Byzantine
edifice, was nevertheless a very essential piece of London, being built
of the yellow bricks whose texture and color more than that of any other
material adapt themselves to the grime of the city. Nothing deliberately
beautiful would have had power here. These people who sat thawing in a
stupor of waiting felt at home. They were submerged in London streets,
and their church was as deeply engulfed as themselves. The Stations of
the Cross did not seem much more strange here than the lithographs in
their own kitchens, and the raucous drone of Gregorians was familiar
music.

As the Office proceeded, Michael glanced from time to time toward his
companion. At first Barnes had kept an expression of injured boredom,
but with each chant he seemed less able to resist the habits of the
past. Michael felt bound to ascribe to habit his compliance with the
forms and ceremonies, for it was scarcely conceivable that he could any
longer be moved by the appeal of a sensuous worship, still less by the
craving of his soul for God.

Chator's discourse was a simple one delivered with all the spluttering
simplicity he could bring to it. Michael was not sure of the effect upon
the congregation, but himself found it moving in a gently pathetic way.
The sermon had the naïve obviousness and the sweet seriousness of a
child telling a long tale of imaginary adventure. It was easy to see
that Chator had never known from the moment of his Ordination, or
indeed from the moment he began to suppose he was thinking for himself,
a single doubt of the absolute truth of his religion, still less of its
expediency. Michael wondered again what effect the sermon was having
upon the congregation, which was sitting all round him woodenly in a
sort of browse. Did one sentence reach it, or was the whole business of
the sermon merely an excuse to sit here basking in the stuffiness of the
homely church? Michael turned a sidelong look at Barnes. Tears were in
his eyes, and he was staring into the gloom of the dingy apse with its
tesselations of dull gold. This was disconcerting to Michael's opinion
of the sermon, for Chator could not be shaking Barnes by his eloquence:
these splutterings of dogma were surely not able to rouse one so deep in
the quagmire of his own corruption. Must he confess that a positive
sanctity abode in this church? He would be glad to believe it did; he
would be glad to imagine that an imperishable temple of truth was
posited among these perishable streets.

The sermon was over, and as the congregation rose to sing the hymn,
Michael was aware, he could not have said how, that these people pouring
forth this sacred jingle were all very weary. They had come here to rest
from the fatigue of dullness, and in a moment now the chill vapors of
the autumn night would wreathe themselves round their journey home.
Sunday was a day of pause when the people of the city had leisure to
sigh out their weariness: it was no shutting of theaters or shops that
made it sad. This congregation was composed of weaklings fit for neither
good nor evil, and every Sunday night they were gathered together for a
little while in the smell of warm wax and incense. Now already they were
trooping out into the frore evening; their footsteps would shuffle for a
space over the dark pavements; a few would have pickled cabbage and
cheese for supper, a few would not; such was life in this limbo between
Hell and Heaven. Barnes, however, was not to be judged with the bulk of
the congregation: another reason must be found for the influence of
Evening Prayer or of Chator's words upon him.

"Did you like the sermon?" Michael asked in the porch.

"I didn't listen to a word of it," said Barnes emphatically.

"Oh, really? I thought you were interested. You seemed interested," said
Michael.

"I was thinking what a mug I'd been not to back The Clown for the
Cesarewitch. I had the tip. You know, Fane, I'll tell you what it is.
I'm not used to money, and that's a fact. I don't know how to spend it.
I'm afraid of it. So bang it all goes on drinks."

"I thought you enjoyed the service," said Michael.

"Oh, I'm used to services. You know. On and off I've done a lot of
churchifying, I have. It would take something more than that fellow
preaching to curdle me up. I've gone through it. Religion, love, and
measles; they're all about the same. I don't reckon anybody gets them
more than once properly."

Michael told Barnes he was going on to supper at the Clergy House, and
though he had intended to invite him to come as well, he was so much
irritated by his unconscious deception that he let him go off, and went
back into the empty church to wait for Chator and Nigel Stewart. What
puzzled Michael most about Barnes was how himself had ever managed to be
impressed by his unusual wickedness. As he beheld him nowadays, a mean
and common little squirt of exceptional beastliness really, he was
amazed to think that once he had endowed him with almost diabolical
powers. He remembered to this day the gleam in Brother Aloysius' blue
eyes when he was gathering the blackberries by that hazel-coppice.
Perhaps it had been the monkish habit, which by contrast with his
expression had made him seem almost supernaturally evil; and yet when he
met him again at Earl's Court he had been kindled by those blue eyes.
Henry Meats had been very much like Henry Barnes; but where was now that
lambent flame in the eyes? He had looked at them many times lately, but
they had always been cold and unintelligent as a doll's.

"I really must have been mad when I was young," Michael said to himself.
"And yet other people have preserved the influence they used to have
over me. Other people haven't changed. Why should he? I wonder whether
it was always myself I saw in him: my own evil genius?"

Chator came to fetch him while he was worrying over Barnes' lapse into
unimportance, and together they passed through the sacristy into the
Clergy House.

Nigel Stewart's room, which they visited in the minutes before supper,
had changed very little from his digs in the High. Ely had added a
picture or two; that was all. Nor had Nigel changed, except that his
clerical attire made him more seraphic than ever. While he and Michael
chattered of Oxford friends, Chator stood with his back to the fire
beaming at the reunion which he felt he had brought about: his biretta
at a military angle gave him a look of knowing benevolence.

The bell sounded for supper, and they went along corridors hung with
Arundel prints and faded photographs of cathedrals, until they came to a
brightly lit room where it seemed that quite twenty people were going to
sit down at the trestle-table. Michael was introduced to the Vicar and
two more curates, and also to a dozen church workers who made the same
sort of jokes about whatever dish they were helping. Also he met that
walrus-like man who, whether as organist or ceremonarius or treasurer of
club accounts or vicar's churchwarden, is always to be found attached to
the clergy. Michael sat next to him, as it happened, and found he had a
deep voice and was unable to get nearer to "th" than "v."

"We're raver finking," he confided to Michael over a high-heaped plate,
"of starting Benediction, vis year."

"That will be wonderful," said Michael politely.

"Yes, it ought to annoy ver poor old Bishop raver."

The walrus-like man chuckled and bent over his food with a relish
stimulated by such a prospect. After supper the two curates carried off
their favorites upstairs to their own rooms; and as Chator, Stewart, and
Michael were determined to spend the evening together, the Vicar was
left with rather more people than usual to smoke his cigarettes.

"I envy you people," said Michael, as the three of them sank down into
deep wicker chairs. "I envy this power you have to bring Oxford--or
Cambridge--into London. For it is the same spirit in terms of action,
isn't it? And you're free from the thought which must often worry dons
that perhaps they are having a very good time without doing very much to
deserve it."

"We work hard in this parish," spluttered Chator. "Oh, rather. Very
hard."

"That's what I say. You have the true peace that thrives on activity,"
said Michael. "But at the same time, what I'm rather anxious to know is
how nearly you touch the real sinners."

Stewart and Chator looked at one another across his chair.

"How much do we, brother?" asked Stewart.

"No, really," protested Michael. "My dear Nigel, I can't have you being
so affected. Brother! You must give up being archaic now that you're a
pale young curate."

"What do you call the real sinners?" asked Chator. "You saw our
congregation to-night. All poor, of course."

"Shall I say frankly what I think?" Michael asked.

The other two nodded.

"I'm not sure if that congregation is worth a very great deal. I'm not
trying to be offensive, so listen to me patiently. That congregation
would come whatever you did. They came not because they wanted to
worship God or because they desired the forgiveness of their sins, nor
even because they think that going to church is a good habit. No, they
came in a sort of sad drift of aimlessness; they came in out of the
dreariness of their lives to sit for a little while in the glow that a
church like yours can always provide. They went out again with a vague
memory of comfort, material comfort, I mean; but they took away with
them nothing that would kindle a flame to light up the gray week-days.
Do you know, I fancy that when these picture-theaters become more
common, as they will, most of your people will get from them just the
same sensation of warmth and material comfort. Obviously if this is a
true observation on my part, your people regard church from a merely
negative attitude. That isn't enough, as you'll admit."

"But it's not fair to judge by the evening congregation," Chator burst
out. "You must remember that we get quite a different crowd at Mass."

"But do you get the real sinners?" Michael repeated.

"My dear Michael, what does this inquisition forebode?" said Stewart.
"You're becoming wrapped in mystery. You're found in Leppard Street for
no reason that I've yet heard. And now you attack us in this unkind
way."

"I'm not attacking you," Michael said. "I'm trying to extract from you a
point of view. Lately it happens that I've found myself in the company
of a certain class, well--the company of bullies and prostitutes. You
must have lots of them in this parish. Do you get hold of them? I don't
believe you do, because the chief thing which has struck me is the utter
remoteness of the Church or indeed of any kind of religion from the
life of that class. And their standards are upside-down--actually
upside-down. They're handed over entirely to the powers of darkness.
Now, as far as I can see, the Devil--or whatever you choose to call
him--only cares about people who are worth his while. He hands the
others over to anybody that likes to deal with them. Equally I would say
that God is a little contemptuous of the poor intermediates. The Church,
however, in these hard times for religion is glad to get hold even of
them, and this miserable spirit of mediocrity runs through the whole
organization. The bishops are moderate; the successful parsons are
moderate; and the flock is moderate. To come back to the sinners. You
know, they _would_ be worth getting. You've no idea what a force they
would raise. And now, all their industry, all their ingenuity, all their
vitality is devoted to the service of evil."

Chator could contain himself no longer.

"My dear fellow, you don't understand how impossible it is to get in
touch with the people you're talking about. They elude one. Of course,
we should rejoice to get them. But they're impossible."

"Christ moved among sinners," said Michael.

"It's not because we don't long to move among them," Chator spluttered
in exasperation. "We would give anything to move among them. But we
can't. I don't know why. But they won't relax any of their barriers.
They're notoriously difficult."

"Then it all comes down to a 'no' in answer to my question," said
Michael. "You don't get the real sinners. That's what's the matter with
St. Chad's--until you can compel the sinner to come in, you'll stay in a
spiritual backwater."

"If you were a priest," said Chator, "you'd realize our handicap
better."

"No doubt," Michael agreed. "But don't forget that the Salvation Army
gets hold of sinners. In fact, I'll wager that nine out of ten of the
people with whom I've been in contact lately would only understand by
religion the Salvation Army. Personally I loathe the Salvation Army. I
think it is almost a more disruptive organization than anything else in
the world. But at least it is alive; it's not suet like most of the
Dissenting Sects or a rather rich and heavy plum-pudding like the
greater part of the Church of England. It's a maddening and atrociously
bad and cheap alcohol, but it does enflame. I tell you, my dear old
Chator and my dear old Nigel, you have the greatest opportunity
imaginable for energy, for living and bringing life to others, if only
you'll not sit down and be content because you've got the children and
can fill the church for Evening Prayer with that colorless, dreary,
dreadfully sorrowful crowd I saw to-night."

Michael leaned back in his chair; the fire crackled above the silence;
and, outside, the disheartened quiet of the Sabbath was brooding. Chator
was the first to speak.

"Some of what you say may be true, but the rest of it is a mere muddle
of heresies and misconceptions and misstatements. It's absolute
blasphemy to say that God is contemptuous of what you called the
intermediates, and you apparently believe that evil is only misdirected
good. You apparently think that your harlots and bullies are better for
being more actively harmful."

"No, no," Michael corrected. "You didn't follow my argument. As a matter
of fact, I believe in the absolutism of evil the more, the more I see of
evil men and women. What I meant was that in proportion to the harm they
have power to effect would be the inspiration and advantage of turning
their abilities toward good. But cut out all theological questions and
confess that the Church has failed with the class I speak of."

The argument swayed backward and forward for a long time, without
reaching a conclusion.

"You can't have friars nowadays," said Chator in response to Michael's
last expression of ambition. "Conditions have changed."

"Conditions had changed when St. Francis of Assisi tried to revive an
absolute Christianity," Michael pointed out. "Conditions had changed
when the Incarnation took place. Pontius Pilate, Caiaphas, Judas, and a
host of contemporaries must have tried to point that out. Materialists
are always peculiarly sensitive to the change of external conditions. Do
you believe in Christ?"

"Don't try to be objectionable, my dear fellow," said Chator, getting
very red.

"Well, if you do," persisted Michael, "if you accept the Gospels, it is
utterly absurd for you as a Christian priest to make 'change of
conditions' an excuse for having failed to rescue the sinners of your
parish."

"Michael," said Stewart, intervening on account of Chator's obviously
rising anger. "Why are you living in Leppard Street? What fiery mission
are you upon? I believe you're getting too much wrapped up in private
fads and fancies. Why don't you come and work for us at St. Chad's?"

"He's one of those clever people who can always criticize with intense
fervor," said Chator bitterly. He was still very red and ruffled, and
Michael felt rather penitent.

"I wish I _could_ work here. Chator, do forgive me for being so
offensive. I really have no right to criticize, because my own vice is
inability to do anything in company with other people. The very sight of
workers in coöperation freezes me into apathy. If I were a priest, I
should probably feel like you that the children were the most important.
Have neither of you ever heard of anybody whose faith was confirmed by
the realization of evil? Usually, it's the other way about, isn't it?
I've met many unbelievers who first began to doubt, because the problem
of evil upset their notions of divine efficiency. Chator, you have
forgiven me, haven't you?"

"I ought to have realized that you didn't mean half you were saying,"
said Chator.

Michael smiled. Should he start the argument again by insisting that he
had meant even twice as much as he had said? In the end, however, he let
Chator believe in his exaggeration, and they parted good friends.

Nigel Stewart came often to see him during the next fortnight, and he
was very anxious to find out why Michael was living in Leppard Street.
Michael would not tell him, however, but instead he introduced him to
Barnes who with money in his pocket was very independent and gave up
sign of his boasted ability to circumvent parsons financially. No doubt,
however, when he was thrown back on his own resources, he would benefit
greatly by this acquaintance. Stewart had a theory that Michael had shut
himself in Leppard Street to test the personality of Satan, and he used
to insist that Michael performed all kinds of magical experiments in his
solitude there. Having himself been a Satanist on several occasions at
Oxford, he felt less than Chator would have done the daring of
discussing Baudelaire and Huysmans. Deacon though he was, Nigel was
still an undergraduate, nor did it seem probable that he would ever
cease to be one. He tried to thrill Michael with some of his own
diabolic experiences, but Michael was a little contemptuous and told him
that his devil was merely a figure of academic naughtiness.

"All that kind of subjective wickedness is nothing at all," said
Michael. "At the worst, it can only unbalance your judgment. I passed
through it at the age of sixteen."

"You must have been horribly precocious," said Nigel disapprovingly.

"Oh, not more so than anyone who has freedom to develop. I should give
up subjective encounters with evil, if I were you. You'll be telling me
soon that you've been pinched by demons like an Egyptian eremite."

Nigel gave the impression of rather deploring the lack of such an
experience, and Michael laughed:

"Go and see Maurice Avery in Grosvenor Road. He's just the person you
ought to convert. Nothing could be easier than to turn Mossy into an
æsthetic Christian. Would that satisfy your zeal?"

"I really think you _are_ growing very offensive," said Nigel.

"No, I'm not. I'm illustrating a point. Your encounters with evil and
Maurice's encounters with religion would match each other. Both would
have a very wide, but also a very superficial area."

November had arrived, and Michael reappeared in Cheyne Walk to assist at
Stella's wedding. He paid no attention to the scorn she flung at his
affected mode of life, and he successfully resisted her most carefully
planned sallies of curiosity:

"What you have to do at present is to keep your own head, not mine.
Think of the responsibilities of marriage and let me alone. I'll tell
you quite enough when the moment comes for telling."

"Michael, you're getting dreadfully obstinate," Stella declared. "I
remember when I could get a secret out of you in no time."

"It's not I who am obstinate," said Michael. "It's you who are utterly
spoiled by the lovelorn Alan."

Michael and Alan went for a long walk in Richmond Park on the day before
the wedding. It was a limpid day at the shutting-in of St. Martin's
summer, and to Michael it seemed like the ghost of one of those June
Saturdays of eight years ago. Time had faded that warmer blue to a
wintry turquoise, but there was enough of summer's image in this wraith
of a day to render very poignantly to him the past. He wondered if Alan
were thinking of the afternoons when they had sent the sun down from
Richmond Hill. That evening before the examinations of a summer term
recurred to him now more insistently than any of those dead days.

    Thick as autumnal leaves that strew the brooks
    In Vallombrosa.

Now the leaves were lying brown and dewy in the Richmond thickets. Then
it was a summer evening of foliage in the prime. He wished he could
remember the lines of Virgil which had matched the Milton. He used to
know them so well:

    Matres atque viri defunctaque corpora vita
    Magnanimum heroum, pueri innuptæque puellæ.

There were two complex hexameters, but all that remained in his memory
of the rest were two or three disjointed phrases:

    Lapsa cadunt folia ... ubi frigidus annus ... et
    ... terris apricis.

Even at fourteen he had been able to respond to the melancholy of these
lines; really, he had been rather an extraordinary boy. The sensation of
other times which was evoked by walking like this in Richmond Park would
soon be too strong for him any longer not to speak of it. Yet because
those dead summer days seemed now to belong to the mystery of youth, to
the still unexpressed and inviolate heart of a period that was forever
overpast, Michael could not bring himself to destroy their sanctity with
sentimental reminiscence. However, there had been comedy and absurdity
also, perhaps rather more fit for exhumation now than those deeper
moments.

"Do you remember the wedding of Mrs. Ross?" he asked.

"Rather," said Alan, and they both smiled.

"Do you remember when you first called her Aunt Maud, and we both burst
out laughing and had to rush out of the room?"

"Rather," said Alan. "Boys _are_ ridiculous, aren't they?"

"Supposing we both laugh like that when Stella is first called Mrs.
Merivale?" Michael queried.

"I shall be in much too much of a self-conscious funk to laugh at
anything," said Alan.

"And yet do you realize that we're only talking of eight years ago?
Nothing at all really. Six years less than we had already lived at the
time when that wedding took place."

To Alan upon the verge of the most important action of his life
Michael's calculation seemed very profound indeed, and they both walked
on in silence, meditating upon the revelation it afforded of a fugitive
mortality.

"You'll be writing epitaphs next," said Alan, in rather an aggrieved
voice. He had evidently traversed the swift years of the future during
the silence.

"At any rate," Michael said. "You can congratulate yourself upon not
having wasted time."

"My god," cried Alan, stopping suddenly. "I believe I'm the luckiest man
alive."

"I thought you'd found a sovereign," said Michael. He had never heard
Alan come so near to emotional expression and, knowing that a moment
later Alan would be blushing at his want of reserve, he loyally covered
up with a joke the confusion that must ensue.

Very few people came to the wedding, for Stella had insisted that as
none of her girl friends were reputable enough to be bridesmaids, she
must do without them. Mrs. Ross came, however, and she brought with her
Kenneth to be a solemn and freckled and carroty page. She was very
anxious that Michael should come back after the wedding to Cobble Place,
but he said he would rather wait until after Christmas. Nancy came, and
Michael tried to remember if he had once seriously contemplated marrying
her. How well he remembered her in short skirts, and here she was a
woman of thirty with a brusque jolly manner and gold pince-nez.

"You _are_ a brute always to avoid my visits at Cobble Place," grumbled
Nancy. "Do you realize we haven't met for years?"

"You're such a woman of affairs," said Michael.

"Well, do let's try to meet next time. I say, don't you think Maud looks
terribly ill since she became a Romanist?"

Michael looked across to where Mrs. Ross was standing.

"I think she's looking rather well."

"Absolute destruction of individuality, you know," said Nancy, shaking
her head. "I was awfully sick about that business. However, I must admit
that she hasn't forced her religion down our throats."

"Did you expect an auto-da-fé in the middle of the lawn?" he asked. She
thumped him on the shoulder:

"Silly ass! Don't you try to rag me."

They had a jolly talk, but Michael was glad he had not married her at
eight years old. He decided that by now he would probably have regretted
the step.

Michael managed to get two or three minutes alone with Stella after the
ceremony.

"Well, Mrs. Prescott-Merivale?"

"You've admitted I'm a married woman," she exclaimed. "Now surely you
can tell me what you've been doing since August and where you've been."

"I thought very fondly that you were without the curiosity of every
woman," said Michael. "Alas, you are not!"

"Michael, you're perfectly horrid to me."

"Don't be too much the young wife," he advised, with mocking
earnestness.

"I won't listen to anything you say, until I know where you've been. Of
course, if I hadn't been so busy, I could easily have found you out."

"Not even can you sting me into the revelation of my hiding-place,"
Michael laughed.

"You shan't stay with us at Hardingham unless you tell me."

"By the time you come back from your honeymoon, I may have wonderful
news," said Michael. "Oh, and by the way, where are you going for your
honeymoon? It sounds absurd to ask such a question at this hour, but
I've never heard."

"We're going to Compiègne," said Stella. "I wrote to little
Castéra-Verduzan, and he's lent us the cottage where you and I stayed."

That choice of Stella's seemed to mark more decisively than anything she
had said or done his own second place in her thoughts nowadays.

When the bride and bridegroom were gone, Michael sat with his mother,
talking.

"I had arranged to go to the South of France with Mrs. Carruthers," she
told him. "But if you're going to be here, I could put her off."

Michael felt rather guilty. He had not considered his mother's
loneliness, and he had meant to return at once to Leppard Street.

"No, no, I'm going away again," he told her.

"Just as you like, dearest boy."

"You're glad about Stella?"

"Very glad."

"And you like Alan?"

"Of course. Charming--charming."

The firelight danced in opals on the window-panes, and the macaw who had
been brought up to Mrs. Fane's sitting-room out of the way of the
wedding guests sharpened his beak on the perch.

"It's really quite chilly this afternoon," said Mrs. Fane.

"Yes, there's a good deal of mist along the river," said Michael. "A
pity that the fine weather should have broken up. It may be rather
dreary in the forest."

"Why did they go to a forest?" she asked. "So like Stella to choose a
forest in November. Most unpractical. Still, when one is young and in
love, one doesn't notice the mud."

Next day Mrs. Fane went off to the South of France, and Michael went
back to Leppard Street.



CHAPTER V

THE INNERMOST CIRCLE


November fogs began soon after Michael returned to Leppard Street, and
these fuliginous days could cast their own peculiar spell. To enter the
house at dusk was to stand for a moment choking in blackness; and even
when the gas flared and whistled through a sickly nebula, it only made
more vast the lightless vapors above, so that the interior seemed at
first not a place of shelter, but a mirage of the streets that would
presently dissolve in the drifting fog. These nights made Pimlico
magical for walking. Distance was obliterated; time was abolished; life
was disembodied. He never tired of wandering up and down the Vauxhall
Bridge Road where the trams came trafficking like strange ships, so
unfamiliar did they seem here beside the dumpy horse omnibuses.

One evening when the fog was not very dense Michael went up to
Piccadilly. Here the lamps were strong enough to shine through the murk
with a golden softness that made the Circus like a landscape seen in a
dying fire. Michael could not bear to withdraw from this glow in which
every human countenance was idealized as by amber limes in a theater. At
the O.U.D.S. performance of The Merchant of Venice they had been given a
sunset like this on the Rialto. It would be jolly to meet somebody from
Oxford to-night--Lonsdale, for instance. He looked round half expectant
of recognition; but there was only the shifting crowd about him. How
were Stella and Alan getting on at Compiègne? Probably they were having
clear blue days there, and in the forest would be a smell of woodfires.
With such unrelated thoughts Michael strolled round Piccadilly,
sometimes in a wider revolution turning up the darker side streets, but
always ultimately returning to the Island in the middle. Here he would
stand in a dream, watching the omnibuses go east and west and south and
north. The crowd grew stronger, for the people were coming out of the
theaters. Should he go to the Orange and talk to Daisy? Should he call a
hansom and drive home? Bewitched as by the spinning of a polychromatic
top, he could not leave the Island.

They were coming out of the Orient now, and he watched the women emerge
one by one. Their ankles all looked so white and frail under the
opera-cloaks puffed out with swans-down; and they all of them walked to
their carriages with the same knock-kneed little steps. Soon he must
begin to frequent the Orient again.

Suddenly Michael felt himself seized with the powerless excitement of a
nightmare. There in black, strolling nonchalantly across the pavement to
a hansom, was Lily! She was with another girl. Then Drake's story had
been true. Michael realized that gradually all this time he had been
slowly beginning to doubt whether Drake had ever seen her. Lily had
become like a princess in a fairy tale. Now she was here! He threw off
the stupefaction that was paralyzing him, and started to cross the road.
A wave of traffic swept up and he was driven back. When the stream had
passed, Lily was gone. In a rage with his silly indecision he set out to
walk back to Pimlico. The fog had lifted entirely, and there was frost
in the air.

Michael walked very quickly because it seemed the only way to wear out
his chagrin. How idiotic it had been to let himself be caught like that.
Supposing she did not visit the Orient again for a long time? It would
serve him right. Oh, why had he not managed to get in front of those
vehicles in time? He and she might have been driving together now;
instead of which he was stamping his way along this dull dark pavement.
How tall she had seemed, how beautiful in her black frock. At last he
knew why all this time women had left him cold. He loved her still. What
nonsense it had been for him to think he wanted to marry her in order to
rescue her. What priggish insolence! He loved her still; he loved her
now: he loved her: he loved her! The railings of Green Park rattled to
his stick. He loved her more passionately because the ghost of her whom
he had thought of with romantic embellishment all these years was but a
caricature of her reality. That image of gossamer which had floated
through his dreams was become nothing, now that again he had seen
herself with her tall neck and the aureole of her hair and the delicate
poise of her as she waited among those knock-kneed women on the
pavement. He brought his stick crashing down upon a bin of gravel by the
curb that it might clang forth his rage. In what direction had she
driven away? Even that he did not know. She might have driven past this
very lamp-post a few minutes back.

Here was Hyde Park Corner. In London it was overwhelming to speculate
upon a hansom's progress. Here already were main roads branching, and
these in their turn would branch, and others after them until the
imagination was baffled. Waste of time. Waste of time. He would not
picture her in any quarter of London. But never one night should escape
without his waiting for her at the Orient. Where was she now? He would
put her from his mind until they met. Supposing that round the corner of
that wall she were waiting, because the cab horse had slipped. How she
would turn toward him in her black dress. "I saw you outside the
Orient," he would say. She should know immediately that he was not
deceived about her life. So vividly had he conjured the scene that when
he rounded the wall on his way down Buckingham Palace Road, he was
disappointed to see no cab, no Lily standing perplexed; merely a tabid
woman clothed in a cobweb of crape, asleep over her tray of matches and
huddled against the wall of the King's garden. He put a sixpence among
her match-boxes, and wondered of what were her dark dreams. The stars
were blue as steel in the moonless sky above the arc-lamps; and a cold
parching wind had sprung up. Michael deviated from the nearest way to
Leppard Street, and walked on quickly into the heart of Pimlico. This
kind of clear-cut air suited the architecture of the ashen streets. One
after another they stretched before him with their dim checkers of doors
and windows. Sometimes, where they were intersected by wider
thoroughfares, an arc-lamp fizzed above the shape of a solitary
policeman, and the corner-houses stood out sharper and more cadaverous.
And always in contrast with these necropolitan streets, these masks of
human dwellings, were Michael's own thoughts thronged with fancies of
himself and Lily.

It was nearly one o'clock when he walked over the arcuated bridge across
the lake of railway lines and turned the corner into Leppard Street.
From the opposite pavement a woman's figure stepped quickly toward him
out of a circle of lamplight. The sudden shadow lanced across the road
made him start. Perhaps she noticed him jump, for she stopped at once
and stared at him owlishly. He felt sick for a moment, and yet he could
not, from an absurd compassion for her, do as he would have liked and
run.

"Where are you off to in such a hurry?" he heard her say.

It was too late to avoid her now. He only had two sovereigns in his
pocket. It would be ridiculous and cowardly to escape by offering her
one of them. He had given his last silver coin to the match-seller. Yet
it would have been just as cowardly to have offered her that. He pitied
the degradation that prompted her so casual question; the diffidence in
her tones marked the fear of answering brutality which must always haunt
her. Now that she was close to him, he no longer dreaded her. She was
not an ancient drab, a dreadful old woman with black cotton gloves, as
at first he had shuddered to suppose her. If those raddled smears and
that deathly blanch of coarse powder were cleared from her cheeks, there
would be nothing to attract or repel: she would scarcely become even an
individual in the multitude of weary London women.

"Where are you off to, dearie, in such a hurry?" she repeated.

"Home. I'm going home," he said.

"Let's walk a bit of the way together."

He could say nothing to her, and if he hurried on, he would hear her
voice whining after him like a cat in a yard. He did not wish to let her
know where he was living; for every evening he would expect to see her
materialize from a quivering circle of lamplight so close to Leppard
Street.

"Why don't you come back with me? I live quite near here," she murmured.
"Go on. You look as if you wanted someone to make a fuss of you."

Already they were beside the five houses that rose jet-black against the
star-incrusted sky.

"Come on, dear. I live in the corner house."

Michael looked at her in astonishment, and she mistaking his scrutiny
smiled in pitiable allurement. He felt as if a marionette were
blandishing him. The woman evidently thought he was considering the
question of money, and she sidled close up to him.

"Go on, dear, you've got some money with you?"

"It's not that," said Michael. "I don't want to come in with you."

Yet he knew that he must enter Number One with her in order to find in
what secret room she lived. And to-morrow morning he would leave the
house forever, since it would be unimaginable to stay there longer with
the consciousness that perhaps they were creatures like this, who
slammed the doors in passages far upstairs. He would not sleep
comfortably again with the sense that women like this were creeping
about the stairs like spiders. He must probe her existence, and he put
his foot on the steps of the front door.

"Not that door," she said. "Down here."

She pushed back the gate of the area-steps, and led the way down into
the basement. It was incredible that she could live on the same floor as
the Cleghornes. Yet obviously she did.

"Don't make a noise," she whispered. "Because the woman who keeps the
house sleeps down here."

She opened the back door, and he followed her into the frowsty passage.
When the door was dosed behind them, the blackness was absolute.

"Got a vesta with you?" she whispered.

Michael felt her hands pawing him, and he shrank back against the greasy
wall.

"Here you are. Here you are."

The match flamed, but went out before he could light the nodulous candle
she proffered. In the darkness he felt her spongy lips upon his cheek,
but disengaging himself from her assiduousness, he managed to light the
candle. They went along the corridor past the front room where Cleghorne
snored the day away; past the kitchen whose open door exhaled an odorous
breath of habitation; and through a stone pantry. Then she led him down
three steps and up another, unlocked a rickety door, and welcomed him.

"I'm quite on my own, you see," she said, in a voice of tentative
satisfaction.

Michael looked round at the room which was small and smelt very damp.
The ceiling sloped to a window closely curtained with the cretonne of
black and crimson fruits which Michael recognized as the same stuff he
had seen in Barnes' room above. He tried to recall how much of this room
he could see from his bedroom window, and he connected it in his mind
with a projecting roof of cracked slates which he had often noticed. The
action of the rain on the plaster had made it look like a map of the
moon in relief. The furniture consisted of a bed, a washstand and a
light blue chest. There was also a narrow shelf on which was a lamp with
a reflector of corrugated tin, a bald powder-puff, and two boot-buttons.
The woman lit the lamp, and as she stooped to look at the jagged flame,
Michael saw that her hair was as iridescent as oil on a canal with what
remained of henna and peroxide.

"That's more cheerful. Though I must say it's a pity they haven't put
the gas in here. Oh, don't sit on that old box. It makes you look such a
stranger."

Michael said he had a great fondness for sitting on something that was
hard; but he thought how absurd he must appear sitting like this on a
pale blue chest next to a washstand.

"Are you looking at my cat?" she asked.

"What cat?"

"He's under the bed, I'll be bound."

She called, and a small black cat came out.

"Isn't he lovely? But, fancy, he's afraid of me. He always gets under
the bed like that."

Michael felt he ought to make up to the cat what his cordiality had
lacked toward the mistress, and he paid so much attention to it that
finally the animal lost all fear and jumped on his knee.

"Well, there!" the woman exclaimed. "Did you ever? I've never seen him
do that before. He knows you're a gentleman. Oh, yes, they know. His
mother ran away. But she comes to see me sometimes and always looks very
well, so she's got a good home. But _he_ isn't stinted. Oh, no. He gets
his milk every day. What I say is, if you're going to have animals, look
after them."

Michael nodded agreement.

"Because to my mind," she went on, "a great many animals are better than
human beings."

"Oh, yes, I think they probably are," said Michael.

"Poor Peter!" she crooned. "I wouldn't starve you, would I?"

The cat left Michael and went and sat beside her on the bed.

"Why do you call it Peter?" he asked. The name savored rather of the
deliberate novelist.

"After my boy."

"Your boy?" he echoed.

"Oh, he's a fine boy, and a good boy." The mention of her son stiffened
the woman into a fleeting dignity.

"I suppose he's about twelve?" Michael asked. Her age had puzzled him.

"Well, thirteen really. Of course, you see, I'm a little older than what
I look." As she looked about forty-five, Michael thought that the
converse was more probable.

"He's not living with you?"

"Oh, no, certainly not. Why, I wouldn't have him here for anything--not
ever. Oh, no, he's at school with the Jesuits. He's to go in the Civil
Service. I lived with his father for many years--in fact, from the time
I was sixteen. His father was a Frenchman. A silk-merchant he was. He's
been dead about six years now."

"I suppose he left money to provide for the boy."

"Oh no! No, he left nothing. Well, you see, silk merchants weren't what
they used to be, when he died; and before that his business was always
falling off bit by bit. No, the Jesuits took him. Of course I'm a
Catholic myself."

As she made her profession of faith, he saw hanging from the knob of the
bed a rosary. With whatever repulsion, with whatever curiosity he had
entered, Michael now sat here on the pale blue chest in perfect humility
of spirit.

"I suppose you don't care for this life?" he asked after a short
silence.

"Well, no, I do not. It's not at all what I should call a refined way of
living, and often it's really very unpleasant."

Somehow their relation had entirely changed, and Michael found himself
discussing her career as if he were talking to an old maid about her
health.

"For one thing," she continued, "the police are very rough with one, and
if anyone doesn't behave just as they'd like for them to behave, they
make it very awkward. They really take it out of anyone. That isn't
right, is it? It's really not as it should be, I don't think."

Michael thought of the police in Leicester Square.

"It's damnable!" he growled. "And I suppose you have to put up with a
good deal from some of the men?"

"Undoubtedly," she said, shaking her head, and becoming every moment
more and more like a spinster who kept a stationer's shop in a
provincial town. "Undoubtedly. Well, for one thing, I'm at anyone's
mercy in here. Of course, if I called out, I might be heard and I might
not. Really, if it wasn't for the woman who keeps the house being always
so anxious for her rent, I might be murdered any time and stay in here
for days without anyone knowing about it. Last Wednesday--or was it
Thursday?--time goes by so fast, it seems hardly worth while to count
the days, does it? One day last week I did what I've never done before:
I accepted six shillings. Well, it was late and what with one thing and
another I wanted the money. Will you believe it, I very carefully, as I
thought, hid it safe away in my bag, and this man--a very rough sort of
a man he was, I'm not surprised poor Peter runs away from them--I heard
him walking about the room when I woke up in the middle of the night.
And will you believe it, he'd gone to my bag and taken out his six
shillings, as well as fourpence-halfpenny of my own which was all I had
at the moment. He was really out of the house and gone in a flash, as
they say. I wouldn't be surprised if he makes a regular trade of it with
women like myself. Well now, you can't say a man like that is any better
than my cat. I was very angry about it, but anyone soon forgets. Though
I will say it was a warning."

"I suppose you'd be glad to give up the life," said Michael, and as he
asked the question, it seemed to him in this room and in the presence of
this woman a very futile one.

"Oh, I should be glad to give it up. Yes. You see, as I say, I'm really
at anyone's mercy in here. But really what else could I do? You see, in
one way, the harm's done."

Michael looked at her tarnished hair; at her baggy cheeks raddled and
powdered; at the clumsy black upon her lashes that made so much the more
obvious the pleated lids beneath; at her neck already flaccid, and at
her dress plumped out like an ill-stuffed pillow to conceal the arid
flesh beneath. It certainly seemed as if the harm had been done.

"You see," she went on, "though I have to put up with a great deal, it's
only to be expected, after all. Now I was very severely brought up by my
father, and my mother being--well, it's no use to mince matters as they
say--my mother really was a saint. Then of course after this occurred
with the Frenchman I told you about--that really was a downward step,
though at the time I was happy and though he was always very good to me
from the beginning to the end. Still, I'm used to refinement, and I have
a great deal to put up with here in this house. Not that I dislike the
woman who keeps it. But having paid my rent regular--eight-and-six, that
is...."

"Quite enough, too," said Michael, looking up at the ceiling that was so
like the scarred surface of the moon.

"You're right. It is enough. It is quite enough. But still I'm my own
mistress. No one interferes with me. At the same time I don't interfere
with anybody else. I have the right to use the kitchen for my cooking,
but really Mrs. Cleghorne--that is the woman who keeps the house--really
she is not a clean cook, and very often my stomach is so turned that I
go all day with only a cup of tea."

Michael was grateful to the impulse which had led him to cook his own
breakfast on a chafing dish.

"I interrupted you," he said. "You were going to tell me something about
Mrs. Cleghorne."

"Well, you must know, I had a friend who was very good to me, and this
seemed to annoy her. Perhaps she disliked the independence it gave me.
Well, she really caused a row between us by telling me she'd seen him
going round drinking with another woman. Now that isn't a nice thing to
do, is it? One doesn't want to go round drinking in public-houses. It
looks so bad. I spoke to him about it a bit sharp, and we've fallen out
over it. In fact, I haven't seen him for some months. Still I shouldn't
complain, but just lately what with one thing and another I had some
extras to get for my boy which was highly necessary you'll
understand--well, as I was saying--what with one thing and another my
rent has been a little bit behind. Still, after you've paid regular for
close on two years, you expect a little consideration."

"Have you lived in this burrow for two years?" Michael asked in
amazement.

"In the week before Christmas it'll be two years. Yes. Not that Mrs.
Cleghorne herself has been so nasty, but she lets her mother come round
here and abuse me. Her mother's an old woman, you'll understand, and her
language--well, really it has sometimes made me feel sick." She put her
hand up to her face with a gesture of disgust. "She stands in that
doorway and bullies me until I'm ashamed to sit on this bed and stand
it. I really am. You'd hardly believe there was such things to say to
anyone. I think I have a right to feel aggravated, and I've made up my
mind she isn't going to do it again. I'm not going to _have_ it." She
was nodding at Michael with such energetic affirmation that the springs
of the bed creaked.

"The mother doesn't live here?" he asked.

"Oh, no; she simply comes here for the purpose of bullying me. But I'm
not going to let it occur again. I don't consider I've been well
treated. If I'd spent the money on gin, I shouldn't so much object to
what the old woman calls me, for I don't say my life isn't a bit of a
struggle. But there's so many things to use up the money, when I've got
what's wanted for my boy, and paid the policeman on this beat his
half-crown which he expects, and tried to keep myself looking a little
bit smart--really I have to buy something occasionally, or where should
I be?--and I never waste money on clothes for clothes' sake, as they
say--well, after that it's none so easy to find eight-and-six for the
week's rent and buy myself a bit of food and the cat's milk."

Michael had nothing to say in commentary. It seemed to him that even by
living above this woman he shared in the responsibility for her
wretchedness.

"I hope your boy will turn out well," he ventured at last.

"Oh, he's a good boy, he really is. And I have had hopes that perhaps
the Fathers will make him a Brother. I should really prefer that to his
being in the Civil Service."

"Or even a priest," Michael suggested.

"Well, you see, he wasn't born in wedlock. Would that make a
difference?"

"I don't think so," said Michael gently. "Oh, no, I hope that wouldn't
make a difference."

He was finding the imagination of this woman's life too poignant, and he
rose from the light blue chest to bid her good-bye. He begged inwardly
that she would not attempt to remind him of the relation in which she
had expected to stand to him. He feared to wound her, but he would have
to repulse her or go mad if she came near him. He plunged down into his
pocket for the two sovereigns. Half of this money he had thought an
exaggerated and cowardly bribe to buy off her importunity when she had
stood in the circle of lamplight, owlishly staring. Now he wished he had
five times as much. His pocket was empty! He felt quickly and hopelessly
in his other pockets. He could not find the gold. She must have robbed
him. He looked at her reproachfully. Was that the thief's and liar's
film glazing her eyes as they stared straight into his own? Was it
impossible to believe that he had pulled the sovereigns out of his
pocket, when nervously he had first seen her. But she had pawed him with
her hands in the black passage, and if the money had fallen on the road,
he must have heard it. He ought to tax her with the unjust theft; he
ought to tell her that what she had taken he had meant to give her. And
yet supposing she had not taken the money? She had said the cat
recognized him as a gentleman. Supposing she had not taken the
sovereigns, he would add by his accusation another stone to the weight
she bore. And if she had taken them, why not? The cat was not at hand
to warn her that he was to be trusted. She had not wanted the money for
herself. She had been preyed upon, and had learned to prey upon others
in self-defense.

"I find I haven't any money with me," said Michael, looking at her.

"That doesn't matter. I've really quite enjoyed our little talk."

"But I'll send you some more," he promised.

"No, it doesn't matter. I haven't done anything to have you send your
money for. I expect when you saw me in the light, you didn't think I was
really quite your style. Of course, I've really come down. It's no use
denying it. I'm _not_ what I was."

If she had robbed him, she wanted nothing more from him. If she had
robbed him, it was because in the humility of her degradation she had
feared to see him shrink from her in disgust.

"I shall send you some money for your boy," he said, in the darkness by
the door.

"No, it doesn't matter."

"What's your name?"

"Well, I'm known here as Mrs. Smith." Doubtfully she whispered as the
cold air came in through the open door: "I don't expect you'd care about
giving me a kiss."

Michael had never known anything in his life so difficult to do, but he
kissed her cold and flaccid cheek and hurried up the area steps.

When he stood again upon the pavement in the menace of the five black
houses of Leppard Street, Michael felt that he never again could endure
to return to them at night, nor ever again in the day perceive their
fifty windows inscrutable as water. Yet he must walk for a while in the
stinging northerly air before he went back to his rooms; he must try to
rid himself of the oppression which now lay so heavily upon him; he must
be braced even by this lugubrious night of Pimlico before he could
encounter again the permeating fug of Leppard Street. He walked as far
as the corner, and saw in silhouette upon the bridge a solitary
policeman thudding his chest for warmth. In this abominable desert of
lamps he should have seemed a symbol of comfort, but Michael with the
knowledge of the power he wielded over the unfortunates beheld him now
as the brutish servant of a dominating class. He was, after all, very
much like a dressed-up gorilla, as he stood there thudding his chest in
the haggard lamplight.

Michael turned and went back to his rooms.

He stared at the picture of St. Ursula on the white wall, and suddenly
in a fit of rage he plucked it from the hook and ground it face downward
upon his writing-table. It seemed to him almost monstrous that anything
so serene should be allowed any longer to exist. Immediately afterward
he thought that his action had been melodramatic, and shamefacedly he
put away the broken picture in a drawer.

Lily was in London: and Mrs. Smith was beneath him in this house. In
twenty years Lily might be sunk in such a pit, unless he were quick to
save her now. All through the night he kept waking up with the fancy
that he could hear the rosary rattling in that den beneath; and every
time he knew it was only the sound of the broken hasp on his window
rattling in the wind.



CHAPTER VI

TINDERBOX LANE


Next morning, when he woke, Michael made up his mind to leave Leppard
Street finally in the course of this day. He could not bear the thought
that he would only have to lean out of his window to see the actual roof
which covered that unforgettable den beneath him. He wondered what would
be the best thing to do with the furniture. It might be worth while to
install Barnes in these rooms and pay his rent for some months instead
of the salary which, now that Lily had been seen, was no longer a
justifiable expenditure. He certainly would prefer that Barnes should
never meet Lily now, and he regretted he had revealed her name. Still he
had a sort of affection for Barnes which precluded the notion of
deserting him altogether. These rooms with their simple and unmuffled
furniture, the green shelves and narrow white bed, would be good for his
character. He would also leave a few chosen books behind, and he would
write and ask Nigel Stewart to visit here from time to time. Michael
dressed himself and went upstairs to interview Barnes where he lay
beneath a heap of bedclothes.

"Oh, I daresay I could make the rooms look all right," said Barnes. "But
what about coal?"

"I shall pay for coal and light as well as the rent."

"I thought you'd find it a bit dismal here," said Barnes knowingly. "I
wonder you've stuck it out as long as you have."

"After February," Michael said, "I may want to come to some other
arrangement; but you can count on being here till then. Of course, you
understand that when the three months are up, I shan't be able to allow
you five pounds a week any longer."

"No, I never supposed you would," said Barnes, in a tone of resignation.

Michael hesitated whether to speak to him about Mrs. Smith or not:
however, probably he was aware of her existence already, and it could do
no harm to mention it.

"Did you know that there was a woman living down in the basement here?"
he asked.

"I didn't know there was one here; but it's not a very rare occurrence
in this part of London, nor any other part of London, if it comes to
that."

"If you hear any row going on down there," said Michael, "you had better
interfere at once."

"Who with?" Barnes inquired indignantly.

"With the row," said Michael. "If the woman is being badly treated on
account of money she owes, you must let me know immediately."

"Well, I'm not in the old tear's secret, am I?" asked Barnes, in an
injured tone. "You can't expect me to go routing about after every old
fly-by-night stuck in a basement."

"I'm particularly anxious to know that she is all right," Michael
insisted.

"Oh well, of course, if she's a friend of yours, Fane, that's another
matter. If it's any little thing to oblige you, why certainly I'll do
it."

Michael said good-bye and left him in bed. Then he called in to see the
Solutionist, who was also in bed.

"I've got a commission for you," said Michael.

The Solutionist's watery eyes brightened faintly.

"You're fond of animals, aren't you?" Michael went on. "I see you
feeding your Belgian hares. Well, I'm interested in a cat who
appreciated my point of view. I want you to see that this cat has a
quart of milk left for her outside Mrs. Smith's door every morning. Mrs.
Smith lives in the basement. You must explain to her that you are fond
of animals; but you mustn't mention me. Here's a check for five pounds.
Spend half this on the cat and the other half on your rabbits."

The Solutionist held the check between his tremulous fingers.

"I couldn't cash this nowadays," he said helplessly. "And get a quart of
milk for a cat? Why, the thing would burst."

"All right. I'll send you postal orders," said Michael. "Now I'm going
away for a bit. Never mind if a quart is too much. I want that amount
left every day. You'll do what I ask? And you'll promise not to say a
word about me?"

The Solutionist promised, and Michael left him looking more completely
puzzled than he had ever seen him.

Michael could not bring himself to the point either of going down into
the basement or of calling to Mrs. Cleghorne from the entrance to her
cave; and as the bell-pull in his room had never been mended, he did not
know how to reach her. The existence of Mrs. Smith had dreadfully
complicated the mechanism of Number One. He ought to have made Barnes
get out of bed and fetch her. By good luck Michael saw from his window
the landlady standing at the top of the area steps. He ran out and asked
her to come and speak to him.

"I see," she said. "Mr. Barnes is to have your rooms, and you're paying
in advance up to February. Oh, and his coal and his gas as well? I see.
Well, that you can settle month by month. Through me? Oh, yes."

Mrs. Cleghorne was in a very good temper this morning. Michael could not
help wondering if Mrs. Smith had paid some arrears of her rent.

"Do you think Mr. Cleghorne would go and fetch me a hansom?" Michael
asked.

"He's still in his bed, but I'll go myself."

This cheerfulness was really extraordinary; and Michael was flattered.
Already he was beginning to feel some of the deference mixed with hate
which throughout the underworld was felt toward landladies. Her
condescension struck him with the sense of a peculiar favor, as if it
were being bestowed from a superior height.

Michael packed up his kitbags and turned for a last look at the white
rooms in Leppard Street. Suddenly it struck him that he would take with
him one or two of the pictures and present them to Maurice's studio in
Grosvenor Road. Mona Lisa should go there, and the Prince of Orange whom
himself was supposed to resemble slightly, and Don Baltazar on his big
horse. They should be the contribution which he had been intending for
some time to pay to that household. The cab was at the door, and
presently Michael drove away from Leppard Street.

As soon as he was in the hansom he felt he could begin to think of Lily
again, and though he knew that probably he was going to suffer a good
deal when they met, he nevertheless thought of her now with elation. It
had not seemed to be so sparkling a morning in Leppard Street; but
driving toward Maurice's studio along the banks of the river, Michael
thought it was the most crystalline morning he had ever known.

"I've brought you these pictures," he explained to Maurice, and let the
gift account for his own long disappearance from communion with his
friends. "They're pretty hackneyed, but I think it's rather good for you
to have a few hackneyed things amid the riot of originality here. What
are you doing, Mossy?"

"Well, I'm rather hoping to get a job as dramatic critic on The Point of
View."

"You haven't met your lady-love yet?"

"No, rather not, worse luck. Still, there's plenty of time. What about
you?" Maurice asked the question indifferently. He regarded his friend
as a stone where women were concerned.

"I've seen her," said Michael. He simply had to give himself the
pleasure of announcing so much.

"By Jove, have you really? You've actually found your fate?" Maurice was
evidently very much excited by Michael's lapse into humanity; he had
been snubbed so often when he had rhapsodized over girls. "What's she
like?"

"I haven't spoken to her yet. I've only seen her in the distance."

"And you've really fallen in love? I say, do stay and have lunch with me
here. Castleton isn't coming back from the Temple until after tea."

Michael would have liked to sit at the window and talk of Lily, while he
stared out over the sea of roofs under one of which at this very moment
herself might be looking in his direction. However, he thought if he
once began to talk about Lily to Maurice, he would tell him too much,
and he might regret that afterward. Yet he could not resist saying that
she was tall and fair and slim. Such epithets might be applied to many
girls, and it was only for himself that in this case they had all the
thrilling significance they did.

"I like fair girls best," Maurice agreed. "But most fair girls are
dolls. If I met one who wasn't, I should be hopelessly in love with
her."

"Perhaps you will," Michael said. Since he had seen Lily he felt very
generous, and even more than generosity he felt that he actually had the
power to offer to Maurice dozens of fair girls from whom he could choose
his own ideal. Really he must not stay a moment longer in the studio, or
he would be blurting out the whole tale of Lily; and were she to be his,
he must hold secrets about her that could never be unfolded.

"I really must bolt off," he declared. "I've got a cab waiting."

Michael drove along to Cheyne Walk, and when he reached home, it caused
the parlormaid not a flicker to receive him and to take his luggage and
inquire what should be obtained for his lunch.

"Life's really too easy in this house," he thought. "It's so impossible
to surprise the servants here that one would give up trying ultimately.
I suppose that will be the beginning of settling down. At this rate, I
shall settle down much too soon. Yes, life is too easy here."

Michael went to the Orient that night certain that he would meet Lily at
once, so much since he left Leppard Street had the imagination of her
raced backward and forward in his brain. Everything that would have made
their meeting painful in such surroundings was forgotten in the joyful
prospect at hand. The amount they would have to talk about was really
tremendous. Love had destroyed time so completely that Lily was to be
exactly the same as when first he had met her in Kensington Gardens.
However, her appearance on the pavement outside the theater had made
such a vivid new impression that Michael did pay as much attention to
lapsing time as to visualize her now in that black dress. Otherwise he
was himself again of six years ago, with only the delightful difference
that he was now independent and could carry her forthwith into marriage.
The knowledge that from a material point of view he could do this filled
him with a magnificent consciousness of life's plenitude. So far, all
his experiments in living had been bounded by ignorance or credulity on
his own side, and on the side of other people by their unsuitableness
for experiments. Certainly he had made discoveries, but they might
better be called disillusionments. Now here was Lily who would give him
herself to discover, who would open for him, not a looking-glass world
in which human nature reflected itself in endless reduplications of
perversity, but a world such as lovers only know, wherein the greatest
deeps are themselves. Michael scarcely bothered to worry himself with
the thought that Lily had embarked upon her own discoveries apart from
him; she had been bewitched again by his romantic spells into the
innocent girl of seventeen. All his hopes, all his quixotry, all his
capacity for idealization, all his prejudice and impulsiveness converged
upon her. Whatever had lately happened to spoil his theory of behavior
was discounted; and even the very theory fell to pieces in this
intoxication of happiness.

With so much therefore to make him buoyant, it was depressing to visit
the Orient that evening without a glimpse of Lily. The disappointment
threw Michael very unpleasantly back into those evenings when he had
come here regularly and had always been haunted by the dread that, when
he did see her, his resolve would collapse in the presence of a new Lily
wrought upon by man and not made more lovable thereby. The vision of her
last night (it was only last night) had swept him aloft; the queer
adventure with the woman in the basement had exalted him still higher
upon his determination; his flight from Leppard Street and his return to
Cheyne Walk had helped to strengthen his hopefulness. Now he had
returned to this circumambient crowd, looking round as each newcomer
came up the steps, and all the while horribly aware that this evening
Lily was not coming to the Orient. He had never been upset like this
since his resolve was taken. The glimpse of her last night had made him
very impatient, and he reviled himself again for having been such a fool
as to let her escape. He fell in a rage with his immobility here in
London. He demanded why it was not possible to swirl in widening circles
round the city until he found her. He was no longer content to remain in
this aquarium, stuck like a mollusc to the side of the tank. He wanted
to see her again. He was fretful for her slow contemptuous walk and her
debonair smile. He wanted to see her again. Already this quest was
becoming the true torment of love. Every single other person in sight
was a dreary automaton in whom he took no trace of interest. Every
movement, every laugh, every shadow made him repine at its uselessness
to him. All those years at Oxford of dreams and hesitations had let him
store up within himself a very fury of love. He had been living falsely
all this time: there had never been one dull hour which could not have
been enchanted by her to the most glorious hour imaginable. He had
realized that when he saw her last night; he had realized all the waste,
all the deadness, all the idiotic philosophy and impotence of these
years without her. How the fancy of her vexed him now; how easily could
he in his frustration knock down the individuals of this senseless
restless crowd, one after another, like the dummies of humanity they
were.

The last tableau of the ballet had dissolved behind the falling curtain.
Lily was not here to-night, and he hurried out into Piccadilly. She must
be somewhere close at hand. It was impossible for her to come casually
like that to the Orient and afterward to disappear for weeks. Or was she
a man's mistress, the mistress of a man of forty? He could picture him.
He would be a stockbroker, the sort of man whom one saw in first-class
railway carriages traveling up to town in the morning and reading The
Financial Times. He would wear a hideous orchid in his buttonhole and
take her to Brighton for week-ends. He knew just the shade of bluish
pink that his cheeks were; and the way his neck looked against his
collar; the shape of his mustache, the smell of his cigar, and his
handicap at golf.

It was impossible that Lily could be the mistress of a man like that.
Last night she had come out of the Orient with a girl. Obviously they
must at this moment be somewhere near Piccadilly. Michael rushed along
as wildly as a cat running after its tail. He entered restaurant after
restaurant, café after café, standing in the doorways and staring at the
tables one after another. The swinging doors would often hit him, as
people came in; the drinkers or the diners would often laugh at his
frown and his pale, eager gaze; often the manager would hurry up and ask
what he could do for him, evidently suspecting the irruption of a
lunatic.

Michael's behavior in the street was even more noticeable. He often
ricocheted from the inside to the outside of the pavement to get a
nearer view of a passing hansom whose occupant had faintly resembled
Lily. He mounted omnibuses going in all sorts of strange directions,
because he fancied for an instant that he had caught a glimpse of Lily
among the passengers. It was closing-time before he thought he had been
searching for five minutes; and when the lights were dimmed, he walked
up and down Regent Street, up and down Piccadilly, up and down Coventry
Street, hurrying time after time to pursue a walk that might have been
hers.

By one o'clock Piccadilly was nearly empty, and it was an insult to
suppose that Lily would be found among these furtive women with their
waylaying eyes in the gloom. Michael went back tired out to Cheyne Walk.
On the following night he visited the Orient again and afterward
searched every likely and unlikely place in the neighborhood of the
heart of pleasure. He went also to the Empire and to the Alhambra;
sometimes hurrying from one to the other twice in the evening, when
panics that he was missing Lily overtook him. He met Lonsdale one night
at the Empire, and Lonsdale took him to several night-clubs which gave a
great zest to Michael's search; for he became a member of them himself,
and so possessed every night another hour or more before he had to give
up hope of finding her.

Mrs. Fane wrote to him from Cannes to say she thought that, as she was
greatly enjoying herself on the Riviera, she would not come home for
Christmas. Michael was relieved by her letter, because he had felt
qualms about deserting her, and he would have found it difficult,
impossible really, to go away so far from London and Lily.

Guy wrote to him several times, urging him to come and stay at Plashers
Mead. Finally he went there for a week-end; and Guy spent the whole time
rushing in and out of the house on the chance of meeting Pauline Grey,
the girl whom Michael had seen with him in the canoe last summer. Guy
explained the complications of his engagement to Pauline; how it seemed
he would soon have to choose between love and art; how restrictions were
continually being put upon their meeting each other; and how violently
difficult life was becoming here at Plashers Mead, where Michael had
prophesied such abundant ease. Michael was very sympathetic, and when he
met Pauline on a soft December morning, he did think she was beautiful
and very much like the wild rose that Guy had taken as the symbol of
her. She seemed such a fairy child that he could not imagine problems of
conduct in which she could be involved. Nevertheless, it was impossible
not to feel that over Plashers Mead brooded a sense of tragedy: and yet
it seemed ridiculous to compare Guy's difficulties with his own.

For Christmas Michael went down to Hardingham, where Stella and Alan had
by this time settled down in their fat country. He was delighted to see
how much the squire Alan was already become; and there was certainly
something very attractive in these two young people moving about that
grave Georgian house. The house itself was of red brick and stood at the
end of an avenue of oaks in a park of about two hundred acres. That it
could ever have not been there; that ever those lawns had been defaced
by builder's rubbish was now inconceivable. So too within, Michael could
not realize that anybody else but Stella and Alan had ever stood in this
drawing-room, looking out of the tall windows whose sills scarcely rose
above the level of the grass outside; that anyone else but Stella and
Alan had ever laughed in this solemn library with its pilasters and
calf-bound volumes and terrestrial globe; that anyone else but Stella
and Alan had ever sat at dinner under the eyes of those bag-wigged
squires, that long-nosed Light Dragoon, or that girl in her chip hat,
holding a bunch of cherries.

"No doubt you've got a keen scent for tradition," said Michael to
Stella. "But really you have been able to get into the manner
surprisingly fast. These cocker-spaniels, for instance, who follow you
both round, and the deerhound on the steps of the terrace--Stella, I'm
afraid the concert platform has taught you the value of effect; and
where do hounds meet to-morrow?"

"We're simply loving it here," Stella said. "But I think the piano is
feeling a little bit out of his element. He's stiff with being on his
best behavior."

"I'm hoping to get rather a good pitch in Six Ash field," said Alan.
"I'll show it to you to-morrow morning."

The butler came in with news of callers:

"The Countess of Stilton and Lady Anne Varley."

"Oh, damn!" Stella exclaimed, when the butler had retired. "I really
don't think people ought to call just before Christmas. However, you've
both got to come in and be polite."

Michael managed to squeeze himself into a corner of the drawing-room,
whence he could watch Lady Stilton and her daughter talking to Mr. and
Mrs. Prescott-Merivale.

"We ought not to have bothered you in this busy week before Christmas,
but my husband has been so ill in Marienbad, ever since the summer
really, that we only got home a fortnight ago. So very trying. And I've
been longing to meet you. Poor Dick Prescott was a great friends of
ours."

Michael had a sudden intuition that Prescott had bequeathed Stella's
interests to Lady Stilton, who probably knew all about her. He wondered
if Stella had guessed this.

"And Anne heard you play at King's Hall. Didn't you, Anne dear?"

Lady Anne nodded and blushed.

"That child is going to worship Stella," Michael thought.

"We're hoping you will all be able to come and dine with us for Twelfth
Night. My husband is so fond of keeping up old English festivals. Mr.
Fane, you'll still be at Hardingham, I hope, so that we may have the
pleasure of seeing you as well?"

Michael said he was afraid he would have to be back in town.

"What absolute rot!" Stella cried. "Of course you'll be here."

But Michael insisted that he would be gone.

"They tell us you've been buying Herefords, Mr. Merivale. My husband was
so much interested and is so much looking forward to seeing your stock;
but at present he must not drive far. I've also heard of you from my
youngest boy who went up to Christ Church last October year. He is very
much excited to think that Hardingham is going to have such a
famous--what is it called, Anne?--some kind of a bowler."

"A googlie bowler, I expect you mean, mother," said Lady Anne.

"Wasn't he in the Eton eleven?" asked Alan.

"Well, no. Something happened to oust him at the last moment," said Lady
Stilton. "Possibly a superior player."

"Oh, no, mother!" Lady Anne indignantly declared. "He would have played
for certain against Harrow, if he hadn't sprained his ankle at the nets
the week before."

"I do hope you'll let him come and see you this vacation," Lady Stilton
said.

"Oh, rather. I shall be awfully keen to talk about the cricket round
here," Alan replied. "I'm just planning out a new pitch now."

"How delightful all this is," thought Michael, with visions of summer
evenings.

Soon Lady Stilton and her daughter went away, having plainly been a
great success with Mr. and Mrs. Prescott-Merivale.

"Of course, _you've_ got to marry Anne," said Stella to Michael, as soon
as they were comfortably round the great fire in the library.

"Alan," Michael appealed. "Is it impossible for you to nip now forever
this bud of matchmaking?"

"I think it's rather a good idea," said Alan. "I knew young Varley by
sight. He's a very sound bat."

"I shan't come here again," Michael threatened, "until you've dissolved
this alliance of mutual admiration. Instead of agreeing with Stella to
marry me to every girl you meet, why don't you devote yourself to the
task of making Huntingdon a first-class county in cricket? Stella might
captain the team."

Time passed very pleasantly with long walks and rides and drives, with
long evenings of cut-throat bridge and Schumann; but on New Year's
morning Michael said he must go back to London. Nor would he let himself
be deterred by Stella's gibes.

"I admit you're as happy as you can be," he said. "Now surely you, after
so much generosity on my side, will admit that I may know almost as well
as yourselves how to make myself happy, though not yet married."

"Michael, you're having an affair with some girl," Stella said
accusingly.

He shook his head.

"Swear?"

"By everything I believe in, I vow I'm not having an affair with any
girl. I wish I were."

His luggage was in the hall, and the dogcart was waiting. At King's
Cross he found a taxi, which was so difficult to do in those days that
it made him hail the achievement as a good omen for the New Year.

Near South Kensington Station he caught sight of a poster advertising a
carnival in the neighborhood: he thought it looked rather attractive
with the bright colors glowing into the gray January day. Later on in
the afternoon, when he went to his tobacconist's in the King's Road, he
saw the poster again and read that to-night at Redcliffe Hall, Fulham
Road, would take place a Grand Carnival and Masked Ball for the benefit
of some orphanage connected with licensed victualing. Tickets were on
sale in various public-houses of the neighborhood, at seven and sixpence
for gentlemen and five shillings for ladies.

"Ought to be very good," commented the tobacconist. "Well, we want a
bit of brightening up nowadays down this way, and that's a fact. Why, I
can remember Cremorne Gardens. Tut-tut! Bless my soul. Yes, and the old
World's End. That's going back into the seventies, that is. And it seems
only yesterday."

"I rather wish I'd got a ticket," said Michael.

"Why not let me get you one, sir, and send it round to Cheyne Walk? I
suppose you'd like one for a lady as well?"

"No, I'll have two men's tickets."

Michael had a vague notion of getting Maurice or Lonsdale to accompany
him, and he went off immediately to 422 Grosvenor Road; but the studio
was deserted. Nor was he successful in finding Lonsdale. Nobody seemed
to have finished his holidays yet. It would be rather boring to go
alone, he thought; but when he found the tickets waiting for him, they
seemed to promise a jolly evening, even if he did no more than watch
other people enjoying themselves. No doubt there would be plenty of
spectators without masks, like himself, and in ordinary evening dress.
So about half-past nine Michael set off alone to the carnival.

Redcliffe Hall, viewed from the outside in the January fog which was
deepening over the city, seemed the last place in the world likely to
contain a carnival. It was one of those dismal gothic edifices which,
having passed through ecclesiastical and municipal hands with equal loss
to both, awaits a suitable moment for destruction before it rises again
in a phoenix of new flats. However, the awning hung with Japanese
lanterns that ran from the edge of the curb up to the entrance made it
now not positively forbidding.

Michael went up to the gallery and watched the crowd of dancers. Many of
the fancy dresses had a very homely look, but there were also
professional equipments from costumiers and a very few really beautiful
inventions. The medley of colors, the motion of the dance, the sound of
the music, the streamers of bunting and the ribbons fluttering round the
Maypole in the middle of the room, all combined to give Michael an
illusion of a very jocund assemblage. There were plenty of men dancing
without masks, which was rather a pity, as their dull, ordinary faces
halted abruptly the play of fancy. On second thoughts he was glad such
revelers were allowed upon the floor, since as the scene gradually began
to affect him he felt it might be amusing for himself to dance once or
twice before the evening ended. With this notion in view, he began to
follow more particularly the progress of different girls, balancing
their charms one against another, and always deriving a good deal of
pleasure from the reflection that, while at this moment they did not
know of his existence, in an hour's time he might have entered their
lives. This thought did give a romantic zest to an entertainment which
would otherwise have been quite cut off from his appreciation.

Suddenly Michael's heart began to quicken: the blood came in rushes and
swift recessions that made him feel cold and sick. Two girls walking
away from him along the side of the hall--those two pierrettes in
black--that one with the pale blue pompons was Lily! Why didn't she turn
round? It must be Lily. The figure, the walk, the hair were hers. The
pierrettes turned, but as they were masked Michael could still not be
sure if one were Lily. They were dancing together now. It must be Lily.
He leaned over the rail of the gallery to watch them sweep round below
him, so that he might listen if by chance above the noise Lily's
languorous voice could reach him. Michael became almost positive that it
was she. There could not be another girl to seem so like her. He hurried
down from the gallery and stood in the entrance to the ball-room. Where
were they now? They were coming toward him: the other pierrette with
the rose pompons said something as they passed. It could only be Lily
who bowed her head like that in lazy assent. It was Lily! Should he call
out to her, when next they passed him? If it were not Lily, what a fool
he would look. If it were not Lily, it would not matter what he looked,
for the disappointment would outweigh everything else. They were going
up the room again. They were turning the corner again. They were
sweeping toward him again. They were passing him again. He called "Lily!
Lily!" in a voice sharp with eagerness. Neither girl gave a sign of
attention. It was not she, after all. Yet his voice might have been
drowned in the noise of the dance. He would call again; but again they
passed him by unheeding. The dance was over. They had stopped at the
other end of the room. He pressed forward against the egress of the
dancers. He pressed forward roughly, and once or twice he heard
grumbling murmurs because he had deranged a difficult piece of
costumery. He was conscious of angry masks regarding him; and then he
was free of the crowd, and before him, talking together under a canopy
of holly were the two pierrettes. The musicians sat among the palms
looking at him as they rested upon their instruments. Michael felt that
his voice was going to refuse to utter her name:

"Lily! Lily!"

The pierrette with the pale blue pompons turned at the sound of his
voice. Why did she not step forward to greet him, if indeed she were
Lily? She was, she was Lily: the other pierrette had turned to see what
she was going to do.

"I say, how on earth did you recognize me?" Lily murmured, raising her
mask and looking at Michael with her smile that was so debonair and
tender, so scornful and so passionate.

"I saw you in November coming out of the Orient. I tried to get across
the road to speak to you, but you'd gone before I could manage it.
Where have you been all these years? Once I went to Trelawny Road, but
the house was empty." He could not tell her that Drake had been the
first to bring him news of her.

"It's years since I was there," said Lily. "Years and years." She turned
to call her friend, and the pierrette with the rose pompons came closer
to be introduced.

"Miss Sylvia Scarlett: Mr. Michael Fane. Aren't I good to remember your
name quite correctly?" Michael thought that her mouth for a moment was
utterly scornful. "What made you come here? Have you got a friend with
you?"

Michael explained that he was alone, and that his visit here was an
accident.

"Why did _you_ come?" he asked.

"Oh, something to do," said Lily. "We live near here."

"So do I," said Michael hastily.

"Do you?" Her eyebrows went up in what he imagined was an expression of
rather cruel interrogation. "This is a silly sort of a show. Still, even
Covent Garden is dull now."

Michael thought what a fool he had been not to include Covent Garden in
his search. How well he might have known she would go there.

"Where's Doris?" he asked.

Lily shrugged her shoulders.

"I never see anything of her nowadays. She married an actor. I don't
often get letters from home, do I, Sylvia?"

The pierrette with rose pompons, who ever since her introduction had
still been standing outside the conversation, now raised her mask.
Michael liked her face. She had merry eyes, and a wide nose rather
Slavonic. Next to Lily she seemed almost dumpy.

"Letters, my dear," she exclaimed, in a very deep voice, "Who wants
letters?"

The music of a waltz was beginning, and Michael asked Lily if she would
dance with him. She looked at Sylvia.

"I don't think...."

"Oh, what rot, Lily! Of course you can dance."

Michael gave her a grateful smile.

In a moment Lily had lowered her mask, and they were waltzing together.

"My gad, how gloriously you waltz!" he whispered. "Did we ever dance
together five years ago?"

She shrugged her shoulders, and he felt the faint movement tremble
through the imponderable form he held.

"Lily, I've been looking for you since June," he sighed.

"You're breaking step," she said. Though her mask was down, Michael was
sure that she was frowning at him.

"Lily, why are you so cold with me? Have you forgotten?"

"What?"

"Why, everything!" Michael gasped.

"You're absolutely out of time now," she said sternly.

They waltzed for a while in silence, and Michael felt like a midge
spinning upon a dazzle.

"Do you remember when we met in Kensington Gardens?" he ventured. "I
remember you had black pompons on your shoes then, and now you have pale
blue pompons on your dress."

She was not answering him.

"It's funny you should still be living near me," he went on. "I suppose
you're angry with me because I suddenly never saw you again. That was
partly your mother's fault."

She looked at him in faint perplexity, swaying to the melody of the
waltz. Michael thought he had blundered in betraying himself as so
obviously lovestruck now. He must be seeming to her like that absurd and
sentimental boy of five years ago. Perhaps she was despising him, for
she could compare him with other men. Ejaculations of wonder at her
beauty would no longer serve, with all the experience she might bring to
mock them. She was smiling at him now, and the mask she wore made the
smile seem a sneer. He grew so angry with her suddenly that almost he
stopped in the swing of the dance to shake her.

"But it was much more your fault," he said savagely. "Do you remember
Drake?"

She shook her head; then she corrected herself.

"Oh, yes. Arthur Drake who lived next door to us."

"Well, I saw you in the garden from his window. You were being kissed by
some terrible bounder. That was jolly for me. Why did you do that?
Couldn't you say 'no'? Were you too lazy?"

Michael thought she moved closer to him as they danced.

"Answer me, will you; answer me, I say. Were you too lazy to resist, or
did you enjoy being cheapened by that insufferable brute you were
flirting with?"

Michael in his rage of remembrance twisted her hand. But she made no
gesture, nor uttered any sound of pain. Instead she sank closer to his
arms, and as the dance rolled on, he told himself triumphantly that,
while she was with him, she was his again.

What did the past matter?

"Ah, Lily, you love me still! I'll ask no more questions. Am I out of
step?"

"No, not now," she whispered, and he saw that her face was pale with the
swoon of their dancing.

"Take off that silly mask," he commanded. "Take it off and give it to
me. I can hold you with one arm."

She obeyed him, and with a tremendous exultation he swung her round, as
if indeed he were carrying her to the edge of the world. The mask no
longer veiled her face; her eyelids drooped, clouding her eyes; her
lips were parted: she was now dead white. Michael crooked her left arm
until he could touch her shoulder.

"Look at me. Look at me. The dance will soon be over."

She opened her eyes, and into their depths of dusky blue he danced and
danced until, waking with the end of the music, he found himself and
Lily close to Sylvia Scarlett, who was laughing at them where she stood
in the corner of the room under a canopy of holly.

Lily was for the rest of the evening herself as Michael had always known
her. She had always been superficially indifferent to anything that was
happening round her, and she behaved at this carnival as if it were a
street full of dull people among whom by chance she was walking. Nor
with her companions was she much more alert, though when she danced with
Michael her indifference became a passionate languor. Soon after
midnight both the girls declared they were tired of the Redcliffe Hall,
and they asked Michael to escort them home. He was going to fetch a cab,
but they stopped him, saying that Tinderbox Lane, where they lived, was
only a little way along on the other side of the Fulham Road. The fog
was very dense when they came out, and Michael took the girls' arms with
a delicious sense of intimacy, with a feeling, too, of extraordinary
freedom from the world, as if they were all three embarked upon an
adventure in this eclipse of fog. He had packed their shoes deep down in
the pockets of his overcoat, and with the possession of their shoes he
had a sensation of possessing the wearers of them. The fog was denser
and denser: they paused upon the edge of the curb, listening for
oncoming traffic. A distant omnibus was lumbering far down the Fulham
Road. Michael caught their arms close, and the three of them seemed to
sail across to the opposite pavement. He had nothing to say because he
was so happy, and Lily had nothing to say because she talked now no more
than she used to talk. So it was Sylvia who had to carry on the
conversation, and since most of this consisted of questions to Lily and
Michael about their former friendship, which neither Lily nor Michael
answered, even Sylvia was discouraged at last; and they walked on
silently through the fog, Michael clasping the girls close to him and
watching all the time Lily's hand holding up her big black cloak.

"Here we are, you two dreamers," said Sylvia, pulling them to a stop by
a narrow turning which led straight from the pavement unexpectedly,
without any dip down into a road.

"Through here? How fascinating!" said Michael.

They passed between two posts, and in another three minutes stopped in
front of a door set in a wall.

"I've got the key," said Sylvia, and she unlocked the door.

"But this is extraordinary," Michael exclaimed. "Aren't we walking
through a garden?"

"Yes, it's quite a long garden," Sylvia informed him. There was a smell
of damp earth here that sweetened the harshness of the fog, and Michael
thought that he had never imagined anything so romantic as following
Lily in single file along the narrow gravel path of a mysterious garden
like this. There must have been thirty yards of path, before they walked
up the steps of what seemed to be a sort of balcony.

"She's downstairs," said Sylvia, tapping upon a glass door with the key.
A woman's figure appeared with an orange-shaded lamp in the passage.

"Open quickly, Mrs. Gainsborough. We're frozen," Sylvia called. As the
woman opened the door, Sylvia went on in her deep voice:

"We've brought an old friend of Lily's back from the dance. It wasn't
really worth going to. Oh, I oughtn't to have said that, ought I?" she
laughed, turning round to Michael. "Come in and get warm. This is Mrs.
Gainsborough, who's the queen of cards."

"Get along with you, you great saucy thing," said Mrs. Gainsborough,
laughing.

She was a woman of enormous size with a triplication of chins. Her
crimson cheeks shone with the same glister as her black dress; and her
black hair, so black that it must have been dyed, was parted in the
middle and lay in a chignon upon her neck. She seemed all the larger,
sitting in this small room full of Victorian finery, and Michael was
amused to hear her address Sylvia as "great."

"We want something to eat and something to drink, you lovely old
mountain," Sylvia said.

Mrs. Gainsborough doubled herself up and smacked her knees in a tempest
of wheezy laughter.

"Sit here, you terrors, while I get the cloth on the dining-room table,"
and out she went, her laughter dying in sibilations along the diminutive
corridor. Lily had flung herself down in an armchair near the fire.
Behind her stood a small mahogany table on which was a glass case of
humming-birds; by her elbow on the wall was a white china bell coronated
with a filigree of gilt, and by chance the antimacassar on the chair was
of Berlin wool checkered black and blue. She in her pierrette's dress of
black with light blue pompons looked strangely remote from present time
in that setting. Michael could not connect this secluded house with
anything which had made an impression upon him during his experience of
the underworld. Here was nothing that was not cozy and old-fashioned;
here was no sign of decay, whether in the fabric of the house or in the
attitude of the people living there. This small square room with the
heavy furniture that occupied so much of the space had no demirep
demeanor. That horsehair sofa with lyre-shaped sides and back of
floriated wood; that brass birdcage hanging in the window against the
curtains of maroon serge; those cabinets in miniature, some lacquered,
some of plain wood with tiny drop-handles of brass; those black chairs
with seats of gilded cane; those trays with marquetery in
mother-of-pearl of wreaths and rivulets and parrots; that table-cloth
like a dish of black Sèvres; those simpering steel engravings--there was
nothing that did not bespeak the sobriety of the Victorian prime here
miraculously preserved. Lily and Sylvia in such dresses belonged to a
period of fantasy; Mrs. Gainsborough was in keeping with her furniture;
and Michael, as he looked at himself in the glass overmantel, did not
think that he was seeming very intrusive.

"Whose are these rooms?" he asked. Lily was adorable, but he did not
believe they were her creation or discovery.

"I found them," said Sylvia. "The old girl who owns the house is bad,
but beautiful. Aren't you, you most astonishing but attractive mammoth?"
This was addressed to Mrs. Gainsborough, who was at the moment panting
into the room for some accessory to the dining-table.

"Get along with you," the landlady chuckled. "Now don't go to sleep,
Lily. Your supper is just on ready." She went puffing from the room in
busy mirthfulness.

"She's one of the best," said Sylvia. "This house was given to her by an
old General who died about two years ago. You can see the painting of
him up in her bedroom as a dare-devil hussar with drooping whiskers. She
was a gay contemporary of the Albert Memorial. You know. Argyle Rooms
and Cremorne. With the Haymarket as the center of naughtiness."

It was funny, Michael thought, that his tobacconist should have
mentioned Cremorne only this afternoon. That he had done so affected him
more sharply now with a sense of the appropriateness of this house in
Tinderbox Lane. Appropriateness to what? Perhaps merely to the mood of
this foggy night.

"Supper! Supper!" Mrs. Gainsborough was crying.

It was dismaying for Michael to think that he had not kissed Lily yet,
and he wished that Sylvia would hurry ahead into the other room and give
him an opportunity. He wanted to pull her gently from that chair, up
from that chair into his arms. But Sylvia was the one who did so, and
she kissed Lily half fiercely, leaving Michael disconsolately to follow
them across the passage.

It was jolly to see Mrs. Gainsborough sitting at the head of the table
with the orange-shaded lamp throwing warm rays upon her countenance.
That it was near the chilly hour of one, with a cold thick fog outside,
was inconceivable when he looked at that cheery great porpoise of a
woman unscrewing bottles of India Pale Ale.

Michael did not want the questions about him and Lily to begin again. So
he turned the conversation upon a more remote past.

"Oh, my eye, my eye!" laughed Sylvia. "To think that Aunt Enormous was
once in the ballet at the Opera."

"How dare you laugh at me? Whoof!" Mrs. Gainsborough gave a sort of
muffled bark as her arm pounced out to grab Sylvia. The two of them
frisked with each other absurdly, while Lily sat with wide-open blue
eyes, so graceful even in that stiff chair close up to the table, that
Michael was in an ecstasy of admiration, and marveled gratefully at the
New Year's Day which could so change his fortune.

"Were you in the ballet?" he asked.

"Certainly I was, though this great teazing thing beside me would like
to make out that when I was eighteen I looked just as I do now."

"Show the kind gentleman your picture," said Sylvia. "She wears it round
her neck in a locket, the vain old mountebank."

Mrs. Gainsborough opened a gold locket, and Michael looked at a rosy
young woman in a pork-pie hat.

"That's myself," said Mrs. Gainsborough sentimentally. "Well, and I
always loved being young better than anything or anybody, so why
shouldn't I wear next my own heart myself as I used to be?"

"But show him the others," Sylvia demanded.

Mrs. Gainsborough fetched from a desk two daguerreotypes in stained
morocco cases lined with faded piece velvet. By tilting their surfaces
against the light could be seen the shadow of a portrait's wraith: a
girl appearing in pantalettes and tartan frock; a ballerina glimmering,
with points of faint celeste for eyes, and for cheeks the evanescence of
a ghostly bloom.

"Oh, look at her," cried Sylvia. "In her beautiful pantalettes!"

"Hold your tongue, you!"

They started again with their sparring and mock encounters, which lasted
on and off until supper was over. Then they all went back to the other
room and sat round the fire.

"Tell us about the General," said Sylvia.

"Go on, as if you hadn't heard a score of times all I've got to tell
about the General--though you know I hate him to be called that. He'll
always be the Captain to me."

Soon afterward, notwithstanding her first refusal, Mrs. Gainsborough
embarked upon tales of gay days in the 'sixties and 'seventies. It was
astonishing to think that this room in which they were sitting could
scarcely have changed since then.

"The dear Captain! He bought this house for me in eighteen-sixty-nine
before I was twenty, and I've lived in it ever since. Ah, dear! many's
the summer daybreak we've walked back here after dancing all night at
Cremorne. Such lovely lights and fireworks. Earl's Court is nothing to
Cremorne. Fancy their pulling it down as they did. But perhaps it's as
well it went, as all the old faces have gone. It would have given me the
dismals to be going there now without my Captain."

She went on with old tales of London, tales that had in them the very
smoke and grime of the city.

"Who knows what's going to happen when the clock strikes twelve?" she
said, shaking her head. "So enjoy yourselves while you can. That's my
motto. And if there's a hereafter, which good God forbid, I should be
very aggravated to find myself waltzing around as fat and funny as I am
now."

The old pagan, who had mellowed slowly with her house for company,
seemed to sit here hugging the old friend; and as she told her tales it
was difficult not to think she was playing hostess to the spirits of her
youths to ghostly Dundrearies and spectral belles with oval faces.
Michael could have listened all night to her reminiscences of dead
singers and dead dancers, of gay women become dust and of rakes
reformed, of beauties that were now hags, and of handsome young
subalterns grown parched and liverish. Sylvia egged her on from story to
story, and Lily lay languidly back in her chair. It must be after two
o'clock, and Michael rose to go.

"We'll have one song," cried Sylvia, and she pulled Mrs. Gainsborough to
the piano. The top of the instrument was hidden by stacked-up albums,
and the front of it was of fretted walnut-wood across a pleating of
claret-colored silk.

Mrs. Gainsborough, pounding with her fat fingers the keys that seemed in
comparison so frail and old, sang in a wheezy pipe of a voice: _The
Captain with his Whiskers took a Sly Glance at Me._

"But you only get me to do it, so as you can have a good laugh at me
behind my back," she declared, swinging round upon the stool to face
Sylvia when she had finished.

"Nothing of the sort, you fat old darling. We do it because we like it."

"Bless your heart, my dearie." She laid a hand on Sylvia's for an
instant. Michael thanked Mrs. Gainsborough for the entertainment, and
asked Sylvia if she thought he might come round to-morrow and take Lily
and her out to lunch.

"We can lunch to-morrow, can't we?" Sylvia asked, tugging at Lily's arm,
for she was now fast asleep.

"Is Michael going? Yes, we can lunch with him to-morrow," Lily yawned.

He promised to call for them about midday. It seemed ridiculous to shake
hands so formally with Lily, and he hoped she would suggest that the
outside door was difficult to open. Alas, it was Sylvia who came to
speed his departure.

The fog was welcome to Michael for his going home. At this hour of the
night there was not a sound of anything, and he could walk on, dreaming
undisturbed. He supposed he would arrive ultimately at Cheyne Walk. But
he did not care. He would have been content to fill the long winter
night with his fancies. Plunging his hands down into the pockets of his
overcoat, he discovered that he had forgotten to take out the girls'
shoes, and what company they were through the gloom! It was a most
fascinating experience, to wander along holding these silky slippers
which had twinkled through the evening of this night. Not a cab-horse
blew a frosty breath by the curb; not a policeman loomed; nor passer-by
nor cat offended his isolation. The London night belonged to him; his
only were the footsteps echoing back from the invisible houses on either
side; and the golden room in Tinderbox Lane was never more than a few
yards in front.

He had found Lily at last, and he held her shoes for a token of his good
luck. Let no one tell him again that destiny was a fable. Nothing was
ever more deliberately foredoomed than the meeting at that carnival.
Michael was so grateful to his tobacconist that he determined to buy all
sorts of extravagant pipes and cigarette holders he had fingered vaguely
from time to time in the shop. For a while Lily's discovery was colored
with such a glamour that Michael did not analyze the situation in which
he had found her. Walking back to Chelsea through the fog, he was
bemused by the romantic memory of her which was traveling along with his
thoughts. He could hold very tightly her shoes: he could almost embrace
the phantom of her beauty that curled upon the vapors round each lamp:
he was intoxicated merely by the sound of the street where she lived.

"Tinderbox Lane! Tinderbox Lane! Tinderbox Lane!"

He sang it in triumph, remembering how only this morning he had sighed
to himself, as he chased the telegraph-wires up and down the window of
the railway-carriage: "Where is she? Where is she? Where is she?"

"Tinderbox Lane! Tinderbox Lane! Tinderbox Lane!" he chanted at the fog,
and, throwing a slipper into the air, he caught it and ran on
ridiculously until he bumped into a policeman standing by the corner.

"I'm awfully sorry, constable."

"Feeling a bit happy, sir, aren't you?"

"Frightfully happy. I say, by the by, happy new year, constable. Drink
my health when you're off duty."

He pressed half-a-crown into the policeman's hand, and as he left the
stolid form behind him in the fog, he remembered that half-a-crown was
the weekly blackmail paid by Mrs. Smith of Leppard Street. He was on the
Embankment now, and the fog had lifted so that he saw the black river
flowing sullenly through the night. The plane-trees dripped with
monotonous beads of dankness. The fog was become a mist here, a frore
whitish mist that saturated him with a malignant chill. Michael was glad
to find himself looking at the dolphin-headed knocker of 173 Cheyne
Walk. The effect of being in his own bedroom again, even though the
girls' shoes lay fantastically upon the floor, was at first to make him
believe that Tinderbox Lane might have been a dream, and after that,
because he knew it was not a dream, to wonder about it.

Yet not even now in this austere and icy bedroom of his own could
Michael feel that there was anything really wrong about that small
house. It still preserved for him an illusion of sobriety and stability,
almost of primness, yet of being rich with a demure gaiety. Mrs.
Gainsborough, however, was scarcely a chaperone. Nor was she very
demure. And who was Sylvia? And what was Lily doing there? It would have
been mysterious, that household, in any case, but was it necessary to
assume that there was anything wrong? Sylvia was obviously a girl of
high spirits. He had asked her no questions about herself. She might be
on the stage. For fun, or perhaps because of their landlady's kindling
stories, Sylvia might have persuaded Lily to come once or twice to the
Orient. It did not follow that there was anything wrong. There had been
nothing wrong in that carnival. Michael's heart leaped with the fancy
that he was not too late. That would indeed crown this romantic night;
and, picking up Lily's shoe, he held it for a while, wondering about its
secrets.

In the morning the fog had turned to a drench of dull January rain; but
Michael greeted the outlook as cheerfully as if it had been perfect May
weather. He went first to a post office to send off the money he had
promised to Mrs. Smith and the Solutionist. After this discharge of
business, he felt more cheerful than ever, and, as if to capture the
final touch of fantasy necessary to bewitch yesterday night, he suddenly
realized, when he was hurrying along Fulham Road in the rain, that he
had no idea of the number of Mrs. Gainsborough's house. He also began to
wonder if there really could be such a place as Tinderbox Lane, and as
he walked on without discovering any indication of its existence, he
wondered if Sylvia had invented the name, so that he might never find
her and Lily again. It was an uneasy thought, for without a number and
without a name--but just as he was planning an elaborate way to discover
the real name of the street, he saw in front of him Tinderbox Lane
enameled in the ordinary characters of municipal direction. Here were
the two posts: here was the narrow entrance. The rumble of the traffic
grew fainter. On one side was a high blank wall; on the other a row of
two-storied houses. They were naturally dwellings of the poorer classes,
but at intervals a painter had acquired one, and had painted it white or
affixed green shutters with heart-shaped openings. The width of the
pavement varied continually, but generally at the beginning it was very
narrow. Later on, however, it became wide enough to allow trees to be
planted down the middle. Beyond this part was a block of new flats round
which Tinderbox Lane narrowed again to a mere alley looking now rather
dank and gloomy in the rain. Michael could not remember from last night
in the fog either the trees or the flats. The door of Lily's lodging had
been set in a wall: here on one side was certainly a wall, but never a
door to relieve the grimy blankness. He began to feel discouraged, and
he walked round into the narrow alley behind the flats. Here were doors
in the wall at last, and Michael examined each of them in turn. Two were
dark blue: one was green: one was brown. 74: 75: 76: 77. He chose 77
because it was farthest away from the flats. After a very long wait, an
old woman holding over herself a very large umbrella opened it.

"Mrs. Gainsborough ...?" Michael began.

But the old woman had slammed the door before he could finish his
inquiry.

Michael rang the bell of 76, and again he waited a long time. At last
the door was opened, and to his relief he saw Mrs. Gainsborough herself
under a green and much larger umbrella than the old woman's next door.

"I've come to take the girls out to lunch."

"That's a good boy," she wheezed. "The dearies will be glad to get out
and enjoy themselves a bit. Here's a day. This would have suited Noah,
wouldn't it?"

She was leading the way up the gravel path, and Michael saw that in the
garden-beds there were actually Christmas roses in bloom. The house
itself was covered with a mat of Virginia creeper and jasmine, and the
astonishing rusticity of it was not at all diminished by the pretentious
gray houses of the next road which towered above it behind, nor even in
front by the flats with their eruption of windows. These houses with
doors in their garden-walls probably all belonged to individuals, and
for that reason they had escaped being overwhelmed by the development of
the neighborhood twenty years ago. Their four long gardens in a row must
be a bower of greenery in summer, and it was sad to think that the flats
opposite were no doubt due to the death of someone who had owned a
similar house and garden.

Michael remembered the balcony in front with steps on either side.
Underneath this he now saw that there was another entrance, evidently to
the kitchen. Two fairly large trees were planted in the grass that ran
up to the house on either side of the balcony.

"Those are my mulberries," said Mrs. Gainsborough. "This is called
Mulberry Cottage. I've been meaning to have the name painted on the
outside door for nearly forty years, but I always forget. There's a
character to give myself. Ah, dear me! The Captain loved his mulberries.
But you ought to see this in the springtime. Well, my flowers are really
remarkable. But there, it's not to be wondered at. M' father was a
nursery gardener."

She looked round at Michael and winked broadly. He could not think why.
Possibly it was a comic association in her mind with the behavior of the
Captain in carrying her off from such a home.

"The Duke of Fulham to see you, girls," she wheezed at the door of the
sitting-room, and, giving Michael a push, retreated with volleys of
bronchial laughter. The girls were sitting in front of the fire. Lily
was pretending to trim a hat: Sylvia was reading, but she flung her book
down as Michael entered. He had the curiosity to look at the title, and
found it was the Contes Drôlatiques of Balzac. An unusual girl, he
thought: but his eyes were all for Lily, and because he could not kiss
her, he felt shy and stupid. However, the shoes, which he now restored,
supplied an immediate topic, and he was soon perfectly at ease again.
Presently the girls left him to get ready to go out, and he sat thinking
of Lily, while the canary chirped in the brass cage. The silence here
was very like the country. London was a thousand miles away, and he
could hear Lily and Sylvia moving about overhead. Less and less did he
think there could be anything wrong with Mulberry Cottage. Yet the
apparent security was going to make it rather difficult to take Lily
away. Certainly he could ask her to marry him at once; but she might not
want to marry him at once. The discovery of her in this pleasant house
with a jolly friend was spoiling the grand swoop of rescue which he had
planned. She would not presumably be escaping from a situation she
abhorred. It was difficult to approach Lily here. Was it Sylvia who was
making it difficult? He must talk to Sylvia and explain that he had no
predatory intentions. She would surely be glad that he wanted to marry
Lily. Or would she not? Michael jumped up and tinkled the lusters on the
mantelshelf. "Sweet," said the canary in the brass cage: the rain
sizzled without. Faintly pervading this small square room was the
malaise of someone's jealousy. The tentative solution that was
propounding itself did not come from his own impression of Sylvia, but
it seemed positively to be an emanation from the four walls of the room
which in the stillness was able to force its reality upon him. "Sweet,"
said the canary: the lusters stopped their tinkling: the rain sizzled
steadily outside.

Lunch at Kettner's was a great success. At least Michael thought it was
a great success, because Lily looked exquisite against the bronzy walls,
and her hair on this dull day seemed not to lack sunlight, but rather to
give to the atmosphere a thought of the sun, the rare and wintry sun.
Sylvia talked a great deal in her deep voice, and he was conscious that
the other people in the restaurant were turning round to envy their
table.

The longer that Michael was in the company of Lily and Sylvia, the less
he was able to ask the direct questions that would have been
comparatively easy at the beginning. Sylvia, by the capacity she
displayed of appreciating worldliness without ever appearing worldly
herself, made it impossible for him to risk her contempt by a stupid
question. She was not on the stage; so much he had discovered. She and
Lily had apparently a number of men friends. That fact would have been
disquieting, but that Sylvia talked of them with such a really
tomboyish zest as made it impossible to suppose they represented more
than what they were superficially, the companions of jolly days on the
river and at race-meetings, of jolly evenings at theaters and balls.
Quite definitely Michael was able to assure himself that out of the host
of allusions there was not one which pointed to any man favored above
the rest. He was able to be positive that Lily and Sylvia were
independent. Yet Lily had no private allowance or means. It must be
Sylvia who was helping her. Perhaps Sylvia was always strict, and
perhaps all these friends were by her held at arm's length from Lily, as
he felt himself being held now. Her attitude might have nothing to do
with jealousy. But Sylvia was not strict in her conversation; she was,
indeed, exceptionally free. That might be a good sign. A girl who read
the Contes Drôlatiques might easily read Rabelais himself, and a girl
who read Rabelais would be inviolable. Michael, when Sylvia had said
something particularly broad, used to look away from Lily; and yet he
knew he need not have bothered, for Lily was always outside the
conversation; always under a spell of silence and remoteness. Of what
was she forever thinking? There were looking-glasses upon the bronzy
walls.

For a fortnight Michael came every day to Tinderbox Lane and took the
girls out; but for the whole of that fortnight he never managed to be
alone with Lily. Then one day Sylvia was not there when he called. To
find Lily like this after a tantalizing fortnight was like being in a
room heavily perfumed with flowers. It seemed to stifle his initiative,
so that for a few minutes he sat coldly and awkwardly by the window.

"We're alone," he managed to say at last.

"Sylvia's gone to Brighton. She didn't want to go a bit."

"Bother Sylvia! Lily, we haven't kissed for five years."

He stumbled across to take her in his arms; and as he held her to him,
it was a rose falling to pieces, so did she melt upon his passion. He
heard her sigh; a coal slipped in the grate; the canary hopped from
perch to perch. These small sounds but wrapped him more closely in the
trance of silence.

"Lily, you will marry me, won't you? Very soon? At once?"

Michael was kneeling beside her chair, and she was looking down at him
from clouded eyes still passionate. Marriage was an intrusion upon the
remoteness where they brooded; and he, ravished by their flamy blue
relucency, could not care whether she answered him or not. This was such
a contentment of desire that the future with the visible shapes of
action it tried to display was unheeded, while now she stirred in his
arms. She was his, and so for an hour she stayed, immortal, and yet most
poignantly the prisoner of time. Michael, with all that he had dreaded
at the back of his mind he would have to face in her condition, scarcely
knew how to celebrate this reward of his tenacity. This tranquillity of
caresses, this slow fondling of her wrist were a lullaby to his fears.
It was the very rhapsody of his intention to kneel beside her, murmuring
huskily the little words of love. He would have married her wherever and
whatever he found her, but the relief was overwhelming. He had thought
of a beautiful thing ruined; he had foreshadowed glooms and tragic
colloquies; he had desperately hoped his devotion might be granted at
least the virtue of a balm. Instead, he found this ivory girl, this
loveliness of rose and coral within his arms. So many times she had
eluded him in dreams upon the midway of the night, and so often in
dreams he had held her for kisses that were robbed from him by the
sunlight of the morning, that he scarcely could believe he held her
now, now when her hair was thistledown upon his cheeks, when her mouth
was a butterfly. He shuddered to think how soon this airy beauty must
have perished; and even now what was she? A shred of goldleaf on his
open hand, pliant, but fugitive at a breath, and destructible in a
moment of adversity.

Always in their youth, when they had sat imparadised, Michael had been
aware of the vulgar Haden household in the background. Now, here she was
placed in exactly the room where he would have wished to find her,
though he would scarcely desire to maintain her in such a setting. He
could picture her at not so distant a time in wonderful rooms, about
whose slim furniture she would move in delicate and languorous
promenades. This room pleased him, because it was the one from which he
would have wished to take her into the misty grandeurs he imagined for
her lodging. It was a room he would always regard with affection,
thinking of the canary in the brass cage and the Christmas roses blowing
in the garden and the low sounds of Mrs. Gainsborough busy in her
kitchen underneath. Tinderbox Lane! It was an epithalamium in itself;
and as for Mulberry Cottage, it had been carried here by the fat pink
loves painted on the ceiling of that Cremorne arbor in which the Captain
had first imagined his gift.

So with fantastic thoughts and perfect kisses, perfect but yet ineffably
vain because they expressed so little of what Michael would have had
them express, the hour passed.

"We must talk of practical things," he declared, rising from his knees.

"You always want to talk," Lily pouted.

"I want to marry you. Do you want to marry me?"

"Yes; but it's so difficult to do things quickly."

"We'll be married in a month. We'll be married on Saint Valentine's
Day," Michael announced.

"It's so wet now to think of weddings." She looked peevishly out of the
window.

"You haven't got to think about it. You've got to do it."

"And it's so dull," she objected. "Sylvia says it's appallingly dull.
And she's been married."

"What has Sylvia got to do with it?" he demanded.

"Oh, well, she's been awfully sweet to me. And after all, when mother
died, what was I to do? I couldn't bear Doris any more. She always gets
on my nerves. Anyway, don't let's talk about marriage now. In the summer
I shall feel more cheerful. I hate this weather."

"But look here," he persisted. "Are you in love with me?"

She nodded, yet too doubtfully to please him.

"Well, if you're not in love with me...."

"Oh, I am, I am! Don't shout so, Michael. If I wasn't awfully fond of
you, I shouldn't have made Sylvia ask you to come back. She hates men
coming here."

"Are you Sylvia's servant?" said Michael, in exasperation.

"Don't be stupid. Of course not."

"It's ridiculous," he grumbled, "to quote her with every sentence."

"Why you couldn't have stayed where you were," said Lily fretfully, "I
don't know. It was lovely sitting by the fire and being kissed. If
you're so much in love with me, I wonder you wanted to get up."

"So, we're not to talk any more about marriage?"

After all, he told himself, it was unreasonable of him to suppose that
Lily was likely to be as impulsive as himself. Her temperament was not
the same. She did not mean to discourage him.

"Don't let's talk about anything," said Lily. He could not stand aloof
from the arms she held wide open.

Sylvia would not be coming back for at least three days, and Michael
spent all his time with Lily. He thought that Mrs. Gainsborough looked
approvingly upon their love; at any rate, she never worried them. The
weather was steadily unpleasant, and though he took Lily out to lunch,
it never seemed worth while to stay away from Tinderbox Lane very long.
One night, however, they went to the Palace, and afterward, when he
asked her where she would like to go, she suggested Verrey's. Michael
had never been there before, and he was rather jealous that Lily should
seem to know it so well. However, he liked to see her sitting in what he
told himself was the only café in London which had escaped the
cheapening of popularity and had kept its old air of the Third Empire.

As Lily was stirring her lemon-squash, her languid forearm looked very
white swaying from the somber mufflings of her cloak. Something in her
self-possession, a momentary hardness and disdain, made Michael suddenly
suspicious.

"Do you enjoy Covent Garden balls?" he asked.

She shrugged her shoulders.

"It depends who we go with. Often I don't care for them much. And the
girls you see there are frightfully common."

He could not bring himself to ask her straight out what he feared. If it
were so, let it rest unrevealed. The knowledge would make no difference
to his resolution. People began to come into the café, shaking the wet
from their shoulders; and the noise of the rain was audible above the
conversation.

"I wish we could have had one fine day together," said Michael
regretfully. "Do you remember when we used to go for long walks in the
winter?"

"I must have been very fond of you," Lily laughed. "I don't think you
could make me walk like that now."

"Aren't you so fond of me now?" he asked reproachfully.

"You ought to know," she whispered.

All the way home the raindrops were flashing in the road like bayonets,
and her cheeks were dabbled with the wet.

"Shall I come in?" Michael asked, as he waited by the door in the wall.

"Yes, come in and have something to drink, of course."

He was stabbed by the ease of her invitation.

"Do you ask all these friends of yours to come in and have a drink after
midnight?"

"I told you that Sylvia doesn't like me to," she said.

"But you would, if she didn't mind?" Michael went on, torturing himself.

"How fond you are of 'ifs,'" she answered. "I can't bother to think
about 'ifs' myself."

If only he had the pluck to avoid allusions and come at once to grips
with truth. Sharply he advised himself to let the truth alone. Already
he was feeling the influence of Lily's attitude. He wondered if, when he
married her, all his activity would swoon upon Calypso like this. It was
as easy to dream life away in the contemplation of a beautiful woman as
in the meditation of the Oxford landscape.

"Happiness makes me inactive," said Michael to himself. "So of course I
shall never really be happy. What a paradox."

He would not take off his overcoat. He was feeling afraid of a surrender
to-night.

"I'm glad I didn't suggest staying late," he thought, as he walked away
down the dripping garden path. "I should have been mad with unreasonable
suspicions, if she had said 'yes.'"

Sylvia came back next day, and though Michael still liked her very much,
he was certain now of her hostility to him. He was conscious of malice
in the air, when she said to Lily that Jack wanted them to have dinner
with him to-night and go afterward to some dance at Richmond. Michael
was furious that Lily should be invited to Richmond, and yet until she
had promised to marry him how could he combat Sylvia's influence? And
who was Jack? And with whom had Sylvia been to Brighton?

The day after the dance, Michael came round about twelve o'clock as
usual, but when he reached the sitting-room only Sylvia was before the
fire.

"Lily isn't down yet," she told him.

He was aware of a breathlessness in the atmosphere, and he knew that he
and Sylvia were shortly going to clash.

"Jolly dance?" he asked.

She shrugged her shoulders, and there was a long pause.

"Will Lily be dressed soon? I rather want to take her out." Michael
flung down his challenge.

"She's been talking to me about what you said yesterday," Sylvia began.

Michael could not help liking her more and more, although her
countenance was set against him. He could not help admiring that
out-thrust underlip and those wide-set, deep and bitter brown eyes.

"When do you propose to marry her?" Sylvia went on.

"As soon as possible," he said coolly.

"Which of us do you think has the greater influence over her?" she
demanded.

"I really don't know. You have rather an advantage over me in that
respect."

"I'm glad you admit that," interrupted Sylvia, with sarcastic chill.

"You have personality. You've probably been very kind to Lily. You're
cleverer than she is. You're with her all the time. I've only quite
suddenly come into her life again."

"I'm glad you think you've managed to do that," she said, glowering.

More and more, Michael thought, with her wide-set eyes was she like a
cat crouching by the fire.

"Just because I had to go away for three days and you had an opportunity
to be alone with Lily, you now think you've come into her life. My god,
you're like some damned fool in a novel!"

"A novel by whom?" Michael asked. Partly he was trying to score off
Sylvia, but at the same time he was sincerely curious to know, for he
never could resist the amplification of a comparison.

"Oh, any ink-slinger with a brain of pulp," she answered savagely.

He bowed.

"I suppose you're suffering from the virus of sentimental redemption?"
she sneered.

Michael was rather startled by her divination.

"What should I redeem her from?"

"I thought you boasted of knowing Lily six years ago?"

"I don't know that I boasted of it," he replied, in rather an injured
tone. "But I did know her--very well."

"Couldn't you foresee what she was bound to become? Personally I should
have said that Lily's future must have been obvious from the time she
was five years old. Certainly at seventeen it must have been. You got
out of her life then: what the hell's your object in coming into it
again now, as you call it, unless you're a sentimentalist? People don't
let passion lapse for six years and pick up the broken thread without
the help of sentiment."

Michael in the middle of the increasing tension of the conversation was
able to stop for a moment and ask himself if this by chance were true.
He was standing by the mantelpiece and tinkling the lusters. Sylvia
looked up at him irritably, and he silenced them at once.

"Sentiment about what?" he asked, taking the chair opposite hers.

"You think Lily's a tart, don't you? And you think I am, don't you?"

He frowned at the brutality of the expression.

"I did think so," he said. "But of course I've changed my mind since
I've seen something of you."

"Oh, of course you've changed your mind, have you?" she laughed
contemptuously. "And what made you do that? My visit to Brighton?"

"Even if _you_ are," said Michael hotly, "I needn't believe that Lily
is. And even if she is, it makes no difference to my wanting to marry
her."

"Sentimentalist," she jeered. "Damned sugar-and-water sentimentalist."

"Your sneers don't particularly affect me, you know," he said politely.

"Oh, for god's sake, be less the well-brought-up little gentleman. Cut
out the undergraduate. You fool, I was married to an Oxford man. And I'm
sitting here now with the glorious knowledge that I'm a perpetual
bugbear to his good form."

"Because you made a hash of marriage," Michael pointed out, "it doesn't
follow that I'm not to marry Lily. I can't understand your objections."

"Listen. You couldn't make her happy. You couldn't make her any happier
than the dozens of men who want to be fond of her for a short time
without accepting the responsibility of marriage. Do you think I let any
one of those dozens touch her? Not one, if I can get the money myself.
And I usually can. Well, why should I stand aside now and let you carry
her off, even though you do want to marry her? I could argue against it
on your side by telling you that you have no chance of keeping Lily
faithful to you? Can't you see that she has no moral energy? Can't you
see that she's vain and empty-headed? Can't you see that? But why should
I argue with you for your benefit? I don't care a damn about your side
in the matter."

"What exactly do you care about?" Michael asked. "If Lily is what you
say, I should have thought you'd be glad to be rid of her. After all,
I'm not proposing to do her any wrong."

"Oh, to the devil with your right and wrong!" Sylvia cried. "Man can
only wrong woman, when he owns her, and if this marriage is going to be
a success, you'll have to own Lily. That's what I rebel against--the
ownership of women. It makes me mad."

"Yes, it seems to," Michael put in. He was beginning to be in a rage
with Sylvia's unreasonableness. "If it comes to ownership," he went on
angrily, "I should have thought that handing her over to the highest
bidder time after time would be the real way to make her the pitiable
slave of man."

"Why?" challenged Sylvia. "You sentimental ass, can't you understand
that she treats them as I treat them, like the swine they are. She's
free. I'm free."

"You're not at all free," Michael indignantly contradicted. "You're
bound hand and foot by the lust of wealthy brutes. If you read a few
less elaborately clever books, and thought a few simpler thoughts, you'd
be a good deal happier."

"I don't want to be happier."

"Oh, I think you're merely hysterical," he said disdainfully. "But,
after all, your opinions about yourself don't matter to me. Only I
can't see what right you have to apply them to Lily; and even if you
have the right, I don't grasp your reason for wanting to."

"When I met Lily first," said Sylvia, "she had joined the chorus of a
touring company in which I was. Her mother had just died, and I'd just
run away from my husband. I thought her the most beautiful thing I'd
ever seen. That's three years ago. Is she beautiful still?"

"Of course she is," said Michael.

"Well, it's I who have kept her beautiful. I've kept her free also. If
sometimes I've let her have affairs with men, I've taken care that they
were with men who could do her no harm, for whom she had no sort of...."

"Look here," Michael burst in. "I'm sick of this conversation. You're
talking like a criminal lunatic. I tell you I'm going to marry her,
whatever you think."

"I say you won't, and you shan't," Sylvia declared.

The deadlock had been reached, and they sat there on either side of the
fire, glaring at each other.

"The extraordinary thing is," said Michael at last, "I thought you had a
sense of humor when I first met you. And another extraordinary thing is
that I still like you very much. Which probably rather annoys you. But I
can't help saying it."

"The opinions of sentimentalists don't interest me one way or the
other," Sylvia snapped.

"Will you answer one question? Will you tell me why you were so pleasant
on the evening we met?"

"I really can't bother to go back as far as that."

"You weren't jealous _then_," Michael persisted.

"Who says I'm jealous now?" she cried.

"I do. What do you think you are, unless you're jealous? When is Lily
coming down?"

"She isn't coming down until you've gone."

"Then I shall go and call her."

"She's not in London."

"I don't believe you."

A second deadlock was reached. Finally Michael decided to give Sylvia
the pleasure of supposing that he was beaten for the moment. He
congratulated himself upon the cunning of such a move. She was obviously
going to be rather difficult to circumvent.

On the steps of the balcony he turned to her:

"You hate me because I love Lily, and you hate me twice as much because
Lily loves me."

"It's not true," Sylvia declared. "It's not true. She doesn't love you,
and what right have you to love her?"

She tossed back her mane of brown hair, biting her nails.

"What college was your husband at?" Michael suddenly inquired.

"Balliol."

"I wonder if I knew him."

"Oh, no. He was older than you."

It was satisfactory, Michael thought as he walked down Tinderbox Lane,
that the conversation had ended normally. At least, he had effected so
much. She had really been rather wonderful, that strange Sylvia. He
would very much like to pit her against Stella. It was satisfactory to
have his doubts allayed: notwithstanding her present opposition, he felt
that he did owe Sylvia a good deal. But it would be absurd to let Lily
continue in such a life: women always quarreled ultimately, and if
Sylvia were to leave her, her fall would be rapid and probably
irredeemable. Besides, he wanted her for himself. She was to him no less
than to Sylvia the most beautiful thing in the world. He did not want to
marry a clever woman: he would be much more content with Lily, from whom
there could be no reaction upon his nerves. Somehow all his theories of
behavior were being referred back to his own desires. It was useless to
pretend any longer that his pursuit had been quixotry. Even if it had
seemed so on that night when he first heard the news of Lily from Drake,
the impulse at the back of his resolve had been his passion for her.
When he looked back at his behavior lately, a good deal of it seemed to
have been dictated by self-gratification. He remembered how deeply hurt
he had felt by Poppy's treatment of what he had supposed his chivalry.
In retrospect his chivalry was seeming uncommonly like self-satisfaction.
His friendship for Daisy; for Barnes; for the underworld; it had been
nothing but self-satisfaction. Very well, then. If self was to be the
touchstone in future, he could face that standard as easily as any
other. By the time he had reached the end of Tinderbox Lane Michael was
convinced of his profound cynicism. He felt truly obliged to Sylvia for
curing him of sentiment. He had so often inveighed against sentiment as
the spring of human action, that he was most sincerely grateful for the
proof of his own sentimental bias. He would go to Sylvia to-morrow and
say frankly that he did not care a bit what Lily had been, was now, or
would be; he wanted her. She was something beautiful which he coveted.
For the possession of her he was ready to struggle. He would declare war
upon Sylvia as upon a rival. She should be rather surprised to-morrow
morning, Michael thought, congratulating himself upon this new and
ruthless policy.

On the next morning, however, all Michael's plans for his future
behavior were knocked askew by being unable to get into Mulberry
Cottage. His brutal frankness; his cynical egotism; his cold resolution,
were ignominiously repulsed by a fast-closed door. Ringing a bell at
intervals of a minute was a very undignified substitute for the position
he had imagined himself taking up in that small square room. This
errand-boy who stood at his elbow, gazing with such rapt interest at
his ringing of the bell, was by no means the audience he had pictured.

"Does it amuse you to watch a bell being rung?" Michael asked.

The errand-boy shook his head.

"Well, why do you do it?"

"I wasn't," said the errand-boy.

"What are you doing, then?"

"Nothing."

Michael could not grapple with the errand-boy, and he retired from
Tinderbox Lane until after lunch. He rang again, but he could get no
answer to his ringing. At intervals until midnight he came back, but
there was never an answer all the time. He went home and wrote to
Sylvia:

     173 CHEYNE WALK,

     S.W.

     Dear Sylvia,

     If you aren't afraid of being beaten, why are you afraid to let me
     see Lily?

     I dare you to let me see her. Be sporting.

     Yours,

     M. F.

To Lily he wrote:

     Darling,

     Meet me outside South Kensington Station any time from twelve to
     three.

     Michael.

     Alone, of course.

Next day he waited three hours and a half for Lily, but she did not
come. All the time he spent in a second-hand bookshop with one eye on
the street. When he got home, he found a note from Sylvia:

     Come to-morrow at twelve.

     S. S.

Michael crumpled up the note and flung it triumphantly into the
waste-paper basket.

"I thought I should sting you into giving way," he exclaimed.

Mrs. Gainsborough opened the door to him, when he arrived.

"They've gone away, the demons!" was what she said.

Michael was conscious of the garden rimmed with hoar-frost stretching
behind her in a vista; and as he stared at this silver sparkling desert
he realized that Sylvia had inflicted upon him a crushing humiliation.

"Where have they gone?" he asked blankly.

"Oh, they never tell me where they get to. But they took their luggage.
There's a note for you from Sylvia. Come in, and I'll give it to you."

Michael followed her drearily along the gravel path.

"We shall be having the snowdrops before we know where we are," Mrs.
Gainsborough said.

"Very soon," he agreed. He would have assented if she had foretold
begonias to-morrow morning.

In the sitting-room Michael saw Sylvia's note, a bleak little envelope
waiting for him on that table-cloth. Mrs. Gainsborough left him to read
it alone. The old silence of the room haunted him again now, the silence
that was so much intensified by the canary hopping about his cage.
Almost he decided to throw the letter unread into the fire.

From every corner of the room the message of Sylvia's hostility was
stretching out toward him. "Sweet," said the canary. Michael tore open
the envelope and read:

     Perhaps you'll admit that my influence is as strong as yours. You'd
     much better give her up. In a way, I'm rather sorry for you, but
     not enough to make me hand over Lily to you. Do realize, my dear
     young thing, that you aren't even beginning to understand women. I
     admit that there's precious little to understand in Lily. And for
     that very reason, when even you begin to see through her beauty,
     you'll hate her. Now _I_ hate to think of this happening. She's a
     thousand times better off with me than she ever could be with you.
     Perhaps my maternal instinct has gone off the lines a bit and fixed
     itself on Lily. And yet I don't think it's anything so sickly as
     sentimental mothering. No, I believe I just like to sit and look at
     her. Lily's rather cross with me for taking her away from "such a
     nice boy." Does that please you? And doesn't it exactly describe
     you? However, I won't crow. Don't break the lusters, when you read
     this. They belong to Fatty. What I suggest for you is a walk in
     Kensington Gardens to the refrain of "Blast the whole bloody
     world!" Now look shocked, my little Vandyck.

     S. S.

Michael tore the letter up. He did not want to read and re-read it for
the rest of the day. His eyelids were pricking unpleasantly, and he went
out to find Mrs. Gainsborough. He was really sensitive that even a room
should witness such a discomfiture. The landlady was downstairs in the
kitchen, where he had not yet been. In this room of copper pots and
pans, with only the garden in view, she might have been a farmer's wife.

"Sit down," she said. "And make yourself at home."

"Will you sit down?" Michael asked.

"Oh, well, yes, if it's any pleasure to you." She took off her apron and
seated herself, smoothing the bombasine skirt over her knees.

A tabby cat purred between them; a kettle was singing; and there was a
smell of allspice.

"You really don't know where the girls have gone?" Michael began.

"No more than you do," she assured him. "But that Sylvia is really a
Turk."

"I suppose Lily didn't tell you that I used to know her six years ago?"
he asked.

"Oh, yes, she talked about you a lot. A good deal more than Miss Sylvia
liked, that's a sure thing."

"Well, do you think it's fair for Sylvia to carry her off like this? I
want to marry Lily, Mrs. Gainsborough."

"There, only fancy what a daring that Sylvia has. She's a nice girl, and
very high-spirited, but she _is_ a Miss Dictatorial."

Michael felt encouraged by Mrs. Gainsborough's attitude, and he made up
his mind to throw himself upon her mercy. Sentiment would be his only
weapon, and he found some irony in the reflection that he had set out
this morning to be a brutal cynic in his treatment of the situation.

"Do you think it's fair to try to prevent Lily from marrying me? You
know as well as I do that the life she's leading now isn't going to be
the best life possible for her. You're a woman of the world, Mrs.
Gainsborough----"

"I was once," she corrected. "And a very naughty world it was, too."

"You were glad, weren't you, when the Captain brought you to this house?
You were glad to feel secure? You would have married him?"

"No, I wouldn't marry him. I preferred to be as I am. Still that's
nothing for Lily to go by. She's more suited for marriage than what I
was."

"Don't you think," Michael went on eagerly, "that if after six years I'm
longing to marry her, I ought to marry her? I know that she might be
much worse off than she is, but equally she might be much better off.
Look here, Mrs. Gainsborough, it's up to you. You've got to make it
possible for me to see her. You've got to."

"But if I do anything like that," said Mrs. Gainsborough, "it means I
have an unpleasantness with Sylvia. That girl's a regular heathen when
she turns nasty. I should be left all alone in my little house. And what
with Spring coming on and all, and the flowers looking so nice in the
garden, I should feel very much the square peg in the round hole."

"Lily and I would come and see you," he promised. "And I don't think
Sylvia would leave you. She'd never find another house like Mulberry
Cottage or another landlady like you."

"Yes, I daresay; but you can't tell these things. Once she's in her
tantrums, there's no saying what will happen. And, besides, I don't know
what you want me to do."

"I want you to send me word the first moment that Lily's alone for an
hour; and when I ring, do answer the bell."

"Now that wasn't my fault yesterday," said Mrs. Gainsborough. "Really I
thought we should have the fire-escape in. The way you nagged at that
poor bell! It was really chronic. But would she let me so much as speak
to you, even with the door only on the jar? Certainly not! And all the
time she was snapping round the house like a young crocodile. And yet
I'm really fond of that girl. Well, when the Captain died, she was a
daughter to me. Oh, she was, she was really a daughter to me. Well, you
see, his sister invited me to the funeral, which I thought was very
nice, her being an old maid and very strict. Now, I hardly liked to put
on a widow's cap and yet I hardly didn't like to. But Sylvia, she said
not on any account, and I was very glad I didn't, because there was a
lot of persons there very stand-offish, and I should have been at my
wits to know whatever I was going to say."

"Look here," said Michael. "When the Captain gave you this house, he
loved you. You were young, weren't you? You were young and beautiful?
Well, would you like to think your house was going to be used to
separate two people very much in love with each other? You can say I
climbed over the wall. You can make any excuse you like to Sylvia. But,
Mrs. Gainsborough, do, do let me know when Lily is going to be alone. If
she doesn't want to come away with me, it will be my fault, and that
will be the end of it. If only you'll help me at the beginning. Will
you? Will you promise to help me?"

"I never could resist a man," sighed Mrs. Gainsborough, with
resignation. "There's a character! Oh, well, it's my own and no one
else's, that's one good job."

Michael had to wait until February was nearly over before he heard from
her. It had been very difficult to remain quietly at Cheyne Walk, but he
knew that if he were to show any sign of activity, Sylvia would carry
Lily off again.

"A person to see you, sir," said the tortoise-mouthed parlormaid.

Michael found Mrs. Gainsborough sitting in the hall. She was wearing a
bonnet tied with very bright cerise ribbons.

"They've had a rumpus, the pair of them, this afternoon. And Sylvia's
gone off in the sulks. I really was quite aggravated with her. Oh, she's
a willful spitfire, that girl, sometimes. She really is."

Michael was coming away without a coat or hat, and Mrs. Gainsborough
stopped him.

"Now don't behave like a silly. Dress yourself properly and don't make
me run. I'm getting stout, you know," she protested.

"We'll get a hansom."

"What, ride in a hansom? Never! A four-wheeler if you _like_."

It was difficult to find a four-wheeler, and Michael was nearly mad with
impatience.

"Now don't upset yourself. Sylvia won't be back to-night, and there's no
need to tug at me as if I was a cork in a bottle. People will think
we're a walking poppy-show, if you don't act more quiet. They're all
turning round to stare at us."

A four-wheeler appeared presently, and very soon they were walking down
Tinderbox Lane. Michael felt rather like a little boy out with his
nurse, as he kept turning back to exhort Mrs. Gainsborough to come more
quickly. She grew more and more red in the face, and so wheezy that he
was afraid something would happen to her, and for a few yards made no
attempt to hurry her along. At last they reached Mulberry Cottage.

"Supposing Sylvia has come back!" he said.

"I keep on telling you she's gone away for the night. Now get on indoors
with you. You've nearly been my death."

"I say, you don't know how grateful I am to you!" Michael exclaimed,
turning round and grasping her fat hands.

Mrs. Gainsborough shouted upstairs to Lily as loudly as her
breathlessness would permit:

"I've brought you back that surprise packet I promised."

Then she vanished, and Michael waited for Lily at the foot of the
stairs. She came down very soon, looking very straight and slim in her
philamot frock of Chinese crêpe that so well became her. Soon she was in
his arms and glad enough to be petted after Sylvia's rages.

"Lily, how can you bear to let Sylvia manage you like this? It's
absolutely intolerable."

"She's been horrid to me to-day," said Lily resentfully.

"Well, why do you put up with it?"

"Oh, I don't know. I hate always squabbling. It's much easier to give
way to her, and usually I don't much mind."

"You don't much mind whether we're married!" Michael exclaimed. "How can
you let Sylvia persuade you against marriage? Darling girl, if you marry
me you shall do just as you like. I simply want you to look beautiful.
You'd be happy married to me--you really would."

"Sylvia says marriage is appallingly dull, and my mother and father
didn't get on, and Doris doesn't get on with the man she's married to.
In fact, everybody seems to hate it."

"Do you hate me?" Michael demanded.

"No, I think you're awfully sweet."

"Well, why don't you marry me? You'll have plenty of money and nothing
to bother about. I think you'd thoroughly enjoy being married."

For an instant, as he argued with her, Michael wavered in his resolve.
For an instant it seemed, after all, impossible to marry this girl. A
chill came over him, but he shook it off, and he saw only her
loveliness, the eyes sullen with thoughts of Sylvia, the lips pouting at
the remembrance of a tyranny. And again as he watched her beauty, the
bitter thought crossed his mind that it would be easier to possess her
without marriage. Then he thought of her at seventeen. "_Michael, why do
you make me love you so?_" Was that the last protest she ever made
against the thralldom of passion? If it was, the blame must primarily
be his, since he had not heeded her reproach.

"Lily," he cried, catching her to him. "You're coming away with me now."

He kissed her a hundred times.

"Now! Now! Do you hear me?"

She surrendered to his will, and as he held her Michael thought grimly
what an absurd paradox it was, that in order to make her consent to
marry him, he like the others must play upon the baser side of her
yielding nature. There were difficulties of packing and of choosing
frocks and hats, but Michael had his way through them all.

"Quite an elopement," Mrs. Gainsborough proclaimed.

"A very virtuous elopement," said Michael, with a laugh.

"Oh, but shan't I catch it when that Hottentot comes back!"

"Well, it's Sylvia's fault," said Lily fretfully. "She shouldn't worry
me all the time to know whether I like her better than anyone else in
the world."

The man arrived with a truck for the luggage.

"Where are you going?" Mrs. Gainsborough asked. "I declare, you're like
two babes in the wood."

"To my sister's in Huntingdonshire," said Michael, and he wrote out the
address.

"Oh, in the country! Well, Summer'll be on us before we know where we
are. I declare, my snowdrops are quite finished."

"Is your sister pretty?" Lily asked, as they were driving to King's
Cross.

"She's handsome," said Michael. "You'll like her, I think. And her
husband was a great friend of mine. By the way, I must send a wire to
say we're coming."



CHAPTER VII

THE GATE OF IVORY


It was only when he was sitting opposite to Lily in a first class
compartment that Michael began to wonder if their sudden arrival would
create a kind of consternation at Hardingham. He managed to reassure
himself when he looked at her. The telegram might have puzzled Stella,
but in meeting Lily she would understand his action. Nevertheless, he
felt a little anxious when he saw the Hardingham brougham waiting
outside the little station. The cold drive of four miles through the
still, misty evening gave him too long to meditate the consequences of
his action. Impulse was very visibly on trial, and he began to fear a
little Stella's judgment of it. The carriage-lamps splashed the
hedgerows monotonously, and the horses' breath curled round the rigid
form of the coachman. Trees, hedges, gates, signposts went past in the
blackness and chill. Michael drew Lily close, and asked in a whisper if
she were happy.

"It makes me sleepy driving like this," she murmured. Her head was on
his shoulder; the astrakan collar was silky to his chin. So she traveled
until they reached the gates of the park: then Michael woke her up.

There was not time to do much but dress quickly for dinner when they
arrived, though Michael watched Stella's glances rather anxiously.

Lily put on a chiffon frock, of aquamarine, and, though she looked
beautiful in it, he wished she had worn black: this frock made her seem
a little theatrical, he fancied; or was it the effect of her against the
stern dining-room, and nothing whatever to do with the frock? Stella,
too, whom he had always considered a personality of some extravagance,
seemed to have grown suddenly very stiff and conventional. It used
always to be himself who criticized people: Stella had always been
rather too lenient. Perhaps it was being married to Alan; or was Lily
the reason? Yet superficially everything seemed to be going all right,
especially when he consoled himself by remembering the abruptness of
Lily's introduction. After dinner Stella took Lily away with her into
the drawing-room and left Michael with Alan. Michael tried to feel that
this was what he had expected would happen; but he could not drive away
the consciousness of a new formality brooding over Hardingham. It was
annoying, too, the way in which Alan seemed deliberately to avoid any
reference to Lily. He would not even remind Michael of the evening at
the Drury Lane pantomime, when he had met her five or six years ago.
Perhaps he had forgotten driving home in a cab with her sister on that
occasion. Michael grew exasperated by his talk about cricket pitches;
and yet he could not bring himself to ask right out what Alan thought of
her, because it would have impinged upon his pride to do so. In about
ten minutes they heard the sound of the piano, and tacitly they agreed
to forego the intimacy of drinking port together any longer.

Stella closed the piano with a slam when they came into the
drawing-room, and asked Lily if she would like some bridge.

"Oh, no. I hate playing cards. But you play."

It was for Michael a nervous evening. He was perpetually on guard for
hostile criticism; he was terribly anxious that Lily should make a good
impression. Everything seemed to go wrong. Games were begun and ended
almost in the same breath. Finally he managed to find a song that Lily
thought she remembered, and Stella played her accompaniment very
aggressively, Michael fancied; for by this time he regarded the
slightest movement on her part or Alan's as an implication of
disapproval. Lily was tired, luckily, and was ready to go to bed early.

When Stella came down again, Michael felt he ought to supplement the few
details of his telegram, and it began to seem almost impossible to
explain reasonably his arrival here with Lily. An account of Tinderbox
Lane would sound fantastic: a hint of Lily's life would be fatal. He
found himself enmeshed in a vague tale of having found her very hard up
and of wishing to get her away from the influence of a rather depressing
home. It sounded very unconvincing as he told it, but he hoped that the
declaration of his intention to marry her at once would smother
everything else in a great surprise.

"Of course, that's what I imagined you were thinking of doing," said
Stella. "So you've made up your quarrel of five years ago?"

"When are you going to get married?" Alan asked.

"Well, I hoped you'd be able to have us here for a week or so, or at any
rate Lily, while I go up to town and find a place for us to live."

"Oh, of course she can stay here," said Stella.

"Oh, rather, of course," Alan echoed.

Next morning it rained hard, and Michael thought he saw Stella making
signs of dissent when at breakfast Alan proposed taking him over to a
farm a couple of miles away. He was furious to think that Stella was
objecting to being left alone with Lily, and he retired to the
billiard-room, where he spent half an hour playing a game with himself
between spot and plain, a game which produced long breaks that seemed
quite unremarkable, so profound was the trance of vexation in which he
was plunged.

A fortnight passed, through the whole of which Alan never once referred
to Lily; and, as Michael was always too proud to make the first advance
toward the topic, he felt that his friendship with Alan was being slowly
chipped away. He knew that Stella, on the other hand, was rather anxious
to talk to him, but perversely he avoided giving her any opportunity. As
for Lily, she seemed perfectly happy doing nothing and saying very
little. Obviously, however, this sort of existence under the shadow of
disapproval could not continue much longer, and Michael determined to
come to grips with the situation. Therefore, one morning of strong
easterly wind when Lily wanted to stay indoors, he proposed a walk to
Stella.

They crossed three or four fields in complete silence, the dogs
scampering to right and left, the gale crimsoning their cheeks.

"I don't think I care much for this country of yours," said Michael at
last. "It's flat and cold and damp. Why on earth you ever thought I
should care to live here, I don't know."

"There's a wood about a quarter of a mile farther on. We can get out of
the wind there."

Michael resented Stella's pleasantness. He wanted her to be angry and so
launch him easily upon the grievances he had been storing up for a
fortnight.

"I hate badly trained dogs," he grumbled when Stella turned round to
whistle vainly for one of the spaniels.

"So do I," she agreed.

It was really unfair of her to effect a deadlock by being perpetually
and unexpectedly polite. He would try being gracious himself: it was
easier in the shelter of the wood.

"I don't think I've properly thanked you for having us to stay down
here," he began.

Stella stopped dead in the middle of the glade:

"Look here, do you want me to talk about this business?" she demanded.

Her use of the word "business" annoyed him: it crystallized all the
offensiveness, as he was now calling it to himself, of her sisterly
attitude these two weeks.

"I shall be delighted to talk about this 'business.' Though why you
should refer to my engagement as if a hot-water pipe had burst, I don't
quite know."

"Do you want me to speak out frankly--to say exactly what I think of you
and Lily and of your marrying her? You won't like it, and I won't do it
unless you ask me."

"Go on," said Michael gloomily. Stella had gathered the dogs round her
again, and in this glade she appeared to Michael as a severe Artemis
with her short tweed skirt and her golf-coat swinging from her shoulders
like a chlamys. These oaks were hers: the starry moss was hers: the
anemones flushing and silvering to the ground wind, they were all hers.
It suddenly struck him as monstrously unfair that Stella should be able
to criticize Lily. Here she stood on her own land forever secure against
the smallest ills that could come to the other girl; and, with this
consciousness of a strength behind her, already she was conveying that
rustic haughtiness of England. Michael loved her, this cool and
indomitable mistress of Hardingham; but while he loved her, almost he
hated her for the power she had to look down on Lily. Michael wished he
had Sylvia with him. That would have been a royal battle in this wood.
Stella with her dogs and trees behind her, with her green acres all
round her and the very wind fighting for her, might yet have found it
difficult to discomfit Sylvia.

"Go on, I'm waiting for you to begin," Michael repeated.

"Straight off, then," she said, "I may as well tell you that this
marriage is impossible. I don't know where you found her again, and I
don't care. It wouldn't make the slightest difference to me what she had
been, if I thought she had a chance of ever being anything else. But,
Michael, she's flabby. You'll hate me for saying so, but she is, she
really is! In a year you'll admit that; you'll see her growing older and
flabbier, more and more vain; emptier and emptier, if that's possible.
Even her beauty won't last. These very fair girls fall to pieces like
moth-eaten dolls. I've tried to find something in her during this
fortnight. I've tried and tried; but there's nothing. You may be in love
with her now, though I don't believe you are. I think it's all a piece
of sentimentalism. I've often teased you about getting married, but
please don't suppose that I haven't realized how almost impossible it
would be, ever to find a woman that would stand the wear and tear of
your idealism. I'm prepared to bet that behind your determination to
marry this girl there's a reason, a lovely, unpractical, idealistic
reason. Isn't there? You've been away with her for a week-end, and have
tortured yourself into a theory of reparation. Is that it? Or you've
fallen in love with the notion of yourself in love at eighteen. Oh, you
can't marry her, you foolish old darling."

"Your oratory would be more effective if you wouldn't keep whistling to
that infernal dog," said Michael. "If this marriage is so terrible, I
should have thought you'd have forgotten there were such animals as
cocker-spaniels. It's rubbish for you to say you've tried to find
something in Lily. You haven't made the slightest attempt. You've
criticized her from the moment she entered the house. You're sunk deep
already in the horrible selfishness of being happy. A happy marriage is
the most devastating joint egotism in the world. Damn it, Stella, when
you were making a fool of yourself with half the men in Europe, I
didn't talk as you've been talking to me."

"No, you were always very cautiously fraternal," said Stella. "Ah, no, I
won't say bitter things, for, Michael, I adore you; and you'll break my
heart if you marry this girl."

"You won't do anything of the kind," he contradicted. "You'll be
whistling to spaniels all the time."

"Michael, it's really unkind of you to try and make me laugh, when I'm
feeling so wretched about you."

"It's all fine for you to sneer at Lily," said Michael. "But I can
remember your coming back from Vienna and crying all day in your room
over some man who'd made a fool of you. _You_ looked pretty flabby
then."

"How dare you remind me of that?" Stella cried, in a fury. "How dare
you? How dare you?"

"You brought it on yourself," said Michael coldly.

"You're going to pieces already under the influence of that girl. Marry
her, then! But don't come to me for sympathy, when she's forced you to
drag yourself through the divorce court."

"No, I shall take care not to come to you for anything ever again," said
Michael bitterly. "Unless it's for advice when I want to buy a spaniel."

They had turned again in the direction of the Hall, and over the windy
fields they walked silently. Michael was angry with himself for having
referred to that Vienna time. After all, it had been the only occasion
on which he had seen Stella betray a hint of weakness; besides, she had
always treated him generously in the matter of confidences. He looked
sidelong at her, but she walked on steadily, and he wondered if she
would tell Alan that they had been nearer to quarreling than so far they
had ever been. Perhaps this sort of thing was inevitable with marriage.
Chains of sympathy and affection forged to last eternally were smashed
by marriage in a moment. He had heard nothing said about Stella's music
lately. Was that also to vanish on account of marriage? The sooner he
and Lily left Hardingham, the better. He supposed he ought to suggest
going immediately. But Lily would be a problem until he could find a
place for her to live, and someone to chaperone her. They would be
married next month, and he would take her abroad. He would be able to
see her at last in some of the places where in days gone by he had
dreamed of seeing her.

"I suppose you wouldn't object to keeping Lily here two or three days
more, while I find a place in town?" said Michael. It only struck him
when the request was out how much it sounded like asking for a favor.
Stella would despise him more than ever.

"Michael," Stella exclaimed, turning round and stopping in his path.
"Once more I beg you to give up this idea of marriage. Surely you can
realize how deeply I feel about it, when even after what you said I'm
willing actually to plead with you. It's intolerable to think of you
tied to her!"

"It's too late," said Michael. "I must marry her. Not for any reasons
that the world would consider reasons," he went on. "But because I want
to marry her. The least you can do for me is to pretend to support me
before the world."

"I won't, I won't, I won't! It's all wrong. She's all wrong. Her people
are all wrong. Why, even Alan remembers them as dreadful, and you know
how casual he is about people he doesn't like. He usually flings them
out of his mind at once."

"Oh, Alan's amazing in every way," said Michael. He longed to say that
he and Lily would go by the first train possible, but he dreaded so much
the effect of bringing her back to London without any definite place to
which she could go, that he was willing to leave her here for a few
days, if she would stay. He hated himself for doing this, but the
problems of marriage and Lily were growing unwieldy. He wished now that
he had asked his mother to come back, so that he could have taken Lily
to Cheyne Walk. It was stupid to let himself be caught unprepared like
this. After all, perhaps it would be a good thing to leave Lily and
Stella together for a bit. As he was going to marry her and as he could
not face the possibility of quarreling with Stella finally, it would be
better to pocket his pride.

Suddenly Stella caught hold of his arm.

"Look here," she said. "You absurd old Quixote, listen. I'm going to do
all in my power to stop your marrying Lily. But meanwhile go up to town
and leave her here. I promise to declare a truce of a fortnight, if
you'll promise me not to marry her until the middle of April. By a truce
I mean that I'll be charming to her and take no steps to influence her
to give you up. But after the fortnight it must be war, even if you win
in the end and marry her."

"Does that mean we should cease to be on speaking terms?"

"Oh, no, of course; as a matter of fact, if you marry her, I suppose we
shall all settle down together and be great friends, until she lands you
in the divorce court with half a dozen co-respondents. Then you'll come
and live with us at Hardingham, a confirmed cynic and the despair of all
the eligible young women in the neighborhood."

"I wish you wouldn't talk like that about Lily," said Michael, frowning.

"The truce has begun," Stella declared. "For a fortnight I'll be an
angel."

Just before dusk was falling, the gale died away, and Michael persuaded
Lily to come for a walk with him. Almost unconsciously he took her to
the wood where he and Stella had talked so angrily in the morning.
Chaffinches flashed their silver wings about them in the fading light.

"Lily, you look adorable in this glade," he told her. "I believe, if you
were a little way off from me, I should think you were a birch tree."

The wood was rosy brown and purple. Every object had taken on rich deeps
of quality and color reflected from the March twilight. The body of the
missel-thrush flinging his song from the bare oak-bough into the ragged
sky, flickered with a magical sublucency. Michael found some primroses
and brought them to Lily.

"These are for you, you tall tall primrose of a girl. Listen, will you
let me leave you for a very few days so that I can find the house you're
going to live in? Will you not be lonely?"

"I like to have you with me always," she murmured.

He was intoxicated by so close an avowal of love from lips that were
usually mute.

"We shall be married in a month," he cried. "Can you smell violets?"

"Something sweet I smell."

But it was getting too dusky in the coppice to find these violets
themselves twilight-hued, and they turned homeward across the open
fields. Birds were flying to the coverts, linnets mostly, in twittering
companies.

"These eves of early Spring are like swords," Michael exclaimed.

"Like what?" Lily asked, smiling at his exaggeration.

"Like swords. They seem to cut one through and through with their
sharpness and sweetness."

"Oh, you mean it's cold," she said. "Take my arm."

"Well, I meant rather more than that, really," Michael laughed. But
because she had offered him her arm he forgot at once how far she had
been from following his thoughts.

Michael went up to London after dinner. He left Lily curled up before
the fire presumably quite content to stay at Hardingham.

"Not more than a fortnight, mind," were Stella's last words.

He went to see Maurice next morning to get the benefit of his advice
about possible places in which to live. Maurice was in his element.

"Of course there really are very few good places. Cheyne Walk and
Grosvenor Road, the Albany, parts of Hampstead and Campden Hill,
Kensington Square, one or two streets near the Regent's Canal, Adelphi
Terrace, the Inns of Court and Westminster. Otherwise, London is
impossible. But you're living in Cheyne Walk now. Why do you want to
move from there?"

Michael made up his mind to take Maurice into his confidence. He
supposed that of all his friends he would be as likely as any to be
sympathetic. Maurice was delighted by his description of Lily, so much
delighted, that he accepted her as a fact without wanting to know who
she was or where Michael had met her.

"By Jove, I must hurry up and find my girl. But I don't think I'm
desperately keen to get married yet. I vote for a house near the Canal,
if we can find the right one."

That afternoon they set out.

They changed their minds and went to Hampstead first, where Maurice was
very anxious to take a large Georgian house with a garden of about
fifteen acres. He offered to move himself and Castleton from Grosvenor
Road in order to occupy one of the floors, and he was convinced that the
stable would be very useful if they wanted to start a printing press.

"Yes, but we don't want to start a printing press," Michael objected.
"And really, Mossy, I think twenty-three bedrooms more than one servant
can manage."

It was with great reluctance that Maurice gave up the idea of this
house, and he was so much depressed by the prospect of considering
anything less huge that he declared Hampstead was impossible, and they
went off to Regent's Park.

"I don't think you're likely to find anything so good as that house,"
Maurice said gloomily. "In fact, I know you won't. I wish I could afford
to take it myself. I should, like a shot. Castleton could be at the
Temple just as soon from there."

"I don't see why he should bother about the Temple," said Michael. "That
house was rather bigger."

"You'll never find another house like it," Maurice prophesied. "Look at
this neighborhood we're driving through now. Impossible to live here!"

They were in the Hampstead Road.

"I haven't any intention of doing so," Michael laughed. "But there
remains the neighborhood of the canal, the neighborhood you originally
suggested. Hampstead was an afterthought."

"Wonderful house!" Maurice sighed. "I shall always regret you didn't
take it."

However, when they had paid off the cab, he became interested by the new
prospect; and they wandered for a while, peering through fantastic
railings at houses upon the steep banks of the canal, houses that seemed
to have been stained to a sad green by the laurels planted close around
them. Nothing feasible for a lodging was discovered near Regent's Park;
and they crossed St. John's Wood and Maida Vale, walking on until they
reached a point where at the confluence of two branches the canal became
a large triangular sheet of water. Occupying the whole length of the
base of this triangle and almost level with the water, stood the garden
of a very large square house.

"There's a curious place," said Michael. "How on earth does one get at
it?"

They followed the road, which was considerably higher than the level of
the canal, and found that the front door was reached by an entrance down
a flight of steps.

"Ararat House," Michael read.

"Flat to let," Maurice read.

"I think this looks rather promising," said Michael.

It was an extraordinary pile, built in some Palladian nightmare. A
portico of dull crimson columns ran round three sides of the house,
under a frieze of bearded masks. The windows were all very large, and so
irregularly placed as completely to destroy the classic illusion. The
stucco had been painted a color that was neither pink nor cream nor
buff, but a mixture of all three; and every bit of space left by the
windows was filled with banderoles of illegible inscriptions and with
plaster garlands, horns, lyres, urns, and Grecian helmets. There must
have been half an acre of garden round it, a wilderness of shrubs and
rank grass with here and there a dislustered conservatory. The house
would have seemed uninhabitable save for the announcement of the flat to
be let, which was painted on a board roped to one of the columns.

They descended the steps and pressed a bell marked Housekeeper. Yes,
there was a flat to let on the ground floor; in fact, the whole of the
ground floor with the exception of this part of the hall and the rooms
on either side. The housekeeper threw her apron over her shoulder like a
plaid and unlocked a door in a wooden partition that divided the flat
called Number One from the rest of Ararat House.

They passed through and examined the two gaunt bedrooms: one of them
had an alcove, which pleased Michael very much. He decided that without
much difficulty it could be made to resemble a Carpaccio interior. The
dining-room was decorated with Spanish leather and must have been very
brilliantly lit by the late tenants, for everywhere from the ceiling and
walls electric wires protruded like asps. There was also a murky
kitchen; and finally the housekeeper led the way through double doors
into the drawing-room.

As soon as he had stepped inside, Michael was sure that he and Lily must
live here.

It was a room that recalled at the first glance one of those gigantic
saloons in ancient Venetian palaces; but as he looked about him he
decided that any assignment in known topography was absurd. It was a
room at once for Werther, for Taglioni, for the nocturnes of Chopin and
the cameos of Théophile Gautier. Beckford might have filled it with
orient gewgaws; Barbey d'Aurevilly could have strutted here; and in a
corner Villiers de l'Isle Adam might have sat fiercely. The room was a
tatterdemalion rococo barbarized more completely by gothic
embellishments that nevertheless gave it the atmosphere of the fantasts
with whom Michael had identified it.

"But this is like a scene in a pantomime," Maurice exclaimed.

It was indeed like a scene in a pantomime, and a proscenium was wanted
to frame suitably the effect of those fluted pillars that supported the
ceiling with their groined arches. The traceries of the latter were
gilded, and the spaces between were painted with florid groups of nymphs
and cornucopias. At either end of the room were large fireplaces
fructuated with marble pears and melons, and the floor was a parquet of
black and yellow lozenges.

"It's hideous," Maurice exclaimed.

The housekeeper stood aside, watching impersonally.

"Hideous but rather fascinating," Michael said. "Look at the queer
melancholy light, and look at the view."

It was, after all, the view which gave the character of romance to the
room. Eight French windows, whose shutters one by one the housekeeper
had opened while they were talking, admitted a light that was much
subdued by the sprays of glossy evergreen outside. Seen through their
leaves, the garden appeared to be a green twilight in which the statues
and baskets of chipped and discolored stone had an air of overthrown
magnificence. The housekeeper opened one of the windows, and they walked
out into the wilderness, where ferns were growing on rockeries of slag
and old tree-stumps; where the paths were smeared with bright green
slime, with moss and sodden vegetation. They came to a wider path
running by the bank of the canal, and, pausing here, they pondered the
sheet of dead water where two swans were gliding slowly round an islet
and where the reflections of the house beyond lay still and deep
everywhere along the edge. The distant cries of London floated sharply
down the air; smuts were falling perpetually; the bitter March air
diffused in a dull sparkle tasted of the city's breath: the circling of
the swans round their islet made everything else the more immotionable.

"In summer this will be wonderful," Michael predicted.

"On summer nights those swans will be swimming about among the stars,"
Maurice said.

"Except that they'll probably have retired to bed," Michael pointed out.

"I wonder if they build their nests on chimney-tops like storks,"
Maurice laughed.

"Let's ask the housekeeper," Michael said solemnly.

They went back into the drawing-room, and more than ever did it seem
exactly the room one would expect to enter after pondering that dead
water without.

"Who lives in the other flats?" Michael inquired of the housekeeper.

"There's four others," she began. "Up above there's Colonel and Mrs...."

"I see," Michael interrupted. "Just ordinary people. Do they ever go
out? Or do they sit and peer at the water all day from behind strange
curtains?"

The housekeeper stared at him.

"They play tennis and croquet a good deal in the summer, sir. The courts
is on the other side of the house. Mr. Gartside is the gentleman to see
about the flat."

She gave Michael the address, and that afternoon he settled to take
Number One, Ararat House.

"It absolutely was made to set her off," he told Maurice. "You wait till
I've furnished it as it ought to be furnished."

"And we'll have amazing fêtes aqueuses in the summer," Maurice declared.
"We'll buy a barge and--why, of course--the canal flows into the Thames
at Grosvenor Road."

"Underground--like the Styx," said Michael, nodding.

"Of course, it's going to be wonderful. We must never visit each other
except by water."

"Like splendid dead Venetians," said Michael.

The fortnight of Lily's stay at Hardingham was spent by him and Maurice
in a fever of decoration. Michael bought oval mirrors of Venetian glass;
oblong mirrors crowned with gilt griffins and scallops; small round
mirrors in frames of porcelain garlanded with flowerbuds; so many
mirrors that the room became even more mysteriously vast. The walls were
hung with brocades of gold and philamot and pomona green. There were
slim settees the color of ivory, with cushions of primrose and lemon
satin, of cinnamon and canary citron and worn russet silks. Over the
parquet was a great gray Aubusson carpet with a design of monstrous
roses as deep as damsons or burgundy; and from the ceiling hung two
chandeliers of cut glass.

"You know," said Maurice seriously, "she'll have to be very beautiful to
carry this off."

"She is very beautiful," said Michael. "And there's room for her to walk
about here. She'll move about this room as wonderfully as those swans
upon the canal."

"Michael, what's happened to you? You're becoming as eccentric as me."
Maurice looked at him rather jealously. "And, I say, do you really want
me to come with you to King's Cross to-morrow afternoon?"

Michael nodded.

"After you've helped to gather together this room, you deserve to see
the person we've done it for."

"Yes, but look here. Who's going to stay in the flat with her? You can't
leave her alone until you're married. As you told me the story, it
sounded very romantic; but if she's going to be your wife, you've got to
guard her reputation."

Michael had never given Maurice more than a slight elaboration of the
tale which had served for Stella; and he thought how much more romantic
Maurice would consider the affair if he knew the whole truth. He felt
inclined to tell him, but he doubted his ability to keep it to himself.

"I thought of getting hold of some elderly woman," he said.

"That's all very well, but you ought to have been doing it all this
time."

"You don't know anybody?"

"I? Great scott, no!"

They were walking toward Chelsea, and presently Maurice had to leave him
for an appointment.

"To-morrow afternoon then at King's Cross," he said, and jumped on an
omnibus.

Michael walked along in a quandary. Whom on earth could he get to stay
with Lily? Would it not be better to marry at once? But that would
involve breaking his promise to Stella. If he asked Mrs. Gainsborough,
it would mean Sylvia knowing where Lily was. If, on the other hand, he
should employ a strange woman, Lily might dislike her. Could he ask Mrs.
Ross to come up to town? No, of course, that was absurd. It looked as if
he would have to ask Mrs. Gainsborough. Or why not ask Sylvia herself?
In that case, why establish Lily at Ararat House before they were
married? This marriage had seemed so very easy an achievement; but
slowly it was turning into an insoluble complex. He might sound Sylvia
upon her attitude. It would enormously simplify everything if she would
consent; and if she consented she would, he believed, play fair with
him. The longer Michael thought about it, the more it seemed the safest
course to call in Sylvia's aid. He was almost hailing a hansom to go to
Tinderbox Lane, when he realized how foolish it would be not to try to
sever Lily completely from the life she had been leading in Sylvia's
company. Not even ought he to expose her to the beaming laxity of Mrs.
Gainsborough.

Michael had reached Notting Hill Gate, and, still pondering the problem
which had destroyed half the pleasure of the enterprise, he caught sight
of a Registry for servants. Why not employ two servants, two of the
automatons who simplified life as it was simplified in Cheyne Walk? Then
he remembered that he had forgotten to make any attempt to equip the
kitchen. Surely Lily would be able to help with that. He entered the
Registry and interviewed a severe woman wearing glasses, who read in a
sing-song the virtues of a procession of various automatons seeking
situations as cooks and housemaids.

"What wages do you wish to give?"

"Oh, the usual wages," Michael said. "But I rather want these servants
to-day."

He made an appointment to interview half a dozen after lunch. He chose
the first two that presented themselves, and told them to come round to
Ararat House. Here he threw himself on their mercy and begged them to
make a list of what was wanted in the kitchen. They gave notice on the
spot, and Michael rushed off to the Registry again. To the severe woman
in glasses he explained the outlines of the situation and made her
promise to suit him by to-morrow at midday. She suggested a capable
housekeeper; and next morning a hard-featured, handsome woman very well
dressed in the fashion of about 1892 arrived at Ararat House. She
undertook to find someone to help, and also to procure at once the
absolute necessities for the kitchen. Miss Harper was a great relief to
Michael, though he did not think he liked her very much; and he made up
his mind to get rid of her, as soon as some sort of domestic comfort was
perceptible. Lily would arrive about four o'clock, and he drove off to
King's Cross to meet her. He felt greatly excited by the prospect of
introducing her to Maurice, who for a wonder was punctually waiting for
him on the platform.

Lily evidently liked Maurice, and Michael was rather disappointed when
he said he could not come back with them to assist at the first entry
into Ararat House. Maurice had certainly given him to understand that he
was free this afternoon.

"Look in at Grosvenor Road on your way home to-night," said Maurice. "Or
will you be very late?"

"Oh, no, I shan't be late," Michael answering, flushing. He had a notion
that Maurice was implying a suspicion of him by his invitation. It
seemed as if he were testing his behavior.

Lily liked the rooms; and, although she thought the Carpaccio bedroom
was a little bare, it was soon strewn with her clothes, and made thereby
inhabitable.

"And of course," said Michael, "you've got to buy lots and lots of
clothes this fortnight. How much do you want to spend? Two
hundred--three hundred pounds?"

The idea of buying clothes on such a scale of extravagance seemed to
delight her, and she kissed him, he thought almost for the first time,
in mere affection without a trace of passion. Michael felt happy that he
had so much money for her to spend, and he was glad that no one had been
given authority to interfere with his capital. There flashed through his
mind a comparison of himself with the Chevalier des Grieux, and,
remembering how soon that money had come to an end, he was glad that
Lily would not be exposed to the temptation which had ruined Manon.

"And do you like Miss Harper?" he inquired.

"Yes, she seems all right."

They went out to dine in town, and came back about eleven to find the
flat looking wonderfully settled. Michael confessed how much he had
forgotten to order, but Lily talked of her dresses and took no interest
in household affairs.

"I think I ought to go now," said Michael.

"Oh, no, stay a little longer."

But he would not, feeling the violent necessity to impress upon her as
much as possible, during this fortnight before they were married, how
important were the conventions of life, even when it was going to be
lived in so strange a place as Ararat House.

"Oh, you're going now?" said Miss Harper, looking at him rather
curiously.

"I shall be round in the morning. You'll finish making the lists of what
you still want?"

Michael felt very deeply plunged into domestic arrangements, as he drove
to Grosvenor Road.

Maurice was sitting up for him, but Castleton had gone to bed.

"Look here, old chap," Maurice began at once, "you can't possibly marry
that girl."

Michael frowned.

"You too?"

"I know all about her," Maurice went on. "I've never actually met her,
but I recognized her at once. Even if you did know her people five years
ago, you ought to have taken care to find out what had happened in
between. As a matter of fact, I happen to know a man who's had an affair
with her--a painter called Walker. Ronnie Walker. He's often up here.
You're bound to meet him some time."

"Not at all, if I never come here again," said Michael, in a cold rage.

"It's no use for you to be angry with me," said Maurice. "I should be a
rotten friend, if I didn't warn you."

"Oh, go to hell!" said Michael, and he marched out of the studio.

"I'll die first," retorted Maurice, grinning.

Maurice came on the landing and called, begging him to come up and not
to be so hasty, but Michael paid no attention.

"So much for 422 Grosvenor Road," he said, slamming the big front door
behind him. He heard Maurice calling to him from the window, but he
walked on without turning his head.

It was a miserable coincidence that one of his friends should know about
her. It was a disappointment, but it could not be helped. If Maurice
chattered about a disastrous marriage, why, other friends would have to
be dropped in the same way. After all, he had been aware from the first
moment of his resolve that this sort of thing was bound to happen. It
left him curiously indifferent.

A week passed. There were hundreds of daffodils blooming in the garden
round Ararat House; and April bringing an unexpected halcyon was the
very April of the poets whose verses haunted that great rococo room.
Every day Michael went with Lily to dressmakers and worshiped her taste.
Every day he bought her old pieces of jewelry, old fans, or old silver,
or pots of purple hyacinths. He was just conscious that it was London
and the prime of the Spring; but mostly he lived in the enchantment of
her presence. Often they walked up and down the still deserted garden,
by the edge of the canal. The swans used to glide nearer to them,
waiting for bread to be thrown; and Lily would stand with her hair in a
stream of sunlight and her arms moving languidly like the necks of the
birds she was feeding. Nor was she less graceful in the long luminous
dusks under the young moon and the yellow evening star that were shining
upon them as they walked by the edge of the water.

For a week Michael lived in a city that was become a mere background to
the swoons and fevers of love. He knew that round him houses blinked in
the night and that chimney-smoke curled upward in the morning; that
people paced the streets; that there was a thunder of far-off traffic;
that London was possessed by April. But the heart of life was in this
room, when the candles were lit in the chandeliers and he could see a
hundred Lilies in the mirrors. It seemed wrong to leave her at midnight,
to leave that room so perilously golden with the golden stuffs and
candle-flames. It seemed unfair to surprise Miss Harper by going away at
midnight, when so easily he could have stayed. Yet every night he went
away, however hard it was to leave Lily in her black dress, to leave in
the mirrors those hundred Lilies that drowsily were not forbidding him
to stay. Or when she stood under the portico sleepily resting in his
arms, it was difficult to let her turn back alone. How close were their
kisses wrapped in that velvet moonlessness! This was no London that he
knew, this scented city of Spring, this tropic gloom, this mad
innominate cavern that engorged them. The very stars were melting in the
water of the canal: the earth bedewed with fevers of the Spring was warm
as blood: why should he forsake her each night of this week? Yet every
midnight when the heavy clocks buzzed and clamored, Michael left her,
saying that May would come, and June, and another April, when she would
have been his a year.

The weather veered back in the second week of the fortnight to rawness
and wet. Yet it made no difference to Michael; for he was finding these
days spent with Lily so full of romance that weather was forgotten. They
could not walk in the garden and watch the swans: of nothing else did
the weather deprive him.

Two days before the marriage was to take place, Mrs. Fane arrived back
from the South of France. Michael was glad to see her, for he was so
deeply infatuated with Lily that his first emotion was of pleasure in
the thought of being able now to bring her to see his mother, and of
taking his mother to see her in Ararat House among those chandeliers and
mirrors.

"Why didn't you wire me to say you were coming?" he asked.

"I came because Stella wrote to me."

Michael frowned, and his mother went on:

"It wasn't very thoughtful of you to let me know about your marriage
through her. I think you might have managed to write to me about it
yourself."

Michael had been so much wrapped up in his arrangements, and apart from
them so utterly engrossed in his secluded life with Lily during the
past ten days, that it came upon him with a shock to realize that his
mother might be justified in thinking that he had treated her very
inconsiderately.

"I'm sorry. It was wrong of me," he admitted. "But life has been such a
whirl lately that I've somehow taken for granted the obvious courtesies.
Besides, Stella was so very unfair to Lily that it rather choked me off
taking anybody else into my confidence. And, mother, why do you begin on
the subject at once, before you've even taken your things off?"

She flung back her furs and regarded him tragically.

"Michael, how can you dare to think of such trivialities when you are
standing at the edge of this terrible step?"

"Oh, I think I'm perfectly level-headed," he said, "even on the brink of
disaster."

"Such a dreadful journey from Cannes! I wish I'd come back in March as I
meant to. But Mrs. Carruthers was ill, and I couldn't very well leave
her. She's always nervous in lifts, and hates the central-heating. I did
not sleep a moment, and a most objectionable couple of Germans in the
next compartment of the wagons-lits used all the water in the
washing-place. So very annoying, for one never expects foreigners to
think about washing. Oh, yes, a dreadful night and all because of you,
and now you ask most cruelly why I don't take my things off."

"There wasn't any need for you to worry yourself," he said hotly.
"Stella had no business to scare you with her prejudices."

"Prejudices!" his mother repeated. "Prejudice is a very mild word for
what she feels about this dreadful girl you want to marry."

"But it is prejudice," Michael insisted. "She knows nothing against
her."

"She knows a great deal."

"How?" he demanded incredulously.

"You'd better read her letter to me. And I really must go and take off
these furs. It's stifling in London. So very much hotter than the
Riviera."

Mrs. Fane left him with Stella's letter.

     LONG'S HOTEL,

     April 9.

     Darling Mother,

     When you get this you must come _at once_ to London. You are the
     only person who can save Michael from marrying the most impossible
     creature imaginable. He had a stupid love-affair with her, when he
     was eighteen, and I think she treated him badly even then--I
     remember his being very upset about it in the summer before my
     first concert. Apparently he rediscovered her this winter, and for
     some reason or other wants to _marry_ her now. He brought her down
     to Hardingham, and I saw then that she was a minx. Alan remembers
     her mother as a dreadful woman who tried to make love to him.
     Imagine Alan at eighteen being pursued!

     Of course, I tackled Michael about her, and we had rather a row
     about it. We kept her at Hardingham for a month (a fortnight by
     herself), and we were bored to death by her. She had nothing to
     say, and nothing to do except look at herself in the glass. I had
     declared war on the marriage from the moment she left, but I had
     only a fortnight to stop it. I was rather in a difficulty because I
     knew nothing definite against her, though I was sure that if she
     wasn't a bad lot already, she would be later on. I wrote first of
     all to Maurice Avery, who told me that she'd had a not at all
     reputable affair with a painter friend of his. It seems, however,
     that he had already spoken to Michael about this and that Michael
     walked out of the house in a rage. Then I came up to town with Alan
     and saw Wedderburn, who knew nothing about her and hadn't seen
     Michael for months. Then we got hold of Lonsdale. He has apparently
     met her at Covent Garden, and _I'm perfectly sure_ that he has
     actually been away with her himself. Though, of course, he was much
     too polite to tell me so. He was absolutely horrified when he heard
     about her and Michael. I asked him to tell Michael anything he knew
     against her, but he didn't see how he could. He said he wouldn't
     have the heart. I told him it was his duty, but he said he wouldn't
     be able to bear the sight of Michael's face when he told him. Of
     course, the poor darling knows nothing about her. You must come at
     once to London and talk to him yourself. You've no time to lose.
     I'll meet you if you send me a wire. I've no influence over Michael
     any more. You're the only person who can stop it. He's so sweet
     about her. She's rather lovely to look at, I must say. Lots of love
     from Alan and from me.

     Your loving

     Stella.

Michael was touched by Lonsdale's attitude. It showed, he thought, an
exquisite sensitiveness, and he was grateful for it. Stella had
certainly been very active: but he had foreseen all of this. Nothing was
going to alter his determination. He waited gloomily for his mother to
come down. Of all antagonists she would be the hardest to combat in
argument, because he was debarred from referring to so much that had
weighed heavily with him in his decision. His mother was upstairs such a
very short time that Michael realized with a smile how deeply she must
have been moved. Nothing but this marriage of his had ever brought her
downstairs so rapidly from taking off her things.

"Have you read Stella's letter?" she asked.

He nodded.

"Well, of course you see that the whole business must be stopped at
once. It's dreadful for you to hear all these things, and I know you
must be suffering, dearest boy; but you ought to be obliged to Stella
and not resent her interference."

"I see that you feel bound to apologize for her," Michael observed.

"Now, that is so bitter."

He shrugged his shoulders.

"I feel rather bitter that she should come charging up to town to find
out things I know already."

"Michael! You knew about Lonsdale?"

"I didn't know about him in particular, but I knew that there had been
people. That's one of the reasons I'm going to marry her."

"But you'll lose all your friends. It would be impossible for you to go
on knowing Lonsdale, for instance."

"Marriage seems to destroy friendships in any case," Michael said. "You
couldn't have a better example of that than Stella and Alan. I daresay I
shall be able to make new friends."

"But, darling boy," she said pleadingly, "your position will be so
terribly ambiguous. Here you are with everything that you can possibly
want, with any career you choose open to you. And you let yourself be
dragged down by this horrible creature!"

"Mother, believe me, you're getting a very distorted idea of Lily. She's
beautiful, you know; and if she's not so clever as Stella, I'm rather
glad of it. I don't think I want a clever wife. At any rate, she hasn't
committed the sin of being common. She won't disgrace you outwardly, and
if Stella hadn't gone round raking up all this abominable information
about her you would have liked her very much."

"My dearest boy, you are very young, but you surely aren't too young to
know that it's impossible to marry a woman whose past is not without
reproach."

"But, mother, you ..." he stopped himself abruptly, and looked out of
the window in embarrassment. Yet his mother seemed quite unconscious
that she was using a weapon which could be turned against herself.

"Will nothing persuade you? Oh, why did Dick Prescott kill himself? I
knew at the time that something like this would happen. You won't marry
her, you won't, will you?"

"Yes, mother. I'm going to," he said coldly.

"But why so impetuously?" she asked. "Why won't you wait a little time?"

"There's no object in waiting while Stella rakes up a few more facts."

"If only your father were alive!" she exclaimed. "It would have shocked
him so inexpressibly."

"He felt so strongly the unwisdom of marriage, didn't he?" Michael said,
and wished he could have bitten his tongue out.

She had risen from her chair, and seemed to tower above him in tragical
and heroic dignity of reproach:

"I could never have believed you would say such a thing to me."

"I'm awfully sorry," he murmured. "It was inexcusable."

"Michael," she pleaded, coming to him sorrowfully, "won't you give up
this marriage?"

He was touched by her manner so gently despairing after his sneer.

"Mother, I must keep faith with myself."

"Only with yourself? Then she doesn't care for you? And you're not
thinking of _her?_"

"Of course she cares for me."

"But she'd get over it almost at once?"

"Perhaps," he admitted.

"Do you trust her? Do you believe she will be able to be a good woman?"

"That will be my look-out," he said impatiently. "If she fails, it will
be my fault. It's always the man's fault. Always."

"Very well," said his mother resignedly. "I can say no more, can I? You
must do as you like."

The sudden withdrawal of her opposition softened him as nothing else
would have done. He compared the sweetness of her resignation with his
own sneer of a minute ago. He felt anxious to do something that would
show his penitence.

"Mother, I hate to wound you. But I must be true to what I have worked
out for myself. I must marry Lily. Apart from a mad love I have for her,
there is a deeper cause, a reason that's bound up with my whole theory
of behavior, my whole attitude toward existence. I could not back out of
this marriage."

"Is all your chivalry to be devoted to the service of Lily?" she asked.

He felt grateful to her for the name. When his mother no longer called
her "this girl," half his resentment fled. The situation concerned the
happiness of human beings again; there were no longer prejudices or
abstractions of morality to obscure it.

"Not at all, mother. I would do anything for you."

"Except not marry her."

"That wouldn't be a sacrifice worth making," he argued. "Because if I
did that I should destroy myself to myself, and what was left of me
wouldn't be a complete Michael. It wouldn't be your son."

"Will you postpone your marriage, say for three months?"

He hesitated. How could he refuse her this?

"Not merely for your own sake," she urged; "but for all our sakes. We
shall all see things more clearly and pleasantly, perhaps, in three
months' time."

He was conquered by the implication of justice for Lily.

"I won't marry her for three months," he promised.

"And you know, darling boy, the dreadful thing is that I very nearly
missed the train owing to the idiocy of the head porter at the hotel."

She was smiling through her tears, and very soon she became her stately
self again.

Michael went at once to Ararat House, and told Lily that he had promised
his mother to put off their marriage for three months. She pouted over
her frocks.

"I wish you'd settled that before. What good will all these dresses be
now?"

"You shall have as many more as you want. But will you be happy here
without me?"

"Without you? Why are you going away?"

"Because I must, Lily. Because ... oh, dearest girl, can't you see that
I'm too passionately in love with you to be able to see you every day
and every night as I have been all this fortnight?"

"If you want to go away, of course you must; but I shall be rather dull,
shan't I?"

"And shan't I?" he asked.

She looked at him.

"Perhaps."

"I shall write every day to you, and you must write to me."

He held her close and kissed her. Then he hurried away.

Now that he had made the sacrifice to please his mother, he was angry
with himself for having done so. He felt that during this coming time of
trial he could not bear to see either his mother or Stella. He must be
married and fulfill his destiny, and, after that, all would be well. He
was enraged with his weakness, wondering where he could go to avoid the
people who had brought it about.

Suddenly Michael thought he would like to see Clere Abbey again, and he
turned into Paddington Station to find out if there were a train that
would take him down into Berkshire at once.



CHAPTER VIII

SEEDS OF POMEGRANATE


It was almost dark when Michael reached the little station at the foot
of the Downs. He was half inclined to put up at the village inn and
arrive at the Abbey in the morning; but he was feeling depressed by the
alteration of his plans, and longed to withdraw immediately into the
monastic peace. He had bought what he needed for the couple of nights
before any luggage could reach him, and he thought that with so little
to carry he might as well walk the six miles to the Abbey. He asked when
the moon would be up.

"Oh, not much before half-past nine, sir," the porter said.

Michael suddenly remembered that to-morrow was Easter Sunday, and,
thinking it would be as well not to arrive too late, in case there
should be a number of guests, he managed to get hold of a cart. The wind
blew very freshly as they slowly climbed the Downs, and the man who was
driving him was very voluble on the subject of the large additions which
had been made to the Abbey buildings during the last few years.

"They've put up a grand sort of a lodge--Gatehouse, so some do call it.
A bit after the style of the Tower of London, I've heard some say."

Michael was glad to think that Dom Cuthbert's plans seemed to be coming
to perfection in their course. How long was it since he and Chator were
here? Eight or nine years; now Chator was a priest, and himself had done
nothing.

The Abbey Gatehouse was majestic in the darkness, and the driver pealed
the great bell with a portentous clangor. Michael recognized the
pock-marked brother who opened the door; but he could not remember his
name. He felt it would be rather absurd to ask the monk if he recognized
him by this wavering lanthorn-light.

"Is the Reverend--is Dom Cuthbert at the Abbey now?" he asked. "You
don't remember me, I expect? Michael Fane. I stayed here one Autumn
eight or nine years ago."

The monk held up the lanthorn and stared at him.

"The Reverend Father is in the Guest Room now," said Brother Ambrose.
Michael had suddenly recalled his name.

"Do you think I shall be able to stay here to-night? Or have you a lot
of guests for Easter?"

"We can always find room," said Brother Ambrose. Michael dismissed his
driver and followed the monk along the drive.

Dom Cuthbert knew him at once, and seemed very glad that he had come to
the Abbey.

"You can have a cell in the Gatehouse. Our new Gatehouse. It's copied
from the one at Cerne Abbas in Dorsetshire. Very beautiful. Very
beautiful."

Michael was introduced to the three or four guests, all types of
ecclesiastical laymen, who had been talking with the Abbot. The Compline
bell rang almost at once, and the Office was still held in the little
chapel of mud and laths built by the hands of the monks.

    Keep me as the apple of an eye.
    Hide me in the shadow of thy wing.

Here was worship unhampered by problems of social behavior: here was
peace.

Lying awake that night in his cell; watching the lattices very luminous
in the moonlight; hearing the April wind in the hazel coppice, Michael
tried to reach a perspective of his life these nine months since Oxford,
but sleep came to him and pacified all confusions. He went to Mass next
morning, but did not make his Communion, because he had a feeling that
he could only have done so under false pretenses. There was no reason
why he should have felt thus, he assured himself; but this morning there
had fallen upon him at the moment a dismaying chill. He went for a walk
on the Downs, over the great green spaces that marked no season save in
the change of the small flowers blowing in their turf. He wondered if he
would be able to find the stones he had erected that July day when he
first came here with Chator. He found what, as far as he could remember,
was the place; and he also found a group of stones that might have been
the ruins of his little monument. More remarkable than old stones now
seemed to him a Pasque anemone colored a sharp cold violet. It curiously
reminded him of the evening in March when he had walked with Lily in the
wood at Hardingham.

The peace of last night vanished in a dread of the future: Michael's
partial surrender to his mother cut at his destiny with ominous stroke.
He was in a turmoil of uncertainty, and afraid to find himself out here
on these Downs with so little achieved behind him in the city. He
hurried back to the Abbey and wrote a wild letter to Lily, declaring his
sorrow for leaving her, urging her to be patient, protesting a feverish
adoration. He wrote also to Miss Harper a hundred directions for Lily's
entertainment while he was away. He wrote to Nigel Stewart, begging him
to look after Barnes. All the time he had a sense of being pursued and
haunted; an intolerable idea that he was the quarry of an evil chase. He
could not stay at the Abbey any longer: he was being rejected by the
spirit of the place.

Dom Cuthbert was disappointed when he said he must go.

"Stay at least to-night," he urged, and Michael gave way.

He did not sleep at all that night. The alabaster image of the Blessed
Virgin kept turning to a paper thing, kept nodding at him like a zany.
He seemed to hear the Gatehouse bell clanging hour after hour. He felt
more deeply sunk in darkness than ever in Leppard Street. At daybreak he
dressed and fled through the woods, trampling under foot the primroses
limp with dew. He hurried faster and faster across the Downs; and when
the sun was up, he was standing on the platform of the railway station.
To-day he ought to have married Lily.

At Paddington, notwithstanding all that he had suffered in the parting,
unaccountably to himself he did not want to turn in the direction of
Ararat House. It puzzled him that he should drive so calmly to Cheyne
Walk.

"I think my temperature must have been a point or two up last night,"
was the explanation he gave himself of what already seemed mere
sleeplessness.

Michael found his mother very much worried by his disappearance; she had
assumed that he had broken his promise. He consoled her, but excused
himself from staying with her in town.

"You mustn't ask too much of me," he said.

"No, no, dearest boy; I'm glad for you to go away, but where will you
go?"

He thought he would pay an overdue visit to Cobble Place.

Mrs. Ross and Mrs. Carthew were delighted to see him, and he felt as he
always felt at Cobble Place the persistent tranquillity which not the
greatest inquietude of spirit could long withstand. It was now nearly
three years since he had been there, and he was surprised to see how
very old Mrs. Carthew had grown in that time. This and the active
presence of Kenneth, now a jolly boy of nine, were the only changes in
the aspect of the household. Michael enjoyed himself in firing Kenneth
with a passion for birds' eggs and butterflies, and they went long walks
together and made expeditions in the canoe.

Yet every day when Michael sat down to write to Lily, he almost wrote to
say he was coming to London as soon as his letter. Her letters to him,
written in a sprawling girlish hand, were always very much alike.

     1 ARARAT HOUSE,

     ISLAND ROAD, W.

     My dear,

     Come back soon. I'm getting bored. Miss Harper isn't bad. Can't
     write a long letter because this nib is awful. Kisses.

     Your loving

     Lily.

This would stand for any of them.

May month had come in: Michael and Kenneth were finding whitethroats'
nests in the nettle-beds of the paddock, before a word to Mrs. Ross was
said about the marriage.

"Stella has written to me about it," she told him.

They were sitting in the straggling wind-frayed orchard beyond the
stream: lamps were leaping: apple-blossom stippled the grass: Kenneth
was chasing Orange Tips up the slope toward Grogg's Folly.

"Stella has been very busy all round," said Michael. "I suppose
according to her I'm going to marry an impossible creature. Creature is
as far as she usually gets in particular description of Lily."

"She certainly wasn't very complimentary about your choice," Mrs. Ross
admitted.

"I wish somebody could understand that it doesn't necessarily mean that
I'm mad because I'm going to marry a beautiful girl who isn't very
clever."

"But I gathered from Stella," Mrs. Ross said, "that her past ...
Michael, you must be very tolerant of me if I upset you, because we
happen to be sitting just where I was stupid and unsympathetic once
before. You see what an impression that made on me. I actually remember
the very place."

"She probably has done things in the past," said Michael. "But she's
scarcely twenty-three yet, and I love her. Her past becomes a trifle.
Besides, I was in love with her six years ago, and I--well, six years
ago I was rather thoughtless very often. I don't want you to think that
I'm going to marry her now from any sense of duty. I love her. At the
same time when people argue that she's not the correct young Miss they
apparently expect me to marry, I'm left unmoved. Pasts belong to men as
well as to women."

Mrs. Ross nodded slowly. Kenneth came rushing up, shouting that he had
caught a frightfully rare butterfly. Michael looked at it.

"A female Orange Tip," was the verdict.

"But isn't that frightfully rare?"

Michael shook his head.

"No rarer than the males; but you don't notice them, that's all."

Kenneth retired to find some more.

"And you're sure you'll be happy with her?" Mrs. Ross asked.

"As sure as I am that I shall be happy with anybody. I ought to be
married to her by now. This delay that I've so weakly allowed isn't
going to effect much."

Michael sighed. He had meant to be in Provence this month of May.

"But the delay can't do any harm," Mrs. Ross pointed out. "At any rate,
it will enable you to feel more sure of yourself, and more sure of her,
too."

"I don't know," said Michael doubtfully. "My theory has always been that
if a thing's worth doing at all, it's worth doing at once."

"And after you're married," she asked, "what are you going to do? Just
lead a lazy life?"

"Oh, no; I suppose I shall find some occupation that will keep me out of
mischief."

"That sounds a little cynical. Ah, well, I suppose it is a
disappointment to me."

"What's a disappointment?"

"I've hoped and prayed so much lately that you would have a
vocation...."

"A priest," he interrupted quickly, "It's no good, Mrs. Ross. I have
thought of being one, but I'm always put off by the professional side of
it. And there are ways of doing what a priest does without being one."

"Of course, I can't agree with you there," she said.

"Well, apart from the sacraments, I mean. Lately I've seen something of
the underworld, and I shall think of some way of being useful down
there. Already I believe I've done a bit."

They talked of the problems of the underworld and Michael was encouraged
by what he fancied was a much greater breadth in her point of view
nowadays to speak of things that formerly would have made her gray eyes
harden in fastidious disapproval.

"I feel happier about you since this talk," she said. "As long as you
won't be content to let your great gift of humanity be wasted, as long
as you won't be content to think that in marrying your Lily you have
done with all your obligations."

"Oh, no, I shan't feel that. In fact, I shall be all the more anxious to
justify myself."

Kenneth came back to importune Michael for a walk as far as Grogg's
Folly.

"It's such fun for Kenneth to have you here!" Mrs. Ross exclaimed. "I've
never seen him so boisterously happy."

"I used to enjoy myself here just as much as he does," said Michael.
"Though perhaps I didn't show it. I always think of myself as rather a
dreary little beast when I was a kid."

"On the contrary, you were a most attractive boy; such a wide-eyed
little boy," said Mrs. Ross softly, looking back into time. "I've seldom
seen you so happy as just before I blew out your candle the first night
of your first stay here."

"I say, do come up the hill," interrupted Kenneth despairingly.

"A thousand apologies, my lord," said Michael. "We'll go now."

They did not stop until they reached the tower on the summit.

"When I was your age," Michael told him, "I used to think that I could
see the whole of England from here."

"Could you really?" said Kenneth, in admiration. "Could you see any of
France, too?"

"I expect so," Michael answered. "I expect really I thought I could see
the whole world. Kenneth, what are you going to be when you grow up? A
soldier?"

"Yes, if I can--or what is a philosopher?"

"A philosopher philosophizes."

"Does he really? Is that a difficult thing to do, to philosopherize?"

"Yes; it's almost harder to do than to pronounce."

Soon they were tearing down the hill, frightening the larks to right and
left of their progress.

The weather grew warmer every day, and at last Mrs. Carthew came out in
a wheel-chair to see the long-spurred columbines, claret and gold,
watchet, rose and white.

"Really quite a display," she said to Michael. "And so you're to get
married?"

He nodded.

"What for?" the old lady demanded, looking at him over her spectacles.

"Well, principally because I want to," Michael answered, after a short
pause.

"The best reason," she agreed. "But in your case insufficient, and I'll
tell you why--you aren't old enough yet to know what you do want."

"Twenty-three," Michael reminded her.

"Twenty-fiddlesticks!" she snapped. "And isn't there a good deal of
opposition?"

"A good deal."

"And no doubt you feel a fine romantical heroical young fellow?"

"Not particularly."

"Well, I'm not going to argue against your marrying her," said Mrs.
Carthew. "Because I know quite well that the more I proved you to be
wrong, the more you'd be determined to prove _I_ was. But I can give you
advice about marriage, because I've been married and you haven't. Is she
dark? If she's dark, be very cold for a year, and if she doesn't leave
you in that time, she'll adore you for the rest of her life."

"But she's fair," said Michael. "Very fair indeed."

"Then beat her. Not actually, of course; but beat her figuratively for a
year. If you don't, she'll either be a shrew or a whiner. Both
impossible to live with."

"Which did Captain Carthew do to you?" asked Michael, twinkling.

"Neither; I ruled him with a rod of iron."

"But do you think I'm wise to wait like this before marrying her?"
Michael asked.

"There's no wisdom in waiting to do an unwise thing."

"You're so sure it is unwise?"

"All marriages are unwise," said Mrs. Carthew sharply. "That's why
everybody gets married. For most people it is the only imprudence they
have an opportunity of committing. After that, they're permanently cured
of rashness, and settle down. There are exceptions, of course: they take
to drink. I must say I'm greatly pleased with these long-spurred
columbines."

Michael thought she had finished the discussion of his marriage, but
suddenly she said:

"I thought I told you to come and see me when you went down from
Oxford."

"I ought to have come," Michael agreed rather humbly. He always felt
inclined to propitiate the old lady.

"Here we have the lamentable result. Marriage at twenty-three."

"Alan married at twenty-three," he pointed out.

"Two fools don't make a wise-man," said Mrs. Carthew.

"He's very happy."

"He would be satisfied with much less than you, and he has married a
delightful girl."

"I'm going to marry a delightful girl."

The old lady made no reply. Nor did she comment again upon his prospect
of happiness.

In mid-May, after a visit of nearly a month, Michael left Cobble Place
and went to stay at Plashers Mead. Guy Hazlewood was the only friend he
still had who could not possibly have come into contact with Lily or her
former surroundings. Moreover, Guy was deep in love himself, and he had
been very sympathetic when he wrote to Michael about his engagement.

"Do I intrude upon your May idyll?" Michael asked.

"My dear chap, don't be so absurd. But why aren't you married? You're as
bad as me."

"Why aren't _you_ married?"

"Oh, I don't know," Guy sighed. "Everybody seems to be conspiring to put
it off."

They were sitting in Guy's green library. The windows wide open let in
across the sound of the burbling stream the warm air of the lucid May
night, where bats and owls and evejars flew across the face of the
decrescent moon.

"It's this dreamy country in which you live," said Michael.

"What about you? You've let people put off your marriage."

"Only for another two months," Michael explained.

"You see I'm down to one hundred and fifty pounds a year now," Guy
muttered. "I can't marry on that, and I can't leave this place, and her
people can't afford to make her an allowance. They think I ought to go
away and work at journalism. However, I'm not going to worry you with my
troubles."

Guy was a good deal with Pauline every day: Michael wrote long letters
to Lily and read poetry.

"Browning?" asked Guy one afternoon, looking over Michael's shoulder.

"Yes; The Statue and The Bust."

"Oh, don't remind me of that poem. It haunts me," Guy declared.

A week passed. There was no moon now, and the nights grew warmer. It was
weather to make lovers happy, but Guy seemed worried. He would not come
for walks with Michael through the dark and scented water-meadows, and
Michael used to think that often at night he was meeting Pauline. It
made him jealous to imagine them lost in this amaranthine profundity.
They were happy now, if through all their lives they should never be
happy again. Yet Guy was obviously fretted: he was getting spoiled by
good fortune. "And I have had about a fortnight of incomplete
happiness," Michael said to himself. Supposing that a calamity fell upon
him during this delay. He would never cease to regret his weakness in
granting his mother's request: he would hate Stella for having
interfered: his life would be miserable forever. Yet what calamity did
he fear? In a sudden apprehension, he struck a match and read her last
letter:

     1 ARARAT HOUSE,

     ISLAND ROAD, W.

     My dear,

     It's getting awfully dull in London. Miss Harper asked me to call
     her "Mabel." Rather cheek, I thought, don't you think so? But she's
     really awfully decent. I can't write a long letter because we're
     going to the Palace. I say, do buck up and come back to London, I'm
     getting bored. Love and kisses.

     Lily.

     What's the good of _writing_ "kisses"?

What indeed was the good of writing "kisses"? Michael thought, as the
match fizzed out in the dewy grass at his feet. It was not fair to treat
Lily like this. He had captured her from life with Sylvia, because he
had meant to marry her at once. Now he had left her alone in that flat
with a woman he did not know at all. Whatever people might say against
Lily, she was very patient and trustful. "She must love me a good
deal," Michael said. "Or she wouldn't stand this casual treatment."

Pauline came to tea next day with her sisters Margaret and Monica.
Michael had an idea that she did not like him very much. She talked
shyly and breathlessly to him; and he, embarrassed by her shyness,
answered in monosyllables.

"Pauline is rather jealous of you," said Guy that evening, as they sat
in the library.

"Jealous of me?" Michael was amazed.

"She has some fantastic idea that you don't approve of our engagement.
Of course, I told her what nonsense she was thinking; but she vowed that
this afternoon you showed quite plainly your disapproval of her. She
insists that you are very cold and severe."

"I'm afraid I was very dull," Michael confessed apologetically. "But I
was really envying you and her for being together in May."

"Together!" Guy repeated. "It's the object of everyone in Wychford to
keep us apart!"

"Do tell her I'm not cold," Michael begged. "And say how lovely I think
her; for really, Guy, she is very lovely and strange. She is a fairy's
child."

"She is, she is," Guy said. "Sometimes I'm nearly off my head with the
sense of responsibility I have for her happiness. I wonder and wonder
until I'm nearly crazed."

"I'm feeling responsible just now about Lily. I've never told you, Guy,
but you may hear from other people that I've made what is called a
mésalliance. Of course, Lily has been...." He stumbled. He could find no
words that would not humiliate himself and her. "Guy, come up with me
to-morrow and meet her. It's not fair to leave her like this," he
suddenly proclaimed.

"I don't think I can come away."

"Oh, yes, you can. Of course. You must," Michael urged.

"Pauline will be more jealous of you than ever, if I do."

"For one night," Michael pleaded. "I must see her. And you must meet
her. Everyone has been so rotten about her, and, Guy, you'll appreciate
her. I won't bore you by describing her. You must meet her to-morrow.
And the rooms in Ararat House. By Jove, you'll think them wonderful. You
should see her in candlelight among the mirrors. Pauline won't mind your
coming away with me for a night. We'll stay at Cheyne Walk."

"Well, as a matter of fact, I'm rather hard up just now...."

"Oh, what rot! This is my expedition. And when you've seen her, you must
talk to my mother about her. She's so prejudiced against Lily. You will
come, won't you?"

Guy nodded a promise, and Michael went off to bed on the excitement of
to-morrow's joy.

Guy would not start before the afternoon, and Michael spent the morning
under a willow beside the river. It was good to lie staring up at the
boughs, and know that every fleecy cloud going by was a cloud nearer to
his seeing Lily again.

Michael and Guy arrived at Paddington about five o'clock.

"We'll go straight round from here and surprise her," Michael said,
laughing with excitement, as they got into a taxi. "She'll have had a
letter from me this morning, in which I was lamenting not seeing her for
six weeks. My gad, supposing she isn't in! Oh, well, we can wait. You'll
love the room, and we'll all three sit out in the garden to-night, and
you'll tell me as we walk home to Chelsea what you think of her. Guy
you've absolutely got to like her. And if you don't ... oh, but you
will. It isn't everybody who can appreciate beauty like hers. And
there's an extraordinary subtlety about her. Of course, she isn't at all
subtle. She's simple. In fact, that's one of the things Stella has got
against her. What I call simplicity and absence of training for effect
Stella calls stupidity. My own belief is that you'll be quite content to
look at her and not care whether she talks or not. I tell you, she's
like a Piero della Francesca angel. Cheer up, Guy. Why are you looking
so depressed?"

"Oh, I don't know," said Guy. "I'm thinking what a lucky chap you are.
What's a little family opposition when you know you're going to be able
to do what you want? Who can stop you? You're independent, and you're in
love."

"Of course they can't stop me!" Michael cried, jumping up and down on
the cushions of the taxi in his excitement. "Guy, you're great! You
really are. You're the only person who's seen the advantage of going
right ahead. But don't look so sad yourself. You'll marry your Pauline."

"Yes, in about four years," Guy sighed.

"Oh, no, no; in about four months. Will Pauline like Lily? She won't be
jealous of me when I'm married will she?"

"No, but I think I shall be," Guy laughed.

"Laugh, you old devil, laugh!" Michael shouted. "Here we are. Did you
ever see such a house? It hasn't quite the austerity of Plashers Mead,
has it?"

"It looks rather fun," Guy commented.

"You know," Michael said solemnly, pausing for a moment at the head of
the steps going down to the front door. "You know, Guy, I believe that
you'll be able to persuade my mother to withdraw all her opposition
to-night. I believe I'm going to marry Lily this week. And I shall be
so glad--Guy, you don't know how glad I shall be."

He ran hurriedly down the steps and had pressed the bell of Number One
before Guy had entered the main door.

"I say, you know, it will be really terrible if she's out after all my
boasting," said Michael. "And Miss Harper, too--that's the
housekeeper--my housekeeper, you know. If they're both out, we'll have
to go round and wait in the garden until they come in. Hark, there's
somebody coming."

The door opened, and Michael hurried in.

"Hullo, good afternoon, Miss Harper. You didn't expect to see me, eh?
I've brought a friend. Is Miss Haden in the big room?"

"Miss Haden is out, Mr. Fane," said the housekeeper.

"What's the matter? You're looking rather upset."

"Am I, Mr. Fane?" she asked blankly. "Am I? Oh, no, I'm very well. Oh,
yes, very well. It's the funny light, I expect, Mr. Fane."

She seemed to be choking out all her words, and Michael looked at her
sharply.

"Well, we'll wait in the big room."

"It's rather untidy. You see, we--I wasn't expecting you, Mr. Fane."

"That's all right," said Michael. "Hulloa ...I say, Guy, go on into that
room ahead. I'll be with you in a minute."

Guy mistook the direction and turned the handle of Lily's bedroom door.

"No, no," Michael called. "The double doors opposite."

"My mistake," said Guy cheerfully. "But don't worry: the other door was
locked. So if you've got a Bluebeard's Closet, I've done no harm."

He disappeared into the big room, and the moment he was inside Michael
turned fiercely to Miss Harper.

"Who's is this hat?" he demanded, snatching it up.

"Hat? What hat?" she choked out.

"Why is the door of her bedroom locked? Why is it locked--locked?"

The stillness of the crepuscular hall seemed to palpitate with the
woman's breath.

"Miss Haden must have locked it when she went out," she stammered.

"Is that the truth?" Michael demanded. "It's not the truth. It's a lie.
You wouldn't be panting like a fish in a basket, unless there was
something wrong. I'll break the door in."

"No, Mr. Fane, don't do that!" the woman groaned out, in a cracked
expostulation. "This is the first time since you've been away. And it
was an old friend."

"How dare you tell me anything about him? Guy! Guy!"

Michael rushed into the big room and dragged Guy out.

"Come away, come away, come away! I've been sold!"

"If you'd only listen a moment. I could----" Miss Harper began.

Michael pushed her out of their path.

"What on earth is it?" Guy asked.

"Come on, don't hang about in this hell of a house. Come on, Guy."

Michael had flung the door back to slam into Miss Harper's face, and,
seizing Guy by the wrist, he dragged him up the steps, and had started
to run down the road, when Guy shouted:

"Michael, the taxi! The taxi's waiting with our bags."

"Oh, very well, in a taxi then, a taxi if you like," Michael chattered,
and he plunged into it.

"Where to?" the driver asked.

"Cheyne Walk. But drive quickly. Don't hang about up and down this
road."

The driver looked round with an expression of injured dignity, shook his
head in exclamation, and drove off.

"What on earth has happened?" Guy asked. "And why on earth are you
holding a top-hat?"

Michael burst into laughter.

"So I am. Look at it. A top-hat. I say, Guy, did you ever hear of anyone
being cut out by a top-hat, cuckolded by a top-hat? We'll present it to
the driver. Driver! Do you want a top-hat?"

"Here, who are you having a game with?" demanded the driver, pulling up
the car.

"I'm not