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´╗┐Title: South Wind
Author: Douglas, Norman, 1868-1952
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 "South Wind" ***

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Choat CChoat@sanderson.net.au



SOUTH WIND

BY NORMAN DOUGLAS

AUTHOR OF 'OLD CALABRIA'

LONDON: MARTIN SECKER

First Published March 1917



CHAPTER I



The bishop was feeling rather sea-sick. Confoundedly sea-sick, in fact.

This annoyed him. For he disapproved of sickness in every shape or
form. His own state of body was far from satisfactory at that moment;
Africa--he was Bishop of Bampopo in the Equatorial Regions--had played
the devil with his lower gastric department and made him almost an
invalid; a circumstance of which he was nowise proud, seeing that
ill-health led to inefficiency in all walks of life. There was nothing
he despised more than inefficiency. Well or ill, he always insisted on
getting through his tasks in a businesslike fashion. That was the way
to live, he used to say. Get through with it. Be perfect of your kind,
whatever that kind may be. Hence his sneaking fondness for the
natives--they were such fine, healthy animals.

Fine, healthy animals; perfect of their kind! Africa liked them to "get
through with it" according to their own lights. But there was evidently
a little touch of spitefulness and malice about Africa; something
almost human. For when white people try to get through with it after
their particular fashion, she makes hay of their livers or something.
That is what had happened to Thomas Heard, D.D., Bishop of Bampopo. He
had been so perfect of his kind, such an exemplary pastor, that there
was small chance of a return to the scenes of his episcopal labours.
Anybody could have told him what would happen. He ought to have allowed
for a little human weakness, on the part of the Black Continent. It
could not be helped. For the rest, he was half inclined to give up the
Church and take to some educational work on his return to England.
Perhaps that was why he at present preferred to be known as "Mr.
Heard." It put people at their ease, and him too.

Whence now this novel and unpleasant sensation in the upper gastric
region? Most annoying! He had dined discreetly at his hotel the evening
before; had breakfasted with moderation. And had he not voyaged in many
parts of the world, in China Seas and round the Cape? Was he not even
then on his return journey from Zanzibar? No doubt. But the big liner
which deposited him yesterday at the thronged port was a different
concern from this wretched tub, reeking with indescribable odours as it
rolled in the oily swell of the past storm through which the MOZAMBIQUE
had ridden without a tremor. The benches, too, were frightfully
uncomfortable, and sticky with sirocco moisture under the breathless
awning. Above all, there was the unavoidable spectacle of the suffering
passengers, natives of the country; it infected him with misery. In
attitudes worthy of Michelangelo they sprawled about the deck, groaning
with anguish; huddled up in corners with a lemon-prophylactic against
sea-sickness, apparently-pressed to faces which, by some subtle process
of colour-adaptation, had acquired the complexion of the fruit;
tottering to the taffrail....

There was a peasant woman dressed in black, holding an infant to her
breast. Both child and parent suffered to a distressing degree. By some
kindly dispensation of Providence they contrived to be ill in turns,
and the situation might have verged on the comical but for the fact
that blank despair was written on the face of the mother. She evidently
thought her last day had come, and still, in the convulsions of her
pain, tried to soothe the child. An ungainly creature, with a big scar
across one cheek. She suffered dumbly, like some poor animal. The
bishop's heart went out to her.

He took out his watch. Two more hours of discomfort to be gone through!
Then he looked over the water. The goal was far distant.

Viewed from the clammy deck on this bright morning, the island of
Nepenthe resembled a cloud. It was a silvery speck upon that limitless
expanse of blue sea and sky. A south wind breathed over the
Mediterranean waters, drawing up their moisture which lay couched in
thick mists abut its flanks and uplands. The comely outlines were
barely suggested through a veil of fog. An air of irreality hung about
the place. Could this be an island? A veritable island of rocks and
vineyards and houses--this pallid apparition? It looked like some snowy
sea-bird resting upon the waves; a sea-bird or a cloud; one of those
lonely clouds that stray from their fellows and drift about in wayward
fashion at the bidding of every breeze.

All the better-class natives had disappeared below save an unusually
fat young priest with a face like a full moon, who pretended to be
immersed in his breviary but was looking out of the corner of his eye
all the time at a pretty peasant girl reclining uncomfortably in a
corner. He rose and arranged the cushions to her liking. In doing so he
must have made some funny remark in her ear, for she smiled wanly as
she said:

"Grazie, Don Francesco."

"Means thank you, I suppose," thought the Bishop. "But why is he a
don?"

Of the other alien travellers, those charming but rather metallic
American ladies had retired to the cabin; so had the English family; so
had everybody, in fact. On deck there remained of the foreign
contingent nobody but himself and Mr. Muhlen, a flashy over-dressed
personage who seemed to relish the state of affairs. He paced up and
down, cool as a cucumber, trying to walk like a sailor, and blandly
indifferent to the agonized fellow-creatures whom the movements of the
vessel caused him to touch, every now and then, with the point of his
patent-leather boots. Patent-leather boots. That alone classes him,
thought Mr. Heard. Once he paused and remarked, in his horrible
pronunciation of English:

"That woman over there with the child! I wonder what I would do in her
place? Throw it into the water, I fancy. It's often the only way of
getting rid of a nuisance."

"Rather a violent measure," replied the Bishop politely.

"You're not feeling very well, sir?" he continued, with a fine
assumption of affability. "I am so sorry. As for me, I like a little
movement of the boat. You know our proverb? Weeds don't spoil. I'm
alluding to myself, of course!"

Weeds don't spoil....

Yes, he was a weed. Mr. Heard had not taken kindly to him; he hoped
they would not see too much of each other on Nepenthe, which he
understood to be rather a small place. A few words of civility over the
table d'hote had led to an exchange of cards--a continental custom which
Mr. Heard always resented. It could not easily be avoided in the
present case. They had talked of Nepenthe, or rather Mr. Muhlen had
talked; the bishop, as usual, preferring to listen and to learn. Like
himself, Mr. Muhlen had never before set foot on the place. To be sure,
he had visited other Mediterranean islands; he knew Sicily fairly well
and had once spent a pleasant fortnight on Capri. But Nepenthe was
different. The proximity to Africa, you know; the volcanic soil. Oh
yes! It was obviously quite another sort of island. Business? No! He
was not bound on any errand of business; not on any errand at all. Just
a little pleasure trip. One owes something to one's self: N'EST-CE-PAS?
And this early summer was certainly the best time for travelling. One
could count on good weather; one could sleep in the afternoon, if the
heat were excessive. He had telegraphed for a couple of rooms in what
was described as the best hotel--he hoped the visitors staying there
would be to his liking. Unfortunately--so he gathered--the local society
was a little mixed, a little--how shall we say?--ultra-cosmopolitan. The
geographical situation of the island, lying near the converging point
of many trade-routes, might account for this. And then its beauty and
historical associations: they attracted strange tourists from every
part of the world. Queer types! Types to be avoided, perhaps. But what
did it matter, after all? It was one of the advantages of being a man,
a civilized man, that you could amuse yourself among any class of
society. As for himself, he liked the common people, the peasants and
fishermen; he felt at home among them; they were so genuine, so
refreshingly different.

To suchlike ingratiating and rather obvious remarks the bishop had
listened, over the dinner table, with urbane acquiescence and growing
distrust. Peasants and fisher folks! This fellow did not look as if he
cared for such company. He was probably a fraud.

They had met again in the evening, and taken a short stroll along the
quay where a noisy band was discoursing operatic airs. The performance
elicited from Mr. Muhlen some caustic comments on Latin music as
contrasted with that of Russia and other countries. He evidently knew
the subject. Mr. Heard, to whom music was Greek, soon found himself out
of his depths. Later on, in the smoking-room, they had indulged in a
game of cards--the bishop being of that broadminded variety which has
not the slightest objection to a gentlemanly gamble. Once more his
companion had revealed himself as an accomplished amateur.

No; it was something else that annoyed him about the man--certain almost
contemptuous remarks he had dropped in the course of the evening on the
subject of the female sex; not any particular member of it, but the sex
in general. Mr. Heard was sensitive on that point. He was not
disheartened by experience. He had never allowed his judgment to be
warped by those degrading aspects of womanhood which he had encountered
ruing his work among the London poor, and more recently in Africa,
where women are treated as the veriest beasts. He kept his ideals
bright. He would tolerate no flippant allusions to the sex. Muhlen's
talk had left a bad taste in his mouth.

And here he was, prancing up and down, sublimely pleased with himself.
Mr. Heard watched his perambulations with mixed feelings--moral
disapproval combining with a small grain of envy at the fellow's
conspicuous immunity from the prevailing sea-sickness.

A weed; unquestionably a weed.

Meanwhile, the mainland slowly receded. Morning wore on, and under the
fierce attraction of the sun the fogs were drawn upwards. Nepenthe
became tangible--an authentic island. It gleamed with golden rocks and
emerald patches of culture. A cluster of white houses, some town or
village, lay perched on the middle heights where a playful sunbeam had
struck a pathway through the vapours. The curtain was lifted. Half
lifted; for the volcanic peaks and ravines overhead were still shrouded
in pearly mystery.

The fat priest looked up from his breviary and smiled in friendly
fashion.

"I heard you speak English to that person," he began, with hardly a
trace of foreign accent. "You will pardon me. I see you are unwell. May
I get you a lemon? Or perhaps a glass of cognac?"

"I am feeling better, thank you. It must have been the sight of those
poor people that upset me. They seem to suffer horribly. I suppose I
have got used to it."

"They do suffer. And they get used to it too. I often wonder whether
they are as susceptible to pain and discomfort as the rich with their
finer nervous structure. Who can say? Animals also have their
sufferings, but they are not encouraged to tell us about them. Perhaps
that is why God made them dumb. Zola, in one of his novels, speaks of a
sea-sick donkey."

"Dear me!" said Mr. Heard. It was an old-fashioned trick he had got
from his mother. "Dear me!"

He wondered what this youthful ecclesiastic was doing with Zola. In
fact, he was slightly shocked. But he never allowed such a state of
affairs to be noticed.

"You like Zola?" he queried.

"Not much. He is rather a dirty dog, and his technique is so
ridiculously transparent. But one can't help respecting the man. If I
were to read this class of literature for my own amusement I would
prefer, I think, Catulle Mendes. But I don't. I read it, you
understand, in order to be able to penetrate into the minds of my
penitents, many of whom refuse to deprive themselves of such books.
Women are so influenced by what they read! Personally, I am not very
fond of improper writers. And yet they sometimes make one laugh in
spite of one's self, don't they? I perceive you are feeling better."

Mr. Heard could not help saying:

"You express yourself very well in English."

"Oh, passably! I have preached to large congregations of Catholics in
the United States. In England, too. My mother was English. The Vatican
has been pleased to reward the poor labours of my tongue by the title
of Monsignor."

"My congratulations. You are rather young for a Monsignor, are you not?
We are apt to associate that distinction with snuff-boxes and gout
and--"

"Thirty-nine. It is a good age. One begins to appreciate things at
their true value. Your collar! Might I enquire--"

"Ah, my collar; the last vestige.... Yes, I am a bishop. Bishop of
Bampopo in Central Africa."

"You are rather young, surely, for a bishop?"

Mr. Heard smiled.

"The youngest on the list, I believe. There were not many applicants
for the place; the distance from England, the hard work, and the
climate, you know--"

"A bishop. Indeed!"

He waxed thoughtful. Probably he imagined that his companion was
telling him some traveller's tale.

"Yes," continued Mr. Heard. "I am what we call a 'Returned Empty.' It
is a phrase we apply in England to Colonial bishops who come back from
their dioceses."

"Returned Empty! That sounds like beer."

The priest was looking perplexed, as though uncertain of the other's
state of mind. Southern politeness, or curiosity, overcame his fears.
Perhaps this foreigner was fond of joking. Well, he would humour him.

"You will see our bishop to-morrow," he pursued blandly. "He comes over
for the feast of the patron saint; you are lucky in witnessing it. The
whole island is decorated. There will be music and fireworks and a
grand procession. Our bishop is a dear old man, though not exactly what
you would call a liberal," he added, with a laugh. "That is as it
should be, is it not? We like our elders to be conservative. They
counteract the often violent modernism of the youngsters. Is this your
first visit to Nepenthe?"

"It is. I have heard much about the beauty of the place."

"You will like it. The people are intelligent. There is good food and
wine. Our lobsters are celebrated. You will find compatriots on the
island, some ladies among them; the Duchess of San Martino, for
instance, who happens to be an American; some delightful ladies! And
the country girls, too, are worthy of a benevolent glance--"

"That procession is sure to interest me. What is the name of your
patron?"

"Saint Dodekanus. He has a wonderful history. There is an Englishman on
Nepenthe, Mr. Earnest Eames, a student, who will tell you all about it.
He knows more about the saint than I do; one would think he dined with
him every evening. But he is a great hermit--Mr. Eames, I mean. And it
is so good of our old bishop to come over," he pursued with a shade of
emphasis. "His work keeps him mostly on the mainland. He has a large
see--nearly thirty square miles. How large, by the way, is your
diocese?"

"I cannot give you the exact figures," Mr. Heard replied. "It has often
taken me three weeks to travel from one end to the other. It is
probably not much smaller than the kingdom of Italy."

"The kingdom of Italy. Indeed!"

That settled it. The conversation died abruptly; the friendly priest
relapsed into silence. He looked hurt and disappointed. This was more
than a joke. He had done his best to be civil to a suffering foreigner,
and this was his reward--to be fooled with the grossest of fables. Maybe
he remembered other occasions when Englishmen had developed a queer
sense of humour which he utterly failed to appreciate. A liar. Or
possibly a lunatic; one of those harmless enthusiasts who go about the
world imagining themselves to be the Pope or the Archangel Gabriel.
However that might be, he said not another word, but took to reading
his breviary in good earnest, for the first time.

The boat anchored. Natives poured out in a stream. Mr. Muhlen drove up
alone, presumably to his sumptuous hotel. The bishop, having gathered
his luggage together, followed in another carriage. He enjoyed the
drive along that winding upward track; he admired the festal
decorations of the houses, the gardens and vineyards, the many-tinted
rock scenery overhead, the smiling sunburnt peasantry. There was an air
of contentment and well-being about the place; something joyful,
opulent, almost dramatic.

"I like it," he concluded.

And he wondered how long it would be before he met his cousin, Mrs.
Meadows, on whose account he had undertaken to break the journey to
England.

Don Francesco, the smiling priest, soon outstripped both of them, in
spite of a ten minutes' conversation on the quay with the pretty
peasant girl of the steamer. He had engaged the fastest driver on the
island, and was now tearing frantically up the road, determined to be
the first to apprise the Duchess of the lunatic's arrival.



CHAPTER II



The Duchess of San Martino, a kind-hearted and imposing lady of mature
age who, under favourable atmospheric conditions (in winter-time, for
instance, when the powder was not so likely to run down her face),
might have passed, so far as profile was concerned, for a faded French
beauty of bygone centuries--the Duchess was no exception to the rule.

It was an old rule. Nobody knew when it first came into vogue. Mr.
Eames, bibliographer of Nepenthe, had traced it down to the second
Phoenician period, but saw no reason why the Phoenicians, more than
anybody else, should have established the precedent. On the contrary,
he was inclined to think that it dated from yet earlier days; days when
the Troglodytes, Manigones, Septocardes, Merdones, Anthropophagoi and
other hairy aboriginals used to paddle across, in crazy canoes, to
barter the produce of their savage African glens-serpent-skins, and
gums, and gazelle horns, and ostrich eggs--for those super-excellent
lobsters and peasant girls for which Nepenthe had been renowned from
time immemorial. He based this scholarly conjecture on the fact that a
gazelle horn, identified as belonging to a now extinct Tripolitan
species, was actually discovered on the island, while an adolescent
female skull of the hypo-dolichocephalous (Nepenthean) type had come to
light in some excavations at Benghazi.

It was a pleasant rule. It ran to the effect that in the course of the
forenoon all the inhabitants of Nepenthe, of whatever age, sex, or
condition, should endeavour to find themselves in the market-place or
piazza--a charming square, surrounded on three sides by the principal
buildings of the town and open, on the fourth, to a lovely prospect
over land and sea. They were to meet on this spot; here to exchange
gossip, make appointments for the evening, and watch the arrival of
new-comers to their island. An admirable rule! For it effectively
prevented everybody from doing any kind of work in the morning; and
after luncheon, of course, you went to sleep. It was delightful to be
obliged, by iron convention, to stroll about in the bright sunshine,
greeting your friends, imbibing iced drinks, and letting your eye stray
down to the lower level of the island with its farmhouses embowered in
vineyards; or across the glittering water towards the distant coastline
and its volcano; or upwards, into those pinnacles of the higher region
against whose craggy ramparts, nearly always, a fleet of snowy
sirocco-clouds was anchored. For Nepenthe was famous not only for its
girls and lobsters, but also for its south wind.

As usual at this hour the market-place was crowded with folks. It was a
gay throng. Priests and curly-haired children, farmers, fishermen,
citizens, a municipal policeman or two, brightly dressed women of all
ages, foreigners in abundance--they moved up and down, talking,
laughing, gesticulating. Nobody had anything particular to do; such was
the rule.

The Russian sect was well represented. They were religious enthusiasts,
ever increasing in numbers and led by their Master, the divinely
inspired Bazhakuloff, who was then living in almost complete seclusion
on the island. They called themselves the "Little White Cows," to mark
their innocence of worldly affairs, and their scarlet blouses, fair
hair, and wondering blue eyes were quite a feature of the place.
Overhead, fluttering flags and wreaths of flowers, and bunting, and
brightly tinted paper festoons--an orgy of colour, in honour of the
saint's festival on the morrow.

The Duchess, attired in black, with a black and white sunshade, and a
string of preposterous amethysts nestling in the imitation Val of her
bosom, was leaning on the arm of an absurdly good-looking youth whom
she addressed as Denis. Everyone called him Denis or Mr. Denis. People
used his surname as little as possible. It was Phipps.

With a smile for everyone, she moved more deliberately than the rest,
and used her fan rather more frequently. She knew that the sirocco was
making stealthy inroads upon her carefully powdered cheeks; she wanted
to look her best on the arrival of Don Francesco, who was to bring some
important message from the clerical authorities of the mainland anent
her forthcoming reception into the Roman Catholic Church. He was her
friend. Soon he would be her confessor.

Wordly-wise, indolent, good-natured and, like most Southerners, a
thorough-going pagan, Don Francesco was deservedly popular as
ecclesiastic. Women adored him; he adored women. He passed for an
unrivalled preacher; his golden eloquence made converts everywhere,
greatly to the annoyance of the parroco, the parish priest, who was
doubtless sounder on the Trinity but a shocking bad orator and
altogether deficient in humanity, and who nearly had a fit, they said,
when the other was created Monsignor. Don Francesco was a fisher of
men, and of women. He fished AD MAIOREM DEI GLORIAM, and for the fun of
the thing. It was his way of taking exercise, he once confessed to his
friend Keith; he was too fat to run about like other people--he could
only talk. He fished among natives, and among foreigners.

Foreigners were hard to catch, on Nepenthe. They came and went in such
breathless succession. Of the permanent residents only the Duchess,
always of High Church leanings, had of late yielded to his
blandishments. She was fairly hooked. Madame Steynlin, a lady of Dutch
extraction whose hats were proverbial, was uncompromisingly Lutheran.
The men were past redemption, all save the Commissioner who, however,
was under bad influences and an incurable wobbler, anyhow. Eames, the
scholar, cared for nothing but his books. Keith, a rich eccentric who
owned one of the finest villas and gardens on the place, only came to
the island for a few weeks every year. He knew too much, and had
travelled too far, to be anything but a hopeless unbeliever; besides,
he was a particular friend of his, with whom he agreed, in his heart of
hearts, on every subject. The frequenters of the Club were mostly
drunkards, derelicts, crooks, or faddist--not worth catching.

Arriages began to arrive on the scene. That of Don Francesco drove up
first of all. He stepped out and sailed across the piazza like a
schooner before the wind. But his discourse, usually ample and florid
as befitted both his person and his calling, was couched on this
occasion in Tacitean brevity.

"We have landed a queer fish, Duchess," he remarked. "He calls himself
Bishop of Bim-Bam-Bum, and resembles a broken-down matrimonial agent.
So lean! So yellow! His face all furrowed! He has lived very viciously,
that man. Perhaps he is mad. In every case, look to your purse, Mr.
Denis. He'll be here in a minute."

"That's quite right," said the young man. "The Bishop of Bampopo. It's
in the NEW YORK HERALD. Sailing by the MOZAMBIQUE. But they didn't say
he was coming to the island. I wonder what he wants here?"

Don Francesco was aghast.

"Indeed?" he asked. "A bishop, and so yellow! He must have thought me
very rude," he added.

"You couldn't be rude if you tried," said the Duchess, giving him a
playful slap with her fan.

She was burning with ardour to be the first to introduce such a lion to
the local society. But fearful of making a FAUX PAS, she said:

"You'll go and speak to him, Denis. Find out if it's the right one--the
one you read about in the paper, I mean. Then come and tell me."

"Good Lord, Duchess, don't ask me to do that! I couldn't tackle a
bishop. Not an African. Not unless he has a proper apron on."

"Be a man, Denis. He won't bite a pretty boy like you."

"What nice things the lady is saying to you," observed Don Francesco.

"She always does," he laughed, "when she wants me to do something for
her. I haven't been on this island long, but I have already found out
the Duchess! You do it, Don Francesco. He is sure to be the right one.
They get yellow, out there. Sometimes green."

Mr. Heard was intercepted on his way to the hotel by the genial priest,
and formally presented to the Duchess. She was more than condescending
to this stern and rather tired-looking man; she was gracious. She made
all kinds of polite enquiries, and indicated the various sites and
persons of interest; while Don Francesco, he observed, had
unaccountably recovered from his sudden attack of bad humour on the
steamer.

"And that is where I live," she said, pointing to a large and sever
structure whose walls had plainly not been whitewashed for many long
years. "It's an old disused convent, built by the Good Duke Alfred.
Wasn't it, Denis?"

"I really couldn't say, Duchess. I never heard of the gentleman."

"That Good Duke was an unmitigated ruffian," observed Don Francesco.

"Oh, don't say that! Think of all the good he did for the island. Think
of that frieze in the church! I have acres and acres of rooms to walk
about in," she continued, addressing the bishop. "All by myself! I'm
quite a hermit, you know. You will perhaps be able to have a cup of tea
with me to-day?"

"Not exactly a hermit," Denis interposed.

"To take tea with the Duchess is an experience, a revelation," said Don
Francesco in judicial tones. "I have enjoyed that meal in various parts
of the world, but nobody can manage it like she can. She has the true
gift. You will make tea for us in Paradise, dear lady. As to luncheon,
let me tell you in confidence, Mr. Heard, that my friend Keith, whom
you will meet sooner or later, has a most remarkable chef. What that
man of Keith's cannot cook is not worth eating."

"How delightful!" replied the bishop, slightly embarrassed. "And
where," he added, laughing--"where does one dine?"

"I don not dine. Madame Steynlin used to give nice evening parties," he
continued reflectively, and with a shad of sadness in his voice.
"Excellent little dinners! But she is so taken up with Russians just
now; they quite monopolise her house. Down there; do you see, Mr.
Heard? That white villa by the sea, at the end of the promontory? She
is so romantic. That is why she bought a house which nobody else would
have bought at any price. That little place, all by itself--it
fascinated her. Bitterly she regrets her choice. She has discovered the
drawbacks of a promontory. My dear Duchess, never live on a promontory!
It has fearful inconveniences; you are overlooked by everybody. All the
islands know what you do, and who visits you, and when, and why....
Yes, I remember those dinners with regret. Nowadays I must content
myself with a miserable supper at home. The doctor has forbidden
dinners. He says I am getting too fat."

Denis remarked:

"Your fat is your fortune, Don Francesco."

"My fortune, then, is a heavy load to bear. Mr. Keith tells me I have
seven double chins, three behind and four in front. He says he has
counted them carefully. He declares that an eighth is in course of
formation. It is too much for a person of my austere temperament."

"You need never believe a word Keith says," said the Duchess. "He
upsets me with his long words and his--his awful views. He really does."

"I tell him he is the Antichrist," observed Don Francesco, gravely
shaking his head. "But we shall see! We shall catch him yet."

The Duchess had no idea what the Antichrist was, but she felt sure it
was something not quite nice.

"If I thought he was anything like that, I would never ask him to my
house again. The Antichrist! Ah, talk of angels--"

The person in question suddenly appeared, superintending half a dozen
young gardeners who carried various consignments of plants wrapped up
in straw which had arrived, presumably, by the steamer.

Mr. Keith was older than he looked--incredibly old, in fact, though
nobody could bring himself to believe it; he was well preserved by
means of a complicated system of life, the details of which, he used to
declare, were not fit for publication. That was only his way of
talking. He exaggerated so dreadfully. His face was clean-shaven, rosy,
and of cherubic fulness; his eyes beamed owlishly through spectacles
which nobody had ever seen him take off. But for those spectacles he
might have passed for a well-groomed baby in a soap-advertisement. He
was supposed to sleep in them.

It looked as if Mr. Keith had taken an instantaneous liking to the
bishop.

"Bampopo? Why, of course. I've been there. Years and years ago. Long
before your time, I'm afraid. How is the place getting on? Better
roads, no doubt. And better food, I hope? I was much interested in that
little lake--you know? It seemed to have no outlet. We must talk it
over. And I like those Bulanga people--fine fellows! You liked them too?
I'm glad to hear it. Such a lot of nonsense was talked about their
depravity! If you have nothing better to do, come and lunch to-morrow,
can you? Villa Khismet. Anybody will show you the way. You, Denis," he
added, "you disappoint me. You look like a boy who is fond of flowers.
And yet you have never been to see my cannas, which are the finest in
the kingdom, to say nothing of myself, who am also something of a
flower. A carnivorous orchid, I fancy."

"A virgin lily," suggested Don Francesco.

"I wish I could manage to come," replied Mr. Heard. "But I must look
for a cousin of mine to-morrow; Mrs. Meadows. Perhaps you know her?"

The priest said:

"We all know Mrs. Meadows. And we all like her. Unfortunately she lives
far, far away; right up there," and he pointed vaguely towards the
sirocco clouds. "In the Old Town, I mean. She dwells like a hermit, all
alone. You can drive up there in a carriage, of course. It is a pity
all these nice people live so far away. There is Count Caloveglia, for
instance, whom I would like to see every day of my life. He talks
better English than I do, the old humbug! He, too, is a hermit. But he
will be down here to-morrow. He never misses the theatricals."

Everybody seems to be a hermit hereabouts, thought Mr. Heard. And yet
this place is seething with people!

Aloud he said:

"So my cousin lives up in the fog. And does it always hang about like
this?"

"Oh dear no!" replied the Duchess. "It goes away sometimes, in the
afternoon. The sirocco, this year, has been most exceptional. Most
exceptional! Don't you think so, Denis?"

"Really couldn't say, Duchess. You know I only arrived last week."

"Most exceptional! Don Francesco will bear me out."

"It blows," said the priest, "when the good God wishes it to blow. He
has been wishing pretty frequently of late."

"I am writing to your cousin," the Duchess remarked, "to ask her to my
small annual gathering after the festival of Saint Dodekanus.
To-morrow, you know. Quite an informal little affair. I may count on
you, Bishop? You'll all come, won't you? You too, Mr. Keith. But no
long words, remember! Nothing about reflexes and preternatural and
things like that. And not a syllable about the Incarnation, please. It
scares me. What's the name of her villa, Denis?"

"Mon Repos. Rather a commonplace name, I think--Mon Repos."

"It is," said Keith. "But there is nothing commonplace about the lady.
She iw what I would call a New Woman."

"Dear me!"

Mr. Heard was alarmed at this picture of his cousin. He did not
altogether approve of New Women.

"She has long ago passed the stage you have in mind, Bishop. She is
newer than that. The real novelty! Looks after the baby, and thinks of
her husband in India. I believe I have many points in common with the
New Woman. I often think of people in India."

"Such a dear little child," said the Duchess.

"Almost as round as myself," added Don Francesco. "There goes the
Commissioner! He is fussing about with the judge, that red-haired
man--do you see, Mr. Heard?--who limps like Mephistopheles and spits
continually. They say he wants to imprison all the Russians. Poor
folks! They ought to be sent home; they don't belong here. He is
looking at us now. Ha, the animal! He has the Evil Eye. He is also
scrofulous, rachitic. And his name is Malipizzo."

"What a funny name," remarked the Bishop.

"Yes, and he is a funny animal. They are great friends, those two."

"A horrible man, that judge," said the Duchess. "Only think, Mr. Heard,
an atheist."

"A freemason," corrected Mr. Keith.

"It's the same thing. And ugly! Nobody has a right to be quite so ugly.
I declare he's worse than the cinematographic villain--you remember,
Denis?"

"It is a miracle he has lived so long, with that face," added Don
Francesco. "I think God created him in order that mankind should have
some idea of the meaning of the word 'grotesque.'"

The proud title "Commissioner" caused the bishop to pay particular
attention to the other of the two individuals in question. He beheld a
stumpy and pompous-looking personage, flushed in the face, with a
moth-eaten grey beard and shifty grey eyes, clothed in a flannel shirt,
tweed knickerbockers, brown stockings, white spats and shoes. Such was
the Commissioner's invariable get-up, save that in winter he wore a cap
instead of a panama. He was smoking a briar pipe and looking blatantly
British, as if he had just spent an unwashed night in a third-class
carriage between King's Cross and Aberdeen. The magistrate, on the
other hand--the red-haired man--was jauntily dressed, with a straw hat on
one side of his repulsive head, and plenty of starch about him.

"I never knew we had a Commissioner here," said Mr. Heard.

Keith replied:

"We haven't. He is Financial Commissioner for Nicaragua. An
incomparable ass is Mr. Freddy Parker."

"Oh, he has a sensible idea now and then, when he forgets to be a
fool," observed Don Francesco. "He is President of the Club, Mr. Heard.
They will elect you honorary member. Take my advice. Avoid the whisky."

Denis remarked, after a critical glance in the same direction:

"I notice that the Commissioner looks redder in the face than when I
last saw him."

"That," said Keith, "is one of Mr. Parker's characteristics."



CHAPTER III



Concerning the life and martyrdom of Saint Dodekanus, patron of
Nepenthe, we possess hardly any information of a trustworthy nature. It
is with his career as with that of other saints: they become
overlaid--encrusted, as it were--with extraneous legendary material in
the course of ages, even as a downward-rolling avalanche gathers snow.
The nucleus is hard to find. What is incontestably true may be summed
up almost in one paragraph.

He was born in A.D. 450, or thereabouts, in the city of Kallisto, in
Crete. He was an only child, a beautiful but unruly boy, the despair of
his widowed mother. At the age of thirteen he encountered, one evening,
an elderly man of thoughtful mien, who addressed him in familiar
language. On several later occasions he discoursed with the same
personage, in a grove of laurels and pines known as Alephane; but what
passed between them, and whether it was some divine apparition, or
merely a man of flesh and blood, was never discovered, for he seems to
have kept his mother in ignorance of the whole affair. From that time
onward his conduct changed. He grew pensive, mild, and charitable. He
entered, as youthful acolyte, a neighbouring Convent of Salacian monks,
and quickly distinguished himself for piety and the gift of miracles.
In the short space of three years, or thereabouts, he had healed eight
lepers, caused the clouds to rain, walked dryshod over several rivers,
and raised twenty-three persons from the dead.

At the age of eighteen he had a second vision. This time it was a young
woman, of pleasing exterior. He discoursed with her, on several
occasions, in the grove of laurels and pines known as Alephane; but
what passed between them, and whether it was a woman of flesh and
blood, or merely an angel, was never discovered, for he seems to have
kept his brother monks in ignorance of the whole affair. From that time
onward his conduct changed. He grew restless and desirous of converting
the heathen. He set sail for Lybia, suffered shipwreck in the Greater
Syrtis, and narrowly escaped with his life. Thence he passed onward,
preaching to black nations as he moved along, and converting tribes
innumerable. For three-and-thirty years he wandered till, one evening,
he saw the moon rise on the right side of his face.

He had entered the land of the Crotalophoboi, cannibals and
necromancers who dwelt in a region so hot, and with light so dazzling,
that their eyes grew on the soles of their feet. Here he laboured for
eighty years, redeeming them to Christianity from their magical and
bloodthirsty practices. In recompense whereof they captured him at the
patriarchal age of 132, or thereabouts, and bound him with ropes
between two flat boards of palmwood. Thus they kept the prisoner,
feeding him abundantly, until that old equinoctial feast drew near. On
the evening of that day they sawed the whole, superstitiously, into
twelve separate pieces, one for each month of the year; and devoured of
the saint what was to their liking.

During this horrid banquet a femur or thigh-bone was accidentally cast
upon a millstone which lay by the shore, having been borrowed by the
Crotalophoboi from the neighbouring tribe of Garimanes a good many
years previously and never returned to them by reason, they declared,
of its excessive weight. There it remained till, one day, during a
potent sirocco tempest, the stone was uplifted by the force of the
waters, and miraculously wafted over the sea to Nepenthe. Forthwith a
chapel was built on the spot, to commemorate the event and preserve the
sacred relic which soon began working wonders for the good of the
island, such as warding off Saracenic invasions, procuring plentiful
vintages, and causing sterile cattle to produce offspring.

In later years the main church was dedicated to Saint Dodekanus and the
relic moved thither and enclosed within that silver statue of the saint
which is carried abroad in procession at his annual festival, or on any
particular occasion when his help is to be invoked. And all through
succeeding ages the cult of the saint waxed in pomp and splendour.
Nobody, probably, has done more to foster pious feelings towards their
island-patron than the Good Duke Alfred who, among other things, caused
a stately frieze to be placed in the church, picturing in twelve marble
tablets the twelve chief episodes in the life of the Saint--one for each
month of the year. This frieze indeed was admired so unreservedly, so
recklessly, that the Good Duke felt it his duty to remove the
sculptor's eyes and (on second thoughts) his hands as well, in order
that no other sovereign should possess works by so consummate a master
of stonecraft. There the disciplinary measures ended. He did his best
to console the gifted artist who was fed, henceforward, on lobsters,
decorated with the order of the Golden Vine, and would doubtless have
been ennobled after death, had the Prince not predeceased the sculptor.

Such, briefly, is the history of Saint Dodekanus, and the origin of his
cult on Nepenthe.

Legends galore, often contradictory to this account and to one another,
have clustered round his name, as was inevitable. He is supposed to
have preached in Asia Minor; to have died as a young man, in his
convent; to have become a hermit, a cobbler, a bishop (of Nicomedia), a
eunuch, a politician. Two volumes of mediocre sermons in the Byzantine
tongue have been ascribed to him. These and other crudities may be
dismissed as apocryphal. Even his name has given rise to controversy,
although its origin from the Greek word DODEKA, signifying twelve and
alluding to the twelve morsels into which his body was superstitiously
divided, is as self-evident as well can be. Thus a worthy young canon
of the church of Nepenthe, Giacinto Mellino, who has lately written a
life of Saint Eulalia, the local patroness of sailors--her festival
occurs twelve days after that of Saint Dodekanus--takes occasion, in
this otherwise commendable pamphlet, to scoff at the old-established
derivation of the name and to propose an alternative etymology. He lays
it down that then pagan inhabitants of the island, desirous of sharing
in the benefits of Christianity which had already reached the mainland
but left untouched their lonely rock, sent a missive to the bishop
containing the two words DO DEKANUS: give us a deacon! The grammar is
at fault, he explains, because of their rudimentary knowledge of the
Latin tongue; they had only learnt, hitherto, the first person singular
and the nominative case--so he says; and then proceeds to demonstrate,
with unanswerable arguments, that Greek was the spoken language of
Nepenthe at this period. Several scholars have been swayed by his
specious logic to abandon the older and sounder interpretation. There
are yet other conjectures about the word Dodekanus, all more or less
fanciful....

If the Crotalophoboi had not devoured the missionary Dodekanus, we
should assuredly never have heard of Monsignor Perrelli, the learned
and genial historian of Nepenthe. It was that story, he expressly tells
us, which inflamed him, a mere visitor to the place, with a desire to
know more about the island. A people like the Nepentheans, who could
cherish in their hearts a tale of such beauty, must be worthy, he
concluded, "of the closest and most sympathetic scrutiny." Thus, one
thing leading to another, as always happens where local researches are
concerned, he soon found himself collecting other legends, traditions,
historical data, statistics of agriculture and natural productions, and
so forth. The result of these labours was embodied in the renowned
ANTIQUITIES OF NEPENTHE.

This book, a model of its kind, is written in Latin. It seems to have
been the author's only work, and has gone through several editions; the
last one--by no means the best as regards typography--being that of 1709.
The Crotalophoboi therefore, who procured the sanctification of
Dodekanus by methods hardly commendable to decent folks, can be said to
have done some good in the world, if the creation of a literary
masterpiece like these ANTIQUITIES, for which they are indirectly
responsible, may be classed under that head.

It is a pity we know so little of the life of this Monsignor Perrelli.
He is disappointingly reticent about himself. We learn that he was a
native of the mainland; that he came here, as a youth, afflicted with
rheumatic troubles; that these troubles were relived by an application
of those health-giving waters which he lived to describe in one of the
happiest sections of his work, and which were to become famous to the
world at large through certain classical experiments carried out under
his contemporary, the Good Duke Alfred--a potentate who, by the way,
does not seem to have behaved very prettily to our scholar. And that is
absolutely all we know about him. The most painstaking enquiries on the
part of Mr. Eames have failed to add a single item of positive
information to our knowledge of the historian of Nepenthe. We cannot
tell when, or where, he died. He seems to have ended in regarding
himself as a native of the place. The wealth of material incorporated
in the book leads to the supposition that he must have spent long years
on the island. We may further presume, from his title, that he belonged
to the church; it was the surest path of advancement for a young man of
quality in those days.

A perfunctory glance into his pages will suffice to prove that he
lacked what is called the ecclesiastical bent of mind. Reading between
the lines, one soon discovers that his is not so much a priest as a
statesman and philosopher, a student curious in the lore of mankind and
of nature--alert, sagacious, discriminating. He tells us, for example,
that this legend of the visions and martyrdom of Saint Dodekanus, which
he was the first to disentangle from its heterogeneous accretions, was
vastly to his liking. Why? Because of its churchly flavour? Not so; but
because he detected therein "truth and symbol. It is a tale of
universal applicability; the type, as it were, of every great man's
life, endeavour, and reward." The introduction to these ANTIQUITIES,
setting forth his maxims for the writing of history, might have been
composed not three centuries ago, but yesterday--or even to-morrow; so
modern is its note.

Hearken to these weighty words:

"Portraiture of characters and events should take the form of one
gentleman conversing with another, in the easy tone of good society.
The author who sets out to address a crowd defeats his own object; he
eliminates the essence of good writing--frankness. You cannot be frank
with men of low condition. You must presuppose a refined and congenial
listener, a man or woman whom you would not hesitate to take by the
hand and lead into the circle of your own personal friends. If this
applies to literature of every kind, it applies to history in a
peculiar degree.

"History deals with situations and figures not imaginary but real. It
demands therefore a combination of qualities unnecessary to the poet or
writer of romance--glacial judgment coupled with fervent sympathy. The
poet may be an inspired illiterate, the romance-writer an uninspired
hack. Under no circumstances can either of them be accused of wronging
or deceiving the public, however incongruous their efforts. They write
well or badly, and there the matter ends. The historian, who fails in
his duty, deceives the reader and wrongs the dead. A man weighted with
such responsibilities is deserving of an audience more than usually
select--an audience of his equals, men of the world. No vulgarian can be
admitted to share those confidences....

"The Greeks figured forth a Muse of History; they dared express their
opinions. Genesis, that ancient barrier, did not exist for them. It
stands in the way of the modern historian; it involves him in a
ceaseless conflict with his own honesty. If he values his skin, he must
accommodate himself to current dogmas and refrain from truthful
comments and conclusions. He has the choice of being a chronologer or a
ballad-monger-obsolete and unimportant occupations. Unenviable fate of
those who aspire to be teachers of mankind, that they themselves should
be studied with a kind of antiquarian interest, stimulating thought not
otherwise than as warning examples! Clio has fallen from her pedestal.
That radiant creature, in identifying her interests with those of
theocracy, has become the hand-maiden of a withered and petulant
mistress, a mercenary slut. So things will remain, till mankind has
acquired a fresh body of ethics, corresponding to modern needs. It is
useless, it is dangerous, to pour new wine into old bottles...."

He carries out his theory. The work of Monsignor Perrelli is, above all
things, a human document--the revelation of a personality cultured and
free from prejudice. Indeed, when one considers the religious situation
of those days, he seems to be sailing perilously near the wind in some
of his theological reflections; so much so, that Mr. Eames often
wondered whether this might not account for our ignorance of his later
life and the manner of his death. He held it possible that the scholar
may have fallen into the clutches of the Inquisition, never again to
return to the surface of society. It would explain why the first
edition of the ANTIQUITIES is so extremely rare, and why the two
subsequent ones were issued, respectively, at Amsterdam and Bale.

Incidentally, the book contains in its nine hundred pages all that
could possibly interest a contemporary student about the history and
natural products of Nepenthe. It is still a mine of antiquarian
information, though large sections of the work have inevitably become
obsolete. To bring the ANTIQUITIES up to date by means of a revised and
enlarged version enriched with footnotes, appendixes and copious
illustrations, was the ambition, the sole ambition, of Mr. Ernest
Eames, R.A....

It was not true to say of this gentleman that he fled from England to
Nepenthe because he forged his mother's will, because he was arrested
while picking the pockets of a lady at Tottenham Court Road Station,
because he refused to pay for the upkeep of his seven illegitimate
children, because he was involved in a flamboyant scandal of
unmentionable nature and unprecedented dimensions, because he was
detected while trying to poison the rhinoceros at the Zoo with an
arsenical bun, because he strangled his mistress, because he addressed
an almost disrespectful letter to the Primate of England beginning "My
good Owl"--or for any suchlike reason; and that he now remained on the
island only because nobody was fool enough to lend him the ten pounds
requisite for a ticket back again.

He came there originally to save money; and he stayed there originally
because, if he had happened to die on his homeward journey, there would
not have been enough coppers in his pocket to pay for the funeral
expenses. Nowadays, having solved the problem of how to live on 85
pounds a year, he stayed for another reason as well: to annotate
Perrelli's ANTIQUITIES. It sweetened his self-imposed exile.

He was a dry creature, almost wizened, with bright eyes and a short
moustache; unostentatiously dressed; fastidious, reserved, genteel,
precise in manner, and living a retired life in a two-roomed cottage
somewhere among the vineyards.

He had taken a high degree in classics, though Greek was never much to
his taste. It was "runaway stuff"; nervous and sensuous; it opened up
too many vistas, philological and social, for his positive mind to
assimilate with comfort. Those particles alone--there was something
ambiguous, something almost disreputable, in their jocund pliability,
their readiness to lend themselves to improper uses. But Latin--ah,
Latin was different! Even at his preparatory school, where he was known
as a swot of the first water, he had displayed an unhealthy infatuation
for that tongue; he loved its cold, lapidary construction; and while
other boys played football or cricket, this withered little fellow used
to lark about with a note-book, all by himself, torturing sensible
English into its refractory and colourless periods and elaborating,
without the help of a Gradus, those inept word-mosaics which are called
Latin verses. "Good fun," he used to say, "and every bit as exciting as
algebra," as though that constituted a recommendation. Often the good
form master shook his head, and enquired anxiously whether he was
feeling unwell, or had secret troubles of any kind.

"Oh, no, sir," he would then reply, with a funny little laugh. "Thank
you, sir. But please, sir! Would you mind telling me whether PECUNIA>
really comes from PECUS? Because Adams minor (another swot) ways it
doesn't."

Later on, at the University, he used the English language for the sake
of convenience--in order to make himself understood by Dons and Heads of
Colleges. His thoughts, his dreams, were in Latin.

Such a man, arriving almost penniless on Nepenthe, might have passed a
torpid month or two, then drifted into the Club-set and gone to the
dogs altogether. Latin saved him. He took to studying those earlier
local writers who often composed in that tongue. The Jesuitical
smoothness, the saccharine felicity of authors like Giannettasio had
just begun to pall on his fancy, when the ANTIQUITIES fell into his
hands. It was like a draught of some generous southern wine, after a
course of barley-water. Here was Latin worth reading; rich, sinewy,
idiomatic, full of flavour, masculine. Flexible, yet terse. Latin after
his own heart; a cry across the centuries!

So bewitched was Mr. Eames with the grammar and syntax of the
ANTIQUITIES that he had already gone through the book three times ere
realizing that this man, who could construct such flowing, glowing
sentences, was actually writing about something. Yes, he had something
of uncommon interest to impart. And a gentleman, by Jove! So different
from what one runs up against nowadays. He had an original way of
looking at things--a human way. Very human. Those quaint streaks of
credulity, those whimsical blasphemies, those spicy Court anecdotes
dropped, as it were, in the smoking room of a patrician club--a rare old
fellow! He would have given anything to have made his acquaintance.

Forthwith a change came over Mr. Ernest Eames. His frozen classical
mind blossomed under the sunny stimulus of the Renaissance scholar. He
entered upon a second boyhood--a real boyhood, this time, full of
enthusiasms and adventures into flowery by-paths of learning. Monsignor
Perrelli absorbed him. He absorbed Monsignor Perrelli. Marginal
observation led to footnotes; footnotes to appendixes. He had found an
interest in life. He would annotate the ANTIQUITIES.

In the section which deals with the life of Saint Dodekanus the Italian
had displayed more than his usual erudition and acumen. He had sifted
the records with such incredible diligence that little was left for the
pen of an annotator, save words of praise. In two small matters,
however, the Englishman, considerably to his regret, was enabled or
rather obliged to add a postscript.

Many a time he cursed the day when his researches among the archives of
the mainland brought him into contact with the unpublished chronicle of
Father Capocchio, a Dominican friar of licorous and even licentious
disposition, a hater of Nepenthe and a personal enemy, it seemed, of
his idol Perrelli. His manuscript--the greater part of it, at all
events--was not fit to be printed; not fit to be touched by respectable
people. Mr. Eames felt it his duty to waive considerations of delicacy.
In his capacity of annotator he would have plunged headlong into the
Augean stables, had there been any likelihood of extracting therefrom
the germs of a luminous footnote. He perused the manuscript, making
notes as he went along. This wretched monk, he concluded, must have
possessed a damnably intimate knowledge of Nepenthean conditions, and a
cantankerous and crapulous turn of mind, into the bargain. He never
lost an opportunity of denigrating the island; he was determined,
absolutely determined, to see only the bad side of things, so far as
that place was concerned.

Regarding the pious relic, for instance,--the thigh-bone of the saint,
preserved in the principal church--he wrote:

"A certain Perrelli who calls himself historian, which is as though one
should call a mule a horse, or an ass a mule, brays loudly and
disconnectedly about the femur of the local god. We have personally
examined this priceless femur. It is not a femur, but a tibia. And it
is the tibia not of a saint, but of a young cow or calf. We may
mention, in passing, that we hold a diploma in anatomy from the
Palermitan Faculty of Medicine."

That was Father Capocchio's way: bald to coarseness, whenever he lacked
occasion to be obscene.

To Mr. Eames it would have mattered little, A PRIORI, whether the relic
was a femur or a tibia, a cow or man. In this case, he liked to think
it was the thigh-bone of a saint. He possessed an unusually strong dose
of that Latin PIETAS, that reverence which consists in leaving things
as they are, particularly when they have been described for the benefit
of posterity, with the most engaging candour, by a man of Perrelli's
calibre. Now an insinuation like this could not be slurred over. It was
a downright challenge! The matter must be thrashed out. For four months
he poured over books on surgery and anatomy. Then, having acquired a
knowledge of the subject--adequate, though necessarily superficial--he
applied to the ecclesiastical authorities for permission to view the
relic. It was politely refused. The saintly object, they declared,
could only be exhibited to persons profession the Roman Catholic Faith,
and armed with a special recommendation from the bishop.

"These," he used to say, "are the troubles which lie in wait for a
conscientious annotator."

On another point, that of a derivation of the saint's name, he was
pained to discover in the pages of Father Capocchio an alternative
suggestion, of which more anon. It caused him many sleepless nights.
But on matters pertaining to the climate of Nepenthe, its inhabitants,
products, minerals, water-supply, fisheries, trade, folk-lore,
ethnology,--on questions such as these he had gathered much fresh
information. Sheaves of stimulating footnotes had accumulated on his
desk.

When would all this material be published?

Mr. Eames had not the faintest idea. Meanwhile he calmly went on
collecting and collecting, and collecting. Something might turn up, one
of these days. Everybody with the slightest pretensions to scholarship
was interested in his work; many friends had made him offers of
pecuniary assistance towards the printing of a book which could not be
expected to be a source of profit to its publisher; the wealthy and
good-natured Mr. Keith, in particular, used to complain savagely and
very sincerely at not being allowed to assist to the extent of a
hundred or two. There were days on which he seemed to yield to these
arguments; days when he expanded and gave rein to his fancy, smiling in
anticipation of that noble volume--the golden Latinity of Monsignor
Perrelli enriched with twenty-five years' patient labour on the part of
himself; days when he would go so far as to discuss prospective
contracts, and bindings and photogravures, and margins, and paper.
Everything, of course, was to be of appropriate quality--not
pretentious, but distinguished. Oh, yes! A book of that kind--it must
have a cachet of its own....

Then, suddenly, he would observe that he was joking; only joking.

The true Mr. Eames revealed and reasserted himself. He shrank from the
idea. He closed up like a flower in the chill of night-fall. He was not
going to put himself under obligations to anybody. He would keep his
sense of personal independence, even if it entailed the sacrifice of a
life's ambition. Owe no man anything! The words rang in his ears. They
were his father's words. Owe no man anything! They were that
gentleman's definition of a gentleman--a definition which was cordially
approved by every other gentleman who, like Mr. Eames junior, happened
to hold analogous views.

Gentlemen being rather scarce nowadays, we cannot but feel grateful to
the Crotalophoboi for devouring Saint Dodekanus and paving the way, VIA
the ANTIQUITIES of Monsignor Perrelli, for the refined personality of
Mr. Eames--even if such was not their original intention.



CHAPTER IV



Next morning, at precisely 4 a.m., there was an earthquake.

Foreigners unaccustomed to Nepenthean conditions rushed in their
pyjamas out of doors, to escape the falling wreckage. An American lady,
staying at Mr. Muhlen's high-class hotel, jumped from her bed-room on
the third floor into the courtyard below, and narrowly escaped bruising
her ankle.

It was a false alarm. The sudden clanging of every bell on the place,
the explosion of twelve hundred mortars and the simultaneous booming of
an enormous cannon--that far-famed gun whose wayward tricks had cost the
lives of hundreds of its loaders in the days of the Good Duke--might
have passed for an earthquake of the first magnitude, so far as noise
and concussion were concerned. The island rocked to its foundations. It
was the signal for the festival of the patron saint to begin.

Nobody could have slept through that din. Mr. Heard, dog-tired as he
was, woke up and opened his eyes.

"Things are happening here," he said--a remark which he found himself
repeating on several later occasions.

He looked round the room. It was not an hotel bed-room. Then he began
to remember things, drowsily. He remembered the pleasant surprise of
the previous evening--how the Duchess had called to mind a small villa,
vacated earlier than she had expected by a lady friend for whom she had
taken it. It was furnished, spotlessly clean, with a woman, a capable
cook, in attendance. She had insisted on his living there.

"So much nicer than a dreadful room in an hotel! You'll show the bishop
all over it, won't you, Denis?"

Walking together, he and Denis, they had been overtaken by another
recent visitor to Nepenthe. It was Mr. Edgar Marten. Mr. Marten was a
hirsute and impecunious young Hebrew of low tastes, with a passion for
mineralogy. He had profited by some University grant to make certain
studies at Nepenthe which was renowned for its variegated rocks. There
was something striking about him, thought Mr. Heard. He said little of
consequence, but Denis listened enthusiastically to his abstruse
remarks about fractures and so forth, and watched with eagerness as he
poked his stick into the rough walls to dislodge some stone that seemed
to be of interest.

"So you don't know the difference between augite and hornblende?" he
once enquired. "Really? Dash my eyes! How old did you say you were?"

"Nineteen."

"And what have you been doing, Phipps, these last nineteen years?"

"One can't know everything at my age."

"Granted. But I think you might have learnt that much. Come to me on
Thursday morning. I'll see what I can do for you."

Mr. Heard rather admired this youthful scientist. The fellow knew what
he was after; he was after stones. Perfect of his kind--a condition
which always appealed to the bishop. Pleasant youngsters, both of them.
And so different from each other!

As to Denis--he could not make up his mind about Denis. To begin with,
he exhaled that peculiar College aroma which the most heroic efforts of
a lifetime often fail to dissipate. Then, he had said something about
Florence, and Cinque-Cento, and Jacopo Bellini. The bishop, a practical
man, had not much use for Jacopo Bellini or for people who talked about
him. None the less, while making himself useful with unpacking and
arranging things, Denis dropped a remark which struck Mr. Heard.

"The canvas of Nepenthe," he observed, "is rather overcharged."

Rather overcharged....

It was true, thought the bishop, as he glanced out of his window that
evening, all alone, over the sea into which a young moon was just
sinking to rest. Overcharged! A ceaseless ebb and flow of humanity
surged before his weary eyes. That sense of irreality which had struck
him on his first view of the island was still persisting; the south
wind, no doubt, helped this illusion. He remembered the general
affluence and kindliness of the people; that, at least, had made a
definite mark upon his mind. He liked the place. Already he felt at
home here, and in better health. But when he tried to conjure up some
definite impression of town and people, the images became blurred; the
smiling priest, the Duchess, Mr. Keith--they were like figures in a
dream; they merged into memories of Africa, of his fellow-passengers
from Zanzibar; they mingled with projects relating to his own future in
England--projects relating to his cousin on Nepenthe. Mr. Heard felt
exhausted.

He was too tired to be greatly affected by that cannonade, which was
enough to rouse the dead. Something must be happening, he mused; then,
his meditations concluded, turned on his other side. He slept well into
the morning, and found his breakfast appetisingly laid out in the
adjoining room.

And now, he thought, for that procession.

Bells were ringing gaily into the sunshine. From a long way off, he
discerned the brazen tones of a band, the chanting of priests and
townspeople, shrill voices of women. The pageant came in sight--winding
its way through the multitudes under the beflagged arches of greenery,
while a rain of flowers descended from windows and balconies overhead.
Clusters of children went before, in many-tinted array, according to
their various schools or confraternities. Then came the municipal band
in uniform, playing the cheeriest of tunes, and escorted by the
Nepenthe militia whose old-fashioned costume of silver and scarlet was
most effective. The authorities of the island trod on their heels--grave
gentlemen in black clothes, some of them adorned with ribbons and
decorations. The Mephistophelean judge, the freethinker, was among
them; he limped along, expectorating every ten yards or so, presumably
to mark his displeasure at being obliged, as official, to attend a
religious function. The Commissioner, too, was in the ranks. He
appeared just the same as yesterday; very informal in his
knickerbockers, and decidedly pink about the gills.

There followed a long train of priests, clad in lace and silken
garments of every hue. They looked like a perambulating flower-garden.
Plump, jovial fellows--chanting blithely, and occasionally exchanging a
few words with one another. Don Francesco glittered in crimson
vestments; he recognized Mr. Heard, and gave him a broad smile combined
with something which might have been mistaken for a wink. The huge
silver statue of the saint came next. It was a grotesque monster, borne
aloft on a wooden platform that wobbled on the shoulders of eight lusty
perspiring carriers. As it passed, all the onlookers raised their hats;
all save the Russians, the Little White Cows who, standing aside with
wonderment written on their childlike faces, were relieved from this
necessity, since the wearing of hats had been forbidden by their
leader, their self-styled Messiah, the divinely inspired Bazhakuloff;
they were to go bareheaded summer and winter, "like the Christians of
old." Some ardent believers went so far as to kneel on the stony
ground. The Duchess, the Catholic-to-be, had assumed this reverend
posture; she was on the other side of the street, surrounded by a
number of ladies and gentlemen. Mr. Heard, reviewing the crowd,
abandoned the idea of piercing that procession and exchanging a few
words with her. He would see her in the afternoon.

Then the bishop--the dignitary whom Don Francesco had called "not
exactly a liberal." He tallied with that description. A wicked old
face! He was blear-eyed, brown as a mummy, and so fat that his legs had
long ago ceased to be any use save as a precarious support while
standing. He rode, in gorgeous apparel, on a milk-white donkey which
was led by two pretty choristers in blue. Attached to the end of a long
pole, a green umbrella of Gargantuan proportions, adorned with red
tassels, protected his wrinkled head from the rays of the sun. One hand
clutched some religious object upon which his eyes were glued in a
hypnotic trance, the other cruised aimlessly about the horizon, in the
act of benediction.

Mumbo-jumbo, thought Mr. Heard.

Yet he looked without wincing at the caricature of Christianity. It was
like an act in a pantomime. He had seen funnier things in Africa. Among
the Bitongos, for instance. They would have enjoyed this procession,
the Bitongos. They were Christians; had taken to the Gospel like ducks
to the water; wore top-hats at Easter. But liars--such dreadful liars!
Just the reverse of the M'tezo. Ah, those M'tezo! Incurable heathen. He
had given them up long ago. Anyhow, they despised lying. They filed
their teeth, ate their superfluous female relations, swopped wives
every new moon, and never wore a stitch of clothes. A man who appeared
among the M'tezo in a fig-leaf would find himself in the cooking-pot
within five minutes.

How they attached themselves to his heart, those black fellows. Such
healthy animals! This spectacle, he discovered, was rather like
Africa--the same steamy heat, the same blaring noises, dazzling light,
and glowing colours; the same spirit of unconquerable playfulness in
grave concerns.

And the Bumbulis, the Kubangos, the Mugwambas! And the Bulanga--that
tribe whom Mr. Keith seemed to know so well! Really, the Bulanga were
the worst of the lot. Not fit to be talked about. And yet, somehow or
other, one could not help liking them....

"Good morning, Bishop!" said a voice at his side. It was Mr. Keith. He
looked well washed and chubby in his spotless white clothes.
Accompanying him was a friend in grey flannels whom he presently
introduced as Mr. Eames. "Hope you slept well," he went on. "And how do
you like the procession? You are doing quite the right thing in
attending. Oh, quite. That is why I am here, though I don't much fancy
these ceremonies. One ought to conform to custom. Well, what are you
thinking?"

"I was thinking of Africa, and the pain which the natives will endure
for what they call their pleasures. I wonder how much those men are
paid for carrying that statue? They perspire pretty freely."

"They are paid nothing. They pay, themselves, a heavy sum for the
privilege."

"You surprise me!"

"They have remission of sins; they can be as naughty as ever they like
for a twelvemonth afterwards. That is a consideration. I will tell you
something else about that idol. It is five hundred years old--"

"Oh, come!" interposed Mr. Eames, in a tone of gentle remonstrance.
"The saint was cast exactly eighty-two years ago; they used to have a
wooden one before that time. Anybody can see from the workmanship--"

"Have it your way, Eames. Eighty-two years old, I was going to say, and
not yet paid for. They want some rich foreigner to produce the money.
They are counting on van Koppen, just now; an American millionaire, you
know, who comes here every year and spends a good deal of money. But I
know old Koppen. He is no fool. By the way, Eames, what do you think of
this discover of mine? Of course you have hear of the James-Lange
theory of the Emotions, namely, that bodily changes follow directly on
the perception of the existing fact and that our feeling of these same
changes as they occur is the Emotion. They developed the theory
independently, and got great credit for it. Well, I find--what nobody
seems to have noticed--that they were anticipated by Professor Maudsley.
I've got a note of it in my pocket. Here you are. PSYCHOLOGY OF MIND,
1876, pages 472-4 ET SEQ.; 372, 384, 386-7 ET PASSIM. What do you say?"

"Nothing. I am not interested in psychology. You know it perfectly
well.

"Why not? Wouldn't you get more fun out of life if you were?"

"I have Perrelli."

"Always your old Perrelli! That reminds me, Eames. I mean to talk to
van Koppen as soon as he arrives about getting that book of yours
published. He is good for any amount. Koppen is your man."

There was a mischievous twinkle in his eye, as he said this.

"Please don't," implored Mr. Eames. "You will annoy me very seriously."

"Don't be absurd, my poor fellow."

"You can't think how much you will annoy me! How often have I told
you--"

"Then you must lunch with me to-day, together with the bishop. Don't
trouble about driving to the Old Town to see your cousin," he added to
Mr. Heard. "She is sure to be at the reception of the Duchess this
afternoon."

Mr. Eames said:

"So sorry. I must get back home. I only came out to speak to a man
about a collar--for my dog, I mean. Another day, if you don't mind. And
no millionaires, whatever you do!"

He departed, rather awkwardly.

"He is shy," Keith explained. "But he can tell you all about the
island. And now come home with me, Bishop. I feel as if it were time
for luncheon. It must be about half-past twelve."

Mr. Heard took out his watch.

"Half-past twelve to the minute," he said.

"I thought to. A man's best clock is his stomach. We have only a few
hundred yards to go. Hot, isn't it? This infernal south wind...."

The Villa Khismet was one of the surprises of Nepenthe. It lay somewhat
out of the way, at the end of a narrow, gloomy and tortuous lane. Who
would have dreamt of finding a house of this kind in such a situation?
Who would have expected, on passing through that mouldy wooden gateway
in the wall, to find himself in a courtyard that recalled the exquisite
proportions and traceries of the Alhambra--to be able to wander thence
under fretted arches through a maze of marble-paved Moorish chambers,
great and small, opening upon each other at irregular angles with a
deliciously impromptu effect? The palace had been built regardless of
expense. It was originally laid out, Keith explained, by one of the old
rulers of Nepenthe who, to tease his faithful subjects, simulated a
frenzied devotion for the poetry and architecture of the Saracens,
their bitterest enemies.

Something Oriental still hung about these chambers, though the modern
furniture was not at all in keeping with the style. Mr. Keith did not
profess to be a man of taste. "I try to be comfortable," he used to
say. He succeeded in being luxurious.

They glanced into the garden--a spacious park-like enclosure terminating
in a declivity, so as to afford a view over the sea far below. It was a
mock wilderness of trees and bright blossoms, flooded in meridian
sunlight. Some gardeners moved about, binding up the riotous vegetation
that had sprouted overnight under the moist breath of the sirocco.

"It's too hot to think of lunching out here," said Keith. "You should
come and see this place in the evening."

"It must be wonderful at that hour."

"Still more wonderful in the early morning, or by moonlight. But then I
am generally alone. There are twenty-four fountains in this garden," he
added. "They might help to keep the place cool. But of course not one
of them is in use now. You have observed, have you not, that there is
no running water on this island? That old Duke built the fountains all
the same, and to every one of them he attached a cistern, to hold the
winter rains; then a pumping apparatus. Relays of slaves had to work
underground, day and night, pumping water for these twenty-four
fountains; it fell back into the cisterns, and was forced up again. The
Arabs had fountains. He meant to have them too. Particularly at night!
If anything went wrong with the machinery at that hour, there was the
devil to pay. He swore he could not sleep unless he heard the music of
the water. And his sleepless nights were bad for his subjects. They
generally hid in caves till the fountains were reported to be in
working order again. That is the way to run an island, Mr. Heard. One
must be a stylist."

"You might re-activate one of them, at least, with the help of those
servants."

"They have enough to do, I assure you, to re-activate me--keep me young
and in good condition. To say nothing of the flowers, which also need a
little friendly attention...."

Mr. Heard enjoyed that luncheon. "The food, the wine, the service--they
were faultless; something altogether out of the way," he declared with
frank conviction.

"Then you must come again," replied his host. "How long did you say you
were staying here?"

"Ten days or so. It depends upon Mrs. Meadows and her movements. I
understand she is all alone up there, in the clouds. Her husband's
leave has been postponed for the second time. He was going to pick her
up on his way to England. She had to leave India before him, on account
of the child."

"A pretty baby. Couldn't stand the climate, I suppose."

"Exactly. My mother asked me to look in and cheer her up a little, and
perhaps take her back with me. And really," he added, "it's rather
awkward! I have not seen my cousin since she was a little girl. What
does she look like?"

"Tailor-made. Looks as if she rode well and knew her own mind. Looks as
if she had been through a good deal of trouble."

"I daresay she has. She was always impetuous, even as a child. That
first marriage was not at all a success. Some foreign scoundrel who
deserted her and vanished. I was in China at the time, but my mother
wrote me about it."

"A first marriage? She never told me about that."

"This second one was a love match. They ran away together. They must
have had a hard time out there at first, living as they did. No doubt
she has learnt to know her own mind; one has to cope with emergencies
in a life like that. He has done well, I hear. A charming fellow, from
all accounts, though I question whether they are properly married even
now."

"Perhaps they can't be," replied Mr. Keith, "in view of the earlier
affair. But how will they educate that boy, in India? It can't be done.
India is no better than Bampopo, for such purposes. Did you do much
educational work in Africa? I hope you were gentle with my friends the
Bulaga?"

"We baptized two or three hundred of them one day. But they behaved
shockingly the very next week--quite disgracefully! They are hopeless,
those friends of yours, though one cannot help liking them somehow. I
got through good deal of other work of that kind," he added.

"I see you are a man of action. Sometimes I wish I were. A little money
has made me lazy, I'm afraid. But I do some thinking, and a fair lot of
reading. I travel, I observe, I compare. Among other things I observe
that our English system of education is all wrong. We ought to return
to that old Camp-and-Court ideal."

"All wrong?" queried the bishop.

"Take a case like that young fellow Denis. What is a child of his age
doing at a University? No. If I had a son--but I am boring you."

"I have not been bored since I was twenty."

"I wish I could say the same of myself. I grow more intolerant of fools
as the years roll on. If I had a son, I was saying, I would take him
from school at the age of fourteen, not a moment later, and put him for
two years in a commercial house. Wake him up; make an English citizen
of him. Teach him how to deal with men as men, to write a
straightforward business letter, manage his own money and gain some
respect for those industrial movements which control the world. Next,
two years in some wilder part of the world, where his own countrymen
and equals by birth are settled under primitive conditions, and have
formed their rough codes of society. The intercourse with such people
would be a capital invested for life. The next two years should be
spent in the great towns of Europe, in order to remove awkwardness of
manner, prejudices of race and feeling, and to get the outward forms of
a European citizen. All this would sharpen his wits, give him more
interest in life, more keys to knowledge. It would widen his horizon.
Then, and not a minute sooner, to the University, where he would go not
as a child but a man capable of enjoying its real advantages, attend
lectures with profit, acquire manners instead of mannerisms and a
University tone instead of a University taint. What do you think?"

"It sounds a trifle revolutionary," commented the bishop, with a smile.
"But it appeals to me. Education is a matter than lies very near my
heart. In fact, I had some thoughts of retiring from the Church and
devoting myself to it. I feel, I don't know why, as if I could do more
in that direction."

Keith merely observed:

"That is interesting. Perhaps you have reached the end of the Church."

He liked this young Colonial bishop, and his straightforward, earnest
face. Being of a complicated nature himself, he was always drawn
towards men of single aims and purposes.

The other would have been pleased to know why Keith found it
"interesting" and what he meant by that other phrase, bur forbore to
inquire. He was rather a silent man, though not deficient in mother
wit. He lit a cigarette, and waited.

"Let us discourse of education!" said his host with that elaborate
manner which the bishop afterwards discovered to be peculiar to him. "I
think we need not differentiate between the sexes. In proportion as
more careers are opened to women, their teaching will tend to converge
with that of men. That specifically female education in domestic arts
has been rendered superfluous by commercial products. I will tell you
what I think. A sound schooling should teach manner of thought rather
than matter. It should have a dual aim--to equip a man for hours of
work, and for hours of leisure. They interact; if the leisure is
misspent, the work will suffer. As regards the first, we cannot expect
a school to purvey more than a grip of general principles. Even that is
seldom given. The second should enable a man to extract as much
happiness as possible out of his spare time. The secret of happiness is
curiosity. Now curiosity is not only not roused; it is repressed. You
will say there is not time for everything. But how much time is wasted!
Mathematics.... A medieval halo clings round this subject which, as
a training for the mind, has no more value than whist-playing. I wonder
how many excellent public servants have been lost to England because,
however accomplished, they lacked the mathematical twist required to
pass the standard in this one subject? As a training in intelligence it
is harmful: it teaches a person to underestimate the value of evidence
based on their other modes of ratiocination. It is the poorest form of
mental exercise--sheer verification; conjecture and observation are
ruled out. A study of Chinese grammar would be far more valuable from
the point of view of general education. All mathematics above the
standard of the office boy should be a special subject, like dynamics
or hydrostatics. They are useless to the ordinary man. If you mention
the utility of a mathematician like Isaac Newton, don't forget that it
was his pre-eminently anti-mathematical gift for drawing conclusions
from analogy which made him what he was. And Euclid--that frowsy
anachronism! One might as well teach Latin by the system of Donatus.
Surely all knowledge is valueless save as a guide to conduct? A guide
ought to be up to date and convenient to handle. Euclid is a museum
specimen. Half the time wasted over these subjects should be devoted to
draughtmanship and object-lessons. I don't know why we disparage
object-lessons; they were recommended by people like Bacon, Amos
Commenius and Pestalozzi. They are far superior to mathematics as a
means of developing the reasoning powers; they can be made as complex
as you please; they discipline the eye and mind, teach a child to
discriminate between the accidental and the essential, and demand
lucidity of thought and expression. And the hours spent over history!
What on earth does it matter who Henry the Twelfth's wife was?
Chemistry! All this, relatively speaking, is unprofitable stuff. How
much better to teach the elements of sociology and jurisprudence. The
laws that regulate human intercourse; what could be more interesting?
And physiology--the disrespect for the human frame is another relic of
monasticism. In fact our whole education is tainted with the monkish
spirit. Divinity! Has any purpose ever been served--"

Mr. Keith sighed.

"I wish I had not eaten so many of those prawns," he added. "What are
you thinking?"

"I think modern education over-emphasizes the intellect. I suppose that
comes from the scientific trend of the times. You cannot obtain a
useful citizen if you only develop his intellect. We take children from
their parents because these cannot give them an intellectual training.
So far, good. But we fail to give them that training in character which
parents alone can give. Home influence, as Grace Aguilar conceived
it--where has it gone? It strikes me that this is a grave danger for the
future. We are rearing up a brood of crafty egoists, a generation whose
earliest recollections are those of getting something for nothing from
the State. I am inclined to trace our present social unrest to this
over-valuation of the intellect. It hardens the heart and blights all
generous impulses. What is going to replace the home, Mr. Keith? And
there is another point which has often forced itself upon me. A certain
proportion of wealthy children tend to fall back into lower grades of
life--manual labour, and so forth. They are born below the level of
their parents. No difficulty about relapsing. But a fair percentage of
the lowest classes tend to rise; they stand, potentially, above their
surroundings. An apparatus has been contrived for catching these
children. But it is defective, because devoid of sympathy. I have known
hundreds of cases in the East End of London where families have been
unable to raise themselves by this means because, at the critical
moment, there was not twenty shillings in the house wherewith to buy
clothes in which the child could present himself to a good employer
with any prospect of success. Worthy of a better fate, he is pushed
back. The chance is missed; the family remains in poverty. All kinds of
profitable and honourable capacities are being wasted in this fashion
every day--peculiar aptitudes for mechanics, talents for art, or music,
or acting--"

"Acting!" interrupted Keith. "I am glad you reminded me. We are just in
time to see some theatricals at the municipality. They only come off
once a year. It would never do for you to miss them. No, never."

The bishop, rather regretfully, rose from his seat. He was feeling
comfortable just then, and inclined to listen to a few more of Keith's
educational heresies. But that gentleman seemed to have exhausted the
subject, or himself.

"It's only a few minutes' walk," he observed. "We'll take a couple of
sunshades."

They stepped into the broiling heat. The morning mists had rolled away
from the mountains.

Walking along, Mr. Heard began to realize what a rambling and craggy
sort of place this was. And how decorative! Almost operatic. The town
was full of surprises--of unexpected glimpses upon a group of slender
palms, some gleaming precipice, or the distant sea. Gardens appeared to
be toppling over the houses; green vines festooned the doorways and
gaily coloured porches; streets climbed up and down, noisy with
rattling carriages and cries of fruit-vendors who exposed their wares
of brightest hues on the pavement. Country women, in picturesque
cinnamon-coloured skirts, moved gravely among the citizens. The houses,
when not whitewashed, showed their building stone of red volcanic tufa;
windows were aflame with cacti and carnations; slumberous oranges
glowed in courtyards; the roadways underfoot were of lava--pitch-black.
It was a brilliant medley, overhung by a deep blue sky. The canvas was
indeed overcharged, as Denis had said.

"There are no half-tones in this landscape," the bishop remarked to Mr.
Keith. "No compromise!"

"And yet perfect harmony. They are all true colours. I hate compromise.
It is one of the curses of life. That is why I cannot endure England
for long. The country is full of half-tones, not only in nature.
Because a thing seems good, there must be some bad in it. It seems bad
to us--therefore it must be good for us. Bedlamites! I like clean
values. They make for clean thinking. This is the only day in the
year," he went on, "when you will see the population abroad at this
hour. The streets are generally quite empty. It is the only day when I
would forgo my afternoon nap on Nepenthe."

"Nearly three o'clock," said the bishop, consulting his watch. "What a
queer time for theatricals!"

"That Duke again. You can ask Eames about him, he must have been a man
worth knowing. He always slept in the afternoons. It annoyed him to
think that his people slept too. He might suddenly want them for
something, he said. He commanded that they should stay awake, and
decapitated several hundred who were found napping. When he saw that
the habit was ingrained in their natures and that nothing would avail
save a total extermination of the populace, he gave way, gracefully.
Then hi instituted these popular theatricals in honour of the Patron
Saint, and fixed them irrevocably for the hour of three o'clock. He
meant to keep his faithful subjects awake on one afternoon of the year,
at all events. He took it for granted that they could never resist a
performance of this kind. He was right. He knew his people! That was
ages ago. We shall find the place crammed this afternoon."

There was barely standing room, in spite of the sirocco heat. Mr.
Keith, by means of some mysterious formula, soon procured two seats in
the front row, the occupants of which smilingly took their places among
the crowd at the back.

The bishop found himself sitting between his host and a
distinguished-looking elderly gentleman who turned out to be Count
Caloveglia. He was dressed in black. There was something alert and
military in that upright carriage, those keen eyes, bushy black brows
and snowy mustache. He uttered a few pleasant remarks on making Mr.
Heard's acquaintance, but soon relapsed into silence. Absorbed in the
spectacle, he sat motionless, his chin resting in the hollow of his
right hand.

"A fine type," Keith whispered into the bishop's ear. "You will like
him. I call him the Salt of the South. If you are interested in the old
Greek life of these regions--well, he gives you an idea of those people.
He is the epitome of the Ionian spirit. I'll take you up to see him one
of these days."

The performance consisted of a series of twelve scenes without words,
representing the twelve chief episodes in the life of the Patron Saint,
as portrayed in a certain marble frieze in the church. The actors were
a handful of the more attractive and intelligent children of the place.
They had been trained under the watchful eye of a priest who confessed
to some notions of stage-craft and delighted in juvenile theatricals.
It was a thrillingly realistic performance; the costumes--designed, long
ago, by the Good Duke himself--varied with every tableau. Vociferous
expressions of approval accompanied the performance. The Saint's
encounter in the grove of Alephane with the golden-haired lady was a
masterpiece of histrionic art; so was his solemn preaching among the
black natives. Tears flowed freely at his violent death--a scene which
was only marred by the erratic movements of his venerable beard; that
mill-stone, too, of PAPIER MACHE, played lovely pranks upon a pea-green
ocean. Best of all was the cannibalistic feast of the Crotalophoboi
ending with a tempestuous, demoniacal war-dance. Their blackened limbs
emerging from the scantiest of vesture, the actors surpassed
themselves. Such an uproar of applause accompanied the orgy that it had
to be repeated.

Every year it had to be repeated, this particular tableau. It was by
far the most popular, to the intense regret of the PARROCO, the parish
priest, a rigid disciplinarian, an alien to Nepenthe, a frost-bitten
soul from the Central Provinces of the mainland. He used to complain
that times were changed; that what was good in the days of the Duke
might not be good for the present generation; that a scene such as this
was no incentive to true religion; that the Holy Mother of God could
hardly be edified by the performance, seeing that the players were
almost nude, and that certain of the gestures verged on indelicacy and
even immodesty. Every year he complained in like fashion: Ah, what
would the Madonna say, if she saw it?

And every year the entire body of the local clergy, with Don Francesco
as their eloquent spokesman, opposed his views.

The play was tradition, they avowed. Tradition must be upheld. And what
more? It savoured of heresy to suggest that the Mother of God was blind
to anything that happened on earth. Doubtless She saw this particular
scene; doubtless She approved; doubtless She smiled, like everyone
else. She loved her people in true motherly fashion. She was not born
in the Central Provinces. She was fond of children, whether they wore
clothes or not. The players enjoyed themselves. So did the audience.
The Mother of God liked them to make a cheerful show in honour of that
good old man, the Patron Saint. And Saint Dodekanus himself--what would
he think, if this ancient act of homage were withheld? He would be very
angry. He would send an earthquake, or a visitation of the cholera, or
a shower of ashes from the volcano across the water. Piety and prudence
alike counselled them to keep in his good graces. And what more? The
performance had been established by the Good Duke; and that endless
line of godly bishops, succeeding each other since his day, would never
have given their sanction to the costumes and the acting had they not
known that the Madonna approved of them. Why should She now think
differently? The Mother of God was not a fickle earthly creature, to
change Her mind from one day to the next.

With arguments such as these they endeavoured to controvert the PARROCO
who, being a fighter to the death, a resourceful ascetic of unbending
will, never admitted defeat. He bethought him of other shifts. On one
celebrated occasion he actually induced the bishop--tired as the old
prelate was, after his morning's ride on the white donkey--to attend the
performance, hoping to obtain from him some confirmation of his own
view, that the objectionable scene should be entirely remodelled or,
better still, cut out altogether. The reverend dignitary was supposed
to be extremely short-sighted and wandering, moreover, in his mind,
from sheer decrepitude. Perhaps he was wily beyond the common measure
of man. Be that as it may, he witnessed the spectacle but allowed
nothing to escape his lips safe a succession of soft purring sound
resembling:

Gu-gu-gu-gu-gu-gu-gu-gu-gu-,

An ambiguous utterance, which was construed by both parties as a
verdict in their favour.

Mr. Heard, while conceding that the acting was good--first rate, in
fact--could not make up his mind whether to be shocked or pleased. He
wondered whether such a play had any features in common with religion.
His host, who stood for paganism and nudity and laughter, convinced him
that it had.

"You would have seen the same thing in pre-Puritan England," he
concluded, at the end of a long exposition. "And now, if you like, we
will have a look at that Club. It may amuse you. There is still time
for the Duchess."



CHAPTER V



"This is the place," said Mr. Keith.

It was one of a row of tawdry modern buildings, the lower floors of
which were utilized as shops--an undistinguished sort of place, in an
undistinguished street. They climbed upstairs and wandered through two
or three rooms, all alike save that one of them had a balcony; square,
white-washed rooms, not very clean, and inadequately furnished with
tables, cane-bottomed chairs and a few prints on the walls. There was a
lavish display, however, of bottles and glasses, and several shelves
were littered with newspapers in different languages. Acetylene lamps
hung from the flat ceiling. An odour of stale tobacco and alcohol
pervaded the premises. Flies were buzzing against the window-panes.

Half a dozen nondescript members, looking considerably the worse for
wear, loafed about moodily or snored in deck chairs. Two or three were
writing letters. It was the sulkiest hour of the day. Mr. Heard noticed
a slender young Indian and a blond-haired fellow--probably a
Scandinavian. They were arguing about cigars with a rosy-cheeked old
reprobate whom they called Charlie. An adjoining apartment, the
card-room, contained a livelier party, among whom the bishop recognized
Mr. Muhlen. He had lost no time in making himself popular. He must have
found congenial spirits here.

"Well?" asked Keith.

"Cheap and nasty," suggested the other.

"That's it! They call it the Alpha and Omega Club, to shadow forth its
all-embracing international character; it's just a boozing institution,
where you run to seed. They come in here, and say the south wind makes
them thirsty. Red and Blue Club would be a more appropriate name. That
is the whisky they have to drink."

"Why cannot they drink wine or--or ginger beer?"

"He tries to stop that. He would not be able to make any profits on
wine."

"Who?"

"The President."

And Mr. Keith proceeded to sketch the history of the establishment.

The Alpha and Omega Club had led a precarious existence. Often its life
dangled by a thread for lack of members, or because those members who
owed subscriptions were unable or unwilling to pay them. Such had been
the case before the accession of the new President. It hung its
drooping head; had almost withered away. Mr. Freddy Parker tended the
languid flower, and watered it--with whisky of his own composition.

It revived. Or rather (which amounts to the same thing) Mr. Parker
revived--sufficiently, at all events, to pay off some of the more
pressing of his private debts. Napoleon, or somebody, once remarked:
"L'ETAT, C'EST MOI." Mr. Parker thought highly of a strong character
like Napoleon. He used to say, when talking things over with his lady
in her "boudoir" at the Residency:

"The Club, that's me."

Declaring that wine was the ruin of the place, he imported--it was the
lady's idea, originally--the far-famed "Red-and-Blue" brand of whisky in
barrels. The liquid was bottled in the cellars of the Residency. What
happened during that process was never revealed. It was affirmed, none
the less, that one barrel of the original stuff was more than enough
for three barrelfuls of the bottled product. Cultured members, on
drinking it, were wont to say things about Locusta and Borgia. The
commoner sort swore like hell at Freddy Parker. It made you feel
squiffy after the sixth glass--argumentative, magisterial, maudlin,
taciturn, erotic, sentimental, sea-sick, ecstatic, paralysed,
lachrymose, hilarious, pugilistic--according to your temperament.
Whatever your temperament it gave you a thundering head next morning,
and a throat like Nebuchadnezzar's fiery furnace. It was known as
"Parker's poison."

The stuff was served, at an alluring price, out of bottles adorned with
a seductive label--a label which had been designed by an impecunious
artist who, after running up a rousing bill for drinks, got off payment
on the strength of this job. But the prettiest label in the world could
not stone for the mixture within. Members often complained of feeling
queer. They threatened to resign. Mr. Parker did not want them to
resign; he wanted their subscriptions. He had a grand way with him on
such occasions. Whenever one of them complained too bitterly or too
persistently--became damned abusive, in fact--he would patiently wait and
see which was the fellow's favourite newspaper. That point settled--it
was his lady's idea, originally--he would stop the supply of the journal
in question, alleging insufficiency of Club revenues. These
Napoleon-like tactics generally brought the offending member to his
senses.

Mr. Frederick Parker spent a good deal of his time in endeavouring to
mask, under a cloak of boisterous good humour, a really remarkable
combination of malevolence and imbecility. He was what you call a
remittance man. He got so much a quarter--a miserable sum it was--to keep
out of England. He travelled about formerly. But no amount of travel,
no association with his betters, could pierce his stolid pachydermatous
obliquity. He was the worst kind of Englishman; he could not even cheat
without being found out. But for the wise counsels of his lady he would
have been in the lock-up over and over again. Such being the case, he
took a justifiable pride in his Anglo-Saxon origin. Whenever a project
seemed too risky--not worth while, he called it--he would say:

"It can't be done. That's a job for a Dago. I'm an Englishman, you
know."

He had knocked about the world a good bit, had Mr. Parker. His last
known domicile was Nicaragua. There he invested in some land affair--a
most unfortunate speculation, as it turned out. All his speculation had
a way of turning badly. That was because people, even people in
Nicaragua, distrusted him for one reason or another; they said his
whole existence was a tangle of shady and ignoble transactions--that he
looked like a fraud, and behaved like one. He couldn't help his face;
but his face, they soon discovered, was not the only, or even the most,
evasive and fugitive part of his personality.

At last Nicaragua, even Nicaragua, got too hot for him.

There was Don Pomponio di Vergara y Puyarola, Nicaraguan Minister of
Finance; one might come to terms with a man of that kind. It was
arranged between them that His Excellency, who had a large family and
many poor dependents, should take over Mr. Parker's landed interests;
being a native of the place he might succeed in squeezing a little
something out of them. In exchange for this concession an unobtrusive
Government job was specially created for Mr. Parker. He was appointed
Financial Commissioner for South-Eastern Europe, to reside at Nepenthe
or wherever else he pleased--unpaid; the exalted social status conferred
by such a post being deemed ample compensation. His sole duty consisted
of submitting a short annual report, a pure formality, to his
Government.

He departed, but not alone. With him went his familiar spirit, his
guardian angel, his lady, his step-sister--a dusky dame of barn-like
proportions. Arrived at Nepenthe they rented a small villa, rather out
of the way, which they called the Residency. The change of climate did
them good. So did the appointment. He was now a person of
consequence--the sole representative of a Foreign Power on the island.
His official rank procured him not only dignity and a new start in life
but, what was still more urgent, credit. It brought him into contact
with the local authorities--with the red-haired rachitic judge, for
instance, between whom and Mr. Parker there sprang up an intimacy which
was viewed with vague forebodings. The lady, being a Catholic--Mr.
Parker, too, was suspected of Roman proclivities--was confessed by the
parish priest. That was a point gained; the PARROCO being above
suspicioin, among foreigners at least. She stayed mostly indoors,
inventing scandals about people and writing voluminous letters to warn
new-comers of the appalling immorality of the place.

To outward appearance the Commissioner and his lady agreed like a brace
of turtle-doves. He, too, was a moral and social reformer. But men must
live. The refined social status attached to Mr. Parker's honorary post
producing nothing tangible in the way of ready cash, he began to cast
about for some means of livelihood. They wre getting into debt once
more. Something must be done, he declared.

His portly presence, flushed countenance, briar pipe, knickerbockers
and white spats had already become a familiar object in the streets of
the town, when a terrible uproar at the Club--one of those periodical,
approximately monthly, rows at which the police, who hated meddling
with foreigners, were reluctantly compelled to intervene--suggested to
her that something might be done in that direction. She got him elected
President for that year, President for the next, the next, and the
next; in spite of the fact that, according to the rules, a new
President had to be elected every year. Who cared about rules? He was
the Commissioner! People were only too glad to have him there. In fact,
like Napoleon, he became a sort of Dictator.

He was now in his element. There were emoluments to be picked up
here--percentages, perquisites, and profits of all kinds. He made a
little arrangement with the Club laundry-woman to take in his own
washing as well, gratis. Under the threat of placing the Club custom
elsewhere he concluded a number of treaties, each containing a secret
clause which referred to fifteen per cent profit for himself, with the
grocer who supplied provisions; and with other tradespeople dealing in
stationery, soap, crockery (broken crockery was a heavy item in the
accounts) and such--like Club necessaries. Next, he took the landlord in
hand. He would clear out, by God, and take more respectable premises if
the rent were not reduced by twenty per cent! Scandalous! Downright
robbery! The landlord being a reasonable sort of man, it was agreed
that the old rate should stand in the contract, while the balance of
twenty per cent found its way into Mr. Parker's pockets, and not, as
theretofore, into his own. The same with the servants. From the boy who
cleaned the rooms, and whom he changed as often as ever possible, he
exacted a monetary deposit as a guarantee of good conduct--a deposit
which was never returned, whatever his behaviour had been. Then--the
subscriptions. For of course the accounts were never audited; nobody
bothered about such things on Nepenthe, with all that south wind
hanging about. If they had been he would have squared the auditor up to
any sum--a hundred francs, almost; it was worth while. Pickings, he
called hem. The place, the system suited him down to the ground. He had
lived all his life on pickings. He was a retail welsher; he lacked the
nerve for sweeping enterprises.

On his accession, the Club was in such a state of demoralization, had
become such a public scandal, that Mr. Parker, in his capacity of
moralist, would have been the first person to dissolve that assembly of
topers and rakes. As financier, he meant to live by it. But how was the
place to be purified?

Parker's poison solved that problem, besides yielding a fine slice of
additional revenue. The hardest drinkers, the inveterate rowdies,
refused to believe that it was anything but the ordinary whisky to
which they had been accustomed from childhood; or believing, refused
out of sheer boastfulness, or force of habit, to reduce their doses.
While the moderate realized the truth and acted accordingly, these
others insisted upon regarding it as genuine Scotch--with inevitable and
dire results. They succumbed. During the first year of Freddy Parker's
reign, eight of these stubborn sinners were carried to their graves.
And year by year, the same causes being in action, the process of
betterment went on. Extremists dropped off, moderates survived. The
Club was purged of its grosser elements, the moral tone of the
establishment was raised, through the operation of Parker's poison. It
was Napoleon's way with the Paris Parliament, he once explained to his
lady, who wondered vaguely how long the hero himself would have
outlived the effects of that mixture which she brewed, with her own
fair hands, in the dim vaults of the Residency.

Even now it was a pretty tough place. New crooks, like the dubious Mr.
Hopkins, new fire-eaters, new cranks, new sots, were always dropping in
from different corners of the globe to spread their infection among the
more recent crowd of curio-hunters, gentlemen of commerce, nautical
wrecks, decayed missionaries, painters, authors and other vagrant
riff-raff who frequented the premises. There were rows going on all the
time--insignificant rows, mostly about newspapers and gambling debts.
Mr. Samuel got his eye blacked over a harmless game of ecarte; Mr.
White, one of the steadiest members, threatened to withdraw his
subscription on account of the black-beetles; a Swedish sea-captain
smashed nine panes of glass--just by way of a friendly demonstration, he
said--because the great Upsala journal, the UTAN STAFVEL, was missing
from its shelf; a muscular Japanese made himself distinctly offensive
about the NICHI-NICHI-SHIN-BUM being out of date, and was going to
twist everybody's head off, if it occurred again; the excellent
Vice-President, Mr. Richards, tumbled noisily downstairs, nobody knew
how or why--all on a single afternoon. The sirocco happened to be
particularly trying that day.

On the whole, there was no denying the fact that the Club flourished
under the statesman-like autocracy of Mr. Parker. That was partly
because, unlike previous presidents, he was generally on the spot. Some
great man once made a remark about the need of "the Master's Eye." He
believed in that remark. If you run a place, run it yourself. He was
ever-present, absorbing at ogher people's expense his own poison, to
the effects of which he seemed to be immune; and borrowing money, on
the sly, from the richer and more forgetful members. His uproarious
joviality, his echoing ha! ha! became a feature of the place; it
deceived the simple, and amused the complex. He was ready to talk about
anything with anybody who shoved along; he had a fund of naughty
tropical stories for the so-called bawdy section, and could be as
sympathetic and pious as you please with a contrite youngster suffering
from last night's debauch.

"A hair of the dog," he would suggest with a genial wink, pushing the
bottle temptingly nearer.

The regulations had also been improved under his auspices. The entrance
fee was imperceptibly raised, while the conditions of entry were
relaxed. It was his lady's idea originally. She made it clear that the
more numerous the members the greater the quantity of whisky
consumed--the greater, therefore, their profits; quite apart from the
possibility of additional subscriptions being paid. He agreed. Then, in
a sudden glow of commercial enthusiasm, he proceeded to hint that
ladies should also be admitted. Regretfully she put her foot down.
Anywhere else the proposal would have been welcome. It was out of the
question on Nepenthe.

"You're forgetting that Wilberforce woman," she said. "She would have
to be carried home every night. It couldn't be done, Freddy. We might
as well shut up the shop at once. People would get talking about the
place--you know how they talk, as it is."

Miss Wilberforce was a pathetic local figure, a lady by birth, with a
ready tongue, wiry limbs, and an insatiable craving for alcohol. She
would unavoidably have damaged the reputation of the place, to say
nothing of its furniture. She had gone from bad to worse lately.

"Perhaps you're right, Lola. It isn't worth while for those few
subscriptions. After all, I'm an Englishman. But how about all those
Russians?" he added.

"I've often told you to let them in, Freddy."

"So you have, dear! It was your idea originally. Well, I must think it
over again."

He thought it over and regretfully came to the conclusion that it could
not be done. Russians were not people of the right kind. They were not
honest.

"Russians are too artistic to be honest," he declared.

It was a BON MOT which he had picked up, long ago, from Madame
Steynlin, in the days when the lady looked with disfavour on the
Muscovite colony. That Lutheran period was over for the present: she
was orthodox so far as sentiments were concerned. Nothing could be good
enough for the Russians, just then. An acquaintance with Peter, one of
the handsomest of the whole batch of religious enthusiasts, had brought
about her psychological conversion and altered her outlook upon life.
Her heart was in the Urals. But that stupid, malicious epigram had
impressed itself on the mind of Mr. Parker, who was hopelessly
insensitive to the flaxen curls of Peter.

"No," he decided. "They are not honest. We must draw the line
somewhere, Lola. I draw it at Russians. At least I think we ought to.
But I'll think it over again."

That was foolish of him, she opined. For the Muscovites would probably
have paid their accounts as regularly as other members; and as to their
capacity for raising the Club revenues by the destruction of
alcohol--why, many people had said unkind things about them, and yet
nobody had gone so far as to accuse them of being unable to stow it
away in proper Christian style. No wonder. Because there was nothing
whatever in their Bible, the GOLDEN BOOK of the divinely inspired
Bazhakuloff, to prohibit or even limit the consumption of strong
waters. In the matter of dietary he had only bidden them refrain fro
the flesh of warm-blooded beasts.

Mr. Parker was always thinking things over and coming to the wrong
conclusion. It was foolish of him.

She knew him too well to say anything more for the moment. She would
have to bide her time because Freddy, of whom she had made an
exhaustive study, was a wobbler, and worse than a wobbler. He was
stubborn at the wrong season and difficult to manage. He needed careful
motherly guidance. All fools, she reflected, were subject to meteoric
gleams of common sense. He was no exception to that rule. But whereas
they received such flashes with thankfulness, he persisted in regarding
them as inspirations of the devil. That was the tragedy of Freddy
Parker. It made him into something quinessential--a kind of super-fool.
...

Mr. Keith enquired:

"You don't want to become a member of this institution, do you,
Bishop?"

The other pondered awhile.

"I am pretty democratic," he replied. "We have some warm places in
Africa, you know, and I never allowed myself to be beaten by them.
Perhaps I might be of use to some of those poor fellows in there. But I
like to do things properly. It would entail at first a little friendly
drinking, I'm afraid, in order to gain their confidence. It is not in
my character to do one thing and preach another. I cannot pose as an
abstainer after the way I enjoyed your luncheon. But the smell of the
whisky here--it scares me. My liver--"

"Ah, yes!" said Mr. Keith with a sigh. "No wonder you hesitate. It is
quite disheartening, all that drunkenness."



CHAPTER VI



It stands to reason that the Duchess was not a Duchess at all. She was
American by birth, from some Western state, and her first husband had
been an army man. Her second spouse--he, too, had died long ago--was
Italian. In view of his passionate devotion to the Catholic Church and
of a further payment of fifty thousand francs, he had been raised to
the rank of Papal Marquis. He died relatively young. Had his life been
spared, as it ought to have been, he might well have become a Papal
Duke in course of time. He was carried off by an accident not of his
own contriving--run over by a tramcar in Rome--before that further ducal
premium was even expected to be paid. But for this, he ought to have
died a Duke. He would have been a Duke, by this time.

His widow, taking these things into consideration, felt it her duty to
appropriate the more sonorous of the two titles open to her. Nobody
contested her claim. All her friends, on the contrary, declared that
she talked like a peeress and behaved like one; and in a world where
the few remaining authentic specimens of that class fail to fulfil
either the one or the other of these conditions, it was thought meet
and proper that somebody should be good enough to carry on, if only in
semblance, and if only in Nepenthe, the traditions of a race rapidly
approaching extinction. It was pleasant to be able to converse with a
Duchess at any hour of the day, and this one was nothing if not
accessible so long as you were fairly well clothed, had a reasonably
supply of small talk and did not profess violent anti-papal sentiments.

Some people said she dressed like a Duchess, but there was less
unanimity on this point. Her handsome oval face and towering grey hair
induced her to cultivate an antique pose, with a view to resembling "La
Pompadour." La Pompadour stood for something courtly and powdered. She
certainly dressed better and on far less money than Madame Steynlin,
whose plump figure, round sunburnt cheeks, and impulsive manner would
never have done for an old-world beauty, and who cared little what
frocks she wore, so long as somebody loved her. The Duchess had all the
aplomb of La Pompadour, but not much of her French accent. Her Italian,
too, was somewhat embryonic. That mattered little. The external
impression, the grand manner, was everything. She was not lame, though
she generally leaned on somebody's arm or a stick. It was rather a
pretty stick. She would have worm a pomander in her hair, or on a
chatelaine, if anybody had told her what a pomander was. As her friends
were unable to enlighten her--Mr. Keith even hinting that it was an
object which could not be mentioned in polite society--she contented
herself with a couple of patches.

Her rooms in that disused convent were an interminable suite of
rectangular chambers, unpretentious but solidly built, with straight
corridors running alongside. You beheld pretty pavements of
old-fashioned tiles, not overmuch furniture, one or two portraits of
the Pope, and abundance of flowers and crucifixes. The Duchess
specialized in flowers and crucifixes. Everybody, aware of her fondness
for them, gave her either the one or the other, or both. An elaborate
arrangement for tea occupied one of the rooms; there was also a cold
buffet for gentlemen--brandies and wines and iced soda-water and lobster
sandwiches and suchlike.

A many-tongued conversation filled the air with pleasant murmurs.
Various nationalities were represented, though the Russian colony was
conspicuous by its absence. The Duchess, like Mr. Freddy Parker, drew
the line at Russians. If only they would not dress so oddly, with those
open collars, leathern belts, and scarlet blouses! The judge, also, was
never asked to come--he was too outspoken a freethinker, and too fond of
spitting on the floor. Nor did Mr. Eames put in an appearance. He
avoided social obligations; his limited means preventing him from
making any adequate return. But there was an ample display of
ecclesiastics, together with a few other notabilities. Mr. Heard
encountered some familiar faces, and made new friends. He felt drawn
towards Madame Steynlin--she had such a cheerful bright face.

"And how delightfully cool these rooms are!" he was saying to the
Duchess. "I wonder how you manage to keep the sirocco out?"

"By closing the windows, Bishop. English people will not believe that.
They open their windows. In comes the heat."

"If English people closed their windows they would die," said Don
Francesco. "Half the houses in England would be condemned by law in
this country and pulled down, on account of their low ceilings. Low
ceilings have given the Englishman his cult of fresh air. He likes to
be cosy and familiar and exclusive; he has no sense for broad social
functions. There is something of the cave-dweller in every Englishman.
He may say what he likes, but the humble cottage will always remain his
dream. You can tell the ideals of a nation by its advertisements. This
country is pastoral. That is why our advertisements are so apt to
portray commercial conditions--enormous factories and engines and
chimneys; we are dissatisfied with our agricultural state. The
Frenchman's aspiration is woman; Paris hoardings will tell you that.
England is a land of industrial troglodytes, where every man's cavern
is his castle. Its advertisements depict either gross masses of food
such as cave-dwellers naturally relish, or else quiet country
scenes--green lanes, and sunsets, and peaceful dwellings in the country.
Home, sweet home! The cottage! That means open windows or suffocation....
I think I see the person who spoke to you on the steamer," he
added to Mr. Heard. "I don't like his looks. He is coming our way."

"That must be Mr. Muhlen," exclaimed the Duchess. "They say he played
beautifully at the hotel last night. I wonder whether I could induce
him to try my Longwood? It's rather an old model, I fear, and out of
tune."

The gentleman appeared, ostentatiously dressed and escorted by Mr.
Richards, the Vice-President of the Alpha and Omega Club, who seemed to
be fairly steady on his legs and was presently absorbed in an artistic
examination of a number of silver ornaments, crucifixes, relics and
suchlike objects of virtu, which the Duchess had gathered together. He
handled them like a connoisseur. Others of that institution had
promised to attend the party but, on being overhauled by the
conscientious Vice-President, were found to be unpresentable at the
last moment.

The Duchess moved away to greet him. Mr. Heard remarked to Don
Francesco:

"That middle-aged colleague of yours, yonder--he has an unusual face."

"Our parish priest. A sound Christian!"

The PARROCO'S thin lips, peaked nose, beady eyes and colourless cheeks
proclaimed the anchorite, if not the monomaniac. He flitted about like
a draught of cold air, refusing all refreshments and not daring to
smell the flowers, lest he should derive too much pleasure from them.
He was often called Torquemada, from his harsh and abstemious habits.
The name had been given him, of course, by his brother priests who knew
about such matters, and not by the common people to whom the word
Torquemada would have suggested, if anything, a savoury kind of
pudding. Torquemada was capable of any sacrifice, of any enormity, in
defence of the faith. A narrow medieval type, he was the only person on
Nepenthe who would have been hewn in pieces for his God--nobody allowing
themselves to be even temporarily incommoded in so visionary a cause.
He enjoyed a reputation of perfect chastity which differentiated him
from all the remaining priests and contributed, more than anything
else, to his unpopularity. It enraged the frankly carnal natives to
such an extent that they made insinuations about his bodily health and
told other horrible stories, swore they were true, and offered to give
statistical figures in confirmation. They said, among other things,
that after begging money from wealthy foreigners for alleged repairs to
the parish organ and other godly purposes, he kept the proceeds himself
on the principle that charity began at home and ought to end there.
Nobody could deny his devotion to mother, sisters, and even distant
relatives. So much was also certain, that the PARROCO'S family was
poor.

Harp-like tinklings arose from an adjoining chamber; a general move
took place in that direction. Mr. Keith was there. He sat beside Madame
Steynlin who, being a fair performer herself, was listening with
rapture to Muhlen's strains. During a pause he said:

"I wish I could make it out. It annoys me, Madame Steynlin, not to
comprehend the charm of music. I would give almost anything to the
person who can satisfy me that what I hear is not a succession of
unnecessary noises."

"Perhaps you are not musical."

"That would not prevent my understanding the feelings of people like
yourself. I don't want to be musical. I want to get a grip of this
thing. I want to know. Tell me why you like it and why I don't. Tell
me--"

The sounds began again.

"Ah!" said the Duchess, "that wonderful ANDANTE CON BRIO!"

Then, as the strains grew louder, she whispered to Don Francesco upon a
subject which had always puzzled her.

"I would be glad to learn," she said, "why our parliamentary
representative, Commendatore Morena, has never yet visited Nepenthe.
Surely it is his duty to show himself now and then to his
parishioners--constituents, I mean? This festival of Saint Dodekanus
would have been such a good opportunity. His appearance would have been
a discomfiture for the free-thinkers. Every year he promises to come.
And every year he fails us. Why?"

"I cannot tell," replied the priest. "The animal has probably got other
things to do."

"The animal? Ah, don't say that! And such a good Catholic!"

"Foreigners, dear Duchess, I leave to your judgment. They are of little
account, anyhow. But you will be guided by me in your appreciation of
the worldly qualities of natives. Otherwise, with all your
intelligence, it will be impossible for you to avoid mistakes. Let us
leave it at that."

"But why--"

"We will leave it at that, dear lady!"

"Indeed we will, Don Francesco," replied the Duchess, who loved to be
ruled in matters of this kind.

At this moment, the performer rose from the piano with unexpected
suddenness remarking SOTTO VOCE that if he had known he was to play on
a spinet he would have brought some Lulli with him. He was beaming all
over, none the less, and soon making arrangements with other guests for
a series of picnics and boating excursions--getting on swimmingly, in
fact, when the thoughtless Madame Steynlin captured him and began to
talk music. He repeated that remark, too good to be lost, about the
spinet; it led to Scarlatti, Mozart, Handel. He said Handel was the
saviour of English music. She said Handel was its blight and damnation.
Each being furnished with copious arguments, the discussion degenerated
into technicalities.

Denis, meanwhile, was handing round tea-cakes and things, with the
double object of making himself useful and of being as near as possible
to Angelina, the hand-maiden of the Duchess, a bewitchingly pretty
brunette, who was doing the same. Perhaps the existence of Angelin
accounted for his respectful attentions and frequent visits to the
Duchess. He felt he was really in love for the first time in his life.

He worshipped from afar. He would have liked to worship from a little
nearer, but did not know how to set about it; he was afraid of
troubling what he called her innocence. Hitherto he had scored no great
success. Angelina, aged fifteen, with the figure of a fairy, a glowing
complexion, and a rich southern voice, was perfectly aware of his
idealistic sentiments. She responded to the extent of gazing at him,
now and then, in a most disconcerting fashion. It was as though she
cared little about idealism. She did not smile. There was neither love
nor disdain in that gaze; it was neither hot nor cold, nor yet
lukewarm; it was something else, something he did not want at
all--something that made him feel childish and uncomfortable.

And another pair of eyes were watching all the time, her sinuous
movements--those of Mr. Edgar Marten. This young scientist, too,
cherished loving thoughts about Angelina, thoughts of a more earthly
and volcanic tinge; certain definite projects which made him forget, at
times, his preoccupation with biotite, perlite, magnetite, anorthite,
and pyroxene.

"Denis," said Keith, in his usual pompous fashion. "Do put down that
absurd tray and let people help themselves. Listen to me for a moment.
How do you like this place? I am not asking out of vulgar curiosity; I
am anxious to know the impressions of a person of your age and
antecedents. You might collect them for me, will you? Not now. One day
when you are in the mood. Somewhat terrestrial and palpitating, is it
not, after the cloistered twilight of a University?"

"I came here from Florence," observed Denis.

"And even after Florence! Do you know why? Because mankind dominates in
Tuscany. The land is encrusted with ephemeral human conceits. That is
not altogether good for a youngster; it disarranges his mind and puts
him out of harmony with what is permanent. Just listen a moment. Here,
if you are wise, you will seek an antidote. Taken in over-doze, all
these churches and pictures and books and other products of our species
are toxins for a boy like you. They falsify your cosmic values. Try to
be more of an animal. Try to extract pleasure from more obvious
sources. Lie fallow for a while. Forget all these things. Go out into
the midday glare. Sit among rocks and by the sea. Have a look at the
sun and stars for a change; they are just as impressive as Donatello.
Find yourself! You know the Cave of Mercury? Climb down, one night of
full moon, all alone, and rest at its entrance. Familiarize yourself
with elemental things. The whole earth reeks of humanity and its works.
One has to be old and tough to appraise them at their true worth. Tell
people to go to Hell, Denis, with their altar-pieces and museums and
clock-towers and funny little art-galleries."

Everybody is always giving me advice, thought Denis. And the worst of
it is, it's often sound.

A melodious voice added:

"If, after that lecture, you still have some crotchety appreciation
left for the works of man, you may be interested, when next you visit
the Old Town, to look at some busts and other curiosities of mine.
There is a little Greek bronze I would like to show you, though perhaps
we had better not talk too openly about it. Pray come. You will extract
pleasure from that statuette. And I will extract pleasure from your
company. Obvious sources of pleasure, aren't they, Keith?"

It was Count Caloveglia. He was referring to the Locri Faun, a
wonderful antique which had recently been found on his property near
the town of that name on the neighbouring mainland, and was about to be
secretly smuggled out of Italy. He smiled in winning fashion as he
spoke. Like everyone else, Denis had fallen under the spell of this
attractive and courteous old aristocrat who was saturated to the very
marrow in the lore of antiquity. There was sunshine in his glance--a
lustrous gem--like grace; one realized from his conversation, from his
every word, that he had discarded superfluities of thought and browsed
for a lifetime, in leisurely fashion, upon all that purifies and exalts
the spirit. Nothing, one felt, would avail to ruffle that deep pagan
content.

"And how," he continued, addressing Denis, "are your Italian studies
progressing?"

"Fairly well, thank you. My French puts me out a little. And I can't
yet conjugate properly."

"That is certainly a drawback," said Don Francesco, appearing on the
scene. "But don't let it trouble you," he added in paternal tones. "It
will come in time. You are still young. You are learning Russian,
Madame Steynlin?"

"Only a few words." She blushed becomingly. "There are certain sounds,
like water being poured into a jug--neither easy nor pleasant. I am not
as quick as some people. Mrs. Meadows always speaks Hindustani to her
old Sicilian woman. She comprehends perfectly."

"So clever these people are, at languages!" said the Duchess.

Marten remarked:

"I don't bother to learn Italian. I talk Latin to them. They understand
all right."

"And what Latin, Marten!" laughed Denis. "No wonder they understand.
I'm coming to you on Thursday morning. Don't forget."

"I have not had your public school advantages. But I manage to get what
I want out of them, generally speaking," and he cast a fiery glance in
the direction of Angelina, who returned it over her shoulder,
unabashed. Denis, fortunately, was looking the other way.

"I wish I had enjoyed all your chances," observed the Duchess, with a
little mock-sigh. "We were so carelessly brought up. I learnt
practically nothing at school. It is a pity. Ah, Bishop! I forgot to
tell you. Such a charming note from your cousin. She cannot come. The
baby is teething and troublesome in this heat. You will have to drive
up, I'm afraid.... Mr. Keith, I have not yet thanked you for those
flowers and the book you sent. The flowers are quite too lovely. Look
at them! You are spoiling me--you really are! But I don't think I shall
like the book. Lady Cecilia and her maid and that man, I forget his
name--they do all sorts of things. They don't seem to be very nice
people."

"You have nothing but nice people round you, Duchess. Why should you
want to read about them? There is so much goodness in real life. Do let
us keep it out of our books."

"That sounds a dreadful doctrine. I see the PARROCO is about to take
his departure. Why does everybody leave so soon?"

She wandered away.

"The English are supposed to be bad linguists," said Don Francesco. "It
is one of those curious international fallacies, like saying the French
are a polite nation--"

"Or that home-made marmalade tastes better than the stuff you buy in
shops," added Denis. "I must help the Duchess to say good-bye to those
people. She likes to have some one handy on such occasions. She needs
an echo. I am becoming quite a good echo."

"You are," said Keith, rather sharply. "Quite a pretty echo. And you
ought to be a voice. Follow my prescription, Denis. The Cave of
Mercury."

Count Caloveglia remarked:

"What a pity that Latin, as scholars' language, for the definition and
registration of ideas, was ever abandoned! It has the incalculable
advantage that the meanings of words are irrevocably fixed by
authority. New ones could be coined as occasion required. Knowledge
would gain by leaps and bounds. There would be a cross-fertilization of
cultures. As things now stand, half the intellectuals of this world are
writing about matters which, unbeknown to themselves, have already been
treated by the other half. One would think that Commerce, which has
broken down geographical barriers, might have done the same to
political ones. Far from it! In sharpening men's lust for gold, it has
demarcated our frontiers with a bitterness hitherto unknown. The world
of thought has not expanded; it has contracted and grown provincial.
Men have lost sight of distant horizons. Nobody writes for humanity,
for civilization; they write for their country, their sect; to amuse
their friends or annoy their enemies. Pliny or Linneus or Humboldt--they
sat on mountain-tops; they surveyed the landscape at their feet, and if
some little valley lay shrouded in mist, the main outlines of the land
yet lay clearly distended before them. You will say that it is
impossible, nowadays, to gather up the threads of learning as did these
men; they are too multifarious, too divergent. A greater mistake could
not be imagined. For there is a contrary tendency at work--a tendency
towards unification. The threads converge. Medieval minds knew many
truths, hostile to one another. All truths are now seen to be
interdependent; never was synthesis easier of attainment. Conflict of
nationality and language hinders the movement. Mankind at large is the
loser. The adoption of a universal scholars' tongue would do much to
remove the obstacle. When these Southern races coalesce to form the
great alliance which I foresee, when the Mediterranean basin is once
more the centre of human activity as it deserves to be, some such plan
will doubtless be adopted."

"Your notion would suit me down to the ground," said the bishop, who
was a good Latinist. "I would love to converse in the old style with a
student from Salamanca or Bergen or Khieff or Padua or--"

Don Francesco gave utterance to some wholly unintelligible speech. Then
he observed:

"The student might not be able to catch your meaning, Mr. Heard. I was
only talking Latin! You see, we would be obliged to standardize our
pronunciation. I wonder, by the way, why the old scholars' language was
ever discarded?"

"Patriotism destroyed it," replied the Count. "That narrow modern
patriotism of the cock-on-the-dung-hill type."

Mr. Keith began:

"It is an atavistic and altogether discreditable phenomenon--this recent
recrudescence of monarchical principles--"

"What did you promise about long words?" playfully enquired the
Duchess, who had just returned.

"I cannot help it, dear lady. It is my mother's fault. She was so very
precise. I was carefully brought up."

"That is a pity, Mr. Keith."

"Northern people are very precise," said Don Francesco, folding his
gown around his ample limbs. "Particularly in love affairs. We down
here, who live in this sirocco, are supposed to be calculating and
mercenary in matters of the heart. We want dowries for our
daughters--they say we are always coming to the point: money, money! The
capacity of an English girl for coming to the point will take some
beating. She paralyses you with directness. I will tell you a true
story. There was a young Italian whom I knew--yes, I knew him well. He
had just arrived in London; very handsome in the face, though perhaps a
little too fat. He fell in love with an elegant young lady who was
employed in the establishment of Madame Elise in Bond Street. He used
to wait for her to come out at six o'clock and follow her like a dog,
not daring to speak. He carried a costly bracelet for her in his
pocket, and every day fresh flowers, which he was always too shy and
too deeply enamoured to present. She was his angel, his ideal. He
dreamt of her by day and night, wondering whether he would ever have
the courage to address so tall and queenly a creature. It was his first
English love affair, you understand; he learnt the proper technique
later on. For five or six weeks this unhappy state of things continued,
till one day, when he was running after her as usual, she turned round
furiously and said: 'What do you mean, sir, by following me about it
this disgusting fashion? How day you? I shall call the police, if it
occurs again.' He was deprived of speech at first: he could only gaze
in what you call dumb amazement. Then he managed to stammer out
something about his heart and his love, and to show her the flowers and
the bracelet. She said: 'So that's it, is it? Well of all the funny
boys. Why couldn't you speak up sooner? D'you know of a place round
here--'"

"Ha, ha, ha!"

It was a formidable explosion on the part of the Commissioner, in an
adjoining room.

He was talking to some friends about Napoleon.

They wanted a fellow like that on Nepenthe--a fellow who got things
done. Napoleon would have made no bones about the Wilberforce woman
over there. It was a scandalous state of affairs. What was the use of a
Committee for trying to keep her in order and getting her locked up in
a sanatorium? Everybody knew what a Committee meant. Committee! It was
a preposterous word. Committees were the same all the world over.
Committee! He was in charge of that particular one; they were dong all
they could, but what did it amount to? Nothing. To begin with, there
was not enough money coming in, unless somebody could wheedle a cheque
out of that rich old Koppen sensualist whose yacht might be arriving at
any moment. And then her own pig-headedness! She refused to be talked
over into doing what was in her own interests. Napoleon, he reckoned,
might have talked her over--ha, ha, ha!

The lady in question, all unaware of these humanitarian designs, had
taken up a strategic position in the neighbourhood of the drinks, and
was glancing shyly round the room in search of a likely male who would
fetch her a stiff glass of something from the buffet, and that soon.
She was groggy, but not sufficiently primed to go there herself; she
knew that everybody's eye would be fixed upon her; she had been much
talked about of late. Drunk, she was impossible; dead sober, almost as
bad--haughty, sullen, logical, with a grieved and surprised air
suggestive of wounded dignity.

People avoided Miss Wilberforce. And yet you could not help liking her
in those rare moments when she was just a little disguised. She had a
pretty wit, then; a residue of gentle nurture; tender instincts and a
winsomeness of manner that captivated you. Nor were appearances against
her. That frail, arrowy figure was invariably clothed in black. She
wore the colour by instinct. They said she had lost her sailor fiance
who was drowned, poor lad, in the Mediterranean; and that now she
wandered about at night looking for him, or trying to forget him and
seeking oblivion in tipple.

The story happened to be true, for a wonder. She had received a twist
for life. The death of this young lover gave to her impressionable
being a shock which never passed off again. The world was turned inside
out for Amy Wilberforce. She seldom spoke of his fate. But she was
always talking about the sea. She tried to drown herself, once or
twice. Then, gradually, she put on a new character altogether and
relapsed into queer ancestral traits, stripping off, like so many
worthless rags, the layers of laboriously acquired civilization. The
refined and bashful girl became brusque, supercilious, equivocal. When
sympathizing friends said that they had also lost lovers, she laughed
and told them to look for new ones. There were better fish in the sea,
etc., etc.

Soon she found herself abandoned, in spite of a full banking account.
People had dropped her, right and left.

The years went by.

Calmly, without misgivings and without fervour, she took to the bottle.

Something drew her to Nepenthe--dim Mediterranean memories. Arrived
there, she used to engulf three pints of Martell and Hennessey, one
after the other, and then "wash them out"--such was her phraseology--with
a magnum of Perrier Jouet; a proceeding which, while it heightened her
complexion and gave a sparkle to her poor flustered eye, was not
conducive to the preservation of equilibrium in the lower limbs. There
resulted those periodical "nervous breakdowns" which necessitated
seclusion and sometimes medical treatment. The collapses had become
distressingly frequent with the last year or two. One of her many
drawbacks was that she courted publicity in her cups. She was perfectly
reckless as to what she then said, and had been known to bring a blush
to the seasoned cheek of Don Francesco himself who, unaware of her
condition at one particular moment, politely ventured to enquire why
she always wore black and was told that she was in mourning, as
everybody ought to mourn, for his lost innocence. Being an
Englishwoman, she was a thorn in the side of her moral compatriot the
Commissioner.

Her noctambulous habits often brought her into contact with the local
police and sometimes with His Worship Signor Malipizzo. Greatly to the
surprise of Mr. Parker, the magistrate was observed to take a lenient
view of the case. None the less, she had passed several nights in the
local gaol. Staggering about the lanes of Nepenthe in the silent hours
before dawn, she was liable to be driven, at the bidding of some dark
primeval impulse, to divest herself of her raiment--a singularity which
perturbed even the hardiest of social night-birds who had the
misfortune to encounter her. Taxed with this freakish behaviour, she
would refer to the example of St. Francis of Assisi who did the same,
and brazenly ask whether he wasn't good enough for them? Whether she
couldn't give her last shirt to a beggar, as well as anybody else? In
short, there was nothing to be done with her.

The dear lady, as Keith often called her, was becoming a real problem.

And now her eye, roving round the room, fixed itself with the
drunkard's divine unerring instinct upon Denis. What a nice, modest,
gentlemanly-looking boy! Just what she wanted.

"This sirocco!" she sighed, groping dramatically for a chair. "It makes
me feel so funny. Oh, dear! I shall go off in a faint. Ah, do be a kind
young man and fetch me some brandy and soda. A large tumbler. Ah, do!
And very little soda, please--on account of my heart. Only the smallest
drop!"

She took two or three sips, paused awhile as though undecided whether
she could possibly swallow such nasty stuff and then, with a fine show
of reluctance, gulped it all down. Denis was spell-bound; the dose, he
artlessly imagined, was enough to kill a horse. Far from being damaged,
Miss Wilberforce took a chair beside him, and began to converse.
Charmingly she talked; all about England. As he listened he grew
delighted, entranced. She was different, somehow, from all the other
ladies he had lately met on the Continent. She was altogether
different. Whence came it, he wondered?

Then, as the discourse proceeded, he began to realize what was the
matter with them. It was odd, he thought, that he had not noticed it
before. Miss Wilberforce made him realize wherein the difference lay.
They spoke English, it was true; but they had all taken on a
Continental outlook; alien phrases, expressions, affectations;
cosmopolitan airs and graces that jarred on his frank, untarnished
English nature. This one was otherwise. She was old England, through
and through. The conversation cheered him to an unusual degree--among
all those foreign people he felt strangely drawn towards this wistful
lady who could talk so naturally and conjure up, by the mere power of
words, a breath of his own homestead in the Midlands. He might have
been sitting with an elder sister just then, eating strawberries and
cream and watching a tennis match on some shady green lawn. He was
happy; happier still when Angelina once more floated into his ken and,
noticing Miss Wilberforce, raised her eyebrows mischievously and gave
him something that looked like a real smile, for a change.

She had another smile, however, for Mr. Edgar Marten; and yet another
one for Don Francesco who, as she passed near him, profited by the
occasion to give her a paternal semi-proprietary chuck under the chin,
accompanying the indecorous movement with an almost audible wink.

Mr. Heard had noticed everything. He frowned at first. It gave him a
little twinge, and some food for thought. He was absurdly sensitive
about women.

"A frolicsome child," he mused. "LASCIVA PUELLA. Possibly wanton."

What were this young man's relations with the girl? That contact of
hand and chin--what did it imply? Was the action quasi-paternal, or
pseudo-paternal? Regretfully he decided that it was only
pseudo-paternal.

And yet--it was all so confoundedly natural!

"Nobody but our PARROCO could keep his hands off that girl," blithely
remarked the priest.

Another little twinge....



CHAPTER VII



Mr. Heard was not prone to wax enthusiastic over the delights of
architecture or natural scenery. He called himself unexpansive and
unromantic; he confessed to small understanding, small veneration, for
artistic effects. The beauty of a man's character moved him more
strongly than the beauty of any picture or any landscape. Yet, on
arriving next afternoon at the upper plateau of Nepenthe he could not
help being struck by the strange and almost compelling charm of the
"Old Town." It was so different from the lower regions--so calm and
reposeful.

Down below, in that more accessible modern settlement, everything was
bright and many-tinted; there was movement and noise and colour; a
dazzling spot! The subtle influence of the sea, though it lay four
hundred feet lower down, was ever present; one felt oneself on an
island. On reaching these heights that feeling evaporated. You were
embowered in mighty trees, in the midst of which stood the Old Town.

Unlike that other one, it faced due North; it lay, moreover, a few
hundred feet higher up. That alone could not have explained the
difference in temperature, one might say in climate, between the two.
To begin with, there was on this tiny upland basin exceptionally deep
soil, borne down by the rains of unnumbered centuries from the heights
overhead and enabling those shady oaks, poplars, walnuts and apples to
shoot up to uncommon size and luxuriance and screen away the sunny
beams. From above, meanwhile, a perennial shower descended. The
moisture-laden sirocco, tearing itself to shreds against the riven
summits of the high southern cliffs, dripped ceaselessly upon this
verdant oasis in clouds of invisible dew. You could often enjoy the
luxury of a shiver, at night-time, in the Old Town.

It was a stronghold originally; built on these heights for the greater
security of the islanders against Saracenic inroads. When a more
peaceful era drew night the population began to decline; they found it
more convenient to establish themselves in the new settlement lower
down. Then came the Good Duke Alfred--that potentate who, as Mr. Eames
was wont to say, NIHIL QUOD TETIGIT NON ORNAVIT. He took a fancy to
this quaint old citadel which, before his day, could only be reached b
a rough mule-track easily defended against invaders. After constructing
a fine road of access with many twists and turnings, wide enough to
admit the passage of two of his roomy state carriages driving abreast,
he turned his mind to other improvements. Professing to be an admirer
of the good old times, he decided to keep up its traditional
character--it was to remain a fortress, in appearance if not reality. A
massive crenellated rampart, furnished with four gateways and
watch-towers at convenient intervals but serving no purpose in
particular, grew up around the place; every one of its houses which
failed to fit in with the design of this battlemented structure--and
there were a good many of them--was ruthlessly demolished. The Old Town
was enclosed in a ring.

Desirous, next, of putting an end to the annoying exodus of the
natives, he fixed by law the number of inhabitants; there were to be
five hundred souls, neither more nor less. If in any one year the
population exceeded that figure, the surplus was taken away, from among
the adult males, to work as galley-slaves in his fleet; a deficiency in
the requisite number was met by giving new husbands from the lower
town, often three or four at a time "with a view to ensuring good
results," to those of the native women who had hitherto failed to
produce offspring. The system worked well. With some trifling but
reprehensive fluctuations, the birth-rate and the death-rate remained
even; things were at a standstill; a fact which caused His Highness to
be compared, by a courtly panegyrist, to Joshua who bade the sun arrest
his march across the heavens. Another of these gentlemen calls the
Duke's action a "triumph of art over nature," adding, not without a
grain of malice, that "never have the generative capacities of mankind
adapted themselves with more conspicuous success to the shape of an
unnecessary wall." Monsignor Perrelli, unfortunately, has nothing
whatever to say on the subject. For reasons which will appear anon, he
is remarkably silent on all that concerns the reign of his great
contemporary.

Even so the Prince was not satisfied. The fastness was yet imperfect;
he disliked the variegated hues of the buildings--they reminded him of
the garish brilliance in the lower town. Something different had to be
contrived. He took thought and, being a man of taste and a decorist
where picturesque effects were concerned, decreed that the entire
place--walls, houses, the two convents (Benedictine and Carthusian), the
church, and even stables and pigsties--was to be painted a uniform pink:
"pink," he ordained, "without the slightest admixture of blue." He
desired, in fact, a kind of rose or flesh colour, a particular tint
which, he foresaw, would look well among the luscious verdure of the
surroundings. His behest, as usual, was obeyed without much loss of
time.

Then he surveyed his work, and saw that it was good. He had created a
gem. The Old Town was a symphony in emerald and coral.

So it remained. The inhabitants grew to be proud of their rosy citadel;
it was an unwritten law among them that every new house should adapt
itself to this tone. For the rest, there was not much building done
after his death, with the exception of a few isolated villas that
sprang up, despite his old commands, in the neighbourhood. And the
decline in population once more set in. Men forsook the place--all save
the peasantry who tilled the surrounding fields. Towers and battlements
crumbled to earth; roadways heaved uneasily with grassy tufts that
sprouted in the chinks of the old paving-blocks. Sometimes at decline
of day a creaking hay-waggon would lumber along, bending towards a
courtyard in whose moss-grown recesses you discerned stacks of golden
maize and pumpkins; apples and plum-trees, nodding drowsily over walls,
littered the streets with snowy blossoms or fallen leaves. Commercial
life was extinct. The few remaining shopkeepers wore an air of
slumberous benevolence. The very stones suggested peace. A mellow and
aristocratic flavour clung to those pink dwellings that nestled,
world--forgotten, in a green content....

One of those few modern houses was the Villa Mon Repos. There was a
curious history attached to the place. It had been built about a
century ago at the orders of an eccentric French lady, a lyric poetess,
who professed to be tired of life. She had heard that somewhere on
Nepenthe was a towering precipice, unique of its kind and convenient
for suicidal purposes. She thought she would like to live near that
precipice--it might come in handy. There was nothing of the right sort
in Paris, she declared; only five-storey hotels and suchlike; the
notion of casting herself down from one of those artificial eminences
did not appeal to her high-strung temperament; she craved to die like
Sappho, her ideal. An architect was despatched, the ground purchased,
the house built and furnished. That done, she settled up her affairs in
France and established herself at Mon Repos. On the evening of her
arrival she climbed the little height at the back of her domain and
looked southward, down a sheer wall of rock eight or nine hundred feet
high, over the wrinkled ocean. It made her feel queer. Further
familiarity with the precipice did not breed contempt; her visits to
the site became rarer and rarer. She died, at a patriarchal age, in her
bed, after writing a scholarly pamphlet to prove that the tale of
Sappho's leap over her famous silvery crag was a myth, the "purest
sensationalism," a fable of the grammarians "hopelessly irreconcilable
with what we know of that great woman's character."

This much the bishop had learnt from Mr. Keith. That gentleman liked
the Sappho story; he called it absolutely true to human nature and so
creditable to the old lady's intelligence that he would have insisted
upon paying his respects to her had she not expired a good many years
before his arrival on the island. And he, of course, got it from Eames
who, as annotator of Perrelli's ANTIQUITIES, was in the habit of
garnering old details anent private houses and so forth, and had
possessed himself, in the course of his researches, of this particular
pamphlet which he intended to reprint, together with others of its
kind, in an appendix entitled, "Contemporary Social History."

The driving road terminated at the Old Town. Mr. Heard, descending from
his carriage, followed a pathway which had been described to him by
Denis and soon found himself at the entrance of the Villa Mon Repos. It
was an inconspicuous little place, surrounded by three or four chestnut
trees and a rose garden. A steep incline at the back of the property
ended, abruptly, in air. He concluded that the precipice must be on the
other side of that slope and that, if so, it was rather too near the
house for his taste. Mr. Heard thoroughly understood the feelings of
the French poetess. He, too, was not fond of precipices. It was as much
as he could do to look down from a church tower without growing dizzy.

On the house-steps, beside an empty cradle, sat a shrivelled hag--a
gaunt, forbidding anatomy, with hooked nose and brown skin. Tousled
grey hair, like that of a Skye terrier, hung over her forehead, half
concealing a pair of coal-black eyes. She rose up, barred the entrance
with one claw-like hand, and scrutinized him distrustfully.

"A Cerberus!" he thought. "This must be the old lady who understands
Hindustani. Now I wonder if she knows English?"

She seemed to understand that language too; or perhaps his kindly face
disposed her in his favour. He was allowed to pass within.

The house was empty. Mrs. Meadows had presumably gone out for a ramble,
taking the child with her. He sat down and waited, glancing round the
premises. It was a peaceful sort of abode, pervaded by a strong sense
of home. It appealed to the bishop, who had domestic instincts and,
despite his youth, was already a little weary of tossing about the
world. He envied his cousin's happy married life. Would such an
existence ever fall to his own lot? Although, like himself, she was
only a bird of passage on Nepenthe, she had succeeded in impressing her
personality upon those rather scantily furnished rooms and filling them
with an atmosphere of England. Heavy bowls of fresh roses were ranged
about. But what was she like, after all these years? Would she
recognize him? Had she heard of his arrival on the island?

Mrs. Meadows failed to return. Perhaps she had met some friend of
neighbour who was keeping her to dinner together with the child. The
old woman seemed unwilling or unable to give him any information as to
her whereabouts. After waiting an hour, he scribbled a short note, left
it on the writing-table, and took his leave. The eyes of that fierce
creature followed him right out of the garden. So did the scent of
roses....

The afternoon was drawing to its close as Mr. Heard, in a placid,
contemplative frame of mind, once more drew nigh the pink ramparts of
the Old Town, purposing to find his way home on foot.

He entered the most westerly of its four gateways. There were stone
seats within the structure on either side of the road, convenient for
sheltering from sun or rain. Passing under the vaulted roof he met
Count Caloveglia, that handsome soldier-like personality, who instantly
recognized him and greeted him in friendliest fashion.

"Will you do me the pleasure of coming to my house, and allow me to
offer you a cup of tea? It is visible from here--that rounded portal, do
you see? with the fig tree leaning over the street. Only a hundred
yards. Or perhaps we can rest awhile under this archway and converse.
It is always pleasant to watch the movements of the country-folk, and
there is a peculiar charm in this evening light. Well, let us sit down
then. I observe you are interested in those people. A singular
illusion, is it not?"

He referred to a group of men and boys who, stripped to the waist, were
bearing aloft immense masses of some argent-coloured rock.

"You've guessed my thoughts," replied the bishop. "How on earth are
they able to support such a weight? They remind me of Atlas with the
world on his shoulders."

"It is pumice-stone--one of the old industries of the place. They
excavate it on the hill-side yonder. Volcanic stuff. There are several
suchlike indications of subterranean fires; a hot spring, for instance,
which the people regard with a kind of superstitious awe. It is
dedicated to Saint Elias and believed to stand in mysterious sympathy
with the volcano on the mainland. You will observe too, sooner or
later, something fiery and incalculable in the temperament of the
natives. Perhaps it is due to the wine grown on these scorching slopes.
If geologists are right, we are sitting at this moment on the crater of
a volcano--"

"Dear me! That might be rather awkward. I suppose this pumice is very
light?"

"Light as foam. But who can believe it? The bearers move within a few
feet of us, and yet it resembles the most ponderous limestone or
granite. Then you ask yourself: How is it possible? If their burden
were what it seems to be, they would be crushed to earth instead of
striding proudly along. Admirable figures! As you say, the spectacle
takes one back into mythological times. Would you not call it a
procession of Titans, children of the Gods, storing up mountain-blocks
for some earth-convulsing battle? Your eyes deceive you. Like Thomas,
the doubting apostle, you must touch with your hands. And even then you
are not wholly convinced. To me, who knows the capacity of human bone
and muscle, these men are a daily miracle. They mock my notions of what
is permissible. How hard it is, sometimes, to trust the evidence of
one's senses! How reluctantly the mind consents to reality! The
industry is decaying," he added, "but I hope it will outlive my time."

"Everything seems to decay up here in sober and gracious fashion. I am
delighted, Count, with your Old Town. There is an autumnal flavour
about the place. It is a poet's dream. Some philosopher might dwell
here--some sage who has grown weary of disentangling life's threads."

Rarely did Mr. Heard use florid and sentimental language like this. The
soft light, the reposeful surroundings, the homelike influence of the
Villa Mon Repos--all had conspired to put him into an uncommonly idyllic
mood of mind. He felt disposed to linger with the kindly stranger who
seemed so much more communicative and affable than on the occasion of
those theatricals. He lit a cigarette and watched, for a while, the
flow of life through that gateway. Its passage was pierced, like the
eye of a needle, with a slender shaft of light from the westering sun.
Fine particles of dust, suspended overhead, enveloped the homeward
moving peasantry in a tender mist of gold.

"Yes," replied the Count. "This citadel is a microcosm of what the
world might be, if men were reasonable. Not all men! A great proportion
must be good enough to remain what they are. We could not live without
those whose business it is to bring the reasonableness of the few into
its proper relief. Were it otherwise, there would be no more
reasonableness on earth, would there?"

"And that would be a pity," observed Mr. Heard. "I was much interested,
Count, in what you said yesterday. You spoke of the Mediterranean
becoming once more the center of human activity. There is an attraction
in the idea to one who, like myself, has been brought up on the
classics and has never forgotten his spiritual debt to antiquity. But I
question whether the majority of my countrymen would be moved by such
considerations."

The old man replied:

"I think we need not trouble about majorities. No one can expect a
majority to be stirred by motives other than ignoble. Your English
majority, in particular, is quite unaware of its debt to us: why should
it turn eyes in our direction? But as for other Northern men, the
enlightened ones--I cannot help thinking that they will come to their
senses again one of these days. Oh yes! They will recover their sanity.
They will perceive under what artificial and cramping conditions, under
what false standards, they have been living; they will realize the
advantages of a climate where nature meets you half-way. I know little
of England, but the United States are pretty familiar to me; the two
climates, I imagine, cannot be very dissimilar. That a man should wear
himself to the bone in the acquisition of material gain is not pretty.
But what else can he do in lands adapted only for wolves and bears?
Without a degree of comfort which would be superfluous hereabouts, he
would feel humiliated. He must become strenuous if he wishes to rise
superior to his inhospitable surroundings."

"We think a good deal of strenuousness," objected the bishop.

"Have you not noticed that whenever anything, however fantastic, is
imposed upon men by physical forces, they straightway make a god of it?
That is why you deify strenuousness. You dare not forgo it. The Eskimo
doubtless deifies seal-blubber; he could not survive without it. Yet
nobody would be an Eskimo if he had a chance of bettering his
condition. By all means let us take life seriously. But let us be
serious about things that matter."

"Things that matter, Count! Is it not creditable for a man to support
his wife and family in the best conditions possible?"

"Assuredly. But chosen spirits will do this in regions where the same
results can be obtained with a smaller outlay of vital force. We have
only a certain amount of energy at our disposal. It is not seemly to
consume every ounce of it in a contest with brute nature. Man is made
for better things. Whatever fails to elevate the mind is not truly
profitable. Tell me, sir, how shall the mind be elevated if the body be
exhausted with material preoccupations? Consider the complex conditions
under which a Northern family is obliged to live. Think of the labour
expended upon that unceasing duel with the elements--the extra clothing
and footwear and mufflers and mantles, the carpets, the rugs, the
abundant and costly food required to keep the body in sound working
condition, the plumbing, the gas, the woodwork, the paintings and
repaintings, the tons of fuel, the lighting in winter, the contrivances
against frost and rain, the never-ending repairs to houses, the daily
polishings and dustings and scrubbings and those thousand other
impediments to the life of the spirit! Half of them are non-existent in
these latitudes; half the vitality expended upon them could therefore
be directed to other ends. At close of day, your Northerner is pleased
with himself. He has survived; he has even prospered. His family is
adequately housed and clothed. He feels 'presentable,' as he calls it,
in the eyes of those who share his illusions. He fancies he has
attained the aim and object of existence. He is too dazed with the
struggle to perceive how incongruous his efforts have been. What has he
done? He has sacrificed himself on the altar of a false ideal. He has
not touched the fringe of a reasonable life. He has performed certain
social and political duties--he knows nothing of the duties towards
himself. I am speaking of men from whom better things might have been
expected. As for the majority, the crowd, the herd--they do not exist,
neither here nor anywhere else. They leave a purely physiological mark
upon posterity; they propagate the species and protect their offspring.
So do foxes. It is not enough for us. Living in our lands, men would
have leisure to cultivate nobler aspects of their nature. They would be
accessible to purer aspirations, worthier delights. They would enjoy
the happiness of sages. What other happiness deserves the name? In the
Mediterranean, Mr. Heard, lies the hope of humanity."

The bishop was thoughtful. There occurred to him various objections to
this rather fanciful argument. Still, he said nothing. He was naturally
chary of words; it was so interesting to listen to other people! And at
this particular period he was more than usually reflective and
absorbent.

Happiness--an honourable, justifiable happiness--how was it to be
attained? Not otherwise, he used to think, than through the twofold
agency of Christianity and civilization. That was his old College
attitude. Imperceptibly his outlook had shifted since then. Something
had been stirring within him; new points of view had floated into his
ken. He was no longer so sure about things. The structure of his mind
had lost that old stability; its elements seemed to be held in
solution, ready to form new combinations. China had taught him that men
can be happy and virtuous while lacking, and even scorning the first of
these twin blessings. Then had come Africa, where his notions had been
further dislocated by those natives who derided both the one and the
other--such fine healthy animals, all the same! A candid soul, he
allowed his natural shrewdness and logic to play freely with memories
of his earlier experiences among the London poor. Those experiences now
became fraught with a new meaning. The solemn doctrines he had preached
in those days: were they really a panacea for all the ills of the
flesh? He thought upon the gaunt bodies, starved souls, and white
faces--the dirt, the squalor of it! Was that Christianity, civilization?

The Count, pursuing some other line of thought, broke out into a kind
of Delphic rhapsody:

"Folly of men! The wits of our people have been blunted, their habits
bestialized, their very climate and landscape ruined. The alert genius
of the Greeks is clogged by a barbaric, leaden-hued religion--the
fertile plains of Asia Minor and Spain converted into deserts! We
begin, at last, to apprehend the mischief; we know who is to blame; we
are turning the corner. Enclosed within the soft imagination of the
HOMO MEDITERRANEUS lies a kernel of hard reason. We have reached that
kernel. The Northerner's hardness is on the surface; his core, his
inner being, is apt to quaver in a state of fluid irresponsibility. Yet
there must be reasonable men everywhere; men who refuse to wear away
their faculties in a degrading effort to plunder one another, men who
are tired of hustle and strife. What, sir, would you call the
phenomenon of to-day? What is the outstanding feature of modern life?
The bankruptcy, the proven fatuity, of everything that is bound up
under the name of Western civilization. Men are perceiving, I think,
the baseness of mercantile and military ideals, the loftiness of those
older ones. They will band together, the elect of every nation, in
god-favoured regions round the Inland Sea, thee to lead serener lives.
To those how have hitherto preached indecorous maxims of conduct they
will say: 'What is all this ferocious nonsense about strenuousness? An
unbecoming fluster. And who are you, to dictate how we shall order our
day? Go! Shiver and struggle in your hyperborean dens. Trample about
those misty rain-sodden fields, and hack each other's eyes out with
antideluvian bayonets. Or career up and down the ocean, in your absurd
ships, to pick the pockets of men better than yourselves. That is you
mode of self-expression. It is not ours.' And Mediterranean people will
lead the way. They have suffered more than all from the imbecilities of
kinds and priests and soldiers and politicians. They now make an end of
this neurasthenic gadding and getting. They focus themselves anew and
regain their lost dignity. That ancient individualistic tone reasserts
itself. Man becomes a personality once more--"

He continued for some time in this prophetic strain, the bishop
listening with considerable approbation though, at a certain point of
the discourse, he would have liked to drop a word about Thermopylae and
Marathon. He also knew something of the evils of Northern
industrialism--how it stunts the body and warps the mind.

"What a charming dreamer!" he thought.

It was rather convenient for the Count to be able to pass, just then,
for a dreamer.

As a matter of fact, he was an extremely practical old gentleman.



CHAPTER VIII



"Sanidin?" queried Denis almost flippantly, as he held up a fragment of
rock.

He was not particularly eager to hear Marten's answer. He had thought,
only a few days ago, that he would like to be a geologist; Marten had
inspired him with a fancy for that science. The fit was already
passing.

How quickly this geological mood had evaporated. How quickly everything
evaporated, nowadays.

All was not well with Denis. Early that morning he had tried his hand
at poetry once more, after a long interval. Four words--that was all the
inspiration which had come to him.

"Or vine-wreathed Tuscany...."

A pretty turn, in the earlier manner of Keats. It looked well on the
snowy paper. "Or vine-wreathed Tuscany." He was content with that
phrase, so far as it went. But where was the rest of the stanza?

How easily, a year or two ago, could he have fashioned the whole verse.
How easily everything was accomplished in those days. To be a poet:
that was a fixed point on his horizon. Any number of joyous lyrics, as
well as three plays not intended for the stage, had already dropped
from his pen. He was an extraordinary success among his college
friends; everybody liked him; he could say and do what he pleased. Was
he not the idol of a select group who admired not only one another but
also the satanism of Baudelaire, the hieratic obscenities of Beardsley,
the mustiest Persian sage, the modernest American ballad-monger? He was
full of gay irresponsibility. Ever since, on returning to his rooms
after some tedious lecture, he announced to his friends that he had
lost an umbrella but preserved, thank God, his honour, they augured a
brilliant future for him. So, for other but no less cogent reasons, did
his doting, misguided mother.

Both were disappointed. Those sprightly sallies became rarer; epigrams
died, still-born, on his lips. He lost his sense of humour; grew
mirthless, fretful, self-conscious. He suddenly realized the existence
of a world beyond his college walls; it made him feel like a hot-house
flower exposed to the blustering winds of March. Life was no longer a
hurdle in a steeple-chase to be taken at a gallop; it was a tangle of
beastly facts that stared you in the face and refused to get out of the
way. With growing years, during vacation, he came in contact with a new
set of people; men who smiled indulgently at mention of all he held
most sacred--art, classics, literature; men who were plainly not insane
and yet took up incomprehensible professions of one kind or
another--took them up with open eyes and unfeigned zest, and actually
prospered at them in a crude worldly fashion.

He shrank at first from their society, consoling himself with the
reflection that, being bounders, it did not matter whether they
succeeded or not. But this explanation did not hold good for long. They
were not bounders--not all of them. People not only dined with them:
they asked them to dinner. Quite decent fellows, in fact. Nothing was
wrong with them, save that they held a point of view which was at
variance with his own.

It was a rude awakening. Every moment he was up against something new.
There were quite a lot of things, he discovered, which a fellow ought
to know, and doesn't. Too many of them to assimilate with comfort. They
crowded in upon him and unsettled his mind. He kept up a brave
exterior, but his inner core was suffering; he was no longer certain of
himself. He became easily swayed and changeful in his moods. That sure
touch in lyrics, as in daily life, was deserting him. His dreams were
not coming true. He was not going to set the Thames on fire with poetry
or anything else. He would probably be a failure. Aware of this
weakness, he looked up to what was strong. Everything was different
from himself, everything forceful, emphatic and clear-cut, exercised a
fascination upon him. He tried in an honest, groping fashion, to learn
what it was all about. That was why he had taken to Edgar Marten, the
antithesis of himself, bright but dogmatic, a slovenly little plebeian
but a man who after all had a determined, definite point of view.

Denis repeated:

"Sanidin?"

"Let's have a look at it then," said Marten condescendingly, "though I
can't say I'm in a geological temper this morning. The south wind seems
to rot one's intelligence somehow. Hand it here. Sanidin be blowed!
It's specular iron. Now I wonder why you should hit upon sanidin? Why?"

He, too, did not pause for a reply. He turned his glance once more down
the steep hill-side which they had climbed with a view to exploring
some instructive exposure of the rock. Marten intended to utilize the
site as a text for a lay sermon. Arrived on the spot they had sat down.
As if by common consent, geology was forgotten. To outward appearances
they were absorbed in the beauties of nature. Sirocco mists rose
upwards, clustering thickly overhead and rolling in billowy formations
among the dales. Sometimes a breath of wind would convulse their ranks,
causing them to trail in long silvery pennants across the sky and,
opening a rift in their gossamer texture, would reveal, far down below,
a glimmer of olives shining in the sunlight or a patch of blue sea,
framed in an aureole of peacock hues. Stones and grass were clammy with
warm moisture.

"It's a funny thing," said Marten, after a long pause. "I've often
noticed it. When I'm not actually at work, I'm always thinking about
girls. I wish I could talk better Latin, or Italian. Not that I should
be running after them all day long. I've got other fish to fry. I've
got to catalogue my minerals, and I'm only half-way through. For the
matter of that, I haven't come across half as many nice ones here as I
thought I would."

"Minerals?"

"Girls. I don't seem to take to these foreigners. But there's one--"

"Go on."

"You're a queer fellow, Phipps. Don't you ever look at women? I believe
you have the making of a saint in you. Fight against it. A fellow can't
live without vices. Here you are, with lots of money, stewing in a back
bedroom of a second-class hotel and getting up every morning at five
o'clock because you like lying in bed late. Is that your way of
mortifying the flesh? Got a soul, eh? Get rid of it. The soul! That
unhappy word has been the refuge of empty minds ever since the world
began. You're just like a man I used to know at Newcastle. You can't
think what an ass he was. A sort of eugenical crank, who talked about
the City Beautiful where everybody would lead regenerated lives like a
flock of prize sheep. Everything sanitary and soulful; nothing but pure
men and pure women. An addle-headed theorist, he was, till a woman got
hold of him--one of the other kind, you know--and gave him something
practical to think about. That's what will happen to you, Phipps. I can
see it coming."

"I've been analysing myself lately. I find I have too much romance in
my composition, as it is."

"What do you call romance?"

Denis thought awhile. Then he said:

"When a man invests ordinary people or objects or occurrences with an
extraordinary interest. When he reads attributes into them which they
don't possess, or exaggerates those which they do possess. When he
looks at a person and can't help thinking that there is nobody on earth
quite like her."

"Too celestial for me, on the whole. But I'm glad you said that last
part. Glad for your sake, I mean. It shows that you've perhaps got
something better than a soul, after all."

"What is that?"

"A body. Look here, Phipps. I also have my romantic moments, though you
wouldn't believe it. I can be as romantic as ever you please. But not
when I'm alone."

"I should like to see you in that condition. And talking Latin, no
doubt?" he added with a laugh.

"I daresay you would," replied the scientist. "Given the circumstances
under which I become romantic, you'll find it a little difficult. But
there's no knowing. Funny things happen sometimes!"

Denis had picked up another stone. He scrutinized it with close
attention, and then began to turn it round and round in his hand in an
absent-minded fashion. At last he remarked:

"We are not doing much mineralogy, are we? What do you think of
chastity, Marten?"

"Chastity be blowed. It's an unclean state of affairs, and dangerous to
the community. You can't call yourself a good citizen till you have
learnt to despise it from the bottom of your heart. It's an insult to
the Creator and an abomination to man and beast."

"Perhaps you never gave it a fair trial," suggested Denis.

"Perhaps I'm not quite such a damned fool as all that. A man needn't
handle everything dirty in order to be doubly sure about it. If you
tell me that a dead donkey smells bad, I'm quite prepared to believe
you without poking my nose into it. Chastity is a dead donkey. No
beating will bring it to life again. Who killed it? The experience of
every sane man and woman on earth. It's decayed; it ought to be buried.
You ask me to give it a trial. Perhaps I will, when I'm in the same
mellow condition myself. Everything in its proper season. Don't let us
reverse the natural order of things. When we cease to practise, then is
the time to preach. A fellow of your size! And with your good looks,
too. Who knows how many golden opportunities you've missed. Try to make
up for lost time, Phipps. Get rid of conventional notions, if you value
your health."

"I will, when I find them wrong. What do you think of women--generally
speaking, I mean?"

Marten replied, without a moment's hesitation:

"Thank God I'm a Jew. You must take that into consideration. I think
the Mormons have made a good shot at solving the woman question, if the
question exists at all. Mormonism is a protest against monogamy. And
please observe that it's a protest not on the part of man alone. It's a
protest on the part of woman. Never forget that. In fact, I don't
believe any woman would ever bind herself to one fool of a man if she
had her own way. She wouldn't marry at all. She needn't, nowadays. She
won't, very soon. A man who marries--well, there may be some excuse for
him, though a love-match is generally a failure and a money-match
always a mistake. The heroes, the saints and sages--they are those who
face the world alone. A married man is half a man."

"Ahem!"

Marten was silent.

"I did not ask you to stop," said Denis. "You've got it very pat!"

"Plain sailing, my boy. It's the social reformers and novelists who
create these artificial conundrums; they want to sell their rotten
literature; they want to make us forget that the only interesting and
important part of the business is what nobody talks or writes about.
What does it all amount to? Man creates intellectually and physically.
He classifies minerals or blasts out a tunnel. Woman creates
physiologically; she supplies the essential, the raw material; her
noblest product is a child. I get on splendidly with women, because we
both realize the stupidity of the average sex-twaddle. We have no
illusions about each other. We know exactly what we are after. We know
exactly how to attain it. I tell you what, Phipps, Female Emancipation
is going to do away with a lot of cant and idealism. Knock the silly
male on the head. There'll be an end of your chastity-worship, once
women are fairly started on the game. They won't put up with it."

"Disgusting," said Denis. "Go on."

"I'm done. What, sanidin again?"

Denis still held the stone in his hand. He was thinking, however, of
other things. He liked to collect fresh ideas, to be impregnated with
the mentality of other people--he knew how much he had to learn. But he
would have preferred his mind to be moulded gently, in artistic
fashion. Marten's style was more like random blows from a
sledge-hammer, half of them wide of the mark. It was not very edifying,
or even instructive. Keith was the same. Why was everybody so violent,
so extreme in their views?

Marten repeated:

"Sanidin?"

"It might be sanidin in places," replied Denis. "I do know a little
something about crystals, Marten. I have read Ruskin's ETHICS OF THE
DUST."

"Ruskin. Good god! He's not a man; he's an emetic. But you never
answered my first question. You always hit upon sanidin. Why?"

"Oh, I don't know. It's rather a pretty word, don't you think? It would
do for a Christian name. Girls' names are so terribly commonplace. They
are always Marjorie, or something. If I had a daughter, I should call
her Sanidin."

"You're not likely to find yourself in that position at this rate. If I
had a daughter, I know perfectly well what I should call her."

"What?"

"Angelina."

"You would?" asked Denis slowly. "And why?"

"Oh, it's rather a pretty name, don't you think?"

"Not a bad name at all, now I come to think of it. But it sounds
foreign. I thought you did not care about foreigners."

"I don't. But there's one--"

"Go on," said Denis.

Mr. Marten winked.

The mists had fled from the hilltops; rocks and vineyards, and the sea
at their foot, lay flooded in sunshine. With one accord, the two young
men rose from the ground and turned their steps homewards. The
mineralogical lesson was over.

"Coming to Keith's to-night?" enquired Marten with a fine show of
nonchalance.

"I don't know."

"I would if I were you. They say he does things properly. There'll be
an awful crowd--a regular bust-up. He only gives one of these
entertainments a year. Dancing and Chinese lanterns and champagne in
torrents. Won't you go?"

"Perhaps later in the evening."

Denis was perturbed. He scented a rival in this brutalitarian, though
it seemed hardly possible that Angelina should take much notice of him.
Meanwhile, he felt in need of some gentlemanly and soothing influence,
after such an outpouring of vulgarity. He thought of the bibliographer.
He liked Eames; he admired that scholarly detachment. He, too, might
end in annotating some masterpiece--who knows? To be a
bibliographer--what a calm, studious life!

"I think I'll go to Eames," he remarked.

"Really? A colourless creature, that Eames. As dry as a stick; a
typical Don. I promised him a mineralogical map, by the way. You might
tell him I haven't forgotten, will you? I wonder what you can see in
the man?"

"I rather like him," said Denis. "He knows what he wants."

"That is not enough, my young friend!" replied Marten with decision. "A
fellow must want something sensible."

"What do you call sensible?"

"Sanidin, and things like that. Things with pretty names. Eh, Phipps?"

Denis said nothing.

His friend continued jovially:

"The tavern mood is upon me. I am going to Luisella's to get a drink.
One gets sick of that Club. Besides, I've taken rather a fancy to that
younger sister. The second youngest, I mean; the one with the curly
hair--you know! I only wish I knew a bit more Latin."

Luisella's grotto-tavern had become quite a famous rendezvous. You
could drop in there at any hour and always find company to your liking.
Don Francesco had a good deal to do with its discovery; he discovered,
at all events, the second eldest of the four orphan sisters who managed
the house. After a time, having convinced himself that they were all
good penitents and being a kindly sort of man, he thought that other
people might like to share in the seductions which the place afforded.
He took foreign friends there from time to time, and none were
disappointed. The wine was excellent. Russians, excluded from the Club
by Mr. Parker's severity, frequented the spot in considerable numbers.
They were nicely treated there. Not many nights previously one of the
Master's disciples, the athletic young Peter Krasnojabkin, who was
credited with being a protege of Madame Steynlin's, had distinguished
himself by drinking sixteen bottles at a sitting. He afterwards smashed
a few chairs and things, for which he apologized so prettily next
morning that the girls would not hear of his paying for the damage.

"It's all in the family," they said. "Come and break some more!"

That was the way they ran the place, as regards drinks. The quality of
the refreshments, too, was quite out of the common. As for the girls
themselves--their admirers were legion. They could have married anyone
they pleased, had it not been more in accordance with the interests of
their business, to say nothing of the personal inclinations, to have
only lovers.

As Marten disappeared under that hospitable doorway, I flashed through
the mind of Denis that Eames was a confirmed recluse; he might not like
being disturbed in the morning.

Besides, he was probably at work.

He thought of going to see the bishop. There was a glamour in the name.
To be a bishop! His mother had sometimes suggested the Church, or at
least politics as a career for him, if poetry should fail. But this one
was so matter-of-fact and unpretentious in his clothing, his opinions.
A broken-down matrimonial agent, Don Francesco had called him. Mr.
Heard was not his idea of a shepherd of souls; he was only a colonial,
anyhow. A grey type of man--nothing purple about him, nothing glowing or
ornate. He did not get on particularly well with him either.

Besides, he hardly knew him sufficiently to intrude at this hour of the
day.

One thing was certain. He would go to the Cave of Mercury that very
evening. Keith was right. He must try to "find himself." He wanted to
be alone, to think things out. Or perhaps--no. He did not want to be
alone with his thoughts. They were too oppressive just then. He
required some kind of company.

Besides, Keith had said "full moon." The moon was not yet quite full.

No!

He would see what the Duchess was doing, and perhaps stay to luncheon.
Eames could wait. So could the bishop. So could the cave. He was fond
of the Duchess.

Besides, it was such a quaint place--that austere old convent, built by
the Good Duke Alfred.



CHAPTER IX



"That is the worst of dining with a man. You have to be civil next
morning. But surely, Eames, we two need not stand on ceremony? I am
particularly anxious for you to come to-night. Can't you really manage
it? I want you to meet Malipizzo and say a few nice words to him. You
are too aloof with that man. There is nothing like keeping on the right
side of the law."

"What do you mean by that?"

"The right side of the judge," said Keith. "It is so easy to be
polite to people, and so advisable in some cases. How would you like
to spend a week or two in gaol? He will have you there one of these
days, unless you have placed him under some kind of obligation. He
represents justice here. I know you don't like him. But what would
it cost you--just a friendly handshake?"

"He cannot touch me. I have nothing on my conscience."

"Conscience, my dear fellow, is a good servant but a bad master. Your
sentiments are English. They will never do in a country where the
personal element still counts for something."

"The personal element signifying favouritism and venality?" asked
Eames. "A pretty state of affairs!"

"The philosopher can only live under a venal government."

"I disagree with you altogether."

"You always disagree with me," answered Keith. "And you always find
yourself in the wrong. You remember how I warned you about that little
affair of yours? You remember what an ass you made of yourself?"

"What little affair?" enquired Eames, with a tinge of resignation in
his voice.

The other did not reply. Mr. Keith could be tactful, on occasions. He
pretended to be absorbed in cutting a cigar.

"What little affair?" insisted the bibliographer, fearful of what was
coming next.

It came.

"Oh, that balloon business...."

It was not true to say of Mr. Eames that he lived on Nepenthe because
he was wanted by the London police for something that happened in
Richmond Park, that his real name was not Eames at all but Daniels--the
notorious Hodgson Daniels, you know, who was mixed up in the Lotus Club
scandal, that he was the local representative of an international gang
of white-slave traffickers who had affiliated offices in every part of
the world, that he was not a man at all but an old boarding-house
keeper who had very good reasons for assuming the male disguise, that
he was a morphinomaniac, a disfrocked Baptist minister, a pawnbroker
out of work, a fire-worshipper, a Transylvanian, a bank clerk who had
had a fall, a decayed jockey who disgraced himself at a subsequent
period in connection with some East-End mission for reforming the boys
of Bermondsey and then, after pawning his mother's jewelry, writing
anonymous threatening letters to society ladies about their husbands
and vice-versa, trying to blackmail three Cabinet Ministers and
tricking poor servant-girls out of their hard-earned wages by the sale
of sham Bibles, was luckily run to earth in Piccadilly Circus, after an
exciting chase, with a forty-pound salmon under his arm which he had
been seen to lift from the window of a Bond Street fishmonger.

All these things, and a good many more, had been said. Eames knew it.
Kind friends had seen to that.

To contrive such stories was a certain lady's method of asserting her
personality on the island. She seldom went into society owing to some
physical defect in her structure; she could only sit at home, like
Penelope, weaving these and other bright tapestries--odds and ends of
servants' gossip, patched together by the virulent industry of her own
disordered imagination. It consoled Mr. Eames slightly to reflect that
he was not the only resident singled out for such aspersions; that the
more harmless a man's life, the more fearsome the legends. He suffered,
none the less. This was why he seldom entered the premises of the Alpha
and Omega Club where, quite apart from his objection to Parker's poison
and the loose and rowdy talk of the place, he was liable to encounter
the lady's stepbrother. Of course he knew perfectly well what he ought
to have done. He ought to have imitated the example of other people who
behaved like scoundrels and openly gloried in it. That was the only way
to be even with her; it took the wind out of her sails. Keith often put
the matter into a nutshell:

"The practical advantages of doing something outrageous must be clear
to you. It is the only way of stopping her mouth, unless you like to
have her poisoned, which might be rather expensive even down here,
though you may be sure I would do my best to smooth things over with
Malipizzo. But I am afraid you don't realize the advantages of
ruffianism as a mode of art, and a mode of life. Only think: a thousand
wrongs to every right! What an opening for a man of talent, especially
in a country like this, where frank and independent action still counts
its admirers. You have done nothing, of late, worthy to be recorded in
the CHRONIQUE SCANDALEUSE of Nepenthe. Twelve years ago, wasn't it,
that little affair of yours? Time is slipping by, and here you muddle
along with your old Perrelli, in a fog of moral stagnation. It is not
fair to the rest of us. We all contribute our mites to the gaiety of
nations. Bethink yourself. Bestir yourself. Man! Do something to show
us you are alive."

To such speeches Mr. Eames would listen with a smile of amused
indignation. He was incapable of living up to the ideals of a man like
Keith whose sympathy with every form of wrong-doing would have rendered
him positively unfit for decent society but for his flagrant good
nature and good luncheons. He suffered in silence.

He had good reason for suffering. That "little affair" of twelve years
ago was a ghost which refused to be laid. Every one on the island knew
the story; it was handed down from one batch of visitors to the next.
He knew that whenever his name was mentioned this unique indiscretion
of his, this toothsome morsel, would likewise be dished up. It would
never grow stale, though atoned for by twelve years of exemplary
conduct. He felt guilty. There was a skeleton in his cupboard. He
realized what people were saying.

"Know Eames? Oh, yes. That quiet man, who writes. One can't swallow
half those yarns about him; quite impossible to believe, of course. She
overdoes things, the good woman. All the same, there's no smoke without
fire. You know what actually did happen, don't you? Well; one really
doesn't quite know what to make of a fellow like that, does one?"

What had happened?

The bibliographer had fallen in love, after the fashion of a
pure-minded, gallant gentleman. It was his first and only experience of
this kind--an all-consuming passion which did much credit to his heart
but little to his head. So deeply were his feelings involved that
during those brief months of infatuation he neglected, he despised, he
derided his idol Perrelli. He put on a new character. While the dust
was accumulating on those piles of footnotes, Mr. Eames astonished
people by becoming a society man. It was a transfiguration. He appeared
in fancy ties and spats, fluttered about at boating parties and
picnics, dined at restaurants, perpetrated one or two classic jokes
about the sirocco. Nepenthe opened its eyes wide till the truth was
made manifest. After that, everybody said he might have discovered a
worthier object for his affection than the "BALLOON CAPTIF."

She was a native of the mainland to whose credit it must be said that
she did not pretend to be anything but what she was--an exuberant,
gluttonous dame, with volcanic eyes, heavy golden bracelets, the
soupcon of a moustache, and arms as thick as other people's thighs; an
altogether impossible person. Nobody but a man of genuine refinement,
scrupulous rectitude, delicate sense of honour and kindly disposition
would have risked being seen in the same street with such a horror;
nobody but a real gentleman could have fallen in love with her. Mr.
Eames ran after her like a dog. He made a perfect ass of himself,
heedless of what anybody though or said of him. The men declared he was
going mad--breaking up--sickening for an attack of G.P. "Miracles will
never cease," charitably observed the Duchess. Alone of all his lady
acquaintances, Madame Steynlin liked him all the better for this
gaucherie. She was a true woman-friend of all lovers; she knew the
human heart and its queer little vagaries. She received the couple with
open arms and entertained them royally, after her manner; gave them a
kind of social status. Under this friendly treatment Mr. Eames grew
thinner from day to day; he was visibly losing flesh. The dame
prospered. Piloted by the love-sick bibliographer she gradually waddled
her way--it was uphill work, for both of them--into the uppermost strata
of local society where, owing to the rarefied atmosphere, her appetite,
to say nothing of her person, soon gained notoriety. She was known, in
briefest space of time, as "the cormorant," as "prime streaky," as
"Jumbo," as "the phenomenon" and, by those who understood the French
language, as the "BALLON CAPTIF."

The "BALLON CAPTIF." ...

How things got about, on Nepenthe! Somehow or other, this odious
nickname reached her lover's ears. It embittered his existence to such
an extent that, long after the idyll was over, he had serious thoughts
of leaving the island and would doubtless have done so, but for his
re-kindled enthusiasm for Monsignor Perrelli. So sensitive did he
remain on this point that the mere mention of balloons, or even
aeroplanes, would make him wince and feel desirous of leaving the room;
he always thought that people introduced the subject with malicious
purpose, in order to remind him of this unforgettable peccadillo, the
"balloon business," his one lapse from perfect propriety. Mr. Keith,
who confessed to a vein of coarseness in his nature--prided himself upon
it and, in fact, cultivated insensitiveness as other people cultivate
orchids, pronouncing it to be the best method of self-protection in a
world infested with fools--Mr. Keith sometimes could not resist the
temptation of raking up the ashes surreptitiously, after an elaborate,
misleading preamble. He loved to watch his friend's meekly perplexed
face on such occasions.

Heaven knows how long the affair might have lasted but for the fact
that a husband, or somebody, unexpectedly turned up--a husky little man
with a cast in one eye, who looked uxorious to an alarming degree. He
carried her off in the nick of time to save Mr. Eames from social
ostracism, mental dotage, and financial ruin. Her mere appearance had
made him the laughing-stock of the place; her appetite had led him into
outlays altogether incompatible with his income, chiefly in the matter
of pastries, macaroons, fondants, ices, caramels, chocolates, jam
tartlets and, above all, meringues, to which she was fabulously
destructive.

It took some living down, that episode. He feared people would talk of
it to his dying day; he knew they would! He wished balloons had never
been invented. None the less he stuck it out bravely, threw himself
with redoubled zeal into Monsignor Perrelli and, incidentally, became
more of a recluse than ever.

"It has been a lesson," he reflected. "SEMPER ALIQUID HAEREBIT, I am
afraid...."

Ernest Eames was the ideal annotator. He was neither inductive nor
deductive; he had no axe to grind. His talent consisted in an ant--like
hiving faculty. He was acquisitive of information for a set purpose--to
bring the ANTIQUITIES up to date. Whatever failed to fit in with this
programme, however novel, however interesting--it was ruthlessly
discarded. In this and other matters he was the reverse of Keith, who
collected information for its own sake. Keith was a pertinacious and
omnivorous student; he sought knowledge not for a set purpose but
because nothing was without interest for him. He took all learning to
his province. He read for the pleasure of knowing what he did not know
before; his mind was unusually receptive because, he said, he respected
the laws which governed his body. Facts were his prey. He threw himself
into them with a kind of piratical ardour; took them by the throat,
wallowed in them, worried them like a terrier, and finally assimilated
them. They gave him food for what he liked best on earth:
"disinterested thought." They "formed a rich loam." He had an
encyclopaeic turn of mind; his head, as somebody once remarked, was a
lumber-room of useless information. He could tell you how many public
baths exited in Geneva in pre-Reformation days, what was the colour of
Mehemet Ali's whiskers, why the manuscript of Virgil's friend Gallius
had not been handed down to posterity, and in what year, and what
month, the decimal system was introduced into Finland. Such aimless
incursions into knowledge were a puzzle to his friends, but not to
himself. They helped him to build up a harmonious scheme of life--to
round himself off.

He had lately attacked, in Corsair fashion, the Greek philosophers and
had disembowelled Plato, Aristotle and the rest of them, to his
complete satisfaction, in a couple of months; at present he was up to
the ears in psychology, and his talk bristled with phrases about the
"function of the real," about reactions, reflexes, adjustments and
stimuli. For all his complexity there was something so childlike in his
nature that he never realized what an infliction he was, nor how
tiresome his conversation could become to people who were not quite so
avid of "disinterested thought." Living alone and spending too much
time in unprofitable studies, his language was apt to be professionally
devoid of humour--a defect he made heroic efforts to remedy by what he
called the "Falernian system." It was the fault of his mother, he said;
she was a painfully conscientious woman. A man's worst enemies are his
parents, he would add.

So far as was known, Mr. Keith had never written a book, a pamphlet, or
even a letter to the newspapers. He maintained a good deal of
correspondence, however, in different parts of the world, and the wiser
of those who were favoured with his epistles preserved them as literary
curiosities, under lock and key, by reason of the writer's rare faculty
of expressing the most atrocious things in correct and even admirable
English. Chaster than snow as a conversationalist, he prostituted his
mother-tongue, in letter-writing, to the vilest of uses. Friends of
long standing called him an obscene old man. When taxed with this
failing--by Mr. Eames, for instance, who shivered at what he called
PRAETEXTATA VERBA--he would hint that he could afford to pay for his
little whims, meaning, presumably, that a rich man is not to be judged
by common standards of propriety. Such language was particularly
galling to Mr. Eames, who held that the possession of wealth entails
not only privileges but obligations, and that the rich man should set
the example of purity in words and deeds, etc., etc., etc.

They were always disagreeing, anyhow.

"You exalt purity to a bad eminence," Keith would remark. "What did you
say about the book I lent you the other day? You said it was morbid and
indecent; you said that no clean-minded person would car to read it.
And yet, after an unnecessary amount of arguing, you were forced to
admit that the subject was interesting and that the writer dealt with
it in an interesting manner. What more can you expect from an author?
Believe me, this hankering after purity, this hypersensitiveness as to
what is morbid or immoral, is by no means a good sign. A healthy man
refuses to be hampered by preconceived notions of what is wrong or
ugly. When he reads a book like that the either yawns or laughs. That
is because he is sure of himself. I could give you a long list of
celebrated statesmen, princes, philosophers and prelates of the Church
who take pleasure, in their moments of relaxation, in what you would
call improper conversation, literature or correspondence. They feel the
strain of being continually pure; they realize that all strains are
pernicious, and that there is no action without its reaction. They
unbend. Only inveterate folks do not unbend. They dare not, because
they have no backbone. They know that if they once unbent, they could
not straighten themselves out again. They make a virtue of their own
organic defect. They explain their natural imperfection by calling
themselves pure. If you had a little money--"

"You are always harking back to that point. What has money to do with
it?"

"Poverty is like rain. It drops down ceaselessly, disintegrating the
finer tissues of a man, his recent, delicate adjustments, and leaving
nothing but the bleak and gaunt framework. A poor man is a wintry
tree--alive, but stripped of its shining splendour. He is always denying
himself this or that. One by one, his humane instincts, his elegant
desires, are starved away by stress of circumstances. The charming
diversity of life ceases to have any meaning for him. To console
himself, he sets up perverse canons of right and wrong. What the rich
do, that is wrong. Why? Because he does not do it. Why not? Because he
has no money. A poor man is forced into a hypocritical attitude towards
life--debarred from being intellectually honest. He cannot pay for the
necessary experience."

"There is something in what you say," Eames would assent. "But I fear
you are overstating your case."

"So did Demosthenes and Jesus Christ, and likewise Cicero and Julius
Caesar. Everybody overstates his case, particularly when he is anxious
to do something which he considers useful. I regard it as a real
grievance, Eames, not to be allowed to assist you financially. Having
never done a stroke of work in my life, I can talk freely about my
money. My grandfather was a pirate and slave-dealer. To my certain
knowledge, not a penny of his wealth was honestly come by. That ought
to allay your scruples about accepting it. NON OLET, you know. Let me
write you out a cheque for five hundred, there's a good fellow. Solely
as a means of smoothing over the anfractuosities of life and squeezing
all the possible pleasure out of it! What else is money made for? They
say you live on milk and salad. Why the Hell--"

"Thanks! I have all I want; sufficient to pay for the minor pleasures
of life."

"Such as?"

"A clean handkerchief now and then. I see no harm in dying poor."

"Where would I be, if my grandfather had seen no harm in it? Don't you
really believe that money sweetens all things, as Pepys says?"

The diarist was one of Keith's favourite authors. He called him a
representative Englishman and regretted that the type was becoming
extinct. Eames would reply:

"Your Pepys was a disgusting climber. He makes me ill with his
snobbishness and silver plate and monthly gloatings over his gains. I
wonder you can read the man. He may have been a capable official, but
he was not a gentleman."

"Have you ever seen a gentleman, except on a tailor's fashion-plate?"

"Yes. One, at all events; my father. However, we won't labour that
point; we have discussed it before, haven't we? Your money would
sweeten nothing for me. It would procure me neither health of body nor
peace of mind. Thanks all the same."

Mr. Keith, true to his ancestral tenacity, was not easily put off. He
would begin again:

"George Gissing was a scholar and a man of refinement, like yourself.
You know what he says? 'Put money in thy purse, for to lack the current
coin of the realm is to lack the privileges of humanity.' The
privileges of humanity: you understand, Eames?"

"Does he say that? Well, I am not surprised. I have sometimes noticed
gross, unhealthy streaks in Gissing."

"I will tell you what is unhealthy, Eames. Your own state of mind. You
derive a morbid pleasure from denying yourself the common emoluments of
life. It's a form of self-indulgence. I wish you would open your
windows and let the sun in. You are living by candlelight. If you
analysed yourself closely--"

"I don't analyse myself closely. I call it a mistake. I try to see
soberly. I try to think logically. I try to live becomingly."

"I am glad you don't always succeed," Keith would reply, with a
horrible accent on the word "always." "Heaven shield me from a
clean-minded man!"

"We have touched on that subject once or twice already, have we not?
Your arguments will never entangle me, though I think I can be fair to
them. Money enables you to multiply your sensations--to travel about,
and so forth. In doing so, you multiply your personality, as it were;
you lengthen your days, figuratively speaking; you come in contact with
more diversified aspects of life than a person of my limited means can
afford to do. The body, you say, is a subtle instrument to be played
upon in every variety of manner and rendered above all things as
sensitive as possible to pleasurable impressions. In fact, you want to
be a kind of Aeolian harp. I admit that this is more than a string of
sophisms; you may call it a philosophy of life. But it is not my
philosophy. It does not appeal to me in the least. You will get no
satisfaction out of me, Keith, with your hedonism. You are up against a
brick wall. You speak of my deliberately closing up avenues of
pleasure. They ought to be closed up, I say, if a man is to respect
himself. I do not call my body a subtle instrument; I call it a damned
nuisance. I don't want to be an Aeolian harp. I don't want my sensations
multiplied; I don't want my personality extended; I don't want my
outlook widened; I don't want money; I don't want aspects of life. I'm
positive, I'm literal. I know exactly what I want. I want to concern
myself with what lies under my hand. I want to be allowed to get on
with my work. I want to bring old Perrelli up to date."

"My dear fellow! We all love you for that. And I am delighted to think
you are not really clean-minded, in spite of all these lofty
protestations. Because you aren't, are you?"

If, after such discourse, the bibliographer still remained mulishly
clean-minded, Keith would return to the psychological necessity of
"appropriate reaction" and cite an endless list of sovereigns, popes,
and other heroes who, in their moments of leisure, were wise enough to
react against the persistent strain of purity. Then, via Alexander of
Macedon, "one of the greatest sons of earth," as Bishop Thirlwall had
called him--Alexander, with whose deplorable capacity for "unbending" a
scholar like Eames was perfectly familiar--he would switch the
conversation into realms of military science, and begin to expatiate
upon the wonderful advance which has been made since those days in the
arts of defensive and offensive warfare--the decline of the phalanx, the
rise of artillery, the changed system of fortifications, those modern
inventions in the department of land defences, sea defences and, above
all, aerial defences, parachutes, hydroplanes....

Whereupon a curious change would creep over the bibliographer's honest
face. He knew what this talk portended. His features would assume an
air of strained but polite attention, and he generally broke off the
conversation and took his departure at the earliest moment consistent
with ordinary civility. On such occasions he was wont to think his
friend Keith an offensive cad. Sadly shaking his head, he would say to
himself:

"NIHIL QUOD TETIGIT NON INQUINAVIT."



CHAPTER X



Mr. Keith was apt to be a bore, but he could do things properly when he
wanted, as for example on the occasion of his annual bean-feast. There
were no two opinions about that. The trees, arbours, and winding ways
of his garden were festooned that evening with hundreds of Chinese
lamps whose multi-coloured light mingled pleasantly with the purer
radiance of the moon, shining directly overhead. It was like fairyland,
the Duchess was wont to declare, year after year. And Don Francesco
who, on this particular night, clung closely to her skirts in view of
that impending conversion to the Roman Church, replied laughingly:

"If fairyland is anything like this, I would not object to living
there. Provided always, dear lady, that you are to be found somewhere
on the premises. What do you say, Mr. Heard?"

"I will gladly join your party, if you will allow me," replied the
bishop. "This aspic could not be better. It seems to open up a new
world of delights. Dear me. I fear I am becoming a gourmand, like
Lucullus. Though Lucullus, to be sure, was a temperate man. No, thank
you, Don Francesco; not a drop more! My liver, you know. I declare it's
making me feel quite dizzy."

As Marten had foretold, the wine flowed in torrents. There was a
bewildering display of cool dishes, too, prepared under the personal
supervision of the chef--that celebrated artist whom Keith had inveigled
out of the service of a life-loving old Ambassador by the threat of
disclosing to the police some hideously disreputable action in the
man's past life which His Excellently had artlessly confided to him,
under the seal of secrecy.

Mr. Samuel, a commercial gentleman who had got stuck somehow or other
at the Alpha and Omega Club, cast a practised eye over the wines,
chaud-froids, fruits, salads, ices, the lanterns and other joys of the
evening and announced, after a rough computation, that Keith's outlay
for that little show must have run well into three figures. Mr. White
agreed, adding that it did one good to get a mouthful of drinkable fizz
after Parker's poison.

"Ah, but you ought to try the punch."

"Come on then," said White.

They moved away and soon stumbled upon a cluster of bibulous mortals in
their element. Miss Wilberforce was there. She liked to linger near the
fountain-head; the fountain-head, on this occasion, being a cyclopean
bowl of iced punch. The lady was in grand condition; festive, playful,
positively flirtatious. She nibbled, between her libations, at a
savoury biscuit (she hated solid food, as a rule) in order, she said,
to staunch her thirst; she told everybody that it was her birthday.
Yes, her birthday! In fact, she was quite a different creature from the
bashful visitor at the Duchess's entertainment; she was hardly shy at
all.

"Punch and moonlight!" she was saying. "It's all as right as
rain--birthday or no birthday."

Miss Wilberforce had about forty birthdays in the year, each of them
due to be worthily celebrated like this one.

It was a sad and scandalous business. Better things might have been
expected of her. She was so obviously a lady. She had been so nicely
brought up. While there was still an English Church on the island, she
never failed to attend Divine Service, despite her Sunday headache. She
was often the only member of the congregation--she and Mr. Freddy
Parker, whose official dignity and English origin, however questionable
his Christianity, constrained him to put in an appearance. Mortal
enemies, they used to sit on opposite pews, glaring across the vacant
building to see if they could catch each other asleep, responding at
irregular intervals out of sheer cussedness, and trying vainly to feel
more charitable during those moments when the scraggy young
curate--generally some social failure who raked together a few pounds
from these hazardous continental engagements--recited the Gospel
according to Saint John. Those days were over. She was definitely on
the downward grade. Three members of the Club and two Russian apostles
were even then engaged in tossing up who should have the privilege of
seeing her home. The lot fell to Mr. Richards, the excellent
Vice-President, an elderly gentleman whose carefully parted hair and
flowing beard made him the very picture of respectability. To look at
him, one would have said that the dear lady could not be in better
hands.

Mr. Keith was a perfect host. He had the right word for everybody; his
infectious conviviality made them all straightway at their ease. The
overdressed native ladies, the priests and officials moving about in
prim little circles, were charmed with his affable manner "so different
from most Englishmen"; likewise that flock of gleeful tourists who had
suddenly turned up, craving for admission without a single letter of
introduction between them, and were forthwith welcomed on the strength
of the fact that one of their party had been to Easter Island. Even the
PARROCO could not help laughing as Keith, with irresistible good
nature, seized him by the arm and thrust a MARRON GLACE between his
lips. An ideal host! The "Falernian system" was in abeyance that day.
It was the one evening in the year when, in the interests of his
guests, he could be relied upon to remain absolutely sober to the last
moment; a state of affairs which doubtless had its drawbacks, seeing
that it made him, in longer conversational efforts, rather more
abstruse and unintelligible than usual--"blind sober," as Don Francesco
once said. Even sobriety was forgiven him. He took the precaution, of
course, to keep the house locked and to replace his ordinary services
of plate by Elkington; people being pardonably fond of carrying away
memories of so enjoyable an evening. Bottles, plates, and glasses were
smashed by the dozen. He liked to see them smashed. It proved that
everybody was having a good time.

A person unacquainted with Keith's nature could never have guessed what
a sacrifice this entertainment was to him. He was an egoist, a
solitary, in his pleasures; he used to contend that no garden on earth,
however spacious, was large enough for more than one man. And this
little Nepenthe domain, though he saw it for only a few weeks in the
year, was the apple of his eye. He guarded it jealously, troubled at
the thought that its chaste recesses might be profaned, if but for one
day, by the presence of a motley assemblage of nonentities. But a man
of his income is expected to do something to amuse his
fellow-creatures. One owes certain duties to society. Hence this
gathering, which had become a regular feature in the spring calendar of
the island. Having once decided on the step, he did not propose to be
bound by conventionalities which were the poison of rational human
intercourse. Unlike the Duchess and Mr. Parker, he refused to draw the
line at Russians; the Club, too, was represented by some of its most
characteristic members. He often descanted on the social intolerance of
men, their lack of graciousness and generous instincts; he would have
made room for the Devil himself--at all events in his "outer circle."
Such being the case, it stands to reason that he did not draw the line
at freethinkers. It was sometimes rather hard to know where he did draw
the line.

The red-haired judge, with straw hat and Mephistophelean limp, was
there, looking like an Offenbach villain out for a spree. After being
effusively greeted by the host--they understood one another
perfectly--and forced to eat a quantity of some pink-looking stuff which
he could not resist although knowing it would disagree with him, His
Worship, left to his own devices, hobbled along in pursuit of his new
friend Muhlen. He found him, and was soon relating succulent anecdotes
of his summer holidays--anecdotes, all about women, which Muhlen tried
to cap with experiences of his own. The judge always went to the same
place--Salsomaggiore, a thermal station whose waters were good for his
sore legs. He described to Muhlen how, in jaunty clothes and shining
shoes, he pottered about its trim gardens, ogling the ladies who always
ogled back; it was the best fun in the world, and sometimes--! Mr.
Malipizzo, for all his incredible repulsiveness, posed as an ardent and
successful lover of women. No doubt it cost money. But he was never at
a loss for that commodity; he had other sources of revenue, he hinted,
besides his wretched official salary.

Wandering along arm in arm, they passed various contingents of the
Russians, male and female, whose scarlet blouses shone brightly under
the variegated globes of light. These exotics were happy as children,
full of fun and laughter; none more so than the young giant
Krasnojabkin, whose name had been coupled by scandalmongers with that
of Madame Steynlin. An admiring audience had gathered around him while
he performed a frenzied cancan in an open moonlit space; he always
danced when he had enough to drink. The judge looked on with envy. It
sickened him to realize that those far-famed luncheons and dinners of
Madame Steynlin were being devoured by a savage like this. And the
money he doubtless extracted from her! Presently a loud guffaw from
some bosky thicket announced that the friends had been joined by the
Financial Commissioner for Nicaragua. The Trinity was complete. They
were always together, those three, playing cards at the Club or sipping
lemonade and vermouth on the terrace.

"Oh, Mr. Keith," said the Duchess in her sweetest accents, "do you know
of what this entertainment makes me think?"

"Shall I guess?"

"Nothing of the kind! It makes me think that it is very, very wrong of
a man like you to be a bachelor. You want a wife."

"To want a wife, Duchess, is better than to need one. Especially if it
happens to be only your neighbour's."

"I am sure that means something dreadful!"

Don Francesco broke in:

"Tell me, Keith, how about your wives? What have you done with them? Is
it true that you sold them at various Oriental ports?"

"They got mislaid somehow. All that was before my Great Renunciation."

"Is it true that you kept them locked up in different parts of London?"

"I made it a rule never to introduce my lady-friends to one another.
They are so fond of comparing notes. Novelists try to make us believe
that women delight in men's society. Rubbish! They prefer that of their
own sex. But please didn't refer to the same painful period of my
life."

The priest insisted:

"Is it true that you gave the plumpest of them to the Sultan of
Colambang in exchange for the recipe of some wonderful sauce? Is it
true that you used to be known as the Lightning Lover? Is it true that
you used to say, in your London days, that no season was complete
without a ruined home?"

"She exaggerates a good deal, that lady."

"Is it true that you once got so drunk that you mistook one of those
red-coated Chelsea pensioners for a pillar-box and tried to post a
letter in his stomach?"

"I'm very short-sighted, Don Francesco. Besides, all that was in a
previous incarnation. Do come and listen to the music! May I offer you
my arm, Duchess? I have a surprise for you."

"You have a surprise for us every year, you bad man," she said. "Now do
try and see if you can't get married. It makes one feel so good."

Keith had a peculiar habit of vanishing for a day or two to the
mainland, and returning with some rare orchid from the hills, a piece
of Greek statuary, a new gardener, or something. Sowing his wild oats,
he called it. During this last visit he had come across the tracks of
an almost extinct tribe of gipsies that roamed up and down the glens of
those mysterious mountains whose purple summits were visible, on clear
days, from his own windows. After complex and costly negotiations they
had allowed themselves to be embarked, for this one night only, in a
capacious sailing boat to Nepenthe, in order to pleasure Mr. Keith's
guests. And here they sat, huddled together in dignified repose and
abashed, as it seemed, by the strangeness of their surroundings; a
bizarre group stained to an almost negro tint by exposure to sun and
winds and rain.

Here they sat--gnarled old men and sinewy fathers of families, with
streaming black hair, golden earrings, hooded cloaks of wood and
sandals bound with leathern thongs. Mothers were there, shapeless
bundles of rags, nursing infants at the breast. The girls were draped
in gaudy hues, and ablaze with metal charms and ornaments on forehead
and arms and ankles. They showed their flashing teeth and smiled from
time to time in frank wonder, whereas the boys, superbly savage, like
young panthers caught in a trap, kept their eyes downcast or threw
distrustful, defiant glances round them. Here they sat in silence,
smoking tobacco and taking deep draughts out of a pitcher of milk which
was handed round from one to the other. Occasionally the older people
would pick up their instruments--bagpipes of sheepskin, small drums and
gourd-like mandolines--and draw from them strange dronings, gurglings,
thrummings, twangings; soon a group of youngsters would rise gravely
from the ground and, without any preconcerted signal, begin to move in
a dance--a formal and intricate measure, such as had never yet been
witnessed on Nepenthe.

Something inhuman and yet troublingly personal lay in the performance;
it invaded the onlookers with a sense of disquietude. There was
primeval ecstasy in those strains and gestures. Giant moths, meanwhile,
fluttered overhead, rattling their frail wings against the framework of
the paper lanterns; the south wind passed through the garden like the
breath of a friend, bearing the aromatic burden of a thousand
night-blooming shrubs and flowers. Young people, meeting here, would
greet one another shyly, with unfamiliar ceremoniousness, and then,
after listening awhile to the music and exchanging a few awkward
phrases, wander away as if by common consent--further away from this
crowd and garish brilliance, far away, into some fragrant cell, where
the light was dim.

"What do you make of it?" asked Keith of Madame Steynlin, who was
listening intently. "Is this music? If so, I begin to understand its
laws. They are physical. I seem to feel the effect of it in the lower
part of my chest. Perhaps that is the region which musical people call
their ear. Tell me, Madame Steynlin, what is music?"

"That's a puzzle," said the bishop, greatly interested.

"How can I explain it to you? It is so complicated, and you have so
many guests this evening. You are coming to my picnic after the
festival of Saint Eulalia? Yes? Well, I will try to explain it
then"--and her eye turned, with a kind of maternal solicitude, down the
pathway to where, in that patch of bright moonshine, her young friend
Krasnojabkin, gloriously indifferent to gipsies and everything else,
was astounding people by the audacity of his terpsichorean antics.

"Let that be a promise," Keith replied. "Ah, Count Caloveglia! How good
of you to come. I would not have asked you to such a worldly function
had I not thought that this dancing might interest you."

"It does, it does!" said the old aristocrat, thoughtfully sipping
champagne out of an enormous goblet which he carried in his hand. "It
makes me dream of that East which it has never been my fortune, alas,
to behold. What a flawless group! There is something archaic, Oriental,
in their attitudes; they seem to be fraught with all the mystery, the
sadness, of life that is past--of things remote from ourselves."

"My gipsies," said Keith, "are not everybody's gipsies."

"I think they despise us! And this austere regularity in the steps of
the dancers, this vibrating accompaniment that dwells persistently on
one note--how primitive, how scornfully unintellectual! It is like a
passionate lover knocking to gain an entrance into our hearts. And he
succeeds. He breaks down the barrier by the oldest and best of lovers'
expedients--sheer reiteration of monotony. A lover who reasons is no
lover."

"How true that is," remarked Madame Steynlin.

"Sheer monotony," repeated the Count. "And it is the same with their
pictorial art. We blame the Orientals for their chill cult of geometric
designs, their purely stylistic decoration, their endless repetitions,
as opposed to our variety and love of floral, human, or other
naturalistic motives. But by this simple means they attain their end--a
direct appeal. Their art, like their music, goes straight to the
senses; it is not deflected or disturbed by any intervening medium.
Colour plays its part; the sombre, throbbing sounds of these
instruments--the glowing tints of their carpets and tapestries. Talking
of gipsies, do you know whether our friend van Koppen has arrived?"

"Koppen? A very up-to-date nomad, who takes the whole world for his
camping-ground. No, not yet. But he'll turn up in a day or two."

Count Caloveglia was concerned, just then, about Mr. van Koppen. He had
a little business to transact with him--he fervently hoped that the
millionaire would not forgo his annual visit to Nepenthe.

"I shall be glad to meet him again," he remarked carelessly. Then
looking up he saw Denis, who moved under the trees alone. Observing
that he seemed rather disconsolate, he walked up to him and said in a
fatherly tone: "Will you confer a favour, Mr. Denis, on an old man who
lives much alone? Will you come and see me, as you promised? My
daughter is away just now and will not be back till midsummer. I wish
you could have met her. Meanwhile, I am a little solitary. I have also
a few antiquities that might interest you."

While Denis, slightly embarrassed, was uttering some appropriate words,
the bishop suddenly asked:

"Where is Mrs. Meadows? Wasn't she coming down to-night?"

"Of course she was," said Keith. "Isn't she here? What can this mean?
Your cousin is a particular friend of mine, Heard, though I have not
seen her for the last six days or so. Something must be wrong. That
baby, I expect."

"I missed her once already," said Heard. "I'll write and make an
appointment, or go up again. By the way, Count--you remember our
conversation? Wel, I have thought of an insuperable objection to your
Mediterranean theory. The sirocco. You will never change the sirocco.
The Elect of the Earth will never endure it all their lives."

"I think we can change the sirocco," replied the Count, meditatively.
"We can tame it, at all events. I do not know much about its history;
you must ask Mr. Eames--"

"Who is at home," interrupted Keith, "closeted with his Perrelli."

"What has been, may be," continued the old man, oracularly. "I question
whether the sirocco was as obnoxious in olden days as now, otherwise
the ancients, who had absurdly sensitive skins, would have complained
of it more frequently. The deforestation of Northern Africa, I suspect,
has much to do with it. Frenchmen are now trying to revive those
prosperous conditions which Mohammedanism has destroyed. Oh, yes! I
don't despair of muzzling the sirocco, even as we are muzzling that
often Mediterranean pest, the malaria."

Keith observed:

"Petronius, I remember, speaks of the North wind being the mistress of
the Tyrrhenian. He would not use such language nowadays, unless
alluding to its violence rather than its prevalence. Once I thought of
translating Petronius. But I discovered certain passages in the book
which are almost improper. I don't think the public ought to be put
into possession of such stuff. I am rather sorry; I like Petronius--the
poetical fragments, I mean; they make me regret that I was not born
under the Roman Empire. People are leaving," he added. "I have said
good-bye to about fifty. I shall be able to get a drink soon."

"So you were born out of time and out of place, like many of us,"
laughed the Bishop.

Count Caloveglia said:

"It is an academic problem, and therefore a problem which does not
exist for me, and therefore a problem dear to your own metaphysical
heart, to enquire whether a man is ever born at an inopportune moment.
We use the phrase. If we took thought we would discard it. For what is
the truth of the matter? The truth is that a man, of whom we say this,
is born at exactly the right moment; that those with whose customs and
aspirations he seems to be in discord have urgent need of him at that
particular time. No great man is ever born too soon or too late. When
we say that the time is not ripe for this or that celebrity, we confess
by implication that this very man, and no other, is required. Was
Giordano Bruno, or Edgar Poe, born out of time? Surely no generation
needed them more imperiously than their own. Only fools are born out of
time. And yet--no; not even they. For where should we be without them?"

He smiles suavely, as though some pleasant thought was passing through
his mind.

"At any rate a good many people die too soon or too late," said Mr.
Edgar Marten who, after doing full justice to the food and drinks, had
suddenly appeared on the scene. "Often too late," he added.

Keith, despite his professions of sanity and reason, had an
inexplicable, invincible horror of death; he quailed at the mere
mention of the black phantom. The subject being not at all to his
taste, he promptly remarked:

"The scholar Grosseteste was unquestionably born too soon. And I know
one man who is born too late. Who? Yourself, Count. You were made for
the Periclean epoch."

"Thank you," said that gentleman with a gracious wave of his hand. "But
forgive me for disagreeing with you. Had I lived in that age, I should
be lacking in reverence for what it accomplished. I should be too near
to its life; unable, as you say, to see the forest for the trees. I
should be like Thucydides, a most sensible person who, if I recollect
aright, barely mentions Ictinus and the rest of them. How came it
about? This admirable writer imagined they were building a temple for
Greece; he lacked the interval of centuries which has allowed mankind
to see their work in its true perspective. He possessed traditional
moral standards whereby to judge the actions of historical
contemporaries; he could praise or blame his politicians with a good
conscience. For the Parthenon creators he had no sure norm. The
standards were not yet evolved. Pheidias was a talented
fellow-citizen--a hewer in stone by profession: what could he know of
the relations of Pheidias to posterity? Great things can only be seen
at a proper distance. Pheidias, to him, may have been little more than
an amateur, struggling with brute material in the infancy of his trade
or calling. No, my friend! I am glad not to be coeval with Pericles. I
am glad to recognize Hellenic achievements at their true worth. I am
glad to profit by that wedge of time which has enabled me to reverence
things fair and eternal."

"Things fair and eternal," echoed Keith, who was getting too thirsty
and restless to discuss art-matters. "Come with me! I will show you
things fair and eternal."

He led the way to a distant arbour, overhung with a canopy of blood-red
passion-flowers and girt about by design dangled from the clustering
foliage in its roof. Within, directly under the beams, all by itself,
on an upright chair beside a small table, sat an incongruous,
startling, awe-inspiring apparition--a grimy old man of Mongolian
aspect. He might have been frozen to stone, so immobile, so lifeless
were his features. Belated visitors passed near the entrance of the
shrine, peered within as at some outlandish and sinister freak of
nature, and moved on with jocular words. Nobody ventured to overstep
the threshold, whether from religious fear or because of something
repellent, something almost putrescent, which radiated from his person.
A contingent of Little White Cows, a kind of bodyguard, stood at a
respectful distance beyond, intent upon his every movement. The Master
never stirred. He sat there to be looked at--accustomed to homage almost
divine; beatifically inane. Like the Christians of old, he wore no hat.
The head was nearly bald. A long cloak, glistening with grease stains,
swathed his limbs and portly belly, on which one suspected
multitudinous wrinkles of fat. Two filmy lidless eyes, bulging on a
level with his forehead, stared into vacuity; his snub nose grew out of
a flattened face whose pallor was accentuated by the reflection of the
glittering leaves--it looked faded and sodden, like blotting-paper that
has been left out all night in the rain. Sporadic greenish-grey hairs
were scattered about his chin. The mouth was agape.

On Mr. Keith's appearance he made no sign of recognition. Presently,
however, his lips seemed to get out of control. They moved; they began
to chatter and to mumble, in childish fashion, the inarticulate
yearnings of eld. Keith said, as though displaying some museum
curiosity:

"Mine is the only house on Nepenthe which the Master still deigns to
enter. I'm afraid he has grown very groggy on his pins of late; if he
sat on any by a straight-backed chair they would never get him up
again. To think that was once a pretty little boy.... Poor old
fellow! I know what he wants. They've been neglecting him, those young
idiots."

He departed, and soon returned with a tumbler full of raw whisky which
he placed on the table within reach of the arm. A flaccid,
unwholesome-looking hand was raised slowly, in a kind of deprecatory
gesture; then allowed to fall again upon the belly where it lay, with
the five fingers, round and chalky-white, extended like the rays of a
starfish. Nothing more happened.

"We must go away for a while," said Keith, "or else he won't touch it.
He does not object to alcohol, you know. Whisky has not come out of a
warm-blooded beast. But it's going into one. A kind of Asiatic
Socrates, don't you think?"

"A Buddha," suggested the Count. "A Buddha in second-rate alabaster. A
Chinese Buddha of a bad, realistic period."

"It's odd," remarked Mr. Heard. "He reminds me of a dead fish.
Something ancient and fishlike--it's that mouth--"

"He's a beauty!" interrupted Edgar Marten, sniffing with disgust. "Eyes
like a boiled haddock. And that thing has the cheek to call itself a
Messiah. Thank God I'm a Jew; it's not business of mine. But if I were
a Christian, I'd bash his blooming head in. Damned if I wouldn't. The
frowsy, fetid, flow-blown fraud. Or what's the matter with the Dog's
Home?"

"Come, come," said Mr. Heard, who had taken rather a liking to this
violent youngster and was feeling more than usually indulgent that
evening. "Come! He can't help his face, I fancy. Have you no room in
your heart for an original? And don't you think--quite apart from
questions of religion--that we tourists ought to be grateful to these
people for diversifying the landscape with their picturesque red
blouses and things?"

"I have no eye for landscape, Mr. Heard, save in so far as it indicates
strata and faults and other geological points. The picturesque don't
interest me. I am full of Old Testamentary strains; I can't help
looking at men from the ethical point of view. And what have people's
clothes to do with their religion? He can't help his face, you say.
Well, if he can't help that greasy old mackintosh, I'll eat my hat.
Can't a fellow be a Messiah without sporting a pink shirt or fancy
dressing-gown or blue pyjamas or something? But there you are! I defy
you to name me a single-barrelled crank. If a man is a religious
lunatic, or a vegetarian, he is sure to be touched in some other
department as well; he will be an anti-vivisectionist, a nutfooder,
costume-maniac, stamp-collector, or a spiritualist into the bargain.
Haven't you ever noticed that? And isn't he dirty? Where is the
connection between piety and dirt? I suggest they are both relapses
into ancestral channels and the one drags the other along with it. When
I see a thing like this, I want to hew it in pieces. Agag, Mr. Heard;
Agag. I must have another look at this specimen; one does not see such
a sight every day. He is a living fossil--post-pleistocene."

He drew off; Keith and the Count, engaged in some deep conversation,
had also moved a few paces away.

Mr. Heard stood alone, his back turned to the Master. Moonlight still
flooded the earth, the lanterns were flickering and sputtering. Some
had gone out, leaving gaps of darkness in the lighted walls. Many of
the guests retired without bidding farewell to their host; he liked
them to feel at their ease, to take "French leave" whenever so
disposed--to depart "A L'ANGLAISE," as the French say. The garden was
nearly empty. A great quietude had fallen upon its path and thickets.
From afar resounded the boisterous chorus of a party of revellers loth
to quit the scene; it was suddenly broken by a terrific crash and
bursts of laughter. Some table had been knocked over.

Standing there, the bishop could not but listen to Keith, who had
raised his voice in emphasis and was saying to the Count, in his best
Keithean manner:

"I am just coming to that point. A spring-board is what humanity needs.
What better one can be contrived than this pure unadulterated
Byzantianism. Cretinism, I call it. Look at the Orthodox Church. A
repository of apocalyptic nonsense such as no sane man can take
seriously. Nonsense of the right kind, the uncompromising kind. That is
my point. The paralysing, sterilizing cult of these people offers a far
better spring-board into a clean element of thought than our English
Church, whose DEMI-VIERGE concessions to common sense afford seductive
resting-places to the intellectually weak-knee'd. Do I make myself
clear? I'm getting infernally thirsty."

"I quite agree with you, my friend. The Russians have got a better
spring-board than the English. The queer thing is, that the Russians
won't jump, whereas the Englishman often does. Well, well! We cannot
live without fools."

Mr. Heard was slightly perturbed by these words. A good fellow like
Keith! "DEMI-VIERGE concessions to common sense"; what did he mean by
that? Did his church really make such concessions?

"I'll think about it to-morrow," he decided.

The Master, when they returned to him, had not budged from his
resting-place. The fingers still lay, starfish-wise, upon the folds of
that soiled homespun; his eyes still stared out of the leafy bower; his
face still wore its mask of placid imbecility.

The glass was empty.

Slowly, as on a pivot, his head turned in the direction of the
bodyguard.

Forthwith some favourite disciple--not Krasnojabkin, who happened to be
escorting Madame Steynlin to her villa just then--darted to his side;
with the help of two lady-apostles known, respectively, as the
"goldfinch" and the "red apple," they conveyed him out of that shelter
into the deserted, moonlit garden. He leaned heavily on the arm of the
youth; peevish sounds, quasi-human, proceeded from his colourless lips.
And now he was almost speaking; desirous, it seemed, of formulating
some truth too deep for human utterance.

"I bet I know what he is saying," whispered Keith. "It's something
about the Man-God."



CHAPTER XI



The Russian Government is notoriously tender-hearted. But even the worm
will turn....

Scholars who have treated the life of the ex-monk Bazhakuloff divide it
into five clearly marked periods: the probationary, dialectical,
political, illumined and expiatory.

The first began in youth when, being driven from his father's house by
reason of his vagrant habits and other incorrigible vices, he entered a
monastery near Kasan. Despite occasional lapses prompted by the hot
blood of his years and punished with harsh disciplinary measures, he
seems to have performed his monkish duties with sufficient zeal. It was
observed, however, that with increasing years he became unduly
interested in questions of dogma. He talked too freely; he was always
arguing. Being unable to read or write, he developed an astonishing
memory for things he had heard and faces he had seen; he brought them
up at inconvenient moments. He grew factious, obstreperous, declaring
that there was much in the constitution of the Holy Russian Church
which ought to be amended and brought up to date. What people wanted,
he said, was a New Jerusalem. A violent altercation with his Superior
touching the attributes of the Holy Ghost ended in a broken jaw-bone on
the part of the older man, and the expulsion of the younger. The
dialectical period had set in. The convent inmates, on the whole, were
glad to see the last of him--particularly the Father Superior.

We next find him living in a large barn about fifteen miles from
Moscow. The Superior being unwilling to publish the true facts of the
broken jaw-bone, a certain fame, the fame of an earnest but
misunderstood religious innovator, had preceded him. Adherents, barely
twenty at first, gathered to his side. These disciples, humble
analphabetics like himself, have left us no word of what passed at
those long discussions. Certain it is that he now began to formulate
the rules of his Revised Church. They were to live on charity, to go
bare-headed, and to wear red blouses--like the Christians of old. The
charm of these simple regulations spread abroad, and gained him fresh
recruits. There were now some cultured folk among them, who collected
his saying into the GOLDEN BOOK. He decided to limit his disciples to
the "Sacred Number 63," and to call them "Little White Cows." Asked why
he chose this title, he answered that cows were pure and useful animals
without which humanity could not live; even so were his disciples. The
innate good sense of this speech increased his reputation. About this
time, too, he would sometimes prophesy, and undergo long periods of
motionless self-abstraction. At the end of one of these latter, after
tasting no food or drink for three and a half hours, he gave utterance
to what was afterwards known as the First Revelation. It ran to this
effect: "The Man-God is the Man-God, and not the God-Man." Asked how he
arrived at so stupendous an aphorism, he answered that it just came to
him. There were troubles in the neighbourhood over the audacity of this
utterance; some called it a divine inspiration, to the majority it was
known as the Unnamable Heresy. For a brief while the town was formed
into two camps, and the Chief of Police, a prudent official, was at his
wit's end what to do with these inflammable elements, seeing that the
ex-monk's followers had now swelled to several hundreds and contained
not a few of the more influential aristocrats of the city. In this
dilemma, he applied for instruction to the Procurator of the Holy
Synod. That gentleman, having considered the case, rashly decided that
a visionary of this stamp might be useful for furthering certain
projects of his own. He hoped, by placing under an obligation, to
fashion out of the young reformer an amenable instrument--a
miscalculation which he lived (though not for long) to repent. Under
the Procurator's aegis, Bazhakuloff was summoned to the Capital. The
political period was beginning. Moscow, on the whole, was glad to see
the last of him--particularly the Chief of Police.

There began the most brilliant epoch of his life. By steps which it is
needless to trace, he fought and wormed his way into the favour of the
Court. A good deal of his worldly success may well have been due, as
his enemies assert, to an incredible mixture of cringing, astuteness,
and impudence. It stands to reason, however, that a man of this type
must have possessed sterling qualities of his own to be found
occupying--all this was years and years ago--a suite of apartments in the
Palace, where he lived in splendour, a Power behind the Throne, the
Confidental Adviser of the Highest Circles. His monkish garb was soon
encrusted with orders and decorations, no State function was complete
without his presence, no official appointment, from the highest and
lowest sphere of government, was held to be valid without his sanction.
Red blouses, one of several keys to his favour, could be counted by
thousands. He crushed opposition with an iron hand. He wrought a
miracle or two; but what chiefly accounted for the almost divine
veneration in which he was held was a succession of lucky
prophecies--none luckier than that wherein, during one of his moments of
inspired self-abstraction, he foretold the early and violent death of
the former protector, the man to whom he owed this rise to the
pinnacles of fame. For even so it fell out. Not many days later the
Procurator of the Holy Synod was found murdered in bed by an unknown
hand. A certain journalist, writing from Switzerland, boldly states
that the Procurator was murdered at the instigation of Bazhakuloff and
claims to have heard, from an eye-witness whom he does not name, of a
bitter quarrel between the two on the subject of a certain lady as to
whose identity we are also left in doubt. It may be true; such things
have happened ere now. This particular writer's credibility, however,
is none of the best; he has been convicted over and over again of
forcing the note in his diatribes against what he calls "retrogression
into idolatry." There was certainly a good deal of unrest in the
country during the period of the ex-monk's ascendency; no less than
13,783 persons had been banished to Siberia, and 3,756 executed at his
orders. Yet nothing, it seemed, could shatter his position when, with
appalling suddenness, a thunderbolt descended. Nobody knows to this day
what took place. It was something Russian; some scandal in the Highest
Spheres which may see the light of day, centuries hence, when the
Imperial Archives are disclosed as musty court history to the eyes of
students curious in such matters. At this crisis, when 44,323 persons,
mostly liberals, were awaiting trial in the prisons of the Capital, the
ex-monk would doubtless have been quietly removed after the fashion of
court favourites, not by his adherents, now numbering many hundred
thousands, threatened a revolution. A secret compromise was effected.
He was banished, with every outward mark of disgrace, to a monastery in
the remote and inhospitable region of Viatka, there to meditate upon
the instability of human affairs. The illumined period was drawing
nigh. The Capital, on the whole, was glad to see the last of
him--particuarly the prisoners awaiting trial.

The diet and discipline nearly killed him at first. He was consoled by
knowing that his fame had spread far and wide. The Court being
unwilling to publish the true facts of his disgrace, he was regarded as
a martyr, a victim of political intrigue, an injured saint. Disciples
multiplied. The GOLDEN BOOK was filled with priceless sayings--wise and
salutary maxims which echoed from end to end of the country. The New
Jerusalem took on a definite shape; the nucleus of the movement, the
initiated among his followers, were retained as the "Sacred 63"; he
called them his apostles and himself their Messiah, which some people
thought rather presumptuous of him. His reputation for sanctity became
such that he was once more a power to be reckoned with; the Court, in
fact, was on the verge of receiving him into favour again, when the
Second Revelation was announced. It ran to this effect: Flesh and blood
of warm-blooded beasts is Abomination to the Little White Cows. Asked
how he contrived to formulate so novel and tremendous a proposition, he
answered that it just came to him. His followers--there were about three
million of them now--instantly refused to touch the Unclean Thing, and
all would have gone well but for the fact that the Army was tinctured
with the New Faith, and that the Grand Dukes had recently become
involved in extensive and lucrative contracts for supplying the troops
with mean. The soldiery refusing to eat either beef or mutton or pork,
percentages declined. These leaders took up a firm patriotic attitude.
The health and morale of the entire Army, they declared, was dependent
upon a sound nutritive diet obtainable only through the operation of
certain radioactive oxydised magneto-carbon-hydrates which exist
nowhere save in the muscular tissue of animals. This new heresy
endangered the very foundations of Empire! They were not people to
compromise where questions of national prosperity were concerned. They
suggested, privately, that he should cancel his Revelation. He refused.
They then sent him a confidential messenger offering the choice of
assassination or deportation within the space of three hours. He
inclined to the latter alternative, and was straightway conveyed to the
frontier by special train with as many rouble notes in his pocket as he
had been able to scrape together in the flurry of departure. Some
disturbances broke out when the news of his banishment became known; a
few whiffs of grape-shot worked wonders. The majority of his adherents
abjured their error; the rest of them, aided by charitable
contributions from a secret committee of enthusiasts, found their way
abroad to dwell under the shadow of the banished Messiah. The expiatory
period was approaching. Russia, on the whole, was glad to see the last
of him--particularly the Grand Ducal party.

A broken man, he decided to establish himself on Nepenthe, drawn
thither partly on account of the climate but chiefly by the report of
its abounding lobsters and fishes, an article of diet of which he was
inordinately fond. Disciples followed singly, and in batches. Their
scarlet blouses became a familiar object in the streets of the place;
good-natured and harmless folks for the most part who, if they ran up
bills with the local trades-people which they failed to pay, did so not
out of natural dishonesty but because they had no money. They used to
bathe, in summertime, at a certain little cove near the foot of the
promontory on which Madame Steynlin's villa was situated. She watched
their naked antics at first with disapproval--what could you expect, she
would say, from Russians? Then she observed them eating raw crabs and
things. It struck her that they must be hungry. Being a lady of the
sentimental type, childless, and never so happy as when feeding or
mothering somebody, she took to sending them down baskets of food, or
carrying it herself. They were so poor, so far from their homes, so
picturesque in those red shirts and leathern belts!

Of late years Madame Steynlin had given up marrying, having at last,
after many broken hopes, definitely convinced herself that husbands
were only after her money. Rightly or wrongly, she wanted to be loved
for herself; loved, she insisted, body and soul. Even as the fires of
Erebus slumber beneath their mantle of ice, she concealed, under a
varnish of conventionality--the crust was not so thick in her case--a
nature throbbing with passion. She was everlastingly unappeased,
because incurably romantic. All life, she truly declared, is a search
for a friend. Unfortunately she sought with her eyes open, having never
grasped the elementary truth that to find a friend one must close one
eye: to keep him--two. She always attributed to men qualities which, she
afterwards discovered, they did not possess. Her life since the
marrying period had been a breathless succession of love affairs, each
more eternal than the last.

In matters such as these, Madame Steynlin was the reverse of the
Duchess. True to her ideal of La Pompadour, that lady did not mind how
many men danced attendance on her--the more the merrier. Nor did she
bother about their ages; for all she cared, they might be, and often
were, the veriest crocks. She was rather particular, however, about
stiff collars and things; the appearance and conversation of her
retinue, she avowed, should be of the kind to pass muster in good
society. Madame Steynlin liked to have not more than one man escorting
her at a time, and he should be young, healthy-looking, and full of
life. In regard to minor matters she preferred, if anything, Byronic
collars to starched ones; troubling little, for the rest, what costume
her cavalier was wearing or what opinions he expressed. In fact, she
liked youngsters to be frank, impetuous, extravagant in their views and
out of the common rut. The two ladies had been likened to Divine and
Earthly Love, or to Venus Urania and Venus Pandemos--a comparison which
was manifestly unfair to both of them.

It was during this summer bathing that Madame Steynlin had made
acquaintance of what was, at the time, the Master's favourite disciple.
His name happened to be Peter--Peter Arsenievitch Krasnojabkin. He was a
fine son of earth--a strapping young giant who threw himself into
eating, drinking, and other joys of life with enviable barbaric zest.
There was not an ounce of piety in his composition. He had donned the
scarlet blouse because he wanted to see Nepenthe and, like the
Christians of old, had no money. Driven by that roving spirit which is
the Muscovite's heritage and by the desire of all sensible men to taste
new lands, new wine, new women, he professed himself a Little White
Cow. It was quite the regular thing to do. It brought you to the notice
of that secret committee of enthusiasts who paid your travel expenses;
it gave you a free trip to the sunny south. Everyone wondered how he
had managed to rise so rapidly in the Master's graces. Madame Steynlin
now stepped between them. She grew fond of Peter, and marked him for
her own. He fulfilled every one of her conditions as to age, costume
and opinions. Besides, he was always so gloriously hungry! She invited
him to take luncheon once or twice and then began to take Russian
lessons from him. "He is only a boy," she would say.

Conversing, as best she could, with this child of nature, it dawned
upon her that she had hitherto been mistaken in her estimate of the
Russian character. She began to understand the inward sense of that
brotherly love, that apostolic spirit, which binds together every class
of the immense Empire--to revere their simplicity of soul and calm
god-like faith. She revised her former narrow Lutheran views and openly
confessed that she was quite wrong in declaring, as she once did, that
what the Little White Cows needed was "more soap and less salvation."
The magic of love! It softened, not for the first time, her heart
towards all humanity and in particular, on this occasion, towards the
rest of the saintly band; were they not her brothers and sisters? She
even knitted six pairs of warm woollen socks and sent them with a
polite message to the Master--a message which was left unanswered,
though the socks were never returned. As to Peter--she called him her
Little Peter or, in his more expansive moments, Peter the Great. Soon
he was always coming to the villa at meal-times and staying for hours
afterwards, while they wrestled with the complexities of Russian
genders. He made no secret of the pleasure he derived from filling his
healthy young stomach at her expense; everything supplementary to that
prime condition he took as a gift from the gods. If he had not been so
simple-minded he could have wheedled any amount of money out of her.
The affair had now been going on for four month--quite a long while, as
such affairs went.

Not for the first time did Madame Steynlin experience the drawbacks of
her house, as regards natural situation. It was, as Don Francesco often
pointed out, "the most unstrategic villa on Nepenthe." Ah, that
peninsula, that isthmus, or whatever you called the thing--what on earth
had attracted her to the place? What demon had tempted her to buy it?
How she envied the other people--Keith, for example, who, if he had been
a man of that kind, could have allowed any visitor, in the broadest
daylight, to creep in or out of his mouldy old gateway in the wall
without a soul being any the wiser! High-priced horticultural experts
had been consulted as to the best means of thickening the vegetation
and screening the approaches to the house. They had met with scanty
success. The soil was of the most sterile, intractable rock; those few
wind-blown olives were dreadfully diaphanous, and Peter's blouse
visible from afar--even from the market-place. Everything got about on
Nepenthe. People began to twit her about the progress of those "Russian
lessons." It became quite a scandal. Signor Malipizzo was more annoyed
than any one else. He hated the whole brood of Russians, and had formed
various projects for uprooting the association from the island. His
friend the Commissioner thoroughly endorsed these views. Often he
declared that something must be done about it.

The Master, despite his seclusion, had heard of the affair. He was
grieved, but not unduly so; he had other disciples to choose from.
Every new arrival from Holy Russia, regardless of sex or age, spent
some hours or days, as the case might be, alone with the Master in his
apartment, in order to be initiated into the Law and impregnated with
its full signification: such was the way of the New Jerusalem. By this
system of spiritual control he could be sure of finding a successor
sooner or later. Besides, the defection of this favourite disciple was
only a drop in the ocean of his griefs. What secretly preyed upon his
mind was that, on the verge of returning to his former state of worldly
prosperity, he had been inspired to issue that Second Revelation
regarding warm-blooded beasts. He ought to have known about the Grand
Dukes, and what a sacrilegious hot-tempered clique they were! "This
comes," he would say, "of placing the service of God above that of my
earthly masters." It kept him in exile on this island--the deadlock in
the matter of that Second Revelation. The expiatory period was not yet
over, though Nepenthe, on the whole, would have been glad to see the
last of him--particularly Signor Malipizzo.

Meanwhile, the Little White Cows lived on: the richer in houses,
sleeping fifteen or twenty in one room after the happy style of
patriarchal Russia--the humbler folk in old ruins, sheds, cellars, or
even caverns of the rock. You could do that sort of thing in a climate
like Nepenthe, if you were not fastidious in the matter of owls, bats,
lizards, toads, earwigs, centipedes, and an occasional scorpion.



CHAPTER XII



No Russians dwelt within the Cave of Mercury. It was inconveniently
remote; it was difficult of approach; moreover, it was haunted.
Dreadful rites had been performed there, in olden times. The walls had
dripped with human gore. Death-groans of victims slain by the priestly
knife resounded in its hollow entrails. Such had been the legend in the
days of those monkish chroniclers in whose credulous pages Monsignor
Perrelli, incredulous himself, had discovered a mine of curious
information.

Then came the Good Duke Alfred. His Highness posed as a conservative in
some matters; it pleased him to revive memories of the long-buried
past. He cared little about ghosts. He liked to take things in hand.
After remarking in his brisk epigrammatic fashion that "not everything
old is putrid," he devoted his attention to the Cave of Mercury and
caused a flight of convenient stairs to be built, wide enough to admit
the passage of two of his fattest Privy Councillors walking abreast,
and leading down to this particular grotto through a cleft in the rock.
Nobody knew what happened there under his superintendence. Mankind
being ever prone to believe the worst of every great man, all kinds of
stupid and even wicked things were said, though not during his
lifetime. People vowed that he carried on the old traditions, the
tortures and human sacrifices, and even improved upon them in his
blithe Renaissance manner. They were ready to supply circumstantial and
excruciating details of how, disguised, down to the minutest details of
costume, in the semblance of the Evil One, he had sought to prolong his
life and invigorate his declining health with the blood of innocent
children, artfully done to death after fiendish, lingering agonies.
Father Capocchio, needless to say, has some shocking pages on this
subject.

Mr. Eames, who had made a careful study of Duke Alfred's reign, came to
the conclusion that such excesses were incompatible with the character
of a ruler whose love of children was one of his most salient traits.
In regard to those other and vaguer accusations, he contended that the
Duke was too jovial by nature to have tortured any save those who, in
his opinion, thoroughly deserved it. Indeed, he was sceptical about the
whole thing. Monsignor Perrelli might have told us the truth, had he
cared to do so. But, for reasons which will appear anon, he is
remarkably silent on all that concerns the reign of his great
contemporary. He says nothing more than this:

"His Highness deigned, during the same year, to restore, and put into
its old working order, the decayed heathen rock-chapel vulgarly known
as the Cave of Mercury."

To put into ITS OLD WORKING ORDER; that would sound rather suspicious,
as though to contain a veiled accusation. We must remember, however,
that the historian of Nepenthe bore a grudge against his Prince (of
which likewise more anon), a grudge which he was far too prudent to
vent openly; so bitter and personal a grudge that he may have felt
himself justified in making a covert innuendo of this kind whenever he
could safely risk it.

Meanwhile, everything remained as before--shrouded in mystery. Being
doubly haunted now, by the Duke's victims and by those earlier ones,
the cave fell into greater neglect than ever. Simple folk avoided
speaking of the place save in a hushed whisper. It became a proverb
among the islanders when speaking of something outrageously improbable:
"Don't tell me! Such things only happen in the Cave of Mercury." When
someone disappeared from his house or hotel without leaving any trace
behind--it happened now and then--or when anything disreputable happened
to anyone, they always said "Try the Cave," or simply "Try Mercury."
The path had crumbled away long ago. Nobody went there, except in broad
daylight. It was as safe a place as you could desire, at night-time,
for a murder or a love-affair. Such was the Cave of Mercury.

Denis had gone to the spot one morning not long after his arrival. He
had climbed down the slippery stairs through that dank couloir or
funnel in the rock overhung with drooping maidenhair and ivy and
umbrageous carobs. He had rested on the little platform outside the
cavern's vineyard far below, and upwards, at the narrow ribbon of sky
overhead. Then he had gone within, to examine what was left of the old
masonry, the phallic column and other relics of the past. That was ten
days ago. Now he meant to follow Keith's advice and go there at
midnight. The moon was full.

"This very night I'll go," he thought.

All was not well with Denis. And the worst of it was, he had no clear
notion of what was the matter. He was changing. The world was changing
too. It had suddenly expanded. He felt that he, also, ought to expand.
There was so much to learn, to see, to know--so much, that it seemed to
paralyse his initiative. Could he absorb all this? Would he ever get
things in order once more, and recapture his self-possession? Would he
ever again be satisfied with himself? It was an invasion of his
tranquillity, from within and without. He was restless. Bright ideas
never came to him, as of old; or else they were the ideas of other
people. A miserable state of affairs! He was becoming an automaton--an
echo.

An echo.... How right Keith had been!

"It's rotten," he concluded. "I'm a ludicrous figure, a pathetic
idiot."

The novel impressions of Florence had helped in the disintegration.
Nepenthe--it's sunshine, its relentless paganism--had done the rest. It
shattered his earlier outlook and gave him nothing in exchange.
Nothing, and yet everything. That vision of Angelina! It filled his
inner being with luxurious content; content and uncertainty. It was
there, at the back of every dream, of every intimate thought and every
little worldly phrase that he uttered. He was like a man who, looking
long at the sun, sees its image floating in heaven, on earth--wherever
he casts his eye. Angelina! Nothing else was of any account. How would
it all end? He drifted along in blissful apprehension of what the next
day might bring. She seemed to have become genuinely well-disposed
towards him of late, though in rather a mocking, maternal sort of
fashion.

The poetic vein had definitely run dry. Impossible to make things
rhyme, somehow. Perhaps his passion was too strong for technical
restraints. He tried his hand at prose:

"Your eyes bewilder me. I would liken you to a shaft of sunlight, a
withering flame--a black flame, if such there be--for your grace and
ardour is even as a flame. Your step is laughter and song. Your hair is
a torrent of starless night. The sun is your lover, you god. He takes
joy in your perfection. Your slender body palpitates with his
imprisoned beams. He has moulded your limbs and kissed your smooth skin
in the days when you ... nevermore will you whiten those kisses...."

"It won't do," he sadly reflected, laying down the pen. "The adaptation
is too palpable. Why does everybody anticipate my ideas? The fact is, I
have nothing to say. I can only feel. Everything went right, so long as
I was in love with myself. Now everything goes wrong."

Then he remembered Keith's pompous exhortation.

"Find yourself! You know the Cave of Mercury! Climb down, one night of
full moon--"

"There is something in what he says. This very night I'll go."

It was particularly hard for him that evening. The Duchess was dining
with a party at Madame Steynlin's; it was an open secret that the
entertainment would end in a moonlight excursion on the water; she
would not return till very late. Angelina would be alone, accessible.
It was her duty to guard the house in the absence of its mistress. He
might have gone there on some pretext and talked awhile, and looked
into her elvish eyes and listened to that Southern voice, rich and
clear as a bell. Almost he yielded. He thought of the ineptitude of the
whole undertaking and, in particular, of those slippery stairs; one
might break one's neck there at such an hour of the night. Unless one
wore tennis shoes--

Well, he would wear them. He would resist the temptation and approve
himself a man. Everybody, even the Duchess, was always telling him to
be a man. He would find himself. Keith was right.

The night came.

He descended noiselessly into the cool and dark chasm, resting awhile
on a ledge about half-way down, to drink in the spirit of the place.
All was silent. Dim masses towered overhead; through rifts in the rocky
fabric he caught glimmerings, strange and yet familiar, of the
landscape down below. It swam in the milky radiance of a full moon
whose light streamed down from some undiscoverable source behind the
mountain, suffusing the distant vineyards and trees with a ghostly
tinge of green. Like looking into another world, he though; a poet's
world. Calmly it lay there, full of splendour. How well one could
understand, in such a place, the glamour, the romance, of night!
Romance.... What was left of life without romance? He remembered his
talk with Marten; he thought of the scientists crude notions of
romance. He pitied the materialism which denied him joys like these.
This moonlit landscape--how full of suggestion! That grotto down
below--what tales it could unfold!

The Cave of Mercury....

How had Mercury, the arch-thief, come to be presiding genius here?
Denis knew; his friend Eames had explained everything to him. Mercury
had nothing whatever to do with the site. That name had been proved by
the bibliographer to be the invention of some pedantic monk who liked
to display his learning to a generation avid of antiquities, a
generation which insisted on attaching a Roman deity to every cavern.
It was a wilful fabrication, made in the infancy of archaeology when
historical criticism was non-existent. And the same with all those
stories about human sacrifices and tortures. There was not a word of
truth in them. So Mr. Eames had decided, after a systematic
investigation of both of the older authorities and of the grotto
itself. The legends, too, were simply invented to give a zest to a
locality whose original antique name had apparently been lost, though
he had not yet abandoned all hope of stumbling across it by one of
those lucky accidents which reward the lover of old parchments and
title-deeds. A pure invention. It was plain the Mr. Eames from what
remained of ancient symbols on the spot, that the cave had been
consecrated to older and worthier rites--to some mysterious, primeval,
fecund Mother of Earth. Her name, like that of her habitation, had
lapsed into oblivion.

"There is something grand in this old animistic conception," Eames had
said. "Later on, under the Romans, the place seems to have been
dedicated to Priapic rites. That is rather a depreciation, isn't it? It
brings us down from fruitfulness to mere lasciviousness. But where are
you going to draw the line? Everything tends to lose its hallowed
meaning; it becomes degraded, bestialized. Still, the roots of the idea
are sound. In giving sensual attributes to a garden god the ancients
had in mind the recklessness, the spendthrift abundance, of all
nature--not excluding our own. They tried to explain how it came about
that the sanest man is liable, under the stress of desire, to acts of
which he vainly repents at leisure. I don't suppose they meant to
justify those acts. If they had, they would have given a less equivocal
position to Priapus in their celestial hierarchy. Priapus, you know,
was not wholly divine. I think they only wanted to make it quite clear
that we cannot drive out nature with a fork. I wish we could," he
added.

And then he sighed. The poor fellow was thinking at that moment, of
balloons.

Denis remembered this conversation. Earth-worship: the cult of those
generative forces which weld together in one mighty instinct the
highest and lowliest of terrestrial creatures.... The unalienable
right of man and beast to enact that which shall confound death, and
replenish the land with youth, and joy, and teeming life. The right
which priestly castes of every age have striven to repress, which
triumphs over every obstacle and sanctifies, by its fruits, the wildest
impulses of man. The right to love!

Musing thus, he began to understand why men of old, who looked things
squarely in the face, should have deified this friendly, all-compelling
passion. He reverenced the fierce necessity which drives the living
world to its fairest and sole enduring effort. Be fruitful and
multiply. He recognized for the firs ttime that he was not a lonely
figure on earth, but absorbed into a solemn and eternal movement; bound
close to the throbbing heart of the Universe. There was grandeur, there
was repose, in being able to regard himself as an integral part of
nature, destined to create and leave his mark. He felt that he was
growing into harmony with permanent things--finding himself. He realized
now what Keith had meant.

It cost him quite an effort to tear himself away from that ledge. He
began to descend once more.

Near the entrance of the Cave he paused abruptly. It seemed as if a
sound had issued from the interior of the rock. He listened. It came
again--a human sound, unquestionably, and within a few yards of his
face. A whisper. There was something going on--Earth-worship....

Suddenly a succession of words broke upon the stillness--breathless
words, spoken in a language which not everybody could have translated.
He recognized the voice. It said:

"EGO TE AMARE TANTUM! NON VOLERE? NON PIACERE? NON CAPIRE? O Lord,
can't you understand?"

It was Mr. Marten's voice. Mr. Marten was being romantic. No answer
came to his fervent pleadings. Perhaps they were not coherent enough.
He began again, TREMOLO AGITATO, CON MOLTO SENTIMENTO:

"O EGO TE AMARE TANTUM! NEMO SAPIT NIHIL. DUCHESSA IN BARCA AQUATICA
CUM MAGNA COMPANIA. REDIBIT TARDISSIMO. NIENTE TIMOR. AMARE MULTISSIMO!
EGO MORIRE FINE TE. MORIRE. MORITURUS. CAPITO? NON CAPIRE? Oh, CAPIRE
be blowed!"

There was a short pause. The language seems to have been understood
this time. For, amid a ripple of laughter, a rich Southern voice was
heard to say with a sigh of mock resignation:

"SIA FATTA LA VOLONTA DI DIO!"

Then silence....

Denis turned. He walked up the steps as in a dream, neither slowly nor
fast. No one was ever more unhappy, though he scarcely felt as yet the
depths of his own humiliation. It was more like a stab--a numbing
assassin-like stab. He could hear the beatings of his heart.

He reached the upper level of the town, he knew not how.

All lay quiet as he found his way among the familiar buildings. It was
after midnight; most of the lamps had been extinguished. The streets
were deserted. He heard, in the distance, the song of a drunken
wayfarer reeling homewards from a tavern or from the Club.

In one of the little roadways that converge upon the market-place
something was astir. It was a dim phantom of willowy outline, swaying
capriciously to and fro, like a black feather tossed by the wind. Miss
Wilberforce! She fluttered down a doorstep and began crooning a vulgar
song about "Billy had a letter for to go on board a ship." Denis moved
to the other side of the narrow path, hoping to escape unobserved. The
light was too strong.

"My young friend," she cried in quite a hoarse and altered tone of
voice, "we should know each other! We've had the pleasure haven't we?
Been down to the sea, have you? And what are the wild waves saying?"

Denis stood there, petrified with disgust. Was it possible? Was this
the lady who had charmed him the other day? Who had spoken of England
and conjured up the memories of his own home in the Midlands? With a
playful gesture, she sent her hat careering across the street and began
to fumble at her breast, unlacing or unbuttoning something. It was
horrible, in the moonlight.

A boot, flying merrily over his head, recalled him to his senses. He
turned to go, and had already made a few paces when the voice croaked
after him:

"Does your mother know you're out?"



CHAPTER XIII



Some good genius took him by the hand next day and led him to the house
of Count Caloveglia, in response to that friendly twice-repeated
invitation. The old man saw at a glance that something serious was
amiss. He plunged at once, with quick insight, into what he took to be
extraneous topics of conversation.

"I am glad you like my fig tree! It gives a distinctive tone to this
quiet courtyard, don't you think? I could not have wished for anything
more appropriate. Its shape, its associations, are alike pleasing. The
fig is a legendary tree; a volume could be written about the stories
and superstitions which have twined themselves around it. Some think it
was the Biblical Tree of Knowledge. Judas Iscariot, they say, hanged
himself on a fig tree. It came from the East-Bacchus brought it on his
journey as a gift to mortal men. How much we owe to those of the Greek
gods who were yet not wholly divine! The Romans, too, held it in
veneration. You have doubtless heard about the FICUS RUMINALIS, at hose
feet the cradle of Romulus and Remus was stranded? Among many nations
it became the outward symbol of generative forces. The Egyptians
consecrated the fig to Isis, that fecund Mother of Earth. Statues of
Priapus were carved out of its wood in allusion, possibly, to its
reckless fertility or for some analogous reason; it was also held to be
sacred, I know not why, to Mercury--"

Denis, during this little speech, had begun to look more troubled than
ever. The other continued:

"There is something in the very twistings of that smooth trunk and
those heavy-laden branches that suggests fruitfulness, How voluptuously
they writhe! A kindly growth, lover of men, their dwellings and ordered
ways. That is why we foster it. We are all utilitarians here, Mr.
Denis; we think of the main purposes of life. Besides food, it gives us
welcome shade at this season; the leaves fall off in winter and allow
the sunlight to percolate into our rooms. You will not find evergreen
trees planted near our windows. We know the value of sunshine; where
the sun enters, we say, the physician does not enter. In England the
light is feebler and yet they made this mistake, during the Georgian
period of architecture. They thought that houses were invented to be
looked at, not to be lived in. Determined to be faithful to the
tradition and regardless of the difference in climate, they planted the
ilex about those mansions which must be dank and gloomy in wintertime,
however charming, externally, to those who relish the chill Palladian
outlines. You have lately been to Florence, I hear? Come! Let us sit
indoors. The courtyard is rather too sultry to-day, in spite of the
shade. My old servant will bring some tea, presently. Or perhaps you
would prefer some wine and a biscuit? Or a glass of liqueur?...
Well? And Florence?"

"It has left me rather confused, so far," replied Denis. "Some of the
things are overwhelming."

"Overwhelming? That is perhaps because you do not see the movement in
its continuity, because you have not traced the stream to its source. I
can understand your feelings. But one need not be overwhelmed by these
men. They were lovable folks, who played with their art like some child
that has discovered a long-lost toy. It is a pity that their activities
were so hampered by the conventions of religious dogma. Viewed by
itself, the Renaissance may seem overwhelming; it shoots up like a
portentous lily out of the blood-drenched soil of a thousand
battlefields. Let me take you to its real source."

He showed him that little statuette, the Locri Faun. Denis was
enchanted by it.

"You have heard of Sir Herbert Street? He also thinks highly of this
thing. He is now adviser in art matters to Mr. van Koppen who is a
patron of mine and who, I hear, will arrive to-morrow or the day
after."

"Street? I met him at my mother's house. Wasn't he at South Kensington?
A great man for dining out. You cannot pick up an evening paper without
reading something about him. That kind of man! All the same, he wrote a
good book on the Siena School. I liked it, didn't you?"

"It is a fair appreciation, from the collector's point of view. He has
stayed with me here once or twice, and given me reason to form a high
opinion of his capacities. Now if you will compare this Faun with your
Florentine art, you will see what I mean by going to the fountain.
There is a difference not only in technique, but in outlook. The man
who wrought this did not trouble about you, or me, or himself. He had
not moods. His art is purely intellectual; he stands aloof, like a
glacier. Here the spring issued, crystal-clear. As the river swells in
size it grows turbid and discoloured with alien elements--personality,
emotions."

"I have noticed that," said Denis. "It is what we call the malady of
thought. This Faun, you say, was found on the mainland yonder?"

"Near the site of old Locri, on a piece of ground which still belongs
to me. I suspect there are still a good many Greek relics to be
excavated on the site. We have discovered a Demeter some years ago; a
mutilated head in marble; it is now in Paris. You can see the very
place from my roof here, on bright days. These men, Mr. Denis, were our
masters. Do not be misled by what you are told of the wanton luxury of
those shores; do not forget that your view of that age has filtered
through Roman stoicism and English puritanism which speak with envy
lurking at their hearts--the envy of the incomplete creature for him who
dares express himself. A plague has infected the world--the plague of
repression. Don't you think that the man who made this Faun was
entitled to dine well?"

"I cannot quite make it out," said Denis, still examining the
statuette.

"Ah! How does it make you feel?"

"Uneasy."

"You are unaware of a struggle between your own mind and that of the
artist? I am glad. It is the test of beauty and vitality that a
beholder refuses to acquiesce at first glance. There is a conflict to
be undergone. This thing thrusts itself upon us; it makes no
concessions, does it? And yet one cannot but admire! You will seldom
encounter that sensation among the masterpieces of the Renaissance.
They welcome you with open arms. That is because we know what the
creators were thinking about. They are quite personal and familiar;
they had as many moods, one suspects, as a fashionable prima donna.
They give pleasure. This Faun gives pleasure and something more--a sense
of disquieting intimacy. While intruding upon your reserve with his
solemn, stark and almost hostile novelty, he makes at the same time a
strange appeal--he touches upon chords in our nature of which we
ourselves were barely cognisant. You must yield, Mr. Denis, to this
stranger who seems to know so much about you. When you have done so,
you will make a surprising discovery. You have gained a friend--one of
those who never change."

"I am trying to," replied Denis. "But it is difficult. We are not
brought up that way, nowadays."

"No. Men have lost their frankness, their self-assurance. Whoever
yields, must be confident of his own strength. Our contemporaries have
lost that feeling. They dare not be themselves. They eke out lack of
sincerity by profusion of commonplace. Unlike the heroes of Homer, they
repress their fears--they repress everything, save their irrepressible
flatulence of mind. They are expansive in unimportant matters and at
wrong moments--blown about in a whirl of fatuous extremes. The
impersonal note has vanished. Why has it gone, Mr. Denis?" he suddenly
asked. "And when did it go?"

The other was rather puzzled what to reply.

"I suppose you could trace its disappearance to the days of which you
spoke, when artists began to display their moods to the world. Perhaps
further still. Some Roman writers were fond of talking about their own
affairs. If they do, the public naturally becomes interested. People
like Byron must have had a good deal to do with it. He was always
harping on his private life."

He paused, but the Count merely asked:

"No further back than that?"

"I don't know. Christianity made us interested in other people's
feelings. Brotherliness, you know. That must have helped. So did
Socrates, by the way. Of course it lowers the general standard. Where
everybody can read and write, there's an end of good taste. No, I don't
mean that exactly," he added, feeling that he was expressing himself
very stupidly.

"Well?"

"Oh, everything! The telegraph and society papers and interviewing and
America and yellow journalism ... and all those family memoirs and
diaries and autobiographies and Court scandals.... They produce a
new kind of public, a public which craves for personalities rather than
information. They want to learn about our clothes and incomes and
habits. Not a questioning public, I mean; a prying public--"

"A cannibalistic public," said the Count, quietly. "Men cannot live, it
seems, save by feeding on their neighbour's life-blood. They prey on
each other's nerve-tissues and personal sensations. Everything must be
shared. It gives them a feeling of solidarity, I suppose, in a world
where they have lost the courage to stand alone. Woe to him who dwells
apart! Great things are no longer contemplated with reverence. They are
hauled down from their pedestals in order to be rendered accessible to
a generation of pigmies; their dignity is soiled by vulgar contact.
This lust of handling--what is its ordinary name? Democracy. It has
abraded the edge of that keen anthropocentric outlook of the Greeks
which exalted whatever was distinctively human. Men have learnt to see
beauty here, there, and everywhere--a little beauty, mark you, not much!
They fail to realize that in widening their capacity of appreciation
they dilute its intensity. They have watered their wine. There is more
to drink. The draught is poorer."

It seemed to Denis that the Count's wine had not been watered.

"Let me show you one or two other things," said the old man.

They wandered about the premises awhile, looking at marbles, prints,
intaglios, coins, till a serving man entered--a clean-shaven and rather
bony old creature whom the Count called Andrea--to announce tea. Denis
was feeling calmer; he had fallen under the beguiling influence of this
place. He realized that his host was different from the artist type he
had hitherto encountered; more profound, more veracious. Already he
formed the project of returning to listen to his melodious voice, and
learn some more about that Hellenic life which had hitherto been a
sealed book to him. Nobody every spoke to him after the Count's
fashion. He contrasted his address with the bantering, half-apologetic,
supercilious tone of those other elderly persons who had heretofore
deigned to enlightened him. He was flattered and pleased at being taken
seriously and bidden to think in this straightforward, manly fashion;
it unstrung his reserve and medicined to his wounded self-respect.

"So your mother would like to see you in Parliament?" asked the Count.
"Politics are apt to be a dirty game. One cannot touch dirt without
soiling one's hands. We have a deputy here, the Commendator
Morena--well, one does not like to speak about him. Let me ask you a
question, Mr. Denis. Why do politicians exist?"

"I suppose the answer would be that is profitable to mankind to be run
by somebody."

"Profitable, at all events, to those who do the running. Your good Sir
Herbert Street has lately sent me a batch of books about the ideal
public life of the future. Socialistic forecasts, and that kind of
literature. He is a world-improver, you know, among other things. They
have amused me more than I thought they would. That venerable blunder:
to think that in changing the form of government you change the heart
of man. And in other respects, too, these dreamers are at sea. For
surely we should aim at simplification of machinery. Conceive, now, the
state of affairs where everybody is more or less employed by the
community--the community, that comfortable word!--in some patriotic
business or other. Everybody an official, all controlling each other!
It would be worse than the Spanish Inquisition. A man could live at
Toledo by subscribing to certain fixed opinions; he could be assured of
a reasonable degree of privacy. Nothing could save him, under
socialism. An insupportable world! When people cease to reflect they
become idealists."

"I suppose they do," replied Denis, rather dubiously. Then it struck
him that this might account for his own hazy state of mind--this lack of
occupation or guiding principle. For the rest, he had not given much
thought to such questions. To be a politician--it was one of the few
projects which had never seriously entered his head. After a pause, he
remarked:

"I can't help noticing that portrait over there. It's a very pretty
thing."

"The little pastel? It is a sketch of my daughter Matilda. I did it
myself when she was here last Christmas. Poor child, she can only come
for the holidays; there is no chance of a respectable education o this
island. But I can run over to see her every now and then. You will
observe I am not much of a colourist!"

"You have been parsimonious with the tints. It reminds me of some of
Lenbach's work which I saw at Florence; it is in the same manner."

"It appears you like art," said the Count. "Why not devote yourself to
it? But perhaps your English social conditions are not propitious. Here
is a letter from a friend of mind which arrived this morning; you know
his name--I will not mention it! A well-known Academician, whose life is
typical of your attitude towards art. Such a good fellow. He likes
shooting and fishing; he is a favourite at Court, and quite an
authority on dress-reform. He now writes to ask me about some detail of
Greek costume which he requires for one of his lectures to a Ladies'
Guild. Art, to him, is not a jealous mistress; she is an indulgent
companion, who will amiably close an eye and permit a few wayside
flirtations to her lover--enthusiasms for quite other ideals, and for
the joys of good society in general. That is the way to live a happy
life. It is not the way to create masterpieces."

"I would take myself seriously, I think," said Denis. "I would not
dissipate my energies."

He meant it. To be an artist--it dawned upon him that this was his true
vocation. To renounce pleasure and discipline the mind; to live a life
of self-denial, submitting himself humbly to the inspiration of the
great masters.... To be serene, like this old man; to avoid that
facile, glib, composite note--those monkey-tricks of cleverness....

Then, after this vision had passed before his eyes like a flash, he
remembered his grief. The notion of becoming a world-famous artist lost
all meaning for him. Everything was blighted. There was not a grain of
solace to be found on earth.

The Count, meanwhile, was looking with concern upon his companion's
grave face, whose flawless profile might have emerged into life under
the thought-laden chisel of Lysippus. He wondered what he could say or
do to drive away this melancholy. The youth had been so bright that day
at the entertainment of the Duchess; he seemed to have stepped straight
out of a sunny dialogue of Plato. Serious trouble now shone out of his
eyes. Something had happened. Something was wrong with him; wrong,
too--he reflected--with a world which could find no better occupation for
such a person than to hand round buttered tea-cakes at an old woman's
party to a crowd of cosmopolitan scandalmongers.

Denis rose, remarking:

"I wish I could stay a little longer! But it is getting so late. I'm
afraid I must be going."

He held out his hand.

"You have caught me in a somewhat sad and depressed mood, I fear,"
replied the other, heaving a most artistic sigh. And his features
suddenly looked quite careworn. As a matter of fact, he had not been so
joyous for many long years--that news of Mr. van Koppen's proximate
arrival having made him feel fifty years younger and, but for his
ingrained sense of Hellenic moderation, almost ready to dance with
delight.

"I am sorry I have been so despondent," he went on. "Sometimes one
cannot help oneself. It shall not occur again! I will try to be more
amusing next time you come. If I thought it would help, I would
communicate my sorrows and claim your sympathy. But what does it avail
to unburden oneself? Friends will share our joys, but every man is a
solitary in his griefs. One soon finds that out! One soon realizes the
vanity of all those talks about the consolations of philosophy and the
comforts of religion, doesn't one? I suppose even you have your moments
of dejection?"

"One worries about things now and then. It is perfectly natural, I
daresay."

"Perfectly. We are not stones--least of all persons like yourself. I
would not be at your age again, not for the wealth of Croesus! I
suffered too much. All young people suffer too much; they bear it
silently, like heroes. The eye of youth dilates and distorts the
images. The focussing process is painful. Youth has no norm. It was in
one of my worst fits of despondency, I remember, that my old teacher
gave me certain advice, after I had puzzled it out, did me some good.
In fact, I have acted upon it to this very day; I recall it as plainly
as if he were speaking now. Well, I am sorry you are leaving. I would
keep you hear if I could. But I hope you will not forget to come
another day. You have cheered me up wonderfully! Shall Andrea find you
a carriage?"

"What did he say?" asked Denis.

"The old teacher? Let me see.... He said: do not be discomposed by
the opinions of inept persons. Do not swim with the crowd. They who are
all things to their neighbours, cease to be anything to themselves.
Even a diamond can have too many facets. Avoid the attrition of vulgar
minds; keep your edges intact. He also said: A man can protect himself
with fists or sword but his best weapon is his intellect. A weapon must
be forged in the fire. The fire, in our case, is tribulation. It must
also be kept untarnished. If the mind is clean, the body can take care
of itself. He said: delve deeply; not too deeply into the past, for it
may make you derivative; nor yet into yourself--it will make you
introspective. Delve into the living world and strive to bind yourself
to its movement by a chain of your own welding. Once that contact is
established, you are unassailable. Externalize yourself! He told me
many things of this kind. You think I was consoled by his words? Not in
the slightest degree. I was annoyed. In fact, I thought him rather a
hypocrite; anybody could have spoken as he did! I was so disappointed
that I went to him next day and told him frankly what I thought of his
counsel. He said--do you know what he said?"

"I cannot even guess."

"He said: 'What is all wisdom save a collection of platitudes? Take
fifty of our current proverbial sayings--they are so trite, so
threadbare, that we can hardly bring our lips to utter them. None the
less they embody the concentrated experience of the race, and the man
who orders his life according to their teaching cannot go far wrong.
How easy that seems! Has any one ever done so? Never. Has any man ever
attained to inner harmony by pondering the experiences of others? Not
since the world began! He must pass through the fire.'"

"I had no teacher like that," observed Denis. "He must have been a man
of the right kind."

"Oh, he meant well, the old rascal," replied the Count with a curious
little smile.



CHAPTER XIV



Denis descended from the Old Town. At a turn of the road he overtook
the bishop who was moving slowly in the same direction.

"How is Mrs. Meadows?" enquired the young man.

"Not particularly well, I'm afraid. And the Count?"

"Oh, quite all right."

They walked along in silence, having little to say to each other. That
visit had done Denis good; he would return soon again, if only for the
purpose of cheering up the lonely old man who, at the last moment, had
given him a photograph of the Locri Faun, with a kindly inscription
from himself. He was not to show it to anybody, the Count had said--not
yet! The government must not hear about that relic--not yet! Later on,
perhaps very soon, everything would be in order. Denis cherished that
photo in his pocket. He was thinking, too, of the pastel--the face of
Matilda, which seemed like a star shining through the mist.... Then
he remembered the bishop walking at his side. He felt he ought to say
something more to this dry Colonial whom he could not help contrasting,
greatly to his disadvantage, with the Count.

"Hasn't it been hot to-day?"

"Stifling," replied Mr. Heard. "The warmest day we have had, so far.
Not a breath of wind."

"Not a breath...."

The conversation flagged once more. They did not hit it off, somehow;
they seemed to drift further apart every time they met. Each was
preoccupied with his own thoughts. The bishop was more taciturn than
usual; the interview with his cousin had not been quite a success.

Denis, after a while, made another effort. He spoke of some of Count
Caloveglia's antiquities and, one thing leading to another, told Mr.
Heard the story of a friend of his in Florence who had excavated some
wonderful early Italian pots, fragments o them, out of an old garden
well. They were all lustred, he said.

"That must have been a very pleasant surprise," observed the bishop,
who had small use for lustred ware and lunatics who collected it.
Feeling that it was his turn to say something, he remarked:

"I am dining with the Duchess to-night. Will you be there?"

"No," replied the young man with an unwonted air of decision. Never
again would he be seen in that austere old convent, built by the Good
Duke Alfred. Never again! Promptly, however, he toned down the
harshness of his answer by adding that the lady had very kindly asked
him to come, but he couldn't manage it, that evening.

"I shall have to console her about the burglary," continued the bishop.

"What burglary?"

Mr. Heard explained that the premises had been entered while the
Duchess was dining at Madame Steynlin's on the previous evening, the
night of the water-party. Evidently the work of a man who knew his
business. A man familiar with the ins and outs of the house. And a man
of taste, into the bargain. All the sham articles had been left
untouched; he had gone off with nothing but genuine things--a few
precious crucifixes and bonbonnieres. No one had the faintest idea who
the thief was. Most mysterious! The disaster could hardly have occurred
but for the fact that the young girl Angelina, who was supposed to
sleep on the premises, had been called away late at night to look after
a suffering aunt. The old woman, it appeared, was liable to sudden
heart-attacks. She had been round to see the Duchess early in the
morning with endless apologies, and had fortunately been able to
corroborate her niece's story.

"I am glad of it," concluded the bishop. "Because that maid, when I saw
her, struck me as rather a flighty young person--the sort of girl who
would take advantage of her mistress's absence to have a little
flirtation with a policeman round the corner. I am glad the aunt could
explain things so satisfactorily. I was wrong about that girl. Shows
how careful one must be in judging of other people, doesn't it? I must
say she looked to me like a regular little coquette."

Denis had so little sympathetic comment to make on this painful story
that Mr. Heard was quite surprised at his indifference. He always
understood the young man to be a particular friend of the Duchess.

"These artistic people!" he thought. "They have quite another way of
looking at things. Dear me. I shall never live to understand them."

The two separated at the market-place without much reluctance on either
side.

During dinner, the Duchess was calm about her misfortune. She bore it
well. She had been vigorously consoled by Don Francesco, who pointed
out that such little things are trials of faith and that she ought to
be thankful for this opportunity of proving how little she cared for
earthly riches. While not exactly thankful, she was certainly as
resigned as anybody could have been. Angelina had already been taken
into grace again, at the charitable suggestion of the priest. Every one
was puzzling who the thief could be (it happened to be Mr. Richards);
the police had not discovered the faintest clue.

"It does not much matter if they do," said Don Francesco. "I don't
think, my dear lady, that you will get the judge to take up your case
very actively. You know how he hates the clericals. In fact, I fear he
will not move a finger unless the culprit also happens to be a good
believer. In that case, he might lock him up. He is so fond of
imprisoning Catholics!"

"A bad state of the law," commented the bishop.

"It is," replied Don Francesco, "And perhaps you do not know," he
added, turning to the company, "that there has been another robbery as
well, doubtless by the same hand. Yes! I only heard of it an hour ago.
Poor Miss Wilberforce is the victim. She is terribly upset. A number of
valuables have disappeared from her house; they must have been
ransacked, she thinks, at the time of Mr. Keith's party. I understand
she was rather overcome on that occasion. The thief seems to have been
aware of her condition, and to have profited by it."

"Poor Miss Wilberforce!" said everybody. They were all sorry for poor
Miss Wilberforce.

It was a rather full dinner-party on the whole. Mr. Heard left at
half-past eleven.

Passing the Club on his way home, he remembered his intention of
looking in there and perhaps doing good to a few of those fellows.

He climbed up the stairs. There was a fearful row going on. The place
was crammed with members of various nationalities, drinking and arguing
amid clouds of tobacco smoke. They seemed all to be at loggerheads with
one another and on the verge of breaking out into violence, the south
wind having been particularly objectionable all day long. A good deal
of filthy and profane language was being used--it was worse than those
hot places he had known in Africa. That pink-faced old drunkard known
as Charlie was the only person who made any signs of recognizing him.
He half rose from his chair with a genial: "Hello, Bishop--" and
instantly collapsed again. Mr. Muhlen was there; he bowed rather
distantly. A tremulous pale-faced youngster invited him pressingly to a
drink, and just as the bishop was on the verge of accepting with a view
to getting the victim out of that den of vice, the lad suddenly
remarked: "Excuse me, won't you?" and tottered out of the door. They
were too far gone to be spoken to with any prospects of success. Things
might have been different if the restraining influence of Mr. Freddy
Parker could have made itself felt, but that gentleman was at home, his
lady being not very well. In the Commissioner's absence, Mr. Richards,
the respectable Vice-President, was making his voice heard. Sober or
not, he was certainly articulate and delighted with himself as,
stroking his beard placidly, he roared out above the crowd:

"I've no use for makeshifts. Honesty is a makeshift. A makeshift for
saving time. Whoever wants to save time is not fit for the society of
gentlemen."

"Hear, hear!"

"Call yourself a gentleman?" enquired another.

"Just a makeshift. You won't hear honesty talked about in the great
periods of the world's history. It's the small tradesman's invention,
is honesty. He hasn't the the brains to earn anything more than three
and a half per cent. That's why he is always in such a hurry to finish
his first little deal and get on with the next one. Else he'd starve.
Hence honesty. Three and a half per cent! Who's going to pick that up?
People who earn three hundred don't cackle about honesty."

"Call yourself a gentleman? Outside!"

"I've no use for honesty. It's the small man's flapdoodle, is honesty.
This world isn't made for small men! I am talking to you over there--the
funny little bounder who made the offensive remark just now."

"Are you? Well, take that!"

A glass tumbler, which Mr. Richards dodged in quite a professional
manner, came hurtling through the air and missed the bishop's forehead
by about four inches.

That crowd was past his aid. He turned to go. As he did so, a curious
idea flitted through his brain. This Mr. Richards--was he, perhaps, the
burglar? He was; but Mr. Heard dashed aside the horrible suspicion,
mindful of the mistake he had made about Angelina's character and how
careful one must be in judging of other people. The voice, meanwhile,
pursued him down the stairs.

"No, gentlemen! I've no use for an honest man. He always lets you down.
Fortunately, he is rather rare--"

Mr. Heard slept badly that night, for the first time since his arrival
on Nepenthe. It was unbearably hot. And that visit to Mrs. Meadows had
also troubled him a little.

The Old Town looked different on this occasion. A sullen death-like
stillness, a menacing stagnation, hung about those pink houses. Not a
leaf was astir under the burning sirocco sky. Even old Caterina, when
he saw her, seemed to be afflicted, somehow.

"SOFFRE, LA SIGNORA," she said. The lady was suffering.

The bishop would not have recognized his cousin after all those years;
not if he had met her in the street at least. She greeted him
affectionately and they talked for a long time of family matters. It
was true, then. Her husband's leave had been again postponed. Perhaps
she would travel back to England with him, and there await the arrival
of Meadows. She would let him know definitely in a day or two.

He watched her carefully while she conversed, trying to reconstruct,
out of that woman's face, the childish features he dimly remembered.
They were effaced. He could see what Keith had meant when he described
her as "tailor-made." There was something clear-cut about her,
something not exactly harsh, but savouring of decision. She was plainly
a personality--not an ordinary type. The lines of her face told their
story. They had been hammered into a kind of hard efficiency. But over
that exterior of tranquil self-possession was super-imposed something
else--certain marks of recent trouble. Her eyes looked almost as if she
had been weeping. She made a tremendous show of cheeriness, however,
calling him Tommy as in olden days.

Just a little headache. This sirocco. It was bad enough when it blew in
the ordinary fashion. But quite intolerable when it hung breathlessly
about the air like this. Mr. Eames--he once called it PLUMBEUS AUSTER.
That meant leaden, didn't it? Everybody had headaches, more or less.

Was she speaking the truth? The bishop decided that she had an headache
and that this south wind was certainly unendurable. None the less, he
suspected that she was employing the common subterfuge--telling the
truth, but not the whole truth; perhaps not even the main part of it.
She was holding back something.

"You haven't attended to these roses lately," he said, observing that
the flowers had not been changed and that their fallen petals strewed
the tables. "They looked so fresh when I was here alone the other day."

"What a dreadful person you are, Tommy, for noticing things. First you
discover my headache, and now those flowers! I see I shall have to be
careful with you. Perhaps you would like to look at my precipice and
tell me if there is anything wrong with that too? You have heard of the
old French lady, I daresay. She ended, you know, in not approving of it
at all. We can have tea when we come back. And after that perhaps you
will let me know what is wrong with baby?"

"I can tell you that without looking at him. He is teething."

"Clever boy! As a matter of fact, he isn't. But I had to make some
excuse to the dear Duchess."

They climbed up the short slope and found themselves looking towards
the sea over the face of a dizzy cliff. A falcon, on their approach,
started with rustle of wings from its ledge and then swayed crazily
over the abyss. Watching this bird, the bishop felt a sudden voice in
his stomach. A sensation of blackness came before his eyes--sky and sea
were merged together--his feet were treading on air. He promptly sat
down.

"Not an inch nearer!" he declared. "Not for a thousand pounds. If you
go along that edge again, I shall have to look the other way. It makes
me feel empty inside."

"I'm not in the least giddy," she laughed. "There was an English boy
who threw himself over this cliff for a bet--you have heard the story?
They never found his body. It's a good place for throwing oneself down,
isn't it?"

She seemed to consider the idea quite seriously.

"Well?" she pursued. "Have you any fault to find with my precipice?"

"I have. It ought to be railed in. It is dangerous. What a temptation
this cliff must be to anyone who has an enemy to dispose of! It would
be so simple," he added, laughing.

"That advantage has never struck me before...."

These and other things passed through Mr. Heard's mind as he lay in bed
that evening. He came to the conclusion that he could not quite make
his cousin out. Had something upset her? And what did she mean by that
sudden conundrum:

"Do you know anything, Tommy, about our laws of illegitimacy?"

"Nothing," he had replied, "except that they are a disgrace to a
civilized country. Everybody knows that."

She seemed to be disappointed. Perhaps she mistrusted him. The thought
gave him a little pain. He had done nothing to merit mistrust. He was
frank and open himself; he liked others to be the same.

What was the use of thinking about it? He knew tantalizingly little
about his cousin--nothing but scraps of information gathered from his
mother's letters to him. He would call again in a day or two and make
some definite arrangements about their journey to England. Perhaps he
had talked more dully than usual.... Or could it be the south wind?

Neither of these explanations was wholly convincing.



CHAPTER XV



Nothing was happening. For the first time since many years, the
Nepenthe season threatened to be a failure. It was the dullest spring
on record. And yet there was a quality in that heavy atmosphere which
seemed to threaten mischief. Everybody agreed that it had never been
quite so bad as this. Meanwhile, people yawned. They were bored stiff.
As a source of gossip, those two burglaries were a negligible quantity.
So was the little accident which had just happened to Mr. Keith, who
ruefully declared he had done it on purpose, in order to liven things
up. No one was likely to be taken in by this kind of talk, because the
accident was of an inglorious and even ludicrous kind.

Being very short-sighted he had managed to stumble backwards, somehow
or other, into a large receptacle of lime which was being slaked for
patching up a wall. Lime, in that condition, is boiling hot. Mr.
Keith's trousers were rather badly scalded. He was sensitive on that
point. He suffered a good deal. People came to express their sympathy.
The pain made him more tedious, long-winded and exhortatory than usual.
At that particular moment Denis was being victimized. He had
thoughtlessly called to express his sympathy, to see those celebrated
cannas, and because he could not bear to be alone with his thoughts
just then.

"Suffering!" exclaimed Mr. Keith. "That is what you young poets want.
At present you are too unperplexed and glib. Suffering! It would
enlarge your repertoire; it would make you more human, individual, and
truthful. What is the unforgivable sin in poetry? Lack of candour. How
shall there be candour if the poet lacks worldly experience? Suffering!
That is what you people want. It would make men of you."

Mr. Keith was considerably denser than Count Caloveglia. But even he,
during this oration, could not help noticing that it jarred on his
listener's nerves; there was something wrong, he concluded.

Denis had not a word to say in reply. As if anyone could be more
suffering than himself! He was full of a dumb ache. He marvelled at
Keith's obtuseness.

"Come and see my cannas," said the other with a kind of brutal
tactfulness. "There is a curious story attached to them. I must tell it
to you one of these days. It sounds like a fairy tale. You like fairy
tales?"

"I do," replied Denis.

"Then we have one point in common. I could listen to them for hours.
There is something eternal about them. If you ever want to get anything
out of me, Denis, tell me a fairy tale."

"I must remember that," replied Denis with a wan smile. "There is one
thing I should very much like to get out of you; the secret of your
zest in life. You have so many interests. How do you manage it?"

"Heredity, I suppose. It has given me a kind of violent driving power.
I take things by the throat. Have you ever heard of Thomas Keith, a
soldier in a Highland regiment, who became governor of the Holy City of
Medina? No, I suppose you have not. And yet he must have been a
remarkable man, to obtain this unique position in the world. No
interest in Arabian history? Why not? Well, Thomas Keith--that is my
stock. Pirates and adventurers. Of course I live sensibly. Shall I give
you my recipe for happiness? I find everything useful and nothing
indispensable. I find everything wonderful and nothing miraculous. I
reverence the body. I avoid first causes like the plague. You will find
that a pretty good recipe, Denis."

The young man wondered whether the prescription would be of any avail
for his particular complaint.

Then they went into the garden, Mr. Keith hobbling painfully with two
sticks and indulging in very bad language. They paused awhile under
some trellis work covered with a profusion of Japanese convolvuluses,
pale blue, slate colour, rose-tinted, purple, deep red, with white and
coloured bands, a marvellous display of fragile beauty.

"I have never seen anything like it!" declared Denis.

"They die away in winter. I get fresh seeds every year from Japan, the
latest varieties. How they cling for support to the wooden framework!
How delicate and fair! One hardly dares to touch them. Are you always
going to be a convolvulus, Denis?"

"Me? Oh, I see what you mean. Were you never a convolvulus, Mr. Keith?"

His friend laughed.

"It must have been a good while ago. You don't like advice, do you?
Have you ever heard of that Sparker affair?"

"You don't mean to say--"

"Yes. That was me. That was my little contribution to the gaiety of
University life. So you see I am in the position to give advice to
people like yourself. I think you should cultivate the function of the
real, and try to remain in contact with phenomena. Noumena are bad for
a youngster. But perhaps you are not interested in psychology?"

"Not exactly, I'm afraid," replied Denis, who was more anxious to see
those cannas.

"So I perceive. Wouldn't you get more fun out of life if you were? I am
nearly done with psychology now," he added. "It was the Greek
philosophers before then. When I take up a subject this is what I do. I
don't ask what are Aristotle's teachings or relations to his age or to
humanity. That would lead me too far. I ask myself: what has this
fellow got to say to me? To me, you understand. To me."

"That must simplify matters."

"It does," replied Keith, quite unaware of the faint tinge of College
irony in the other's words. "Direct experience comes only from life.
But you can get a kind of substitute out of books. Perhaps you are
afraid of them? Take the fellows by the throat! See what they have to
say. Make them disgorge. Get at their facts. Pull them to pieces. I
tell you what, Denis. You must go through a course of Samuel Butler.
You are moving in the same direction; perhaps he may be a warning to
you. I took him up, I remember, during my biological period. He was
exactly like yourself--bewildered by phenomena."

Denis, meekly resigned, enquired:

"Was he?"

"I spent nearly a week over Butler. I found him interesting not for
what he writes, but for what he is. A landmark. Think of when he wrote.
It was an age of giants--Darwin and the rest of them. Their facts were
too much for him; they impinged on some obscure old prejudices of his.
They drove him into a clever perversity of humour. They account for his
cat-like touches, his contrariness, his fondness for scoring off
everybody from the Deity downwards, his premeditated
irresponsibilities, his--"

"Did he not prove that the Odyssey was written by a woman?"

"He did. Anything to escape from realities--that was his maxim. He
puzzled his contemporaries. But we can now locate him with absolute
certainty. He personifies the Revolt from Reason. SURTOUT, MON AMI,
POINT DE ZELE. He talks about the Scylla of Atheism and the Charybdis
of Christianity--a state of mind which, by the way, is not conducive to
bold navigation. He was always wavering between the two in an attitude
of suburban defiance, reconciling what is irreconcilable by extracting
funny analogies all round for the edification of "nice people" like
himself. Oh, very English! He did not lack candour or intelligence. Nor
do you. He understood the teachings of the giants. So do you. But they
irked him. To revenge himself he laid penny crackers under their
pedestals. His whole intellectual fortune was spent in buying penny
crackers. There was something cheeky and pre-adolescent about him--a
kind of virginal ferocity. That iridescent charm of sexlessness which
somebody, one of these days, must be good enough to analyse for us! He
lacked the male attributes of humility, reverence and sense of
proportion."

Mr. Keith paused, but it was only to take breath.

"Did he?" enquired Denis. "The sense of proportion--"

"The tail of a cow was just as important to him as the tail of a comet;
more important, if it could be turned into a joke. Look at the back of
his mind and you will always see the same thing: horror of a fact. That
is what lies before you, Denis, if, in a world of facts, you refuse to
assimilate them. They will disagree with you, as they disagreed with
Butler. They will drive you where they drove him--into abstractions.
Others went the same way. The painter Watts, for instance. He also
suffered under the reign of giants. He also took refuge in
abstractions. Faith leading Hope towards Despair. Why don't you write a
book about these things, Denis?"

"I am going to be an artist."

"An Artist? That is better than a poet. Verse-making is a little out of
date, is it not? It corresponds to juvenile stages of human
development. Poets are a case of genepistasis. If they would at least
get a new stock of ideas! Their demonology is so hopelessly threadbare.
But why an artist? I think you were made for a bank manager, Denis.
Don't look so surprised. Everybody grows up, you know. Shelley, if he
had lived long enough, would have become a passable gentleman farmer.
You can take my word for that."

"I suppose I shall have to," replied the young man.

"Don't take Mr. Keith's word for anything!" said a voice behind his
shoulder.

It was Don Francesco, who had come upon them unawares. He now removed
his hat and began to mop his forehead and various double chins with a
many-tinted handkerchief as large as a tablecloth.

"My dear Don Francesco!" said Keith. "You always interrupt me in the
middle of my sermons. What shall we do with you?"

"Give me something to drink," replied the priest. "Else I shall
evaporate, leaving nothing but a grease stain on this beautiful garden
path."

"To evaporate," said Keith, with a tinge of sadness in his voice. "What
an ideal resolution!"

"I'll get some wine out of the house," suggested Denis politely. "But
first of all tell me this. Mr. Keith has been giving me his recipe for
happiness. What is yours?"

"Happiness is a question of age. The bachelor of forty--he is the happy
man."

"That does not help me much," said Denis. "But I'll get your wine, all
the same."

He went.

"A nice young fellow," observed the priest. "This little accident of
yours," he continued, "does not reflect itself on your face. You always
look like a baby, Keith. What is your secret? I believe you have
concluded a pact with the devil for your soul."

"To tell you the truth, Don Francesco, he never made me an offer for
it."

"Sensible devil! He knows he will get it sooner or later for nothing."

They conversed awhile till Denis returned, bearing sundry bottles and
glasses on a tray. The priest smiled at the sight. Light-hearted
allusions to Ganymede rose to his lips, but were suppressed. He
swallowed down the rising inclination to be classical at the expense of
good taste, and engulfed, on the top of it, as a kind of paperweight, a
vast tumblerful of red Nepenthe wine. The draught instead of cheering
seemed to make him suddenly despondent. He wiped his lips and remarked,
in a grave and almost conscience-stricken manner:

"I have some unpleasant news for you, gentlemen. The fountain of Saint
Elias has ceased to flow. We heard it this morning from a sailor, an
unusually trustworthy person--a man, I mean, who can be relied upon to
tell the truth when there is nothing to be gained by concealing or
distorting it. The thing must have happened last night. Yes, it has
dried up altogether. What is to be done?"

"You don't say so," remarked Keith. "This is really interesting! I
thought something was going to happen. I suppose your people are rather
alarmed?"

Denis interrupted:

"I don't understand what you are talking about. Why should not a
fountain dry up if it wants to? And what does it matter to anybody?"

"What does it matter?" echoed the priest. "This is no ordinary
fountain, I am sorry to say. Have you never heard of Beelzebub?"



CHAPTER XVI



Now, with regard to fountains, it is to be noted that Nepenthe, an
islet of volcanic stone rising out of the blue Mediterranean, has
never--for all its natural attractions--been renowned for cool springs
and bubbling streamlets. There is, to be sure, a charming couplet in
some old humanist about LYMPHA NEPENTHI; but modern scholars are
disposed to think either that the text is corrupt and that the writer
was picturing an imaginary NYMPHA--some laughing sea-lady--or else that
he merely indulged in one of those poetic flights which are a feature
of the literature of his period. For whatever the cause may be--whether
internal fires have scorched up the natural humours of the soil, or
whether the waters of Nepenthe are of such peculiar heaviness that,
instead of flowing upwards in the shape of fountains, they tumble
downwards into caverns below the sea--the fact remains: Nepenthe is a
waterless land. And this may well be the reason, as several thoughtful
observers have already pointed out, why its wines are so abundant in
quantity, so cheap in price, and of such super-excellent flavour. For
it is a fact conformable to that law of compensation which regulates
all earthly affairs, a fact borne out by the universal experience of
mankind, that God, when He takes away with one hand, gives with the
other. Lack of water, on the face of things, might be deemed a
considerable hardship. There are tracts in Africa where people have
been known to barter wives and children for a cupful of the liquid
element. Of the inhabitants of Nepenthe it must be said to their credit
that they endure their lot with equanimity, and even cheerfulness.
Their wine costs nothing. Why grumble at the inscrutable ways of
Providence? Why be thirsty, why be sober, when you can get as drunk as
a lord for the asking?

For the rest, there are indications to show that such was not the
original condition of affairs on the island. On the contrary, certain
legends still current among the country-folk lead one to suspect that
fountains once flowed on this arid rock. And more than legends.
Monsignor Perrelli, in his ANTIQUITIES OF NEPENTHE, has gone into the
subject with his usual thoroughness. The reader who takes the trouble
to consult that work will find, in the twenty-sixth chapter of the
third section dealing with the Natural Productions and Water-Supply of
the island, an enumeration of no less than twelve fountains still
flowing during the author's lifetime. Some of them issued high up, in
rocky clefts; others at the middle heights, among vineyards and
orchards; the majority at, or near, the seashore. All of these springs,
he tells us, had the following features in common: they were more or
less hot, unpleasant to the taste, of foetid odour and therefore unfit
for culinary or other common uses. "But let it not be supposed," he
hastens to add, "that they were worthless, inasmuch as there is no such
thing as a worthless gift of Providence. Whoever argues on such
fallacious lines," he says, "will stand convicted both of folly and of
irreverence, seeing that it is the business of mankind, when confronted
by a phenomenon which seems to mock their intelligence, humbly to
ponder the evidence--to investigate causes and ascertain results." In
the present case the utility of the waters, if not for cooking or
drinking then for other specific purposes, had been put to the proof
time out of mind, in an empirical fashion; though it was not till the
reign of the Good Duke Alfred that a series of classical experiments
placed our knowledge of their medicinal properties on a sound
scientific footing.

In a dissertation attached to this twenty-sixth chapter--a dissertation
larded with illustrative extracts from Galen Celsus, Avicenna, Antonius
Musa, Oribasius Salvus and about fifty others of the ancients who
professed the healing art--Monsignor Perrelli condenses for his readers
the results of these classical experiments; he hands down the names of
these springs and their manifold healing virtues.

The Fountain of Saint Calogero, described as one of the most famous,
was lukewarm, of ammoniacal and alkaline flavour; a glassful of it
produced the most violent retchings and vomitings. Properly applied,
however, the water had been found to relieve the gout, the discomforts
of child-bearing, leprosy, irritation of the mucous membrane of the
nose, impetigo, strabismus and ophthalmia. If the patient observed care
in his diet, avoiding articles of calorific nature such as fried fish
and boiled lentils, he would find himself greatly benefited by its use
in the case of cornucopic hydrocephalus, flatulence, tympanitis and
varicose veins. It was useful, furthermore, as a cure for the stings of
scorpions and other venomous beasts.

The so-called "Fountain of Paradise," of nitrous ingredients, spurted
forth with a prodigious hissing noise at a temperature of boiling lead,
from so inaccessible a fissure in the rocks that little had been done
to investigate its peculiar properties. It was held none the less to be
efficacious for the distemper known as PLICA POLONICA, and the peasant
folk, mixing its spray with the acorns on which their pigs were
fattened, had observed that these quadrupeds prospered vastly in health
and appearance.

The Fountain of Hercules, laxative and tartaric, had proved its
efficacy in cases of enlarged spleen, hare-lip, vertigo, apoplexy,
cachexia, cacodoria, cacochymia senilis and chilblains. It was also
considered to be a sovereign remedy for that distressing and almost
universal complaint, the piles.

The Fountain known as "La Salina," of arsenical nature, was frequented
chiefly by women who found in its waters an alleviation for troubles
which Monsignor Perrelli does not specify. It was recommended,
moreover, as a sheep-dip.

The Fountain of the Virgin, purgative and blastopeptic, had given
relief to sufferers from the quartan fever, herpes, elephantiasis, and
to all persons of atrobiliary and lunatick temperament.

The so-called "Old Fountain," of sub-acidulate and vitriolique flavour,
chalybeate and cataplastic, was renowned for removing stains from
household linen. Taken in minute doses, under medical advice, it gave
relief to patients afflicted with the wolfe, NOLI ME TANGERE,
crudities, Bablyonian itch, globular pemphlegema, fantastical visions,
koliks, asthma and affections of the heart. It also "fortifies the
stomach, comforts the bowels, reduces the gallstone to sand, the sand
to mud, the mud to water--water which can be passed out of the system by
the usual channels."

The Fountain of Saint Vulcan, anti-blepharous and amygdaloidal, was
charged with such potent minerals that a single spoonful produced a
diarrhoea more distressing to witness than cholera. None the less,
applied externally, it was a wondrous remedy in cases of jaundice,
toothache and open wounds.

The Fountain of the Capon, sedative and scorbutic, was indicated for
rheumatisms of every kind, not excluding sprained limbs, hydrophobia,
lycanthropy, black choler, oppilations and procrastinating catapepsia.

The Fountain known as "Spina Santa" was resorted to by all persons
suffering from maladies of the alimentary canal, such as dysentery,
cloven palate, follicular hepatitis, and trabulated hyperaemia of the
Bivonian passage.

The Fountain of Saint Feto had, by virtue of its smell alone, applied
to her nose as she lay in her coffin, raised from the dead a certain
Anna da Pasto.

The Fountain popularly called "La Pisciarella" was peculiarly adapted
to those ailments which are incidental to childhood and youth--to wit:
chlorosis, St. Vitus' Dance, constipation, ringworm, otootitis and
other perimingeal disturbances, urticaria, moon-sickness, scrofula and
incontinence of urine.

Lastly, the Fountain of Saint Elias, sulphurous and saponaceous, was
renowned for its calming influence upon all who suffered from abuse of
lechery or alcohol, or from ingrowing toe-nails.

This concludes the list.

"Whence we may safely infer," says Monsignor Perrelli at the
termination of this chapter, "that our island is second to no part of
the globe in this divine gift of salutary waters. And if some should
ask why certain of these springs have recently undergone a marked
diminution in volume we can but answer, simply and truthfully, that
their virtues are no longer in as great demand as formerly. For is it
not a fact that distempers like leprosy and PLICA POLONICA are now
almost unknown on Nepenthe? It follows that the waters adapted to
maladies such as these have performed their appointed task, so far as
this island is concerned. They are doubtless flowing elsewhere, through
mysterious channels of the earth, to carry their health-giving virtues
into fresh regions for the saving of men's lives, to the glory of their
Creator."

Thus far the learned and ingenious Monsignor Perrelli....

It stands to reason that so remarkable a chapter should not have
escaped the notice of the bibliographer who, as already observed, had
been engaged for the last quarter of a century in elucidating the text
of the old historian and enriching it with footnotes for the better
understanding of modern students. In the interval of three and a half
centuries many changes had taken place in the physical aspect of
Nepenthe; among other things, these twelve streams of pestilential
odour had ceased to flow, all save the fountain of Saint Elias; their
very sites had been forgotten, though traditions of their former
existence still lingered among the populace.

Searching among the archives for whatever might bear on the ancient
history of these springs, Mr. Eames had accumulated abundant material
for footnotes geological, hydrographical and balneo-therapic.
Furthermore, his personal explorations on the island had enabled him to
locate the site of at least four of these old fountains, and to prove
that if some of them had been covered up under the debris of
landslides, the majority had disappeared in consequence of a general
desiccation of the province.

Lastly and chiefly, his investigations had brought him in contact with
that manuscript, already mentioned, of the Dominican monk Father
Capocchio-a manuscript in which he alighted upon a curious but
troublesome literary discovery anent these very fountains. The author,
a contemporary of Monsignor Perrelli, a hater of Nepenthe, a cleric of
lascivious and lecherous temperament, has in this parchment preserved
what he calls a "popular joke"--a saying which he declares to have been
"common property of the whole country" on the subject of Nepenthe and
its evil-smelling waters. It was one of those scholarly, ponderous and
yet helplessly straightforward jokes of the late Renaissance; a joke to
which Monsignor Perrelli does not allude, both for reasons of local
patriotism and of general decorum; some vulgar dictum, in short,
connected with the name of the patron saint of Nepenthe who, he urged,
was simply a local nature-god, christianized.

When the bibliographer's eagle eye first fell upon this passage he was
staggered. Then, on reflection, he found himself in an awkward
predicament--his natural modesty as a man contending with a no less
natural and legitimate pride and desire as historian that the fruits of
his labours should not be lost.

"These," he said, "are the dilemmas which confront the conscientious
annotator."

What position was he to take up? Should he exclude the miserable joke
altogether from his amended and enlarged edition of Perrelli? He did
not feel himself justified in this line of conduct. Some future
investigator would be sure to unearth it and get the credit for his
industry. Should he re-state it in such terms as to make it palatable
to refined readers, diluting its primary pungency without impairing its
essential signification? He was disposed to adopt that course, but,
unfortunately, all attempts at verbal manipulation failed. Good scholar
as Mr. Eames was, the joke proved to be obdurate, uncompromising;
vainly he wrestled with it; try as he would, it stood out naked and
unashamed, refusing to be either cajoled or bullied into
respectability. There was no circumventing that joke, he decided.
Should he reproduce it there fore IN EXTENSO? Such, after mature
deliberation and not without certain moral misgivings, he conceived to
be his duty towards posterity. Veiled in the obscurity of a learned
tongue, the joke was surreptitiously introduced into the company of a
thousand chaste footnotes that could dispense with such covering
devices.

Of the subsequent history of the Saint Elias Fountain, which alone
still continued to flow, the bibliographer also learned much--how its
fame had grown in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries till it
attracted invalids from the most distant provinces, necessitating the
erection of a palatial pump-room for the better accommodations of
visitors; how latterly again the waters had unaccountably fallen into
disfavour with the public. And this, notwithstanding the fact that in
1872 the celebrated Privy Councillor Dr. Saponaro, Director of the
Montecitorio Home for Incurables, had written, at the urgent
solicitation of the Nepenthe Town Authorities (who were alarmed at the
decrease in their bathing-tax revenue) a pamphlet--a pamphlet which, by
the way, cost them a mint of money in view of the author's deserved
reputation as an incorruptible scientist--a pamphlet extolling the
virtue of the spring; proving, by elaborate chemical analysis, that its
ingredients had not only not changed a white since the days of
Monsignor Perrelli but actually improved in quality; and concluding
with the warm recommendation that they were as well adapted as ever for
curing those ailments to which the island population was peculiarly
liable--namely, the consequences of excessive lechery and alcohol, and
the discomfort caused by ingrowing toe-nails.

The local deputy, Don Guistino Morena, had often promised his
Nepenthean constituents to look into the matter and see that something
was done. But he was a busy man. Up to the present he had apparently
not moved a finger.

And now this fountain, the last survivor of the twelve health-giving
springs, had suddenly run dry....

The bad news spread like wild-fire. It was regarded--for reasons which
will presently appear--as a portent of gravest significance. The clergy
met in unofficial but well-attended conclave to deliberate as to what
attitude should be adopted towards the phenomenon, and what measures
taken to allay popular apprehensions.

There was gossip, too, at the Club. Most of its members were of the
LAISSEZ FAIRE or even rationalistic type, and one of them--an
unobtrusive Hindu who was suspected of wearing stays--went so far in his
indifference as to declare that the only result of the drying-up of the
fountain would be "one smell less on Nepenthe." A small but compact
minority, however, thought otherwise. Obsessed by vague forebodings,
they found an able and eloquent interpreter of their fears in the
Commissioner who, rather redder in the face than usual, strode fussily
up and down the premises, tugging at his disreputable briar pipe,
drinking the whisky with anybody who cared to pay for it, and declaring
to all and sundry that something must be done. It was his panacea--his
unvarying formula for every emergency, scandalous or otherwise.
Something must be done, he avowed. And from the card-table came two
approving echoes--the voices of Mr. Muhlen and Signor Malipizzo, who did
not care tuppence about the fountain but never lost an opportunity of
expressing their public approval of Mr. Parker's words and actions.

Something must be done and that soon, for in a few brief hours an
atmosphere of gloom, a sense of impending calamity, had begun to hover
over the sunny island. The natives called to mind, with consternation,
that only once within the memory of their ancestors had the fountain
behaved after this fashion. It was on the eve of that great volcanic
outbreak on the mainland which, by a deadly shower of ashes, destroyed
their crops and impoverished them to such an extent that for three
consecutive months they could barely afford the most unnecessary
luxuries of life. They opined with some show of reason that the little
streamlet had been tempted by ancient and obscure bonds to sympathy to
forsake its old home and creep away, under leagues of shimmering sea,
towards the fiery heart of the volcano; there to undergo some alchemic
process of readjustment, some ordeal, some torrid nuptial rite which
would result in the birth of a flaming monster and the ruin of mankind.

The terrace was crowded with folk; all eyes were turned toward the
distant fire-mountain. But the volcano had never looked so placid, so
harmless, so attractive; its shapely flanks suffused with the crimson
light of evening, while wreaths of violent vapour ascended, in lazy
intermittent spirals, from the cone. They rose into the zenith
playfully, one after the other, as though the volcano were desirous of
drawing attention to its pretty manners, and were wafted onwards, in
delicate wisps of smoke by the persistent South wind. The clergy now
began to appear in goodly numbers upon the scene. They were in the best
of humours and more ready than usual, it seemed, to take part in any
conversation which might be going on. It had been decided, during their
informal gathering, that the apprehensions of the faithful could not be
better allayed at this preliminary stage than by a mild demonstration
of this kind. Appearances were everything; so they had concluded, not
for the first time. And it was precisely then that the simple-minded
PARROCO, surrounded by a knot of devout believers, pointed to the
playful cloudlets of smoke as they issued from the mouth of the crater
and apposite, but calculated to calm the minds of his hearers. He said
that no rosy schoolboy, smoking his first cigarette, ever looked more
innocent. An ominous, fateful speech! Yet such was his holy simplicity
that he failed to realize its import. He failed to perceive how
inauspicious the metaphor had been till Don Francesco, in a whisper,
pointed out that appearances are apt to be deceptive and, alluding to
certain experiences of his own at the tender age of six years, affirmed
that the smoking of a first cigarette, for all its seeming
harmlessness, is liable to be followed by something in the nature of a
cataclysm.

There was worse to come. For while the sun yet lingered on the horizon
news of further portents came thick and fast. A plum tree belonging to
a farmer of good standing had unaccountably lost all its leaves. The
Duchess arrived in a state of unusual trepidation, declaring that the
tortoise-shell of her lorgnette gave forth a crackling sound. She
appealed to Don Francesco to explain the meaning of this extraordinary
circumstance; it crackled most distinctly, she declared. Not far from
the little bay where only yesterday the streamlet of Saint Elias still
trickled into the sea, a fisherman had caught a one-eyed lamprey--a
beast, unquestionably, of ill repute. The bibliographer, strolling
about with Denis, recollected that his fox-terrier that very morning
had been violently sick. He seemed to attach no great importance to the
affair; all the same, he said, it was rather queer; dogs are not like
that; now, if it had been Keith.... The baby of the principal grocer
had tumbled downstairs and thereupon proceeded to swallow eight of its
elder brother's marbles which had been carelessly left on the
floor--without experiencing, so far as could be ascertained, any
appreciable injury. A mysterious disease, known as the scabies, had
broken out among the Russian apostles. The yacht of the American
millionaire, Mr. van Koppen, arrived that day; there was nothing
startling in this since he visited the island year after year at the
same season; but why should she collide with a fishing-boat at the
moment of anchoring?

And from the Old Town came news of a portentous fowl which had suddenly
assumed the plumage of the male sex. It was a hen renowned, hitherto,
for her temperate and normal habits and, as it happened, known by sight
to the local parish priest, who, horrified at the transformation of the
feathered monster and mindful of the Papal Bull NE NIMIS NOCEANT NOBIS
which enjoins upon Christians the duty of destroying all unnatural
productions however generated, incontinently ordered it to be put out
of the way. But the destruction of this androgyne proved an arduous
task. It was reported that the creature fought for its life with the
energy of a demon, crowing vigorously the while and laying, in the very
act of death, an egg--an egg of spheroidal form, bluish in colour, and
apparently hard-boiled--an egg which the Chief Medical Officer of Health
had no great difficulty in recognizing as that of a cockatrice.

In view of these and other sinister occurrences it is not surprising
that a sense of insecurity should have fallen upon the more credulous
section of the natives. Even sceptical persons thought it rather
provoking on the part of Providence, or whoever managed these things,
that the disquieting of men's minds should take place during this
particular fortnight, the most important of the whole year, midway
between the great feasts of Saint Dodekanus and Saint Eulalia when the
island was crammed with visitors.

And there followed late at night yet another surprise. Mr. Parker had
been called away from his duties at the Club in hot haste by the news
that his lady was seriously ill. A few days earlier she had been stung
on the lip by a mosquito; no further attention was paid to the
incident, though the disagreeable south wind provoked a rise in
temperature and some discomfort. On this afternoon, however, her face
had suddenly begun to assume strange tints and to swell in wondrous
fashion. It was no already enlarged to twice its natural size and
altogether--in the words of the physician who had been summoned to her
villa--"a thing to see."

It had always been a thing to see. So, at least, said those who were
privileged to know. There were tropical strains in her blood-strains
from some flowery land in the Caribbean Sea-strains which refused to
mingle in harmonious fashion with the white elements in her ancestry.
She was neither lovely nor lovable, and it was regarded as a kindly
dispensation of Heaven that some malformation of the lower limbs kept
her confined to her boudoir, where no visitors ever called save a few
misguided newcomers to the island who were unaware of her
idiosyncrasies. These idiosyncrasies, due to the enforced inactivity of
her feet, took the form of a grotesque activity of the tongue. Her
infirmity preventing her from learning how things really stood, she let
her phantasy run riot on the occasional reports which reached the
villa; and that phantasy, nourished by lack of physical exercise,
indulged in a love of scandal-mongering which bordered, and sometimes
trespassed, on the pathological. She distilled scandal from every pore,
and in such liberal quantities that even the smiling and good-natured
Don Francesco once spoke of her as "the serpent in the Paradise." But
perhaps he only said that because Madame Parker was not over-fond of
him--his rival the PARROCO being her friend and confessor.

Such being the case, the prospect of her possible demise was received
with unconcern and even relief by all save a notable number of
tradesmen who prayed fervently for her health because the lady,
presuming on her connection with the official representative of the
friendly state of Nicaragua, had contrived to owe them considerable
sums of money. Knowing the Commissioner as they did, these victims
feared that they would never be able to collect their due in the event
of her death. Hence their prayers for her speedy recovery.

What would that gentleman do without her? For it was his redeeming
feature that he felt, or professed to feel, affection for this
graceless harridan who was the only person on earth that believed, or
professed to believe, in the integrity of his motives. It is to be
presumed that they saw through each other perfectly; she, at least, may
well have appraised him at his true value. She must have known him for
a dishonest fool. Yet this principle of mutual attachment was never
relinquished. Wiser than her stepbrother, she knew that a house divided
against itself must fall; she therefore approved, forcefully if without
conviction, of his every word and deed. Such approval did him good. It
created a fictitious self-esteem. And this was really rather
unfortunate, since self-esteem, by giving him a sense of importance and
consequence in the world, rendered him a good deal more objectionable
to his fellow-creatures than he need have been.

Meanwhile she lingered on, and a small group of enquirers were gathered
round the physician who was returning late at night from his third
visit. The moralists among them saw the finger of God in the fact that
her mouth, out of which had proceeded so much harm to strong men and
women, should now be sealed by one of the frailest of His creatures.
The doctor shrugged his shoulders at this kind of talk. He was no
moralizer; he was a true Southerner, an aesthete--one of those who could
appreciate the subtlest beauty of a skin disease. He waxed discursive
on the subject; said that the lady's face reminded him of the rainbow
in a certain picture by a local genius; avowed that there were moments
when even a doctor's hard life had its compensations, and that this was
one of them.

His enthusiasm carried the audience off their feet. It converted the
sternest preachers into artists. They forgot to talk about moral
lessons. All congratulated the good Aesculapius on his choice of the
medical profession as a career and his luck in beholding a spectacle
such as this; especially when he added, with glowing eloquence, that it
was astonishing how so small an insect, a mere mosquito, should be able
to produce an eruption of this magnitude and in colours, moreover,
which would have made Titian or Peter Paul Rubens burst with envy.



CHAPTER XVII



Decidedly, things were happening, as Mr. Heard would have said.

Strange to say that gentleman himself was probably the only person on
Nepenthe who still remained in ignorance of all these praeternatural
occurrences. In the early morning, after admiring the sea overhung by a
cloudless sky and once more thanking the Duchess in his heart for such
a delightful residence when he might have been boxed up in some stuffy
hotel bedroom, he descended to the beach for his morning bathe. Such
was his custom. The swim did him good, it freshened him up.

Then back to breakfast and a busy morning's work, to settle up arrears
of correspondence. He wrote to various friends in England; he wrote a
long letter--the third since his arrival--to his mother, telling her of
all such things as might interest her; a nice gossipy letter, full of
information about the entertainments of the foreigners on Nepenthe,
about the obliging natives, the Russian colony, the persistent sirocco,
his own domestic life, his improved health. Much as he liked the place
and people, he said, he expected to be leaving in a week or so. He
concluded with two pages describing his last visit to his cousin. She
was rather poorly or troubled in mind, he thought; he would see her
again ere long.

And that reminded him--he would write to Mrs. Meadows as well. He did
so, enquiring after her health, asking whether he could be of any
assistance, and promising to call again shortly. "Rather a formal
epistle," he concluded, on reading it through. He was unable to force
the note: he could never write or talk otherwise than he felt, and this
cousin, after all, was rather remote, self-centred, and difficult of
comprehension. "It must go as it is," he decided. "To be quite frank,
she's not exactly encouraging either. Asks such queer questions. What
on earth did she mean by that conundrum about illegitimacy, I wonder?"

Then luncheon; then a long sleep till tea-time. Everyone slept at this
hour during the days of sirocco-heat. What else was there to do? He had
already learned to look forward to that calm post-prandial hour of
slumber. One owes something to oneself, N'EST CE PAS? as Muhlen had
said.

On waking he bethought him of an invitation to tea with Madame
Steynlin. He would have listened gladly to her music and her
instructive and charitable talk about Nepenthe and its inhabitants. But
he was afraid of meeting Russians there. The lady seemed to be
specializing in Muscovites just then, and Mr. Heard was not in the
Russian mood. He would take what he called "a day off" from social
duties.

Slipping his field glasses into his pocket, he rambled upwards by now
familiar paths, past white farmhouses nestling in a riot of greenery;
till he reached the barer regions. The vines were more sparsely
cultivated here, and soon all trace of human handcraft was at an end.
He found himself on a little plateau of volcanic cinders and
lava-blocks. The spare grasses and flowers that grew between fuliginous
masses of stone were already losing their bright enamel under the
withering heat; a peculiar odour, acrid but stimulating to the
nostrils, rose from the parched ground. Here he rested awhile. He
scanned the landscape through his glasses--a wine-coloured sea at his
feet, flecked with sailing boats innumerable; confronting him from the
volcano whose playful antics were even then attracting the attention of
a crowded Piazza. And his eye roved along the serrated contours of the
mainland, its undulating shore-line, its distant peaks throbbing in the
sunset glow; they rested upon many villages, coral-tinted specks of
light, so far away they seemed to belong to another world. It was a
pleasure to breathe on these aerial heights, surrounded by sky and sea;
to survey the world as a bird might survey it. Like floating in air....

He sat and smoked and pondered. He tried to get himself into
perspective. "I must straighten myself out," he thought. Assuredly it
was a restful place, this Nepenthe, abounding in kindly people; his
affection for it grew with every day. Rest without; but where was that
old rest within, that sense of plain tasks plainly to be performed, of
tangible duty? Whither had it gone? Alien influences were at work upon
him. Something new had insinuated itself into his blood, some demon of
doubt and disquiet which threatened his old-established conceptions.
Whence came it? The effect of changed environment--new friends, new
food, new habits? The unaccustomed leisure which gave him, for the
first time, a chance of thinking about non-professional matters? The
south wind acting on his still weakened health? All these together? Or
had he reached an epoch in his development, the termination of one of
those definite life--periods when all men worthy of the name pass
through some cleansing process of spiritual desquamation, and slip
their outworn weeds of thought and feeling?

Whatever it was he seemed to be no longer his own master, as in former
days. Fate had caused his feet to stray towards something new--something
alarming. He was poised, as it were, on the brink of a gulf. Or rather,
it was as if that old mind of his, like a boat sailing hitherto briskly
before the wind, had suddenly encountered a bank of calm, of utter and
ominous calm; it was a thing spell-bound; a toy of circumstances beyond
human control. The canvas hung in the stagnant air. From which quarter
would the quickening breeze arrive? Whither would it bring him?

And his glance fell upon a slender coquettish vessel, a new-comer,
lying in the sunny harbour under the cliff. He knew it from hearsay. It
was the FLUTTERBY, van Koppen's yacht. He recollected all he had ever
heard about the millionaire; he tried to conjure up some idea of his
features and habits from gossip overheard at odd moments.

This man, he concluded, must be intelligent beyond ordinary standards.
It would be worth while making his acquaintance. America is notoriously
the land of youthful precocity. But it is not every American who, as a
stripling of fourteen summers, puzzling in callow boyish perplexity
upon the thousand ills that afflict mankind and burning with desire for
their betterment, makes a discovery in Malthusian methods destined to
convulse the trade and the social life of a continent. Not everybody is
like young Koppen--he attached a van to his name on reaching his
seventy-fifth million--who, possessed at that time of barely three
dollars in the world and not even the shadow of a moustache, had both
the wit to realize the hygienic importance of a certain type of goods
and the pertinacity to insist on cheapening their price, in the
interest of public health, to such an extent that--to quote from
subsequent advertisements--they should be "within reach of the humblest
home." It is not everybody--no, not every American--who, after
revolutionizing the technique of manufacture and shattering the Paris
monopoly, dares boldly to advertise the improved article across the
length and breadth of the land, and to thrust his commodity upon a
reluctant market in the teeth of popular prejudice and commercial
rivalry. Van Koppen had done all this. And it was noted that he had
done it without ever for a moment losing sight of his dual
aim--mercantile and philanthropic; for if he was a humanitarian by
natural disposition, he became what he called "a tradesman by force of
circumstance"--and not a bad tradesman, either. He had done all this and
more. Unlike most self-made men who remain yoked like oxen to their
sordid affairs (in harness, they aptly call it) he had been shrewd
enough to retire from business in the heyday of his age, on a
relatively modest competence of fifteen million dollars a year. He was
spending his time at present in the gratification of personal whims,
and leaving the remaining millions to be picked up by whoever cared to
take the trouble. Manifestly an unusual type of millionaire--this man
who had lived down half a century of obloquy and was now hailed, in
well-informed circles, as the saviour of his country.

Nor was this all. Van Koppen was described as a brisk, genial,
talkative old fellow, rather fat, with a clear complexion, sound teeth,
shrubby grey beard, a twang barely sufficient to authenticate his
transatlantic descent, and the digestion of a boa-constrictor. He was
tremendously fond of buttered tea-cakes--so the Duchess said; a man who,
in the words of Madame Steynlin, "really appreciated good music" and
who, as the PARROCO never ceased to declare, could be relied on to give
a handsome contribution towards the funds for supporting the poor and
repairing a decrepit parish organ. (The parish poor were never in such
dire distress, the parish organ never so hopelessly deranged, as during
that annual week when the FLUTTERBY rode at anchor.)

In fact there was no doubt about it: van Koppen had the gifts of making
himself beloved. But nobody's company was more markedly to his taste
than that of Count Caloveglia. The two old men spent hours together in
Caloveglia's shady courtyard, eating candied fruits, sipping home-made
liqueurs of peaches or mountain-herbs and talking--ever talking. Between
them there existed some strong and strange bond of friendship or
interest. Speculation was rife as to its origin, its meaning, its end.

What was all the talk about?

Andrea, the devoted retainer, however artfully approached on the
subject, was ambiguous to a distressing degree. It was understood, none
the less, that Count Caloveglia was perhaps of use to the other in the
accumulation of classical relics which--the Italian Government
forbidding the export of antique works of art--were smuggled at
night-time on board the FLUTTERBY to be incorporated in a magnificent
museum somewhere out West, a museum which was destined to be presented
by van Koppen as a gift to the great American people. Again, it might
be inferred that these two elderly gentlemen, choice representatives of
two conflicting civilizations, widely experienced and profoundly
versed, each in his own way, in the knowledge of mankind, took a
sincere and childlike pleasure in one another's society, going over
past times and anxious, to the very end of life, to add something fresh
to their store of learning.

Both these explanations were sufficiently plausible to be straightway
dismissed by the majority as inadequate to account for the phenomenon.
They inclined, rather, to adopt an alternative and alluring theory
propounded by the Commissioner's lady. This theory laid it down that
the American was bargaining for the Count's daughter, a pretty girl
whom the old ruffian had shut up in a convent somewhere in anticipation
of the day when a purchaser, rich enough to content his inordinate lust
for gold, should present himself. Van Koppen was that purchaser. They
had now been haggling, she said, for two or three years; a DENOUEMENT
might be expected at any moment. If the Count's avarice could be
appeased the unhappy child might expect to find herself, with as little
delay as possible, an inmate of the floating harem on board the
FLUTTERBY.

No visitor was safe from her lively tongue, and alas, certain little
details, insignificant in themselves, gave ground for the ungenerous
hypothesis that van Koppen, like all the rest of them, had a cloven
hoof. There was the usual "dark side" to this otherwise charming and
profitable stranger, the usual mystery, the usual fly in the ointment.
In the first place it was a singular fact, much commented on, that
nobody had ever been invited on board the yacht. That alone was
suspicious. IF YOU WANT TO GET ANYTHING OUT OF OLD KOPPEN--so ran a
local saying--DON'T PROPOSE A VISIT TO THE FLUTTERBY. More curious still
was the circumstance that nobody, save the owner and certain bearded
venerables of the crew, had ever been known to land on the island. How
about the other passengers? Who were they? The millionaire never so
much as mentioned their existence. It was surmised, accordingly, that
he voyaged over the seas with a bevy of light-hearted nymphs; a
disreputable mode of conduct for a man of his advanced years, and all
the more aggravating to other people since, like a crafty and jealous
old sultan, he screened them from public view. Impropriety could be
overlooked--it could pass, where a millionaire was concerned, under the
heading of unconventionality; but such glaring selfishness might end in
being fatal to his reputation.

Confirmatory evidence of this scandalous state of affairs was obtained,
one sunny morning, in the most unexpected fashion. A fisherman named
Luigi, paddling about the stern of the FLUTTERBY where, in consequence
of the kitchen refuse thrown overboard, marine beasts of every shape
and kind were wont to congregate, cast down his spear at what looked
like a splendid caerulean flat-fish of uncommon size and brilliance.
The creature shivered and collapsed at that contact in the most
unnatural, unfishlike manner; and Luigi drew up, to his amazement, a
fragment of a lady's dress--to wit, a short length of sky-blue CREPE DE
CHINE. Bitterly disappointed, he nevertheless took the matter with the
characteristic Southern philosophy. "This will do for my little
Annarella," he decided. And doubtless the child, arrayed in these
celestial tints, would have been the envy of all her girl companions at
the next festival of the patron saint b for the fact that Mr. Freddy
Parker was strolling on the beach at the very moment of the man's
return to land. By a rare piece of good luck, as he himself phrased it,
his eye fell upon the dripping fabric; by a stroke of intuition not
rare but unique, he divined its worth as a sociological document.
Promising the man a reasonable sum of money (the Commissioner happened
to have no loose change in his pocket just then) he carried the
incrimination morsel in triumph to the Residency, where it was
displayed by his lady, to all and sundry, in corroboration of her
theory.

"That settles it," she used to say. "Unless indeed he dresses up his
cabin-boy as a girl, and in that case...."

Mr. Heard, reposing on the rough pumiceous ground with his eye fixed
upon the naughty FLUTTERBY whose virginal whiteness, with declining
day, had assumed a tell-tale crimson blush, pieced together these and
sundry other little bits of information. They made him more than
usually thoughtful; they chimed in with his momentary mood of
self-analysis.

One thing was dead certain. To circumnavigate the globe in the arms of
a dozen chorus-girls was not his ideal. He was not built on those
lines. He purposed, God Willing, to spend the evening of his days in
another and more respectable manner. A vision arose before his
imagination--a vision of a peaceful homestead among the green lanes of
England, where he would lead a life of study and of kindly,
unostentatious acts, with family and friends; old friends of College
days, and London days, and African days; new friends from among the
rising generation--straightforward and decent-minded youngsters, whom he
would take to his heart like a father.

Why could not van Koppen see the beauty of such dreamings?

And yet, he argued, if the man does seclude them in this
fashion--supposing they really exist--who can blame him? No woman is safe
on Nepenthe with persons like Muhlen about. From chance meetings in the
street, from stray conversations overheard, he had been led to take an
unreasoning dislike to this foreigner, whose attitude towards the
gentle sex struck him as that of a cur. Muhlen, if the yacht were his,
would flaunt these ladies about the streets. The American, in keeping
them secluded on board, betrayed a sense of shame, almost of delicacy;
a sense of his obligations towards society which, so far as it went,
was rather a laudable trait of character than otherwise.

And then--the difference between himself and the millionaire in life,
training, antecedents! A career such as van Koppen's called for
qualities different, often actually antagonistic, to his own. You could
not possibly expect to find in a successful American merchant those
features which go to form a successful English ecclesiastic. Certain
human attributes were mutually exclusive--avarice and generosity, for
instance; others no doubt mysteriously but inextricably intertwined. A
man was an individual; he could not be divided or taken to pieces; he
could not be expected to possess virtues incompatible with the rest of
his mental equipment, however desirable such virtues might be. Who
knows? Van Koppen's doubtful acts might be an unavoidable expression of
his personality, an integral part of that nature under whose ferocious
stimulus he had climbed to his present enviable position. And Mr. Heard
was both shocked and amused to reflect that but for the co-operation of
certain coarse organic impulses to which these Nepenthe legends
testified, the millionaire might never have been able to acquire the
proud title of "Saviour of his Country."

"That's queer," he mused. "It never struck me before. Shows how careful
one must be. Dear me! Perhaps the ladies have inevitable organic
impulses of a corresponding kind. Decidedly queer. H'm. Ha. Now I
wonder.... And perhaps, if the truth were known, these young persons
are having quite a good time of it--"

He paused abruptly in his reflections. He had caught himself in the
act; in the very act of condoning vice. Mr. Thomas Heard was seriously
concerned.

Something was wrong, he concluded. He would never have argued on
similar lines a short time ago. This downright sympathy with sinners,
what did it portend? Did it betray a lapse from his old-established
principles, a waning of his respect for traditional morality? Was he
becoming a sinner himself?

Thomas--the doubting apostle. He wondered whether there was anything in
a name.

Then he called to mind how he had approved--yes, almost approved--of Don
Francesco's deplorable act of familiarity towards the little serving
maid. An absurdly small matter, but symptomatic. Things like that had
happened in Africa lately. He remembered various instances where he had
intervened on behalf of the natives, despite the murmured protests of
the missionaries. They were such laughing, good-natured animals--so fine
and healthy! What was it, this excessive love of erring humanity, and
whither trending? Mr. Heard began to vex his soul to stray about in a
maze of doubts. It was so miserably complex, this old, old problem of
right and wrong; so unreasonably many-sided. Anon, he pulled himself
together with characteristic bluntness.

"The whole question," he concluded, "is plain as a pikestaff. Am I
becoming more of a Christian, or less?"

As though to learn an answer to his riddle he gazed fro he eyrie over
the wide horizon, upon leagues of sea rising upward to blend their
essence, under the magic touch of evening, with the purple dome
overhead.

The elements, as is their wont upon such occasions, gave forth no clear
reply.

None the less, while the moist south wind, shorn of the sting of
midday, relaxed his pores and passed over his cheek like a warm caress,
there exhaled from those limitless spaces a sense of joyous
amplitude--of freedom and exhilaration.



CHAPTER XVIII



And now, in the sunlit hour of dawn, he was bathing again. An excellent
habit. It did him good, this physical contact with nature. Africa had
weakened his constitution. Nepenthe made him feel younger once
more--capable of fun and mischief. The muscles were acquiring a fresh
tone, that old zest of life was coming back to him. His health, without
a shadow of doubt, had greatly improved.

While disporting himself in amphibious joy among the tepid waves he
seemed to cast off that sense of unease which had pursued him of late.
It was good to inhale the harsh salty savour--to submit himself to these
calming voices--to float, like a careless Leviathan, in the blue
immensity; good to be alive, simply alive.

Another hot and clammy day was in store for the island. No matter. This
sirocco, of which older inhabitants might well complain, had so far
exerted no baleful influence upon him. Quite the reverse. Under its
tender moistening touch his frame, desiccated in the tropics, seemed to
open out, even as a withered flower uncloses its petals in water. In
Africa all this thoughts and energies had been concentrated upon a
single point. Here he expanded. New interests, new sensations, seemed
to lie in wait for him. Never had he felt so alert, so responsive to
spiritual impressions, so appreciative of natural beauty.

Lying in motionless ecstasy on the buoyant element he watched the mists
of morning as they soared into the air. Reluctantly, with imperceptible
movement, they detached themselves from their watery home; they
clambered aloft in spectral companies, drawn skyward, as by some
beckoning hand, under the stealthy compulsion of the sun. They crept
against the tawny precipices, clinging to their pinnacles like shreds
of pallid gauze, and nestling demurely among dank clefts where
something of the mystery of night still lingered. It was a procession
of dainty shapes wreathing themselves into gracious attitudes;
mounting--ever mounting. As he beheld their filmy draperies that swayed
phantom-like among the crags overhead, he understood those pagan minds
of olden days for whom such wavering exhalations were none other than
sea-nymphs, Atlantides, offspring of some mild-eyed god of Ocean rising
to greet their playfellows, the Oreads, on the hills.

The wildest stretch of Nepenthe coast-line lay before him. Its profile
suggested not so much the operation of terrestrial forces as a
convulses and calcined lunar landscape--the handiwork of some demon in
delirium. Gazing landwards, nothing met his eye save jagged precipices
of fearful height, tormented rifts and gulleys scorched by fires of old
into fantastic shapes, and descending confusedly to where the water
slept in monster-haunted caverns.

Not a sign of humanity was visible save one white villa, far away. It
was perched on a promontory of heliotrope-tinted trachyte; struck by
the morning beams it flashed and glowed like a jewel in the sunshine.
He knew the place: Madame Steynlin's abode. The sight of it reminded
him of a promise to attend her picnic next week; all Nepenthe would be
invited, after the feast of Saint Eulalia. And hard by the shore, at
its foot, he discerned certain minute scarlet specks.

What could they be?

Why, of course! They were recognizable, even at this distance, as the
blouses of the Sacred Sixty-three, who frequented this somewhat public
spot for bathing purposes, blandly indifferent, or resigned, to the
gaze of inquisitive onlookers. Mr. Heard, among others, had witnessed
their aquatic diversions.

The Messiah was hindered by age and growing infirmities from taking
part in the proceedings; moreover, he had been sickening lately, it was
said, for some new Revelation--a Revelation of which the island was to
become cognizant that very morning. But others of the Muscovite band
were fond of congregating at this spot and hour for their lustral
summer rites--white-skinned lads and lasses, matrons and reverent
elders, all in a state of Adamitic nudity, splashing about the water of
this sunny cover, devouring raw fish and crabs after the manner of the
fabled Ichthyophagi, laughing, kissing, saying nice things about God,
and combing out each other's long tow-coloured hair. Madame Steynlin, a
spectator by necessity if not deliberate choice of these patriarchal
frolics, disdained to controvert certain frivolous folk who resorted to
the same beach to gratify a morbid curiosity, under the pretext that it
was a delectable entertainment and one of the sights of Nepenthe. She
disdained, nowadays. It had not ever been thus. Things were different
before Peter the Great came upon the scene. In those unregenerate times
her Lutheran upbringing condemned, in no measured terms, this frank
exhibition of animal nature. A warm friendship with the good-looking
apostle had now opened her eyes to the mystic sense of what went on.
Earthly love had given an unearthly tinge to her mind. The veil had
fallen; she saw through external appearances into the Symbolic Beyond.
Deeply penetrated of its inner meaning, she would say that the
spectacle called up visions of the Age of Innocence, when the world was
young....

An elegant rowing-boat suddenly swept into Mr. Heard's field of vision.
It had approached from round the entrance of the small bay and was
already within a few yards ere he caught sight of it. He dived
skilfully, and on returning to the surface beheld Mr. Keith smiling
upon him, with owlish benevolence, through his spectacles.

"How pretty you look," he said. "Just like a mermaid that's lost its
tail."

"You flatter me!"

"Not at all. Climb in and I'll take you for a row."

"Hadn't I better get some clothes on?"

"As you please. We can take you off that boulder if you want to dress."

"You're very kind."

Kind indeed. To admit a friend into one of his yachts or rowing-boats
was an act of rare self-sacrifice on the part of Mr. Keith, who
maintained that no vessel, not even an Atlantic liner, was large enough
for more than one passenger.

"You are comfortable in here," the bishop remarked, as he presently
stepped on board and looked around him. "Cleopatra's barge must have
been something like this."

"There will be no breeze worth talking about all day. We must row."

An awning of red silk screened off the rays of the sun; the
appointments of the small boat--the polished wood of rare texture,
morocco leather cushions, and elaborate fittings--bespoke the taste or
at least the income of a Sybarite. A grizzly brown sailor and his
curly-pated son were the oarsmen; in the stern sat a couple of Keith's
attendants, whom Mr. Heard might have mistaken for two Green genii but
for the fact that between them lay an enormous and hideously modern
receptacle of wicker-work which impaired the illusion. It troubled the
bishop, both by reason of its incongruity and because he could not
divine what its purpose might be, till Keith solved the mystery by
saying:

"I thought I would like to see for myself about this fountain of Saint
Elias and, incidentally, enjoy a little al fresco luncheon by the
shore. Now I wonder whether there will be enough food for both of us in
the basket?"

"That thing? Dear me. I thought it might contain a cottage piano. What
fountain?"

"You haven't heard anything? Nothing at all?"

He outlined the events of the preceding day.

"What?" he continued. "They didn't even tell you about Miss
Wilberforce? Well, whether she thought it was her birthday, or whether
all these omens upset her nerves--Oh, the usual thing, only rather
more so. Decidedly more so. It was late at night, you see, and she
insisted on singing 'Auld Lang Syne,' and even on translating it, for
the benefit of the constable who arrested her, into her own particular
brand of Italian. In fact, there was a good deal of trouble, till
somebody let down a blanket from a window. It happened to be a new
policeman unaccustomed to her ways, and he has had a bad shock. His
wife complained to the judge, who set round word to me this morning
that she was in the lock-up."

"In prison. An English lady!"

"It is not the first time by any means. But I feel exactly as you do
about it. I've bailed her out, and stopped his mouth with a fifty-franc
note. Please keep this between ourselves."

Mr. Heard was not pleased to learn this incident. It seemed a
discordant note on Nepenthe. He observed:

"Miss Wilberforce apparently can be relied upon to create a diversion
of a scandalous nature. I wish I could do something to help such a poor
creature."

"The dear lady! I don't know what we should do without her. By the way,
have you seen Denis lately? We must be friendly to that young fellow,
Heard. I don't think he is altogether happy in this clear pagan light.
He seems to be oppressed about something. What do you make of him?"

"Of Denis? Nothing at all."

"You interest me."

"How so?"

"Because your values appear to be perverted. Your heart remains dead to
Denis, but goes out to a worthless and incurable drunkard. The one is
supremely happy. The other plainly troubled in mind. It leaves you
cold. How do you explain it?"

Mr. Heard began to wonder. Were his values really vitiated? Had he done
anything to justify self-reproach? He remembered meeting Denis lately,
in a fit of dejection, as it seemed; they had passed each other with a
few words of greeting. Perhaps he might have been a little more
friendly. Well, he would atone for it on the next occasion. He asked:

"Has he no relations?"

"A mother, at present in Florence. There have been misunderstandings, I
suspect. He has probably found her out, like he found out our Duchess;
like he will find out both you and me, if we give him the chance.
Meanwhile he gropes about in a wistful fashion, trying to carve out a
scheme of life for himself and to learn something from al lof us. What
can a person of that kind have in common with a mother of any kind?"

"Everything," said Mr. Heard enthusiastically.

"Nothing at all. You are thinking of your own mother. You forget that
you never see her. Any son can live with any mother under those
conditions. The fact remains: nobody can misunderstand a boy like his
own mother. Look around you, and see if it is not true! Honour thy
father and thy mother. Perhaps. But we must civilize our mothers before
we can expect any rational companionship between them and their sons.
Girls are different. They are more cynical and less idealistic, they
can put up with mothers, they can laugh at them. I am speaking in a
general way. Of course there are shining exceptions. Mothers at present
can bring children into the world, but this performance is apt to mark
the end of their capacities. They can't even attend to the elementary
animal requirements of their offspring. It is quite surprising how many
children survive in spite of their mothers. Ask any doctor."

"If that is the case there must be something wrong with our social
system. You may be sure that the female cat or canary bird is just as
efficient in her department as the male in his. Speaking from my own
experience among the London poor, I should say that the father is often
a mere parasite on his wifo and children--"

"We may both of us be right. But I wish you would take Denis in hand a
little. Will you? Perhaps you misread his character. He may be afraid
of you."

"Have you any particular reason--?"

"I don't like his looks. There is something tragic about him lately."

Mr. Heard was slightly nettled. After all, he was not on Nepenthe for
the purpose of doling out consolations to melancholy undergraduates.

"I should be sorry to think myself singled out for his distrust," he
replied. "At the same time, I don't notice that he has much to say to
certain other people--to the Commissioner, for instance, or to Mr.
Muhlen."

"Muhlen? He is quite right to leave Muhlen alone. Quite right. It
proves his intuition. I have learnt all about that man. A beastly
character. He has a bad record. Lives on blackmail and women. His real
name is Retlow."

And Mr. Keith lit a cigar, as though to dismiss the subject.

"Retlow, you say? That's queer."

The name sounded familiar to the bishop. Where had he heard it before?
He racked his memory. Where could it have been? Retlow.... It was
not a common name. Long ago, obviously. Where?

In African days, or earlier?

His searchings were interrupted by the voice of the old boatman who,
relinquishing an oar, pointed to a swart precipice near at hand and
said in tolerable English (the older generation of natives all spoke
English--their children were learning Russian):

"The suicides' rock, gentlemens. Ah! Many is the poor Christian I have
pick up there. He throw down hisself. Him dead. Often in small pieces.
Here blood. Here brain. Here leg and boot. Here finger. Ah! The poor
Chiristian. That so, gentlemens."

The bishop scanned with a shudder this frowning cliff of basalt, and
turned to address his companion.

"Do people really throw themselves over here?"

"Very few. Not more than three or four in a season, I'm told. The local
suicides, as a rule, are not as spectacular as they might be
considering the landscape. They shoot themselves or take poison, which
shows a certain consideration for other people. It is not a pleasant
job, you know, to row to this remote spot and scramble about the cliff
at the risk of a broken neck, collecting shattered fragments of
humanity into a potato sack."

"Not at all pleasant!"

"As compared with England," Keith pursued, "life here is intense,
palpitating, dramatic--a kind of blood-curdling farce full of
irresponsible crimes and improbable consequences. The soil is saturated
with blood. People are always killing themselves or each other for
motives which, to an Englishman, are altogether outside the range of
comprehensibility. Shall I tell you about one of our most interesting
cases? I happen to be on the island at the time. There was a young
fellow here--an agreeable young fellow--an artist; he was rich; he took a
villa, and painted. We all liked him. Then, by degrees, he became
secretive and moody. Said he was studying mechanics. He told me himself
that much as he liked landscape painting he thought an artist--a real
artist, he said--ought to be versed in ancillary sciences; in
fortification, wood-carving, architecture, and so on. Leonardo da
Vinci, you know. Well, one day they could not get into his bedroom.
They broke open his door and discovered that he had constructed a
perfectly-formed guillotine; the knife had fallen; his head lay on one
side and his body on the other. You may well be surprised. I went
carefully into that case. He was in the best of health, with a
creditable artistic record behind him. He had no troubles, financial or
domestic."

"Then what on earth--?"

"The scenery of Nepenthe. It got on his nerves; it unstrung him. Does
that surprise you too? Don't you feel its effect upon yourself? The
bland winds, the sea shining in velvety depths as though filled with
some electric fluid, the riot of vegetation, these extravagant cliffs
that change colour with every hour of the day? Look at that peak
yonder--is it not almost transparent, like some crystal of amethyst?
This coast-line alone--the sheer effrontery of its mineral charm--might
affect some natures to such an extent as to dislocate their stability.
Northern minds seem to become fluid here, impressionable, unstable,
unbalanced--what you please. THere is something in the brightness of
this spot which decomposes their old particles and arranges them into
fresh and unexpected patterns. That is what people mean when they say
that they 'diswcover' themselves here. You discover a mechanism, you
know, when you take it to pieces. You catch my meaning?"

"I catch it."

He nodded. He understood perfectly. Some analogous process was going on
within him at that moment. He, too, was discovering himself.

"Have you discovered yourself, Keith?"

"Yes, by other methods, elsewhere. I am only here for a short time in
the Spring and another ten days in September. That is hardly enough,
even supposing I were the sort of person to be accessible to these
externals. I have passed that stage. I am too old, too unemotional. I
prefer devouring a partridge EN CASSEROLE or listening to your
conversation ("listening to my conversation!" thought Mr. Heard) to all
the scenery in the world But I watch other people; I make it my
business to study their condition; I put myself in their places. JE
CONSTATE, as the French say. To them, the landscape of Nepenthe is
alive, often malignantly alive. They do what you cannot so effectually
do in the North; they humanize it, identifying its various aspects with
their own moods, its features with their own traditions."

Mr. Heard thought of those tremendous mists he had seen only an hour
ago--the daughters of old Ocean.

"They humanize it," he echoed. "The mythopoetic faculty!"

"Perhaps this capacity of Southern scenery to bear a mortal
interpretation accounts for the anthropomorphic deities of classical
days. I often think it does. Even we moderns are unaccountably moved by
its varying facets which act sometimes as an aphrodisiac, and sometimes
by their very perfection, their discouraging spell, their insolent
beauty, suggest the hopelessness of all human endeavour.... Denis! I
should think him capable of anything, just now. Do you imagine a person
like this could possibly remain insensible to the beguiling influence
of these surroundings?"

"I never thought about him."

"Really? You interest me, Heard. If you deny the susceptibility of a
temperament like his, you deny the whole operation of externals upon
character and action. You deny, for example, the success of the Roman
Catholic Church which relies, for its moral effects, upon such optic
appeals to the senses, and upon the ease with which transitory feelings
can be transmuted into axioms of conduct. Do you deny this?"

"Not at all. I have seen enough of their system to realize its extreme
simplicity."

"And then think of the peculiar history of this island and its
situation as a converging-point for men of every race and every creed.
All these things stimulate to rapid nervous discharges; that is, to
inconsidered, foolish actions--"

"All fools!" the boatman interrupted. "All foreigners! We people don't
do these things. Only dam-fool foreigners. That so, gentlemens. They
have trouble themselves, then they come to this rock and, boom! make
trouble for their friends."

"Boom!" echoed his son, who had apparently caught the drift of the old
man's speech. Whereat the two Greek genii in the stern laughed
immoderately; knowing, as they did, that the boy had not the slightest
idea of what his father was talking about.

"Boom!" they repeated, in derisive chorus.

At that moment all the occupants of the boat pricked up their ears. A
sound had reached them, a similar sound--a sound that recalled the
distant firing of a big gun. Boom! It reverberated among the rocks. The
rowers dropped their oars. Everyone listened.

The sound came again. This time there was no question as to its origin.
It was artillery, beyond a doubt.

The old sailor had grown preternaturally grave.

"IL CANNONE DEL DUCA," he said.

The cannon of the Good Duke Alfred, never used save on urgent or solemn
occasions, was being discharged.

Then the boatman made another remark, in Italian, to Keith.

"What does he say?" asked Mr. Heard.

"He thinks they must be calling out the militia."

Something was very wrong, up yonder, on the market-place.



CHAPTER XIX



The cannon, to be hereinafter described, is not the sole surviving
relic of the Good Duke's rule. Turn where you please on this island
domain, memories of that charming and incisive personality will meet
your eye and ear; memories in stone-schools, convents, decayed castles
and bathing chalets; memories in the spoken word--proverbs attributed to
him, legends and traditions of his sagacity that still linger among the
populace. IN THE DAYS OF THE DUKE: so runs a local saying, much as we
speak of the "good old times." His amiable laughter-loving ghost
pervades the capital to this hour. His pleasantries still resound among
those crumbling theatres and galleries. That gleeful deviltry of his,
compounded of blood and sunshine, is the epitome of Nepenthe. He is the
scarlet thread running through its annals. An incarnation of all that
was best in the age he identified, for wellnigh half a century, his
interests with those of his faithful subjects.

He meditated no conquests. It sufficed him to gain and to retain the
affection of men in whose eyes he was not so much a prince, a feudal
lord, as an indulgent and doting father. He was the ideal despot, a man
of wide culture and simple tastes. "A smile," he used to say, "will
sway the Universe." Simplicity he declared to be the keynote of his
nature, the guiding motive of his governance. In exemplification
whereof he would point to his method of collecting taxes--a marvel of
simplicity. Each citizen paid what he liked. If the sum proved
insufficient he was apprised of the fact next morning by having his
left hand amputated; a second error of judgment--it happened rather
seldom--was rectified by the mutilation of the remaining member. "Never
argue with inferiors," was one of His Highness's most original and
pregnant remarks, and it was observed that, whether he condescended to
argue or not, he generally gained his point without undue loss of time.

"It's so simple," he would say to those perplexed potentates who
flocked to him from the mainland for advice on administrative
questions. "So simple! One knock to each nair. And keep smiling."

It was the Good Duke Alfred who, with a shrewd eye to the future
prosperity of his dominions, made the first practical experiments with
those hot mineral springs--those healing waters whose virtues, up till
then, had been unaccountable neglected. Realizing their curative
possibilities, he selected fifty of the oldest and wisest of his Privy
Councillors to undergo a variety of hydro-thermal tests on their
bodies, internal and external. Seven of these gentlemen had the good
luck to survive the treatment. They received the Order of the Golden
Vine, a coveted distinction. The remaining forty-three, what was left
of them, were cremated at night-time and posthumously ennobled.

He was the author of some mighty fine dissertations on falconry,
dancing and architecture. He wrote furthermore, in the flamboyant style
of his period, two dozen pastoral plays, as well as a goodly number of
verses addressed, for the most part, to ladies of his Court--a Court
which was thronged with poets, wits, philosophers and noble women. The
island was a gay place in those days! There was always something doing.
His Highness had a trick of casting favourites into dungeons, and
concubines into the sea, that endeared him to his various legitimate
spouses; and the rapidity with which these self-same spouses were
beheaded one after the other, to make room for what he mirthfully
called "fresh blood," struck his faithful subjects as an ever-recurring
miracle of statecraft. "Nothing," he used to say to his intimates,
"nothing ages a man like living always with the same woman." Well
aware, on the other hand, of the inequality of social conditions and
keenly desirous of raising the moral tone of his people, he framed iron
laws to restrain those irregularities of married life which had been a
disreputable feature of local society prior to his accession.

Not in vain had he pondered in youth the political maxims of the great
Florentine. He cultivated assiduously the friendship of Church and Mob;
he knew that no throne, however seemingly well-established, can weather
the blasts of fortune save by resting on those twin pillars of
security. So it came about that, while all Europe was convulsed in
savage warfare, his relations with other rulers were marked by rare
cordiality and simplicity of intercourse. He never failed to conciliate
his more powerful neighbours by timely gifts of local delicacies--gifts
of dark-eyed virgins to grace their palaces, and frequent hampers of
those succulent LANGOUSTES for which the coastal waters of the island
are renowned, both items of the finest quality obtainable. A born
statesman, he extended this ingratiating demeanour even to those minor
sovereigns from whom, to all appearance, she had nothing to fear,
supplying them likewise with periodical consignments of pretty maidens
and well-flavoured crayfish, only of somewhat inferior quality--the
crustaceans often too young, the damsels occasionally over-ripe.

His high aspirations made him the precursor of many modern ideas. In
educational and military matters, more especially, he ranks as a
pioneer. He was a pedagogue by natural instinct. He took a sincere
delight in the school-children, limited their weekly half-holidays to
five, designed becoming dresses for boys and girls, decreed that lute
playing and deportment should become obligatory subjects in the
curriculum, and otherwise reformed the scholastic calendar which,
before his day, had drifted into sad confusion and laxity. Sometimes he
honoured the ceremony of prize-giving with his presence. On the other
hand it must be admitted that, judged by modern standards, certain of
his methods for punishing disobedience smacks of downright pedantry.
Thrice a year, on receiving form the Ministry of Education a list
containing the names of unsatisfactory scholars of either sex, it was
his custom to hoist a flag on a certain hill-top; this was a signal for
the Barbary pirates, who then infested the neighbouring ocean, to set
sail for the island and buy up these perverse children, at purely
nominal rates, for the slave-markets of Stamboul and Argier. They were
sold ignominiously--by weight and not by the piece--to mark his
unqualified disapproval of talking and scribbling on blotting-pads
during school hours.

It is recorded of the Good Duke that on one occasion he returned from
this scene looking haggard and careworn, as though the sacrifice of so
many young lives weighed on his fatherly spirit. Presently, envisaging
his duties towards the State, he restrained these natural but unworthy
emotions, smiled his well-known smile, and gave utterance to an
apophthegm which had since found its way into a good many copy-books:
"In the purity of childhood," he said, "lie the seeds of national
prosperity." And if it be enquired by what arts of Machiavellian
astuteness he alone, of all Christian princes, contrived to maintain
friendly relations with these formidable Oriental sea-rovers, the
answer lies at hand. His device was one of extreme simplicity. He
appealed to their better natures by sending them, at convenient
intervals, shiploads of local delicacies, girls and lobsters--of
indifferent quality, it is true, but sufficiently appetizing to attest
his honourable intentions.

His predecessors, intent only upon their pleasures, had given no
thought to the possibility of a hostile invasion of their fair domain.
But the Good Duke, despite his popularity, was frequently heard to
quote with approval that wise old adage which runs "In peace, prepare
for war." Convinced of the instability of all mundane affairs and
being, moreover, a man of original notions as well as something of an
artist in costumery, he was led to create that picturesque body of men,
the local Militia, which survives to this day and would alone entitle
him to the grateful notice of posterity. These elegant warriors, he
calculated, would serve both for the purpose of infusing terror into
the minds of potential enemies, and of acting as a decorative
body-guard to enhance his own public appearances on gala days. He threw
his whole soul into the enterprise. After the corps had been duly
established, he amused himself by drilling them on Sunday afternoons
and modelling new buttons for their uniforms; to give them the
requisite military stamina he over-fed and starved them by turns,
wrapped them in sheepskin overcoats for long route-marches in July,
exercised them in sham fights with live grapeshot and unblunted
stilettos and otherwise thinned their ranks of undesirables, and
hardened their physique, by forcing them to escalade horrible
precipices at midnight on horseback. He was a martinet; he knew it; he
gloried on the distinction. "All the world loves a disciplinarian," he
was wont to say.

Nevertheless, like many great princes, he realized that political
reasons might counsel at times an abatement of rigour. He could relent
and show mercy. He could interpose his authority in favour of the
condemned.

He relented on one celebrated occasion which more than any other helped
to gain for him the epithet of "The Good"--when an entire squadron of
the Militia was condemned to death for some supposed mistake in giving
the salute. The record, unfortunately, is somewhat involved in
obscurity and hard to disentangle; so much is clear, however, that the
sentence was duly promulgated and carried into effect within half an
hour. Then comes the moot question of the officer in command who was
obviously destined for execution with the rest of his men and who now
profited, as events proved, by the clemency of the Good Duke. It
appears that this individual, noted for a childlike horror of bloodshed
(especially when practiced on his own person), had unaccountably
absented himself from the ceremony at the last moment--slipping out of
the ranks in order, as he said, to bid a last farewell to his two aged
and widowed parents. He was discovered in a wine-shop and brought
before a hastily summoned Court-martial. There his old military courage
seems to have returned to him. He demonstrated by a reference to the
instructions laid down in the Militiaman's Year-book that no mistake in
saluting had been made, that his men had therefore been wrongfully
convicted and illegally executed and that he A FORTIORI, was innocent
of any felonious intent. The Court, while approving his arguments,
condemned him none the less to the indignity of a double decapitation
for the offence of leaving his post without a signed permit from His
Highness.

It was at this point that the Good Duke interposed on his behalf. He
rescinded the decree; in other words, he relented. "Enough of bloodshed
for one day," he was heard to remark, quite simply.

This speech was one of his happiest inspirations. Instantly it echoed
from mouth to mouth; from end to end of his dominions. Enough of
bloodshed for one day! That showed his true heart, the people declared.
Enough of bloodshed! Their enthusiasm grew wilder when, in an access of
princely graciousness, he repaired the lamentable excess of zeal by
pinning the Order of the Golden Vine to the offending officer's breast;
it rose to a veritable frenzy as soon as they learned that, by Letters
Patent, the entire defunct squadron had been posthumously ennobled. And
this is only one of many occasions on which this ruler, by his intimate
knowledge of human nature and the arts of government, was enabled to
wrest good from evil, and thereby consolidate his throne....

It is passing strange, on the face of it, that this vivid personality,
one of the most arresting figures in the history of the country, should
be so briefly dealt with in the pages of Monsignor Perrelli. Doubly
strange, and a serious disappointment to the reader, in view of the
fact that the two men were contemporaries, and that the learned writer
must have enjoyed exceptional facilities for obtaining first-hand
knowledge of his subject. Almost inexplicable indeed, when one
remembers those maxims which he himself, in the Introduction to his
ANTIQUITIES, lays down for the writing of history; when one calls to
mind his own gleams of exotic scholarship, those luminous asides and
fruitful digressions, those statesmanlike comments on things in general
which make his work not so much a compendium of local lore as a mirror
of the polite learning of his age. It is no exaggeration to say that,
compared with the ample treatment meted out to inconspicuous rulers
like Alfonso the Seventeenth or Florizel the Fat, his account of the
Good Duke Alfred is the baldest, the most perfunctory and conventional
of chronicles. Neither good nor evil is related of him. There is
nothing but a monotonous enumeration of events.

It was the bibliographer who, poring over the pages of the rival monk
Father Capocchio, that audacious and salacious friar already
mentioned--it was the bibliographer who hit upon a passage which
suggested a solution of the mystery and proved that, though Monsignor
Perrelli lived during the reign of the Good Duke, it would be
stretching unduly the sense of a plain word to say that he "flourished"
under his rule. Other persons may have flourished; not so the kindly
prelate.

"Nothing whatever," says this implacable enemy of Nepenthe, "is to be
recorded to the credit of the sanguinary brigand--so he terms the Good
Duke--nothing whatsoever: save and except only this, that he cut off the
ears of a certain prattler, intriguer, and snuff-taking sensualist
called Perrelli who, under the pretence of collecting data for an
alleged historical treatise, profited by his priestly garb to play fast
and loose with what little remained of decent family life on that
God-abandoned island. Honour to whom honor is due! The ostensible
reason for this unique act of justice was that the said Perrelli had
appeared at some palace function with paste buckles on his shoes,
instead of silver ones. The pretext was well chosen, inasmuch as the
tyrant added to his other vices and absurdities the pose of being an
extravagant stickler for etiquette. We happen to know, nevertheless,
that the name of a young dancer, a prime favourite at Court, cropped up
persistently at the time in connection with this malodorous but
otherwise insignificant episode."

It were idle, at this hour of the day, to pursue the enquiry; the
mutilation of Monsignor Perrelli's person, however, would explain
better than anything else his equivocal attitude as historian. Nor is
the incident altogether inconsistent with what we know of the Duke's
cheerful propensities. "Nose after ears!" was one of his blithest
watchwords. Faced with so dispiriting a prospect and aware that His
Highness was as good as his princely word, the sympathetic scholar,
while too resentful to praise his achievements, may well have been too
prudent to disparage them. Hence his reticence, his circumspection.
Hence that monotonous enumeration of events.

This microscopic blot on the Duke's escutcheon, as well as other more
commendable details of his life, were duly noted down by the zealous
Mr. Eames who, in addition, had the good fortune to receive as a gift
from his kindly but unassuming friend Count Caloveglia a quaint
portrait of the prince, hitherto unknown--an engraving which he purposed
to reproduce, together with other fresh iconographical material, in his
enlarged and fully annotated edition of the ANTIQUITIES. The print
depicts His Highness full face, seated on a throne in the accoutrements
of Mars, with a gallant wig flowing in mazy ringlets from under the
helmet upon his plated shoulders; overhead, upon a canopy of cloud,
reclines a breezy assemblage of allegorical females--Truth, Mercy, Fame
with her trumpet, and so forth. His nervous clean-shaven features do
not wear the traditional smile; they are thoughtful, almost grim. On
his left is portrayed a huge CANNON astride of which can be seen a
chubby angel; the Duke's hand reposes, in a paternal caress on the
cherub's head--symbolical doubtless of his love of children. His right
elbow rests upon a table, and the slender bejewelled fingers are
listlessly pressing open a lettered scroll of parchment on which can be
deciphered the words "A CHI T'HA FIGLIATO" (to her who bare thee)--a
legend which the bibliographer, whose acquaintance with the vernacular
was not on a level with his classical attainments, conjectured to be
some fashionable courtly toast of the period.

The mention of artillery recalls the fact that His Highness was an
amateur of ordnance. He established a gun-foundry on the island, and
what he did not know about the art of casting pieces, as practised in
his day, was plainly not worth knowing. Had it not been for his
passionate love of testing new processes and new combinations of metal,
he might have attained to a European reputation in that department. But
he was always experimenting, and the consequence was that his cannons
were always splitting. One, however, a monster of its kind, remained
intact, to outward appearances. It was fired on every conceivable
occasion--to summon the Militia, for example, from remote corners of the
island at any hour of the day or night, a considerable hardship to
those who lived at a distance of two or three miles, seeing that
according to the instructions set forth in the Militiaman's Year-book,
the sternest penalties were imposed upon all who failed to appear in
their ranks at the Palace gates within five minutes after the signal
had been sounded.

It was a perilous gun to handle. Owing to some undiscoverable flaw of
construction or imperfection in the alloy, the monster soon developed a
disconcerting knack of back-firing, hazardous to life and limb. It
stands to reason that the Good Duke attached no undue importance to any
trifling disaster accruing therefrom. On the contrary, in order to be
sure of a thunderous detonation, he often deigned to superintend in
person the loading of this particular piece.

"More powder," he would then command. "More powder! Ram it in! Never
mind her little caprices! A good salute is worth a good soldier! More
powder! Fill her up to the brim! She's only playful, like her master."
Those who lost fingers or hands or arms received the Order of the
Golden Vine. Whenever a major portion of the anatomy, a head or so
forth, went astray, the victim was posthumously ennobled.

Since his day, thanks to the science of a Paduan engineer, this defect
has been almost completely overcome, and the gun can still be heard on
great occasions, such as the Duke's birthday, the Festival of the
Patron Saint, or the visit to the island of some foreign sovereign; it
is also discharged, as of yore, to summon the Militia for the purpose
of quelling any popular disturbance. But even now it occasionally
relapses into its old humours--with this difference, that instead of
being decorated with a coveted distinction, the disabled man is sent to
the hospital and told not to make a fool of himself next time.

This was the gun whose sound attracted the strained attention of Mr.
Keith and his companions, far away, on the sea, under the cliffs.



CHAPTER XX



The firing had ceased; the boat began to glide forwards once more. But
Mr. Heard's eye remained fixed upon the ill-omened black rock. The
sun's rays had already licked dry the moisture on its surface; it shone
with a steady dull glow. Some malefic force seemed to dwell here. Some
demon haunted the place, peering out of the crevices or rising up from
the turquoise-tinted water at its foot. The suicides' rock!

That vague sense of apprehension, of impending disaster, once more
invaded him. Suddenly it revealed itself in definite terms. A ghastly
notion flitted through his mind.

"You think it possible that Denis--?" he began.

His friend seemed to have lost all interest in that subject. It was a
way he had.

"Denis? I really could not tell. I'm not sufficiently in his
confidence.... Honour thy father and thy mother," he proceeded,
reverting to his former theme. "What think you, Heard, of this old
injunction? Is it not altogether obsolete? Was it not written for quite
other conditions? Honour thy father and mother. Why? The State educates
children, feeds them, investigates and cures their complaints, washes
and weighs them, reports on their teeth and stomachs, prescribes when
they may begin to smoke and enter public-houses: where does parental
authority come in? The State provides old folks with refuges and
pensions: how about the former obligations of children? Child and
parent alike now thank the community for what they once received from
each other. And the geographical elements that went to the making of a
home are also dispersed. Rich and poor roam like gipsies from one
country to another, from one flat into the next; the patriarchal board
is replaced by clubs and grill-rooms and fried-fish shops. Many a man
who thinks to found a home discovers that he has merely opened a tavern
for his friends. Note, too, that the family has outgrown its
ecclesiastical sanction; the oil of supernaturalism which once greased
the wheels has run dry; the machinery is creaking. Industrial
conditions have killed the old home. REQUIESCAT! Honour thy father and
mother. Industrialism has killed that commandment. Thou shalt not
steal. Consider this injunction, Heard, and ask yourself whether
industrialism does not split its sides with laughing at it. If we are
to galvanize that old collection of laws into some semblance of life,
every one f them must be re-written and brought up to date. They are
inappropriate for modern life; their interest is purely historical. We
want new values. We are no longer nomads. Industrialism has killed the
pastoral and the agricultural points of view. And how the modern Jews
smile at our infatuation for those queer doctrines and legends which
they themselves have long ago outgrown. Apropos, what has become of
Marten?"

"Left the island, I hear."

"Quick work. Now I wonder why?"

Everybody wondered at Marten's precipitate departure. Even Angelina
wondered.

She just wondered.

Had he known that she wondered, he might have been tempted to prolong
his stay. But Marten was too young to be a practical psychologist. He
had lived for half a day in terror of what he called "the inevitable
reaction," unaware of the fact that certain people do not suffer from
reactions and too engrossed in mineralogy to have learnt, from a study
of other sciences, that Angelina was one of them. She had passed that
stage, with Homeric laughter, long before his appearance on Nepenthe.
She just wondered, nowadays.

Scared, as though the avenging Furies were at his heels, he quitted the
scene of his nocturnal romance, leaving half his geological projects
incomplete. Had he taken the amiable Don Francesco into his confidence
he might have heard something to his advantage. But the scientist could
not endure the sight of a Christian priest. Like other intolerant folk
he was now paying for his prejudices.

"An erotic little beast," Keith went on. "And a typical Hebrew--a
scoffer. Have you noticed what a disruptive and irreverential brood
they are? They move up and down society like some provocative fluid,
insensible to our ideals; they take a diabolical pleasure in shattering
our old-established conceptions of right and wrong. I confess I like
them for that; they need shattering, some of those conceptions. And
they have their weaknesses too, their Achilles heel--music, for
instance, or chess. When next you are in town don't forget to go to
that little chess club of theirs over Aldgate East station. It is
better than a play to watch their faces. And with all this materialism
they have a mysterious feminine leaven of enthusiasm and unworldliness.
What pecuniary advantage could Marten expect to gain from his
minerals?"

"A professorship."

"Why, possibly. He had the professorial temperament; there was not much
poetry in his composition. If you were to ask him, 'What are those
wonderful rocks over there, shaped like some Titanic organ and glowing
with a kind of violet flame?' he would say, 'Organ be blowed. It's
columnar lithoidite.' I learnt a little from him, but not enough. I
wish we had him here. He could have told us something."

And Mr. Keith, ever avid of fresh things, regretted his lost
opportunities. He was in one of this acquisitive, Corsair moods. He
said:

"I could take geology by the throat just now. It's disgusting, not to
know things!"

His companion, meanwhile, beheld the panorama in all its nightmarish
splendour, as it drifted past him. He saw the bluffs of feathery
pumice, the lava precipices--frozen cataracts of white, black, blood
red, pale grey and sombre brown, smeared over with a vitreous enamel of
obsidian or pierced by oily, writhing dykes that blazed with metallic
scintillations. Anon came some yawning cleft or an assemblage of dizzy
rock-needles, fused into whimsical tints and attitudes, spiky,
distorted, over-toppling; then a bold tufa rampart, immaculate in its
beauty, stainless as a curtain of silk. And as the boat moved on he
looked into horrid dells which the rains had torn out of the loose
scoriae. Gaping wounds, they wore the bright hues of corruption. Their
flanks were blotched with a livid nitrous efflorescence, with flaring
sulphur, unhealthy verdure of pitchstone, streaks of arsenical
vermilion; their beds--a frantic maze of boulders.

He beheld this crazy stratification, this chaos of incandescent nature,
sent in a flame of deep blue sky and sea. It lay there calmly, like
some phantasmagoric flower, some monstrous rose that swoons away, with
upturned face, in a solar caress.

He saw it with the eye. His mind was elsewhere. He was trying, in
honest and relentless fashion, to discover himself. What if his human
values were really wrong?

Thomas, the doubting apostle....

Africa had made him think; had made him more silent and reflective than
ever. And now this sudden strange stimulus of Nepenthe--it was driving
his thoughts headlong, out of their old grooves.

Here was Keith, a man of altogether different stamp, drawing
conclusions which he dared not formulate for himself. How far were they
applicable, those old Hebrew precepts, to modern conditions? Were they
still availing as guides to conduct?

"You are a candid person, Keith, and I think I am. I sincerely try to
be. Will you tell me what you think? You seem to have a quarrel with
Moses and his commandments, which we are taught to regard as the
keystone of ethics. I don't want to discuss things. I want to listen to
the opinions of a man so different from myself as you are. It may do me
good. And I think I could stand almost anything," he added, with a
laugh, "in this landscape--in this clear pagan light, as you call it."

"I used to be interested in such things as a boy. I suppose all
respectable boys are; and I was respectable even at that tender age.
Nowadays, though I still pick up an Oriental rug now and then, I have
no further use for Oriental gods."

"What is your objection to them?"

Mr. Keith paused before replying. Then he said:

"The drawback of Oriental gods is that they have been manufactures by
the proletariat for the use of the aristocracy. They act accordingly;
that is, they distil the morality of their creators which I consider a
noxious emanation. The classic gods were different. They were invented
by intellectualists who felt themselves capable of maintaining a kind
of comradeship with their deities. Men and gods were practically on a
level. They walked hand in hand over the earth. These gods belonged to
what one might call the horizontal or downstairs variety."

"And those others?"

"Oh, they are the upstairs or vertical type. They live overhead. Why
overhead? Because they have been created by the proletariat. The
proletariat loves to humiliate itself. Therefore they manufacture a god
who approves of grovelling, a god who can look down upon them. They
exalt this deity to an infinite degree in point of goodness and
distance, and in so doing they inevitably abase themselves. Now I
disapprove of grovelling. That means I disapprove of upstairs gods."

"Upstairs gods--"

"If you walk into my front door as a distinguished visitor I am happy
to show you the place. You can prowl about the garden, poke your nose
into the pantry and learn, if it amuses you, all about my private life.
But if you rent a high attic overlooking my premises and stair out of
your window all day long, watching my movements and noting down
everything I do, why, damn it, I call that vulgar. Staring is bad form.
Vertical gods are inquisitive. I don't like to be supervised. I don't
care about this DOSSIER business. My garden is for you and me to walk
about in, not for outsiders to stare into. Which reminds me that you
have not been to see me lately. You ought to come and look at my
cannas; you really ought! They are in magnificent bloom just now. When
shall it be?"

Mr. Keith seemed to be already tired of the subject. In fact he was as
near being bored as ever he allowed himself to be. But the other
refused to let the conversation be side-tracked. He wanted to know.

"Vertical and horizontal gods.... Dear me. Sounds rather profane."

"I have not heard that word for quite a long time."

"You don't feel the need of any kind of superior being to control human
affairs?"

"Not up to the present. I can find no room in my Cosmos for a deity,
save as a waste product of human weakness, an excrement of the
imagination. If you gave me the sauciest god that ever sat on a cloud
or breakfasted with the Village Idiot--'pon my word, I shouldn't know
what to do with him. I don't collect bric-a-brac myself, and the
British Museum is dreadfully overstocked. Perhaps the Duchess could
make some use of him, if he specialized in lace vestments and choral
mass. By the way, I hear that she is going to be admitted into the
Roman Church next week; there is to be a luncheon after the ceremony.
Are you going?"

"Vertical and horizontal gods.... I never heard that distinction
made before."

"It is a difference, my dear Heard. Mankind remains in direct contact
with the downstairs variety. That simplifies matters. But the peculiar
position of those others--perpendicularly overhead at a vast
distance--necessitates a troublesome code of verbal signals,
unintelligible to common folk, for the expression of mutual desires.
You cannot have any god of this kind without some such cumbrous
contrivance to bridge over the gulf and make communication possible. It
is called theology. It complicates life very considerably. Yes," he
pursued, "the vertical-god system is not only vulgar; it is perplexing
and expensive. Think of the wastage, of the myriads of people who have
been sacrificed because they misinterpreted some enigmatical word in
the code. Why are you intent on these conundrums?"

"Well, partly at least, it's quite a practical matter. You know that
American millionaire, van Koppen, and the scandal attached to his
peculiar habits? It made me wonder, only yesterday--"

But at this juncture the tiresome old boatman lifted up his voice once
more.

"See that high cliff, gentlemens? Funny thing happen there, very funny.
Dam-fool foreigner here, he collect flowers. Always collecting flowers
on bad rocks; sometimes with rope round him, for fear of falling; with
rope, ha, ha, ha! Nasty man. And poor. No money at all. He always say,
'All Italians liars, and liars where go? To Hell, sure. That's where
liars go. That's where Italians go.' Now rich man he say liar to poor
man. But poor man, he better not say liar to rich man. That so,
gentlemens. One day he say liar to nice old Italian. Nice old man
think: 'Ah, you wait, putrid puppy of bastard pig, you wait.' Nice old
man got plenty good lot vineyards back of cliff there. One day he walk
to see grapes. Then he look to end of cliff and see rope hanging. Very
funny, he think. Then he look to end of rope and see nasty-man hanging.
That so, gentlemens. Nasty-man hanging in air. Can't get up. 'Pull me
up,' says he. Nice old man, he laugh--ha, ha, ha! laugh till his belly
hurt. Then he pull out knife and begin to cut rope. 'See knife?' he
shout down. 'How much to pull up?' Five hundred dollar! 'How much?'
Five thousand! 'How much?' Fifty thousand! Nice old man say quite
quiet: 'You no got fifty thousand in the world, you liar. Liars where
go? To Hell, sure. That's where liars go. That's where you go, Mister.
To Hell.' And he cut rope. Down he go, patatrac! round and round in
air, like firework wheel, on to first rock--pa-pa-pa-paff! Six hundred
feets. After that he arrive, all messy, in water. That so, gentlemens.
Gone where to? Swim to Philadelphia? I don't think! Him drownded, sure.
Ha, ha, ha! Nice old man, when he come home that morning, he laugh. He
laugh. He just laugh. He laugh first quiet, then loud. He laugh all the
time, and soon family too. He laugh for ten days, till he nearly die.
Got well again, and live plenty good years after. In Paradise to-day,
God rest his soul! And never found out, no never. Fine judge on
Nepenthe. Always fine judge here. He know everything, and he know
nothing. Understand? All nice people here. That so, gentlemens."

He told the tale with Satanic gusto, rocking himself to and fro as
though convulsed with some secret joy. Then, after expectorating
violently, he resumed the oars which had been dropped in the heat of
gesticulation.

The bishop was pensive. There was something wrong with this
story--something fundamentally wrong. He turned to Keith:

"That man must be a liar too. If, as he says, the thing was never found
out, how can he have learnt all about it?"

"Hush, my dear fellow. He thinks I don't know, but I do. It was his own
father to whom the adventure occurred."

"The adventure?" said Mr. Heard.

"The adventure. Surely you are not going to make a tragedy of it? If
you cannot see the joke of that story, you must be hard to please. I
nearly died of laughing when I first heard it."

"What would you have done?"

"If I had been the botanist? I would not have made myself disagreeable
to the natives. Also, I would not have got myself into a tangle with
that rope."

"You think he ought to have cut it?"

"What else could the poor fellow do? It strikes me, Heard, you attach
some inordinate importance to human life."

"It's all rather complex," sighed the bishop.

"Now that is really interesting!"

"Interesting?"

"Why should you find it complex, when I find it simple? Let me see. Our
lives are perfectly insignificant, aren't they? We know it for a fact.
But we don't like it. We don't like being of no account. We want some
thing to make us feel more valuable than we are. Consequently we invent
a fiction to explain away that insignificance--the fiction of a
personality overhead everlastingly occupied in watching every single
one of us, and keenly engrossed in our welfare. If this were the case,
we would cease to be insignificant, and we might try to oblige him by
not killing each other. It happens to be a fiction. Get rid of the
fiction, and your feeling of complexity evaporates. I perceive you are
in an introspective mood. Worrying about some pastoral epistle?"

"Worry about my values, as you would say. Up to the present, Keith, I
don't seem to have had time to think; I had to act; there was always
something urgent to be taken in hand. Now that I am really lazy for the
first time, and in this stimulating environment, certain problems of
life keep cropping up. Minor problems, of course; for it is a
consolation to know that the foundations of good conduct are immutable.
Our sense of right and wrong is firmly implanted in us. The laws of
morality, difficult as they often are to understand, have been written
down for our guidance in letters that never change."

"Never change? You might as well say, my dear Heard, that these cliffs
never change. The proof that the laws of good conduct change is this,
that if you were upright after the fashion of your great-grandfather
you would soon find yourself in the clutches of the law for branding a
slave, or putting a bullet through someone in a duel. I grant that
morality changes slowly. It changes slowly because the proletariat,
whose product it is, does the same. There is not much difference, I
imagine, between the crowds of old Babylon and new Shoreditch; hence
their peculiar emanations resemble each other more or less. That is why
morality compares so unfavourably with intellectuality, which is the
product of the upper sections of society and flashes out new lights
every moment. But even morality changes. The Spartans, a highly moral
people, thought it positively indecent not to steal. A modern vice,
such as mendacity, was accounted a virtue by the greatest nation of
antiquity. A modern virtue, like that of forgiving one's enemies, was
accounted a vice proper to slaves. Drunkenness, reprobated by ancients
and moderns alike, became the mark of a gentlemen in intermediate
periods."

"I see what you are driving at. You wish me to think that this
fictitious value, as you would call it--this halo of sanctity--with which
we now invest a human life, may be blown away at any moment. Possibly
you are right. Perhaps we English do exaggerate its importance. They
don't take much account of life in my part of Africa."

"And then, I disagree with what you say about the difficulty of
understanding the laws of morality. Any child can grasp the morality of
its period. Why should I pretend to be interested in what a child can
grasp? If is a positive strain to keep one's mind at that low level.
Why should I impose this strain upon myself? When a group-up man shows
an unfeigned interest in such questions I regard him as a case of
arrested development. All morality is a generalization, and all
generalizations are tedious. Why should I plague myself with what is
tedious? Altogether the question that confronts me is not whether
morality is worth talking about, but whether it's worth laughing at.
Sometimes I think it is. It reminds me of those old pantomime jokes
that make one quite sad, at first, with their heart-breaking vulgarity;
those jokes, you know, that have to be well rubbed in before we begin
to see how really funny they are. And, by Jove, they do rub this one
in, don't they? You must talk to Don Francesco about these things. You
will find him sound, though he does not push his conclusions as far as
I do--not in public, at least. Or to Count Caloveglia. He is a
remarkable Latin, that old man. Why don't you drive up one day and have
a look at his Locri Faun? Street, the South Kensington man, thinks very
highly of it."

"I would like to listen to you just now. I am listening, and thinking.
Please go on. I'll preach you my sermon some other day."

"Will you? I wonder! I don't believe, Heard, that you will preach
another sermon in your life. I don't think you will ever go back to
Africa, or to any other episcopal work. I think you have reached a
turning point."

The bishop was thoughtful for a moment. Those words went home. Then he
said lightly:

"You are in better vein than you were a short while ago."

"That story of the botanist has revived me. He tells it rather well,
doesn't he? It is good to inhabit a world where such things can still
happen. I feel as if life were worth living. I feel as if I could
discuss anything. What were you going to say about the American
millionaire?"

"Ah yes," replied Mr. Heard. "I wondered, supposing these reports about
the ladies are true, how far you and I, for example, should condone his
vices."

"Vices. My dear bishop! Under a sky like this. Have a good look at it;
do."

Mr. Heard, barely conscious of what he was doing, obeyed the counsel.
Raising his hand, he pushed the silken awning to one side. Then he
peered skyward, into the noonday zenith; into an ocean of blue,
immeasurable. There was no end to this azure liquid. Gazing thus, his
intelligence became aware of the fact that there are skies of different
kinds. This one was not quite like his native firmament. Here was no
suggestion of a level space overhead, remote, but still conceivable--a
space whereon some god might have sat enthroned, note-book in hand,
jotting down men's virtues, and vices, and what not. A sky of this kind
was obviously not built to accommodate deities in a sitting posture.

Instead of commenting on this simple observation he remarked:

"I mean, whether one should publicly approve of van Koppen's ladies,
supposing they exist."

"Why should I approve or disapprove? Old Koppen's activities do not
impinge on mine. Like a sensible fellow he cultivates a hobby. He
indulges himself. Why interfere? Tell me, why should I disapprove of
things?"

"Look here, Keith! Not long ago you were disapproving of vertical
gods."

"That is different. They do impinge on my activities."

"Are the peculiar hobbies of their votaries distasteful to you?"

"Not at all. Their hobbies do not clash with mine. To feel righteous,
or to feel sinful, is quite an innocent form of self-indulgence--"

"Innocent self-indulgence? Dear me! You seem to be taking morality by
the throat for a change. Is that your conception of sin? How should
Moses have come to inscribe some particular form of wrong-doing into
his Code, if it had not proved harmful to the community at large?"

His friend paused before replying. He took out another cigar, bit off
its end, and lighted it. Then he sent a few fragrant whiffs over the
sea. At last he said:

"Moses! I have a clear portrait of Moses in my mind; a clear and
favourable portrait. I imagine him gentle, wise, and tolerant. Picture
to yourself such a man. He is drawing up a preliminary list of the more
noteworthy forms of misconduct, with a view to submitting it for Divine
approval, to be welded later into the so-called Ten Commandments. He is
still puzzling, you perceive, which sins ought to be included and which
left out. Now that particular offence of which our millionaire is
accused happens to have been left out of consideration so far."

"Why has it been left out?" enquired the bishop.

"Nomadic habits. And besides--Moses, don't forget, is a kindly old
fellow, who likes people to have as much harmless amusement as
possible; he is not always sniffing about to discover evil. But Aaron,
or some other old family friend of his, thinks differently. He is a
person such as we all know--a sour-faced puritan who has lost the vigour
which people, rightly or wrongly, attribute to van Koppen. This man
forgets what he used to do in his own youthful days; he comes up to
Moses, professing to be horrified at this particular offence. 'These
young people,' he says, 'the way they go on! It's a sin, that's what it
is. And you, Moses, I'm ashamed of you. This sort of thing ought to be
stopped. It ought to be publicly reprimanded in those blessed Tables of
yours.' 'A sin?' says gentle Moses. 'You surprise me, Aaron. I confess
it never struck me in that light before. But I think I see your point.
We have a conference to-night on the Holy Mountain; I may be able to
get a clause inserted--' 'Do, there's a good fellow,' says the other.
'But aren't you a little hard on the youngsters?' asks Moses. 'You
wouldn't believe it, but I was a boy myself once and I should have got
into a lot of rows if such an enactment had been in existence then.
Moreover (and here his eyes assume a rapt, prophetic look) I seem to
see, rising out of the distant future, a personage of royal line,
beloved of God--one David who, if your proposal were to come into force,
would be classed as a pretty hot sinner,' 'Oh, bother David! Look here,
I'm not asking for a loan of money, old man. Just see to it that my New
Sin is inscribed on the Tables. Hang it all! What's that, to a man of
your influence up there? You can't think how it annoys me nowadays to
see all these young people--all these young people--need I go into
particulars?' 'You needn't. I'm not altogether a fool,' says gentle
Moses. 'And I'll see what I can do to oblige you, if only for the sake
of your dear mother.'"

The bishop, at the end of this narration, could not help smiling.

"That," continued Keith, "is how Moses gets talked over by the
Pharisees. That is how sins are manufactured and classified. And from
that preposterous old Hebrew system of right and wrong they jump
straight into our English penal code. And there they sit tight," he
added.

"Is that your quarrel with what you call the upstairs god system?"

"Precisely! It affects me by its unsanitary tendency to multiply sins;
that is to say, when it transforms those sins into legal crimes. How
would you like to be haled before a Court of law for some ridiculous
trifle, which became a crime only because it used to be a sin, and
became a sin only because some dyspeptic old antediluvian was envious
of his neighbour's pleasure? Our statute-book reeks of discarded
theories of conduct; the serpent's trail of the theologian, of the
reactionary, is over all."

"It never struck me in that light before," said Mr. Heard.

"No? Our reverence for inspired idiots: has it never struck you? Don't
you realize that we are still in the stage of that ENFANT TERRIBLE of
Christianity, Paul of Tarsus, and his gift of tongues? In the stage of
these Russians here, with their decayed Messiah? What do you think of
them?"

"I must say they look pretty, all bathing together. Rather improper.
But decidedly apostolic. You know I am not easily shocked in such
matters. When you have lived in Africa among the M'tezo! Lovely
fellows. I assure you they could give points to anyone on this island.
And your friends the Bulanga! To think that I once baptized three
hundred of them in one day. And the very next week they ate up old Mrs.
Richardson, our best lady preacher. The poor dear! We buried her riding
boots, I remember. There was nothing else to bury.... It's getting
warm, isn't it? Makes one feel sleepy."

"Sleepy? I don't agree with you at all. That Russian sect, Heard, had
between two and three million followers out there. But I fancy our
little contingent will not be on this island much longer. The judge
tells me that he means to make short work of them when he gets a
chance. If the Militia have really been called out, I should not be
surprised to learn that the Messiah has been up to some new
tomfoolery."

"Really? H'm. The Militia.... I find it very warm all of a sudden."

Mr. Heard had listened enough for the time being. Now he leaned back
and rested.

But Keith was wide awake.

"You are a disappointing person, Mr. Heard. First you inveigle me into
a religious discussion and then, when I begin to wake up, you go to
sleep."

"I didn't want to argue, my dear fellow. It's too hot to argue. I
wanted to hear your opinion."

"My opinion? Listen, Heard. All mankind is at the mercy of a handful of
neurotics. Neurotics and their catchwords. Catchwords like duty,
charity, purity, sobriety. Sobriety! In order that Miss Wilberforce may
not come home drunk--listen, Heard!--all we other lunatics forgo the
pleasure of a pint of beer after ten o'clock. How we love tormenting
ourselves! Listen, Heard. I'll tell you what it is. We are ripe for a
new Messiah, like these Russians. We are not Europeans. We are Indian
fakirs, self-torturers. We are a pack of masochists. That is what
upstairs gods have done for us. Listen, Heard!"

The bishop failed to catch the import of this peroration. Its sound
alone reached him like an echo from far away. He was unaccountably
drowsy.

"Fakirs. I quite understand--"

The boat seemed to move more slowly than before. Perhaps the oarsmen
were weary, or suffering from the heat. The glare pierced the awning.
Mr. Heard, as he reclined about his cushions, felt the perspiration
gathering on his forehead. A spell had fallen upon him--the spell of a
Southern noon. It lulled his senses. It laid chains upon his thoughts.

There was a long silence, broken only by the splash of the oars and by
a steady flow of conversation on the part of the two Greek genii, who
seemed impervious to the midday beams and entirely absorbed in one
another. Mr. Heard opened his drooping eyelids from time to time to
take pleasure in their merry play of feature, wondering dreamily what
could be the subject-matter of this endless polite conversation.



CHAPTER XXI



Both the old boatman and Mr. Keith were correct in their surmises.
There was trouble in the market-place, serious trouble; so serious that
for the first time in five years--ever since that deplorable scandal of
the Irish lady and the poodle--the Militia were being called out. And it
was entirely the fault of the Sacred Sixty-three.

The Messiah, personally, was not to blame. That poor old man had much
declined of late; he was enfeebled in health and spirits. A French
artist who was specially despatched from Paris to do an original sketch
of him for the enterprising journal L'ILLUSTRATION had, at the end of
several sittings, uncharitably declared him to be "COMPLEETEMENT
GA-GA." The voluptuous surroundings of Nepenthe, the abundant food,
adoration of disciples, alcoholic and carnal debaucheries, had impaired
his tough Monjik frame and blunted his wit, working havoc with that
energy and peasant craftiness which once ruled an Emperor's Court. His
body was obese. His mind was in a state of advanced putrefaction. Even
his personal cleanliness left something to be desired. Sitting there,
puffy and pasty, in a darkened room, he looked more than ever like some
obscene vegetable that has grown up in the shade.

He moved seldom and with difficulty; he hardly ever opened his mouth
save to eat--for his appetite, thanks to certain daily exertions on the
part of the communal doctor, was still fairly satisfactory. When he
spoke at all it was in scattered monosyllables which even the most
devoted of his disciples were unable to arrange into such coherence as
to justify their inclusion in the GOLDEN BOOK. All this, though hidden
from the world at large, had been observed with dismay by the
initiated. It was an open secret among them that the last twenty-one
sayings ascribed to him in that volume had never issued from his lips
at all. They had been concocted by a clique of young extremists, who
were now masters of the situation. These fanatics edited the GOLDEN
BOOK and held the old man completely in subjection, ousting his former
and more moderate collaborators.

An ill-considered action on the part of this group led to the disaster
and eclipsed the light of holiness on Nepenthe by bringing the apostles
into conflict with the secular arm of the law. Fretting at the Master's
prolonged inactivity and eager, after the fashion of disciples, to
improve on his maxims, they decided on a bold step. They decided that
the time was ripe for a new Revelation.

The Messiah's last authentic one, it will be remembered, ran to the
effect that "flesh and blood of warm-blooded beast is Abomination to
Little White Cows." He had been inspired to insert the word
WARM-BLOODED because fish, for example, was an article of diet of which
he was inordinately fond, and he could not bring himself to deprive the
faithful of this gift of God.

With misplaced zeal, and little thinking that it would cost many of
them their lives and liberties, these enthusiasts gave it out that the
new Revelation ran as follows: "everything derivable from dead beasts
is Abomination to Little White Cows." They had been inspired to insert
the word DEAD because sheep's wool, for example, was an article of
clothing in which they greatly delighted, and they could not bring
themselves to deprive the faithful of this gift of God.

Even as it stood, the Commandment entailed severe sacrifices on the
part of the Sacred Sixty-three. No boot-leather, no picturesque belts,
no bone knife-handles or combs, no tallow candles.... They were
prepared, none the less, to carry out to the letter this injunction,
since it gave them what all religious people require--something to
torment themselves with; and this is how matters stood when, on that
morning, a stalwart batch of new-comers from the wilds of Muscovy,
burning with the ardour of abnegation and wholly ignorant of local laws
and customs, sauntered across the market-place in freshly purchased
hempen sandals.

Tobacco being derivable neither from warm-blooded beasts nor yet from
dead ones, a member of the band bethought himself of the fact that he
had run out of cigarettes. Knowing not a word of Italian he entered the
shop of a tobacconist and imitated the gesture of smoking with such
success that the proprietor straightway understood and supplied him
with a packet. Then he remembered that he also needed matches. This
called for a gesture rather more complex; so complex, indeed, that
perhaps nobody but a Nepenthean--gifted, as all his nation is, with
alert intuition--could have divined the Apostle's want. The tobacconist
was equal to the occasion. With a friendly smile of comprehension he
laid on the counter a diminutive pack of wax vestas, price two sous.

There the matter might have rested but for the new Revelation, which
prompted the sturdy stranger to investigate the composition of the
article tendered. He took out one match and examined it carefully.
Then, triturating its substance between his fingers, he applied his
nose to the product and sniffed critically. The outcome was suspicious
in the highest degree. There was no perceptible odour of beeswax; the
object had been compounded, only too plainly, of the fat of dead
animals; it was the Abomination, the Unclean Thing. Devout, and gifted
with the hot impulse of youth, he acted precisely as he would have
acted in Russia under a similar provocation. With a third gesture, one
of abhorrence and ungovernable fury, he threw the box in the
tobacconist's face.

And there the matter, once more, might have rested, had the salesman
been a Russian. Russians understand frank dealing.

He happened to be a native.

Fully to appreciate what followed, it is necessary to bear in mind that
local tobacconists are in a somewhat anomalous position. They occupy a
social status superior to those of many other countries. They are not
private merchants or ordinary citizens; they are, in a manner, servants
of the State. A native tobacconist is empowered to dispense CARTA
BOLLATA, which is the official stamped paper used for contracts and
other legal documents requiring registration; he deals in tobacco and
postage stamps--government monopolies; he sells, by special licence, wax
vestas, on each box of which there is a duty so minute as not to be
felt by the individual purchaser and yet, in its cumulative effect, so
great as to enable the State to pay, out of this source of revenue
alone, for the upkeep of all its colonial judges at a monthly salary of
forty-five francs apiece. It is a reasonable tax. Don Francesco, who
had notions of political economy and knew something of English life,
having preached to thousands of Catholic miners in Wales and confessed
hundreds of Catholic ladies in Mayfair--an occupation in which he might
still be engaged, but for a little CONTRETEMPS which brought him into
collision with the Jesuits of Mount Street--Don Francesco, who could
voice the Southerner's one-sided point of view, often adverted to this
match-tax when proving the superiority of his country's administrative
methods over those of England. This is what he would say to his
intimate friends:

"The Russian has convictions but no principles. The Englishman has
principles but no convictions--cast-iron principles, which save him the
trouble of thinking out anything for himself. This is as much as anyone
can ever hope to grasp concerning this lymphatic, unimaginative race.
They obey the laws--a criminal requires imagination. They never start a
respectable revolution--you cannot revolt without imagination. Among
other things they pride themselves on their immunity from vexatious
imposts. Yet whisky, the best quality of which is worth tenpence a
bottle, is taxed till it costs five shillings; ale, the life-blood of
the people, would be dear at three-pence a gallon and yet costs
fivepence a pint; tobacco, which could profitably be sold at twopence a
pound, goes for fivepence an ounce. They will submit to any number of
these extortions, being persuaded, in the depths of their turbid
intelligence, that such things are devised for the good of the nation
at large. That is the Englishman's method of procuring happiness: to
deny himself pleasure in order to save his neighbour's soul. Ale and
tobacco are commodities out of which a man can extract pleasure. They
are therefore appropriate objects for harassing restrictions. But
nobody can extract pleasure out of lucifer matches. They are therefore
pre-eminently unfitted for exploitation as a source of governmental
revenue. So keen is their sense of pleasure and non-pleasure, and such
is their FUROR PHLEGMATICUS on this particular question, that when it
is proposed to establish a tax on matches--an imperceptible duty which
would enrich the Exchequer to a vast extent--they will form a procession
ten miles long to protest against the outrage, and threaten to batter
down the Houses of Parliament. Why? Because there is no ethical purpose
to be served by taxing matches, seeing that only a madman would give
himself the guilty pleasure of either drinking or smoking them. In
short, these English reason after the fashion of paranoiacs--logically,
but from a wrong premise. Not that I dislike their women...."

The action of the quick-tempered Apostle can now be appraised in its
full enormity. A local tobacconist is a person in authority, a State
official, and the nation safeguards the interests and the fair name of
those who serve it faithfully. When it is remembered that according to
sect 43 of the 16th Section of their Penal Code any person speaking
disrespectfully to, or of, a Government official renders himself liable
to a term of cellular confinement not exceeding thirty-one years, ten
lunar months and eighteen days, it may be imagined what penalties are
applicable to the crime of actual personal violence towards such a
sacrosanct individual--a crime of which the Russian was unquestionably
guilty.

Now this particular tobacconist, though tremulously sensitive, like all
Southerners, on a point of honour, was as good-natured and forgiving as
might be consistent with his rank of Government official. He passed for
a respectable married man with an eligible daughter and a taste for the
quiet life; he did not want trouble. The purchase of an additional pack
of cigarettes, accompanied or unaccompanied by a frank apology, would
have more than satisfied his sense of honour.

There the matter might have rested. The second packet might have been
bought and even the apology tendered, but for the ill-considered action
of a young farmer who entered the shop at that moment to procure a
couple of postcards. This worthy lad was one of several dozen aspirants
to the hand of the tobacconist's daughter, whose dowry was reputed to
be considerable. He witnessed the insult and, desirous of standing well
in the graces of a prospective father-in-law, dealt the offending alien
so masterly a punch in the region of the solar plexus that he not only
doubled up, but forgot to straighten himself out again. Two or three
lusty Apostles came to the rescue without delay. They threw the youth
down, stamped on his face, pounded his abdomen, pulled his hair out in
handfuls, and otherwise treated him exactly as if the thing were
happening in Russia. This spectacle was too much for the tobacconist's
sense of honour. With unwonted sprightliness he vaulted over the
writhing cluster and summoned a municipal policeman. The officer was on
the spot in a twinkling, sword and trumpet in hand. And there, in all
conscience, the matter ought to have rested--with the identification and
bestowal in custody of the turbulent parties.

But frenzy hung in the air; a red cloud of insanity was hovering over
Nepenthe. Although the volcano continued to behave in exemplary
fashion, although the clergy had done their utmost to allay popular
apprehensions, the native mind had not calmed down since the news
concerning the Saint Elias fountain and those other portents had been
disseminated. The inhabitants were in a state of suppressed alarm and
ready, at the least provocation, to burst out into some fiendish act of
folly. And the Russians, especially those latest arrivals, could not
withdraw themselves from the subtle influence of the sound wind, the
frank stimulation of a cloudless sky; it made them fell, after their
gloomy forests and lowering horizons, like wild beasts that rush from
darkened cages into some sunny arena. Everyone lost his wits. The
appearance of a constable, far from restoring order, was the signal for
an uproarious tumult; the FRACAS, as the French artist was heard to
declare, promptly developed into a MELEE. Nobody troubled about the
merits of the case further than that it was a question of Apostles
VERSUS Gentiles.

The former were in sad minority. But they constituted a serried rank of
muscular Christians; they laid about them like those old monks of
Alexandria. All Russians are born fighters--if not on the battlefield,
then at least in the lanes and taverns of their natal villages. The
Little White Cows, wholly ignorant of the difference between their own
law and that of Italy on questions of assault and battery, used their
fists with such success that thirty natives were stretched out in
almost a few seconds. Their Faith was at stake; moreover, and as a
matter of fact, they were enjoying themselves hugely. The occasion
reminded them of a Sunday at home.

Then numbers began to tell--numbers and knives. For your sun-scorched
Nepenthean, when duly roused, confesses to an expert knowledge of
anatomy; he can tell you, to the fraction of an inch, where the liver,
the spleen, kidneys and various other coy organs of the human frame are
located. Blood, the blood of the Sacred Sixty-three, began to flow. At
that sight the women, as their manner is, set up a scream.

The Palace of Justice abutted on the market-place, and up to that
moment His Worship Signor Malipizzo might have been lost to the world,
so deeply immersed was he in threading the labyrinthine mazes of an
exceptionally intricate affiliation case--a warm document, after his own
heart. The sound of the scream suspended his labours. Like a gouty
parrot he hopped down from his seat of judgment, spat on the floor,
limped to the window and took in the situation at a glance. That is to
say, he understood the cause of the disturbance as little as did any
one else; it would have required a divine inspiration to guess that a
box of wax vestas was at the bottom of the affair; but he knew enough,
quite enough, more than enough, for the purpose at hand. He knew, to
begin with, that Apostles were involved in the brawl. He knew, what was
equally important, the provisions of the Penal Code. It sufficed. His
chance for dealing with the Russian colony had at last arrived.
Allowing himself barely time to smack his lips at this providential
interlude he gave orders for the great cannon of Duke Alfred to be
sounded. It boomed once or twice over Nepenthe and reverberated among
the rocks.

In times of yore a certain interval was wont to elapse before the
Militia could be assembled, living as they did in distant regions of
the island. But nowadays, as befitted a laborious rural population,
they were spending their morning in the wine-shops of the town,
gambling, drinking, or playing skittles. This enabled a sufficient
number of them to forgather, in an incredibly short space of time, at
the outskirts of the market-place (occupied by a seething, howling
tangle of humanity)--there to receive the plainest of instructions. They
were to quell the disorder and to single out for punishment, whenever
possible, the strangers, the obvious authors of the rebellion, easily
discernible by their scarlet blouses. Not that the judge was particular
about the lives or deaths of a few natives; he knew that any injuries
received by his countrymen would strengthen his case against the
outsiders. But an order couched in such terms would look well in the
records of the Court.

Within ten minutes the market-place was cleared. The Militia had used
their weapons with such precision that four school children, seven
women, eleven islanders, and twenty-six Apostles were wounded--about
half of them, it was believed, mortally. Order reigned in Nepenthe.

The warm affiliation case having been laid on ice for the nonce, the
next few minutes were occupied by His Worship in issuing warrants of
arrest against the Messiah's followers. They were lodged by batches in
gaol, and in supplementary gaols--disused cellars and so forth. Once
under lock and key they were safe from mischief for an indefinite
length of time, since according to the statutes of the Code of Criminal
Procedure, there is no reason on earth why an Italian lawsuit should
ever end, or indeed, why it should ever begin. They might, and probably
would, remain incarcerated for life, pending the commencement of a
trial which could only be set in motion by the judge himself--a most
improbable conjuncture--or, failing that, by an extravagant bribe to his
official superior, the President of the Court of Cassation. How were
poor Apostles to find the necessary sixty or seventy francs for such a
venture?

His Worship retired to luncheon, reasonably satisfied with the
morning's work. And yet not altogether delighted. Both the Messiah and
Peter the Great had eluded his wrath. Peter was able to prove, beyond
the shadow of a doubt, that he had spent the last twenty-four hours on
Madame Steynlin's premises and knew nothing whatever of occurrences in
the outside world. In the face of such a fact--so comfortable to common
knowledge, so inherently probable--Malipizzo gave way. He was too good a
lawyer to spoil his case. Sooner or later, he foresaw, that bird would
be caged with the rest of them. Regarding the Messiah, an unexpected
and breathless appeal for mercy was lodged by the Communal doctor,
atheist and freemason like the judge, who implored, with tears in his
eyes, that the warrant for his arrest should be rescinded. By means of
a sequence of rapid and intricate Masonic signs, he explained that
Bazhakuloff was a patient of his; that he was undergoing a daily
treatment with the stomach-pump; that the prison diet being notoriously
slender, he feared that if he, the Messiah, were confined in captivity,
than it, the stomach-pump, would be no longer required and therefore
he, the physician, a family man, deprived of a small but regular source
of income. Again the astute judge relented. This is how the Messiah and
his disciple escaped.

They escaped, but not for long.

And all this happened while Mr. Keith and his companion, drowsily
ensconced among the morocco cushions of their boat, were being wafted
over the blue sea, far away, under the cliffs.



CHAPTER XXII



"The Devil's Rock, gentlemens! The rock of the Devil. Where the young
English lord jump over. Everyone know that story."

The word "devil" caused the bishop to wake up from his pleasant dreams
with something of a start.

"You had better take a good look at that cliff," suggested Mr. Keith.
"It is not only the finest on the island but, I fancy, the finest on
the whole Mediterranean. Those on the Spanish coast and on Mount Athos
lack the wonderful colour and the clean surface of this one. Looks as
if it had been done with a knife, doesn't it? Alpine crags seem
vertical but are nearly always inclined; their primary rock, you know,
cannot flake off abruptly like this tufa. This is a genuine precipice.
Plumb!"

"Terrific," said Mr. Heard. "What was that about the English lord?"

"Two young fellows who rented the villa at the back of it for a summer.
They used to bathe and booze all day long. I was not on the island at
the time, but of course I heard about it. One day the younger one
jumped over the edge of the cliff for a bet; said he was going to dive.
They never recovered his body. There is a strong current at this point.
That's so, isn't it, Antonio?"

"That so, gentlemens. Drink branty all the time, both of them. But
little one--everybody smile at him. Pretty boy. Swim and dive, something
lovely. One evening both get drunk and walk along the edge of cliff up
there. Then little one, he say: I good diver, eh, what, friend? Big one
say: You dive prettier than dolphin.--What bet, over cliff here,
now?--Six bottle branty.--Done! Clothes off, over he go, like a sea-bird.
All finished. That so, gentlemens. Next morning they bring clothes to
big one into house. Big one, when he wake up and see clothes lying
there, with no friend inside, he very angry with servants and everybody
else, and drink no more branty for three days. Dam-fool foreigners."

"That's a tragedy, anyhow," said the bishop.

"You are right. It is quite artistic--that touch about bringing back the
clothes, the empty shell, next morning. Quite artistic."

Mr. Heard looked up at the crag. It made him dizzy to picture some
human body hurtling through the air from that awful height. Its surface
was of perfect smoothness. But what struck him even more was the
uncommon and almost menacing coloration. The rock was bluish black,
spattered with maculations of a ruddy sanguine tint, as though drops of
blood had oozed out, in places, from its stony heart.

"I remember Mrs. Meadows telling me that story," he said to Keith.
"Isn't her villa at the back?"

"The very place. By the way, when next you call, would you please say
something particularly nice DE MA PART? I don't see half enough of that
lady, considering how much I like her. How is she?"

"Complains of headache."

"Headache? That is very unlike Mrs. Meadows. I always look upon her as
a bundle of steel springs. Perhaps something is wrong with the baby."

"Maybe," replied the bishop. "She seems to dote on it."

Then that last visit to his cousin suddenly recurred to him; he
remembered her conversation--he thought of the lonely woman up thee.
Strange! Somehow or other, she had been at the back of his mind all the
time. He decided to call again in a day or two.

Keith said:

"I should not like to come between her and the child. That woman is a
tiger--mother.... Heard, there has been something in your mind all
day long. What is it?"

"I believe there has. I'll try to explain. You know those Japanese
flowers--" he began, and then broke off.

"I am glad you are becoming terrestrial at last. Nothing like Mother
Earth! You cannot think how much money I wasted on Japanese plants,
especially bulbs, before I convinced myself that they cannot be grown
on this soil."

"Those paper flowers, I mean, which we used to put in our finger-bowls
at country dinner tables. They look like shrivelled specks of
cardboard. But in the water they begin to grow larger and to unfold
themselves into unexpected patterns of flowers of all colours. That is
how I feel--expanding, and taking on other tints. New problems, new
influences, are at work upon me. It is as if I needed altogether fresh
standards. Sometimes I feel almost ashamed--"

"Ashamed? My dear Heard, this will never do. You must take a blue pill
when we get home."

"Can it be the south wind?"

"Everybody blames the poor sirocco. I imagine you have long been
maturing for this change, unbeknown to yourself. And what does it mean?
Only that you are growing up. Nobody need be ashamed of growing up....
Here we are, at last! We will land at the little beach yonder, near
the end of that gulley. You can go ashore and have a look at the old
thermal establishment. It used to be a gay place with a theatre and
ballrooms and banqueting rooms. Nobody dare enter it nowadays. Haunted!
Perhaps you will see the ghost. As for me, I mean to take a swim. I
always feel as if I needed a bath after talking about religion. You
don't mind my saying so, do you?"

Mr. Heard, climbing upwards from the beach, felt as though he did not
mind what anyone said about anything.

With the Devil's Rock the most imposing tract of Nepenthean
cliff--scenery came to an abrupt end. That mighty escarpment was its
furthest outpost. Thereafter the land fell seawards no longer
precipitously, but in wavy earthen slopes intersected by ravines which
the downward-rushing torrents of winter had washed out of the loose
soil. It was at the termination of one of these dry stream-beds that
Mr. Heard set foot on shore. Panting under the relentless heat he wound
his way along a path once carefully tended and engineered, but now
crumbling to decay.

Before him, on a treeless brown eminence, silhouetted against the blue
sky, stood the ruin. It was a fanciful woe-begone structure, utterly
desolate. The plaster, gnawed away by winds laden with searching
sea-moisture, had fallen to earth, exposing the underlying masonry of
cheap construction whose rusty colour was the same as that of the
ground from which it had arisen, and into which it now seemed ready and
eager to descend. Everything useful or portable, everything that spoke
of man's occupation, everything that suggested life and comfort--the
porcelain tiles, woodwork, window-panes, roofings, mosaic or marble
floors, leaden pipes--all this had been carried away long ago. It stood
there stark, dismantled, de-humanized, in the midday heat. Here was
nothing to charm the eye or conjure up visions of past glory; nothing
elegant or romantic; nothing savouring of grim warlike purposes. It was
a modern ruin; a pile of rubbish; a shameless, frivolous skeleton.
Those hastily built walls and staring windows wore an air of faded
futility, almost of indecency--as though the mouldering bones of some
long-forgotten lady of pleasure had crept out of their tomb to give
themselves an airing in the sunshine.

Mr. Heard, after glancing at what remained of a pretentious facade,
stepped within.

Deep shade was here, in those of the chambers whose roofs remained
intact; shade, and a steamy heat, and the noxious odour of some mineral
product--the healing waters. He strayed in the twilight through halls
and corridors, past ample saloons and rows of cells which had
apparently served for convenience of disrobing. Everywhere that noisome
smell accompanied his footsteps; the place was reeking with it. And all
was in decay. Gaudy paper hung in tatters from the ceilings; the dust
lay thick, undisturbed for generations. Unclean things littered in
musty corners. Through gaping skylights a sunny beam would penetrate;
it played about the mildewy stucco partitions encrusted, in patches,
with a poisonous lichen of bright green. Wandering about this dank and
mournful pile of wreckage, he could understand why simple folks should
dread to enter so ghoul-haunted a spot.

Gladly he issued, by way of an obscure passage, into what had once been
a trim garden. No trace of flowers or shrubs remained; the walks, the
ornamental stone seats and artificial terraces, were merging into brown
earth. Here, in the centre of this ruined pleasaunce, the health-giving
fountain had lately flowed, bubbling up in a couch-shaped basin of
cement. It was now dry. But a damp warmth still clung to its rim,
whereon the mineral had left a comely deposit of opaline texture.
Lowering his hand he felt an intermittent stream of hot air rising out
of the ground, feeble as the breath of a dying man. Still some
mysterious gusts of life down there, he concluded, in the dark earth.
How curious that volcanic connection with the mainland, of which Count
Caloveglia had spoken!

Soon he found himself beside the shattered framework of a small
pavilion, built in a grotesque Chinese style and looking woefully out
of place in this classic landscape, with the blue Tyrrhenian at its
foot. And here he rested. He surveyed the traces of the old path
leading down from the higher lands in serpentine meanderings; that
path--once, doubtless, bordered by shady trees--whereby all those worldly
invalids had once descended. He pictured the lively caravan afoot, on
mule-back, in sedan chairs, seeking health and pleasure at this site,
now so void of life. Lower down, almost within a stone's throw, lay the
beach. The sailors, father and son, had drawn the boat up to the shore
and were sitting huddled up on its shady side, with some food between
them on a coloured handkerchief. That Brobdingnagian luncheon-basket
had also been disembarked. Keith was swimming, together with his two
genii; he looked like a rosy Silenus. They seemed to be enjoying
themselves vastly, to judge by the outbursts of laughter. Mr. Heard
thought of going to join the fun, but gave up the idea; there was
something astir that clogged his energies.

He knew them--these Southern noons. If no ghost resided in the
melancholy ruin hard by, there might well be some imponderable hostile
essence afloat in the still air of midday. Anything, he felt, could
happen at this unearthly hour. The wildest follies might be committed
at the bidding of this unseen Presence.

He tried to recollect what Keith had told him concerning Muhlen, that
corrupt personality. Retlow ... where had he heard that name before?
In vain he flogged his memory. There was an alien power in this
brightness; a power as of a vampire that drained away his faculties,
his vitality; a spirit of evil, exhaling from the sunny calm. It made a
mock, a mirage, of the landscape which danced before his eyes; it
distorted the realities of nature, the works of man....

Presently he observed that Keith and his companions were clothed and
occupied in dragging things out of the preposterous food-receptacle.
They called up to him. The spell was released.

He descended.

"Nice bathe?" he enquired.

"Rather! And now these fellows will make a passable omelette, to begin
with. I don't fancy cold luncheons, do you? They seem to lie dead on
one's stomach."

"Are those sailors not coming with us?"

"No. They are well paid for their work. No doubt they would like to be
in my service too. But I never employ islanders, except for casual
jobs; it saves me all kinds of local trouble and family intrigues. Nor
yet older people. They are so apt to think; and once a servant begins
to think he ceases to be of use. I believe in the outsider, for all
purposes of human intercourse. If you want a thing done, go to the
outsider, the intelligent amateur. And when you marry, Heard, be sure
to select a wife from another class, another province, another
country--another planet, if possible. Otherwise you will repent it. Not
that I see any objection, on principle, to incest; it strikes me as the
most natural proceeding in the world--"

"Dear me!"

"And yet--that inexplicable prejudice. It is probably artificial and of
modern origin. I suspect the priestly caste. Royal families kept up the
custom and do so still, like that of Siam. Odd, how anachronisms linger
longest at the two poles of society. What do you say," he went on, "to
climbing a little up that gorge, into the shade? I cannot digest
properly with the sun staring at me. And tell me, as we go along, your
impressions of the ruin ... I perceive drawbacks to incest; grave
practical drawbacks--sterility, inbreeding. Yes, there is obviously
something to be said for exogamy. AUDI ALTERAM PARTEM as Eames might
say, though God knows why he thinks it sounds better in Latin. Seen the
ghost?"

The bishop remembered a certain answer given him by Madame Steynlin, to
whom he had once spoken of the "tonic" effects of Keith's conversation.

"A tonic?" she had said. "Very likely! But not a tonic for men and
women. A tonic for horses."

After luncheon they improvised a shelter in order to repose awhile. It
was the right thing to do on Nepenthe at that hour of the day, and Mr.
Keith tried to conform to custom even under unusual circumstances such
as these. Protected by the boat's scarlet awning from the rays of the
sun, they slumbered through the flaming hours.



CHAPTER XXIII



The duchess was a good sleeper, as befitted a person of regular habits
and pure life.

It was her custom to retire for the night at about eleven o'clock.
Angelina, who reposed in an adjoining room, would enter softly at nine
in the morning, draw up the blinds, and deposit a cup of tea at the
bedside of her mistress. Up to that moment, she would slumber like a
child. Rarely did she suffer from insomnia or nightmare. On this
particular night, however, her rest was troubled by a strange and
disquieting dream.

She was a little girl once more, at her parental home out West. All the
old memories were around her. It was winter time. She was alone, out of
doors. Snow, the familiar snow, was falling from a sombre sky; already
it lay deep on the boundless plains. It fell without ceasing. The sky
grew darker. Hours seemed to pass, and still the flakes descended. It
was not cold snow. It was warm snow--warm and rather suffocating. Very
suffocating. It began to choke her. Suddenly she found she could
breathe no more. She gave a wild cry of despair--

Her maid was standing beside the bed, a lighted candle in her hand.
Otherwise the room was in pitch darkness. Angelina looked like a
Tanagra statuette. Draped in nothing but a clinging nightgown that
reached two inches below the knee and accentuated the charm of her
figure, with the candle-light throwing playful gleams upon her neck and
cheeks, Angelina was an apparition to gladden the heart of man.

The heart of the Duchess was not gladdened by any means.

"What is the meaning of this, girl?" she enquired sternly, in what she
took to be the language of the country. "And in the middle of the
night!"

"It's nine o'clock, Madam."

"Nine o'clock? Then draw the blinds."

"I've drawn them." She stepped to the window and tapped on the glass
panes by way of confirmation. "All dark outside," she added. "Ashes are
falling from heaven. The volcano is very, very angry."

"Ashes? The volcano? I must dress at once. Light two more candles. No,
three! We can't have three candles burning. Don Francesco may be here
at any moment."

The Duchess often laughingly described herself as "only a weak woman."
A certain number of persons concurred in that opinion. Just then she
was the most self-possessed inhabitant of Nepenthe. The disturbance of
nature left her undisturbed. Her intellect was naturally incurious as
to the habits of volcanoes; her soul, moreover, in good hands, her
conscience in excellent working order, as befitted a potential convert
to Catholicism. She could rely on a spiritual adviser who had instilled
into her mind a lofty sense of obedience and resignation. Don Francesco
would never desert her. He would arrive in due course, explaining why
God had allowed the volcano to behave in this unseemly fashion, and
brimming over with words of consolation for his daughter-to-be. God, if
so disposed, could work a miracle and drive away the plague, even as he
had sent it. Ashes or no ashes, all was for the best. Calmly she
waited.

Out of doors, meanwhile, the shower went on without ceasing. It had
begun shortly after midnight; the ground was covered to the depth of
two inches. Nepenthe lay veiled in Cimmerian gloom, darker than
starless midnight--a darkness that could be felt; a blanket, as it were,
hot and breathless, weighing upon the landscape. All was silent. No
footfall could be heard in the streets; the powdery ashes, softer than
snow, absorbed every sound. And still they fell. Those few scared
natives whom necessity forced to go abroad crept about in fear of their
lives. They thought the end of the world had come. Terror-stricken,
they carried knives and revolvers in their pockets; they passed each
other distrustfully in the streets holding, in one hand, a lighted
torch or lantern, and in the other a handkerchief pressed to the face
for fear of suffocation. In one or two of the shop windows could be
discerned a light glimmering feebly as through the thickest fog. All
the ordinary sights and sounds of morning--the vehicles plying for hire,
the cracking of whips, the cries of the fish and fruit vendors--all were
gone. The deathly stillness was broken only by a clangour of the town
clock, tolling the hours into a darkened world.

Half a dozen adventurous spirits had gathered together at the Club.
They called themselves adventurous. As a matter of fact they were
scared out of their wits and had gone there merely with a view to
leaning on each other for mutual support and courage. There was no
whisky drinking that morning, no cards, no scandal-mongering. They sat
round a table under an acetylene lamp, anxiously listening to a young
professor from Christiania who claimed to be versed in the higher
mathematics and was then occupied in calculating, by means of the
binomial theorem, how long it would take for the whole town of Nepenthe
to be submerged under ashes up to the roofs--presuming all the buildings
to be of equal height. He was a new-comer to the place and, for that
reason, rather a cheerful pessimist. He thought it quite possible that
before the second floors of the houses had been reached--granted, of
course, that none was higher or lower than the other--the wind might
change and carry the ashes elsewhere. His demonstration had a
depressing effect on the hearts of those who had lived longer on the
island. They rose from the table and sadly shook their heads, prepared
for the worst. They knew their sirocco.

As morning wore on other stragglers entered the premises, muffled up to
the ears; they scattered ashes from their cloaks and hastily closed the
door behind them. More lamps were lighted. The news was not inspiring.
It was dark as ever outside; you could not see your hand before your
face; the shower had accumulated to an alarming extent. Some roofs had
fallen in under the weight of ashes; telegraphic communication with the
mainland was interrupted owing, it was supposed, to the snapping of the
cable in some submarine convulsion; a man had stumbled in the
market-place over the dead body of a woman--choked, no doubt; two of the
judge's Russian prisoners, unaccustomed to volcanic phenomena, had gone
stark staring mad and disembowelled one another with a carving knife.
Mr. Muhlen, who presently turned up in anything but his usual sprightly
humour, was furnished with a full and corrected version of this last
affair, to the effect that there were not two, but fourteen, of these
victims; that prior to their frenzied act they had partaken of bread
and salt and sung the national anthem; that the instrument chosen was
not a carving knife but a rusty chisel. None of his listeners seemed to
be greatly moved by what, under ordinary circumstances, would have been
a valuable contribution to the entertainment. They were waiting for the
appearance of their president, the Commissioner, the life and soul of
the place, who would be able to give them an official apology for this
scandalous outbreak of nature. The Commissioner, for once in his life,
failed to perform his duty.

That unfortunate man was sitting at home, in the remote villa known as
the "Residency," profoundly troubled in mind. He leaned over his study
table, which was lighted by a lamp; his eyes peered dejectedly, through
the windows beyond, into the gloom. Before him lay the skeleton draft
of his annual report to the Nicaraguan Minister of Finance, a gentleman
who developed a passionate craving, once a year, to be informed of the
condition of Nepenthe in regard to matters such as shipping and trade
returns, zymotic diseases, and the methods locally employed for
combating beri-beri.

The elaboration of this report had hitherto given Mr. Freddy Parker no
trouble whatever. It was an understood thing between himself and his
protector, Senor Pomponio de Vergara y Puyarola, that his labours need
not be otherwise than purely formal. To every one of the intelligent
queries on the part of a paternal government it had been his custom,
therefore, to append the magic word NIL. Banking system--NIL. Meat
export--NIL. Cotton industry--NIL. Agriculture--NIL. Canal traffic--NIL.
Teak trade--NIL. Emery mines--NIL. Fisheries--NIL.

He could trust Senor de Vergara to arrange matters, in the event of any
complaint arising as to the unwarranted ambiguity or succinctness of
the Nepenthean Report.

Bad news had just reached him; very bad news indeed. His friend and
protector had been stabbed to death, after the approved fashion of
Nicaraguan politicians, by a couple of assassins in the pay of that
minister's rival, a bankrupt tradesman who, desirous of bettering his
fortunes, conceived that he would make as good a Finance Minister as
anyone else and had, in fact, already usurped that post. Worse news
could hardly be imagined. The prognosis was most unfavourable. For Mr.
Parer shrewdly argued that a rival of the late Don Pomponio would look
askance at those whom His Excellency had exalted--at himself, for
instance. And what then? However conscientiously he might henceforward
edit the report, he realized that his position was no longer secure; he
was liable to be recalled at any moment--to cede his place to some
candidate of the opposing faction. Those damned republics! Or the post,
being a purely honorary one created expressly for himself by the
obliging and now defunct Don Pomponio, might be permanently abolished.
It was not a pleasant prospect. Mr. Freddy Parker was rather too old to
start knocking about the world again. He was losing what he called his
"nerve." What was to be done?

He tugged at his beard and puffed furious clouds of smoke out of his
briar pipe. He thought of another grief--another source of anxiety. The
quarterly remissions forwarded to him by certain obscure but
respectable relatives in England, under the condition that he should
never again set foot in that land of honest men, had not arrived. It
was two weeks overdue. What had happened? Had they decided to cancel
it? They had threatened to do so ere now. And if so, how was he going
to live? It was a facer, that was. The equivalent of fifteen pounds
sterling was urgently necessary at that very moment. Fifteen pounds.
Who would lend him fifteen pounds? Keith? Not likely. Keith was a
miser--a Scotchman, ten to one. Koppen? He had once already tried to
touch him for a loan, with discouraging results. A most unsympathetic
millionaire. Almost offensive, the older bounder had been. Perhaps
somebody had let on about that bit of CREPE DE CHINE preserved at the
Residency, and its uses as a sociological document. How things got
about on Nepenthe! Where the Hell, then, was money to come from?

Both these troubles, great in themselves, faded into insignificance
before a new and overwhelming sorrow.

In a room directly overhead lay the dead body of his lady. She had
breathed her last on the previous midday, and it is more than likely
that the noise of the cannon-shots, reverberating through her chamber,
had accelerated her end; not the noise as such, for she was naturally a
rowdy woman and never felt comfortable save in an atmosphere of
domestic explosions and quarrels with servants, but the noise in its
social significance, the noise as demonstrating to her exhausted
consciousness that there was something wrong, something at the same
time of considerable importance--something she might never live to
comment on--happening in the market-place. In other words, it is highly
probable that her death had been hastened by the moral rather than the
physical shock of the noise; by disappointment; by the bitter
reflection that she would never survive to learn what this new scandal,
evidently an interesting one, was about.

The doctor, for reasons which he deemed sufficient, had recommended a
speedy interment; it was fixed for that morning. The fall of ashes had
put the ceremony out of the question. There she lay. And in the room
below sat her bereaved stepbrother, distractedly gazing out of the
window upon the darkness of Erebus.

It harmonized with the darkness of his mourning trousers, newly creased
but not newly purchased; and of his soul. He saw his worldly existence
menaced--tottering to its fall. All these catastrophes, so crushing, so
unexpected, filled him with a kind of primeval terror. Mr. Parker was
neither a devout believer nor the reverse. He was a fool and liable, as
such, under the stress of bodily or mental disturbance, to spasmodic
fits of abject fright which he mistook for religion. An attack of
indigestion, the failure of some pecuniary speculation, the demise of a
beloved stepsister--these various happenings, so dissimilar to one
another, had yet this feature in common, that they put the fear of God
into the otherwise empty brain of Mr. Parker.

He had been in many tight corners, but never in so tight a corner as
this. Hardly ever. He thought of the lady lying dead upstairs and all
she had done towards establishing and consolidating their social
position; how she had economized for him, yes, and lied for him--better,
far better, than he could ever hope to lie. For she possessed that most
priceless of all gifts: she believed her own lies. She looked people
straight in the face and spoke from her heart; a falsehood, before it
left her lips, had grown into a flaming truth. She was a florid,
improvident liar. There was no classical parsimony about her
misstatements. They were copious baroque, and encrusted with pleasing
and unexpected tricks of ornamentation. That tropical redundancy for
which her person was renowned reflected itself likewise in her
temperament--in nothing more than the exuberance of her untruths which
were poured out in so torrential a flood, with such burning conviction
at the opulence of detail that persons who knew her well used to stand
aghast (Catholics had been known to cross themselves) at the fertility
of her constructive imagination, while the most hardened sceptics
protested that, even if her facts were wrong, there could be no doubt
as to her sincerity, her ingenuousness. Ah, she was a woman in a
thousand! Often had Mr. Parker sat at her feet, a respectful disciple,
listening spellbound and striving to acquire that secret--a secret which
was, after all, not so much art as nature. He could never hope to rival
her technique.

That was because he could not look you in the face; because he
disbelieved not only his own lies, but those of other people--and not
only their lies, but their truths; because he distrusted everything and
everybody, and was duly distrusted in his turn. Nobody believed a word
he said, and some rude persons went so far as to tell him exactly what
they thought of him. They called him a liar in public and in private.
Such experiences are trying to one's nerve; they end in giving you a
shifty look. People who knew him well never took his word for granted,
and the more casual acquaintance would say that even if his facts were
correct now and then he could not help being a fraud all the same.

And now she was gone, this lady who had saved him from countless small
annoyances, who had given him self-esteem and a kind of social
backbone. He stared into the darkness. Where was money to come
from--those miserable fifteen pounds, for example? What would happen?

He almost decided upon praying, only he could not think of appropriate
words in which to appeal for this loan; it might seem to the Deity a
contemptuously small sum, not worth bothering the angels about. On the
other hand he dared not apply for more than he actually needed--not to
that quarter, at least--for fear of being found out. He was always being
found out, even by his earthly creditors. Besides, there lingered at
the back of his mind all the time certain doubts as to the efficacy of
applying to God for money or anything else. The whole thing might be a
farce. He remembered, with pain and grief, that he had already on
several occasions tried the prayer-system, like most other systems. And
alas, the results had invariably been NIL....

A visit from His Reverence the parroco was announced.

This heroic priest, accompanied by two acolytes bearing torches, had
braved the downpour of ashes. He never shirked his duty. It was his
duty that morning to confer with Mr. Parker anent the delayed funeral
and other painfully material matters. For the deceased lady had not
deserted the creed of her fathers; she was an ardent Catholic--so ardent
that she professed great pain at her stepbrother's alien leanings and
had taken considerable trouble to convert him to her own way of
thinking. She used to say, in her flowery language, that his
contumacious attitude towards the true Faith gnawed at her
vitals--meaning, presumably, that it annoyed her. Often she pointed out
how many social and other advantages they would gain--living in a
Catholic country--if he, too, could bring himself to enter the field of
believers. In vain! The Commissioner had a knack of being
ultra-protestant on such occasions.

Not that he greatly cared to what Church he belonged. But if nobody
made it worth his while--why, he remained an Englishman. He knew
perfectly well that the parroco, his lady's confessor, was anxious to
do something in the proselytizing line which might lower the prestige
of Don Francesco. And he was clever enough to realize that, by
embracing Catholicism at Torquemada's hands, he, the Official
Representative of Nicaragua, would be putting a feather in the priest's
cap. He was not going to put a feather in anybody's cap--not for
nothing. It was not good enough. Some strong leader of nations had once
remarked, "Every man his price." Mr. Parker liked that phrase; he was
deeply convinced of its veracity. He also had his price, and once, in a
moment of extreme financial embarrassment, he had delighted his
stepsister by announcing that he was prepared to consider the question
of conversion. He then named his price. It was a condition not to be
expressed by such terms as a gratified church might have been able to
concede--by some elevation to a higher sphere of influence or other
worldly favour; it was a figure baldly commercial, expressible, that
is, in pounds, shillings and pence.

"You've got some cheek, Freddy," was all she could bring herself to
say.

"My dear Lola, he can take it or leave it," the Commissioner had
replied, sulkily.

His Reverence never found himself in the odious dilemma of either
taking it or leaving it, for the lady was wise enough not to divulge so
ignoble a proposition.

But now, while the good priest uttered a few parting platitudes of
condolence, the other was revolving in his mind how negotiations--direct
negotiations, this time--could be opened up. He needed fifteen pounds;
well, one might be able to do a little juggling with the Club money for
that part of the business. It was necessary, above all, to devise some
means whereby the Nicaraguan Government might be induced to keep him at
his old post. Here was Torquemada. How could the fellow be turned to
account?

"The Nuncio!" he suddenly thought. A Catholic republic like Nicaragua
was sure to have a Papal Nuncio whatever that might be; and if he
became a convert to the official faith of that country, the Nuncio
would be delighted and might whisper in the ear of the President a few
words commending his act and requesting that so good a servant of the
Church should not be despoiled of his post. And if the President,
himself a Catholic, could be brought to share this view, then he,
Freddy Parker, could snap his fingers at the machinations of Senor
Vergara's successor.

He decided to show some signs of devotion to what he had been
accustomed to call the grossest of superstitions; to reveal symptoms of
latent Roman proclivities. Grief seemed to have sharpened his wits, for
an inspiration came to him. After the sordid and melancholy details of
the funeral had been discussed yet again--it was to take place as soon
as ever the state of the sky would allow of it--Mr. Parker, pointing to
the blackened world outside, made an oracular remark.

"Something must be done," he said.

His companion agreed, very heartily. But soon he drew a deep sigh. How
could a volcanic eruption be stopped? In other words, what must be
done?

"Let me suggest something, parroco. Why not organize a procession at
once, a penitential procession? Such things take place during eruptions
on the mainland. Why not here?"

It was the most tactful and diplomatic proposal that the Commissioner
had ever made. A thundering good tip, in fact. How proud his Lola would
have been, had she heard him make it! A flash of inspiration--and he was
actually following it up. The effect was instantaneous. At the sound of
the word "procession" the other's thin lips relaxed, and into his
ferrety eyes there came a gentler look. He was pleased, infinitely
pleased. The Protestant Commissioner betraying only too plainly the
heart of a Catholic--that augured well. But difficulties, apparently
insurmountable, presented themselves.

"That thought, Signor Parker, coming from you, gives me pleasure beyond
words. But I question whether a procession can be formed. Even the
priests, most of them, would not care to attend. As to the populace--who
is going to risk his life in the midst of this calamity? We might all
be choked to death. Not that I would hesitate to play my becoming
part!"

"You know your people--how inquisitive they are. If you toll the church
bells a certain number are sure to gather in the market-place in order
to learn, even at risk of their lives, what is happening. When they see
a torchlight procession being formed, you will obtain a sufficient
quantity, I feel sure, to carry the Holy Image of the Saint; and some
to spare. Also, I see no reason why the priests should be present in
full strength. Toll the bells, parroco! You will get your men."

His Reverence was thinking hard. At last he said:

"Your project appeals to me. It does credit to your heart. It would do
credit to our island. I will try to arrange it. But if--"

"You mean, don't you, if the ashes continue to fall, notwithstanding
our expiatory demonstration? Let me see. There was that disgraceful
tumult in the town yesterday. Saint Dodekanus is perhaps too deeply
vexed against his people to concede them a grace under such
circumstances. I imagine him to be very displeased with us just now.
That being the case, the fall of ashes might well be permitted to
continue for our castigation, despite the penitential act. What do you
think?"

Nobody knows what the parroco thought. It was not his habit to think
aloud, much less to express opinions on ticklish arguments such as
these. But he could corroborate the fact with a clear conscience.

"It was indeed enough to anger a saint in Heaven! Seven more of the
wounded have succumbed to their injuries; three of them little
children. Ah, these deeds of violence and bloodshed, for which Nepenthe
was ever infamous! When will the peace of God descend upon our island?"

Mr. Parker had no idea when that might happen. He was not particularly
keen about the peace of God--he was keen about keeping his job. None the
less, he managed to move his head up and down, in a decidedly becoming
fashion.

"And now," concluded the parroco, "with your kind permission, I will
take my leave, to confer with the clergy if I can discover any of them,
as to what can be done towards forming a procession. I confess that the
more I think upon your idea, Signor Parker, the more I like it. If only
we can find a sufficient number to participate!"

"Have no fear of that. Only toll the bells. You will get your men. This
eruption is enough to make anybody religious. I mean--you know what I
mean, parroco."

The acolytes having rekindled their torches His Reverence, a happier
man, stepped boldly out of doors and was swallowed up in the murk.

This is a succinct and faithful account of the genesis of that
procession which was to become famous in Nepenthean annals. However
much, in later years, certain envious folks claim to be the originators
of the project it was, from first to last, the Commissioner's idea.
Honour to whom honour is due. He deserved, and took, all credit for it.
Meanwhile he sat down at his table once more, and stared into the
pitchy darkness.

Not long afterwards, the sound of bells announced that something was
being done. Men looked out of their windows and saw flickering lights
moving about the gloom. The flames grouped themselves into definite
arrangements; a procession was being formed. As the parroco had
foretold it was but sparsely attended in the beginning; out of
sixty-five priests and canons of the church, only fourteen found it
convenient to attend; another dozen, however, were presently shamed
into taking their places in the ranks. The same with the followers.
Their number gradually increased. For the bells did the work of
arousing curiosity; they tolled plangently into the night.

Stranger pageant never trod Nepenthe. Some thoughtful person had
discovered that umbrellas might be used with advantage. Umbrellas were
therefore utilized by all save the priests, the choristers,
torch-bearers, and those carrying the statue of the Saint who, for
reasons of personal dignity or expediency, preferred the other method.
They chanted their psalms and litanies through handkerchiefs, knowing
full well that their music would be none the less pleasing to the Saint
for being more than usually nasal in tone. Thus, with soundless
footfalls, they perambulated the streets and outskirts of the town,
gathering fresh recruits as they went.

And still the ashes fell.

Viewing this cortege of awe-struck innocents braying into the blackness
under their umbrellas at the heels of a silver-plated idol (not yet
paid for), an intelligent God might well be proud of his workmanship.
So thought the parroco. He was undismayed. Come what might, he had an
explanation ready. Saint Dodekanus, if the ashes continued to fall, was
only showing his displeasure; he was perfectly justified in letting his
wrath be known for the better guidance of mankind. Certain of the
younger priests, on the other hand, were growing nervous at the
prospect of a possible failure of the procession. They began to blame
His Reverence for what he had given them to understand was his own
idea. For two hours they had now been in movement; they had swallowed a
hatful of ashes. And yet no sign from Heaven. The sky appeared darker
than ever. Many of the followers, exhausted, dropped out of the
procession and returned sadly to their homes. They thought the
speculation was going to turn out badly. The others deemed in not
impossible that the Saint could not see them through so thick a
curtain. Well, then, he might hear them. They chanted more furiously.

The sound must have reached Heaven, at last, for a miracle occurred.
The gloom decreased in density. Men looked up and beheld a sickly
radiance overhead--it was the sun, ever so far away; it shone as when
seen through thickly smoked glasses. Then a veil seemed to be
withdrawn. The light grew clearer--the song of the penitents jubilant
with hope. Sullen gleams, now, pierced the murky air. Outlines of trees
and houses crept furtively into their old places. The fall of ashes had
almost ceased. With a wrench, as it seemed, the final covering was
drawn away. The land lay flooded in daylight.

That paean of joy and thanksgiving which ought to have greeted this
divine largesse, died on the lips of the beholders when they saw the
state of their island. Nepenthe was hardly recognizable. The Saint had
lifted a mantle from Heaven only to reveal the desolation on earth.
Ashes everywhere. Trees, houses, the fertile fields, the mountain
slopes--all were smothered under a layer of monotonous pallor. They knew
what it meant. It meant ruin to their crops and vineyards. None the
less, they raised a shout, a half-hearted shout, of praise. For
Nepentheans are born politicians and courteous by nature. It is their
heritage from the Good Duke Alfred to "keep smiling." A shout was
expected of them under the circumstances; it costs nothing and may even
do good, inasmuch as Saint Dodekanus could remove the ashes as easily
as he had sent them. Why not shout?

"A miracle, a miracle!" the cry went up. "Long life to our patron!"

A poor tribute; but the Saint took note of it. Half an hour had barely
passed ere the sky grew cloudy. Moist drops began to fall. It was the
first rain for many weeks, and foreign visitors, accustomed to think of
Nepenthe as a rainless land, were almost as interested in the watery
shower as in that of the ashes. Mud, such mud as the oldest midwife
could not remember, encumbered the roofs, the fields, the roadways. It
looked as if the whole island were plastered over with a coating of
liquid chocolate. Now, if the shower would only continue--

Suddenly it ceased. The sky grew clear.

Saint Dodekanus had often been accused of possessing a grain of malice.
Some went so far as to say he had the Evil Eye. It was by no means the
first time in his long career that the natives had found cause to
complain of a certain rancour in his temperament--of certain spiteful
viperish acts to which the priests, and they alone, were able to give a
benevolent interpretation. Now their wrath blazed out against the
celestial Patron. "He's not fit for his job," said some; "let's get a
new saint! The ruffian, the son of an impure mother--up to his tricks,
was he? Ah, the cut-throat, the Saracen, the old paederast: into the
ditch with him!"

During a brief moment his fate hung in the balance. For it was plain
that the ashes, if unwetted, might ultimately have been blown away by
the wind. But what was going to happen when all this mud, baked by the
sun into the hardness of brick, covered the island?

Perhaps the Saint was only putting their tempers to the test. The
experiment of another shout was worth trying. One could always punish
him later on.

So feeble was the noise that Saint Dodekanus must have had uncommonly
good ears. He had. And soon showed his real feelings. Rain fell once
more. Instead of diminishing it grew more violent, accompanied by warm
blasts of wind. There was sunshine overhead, but the peaks were
shrouded in scudding vapours, trees bent under the force of the wind;
the sea, a welter of light and shade, was dappled with silvery patches
under the swiftly careering clouds. Soon there came a blinding
downpour. Gullies were blocked up with mud; rills carried tons of it
into the sea. Then the gale died down; the sun beamed out of a bright
evening sky. The miraculous shower was over.

Men walked abroad and recognized their beloved Nepenthe once more. It
glowed in the tenderest hues. The events of morning and midday were
like a bad dream. Everything sparkled with unaccustomed brilliance; the
land was refreshed--swept clean; the sea alone remained discoloured to a
dingy brown. Truly, as the Commissioner--once more a sound
Protestant--remarked in later years: "The old rotter came up to the
scratch that time." So clear and pleasant was the air that it seemed as
if the wind had actually veered to the north. But no. It still blew
from the other quarter--the old familiar sirocco. Which proved that the
shower of ashes had not been "carried elsewhere," as the youthful
teacher of mathematics had prognosticated. It had not been carried
anywhere. It simply ceased to fall, the volcano having momentarily run
out of its stock of objectionable materials.

The Clubmen therefore, calling to mind the discussion of the morning,
were led to revise their opinion as to that gentleman's intelligence.
They remembered one or two things. They remembered that even when
Heavenly Powers are not known to be directly interested in the event,
eruptions now and then come to an end quite irrespective of the wind--a
contingency which had not been foreseen in the acute young
Scandinavian's computations.

"That comes," they said, "of studying the higher mathematics...."

For their miraculous deliverance from a shower of volcanic ashes the
islanders gave all credit, as might have been expected, to their Patron
Saint. And this proves how inadequately causes and effects are
understood, here on earth. For the priests, the most intelligent
section of the populace, knew perfectly well that but for the orders of
the parroco no procession could have taken place. The Saint would have
remained locked up in his musty shrine, without the faintest chance of
performing a miracle of any kind. They argued, consequently, that Saint
Dodekanus got the credit for what was really the parroco's notion. And
Torquemada, thinking over the day's proceedings, was driven to confess
that he was indebted for the suggestion to the fertile brain of the
Nicaraguan Representative; in other words that he, the parroco, was
praised for what was really the Commissioner's idea. And it is evident
that if Mr. Parker's lady had not died from the effects of a
mosquito-sting, that gentleman would never have been in such a complex
funk as to suggest a procession to the worthy priest.

Thus it came about that the Commissioner, the Parish Priest, and the
Patron Saint got the credit for what was really an insect's work.

Which shows how a mosquito can cure an eruption.



CHAPTER XXIV



Everybody was drunk that night in honour of the Saint's bounty, though
Miss Wilberforce reached the climax of her activities at the early hour
of 4 p.m.--during the torchlight procession.

An uproar had been generated at the Club; chairs were broken, bottles
smashed, and sporting prints kicked about--all on account of a comical
but rather scurrilous speech contrasting Europe with Australasia by a
new-comer, a member of the New Zealand House of Representatives, who
limped home not long afterwards with a damaged shinbone and black eye.
The more violent parties had been ejected during that incident, or
carried to their lodgings. Only about half the usual number was
left--all moderates, so far as drinking was concerned, but all more or
less screwed that day as befitted the occasion. There was the
card-table group, where Mr. Muhlen, with heightened colour in his
cheeks, was losing money in so brilliant a fashion that everyone swore
he must be on the verge of coming into a legacy or making some COUP
with a rich woman. In another room the so-called bawdy section,
presided over by the dubious Mr. Hopkins, were discussing topics not
adapted to polite ears. The artistic group, sadly thinned by the
ejection of four of its more imaginative and virile members who had
distinguished themselves in the fray, now consisted solely of two
youngsters, a black-and-white man and a literary critic; they sat in a
corner by themselves, talking about colour-values in maudlin strains.

The ordinary club-group had, as usual, installed themselves in the most
comfortable chairs on the balcony. They were boozing steadily, like
gentlemen, and having no end of fun with the poor little Norwegian
professor and his miscalculations. One of them--a venerable toper of
Anacreontic youthfulness known as Charlie who turned up on Nepenthe at
odd intervals and whom the oldest inhabitant of the place had never
seen otherwise than in a state of benevolent fuddle--was saying to him:

"Instead of filling yourself up with whisky in that disgusting fashion,
my friend, you ought to travel. Then you wouldn't make such an
exhibition of yourself as you did this afternoon over those ashes. Talk
about volcanoes! Ever seen the Lake of Pitch in Trinidad? Queer place,
Trinidad. You never know where you are. Though I can't say I saw much
of it myself. I was asleep most of the time, gentlemen, and often
tight. Mostly both. All angles and things, as you sail along. To get an
idea of that place, you must take a banana, for instance, and cut it in
half, and cut that in half again, and that half in half again--the
banana, mind you, must always remain the same size--or suppose you keep
peeling a potato, and peeling, and peeling--well, Mr. Professor, what
are you laughing at now?"

"I was thinking what an interesting map one could draw of Trinidad if
it's like that."

"Interesting? That's not the word. It's Hell. I wouldn't care to take
on that job, not even to oblige my poor old mother who died fifty years
ago. Ever been to Trinidad, Mr. Richards? Or you, Mr. White? Or
anybody? What, has nobody been to Trinidad? You ought to travel more,
gentlemen. How about you, Mr. Samuel?"

"Never further West than the Marble Arch. But a friend of mine kept a
ranch somewhere down there. One day he shot a skunk. Yes, Mr. White, a
skunk."

"A skunk? I'm blowed. What on earth ever for did he do that? What did
he want with a skunk? I thought they were protected by law to keep down
rattlesnakes. That's so, isn't it, Charlie?"

"Snakes. You should see them in Trinidad. Snakes. Great Scot! It's a
queer place, is Trinidad. All angles and things--"

"I don't think one can talk about a place being all angles and things,
unless--"

"Tell me, Charlie, what did the fellow on the ranch want to do with
that rattlesnake?"

"Couldn't say, my son. Maybe he thought of sending it to his mother. Or
perhaps he didn't want the skunk to get hold of its tail: see?"

"I see."

"They're very sensitive about their tails. As ticklish as any young
girl, I'm told."

"As bad as all that, are they?"

"I don't think one can talk about angles when describing an island or
even a continent, except in a figurative and flowery fashion. As a
teacher of geometry, it is my business to dwell among angles; and the
thirty-five boys in my class will bear witness to the fact that my
relations with angles, great and small, are above reproach. I admit
that there are angles everywhere, and that a man who really likes their
company will stumble against them in the most unexpected places. But
they are sometimes hard to see, unless one deliberately looks for them.
I think Charlie must have been looking for them in Trinidad."

"I said angles AND THINGS, and I always stick to what I say. AND
THINGS. You will be good enough, Mr. Professor, to draw your map
accordingly."

"Gentlemen! I rise to a point of order. Our Indian friend here is
greatly annoyed. He has been accused of wearing stays. At his urgent
request I have convinced myself, by personal inspection, that he wears
nothing of the kind. He is naturally slim-waisted, as befits a worthy
representative of the noble Hairyan race. It has also been suggested
that he loses caste by his present mode of conduct. He begs me to say
that, being a Jamshi-worshipper, he doesn't care a brass farthing about
caste. Thirdly, he has been blamed in certain quarters for his
immoderate indulgence in Parker's poison. Let me tell you, gentlemen,
in my capacity as Vice-President, that for the last four thousand years
his family has enjoyed a special dispensation from the Great Mogul,
authorizing the eldest son to drink whatever he damn well pleases. Our
friend here happens to be the third son. But that is obviously not his
fault. If it were, he would have come forward with an apology long ago.
Gentlemen! I can't speak fairer than that. Whoever says I'm not a
gentleman--why, he isn't one either."

"Hear, hear! I never knew you were an ornithologist, Richards."

"Nor did I--not till this moment. But when it's a question of defending
the honour of a Club-member I always rise to the occasion. Some
things--they simply make my blood boil. Look at this REFEREE: two weeks
out of date! How the blazes is a man--"

"I say, Charlie, what did the fellow on the ranch want to do with that
skunk? Something about tickling, wasn't it?"

"Hush, my boy. We can't talk about it here. You're not old enough yet.
I don't think I ought to tell you. It's too funny for words...."

"You're a black-and-white man and I'm a writer, and really, you know,
we're a cut above all those sots on the balcony. Now just be reasonable
for a moment. Look here. Have you ever thought about the impossibility
of realizing colour description in landscape? It's struck me a good
deal lately, here, with this blue sea, and those orange tints on the
mountain, and all the rest of it. Take any page by a well-known
writer--take a description of a sunset by Symonds, for example. Well, he
names all the gorgeous colours, the yellow and red and violet, or
whatever it may be, as he saw them. But he can't make you see
them--damned if he can. He can only throw words at your head. I'm very
much afraid, my dear fellow, that humanity will never get its
colour-values straightened out by means of verbal symbols."

"I always know when a man is drunk, even when I'm drunk myself."

"When?"

"When he talks about colour-values."

"I believe you're right. I'm feeling a bit muzzy about the legs, as if
I couldn't move. A bit fuzzy--"

"Muzzy, I think you said."

"Fuzzy."

"Muzzy. But we needn't quarrel about it, need we? I shall be sick in a
minute, old man."

"It's rather hard on a fellow to be always misunderstood. However, as I
was saying when you interrupted me, I am feeling slightly wobblish in
the peripatetic or ambulatorial department. But my head's all right.
Now do be serious, for a change. You don't seem to catch my drift. This
blue sea, and those orange tints on the mountains, I mean to say--how
are they going to be held fast by the optic apparatus? The lens, you
understand. I want to be able to shove them into a sketch-book, like
you fellows. Well, how? That's what I want to know. How to turn my
retina into a canvas."

"Rot, my good sir."

"It may be rot to you, but it strikes me as rather unfortunate, all the
same, when you come to think of it. This blue sea, I mean, and those
orange tints and all that, you know. Take a sunrise by John Addington.
Of course, as a matter of fact, we ought both to have been born in
another age--an age of sinecures. Why are sinecures extinct? I feel as
if I could be Governor of Madagascar at this moment."

"I feel as if you were getting slightly intoxicated."

"That's me. But it's only my legs. My head is astonishingly clear. And
I do wish you would try, just for once in a way, to follow my meaning.
Be reasonable, for a change! I mean to say that a man has talents for
all sorts of things. I, for example, have pronounced views upon
agriculture. But what's the use of farming without capital? What I mean
to say is this: we see the blue sea and the orange tints on the
mountains, and all that, I mean, and we don't seem to realize, I mean,
that we may die at any moment and never see them again. How few people
grasp that simple fact! It's enough to make one sick. Or do you think
it's a laughing matter?"

"Bally rotten, I call it. You're quite right. People don't realize
things the way they ought, except in a few selected moments. They live
like animals. I shall be sick in a minute, old man."

"Like animals. Good Lord! You've hit the nail on the head this time.
How true that is. Like animals. Like animals. Like animals."

"I know what we want. We want fresh air. No more Parker's poison for
me. Let's take a stroll."

"I would if I could. But I can't get off this chair, damn it. I shall
fall down if I move an inch. I can hardly turn my head round, as it is.
Awfully sorry. You don't mind, do you?"

"Gad! That's awkward. Couldn't we take your chair along with us,
somehow? I'm going to be sick, I tell you, this very minute."

"Not here, not here! Third on the left. But surely, my dear fellow, you
can put it off a little longer? Can't you be reasonable, for once in
your life? Just for once in your life? Do listen to what those
inebriated lunatics are saying on the balcony...."

"What did you do to that skunk, Charlie?"

"Not if I know it, young man. I promised my mother I'd never tell.
Another day, perhaps, when I've got a little whiskey inside me. It's
too funny for words."

"You oughtn't to go tickling young girls, Charlie. It's not polite, at
your age...."

They all cleared out, as it seemed, after midnight; some on all fours,
many of them fairly perpendicular. But when the serving lad entered the
premises in the sober light of morning, to clear up the debris, he was
surprised to perceive a human form reclining under a table. It was the
young Norwegian professor. He lay there wide awake, with disheveled
hair and an inspired gleam in his eye, tracing on the floor, with the
point of a corkscrew, what looked like a tangle of parallelograms and
conic sections. He said it was a map of Trinidad.



CHAPTER XXV



As to Miss Wilberforce--she was becoming a real problem.

Once again she had shocked the Faithful. She had misconducted herself
by interrupting the torchlight procession with some of those usual or
unusual antics, a detailed description of which, while entertaining to
a few lost souls, would certainly mortify the majority of decent folks.
The cup of endurance was full, overbrimming. Once again she had passed
the night in the lock-up. Questioned as to her motives for this
particular incident, she artlessly blamed the darkness which misled
her, she said, into the regrettable delusion that it was night; "and at
night, you know...."

This, as Signor Malipizzo observed with his usual legal acumen, might
pass for an explanation but nevermore for an excuse. How much longer,
he continued, with a fine Ciceronian gesture of eloquent
indignation--how much longer would the foreign colony on Nepenthe endure
the presence in their midst of such a disgrace to womanhood?

Thus spake the judge, well aware of what was expected from a man in his
position. In his heart he desired nothing less than her departure; he
was charmed with her disturbing influence; he hoped she would live a
hundred years on the island. In the first place he received occasional
gifts in kind from various grocers and wine-merchants who enriched
themselves by supplying her at preposterous prices with intoxicants,
and who thought by these subtle tactics to retain him as an ally in
their cause. Secondly and chiefly, every new scandal of this nature
gave him a fresh opportunity of consigning her, temporarily, to the
lock-up. Only temporarily. Because Mr. Keith would be sure to bail her
out again in the morning, which meant another fifty francs in his
pocket.

This is exactly what had just taken place. Mr. Keith had bailed her
out, for the thirty-fourth time. She was at liberty once more, sobering
down.

Both the Duchess and Madame Steynlin pitied her, as only one woman can
pity another. Often the prayed to their respective Gods, Lutheran and
High Church, that she might be led to see the error of her ways or,
failing that, removed by some happy accident from the island or,
failing that, run over by a passing vehicle and injured--injured not
dangerously, but merely to such an extent as to necessitate her
permanent seclusion from society. Other careless folk were maimed by
the furious driving of the Nepentheans; it was a common form of
accident. Miss Wilberforce--the eye-sore, the scandal of her
sex--remained intact. Some impish deity seemed to guide her wayward
footsteps.

Had she been a person of low extraction there would have been no
difficulty in dealing with her. But she was so obviously a lady--she had
such obviously rich and influential connections in England! These
people, however glad to have her out of the way, might object if
violent measures were taken by persons who, after all, had no right to
interfere in her affairs. And the situation was rendered none the less
complex by the attitude of Miss Wilberforce herself. She was a Tartar.
She felt that all men's hands were against her. She used her tongue to
good purpose and, at a pinch, her teeth and claws. The policemen of
Nepenthe could bear witness to that fact. Drunk, she had a perfectly
blistering flow of invective at command. Sober, she was apt to indulge
in a dignified bestiality of logic that cut like a knife. It was only
in the intermediate stage that she was affable and human. But to catch
her in that intermediate stage was extremely difficult. It was of such
very brief duration.

They tried to tempt her with the prospect of being repatriated.
Strenuously she opposed the notion, on grounds of health. She argued
that she had come to the South at the bidding of her English
doctor--which was true enough, that grave personage having been urgently
pressed by the family to make a suggestion; a return to England, she
declared, would be the death of her. If any attempt were made to
interfere with her liberty in this manner, she would appeal to the
local Court for protection.

Then the project of sending her to an Inebriates' Home on the mainland
was mooted. A sprightly young clergyman, not long resident on Nepenthe,
volunteered for the delicate task of persuading the lady to take this
step; it would be given out that she was merely undergoing a "rest
cure." The sprightly young clergyman started on his mission full of
bright expectations. He returned anon, looking prematurely aged. Nobody
could get a word out of him at first; he seemed top have become
afflicted with a partial paralysis of the tongue. After babbling
childishly for an hour or so he fell silent altogether, and it was not
till next morning that he recovered full powers of speech. Wild horses,
he then announced, would not drag form his lips what had passed at the
interview.

As a last resource it was decided to inaugurate a sanatorium on the
island for her especial benefit, with a trained nurse permanently in
attendance; during her ever-decreasing spells of sobriety the place,
together with the nurse, could be utilized for needle-classes and so
forth. Money was required. A committee of ladies and gentlemen
collected a certain small amount, but their hopes did not rise high
till the day when the Duchess broached the subject to her countryman,
Mr. van Koppen, after inveigling him into what she called "a friendly
teat-a-teat." Surfeited to bursting-point with his favourite tea-cakes,
the millionaire was in a lovely humour. He declared his readiness, then
and there, to subscribe half a million francs to the scheme if--if his
good friend Mr. Keith would make himself responsible for a similar sum,
or even a thousandth part of it.

"Half a million francs--what's that, Duchess, as the price of a smile
from yourself? Cheap. Dirt cheap!"

"Another one?" queried the lady.

"Well, just one. I can't swallow any more. But I can still chew."

So fatuously fond was he of this particular variety of condiment that,
on their account alone, he would have imported the Duchess and her
entire establishment into America. For all that, old Koppen was no
fool. Half a million buttered tea-cakes could not impair the lively
workings of a brain which had long ago mapped out a swift and sure path
to worldly success. He had wind of this project; his answer was
carefully prepared. It was a mathematical certainty that not one cent
of those half-million francs would ever leave his pocket. For he knew
what the Committee did not know--the real character of his friend Keith.
Keith was a good fellow but a hopeless crank; Keith was perfectly
capable of impoverishing himself in order to keep Miss Wilberforce out
of prison. As to subscribing to the schemes of a pack of meddling fools
who proposed to intern the dear lady--Keith would see them all damned
first. This is how Mr. van Koppen, a profound student of human nature,
would have argued, had he lacked the opportunity of discussing the
question with his good friend. As a matter of fact he had enjoyed that
opportunity only a few days ago. He had warned Keith of what was
coming, and had found him equally alert to the plans of the Committee
and more desirous than himself, if possible, of frustrating them. They
had chuckled vastly over a bottle of dry sparkling Nepenthe in
anticipation of the event.

"Trust me," said Keith. "I'll talk their heads off."

"I'm glad I shan't be there!" thought the American.

He knew his good friend. Keith could be decidedly fatiguing, especially
when dead sober. He had all the Scotchman's passion for dissecting the
obvious, discovering new facets in the commonplace, and squeezing the
last drop out of a foregone conclusion.

It was a thousand pities that the Duchess, in the exuberance of her
triumph, spread abroad the news of the millionaire's promise. For that
news had an unfortunate and unexpected result. The Committee, which up
till then had consisted of eight reputable members, now swelled,
rapidly and mysteriously, to fourteen. Six new gentlemen, including the
unspeakable Mr. Hopkins, got themselves enrolled, and all six of them,
as was afterwards made manifest, were persons of questionable
integrity. By dint of small donations to the fund varying from five to
fifteen francs, they had contrived to have their names put down; it was
worth while, they thought, to risk a small sum on the chance of getting
a slice out of old Koppen's half-million which could not possibly be
used up in the rent or purchase of a three-roomed Sanatorium.

A committee of ladies and gentlemen, formed for charitable purposes,
should be like Caesar's wife. This one had come to resemble the spouse
of Claudius. Had the upright and intelligent Mr. Freddy Parker still
been its guiding spirit, he would soon have weeded out these
undesirable elements and kept the pickings for himself. But Mr. Parker,
since his lady's illness, seemed to be withdrawn from all worldly
concerns. He had become invisible. And now that the lady was dead he
would presumably grow more invisible than ever. It was a severe blow to
all concerned; to nobody more than to the Commissioner himself when, on
emerging into society from his mourning retirement, he divined what a
chance he had missed.

Every single member of the small sub-committee who came, in rather a
formal group, to communicate to Mr. Keith the terms of the
millionaire's offer and to solicit his participation in the scheme,
purposed to attend the funeral of Mr. Parker's lady. It was the right
thing to do. That impressive function, already a day overdue, had been
irrevocably fixed for 10.30 a.m. at the instance of the Chief Medical
Officer of Health. Accordingly they reached the Villa Khismet at the
matutinal hour of 9 a.m., convinced that the short interval would
suffice to cajole out of Mr. Keith a sum sufficient to bind old Koppen
to his promise.

It struck them afterwards that this was their flagrant, initial
mistake. They ought to have controlled their impatience and waited for
a more opportune occasion.

And they would have waited, but for the fact that Mr. Hopkins, a person
of dubious motives and antecedents, had insinuated himself into the
deputation not without a purpose of his own. This gentlemen insisted
that delay was fatal. Mr. Keith, he argued, would understand their
impatience. The millionaire was sailing in a day or two. One might
never get that cheque cashed, or even signed, before he left Nepenthe.
And then? Why, then the scheme might fall through and--he added to
himself--how was he going to get his share of the plunder?

The others, the respectable ones, gave way. Vainly they remonstrated.
Vainly they pointed out that old Koppen was not a man to go back on his
word; that a cheque could be made out in America as well as anywhere
else; that the crux of the question was not the millionaire but his
good friend Keith; that they might spoil all their chances by
approaching the latter at such an unseasonable hour of the day. It was
weak of them.

They ought to have waited. For Keith was fond of solitude at all times,
and any one of his dozen gardeners could have told them that, like
every other self-respecting scholar, he was in the habit of
breakfasting not earlier than 9.30, and dangerous to approach before
that meal. Or they might have made enquiries concerning his mode of
life among his fellow-countrymen on Nepenthe. The bibliographer, for
instance, would have informed them that Keith was "generally sick about
eleven"--meaning, by this playful nonsense, to insinuate that it was not
safe to disturb him till after that hour. Be that as it may, he was
certainly irritable before breakfast-time on every single day of the
year and, as it happened, irritable beyond the common measure on this
particular morning, because the downpour of the previous afternoon had
dashed to pieces--among other material damage--the tender blooms of
certain priceless ipomaeas. That alone was enough to infuriate an
archangel. Moreover, like everybody else--he always conformed to
custom--he had been slightly tipsy overnight. This had the singular
effect of making him glum, ceremonious, and ready to take offence.

Here, now was this pack of officious idiots blundering in upon him.
Under ordinary circumstances he would have tried to be polite. As it
was, he could hardly bring himself to give them a civil word of
welcome. They caught him on his way from the bath to the garden--to a
succulent breakfast under his favourite pine-tree within view of the
Tyrrhenian; and his own flowered silk dressing-gown and
gold-embroidered Turkish slippers contrasted oddly with the solemn
vestments, savouring of naphthaline, which they had donned for the
funeral. After the barest of apologies for a costume which, he ventured
to think, was as suitable as any other for a gentleman at that hour of
the morning, he bade them be seated and listened to what the speaker
had to say--blinking ominously the while through his spectacles, like an
owl with the sun in its eyes.



CHAPTER XXVI



It was a long and rambling exposition.

Miss Wilberforce must be protected against herself. They came to him
for a contribution, however small, which would enable Mr. van Koppen to
fulfil his promise. It was not a question of meddlesomeness. It was a
question of putting an end to a crying public scandal. Miss Wilberforce
spent her days in sleeping, and her nights in shocking the population
of Nepenthe. The lady should be temporarily secluded in her own
interests; she was not fit to be left alone; it was an act of charity
to do what one could towards improving her health and prolonging her
life. They were out for a philanthropic object--to assist in helping a
fellow creature. Miss Wilberforce must be protected against herself.
Mr. van Koppen's half-million would enable them to compass this end.
His own contribution, however small, would enable Mr. van Koppen to
fulfil his promise. Miss Wilberforce must be protected--

He quite understood. Miss Wilberforce must be protected against
herself. And he disagreed heartily. Nobody must be protected against
himself. The attitude of a man towards his fellows should be that of
non-intervention, of benevolent egotism. Every person of healthy
digestion was aware of that cardinal truth. Unfortunately persons of
healthy digestions were not as common as they might be. That was why
straight thinking, on these and other subjects, was at a discount.
Nobody had a right to call himself well-disposed towards society until
he had grasped the elementary fact that the only way to improve the
universe was to improve oneself, and to leave one's neighbour alone.
The best way to begin improving oneself was to keep one's own bowels
open, and not trouble about those of anybody else. Turkey rhubarb, in
fact. The serenity of outlook thereby attained would enable a man to
perceive the futility of interfering with the operation of natural
selection.

The speaker, he went on, had dropped the word charity. Had the tribe of
Israel cultivated a smattering of respect for physiology or any other
useful science instead of fussing about supernatural pedigrees, they
would have been more cautious as to their diet. Had they been careful
in the matter of dietary, their sacred writings would never have seen
the light of day. Those writings, a monument of malnutrition and faulty
digestive processes, were responsible for three-quarters of what was
called charity. Charity was responsible for the greater part of human
mischief and misery. The revenues of the private charities of London
alone exceeded five million sterling annually. What were these revenues
expended upon? On keeping alive an incredible number of persons who
ought to be dead. What was the result of keeping these people alive? A
deterioration of the whole race. Charity consisted in setting a premium
on bodily ill-health and mental inefficiency. Charity was an Oriental
nightmare; an endeavour to raise the week to the level of the strong;
an incitement to improvidence. Charity disturbed the national
equilibrium; it lowered the standard of mankind instead of raising it.
Charity was an unmitigated nuisance which had increased, was
increasing, and ought to be diminished.

By way of varying the phraseology, but not the thing, they had called
themselves philanthropists. The meaning of that venerable word had
decayed of late in characteristic fashion. Prometheus, the archetype,
brought fire from Heaven to comfort certain people who had the wit to
appreciate its uses. He did not waste his time wet-nursing the unfit,
like a modern philanthropist. What was a modern philanthropist? He was
a fellow who was always bothering you to do something for somebody
else. He appealed to your purse for the supposed welfare of some pet
degenerate. Prometheus appealed to your intelligence for the real
welfare of rational beings. A rich man found it extremely simple, no
doubt, to sign a cheque. But an act was not necessarily sensible
because it happened to be simple. People ought to dominate their
reflexes. Prometheus did not choose the simplest course--he chose the
wisest, and found it a pretty tough job, too. That alone proved him to
have been a man of sound digestion and robust health. Had it been
otherwise, indeed, he would never have endured that vulture--business
for so long.

The deputation exchanged glances, puzzled by this pompous and peevish
exordium. It did not promise well; it sounded quite unlike Mr. Keith's
usually bland address. Perhaps he had not yet breakfasted. "We ought to
have waited," they thought. One of the listeners was so annoyed that he
began:

"A paradox, Mr. Keith, is not necessarily sensible, because it happens
to be simple"--but was overborne by that gentleman, who proceeded
calmly:

"So much for generalities. Now Miss Wilberforce is a lady of
independent means and of a certain age. She is not an infant, to be
protected against herself or against others; she has reached years of
indiscretion. Like a good many sensible persons she lives in this
country. Of course a residence here has its drawbacks--very grave
drawbacks, some of them. But the drawbacks are counter-balanced by
certain advantages. In short, what applies to one country does not
always apply to the other. Yet you propose to treat her exactly as if
she were living in England. That strikes me as somewhat unreasonable."

"Mr. van Koppen has promised us--"

"He may do what he likes with his money. But I don't see why I should
become the pivot for making my good friend do what strikes me as a
foolish action. I am too fond of him for that. Mr. van Koppen and
myself have many points in common; among other things this feature,
that neither of us is of aristocratic birth. I suspect this is what
made you count on me for a subscription. You thought that I, having a
little money of my own, might be tempted by certain sycophantic
instincts to emulate his misplaced generosity. But I am not a snob.
From the social point of view I don't care a tuppenny damn for anyone.
On the other hand, my origin has given me something of Dr. Samuel
Johnson's respect for what he calls his betters. I like the upper
classes, especially when they behave according to their old traditions.
That is why I like Miss Wilberforce. She conducts herself, if report be
true, with all the shamelessness of a born lady. Born ladies are not so
common that we should hide them away in nursing homes. All forceful
seclusion is dishonouring. Every little insect, drunk or sober, enjoys
its freedom; and if you gentlemen were not philanthropists I would try
to point out how galling your proposal must be, how humiliating to a
high-spirited woman to be placed under lock and key, in charge of some
callous attendant. But to what purpose? Turkey rhubarb--"

"I am afraid, Mr. Keith, that we have come at an inopportune moment?"

"It's quite possible. But I won't keep you much longer--you must be
dying to attend that funeral! In fact, I would not detain you at all if
I did not feel that you expected some kind of explanation from me. What
were we saying?"

"Turkey rhubarb."

"Ah, yes! I was trying to be fair-minded which, by the way, is a
general mistake. It struck me that perhaps I over-emphasized its
advantages just now. Because, of course, there is something to be said
against the use of such drugs. In fact, now I come to think of it,
there is a good deal to be said in favour of constipation. It is the
cause of our English spleenfulness, and this spleenfulness, properly
directed, has its uses. It engenders a certain energetic intolerance of
mind. I think the success of our nation is largely due to this
particular quality. If I were an historian I would amuse myself with
proving that we owe not only Magna Charta, but our whole Empire--Canada,
Australia, and all the rest of them--to our costive habits of body. What
befits a nation, however, does not always befit a man. To crush, in a
fit of chronic biliousness, the resistance of Bengal and add its land
to the British Empire, may be a racial virtue. To crush, in a fit of
any kind, the resistance of our next door neighbour Mr. Robinson, and
add his purse to our own, is an individual vice. No! I fail to discover
any personal advantage to be gained from excess of bile. The bilious
eye sees intensely, no doubt, but in a distorted and narrow fashion; it
is incapable of a generous outlook. Cloudy, unserene! A closing-up,
instead of a widening-out. The bowels of compassion: what a wonderful
old phrase! They ought to be kept open. I look around me, and see
extraordinarily little goodwill among my fellow-creatures. Here is Miss
Wilberforce. What she yearns for is the milk of human kindness--gentle
words, gentle dealing, from all of us. Instead of that, every one is
ready to cast stones at her. She is treated like a pariah. For my part
I do not pass her by; I am not ashamed to consort with sinners, if such
they be; I would like, if I could, to make her free and happy instead
of imprisoning her in a place of self-reproach. A healthy man is
naturally well disposed, not on principle or from any divine
inspiration but because his bodily organs are performing their proper
functions. His judgment is not warped by the black humours of
indigestion. He perceives that natural laws, however harsh they seem,
are never so harsh as our amateurish attempts to circumvent them.
Modern philanthropy is an attempt of this nature. It is crass
emotionalism. Regarded from the point of view of the race, your
philanthropy is a disguised form of brutality."

"Mr. Keith!"

"All sentimentalists are criminals."

This perverse balderdash was getting on the nerves of the deputation.
It had one good effect, however. They had been afraid, at first, of
wasting Mr. Keith's time; now they began to realize that he was wasting
theirs.

"Speaking for myself, Mr. Keith, I should say that you are spoiling
your case by over-statement, and that these reflections of yours are
libels upon a class of men and women who devote their time and money,
often their lives, to alleviating the distress of others. However that
may be, they are generalities. We came to you about a practical matter,
and an urgent one. We want to remove a crying scandal from the island.
The habits of Miss Wilberforce, as I think I pointed out, are shocking
to all decent folks. I suppose you won't deny that?"

"I remember your using those words. They struck me as remarkable
because, for my own part, I have not yet discovered any man, woman, or
child who could shock me. Some persons make a profession of being
scandalized. I am profoundly distrustful of them. It is the prerogative
of vulgarians to be shocked. If I ever felt inclined to blush, it would
not be a the crooked behaviour of men, but at their crooked
intellectual processes. Whenever a so-called scandal comes my way, I
thank God for the opportunity of seeing something new and learning
something to my advantage."

"There is nothing very new about the scandalous conduct of Miss
Wilberforce, save her unfortunate habit of divesting herself--"

"Please to note that there is a good deal of loose and exaggerated talk
going on here. But one thing is quite certain. These exhibitions,
supposing they really take place, have never been known to occur until
after midnight--with the lamentable exception of yesterday afternoon,
when it was even darker than midnight. If your decent folks are so
squeamish, what are they doing in the streets at that unearthly hour? I
am asleep them, as they ought to be. This may account for the fact that
I have never seen the lady in a state of alcoholic exhilaration. But if
I had the good luck to stumble upon her, I would certainly not be
shocked."

"And what, may I ask, would you do?"

"My feelings towards the spectacle would depend upon the momentary
state of my mind. I might, for example, be in a frolicsome Elizabethan
mood. In that case I would appreciate the humour of the situation. If
only half of what I hear is true, she must be extremely funny at such
moments. I would probably laugh myself into an apoplexy. I wish the
English still possessed a shred of the old sense of humour which
Puritanism, and dyspepsia, and newspaper reading, and tea-drinking have
nearly extinguished. It ought to be revived afresh. Nothing like a good
drunkard for that purpose. As a laughter-provoking device it is cheaper
and more effective than any pantomime yet invented; and none the worse,
surely, for being a little old-fashioned?"

"I must say, Mr. Keith, I don't think God created anybody to be laughed
at."

"Maybe he didn't. But a fellow can't help laughing, all the same. On
the other hand, I might be in that interfering humanitarian mood which
is liable to beset even the wisest of us. I would then be tempted to
lead her homeward gently but firmly, simulating intoxication, if I
could bring myself to do it--pretending, you understand, to be in the
same state as herself, if I could manage it with any prospect of
success--in order to make her feel thoroughly at ease. I should not
dream of ruffling her state of mind by a single word f reproach; the
private feelings and self-respect, even of a drunkard, should never be
violated. Again, if I were in my ordinary reflective condition, I
should doubtless stand aside and muse, as I have often mused, upon the
folly of intemperance. Drunkenness--that shameful vice! How many
estimable men and women have succumbed to it; men I have known, women I
have loved and even respected! This makes me think that we ought to be
grateful to have so glaring an example of insobriety before our eyes.
We ought to regard Miss Wilberforce, if your account of her be true, as
a Divine warning. Warnings are not sent for nothing. And you
gentlemen--you propose to hide away this heaven-sent warning in a
sanatorium. That strikes me as flying in the face of Providence."

"Our project would at least secure her from the risk of being run over
by some vehicle."

"Pray, why should the dear lady not choose to be run over? Surely she
can please herself? It would be an appropriate ending to a brief and
merry career. It would be more than this. We spoke, just now, of her
example as a deterrent to others. Well, this example, so far as we
spectators are concerned, would lose its point and pungency if she died
as you propose--a half-reclaimed inebriate in some home. She must be run
over, or otherwise violently destroyed, if we are to have the full
benefit of the example. It is only then that we shall be able to say to
ourselves: Ah, we always thought it was risky to drink strong waters,
but NOW WE KNOW."

"A fatal accident of this kind, quite apart from other considerations,
would involve her relatives in all kinds of trouble with the legal
authorities of this country."

"I am glad you mentioned the legal aspects of the case; I had nearly
forgotten them. They are most important. In electing to be crushed
under a vehicle she acts on her own initiative. What you propose is
nothing less than a curtailment of her liberty of action. How do you
think the local authorities would envisage such an arbitrary step? I
imagine it may cost you dear to arrogate to yourselves a power which,
in this country at least, is vested in the proper authorities. You may
well find yourselves in collision with the penal code of Italy which
has been framed, and is now administered, by men of uncommonly wide
views--men who reverence personal freedom above gold and rubies. I
should not be surprised if our magistrate in Nepenthe were to take, on
legal grounds, the same view of the case as I hold on purely moral
ones, namely, that your action towards Miss Wilberforce would amount to
an unwarranted persecution. He would regard it, very likely, as the
unjustifiable incarceration of a perfectly harmless individual. Signor
Malipizzo, I may say, has pronounced views as to his duties towards
society."

This was too much for one of the respectable members of the deputation.
He asked:

"Are you referring to that blackguard, that pestilential hog, who calls
himself a judge?"

"Perhaps you do not know him as well as I do. I wish you knew him
better. I wish you knew him as well as I do! He is worth knowing. Let
me tell you something about him--something new and characteristic. Like
many natives, he is scrupulously fair minded and honest. Now I can get
on, at a pinch, even with an upright man. That is because I always try
to discover the good side of my fellow-creatures. But other people
cannot. Accordingly, being an incorruptible magistrate, he is liable to
encounter hostility among a certain disreputable section of the
populace. His conscientious methods expose him to the accusation of
harsh dealing. This has happened more than once. It happened only two
days ago, when he sentenced to prison a batch of Russian lunatics who
were responsible, among other damage, for the death of three innocent
school-children. I commend his action. He erred, if at all, on the side
of leniency; for we really cannot have a pack of raving wolves at large
here. It is different in Russia. You can go mad there--indeed that
country, with its vast plains and trackless forests, seems to have been
especially created for the purpose of running amok. But this island is
really too small; there are so many glass windows and babies
about--don't you think so, gentlemen?"

"Nepenthe is certainly a small place, Mr. Keith."

"Note, now, how differently he treats Miss Wilberforce, who not only
never killed three school-children but has never, to the best of my
knowledge, injured a living creature. I am informed on good authority
that, after spending a tumultuous night in gaol, she has already
regained her liberty. And this, if I am not mistaken, is the second or
third occasion at least on which our judge has behaved in a similar
manner towards her. Once more I commend his action. Why has Signor
Malipizzo set the lady free? Because, unlike a modern philanthropist,
he is aware of the wider issues involved; he acts not with the severity
of a fanatic, but with the understanding, the tolerance, the mellow
sympathy of a man of the world. I said that everyone on Nepenthe
treated Miss Wilberforce as a pariah. That was a mistake. I ought to
have allowed for one exception--our admirable judge! It strikes me as
significant that an official who is bound to her by no ties of
blood-relationship or nationality and who enjoys, moreover, a
reputation--however undeserved--for harshness, should be the one person
on Nepenthe to stretch a point in her favour; the one person who
extends to her the hand of friendship, whose heart goes out in sympathy
with her sad case. Significant, and not altogether creditable to us,
her compatriots. Now who, I wonder, is the friend of man, the modern
Prometheus; you who incarcerate her, or this alien lawyer who sets her
free? To be perfectly frank, I find your attitude contrasts
unfavourably with his own. You are the rigorists, the harsh ones. He is
the humanitarian. Yes, gentlemen! In my humble opinion there is not a
shadow of a doubt about it. Signor Malipizzo is the true
philanthropist...."

The deputation, wending to the market-place rather hurriedly in order
to take their places in the funeral cortege, said to themselves:

"We ought to have waited."

Thinking it over as they marched along, the respectable members came to
the conclusion that the others, the Hopkins section, were really to
blame for the discomfiture of the expedition. It was they who had
insisted with specious arguments upon an interview at this unseasonable
hour of the morning; as for themselves, they would gladly have waited
for a more suitable occasion. In undertones, low but venomous, they
commented upon the undue haste of Mr. Hopkins and its probable motives.
Later on they understood everything. Then they called him a thief and a
rogue, loudly--but not to his face.

Which shows yet again how inadequately causes and effects are
appreciated here on earth. The dubious Mr. Hopkins may well have been
moved by mercenary considerations. But this fact had nothing to do with
the unsatisfactory issue of the affair. In other words, even as the
Saint, in the matter of that volcanic eruption, had previously gotten
the praise for what was not his merit, so now this sinner was blamed
for what was not his fault. Had the sub-committee waited till the crack
of doom, it would have made no difference whatever to the general trend
of Mr. Keith's sententious irrelevancies.

Perhaps, if they had caught him in a better humour, he might have had
the decency to invite them to luncheon after the funeral.

Even this was problematical.



CHAPTER XXVII



The funeral was a roaring success. The display of ecclesiastics and
choristers was unusually fine. Torquemada had seen to that part of the
business. It was his duty henceforward to cherish the bereaved
representative of Nicaragua--a possible convert, at his hand, to the
true faith. The Clubmen, headed by the excellent Mr. Richards, wore
their gravest faces. Furthermore, in view of the lady's quasi-official
position, the authorities of the island were present in full numbers;
the Militia, too, looked superb in their picturesque uniforms. And so
large was the unofficial attendance, so deafening the music, so
brilliant the sunshine, so perfect the general arrangements that even
the deceased, captious as she was, could hardly (under other
circumstances) have avoided expressing her approval of the performance.

There was an adequate display of fictitious grief among her social
equals. Madame Steynlin, in particular, carried it off--to outward
appearances--with remarkable success. She looked really quite upset, and
her hat, as usual, attracted the attention of all the ladies. Madame
Steynlin's hats were proverbial. She was always appearing in new ones
of the most costly varieties. And never, by any chance, did they accord
with her uncommon and rather ripe style of beauty. Madame Steynlin was
too romantic to dress well. She trimmed her heart, and not her
garments. A tidy little income, however, enabled her to eke out lack of
taste by recklessness of expenditure. This particular hat, it was
observed, must have cost a fortune. And yet it was a perfect fright; it
made her look fifteen years older, to the delight of all the other
women.

What cared Madame Steynlin about hats? Her distressful appearance was
not feigned; she was truly upset, though not about the death of the
Commissioner's lady. With an effort whose violence nobody but herself
could appreciate she had managed to extricate herself from the
lion--like embraces of Peter the Great--to what purpose? To perform an
odious social duty; to waste a fair morning in simulating grief for the
death of a woman whom she loathed like poison. Nobody would ever
understand what a trial in altruism had been. Nobody, in fact, ever
gave her credit for a grain of self-abnegation. And yet she was always
trying to please people--denying herself this and that. How harshly the
world judged!

She was also troubled in mind, though in a lesser degree, about the
fate of the remainder of the Russian colony. Were they not all her
brothers and sisters--these laughing, round-cheeked primitives? The
magistrate, that caricature of a man, that vindictive and corrupt
atheist, that tiger in human form, was doubtless thirsting for the
blood of those still at liberty on Nepenthe. How much longer would
Peter escape his malice? The dear boy! Her lambkin, her little soul--she
had learnt to babble a few words of Russian--her play for, harmless,
ever-hungry Peter! On this lovely island, where all men should be at
peace--how harshly they dealt with one another!

The rest of the foreign colony, undisturbed by such bitter personal
reflections, appeared to bear the loss of the lady with praiseworthy
equanimity. They were, in truth, considerably relieved in mind. Death
is the great equalizer. In his pale presence they forgot their old
squabbles and jealousies; they forgot their numberless and legitimate
complaints against this woman. All honoured the defunct who had now
lost, presumably for ever, the capacity of mischief-making.

There was undisguised sorrow among the trades-people and Residency
servants. They flocked to the procession in crowds, desiring by this
last mark of respect to attract the benevolent notice of the
Commissioner and to be remembered in the event of some future
settling-up of accounts. To their tear-stained eyes, it looked as if
this happy event were receding further and further away into the dim
distance. Hoping against hope, they mourned sincerely. And none wept
more convincingly that the little maid Enrichetta, an orphan of tender
years whom the lady had taken into her service as an act of charity and
forthwith set to work like a galley-slave. The child was convulsed with
sobs. She foresaw, with the intuition of despair, that instead of being
paid her miserable wages for the last five months she would have to
content herself with a couple of her deceased mistress's skirts,
thirty-eight inches too wide round the waist.

There were wreaths--abundance of wreaths. Noticeable among them was an
enormous floral tribute from the owner of the FLUTTERBY. It attracted
the most favourable comment. People said that nobody but a
multi-multi-multi-millionaire could afford to forgive an affront like
that affair of the CREPE DE CHINE. As a matter of fact, old Koppen
would have been the last person on earth to forgive an injury of this
particular kind. He was a good American; he never permitted loose talk
about women, least of all if they were in any way connected with
himself; he would get purple in the face, he would ramp and rage and
hop about like a veritable Sioux, in the face of any suggestion of
improprieties on board his yacht. No, Cornelius van Koppen had acted in
all innocence, from natural kindliness of heart. The legend had never
reached his hears, nobody (for a wonder) having dared to mention it to
him.

Another wreath, from Count Caloveglia--an uncommonly pretty one, with a
simple but heartfelt inscription--created legitimate surprise. Those
white camellias, people reckoned, could not have cost less than twenty
francs, and everybody knew that the dear old boy was as poor as a
church mouse and that, moreover, he had enjoyed nothing but a bowing
acquaintance with the deceased lady. He had indeed only spoken to her
once in his life. But her face--her face had left an indelible
impression on his sensitive and artistic mind.

There was something Greek about Count Caloveglia. His pedigree,
uncontaminated by Moor or Spaniard, went back to hoariest antiquity.
Many people said he was a reincarnation of old Hellas. Elbowing his way
through crowded cities or chatting with sunburnt peasant-lads among the
vineyards, he received thrills of pleasurable inspiration--thrills to
which grosser natures are inaccessible. He loved to watch the bodily
movements of his fellow-creatures and all the eloquent gestures of
Southern life--the lingering smile, the sullen stare of anger, the firm
or flaccid step. Within this world of humdrum happenings he created a
world of his own, a sculptor's paradise. Colour said little to him. He
was enamoured of form, the lively passion of the flesh, the tremulous
play of nerve and muscle. A connoisseur of pose and expression, he
looked at mankind from the plastic point of view, peering through
accidentals into what was spiritual, pre-ordained, inevitable; striving
to interpret--to waylay and hold fast--that divinity, fair or foul, which
resides within one and all of us. How would this one look, divested of
ephemeral appurtenances and standing there, in bronze or marble; what
were the essential qualities of those features--their aesthetic mission
to men like himself; to what type or relic of the classic age might
they be assimilated? He was for ever disentangling the eternal from
mundane accessories. And there was an element of the eternal, he used
to declare, in every creature of earth.

His was an enviable life. He dwelt among masterpieces. They were his
beacons, his comrades, his realities. As for other things--the social
accidents of time and place, his cares and his poverty--he wore them
lightly; they sat upon his shoulders with easy grace, like his own
threadbare coat. When he walked among men he could not help contriving
imaginary statuary in his head, historical portraits or legendary
groups; the faces and attitudes of those he encountered--each one found
a place in the teeming realm of his creative phantasy, each one
beckoned to him, from afar, as a joyous and necessary revelation.

An enviable life; and never more enviable than on the occasion when he
was introduced, at some absurd tea-party to the lady known as the
Commissioner's stepsister. The face! It took possession of him. It
haunted his artistic dreamings from the same day onwards. He had always
cherished ambitious designs--none more ambitious than a certain piece of
work conceived in the bold Pergamese manner, a noble cluster of women
to be entitled "The Eumenides." ... Her face! That wonderful face
proclaimed itself the keynote of the group. If he lived a thousand
years he would never behold its like again. What would he not have
given to model the lady, then and there!

But modeling was out of the question for the present. It must never be
known that he was still capable of such an effort; it might spoil all
his chances for the business in hand. He must continue to pose as
heretofore for a harmless antiquarian, a dreamer. Nobody, save old
Andrea the servant, must know the secret of his life. Yet he was not
without hopes of being able to reveal himself ere long in his true
character of creator. The day was perhaps not far distant when a
pecuniary transaction between himself and his respected American
friend, Mr. van Koppen, would ease the burdensome poverty of his life.
Then--then he would return to the gold projects of his youth; to the
"Eumenides," first of all. Light-hearted with bright expectancy, he saw
the financial deal well-nigh concluded; the cheque might be in his
pocket within a week; and now already he saw himself, in imagination,
donning his faded frock-coat and wending his way down to the Residency
to lay the foundations of his heart's desire. He would broach the
subject with that insinuating Southern graciousness which was part and
parcel of his nature; the lady's vanity could be trusted to do the
rest. He knew of old that no woman, however chaste and winsome, can
resist the temptation of sitting as model to a genuine Count--and such a
handsome old Count, into the bargain.

And now suddenly she had died--died, it might be, only a few days too
soon. That face, that peerless face, was lost for ever to the world of
art--his ideal snatched away by the relentless hand of fate. He mourned
as only a sculptor can mourn. Thus it came about that something
stronger than himself impelled him to manifest his grief. Despite
Andrea's respectful but insistent remonstrances as to the appalling
outlay, the wreath of camellias was ordered and dispatched. An artist's
tribute....

It created both surprise and a most excellent impression. What a
gentleman he was! Always doing the right thing. How splendid of him. So
they reasoned, though the wiser ones added that if he had known the
deceased lady a little better he might have hit upon a more sensible
way of spending his money.

The fact that there was a good deal of social gossip like this, that
appointments for picnics and other functions were being made, would go
alone to prove the advantages of a funeral of this kind, quite apart
from the universal relief experienced when the coffin was lowered into
the earth, and bystanders realized that the lady was at last definitely
transferred into Abraham's bosom.



CHAPTER XXXIV



All Nepenthe had stood by the side of the grave--all, save only Mr.
Keith. He remained at home. And this was rather odd, for it is the
right thing to attend people's funerals, and Mr. Keith prided himself
upon always doing the right thing. It was his boast to pass for a
typical Anglo-Saxon, the finest race on earth, when all is said and
done; and he used to point out that you could not be a typical
Anglo-Saxon unless you respected yourself, and you could not respect
yourself unless you respected simultaneously your neighbours and their
habits, however perverse they might sometimes appear. Now a funeral,
being unavoidable, cannot by an prestidigitations of logic be called
perverse. All the more reason for being present. But for a strange
twist or kink in his nature, therefore, he would have been on the spot.
He would have turned up in the market-place to the minute, since he
prided himself likewise upon his love of punctuality, declaring that it
was one of the many virtues he possessed in common with Her Majesty
Queen Victoria.

He disliked funerals. For all his open mind and open bowels, Mr. Keith
displayed an unreasoning hatred of death and, what was still more
remarkable, not the least shame in confessing it.

"The next interment I purpose to attend," he would say, "will be my
own. May if be far off! No; I don't care about funerals and the
suggestion they convey. A cowardly attitude? I think not. The coward
refuses to face a fact. Death is a fact. I have often faced him. He is
not a pretty fellow. Most men only give him a shy glance out of a
corner of their eye. It scares them out of their wits and makes them
say all sorts of snobbishly respectful things about him. Sheer
flummery! It is with Death as it is with God--we call them good because
we are afraid of what they can do to us. That accounts for our
politeness. Death, universal and inevitable, is none the less a
villainous institution. Every other antagonist can be ignored or bribed
or circumvented or crushed outright. But here is a damnable spectre who
knocks at the door and does not wait to hear you say, 'Come in.'
Hateful! If other people think differently it is because they live
differently. How do they live? Like a cow that has stumbled into a dark
hole, and now spends its time wondering how it managed to get such a
sore behind. Such persons may well be gladdened by the approach of
death. It is the best thing they can do--to depart from world which they
call a dark hole, a world which was obviously not made for them, seeing
that they are always feeling uncomfortable about one thing or another.
Good riddance to them and their moral stomach-aches."

Mr. Keith professed never to feel uncomfortable. Oh, no! He had no
moral stomach-aches. Unlike other folks, he "reacted to external
stimuli in appropriate fashion," he cultivated the "function of the
real," he always knew how to "dominate his reflexes." His neural
currents were "duly co-ordinated." Mr. Keith was in love with life. It
dealt fairly with him. It made him loth to bid farewell to this
gracious earth and the blue sky overhead, to his cooks and his books,
his gardeners and roses and flaming cannas; loth to exchange these
things of love, these tangible delights, for a hideous and everlasting
annihilation.

That was why, having got rid of the committee of exasperating buffoons,
he was now prolonging breakfast far beyond the usual hour. The meal was
over at last; and still he felt disinclined to move. Those people had
disquieted his composure with their mephitic rant about philanthropy;
they had almost succeeded in spoiling his morning. And now this
funeral! Would he go into the house and do some reading or write a few
letters? No. He could not write letters just them. He was not feeling
sufficiently Rabelaisian. Epicurus was his God for the moment. In a
mood of heathen wistfulness he lit a cigar and leaned back in the chair
trying to recapture his serenity.

It was his favourite corner of the domain--a kind of projecting spur or
platform shaded by a few grandiose umbrella pines. Near at hand, on a
slightly lower level, rose a group of flame--like cypresses whose
shapely outlines stood out against the sea, shining far below like a
lake of pearl. The milky sheen of morning, soon to be dispelled by the
breeze, still hung about the water and distant continent--it trembled
upon the horizon in bands of translucent opal. His eye roved round the
undulating garden, full of sunlight and flowers and buzzing insects.
From a verbena hard by came the liquid song of a blackcap. It gave him
pleasure; he encouraged the blackcaps, delighting in their music and
because they destroyed the spiders whose troublesome webs were apt to
come in contact with his spectacles. The gardeners had severest
instructions not to approach their nests. It was one of the minor
griefs of his life that, being so short-sighted, he could never
discover a bird's nest; no, not even as a child. Memories of boyhood
began to flit through his mind; they curled upwards in the scented
wreaths of his Havana....

The golden oriole's flute-like whistle poured down from some leafy
summit in a sudden stream of melody. A hurried note, he thought;
expressed without much feeling--from duty rather than inclination; not
like the full-throated ease of other orioles in other lands he knew.
And so were the nightingales. They profited by his hospitality for a
day or two and then, uttering a perfunctory little tune, some
breathless and insincere word of thanks--just like any human
visitor--betook themselves elsewhere, northwards.

Northwards!

He glanced into the mazy foliage of the pine tree overhead, out of
which a shower of aromatic fragrance was descending to mingle with the
harsher perfume of the cypress. How they changed their faces, the
conifers--so fervent and friendly at this hour, so forbidding at
nighttime! Rifts of blue sky now gleamed through its network of
branches; drenched in the sunny rays, the tree seemed to shudder and
crackle with warmth. He listened. There was silence among those
coralline articulations. Soon it would be broken. Soon the cicada would
strike up its note in the labyrinth of needles--annual signal for his
own departure from Nepenthe. He always waited for the first cicada.

Northwards!

To his little place in the Highlands, at first. The meager soil and
parsimonious culture, the reasonable discourse of the people, their
wholesome disputatiousness, acted as a kind of purge or tonic after all
this Southern exuberance. Scotland chastened him; its rocks and tawny
glinting waters and bleak purple uplands rectified his perspective. He
called to mind the sensuous melancholy of the birches, the foxgloves,
the hedgerows smothered in dog-roses; he remembered the nights, full of
fairy-like suggestion and odours of earth and budding leaves--those
wonderful nights with their silvery radiance, calm and benignant,
streaming upwards form the luminous North.

Then, after strolling aimlessly elsewhere, on sea or land, visiting
friends--no matter whom or where--he would return to Nepenthe to indulge
his genius to the full in the vintage bacchanals. He owned a small
plantation that lay high up, among the easterly cliffs of the island.
It produced that mountain wine which was held to be the best on
Nepenthe. The vines grew upon a natural platform, surrounded by rugged
lava crags that overhung the sea.

Hither he was wont to repair with certain of his domestic staff and
three or four friends from out of his "inner circle," to superintend
the pressing of the grapes. There was a rude structure of masonry on
the spot--a vaulted chamber containing winepress and vats and hoes and
other implements of the husbandman's time-honoured craft; a few chairs
and a table completed the furniture. Nobody knew exactly what happened
up here. People talked of wild and shameless carousals; the rocks were
said to resound with ribald laughter while Mr. Keith, oozing paganism
at every pore, danced faun-like measures to the sound of rustic flutes.
Certain it was that the party often got riotously tipsy.

So tipsy that sometimes their host was unable to be moved down to his
villa. On such days he was put to bed on the floor between two wine
barrels, and the chef hastily advised to come up with some food and a
portable kitchen range. In earliest morning he would insist upon
tottering forth to watch the sun as it rose behind the peaks of the
distant mainland, flooding the sea with golden radiance and causing the
precipices to glitter like burnished bronze. He loved the sunrise--he
saw it so seldom. Then breakfast; a rather simple breakfast by way of a
change. It was on one of these occasions that the chef made a mistake
which his master was slow to forgive. He prepared for that critical
meal a dish of poached eggs, the sight of which threw Mr. Keith into an
incomprehensible fit of rage.

"Take those damned things away, quickly!" he commanded. It was the
celebrated artist's one and only LACHE.

As a rule, however, he did not sleep on the spot. Peasants, climbing to
their work on the hillsides in the twilit hour of dawn, were wont to
encounter that staggering procession headed by Mr. Keith who, with
spectacles all awry and crooning softly to himself, was carried round
the more perilous turnings by a contingent of his devoted retainers.

He found it pleasant to live like this. And now another spring was
nearing to its end. For how many more years, he wondered.... That
confounded funeral....

There was a rustle at his back. The southerly breeze had struck
Nepenthe on its morning ripple over the Tyrrhenian, setting things
astir; it searched a passage through those mighty canes which sprouted
in a dank hollow where the rains of winter commingled their waters. The
leaves grew vocal with a sound like the splash of a rivulet. Often had
he listened joyfully to that melody which compensated, to some small
degree, for the lack of the old Duke's twenty-four fountains. Legendary
music! Now it made him sad. What was its burden? MIDAS HAD ASSES' EARS.
Midas, the fabled king, whose touch turned everything to gold. And
gold, and jewels--of what avail were these against the spectre?

The gardeners, moving with bare feet among the sinuous paths, were
quick to perceive that a cloud had fallen upon his spirit. They divined
his moods with the tactfulness of natural sympathy. On some
horticultural pretext one of them drew near and craftily engaged his
thoughts and conversation. At last he said something that made him
smile. One or two more appeared upon the scene, as if by accident. It
was evident that the master needed cheering up. They began to tell him
the fairy-tales he loved; tales of robbers and witches and
pirates--grand old tales that never wearied him. To arouse his interest
they joked among themselves, as though unaware of his existence. One of
them, and then another, sang some wild song of love and war which he
had picked up while wandering with his flocks among the craggy hills of
yonder mainland. He was laughing now; outdoing their songs and stories.
It kept him young--to unbend, to play the fool in company such as theirs
and relax the fibres stiffened by conventionality; it refreshed him to
exchange the ephemeral for the eternal, the tomfoolery of social life
for Theocritus and his deathless creatures. How fair it was, this
smiling earth! How blithely the young voices went aloft!

They failed to drown those other strains, vagrant wraiths that now
floated upwards over fields and houses on the tepid wings of the
sirocco--fragmentary snatches, torn from the brazen measure of the
municipal band as it marched with the funeral procession. He cursed the
sounds from the bottom of his heart. They reminded him of that infamous
apparition, of all he most ardently desired to forget. His laughter
died down. Wanly he looked at his mirthful pagans, the embodiment of
joys. Yes; these were his distractions, his playmates, his elixir of
life, his antidote against the only disease, the only sin, crime, vice
which he recognized on earth--a vice none the less, because it happened
to be the inevitable--the vice of old age. And all the time that pallid
swarm came crowding on: messengers from the inexorable spectre. He felt
them creeping about with ghostly tread, blighting the radiance of his
life, tainting the very air he breathed. Hateful intruders! They wailed
among his lilies. The garden was full of their horrid footsteps.

In their presence Mr. Keith began to experience an uncomfortable
sensation, a kind of chill--as though something evil had stepped between
himself and the brave light of the sun. It was a fleeting feeling which
he would have diagnosed, in other people, as perilously akin to a moral
stomach-ache.



CHAPTER XXIX



Only one other person on Nepenthe found cause to complain of the
municipal music. It was Mr. Heard. Altogether, he was not greatly
edified by this, the first funeral of its kind he had ever witnessed. A
rowdy-dowdy business, he called it. The music was too lively and
blatant for so solemn an occasion; the gorgeous vestments of the
clergy, the loud chattering among the mourners, the violent gestures
that accompanied Torquemada's well-meant and carefully prepared oration
(Don Francesco, a born speaker, would have done it better, but the
defunct was no friend or even client of his)--all these things savoured
slightly of irreverence. Everyone was talking and laughing as they
marched along. It was more like a polonaise than a funeral. In his
African period the sight of such a burial would have affected him
unpleasantly. But Mr. Heard was changing, widening out.

"These people live gaily," he said to himself. "Why not? A funeral is
supposed to be nothing but a friendly leave-taking. Why not be cheerful
about it? We are all going to see each other again, sometime,
somewhere. I suppose...."

The problem gave him no trouble whatever.

He found himself walking side by side with Mr. Eames who ventured to
remark, in a seemly whisper, that he attended the funeral not so much
out of respect for the lamented lady--every cloud, he fancied, had a
silver lining--as because he hoped to gather, from among so
representative a concourse of natives and foreigners, the "popular
impression" of yesterday's eruption, with a view to utilizing it in
this appendix on RECENT VOLCANIC PHENOMENA OF NEPENTHE.

"Really?" replied the bishop. "A chapter on Volcanic Phenomena? It is
sure to be interesting."

Mr. Eames warmed to his subject.

It might be made interesting, he agreed, but for his own ignorance of
geology. As it was the business gave him a vast deal of trouble.
Monsignor Perrelli had dealt with geological matters in a fashion far
too summary for present-day requirements. The old scholar was not to
blame, of course, seeing that geology was quite a modern science; but
he might at least have been a little more painstaking in his record of
those showers of ashes and lapilli which were known to have covered the
island from time to time. His account of them was lamentably defective.
It was literally bristling with--with--with lacunae, which had to be
filled up by means of laborious references to contemporary chronicles.
Altogether one of the most unsatisfactory sections of an otherwise
admirable work....

"I wish I could help you," said Mr. Heard.

"I wish you could. I wish anyone could. There was that young Jew,
Marten, who understood more about these things than most people. A
coarse little fellow, but quite a specialist. He promised to supply me
with an up-to-date statement, accompanied by a map of the geological
structure of the island. I said to myself: Just what I wanted! Well,
this confounded statement has never reached my hands. Now I fear he has
left the place. Gone away altogether. Didn't have the decency to say
good-bye or leave his address. Too bad. Who knows when the next
mineralogist will turn up? These fellows are not as common as
blackbirds. Meanwhile I have to rely on my own efforts. It's wonderful,
by the way, how much a person can pick up of odds and ends of
information when forced, by a hobby of this kind, to delve into
recondite departments of knowledge which he would otherwise not have
dreamt of exploring. One grows quite encyclopaedic! Minerals, medicine,
strategy, heraldry, navigation, palaeography, statistics, politics,
botany--what did I know or care about all these things before I stumbled
on old Perrelli? Have you ever tried to annotate a classic, Mr. Heard?
I assure you it opens up new vistas, new realms of delight. It gives
one a genuine zest in life. Enthralling!"

And thereupon the bibliographer fell silent, all at once. He had
succumbed, yet again, to his besetting sin: talking too
enthusiastically to outsiders of what was nearest his heart. Why on
earth should a globe-trotting bishop be bothered about the mineralogy
of Nepenthe? It was absurd: tactless of him.

He tried to atone for the blunder by some mundane trivialities.

"What are you doing afterwards?"

"Going up to see Mrs. Meadows."

"Are you? Do remember me very kindly! Or perhaps--no. Better not. Fact
is, she cut me dead two days ago. At least, it looked uncommonly like
it. I confess I was rather upset, because I'm not conscious of having
done anything to annoy her. Indeed, I've always felt a kind of weakness
for Mrs. Meadows; there is something so fine and womanly about her.
Will you try to find out what it's all about? Thanks. Perhaps she may
not have noticed me. She was walking very fast. And I must say she was
not looking herself at all. Not at all. White and scared. Looked as if
she had seen a ghost."

The bishop was troubled by these words.

"Is that so?" he asked. "You alarm me. I think I'll be off this minute.
She is my cousin, you know; and I've been rather concerned about her
lately. Yes; I won't wait for the end of this funeral; I'll be off!
Perhaps we shall meet this evening. Then I can tell you her news. As to
deliberately cutting you--don't you believe that for a minute."

"I shall be down here about seven o'clock...."

"People like her," thought Mr. Heard, as he fell out of the procession.
He would make a point of having a good long chat, and perhaps stay to
luncheon.

He dreaded the coming heat of midday. It was quite warm enough already,
as he climbed slowly upward by the short cuts that intersected the
driving road, availing himself of every little patch of shade that fell
from trees or cottages athwart the pathway.

The country seemed deserted, the funeral ceremony having attracted all
the natives from far and near. Yet one figure was moving rapidly up the
road in front of him. Muhlen! Even at this distance he was
recognizable; he looked, as usual, overdressed. What was he doing
there, at this hour? Mr. Heard remembered seeing him go up, once
before, at the same time of the day.

He called to mind what he had heard from Keith in the boat. He was
quite prepared to believe that this man lived on blackmail and women;
that was precisely what he looked like. A villainous personality,
masquerading under an assumed name. The sight of the fellow annoyed
him. What business had he to transact up there? Retlow! Once more he
began to puzzle where he had heard that name. It conjured up, dimly,
some unpleasant connotation. Where? Long ago; so much was clear. For a
brief moment he felt on the verge of remembering. Then his mind became
blank as before; the revelation had slipped away, past recall.

He was glad to enter the shady garden of the villa Mon Repos. Old
Caterina sat, sphinx-like, on the stones at the house entrance. There
was some knitting-work on her lap, with brown wool and curiously shaped
needles; one foot rested on the base of the cradle, which she rocked
from time to time. At his approach she rose up, stark and hieratic,
without a trace of a friendly smile on her countenance. Was the lady
indoors? No, she was out. Out! Where? There was a definite but
enigmatical movement of her withered brown arm; it appeared to embrace
the universe. And when would she be back? No reply whatever. Only a
slight upward movement of the eyes, as much as to say: God knows!

"I'll wait," thought Mr. Heard.

He walked past the forbidding hag who seemed to exhale a positive
hostility towards him, and entered his cousin's sitting-room. He would
wait. He waited. He glanced through a pile of illustrated newspapers
that lay about. And still he waited. The room looked different somehow;
almost untidy. There were no rouses about. An hour passed. And still no
sign of his cousin.

Out. Always out. What could this mean? Where could she be? It was all
rather mysterious and unsatisfactory.

At last he took out his watch. Ten minutes to one! No use waiting any
longer. He scribbled a hasty note, left it on the writing-table, and
walked into the garden past the impenetrable Caterina, who barely
deigned to glance up from her knitting. He would look for a carriage,
and give himself the luxury of a drive down. It was too hot to walk at
that hour.

Strolling along he espied a familiar courtyard that gave upon the
street; Count Caloveglia's place. On an impulse he entered the massive
portal which stood invitingly ajar. Two elderly gentlemen sat
discoursing in the shade of the fig tree; there was no difficulty in
recognizing the stranger as Mr. van Koppen, the American millionaire, a
frequent visitor, they said, of Count Caloveglia.

A bronze statuette, green with age, stood on a pedestal before them.

"How kind of you to come and see me!" said the Italian. "Pray make
yourself as comfortable as you can, though these chairs, I fear, are
not of the latest design. You are going to do me the honour, are you
not, of sharing my simple luncheon? Mr. van Koppen is staying too."

"Very good of you!"

"Delighted to make your acquaintance," said the millionaire. "Keith was
talking about you only yesterday--such nice things! Do stay. Count
Caloveglia has been touching on most interesting subjects--I would come
from the other end of the world to listen to him."

The Count, manifestly shy of these praises, interrupted by asking:

"What do you think of that bronze, Mr. Heard?"

It was an exquisite little thing.

Perfect to the finger-tips and glowing in a lustrous patina of
golden-green, the Locri Faun--so-called from the place of its
discovery--was declared to be stamped with the hall-mark of individual
distinction which the artificers of old Hellas contrived to impress
upon every one of the rare surviving bronzes of its period. It was
perhaps the finest of the whole group. No wonder the statue had created
wild excitement among the few, the very few, discreet amateurs who had
been permitted to inspect the relic prior to its clandestine departure
from the country. And much as they might deplore the fact that it was
probably going to adorn the museum of Mr. Cornelius van Koppen, an
alien millionaire, not one of them found it in his heart to disapprove
Count Caloveglia's action. For they all liked him. Every one liked him.
They all understood his position. He was a necessitous widower with a
marriageable daughter on his hands, a girl whom everybody admired for
her beauty and charm of character.

Mr. van Koppen, like all the rest, knew what hard times he had gone
through; how, born of an ancient and wealthy family, he had not
hesitated to sell his wonderful collection of antiques together with
all but a shred of his ancestral estates, in order to redeem the
gambling debts of a brother. That amounted to quixotism, they declared.
They little realized what anguish of mind this step had cost him, for
he concealed his true feelings under a cloak of playful worldliness.
Excess of grief, he held, is an unlovely thing--not meet to be displayed
before men. All excess is unlovely. That was Count Caloveglia's classic
point of view. Measure! Measure in everything.

People revered him, above all else, for his knowledge in matters of
art. His connoisseurship was not one of mere learning; it was
intuitional. Astonishing tales were told of him. By the sense of touch
alone, and in the dark, he could appraise correctly any piece of
plastic work you liked. He had a natural affinity with such things.
They held it quite likely that the blood of Praxiteles or his compeers
may still have flowed through his veins--certain at all events, that
there hung about his person the traditions of the versatile colonists
on the shores of Magna Graecia who, freed by legions of slaves from the
trivial vexations which beset modern lives, were able to create in
their golden leisure those monuments of beauty which are the envy and
despair of our generation. On all that concerned the history and
technique of ancient bronzes, more especially, he was FACILE PRINCEPS
in the land, and it was hinted, after the sale of his property, that
Count Caloveglia would not be low to retrieve the fortunes of his
family by putting into exercise those talents for metal-working of
which, as a gifted boy, he had already shown himself to be possessed.

In this they were disappointed. He spoke of these things as "sins of
his youth," professing an invincible distaste, in these later years,
for the drudgery of work. He called himself an old dreamer. There was a
shed, it is true, attached to the house, a shed which went by the name
of a studio. All visitors were taken to see this atelier. It was
smothered in dust and cobwebs. Clearly, as the Count himself would
explain with a honeyed smile, it had not been in use for twenty years
or more.

Mr. van Koppen knew all this.

He knew about that strip of land which the old man had reserved for
himself at the sale of his ancestral domain. It lay among the hills,
some twenty or thirty miles above the classic site of Locri. On this
spot, people were given to understand, fragments of old marbles and
vases had been picked up by the peasantry within the last years. Things
of small worth--pottery mostly; they lay about Count Caloveglia's
Nepenthe courtyard and were given by him, as keepsakes, to any visitor
who showed an interest in them. He attached no value to these trifles.

"From my little place on the hills," he would say. "Pray take it as a
memento of the pleasure which your visit has given me! Oh, it is quite
a small property, you know; just a few acres, with a meager soil; in
good years it produces a little oil and a barrel or two of wine. And
that is all. I only kept back this morsel from the general ruin of my
property--well, for sentimental reasons. One likes to feel that one is
still tied--by a slender thread, it is true--to the land of one's
ancestors. There is certainly no wealth to be obtained above ground.
But it is quite possible that something might emerge from below, given
the energy and the means to make systematic excavations. The whole
country is so rich in remains of Hellenic life! The countrymen,
ploughing my few fields, often stumble upon some odd trifle of this
kind. There was that Demeter you may have heard about; sadly mutilated,
alas!"

Before the discovery of the Locri Faun on this site the only find of
any value had been a battered head--a Demeter, presumably. It was sold
to a Paris collection for a few thousand francs, and had thereafter
attracted no further attention. It was not worth talking about.

Now, when this dazzling Faun came to light and Mr. van Koppen announced
his intention of purchasing the masterpiece for his collection, his
art-expert, Sir Herbert Street--the eminent connoisseur whom he had
filched form the South Kensington Museum with the bribe of a Cabinet
Minister's salary--thought it his duty to compare the disfigured Demeter
with this new and marvelous thing. Sir Herbert Street was an
inordinately vain man, but conscientious at the same time and, in
matters of art-criticism, sufficiently reliable. Not every art-expert
would have done what he did. In the interests of his employer he took
the trouble of journeying to Paris and carefully examining the poor
Demeter fragment. Then, viewing the Locri Faun at Nepenthe in the
presence of Count Caloveglia, he made rather a subtle remark.

"Does it not strike you, Count, that there is a curious, an evasive
kind of resemblance between this Faun and the Demeter?"

The old man beamed with joy at these words.

"My dear Sir Herbert, allow me to congratulate you on your keen
artistic perception! I believe you are the only person, besides myself,
who has hitherto been struck by those definite but undefinable traits
of similarity. Mr. van Koppen may well be proud of your penetration--"

"Thank you," said the other, immensely flattered. "That is what I am
paid for, you know. But now, how do you account for the likeness?"

"I will tell you my own hypothesis. I hold, to be brief, that they both
came from the same workshop."

"The same workshop! You amaze me."

"Yes, or at all events from the same school of craftsmen, or some
common fountain of inspiration. We know lamentably little of the art
history of even a great center like Locri, but, judging by the hints of
Pindar and Demosthenes, I think there may well have been--there must
have been--consummate local masters, now forgotten, who propagated
certain methods of work, certain fashions in form and feeling and
treatment which ended, naturally enough, in a kind of fixed tradition.
This would suffice to explain the resemblance which your sagacity has
enabled you to detect between these two pieces. That is what I mean by
saying that they came from the same workshop. What do you think of my
theory?"

"I think it accounts for the fact in a most satisfactory manner," the
expert had replied, thoroughly convinced.

Mr. van Koppen knew all this.

But he only believed half of it....

"You were saying, Count?"

The Italian shifted his glance from the dainty outlines of the Locri
Faun and smiled upon his interlocutor and then upon Mr. Heard, who had
at last taken a seat, after walking approvingly round and round the
statuette.

"I was going to tell you of another point which occurred later on to
Sir Herbert; a man, by the way, of unusual acumen. We agreed that Locri
was the indubitable place of origin both of the Demeter and of the
Faun. 'Well,' said he, 'granting this--how came they to be unearthed up
in the hills, on your property, twenty-five miles away?' I confess I
was at first nonplussed by this question. For, to the best of my
knowledge, there are no indications of any large Hellenic settlement up
there. But it struck me that there may well have been a villa or
two--indeed, there must have been, to judge by the miscellaneous ancient
material found on my little place. This is what makes me think that
these two relics were deliberately carried there."

"Carried?"

"Carried. For although the summer season at Locri was undoubtedly more
endurable then than it now is, yet the town must have been sufficiently
hot in the dog-days; whereas my vineyard is situated among the cool
uplands--"

"A kind of climatic station, you mean?"

"Precisely. Don't you think that richer people had domiciles in both
places? The ancients, you know, were so sensitive in the matter of
temperatures that in summer time they traveled only by night and some
of their toughest generals had underground chambers built for them
during their campaigns. I can imagine, for instance, some young and
ardent lover of art, in the days when Pythagoras taught under those
glittering colonnades of Croton, when the fleets of Metapontum swept
the blue Ionian and Sybaris taught the world how to live a life of
ease--I can almost see this youth," he pursued enthusiastically,
"flitting from a hot palace on the plain towards those breezy heights
and, inflamed with an all-absorbing passion for the beautiful, carrying
up with him one or two, just one or two, of those beloved bronzes from
which he could not, and would not, be parted--no, not even for a short
summer month--to be a joy to his eyes and an inspiration to h is soul
among the mountain solitudes. These men, I take it, had a sense in
which we their descendants are wholly deficient--the sense of the
solace, of the pleasurable companionship, to be derived from works of
art. That sense has been destroyed. The Japanese alone, of all moderns,
still foster an ingenuous affection which prompts them to cling closely
to these things of beauty, to press them to their hearts as loving
friends; the rest of us, surrounded by a world of sordid ugliness, have
become positively afraid of their fair but reproachful shapes. Ah, Mr.
van Koppen, that was the age of true refinement, the age of gold!
Nowadays--nowadays we only carry our troubles about with us."

The bishop was touched by these moving words.

Mr. van Koppen, wearing a benevolent twinkle in his eye, said to
himself:

"What a lordly liar! Almost as good as myself."

Luncheon was announced.



CHAPTER XXX



"You are quite right," the Count was saying to Mr. Heard. "The ideal
cuisine should display an individual character; it should offer a menu
judiciously chosen from the kitchen-workshops of the most diverse lands
and peoples-a menu reflecting the master's alert and fastidious taste.
Is there anything better, for instance, than a genuine Turkish pilaf?
The Poles and Spaniards, too, have some notable culinary creations. And
if I were able to carry out my ideas on this point I would certainly
add to my list of dishes a few of those strange Oriental confections
which Mr. Keith has successfully taught his Italian chef. There is
suggestion about them; they conjure up visions of that rich and glowing
East which I would give many years of my remaining life to see."

"Then why not do what I have proposed several times already?" queried
the millionaire. "I am in the East every winter; we reckon this year to
reach Bangkok the first fortnight in November. We can find room for you
on board. We'll make room! Your company would give me more pleasure
than I can say."

Count Caloveglia was probably the only male person on earth to whom the
owner of the FLUTTERBY would have extended such an invitation.

"My dear friend!" replied the other. "I shall never be able to repay
your kindness, as it is. Alas, it cannot be done, not now. And don't
you think," he went on, reverting to his theme, "that we might revive a
few of those forgotten recipes of the past? Not their over-spiced
entremets, I mean--their gross joints and pasties, their swans and
peacocks--but those which deal, for example, with the preparation of
fresh-water fishes? A pike, to my way of thinking, is a coarse,
mud-born creature. But if you will take the trouble, as I once did, to
dress a pike according to the complicated instructions of some obsolete
cookery-book, you will find him sufficiently palatable, by way of a
change."

"You would make an excellent chef!"

"It is plain," added Mr. Heard, "that the Count does not disdain to
practise his skill upon the most ancient and honourable of domestic
arts."

"Indeed I don't. I would cook CON AMORE if I had leisure and materials.
All culinary tasks should be performed with reverential love, don't you
think so? To say that a cook must possess the requisite outfit of
culinary skill and temperament--that is hardly more than saying that a
soldier must appear in uniform. You can have a bad soldier in uniform.
The true cook must have not only those externals, but a large dose of
general worldly experience. He is the perfect blend, the only perfect
blend, of artist and philosopher. He knows his worth: he holds in his
palm the happiness of mankind, the welfare of generations yet unborn.
That is why you will never obtain adequate human nourishment from a
young girl or boy. Such persons may do for housework, but not in the
kitchen. Never in the kitchen! No one can aspire to be a philosopher
who is in an incomplete state of physical development. The true cook
must be mature; she must know the world form her social point of view,
however humble it be; she must have pondered concerning good and evil,
in however lowly and incongruous a fashion; she must have passed
through the crucible of sin and suffering or, at the very least--it is
often the same thing--of married life. Best of all, she should have a
lover, a fierce and brutal lover who beats and caresses her in turns;
for every woman worthy of the name is subject and entitled to
fluctuating psychic needs--needs which must be satisfied to the very
core, if the master is to enjoy sound, healthy fare."

"We don't always allow them to fulfil that last condition," observed
Mr. Heard.

"I know we don't. That is precisely why we are so often poisoned or
starved, instead of being cheered with wholesome food."

"You were speaking of woman-cooks?" asked van Koppen.

"I was. But it stands to reason that no woman can be trusted with so
responsible a task--so sacred a mission, I ought to call it--in regions
south of Bordeaux or east of Vienna. Among many other reasons the whole
sex is too drowsy, outside that radius. And if she drinks a little--"

"Drinks a little?"

"If she drinks a little, why it is all to the good. It shows that she
is fully equipped on the other side of her dual nature. It proves that
she possesses the prime requisite of the artist; sensitiveness and a
capacity for enthusiasm. Indeed, I often doubt whether you will ever
derive well-flavoured victuals from the atelier of an individual who
honestly despises or fears--it is the same thing--the choicest gift of
God. Andrea, my man here, is abstemious to the last degree; not, I am
glad to say, from conviction or ill-health--it is the same thing--but
because he is incurably desirous of saving my money. What is the
consequence? You can taste his self-imposed asceticism in the very
ZABBAGLIONE, for which I must really apologize! It speaks to the eye,
but not to the heart. Let us hope the coffee will be more harmonious."

"Would you not include some of our American dishes in your bill of
fare?"

"To be sure I would; a fine selection. I have most pleasant
recollections of the cuisine of Baltimore."

"You can get all those things in New York."

"No doubt; no doubt. But one thing invariably distresses me in
transatlantic dinners: the unseemly haste in rising. One might really
think the company were ashamed of so natural and jovial a function as
that to which a dining-room is consecrated. And then, have you not
noticed that, sitting at table, a certain intellectual tone, an
atmosphere of a definite kind, is insensibly generated among the
guests, whatever the subject of conversation may be? They are often
quite unaware of its existence, but it hangs none the less about the
room and binds the inmates together for the time being. Suddenly we are
bidden to rise and betake ourselves elsewhere; to sit on other chairs
in a different temperature among different surroundings. It is a
wrench. That peculiar atmosphere is dissipated; the genius of the
earlier moment driven out beyond recapture; we must adapt ourselves to
other conditions and begin anew, often with a good deal of
trouble--often, how often, against our inclination! I call that a
perverse custom. Every state of the mind, whether we are in society or
alone, should be pressed to the last drop, irrespective of whether we
happen to have swallowed a final mouthful of food or not. When the
conversation has died, as everything must die, from sheer inability to
draw further breaths of life, then is the time to break up that old
encircling dome of thought; to construct a fresh one, if need be, in a
fresh environment."

"I confess," said the American, "it has always struck me as rather
barbarous--this running away. I like to linger. But the ladies don't.
They know that their dresses show off better in a parlour than under a
boards of a mahogany table; perhaps their conversation, too, sounds
better among arm-chairs and rugs. So we run after then, as we generally
do; instead of making them run after us" ("as I do," he added to
himself). "But, Count! If you like our American dishes, why not get
this man of yours to learn a few from the Duchess? I know she would
gladly teach him; she is not jealous of her knowledge like a
professional chef."

"I would have asked her that favour long ago, if Andrea had been a born
cook, like Keith's men. Unfortunately he is quite different. The
philosopher is represented in his nature, but not the artist. He is
only a devoted Arcadian, overflowing with good intentions."

"And are they of no avail?" queried the bishop.

"I have been told that, in art and literature, they will atone for
deficiency of natural talent. It may be so; some persons, at least,
have been able to cajole their brains into believing this. However that
may be, I do not think the rule can be extended into the domain of
cookery. Good intentions--no. Nobody need attempt such an imposture on
his stomach, an upright and uncompromising organ, which refuses to
listen to nonsense. Or let them try the experiment. Gastritis will be
the result of good intentions...."

Mr. Heard stretched out his legs. He was beginning to feel at ease. He
like this comely old man; he detected an abiding quality in his outlook
and person. And he felt at home in these surroundings. There was an air
of simplicity and refinement in that calm ground-floor chamber, with
its subdued light filtering through windows that opened upon the
courtyard, groined vaulting of noble proportions, stucco frieze stained
with age to an ivory hue, and those other decorations which the Count,
loyal to the traditions of old-world peasant architecture, had piously
left unaltered--or, it may be, adapted to modern needs by touches so
deft as not to reveal his own consummate artistry. Through the open
door by which they had entered came breathings of warm wind laden with
the suave odour of a tuft of Madonna lilies that grew, half neglected,
in a shady corner. He had noticed them on his entry--how they stood in
proud clusters, bending forward with mighty effort to reach the light.

His eye strayed into the courtyard and moved about the green penumbra
created by the fig tree's massy foliage; it glanced over fragments of
statuary half buried under a riot of leaves and nodding flowers, and
rested with complaisance upon the brickwork flooring of herring-bone
pattern, coloured in a warm, velvety Indian-red. It was worn down here
and there by tread of feet, and pleasantly marked with patches of
emerald-green moss and amber-tinted streaks of light that played about
its surface wherever the sunbeams could pierce the dense leafage
overhead.

From where he sat he could see the Locri Faun on its pedestal. The
figure was drowned in twilight. It seemed to slumber.

Meanwhile Andrea, looking uncommonly ceremonious in white tie and white
cotton globes, was handing round the coffee. It was pronounced an
unqualified success. "Absolutely harmonious," declared the bishop, who
had no hesitation, after a critical sip or two, in extending his
approval to a curiously flavoured liqueur of unknown ingredients.

"From my little property on the mainland," the Count explained. "If it
were a clear day I would take you up to my roof and show you the very
site, although it is leagues and leagues away. But the south wind
always casts a haze over the mainland at this time of day--a kind of
veil."

Mr. van Koppen, connoisseur of cigars, opened his capacious case and
offered its contents, without disclosing the fact that they were
specially manufactured for him at a fabulous price.

"You will find them smokable, I hope. As a matter of fact it's no use
trying to keep a cigar in good condition on the yacht. And it must be
the same on an island like this. So far as tobacco is concerned,
Nepenthe can be nothing but a ship at anchor."

"True," said the Count. "The moist sirocco is injurious to the finer
growths."

"This south wind!" exclaimed Mr. Heard. "This African pest! Is there no
other wind hereabouts? Tell me, Count, does the sirocco always blow?"

"So far as I have observed it blows constantly during the spring and
summer. Hardly less constantly in autumn," he added. "And in winter,
often for weeks on end."

"Sounds promising," observed the bishop. "And has it no influence on
the character?"

"The native is accustomed, or resigned. Foreigners, sometimes, are
tempted to strange actions under its influence."

The American said:

"You spoke of amalgamating our cuisine with yours, or vice versa. It
can doubtless be done, to the profit of both parties. Why not go a step
further? Why not amalgamate our respective civilizations?"

"A pleasant dream, my friend, with which I have occasionally beguiled
myself! Our contribution to human happiness, and that of America--are
they not irreconcilable? What is yours? Comfort, time and labour saving
contrivances; abundance; in a word, all that is summed up under the
denomination of utility. Ours, let us say, is beauty. No doubt we could
saturate ourselves with each other's ideals, to our mutual advantage.
But it would never be an amalgam; the joints would show. It would be a
successful graft, rather than a fusion of elements. No; I do not see
how beauty and utility are ever to be syncretized into a homogeneous
conception. They are too antagonistic to coalesce."

"But there is abundant beauty and grandeur in modern American life,"
said the millionaire, "quite apart, I mean, from that of the natural
scenery. A fine steam-engine, for instance--I call that a beautiful
thing, perfectly adapted to its end. Is its beauty really so
antagonistic to that of your civilization?"

"I know that some excellent persons have been writing lately about the
beauty of a swift-gliding motor-car and things of that kind. They are
right, in one sense of the word. For there is a beauty to mechanical
fitness which no art can enhance. But it is not the beauty of which I
spoke."

"And therefore," observed the bishop, "we ought to have another word
for it."

"Precisely, my dear sir! We ought to have another word. All values are
continually being revised, and tested anew. Are they not? We have been
restating moral values within the last half-century; it is the same
with artistic ones. New canons of taste, new standards, are continually
being evolved; there is a general widening and multiplying of notions.
This, I think, ought to make us careful as to the words we employ, and
ready to coin new ones whenever a new idea is to be expressed. If we
enlarge our concepts, we should likewise enlarge our vocabulary. When I
spoke of beauty, I used the word in its narrow classical meaning, a
meaning which may be out of fashion, but which has the great advantage
that it happens to be irrevocably fixed and defined for us by what the
ancients themselves have handed down in the way of art and criticism.
This particular beauty, I say, is irreconcilable with that other beauty
of which you spoke."

"How so?" asked the millionaire.

"There resides, for example, in Hellenic sculpture a certain
ingredient--what shall we call it? Let us call it the factor of
strangeness, of mystery! It is a vague emanation which radiates from
such works of art, and gives us a sense of their universal
applicability to all our changing moods and passions. That, I suppose,
is why we call them ever young. They beckon to all of us familiarly and
yet, as it were, from an unexplored world. They speak to us at all
seasons in some loving and yet enigmatical language, such language as
we may read, at times, in the eyes of a child that wakes from sleep.
Now the swiftest and fairest steam-engine in the world is not for ever
young; it grows obsolete and ends, after a short life, on the
scrap-heap. That is to say, where usefulness enters, this spirit of
mystery, of eternal youth, is put to flight. And there is yet another
element of classical beauty which is equally at variance with your
modern conception of it: the element of authority. Beholding the
Praxitelean Eros, the veriest ruffian feels compelled to reverence the
creator and his work. 'Who was the man?' he asks; for he acknowledges
that such things impose themselves upon his untutored mind. Now a
certain Monsieur Cadillac builds the most beautiful motor-cars. Who is
this man? We do not care a fig about him. He is probably a Jewish
syndicate. Such being the case, I cannot bring myself to reverence
Monsieur Cadillac and his cars. They are comfortable, but that factor
of authority, which compels our homage to the Eros, is wholly lacking.
Yet both things are called beautiful. That we should apply the same
word to products so different, so hopelessly conflicting, as those of
Praxiteles and Monsieur Cadillac--what does it prove? It proves our
poverty of invention. And what does it explain? It explains our
confusion of thought."

The millionaire remarked:

"I suppose the human outlook has shifted with the years. Democracy hyas
changed your old point of view."

"Assuredly. No American, no modern of any race, I fancy, can divest
himself of the notion that one man is as good as another; in the eyes
of God, they add--meaning in their own eyes. No Greek, no ancient of any
race, I fancy, could have burdened himself with so preposterous a
delusion. Democracy has killed my point of view. It has substituted
progress for civilization. To appreciate things of beauty, as do the
Americans, a man requires intelligence. Intelligence is compatible with
progress. To create them, as did the Greeks, he requires intelligence
and something else as well: time. Democracy, in abolishing slavery, has
eliminated that element of time--an element which is indispensable to
civilization."

"We have some fine slavery in America at this moment."

"I am using the word in the antique sense. Your modern slavery is of
another kind. It has all the drawbacks and few of the advantages of the
classic variety. It gives leisure to the wrong people--to those who
praise the dignity of labour. Men who talk about the Dignity of Labour
had better say as little as possible about civilization, for fear of
confusing it with the North Pole."

The American laughed.

"That's one for me!" he remarked.

"On the contrary! You are an admirable example of that happy graft
which we mentioned just now."

"Progress and civilization!" exclaimed Mr. Heard. "One uses those words
so much in my walk of life that, thinking it over, I begin to wonder
whether they mean more than this: that there are perpetual
readjustments going on. They are supposed to indicate an upward
movement, some vague step in the direction of betterment which,
frankly, I confess myself unable to perceive. What is the use of
civilization if it makes a man unhappy and unhealthy? The uncivilized
African native is happy and healthy. The poor creatures among whom I
worked, in the slums of London, are neither the one nor the other; they
are civilized. I glance down the ages, and see nothing but--change! And
perhaps not even change. Mere differences of opinion as to the value of
this or that in different times and places."

"Pardon me! I was using the words in a specific sense. What I mean by
progress is the welding together of society for whatever ends. Progress
is a centripetal movement, obliterating man in the mass. Civilization
is centrifugal; it permits, it postulates, the assertion of
personality. The terms are, therefore, not synonymous. They stand for
hostile and divergent movements. Progress subordinates. Civilization
co-ordinates. The individual emerges in civilization. He is submerged
in progress."

"You might call civilization a placid lake," said the American, "and
the other a river or torrent."

"Exactly!" remarked Mr. Heard. "The one is static, the other dynamic.
And which of the two, Count, would you say was the more beneficial to
humanity?"

"Ah! For my part I would not bring such consideration to bear on the
point. We may deduce, from the evolution of society, that progress is
the newer movement, since the State, which welds together, is of more
recent growth than the individualistic family or clan. This is as far
as I care to go. To debate whether one be better for mankind than the
other betrays what I call an anthropomorphic turn of mind; it is
therefore a problem which, so far as I am concerned, does not exist. I
content myself with establishing the fact that progress and
civilization are incompatible, mutually exclusive."

"Do you mean to say," asked the millionaire, "that it is impossible to
be progressive and civilized at the same time?"

"That is what I mean to say. Now if America stands for progress, this
old world may be permitted--with a reasonable dose of that flattery
which we accord to the dead--to represent civilization. Tell me, Mr. van
Koppen, how do you propose to amalgamate or reconcile such ferociously
antagonistic strivings? I fear we will have to wait for the
millennium."

"The millennium!" echoed Mr. Heard. "That is another of those unhappy
words which are always cropping up in my department."

"Why unhappy?" asked Mr. van Koppen.

"Because they mean nothing. The millennium will never come."

"Why not?"

"Because nobody wants it to come. They want tangible things. Nobody
wants a millennium."

"Which is very fortunate," observed the Count. "For if they did, the
Creator would be considerably embarrassed how to arrange matters,
seeing that every man's millennium differs from that of his neighbour.
Mine is not the same as yours. Now I wonder, Mr. van Koppen--I wonder
what your millennium would be like?"

"I wonder! I believe I never gave it a thought. I have had other things
to puzzle out."

And the millionaire straightway proceeded to think, in his usual
clear-cut fashion. "Something with girls in it," he soon concluded,
inwardly. Then aloud:

"I guess my millennium would be rather a contradictory sort of
business. I should require tobacco, to begin with. And the affair would
certainly not be complete, Count, without a great deal of your company.
The millennium of other people may be more simple. That of the Duchess,
for example, is at hand. She is about to join the Roman Catholic
Church."

"That reminds me," said Mr. Heard. "She gave me some remarkable
tea-cakes not long ago. Delicious. She said they were your specialty."

"You have found them out, have you?" laughed the American. "I always
tell her that once a man begins on those tea-cakes there is no reason
on earth, that I can think of, why he should ever stop again. All the
same, I nearly overate myself the other day. That was because we had a
late luncheon on board. It shall never occur again--the late luncheon, I
mean. Have you discovered, by the way, whether the business of Miss
Wilberforce has been settled?"

Mr. Heard shook his head.

"Is that the person," enquired the Count, "who is reported to drink to
excess? I have never spoken to her. She belongs presumably to the lower
classes--to those who extract from alcohol the pleasurable emotions
which we derive from a good play, or music, or a picture gallery."

"She is a lady."

"Indeed? Then she has relapsed into the intemperance of her inferiors.
That is not pretty."

"Temperance!" said the bishop. "Another of those words which I am
always being obliged to use. Pray tell me, Count, what you mean by
temperance."

"I should call it the exercise of our faculties and organs in such a
manner as to combine the maximum of pleasure with the minimum of pain."

"And who is the judge of what constitutes the dividing line between use
and abuse?"

"We cannot do better, I imagine, than go to our own bodies for an
answer to that question. They will tell us exactly how far we may
proceed with impunity."

"In that case," said the millionaire, "if you drink a little too much
occasionally--only occasionally, I mean!--you would not call that
intemperance?"

"Certainly not. We are not Puritans here. We do not give wrong names to
things. What you suggest would be by the way of a change, I
presume--like the eating of a pike: something we do not indulge in every
day. If I were to come home a little joyful now and then, do you know
what these people would say? They would say: 'The old gentleman is
pleased to be merry to-night. Bless his heart! May the wind do him
good.' But if I behaved as Miss Wilberforce is reported to do, they
would say: 'That old man is losing self-control. He is growing
intemperate. Every evening! It is not a pretty sight.' They never call
it wrong. Their mode of condemnation is to say that it is not pretty.
The ethical moment, you observe, is replaced by an aesthetic one. That
is the Mediterranean note. It is the merit of the Roman Church that she
left us some grains of common sense in regard to minor morals."

The bishop remarked:

"What I have seen of the local Catholicism strikes me as a kind of
pantomime. That is the fault of my upbringing, no doubt."

"Oh, I am not referring to externals! Externally, of course, our Church
is the purest rococo--"

Mr. Heard was expanding in this congenial atmosphere; he felt himself
in touch with permanent things. He glanced at the speaker. How charming
he looked, this silvery-haired old aristocrat! His ample and gracious
personality, his leisurely discourse--how well they accorded with the
environment! He suggested, in manner, the secret of youth and all that
is glad, unclouded, eternal; he was a reflection, a belated flower, of
the classic splendour which lay in ruins about him. Such a man, he
thought, deserves to be happy and successful. What joy it must have
been to a person of his temperament--the chance discovery of the Locri
Faun!

A great stillness brooded upon the enclosure beyond. The shadows had
shifted. Sunny patches lay, distributed in fresh patterns, upon the old
brickwork flooring. An oval shaft of light, glinting through the
foliage, had struck the pedestal of the Faun and was stealthily
crawling up its polished surface. He looked at the statue. It was still
slumbering in the shade. But a subtle change had spread over the
figure, or was it, he wondered, merely a change in the state of his own
mind, due to what the Count had said? There was energy, now, in those
tense muscles. The slightest touch, he felt, would unseal the
enchantment and cause life to flow through the dull metal.

Mr. van Koppen was slightly ruffled.

"Are you not a little hard on the Puritans?" he asked. "Where would we
have been without them in America?"

"And after all," added the bishop, "they cleared up an infinity of
abuses. They were temperate, at all events! Too temperate in some
matters, I am inclined to think; they did not always allow for human
weakness. They went straight back to the Bible."

The Count shook his head slowly.

"The Bible," he said, "is the most intemperate book I have ever read."

"Dear me!"

Mr. van Koppen, a tactful person, scented danger ahead. He remarked:

"I did not know Italians read the Bible. Where did you become
acquainted with it?"

"In New York. I often amused myself strolling about the Jewish quarter
there and studying the inhabitants. Wonderful types, wonderful poses!
But hard to decipher, for a person of my race. One day I said to
myself: I will read their literature; it may be of assistance. I went
through the Talmud and the Bible. They helped me to understand those
people and their point of view."

"What is their point of view?"

"That God is an overseer. This, I think, is the keynote of the Bible.
And it explains why the Bible has always been regarded as an exotic
among Greco-Latin races, who are all pagans at heart. Our God is not an
overseer; he is a partaker. For the rest, we find the whole trend of
the Bible, its doctrinal tone, antagonistic to those ideals of
equanimity and moderation which, however disregarded in practice, have
always been held up hereabouts as theoretically desirable. In short, we
Southerners lack what you possess: an elective affinity with that book.
One may wonder how the morality of those tawny Semites was enabled to
graft itself upon your alien white-skinned race with such tenacity as
to influence your whole national development. Well, I think I have at
last puzzled it out," he added, "to my own satisfaction at least."

The bishop interposed with a laugh:

"I may tell you, Count, that I am not in the Episcopal mood to-day. Not
at all. Never felt less Episcopal in my life. For that matter, it is
our English ecclesiastics who have dealt some of the most serious blows
at Biblical authority of late, with their modern exegesis. Pray go on!"

"I imagine it is nothing but a matter of racial temperament."

"Goth and Latin?"

"One does not always like to employ such terms; they are so apt to
cover deficiency of ideas, or to obscure the issue. But certainly the
sun which colours our complexion and orders our daily habits,
influences at the same time our character and outlook. The almost
hysterical changes of light and darkness, summer and winter, which have
impressed themselves on the literature of the North, are unknown here.
Northern people, whether from climatic or other causes, are prone to
extremes, like their own myths and sagas. The Bible is essentially a
book of extremes. It is a violent document. The Goth or Anglo-Saxon has
taken kindly to this book because it has always suited his purposes. It
has suited his purposes because, according to his abruptly varying
moods, he has never been at a loss to discover therein exactly what he
wanted--authority for every grade of emotional conduct, from savage
vindictiveness to the most abject self-abasement. One thing he would
never have found, had he cared to look for it--an incitement to live the
life of reason, to strive after intellectual honesty and self-respect,
and to keep his mind open to the logic of his five senses. That is why,
during the troubled Middle Ages when the oscillations of national and
individual life were yet abrupter--when, therefore, that classical
quality of temperance was more than ever at a discount--the Bible took
so firm a hold upon you. Its unquiet teachings responded to the unquiet
yearnings of men. Your conservatism, your reverence for established
institutions, has done the rest. No! I do not call to mind any passages
in the Bible commending the temperate philosophic life; though it would
be strange if so large a miscellany did not contain a few sound
reflections. Temperance," he concluded, as though speaking to
himself--"temperance! All the rest is embroidery."

Mr. Heard was thoughtful. The American observed:

"That side of the case never struck me before. How about Solomon's
proverbs?"

"Maxims of exhaustion, my dear friend. It is easy to preach to me. I am
an old man. I can read Solomon with a certain patience. We want
something for our children--something which does not blight or deny, but
vivifies and guides aright; something which makes them hold up their
heads. A friend, an older brother; not a pedagogue. I would never
recommend a boy to study these writings. They would lower his spirits
and his self-respect. Solomon, like all reformed debauchees, has a
depressing influence on the young."

"Do you know England well?" asked Mr. Heard.

"Very little. I have spent a few days in Liverpool and London, here and
there, on my periodical journeyings to the States. Kind friends supply
me with English books and papers; the excellent Sir Herbert Street
sends me more than I can possibly digest! I confess that much of what I
read was an enigma to me till I had studied the Bible. Its teachings
seem to have filtered, warm and fluid, through the veins of your
national and private life. Then, slowly, they froze hard, congealing
the whole body into a kind of crystal. Your ethics are stereotyped in
black-letter characters. A gargoyle morality."

"It is certainly difficult," said Mr. van Koppen, "for an Anglo-Saxon
to appraise this book objectively. His mind has been saturated with it
in childhood to such an extent as to take on a definite bias."

"Like the ancients with their ILIAD. Where is a truer poet than Homer?
Yet the worship of him became a positive bane to independent creative
thought. What good things could be written about the withering
influence of Homer upon the intellectual life of Rome!"

The bishop asked:

"You think the Bible has done the same for us?"

"I think it accounts for some Byzantine traits in your national
character and for the formlessness and hesitancy which I, at least,
seem to detect in the demeanour of many individual Anglo-Saxons. They
realize that their traditional upbringing is opposed to truth. It gives
them a sense of insecurity. It makes them shy and awkward. Poise! That
is what they need, and what this unbalanced Eastern stuff will never
give them."

"The withering influences of Homer: surely that is a bad sign?" asked
the American.

"And that of the Bible?" added Mr. Heard.

"How shall a plant survive, save by withering now and then? If the
ancients had not exhausted themselves with Homer, the soil might not
have been ready for our Renaissance. A bad sign? Who can tell! Good and
bad--I question whether these are respectable words to use."

"You are content, as you observed before, to establish a fact?"

"Amply content. I leave the rest to the academicians. And the only fact
we seem to have established is that your notions of morality resemble
my notions of beauty in this one point: neither of them are up to date.
You will have be admire a steam-engine. Why? Because of its delicately
adjusted mechanism, its perfect adaptation to modern needs. So be it. I
will modify my conception of what is fair in appearance. I will admire
your steam-engine, and thereby bring my ideals of beauty up to date.
Will you modify your conception of what is fair in conduct? Will you
admire something more adapted to modern needs than those intemperate
Hebrew doctrines; something with more delicately adjusted mechanism?
The mendicant friar, that flower of Oriental ethics--he is not up to
date. He resembles all Semites. He lacks self-respect. He apologizes
for being alive. It is not pretty--to apologize for being alive!"

The American observed:

"I should say that even our greatest bigots, nowadays, don't take those
old doctrines as seriously as you seem to think."

"I daresay they don't. But they profess to reproach themselves for not
doing so. And this is more contemptible. It adds insincerity to
imbecility."

A sunny smile played about his face as he spoke these words. It was
evident that his thoughts were already far away. The bishop, following
the direction of his glance, saw that it rested upon the statuette of
the Faun whose head and shoulders were now enveloped in a warm beam of
light. Under that genial touch the old relic seemed to have woke up
from its slumber. Blood was throbbing in its veins. It was inn
movement; it dominated the scene in its emphatic affirmation of joy.

Mr. Heard, his eyes fixed upon the statuette, now realized the
significance of what had been said. He began to see more clearly. Soon
it dawned upon him that not joy alone was expressed by the figure.
Another quality, more evasive yet more compelling, resided in its
subtle grace: the element of mystery. There, emprisoned in the bronze,
dwelt some benignant oracle.

Puzzle as he would, that oracle refused to clothe itself in words.

What could it be?

A message of universal application, "loving and enigmatical," as the
old man had called it. True! It was a greeting from an unknown friend
in an unknown land; something familiar from the dim past or distant
future; something that spoke of well-being--plain to behold, hard to
expound, like the dawning smile of childhood.



CHAPTER XXXI



Towards evening, Mr. van Koppen drove the bishop down in the carriage
which he usually hired for the whole of his stay on Nepenthe. They said
little, having talked themselves out with the Count. The American
seemed to be thinking about something. Mr. Heard's eye roamed over the
landscape, rather anxiously.

"I don't like that new cloud above the volcano," he observed.

"Looks like ashes. Looks as if it might drift in our direction, doesn't
it, if the wind were strong enough to move it? Do you see much of the
Count?" he enquired.

"Not as much as I should like. What excellent veal cutlets those were!
So white and tender. Quite different from the veal we get in England.
And that aromatic wine went uncommonly well with them. It was his own
growth, I suppose."

"Very likely. From that little vineyard which produces so many good
things." He chuckled softly. "As to English veal--I never yet tasted any
worth eating. If you don't slaughter a calf till it's grown into a
cow--why, you're not likely to get anything but beef."

"They say the English cannot cook, in spite of the excellence of their
prime materials."

"I think the prime materials are at fault. They sacrifice everything to
size. It's barbaric. Those greasy Southdown sheep! It's the same with
their fowls; they're large, but insipid--very different from the little
things you get down here. Now a goose is capital fodder. But if you
grow him only for his weight, you destroy his quality and flavour; you
get a lump of blubber instead of a bird."

"Apple sauce?"

"I don't like apples in any shape. A sour kind of potato, I call them.
They eat an awful lot of apples in our country. That is what makes so
many of our women as flat as boards, in front and behind--especially in
the Eastern States. It's apple-eating. Apples ought to be taxed. They
ruin the female figure. I'm not sure that they don't sour the character
as well."

"Don't you care about our English vegetables?"

"Can't say I'm much in love with them, Mr. Heard. Brussels sprouts, for
instance--I'm very partial to Brussels sprouts. But the things they give
you over there are the size of a bath sponge, and much the same taste,
I reckon. And the carrots! A carrot ought to be small and round and
yellow, it ought to melt in the mouth like a plum. Those carrots aren't
carrots at all. They're walking sticks. And the peas! No, I don't care
about English peas. Too large and too lively for me."

"Lively?"

"That's it. Lively. I shall never forget my first experience of them,"
he went on, laughing. "There were two or three in the dish; just two or
three; filled it up nicely. Looked like cannon-balls. What do they
expect me to do with these things? I wondered. I didn't like to ask the
waiter. One doesn't care to be taken for an ignorant stranger. Well, I
landed one on my plate and began carving at it, to see if there was
anything eatable inside the shell, when the durned thing slipped away
from my knife and crashed on to the floor. Bounced up like a marble. I
called for a nutcracker--'I shall want the largest you've got,' I said.
They couldn't find one. Now I'm not the sort of man, Mr. Heard, to be
beaten by a vegetable, if it really was a vegetable. Because, you see,
it behaved more like a blamed mineral. I sent for the head waiter, and
took him into my confidence. I tried to talk English, like I'm talking
to you. 'What d'ye call these things?' I asked. 'Marrowfats, Sir.' 'Ah,
I thought they weren't peas. You've got PETITS POIS down on the bill of
fare. Better get that put right. And now, how d'ye eat them?' 'You bite
them!' That's what he said. 'You bite them.' Of course I didn't believe
him. I thought it was just a bit of English humour, especially as the
other waiter was looking the opposite way all the time. Well, like a
fool, I said to myself: 'No harm in trying!' I've got pretty sharp
teeth, you know, for a boy of my age. That's how I managed to do what a
lot of you younger fellows couldn't have done. I got them fixed into
the softest of that bunch of marrowfats. But as to pulling them out
again! The head waiter, you bet, had disappeared. And the other fellow
was standing at the window with his back to me. Looking up the street,
I should say, to see if it was going to rain."

After this little outburst, the millionaire seemed to have nothing more
to say.

He was thinking....

Cornelius van Koppen loved a good liar. He knew something about the
gentle art. It was an art, he used to say, which no fool should be
allowed to cultivate. There were too many amateurs knocking about.
These bunglers spoiled the trade. Without doing any good to themselves,
they roused distrust; they rubbed the fine bloom off human credulity.
His puritan conscience was enraged at petty thefts, petty forgeries,
petty larcenies. That was why he despised that otherwise excellent
person, the Financial Commissioner for Nicaragua, whose wildest flights
of embezzlement never exceeded a few hundred dollars. He respected a
man who, like himself, could work in the grand style. To play upon the
credulity of a continent--it was Napoleonic, it was like stealing a
kingdom; it was not stealing at all. This, he shrewdly suspected, was
what his good friend the Count was engaged upon. That delightful old
man was working in the grand style.

Bronzes, ancient or modern, were Greek to Mr. van Koppen. He could not
tell the difference between the art of Clodion and of Myron--had, in
fact, never heard the names of these good people and did not
particularly care to hear them; he paid Sir Herbert Street for that
part of the business. But he had picked up, in the course of his long
humanitarian career, a good deal of general knowledge. Old Koppen was
no fool. He was intelligent; intelligence, as the Count had said, being
perfectly compatible with progress. The millionaire could put two and
two together as fast as most men; he was celebrated, even among his
quick-witted compatriots, for an uncanny faculty of walking round
people without getting off his chair. Common sense, he called it.

Many a time he had listened to Count Caloveglia's rounded periods anent
the Locri Faun. Taking his own personal experience as a guide, he had
come to the conclusion that a man does not explain things quite so
satisfactorily, unless he has some business in hand. Everything fitted
into a hypothesis which had been slowly maturing in his mind, namely,
that he was confronted by a fraud, a really noble fraud, a fraud after
his own heart, a fraud deserving the fullest support of every sensible
man and woman.

That vineyard, for instance, with those antiquities. A good many
friends of his in the States had made their pile out of salted gold
mines. Why not salt a vineyard? Oh yes; everything fitted in
beautifully. The remoteness of that vineyard ... a town like Locri
was obviously unsafe, too public a place for such important
discoveries. The conscientious Sir Herbert would certainly want to make
enquiries on the spot--enquiries which would prove that no Faun had ever
been found there. And that would ruin everything. Therefore the statue
had been "carried" to the vineyard in ancient times by "some young and
ardent lover of art." Carried, ha, ha! His knowledge of human nature
made him doubt whether the Locri Faun had ever in its life made a
further journey than to Caloveglia's shady courtyard from that
mysterious, dusty shed at the back of his house. Or the Demeter either.
That "sadly mutilated head" was a feeler--a rehearsal. They both came
"from the same workshop." Excellent! That shed was the workshop--the
birthplace of these two antiques; the Count himself their old Hellenic
creator.

Andrea, no doubt, was the secret.

These art experts! Here was Street, one of the best of them, a man of
celebrity in his department, solemnly pronouncing for the authenticity
of the fake--in the full and innocent conviction that it was really
authentic. A sucking babe. This man, he could see by his simple society
face, had not even made an arrangement with the Count as to a
commission for himself in the event of a purchase being concluded. He
was satisfied with his salary. These experts--what a crowd of fools they
were! Especially the honest ones.

None the less, he was delighted with Sir Herbert's opinion. It was
exactly what he wanted. For he meant to help the County who, he was
sure, would never accept a cent from him save under a pretext like that
of the sale of the Faun. He loved old Caloveglia. There was something
clean and purposeful about him. His friendship with such a man filled
up what he knew to be a void in his own equipment as citizen of the
world. And the count was working--was lying--for a worthy purpose: a
daughter's dowry. For that reason alone he was deserving of assistance.

Mr. van Koppen was unmarried. Knowing life as he did, from its more
seamy or mercenary side, he had never brought himself to accept a
single one of several hundred offers of marriage which had been more or
less overtly made to him--to his millions. He loved the sex, as a whole;
but distrusted them individually. He thought he knew exactly what they
were after. Pearl necklaces and things. He was a good American; fond of
bestowing pearl necklaces. But he liked to give them when, and to whom,
he fancied; he meant to be his own master and to keep his painfully
gotten millions under his own control. All of which, far from
extinguishing, actually fostered that queer bachelor's feeling of
reverential awe for the married state and its results. Every form of
courage and success appealed to van Koppen--none more than the reckless
impetuosity of a man who speculates in such a delirious lottery and
sometimes actually draws a prize. Such had been Count Caloveglia's
portion. His marriage had plainly been a love-match; a success; its
result, this offspring--a daughter of whom any father might be proud.
Mr. van Koppen thoroughly understood the Count's position. These
Italians need dowries for their girls. Well, he should have one! What
did it signify? One pearl necklace the less, for some operatic charmer.
Not worth talking about. Among all h is various benefactions, none was
ever projected with a lighter heart, with more sincere pleasure. It
made him glad to be a millionaire.

All the details had been settled. The FLUTTERBY was sailing in a day or
two. The relic would be brought on board, at dead of night, by the
faithful Andrea, who would return to the Count with a cheque in his
pocket. It was a considerable sum; so considerable that Caloveglia had
displayed great hesitation in accepting it. But the millionaire pointed
out that the parties must be guided by Sir Herbert's opinion. What was
the good, he asked, of employing a specialist? Sir Herbert Street had
declared the bronze to be priceless, unique. His employer, therefore,
insisted on paying what the other had called "an adequate amount, if
the value of such a work of art can be expressed in monetary figures at
all." There was nothing more to be said. The Count gave way, with
graceful reluctance. A sham ancestry having been manufactured for the
masterpiece (it was proved to come from Asia Minor) in order to elude
the vigilance of the Italian Government, the Locri Faun could
thereafter be freely displayed to the American public, and Sir Herbert
Street was probably right in foretelling that it would be the show
piece of the millionaire's museum-artists and antiquarians flocking to
see it from every part of the world.

And Mr. van Koppen, as he drove along, was thinking of that cheque; he
was converting the dollars into francs. They made rather an awkward
sum. He decided to round it off, if only for the sake of appearances; a
further reason for not sending the cheque till the last moment,
together with a carefully worded letter to allay the Count's scruples.
The old fellow might otherwise return the balance, in a fit of
conscientiousness. Like himself, Count Caloveglia was infernally, and
very properly, punctilious--in small matters.

Yes, there was some fun, at times, in being a millionaire. Or a
sculptor either, for that matter! For it evidently took some doing--a
little thing like that Locri Faun. It took some doing. And it was worth
doing: that was the main point. A man who could bamboozle Sir Herbert
Street--such a man deserved to be supported. And what if the truth
ultimately leaked out? Had he not acted with the best intentions, under
the written advice of an expert? Far from feeling uneasy, Mr. van
Koppen smiled at the thought of how his millions, backed by the opinion
of a connoisseur of international reputation, had enabled him to play
yet one more trick upon that great Republic whose fathomless
gullibility no one had ever exploited to a better purpose than
himself....

Mr. Eames was waiting for the bishop, according to appointment.

"How about Mrs. Meadows?" he at once began.

"She was out, invisible. I waited nearly two hours and then lunched
with Count Caloveglia. By the way, have you seen anything of Denis
lately?"

"No. Why?"

"The old man seemed to be concerned about him. He asked me to make
enquiries. Van Koppen thought that he might have got into trouble with
some girl. But that strikes me as very unlikely. He may be a little
homesick and lonely, so far from his mother."

The bibliographer said:

"I understand Mr. van Koppen is quite an authority on girls. As to
Denis, I saw him last--when was it? Oh, not so very long ago. The day
all those funny things happened; those portents. We walked up and down
together on this very terrace. Perhaps he has left the island, like
that wretched mineralogist who promised me--never mind! He seemed all
right then. A little depressed, perhaps. Yes; a little depressed, no I
come to think of it. But the Count need not be anxious. This island is
a great place for scares and rumours."

Mr. Heard was not satisfied.

"Do you believe the influence of Nepenthe can make Northern people
irresponsible for their actions? Keith does. Or how about the sirocco?
Can it upset their nerves to such an extent?"

"Not my nerves. I have heard of people making fools of themselves and
then blaming the Creator. Often! And of course, if one begins to brood
over accidentals like the weather, one is sure to become a lunatic
sooner or later. Weather was not made for that purpose. If you come to
think of it, how few days there are when a man can honestly say that
the weather is quite to his liking! It is nearly always too hot or too
cold or too wet or too dry or too windy. I don't trouble myself about
sirocco. Why should Denis? He is not nearly as much of a fool as many
people look. And I would not listen to Keith. He moves among
hyperbolas."

Mr. Heard felt slightly relieved. What a sensible fellow this was; so
matter-of-fact and sure of his ground. The ideal scholar. Sirocco did
not exist for him. He stood aloof from human passions and infirmities.

It was plain that the bishop had never heard that story about the
BALLON CAPTIF.

"For my part," he said, "I am beginning to object to this south wind. I
never felt it worse than to-day. Phew! Stifling! One can hardly
breathe. My shirt is sticking to my back. Suppose we sit down
somewhere?"

They found a bench, in view of the sea and the volcano. The population
moved sedately up and down before their eyes.

"Is it always like this?" enquired Mr. Heard.

"Spring is a little warmer than usual. Or perhaps one should say that
summer has begun earlier. The sirocco is the same, year after year,
although there is a kind of conspiracy among the foreign residents to
say that it happens to be worse than usual that particular season. It
never varies."

"What does your Perrelli say on the subject?"

Mr. Eames glanced at him distrustfully.

"You are trying to chaff me," he said. "Serves me right for talking so
much this morning. I am afraid I bored you dreadfully."

The bishop wanted to know.

"Then I may tell you that Monsignor Perrelli does not so much as
mention the South wind. He names all the others and has come capital
observations on the anchorages of the island as adapted to different
winds and seasons. He has also extracted from old chronicles the
records of the great storms of 1136, 1342, 1373, 1460, and so on; but
never discloses the fact that they all blew from the south. He says the
air is pleasant, tempered by gentle breezes from the sea. The word
sirocco does not occur in his pages save once, when he laments its
prevalence on the mainland."

"The old humbug!"

A little shiver ran through Mr. Eames. Then he observed, in a suave
tone of voice:

"He was an historian of the period, an agreeable gentleman telling
others of his kind what he knows will be of interest to them. That is
what makes his work attractive to me: the personality of the writer.
The facts that he records, taken in conjunction with those he slurs
over or omits--they give one such an insight into changing human nature!
You can construct the character of a man and his age not only from what
he does and says, but from what he fails to say and do."

"Modern historians are not like that," said Mr. Heard. "They give you
the truth to the best of their ability. It is rather dry reading
sometimes. I would like to borrow your Perrelli for a day or two, if
you don't mind."

"I'll send it round, together with some old prints of this island and
modern photographs. You will then see what I mean. The prints are not
exactly true to nature; these people did not want to be true to nature.
And yet they convey a better impression of the place than the modern
pictures. Perhaps there are two truths: the truth of fact and that of
suggestion. Perrelli is very suggestive; romance grafted upon
erudition, and blossoming out of it! So imaginative! He has a
dissertation on the fishes of Nepenthe--it reads like a poem and is yet
full of practical gastronomic hints. Can you picture Virgil
collaborating with Apicius?"

The bishop said:

"Horace might have got on better with that old BON-VIVANT."

"Horace could never have had a hand in this chapter. He lacks the
idealistic tinge. He could never have written about red mullets as
Perrelli writes when he compares their skin to the fiery waves of
Phelgethon, to the mantle of rosy-fingered dawn, to the blush of a
maiden surprised in her bath, and then goes on to tell you how to cook
the b east in thirty different ways and how to spit out the bones in
the most noiseless, genteel fashion. That is Perrelli--so original, so
leisurely. Always himself! He smiled as he wrote; there is not a shadow
of doubt about it. In another section, on the fountains of the island,
he deliberately indulges in the humour of some old mediaeval schoolman.
Then there is a chapter on the ecclesiastical conditions of the place
under Florizel the Fat--it is full of veiled attacks on the religious
orders of his own day; I suspect it got him into trouble, that chapter.
I am sorry to say there is a good deal of loose talk scattered about
his pages. I fear he was not altogether a pure-minded man. But I cannot
bring myself to despise him. What do you think? Certain problems are
always cropping up, aren't they?"

Mr. Eames suddenly looked quite troubled.

"They are," replied the bishop, who was not in a mood to discuss ethics
just then. "What are you going to do about it?" he added.

"About what?"

"This poetic omission on the part of Perrelli to mention the sirocco?"

"It has given me a deal of extra work, I can assure you. I have had to
go into the whole question. I have tabulated no less than fifty-seven
varieties of sirocco. Sailors' words, most of them; together with a
handful of antiquated terms. Fifty-seven varieties. Twenty-three
thousand words, up to the present, dealing the with south wind."

"That is a fair-sized foot-note," laughed the bishop. "A good slice of
a book, I should call it."

"My foot-notes are to be printed in small type. In fact, I am thinking
of casting the whole of this sirocco--material into an appendix. Too
much, you think? Surely the number of words is not disproportionate to
the subject? The south wind is a good slice of Nepenthe, is it not?...
Look! That cloud has made up its mind to come our way after all.
There will be another shower of ashes. Sirocco, you observe...."

The terrace, meanwhile, had become crowded. Already the evening sun was
slightly obscured behind a brown haze. Ashes were traveling fast. They
began to fall, softly.

What was to be done? Everybody, mindful of the previous experience, was
in favour of a second procession to take place immediately. The PARROCO
held the same opinion. For form's sake, however, he dispatched a
confidential messenger to learn the views of Mr. Parker, who was
sitting dejectedly in his study with the incomplete Financial Report
still staring him in the face. The Commissioner pulled himself together
with praiseworthy alacrity and gave his whole mind to the question.

No. On due consideration, he was opposed to the idea of a procession.
Having enjoyed, in various continents and various capacities, some
experience of backing the same horse twice over, Mr. Parker was not in
favour of demanding a second largesse from the Saint. It might spoil
everything, he said. Let them wait till next morning. If there was a
deep fall like last time, the experiment might be worth trying. But not
just yet! While admitting that something ought to be done, it struck
him as a hazardous proceeding to play fast and loose, in this fashion,
with the reputation of a Saint.

His Reverence, duly impressed, waited for half an hour. It was then
seen that the Nicaraguan Representative had once more given the
soundest of advice. The downpour of ashes ceased abruptly, at the
moment when the sun sank into the sea. No mischief was done.

Late at night another phenomenon became visible. The volcano was
observed to be in violent eruption. It blazed forth like a gigantic
torch held into the heavens. Streams of lava poured down the mountain
flanks, reddening sky and sea.

Nepenthe was consoled by the spectacle. The demon had at last found an
outlet--a method of relief. There would be no more showers of ashes. The
fact that villages were being overwhelmed under a deluge of flame,
vineyards scorched and hundreds of innocent folks, their retreat cut
off by fiery torrents, were even then being roasted to death, was no
concern to the islanders. It only proved what every one knew: that the
jurisdiction of their Patron Saint did not extend to the mainland.

Each of those villages had its own Saint, whose business it was to
forestall accidents of this kind. If they failed in their duty through
incapacity or mulishness, nothing was easier than to get rid of them;
there were others to choose from--dozens of others, waiting for the job!
Thinking thus, the islanders gave vent to an immense sigh if relief.
They wished long life to their Patron Saint, with whose services they
had reason to be satisfied. Their own crops and lives were safe from
harm, thanks to the martyr Dodekanus. He loved his people, and they
loved him. He was a protector worthy of the name--not like those
low-bred bastards across the water.



CHAPTER XXXII



Mr. Heard had just finished his early Italian luncheon. Sitting at his
coffee and smoking a cigarette, in a mood of considerable contentment,
he gazed over the mirror-like surface of the sea towards the volcano,
whose pyrotechnical display on the previous evening had kept him awake
to a late hour. Yet another glistering day! Each one warmer than the
last, and never a change in the wind! Presently he would retire for an
hour or two into his cool and darkened bed-room.

One little thing troubled his mind. There had been no reply to the
note--a kind of note of enquiry--which he had left at the villa Mon Repos
on the preceding day. Though he knew little of his cousin, he could not
help feeling anxious. She was all by herself in that lonely little
place, suffering--perhaps, and too proud or too shy to complain. Mr.
Eames' description of her had made him uneasy. Why should she look as
if she had seen a ghost? What could that signify? The bibliographer was
a level-headed person, by no means given to flights of imagination.
Imperceptibly, he felt, there had been established an under-current of
sympathy between himself and this solitary woman, whom everybody seemed
to like. She was different from the ordinary type; the kind of woman
whom a man could not help respecting. She contrasted favourably with
some of his recent female acquaintances who, however charming or witty,
dissatisfied him in this or that particular. His cousin's devotion to
child and husband appealed to his heart. She seemed to be perfect of
her kind.

Africa had boiled most of the starch out of Mr. Heard. But his
acquaintance with some of the saddest and wildest aspects of womanhood
only deepened his conviction of the sanctity of the sex. Some called
him old-fashioned or quixotic, because he was not altogether in
sympathy with modern feministic movements; they called him an idealist,
because he had preserved his belief in the sacred mission of women upon
earth--his childlike faith in the purity of their souls. They were a
humanizing influence, the guardian angels of mankind, the inspirers,
the mothers, the protectors of innocence. It pleased him to think that
woman had softened harsh dealings between man and man; that every
mitigation of savagery, every incitement to worthy or heroic actions,
was due to her gentle words, her encouraging example. From the very
dawn of history woman had opposed herself to deeds of violence. What
was it Count Caloveglia had said? "Temperance. All the rest is
embroidery." How well the old man could put things! Temperance....
His cousin, from what he could guess of her character, agreed with that
description. Mr. Heard would have maintained against the whole world
that a woman, a true woman like this, could do no wrong.

And now he gathered that she was in trouble of some kind. Then why not
allow him to help? He had asked for an early reply to his note. Well,
perhaps it would arrive by the evening post.

Slightly vexed none the less, he laid down the stump of his cigarette,
preparatory to retiring for the hot hours of the day. One owes
something to oneself, N'EST-CE PAS? At that moment there was a knock at
his door.

Denis entered. His face, shaded under a broad-brimmed hat, was ruddy
with the heat. He wore light flannels, and was carrying his jacket on
his arm. There was a large parcel in his hand. He looked the picture of
health.

Mr. Heard, on rising, gave him a critical glance. He remembered his
trip in the boat, and the suicide's rock--that black, ominous cliff; he
remembered the thoughts which had passed through his mind at the time.
Was this the kind of boy to kill himself? Surely not. Keith must have
been mistaken. And Count Caloveglia--was he mistaken too? Evidently.
There was nothing tragic about Denis. He was brimming over with life.
His troubles, whatever they were, must have been forgotten.

"I've been lunching with Keith," he began. "He made me tell him a
fairy-tale."

"Sit down and have some coffee! You came away very early."

"He told me he wanted to go to sleep after luncheon. And one or two
other nice things."

Ah, thought Mr. Heard, Keith was acting up to what he had said in the
boat; he was being good to the boy; that was right of him.

"I'm sure," he said, "that Keith has been speaking kindly to you."

"Kindly? It's like talking to an earthquake. He told me to dominate my
reflexes. He called me a perambulating echo. He said I was a human
amoeba--"

"Amoeba. What's that?"

"A sort of animal that floats about trying to attach itself to
something which it can't find."

"I think I see what he means. Anything else?"

"He said I was a chameleon."

"A chameleon!"

"A chameleon that needed the influence of a good woman. Then he gave me
this box of Cuban chocolates, to keep me from crying, I suppose. Have
one! They're not nearly as nasty as they look."

"Thanks. A chameleon. That is really interesting, as Keith would say. I
have seen thousands of them. Outlandish beasts, that anchor themselves
by their tails and squint horribly. Let's have a look at you, Denis.
No, I fail to detect any striking resemblance."

"I believe he meant that I take on the colour of other people and have
none of my own. Then he told me to go and murder somebody."

"I wouldn't do that, Denis," laughed the bishop. "Murders are so
dreadfully vulgar."

"He said it might make a man of me. He forgets that I'm not quite his
age."

"You had better not tell him that! Any other advice?"

"Nothing new. He said I made a mistake in paying attention to what
human beings said and did, and that I ought to forsake mankind for a
while, and art and books and so on. You know the way he talks! He said
it would give me a stronger individuality if I came into contact with
nature and thought things out for myself instead of listening to other
people. He advised me to sit among the rocks at midnight and in the hot
afternoons, conversing with the genii of earth and air. It would
correct my worldly perspective. I think he may be right, in a way.
There is something in it. So I asked him to climb into the hills with
me, then and there, in order to get into touch with elemental Powers.
He said he thought highly of my character, but as to climbing about in
this heat--he said he'd be damned if he would. Those were his very
words. He wanted to sleep. He was too old for that sort of thing."

"Very sensible, I'm sure."

"You think so? Because then--then he told me that you were the proper
person for an expedition of that kind. He suggested I should come and
see you about it at once--it would allow him time to get his usual
afternoon nap. That is why I'm here. So do! It isn't so very hot, once
you get used to it. We are sure to see something funny."

"Oh!"

This, thought the bishop, was a pretty example of that doctrine of
benevolent egotism which Keith had expounded to him once or twice. A
very pretty example!

"He said that?"

Denis nodded.

The notion was distasteful to Mr. Heard. To go out into this torrid
sunshine.... He, too, was not exactly young; moreover, he was still
rather delicate--he needed all the rest he could get. He was looking
forward with positive delight to the coming hours in his cool bedroom.

"You really want me to climb to the top of a mountain at this hour of
the day and sit there in the heat, waiting for some wretched demon to
reveal himself? Aren't you a little too old for that sort of thing?
Come now! Does it strike you as a reasonable proposition? With the
thermometer at seventy-eight in this room?"

"Keith said you liked nothing better. He said you might take offence if
I didn't ask you to come."

He seemed to be disappointed.

There were not many people for whom Mr. Heard would have put himself
out just then in that particular way; and Denis, up to a few days ago,
was certainly not one of them. The bishop had never been drawn towards
this rather precious youth. He was not Mr. Heard's type of boy. There
was a lack of grit and stamina about him--something soft, both in manner
and appearance; something dreamy, ambiguous, almost epicene. Mr. Heard
had not quite lost his old British instinct as to the fundamental
uselessness of all art. A young fellow who, instead of taking up some
rational profession, talked about Cimabue and Jacopo Bellini ...
there was something not quite right with him. Jacopo Bellini! But even
while thinking what to reply, he was conscious of having undergone a
slight change of feeling lately. He was growing more tolerant and
benign, even in trifles like this. Jacopo Bellini: why not? Meanwhile,
he bethought himself of a way of escape.

"Suppose you go alone? Or why not try the midnight expedition first? I
might manage midnight."

"I've tried it."

"Alone?" he laughed. "No success?"

"None whatever," said Denis. And it seemed as if a shadow flitted
across his face at these words.

That cloud, that change of tone--what did they portend? Something might
be wrong, then, after all. Perhaps Keith had been correct in his
diagnosis when he observed that a susceptible mind like this could be
shaken out of its equilibrium by the influence of Nepenthe--"capable of
anything in this clear pagan light." It was not Mr. Heard's habit to
probe into the feelings of others--as to those of a person like Denis he
did not pretend to understand them. Artistic people! Incalculable!
Inconsequential! Irresponsible! Quite another point of view! Yet he
could not help thinking of that doleful black rock, with the
turquoise-tinted water at its foot. Remembering these things he felt a
sudden access of sympathy towards this lonesome fellow-creature.
Instead of pursuing the subject of the expedition he asked, quite
abruptly:

"Tell me, Denis, are you happy here?"

"How odd that you should come with that question! I had a letter from
my mother this morning. She wants to know the same thing. And hanged if
I know what to say."

Mr. Heard made up his mind.

"Hanged if you know? Then I'll tell you. Write to say that you have met
the Bishop of Bampopo, who seems a perfectly respectable old fellow.
Uncommonly respectable! Tell her you rather like him. Tell her she can
find out all about him in Crockford or the Red Book. Tell her that he
will be happy to correspond with her, if she will allow it. Tell her
you feel sure he will look after you these last few days, before we all
go away. Tell her--oh, everything nice you can think of. You'll do that,
won't you? And now I will climb any mountain you like. Where are we
going?"

"I have thought of a good place. Rather high up, but well worth it. I
feel sure something funny is going to happen to-day. Don't you notice a
kind of demonic influence in the air?"

"I notice a kind of infernal heat, if that is the same thing.
Seventy-eight in this room! You will have to walk slowly. I am not in
good condition just yet. Wait a moment. I must take my field-glasses. I
never go without them."

Mr. Heard, resigned to his fate, was filled at the same time with
anxiety. He could not drive Keith's words out of his head. Perhaps
Denis was really up to some mischief. Who could tell? His eagerness--his
curious language! That note of exaltation in his voice.... And what
did he mean by saying that something funny would happen? Was he
contemplating--? Above all, his dread of being unaccompanied! Mr. Heard
was aware that persons of unbalanced mind are apt to experience before
some critical outbreak a pathetic horror of solitude, as though, dimly
conscious of what was about to happen, they feared to trust themselves
alone.

He meant to keep a sharp eye on Denis.

Often, in later times, he recalled that trivial conversation. Every
word of it was graven on his memory. How more than strange that Denis
should have dragged him away that afternoon, to that particular spot,
at that very hour! By what a string of accidents had everything
happened....



CHAPTER XXXIII



It was nearly two o'clock. To step out of doors was like passing into a
furnace. Streets were deserted. The houses showed glaring white against
the cobalt of the firmament; their inhabitants lay asleep within,
behind closed shutters. Heat and silence brooded over the land.

Climbing slowly aloft by a lava-paved lane they reached the
bibliographer's residence and paused awhile near its entrance. Mr.
Heard tried to picture the scholar's life in this two-roomed cottage;
he regretted having had no chance of visiting that amiable person in
his own abode. (Mr. Eames was chary of issuing invitations.) A life of
monastic severity. There was a small outhouse attached to one side of
the wall; it was the kitchen, Denis explained; Eames' only servant
being a boy whom he borrowed for an occasional morning's work from a
neighbouring farm which supplied him with dairy produce.

"It isn't often used, that kitchen," said Denis. "He lives mostly on
bread and milk. Does his own marketing in the early hours. I met him
one day before breakfast, walking with a large brown basket on his arm.
Said he was buying anchovies. There was a big haul of them overnight.
He had heard about it. A penny a pound, he said. I noticed some lettuce
as well. A couple of oranges. Fine chap! He knows what he wants."

The bishop looked over the gate. An air of friendly seclusion reigned
in this place. There was no pretence at a garden--not so much as a rose
tree or a snapdragon; the vines, of daintiest green but sternly
utilitarian, clambered up to the door-lintel, invading the very roof.
He pictured to himself the interior. Bare walls and floorings, a print
or two, a few trunks and packing cases utilized as seats, a bookshelf,
a plain table littered with manuscripts; somewhere, in that further
room, a camp bedstead whereon this man of single aim and purpose, this
monk of literature, was even then at rest like all sensible folks, and
dreaming--dreaming, presumably, of foot-notes. Happy mortal! Free from
all superfluities and encumbrances of the flesh! Enviable mortal! He
reduced earthly existence to its simplest and most effective terms; he
owed no man anything; he kept alive, on a miserable income, the sacred
flame of enthusiasm. To aspire, that was the secret of life. Thinking
thus, Mr. Heard began to understand the bibliographer's feeling for
Mrs. Meadows. She lived for her child--he for his work. They were alike;
calm and self-contained, both of them; incapable of illusions, of
excesses in thought or conduct.

Without the doorway, in a small triangle of shade, sat is fox-terrier,
alert, head poised on one side in knowing fashion, ready to bark if the
visitors only touched the handle of the gate. Denis remarked:

"He told me that dog was sick the other morning, just like Keith."

"It had probably been eating something. I suppose they couldn't be
unwell, could they? What a heat, Denis! It's addling my old brains.
More slowly, please."

An hour went by. Fatigue was beginning to tell upon Mr. Heard. They had
left he cultivated ground behind and were now ascending, by a cindery
track of pumice-stone, among grotesque blocks of lava and scoriae that
glowed like molten metal. Tufts of flowery broom scented the air. The
soil, so recently drenched by the miraculous shower of rain, was once
more dry and dusty; its fragile flowers wilted in the sirocco. And
still the young man marched ahead. Always upwards! The landscape grew
more savage. They bent round a corner and gound themselves skirting a
precipice. The bishop glanced down in trepidation. There lay the sea,
with not a boat in sight. As he continued to look the horizon
oscillated; the ground sank under his feet and blue waters seemed to
heave and rise up towards him. He shut his eyes in a fit of dizziness
and grasped a rock. Its burning touch revived him.

Then on again. Always upwards.

"Do walk a little more slowly," said the bishop, puffing and wiping his
face. "We must be well above the level of the Old Town by this time. A
wild scramble. How much higher are we going?"

"Here we are. This is the place I meant."

"Charming, I must say! But aren't we a little too near the edge of the
cliff? It makes me feel funny, as if I were in a balloon."

"Oh, we'll get used to it. Let's sit down, Mr. Heard."

Still distrustful of his companion, the bishop made himself comfortable
and glanced around. They were high up; the view embraced half the
island. The distant volcano confronting him was wreathed in sullen grey
smoke that rose up from its lava torrent, and crowned with a menacing
vapour-plume. Then an immensity of sea. At his feet, separated from
where he sat by wide stony tracts tremulous with heat, lay the Old
Town, its houses nestling in a bower of orchards and vineyards. It
looked like a shred of rose-tinted lace thrown upon he landscape. He
unraveled those now familiar thoroughfares and traced out, as a map,
the more prominent buildings--the Church, the Municipality, the old
Benedictine Monastery where Duke Alfred, they say, condescendingly
invited himself to dine with the monks every second month in such state
and splendour that, the rich convent revenues being exhausted, His
Highness was pleased to transfer his favours to the neighboring
Carthusians who went bankrupt in their turn; he recognized Count
Caloveglia's place and, at the furthest outskirts, the little villa Mon
Repos.

Where was she now, his cousin?

Reposing, no doubt, like all sensible folks.

And his eye wandered to the narrow pathway along the precipice where he
had walked with her in the evening light--that pathway which he had
suggested railing in, by reason of its dangers. A section of the
horrible face of the cliff was exposed, showing that ominous
coloration, as though splotched with blood, which he had noticed from
the boat. The devil's rock! An appropriate name. "Where the young
English lord jump over...."

It was the stillest hour of the day. Not a soul in sight. Not a
particle of shade. Not a breath of air. A cloudless sky of inky
blueness.

To Mr. Heard's intense relief Denis had settled down, apparently for
ever. He lay on his stomach like a lizard, immovable. His head,
sheltered by a big hat, rested upon his jacket which he had rolled up
into a sort of cushion; one bare sunburnt arm was stretched to its full
length on the seared ground. What a child he was, to drag one up to a
place like this in the expectation of seeing something unearthly! Mr.
Heard was not quite satisfied about him. Perhaps he was only feigning.

Time passed. Do what he would to keep awake, the bishop felt his
eyelids drooping--closing under the deluge of light. Once more there
approached him that spirit of malevolence brooding in the tense sunny
calm, that baleful emanation which seemed to drain away his powers of
will. It laid a weight upon him. He felt into an unquiet slumber.

Presently he woke up and turned sharply to look at his companion. Denis
had not stirred an inch from his voluptuous pose. A queer boy. Was he
up to some mystification?

The landscape all around was scarred and deserted. How silent a place
can be, he thought. An unhealthy hush. And what a heat! The lava
blocks--they seemed to smoulder and reel in the fiery glare. It was a
deathly world. It reminded him of those illustrations to Dante's
INFERNO. He thought to see the figures of the damned writhing amid
tongues of flame.

His glance fell once more upon the villa of his cousin. Strange! There
were two persons, now, walking along the edge of the cliff. Mere
specks.... He took up his glasses. The specks resolved themselves
into the figures of Mrs. Meadows and Mr. Muhlen.

The devil! he thought. What's the meaning of this?

They were moving up and down, at the same spot where he had moved up
and down with her. They seemed to be on friendly terms with one
another. Excellent terms. It looked as if they were laughing now and
then, and stopping occasionally to glance at something, some book or
other object, which the lady carried in her hand. The devil! At times
his cousin seemed to be dangerously near the edge--he caught his breath,
remembering that sensation of giddiness, of gulping terror, with which
he had watched the falcon swaying crazily over the abyss. She was
enjoying it, to all appearances. Then, as they retraced their steps, it
was the man's turn to take the outside of the path. He suffered as
little as she did, evidently, from vertigo. Laughing, and
gesticulating. The devil! What were they talking about? What were they
doing there, at this impossible hour of the day? Five or six times they
went to and fro; and then, suddenly, something happened before Mr.
Heard's eyes--something unbelievable.

He dropped his glasses, but quickly raised them again. There was no
doubt about it. Muhlen was no longer there. He had disappeared. Mrs.
Meadows was walking down towards her villa, in sprightly fashion,
alone.

Mr. Heard felt sick. Not knowing exactly what he was about, he began to
shake Denis with needless violence. The young man turned round lazily,
flushed in the face.

"Where--what--" he began. "Rather funny! You saw it too? Oh, Lord!
You've woke me up. What a bother.... Why, Mr. Heard, what's the
matter with you? Aren't you feeling well?"

The bishop pulled himself together, savagely.

"Touch of the sun, I daresay. Africa, you know! Perhaps we ought to be
going. Give me your arm, Denis, like a good boy. I want to get down."

He was dazed in mind, and his steps faltered. But his brain was
sufficiently clear to realize that his was face to face with an
atrocious and carefully planned murder.



CHAPTER XXXIV



All the traditions of his race, the uprightness of ages of decent
law-abiding culture, the horror of the pure for what is impure rebelled
against this thing which nothing but the testimony of his own eyes
could have made him believe. He felt humiliated, as though he had
received a blow; inclined to slink about and hide his face from other
men. There was contamination in the mere fact of having been a witness.
Oh, it was villainous. How carefully the hour and place had been
chosen!

And he himself, during that evening walk, had given her the idea. He
had said how easily a man could be thrown over at that spot. Very
simple....

His mind would clear up, maybe, in course of time. Meanwhile he
remembered about Retlow-ALIASMuhlen. It came to him in a flash. The man
was his cousin's first husband; possibly her only legal husband, seeing
that she may not have been able to secure sufficient evidence against
him to justify a divorce--had, indeed, lost sight of the scoundrel
altogether for several years prior to her elopement with young Meadows.
It might well be that Muhlen had heard somehow or other of her presence
on Nepenthe, and gone there for the purpose of renewing acquaintance
with her. But this foul crime! For it cannot have been a sudden impulse
on her part. She had been playing with him--leading him on. His visits
to the Old Town, at that quiet hour of the day.... No. She had
carried out her infamous plan after ample premeditation.

Mr. Heard stayed at home, burdened with a hideous secret. Practical
questions began to assail him. What should he do? Wait! he concluded.
Something would be sure to turn up. He was too dazed to think clearly,
as yet. He also disliked that fellow. But one does not murder a man
because one happens to dislike him. One does not murder a man ...
foolish words, that kept on repeating themselves in his mind.

To pardon--yes. Mr. Heard could pardon to any extent. The act of
pardoning: what did it imply? Nothing more than that poor deluded
mortals were ever in need of sympathy and guidance. Anybody could
pardon. To pardon was not enough for a man of Mr. Heard's ruthless
integrity. He must understand. How understand, how interpret, a
dastardly deed like this? What could her motives have been? Of what act
of proposal could the man have been guilty to merit, even in her eyes,
a fate such as this? For evidently, one does not murder a man because
one happens to dislike him--

Denis came to enquire, in the course of the morning. He was anxious to
know how the bishop was feeling after yesterday's attack of sunstroke.

"I have been blaming myself bitterly for dragging you out," he began.
"I--really--"

"Don't think about it! I shall be better soon. I'll remain indoors
to-day."

"You are not looking quite yourself just yet. What a fool I was! I
can't tell you how sorry I am."

"Not worth talking about. You'll stay to luncheon?"

The news of Muhlen's disappearance was spread about that same evening,
and created no surprise whatever. Foreigners had a knack of coming to
the island and mysteriously vanishing again; it was quite the regular
thing to run up accounts all around and then clear out. Hotel-keepers,
aware of this idiosyncrasy on the part of distinguished guests,
arranged their scale of charges accordingly; they made the prices so
high that the honest paid for the dishonest, as with English tailors.
The other tradespeople of the place--the smiling confectioner, the
simple-minded bootmaker and good-natured stationer, the ever-polite
hosier--they all worked on the same principle. They recouped themselves
by fleecing the more ingenuous of their clients.

In the case of Muhlen's occultation there was even less surprise than
usual. Everybody, judging by his lavish display of gold and showy
manner, expected him to depart sooner or later in the orthodox
manner--at night-time, by means of a sailing boat secretly hired,
conscientiously prepaid. His more intimate friends, the Magistrate and
the Commissioner, were less surprised than anyone else. True, Signore
Malipizzo was somewhat hurt, because Muhlen had practically invited him
to stay at his own native town where every kind of amusement was to be
had, the female society being of the choicest. Exuberant women--and
rich! It would have been a pleasant change after the trim but tedious
gardens of Salsomaggiore. He had strong homes, however, of receiving a
letter from some safe place outside the dominions, making an
appointment for the holidays. For form's sake, of course, he promptly
initiated the ordinary judicial enquiries. It would look well in the
records of the Court.

As for Mr. Parker, who was brooding in the retirement of his villa
whither the news had swiftly spread, he merely thought:

"Got off scot free. And without paying his Club account, I'll bet.
Bolted. Lucky devil. That's where the casual visitor has the pull over
a resident official like myself. Cleared out! I'm glad I never had any
money to lend him. Touched a good few of them, I'll be bound."

Within an hour or so of the magistrate's formal enquiries led to a
startling discovery. Muhlen's room in the hotel was broken open, and
his property searched. No letters could be found conveying any clue as
to his whereabouts. But--what was almost incredible--there was loose
money lying about. A more minute investigation proved that the
gentleman had dressed himself with considerable care prior to leaving
the establishment for the last time. He had changed his socks and other
underwear--yes, he had donned a clean shirt. The old one, blue-striped,
which he had been seen to wear at breakfast, was lying negligently
across the back of a chair with a pair of costly enameled links, of
azure colour to match, in the cuffs. Moreover, in a small box hidden
beneath some collars in a drawer were found a few foreign bank-notes, a
ring or two, and a handful of gold coins such as he was in the habit of
carrying about his person. The judge, who superintended the researches,
caused these valuables to be impounded, sealed, and deposited in the
Court of Justice.

The discovery put a fresh and ominous complexion on the affair. When a
man means to bolt, he does not leave portable jewelry--an enameled pair
of links--behind him. And even if, in the hurry and scurry of departure,
he does overlook such elegant trifles, he never forgets to take his
money; least of all a man like Muhlen.

A lengthy deposition was signed by the hotel proprietor. It set forth,
in reference to Muhlen's general habits, that this gentleman had
hitherto not attended to his account; he had not been urgently pressed
for a settlement. One did not like to incommode foreign visitors with
bills; it annoyed them so much that they sometimes migrated to other
hotels and made debts there, debts which in certain unexpected cases
were liquidated in full while the former and equally legitimate ones
remained unpaid--which was disheartening. In regard to his recent mode
of life, the document contained the suggestive fact that Muhlen had not
taken his midday meal at the hotel for some time past. He was strangely
fond of going out in the late mornings, the proprietor averred; it
might be, to bathe; he returned at about five in the afternoon after
lunching, presumably, in some small restaurant by the shore.

This declaration, signed by a respected citizen, soon leaked into
publicity. Taken in conjunction with the discovery of his money it was
an eye-opener to the whole community, and to nobody more than to the
judge himself. Signor Malipizzo argued, with his usual penetration,
that Muhlen had intended to return to his quarters as he had always
done of late. The ANIMUS REVERTENDI was abundantly proven by the
sleeve-links and loose cash. He had not returned. Ergo, something
untoward had happened. Untoward things may be divided, for the sake of
convenience, into two main classes, sections, or categories:

1. Accidents.
2. Foul play.

Which was it?

Signor Malipizzo dismissed as untenable the hypothesis of a clandestine
withdrawal from local creditors. By way of clearing up the last vestige
of doubt, however, and also for the sake of appearances (seeing that a
wise magistrate is supposed to take nothing for granted) he called for
depositions for the sailors and fishermen. It was a superfluous piece
of work, a pure formality; he knew beforehand what they would say. They
always said the same thing. They said it. Interrogated on oath they
declared, one and all, that no person answering to the description of
Muhlen had appeared on the beach for a long time; not for the last
eight months and twelve days, to be quite accurate; much less had such
a one engaged a vessel. The jovial but conservative sea-folk never
varied their utterance on those many solemn occasions when a foreigner,
for the purpose of evaporating, paid in advance for the hire of a boat,
or was supposed to have done so. Albeit even ignorant people attached
no significance to this statement, it went for what it was worth as
cumulative evidence.

The sight of that loose cash would have been quite enough for a man of
Signor Malipizzo's discernment. Muhlen had not bolted. Nor was he the
kind of man to lose his life by an accident. Not he! Muhlen was careful
of his skin. Ergo, his disappearance was due to something which came
under the second class, section, or category. He had been done away
with.

The magistrate, thinking of those summer holidays, began to be really
vexed; so did Mr. Parker, who soon learned the result of these
enquiries and regretted that his mourning retirement prevented him from
issuing forth and telling everybody what he thought of this new
disgraceful scandal. His English blood revolted at the idea of a
harmless tourist, a prominent member of the Alpha and Omega Club, being
callously murdered. Would these people never get civilized? He was glad
to hear, at all events, that the judge was doing something.

Signor Malipizzo was doing a good deal. He meant to sift the thing to
the bottom. His energy, hitherto simulated, was now set genuinely at
work to discover indications of the murderer--indications of his missing
friend. But Nepenthe is not a good place for finding corpses. The
island is full of fathomless rents and fissures. A good many
foreigners, especially such as were known to carry loose gold in their
pockets, had been suspected of falling into them without leaving a
trace behind. Yet a thorough search was instituted, for he knew that
criminals were not always as clever as they thought themselves; some
insignificant relic might turn up--a shred of clothing or so forth. Such
things were occasionally picked up on Nepenthe; nobody knew to whom
they belonged. The Cave of Mercury, on being searched, yielded nothing
but a trouser button, apparently of English manufacture. Enquiries were
also made as to when the ill-starred gentleman had last been seen, and
where. Finally, the judge drew up a list, a fairly long list, of all
the suspicious characters on the place with a view to placing them
under lock and key, in expectation of further developments. Such was
the customary procedure; one must assume the worst. If innocent, they
might of course regain their liberty in a year or two.

It stands to reason that a good many people had noticed Muhlen on the
morning of his disappearance. One cannot walk about Nepenthe at that
hour of the day without being seen, and Muhlen was sufficiently
conspicuous. But everyone knew what was in store for him if he admitted
such a fact, to wit, an application of paragraph 43 of the 92nd section
of the Code of Criminal Procedure, according to which any and every
witness of this kind is liable to be segregated from his family and
kept under arrest for an indefinite length of time, pending the
instruction of a trial which might take half a century. Nobody,
therefore, was fool enough to admit having encountered him--nobody save
a half-witted youth who fatuously confided to a policeman that the had
met the gentleman somewhere in the neighbourhood of the bibliographer's
villa about the hour of midday. Under ordinary circumstances Signor
Malipizzo would have been delighted to lay sacrilegious hands on Mr.
Eames, whose Olympic aloofness had always annoyed him and against whom
a case could now be got up, on the strength of these indications.
Somewhere in the neighbourhood of the villa--that was quite sufficient
to warrant an arrest.

The boy in question happened to be a relation of his arch-enemy, the
parish priest. Better still. Chuckling at the happy coincidence, he
forgot all about Mr. Eames, and gave orders for the other to be
conveyed to the guard-house, searched, and interrogated, arguing
plausibly that a person of his mental instability would be sure to give
himself away by some stupid remark.

Things turned out better than he had dared to hope. Under the
prisoner's clothing was discovered a gold coin of foreign nationality
attached, by a piece of string, round his neck. For all one knew, it
might have been Muhlen's. The interrogating carbineer who is invested,
during such preliminary enquiries, with quasi-judicial functions--being
permitted to assume the role of prosecuting or defending counsel, or to
remain sternly unbiased, as he feels inclined--desired to learn how he
had come by this jewel.

He received it long ago from his mother, he said, as a talisman against
the moonsickness which had tormented him in childhood. Replying, in
stammering and dazed fashion, to further questions, he gave it to be
understood that nobody had ever set eyes on the coin in question; he
was afraid of showing it, lest someone should take it from him by
force. He loved the coin. He got it from his mother.

"Ah!" said the friendly policeman. "And your mother, now--could she
perhaps tell us when she gave it to you?"

"My mother is in Paradise."

"Dead, is she? H'm. That looks queer, my young friend. Very fishy. You
should be more careful in little things like that. She ought to have
been kept alive, you know. Anybody can say they had gold coins given
them by dead mothers, don't you see? Rather a thin trick. Can't you
suggest something better? Cheer up, boy! You needn't tremble all over.
Look, I am writing it down, and you must put your name to it
afterwards. Think--little. A living uncle, for instance--if he came into
Court and testified that he had given you the coin, why, it might make
all the difference and get you out of a nasty scrape. Surely you've got
an uncle or something? How about His Reverence the PARROCO? Couldn't he
swear--?"

"My mother is in Paradise."

"In Paradise, is she? That's where you ought to be, my son. Just sign
this declaration, please. Then perhaps you will meet your mother sooner
than you expect. Can't read or write? Well, put your cross to it and
may the Madonna help you! For I can't. I've done my best to be
impartial, but God alone can steer a fool. He makes a specialty of it,
they tell me. If so, you've got a sporting chance...."

Overjoyed with this incriminating deposition, His Worship gave orders
for the prisoner's formal arrest. Aloud he remarked:

"What have I always said? Beware of wimple folks. They are the deep
ones. Their naivete is nothing but a disguise. Here we have a case in
point. This boy, from all accounts, is the pure type of the callous
murderer. He stutters. He makes uncalled-for gurglings of a bestial
nature. He has pendulous ears, and certain other stigmata of
degeneration which are familiar to all conversant with criminal
anthropology. Of course he denies everything. But mark my words! After
six or seven months, when the prison diet begins to take effect, he
will confess. I know the species; it is all too common. Meanwhile we
must congratulate ourselves on having tracked down the culprit so
soon."

To condemn for homicide the cousin of a Catholic priest warmed the
cockles of his free-thinking heart. In fact, on second thoughts, it was
better than if he had caught the real murderer who might have turned
out to be an atheist, which would have been bad enough--or possibly a
freemason, which would have been really awkward. The news spread
rapidly over the island, and caused wild rejoicings among the
anti-clericals.

The rejoicings were of brief duration.

Torquemada, as usual, was in fighting trim. Like all God-fearing
ascetics, he was a man-eater at heart. He made up his mind long ago to
eat the judge, whom he considered an offence to Heaven and earth--the
official mouthpiece of the devil. Up to the present he had bided his
time, waiting for a good opportunity. The time was now ripe.

Not that he greatly loved his cousin. The family to which the unhappy
youth belonged was of no credit or use to himself, and this particular
member was worse than useless, being afflicted with an unpardonable
vice--lack of judgment. His stupidity had already got him into a number
of minor scrapes. As a child he annoyed foreigners by ingenuous
requests for money, stole flowers from neighbours' gardens because they
were so irresistibly pretty, tied saucepans to their cats because they
had such irresistibly long tails and made such irresistibly droll
movements and noises in order to get rid of them, frightened old ladies
by making faces at them; sometimes, by way of a change, he threw off a
fit; later on, he had taken to smashing crockery, mooning about the
vineyards, forgetting errands entrusted to him, throwing stones at
passing carriages and making a general nuisance of himself. The PARROCO
knew that he had been dismissed as incompetent by tradespeople to whom
he was apprenticed, by farmers who had employed him as a labourer. He
could not even repeat his Ave Maria without producing sinister
crepitations from his gullet. And now he had crowned all by this
surpassing act of imprudence. If he had only kept his mouth shut, like
everybody else. But there! What could you expect from a fool?

A genuine murderer--it was most irreligious, of course. Still, some
homicides were fairly justifiable, others almost meritorious; and a
criminal of this kind showed, in every case, undeniable traces of
manliness; one could not help respecting him in an oblique sort of
fashion. But a fool! Torquemada, the zealous priest, the man of God,
could never quite repress the promptings of his blood. He had all the
fanatic's appreciation of violent methods; all the Southerner's
fondness for a miscreant, and contempt for a simpleton. A mere
fool--what's the use of him on earth? Had the culprit been any ordinary
Christian, His Reverence would not have dreamt of interfering; gladly
would he have let him spend the remainder of his day sin prison which
everybody knew to be the best place for stupid people--it kept them out
of mischief.

But this was not an ordinary Christian. He was a relation. A relation!
That meant that one must show fight for him, if only for the sake of
public appearances.

He held a hurried council with his family and, half an hour later, a
second one with the more influential members of the priesthood. It was
decided, in both cases, that the occasion was favourable for a
long-deferred contest between the Powers of Light and the powers of
darkness, the Catholic Church and modernism, the Clergy of Nepenthe and
the secular authority of law and order as personified by that judge in
whom all evil, public and private, flowed together. A noble parting
cheque which he had just received from Mr. van Koppen for some urgent
repairs to the parish organ came in handy. It would enable him to face
the adversary with good hopes of success. To his friends he said:

"An insult to my family! I shall not take it lying down. Let them see
what a humble servant of God can do."

So saying, he girded his loins for the fray, walked in person to the
post office and wrote out a lengthy telegram to the redoubtable Don
Giustino Morena, the parliamentary representative of Nepenthe who, as
readers of the newspapers were aware, happened to be taking a brief
holiday among his own people in the South. It was a judiciously
flattering dispatch. It prayed the famous lawyer-politician to
undertake the defence of a relation, an orphan, a mere child, unjustly
accused of murder and arbitrarily imprisoned, and to deign to accept a
pitiful honorarium of five thousand francs--the largest sum which a
parish priest, poor but jealous of the honour of his family, could
scrape together. If the great man accepted the offer, he might arrive
by the nest day's boat. There was a chance, thought the PARROCO, of his
doing so. Don Giustino was an ardent Catholic; he might be favourably
impressed by the modest petition of a clergyman in his constituency. He
had promised over and over again to visit his Nepenthean constituents.
He would now be killing two birds with one stone.

Five minutes, under ordinary circumstances, were wont to elapse ere an
item of private news could percolate out of the post office and become
public property. Such was the portentous import of this message that it
did not percolate at all. It flashed, and produced forthwith a feeling
of joyous elation at the prospect of lively events in the near
future--of a battle between the Vatican and the Quirinal. Coming on the
top of Muhlen's murder--which was a decided improvement upon his alleged
flight--it caused the citizens to talk in excited and almost random
fashion about what was coming next. Alone, the members of the Alpha and
Omega Club, thanks to the benign influence of Parker's poison, received
the successive waves of information with composure, and preserved from
beginning to end their sense of proportion.

"Heard the news? Muhlen's bolted."

"I thought he would."

"They say he owes a good deal."

"Obviously. Else he wouldn't have bolted. Good riddance, anyhow."

"That's what I say. But he owes me a lot of whiskies, the blighter."

"You're lucky. Gone off with thirty francs of mine."

"Damn his eyes. I expect we're not the only ones."

"Not by a long chalk. Come and have a drink."

"Heard the news? Muhlen's murdered."

"Serve him bloody well right. The blackguard owes me two francs fifty.
I'll bet it was some money business."

"Not a bit of it. A little girl, you know. Got a knife in the stomach.
About eleven at night, from all accounts. They heard him squealing a
mile off."

"I don't believe it. He was not that kind."

"Not that kind? What do you mean?"

"Not that kind."

"Not THAT kind? Really? Go on. You don't say so, by Jove! What makes
you think it?"

"Think? I don't think. I happen to know. You pay for my peg and I'll
tell you all about it...."

"Heard the news? Don Giustino's coming over."

"The old assassin. What of it?"

"Good business! One in the eye for Mali--what's his name. There'll be
the hell of a row. We ought to be grateful to Muhlen for this
amusement."

"Damned if we ought. Unless he got himself killed on purpose to amuse
us. And even then it would have amused me more if he had paid me back
those seventeen francs."

"You're very hard to please to-day."

"So would you be, if you'd been as raddled as I was last night. You
ought to see the inside of my head, you ought. There's room for a coal
barge, in there."

"That's easily remedied. Toss up for drinks."

"Don't mind if I do...."

Signor Malipizzo heard the news as he was sitting down to luncheon. At
first he thought the priest had gone crazy. Don Giustino--good God! Five
thousand francs. Where had he found the money? Then he remembered
hearing about old Koppen's cheque for the organ. Those confounded
foreigners, always mixing themselves up in local concerns! If the
PARROCO were really poor, as these hypocrites of Christians professed
to be, he could never have run to it. Don Giustino. What an awful turn
of events. And all because Muhlen got himself murdered. These
confounded foreigners!

His heart sank within him. He had looked forward to keeping the
priest's cousin for a year or two in gaol, previous to his trial. That
would have to be altered. If Don Giustino came, the proceedings must be
fixed for next morning--it was the merest act of courtesy towards a man
of his standing, a man whom one must conciliate at any cost. He blamed
himself for arresting that young idiot. It threatened to bring him into
undesired prominence. Hitherto, by reason of his sheer insignificance,
he had escaped the great Catholic deputy's eye. As Magistrate of
Nepenthe, who cared what political or religious views he professed or
in what manner he administered the law? All this was now changed. He
was in the limelight. It might end--who knows where? He had other
enemies on the island beside the clericals; the arrival of Don Giustino
might lead to a general revision of his judicial labours. To-morrow
perhaps he would have to confront the monster. Don Giustino! He knew
him by reputation. A Camorrista of the blackest dye. He took no
chances. He never threatened; he performed. Everybody knew that. Signor
Malipizzo did not like the prospect of losing his lucrative job. Still
less did he fancy the notion of receiving a charge of buck-shot in his
liver, one evening from behind a wall. That was Don Giustino's cheerful
way with people who annoyed him. Those infernal clericals; their
sanguinary, out-of-date methods! Papacy and Camorra--interconvertible
terms--who could plumb their depths? The Masons were different. They
fought for the enlightenment of a people deluded by priestly snares and
intimidated by the threats of assassins. Don Giustino. Holy Mother of
God! What would to-morrow bring?

Thinking thus, the judge eyed his victuals resentfully. His appetite
was gone--he was beginning to feel sick. Suddenly he pushed his plate
away from him and hobbled out of the room, even forgetting to finish
his wine. He limped across the broiling market-place to give the
necessary orders to his faithful and experienced clerk who, having
likewise got wind of that telegram, was not unprepared for some change
of mind on the part of his chief.

"The young idiot must come up for trial to-morrow, if the assassin
arrives."

"A sound suggestion," the grey-haired one replied. "It will take the
wind out of his sails. It will prove--"

"Of course it will. And now, Don Carlo, go and take your little nap. I
will stay here, to put my papers in order. May your dreams be happy."

The judge was dowered with extreme irascibility of temper, due to his
chronic valetudinarian condition. He, too--within the limits of
propriety--was not going to take things lying down. So much was certain.
At first he was too agitated to be able to collect his thoughts.
Gradually, as he moved about those rooms, calmness and confidence
returned. He was alone. It was very warm and quiet here, amid these
scenes of his many little triumphs. The look of the archives, the
familiar smell of the place, was reassuring. He began to feel at ease
once more. Ideas came to him.

He signed warrants for the arrest of the Messiah, Krasnojabkin and some
fifteen others of those who had escaped his wrath on the previous
occasion. They would be under lock and key within two hours. Don
Giustino would never interfere on behalf of these aliens. Nor would any
one else. An inspiration! It would proclaim his zeal for the public
order--his official independence of mind.

And--yes. There was one other little thing.

He hobbled to where the various PIECES JUSTIFICATIVES were lying in
their sealed envelopes. He took up the receptacle containing the gold
talisman which had been sequestrated from the priest's nephew, and
broke it open. It could always be sealed up again. The coin, attached
to its string, fell out; it was an old-fashioned medal--Spanish,
apparently. He fingered it awhile. Then, opening the packet which held
Muhlen's gold, he carefully examined the contents. Five or six of these
coins were of the same kind. French Napoleons. That was lucky. Any
stick was good enough to beat a dog with. This was a particularly good
stick. He bored a hole through one of the Napoleons and placed it on
the culprit's string, after removing the original talisman, which he
bestowed in his own pocket. That done, he sealed up the two parcels
again, conscientiously.

"There!" he said. "He laughs best who laughs last. Don Giustino is a
clever man. But the devil himself could not prove the prisoner
innocent, in the face of evidence like this. Down with the Pope!"

Never had he felt so enlightened, so gloriously freemasonish.



CHAPTER XXXV



The commendatore Giustino Morena--familiarly known as Don Giustino or,
by his enemies, as "the assassin"--was a Southerner by birth, a city
product. From low surroundings he had risen to be a prominent member of
the Chamber of Deputies and one of the most impressive figures in the
country.

As a child he was apprenticed to a cobbler. There, bending over his
work on the pavement outside the shop-door, his blue eyes and curly
fair hair, his rosy cheeks, his winning smile, his precocious retorts,
attracted the most favourable comment from the passers-by and secured
him an unfailing supply of chocolates and cigarettes. People liked him
so much that he quickly learned not only how to mend shoes but a good
many other things which they were anxious to teach him. His grown-up
friends vied with one another for a place in his affections and a
certain scandalous affair with knives, which somehow or other got into
the daily press where it had no business to be, put the seal on his
reputation in the quarter.

"That boy will go far!" the old men and women used to say. "Only look
at his blue eyes. Blessed the mother that bore him, whoever she
was"--for nobody even pretended to know.

They were right; as old folks are apt to be. The victor in the
disreputable affray happened to be a gentleman of middle age, a
distinguished ornament of the Black Hand. No happier fate could have
been devised for Giustino than to live under the patronage of such an
individual. He took charge of the little fellow, and was not slow in
discovering that his protege possessed not only a muscular framework
and ready wit, but the malice, the concentrated ruthlessness and
rapacity of fifty devils rolled into one. Something could be made out
of that boy, he concluded; the Society, always ready to adopt promising
neophytes on the recommendation of a qualified practitioner like
himself, would doubtless enrol him in due course. Meanwhile he
instructed him, by precept and example, how to be religious in the
manner most pleasing to the Madonna. He narrated the Lives of the
Saints, forced him to attend Mass and confess himself to one of the
Society's trusted priests and taught him, above all things, to hate the
Government because it oppressed the Pope and the poor. One day he said:

"You must now attend evening classes. I think you will do well at our
school of the Holy Cross. Your outfit is exceptional. Among other
things you have the great advantage that the first and second fingers
of both your hands are of equal length. That augurs well! God has
favoured you, for many lads have to lengthen the first one
artificially, which is apt to weaken the joints."

The Master and Director drew good salaries from the numerous pupils at
this institution. Everything useful to young boys was taught here save
only religion. Seeing that all the scholars were drawn from families
distinguished for their piety and adherence to the Pope, the Director
considered a religious training to be superfluous--his pupils learnt
these things on their mothers' knees. Giustino soon acquired the
jargon; he passed his examination in fifteen articles, in secrecy,
swiftness of foot and nimbleness of hand. The latter was taught on a
clothed wooden figure out of whose pockets the students were obliged to
extract handkerchiefs, gold watches and jewelry with such dexterity
that not one of the little bells, which dangled from its hat, gave
forth the slightest sound; that stage passed, the art was practised on
the person of the Director himself who, walking through the streets as
an ordinary citizen, was supposed to have his pockets picked in the
approved professional manner. Those who failed to come up to the
standard were thrashed savagely three or four times; if they still
failed, they were sent back to their parents with a polite
recommendation that they should be taught some other trade. Giustino
was seldom punished. On the contrary, the Director was so enamoured of
his progress and blue eyes that he entered him as a fox long before the
regular three years' course was up, and offered to tattoo the symbol of
proficiency, a cross, on the back of his right hand.

The patron, while proud of his young friend, did not intend to spoil
his chances in after life by an indelible bodily mark of this kind
however honourably attained. He had other designs for him. To pass the
next year or two, he made arrangements for Giustino, now grown lean and
wolfish, to be officially received into the Black Hand. As probationer
he was the delight of his superiors; he went through the various tests
with phenomenal rapidity and gave abundant proofs of manliness. At the
age of sixteen he had already killed three men--one of them being a
policeman who was suspected of infidelity towards the Society. It was
then that the protector, who was no fool, spoke to him a second time,
saying:

"As you know, my son, I can neither read nor write. Those were not
considered respectable accomplishments, in my day, for a lad of spirit
or a man of honour. Devil's work! But we live in an effeminate age.
Virtue is at a discount. The wise man, while observing these things
with regret, adapts himself to them. He marches with the times. They
call us reactionaries. It depends upon boys like you to show the world
what reactionaries are good for. The whole town has already learnt to
respect your manly instincts. You must now go further and learn to read
and write. You will then enter the University. There you will study law
and politics. You will then enter Parliament. There you will represent
our cause. The means--the money? Trust the Society! Only be a credit to
your friends, defend the poor, and never forget to say your prayers.
Then the good God will reward your efforts."

This is precisely what the good God did. Within a short space of time
the young deputy had made a name for himself; he was recognized as one
of the few representatives of the Black Hand whose word could be
implicitly relied upon. He had a share in everything; commissions and
percentages poured in upon him. After making an example of half a dozen
tiresome persons by having them quietly stabbed or shot--nothing was
ever proved against him though everybody knew it was his work--he
experienced no further opposition in his political career. Morena never
threatens, they say; he performs. A safe man! From a timorous Liberal
Government, his avowed enemies, he extorted the title of Commendatore;
not because he attached any value to such outward distinctions but
because, like a true Camorrista, he never lost an opportunity of
showing that he could do what he pleased with everybody, Government
included. It was an open secret that the next vacant portfolio of
Justice would be at his disposal. All this of course was years and
years ago.

To these arts of statecraft he added a quite unusual legal acumen and
forensic ability. For the last fifteen years he had been in receipt of
large annual retaining fees from the principal commercial firms of the
country; that of one shipping company alone amounted to fifty thousand
francs. They found it worth their while since, without doing a stroke
of work for them, he gave his tacit support to their most nefarious
undertakings. A useful man! As a lawyer in private cases his reputation
was tremendous. Judges and juries had been known to faint with emotion
at his dramatic gestures, his fiery eloquence. He could pull anybody
out of a scrape. Wherever he spoke the Court was crowded to listen to
his impassioned arguments, to look upon the cold fire of his blue eyes,
his carefully adjusted dress, his fair hair turning to grey, his smooth
face which he kept shaven for no other reason--so he used to
declare--than because he reverenced the fashions of the old papal
regime. "Just like an Englishman," people said.

He had lately put on flesh; it inspired confidence. Moreover, he never
married; that also was something out of the common--it pointed to
independence, to lack of ordinary human frailties. In short, he was so
perfect a compound of vice and intelligence that even his dearest
friends could not put their finger on the exact spot where the one
began and the other ended. And the whole of this unique mixture was
placed at the disposal of the Vatican. Don Giustino was the implacable
enemy of modernism, a living disproof of the vulgar assertion that
freemasonry is the sole key to success in modern Italy. A formidable
man! And growing more formidable every day, as his wealth increased.
His income was already such that he could afford to be honest; nothing
but the force of old habits kept him from developing into a positive
saint.

It stands to reason that a person of this caliber would have sniffed at
a paltry remuneration of five thousand francs offered by an obscure
country priest. But Don Giustino was a good son of the Church. He had
never forgotten the recommendation of his old patron to succour the
humble and distressed; he specialized, as a lawyer, in defending
murderers and rescuing them from the secular arm. They were enthusiasts
suffering under a sense of wrong; they belonged to the class of the
honest poor; they were victims of governmental greed and social
injustice. Motives, not deeds! he would say. And the motives of the
poor must be judged by other standards than those of the rich. They
have other lives, other temptations. Trust the people. The people,
under proper guidance of the priests....

Although it was hardly likely that the great man would deign to accept
Torquemada's invitation, yet half the town was assembled at the harbour
to await the arrival of the evening boat and catch a glimpse, if
possible, of the famous Camorrista. And there he was! He leaned over
the taffrail, easily recognizable from his pictures in the illustrated
papers. He was dressed in a felt hat, brown boots, and light grey
clothes--just like anybody else. Presently he descended to the quay,
followed by a tall and solid-looking young valet. He was wreathed in
smiles. A whiff of political life, of busy deeds in the capital,
exhaled from his person. The Mayor of Nepenthe, a devout Catholic,
deferentially shook hands and introduced the PARROCO and other
notabilities. They drove up together. It was all delightfully breezy
and informal. But men were aware that in this little episode there
lurked more than met the eye; that the arrival of Commendatore Morena
was an occasion worthy to be chronicled in the annals of the island.
Not only was it his first appearance as a deputy among his
constituents. That alone would have been an event. The avowed purpose
of his visit, to rescue a criminal from the properly constituted
authorities, gave it the character of a pro-Vatican demonstration--a
slap in the face of King and Constitution.

An intimate little dinner had been arranged by the parish priest in
order to give the principal clergy and a few favoured laymen of their
party an opportunity of paying their respects. No one knew what took
place at this repast save that the distinguished guest was in wonderful
humour; he joked and laughed and told funny stories; he was enchanted
with the wine and the excellent local crayfish and announced his
intention of buying a little villa wherein to spend the evening of his
days, after his public labours were over. An ideal spot! Lucky people,
he called them. It was most unfortunate that he would be obliged to
leave by to-morrow's midday boat, and so miss the greater part of the
festival of Saint Eulalia.

Another little item of news was allowed to filter out and sedulously
propagated, to the effect that the Commendatore had refused, politely
but firmly, to accept any remuneration for his services. Such a thing
could not be thought of! Pleasure and duty rarely coincided as in this
case, where it was both a pleasure to come to this charming island and
a duty to say a few words in Court about this unfortunate young man--to
defend the oppressed to the utmost of his miserable ability, and
thereby approve himself a good son of the Church.

"Your servant in everything!" he added. "And if you would now accept
from me a humble donation of one thousand francs to be distributed, as
His Reverence thinks best, among the needy poor of Nepenthe, you would
indeed make me your debtor for life!"

Such was the great man's speech, as reported. It was a pure invention
on the part of Torquemada who, being a high-principled ecclesiastic,
had clear-cut orthodox views anent the utility of pious legends. He
knew it would sound well among the populace. He hoped it would vex the
envious magistrate into a fit of colic. He argued that the great man
himself, in the event of its coming to his ears, would not be otherwise
than gratified by a godly fable so strictly in keeping with his
character.

Don Francesco alone, the smiling terrestrial beast, the lover of wine
and women, held aloof from the entertainment, alleging a gastric
indisposition and doctor's orders. He did not see eye to eye with
Torquemada on matters such as these. Don Francesco disliked all
measures of violence, Camorra or freemasonry, Vatican or
Quirinal--disliked them so much that he would have hated them had he
been built, like the PARROCO, on hating lines. He was too unwieldy, too
fond of life, too indulgent towards himself and others to experience at
mention of Don Giustino's name anything but a certain feeling of
discomfort--a feeling which his acute intelligence, embedded under those
rolls of fat, enabled him to formulate with warmth and precision.

"I know quite well," he said to Torquemada, "that he calls himself a
good son of the Church. So much the worse for the Church. I understand
he is a prominent member of the Government. So much the worse for the
Government. And I realize that, but for his intervention, this harmless
individual might spend the remainder of his life in prison. So much the
worse for all of us, who derive justice from so tainted a source. As to
dining at the same table with him--no. Does not the whole world know his
history? The animal! He would make me vomit. And you will believe me
when I say, my dear PARROCO, that I do not look my best on such
occasions."

Torquemada shook his head, mournfully. It was by no means the first
time that he had suspected his popular colleague of being a lukewarm
Christian.



CHAPTER XXXVI



The market-place was filled to over-brimming. Everybody discussed the
near events in the Court of Justice. It promised to be a bad day for
Signor Malipizzo. And yet people could not help admitting how clever he
had been to lock up those Russians. It was the best thing he could have
done under the circumstances. It proved his freedom from anti-Catholic
prejudices. It made him look icily objective.

Torquemada, on hearing that the prisoner's gold coin corresponded with
those others which had been in the possession of the murdered man,
thought it deplorable. Here was plain evidence of his cousin's guilt!
Most deplorable. Still, the victim being not only a foreigner but a
Protestant was a considerable mitigation of the offence from the moral
and religious point of view, and possibly from the legal one as well.
Anyhow, what did legal aspects matter? Had he not engaged Don Giustino?
Innocent or guilty, the prisoner would be released. And, on second
thoughts, he discovered him to be worthy of the great man's golden
eloquence. He was not altogether a fool. There was a touch of manliness
about him; he was decidedly a brighter lad than he looked. He deserved
to be released.

Ten o'clock sounded.

The Court had never been so crowded. There was barely standing room.
Sunlight poured in through the windows which had not been cleaned for
many long months; the atmosphere was already rather oppressive. It was
a stuffy place at all times, reeking of old tobacco smoke and humanity.

Everybody was still save the old grey-headed clerk who fussed about
with papers. Signor Malipizzo, after a deferential but dignified bow to
the famous lawyer, had taken his seat on the raised platform facing the
public whence he was wont to dispense justice. Nailed against the wall,
directly over his head, was a large white paper bearing the printed
words "La Legge": the law. It dominated the chamber. On one side of
this could be seen a coloured portrait of the Sovereign in the
bersagliere uniform; a fierce military glance shot out of his eyes from
under that helmet whose plume of nodding feathers made it look three
sizes too large for his head. On the other side hung a representation
of the Madonna, simpering benignly in a blue tea-gown besprinkled with
pearls and golden lace. The spittoon, which His Worship required
continually during the audiences, was wont to be placed immediately
below this latter picture; it was the magistrate's polite freemasonish
method of expressing his reverence for the Mother of God. Everybody
noticed that on the present occasion this piece of furniture was
located elsewhere. It stood below the Sovereign's portrait. A delicate
compliment to the formidable lawyer-champion of Catholicism, sworn
enemy to the House of Savoy. People commented favourably on this little
detail. How artful of him! they said.

All eyes were fixed upon Don Giustino. He sat there quietly. If he was
bored he certainly did not show it. Now that he was here he would give
these good people a taste of his quality. He knew all about the gold
coin; he was profoundly convinced of the prisoner's guilt. This was
lucky for the young man. Had he thought otherwise he would probably
have refused to take up the case. Don Giustino made a point of never
defending innocent people. They were idiots who entangled themselves in
the meshes of the law; they fully deserved their fate. Really to have
murdered Muhlen was the one and only point in the prisoner's favour. It
made him worthy of his rhetorical efforts. All his clients were guilty,
and all of them got off scot free. "I never defend people I can't
respect," he used to say.

He began his speech in a rambling, desultory sort of fashion and quite
a low tone of voice, as if he were addressing a circle of friends.

A charming place, Nepenthe! He would carry away the pleasantest
memories of its beauty and the kindliness of its inhabitants. It was
like a terrestrial paradise, so verdant, so remote from all danger. And
yet nothing on earth was secure. That volcanic eruption the other
day--what a scare it must have given them! What a lucky escape they had,
thanks to the Divine intervention of the Patron Saint! Hardly any
damage done; no victims worth mentioning. The fertile fields were
intact; mothers and fathers and children could once more go out to
their daily tasks and return in the evening, tired but happy, to gather
round the family board. Family life, the sacred hearth! It was the
pride, the strength, the mainstay of the country; it was the source
whence the rising generation drew their earliest notions of piety and
right conduct. Nothing in the world could replace home influence, the
parents' teaching and example--nothing! And this poor boy, now
threatened with imprisonment, had a mother. He had a mother. Did the
Court appreciate the import of those words? Did they realize what it
meant to shatter that hallowed bond, to deprive the parent of her
offspring's help and consolation--the child of its mother's fostering
care? Let them consider the lives of all t hose great men of the past
who were known to have had mothers--Themistocles, Dante, Virgil, Peter
the Hermit and Madame de Maintenon--why had they achieved distinction in
the world? What was the secret of their greatness? A mother's
affectionate guidance in youth. They had not been torn, as children,
from her loving arms.

A good many people were already sobbing. But the orator had noticed
that something was wrong. He consulted a small scrap of paper and then
continued in the same conversational tones as before.

He had no mother. He was an orphan. An orphan! Did the Court realize
what it meant? No, he dared not ask them to picture to themselves all
that was implied in that bitter word. An orphan. Nobody to instil those
early lessons of piety ... to grow up wild, neglected, despised....
It was impossible for a man to avoid going astray in such terribly
unnatural conditions. Everybody else had parents to counsel and direct
them; he alone was bereft of this blessing. It was cruel, it was
illogical, to apply the same standard to him as to those fortunate
other ones. Let the Court call to mind the names of those who had
deviated from the narrow path of duty; did they not all belong to this
unhappy class? It might safely be inferred that they had no mothers!
Such person were to be pitied and helped, rather than condemned for
what was the fault not of their natures but of their anomalous
situation in life. To rescue a motherless young soul from the brink of
perdition was the noblest task of a Christian. And this was still,
thank Heaven, a Christian country, despite the ever-swelling invasion
of that irreligious foreign element which threatened to break up the
old faith in God. The Madonna was still worshipped; together with the
Saints. Their precious relics and other holy amulets still proved their
efficacy in the hour of danger.

Amulets--ah, that reminded him.

To kill a man with a view to possessing yourself of his substance was
an unpardonable crime. Now what had this boy done? Let them take the
so-called robbery first. Well, no robbery had been committed, in spite
of the notorious fact that this Protestant, this foreigner was known to
be loaded with money. His client had fought down the temptation, the
almost irresistible temptation, of appropriating the gold. Let them
remember that! The minutest investigation failed to reveal anything
save a single coin which he had attached to a string and hung about his
neck. Motives, not deeds! What were his motives for this strange act?
An unconscious application of the homoeopathic principle. He had taken
it as a safeguard, an amulet, in the childish belief that it might
protect him on future occasions against insults such as those he had
undergone.

Then, while the audience were still puzzling what the last words meant,
he suddenly indulged in one of those abrupt transitions for which he
was famous, and burst out:

"Down with foreigners! We Catholics know what foreigners are, how they
work for evil in places high and low. One cannot take up a daily paper
without seeing some exposure of their many-sided viciousness. They
contaminate the land with their godless depravity. Nobody can count on
immunity. The highest officials in the land, the very Ministers of the
Crown, are subjected to their vile disguised attempts at bribery and
corruption, no humble peasant girl, no child, is safe from the
befoulment of their filthy minds. We know them--our police records, the
archives of our Courts of Justice, testify to their demoralizing
agency. A pest, a contagion! Who can tell what proposals were made in
this particular case--what degrading proposals, backed by the insidious
offer of foreign gold? A weak character might have succumbed. But the
victim was made of different stuff. He belonged to another type--the
heroic type. Suffering anguish of soul, he yet preferred honour to
baseness. In self-defence--"

At this point the great Deputy ceased to speak. Signor Malipizzo had
swooned away. He had to be carried out of Court.

It mattered little, for the proceedings were at an end save for a few
formalities. The case was won.

People were rather annoyed at being deprived of one of Don Giustino's
far-famed perorations. It could not be helped. Better luck next time.
Then they asked themselves why the judge had fainted. Some thought it
might be the heat, or a touch of his old complaint. The majority were
agreed that the attack was due to the Deputy's eloquence. And it was
true that he was greatly impressed by the speech, but not quite as much
as all that. He had decided to faint at a critical moment, for the sake
of appearances. It was clever of him. He did it beautifully too; he had
been rehearsing half the night. Don Giustino, on his part, shared the
common opinion and was charmed with this tribute to his genius.
Altogether, the local judge had made a favourable impression on him;
his attitude had been irreproachably correct. He was not a bat fellow,
for a freemason. One might do worse than leave him in possession of his
present appointment on Nepenthe.

The Deputy freed his prisoner; it was unavoidable. But the Russians
remained in gaol, and this was always something to the credit of Signor
Malipizzo....

Madame Steynlin, on hearing of Peter the Great's arrest, was stricken
dumb. She wept the bitterest tears of all her life. Then, with
returning calmness, she remembered Mr. Keith whose friendship with the
magistrate was the common talk of the place. Would he be able to do
anything? Impulsive by nature, she called on that gentleman and poured
out her griefs to him. Mr. Keith was sympathetic. He declared he
understood perfectly. He promised to do his utmost, that very day.

The Master, meanwhile, languished in prison. He had nobody to take his
part, not even among the Little White Cows; the new section, that
clique of young extremists, were only too delighted to have him out of
the way. The communal doctor alone interceded on his behalf, imploring
the judge in the name of the sacred brotherhood of freemasons that he,
the Messiah, should be excarcerated in order that he, the physician,
might be enabled to continue the daily treatment to which the old man
had grown accustomed and for which he was being regularly remunerated.
"Think of my wife and children!" he said to the magistrate.

Signor Malipizzo on this occasion did not mean to be baulked of his
prey. He was in bad humour; Don Giustino had got on his nerves. By
means of a lightning-like discharge of symbols intelligible only to the
Elect he retorted that a physician, who depended for his livelihood
upon a legitimate practice among BONA FIDE patients, was not fit to be
a freemason.

Then the doctor urged the humanitarian aspects of the case. The old man
needed the treatment which could be given in prison just as well; the
fees would doubtless be paid sooner or later.

The magistrate proved inexorable, adamantine. What was good enough for
a native, he argued, was good enough for a vicious old alien. A
stomach-pump in prison! What more? They would be wanting fried fish and
asparagus next.

As a special concession to the Master's age and rank a separate upper
chamber, described as very airy, had been allotted to him in the local
gaol. The poor old man did not know how he got there; they had thrust
him into this strange place and locked the door on him. Long hours had
passed. He sat on an uncomfortable cane-bottomed chair, his hands
folded across his stomach. There was already a slight sense of
oppression in that region of his body. His head, too, felt heavy.
Without knowing how or why, he had fallen into a trap, after the manner
of some dumb beast of earth. When would they take him out again? And
when would that kind gentleman with the machine arrive?

Daylight entered through a small but thickly grated window. Looking out
from where he sat, he could detect neither men nor houses nor
trees--nothing but four rectangular patches of deep blue. The sea! Often
had he wondered about the sea, and why it was there. It had ever been
an enigma to him, this purposeless mass of water. Not even good to
drink. He knew nothing of those fables of the pagans--of old Poseidon
and white-armed Leucothea and the blithe crew of Triton and
silver-footed Thetis moving upon the placid sunlit waters; nothing of
that fair sea-born goddess whose beauty swayed the hearts of men. His
Venus ideals had been of a more terrestrial nature--the wives or
daughters of army generals and state functionaries who desired
advancement, and sometimes got it.

Not even good to drink! There was nothing like this in Holy Russia. God
would never have allowed it. The uselessness of this sea had always
been to him a source of perplexity and even vague apprehension. The
spectacle of this shining immensity troubled his world-scheme. Why did
God create water, when land would have been so much more useful? Often
had he puzzled on the subject.... Why?

But now, in the evening of his life and the extremity of his anguish,
the truth was made manifest. A Revelation drew nigh. It just came to
him.

The fishes.

It was a dying gleam of intelligence, his last inspired thought, his
swan-song. How else could the fishes live save in the water? All these
long years he had remained ignorant of the truth. Ah, if only his
disciples were at hand, to jot it down into that GOLDEN BOOK!

But why--why must the fishes live in water? And why so much water for so
few fishes? Why cannot fishes live on land? Then everybody would be
satisfied. Inscrutable are the ways of God....

And his glazed eye moved wearily from that disquieting expanse of blue
along the wall of his chamber which had once been white and was now
scrawled over with obscene jests and drawings, product of the leisure
hours of generations of prisoners. The writing, like all writing, was
unintelligible to him. But some of the artistic efforts left little to
the imagination. He was saddened, less by homely pictures than by the
unfamiliar script. He had always distrusted the written word. Why all
these strange letterings--so unnecessary, so dangerous to the life of an
orthodox Christian? What one brother has to tell another--why write it
down?

He saw the straw pallet destined for his nocturnal repose. It reminded
him dimly of a similar resting-place during his monastic life. Then,
too, he had slept on a couch near the floor. Flickering visions came to
him of those days, so long ago, ere yet the First Revelation was given
to the world. A breath of old Russia was wafted into his nostrils. He
remembered the lusty, jovial country folk, the songs and dances at
hay-making, the fragrance of the land, the sluggish rivers rolling
their brown mud about the plains, the mild long-drawn evenings. He felt
again that all-pervading charm of sadness, of tender yearning, that
hangs in the pale Russian sky and penetrates to the very soul of the
endless country.

Gloomy autumn days--wet leaves and lowering horizons. The long winter
within doors. Faces appeared to him, faces of old, an endless
procession of faces clear-cut as ever ... his brother monks, bearded
and unkempt ... debauched acolytes ... pilgrims from the Holy Land
... glittering festal robes ... vodka orgies, endless chants and
litanies, holy lamps burning, somber eikons with staring eyes ... the
smell of greasy lukewarm cabbage soup, of unwashed bodies and boot
leather and incense. Holy Russia--it all moved before his eyes in a kind
of melodious twilight. Then the First Revelation. The Man-God.

Man-God. The word filtered through his intelligence. How strange it
sounded. The Man-God--what could it mean.

A sudden change. A life of glory and intrigue. Food on platters of
gold, sparkling wines and laughter. A diamond cross, an imperial gift,
the reward of faithful services. Everybody cringing. Showers of bribes.
Women--always women. A divine life! Nothing but women....

Darkness. Something had happened; they had carried him into a place
full of endless penances, floggings, starvings. Then they accused him
of doing wrong. What was it? The flesh of warm-blooded beasts.... He
had preferred the service of God to that of his earthly master. For
this they banished him and made him suffer. He was dying now--dying to
save mankind. He was giving up his life for sinners. Someone else had
once done the same thing. Who was it? He could not remember. People who
read and write--they know these things. Some saint, possibly; or at
least a man from another province--someone he had never met or spoken
to. A good Russian, whoever it was. But the name--the name had slipped
out of his mind. He always had a good memory for faces, but a bad one
for names.

He was so ill and oppressed too. Worse than before. He felt himself
rotting earthwards, like a fungus of his own native forests under
autumn rains. His body remained inert but his eye, roaming away from
the straw pallet, fixed itself upon the door. When, when would that
kindly gentleman with the instrument arrive?



CHAPTER XXXVII



Concerning the life and death of Saint Eulalia, patroness of Nepenthean
sailors, we possess ample and accurate information.

She was born in 1712 at a remote village in the Spanish province of
Estramadura. Various divine portents accompanied her birth. Her mother
dreamed a strange dream about a sea-serpent; her father was cured of a
painful gouty affection; the image of Saint James of Compostella in the
local church was observed to smile benignly at the very hour of her
entry into the world. At the age of two years and eleven months she
took the vow of chastity. Much difficulty was experienced in keeping
the infant alive; she tormented her body in so merciless a fashion. She
refused to partake of food save once in every five weeks; she remained
immovable "like a statue" for months on end; she wore under her rough
clothing iron spikes which were found, after death, to have entered
deeply into her flesh. She was never known to use a drop of water for
purposes of ablution or to change her underwear more than once a year,
and then only at the order of her confessor who was obliged to be in
daily contact with her. The heat of her body was such that it could not
be touched by human hands. During her frequent trances she spoke
accurately in sixty-nine different languages; there was no hair
whatever on her head which was "spotless as an egg." She put baskets of
sea urchins into her bed and, as a penance for what she called "her
many sins," forced herself to catch the legions of vermin that infested
her brown blanket, count them, separate the males from the females, set
them free once more, and begin over again. She died at the age of
fourteen years and two months. Her corpse forthwith became roseate in
colour, exhaled a delicious odour of violets for twenty weeks, and
performed countless miracles. On dissection, a portrait of Saint James
of Compostella was discovered embedded in her liver.

Saint Eulalia appeared too late to find her proper niche in Monsignor
Perrelli's ANTIQUITIES or to be commemorated in some worthy
architectural monument by the Good Duke Alfred; too late--and this is
doubtless a lucky circumstance--to become the victim of one of Father
Capocchio's offensive sneers. Whoever is interested in her saintly
career may purchase at Nepenthe, for the small sum of sixpence, an
admirable biography by a young Canon of the Church, Don Giacinto
Mellino. It gives a full account of her life and of those nine hundred
and seventy-two miracles of hers which have been authenticated by
eye-witnesses. No need, therefore, to expatiate further.

It stands to reason that Mr. Eames possessed a copy of this treatise.
An ideal annotator, he rarely indulged in speculation; his business was
to discover and co-ordinate references. Nevertheless, in regard to the
earthly life of this particular saint, he used to say: "There are some
things a man cannot help puzzling about." It irked him--her success on
Nepenthe. He knew the sailormen to be a horny-handed, skeptical,
worldly brood. Why had they imported the cult of Eulalia from Spain;
why had they chosen for their patroness a mawkish suffering nonentity,
so different from those sunny goddesses of classical days? He
concluded, lamely, that there was an element of the child in every
Southerner; that men, refusing to believe what is improbable, reserve
their credulity for what is utterly impossible; in brief, that the
prosaic sea-folk of Nepenthe were like everybody else in possessing a
grain of stupidity in their composition--"which does not bring us much
further," he would add....

At the time of this year's festival Mr. Eames was supremely happy.
Another pamphlet had come into his hands, an anonymous pamphlet making
fun of the Duchess whose reception into the Roman Church had been fixed
for the day of Saint Eulalia's festival. It bore the objectionable
title THE DIPPING OF THE DUCHESS and had presumably been indited by
some wag at the Alpha and Omega Club who disapproved of water in every
shape, even for baptismal purposes. The stuff was printed on the sly
and hastily circulated about the island--some people maintained that Mr.
Richards, the respectable Vice-President of that institution, was its
author. It was a scurrilous anti-Catholic leaflet, grossly personal and
savouring of atheism. The Duchess, on hearing of it--everything got
about on Nepenthe--was so distressed that she decided to cancel, or at
least postpone, the ceremony of her public conversion. At a meeting of
urgency convened by the priests, who were bitterly disappointed at her
attitude, it was agreed that this was no time for half-measures. A
round sum of money was voted wherewith to buy back the pernicious
pamphlet from its respective owners with a view to its destruction.

In the space of a single day every copy vanished from the island--every
copy save one, which had found its way into Mr. Eames' collection. He
meant to keep that copy. He would have died sooner than yield it up.
When the clerical deputation arrived at his villa with soft words and
promises of more solid lucre, he professed the uttermost amazement at
their quest. Mr. Eames, the soul of honesty, the scorner of all
subterfuge and crooked dealing, put on a new character. He lied like a
trooper. He lied better than a trooper; that is to say, not only
forcefully but convincingly. He lied as only a lover of bibliographical
curios can lie, in defence of his treasure. He thanked them for their
courteous visit and bade them keep their gold. He professed himself a
poor recluse innocent of the world's ways and undesirous of riches,
adding, as a mere afterthought, that he had not so much as heard of the
noxious broadsheet in question. There must be some mistake. Society
people might know something about it; that gentleman who called himself
a bishop for example, that sallow gentleman from Africa, who spent so
much of his time in social gaieties--he might very likely have received
a copy. If they wished, he would gladly make enquiries, discreet
enquiries, about the matter.

It was Mr. Eames' second lapse from grace. Gentlemen do not tell
falsehoods. He did not want to be a gentleman just then. He wanted that
pamphlet.

The reverend visitors withdrew convinced, amid showers of compliments
and apologies. After seeing them safely off the premises and even, for
greater security, half-way down the hill, Mr. Eames returned, drew out
the jewel from where it lay in a secret hiding-place among others of
its kind, and hugged it to his heart. He purposed to reproduce the
pamphlet IN EXTENSO, in that particular appendix to his edition of
Perrelli's ANTIQUITIES which dealt with "Contemporary Social History."
...

Mr. Heard knew nothing of all this as, jostled among the crowd, he
watched the procession on that bright morning. It reminded him of the
feast of Saint Dodekanus which he had witnessed twelve days earlier; it
was even more extravagant. But he now felt himself seasoned to this
kind of display. Besides, he had seen funnier things in Africa; though
not much funnier. Once more his thoughts went back to those laughing
black people, he remembered all of them--the Wabitembes, the M'tezo, the
Kizibubi--what a set of jovial ruffians! How they would have enjoyed
this sunshiny nonsense. And the Bulangas. Really, those Bulangas--

There was a light touch on his shoulder. He turned, and found himself
face to face with Mrs. Meadows. She was smiling and looking ever so
happy.

"Well, Tommy!" she said. "You don't seem to be very pleased to see me.
Why haven't you come to tea lately? And why are you looking so glum?
He's got his leave, after all. I had a cable two days ago. He'll pick
me up here in a fortnight or three weeks. Aren't you glad you needn't
escort me to England?"

"Awfully glad!" he replied, trying to be jocular. The words stuck in
his throat. He had expected to meet--if he met her at all--a skulking
contrite criminal. This woman was jubilant. An amazing, terrifying
state of affairs.

"There is something the matter with you, Tommy. Perhaps you have caught
my headache. You remember how inquisitive you were? And how you
complained of the roses? If you come up now you will find fresh ones
waiting for you."

Her glance was unclouded. No human being ever looked less
conscience-stricken. It was as though she had convinced herself of the
righteousness of her deed, and thereafter dismissed it from her mind as
something not worth bothering about. Blithe as a bird! If he had not
seen with his own eyes--

"Has it gone, your headache?" he enquired, not knowing what to say.

"Gone away altogether. I have heard so much about this procession that
I thought I would drive down and have a look at it. I missed the last
one, you know. Besides, I wanted to see some friends here whom I've
been neglecting lately. I feel quite guilty about it," she added.

He couldn't help saying:

"You don't look guilty."

"Ah, but you mustn't judge by appearances!"

"You blamed the sirocco, I remember."

"I don't blame it any longer. Surely a woman can change her mind? But
what is the matter with you?"

"Perhaps the south wind," he ventured.

She remarked laughingly:

"I don't believe the wind is in the south at all. But you always were a
funny boy, Tommy. If you are very good you will see some pretty
fireworks presently. As for myself, I shall have to drive home for
Baby's early dinner."

"Fireworks in broad daylight?" he asked. "That is something new."

"In broad daylight! Aren't they queer people? They can't wait till it
gets dark, I suppose."

At that moment they were joined by Keith and three or four others. He
had no more chance of speaking to her alone; she drove away, not long
afterwards, waving her parasol at him and leaving him in a state of
dazed perplexity.

He had been thinking night and day about his cousin, certain of her
criminality and profoundly convinced of her moral rectitude. What had
Muhlen done? He had probably threatened her with some exposure. He was
her legal husband--he could make himself abominable to her and to
Meadows. The future of the child, too, was imperiled. He might be able
to claim it; or if not that--the bishop's notions of bastardy laws were
not very clear--he could certainly rely upon his friend the magistrate
to take the child out of the mother's custody or do something horrible
of that kind. The happiness of that whole family was at his mercy. She
had been goaded to desperation. Mr. Heard began to understand. To
understand--that was not enough. Anybody could understand.

Keith took his arm and remarked:

"Come and see my cannas! They are prefect just now. I must tell you a
story about them--it's the wildest romance. I am the only person in
Europe who understands the proper cultivation of cannas. I shall have
scented ones soon."

"Don't they smell?" enquired the bishop absent-mindedly.

"Not yet. You are looking a little tired, Heard, as if you had not
slept well lately. Perhaps you would like to sit down? We can watch the
fireworks from the terrace. You ought to read Pepys' DIARY. That is
what I have been doing. I am also rather low-spirited just now. The end
of another spring, you know--it always makes me feel sad. Pepys is the
antidote. He is a tonic. Every Englishman ought to be compelled, for
the good of his soul, to go through Pepys once in three years."

"I must read him again," said the bishop who was not particularly
interested in the diarist just then.

"His universal zest! It seems to be extinct nowadays; it is a charm
that I have not discovered in any living Englishman. What a healthy
outlook! Not a trace of straining anywhere. He took life with both
hands. How he threw himself into his work, his amusements, his clothes
and women and politics and food and theatres and pictures. Warm heart,
cool head. So childlike, and yet so wise. There's only one thing that
troubles me about him--his love of music. It was so obviously sincere.
He not only liked it; he actually understood it. Music, to me, is a
succession of sounds more or less painful. I can't even whistle. It's
too bad."

The bishop said:

"If the lives of all of us were written down with the same remorseless
candour, how few would stand the test."

He was thinking of the Devil's Rock.

"I don't trouble about tests," replied Keith. "The whole herd of
humanity adapts its pace to that of the weakest lamb. The capacity of
the weakest lamb--that is the test. I don't consider myself bound to
such a vulgar standard. And how spectacular we are, in matters of
so-called right and wrong. That is because we have painfully cultivated
the social conscience. Posing, and playing to the gallery! Mankind is
curiously melodramatic, my dear fellow; full of affected reverence for
its droll little institutions. As if anybody really cared what another
person does! As if everybody were not chuckling inwardly all the time!"

"Surely there are heights and depths in the matter of conduct?"

"I don't trouble about heights and depths. Does it not all depend upon
where we take up our stand? Must we always remain stationary like
vegetables? A bird knows nothing of heights and depths. You sit here at
night-time and look at the stars. They are firm-fixed, you say. Well,
they are not firm-fixed. Therefore it is the wrong way to look at them.
I have also written a diary, Heard. It is my legacy to posterity and
will be published after my death. It relates of actions not all of
which Count Caloveglia would call pretty. Perhaps it will give some
people the courage of their unspoken convictions."

The bishop suddenly asked:

"If somebody you knew had committed a crime, what would you say?
Somebody you really respect--a person like Mrs. Meadows?"

"Your cousin? I should say that whatever Mrs. Meadows does is well done."

"You would approve?"

"Of course I would. People like that are bound to be in the right."

"Really ...?"

The fireworks were splendid; altogether, Saint Eulalia's day proved a
tremendous success. The festal joy was only marred by the unseemly
behaviour of Miss Wilberforce, who profited by the occasion to let off
some fireworks, or at least steam, of her own.

In broad daylight too.

This was something new, and rather ominous.

The dear lady was becoming quite a problem.



CHAPTER XXXVIII



Men looked down from the market-place that afternoon and beheld a
gaily-coloured throng moving about Madame Steynlin's awkwardly situated
promontory. Her house and its wide terrace overhanging the sea were
filled with guests. The entertainment differed from the receptions of
the Duchess. It was more rustic and unrestrained--more in the nature of
a picnic. Everything possible had been done to convert that tongue of
land, that refractory stretch of trachyte, into a garden. Paths were
blasted through the rock; those few scarred olives, the aboriginals,
had been supplanted by whatever flowers and shade-giving trees could be
induced, with assiduous waterings, to strike roots into the arid soil.
It was still rather a transparent place.

A number of new people had lately arrived on Nepenthe in favour of whom
the hostess, with the frank cordiality of her nature, had issued
invitations broadcast. There was the celebrated R. A. and his dowdy
wife; a group of American politicians who were supposed to be reporting
on economic questions and spent the Government's money in carousing
about Europe; Madame Albert, the lady doctor from Lyons whose unique
combination of magic and massage (a family secret) had brought the
expiring Prince of Philippopolis to life again; an Italian senator with
his two pretty daughters; a bluff hilarious Scotchman, Mr. Jameson,
who, as a matter of fact, had done seven years for forgery but did not
like to have it brought up against him; some sisters of charity; a
grizzled sea-captain who was making discreet enquiries about a safe
place for a shipwreck, having been promised by the owners twenty per
cent of his vessel's insurance money; a dilapidated Viscount and his
SOI-DISTANT niece; two fluffy Danish ladies who always travelled
together and smiled at everything, though the younger one smiled in
such a horrible knowing fashion that you could not help disliking her;
Mrs. Roger Rumbold who addressed meetings to advocate Infanticide for
the Masses; Mr. Bernard of the Entomological Society-author of THE
COURTSHIP OF COCKROACHES; another young man of pleasant exterior who
was held to be an architect because his brother used to be employed in
a well-known engineering firm, and several more.

The exclusive Mr. Eames was absent. He sat at home, thinking how
narrowly he had escaped imprisonment at the hands of Signor Malipizzo,
in connection with Muhlen's disappearance. The closest shave of all his
life! It showed how right Keith had been in bidding him keep on the
right side of the law--on the right side of the judge--rather than trust
to the promptings of a "good conscience." The Duchess likewise sent her
excuses. She was so troubled about the pamphlet that Don Francesco
hardly dared to leave her side. He, therefore, was also absent; so was
the bereaved Commissioner. Mrs. Meadows had driven home again long ago.
Van Koppen intended to sail in the early hours of next morning. The
bishop and Denis were likewise on the verge of departure. A break-up
was at hand.

Mr. Keith alone refused to budge. He was waiting for the first cicada
whose strident call was due, he declared, in a week's time. Till then
he proposed to remain on Nepenthe.

"Fancy waiting for an insect," said his friend van Koppen. "I believe,
Keith, you've got a sentimental streak somewhere."

"I have been fighting against it all my life. A man ought to dominate
his reflexes. But if the insect keeps good time--why not?"

He was in an elegiac mood, though he meant to drive away his cares
later in the evening by the "Falernian system." He felt the exodus in
the air. Another spring drawing to its close--everybody scattering! He
was filled, too, with that peculiar pensiveness which troubles complex
people when they have done a kindly act. Virtue had gone out of him.

He had wrought a miracle.

The moist look in the eye of his hostess testified to the miracle; so
did her frock which, being of pink muslin, harmonized with the state of
her mind but not with her complexion. Peter the Great had escaped from
prison. Not only he, but all the others were at liberty once more,
including the Messiah who, after some attentions on the part of the
communal doctor, had been put to bed like a little child. The rest of
them filled her trim walks with their gleeful laughter and bright
raiment; they devoured abundant wines and food at those refreshment
tables which groaned under the weight of good things. One could trust
Madame Steynlin to attend to the commissariat department. She knew how
to gladden the human heart. That of Peter the Great was gladdened to
such an extent that he soon began to perform a Russian peasant dance, A
PAS SEUL, to the delight of the assembled guests. It was a cheery
interlude with a disastrous ending, for the rough terrace being
different from what he expected, he stumbled and fell full length upon
the ground. There he lay, laughing, like a young giant refreshed with
wine.

"I don't know how you have done it, Mr. Keith," she said, "and I am not
going to ask. But I shall never forget this kindness of yours."

"Would you not do the same for me? I imagine, between ourselves, that
the judge has been a good deal flustered with this trial and the
intervention of Don Giustino. Perhaps he lost his head. We are all
liable to that, are we not? He is a nervous man; but quite a good
fellow if one keeps on the right side of him. It is so easy to keep on
the right side of people. I often wonder, Madame Steynlin, why men are
so full of bitterness towards each other. It is one of the things I
shall never live to understand. And another is this problem of music!
Will you help me to grasp the pleasure which you seem to derive from
it? Helmholtz does not bring me much further. He explains why certain
sounds are necessarily disagreeable--"

"Oh, Mr. Keith! You would go to a professor. I fear you are not very
musical. Have you never felt inclined to cry?"

"I have. But not in a concert-room."

"Nor yet in a theatre?"

"Never," he replied, "though it saddens me a little to see grown-up men
and women stalking about in funny dressing-gowns and pretending to be
kings and queens. When I watch HAMLET or OTHELLO, I say to myself:
'This stuff is nicely riveted together. But, in the first place, the
story is not true. And secondly, it is no affair of mine. Why cry about
it?'"

"That looks as if you were heartless and unimaginative. And you so
compassionate! I do not understand you. I do not understand myself
either. We are always groping about in the dark, are we not? We are
always puzzling about our own problems instead of helping other people
with theirs. Perhaps one should not think so much of oneself, though it
is an interesting subject. Tell me, if music says nothing to you, why
not leave it alone?"

"Because I want to be able to extract pleasure from it, as you do. That
is what makes me curious. I like to understand things, because then I
can begin to enjoy them. I think knowledge should intensify our
pleasures. That is its aim and object, so far as I am concerned. What
are other joys--those of the illiterate and incurious? A dog scratching
his fleas in the sunshine. They too are not wholly to be despised--"

"What a dreadful simile!"

"A precise one."

"You like to be precise?"

"It is my mother's fault. She brought me up so carefully."

"I think that is a pity, Mr. Keith. If I had children I would let them
run wild. People are too tame nowadays. That is why so few of them have
any charm. These poor Russians--no one tries to understand them. Why is
everybody so much alike? Because we never follow our feelings. And yet,
what is a surer guide than the heart? We seem to live in a world of
echoes."

"A world of masks, Madame Steynlin. It is the only theatre worth
looking at...."

The lady was too happy to consider how the miracle had been wrought,
though she suspected dirty work at the bottom of it. She never
discovered how simple had been the method of Mr. Keith who had merely
given His Worship to understand that he had done enough bribing for one
season and that, unless Krasnojabkin were promptly released, there
would be no bribing whatever next year. The judge, with his usual legal
acumen, perceived the cogency of his friend's argument. He met Mr.
Keith's wishes more than half-way. On an impulse of downright
good-nature--there was no other interpretation to be put on it--he
released all the Russians, including the Messiah. They were
excarcerated then and there on a decree of "provisional liberty," which
looked well in the records of the Court and, being interpreted,
signified immunity from further judicial molestation. The incident was
closed.

People talked about it none the less. They discussed Don Giustino, his
past career and present prosperity. As for Mr. Muhlen--he was already
almost forgotten. So was the Commissioner's lady. Madame Steynlin alone
brought herself to say a few kind words about both of them. She was
ready to say kind things about anyone. The magic of love! Her heart,
under the influence of Peter, had opened so wide as to embrace not only
the Russian colony, but even the nine thousand families of Chinese
cultivators who, according to a paragraph in the morning's newspaper,
had perished in a sudden inundation of the Hoang-Ho.

The poor people! she said. She did not see why one should not
sympathize with the griefs of a Chinaman. Humble honest folks, without
a doubt--swept off the face of the earth, through no fault of their own,
by a cataclysm! There was quite a discussion about it on her terrace
that afternoon.

Mr. Heard, feeling also very charitable, found himself taking her part
against someone who said it was impossible to sympathize with the
troubles of a yellow man--they were too different, too remote from
ourselves. He thought that much individual hardship had been suffered,
undeserved, unchronicled; homes destroyed, children drowned before the
eyes of their parents. And nobody seemed to care.



CHAPTER XXXIX



Later on, he turned his back upon the crowded walks and found himself
on a remote terrace overlooking the sea. It was quiet here, in view of
the sunset--his last sunset on Nepenthe.

Leaning over the parapet he enjoyed, once more, the strangely intimate
companionship of the sea. He glanced down into the water whose uneven
floor was diapered with long weedy patches, fragments of fallen rock,
and brighter patches of sand; he inhaled the pungent odour of sea-wrack
and listened to the breathings of the waves. They lapped softly against
the rounded boulders which strewed the shore like a flock of nodding
Behemoths. He remembered his visits at daybreak to the beach--those
unspoken confidences with the sunlit element to whose friendly caresses
he had abandoned his body. How calm it was, too, in this evening light.
Near at hand, somewhere, lay a sounding cave; it sang a melody of moist
content. Shadows lengthened; fishing boats, moving outward for their
night-work, steered darkly across the luminous river at his feet. Those
jewel-like morning tints of blue and green had faded from the water;
the southern cliff-scenery, projections of it, caught a fiery glare.
Bastions of flame....

The air seemed to have become unusually cool and bracing.

Here, on a bench all by himself, sat Count Caloveglia. As the bishop
took a seat beside him they exchanged a few words. The Italian, so
affable as a rule, was rather preoccupied and disinclined for talk.

Mr. Heard remembered his first encounter with that old man--the Salt of
the South, as Keith had called him. It was at those theatricals in the
Municipality. Then too the Count had been remarkably silent, his chin
reposing in his hand, absorbed in the spectacle--in the passionate grace
of the young players. He was absorbed in another spectacle now--the old
sun, moving in passionless splendour down the sky.

Only a fortnight ago, that first meeting. Less than a fortnight. Twelve
days. How much had been crammed into them!

A kind of merry nightmare. Things happened. There was something bright
and diabolical in the tone of the place, something kaleidoscopic--a
frolicsome perversity. Purifying, at the same time. It swept away the
cobwebs. It gave you a measure, a standard, whereby to compute earthly
affairs. Another landmark passed; another milestone on the road to
enlightenment. That period of doubt was over. His values had righted
themselves. He had carved out new and sound ones; a workable,
up-to-date theory of life. He was in fine trim. His liver--he forgot
that he ever had one. Nepenthe had done him good all round. And he knew
exactly what he wanted. A return to the Church, for example, was out of
the question. His sympathies had outgrown the ideals of that
establishment; a wave of pantheistic benevolence had drowned its smug
little teachings. The Church of England! What was it still good for? A
stepping-stone, possibly towards something more respectable and humane;
a warning to all concerned of the folly of idolizing dead men and their
delusions. The Church? Ghosts!

His thoughts wandered to England. Often had he sighed, in Africa, for
its drowsy verdant opulence--those willow-fringed streamlets and grazing
cattle, the smell of hay, the flowery lanes, the rooks cawing among
slumberous elms; often had he thought of that village on the hill-top
with its grey steeple. Well, he would see them all in a few days. And
how would England compare with the tingling realism of Nepenthe? Rather
parochial, rather dun; grey-in-grey; subdued light above--crepuscular
emotions on earth. Everything fireproof, seaworthy. Kindly thoughts
expressed in safe unvarying formulas. A guileless people! Ships tossing
at sea; minds firmly anchored to the commonplace. Abundance for the
body; diet for the spirit. The monotony of a nation intent upon
respecting laws and customs. Horror of the tangent, the extreme, the
unconventional. God save the King.

So much the better. This soulful cult of tradition, this clinging to
the obvious and genteel as it were an anchor of safety--it nipped in the
bud the monster-making faculty of low horizons and bleak, wintry
stretches of earth. Bazhakuloff! Those Russians, it struck him, had
been providentially sent to Nepenthe for his delectation and
instruction. He was glad to have beheld a type of this nature,
inconceivable in England. That grotesque, with three million followers!
It had been a liberal education to look into his vacuous face, into
those filmy eyes dripping with saintliness and alcohol. The Little
White Cows! Chimaeras, engendered in hyperborean mists.

And still Count Caloveglia said nothing. He gazed at the sun, whose orb
now rolled upon the rim of the horizon. Slowly it sank, fusing the
water into a golden pool. A hush fell upon nature. Colours fled from
earth into the sky. They scattered among the clouds. The enchantment
began, overhead.

At last the old man remarked:

"I suppose that is why I am no colourist. That is why I worship the
inexorable rigour of form. We of the South, Mr. Heard, are drenched in
volatile beauty.... And yet one never wearies of these things! It is
what you call a glamour, an interlude of witchcraft. Nature is
a-tremble with the miraculous. She beckons us to explore her strange
places. She says: Tread here, my friend--and here; tread where you have
never trodden before! The sage surrenders his intelligence, and grows
young again. He recaptures the spirit of his boyish dreams. He peers
into worlds unknown. See! Adventure and discovery are lurking on every
side. These painted clouds with their floating banners and citadels,
yonder mysterious headlands that creep into the landscape at this hour,
those islets emerging, like flakes of bronze, out of the
sunset-glow--all the wonder of the ODYSSEY is there!"

He spoke out of politeness and soon fell silent again. His thoughts
roamed far away.

They were thoughts commensurate with the grandeur of the scene.

Count Caloveglia was no colourist. He was a sculptor, about to reap the
reward of his labours. The cheque would be in his pocket that night.
Three hundred and fifty thousand francs--or nearly. That is what made
him not exactly grave, but reserved. Excess of joy, like all other
excesses, is not meet to be displayed before men. All excess is
unseemly. Nothing overmuch. Measure in everything.

Measure even in the fabrication of Hellenic masterpieces. He had
created one of them (the Demeter did not count); it sufficed for his
modest ambitions. The Faun was his first forgery and his last. To
retrieve the fortunes of his family he had employed those peculiar
talents which God had given him. He would remain, henceforward, an
artist. He shrank from the idea of becoming a wholesale manufacturer of
antiques.

Three hundred and fifty thousand francs. If sufficed. Thinking of those
figures, he began to smile with contentment. He smiled--but no more. And
as he continued to muse upon the transaction his look melted,
imperceptibly, into one of reverential awe; there was a solemnity about
that sum, an amplitude, a perfection of outline that reminded him, in a
way, of the proportions of some wonderful old Doric temple. The labour
of a lifetime would not have enabled him to collect so much had he
tried to sell bronzes of his own workmanship. A bust or statue by Count
Caloveglia--it would command a certain small price, no doubt; but what
was the reputation, the market value, of the most eminent modern artist
as compared with that nameless but consummate craftsman of Locri?

The Count saw things in their true perspective. His mental attitude
towards Sir Herbert Street and his American employer was not tinged
with the faintest cloud of disrespect; for van Koppen, indeed, he
cherished a liking which bordered on affection. He detected in the
astute American what nobody else could detect--an element of childlike
freshness and simplicity. As far apart, in externals, as two distant
trees whose leaves are fluttering on either side of some tangled
forest, he yet felt that their roots were interwoven below ground,
drawing common life and nourishment and sympathies from that old
teeming soil of human aspirations. Nor was he vainglorious of his
achievement. His superiority over the art-expert he took as a gift of
the gods. Vanityi was abhorrent to his nature. He was not proud but
glad--glad to have been able to reconquer his legitimate social
position; glad, above all things, to have forged a link with the past--a
key to admit him into the fellowship of Lysippus and those others whose
august shades, he opined, were even them smiling upon him. The Locri
Faun was his handiwork. He was "entitled to dine well," as he had told
Denis. That was what he now purposed to do. One master-stroke had
repaired his fortunes. It sufficed. Nothing overmuch. Count Caloveglia
knew the story of Polycrates, the too-fortunate man. He knew what lies
in wait for the presumptuous mortal whoo oversteps the boundary of what
is fair and good. Nemesis!

Three hundred and fifty thousand francs. There would be an ample dowry
for Matilda. And, as regards himself, he could return to his passion of
youth; he could afford to become a sculptor again and even, if so
disposed, a collector--though not exactly after the style of his
excellent friend Cornelius van Koppen.

"That was a suggestive encounter, was it not, between the Deputy and
our local judge?"

He spoke, as before, out of civility.

"Very suggestive," assented Mr. Heard. "Two blackguards, I call them."

The bishop was particularly glad to learn, as everybody on the island
had learnt, the minutest details of this sordid legal affair. It seemed
likewise to have been providentially arranged, in order to afford him
an insight into the administration of local law, and some notion of
what would have been in store for his cousin had she applied for relief
from Muhlen's persecutions to Signor Malipizzo, his intimate friend.
There would have been no justice for her--not from that quarter. He
would probably have forbidden the child to be moved out of his
jurisdiction, pending the progress of a trial which might never end.
Nor could the English Court, with its obsolete provisions on this head,
have regarded Muhlen otherwise than as her legal husband--the child of
her later union as illegitimate. Bastardy: a taint for life! How well
she had done to put herself beyond a rancorous letter of the law; to
protect her child and family according to the immutable instincts of
mankind!

The Nepenthe magistrate had shown what he was capable of, in his
bestial dealings with a half-witted lad and those harmless Russian
lunatics--the first one saved through the intervention of a cut-throat
politician, and the second ... well, he did not exactly know how the
Muscovites had been able to regain their freedom but, remembering what
Keith had told him about Miss Wilberforce, her periodical imprisonments
and his periodical bribes, he shrewdly suspected some underhand
practices on the part of that gentleman at the instigation, very
possibly, of the charming Madame Steynlin. Signor Malipizzo's cruel
travesty of justice--how unfavourably it compared with his cousin's
altogether satisfactory, straightforward and businesslike handling of
Muhlen's little affair!

Doubtless she suffered intensely. He called to mind her looks, her
voice, during that first interview at the villa Mon Repos; he thought
it likely that, but for her child and husband, she would have taken her
own life in order to escape from this villain. And doubtless she had
weighed the matter in her own mind. Sensible people do not take steps
of this gravity without reflecting on the possible consequences. She
must have tried her hardest to talk Muhlen over, before coming to the
conclusion that thee was nothing to be done with the fellow. She knew
him; she knew her own mind. She knew better than anyone else what was
in store for her if Muhlen got the upper hand. Her home broken up; her
child a bastard; herself and Meadows--social outcasts; all their three
lives ruined. Mrs. Meadows, plainly, did not relish such a prospect.
She did not see why her existence should be wrecked because a scoundrel
happened to be supported by a disreputable paragraph of the Code.
Muhlen was a troublesome insect. He must be brushed aside. Ridiculous
to call such a thing a tragedy!

He thought of the insignificance of a human life. Thousands of decent
upright folks swept away at a blow.... Who cared? One dirty
blackmailer more or less: what on earth did it matter to anybody?

An enigma? His cousin was not an enigma at all. Keith had called her a
tiger mother. That was correct. Not every parent could do what she had
done. Not every parent could do what she had done. Not every parent was
placed under the necessity. Not every parent had the grit. If all of
them fought for their offspring after this fashion, the race would be
stronger and better. Thinking thus, he not only understood. He
approved. Mrs. Meadows had saved her family. She was perfect of her
kind.

Suddenly he remembered that other parent on the passenger boat when he
came to Nepenthe--that ugly peasant-woman dressed in black, with the
scar across her cheek--how she had tried to console her suffering child.
What had Muhlen said? "Throw it into the water! It's often the only way
of ridding oneself of a nuisance." Into the water. His own words. That
was where he, the nuisance, had gone. It was unpleasant, maybe, to
hurtle through eight hundred feet of air. But men who specialize in
making themselves objectionable after Muhlen's peculiar fashion deserve
all they can get. Sensible women do not put up with such nonsense, if
they can help it.

One owes something to one's self, N'EST-CE PAS?

Decidedly so.

Everything was as clear as daylight. And he found he had bothered
himself long enough about Muhlen; there were so many other interesting
things on earth. A contemptible little episode! He decided to relegate
it into the category of unimportant events. He was glad that the whole
affair had remained in the background, so to speak, of his Nepenthean
experiences. It seemed appropriate. Odd, all the same, that the most
respectable woman on the island should be a murderess.

"Dear me!" he mused. "How very queer. It never struck me in the light
before. Shows how careful one must be.... And a relation of mine
into the bargain. H'm. Some people, if they knew, would call it a
compromising situation. Well, I begin to think it rather creditable
than otherwise to our family. We want more women of this kind on earth.
All mothers ought to be tiger mothers...."

"Don't you notice, Count, that there is an unwonted sparkle in the air
this evening? Something cleansing, clarifying?"

"To be sure I do," replied the other. "And I can tell you the cause of
it. Sirocco is over for the present. The wind has shifted to the north.
It brightens all nature. It makes one see things in their true
perspective, doesn't it?"

"That is exactly what I feel," said Mr. Heard.



CHAPTER XL



The symposium, that evening, might have degenerated into something like
an orgy but for the masterful intervention of Denis who was not going
to let Keith make a fool of himself. It took place in the most famous
of all the caves of Nepenthe-Luisella's grotto-cavern dedicated, by
common usage, to the worship of Venus and Bacchus.

There were two or three living rooms on the surface of the ground.
Walking through the first of these you clambered down some slippery
stairs into what was once a breathless subterranean vault hewn out of
the soft and dry pumiceous rock and used, as was customary, for storing
barrels and other paraphernalia. In the course of time, as more barrels
accumulated, the grotto was excavated further and further into the
entrails of the island. There seemed no reason why it should ever cease
growing when suddenly, one day, the perspiring workmen were struck in
the face by a cool blast of wind laden with marine moisture. They knew
what this meant. They had encountered one of those mysterious and
dangerous fissures that lead down to unknown depths, opening upon the
world of sunshine often at the water's edge, four hundred feet below.
It was deemed prudent to suspend excavations. These rents in the
interior of the earth had a knack of enlarging themselves, without a
word of warning, from cracks of a few inches to black gulfs several
hundred feet across. The cavern ceased to grow. As a matter of fact, it
turned out to be just large enough.

That current of air ventilating the grotto made the fortune of these
orphan girls--Luisella and her three sisters. The barrels and other
lumber once removed, the recess became a breezy night-tavern, its
natural vaulting being first whitewashed and then adorned, by
master-hand, with thrilling pictures of crimson fish afloat upon
caerulean waves, and piles of bossy pumpkins, and birds of Paradise with
streaming golden feathers, and goats at pasture among blue lilies, and
horses prancing over emerald mountains, and trees laden with flowers
and fruits such as no mortal had ever seen or tasted. It was an ideal
place for a carousal.

They could cook, those girls. Their savoury stews and vegetable soups
and FRITTURAS of every description were known far and wide. It was
universally agreed that nobody could make a more appetizing mayonnaise
sauce for cold fish and lobsters. No mayonnaise was quite like theirs;
no, not quite. Its flavour lingered on the palate; it haunted your
memory in distant lands, like the after-glow of some happy love-affair.
Nice girls, too; well-mannered; not very difficult to caress, and never
jealous of each other. "It's all in the family," they used to declare.

"Am I right, then, or am I wrong?" asked Mr. Keith, whose pomposity was
melting away under successive bottles of his own wine, specially
imported to grace the table.

The honest Vice-President of the Club, Mr. Richards, was pretty far
gone, but could always be relied upon to say something opposite. That
was due to his legal training. Once a thriving solicitor, he had been
struck off the rolls in consequence of some stupid trustee business
which turned out all wrong and thereafter driven along devious paths
known only to himself: hence his residence on Nepenthe. He replied:

"That depends entirely, my dear Sir, upon what you postulated."

"The older I get," observed Mr. van Koppen, "the more I realize that
everything depends upon what a man postulates. The rest is plain
sailing."

"I never heard a truer remark," said Keith, "not even from you! One has
only to posit a thing, and it's done. Don't you agree, Bishop? Here is
what I would call a worn-out earthenware plate. It is not a plate
unless I tell it to be a plate. You may call it anything you like--it
can't answer back. But we need not pursue the argument. Speaking for
myself, I am feeling as comfortable as a beetle in a rose."

The Vice-President remarked:

"We all know what it means when Mr. Keith becomes horticultural in his
similes. It means the same thing as when I become legal. Gentlemen! I
propose to grow legal within the next half-hour or so."

"You promised to tell me the history of your cannas," said Mr. Heard.

"You were going to tell it me too," answered Denis.

"I did. I was. And I will. But let me ask you this: have you ever heard
of a teetotaler conspicuous for kindliness of heart, or intellectually
distinguished in any walk of life? I should be glad to know his name. A
sorry crew! Not because they drink water, but because the state of mind
which makes them dread alcohol is unpropitious to the hatching of any
generous idea. WHEN MEN HAVE WELL DRUNK. I like that phrase. WHEN MEN
HAVE WELL DRUNK. I am inclined to think that the Aramaic text has not
been tampered with at this point. What do you say, Heard?"

"Nothing is more improbable," replied the bishop. "And the water, you
perceive, was changed into wine; not into cocoa or lemonade. That
conveys, if I am not mistaken, rather a suggestive implication."

"I have been pursuing Seneca's letters. He was a cocoa-drinker,
masquerading as an ancient. An objectionable hypocrite! I wish people
would read Seneca instead of talking about him."

Van Koppen observed:

"What a man postulates is truer than what exists. I have grown grey in
trying to make my fellow-creatures understand that realities are less
convincing than make-believe."

"Given the proper atmosphere," said the bishop, laughing, "everything
becomes inevitable. If you were wrong, Mr. van Koppen, where would our
poets and novelists be?"

"Where are they?" queried the American.

"How shall that come out of a man," continued Mr. Heard, "which was
never in him? How shall he generate a harmonious atmosphere if he be
disharmonious himself? It is all a question of plausibility, of
verisimi--simili--"

"I never heard a more profound remark, Koppen, no, nor a more subtle
one; not even from you. Nor yet from you, Heard. And I can tell you
something to the point. I was talking this afternoon with a gentleman
about the stage. I said it made me said to see flesh-and-blood people
pretending to be kings and queens. Because it cannot be done. No
sensible person can bring himself to believe it. But when you watch
some of these local marionette theatres the illusion is complete. Why
is a poppy show more convincing than the COMEDIE FRANCAISE? Because it
is still further removed from reality. There is so much make-belief
that you cease to struggle. You succumb without an effort. You are
quite disposed, you are positively anxious, to make concessions to the
improbable. Once they are made--why, as you say, it is plain sailing."

"All life is a concession to the improbable," observed the bishop
rather vaguely.

Mr. Richards remarked:

"These questions must be approached with an open mind. An open mind,
gentlemen, is not necessarily an empty one."

"A fine distinction!"

"Very well. Mr. Keith proposes to abolish theatres. I second the
motion. Nothing is easier. Let me draw up a memorial to the House of
Lords. We will appeal to them on moral grounds. I know the proper
language. WHEREAS BY THE GRACE OF GOD YOUR PETITIONERS HUMBLY PROTEST
THAT THERE IS TOO MUCH KISSING ON THE STAGE--ah! Talking of kissing,
here comes our friend Don Francesco. He shall put his name to the
memorial and seal it with an oath. No Englishman can resist a
Monsignor. And nothing like a solemn oath. People always think you mean
it."

That amiable personage strode down the stairs in dignified fashion,
greeting the guests with a sonorous:

"PAX VOBISCUM!"

He could not be induced to stay long, however. He had been perturbed
all day on account of the Duchess who now threatened to join the
Moravian Brotherhood; she was so annoyed about a little thing which had
happened. He did not quite believe it, of course; but, like a
well-trained priest, took nothing for granted and was prepared for
every emergency where ladies are concerned.

"Just one glass!" said Keith.

"Let me drink to your health ere we part," added the bishop. "I am
sorry to leave you. Our friendship will endure. We meet in September,
during the vintage season. Keith has been talking to me. I am as wax in
his hands. Your smile, Don Francesco, will follow me across the ocean.
Just one glass!"

"Ah, well!" said the priest. "The next best thing to leading others
astray is to be led astray oneself."

He gulped down a couple of tumblers and dutifully took his leave,
turning round, as he reached the staircase, to make a playful gesture
of benediction towards the assembled company.

"Don't leave your bottle half empty," Keith called after him,
imploringly. "It looks untidy."

"And so unhappy," added the bishop. "Dear me! This is most singular. I
seem to see two lamps instead of one. It must have been those
apricots."

Keith interposed:

"Or perhaps you strained one of your eyes bathing. It has happened to
me, occasionally. Darkness is the best remedy. It rests the optic
nerve."

"Shall we take a turn or two outside?" asked Denis.

It was past midnight as the two climbed out of the cave into the night
air. A cool north wind blew across the market-place. The bishop was
filled with a sense--a clear-cut, all-convincing sense--of the
screamingly funny insignificance of everything. Then he noticed the
moon.

It dangled over the water, waning, sickly, moth-eaten, top-heavy, and
altogether out of condition--as if it had been on duty for weeks on end.
In other respects, too, its appearance was not quite normal. In fact,
it soon took to behaving in the most extraordinary fashion. Sometimes
there were two moons, and sometimes one. They seemed to merge
together--to glide into each other, and then to separate again. Mr.
Heard was vastly pleased and puzzled by the phenomenon--so pleased that
he gave utterance to one of the longest speeches he had made since his
arrival on Nepenthe. He said:

"I have seen many funny things here, Denis. But this is the funniest of
all. The spectacle seems to have been providentially arranged, as a
sort of BONNE BOUCHE, for my last evening on the island. Dear me. Now
there are two again. And now they are behind each other once more. A
kind of celestial hide and seek. Most interesting. I wish Keith could
see it. Or that dear Count Caloveglia. He would be sure to say
something polite.... The inconstant moon! I know, at last, what the
poet meant by that expression, though the word inconstant strikes me as
hardly forcible enough. The skittish moon, I should be inclined to call
it. The skittish moon. The frivolous moon. The giddy moon. The
quite-too-absurd moon.... There it goes again! Very curious. What
can it be?... Why, this is the reverse of an eclipse, my boy. The
disk is darkened during an eclipse. It disappears IN VACUO. In the
present case it is brightened and rendered, so to speak, doubly
apparent. What would you call the reverse of an eclipse, Denis?
Anti-eclipse? That sounds rather barbaric to my ears. One should never
mix Greek and Latin, if it can possibly be avoided. Well?"

"We must have a good look at this thing from your window, and then find
out all about it."

"Oh, but I could not possibly take you from your friends! I know my way
home perfectly well. You will not dream of accompanying me."

"Indeed I will. I walked with you to that house when you first arrived
here, and helped you to unpack. Don't you remember? And now you must
let me take you there on our last evening...."

By the time Denis returned to the grotto a more exuberant and
incoherent tone had been generated among the guests. He was not
pleased. He felt inclined to be stern. A number of reprobates from the
Club had dropped in, and Keith, whom he meant to keep straight for one
night at least, was saying silly things and giving himself away. So was
the excellent Mr. Richards.

"This is a good island," observed that gentleman. "We discourse like
sages and drink like swine. Peace with Honour!... How that old Jew
took our English measure, eh? How he laughed in his sleeve at our
infatuation for a phrase like that. Peace with Honour! The sort of
claptrap that makes a man feel so jolly comfortable inside, so damned
satisfied with everything like after a good deed. And that sentimental
primrose business. Dizzy as flower-expert! What cared he for primroses?
Votes and moneybags was what he was after. But he knew the British
Public. And that accounts for the pious domestic button-hole. Who ever
heard of a Jew telling the difference between a primrose and any other
kind of rose? They're not such blasted fools."

"Excuse me," said Keith, rising from his seat in an afflatus of
inspiration. "Excuse me. I know the difference. It is primarily a
question of nutrition. Glucose! I am a great believer in glucose.
Because, even if it could be proved that the monks of Palaiokastron
stripped the vine of its leaves and thereby hastened the maturing of
the grape without reducing its natural supply of sugar--"

"You don't shine," interrupted Denis, "when you talk like that."

"Because even if this could be proved, which I greatly doubt, yet
nothing on earth will make me believe that glucose is otherwise than
beneficial to vegetation. Because--"

"Do sit down, Keith. You are monopolizing the conversation."

"Because the glucose resides within that verdant foliage like truth in
her well, like the oyster within its pearl. The monks of
Palaiokastron--they got it straight from Noah. I am a great believer in
glucose. Which is absurd. Because--"

"Oh, shut up! You are making a perfect exhibition of yourself. Can't
you oblige me, for once in the way?"

Denis was growing seriously alarmed for the reputation of his friend.
He had changed of late; he was beginning to know his own mind. He meant
to put a stop to this humiliating scene. As the other, regardless of
his pleadings, continued to babble dithyrambic nonsense concerning
glucose and self-fertilization and artificial manures and inflorescence
and Assyrian bas-reliefs and Stilton cheese, he suddenly gripped his
arm and pulled him, with a crash, into his chair.

"Sit down, you double-distilled owl!"

This was the first virile achievement of his young life, and directed
to a worthy end. For it was obvious to the meanest intelligence that
Mr. Keith was considerably drunk. Too surprised to utter a word of
protest, the orator paused in his declamation, beaming blandly at
nobody in particular. Then he remarked, in quite a subdued tone of
voice:

"We are all at the mercy of youth. Mr. Richards! Could you oblige me
with a fairy-tale?"





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