Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Audrey Craven
Author: Sinclair, May, 1863-1946
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 "Audrey Craven" ***

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



  AUDREY CRAVEN


  BY

  MAY SINCLAIR

  AUTHOR OF "THE DIVINE FIRE," ETC.


  "Made subject to vanity"



  NEW YORK

  HENRY HOLT AND COMPANY

  1906


  _AUTHOR'S EDITION_


  _TO_

 _MY MOTHER_



AUDREY CRAVEN



CHAPTER I


Everybody knew that Miss Audrey Craven was the original of "Laura," the
heroine of Langley Wyndham's masterpiece. She first attracted the
attention of that student of human nature at Oxford, at a dinner given
by her guardian, the Dean of St. Benedict's, ostensibly in honour of the
new Master of Lazarus, in reality for his ward's entertainment and
instruction in the bewildering art of life.

It was thunder-weather. Out of doors, a hot and sleepy air hung over the
city; indoors, the forecast was no less heavy and depressing. Not so,
however, to Miss Audrey Craven. The party was large and mixed; and to
the fresh, untutored mind of a tyro, this in itself was promising. The
Dean pursued the ruinous policy of being all things to all men; and
to-night, together with nonentities and Oxonians of European renown,
there was a sprinkling of celebrities from the outside world. Among
these were Mr. Langley Wyndham, the eminent novelist, and his friend
Mr. Percival Knowles, the critic who had helped him to his eminence.
Having collected these discordant elements around him, the Dean withdrew
from the unequal contest, and hovered, smiling ineffectually, on the
outskirts of his little chaos. Perhaps he tried to find comfort in a
conscience satisfied for a party spoiled. But for Audrey this wild
confusion was rich in possibility. However baffling to those officially
responsible, it offered a wider field for individual enterprise; and if
she did not possess that fine flow of animal spirits which sometimes
supports lesser minds under such circumstances, she had other qualities
which stood her in good stead. Conspicuous amongst these was an
indomitable moral courage. She prepared to hurl herself into the breach.

Wyndham was standing a little apart from the herd, leaning against the
wall, as if overcome by an atmosphere too oppressive for endurance, when
he saw his friend approaching him. Knowles was looking about him with
eyes alert, and that furtive but uncontrollable smile which made ladies
say, "Yes; but Mr. Knowles is so dreadfully cynical, you know."

"By the way, Wyndham--I don't want to startle you, but there is a lady
here who particularly wants me to introduce you to her."

Wyndham turned on him a look terrible in its dignified reproach.

"Anything but that, my dear fellow. No more introductions to-night,
please. I've just suffered torture from an unspeakable youth from
Aberdeen, who expected me to rejoice with him because Oxford is at last
recognising the 'exeestence of a metapheesical principle in the wur-r-ld
and mon----'"

"I admit that the party is dull, from a mere worldling's point of view.
But it's a glorious field for the student of human nature. And here's an
opportunity for exceptional research--something quite off the beaten
track. The admirer of you and all your works is the lovely Miss Craven,
and I assure you she's creating a sensation at the other end of the
room."

"Which is she?"

"There, the girl with the copper-coloured hair, talking to Broadbent."

"Ah, that one. No, thanks. I know what you're going to tell me--she
_writes_."

"She doesn't, but she's pretty enough to do that or anything else she
chooses. Scandal says she's looking for a religion. She must be a simple
soul if she thinks she can pick up the article in Oxford."

"Oh, I don't know. Religions are cheap everywhere nowadays, the supply
being so remarkably in excess of the demand, and Miss Craven's soul may
be immortal (we'll give it the benefit of the doubt), but its simplicity
is _un grand peut-être_. What's the matter?"

"It makes me ill to see the way these fellows go about leading captive
silly women. Do look at Broadbent cramming his spiritual pabulum into
that girl's mouth. Moral platitudes--all the old crusts he can lay his
hands on, soaked in the milk-and-water of sentiment."

"And a little new wine--with the alcohol extracted by the latest
process; no possible risk of injury to the bottles. Don't be uneasy;
I've been watching her all evening, ever since I found her in a corner
with the unspeakable youth, talking transcendentalism. A woman who can
look you in the face and ask you if you have ever doubted your own
existence, and if it isn't a very weird and unaccountable sensation,
would be capable of anything. Five minutes afterwards she was
complimenting Flaxman Reed on the splendid logic of the Roman Faith, and
now I've no doubt she's contributing valuable material to Broadbent's
great work on the Fourth Gospel."

He was wrong. At that moment the earnest seeker after truth was gazing
abstractedly in his direction, and had left the Canon lecturing to empty
benches, balancing himself on his toes, while he defined his theological
position with convincing emphasis of finger and thumb. What he said is
neither here nor there. Then Wyndham repented of his rudeness. He waited
till Knowles was looking another way, and made for the Dean in a
bee-line, approaching him from the rear to find him introducing a late
arrival to his niece. He heard the name Mr. Jackson, and noted the faint
shade of annoyance on the girl's face, as the interloper sat down beside
her with a smile of dreamy content. It was enough to quench Wyndham's
languid ardour. He was not going to take any more trouble to get an
introduction to Miss Audrey Craven.

He saw her once more that evening as he turned to take leave of his
host. She was still sitting beside Mr. Jackson, and Wyndham watched them
furtively. Mr. Jackson was a heavy, flaxen-haired young man, with a
large eye-glass and no profile to speak of. To judge by Miss Craven's
expression, his conversation was not very interesting, though he was
evidently exerting himself to give it a humorous turn. Wyndham smiled in
spite of himself.

"Hard lines, wasn't it?" said Knowles at his elbow. "Brilliant idea of
the Dean's, though--introduce the biggest bore in the county to the
prettiest girl in the room."

The unconscious Mr. Jackson burst into laughter, and Audrey raised her
eyebrows; she looked from Mr. Jackson to Wyndham, and from Wyndham to
Mr. Jackson, and laughed a low musical laugh, without any humour in it,
which echoed unmusically in the memory. Wyndham turned abruptly away,
and Audrey looked after him as he turned. Her face was that of one who
sees her last hope disappearing. Poor Audrey! Who would not have pitied
her? After hovering all evening on the verge of an introduction to his
Eminence, it was hard to bear the irony of this decline, unsustained by
any sense of its comedy. He had avoided her in the most marked manner;
but all the same, she wondered whether he was thinking about her, and
if so, what he was thinking.

What he thought that night, and the next, and the next after that, was
something like this: "My dear lady, you think yourself remarkably
clever. But really there is nothing striking about you except the colour
of your hair. Biggest bore in the county--prettiest girl in the room? If
it weren't for your prettiness--well, as yet that may have saved you
from being a bore." After that he laughed whenever he caught himself
trying to piece together the image which his memory persistently
presented to him in fragments: now an oval face tinged with a childlike
bloom, now grey eyes ringed with black, under dark eyebrows and lashes;
or a little Roman nose with a sensitive tip, or a mouth that to the best
of his recollection curled up at the corners, making a perpetual dimple
in each cheek. They were frivolous details, but for weeks he carried
them about with him along with his more valuable property.



CHAPTER II


Scandal was mistaken. Miss Audrey Craven was not in search of a
religion, but she had passed all her life looking for a revelation. She
had no idea of the precise form it was to take, but had never wavered in
her belief that it was there, waiting for her, as it were, round a dark
corner. Hitherto the ideal had shown a provoking reticence; the
perfectly unique sensation had failed to turn up at the critical moment.
Audrey had reached the ripe age of ten before the death of her father
and mother, and this event could not be expected to provide her with a
wholly new emotion. She had been familiarised with sorrow through fine
gradations of funereal tragedy, having witnessed the passing of her
canary, her dormouse, and her rabbit. The end of these engaging
creatures had been peculiarly distressing, hastened as it was by
starvation, under most insanitary conditions.

The age of ten is the age of disenchantment--for those of us who can
take a hint. For Audrey disenchantment never wholly came. She went on
making the same extravagant demands, without a suspicion of the limited
resources of life. It was the way of the Cravens. Up to the last her
father never lost his blind confidence in a world which had provided him
with a great deal of irregular amusement. But the late Mr. Craven could
be wise for others, though not for himself, and he had taken a singular
precaution with regard to his daughter. Not counting the wife whom he
had too soon ceased to care for, he had a low opinion of all women, and
he distrusted Audrey's temperament, judging it probably by his own and
that of his more intimate acquaintance. By a special clause in his will,
she had to wait for her majority four years longer than the term by law
appointed. Further, until she reached her majority she was to spend six
months of the year at Oxford, near her guardian, for the forming and
informing of her mind--always supposing that she had a mind to form. And
now, at the age of five-and-twenty, being the mistress of her own
person, her own income, and her own house in Chelsea, she was still
looking out for a revelation.

Her cousin, Mr. Vincent Hardy, believed that he had been providentially
invented to supply it. But in the nature of things a cousin whom you
have known familiarly from childhood cannot strike you as a revelation.
He is really little better than a more or less animated platitude.

Vincent Hardy would have been unaffectedly surprised if you had told him
so. To himself he seemed the very incarnation of distinguished paradox.
This simply meant that he was one of those who innocently imagine that
they can defy the minor conventions with a rarer grace than other men.

Certainly his was not exactly the sort of figure that convention expects
to find in its drawing-rooms at nine o'clock in the evening. It was in
Audrey's house in Chelsea, the little brown house with discreet white
storm-shutters, that stands back from the Embankment, screened by the
narrow strip of railed plantation known as Chelsea Gardens. Here or
hereabouts Hardy was to be met with at any hour of the day; and late one
July evening he had settled himself, as usual, near a certain "cosy
corner" in the big drawing-room. His face, and especially his nose, was
bronzed with recent exercise in sun and wind, his hair was limp with the
steam of his own speed, and on his forehead his hat had left its mark in
a deep red cincture. His loose shooting jacket, worn open, displayed a
flannel shirt, white, but not too white. This much of Hardy was raised
and supported on his elbow; the rest of him, encased in knickerbockers,
stockings, and exceedingly muddy boots, sprawled with a naïve
abandonment at the feet of the owner of the drawing-room. Lying in this
easy attitude, he delivered himself of the following address--

"Life in London is a life for lunatics. And life in England generally is
a glorious life for clergymen and counter-hoppers, but it's not the life
for a man. It was all very well in the last century, you know, when
Englishmen were men first, and lunatics, if they chose, or clergymen or
counter-hoppers, afterwards. Ah! if that wasn't exactly our golden age,
it was the age of our maturity, of our manhood. If you doubt it, read
the literature of the eighteenth century. Take Fielding--no, don't take
Fielding. Anyhow, since then we have added nothing to the fabric of
life. To pile it on above, we've simply been digging away like mad from
below, and at last our top-heavy civilisation is nodding to its fall;
and its fall will sweep us all back into barbarism again. Then, when we
are forced back into natural conditions, the new race will be born. No
more of your big-headed, spindle-shanked manikins: we shall have a
chance then of seeing a _man_--that is, a perfect animal. You may turn
up your nose, my superfine lady: let me tell you that this glorious
animalism means sanity, and sanity means strength, and strength means
virtue. _Vis--vir--virtus_, ma'am."

Hardy sat up and caressed the calves of his legs with thoughtful
emotion, as if he recognised them as the sources of the moral law within
him. His cousin had not followed his precipitate logic. With woman's
well-known aversion from the abstract, she was concentrating her
attention on the concrete case, the glorious animal before her. Now it
would be very wrong to suppose that Hardy was in the least tainted with
socialism, anarchism, or any such pestilent heresies, or that he had
read "Emile" and "Walden." He had never heard of either of these works,
and had no desire whatever for the restoration of society on a primitive
basis of animalism, modified by light literature, clothing, and the
moral law. For all modern theories he had a withering contempt, his own
simple creed being that in the beginning God made man a Tory squire. His
quarrel with the social order was a purely private and particular one.
In our modern mythology, Custom, Circumstance, and Heredity are the
three Fates that weave the web of human life. Hardy did not wholly
sympathise with this belief. He had too profound a respect for his own
pedigree to lay his sins at his great-grandfather's door. As the nephew
of a Tory squire, he was but two degrees removed from original
righteousness. In spite of this consideration, he was wont to describe
himself with engaging candour as a "bad hat." In doing so he recognised
that he was a dependent part of a vast and complicated system. If he,
Vincent Hardy, was a bad hat, who was to blame for it? Obviously,
civilisation for providing him with temptation, and society for
supplying encouragement. As a consequence he owed both civilisation and
society a grudge.

"Therefore I say that a return to barbarism will be our salvation. You
and I mayn't live to see the day, but----"

Here the impassioned orator, who had been making charges at his boots
with the point of his walking-stick, succeeded in detaching a large
cake of mud, which he immediately ground to powder on the carpet.
Civilisation personified in Audrey Craven gazed at him in polite
reproach.

"My new carpet will certainly not live to see it. It may be part of the
detestable social order, but it is not responsible for it, any more than
I am."

"Never mind, Audrey. It's honest Hertfordshire mud--clean from the
country as God made it, if I hadn't had to cross your filthy London in
order to get here."

Audrey smiled, though she knew that brown streaks of the honest
Hertfordshire mud marked the hero's passage from the doorway to her
feet. She was naturally long-suffering, and seldom repulsed any one,
save a few of the more impertinent of her own sex. She lay back in her
cosy corner, outwardly contemplating the unusual length of muscular
humanity extended before her, inwardly admiring her own smile, a smile
of indulgent lips and arch eyebrows, in which the eyes preserved a
languid neutrality.

Being thus pleasantly preoccupied, she may be supposed ignorant of her
cousin's broad gaze of unreflecting admiration, and totally unprepared
for his rapid change of theme.

"Audrey," he began, with alarming suddenness, "some people would lead up
to the subject cautiously. That would only waste time, and time's
everything now. Is Miss Craven at home?"

"Miss Craven is always at home when I am. Would you like to see her?"

"See her? Good heavens, no! Do you know positively where she is
secreting herself, or must I lock the door?"

"That is unnecessary. She will not come in--she never does."

A suspicious look darted from the corners of Hardy's eyes.

"Except when I ask her," added Audrey, sweetly.

"Well, then, if you can ensure me against the sort of interruption that
annoyed me before, we will return to the question we were discussing
when----"

"Please don't go over any old ground. That would bore me."

"It would bore _me_. I will begin where we left off. The problem, if you
remember, was this--to put it baldly--do you care for me, or do you
not?"

"Didn't we get any farther than that?"

"No, we didn't."

"Do I--or--do I not? Really I cannot tell you, Vincent, for I don't know
myself."

"Nonsense! there's no logical dilemma. You can't go on for ever treating
it as an open question."

"Well--you draw such absurdly hard-and-fast lines."

"Audrey, do you honestly suppose that I've walked here thirty miles,
parboiled between sun and rain, in order to be made a fool of?" (in his
excitement Hardy forgot that twenty miles was the precise distance, and
that he had much better have taken the train). "How much longer are you
going to keep up this fiendish cat-and-mouse sort of game?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that ten years is a devil of a time to keep a man waiting for
his answer."

"Ten years?--ten days, you mean."

"Excuse me, I broached this subject for the first time ten years ago."

"Oh, I daresay, when we were both children."

"We are neither of us children now, Audrey."

"Speak for yourself. I was an infant in the eyes of the law till the
other day."

"You are--let me see--five-and-twenty. If you have any mind at all, you
must have made it up by this time."

"The case would be much easier if you were not such a mass of
inconsistency yourself."

"I've been consistent enough in one respect. Do you remember the first
time you stayed with us at Woodford, when you weren't much higher than
that table, and how you and I set off together for Wanstead Woods?"

"Yes--before breakfast. I have never forgotten it."

"Nor I. You did rile me that day, Audrey. You waited till we came within
a stone's-throw of the woods, and then you sat down in a turnip field
and cried because you couldn't go any farther."

"After running at your heels for two miles, like a dog."

"Yes--and, with the irresponsibility of the inferior animal, eating up
the whole of the cake I provided for us both."

"It was perfectly fair; you dragged me out against my will."

"So you argued at the time, but I couldn't follow your reasoning.
Perhaps you have forgotten how I carried you on my back to Woodford, and
then gave the milkman sixpence to drive us the rest of the way home. And
you were such a contemptible little snob that you cried again because
you had to sit next the milkman."

"I remember perfectly. You only carried me as far as Red Bridge, in a
position the most comfortable for yourself and the most undignified for
me. You borrowed that sixpence from me and never paid me again; and we
were _both_ punished with dry bread for breakfast, because we were seen
in the milk-cart."

"The abominable injustice of my parents was of a piece with the whole
system I complain of. You will observe that we were punished, not for
disobedience, but for riding in a milk-cart, and not so much for being
in it as for being seen in it."

"Exactly, otherwise the reminiscence would be slightly irrelevant."

"Not at all. It illustrates my thorough-going consistency. I loved you
then, in spite of your detestable conduct in the matter of that cake,
and I have loved you ever since in spite of your other faults."

"Thank you."

"I suppose you would prefer some hypocrite who told you that you had
none?"

"On the contrary, I enjoy being told of my faults."

This was true. If it came to the point, Audrey would boldly offer her
own character for dissection rather than suffer conversation to be
diverted to a less interesting topic. Hardy had rather neglected these
opportunities for psychological study, and herein lay the secret of his
failure. He continued, adopting a more practical line of argument
suggested by the episode of the sixpence--

"It's not as if you were a millionaire and I a grovelling pauper. I
shall have Lavernac and two thousand a-year when my uncle, Sir
Theophilus Parker, dies." Hardy rolled out the title with a certain
proprietary unction; his cousin had no share in this enviable
relationship. "I give the old bird five years at the very worst, and
it's a moral impossibility that he should leave me in the lurch. But I
don't count on that. My own property has kept me idle all my life; but
I've sold it at last, and, as I said just now, I am going out to Canada
to farm."

Audrey blushed, and punished her blush with a frown. If she had been
playing the amusing game that Hardy suggested, it was one thing to give
the mouse a little run in order to renew the pleasures of the chase,
another thing to let him escape altogether from her paws. Hardy saw his
advantage and followed it up.

"When I told you that I had done with civilisation, I suppose you
thought it was a joke?"

"I did. Only I couldn't see the point."

"The point is this, that I'm going down to Liverpool to-morrow, and
shall sail for Canada this day week. I can't stand it any longer. I
can't breathe here. Town or country, it's all the same--the air chokes
me, it's teeming with moral bacilli. You never thought I was so
particular? No more did I----". He paused, knitting his brows. "I admit
frankly that I'm a bad hat. This place has been my ruin, as it has of
many a better man than me. Perhaps, if it hadn't been for you,
Audrey--but I won't press that point; it wouldn't be generous, however
just. Anyhow, whatever my past has been, my future lies in your hands. I
would say your love was life or death to me, but that wouldn't be
anywhere near the truth. It's not so much a question of death as a
question of damnation."

Hardy was desperately in earnest, but not so much so as to be careless
of rhetorical effect. In his desire to represent himself as a fallen
angel he had done himself no little injustice, as well as grossly
exaggerated the power of Audrey's regenerative influence.

She was evidently moved. She took no pains to restrain the trembling of
her lips, more than was necessary to preserve their delicate outline.
Hardy had paid homage to her as the superior being.

It marked an epoch in the history of his passion.

He rose to his feet and looked down on her as from a height. A fallen
angel is not without his epic sublimity.

The lady hesitated. She pulled out the tremolo stop, and then spoke.

"You say that if it hadn't been for me--I don't quite understand you,
but you are mistaken if you think I never cared for you--never cared, I
mean to say, for your good." She also rose, with an air of having made a
statement as final as it was clear and convincing. He laid his hand on
her shoulder and looked steadily in her face. There was no evasion in
her eyes, but her eyelids quivered.

"It's all right, Audrey; you never have denied that you love me, and you
can't for the life of you deny it now."

She did not attempt to; for the entrance of the footman with coffee made
denial indecent at the moment, if not impossible. That _deus ex machina_
from below the stage retired, unconscious of the imminent catastrophe he
had averted. But he had brought into the little drama a certain prosaic
element. Coffee and romantic passion do not go hand in hand.

Then it seemed to Audrey that the welcome interval of commonplace lapsed
into a dream, in which Hardy's voice went sounding on in interminable
monologue.

"I shall hear the wind, Audrey, rushing over prairies infinite as the
sea; I shall see the great wall of the Rockies rising sky-high. And
England will seem like a little piece of patchwork, with a pattern of
mole-hills for mountains, and brooks for rivers. And when I've set our
Canadian farm going, I shall hunt big game. And when I've exterminated
the last bison off the face of the boundless prairie, I shall devote
myself to literature."

"Literature?" she echoed faintly. It was all so grotesquely strange that
even this announcement brought only a dreamlike surprise.

"Yes, literature. Do you think literature is only produced by the
miserable noodles who sit in their studies at home, till their muscles
wither and their hearts get flabby? _My_ book will be a man's book, with
a man's blood and a man's brains in it. It will be a book that will make
posterity sit up. And when you have enjoyed the fame of it a little,
we'll go out again together. In Canada we shall find a new heaven and a
new earth."

She sat silent and passive. The situation had a charm which she was
powerless to break. It seemed as if the mere brute force through which
Hardy had dominated her intellect hitherto, had become refined by some
extraordinary process, and was exerting a moral influence over her. In
order to assert herself against the intolerable fascination she rose
hastily and crossed the room to where her piano stood open in the
corner.

She played loud and long,--wild Polish music, alive with the beating
pulses of love and frenzy and despair. It would have roused another man
to sublime enthusiasm or delirious rapture.

It sent Hardy to sleep.

Stretched on the hearthrug, with slackened jaw, and great chest heaving
with regular rise and fall, he slept like a tired dog. She played on,
and as she played he dreamed that he stood with her in the midst of the
burning prairie, they two on a little ring of charred black earth, an
island in a roaring sea of fire. The ring grew smaller and smaller, till
they could only find standing-room by clinging close together. As he
turned to her she thrust him from her into the sea of fire, crying,
"It's perfectly fair, Vincent, for you dragged me here against my will!"

He woke with a snort as the music suddenly ceased. It was midnight. He
had to start from home early next morning, and if he delayed longer he
would lose the last train out.

He parted from Audrey as only the traveller outward bound parts from his
betrothed. In fact, as she remarked afterwards, "For the fuss he made
about it he might have been going to the North Pole with his life in his
hands. So like Vincent!" As for Hardy, he felt already the wind of the
new heaven and the sweetness of the new earth.

Audrey was staring abstractedly into the looking-glass, when she heard
the front-door shut with a violent bang, and the sound of his quick
footsteps on the pavement below. She came to herself with a cold shiver.

What had she done? Surely she had not gone and engaged herself to
Vincent? bound herself in the first year of her liberty to a man she had
known all her life, and her own cousin too?

It was impossible; for, you see, it would have argued great weakness of
mind and a total want of originality.



CHAPTER III


Whether Audrey did or did not understand herself, she was a mystery to
all about her, and to none more than her father's cousin and her own
chaperon, Miss Craven. This unfortunate lady, under stress of
circumstances, had accepted the charge of Audrey after her parents'
death, and had never ceased to watch her movements with bewildered
interest and surprise. The most familiar phenomena are often the least
understood, and Miss Craven's intelligence was daily baffled by the
problem of Audrey. Daily she renewed her researches, with enthusiasm
which would have done credit to a natural philosopher, but hitherto she
had found no hypothesis to cover all the facts. The girl was either a
rule for herself, or the exception that proved other people's rules; and
Miss Craven was obliged to rest satisfied in the vague conclusion that
she had a great deal of "character." Strange to say, that is how Audrey
struck most of her acquaintance, though as yet no one had been known to
venture on further definition. Miss Craven was repaid for her
affectionate solicitude by an indifference none the less galling because
evidently unstudied. Audrey rather liked her chaperon than otherwise.
The "poor old thing," as she called her, never got in her way, never
questioned her will, and made no claims whatsoever on her valuable time;
besides relieving her of all those little duties that make us wonder
whether life be worth living.

Under the present dispensation chaperons were a necessary evil; and
Audrey was not one to fly heedlessly in the face of her Providence,
Society.

All the same, Miss Craven had her drawbacks. If you, being young and
vivacious, take a highly nervous old lady and keep her in a state of
perpetual repression, shutting her out from all your little confidences,
you will find that the curiosity so natural to her age will be sure to
burst out, after such bottling, in alarming effervescence. As soon as
Hardy's unmistakable footsteps were heard on the stairs, she had left
the drawing-room on a hint from Audrey. In her room above she had heard
the alternate booming and buzzing of their voices prolonged far into the
night, but could make out no intelligible sounds. To ears tingling with
prophetic apprehension the provocation was intense.

The old lady passed a restless night, and came down to breakfast the
next morning quivering with suppressed excitement. Audrey's face did not
inspire confidence; and it was not until she had touched lightly on the
state of the weather, and other topics of general interest, that Miss
Craven darted irrelevantly to her point.

"My dear, is there anything between you and your--er--cousin Mr. Hardy?"

The awful question hung in the air without a context, while Audrey went
on making tea. This she did with a graceful and deliberate precision,
completing the delicate operation before answering.

"Yes, there is a great deal between me and my cousin Mr. Hardy, which
neither of us can get over."

There was a freezing finality in the manner of the reply, in spite of
the smile which accompanied it; and even Miss Craven could not fail to
understand. She bridled a little, wrapping herself closer in her soft
shawl as in an impenetrable husk of reserve, and began nervously
buttering toast. The whole thing was very odd; but then the ways of
Audrey were inscrutable.

Audrey herself felt an unspeakable relief after that question and her
own inspired answer. Last night she had possibly been ambiguous; to-day,
at any rate, her words had a trenchant force which severed one of the
thousand little threads that bound her to Hardy. After all, when it came
to the point, there was an immense amount of decision in her character.
And as the days went on, and Hardy with them, leaving league after
league of the Atlantic behind him, the load at her heart grew lighter;
and when at last the letter came which told her that he had crossed the
Rocky Mountains, she felt with a little tremor of delight that she was a
free woman once more. Her world was all before her, vaguely alluring,
as it had been a month ago.

The letters which Hardy sent from time to time had no power to destroy
this agreeable illusion; for of course letters were bound to come, and
she answered them all with cousinly affection, as she would have
answered them in any case. At last one came which roused her from her
indifference, for it had a postscript:--

    "By the way, there's a Miss Katherine Haviland living near you, at
    12 Devon Street, Pimlico. She's a sort of little half-sister of
    mine, so I'd be glad if you'd go and look her up some day and be
    kind to her. There's a brother knocking about somewhere, but he
    doesn't count, he's only a baby. Ripping sport--shot a moose and two
    wapiti this morning."

Audrey read the letter with languid attention. She was not in the least
interested to hear that he had taken up land and put it into the hands
of an agent to farm. She was tired of the long highly-coloured
descriptions of Canadian scenery and the tales of Vincent's adventures,
and she had got into the way of skipping his vain repetitions of all the
absurd things he had said to her on the night of his departure; but the
postscript stirred strange feelings in her breast. His mother was
married a second time, but to Audrey's certain knowledge Vincent had no
little half-sisters; it followed that for some reason he had used a
figure of speech. She was not in the least in love with him, but at the
same time she felt all the dignity of her position as empress of his
heart, and could bear no little half-sisters near the throne. She would
certainly look Miss Haviland up. She would go and be kind to her that
afternoon; and she put on her best clothes for the occasion.

A few minutes' walk brought her to No. 12 Devon Street, one of a row of
gloomy little houses--"full of dreadful city clerks and dressmakers,"
she said to herself in a flight of imagination.

She lifted the knocker gingerly in her white gloved hand, and felt by no
means reassured when she was shown in, and followed the servant up the
narrow staircases to the attics. As she neared the top she heard a voice
above her sounding in passionate remonstrance.

"Three baths in the one blessed dy, a-splashin' and a-sloogin' somethin'
orful--'e didn't ought for to do it, m'm, not if it was ever so!"

Here the voice was cut short by a mingled roar and ripple of laughter,
and Miss Audrey Craven paused before announcing herself. Through the
half-open doorway she saw a girl standing before an easel. She had laid
down her palette and brushes, and with bold sure strokes of the pencil
was sketching against time, leaning a little backwards, with her head in
a critically observant pose. The voice reasserted itself in crushing
peroration--

"I tell you wot it is, Mr. 'Aviland--_you're no gentleman_."

And Audrey's entrance coincided with the retreat of a stout woman,
moving slowly with an unnatural calm.

The girl doubled back her sketch-book and came forward, apologising for
the confusion. Face to face with the object of her curiosity, Audrey's
first feeling was one of surprised and reluctant admiration. Miss
Haviland was dark, and pale, and thin; she was also a little too tall,
and Audrey did not know whether she quite liked the airy masses of black
hair that curled high up from her forehead and low down on it, in crisp
tendrils like fine wire. Yet, but for her nose, which was a shade too
long, a thought too _retroussé_, Miss Haviland would have been beautiful
after the Greek type. (Audrey's own type, as she had once described it
in a moment of introspection, was the "Roman _piquante_," therefore she
made that admission the more readily.) There was a touch of classic
grace, too, in the girl's figure and her dress. She had rolled up the
sleeves of her long blue overall, and bound it below her breasts and
waist with a girdle of tape--not for the sake of effect, as Audrey
supposed, but to give her greater freedom as she worked and moved about
the studio. At this point Audrey found out that all Miss Haviland's
beauty lay in the shape of her head and neck. With "that nose" she might
be "interesting," but could never be beautiful; in fact, her mouth was
too firm and her chin stuck out too much even for moderate prettiness.

Audrey did not arrive at these conclusions in the gradual manner here
set forth. The total impression was photographed on her sensitive
feminine brain by the instantaneous process; and with the same
comprehensive rapidity she began to take in the details of her
surroundings. The attic was long, and had one window to the west, and
another to the north under the roof, looking over the leads. At the far
end were a plain square table and a corner cupboard. That was the
dining-room and the pantry. Before the fireplace were a small Persian
rug bounded by a revolving book-case, a bamboo couch, a palm fern, a
tea-table. That was the library and drawing-room. All the remaining
space was the studio; and amongst easels, stacks of canvases, draperies,
and general litter, a few life-size casts from the antique gleamed from
their corners.

From these rapid observations Audrey concluded that Miss Haviland was
poor.

"You were busy when I came in?" she asked sweetly.

"No; I was only taking a hurried sketch from the life. It's not often
that our landlady exhibits herself in that sublime mood; so I seized the
opportunity."

"And I interrupted you."

"No; you interrupted Mrs. Rogers, for which we were much obliged--she
might have sat for us longer than we liked. I am very pleased to see
you."

Certainly Audrey was a pleasant sight. There was no critical
afterthought in the admiring look which Miss Haviland turned on her
visitor, and Audrey felt to her finger-tips this large-hearted feminine
homage. To compel another woman to admire you is always a triumph;
besides, Miss Haviland was an artist, and her admiration was worth
something--it was like having the opinion of an expert. Audrey pondered
for a moment, with her head at a becoming angle, for she had not yet
accounted for herself.

"My cousin Vincent Hardy asked me to call on you. I believe he is a very
old friend of yours?"

"Yes; we have known each other since we were children."

"What do you think of his going out to Canada to farm?"

"I didn't know he had gone."

(Then Vincent had not thought it worth while to say good-bye to his
"little half-sister." So far, so good.)

"Oh, didn't you? He went six weeks ago."

"I never heard. It's an unlikely thing for him to do, but that's the
sort of thing he always did do."

"He hated going, poor fellow. He came to say good-bye to me the night
before he went, and he was in a dreadful state. I've heard from him
every week since he sailed, and he's promised to send me some
bearskins. Isn't it nice of him?" ("She won't like _that_!")

Miss Haviland assented gravely, but her eyes smiled.

"I suppose you've seen a good deal of Vincent? He wrote to me about you
from the Rocky Mountains."

"Did he? We used to be a good deal together when we were little. Since
then we have been the best of friends, which means that we ignore each
other's existence with the most perfect understanding in the world. I
always liked Vincent."

This was reassuring. Miss Haviland's manner was candour itself; and
depend upon it, if there had been any self-consciousness about her,
Audrey would have found it out at once. She dropped the subject, and
looked about her for another. The suggestions of the place were obvious.

"I see you are a great artist. My cousin didn't prepare me for that."

Miss Haviland laughed.

"Vincent is probably unaware of the interesting fact, like the rest of
the world."

"That picture is very beautiful; may I look at it?" said Audrey, going
up to the easel.

"Certainly. It's hardly finished yet, and I don't think it will be
particularly beautiful when it is. I can't choose my subjects."

"It looks--interesting," murmured Audrey, fatuously. (What _was_ the
subject, after all?) "Have you done many others?"

"Yes, a good many."

"May I----?" she hesitated, wondering whether her request might not be a
social solecism, like asking a professional to play.

"If you care about pictures, I will show you some of my brother's some
day. His are better than mine--more original, at least."

"Your brother? Oh, of course. Vincent told me you had a brother, a baby
brother. Surely----"

Miss Haviland laughed again.

"How like Vincent! He is unconscious of the flight of time. I suppose he
told you I was about ten years old. But you must really see the baby; he
will be delighted with your description of him." She called through the
skylight, and Audrey remembered the gentleman who was "no gentleman,"
and who must have been responsible for half the laughter she had
overheard.

"You see," Miss Haviland explained, "we've only one room for everything;
so Ted always climbs on to the leads when we hear people coming--he's
bound to meet them on the stairs, if he makes a rush for the bedrooms.
If any bores come, I let him stay up there; and if it's any one likely
to be interesting, I call him down."

"He must have great confidence in your judgment."

"He has. Here he comes."

Audrey looked up in time to see the baby lowering himself through the
skylight. With his spine curved well back, his legs hanging within the
room, and his head and the upper part of his body laid flat on the leads
outside it, he balanced himself for a second of time. It was a most
undignified position; but he triumphed over it, as, with one supple
undulation, he shot himself on to the floor, saving his forehead from
the window by a hair's-breath.

After this fashion Ted Haviland was revealed to Audrey. She was, if
anything, more surprised by his personal appearance than by the unusual
manner of his entrance. The baby could not have been more than nineteen
or twenty, and there could be no dispute as to his beauty. Nature had
cast his features in the same mould as his sister's, and produced a very
striking effect by giving him the same dark eyebrows and lashes, with
blue eyes and a mass of light brown hair. Detractors complained that the
type was too feminine for their taste; but when challenged to show a
single weak line in his face, they evaded the point and laid stress on
the delicate pallor of his complexion. Not that it mattered, for Ted
soon made you think as little of his good looks as he did himself. But
Audrey never forgot him as she first saw him, glowing with exercise and
the midday bath which had roused his landlady's indignation.

"I'm extremely sorry," he began airily, "for disappearing in that rude
way."

"Perhaps I ought to apologise," said Audrey, "for I frightened you
away."

"Not at all, though I was desperately frightened too. I was flying
before Mrs. Rogers when you came in. You'll probably think I ought to
have braved it out, just for the look of the thing--especially after her
reflections on my social position--but unfortunately my sister has
imbued that terrible woman with the belief that art can't possibly
flourish anywhere outside this attic of hers. Ever since then she's kept
us in the most humiliating subjection. I don't want you to think badly
of Mrs. Rogers: there's no malice about her; she wouldn't raise your
rent suddenly, or leave pails of water on the stairs, or anything of
that kind, and she's capable of really deep feeling when it's a question
of dinner."

"Ted--if you _can_ forget Mrs. Rogers for a minute--I told Miss Craven
that you would show her some of your sketches and things some day."

"All right; we'll have the exhibition to-day, if Miss Craven cares to
stop. Plenty of time before the light goes."

Audrey hesitated: but Miss Haviland had moved aside her own easel to
make room for her brother's; she seconded his invitation, and Miss
Craven stopped.

Three months ago, in an Oxford drawing-room, she had found herself
absorbing metaphysics, as it were through the pores of her skin, without
any previous discipline in that exacting science; now, in a London
studio, she became aware of a similarly miraculous influx of power.
Yesterday she would have told you that she knew nothing about art, and
cared less. To-day it seemed that she had lived in its atmosphere from
her cradle, and learned its language at her nurse's knee. But, though
familiar with art, she was not prepared for the behaviour of the artist.
Ted treated his works as if he were the last person concerned with them.
He would pass scathing judgment on those which pleased Audrey best; or
he would stand, like a self-complacent deity, aloof from his own
creations, beholding them to be very good, and not hesitating to say so.

"Well," said Audrey at last, "you've shown me a great many lovely
things, but which is your masterpiece?"

"They were all masterpieces when I first finished them."

"Yes; but seriously, which do you consider your best? I want to know."

Ted hesitated, and then turned to a stack of larger canvases.

"I wonder," she murmured, "if _I_ shall think it your best."

"Probably not."

"Why not?"

Ted did not answer: he hardly liked to say, "Because hitherto you have
persistently admired my worst."

"This," he said, laughing, as he lifted a large canvas on to the easel,
"is the only masterpiece that has withstood the test of time."

"He means," struck in his sister, "that he finished it a week ago, and
that in another week he'll want to stick a knife into it."

With all its faults the picture had a poetic audacity that defied the
criticism it provoked. If you looked long enough, you saw that a youth
and a maiden were lying in a trance that was half sleep, half death;
while their souls, diaphanous forms with indefinite legs, hovered above
them in mid-air, each leaning towards the other's body. The souls
described two curves that crossed like the intersecting of rainbows; and
where they met, their wings mingled in a confused iridescence. Eros, in
a flame-coloured tunic, looked on with an air of studied indifference
that might or might not have been intended by the painter.

Audrey looked helplessly at the picture. She could not understand it,
and with things that she could not understand she always felt a vague
impotent displeasure.

"What--what is the subject?" she gasped at length.

"A metempsychosis."

She knitted her brows and said nothing.

"Transmigration of souls--why didn't I say so at first?" returned Ted,
in cheerful response to the frown.

"So I see; but what's Apollo doing there with his bow and arrows, and
why is he all in red?"

"It's not meant for Apollo--it's an Eros."

"I beg your pardon?"

"An Eros--Love, a very inferior order of deity."

"Why is he in red?"

"I don't know, I'm sure. His taste in dress always was a little loud."

"But why is he there at all?"

"Love! Can't you see? I can't explain if it's not obvious. He--er--he
_must_ be there."

Audrey looked up, but the baby was not looking at her; he was absorbed
in his masterpiece. She flushed, and pressed one little pointed boot
firmly to the ground.

"Yes, yes, I see that; but I can't make out the rest of it."

Ted shook his head helplessly, while his sister laughed at his
discomfiture.

"Please don't mind my sister," said he, nervously flourishing his
maul-stick. "The picture represents two people exchanging souls"--Audrey
raised her eyebrows: "those are the souls, and these are the people--do
be quiet, Katherine! It's a perfectly conceivable transaction, though I
own it might be a very bad bargain for some. I wouldn't like to swop
souls with my sister, for instance--she hasn't any imagination."

Audrey gave a little shudder.

"What a curious idea! It makes me feel quite creepy. But I'm sure I
never _could_ lose my sense, of personal identity. My individuality is
too strong--or something. And then, what _has_ Love got to do with it?
What does it all mean?"

"Obviously, that Love is Master of the Ceremonies at every
well-regulated metempsychosis," said Katherine.

"I see." Audrey lay back in her chair and gazed dreamily at the
painting, while the painter gazed at her. Was he trying to find out the
secret of that individuality?

Audrey turned to Katherine with her radiant smile.

"Do you paint like this, too?"

"No, I'm a portrait-painter."

"Ah! that means that you'd rather paint what you see?"

"It means that I have to paint a great deal that I'd rather not see."

"But your brother is an idealist--aren't you, Mr. Haviland?"

"Probably. I've always noticed that when people call you an idealist,
it's a polite way of saying you're a failure. I may be an idealist; I
don't know, and I'm afraid I don't much care."

"I'm sure you do care; and you _must_ have your ideals."

"Oh, as for that, I've kept as many as seven of them at a time. But I
never could tame them, and when it comes to taking their portraits the
things don't know how to sit properly. Look at that woman's soul, for
instance"--and Ted pointed to his masterpiece with disgust.

"Why, what's wrong with it? It's beautiful."

"Yes; I got on all right with the upper half, but, as you see, I've been
a little unfortunate with the feet and legs."

"Of course!" interrupted Katherine, "because you got tired of the whole
thing. That's what a man's idealism comes to!"

Audrey looked up with a quick sidelong glance.

"And what does a woman's idealism come to?"

"Generally to this--that she's tried to paint her own portrait large,
with a big brush, and made a mess of the canvas."

There was a sad inflection in the girl's voice, and she looked away as
she spoke. The look and the tone were details that lay beyond the range
of Audrey's observation, and she felt hurt, though she hardly knew why.
She rose, carefully adjusting her veil and the lace about her throat.

"I adore idealists--I can't help it; I'm made that way, you see."

She shrugged her shoulders, in delicate deprecation of the decrees of
Fate.

Katherine did not see, but she went down with Miss Craven to the door.
Ted had proposed tea on the leads, and Audrey had agreed that it would
have been charming--idyllic--if she could have stayed. But she had
looked at the skylight, and then at her own closely fitting gown, and
Propriety, her guardian angel, had suggested that she had better not.

"Ted," said Katherine an hour later, "I've got an idea. What a
magnificent model Miss Craven would make!"

Ted made no answer; but he flung his sketch-book to the other end of the
room, where it took Apollo neatly in the eye.

"I've failed miserably in my Mrs. Rogers," said he, and went off for
solitary contemplation on the leads.

Katherine picked up the book and looked at it.

He _had_ failed in his Mrs. Rogers; but in a corner of a fresh page he
had made a little sketch of a face and figure which were not those of
Mrs. Rogers. And that was a failure too.



CHAPTER IV


There was a certain truth in Hardy's description of Ted Haviland. Ted
had all a baby's fascination, a baby's irresponsibility, and a baby's
rigid tenacity of purpose. There perhaps the likeness ended. At any
rate, Ted had contrived to plan a career for himself at the age of
seven, had said nothing about it for ten years, and then quietly carried
it through in spite of circumstances and the influential members of his
family. These powers had been against him from the first. His mother had
died in giving him birth; and as his father chose to hold him directly
responsible for the tragedy, his early years were passed somewhat under
a cloud. Katherine was his only comfort and stay. The girl had five
years the start of him, which gave her an enormous advantage in dealing
with the uncertain details of life. Her method was simplicity itself. It
was summed up in the golden rule: Take your own way first, and then let
other people take theirs. It was in this spirit that, mounted on a
table, she painted the great battle-piece that covered the north wall of
the nursery; and with equal heroism she met the unrighteous Nemesis that
waits upon mortal success, and skipped off to bed at three o'clock in
the afternoon as if to a tea-party. Ted worshipped his sister, because
of her courage and resource, because of her fuzzy black hair cut short
like a boy's, for the strength of her long limbs, and for a hundred
other reasons. And Katherine loved Ted with a passion all the more
intense because he was the only creature she knew that would let itself
be loved comfortably; for "Papa" was an abstraction, and "Nurse" erred
on the opposite extreme, being a terribly concrete reality, with a great
many acute angles about her, which was a drawback to demonstrations of
affection.

One day Katherine mixed some colours for Ted and taught him how to
manage a pencil and paint-brush. That was just before she went to
school, and then Ted said to himself, "I too will paint battle-pieces";
and he painted them in season and out of season, and was obliged to hide
them away in drawers and cupboards and places, for there was no one to
care for them now that Kathy was gone. As for that headstrong young
person, her method was so far successful that when she was eighteen it
began to be rumoured in the family that Katherine would do great things,
but that Ted was an idle young beggar. The boy had shown no talent for
anything in particular, and nobody had thought of his future: not
Katherine--she was too busy with her own--and certainly not his father,
who at the best of times lived piously in the past with the memory of
his dead wife, and was day by day loosening his hold upon the present.
For Ted "Papa" became more and more an abstraction, until a higher Power
withdrew him altogether from earthly affairs.

Mr. Haviland had lived in a melancholy gentility on a pension which died
with him, and at his death the children were left with nothing but the
pittance they inherited from their mother. When the family met in solemn
conclave to decide the fate of Katherine and Ted, it learned that
Katherine, true to her old principles, had taken the decision into her
own hands. She meant to live for art and by art, and Uncle James was
much mistaken if he thought that an expensive training was to be flung
away upon a "niggling amateur." At any rate, she had taken a studio in
Pimlico and furnished it, and as she had come of age yesterday, there
was really no more to be said. Ted, of course, would live with her, and
choose his own profession. But Ted's profession was not so easily
chosen. The boy had brought a perfectly open mind to the subject, and
discussed the reasons for and against the Church, the Bar, the Bank, and
a trade, with admirable clearness and impartiality; but when invited to
make a selection from among the four, he betrayed no enthusiasm. Finally
he was asked if he had any objection to the medical profession, and
replied that he had none, having, indeed, never thought about it. On the
whole, he considered that the idea was not a bad one, and he would try
it. He tried it for a year and a half, but not altogether with success.
He had been advised to take up surgery, for a great man had noticed his
long sensitive fingers, and told him that he had the hands of a born
surgeon. He managed to get through the hours in the dissecting-room,
standing on his head from time to time as a precaution against
faintness; but his heroism gave way before the horrors of the theatre.
Soon, with indignation naturally mingled with pleasure at this
fulfilment of its own predictions, the family heard that Ted had flung
up the medical profession. That the boy had the hands of a born surgeon
was considered to be an aggravation of his offence; it constituted it
flying in the face of Providence. When Ted drew attention to the fact
that he had passed first in Comparative Anatomy, his uncle James told
him that stupidity was excusable, and that his abilities only proved him
a lazy good-for-nothing fellow. He then offered him a berth in his
office, with board and lodging in his own house; and as Ted was in low
water, there was nothing for it but to accept. Mr. James Pigott remained
master of the situation, without a suspicion of its pathetic irony. Ted,
whose intellect was incapable of adding two and two together, had to sit
on a high stool and work endless sums in arithmetic. Ted, whose soul was
married _sub rosa_ to ideal beauty, had to live in a house where every
object had the same unwinking self-complacent ugliness, and where the
cook was the only artist whose genius was appreciated. Ted was a little
bit of a Stoic, and he could have borne the long impressive dinners and
the unstudied malice of the furniture, if only his uncle would have let
him alone. But Mr. Pigott was nothing if not conscientious; and now that
he had him under his thumb, he made superhuman efforts to understand his
nephew's character and to win his confidence. The poor gentleman might
just as well have tried to understand the character of an asymptote, or
to win the confidence of a Will-o'-the-wisp; and nothing but misery can
come of it when a middle-aged city merchant, born without even a
rudimentary sense of humour, suddenly determines to cultivate that gift
for the benefit of a boy who can detect humour in the wording of an
invoice.

Well, he never knew how it happened--his mind might have been running on
an illustrated edition of the cash accounts of Messrs. Pigott & Co.--but
at last Ted made an arithmetical blunder so unprecedented, so
astounding, that a commercial career was closed to him for ever.
"Stupidity is excusable," said Uncle James. "If you had been stupid, I
would have forgiven you; but you have ability enough, sir, and it
follows that you are careless--criminally careless--and I wash my hands
of you." And, like Pilate, he suited the action to the word.

So it happened that as Katherine was putting the last touches to her
great picture "The Witch of Atlas," and to her sketch of an elaborate
future, Fate stepped in and altered all her arrangements. She called it
Fate, for she never could bring herself to say it was Ted. For months
she had been living in a dream, in which she was no longer a poor artist
toiling in a London garret: she was on the highest peak of Atlas, in the
land where, as you know, dreams last forever, where the light comes down
unfiltered through the transcendental air, and where, owing to the
unmelting ice and snow, the shadows are always colours. To live for art
and by art--she had not yet realised the incompatibility of these two
aims; for Katherine was as uncompromising in this as in everything else,
and refused to work in a liberal and enlightened spirit. She believed
that beauty is the only right or possible or conceivable aim of the
artist, and she was ready to sacrifice a great deal for this belief. For
this she slept and worked in one room, which she left bare of all but
necessary furniture--under which head, in defiance of all laws of
political economy, she included a small Pantheon of plaster deities: for
this she stinted herself in everything except air and exercise, which
were cheap; and for this she refused to join housekeeping with her
cousin Nettie, thereby giving lasting offence to an influential branch
of the family. At the end of three years she had begun to hope, and to
feel the quickening of new powers; and as her nature expanded, her art
took on a subtler quality, a subdued and delicate sensuousness, which,
it must be owned, had very little in common with the flesh and blood of
ordinary humanity.

She was painting steadily, in a pallid fervour of concentrated
excitement, the ease of her pliant hands contrasting with her firm lips
and knitted brows, when Ted burst into the studio, with a thin Gladstone
bag in one hand and a fat portfolio in the other. His face told her of a
crisis in his history; it was humorous, pathetic, deprecating, and
determined, all at once,--not the face of a boy dropping in casually at
tea-time. When asked if anything had gone wrong at the office, he
replied, "Probably--by this time. They lost their brightest ornament
this morning. You see they said--among other things--that it wasn't the
least use my stopping, as I hadn't any head for figures,--which was odd,
considering that it's just with figures I've been most successful." But
Katherine was to judge for herself. He sat down leisurely and began
untying his portfolio. Then he caught sight of "The Witch of Atlas."
"That's going to be a stunning picture, Kathy," said he. He stood before
the canvas for a moment, and then turned abruptly away. When he looked
at Katherine again, his face was set and a little flushed. He seemed to
be making a calculation--a thing he had always some difficulty in doing.
"You've been at it practically all your life; but it took
you--one--two--three--five years' real hard work, didn't it, before you
could paint like that?"

"Yes, Ted, five years' hard labour, with costs."

"It'll take me four. Thank heaven, I've learnt anatomy!"

Katherine said nothing: she had opened the portfolio and spread out the
drawings, and was hanging over them in amazement. How, when, and where
the boy had done the things, she could not imagine. There were finished
studies in anatomy, of heads and limbs in every conceivable attitude.
There were shilling drawing-books crammed with illustrations of most
possible subjects and some impossible ones; loose sketches done on the
backs of envelopes, the fly-leaves of books, and (fearful revelation of
artistic depravity!) the ruled pages of ledgers. And in every one of
them there was power and wild exuberant vitality. It was genius, rampant
and undisciplined, but unmistakable; and she told him so. Her first
feeling sent the blood to her cheeks for pure joy; her second drove it
back to her heart again. Katherine was one of those people who can see a
thing instantly, in all its possible bearings; and at the present moment
she saw clearly, not only that Ted was a genius, but that his genius had
everything to learn, and that it would take the whole of his tiny income
to teach it, while the necessities of his board and lodging in the
meanwhile would more than double her own expenses. She saw herself
doomed to the production of an unbroken succession of pot-boilers, and
for the next few years at least Ted's career was only possible at the
sacrifice of her own. "Yes," she said at last, sitting down and tying
the strings of the portfolio tenderly, "you'll have to work hard for
four or five years or so; and then you'll have to wait. Art is long, you
know, and high art's the longest of all." And when she told him that it
would be a great help to her if they clubbed together, Ted actually
believed her, so unaware was he of the complexities of life.

Katherine understood why Ted had gone to Guy's Hospital; but when she
asked him--idiot!--why he had wasted a year at his uncle Pigott's
office, he said that he wanted to prove to his uncle Pigott's limited
capacity that he was utterly incapable of managing anybody's business
but his own. Katherine asked no more questions, for she was trying to
think. Then when she had done thinking, she took the Witch and turned
her with her face to the wall. And when she looked at Ted again it was
with a choking sensation, and for the first time for three years she was
aware that she had a heart beating under the blue overall. She had come
down from Atlas faster than she had gone up. After all, the climate
there is frightfully cold, and there are passes on that lonely mountain
which overhang the bottomless pit, where some have perished very
miserably. Katherine had escaped the abyss, and left behind her the
dreams and the golden mists and the starry peaks of ice. It was dark in
the studio, and a voice was heard inquiring whether the young gentleman
was going to stay for supper, "_Because_, if a bysin of hoatmeal
porridge yn't enuff for one----"

Mrs. Rogers was great in the argument _a fortiori_.



CHAPTER V


Audrey had never been able to enjoy the friendship of her own sex for
more than ten minutes at a time. Her own society bored her
inexpressibly, and that of the women she had known hitherto was
uninteresting because it was like her own. But Katherine was unlike all
other women, and she had taken Audrey's fancy. Audrey was always
devising pretty little excuses for calling, always bringing in hothouse
flowers, or the last hothouse novel, which Katherine positively _must_
read; until, by dint of a naïve persistency, she won the right to come
and go as she pleased. As for Katherine, she considered that a beautiful
woman is exempt from criticism; and so long as she could watch Audrey
moving about, arranging flowers with dainty fastidious touches, or lying
back on the couch in some reckless but perfect pose, she reserved her
judgment. She rejoiced in her presence for its beauty's sake. She loved
the curves of her limbs, the play of her dimples, the shifting lights in
her hair. But she had to pay for the pleasure these things afforded her,
and "man's time" became a frequent item in the account. Katherine had
set her heart on Ted's studying in Paris for six months, and was trying
hard to make enough money to send him there. With this absorbing object
in view, she herself worked equally well whether Audrey were in the
studio or out of it; but it seemed that Ted's powers were either
paralysed or diverted into another channel from the moment she came in.
The baby was trying to solve a problem which had puzzled wiser heads
than his. But he had no clue to the labyrinth of Audrey's soul; he was
not even certain whether she was an intelligent being, though to doubt
it was blasphemy against the divine spirit of beauty.

His researches took him very often to Chelsea Gardens, and most of his
spare time not spent there was employed in running errands to and fro.
Owing to these distractions his nerves became quite unhinged, and for
the first time in his life he began to show signs of a temper. He had
been full of the Paris scheme at first, but he had not spoken of it now
for at least a month.

He had just sat down for the twentieth time to a study of Katherine's
head as "Sappho," and had thrown down his palette in disgust,
exclaiming--

"What's the use of keeping your mouth still, if your confounded eyes
giggle?" when a note arrived from Miss Craven.

You can't step out of a violent passion all in a minute, and perhaps
that was the reason why Ted's hands trembled a little as he tore open
the envelope and read--


    "DEAR MR. HAVILAND,--Do come over at once. I'm in a dreadful fix,
    and want your advice and help badly. I would ask your sister, only
    I know she is always busy.--Sincerely yours,

                                                     "AUDREY CRAVEN."

Audrey wrote on rough-edged paper, in the bold round hand they teach in
schools. She had modelled hers on another girl's, and she signed her
name with an enormous A and a flourish. People said there was a great
deal of character in her hand-writing.

Ted crammed the note hastily into his pocket, and did his best to hide
the radiance of his smile.

"It's only Miss Craven. I'm just going over for half an hour,--I'll be
back for tea."

And before Katherine had time to answer he was gone.

Ted's first thought as he entered Miss Craven's drawing-room was that
she was in the midst of a removal. The place was turned topsy-turvy.
Curtains had been taken down, ornaments removed from their shelves,
pictures from their hangings; and the grand piano stood where it had
never yet been allowed to stand, in a draught between the window and the
door. Tripping over a Persian rug, he saw that the floor was littered
with tapestries and rich stuffs of magnificent design. On his left was a
miscellaneous collection of brass and copper ware, on his right a heap
of shields and weapons of barbarous warfare. On all the tables and
cabinets there stood an array of Venetian glass, and statuettes in
bronze, marble, and terra-cotta. He was looking about for Miss Craven,
when that lady arose from a confused ocean of cushions and Oriental
drapery--Aphrodite in an "Art" tea-gown. She greeted him with childlike
effusion.

"At last! I'm so glad you've come--I was afraid you mightn't. Help me
out of this somehow--I'm simply distracted."

And she pointed to the floor with a gesture of despair.

"Yes; but what do you want me to do?"

"Why, to offer suggestions, advice, anything--only speak."

Ted looked about him, and his eyes rested on the grand piano. "Is it a
ball, a bazaar, or an auction? And are we awake or dreaming, alive or
dead?"

"Can't you see, Mr. Haviland?"

"Yes, I see a great many things. But what does it all mean?"

Audrey sank on to an ottoman, and answered slowly and incisively,
looking straight before her--

"It means that I'm sick of the hideousness of life, of the excruciating
lower middle-class arrangement of this room. I don't know how I've stood
it all these years. My soul must have been starved--stifled. I want to
live in another atmosphere, to be surrounded by beautiful things. Don't
laugh like that,--I know I'm not an artist; I couldn't paint a
picture--how could I? I haven't been taught. But I know that Art is the
only thing worth caring about. I want to cultivate my sense of beauty,
and I don't want my room to look like anybody else's."

"It certainly doesn't at present."

"Please be serious. You're not helping me one bit. Look at that pile of
things Liberty's have sent me! First of all, I want you to choose
between them. Then I want you to suggest a colour-scheme, and to tell me
the difference between Louis Quinze and Louis Quatorze (I _can't_
remember), whether it'll do to mix Queen Anne with either. And whether
would you have old oak, real old oak, or Chippendale, for the furniture?
and must I do away with the cosy corner?"

Ted felt his head going round and round. Artistic delight in Audrey's
beauty, pagan adoration of it, saintly belief in it, the first tremor of
crude unconscious passion, mingled with intense amusement, reduced him
to a state of utter bewilderment. But he had sufficient presence of mind
to take her last question first and to answer authoritatively--

"Certainly. A cosy corner is weak-minded and conventional."

"Yes, it is. I'm not in the least conventional, and I don't think I'm
weak-minded. And I want my room to express my character, to be a bit of
myself. So give me some ideas. You don't mind my asking you, do you?
You're the only artist I know."

"Am I really? And if you knew six or seven artists, what then?"

"Why, then--I should ask you all the same, of course."

Boy-like he laughed for pure pleasure, and boy-like he tried to
dissemble his emotion, and did her bidding under a faint show of
protest. He gave his vote in favour of Venetian glass and a small marble
Diana, against majolica and a French dancing-girl in terra-cotta; he
made an intelligent choice from amongst the various state-properties
around him, and avoided committing himself on the subject of Louis
Quatorze. On one point Audrey was firm. For what reasons nobody can say,
but some Malay creeses had caught her fancy, and no argument could
dissuade her from arranging them over the Neapolitan Psyche which she
had kept at Ted's suggestion. The gruesome weapons, on a background of
barbaric gold, hung above that pathetic torso, like a Fate responsible
for its mutilation. Audrey was pleased with the effect; she revelled in
strong contrasts and grotesque combinations, and if Liberty's had sent
her a stuffed monkey, she would have perched him on Psyche's pedestal.

"I know a man," said Ted, when he had disposed the last bit of drapery
according to an ingenious colour-scheme, in which Audrey's hair sounded
a brilliant staccato note--"a first-rate artist--who was asked to
decorate a lady's room. What do you think he did? He made her take all
the pictures off the walls, and he covered them over with little
halfpenny Japanese fans, and stuck little halves and quarters of fans in
the corners and under the ceiling. Then he put a large Japanese umbrella
in the fireplace, and went away smiling."

"Was the lady pleased?"

"Immensely. She asked all her friends to a Japanese tea-party in Mr.
Robinson's room. The rest of the furniture was early Victorian."

This anecdote was not altogether to Audrey's taste. She walked to a
shelf where Ted had put some bronzes, looked at them with a decided air
of criticism, and arranged them differently. Having asserted her
independence, she replied severely--

"Your friend's friend must have been an extremely silly woman."

"Not at all; she was a most intelligent, well-informed person,
with--er--a deep sense of religion."

"And now, Mr. Haviland, you're making matters worse. You care nothing
about her religion; you simply think her a fool, and you meant that I'm
like her. Else why did you tell such a pointless story?"

"Forgive me; the association of ideas was irresistible. You _are_ like
her--in your utter simplicity and guileless devotion to an ideal."

He looked all round the room again, and sank back on the sofa cushions
all limp with laughter.

"I--I never saw anything so inexpressibly sad as this afternoon's work;
it's heartrending."

His eye fell on the terra-cotta Parisienne dancing inanely on her
pedestal, and he moaned like one in pain. Audrey's mouth twitched and
her cheeks flamed for a second. She turned her back on Ted, until his
fit had spent itself, dying away among the cushions in low gurgles. Then
there was silence.

Ted raised his head and looked up. She was still standing in the same
place, but one hand was moving slowly towards her pocket.

He sprang to his feet and faced her. She walked to the window,
convulsively grasping her pocket-handkerchief.

He followed her.

"Miss Craven--dear Miss Craven--on my soul--I swear--I never----Can't
you--won't you believe me?"

Still there was silence and an averted head.

"Speak, can't you!"

He leant against the window and began to giggle again. Audrey turned at
the sound, and looked at him through eyes veiled with tears; her lips
were trembling a little, and her fingers relaxed their convulsive grasp.
He darted forward, seized her hand, and kissed it an indefinite number
of times, exclaiming incoherently--

"Brute, hound, cur that I am! Forgive me--only say you'll forgive me! I
know I'm not fit to live! And yet, how could I tell? Good heavens! what
funny things women are?" Here he took possession of the little lace
pocket-handkerchief, and wiped her eyes very gently. Then he kissed her
once on the mouth, reverently but deliberately.

To do Audrey justice, she had meant to sustain her part with maidenly
reserve, but she was totally unprepared for this acceleration of the
march of events. She said nothing, but went back submissively to her
sofa, hand in hand with Ted. There they sat for a minute looking rather
stupidly into each other's faces.

The lady was the first to recover her self-possession. She raised her
hand with a benedictory air and let it rest lightly, ever so lightly, on
Ted's hair.

"My dear boy," she murmured, "I forgave you all the time."

Now there is nothing that will dwarf the proportions of the grand
passion and bring you to your sober senses sooner than being patted on
the head and called "My dear boy" by the lady of your love. Ted ducked
from under the delicate caress, and rose to his feet with dignity. His
emotion was spent, and he was chiefly conscious of the absurdity of the
situation. Every object in that ridiculous room accentuated the
distasteful humour of the thing. Psyche looked downcast virgin
disapproval from her pedestal under the Malay creeses, and the frivolous
little Parisienne flung her skirts abroad in the very abandonment of
derision.

If only he hadn't made a fool of himself, if only he hadn't told that
drivelling story about the Japanese umbrella, if only he hadn't laughed
in that frantic manner, and if only----But no, he could not look back
on the last five minutes. The past was a grey blank, but the flaming
episode of the kiss had burnt a big black hole in his present
consciousness. He felt that by that rash, unpardonable act he had
desecrated the holy thing; and with it all, had forestalled, delayed,
perhaps for ever prevented, the sanction of some diviner opportunity. If
he had only waited another year, she could not have called him her dear
boy.

"I'm fully aware," he said, ruefully, "that I've behaved like a
heaven-afflicted idiot, and I'd better go."

"No, you shall not go. You shall stay. I wish it. Sit down--here."

She patted the sofa beside her, and he obeyed mechanically.

"Poor, poor Ted! I _do_ forgive you. We will never misunderstand each
other again--never. And now I want to talk to you. What distressed me so
much just now was not anything that you said or thought about _me_, but
the shocking way you treat yourself and what is best in you. Can't you
understand it? You know how I believe in you and hope for you, and it
was your affectation of indifference to things which are a religion to
me--as they are to you--that cut me to the heart."

She had worked herself up till she believed firmly in this little
fiction. Yes, those tears were tears of pure altruism--tears not of
wounded vanity and self-love, but of compassion for an erring genius.

She drew back her head proudly and looked him full in the face. Then she
continued, in a subdued voice, with a certain incisive tremor in it, the
voice that is usually expressive of the deeper emotions--

"You know, and I know, that there is nothing worth caring about except
art. Then why pretend to despise it as you do? And Katherine's every bit
as bad as you are,--she encourages you. I know--what perhaps she
doesn't--that you have great enthusiasms, great ideals; but you are
unfaithful to them. You laughed at me; you know you did----"

("I didn't," from Ted.)

"----because I'm trying to make my life beautiful. You're led away by
your strong sense of humour, till you see something ridiculous in the
loveliest and noblest things" (Ted's eyes wandered in spite of himself
to the little lady in terra-cotta). "I know why: you're afraid of being
sentimental. But if people have feelings, why should they be ashamed of
them? Why should they mind showing them? Now I want you to promise me
that, from this day forth, you'll take yourself and your art seriously;
that you'll work hard--you've been idling shamefully lately" (oh,
Audrey! whose fault was that?)--"and finish some great picture before
the year's out" (he had only five weeks to do it in, but that was a
detail). "Now promise."

"I--I'll promise anything," stammered the miserable Ted, "if only
you'll look at me like that--sometimes, say between the hours of seven
and eight in the evening."

"Ridiculous baby! Now we must see about the pictures; we've just time
before tea."

The mention of tea was a master-stroke; it brought them both back to the
world of fact, and restored the familiar landmarks.

Ted, solemnly penitent, gave his best attention to the pictures: there
was not a trace of his former abominable levity in the air with which he
passed sentence on each as Audrey brought them up for judgment. But when
he came to the family portraits he suspended his verdict, and Audrey was
obliged to take the matter into her own hands.

She took up a small picture in a square frame and held it close to Ted's
face.

"Portrait of my uncle, the Dean of St. Benedict's. What shall I do with
it?"

"That depends entirely on the amount of affection you feel for the
original."

"H'm--does it? He's a dear old thing, and I'm very fond of him,
but--what do you think of him?--from an artistic point of view?"

She stood with her body curved a little backwards, holding the Dean up
high in a good light. Her attitude was so lovely that it was impossible
to disapprove of her. Ted's reason tottered on its throne, and he
laughed, which was perhaps the best thing he could have done.

"He is not, strictly speaking, handsome."

"No," said Audrey; "I'm afraid he'll have to go."

She knelt down beside the portrait of a lady. It was evidently the work
of an inferior artist, but his most malignant efforts had failed to
disguise the beauty of the face. It bore a strong resemblance to Audrey,
but it was the face of an older woman, grave, intelligent, and refined
by suffering.

"I've been obliged to take this down," she said, as if apologising more
to herself than Ted, "because I want to hang my large photo of the
Sistine Madonna in its place."

"What is it?"

"It's--my mother's portrait. She died when I was a very little girl, and
I hardly ever saw her, you know. I'm not a bit like her."

He stood silent, watching her intently as she spoke.

"Family portraits," she continued, "may be interesting, but they are not
decorative. Unless, of course," she added, hastily, being at a loss to
account for the peculiar expression of Ted's face, "they're very old
ones--Lelys and Sir Joshua Reynoldses."

"That face does not look old, certainly."

"No. She died young."

She had not meant to say that; a little shiver went through her as the
words passed her lips, and she felt a desire to change the subject. But
the portrait of the late Mrs. Craven was turned to the wall along with
the Dean.

"Hullo!" exclaimed Ted, taking up a photo in a glass frame,
hand-painted, "here's old Hardy! What on earth is he doing here?"

Audrey blushed, but answered with unruffled calm.

"Vincent? Oh, he's a family portrait too. He's my cousin--first cousin,
you know."

"What are you going to do with _him_?"

"I--I hardly know."

She took the photo out of his hands and examined it carefully back and
front. Then she looked at Ted.

"What _shall_ I do with him? Is he to go too?"

"Well, I suppose he ought to. He's all very well in his own line,
but--from an artistic point of view--he's not exactly--decorative."

"Poor old Vincent! No, he's not."

And Vincent was turned face downward among the ruins of the cosy corner,
and Audrey and Ted rested from their labours.

When Ted had gone, the very first thing Audrey did was to get a map and
to look out the Rocky Mountains. There they were, to be sure, just as
Vincent had described them, a great high wall dividing the continent. At
that moment Hardy was kneeling on the floor of his little shanty, busy
sorting bearskins and thinking of Audrey and bears. He had had splendid
sport--that is, he had succeeded in killing a grizzly just before the
grizzly killed him. How nervous Audrey would feel when she got the
letter describing that encounter! Then he chose the best and fluffiest
bearskin to make a nice warm cape for her, and amused himself by
picturing her small oval chin nestling in the brown fur. And then he
fell to wondering what she was doing now.

He would have been delighted if he could have seen her poring over that
map with her pencilled eyebrows knit, while she traced the jagged
outlines of the Rockies with her finger-nail, congratulating herself on
the height of that magnificent range.

Yes, there was a great deal between her and her cousin Mr. Hardy.



CHAPTER VI


One fine morning in latter spring, about four months after the day of
the transformation scene in Audrey's drawing-room, Ted Haviland was
lying on his back sunning himself on the leads. There are many lovelier
places even in London than the leads of No. 12 Devon Street, Pimlico,
but none more favourable to high and solitary thinking. Here the roar of
traffic is subdued to a murmur hardly greater than the stir of country
woods on a warm spring morning--a murmur less obtrusive, because more
monotonous. It is the place of all others for one absorbed in
metaphysical speculation, or cultivating the gift of detachment. The
very chimney-pots have a remote abstracted air; the slopes of the slates
rise up around you, shutting you in on three sides, and throwing you so
far back on yourself; while before you lies the vast, misty network of
roofs, stretching eastward towards the heart of the city, and above you
is the open sky. It is even pleasant here on a day like this, a day with
all the ardour of summer in it, and all the languor of spring, with the
sun warming the slates at your back, and a soft breeze from the river
fanning your face. You must go up on to the leads on such a day to feel
the beauty and infinity of blue sky, the only beautiful and boundless
thing here, where there is no green earth to rival heaven.

Ted had certainly no taste for detachment, but he was so far advanced
towards metaphysical speculation that he was engaged in an analysis of
sensation. Off and on, ever since that day of unreasonable mirth and
subsequent madness, he had been a prey to remorse. He had kept away from
Audrey for a fortnight, during which time his imagination had run riot
through past, present, and future. Audrey had been sweet and confiding
from the first; she had believed in him with childlike simplicity, and
when she had trusted to his guidance in her innocent æstheticism, he,
like the coarse-minded villain that he was, had made fun of all her dear
little arrangements, those pathetic efforts to make her life beautiful.
He had made her cry, and then taken a brutal advantage of her tears. To
Ted's conscience, in the white-heat of his virgin passion, that
premature kiss, the kiss that transformed a boyish fancy into full-grown
love, was a crime. And yet she had forgiven him. All the time she had
been thinking, not of herself, but of him. Her words, hardly heeded at
the moment, came back to him like a dull sermon heard in some exalted
mood, and henceforth transfigured in memory. She had done well to
reproach him for his frivolity and want of purpose. She was so ready to
say pleasant things, that blame from her mouth was sweeter than its
praise. It showed that she cared more. By this time he had forgotten the
traits that had impressed him less pleasantly.

Happily for him, his passion for Audrey was at first altogether bound up
with his art. We are not all geniuses, but to some of us, once perhaps
in a lifetime, genius comes in the form of love. To Ted love came in the
form of genius, quickening his whole nature, and bringing his highest
powers to a sudden birth. He had begun and almost finished the work
which Audrey had urged him to undertake, and nobody could say that he
had approached his subject in a frivolous spirit. It was a portrait of
herself. Ted had been rather inclined to affect the romantic antique:
Audrey had been a revelation of the artistic possibilities of modern
womanhood, and he turned in disgust from his languid studies of decadent
renaissance, or renaissant decadence, to this brilliant type. One corner
of the studio was stacked with sketches and little full-length portraits
of Audrey. Audrey from every point of view. Audrey in a black
Gainsborough hat, Audrey with brown fur about her throat, Audrey
half-smothered in billowy silk and chiffon, Audrey as she appeared at a
dance in a simple frock and sash, and Audrey in a tailor-made gown, in
the straight lines of which Ted professed to have discovered new
principles of beauty. In fact, he dreamed of founding a New Art on
portraits of Audrey alone. From which it would appear that he was
taking himself and his art very seriously indeed.

Audrey had just left him after a protracted sitting, and up among the
dreamy chimney-pots he was reviving in fancy the sensations of the
morning. He was brought back from his ecstasy by Katherine's voice
calling, "Ted, come down this minute--I've got something to show you";
and, rousing himself very much against the grain, he dropped languidly
into the room below.

Katherine had come in all glowing with excitement. She pushed back her
broad-brimmed hat from her forehead, and thrust both hands into her
coat-pockets, bringing out two loose heaps of gold.

"There!" she said, letting sovereigns and half-sovereigns drip on to the
table with an impressive chink, "aren't you thankful that I wasn't
murdered, walking through the great sinful city with all that capital
about me?"

"What's up? Has our uncle climbed down, or have you been robbing a
till?"

"Neither. I've been to the bank, cashing real live cheques. Five pounds
for my black-and-white for the Saint Abroad, I mean the "Woman at Home."
Fifteen pounds for Miss Maskelyne's prize bull-dog (I idealised him).
Twenty pounds for Lady Stodart's prize baby. Total, forty pounds." She
arranged the sovereigns in neat little piles on the table. "That's
enough to take you to Paris and set you going." Ted started, and his
face fell a little. "It's positively my only dream that ever came true.
Picture it, think of it, just on the brink of it. You can start next
week, to-morrow if you like!"

Ted's face turned a deep crimson, and he was silent.

"Then Audrey's promised me twenty for a copy of the Botticelli Madonna;
I began it yesterday. That'll be enough to keep you on another month, if
you want it, and bring you home again."

Still Ted said nothing. He sat down and buried his face in his hands.
Katherine knelt down and put her arm tight round his neck.

"Ted, you duffer, do you really care so much? I _am_ so glad. I didn't
know you'd take it that way."

He drew back and looked her mournfully in the face.

"Kathy, you're an angel; it's awfully good of you; but I--I can't take
it, you know."

"Why not? Too proud?"

"No--rubbish! It does seem an infernal shame not to, when you've scraped
it together with your dear little paws; but--well--don't think me a
brute--I don't know that I want to go to Paris now."

"Not to go to Paris?"

"No."

"Idiot!"

"Kathy, which Botticelli did she ask you to do for her?"

"The one you got so excited about, with St. John and the
angel--right-hand side opposite you as you go in. Come, I can see
through that trick, and I'm not going to stand any nonsense."

"It isn't nonsense."

"It is. Why, you were raving about Meissonier last year."

"Yes, last year; but----"

"Well?" Katherine rose and gazed at him with the austerity of an
inquisitor. Ted gave an uneasy laugh.

"I've been thinking that you and I between us could found a school of
our own this year. I've got the eccentricity, and you've got the cheek.
We should build ourselves an everlasting name."

"Do be serious; I shall lose my temper in another minute. Is it the
wretched money you're thinking of?"

"No, it isn't the money altogether." He got up and walked to his easel.

"Then, oh Ted, you know that Paris--Paris in May--must be simply
divine!"

"Why don't you go yourself?"

"No, no; that's not the same thing at all. I don't want to go; besides,
I can't. I haven't the time."

"Well, to tell you the truth, Kathy, no more can I. I haven't the time
either." He took up his palette and brushes and began carefully touching
up the canvas before him.

"Oh--h!" She stared at him for a minute in silence. Ted looked up
suddenly; their eyes met, and he set his face like a flint.

"Kathy," he said, slowly, "I've behaved in the most ungrateful and
abominable manner. I should like to go to Paris very much, and I--I
think I'll start next week."

"Thank you, dear boy; it's the very least you can do."

And they dropped the subject. Ted was the first to speak again.

"By-the-bye, what's on to-morrow morning, Kathy?"

"National Gallery for me." She looked up from her work and saw Ted
standing with his hands in his pockets, gazing with an agonised
expression at his portrait of Audrey.

"I suppose _she_ is going to sit again?"

"Well, yes; she may look in for another hour in the morning perhaps."

Ted was not skillful in deceit, and something in his manner told
Katherine that the sitting somehow depended on her absence. She began to
see dimly why he had been so frightened at the idea of going to Paris.
She looked over her shoulder.

"You haven't made the corners of her mouth turn up enough. It's just as
well, they turn up too much."

"No, they don't; that's what makes her so pretty."

Katherine went to her work next morning in anything but a cheerful
spirit. She had set her heart on Ted's studying abroad; and now Audrey
had come in between, frittering away his time, and making him restless
and unlike himself. To be sure, his powers had expanded enormously of
late; but she was not happy about him, and was half afraid to praise his
work. To her mind there was something feverish and unhealthy in its
vivid beauty. It suggested genius outgrowing its strength. If Audrey
really had anything to do with it, if she was coming in any way between
him and the end she dreamed for him, why, then, she could hate Audrey
with a deadly hatred. That was what she said to herself just before she
opened the front-door and found Audrey standing on the doorstep, looking
reprehensibly pretty in a gown of white lawn over green silk. Her wide
hat was trimmed with bunches of white tulle and pale green poppies, and
she had a little basket full of lilies of the valley hanging from her
wrist.

"You wretch!" she cried, shaking a bunch of lilies at Katherine, as she
stood in the narrow passage; "you're always going out when I'm coming
in."

"And you're always coming in when I'm going out. Isn't it funny?"

Audrey said nothing to that, but she kissed Katherine on both cheeks,
and pinned a bunch of lilies at her throat with a little gold pin that
she took from her own dress. Then she tripped lightly upstairs, with a
swish, swish, of her silk skirts, wafting lilies of the valley as she
went. Katherine watched her up the first flight, and the hate died out
of her heart. After all, Audrey was so perfect from an artistic point of
view that moral disapproval seemed somehow beside the point.'

"May I come in?" asked Audrey, tapping at the open door of the studio.
Ted rose with a reverent alacrity, very much as you rise to the musical
parts of a solemn service in church. He arranged her chair carefully,
with soft cushions for her back and feet. "If you don't mind," said he,
"we must work hard, for I want to finish you this morning, or perhaps
to-morrow, if you can give me another sitting," and he patted a cushion
and held it up for her head.

"You can have any number of sittings," said Audrey, ignoring these
preparations for her comfort; "but first of all, I'm going to make your
room pretty."

Ted dropped his cushion helplessly and followed her as she moved about
the room. First she took off her gloves in a leisurely manner and laid
them down among Ted's wet brushes. Then she began to arrange the lilies
of the valley in a little copper bowl she found on the chimneypiece.
Then she caught sight of her gloves and exclaimed, "Oh, look at my
beautiful new gloves, lying among your nasty paints! Why didn't you tell
me, you horrid boy?" Then Ted and she tried to clean them with
turpentine, and made them worse than ever, and between them they wasted
half an hour of the precious morning. After that, Audrey took off her
hat and settled herself comfortably among the cushions; she drew her
white fingers through her hair till it stood up in a great red aureole
round her head, and the sitting began.

Ted's heart gave a bound as he set to work. He had learnt by this time
to control the trembling of his hands, otherwise the portrait would
never have reached its present perfection. He had painted from many
women in the life school, and always with the same emotions, the same
reverence for womanhood, and the same delight in his own power, tempered
by compassion for the model. But these were so many studies in still
life compared with the incarnate loveliness before him--Audrey: it made
him feel giddy to paint the edge of the ruffles about her throat, or the
tip of her shoe. Her beauty throbbed like pulses of light, it floated in
air and went to his head like the scent of her lilies. He had reproduced
this radiant, throbbing effect in his picture. It was a head, the
delicate oval of the full face relieved against a background of
atmospheric gold into which the golden surface tints of the hair faded
imperceptibly. The eyebrows were arched a little over the earnest,
unfathomable eyes; the lips were parted as if with impetuous breath; the
whole head leaned slightly forward, giving prominence to the chin, which
in reality retreated, a defect chiefly noticeable in profile. Ted had
painted what he saw. It might have been the head of a saint looking for
the Beatific Vision; it was only that of an ordinary pretty woman.

As a rule, they both chattered freely during the sittings. This is, of
course, necessary, if the artist is to know his sitter's face with all
its varying expressions; and Audrey had given Ted a great many to choose
from. This morning, however, he worked steadily and in a silence which
she was the first to break.

"What do you mean by talking about one more sitting in that way? You
said you'd want six yesterday."

"I did, but----" He leaned back and began tilting his chair to and fro.
"The fact is--I'm awfully sorry, but I'm afraid I'm going to leave
England." The young rascal had chosen his words with a deliberate view
to effect, and Audrey's first thoughts flew to America, though not to
Hardy. She moved suddenly in her chair.

"To emigrate? You, with your genius? Surely not!"

"No, rather not; it's not as bad as all that. But--I'm afraid I have to
go to Paris for six months or so."

"Whatever for?"

"Well--I must, you see."

"Must you? And for six months, too; why?"

"Because I--that is--I want to study for a bit in the schools there."

"Oh,"--she leaned back again among her cushions, and looked down at her
hands clasped demurely,--"if you want to go, that's another thing."

"It isn't another thing; and I don't want to go, as it happens."

"Then I am sure you needn't go and study; what can they teach you that
you don't know?" she leaned forward and looked into his face. "You're
not going in for that horrid French style, surely?"

"Well, I'd some thoughts----" he hesitated, and Audrey took courage.

"It can't be--it mustn't be! Oh, do, do give up the idea--for _my_ sake!
It'll be your ruin as an artist." She had risen to her feet, and was
gazing at him appealingly.

"You dear little thing, what do you know about the French school or any
other?"

"Everything. I take in 'Modern Art,' and I read all the magazines and
things, and--I know all about it."

"You don't know anything about it. All the same----" he paused, biting
his lip.

"All the same, what?"

"If I thought you cared a straw whether I went or stayed----"

"Haven't I shown you that I care?"

"No, you haven't."

"Ted!" Audrey made that little word eloquent of pleading, reproachful
pathos; but he went on--

"For heaven's sake, don't talk any more rot about art and my genius!
Anybody can do it. Do you think that's what I want to hear from you?" He
checked himself suddenly. "I beg your pardon. Now I think we'll go on,
if you don't mind sitting a little longer."

"But I do mind. Either you're very rude, or--I can't understand you. Why
do you speak to me like this?" She had picked up her hat and begun
playing with its long pins. As she spoke she stabbed it savagely in the
crown. The nervous action of her hands contrasted oddly with the pensive
Madonna-like pose of her head, but the corners of her mouth were turned
up more than ever, and the tip of her little Roman nose was trembling.
Then she drew the pins slowly out of her hat, and made as if she would
put it on. Ted tried to reason, but he could only grasp two facts
clearly--that in another second she would be gone, and that if he left
things as they stood he would have to exchange London for Paris. He
leaned against the wall for support, and looked steadily at Audrey as he
spoke.

"You think me a devil, and I can only prevent that by making you think
me a fool. I don't care. I'm insane enough to love you--my curious
behaviour must have made that quite obvious. If you'll say that you care
for me a little bit, I won't go to Paris. If you won't, I'll go
to-morrow and stay there."

Audrey had known for some time that something like this would happen.
She had meant it to happen. From the day she first saw Ted Haviland, she
had made up her mind to be his destiny; and yet, now that it had
happened, though Ted's words made her heart beat uncomfortably fast, a
little voice in her brain kept on saying, "Not yet--not yet--not yet."
She sat down and tried to collect her thoughts. Ted would be sure to
begin again in another second. He did.

"Or if you don't care now, if you'll only say that you might care some
day, if you'll say that it's not an utter impossibility, I won't go.
I'll wait five years--ten years--on the off chance, and hold my tongue
about it too, if you tell me to."

Not yet--not yet--not yet.

"Audrey!"

She started as if a stranger had called her name suddenly, for the voice
was not like Ted's at all. Yet it was Ted, Ted in the shabby clothes she
had seen him in first, which never looked shabby somehow on him; but it
was not the baby as she knew him. He was looking at her almost
defiantly, a cloud had come over his eyes, and the muscles of his face
were set. Audrey saw the look of unrelenting determination, which is
only seen to perfection in the faces of the very young, but it seemed to
her that Ted had taken a sudden leap into manhood.

"Audrey," he said again, and their eyes met. She tried to speak, but it
was too late. The boy had crouched down on the floor beside her, and was
clasping her knees like a suppliant before some marble divinity.

"Don't--Ted, don't," she gasped under her breath.

"I won't. I don't ask you to do it now, before I've made my name. It may
take years, but--I shall make it. And then, perhaps----"

She tried to loosen his fingers one by one, and they closed on her hand
with a grip like a dying man's. Through the folds of her thin dress she
could feel his heart thumping obtrusively, and the air throbbed with the
beating of a thousand pulses. Her brain reeled, and the little voice
inside it left off saying "Not yet." She stooped down and whispered
hurriedly--

"I will--I will."

The suppliant raised his head, and his fingers relaxed their hold.

"You _will_, Audrey? So you don't--at the present moment?"

"I do. It wasn't my fault. I didn't know what love was like. I know
now."

Passion is absolutely sincere, but it is not bound to be either truthful
or consistent. What has it to do with trains of reasoning, or with the
sequence of events in time? Past and future history are nothing to it.
For Audrey it was now--now--now. All foreshadowings, all dateless
possibilities, were swept out of her fancy; or rather, they were crowded
into one burning point of time. Now was the moment for which all other
moments had lived and died. Life had owed her some great thing, and now
with every heart-beat it was paying back its long arrears. Henceforth
there would be no more monotony, no more measuring of existence by the
hands of the clock, no more weighing of emotion by the scruple. The
revelation had come. Now and for ever it was all the same; for sensation
that knows nothing about time is always sure of eternity.



CHAPTER VII


When Katherine came back from the National Gallery she found Ted alone:
he had drawn up the couch in front of his easel, and lay there gazing at
his portrait. The restless, hungry look had gone from his eyes. There
was no triumph there, only an absolute satisfaction and repose. Face and
attitude said plainly, "I have attained my heart's desire. I am young in
years, but old in wisdom. I know what faith and hope and love are, which
is more than you do. I am not in the least excited about them, as you
see; I can afford to wait, for these things last for ever. If you like,
you may come and worship with me before my heavenly lady's image; but if
you do, you must hold your tongue." And Katherine, being a sensible
woman, held her tongue. But she took up a tiny pair of white gloves,
stained with paint and turpentine, that lay folded on the easel's ledge,
and after examining them critically, laid them on Ted's feet without a
word. A faint smile flickered across his lips. That was all their
confession.

After some inward debate, Katherine determined to go over and see
Audrey. She had no very clear notion of what had happened that morning;
but she could only think that the ridiculous boy had proposed to Audrey
and been accepted. The idea seemed preposterous; for though she had been
by no means blind to all that had been going on under her eyes for the
last few months, she had never for a moment taken Audrey seriously, or
supposed that Ted in his sober senses could do so either. This morning a
horrible misgiving had come over her, and she had gone to her work in a
tumult of mixed feelings. For the present she had made Ted's career the
end and aim of her existence. What she most dreaded for him, next to the
pain of a hopeless attachment, was the distraction of a successful one.
A premature engagement is the thing of all others to blast a man's
career at the outset. What good was it, she asked herself passionately,
for her to pinch and save, to put aside her own ambition, to do the
journeyman's work that brings pay, instead of the artist's work that
brings praise, if Ted was going to fling himself away on the first
pretty face that took his fancy? Again the feeling of hatred to Audrey
surged up in her heart, and again it died down at the first sight of its
object.

Audrey was standing at the window singing a little song to herself. She
turned as the door opened, and when she saw Katherine she started ever
so slightly, and stood at gaze like a frightened fawn. She was attracted
by Katherine, as she was by every personality that she felt to be
stronger than her own. Among all artists there is a strain of manhood
in every woman, and of womanhood in every man. Katherine fascinated her
weaker sister by some such super-feminine charm. At the same time,
Audrey was afraid of her, as she had been afraid of Hardy in his
passion, or of Ted in his boisterous mirth. There were moments when she
thought that Katherine's direct unquestioning gaze must have seen what
she hid from her own eyes, must have penetrated the more or less
artistic disguises without which she would not have known herself. Now
her one anxiety was lest Katherine knew or guessed her treatment of
Vincent, and had come to reproach her with it. Owing to some slight
similarity of detail, the events of the morning had brought the
recollection of that last scene with Hardy uppermost in her mind. She
had persuaded herself that her love for Ted was her first experience of
passion, as it was his; but at the touch of one awkward memory the bloom
was somehow brushed off this little romance. For these reasons there was
fear in her grey eyes as she put up her face to Katherine's to be
kissed.

"Do you know?" she half whispered. "Has he told you?"

"No, he has told me nothing; but I know."

There was silence as the two women sat down side by side and looked into
each other's faces. Katherine's instinct was to soothe and protect the
shy creatures that shrank from her, and Audrey in her doubt and timidity
appealed to her more than she had ever done in the self-conscious
triumph of her beauty. She took her hand, caressing it gently as she
spoke.

"Audrey--you won't mind telling me frankly? Are you engaged to Ted?"

True to her imitative instincts, Audrey could be frank with the frank.
"Yes, I am. But it's our own little secret, and we don't want anybody to
know yet."

"Perhaps you are wise." She paused. How could she make Audrey understand
what she had to say? She was not going to ask her to break off her
engagement. In the first place, she had no right to do so; in the second
place, any interference in these cases is generally fatal to its own
ends. But she wanted to make Audrey realise the weight of her
responsibility.

"Audrey," she said at last, "do you remember our first meeting, when you
thought Ted was a baby?"

"Yes, of course I do. That was only six, seven months ago; and to think
that I should be engaged to him now! Isn't it funny?"

"Very funny indeed. But you were perfectly right. He is a baby. He knows
no more than a baby does of the world, and of the men in it. Of the
women he knows rather less than an intelligent baby."

"I wouldn't have him different. He needn't know anything about other
women, so long as he understands _me_."

"Well, the question is, does he understand himself? What's more, are
you sure you understand him? Ted is two people rolled into one, and very
badly rolled too. The human part of him has hardly begun to grow yet;
he's got no practical common-sense to speak of, and only a rudimentary
heart."

"Oh, Katherine!"

"Quite true,--it's all I had at his age. But the ideal, the artistic
side of him is all but full-grown. That means that it's just at the
critical stage now."

"Of course, I suppose it would be." Audrey always said "Of course" when
she especially failed to see the drift of what was said to her.

"Yes; but do you realise all that the next few years will do for him?
That they will either make or ruin his career as an artist? They ought
to be years of downright hard work, of solitary hard work; he ought to
have them all to himself. Do you mean to let him have them?"

Audrey lowered her eyes, and sat silent, playing with the ribbons of her
dress, while Katherine went on as if to herself--

"He is so young, so dreadfully young. It would have been soon enough in
another ten years' time. Oh, Audrey, why did you let it come to this?"

"Well, really, Katherine, I couldn't help it. Besides, one has one's
feelings. You talk as if I was going to stand in Ted's way--as if I
didn't care a straw. Surely his career must mean more to his wife than
it can to his sister? I know you think that because I haven't been
trained like you, because I've lived a different life from yours, that I
can't love art as you do. You're mistaken. To begin with, I made up my
mind ten years ago that whatever I did when I grew up, I wouldn't marry
a nonentity. What do you suppose Ted's fascination was, if it wasn't his
genius, and his utter unlikeness to anybody else?"

"Geniuses are common enough nowadays; there are plenty more where he
came from."

"How cynical you are! You haven't met many people like Ted, have you?"

"No, I haven't. Oh, Audrey, do you _really_ care like that? I wonder how
I should feel if I were you, and knew that Ted's future lay in my hands,
as it lies in yours."

Audrey's cheeks reddened with pleasure. "It does! It does!" She clasped
her little hands passionately, as if they were holding Ted and his
future tight. "I know it. All I want is to inspire him, to keep him true
to himself. Haven't I done it? You know what his work was like before he
loved me. Can you say that he ever painted better than he does now, or
even one-half as well?"

Katherine could not honestly say that he had; but she smiled as she
answered, "No; but for the last six months he has done nothing from
anybody but yourself. You make a very charming picture, Audrey, but you
can hardly want people to say that your husband can only paint one
type."

"My husband can paint as many types as he pleases." Katherine still
looked dubious. "Anything more?"

"Yes, one thing. You say you want to keep Ted true to himself, as you
put it. He made up his mind this morning to go to Paris to study hard
for six months. It means a lot of self-sacrifice for you both, to be
separated so soon; but it will be the making of him. You won't let him
change his mind? You won't say anything to keep him back, will you?"

Audrey's face had suddenly grown hard, and she looked away from
Katherine as she answered, "You're not very consistent, I must say. You
can't think Ted such an utter baby if you trust him to go off to Paris
all by himself. As to his making up his mind this morning, our
engagement alters all that. After all, how can it affect Ted's career if
he goes now or three years hence?"

"It makes all the difference."

"I can't see it. And yet--and yet--I wouldn't spoil Ted's chances for
worlds." She rose and walked a few paces to and fro. "Let me think, let
me think!" She stood still, an image of abstract Justice, with one hand
folded over her eyes, and the other clenched as if it held the invisible
scales of destiny, weighing her present, overcharged with agreeable
sensations, against her lover's future. Apparently, after some shifting
of the weights, she had made the two balance, for she clapped her hands
suddenly, and exclaimed, with an emphasis on every other word--

"Katherine! An inspiration! We'll go to Paris for our honeymoon, and Ted
shall stay there six months--a year--for ever, if he likes. Paris is the
place I adore above all others. I shall simply live in that dear
Louvre!" She added in more matter-of-fact tones, "And I needn't order my
trousseau till I get there. That'll save no end of bother on this side.
I hate the way we do things here. For weeks before your wedding-day to
have to think of nothing but clothes, clothes, clothes--could anything
be more revolting?"

"Yes," said Katherine, "to think of them before a funeral."

Audrey looked offended. Death, like religion, is one of those subjects
which it is very bad taste to mention under some circumstances.

Katherine went away more disheartened than ever, and more especially
weighed down by the consciousness that she had made a fool of herself.
She knew Audrey to be vain, she divined that she was selfish, but at
least she had believed that she could be generous. By letting her feel
that she held Ted's future in her hands, she had roused all her woman's
vague cupidity and passion for power, and henceforth any appeal to her
generosity would be worse than useless. With a little of her old
artistic egoism, Katherine valued her brother's career very much as a
thing of her own making, and the idea of another woman meddling with it
and spoiling it was insupportable. It was as if some reckless colourist
had taken the Witch of Atlas and daubed her all over with frightful
scarlet and magenta. But the trouble at her heart of hearts was the
certainty that Audrey, that creature of dubious intellect and fitful
emotions, would never be able to love Ted as his wife should love him.



CHAPTER VIII


All true revelations soon seem as old as the hills and as obvious.
Yesterday they were not, to-day they have struck you dumb, to-morrow
they will have become commonplaces, and henceforth you will be incapable
of seeing anything else. So it was with Audrey. Her engagement was
barely a week old before she felt that it had lasted for ever. Not that
she was tired of it; on the contrary, she hoped everything from Ted's
eccentricity. She was sick to death of the polished conventional
type--the man who, if he came into her life at all, must be introduced
in the recognised way; while Ted, who had dropped into it literally
through a skylight, roused her unflagging interest and curiosity. She
was always longing to see what the boy would say and do next. Poor
Audrey! Her own character was mainly such a bundle of negations that you
described her best by saying what she was not; but other people's
positive qualities acted on her as a powerful stimulant, and it was one
for which she perpetually craved. She had found it in Hardy. In him it
was the almost physical charm of blind will, and she yielded to it
unwillingly. She had found it in Ted under the intoxicating form of
vivid emotion. Life with Vincent would have been an unbroken bondage.
Life with Ted would have no tyrannous continuity; it would be a series
of splendid episodes. At the same time, it seemed to her that she had
always lived this sort of life. Like the "souls" in Ted's ingenious
masterpiece, Audrey had suffered a metempsychosis, and her very memory
was changed. The change was not so much shown in the character of her
dress and her surroundings (Audrey was not the first woman who has tried
to be original by following the fashion); these things were only the
outward signs of an inward transformation. If her worship of the
beautiful was not natural, it was not altogether affected. She really
appreciated the things she saw, though she only saw them through as much
of Ted's mind as was transparent to her at the moment. It never occurred
to her to ask herself whether she would have chosen to stand quite so
often on the Embankment watching the sun go down behind Battersea
Bridge, or whether she would have sat quite so many hours in the
National Gallery looking at those white-faced grey-eyed Madonnas of
Botticelli that Ted was never tired of talking about. It was so natural
that he should be always with her when she did these things, that it was
impossible to disentangle her ideas and say what was her own and what
was his. She was not given to self-analysis.

But there were limits to Audrey's capacity for receiving impressions.
Between her and the world where Katherine always lived, and which Ted
visited at intervals now becoming rarer and rarer, there was a great
gulf fixed. After all, Audrey had no grasp of the impersonal; she could
only care for any object as it gave her certain emotions, raised certain
associations, or drew attention to herself. She was at home in the dim
borderland between art and nature, the region of vanity and vague
sensation. Here she could meet Ted half-way and talk to him about ideals
for the hour together. But in the realm of pure art, as he had told her
when she once said that she liked all his pictures because they were
his, personalities count for nothing; you must have an eye for the thing
itself, and the thing itself was the one thing that Audrey could not
see. In that world she was a pilgrim and a stranger; it was peopled with
shadowy fantastic rivals, who left her with no field and no favour;
flesh and blood were powerless to contend against them. They excited no
jealousy--they were too intangible for that; but in their half-seen
presence she had a sense of helpless irritation and bewilderment--it
baffled, overpowered, and humiliated her. To a woman thirsting for a
great experience, it was hard to find that the best things lay always
just beyond her reach; that in Ted's life, after all of it that she had
absorbed and made her own, there was still an elusive something on which
she had no hold. Not that she allowed this reflection to trouble her
happiness long. As Katherine had said, Ted was two people very
imperfectly rolled into one. Consciously or unconsciously, it became
more and more Audrey's aim to separate them, to play off the one against
the other. This called for but little skill on her part. Ted's passion
at its white-heat had fused together the boy's soul and the artist's,
but at any temperature short of that its natural effect was
disintegration. Audrey had some cause to congratulate herself on the
result. It might or might not have been flattering to be called a
"clever puss" or an "imaginative minx" (Ted chose his epithets at
random), whenever she pointed out some novel effect of colour or
picturesque grouping; but it was now July, and Ted had not done a stroke
of work since he put the last touches to her portrait in April.

It was now July, and from across the Atlantic came the first rumours of
Hardy's return. Within a month, or six weeks at the latest, he would be
in England, in London. The news set Audrey thinking, and think as she
would the question perpetually recurred, Whether would it be better to
announce her engagement to Ted, or still keep it a secret, still drift
on indefinitely as they had done for the last four months? If Audrey had
formed any idea of the future at all, it was as a confused mirage of
possibilities: visions of express trains in which she and Ted were
whirled on for ever through strange landscapes; visions of Parisian life
as she pictured it--a series of exquisite idyls, the long days of
quivering sunlight under blue skies, the brief languid nights dying into
dawn, coffee and rolls brought to you before you get up, strawberries
eaten with claret instead of cream because cream makes you ill in hot
climates, the Paris of fiction and the Paris of commonplace report; and
with it all, scene after scene in which she figured as doing a thousand
extravagant and interesting things, always dressed in appropriate
costumes, always making characteristic little speeches to Ted, who
invariably replied with some delicious absurdity. The peculiarity of
these scenes was, that though they succeeded each other through endless
time, yet neither she nor Ted ever appeared a day older in them. As
Audrey's imagination borrowed nothing from the past, it had no sense of
the demands made by the future. Now, although in publicly announcing her
engagement to Ted she would give a fixity to this floating
phantasmagoria which would rob it of half its charm, on the other hand
she felt the need of some such definite and stable tie to secure her
against Vincent's claim, the solidity of which she now realised for the
first time. Unable to come to any conclusion, she continued to think.

The news from America had set old Miss Craven thinking too. She had at
first rejoiced at Audrey's intimacy with the Havilands, for various
reasons. She was glad to see her settling down--for the first time in
her volatile life--into a friendship with another girl; to hear of her
being interested in picture-galleries; to find a uniform gaiety taking
the place of the restless, captious moods which made others suffer
besides herself. As for the boy, he was a nice clever boy who would make
his way in the world; but he was only "the boy." Three months ago, if
anybody had told Miss Craven that there was a possibility of an
engagement between Audrey and Ted Haviland, she would have laughed them
to scorn. But when it gradually dawned on her that Katherine hardly ever
called at the house with her brother, that he and Audrey went everywhere
together, and Katherine never made a third in their expeditions, it
occurred to her that she really ought to speak a word in season. Her
only difficulty was to find the season. After much futile watching of
her opportunity, she resolved to trust to the inspiration of the moment.
Unfortunately, the moment of the inspiration happened to be that in
which Audrey came in dressed for a row up the river, and chafing with
anxiety because Ted was ten minutes behind time. This at once suggested
the subject in hand. But Miss Craven began cautiously--

"Audrey, my dear, do you think you've enough wraps with you? These
evenings on the river are treacherous."

Audrey gave an impatient twitch to a sort of Elizabethan ruff she wore
round her neck.

"How tiresome of Ted to be late, when I particularly told him to be
early!"

"Is Miss Haviland going with you? Poor girl, she looks as if a blow on
the river would do her good."

"N-no, she isn't."

"H'm--you'd better wait and have some tea first?"

"I've waited quite long enough already. We're going to drive to
Hammersmith, and we shall get tea there or at Kew."

"I don't want to interfere with your amusements, but doesn't it strike
you as--er--a little imprudent to go about so much with 'Ted,' as you
call him?"

"No, of course not. He's not going to throw me overboard. It's the most
natural thing in the world that I should go with him."

"Yes--to you, my dear, and I daresay to the young man himself. But if
you are seen together, people are sure to talk."

"Let them. I don't mind in the least--I rather like it."

"_Like_ it?"

"Yes. You must own it's flattering. People here wouldn't take the
trouble to talk if I were nobody. London isn't Oxford."

"No; you may do many things in Oxford which you mayn't do in London. But
times have changed. I can't imagine your dear mother saying she would
'like' to be talked about."

"Please don't speak about mother in that way; you know I never could
bear it. Oh, there's a ring at the front door! That's Ted." She stood
on tiptoe, bending forward, and held her ear to the half-open door.
"No, it isn't; it's some wretched visitor. Don't keep me, Cousin Bella,
or I shall be caught."

"Really, Audrey, now we are on the subject, I must just tell you that
your conduct lately has given me a great deal of anxiety."

"My conduct! What _do_ you mean? I haven't broken any of the seven
commandments. (Thank goodness, they've gone!)"

"I mean that if you don't take care you'll be entangling yourself with
young Mr. Haviland, as you did----"

"As I did with Vincent, I suppose. That _is_ so like you. You're always
thinking things, always putting that and that together, and doing it
quite wrong. You were hopelessly out of it about Vincent. Whether you're
wrong or right about Mr. Haviland, I simply shan't condescend to tell
you." And having lashed herself into a state of indignation, Audrey went
on warmly--"I'm not a child of ten. I won't have my actions criticised.
I won't have my motives spied into. I won't be ruled by your miserable
middle-class, provincial standard. What I do is nobody's business but my
own."

"Very well, very well; go your own way, and take the consequences. If
it's not my business, don't blame me when you get into difficulties."

Audrey turned round with a withering glance.

"Cousin Bella, you are really _too_ stupid!" she said, with a movement
of her foot that was half rage, half sheer excitement. "Ah, there's Ted
at last!" She ran joyously away. Miss Craven sank back in her chair,
exhausted by her unusual moral effort, and too deeply hurt to return the
smile which Audrey flashed back at her, by way of apology, as she flew.

The bitter little dialogue, at any rate, had the good effect of wakening
Audrey to the practical aspects of her problem. Before their engagement
could be announced, it was clear that Ted ought to be properly
introduced to her friends. However she might affect to brave it out,
Audrey was sensitive to the least breath of unfavourable opinion, and
she did not want it said that she had picked up her husband heavens
knows how, when, and where. If they had been talked about already, no
time should be lost before people realised that Ted was a genius with a
future before him, his sister a rising artist also, and so on. Audrey
was busy with these thoughts as she was being rowed up the river from
Hammersmith. At Kew the room where they had tea was full of people she
knew; and as she and Ted passed on to a table in a far corner, she felt,
rather than saw, that the men looked after them, and the women exchanged
glances. The same thing happened at Richmond, where they dined; and
there a little knot of people gathered about the river's bank and
watched their departure with more than friendly interest. If she had any
lingering doubts before, Audrey was ready now to make her engagement
known, for mere prudence' sake. And as they almost drifted down in the
quiet July evening, between the humid after-glow of the sunset and the
dawn of the moonlit night, Audrey felt a wholly new and delicate
sensation. It was as if she were penetrated for the first time by the
indefinable, tender influences of air and moonlight and running water.
The mood was vague and momentary--a mere fugitive reflection of the
rapture with which Ted, rowing lazily now with the current, drank in the
glory of life, and felt the heart of all nature beating with his. Yet
for that one instant, transient as it was, Audrey's decision was being
shaped for her by a motive finer than all prudence, stronger than all
sense of propriety. In its temporary transfiguration her love for Ted
was such that she would have been ready, if need were, to fix Siberia
for their honeymoon and to-morrow for their wedding-day. As they parted
on her doorstep at Chelsea, between ten and eleven o'clock, she
whispered, "Ted, that row down was like heaven! I've never, never been
so happy in all my life!" If she did not fix their wedding-day then and
there, she did the next best thing--she fixed the day for a dinner to be
given in Ted's honour. Not a tedious, large affair, of course. She was
only going to ask a few people who would appreciate Ted, and be useful
to him in "the future."

As it was nearly the end of the season Audrey had no time to lose, and
the first thing she did after her arrival was to startle Miss Craven by
the sudden question--

"Cousin Bella, who was the man who rushed out of his bath into the
street shouting 'Eureka'?"

"I never heard of any one doing so," said Cousin Bella, a little
testily; "and if he did, it was most improper of him."

"Wasn't it? Never mind; he had an idea, so have I. I think I shall run
out on to the Embankment and shout 'Eureka' too. Aren't you dying to
know? I'm going to give a grand dinner for Te--for Mr. and Miss
Haviland; and I'm not going to ask one--single--nonentity,--there! First
of all, we must have Mr. Knowles--of course. Then--perhaps--Mr. Flaxman
Reed. H'm--yes; we haven't asked him since he came up to St. Teresa's.
If he isn't anybody in particular, you can't exactly call him nobody."
Having settled the question of Mr. Flaxman Reed, Audrey sat down and
sent off several invitations on the spot.

Owing to some refusals, the dinner-party gradually shrank in size and
importance, and it was not until within four days of its date that
Audrey discovered to her dismay that she was "a man short." As good luck
would have it, she met Knowles that afternoon in Regent Street, and
confided to him her difficulty and her firm determination not to fill
the gap with any "nonentity" whatever. Audrey was a little bit afraid of
Mr. Percival Knowles, and nothing but real extremity would have driven
her to this desperate course. "If you could suggest any one I know, who
isn't a nonentity, and who wouldn't mind such ridiculously short notice:
it's really quite an informal little dinner, got up in a hurry, you
know, for Mr. Haviland, a very clever young artist, and his sister."

Knowles smiled faintly: he had heard before of the very clever young
artist (though not of his sister). He was all sympathy.

"Sorry. I can't think of any one you know--_not_ a nonentity--but I
should like to bring a friend, if I may. You don't know him, I think,
but I believe he very much wants to know you."

"Bring him by all means, if he won't mind such a casual invitation."

"I'll make that all right."

Knowles lifted his hat, and was about to hurry away.

"By-the-bye, you haven't told me your friend's name."

He stopped, and answered with a sibilant incoherence, struggling as he
was with his amusement. But at that moment Audrey's attention was
diverted by the sight of Ted coming out of the New Gallery, and she
hardly heard what was being said to her.

"I shall be delighted to see Mr. St. John," she called back, making a
random shot at the name, and went on her way with leisurely haste
towards the New Gallery.



CHAPTER IX


On the evening of her dinner Audrey had some difficulty in distributing
her guests. After all, eight had accepted. Besides the Havilands, with
Mr. Knowles and his friend Mr. St. John, there was Mr. Flaxman Reed,
who, as Audrey now discovered, greatly to her satisfaction, was causing
some excitement in the religious world by his interesting attitude
mid-way between High Anglicanism and Rome. There were Mr. Dixon Barnett,
the great Asiatic explorer, and his wife; and Miss Gladys Armstrong, the
daring authoress of "Sour Grapes" and "Through Fire to Moloch," two
novels dealing with the problem of heredity. Audrey had to contrive as
best she might to make herself the centre of attraction throughout the
evening, and at the same time do justice to each of her distinguished
guests. The question was, Who was to take her in to dinner? After
weighing impartially the claims of her three more or less intimate
acquaintances, Audrey decided in favour of the unknown. She felt unusual
complacence with this arrangement. Her fancies were beginning to cluster
round the idea of Mr. St. John with curiosity. It was to be herself and
Mr. St. John, then. Mr. Knowles and Miss Armstrong, of course: the
critic was so cynical and hard to please that she felt a little
triumphant in having secured some one whom he would surely be delighted
to meet. Mr. Flaxman Reed and Katherine--n-no, Mrs. Dixon Barnett, Mr.
Dixon Barnett falling to Katherine's share. For Ted, quite naturally,
there remained nobody but Cousin Bella. "Poor boy, he'll be terribly
bored, I'm afraid, but it can't be helped."

The Havilands were the first to arrive.

"How superb you look!" was Audrey's exclamation, as she kissed her
friend on both cheeks and stepped back to take a good look at her.
Katherine's appearance justified the epithet. Her gown, the work of her
own hands, was of some transparent black stuff, swathed about her
breasts, setting off the honey-like pallor of her skin; her slight
figure supplied any grace that was wanting in the draperies. That black
and white was a splendid foil for Audrey's burnished hair and her dress,
an ingenious medley of flesh-pink, apple-green, and ivory silk.

"One moment, dear; just let me pin that chiffon up on your shoulder, to
make your sleeves look wider--there!" She hovered round Katherine,
spying out the weak points in her dress, and disguising them with quick,
skillful fingers. A woman never looks more charming than when doing
these little services for another. So Ted thought, as he watched Audrey
laying her white arms about his sister, and putting her head on one
side to survey the effect critically. To the boy, with his senses
sharpened to an almost feverish subtilty by the incessant stimulus of
his imagination, Audrey was the epitome of everything most completely
and joyously alive. Roses, sunlight, flame, with the shifting, waving
lines of all things most fluent and elusive, were in her face, her hair,
the movements of her limbs. Her body was like a soul to its clothes; it
animated, inspired the mass of silk and lace. He could not think of her
as she was--the creature of the day and the hour, modern from the
surface to the core. Yet never had she looked more modern than at this
moment; never had that vivid quality, that touch of artificial
distinction, appeared more stereotyped in its very perfection and
finish. But Ted, in the first religious fervour of his passion, had
painted her as the Saint of the Beatific Vision; and in the same way, to
Ted, ever since that evening on the river, she recalled none but
open-air images. She was linked by flowery chains of association to an
idyllic past--a past of four days ago. Her very caprices suggested the
shy approaches and withdrawals of some divinity of nature. It was by
these harmless fictions, each new one rising on the ruins of the old,
that Ted managed to keep his ideal of Audrey intact.

There was a slight stir in the passage outside the half-open door.
Audrey, still busy about Katherine's dress, seemed not to hear it.

"My dear Audrey!" protested Miss Craven from her corner.

"There, that'll do!" said Katherine, laughing; "you've stuck quite
enough pins into me for one night."

"Stand still, and don't wiggle!" cried Audrey, as the door opened wide.
For a second she was conscious of being watched by eyes that were not
Ted's or anything like them. At the same time the footman announced in a
firm, clear voice, "Mr. Knowles and Mr. Langley Wyndham!"

She had heard this time. The look she had seen from the doorway was the
same look that had followed her in the Dean's drawing-room at Oxford.
All the emotions of that evening thronged back into her mind--the vague
fascination, the tense excitement, the mortification that resulted from
the wound to her self-love and pride.

So this was Mr. St. John!

A year ago he had refused an introduction to her, and now he wanted to
know her; his friend had said so. He was seeking the acquaintance of his
own accord, without encouragement. How odd it all was! Well, whether his
former discourtesy had been intentional or not, he knew how to apologise
for it gracefully.

She had no time to think more about the matter, for her remaining guests
came in all together; and in another five minutes Audrey was suffering
from that kind of nightmare in which some grave issue--you don't know
precisely what--hangs on the adjustment of trifles, absurdly
disproportionate to the event, and which disarrange themselves
perversely at the dramatic moment. Everything seemed to go wrong. She
had relied on Knowles and Miss Gladys Armstrong for a brilliant display
of intellectual fireworks; but beyond the first casual remarks
absolutely required of them, they had not a word to say to each other.
Miss Armstrong managed cleverly enough to strike a little spark of
epigram from the flinty dialogue. It flickered and went out. Knowles
smiled politely at the abortive attempt; but at her first serious remark
he shook his head, as much as to say, "My dear lady, this is a
conundrum; I give it up," and finally turned to Katherine on his left.
In fact, he monopolised her during the rest of dinner, much to the
annoyance of Mr. Dixon Barnett, who spent himself in futile efforts to
win back her interest,--his behaviour in its turn rousing the uneasy
attention of Mrs. Dixon Barnett. She, again, was so preoccupied in
watching the movements of her lord, that she almost forgot the existence
of Mr. Flaxman Reed, who sat silent and depressed under her shadow.

Wyndham gave Audrey credit for great perspicacity in pairing these two
off together. "Poor fellow," he said to himself; "to preserve him from
the temptations of the world and the flesh, she's considerately sent him
in with the devil." For his own part, he devoted himself to Audrey and
his dinner. From time to time he glanced across the table, and whenever
he did so the corners of Knowles's mouth twitched nervously and he began
to stroke his upper lip--a provoking habit of his, seeing that he had no
moustache to account for it. Evidently there was some secret
understanding between the two, and Wyndham was gravely and maliciously
amused.

Katherine was enjoying herself too, but without malice. She had so few
acquaintances and lived so much in the studio, that it was all fresh
life to her. She was pleased with that unconscious irony of Audrey's
which had thrown Knowles and Miss Armstrong together; pleased with the
by-play between Knowles and Wyndham, and with the behaviour of the
married couple. It was always a delight to her to watch strange faces.
Mrs. Dixon Barnett was a big woman, with a long head, and she looked
something like a horse with its ears laid back, her hair being arranged
to carry out that idea. The great Asiatic explorer, whose round face
wore an expression of permanent surprise, suggested a man who has met
with some sudden shock from which he has never recovered. Katherine felt
sorry for the Asiatic explorer. She felt sorry for Miss Gladys Armstrong
too, a little pale woman with a large gaze that seemed to take you in
without looking at you. Her face, still young and childlike, was scored
with the marks of hard work and eager ambition, and there was bitterness
in the downward droop of her delicate mouth. Yet the authoress of "Sour
Grapes" was undeniably a successful woman. And Wyndham too, the
successful man--Wyndham's face attracted Katherine in spite of herself,
it was full of such curious inconsistencies. Altogether it was refined,
impressive, almost noble; yet each of the features contradicted itself,
the others, and the whole. The general outline was finely cut, but it
looked a little worn at the edges. The shaven lips were sensitive, but
they had hard curves at the corners; they were firm, without expressing
self-restraint. In the same way the nose was fine at the bridge, and
coarse towards the nostrils. The iris of the eyes was beautiful, with
its clear brown streaks on an orb of greenish grey; yet his eyes were
the most disagreeable feature in Wyndham's face. As for Knowles, he
interested her with his genial cynicism; but it was a relief to turn
from these restless types to Mr. Flaxman Reed. He had the face of the
ideal ascetic--sweet in its austerity, militant in its renunciation.
What in heaven's name was he doing at Audrey Craven's dinner-table?

Katherine was not too much absorbed in these speculations to see that
Ted was behaving very prettily to old Miss Craven, and making himself
useful by filling up awkward pauses with irrelevant remarks. The boy
looked perfectly happy. Audrey's mere presence seemed to satisfy him,
though she had not spoken a dozen words to him that evening, and was
separated from him by the length of the table. At last she rose, and as
he held the door open for her to go out, she turned to him with arched
eyebrows and a smile that was meant to say, "You've been shamefully
neglected, I know, but I had to attend to these tiresome people."
Katherine saw Mr. Wyndham making a mental note of the look and the
smile. She had taken an instinctive dislike to that man.

Upstairs in the drawing-room the five women settled down in a
confidential group, and with one accord fell to discussing Mr. Wyndham.
Miss Craven began it by mildly wondering whether he "looked so
disagreeable on purpose, or because he couldn't help it." On the whole,
she inclined to the more charitable view.

"What do you say, Kathy?" asked Audrey, without looking up.

"I agree with Miss Craven in thinking nature responsible for Mr.
Wyndham's manners."

Mrs. Dixon Barnett disapproved of Katherine, but she joined in here with
a guttural assent.

"Poor man," said Miss Gladys Armstrong, "he certainly hasn't improved
since that affair with Miss Fraser."

Audrey looked up suddenly,--"What affair?"

"Don't you know? They were engaged a long time, wedding-day fixed and
everything, when she broke it off suddenly, without a word of warning."

"Why?"

"Why indeed! She left her reasons to the imagination."

"When did it happen?"

"Just about this time last year. I can't think what made her do it,
unless she had a turn for psychical research--raking in the ashes of his
past, and that sort of thing."

"Was he very much cut up about it?"

"He didn't whine. But he's got an ugly wound somewhere about him.
Curious man, Langley Wyndham. I haven't got to the bottom of him yet;
and I flatter myself I know most men. My diagnosis is generally pretty
correct. He's a very interesting type."

"Very," said Audrey below her breath. The novelist knitted her brows and
fell into a reverie. Her interest in Langley Wyndham was not a purely
professional one. Audrey reflected too. "Just about this time last year.
That might account for things." She would have liked to ask more; but
further discussion of his history was cut short by the entrance of
Wyndham himself, followed by the rest.

Mr. Flaxman Reed was the first to take the empty seat by Audrey's side.
He remembered the talk he had with her at Oxford--that talk which had
provoked Wyndham's sarcastic comments. Himself a strange compound of
intellectual subtilty and broad simplicity of character, he had taken
Audrey's utterances in good faith. She had spoken to him of spiritual
things, in one of those moments of self-revelation which, he knew well,
come suddenly to those--especially to women--whose inner life is
troubled. But this was not the atmosphere to revive such themes in. He
had no part in Audrey's and in Wyndham's world,--the world which cared
nothing for the principles he represented, those two great ideals which
he served in his spirit and his body--the unity of the Church and the
celibacy of the priesthood. But Audrey interested him. He had first met,
last seen her, during a spiritual and intellectual crisis. He had stood
alone then, severed from those dearest to him by troubled seas of
controversy; and a word, a look, had passed which showed that she, this
woman, sympathised with him. It was enough; there still clung to her the
grave and tender associations of that time.

To-night the woman was unable to give him her whole-hearted attention.
Audrey was disturbed and preoccupied. Ted was lounging at the back of
her chair, hanging on her words; Wyndham and Miss Armstrong were sitting
on the other side of her, and she felt herself straining every nerve to
catch what they were saying.

"Yes," said Miss Armstrong in the tone of a proud parent, "'Through Fire
to Moloch' was my first. In that book I threw down the gauntlet to
Society. It shrugged its shoulders and took no notice. My second, 'Sour
Grapes,' was a back-hander in its face. It shrieked that time, but it
read 'Sour Grapes.'"

"Which at once increased the demand for 'Through Fire to Moloch.' I
congratulate you."

Miss Armstrong ignored the impertinent parenthesis. "The critics abused
me, but I expected that. They are men, and it was the men I exposed----"

Knowles, who was standing near, smiled, and blushed when he caught
himself smiling. Wyndham laughed frankly at his confusion, and Audrey
grew hot and cold by turns. What was the dreadful joke those two had
about Miss Armstrong? She leaned back and looked up at Ted sweetly.

"Ted, I should like to introduce you to Mr. Knowles. He'll tell you all
about that illustrated thing you wanted to get on to."

"I'm afraid," said Knowles, "that's not in my line: I don't know
anything about any illustrated things."

"Well, never mind; I want you to know something about Mr. Haviland,
anyhow."

This was just what Knowles wanted himself. He was deeply interested in
the situation as far as he understood it, and he looked forward to its
development. This little diversion created, Miss Armstrong continued
with imperturbable calm. But Audrey, listening with one ear to Mr.
Flaxman Reed, only heard the livelier parts of the dialogue.

"Life isn't all starched linen and eau-de-Cologne," said Miss Armstrong,
sententiously.

"Did I ever say it was?" returned Wyndham.

"Virtually you do. You turn your back on average humanity."

"Pardon me, I do nothing of the kind. I use discrimination."

"Nature has no discrimination."

"Exactly. And Nature has no consideration for our feelings, and very
little maidenly reserve. Therefore we've invented Art."

Audrey leaned forward eagerly. She felt an unusual exaltation. At last
she was in the centre of intellectual life, carried on by the whirl of
ideas. She answered her companion at random.

"Yes," Mr. Flaxman Reed was saying, "my work _is_ disheartening. Half my
parish are animals, brutalised by starvation, degraded out of all
likeness to men and women."

"How dreadful! What hard work it must be!"

"Hard enough to find decent food and clothing for their bodies. But to
have to 'create a soul under those ribs of death'----" he paused. His
voice seemed suddenly to run dry.

"Yes," said Audrey in her buoyant staccato, "I can't think how you
manage it."

There was a moment of silence. Wyndham had turned from Miss Armstrong;
Knowles and Ted had long ago joined Miss Haviland at the other end of
the room, where Mr. Dixon Barnett, still irresistibly attracted by
Katherine, hovered round and round the little group, with the fatal
"desire of the moth for the star." Audrey stood up; Miss Armstrong was
holding out her hand and pleading a further engagement. The little woman
looked sour and ruffled: Wyndham's manner had acted on her like vinegar
on milk. She was followed by Mr. Flaxman Reed. Wyndham dropped into the
seat he left.

"Dixon," said Mrs. Barnett in a low voice which the explorer knew and
obeyed. They were going on to a large "At Home."

Audrey turned to Wyndham with a smile, "I hope you are not going to
follow them, Mr. Wyndham?"

"No; I'm not a person of many engagements, I'm thankful to say. Barnett
hasn't much the cut of a great explorer, has he?"

"No; but those wiry little men can go through a great deal."

"A very great deal. Is Mrs. Barnett a friend of yours?"

"No, not especially. Why?"

"Mere curiosity. That mouth of hers ought to have a bit in it. It's
enough to send any man exploring in Central Asia. I can understand
Barnett's mania for regions untrodden by the foot of man--or woman."

Audrey laughed a little nervously. "I made a mistake in introducing him
to Miss Haviland."

"It was a little cruel of you. But not half so unkind as asking Miss
Armstrong to meet Knowles. That was a refinement of cruelty."

"Why? What have I done? Tell me."

"Didn't you know that Knowles went for Miss Armstrong in last week's
'Piccadilly'? Criticised, witticised, slaughtered, and utterly made game
of her?"

"No? I'd no idea! I thought they'd be delighted to meet each other; and
I know so few really clever people, you know" (this rather plaintively).
"He does cut up people so dreadfully, too."

"He cut her up into very small pieces. Knowles does these things
artistically. He's so urbane in his brutality; that's what makes it so
crushing. Are you an admirer of Miss Armstrong?"

He looked her full in the face, and Audrey blushed. She had read Miss
Armstrong's works, and liked them, because it was the fashion; but not
for worlds would she have admitted the fact now.

"I don't think I am. I've not read _all_ her books."

"_Did_ you like them?"

"I--I hardly know. She's written so many, and I can't understand
them--at least not all of them."

Wyndham smiled. She had read all of them, then.

"I'm glad to hear it. I can't understand them myself; but I detest them,
all the same."

"I thought so. I saw you were having an argument with her."

"Oh, as for that, I agreed with her--with her theory, that is, not with
her practice; that's execrable. But whatever she says I always want to
support the other side."

He changed the subject, much to Audrey's relief.

"I think you knew Mr. Flaxman Reed at Oxford?"

"Yes, slightly. He's an old friend of my uncle's."

"There's something infinitely pathetic about him. I've an immense
respect for him--probably because I don't understand him. I was
surprised to meet him here."

"Really, you are very uncomplimentary to me."

"Am I? Mr. Reed has renounced all the pleasant things of life--hence my
astonishment at seeing him here. Do you find him easy to get on with?"

"Perfectly." She became absorbed in picking the broken feathers out of
her fan. She took no interest in Mr. Flaxman Reed. What she wanted was
to be roused, stimulated by contact with a great intellect; and the
precious opportunity was slipping minute by minute from her grasp.
Wyndham was wasting it in deliberate trivialities. She longed to draw
him into some subject, large and deep, where their sympathies could
touch, their thoughts expand and intermingle. She continued tentatively,
with a suggestion of self-restrained suffering in her voice, "I don't
think I have any right to discuss Mr. Reed. You know--I have no firm
faith, no settled opinions."

It was an opening into the larger air, a very little one; she had no
knowledge or skill to make it bigger, but she was determined to show
herself a woman abreast of her time. Wyndham leaned back and looked at
her through half-opened eyelids.

"You are no longer convinced of the splendid logic of the Roman faith?"

She started. His words recalled vividly that evening at Oxford, though
she would not have recognised them as hers but for the quotation marks
indicated by Wyndham's tone.

"No--that was a year ago. What did you know about me then?"

"Nothing. I divined much."

"You are right. How well you remember!" She leaned forward. Her face was
animated, eager, in its greed of sympathy, understanding,
acknowledgment. Clear and insistent, with a note as of delicate irony,
the little porcelain clock in the corner sounded eleven. Knowles and
others were making a move. Wyndham rose.

"I remember most things worth remembering."

Five minutes afterwards Audrey, wrapt in thought, was still standing
where Wyndham had left her. Miss Craven and Katherine had gone upstairs,
and she was alone with Ted. Suddenly she clenched her hands together, at
the full length of her white arms, and turned to him in an agony of
tenderness, clinging to him like an overwrought child, and lavishing
more sweetness on him than she had done since the day of their
engagement. Ted was touched with the unusual pathos of her manner. He
put it down to sorrow at their separation during the whole of a long
evening.



CHAPTER X


It was the third week in August; summer was dying, as a London summer
dies, in days of feverish sunlight and breathless languor. Everywhere
there was the same torpor, the same wornout, desiccated life in death.
It was in the streets with their sultry pallor, in the parks and squares
where the dust lay like a grey blight on every green thing. Everywhere
the glare accentuated this toneless melancholy. It was the symbol of the
decadence following the brilliant efflorescence of the season, the
exhaustion after that supreme effort of Society to amuse itself. This
lassitude is felt most by those who have shared least in the amusement,
the workers who must stay behind in the great workshop because they are
too busy or too poor to leave it.

There was one worker, however, who felt nothing of this depression.
Langley Wyndham had reasons for congratulating himself that everybody
was out of town, and that he was left to himself in his rooms in Dover
Street. For one thing, it gave him opportunity for cultivating Miss
Craven's acquaintance. For another, he had now a luxurious leisure in
which to polish up the proofs of his last novel, and to arrange his
ideas for its successor. Compared with this great work, all former
efforts would seem to the taste they had created as so much literary
trifling. Hitherto he had been merely trying his instrument, running his
fingers over the keys in his easy professional way; but these
preliminary flourishes gave no idea of the constructive harmonies to
follow. And now, on a dull evening, some three weeks after Audrey's
dinner-party, he was alone in his study, smoking, as he leaned back in
his easy-chair, in one of those dreamy moods which with him meant
fiction in the making, the tobacco-smoke curling round his head the
Pythian fumes of his inspiration. The study was curiously suggestive of
its owner's inconsistencies. With its silk cushions, Oriental rugs, and
velvet draperies, its lining of books, and writing-table heaped with
manuscripts and proofs, it witnessed to his impartial love of luxury and
hard work. It told other secrets too. The cigar-case on the table beside
him was embroidered by a woman's hand, the initials L. W. worked with
gold thread in a raised monogram. Two or three photographs of pretty
women were stuck by their corners behind the big looking-glass over the
fireplace, together with invitation cards, frivolous little notes, and
ball programmes. On one end of the mantel-board there was a photograph
of Knowles; on the other, the one nearest Wyndham's chair, an empty
frame of solid silver. The photograph and the frame represented the
friendship and the love of his life.

To-night he had left his proofs untouched on the writing-table, and had
settled himself comfortably to his pipe, with the voluptuous
satisfaction of a man who has put off a disagreeable duty. He felt that
delicious turmoil of ideas which with him accompanied the building up of
a story round its central character. Not that he yet understood that
character. Wyndham had his intuitions, but he was not the man to trust
them as such; it was his habit to verify them by a subsequent logic. His
literary conscience allowed nothing to take the place of the
experimental method, the careful observation, and arranging of minute
facts, intimate analytical study from the life. No action was too small,
no emotion too insignificant, for his uncompromising realism. He had
applied the same method to his own experience. Whatever came in his way,
the tragedy or comedy of his daily life, his moods of passion and
apathy, the aspirations of his better moments, all underwent the same
disintegrating process. He had the power of standing aloof from himself,
of arresting the flight of his own sensations, and criticising his own
actions as a disinterested spectator. Thus he made no experiment on
others that he had not first tried on his own person. If any man ever
understood himself, that man was Langley Wyndham. He was by no means
vain of this distinction; on the contrary, he would have said that as a
man's inner consciousness is the only thing he has any direct knowledge
of, he must be a fool if he can live with himself--the closest of all
human relations--for thirty-five years without understanding his own
character.

What he really prided himself on was his knowledge of other people,
especially of women. Unfortunately, for the first few years of his
literary life he knew no women intimately: he had many acquaintances
among them, a few enemies, but no friends; and the little he knew of
individuals had not tended to raise his opinion of women in general.
Consequently he drew them all, as he saw them, from the outside; the
best sort with a certain delicacy and clearness of outline, the result
of unerring eyesight and the gift of style; the worst sort with an
incisive, almost brutal touch that suggested the black lines bitten out
by some powerful acid. His work "took" because of its coarser qualities,
the accentuated bitterness, the startling irony, the vigorous,
characteristic phrase. Those black strokes were not introduced to throw
up the grey wash or pencilled shading; Wyndham's cynicism was no mere
literary affectation, it was engrained in his very nature. He had gone
through many phases of disillusionment (including disgust at his own
success) before that brief crisis of feeling which ended in his
engagement to Miss Fraser. Then, for the first time in his life, a
woman's nature had been given to him to know. It was a glorious
opportunity for the born analyst; and for the first time in his life he
let an opportunity go. He loved Alison Fraser, and he found that love
made understanding impossible. He never wanted to understand her; the
relentless passion for analysis was absorbed in a comprehensive
enthusiasm which embraced the whole of Alison and took no count of the
parts. To have pulled her to pieces, even with a view to reconstruction,
would have been a profanation of her and of his love. For a whole year
the student of the earthly and the visible lived on the substance of
things unseen--on faith in the goodness of Alison Fraser. By a peculiar
irony it was her very goodness--for she was a good woman--which made her
give up Wyndham. As Miss Gladys Armstrong had guessed (or as she would
have put it, diagnosed), a detail of Wyndham's past life had come to
Miss Fraser's knowledge, as these details always come, through a
well-meaning friend. It was one which made it difficult for her to
reconcile her marriage with Wyndham to her conscience. And because she
loved him, because the thought of him, so hard to other women, so tender
to herself, fascinated her reason and paralysed her will--flattering the
egoism inherent even in the very good--because she was weak and he was
irresistibly strong, she cut herself from him deliberately, open-eyed,
and with one stroke. She had just sufficient strength for the sudden
breaking off of their engagement, none for explanation, and none, alas!
to save her from regretting her act of supererogatory virtue.

Wyndham gave no sign of suffering. He simply sank back into himself, and
became the man he had been before, plus his experience of feeling, and
minus the ingenuousness of his self-knowledge. He took instead to
self-mystification, trying to persuade himself that because he could not
have Alison, Alison was not worth having. After that, it was but a step
to palming off on his reason the monstrous syllogism that because Alison
was unworthy, and Alison was a woman, therefore all women were unworthy.
Except for purely literary purposes, he had done with the sex. He became
if anything more intently, more remorselessly analytical, more
absolutely the student of human nature. He lived now in and for his
work.

He struck out into new paths; he was tired of his neutral washes, and
striking effects in black and white. He had begun to dream of glorious
subtilties of design and colour. Novels were lying in his head ten deep.
He had whole note-books full of germs and embryos, all neatly arranged
in their separate pigeon-holes. In some he had jotted down a name and a
date, or a word which stood for a whole train of ideas. In others he had
recorded some illustration as it occurred to him; or a single sentence
stood flanked by a dozen variants--Wyndham being a careful worker and
sensitive to niceties of language. To-night he was supremely happy. He
saw his way to a lovely little bit of psychological realism. All that
had been hitherto wanting to this particular development of his art had
been the woman. In Audrey Craven he had found the indispensable
thing--intimacy without love, or even, as he understood the word,
friendship. She was the type he had long desired, the feminine creature
artless in perpetual artifice, for ever revealing herself in a
succession of disguises.

He was beginning to adjust his latest impressions to his earlier idea of
her. He recalled the evening when he had first seen her--the hot,
crowded drawing-room, the heavy atmosphere, the dull faces coming and
going, and the figure of Audrey flashing through it all. She had
irritated him then, for he had not yet classified her. He had tried not
to think of her. She dogged his thoughts with most unmaidenly
insistence; her image lay in wait for him at every cross-road of
association; it was something vivid yet elusive, protean yet persistent.
He recalled that other evening of her dinner-party--their first
recognised meeting. Her whole person, which at first sight had impressed
him with its emphatic individuality, now struck him as characterless and
conventional. And yet--what was she like? She was like a chameleon. No,
she wasn't; he recollected that the change of colour was a vital process
in that animal. She was like an opal--all sparkle when you move it, and
at rest dull, most undeniably dull. No, _that_ wasn't it exactly. She
was a looking-glass for other people's personalities (he hated the
horrid word, and apologised to himself for using it), formless and
colourless, reflecting form and colour. After a moment's satisfaction
with this last fancy, he became aware that he was being made the fool of
metaphor. That was not his way. To find out what lay at the bottom of
this shifting personality, what elemental thoughts and feelings, if any,
the real Audrey was composed of; to see for himself the play of
circumstances on her plastic nature, and know what reaction it was
capable of--in a word, to experimentalise in cold blood on the living
nerve and brain tissue, was his plan of work for the year 1896.

Making a mental note of several of the above phrases for future use,
Wyndham knocked the ashes out of his pipe and went to bed, where he
dreamed that the Devil, in evening dress, was presenting him with
Audrey's soul--done up in a brown wrapper marked "MS. only"--for
dissection.



CHAPTER XI


It was in no direct accordance with his literary plans, though it may
have been preordained in some divine scheme of chances, that Wyndham
found himself next Sunday attending evensong at St. Teresa's, Lambeth.
It so happened that Audrey and the Havilands had chosen that very
evening to go and hear, or, as Ted expressed it, see Flaxman Reed. He
wanted Flaxman Reed's head for a study. Ted seldom condescended to enter
any church of later date than the fifteenth century, and,
architecturally speaking, he feared the worst from St. Teresa's. Indeed,
smoke, fog, and modern Gothic genius have made the outside of that
building one with the grimy street it stands in, and Ted was not
prepared for the golden beauty of the interior. His judgment halted as
if some magic effect of colour had blinded it to stunted form and
pitiful perspective. But the glory of St. Teresa's is its music. The
three late-comers were shown into seats in the chancel as the choir were
singing the _Magnificat_. Music was the one art to which Audrey's nature
responded spontaneously after its kind. She knelt down and covered her
face with her hands for a prayer's space, while the voices of the choir
and organ shook her on every side with a palpable vibration. She was
conscious then of a deep sense of religion merging in a faint
expectancy, a premonition of things to follow. She rose from her knees
and found an explanation of this in the fact that Langley Wyndham was
standing in the opposite seat below the choir. She was not surprised;
for her the unexpected was always about to happen. It had happened now.

She tried not to see or think of him; but she felt him as something
illuminating and intensifying her consciousness. She heard the vicar's
voice like a fine music playing in the background. Then organ and choir
burst into the anthem. It was a fugue; the voices seemed to have
gathered together from the ends of the world, flying, pursuing and
flying, doubled, trebled, quadrupled in their flight, they met and
parted, they overtook and were overtaken. And now it was no longer a
fugue of sounds--it was a fugue of all sensations. The incense rose and
mingled with the music; the music fled and rose, up among the clustering
gas-jets, up to the chancel roof where it lost itself in a shimmering
labyrinth of gold and sapphire, and died in a diminuendo of light and
sound. Audrey looked up, and as her eyes met Wyndham's, it seemed as if
a new and passionate theme had crashed into her fugue, dominating its
harmonies, while the whole rushed on, more intricate, more tumultuous
than before. Her individuality that had swum with the stream became
fluent and coalesced with it now, soul flooded with sense, and sense
with soul. She came to herself exhausted and shivering with cold.
Flaxman Reed was in the pulpit. He stood motionless, with compressed
lips and flashing eyes, as he watched the last deserters softly filing
out through the side-aisles. The lights were turned low in nave and
chancel; Ted wriggled in his seat until he commanded a good view of the
fine head, in faint relief against a grey-white pillar, stone on stone;
and Flaxman Reed flung out his text like a challenge to the world: "The
things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen
are eternal." The words suggested something piquantly metaphysical,
magnificently vague, and Audrey followed the sermon a little way. But
Flaxman Reed was in his austerest, most militant mood. He was a master
of antithesis, and to Audrey there was something repellent in his
steel-clad thoughts, his clear diamond-pointed sentences. No eloquence
had any charm for her that was not as water to reflect her image, or as
wind to lift and carry her along. Her fancy soon fluttered gently down
to earth, and she caught herself wondering whether Wyndham would walk
back to Piccadilly or go in a hansom.

She was still pursuing this train of thought as they left the church,
when she proposed that they should go back to Chelsea by Westminster
instead of Lambeth Bridge. Wyndham overtook them as they turned down to
the river by St. Thomas's Hospital. He stopped while Audrey pointed out
the beauty of the scene with her little air of unique appreciation.
"Isn't it too lovely for words? The suggestion--the mystery of it!" Her
voice had a passionate impatience, as if she chafed at the limitations
of the language. "Who says London's cold and grey? It's blue. And yet
what would it be without the haze?" Wyndham smiled inscrutably: perhaps
he wondered what Miss Audrey Craven would be without the haze?

"What did you think of the service?" she asked presently. By this time
she and Wyndham were walking together a little in advance of the others.

"I didn't hear it. I was watching Flaxman Reed all the time." This
statement, as Audrey well knew, was not strictly correct.

"So was I. My uncle says if he stays in the church he'll be the coming
man."

"The coming man? H'm. He's been going back ever since I knew him. At
present he's got to the thirteenth century; he may arrive at the Nicene
age, but he'll never have a hold on his own. He's nothing but a holy
anachronism."

"Oh? I thought you didn't understand him?"

"In one way I do, in another I don't. You see I knew him at Oxford when
I was a happy undergraduate." (Audrey could not imagine Langley Wyndham
ever being an undergraduate; it seemed to her that he must always have
been a Master of Arts.) "I knew the real Flaxman Reed, and he was as
logical a sceptic as you or I. There was an epidemic of ideas in our
time, and the poor fellow was frightened, so he took it--badly. Of
course he made up his mind that he was going to die, and he was horribly
afraid of dying. So instead of talking about his interesting symptoms,
as you or I might do" ("You or I"--again that flattering association!),
"he quietly got rid of the disease by attacking its source."

"How?"

"Well, I forget the precise treatment, but I think he took equal parts
of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, diluted with _aqua sacra_. He
gave me the prescription, but I preferred the disease."

"At any rate he was in earnest."

"Deadly earnest. That's the piety of the fraud."

"You surely don't call him a fraud?"

"Well--a self-deceiver. Isn't that the completest and most fatal form of
fraud? He fights and struggles to be what he isn't and calls it
renouncing self."

"He renounces the world too--and everything that's pleasant."

"I'm afraid that doesn't impress me. I can't forget that he renounced
reason because it was unpleasant. Rather than bear a little spiritual
neuralgia, he killed the nerve of thought."

"How terrible!" said Audrey, though she had no very precise notion of
what was involved in that operation.

"To us--not to him. Yet he talks about doing good work for his
generation."

"Why shouldn't he? He works hard enough."

"Unfortunately his generation doesn't want his work or him either. It's
too irrevocably pledged to reality. There's one thing about him
though--his magnificent personality. I believe he has unlimited
influence over some men and most women."

Audrey ignored the last suggestion. "You seem to find him very
interesting."

"He is profoundly interesting. Not in himself so much, but in his
associations. Do you know, when I saw you in church to-night it struck
me that he might possibly influence _you_."

"Never! I should have to give up my intellect first, I suppose. I'm not
prepared to do _that_." Wyndham smiled again. "Why, what made you think
he would influence me?"

"I'd no right to think anything at all about it, but I know some women
take him for a hierophant."

"Some women? Do you think I'm like them?"

"You are like nothing but yourself. I was only afraid that he might
persuade you to renounce yourself and become somebody else, which would
be a pity."

"Don't be alarmed. I'm not so impressionable as you think."

"Aren't you? Be frank. Didn't you feel to-night that he might have a
revelation for you?"

"No. And yet it's odd you should say so. I have felt that, but--not with
him. I shall never come under that influence."

"I hope not." (It was delightful to have Langley Wyndham "hoping" and
being "afraid" for her.) "He belongs to the dead--you to the living."

What a thing it is to have a sense of style, to know the words that
consecrate a moment! They were crossing Westminster Bridge now, and
Audrey looked back. On the Lambeth end of the bridge Ted and Katherine
were leaning over the parapet; she looked at them as she might have
looked at two figures in a crowd. Lambeth and St. Teresa's seemed very
far away. She said so, and her tone implied that she had left illusion
behind her on the Surrey side.

Wyndham said good-bye at Westminster. Audrey was not quite pleased with
his manner of hailing a hansom; it implied a conscious loss of valuable
time.

"What fools we were to let him catch us up," said Ted as they walked
towards Pimlico. Audrey made no answer. She was saying to herself that
Langley Wyndham had read her, and--well, she hardly thought he would
take the trouble to read anything that was not interesting.



CHAPTER XII


Audrey had made a faint protest against Wyndham's realistic presentation
of Flaxman Reed. In doing so she was not guided by any insight into the
character of that divine, or by any sympathy with his aims. Indeed she
could not have understood him if she had tried. Her thoughts had never
travelled along that avenue of time down which Wyndham had tracked his
pathetic figure to the thirteenth century. She merely wanted to avoid a
slavish acquiescence in Wyndham's view, to guard a characteristic
intellectual attitude. Intellect has its responsibilities, and she was
anxious to show herself impartial. In all this Flaxman Reed counted for
nothing. It was intolerable to her that Wyndham should have classed her
even for a moment with those weak emotional creatures who submitted to
his influence. Why, he might just as well have said that she was
influenced by Ted Haviland; the fact being that no engaged woman ever
preserved her independence more completely than she had done. Had
devotion to Ted interfered with her appreciation of Wyndham? Then she
reflected that Wyndham did not know about her engagement any more than
other people.

So when Mr. Flaxman Reed called, as he did on Monday afternoon, Audrey
met him with a mind secure against any malignant charm. His most
innocent remarks excited her suspicion.

"I'm glad you've found your way to St. Teresa's. We don't often get such
a strong contingent from the other side." By "the other side" Mr. Reed
meant Middlesex, but to Audrey the phrase was insidiously controversial.
She determined to take her stand once and for all.

"I'm afraid my heterodoxy is incorrigible. So I should say is Mr.
Langley Wyndham's."

The vicar raised his eyebrows in mild surprise. "I don't know why _he_
came--unless it was for old acquaintance' sake."

"Ah! you knew him, didn't you? Do tell me about him. He's public
property, you know."

"I daresay, but I have no right to discuss him. We hardly ever meet now;
if we did we shouldn't agree. We are enigmas to each other."

"Yes," she said meditatively, and with a faint reproduction of Wyndham's
manner, "I should say you would be. He belongs so essentially to the
present, don't you think?"

Flaxman Reed flushed painfully. "And I to the past--is that what you
mean?"

"Yes, I think I do."

"You may be right. I suppose he is very modern--a decadent who would
rather die with his day than live an hour behind it--who can't see that
the future may have more kindred with the past than with the present.
Mind you, I'm not talking of him, but of his school."

"Then you read him? Of course--everybody reads him."

"I've not much time for any reading that lies outside my work. But I
read his first book when it came out. Is it from him you get what you
call your heterodoxy?"

"No. You have to think these things out for yourself."

Audrey was led into making this statement simply by the desire to
please. That eternally feminine instinct told her that at the moment she
would be most interesting to Flaxman Reed in the character of a forlorn
sceptic. His face sharpened with a sudden distrust.

"What, have _you_ got the malady of the century--the disease of thought?
Surely this is something new?"

"It is. One can't go on for ever in the old grooves. One must think."

"Yes; that curse is laid upon us for our sins."

Audrey smiled a bitter smile, as much as to say that she must have
committed some awful crime to be so tormented with intellect as she was.

"I suppose," he continued guilelessly, "every earnest mind must go
through this sooner or later."

"Yes, but I've come out on what you call the other side. I can't go
back, can I?"

"No; but you can go round."

Audrey shook her head sadly, feeling all the time how nice it was to be
taken seriously.

"Why not? Why not compromise? What is life but compromise? What else is
my own position as an Anglican priest? I daresay you know that my heart
is not altogether with the Church I serve?" He checked himself; he had
not meant to strike this personal note. And how could he explain the
yearning of his heart for the great heart of the Mother-church? This
would have been possible last year at Oxford, but not now. "I tell you
this because I feel that it might perhaps help you."

"No; I know what you will say next. You will tell me to stop thinking
because it hurts me."

"I won't. You will go on thinking in spite of me. But your intellect
will be feeding on itself. You will get no farther. Thought can never be
satisfied with thought."

Flaxman Reed was only a simple pure-minded priest, but Wyndham himself
could not have chosen words more subtly calculated to establish the
"influence." To have two such champions battling for possession of her
soul was exciting enough in all conscience, but she was inexpressibly
flattered by that dramatic conception of herself as a restless intellect
struggling with the storms of doubt. It would be hard to say how Flaxman
Reed came to believe in any real passion of thought behind Audrey's
spiritual coquetry. His ministration to a living illusion was almost as
touching as his devotion to a dead ideal. But Audrey herself was too
completely the thrall of the illusion to feel compunction.

There was no voice to warn him that his enthusiasm was the prey of the
eternal vanity. He leaned back in his meditative hieratic attitude, his
elbows resting on the arm of his chair, his thin hands joined at the
finger-tips, wondering what he should say to help her. After all, Audrey
had stated her case a little vaguely--there was a reticence as to
details. These, however, he easily supplied from his own experience,
supposing hers to have been more or less like it. He said he wished he
had known of this before, that he had spoken sooner, wincing perceptibly
as Audrey pointed out the inexpediency of discussing eternal things on
so temporal an occasion as her dinner-party. He did not mean that. His
time now was short; he had a stupid parish meeting at five o'clock. He
went rapidly over the ground, past immemorial stumbling-stones of
thought, refuting current theories, suggesting lines of reading; in his
excitement he even recommended some slight study of Patristics. There
was nothing like getting to the sources--Polycarp and Irenæus were
important; or he could lend her Lightfoot. But he did not want to
overwhelm her with dogmas--mere matter for the intellect--he would
prefer her to accept some truths provisionally and see how they worked
out. After all, the working out was everything. He wanted her to see
that it was a question of will. In the crisis of his own life he had
helped himself most by helping others--practically, he meant--seeing
after his poor people, and so on. Didn't she think it might be the same
with her?

Audrey looked grave. It was good to be taken seriously, but this was
going a little too far.

Didn't she think she could "do something? Other ladies----"

Flaxman Reed was doing well, very well indeed, but he had spoiled it all
by that hopelessly inartistic touch. Any man of the world could have
told him that to mention "other ladies" to Audrey--to take her out of
the circle of supreme intelligences in which he had placed her ten
minutes ago, and to confuse her with the rank and file of parochial
underlings and hangers-on--was death to the "influence." It was an
insult to her glorious womanhood. Some people might even have objected
that such crass ignorance of the world he renounced detracted from the
merit of the renunciation. Her voice was very cold and distant as she
answered him. "What do you suppose I could do? If you mean slumming,
I've never been down a slum in my life." No, he didn't mean slumming
exactly. To tell the truth, he could not fancy Audrey mingling with the
brutal side of life. He would have shrunk from giving her work that he
committed without a pang to his deaconesses and sisters.

"Do you mean mothers' meetings then, and that sort of thing? I
_couldn't_."

No, he didn't mean mothers' meetings either. But he thought she might
like to come sometimes to their social evenings.

"Social evenings"--that was worse than all. He had plunged in his
nervousness to the lowermost bathos. Audrey saw that he looked puzzled
and disheartened. She crossed over to her writing-desk, wrote out a
cheque for five pounds, and gave it to him with the prettiest action in
the world. "I want you to take that for your poor people. I wish I could
help in some other way, but I can't. I am so sorry." The apology was
sweetness itself, but she had the air of having settled her account with
humanity--and him. He thanked her gravely and took his leave, reminding
her that whenever she needed his help, it would still be there. She
remained musing some time after he had gone.

He little guessed how nearly he had won the victory. Perhaps he would
have scorned any advantage gained by an appeal to her sex, though he had
conceded much to it--more than he well knew.



CHAPTER XIII


August was a miserable month for Katherine in the hot attic, hard at
work on her own pictures, and too often finishing the various orders for
black and white which Knowles had after all managed to put in Ted's way.
She could have stood the hard work if she had not been more than ever
worried on Ted's account. With her feminine instinct sharpened by
affection, she foresaw trouble at hand--complications which it would
never have entered into the boy's head to consider. For reasons of her
own Audrey was still keeping her engagement a secret. She was less
regular, too, in making appointments, fixing days for Ted to go over and
see her; and more often than not he missed her if he happened to call at
Chelsea Gardens of his own accord. At the same time she came to Devon
Street as often as, or oftener than, ever, and there her manner to Ted
had all its old charm, with something added; it was more deeply, more
seriously affectionate than before. And yet it was just in these tender
passages that Katherine detected the change of key. That tenderness was
not remorse, as she might have supposed. It had nothing to do with the
past, being purely an emotion of the passing moment. Audrey was playing
a new part. Her mind was swayed by a fresh current of ideas; it had
suffered the invasion of a foreign personality. The evidence for this
was purely psychological, but it all pointed one way. A sudden display
of new interests, a startling phrase, a word hitherto unknown in
Audrey's vocabulary, her way of handling a book, the alternate
excitement and preoccupation of her manner, they were all unmistakable.
Katherine had noticed the same signs in the days of Audrey's first
absorption in Ted. She had caught his tricks, his idioms, his way of
thinking. She had even begun to see, like Ted, the humour of things, and
to make reckless speeches, not quite like Ted, that shocked cousin
Bella's sense of propriety. Katherine had smiled at her innocent
plagiarism, and wondered at the transforming power of love. And
now--Audrey was actually undergoing another metempsychosis. Under whose
influence? Here again Katherine's instinct was correct. It was Wyndham's
presence that in three weeks had brought about the change. Yes; in that
impressive affection, in the pleading tremor of her voice, in her smiles
and caresses, Audrey was acting a part before one invisible spectator.
She played as if Wyndham were standing by and looking on. Her love for
Ted had been a reality; therefore it served as a standard to measure all
emotions by--it made this new passion of the imagination a thing of
flesh and blood. No wonder that she would not announce her engagement.
At the best of times her fluent nature shrank from everything that was
fixed and irrevocable--above all from the act of will that trammelled
her wandering fancy, the finality that limited her outlook upon life.
And now it was impossible. The three weeks in which she had known
Wyndham had shown her that, compared with that complex character, that
finished intellect, Ted was indeed little better than a baby. Not that
she could have done without Ted--far from it. As yet Wyndham was still
the unknown, shadowy, far-off, and unapproachable. The touch of Ted's
hand seemed to make him living, to bring him nearer to her. Ted still
stood between her and the void where there is no more revelation, no
hope, no love--and Hardy would be in London in another week.

Katherine had not guessed all the truth, any more than Audrey had
herself; but she had guessed enough to make her extremely anxious.
Audrey was not the wife she could have wished for Ted: she disapproved
of his marriage with her as a certain hindrance to his career; but,
above all, she dreaded for him the agony of disappointment which must
follow if Audrey gave him up. She had no very clear idea of what it
would mean to him; but judging his nature by what she had seen of it,
she feared some shock either to his moral system or to his artistic
powers. She longed to speak to him about it; but Ted and she were not
accustomed to handling their emotions, and of late they had avoided all
personal questions not susceptible of humorous treatment. After this
persistent choosing of the shallows, she shrank from a sudden plunge
into the depths. She felt strongly, and with her strong feeling was a
bar to utterance.

At last an incident occurred which laid the subject open to frivolous
discussion.

Katherine was painting one afternoon, and Ted was leaning out of the
window, which looked south-west to Chelsea, his thoughts travelling in a
bee-line towards the little brown house. Suddenly he drew his head in
with an exclamation.

"Uncle James, by Jove! He'll be upon us in another minute. I'm off!" And
he made a rush for his bedroom.

Katherine had only time to wipe the paint from her brush, to throw a
tablecloth over the Apollo and a mackintosh over the divine shoulders of
the Venus--Mr. Pigott was a purist in art, and Katherine respected his
prejudices--when her uncle arrived, panting and inarticulate.

"Well, uncle, this is a surprise! How are you?"

"No better for climbing up that precipice of yours. What on earth
possessed you to come to this out-of-the-way hole?"

"It's a good room for painting, you see----"

"_What's_ that? Couldn't you find a good room in West Kensington,
instead of planting yourself up here away from us all?"

This was a standing grievance, as Katherine knew.

"Well, you see, it's nicer here by the river, and it's cheaper too;
and--how's aunt Kate?"

"Your aunt Kate has got a stye in her eye."

"Dear me, I'm very sorry to hear it. And you, uncle?"

"Poorly, very poorly. I ought not to have got out of my bed to-day. One
of my old attacks. My liver's never been the same since I caught that
bad chill at your father's funeral."

Uncle James looked at Katherine severely, as if she had been to blame
for the calamity. His feeling was natural. One way or another, the
Havilands had been the cause of calamity in the family ever since they
came into it. Family worship and the worship of the Family were
different but equally indispensable forms of the one true religion. The
stigma of schism, if not of atheism, attached to the Havilands in
departing from the old traditions and forming a little sect by
themselves. Mr. Pigott meant well by them; at any time he would have
helped them substantially, in such a manner as he thought fit. But, one
and all, the Havilands had refused to be benefited in any way but their
own; their own way, in the Pigotts' opinion, being invariably a foolish
one--"between you and me, sir, they hadn't a sound business head among
them." As for Ted and Katherine, before the day when he had washed his
hands of Ted in the office lavatory, uncle James had tried to play the
part of an overruling Providence in their affairs, and the young
infidels had signified their utter disbelief in him. Since then he had
ceased to interfere with his creatures; and latterly his finger was only
to be seen at times of marked crisis or disturbance, as in the
arrangements for a marriage or a funeral.

An astounding piece of news had come to his ears, which was the reason
of his present visitation. He hastened to the business in hand.

"What's this that I hear about Ted, eh?"

"I don't know," said Katherine, blushing violently.

"I'm told that he's taken up with some woman, nobody knows who, and that
they're seen everywhere together----"

"'Who told you this?"

"Your cousin Nettie. She's seen them--constantly--in the National
Gallery and the British Museum, carrying on all the time they're
pretending to look at those heathen gods and goddesses"--Katherine
glanced nervously round the studio. "They actually make
assignations--they meet on the steps of public places. Nettie has
noticed her hanging about waiting for him, and some young friends of
hers saw them dining together alone at the Star and Garter. Now what's
the meaning of all this?"

Katherine was too much amused to answer yet; she wanted to see what her
uncle would say next. He shook his head solemnly.

"I knew what it would be when you two had it all your own way. As for
you, Katherine, you took a very grave responsibility on your shoulders
when you persuaded your young brother to live with you here, in this
neighbourhood, away from all your relations. Your influence has been for
anything but good."

"My dear uncle, you are so funny; but you're mistaken. I know Miss
Craven, the lady you mean, perfectly well; she and Ted are great
friends, and it's all right, I assure you."

"Do you mean to tell me he is engaged to this young lady he goes about
with?"

Katherine hesitated: if she had felt inclined to gratify a curiosity
which she considered impertinent, she was not at liberty to betray their
secret.

"I can't tell you that, for I'm not supposed to know."

"Let me tell you, then, that it looks bad--very bad. To begin with, your
cousin Nettie strongly disapproves of the young woman's appearance, so
loud and over-dressed, evidently got up to attract. But it lies in a
nutshell. If he's not engaged to her, why is he seen everywhere with
her? If he is engaged to her, and she's a respectable woman--I say _if_
she's respectable, why doesn't he introduce her to his family? Why
doesn't he ask your aunt Kate to call on her?"

"Well, you see, supposing they are engaged, they wouldn't go and
proclaim it all at once; and in any case, that would depend more on Miss
Craven than Ted. I can't tell you any more than I have done; and I'd be
greatly obliged if you wouldn't allow Ted's affairs to be gossiped
about by cousin Nettie or anybody else."

She was relieved for the moment by the entrance of Mrs. Rogers with the
tea-tray.

"Tea, uncle?"

"No, thank you, none of your cat-lap. I must see Ted himself. Where is
he?"

"I'm not sure, but I _think_ he's gone out."

Mrs. Rogers looked up from her tray, pleased to give valuable
information.

"Mr. 'Aviland is in 'is bedroom, m'm; I 'eard 'im as I come up."

"Oh, I'll go and tell him then."

She found Ted dressing himself carefully before calling on Audrey. She
wasted five minutes in trying to persuade him to see his uncle. Ted was
firm.

"Give him my very kindest regards, and tell him a pressing engagement
alone prevents my waiting on him."

With that he ran merrily downstairs. His feet carried him very swiftly
towards Audrey.

Katherine gave the message, with some modifications; and Mr. Pigott,
seeing that no good was to be gained by staying, took his leave.

Ted came back sooner than his sister had expected. He smiled faintly at
the absurd appearance of the Venus in her mackintosh, but he was
evidently depressed. He looked mournfully at the tea-table.

"I'm afraid the tea's poison, Ted, and it's cold."

"It doesn't matter, I don't want any."

"Had tea at Audrey's?"

"No."

He strode impatiently to the table and took up one of the illustrations
Katherine had been working at.

"What's up?" said she.

"Oh--er--for one thing, I've heard from the editor of the 'Sunday
Illustrated.' He's in a beastly bad temper, and says my last batch of
illustrations isn't funny enough. The old duffer's bringing out a
religious serial, and he must have humour to make it go down."

Katherine was relieved. To divert him, she told him the family's opinion
as to his relations with Audrey. That raised his spirits so far that he
called his uncle a "fantastic old gander," and his cousin Nettie an
"evil-minded little beast."

"After all, Ted," said Katherine, judicially, "why does Audrey go on
making a mystery of your engagement?"

"I don't know and I don't care," said Ted, savagely.

Surely it was not in the power of that harmless person, the editor of
the "Sunday Illustrated," to move him so? Something must have happened.

What had happened was this. As Ted was going into the little brown house
at Chelsea he had met Mr. Langley Wyndham coming out of it; and for the
first time in his life he had found Audrey in a bad temper. She was
annoyed, in the first place, because the novelist had been unable to
stay to tea. She had provided a chocolate cake on purpose, the eminent
man having once approved of that delicacy. (It was a pretty way Audrey
had, this remembering the likings of her friends.) She was also annoyed
because Ted's coming had followed so immediately on Wyndham's going. It
was her habit now, whenever she had seen Wyndham, to pass from the
reality of his presence into a reverie which revived the sense of it,
and Ted's arrival had interfered with this pastime. The first thing the
boy did, too, was to wound her tenderest susceptibilities. He began
playing with the books that lay beside her.

"What a literary cat it is!"

She frowned and drew in her breath quickly, as if in pain. He went on
turning over the pages--it was Wyndham's "London Legends"--with
irreverent fingers.

"I should very much like to know----" said Audrey to Ted, and stopped
short.

"What would you very much like to know, Puss?"

"What you saw in me, to begin with."

"I haven't the remotest idea--unless it was your intellect."

"I should also like to know," said Audrey to the teapot, "why people
fall in love?"

"The taste is either natural or acquired. Some take to it because they
like it; some are driven to it by a hereditary tendency or an unhappy
home. I do it myself to drown care."

"Will you have any tea?" asked Audrey, sternly.

"No, thank you, I won't."

She laughed, as she might have laughed at a greedy child for revenging
on its stomach the injury done to its heart. Poor Ted, he was fond of
chocolate cake too! She would have given anything at that moment if she
could have provoked him into quarrelling with her.

Instead of quarrelling, he stroked her beautiful hair as if she had been
some soft but irritable animal. He said he was sure her dear little head
was aching because she was so bad-tempered; he implored her not to eat
too much cake, and promised to call again another day, when he hoped to
find her better. So he left her, and went home with a dead weight at his
heart.

Towards evening his misery became so acute that he could no longer keep
it to himself. They were on the leads, in the long August twilight,
Katherine sitting with her back against the tall chimney, watching the
reflection of the sunset in the east, the boy lying at her feet, with
his heels in the air and his head in the nasturtiums. The time, the
place, the attitude were all favourable to confidences, and Ted wound up
his by asking Katherine what she thought of Audrey? Now was the moment
to rid herself of the burden that weighed on her; Ted might never be in
so favourable a mood again. She spoke very gently.

"Ted, I am going to hurt your feelings. I don't quite know how to tell
you what I think of her. She's not good enough for you, to begin
with----"

"I know she's not intelligent. She can't help that."

"And she's not affectionate. Oh, Ted, forgive me! but she doesn't love
you--she can't, it's not in her. She loves no one but herself."

"She _is_ a little selfish, but she can't help that either. It makes no
difference."

"So I fear. And then she's years older than you are, and you can't marry
for ages; don't you see how impossible it all is?"

Her voice thrilled with her longing to impress him with her own
conviction. His passion was wrestling with a ghastly doubt, but it was
of the kind that dies hard.

"Of course it's quite impossible now"--neither he nor Katherine
considered the question of Audrey's money, they had never thought of
it--"but, as she said herself, in five years' time, when she's thirty
and I'm twenty-five, the difference in our ages won't be so marked."

"It will be as marked as ever, even if your intellect grows at its
present rate of development."

"I've admitted that she's a little deficient in parts; and, as you
justly observe, stupidity, like death, is levelling. We should suit
each other exactly in time."

"Ah, if you can see that, why, oh why, did you fall in love with her?"

"_She_ asked me that this afternoon. I said it was because she was so
clever. It was because I was a fool--stupidity came upon me like a
madness--I wish to heaven I'd never done it. It's played the devil with
my chances. I was sitting calmly on the highroad to success, with my
camp-stool and my little portable easel, not interfering in the least
with the traffic, when she came along like a steam-roller, knocked me
down, crushed me, and rolled me out flat. I shall never recover my
natural shape; and as for the camp-stool and the portable easel--these
things are an allegory. But I love her all the same."

Katherine laughed in spite of herself, but she understood the allegory.
Would he ever recover his natural shape? To that end she was determined
to make him face the worst.

"Ted, what would you do, supposing--only supposing--she were to fling
you over for--for some one else?"

"I should blow my brains out, if I had any left. Verdict, suicide while
in a state of temporary insanity."

"Suicide of a genius! That would be a fine feather in Audrey's cap."

"She always had exquisite taste in dress. Besides, she's welcome to
it--or to any little trifle of the kind."

It was useless attempting to make any impression on him. She gave it up.
Ted, however, was so charmed with the idea of suicide that he spent the
rest of the evening discussing ways and means. He was not going to blow
his brains out, or to take poison in his bedroom, or do anything
disagreeable that would depreciate Mrs. Rogers's property. On the whole,
drowning was the cheapest, and would suit him best, if he could summon
up spirits for it. Only he didn't want to spoil the river for _her_. It
must be somewhere below London Bridge, say Wapping Old Stairs. Here
Katherine suggested that he had better go to bed.

He went, and lay awake all night in a half-fever. When Katherine went
into his room the next morning (ten o'clock had struck, and there was no
appearance of Ted), she found him lying in a deep sleep; one arm was
flung outside the counterpane, the hand had closed on a crumpled sheet
of paper. It was Audrey's last note of invitation--the baby had taken it
to bed with him.

"Poor boy--poor, poor Ted!"

But, for all her sympathy, love, the stupidity that comes on you like a
madness, was a thing incomprehensible to Katherine.



CHAPTER XIV


The next day Audrey's head was aching to some purpose. She had been
going through a course of Langley Wyndham. Yesterday he had brought her
his last book, "London Legends," and she had sat up half the night to
read it. She was to tell him what she thought of it, and her ideas were
in a whirl.

She stayed in bed for breakfast, excused herself from lunch, left word
with the footman that she was not at home that afternoon, and sent down
another message five minutes afterwards that, if by any chance Mr.
Wyndham were to call, he might be admitted. "Not that he's in the least
likely to come after being here yesterday," she said to herself; and
yet, as she sat alone in the drawing room, she listened for the ringing
of bells, the opening of doors, and the sound of footsteps on the
stairs. Every five minutes she looked at the clock, and her heart kept
time to its ticking. Half-past two. In any case he wouldn't come before
three; and yet--surely that was the front-door bell. No. Three o'clock,
four o'clock--he would be more likely to drop in about tea-time. Five
o'clock; tea came in on the stroke of it, and still no Wyndham.
Half-past five--he had once called later than that when he wanted to
find her alone. Something told her that he would come to-day. He would
be anxious to know what she thought of his book. She was in that state
of mind when people trust in intuitions, failing positive evidence.
Surely in some past state of existence she had sat in that chair,
surrounded by the same objects, thinking the same thoughts, and that
train of ideas had been completed by the arrival of Wyndham. Science
accounts for this sensation by supposing that one half of the brain,
more agile than another, jumps to its conclusion before its tardier
fellow can arrive. To Audrey it was a prophecy certain of fulfilment.
And all the time her head kept on aching. The poor little brain went on
wandering in a maze of its own making. How truly she had, in cousin
Bella's phrase, "entangled herself" with Hardy, with Ted, and possibly,
nay probably, with Wyndham. She saw no escape from the dreadful
situation. And as a dark background to her thoughts there hung the
shadow of Hardy's return. She only realised it in these moods of
reaction that followed the exaltation of the last three weeks. And to
make matters worse, for the first time in her life she was dissatisfied
with herself. Not that she was in the least aware of the deterioration
of her character. She took no count of the endless little meannesses and
falsehoods which she was driven into by her position. Simple
straightforward action was impossible. This much was evident to her,
that whatever course she took now, she must end by forfeiting some one's
good opinion: Hardy's first--well, she could get over that; but Ted's?
Katherine's? Wyndham's?--if he came to know everything? It was there, in
that last possibility, that she suffered most.

Half-past six. She had given up Wyndham and her belief in psychical
prophecy, and was trying to find relief from unpleasant reflections in a
book, when Wyndham actually appeared. He came in with the confident
smile of the friend sure of a welcome at all hours.

"Forgive my calling at this unholy time. I knew if I came earlier I
should find you surrounded by an admiring crowd. I wanted to see you
alone."

"Quite right. I am always at home to friends."

They dropped into one of those trivial dialogues which were Audrey's
despair in her intercourse with Wyndham.

Suddenly his tone changed. He took up "London Legends."

"As you've already guessed, my egregious vanity brings me here. I don't
know whether you've had time to look at the thing----"

"I sat up to finish it last night."

"Indeed. What did you think of it?"

"Don't ask me. I didn't criticise--sympathy comes first."

"Excuse me, it doesn't. Criticism comes first with all of us. Sympathy
comes last of all--when we know the whole of life, and understand it."

"What would my poor little opinion be worth?"

"Everything. A really unbiassed judgment is the rarest thing in the
world, and there's always a charm about naïve criticism."

"I couldn't put the book down. Can I say more?"

"Yes, of course you can say more. You can tell me which legend you
disliked least; you can criticise my hero's conduct, and find fault with
my heroine's manners; you can object to my plot, pick holes in my style.
No, thank goodness, you can't do that; but you can take exception to my
morality."

She sat silent, waiting for her cue, and trying to collect her thoughts,
which were fluttering all abroad in generalities.

He went on with a touch of bitterness in his voice--

"I thought so. It's the old stumbling-block--my morality. If it hadn't
been for that, you would have told me, wouldn't you? that my figures
breathe and move, that every touch is true to life. But you daren't. You
are afraid of reality; facts are so immoral."

It would be impossible to describe the accent of scorn which Wyndham
threw into this last word.

"I thought your book very clever--in spite of the facts."

"Facts or no facts, you'd rather have your beliefs, wouldn't you?"

"No, no; I lost them all long ago!" cried Audrey, indignantly.

"I don't mean the old vulgar dogmas, of course, but the dear little
ideals that shed such a rosy light on things in general, you know. Ah!
that's what you want; and when an artist paints the real thing for you,
you say, 'Thank you; yes, it's very clever, I see; but I prefer the
pretty magic-lantern views, and the limelight of life.'"

"Not at all. I've much too great a regard for truth."

"I know. You're always looking for Truth, with a capital T; but, when it
comes to the point, you'd rather have two miserable little half-truths
than one honest whole truth about anything. That's why you disliked my
book."

"I didn't."

"Oh, yes, you did. What you disliked about it was this. It made you see
men and women, not as you imagined them, but as God made them. You saw,
that is, the naked human soul, stripped of the clumsy draperies that
Puritanism wraps round it. You saw below the surface--below the
top-dressing of education, below the solid layer of traditional
morality--deep down to the primitive passions, the fire of the clay
we're all made of. You saw love and hate, forces which are older than
all religions and all laws, older than man and woman, and which make
men and women what they are. And they seemed to you not commonplaces,
which they are--but something worse. You don't know that these _facts_
are the stuff of art, because they are the stuff of nature; that it
takes multitudes of such facts, not just one or two picked out because
of their 'moral beauty'--for you purists believe in the beauty of
morality as well as in the immorality of beauty--to make up a faithful
picture of life. And you shuddered, didn't you? as you laid down the
book you sat up half the night to read, and you said it was ugly,
revolting; you couldn't see any perfect characters in it--only character
in the making, only wretched men and women acting according to certain
disagreeable laws, which are none the less immutable because one half of
the world professes to ignore their existence. You said, 'Take away the
whole world of nature, take away logic and science and art, but leave
me--leave me my ideals!' Isn't that it?"

The torrent of his rhetoric swept her away, she knew not whither. But in
his last words she had caught her cue. If she was ever to be an
influence in Wyndham's life, encouraging, inspiring his best work, she
must not suffer him to speak lightly of "ideals." It seemed to her that
her methods with Ted were crude compared with her management of Wyndham.

"Oh, don't, don't! It's dreadful! But you are right. I can't live
without ideals. All the great artists had them. You have them yourself,
or at least you _had_ them. I don't know what to think about your
book--I can't think, I can only feel; and I read between the lines.
Surely you feel with me that there's nothing worth living for except
morality? Surely you believe in purity and goodness?"

Her face was flushed, her hands were clasped tightly together in her
intensity. So strong was the illusion her manner produced, that for one
second Wyndham could have been convinced of her absolute sincerity. Not
long--no, not long afterwards, her words were to come back to him with
irony.

"Morality? I've the greatest respect for it. But after all, its rules
only mark off one little corner from the plain of life. Out there, in
the open, are the fine landscapes and the great highroads of thought.
And if you are to travel at all, you must go by those ways. There's dust
on them, and there's mud--plenty of mud; but--there are no others."

"I would be very careful where I put my feet, though. I don't like muddy
boots."

"I daresay not; who does? But the traveller is not always thinking about
his boots."

"Don't let's talk about boots." She made a little movement with her
mouth, simulating disgust.

"Your own metaphor; but never mind. _A propos des bottes_, I should
like----" he broke off and added in a deep, hieratic voice, "To the pure
all things are pure, but to the Puritan most things are impure. I wish
I could make you see that; but it's a large subject. And besides, I want
to talk about you."

"Me?"

"Yes, you. With all your beliefs, there was a time, if I'm not much
mistaken, when you were pleased to doubt the existence of your charming
self?"

She looked up with a smile of pleasure and of perfect comprehension. He
could hardly have said anything more delicately caressing to her
self-love. It seemed, then, that every word she had uttered in his
hearing had been weighed and treasured up. She could hardly be supposed
to know that this power of noticing and preserving such little personal
details was one of the functions of the literary organism. If a woman
like Miss Fraser had been flattered by it, what must have been its
effect on the susceptible Audrey?

"So you remember that too?" she said, softly.

"Yes; it impressed me at the time. Now I know you better I don't wonder
at it. It's the fault of your very lovely and feminine idealism, but you
seem to me to have hardly any hold on the fact of existence, to be
unable to realise it. If I could only give you the sense of life--make
you feel the movement, the passion, the drama of it! My books have a
little of that; they've got the right atmosphere, the _smell_ of life.
But never mind my books. I don't want you to have another literary
craze--I beg your pardon, I mean phase; you seem to have had an artistic
one lately."

He rose to go.

"I've always cared for the great things of life," said she.

"Ah yes--the great things, stamped with other people's approval. I want
you to love life itself, so that you may be yourself, and feel yourself
being."

Her whole nature responded as the strings of the violin to the bow of
the master. "Life" was one of those words which specially stirred her
sensibility. As Wyndham had foreseen, it was a word to conjure with; and
now, as he had willed, the idea of it possessed her. She repeated
mechanically--

"Life--to love life for itself----"

"And first--you must know life in order to love it."

She sighed slightly, as if she had taken in a little more breath to say
good-bye. The ideal was flown. She had received the stamp of Wyndham's
spirit, as if it had been iron upon wax. It was her way of being herself
and feeling herself being.

The same evening she wrote a little note to Ted that ran thus:--

    "DEAREST TED,--I have been thinking it all over, ever since
    yesterday, and I am convinced that my only right course is to break
    off our engagement. It has all been a mistake--mine and yours. Why
    should we not recognise it, instead of each persisting in making the
    other miserable? I release you from your promise to me, and will
    always remain very affectionately yours,         AUDREY CRAVEN."

She had just sent the note to the post, when a servant came in with a
telegram. It was from Hardy, announcing his arrival at Queenstown. And
she had trusted to her engagement to Ted for protection against
Vincent's claim.

If she had only waited!



CHAPTER XV


"Great strength and safety with heaviest charges." "Absolute immunity
from all risk of blowing open." "The combination of a perfect trigger
action with a perfect cocking action." Ted Haviland was standing outside
the window of a gunsmith's shop in the King's Road, Chelsea, reading the
enticing legends in which Mr. Webley sets forth the superiority of his
wares above those of all other makers. It was the second day after he
had got Audrey's letter. In his least hopeful moods he had never
expected that blow; and when it fell, as a bolt from the blue, he was
stunned and could not realise that he was struck. He imagined all kinds
of explanations to account for Audrey's conduct. It was a
misunderstanding, a sudden freak; there was some mystery waiting to be
solved; some one--his cousin Nettie probably--had spread some story
about him which had reached Audrey. The scandal already spread in the
family would have been enough; she could hardly have identified its
loudly dressed heroine as herself. It only remained for him to clear his
character. Anything, anything rather than believe in what all healthy
youth revolts against--the irrevocable, the end.

He had tried three times to see Audrey, and she was "not at home";
though the third time he had seen her go into the house not two minutes
before. That instant he had turned away with a stinging mist in his eyes
and the blood surging in his brain. His thoughts now leaped to the end
as blindly as they had shrunk from it before. He had no definite idea of
shooting himself when he turned into the King's Road--his one object was
to go in any direction rather than home; but the shop window, with its
stacks of rifles and cards displaying "Mark I." revolvers, arranged on
them like the spokes of a wheel, caught his attention. He was possessed
with the desire to have a revolver of his own, no matter for what
purpose.

He had just chosen a "Mark I.," and was going into the shop to buy it,
when he heard his name called in a loud hearty voice, "Ted, you bounder!
stop!" and his arm was pulled with a grip that drew him backward from
the doorstep.

"Hardy!"

He knew the voice, but it was hard to recognise the man. A thick black
beard, a face that might have been tanned with bark, trousers tucked
into high boots, and tightened with a belt like a horse-girth, an old
Norfolk jacket stained with travel and the chase, a canvas shirt laced
with a red cord and tassels, and a plate-like hat of grey felt flapping
about his ears, made Hardy look something like a cowboy or a bandit. So
singular was the apparition that had plucked Ted back from the abyss,
that the Furies and the infernal phantoms vanished into smoke before it.
It brought with it a breath of Atlantic seas and of winds from the far
West.

"You young rascal! so it's you, is it? I didn't know you from Satan,
till I saw you turn round after flattening your nose against
what's-his-name's plate-glass. I wish I were in your shoes."

"Do you?" said Ted, with a grimace. "H'm. Why?"

"Because your whole expression suggests--partridges!"

"Does it? As it happens, I was thinking about a revolver."

"Potting burglars, eh? About all the sport you poor devils of Cockneys
will get on the First."

"Look here, Hardy, this is uncanny. Where did you spring from?"

"Straight from Euston this afternoon, from Queenstown yesterday morning,
before that from the other side of the Rockies."

"That accounts for your amazing get-up."

"Yes; and, by Jove! after a year in a log-hut on the wrong side of a
precipice, you're glad to get your feet on London pavement, and smell
London smells again. And look there, Ted! There isn't a lovelier sight
on God's earth than a well-dressed Englishwoman. Where are we going? How
about that revolver?"

Ted had forgotten all about it. Hardy's sane, open-air spirits had
infected him so far that he had let himself be dragged at a rapid pace
up the King's Road, where their progress attracted considerable
attention. As Hardy strode on, with his long swinging legs, he appeared
to be scattering the crowd before him.

"Never mind the thing now; it'll keep. How that girl stares! Does she
take us for banditti?"

"Not you, you puppy, in that coat and topper. No mistaking you for
anything but what you are--the sickly product of an effete civilisation.
Don't be frightened, you haven't gone off in the least; you're a little
pale, but prettier than you were, if anything."

"I say _you_ ought to be in the bosom of your family."

"I haven't got a family."

"Well, what brings you here of all places in the world?"

"My cousin Audrey Craven."

There was no reserve about Hardy. At the name, so unexpectedly spoken,
the under-world opened again for Ted, with all its Furies. They walked
on for some minutes in silence, then Hardy began again--

"I called to see her. Of course she was out. Hard lines, wasn't it?"

Ted forced himself to speak. "Oh yes, beastly hard."

"You must have met her lately. How is she looking?"

"Oh, remarkably cheerful, when I last saw her."

"When was that?" Hardy asked, a little anxiously.

"The day before yesterday."

"Ah! She'd got my telegram then."

Ted bit his lip. They were too much absorbed, he in his misery and Hardy
in his joy, for either to be conscious of the other's feeling.

"Old boy," said Hardy, as they turned out of the King's Road, "what have
you got to do?"

"Nothing."

"Then come and help me to hunt up some diggings. How about Devon
Street?"

"I don't know; but I suppose we can look," said Ted, dismally. Hardy's
spirits were beginning to pall on him.

"I may as well go and look up Katherine, while I'm about it. Dear old
Sis, I suppose she'll be out too."

"Not she--she's too busy for that."

"Not too busy to see her old playfellow, you bet your boots."

He was so glad to see everybody again that he was sure everybody must be
glad to see him. In his rapture at being in London, the place he loathed
and execrated a year ago, he could have embraced the stranger in the
street. Those miles of pavement, those towering walls that seemed to
make streets of the sky as he looked up, all that world of brick and
mortar was Audrey's world, the ground for her feet, the scene of all her
doings. The women that went by wore the fashions she would be wearing
now. At any moment she herself might turn out of some shop-door, round
some corner. A faint hope that he might find her with Katherine had led
him to Devon Street.

But Ted's, not Audrey's, were the first hands that touched his; and it
was not Audrey, but his "little half-sister," that gave Hardy his first
welcome home.

"Well, Sis?"

"Vincent! is it you?"

There was nothing in the words but the glad courtesy of the woman who
had been his playfellow in the days when he was a boy and she a tomboy,
but they went to Hardy's heart and dried up his speech. They were the
first kind words he had heard since he left England.

Katherine put away her work and made him sit in the one comfortable
chair the studio afforded; Mrs. Rogers was sent for cakes and cream at a
moment's notice; and the resources of the tiny household were taxed to
their utmost to do honour to the returned emigrant. Even Ted forgot his
gloom for the time being, and took his part in these hospitable rites.
Then came the question of Hardy's lodgings. Mrs. Rogers was consulted,
and, being unable to name any landlady of greater respectability than
herself, and her ground-floor happening to be to let--the rarest thing
in the world for her--she suggested that "the gentleman should try it
for a week or two, till 'e could suit 'isself elsewhere. But, though I
sy it as shouldn't, when a gentleman comes to me, sir, 'e wants to sty.
My larst gentleman, 'e'd a styd with me till 'e was took awy in 'is
coffin if I'd a kep' 'im; but Lor' bless you, my dear, 'e was that
pertic'ler I couldn't do with 'is fads, not at fancy prices, I couldn't.
I 'ad to tell 'im to gow, for Mussy's syke, where 'e'd git 'is own
French cook, and 'is own butler to black 'is 'arf-doz'n pyre o' boots
all at once for 'im." This was the recognised fiction by which Mrs.
Rogers accounted for the departure of any of her lodgers. Lest it should
seem to speak badly for her willingness and for the quality of the
attendance at No. 12, she invariably added, "Not but wot I'd work my
'ead orf to please any gentleman that _is_ a gentleman; and when you've
eaten one of my dinners, sir, you won't want nobody else to cook and do
for you no more." And though Ted had pointed out to her the sinister
ambiguity of this formula, she had never invented any other.

The ground-floor was seen; and after Mrs. Rogers, on her part, had
stipulated for cold lunches three days in the week, and not more than
one bath in the one day; and after Katherine, on Hardy's part, had
suggested sundry innovations, involving the condemnation of all the
pictures and ornaments she could lay her hands on,--a piece of
sacrilege which Mrs. Rogers regarded more in sorrow than in anger, as
indicating a pitiable aberration of intellect,--the rooms were taken
from that date.

Was it Chance, or Necessity, or Providence, that caused Ted and Hardy to
meet at the parting of the ways?--that waked Ted from the dream of
self-destruction, and lodged Hardy under the same roof with Katherine
Haviland?

His arrangements completed, Hardy hurried off again to Chelsea. Audrey,
he thought, had expected him by a later train, and would be back by six
o'clock, waiting for him. This time the footman met him with a little
note from his mistress. Audrey had never dreamed that Vincent could get
up to town so quickly. She was so sorry she had missed him; especially
as she had had to go to bed with a feverish cold and a splitting
headache. She would be delighted to see him if he could call to-morrow
afternoon, between three and four. And she was always very
affectionately his.

He was bitterly disappointed, but his disappointment was nothing to his
trouble about Audrey's illness. Feverish colds contracted in August
often prove fatal. But he was not utterly cast down. There was still
to-morrow.

He went back to Devon Street slowly, for he felt tired, out of all
proportion to his muscular exertions that day. During the evening, which
he spent in the Havilands' studio, his depression gave way before the
prospect of seeing Audrey to-morrow. He looked at Katherine's pictures,
gave her a great deal of advice, and expressed the utmost astonishment
at the progress she had made. He considered "The Witch of Atlas"
particularly fine.

"It was painted four years ago, and as a matter of fact I haven't made a
bit of progress since. But never mind, you're quite right. It isn't half
bad."

She bent over her picture lovingly, brushed away the dust from the
canvas, and turned it resolutely with its face to the wall. She had not
looked at it since the day of renunciation. Her work led Hardy on to
talk of his, and he grew eloquent about the book, "Sport West of the
Rockies," which, as he had once told Audrey, was "to make posterity sit
up." He had the manuscript downstairs in his bag. Some day he would read
them a chapter or two; it would give them some idea of wild virgin
Nature, of what a sportsman's life really was--the best life, perhaps,
take it all round, to be lived on this earth; it was to be the
Pioneer-book of its subject. Hardy was always at his ease with Ted and
Katherine. Self-restraint was superfluous in their company; they knew
him too well, and liked him in spite of their knowledge. They were used
to his tempestuous bursts of narrative, and would laugh frankly in his
face, while he joined in the laugh with the greatest enjoyment. With him
ornamental story-telling was an amusing game, in which, if you were
clever enough to catch him lying, you had won and he had lost, that was
all.

To-night he lay back in his chair and expanded gloriously. He told tales
of perilous adventure by flood and field, by mountain and forest; of the
wild chase of moose and wapiti among the snows of the Rockies; of the
fierce delight of single-handed combat with grizzly bears, the deadliest
of their kind; of how he, Hardy, had been rolled down a cañon, locked in
the embrace of a furry fiend that he had stabbed in the throat one
second before the fatal hug. He told of the melting of the snows in
forest rivers; of the flood that swept away the lonely traveller's
encampment, and bore him, astride on a log of driftwood, five miles amid
wrack and boulders on its whirling current; of deliverance through a
pious Indian and his canoe, which he entered as by a miracle in
mid-stream, and without upsetting any of the three. He told of long
wanderings in the twilight solitudes of Canadian forests; of dangers
from wolves and the wild coyotes, half-dog, half-wolf, heard nightly
howling round the Indian camp-fires; and from the intangible malice of
the skunk, a beautiful but dreadful power, to be propitiated with bated
breath and muffled footstep. He told, too, of the chip-munks, with their
sharp twittering bark; and he contrived to invest even these tiny
creatures with an atmosphere of terror--for it is well known that their
temper is atrocious, and that a colony of them will set upon the
unfortunate traveller who happens to offend one, and leave nothing of
him but his bones and the indigestible portions of his clothing. And
over all he cast the glamour of his fancy, as if it had been the red
light of the prairie sunsets; in it he appeared transfigured, a
half-mythical personage, heroic, if not indeed divine. The whole of it
had appeared word for word in the pages of the Pioneer-book.

"Ah, Sis," he observed complacently at the end of it, "that's all copy
for 'Sport West of the Rockies.' When that comes out you'll soon see me
at the top of the tree. Why aren't you an artist in words? Why don't you
use the pen instead of the brush?"

He implied that if her ambition had been literary he would have raised
her to a position just below him, on the highest pinnacle of earthly
fame. Then he passed, by a gentle transition, to another subject.

"By-the-bye, have you two seen much of my cousin Audrey?"

This second utterance of the name was too much for Ted's overstrained
nerves. He got up, stifled a yawn, and held out his hand to Hardy.

"I say, do you mind if I go to bed now? I can't for the life of me keep
awake."

"Good-night, old fellow; I'm afraid I've sent you to sleep with my
yarns."

"Not a bit. We'll have some more to-morrow."

To-morrow?

"What's the matter with the boy, Kathy? He looks seedy."

"Oh, nothing. He's not over-strong, perhaps, but he's all right."

"What's he doing with himself here?"

"Painting. Oh, Vincent, I should like you to see some of his things, now
he's gone!"

All her pride in her brother was roused, perhaps by Vincent's boasting.
She lifted the white linen cloth that covered one of Ted's easels, and
revealed the portrait of Audrey. She had not guessed the truth; if she
had, she would not have looked at Vincent just then. The effect she had
produced was unmistakable. The blood rose to his face in a wave that
died suddenly away, leaving a yellowish pallor under its sunburn.

"How beautiful!" he said softly, more to himself than Katherine.

He gazed at the portrait as if his eyes would never be satisfied with
seeing. The pathos in his face gave it a sort of spirituality; and
Katherine noticed his hand trembling as he helped her to cover the
picture again.

"It's like her--as only genius could make it."

Only genius? Did he think that only genius had wrought that work of
transfiguration, in which Katherine found it hard to see any likeness to
the woman as she knew her now? She had read the secret of Vincent's
hope. Ought she to let him believe a lie? Did not she, Ted's sister, of
all people owe him the truth? No. Vincent's eyes looked as if they
wanted sleep before everything. Sufficient unto the night is the evil
thereof. And perhaps, after all, she had been mistaken. Hardy held out
his hand, said a short good-night, and was gone before she could say
more.

There flashed back on her the memory of Audrey's first visit to her. She
recalled her little self-conscious air of possession in speaking of her
cousin. She was morally certain that Audrey had treated Vincent as she
had treated Ted.

"Beware of the woman who kisses you on both cheeks; it's too much for
friendship, and too little for love!"

Hardy went out of doors, turned on to the Embankment, and so on to
Chelsea, for the third time that day. He wanted to assure himself of
Audrey's nearness by one more sight of the brown brick shrine that held
her. The house stood as he had seen it once before, asleep in the yellow
gaslight, shut in from the road by the trees, screened from the lamps on
the Embankment by the storm-shutters folded over its windows, guarding
its secrets well, all but two windows on the second floor, which were
open to the night. That was Audrey's room, he knew. Little fool! Ill
with a feverish cold, and sleeping with open windows! For about half an
hour he walked up and down on the Embankment opposite, like a sentry on
duty, his long shadow blackening and fading as he passed from light to
light.

When he got back to his rooms, he felt a sensation that had sometimes
come upon him after a long day's hunting, a feeling of deadly fatigue
and stifling emptiness, as if the rest of his body were drained of the
blood that choked his heart. He opened his travelling-bag, took out a
large silver flask, looked at it, sighed, shuddered slightly, poured
about two tablespoonfuls of brandy down his throat; and then, with a
gesture of indescribable disgust, emptied the remainder out of the
window into the yard below. He undressed and got into bed quickly,
turned over on his right side for greater ease, and was soon asleep and
dreaming of to-morrow.



CHAPTER XVI


There was no sleep for Ted that night. Towards morning he fell into a
doze, broken by unpleasant dreams, and woke with a confused
consciousness of trouble. It had been connected in his dreams with
Hardy's return, and, once awake, the knowledge that he was in the same
house with him was insupportable. Not that he had yet guessed how
Vincent stood to Audrey; he had simply a nervous dread of hearing him
talk about her. The casual utterance of her name went through him like a
sword, and in his present mood Vincent's boisterous spirit disturbed and
irritated him. More to get away from him than with any definite idea of
work, he spent his morning at the National Gallery, touching up the copy
of the Botticelli Madonna which Katherine had begun long ago for Audrey.
He had set to work almost mechanically, with a sense that whatever he
did at the present moment was only provisional,--only a staving off of
the intolerable future; but soon the technical difficulties of his task
absorbed him, and he became interested in spite of himself. He was so
passive to the spiritual influences of line and colour, that perhaps the
beauty of the grey-eyed girl Madonna may have given him something of its
own tranquillity.

Unfortunately the good effects of his morning's industry were undone
when he got home, by finding Hardy alone in the studio, sitting before
Audrey's portrait. He had dragged the easel to the light, and had been
studying the canvas for some minutes before Ted came in. The boy stifled
an angry exclamation.

"Ted," said Hardy, "what do you want for this picture?"

"I don't want anything for it."

"Nonsense! Every good picture has its price."

"This one hasn't, anyway."

"Look here, and don't be a young fool. This is the best thing you've
done in your life or ever will do. I'm in rather low water at present,
but wait till I've heard from my British Columbian agent, or, better
still, wait till the Pioneer-book comes out, and I'll give you a hundred
for it, honour bright, if you'll let me have it at once."

"I can't let you have it at once, and I won't let you have it at all."

"The deuce you won't! Come, fix your own price."

"I'm not a swindling dealer, and I'm not a liar, though you mightn't
think it. I told you I wasn't going to let you have it at any price."

"H'm. Do you mind telling me one thing? Are you going to sell it to any
one else?"

"I'm not going to sell it to any one. I'm going to keep it myself."

They looked at each other with steady eyes, each understanding and each
defying the other's thought. Hardy's face was the first to soften. He
put his hand on Ted's shoulders. "All right, old boy. We've hit each
other hard this time. The least we can do is to hold our tongues about
it." And he left him.

Hardy spoke with the magnanimity of imperfect comprehension. He had been
defeated in his purpose of buying Audrey's portrait; but however great
his discomfiture, he, being the successful lover, could afford a little
pity for Ted as the victim of a hopeless passion. To Ted, on the other
hand, the revelation of Hardy's feelings threw light on Audrey's
conduct. It accounted for everything that was most inexplicable in it.
It must have been the news of Hardy's return that made her break off her
engagement so suddenly. His instinct told him that she had probably
given her word to her cousin before he left England; jealousy suggested
that she had cared for him all the time. He tried to reason it out, but
stopped short of the obvious conclusion that, if these things were
altogether as he supposed, her engagement to himself must have been
merely an amusement hit upon by Audrey to fill up a dull interval. He
preferred to regard it as a mystery. And now all reasoning gave way
before the desire to see her again, and know the truth from herself once
for all.

To Audrey, as the fountain of truth, he accordingly went, choosing a
time between half-past two and three when she was most likely to be in.
As he reached her door, it was being held open for her to go out, and
she was standing in the outer hall buttoning her gloves. She drew back
when she saw Ted, but escape was impossible. He saw the movement and the
flash of her little white teeth as she bit her lip with annoyance.

She came forward smiling.

"Oh, is it you, Ted? As you see, I'm just going out."

"You will see me before you go?"

"I can't possibly. I've got to go and call on an uncle and aunt at the
Hôtel Metropole."

"I'm very sorry. But I won't keep you more than ten minutes."

"I can't spare ten minutes. I'm late as it is, and I have to be back by
half-past three. I've got an appointment."

"You've not time to get there and back. You'd better put it off."

"I can't, Ted. They're only up from Friday till Monday. Dean Craven has
to preach at the Abbey to-morrow. Come again."

"I can't come again."

"Well, then----" she hesitated. "You may walk part of the way with me."

He went with her down the short flagged path that led to the gate. Once
out of the servant's hearing, he stopped, and looked firmly in her face.

"I must see you now, and it had better be in the house. I've only one
question to ask you. Five minutes will be enough for that--at least it
won't be my fault if it isn't."

She had laid her hand on the gate, which Ted held shut, and her mouth
was obstinately set. Something in his voice conquered her self-will. She
turned and led the way to the house.

"You had better come into the morning-room."

He followed her; she closed the door, and they stood facing each other a
moment without speaking.

"Well, Ted?" Her voice went to his heart with its piercing sweetness.

"Audrey, why did you write that letter?"

"Because it was easier to write what I did than to say it. Do you want
to hold me to my word?"

"No. I want to know your reasons for breaking it. You haven't given me
any yet."

"I did, Ted. I told you it had all been a mistake--yours and mine."

"Speak for yourself. Where was my mistake?"

"The mistake was in our ever getting engaged at all--in our thinking
that we cared for each other."

"I cared enough for you, didn't I?"

"No, you didn't. You only thought you did. Katherine told me----"

"What did Katherine tell you?"

"That you hadn't any feelings, that you really cared for nothing but
your painting, that you'd only a ru--rudimentary heart."

"Really? That is interesting. When did she tell you that?"

"The very day we were engaged."

"And you believed her?"

"Not then. I did afterwards."

"How long afterwards--the other day?"

"Ye-yes; I think so."

"I see--when you wanted to believe it. Not before."

She was trembling, but she gathered together all her feeble forces for
the defence.

"No, no; don't you remember? At the very first--the day of our
engagement--we were both so miserable at the idea of your going away--we
did it all so recklessly--before either of us thought. You see, Ted, you
were so very young."

"It's a pity that didn't strike you before."

"It did, it did; but I wouldn't think of it. I blinded myself. The fact
is, we were both as mad as hatters. You know people can't get married in
that state. We should have had to wait for a--a lucid interval."

Ted recognised the miserable pleasantry; it was what he had said to her
himself a day or two after their engagement. The phrase had amused
Audrey at the time and lodged in her memory. She borrowed it now in her
hour of need, and laughed, unconscious of her plagiarism.

"I understand perfectly. You want to get rid of me as a proof of your
own sanity. Is that it?"

She looked up in the utmost surprise. "Not to get rid of you, Ted, of
course not. I shall still keep you as my best friend."

"Thanks. You had better not try to do that. I'm told I've no talent for
friendship."

"Then I suppose, after this, you'd rather I cut you, if we meet?"

"You can please yourself about that."

"You may be sure I shall. Oh, Ted, I didn't expect that from you! But
it's quite right. Hit hard, I can't defend myself."

"Please don't attempt it, there's no occasion to. Only tell me one
thing."

"Well?" She sat down as if wearied with this unnecessary trifling.

He paused.

"It's evident that you don't care about _me_. Do you care for any one
else?"

"You've no right to ask me that."

"Haven't I? I thought I had; and, if you'll only think a minute, you'll
agree with me."

She put her head on one side as if gravely considering the question.

"No. You've no right to ask me that."

"Let me put it differently--since your feelings are sacred, you needn't
tell me anything about _them_. Were you engaged to Hardy before you knew
me?"

"That question is even more impertinent than the last."

"I beg your pardon then. Don't answer it, if you don't like to."

He turned away.

"Don't go yet, Ted. I haven't done. Listen. I was thoughtless, I was
mistaken" (Audrey was anxious to escape the imputation of a big fault by
the graceful confession of a little one), "but I'm not as bad as you
think me. You think I cared for Vincent. I didn't. I never cared a straw
about him--never. You were the first."

"Was I? Not the last though, it seems."

"Perhaps not. But I deceived myself before I deceived you."

"Well, you took me in completely, if it's any satisfaction to you. Never
mind, Audrey; you've done your best to remedy that now."

He had turned, and his hand was on the door to go, when he heard her
calling him back softly.

"Ted----" She had followed him to the door, he felt the touch of her
little gloved hand on his coat-sleeve; under the black meshes of her
veil he saw her eyes shining with tears that could not fall. He
hesitated.

"Forgive me," she whispered.

"Not till you have answered my question."

"Which question, Ted?"

"The impertinent one."

"About Vincent?"

"Yes."

Her eyes had been fixed on the ground, now they glanced up quickly.

"Did Vincent tell you I was engaged to him?"

"No."

Her eyelids drooped again; then, urged to desperation by her own
cowardice, she raised them and looked in his face to answer. And as she
looked, she saw for the first time how changed it was. Its bloom was
gone, the lines were set and hard: Ted looked years older than his age.

"Don't believe him if he ever says so. I am not engaged to him, and I
never was."

"Thanks. That was all I wanted to know."

He turned on his heel and left her. He knew that she had lied.

He left her in a state of vague consternation. She had been prepared for
an outburst of feeling on Ted's part, in which case she would have
remained mistress of the field without loss of dignity. As it had
happened, the victory was certainly not with her. This was contrary to
all her expectations. She had looked for protestations, emotions--in
short, a scene; but not for cold, dispassionate cross-examination. It
was so unlike Ted--Ted, who was always giving himself away; it was more
the sort of thing she could have fancied Wyndham saying under the same
circumstances. She had seen something of this impersonal manner once or
twice before, in those rare moments when they had discussed some
picture, or Ted had talked to her about his work or Katherine's. It had
annoyed her then; she thought it showed a want of enthusiasm. Now the
boy's heartless self-possession amazed and overpowered her. Audrey was
incapable of imagining what she had not seen, and she had never got to
the bottom of the Haviland character; never divined its gravity under
the mask of frivolity; never proved its will, nor reckoned with its
pride. Three days ago she would have laughed at the idea of referring
any moral question to Ted's judgment, for she had taken no pains to hide
her faults from him; she had been selfish, reckless, vain, capricious,
by turns and altogether, and it had made no difference then. Now she
felt that he had condemned her. To be sure, she had told him a lie; but
what was that in the catalogue of her offences?

It was everything. He could have forgiven anything but that.



CHAPTER XVII


But Ted's notion of morality was a question Audrey had no time to go
into. A violent ring at the front-door bell recalled her to herself, and
made her glance at the clock. It was a quarter-past three. She had
wasted half an hour in fruitless discussion with Ted, and it left her
ill-prepared for the stormy interview to follow. Her nerve gave way
before the prospect of that hour with Hardy. She might have escaped it
if it had not been for Ted, for she had meant to call early on her uncle
and aunt, and bring them back with her to Chelsea, so that it would be
impossible for Vincent to see her alone. Ted's coming had made that
scheme useless. She listened. Yes, it was Vincent; she had heard his
voice in the hall.

"I told him between three and four. Anybody else would have known that
meant half-past four."

She spent ten minutes after Hardy was announced gathering herself
together to meet him. She would have thought of sending for Miss Craven,
an old device of hers when she wanted to avoid explanations; but Miss
Craven was away. Her only hope was in some casual caller.

Meanwhile Hardy was striding up and down the drawing-room, waiting
impatiently for Audrey. He was a little hurt at being shown into an
empty room; he had expected to find the small thing sitting there to
welcome him. That ten minutes was the longest he had ever spent,--it was
the meeting-point in time for two eternities. As his thought leaped
forward to the future it was thrown back upon the past. Then, as he
gazed about him half mechanically, he was aware that his eyes were
looking for the things they had been used to, and could not find them.
Everything was changed in that room he had run in and out of as a boy.
The familiar furniture, the signs and tokens of Audrey's daily presence,
the old-fashioned knick-knacks which had delighted her mother's heart,
all were gone. His aunt's portrait was no longer there; in its place
hung the photogravure of the Madonna di San Sisto. Instead of the cosy
corner where he had lain at Audrey's feet his last night in England,
there stood a polished rosewood secretary, thrown open, showing its
empty pigeon-holes. Everywhere he looked it was the same; there were new
things all around him. If he could have read their secret he would have
seen that that room was the picture of Audrey's soul; the persons who
had by turns taken possession of it had left there each one the traces
of his power. If you could have cut a vertical section through Audrey's
soul, you would have found it built up in successive layers of soul.
When you had dug through Wyndham, you came to Ted; when you had got
through Ted, you came upon Hardy, the oldest formation of all. The room
was instructive as a museum filled with the records of these changes.
But the specimens were badly arranged, recent deposits lying side by
side with relics of an earlier period: thus the floor was covered with
the bearskin given by Hardy and the Persian rugs laid down during the
Art age. The rosewood secretary and a little revolving book-case by
Audrey's chair marked the change wrought by Wyndham. They were part of
modern history and the memory of man. Hardy, in the midst of these
curiosities of natural science, was like a lay visitor without a guide:
he admired, he wondered, he recognised an object here and there, but of
what it all meant he had not the ghost of an idea.

He left off wondering, and waited, listening for the feet that used to
fall so lightly on the stairs.

At last the door opened softly, and Audrey stood before him. But she
stood still, looking at him as if uncertain whether to go or stay.

"Audrey!" His face lit up with joy, his heart bounded.

"How do you do, Vincent?"

He held out his arms, and she came to him slowly, without a word. She
let him hold her for an instant, closing her eyes to hide the fear in
them; let him lift her veil and kiss her cheeks and mouth. Then she
turned her face away, put out her hands against his chest, and pushed
him from her.

"Audrey! What have I done?"

"Oh! I don't know, I don't know!"

She walked away to the looking-glass over the chimneypiece, and took off
her gloves and veil. She wanted to gain time. Hardy followed her to the
opposite side of the fireplace.

"Whatever possessed you, Vincent, to grow that horrid beard?"

He had forgotten the change in his personal appearance. He looked in the
glass and was startled by his own reflection. Owing to the agony of the
shock she had given him, his face was still grey and drawn. The poor
fellow tried to smile, and that made matters worse.

"I daresay it was a nasty shock. Did it make you feel as if I was
somebody else?"

"Oh no; it has not altered you much. It's not that. But--I hate beards,
as you know."

There was silence. Hardy was struggling with the old stifling sensation
in his heart. Emotion was bad for him.

"Is this all you've got to say to me, after being a year away?"

She looked at him, shook her head, and played with the ornaments on the
mantel-board.

"Why can't you speak to me? Has anything happened? Is anybody dead?"

"No; but I wish I was."

"Why do you say that?"

"Because----" She was trying to wring the neck off a little china image
now. "Oh, Vincent, don't think me very unkind! but I--I'd rather,
another time, you didn't show your cousinly affection quite in that way.
That's all."

He covered his eyes with one hand to shut out the sight of Audrey.

"No, that's not all, I see. There's something else behind that,--there
must be. _Has_ anything happened?"

She bowed her head and sighed, a long shivering sigh. The china image
slipped through her fingers, and was broken to bits on the hearthstone.

"Audrey--what is it?"

He took her by the wrists and drew her gently to him. As he touched her
he saw her face whiten and her eyes dilate.

"Do you remember last year when you said you loved me?--when you
promised to be my wife? Do you remember how you said good-bye to me
then? Now you won't speak to me. What have you been doing to make you
hate me? Or what stupid idea have you got into your head about me?"

"Nothing--nothing. Only--I want you to understand that what you said
just now is out of the question. It can't be."

"Why not? You promised; so it could be once, why not now?"

"Because--because--I never really promised, you know."

"You never promised! You little liar! You may want to break your
promise, but you can hardly say you didn't make it."

"I never made it--not of my own free will. You took advantage of me; you
forced me into it. You teased me till I said I cared for you, and--I
didn't."

"So, then, you told me a lie? You wrote lie after lie to me in your
letters for a year?"

She writhed away from him, but he still held her by the wrists, face to
face with him, the length of their arms apart.

"Let me go, Vincent! You've no right to hold me in this way. You're
hurting my arm!"

Unconsciously his grasp had tightened till the diamond mounted on one of
her thread-like bracelets was pressed into her flesh and made it bleed.

"See there!"

He let her go. She sat down and put her pocket-handkerchief to her
wrist.

"If you tell lies, Audrey, what am I to believe? What you said then, or
what you say now?"

"I'm telling the truth now, because I don't want this wretched
misunderstanding to go any further."

"Can't you speak plainly? Do you mean this, that you don't love me?"

"Yes. It's true. I don't love you; I can't--at least, not like that."

"I can't believe it! It's impossible! As long as I can remember,
whatever you said or did, you made me think you loved me. You said last
year you'd be my wife; but that's nothing. Long before that, you let me
live on the hope of it, year after year. It's inconceivable that you
could have done these things if you didn't care for me. Even you
couldn't be such an unfeeling little fiend."

"No, no; you worked on my feelings. You wouldn't let me have any will of
my own. And now you want me to marry you whether I like it or not.
Whatever happens, I can't do that, Vincent."

"Why not?"

"Must I tell you?"

"Isn't that the very least you can do?"

"Well--you know, Vincent, you've been very wild; you've told me so
yourself a thousand times."

"Is it that? You knew that long ago."

"I never realised it till now. Now I know that I can only really love
some one strong and good, whose goodness would help me and make me good
too."

Audrey's infantile irony made Hardy laugh. That laugh frightened her.

"Do you think I don't know that?" he said. "What do you suppose I went
out of England for? It wasn't to shoot, or to farm either. It was to get
away out of the reach of temptation, to live in a pure air, and make
myself pure for your sake. Do you know, Audrey, I was out there, without
a soul to speak to, a year, one horrible long year, fighting the devil,
waiting till I could come back and tell you that I was fit to love you.
God knows I'm not all I ought to be,--who is? At least, I'm not ashamed
now to ask you to be my wife. Will you never forget the past?"

She had hesitated before, but now Hardy's humility put her in the
position of the superior, and his piteous confession gave her the words
she wanted.

"No. It's no use. Once for all, I do not love you; and if I did, I could
not marry any man who had led the life you have."

"Very well. Remember, Audrey, if I wasn't good enough for you, I was
good enough as men go. Now, I'll go to the devil, and give my whole mind
to it. But I've a great deal to say to you before I go. You object to my
life. Good or bad, it's your own work. It's women like you who make men
like me. You knew my weakness, and played on it. You could have helped
me, if you'd only given me up honestly at first, as another woman would
have done; but you didn't want to do that. I'd have left England long
before, if you'd let me go: you knew it, and you kept me here, though
you saw me going to the bad. Oh, you were an artist in your own line!
You knew the effect of every word, every touch, every movement of yours,
and you went out of your way to--to make goodness impossible for me. God
knows why, but you liked--you _liked_ to see me longing for what you
never meant to give me. And because I didn't come out of that ordeal
quite clean, you talk to me about my life, and tell me you are too good
and pure to marry me. Are you really so very much better than I am,
after all?"

She sat still at first, with her eyes half closed, afraid to look up,
afraid to move or speak, waiting for something to happen, for some one
to come and stop Vincent. But the scourging voice went on with a
relentless brutality, laying bare the secret places of her soul, its
unconscious hypocrisy, its vanity, its latent capacity for evil. She
answered the closing question with an inarticulate sound like a sob. It
might have softened him, if he had not been deaf to everything but his
own passion.

"Don't suppose I flatter myself I'm the only victim. How about that
young fool Ted Haviland?"

She sprang to her feet. Fear, that had made her lie to Ted, made her
tell the truth to Hardy. That fear was deep-rooted; it dated from the
days when they were children and Vincent had the mastery in all their
play.

"Oh, Vincent, promise me, promise me, you won't do anything to Ted! It's
all true about our engagement, but it was more my fault than his."

"I can't believe that, Audrey. I'm very far from blaming him. I've no
doubt you treated him as you did me."

He sat down exhausted. Audrey, seeing the change of position, not the
sudden collapse that prompted it, was in despair.

"Won't you leave me alone now, Vincent? Haven't you said enough?"

"Not yet. Let me think a bit."

He leaned back and closed his eyes. He had so much to say, and now he
had no words to say it with.

Audrey looked at the clock; it was half-past four. Would he begin again?
She almost wished he would; it would be better than this silence--better
than that frowning forehead, with the terrible accusing thoughts behind
it. Would no one come? Would he never go?

Hardy had found words and was beginning to rouse himself, when in answer
to her prayer the door was thrown open. Her deliverance had come in the
shape of Langley Wyndham.

Hardy's eyes followed her. A moment before she had sat white and
trembling, shrunk up into herself before the storm of his accusation;
now, for that instant, her face became beautiful as he had never seen it
before. There was something dramatic in her movement as she rose and
went forward to meet Wyndham. There was no mistaking her manner and the
tremor of her voice as she spoke to him. Hardy knew his rival before he
saw him.

"My cousin Mr. Hardy; Mr. Langley Wyndham."

The men looked at each other and bowed stiffly. Wyndham wondered. The
scene they had just gone through had left its mark on Hardy's face and
Audrey's. The student of human nature congratulated himself on the
inspiration which had prompted him to call at this crisis. The cousin
suggested interesting complications in his heroine's life: judging by
the set of his lower jaw, she must have had a bad quarter of an hour
with him. He would have to reconstruct that drama from the fragments
preserved.

When Wyndham sat down, Hardy sat down too. He suspected Audrey of having
invited this man in order to get rid of himself. She wanted him to go. A
savage jealousy made him determined to stay and spoil her pleasure. But
Audrey, with Wyndham beside her, had recovered her presence of mind.
Unable to endure the situation longer, she was about to risk a bold
stroke, by which she would at once revenge herself on Vincent, escape
from the torture of his society, and assure herself of Wyndham's
friendship.

After the preliminary commonplaces, she watched her opportunity till she
could arrest Wyndham's eyes with hers, throwing into their expression
all that she knew of pathos and appeal. Then she rose and held out her
hand to Hardy, saying with distinct deliberation--

"I'm afraid you must excuse me now, Vincent; I have to take Mr. Wyndham
to call on my uncle Dean Craven."

The look that she turned on Wyndham said plainly, "You see I'm
desperate. If you haven't enough chivalry to back that up, I'm done
for."

Happily for her, this time Wyndham's chivalry was equal to his
intelligence. He answered in the most natural manner possible--

"If Miss Craven is ready, I am. As I'm rather late, I think we'd better
take a hansom."

They left Hardy stupefied with astonishment.

As they drove towards Charing Cross, she turned to Wyndham and said--

"Forgive my making use of you. Had you any other engagement?"

"I have no engagements."

"I am glad. It was the only thing I could think of to get rid of him. If
you had left me, he would have stayed; if I had gone out by myself, he
would have followed. But it was good of you to stand by me like that."

"Not at all. I'm delighted to call on Dean Craven, still more delighted
to be of service to you."

"Thank you."

They said no more till, as they came in sight of the Hôtel Metropole, he
turned to her with a smile--

"Do you remember Mr. Jackson?"

"Mr. Jackson?--Mr. Jackson?" She shook her head. "Oh yes, of course I
do. At Oxford, that night? Whatever put him into your head, of all
people?"

"Dean Craven, I suppose. Ridiculous association of ideas."

"Mr. Jackson--I wonder why such people exist."

"So do I. Do you know, I've hated Mr. Jackson with a deadly hatred for
the last month."

"Why, whatever has he done?"

"Nothing. But if it hadn't been for him I should have known you a year
ago."

The hansom drew up. She sank back into her corner and held out her hand.

"I'll say good-bye now. I'm not equal to seeing them, after all. You can
tell them you've seen me, and that I meant to call."

"Very well. Is he to drive you straight home?"

"Yes, please. But tell him to go the longest way round, by Fulham--or
anywhere."

He said good-bye, got out, and gave the order to the driver. As the
hansom turned up Northumberland Avenue, he caught a side view of the
pathetic little face through the window. Then she was whirled away from
him, towards Fulham--or anywhere. He stood looking after her till the
sound of the horse's bells was lost in the roar of Charing Cross.

Then he remembered that he had once said she would be "capable of
anything."



CHAPTER XVIII


Hardy left the house five minutes after Audrey and Wyndham. In the
doorway of the dining-room he stepped on a small muslin
pocket-handkerchief. It was stained here and there with specks of blood.
He picked it up, kissed it, and put it in his pocket.

For a long time after that he had no clear sense of anything, except, at
times, of the misery that made the only difference between being drunk
and sober.

Yes; Hardy was carrying out the threat he had made to Audrey, with a
passionate deliberation. He was "giving his whole mind to it," as he had
said. He had been used to speak of the sins of his past life with that
exaggeration which was part of his character; they had been slight,
considering the extent of his temptation. Then he was, as it were, an
amateur in evil. Now he had an object in view--he was sinning for the
wages of sin.

After all, there was a boyish simplicity about Hardy; otherwise the idea
of living for a year alone on the Rockies, to make himself "fit to love
Audrey," would hardly have occurred to him. As it was, that guileless
scheme proved fatal in its results. The loneliness, the privation, the
excitement and fatigue of his sportsman's life--for with all his
boasting he was a true sportsman--had roused some old hereditary impulse
in his blood, and he found himself worsted by the craving for drink
before he was aware of its existence in him. But the thought of Audrey
was always present with him; and it kept him up. He fought himself hand
to hand, and won the fight ten times for once that he was beaten. He was
literally saved by hope. Happily for him, when he had finished the
stores he brought out with him, it was almost as difficult to satisfy
his craving as it was to annihilate it. When he came home the tendency
was sleeping in him still; and though, as long as he had hope, it might
have slept for ever, when hope was gone it was there, ready to take
possession of him. His love for Audrey was the strongest passion in his
nature. It filled the horizon of his life. He looked before and after,
and could see nothing else but it. It was of the kind that deepens
through its own monotony. Now that Audrey had cast him off, there was no
reason for the struggle, because there was nothing more to struggle for,
and nothing to live for unless it were to kill life in the act of
living. That indeed was something.

After the first month or so of it, he had no further interest in his
present course. He chose it now as the form of suicide least likely to
be recognised as such.

Perhaps--who knows?--if he had had any friends who would have given him
a helping hand, it might never have come to this. But, in the first
place, Hardy had no home that could be called a home. His mother was
fond of him in her way; but she was now a hysterical invalid, abject
under the influence of her second husband, and year by year his
step-father's jealousy (the jealousy of a childless man) had driven the
mother and son further apart. Of the Havilands, whom he would naturally
have turned to, he had seen nothing for the last few months. Ted
disliked meeting him, and he on his part was equally anxious to avoid
Ted. That was how Katherine remained ignorant of the truth until she was
enlightened by Mrs. Rogers.

"It yn't _my_ business," said that excellent woman, as she began to dust
the studio one morning, in the leisurely manner that Katherine dreaded,
it being the invariable forerunner of conversation, "and I don't know
who's business it is, but somebody ought to look after that Mr. 'Ardy.
'Is friends ought to be written to, m'm."

Katherine felt a pang of remorse.

"Why? Is Mr. Hardy ill?"

"I didn't say he was ill. But if I was to tell _you_, miss----"

Here Mrs. Rogers pursed her lips, not so much to impress Katherine with
her incorruptible discretion, as to excite interest in the disclosures
she meant to make.

"Between you and me, m'm, if somebody don't stop 'im, 'ell drink
'imself to death down there some o' these days."

"What do you mean? It's quite impossible--I've known Mr. Hardy all my
life."

"I've known 'im three months; and if I wasn't that soft-'earted, I
wouldn't keep 'im a day longer, not a day I wouldn't. 'E won't sleep in
'is bed like a Christian--lies on top all of a heap like. Last week,
when I was a-cleanin' out his bottom cupboard, the brandy bottles was
standin' up like a row o' ninepins. This mornin' they was lyin' down
flat as your fyce--empty, m'm, every one of 'em. It did give me a turn.
And 'e'll order 'is dinner for eight o'clock, and not come 'ome till two
in the mornin'--if 'e comes 'ome at all. 'E's out now Lord knows where."

"I don't want to hear any more. You're very likely mistaken."

"I wish I was, miss. But you'll not deceive me, I'm that upset with it
all. And my fear is, miss, 'e'll drive away my old lydy on the first
floor, with 'is goings on."

Katherine left the room, too deeply grieved to bear Mrs. Rogers's
professional loquacity.

That night she was able to realise the truth of what she had been told.
She had gone out to dine with some new acquaintance; Ted had called for
her to take her home, and they were walking back along the Embankment,
when they came suddenly upon Hardy. He was standing under a gas-lamp,
talking to somebody, or rather listening to somebody talking. He turned
his back on them as they passed, but there was no mistaking his figure
in the glare of the false daylight. As for his companion, Katherine was
aware of something in satin skirts which the gaslight ran over like
water--something that smelt of musk and had hair the colour of brass.
She walked on without a word, sick at heart. This was the first time she
had been brought face to face with the hideous side of life. Like many
good women, she thoroughly realised the existence of evil in the
abstract; but evil incarnate in a person--it was hard to associate that
with any one she knew as she had known Vincent. Her artistic nature was
morbidly sensitive to impressions taken in through the eye, and nothing
could have so forced home the truth as that little scene, suddenly
flashed on her out of the London night. But now that she had seen, it
was not the horror that she felt, but the pity of it. She remembered
Vincent's face when she had shown him Audrey's picture. Her thoughts
went further back. She remembered him a boy, playing with her in a
lordly manner, as befitted his sex; or a young man, coming and going in
her father's home with frank, brotherly ways. She remembered how she had
grudged the time she gave him, and the relief she felt when he left off
coming. But she could not remember anywhere the least sign of what he
had become.

Something ought to be done--she could not clearly say what. Writing to
his people, as Mrs. Rogers had suggested, was out of the question. She
knew too well the state of things in his home. To be sure, there was his
uncle, Sir Theophilus Parker, whom he had expectations from; but for
that very reason the old gentleman was the last person whom it would be
advisable to inform of Vincent's conduct. Relations failing, there
remained his friends; and she only knew two of these--herself and Ted.

All that was most fine and sensitive in her nature cried out against the
burden she knew she would have to lay on it. But her humanity was so
deeply moved by the tragedy she had twice been an unwilling spectator
of, that she never so much as dreamed of asking, "Am _I_ my brother's
keeper?" Doubtless she could have found plenty of excellent people to
tell her she was not. Her only difficulty was with Ted. Nothing could be
done till he had got over his nervous dread of meeting Vincent.

Katherine had no precise idea of what had passed between her brother and
Audrey, and how far Vincent had been connected with it; but she had
gathered from Ted's silence all that she wanted to know. Whatever Audrey
had said or done, there was an end of her as far as he was concerned. It
was from the boy's silence, too, that she realised the extent of his
suffering. Before the inevitable thing had happened, he had done nothing
but talk of Audrey, sometimes with melancholy, more often in the jocular
strain adopted by self-conscious persons to carry off some ridiculous
fatality. Anger following suspense had driven him to think of suicide;
but now that it was all over with him, he had no idea of killing
himself. Katherine had never been much afraid of that, and as yet none
of the other things she had dreaded had happened; but it was evident
that the boy's nature had been deeply affected, and that the shock was a
moral one. It was not Audrey's unfaithfulness that had hurt him so much
as her untruthfulness. Ted thought so little of himself in some ways
that he could have understood the one, and therefore forgiven it. The
other was the unpardonable sin; it injured what he loved better than
himself--his idea of Audrey. Katherine did not know this, but she saw
that the present time was the moral turning-point in his life, and that
his pain was the sort that shapes character for good or for evil. But,
after all, she knew very little of the elements that went to make up
Ted's character. His imagination, as she had pointed out to Audrey on a
memorable occasion, had been developed long before his heart, and out of
all proportion to it. It had so happened that all at once the passionate
part of his nature had been roused and shaken before it was half-formed.
She asked herself what line would be taken now by those forces of
feeling set free so violently and so abruptly checked?

Well, at any rate Audrey's conduct had not had the effect of driving
brother and sister apart. It had drawn them closer together if
anything. Ted seemed to find relief in Katherine's society from the
torment of his own thoughts, and he had shown no desire to look for
distraction abroad; indeed the difficulty was to make him go out of
doors at all for necessary exercise. He would have fits of work, when
nothing would induce him to stir from the easel. Another time, he would
spend whole mornings lying on the floor, with his arms clasped above his
head, or sitting with a book in his hands, a book which he never seemed
to read. He hardly ever spoke; he was always thinking. And worse than
all, he had lost his appetite and his sense of humour.

Mrs. Rogers had her own theory on the subject, which she imparted to
Katherine.

"Miss, it's them baths as has done it. Anythin' in reason and I'll not
sy no, but cold water to that igstent, m'm, it's against nature. It's my
belief Mr. 'Aviland would 'ave slept and 'ad 'is dinner in 'is bath, if
I 'adn't put my foot down. 'E's chilled 'is blood, depend upon it, m'm."
And indeed that seemed very likely.

Katherine said nothing about Hardy at the time; but the next night, when
she and Ted were sitting over the fire, she began.

"Ted, that was Vincent we saw on the Embankment last night."

"Yes, I saw him.

"Do you know, I believe he's killing himself with drinking."

"I know he is."

"Do you think we could do anything to help him before it's too late?"

He shook his head.

"Oh, Ted, we might! He never used to be like this. He's got no one to
speak to; we've left him by himself all this time in those horrid rooms.
The wall-paper alone is enough to send anybody to the bad. We might have
thought of him."

"I've done nothing else but think of him for the last two months. We
can't do anything. He's bound to go on like that; I don't see how he can
help it. As for drinking, nothing can stop _that_; I've seen fellows
like him before; and Vincent never did anything by halves."

"It's terrible. But we ought to try--it's the least we can do."

"The least _I_ can do is to keep out of his way. He hates the sight of
me."

"Why?"

"Don't you know? Didn't it ever strike you that Audrey was engaged to
Vincent all the time?"

"No. I thought he liked her, but--what makes you think that?"

"I can't tell you. But any sort of affectionate advances would come
rather badly from me. How's Vincent to know that I never knew?"

"You may be sure he knows. He knows Audrey."

Ted sighed, but he said nothing; there was nothing to be said.

"Would you very much mind asking him to supper to-morrow night?"

"No. He won't come. But you'd better write to him yourself, or else
he'll think you don't want him."

She wrote a note, and Ted took it downstairs, to be ready for Vincent at
such time as he should come in. The boy turned into his own room without
going up again to say good-night.

He had left Katherine thinking. She had been struck with his words; they
had thrown a new light on his character. His tone was bitter when he
told her he had been thinking of nothing but Vincent; but it was not the
bitterness of selfish resentment. A shuddering hope went through her.
Either there always had been things in Ted's nature which she had never
suspected, or he had just begun his education by suffering--by having
felt. The latter was the more probable explanation; she knew him to be
capable of such absorption in pleasant sensations, that, if all had gone
well with him, he might from sheer light-heartedness have remained
indifferent to other people's woes. And all along he had been such an
irresponsible person, but now he was actually growing a conscience, and
a peculiarly delicate one too. Without any fault of his own, he had
behaved dishonourably to Vincent; and apart from the blow to his own
honour, it was evident that what stung him now was remorse for his
infinitesimal share in the causes that had led to Vincent's ruin.

In all that he had said there was no trace of any lingering love for
Audrey. Was it possible that the tragic spectacle of Vincent's fate had
moved him too with pity and terror, for the purging of his passion?

       *       *       *       *       *

Hardy did not find Katherine's note till late next morning. He read it
twice over with an incredulous air, and put it into the fire. He wrote a
short but grateful refusal, saying truly that he was very seedy, and not
pleasant company for any one at present.

Not long after, he was alone, as usual, in his dingy ground-floor
sitting-room. It was about five o'clock; but he had not lit his lamp
yet, and he had let his fire go out, though it was cold and rainy. A
gas-lamp from the street shone through the dripping window-panes,
bringing a dreary twilight into the room, making it one with the
melancholy of the rain-swept streets.

He sat by the table, with his head in his hands, a prey to the appalling
depression which was his mood when sober.

For the last three months he had had a curious double consciousness: of
himself as an actor in a phantom world, lost in some night of dreams,
where the same thoughts--always, the same thoughts--thoughts that were
sins--came to him in sickening recurrence; the horror of it being that
the act followed instantaneously on the thought: of himself as a
spectator, separate from that other self, yet bound to it; looking on
at all it did, ashamed and loathing, yet powerless to interfere. And, as
happens in nightmares, his very dread suggested the thing he dreaded,
and changed his dream to something more hideous than before--horror upon
horror, still foreseen, and still foredoomed in the senseless sequence
of the dream. Now these two states of mind were divided by a little
clear space. The passive self was free for a while and could think. It
could think--that was all.

He was waked from his thoughts by a knock and a voice at the door. He
answered gruffly, and as he looked up he saw Katherine standing in the
open doorway, letting in a stream of light from the lamp she carried in
her hand.

He stared at her stupidly, blinking at the light, and hid his face in
his hands again.

"I beg your pardon, Vincent. I knocked, and I thought you said 'Come
in.' I came to see how you were; I was afraid you were worse."

"I am worse. What's more, I shall never be better."

She put her lamp on the chimneypiece and stood beside him.

"Don't say that; of course you'll be better. Can we do anything for
you?"

"No; nothing--thanks."

She moved back a little, and shaded the lamp with her hands. She was
afraid to disturb him, but she did not like to leave him in his misery.
How ill and wretched he looked in that abominable room! The lamplight
showed her all its repulsive details. She had done her best for it; but
in the last two months it had sunk back into something worse than its
former ugliness, degraded in its owner's degradation. There was no trace
now of the clever alterations and contrivances which she had devised for
his comfort. The muslin curtains she had lent him were dark with smoke;
the rug had slipped from the horsehair sofa; there were stains on the
shabby tablecloth and carpet; and on the sideboard there was a sordid
litter of bottles and glasses, pipes, tobacco-ash, and Hardy's hats. The
floor was strewn with the crumpled papers and shoes that he had flung
away from him in his fits of irritation. In the midst of it all she
noticed that Mrs. Rogers had brought back all her terrible household
goods, the pink vases, the paper screens, and the antimacassars--"To
cheer him up, I suppose, poor fellow!"

Hardy looked round as if he had read her thoughts.

"You'd better leave me. This isn't a nice place for you."

"It isn't a very nice place for anybody. You've let your fire go out.
Come upstairs and get warm; we haven't seen you for ages."

He shook his head sadly.

"I can't, Sis, I'm much too seedy."

"Nonsense! You will be, if you sit down here catching cold." She took
up her lamp, and laid a hand on his shoulder.

"Come; don't keep me waiting, or I shall catch cold too."

His will was in abeyance, and to her intense relief he got up and
followed her.

She was shocked at the change in his appearance when she saw him in the
full lamplight of the studio. He was pitifully thin; his fingers, as he
held out his hands to the blaze, were pale, even with the red glow of
the fire through them. His eyes had lost their dog-like pathos, and had
the hard look of the human animal. She got ready some strong coffee, and
made him drink it. That, with the warmth and the unaccustomed kindness,
revived him. Then she sat down in a low chair opposite him, with some
sewing in her lap, so that he might talk to her or not, as he pleased.
At first he evidently preferred to think; and when he did speak, it was
as if he were thinking aloud.

"I was cut by two men I know to-day. I wonder how many women there are
in London who would do what you've done for me to-night?"

"What have I done? I walked into your room without an invitation--I
don't suppose many women in London would have done that. But is there
any woman in London who has known you as long as I have?"

He winced perceptibly, and she remembered that there was one.

"Ah, if you really knew me, Kathy, you'd cut me dead!"

"My dear Vincent, don't talk rubbish. I do know--a good deal--and I'm
very sorry; that's all. I should be sorrier if I thought it was going to
last for ever; but I don't."

"You are too good to me; but--if you only knew!"

He sat silent, watching as she sewed. Something in his attitude reminded
her of that other evening, three months ago, when he had lain back in
that chair boasting gloriously, full of hope and the pride of life. He
appealed to her more now in his illness and degradation than he had ever
done in his splendid sanity. For he had seemed so strong; there was no
outward sign of weakness then about that long-limbed athlete.

"Vincent," she said presently, "what's become of the Pioneer-book? You
promised to read me some of it--don't you remember?"

"Yes. I shall never do anything with it now."

"Oh, Vincent, what a pity! But if it's not to be printed, do you mind my
seeing the manuscript?"

"No; I'll let you have it some day, Sis, and you shall do what you like
with it." He sank into silence again.

"Where's Ted?" he asked suddenly.

"He'll be in soon; he wants to see you."

"Does he? How do you know that?" There was a look of suspicion in
Hardy's eyes as they glanced up. It was a symptom of his miserable
condition that he was apt to imagine slights.

"I've only his word for it, of course."

"Kathy----" he hesitated.

"Well?"

"There's something I wanted to tell him; but the fact is, I don't think
I've the pluck to do it."

"Never mind, then. Tell me if you can; though I think I know, and it's
all right."

"No, it isn't all right. I suppose you know he was pretty well off his
head about--that cousin of mine? I rather think he owed me one for being
before him, as he thought. At any rate, he cut me ever since--before I
took to the flowing bowl, too. You might tell him, if you think it would
be any satisfaction to him to know it, that she cared rather less for me
than she did for him; in fact, I believe there was some unhappy devil
that she preferred to either of us. At least a third man came into it
somewhere. There may be a fourth now, for anything I know."

There was a brutality about his calmness which surprised Katherine; she
could not realise the effect of the means he used for blunting his
sensibilities.

"You're quite mistaken. Ted hasn't any feeling of the sort. He simply
kept out of your way because he was afraid you'd think he had behaved
dishonourably; and of course he couldn't explain because of--Audrey. But
it wasn't his fault. He knew nothing."

"I never thought he did know. Do you suppose I blamed _him_, poor
beggar?"

All the same, Hardy slunk away soon after Ted came in. When Mrs. Rogers
came up with supper, she informed them that it was fine now--if you
could but trust it. And "Mr. 'Ardy 'ad gorn orf like a mad thing.
Temptin' Providence, I call it, without an umbrella."

Ted remarked, as they sat down to supper, that he thought "Providence
would have sufficient strength of mind to resist temptation; but he was
not so sure about Hardy."

And indeed Katherine had to own that her first experiment with Vincent
was a failure. But she struggled on, experience having taught her that
it is easier to do good original work of your own than to patch up what
other people have spoiled. One week, drawn by some yearning for human
sympathy, Hardy would come nearly every evening to the studio; then they
would see no more of him for ten days or so. At times she felt that the
strain of it was greater than she could bear. She had learnt to manage
Vincent in his various moods, varying from humorous irascibility to
hysterical penitence; but when he was out of her sight her influence was
powerless. Now indeed she asked herself--

"Why am I wasting my precious time and making myself miserable in this
way? I've no sense of religion, and I don't love Vincent--he's simply a
nuisance. It must be sheer obstinacy."

It was with a feeling little short of despair that she sat down to the
pages of the Pioneer-book. She had determined at any cost to read the
manuscript through; but she soon became fascinated in spite of herself.
"Be tender to it, Sis, it's a part of myself," he had said when he
handed it over to her. She thought she had detected a gleam of interest
in his face, and felt that she was on the right tack. But Vincent's book
was more than a part of himself, it was a fair transcript of the whole.
His weakness and his strength were in it. She saw his vanity, his
exaggeration; but also his sincerity, his manliness, his simple delight
in simple things. Scenery on a large scale stirred a strain of rude
poetry in him this was akin to the first rhythmic utterances of man. To
be sure, the thing had its faults; for poor Vincent had been anxious
that his book should be recognised as the work of a scholar and a
gentleman. At times a spirit of unbridled quotation would seize him, and
you came upon familiar gems from the classics imbedded in the text. At
times, after some coarse but graphic touch, his style became suddenly
refined, almost to sickliness. When he was not pointing his moral with a
hatchet, he was adorning his tale with verbiage gathered from the worst
authors. But if Hardy the literary artist made her laugh till she cried
again, Hardy the unconscious child of Nature won her heart. If only she
could make him finish what he had begun!

She determined to illustrate the book: that might inflame Vincent's
ambition, and would certainly require his co-operation. So now, every
evening, in the spare time after supper, she set to work on the
drawings, aided by some photographs and rough sketches made by Hardy.
After a little stratagem she got him to come up and help her with
suggestions, or to sit for her while she sketched him in all the
attitudes of the sportsman.

He was enthusiastic over the first few drawings. Perhaps his simple
remarks, "H'm, that's clever!" or, "By Jove, that's not half bad!" gave
her a purer pleasure than she could have derived from the most
discriminating criticism. When his interest showed signs of flagging,
she hit on a new means of rousing it. She began to find out that so long
as she drew correctly, he looked on with a melancholy indifference, but
that when she made any mistake he was always delighted to put her right.
So she went on making mistakes, and then Vincent got impatient.

"Look here, Sis, that's all wrong. You don't carry a rifle with the
muzzle pointing towards your left ear. Here, give the thing to me!"

Katherine gravely handed him another sketch--

"How's that?"

"That's worse. Why, you little duffer, you don't suppose I'm going to
send a bullet into that bear taking aim at _that_ angle? I should blow
my boots off. I thought you could draw?"

She smiled in secret. "So I can, if you'll show me which way up the
things go."

Then they put their heads together over it, and between them they turned
out some work worthy of the Pioneer-book. Ted joined in too, and began a
black-and-white series of his own, parodying the acts of the
distinguished sportsman: Vincent attacked by a skunk; Vincent swarming
up a pine tree with a bear hanging on to his trousers' legs; Vincent
shooting the rapids in his canoe--canoe uppermost; and so on. Ted was so
much entertained with his own performances that he was actually heard to
laugh. And when the boy laughed, the man laughed too. As for Katherine,
she could have cried, knowing that a returning sense of humour is often
the surest sign of hope in these cases.

Laughter, flattery, and feminine wiles may not be the methods most
commended by moralists and divines for the conversion of poor sinners;
but Katherine seldom consulted authorities--she had the courage of her
convictions.

One fine morning in February she appeared in her hat and jacket at the
door of the ground-floor sitting-room.

"Vincent, will you come with me to the Zoo? I'm going to do some
grizzlies and wapiti--from the life--for the Pioneer-book, and I want
you to help me."

He agreed, and they started almost gaily, with Mrs. Rogers peering up at
them from the front area-window, putting that and that together with the
ingenuity of her kind. It was the first of many walks they had
together. Ted generally went with them, but now and again he was left
behind. At these times Katherine was touched by Vincent's pride in being
allowed to take her about alone. He was grateful for it; he knew it was
her way of showing that she trusted him.

At last the series of illustrations came to an end. The two artists had
raced each other: Katherine, having had the start, came in first at the
finish with a magnificent design for the cover. She brought the drawings
to Vincent, together with his manuscript, and showed them to him
triumphantly. He remarked--

"Well, they ought to print the thing, if only as a footnote to your
drawings, Sis."

"Will you sit down and finish it, if I undertake to find a publisher?"

He promised, and he kept his word. In the mornings now he might be found
working slowly and painfully at his last chapter, she helping him.

So the winter wore on into spring; and Katherine, burdened with arrears
of work, said to herself, "I perceive that this is going to be an
expensive undertaking." But she looked back gladly on the time lost. At
last, after many failures, they had succeeded in wakening Vincent to a
sense of distant kinship with the life of boys and maidens. Down at the
bottom of his nature there had always been an intense craving for
affection, and his heart went out to Ted and Katherine. Not that he
considered himself fit for their blameless society. Together with the
vices he had acquired there had sprung up humility, that strange virtue,
which has its deepest roots in the soil of shame. But all his old
yearning after goodness revived in their presence. When he was with them
he felt that the cloud of foul experience was lifted for a moment from
his mind; they gave him sweet thoughts instead of bitter for a day
perhaps, or a night.

And what of the days and the nights when he was not with them? Then, as
a rule, he fell, nine times, it may be, out of every ten--who knows? And
who knows whether Perfect Justice, measuring our forces with the force
of our temptations, may not count as victory what the world calls
defeat?



CHAPTER XIX


In her appeal to Wyndham Audrey had played a bold stroke, and it seemed
that she had won it. She had amply revenged herself on Hardy, and more
than assured herself of Wyndham's friendship. All the same, ever since
she had left him at the doors of the Hôtel Metropole, a certain
constraint had crept into their intercourse. Wyndham was not easily
deceived, and he rightly interpreted her abrupt dismissal of him as a
final effort to assert herself before the onset of the inevitable. Even
if he at times suspected her of playing a part, she had chosen the right
part to play, and he respected her for it. He himself was leading a
curious double life. He was working hard at his novel, which promised to
surpass everything that he had yet done. He was so much absorbed in
observing, studying, shaping, and touching up, that it never occurred to
him to ask himself if he were indeed creating. The thing had been
growing under his hands through the autumn; in the winter it seemed to
advance by bounds; but in the spring his work came to a sudden
standstill. He did not know what Laura, his heroine, was going to do
next. He had drawn her as the creature of impulse, but dragging the
dead weight of all the conventions at her back--a woman variously
dramatic when stirred by influences from without, but incapable of
decisive action from within. How would such a woman behave under stress
of conflicting circumstances?--if it came, say, to a fight for
possession between the force of traditional inertia and the feeling of
the moment? On the one hand the problem was as old as the hills, on the
other it was new with every man and woman born into the world. What he
called his literary conscience told him that it had to be solved;
another conscience in him shrank from the solution. At this point
Wyndham did what, as a conscientious artist, he had never done before;
he put his work away for a season, and tried not to think about it,
devoting himself to Audrey Craven instead. Even he was not always able
to preserve the critical attitude with regard to her. As he had told
her, criticism comes first, sympathy last of all. And with him--last of
all--it had come. He could not go on from day to day, seeing, hearing,
and understanding more and more, without acquiring a curious sympathy
with the thing he studied. And when the artist tired of her art, the man
felt all the influence of her natural magic. He was prepared for that,
and had no illusions on the subject.

He tested his present feelings by comparing them with those he had had
for Alison Fraser. He had not the least intention of setting up Audrey
Craven anywhere near his idol's ancient place,--he would have shuddered
at the bare idea of it. This, though he expressed it differently, was
what he meant when he resolved once for all that he would never marry,
never put himself in any woman's power again. And in the plenitude of
his self-knowledge he knew exactly how far he could let himself go
without either of these evil results following.

Unfortunately, in these cases the woman is seldom so well equipped for
self-defence as the man. Owing to her invincible ignorance of her own
nature, she must be more or less at a disadvantage. And if this is true
of women in general, it was doubly true of any one so specially prone to
illusion as Audrey Craven, who would have had difficulty in recognising
any part of her true self under its numerous disguises. She was
therefore unaware of the action and reaction which had been going on
within her during the last year. Whatever its precise quality may have
been, her love for Ted Haviland was of a different quality from her
feeling for Langley Wyndham. Under that earlier influence, whatever
intelligence she possessed had been roused from its torpor by the tumult
of her senses; her mind had been opened and made ready for the attack of
a finer intellectual passion, which again in its turn brought her under
the tyranny of the senses. For though her worst enemies could not call
Audrey clever, it was Wyndham's intellectual eminence which had
fascinated her from the first. Herein lay her danger and her excuse. She
was aware--hence her late access of reserve--that she was being carried
away by her feelings; but how, when, and whither, she neither knew nor
apparently cared to know. In the meanwhile, in Wyndham's friendship she
not only triumphed over Vincent's scorn, but she felt secure against his
infatuation. For she imagined the scorn and the infatuation as still
existing together. She knew that he was still in London, presumably
unable to tear himself away from her neighbourhood; and the sense of his
presence, of his power over her, had been so long a habit of her mind
that she could not lose it now. Otherwise she hardly gave him a thought;
and having cut herself off from all communication with Devon Street, she
did not certainly know what had become of him.

She had yet to learn.

Towards the end of February she received a letter from Vincent's mother
which left no doubt on the subject. The news of his downfall had reached
his home at last. Mrs. Hardy knew of her son's attachment to his cousin,
and had always had fixed ideas on that point. On being told that he had
"gone" irretrievably "to the bad," she jumped to a conclusion: it was
the right one, as it happened, though she had managed to cover a great
deal of ground in that jump. She at once wrote off a long and violent
letter to her niece, taxing her with cruelty, fickleness, and
ingratitude, laying Vincent's misdeeds on her shoulders, and ending
thus: "They tell me you are engaged. I pray God you may not have to go
through what you have made my darling boy suffer."

Now, either the poor hysterical lady was an unconscious instrument in
the hands of Destiny, or her prayer may have been meant as a modified
and lady-like curse; at any rate, if it had not entered into her head to
write that letter, it would have saved the writing of one chapter in her
niece's history. But, in the first place, the communication had the
effect of making Audrey cry a great deal, for her; in the second, it
came by an afternoon post, so that Langley Wyndham, calling at his usual
hour, found her crying.

He was a little taken aback by the sight, as indeed any man would have
been, for most women of his acquaintance arranged things so as not to do
their crying in calling hours.

However, he judged it the truest kindness to sit down and talk as if
nothing had happened. But it requires considerable self-possession and
command of language to sit still and talk about the weather with a
woman's tears falling before you like rain; and even Langley Wyndham,
that studious cultivator of phrases, found it hard. Audrey herself
relieved him from his embarrassment by frankly drying her eyes and
saying--

"I beg your pardon. I didn't mean that to happen; but----"

He glanced at the letter open in her lap.

"Not bad news, I hope?"

"N-no," she answered, with a sob verging on the hysterical.

Wyndham looked frightened at that, and she checked herself in time.

"No, it's nothing. At least I can't speak about it. And yet--if I did, I
believe I should feel better. I am so miserable."

"I am truly sorry. I wish I could be of some use. If you thought you
could speak about it to me, you know you can trust me."

"I know I can. Oh, if I could only tell you! But I can't."

"Why not? Would it be so very hard? I _might_ be able to help you."

"You might. I do want somebody's advice--so much."

"You are always welcome to mine. You needn't take it, you know."

She smiled through her tears, for she had acquired a faint sense of
humour under Ted's influence, and had not yet lost it.

"Well, it's about Vinc--my cousin Mr. Hardy. You remember meeting him
here once?"

"I do indeed."

"You may remember something I told you about him then. Perhaps I ought
not to have told you."

"Never mind that. Yes, I remember perfectly. Has he been persecuting you
again?"

"Ye-yes. Well, no. I haven't seen him for ages, but I live in dread of
seeing him every day. I know, sooner or later, he will come."

She paused. "I wonder if I really could tell you everything."

"Please do, or tell me as much as you care to. I'd like to help you if
you would let me."

She went on in a low voice, rather suggestive, Wyndham thought, of the
confessional: "I was engaged to him once--long ago--he forced me into
it. It began when we were children. He always made me do everything he
wanted. Then--he went away immediately after--for a year. When he came
back--I don't know how it was--I suppose it was because he had been away
so long--but I was stronger. He seemed to have lost his hold over me,
and I--I broke it off."

She looked away from Wyndham as she spoke.

He wondered, "Is she acting all the time? If so, how admirably she does
it! She must be a cleverer woman than I thought. But she isn't a clever
woman. Therefore----" But Audrey went on before he could draw a
conclusion.

"But I know some day he will come back and make it begin all over again,
and I shall have no power. And the thought of it is horrible!"

There was no mistaking the passion in her voice this time. He said to
himself, "This is nature," and he felt the same cold shiver of sympathy
that sometimes ran through him at the performance of some splendid
actress. But before he could presume to sympathise he must judge.

"Do you mind telling me one thing? Had you any graver reasons for
breaking it off than what you have told me?"

"Yes. He drinks."

"Brute! That's enough. But--supposing he didn't drink?"

"It would make no difference. I never cared for him. He thought I did. I
couldn't help that, could I? And then afterwards so many things
happened--I was not the same person. If he had not begun to--do that,
still it would have been impossible. But he won't believe it, or else he
doesn't care. He'll persecute me again, and perhaps make me marry him."

"My dear Miss Craven, he won't do that. People don't do those things in
the nineteenth century. You've only got to state clearly that you won't
have anything to say to him, and he can't do anything. If he tries to,
there are measures that can be taken."

She shook her head dismally.

"Now comes the advice. Shall I tell you the truth? You've been worrying
your brain over that wretched animal till your nerves are all upset.
You're ill practically, or you couldn't take this morbid view of it. You
ought to leave town and go away for a change."

"Where could I go to?"

"The south coast for choice. It's bracing."

"If I only could! No, I can't leave London."

"Why not? There's an excellent service of trains----"

"Because--because I love London."

"So do I for many reasons. There's no place like it, to my mind. But if
I'd overworked myself in it, I should tear myself away. You can have too
much of a good thing."

"No, not of the only place on earth you care to be in."

"Well, I've given my valuable advice. You're not going to take it--I
never thought you would. Personally I hate the people who give me
advice. What I should like to give you would be help. But the question
is, Am I able to give it? Have I even the right to offer it?"

She looked up at him. Some lyric voice, whether of hope or joy, or both,
had called the soul for an instant to her face--a poor little fluttering
soul, that gazed out through her grey eyes at Wyndham--for an instant
only, and was seen no more. When he spoke, he spoke not to it, but to
the woman he had known.

"You don't answer." (She had answered, and he knew it.) "It all comes
back to what I said long ago. The most elementary knowledge of life
would have saved you all this: if you'd had it, you could not have let
these fatuities worry you to this extent. Do you remember my telling you
that you ought to love life for its own sake?"

The moment he had said the words, he would have given anything to recall
them, but it was too late; she remembered only too well. However she had
disguised the truth, Wyndham's passionate defence of realism was not
altogether an appeal to her intellect. He ought not to have reminded her
of that now.

"Yes," she answered; "how could I forget?"

"I said at the time that you must know life in order to love it, and I
say so now. But, Audrey"--she started and flushed--"if I were another
man I should not say that."

"What would you say?"

"That you must love in order to know."

"Is there any need to tell me that _now_?"

"Perhaps not. It's what I would have told you then--if I had been
another man."

Her lip quivered slightly, and she held one hand with the other to give
herself the feeling of a human touch. He went on without the least idea
whether he were talking sense or nonsense, interrupted sometimes by his
own conscience, sometimes by Audrey's changes of expression.

"Bear with my egoism a moment--several moments, for I'm going to be
tediously autobiographical. Once, when I was a young man, I was offered
some journalistic work. It was at the very start; I had barely tasted
print. Remember, I was ambitious, and it meant the beginning of a
career; I was poor, and it meant a good salary. But it meant the
production of a column of 'copy' a-day, whether I was in the vein for it
or no. I wanted it badly, and--I refused it. I could _not_ be tied down.
Since then I have never bound myself to any publisher or editor. This
anecdote is not in the least interesting, but it is characteristic of my
whole nature, which is my reason for inflicting it on you. That nature
may be an unfortunate one, but I didn't invent it myself. Anyhow,
knowing it as thoroughly as I do, I've made up my mind never to do
certain things--never, for instance, to ask any woman to be my wife.
Marriage is the one impossible thing. It involves duty, or, worse still,
duties. Now, as it happens, I consider duty to be the very lowest of
moral motives. In fact--don't be shocked--it isn't moral at all. It is
to conduct what authority is to belief--that is, it has nothing whatever
to do with it. No. Goodness no more depends on duty than truth depends
on authority. Forgive me; I know you are a metaphysician and a moral
philosopher, and you'll appreciate this. You're going to make a
quotation; please don't. It's perfectly useless to tell me that
Wordsworth calls duty 'stern daughter of the voice of God.' It may be; I
don't know. I only know that if I believed it was my _duty_ to live, I'd
commit suicide to-morrow. I don't like stern daughters. But granted that
Wordsworth had the facts at his finger-ends, God's voice is freedom,
whatever its daughters may be. That's not a doctrine I'd preach to every
one; but for me, and those like me, freedom, absolute freedom, is the
condition of all sane thinking and feeling. Fancy loving any one because
it was your duty! Take a case. Supposing I married: the more I loved my
wife, the less a free agent I should be; and when I once realised that I
wasn't free, there would be an end of my love. I deplore this state of
things, but I can't alter it. So you see, when I most want to give you
love and protection, I can only offer you friendship, which you don't
want perhaps, and--er--good advice, which you won't take."

But she was looking beyond him, far away.

"As I can't possibly ask you to--accept my conditions, perhaps the
cleverest thing I could do would be to go away and never see you again.
There's no other alternative."

Her lips parted as if she would have spoken, but no words came. They
searched each other's faces, the woman thirsting for life, for love; the
man thirsting too--for knowledge. And he knew.

It was his turn to look away from her; and as he fixed his eyes absently
on the corner where the Psyche stood motionless on her pedestal, he
noticed, as people will notice at these moments, the ironical suggestion
of the torso, with the nasty Malay creese hanging over its head. Psyche
and--the sword of Damocles.

"I don't want you to go away," she said at last.

"I am going, all the same. For a little while--a fortnight perhaps. I
want you to have time to think." He was not by any means sure what he
meant by that. He had solved his problem, though not quite as he had
intended to, and that was enough for him. And yet his conscience (not
the literary one, but the other) would not altogether acquit him of
treachery to Audrey. Instead of going away, as he ought to have done, he
sat on talking, in the hope of silencing the reproachful voice inside
him, of setting things on their ordinary footing again. But this was
impossible at the moment. They were talking now across some thin barrier
woven of trivialities, as it were some half-transparent Japanese screen,
with all sorts of frivolous figures painted on it in an absurd
perspective. And behind this flimsy partition their human life went on,
each soul playing its part more or less earnestly in a little tragedy of
temptation. Each knew all the time what the other was doing; though
Wyndham had still the advantage of Audrey in this respect. Which of them
would first have the courage to pull down the screen and face the solid,
impenetrable truth?

Neither of them attempted it,--they dared not. After half an hour's
commonplaces Wyndham left her to think. He too had some matter for
reflection. He was not inhuman, and if at times he seemed so, he had
ways of reconciling his inhumanity to his conscience. He told himself
that his strictly impartial attitude as the student of human nature
enabled him to do these things. He was as a higher intelligence, looking
down on the crowd of struggling, suffering men and women beneath him,
forgiving, tolerating all, because he understood all. He who saw life so
whole, who knew the hidden motives and far-off causes of human action,
could make allowances for everything. There was something divine in his
literary charity. What matter, then, if he now and then looked into some
girl's expressive face, and found out the secret she thought she was
hiding so cleverly from everybody,--if he knew the sources of
So-and-so's mysterious illness, which had puzzled the doctors so long?
And what if he had obtained something more than a passing glimpse into
the nature of the woman who had trusted him? It would have been base,
impossible, in any other man, of course: the impersonal point of view,
you see, made all the difference.



CHAPTER XX


From that afternoon Wyndham kept away from Chelsea Gardens; in fact, he
had left town. To do him justice, he honestly thought he was doing "the
cleverest thing" for Audrey in leaving her--to think. It would have been
the cleverest thing if he could have kept away altogether; but as long
as she had the certainty of his return, it was about the stupidest. If
he had stayed, they would have resumed their ordinary relations; all
might have blown over like a mood, and whatever he knew about her,
Audrey herself would never have known it. As it was, he had emphasised
the situation by going. And what was more, he had thrown Audrey back on
her uninteresting self--the very worst company she could have had at
present. She had been used to seeing him almost daily through a whole
winter; he had made her dependent on his society for all her interests
and pleasures; and when she was suddenly deprived of it, instead of
being able to think, she spent her time in miserable longing. She could
not think and feel at the same time. Feeling such as hers was
incompatible with any form of thinking; it was feeling in a vacuum--the
most dangerous kind of all. The emptiness of her life, now that Wyndham
was gone, made her say to herself that she could bear anything--anything
but that. It made her realise what the years, the long unspeakable
years, would be like when she had given him up. She looked behind and
around her, and there were the grey levels of ordinary existence; she
looked below her, and there was the deep; she was going into the
darkness of it, swiftly, helplessly, blown on by the wind of vanity. She
saw no darkness for the light before her--a nebulous light; but it
dazzled her like the sun shining through a fog.

Once, at the fiercest point of her temptation, she felt an impulse to
confession--that mysterious instinct which lies somewhere at the heart
of all humanity; she had wild thoughts of going to Katherine and telling
her all, asking her what she ought to do. Katherine was large-minded,
she would not blame her--much; perhaps she would tell her she ought not
to give Wyndham up, that she ought to think of him, to be ready to
sacrifice the world for his sake. Yes, Katherine was so "clever," she
would be a good judge; and Audrey would abide by her judgment.
Unhappily, when it came to the point, she was afraid of her
judgment--she had always been a little afraid of Katherine. Once she
even thought of going to Mr. Flaxman Reed, that "holy anachronism," as
she had once heard Wyndham call him. But his judgment was a foregone
conclusion; Mr. Flaxman Reed was not large-minded.

Once, too, a gleam of reason came to her. She loved dearly the
admiration and good opinion of her world; and she reflected that the
step she contemplated meant no congratulations, no wedding-dress, no
presents, and no callers. Wedding indeed! As she had read of a similar
case in "London Legends," it would be a "social funeral, with no flowers
by request." But these considerations had no weight after an evening
spent with cousin Bella. And though she played on her piano till the
lace butterflies on Miss Craven's cap fluttered again (why would cousin
Bella wear caps in defiance of the fashion?), it was no good. If she had
had a fine voice, she would have sung at the top of it; failing that
medium of expression, she longed to put her fingers in her own ears and
scream into cousin Bella's. And as they yawned in each other's faces,
and she realised that something like this might be the programme for an
indefinite time, she remembered how Langley had called her a
metaphysician and a moral philosopher. It was on statements like these,
apparently borne out by the fact of his friendship, that she based the
flattering fiction of her own intellectuality. Without that fiction
Audrey could not have supported life in the rare atmosphere she had
accustomed herself to breathe. The conclusion of it all was that, come
what might come, she could not give Langley up.

One afternoon she crossed the river for a walk in Battersea Park. It was
a warm spring, and down the long avenue the trees were tipped with the
flame of bursting buds, like so many green lights turned low. The beds
and borders were gay with crocuses and hyacinths, and the open spaces
were beginning to look green again. Audrey cared little for these
things, but to-day she was somehow aware of them; she felt in her the
new life of the spring, as she had felt it a year ago. She walked
rapidly from sheer excitement, till she had tired herself out; then she
sat down on one of the benches, overlooking the waste ground where the
children played. Except for a bright fringe under the iron railings, it
was still untouched by spring, and the sallow grass had long been
trodden into the dust. Some ragged little cricketers were shouting not
far off, and near her, by the railings, was a family group--a young
father and mother, with their children, from two years old and upwards,
crawling around them. They were enjoying a picnic tea in the sunshine,
with the voluptuous carelessness of outward show that marks the children
of the people. Audrey looked at it all with a faint disgust, but she was
too tired to move on to a more cheerful spot. She turned her back on the
picnic party, and began to think about Wyndham. He had been away ten
days; he said he was going for a fortnight; in another week at the
longest she would see him. She was roused by a tug at her petticoats.
The two-year-old, attracted like some wild animal by her stillness, had
scrambled through the railings, and was trying to pull its fat little
body up by one hand on to the bench beside her. Its other hand grasped
firmly a sheaf of fresh grass. It was clean and pretty, and something in
its baby face sent a pang to Audrey's heart. She loosened its chubby
fingers, hoping it would toddle away; but it gave a wilful chuckle, and
stood still, staring at her, reproaching, accusing, in the unconscious
cruelty of its innocence. And yet surely the Divine Charity had chosen
the tenderest and most delicate means of stirring into life her unborn
conscience. Moved by who knows what better impulse, she stooped suddenly
down and touched its face with the tips of her gloved fingers. Startled
at the strange caress, like some animal stroked too lightly, the little
thing made its face swell, and asserted its humanity by a howl. Then it
fled from her with a passionate waddle, scattering blades of grass
behind it as it went.

Even so do we chase away from us the ministers of grace.

She leaned back, overcome by a sort of moral exhaustion. Her self-love
was hurt, as it would have been if a dog had shrunk from her advances;
for Audrey was not accustomed to have her favours rejected. She was
further irritated by the ostentatious affection of the child's mother as
she helped it through the railings with shrill cries of "There then,
blessums! Did she then, the naughty lydy!" And when baby echoed "Naughty
lydy!" it was as if the two-year-old had judged her.

She sat a little while longer, and then went away. As she rose she
looked sadly back at the family group. The man was lying on his back and
letting the children walk about on the top of him. Baby had found peace
in sucking an orange and stamping on her father's waist. The woman was
strewing paper bags and orange-peel around her in a fine disorder, while
she thriftily packed the remains of their meal in a basket. Audrey
shuddered; their arrangements were all so ugly and unpleasant. And
yet--they were married, they were respectable, they were happy, these
terrible people; while she--she was miserable. She had no sense of
justice; and she rebelled against the policy of Nature, who leaves her
coarser children free, and levies her taxes on the aristocracy of
feeling.

The sordid domesticity of the scene had glorified by contrast her own
dramatic mood. Poor Audrey! She hated vulgarity, and yet she was trying
to lay hold on "the great things of life" through the vulgarest of all
life's tragedies.

       *       *       *       *       *

Langley would be in town again in a week. He would ask if she had made
up her mind; and she knew now too well the answer she would give him.

But Langley was not in town again in a week, nor yet in a fortnight. And
when, at the end of six weeks, he did come back, he came back
married--to Miss Alison Fraser.

Nobody ever knew how that came about. Miss Gladys Armstrong, who may be
considered an authority, maintained that as Wyndham had the pride which
is supposed to be the peculiar property of the Evil One, he could never
have proposed to the same woman twice. Consequently Miss Fraser must
have proposed to him. Perhaps she had; there are ways of doing these
things, and whatever Alison Fraser did she did gracefully. As for her
private conscience, in refusing him with conscious magnanimity she had
done no good to anybody, not even herself; in marrying him finally she
had saved the situation, without knowing that there was a situation to
be saved.

The news threw Audrey into what she imagined to be the beginning of a
brain fever, but which proved to be a state of nervous collapse,
lasting, with some intermissions, for a fortnight. At the end of that
time--whether it was that she was so fickle a creature that even Fate
could make no abiding impression on her, or that she was no longer
burdened with the decision of a momentous question--to all appearances
she recovered. So much so that, when some one sent her an invitation to
the private view at the New Gallery, she put on her best clothes (not
without a pang) and went.

Alas! the place was full of associations, melancholy with the sheeted
ghosts of the past. This time last year she had been to the private view
with Ted. They had amused themselves with laughing at the pictures, and
wondering how long it would be before one of his would be hanging
there. And as she listlessly turned the pages of her catalogue, the
first names that caught her attention were, "Haviland, Katherine, 232";
"Haviland, Edward, 296." She turned back the pages hastily to No. 232
and read, "The Witch of Atlas." That picture she knew. No. 296 gave her
"Sappho: A Study of a Head."

Of a head? Whose head?

She found the picture (not exactly in the place of honour, but agreeably
well hung and with a small crowd before it), and recognised Katherine's
striking profile raised in the attitude of a suppliant who implores, the
cloud of her dark hair flaming into bronze against a sunset sky. Ted was
rather too fond of that trick; but the study was not a mere vulgar
success--he had achieved expression in it. It was marked "Sold." There
were some lines of verse on the square panel at the base of the frame.
Ted could not have afforded such a setting for his picture, but the
frame was contributed by Mr. Percival Knowles, the purchaser of the
canvas. The same gentleman was also the author of the verse, specially
written for the portrait. Knowles, by-the-bye, was an occasional
poet--that is to say, he could burst into poetry occasionally; and
Audrey read:--

    "Oh Aphrodite, queen of dread desire!
      By all the dreams that throng Love's golden ways,
      By all the honied vows thy votary pays,
    By sacrificial wine, and holy fire!
    Thou who hast made my heart thy living lyre,
      Hast thou no gift for me, nor any grace?
      Why hast thou turned the light of Love's sweet face
    From me, the sweetest singer of Love's choir?"

    "For songs that charm the long ambrosial years
      The gods bring many gifts, and mine shall be--
      Immortal life in mortal agony--
    Vain longing, fanned by wingèd hopes and fears
    To inextinguishable flame--and tears
      Bitter as death, salt as the Lesbian Sea."

Her breast rose and fell with the lines; by this time she was educated
up to their feeling.

"Who was Sappho, and what did she do?--I know, but I've forgotten,"
asked a voice in the crowd.

"Oh, the woman who threw herself at the other fellow's head, you know,
who naturally didn't appreciate the compliment."

Audrey was not intelligent enough to refrain from the inward comment,
"How singularly inappropriate! I should have said Katherine was about
the last person in the world to----" She turned round and found herself
face to face with the poet. Knowles had been wandering through the crowd
with evasive eyes, successfully dodging the ladies of his acquaintance,
while his air of abstraction took all quality of offence from the
unerring precision of his movements. But when he saw Miss Craven he
stopped. He had an inkling of the truth, and respected her feelings too
much to slight her while Wyndham's marriage was still a topic of the
hour.

"Not bad for the boy, that!" said he, smiling gently at Sappho. "He's
coming out, isn't he?"

"So are you, I think--in a new line too!"

"Ah--er--not quite a new one. I've been taken that way before."

She was about to make some pretty speech when they were joined by Ted,
who had not noticed Audrey. His forehead puckered slightly when he saw
her, but that was no doubt from sympathy with her probable
embarrassment. For the first time in their acquaintance he was
indifferent to the touch of the small hand that had tried to mould his
destiny. If the truth must be told, in the flush of his success Ted had
found out that his passion for Audrey was only the flickering of the
flame on the altar dedicated to eternal Art. He listened to her
compliments without that sense of apotheosis which (however low he rated
it) her criticism had been wont to produce.

"Don't let's be seen looking at it any longer," he said at last; "let's
go and pretend to get excited about some other fellow's work."

So they left Audrey to herself. She turned back and went down the room
to see "The Witch of Atlas," the lady robed in her "subtle veil" of
starbeams and mist. Her view of this picture was somewhat obstructed by
a stout gentleman who, together with a thin lady, was taking up the
whole of the available space before it. His companion, a badly-dressed
young woman with a double eye-glass, was trying to decipher the lines
quoted in her catalogue. As Audrey paused she looked up and stared, as
only a woman with a double eye-glass can stare, at the same time
attracting the stout gentleman's attention by a movement of her elbow.

"Look, uncle, quick! That's her! That's the person!"

"What's that, Nettie?" (The stout gentleman swung round as if on a
pivot, as Audrey moved gracefully by.) "You don't mean to say so?
Where's Ted?"

She walked on through the rooms, depressed by the meeting with
Knowles--it suggested Wyndham. She would be meeting _him_ next. And
indeed she met him in the first gallery, where her aimless wanderings
had brought her again.

His wife was with him. Audrey knew that she must meet her some time, and
she had expected to see in Alison Fraser an enlarged edition of herself;
she had even feared an _édition de luxe_, which would have been
intolerable. She was prepared for distinction; but she saw with a finer
agony the slight figure, the sweet proud face with its setting of pale
gold hair, and worse than all, the indefinable air of remoteness and
reserve which made Mrs. Langley Wyndham more than a "distinguished"
woman. Wyndham lifted his hat and would have passed on; but Audrey, to
show her perfect self-possession, stopped and held out her hand. He felt
it trembling as he took it in a preoccupied manner; and Mrs. Langley
Wyndham became instantly absorbed in picture No. 1.

"Have you seen young Haviland's performance?" asked Wyndham. (He had to
say something.)

"Yes; it's a very fine study."

"So Knowles tells me. But everything's a fine study in this collection.
There ought to be 'a fine' for the abuse of that expression."

"But it really is; go and see for yourself."

"It's his sister, isn't it?"

"Yes."

"Ah, that accounts for it. He could give his mind to it in that case."
Wyndham was surprised at his own fatuity; his remarks sounded like the
weird inanities that pass for witticisms in dreams.

"Perhaps. But never mind Mr. Haviland; I want you to introduce me to
your wife."

Wyndham looked round; his wife had turned an unconscious back.

"Oh--er--thank you, you're very kind, but--er--we're just going."

He had not meant them so, but his words were like a whip laid across
Audrey's shoulders. He moved on, and his wife joined him.

Audrey came across them half an hour later, stooping over some designs
in black and white. She saw Mrs. Langley Wyndham look up in her
husband's face with a smile, raising her golden eyebrows. The look was
one of those intimate trifles that have no meaning beyond the two
persons concerned in it. For Audrey, smarting from Wyndham's insult, it
was the flick of the lash in her face.



CHAPTER XXI


In the autumn of that year Audrey woke and found herself the classic of
the hour, a literary queen without a rival. Wyndham's great work was
finished, and it stood alone. Not another heroine of fiction could lift
her head beside Laura, the leading character of "An Idyll of
Piccadilly." He himself owned, almost with emotion, that it was the best
thing he had ever done. He had not touched the surface this time; he had
gone deep down to the springs of human nature. He had not merely
analysed the woman till her character lay in ruins around him, but he
had built her up again out of the psychic atoms, and Laura was alive.
She showed the hand of the master by her own nullity. In her splendid
vanity she was like some piece of elaborate golden fretwork, from which
the substance had been refined by excess of workmanship.

The voice of criticism was one voice; there arose a unanimous hymn of
praise from every literary "organ" in the country. It was Mr. Langley
Wyndham's masterpiece, a work that left the excellence of "London
Legends" far behind it on a lower plane. Though there was no falling off
in point of style, the author had found something better to do this
time than to cultivate the flowers of perfect speech. "Laura" was a
triumph of intimate characterisation. And the brutal touches that
disfigured his former work were absent from this; he had shown us that
the boldest, most inflexible realism is compatible with a delicacy
worthy of the daintiest of esoteric ideals.

The book, dedicated "To my Wife," appeared early in October. By November
the question of the sources was opened out, and it began to be whispered
(a whisper that could be traced to the private utterances of Miss Gladys
Armstrong) that the prototype of Laura was a Miss Audrey Craven. In the
person of her ubiquitous double, Miss Audrey Craven became a leading
figure in London society. Then bit by bit the news got into the papers,
and Wyndham's _succès d'estime_ was followed by _succès de scandale_
which promised to treble his editions.

Thus Audrey, unable to achieve greatness, had greatness thrust upon her;
and the weight of it bowed her to the earth. The earth? As she read on,
the earth seemed to crumble away from under her feet, leaving her
baseless and alone before that terrifying apocalypse. Wyndham had
trained her intelligence till it could appreciate the force of every
chapter in his book of revelations. At last she saw herself as she was.
And yet--could that be she? That mixture of vanity, stupidity, and
passion? To be sure, he had been careful to give her brown hair instead
of tell-tale red, and skillfully to alter the plot of her life with all
details of time and place; but--what had he said? "Light as air, fluent
as water, a being mingled of fire and a little earth; fickle as the wind
that blew her in a wavering line across the surface of things." "Modern,
and of stuff so fine that it chafed under the very breath of
disapproval; and yet with a little malleable heart in it compounded of
the most primeval of affections." She turned over the pages; everywhere
she came upon the same thing. Now the phrases were spun out fine, they
were subtle, they seemed to cling round her and stifle her; now they
were short and keen, and they cut like knives. "Women may be divided
into three classes--the virtuous, the flirtuous, and the non-virtuous.
The middle class is by far the largest. It shades off finely into the
two extremes. Laura belonged to it." "The moon was up, and Diana, divine
sportswoman, was abroad, hunting big game." "Laura had made a virtue of
necessity. She said that proved the necessity of virtue."

Oh, the cruelty of it! Would Ted, would Vincent, have done this if they
had had it in their power? True, they had reproached her; but it was to
her face, alone in her own drawing-room, where she had a chance of
defending herself. _They_ would not have held her up to public scorn.
And they had some right to blame her,--she saw that now. But what had
she done to deserve this from Langley? How had he found it in his heart
to speak against her? She had loved him. Yes, she had known many a
passing pain, but she had never really suffered until now. That was a
part of her education that had been neglected hitherto. Only an
accomplished student of human nature could have coached her through the
highest branches of it.

Having set the scandal successfully afloat, the society papers began to
utter a feeble protest against it--thus increasing their own reputation
for a refined morality. But they had no power to turn the tide, and the
scandal floated on. In society itself judgment was divided. Whether
"Laura" was or was not a work of the highest art, was a question you
might have heard discussed at every other dinner-table. Perhaps the
criticism that was most to the point was that of Miss Gladys Armstrong,
who proclaimed publicly that Langley Wyndham laboured under the
disadvantage of not being a woman, and having no imagination to make up
for it. Meanwhile the tone of the larger reviews remained unchanged. The
reviewers, to a man, had committed themselves to the position that the
book was Wyndham's masterpiece; and nobody could be found to go back on
that opinion.

But in all that concert of adulation one voice was silent--the only
voice that Wyndham cared to hear, that of Percival Knowles. The others
might howl in chorus, and it would not be worth his while even to
listen; he was looking forward to Knowles's long impressive solo. But
that solo never came, neither could the note of Knowles be detected in
the intricate chorus. It was strange. Knowles had been the high priest
of the new Wyndham worship, and to him the eminent novelist had looked
for sympathy and appreciation. But Knowles had made no sign. They had
avoided the subject whenever they met; Wyndham was not so hardened by
authorship as to have lost the instinctive delicacy felt by the creator
at the birth of his book. Knowles seemed only too much inclined to
respect that delicacy. Finally, Wyndham resolved to go and see his
friend alone, and tentatively sound him on the subject of "Laura." He
proposed to himself a pleasant evening's chat, in which that lady would
be discussed in all her bearings, and he would enjoy a foretaste of the
praise ere long to be dealt out to him before an admiring public. On his
way to Knowles's rooms he heard in fancy the congratulation, the
temperate flattery, the fine discriminating phrase.

He found Knowles amusing himself with a blue pencil and Miss Armstrong's
last novel. "Laura: An Idyll of Piccadilly" lay on the table beside him,
its pages cut, but with none of those slips of paper between them which
marked the other books put aside for review. Knowles greeted his friend
with an embarrassed laugh, and they fell to discussing every question of
the hour except the burning one for Wyndham. By the rapidity of his
conversational manoeuvres, it was evident that the critic wanted to
steer clear of that topic. Wyndham, however, after ambling round and
round it for some time with no effect, suddenly brought up straight in
front of it with--

"By-the-bye, have you condescended to read my last fairy-tale?"

"What, the Mayfairy tale?" said Knowles, with deft pleasantry. "Yes, of
course I've read it."

"What do you think of it?"

Knowles suddenly looked grave. "Well, at the moment, I had much rather
not tell you."

"Really? Well, I suppose I shall know some day."

Knowles looked as if he were struggling with an unpleasant duty, and it
were getting the better of him.

"Not from me, I'm afraid. It will be the first work of yours I have left
unnoticed. As I can't review it favourably, I prefer not to notice it at
all."

"You surely don't suppose that I came here to fish for a review?"

"I do not."

"Thanks. I don't deny that I should have appreciated the public
expression of your opinion, favourable or unfavourable. But I respect
your scruples as far as I understand them. The only thing is----"

He paused; it was his turn to feel uncomfortable.

"Is what?"

"Well, after the way you've delivered yourself on my other books, which
are feebleness itself compared with this one, I must say your present
attitude astonishes me."

"I've given you my reasons for it."

"No; that's what you've not done. Surely we've known each other too long
for this foolishness. Of course, it's considerate of you not to damn me
for the entertainment of the British public; but you know you're the
only man in England whose judgment I care about, and I confess I'd like
to have your private opinion--the usual honest and candid thing, you
know. I'm not talking of gods, men, and columns."

Knowles sat silent, frowning.

"Oh, well, of course, if you'd rather not, there's nothing more to be
said."

"Not much."

But Wyndham's palpitating egoism was martyred by this silence beyond
endurance, and he burst out in spite of himself--

"But it's inconceivable to me, after the way you've treated my first
crude work. You must have set up some new canons of art since then.
Otherwise I should say you were inconsistent."

But Knowles was not to be drawn out, if he could possibly help it.

"Do you mind telling me one thing--have you anything to say against its
form?"

"Not a word. I admit that in form it's about as perfect as it well could
be. I--er--" (he was beginning to feel that he could not help it)
"object to your use of your matter."

"What on earth do you mean?"

"I mean what I say."

"Please explain."

"Very well. Since you so earnestly desire my honest and candid opinion,
you shall have it. You remind me that I praised your earlier work, and
suggest my inconsistency in not approving of your latest. My praise was
sincere. I thought, and I have never changed my opinion, that the
originality of your first books amounted to genius. Your last, however
great its other qualities, has not that merit. It is, _I_ think,
conspicuously destitute of imagination."

"Do you deny its vitality--its faithfulness to nature?"

"Certainly not. I object to it as a barefaced plagiarism from nature."

"Then at least you'll admit that my heroine lives?"

"She does, unfortunately. Wouldn't it have been better taste to wait
till she was decently dead?"

"Oh--I see. You mean _that_."

"Yes; I mean that. If you had no respect for your own reputation, you
might have thought of Miss Craven's."

"Excuse me, this is simply irrelevant nonsense, and most unworthy of
you. Miss Craven, as you perfectly well know, is one manifestation of
the eternal flirt. I seized on the type she belongs to, and
individualised it."

"You did nothing of the sort. You seized on the individual and put her
into type--a very different thing. Do you imagine that life will ever be
the same to that poor woman again? I never liked Miss Craven, but she
was harmless, even nice, before you got hold of her and spoilt her, by
making her think herself clever. Isn't that what happens to Laura?"

"That--among other things."

"Other things, also slavishly copied from Miss Craven. I recognise the
faithfulness of your portraiture in all its details; so does she and
everybody else."

"Knowles, you talk like the lay fool. Surely you know how all fiction,
worthy of the name, is made? I took what lay nearest at hand, as
hundreds of novelists have done before me; though as for that, there's
not an incident in the book that is not the purest fiction. You don't
give me credit--I won't say for originality, but--for ordinary
reconstructive ability."

"I give you credit for having made the most of quite exceptional
advantages. You best know how you obtained them."

Wyndham reflected a moment, then looked Knowles in the face.

"I assure you solemnly there was never any question of Miss Craven's
honour."

Knowles raised his eyebrows. "I didn't suppose for a moment there was.
How about your own, though? Your notions of honour strike me as being
quaintly original--rather more original than your Piccadyllic heroine."

Knowles was not bad-tempered, but he was a frequent cause of bad temper
in other people. It was with the utmost difficulty that Wyndham
controlled himself for a final effort to evade the personal, and set the
question at large on general grounds.

"Then I suppose you would deny the right of any artist to make use of
living material?"

Knowles yawned. "I don't attempt to deny anything. I'm debating another
question."

"What is that?" Wyndham smiled an uneasy muscular smile.

"Whether it isn't my duty to kick you, or rather to _try_ to kick you,
out of this room."

"Really; and what for? For the crime of writing a successful story?"

"For the perpetration of the most consummate piece of literary
scoundrelism on record."

As that statement was accompanied by a nervous twitching of the lips
which Wyndham was at liberty to take for a smile, he held out his hand
to Knowles before saying good-night.

"My dear Knowles, if _your_ notions of literary honour held good, there
would be an end of realism."

"The end of realism, my dear Wyndham, is the thing of all others I most
desire to see."

They had shaken hands; but Wyndham understood his friend, and he knew
as certainly as if Knowles had told him so that Audrey Craven, the woman
whom neither of them loved, had avenged herself. She had struck, through
Laura, at the friendship of his life. He was also informed of one or two
facts about himself which had not as yet come within the range of his
observation. He consoled himself with the reflection that the
temptations of genius are not those of other men. And perhaps he was
right.

Knowles sat down to his review of Miss Armstrong's book with unruffled
urbanity. He wrote: "This authoress belongs to a select but rapidly
increasing band of thinkers. There may be schisms in the new school with
regard to details, but on the whole it is a united one. The members are
unanimous in their fearless optimism. One and all they preach the same
hopeful doctrine, that the attainment of a high standard of immodesty by
woman will in time make morality possible for man."

He went to bed vowing that of all professions that chosen by the man of
letters is the most detestable.



CHAPTER XXII


That winter was a hard one for the Havilands; they were at the very
lowest ebb of their resources, short of being actually in debt. The
reclaiming of Hardy had been an expensive undertaking for Katherine in
more ways than one. And naturally the more successful her efforts were
the more time they consumed. She had been so busy all summer finishing
off old work that she had not been able to take up anything fresh. She
had even been obliged to send away sitters, and they had betaken
themselves elsewhere. The "Witch" had not sold, though she had won a big
paragraph all to herself in "Modern Art." In her first enthusiasm over
Ted's success Katherine had encouraged him to give up his pot-boilers.
She had taken over some of his black-and-white work herself. And in the
midst of it all she was engaged on a portrait of Vincent. They were so
dependent on what they earned that these serious interruptions to work
threatened an inroad on their small capital. Now, they might any day
have applied to Mr. Pigott for a loan, and rejoiced that worthy
gentleman's heart; but such a step was the last indignity, not even to
be contemplated by Ted and Katherine. And even if their pride had not
stood in their way, that source of revenue seemed closed to them now.
Ted and his uncle had had an unfortunate encounter in the New Gallery.
The fact that he was indebted to Katherine for an invitation to the
private view had not prevented Mr. Pigott from speaking his mind freely
to her brother on the subject of the Witch. He said he could have
forgiven Ted for painting such a picture. He could have forgiven
Katherine too, if it had not been for her ability--that made her doubly
responsible. Ted tried to soothe him; he led him gently away from the
spot; he promised to do all he could to induce Katherine to cultivate
the grace of stupidity; but it was useless. The old gentleman stood to
his ground, and Ted left him there. He received a letter from him the
next morning:--

    "DEAR EDWARD,--I parted from you yesterday more in sorrow than in
    anger. I need not tell you how deeply shocked and grieved I was to
    learn from a literary young friend that the subject of your sister's
    picture is taken from the works of the atheist Shelley--a man whose
    unprincipled life, I am told, is an all-sufficient commentary on his
    opinions.

    "Your cousin Nettie is earning a modest competence by poker-work,
    and the painting of flowers, birds, and other innocent and beautiful
    objects. Why cannot Katherine do the same?

    "When she is willing to give up her present pursuits for some
    becoming occupation, let her be assured of my ready encouragement
    and help. Till then, no more.--From your affectionate uncle,

                                                        "JAMES PIGOTT."

Mr. Pigott had written his last sentence advisedly. "Some day," he said
to himself, "those young people will have to put their pride in their
pocket." He might have known that the Haviland pride was not of the kind
that goes conveniently into any pocket, even an empty one.

But Katherine worked her hardest, and gave little heed to these things.
She saw her own chances of success dwindling farther into the distance,
and was surprised to see how little she cared, for a curious callousness
had come over her of late. Selfish ambition--selfish, because it often
persists in living when all other things are dead--seemed to have died
in her at last. Had she overcome it? Or was it that she had really
ceased to care? She had too much to think of to be able to settle that
question just now.

After all, she had another source of pride. Vincent had begun by looking
to her as a protection against his worst self; and when his mother died
suddenly that winter, his last link with home being broken, he became
more and more dependent on Katherine. And now, though the tie of
comradeship between them was closer than ever, he had no longer any need
of her. He could go alone. His will was free, his intellect was awake.
He read hard now. All his old ardours and enthusiasms returned to him;
he worked on the Pioneer-book, recasting his favourite parts, beating
the whole into shape, and hunting down the superfluous adjective with a
manly delight in the new sport. Katherine had shown the revised
manuscript to Knowles, and he had found her a publisher and worked him
into the right frame of mind. Katherine had suppressed part of that
publisher's verdict: it was to the effect that, though the text was up
to the average merit of its kind, the illustrations would form the most
valuable portion of the work.

Hardy had submitted the final revision of his proofs to Katherine. But
on one point he was resolute: "I want the dedication to stand as it is,
Sis." And Katherine nodded her head and was silent.

He often talked about Audrey now. He was no longer bitter and
vindictive, as he had been in the days of his degradation. His old
feeling for her had returned to him, unchanged, except for the refining
process he himself had undergone. His love was ennobled now by an
infinite pity. Not that he had lost sight of what she had done for him;
but now that his eyes were clearer, he saw her as she was, and felt to
the full the pathos of her vanity.

Wyndham's book was severely criticised in Devon Street. One day, about
four months after its appearance, Hardy had returned to the subject
nearest his heart, and was discussing it with Katherine as he sat to
her for his portrait, now nearly finished. He had just pleasantly told
her that he wished he had managed to fall in love with her instead of
with Audrey; she would have made something very different of him--a
remark to which Katherine made no answer, treating it, as Hardy thought,
with the contempt it deserved. Then he broke out, as he had done many a
time before.

"I don't know how it is. When I was away from her, I used to think of
her as a sort of amateur angel leading me on." (Katherine smiled; it was
very evident that Audrey had "led him on.") "When I was with her she
seemed to be a little devil, encouraging everything that was bad in me.
I don't know how she did it; but she did. And yet, Kathy, whatever they
may say, I don't believe she's bad. I don't swear, of course, that she's
a paragon of goodness----"

"Isn't there a medium?"

"But she was a sweet little thing before she met that scoundrel Wyndham.
Wasn't she?"

But Katherine was giving the whole of her attention to Vincent's nose.

"Putting Audrey out of the question, I don't think much of Mr. Langley
Wyndham. I don't like his books; I can't breathe in his stuffy
drawing-rooms. Why can't the fellow open his windows sometimes and let
in a little of God's fresh air? As you know, I believe he's even a
shadier character than I am."

"He hasn't got a character; it's all run to literature."

"H'm--I'm not so sure about that."

Katherine had laid down her brushes, and was examining her work with her
head on one side. "Well, he can't draw a character, anyhow; Laura's
simply impossible."

"I don't know. Laura is Audrey, and Audrey's a funny person."

"I used to think that Audrey wasn't a person--that she was made up of
little bits of people stuck together."

"That's not bad, Sis. She _is_ made up of bits of people stuck
together."

"Yes; but the thing is, what makes them stick? Mr. Wyndham doesn't go
into that, and _that's_ Audrey. His work is clever--too clever by
half--but it's terribly superficial."

Hardy meditated on that saying; then he began again.

"You've done a great deal for me, Kathy. I sometimes think that if you'd
given your mind to it, you could have made something of Audrey. You
know, poor little thing, she used to think she was very strong-minded;
but she was more easily twisted about than any woman I know. That's what
made her so fickle. If there's any truth in that stupid story of
Wyndham's, she must have been like a piece of putty in her hands. I
believe, if you could have got hold of her, you could have done her some
good."

"I don't believe in doing people good."

"I do. I'm a case in point."

"No, you're not."

"I am. You did _me_ good."

"I'm very glad to hear it. If I did, it's because I never thought about
it. Now, if I tried my hand on Audrey, I should set to work with the
fixed intention of doing her good; therefore I should fail miserably.
It's a different thing altogether."

"I see no difference myself."

Katherine was silent. Her charity had covered the multitude of Vincent's
sins. Why had she not been able to spare a corner of it for Audrey's?

"Come," said Hardy, "it's not as if she was really very bad."

"No, it's not; there'd be some chance then. There is a medium, and the
medium is hopeless. The wonder is you never found that out."

"I did. I knew it all the time; yet I loved her. It made no
difference--nothing ever will. I've tried to kill my feeling for her,
but it's no use--I can't. I should have to kill myself first; and even
then I believe I should find it waiting for me in Hades when I got
there."

"After all, why should you try to kill it, Vincent?"

"It's the shame of it, Sis."

Katherine might have thought that on the contrary he seemed rather proud
of the permanence of his affections, but she was too much preoccupied to
be aware of his moral absurdity.

"Well, I don't know much about these things; but it seems to me that
even if she doesn't love you, even if she isn't everything you thought
she was, there's no reason to be ashamed of loving her."

"Ah, Kathy, you never loved any one like that."

Her colour changed. "No. It isn't every one who can love like that."

"What would you do if you were in my case--if you'd given yourself away
like me? Supposing you went and lost your little heart to some man-fiend
who was, we'll say, about as bad a lot as I am, and who had the
execrable taste not to care a rap for you,--wouldn't you feel ashamed of
him and yourself too?"

Katherine's white face flushed; she looked away from him, and answered
steadily--

"No, I wouldn't."

He thought he had hurt her feelings, and was about to change the subject
when she turned a beaming face to him.

"But then, you see, I don't love anything much."

"Good as you are, you'd be a better woman if you did."

"Of course there are exceptions. I've some sort of affection for the
Witch and Ted."

"Ted is a very fine boy, and the Witch is a very fine picture,
but--well, some day you'll have an affection for something else; it
won't be a boy, and it won't be a picture. Then, Sis, you'll know what
it is to feel, and your art will go pop."

"Oh, I hope not. But it's not true; look at Ted."

"Ted's a man, and you are a woman. Ten to one, a really great passion
improves a man's art: it plays the deuce with a woman's."

"I don't believe it!" said Katherine, with rather more warmth than the
occasion demanded.

"Shall I tell you what you've been doing, Sis? First of all, you've
tried to live two lives and get the best out of each. That was tempting
Providence, as Mrs. Rogers would say. You found that wouldn't work, so
you said to yourself, 'I give it up. Here goes; I'll be a woman at all
costs. I'll know what it is to love.'"

Katherine took up her brushes again, and in spite of herself moved one
foot impatiently. Hardy went on, well pleased with his own lucidity.

"And you gave up the only thing you really cared about, and played at
being the slave of duty, the devoted sister."

She sighed (was it a sigh of relief?).

"You're wrong. I'm anything but a devoted sister."

"Yes, you're anything but a devoted sister. I'm going to claim one of
the privileges of friendship--that of speaking unpleasant truths in the
unpleasantest way possible."

"Go on. This is getting interesting."

"I repeat, then, you're not a truly devoted sister. A truly devoted
sister would give her brother a chance of developing some moral fibre on
his own account. Ever since you two lived together you've been making
noble sacrifices. Now two can't play at that game, and the boy hasn't
had a chance. The consequence is, he won't work; he prefers taking it
easy."

"That was Audrey's fault, not mine."

"Yes, but you encouraged him; and now he does what he likes, young
monkey, and you do all the pot-boilers. And you're making yourself ill
over them. So much for Ted. I've given him a hint, and he took it very
well. Now for the Witch. I believe in your heart of hearts you love her
better than everybody else put together. And now you're off on the other
tack; you're trying to sit on the artist in you that you may develop the
woman. I mean the other way about; you're sitting on the woman that you
may develop the artist."

"Aren't you getting a little mixed?"

"That plan works worse than all. Let me implore you not to go on with
it. If you only knew it, there's nothing that you will ever do that's
lovelier than your own womanhood. Whatever you do, don't kill that.
Don't go on hardening your heart to everything human till there's no
sweetness left in your nature, Kathy. I want my little sister to make
the best of her life. Some day some good man will ask you to be his
wife. If, when that day comes, you don't know how to love, little woman,
all the success in the world won't make up to you for the happiness you
have missed."

"Oh, Vincent, if you only knew how funny you are!" She laughed the laugh
that Vincent loved to hear, and when she looked at him her eyelashes
were all wet with it.

"All right, Sis. Some day you'll own that your elder brother wasn't such
a fool as you think him."

"I--I don't think you a fool. I only wish you knew how frightfully funny
you are! No, I don't, though," she added below her breath.

But Vincent was quite unable to see wherein lay the humour of his
excellent remarks. He considered that his experience gave him a right to
speak with authority on questions of feeling. But it had not made him
understand everything.

       *       *       *       *       *

The next morning Katherine was sitting before her easel, waiting for
Vincent to come up for the last sitting. It was a raw, cold day, and her
fingers felt numbed as they took up the brushes. Ted had made a promise
to Hardy to do his fair share of the more remunerative work. Before
keeping it, he was giving a few final touches to one of the figures in
his Dante study of Paolo and Francesca, swept like leaves on the wind of
hell. He was in high good humour, and as he worked he talked
incessantly, quoting from an imaginary review. "In the genius of Mr.
Edward Haviland we have a new Avatar of the spirit of Art. Mr. Haviland
is the disciple of no school. He owes no debt either to the past or to
the present. He works in a noble freedom from prejudice and
preconception, uncorrupted by custom as he is untrammelled by tradition.
If we may classify what is above and beyond classification, we should
say that in matter Mr. Haviland is an idealist, while in form he is an
ultra-realist. We dare to prophesy that he will become the founder of a
new romantico-classical school in the near future----"

"Oh, Ted, do be quiet, and let me think for a minute."

"What's the matter, Kathy?"

"I don't know. I think I'm tired, or else it's the cold."

Ted looked at her earnestly (for him) and then came over to her and
stroked her hair. "There's something wrong. Won't you confide in your
brother?"

"I'm all right--only lazy."

"Can't--can't I do anything?"

"Well, perhaps. I don't want you to give up much of your time to it; but
if you'd finish some of those black-and-white things--I don't feel equal
to tackling them all single-handed."

"Oh," said the boy, turning very red, "why didn't you say so before?" He
sat down and began at once on the pile of manuscripts waiting to be
illustrated. But he continued to talk. "I saw Vincent the other day, and
he told me his opinion of you pretty plainly."

"What did he say?"

"Why, that you've sacrificed your poor brother to your desire to cut a
moral figure; that you've been cultivating all sorts of extravagant
virtues at my expense. I might have been playing the most heroic parts,
and getting any amount of applause, if you hadn't selfishly bagged all
the best ones for yourself. You've taken up the whole of the stage, so
that I haven't had room even to exercise the minor virtues. Just reach
me that sheaf of crayons, there's a good girl. Thanks." Ted put on a
judical air, and chose a crayon. "Look there! you've taken the most
uncomfortable chair and the worst light in the studio, when I might have
been posing in them all the time. I haven't had half a chance. Vincent
said so. No wonder he's disgusted with you. Ah! that's not so bad for a
mere tyro. No, Kathy, he's quite right. You're an angel, and I've been a
lazy scoundrel. But you'll admit that during my painful mental
affliction I wasn't quite responsible. And afterwards--well, how was I
to know? I thought we were getting on very nicely."

"So we were, Ted--up till now."

Her last words were so charged with feeling that Ted looked up
surprised. But he said nothing, being a person of tact.

The sitting that morning was not a long one. Hardy seemed tired and
depressed. After posing patiently for half an hour, he gave it up.

"It's no good this morning. I must go out and get a little warmth into
me. You people had better come too."

"It's such a horrid day," pleaded Katherine. "You'll get exceedingly
wet, and come back no warmer. It's going to rain or snow, or something."
As she spoke, the first drops of a cold sleet rattled on the skylight.

But Vincent was obstinate and restless.

"I must go, if it's only for a turn on the Embankment. What with my book
and your picture, I haven't stretched my legs all week. Come along, Ted.
You'll die, Kathy, if you persist in wallowing in oil-paint like that,
and taking no exercise."

They set out before a cutting north-easter and a sharp shower of rain
that froze as it fell. Katherine watched them as they crossed the street
and turned on to the Embankment. The wind came round the corner, as a
north-easter will, and through the window-sash, chilling her as she
stood. "There's nobody more surprised than myself," she said. "And yet I
might have known that if I went in for this sort of thing, I should make
a mess of it." She went back to the fire, and settled herself in the
attitude of thought. There was no end to her thinking now. Perhaps that
was the reason why she was always tired. Hitherto she had triumphed over
fatigue and privation by a power which seemed inexhaustible, and was
certainly mysterious. Much of it was due to sheer youth and health, and
to the exercise which gave her a steady hand and a cool head--much,
doubtless, to her unflinching will; but Katherine was hardly aware how
far her strength had lain in the absence of temptation to any feminine
weakness. Hitherto she had seen her object always in a clear untroubled
air, and her work had gained something of her life's austere and
passionless serenity. Now it was all different, and she was thinking of
what had made that difference.

Ted came back glowing from his walk; but Vincent was colder than ever.
He sat shivering over the Havilands' fire all afternoon, and went to bed
early.

"We'll finish that sitting to-morrow, Sis," he said, wearily. Ted went
out again to dine with Knowles, and Katherine was left alone.

It might have been her own mood, or the shadow of Vincent's, but she was
depressed with vague presentiments of trouble. They gathered like the
formless winter clouds, without falling in any rain. Then she realised
that she was very tired. She wrapped herself in a rug and lay down on
the couch to rest. And rest came as it comes after a sleepless night,
not in sleep deep and restorative, but in a gentle numbing of the brain.
She woke out of her stupor refreshed. The cloud had rolled away, and she
could work again. She sat down to the last pile of Vincent's proofs.

When she had finished them, she turned over the pages again. The reading
had brought back to her the last eighteen months, with all the meaning
that they had for her now. She looked back and thought of the years when
she had first worked for Ted, of the precious time that Audrey had
wasted. The fatalism that was her mood so often now told her that these
things _had to be_. And it was better, infinitely better, for Ted to
have had that experience. She looked back on the year that Vincent had
wasted out of his own life, and saw that that too had to be. There had
been vicarious salvation even there. Ted had once told her that there
was a time when, as he expressed it, he would have walked calmly to
perdition, if Vincent had not gone before him and shown him what was
there. She looked back on that year of her own life, "wasted," as she
had once thought--the year she had given up so grudgingly at the
beginning, so freely at the end--and she was content.

And now she was giving up, not time alone, and thought, and labour, but
love--love that could have no certain reward but pain. And she was still
content. At first she had been astonished and indignant at her own
capacity for emotion; it was as if her nature had suddenly revealed
itself in a new and unpleasant light. Then she had grown accustomed to
it. Yesterday she was even amused at the strangeness and the fatuity of
it all. She described herself as a bungling amateur wandering out of her
own line and attempting the impossible. Clearly she should have left
this sort of thing to people like Audrey, to whose genius it was suited,
and who might hope to attain some success in it; but for her the love of
art was quite incompatible with the art of love. She could have imagined
herself entertaining these feelings for some one like Percival Knowles,
for instance, who was clever and had an educated sense of humour, who
wrote verses for her and flattered her artistic vanity; but to have
fixed upon Vincent of all people in the world! She must have done it
because it was impossible. That was what she had said yesterday; but
to-day she understood. Had she not helped to make Vincent a man that she
could love without shame? He was the work of her hands, that which her
own fingers had made. It was natural that she should love her own work.
Was she not an artist before everything, as he had said? Her tears came,
and after her tears a calm, in which she heard the beating of a heart
that was not her own, and felt the pulse of the divine Fate that moves
through human things.

Then she asked herself--Was Vincent right? What effect had this curious
experience really had on her painting? She felt no personal interest in
the answer, but she got up and went to the easel. Her portrait of
Vincent was finished--all but the right hand, that was still in outline.
It was strange. Ted's best work had begun with his head of Audrey. What
about her own? She saw through her tears that in all her long and
hateful apprenticeship to portrait-painting, nothing that she had ever
done could compare with this last. There was a new quality in it,
something that she had once despaired of attaining. And that was
character. She had painted the man himself, as she saw him. Not the
Vincent of any particular hour, but Vincent with the memory of the past,
and the hope of the future in his face. All the infinite suggestion and
pathos, the complex expression that life had left on it, was there. If
she had not loved Vincent--loved him not only as he was, but as he might
have been--would she have known how to paint like that? Although her
womanhood would never receive the full reward of its devotion, that debt
had been paid back to her art with interest. The artistic voice told her
that Vincent was wrong; that for her what women call love had meant
knowledge; that her strength would henceforth lie in the visible
rendering of character; and that work of such a high order would command
immediate success.

And the voice of her womanhood cried out in anguish--"All the success in
the world won't make up to you for the happiness you have missed."

There was no sitting the next day; for Vincent was in bed, ill, with
congestion of the lungs.



CHAPTER XXIII


There is a little village in North Devon, sheltered from the sea by a
low range of sand-hills that stretches for miles on each side of it. The
coast turns westward here, and no cliff breaks that line of billowy
sand; northward and southward it goes, with the rhythmic monotony of the
sea. The sand-hills are dotted with tufts of the long star-grass, where
the rabbits sit; inland they are covered with fine blades bitten short
by the sheep. Seaward lies the hard ribbed sand, glistening with salt,
and fringed with the white surf of the Atlantic.

On the coast, about a mile from the village, there is a long one-storyed
bungalow, built on the sand-hills. The sand is in the garden, where no
flowers grow but sea-pinks and the wild horn-poppy; it lies in drifts
about the verandah, and is whirled by the Atlantic storms on to the low
thatched roof. The house stands alone but for a few fishermen's huts
beside it, huddled close together for neighbourhood.

Here, because it was the most man-forsaken spot she knew, Audrey had
come, exchanging the roar of London for the roar of the Atlantic. She
thought she would find consolation in the presence of Nature. London had
become intolerable to her. Everywhere she turned she was reminded of the
hateful Laura. Laura stood open in the window of every book-shop; Laura
lay on every drawing-room table; there was no getting away from her. And
yet Audrey's notoriety had won her more friends than she had ever had
before. Everywhere people were kind to her; they made much of her; they
said it was "hard lines," it was "a shame," "execrable," "unpardonable,"
and they assured her that nobody thought a bit the worse of her for all
that. Some even went so far as to declare that they saw not the remotest
resemblance between her and the popular heroine. But it was no use.
Nothing could raise her in her own esteem. She fled. She longed to be
alone with Nature. She took the bungalow for the winter; and once there,
she wished she had never come.

She arrived in a storm that lasted some days. She thought she would have
gone mad simply with hearing the mad wind and sea. It was the same
whether she sat indoors listening to them, or she walked out, battling
with the wreaths of whirling sand. After the storm came the dull, grey,
heaving calm,--always the rolling clouds, the rolling sand-hills, and
the rolling sea. That was infinitely worse. And to add to her
depression, Audrey had never been so rigidly confined to the society of
her chaperon; there was nobody else to see or hear, and the boundaries
of the poor lady's intellect were conspicuous in the melancholy waste.
There was no escape from her except into the cold monotony without.

Then February set in warm though grey. One morning Audrey was able to
sit out in a sunny hollow of the sand-hills, where the rabbits had
flattened a nest for her. Then she could think.

She was in the presence of Nature. Art was nothing to this. Art,
in the time of her brief acquaintance with it, had baffled her, and
given her a hint of her own feebleness; but Nature was the great
Incomprehensible--and she was alone with it. Alone, in a lonely land,
peopled mostly by the wild creatures of sea and shore, by peasants and
fishermen, men and women who looked at her with strange eyes and spoke a
strange language; whose ways were dark to her, and their thoughts
unfathomable. She was face to face not only with primitive human beings,
but with the primeval forces of the world--the stern, implacable will of
the wind and sea. Not that she could feel these things thus, for they
lay beyond the range of her emotions; but at the same time they tortured
her. At first it was only by a dull sense of their presence,
annihilating her own. Then, because they were things too great for her
to grasp, they cruelly flung her back upon herself. They had no
revelation for her. But left to herself, bit by bit her own character
was revealed to her,--not as it had appeared to her before--not even as
Wyndham had revealed it to her--but in the nothingness that was its
being. It was stripped bare of all that had clothed it, and ruled it,
and made it seem beautiful in her eyes. Left to herself, all the
influences that had lent colour and consistency to this blank, unstable
nature, had passed out of her life. The men whose destiny she had tried
to mould, who had ended by moulding hers, twisting it now into one
shape, now into another, had done with it at last; they had flung it
from them unshapen as before. There was no permanence even in destiny.
Vincent, whose will had dominated her own; Ted, whose boyish passion had
touched her heart and made her feel; Langley, whose intellect had
kindled hers, and made her able to think,--they were all gone, and she
was alone. That was Langley's doing--Langley, whom alone of the three
she had really loved--ah, she hated him for it now. And hating him, she
remembered the many virtues of the two whom she had not loved well.
Vincent--that was a revelation of love--why had she shut her eyes to it?
Ted too, poor boy, he might have been hers still if she had chosen. She
might have been moulding his destiny at this moment--instead of which,
his destiny was doubtless moulding itself admirably without her.

Then her mood changed. She revolted against the cruelty of her lot. Her
sex was the original, the unpardonable injustice. If she had only been a
man, she could have taken her life into her own hands, and shaped it
according to her will. But woman, even modern woman, is the slave of
circumstances and the fool of fate.

"Audrey, Audrey, my dear!" called a wind-blown voice across the
sand-hills. Solitude had frightened Miss Craven out of the bungalow, and
she was picking her way in and out among the rabbit holes.

North Devon was hateful to cousin Bella. She hated the wastes of sand
and sea, the discomforts of the bungalow, the slow hours uncertainly
measured by meal-times that seemed as if they would never come. Her
brain was wild with unsatisfied curiosity. Yet she had tact in the
presence of real suffering. She had forborne to question Audrey about
the past, and their present life was not fruitful in topics. She did
nothing but wonder. "I wonder when it will be tea-time? I wonder if
there was anything between Audrey and her cousin? I wonder which of
those three gentlemen it was? I wonder when it will be tea-time?" That
was the monotonous rondo of her thoughts to which the sea kept time.

"Audrey, my dear, come in! I think it must be lunch-time," she wailed.
But no answer came from the hollow. She meekly turned, and picked her
way back again across the sand-hills.

Audrey lay hidden till the forlorn little figure was out of sight; then
she got up and looked around her. She shuddered. Her life was as bleak
as the bleak landscape smitten by the salt wind--cold and grey and
formless as the winter sea.

What was that black silhouette on the sands? She strained her eyes to
see. Another figure was making its way towards her from the bungalow.
When it came near she recognised the unofficial rustic who brought
telegrams from the nearest post-town. She waited. The man approached her
with an inane smile on his face.

"Teleegram vur yü, Mizz," he drawled.

She tore open the cover, and read: "Come at once. Vincent dying. Wire
what train you come by.--Katherine."

She crumpled the paper in her clenched hand. The landscape was blotted
out; she saw nothing but the envelope lying at her feet, a dull orange
patch against the greyish sand.

"Any awnzur, Mizz?"

"No." She shut her eyes and tried to realise it. "Yes--yes, there is!
Wait--I must look out my trains first."

She made out that by driving to Barnstaple, and catching the two-o'clock
train, she would reach Waterloo about eight. She sent the man back with
a telegram saying that she would be in Devon Street by nine that evening
at the latest.

It was past one then, and she had yet to pack. It was hopeless--she
could never catch that train. It did not matter; there was another to
Paddington an hour later: it was a slow train, but she would be with
Vincent by eleven.

But she was faint, and had to have some luncheon before she could do
anything; and there was so much to do. She flew hither and thither,
trying to collect her clothes and her thoughts. Her grey cloak and her
bearskins--she would want them, it would be cold in the train. And her
best hat--where was her best hat? Cousin Bella had hidden her best hat.
Ah! she _must_ think, or everything would go wrong. What was it all
about? Vincent dying--dying? Audrey knew little about dying, except that
it was a habit people had of plunging you suddenly into mourning when
you had just ordered a new dress. Death was another of those things she
could not understand.

By the time she had had luncheon, and decided what clothes she would
take, and packed them; by the time the one old fly in the village had
been ordered, and had made its way at a funereal pace to
Barnstaple,--Audrey was just in time to see the three-o'clock train
steaming out of the station. By taking the next train and travelling all
night, she would only reach Paddington at four in the morning.

As she was at last borne on towards London, lying back on the cushions
and trying to sleep, the facts became more clear to her. Vincent was
dying; and he had sent for her. She was exalted once more in her own
eyes.

It seemed to her then that her love for Vincent had been the one stable
and enduring thing in her nature, the link that bound her to a
transfigured past, that gave coherence to a life of episodes.



CHAPTER XXIV


Vincent had been ill for six weeks before Katherine sent off her
telegram. For a month of that time he had been struggling with death.
Then, when the mild weather set in, he had taken a sudden turn for the
better, and it seemed to himself and the Havilands that he had won the
victory. Only the doctor and Mrs. Rogers looked grave,--the doctor
because of his science, which taught him to be cautious in raising
people's hopes; Mrs. Rogers, because of a deep theological pessimism.
She unburdened herself to Katherine.

"I knew 'ow it 'ud be when 'e gave up them 'abits of 'is, miss. 'E's
been as good as gold for the last year. 'E 'yn't given me no trouble nor
anybody; a goin' about so soft, and bilin' of 'is corffee in 'is little
Hetna. I said to _myself_ then, 'e's going to be took. It was the same
with my pore 'usban', miss."

"Don't talk nonsense, Mrs. Rogers. Mr. Hardy hasn't the least intention
of dying; he's getting better as fast as ever he can."

"Oh, miss! don't you sy so! It gives me a turn to 'ear anybody talk so
presumptuous. Don't you do it, m'm. If 'e is a little better, it's enuff
to make the Almighty tyke 'im, jest to 'ear you, miss."

Katherine forgave Mrs. Rogers, for the affectionate woman had helped to
nurse Vincent with a zeal out of all proportion to her knowledge.
Katherine had engaged a night-nurse during the crisis of his illness;
after that, she and Ted nursed him themselves by turns--one sitting up
all night, while the other slept on a bed made up in the sitting-room,
to be within call. Katherine learned to know Ted better in those six
weeks than in all his life before. The boy seemed to be possessed by a
passion of remorse. He was as quiet as Katherine in Vincent's room, and
could do anything that had to be done there with the gentleness and
devotion of a woman. She would willingly have kept on the trained nurse,
in order to give Vincent every advantage in the fight for recovery; but
it was impossible.

For all three of them had come to the end of their resources at the same
time. The Havilands were in debt at last. Vincent had sunk nearly all
his capital in his British Columbian farm, where the agent, in whose
integrity he had guilelessly trusted, worked the land for his own
benefit, and cheated him out of the returns. His mother had left
everything to her second husband. Worse than all was the reprehensible
conduct of Sir Theophilus Parker. The old gentleman had died well within
the term his nephew had given him, but had made no mention of him in his
will, and "Lavernac and three thousand a-year" went to a kinsman of
irreproachable morals, but a Radical, and many degrees more distant
than Vincent from the blood of a Tory squire.

So, after the struggle with death, came the struggle with poverty. Work
was impossible for hands busy with service in the sick-room, and young
brains worn out with watching and anxiety. The most expensive luxuries
were poor Vincent's necessities; for everything depended now on keeping
up his strength.

One morning, after a long night's watching, instead of turning into the
next room to sleep, Katherine put on her hat and cloak and went up to
the deserted studio. She left the house with the "Witch of Atlas" under
her cloak, and carried her to every picture-dealer in Piccadilly and New
Bond Street. It was all in vain. Everywhere the Witch was pronounced to
be beautiful, but unsalable. She was bowed out of every shop-door with
polite regret, expressed in one formula: "The demand for this kind of
work is really so small that we could only offer you a nominal sum,
madam." Finally, Katherine turned into a small shop in Westminster, only
to receive the same answer. But this time she was desperate. "What do
you call a nominal sum?" The dealer looked the picture up and down; he
noted, too, the shabby cloak and worn face of the artist.

"Frame included, five guineas. Not a shilling more, miss."

"I'll take that," she said, almost greedily. And the Witch was handed
over the counter in exchange for the tenth part of her value.

But five guineas were a mere drop in the ocean of their necessities.

Two days later Katherine set out again, no longer alert and eager, but
with a white face, a firm mouth, and a bearing so emphatically resolute
that it suggested a previous agony of indecision. She took a 'bus from
Lupus Street to the City. Getting out at Leadenhall Street, she walked
on till she came to a building where an arrow painted on the doorway
guided her to the offices of Messrs. Pigott & Co., on the third floor.
On and on she went, up the broad stone stairs, with a sick heart and
trembling knees, the steepest, weariest climb she had ever made in a
life of climbing. When she reached the third floor she almost turned
back at the sight of the closed door marked "Private." Then the thought
of Vincent lying in his wretched room, a sudden blinding vision of his
white face laid back on the pillows, overcame the last rebellion of her
pride. She knocked; a well-regulated voice answered, "Who is there?" She
brushed her eyelashes with her hand and walked in.

"It's me, uncle."

Mr. Pigott almost started from his seat. "You, Katherine? Bless me! Dear
me, dear me!" He put on his spectacles, and examined her as if she had
been some curious animal. And he, too, noticed not only her frayed skirt
and the worn edges of the fur about her cloak, but the sharp lines of
her face and the black shadows under her eyes.

"Sit down, my dear."

She obeyed, putting her elbow on the office table and resting her head
in her hand. She looked defiantly, almost fiercely, before her, and
spoke in a cold, hard voice--

"I've come to ask you if you'll lend us some money. We're in debt----"

"In debt? Tt-t-t-tt--that's bad."

"I know it is. But we've had illness in the house, and expenses that we
had to meet."

"Bless me! Is the boy ill?"

"No; it's not Ted----" But as she tried to explain who it was she broke
down utterly, and burst into tears. Then uncle James took off his
spectacles and wiped them. He waited till she could speak coherently;
and when he had heard, he took his cheque-book out of his drawer, asking
no questions and making no comments--for which Katherine respected him.

"How much will clear you, Katherine, and see you to the end of this
business?"

"Twenty pounds would clear us; but----"

Uncle James looked very grave, and he wrote with a slow and terrible
deliberation. But he smiled lavishly as he handed her a cheque for a
hundred guineas. He had made it guineas.

"Remember, there's plenty more where that came from."

"I--I don't know how to thank you, uncle; we'll repay it gradually, with
the interest."

"Interest, indeed; you'll do nothing of the kind. And we won't say
anything about repayment either, this time. Only keep out of debt--keep
out of debt, and don't make a fool of yourself, Katherine."

Katherine hesitated, and her voice trembled. "I--I'm not----"

"No, I don't say you are. I ask no questions; and, Katherine!" he looked
up, but she was still standing beside him.

"Yes."

"Always come to me at once when you want money; and go to your aunt Kate
when you want advice. She'll help you better than I can, my dear."

"Thank you--thank you very much indeed. You are too good to me." She
stooped down and kissed him on the forehead, pressing his hand in hers,
and was gone before he could see her tears. Perhaps they would have
gratified him. But he was amply rewarded by her kiss and the compliment
paid him by his own conscience, which told him that he had not forced
his niece's confidence, as he might have done, nor yet chuckled, as he
might have done, over her fallen pride. It was a remarkable fulfilment
of prophecy, too.

When she got back to Devon Street, Vincent was asleep, with Mrs. Rogers
watching over him, and Ted was waiting for her to come to lunch. He
looked terribly depressed.

She showed him her cheque in silence.

"You never asked _him_, that stern old Puritan father?"

"Don't, Ted. Yes, I did. I thought it would kill me; but it didn't. Oh,
Ted, we _have_ done him an injustice. He was kindness itself. I had to
tell him about Vincent, too, and he never said a word--only gave me the
cheque, and said we weren't to pay it back."

"H'm, that wasn't half bad of him, poor old thing." That admission meant
a great deal from Ted.

"There's a letter there for you,--from Knowles, I think."

"What's he writing about?" She tore open the envelope. To her intense
surprise she found a cheque for fifty guineas in it, and this note:--

    "DEAR MISS HAVILAND,--Forgive my saying so, but when you want to
    sell your pictures, why don't you consult your friends instead of
    going to a thieving dealer? I found the Witch in the hands of such
    an one, and rescued her, for I won't say how little. As I could not
    possibly keep my ill-gotten gains on any other terms, please accept
    the enclosed, which with what you probably received will make up
    something like her real value. I need not tell you how delighted I
    am to possess so exquisite a specimen of your best work."

"Ted, what am I to do? Send it back again?"

"No, you little fool! Keep it, and never do _that_ again--for any one."

For any one? What was there that she would not do for Vincent? But Ted,
having said that, looked more depressed than ever. He went to the
fireplace, and leaned against the chimneypiece, shading his face with
his hand.

"What is it, Ted?"

He made no answer. A terrible fear clutched at her heart, and he saw it
in her eyes.

"He's all right now; he's sleeping. But----"

"But _what_? Tell me, Ted."

"Well, Crashawe was here this morning, and he says he isn't really
better."

"But he _is_ better. He said so himself when he examined him yesterday."

"Yes, so he is, in a way. That is, you see, his lungs are all right.
It's his heart that's bad now. Crashawe says it must always have been
more or less weak. And now----" He stopped short.

"Ted----" she implored.

"It may stop beating any minute."

She said nothing; she only took off her hat and cloak and put on her
artist's overall,--it was her nurse's apron now. She must go to Vincent.
But a thought struck her before she reached the door.

"Does he know?"

"No; but I think he has some idea. He told Crashawe this morning not to
interfere with the course of nature." Ted smiled a dreary smile at the
recollection.

Katherine dismissed Mrs. Rogers and took up her post at Vincent's
bedside. He was still sleeping, with his face turned towards hers as she
sat. And as she looked at him she had hope. She was still young, and it
was inconceivable to her that anything she loved so much should die. It
was not, she pleaded, as if she had been happy, as if her love had any
chance of a return, or had asked for anything better than to spend
itself like this continually.

And as she sat on watching, it seemed to her that it was better as it
was. Better that love should live by immortal things, by things
intangible, invisible, by pity, by faith, by hope, breaking little by
little every link with earth. She tried to make herself believe this
pleasant theory, as she had tried many a day and many a night before,
her heart having nothing else to warm it but the fire of its own
sacrifice. It was better as it was.

And yet, she said again, in this last six weeks he had been hers in a
way in which he could be no other woman's, not even Audrey's. He was
hers by her days of service, her nights of watching, by all that had
gone before, by her part in his new life. After all, that could never be
undone. She was almost happy.

Ted took her place for an hour in the evening, but that was all the rest
she gave herself. She meant to sit up with Vincent again to-night.

"Do you know, Kathy, your eyes are very pretty."

It had struck midnight, and Vincent had been awake and looking at her
for the last two minutes. She smiled and blushed, and that made her
whole face look pretty too. And as he looked into her eyes the blindness
fell from his own, and he saw as a dying man sometimes does see.

"Come here, Sis." He stretched out his arm on the counterpane, and as
she knelt beside him he put back her hair from her forehead.

"I wonder if I was wrong when I thought you couldn't love anybody?"

Then she knew that he was dying.

"Yes, very wrong indeed. For--I loved you then, Vincent." Her face was
transfigured as she spoke. He had to be spared all sudden emotions, but
she knew that _her_ confession would do him no harm. And indeed he took
it quite calmly, without the least change of pulse.

"I'm not ungrateful----"

"There's nothing to be grateful for. I couldn't help it."

"I would have loved you more, Kathy, if it hadn't been for Audrey."

He spoke without emotion, in the tone of a man stating a simple matter
of fact. Then he remarked in the same matter-of-fact voice that, as it
happened, he was dying, so it made no difference. Perhaps he wanted her
to know that a grave was ready for the secret she had just told him.
There was no need to remind her of that,--she was sure of it before she
spoke.

Her kneeling attitude, and hands outstretched on the counterpane,
suggested an order of ideas that had never been very far from him during
his illness. For Vincent had been wide awake and thinking difficult
thoughts many a time when he lay with his eyes closed, and Katherine had
thought he was asleep.

"I want you to read to me," he said at last.

"What would you like?"

"Well--the New Testament, I think, if it's all the same to you."

She rose from her knees and looked helplessly round the room. There was
a Bible somewhere upstairs, but--

"You'll find one in the drawer there, where my handkerchiefs are."

She looked, rummaging gently among his poor things. She came on a small
muslin pocket-handkerchief, stained with blood, also a loop of black
ribbon of the kind that little girls tie their hair with. Some fine
reddish hairs were still tangled in the knot. At last she found a small
pocket Testament mixed up with some of his neckties. It was old and
worn. Katherine wondered at that, though she could hardly have said why.
Then she saw written on the fly-leaf, in a sprawling girl's hand,
"Vincent, with Audrey's best love," and a date that went back to their
childhood. It was the only present that Audrey had ever made him, and
one that had cost her nothing.

"What part shall I read?"

She was afraid that Vincent would lay the burden of choice on her.

But he did not--he had very decided ideas of his own.

"The eighth of Romans, if you don't mind."

An eagle's feather floated out from between the pages at the eighth of
Romans. It had been picked up on the snows of the Rocky Mountains. If
she had wondered at first, she soon saw why Vincent had chosen that
chapter of all others.

"Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after
the flesh.

"For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the
Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live." Vincent was
dying.

She read on, and as she read she saw behind the edges of the veil that
divides the seen from the unseen.

"For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by
reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope;

"Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of
corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God."

Her heart beat faster and her breast heaved, but the words lifted her
above pathos and tears, and prepared her for the consolation of the
close.

"Do you believe all that?" he asked suddenly, when she had finished. She
had not expected that.

"I didn't, but I do now."

"Why?" His eyes were fixed on hers, scrutinising, pathetic.

"Because I _must_."

That reason seemed to be hardly enough for Vincent. He was still
hesitating and uncertain, as if he were looking for something that she
could not give him. Then he lay back again with his eyes closed.

It was Katherine's turn to think. But Vincent's peace of mind was of
more importance to her than the truth or falsehood of a creed. She had
realised that there were things that even her love could not do for him.
With a sudden flash of recollection she thought of the young priest she
had once met at Audrey's house. If any one could help Vincent now, it
might be Mr. Flaxman Reed. She was probably mistaken (nobody is very
wise between twelve and one in the morning), but at least she could try.

"Vincent," she whispered, "would you like to see a clergyman?"

She smiled, for after all it might be the very last thing that he
wanted. He smiled too, a little consciously. His mood had changed for
the time being--he had come back again to earth.

"No; thank you, Sis. But I should like----"

"What? Tell me."

"To see--Audrey."

The three words gave her a shock, but they told her nothing new.

"You shall. I'll send for her first thing in the morning."

He turned round with his face away from her, and settled himself again
to sleep. And Katherine watched. He would be Audrey's to-morrow. He was
hers at least for that one night.

No--never, never again. To-morrow had come, and the image of Audrey was
between them. It always had been there.

Was it better so?

The next day Audrey had to be found. Ted went to Chelsea Gardens early
in the morning, supposing her to be there. The house was shut up, and
the caretaker had mislaid her address. He went back to Devon Street.
Katherine and Ted were in despair; Vincent alone was equal to the
emergency. His mind was on the alert--it had grasped all the necessary
details. He gave them Dean Craven's address, and told Ted to wire to
Oxford for Audrey's. That was how Audrey never got the telegram till one
o'clock.

That morning the doctor pronounced Vincent decidedly better. The change,
he said, was something miraculous. He took Katherine out of the room to
tell her so.

"Keep him quiet, and he _may_ pull through yet. I don't say he will,
but he may. Only--he mustn't have any excitement."

"He's had a great deal this morning. If it lasts all day, and if--he has
any more of it to-night, will it hurt him? It's pleasant excitement, you
know."

The doctor looked keenly at her. To judge by her white face she was not
sharing in the pleasant excitement.

"Well, I can't say. Pleasure does less harm than pain, sometimes. Don't
let him have any suspense, though. Suspense will kill him."

But suspense was what he had to bear.

Katherine knew that he was living on in the hope of Audrey's coming.
Well, she would be with him by nine at the latest, as she had said.

At half-past eight Vincent began to listen for every bell. At nine he
asked to have the door set ajar, that he might hear the wheels of her
cab in the street. But though many cabs went by, none stopped.

"She's missed her train. We didn't give her much time. Look out the
next, Kathy."

Katherine looked it out. "She'll be here by eleven if she catches the
three-o'clock. It gets to Paddington at ten."

Vincent closed his eyes and waited patiently till ten. Then he became
excited again, the nervous tension increasing with every quarter of an
hour. By eleven the street was still, and Vincent strained his ears for
every sound. But no sounds were to be heard.

It was half-past eleven. A look of fear had come over his face.

Katherine could bear it no longer. She went into the next room, where
Ted was standing at the window. She laid her hands on his shoulder,
clinging to him.

"Oh Ted, Ted," she whispered, fiercely. "She'll kill him. He'll _die_ if
she doesn't come. And--she isn't coming."

Ted had never known his sister do that before. It was horrible, like
seeing a man cry. He put his arms round her (he had almost to hold her
up), and comforted her as best he could. But she put him from her
gently, and went back to her post.

"She'll come to-morrow, Vincent," she said.

"No. If she were coming, she would have wired."

But that was just what Audrey had forgotten to do. By the time she had
reached Barnstaple, she was too much taken up with her own tragic
importance to think of any small detail of the kind.

Vincent had turned over on his side. He had no more hope, and nothing
mattered now. He had done his best, but was not going to carry on a
trivial dispute with death.

But though his spirit had given up the struggle, his body still fought
on with its own blind will, a long, weary fight that seemed as if it
would never end. Towards morning he became to all appearance
unconscious.

At seven o'clock the front-door bell rang; there was a stir in the hall
and the sound of Mrs. Rogers' voice whispering.

Then the door opened and closed softly. Audrey was standing there, a
strange figure in the dim white room, wrapped in her bearskins, and
glowing with life and the fresh morning air.

At first she could distinguish nothing in the shaded light. Then she
made out Ted, sitting with his back to her at the foot of the bed, and
Katherine standing at the head of it. But when she saw the motionless
figure raised by pillows, and vaguely defined under the disordered
bedclothes, a terror seized her, and she hid her face in her hands.

"Come here, Audrey," said Katherine, gently. And she came--gliding,
trembling, as she had come to him that afternoon at Chelsea, a year and
a half ago. But she kept her eyes fixed on Katherine. She was afraid to
look _there_.

"Take his hand. Speak to him."

Audrey looked round, but Ted had left the room. Her small white hand
slid out of her muff, warm with the warm fur, and rested on Vincent's
hand; but no words came. She was sick with fear.

The touch was enough. Warm and caressing, the little fingers curled into
the hollow of his hand and Vincent woke from his stupor. He opened his
eyes, but their look was vague and wondering; he was not conscious yet.
Katherine moved aside and drew up the blind, and the faint daylight fell
on Audrey's face, as her eyes still followed Katherine.

For one instant his brain seemed to fill suddenly with light. It
streamed from his brain into the room, and he saw her standing in the
midst of it.

"Audrey!" The loud hoarse voice startled Katherine, and made Audrey
shake with fright. His hand closed tightly on hers, and he sank back
into unconsciousness.

For two hours the two women kept watch together by his bed: Katherine at
the head, holding Vincent in her strong arms; Audrey sitting at the foot
with her back turned to him, pressing her handkerchief to her mouth. At
nine o'clock she shivered and looked round, as Vincent's head sank
forward on his breast.

Katherine, standing at the back of the bed, first saw what had happened
by the change on Audrey's face. The corners of her mouth had suddenly
straightened, and she started up, white and rigid.

"He's dead! Take me away, Katherine--take me away!"

But this time Katherine neither saw nor heard her.

       *       *       *       *       *

"No; he was bound to die. What else could you expect after the life he
led, poor fellow?"

It was all over. Audrey had dragged herself out of the room, she
scarcely knew how--dragged herself up to Katherine's room and thrown
herself on the bed in a passion of weeping; and Katherine, kneeling for
the second time by Vincent's side, could hear the verdict of science
through the half-open door. Dr. Crashawe was talking to Ted.

Neither Audrey nor Katherine knew how they got through the next three
days. Audrey was afraid to sleep alone, and Katherine had her with her
night and day. Audrey would have gone back to Chelsea but for her fear,
and for a feeling that to leave Devon Street would be a miserable
abandonment of a great situation. All those three days Katherine was
tender to her for Vincent's sake. Happily for her, Audrey disliked going
into his room; she was afraid of the long figure under the straight
white sheet. Katherine could keep her watch with him again alone; she
had no rival there.

Once indeed they stood by his bed together, when Katherine drew back the
sheet from his face, and Audrey laid above his heart a wreath of
eucharis lilies, the symbol of purity.

They stood beside him, the woman who loved him and the woman he had
loved; and they envied him, one the peace, the other the glory of
death.



CHAPTER XXV


It was early one morning about a week after the funeral. Hardy had gone
to his grave, followed last by his friends, and first by his next of
kin, Audrey, and the man who had Lavernac. Audrey was still (as she
always had been) his affectionate cousin. The fact was expressly stated
on the visiting-card attached to the flowers wherewith she had covered
his coffin.

It was in Katherine's bedroom. Katherine was still in bed, waiting for
Audrey to be dressed before her. Audrey was sitting at the
dressing-table brushing her hair, twisting it into the big coil that
shone like copper on the surface, with a dull dark red at the heart of
it. She had on Katherine's white dressing-gown and Katherine's slippers.
She had laughed when she put them on, they were so ridiculously large
for her tiny feet.

Audrey was rebounding after the pressure that had been put on her during
the last ten days. The weight was lifted now. After all, she had not
felt herself an important actor in that drama of death. Death himself
had come and waived her coldly aside. She had been nothing in that
household filled with his presence. Here again she had been overpowered
by one of those unseen, incomprehensible things that she could not
grasp, but that crushed her and made her of no account. At times, in her
misery, she had even felt a vague, faint jealousy of the dead. But since
the day of the funeral her supple nature had unbent. She could talk now,
and she talked incessantly, generally about Vincent.

She had begun by monopolising his memory, making it a sacred possession
of her own, till not even that consolation was left to Katherine. Audrey
stood between her and every scene connected in her mind with Vincent;
the figure of Audrey seemed to draw nearer and grow larger, until it
covered everything else. Her stream of talk was blotting out the
impressions that Katherine most longed to keep, giving to the past a
transient character of its own. She was killing remembrance; and there
came upon Katherine a fear of the forgetfulness where all things end.

And now, as she lay there watching Audrey, she recalled the truth that
she had lost sight of since Vincent's death--the truth that he had told
her. He would have loved her--if it had not been for Audrey. She had
begun to realise the intensity of the duel which had been between Audrey
and her from the first.

It had begun in the days when Audrey had stood in the way of Ted's
career; it had gone on afterwards, when it was to be feared that she had
done him still more grievous harm; and it had ended in separating
Katherine from Vincent, and even from his memory. Rather, that duel had
neither beginning nor end. There was something foregone and inevitable
about it, something that had its roots deep down in their opposite
natures. It had to be. It had been from the hour when she first met
Audrey until now, when the two women were again thrown together in a
detestable mockery of friendship, forced into each other's arms, lying
by each other's side.

Audrey had been quiet for some time, and Katherine was nervously
wondering when she would begin.

"Katherine," she said at last, "I want you to come back with me to
Chelsea to-day." The fact was, Miss Craven was in Devonshire, and Audrey
was still afraid to be in the house by herself.

"I couldn't, possibly. I can't leave Ted."

"That doesn't matter. Ted can come too."

What _was_ Audrey's mind like? Had it no memory?

"I think not, Audrey."

Audrey said no more. She gave the last touches to her hair, put on her
black dress, and turned herself slowly round before the looking-glass.
She was satisfied with the result.

It was her last day in Devon Street, so the Havilands had to be nice to
her. Ted went out soon after breakfast; he was incapable of any
sustained effort. Audrey did not know it, but the boy hated the house
now that she was in it. Katherine had dreaded being left alone with her
that morning. She knew that last words would come. And they came.

They were sitting together by the studio fire, talking about indifferent
subjects, when suddenly Audrey left her seat and knelt down by
Katherine's knees in at attitude of confession.

"Katherine," she began, and her grey eyes filled with tears, "before I
go, I want to tell you something----"

"What is it?"

"I want you to know that I really loved Vincent all the time."

She waited to see the effect of her words, but Katherine set her teeth
firmly and said nothing. Audrey went on, still kneeling. "I don't know
what made me get engaged to Ted,--I liked him, you know, dear boy,
but--I think it was because Vincent would not understand me; and he
wanted to hurry things so. And you see I didn't know then how much I
loved him. Then afterwards----" She stopped; she had come to the
difficult part of her confession.

"Well?"

"Then, you see, I knew Mr. Wyndham, and he----" Another pause.

"What did Mr. Wyndham do?" It was better that she should talk about Mr.
Wyndham than about Vincent.

"I don't know what he did, but he made me mad; he made me think I cared
for him. He was so clever. You know I always adored clever people; and,
well--nobody could call poor Vincent clever, _could_ they?"

In spite of herself, Katherine's lip curled with scorn. But Audrey was
too much absorbed in her confession to see it.

"I suppose that fascinated me. Then afterwards when Vincent took to
those dreadful ways--whatever my feelings were, you _know_, Katherine,
it was impossible."

Katherine could bear it no longer, but she managed to control her voice
in answering. "Why do you tell me these things? Do you suppose I care to
hear about your 'feelings'?--if you do feel."

"If I _do_ feel? Kathy!"

"Well, why can't you keep quiet, now it's too late?"

"Because--because I wanted you to know that I loved him."

There was silence. Presently Audrey put one hand on Katherine's knee.

"Kathy----"

"I'd rather you didn't call me that, if you don't mind."

"Why?" Audrey stared with large, incomprehensive eyes.

"I can't tell you why."

"Katherine, then--it _is_ prettier. Do you know, I sometimes think it's
better, oh, infinitely better, that he should have died."

Katherine rose from her seat, to end it, looking down on the kneeling
figure, as she answered bitterly--

"It was indeed--infinitely better."

But irony, like so many other things of the kind, was beyond Audrey.

"I suppose I ought to go now," she said, rising. Katherine made no
answer.

Audrey went away to get ready, a little reluctantly, for she had so much
more to say. It had never occurred to her to be jealous of Katherine.
That may have been either because she did not know, or because she did
not care. She had been so sure of Vincent.

Presently she came back with her hat on. She carried her bearskins in
her hand, and under the shade of the broad black beaver her face wore an
expression of anxious thought.

"Katherine,"--she held out her cape and muff, and Katherine remembered
that they were those which Vincent had given her,--"I suppose I can wear
my furs still, even if I _am_ in mourning?"

There was neither scorn nor irony in the look that Katherine turned on
her, and Audrey understood this time. As plainly as looks can speak, it
condemned her as altogether lighter than vanity itself; and while
condemning, it forgave her.

"_He_ gave them to me, you know," she said at last. Audrey's pathos
generally came too late.

She drove away, wrapped in her furs, and for once unconscious of her
own beauty, so dissatisfied was she with the part she had played in the
great tragedy. Somehow her parts seemed always to dwindle this way in
retrospect.

That afternoon a parcel arrived, addressed to Hardy by his publishers.
Katherine opened it. It contained early copies of the Pioneer-book, the
book that after all Vincent was never to see.

She saw with a pang her own design blazing in gold on the cover, and her
frontispiece sketch of the author. Then she turned to the dedication
page, and read--

                TO HER
           WHO HAS INSPIRED
  ALL THAT THERE MAY BE OF GOOD IN IT
        THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED
      BY HER AFFECTIONATE COUSIN,
            VINCENT HARDY.

It was an epitaph.



CHAPTER XXVI


One day's work among the poor of St. Teresa's, Lambeth, is enough to
exhaust you, if you are at all sensitive and highly strung, and Audrey
had had three days of it. No wonder, then, that as she leaned back in a
particularly hard wooden chair in the vicar's study every nerve in her
body was on edge.

It was a year after Vincent's death. With lapse of time that event had
lost much of its oppressive magnificence, and it affected Audrey more in
looking back than it had done in reality. Time, too, had thrown her
relations with Wyndham into relief; and as she realised more and more
their true nature, the conscience that had been so long quiescent began
to stir in her. Its voice seemed to be seconding Wyndham's and
Katherine's verdict. She became uneasy about herself. Once more, this
time in serious sincerity, she felt the need of a stronger personality
upholding and pervading her own. Absolute dependence on somebody else's
character had become a habit of her nature: she could no more live now
without some burning stimulus to thought and feeling than the drunkard
can satisfy his thirst with plain water. Naturally she thought of Mr.
Flaxman Reed, as Katherine had thought of him the midnight before
Vincent's death, or as she had thought of him herself in the day of her
temptation. This time she had ended by going to him, as many a woman had
gone before, with her empty life in her hands, begging that it might be
filled. For all cases of the kind Mr. Flaxman Reed had one remedy--work
in the parish of St. Teresa's; as a rule it either killed or cured them.
But he had spared Audrey hitherto, as he would have spared some sick
child a medicine too strong and bitter for it. Finally, much to his
surprise, she asked him for the work of her own accord, and he gave it
to her.

And now she had had three days of it. It was enough. It made her head
ache yet to think of all she had gone through. For the first two days
she had been sustained by a new and wholly delightful sensation, the
consciousness of her own goodness; on the third day that support had
suddenly given way. A woman's coarse word, the way a man had looked at
her as she lifted her silk petticoats out of the mud, some bit of crude
criticism such as Demos publishes at street corners in the expressive
vernacular, had been sufficient to destroy all the bright illusions that
gilded the gutters of Lambeth--reflections of a day that was not hers.
And yet, she had come into a new world with new ideas and new emotions;
if not the best of all possible worlds, it was better than any which had
once seemed probable, and she wanted to stay in it. She was dazzled by
the splendour of religion. The curtain had risen on the great
miracle-play of the soul; she, too, longed to dance in the masque of the
virtues and the graces. Every fresh phase of life had presented itself
to Audrey in spectacular magnificence; she could not help seeing things
so, it was the way her mind worked. The candles burning on the high
altar of St. Teresa's were only footlights in the wrong place; and the
veil that Mr. Flaxman Reed had lifted a little for her was the curtain
going up before another stage. Meanwhile while she had to consider his
possible criticism of her own acting. Sitting in the hard ascetic chair,
she looked round the room and tried to understand a little of its
owner's life. Every detail in it was a challenge to her intelligence.
She perplexed herself with questions. Why didn't Mr. Flaxman Reed have a
proper carpet on the floor? Why didn't he hang a curtain over that ugly
green baize door? It led into the room where he held his classes and
entertained his poorer parishioners; that room was also his dining-room.
How could he eat his meals after all those dreadful people had been in
it, poor things? Why only common deal book-cases, a varnished desk, and
that little painted table underneath the big crucifix? Why these
painfully uneasy chairs, and--yes--only one picture, and that of the
most emaciated of Madonnas? Could not her old favourite Botticelli have
supplied him with a lovelier type? Or there was Raphael. Sometimes, on a
Sunday evening after service, she had come in here from the rich, warm,
scented church, with the music of an august liturgy ringing in her ears,
and the chill place had struck like death to all her senses. And this
was the atmosphere in which his life was spent--this, and the gaunt
streets and the terrible slums of Lambeth.

She was not left long alone, for Mr. Flaxman Reed never kept any one
waiting if he could help it. As he seated himself opposite to her, the
set lines of his face relaxed and his manner softened. Her eyes followed
the outline of his face, which stood out white and sharp against the
dark window-curtain. She noted the crossed legs, the hands folded on his
knees, the weary pose of the whole wasted figure. It ought to have been
an appeal to her pity. The poor man was suffering from many kinds of
hunger, and from intense exhaustion. He had just dismissed a tiresome
parishioner, and, vexed with himself for having kept Audrey waiting, had
left his dinner in the next room untouched, and came all unnerved to
this interview which he dreaded yet desired. He listened quietly to the
story of her failure; it was not only what he had expected, but what he
had wished.

"It's no good my trying any more," she urged in the pleading voice that
she could make so sweet. "I can't do anything. The sight of those poor
wretches' misery only makes me miserable too. I dream of it at night. I
assure you it's been the most awful three days I ever spent in my
life."

"Has it?"

"Yes. I feel things so terribly, you know; and it's not as if I could do
anything--I simply can't. What _must_ you think of me?"

"I think nothing. I knew that you would tell me this, and I am glad."

"Are you? Glad that I failed?"

"Yes; glad and thankful." He paused; his thin sensitive lips trembled,
and when he spoke again it was in a low constrained voice, as if he were
struggling with some powerful feeling.

"I wanted you to learn by failure that it is not what we know, nor what
we do, but what we are that matters in the sight of God."

"Yes, I know that." She sat looking up, with her head a little on one
side, holding her chin in one hand: it had been her attitude in her
student days at Oxford when trying to follow a difficult lecture, and
she reverted to it now. For Mr. Flaxman Reed was very difficult. His
style fascinated and yet repelled her, and in this case the style was
the man.

"What am I?" said Audrey, presently. It was a curious question, and none
of her friends had answered it to her satisfaction. She was eager to
know Mr. Reed's opinion. He turned and looked at her, and his eyes were
two clear lights under the shadow of the sharp eyebone.

"What are you? With all your faults and all your failures, you are
something infinitely more valuable than you know."

"What makes you say so?"

"I say so because I think that God cares more for those that hunger and
thirst after righteousness than for those who are filled at his table.
Believe me, nothing in all our intercourse has touched me so much as
this confession of your failure."

"Has it really? Can you--can you trust me again in spite of it?"

"Yes; you have trusted me. I take it as one of the greatest pleasures,
the greatest privileges of my life, that you should have come to me as
you have done--not when you were bright and happy, but in your weakness
and distress, in what I imagine to have been the darkest hour of all,
when refuge failed you, and no man cared for your soul."

"No; that's the worst of it,--that there's nobody to turn to--nobody
cares. If I thought that you cared--but----"

"Indeed I care."

"For my soul--yes." Her "yes" was a deep sigh.

"Why not? It is my office. A priest is answerable to God for the souls
of his people."

He spoke with a touch of austerity in his tone. Something warned him
that if this conversation was to be profitable to either of them, he
must avoid personalities. His position in the Church was a compromise.
His attitude towards Audrey Craven was only another kind of
compromise,--so much concession to her weakness, so much to her
appealing womanhood. He had begun by believing in her soul,--that was
the plea he made to the fierce exacting conscience, always requiring a
spiritual motive for his simplest actions,--and he had ended by creating
the thing he believed in, and in his own language he was answerable to
God for it. But hitherto with his own nature he had made no compromise.
He had sacrificed heart, senses, and intellect to the tyranny of his
conscience; he had ceased to dread their insane revolt against that
benevolent despotism. And now the question that tormented him was
whether all the time he had not been temporising with his own inexorable
humanity, whether his relations with Audrey Craven did not involve a
perpetual intrigue between the earthly and the heavenly. For there was a
strange discrepancy between his simple heart that took all things
seriously--even a frivolous woman--and the tortuous entangled thing that
was his conscience. He went on at first in the same self-controlled
voice, monotonous but for a peculiar throbbing stress on some words, and
he seemed to be speaking more to himself than her.

"You say you can do nothing, and I believe it. What of that? The things
that are seen are temporal, the things that are unseen are eternal. Our
deeds are of the things that are seen; they are part of the visible
finite world, done with our hands, with our body. They belong to the
flesh that profiteth nothing. It is only the spirit, only the pure and
holy will, that gives them life. That will is not ours--not yours or
mine. Before we can receive it our will must die; otherwise there would
be two wills in us struggling for possession. You have come to me for
help--after all I can give you none. I can only tell you what I
know--that there is no way of peace but the way of renunciation. I can
only say: if your will is not yet one with God's will, renounce it--give
it up. Then and then only you will live--not before. Look there!" he
pointed to the crucifix. "The great Pagan religions had each their
symbol of life. For us who are Christ's the symbol of life is the
crucifix. Crucify self. When you have done that, you will have no need
to come and ask me what you must do and what you must leave undone. Your
deeds are--they _must_ be pure."

His excitement moved her, her eyes filled with tears; but she followed
his words slowly and painfully. He was always making these speeches to
her, full of the things she could not understand. How often she had felt
this sense of effort and pain in the old "art" days with Ted, or when
she had been held helpless in the grasp of Wyndham's relentless
intellect. She had chafed when the barriers rose between her mind and
theirs. But between her and this nineteenth century ascetic there was an
immeasurable gulf fixed; she could not reach the hand he stretched out
to her across it. Even his living presence seemed endlessly far from
hers, and the thought of that separation filled her with a deep resigned
humility. Now, though his thoughts were poured into her consciousness
without mixing with it, cloudy, insoluble, troubling its blank
transparency, something in the rhythmic movement of his words stirred
her, so responsive was she to every impression of sense. They recalled
to her that other gospel of life preached to her by Langley, and though
she understood imperfectly, she felt the difference with shame. The
young priest went on, still as if speaking to himself.

"There are only two things we have to learn--the knowledge of self and
the knowledge of God, and they hang together. If there is any sin in us,
unconfessed and unrecognised as sin, there is no knowledge of God and no
union with him possible for us."

She rose, moved a step forward, and then stood looking at him
irresolutely. Truly a revelation was there for her; but she was in that
state of excitement in which we are more capable of making revelations
than of receiving them. He had risen too, and was holding out his hand.
"Well," he said more gently, "there is something you want to say to me.
Please sit down again."

She shook her head and still stood upright. Possessed with the thought
of the confession she was about to make, she felt that she needed all
the dignity that attitude afforded. At last she spoke, very low and
quickly, keeping her eyes fixed on the floor.

"You say you know me, but you don't. You don't know what I am--what I am
capable of. But I must tell you,--the thought of it is stifling me.
Once, only two years ago, I had a terrible temptation. It came to me
through some one whom I loved--very dearly. I was ready to give up
everything--_everything_, you understand--for him; and I would have done
it, only--God was good to me. He made it impossible for me, and I was
saved. But I am just as bad, just as guilty, as if he had let it
happen."

It was done. The unutterable thing was said. For once Audrey had been
absolutely truthful and sincere. The soul that he had evoked had come
forth as it were new-born out of the darkness.

At first neither of them spoke. Then he sat down and thanked her,
simply, for what she had just told him. But to his own shame and grief
he had nothing more to say. He had heard many a confession, and from
many a guiltier woman's lips, but none so piteous, because none so
purely spontaneous, as this. And to all he had given pity, counsel, and
help.

But now he was dumb.

She was thirsting for help, for help that she could understand. She
clasped her hands imploringly and looked into his face, but it had no
pity for her and no deliverance. She could see nothing there but
grief--grief terrible and profound.

"I see. Then you too judge me--like the rest."

"God forbid. I judge no man." Which was true, for it was the woman he
had judged.

She looked at him again, a long look full of wonder and reproach; then
she went quietly away.

She had reached the end of the narrow passage leading from the study to
the front hall, when she recollected that she had left behind her a
small manual of devotion. He had given it to her not long ago. She went
back for it, and knocked softly at the study door. There was no answer,
and supposing that he had gone through into the room beyond, she opened
the door and looked in.

He was kneeling in the far corner of the study, with his hands stretched
out before the crucifix. From the threshold where she stood she could
see the agony of his uplifted face and hear his prayer. "O wretched man
that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?"

Audrey knew then that for one moment the love she had hungered and
thirsted after, more than after righteousness, had been actually within
her grasp, and that she had lost it. The shadow of an uncommitted sin
stood between her and the one man by whom and for whom she could have
grown pure and womanly and good. For Flaxman Reed had loved her, though
up to that evening he had been in complete ignorance of the fact, being
already wedded to what the world considers an impossible ideal.

Such is the power of suggestion, that Audrey's confession of her
weakness had revealed to him his own. If she had been all that he
believed her to be, he might not have regarded his feeling for her as in
itself of the nature of sin; but his sensitive soul, made morbid by its
self-imposed asceticism, recoiled from the very thought of impurity in
the woman he loved. Hence his powerlessness to help her. He knew, none
better, that a stronger man would not have felt this difficulty. He had
trembled before his own intellect; now he was afraid of his own heart.

Audrey--it was for such that his Christ had died. And he could not even
speak a word to save her.

He became almost blasphemous in his agony. Christ had died on _his_
cross. He, Christ's servant, had crucified self--and it could not die.
Was this the ironic destiny of all ideals too austere for earth, too
divine for humanity?

Not long afterwards Flaxman Reed was received into the communion of the
Church of Rome. He had done with compromise.



CHAPTER XXVII


It was Audrey's fate to be condemned by those whom she had most cared
for. Ted and Vincent, Langley and Katherine, and lastly Mr. Flaxman
Reed, they had all judged her--harshly, imperfectly, as human nature
judges. Of the five, perhaps Vincent, because he was a child of Nature,
and Katherine, because she was a good woman, alone appreciated the more
pathetic of Audrey's effects. She presented the moving spectacle of a
small creature struggling with things too great for her. Love, art,
nature, religion, she had never really given herself up to any one of
them; but she had called upon them all in turn, and instead of
sustaining, they had overwhelmed her.

And it seemed that Mr. Flaxman Reed, as the minister of the religion in
which she had sought shelter for a day, had failed her the most
unexpectedly, and in her direst necessity. And yet he had done more for
her than any of the others. She had lied to all of them; he had made it
possible for her to be true. Flaxman Reed would certainly not have
called himself a psychological realist; but by reason of his one
strength, his habit of constant communion with the unseen, he had
solved Langley Wyndham's problem. It would never have occurred to the
great novelist, in his search for the real Audrey, to look deeper than
the "primitive passions," or to suspect that the secret of personality
could lie in so pure a piece of mechanism as the human conscience.

Soon after her confession Audrey left town for the neighbourhood of
Oxford. She may have perceived that London was too vast a stage for her
slender performances; or she may have had some idea of following up a
line slanting gently between the two paths pointed out to her by Langley
Wyndham and Flaxman Reed, who had been the strongest forces in her life.
She had come to herself, but she was not the stuff of which renunciants
are made.

It was about three years later that Mr. Langley Wyndham, looking over
his "Times" one morning, had the joy of reading the announcement of Miss
Audrey Craven's marriage with Algernon Jackson, Esq., of Broughton
Poggs, in the county of Oxfordshire.

It was true. After all, Audrey had married a nonentity: it was the end
of her long quest of the eminent and superlative.

Mr. Jackson was certainly not an eminent person, and he was superlative
only in so far as he passed for "the biggest bore in the county"; but he
had the positive merit of being a gentleman, which in these days of a
talented democracy amounts almost to genius. Since that night when, as a
guileless undergraduate, he had interfered with Audrey's first
introduction to Langley Wyndham, Mr. Jackson's career had been
simplicity itself. He had tried most of the learned professions, and
failed in all he tried. He then took up model goose-farming on a large
scale, and achieved success amidst the jeers of his family and friends.
The echo of that derision was soon lost in the jingle of Algernon's
guineas. Not every one can attain a golden mediocrity; and it was a
great step for a man who had hitherto ranked as a nonentity. On the
strength of it he asked the beautiful Miss Craven to be his wife, and no
one was more surprised than himself when she consented. She was his
first and last love--of a series of loves. For Mr. Jackson had never
read "Laura"; indeed he read but few books, and if you had told him of
Langley Wyndham's masterpiece to-day, he would have forgotten all about
it by to-morrow; he would certainly never have thought of identifying
its heroine with his wife.

Nobody ever understood why Audrey made that marriage. For any one who
had enjoyed the friendship of such men as Langley Wyndham and Flaxman
Reed, there was bathos in the step; it seemed an ugly concession to
actuality. It may have been; for Audrey was nothing if not modern, the
daughter of an age that has flirted with half-a-dozen ideals, all
equally fascinating, and finally decided in favour of a mature realism.
She may have learned that hardest lesson of the schools, the translation
of life's drama from fancy into fact; found out that all the time the
grey old chorus has been singing, not of love and joy, as she once in
her ignorance imagined, but of unspeakable rest on the great consoling
platitudes of life, where there is no more revelation because there is
no mystery, and no despair because there is no hope. The text of that
chorus is often corrupt, but the meaning is never hopelessly obscure. In
other words, she may have married Mr. Jackson in a fit of pessimism.

Or perhaps--perhaps she had profited by the more cheerful though equally
important lesson of the playground; learned that whether the game of
life be fast or slow, dull or amusing, matters little when you are
knocked out in the first round (she herself had had many rounds, not
counting Mr. Jackson); that in these circumstances one may still find
considerable entertainment in looking on; and that in any case the
player is not for the game, but the game for the player. The player--who
may be left on the ground long after all games have been played out. But
this is to suppose that Audrey was a philosopher, which is manifestly
absurd.

Perhaps! More likely than not her revelation came when she was least
looking for it, stumbling by the merest accident on one of "the great
things of life," the eternal, the incomprehensible; for of these some
say that the greatest is love. It is certainly the most
incomprehensible. She may have loved Mr. Jackson. If she did not, she
has never let him know it.



                             THE END


+--------------------------------------------------------------+
|                                                              |
|                      Transcriber's note                      |
|                                                              |
|   The spelling of the following words which appear to be     |
|              printers errors has been changed.               |
|                                                              |
|    gods            to    goods                               |
|    effection       to    affection                           |
|    it              to    if                                  |
|    undergratuate   to    undergraduate                       |
|                                                              |
|                                                              |
|  Other inconsistencies are as in the original. The author's  |
|                spelling has been maintained.                 |
|                                                              |
|                                                              |
|    Passages in italic font are indicated by _italic_.        |
|                                                              |
+--------------------------------------------------------------+





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Audrey Craven" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home