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: Mortal Coils
Author: Huxley, Aldous, 1894-1963
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 "Mortal Coils" ***

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



MORTAL COILS

By

ALDOUS HUXLEY

NEW YORK-GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY

1921



CONTENTS


I: THE GIOCONDA SMILE

II: PERMUTATIONS AMONG THE NIGHTINGALES

III: THE TILLOTSON BANQUET

IV: GREEN TUNNELS

V: NUNS AT LUNCHEON



MORTAL COILS



I: THE GIOCONDA SMILE



I


"Miss Spence will be down directly, sir."

"Thank you," said Mr. Hutton, without turning round. Janet Spence's
parlourmaid was so ugly--ugly on purpose, it always seemed to him,
malignantly, criminally ugly--that he could not bear to look at her
more than was necessary. The door closed. Left to himself, Mr. Hutton
got up and began to wander round the room, looking with meditative eyes
at the familiar objects it contained.

Photographs of Greek statuary, photographs of the Roman Forum, coloured
prints of Italian masterpieces, all very safe and well known. Poor, dear
Janet, what a prig--what an intellectual snob! Her real taste was
illustrated in that water-colour by the pavement artist, the one she had
paid half a crown for (and thirty-five shillings for the frame). How
often his had heard her tell the story, how often expatiate on the
beauties of that skilful imitation of an oleograph! "A real Artist in
the streets," and you could hear the capital A in Artist as she spoke
the words. She made you feel that part of his glory had entered into
Janet Spence when she tendered him that half-crown for the copy of the
oleograph. She was implying a compliment to her own taste and
penetration. A genuine Old Master for half a crown. Poor, dear Janet!

Mr. Hutton came to a pause in front of a small oblong mirror. Stooping a
little to get a full view of his face, he passed a white, well-manicured
finger over his moustache. It was as curly, as freshly auburn as it had
been twenty years ago. His hair still retained its colour, and there was
no sign of baldness yet--only a certain elevation of the brow.
"Shakespearean," thought Mr. Hutton, with a smile, as he surveyed the
smooth and polished expanse of his forehead.

Others abide our question, thou art free.... Footsteps in the sea ...
Majesty ... Shakespeare, thou shouldst be living at this hour. No, that
was Milton, wasn't it? Milton, the Lady of Christ's. There was no lady
about him. He was what the women, would call a manly man. That was why
they liked him--for the curly auburn moustache and the discreet
redolence of tobacco. Mr. Hutton smiled again; he enjoyed making fun of
himself. Lady of Christ's? No, no. He was the Christ of Ladies. Very
pretty, very pretty. The Christ of Ladies. Mr. Hutton wished there were
somebody he could tell the joke to. Poor, dear Janet wouldn't appreciate
it, alas?

He straightened himself up, patted his hair, and resumed his
peregrination. Damn the Roman Forum; he hated those dreary photographs.

Suddenly he became aware that Janet Spence was in the room, standing
near the door. Mr. Hutton started, as though he had been taken in some
felonious act. To make these silent and spectral appearances was one of
Janet Spence's peculiar talents. Perhaps she had been there all the
time, had seen him looking at himself in the mirror. Impossible! But,
still, it was disquieting.

"Oh, you gave me such a surprise," said Mr. Hutton, recovering his smile
and advancing with outstretched hand to meet her.

Miss Spence was smiling too: her Gioconda smile, he had once called it,
in a moment of half-ironical flattery. Miss Spence had taken the
compliment seriously, and had always tried to live up to the Leonardo
standard. She smiled on his silence while Mr. Hutton shook hands; that
was part of the Gioconda business.

"I hope you're well," said Mr. Hutton. "You look it."

What a queer face she had! That small mouth pursed forward by the
Gioconda expression into a little snout with a round hole in the middle
as though for whistling--it was like a penholder seen from the front.
Above the mouth a well-shaped nose, finely aquiline. Eyes large,
lustrous, and dark, with the largeness, lustre, and darkness that seems
to invite sties and an occasional blood-shot suffusion. They were fine
eyes, but unchangingly grave. The penholder might do its Gioconda trick,
but the eyes never altered in their earnestness. Above them, a pair of
boldly arched, heavily pencilled black eyebrows lent a surprising air of
power, as of a Roman matron, to the upper portion of the face. Her hair
was dark and equally Roman; Agrippina from the brows upward.

"I thought I'd just look in on my way home," Mr. Hutton went on. "Ah,
it's good to be back here"--he indicated with a wave of his hand the
flowers in the vases, the sunshine and greenery beyond the windows
--"it's good to be back in the country after a stuffy day of business in
town."

Miss Spence, who had sat down, pointed to a chair at her side.

"No, really, I cant sit down," Mr. Hutton protested. "I must get back to
see how poor Emily is. She was rather seedy this morning." He sat down,
nevertheless. "It's these wretched liver chills. She's always getting
them. Women--" He broke off and coughed, so as to hide the fact that he
had uttered. He was about to say that women with weak digestions ought
not to marry; but the remark was too cruel, and he didn't really believe
it. Janet Spence, moreover, was a believer in eternal flames and
spiritual attachments. "She hopes to be well enough," he added, "to see
you at luncheon to-morrow. Can you come? Do!" He smiled persuasively.
"It's my invitation too, you know."

She dropped her eyes, and Mr. Hutton almost thought that he detected a
certain reddening of the cheek. It was a tribute; he stroked his
moustache.

"I should like to come if you think Emily's really well enough to have a
visitor."

"Of course. You'll do her good. You'll do us both good. In married life
three is often better company than two."

"Oh, you're cynical."

Mr. Hutton always had a desire to say "Bow-wow-wow" whenever that last
word was spoken. It irritated him more than any other word in the
language. But instead of barking he made haste to protest.

"No, no. I'm only speaking a melancholy truth. Reality doesn't always
come up to the ideal, you know. But that doesn't make me believe any the
less in the ideal. Indeed, I believe in it passionately the ideal of a
matrimony between two people in perfect accord. I think it's realisable.
I'm sure it is."

He paused significantly and looked at her with an arch expression. A
virgin of thirty-six, but still unwithered; she had her charms. And
there was something really rather enigmatic about her. Miss Spence made
no reply but continued to smile. There were times when Mr. Hutton got
rather bored with the Gioconda. He stood up.

"I must really be going now. Farewell, mysterious Gioconda." The smile
grew intenser, focused itself, as it were, in a narrower snout. Mr.
Hutton made a Cinquecento gesture, and kissed her extended hand. It was
the first time he had done such a thing; the action seemed not to be
resented. "I look forward to to-morrow."

"Do you?"

For answer Mr. Hutton once more kissed her hand, then turned to go. Miss
Spence accompanied him to the porch.

"Where's your car?" she asked.

"I left it at the gate of the drive."

"I'll come and see you off."

"No, no." Mr. Hutton was playful, but determined. "You must do no such
thing. I simply forbid you."

"But I should like to come," Miss Spence protested, throwing a rapid
Gioconda at him.

Mr. Hutton held up his hand. "No," he repeated, and then, with a gesture
that was almost the blowing of a kiss, he started to run down the drive,
lightly on his toes, with long, bounding strides like a boy's. He was
proud of that run; it was quite marvellously youthful. Still, he was
glad the drive was no longer. At the last bend, before passing out of
sight of the house, he halted and turned round. Miss Spence was still
standing on the steps, smiling her smile. He waved his hand, and this
time quite definitely and overtly wafted a kiss in her direction. Then,
breaking once more into his magnificent canter, he rounded the last dark
promontory of trees. Once out of sight of the house he let his high
paces decline to a trot, and finally to a walk. He took out his
handkerchief and began wiping his neck inside his collar. What fools,
what fools! Had there ever been such an ass as poor, dear Janet Spence?
Never, unless it was himself. Decidedly he was the more malignant fool,
since he, at least, was aware of his folly and still persisted in it.
Why did he persist? Ah, the problem that was himself, the problem that
was other people.

He had reached the gate. A large, prosperous-looking motor was standing
at the side of the road.

"Home, M'Nab." The chauffeur touched his cap. "And stop at the
cross-roads on the way, as usual," Mr. Hutton added, as he opened the
door of the car. "Well?" he said, speaking into the obscurity that
lurked within.

"Oh, Teddy Bear, what an age you've been!" It was a fresh and childish
voice that spoke the words. There was the faintest hint of Cockney
impurity about the vowel sounds.

Mr. Hutton bent his large form and darted into the car with the agility
of an animal regaining its burrow.

"Have I?" he said, as he shut the door. The machine began to move. "You
must have missed me a lot if you found the time so long." He sat back
in the low seat; a cherishing warmth enveloped him.

"Teddy Bear...." and with a sigh of contentment a charming little head
declined on to Mr. Hutton's shoulder. Ravished, he looked down sideways
at the round, babyish face.

"Do you know, Doris, you look like the pictures of Louise de
Kerouaille." He passed his fingers through a mass of curly hair.

"Who's Louise de Kera-whatever-it-is?" Doris spoke from remote
distances.

"She was, alas! _Fuit_. We shall all be 'was' one of these days.
Meanwhile...."

Mr. Hutton covered the babyish face with kisses. The car rushed smoothly
along. McNab's back, through the front window was stonily impassive, the
back of a statue.

"Your hands," Doris whispered. "Oh, you mustn't touch me. They give me
electric shocks."

Mr. Hutton adored her for the virgin imbecility of the words. How late
in one's existence one makes the discovery of one's body!

"The electricity isn't in me, it's in you." He kissed her again,
whispering her name several times: Doris, Doris, Doris. The scientific
appellation of the sea-mouse, he was thinking as he kissed the throat,
she offered him, white and extended like the throat of a victim awaiting
the sacrificial knife. The sea-mouse was a sausage with iridescent fur:
very peculiar. Or was Doris the sea cucumber, which turns itself inside
out in moments of alarm? He would really have to go to Naples again,
just to see the aquarium. These sea creatures were fabulous,
unbelievably fantastic.

"Oh, Teddy Bear!" (More zoology; but he was only a land animal. His poor
little jokes!) "Teddy Bear, I'm so happy."

"So am I," said Mr. Hutton. Was it true?

"But I wish I knew if it were right. Tell me, Teddy Bear, is it right or
wrong?"

"Ah, my dear, that's just what I've been wondering for the last thirty
years."

"Be serious, Teddy Bear. I want to know if this is right; if it's right
that I should be here with you and that we should love one another, and
that it should give me electric shocks when you touch me."

"Right? Well, it's certainly good that you should have electric shocks
rather than sexual repressions. Read Freud; repressions are the devil."

"Oh, you don't help me. Why aren't you ever serious? If only you knew
how miserable I am sometimes, thinking it's not right. Perhaps, you
know, there is a hell, and all that. I don t know what to do. Sometimes
I think I ought to stop loving you."

"But could you?" asked Mr. Hutton, confident in the powers of his
seduction and his moustache.

"No, Teddy Bear, you know I couldn't. But I could run away, I could hide
from you, I could lock myself up and force myself not to come to you."

"Silly little thing!" He tightened his embrace.

"Oh, dear, I hope it isn't wrong. And there are times when I don't care
if it is."

Mr. Hutton was touched. He had a certain protective affection for this
little creature. He laid his cheek against her hair and so, interlaced,
they sat in silence, while the car, swaying and pitching a little as it
hastened along, seemed to draw in the white road and the dusty hedges
towards it devouringly.

"Good-bye, good-bye."

The car moved on, gathered speed, vanished round a curve, and Doris was
left standing by the sign-post at the cross-roads, still dizzy and weak
with the languor born of those kisses and the electrical touch of those
gentle hands. She had to take a deep breath, to draw herself up
deliberately, before she was strong enough to start her homeward walk.
She had half a mile in which to invent the necessary lies.

Alone, Mr. Hutton suddenly found himself the prey of an appalling
boredom.



II


Mrs. Hutton was lying on the sofa in her boudoir, playing Patience. In
spite of the warmth of the July evening a wood fire was burning on the
hearth. A black Pomeranian, extenuated by the heat and the fatigues of
digestion, slept before the blaze.

"Phew! Isn't it rather hot in here?" Mr. Hutton asked as he entered the
room.

"You know I have to keep warm, dear." The voice seemed breaking on the
verge of tears. "I get so shivery."

"I hope you're better this evening."

"Not much, I'm afraid."

The conversation stagnated. Mr. Hutton stood leaning his back against
the mantelpiece. He looked down at the Pomeranian lying at his feet, and
with the toe of his right boot he rolled the little dog over and rubbed
its white-flecked chest and belly. The creature lay in an inert ecstasy.
Mrs. Hutton continued to play Patience. Arrived at an _impasse_, she
altered the position of one card, took back another, and went on
playing. Her Patiences always came out.

"Dr. Libbard thinks I ought to go to Llandrindod Wells this summer."

"Well--go, my dear--go, most certainly."

Mr. Hutton was thinking of the events of the afternoon: how they had
driven, Doris and he, up to the hanging wood, had left the car to wait
for them under the shade of the trees, and walked together out into the
windless sunshine of the chalk down.

"I'm to drink the waters for my liver, and he thinks I ought to have
massage and electric treatment, too."

Hat in hand, Doris had stalked four blue butterflies that were dancing
together round a scabious flower with a motion that was like the
flickering of blue fire. The blue fire burst and scattered into whirling
sparks; she had given chase, laughing and shouting like a child.

"I'm sure it will do you good, my dear."

"I was wondering if you'd come with me, dear."

"But you know I'm going to Scotland at the end of the month."

Mrs. Hutton looked up at him entreatingly. "It's the journey," she said.
"The thought of it is such a nightmare. I don't know if I can manage
it. And you know I can't sleep in hotels. And then there's the luggage
and all the worries. I can't go alone.

"But you won't be alone. You'll have your maid with you." He spoke
impatiently. The sick woman was usurping the place of the healthy one.
He was being dragged back from the memory of the sunlit down and the
quick, laughing girl, back to this unhealthy, overheated room and its
complaining occupant.

"I don't think I shall be able to go."

"But you must, my dear, if the doctor tells you to. And, besides, a
change will do you good."

"I don't think so."

"But Libbard thinks so, and he knows what he's talking about."

"No, I can't face it. I'm too weak. I can't go alone." Mrs. Hutton
pulled a handkerchief out of her black silk bag, and put it to her eyes.

"Nonsense, my dear, you must make the effort."

"I had rather be left in peace to die here." She was crying in earnest
now.

"O Lord! Now do be reasonable. Listen now, please." Mrs. Hutton only
sobbed more violently. "Oh, what is one to do?" He shrugged his
shoulders and walked out of the room.

Mr. Hutton was aware that he had not behaved with proper patience; but
he could not help it. Very early in his manhood he had discovered that
not only did he not feel sympathy for the poor, the weak, the diseased,
and deformed; he actually hated them. Once, as an undergraduate, he
spent three days at a mission in the East End. He had returned, filled
with a profound and ineradicable disgust. Instead of pitying, he loathed
the unfortunate. It was not, he knew, a very comely emotion; and he had
been ashamed of it at first. In the end he had decided that it was
temperamental, inevitable, and had felt no further qualms. Emily had
been healthy and beautiful when he married her. He had loved her then.
But now--was it his fault that she was like this?

Mr. Hutton dined alone. Food and drink left him more benevolent than he
had been before dinner. To make amends for his show of exasperation he
went up to his wife's room and offered to read to her. She was touched,
gratefully accepted the offer, and Mr. Hutton, who was particularly
proud of his accent, suggested a little light reading in French.

"French? I am so fond of French." Mrs. Hutton spoke of the language of
Racine as though it were a dish of green peas.

Mr. Hutton ran down to the library and returned with a yellow volume. He
began reading. The effort of pronouncing perfectly absorbed his whole
attention. But how good his accent was! The fact of its goodness seemed
to improve the quality of the novel he was reading.

At the end of fifteen pages an unmistakable sound aroused him. He looked
up; Mrs. Hutton had gone to sleep. He sat still for a little while,
looking with a dispassionate curiosity at the sleeping face. Once it had
been beautiful; once, long ago, the sight of it, the recollection of it,
had moved him with an emotion profounder, perhaps, than any he had felt
before or since. Now it was lined and cadaverous. The skin was stretched
tightly over the cheekbones, across the bridge of the sharp, bird-like
nose. The closed eyes were set in profound bone-rimmed sockets. The
lamplight striking on the face from the side emphasised with light and
shade its cavities and projections. It was the face of a dead Christ by
Morales.

     _Le squelette était invisible_
     _Au temps heureux de l'art païen._

He shivered a little, and tiptoed out of the room.

On the following day Mrs. Hutton came down to luncheon. She had had some
unpleasant palpitations during the night, but she was feeling better
now. Besides, she wanted to do honour to her guest. Miss Spence listened
to her complaints about Llandrindod Wells, and was loud in sympathy,
lavish with advice. Whatever she said was always said with intensity.
She leaned forward, aimed, so to speak, like a gun, and fired her words.
Bang! the charge in her soul was ignited, the words whizzed forth at the
narrow barrel of her mouth. She was a machine-gun riddling her hostess
with sympathy. Mr. Hutton had undergone similar bombardments, mostly of
a literary or philosophic character--bombardments of Maeterlinck, of
Mrs. Besant, of Bergson, of William James. To-day the missiles were
medical. She talked about insomnia, she expatiated on the virtues of
harmless drugs and beneficent specialists. Under the bombardment Mrs.
Hutton opened out, like a flower in the sun.

Mr. Hutton looked on in silence. The spectacle of Janet Spence evoked in
him an unfailing curiosity. He was not romantic enough to imagine that
every face masked an interior physiognomy of beauty or strangeness,
that every woman's small talk was like a vapour hanging over mysterious
gulfs. His wife, for example, and Doris; they were nothing more than
what they seemed to be. But with Janet Spence it was somehow different.
Here one could be sure that there was some kind of a queer face behind
the Gioconda smile and the Roman eyebrows. The only question was: What
exactly was there? Mr. Hutton could never quite make out.

"But perhaps you won't have to go to Llandrindod after all," Miss Spence
was saying. "If you get well quickly Dr. Libbard will let you off."

"I only hope so. Indeed, I do really feel rather better to-day."

Mr. Hutton felt ashamed. How much was it his own lack of sympathy that
prevented her from feeling well every day? But he comforted himself by
reflecting that it was only a case of feeling, not of being better.
Sympathy does not mend a diseased liver or a weak heart.

"My dear, I wouldn't eat those red currants if I were you," he said,
suddenly solicitous. "You know that Libbard has banned everything with
skins and pips."

"But I am so fond of them," Mrs. Hutton protested, "and I feel so well
to-day."

"Don't be a tyrant," said Miss Spence, looking first at him and then at
his wife. "Let the poor invalid have what she fancies; it will do her
good." She laid her hand on Mrs. Hutton's arm and patted it
affectionately two or three times.

"Thank you, my dear." Mrs. Hutton helped herself to the stewed currants.

"Well, don't blame me if they make you ill again."

"Do I ever blame you, dear?"

"You have nothing to blame me for," Mr. Hutton answered playfully. "I am
the perfect husband."

They sat in the garden after luncheon. From the island of shade under
the old cypress tree they looked out across a flat expanse of lawn, in
which the parterres of flowers shone with a metallic brilliance.

Mr. Hutton took a deep breath of the warm and fragrant air. "It's good
to be alive," he said.

"Just to be alive," his wife echoed, stretching one pale, knot-jointed
hand into the sunlight.

A maid brought the coffee; the silver pots and the little blue cups were
set on a folding table near the group of chairs.

"Oh, my medicine!" exclaimed Mrs. Hutton. "Run in and fetch it, Clara,
will you? The white bottle on the sideboard."

"I'll go," said Mr. Hutton. "I've got to go and fetch a cigar in any
case."

He ran in towards the house. On the threshold he turned round for an
instant. The maid was walking back across the lawn. His wife was sitting
up in her deck-chair, engaged in opening her white parasol. Miss Spence
was bending over the table, pouring out the coffee. He passed into the
cool obscurity of the house.

"Do you like sugar in your coffee?" Miss Spence inquired.

"Yes, please. Give me rather a lot. I'll drink it after my medicine to
take the taste away."

Mrs. Hutton leaned back in her chair, lowering the sunshade over her
eyes, so as to shut out from her vision the burning sky.

Behind her, Miss Spence was making a delicate clinking among the
coffee-cups.

"I've given you three large spoonfuls. That ought to take the taste
away. And here comes the medicine."

Mr. Hutton had reappeared, carrying a wineglass, half full of a pale
liquid.

"It smells delicious," he said, as he handed it to his wife.

"That's only the flavouring." She drank it off at a gulp, shuddered, and
made a grimace. "Ugh, it's so nasty. Give me my coffee."

Miss Spence gave her the cup; she sipped at it. "You've made it like
syrup. But it's very nice, after that atrocious medicine."

At half-past three Mrs. Hutton complained that she did not feel as well
as she had done, and went indoors to lie down. Her husband would have
said something about the red currants, but checked himself; the triumph
of an "I told you so" was too cheaply won. Instead, he was sympathetic,
and gave her his arm to the house.

"A rest will do you good," he said. "By the way, I shan't be back till
after dinner."

"But why? Where are you going?"

"I promised to go to Johnson's this evening. We have to discuss the war
memorial, you know."

"Oh, I wish you weren't going." Mrs. Hutton was almost in tears. "Can't
you stay? I don't like being alone in the house."

"But, my dear, I promised weeks ago." It was a bother having to lie like
this. "And now I must get back and look after Miss Spence."

He kissed her on the forehead and went out again into the garden. Miss
Spence received him aimed and intense.

"Your wife is dreadfully ill," she fired off at him.

"I thought she cheered up so much when you came."

"That was purely nervous, purely nervous. I was watching her closely.
With a heart in that condition and her digestion wrecked--yes,
wrecked--anything might happen."

"Libbard doesn't take so gloomy a view of poor Emily's health." Mr.
Hutton held open the gate that led from the garden into the drive; Miss
Spence's car was standing by the front door.

"Libbard is only a country doctor. You ought to see a specialist."

He could not refrain from laughing. "You have a macabre passion for
specialists."

Miss Spence held up her hand in protest. "I am serious. I think poor
Emily is in a very bad state. Anything might happen at any moment."

He handed her into the car and shut the door. The chauffeur started the
engine and climbed into his place, ready to drive off.

"Shall I tell him to start?" He had no desire to continue the
conversation.

Miss Spence leaned forward and shot a Gioconda in his direction.
"Remember, I expect you to come and see me again soon."

Mechanically he grinned, made a polite noise, and, as the car moved
forward, waved his hand. He was happy to be alone.

A few minutes afterwards Mr. Hutton himself drove away. Doris was
waiting at the cross-roads. They dined together twenty miles from home,
at a roadside hotel. It was one of those bad, expensive meals which are
only cooked in country hotels frequented by motorists. It revolted Mr.
Hutton, but Doris enjoyed it. She always enjoyed things. Mr. Hutton
ordered a not very good brand of champagne. He was wishing he had spent
the evening in his library.

When they started homewards Doris was a little tipsy and extremely
affectionate. It was very dark inside the car, but looking forward, past
the motionless form of M'Nab, they could see a bright and narrow
universe of forms and colours scooped out of the night by the electric
head-lamps.

It was after eleven when Mr. Hutton reached home. Dr. Libbard met him in
the hall. He was a small man with delicate hands and well-formed
features that were almost feminine. His brown eyes were large and
melancholy. He used to waste a great deal of time sitting at the
bedside of his patients, looking sadness through those eyes and talking
in a sad, low voice about nothing in particular. His person exhaled a
pleasing odour, decidedly antiseptic but at the same time suave and
discreetly delicious.

"Libbard?" said Mr. Hutton in surprise. "You here? Is my wife ill?"

"We tried to fetch you earlier," the soft, melancholy voice replied. "It
was thought you were at Mr. Johnson's, but they had no news of you
there."

"No, I was detained. I had a breakdown," Mr. Hutton answered irritably.
It was tiresome to be caught out in a lie.

"Your wife wanted to see you urgently."

"Well, I can go now." Mr. Hutton moved towards the stairs.

Dr. Libbard laid a hand on his arm. "I am afraid it's too late."

"Too late?" He began fumbling with his watch; it wouldn't come out of
the pocket.

"Mrs. Hutton passed away half an hour ago."

The voice remained even in its softness, the melancholy of the eyes did
not deepen. Dr. Libbard spoke of death as he would speak of a local
cricket match. All things were equally vain and equally deplorable.

Mr. Hutton found himself thinking of Janet Spence's words. At any
moment--at any moment. She had been extraordinarily right.

"What happened?" he asked. "What was the cause?"

Dr. Libbard explained. It was heart failure brought on by a violent
attack of nausea, caused in its turn by the eating of something of an
irritant nature. Red currants? Mr. Hutton suggested. Very likely. It had
been too much for the heart. There was chronic valvular disease:
something had collapsed under the strain. It was all over; she could not
have suffered much.



III


"It's a pity they should have chosen the day of the Eton and Harrow
match for the funeral," old General Grego was saying as he stood, his
top hat in his hand, under the shadow of the lych gate, wiping his face
with his handkerchief.

Mr. Hutton overheard the remark and with difficulty restrained a desire
to inflict grievous bodily pain on the General. He would have liked to
hit the old brute in the middle of his big red face. Monstrous great
mulberry, spotted with meal! Was there no respect for the dead? Did
nobody care? In theory he didn't much care; let the dead bury their
dead. But here, at the graveside, he had found himself actually sobbing.
Poor Emily, they had been pretty happy once. Now she was lying at the
bottom of a seven-foot hole. And here was Grego complaining that he
couldn't go to the Eton and Harrow match.

Mr. Hutton looked round at the groups of black figures that were
drifting slowly out of the churchyard towards the fleet of cabs and
motors assembled in the road outside. Against the brilliant background
of the July grass and flowers and foliage, they had a horribly alien and
unnatural appearance. It pleased him to think that all these people
would soon be dead, too.

That evening Mr. Hutton sat up late in his library reading the life of
Milton. There was no particular reason why he should have chosen Milton;
it was the book that first came to hand, that was all. It was after
midnight when he had finished. He got up from his armchair, unbolted the
French windows, and stepped out on to the little paved terrace. The
night was quiet and clear. Mr. Hutton looked at the stars and at the
holes between them, dropped his eyes to the dim lawns and hueless
flowers of the garden, and let them wander over the farther landscape,
black and grey under the moon.

He began to think with a kind of confused violence. There were the
stars, there was Milton. A man can be somehow the peer of stars and
night. Greatness, nobility. But is there seriously a difference between
the noble and the ignoble? Milton, the stars, death, and
himself--himself. The soul, the body; the higher and the lower nature.
Perhaps there was something in it, after all. Milton had a god on his
side and righteousness. What had he? Nothing, nothing whatever. There
were only Doris's little breasts. What was the point of it all? Milton,
the stars, death, and Emily in her grave, Doris and himself--always
himself....

Oh, he was a futile and disgusting being. Everything convinced him of
it. It was a solemn moment. He spoke aloud: "I will, I will." The sound
of his own voice in the darkness was appalling; it seemed to him that he
had sworn that infernal oath which binds even the gods: "I will, I
will." There had been New Year's days and solemn anniversaries in the
past, when he had felt the same contritions and recorded similar
resolutions. They had all thinned away, these resolutions, like smoke,
into nothingness. But this was a greater moment and he had pronounced a
more fearful oath. In the future it was to be different. Yes, he would
live by reason, he would be industrious, he would curb his appetites, he
would devote his life to some good purpose. It was resolved and it would
be so.

In practice he saw himself spending his mornings in agricultural
pursuits, riding round with the bailiff, seeing that his land was farmed
in the best modern way--silos and artificial manures and continuous
cropping, and all that. The remainder of the day should be devoted to
serious study. There was that book he had been intending to write for so
long--_The Effect of Diseases on Civilisation_.

Mr. Hutton went to bed humble and contrite, but with a sense that grace
had entered into him. He slept for seven and a half hours, and woke to
find the sun brilliantly shining. The emotions of the evening before had
been transformed by a good night's rest into his customary cheerfulness.
It was not until a good many seconds after his return to conscious life
that he remembered his resolution, his Stygian oath. Milton and death
seemed somehow different in the sunlight. As for the stars, they were
not there. But the resolutions were good; even in the daytime he could
see that. He had his horse saddled after breakfast, and rode round the
farm with the bailiff. After luncheon he read Thucydides on the plague
at Athens. In the evening he made a few notes on malaria in Southern
Italy. While he was undressing he remembered that there was a good
anecdote in Skelton's jest-book about the Sweating Sickness. He would
have made a note of it if only he could have found a pencil.

On the sixth morning of his new life Mr. Hutton found among his
correspondence an envelope addressed in that peculiarly vulgar
handwriting which he knew to be Doris's. He opened it, and began to
read. She didn't know what to say; words were so inadequate. His wife
dying like that, and so suddenly--it was too terrible. Mr. Hutton
sighed, but his interest revived somewhat as he read on:

     "Death is so frightening, I never think of it when I can help it.
     But when something like this happens, or when I am feeling ill or
     depressed, then I can't help remembering it is there so close, and
     I think about all the wicked things I have done and about you and
     me, and I wonder what will happen, and I am so frightened. I am so
     lonely, Teddy Bear, and so unhappy, and I don't know what to do. I
     can't get rid of the idea of dying, I am so wretched and helpless
     without you. I didn't mean to write to you; I meant to wait till
     you were out of mourning and could come and see me again, but I was
     so lonely and miserable, Teddy Bear, I had to write. I couldn't
     help it. Forgive me, I want you so much; I have nobody in the world
     but you. You are so good and gentle and understanding; there is
     nobody like you. I shall never forget how good and kind you have
     been to me, and you are so clever and know so much, I can t
     understand how you ever came to pay any attention to me, I am so
     dull and stupid, much less like me and love me, because you do love
     me a little, don't you, Teddy Bear?"

Mr. Hutton was touched with shame and remorse. To be thanked like this,
worshipped for having seduced the girl--it was too much. It had just
been a piece of imbecile wantonness. Imbecile, idiotic: there was no
other way to describe it. For, when all was said, he had derived very
little pleasure from it. Taking all things together, he had probably
been more bored than amused. Once upon a time he had believed himself to
be a hedonist. But to be a hedonist implies a certain process of
reasoning, a deliberate choice of known pleasures, a rejection of known
pains. This had been done without reason, against it. For he knew
beforehand--so well, so well--that there was no interest or pleasure to
be derived from these wretched affairs. And yet each time the vague itch
came upon him he succumbed, involving himself once more in the old
stupidity. There had been Maggie, his wife's maid, and Edith, the girl
on the farm, and Mrs. Pringle, and the waitress in London, and
others--there seemed to be dozens of them. It had all been so stale and
boring. He knew it would be; he always knew. And yet, and yet....
Experience doesn't teach.

Poor little Doris! He would write to her kindly, comfortingly, but he
wouldn't see her again. A servant came to tell him that his horse was
saddled and waiting. He mounted and rode off. That morning the old
bailiff was more irritating than usual.

       *       *       *       *       *

Five days later Doris and Mr. Hutton ware sitting together on the pier
at Southend; Doris, in white muslin with pink garnishings, radiated
happiness; Mr. Hutton, legs outstretched and chair tilted, had pushed
the panama back from his forehead, and was trying to feel like a
tripper. That night, when Doris was asleep, breathing and warm by his
side, he recaptured, in this moment of darkness and physical fatigue,
the rather cosmic emotion which had possessed him that evening, not a
fortnight ago, when he had made his great resolution. And so his solemn
oath had already gone the way of so many other resolutions. Unreason had
triumphed; at the first itch of desire he had given way. He was
hopeless, hopeless.

For a long time he lay with closed eyes, ruminating his humiliation. The
girl stirred in her sleep, Mr. Hutton turned over and looked in her
direction. Enough faint light crept in between the half-drawn curtains
to show her bare arm and shoulder, her neck, and the dark tangle of hair
on the pillow. She was beautiful, desirable. Why did he lie there
moaning over his sins? What did it matter? If he were hopeless, then so
be it; he would make the best of his hopelessness. A glorious sense of
irresponsibility suddenly filled him. He was free, magnificently free.
In a kind of exaltation he drew the girl towards him. She woke,
bewildered, almost frightened under his rough kisses.

The storm of his desire subsided into a kind of serene merriment. The
whole atmosphere seemed to be quivering with enormous silent laughter.

"Could anyone love you as much as I do, Teddy Bear?" The question came
faintly from distant worlds of love.

"I think I know somebody who does," Mr. Hutton replied. The submarine
laughter was swelling, rising, ready to break the surface of silence and
resound.

"Who? Tell me. What do you mean?" The voice had come very close; charged
with suspicion, anguish, indignation, it belonged to this immediate
world.

"A--ah!"

"Who?"

"You'll never guess." Mr. Hutton kept up the joke until it began to grow
tedious, and then pronounced the name "Janet Spence."

Doris was incredulous. "Miss Spence of the Manor? That old woman?" It
was too ridiculous. Mr. Hutton laughed too.

"But it's quite true," he said. "She adores me." Oh, the vast joke. He
would go and see her as soon as he returned--see and conquer. "I believe
she wants to marry me," he added.

"But you wouldn't ... you don't intend...."

The air was fairly crepitating with humour. Mr. Hutton laughed aloud. "I
intend to marry you," he said. It seemed to him the best joke he had
ever made in his life.

When Mr. Hutton left Southend he was once more a married man. It was
agreed that, for the time being, the fact should be kept secret. In the
autumn they would go abroad together, and the world should be informed.
Meanwhile he was to go back to his own house and Doris to hers.

The day after his return he walked over in the afternoon to see Miss
Spence. She received him with the old Gioconda.

"I was expecting you to come."

"I couldn't keep away," Mr. Hutton gallantly replied.

They sat in the summer-house. It was a pleasant place--a little old
stucco temple bowered among dense bushes of evergreen. Miss Spence had
left her mark on it by hanging up over the seat a blue-and-white Della
Robbia plaque.

"I am thinking of going to Italy this autumn," said Mr. Hutton. He felt
like a ginger-beer bottle, ready to pop with bubbling humorous
excitement.

"Italy...." Miss Spence closed her eyes ecstatically. "I feel drawn
there too."

"Why not let yourself be drawn?"

"I don't know. One somehow hasn't the energy and initiative to set out
alone."

"Alone...." Ah, sound of guitars and throaty singing. "Yes, travelling
alone isn't much fun."

Miss Spence lay back in her chair without speaking. Her eyes were still
closed. Mr. Hutton stroked his moustache. The silence prolonged itself
for what seemed a very long time.

Pressed to stay to dinner, Mr. Hutton did not refuse. The fun had hardly
started. The table was laid in the loggia. Through its arches they
looked out on to the sloping garden, to the valley below and the
farther hills. Light ebbed away; the heat and silence were oppressive. A
huge cloud was mounting up the sky, and there were distant breathings of
thunder. The thunder drew nearer, a wind began to blow, and the first
drops of rain fell. The table was cleared. Miss Spence and Mr. Hutton
sat on in the growing darkness.

Miss Spence broke a long silence by saying meditatively.

"I think everyone has a right to a certain amount of happiness, don't
you?"

"Most certainly." But what was she leading up to? Nobody makes
generalisations about life unless they mean to talk about themselves.
Happiness: he looked back on his own life, and saw a cheerful, placid
existence disturbed by no great griefs or discomforts or alarms. He had
always had money and freedom; he had been able to do very much as he
wanted. Yes, he supposed he had been happy--happier than most men. And
now he was not merely happy; he had discovered in irresponsibility the
secret of gaiety. He was about to say something about his happiness when
Miss Spence went on speaking.

"People like you and me have a right to be happy some time in our
lives."

"Me?" said Mr. Hutton surprised.

"Poor Henry! Fate hasn't treated either of us very well."

"Oh, well, it might have treated me worse."

"You re being cheerful. That's brave of you. But don't think I can't see
behind the mask."

Miss Spence spoke louder and louder as the rain came down more and more
heavily. Periodically the thunder cut across her utterances. She talked
on, shouting against the noise.

"I have understood you so well and for so long."

A flash revealed her, aimed and intent, leaning towards him. Her eyes
were two profound and menacing gun-barrels. The darkness re-engulfed
her.

"You were a lonely soul seeking a companion soul. I could sympathise
with you in your solitude. Your marriage ..."

The thunder cut short the sentence. Miss Spence's voice became audible
once more with the words:

"... could offer no companionship to a man of your stamp. You needed a
soul mate."

A soul mate--he! a soul mate. It was incredibly fantastic. Georgette
Leblanc, the ex-soul mate of Maurice Maeterlinck. He had seen that in
the paper a few days ago. So it was thus that Janet Spence had painted
him in her imagination--a soul-mater. And for Doris he was a picture of
goodness and the cleverest man in the world. And actually, really, he
was what?--Who knows?

"My heart went out to you. I could understand; I was lonely, too." Miss
Spence laid her hand on his knee. "You were so patient." Another flash.
She was still aimed, dangerously. "You never complained. But I could
guess--I could guess."

"How wonderful of you!" So he was an _âme incomprise_.

"Only a woman's intuition...."

The thunder crashed and rumbled, died away, and only the sound of the
ram was left. The thunder was his laughter, magnified, externalised.
Flash and crash, there it was again, right on top of them.

"Don't you feel that you have within you something that is akin to this
storm?" He could imagine her leaning forward as she uttered the words.
"Passion makes one the equal of the elements."

What was his gambit now? Why, obviously, he should have said "Yes," and
ventured on some unequivocal gesture. But Mr. Hutton suddenly took
fright. The ginger beer in him had gone flat. The woman was
serious--terribly serious. He was appalled.

Passion? "No," he desperately answered. "I am without passion."

But his remark was either unheard or unheeded, for Miss Spence went on
with a growing exaltation, speaking so rapidly, however, and in such a
burningly intimate whisper that Mr. Hutton found it very difficult to
distinguish what she was saying. She was telling him, as far as he could
make out, the story of her life. The lightning was less frequent now,
and there were long intervals of darkness. But at each flash he saw her
still aiming towards him, still yearning forward with a terrifying
intensity. Darkness, the rain, and then flash! her face was there, close
at hand. A pale mask, greenish white; the large eyes, the narrow barrel
of the mouth, the heavy eyebrows. Agrippina, or wasn't it rather--yes,
wasn't it rather George Robey?

He began devising absurd plans for escaping. He might suddenly jump up,
Pretending he had seen a burglar--Stop thief, stop thief!--and dash off
into the night in pursuit. Or should he say that he felt faint, a heart
attack? or that he had seen, a ghost--Emily's ghost--in the garden?
Absorbed in his childish plotting, he had ceased to pay any attention to
Miss Spence's words. The spasmodic clutching of her hand recalled his
thoughts.

"I honoured you for that, Henry," she was saying.

Honoured him for what?

"Marriage is a sacred tie, and your respect for it, even when the
marriage was, as it was in your case, an unhappy one, made me respect
you and admire you, and--shall I dare say the word?--"

Oh, the burglar, the ghost in the garden! But it was too late.

"... yes, love you, Henry, all the more. But we're free now, Henry."

Free? There was a movement in the dark, and she was kneeling on the
floor by his chair.

"Oh, Henry, Henry, I have been unhappy too."

Her arms embraced him, and by the shaking of her body he could feel that
she was sobbing. She might have been a suppliant crying for mercy.

"You mustn't, Janet," he protested. Those tears were terrible, terrible.
"Not now, not now! You must be calm; you must go to bed." He patted her
shoulder, then got up, disengaging himself from her embrace. He left her
still crouching on the floor beside the chair on which he had been
sitting.

Groping his way into the hall, and without waiting to look for his hat,
he went out of the house, taking infinite pains to close the front door
noiselessly behind him. The clouds had blown over, and the moon was
shining from a clear sky. There were puddles all along the road, and a
noise of running water rose from the gutters and ditches. Mr. Hutton
splashed along, not caring if he got wet.

How heartrendingly she had sobbed! With the emotions of pity and remorse
that the recollection evoked in him there was a certain resentment: why
couldn't she have played the game that he was playing the heartless,
amusing game? Yes, but he had known all the time that she wouldn't, she
couldn't play that game; he had known and persisted.

What had she said about passion and the elements? Something absurdly
stale, but true, true. There she was, a cloud black bosomed and charged
with thunder, and he, like some absurd little Benjamin Franklin, had
sent up a kite into the heart of the menace. Now he was complaining
that his toy had drawn the lightning.

She was probably still kneeling by that chair in the loggia, crying.

But why hadn't he been able to keep up the game? Why had his
irresponsibility deserted him, leaving him suddenly sober in a cold
world? There were no answers to any of his questions. One idea burned
steady and luminous in his mind--the idea of flight. He must get away at
once.



IV


"What are you thinking about, Teddy Bear?"

"Nothing."

There was a silence. Mr. Hutton remained motionless, his elbows on the
parapet of the terrace, his chin in his hands, looking down over
Florence. He had taken a villa on one of the hilltops to the south of
the city. From a little raised terrace at the end of the garden one
looked down a long fertile valley on to the town and beyond it to the
bleak mass of Monte Morello and, eastward of it, to the peopled hill of
Fiesole, dotted with white houses. Everything was clear and luminous in
the September sunshine.

"Are you worried about anything?"

"No, thank you."

"Tell me, Teddy Bear."

"But, my dear, there's nothing to tell." Mr. Hutton turned round,
smiled, and patted the girl's hand. "I think you'd better go in and have
your siesta. It's too hot for you here."

"Very well, Teddy Bear. Are you coming too?"

"When I've finished my cigar."

"All right. But do hurry up and finish it, Teddy Bear." Slowly,
reluctantly, she descended the steps of the terrace and walked towards
the house.

Mr. Hutton continued his contemplation of Florence. He had need to be
alone. It was good sometimes to escape from Doris and the restless
solicitude of her passion. He had never known the pains of loving
hopelessly, but he was experiencing now the pains of being loved. These
last weeks had been a period of growing discomfort. Doris was always
with him, like an obsession, like a guilty conscience. Yes, it was good
to be alone.

He pulled an envelope out of his pocket and opened it; not without
reluctance. He hated letters; they always contained something
unpleasant--nowadays, since his second marriage. This was from his
sister. He began skimming through the insulting home-truths of which it
was composed. The words "indecent haste," "social suicide," "scarcely
cold in her grave," "person of the lower classes," all occurred. They
were inevitable now in any communication from a well-meaning and
right-thinking relative. Impatient, he was about to tear the stupid
letter to pieces when his eye fell on a sentence at the bottom of the
third page. His heart beat with uncomfortable violence as he read it. It
was too monstrous! Janet Spence was going about telling everyone that he
had poisoned his wife in order to marry Doris. What damnable malice!
Ordinarily a man of the suavest temper, Mr. Hutton found himself
trembling with rage. He took the childish satisfaction of calling
names--he cursed the woman.

Then suddenly he saw the ridiculous side of the situation. The notion
that he should have murdered anyone in order to marry Doris! If they
only knew how miserably bored he was. Poor, dear Janet! She had tried to
be malicious; she had only succeeded in being stupid.

A sound of footsteps aroused him; he looked round. In the garden below
the little terrace the servant girl of the house was picking fruit. A
Neapolitan, strayed somehow as far north as Florence, she was a specimen
of the classical type--a little debased. Her profile might have been
taken from a Sicilian coin of a bad period. Her features, carved
floridly in the grand tradition, expressed an almost perfect stupidity.
Her mouth was the most beautiful thing about her; the calligraphic hand
of nature had richly curved it into an expression of mulish bad
temper.... Under her hideous black clothes, Mr. Hutton divined a
powerful body, firm and massive. He had looked at her before with a
vague interest and curiosity. To-day the curiosity defined and focused
itself into a desire. An idyll of Theocritus. Here was the woman; he,
alas, was not precisely like a goatherd on the volcanic hills. He called
to her.

"Armida!"

The smile with which she answered him was so provocative, attested so
easy a virtue, that Mr. Hutton took fright. He was on the brink once
more--on the brink. He must draw back, oh! quickly, quickly, before it
was too late. The girl continued to look up at him.

"_Ha chiamito_?" she asked at last.

Stupidity or reason? Oh, there was no choice now. It was imbecility
every time.

"_Scendo_" he called back to her. Twelve steps led from the garden to
the terrace. Mr. Hutton counted them. Down, down, down, down.... He saw
a vision of himself descending from one circle of the inferno to the
next--from a darkness full of wind and hail to an abyss of stinking mud.



V


For a good many days the Hutton case had a place on the front page of
every newspaper. There had been no more popular murder trial since
George Smith had temporarily eclipsed the European War by drowning in a
warm bath his seventh bride. The public imagination was stirred by this
tale of a murder brought to light months after the date of the crime.
Here, it was felt, was one of those incidents in human life, so notable
because they are so rare, which do definitely justify the ways of God to
man. A wicked man had been moved by an illicit passion to kill his wife.
For months he had lived in sin and fancied security----only to be dashed
at last more horribly into the pit he had prepared for himself. Murder
will out, and here was a case of it. The readers of the newspapers were
in a position to follow every movement of the hand of God. There had
been vague, but persistent, rumours in the neighbourhood; the police had
taken action at last. Then came the exhumation order, the post-mortem
examination, the inquest, the evidence of the experts, the verdict of
the coroner's jury, the trial, the condemnation. For once Providence had
done its duty, obviously, grossly, didactically, as in a melodrama. The
newspapers were right in making of the case the staple intellectual food
of a whole season.

Mr. Hutton's first emotion when he was summoned from Italy to give
evidence at the inquest was one of indignation. It was a monstrous, a
scandalous thing that the police should take such idle, malicious gossip
seriously. When the inquest was over he would bring an action for
malicious prosecution against the Chief Constable; he would sue the
Spence woman for slander.

The inquest was opened; the astonishing evidence unrolled itself. The
experts had examined the body, and had found traces of arsenic; they
were of opinion that the late Mrs. Hutton had died of arsenic poisoning.

Arsenic poisoning.... Emily had died of arsenic poisoning? After that,
Mr. Hutton learned with surprise that there was enough arsenicated
insecticide in his green-houses to poison an army.

It was now, quite suddenly, that he saw it: there was a case against
him. Fascinated, he watched it growing, growing, like some monstrous
tropical plant. It was enveloping him, surrounding him; he was lost in a
tangled forest.

When was the poison administered? The experts agreed that it must have
been swallowed eight or nine hours before death. About lunch-time? Yes,
about lunch-time. Clara, the parlour-maid, was called. Mrs. Hutton, she
remembered, had asked her to go and fetch her medicine. Mr. Hutton had
volunteered to go instead; he had gone alone. Miss Spence--ah, the
memory of the storm, the white aimed face! the horror of it all!--Miss
Spence confirmed Clara's statement, and added that Mr. Hutton had come
back with the medicine already poured out in a wineglass, not in the
bottle.

Mr. Hutton's indignation evaporated. He was dismayed, frightened. It was
all too fantastic to be taken seriously, and yet this nightmare was a
fact it was actually happening.

M'Nab had seen them kissing, often. He had taken them for a drive on the
day of Mrs. Hutton's death. He could see them reflected in the
wind-screen, sometimes out of the tail of his eye.

The inquest was adjourned. That evening Doris went to bed with a
headache. When he went to her room after dinner, Mr. Hutton found her
crying.

"What's the matter?" He sat down on the edge of her bed and began to
stroke her hair. For a long time she did not answer, and he went on
stroking her hair mechanically, almost unconsciously; sometimes, even he
bent down and kissed her bare shoulder. He had his own affairs, however,
to think about. What had happened? How was it that the stupid gossip had
actually come true? Emily had died of arsenic poisoning. It was absurd,
impossible. The order of things had been broken, and he was at the mercy
of an irresponsibility. What had happened, what was going to happen? He
was interrupted in the midst of his thoughts.

"It's my fault--it's my fault!" Doris suddenly sobbed out. "I shouldn't
have loved you; I oughtn't to have let you love me. Why was I ever
born?"

Mr. Hutton didn't say anything but looked down in silence at the abject
figure of misery lying on the bed.

"If they do anything to you I shall kill myself."

She sat up, held him for a moment at arm's length, and looked at him
with a kind of violence, as though she were never to see him again.

"I love you, I love you, I love you." She drew him, inert and passive,
towards her, clasped him, pressed herself against him. "I didn't know
you loved me as much as that, Teddy Bear. But why did you do it--why did
you do it?"

Mr. Hutton undid her clasping arms and got up. His face became very red.
"You seem to take it for granted that I murdered my wife," he said.
"It's really too grotesque. What do you all take me for? A cinema hero?"
He had begun to lose his temper. All the exasperation, all the fear and
bewilderment of the day, was transformed into a violent anger against
her. "It's all such damned stupidity. Haven't you any conception of a
civilised man's mentality? Do I look the sort of man who'd go about
slaughtering people? I suppose you imagined I was so insanely in love
with you that I could commit any folly. When will you women understand
that one isn't insanely in love? All one asks for is a quiet life, which
you won't allow one to have. I don't know what the devil ever induced me
to marry you. It was all a damned stupid, practical joke. And now you go
about saying I'm a murderer. I won't stand it."

Mr. Hutton stamped towards the door. He had said horrible things, he
knew--odious things that he ought speedily to unsay. But he wouldn't.
He closed the door behind him.

"Teddy Bear!" He turned the handle; the latch clicked into place. Teddy
Bear! The voice that came to him through the closed door was agonised.
Should he go back? He ought to go back. He touched the handle, then
withdrew his fingers and quickly walked away. When he was half-way down
the stairs he halted. She might try to do something silly--throw herself
out of the window or God knows what! He listened attentively; there was
no sound. But he pictured her very clearly, tiptoeing across the room,
lifting the sash as high as it would go, leaning out into the cold night
air. It was raining a little. Under the window lay the paved terrace.
How far below? Twenty-five or thirty feet? Once, when he was walking
along Piccadilly, a dog had jumped out of a third-storey window of the
Ritz. He had seen it fall; he had heard it strike the pavement. Should
he go back? He was damned if he would; he hated her.

He sat for a long time in the library. What had happened? What was
happening? He turned the question over and over in his mind and could
find no answer. Suppose the nightmare dreamed itself out to its
horrible conclusion. Death was waiting for him. His eyes filled with
tears; he wanted so passionately to live. "Just to be alive." Poor Emily
had wished it too, he remembered: "Just to be alive." There were still
so many places in this astonishing world unvisited, so many queer
delightful people still unknown, so many lovely women never so much as
seen. The huge white oxen would still be dragging their wains along the
Tuscan roads, the cypresses would still go up, straight as pillars, to
the blue heaven; but he would not be there to see them. And the sweet
southern wines--Tear of Christ and Blood of Judas--others would drink
them, not he. Others would walk down the obscure and narrow lanes
between the bookshelves in the London Library, sniffing the dusty
perfume of good literature, peering at strange titles, discovering
unknown names, exploring the fringes of vast domains of knowledge. He
would be lying in a hole in the ground. And why, why? Confusedly he felt
that some extraordinary kind of justice was being done. In the past he
had been wanton and imbecile and irresponsible. Now Fate was playing as
wantonly, as irresponsibly, with him. It was tit for tat, and God
existed after all.

He felt that he would like to pray. Forty years ago he used to kneel by
his bed every evening. The nightly formula of his childhood came to him
almost unsought from some long unopened chamber of the memory. "God
bless Father and Mother, Tom and Cissie and the Baby, Mademoiselle and
Nurse, and everyone that I love, and make me a good boy. Amen." They
were all dead now all except Cissie.

His mind seemed to soften and dissolve; a great calm descended upon his
spirit. He went upstairs to ask Doris's forgiveness. He found her lying
on the couch at the foot of the bed. On the floor beside her stood a
blue bottle of liniment, marked "Not to be taken"; she seemed to have
drunk about half of it.

"You didn't love me," was all she said when she opened her eyes to find
him bending over her.

Dr. Libbard arrived in time to prevent any very serious consequences.
"You mustn't do this again," he said while Mr. Hutton was out of the
room.

"What's to prevent me?" she asked defiantly.

Dr. Libbard looked at her with his large, sad eyes. "There's nothing to
prevent you," he said. "Only yourself and your baby. Isn't it rather bad
luck on your baby, not allowing it to come into the world because you
want to go out of it?"

Doris was silent for a time. "All right," she whispered. "I won't."

Mr. Hutton sat by her bedside for the rest of the night. He felt himself
now to be indeed a murderer. For a time he persuaded himself that he
loved this pitiable child. Dozing in his chair, he woke up, stiff and
cold, to find himself drained dry, as it were, of every emotion. He had
become nothing but a tired and suffering carcase. At six o'clock he
undressed and went to bed for a couple of hours' sleep. In the course of
the same afternoon the coroner's jury brought in a verdict of "Wilful
Murder," and Mr. Hutton was committed for trial.



VI


Miss Spence was not at all well. She had found her public appearances in
the witness-box very trying, and when it was all over she had something
that was very nearly a breakdown. She slept badly, and suffered from
nervous indigestion. Dr. Libbard used to call every other day. She
talked to him a great deal--mostly about the Hutton case.... Her moral
indignation was always on the boil. Wasn't it appalling to think that
one had had a murderer in one's house. Wasn't it extraordinary that one
could have been for so long mistaken about the man's character? (But she
had had an inkling from the first.) And then the girl he had gone off
with--so low class, so little better than a prostitute. The news that
the second Mrs. Hutton was expecting a baby the posthumous child of a
condemned and executed criminal--revolted her; the thing was shocking an
obscenity. Dr. Libbard answered her gently and vaguely, and prescribed
bromide.

One morning he interrupted her in the midst of her customary tirade.
"By the way," he said in his soft, melancholy voice, "I suppose it was
really you who poisoned Mrs. Hutton."

Miss Spence stared at him for two or three seconds with enormous eyes,
and then quietly said, "Yes." After that she started to cry.

"In the coffee, I suppose."

She seemed to nod assent. Dr. Libbard took out his fountain-pen, and in
his neat, meticulous calligraphy wrote out a prescription for a sleeping
draught.



II: PERMUTATIONS AMONG THE NIGHTINGALES



A PLAY


_It is night on the terrace outside the Hotel Cimarosa. Part of the
garden façade of the hotel is seen at the back of the stage--a bare
white wall, with three French windows giving on to balconies about ten
feet from the ground, and below them, leading from the terrace to the
lounge, a double door of glass, open now, through which a yellow
radiance streams out into the night. On the paved terrace stand two or
three green iron tables and chairs. To the left a mass of dark foliage,
ilex and cypress, in the shadow of which more tables and chairs are set.
At the back to the left a strip of sky is visible between the corner of
the hotel and the dark trees, blue and starry, for it is a marvellous
June evening. Behind the trees the ground slopes steeply down and down
to an old city in the valley below, of whose invisible presence you are
made aware by the sound of many bells wafted up from a score of slender
towers in a sweet and melancholy discord that seems to mourn the passing
of each successive hour. When the curtain rises the terrace is almost
deserted; the hotel dinner is not yet over. A single guest_, COUNT
ALBERTO TIRETTA, _is discovered, sitting in a position of histrionic
despair at one of the little green tables. A waiter stands respectfully
sympathetic at his side_, ALBERTO _is a little man with large lustrous
eyes and a black moustache, about twenty-five years of age. He has the
pathetic charm of an Italian street-boy with an organ--almost as pretty
and sentimental as Murillo's little beggars._



ALBERTO (_making a florid gesture with his right hand and with his left
covering his eyes_). Whereupon, Waiter (_he is reciting a tale of
woes_), she slammed the door in my face. (_He brings down his
gesticulating right hand with a crash on to the table_.)

WAITER. In your face, Signore? Impossible!

ALBERTO. Impossible, but a fact. Some more brandy, please; I am a
little weary. (_The waiter uncorks the bottle he has been holding under
his arm and fills Alberto's glass._)

WAITER. That will be one lira twenty-five, Signore.

ALBERTO (_throwing down a note_). Keep the change.

WAITER (_bowing_). Thank you, Signore. But if I were the Signore I
should beat her. (_He holds up the Cognac bottle and by way of
illustration slaps its black polished flanks._)

ALBERTO. Beat her? But I tell you I am in love with her.

WAITER. All the more reason, then, Signore. It will be not only a stern
disciplinary duty, but a pleasure as well; oh, I assure you, Signore, a
pleasure.

ALBERTO. Enough, enough. You sully the melancholy beauty of my thoughts.
My feelings at this moment are of an unheard-of delicacy and purity.
Respect them, I beg you. Some more brandy, please.

WAITER (_pouring out the brandy_). Delicacy, purity.... Ah, believe me,
Signore ... That will be one lira twenty-five.

ALBERTO (_throwing down another note with the same superbly aristocratic
gesture_). Keep the change.

WAITER. Thank you, Signore. But as I was saying, Signore, delicacy,
purity.... You think I do not understand such sentiments. Alas, Signore,
beneath the humblest shirt-front there beats a heart. And if the
Signore's sentiments are too much for him, I have a niece. Eighteen
years old, and what eyes, what forms!

ALBERTO. Stop, stop. Respect my feelings, Waiter, as well as the ears of
the young lady (_he points towards the glass doors_). Remember she is an
American. (_The Waiter, bows and goes into the hotel_.)



SIDNEY DOLPHIN _and_ MISS AMY TOOMIS

_come out together on to the terrace._ MISS AMY _supports a well-shaped
head on one of the most graceful necks that ever issued from
Minneapolis. The eyes are dark, limpid, ingenuous; the mouth expresses
sensibility. She is twenty-two and the heiress of those ill-gotten
Toomis millions_. SIDNEY DOLPHIN _has a romantic aristocratic
appearance. The tailoring of_ 1830 _would suit him. Balzac would have
described his face as_ plein de poésie. _In effect he does happen to be
a poet. His two volumes of verse, "Zeotrope and 'Trembling Ears," have
been recognised by intelligent critics as remarkable. How far they are
poetry nobody, least of all Dolphin himself, is certain. They may be
merely the ingenious products of a very cultured and elaborate brain.
Mere curiosities; who knows? His age is twenty-seven. They sit down at
one of the little iron tables_, ALBERTO _they do not see; the shadow of
the trees conceals him. For his part, he is too much absorbed in
savouring his own despair to pay any attention to the newcomers. There
is a long, uncomfortable silence_. DOLPHIN _assumes the Thinker's
mask--the bent brow, the frown, the finger to the forehead_, AMY
_regards this romantic gargoyle with some astonishment. Pleased with her
interest in him_, DOLPHIN _racks his brains to think of some way of
exploiting this curiosity to his own advantage; but he is too shy to
play any of the gambits which his ingenuity suggests_. AMY _makes a
social effort and speaks, in chanting Middle Western tones._ AMY. It's
been a wonderful day, hasn't it?

DOLPHIN (_starting, as though roused from profoundest thought_). Yes,
yes, it has.

AMY. You don't often get it as fine as this in England, I guess.

DOLPHIN. Not often.

AMY. Nor do we over at home.

DOLPHIN. So I should suppose. (_Silence. A spasm of anguish crosses_
DOLPHIN'S _face; then he reassumes the old Thinker's mask._ AMY _looks
at him for a little longer, then, unable to suppress her growing
curiosity, she says with a sudden burst of childish confidence:_)

AMY. It must be wonderful to be able to think as hard as you do, Mr.
Dolphin. Or are you sad about something?

DOLPHIN (_looks up, smiles, and blushes; a spell has been broken_). The
finger at the temple, Miss Toomis, is not the barrel of a revolver.

AMY. That means you're not specially sad about anything. Just thinking.

DOLPHIN. Just thinking.

AMY. What about?

DOLPHIN. Oh, just life, you know--life and letters.

AMY. Letters? Do you mean love letters.

DOLPHIN. No, no. Letters in the sense of literature; letters as opposed
to life.

AMY. (_disappointed_). Oh, literature. They used to teach us literature
at school. But I could never understand Emerson. What do you think
about literature for?

DOLPHIN. It interests me, you know. I read it; I even try to write it.

AMY (_very much excited_). What, are you a writer, a poet, Mr. Dolphin?

DOLPHIN. Alas, it is only too true; I am.

AMY. But what do you write?

DOLPHIN. Verse and prose, Miss Toomis. Just verse and prose.

AMY (_with enthusiasm_). Isn't that interesting. I've never met a poet
before, you know.

DOLPHIN. Fortunate being. Why, before I left England I attended a
luncheon of the Poetry Union at which no less than a hundred and
eighty-nine poets were present. The sight of them made me decide to go
to Italy.

AMY. Will you show me your books?

DOLPHIN. Certainly not, Miss Toomis. That would ruin our friendship. I
am insufferable in my writings. In them I give vent to all the horrible
thoughts and impulses which I am too timid to express or put into
practice in real life. Take me as you find me here, a decent specimen of
a man, shy but able to talk intelligently when the layers of ice are
broken, aimless, ineffective, but on the whole quite a good sort.

AMY. But I know that man already, Mr. Dolphin. I want to know the poet.
Tell me what the poet is like.

DOLPHIN. He is older, Miss Toomis, than the rocks on which he sits. He
is villainous. He is ... but there, I really must stop. It was you who
set me going, though. Did you do it on purpose.

AMY. Do what on purpose?

DOLPHIN. Make me talk about myself. If you want to get people to like
you, you must always lead the conversation on to the subject of their
characters. Nothing pleases them so much. They'll talk with enthusiasm
for hours and go away saying that you're the most charming, cleverest
person they've ever met. But of course you knew that already. You re
Machiavellian.

AMY. Machiavellian? You're the first person that's ever said that. I
always thought I was very simple and straight-forward. People say about
me that.... Ah, now I'_m_ talking about myself. That was unscrupulous of
you. But you shouldn't have told me about the trick if you wanted it to
succeed.

DOLPHIN. Yes. It was silly of me. If I hadn't, you'd have gone on
talking about yourself and thought me the nicest man in the world.

AMY. I want to hear about your poetry. Are you writing any now?

DOLPHIN. I have composed the first line of a magnificent epic. But I
can't get any further.

AMY. How does it go?

DOLPHIN. Like this (_he clears his throat_). "Casbeen has been, and
Moghreb is no more." Ah, the transience of all sublunary things! But
inspiration has stopped short there.

AMY. What exactly does it mean?

DOLPHIN. Ah, there you re asking too much, Miss Toomis. Waiter, some
coffee for two.

WAITER (_who is standing in the door of the lounge_). Si, Signore. Will
the lady and gentleman take it here, or in the gardens, perhaps?

DOLPHIN. A good suggestion. Why shouldn't the lady and gentleman take it
in the garden?

AMY. Why not?

DOLPHIN. By the fountain, then, Waiter. We can talk about ourselves
there to the tune of falling waters.

AMY. And you shall recite your poetry, Mr. Dolphin. I just love poetry.
Do you know Mrs. Wilcox's _Poems of Passion_? (_They go out to the left.
A nightingale utters two or three phrases of song and from far down the
bells of the city jangle the three-quarters and die slowly away into the
silence out of which they rose and came together._)

(LUCREZIA GRATTAROL _has come out of the hotel just in time to overhear
Miss Toomis's last remark, just in time to see her walk slowly away with
a hand on_ SIDNEY DOLPHIN's _arm_. LUCREZIA _has a fine thoroughbred
appearance, an aquiline nose, a finely curved sensual mouth, a superb
white brow, a quivering nostril. She is the last of a family whose name
is as illustrious in Venetian annals as that of Foscarini, Tiepolo, or
Tron. She stamps a preposterously high-heeled foot and tosses her
head._)

LUCREZIA. Passion! Passion, indeed. An American! (_She starts to run
after the retreating couple, when_ ALBERTO, _who has been sitting with
his head between his hands, looks up and catches sight of the
newcomer_.)

ALBERTO. Lucrezia!

LUCREZIA (_starts, for in the shade beneath the trees she had not seen
him_). Oh! You gave me such a fright, Alberto. I'm in a hurry now. Later
on, if you....

ALBERTO (_in a desperate voice that breaks into a sob_). Lucrezia! You
must come and talk to me. You must.

LUCREZIA. But I tell you I can't now, Alberto. Later on.

ALBERTO (_the tears streaming down his cheeks_). Now, now, now! You must
come now. I am lost if you don't.

LUCREZIA (_looking indecisively first at_ ALBERTO _and then along the
path down which_ AMY _and_ SIDNEY DOLPHIN _have disappeared_). But
supposing I am lost if I do come?

ALBERTO. But you couldn't be as much lost as I am. Ah, you don't know
what it is to suffer. Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt weiss wass ich leide.
Oh, Lucrezia.... (_He sobs unrestrainedly_.)

LUCREZIA (_goes over to where_ ALBERTO _is sitting. She pats his
shoulder and his bowed head of black curly hair_). There, there, my
little Bertino. Tell me what it is. You mustn't cry. There, there.

ALBERTO (_drying his eyes and rubbing his head, like a cat, avid of
caresses, against her hand_). How can I thank you enough, Lucrezia? You
are like a mother to me.

LUCREZIA. I know. That's just what's so dangerous.

ALBERTO (_lets his head fall upon her bosom_). I come to you for
comfort, like a tired child, Lucrezia.

LUCREZIA. Poor darling! (_She strokes his hair, twines its thick black
tendrils round her fingers_, ALBERTO _is abjectly pathetic_.)

ALBERTO (_with closed eyes and a seraphic smile_). Ah, the suavity, the
beauty of this maternal instinct!

LUCREZIA (_with a sudden access of energy and passion_). The
disgustingness of it, you mean. (_She pushes him from her. His head
wobbles once, as though it were inanimate, before he straightens into
life_.) The maternal instinct. Ugh. It's been the undoing of too many
women. You men come with your sentimental babyishness and exploit it for
your own lusts. Be a man, Bertino. Be a woman, I mean, if you can.

ALBERTO (_looking up at her with eyes full of doglike, dumb reproach_).
Lucrezia! You, too? Is there nobody who cares for me? This is the
unkindest cut of all. I may as well die. (_He relapses into tears_.)

LUCREZIA (_who has started to go, turns back, irresolute_). Now, don't
cry, Bertino. Can't you behave like a reasonable being? (_She makes as
though to go again_.)

ALBERTO (_through his sobs_). You too, Lucrezia! Oh, I can't bear it, I
can't bear it.

LUCREZIA (_turning back desperately_). But what do you want me to do?
Why should you expect _me_ to hold your hand?

ALBERTO. I thought better of you, Lucrezia. Let me go. There is nothing
left for me now but death. (_He rises to his feet, takes a step or two,
and then collapses into another chair, unable to move_.)

LUCREZIA (_torn between anger and remorse_). Now do behave yourself
sensibly, Bertino. There, there ... you mustn't cry. I'm sorry if I've
hurt you. (_Looking towards the left along the path taken by_ AMY _and_
DOLPHIN.) Oh, damnation! (_She stamps her foot_.) Here, Bertino, do pull
yourself together. (_She raises him up_.) There, now you must stop
crying. (_But as soon as she lets go of him his head falls back on to
the iron table with an unpleasant, meaty bump. That bump is too much
for_ LUCREZIA. _She bends over him, strokes his head, even kisses the
lustrous curls_.) Oh, forgive me, forgive me! I have been a beast. But,
tell me first, what's the matter, Bertino? What is it, my poor darling?
Tell me.

ALBERTO. Nobody loves me.

LUCREZIA. But we're all devoted to you, Bertino mio.

ALBERTO. She isn't. To-day she shut the door in my face.

LUCREZIA. She? You mean the French-woman, the one you told me about?
Louise, wasn't she?

ALBERTO. Yes, the one with the golden hair.

LUCREZIA. And the white legs. I remember: you saw her bathing.

ALBERTO (_lays his hand on his heart_). Ah, don't remind me of it. (_His
face twitches convulsively_.)

LUCREZIA. And now she's gone and shut the door in your face.

ALBERTO. In my face, Lucrezia.

LUCREZIA. Poor darling!

ALBERTO. For me there is nothing now but the outer darkness.

LUCREZIA. Is the door shut forever, then?

ALBERTO. Definitively, for ever.

LUCREZIA. But have you tried knocking? Perhaps, after all, it might be
opened again, if only a crack.

ALBERTO. What, bruise my hands against the granite of her heart?

LUCREZIA. Don't be too poetical, Bertino mio. Why not try again, in any
case?

ALBERTO. You give me courage.

LUCREZIA. There's no harm in trying, you know.

ALBERTO. Courage to live, to conquer. (_He beats his breast_.) I am a
man again, thanks to you, Lucrezia, my inspirer, my Muse, my Egeria. How
can I be sufficiently grateful. (_He kisses her_.) I am the child of
your spirit. (_He kisses her again_.)

LUCREZIA. Enough, enough. I am not ambitious to be a mother, yet awhile.
Quickly now, Bertino, I know you will succeed.

ALBERTO (_cramming his hat down on his head and knocking with his
walking-stick on the ground_). Succeed or die, Lucrezia. (_He goes out
with a loud martial stamp_.)

LUCREZIA (_to the waiter who is passing across the stage with a
coffee-pot and cups on a tray_). Have you seen the Signorina Toomis,
Giuseppe?

WAITER. The Signorina is down in the garden. So is the Signore Dolphin.
By the fountain, Signorina. This is the Signore's coffee.

LUCREZIA. Have you a mother, Giuseppe?

WAITER. Unfortunately, Signorina.

LUCREZIA. Unfortunately? Does she treat you badly, then?

WAITER. Like a dog, Signorina.

LUCREZIA. Ah, I should like to see your mother. I should like to ask her
to give me some hints on how to bring up children.

WAITER. But surely, Signorina, you are not expecting, you--ah....

LUCREZIA. Only figuratively, Giuseppe. My children are spiritual
children.

WAITER. Precisely, precisely. My mother, alas! is not a spiritual
relation. Nor is my fiançée.

LUCREZIA. I didn't know you were engaged.

WAITER. To an angel of perdition. Believe me, Signorina, I go to my
destruction in that woman--go with open eyes. There is no escape. She is
what is called in the Holy Bible (_crosses himself_) a Fisher of Men.

LUCREZIA. You have remarkable connections, Giuseppe.

WAITER. I am honoured by your words, Signorina. But the coffee becomes
cold. (_He hurries out to the left_.)

LUCREZIA. In the garden! By the fountain! And there's the nightingale
beginning to sing in earnest! Good heavens! what may not already have
happened? (_She runs out after the waiter_.)

(_Two persons emerge from the hotel_, the VICOMTE DE BARBAZANGE _and the_
BARONESS KOCH DE WORMS. PAUL DE BARBAZANGE _is a young man--twenty-six
perhaps of exquisite grace. Five foot ten, well built, dark hair, sleek
as marble, the most refined aristocratic features, and a monocle_,
SIMONE DE WORMS _is forty, a ripe Semitic beauty. Five years more and
the bursting point of overripeness will have been reached. But now,
thanks to massage, powerful corsets, skin foods, and powder, she is
still a beauty--a beauty of the type Italians admire, cushioned,
steatopygous._ PAUL, _who has a faultless taste in bric-à-brac and
women, and is by instinct and upbringing an ardent anti-Semite, finds
her infinitely repulsive. The Baronne enters with a loud shrill giggle.
She gives_ PAUL _a slap with her green feather fan_.)



SIMONE. Oh, you naughty boy! Quelle histoire. Mon Dieu! How dare you
tell me such a story!

PAUL. For you, Baronne, I would risk anything even your displeasure.

SIMONE. Charming boy. But stories of that kind.... And you look so
innocent, too! Do you know any more like it?

PAUL (_suddenly grave_). Not of that description. But I will tell you a
story of another kind, a true story, a tragic story.

SIMONE. Did I ever tell you how I saw a woman run over by a train? Cut
to pieces, literally, to pieces. So disagreeable. I'll tell you later.
But now, what about your story?

PAUL. Oh, it's nothing, nothing.

SIMONE. But you promised to tell it me.

PAUL. It's only a commonplace anecdote. A young man, poor but noble,
with a name and a position to keep up. A few youthful follies, a
mountain of debts, and no way out except the revolver. This is all dull
and obvious enough. But now follows the interesting part of the story.
He is about to take that way out, when he meets the woman of his dreams,
the goddess, the angel, the ideal. He loves, and he must die without a
word. (_He turns his face away from the Baronne, as though his emotion
were too much for him, which indeed it is_.)

SIMONE. Vicomte--Paul--this young man is you?

PAUL (_solemnly_). He is.

SIMONE. And the woman?

PAUL. Oh, I can't, I mayn't tell you.

SIMONE. The woman! Tell me, Paul.

PAUL (_turning towards her and falling on his knees_). The woman,
Simone, is you. Ah, but I had no right to say it.

SIMONE (_quivering with emotion_). My Paul. (_She clasps his head to her
bosom. A grimace of disgust contorts Paul's classical features. He
endures Simone's caresses with a stoical patience_.) But what is this
about a revolver? That is only a joke, Paul, isn't it? Say it isn't
true.

PAUL. Alas, Simone, too true. (_He taps his coat pocket_.) There it
lies. To-morrow I have a hundred and seventy thousand francs to pay, or
be dishonoured. I cannot pay the sum. A Barbazange does not survive
dishonour. My ancestors were Crusaders, preux chevaliers to a man. Their
code is mine. Dishonour for me is worse than death.

SIMONE. Mon Dieu, Paul, how noble you are! (_She lays her hands on his
shoulder, leans back, and surveys him at arm's length, a look of pride
and anxious happiness on her face_.)

PAUL (_dropping his eyes modestly_). Not at all. I was born noble, and
noblesse oblige, as we say in our family. Farewell, Simone, I love
you--and I must die. My last thought will be of you. (_He kisses her
hand, rises to his feet, and makes as though to go_.)

SIMONE (_clutching him by the arm_). No, Paul, no. You must not, shall
not, do anything rash. A hundred and seventy thousand francs, did you
say? It is paltry. Is there no one who could lend or give you the money?

PAUL. Not a soul. Farewell, Simone.

SIMONE. Stay, Paul. I hardly dare to ask it of you--you with such lofty
ideas of honour--but would you ... from me?

PAUL. Take money from a woman? Ah, Simone, tempt me no more. I might do
an ignoble act.

SIMONE. But from me, Paul, from me. I am not in your eyes a woman like
any other woman, am I?

PAUL. It is true that my ancestors, the Crusaders, the preux chevaliers,
might in all honour receive gifts from the ladies of their
choice--chargers, swords, armour, or tenderer mementoes, such as gloves
or garters. But money--no; who ever heard of their taking money?

SIMONE. But what would be the use of my giving you swords and horses?
You could never use them. Consider, my knight, my noble Sir Paul, in
these days the contests of chivalry have assumed a different form; the
weapons and the armour have changed. Your sword must be of gold and
paper; your breastplate of hard cash; your charger of gilt-edged
securities. I offer you the shining panoply of the modern crusader. Will
you accept it?

PAUL. You are eloquent, Simone. You could win over the devil himself
with that angelic voice of yours. But it cannot be. Money is always
money. The code is clear. I cannot accept your offer. Here is the way
out. (_He takes an automatic pistol out of his pocket_.) Thank you,
Simone, and good-bye. How wonderful is the love of a pure woman.

SIMONE. Paul, Paul, give that to me! (_She snatches the pistol from his
hand_.) If anything were to happen to you, Paul, I should kill myself
with this. You must live, you must consent to accept the money. You
mustn't let your honour make a martyr of you.

PAUL (_brushing a tear from his eyes_). No, I can't.... Give me that
pistol, I beg you.

SIMONE. For my sake, Paul.

PAUL. Oh, you make it impossible for me to act as the voices of dead
ancestors tell me I should.... For your sake, then, Simone, I consent
to live. For your sake I dare to accept the gift you offer.

SIMONE (_kissing his hand in an outburst of gratitude_). Thank you,
thank you, Paul. How happy I am!

PAUL. I, too, light of my life.

SIMONE. My month's allowance arrived to-day. I have the cheque here.
(_She takes it out of her corsage_.) Two hundred thousand francs. It's
signed already. You can get it cashed as soon as the hanks open
to-morrow.

PAUL (_moved by an outburst of genuine emotion kisses indiscriminately
the cheque, the Baronne, his own hands_). My angel, you have saved me.
How can I thank you? How can I love you enough? Ah, mon petit bouton de
rose.

SIMONE. Oh, naughty, naughty! Not now, my Paul; you must wait till some
other time.

PAUL. I burn with impatience.

SIMONE. Quelle fougue! Listen, then. In an hour's time, Paul chéri, in
my boudoir; I shall be alone.

PAUL. An hour? It is an eternity.

SIMONE (_playfully_). An hour. I won't relent. Till then, my Paul. (_She
blows a kiss and runs out: the scenery trembles at her passage._)

(PAUL _looks at the cheque, then pulls out a large silk handkerchief and
wipes his neck inside his collar_.) (DOLPHIN _drifts in from the left.
He is smoking a cigarette, but he does not seem to be enjoying it_.)

PAUL. Alone?

DOLPHIN. Alas!

PAUL. Brooding on the universe as usual? I envy you your philosophic
detachment. Personally, I find that the world is very much too much with
us, and the devil too; (_he looks at the cheque in his hand_) and above
all the flesh. My god, the flesh.... (_He wipes his neck again_.)

DOLPHIN. My philosophic detachment? But it's only a mask to hide the
ineffectual longings I have to achieve contact with the world.

PAUL. But surely nothing is easier. One just makes a movement and
impinges on one's fellow-beings.

DOLPHIN. Not with a temperament like mine. Imagine a shyness more
powerful than curiosity or desire, a paralysis of all the faculties. You
are a man of the world. You were born with a forehead of brass to
affront every social emergency. Ah, if you knew what a torture it is to
find yourself in the presence of someone a woman, perhaps--someone in
whom you take an interest that is not merely philosophic; to find
oneself in the presence of such a person and to be incapable, yes,
physically incapable, of saying a word to express your interest in her
or your desire to possess her intimacy. Ah, I notice I have slipped into
the feminine. Inevitably, for of course the person is always a she.

PAUL. Of course, of course. That goes without saying. But what's the
trouble? Women are so simple to deal with.

DOLPHIN. I know. Perfectly simply if one's in the right state of mind. I
have found that out myself, for moments come alas, how rarely!--when I
am filled with a spirit of confidence, possessed by some angel or devil
of power. Ah, then I feel myself to be superb. I carry all before me. In
those brief moments the whole secret of the world is revealed to me. I
perceive that the supreme quality in the human soul is effrontery.
Genius in the man of action is simply the apotheosis of charlatanism.
Alexander the Great, Napoleon, Mr. Gladstone, Lloyd George--what are
they? Just ordinary human beings projected through the magic lantern of
a prodigious effrontery and so magnified to a thousand times larger than
life. Look at me. I am far more intelligent than any of these fabulous
figures; my sensibility is more refined than theirs, I am morally
superior to any of them. And yet, by my lack of charlatanism, I am made
less than nothing. My qualities are projected through the wrong end of a
telescope and the world perceives me far smaller than I really am. But
the world--who cares about the world? The only people who matter are the
women.

PAUL. Very true, my dear Dolphin. The women.... (_He looks at the cheque
and mops himself once more with his mauve silk handkerchief_.)

DOLPHIN. To-night was one of my moments of triumph. I felt myself
suddenly free of all my inhibitions.

PAUL. I hope you profited by the auspicious occasion.

DOLPHIN. I did. I was making headway. I had--but I don't know why I
should bore you with my confidences. Curious that one should be dumb
before intimates and open one's mind to an all but stranger. I must
apologise.

PAUL. But I am all attention and sympathy, my dear Dolphin. And I take
it a little hardly that you should regard me as a stranger. (_He lays a
hand on Dolphin's shoulder._)

DOLPHIN. Thank you, Barbazange, thank you. Well, if you consent to be
the receptacle of my woes, I shall go on pouring them out.... Miss
Toomis.... But tell me frankly what you think of her.

PAUL. Well....

DOLPHIN. A little too ingenuous, a little silly even, eh?

PAUL. Now you say so, she certainly isn't very intellectually
stimulating.

DOLPHIN. Precisely. But ... oh, those china-blue eyes, that
ingenuousness, that pathetic and enchanting silliness! She touches lost
chords in one's heart. I love the Chromatic Fantasia of Bach, I am
transported by Beethoven's hundred-and-eleventh Sonata; but the fact
doesn't prevent my being moved to tears by the last luscious waltz
played by the hotel orchestra. In the best constructed brains there are
always spongy surfaces that are sensitive to picture postcards and
Little Nelly and the End of a Perfect Day. Miss Toomis has found out my
Achilles's heel. She is boring, ridiculous, absurd to a degree, but oh!
how moving, how adorable.

PAUL. You're done for, my poor Dolphin, sunk--spurlos.

DOLPHIN. And I was getting on so well, was revelling in my new-found
confidence, and, knowing its transience, was exploiting it for all I
was worth. I had covered an enormous amount of ground and then, hey
presto! at a blow all my labour was undone. Actuated by what malice I
don't know, la Lucrezia swoops down like a vulture, and without a
by-your-leave or excuse of any kind carries off Miss Toomis from under
my very eyes. What a woman! She terrifies me. I am always running away
from her.

PAUL. Which means, I suppose, that she is always pursuing you.

DOLPHIN. She has ruined my evening and, it may me, all my chances of
success. My precious hour of self-confidence will be wasted (though I
hope you'll not take offence at the word)--wasted on you.

PAUL. It will return.

DOLPHIN. But when--but when? Till it does I shall be impotent and in
agony.

PAUL. I know the agony of waiting. I myself was engaged to a Rumanian
princess in 1916. But owing to the sad collapse in the Rumanian rate of
exchange I have had to postpone our union indefinitely. It is painful,
but, believe me, it can be borne. (_He looks at the cheque and then at
his watch_.) There are other things which are much worse. Believe me,
Dolphin, it can be borne.

DOLPHIN. I suppose it can. For, when all is said, there are damned few
of us who really take things much to heart. Julie de Lespinasses are
happily not common. I am even subnormal. At twenty I believed myself
passionate: one does at that age. But now, when I come to consider
myself candidly, I find that I am really one of those who never deeply
felt nor strongly willed. Everything is profoundly indifferent to me. I
sometimes try to depress myself with the thought that the world is a
cess-pool, that men are pathetic degenerates from the ape whose
laboriously manufactured ideals are pure nonsense and find no rhyme in
reality, that the whole of life is a bad joke which takes a long time
coming to an end. But it really doesn't upset me. I don't care a curse.
It's deplorable; one ought to care. The best people do care. Still, I
must say I should like to get possession of Miss Toomis. Confound that
Grattarol woman. What on earth did she want to rush me like that for, do
you suppose?


PAUL. I expect we shall find out now. (PAUL _jerks his head towards the
left._ LUCREZIA _and_ AMY _are seen entering from the garden_, LUCREZIA
_holds her companion's arm and marches with a firm step towards the two
men_. AMY _suffers herself to be drugged along_.)

LUCREZIA. Vicomte, Miss Toomis wants you to tell her all about
Correggio.

AMY (_rather scared_). Oh, really--I....

LUCREZIA. And (_sternly_)--and Michelangelo. She is so much interested
in art.

AMY. But please--don't trouble....

PAUL (_bowing gracefully_). I shall be delighted. And in return I hope
Miss Toomis will tell me all about Longfellow.

AMY (_brightening_). Oh yes, don't you just love Evangeline?

PAUL. I do; and with your help, Miss Toomis, I hope I shall learn to
love her better.

LUCREZIA (_to_ DOLPHIN, _who has been looking from_ AMY _to the_ VICOMTE
_and back again at_ AMY _with eyes that betray a certain disquietude_).
You really must come and look at the moon rising over the hills, Mr.
Dolphin. One sees it best from the lower terrace. Shall we go?

DOLPHIN (_starts and shrinks_). But it's rather cold, isn't it? I
mean--I think I ought to go and write a letter.

LUCREZIA. Oh, you can do that to-morrow.

DOLPHIN. But really.

LUCREZIA. You've no idea how lovely the moon looks.

DOLPHIN. But I must....

LUCREZIA (_lays her hand on his sleeve and tows hint after her, crying
as she goes_). The moon, the moon.... (PAUL _and_ AMY _regard their exit
in silence_.)

PAUL. He doesn't look as though he much wanted to go and see the moon.

AMY. Perhaps he guesses what's in store for him.

PAUL (_surprised_). What, you don't mean to say you realised all the
time?

AMY. Realised what?

PAUL. About la belle Lucrezia.

AMY. I don't know what you mean. All I know is that she means to give
Mr. Dolphin a good talking to. He's so mercenary. It made me quite
indignant when she told me about him. Such a schemer, too. You know in
America we have very definite ideas about honour.

PAUL. Here too, Miss Toomis.

AMY. Not Mr. Dolphin. Oh dear, it made me so sad; more sad than angry. I
can never be grateful enough to Signorina Grattarol.

PAUL. But I'm still at a loss to know exactly what you're talking about.

AMY. And I am quite bewildered myself. Would you have believed it of
him? I thought him such a nice man.

PAUL. What has he done?

AMY. It's all for my money, Miss Grattarol told me. She knows. He was
just asking me to marry him, and I believe I would have said Yes. But
she came in just in the nick of time. It seems he only wanted to marry
me because I'm so rich. He doesn't care for me at all. Miss Grattarol
knows what he's like. It's awful, isn't it? Oh dear, I wouldn't have
thought it of him.

PAUL. But you must forgive him, Miss Toomis. Money is a great
temptation. Perhaps if you gave him another chance....

AMY. Impossible.

PAUL. Poor Dolphin! He's such a nice young fellow.

AMY. I thought so too. But he's false.

PAUL. Don't be too hard on him. Money probably means too much to him.
It's the fault of his upbringing. No one who has not lived among the
traditions of our ancient aristocracy can be expected to have that
contempt, almost that hatred of wealth, which is the sign of true
nobility. If he had been brought up, as I was, in an old machicolated
castle on the Loire, surrounded by ancestral ghosts, imbued with the
spirit of the Crusaders and preux chevaliers who had inhabited the
place in the past, if he had learnt to know what noblesse oblige really
means, believe me, Miss Toomis, he could never have done such a thing.

AMY. I should just think he couldn't, Monsieur de Barbazange.

PAUL. You have no idea, Miss Toomis, how difficult it is for a man of
truly noble feelings to get over the fact of your great wealth. When I
heard that you were the possessor of a hundred million dollars....

AMY. Oh, I'm afraid it's more than that. It's two hundred million.

PAUL. ... of two hundred million dollars, then ... it only makes it
worse; I was very melancholy, Miss Toomis. For those two hundred million
dollars were a barrier, which a descendant of Crusaders and preux
chevaliers could not overleap. Honour, Miss Toomis, honour forbade. Ah,
if only that accursed money had not stood in the way.... When I first
saw you oh, how I was moved by that vision of beauty and innocence--I
wanted nothing better than to stand gazing on you for ever. But then I
heard about those millions. Dolphin was lucky to have felt no
restraints. But enough, enough. (_He checks a rising tide of emotion_.)
Give poor Dolphin another chance, Miss Toomis. At bottom he is a good
fellow, and he may learn in time to esteem you for your own sake and to
forget the dazzling millions.

AMY. Never. I can only marry a man who is entirely disinterested.

PAUL. But, can't you see, no disinterested man could ever bring himself
to ask you? How could he prove his disinterestedness? No one would
believe the purity of his intentions.

AMY (_much moved_). It is for me to judge. I know a disinterested man
when I see him. Even in America we can understand honour.

PAUL (_with a sob in his voice_). Good-bye Miss Toomis.

AMY. But no, I don't want it to be good-bye.

PAUL. It must be. Never shall it be said of a Barbazange that he hunted
a woman for her money.

AMY. But what does it matter what the world says, if I say the opposite?

PAUL. You say the opposite? Thank you, thank you. But no, good-bye.

AMY. Stop. Oh! you're forcing me to do a most unwomanly thing. You're
making me ask you to marry me. You're the only disinterested man I've
ever met or, to judge from what I've seen of the world, I'm ever likely
to meet. Haven't you kept away from me in spite of your feelings?
Haven't you even tried to make me listen to another man--a man not
worthy to black your boots? Oh, it's so wonderful, so noble! It's like
something in a picture play. Paul, I offer myself to you. Will you take
me in spite of my millions?

PAUL (_falling on his knees and kissing the hem of_ AMY'S _skirt_). My
angel, you're right; what does it matter what the world says as long as
you believe in me? Amy, amie, bien-aimée.... Ah, it's too good too, too
good to be true! (_He rises to his feet and embraces her with an
unfeigned enthusiasm_.)

AMY. Paul, Paul.... And so this is love. Isn't it wonderful?

PAUL (_looking round anxiously_). You mustn't tell anyone about our
engagement, my Amy. They might say unpleasant things in the hotel, you
know.

AMY. Of course I won't talk about it. We'll keep our happiness to
ourselves, won't we?

PAUL. Entirely to ourselves; and to-morrow we'll go to Paris and arrange
about being married.

AMY. Yes, yes; we'll take the eight o'clock train.

PAUL. Not the eight o clock, my darling. I have to go to the bank
to-morrow to do a little business. We must wait till the twelve thirty.

AMY. Very well, then. The twelve-thirty. Oh, how happy I am!

PAUL. So am I, my sweetheart. More than I can tell you. (_The sound of a
window being opened is heard. They look up and see the_ BARONESS
_dressed in a peignoir of the tenderest blue, emerging on to the right
hand of the three balconies_.)

AMY. Oh, my soul! I think I'd better go in. Good-night, my Paul. (_She
runs in_.)

SIMONE. Has that horrid little American girl gone? (_She peers down,
then, reassured, she blows a kiss to_ PAUL.) My Romeo!

PAUL. I come, Juliet.

SIMONE. There's a kiss for you.

PAUL (_throwing kisses with both hands_). And there's one for you. And
another, and another. Two hundred million kisses, my angel.

SIMONE (_giggling_). What a lot!

PAUL. It is; you re quite right. Two hundred million.... I come, my
Juliet. (_He darts into the hotel, pausing when just inside the door and
out of sight of the_ BARONESS, _to mop himself once again with his
enormous handkerchief. The operation over, he advances with a resolute
step, The_ BARONESS _stands for a moment on the balcony. Then, seeing_
DOLPHIN _and_ LUCREZIA _coming in from the left, she retires, closing
the window and drawing the curtains behind her_. DOLPHIN _comes striding
in_; LUCREZIA _follows a little behind, looking anxiously up at him_.)

LUCREZIA. Please, please....

DOLPHIN. NO, I won t listen to anything more. (_He walks with an
agitated step up and down the stage_. LUCREZIA _stands with one hand
resting on the back of a chair and the other pressed on her heart.)_ Do
you mean to say you deliberately went and told her that I was only after
her money? Oh, it's too bad, too bad. It's infamous. And I hadn't the
faintest notion that she had any money. Besides, I don't want money; I
have quite enough of my own. It's infamous, infamous!

LUCREZIA. I know it was a horrible thing to do. But I couldn't help it.
How could I stand by and see you being carried off by that silly little
creature?

DOLPHIN. But I cared for her.

LUCREZIA. But not as I cared for you. I've got red blood in my veins;
she's got nothing but milk and water. You couldn't have been happy with
her. I can give you love of a kind she could never dream of. What does
she know of passion?

DOLPHIN. Nothing, I am thankful to say. I don't want passion; can't you
understand that? I don't possess it myself and don't like it in others.
I am a man of sentimental affections, with a touch of quiet sensuality.
I don't want passion, I tell you. It's too violent; it frightens me. I
couldn't possibly live with you. You'd utterly shatter my peace of mind
in a day. Oh, how I wish you'd go away.

LUCREZIA. But Sidney, Sidney, can't you understand what it is to be
madly in love with somebody? You can't be so cruel.

DOLPHIN. You didn't think much of my well-being when you interfered
between Miss Toomis and me, did you? You've probably ruined my whole
life, that's all. I really don't see why you should expect me to have
any pity for you.

LUCREZIA. Very well, then, I shall kill myself. (_She bursts into
tears_.)

DOLPHIN. Oh, but I assure you, one doesn't kill oneself for things like
that. (_He approaches her and pats her on the shoulder_.) Come, come,
don't worry about it.

LUCREZIA (_throws her arms round his neck_). Oh, Sidney, Sidney....

DOLPHIN (_freeing himself with surprising energy and promptitude from
her embrace_). No, no, none of that, I beg. Another moment and we shall
be losing our heads. Personally I think I shall go to bed now. I should
advise you to do the same, Miss Grattarol. You're overwrought. We might
all be better for a small dose of bromide. (_He goes in_.)

LUCREZIA (_looking up and stretching forth her hands_). Sidney....
(DOLPHIN _does not look round, and disappears through the glass door
into the hotel_, LUCREZIA _covers her face with her hands and sits for a
little sobbing silently. The nightingale sings on. Midnight sounds with
an infinite melancholy from all the twenty campaniles of the city in the
valley. From far away comes the spasmodic throbbing of a guitar and the
singing of an Italian voice, high-pitched, passionate, throaty. The
seconds pass_, LUCREZIA _rises to her feet and walks slowly into the
hotel. On the threshold she encounters the_ VICOMTE _coming out_.)

PAUL. You, Signorina Lucrezia? I've escaped for a breath of fresh, cool
air. Mightn't we take a turn together? (LUCREZIA _shakes her head_.) Ah,
well, then, good-night. You'll be glad to hear that Miss Toomis knows
all about Correggio now.

(_He inhales a deep breath of air. Then looking at his dinner-jacket he
begins brushing at it with his hand. A lamentable figure creeps in from
the left. It is_ ALBERTO. _If he had a tail, it would be trailing on the
ground between his legs_.)

PAUL. Hullo, Alberto. What is it? Been losing at cards?

ALBERTO. Worse than that.

PAUL. Creditors foreclosing?

ALBERTO. Much worse.

PAUL. Father ruined by imprudent speculations?

ALBERTO. No, no, no. It's nothing to do with money.

PAUL. Oh, well, then. It can't be anything very serious. It's women, I
suppose.

ALBERTO. My mistress refuses to see me. I have been beating on her door
for hours in vain.

PAUL. I wish we all had your luck, Bertino. Mine opens her door only too
promptly. The difficulty is to get out again. Does yours use such an
awful lot of this evil-smelling powder? I'm simply covered with it. Ugh!
(_He brushes his coat again_.)

ALBERTO. Can't you be serious, Paul?

PAUL. Of course I can ... about a serious matter. But you can't expect
me to pull a long face about your mistress, can you, now? Do look at
things in their right proportions.

ALBERTO. It's no use talking to you. You're heartless, soulless.

PAUL. What you mean, my dear Alberto, is that I'm relatively speaking
bodiless. Physical passion never goes to my head. I'm always _compos
mentis_. You aren't, that's all.

ALBERTO. Oh, you disgust me. I think I shall hang myself to-night.

PAUL. Do. It will give us something to talk about at lunch to-morrow.

ALBERTO. Monster! (_He goes into the hotel_, PAUL _strolls out towards
the garden, whistling an air from Mozart as he goes. The window on the
left opens and_ LUCREZIA _steps on to her balcony. Uncoiled, her red
hair falls almost to her waist. Her nightdress is always half slipping
off one shoulder or the other, like those loose-bodied Restoration gowns
that reveal the tight-blown charms of Kneller's Beauties. Her feet are
bare. She is a marvellously romantic figure, as she stands there,
leaning on the balustrade, and with eyes more sombre than night, gazing
into the darkness. The nightingales, the bells, the guitar, and
passionate voice strike up. Great stars palpitate in the sky. The moon
has swum imperceptibly to the height of heaven. In the garden below
flowers are yielding their souls into the air, censers invisible. It is
too much, too much.... Large tears roll down_ LUCREZIA's _cheeks and
fall with a splash to the ground. Suddenly, but with the noiselessness
of a cat,_ ALBERTO _appears, childish-looking in pink pajamas, on the
middle of the three balconies. He sees_ LUCREZIA, _but she is much too
deeply absorbed in thought to have noticed his coming_, ALBERTO _plants
his elbows on the rail of the balcony, covers his face, and begins to
sob, at first inaudibly, then in a gradual quickening crescendo. At the
seventh sob_ LUCREZIA _starts and becomes aware of his presence_.)

LUCREZIA. Alberto. I didn't know.... Have you been there long? (ALBERTO
_makes no articulate reply, but his sobs keep on growing louder_.)
Alberto, are you unhappy? Answer me.

ALBERTO (_with difficulty, after a pause_). Yes.

LUCREZIA. Didn't she let you in?

ALBERTO. No. (_His sobs become convulsive_.)

LUCREZIA. Poor boy.

ALBERTO (_lifting up a blubbered face to the moonlight_). I am so
unhappy.

LUCREZIA. You can't be more unhappy than I am.

ALBERTO. Oh yes, I am. It's impossible to be unhappier than me.

LUCREZIA. But I _am_ more unhappy.

ALBERTO. You re not. Oh, how can you be so cruel Lucrezia? (_He covers
his face once more_.)

LUCREZIA. But I only said I was unhappy Alberto.

ALBERTO. Yes, I know. That showed you weren't thinking of me. Nobody
loves me. I shall hang myself to-night with the cord of my
dressing-gown.

LUCREZIA. NO, no, Alberto. You mustn't do anything rash.

ALBERTO. I shall. Your cruelty has been the last straw.

LUCREZIA. I'm sorry, Bertino mio. But if you only knew how miserable I
was feeling. I didn't mean to be unsympathetic. Poor boy. I'm so sorry.
There, don't cry, poor darling.

ALBERTO. Oh, I knew you wouldn't desert me, Lucrezia. You've always been
a mother to me. (_He stretches out his hand and seizes hers, which has
gone half-way to meet him; but the balconies are too far apart to allow
him to kiss it. He makes an effort and fails. He is too short in the
body_,) Will you let me come onto your balcony, Lucrezia? I want to tell
you how grateful I am.

LUCREZIA. But you can do that from your own balcony.

ALBERTO. Please, please, Lucrezia. You mustn't be cruel to me again. I
can't bear it.

LUCREZIA. Well, then.... Just for a moment, but for no more, (BERTINO
_climbs from one balcony to the other. One is a little reminded of the
trousered monkeys on the barrel organs. Arrived, he kneels down and
kisses_ LUCREZIA'S _hand_.)

ALBERTO. You've saved me. You've given given me a fresh desire to live
and a fresh faith in life. How can I thank you enough, Lucrezia,
darling?

LUCREZIA (_patting his head_). There, there. _We_ are just two unhappy
creatures. We must try and comfort one another.

ALBERTO. What a brute I am! I never thought of your unhappiness. I am so
selfish. What is it, Lucrezia?

LUCREZIA. I can't tell you, Bertino; but it's very painful.

ALBERTO. Poor child, poor child. (_His kisses, which started at the
hand, have mounted, by this time, some way up the arm, changing
perceptibly in character as they rise. At the shoulder they have a
warmth which could not have been inferred from the respectful salutes
which barely touched the fingers_.) Poor darling! You've given me
consolation. Now you must let me comfort your unhappiness.

LUCREZIA (_with an effort_). I think you ought to go back now, Bertino.

ALBERTO. In a minute, my darling. There, there, poor Lucrezia. (_He puts
an arm round her, kisses her hair and neck._ LUCREZIA _leans her bowed
head against his chest. The sound of footsteps is heard. They both look
up with scared, wide-open eyes_.)

LUCREZIA. We mustn't be seen here, Bertino. What would people think?

ALBERTO. I'll go back.

LUCREZIA. There's no time. You must come into my room. Quickly.

(_They slip through the French window, but not quickly enough to have
escaped the notice of_ PAUL, _returning from his midnight stroll. The_
VICOMTE _stands for a moment looking up at the empty balcony. He laughs
softly to himself, and, throwing his cigarette away, passes through the
glass door into the house. All is now silent, save for the nightingales
and the distant bells. The curtain comes down for a moment to indicate
the passage of several hours. It rises again with the sun_. LUCREZIA's
_window opens and she appears on the balcony. She stands a moment with
one foot over the threshold of the long window in a listening pose. Then
her eyes fall on the better half of a pair of pink pyjamas lying
crumpled on the floor, like a body bereft of its soul; with her bare
foot she turns it over. A little shudder plucks at her nerves, and she
shakes her head as though, by this symbolic act, to shake off something
clinging and contaminating. Then she steps out into the full glory of
the early sun, stretching out her arms to the radiance. She bows her
face into her hands, crying out loud to herself_.) LUCREZIA. Oh, why,
why, why? (_The last of these Why's is caught by the_ WAITER, _who has
crept forth in shirt-sleeves and list-slippers, duster in hand, to clean
the tables. He looks up at her admiringly, passes his tongue over his
lips. Then, with a sigh, turns to dust the tables_.)



CURTAIN.



III: THE TILLOTSON BANQUET



I


Young Spode was not a snob; he was too intelligent for that, too
fundamentally decent. Not a snob; but all the same he could not help
feeling very well pleased at the thought that he was dining, alone and
intimately, with Lord Badgery. It was a definite event in his life, a
step forward, he felt, towards that final success, social, material, and
literary, which he had come to London with the fixed intention of
making. The conquest and capture of Badgery was an almost essential
strategical move in the campaign.

Edmund, forty-seventh Baron Badgery, was a lineal descendant of that
Edmund, surnamed Le Blayreau, who landed on English soil in the train of
William the Conqueror. Ennobled by William Rufus, the Badgerys had been
one of the very few baronial families to survive the Wars of the Roses
and all the other changes and chances of English history. They were a
sensible and philoprogenitive race. No Badgery had ever fought in any
war, no Badgery had ever engaged in any kind of politics. They had been
content to live and quietly to propagate their species in a huge
machicolated Norman castle, surrounded by a triple moat, only sallying
forth to cultivate their property and to collect their rents. In the
eighteenth century, when life had become relatively secure, the Badgerys
began to venture forth into civilised society. From boorish squires they
blossomed into _grands seigneurs_, patrons of the arts, virtuosi. Their
property was large, they were rich; and with the growth of industrialism
their riches also grew. Villages on their estate turned into
manufacturing towns, unsuspected coal was discovered beneath the surface
of their barren moorlands. By the middle of the nineteenth century the
Badgerys were among the richest of English noble families. The
forty-seventh baron disposed of an income of at least two hundred
thousand pounds a year. Following the great Badgery tradition, he had
refused to have anything to do with politics or war. He occupied himself
by collecting pictures; he took an interest in theatrical productions;
he was the friend and patron of men of letters, of painters, and
musician. A personage, in a word, of considerable consequence in that
particular world in which young Spode had elected to make his success.

Spode had only recently left the university. Simon Gollamy, the editor
of the _World's Review_ (the "Best of all possible Worlds"), had got to
know him--he was always on the look out for youthful talent--had seen
possibilities in the young man, and appointed him art critic of his
paper. Gollamy liked to have young and teachable people about him. The
possession of disciples flattered his vanity, and he found it easier,
moreover, to run his paper with docile collaborators than with men grown
obstinate and case-hardened with age. Spode had not done badly at his
new job. At any rate, his articles had been intelligent enough to arouse
the interest of Lord Badgery. It was, ultimately, to them that he owed
the honour of sitting to night in the dining-room of Badgery House.

Fortified by several varieties of wine and a glass of aged brandy, Spode
felt more confident and at ease than he had done the whole evening.
Badgery was rather a disquieting host. He had an alarming habit of
changing the subject of any conversation that had lasted for more than
two minutes. Spode had found it, for example, horribly mortifying when
his host, cutting across what was, he prided himself, a particularly
subtle and illuminating disquisition on baroque art, had turned a
wandering eye about the room and asked him abruptly whether he liked
parrots. He had flushed and glanced suspiciously towards him, fancying
that the man was trying to be offensive. But no; Badgery's white,
fleshy, Hanoverian face wore an expression of perfect good faith. There
was no malice in his small greenish eyes. He evidently did genuinely
want to know if Spode liked parrots. The young man swallowed his
irritation and replied that he did. Badgery then told a good story about
parrots. Spode was on the point of capping it with a better story, when
his host began to talk about Beethoven. And so the game went on. Spode
cut his conversation to suit his host's requirements. In the course of
ten minutes he had made a more or less witty epigram on Benvenuto
Cellini, Queen Victoria, sport, God, Stephen Phillips, and Moorish
architecture. Lord Badgery thought him the most charming young man, and
so intelligent.

"If you've quite finished your coffee," he said, rising to his feet as
he spoke, "we'll go and look at the pictures."

Spode jumped up with alacrity, and only then realised that he had drunk
just ever so little too much. He would have to be careful, talk
deliberately, plant his feet consciously, one after the other.

"This house is quite cluttered up with pictures," Lord Badgery
complained. "I had a whole wagon-load taken away to the country last
week; but there are still far too many. My ancestors would have their
portraits painted by Romney. Such a shocking artist, don't you think?
Why couldn't they have chosen Gainsborough, or even Reynolds? I've had
all the Romneys hung in the servants' hall now. It's such a comfort to
know that one can never possibly see them again. I suppose you know all
about the ancient Hittites?"

"Well...." the young man replied, with befitting modesty.

"Look at that, then." He indicated a large stone head which stood in a
case near the dining-room door. "It's not Greek, or Egyptian, or
Persian, or anything else; so if it isn't ancient Hittite, I don't know
what it is. And that reminds me of that story about Lord George Sanger,
the Circus King...." and, without giving Spode time to examine the
Hittite relic, he led the way up the huge staircase, pausing every now
and then in his anecdote to point out some new object of curiosity or
beauty.

"I suppose you know Deburau's pantomimes?" Spode rapped out as soon as
the story was over. He was in an itch to let out his information about
Deburau. Badgery had given him a perfect opening with his ridiculous
Sanger. "What a perfect man, isn't he? He used to...."

"This is my main gallery," said Lord Badgery, throwing open one leaf of
a tall folding door. "I must apologise for it. It looks like a
roller-skating rink." He fumbled with the electric switches and there
was suddenly light--light that revealed an enormous gallery, duly
receding into distance according to all the laws of perspective. "I dare
say you've heard of my poor father," Lord Badgery continued. "A little
insane, you know; sort of mechanical genius with a screw loose. He used
to have a toy railway in this room. No end of fun he had, crawling about
the floor after his trains. And all the pictures were stacked in the
cellars. I can't tell you what they were like when I found them:
mushrooms growing out of the Botticellis. Now I'm rather proud of this
Poussin; he painted it for Scarron."

"Exquisite!" Spode exclaimed, making with his hand a gesture as though
he were modelling a pure form in the air. "How splendid the onrush of
those trees and leaning figures is! And the way they re caught up, as it
were, and stemmed by that single godlike form opposing them with his
contrary movement! And the draperies...."

But Lord Badgery had moved on, and was standing in front of a little
fifteenth-century Virgin of carved wood.

"School of Rheims," he explained.

They "did" the gallery at high speed. Badgery never permitted his guest
to halt for more than forty seconds before any work of art. Spode would
have liked to spend a few moments of recollection and tranquillity in
front of some of these lovely things. But it was not permitted.

The gallery done, they passed into a little room leading out of it. At
the sight of what the lights revealed, Spode gasped.

"It's like something out of Balzac," he exclaimed. "Un de ces salons
dorés où se déploie un luxe insolent. You know."

"My nineteenth-century chamber," Badgery explained. "The best thing of
its kind, I flatter myself, outside the State Apartments at Windsor."

Spode tiptoed round the room, peering with astonishment at all the
objects in glass, in gilded bronze, in china, in leathers, in
embroidered and painted silk, in beads, in wax, objects of the most
fantastic shapes and colours, all the queer products of a decadent
tradition, with which the room was crowded. There were paintings on the
walls--a Martin, a Wilkie, an early Landseer, several Ettys, a big
Haydon, a slight pretty water-colour of a girl by Wainewright, the pupil
of Blake and arsenic poisoner, a score of others. But the picture which
arrested Spode's attention was a medium sized canvas representing
Troilus riding into Troy among the flowers and plaudits of an admiring
crowd, and oblivious (you could see from his expression) of everything
but the eyes of Cressida, who looked down at him from a window, with
Pandarus smiling over her shoulder.

"What an absurd and enchanting picture!" Spode exclaimed.

"Ah, you've spotted my Troilus." Lord Badgery was pleased.

"What bright harmonious colours! Like Etty's, only stronger, not so
obviously pretty. And there's an energy about it that reminds one of
Haydon. Only Haydon could never have done anything so impeccable in
taste. Who is it by?" Spode turned to his host inquiringly.

"You were right in detecting Haydon," Lord Badgery answered, "It's by
his pupil, Tillotson. I wish I could get hold of more of his work. But
nobody seems to know anything about him. And he seems to have done so
little."

This time it was the younger man who interrupted.

"Tillotson, Tillotson...." He put his hand to his forehead. A frown
incongruously distorted his round, floridly curved face. No ... yes, I
have it. He looked up triumphantly with serene and childish brows.
"Tillotson, Walter Tillotson--the man's still alive."

Badgery smiled. "This picture was painted in 1846, you know."

"Well, that's all right. Say he was born in 1820, painted his
masterpiece when he was twenty-six, and it's 1913 now; that's to say
he's only ninety-three. Not as old as Titian yet."

"But he's not been heard of since 1860," Lord Badgery protested.

"Precisely. Your mention of his name reminded me of the discovery I made
the other day when I was looking through the obituary notices in the
archives of the _World's Review_.(One has to bring them up to date every
year or so for fear of being caught napping if one of these t old birds
chooses to shuffle off suddenly.) Well, there, among them--I remember my
astonishment at the time--there I found Walter Tillotson's biography.
Pretty full to 1860, and then a blank, except for a pencil note in the
early nineteen hundreds to the effect that he had returned from the
East. The obituary has never been used or added to. I draw the obvious
conclusion: the old chap isn't dead yet. He's just been overlooked
somehow."

"But this is extraordinary," Lord Badgery exclaimed. "You must find him,
Spode--you must find him. I'll commission him to paint frescoes round
this room. It's just what I've always vainly longed for a real
nineteenth-century artist to decorate this place for me. Oh, we must
find him at once--at once."

Lord Badgery strode up and down in a state of great excitement.

"I can see how this room could be made quite perfect," he went on. "We'd
clear away all these cases and have the whole of that wall filled by a
heroic fresco of Hector and Andromache, or 'Distraining for Rent', or
Fanny Kemble as Belvidera in 'Venice Preserved' anything like that,
provided it's in the grand manner of the 'thirties and 'forties. And
here I'd have a landscape with lovely receding perspectives, or else
something architectural and grand in the style of Belshazzar's feast.
Then we'll have this Adam fireplace taken down and replaced by something
Mauro-Gothic. And on these walls I'll have mirrors, or no! let me
see...."

He sank into meditative silence, from which he finally roused himself to
shout:

"The old man, the old man! Spode, we must find this astonishing old
creature. And don't breathe a word to anybody. Tillotson shall be our
secret. Oh, it's too perfect, it's incredible! Think of the frescoes."

Lord Badgery's face had become positively animated. He had talked of a
single subject for nearly a quarter of an hour.



II


Three weeks later Lord Badgery was aroused from his usual after-luncheon
somnolence by the arrival of a telegram. The message was a short one.
"Found.--SPODE." A look of pleasure and intelligence made human Lord
Badgery's clayey face of surfeit. "No answer," he said. The footman
padded away on noiseless feet.

Lord Badgery closed his eyes and began to contemplate. Found! What a
room he would have! There would be nothing like it in the world. The
frescoes, the fireplace, the mirrors, the ceiling.... And a small,
shrivelled old man clambering about the scaffolding, agile and quick
like one of those whiskered little monkeys at the Zoo, painting away,
painting away.... Fanny Kemble as Belvidera, Hector and Andromache, or
why not the Duke of Clarence in the Butt, the Duke of Malmsey, the Butt
of Clarence. ... Lord Badgery was asleep.

Spode did not lag long behind his telegram. He was at Badgery House by
six o'clock. His lordship was in the nineteenth-century chamber,
engaged in clearing away with his own hands the bric-à-brac. Spode found
him looking hot and out of breath.

"Ah, there you are," said Lord Badgery. You see me already preparing for
the great man's coming. Now you must tell me all about him.

"He's older even than I thought," said Spode. "He's ninety-seven this
year. Born in 1816. Incredible, isn't it! There, I'm beginning at the
wrong end."

"Begin where you like," said Badgery genially.

"I won't tell you all the incidents of the hunt. You've no idea what a
job I had to run him to earth. It was like a Sherlock Holmes story,
immensely elaborate, too elaborate. I shall write a book about it some
day. At any rate, I found him at last."

"Where?"

"In a sort of respectable slum in Holloway, older and poorer and
lonelier than you could have believed possible. I found out how it was
he came to be forgotten, how he came to drop out of life in the way he
did. He took it into his head, somewhere about the 'sixties, to go to
Palestine to get local colour for his religious pictures--scapegoats and
things, you know. Well, he went to Jerusalem and then on to Mount
Lebanon and on and on, and then, somewhere in the middle of Asia Minor,
he got stuck. He got stuck for about forty years."

"But what did he do all that time?"

"Oh, he painted, and started a mission, and converted three Turks, and
taught the local Pashas the rudiments of English, Latin, and
perspective, and God knows what else. Then, in about 1904, it seems to
have occurred to him that he was getting rather old and had been away
from home for rather a long time. So he made his way back to England,
only to find that everyone he had known was dead, that the dealers had
never heard of him and wouldn't buy his pictures, that he was simply a
ridiculous old figure of fun. So he got a job as a drawing-master in a
girl's school in Holloway, and there he's been ever since, growing older
and older, and feebler and feebler, and blinder and deafer, and
generally more gaga, until finally the school has given him the sack. He
had about ten pounds in the world when I found him. He lives in a kind
of black hole in a basement full of beetles. When his ten pounds are
spent, I suppose he'll just quietly die there."

Badgery held up a white hand. "No more, no more. I find literature quite
depressing enough. I insist that life at least shall be a little gayer.
Did you tell him I wanted him to paint my room?"

"But he can't paint. He's too blind and palsied."

"Can't paint?" Badgery exclaimed in horror. "Then what's the good of the
old creature?"

"Well, if you put it like that...." Spode began.

"I shall never have my frescoes. Ring the bell, will you?"

Spode rang.

"What right has Tillotson to go on existing if he can't paint?" went on
Lord Badgery petulantly. "After all, that was his only justification for
occupying a place in the sun."

"He doesn't have much sun in his basement."

The footman appeared at the door.

"Get someone to put all these things back in their places," Lord Badgery
commanded, indicating with a wave of the hand the ravaged cases, the
confusion of glass and china with which he had littered the floor, the
pictures unhooked. "We'll go to the library, Spode; it's more
comfortable there."

He led the way through the long gallery and down the stairs.

"I'm sorry old Tillotson has been such a disappointment," said Spode
sympathetically.

"Let us talk about something else; he ceases to interest me.

"But don't you think we ought to do something about him? He's only got
ten pounds between him and the workhouse. And if you'd seen the
black-beetles in his basement!"

"Enough enough. I'll do everything you think fitting."

"I thought we might get up a subscription amongst lovers of the arts."

"There aren't any," said Badgery.

"No; but there are plenty of people who will subscribe out of snobbism."

"Not unless you give them something for their money."

"That's true. I hadn't thought of that." Spode was silent for a moment.
"We might have a dinner in his honour. The Great Tillotson Banquet.
Doyen of the British Art. A Link with the Past. Can't you see it in the
papers? I'd make a stunt of it in the _World's Review_. That ought to
bring in the snobs."

"And we'll invite a lot of artists and critics--all the ones who can't
stand one another. It will be fun to see them squabbling." Badgery
laughed. Then his face darkened once again. "Still," he added, "it'll
be a very poor second best to my frescoes. You'll stay to dinner, of
course."

"Well, since you suggest it. Thanks very much."



III


The Tillotson Banquet was fixed to take place about three weeks later.
Spode, who had charge of the arrangements, proved himself an excellent
organiser. He secured the big banqueting-room at the Café Bomba, and was
successful in bullying and cajoling the manager into giving fifty
persons dinner at twelve shillings a head, including wine. He sent out
invitations and collected subscriptions. He wrote an article on
Tillotson in the _World's Review_--one of those charming, witty articles
couched in the tone of amused patronage and contempt with which one
speaks of the great men of 1840. Nor did he neglect Tillotson himself.
He used to go to Holloway almost every day to listen to the old man's
endless stories about Asia Minor and the Great Exhibition of '51 and
Benjamin Robert Haydon. He was sincerely sorry for this relic of another
age.

Mr. Tillotson's room was about ten feet below the level of the soil of
South Holloway. A little grey light percolated through the area bars,
forced a difficult passage through panes opaque with dirt, and spent
itself, like a drop of milk that falls into an inkpot, among the
inveterate shadows of the dungeon. The place was haunted by the spur
smell of damp plaster and of woodwork that has begun to moulder secretly
at the heart. A little miscellaneous furniture, including a bed, a
washstand and chest of drawers, a table and one or two chairs, lurked in
the obscure corners of the den or ventured furtively out into the open.
Hither Spode now came almost every day, bringing the old man news of the
progress of the banquet scheme. Every day he found Mr. Tillotson sitting
in the same place under the window, bathing, as it were, in his tiny
puddle of light. "The oldest man that ever wore grey hairs," Spode
reflected as he looked at him. Only there were very few hairs left on
that bald, unpolished head. At the sound of the visitor's knock Mr.
Tillotson would turn in his chair, stare in the direction of the door
with blinking, uncertain eyes. He was always full of apologies for being
so slow in recognising who was there.

"No discourtesy meant," he would say, after asking. "It's not as if I
had forgotten who you were. Only it's so dark and my sight isn't what it
was."

After that he never failed to give a little laugh, and, pointing out of
the window at the area railings, would say:

"Ah, this is the plate for somebody with good sight. It's the place for
looking at ankles. It's the grand stand."

It was the day before the great event. Spode came as usual, and Mr.
Tillotson punctually made his little joke about the ankles, and Spode,
as punctually laughed.

"Well, Mr. Tillotson," he said, after the reverberation of the joke had
died away, "to-morrow you make your re-entry into the world of art and
fashion. You'll find some changes."

"I've always had such extraordinary luck," said Mr. Tillotson, and Spode
could see by his expression that he genuinely believed it, that he had
forgotten the black hole and the black-beetles and the almost exhausted
ten pounds that stood between him and the workhouse. "What an amazing
piece of good fortune, for instance, that you should have found me just
when you did. Now, this dinner will bring me back to my place in the
world. I shall have money, and in a little while--who knows?--I shall be
able to see well enough to paint again. I believe my eyes are getting
better, you know. Ah, the future is very rosy."

Mr. Tillotson looked up, his face puckered into a smile, and nodded his
head in affirmation of his words.

"You believe in the life to come?" said Spode, and immediately flushed
for shame at the cruelty of the words.

But Mr. Tillotson was in far too cheerful a mood to have caught their
significance.

"Life to come," he repeated. "No, I don't believe in any of that stuff
not since 1859. The 'Origin of Species' changed my views, you know. No
life to come for me, thank you! You don't remember the excitement of
course. You re very young Mr. Spode."

"Well, I'm not so old as I was," Spode replied. "You know how
middle-aged one is as a schoolboy and undergraduate. Now I'm old enough
to know I'm young."

Spode was about to develop this little paradox further, but he noticed
that Mr. Tillotson had not been listening. He made a note of the gambit
for use in companies that were more appreciative of the subtleties.

"You were talking about the 'Origin of Species,'" he said.

"Was I?" said Mr. Tillotson, waking from reverie.

"About its effect on your faith, Mr. Tillotson."

"To be sure, yes. It shattered my faith. But I remember a fine thing by
the Poet Laureate, something about there being more faith in honest
doubt, believe me, than in all the ... all the ...: I forget exactly
what; but you see the train of thought. Oh, it was a bad time for
religion. I am glad my master Haydon never lived to see it. He was a man
of fervour. I remember him pacing up and down his studio in Lisson
Grove, singing and shouting and praying all at once. It used almost to
frighten me. Oh, but he was a wonderful man, a great man. Take him for
all in all, we shall not look upon his like again. As usual, the Bard is
right. But it was all very long ago, before your time, Mr. Spode."

"Well, I'm not as old as I was," said Spode, in the hope of having his
paradox appreciated this time. But Mr. Tillotson went on without
noticing the interruption.

"It's a very, very long time. And yet, when I look back on it, it all
seems but a day or two ago. Strange that each day should seem so long
and that many days added together should be less than an hour. How
clearly I can see old Haydon pacing up and down! Much more clearly,
indeed, than I see you, Mr. Spode. The eyes of memory don t grow dim.
But my sight is improving, I assure you; it's improving daily. I shall
soon be able to see those ankles." He laughed like a cracked bell--one
of those little old bells, Spode fancied, that ring, with much rattling
of wires, in the far-off servants quarters of ancient houses. "And very
soon," Mr. Tillotson went on, "I shall be painting again. Ah, Mr. Spode,
my luck is extraordinary. I believe in it, I trust in it. And after all,
what is luck? Simply another name for Providence, in spite of the Origin
of Species and the rest of it. How right the Laureate was when he said
that there was more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in all the
... er, the ... er ... well, you know. I regard you, Mr. Spode, as the
emissary of Providence. Your coming marked a turning-point in my life,
and the beginning, for me, of happier days. Do you know, one of the
first things I shall do when my fortunes are restored will be to buy a
hedgehog."

"A hedgehog, Mr. Tillotson?"

"For the blackbeetles. There's nothing like a hedgehog for beetles. It
will eat blackbeetles till it's sick, till it dies of surfeit. That
reminds me of the time when I told my poor great master Haydon--in joke,
of course--that he ought to send in a cartoon of King John dying of a
surfeit of lampreys for the frescoes in the new Houses of Parliament. As
I told him, it's a most notable event in the annals of British
liberty--the providential and exemplary removal of a tyrant."

Mr. Tillotson laughed again--the little bell in the deserted house; a
ghostly hand pulling the cord in the drawing-room, and phantom footmen
responding to the thin, flawed note.

"I remember he laughed, laughed like a bull in his old grand manner. But
oh, it was a terrible blow when they rejected his design, a terrible
blow. It was the first and fundamental cause of his suicide."

Mr. Tillotson paused. There was a long silence. Spode felt strangely
moved, he hardly knew why, in the presence of this man, so frail, so
ancient, in body three parts dead, in the spirit so full of life and
hopeful patience. He felt ashamed. What was the use of his own youth and
cleverness? He saw himself suddenly as a boy with a rattle scaring birds
rattling his noisy cleverness, waving his arms in ceaseless and futile
activity, never resting in his efforts to scare away the birds that were
always trying to settle in his mind. And what birds! widewinged and
beautiful, all those serene thoughts and faiths and emotions that only
visit minds that have humbled themselves to quiet. Those gracious
visitants he was for ever using all his energies to drive away. But this
old man, with his hedgehogs and his honest doubts and all the rest of
it--his mind was like a field made beautiful by the free coming and
going, the unafraid alightings of a multitude of white, bright-winged
creatures. He felt ashamed. But then, was it possible to alter one's
life? Wasn't it a little absurd to risk a conversion? Spode shrugged his
shoulders.

"I'll get you a hedgehog at once," he said. "They're sure to have some
at Whiteley's."

Before he left that evening Spode made an alarming discovery. Mr.
Tillotson did not possess a dress-suit. It was hopeless to think of
getting one made at this short notice, and, besides, what an unnecessary
expense!

"We shall have to borrow a suit, Mr. Tillotson. I ought to have thought
of that before."

"Dear me, dear me." Mr. Tillotson was a little chagrined by this unlucky
discovery. "Borrow a suit?"

Spode hurried away for counsel to Badgery House. Lord Badgery
surprisingly rose to the occasion. "Ask Boreham to come and see me," he
told the footman, who answered his ring.

Boreham was one of those immemorial butlers who linger on, generation
after generation, in the houses of the great. He was over eighty now,
bent, dried up, shrivelled with age.

"All old men are about the same size," said Lord Badgery. It was a
comforting theory. "Ah, here he is. Have you got a spare suit of evening
clothes, Boreham?"

"I have an old suit, my lord, that I stopped wearing in let me see was
it nineteen seven or eight?"

"That's the very thing. I should be most grateful, Boreham, if you could
lend it to me for Mr. Spode here for a day."

The old man went out, and soon reappeared carrying over his arm a very
old black suit. He held up the coat and trousers for inspection. In the
light of day they were deplorable.

"You've no idea, sir," said Boreham deprecatingly to Spode you've no
idea how easy things get stained with grease and gravy and what not.
However careful you are, sir--however careful.

"I should imagine so." Spode was sympathetic.

"However careful, sir."

"But in artificial light they'll look all right."

"Perfectly all right," Lord Badgery repeated. "Thank you, Boreham; you
shall have them back on Thursday."

"You re welcome, my lord, I'm sure." And the old man bowed and
disappeared.

On the afternoon of the great day Spode carried up to Holloway a parcel
containing Boreham's retired evening-suit and all the necessary
appurtenances in the way of shirts and collars. Owing to the darkness
and his own feeble sight Mr. Tillotson was happily unaware of the
defects in the suit. He was in a state of extreme nervous agitation. It
was with some difficulty that Spode could prevent him, although it was
only three o'clock, from starting his toilet on the spot.

"Take it easy, Mr. Tillotson, take it easy. We needn't start till
half-past seven, you know."

Spode left an hour later, and as soon as he was safely out of the room
Mr. Tillotson began to prepare himself for the banquet. He lighted the
gas and a couple of candles, and, blinking myopically at the image that
fronted him in the tiny looking-glass that stood on his chest of
drawers, he set to work, with all the ardour of a young girl preparing
for her first ball. At six o'clock, when the last touches had been
given, he was not unsatisfied.

He marched up and down his cellar, humming to himself the gay song which
had been so popular in his middle years:

     "_Oh, oh, Anna, Maria Jones!_
     _Queen of the tambourine, the cymbals, and the bones!_"

Spode arrived an hour later in Lord Badgery's second Rolls-Royce.
Opening the door of the old man's dungeon, he stood for a moment,
wide-eyed with astonishment, on the threshold. Mr. Tillotson was
standing by the empty grate, one elbow resting on the mantelpiece, one
leg crossed over the other in a jaunty and gentlemanly attitude. The
effect of the candlelight shining on his face was to deepen every line
and wrinkle with intense black shadow; he looked immeasurably old. It
was a noble and pathetic head. On the other hand, Boreham's out-worn
evening-suit was simply buffoonish. The coat was too long in the sleeves
and the tail; the trousers bagged in elephantine creases about his
ankles. Some of the grease-spots were visible even in candlelight. The
white tie, over which Mr. Tillotson had taken infinite pains and which
he believed in his purblindness to be perfect, was fantastically
lop-sided. He had buttoned up his waistcoat in such a fashion that one
button was widowed of its hole and one hole of its button. Across his
shirt front lay the broad green ribbon of some unknown Order.

"Queen of the tambourine, the cymbals, and the bones," Mr. Tillotson
concluded in a gnat-like voice before welcoming his visitor.

"Well, Spode, here you are. I'm dressed already, you see. The suit, I
flatter myself, fits very well, almost as though it had been made for
me. I am all gratitude to the gentleman who was kind enough to lend it
to me; I shall take the greatest care of it. It's a dangerous thing to
lend clothes. For loan oft loseth both itself and friend. The Bard is
always right."

"Just one thing," said Spode. "A touch to your waistcoat." He unbuttoned
the dissipated garment and did it up again more symmetrically.

Mr. Tillotson was a little piqued at being found so absurdly in the
wrong.

"Thanks, thanks," he said, protestingly, trying to edge away from his
valet. "It's all right, you know; I can do it myself. Foolish oversight.
I flatter myself the suit fits very well."

"And perhaps the tie might...." Spode began tentatively. But the old
man would not hear of it.

"No, no. The tie's all right. I can tie a tie, Mr. Spode. The tie's all
right. Leave it as it is, I beg."

"I like your Order."

Mr. Tillotson looked down complacently at his shirt front. "Ah, you've
noticed my Order. It's a long time since I wore that. It was given me by
the Grand Porte, you know, for services rendered in the Russo-Turkish
War. It's the Order of Chastity, the second class. They only give the
first class to crowned heads, you know--browned heads and ambassadors.
And only Pashas of the highest rank get the second. Mine's the second.
They only give the first class to crowned heads...."

"Of course, of course," said Spode.

"Do you think I look all right, Mr. Spode?" Mr. Tillotson asked, a
little anxiously.

"Splendid, Mr. Tillotson--splendid. The Order's, magnificent."

The old man's face brightened once more. "I flatter myself," he said,
"that this borrowed suit fits me very well. But I don't like borrowing
clothes. For loan oft loseth both itself and friend, you know. And the
Bard is always right."

"Ugh, there's one of those horrible beetles!" Spode exclaimed.

Mr. Tillotson bent down and stared at the floor. "I see it," he said,
and stamped on a small piece of coal, which crunched to powder under his
foot. "I shall certainly buy a hedgehog."

It was time for them to start. A crowd of little boys and girls had
collected round Lord Badgery's enormous car. The chauffeur, who felt
that honour and dignity were at stake, pretended not to notice the
children, but sat gazing, like a statue, into eternity. At the sight of
Spode and Mr. Tillotson emerging from the house a yell of mingled awe
and derision went up. It subsided to an astonished silence as they
climbed into the car. "Bomba's," Spode directed. The Rolls-Royce gave a
faintly stertorous sigh and began to move. The children yelled again,
and ran along beside the car, waving their arms in a frenzy of
excitement. It was then that Mr. Tillotson, with an incomparably noble
gesture, leaned forward and tossed among the seething crowd of urchins
his three last coppers.



IV


In Bomba's big room the company was assembling. The long gilt-edged
mirrors reflected a singular collection of people. Middle-aged
Academicians shot suspicious glances at youths whom they suspected, only
too correctly, of being iconoclasts, organisers of Post-Impressionist
Exhibitions. Rival art critics, brought suddenly face to face, quivered
with restrained hatred. Mrs. Nobes, Mrs. Cayman, and Mrs. Mandragore,
those indefatigable hunters of artistic big game, came on one another
all unawares in this well-stored menagerie, where each had expected to
hunt alone, and were filled with rage. Through this crowd of mutually
repellent vanities Lord Badgery moved with a suavity that seemed
unconscious of all the feuds and hatreds. He was enjoying himself
immensely. Behind the heavy waxen mask of his face, ambushed behind the
Hanoverian nose, the little lustreless pig's eyes, the pale thick lips,
there lurked a small devil of happy malice that rocked with laughter.

"So nice of you to have come, Mrs. Mandragore, to do honour to England's
artistic past. And I'm so glad to see you've brought dear Mrs. Cayman.
And is that Mrs. Nobes, too? So it is! I hadn't noticed her before. How
delightful! I knew we could depend on your love of art."

And he hurried away to seize the opportunity of introducing that eminent
sculptor, Sir Herbert Herne, to the bright young critic who had called
him, in the public prints, a monumental mason.

A moment later the Maître d'Hôtel came to the door of the gilded saloon
and announced, loudly and impressively, "Mr. Walter Tillotson." Guided
from behind by young Spode, Mr. Tillotson came into the room slowly and
hesitatingly. In the glare of the lights his eyelids beat heavily,
painfully, like the wings of an imprisoned moth, over his filmy eyes.
Once inside the door he halted and drew himself up with a conscious
assumption of dignity. Lord Badgery hurried forward and seized his hand.

"Welcome, Mr. Tillotson--welcome in the name of English art!"

Mr. Tillotson inclined his head in silence. He was too full of emotion
to be able to reply.

"I should like to introduce you to a few of your younger colleagues,
who have assembled here to do you honour."

Lord Badgery presented everyone in the room to the old painter, who
bowed, shook hands, made little noises in his throat, but still found
himself unable to speak. Mrs. Nobes, Mrs. Cayman, and Mrs. Mandragore
all said charming things.

Dinner was served; the party took their places. Lord Badgery sat at the
head of the table, with Mr. Tillotson on his right hand and Sir Herbert
Herne on his left. Confronted with Bomba's succulent cooking and Bomba's
wines, Mr. Tillotson ate and drank a good deal. He had the appetite of
one who has lived on greens and potatoes for ten years among the
blackbeetles. After the second glass of wine he began to talk, suddenly
and in a flood, as though a sluice had been pulled up.

"In Asia Minor," he began, "it is the custom when one goes to dinner, to
hiccough as a sign of appreciative fullness. _Eructavit cor meum_, as
the Psalmist has it; he was an Oriental himself."

Spode had arranged to sit next to Mrs. Cayman; he had designs upon her.
She was an impossible woman, of course, but rich and useful; he wanted
to bamboozle her into buying some of his young friends' pictures.

"In a cellar?" Mrs. Cayman was saying, "with, blackbeetles? Oh, how
dreadful! Poor old man! And he's ninety-seven, didn't you say? Isn't
that shocking! I only hope the subscription will be a large one. Of
course, one wishes one could have given more oneself. But then, you
know, one has so many expenses, and things are so difficult now."

"I know, I know," said Spode, with feeling.

"It's all because of Labour," Mrs. Cayman explained. "Of course, I
should simply love to have him in to dinner sometimes. But, then, I feel
he's really too old, too _farouche_ and _gâteux_; it would not be doing
a kindness to him, would it? And so you are working with Mr. Gollamy
now? What a charming man, so talented, such conversation...."

"_Eructavit cor meum_," said Mr. Tillotson for the third time. Lord
Badgery tried to head him off the subject of Turkish etiquette, but in
vain.

By half-past nine a kinder vinolent atmosphere had put to sleep the
hatreds and suspicions of before dinner. Sir Herbert Herne had
discovered that the young Cubist sitting next him was not insane and
actually knew a surprising amount about the Old Masters. For their part
these young men had realised that their elders were not at all
malignant; they were just very stupid and pathetic. It was only in the
bosoms of Mrs. Nobes, Mrs. Cayman, and Mrs. Mandragore that hatred still
reigned undiminished. Being ladies and old-fashioned, they had drunk
almost no wine.

The moment for speech-making arrived. Lord Badgery rose to his feet,
said what was expected of him, and called upon Sir Herbert to propose
the toast of the evening. Sir Herbert coughed, smiled and began. In the
course of a speech that lasted twenty minutes he told anecdotes of Mr.
Gladstone, Lord Leighton, Sir Almo Tadema, and the late Bishop, of
Bombay; he made three puns, he quoted Shakespeare and Whittier, he was
playful, he was eloquent, he was grave.... At the end of his harangue
Sir Herbert handed to Mr. Tillotson a silk purse containing fifty-eight
pounds ten shillings, the total amount of the subscription. The old
man's health was drunk with acclamation.

Mr. Tillotson rose with difficulty to his feet. The dry, snakelike skin
of his face was flushed; his tie was more crooked than ever; the green
ribbon of the Order of Chastity of the second class had somehow climbed
tip his crumpled and maculate shirt front.

"My lords, ladies, and gentlemen," he began in a choking voice, and then
broke down completely. It was a very painful and pathetic spectacle. A
feeling of intense discomfort afflicted the minds of all who looked upon
that trembling relic of a man, as he stood there weeping and stammering.
It was as though a breath of the wind of death had blown suddenly
through the room, lifting the vapours of wine and tobacco-smoke,
quenching the laughter and the candle flames. Eyes floated uneasily, not
knowing where to look. Lord Badgery, with great presence of mind,
offered the old man a glass of wine. Mr. Tillotson began to recover. The
guests heard him murmur a few disconnected words.

"This great honour ... overwhelmed with kindness ... this magnificent
banquet ... not used to it ... in Asia Minor ... _eructuvit cor meum_."

At this point Lord Badgery plucked sharply at one of his long coat
tails. Mr. Tillotson paused, took another sip of wine, and then went on
with a newly won coherence and energy.

"The life of the artist is a hard one. His work is unlike other men's
work, which may be done mechanically, by rote and almost, as it were,
in sleep. It demands from him a constant expense of spirit. He gives
continually of his best life, and in return he receives much joy, it is
true much fame, it may be--but of material blessings, very few. It is
eighty years since first I devoted my life to the service of art; eighty
years, and almost every one of those years has brought me fresh and
painful proof of what I have been saying: the artist's life is a hard
one."

This unexpected deviation into sense increased the general feeling of
discomfort. It became necessary to take the old man seriously, to regard
him as a human being. Up till then he had been no more than an object of
curiosity, a mummy in an absurd suit of evening-clothes with a green
ribbon across the shirt front. People could not help wishing that they
had subscribed a little more. Fifty-eight pounds ten it wasn't enormous.
But happily for the peace of mind of the company, Mr. Tillotson paused
again, took another sip of wine, and began to live up to his proper
character by talking absurdly.

"When I consider the life of that great man, Benjamin Robert Haydon, one
of the greatest men England has ever produced...." The audience heaved a
sigh of relief; this was all as it should be. There was a burst of loud
bravoing and clapping. Mr. Tillotson turned his dim eyes round the room,
and smiled gratefully at the misty figures he beheld. "That great man,
Benjamin Robert Haydon," he continued, "whom I am proud to call my
master and who, it rejoices my heart to see, still lives in your memory
and esteem, that great man, one of the greatest that England has ever
produced, led a life so deplorable that I cannot think of it without a
tear."

And with infinite repetitions and divagations, Mr. Tillotson related the
history of B.R. Haydon, his imprisonments for debt, his battle with the
Academy, his triumphs, his failures, his despair, his suicide. Half-past
ten struck. Mr. Tillotson was declaiming against the stupid and
prejudiced judges who had rejected Haydon's designs for the decoration
of the new Houses of Parliament in favour of the paltriest German
scribblings.

"That great man, one of the greatest England has ever produced, that
great Benjamin Robert Haydon, whom I am proud to call my master and who,
it rejoices me to see, still lives on in your memory and esteem--at that
affront his great heart burst; it was the unkindest cut of all. He who
had worked all his life for the recognition, of the artist by the
State, he who had petitioned every Prime Minister, including the Duke of
Wellington, for thirty years, begging them to employ artists to decorate
public buildings, he to whom the scheme for decorating the Houses of
Parliament was undeniably due...." Mr. Tillotson lost a grip on his
syntax and began a new sentence. "It was the unkindest cut of all, it
was the last straw. The artist's life is a hard one."

At eleven Mr. Tillotson was talking about the pre-Raphaelites. At a
quarter past he had begun to tell the story of B.R. Haydon all over
again. At twenty-five minutes to twelve he collapsed quite speechless
into his chair. Most of the guests had already gone away; the few who
remained made haste to depart. Lord Badgery led the old man to the door
and packed him into the second Rolls-Royce. The Tillotson Banquet was
over; it had been a pleasant evening, but a little too long.

Spode walked back to his rooms in Bloomsbury, whistling as he went. The
arc lamps of Oxford Street reflected in the polished surface of the
road; canals of dark bronze. He would have to bring that into an article
some time. The Cayman woman had been very successfully nobbled. "Voi che
sapete," he whistled--somewhat out of tune, but he could not hear that.

When Mr. Tillotson's landlady came in to call him on the following
morning, she found the old man lying fully dressed on his bed. He looked
very ill and very, very old; Boreham's dress-suit was in a terrible
state, and the green ribbon of the Order of Chastity was ruined. Mr.
Tillotson lay very still, but he was not asleep. Hearing the sound of
footsteps, he opened his eyes a little and faintly groaned. His landlady
looked down at him menacingly.

"Disgusting!" she said, "disgusting, I call it. At your age."

Mr. Tillotson groaned again. Making a great effort, he drew out of his
trouser pocket a large silk purse, opened it, and extracted a sovereign.

"The artist's life is a hard one, Mrs. Green," he said, handing her the
coin. "Would you mind sending for the doctor? I don't feel very well.
And oh, what shall I do about these clothes? What shall I say to the
gentleman who was kind enough to lend them to me? Loan oft loseth both
itself and friend. The Bard is always right."



IV: GREEN TUNNELS


"In the Italian gardens of the thirteenth century...." Mr. Buzzacott
interrupted himself to take another helping of the risotto which was
being offered him. "Excellent risotto this," he observed. "Nobody who
was not born in Milan can make it properly. So they say."

"So they say," Mr. Topes repeated in his sad, apologetic voice, and
helped himself in his turn.

"Personally," said Mrs. Topes, with decision, "I find all Italian
cooking abominable. I don't like the oil--especially hot. No, thank
you." She recoiled from the proffered dish.

After the first mouthful Mr. Buzzacott put down his fork. "In the
Italian gardens of the thirteenth century," he began again, making with
his long, pale hand a curved and flowery gesture that ended with a
clutch at his beard, "a frequent and most felicitous use was made of
green tunnels."

"Green tunnels?" Barbara woke up suddenly from her tranced silence.
"Green tunnels?"

"Yes, my dear," said her father. "Green tunnels. Arched alleys covered
with vines or other creeping plants. Their length was often very
considerable."

But Barbara had once more ceased to pay attention to what he was saying.
Green tunnels--the word had floated down to her, through profound depths
of reverie, across great spaces of abstraction, startling her like the
sound of a strange-voiced bell. Green tunnels--what a wonderful idea.
She would not listen to her father explaining the phrase into dullness.
He made everything dull; an inverted alchemist, turning gold into lead.
She pictured caverns in a great aquarium, long vistas between rocks and
scarcely swaying weeds and pale, discoloured corals; endless dim green
corridors with huge lazy fishes loitering aimlessly along them.
Green-faced monsters with goggling eyes and mouths that slowly opened
and shut. Green tunnels....

"I have seen them illustrated in illuminated manuscripts of the period,"
Mr. Buzzacott went on; once more he clutched his pointed brown
beard--clutched and combed it with his long fingers.

Mr. Topes looked up. The glasses of his round owlish spectacles flashed
as he moved his head. "I know what you mean," he said.

"I have a very good mind to have one, planted in my garden here."

"It will take a long time to grow," said Mr. Topes. "In this sand, so
close to the sea, you will only be able to plant vines. And they come up
very slowly very slowly indeed." He shook his head and the points of
light danced wildly in his spectacles. His voice drooped hopelessly, his
grey moustache drooped, his whole person drooped. Then, suddenly, he
pulled himself up. A shy, apologetic smile appeared on his face. He
wriggled uncomfortably. Then, with a final rapid shake of the head, he
gave vent to a quotation:

     _But at my back I always hear_
     _Time's winged chariot hurrying near_."

He spoke deliberately, and his voice trembled a little. He always found
it painfully difficult to say something choice and out of the ordinary;
and yet what a wealth of remembered phrase, what apt new coinages were
always surging through his mind!

"They don't grow so slowly as all that," said Mr. Buzzacott confidently.
He was only just over fifty, and looked a handsome thirty-five. He gave
himself at least another forty years; indeed, he had not yet begun to
contemplate the possibility of ever concluding.

"Miss Barbara will enjoy it, perhaps--your green tunnel." Mr. Topes
sighed and looked across the table at his host's daughter.

Barbara was sitting with her elbows on the table, her chin in her hands,
staring in front of her. The sound of her own name reached her faintly.
She turned her head in Mr. Topes's direction and found herself
confronted by the glitter of his round, convex spectacles. At the end of
the green tunnel--she stared at the shining circles--hung the eyes of a
goggling fish. They approached, floating, closer and closer, along the
dim submarine corridor.

Confronted by this fixed regard, Mr. Topes looked away. What thoughtful
eyes! He couldn't remember ever to have seen eyes so full of thought.
There were certain Madonnas of Montagna, he reflected, very like hen
mild little blonde Madonnas with slightly snub noses and very, very
young. But he was old; it would be many years, in spite of Buzzacott,
before the vines grew up into a green tunnel. He took a sip of wine;
then, mechanically, sucked his drooping grey moustache.

"Arthur!"

At the sound of his wife's voice Mr. Topes started, raised his napkin to
his mouth. Mrs. Topes did not permit the sucking of moustaches. It was
only in moments of absent-mindedness that he ever offended, now.

"The Marchese Prampolini is coming here to take coffee," said Mr.
Buzzacott suddenly. "I almost forgot to tell you."

"One of these Italian marquises, I suppose," said Mrs. Topes, who was no
snob, except in England. She raised her chin with a little jerk.

Mr. Buzzacott executed an upward curve of the hand in her direction. "I
assure you, Mrs. Topes, he belongs to a very old and distinguished
family. They are Genoese in origin. You remember their palace, Barbara?
Built by Alessi."

Barbara looked up. "Oh yes," she said vaguely. "Alessi. I know." Alessi:
Aleppo--where a malignant and a turbaned Turk. _And_ a turbaned; that
had always seemed to her very funny.

"Several of his ancestors," Mr. Buzzacott went on, "distinguished
themselves as vice-roys of Corsica. They did good work in the
suppression of rebellion. Strange, isn't it"--he turned parenthetically
to Mr. Topes--"the way in which sympathy is always on the side of
rebels? What a fuss people made of Corsica! That ridiculous book of
Gregorovius, for example. And the Irish, and the Poles, and all the rest
of them. It always seems to me very superfluous and absurd."

"Isn't it, perhaps, a little natural?" Mr. Topes began timorously and
tentatively, but his host went on without listening.

"The present marquis," he said, "is the head of the local Fascisti. They
have done no end of good work in this district in the way of preserving
law and order and keeping the lower classes in their place."

"Ah, the Fascisti," Mrs. Topes repeated approvingly. "One would like to
see something of the kind in England. What with all these strikes...."

"He has asked me for a subscription to the funds of the organisation. I
shall give him one, of course."

"Of course." Mrs. Topes nodded. "My nephew, the one who was a major
during the war, volunteered in the last coal strike. He was sorry, I
know, that it didn't come to a fight. 'Aunt Annie,' he said to me, when
I saw him last, 'if there had been a fight we should have knocked them
out completely--completely.'"

In Aleppo, the Fascisti, malignant _and_ turbaned, were fighting, under
the palm trees. Weren't they palm trees, those tufted green plumes?

"What, no ice to-day? _Niente gelato?_" inquired Mr. Buzzacott as the
maid put down the compote of peaches on the table.

Concetta apologised. The ice-making machine in the village had broken
down. There would be no ice till to-morrow.

"Too bad," said Mr. Buzzacott. "_Troppo male, Concetta_."

Under the palm trees, Barbara saw them: they pranced about, fighting.
They were mounted on big dogs, and in the trees were enormous
many-coloured birds.

"Goodness me, the child's asleep." Mrs. Topes was proffering the dish of
peaches. "How much longer am I to hold this in front of your nose,
Barbara?"

Barbara felt herself blushing. "I'm so sorry," she mumbled, and took the
dish clumsily.

"Day-dreaming. It's a bad habit."

"It's one we all succumb to sometimes," put in Mr. Topes deprecatingly,
with a little nervous tremble of the head.

"You may, my dear," said his wife. "I do not."

Mr. Topes lowered his eyes to his plate and went on eating.

"The marchese should be here at any moment now," said Mr. Buzzacott,
looking at his watch. "I hope he won't be late. I find I suffer so much
from any postponement of my siesta. This Italian heat," he added, with
growing plaintiveness, "one can't be too careful."

"Ah, but when I was with my father in India," began Mrs. Topes in a tone
of superiority: "he was an Indian civilian, you know...."

Aleppo, India--always the palm trees. Cavalcades of big dogs, and tigers
too.

Concetta ushered in the marquis. Delighted. Pleased to meet. Speak
English? Yés, yéss. _Pocchino_. Mrs. Topes: and Mr. Topes, the
distinguished antiquarian. Ah, of course; know his name very well. My
daughter. Charmed. Often seen the signorina bathing. Admired the way she
dives. Beautiful--the hand made a long, caressing gesture. These
athletic English signorine. The teeth flashed astonishingly white in the
brown face, the dark eyes glittered. She felt herself blushing again,
looked away, smiled foolishly. The marquis had already turned back to
Mr. Buzzacott.

"So you have decided to settle in our Carrarese."

Well, not settled exactly; Mr. Buzzacott wouldn't go so far as to say
settled. A villine for the summer months. The winter in Rome. One was
forced to live abroad. Taxation in England.... Soon they were all
talking. Barbara looked at them. Beside the marquis they all seemed half
dead. His face flashed as he talked; he seemed to be boiling with life.
Her father was limp and pale, like something long buried from the light;
and Mr. Topes was all dry and shrivelled; and Mrs. Topes looked more
than ever like something worked by clockwork. They were talking about
Socialism and Fascisti, and all that. Barbara did not listen to what
they were saying; but she looked at them, absorbed.

Good-bye, good-bye. The animated face with its flash of a smile was
turned like a lamp from one to another. Now it was turned on her.
Perhaps one evening she would come, with her father, and the Signora
Topes. He and his sister gave little dances sometimes. Only the
gramophone, of course. But that was better than nothing, and the
signorina must dance divinely--another flash--he could see that. He
pressed her hand again. Good-bye.

It was time for the siesta.

"Don't forget to pull down the mosquito netting, my dear," Mr. Buzzacott
exhorted. "There is always a danger of anophylines."

"All right, father." She moved towards the door without turning round to
answer him. He was always terribly tiresome about mosquito nets. Once
they had driven through the Campagna in a hired cab, completely enclosed
in an improvised tent of netting. The monuments along the Appian Way had
loomed up mistily as through bridal veils. And how everyone had laughed.
But her father, of course, hadn't so much as noticed it. He never
noticed anything.

"Is it at Berlin, that charming little Madonna of Montagna's?" Mr. Topes
abruptly asked. "The one with the Donor kneeling in the left-hand corner
as if about to kiss the foot of the Child." His spectacles flashed in
Mr. Buzzacott's direction.

"Why do you ask?"

"I don't know. I was just thinking of it."

"I think you must mean the one in the Mond Collection."

"Ah yes; very probably. In the Mond...."

Barbara opened the door and walked into the twilight of her shuttered
room. It was hot even here; for another three hours it would hardly be
possible to stir. And that old idiot, Mrs. Topes, always made a fuss if
one came in to lunch with bare legs and one's after-bathing tunic. "In
India we always made a point of being properly and adequately dressed.
An Englishwoman must keep up her position with natives, and to all
intents and purposes Italians _are_ natives." And so she always had to
put on shoes and stockings and a regular frock just at the hottest hour
of the day. What an old ass that woman was! She slipped off her clothes
as fast as she could. That was a little better.

Standing in front of the long mirror in the wardrobe door she came to
the humiliating conclusion that she looked like a piece of badly toasted
bread. Brown face, brown neck and shoulders, brown arms, brown legs from
the knee downwards; but all the rest of her was white, silly,
effeminate, townish white. If only one could run about with no clothes
on till one was like those little coppery children who rolled and
tumbled in the burning sand! Now she was just underdone, half-baked, and
wholly ridiculous. For a long time she looked at her pale image. She saw
herself running, bronzed all over, along the sand; or through a field of
flowers, narcissus and wild tulips; or in soft grass under grey olive
trees. She turned round with a sudden start. There, in the shadows
behind her.... No, of course there was nothing.

It was that awful picture in a magazine she had looked at, so many years
ago, when she was a child. There was a lady sitting at her
dressing-table, doing her hair in front of the glass; and a huge, hairy
black monkey creeping up behind her. She always got the creeps when she
looked at herself in a mirror. It was very silly. But still. She turned
away from the mirror, crossed the room, and, without lowering the
mosquito curtains, lay down on her bed. The flies buzzed about her,
settled incessantly on her face. She shook her head, flapped at them
angrily with her hands. There would be peace if she let down the
netting. But she thought of the Appian Way seen mistily through the
bridal veil and preferred to suffer the flies. In the end she had to
surrender; the brutes were too much for her. But, at any rate, it wasn't
the fear of anophylines that made her lower the netting.

Undisturbed now and motionless, she lay stretched stiffly out under the
transparent bell of gauze. A specimen under a glass case. The fancy
possessed her mind. She saw a huge museum with thousands of glass cases,
full of fossils and butterflies and stuffed birds and mediæval spoons
and armour and Florentine jewellery and mummies and carved ivory and
illuminated manuscripts. But in one of the cases was a human being,
shut up there alive.

All of a sudden she became horribly miserable. "Boring, boring, boring,"
she whispered, formulating the words aloud. Would it never stop being
boring? The tears came into her eyes. How awful everything was! And
perhaps it would go on being as bad as this all her life. Seventeen from
seventy was fifty three. Fifty three years of it. And if she lived to a
hundred there would be more than eighty.

The thought depressed her all the evening. Even her bath after tea did
her no good. Swimming far out, far out, she lay there, floating on the
warm water. Sometimes she looked at the sky, sometimes she turned her
head towards the shore. Framed in their pinewoods, the villas looked as
small and smug as the advertisement of a seaside resort. But behind
them, across the level plain, were the mountains. Sharp, bare peaks of
limestone, green woodland slopes and grey-green expanses of terraced
olive trees--they seemed marvellously close and clear in this evening
light. And beautiful, beautiful beyond words. But that, somehow, only
made things worse. And Shelley had lived a few miles farther up the
coast, there, behind the headland guarding the Gulf of Spezia. Shelley
had been drowned in this milk-warm sea. That made it worse too.

The sun was getting very low and red over the sea. She swam slowly in.
On the beach Mrs. Topes waited, disapprovingly. She had known somebody,
a strong man, who had caught cramp from staying in too long. He sank
like a stone. Like a stone. The queer people Mrs. Topes had known! And
the funny things they did, the odd things that happened to them.

Dinner that evening was duller than ever. Barbara went early to bed. All
night long the same old irritating cicada scraped and scraped among the
pine trees, monotonous and regular as clockwork. Zip zip, zip zip zip.
Boring, boring. Was the animal never bored by its own noise? It seemed
odd that it shouldn't be. But, when she came to think of it, nobody ever
did get bored with their own noise. Mrs. Topes, for example; she never
seemed to get bored. Zip zip, zip zip zip. The cicada went on without
pause.

Concetta knocked at the door at half-past seven. The morning was as
bright and cloudless as all the mornings were. Barbara jumped up, looked
from one window at the mountains, from the other at the sea; all seemed
to be well with them. All was well with her, too, this morning. Seated
at the mirror, she did not so much as think of the big monkey in the far
obscure corner of the room. A bathing dress and a bath-gown, sandals, a
handkerchief round her head, and she was ready. Sleep had left no
recollection of last night's mortal boredom. She ran downstairs.

"Good morning, Mr. Topes."

Mr. Topes was walking in the garden among the vines. He turned round,
took off his hat, smiled a greeting.

"Good morning, Miss Barbara." He paused. Then, with an embarrassed
wriggle of introduction he went on; a queer little falter came into his
voice. "A real Chaucerian morning, Miss Barbara. A May-day morning--only
it happens to be September. Nature is fresh and bright, and there is at
least one specimen in this dream garden"--he wriggled more
uncomfortably than ever, and there was a tremulous glitter in his round
spectacle lenses of the poet's 'yonge fresshe folkes.' He bowed in her
direction, smiled deprecatingly, and was silent. The remark, it seemed
to him, now that he had finished speaking, was somehow not as good as he
had thought it would be.

Barbara laughed. "Chaucer! They used to make us read the _Canterbury
Tales_ at school. But they always bored me. Are you going to bathe?"

"Not before breakfast." Mr. Topes shook his head. "One is getting a
little too old for that."

"Is one?" Why did the silly old man always say 'one' when he meant 'I'?
She couldn't help laughing at him. "Well, I must hurry, or else I shall
be late for breakfast again, and you know how I catch it."

She ran out, through the gate in the garden wall, across the beach, to
the striped red-and-white bathing cabin that stood before the house.
Fifty yards away she saw the Marchese Prampolini, still dripping from
the sea, running up towards his bathing hut. Catching sight of her, he
flashed a smile in her direction, gave a military salute. Barbara waved
her hand, then thought that the gesture had been too familiar--but at
this hour of the morning it was difficult not to have bad jolly
manners--and added the corrective of a stiff bow. After all, she had
only met him yesterday. Soon she was swimming out to sea, and, ugh! what
a lot of horrible huge jelly-fish there were.

Mr. Topes had followed her slowly through the gate and across the sand.
He watched her running down from the cabin, slender as a boy, with
long, bounding strides. He watched her go jumping with great splashes
through the deepening water, then throw herself forward and begin to
swim. He watched her till she was no more than a small dark dot far out.

Emerging from his cabin, the marquis met him walking slowly along the
beach, his head bent down and his lips slightly moving as though he were
repeating something, a prayer or a poem, to himself.

"Good morning, signore." The marquis shook him by the hand with a more
than English cordiality.

"Good morning," replied Mr. Topes, allowing his hand to be shaken. He
resented this interruption of his thoughts.

"She swims very well, Miss Buzzacott."

"Very," assented Mr. Topes, and smiled to himself to think what
beautiful, poetical things he might have said, if he had chosen.

"Well, so, so," said the marquis, too colloquial by half. He shook hands
again, and the two men went their respective ways.

Barbara was still a hundred yards from the shore when she heard the
crescendo and dying boom of the gong floating out from the villa. Damn!
she'd be late again. She quickened her stroke and came splashing out
through the shallows, flushed and breathless.

She'd be ten minutes late, she calculated; it would take her at least
that to do her hair and dress. Mrs. Topes would be on the war-path
again; though what business that old woman had to lecture her as she
did, goodness only knew. She always succeeded in making herself horribly
offensive and unpleasant.

The beach was quite deserted as she trotted, panting, across it, empty
to right and left as far as she could see. If only she had a horse to go
galloping at the water's edge, miles and miles. Right away down to Bocca
d'Arno she'd go, swim the river--she saw herself crouching on the
horse's back, as he swam, with legs tucked up on the saddle, trying not
to get her feet wet--and gallop on again, goodness only knew where.

In front of the cabin she suddenly halted. There in the ruffled sand she
had seen a writing. Big letters, faintly legible, sprawled across her
path.

O CLARA D'ELLÉBEUSE.

She pieced the dim letters together. They hadn't been there when she
started out to bathe. Who?... She looked round. The beach was quite
empty. And what was the meaning? "O Clara d'Ellébeuse." She took her
bath-gown from the cabin, slipped on her sandals, and ran back towards
the house as fast as she could. She felt most horribly frightened.

It was a sultry, headachey sort of morning, with a hot sirocco that
stirred the bunting on the flagstaffs. By midday the thunderclouds had
covered half the sky. The sun still blazed on the sea, but over the
mountains all was black and indigo. The storm broke noisily overhead
just as they were drinking their after-luncheon coffee.

"Arthur," said Mrs. Topes, painfully calm, "shut the shutters, please."

She was not frightened, no. But she preferred not to see the lightning.
When the room was darkened, she began to talk, suavely and incessantly.

Lying back in her deep arm-chair, Barbara was thinking of Clara
d'Ellébeuse. What did it mean and who was Clara d'Ellébeuse? And why had
he written it there for her to see? He--for there could be no doubt who
had written it. The flash of teeth and eyes, the military salute; she
knew she oughtn't to have waved to him. He had written it there while
she was swimming out. Written it and then run away. She rather liked
that--just an extraordinary word on the sand, like the footprint in
_Robinson Crusoe._

"Personally," Mrs. Topes was saying, "I prefer Harrod's."

The thunder crashed and rattled. It was rather exhilarating, Barbara
thought; one felt, at any rate, that something was happening for a
change. She remembered the little room half-way up the stairs at Lady
Thingumy's house, with the bookshelves and the green curtains and the
orange shade on the light; and that awful young man like a white slug
who had tried to kiss her there, at the dance last year. But that was
different--not at all serious; and the young man had been so horribly
ugly. She saw the marquis running up the beach, quick and alert. Copper
coloured all over, with black hair. He was certainly very handsome. But
as for being in love, well ... what did that exactly mean? Perhaps when
she knew him better. Even now she fancied she detected something. O
Clara d'Ellébeuse. What an extraordinary thing it was.

With his long fingers Mr. Buzzacott combed his beard. This winter, he
was thinking, he would put another thousand into Italian money when the
exchange was favourable. In the spring it always seemed to drop back
again. One could clear three hundred pounds on one's capital if the
exchange went down to seventy. The income on three hundred was fifteen
pounds a year, and fifteen pounds was now fifteen hundred lire. And
fifteen hundred lire, when you came to think of it, was really sixty
pounds. That was to say that one would make an addition of more than one
pound a week to one's income by this simple little speculation. He
became aware that Mrs. Topes had asked him a question.

"Yes, yes, perfectly," he said.

Mrs. Topes talked on; she was keeping up her morale. Was she right in
believing that the thunder sounded a little less alarmingly loud and
near?

Mr. Topes sat, polishing his spectacles with a white silk handkerchief.
Vague and myopic between their puckered lids, his eyes seemed lost,
homeless, unhappy. He was thinking about beauty. There were certain
relations between the eyelids and the temples, between the breast and
the shoulder; there were certain successions of sounds. But what about
them? Ah, that was the problem--that was the problem. And there was
youth, there was innocence. But it was all very obscure, and there were
so many phrases, so many remembered pictures and melodies; he seemed to
get himself entangled among them. And he was after all so old and so
ineffective. He put on his spectacles again, and definition came into
the foggy world beyond his eyes. The shuttered room was very dark. He
could distinguish the Renaissance profile of Mr. Buzzacott, bearded and
delicately featured. In her deep arm-chair Barbara appeared, faintly
white, in an attitude relaxed and brooding. And Mrs. Topes was nothing
more than a voice in the darkness. She had got on to the marriage of the
Prince of Wales. Who would they eventually find for him?

Clara d'Ellébeuse, Clara d'Ellébeuse. She saw herself so clearly as the
_marchesa_. They would have a house in Rome, a palace. She saw herself
in the Palazzo Spada--it had such a lovely vaulted passage leading from
the courtyard to the gardens at the back. "MARCHESA PRAMPOLINI, PALAZZO
SPADA, ROMA"--a great big visiting-card beautifully engraved. And she
would go riding every day in the Pincio. "_Mi porta il mio cavallo_" she
would say to the footman, who answered the bell. _Porta_? Would that be
quite correct? Hardly. She'd have to take some proper Italian lessons to
talk to the servants. One must never be ridiculous before servants.
"_Voglio il mio cavallo._ Haughtily one would say it sitting at one's
writing-table in a riding-habit, without turning round. It would be a
green riding-habit, with a black tricorne hat, braided with silver.

"_Prendero la mia collazzione al letto."_ Was that right for breakfast
in bed? Because she would have breakfast in bed, always. And when she
got up there would be lovely looking glasses with three panels where one
could see oneself sideface. She saw herself leaning forward, powdering
her nose, carefully, scientifically. With the monkey creeping up behind?
Ooh. Horrible! _Ho paura di questa scimmia, questo scimmione_.

She would come back to lunch after her ride. Perhaps Prampolini would be
there; she had rather left him out of the picture so far. "_Dov' è il
Marchese?_" "_Nella sala di pranza, signora_." I began without you, I
was so hungry. _Pasta asciutta_. Where have you been, my love? Riding,
my dove. She supposed they'd get into the habit of saying that sort of
thing. Everyone seemed to. And you? I have been out with the Fascisti.

Oh, these Fascisti! Would life be worth living when he was always going
out with pistols and bombs and things? They would bring him back one day
on a stretcher. She saw it. Pale, pale, with blood on him. _Il signore
è ferito. Nel petto. Gruvamente. E morto_.

How could she bear it? It was too awful; too, too terrible. Her breath
came in a kind of sob; she shuddered as though she had been hurt. _E
morto, E morto_. The tears came into her eyes.

She was roused suddenly by a dazzling light. The storm had receded far
enough into the distance to permit of Mrs. Topes's opening the shutters.

"It's quite stopped raining."

To be disturbed in one's intimate sorrow and self-abandonment at a
death-bed by a stranger's intrusion, an alien voice.... Barbara turned
her face away from the light and surreptitiously wiped her eyes. They
might see and ask her why she had been crying. She hated Mrs. Topes for
opening the shutters; at the inrush of the light something beautiful had
flown, an emotion had vanished, irrecoverably. It was a sacrilege.

Mr. Buzzacott looked at his watch. "Too late, I fear, for a siesta now,"
he said. "Suppose we ring for an early tea."

"An endless succession of meals," said Mr. Topes, with a tremolo and a
sigh. "That's what life seems to be--real life."

"I have been calculating"--Mr. Buzzacott turned his pale green eyes
towards his guest--"that I may be able to afford that pretty little
_cinque_ cassone, after all. It would be a bit of a squeeze." He played
with his beard. "But still...."

After tea, Barbara and Mr. Topes went for a walk along the beach. She
didn't much want to go, but Mrs. Topes thought it would be good for her;
so she had to. The storm had passed and the sky over the sea was clear.
But the waves were still breaking with an incessant clamour on the outer
shallows, driving wide sheets of water high up the beach, twenty or
thirty yards above the line where, on a day of calm, the ripples
ordinarily expired. Smooth, shining expanses of water advanced and
receded like steel surfaces moved out and back by a huge machine.
Through the rain-washed air the mountains appeared with an incredible
clarity. Above them hung huge masses of cloud.

"Clouds over Carrara," said Mr. Topes, deprecating his remark with a
little shake of the head and a movement of the shoulders. "I like to
fancy sometimes that the spirits of the great sculptors lodge among
these marble hills, and that it is their unseen hands that carve the
clouds into these enormous splendid shapes. I imagine their ghosts"--his
voice trembled--"feeling about among superhuman conceptions, planning
huge groups and friezes and monumental figures with blowing draperies;
planning, conceiving, but never quite achieving. Look, there's something
of Michelangelo in that white cloud with the dark shadows underneath
it." Mr. Topes pointed, and Barbara, nodded and said, "Yes, yes," though
she wasn't quite sure which cloud he meant. "It's like Night on the
Medici tomb; all the power and passion are brooding inside it, pent up.
And there, in that sweeping, gesticulating piece of vapour--you see the
one I mean--there's a Bernini. All the passion's on the surface,
expressed; the gesture's caught at its most violent. And that sleek,
smug white fellow over there, that's a delicious absurd Canova." Mr.
Topes chuckled.

"Why do you always talk about art?" said Barbara. "You bring these dead
people into everything. What do I know about Canova or whoever it is?"
They were none of them alive. She thought of that dark face, bright as a
lamp with life. He at least wasn't dead. She wondered whether the
letters were still there in the sand before the cabin. No, of course
not; the rain and the wind would have blotted them out.

Mr. Topes was silent; he walked with slightly bent knees and his eyes
were fixed on the ground; he wore a speckled black-and-white straw hat.
He always thought of art; that was what was wrong with him. Like an old
tree he was; built up of dead wood, with only a few fibres of life to
keep him from rotting away. They walked on for a long time in silence.

"Here's the river," said Mr. Topes at last.

A few steps more and they were on the bank of a wide stream that came
down slowly through the plain to the sea. Just inland from the beach it
was fringed with pine trees; beyond the trees one could see the plain,
and beyond the plain were the mountains. In this calm light after the
storm everything looked strange. The colours seemed deeper and more
intense than at ordinary times. And though all was so clear, there was a
mysterious air of remoteness about the whole scene. There was no sound
except the continuous breathing of the sea. They stood for a little
while, looking; then turned back.

Far away along the beach two figures were slowly approaching. White
flannel trousers, a pink skirt.

"Nature," Mr. Topes enunciated, with a shake of the head. "One always
comes back to nature. At a moment such as this, in surroundings like
these, one realises it. One lives now--more quietly, perhaps, but more
profoundly. Deep watery. Deep waters...."

The figures drew closer. Wasn't it the marquis? And who was with him?
Barbara strained her eyes to see.

"Most of one's life," Mr. Topes went on, "is one prolonged effort to
prevent oneself thinking. Your father and I, we collect pictures and
read about the dead. Other people achieve the same results by drinking,
or breeding rabbits, or doing amateur carpentry. Anything rather than
think calmly about the important things."

Mr. Topes was silent. He looked about him, at the sea, at the mountains,
at the great clouds, at his companion. A frail Montagna madonna, with
the sea and the westering sun, the mountains and the storm, all eternity
as a background. And he was sixty, with all a life, immensely long and
yet timelessly short, behind him, an empty life. He thought of death and
the miracles of beauty; behind his round, glittering spectacles he felt
inclined to weep.

The approaching couple were quite near now.

"What a funny old walrus," said the lady.

"Walrus? Your natural history is quite wrong." The marquis laughed.
"He's much too dry to be a walrus. I should suggest some sort of an old
cat."

"Well, whatever he is, I'm sorry for that poor little girl. Think of
having nobody better to go about with!"

"Pretty, isn't she?"

"Yes, but too young, of course."

"I like the innocence."

"Innocence? Cher ami! These English girls. Oh, la la! They may look
innocent But, believe me...."

"Sh, sh. They'll hear you."

"Pooh, they don't understand Italian."

The marquis raised his hand. "The old walrus...." he whispered; then
addressed himself loudly and jovially to the newcomers.

"Good evening, signorina. Good evening, Mr. Topes. After a storm the air
is always the purest, don't you find, eh?"

Barbara nodded, leaving Mr. Topes to answer. It wasn't his sister. It
was the Russian woman, the one of whom Mrs. Topes used to say that it
was a disgrace she should be allowed to stay at the hotel. She had
turned away, dissociating herself from the conversation; Barbara looked
at the line of her averted face. Mr. Topes was saying something about
the Pastoral Symphony. Purple face powder in the daylight; it looked
hideous.

"Well, au revoir."

The flash of the marquis's smile was directed at them. The Russian woman
turned back from the sea, slightly bowed, smiled languidly. Her heavy
white eyelids were almost closed; she seemed the prey of an enormous
ennui.

"They jar a little," said Mr. Topes when they were out of earshot--"they
jar on the time, on the place, on the emotion. They haven't the
innocence for this ... this...."--he wriggled and tremoloed out the
just, the all too precious word--"this prelapsarian landscape."

He looked sideways at Barbara and wondered what she was so thoughtfully
frowning over. Oh, lovely and delicate young creature! What could he
adequately say of death and beauty and tenderness? Tenderness....

"All this," he went on desperately, and waved his hand to indicate the
sky, the sea, the mountains, "this scene is like something remembered,
clear and utterly calm; remembered across great gulfs of intervening
time."

But that was not really what he wanted to say.

"You see what I mean?" he asked dubiously. She made no reply. How could
she see? "This scene is so clear and pure and remote; you need the
corresponding emotion. Those people were out of harmony. They weren't
clear and pure enough." He seemed to be getting more muddled than ever.
"It's an emotion of the young and of the old. You could feel it, I could
feel it. Those people couldn't." He was feeling his way through
obscurities. Where would he finally arrive? "Certain poems express it.
You know Francis Jammes? I have thought so much of his work lately. Art
instead of life, as usual; but then I'm made that way. I can't help
thinking of Jammes. Those delicate, exquisite things he wrote about
Clara d'Ellébeuse."

"Clara d'Ellébeuse?" She stopped and stared at him.

"You know the lines?" Mr. Topes smiled delightedly. "This makes me
think, you make me think of them. '_F'aime dans les temps Clara
d'Ellébeuse_....' But, my dear Barbara, what is the matter?"

She had started crying, for no reason whatever.



V: NUNS AT LUNCHEON


"What have I been doing since you saw me last?" Miss Penny repeated my
question in her loud, emphatic voice. "Well, when did you see me last?"

"It must have been June," I computed.

"Was that after I'd been proposed to by the Russian General?

"Yes; I remember hearing about the Russian General."

Miss Penny threw back her head and laughed. Her long ear-rings swung and
rattled corpses hanging in chains: an agreeably literary simile. And her
laughter was like brass, but that had been said before.

"That was an uproarous incident. It's sad you should have heard of it. I
love my Russian General story. '_Vos yeux me rendent fou_.'" She laughed
again.

_Vos yeux_--she had eyes like a hare's, flush with her head and very
bright with a superficial and expressionless brightness. What a
formidable woman. I felt sorry for the Russian General.

"'_Sans coeur et sans entrallies_,'" she went on, quoting the poor
devil's words. "Such a delightful motto, don't you think? Like '_Sans
peur et sans reproche_.' But let me think; what have I been doing since
then?" Thoughtfully she bit into the crust of her bread with long,
sharp, white teeth.

"Two mixed grills," I said parenthetically to the waiter.

"But of course," exclaimed Miss Penny suddenly. "I haven't seen you
since my German trip. All sorts of adventures. My appendicitis; my nun."

"Your nun?"

"My marvellous nun. I must tell you all about her."

"Do." Miss Penny's anecdotes were always curious. I looked forward to an
entertaining luncheon.

"You knew I'd been in Germany this autumn?"

"Well, I didn't, as a matter of fact. But still--"

"I was just wandering round." Miss Penny described a circle in the air
with her gaudily jewelled hand. She always twinkled with massive and
improbable jewellery.

"Wandering round, living on three pounds a week, partly amusing myself,
partly collecting material for a few little articles. 'What it Feels
Like to be a Conquered Nation'--sob-stuff for the Liberal press, you
know--and 'How the Hun is Trying to Wriggle out of the Indemnity,' for
the other fellows. One has to make the best of all possible worlds,
don't you find? But we mustn't talk shop. Well, I was wandering round,
and very pleasant I found it. Berlin, Dresden, Leipzig. Then down to
Munich and all over the place. One fine day I got to Grauburg. You know
Grauburg? It's one of those picture-book German towns with a castle on a
hill, hanging beer-gardens, a Gothic church, an old university, a river,
a pretty bridge, and forests all round. Charming. But I hadn't much
opportunity to appreciate the beauties of the place. The day after I
arrived there--bang!--I went down with appendicitis--screaming, I may
add."

"But how appalling!"

"They whisked me off to hospital, and cut me open before you could say
knife. Excellent surgeon, highly efficient Sisters of Charity to nurse
me--I couldn't have been in better hands. But it was a bore being tied
there by the leg for four weeks--a great bore. Still, the thing had its
compensations. There was my nun, for example. Ah, here's the food, thank
Heaven!"

The mixed grill proved to be excellent. Miss Penny's description of the
pun came to me in scraps and snatches. A round, pink, pretty face in a
winged coif; blue eyes and regular features; teeth altogether too
perfect--false, in fact; but the general effect extremely pleasing. A
youthful Teutonic twenty eight.

"She wasn't my nurse," Miss Penny explained. "But I used to see her
quite often when she came in to have a look at the _tolle Engländerin_.
Her name was Sister Agatha. During the war, they told me, she had
converted any number of wounded soldiers to the true faith--which wasn't
surprising, considering how pretty she was."

"Did she try and convert you?" I asked.

"She wasn't such a fool." Miss Penny laughed, and rattled the miniature
gallows of her ears.

I amused myself for a moment with the thought of Miss Penny's
conversion--Miss Penny confronting a vast assembly of Fathers of the
Church, rattling her earrings at their discourses on the Trinity,
laughing her appalling laugh at the doctrine of the Immaculate
Conception, meeting the stern look of the Grand Inquisitor with a flash
of her bright, emotionless hare's eyes. What was the secret of the
woman's formidableness?

But I was missing the story. What had happened? Ah yes, the gist of it
was that Sister Agatha had appeared one morning, after two or three days
absence, dressed, not as a nun, but in the overalls of a hospital
charwoman, with a handkerchief instead of a winged coif on her shaven
head.

"Dead," said Miss Penny; "she looked as though she were dead. A walking
corpse, that's what she was. It was a shocking sight. I shouldn't have
thought it possible for anyone to change so much in so short a time. She
walked painfully, as though she had been ill for months, and she had
great burnt rings round her eyes and deep lines in her face. And the
general expression of unhappiness--that was something quite appalling."

She leaned out into the gangway between the two rows of tables, and
caught the passing waiter by the end of one his coat-tails. The little
Italian looked round with an expression of surprise that deepened into
terror on his face.

"Half a pint of Guinness," ordered Miss Penny. "And, after this, bring
me some jam roll."

"No jam roll to-day, madam."

"Damn!" said Miss Penny. "Bring me what you like, then."

She let go of the waiter's tail and resumed her narrative.

"Where was I? Yes, I remember. She came into my room, I was telling you,
with a bucket of water and a brush, dressed like a charwoman. Naturally
I was rather surprised. 'What on earth are you doing, Sister Agatha?' I
asked. No answer. She just shook her head, and began to scrub the floor.
When she'd finished, she left the room without so much as looking at me
again. 'What's happened to Sister Agatha?' I asked my nurse when she
next came in. 'Can't say.'--'Won't say,' I said. No answer. It took
nearly a week to find out what really had happened. Nobody dared tell
me; it was _strengst verboten_, as they used to say in the good old
days. But I wormed it out in the long run. My nurse, the doctor, the
charwomen--I got something out of all of them. I always get what I want
in the end." Miss Penny laughed like a horse.

"I'm sure you do," I said politely.

"Much obliged," acknowledged Miss Penny. "But to proceed. My information
came to me in fragmentary whispers. 'Sister Agatha ran away with a
man.'--Dear me.--'One of the patients.'--You don't say so.--'A criminal
out of the jail.'--The plot thickens.--'He ran away from her.'--It
seems to grow thinner again.--'They brought her back here; she's been
disgraced. There's been a funeral service for her in the chapel--coffin
and all. She had to be present at it--her own funeral. She isn't a nun
any more. She has to do charwoman's work now, the roughest in the
hospital. She's not allowed to speak to anybody, and nobody's allowed to
speak to her. She's regarded as dead.'" Miss Penny paused to signal to
the harassed little Italian. "My small 'Guinness,'" she called out.

"Coming, coming," and the foreign voice cried "Guinness" down the lift,
and from below another voice echoed, "Guinness."

"I filled in the details bit by bit. There was our hero, to begin with;
I had to bring him into the picture, which was rather difficult, as I
had never seen him. But I got a photograph of him. The police circulated
one when he got away; I don't suppose they ever caught him." Miss Penny
opened her bag. "Here it is," she said. "I always carry it about with
me; it's become a superstition. For years, I remember, I used to carry a
little bit of heather tied up with string. Beautiful, isn't it? There's
a sort of Renaissance look about it, don't you think? He was
half-Italian, you know."

Italian. Ah, that explained it. I had been wondering how Bavaria could
have produced this thin-faced creature with the big dark eyes, the
finely modelled nose and chin, and the fleshy lips so royally and
sensually curved.

"He's certainly very superb," I said, handing back the picture.

Miss Penny put it carefully away in her bag. "Isn't he?" she said.
"Quite marvellous. But his character and his mind were even better. I
see him as one of those innocent, childlike monsters of iniquity who are
simply unaware of the existence of right and wrong. And he had
genius--the real Italian genius for engineering, for dominating and
exploiting nature. A true son of the Roman aqueduct builders he was, and
a brother of the electrical engineers. Only Kuno--that was his
name--didn't work in water; he worked in women. He knew how to harness
the natural energy of passion; he made devotion drive his mills. The
commercial exploitation of love-power, that was his specialty. I
sometimes wonder," Miss Penny added in a different tone, "whether I
shall ever be exploited, when I get a little more middle-aged and
celibate, by one of these young engineers of the passions. It would be
humiliating, particularly as I've done so little exploiting from my
side."

She frowned and was silent for a moment. No, decidedly, Miss Penny was
not beautiful; you could not even honestly say that she had charm or was
attractive. That high Scotch colouring, those hare's eyes, the voice,
the terrifying laugh, and the size of her, the general formidableness of
the woman. No, no, no.

"You said he had been in prison," I said. The silence, with all its
implications, was becoming embarrassing.

Miss Penny sighed, looked up, and nodded. "He was fool enough," she
said, "to leave the straight and certain road of female exploitation for
the dangerous courses of burglary. We all have our occasional accesses
of folly. They gave him a heavy sentence, but he succeeded in getting
pneumonia, I think it was, a week after entering jail. He was
transferred to the hospital. Sister Agatha, with her known talent for
saving souls, was given him as his particular attendant. But it was he,
I'm afraid, who did the converting."

Miss Penny finished off the last mouthful of the ginger pudding which
the waiter had brought in lieu of jam roll.

"I suppose you don't smoke cheroots," I said, as I opened my cigar-case.

"Well, as a matter of fact, I do," Miss Penny replied. She looked
sharply round the restaurant. "I must just see if there are any of those
horrible little gossip paragraphers here to-day. One doesn't want to
figure in the social and personal column to-morrow morning: 'A fact
which is not so generally known as it ought to be is, that Miss Penny,
the well-known woman journalist, always ends her luncheon with a
six-inch Burma cheroot. I saw her yesterday in a restaurant--not a
hundred miles from Carmelite Street--smoking like a house on fire.' You
know the touch. But the coast seems to be clear, thank goodness."

She took a cheroot from the case, lit it at my proffered match, and went
on talking.

"Yes, it was young Kuno who did the converting. Sister Agatha was
converted back into the worldly Melpomene Fugger she had been before she
became the bride of holiness."

"Melpomene Fugger?"

"That was her name. I had her history from my old doctor. He had seen
all Grauburg, living and dying and propagating for generations.
Melpomene Fugger why, he had brought little Melpel into the world,
little Melpchen. Her father was Professor Fugger, the great Professor
Fugger, the _berümter Geolog_. Oh, yes, of course, I know the name. So
well.... He was the man who wrote the standard work on Lemuria--you
know, the hypothetical continent where the lemurs come from. I showed
due respect. Liberal-minded he was, a disciple of Herder, a
world-burgher, as they beautifully call it over there. Anglophile, too,
and always ate porridge for breakfast--up till August 1914. Then, the
radiant morning of the fifth, he renounced it for ever, solemnly and
with tears in his eyes. The national food of a people who had betrayed
culture and civilisation--how could he go on eating it? It would stick
in his throat. In future he would have a lightly boiled egg. He sounded,
I thought, altogether charming. And his daughter, Melpomene--she sounded
charming, too; and such thick, yellow pig-tails when she was young! Her
mother was dead, and a sister of the great Professor's ruled the house
with an iron rod. Aunt Bertha was her name. Well, Melpomene grew up,
very plump and appetising. When she was seventeen, something very odious
and disagreeable happened to her. Even the doctor didn't know exactly
what it was; but he wouldn't have been surprised if it had had something
to do with the then Professor of Latin, an old friend of the family's,
who combined, it seems, great erudition with a horrid fondness for very
young ladies."

Miss Penny knocked half an inch of cigar ash into her empty glass.

"If I wrote short stories," she went on reflectively "(but it's too much
bother), I should make this anecdote into a sort of potted life history,
beginning with a scene immediately after this disagreeable event in
Melpomene's life. I see the scene so clearly. Poor little Melpel is
leaning over the bastions of Grauburg Castle, weeping into the June
night and the mulberry trees in the garden thirty feet below. She is
besieged by the memory of what happened this dreadful afternoon.
Professor Engelmann, her father's old friend, with the magnificent red
Assyrian beard.... Too awful--too awful! But then, as I was saying,
short stones are really too much bother; or perhaps I'm too stupid to
write them. I bequeath it to you. You know how to tick these things
off."

"You're generous."

"Not at all," said Miss Penny. "My terms are ten per cent commission on
the American sale. Incidentally there won't be an American sale. Poor
Melpchen's history is not for the chaste public of Those States. But let
me hear what you propose to do with Melpomene now you've got her on the
castle bastions."

"That's simple," I said. "I know all about German university towns and
castles on hills. I shall make her look into the June night, as you
suggest; into the violet night with its points of golden flame. There
will be the black silhouette of the castle, with its sharp roofs and
hooded turrets, behind her. From the hanging beer-gardens in the town
below the voices of the students, singing in perfect four-part harmony,
will float up through the dark-blue spaces. '_Röslein, Röslein, Röslein
rot_' and '_Das Ringlein sprang in zwei_'--the heart-rendingly sweet old
songs will make her cry all the more. Her tears will patter like rain
among the leaves of the mulberry trees in the garden below. Does that
seem to you adequate?"

"Very nice," said Miss Penny. "But how are you going to bring the sex
problem and all of its horrors into the landscape?"

"Well, let me think." I called to memory those distant foreign summers
when I was completing my education. "I know. I shall suddenly bring a
swarm of moving candles and Chinese lanterns under the mulberry trees.
You imagine the rich lights and shadows, the jewel-bright leafage, the
faces and moving limbs of men and women, seen for an instant and gone
again. They are students and girls of the town come out to dance, this
windless, blue June night, under the mulberry trees. And now they begin,
thumping round and round in a ring, to the music of their own singing.

     "_Wir können spielen_
     _Vio-vio-vio-lin_
     _Wir können spielen_
     _Vi-o-lin_

"Now the rhythm changes, quickens.

     "_Und wir können tanzen Bumstarara,_
     _Bumstarara, Bumstarara,_
     _Und wir können tanzen Bumstarara,_
     _Bumstarara-rara._

"The dance becomes a rush, an elephantine prancing on the dry lawn under
the mulberry trees. And from the bastion Melpomene looks down and
perceives, suddenly and apocalyptically, that everything in the world is
sex, sex, sex. Men and women, male and female--always the same, and all,
in the light of the horror of the afternoon, disgusting. That's how I
should do it, Miss Penny."

"And very nice, too. But I wish you could find a place to bring in my
conversation with the doctor. I shall never forget the way he cleared
his throat, and coughed before embarking on the delicate subject. 'You
may know, ahem, gracious Miss,' he began--'you may know that religious
phenomena are often, ahem, closely connected with sexual causes.' I
replied that I had heard rumours which might justify me in believing
this to be true among Roman Catholics, but that in the Church of England
--and I for one was a practitioner of Anglicanismus--it was very
different. 'That might be,' said the doctor; he had had no opportunity
in the course of his long medical career of personally studying
Anglicanismus. But he could vouch for the fact that among his patients,
here in Grauburg, mysticismus was very often mixed up with the
_Geschlechtsleben_. Melpomene was a case in point. After that hateful
afternoon she had become extremely religious; the Professor of Latin had
diverted her emotions out of their normal channels. She rebelled against
the placid Agnosticismus of her father, and at night, in secret, when
Aunt Bertha's dragon eyes were closed, she would read such forbidden
books as _The Life of St. Theresa, The Little Flowers of St. Francis,
The Imitation of Christ_, and the horribly enthralling _Book of
Martyrs_. Aunt Bertha confiscated, these works whenever she came upon
them; she considered them more pernicious than the novels of Marcel
Prévost. The character of a good potential housewife might be completely
undermined by reading of this kind. It was rather a relief for Melpomene
when Aunt Bertha shuffled off, in the summer of 1911, this mortal coil.
She was one of those indispensables of whom one makes the discovery,
when they are gone, that one can get on quite as well without them. Poor
Aunt Bertha!"

"One can imagine Melpomene trying to believe she was sorry, and horribly
ashamed to find that she was really, in secret, almost glad." The
suggestion seemed to me ingenious, but Miss Penny accepted it as
obvious.

"Precisely," she said; "and the emotion would only further confirm and
give new force to the tendencies which her aunt's death left her free to
indulge as much as she liked. Remorse, contrition--they would lead to
the idea of doing penance. And for one who was now wallowing in the
martyrology, penance was the mortification of the flesh. She used to
kneel for hours, at night, in the cold; she ate too little, and when her
teeth ached, which they often did,--for she had a set, the doctor told
me, which had given trouble from the very first,--she would not go and
see the dentist, but lay awake at night, savouring to the full her
excruciations, and feeling triumphantly that they must, in some strange
way, be pleasing to the Mysterious Powers. She went on like that for two
or three years, till she was poisoned through and through. In the end
she went down with gastric ulcer. It was three months before she came
out of hospital, well for the first time in a long space of years, and
with a brand new set of imperishable teeth, all gold and ivory. And in
mind, too, she was changed--for the better, I suppose. The nuns who
nursed her had made her see that in mortifying herself she had acted
supererogatively and through spiritual pride; instead of doing right,
she had sinned. The only road to salvation, they told her, lay in
discipline, in the orderliness of established religion, in obedience to
authority. Secretly, so as not to distress her poor father, whose
Agnosticismus was extremely dogmatic, for all its unobtrusiveness,
Melpomene became a Roman Catholic. She was twenty-two. Only a few months
later came the war and Professor Fugger's eternal renunciation of
porridge. He did not long survive the making of that patriotic gesture.
In the autumn of 1914 he caught a fatal influenza. Melpomene was alone
in the world. In the spring of 1915 there was a new and very
conscientious Sister of Charity at work among the wounded, in the
hospital of Grauburg. Here," explained Miss Penny, jabbing the air with
her forefinger, "you put a line of asterisks or dots to signify a six
years' gulf in the narrative. And you begin again right in the middle of
a dialogue between Sister Agatha and the newly convalescent Kuno."

"What's their dialogue to be about?" I asked.

"Oh, that's easy enough," said Miss Penny. "Almost anything would do.
What about this, for example? You explain that the fever has just
abated; for the first time for days the young man is fully conscious. He
feels himself to be well, reborn, as it were, in a new world--a world so
bright and novel and jolly that he can't help laughing at the sight of
it. He looks about him; the flies on the ceiling strike him as being
extremely comic. How do they manage to walk upside down? They have
suckers on their feet, says Sister Agatha, and wonders if her natural
history is quite sound. Suckers on their feet--ha, ha! What an
uproarious notion! Suckers on their feet--that's good, that's damned
good! You can say charming, pathetic, positively tender things about the
irrelevant mirth of convalescents the more so in this particular case,
where the mirth is expressed by a young man who is to be taken back to
jail as soon as he can stand firmly on his legs. Ha, ha! Laugh on,
unhappy boy. It is the quacking of the Fates, the Parcæ, the Norns!"

Miss Penny gave an exaggerated imitation of her own brassy laughter. At
the sound of it the few lunchers who still lingered at the other tables
looked up, startled.

"You can write pages about Destiny and its ironic quacking. It's
tremendously impressive, and there's money in every line."

"You may be sure I shall."

"Good! Then I can get on with my story. The days pass and the first
hilarity of convalescence fades away. The young man remembers and grows
sullen; his strength comes back to him, and with it a sense of despair.
His mind broods incessantly on the hateful future. As for the
consolations of religion, he won't listen to them. Sister Agatha
perseveres--oh, with what anxious solicitude!--in the attempt to make
him understand and believe and be comforted. It is all so tremendously
important, and in this case, somehow, more important than in any other.
And now you see the _Geschlechtsleben_ working yeastily and obscurely,
and once again the quacking of the Norns is audible. By the way," said
Miss Penny, changing her tone and leaning confidentially across the
table, "I wish you'd tell me something. Tell me, do you
really--honestly, I mean--do you seriously believe in literature?"

"Believe in literature?"

"I was thinking?" Miss Penny explained, "of Ironic Fate and the quacking
of the Norns and all that."

"'M yes."

"And then there's this psychology and introspection business; and
construction and good narrative and word pictures and _le mot juste_ and
verbal magic and striking metaphors."

I remembered that I had compared Miss Penny's tinkling ear-rings to
skeletons hanging in chains.

"And then, finally, and to begin with--Alpha and Omega--there's
ourselves, two professionals gloating, with an absolute lack of
sympathy, over a seduced nun, and speculating on the best method of
turning her misfortunes into cash. It's all very curious, isn't
it?--when one begins to think about it dispassionately."

"Very curious," I agreed. "But, then, so is everything else if you look
at it like that."

"No, no," said Miss Penny. "Nothing's so curious as our business. But I
shall never get to the end of my story if I get started on first
principles."

Miss Penny continued her narrative. I was still thinking of literature.
Do you believe in it? Seriously? Ah! Luckily the question was quite
meaningless. The story came to me rather vaguely, but it seemed that the
young man was getting better; in a few more days, the doctor had said,
he would be well--well enough to go back to jail. No, no. The question
was meaningless. I would think about it no more. I concentrated my
attention again.

"Sister Agatha," I heard Miss Penny saying, "prayed, exhorted,
indoctrinated. Whenever she had half a minute to spare from her other
duties she would come running into the young man's room. 'I wonder if
you fully realise the importance of prayer?' she would ask, and, before
he had time to answer, she would give him a breathless account of the
uses and virtues of regular and patient supplication. Or else, it was:
'May I tell you about St. Theresa?' or 'St. Stephen, the first
martyr--you know about him, don't you?' Kuno simply wouldn't listen at
first. It seemed so fantastically irrelevant, such an absurd
interruption to his thoughts, his serious, despairing thoughts about the
future. Prison was real, imminent and this woman buzzed about him with
her ridiculous fairy-tales. Then, suddenly, one day he began to listen,
he showed signs of contrition and conversion. Sister Agatha announced
her triumph to the other nuns, and there was rejoicing over the one lost
sheep. Melpomene had never felt so happy in her life, and Kuno, looking
at her radiant face, must have wondered how he could have been such a
fool as not to see from the first what was now so obvious. The woman had
lost her head about him. And he had only four days now--four days in
which to tap the tumultuous love power, to canalise it, to set it
working for his escape. Why hadn't he started a week ago? He could have
made certain of it then. But now? There was no knowing. Four days was a
horribly short time."

"How did he do it?" I asked, for Miss Penny had paused.

"That's for you to say," she replied, and shook her ear-rings at me. "I
don't know. Nobody knows, I imagine, except the two parties concerned
and perhaps Sister Agatha's confessor. But one can reconstruct the
crime, as they say. How would you have done it? You're a man, you ought
to be familiar with the processes of amorous engineering."

"You flatter me," I answered. "Do you seriously suppose--" I extended my
arms. Miss Penny laughed like a horse. "No. But, seriously, it's a
problem. The case is a very special one. The person, a nun, the place, a
hospital, the opportunities, few. There could be no favourable
circumstances--no moonlight, no distant music; and any form of direct
attack would be sure to fail. That audacious confidence which is your
amorist's best weapon would be useless here."

"Obviously," said Miss Penny. "But there are surely other methods. There
is the approach through pity and the maternal instincts. And there's the
approach through Higher Things, through the soul. Kuno must have worked
on those lines, don't you think? One can imagine him letting himself be
converted, praying with her, and at the same time appealing for her
sympathy and even threatening--with a great air of seriousness---to kill
himself rather than go back to jail. You can write that up easily and
convincingly enough. But it's the sort of thing that bores me so
frightfully to do. That's why I can never bring myself to write fiction.
What is the point of it all? And the way you literary men think
yourselves so important--particularly if you write tragedies. It's all
very queer, very queer indeed."

I made no comment. Miss Penny changed her tone and went on with the
narrative.

"Well," she said, "whatever the means employed, the engineering process
was perfectly successful. Love was made to find out a way. On the
afternoon before Kuno was to go back to prison, two Sisters of Charity
walked out of the hospital gates, crossed the square in front of it,
glided down the narrow streets towards the river, boarded a tram at the
bridge, and did not descend till the car had reached its terminus in the
farther suburbs. They began to walk briskly along the high road out into
the country. 'Look!' said one of them, when they were clear of the
houses; and with the gesture of a conjurer produced from nowhere a red
leather purse. 'Where did it come from?' asked the other, opening her
eyes. Memories of Elisha and the ravens, of the widow's cruse, of the
loaves and fishes, must have floated through the radiant fog in poor
Melpomene's mind. 'The old lady I was sitting next to in the tram left
her bag open. Nothing could have been simpler.' 'Kuno! You don't mean to
say you stole it?' Kuno swore horribly. He had opened the purse. 'Only
sixty marks. Who'd have thought that an old camel, all dressed up in
silk and furs, would only have sixty marks in her purse. And I must have
a thousand at least to get away. It's easy to reconstruct the rest of
the conversation down to the inevitable, 'For God's sake, shut up,' with
which Kuno put an end to Melpomene's dismayed moralising. They trudge on
in silence. Kuno thinks desperately. Only sixty marks; he can do nothing
with that. If only he had something to sell, a piece of jewellery, some
gold or silver anything, anything. He knows such a good place for
selling things. Is he to be caught again for lack of a few marks?
Melpomene is also thinking. Evil must often be done that good may
follow. After all, had not she herself stolen Sister Mary of the
Purification's clothes when she was asleep after night duty? Had not she
run away from the convent, broken her vows? And yet how convinced she
was that she was doing rightly! The mysterious Powers emphatically
approved; she felt sure of it. And now there was the red purse. But
what was a red purse in comparison with a saved soul--and, after all,
what was she doing hut saving Kuno's soul?" Miss Penny, who had adapted
the voice and gestures of a debater asking rhetorical questions, brought
her hand with a slap on to the table. "Lord, what a bore this sort of
stuff is!" she exclaimed. "Let's get to the end of this dingy anecdote
as quickly as possible. By this time, you must imagine, the shades of
night were falling fast--the chill November twilight, and so on; but I
leave the natural descriptions to you. Kuno gets into the ditch at the
roadside and takes off his robes. One imagines that he would feel
himself safer in trousers, more capable of acting with decision in a
crisis. They tramp on for miles. Late in the evening they leave the high
road and strike up through the fields towards the forest. At the fringe
of the wood they find one of those wheeled huts where the shepherds
sleep in the lambing season.

"The real 'Maison du Berger.'"

"Precisely," said Miss Penny, and she began to recite:

     "_Si ton coeur gémissant du poids de notre vie_
     _Se traine et se débat comme un aigle blessé...._

"How does it go on? I used to adore it all so much when I was a girl.

     _"Le seuil est perfumé, l'alcôve est large et sombre,_
     _Et là parmi les fleurs, nous trouverons dans  l'ombre,_
     _Pour nos cheveux unis un lit silencieux._

"I could go on like this indefinitely."

"Do," I said.

"No, no. No, no. I'm determined to finish this wretched story. Kuno
broke the padlock of the door. They entered. What happened in that
little hut?" Miss Penny leaned forward at me. Her large hare's eyes
glittered, the long ear-rings swung and faintly tinkled. "Imagine the
emotions of a virgin of thirty, and a nun at that, in the terrifying
presence of desire. Imagine the easy, familiar brutalities of the young
man. Oh, there's pages to be made out of this--the absolutely
impenetrable darkness, the smell of straw, the voices, the strangled
crying, the movements! And one likes to fancy that the emotions pulsing
about in that confined space made palpable vibrations like a deep sound
that shakes the air. Why, it's ready-made literature, this scene. In the
morning," Miss Penny went on, after a pause, "two woodcutters on their
way to work noticed that the door of the hut was ajar. They approached
the hut cautiously, their axes raised and ready for a blow if there
should be need of it. Peeping in, they saw a woman in a black dress
lying face downward in the straw. Dead? No; she moved, she moaned.
'What's the matter?' A blubbered face, smeared with streaks of
tear-clotted grey dust, is lifted towards them. 'What's the
matter?'--'He's gone!' What a queer, indistinct utterance. The
woodcutters regard one another. What does she say? She's a foreigner,
perhaps. 'What's the matter?' they repeat once more. The woman bursts
out violently crying. 'Gone, gone! He's gone,' she sobs out in her
vague, inarticulate way. 'Oh, gone. That's what she says. Who's
gone?'--'He's left me.'--'What?'--'Left me....'--'What the devil...?
Speak a little more distinctly.'--'I can't,' she wails; 'he's taken my
teeth.'--'Your what?--'My teeth!'--and the shrill voice breaks into a
scream, and she falls back sobbing into the straw. The woodcutters look
significantly at one another. They nod. One of them applies a thick
yellow-nailed forefinger to his forehead."

Miss Penny looked at her watch. "Good heavens!" she said, "it's nearly
half-past three. I must fly. Don't forget about the funeral service,"
she added, as she put on her coat. "The tapers, the black coffin, in the
middle of the aisle, the nuns in their white-winged coifs, the gloomy
chanting, and the poor cowering creature without any teeth, her face all
caved in like an old woman's, wondering whether she wasn't really and in
fact dead--wondering whether she wasn't already in hell. Good-bye."





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Mortal Coils" ***

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