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Title: Memoirs of My Dead Life
Author: Moore, George, 1852-1933
Language: English
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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.

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MEMOIRS OF MY DEAD LIFE

BY

GEORGE MOORE



CONTENTS


APOLOGIA PRO SCRIPTIS MEIS

I. SPRING IN LONDON

II. FLOWERING NORMANDY

III. A WAITRESS

IV. THE END OF MARIE PELLEGRIN

V. LA BUTTE

VI. SPENT LOVES

VII. NINON'S TABLE D'HÔTE

VIII. THE LOVERS OF ORELAY

IX. IN THE LUXEMBOURG GARDENS

X. A REMEMBRANCE

XI. BRING IN THE LAMP

XII. SUNDAY EVENING IN LONDON

XIII. RESURGAM



APOLOGIA PRO SCRIPTIS MEIS

[_The_ APOLOGIA _which follows needs, perhaps, a word of
explanation, not to clear up Mr. Moore's text--that is as delightful,
as irrelevantly definite, as paradoxically clear as anything this
present wearer of the Ermine of English Literature has ever
written--but to explain why it was written and why it is published.
When the present publisher, who is hereinafter, in the words of
Schopenhauer, "flattened against the wall of the Wisdom of the East,"
first read and signified his pride in being able to publish these
"Memoirs," the passages now consigned to "the late Lord ----'s
library" were not in the manuscript. On the arrival of the final copy
they were discovered, and thereby hangs an amusing tale, consisting of
a series of letters which, in so far as they were written with a
certain caustic, humorous Irish pen, have taken their high place among
the "Curiosities of Literature." The upshot of the matter was that the
publisher, entangled in the "weeds" brought over by his_ Mayflower
_ancestors, found himself as against the author in the position of
Mr. Coote as against Shakespeare; that is, the matter was so
beautifully written that he had not the heart to decline it, and yet
in parts so--what shall we say?--so full of the "Wisdom of the East"
that he did not dare to publish it in the West. Whereupon he adopted
the policy of Mr. Henry Clay, which is, no doubt, always a mistake.
And the author, bearing in mind the make-up of that race of Man called
publishers, gave way on condition that this _APOLOGIA_ should
appear without change. Here it is, without so much as the alteration
of an Ibsen comma, and if the _Mayflower_ "weeds" mere instrumental
in calling it forth, then it is, after all, well that they grew_.--THE
PUBLISHER.]

Last month the post brought me two interesting letters, and the reader
will understand how interesting they were to me when I tell him that
one was from Mr. Sears, of the firm of Appleton, who not knowing me
personally had written to Messrs. Heinemann to tell them that the firm
he represented could not publish the "Memoirs" unless two stories were
omitted; "The Lovers of Orelay," and "In the Luxembourg Gardens,"--Messrs.
Heinemann had forwarded the letter to me; my interest in the
other letter was less direct, but the reader will understand that it was
not less interesting when I tell that it came from the secretary of a
certain charitable institution who had been reading the book in question,
and now wrote to consult me on many points of life and conduct. He had
been compelled to do so, for the reading of the "Memoirs" had disturbed
his mind. The reader will agree with me that disturbed is probably the
right word to use. To say that the book had undermined his convictions
or altered his outlook on life would be an exaggeration. "Outlook on life"
and "standard of conduct" are phrases from his own vocabulary, and they
depict him.

"Your outlook on life is so different from mine that I can hardly
imagine you being built of the same stuff as myself. Yet I venture to
put my difficulty before you. It is, of course, no question of mental
grasp or capacity or artistic endowment. I am, so far as these are
concerned, merely the man in the street, the averagely endowed and the
ordinarily educated. I call myself a Puritan and a Christian. I run
continually against walls of convention, of morals, of taste, which
may be all wrong, but which I should feel it wrong to climb over. You
range over fields where my make-up forbids me to wander.

"Such frankness as yours is repulsive, forbidding, demoniac! You speak
of woman as being the noblest subject of contemplation for man, but
interpreted by your book and your experiences this seems in the last
analysis to lead you right into sensuality, and what I should call
illicit connections. Look at your story of Doris! I _do_ want to
know what you feel about that story in relation to right and wrong. Do
you consider that all that Orelay adventure was put right, atoned,
explained by the fact that Doris, by her mind and body, helped you to
cultivate your artistic sense? Was Goethe right in looking upon all
women merely as subjects for experiment, as a means of training his
aesthetic sensibilities? Does it not justify the seduction of any girl
by any man? And does not that take us straight back to the dissolution
of Society? The degradation of woman (and of man) seems to be
inextricably involved. Can you regard imperturbedly a thought of your
own sister or wife passing through Doris' Orelay experience?"

       *       *       *       *       *

The address of the charitable institution and his name are printed on
the notepaper, and I experience an odd feeling of surprise whenever
this printed matter catches my eye, or when I think of it; not so much
a sense of surprise as a sense of incongruity, and while trying to
think how I might fling myself into some mental attitude which he
would understand I could not help feeling that we were very far apart,
nearly as far apart as the bird in the air and the fish in the sea.
"And he seems to feel toward me as I feel toward him, for does he not
say in his letter that it is difficult for him to imagine me built of
the same stuff as himself?" On looking into his letter again I
imagined my correspondent as a young man in doubt as to which road he
shall take, the free road of his instincts up the mountainside with
nothing but the sky line in front of him or the puddled track along
which the shepherd drives the meek sheep; and I went to my writing
table asking myself if my correspondent's spiritual welfare was my
real object, for I might be writing to him in order to exercise myself
in a private debate before committing the article to paper, or if I
was writing for his views to make use of them. One asks oneself these
questions but receives no answer. He would supply me with a point of
view opposed to my own, this would be an advantage; so feeling rather
like a spy within the enemy's lines on the eve of the battle I began
my letter. "My Dear Sir: Let me assure you that we are 'built of the
same stuff.' Were it not so you would have put my book aside. I even
suspect we are of the same kin; were it otherwise you would not have
written to me and put your difficulties so plainly before me." Laying
the pen aside I meditated quite a long while if I should tell him that
I imagined him as a young man standing at the branching of the roads,
deciding eventually that it would not be wise for me to let him see
that reading between the lines I had guessed his difficulty to be a
personal one. "We must proceed cautiously," I said, "there may be a
woman in the background.... The literary compliments he pays me and
the interest that my book has excited are accidental, circumstantial.
Life comes before literature, for certain he stands at the branching
of the roads, and the best way I can serve him is by drawing his
attention to the fallacy, which till now he has accepted as a truth,
that there is one immutable standard of conduct for all men and all
women." But the difficulty of writing a sufficient letter on a subject
so large and so intricate puzzled me and I sat smiling, for an odd
thought had dropped suddenly into my mind. My correspondent was a
Bible reader, no doubt, and it would be amusing to refer him to the
chapter in Genesis where God is angry with our first parents because
they had eaten of the tree of good and evil. "This passage" I said to
myself, "has never been properly understood. Why was God angry? For no
other reason except that they had set up a moral standard and could be
happy no longer, even in Paradise. According to this chapter the moral
standard is the origin of all our woe. God himself summoned our first
parents before him, and in what plight did they appear? We know how
ridiculous the diminutive fig leaf makes a statue seem in our museums;
think of the poor man and woman attired in fig leaves just plucked
from the trees! I experienced a thrill of satisfaction that I should
have been the first to understand a text that men have been studying
for thousands of years, turning each word over and over, worrying over
it, all in vain, yet through no fault of the scribe who certainly
underlined his intention. Could he have done it better than by
exhibiting our first parents covering themselves with fig leaves, and
telling how after getting a severe talking to from the Almighty they
escaped from Paradise pursued by an angel? The story can have no other
meaning, and that I am the first to expound it is due to no
superiority of intelligence, but because my mind is free. But I must
not appear to my correspondent as an exegetist. Turning to his letter
again I read:

"I am sorely puzzled. Is your life all of a piece? Are your 'Memoirs'
a pose? I can't think the latter, for you seem sincere and frank to
the verge of brutality (or over). But what is your standard of
conduct? Is there a right and a wrong? Is everything open to any man?
Can you refer me now to any other book of yours in which you view life
steadily and view it whole from our standpoint? Forgive my intrusion.
You see I don't set myself as a judge, but you sweep away apparently
all my standards. And you take your reader so quietly and closely into
your confidence that you tempt a response. I see your many admirable
points, but your center of living is not mine, and I do want to know
as a matter of enormous human interest what your subsumptions are. I
cannot analyze or express myself with literary point as you do, but
you may see what I aim at. It is a bigger question to me than the
value or force of your book. It goes right to the core of the big
things, and I approach you as one man of limited outlook to another of
wider range."

The reader will not suspect me of vanity for indulging in these
quotations; he will see readily that my desire is to let the young man
paint his own portrait, and I hope he will catch glimpses as I seem to
do of an earnest spirit, a sort of protestant Father Gogarty,
hesitating on the brink of his lake. "There is a lake in every man's
heart"--but I must not quote my own writings. If I misinterpret him
... the reader will be able to judge, having the letter before him.
But if my view of him is right, my task is a more subtle one than
merely to point out that he will seek in vain for a moral standard
whether he seeks it in the book of Nature or in the book of God. I
should not move him by pointing out that in the Old Testament we are
told an eye for an eye is our due, and in the New the rede is to turn
the left cheek after receiving a blow on the right. Nor would he be
moved by referring him to the history of mankind, to the Boer War, for
instance, or the massacres which occur daily in Russia; everybody
knows more or less the history of mankind, and to know it at all is to
know that every virtue has at some time or other been a vice. But man
cannot live by negation alone, and to persuade my correspondent over
to our side it might be well to tell him that if there be no moral
standard he will nevertheless find a moral idea if he looks for it in
Nature. I reflected how I would tell him that he must not be
disappointed because the idea changes and adapts itself to
circumstance, and sometimes leaves us for long intervals; if he would
make progress he must learn to understand that the moral world only
becomes beautiful when we relinquish our ridiculous standards of what
is right and wrong, just as the firmament became a thousand times more
wonderful and beautiful when Galileo discovered that the earth moved.
Had Kant lived before the astronomer he would have been a great
metaphysician, but he would not have written the celebrated passage
"Two things fill the soul with undying and ever-increasing admiration,
the night with its heaven of stars above us and in our hearts the
moral law." The only fault I find with this passage is that I read the
word "law" where I expected to read the word "idea," for the word
"law" seems to imply a Standard, and Kant knew there is none. Is the
fault with the translator or with Kant, who did not pick his words
carefully? The metaphysician spent ten years thinking out the
"Critique of Pure Reason" and only six months writing it; no doubt his
text might be emendated with advantage. If there was a moral standard
the world within us would be as insignificant as the firmament was
when the earth was the center of the universe and all the stars were
little candles and Jehovah sat above them, a God who changed his mind
and repented, a whimsical, fanciful God who ordered the waters to rise
so that his creatures might be overwhelmed in the flood, all except
one family (I need not repeat here the story of Noah's Ark and the
doctrine of the Atonement) if there was one fixed standard of right
and wrong, applicable to everybody, black, white, yellow, and red men
alike, an eternal standard that circumstance could not change. Those
who believe in spite of every proof to the contrary that there is a
moral standard cannot appreciate the beautiful analogy which Kant
drew, the moral idea within the heart and the night with its heaven of
stars above us. "It is strange," I reflected, "how men can go on
worrying themselves about Rome and Canterbury four hundred years after
the discovery that the earth moved, and involuntarily a comparison
rose up in my mind of a squabble between two departments in an office
after the firm has gone bankrupt.... But how to get all these vagrant
thoughts into a sheet of paper? St. Paul himself could not proselytize
within such limitations, and apparently what I wrote was not
sufficient to lead my correspondent out of the narrow lanes of
conventions and prejudices into the open field of inquiry. Turning to
his letter, I read it again, misjudging him, perhaps ... but the
reader shall form his own estimate.

"I honestly felt and feel a big difficulty in reading and thinking
over your 'Memoirs' for you are a propagandist whether you recognize
that as a conscious mission or not. There is in your book a
challenging standard of life which will not wave placidly by the side
of the standard which is generally looked up to as his regimental
colors by the average man. One must go down. And it was because I felt
the necessity of choosing that I wrote to you.

"'Memoirs' is clearly to me a sincere book. You have built your life
on the lines there indicated. And there is a charm not merely in that
sincerity but in the freedom of the life so built. I could not, for
instance, follow my thoughts as you do. I do not call myself a coward
for these limitations. I believe it to be a bit of my build; you say
that limitation has no other sanction than convention--race
inheritance, at least so I gather. Moral is derived from mos. Be it
so. Does not that then fortify the common conviction that the moral is
the best? Men have been hunting the best all their history long by a
process of trial and error. Surely the build of things condemns the
murderer, the liar, the sensualist, and the coward! and how do you
come by 'natural goodness' if your moral is merely your customary? No,
with all respect for your immense ability and your cultured outlook, I
do not recognize the lawless variability of the right and the wrong
standard which you posit. How get you your evidence? From human
actions? But it is the most familiar of facts that men do things they
feel to be wrong. I have known a thief who stole every time in pangs
of conscience; not merely in the fear of detection. There is a higher
and a lower in morals, but the lower is recognized as a lower, and
does not appeal to a surface reading of the code of an aboriginal in
discussing morals. That, I think is only fair. Your artistic sense is
finely developed, but it is none the less firmly based, although there
are Victorian back parlors and paper roses.

"You see you are a preacher, not merely an artist. Every glimpse of
the beautiful urges the beholder to imitation and _vice versa_.
And that is why your 'Memoirs' are not merely 'an exhibition' of the
immoral; they are 'an incitement' to the immoral. Don't you think so?
And thinking so would you not honestly admit, that society (in the
wide sense, of course--civilization) would relapse, go down,
deliquesce, if all of us were George Moores as depicted in your book?"

His letter dropped from my hand, and I sat muttering, "How
superficially men think!" How little they trouble themselves to
discover the truth! While declaring that truth is all important, they
accept any prejudice and convention they happen to meet, fastening on
to it like barnacles. How disappointing is that passage about the
murderer, the sensualist, the liar, and the coward; but of what use
would it be to remind my correspondent of Judith who went into the
tent of Holofernes to lie with him, and after the love feast drove a
nail into the forehead of the sleeping man. She is in Scripture held
up to our admiration as a heroine, the saviour of our nation.
Charlotte Corday stabbed Marat in his bath, yet who regards Charlotte
Corday as anything else but a heroine? In Russia men know that the
fugitives lie hidden in the cave, yet they tell the Cossack soldiers
they have taken the path across the hill--would my correspondent
reprove them and call them liars? I am afraid he has a lot of leeway
to make up, and it is beyond my power to help him.

Picking up his letter I glanced through it for some mention of "Esther
Waters," for in answer to the question if I could recommend him to any
book of mine in which I viewed life--I cannot bring myself to
transcribe that tag from Matthew Arnold--I referred him to "Esther
Waters," saying that a critic had spoken of it as a beautiful
amplification of the beatitudes. Of the book he makes no mention in
his letter, but he writes: "There is a challenging standard of life in
your book which will not wave placidly by the side of the standard
which is generally looked up to as his regimental colors by the
average man." The idea besets him, and he refers to it again in the
last paragraph; he says: "You see, you are a preacher, not merely an
artist." And very likely he is right; there is a messianic aspect in
my writings, and I fell to thinking over "Esther Waters"; and reading
between the lines for the first time, I understood that it was that
desire to standardize morality that had caused the poor girl to be
treated so shamefully. Once Catholicism took upon itself to torture
and then to burn all those it could lay hands upon who refused to
believe with its doctrines, and now in the twentieth century
Protestantism persecutes those who act or think in opposition to its
moralities. Even the saintly Mrs. Barfield did not dare to keep
Esther; but if she sent her servant away, she spoke kindly, giving her
enough money to see her through her trouble; there are good people
among Christians. The usual Christian attitude would be to tell Esther
that she must go into a reformatory after the birth of her child, for
the idea of punishment is never long out of the Christian's thoughts.
It is not necessary to recapitulate here how Esther, escaping from the
network of snares spread for her destruction, takes refuge in a
workhouse, and lives there till her child is reared; how she works
fifteen hours a day in a lodging house, sleeping in corners of
garrets, living upon insufficient food; or how, after years of
struggle, she meets William, now separated from his wife, and consents
to live with him that her child may have a father. For this second
"transgression," so said a clergyman in a review of the book, Esther
could not be regarded as a moral woman. His moral sense, dwarfed by
doctrine, did not enable him to see that the whole evil came out of
standard morality and the whole good out of the instinct incarnate in
her; and he must have read the book without perceiving its theme, the
revelation in the life of an outcast servant girl of the instinct on
which the whole world rests.

Not until writing these lines did I ever think of "Esther Waters" as a
book of doctrine; but it is one, I see that now, and that there is a
messianic aspect in my writings. My correspondent did well to point
that out, and no blame attaches to him because he seems to fail to see
that I may be an admirable moralist while depreciating Christian
morality and advocating a return to Nature's. He belonged to the
traditions yesterday, today he is among those who are seekers, and
to-morrow I doubt not he will be among those prone to think that
perhaps Christianity is, after all, retrograde. His lips will curl
contemptuously to-morrow when he hears the cruelty of the circus
denounced by men who would, if they were allowed, relight the bon
fires of the Inquisition; ... he is a Protestant, I had forgotten.
Gladiators have begun to appear to us less cruel than monks, and
everybody who can think has begun to think that some return to pagan
morality is desirable. That is so; awaking out of the great slumber of
Christianity, we are all asking if the qualities which once we deemed
our exclusive possession have not been discovered among pagans--pride,
courage, and heroism. Our contention has become that no superiority is
claimed in any respect but one; it appears that it must be admitted
that Christians are more chaste than pagans, at all events that
chastity flourishes among Christian communities as it has never
flourished among pagan. The Christian's boast is that all sexual
indulgence outside of the marriage bed is looked upon as sinful, and
he would seem to think that if he proclaims this opinion loudly, its
proclamation makes amends for many transgressions of the ethical law.
All he understands is the law; nothing of the subtler idea that the
ethical impulse is always invading the ethical law finds a way into
his mind. Women are hurried from Regent Street to Vine Street, and his
conscience is soothed by these raids; the owners of the houses in
which these women live are fined, and he congratulates himself that
vice is not licensed in England, that, in fact, its existence is
unrecognized. Prostitution thrives, nevertheless; but numbers do not
discourage the moralist, and when he reads in the newspapers of
degraded females, "unfortunates," he breathes a sigh; and if these
reports contain descriptions of miserable circumstance and human
grief, he mutters "how very sad!"

But the assurance that the women are wretched and despised soothes his
conscience, and he remembers if he has not been able to abolish
prostitution, he has at all events divested it of all "glamour." It
would appear that practical morality consists in making the meeting of
men and women as casual as that of animals. "But what do you wish--you
would not have vice respected, would you?" "What you call vice was
once respected and honored, and the world was as beautiful then as
now, and as noble men lived in it. In many ways the world was more
moral than when your ideas began to prevail." He asks me to explain,
and I tell him that with the degradation of the courtesan the moral
standard has fallen, for as we degrade her we disgrace the act of
love. We have come to speak of it as part of our lower nature,
permissible, it is true, if certain conditions are complied with, but
always looked upon askance; and continuing the same strain of
argument, I tell him that the act of love was once deemed a sacred
rite, and that I am filled with pride when I think of the noble and
exalted world that must have existed before Christian doctrine caused
men to look upon women with suspicion and bade them to think of angels
instead. Pointing to some poor drab lurking in a shadowy corner he
asks, "See! is she not a vile thing?" On this we must part; he is too
old to change, and his mind has withered in prejudice and conventions;
"a meager mind," I mutter to myself, "one incapable of the effort
necessary to understand me if I were to tell him, for instance, that
the desire of beauty is in itself a morality." It was, perhaps, the
only morality the Greeks knew, and upon the memory of Greece we have
been living ever since. In becoming _hetairae_, Aspasia, Lais,
Phryne, and Sappho became the distributors of that desire of beauty
necessary in a state which had already begun to dream the temples of
Minerva and Zeus.

The words of Blake come into my mind, "the daring of the lion or the
submission of the ox." With these words I should have headed my letter
to the secretary of the charitable institution, and I should have told
him that many books which he would regard as licentious are looked
upon by me as sacred. "Mademoiselle de Maupin," "the golden book of
spirit and sense," Swinburne has called it, I have always looked upon
as a sacred book from the very beginning of my life. It cleansed me of
the belief that man has a lower nature, and I learned from it that the
spirit and the flesh are equal, "that earth is as beautiful as heaven,
and that perfection of form is virtue." "Mademoiselle de Maupin" was a
great purifying influence, a lustral water dashed by a sacred hand,
and the words are forever ringing in my ear, "by exaltation of the
spirit and the flesh thou shalt live." This book would be regarded by
my correspondent as he regards my "Memoirs," and its publication has
been interdicted in England. How could it be permitted to circulate in
a country in which the kingdom of heaven is (in theory) regarded as
more important than the kingdom of earth? A few pages back the idea
came up under my pen that the aim of practical morality was to render
illicit love as unattractive as possible, and I suppose, though he has
never thought the matter out, the Christian moralist would regard
Gautier as the most pernicious of writers, for his theme is always
praise of the visible world, of all that we can touch and see; and in
this book art and sex are not estranged. I have often wondered if the
estrangement of the twain so noticeable in English literature is not
the origin of this strange belief that bodily love is part of our
lower nature. Our appreciation of the mauve flush dying in the west
has been indefinitely heightened by descriptions seen in pictures and
read in poems, and I cannot but think that if the lover's exaltation
before the curve of his mistress's breast had not been forbidden, the
ugly thought that the lover's ardor is inferior to the poet's would
never have obtained credence. There is but one energy, and the vital
fluid, whether expended in love or in a poem, is the same. The poet
and the lover are creators, they participate and carry on the great
work begun billions of years ago when the great Breath breathing out
of chaos summoned the stars into being. But why do I address myself
like this to the average moralist? How little will he understand me!
In the Orelay adventure which horrified him there was an appreciation
of beauty which he has, I am afraid, rendered himself incapable of.
Myself and Doris were spiritual gainers by the Orelay adventure,
Doris's rendering of "The Moonlight Sonata," till she went to Orelay,
was merely brilliant and effective; and have not all the critics in
England agreed that the story in which I relate her contains some of
the best pages of prose I have written? But why talk of myself when
there is Wagner's experience to speak about? Did he not write to
Madame Wasendonck, "I owe you Tristan for all eternity"? She has not
left any written record of her debt to Wagner, perhaps because she
could not find words to give the reader any idea how great it was.

Histories of human civilization there are in abundance, but I do not
know of any history of the human intelligence. But when this comes to
be written--if it ever should come to be written--the writer will
hesitate, at least I can imagine him hesitating, how much of the
genius of artists he would be justified in tracing back to sexual
impulses. Goethe, as my correspondent informs me, looked upon love of
woman as a means of increasing his aesthetic sensibilities, and my
correspondent seems to think that he did them wrong thereby, whereas I
think he honored them exceedingly. Balzac held the contrary belief, so
Gautier tells us, maintaining that great spiritual elation could be
gained by restraint, and when inquiry was made into his precise
beliefs on this point he confessed that he could not allow an author
more than half an hour once a year with his beloved; he placed no
restriction, however, on correspondence, "for that helped to form a
style." When Gautier mentioned the names of certain great men whose
lives offered a striking refutation of this theory, Balzac answered
they would have written better if they had lived chastely. Gautier
seems to have left the question there, and so will we, remarking only
that Balzac was prone to formulating laws out of his single
experience. I remember having written, or having heard somebody say,
"in other writers we discover this or that thing, but everything
exists in Balzac." And in his conversation with Gautier we do not find
him praising chastity as a virtue, but extolling the results that may
be gotten from chastity as a Yogi might. It is said that English
missionaries in India sometimes drive out in their pony chaises to
visit a holy man who has left his womenfolk, plentiful food, and a
luxurious dwelling for a cave in some lonely ravine. The pony chaise
only takes the parson to the mouth of the ravine, and leaving his wife
and children in charge of his servant, the parson ascends the rocky
way on foot, meeting, perchance, a fat peasant priest from Maynooth
bent on the same mission as himself--the conversion of the Yogi. It is
amusing for a moment to imagine these two Western barbarians sitting
with the emaciated saint on the ledge in front of the cave. Thinking
to win his sympathy, they tell him that on one point they are all
agreed. The Brahman's eyes would dilate; how can this thing be? his
eyes would seem to ask, and it is easy to imagine how contemptuously
he would raise his eyes when he gathered gradually from their
discourse that his visitors believed that chastity was incumbent upon
all men. "But all men are not the same," he would answer, if he
answered his visitors; "I dwell in solitude and in silence, and am
chaste, and live upon the rice that the pious leave on the rocks for
me, but I do not regard chastity and abstinence as possessed of any
inherent merits; as virtues, they are but a means to an end. How would
you impose chastity upon all men, since every man brings a different
idea into the world with him? There are men who would die if forced to
live chaste lives, and there are men who would choose death rather
than live unchaste, and many a woman if she were forced to live with
one husband would make him very unhappy, whereas if she lived with two
men she would make them both supremely happy. But the news has reached
me even here that in the West you seek a moral standard, and this
quest always fills me with wonder. There are priests among you, I can
see that, and soldiers, and fishermen, and artists and princes and
folk who labor in the fields--now do you expect all these men, living
in different conditions of life, to live under the same rule? I am
afraid that the East and the West will never understand each other.
The sun is setting, my time for speech is over," and the wise man,
rising from the stone on which he has been sitting, enters into the
cave, leaving the priest and the parson to descend the rocks together
in the twilight, their differences hushed for the moment, to break
forth again the next day.

Schopenhauer has a fine phrase, one that has haunted my mind these
many years, that the follies of the West flatten against the sublime
wisdom of the East like bullets fired against a cliff.

How can it be otherwise? For when we were naked savages the Brahmans
were learned philosophers, and had seen as far into every mystery as
mortal eyes will ever see. We have progressed a little lately; our
universities, it is true, are a few hundred years old, but in
comparison with the East we are still savages; our culture is but
rudimentary, and my correspondent's letter is proof of it. It is
characteristic of the ideas that still flourish on the banks of the
Thames, ideas that have changed only a little since the
_Mayflower_ sailed. It would have been better if Columbus had
delayed his discovery for, let us say, a thousand years. I am afraid
the _Mayflower_ carried over a great many intellectual weeds
which have caught root and flourished exceedingly in your
States--Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Washington. A letter arrived
from Washington some two or three months ago. The writer was a lady
who used to write to me on all subjects under the sun; about fifteen
years ago we had ceased to write to each other, so she began her
letter, not unnaturally, by speaking of the surprise she guessed her
handwriting would cause me. She had broken the long silence, for she
had been reading "The Lake," and had been much interested in the book.
It would have been impolite to write to me without alluding to the
aesthetic pleasure the book had given her, but her interest was mainly
a religious one. About five years ago she had become a Roman Catholic,
she was writing a book on the subject of her conversion, and would
like to find out from me why I had made Father Gogarty's conversion
turn upon his love of woman, "for it seems to me clear, unless I have
misunderstood your book, that you intended to represent Gogarty as an
intellectual man." It is difficult to trace one's motives back, but I
remember the irritation her letter caused me, and how I felt it would
not be dignified for me to explain; my book was there for her to
interpret or misinterpret, as she pleased; added to which her
"conversion" to Rome was an annoying piece of news. Fifteen years ago
she was an intelligent woman and a beautiful woman, if photographs do
not lie, and it was disagreeable for me to think of her going on her
knees in a confessional, receiving the sacraments, wearing scapulars,
trying to persuade herself that she believed in the Pope's
indulgences. She must now be middle-aged, but the decay of physical
beauty is not so sad a spectacle as the mind's declension. "She began
to think," I said, "of another world only when she found herself
unable to enjoy this one any longer; weariness of this world produces
what the theologians call 'faith.' How often have we heard the phrase
'You will believe when you are dying'? She would have had," I said,
"Father Gogarty leave his church for doctrinal rather than natural
reasons, believing scrolls to be more intellectual than the instincts;
Father Gogarty poring over some early edition of the Scriptures in his
little house on the hilltop, reading by the light of the lamp at
midnight and deciding that he would go out of his parish because,
according to recent exegesis, a certain verset in the Gospel had been
added three hundred years after the death of Christ." I fell to
thinking how dry, common, and uninteresting the tale would be had it
been written on these doctrinal lines. Carlyle said that Cardinal
Newman had the brain of a half-grown rabbit, and he was right; Newman
never got further than a scroll, and man must think with his body, as
well as with his brain. To think well the whole man must think, and it
seems to me that Father Gogarty thought in this complete way. Rose
Leicester revealed to him the enchantment and the grace of life, and
his quest became life. Had it been Hose Leicester herself the story
would have merely been a sensual incident. The instinct to go rose up
within him, he could not tell how or whence it came, and he went as
the bird goes, finding his way toward a country where he had never
been, led as the bird is led by some nostalgic instinct. And I do not
doubt that he found life, whether in the form of political or literary
ambition or in some other woman who would remind him of the woman he
had lost; perhaps he found it in all these things, perhaps in none.
Told as I told it the story seems to me a true and human one, and one
that might easily occur in these modern days; much more easily than
the story my correspondent would have had me write. The story of a
priest abandoning his parish for theological reasons is not an
improbable one, but I think such a story would be more typical of the
sixteenth century, when men were more interested in the authenticity
of the Biblical texts than they are in the twentieth. The Bible has
been sifted again and again; its history is known, every word has been
weighed, and it is difficult to imagine the most scrupulous exegetist
throwing a search light into any unexplored corner. Even Catholic
scholarship, if Loisy can be regarded as a Catholic, has abandoned the
theory that the gospels were written by the Apostles. The earliest,
that of Mark, was written sixty years after the death of Christ, and
it is the only one for which any scholar claims the faintest
historical value. With this knowledge of history in our possession
belief has become in modern times merely a matter of temperament,
entirely dissociated from the intellect. Some painter once said that
Nature put him out. The theologian can say the same about the
intellect--it puts him out. Out of a great deal of temperament and a
minimum of intellect he gets a precipitate, if I may be permitted to
drop into the parlance of the chemist, for dregs would be an impolite
word to use, and the precipitate always delights in the fetich. There
will always be men and women, the cleric has discovered, who will
barter their souls for the sake of rosaries and scapulars and the
Pope's indulgences. The two great enemies of religion, as the clerics
know well, are the desire to live and the desire to know. We find this
in Genesis: God: i. e., the clerics, was angry because his creatures
ate of these different fruits. God's comprehension of the danger of
the tree of life is not wonderful, but his foreseeing of the danger of
the tree of knowledge was extraordinary foreseeing, for very little of
the fruit of this tree had been eaten at the time the text was
written. All through the Middle Ages the clerics strove to keep men
from it with tortures and burnings at the stake, and they were so
anxiously striving for success in protecting their flocks from this
tree that they allowed the sheep to wander, the rams to follow the
ewes, and to gambol as they pleased. But the efforts of the clerics
were vain. There were rams who renounced the ewes, and the succulent
herbage that grows about the tree of life, for the sake of the fruit
of the tree of knowledge; all the fences that the clerics had erected
were broken down one by one; and during the nineteenth century a great
feast was held under the tree. But after every feast there are always
ailing stomachs; these denouncing the feast go about in great
depression of spirit, surfeited feasters, saying the branches of the
tree have been plucked bare; others complain they have eaten bitter
fruit. This is the moment for the prowling cleric. Hell is remote, it
has been going down in the world for some time, and biology, if no
conclusions be drawn, serves the clerical purpose almost as well. "The
origins of existence are humble enough, my son, but think of the
glorious heritage," and the faint-hearted sheep is folded again....
The tree of life is more abundant; whenever a fruit is plucked another
instantly takes its place, and all the efforts of the clerics are now
directed to keep their flocks from this tree. "Back to the tree of
knowledge!" they cry. "Hu! Hu! Hu! Both trees," they mutter among
themselves, "are accursed, but this one, from which sweet fruit may
always be plucked, is the worser." And they collect together in groups
to pass censure on their predecessors. "My predecessors were
infallible fools," cries the Pope, "to have permitted praise of this
fatal tree, wasting their energies on such men as Bruno, who said the
earth was round, and Galileo, whom they forced to say he was mistaken
when he said the earth moves. A pretty set of difficulties they have
involved us in with their accursed astronomy. Boccaccio and the
Troubadours should have been burned instead, and if this had been done
all the abominable modern literature which would persuade the faithful
that this world is not all sackcloth and ashes would never have been
written. Away with him who says that the earth is as beautiful as
heaven," and Gautier's phrase, _"Moi, je trouve la terre aussi belle
que le ciel, et je pense que la correction de la forme est la
vertu,"_ has become the heresy more intolerable than any other to
the modern cleric, and to me and to all the ardent and intellectual
spirits of my generation a complete and perfect expression of
doctrine. To some it will always seem absurd to look to Gautier rather
than to a Bedouin for light. Nature produces certain attitudes of
mind, and among these is an attitude which regards archbishops as more
serious than pretty women. These will never be among my disciples. So
leaving them in full possession of the sacraments, I pass on.

My generation was in sympathy with "Mademoiselle de Maupin" and it did
more than to reveal and clarify the ideas we were seeking. It would be
vain for me, as for any other man, to attempt to follow the course of
an idea and to try to determine its action upon life. Perhaps the part
of the book which interested us the least was that very part which
would be read aloud in court if a prosecution were attempted: I am
alluding to the scene when Mademoiselle de Maupin comes into Albert's
room. This scene was, however, inevitable, and could not be omitted,
for does it not contain that vision of beauty which Albert had been
seeking and which was vouchsafed to him for a little while? Never did
he see Mademoiselle de Maupin afterwards, she was but a phantom of his
own imagination made visible by some prodigy to him. For a still
briefer space Rosette shared Albert's dream, and man and wife remained
faithful to each other. It is easy to imagine the vileness which a
prosecuting counsel could extract from these beautiful pages made
entirely of vision and ecstasy. How false and shameful is the whole
business. We are allowed to state that we prefer pagan morality to
Christian, but are interdicted from illustrating our beliefs by
incident. So long as we confine ourselves to theory we are unmolested.
But these are subtleties which do not trouble the minds of the members
of vigilance associations, the men and women who gather together in
back parlors with lead pencils to mark out passages which they
consider "un-Kur-istean" (a good strong accent on the second
syllable). Their thoughts pursue beaten tracks. Books like
"Mademoiselle de Maupin" they hold would act directly on the
temperament, and we know that they do not do this, we know that the
things of the intellect belong to the intellect and the things of the
flesh to the flesh. Were it otherwise Rose Leicester, the pretty
school mistress, might have been left out of my story entitled "The
Lake," and her place taken by a book. My lady correspondent, it will
be remembered, was in favor of some doctrinal difficulty. My second
correspondent, the secretary of the charitable institution, would have
chosen as the cause of Father Oliver's flight a sensual book. His
choice might have been Burton's "Arabian Nights"; better still
Casanova's "Memoirs," for this is a book written almost entirely with
the senses; the intellect hardly ever intrudes itself; and instead of
an emaciated priest poring over a dusty folio we should have had an
inflamed young man curled up in an armchair reading eagerly, walking
up and down the room from time to time, unable to contain himself, and
eventually throwing the book aside, he would find his way down to the
lake.

These two versions of "The Lake," as it might have been written by my
correspondents, will convince, I think, almost anyone, even them, that
the desire of life which set Father Gogarty free could have been
inspired only by a woman's personality. It was not necessary that he
should go after the woman herself--but that point has already been
explained. What concerns us now to understand is how the strange idea
could have come into men's minds that literature is a more potent
influence than life itself. The solving of this problem has beguiled
many an hour, but the solution seems as far away as ever, and I have
never got nearer than the supposition that perhaps this fear of
literature is a survival of the very legitimate fear that prevailed in
the Middle Ages against writing. In my childhood I remember hearing an
old woman say that writing was an invention of the devil, and what an
old woman believed forty years ago in outlying districts was almost
the universal opinion of the Middle Ages. Denunciations and burnings
of books were frequent, and ideas die slowly, finding a slow
extinction many generations after the reason for their existence has
ceased. In the famous trial of Gille de Rais we have it on record that
the Breton baron was asked by his ecclesiastical judges if pagan
literature had inspired the strange crimes of which he was accused, if
he had read of them in--I have forgotten the names of the Latin
authors mentioned, but I remember Gille de Rais' quite simple answer
that his own heart had inspired the crimes. Whereupon the judges not
unnaturally were shocked, for the conclusion was forced upon them that
if Gille's confession were true they were not trying a man who had
been perverted by outward influence but one who had been born
perverted. Who then was responsible for his crimes? Lunacy sometimes
in these modern days serves as a scapegoat, but the knowledge of
lunacy in the fifteenth century was not so complete as it is now and
the judges preferred to believe that Gille was lying. And about ten
years ago London found itself in the same moral quandary. Three or
four little boys were discovered to have planned the murder of one of
their comrades--sixpence, I think, was the object of the murder; not
one was over eight, yet they planned the crime skillfully and very
nearly succeeded in avoiding detection. To credit these little boys
with instinctive crime was intolerable, and just as in the Middle Ages
a scapegoat had to be found. Apuleius and his Ass were out of the
question, but the little boys admitted having read penny dreadfuls;
London breathed again, the way now was clear, these newspapers must be
prosecuted, and this recrudescence of wickedness in the heart of a
little boy would never be heard of again. A little later or maybe it
was a little earlier, I relate these things in the order in which they
come into my mind, the London Vigilance Association instituted a
prosecution against Mr. Henry Vizetelly, a man of letters and the
publisher of Zola's novels. With the exception of Mr. Robert Buchanan
and myself not a single man of letters could be found to speak in Mr.
Vizetelly's defense. Everybody urged some excuse, his wife was ill,
his children were at the seaside and he had to go down to see them, or
that he had never cared much about naturalistic literature; whereas,
if the prosecution had been directed against something romantic,
etc.--Stranger still is the fact that it was almost impossible to find
a counsel willing to defend Mr. Vizetelly. One man threw up the case,
giving as his reason that he would have to read the books, another
said that it would be impossible to adequately defend Mr. Vizetelly's
case because no one could say what one had a right to put into a book.
This remark seemed to me at the time contemptible, but there was more
in it than I thought, for will it be believed that when the case came
into court the judge ruled that the fact that standard writers had
availed themselves of a great deal of license could not be taken as a
proof that such license was permissible? Two wrongs do not make a
right he said. In these circumstances perhaps counsel was wise to tell
Mr. Vizetelly to plead guilty to having published an indecent libel;
but the advice seemed so cruel that, justly or unjustly, I suspect the
lawyer of a wish to escape the odium that would have attached to him
if he had defended a book accused of immorality. The old man was
heavily fined. On going out of court he set to work to have the books
revised, spending hundreds of pounds having the plates altered, but
the Vigilance Association attacked him again, and this time they
succeeded in killing him. Mr. Vizetelly was over seventy years of age
when he went to prison, and the shame, anxiety, and three months of
prison life killed him. Five years afterwards the Authors' Society,
who would not say a word in his favor, voted a great banquet for Zola
when he came to London. Zola received every homage that could be paid
to a man of letters. The Vigilance Association raised no protest, and
I do not blame them. None would have been heard. But while the
banquets were held and the speeches were published in the newspapers
some of the members of the Association must have meditated sadly on
the futility of their efforts and the death of Mr. Vizetelly. It
requires a heavy blow of a very heavy mallet to get anything into some
people's heads, and nothing short of the reception that was given to
Zola could have affected the minds of the Vigilance Association. The
significance of the judge's words that the fact that classical writers
had availed themselves of a certain license could not be taken as
proof that such license was permissible escaped them altogether, for
some time afterwards the question of immorality in literature arose
again--I have forgotten the circumstances of this case--but I remember
that Mr. Coote, the secretary of the Association, was asked if
Shakespeare had not written many very reprehensible passages. Mr.
Coote was obliged to admit that he had, and when asked why the
Association he represented did mot proceed against Shakespeare he
answered because Shakespeare wrote beautifully. A strangely immoral
doctrine, for if the license of expression that Shakespeare availed
himself of be harmful, Shakespeare should be prosecuted; that he wrote
beautifully is no defense whatever. Life comes before literature, and
the Vigilance Association lays itself open to a charge of neglect of
duty by not proceeding at once against Shakespeare and against all
those who have indulged in the same license of expression. The members
and their secretary have indeed set themselves a stiff job, but they
must not shrink from it if they would avoid shocking other people's
moral sense by exhibiting themselves in the light of mere busybodies
with a taste for what boys and old men speak of as "spicy bits."
Proceedings will have to be taken against all the literature that Mr.
Coote believes to be harmful (I accept him as the representative of
the ideas of his Association), and the plea must not be raised again
that because a reprehensible passage is well written it should be
acquitted. We must consider the question impartially. It is true that
a magistrate may be found presiding at Bow Street who will refuse to
issue a warrant against the publishers, let us say of Byron, Sterne,
the Restoration, and the Elizabethan dramatists. The Association will
have to risk the refusal; but I would not discourage the Association
from the adventure. It must not abandon the tope of finding a
magistrate who, anxious to prove himself no moral laggard, will do all
that is asked of him. A very pretty selection of "spicy bits" can be
picked from "Don Juan," and toward this compilation every member, male
and female, might contribute. The reading of these selections in Bow
Street in a crowded court would prove quite a literary entertainment,
and if the magistrate refused to issue a warrant he could only do so
on the pretext that the book had been published a long while, a
pretext which can hardly be held to be more valid than the pretext put
forward by Mr. Coote for not prosecuting Shakespeare. Of one thing
only would I warn the Society which I seem to be taking under my wing,
and that is, even if it should succeed in interdicting two-thirds of
English literature its task will still be only half accomplished. The
newspaper question will still have to be faced. Books are relatively
expensive, but the newspaper can be bought for a halfpenny, and it
will be admitted that no author is as indecent as the common reporter.
The reader thinks that I am going to draw his attention to some
celebrated divorce case, an account of which was reported in full in
the columns of some daily paper under a large heading "Painful
Details," the details being the account the chambermaid gave the
outraged husband of--I will spare my reader.

About fifteen years ago I was asked if I would care to go over to ----
College to see the sports. We walked across the downs, and while
watching the racing I was accosted by the head master, who asked me if
I would like to see the college. The sports were more interesting than
refectories and dormitories, but it seemed a little churlish to refuse
and we went together. No doubt we visited the kitchens and the chapel,
but what I remember was a long hall wainscoted with oak and furnished
with oak tables and chairs and benches, In this hall there were some
thirty or forty boys, of ages varying from twelve to eighteen, reading
the newspapers, reading the reports of the Oscar Wilde trial; each
daily paper contained three or four columns of it. I asked the head
master if it were right to allow the boys to read such reports and he
answered that lately the newspapers contained a great deal of
objectionable matter, "But how am I to keep the daily papers out of
the college?" Now I am not easily scandalized, but I could not help
feeling that a grave scandal was being committed in allowing these
boys to read the newspapers during the week of that trial. But if you
admit the newspapers one day how can you forbid them on another
occasion? And while appreciating the head master's difficulty I walked
out into the open air unable to take any further interest in the
sports. Nor has time obliterated anything of the shame I felt that
day. I don't want to make a fuss, I don't want to pose as a moralist,
but I cannot help thinking that while newspapers continue to be
published, the Vigilance Society need not trouble lest certain books
should fall into the hands of young people. My correspondent forgot
that thousands of newspapers are published to-day when he wrote to me
saying that my book roused sensuality. I am afraid I omitted the
passage in which these words occur, fearing to burden my article with
quotation. Here it is:

"The perusal of the episodes (Doris' Orelay experiences) does
certainly not ennoble me, it rouses sensuality, it lowers woman from a
friend and helpmeet into a convenience and a minister to pleasure. I
am less able and less willing to think 'high' after your book; poetry
is distasteful, art is narrowed, I look out for the licentious, the
suggestive, the low, and the mean; and don't you? You seem in passage
after passage to be world-weary in a sense that no sane man ought to
be, sated, disgusted, tired of life--is it not so? You see I speak
from what I am sure you will regard as a narrow platform, my ideals
are certainly not yours but I am simply and frankly curious as to the
ultimates in your book and in yourself."

Let us suppose now that the Vigilance Association after a sharp
crusade has succeeded in redeeming our literature from all
reprehensible matter, and flushed with success has attacked the
newspapers and obtained an interdiction against the publication of all
reports of sexual crimes and misdemeanors. And having extended our
imagination so far we may presume as the sequence a world of such
highly developed moral susceptibilities that Miss Austen's novels are
beginning to cause uneasiness. Miss Austen's novels are still
permitted, but in current literature nothing is said that would lead
the reader to suppose that men and women are not of the same sex. But
men and women still continue to meet and hold conversation. Only some
advanced members of the Association are in favor of that complete
separation of the sexes which obtains in Ireland in the rural
districts. In the imaginary time of which I am writing the Association
has only obtained complete control over literature. The theaters are
either closed or given over to the representation of plays on
religious subjects; but private life has not been invaded by the
Puritan missionary, and waltz tunes are still heard and figures seen
whirling past lighted windows in Grosvenor Square and Fifth Avenue.
Mr. Coote has at this time become a moderate, he is no longer among
the progressives, and is in danger of losing his post, so I have no
difficulty in imagining what he would do in such a dilemma. He would
disguise himself as a waiter and at the next meeting of the Society
tell how he had until now showed some reluctance to--the sentence
would be a difficult one to finish, perhaps Mr. Coote would break off
and say--reluctance to put restraint on the action of men and women as
long as they kept within their own doors, but after what he has seen,
he finds himself obliged to pass from the moderates to the
progressives. What has Mr. Coote seen. How would he tell his tale?

He would tell of the length and the breadth of the ball room, of the
parquet floor usually covered with an aubusson carpet but the carpet
had been lifted and the gilded furniture taken away; the windows and
the recesses had been filled with flowers, and to keep these fresh,
great blocks of ice had been placed in the niches. He would tell of
the lighting arrangements, for are not flowers and lights incentives
to immorality? But his descriptions of the roses and the lilies would
only lead up to his descriptions of the shameless animality that came
up the staircase between twelve and one. A half-naked lady, the
hostess, stood at the head of the stairs receiving her guests with
smiles and words of welcome. The dresses the women wore resembled the
dress worn by the hostess; young and old alike went about their
pleasure with necks and bosoms and arms uncovered, and he saw these
undressed creatures slip into the arms of men who whirled them round
and round; it was but a whirling of silk ankles and a shuffling of
glazed shoes; and every now and then the men and women looked into
each other's eyes, and the whole scene was reflected shamelessly in
tall mirrors. Notwithstanding the fact that most of Mr. Coote's time
was spent behind the buffet serving out ices, he nevertheless
contrived to find a spare moment for investigation. On the pretext of
seeking a lady who had dropped a handkerchief he had crossed the ball
room and was therefore in a position to give an accurate account of
the waltzes he had heard, dulcet, undulating, capricious measures, far
more provocative than Beethoven's "Kreutzer Sonata" which Tolstoy has
denounced. The lady that Mr. Coote sought was not in the ball room,
and so he had an opportunity of investigating all the retiring rooms,
and I need not describe the pensive and shocked faces that listened to
his descriptions of the shady nooks. Sometimes it was a screen,
sometimes it was a palm that was employed to hide the couple from
observation. Mr. Coote at last discovered the owner of the
handkerchief in one of those shady nooks, she was there with a
gentleman.... Mr. Coote, of course, would refuse to relate what he
saw, he would hesitate, but the members of his Association would
insist upon knowing everything, and he would at last confess: "Well,
the gentleman had kissed the lady on the point of her shoulder." From
this scandalous incident he would pass to tell all that he remembered
of the conversation he had heard at the table round which he had
worked till nearly four o'clock in the morning handing cutlets,
chicken patties, and other delicacies, the names of which he was not
acquainted with.

Mr. Coote's description of what he saw may be ingenuous, but is his
description untrue? And when Mr. Coote finished up his speech as I
imagine him finishing it, by stating that the dancing, the music, the
dresses, the wines, and the meats were arranged and learnedly chosen
for one purpose and one only, the stimulation of sexual passion, I
cannot imagine anyone accusing him of having spoken an untruth. Mr.
Coote added that no one went to the ball for the pleasure of the
conversation--he was convinced that old and young derived their
pleasure, consciously or unconsciously, from sex.

We will imagine the members of Mr. Coote's Society being greatly moved
by his description, and the sudden determination of everybody that
dancing must be stopped. Had not Byron declared the waltz to be "half
a whore"? Tolstoy has gone one better and asked people to say if a
woman can remain chaste if a low dress is permitted and Beethoven's
"Kreutzer Sonata" is played. Forgetful, of course, that they have
prosecuted "Don Juan," the Society accepts Byron's dictum as their war
cry, and henceforth the business of Mr. Coote is to inquire into what
is immoral in dress, in music, in wine, and in food. After a long
consultation with experts and expensive law proceedings the Vigilance
Association has (in our imagination) succeeded in reforming society as
completely as it succeeded in reforming literature; and the months go
by, October, November, December, January, February, March ... but one
night the wind changes, and coming out of our houses in the morning we
are taken with a sense of delight, a soft south wind is blowing and
the lilacs are coming into bloom. My correspondent says that my book
rouses sensuality. Perhaps it does, but not nearly so much as a spring
day, and no one has yet thought of suppressing or curtailing spring
days. Yet how infinitely more pernicious is their influence than any
book! What thoughts they put into the hearts of lads and lasses! and
perforce even the moralist has to accept the irrepressible feeling of
union and growth, the loosening of the earth about the hyacinth shoots
and the birds going about their amorous business, and the white clouds
floating up gladly through the blue air. Why, then, should he look
askance at my book, which is no more than memories of my spring days?
If the thing itself cannot be suppressed, why is it worth while to
interfere with the recollection? What strange twist in his mind leads
him to decry in art what he accepts in nature? A strange twist indeed,
one which may be described as a sort of inverted sexuality, finding
its pleasure not in the spring day, but in odd corners of ancient
literature read only for the sake of passages which he declares to be
disgusting, and in spying on modern literature, seeking out passages
and expressions which might be denounced in the newspapers or
proceeded against in the police court. The psychology of one of these
purity mongers is more interesting to the alienist than to a man of
letters. Let us take a typical case, that of the late Lord ----. Forty
or fifty years ago he was one of the most strenuous advocates of
purity in literature, and more shops were raided at his instigation
than at any other; yet when he died his library was found to contain
the finest collection of impure literature in Europe, and his
executors were left wondering whether the prosecutions were prompted
by a desire to increase the value of his collection by the destruction
of rare books, copies of which were in his possession, or whether he
had been moved by conscientious scruples; a man might bamboozle
himself in this way: "I am a man of letters and possess these books
because they are rare, a curious corner of literature, but it would be
highly inexpedient for others to possess them." His conscience might
take a still more curious turn, leading to a dizzier height: "I am a
sinner; that, alas! is so; but I can prevent others from sinning
likewise." No doubt the greater part of the literature which the noble
lord collected with so much industry was of that frankly indecent kind
which is debarred from every library, Continental as well as English
and American. There is a literature which does not come within the
scope of the present inquiry, and there is what may perhaps be called
a border literature, books which are found in public libraries in the
German, the French, and the Italian texts. It seems pertinent to ask
why a little knowledge of French and German and Italian should procure
the right to read Brantôme's "Femmes Gallantes." It would be difficult
for anybody to say that this book is not frankly obscene, and yet in
the French text I suppose every library contains it. Casanova's
"Memoirs" is another book of the same kind; I am not aware of any
complete translation of Boccaccio's tales, but every library possesses
an edition in the original Italian. The only reason that can be put
forward for the suppression of a book is that it is harmful, and if
Brantôme, Casanova, and Boccaccio are harmful in English, they do harm
to those who can read them in the original texts. But perhaps I have
pointed out enough inconsistencies, and the reader, growing weary, may
say: "Are you so young, then, that you don't know that the world is a
mass of contradictions? that life is no more than a tale told by an
idiot full of sound and fury, and signifying nothing?" Shakespeare did
no more than to put into eloquent language every man's belief, that we
are all mad on one subject or another. If this be so, every race is
mad on some point, for have we not often heard that what is true of
the individual is true of the race? Anglo-Saxon madness is book
morality. Madness has been defined as a lack of consequence in ideas,
and can anything be less consequent than--we need look no further back
than Ibsen? The great genius who died in May last was decried by the
English people as one of the most immoral of writers; for twenty years
at least this opinion obtained in the press, and even among men of
letters; suddenly the opinion disappeared, it went out like the flame
of a candle; the text is the same, not a comma has been changed, yet
now everybody reads it differently. But I must not allow myself to be
drawn into speaking of the moral crusades directed against other
writers; the task is tempting, and I hope it will be undertaken one of
these days. Here, at all events, my concern is with my own writings,
as indicated by the title of the article, and it is doubtful if
reference to any book would make my point clearer than the tale of
what happened in America to my own book, "Esther Waters." The proof
sheets were sent in turn to three leading firms, Scribner, Harper, and
Appleton, and all three refused the book on the ground that, while
recognizing, etc., they did not think it was exactly the kind of book,
etc. Even experts make mistakes; this is not denied; what makes my
story so remarkable is that all three firms offered to publish an
authorized edition of the book as soon as news of its success in
England had been cabled to New York. Mr. Appleton, whom I met in
Paris, expressed his regret that expert opinion regarding this book
had been at fault. "The book," he said, "was quite a proper book to
publish, a most admirable book, which would do honor to any firm." I
answered: "Very likely all you say, Mr. Appleton, is true, but three
weeks ago the experts thought differently. How is it that an immoral
book can become moral in three weeks?" My next book, "Evelyn Innes,"
disturbed the house of Appleton as much as "Esther Waters," and a
gentleman of leisure connected with the firm was deputed to mark out
not the passages to which he himself took exception, but to which,
being an expert, he felt sure that others would take exception. The
gentleman was kind enough to insist on submitting his marked copy to
me, and my wonderment increased as I turned over the pages, and it
reached a climax when I happened upon the following passage, which had
been marked to be omitted by the American printer. The passage was:
"... in her stage life Evelyn was an agent of the sensual passion, not
only with her voice, but in her arms, her neck, and hair, and in every
expression of her face; and it was the craving music that had thrown
her into Ulick's arms. If it had subjugated her how much more would it
subjugate and hold within its persuasion the listener--the listener,
who perceived in the music nothing but its sensuality?" "But for what
reason," I asked the expert, "do you suggest the elimination of this
passage? This is the Puritan point of view. I thought that your
proposal was to draw my attention to the passages to which you thought
the Puritan would object." "Ah," he said, "that is how I began, but as
I got on with the work I thought it better to mark every passage that
might give offense." "And to whom would this passage give offense?" I
said. "Certainly not to any religious body?" "No," he answered, "not
to any religious body, but it would give offense to the subscribers to
the New Opera House. If parents read that the music of 'Tristan' threw
Evelyn Innes into the arms of Ulick Dean, they would not care to bring
their daughters to hear the opera, and might possibly discontinue
their subscriptions." Everybody will agree that "expert opinion" can
hardly go further, yet the folly which this "expert" was betrayed into
did not arise from any congenital stupidity; it is the mistake that
you and I, every one of us, would make when we seek the truth in our
casual experience instead of in our hearts.

One would have thought that my pointing out the absurdity of this
expurgation of "Evelyn Innes" to the house of Appleton would have
saved it ever afterwards from similar folly, and forgetful that
experience is, as Coleridge describes it, only a lamp in a vessel's
stern which throws a light on the waters we have passed through, none
on those which lie before us, the publication of "The Lake" was issued
by Messrs. Appleton with my consent. The book, as the American public
already know, is free from all matter to which the most severe
moralist could take exception, yet the American edition did not
conform entirely with the English; a dedication written in French was
omitted, for what reason I do not know, but it was omitted. The matter
may seem a small one, and it may seem invidious to allude to it at
all, but on an occasion like the present nothing must be passed over.
The English proofs of the "Memoirs" were read, and the book was
accepted, but when it was set up in America it did not seem quite so
moral in the American type as it did in the English and difficulties
arose; these have been alluded to in the first paragraph of this
article, and perhaps wrongly I agreed that the two stories, "The
Lovers of Orelay" and "In the Luxembourg Gardens," should be left out.
On September 28th I wrote, suggesting that "In the Luxembourg Gardens"
might be retained, that it was only necessary to drop out a few
sentences to make it, as the expert would say, "acceptable to the
American public," but it never occurred to me that "The Lovers of
Orelay" could be published in any form except the form in which I
wrote it. This morning I received a letter from Mr. Sears.

October 8, 1906. DEAR MR. MOORE:

Your letter of September 28th has just arrived this morning. I hope
that by the time you receive this I shall have the open letter which
we are to print in "Memoirs of My Dead Life." The book is all ready,
waiting for it. As a matter of fact, we have not cut out either "In
the Luxembourg Gardens" or "The Lovers of Orelay." We simply have
taken out parts of each. Very truly yours, J. H. SEARS.

"Simply have taken out parts of each!" My book, then, is a sort of
unfortunate animal, whose destiny was to be thrown on the American
vivisecting table and pieces taken out of it. Well, I raise no
objection. The promise that this preface will be published without
alteration soothes me (it is the anaesthetic), and after all, is it
not an honor to be Bowdlerized? Only the best are deemed dangerous....
I am not aware that anybody ever took liberties with Miss Braddon's
texts. And the day of the Bowdlerizer is a brief one! Sooner or later
the original text is published. This is the rule, and I am confident I
shall not prove an exception to the rule.

GEORGE MOORE.



MEMOIRS OF MY DEAD LIFE



CHAPTER I

SPRING IN LONDON


As I sit at my window on Sunday morning, lazily watching the
sparrows--restless black dots that haunt the old tree at the corner of
King's Bench Walk--I begin to distinguish a faint green haze in the
branches of the old lime. Yes, there it is green in the branches; and
I'm moved by an impulse--the impulse of Spring is in my feet;
india-rubber seems to have come into the soles of my feet, and I would
see London. It is delightful to walk across Temple Gardens, to
stop--pigeons are sweeping down from the roofs--to call a hansom, and
to notice, as one passes, the sapling behind St. Clement's Danes. The
quality of the green is exquisite on the smoke-black wall. London can
be seen better on Sundays than on week-days; lying back in a hansom,
one is alone with London. London is beautiful in that narrow street,
celebrated for licentious literature. The blue and white sky shows
above a seventeenth-century gable, and a few moments after we are in
Drury Lane. The fine weather has enticed the population out of grim
courts and alleys; skipping-ropes are whirling everywhere. The
children hardly escape being run over. Coster girls sit wrapped in
shawls, contentedly, like rabbits at the edge of a burrow; the men
smoke their pipes in sullen groups, their eyes on the closed doors of
the public house. At the corner of the great theatre a vendor of cheap
ices is rapidly absorbing the few spare pennies of the neighbourhood.
The hansom turns out of the lane into the great thoroughfare, a bright
glow like the sunset fills the roadway, and upon it a triangular block
of masonry and St. Giles's church rise, the spire aloft in the faint
blue and delicate air. Spires are so beautiful that we would fain
believe that they will outlast creeds; religion or no religion we must
have spires, and in town and country--spires showing between trees and
rising out of the city purlieus.

The spring tide is rising; the almond trees are in bloom, that one
growing in an area spreads its Japanese decoration fan-like upon the
wall. The hedges in the time-worn streets of Fitzroy Square light
up--how the green runs along? The spring is more winsome here than in
the country. One must be in London to see the spring. One can see the
spring from afar dancing in St. John's wood, haze and sun playing
together like a lad and a lass. The sweet air, how tempting! How
exciting! It melts on the lips in fond kisses, instilling a delicate
gluttony of life. It would be pleasant in these gardens walking
through shadowy alleys, lit here and there by a ray, to see girls
walking hand in hand, catching at branches, as girls do when dreaming
of lovers. But alas! the gardens are empty; only some daffodils! But
how beautiful is the curve of the flower when seen in profile, and
still more beautiful is the starry yellow when the flower is seen full
face. That antique flower carries my mind back--not to Greek times,
for the daffodil has lost something of its ancient loveliness; it is
more reminiscent of a Wedgwood than of a Greek vase. My nonsense
thoughts amuse me; I follow my thoughts as a child follows
butterflies; and all this ecstasy in and about me, is the joy of
health--my health and the health of the world. This April day has set
brain and blood on fire. Now it would be well to ponder by this old
canal! It looks as if it had fallen into disuse, and that is charming;
an abandoned canal is a perfect symbol of--well, I do not know of
what. A river flows or rushes, even an artificial lake harbours
waterfowl, children sail their boats upon it; but a canal does
nothing.

Here comes a boat! The canal has not been abandoned. Ah! that boat has
interrupted my dreams, and I feel quite wretched. I had hoped that the
last had passed twenty years ago. Here it comes with its lean horse,
the rope tightening and stretching, a great black mass with ripples at
the prow and a figure bearing against the rudder. A canal reminds me
of my childhood; every child likes a canal. A canal recalls the first
wonder. We all remember the wonder with which we watched the first
barge, the wonder which the smoke coming out of the funnel excited.
When my father asked me why I'd like to go to Dublin better by canal
than by railroad, I couldn't tell him. Nor could I tell any one to-day
why I love a canal. One never loses one's fondness for canals. The
boats glide like the days, and the toiling horse is a symbol! how he
strains, sticking his toes into the path!

There are visits to pay. Three hours pass--of course women, always
women. But at six I am free, and I resume my meditations in declining
light as the cab rolls through the old brick streets that crowd round
Golden Square; streets whose names you meet in old novels; streets
full of studios where Hayden, Fuseli, and others of the rank
historical tribe talked art with a big A, drank their despair away,
and died wondering why the world did not recognise their genius.
Children are scrambling round a neglected archway, striving to reach
to a lantern of old time. The smell of these dry faded streets is
peculiar to London; there is something of the odour of the original
marsh in the smell of these streets; it rises through the pavement and
mingles with the smoke. Fancy follows fancy, image succeeds image;
till all is but a seeming, and mystery envelops everything. That white
Arch seems to speak to me out of the twilight. I would fain believe it
has its secret to reveal. London wraps herself in mists; blue scarfs
are falling--trailing. London has a secret! Let me peer into her
veiled face and read. I have only to fix my thoughts to
decipher--what? I know not. Something ... perhaps. But I cannot
control my thoughts. I am absorbed in turn by the beauty of the Marble
Arch and the perspective of the Bayswater Road, fading like an
apparition amid the romance of great trees.

As I turn away, for the wind thrills and obliges me to walk rapidly, I
think how fortunate I am to experience these emotions in Hyde Park,
whereas my fellows have to go to Switzerland and to climb up Mont
Blanc, to feel half what I am feeling now, as I stand looking across
the level park watching the sunset, a dusky one. The last red bar of
light fades, and nothing remains but the grey park with the blue of
the suburb behind it, flowing away full of mist and people, dim and
mournful to the pallid lights of Kensington; and its crowds are like
strips of black tape scattered here and there. By the railings the
tape has been wound into a black ball, and, no doubt, the peg on which
it is wound is some preacher promising human nature deliverance from
evil if it will forego the spring time. But the spring time continues,
despite the preacher, over yonder, under branches swelling with leaf
and noisy with sparrows; the spring is there amid the boys and girls,
boys dressed in ill-fitting suits of broadcloth, daffodils in their
buttonholes; girls hardly less coarse, creatures made for work,
escaped for a while from the thraldom of the kitchen, now doing the
business of the world better than the preacher; poor servants of
sacred Spring. A woman in a close-fitting green cloth dress passes me
to meet a young man; a rich fur hangs from her shoulders; and they go
towards Park Lane, towards the wilful little houses with low balconies
and pendent flower-baskets swinging in the areas. Circumspect little
gardens! There is one, Greek as an eighteenth-century engraving, and
the woman in the close-fitting green cloth dress, rich fur hanging
from her shoulders, almost hiding the pleasant waist, enters one of
these. She is Park Lane. Park Lane supper parties and divorce are
written in her eyes and manner. The old beau, walking swiftly lest he
should catch cold, his moustache clearly dyed, his waist certainly
pinched by a belt, he, too, is Park Lane. And those two young men,
talking joyously--admirable specimens of Anglo-Saxons, slender feet,
varnished boots, health and abundant youth--they, too, are
characteristic of Park Lane.

Park Lane dips in a narrow and old-fashioned way as it enters
Piccadilly. Piccadilly has not yet grown vulgar, only a little modern,
a little out of keeping with the beauty of the Green Park, of that
beautiful dell, about whose mounds I should like to see a comedy of
the Restoration acted.

I used to stand here, at this very spot, twenty years ago, to watch
the moonlight between the trees, and the shadows of the trees floating
over that beautiful dell; I used to think of Wycherly's comedy, "Love
in St. James's Park," and I think of it still. In those days the
Argyle Rooms, Kate Hamilton's in Panton Street, and the Café de la
Régence were the fashion. But Paris drew me from these, towards other
pleasures, towards the Nouvelle Athènes and the Elysée Montmartre; and
when I returned to London after an absence of ten years I found a new
London, a less English London. Paris draws me still, and I shall be
there in three weeks, when the chestnuts are in bloom.



CHAPTER II

FLOWERING NORMANDY


On my arrival in Paris, though the hour was that stupid hour of seven
in the morning, while I walked up the grey platform, my head was
filled with memories of the sea, for all the way across it had seemed
like a beautiful blue plain without beginning or end, a plain on which
the ship threw a little circle of light, moving always like life
itself, with darkness before and after. I remembered how we steamed
into the long winding harbour in the dusk, half an hour before we were
due--at daybreak. Against the green sky, along the cliff's edge, a
line of broken paling zigzagged; one star shone in the dawning sky,
one reflection wavered in the tranquil harbour. There was no sound
except the splashing of paddle-wheels, and not wind enough to take the
fishing boats out to sea; the boats rolled in the tide, their sails
only half-filled. From the deck of the steamer we watched the strange
crews, wild-looking men and boys, leaning over the bulwarks; and I
remembered how I had sought for the town amid the shadow, but nowhere
could I discover trace of it; yet I knew it was there, smothered in
the dusk, under the green sky, its streets leading to the cathedral,
the end of every one crossed by flying buttresses, and the round roof
disappearing amid the chimney-stacks. A curious, pathetic town, full
of nuns and pigeons and old gables and strange dormer windows, and
courtyards where French nobles once assembled--fish will be sold there
in a few hours. Once I spent a summer in Dieppe. And during the hour
we had to wait for the train, during the hour that we watched the
green sky widening between masses of shrouding cloud, I thought of ten
years ago. The town emerged very slowly, and only a few roofs were
visible when the fisher girl clanked down the quays with a clumsy
movement of the hips, and we were called upon to take our seats in the
train. We moved along the quays, into the suburbs, and then into a
quiet garden country of little fields and brooks and hillsides
breaking into cliffs. The fields and the hills were still shadowless
and grey, and even the orchards in bloom seemed sad. But what shall I
say of their beauty when the first faint lights appeared, when the
first rose clouds appeared above the hills? Orchard succeeded orchard,
and the farmhouses were all asleep. There is no such journey in the
world as the journey from Dieppe to Paris on a fine May morning. Never
shall I forget the first glimpse of Rouen Cathedral in the diamond
air, the branching river, and the tall ships anchored in the deep
current. I was dreaming of the cathedral when we had left Rouen far
behind us, and when I awoke from my dream we were in the midst of a
flat green country, the river winding about islands and through fields
in which stood solitary poplar-trees, formerly haunts of Corot and
Daubigny. I could see the spots where they had set their easels--that
slight rise with the solitary poplar for Corot, that rich river bank
and shady backwater for Daubigny. Soon after I saw the first weir, and
then the first hay-boat; and at every moment the river grew more
serene, more gracious, it passed its arms about a flat, green-wooded
island, on which there was a rookery; and sometimes we saw it ahead of
us, looping up the verdant landscape as if it were a gown, running
through it like a white silk ribbon, and over there the green gown
disappearing in fine muslin vapours, drawn about the low horizon.

I did not weary of this landscape, and was sorry when the first villa
appeared. Another and then another showed between the chestnut-trees
in bloom; and there were often blue vases on the steps and sometimes
lanterns in metalwork hung from wooden balconies. The shutters were
not yet open, those heavy French shutters that we all know so well,
and that give the French houses such a look of comfort, of ease, of
long tradition. Suddenly the aspect of a street struck me as a place I
had known, and I said, "Is it possible that we are passing through
Asnières?" The name flitted past, and I was glad I had recognised
Asnières, for at the end of that very long road is the restaurant
where we used to dine, and between it and the bridge is the _bal_
where we used to dance. It was there I saw the beautiful Blanche
D'Antigny surrounded by her admirers. It was there she used to sit by
the side of the composer of the musical follies which she sang--in
those days I thought she sang enchantingly. Those were the days of
L'Oeil, Crevé, and Chilpéric. She once passed under the chestnut-trees
of that dusty little _bal de banlieue_ with me by her side, proud
of being with her. She has gone and Julia Baron has gone; Hortense has
outlived them all. She must be very old, eighty-five at least. It
would be wonderful to hear her sing "Mon cher amant, je te jure" in
the quavering voice of eighty-five; it would be wonderful to hear her
sing it because she doesn't know how wonderful she is; the old light
of love requires an interpreter, and she has had many; many great
poets have voiced her woe and decadence.

Not five minutes from that _bal_ was the little house in which
Hervé lived, and to which he used to invite us to supper; and where,
after supper, he used to play to us the last music he had composed. We
listened, but the public would listen to it no longer. Sedan had taken
all the tinkle out of it, and the poor _compositeur toqué_ never
caught the public ear again. We listened to his chirpy scores,
believing that they would revive that old nervous fever which was the
Empire when Hortense used to dance, when Hortense took the Empire for
a spring-board, when Paris cried out, "Cascade ma fille, Hortense,
cascade." The great Hortense Schneider, the great goddess of folly,
used to come down there to sing the songs which were intended to
revive her triumphs. She was growing old then, her days were over, and
Hervé's day was over. Vainly did he pile parody upon parody; vainly
did he seize the conductor's _bâton_; the days of their glory had
gone. Now Asnières itself is forgotten; the modern youth has chosen
another suburb to disport himself in; the ballroom has been pulled
down, and never again will an orchestra play a note of these poor
scores; even their names are unknown. A few bars of a chorus of pages
came back to me, remembered only by me, all are gone, like Hortense
and Blanche and Julia.

But after all I am in Paris. Almost the same Paris; almost the same
George Moore, my senses awake as before to all enjoyment, my soul as
enwrapped as ever in the divine sensation of life. Once my youth moved
through thy whiteness, O City, and its dreams lay down to dreams in
the freedom of thy fields! Years come and years go, but every year I
see city and plain in the happy exaltation of Spring, and departing
before the cuckoo, while the blossom is still bright on the bough, it
has come to me to think that Paris and May are one.



CHAPTER III

A WAITRESS


Feeling that he would never see Scotland again, Stevenson wrote in a
preface to "Catriona":--"I see like a vision the youth of my father,
and of his father, and the whole stream of lives flowing down there
far in the north, with the sound of laughter and tears, to cast me out
in the end, as by a sudden freshet, on these ultimate islands. And I
admire and bow my head before the romance of destiny." Does not this
sentence read as if it were written in stress of some effusive febrile
emotion, as if he wrote while still pursuing his idea? And so it
reminds us of a moth fluttering after a light. But however
vacillating, the sentence contains some pretty clauses, and it will be
remembered though not perhaps in its original form. We shall forget
the "laughter and the tears" and the "sudden freshet," and a simpler
phrase will form itself in our memories. The emotion that Stevenson
had to express transpires only in the words, "romance of destiny,
ultimate islands." Who does not feel his destiny to be a romance, and
who does not admire the ultimate island whither his destiny will cast
him? Giacomo Cenci, whom the Pope ordered to be flayed alive, no doubt
admired the romance of destiny that laid him on his ultimate island, a
raised plank, so that the executioner might conveniently roll up the
skin of his belly like an apron. And a hare that I once saw beating a
tambourine in Regent Street looked at me so wistfully that I am sure
it admired in some remote way the romance of destiny that had taken it
from the woodland and cast it upon its ultimate island--in this case a
barrow. But neither of these strange examples of the romance of
destiny seems to me more wonderful than the destiny of a wistful Irish
girl whom I saw serving drinks to students in a certain ultimate café
in the Latin Quarter; she, too, no doubt, admired the destiny which
had cast her out, ordaining that she should die amid tobacco smoke,
serving drinks to students, entertaining them with whatever
conversation they desired.

Gervex, Mademoiselle D'Avary, and I had gone to this café after the
theatre for half an hour's distraction; I had thought that the place
seemed too rough for Mademoiselle D'Avary, but Gervex had said that we
should find a quiet corner, and we had happened to choose one in
charge of a thin, delicate girl, a girl touched with languor,
weakness, and a grace which interested and moved me; her cheeks were
thin, and the deep grey eyes were wistful as a drawing of Rossetti;
her waving brown hair fell over the temples, and was looped up low
over the neck after the Rossetti fashion. I had noticed how the two
women looked at each other, one woman healthful and rich, the other
poor and ailing; I had guessed the thought that passed across their
minds. Each had doubtless asked and wondered why life had come to them
so differently. But first I must tell who was Mademoiselle D'Avary,
and how I came to know her. I had gone to Tortoni, a once-celebrated
cafe at the corner of the Rue Taitbout, the dining place of Rossini.
When Rossini had earned an income of two thousand pounds a year it is
recorded that he said: "Now I've done with music, it has served its
turn, and I'm going to dine every day at Tortoni's." Even in my time
Tortoni was the rendezvous of the world of art and letters; every one
was there at five o'clock, and to Tortoni I went the day I arrived in
Paris. To be seen there would make known the fact that I was in Paris.
Tortoni was a sort of publication. At Tortoni I had discovered a young
man, one of my oldest friends, a painter of talent--he had a picture
in the Luxembourg--and a man who was beloved by women. Gervex, for it
was he, had seized me by the hand, and with voluble eagerness had told
me that I was the person he was seeking: he had heard of my coming and
had sought me in every cafe from the Madeleine to Tortoni. He had been
seeking me because he wished to ask me to dinner to meet Mademoiselle
D'Avary; we were to fetch her in the Rue des Capucines. I write the
name of the street, not because it matters to my little story in what
street she lived, but because the name is an evocation. Those who like
Paris like to hear the names of the streets, and the long staircase
turning closely up the painted walls, the brown painted doors on the
landings, and the bell rope, are evocative of Parisian life; and
Mademoiselle D'Avary is herself an evocation, for she was an actress
of the Palais Royal. My friend, too, is an evocation, he was one of
those whose pride is not to spend money upon women, whose theory of
life is that "If she likes to come round to the studio when one's work
is done, _nous pouvons faire la fête ensemble_." But however
defensible this view of life may be, and there is much to be said for
it, I had thought that he might have refrained from saying when I
looked round the drawing-room admiring it--a drawing-room furnished
with sixteenth-century bronzes, Dresden figures, _étagères_
covered with silver ornaments, three drawings by Boucher--Boucher in
three periods, a French Boucher, a Flemish Boucher, and an Italian
Boucher--that I must not think that any of these things were presents
from him, and from saying when she came into the room that the
bracelet on her arm was not from him. It had seemed to me in slightly
bad taste that he should remind her that he made no presents, for his
remark had clouded her joyousness; I could see that she was not so
happy at the thought of going out to dine with him as she had been.

It was _chez Foyoz_ that we dined, an old-fashioned restaurant
still free from the new taste that likes walls painted white and gold,
electric lamps and fiddlers. After dinner we had gone to see a play
next door at the Odéon, a play in which shepherds spoke to each other
about singing brooks, and stabbed each other for false women, a play
diversified with vintages, processions, wains, and songs. Nevertheless
it had not interested us. And during the _entr'actes_ Gervex had
paid visits in various parts of the house, leaving Mademoiselle
D'Avary to make herself agreeable to me. I dearly love to walk by the
perambulator in which Love is wheeling a pair of lovers. After the
play he had said, "Allons boire un bock," and we had turned into a
students' café, a café furnished with tapestries and oak tables, and
old-time jugs and Medicis gowns, a café in which a student
occasionally caught up a tall bock in his teeth, emptied it at a gulp,
and after turning head over heels, walked out without having smiled.
Mademoiselle D'Avary's beauty and fashion had drawn the wild eyes of
all the students gathered there. She wore a flower-enwoven dress, and
from under the large hat her hair showed dark as night; and her
southern skin filled with rich tints, yellow and dark green where the
hair grew scanty on the neck; the shoulders drooped into opulent
suggestion in the lace bodice. And it was interesting to compare her
ripe beauty with the pale deciduous beauty of the waitress.
Mademoiselle D'Avary sat, her fan wide-spread across her bosom, her
lips parted, the small teeth showing between the red lips. The
waitress sat, her thin arms leaning on the table, joining very
prettily in the conversation, betraying only in one glance that she
knew that she was only a failure and Mademoiselle D'Avary a success.
It was some time before the ear caught the slight accent; an accent
that was difficult to trace to any country. Once I heard a southern
intonation, and then a northern; finally I heard an unmistakable
English intonation, and said:

"But you're English."

"I'm Irish. I'm from Dublin."

And thinking of a girl reared in its Dublin conventions, but whom the
romance of destiny had cast upon this ultimate café, I asked her how
she had found her way here; and she told me she had left Dublin when
she was sixteen; she had come to Paris six years ago to take a
situation as nursery governess. She used to go with the children into
the Luxembourg Gardens and talk to them in English. One day a student
had sat on the bench beside her. The rest of the story is easily
guessed. But he had no money to keep her, and she had to come to this
café to earn her living.

"It doesn't suit me, but what am I to do? One must live, and the
tobacco smoke makes me cough." I sat looking at her, and she must have
guessed what was passing in my mind, for she told me that one lung was
gone; and we spoke of health, of the South, and she said that the
doctor had advised her to go away south.

Seeing that Gervex and Mademoiselle D'Avary were engaged in
conversation, I leaned forward and devoted all my attention to this
wistful Irish girl, so interesting in her phthisis, in her red Medicis
gown, her thin arms showing in the long rucked sleeves. I had to offer
her drink; to do so was the custom of the place. She said that drink
harmed her, but she would get into trouble if she refused drink;
perhaps I would not mind paying for a piece of beef-steak instead. She
had been ordered raw steak! I have only to close my eyes to see her
going over to the corner of the cafe and cutting a piece and putting
it away. She said she would eat it before going to bed, and that would
be two hours hence, about three. While talking to her I thought of a
cottage in the South amid olive and orange trees, an open window full
of fragrant air, and this girl sitting by it.

"I should like to take you south and attend upon you."

"I'm afraid you would grow weary of nursing me. And I should be able
to give you very little in return for your care. The doctor says I'm
not to love any one."

We must have talked for some time, for it was like waking out of a
dream when Gervex and Mademoiselle D'Avary got up to go, and, seeing
how interested I was, he laughed, saying to Mademoiselle D'Avary that
it would be kind to leave me with my new friend. His pleasantry
jarred, and though I should like to have remained, I followed them
into the street, where the moon was shining over the Luxembourg
Gardens. And as I have said before, I dearly love to walk by a
perambulator in which Love is wheeling a pair of lovers: but it is sad
to find oneself alone on the pavement at midnight. Instead of going
back to the café I wandered on, thinking of the girl I had seen, and
of her certain death, for she could not live many months in that café.
We all want to think at midnight, under the moon, when the city looks
like a black Italian engraving, and poems come to us as we watch a
swirling river. Not only the idea of a poem came to me that night, but
on the Pont Neuf the words began to sing together, and I jotted down
the first lines before going to bed. Next morning I continued my poem,
and all day was passed in this little composition.

  We are alone! Listen, a little while,
  And hear the reason why your weary smile
  And lute-toned speaking are so very sweet,
  And how my love of you is more complete
  Than any love of any lover. They
  Have only been attracted by the grey
  Delicious softness of your eyes, your slim
  And delicate form, or some such other whim,
  The simple pretexts of all lovers;--I
  For other reason. Listen whilst I try
  To say. I joy to see the sunset slope
  Beyond the weak hours' hopeless horoscope,
  Leaving the heavens a melancholy calm
  Of quiet colour chaunted like a psalm,
  In mildly modulated phrases; thus
  Your life shall fade like a voluptuous
  Vision beyond the sight, and you shall die
  Like some soft evening's sad serenity....
  I would possess your dying hours; indeed
  My love is worthy of the gift, I plead
  For them. Although I never loved as yet,
  Methinks that I might love you; I would get
  From out the knowledge that the time was brief,
  That tenderness, whose pity grows to grief,
  And grief that sanctifies, a joy, a charm
  Beyond all other loves, for now the arm
  Of Death is stretched to you-ward, and he claims
  You as his bride. Maybe my soul misnames
  Its passion; love perhaps it is not, yet
  To see you fading like a violet,
  Or some sweet thought, would be a very strange
  And costly pleasure, far beyond the range
  Of formal man's emotion. Listen, I
  Will chose a country spot where fields of rye
  And wheat extend in rustling yellow plains,
  Broken with wooded hills and leafy lanes,
  To pass our honeymoon; a cottage where
  The porch and windows are festooned with fair
  Green leaves of eglantine, and look upon
  A shady garden where we'll walk alone
  In the autumn summer evenings; each will see
  Our walks grow shorter, till to the orange tree,
  The garden's length, is far, and you will rest
  From time to time, leaning upon my breast
  Your languid lily face, then later still
  Unto the sofa by the window-sill
  Your wasted body I shall carry, so
  That you may drink the last left lingering glow
  Of evening, when the air is filled with scent
  Of blossoms; and my spirits shall be rent
  The while with many griefs. Like some blue day
  That grows more lovely as it fades away,
  Gaining that calm serenity and height
  Of colour wanted, as the solemn night
  Steals forward you will sweetly fall asleep
  For ever and for ever; I shall weep
  A day and night large tears upon your face,
  Laying you then beneath a rose-red place
  Where I may muse and dedicate and dream
  Volumes of poesy of you; and deem
  It happiness to know that you are far
  From any base desires as that fair star
  Set in the evening magnitude of heaven.
  Death takes but little, yea, your death has given
  Me that deep peace and immaculate possession
  Which man may never find in earthly passion.

Good poetry of course not, but good verse, well turned every line
except the penultimate. The elision is not a happy one, and the mere
suppression of the "and" does not produce a satisfying line.

  Death takes but little, Death I thank for giving
  Me a remembrance, and a pure possession
  Of unrequited love.

And mumbling the last lines of the poem, I hastened to the café near
the Luxembourg Gardens, wondering if I should find courage to ask the
girl to come away to the South and live, fearing that I should not,
fearing it was the idea rather than the deed that tempted me; for the
soul of a poet is not the soul of Florence Nightingale. I was sorry
for this wistful Irish girl, and was hastening to her, I knew not why;
not to show her the poem--the very thought was intolerable. Often did
I stop on the way to ask myself why I was going, and on what errand.
Without discovering an answer in my heart I hastened on, feeling, I
suppose, in some blind way that my quest was in my own heart. I would
know if it were capable of making a sacrifice; and sitting down at one
of her tables I waited, but she did not come, and I asked the student
by me if he knew the girl generally in charge of these tables. He said
he did, and told me about her case. There was no hope for her; only a
transfusion of blood could save her; she was almost bloodless. He
described how blood could be taken from the arm of a healthy man and
passed into the veins of the almost bloodless. But as he spoke things
began to get dim and his voice to grow faint; I heard some one saying,
"You're very pale," and he ordered some brandy for me. The South could
not save her; practically nothing could; and I returned home thinking
of her.

Twenty years have passed, and I am thinking of her again. Poor little
Irish girl! Cast out in the end by a sudden freshet on an ultimate
café. Poor little heap of bones! And I bow my head and admire the
romance of destiny which ordained that I, who only saw her once,
should be the last to remember her. Perhaps I should have forgotten
her had it not been that I wrote a poem, a poem which I now inscribe
and dedicate to her nameless memory.



CHAPTER IV

THE END OF MARIE PELLEGRIN


Octave Barrès liked his friends to come to his studio, and a few of us
who believed in his talent used to drop in during the afternoon, and
little by little I got to know every picture, every sketch; but one
never knows everything that a painter has done, and one day, coming
into the studio, I caught sight of a full-length portrait I had never
seen before on the easel.

"It was in the back room turned to the wall," he said. "I took it out,
thinking that the Russian prince who ordered the Pegasus decoration
might buy it," and he turned away, not liking to hear my praise of it;
for it neither pleases a painter to hear his early works praised nor
abused. "I painted it before I knew how to paint," and standing before
me, his palette in his hand, he expounded his new aestheticism: that
up to the beginning of the nineteenth century all painting had been
done first in monochrome and then glazed, and what we know as solid
painting had been invented by Greuze. One day in the Louvre he had
perceived something in Delacroix, something not wholly satisfactory;
this something had set him thinking. It was Rubens, however, who had
revealed the secret! It was Rubens who had taught him how to paint! He
admitted that there was danger in retracing one's steps, in beginning
one's education over again; but what help was there for it, since
painting was not taught in the schools.

I had heard all he had to say before, and could not change my belief
that every man must live in the ideas of his time, be they good or
bad. It is easy to say that we must only adopt Rubens's method and
jealously guard against any infringement on our personality; but in
art our personality is determined by the methods we employ, and
Octave's portrait interested me more than the Pegasus decoration, or
the three pink Venuses holding a basket of flowers above their heads.
The portrait was crude and violent, but so was the man that had
painted it; he had painted it when he was a disciple of Manet's, and
the methods of Manet were in agreement with my friend's temperament.
We are all impressionists to-day; we are eager to note down what we
feel and see; and the carefully prepared rhetorical manner of Rubens
was as incompatible with Octave's temperament as the manner of John
Milton is with mine. There was a thought of Goya in the background, in
the contrast between the grey and the black, and there was something
of Manet's simplifications in the face, but these echoes were faint,
nor did they matter, for they were of our time. In looking at his
model he had seen and felt something; he had noted this harshly,
crudely, but he noted it; and to do this, is after all the main thing.
His sitter had inspired him. The word "inspired" offended him; I
withdrew it; I said that he had been fortunate in his model, and he
admitted that: to see that thin, olive-complexioned girl with fine
delicate features and blue-black hair lying close about her head like
feathers--she wore her hair as a blackbird wears his wing--compelled
one to paint; and after admiring the face I admired the black silk
dress he had painted her in, a black silk dress covered with black
lace. She wore grey pearls in her ears, and pearls upon her neck.

I was interested in the quality of the painting, so different from
Octave's present painting, but I was more interested in the woman
herself. The picture revealed to me something in human nature that I
had never seen before, something that I had never thought of. The soul
in this picture was so intense that I forgot the painting, and began
to think of her. She was unlike any one I had ever met in Octave
Barrès's studio; a studio beloved of women; the women one met there
seemed to be of all sorts, but in truth they were all of a sort. They
began to arrive about four o'clock in the afternoon, and they stayed
on until they were sent away. He allowed them to play the piano and
sing to him; he allowed them, as he would phrase it, to
_grouiller_ about the place, and they talked of the painters they
had sat to, of their gowns, and they showed us their shoes and their
garters. He heeded them hardly at all, walking to and fro thinking of
his painting, of his archaic painting. I often wondered if his
appearance counted for anything in his renunciation of modern methods,
and certainly his appearance was a link of association; he did not
look like a modern man, but like a sixteenth-century baron; his beard
and his broken nose and his hierarchial air contributed to the
resemblance; the jersey he wore reminded one of a cuirass, a coat of
mail. Even in his choice of a dwelling-place he seemed instinctively
to avoid the modern; he had found a studio in the street, the name of
which no one had ever heard before; it was found with difficulty; and
the studio, too, it was hidden behind great crumbling walls, in the
middle of a plot of ground in which some one was growing cabbages.
Octave was always, as he would phrase it, _dans une dèche
épouvantable_, but he managed to keep a thoroughbred horse in the
stable at the end of the garden, and this horse was ordered as soon as
the light failed. He would say, "Mes amis et mes amies, je regrette,
mais mon cheval m'attend." And the women liked to see him mount, and
many thought, I am sure, that he looked like a Centaur as he rode
away.

But who was this refined girl? this--a painting tells things that
cannot be translated into words--this olive-skinned girl who might
have sat to Raphael for a Virgin, so different from Octave's usual
women? They were of the Montmartre kin; but this woman might be a
Spanish princess. And remembering that Octave had said he had taken
out the portrait hoping that the Russian who had ordered the Pegasus
might buy it, the thought struck me that she might be the prince's
mistress. His mistress! Oh, what fabulous fortune! What might her
history be? I burned to hear it, and wearied of Octave's seemingly
endless chatter about his method of painting; I had heard all he was
saying many times before, but I listened to it all again, and to
propitiate him I regretted that the picture was not painted in his
present manner, "for there are good things in the picture," I said,
"and the model--you seem to have been lucky with your model."

"Yes, she was nice to paint from, but it was difficult to get her to
sit. A _concierge's_ daughter--you wouldn't think it, would you?"
My astonishment amused him, and he began to laugh. "You don't know
her?" he said. "That is Marie Pellegrin," and when I asked him where
he had met her he told me, at Alphonsine's; but I did not know where
Alphonsine's was.

"I'm going to dine there to-night. I'm going to meet her; she's going
back to Russia with the prince; she has been staying in the Quartier
Bréda on her holiday. _Sacré nom!_ Half-past five, and I haven't
washed my brushes yet!"

In answer to my question, what he meant by going to the Quartier Bréda
for a holiday, he said:

"I'll tell you all about that in the carriage."

But no sooner had we got into the carriage than he remembered that he
must leave word for a woman who had promised to sit to him, and
swearing that a message would not delay us for more than a few minutes
he directed the coachman. We were shown into a drawing-room, and the
lady ran out of her bedroom, wrapping herself as she ran in a
_peignoir_, and the sitting was discussed in the middle of a
polished _parquet_ floor. We at last returned to the carriage,
but we were hardly seated when he remembered another appointment. He
scribbled notes in the lodges of the _concierges_, and between
whiles told me all he knew of the story of Marie Pellegrin. This
delicate woman that I had felt could not be of the Montmartre kin was
the daughter of a _concierge_ on the Boulevard Extérieur. She had
run away from home at fifteen, had danced at the Elysée Montmartre.

  Sa jupe avait des trous,
  Elle aimait des voyous,
  Ils ont des yeux si doux.

But one day a Russian prince had caught sight of her, and had built
her a palace in the Champs Elysées; but the Russian prince and his
palace bored her.

The stopping of the carriage interrupted Octave's narrative. "Here we
are," he said, seizing a bell hanging on a jangling wire, and the
green door in the crumbling wall opened, and I saw an undersized
woman--I saw Alphonsine! And her portrait, a life-sized caricature
drawn by Octave, faced me from the white-washed wall of the hen-coop.
He had drawn her two cats purring about her legs, and had written
under it, "Ils viennent après le mou." Her garden was a gravelled
space; I think there was one tree in it. A tent had been stretched
from wall to wall; and a seedy-looking waiter laid the tables (there
were two), placing bottles of wine in front of each knife and fork,
and bread in long sticks at regular intervals. He was constantly
disturbed by the ringing of the bell, and had to run to the door to
admit the company. Here and there I recognised faces that I had
already seen in the studio; Clementine, who last year was studying the
part of Elsa and this year was singing, "La femme de feu, la cui, la
cui, la cuisinière," in a _café chantant_; and Margaret Byron,
who had just retreated from Russia--a disastrous campaign hers was
said to have been. The greater number were _hors concours_, for
Alphonsine's was to the aged courtesan what Chelsea Hospital is to the
aged soldier. It was a sort of human garden full of the sound and
colour of October.

I scrutinised the crowd. How could any one of these women interest the
woman whose portrait I had seen in Barrès's studio? That one, for
instance, whom I saw every morning in the Rue des Martyres, in a
greasy _peignoir_, going marketing, a basket on her arm. Search
as I would I could not find a friend for Marie among the women nor a
lover among the men--neither of those two stout middle-aged men with
large whiskers, who had probably once been stockbrokers, nor the
withered journalist whom I heard speaking to Octave about a duel he
had fought recently; nor the little sandy Scotchman whose French was
not understood by the women and whose English was nearly
unintelligible to me; nor the man who looked like a
head-waiter--Alphonsine's lover; he had been a waiter, and he told
you with the air of Napoleon describing Waterloo that he had "created"
a certain fashionable café on the Boulevard. I could not attribute
any one of these men to Marie; and Octave spoke of her with
indifference; she had interested him to paint, and now he hoped she
would get the Russian to buy her picture.

"But she's not here," I said.

"She'll be here presently," Octave answered, and he went on talking to
Clementine, a fair pretty woman whom one saw every night at the _Rat
Mort_. It was when the soup-plates were being taken away that I saw
a young woman dressed in black coming across the garden.

It was she, Marie Pellegrin.

She wore a dress similar to the one she wore in her portrait, a black
silk covered with lace, and her black hair was swathed about her
shapely little head. She was her portrait and something more. Her
smile was her own, a sad little smile that seemed to come out of a
depth of her being, and her voice was a little musical voice,
irresponsible as a bird's, and during dinner I noticed how she broke
into speech abruptly as a bird breaks into song, and she stopped as
abruptly. I never saw a woman so like herself, and sometimes her
beauty brought a little mist into my eyes, and I lost sight of her or
very nearly, and I went on eating mechanically. Dinner seemed to end
suddenly, and before I knew that it was over we were getting up from
table.

As we went towards the house where coffee was being served, Marie
asked me if I played cards, but I excused myself, saying that I would
prefer to sit and look at her; and just then a thin woman with red
hair, who had arrived at the same time as Marie and who had sat next
her at dinner, was introduced to me, and I was told that she was
Marie's intimate friend, and that the two lived together whenever
Marie returned to Montmartre. She was known as _La Glue_, her
real name was Victorine, she had sat for Manet's picture of Olympe,
but that was years ago. The face was thinner, but I recognised the red
hair and the brown eyes, small eyes set closely, reminding one of
_des petits verres de cognac_. Her sketch-book was being passed
round, and as it came into my hands I noticed that she did not wear
stays and was dressed in old grey woollen. She lit cigarette after
cigarette, and leaned over Marie with her arm about her shoulder,
advising her what cards to play. The game was baccarat, and in a
little while I saw that Marie was losing a great deal of money, and a
little later I saw _La Glue_ trying to persuade her away from the
card-table.

"One more deal." That deal lost her the last louis she had placed on
the table. "Some one will have to pay my cab," she said.

We were going to the Elysée Montmartre, and Alphonsine lent her a
couple of louis, _pour passer sa soirée_, and we all went away in
carriages, the little horses straining up the steep streets; the
plumes of the women's hats floating over the carriage hoods. Marie was
in one of the front carriages, and was waiting for us on the high
steps leading from the street to the _bal_.

"It's my last night," she said, "the last night I shall see the Elysée
for many a month."

"You'll soon be back again?"

"You see, I have been offered five hundred thousand francs to go to
Russia for three years. Fancy three years without seeing the Elysée,"
and she looked round as an angel might look upon Paradise out of which
she is about to be driven. "The trees are beautiful," she said,
"they're like a fairy tale," and that is exactly what they were like,
rising into the summer darkness, unnaturally green above the electric
lights. In the middle of a circle of white globes the orchestra played
upon an _estrade_, and everyone whirled his partner as if she
were a top. "I always sit over there under the trees in the angle,"
she said; and she was about to invite me to come and sit with her when
her attention was distracted from me; for the people had drawn
together into groups, and I heard everybody whispering: "That's Marie
Pellegrin." Seeing her coming, her waiter with much ostentation began
to draw aside tables and chairs, and in a few minutes she was sitting
under her tree, she and _La Glue_ together, their friends about
them, Marie distributing absinthe, brandy, and cigarettes. A little
procession suddenly formed under the trees and came towards her, and
Marie was presented with a great basket of flowers, and all her
company with bouquets; and a little cheer went up from different parts
of the _bal_, "Vive Marie Pellegrin, la reine de l'Elysée."

The music began again, the people rushed to see a quadrille where two
women, with ease, were kicking off men's hats; and while watching them
I heard that a special display of fireworks had been arranged in
Marie's honour, the news having got about that this was her last night
at the Elysée. A swishing sound was heard; the rocket rose to its
height high up in the thick sky. Then it dipped over, the star fell a
little way and burst: it melted into turquoise blue, and changed to
ruby red, beautiful as the colour of flowers, roses or tulips. The
falling fire changed again and again. And Marie stood on a chair and
watched till the last sparks vanished.

"Doesn't she look like my picture now?" said Octave.

"You seemed to have divined her soul."

He shrugged his shoulders contemptuously. "I'm not a psychologist; I
am a painter. But I must get a word with her," and with a carelessness
that was almost insolence, he pushed his way into the crowd and called
her, saying he wanted to speak to her; and they walked round the
_bal_ together. I could not understand his indifference to her
charm, and asked myself if he had always been so indifferent. In a
little while they returned.

"I'll do my best," I heard her say; and she ran back to join her
companions.

"I suppose you've seen enough of the Elysée?"

"Ah! qu'elle est jolie ce soir; et elle ferait joliment marcher le
Russe."

We walked on in silence. Octave did not notice that he had said
anything to jar my feelings; he was thinking of his portrait, and
presently he said that he was sorry she was going to Russia.

"I should like to begin another portrait, now that I have learned to
paint."

"Do you think she'll go to Russia?"

"Yes, she'll go there; but she'll come back one of these days, and
I'll get her to sit again. It is extraordinary how little is known of
the art of painting; the art is forgotten. The old masters did
perfectly in two days what we spend weeks fumbling at. In two days
Rubens finished his _grisaille_, and the glazing was done with
certainty, with skill, with ease in half an hour! He could get more
depth of colour with a glaze than any one can to-day, however much
paint is put on the canvas. The old masters had method; now there's
none. One brush as well as another, rub the paint up or down, it
doesn't matter so long as the canvas is covered. Manet began it, and
Cézanne has--well, filed the petition: painting is bankrupt."

I listened to him a little wearily, for I had heard all he was saying
many times before; but Octave always talked as he wanted to talk, and
this evening he wanted to talk of painting, not of Marie, and I was
glad when we came to the spot where our ways parted.

"You know that the Russian is coming to the studio to-morrow; I hope
he'll buy the portrait."

"I hope he will," I said. "I'd buy it myself if I could afford it."

"I'd prefer you to have something I have done since, unless it be the
woman you're after ... but one minute. You're coming to sit to me the
day after to-morrow?"

"Yes," I said, "I'll come."

"And then I'll be able to tell you if he has bought the picture."

Three days afterwards I asked Octave on the threshold if the Russian
had bought the portrait, and he told me nothing had been definitely
settled yet.

Marie had gone to St. Petersburg with the prince, and this was the
last news I had of her for many months. But a week rarely passed
without something happening to remind me of her. One day a books of
travels in Siberia opened at a passage telling how a boy belonging to
a tribe of Asiatic savages had been taken from his deserts, where he
had been found deserted and dying, and brought to Moscow. The
gentleman who had found him adopted and educated him, and the
reclaimed savage became in time a fashionable young man about town,
betraying no trace of his origin until one day he happened to meet one
of his tribe. The man had come to Moscow to sell skins; and the smell
of the skins awoke a longing for the desert. The reclaimed savage grew
melancholy; his adopted father tried in vain to overcome the original
instinct; presents of money did not soothe his homesickness. He
disappeared, and was not heard of for years until one day a caravan
came back with the news of a man among the savages who had betrayed
himself by speaking French. On being questioned, he denied any
knowledge of French; he said he had never been to St. Petersburg, nor
did he wish to go there. And what was this story but the story of
Marie Pellegrin, who, when weary of Russian princes and palaces,
returned for her holiday to the Quartier Bréda?

A few days afterwards I heard in Barrès's studio that she had escaped
from Russia; and that evening I went to Alphonsine's to dinner, hoping
to see her there. But she was not there. There was no one there except
Clementine and the two stockbrokers; and I waited eagerly for news of
her. I did not like to mention her name, and the dreary dinner was
nearly over before her name was mentioned. I heard that she was ill;
no, not dying, but very ill. Alphonsine gave me her address; a little
higher up on the same side as the Cirque Fernando, nearly facing the
Elysée Montmartre. The number I could inquire out, she said, and I
went away in a cab up the steep and stony Rue des Martyres, noticing
the café and then the _brasserie_ and a little higher up the
fruit-seller and the photographer. When the mind is at stress one
notices the casual, and mine was at stress, and too agitated to think.
The first house we stopped at happened to be the right one, and the
_concierge_ said, "The fourth floor." As I went upstairs I
thought of _La Glue_, of her untidy dress and her red hair, and
it was she who answered the bell and asked me into an unfurnished
drawing-room, and we stood by the chimneypiece.

"She's talking of going to the Elysée to-night. Won't you come in?
She'd like to see you. There are three or four of us here. You know
them. Clementine, Margaret Byron?" And she mentioned some other names
that I did not remember, and opening a door she cried: "Marie, here's
a visitor for you, a gentleman from Alphonsine's. You know, dear, the
Englishman, Octave Barrès's friend."

She gave me her hand, and I held it a long while.

"Comme les Anglais sont gentils. Dès qu'on est malade--"

I don't think Marie finished the sentence, if she did I did not hear
her; but I remember quite well that she spoke of my distaste for
cards.

"You didn't play that night at Alphonsine's when I lost all my money.
You preferred to look at Victorine's drawings. She has done some
better ones. Go and look at them, and let's finish our game. Then I'll
talk to you. So you heard about me at Alphonsine's? They say I'm very
ill, don't they? But now that I've come back I'll soon get well. I'm
always well at Montmartre, amn't I, Victorine?" "Nous ne sommes pas
installés encore," Marie said, referring to the scarcity of furniture,
and to the clock and candelabra which stood on the floor. But if there
were too few chairs, there was a good deal of money and jewellery
among the bed-clothes; and Marie toyed with this jewellery during the
games. She wore large lace sleeves, and the thin arms showed delicate
and slight when she raised them to change her ear-rings. Her small
beauty, fashioned like an ivory, contrasted with the coarse features
about her, and the little nose with beautifully shaped nostrils, above
all the mouth fading at the ends into faint indecisions. Every now and
then a tenderness came over her face; Octave had seen the essential in
her, whatever he might say; he had painted herself--her soul; and
Marie's soul rose up like a water-flower in her eyes, and then the
soul sank out of sight, and I saw another Marie, _une grue_,
playing cards with five others from Alphonsine's, losing her money and
her health. A bottle of absinthe stood on a beautiful Empire table
that her prince had given her, and Bijou, Clementine's little dog,
slept on an embroidered cushion. Bijou was one of those dear little
Japanese or Chinese spaniels, those dogs that are like the King
Charles. She was going to have puppies, and I was stroking her silky
coat thinking of her coming trouble, when I suddenly heard
Clementine's voice raised above the others, and looking up I saw a
great animation in her face; I heard that the cards had not been
fairly dealt, and then the women threw their cards aside, and _La
Glue_ told Clementine that she was not wanted, that _elle ferait
bien de débarrasser les planches_, that was the expression she
used. I heard further accusations, and among them the plaintive voice
of Marie begging of me not to believe what they said. The women caught
each other by the hair, and tore at each other's faces, and Marie
raised herself up in bed and implored them to cease; and then she fell
back crying. For a moment it seemed as if they were going to sit down
to cards again, but suddenly everybody snatched her own money and then
everybody snatched at the money within her reach; and, calling each
other thieves, they struggled through the door, and I heard them
quarrelling all the way down the staircase. Bijou jumped from her
chair and followed her mistress.

"Help me to look," Marie said; and looking I saw her faint hands
seeking through the bed-clothes. Some jewellery was missing, a
bracelet and some pearls, as well as all her money. Marie fell back
among the pillows unable to speak, and every moment I dreaded a flow
of blood. She began to cry, and the little lace handkerchief was soon
soaking. I had to find her another. The money that had been taken had
been paid her by a _fournisseur_ in the _Quartier_, who had
given her two thousand francs for her _garniture de cheminée_. A
few francs were found among the bed-clothes, and these few francs, she
said, were sufficient _pour passer sa soirée_, and she begged me
to go the dressmaker to inquire for the gown that had been promised
for ten o'clock.

"I shall be at the Elysée by eleven. _Au revoir, au revoir!_ Let
me rest a little now. I shall see you to-night. You know where I
always sit, in the left-hand corner; they always keep those seats for
me."

Her eyes closed, I could see that she was already asleep, and her calm
and reasonable sleep reminded me of her agitated and unreasonable
life; and I stood looking at her, at this poor butterfly who was lying
here all alone, robbed by her friends and associates. But she slept
contentedly, having found a few francs that they had overlooked amid
the bedclothes, enough to enable her to pass her evening at the
Elysée! The prince might be written to; but he, no doubt, was weary of
her inability to lead a respectable life, and knew, no doubt, that if
he were to send her money, it would go as his last gift had gone. If
she lived, Marie would one day be selling fried potatoes on the
streets. And this decadence--was it her fault? Octave would say:
"Qu'est ce que cela peut nous faire, une fille plus ou moins fichue
... si je pouvais réussir un peu dans ce sacré métier!" This was how
he talked, but he thought more profoundly in his painting; his picture
of her was something more than mere sarcasm.

She was going to the Elysée to-night. It was just six o'clock, so she
wanted her dress by ten. I must hasten away to the dressmaker at once;
it might be wiser not--she lay in bed peaceful and beautiful; at the
Elysée she would be drinking absinthe and smoking cigarettes until
three in the morning. But I had promised: she wouldn't forgive me if I
didn't, and I went.

The dressmaker said that Madame Pellegrin would have her dress by
nine, and at half-past ten I was at the Elysée waiting for her.

How many times did I walk round the gravel path, wearying of the
unnatural green of the chestnut leaves and of the high kicking in the
quadrilles? Now and then there would be a rush of people, and then the
human tide would disperse again under the trees among the zinc chairs
and tables, for the enjoyment of bocks and cigars. I noticed that
Marie's friends spent their evening in the left-hand corner; but they
did not call me to drink with them, knowing well that I knew the money
they were spending was stolen money.

I left the place discontented and weary, glad in a way that Marie had
not come. No doubt the dressmaker had disappointed her, or maybe she
had felt too ill. There was no time to go to inquire in the morning,
for I was breakfasting with Octave, and in the afternoon sitting to
him.

We were in the middle of the sitting, he had just sketched in my head,
when we heard footsteps on the stairs.

"Only some women," he said; "I've a mind not to open the door."

"But do," I said, feeling sure the women were Marie's friends bringing
news of her. And it was so. She had been found dead on her balcony
dressed in the gown that had just come home from the dressmaker.

I hoped that Octave would not try to pass the matter off with some
ribald jest, and I was surprised at his gravity. "Even Octave," I
said, "refrains, _on ne blague pas la mort_."

"But what was she doing on the balcony?" he asked. "What I don't
understand is the balcony."

We all stood looking at her picture, trying to read the face.

"I suppose she went out to look at the fireworks; they begin about
eleven."

It was one of the women who had spoken, and her remark seemed to
explain the picture.



CHAPTER V

LA BUTTE


To-morrow I shall drive to breakfast, seeing Paris continuously
unfolding, prospect after prospect, green swards, white buildings,
villas engarlanded; to-day I drive to breakfast through the white
torridities of Rue Blanche. The back of the coachman grows drowsier,
and would have rounded off into sleep long ago had it not been for the
great paving stones that swing the vehicle from side to side, and we
have to climb the Rue Lepic, and the poor little fainting animal will
never be able to draw me to the Butte. So I dismiss my carriage, half
out of pity, half out of a wish to study the Rue Lepic, so typical is
it of the upper lower classes. In the Rue Blanche there are
_portes-cochères_, but in Rue Lepic there are narrow doors,
partially grated, open on narrow passages at the end of which,
squeezed between the wall and the stairs, are small rooms where
_concierges_ sit, eternally _en camisole_, amid vegetables
and sewing. The wooden blinds are flung back on the faded yellow
walls, revealing a portion of white bed-curtain and a heavy
middle-aged woman, _en camisole_, passing between the cooking
stove, in which a rabbit in a tin pail lies steeping, and the men
sitting at their trades in the windows. The smell of leather follows
me for several steps; a few doors farther a girl sits trimming a
bonnet, her mother beside her. The girl looks up, pale with the
exhausting heat. At the corner of the next street there is the
_marchand de vins_, and opposite the dirty little _charbonnier_,
and standing about a little hole which he calls his _boutique_
a group of women in discoloured _peignoirs_ and heavy carpet
slippers. They have baskets on their arms. Everywhere traces of
meagre and humble life, but nowhere do I see the demented wretch
common in our London streets--the man with bare feet, the furtive
and frightened creature, gnawing a crust and drawing a black,
tattered shirt about his consumptive chest.

The asphalt is melting, the reverberation of the stones intolerable,
my feet ache and burn. At the top of the street I enter a still poorer
neighbourhood, a still steeper street, but so narrow that the shadow
has already begun to draw out on the pavements. At the top of the
street is a stairway, and above the stairway a grassy knoll, and above
the knoll a windmill lifts its black and motionless arms. For the mill
is now a mute ornament, a sign for the _Bal du Moulin de la
Galette_.

As I ascend the street grows whiter, and at the Butte it is empty of
everything except the white rays of noon. There are some dusty
streets, and silhouetting against the dim sky a dilapidated façade of
some broken pillars. Some stand in the midst of ruined gardens,
circled by high walls crumbling and white, and looking through a
broken gateway I see a fountain splashing, but nowhere the inhabitants
that correspond to these houses--only a workwoman, a grisette, a child
crying in the dust. The Butte Montmartre is full of suggestion; grand
folk must at some time have lived there. Could it be that this place
was once country? To-day it is full of romantic idleness and
abandonment.

On my left an iron gateway, swinging on rusty hinges, leads on to a
large terrace, at the end of which is a row of houses. It is in one of
these houses that my friend lives, and as I pull the bell I think that
the pleasure of seeing him is worth the ascent, and my thoughts float
back over the long time I have known Paul. We have known each other
always, since we began to write. But Paul is not at home. The servant
comes to the door with a baby in her arms, another baby! and tells me
that Monsieur et Madame are gone out for the day. No breakfast, no
smoke, no talk about literature, only a long walk back--cabs are not
found at these heights--a long walk back through the roasting sun. And
it is no consolation to be told that I should have written and warned
them I was coming.

But I must rest, and ask leave to do so, and the servant brings me in
some claret and a siphon. The study is better to sit in than the front
room, for in the front room, although the shutters are closed, the
white rays pierce through the chinks, and lie like sword-blades along
the floor. The study is pleasant and the wine refreshing. The house
seems built on the sheer hillside. Fifty feet--more than that--a
hundred feet under me there are gardens, gardens caught somehow in the
hollow of the hill, and planted with trees, tall trees, for swings
hang out of them, otherwise I should not know they were tall. From
this window they look like shrubs, and beyond the houses that surround
these gardens Paris spreads out over the plain, an endless tide of
bricks and stone, splashed with white when the sun shines on some
railway station or great boulevard: a dim reddish mass, like a
gigantic brickfield, and far away a line of hills, and above the plain
a sky as pale and faint as the blue ash of a cigarette.

I can never look upon this city without strong emotion; it has been
all my life to me. I came here in my youth, I relinquished myself to
Paris, never extending once my adventure beyond Bas Meudon, Ville
d'Avray, Fontainebleau--and Paris has made me. How much of my mind do
I owe to Paris? And by thus acquiring a fatherland more ideal than the
one birth had arrogantly imposed, because deliberately chosen, I have
doubled my span of life. Do I not exist in two countries? Have I not
furnished myself with two sets of thoughts and sensations? Ah! the
delicate delight of owning _un pays ami_--a country where you may
go when you are weary to madness of the routine of life, sure of
finding there all the sensations of home, plus those of irresponsible
caprice. The pleasure of a literature that is yours without being
wholly your own, a literature that is like an exquisite mistress, in
whom you find consolation for all the commonplaces of life! The
comparison is perfect, for although I know these French folk better
than all else in the world, they must ever remain my pleasure, and not
my work in life. It is strange that this should be so, for in truth I
know them strangely well. I can see them living their lives from hour
to hour; I know what they would say on any given occasion.

There is Paul. I understand nothing more completely than that man's
mind. I know its habitual colour and every varying shade, and yet I
may not make him the hero of a novel when I lay the scene in
Montmartre, though I know it so well. I know when he dresses, how long
he takes to dress, and what he wears. I know the breakfast he eats,
and the streets down which he passes--their shape, their colour, their
smell. I know exactly how life has come to him, how it has affected
him. The day I met him in London! Paul in London! He was there to meet
_une petite fermière_ with whom he had become infatuated when he
went to Normandy to finish his novel. Paul is _foncièrement bon; he
married her_, and this is their abode. There is the _salle-à-manger_,
furnished with a nice sideboard in oak, and six chairs to match; on the
left is their bedroom, and there is the baby's cot, a present from
_le grand, le cher et illustre maître_.

Paul and Mrs. Paul get up at twelve, and they loiter over breakfast;
some friends come in and they loiter over les _petits verres_.
About four Paul begins to write his article, which he finishes or
nearly finishes before dinner. They loiter over dinner until it is
time for Paul to take his article to the newspaper. He loiters in the
printing office or the cafe until his proof is ready, and when that is
corrected he loiters in the many cafés of the Faubourg Montmartre,
smoking interminable cigars, finding his way back to the Butte between
three and four in the morning. Paul is fat and of an equable
temperament. He believes in naturalism all the day, particularly after
a breakfast over _les petits verres_. He never said an unkind
word to any one, and I am sure never thought one. He used to be fond
of grisettes, but since he married he has thought of no one but his
wife. _Il écrit des choses raides_, but no woman ever had a
better husband. And now you know him as well as I do. Here are his own
books, "The End of Lucie Pellegrin," the story that I have just
finished writing: I think I must explain how it was that I have come
to rewrite one of Paul's stories, the best he ever wrote. I remember
asking him why he called her Lucie, and he was surprised to hear her
name was Marie; he never knew her, he had never been to Alphonsine's,
and he had told the story as he had picked it up from the women who
turned into the Rat Mort at midnight for a _soupe à l'oignon_. He
said it was a pity he did not know me when he was writing it, for I
could have told him her story more sympathetically than the women in
the Rat Mort, supplying him with many pretty details that they had
never noticed or had forgotten. It would have been easy for me to have
done this, for Marie Pellegrin is enshrined in my memory like a
miniature in a case. I press a spring, and I see the beautifully
shaped little head, the pale olive face, the dark eyes, and the
blue-black hair. Marie Pellegrin is really part of my own story, so
why should I have any scruple about telling it? Merely because my
friend had written it from hearsay? Whereas I knew her; I saw her on
her death-bed. Chance made me her natural historian. Now I think that
every one will accept my excuses, and will acquit me of plagiarism.

I see the Rougon-Macquart series, each volume presented to him by the
author, Goncourt, Huysmans, Duranty, Céard, Maupassant, Hennique,
etc.; in a word, the works of those with whom I grew up, those who
tied my first literary pinafore round my neck. But here are "Les
Moralités Legendaires" by Jules Laforgue, and "Les Illuminations" by
Rambaud. Paul has not read these books; they were sent to him, I
suppose, for review, and put away on the bookcase, all uncut; their
authors do not visit here.

And this sets me thinking that one knows very little of any generation
except one's own. True that I know a little more of the symbolists
than Paul. I am the youngest of the naturalists, the eldest of the
symbolists. The naturalists affected the art of painting, the
symbolists the art of music; and since the symbolists there has been
no artistic manifestation--the game is played out. When Huysmans and
Paul and myself are dead, it will be as impossible to write a
naturalistic novel as to revive the megatherium. Where is Hennique?
When Monet is dead it will be as impossible to paint an
impressionistic picture as to revive the ichthyosaurus. A little world
of ideas goes by every five-and-twenty years, and the next that
emerges will be incomprehensible to me, as incomprehensible as Monet
was to Corot.... Was the young generation knocking at the door of the
Opéra Comique last night? If the music was the young generation, I am
sorry for it. It was the second time I had gone. I had been to hear
the music, and I left exasperated after the third act. A friend was
with me and he left, but for different reasons; he suffered in his
ears; it was my intelligence that suffered. Why did the flute play the
chromatic scale when the boy said, "Il faut que cela soit un grand
navire," and why were all the cellos in motion when the girl answered,
"Cela ou bien tout autre chose?" I suffered because of the divorce of
the orchestra and singers, uniting perhaps at the end of the scene. It
was speaking through music, no more, monotonous as the Sahara, league
after league, and I lost amid sands. A chord is heard in "Lohengrin"
to sustain Elsa's voice, and it performs its purpose; a motive is
heard to attract attention to a certain part of the story, and it
fills its purpose, when Ortrud shrieks out the motive of the secret,
and in its simplest form, at the church door, the method may be
criticised as crude, but the crudest melodrama is better than this
desert wandering. While I ponder on the music of the younger
generation, remembering the perplexity it had caused me, I hear a
vagrant singing on the other side of the terrace:

[Illustration]

  Moi, je m'en fous, Je reste dans mon trou

and I say: "I hear the truth in the mouth of the vagrant minstrel, one
who possibly has no _trou_ wherein to lay his head." _Et moi
aussi, je reste dans mon trou, et mon trou est assez beau pour que j'y
reste, car mon trou est_--Richard Wagner. My _trou_ is the
Ring--the Sacrosanct Ring. Again I fall to musing. The intention of
Liszt and Wagner and Strauss was to write music. However long Wotan
might ponder on Mother Earth the moment comes when the violins begin
to sing; ah! how the spring uncloses in the orchestra, and the lovers
fly to the woods!...

The vagrant continued his wail, and forgetful of Paul, forgetful of
all things but the philosophy of the minstrel of the Butte, I picked
my way down the tortuous streets repeating:

[Illustration]

Moi, je m'en fous, Je reste dans mon trou



CHAPTER VI

SPENT LOVES


I am going to see dear and affectionate friends. The train would take
me to them, that droll little _chemin de fer de ceinture_, and it
seems a pity to miss the Gare St. Lazare, its Sunday morning tumult of
Parisians starting with their mistresses and their wives for a
favourite suburb. I never run up these wide stairways leading to the
great wide galleries full of bookstalls (charming yellow notes), and
pierced with little _guichets_ painted round with blue, without
experiencing a sensation of happy lightness--a light-headedness that I
associate with the month of May in Paris. But the tramway that passes
through the Place de la Concorde goes as far as Passy, and though I
love the droll little _chemin de fer de ceinture_ I love this
tramway better. It speeds along the quays between the Seine and the
garden of the Champs Elysées, through miles of chestnut bloom, the
roadway chequered with shadows of chestnut leaves; the branches meet
overhead, and in a faint delirium of the senses I catch at a bloom,
cherish it for a moment, and cast it away. The plucky little
steamboats are making for the landing-places, stemming the current. I
love this sprightly little river better than the melancholy Thames,
along whose banks saturnine immoralities flourish like bulrushes!
Behold the white architecture, the pillars, the balustraded steps, the
domes in the blue air, the monumented swards! Paris, like all pagan
cities, is full of statues. A little later we roll past gardens,
gaiety is in the air.... And then the streets of Passy begin to
appear, mean streets, like London streets. I like them not; but the
railway station is compensation; the little railway station like a
house of cards under toy trees, and the train steaming out into the
fanciful country. The bright wood along which it speeds is like the
season's millinery.

It is pleasant to notice everything in Paris, the flymen asleep on
their box-seats, the little horses dozing beneath the chestnut trees,
the bloused workmen leaning over a green-painted table in an arbour,
drinking wine at sixteen sous the litre, the villas of Auteuil, rich
woodwork, rich iron railings, and the summer hush about villas
engarlanded. Auteuil is so French, its symbolism enchants me. Auteuil
is like a flower, its petals opening out to the kiss of the air, its
roots feeling for way among the rich earth. Ah, the land of France,
its vineyards and orchards, its earthly life! Thoughts come unbidden,
my thoughts sing together, and I hardly knowing what they are singing.
My thoughts are singing like the sun; do not ask me their meaning;
they mean as much and as little as the sun that I am part of--the
sun of France that I shall enjoy for thirty days. May takes me to dear
and affectionate friends who await me at Auteuil, and June takes me
away from them. There is the villa! And there amid the engarlanding
trees my friend, dressed in pale yellow, sits in front of his easel.
How the sunlight plays through the foliage, leaping through the rich,
long grass; and amid the rhododendrons in bloom sits a little girl of
four, his model, her frock and cap impossibly white under the great,
gaudy greenery.

Year after year the same affectionate welcome, the same spontaneous
welcome in this garden of rhododendrons and chestnut bloom. I would
linger in the garden, but I may not, for breakfast is ready _et il
ne faut pas faire manquer la messe à Madame. La messe_! How gentle
the word is, much gentler than our word, mass, and it shocks us hardly
at all to see an old lady going away in her carriage _pour entendre
la messe_. Religion purged of faith is a pleasant, almost a pretty
thing. Some fruits are better dried than fresh; religion is such a
one, and religion, when nothing is left of it but the pleasant,
familiar habit, may be defended, for were it not for our habits life
would be unrecorded, it would be all on the flat, as we would say if
we were talking about a picture without perspective. Our habits are
our stories, and tell whence we have come and how we came to be what
we are. This is quite a pretty reflection, but there is no time to
think the matter out--here is the doctor! He lifts his skull-cap, and
how beautiful is the gesture; his dignity is the dignity that only
goodness gives; and his goodness is a pure gift, existing independent
of formula, a thing in itself, like Manet's painting. It was Degas who
said, "A man whose profile no one ever saw," and the aphorism reminds
us of the beautiful goodness that floats over his face, a light from
Paradise. But why from Paradise? Paradise is an ugly ecclesiastical
invention, and angels are an ugly Hebrew invention. It is unpardonable
to think of angels in Auteuil; an angel is a prig compared to the dear
doctor, and an angel has wings. Well, so had this admirable chicken, a
bird that was grown for the use of the table, produced like a
vegetable. A dear bird that was never allowed to run about and weary
itself as our helpless English chicken is; it lived to get fat without
acquiring any useless knowledge or desire of life; it became a capon
in tender years, and then a pipe was introduced into its mouth and it
was fed by machinery until it could hardly walk, until it could only
stagger to its bed, and there it lay in happy digestion until the hour
came for it to be crammed again. So did it grow up without knowledge
or sensation or feeling of life, moving gradually, peacefully towards
its predestined end--a delicious repast! What better end, what greater
glory than to be a fat chicken? The carcasses of sheep that hang in
butchers' shops are beginning to horrify the conscience of Europe. To
cut a sheep's throat is an offensive act, but to clip out a bird's
tongue with a long pair of scissors made for the purpose is genteel.
It is true that it beats its wings for a few moments, but we must not
allow ourselves to be disturbed by a mere flutter of feathers. Man is
merciful, and saved it from life. It grew like an asparagus! And
talking of asparagus, here are some from Argenteuil thick as umbrellas
and so succulent! A word about the wine. French red wines in England
always seem to taste like ink, but in France they taste of the sun.
Melons are better in June--that one comes, no doubt, from Algeria. It
is, however, the kind I like best, the rich, red melon that one eats
only in France; a thing of the moment, unrememberable; but the chicken
will never be forgotten; twenty years hence I shall be talking of a
chicken, that in becoming a fat chicken acquired twenty years of
immortality--which of us will acquire as many?

As we rise from table the doctor calls me into his studio: for he
would give me an excellent cigar before he bids me good-bye, and
having lighted it I follow my friend to the studio at the end of the
garden, to that airy drawing-room which he has furnished in pale
yellow and dark blue. On the walls are examples of the great modern
masters--Manet and Monet. That view of a plain by Monet--is it not
facile? It flows like a Japanese water-colour: the low horizon
evaporating in the low light, the spire of the town visible in the
haze. And look at the celebrated "Leçon de Danse" by Degas--that
dancer descending the spiral staircase, only her legs are visible, the
staircase cutting the picture in twain. On the right is the dancing
class and the dancing master; something has gone wrong, and he holds
out his hands in entreaty; a group of dancers are seated on chairs in
the foreground, and their mothers are covering their shoulders with
shawls--good mothers anxious for their daughters' welfare, for their
advancement in life.

This picture betrays a mind curious, inquisitive and mordant; and that
plaid shawl is as unexpected as an adjective of Flaubert's. A portrait
by Manet hangs close by, large, permanent and mysterious as nature.
Degas is more intellectual, but how little is intellect compared with
a gift like Manet's! Yesterday I was in the Louvre, and when wearied
with examination and debate--I had gone there on a special errand--I
turned into the Salle Carrée for relaxation, and there wandered about,
waiting to be attracted. Long ago the Mona Liza was my adventure, and
I remember how Titian's "Entombment" enchanted me; another year I
delighted in the smooth impartiality of a Terbourg interior; but this
year Rembrandt's portrait of his wife held me at gaze. The face tells
of her woman's life, her woman's weakness, and she seems conscious of
the burden of her sex, and of the burden of her own special lot--she
is Rembrandt's wife, a servant, a satellite, a watcher. The emotion
that this picture awakens is an almost physical emotion. It gets at
you like music, like a sudden breath of perfume. When I approach, her
eyes fade into brown shadow, but when I withdraw they begin telling
her story. The mouth is no more than a little shadow, but what wistful
tenderness there is in it! and the colour of the face is white,
faintly tinted with bitumen, and in the cheeks some rose madder comes
through the yellow. She wears a fur jacket, but the fur was no trouble
to Rembrandt; he did not strive for realism. It is fur, that is
sufficient. Grey pearls hang in her ears, there is a brooch upon her
breast, and a hand at the bottom of the picture passing out of the
frame, and that hand reminds one, as the chin does, of the old story
that God took a little clay and made man out of it. That chin and that
hand and arm are moulded without display of knowledge, as Nature
moulds. The picture seems as if it had been breathed upon the canvas.
Did not a great poet once say that God breathed into Adam? and here it
is even so.

The other pictures seem dry, insignificant; the Mona Liza, celebrated
in literature, hanging a few feet away, seems factitious when compared
with this portrait; I have heard that tedious smile excused on the
ground that she is smiling at the nonsense she hears talked about her;
that hesitating smile which held my youth in tether has come to seem
but a grimace; and the pale mountains no more mysterious than a globe
or map seen from a little distance. The Mona Liza is a sort of riddle,
an acrostic, a poetical decoction, a ballade, a rondel, a villanelle
or ballade with double burden, a sestina, that is what it is like, a
sestina or chant royal. The Mona Liza, being literature in intention
rather than painting, has drawn round her many poets. We must forgive
her many mediocre verses for the sake of one incomparable prose
passage. She has passed out of that mysterious misuse of oil paint,
that arid glazing of _terre verte_, and has come into her
possession of eternal life, into the immortality of Pater's prose.
Degas is wilting already; year after year he will wither, until one
day some great prose writer will arise and transfer his spirit into
its proper medium--literature. The Mona Liza and the "Leçon de Danse"
are intellectual pictures; they were painted with the brains rather
than with the temperaments; and what is any intellect compared with a
gift like Manet's! Leonardo made roads; Degas makes witticisms.
Yesterday I heard one that delighted me far more than any road would,
for I have given up bicycling. Somebody was saying he did not like
Daumier, and Degas preserved silence for a long while. "If you were to
show Raphael," he said at last, "a Daumier, he would admire it, he
would take off his hat; but if you were to show him a Cabanel he would
say with a sigh 'That is my fault!'"

My reverie is broken by the piano; my friend is playing, and it is
pleasant to listen to music in this airy studio. But there are women I
must see, women whom I see every time I go to Paris, and too much time
has been spent in the studio--I must go.

But where shall I go? My thoughts strike through the little streets of
Passy, measuring the distance between Passy and the Arc de Triomphe.
For a moment I think that I might sit under the trees and watch the
people returning from the races. Were she not dead I might stop at her
little house in the fortifications among the lilac trees. There is her
portrait by Manet on the wall, the very toque she used to wear. How
wonderful the touch is; the beads--how well they are rendered! And
while thinking of the extraordinary handicraft I remember his studio,
and the tall fair woman like a tea-rose coming into it: Mary Laurant!
The daughter of a peasant, and the mistress of all the great
men--perhaps I should have said of all the distinguished men. I used
to call her _toute la lyre_.

The last time I saw her we talked about Manet. She said that every
year she took the first lilac to lay upon his grave. Is there one of
her many lovers who brings flowers to her grave? What was so
rememberable about her was her pleasure in life, and her desire to get
all the pleasure, and her consciousness of her desire to enjoy every
moment of her life. Evans, the great dentist, settled two thousand a
year upon her, and how angry he was one night on meeting Manet on the
staircase! In order to rid herself of her lover she invited him to
dinner, intending to plead a sick headache after dinner.... She must
go and lie down. But as soon as her guest was gone she took off the
_peignoir_ which hid her ball dress and signed to Manet, who was
waiting at the street corner, with her handkerchief. But as they went
downstairs together whom should they meet but the dentist _qui a
oublié ses carnets_. And he was so disappointed at meeting his
beautiful but deceitful mistress that he didn't visit her again for
three or four days. His anger mattered very little to Mary. Someone
else settled two thousand a year more upon her; and having four
thousand a year or thereabouts, she dedicated herself to the love and
conversation of those who wrote books and music and painted pictures.

We humans are more complicated than animals, and we love through the
imagination, at least the imagination stimulates the senses, acting as
a sort of adjuvant. The barmaid falls in love with No. 1 because he
wipes a glass better than No. 2, and Mary fell in love with Coppée on
account of his sonnet "Le Lys," and she grew indifferent when he wrote
poems like "La Nourrice" or "Le petit épicier de Montrouge qui cassait
le sucre avec mélancolie." And it was at this time when their love
story was at wane that I became a competitor. But one day Madame
Albazi came to Manet's studio, a splendid creature in a carriage drawn
by Russian horses from the Steppes, so she said; but who can tell
whether a horse comes from the Steppes or from the horse-dealers? Nor
does it matter when the lady is extraordinarily attractive, when she
inspires the thought--a mistress for Attila! That is not exactly how
Manet saw her: but she looks like that in his pastel. In it she holds
a tortoiseshell fan widespread across her bosom, and it was on one of
the sticks of the fan that he signed his name. A great painter always
knows where to sign his pictures, and he never signs twice in the same
place. The merit of these Russians is that they never leave one in
doubt. She could not sit that day, she was going to the Bois, and
asked me and a young man who happened to be in Manet's studio at the
time to go there with her, and we went there drawn by the Russian
horses, the young man and I wondering all the while which was going to
be the countess's lover; we played hard for her; but that day I was
wiser than he; I let him talk and recite poetry and jingle out all the
aphorisms that he had been collecting for years, feeling his
witticisms were in vain, for she was dark as a raven and I was as gold
as a sunflower. It was at the corner of the Rue Pontière that we got
rid of him. Some days afterwards she sat to Manet. The pastel now
hangs in the room of a friend of mine; I bought it for him.

The picture of a woman one knows is never so agreeable a companion as
the picture of a woman one has never seen. One's memory and the
painter's vision are in conflict, and I like to think better of the
long delicate nose, and the sparkling eyes, and a mouth like red
fruit. The pastel once belonged to me; it used to hang in my rooms;
for with that grace of mind which never left him, Manet said one day,
"I always promised you a picture," and searching among the pastels
that lined the wall he turned to me saying, "Now I think that this
comes to you by right." When I left Paris hurriedly, and left my
things to be sold, the countess came to the sale and bought her
picture, and then she sold it years afterwards to a picture-dealer,
tempted by the price that Manet's pictures were fetching. Hearing that
it was for sale, I bought it, as I have said, for a friend. And now I
have told the whole story, forgetting nothing except that it was years
afterwards, when I had written "Les Confessions d'un jeune Anglais" in
the _Revue Indépendante_, that Mary Laurant asked me--oh! she was
very enterprising; she sent the editor of the _Revue_ to me; an
appointment was made. She was wonderful in the garden. She said the
moment I arrived, "Now, my dear ----, you must go," and we walked
about, I listening to her aphorisms. Mary was beautiful, but she liked
one to love her for her wit, to admire her wit; and when I asked her
why she did not leave Evans, the great dentist, she said, "That would
be a base thing to do. I content myself by deceiving him," and
then--this confidence seemed to have a particular significance--"I am
not a woman," she said, "that is made love to in a garden." Her garden
was a nook at the fortifications, hidden among lilac bushes. She
wished to show me her house, and we talked for a long time in her
boudoir. But I knew she was Mallarmé's mistress at the time, so
nothing came of this _caprice littéraire_.

My thoughts run upon women, and why not? On what would you have them
run? on copper mines? Woman is the legitimate subject of all men's
thoughts. We pretend to be interested in other things. In the
smoking-rooms I have listened to men talking about hunting, and I have
said to myself, "Your interest is a pretence: of what woman are you
thinking?" We forget women for a little while when we are thinking
about art, but only for a while. The legitimate occupation of man's
mind is woman; and listening to my friend who is playing music--music
I do not care to hear, Brahms--I fall to thinking which of the women I
have known in years past would interest me most to visit.

In the spring weather the walk from Passy to the Champs Elysées would
be pleasant and not too far; I like to see the swards and the poplars
and the villas, the tall iron railings, and the flower vases hidden in
bouquets of trees. These things are Paris; the mind of the country,
that mind which comes out of a long past, and which may be defined as
a sort of ancestral beauty and energy is manifested everywhere in
Paris; and a more beautiful day for seeing the tall, white houses and
the villas and the trees and the swards can hardly be imagined. I
should be interested in all these things, but my real interest would
be in one little hillside, a line of houses, eight or nine, close by
the Arc de Triomphe, the most ordinary in the avenue. She liked the
ordinary, and I have often wondered what was the link of association?
Was it no more than her blonde hair drawn up from the neck, her
fragrant skin, or her perverse subtle senses? It was something more,
but you must not ask me to explain further. I like to remember the
rustle of a flowered dress she wore as she moved, drifting like a
perfume, passing from her frivolous bedroom into the drawing-room. A
room without taste, stiff and middle-class, notwithstanding the crowns
placed over the tall portraits. I see a picture of two children; but
she is the fairer, and in her pale eyes and thinly-curved lips there
is a mixture of yearning and restlessness. As the child was, so is the
woman, and Georgette has lived to paper one entire wall of her bedroom
with trophies won in the battlefields of ardently danced cotillons.
The other child is of a stricter nature, and even in the picture her
slightly darkened ringlets are less wanton than her sister's. Her eyes
are more pensive, and any one could have predicted children for one
and cotillon favours for the other.

We often sat on her bedroom balcony reading, talking, or watching the
sky growing pale beyond Mount Valerian, the shadow drifting and
defining and shaping the hill. In hours like the present, dreaming in
a studio, we remember those who deceived us, those who made us suffer,
and in these hours faces, fragments of faces, rise out of a past, the
line of a bent neck, the whiteness of a hand, and the eyes. I remember
her eyes; one day in an orchard, in the lush and luxuriance of June,
her husband was walking in front with a friend, and I was pleading.
"Well," she said, raising her eyes, "you can kiss me now." But her
husband was in front, and he was a thick-set man, and there was a
stream, and I foresaw a struggle--and an unpleasant one: confess and
be done with it!--I didn't dare to kiss her, and I don't think she
ever forgave me that lack of courage. All this is twenty years ago,
and is it not silly to spend the afternoon thinking of such rubbish?
But it is of such rubbish that our lives are made. Shall I go to her
now and see her in her decadence? Grey hair has not begun to appear
yet in the blonde, it will never turn grey, but she was shrivelling a
little the last time I saw her. And next year she will be older. At
her age a year counts for double. Others are more worthy of a visit.
If I do not go to her this year, shall I go next?

In imagination I go past her house, thinking of a man she used to talk
about, "the man she left her 'ome for"; that is how the London street
girl would word it. He had been the centre of a disgraceful scandal in
his old age, a sordid but characteristic end for the Don Juan of the
nineteenth century. Perhaps she loved the big, bearded man whose
photograph she had once shown me. He killed himself for not having
enough money to live as he wished to live. That was her explanation. I
think there was some blackmail; she had to pay some money to the dead
man's relations for letters. These sensual American women are like
orchids, and who would hesitate between an orchid and a rose? It was
twenty years ago since she turned round on me in the gloom of her
brougham unexpectedly, and it was as if some sensual spirit had come
out of a world of perfume and lace.

       *       *       *       *       *

In imagination I have descended the Champs Elysées, and have crossed
the Place de la Concorde, and the Seine is flowing past just as it
flowed when the workmen were building Notre Dame, just as it will flow
a thousand years hence. A thousand years hence men will stand watching
its current, thinking of little blonde women, and the shudder they can
send through the flesh; they can, but not twenty years afterwards. The
Reverend Donne has it that certain ghosts do not raise the hair but
the flesh; mine do no more than to set me thinking that rivers were
not created to bear ships to the sea, but to set our memories flowing.
Full many a time have I crossed the Pont Neuf on my way to see another
woman--an American! The time comes when desire wilts and dies, but the
sexual interest never dies, and we take pleasure in thinking in middle
life of those we enjoyed in youth. She, of whom I am thinking, lives
far away in the Latin Quarter, in an ill-paven street. How it used to
throw my carriage from side to side! I have been there so often that I
know all the shops, and where the shops end, and there is a
whitewashed wall opposite her house; the street bends there. The
_concierge_ is the same, a little thicker, a little heavier; she
always used to have a baby in her arms, now there are no more babies;
her children, I suppose, have grown up and have gone away. There used
to be a darkness at the foot of the stairs, and I used to slip on
those stairs, so great was my haste; the very tinkle of the bell I
remember, and the trepidation with which I waited.

Her rooms looked as if they had never been sat in; even the studio was
formal, and the richly-bound volumes on the tables looked as if they
had never been opened. She only kept one servant, a little, redheaded
girl, and seeing this girl back again after an absence of many years,
I spoke to Lizzie of the old days. Lizzie told me her servant's story.
She had gone away to be married, and after ten years of misfortune she
had returned to her old mistress, this demure, discreet and sly New
Englander, who concealed a fierce sensuality under a homely
appearance. Lizzie must have had many lovers, but I knew nothing of
her except her sensuality, for she had to let me into that secret.

She was a religious woman, a devout Protestant, and thinking of her my
thoughts are carried across the sea, and I am in the National Gallery
looking at Van Eyke's picture, studying the grave sensuality of the
man's face--he speaks with uplifted hand like one in a pulpit, and the
gesture and expression tell us as plainly as if we heard him that he
is admonishing his wife (he is given to admonition), informing her
that her condition--her new pregnancy--is an act of the Divine Will.
She listens, but how curiously! with a sort of partial comprehension
afloat upon her face, more of the guinea-pig than of the rabbit type.
The twain are sharply differentiated, and one of the objects of the
painter seems to have been to show us how far one human being may be
removed from another. The husband is painfully clear to himself, the
wife is happily unconscious of herself. Now everything in the picture
suggests order; the man's face tells a mind the same from day to day,
from year to year, the same passions, the same prayers; his apparel,
the wide-brimmed hat, the cloak falling in long straight folds, the
peaked shoon, are an habitual part of him. We see little of the room,
but every one remembers the chandelier hanging from the ceiling
reflected in the mirror opposite. These reflections have lasted for
three hundred years; they are the same to-day as the day they were
painted, and so is the man; he lives again, he is a type that Nature
never wearies of reproducing, for I suppose he is essential to life.
This sober Flemish interior expresses my mistress's character almost
as well as her own apartment used to do. I always experienced a chill,
a sense of formality, when the door was opened, and while I stood
waiting for her in the prim drawing-room. Every chair was in its
appointed place, large, gilt-edged, illustrated books lay upon the
tables.... There was not much light in her rooms; heavy curtains clung
about the windows, and tapestries covered the walls. In the passage
there were oak chests, and you can imagine, reader, this woman waiting
for me by an oak table, a little ashamed of her thoughts, but unable
to overcome them. Once I heard her playing the piano, and it struck me
as an affectation. As I let my thoughts run back things forgotten
emerge; here comes one of her gowns! a dark-green gown, the very same
olive green as the man's cloak. She wore her hair short like a boy's,
and though it ran all over her head in little curls, it did not
detract at all from the New England type, the woman in whose speech
Biblical phraseology still lingers. Lizzie was a miraculous survival
of the Puritans who crossed the Atlantic in the _Mayflower_ and
settled in New England. Paris had not changed her. She was _le grave
Puritan du tableau_. The reader will notice that I write _le
grave Puritan_, for of his submissive, childlike wife there was
nothing in Lizzie except her sex. As her instinct was in conflict with
her ideals, her manner was studied, and she affected a certain
cheerfulness which she dared not allow to subside. She never
relinquished her soul, never fell into confidence, so in a sense we
always remained strangers, for it is when lovers tell their illusions
and lonelinesses that they know each other, the fiercest spasm tells
us little, and it is forgotten, whereas the moment when a woman sighs
and breaks into a simple confidence is remembered years afterwards,
and brings her before us though she be underground or a thousand miles
away. These intimacies she had not, but there was something true and
real in her, something which I cannot find words to express to-day;
she was a clever woman, that was it, and that is why I pay her the
homage of an annual visit. These courteous visits began twenty years
ago; they are not always pleasant, yet I endure them. Our conversation
is often laboured, there are awkward and painful pauses, and during
these pauses we sit looking at each other, thinking no doubt of the
changes that time has wrought. One of her chief charms was her
figure--one of the prettiest I have ever seen--and she still retains a
good deal of its grace. But she shows her age in her hands; they have
thickened at the joints, and they were such beautiful hands. Last year
she spoke of herself as an old woman, and the remark seemed to me
disgraceful and useless, for no man cares to hear a woman whom he has
loved call herself old; why call attention to one's age, especially
when one does not look it? and last year she looked astonishingly
young for fifty-five; that was her age, she said. She asked me my age;
the question was unpleasant, and before I was aware of it I had told
her a lie, and I hate those who force me to tell lies. The interview
grew painful, and to bring it to a close she asked me if I would care
to see her husband.

We found the old man alone in his studio, looking at an engraving
under the light of the lamp, much more like a picture than any of his
paintings. She asked him if he remembered me, and he got up muttering
something, and to help him I mentioned that I had been one of his
pupils. The dear old man said of course he remembered, and that he
would like to show me his pictures, but Lizzie said--I suppose it was
nervousness that made her say it, but it was a strangely tactless
remark--"I don't think, dear, that Mr. ---- cares for your pictures."
However celebrated one may be, it is always mortifying to hear that
some one, however humble the person may be, does not care for one's
art. But I saved the situation, and I think my remarks were judicious
and witty. It is not always that one thinks of the right words at the
right moment, but it would be hard to improve on the admonition that
she did me a wrong, that, like every one who liked art, I had changed
my opinion many times, but after many wanderings had come back to the
truth, and in order to deceive the old man I spoke of Ingres. I had
never failed in that love, and how could I love Ingres without loving
him? The contrary was the truth, but the old man's answer was very
sweet. Forgetful of his own high position, he answered, "We may both
like Ingres, but it is not probable that we like the same Ingres." I
said I did not know any Ingres I did not admire, and asked him which
he admired, and we had a pleasant conversation about the Apotheosis of
Homer, and the pictures in the Musée de Montauban. Then the old man
said, "I must show Mr. ---- my pictures." No doubt he had been
thinking of them all through the conversation about the Musée de
Montauban. "I must show you my Virgin," and he explained that the face
of the Infant Jesus was not yet finished.

It was wonderful to see this old man, who must have been nearly
eighty, taking the same interest in his pictures as he took fifty
years ago. Some stupid reader will think, perchance, that it mattered
that I had once loved his wife. But how could such a thing matter?
Think for a moment, dear reader, for all readers are dear, even the
stupidest, and you will see that you are still entangled in
conventions and prejudices. Perhaps, dear reader, you think she and I
should have dropped on our knees and confessed. Had we done so, he
would have thought us two rude people, and nothing more.

What will happen to her when he dies? Will she return to Boston? Shall
I ever see her again? Last year I vowed that I would not, and I think
it would please her as well if I stayed away.... And she is right, for
so long as I am not by her she is with me. But in the same room, amid
the familiar furniture, we are divided by the insuperable past, and to
retain her I must send her away. The idea is an amusing one; I think I
have read it somewhere, it seems to me like something I have read. Did
I ever read of a man who sent his mistress away so that his possession
might be more complete? Whether I did or didn't matters little, the
idea is true to me to-day--in order to possess her I must never see
her again. A pretty adventure it would be, nevertheless, to spend a
week paying visits to those whom I loved about that time; and I can
imagine a sort of Beau Brummel of the emotions going every year to
Paris to spend a day with each of his mistresses.

There were others about that time. There was Madame ----. The name is
in itself beautiful, characteristically French, and it takes me back
to the middle centuries, to the middle of France. I always imagined
that tall woman, who thought so quickly and spoke so sincerely,
dealing out her soul rapidly, as one might cards, must have been born
near Tours. She was so French that she must have come from the very
heart of France; she was French as the wine of France; as Balzac, who
also came from Tours; and her voice, and her thoughts, and her words
transported one; by her side one was really in France; and, as her
lover, one lived through every circumstance of a French love story.
She lived in what is called in Paris an hotel; it had its own
_concierge_, and it was nice to hear the man say, "Oui, monsieur,
Madame la Marquise est chez elle," to walk across a courtyard and wait
in a boudoir stretched with blue silk, to sit under a Louis XVI. rock
crystal chandelier. She said one day, "I'm afraid you're thinking of
me a great deal," and she leaned her hands on the back of the chair,
making it easy for me to take them. She said her hands had not done
any kitchen work for five hundred years, and at the time that seemed a
very witty thing to say. The drawing-room opened onto a conservatory
twenty feet high; it nearly filled the garden, and the marquise used
to receive her visitors there. I do not remember who was the
marquise's lover when the last fête was given, nor what play was
acted; only that the ordinary guests lingered over their light
refreshments, scenting the supper, and that to get rid of them we had
to bid the marquise ostentatiously goodnight. Creeping round by the
back of the house, we gained the bedrooms by the servants' staircase,
and hid there until the ordinary guests in decency could delay no
longer. As soon as the last one was gone the stage was removed, and
the supper tables were laid out. Shall I ever forget the moment when
the glass roof of the conservatory began to turn blue, and the
shrilling of awakening sparrows! How haggard we all were, but we
remained till eight in the morning. That fête was paid for with the
last remnant of the poor marquise's fortune. Afterwards she was very
poor, and Suzanne, her daughter, went on the stage and discovered a
certain talent for acting which has been her fortune to this day. I
will go to the Vaudeville to-night to see her; we might arrange to go
together to see her mother's grave. To visit the grave, and to strew
azaleas upon it, would be a pretty piece of sentimental mockery. But
for my adventure there should be seven visits; Madame ---- would make
a fourth; I hear that she is losing her sight, and lives in a chateau
about fifty miles from Paris, a chateau built in the time of Louis
XIII., with high-pitched roofs and many shutters, and formal gardens
with balustrades and fish-ponds, yes _et des charmilles--charmilles_--what
is that in English?--avenues of clipped limes. To walk in an avenue
of clipped limes with a woman who is nearly blind, and talk to her of the
past, would be indeed an adventure far "beyond the range of formal man's
emotion."

Madame ---- interrupted our love story. She would be another--that
would be five--and I shall think of two more during dinner. But now I
must be moving on; the day has ended; Paris is defining itself upon a
straw-coloured sky. I must go, the day is done; and hearing the last
notes trickle out--somebody has been playing the prelude to
"Tristan"--I say: "Another pretty day passed, a day of meditation on
art and women--and what else is there to meditate about? To-morrow
will happily be the same as to-day, and to-morrow I shall again
meditate on art and women, and the day after I shall be occupied with
what I once heard dear old M'Cormac, Bishop of Galway, describe in his
sermon as 'the degrading passion of "loave."'"



CHAPTER VII

NINON'S TABLE D'HÔTE


The day dies in sultry languor. A warm night breathes upon the town,
and in the exhaustion of light and hush of sound, life strikes sharply
on the ear and brain.

It was early in the evening when I returned home, and, sitting in the
window, I read till surprised by the dusk; and when my eyes could no
longer follow the printed page, holding the book between finger and
thumb, my face resting on the other hand, I looked out on the garden,
allowing my heart to fill with dreams. The book that had interested me
dealt with the complex technique of the art of the Low Countries--a
book written by a painter. It has awakened in me memories of all
kinds, heartrending struggles, youthful passion, bitter
disappointments; it has called into mind a multitude of thoughts and
things, and, wearied with admiring many pictures and arguing with
myself, I am now glad to exchange my book for the gentle
hallucinations of the twilight.

I see a line of leafage drawn across the Thames, but the line dips,
revealing a slip of grey water with no gleam upon it. Warehouses and a
factory chimney rise ghostly and grey, and so cold is that grey tint
that it might be obtained with black and white; hardly is the warmth
of umber needed. Behind the warehouses and the factory chimney the sky
is murky and motionless, but higher up it is creamy white, and there
is some cloud movement. Four lamps, two on either side of the factory
chimney, look across the river; one constantly goes out--always the
same lamp--and a moment after it springs into its place again. Across
my window a beautiful branch waves like a feather fan. It is the only
part of the picture worked out in detail. I watch its soft and almost
imperceptible swaying, and am tempted to count the leaves. Below it,
and a little beyond it, between it and the river, night gathers in the
gardens; and there, amid serious greens, passes the black stain of a
man's coat, and, in a line with the coat, in the beautifully swaying
branch, a belated sparrow is hopping from twig to twig, awakening his
mates in search for a satisfactory resting-place. In the sharp towers
of Temple Gardens the pigeons have gone to sleep. I can see the cots
under the conical caps of slate.

The gross, jaded, uncouth present has slipped from me as a garment
might, and I see the past like a little show, struggles and
heartbreakings of long ago, and watch it with the same indifferent
curiosity as I would the regulated mimicry of a stage play. Pictures
from the past come and go without an effort of will; many are habitual
memories, but the one before me rises for the first time--for fifteen
years it has lain submerged, and now like a water weed or flower it
rises--the Countess Ninon de Calvador's boudoir! Her boudoir or her
drawing-room, be that as it may, the room into which I was ushered
many years ago when I went to see her. I was then a young man, very
thin, with sloping shoulders, and that pale gold hair that Manet
used to like to paint. I had come with a great bouquet for Ninon,
for it was _son jour de fête_, and was surprised and somewhat
disappointed to meet a large brunette with many creases in her neck, a
loose and unstayed bosom; one could hardly imagine Ninon dressed
otherwise than in a _peignoir_--a blue _peignoir_ seemed inevitable.
She was sitting by a dark, broad-shouldered young man when I came
in; they were sitting close together; he rose out of a corner and
showed me an impressionistic picture of a railway station. He was
one of the many young men who at that time thought the substitution of
dots of pink and yellow for the grey and slate and square brushwork of
Bastien Lepage was the certain way to paint well. I learned
afterwards, during the course of the evening, that he was looked at
askance, for even in Montmartre it was regarded as a dishonour to
allow the lady with whom you lived to pay for your dinner. Villiers de
L'Isle Adam, who had once been Ninon's lover, answered the reproaches
levelled against him for having accepted too largely of her
hospitality with, "Que de bruit pour quelques côtelettes!" and his
transgressions were forgiven him for the sake of the _mot_ which
seemed to summarise the moral endeavour and difficulties of the entire
quarter. When Villiers was her lover Villiers was middle-aged, and
Ninon was a young woman; but when I knew her she was interested in the
young generation, yet she kept friends with all her old lovers, never
denying them her board. How funny was the impressionist's indignation
against Villiers! He charged him with having squandered a great part
of Ninon's fortune, but Villiers's answer to the young man was, "He
talks like the _concierge_ in my story of 'Les Demoiselles de
Bienfillatre.'"

Poor Villiers was not much to blame; it was part of Ninon's
temperament to waste her money, and the canvases round the room
testified that she spent a great deal on modern art. She certainly had
been a rich woman; rumour credited her with spending fifty thousand
francs a year, and in her case rumour said no more than the truth, for
it would require that at least to live as she lived, keeping open
house to all the literature, music, painting, and sculpture done in
Montmartre. At first sight her hospitality seems unreasonable, but
when one thinks one sees that it conforms to the rules of all
hospitality. There must be a principle of selection, and were the
_ratés_ she entertained less amusing than the people one meets in
Grosvenor Square or the Champs Elysées? Any friend could introduce
another, that is common practice, but at Ninon's there was a
restriction which I never met elsewhere--no friend could bring another
unless the newcomer was a _raté_--in other words, unless he had
written music or verse, or painted or carved, in a way that did not
appeal to the taste of the ordinary public; inability to reach the
taste of the general public was the criterion that obtained there.

The windows of Ninon's boudoir opened upon the garden, and on my
expressing surprise at its size and at the large trees that grew
there, she gave me permission to admire and investigate; and I walked
about the pond, interested in the numerous ducks, in the cats, in the
companies of macaws and cockatoos that climbed down from their perches
and strutted across the swards. I came upon a badger and her brood,
and at my approach they disappeared into an enormous excavation, and
behind the summer-house I happened upon a bear asleep and retreated
hurriedly. But on going towards the house I heard a well-known voice.
"That is Augusta Holmes singing her opera," I said; "she sings all the
different parts--soprano, contralto, tenor, and bass." At this time we
were all talking about her, and I stood by the window listening until
suddenly a well-known smell interrupted her. It was Ninon's cat that
had misconducted herself. A window was thrown open, but the
ventilation did not prove sufficient. Augusta and her admirers had to
leave the piano, and they came from the house glad to breathe the
evening air. How dear to me are flowered gowns and evening skies and
women with scarfs about their shoulders. Ah! what a beautiful evening
it was! And how well do I remember the poet comparing the darkening
sky to a blue veil with the moon like a gold beetle upon it. One of
the women had brought a guitar with her, and again Augusta's voice
streamed up through the stillness, till, compelled by the beauty of
the singing, we drew nearer; as the composer sang her songs attitudes
grew more abandoned, and hands fell pensively. Among the half-seen
faces I caught sight of a woman of exceeding fairness; her hair had
only a faint tinge of gold in it; and Ninon remembered that she was a
cousin of hers, one whom she had not seen for many years. How Clare
had discovered her in the Rue la Moine she could not tell. It was
whispered that she was the wife of a rich _commerçant_ at Tours.
This added to the mystery, and later in the evening the lady told me
she had never been in artistic society before, and begged me to point
out to her the celebrities present, and to tell her why they were
celebrated.

"Who is he--that one slouching towards the pond, that one wearing grey
trousers and a black jacket?--oh!"

My companion's exclamation was caused by a new sight of Verlaine; at
that moment he had lifted off his hat (the evening was still warm),
and the great bald skull, hanging like a cliff over the shaggy
eyebrows, shaggy as furze bushes, frightened her. The poet continued
his walk round the pond, and, turning suddenly towards us, he stopped
to speak to me. I was but a pretext; he clearly wished to speak to my
companion. But how strangely did he suit his conversation to her, yet
how characteristic of his genius were the words I heard as I turned
away, thinking to leave them together--"If I were in love with a young
girl or with a young man?" My companion ran forward quickly and seized
my arm. "You must not leave me with him," she said. On account of his
genius Verlaine was a little slow to see things outside of
himself--all that was within him was clear, all without him obscure;
so we had some difficulty in getting rid of him, and as soon as he was
out of hearing my companion inquired eagerly who he was, and I was
astonished at the perception she showed. "Is he a priest? I mean, was
he ever a priest?" "A sort of cross between a thieves' kitchen and a
presbytery. He is the poet Verlaine. The singer of the sweetest verses
in the French language--a sort of ambling song like a robin's. You
have heard the robin singing on a coral hedge in autumn-tide; the
robin confesses his little soul from the topmost twig; his song is but
a tracery of his soul, and so is Verlaine's. His gift is a vision of
his own soul, and he makes a tracery as you might of a drawing with a
lead pencil, never troubling himself to inquire if what he traces is
good or ill. He knows that society regards him as an outcast, but
society's point of view is not the only one, that he knows too, and
also, though he be a lecher, a crapulous and bestial fellow at times,
at other times he is a poet, a visionary, the only poet that
Catholicism has produced since Dante. Huysmans, the apologist of
Gilles de Rais,--there he is over yonder, talking to the impressionist
painter, that small thin man with hair growing thickly, low down on
his forehead--Huysmans somewhere in his description of the trial of
the fifteenth-century monster, the prototype, so it is said, of the
nursery tale of Blue Beard, speaks of the white soul of the Middle
Ages; he must have had Verlaine on his mind, for Verlaine has spoken
of himself as a mediaeval Catholic, that is to say a Catholic in whom
sinning and repentance alternates regularly as night and day. Verlaine
has not cut the throats of so many little boys as Gilles de Rais, but
Gilles de Rais always declared himself to be a good Catholic. Verlaine
abandons himself to the Church as a child to a fairy tale; he does
trouble to argue whether the Conception of the Virgin was Immaculate;
the mediaeval sculptors have represented her attired very prettily in
cloaks with long folds, they have put graceful crowns upon her head,
and Verlaine likes these things; they inspire him to write, he feels
that belief in the Church is part of himself, and his poetical genius
is to tell his own story; he is one of the great soul-tellers. From a
literary point of view there is a good deal to be said in favour of
faith when it is not joined with practice; acceptation of dogma
shields one from controversy; it allows Verlaine to concentrate
himself entirely upon things; it weans him away from ideas--the curse
of modern literature--and makes him a sort of divine vagrant living
his life in the tavern and in the hospital. It is only those who have
freed themselves from all prejudice that get close to life, who get
the real taste of life--the aroma as from a wine that has been many
years in bottle. And Verlaine is aware that this is so. Sometimes he
thinks he might have written a little more poetry, and he sighs, but
he quickly recovers. 'After all, I have written a good many volumes.'
'And what would art be without life, without love?' He has a verse on
that subject; I wish I could remember it for you. His verse is always
so winsome, so delicate, slender as the birch tree, elegiac like it; a
birch bending over a lake's edge reminds me of Verlaine. He is a lake
poet, but the lake is in a suburb not far from a casino. What makes me
speak about the lake is that for a long time I thought these verses,

  Ton âme est un lac d'amour
  Dont mes pensêes sont les cygnes.
  Vois comme ils font le tour....

were Verlaine's, but they are much less original; their beauty, for
they are beautiful, is conventional; numbers of poets might have
written them, whereas nobody but Verlaine could have written any of
his, really his own, poetry. His desires go sometimes as high as the
crucifix; very often they are in the gutter, hardly poetry at all,
having hardly any beauty except that of truth, and of course the
beauty of a versification that haunts in his ear, for he hears a song
in French verse that no French poet has ever heard before, and a song
so fluent, ranging from the ecstasy of the nightingale to the robin's
little homily.

  Oui, c'était par un soir joyeux de cabaret,
  Un de ces soirs plutôt trop chauds où l'on dirait
  Que le gaz du plafond conspire à notre perte
  Avec le vin du zinc, saveur naïve et verte.
  On s'amusait beaucoup dans la boutique et on
  Entendait des soupirs voisins d'accordéon
  Que ponctuaient des pieds frappant presque en cadence.
  Quand la porte s'ouvrit de la salle de danse
  Vomissant tout un flot dont toi, vers où j'étais,
  Et de ta voix fait que soudain je me tais,
  S'il te plaît de me donner un ordre péremptoire.
  Tu t'écrias 'Dieu, qu'il fait chaud! Patron, à boire!'

"She was from Picardy; and he tells of her horrible accent, and in
elegy number five he continues the confession, telling how his well
beloved used to get drunk.

 "Tu fis le saut de ... Seine et, depuis morte-vive,
  Tu gardes le vertige et le goût du néant."

"But how can a man confess such things?" my companion asked me, and we
stood looking at each other in the midst of the gardens until an ape,
cattling prettily, ran towards me and jumped into my arms, and looking
at the curious little wizened face, the long arms covered with hair, I
said:

"Verlaine has an extraordinary power of expression, and to be ashamed
of nothing; but to be ashamed is his genius, just as it was Manet's.
It is to his shamelessness that we owe his most beautiful poems, all
written in garrets, in taverns, in hospitals--yes, and in prison."

"In prison! But he didn't steal, did he?" and the _commerçant's_
wife looked at me with a frightened air, and I think her hand went
towards her pocket.

"No, no; a mere love story, a dispute with Rambaud in some haunt of
vice, a knife flashed, Rambaud was stabbed, and Verlaine spent three
years in prison. As for Rambaud, it was said that he repented and
renounced love, entered a monastery, and was digging the soil
somewhere on the shores of the Red Sea for the grace of God. But these
hopes proved illusory; only Verlaine knows where he is, and he will
not tell. The last certain news we had of him was that he had joined a
caravan of Arabs, and had wandered somewhere into the desert with
these wanderers, preferring savagery to civilization. Verlaine
preferred civilized savagery, and so he remained in Paris; and so he
drags on, living in thieves' quarters, getting drunk, writing
beautiful poems in the hospitals, coming out of hospitals and falling
in love with drabs."

  Dans ces femmes d'ailleurs je n'ai pas trouvé l'ange
  Qu'il eût fallu pour remplacer ce diable, toi!
  L'une, fille du Nord, native d'un Crotoy,
  Etait rousse, mal grasse et de prestance molle;
  Elle ne m'adressa guère qu'une parole
  Et c'était d'un petit cadeau qu'il s'agissait,
  En revanche, dans son accent d'ail et de poivre,
  Une troisième, recemment chanteuse au Havre,
  Affectait de dandinement des matelots
  Et m'... enguelait comme un gabier tancant les flots,
  Mais portrait beau vraiment, sacrédié, quel dommage
  La quatrième était sage comme une image,
  Châtain clair, peu de gorge et priait Dieu parfois:
  Le diantre soit de ses sacrés signes de croix!
  Les seize autres, autant du moins que ma mémoire
  Surnage en ce vortex, contaient toutes l'histoire
  Connue, un amant chic, puis des vieux, puis "l'îlot"
  Tantôt bien, tantôt moins, le clair café falot
  Les terasses l'été, l'hiver les brasseries
  Et par degrés l'humble trottoir en théories
  En attendant les bons messieurs compatissants
  Capables d'un louis et pas trop repoussants
  _Qutorum ego parva pars erim_, me disais-je.
  Mais toutes, comme la première du cortège,
  Dès avant la bougie éteinte et le rideau
  Tiré, n'oubliaient pas le "mon petit cadeau."

"In the verses I have just quoted, you remember, he says that the
fourth was chaste as an image, her hair was pale brown, she had
scarcely any bosom, and prayed to God sometimes. He always hated piety
when it interfered with his pleasure, and in the next verse he says,
'The devil take those sacred signs of the Cross!'"

"But do you know any of these women?"

"Oh, yes; we all know the terrible Sara. She beats him."

The _commerçante's_ wife asked if she were here.

"He wanted to bring her here, in fact he did bring her once, only she
was so drunk that she could not get beyond the threshold, and Ninon's
lover, the painter you saw painting the steam engines, was charged to
explain to the poet that Sara's intemperance rendered her impossible
in respectable society. 'I know Sara has her faults,' he murmured in
reply to all argument, and it was impossible to make him see that
others did not see Sara with his eyes. 'I know she has her faults,' he
repeated, 'and so have others. We all have our faults.' And it was a
long time before he could be induced to come back: hunger has brought
him."

"And who is that hollow-chested man? How pathetic he looks with his
goat-like beard."

"That is the celebrated Cabaner. He will tell you, if you speak to
him, that his father was a man like Napoleon, only more so. He is the
author of many aphorisms; 'that three military bands would be
necessary to give the impression of silence in music' is one. He comes
every night to the Nouvelle Athènes, and is a sort of rallying-point;
he will tell you that his ballad of 'The Salt Herring' is written in a
way that perhaps Wagner would not, but which Liszt certainly would
understand."

"Is his music ever played? Does it sell? How does he live? Not by his
music, I suppose?"

"Yes, by his music, by playing waltzes and polkas in the Avenue de la
Motte Piquet. His earnings are five francs a day, and for thirty-five
francs a month he has a room where many of the disinherited ones of
art, many of those you see here, sleep. His room is furnished--ah, you
should see it! If Cabaner wants a chest of drawers he buys a fountain,
and he broke off the head of the Vénus de Milo, saying that now she no
longer reminded him of the people he met in the streets; he could
henceforth admire her without being troubled by any sordid
recollection. I could talk to you for hours about his unselfishness,
his love of art, his strange music, and his stranger poems, for his
music accompanies his own verses."

"Is he too clever for the public, or not clever enough?"

"Now you're asking me the question we've been asking ourselves for the
last ten years.... The man fumbling at his shirt collar over yonder is
the celebrated Villiers de L'Isle Adam."

And I remember how it pleased me to tell this simple-minded woman all
I knew about Villiers.

"He has no talent whatever, only genius, and that is why he is a
raté," I said.

But the woman was not so simple as I had imagined, and one or two
questions she put to me led me to tell her that Villiers's genius only
appeared in streaks, like gold in quartz.

"The comparison is an old one, but there is no better one to explain
Villiers, for when he is not inspired his writing is very like
quartz."

"His great name----"

"His name is part of his genius. He chose it, and it has influenced
his writings. Have I not heard him say, 'Car je porte en moi les
richesses stériles d'un grand nombre de rois oubliés.'"

"But is he a legitimate descendant?"

"Legitimate in the sense that he desired the name more than any of
those who ever bore it legitimately."

At that moment Villiers passed by me, and I introduced him to her, and
very soon he began to tell us that his _Eve_ had just been
published, and the success of it was great.

"On m'a dit hier de passer à la caisse ... l'edition était épuisée,
vous voyez--il paraît, la fortune est venue ... même à moi."

But Villiers was often tiresomely talkative about trifles, and as soon
as I got the chance I asked him if he were going to tell us one of his
stories, reminding him of one I had heard he had been telling lately
in the _brasseries_ about a man in quest of a quiet village where
he could get rest, a tired composer, something of that kind. Had he
written it? No, he had not written it yet, but now that he knew I
liked it he would get up earlier to-morrow. Some one took him away
from us, and I had to tell my companion the story.

"Better," I said, "he should never write it, for half of it exists in
his voice, and in his gestures, and every year he gets less and less
of himself onto the paper. One has to hear him tell his stories in the
café--how well he tells them! You must hear him tell how a man,
recovering from a long illness, is advised by his doctor to seek rest
in the country, and how, seeing the name of a village on the map that
touches his imagination, he takes the train, feeling convinced he will
find there an Arcadian simplicity. But the village he catches sight of
from the carriage window is a morose and lonely village, in the midst
of desolate plains. And worse than Nature are the human beings he sees
at the station; they lurk in corners, they scrutinise his luggage, and
gradually he believes them all to be robbers and assassins.

"He would escape but he dare not, for he is being followed, so turning
on his pursuers he asks them if they can direct him to a lodging. The
point of Villiers's story is how a suspicion begins in the man's mind,
how it grows like a cancer, and very soon the villagers are convinced
he is an anarchist, and that his trunks are full of material for the
manufacture of bombs. And this is why they dare not touch them. So
they follow him to the farmhouse whither they have directed him, and
tell their fears to the farmer and his wife. Villiers can improvise
the consultations in the kitchen; at midnight in the café, but when
morning comes he cannot write, his brain is empty. You must come some
night to the Nouvelle Athènes to hear him; leaning across the table he
will tell the terror of the hinds and farmer, how they are sure the
house is going to be blown up. The sound of their feet on the
staircase inspires terror in the wretched convalescent. He sits up in
bed, listening, great drops of sweat collected on his forehead. He
dare not get out of bed, but he must; and Villiers can suggest the
sound of feet on the creaking stairs--yes, and the madness of the man
piling furniture against the door, and the agony of those outside
hearing the noise within. When they break into the room they find a
dead man; for terror has killed him. You must come to the Nouvelle
Athènes to hear Villiers tell his story. I'll meet you there to-morrow
night.... Will you dine with me? The dinner there is not really too
bad; perhaps you'll be able to bear with it."

The _commerçant's_ wife hesitated. She promised to come, and she
came; but she did not prove an interesting mistress; why, I cannot
remember, and I am glad to put her out of my mind, for I want to think
of the strange poet whom we heard reciting verses, under the aspen, in
which one of the apes had taken refuge. Through the dimness of the
years I can see his fair hair floating about his shoulders, his blue
eyes and his thin nose. Didn't somebody once describe him as a sort of
sensual Christ? He, too, was after the _commerçant's_ wife. And
didn't he select her as the subject of his licentious verses--reassure
yourself, reader, licentious merely from the point of view of prosody.

  "Ta nuque est de santal sur les vifs frissons d'or.
      Mais c'est une autre, que j'adore."

The _commerçant's_ wife, forgetful of me, charmed by the poet, by
the excitement of hearing herself made a subject of a poem, drew
nearer. Strange, is it not, that I should remember a few words here
and there?

  "Il m'aime, il m'aime pas, et selon l'antique rite
      Elle effleurait la Marguerite."

The women still sit, circlewise, as if enchanted, the night inspires
him, and he improvises trifle after trifle. One remembers fragments.
Some time afterwards Cabaner was singing the song of "The Salt
Herring."

 "He came along holding in his hands dirty, dirty, dirty,
  A big nail pointed, pointed, pointed,
  And a hammer heavy, heavy, heavy.
  He placed the ladder high, high, high,
  Against the wall white, white, white.
  He went up the ladder high, high, high,
  Placed the nail pointed, pointed, pointed
  Against the wall--toc! toc! toc!
  He tied to the nail a string long, long, long,
  And at the end of it a salt herring, dry, dry, dry,
  And letting fall the hammer heavy, heavy, heavy,
  He got down from the ladder high, high, high,
  And went away, away, away.
  Since then at the end of the string long, long, long,
  A salt herring dry, dry, dry,
  Has been swinging slowly, slowly, slowly.
  Now I have composed this story simple, simple, simple,
  To make all serious men mad, mad, mad,
  And to amuse children, little, little, little."

This was the libretto on which Cabaner wrote music "that Wagner would
not understand, but which Liszt certainly would." Dear, dear Cabaner,
how well I can see thee with thy goat-like beard, and the ape in the
tree interrupting thee; he was not like Liszt, he chattered all night.
Poor ape, he broke his chain earlier in the evening, and it was found
impossible to persuade him to come down. The brute seemed somehow
determined that we should not hear Cabaner. Soon after the cocks began
answering each other, though it was but midnight; and so loud was
their shrilling that I awoke, surprised to find myself sitting at my
window in King's Bench Walk. A moment ago I was in Madame Ninon de
Calvador's garden, and every whit as much as I am now in King's Bench
Walk. Madame Ninon de Calvador--what has become of her?

Is the rest of her story unknown? As I sit looking into the darkness,
a memory suddenly springs upon me. Villiers, who came in when dinner
was half over, brought a young man with him. Fumbling at his shirt
collar, apologising for being late, assuring us that he had dined, he
introduced his friend to the company as a young man of genius, of
extraordinary genius. Don't I remember Villiers's nervous, hysterical
voice! Don't I remember the journalist's voice when he asked Ninon's
lover if he sold his pictures, creating at once a bad impression? By
some accident a plate was given to him, out of which one of the cats
had been fed. The plate might have been given to any one else:
Villiers would not have minded, and as for Cabaner, he never knew what
he was eating; but it was given to the journalist. Now I remember the
young man misconducted himself badly; he struck the table with his
fist, and said, "Et bien, je casse tout." Yes, it was he who wrote the
article entitled "Ninon's Table d'hôte" in the _Gil Blas_, and
from it she learned for the first time how the world viewed her
hospitality, how misinterpreted were her efforts to benefit the arts
and the artists. Somebody told me this story: who I cannot tell; it is
all so long ago. But it seems to me that I remember hearing that it
was this article that killed her.

The passing of things is always a moving subject for meditation, and
it is strange how accident will bring back a scene, explicit in every
detail--a tree taking shape upon the dawning sky, the hairy ugliness
of the ape in its branches, and along the grey grass a waddling squad
of the ducks betaking themselves to the pond, a poet talking to a
_commerçant's_ wife, Madame de Calvador leaning on a lover's arm.

Had I a palette I could match the blue of the _peignoir_ with the
faint grey sky. I could make a picture out of that dusky suburb. Had I
a pen I could write verses about these people of old time, but the
picture would be a shrivelled thing compared with the dream, and the
verses would limp. The moment I sought a pen the pleasure of the
meditation, which is still with me, which still endures, would vanish.
Better to sit by my window and enjoy what remains of the mood and the
memory. The mood has nearly passed, the desire of action is
approaching.... I would give much for another memory, but memory may
not be beckoned, and my mind is dark now, dark as that garden; the
swaying, fan-like bough by my window is nearly one mass of green; the
last sparrow has fallen asleep. I hear nothing.... I hear a horse
trotting in the Strand.



CHAPTER VIII

THE LOVERS OF ORELAY


I had come a thousand miles--rather more, nearly fifteen hundred--in
the hope of picking up the thread of a love story that had got
entangled some years before and had been broken off abruptly. A
strange misadventure our love story had been; for Doris had given a
great deal of herself while denying me much, so much that at last, in
despair, I fled from a one-sided love affair; too one-sided to be
borne any longer, at least by me. And it was difficult to fly from her
pretty, inveigling face, delightful and winsome as the faces one finds
on the panels of the early German masters. One may look for her face
and find it on an oak panel in the Frankfort Gallery, painted in pale
tints, the cheeks faintly touched with carmine. In the background of
these pictures there are all sorts of curious things; very often a
gold bower with roses clambering up everywhere. Who was that master
who painted cunning virgins in rose bowers? The master of Cologne, was
it not? I have forgotten. No matter. Doris's hair was darker than the
hair of those virgins, a rich gold hair, a mane of hair growing as
luxuriously as the meadows in June. And the golden note was continued
everywhere, in the eyebrows, in the pupils of the eyes, in the
freckles along her little nose so firmly and beautifully modelled
about the nostrils; never was there a more lovely or affectionate
mouth, weak and beautiful as a flower; and the long hands were curved
like lilies.

There is her portrait, dear reader, prettily and truthfully and
faithfully painted by me, the portrait of a girl I left one afternoon
in London more than seventeen years ago, and whom I had lost sight of,
I feared for ever. Thought of her? Yes, I thought of her occasionally.
Time went by, and I wondered if she were married. What her husband was
like, and why I never wrote. It were surely unkind not to write....
Reader, you know those little regrets. Perhaps life would be all on
the flat without regret. Regret is like a mountaintop from which we
survey our dead life, a mountaintop on which we pause and ponder, and
very often looking into the twilight we ask ourselves whether it would
be well to send a letter or some token. Now we had agreed upon one
which should be used in case of an estrangement--a few bars of
Schumann's melody, "The Nut Bush," should be sent, and the one who
received it should at once hurry to the side of the other and all
difference should be healed. But this token was never sent by me,
perhaps because I did not know how to scribble the musical phrase:
pride perhaps kept her from sending it; in any case five years are a
long while, and she seemed to have died out of my life altogether; but
one day the sight of a woman who had known her, brought her before my
eyes, and I asked if Doris married. The woman could not tell me; she
had not seen her for many years; they, too, were estranged, and I went
home saying to myself: "Doris must be married. What sort of a husband
has she chosen? Is she happy? Has she a baby? Oh, shameful thought!"

Do you remember, dear reader, how Balzac, when he had come to the last
page of "Massimilla Doni," declares that he dare not tell you the end
of this adventure. One word, he says, will suffice for the worshippers
of the ideal: "Massimilla Doni was expecting." Then in a passage that
is pleasanter to think about than to read--for Balzac when he spoke
about art was something of a sciolist, and I am not sure that the
passage is altogether grammatical--he tells how the ideas of all the
great artists, painters, and sculptors--the ideas they have wrought on
panels and in stone--escaped from their niches and their frames--all
these disembodied maidens gathered round Massimilla's bed and wept. It
would be as disgraceful for Doris to be "expecting" as it was for
Massimilla Doni, and I like to think of all the peris, the nymphs, the
sylphs, the fairies of ancient legend, all her kinsfolk gathering
about her bed, deploring her condition, regarding her as lost to
them--were such a thing to happen I should certainly kneel there in
spirit with them. And feeling just as Balzac did about Massimilla
Doni, that it was a sacrilege that Doris should be "expecting" or even
married, I wrote, omitting, however, to tell her why I had suddenly
resolved to break silence; I sent her a little note, only a few words,
that I was sorry not to have heard of her for so long a time; but
though we had been estranged she had not been forgotten; a little
commonplace note, relieved perhaps by a touch of wistfulness, of
regret. And this note was sent by a messenger duly instructed to ask
for an answer. The news the messenger brought back was somewhat
disappointing. The lady was away, but the letter would be forwarded to
her. "She is not married," I thought; "were she married her name would
be sent to me.... Perhaps not." Other thoughts came into my mind, and
I did not think of her again for the next two days, not till a long
telegram was put into my hand. Doris! It had come from her. It had
come more than a thousand miles, "regardless of expense." I said,
"This telegram must have cost her ten or twelve shillings at the
least." She was delighted to hear from me; she had been ill, but was
better now, and the telegram concluded with the usual "Am writing."
The letter that arrived, two days afterwards, was like herself, full
of impulse and affection; but it contained one phrase which put black
misgiving into my heart. In her description of her illness and her
health, which was returning, and how she had come to be staying in
this far-away Southern town, she alluded to its dulness, saying that
if I came there virtue must be its own reward. "Stupid of her to speak
to me of virtue," I muttered, "for she must know well enough that it
was her partial virtue that had separated us and caused this long
estrangement." And I sat pondering, trying to discover if she applied
the phrase to herself or to the place where she was staying. How could
it apply to the place? All places would be a paradise if----

At the close of a long December evening I wrote a letter, the answer
to which would decide whether I should go to her, whether I should
undertake the long journey. "The journey back will be detestable," I
muttered, and taking up the pen again I wrote: "Your letter contains a
phrase which fills me with dismay: you say, 'Virtue must be its own
reward,' and this would seem that you are determined to be more
aggressively Platonic than ever. Doris, this is ill news indeed; you
would not have me consider it good news, would you?"

Other letters followed, but I doubt if I knew more of Doris's
intentions when I got into the train than I did when I sat pondering
by my fireside, trying to discover her meaning when she wrote that
vile phrase, "Virtue must be its own reward." But somehow I seemed to
have come to a decision, and that was the main thing. We act obeying a
law deep down in our being, a law which in normal circumstances we are
not aware of. I asked myself as I drove to the station, if it were
possible that I was going to undertake a journey of more than a
thousand miles in quest--of what? Doris's pretty face! It might be
pretty no longer; yet she could not have changed much. She had said
she was sure that in ten minutes we should be talking just as in old
times. Even so, none but madmen travel a thousand miles in search of a
pretty face. And it was the madman that is in us all that was
propelling me, or was it the primitive man who crouches in some jungle
of our being? Of one thing I was sure, that I was no longer a
conventional citizen of the nineteenth century; I had gone back two or
three thousand years, for all characteristic traits, everything
whereby I knew myself, had disappeared! Yet I seemed to have met
myself somewhere, in some book or poem or opera.... I could not
remember at first, but after some time I began to perceive a shadowy
similarity between myself and--dare I mention the names?--the heroes
of ancient legend--Menelaus or Jason--which? Both had gone a thousand
miles on Beauty's quest. The colour of Helen's hair isn't mentioned in
either the "Iliad" or the "Odyssey." Jason's quest was a golden
fleece, and so was mine. And it was the primitive hero that I had
discovered in myself that helped me to face the idea of the journey,
for there is nothing that wearies me so much as a long journey in the
train.

When I was twenty I started with the intention of long travel, but the
train journey from Calais to Paris wearied me so much that I had
rested in Paris for eight years, to return home then on account of
some financial embarrassments. During those eight years I thought
often of Italy and the south of France, but the train journey of
sixteen or seventeen or eighteen hours to the Italian frontier always
seemed so much like what purgatory must be, that the heaven of Italy
on the other side never tempted me sufficiently to undertake it. A
companion would be of no use; one cannot talk for fifteen or sixteen
hours, and while debating with myself whether I should go to Plessy, I
often glanced down the long perspective of hours. Everything, pleasure
and pain alike, are greater in imagination than in reality--there is
always a reaction, and having anticipated more than mortal weariness,
I was surprised to find that the first two hours in the train passed
very pleasantly. It seemed that I had only been in the train quite a
little while when it stopped, yet Laroche is more than an hour from
Paris, quite a countryside station, and it seems strange that the
_Côte d'Azur_ should stop there. That was the grand name of the
train that I was travelling by. Think of any English company running a
train and calling it "The Azure Shore"! Think of going to Euston or to
Charing Cross, saying you are going by "The Azure Shore"! So long as
the name of this train endures, it is impossible to doubt that the
French mind is more picturesque than the English, and one no longer
wonders why the French school of painting, etc.

A fruit seller was crying his wares along the platform, and just
before we started from Laroche breakfast was preparing on board the
train; I thought a basket of French grapes--the grapes that grow in
the open air, not the leathery hot-house grapes filled with lumps of
glue that we eat in England--would pass the time. I got out and bought
a basket from him. On journeys like these one has to resort to many
various little expedients. Alas! The grapes were decaying; only the
bunch on the top was eatable; nor was that one worth eating, and I
began to think that the railway company's attention should be directed
to the fraud, for in my case a deliberate fraud had been effected. The
directors of the railway would probably think that passengers should
exercise some discrimination; it were surely easy for the passenger to
examine the quality of a basket of grapes before purchasing--that
would be the company's answer to my letter. The question of a letter
to the newspaper did not arise, for French papers are not like
ours--they do not print all the letters that are sent to them. The
French public has no means of ventilating its grievances; a misfortune
no doubt, but not such a misfortune as it seems, when one reflects on
how little good a letter addressed to the public press does in the way
of remedying abuses.

I don't think we stopped again till we got to Lyons, and all the way
there I sat at the window looking at the landscape--the long, long
plain that the French peasant cultivates unceasingly. Out of that long
plain came all the money that was lost in Panama, and all the money
invested in Russian bonds--fine milliards came out of the French
peasants' stockings. We passed through La Beauce. I believe it was
there that Zola went to study the French peasant before he wrote "La
Terre." Huysmans, with that benevolent malice so characteristic of
him, used to say that Zola's investigation was limited to going out
once for a drive in a carriage with Madame Zola. The primitive man
that had risen out of some jungle of my being did not view this
immense and highly cultivated plain sympathetically. It seemed to him
to differ little from the town, so utterly was nature dominated by man
and portioned out. On a subject like this one can meditate for a long
time, and I meditated till my meditation was broken by the stopping of
the train. We were at Lyons. The tall white-painted houses reminded me
of Paris--Lyons, as seen from the windows of _La Côte d'Azur_ at
the end of a grey December day might be Paris. The climate seemed the
same; the sky was as sloppy and as grey. At last the train stopped at
a place from which I could look down a side street, and I decided that
Lyons wore a more provincial look than Paris, and I thought of the
great silk trade and the dull minds of the merchants ... their dinner
parties, etc. I noticed everything there was to notice in order to
pass the time; but there was so little of interest that I wrote out a
telegram and ran with it to the office, for Doris did not know what
train I was coming by, and it is pleasant to be met at a station, to
meet one familiar face, not to find oneself amid a crowd of strangers.
Very nearly did I miss the train; my foot was on the footboard when
the guard blew his whistle. "Just fancy if I had missed the train," I
said, and settling myself in my seat I added, "now, let us study the
landscape; such an opportunity as this may never occur again."

The long plain cultivated with tedious regularity that we had been
passing through before we came to Lyons, flowed on field after field;
it seemed as if we should never reach the end of it, and looking on
those same fields, for they were the same, I said to myself: "If I
were an economist that plain would interest me, but since I got
Doris's letter I am primitive man, and he abhors the brown and the
waving field, and 'the spirit in his feet' leads him to some grassy
glen where he follows his flocks, listening to the song of the wilding
bee that sings as it labours amid the gorse. What a soulless race that
plain must breed," I thought; "what soulless days are lived there;
peasants going forth at dusk to plough, and turning home at dusk to
eat, procreate and sleep." At last a river appeared flowing amid
sparse and stunted trees and reeds, a great wide sluggish river with
low banks, flowing so slowly that it hardly seemed to flow at all.
Rooks flew past, but they are hardly wilding birds; a crow--yes, we
saw one; and I thought of a heron rising slowly out of one of the
reedy islands; maybe an otter or two survives the persecution of the
peasant, and I liked to think of a poacher picking up a rabbit here
and there; hares must have almost disappeared, even the flock and the
shepherd. France is not as picturesque a country as England; only
Normandy seems to have pasturage, there alone the shepherd survives
along the banks of the Seine. Picardy, though a swamp, never conveys
an idea of the wild; and the middle of France, which I looked at then
for the first time, shocked me, for primitive man, as I have said, was
uppermost in me, and I turned away from the long plain, "Dreary," I
said, "uneventful as a boarding-house."

But it is a long plain that has no hill in it, and when I looked out
again a whole range showed so picturesquely that I could not refrain,
but turned to a travelling companion to ask its name. It was the
Esterelles; and never shall I forget the picturesqueness of one
moment--the jagged end of the Esterelles projecting over the valley,
showing against what remained of the sunset, one or two bars of dusky
red, disappearing rapidly amid heavy clouds massing themselves as if
for a storm, and soon after night closed over the landscape.

"Henceforth," I said, "I shall have to look to my own thoughts for
amusement," and in my circumstances there was nothing reasonable for me
to think of but Doris. Some time before midnight I should catch sight
of her on the platform. It seemed to me wonderful that it should be
so, and I must have been dreaming, for the voice of the guard, crying
out that dinner was served awoke me with a start.

It is said to be the habit of my countrymen never to get into
conversation with strangers in the train, but I doubt if that be so.
Everything depends on the tact of him who first breaks silence; if his
manner inspires confidence in his fellow-traveller he will receive
such answers as will carry the conversation on for a minute or two,
and in that time both will have come to a conclusion whether the
conversation should be continued or dropped. A pleasant little book
might be written about train acquaintances. If I were writing such a
book I would tell of the Americans I once met at Nuremberg, and with
whom I travelled to Paris; it was such a pleasant journey. I should
have liked to keep up their acquaintance, but it is not the etiquette
of the road to do so. But I am writing no such book; I am writing the
quest of a golden fleece, and may allow myself no further deflection
in the narrative; I may tell, however, of the two very interesting
people I met at dinner on board _La Côte d'Azur_, though some
readers will doubt if it be any integral part of my story. The woman
was a typical French woman, pleasant and agreeable, a woman of the
upper middle classes, so she seemed to me, but as I knew all her ideas
the moment I looked at her, conversation with her did not flourish; or
would it be more true to say that her husband interested me more,
being less familiar? His accent told me he was French; but when he
took off his hat I could see that he had come from the
tropics--Algeria I thought; not unlikely a soldier. His talk was less
stilted than a soldier's, and I began to notice that he did not look
like a Frenchman, and when he told me that he lived in an oasis in the
desert, and was on his way home, his Oriental appearance I explained
by his long residence among the Arabs. He had lived in the desert
since he was fourteen. "Almost a Saharian," I said to him. And during
dinner, and long after dinner we sat talking of the difference
between the Oriental races and the European; of the various Arab
_patois_. He spoke the Tunisean _patois_ and wrote the language
of the Koran, which is understood all over the Sahara and the
Soudan, as well as in Mecca. What interested me, perhaps even more
than the language question, was the wilding's enterprise in attempting
to cultivate the desert. He had already enlarged his estate by the
discovery of two ancient Roman wells, and he had no doubt that all
that part of the desert lying between the three oases could be brought
into cultivation. In ancient times there were not three oases but one;
the wells had been destroyed, and hundreds of thousands of acres had
been laid waste by the Numidians in order, I think he told me, to save
themselves from the Saracens who were following them. He spent eight
months of every year in his oasis, and begged of me, as soon as I had
wearied of Cannes, to take the boat from Marseilles--I suppose it was
from Marseilles--and spend some time with him in the wild.

"Visitors," he said, "are rare. You'll be very welcome. The railway
will take you within a hundred miles; the last hundred miles will be
accomplished on the back of a dromedary; I shall send you a fleet one
and an escort."

"Splendid," I answered. "I see myself arriving sitting high up on the
hump gathering dates--I suppose there are date palms where you are?
Yes?--and wearing a turban and a bournous."

"Would you like to see my bournous?" he said, and opening his valise
he showed me a splendid one which filled me with admiration, and only
shame forbade me to ask him to allow me to try it on. Ideas haunt one.
When I was a little child I insisted on wearing a turban and going out
for a ride on the pony, flourishing a Damascus blade which my father
had brought home from the East. Nothing else would have satisfied me;
my father led the pony, and I have always thought this fantasy
exceedingly characteristic; it must be so, for it awoke in me twenty
years afterwards; and fanciful and absurd as it may appear, I
certainly should have liked to have worn my travelling companion's
bournous in the train if only for a few minutes. All this is twelve
years ago, and I have not yet gone to visit him in his oasis, but how
many times have I done so in my imagination, seeing myself arriving on
the back of a dromedary crying out, "Allah! Allah! And Mohammed is his
prophet!" But though one can go on thinking year after year about a
bournous, one cannot talk for more than two or three hours about one;
and though I looked forward to spending at least a fortnight with my
friends, and making excursions in the desert, finding summer, as
Fromentin says, _chez lui_, I was glad to say good-bye to my
friends at Marseilles.

I was still quite far from the end of my journey, and so weary of talk
that at first I was doubtful whether or not it would be worth while to
engage again in conversation, but a pleasant gentleman had got into my
carriage, and he required little encouragement to tell me his story.
His beginnings were very humble, but he was now a rich merchant. It is
always interesting to hear how the office boy gets his first chance;
the first steps are the interesting ones, and I should be able to tell
his story here if we had not been interrupted in the middle of it by
his little girl. She had wearied of her mother, who was in the next
carriage, and had come in to sit on her father's knee. Her hair hung
about her shoulders just as Doris's had done five years ago, taking
the date from the day that I journeyed in quest of the golden fleece.
She was a winsome child, with a little fluttering smile about her lips
and a curious intelligence in her eyes. She admitted that she was
tired, but had not been ill, and her father told me that long train
journeys produced the same effect on her as a sea journey. She spoke
with a pretty abruptness, and went away suddenly, I thought for good,
but she returned half an hour afterwards looking a little faint, I
thought, green about the mouth, and smiling less frequently. One
cannot remember everything, and I have forgotten at what station these
people got out; they bade me a kindly farewell, telling me that in
about two hours and a half I should be at Plessy, and that I should
have to change at the next station, and this lag end of my journey
dragged itself out very wearily.

Plessy is difficult to get at; one has to change, and while waiting
for the train I seemed to lose heart; nothing seemed to matter, not
even Doris. But these are momentary capitulations of the intellect and
the senses, and when I saw her pretty face on the platform I
congratulated myself again on my wisdom in having sent her the
telegram. How much pleasanter it was to walk with her to the hotel
than to walk there alone! "She is," I said to myself, "still the same
pretty girl whom I so bitterly reproached for selfishness in
Cumberland Place five years ago." To compliment her on her looks, to
tell her that she did not look a day older, a little thinner, a little
paler, that was all, but the same enchanting Doris, was the facile
inspiration of the returned lover. And we walked down the platform
talking, my talk full of gentle reproof--why had she waited up? There
was a reason.... My hopes, till now buoyant as corks, began to sink.
"She is going to tell me that I cannot come to her hotel. Why did I
send that telegram from Lyons?" Had it not been for that telegram I
could have gone straight to her hotel. It was just the telegram that
had brought her to the station, and she had come to tell me that it
was impossible for me to stay at her hotel.

After thirty hours of travel it mattered little which hotel I stayed
at, but to-morrow and the next day, the long week we were to spend
together passed before my eyes, the tedium of the afternoons, the
irritation and emptiness of Platonic evenings--"Heavens! what have I
let myself in for," I thought, and my mind went back over the long
journey and the prospect of returning _bredouille_, as the
sportsmen say. But to argue about details with a woman, to get angry,
is a thing that no one versed in the arts of love ever does. We are in
the hands of women always; it is they who decide, and our best plan is
to accept the different hotel without betraying disappointment, or as
little as possible. But we had not seen each other for so long that we
could not part at once. Doris said that I must come to her hotel and
eat some supper. No; I had dined on board the train, and all she could
persuade me to have was a cup of chocolate. Over that cup of chocolate
we talked for an hour, and then I had to bid her good-night. The moon
looked down the street coldly; I crossed from shadow to light, feeling
very weary in all my body, and there was a little melancholy in my
heart, for after all I might not win Doris. There was sleep, however,
and sleep is at times a good thing, and that night it must have come
quickly, so great was the refreshment I experienced in the morning
when my eyes opened and, looking through mosquito curtains (themselves
symbols of the South), were delighted by the play of the sunlight
flickering along the flower-papered wall. The impulse in me was to
jump out of bed at once and to throw open _les croisées_. And
what did I see? Tall palm trees in the garden, and above them a dim,
alluring sky, and beyond them a blue sea in almost the same tone as
the sky. And what did I feel? Soft perfumed airs moving everywhere.
And what was the image that rose up in my mind? The sensuous
gratification of a vision of a woman bathing at the edge of a summer
wood, the intoxication of the odour of her breasts.... Why should I
think of a woman bathing at the edge of a summer wood? Because the
morning seemed the very one that Venus should choose to rise from the
sea.

Forgive my sensuousness, dear reader; remember it was the first time I
breathed the soft Southern air, the first time I saw orange trees;
remember I am a poet, a modern Jason in search of a golden fleece. "Is
this the garden of the Hesperides?" I asked myself, for nothing seemed
more unreal than the golden fruit hanging like balls of yellow worsted
among dark and sleek leaves; it reminded me of the fruit I used to see
when I was a child under glass shades in lodging-houses, but I knew,
nevertheless, that I was looking upon orange trees, and that the
golden fruit growing amid the green leaves was the fruit I used to
pick from the barrows when I was a boy; the fruit of which I ate so
much in boyhood that I cannot eat it any longer; the fruit whose smell
we associate with the pit of a theatre; the fruit that women never
grow weary of, high and low. It seemed to me a wonderful thing that at
last I should see oranges growing on trees; I so happy, so singularly
happy, that I am nearly sure that happiness is, after all, no more
than a faculty for being surprised. Since I was a boy I never felt so
surprised as I did that morning. The _valet de chambre_ brought
in my bath, and while I bathed and dressed I reflected on the luck of
him who in middle age can be astonished by a blue sky, and still find
the sunlight a bewitchment. But who would not be bewitched by the
pretty sunlight that finds its way into the gardens of Plessy? I knew
I was going to walk with Doris by a sea blue as any drop-curtain, and
for a moment Doris seemed to be but a figure on a drop-curtain. Am I
very cynical? But are we not all figures on drop-curtains, and is not
everything comic opera, and "La Belle Hélène" perhaps the only true
reality? Amused by the idea of Jason or Paris or Menelaus in Plessy, I
asked Doris what music was played by the local orchestra, and she told
me it played "The March of Aïda" every evening. "Oh, the cornet," I
said, and I understood that the mission of Plessy was to redeem one
from the coil of one's daily existence, from Hebrew literature and its
concomitants, bishops, vicars, and curates--all these, especially
bishops, are regarded as being serious; whereas French novels and
their concomitants, pretty girls, are supposed to represent the
trivial side of life. A girl becomes serious only when she is engaged
to be married; the hiring of the house in which the family is reared
is regarded as serious; in fact all prejudices are serious; every
deflection from the normal, from the herd, is looked upon as trivial;
and I suppose that this is right: the world could not do without the
herd nor could the herd do without us--the eccentrics who go to Plessy
in quest of a golden fleece instead of putting stoves in the parish
churches (stoves and organs are always regarded as too devilishly
serious for words).

Once I had a long conversation with my archbishop concerning the Book
of Daniel, and were I to write out his lordship's erudition I might
even be deemed sufficiently serious for a review in the _Church
Gazette_. But looking back on this interview and judging it with
all the impartiality of which my nature is capable, I cannot in truth
say that I regard it as more serious than pretty Doris's fluent
conversation, or the melancholy aspect of his lordship's cathedral as
more serious than the pretty Southern sunlight glancing along the
seashore, lighting up the painted houses, and causing Doris to open
her parasol. What a splendid article I might write on the trivial side
of seriousness, but discussion is always trivial; I shall be much more
serious in trying to recall the graceful movement of the opening of
her parasol, and how prettily it enframed her face. True that almost
every face is pretty against the distended silk full of sunlight and
shadow, but Doris's, I swear to you, was as pretty as any medieval
virgin despite its modernness. Memline himself never designed a more
appealing little face. Think of the enchantment of such a face after a
long journey, by the sea that the Romans and the Greeks used to cross
in galleys, that I used to read about when I was a boy. There it was,
and on the other side the shore on which Carthage used to stand; there
it was, a blue bay with long red hills reaching out, reminding me of
hills I had seen somewhere, I think in a battle piece by Salvator
Rosa. It seemed to me that I had seen those hills before--no, not in a
picture; had I dreamed them, or was there some remembrance of a
previous existence struggling in my brain? There was a memory
somewhere, a broken memory, and I sought for the lost thread as well
as I could, for Doris rarely ceased talking.

"And there is the restaurant," she said, flinging up her parasol,
"built at the end of those rocks."

We were the first swallows to arrive; the flocks would not be here for
about three weeks. So we had the restaurant to ourselves, the waiter
and doubtless the cook; and they gave us all their attention. Would we
have breakfast in the glass pavilion? How shall I otherwise describe
it, for it seemed to be all glass? The scent of the sea came through
the window, and the air was like a cordial--it intoxicated; and
looking across the bay one seemed to be looking on the very thing that
Whistler had sought for in his Nocturnes, and that Steer had nearly
caught in that picture of children paddling, that dim, optimistic blue
that allures and puts the world behind one, the dream of the
opium-eater, the phrase of the syrens in "Tannhäuser," the phrase
which begins like a barcarolle; but the accompaniment tears underneath
until we thrill with expectation.

As I looked across the bay, Doris seemed but a little thing, almost
insignificant, and the thought came that I had not come for nothing
even if I did not succeed in winning her.

"Doris, dear, forgive me if I am looking at this bay instead of you,
but I've never seen anything like this before," and feeling I was
doing very poor justice to the emotions I was experiencing, I said:
"Is it not strange that all this is at once to me new and old? I seem,
as it were, to have come into my inheritance."

"Your inheritance! Am I not----"

"Dearest, you are. Say that you are my inheritance, my beautiful
inheritance; how many years have I waited for it?" As I took her in my
arms she caught sight of the waiter, and turning from her I looked
across the bay, and my desire nearly died in the infinite sweetness
blowing across the bay.

"Azure hills, not blue; hitherto I have only seen blue."

"They're blue to-day because there is a slight mist, but they are in
reality red."

"A red-hilled bay," I said, "and all the slopes flecked with the white
sides of villas."

"Peeping through olive trees."

"Olive trees, of course. I have never yet seen the olive; the olive
begins at Avignon or thereabouts, doesn't it? It was dark night when
we passed through Avignon."

"You'll see very few trees here; only olives and ilex."

"The ilex I know, and there is no more beautiful tree than the ilex."

  "Were not the crocuses that grew
    Under that ilex tree,
  As beautiful in scent and hue
    As ever fed the bee?"

"Whose verses are those?"

"Shelley's. I know no others. Are the lines very wonderful? They seem
no more than a statement, yet they hang about my memory. I am glad I
shall see the ilex tree."

"And the eucalyptus--plenty of eucalyptus trees."

"That was the scent that followed us this morning as we came through
the gardens."

"Yes, as we passed from our hotel one hung over the garden wall, and
the wind carried its scent after us."

The arrival of the waiter with _hors d'oeuvres_ distracted our
attention from the olive tree to its fruit, I rarely touch olives, but
that morning I ate many. Should we have mutton cutlets or lamb? Doris
said the Southern mutton was detestable. "Then we'll have lamb." An
idea came into my head, and it was this, that I had been mistaken
about Doris's beauty. Hers was not like any face that one may find in
a panel by Memline. She was like something, but I could not lay my
thoughts on what she was like.

"A sail would spoil the beauty of the bay," I said when the waiter
brought in the coffee, and left us--we hoped for the last time. Taking
hands and going to the window we sat looking across the sailless bay.
"How is it that no ships come here? Is the bay looked upon as a mere
ornament and reserved exclusively for the appreciation of visitors?
Those hills, too, look as if they had been designed in a like
intent.... How much more beautiful the bay is without a sail--why I
cannot tell, but----"

"But what?"

"A great galley rowed by fifty men would look well in this bay.... The
bay is antiquity, and those hills; all the morning while talking to
you a memory or a shadow of a memory has fretted in my mind like a fly
on a pane. Now I know why I have been expecting a nymph to rise out of
those waves during breakfast. For a thousand years men believed that
nymphs came up on those rocks, and that satyrs and their progeny might
be met in the woods and on the hillsides. Only a thin varnish has been
passed over these beliefs. One has only to come here to look down into
that blue sea-water to believe that nymphs swim about those rocks; and
when we go for a drive among those hillsides we'll keep a sharp
lookout for satyrs. Now I know why I like this country. It is heathen.
Those mountains--how different from the shambling Irish hills from
whence I have come! And you, Doris, you might have been dug up
yesterday, though you are but two-and-twenty. You are a thing of
yester age, not a bit like the little Memline head which I imagined
you to be like when I was coming here in the train, nor like anything
done by the Nuremberg painters. You are a Tanagra figure, and one of
the finest. In you I read all the winsomeness of antiquity. But I must
look at the bay now, for I may never see anything like it again; never
have I seen anything like it before. Forgive me, remember that three
days ago I was in Ireland, the day before yesterday I was in England,
yesterday I was in Paris. I have come out of the greyness of the
North. When I left Paris all was grey, and when the train passed
through Lyons a grey night was gathering; now I see no cloud at all:
the change is so wonderful. You cannot appreciate my admiration. You
have been looking at the bay for the last three weeks, and _La côte
d'azur_ has become nothing to you now but palms and promenades. To
me it is still quite different. I shall always see you beautiful,
whereas Plessy may lose her beauty in a few days. Let me enjoy it
while I may."

"Perhaps I shall not outlast Plessy."

"Yes, you will. Do you know, Doris, that you don't look a day older
since the first time I saw you walking across the room to the piano in
your white dress, your gold hair hanging down over your shoulders. It
has darkened a little, that is all."

"It is provoking you should see me when I am thin. I wish you had seen
me last year when I came from the rest cure. I went up more than a
stone in weight. Every one said that I didn't look more than sixteen.
I know I didn't, for all the women were jealous of me."

As I sat watching the dissolving line of the horizon, lost in a dream,
I heard my companion say:

"Of what are you thinking?"

"I'm thinking of something that happened long ago in that very bay."

"Tell me about it;" and her hand sought mine for a moment.

"Would you like to hear it? I'd like to tell it, but it's a long, long
story, and to remember it would be an effort. The colour of the sea
and the sky is enough; the warmth of the sunlight penetrates me; I
feel like a plant; the only difference between me and one of those
palm trees----"

"I am sure those poor palms are shivering. There is not enough heat
here for them; they come from the south, and you come from the north."

"I suppose that is so. They grow, but they don't flourish here.
However, my mood is not philanthropic; I cannot pity even a palm tree
at the present moment. See how my cigar smoke curls and goes out! It
is strange, Doris, that I should meet you here, for some years ago it
was arranged that I should come here----"

"With a woman?"

"Yes, of course. How can it be otherwise? Our lives are woven along
and across with women. Some men find the reality of their lives in
women, others, as we were saying just now, in bishops."

"Tell me about the woman who asked you to come here? Did you love her?
And what prevented you from coming here with her?"

"It is one of the oddest stories--odd only because it is like myself.
Every character creates it own stories; we are like spools, and each
spool fills itself up with a different-coloured thread. The story,
such as it is, began one evening in Victoria Street at the end of a
long day's work. A letter began it. She wrote asking me to dine with
her, and her letter was most welcome, for I had no plans for that
evening. I do not know if you know that curious dread of life which
steals through the twilight; it had just laid its finger on my
shoulder when the bell rang, and I said: 'My visitor is welcome,
whoever she or he may be.' The visitor would have only spent a few
minutes perhaps with me, but Gertrude's letter--that was her name--was
a promise of a long and pleasant evening, for it was more than a mere
invitation to dinner. She wrote: 'I have not asked any one to meet
you, but you will not mind dining alone with me. I hope you will be
able to come, for I want to consult you on a matter about which I
think you will be able to advise me.' As I dressed I wondered what she
could have to propose, and with my curiosity enkindled I walked to her
house. The evening was fine--I remember it--and she did not live far
from me; we were neighbours. You see I knew Gertrude pretty well, and
I liked her. There had been some love passages between us, but I had
never been her lover; our story had got entangled, and as I went to
her I hoped that this vexatious knot was to be picked at last. To be
Gertrude's lover would be a pleasure indeed, for though a woman of
forty, a natural desire to please, a witty mind, and pretty manners
still kept her young; she had all the appearance of youth; and French
gowns and underwear that cost a little fortune made her a woman that
one would still take a pleasure in making love to. It would be
pleasant to be her lover for many reasons. There were disadvantages,
however, for Gertrude, though never vulgar herself, liked vulgar
things. Her friends were vulgar; her flat, for she had just left her
husband, was opulent, overdecorated; the windows were too heavily
curtained, the electric light seemed to be always turned on, and as
for the pictures--well, we won't talk of them; Gertrude was the only
one worth looking at. And she was rather like a Salon picture, a
Gervex, a Boldeni--I will not be unjust to Gertrude, she was not as
vulgar as a Boldeni. She had a pretty cooing manner, and her white
dress fell gracefully from her slender flanks. You can see her, can't
you, coming forward to meet me, rustling a little, breathing an odour
of orris root, taking my hand and very nearly pressing it against her
bosom? Gertrude knew how to suggest, and no sooner had the thought
that she wished to inspire passed through my mind than she let go my
hand, saying: 'Come, sit down by me, tell me what you have been
doing'; and her charm was that it was impossible to say whether what I
have described, dress, manner, and voice, was unconscious or
intentional."

"Probably a little of both," Doris said.

"I see you understand. You always understand."

"And to make amends for the familiarity of pressing your hand to her
bosom she would say: 'I hope you will not mind dining alone with me,'
and immediately you would propound a little theory that two is company
and three is a county council, unless indeed the three consist of two
men and one woman. A woman is never really happy unless she is talking
to two men, woman being at heart a polyandrist."

"Doris, you know me so well that you can invent my conversations."

"Yes, I think I can. You have not changed; I have not forgotten you
though we have not seen each other for five years; and now go on, tell
me about Gertrude."

"Well, sitting beside her on the sofa----"

"Under the shaded electric light," interrupted Doris.

"I tried to discover--not the reason of this invitation to dinner; of
course it was natural that old friends should dine together, but she
had said in her letter that she wished to talk to me about some matter
on which she thought I could advise her. The servant would come in a
moment to announce that dinner was ready, and if Gertrude did not tell
me at once I might, if the story were a long one, have to wait till
dinner was over; her reluctance to confide in me seemed to point to
pecuniary help. Was it possible that Gertrude was going to ask me to
lend her money! If so, the loan would be a heavy one, more than I
could afford to lend. That is the advantage of knowing rich people;
when they ask for money they ask for more than one can afford to lend,
and one can say with truth: 'Were I to lend you five hundred pounds,
I should not be able to make ends meet at the end of the year.' Her
reluctance to confide in me seemed incomprehensible, unless indeed she
wanted to borrow money. But Gertrude was not that kind, and she was a
rich woman. At last, just before the servant came into the room, she
turned round saying that she had sent for me because she wished to
speak to me about a yacht. Imagine my surprise. To speak to me about a
yacht! If it had been about the picture.

"The door opened, the servant announced that dinner was ready, and we
had to talk in French during dinner, for her news was that she had
hired a yacht for the winter in order that she might visit Greece and
the Greek Islands. But she did not dare to travel in Greece alone for
six months, and it was difficult to find a man who was free and whom
one could trust. She thought she could trust me, and remembering that
I had once liked her, it had occurred to her to ask me if I would like
to go with her. I shall never forget how Gertrude confided her plan to
me, the charming modesty with which she murmured: 'Perhaps you do
still, and you will not bore me by claiming rights over me. I don't
mind your making love to me, but I don't like rights. You know what I
mean. When we return to England you will not pursue me. You know what
I have suffered from such pursuits; you know all about it?' Is it not
curious how a woman will sometimes paint her portrait in a single
phrase; not paint, but indicate in half-a-dozen lines her whole moral
nature? Gertrude exists in the words I have quoted just as God made
her. And now I have to tell you about the pursuit. When Gertrude
mentioned it I had forgotten it; a blankness came into my face, and
she said: 'Don't you remember?' 'Of course, of course,' I said, and
this is the story within the story.

"One day after lunch Gertrude, getting up, walked unconsciously
towards me, and quite naturally I took her in my arms, and when I had
told her how much I liked her, and the pleasure I took in her company,
she promised to meet me at a hotel in Lincoln. We were to meet there
in a fortnight's time; but two days before she sent for me, and told
me that she would have to send me away. I really did like Gertrude,
and I was quite overcome, and a long hour was spent begging of her to
tell why she had come to this determination. One of course says unjust
things, one accuses a woman of cruelty; what could be the meaning of
it? Did she like to play with a man as a cat plays with a mouse? But
Gertrude, though she seemed distressed at my accusations, refused to
give me any explanation of her conduct; tears came into her eyes--they
seemed like genuine tears--and it was difficult to believe that she
had taken all this trouble merely to arrive at this inexplicable and
most disagreeable end. Months passed without my hearing anything of
Gertrude, till one day she sent me a little present, and in response
to a letter she invited me to come to see her in the country. And,
walking through some beautiful woods, she told me the reason why she
had not gone to Lincoln. A Pole whom she had met at the gambling
tables at Monte Carlo was pursuing her, threatening her that if he saw
her with any other man he would murder her and her lover. This at
first seemed an incredible tale, but when she entered into details,
there could be no doubt that she was telling the truth, for had she
not on one occasion very nearly lost her life through this man? They
were in Germany together, she and the Pole, and he had locked her up
in her room without food for many hours, and coming in suddenly he had
pressed the muzzle of a pistol against her temple and pulled the
trigger. Fortunately, it did not go off. 'It was a very near thing,'
she said; 'the cartridge was indented, and I made up my mind that if
things went any further, I should have to tell my husband.' 'But
things can't go further than an indented cartridge,' I answered. 'What
you tell me is terrible'; and we talked for a long time, walking about
the woods, fearing that the Pole might spring from behind every bush,
the pistol in his hand. But he did not appear; she evidently knew
where he was, or had made some compact with him. Nevertheless, at the
close of the day, I drove through the summer evening not having got
anything from Gertrude except a promise that if she should find
herself free, she would send for me. Weeks and months went by during
which I saw Gertrude occasionally; you see love stories, once they get
entangled, remain entangled; that is what makes me fear that we shall
never be able to pick the knot that you have tied our love story into.
Misadventure followed misadventure. It seems to me that I behaved very
stupidly on many occasions; it would take too long to tell you
how--when I met her at the theatre I did not do exactly what I should
have done; and on another occasion when I met her driving in a suburb,
I did not stop her cab, and so on and so on until, resolved to bring
matters to a crisis, Gertrude had sent me an invitation to dinner, and
her plan was the charming one which I have told you, that we should
spend six months sailing about the Greek Islands in a yacht. We left
the dining-room and returned to the drawing-room, she telling me that
the yacht had been paid for--the schooner, the captain, the crew,
everything for six months; but I not unnaturally pointed out to her
that I could not accept her hospitality for so long a time, and the
greater part of the evening was spent in trying to persuade her to
allow me to pay--Gertrude was the richer--at least a third of the
upkeep of the yacht must come out of my pocket.

"The prospect of a six months' cruise among the Greek Islands kindled
my imagination, and while listening to Gertrude I was often in spirit
far away, landing perchance at Cyprus, exalted at the prospect of
visiting the Cyprians' temple; or perchance standing with Gertrude on
the deck of the yacht watching the stars growing dim in the east; the
sailors would be singing at the time, and out of the ashen stillness a
wind would come, and again we would hear the ripple of the water
parting as the jib filled and drew the schooner eastward. I imagined
how half an hour later an island would appear against the golden sky,
a lofty island lined with white buildings, perchance ancient fanes.
'What a delicious book my six months with Gertrude will be!' I said as
I walked home, and the title of the book was an inspiration, 'An
Unsentimental Journey.' It was Gertrude's own words that had suggested
it. Had she not said that she did not mind my making love to her, but
she did not like rights? She couldn't complain if I wrote a book, and
I imagined how every evening when the lover left her, the chronicler
would sit for an hour recording his impressions. Very often he would
continue writing until the pencil dropped from his hand, till he fell
asleep in the chair. An immediate note-taking would be necessary, so
fugitive are impressions, and an analysis of his feelings, their
waxing and their waning; he would observe himself as an astronomer
observes the course of a somewhat erratic star, and his descriptions
of himself and of her would be interwoven with descriptions of the
seas across which Menelaus had gone after Helen's beauty--beauty, the
noblest of men's quests.

"For once Nature seemed to me to put into the hands of the artist a
subject perfect in its every part; the end especially delighted me,
and I imagined our good-byes at Plymouth or Portsmouth or Hull,
wherever we might land. 'Well, Gertrude, goodbye. We have spent a very
pleasant six months together; I shall never forget our excursion. But
this is not a rupture; I may hope to see you some time during the
season? You will allow me to call about tea-time?' And she would
answer: 'Yes, you may call. You have been very nice.' Each would turn
away sighing, conscious of a little melancholy in the heart, for all
partings are sad; but at the bottom of the heart there would be a
sense of relief, of gladness--that gladness which the bird feels when
it leaves its roost: there is nothing more delicious perhaps than the
first beat of the wings. I forget now whether I looked forward most to
the lady or to the book.... If the winds had been more propitious, I
might have written a book that would have compared favourably with the
eighteenth-century literature, for the eighteenth century was cynical
in love; while making love to a woman, a gallant would often consider
a plan for her subsequent humiliation. Gouncourt----"

"But, dear one, finish about the yacht."

"Well, it seemed quite decided that Gertrude and I were to go to
Marseilles to meet the schooner; but the voyage from the Bay of Biscay
is a stormy and a tedious one; the weather was rough all the way, and
she took a long time to get to Gibraltar. She passed the strait
signalling to Lloyd's; we got a telegram; everything was ready; I had
ordered yachting clothes, shoes, and quantities of things; but after
that telegram no news came, and one evening Gertrude told me she was
beginning to feel anxious; the yacht ought to have arrived at
Marseilles. Three or four days passed, and then we read in the
paper--the _Evening Standard_, I think it was--the _Ring-Dove_,
a large schooner, had sunk off the coast while making for the Bay
of Plessy. Had she passed that point over yonder, no doubt she
would have been saved; all hands were lost, the captain, seven
men, and my book."

"Good heavens, how extraordinary! And what became of Gertrude? Were
you never her lover?"

"Never. We abstained while waiting for the yacht. Then she fell in
love with somebody else; she married her lover; and now he deplores
her; she found an excellent husband, and she died in his arms."

At every moment I expected Doris to ask me how it was that, for the
sake of writing a book, I had consented to go away for a six months'
cruise with a woman whom I didn't love. But there was a moment when I
loved her--the week before Lincoln. Whether Doris agreed tacitly that
my admiration of Gertrude's slender flanks and charm of manner and
taste in dress justified me in agreeing to go away with her, I don't
know; she did not trouble me with the embarrassing question I had
anticipated. Isn't it strange that people never ask the embarrassing
questions one foresees? She asked me instead with whom I had been in
love during the past five years, and this too embarrassed me, though
not to the extent the other question would have done. To say that
since I had seen Doris I had led a chaste life would be at once
incredible and ridiculous. Sighing a little, I spoke of a
_liaison_ that had lasted many years and had come to an end at
last. Fearing that Doris would ask if it had come to an end through
weariness, it seemed well to add that the lady had a daughter growing
up, and it was for the girl's sake we had agreed to bring our love
story to a close. We had, however, promised to remain friends.

Doris's silence embarrassed me a little, for she didn't ask any
questions about the lady and her daughter; and it was impossible to
tell from her manner whether she believed that this lady comprised the
whole of my love life for the last five years, and if she thought I
had really broken with her. For a moment or two I did not dare to look
at Doris, and then I felt that her disbelief mattered little, so long
as it did not enter as an influencing factor into the present
situation. Under a sky as blue and amid nature poetical as a
drop-curtain, one's moral nature dozes. No doubt that was it. There is
an English church at Plessy, but really! Dear little town, town of my
heart, where the local orchestra plays "The March of Aida" and "La
Belle Hélène"! If I could inoculate you, reader, with the sentiment of
the delicious pastoral you would understand why, all the time I was at
Plessy, I looked upon myself as a hero of legend, whether of the
Argonauts or the siege of Troy matters little. Returning from Mount
Ida after a long absence, after presenting in imagination the fairest
of women with the apple, I said:

"You asked me whom I had been in love with; now tell me with whom have
you been in love?"

"For the last three years I have been engaged to be married."

"And you are still engaged?"

She nodded, her eyes fixed on the blue sea, and I said laughing, that
it was not of a marriage or an engagement to be married that I spoke,
but of the beautiful, irrepressible caprice.

"You wouldn't have me believe that no passion has caught you and
dragged you about for the last five years, just as a cat drags a
little mouse about?"

"It is strange that you should ask me that, for that is exactly what
happened."

"Really?"

"Only that I suffered much more than any mouse ever suffered."

"Doris, tell me. You know how sympathetic I am; you know I shall
understand. All things human interest me. If you have loved as much as
you say, your story will ... I must hear it."

"Why should I tell it?" and her eyes filled with tears. "I suffered
horribly. Don't speak to me about it. What is the good of going over
it all again?"

"Yes, there is good; very much good comes of speaking, if this love
story is over, if there is no possibility of reviving it. Tell it, and
in telling, the bitterness will pass from you. Who was this man? How
did you meet him?"

"He was a friend of Albert's. Albert introduced him."

"Albert is the man you are engaged to? The old story, the very oldest.
Why should it always be the friend? There are so many other men, but
it is always the friend who attracts." And I told Doris the story of a
friend who had once robbed me, and my story had the effect of drying
her tears. But they began again as soon as she tried to tell her own
story. There could be no doubt that she had suffered. Things are
interesting in proportion to the amount of ourselves we put into them;
Doris had clearly put all her life into this story; a sordid one it
may seem to some, a story of deception and lies, for of course Albert
was deceived as cruelly as many another good man. But Doris must have
suffered deeply, for at the memory of her sufferings her face streamed
with tears. As I looked at her tears I said: "It is strange that she
should weep so, for her story differs nowise from the many stories
happening daily in the lives of men and women. She will tell me the
old and beautiful story of lovers forced asunder by cruel fate, and
this spot is no doubt a choice one to hear her story." And raising my
eyes I admired once again the drooping shore, the serrated line of
mountains sweeping round the bay. And the colour was so intense that
it overpowered the senses like a perfume, "like musk," I thought. When
I turned to Doris I could see she was wholly immersed in her own
sorrow, and it took all my art to persuade her to tell it, or it
seemed as if all my art of persuasion were necessary.

"As soon as you knew you loved him, you resolved to see him no more?"

Doris nodded.

"You sent him away before you yielded to him?"

She nodded, and looking at me her eyes filled with tears, but which
only seemed to make them still more beautiful, she told me that they
had both felt that it was impossible to deceive Albert.

       *       *       *       *       *

All love stories are alike in this; they all contain what the
reviewers call "sordid details." But if Tristan had not taken
advantage of King Mark's absence on a hunting expedition, the world
would have been the poorer of a great love story; and what, after all,
does King Mark's happiness matter to us--a poor passing thing, whose
life was only useful in this, that it gave us an immortal love story?
And if Wagner had not loved Madame Wasendonck, and if Madame
Wasendonck had not been unfaithful to her husband, we should not have
had "Tristan." Who then would, for the sake of Wasendonck's honour,
destroy the score of "Tristan"? Nor is the story of "Tristan" the only
one, nor the most famous. There is also the story of Helen. If
Menelaus's wife had not been unfaithful to him, the world would have
been the poorer of the greatest of all poems, the "Iliad" and the
"Odyssey." Dear me, when one thinks of it, one must admit that art
owes a great deal to adultery. Children are born of the marriage,
stories of the adulterous bed, and the world needs both--stories as
well as children. Even my little tale would not exist if Doris had
been a prudent maiden, nor would it have interested me to listen to
her that day by the sea if she had naught to tell me but her
unswerving love for Albert. Her story is not what the world calls a
great story, and it would be absurd to pretend that if a shorthand
writer had taken it down his report would compare with the stories of
Isolde and Helen, but I heard it from her lips, and her tears and her
beauty replaced the language of Wagner and of Homer; and so well did
they do this that I am not sure that the emotion I experienced in
listening to her was less than that which I have experienced before a
work of art.

"Do you know," she began, "perhaps you don't, perhaps you've never
loved enough to know the anxiety one may feel for the absent. We had
been together all day once, and when we bade each other good-bye we
agreed that we should not see each other for two days, till Thursday;
but that night in bed an extraordinary desire took hold of me to know
what had become of him. I felt I must hear from him; one word would be
enough. But we had promised. It was stupid, it was madness, yet I had
to take down the telephone, and when I got into communication what do
you think the answer was?--'Thank God you telephoned! I've been
walking about the room nearly out of my mind, feeling that I should go
mad if the miracle did not happen.'"

"If you loved Ralph better than Albert----"

"Why didn't I give up Albert? Albert's life would have been broken and
ruined if I had done that. You see he has loved me so many years that
his life has become centred in me. He is not one of those men who like
many women. Outside of his work nothing exists but me. He doesn't care
much for reading, but he reads the books I like. I don't know that he
cares much about music for its own sake, but he likes to hear me sing
just because it is me. He never notices other women; I don't think
that he knows what they wear, but he likes my dresses, not because
they are in good taste, but because I wear them. One can't sacrifice a
man like that. What would one think of oneself? One would die of
remorse. So there was nothing to be done but for Ralph to go away. It
nearly killed me."

"I'm afraid I can give you no such love; my affection for you will
prove very tepid after such violent emotions."

"I don't want such emotions again; I could not bear them, they would
kill me; even a part would kill me. Two months after Ralph left I was
but a little shadow. I was thinner than I am now, I was worn to a
thread, I could hardly keep body and skirt together."

We laughed at Doris's little joke; and we watched it curling and going
out like a wreath of cigarette smoke.

"But did you get no happiness at all out of this great love?"

"We were happy only a very little while."

"How long?"

Doris reflected.

"We had about six weeks of what I should call real happiness, the time
while Albert was away. When he came back the misery and remorse began
again. I had to see him--not Albert, the other--every day; and Albert
began to notice that I was different. We used to go out together, we
three, and at last the sham became too great and Albert said he could
not stand it any longer. 'I prefer you should go out with him alone,
and if it be for your happiness I'll give you up.'"

"So you nearly died of love! Well, now you must live for love, liking
things as they go by. Life is beautiful at the moment, sad when we
look back, fearful when we look forward; but I suppose it's hopeless
to expect a little Christian like you to live without drawing
conclusions, liking things as they go by as the nymphs do. Dry those
tears; forget that man. You tell me it is over and done. Remember
nothing except that the sky and the sea are blue, that it is a luxury
to feel alive here by the sea-shore. My happiness would be to make you
happy, to see you put the past out of your mind, to close your eyes to
the future. That will be easy to do by this beautiful sea-shore, under
those blue skies with flowers everywhere and drives among the
mountains awaiting us. We create our own worlds. Chance has left you
here and sent me to you. I want you to eat a great deal and to sleep
and to get fatter and to dream and to read Theocritus, so that when we
go to the mountains we shall be transported into antiquity. You must
forget Albert and him who made you unhappy--he allowed you to look
back and forwards."

"I think I deserve some happiness; you see I have sacrificed so much."

At these words my hopes rose--shall I say like a balloon out of which
a great weight of ballast has been thrown?--and so high did they go
that failure seemed like a little feather swimming in the gulf below.
"She deserved some happiness," and intends to make me her happiness.
Her words could bear no other interpretation; she had spoken without
thought, and instinctively. Albert was away; why should she not take
this happiness which I offered her? Would she understand that distance
made a difference, that it was one thing to deceive Albert if he were
with her, and another when she was a thousand miles away? It was as if
we were in a foreign country; we were under palm trees, we were by the
Mediterranean. With Albert a thousand miles away it would be so easy
for her to love me. She had said there was no question of her marrying
any one but Albert--and to be unfaithful is not to be inconstant.
These were the arguments which I would use if I found that I had
misunderstood her; but for the moment I did not dare to inquire; it
would be too painful to hear I had misunderstood her; but at last,
feeling she might guess the cause of my silence, I said, not being
able to think of anything more plausible:

"You spoke, didn't you, of going for a drive?"

"We were speaking of happiness--but if you'd like to go for a drive.
There's no happiness like driving."

"Isn't there?"

She pinched my arm, and with a choking sensation in the throat I asked
her if I should send for a carriage.

"There will be time for a short drive before the sun setting. You said
you admired the hills--one day we will go to a hill town. There is a
beautiful one--Florac is the name of it--but we must start early in
the morning. To-day there will be only time to drive as far as the
point you have been admiring all the morning. The road winds through
the rocks, and you want to see the ilex trees."

"My dear, I want to see you."

"Well, you're looking at me. Come, don't be disagreeable."

"Disagreeable, Doris! I never felt more kindly in my life. I'm still
absorbed in the strange piece of luck which has brought us together,
and in such a well-chosen spot; no other would have pleased me as
much."

"Now why do you like the landscape? Tell me."

"I cannot think of the landscape now, Doris: I'm thinking of you, of
what you said just now."

"What did I say?"

"You said--I tried to remember the words at the time, but I have
forgotten them, so many thoughts have passed through my mind
since--you said--how did you word it?--after having suffered as much
as you did, some share of happiness----"

"No, I didn't say that; I said, having sacrificed so much, I thought I
deserved a little happiness."

"So she knew what she was saying," I said to myself. "Her words were
not casual," but not daring to ask her if she intended to make me her
happiness, I spoke about the landscape. "You ask me why I like the
landscape? Because it carries me back into past times when men
believed in nymphs and in satyrs. I have always thought it must be a
wonderful thing to believe in the dryad. Do you know that men
wandering in the woods sometimes used to catch sight of a white breast
between the leaves, and henceforth they could love no mortal woman?
The beautiful name of their malady was nympholepsy. A disease that
every one would like to catch."

"But if you were to catch it you wouldn't be able to love me, so I'll
not bring you to the mountains. Some peasant girl----"

"Fie! Doris, I have never liked peasant girls."

"Your antiquity is eighteenth-century antiquity. There are many
alcoves in it."

"I don't know that the alcove was an invention of the eighteenth
century. There were alcoves at all times. But, Doris, good heavens!
what are those trees? Never did I see anything so ghastly; they are
like ghosts. Not only have they no leaves, but they have no bark nor
any twigs; nothing but great white trunks and branches."

"I think they are called plantains."

"That won't do, you are only guessing; I must ask the coachman."

"I think, sir, they are called plantains."

"You only think. Stop and I'll ask those people."

"Sont des plantains, Monsieur."

"Well, I told you so," Doris said, laughing.

Beyond this spectral avenue, on either side of us there were fields,
and Doris murmured:

"See how flat the country is, to the very feet of the hills, and the
folk working in the fields are pleasant to watch."

I declared that I could not watch them, nor could you, reader, if you
had been sitting by Doris. I had risen and come away from long months
of toil; and I remember how I told Doris as we drove across those
fields towards the hills, that it was not her beauty alone that
interested me; her beauty would not be itself were it not illumed by
her wit and her love of art. What would she be, for instance, if she
were not a musician? Or would her face be the same face if it were
robbed of its mirth? But mirth is enchanting only when the source of
it is the intelligence. Vacuous laughter is the most tiresome of
things; a face of stone is more inveigling. But Doris prided herself
on her beauty more than on her wit, and she was disinclined to admit
the contention that beauty is dependent upon the intelligence. Our
talk rambled on, now in one direction, now in another.

Lovers are divided into two kinds, the babbling and the silent.

We meet specimens of the silent kind on a Thames back-water--the punt
drawn up under the shady bank with the twain lying side by side, their
arms about each other all the afternoon. When evening comes, and it is
time to return home, her fellow gets out the sculls, and they part
saying: "Well, dear, next Sunday, at the same time." "Yes, at the same
time next Sunday."

We were of the babbling kind, as the small part of our conversation
that appears in this story shows.

"My dear, my dear, remember that we are in an open carriage."

"What do those folks matter to us?"

"My dear, if I don't like it?"

To justify my desire of her lips I began to compare her beauty with
that of a Greek head on a vase, saying that hers was a cameo-like
beauty, as dainty as any Tanagra figure.

"And to see you and not to claim you, not to hold your face in my
hands just as one holds a vase, is----"

"Is what?"

"A kind of misery. What else shall I say? Fancy my disappointment if,
on digging among these mountains, I were to find a beautiful vase, and
some one were to say: 'You can look at it but not touch it.'"

"Do you love me as well as that?" she answered, somewhat moved, for my
words expressed a genuine emotion.

"I do indeed, Doris."

"We might get out here. I want you to see the view from the hilltop."

And, telling the driver that he need not follow us, to stay there and
rest his panting horse, we walked on. Whether Doris was thinking of
the view I know not; I only know that I thought only of kissing Doris.
To do so would be pleasant--in a way--even on this cold hillside, and
I noticed that the road bent round the shoulder of the mount. We soon
reached the hilltop, and we could see the road enter the village in
the dip between the hills, a double line of houses--not much
more--facing the sea, a village where we might go to have breakfast;
we might never go there; however that might be, we certainly should
remember that village and the road streaming out of it on the other
side towards the hills. Now and then we lost sight of the road; it
doubled round some rock or was hidden behind a group of trees; and
then we caught sight of it a little farther on, ascending the hills in
front of us, and no doubt on the other side it entered another
village, and so on around the coast of Italy. Even with the thought of
Doris's kisses in my mind, I could admire the road and the curves of
the bay. I felt in my pocket for a piece of paper and a pencil. The
colour was as beautiful as a Brabizon; there were many tints of blue,
no doubt, but the twilight had gathered the sea and sky into one tone,
or what seemed to be one tone.

"You wanted to see olive trees--those are olives."

"So those are olives! Do I at last look upon olives?"

"Are you disappointed?"

"Yes and no. The white gnarled trunk makes even the young trees seem
old. The olive is like an old man with skimpy legs. It seems to me a
pathetic tree. One does not like to say it is ugly; it is not ugly,
but it would be puzzling to say wherein lies its charm, for it throws
no shade, and is so grey--nothing is so grey as the olive. I like the
ilex better."

Where the road dipped there was a group of ilex trees, and it was in
their shade that I kissed Doris, and the beauty of the trees helps me
to appreciate the sentiment of those kisses. And I remember that road
and those ilex trees as I might remember a passage in Theocritus.
Doris--her very name suggests antiquity, and it was well that she was
kissed by me for the first time under ilex trees; true that I had
kissed her before, but that earlier love story has not found a
chronicler, and probably it never will. I like to think that the
beauty of the ilex is answerable, perhaps, for Doris's kisses--in a
measure. Her dainty grace, her Tanagra beauty, seemed to harmonise
with that of the ilex, for there is an antique beauty in this tree
that we find in none other. Theocritus must have composed many a poem
beneath it. It is the only tree that the ancient world could have
cared to notice; and if it were possible to carve statues of trees, I
am sure that the ilex is the tree sculptors would choose. The beech
and the birch, all the other trees, only began to be beautiful when
men invented painting. No other tree shapes itself out so beautifully
as the ilex, lifting itself up to the sky so abundantly and with such
dignity--a very queen in a velvet gown is the ilex tree; and we stood
looking at the group, admiring its glossy thickness, till suddenly the
ilex tree went out of my mind, and I thought of the lonely night that
awaited me.

"Doris, dear, it is more than flesh and blood can bear. My folly lay
in sending the telegram. Had I not sent it you wouldn't have known by
what train I was coming; you would have been fast asleep in your bed,
and I should have gone straight to your hotel."

"But, darling, you wouldn't compromise me. Every one would know that
we stayed at the same hotel."

"Dearest, it might happen by accident, and were it to happen by
accident what could you do?"

"All I can say is that it would be a most unfortunate accident."

"Then I have come a thousand miles for nothing. This is worse than the
time in London when I left you for your strictness. Can nothing be
done?"

"Am I not devoted to you? We have spent the whole day together. Now I
don't think it's at all nice of you to reproach me with having brought
you on a fool's errand."

"I didn't say that," and we quarrelled a little until we reached the
carriage. Doris was angry, and when she spoke again it was to say:

"If you are not satisfied, you can go back. I'm sorry. I think it's
most unreasonable that you should ask me to compromise myself."

"And I think it's unkind of you to suggest that I should go back, for
how can I go back?"

She did not ask me why--she was too angry at the moment--and it was
well she did not, for I should have been embarrassed to tell her that
I was fairly caught.

I had come a thousand miles to see her, and I could not say I was
going to take the _Côte d'azur_ back again, because she would not
let me stay at her hotel; to do so would be too childish, too futile.
The misery of the journey back would be unendurable. There was nothing
to do but to wait, and hope that life, which is always full of
accidents, would favour us. Better think no more about it. For it is
thinking that makes one miserable.

There were many little things which helped to pass the time away.
Doris went every evening to a certain shop to fetch two eggs that had
been laid that morning. It was necessary for her health that she
should eat eggs beaten up with milk between the first and second
breakfast. We went there, and it was amusing to pick my way through
the streets, carrying her eggs back to the hotel for her. She knew a
few people--strange folk, I thought them--elderly spinsters living
_en pension_ at different hotels. We dined with her friends, and
after dinner Doris sang, and when she had played many things that she
used to play to me in the old days, it was time for her to go to bed,
for she rarely slept after six o'clock, so she said.

"Good-night. Ah, no, the hour is ill," I murmured to myself as I
wended my lonely way, and I lay awake thinking if I had said anything
that would prejudice my chances of winning her, if I had omitted to
say anything that might have inclined her to yield. One lies awake at
night thinking of the mistakes one has made; thoughts clatter in one's
head. Good heavens! how stupid it was of me not to have used a certain
argument. Perhaps if I had spoken more tenderly, displayed a more
Christian spirit--all that paganism, that talk about nymphs and dryads
and satyrs and fauns frightened her. In the heat of the moment one
says more than one intends, though it is quite true that, as a rule,
it is well to insist that there is no such thing as our lower nature,
that everything about us is divine. So constituted are we that the
mind accepts the convention, and what we have to do is to keep to the
convention, just as in opera. Singing appears natural so long as the
characters do not speak. Once they speak they cannot go back to music;
the convention has been broken. As in Art so it is in Life. Tell a
woman that she is a nymph, and she must not expect any more from you
than she would from a faun, that all you know is the joy of the
sunlight, that you have no dreams beyond the worship of the perfect
circle of her breast, and the desire to gather grapes for her, and she
will give herself to you unconscious of sin. I must have fallen asleep
thinking of these things, and I must have slept soundly, for I
remembered nothing until the servant came in with my bath, and I saw
again the pretty sunlight flickering along the wall-paper. Before
parting the previous night, Doris and I had arranged that I was to
call an hour earlier than usual at the hotel; I was to be there at
half-past ten. She had promised to be ready. We were going to drive to
Florac, to one of the hill towns, and it would take two hours to get
there. We were going to breakfast there, and while I dressed, and in
the carriage going there, I cherished the hope that perhaps I might be
able to persuade Doris to breakfast in a private room, though feeling
all the while that it would be difficult to do so, for the public room
would be empty, and crowds of waiters would gather about us like
rooks, each trying to entice us towards his table.

The village of Florac is high up among the hills, built along certain
ledges of rock overlooking the valley, and going south in the train
one catches sight of many towns, like it built among mountain
declivities, hanging out like nests over the edge of precipices,
showing against a red background, crowning the rocky hill. No doubt
these mediaeval towns were built in these strange places because of
the security that summit gives against raiders. One can think of no
other reason, for it is hard to believe that in the fifteenth century
men were so captivated with the picturesque that for the sake of it
they would drag every necessary of life up these hills, several
hundred feet above the plain, probably by difficult paths--the
excellent road that wound along the edge of the hills, now to the
right, now to the left, looping itself round every sudden ascent like
a grey ribbon round a hat, did not exist when Florac was built. On the
left the ground shelves away into the valley, down towards the sea,
and olives were growing down all these hillsides. Above us were olive
trees, with here and there an orange orchard, and the golden fruit
shining among the dark leaves continued to interest me. Every now and
again some sudden aspect interrupted our conversation; the bay as it
swept round the carved mountains, looking in the distance more than
ever like an old Italian picture of a time before painters began to
think about values and truth of effect, when the minds of men were
concerned with beauty; as mine was, for every time I looked at Doris
it occurred to me that I had never seen anything prettier, and not
only her face but her talk still continued to enchant me. She was
always so eager to tell me things, that she must interrupt, and these
interruptions were pleasant. I identified them with her, and so
closely that I can remember how our talk began when we got out of the
suburbs. By the last villa there was a eucalyptus tree growing; the
sun was shining, and Doris had asked me to hold her parasol for her;
but the road zigzagged so constantly that I never shifted the parasol
in time, and a ray would catch her just in the face, adding perhaps to
the freckles--there were just a few down that little nose which was
always pleasant to look upon. I was saying that I still remember our
talk as we passed that eucalyptus tree. Doris had begun one of those
little confessions which are so interesting, and which one hears only
from a woman one is making love to, which probably would not interest
us were we to hear them from any one else. It delighted me to hear
Doris say: "This is the first time I have ever lived alone, that I
have ever been free from questions. It was a pleasure to remember
suddenly as I was dressing that no one would ask me where I was going,
that I was just like a bird by myself, free to spring off the branch
and to fly. At home there are always people round one; somebody is in
the dining-room, somebody is in the drawing-room; and if one goes down
the passage with one's hat on there is always somebody to ask where
one is going, and if you say you don't know they say, 'Are you going
to the right or to the left, because if you are going to the left I
should like you to stop at the apothecary's and to ask----?'" How I
agreed with her! Family life I said degrades the individual, and is
only less harmful than socialism, because one can escape from it....

"But, Doris, you're not ill! You are looking better."

"I weighed this morning, and I have gone up two pounds. You see I am
amused, and a woman's health is mainly a question whether she is
amused, whether somebody is making love to her."

"Making love! Doris, dear, there is no chance of making love to
anybody here. That is the only fault I find with the place; the sea,
the bay, the hill towns, everything I see is perfect in every detail,
only the essential is lacking. I was thinking, Doris, that for the
sake of your health we might go and spend a few days at Florac."

"My dear, it would be impossible. Everybody would know that I had been
there."

"Maybe, but I don't agree. However, I am glad that you have gone up
two pounds.... I am sure that what you need is mountain air. The
seaside is no good at all for nerves. I have a friend in Paris who
suffers from nerves and has to go every year to Switzerland to climb
the Matterhorn."

"The Matterhorn!"

"Well, the Matterhorn or Mont Blanc; he has to climb mountains,
glaciers, something of that kind. I remember last year I wrote to him
saying that I did not understand the three past tenses in French, and
would he explain why--something, I have forgotten what--and he
answered: 'Avec mes pieds sur des glaciers je ne puis m'arrêter pour
vous expliquer les trois passés.'"

Doris laughed and was interested, for I had introduced her some years
ago to the man who had written this letter; and then we discussed the
_fussent_ and the _eussent, été_, and when our language of
the French Grammar was exhausted we returned to the point whence we
had come, whether it was possible to persuade Doris to pass three days
in the hotel at Florac--in the interests of her health, of course.

"I'm not sure at all that mountain air would not do me good. Plessy
lies very low and is very relaxing."

"Very."

But though I convinced her that it would have been better if she had
gone at once to stop at Florac, I could do nothing to persuade her to
pass three days with me in the inn there. As we drove up through the
town the only hope that remained in my mind was that I might induce
her to take breakfast in a private room. But the _salle du
restaurant_ was fifty feet long by thirty feet wide, it contained a
hundred tables, maybe more, the floor was polished oak, and the
ceilings were painted and gilded, and there were fifty waiters waiting
for the swallows that would soon arrive from the north; we were the
van birds.

"Shall we breakfast in a private room?" I whispered humbly.

"Good heavens! no! I wouldn't dare to go into a private room before
all these waiters."

My heart sank again, and when Doris said, "Where shall we sit?" I
answered, "Anywhere, anywhere, it doesn't matter."

It had taken two hours for the horses to crawl up to the mountain
town, and as I had no early breakfast I was ravenously hungry. A box
of sardines and a plate of butter, and the prospect of an omelette and
a steak, put all thoughts of Doris for the moment out of my head, and
that was a good thing. We babbled on, and it was impossible to say
which was the more interested, which enjoyed talking most; and the
pleasure which each took in talking and hearing the other talk became
noticeable.

"I didn't interrupt you just now, I thought it would be cruel, for you
were enjoying yourself so much," said Doris, laughing.

"Well, I promise not to interrupt the next time--you were in the midst
of one of your stories."

It was not long before she was telling me another story, for Doris was
full of stories. She observed life as it went by, and could recall
what she had seen. Our talk had gone back to years before, to the
evening when I first saw her cross the drawing-room in a white dress,
her gold hair hanging over her shoulders; and in that moment, as she
crossed the room, I had noticed a look of recognition in her eyes; the
look was purely instinctive; she was not aware of it herself, but I
could not help understanding it as a look whereby she recognised me as
one of her kin. I had often spoken to her of that look, and we liked
speaking about it, and about the time when we became friends in Paris.
She had written asking me to go to see her and her mother. I had found
them in a strange little hotel, just starting for some distant suburb,
going there to buy presents from an old couple, dealers in china and
glass, from whom, Doris's mother explained, she would be able to buy
her presents fifty per cent, cheaper than elsewhere. She was one of
those women who would spend three shillings on a cab in order to save
twopence on a vase.

"It took us two hours to get to that old, forgotten quarter, to the
old quaint street where they lived. They were old-world Jews who read
the Talmud, and seemed to be quite isolated, out of touch with the
modern world. It was like going back to the Middle Ages; this queer
old couple moving like goblins among the china and glass. Do you ever
see them now? Are they dead?"

"Let me tell you," cried Doris, "what happened. The old man died two
years ago, and his wife, who had lived with him for forty years, could
not bear to live alone, so what do you think she did? She sent for her
brother-in-law----"

"To marry him?"

"No, not to marry him, but to talk to him about her husband. You see
this couple had lived together for so many years that she had become
ingrained, as it were, in the personality of her late husband, her
habits had become his habits, his thoughts had become hers. The story
really is very funny," and Doris burst out laughing, and for some time
she could not speak with laughing. "I am sorry for the poor man," she
said at last.

"For whom? For the brother-in-law?"

"Yes; you see he is dyspeptic, and he can't eat the dishes at all that
his brother used to like, but the wife can't and won't cook anything
else."

"In other words," I said, "the souvenir of brother Isaac is poisoning
brother Jacob."

"That is it."

"What a strange place this world is!" And then my mind drifted back
suddenly. "O Doris, I'm so unhappy--this place--I wish I had never
come."

"Now, now, have a little patience. Everything comes right in the end."

"We shall never be alone."

"Yes, we shall. Why do you think that?"

"Because I can't think of anything else."

"Well, you must think of something else. We're going to the factory
where they make perfume, and I'm going to buy a great many bottles of
scent for myself, and presents for friends. We shall be able to buy
the perfume twenty-five per cent. or fifty per cent. cheaper."

"Don't you think we might go to see the pictures? There are some in a
church here."

On inquiry we heard that they had been taken away, and I followed
Doris through the perfume factory. Very little work was doing; the
superintendent told us that they were waiting for the violets. A few
old women were stirring caldrons, and I listened wearily, for it did
not interest me in the least, particularly at that moment, to hear
that the flowers were laid upon layers of grease, that the grease
absorbed the perfume, and then the grease was got rid of by means of
alcohol. The workrooms were cold and draughty, and the choice of what
perfumes we were to buy took a long time. However, at last, Doris
decided that she would prefer three bottles of this, three bottles of
that, four of these, and two of those. Her perfume was heliotrope; she
always used it.

"And you like it, don't you dear?"

"Yes, but what does it matter what I like?"

"Now, don't be cross. Don't look so sad."

"I don't mind the purchase you made for your friends, but the purchase
of heliotrope is really too cynical."

"Cynical! Why is it cynical?"

"Because, dear, it is evocative of you, of that slender body moving
among fragrances of scented cambrics, and breathing its own dear odour
as I come forward to greet you. Why do you seek to torment me?"

"But, dear one----"

I was not to be appeased, and sat gloomily in the corner of the
carriage away from her. But she put out her hand, and the silken palm
calmed my nervous irritation, and we descended the steep roads, the
driver putting on and taking off the brake. The evening was growing
chilly, so I asked Doris if I might tell the coachman to stop his
horses and to put up the hood of the carriage. In a close carriage one
is nearly alone. But every moment I was reminded that people were
passing, and between her kisses the thought passed that I must go back
to Paris, however unkind it might be. It would be unkind to leave her,
for she was not very strong; she would require somebody to look after
her. As I was debating the question in my mind Doris said:

"You don't mind, dear, but before we go back to the hotel, I have a
visit to pay."

In the three weeks' time she had spent at Plessy before I came there,
Doris had made the acquaintance of all kinds of elderly spinsters, who
lived in the different hotels _en pension_, and who would go away
as soon as the visitors arrived, to seek another "resort" where the
season had not yet commenced, and where they could be boarded and
bedded for ten francs a day. I had made the acquaintance of Miss Tubbs
and Miss Whitworth, and we were dining with them that night. Doris had
explained that we could not refuse to dine with them at least once.

"But as we're going to spend the evening with them, I don't see the
necessity----"

"Of course not, dear, but don't you remember you promised to go to see
the Formans with me?"

Miss Forman had dined with us last night, but her mother had not been
able to come, and that was a relief to me whatever it may have been to
Doris; I had heard that Mrs. Forman was a very old woman, and as her
daughter struck me as an ineffectual person, I said as I sat down to
dinner, "One of the family is enough." What her mother's age could be
I could not guess, for Miss Forman herself might pass for seventy. But
after speaking to her for a little while one saw that she was not so
old as she looked at first sight. Nothing saddens me more than those
who have aged prematurely, for the cause of premature ageing is
generally a declension of the mind. As soon as the mind begins to
narrow and wither the body follows suit; prejudices and conventions
age us more than years do. Before speaking a word it was easy to see
from Miss Forman's appearance that no new idea had entered into her
life for a long while, and I imagined her at once to be one of those
daughters that one finds abroad in different provincial towns, living
with their mothers on small incomes. "The daughter's tragedy is
written all over her face," I said, and while speaking to her I
scrutinised her, reading in her everything that goes to make up that
tragedy. She had the face of those heroines, for they are
heroines--the broad low brow, the high nose, the sympathetic eyes,
grey and expressive of duty and sacrifice of self. Her dress and her
manners were as significant as her face, and seemed to hint at the
life she had lived. She wore a black silk gown which looked
old-fashioned--why I cannot say. Was it the gown or the piece of black
lace that she wore on her head, or the Victorian earrings that hung
from her ears down her dust-coloured neck, that gave her a sort of
bygone appearance, the look of an old photograph? Her manners took me
farther back in the century even than the photograph did; she seemed
to have come out of the pages of some trite and uninteresting novel, a
rather listless book written at the end of the eighteenth century,
before the art of novel-writing had been found out. She listened, and
her listening was in itself a politeness, and she never lost her
politeness, though she seldom understood what I said. When I finished
speaking she answered what I had said indirectly, like one whose mind
was not quite capable of following any conversation except the most
trite. She laughed if she thought I had said anything humourous, and
sometimes looked a little embarrassed; she only seemed to be at her
ease when speaking of her mother. If, for instance, we were speaking
of books, she would break in with her mother's opinions, thinking it
wonderful that her mother had read--shall we say, "The Three
Musketeers?" three times. She was interested in all her mother's
characteristics, and her habit was to speak of her mother as her
mamma. She seemed to delight in the word, and every time she
pronounced it a light came into her old face, and I began to
understand her and to feel that I could place her, to use a
colloquialism which is so expressive that perhaps its use may be
forgiven. "The daughter's tragedy," I muttered, and considering it,
philosophising according to my wont, I tried to reconcile myself to
this visit. "After all," I said, "I am on my own business, therefore I
have no right to grumble."

I wished to see what Miss Forman was like in her own house; above all,
I wished to see if her mother were as typical of the mother who
accepts her daughter's sacrifice, as Miss Forman was of the daughter
that has been sacrificed. From the daughter's appearance I had
imagined Mrs. Forman to be a tall, good-looking, distinguished woman,
lying upon a sofa, wearing a cap upon her white hair, her feet covered
with a shawl, and Miss Forman arranging it from time to time. Nature
is always surprising; she follows a rhythm of her own; we beat one,
two, three, four, but the invisible leader of the orchestra sets a
more subtle rhythm. But though Nature's rhythm is irregular, its
irregularity is more apparent than real, for when we listen we hear
that everything goes to a beat, and in looking at Mrs. Forman I
recognised that she was the inevitable mother of such a daughter, and
that Nature's combination was more harmonious than mine. The first
thing that struck me was that the personal energy I had missed in the
daughter survived in the mother, notwithstanding her seventy-five
years. The daughter reminded me now of a tree that had been
overshadowed; Miss Forman had remained a child, nor could she have
grown to womanhood unless somebody had taken her away; no doubt
somebody had wanted to marry her; there is nobody that has not had her
love affair, very few at least, and I imagined Miss Forman giving up
hers for the sake of her mamma, and I could hear her mamma--that
short, thick woman, looking more like a ball of lard than anything
else in the world, alert notwithstanding her sciatica, with two small
beady eyes in the glaring whiteness of her face--forgetful of her
daughter's sacrifice, saying to her some evening as they warmed their
shins over the fire:

"Well, Caroline, I never understood how it was that you didn't marry
Mr. So-and-so, I think he would have suited you very well."

My interest in these two women who had lived side by side all their
lives was slight; it was just animated by a slight curiosity to see if
Miss Forman would be as much interested in her mother in her own house
by her mother's side as she had been in the hotel among strangers. I
waited to hear her call her mother mamma; nor had I to wait long, for
as soon as the conversation turned on the house which the Formans had
lately purchased, and the land which Mrs. Forman was buying up and
planting with orange trees, Miss Forman broke in, and in her
high-pitched voice she told us enthusiastically that mamma was so
energetic; she never could be induced to sit down and be quiet; even
her sciatica could not keep her in her chair. A few moments after Miss
Forman told us that they did not leave Plessy even during the summer
heat. Mamma could not be induced to go away. The last time they had
gone to a hill village intending to spend some three or four weeks
there, but the food did not suit mamma at all, and Miss Forman
explained how the critical moment came and she had said to her mamma,
"Well, mamma, this place does not suit you; I think we had better go
home again"; and they had come home after six days in the hill
village, probably never to leave Plessy again; and turning to her
mother with a look of admiration on her face Miss Forman said: "I
always tell mamma that she will never be able to get away from here
until balloon travelling comes into fashion. If a balloon were to come
down to mamma's balcony, mamma might get into it and be induced to go
away for a little while for a change of air. She would not be afraid.
I don't think mamma was ever afraid of anything." Her voice seemed to
me to attain a certain ecstasy in the words, "I don't think mamma was
ever afraid of anything," and I said, "She is proud of her ideal, and
it is well that she should be, for there is no other in the world, not
for her at least," and noticing that the three women were talking
together, that I was no longer observed, I got up with a view to
studying the surroundings in which Mrs. Forman and her daughter lived.

On the wall facing the fireplace there were two portraits--two
engravings--and I did not need to look at the date to know that they
had been done in 1840; one was her Majesty Queen Victoria, the other
her Royal Consort, Prince Albert. Shall I be believed if I say that in
my little excursions round the room and the next room I discovered a
small rosewood table on which stood some wax fruit, a small sofa
covered with rep and antimacassars, just as in old days? More
characteristic still was the harmonium, with a hymn-book on the music
rest, and every Sunday, no doubt, Miss Forman played hymns with her
stiff, crooked fingers, and they said prayers together, the same
old-fashioned English prayers for which I always hanker a little.

Satisfied with the result of my quest, and fearing that it might be
regarded as an impertinence if I stayed away any longer, I returned to
the back drawing-room, only to accompany the Formans and Doris back
again to the front drawing-room. There was a piano there. The Formans
had persuaded Doris to sing, and she was going to do so to please
them. "They don't know anything about singing," she whispered to me;
"but what does that matter? You see, poor things, they have so little
to distract them in their lives; it will be quite a little event for
them to hear me sing," and she went to the piano and sang song after
song.

"It is kind indeed of you to sing to us, to an old woman and a
middle-aged woman," Mrs. Forman said, "and I hope you will come to see
us again, both of you."

"What should bring me to see them again?" I asked myself as I tried to
get Doris away, for she lingered about the doorway with them, making
impossible plans, asking them to come to see her when they came to
England, telling them that if her health required it and she came to
Plessy again she would rush to see them. "Why should she go on like
that, knowing well that we shall never see them again, never in this
world?" I thought. Mrs. Forman insisted that her daughter should
accompany us to the gate, and all the way there Doris begged of Miss
Forman to come to dine with us; we were dining with Miss Tubbs and
Miss Whitworth, friends of hers; it would be so nice if she would
come. The carriage would be sent back for her; it would be so easy to
send it back. I offered up a prayer that Miss Forman might refuse, and
she did refuse many times; but Doris was so pressing that she
consented; but when we got into the carriage a thought struck her.
"No," she said, "I cannot go, for the dressmaker is coming this
evening to try on mamma's dress, and mamma is very particular about
her gowns; she hates any fulness in the waist; the last time the gown
had to go back--you must excuse me."

"Good-bye, dear, good-bye," I heard Doris crying, and I said to
myself, "How kind she is!"

"Now, my dear, aren't you glad that you came to see them? Aren't they
nice? Isn't she good? And you like goodness."

"Dear Doris, I like goodness, and I like to discover your kind heart.
Don't you remember my saying that your pretty face was dependent upon
your intelligence; that without your music and without your wit your
face would lose half its charm? Well, now, do you know that it seems
to me that it would only lose a third of its charm; for a third of my
love for you is my admiration of your good heart. You remember how,
years ago, I used to catch you doing acts of kindness? What has become
of the two blind women you used to help?"

"So you haven't forgotten them. You used to say that it was wonderful
that a blind woman should be able to get her living."

"Of course it is. It has always seemed to me extraordinary that any
one should be able to earn his living."

"You see, dear, you have not been forced to get yours, and you do not
realise that ninety per cent of men and women have to get theirs."

"But a blind woman! To get up in the morning and go out to earn enough
money to pay for her dinner; think of it! Getting up in the dark,
knowing that she must earn four, five, ten shillings a day, whatever
it is. Every day the problem presents itself, and she always in the
dark."

"Do you remember her story?"

"I think so. She was once rich, wasn't she? In fairly easy
circumstances, and she lost her fortune. It all went away from her bit
by bit. It is all coming back to me, how Fate in the story as you told
it seemed like a black shadow stretching out a paw, grabbing some part
of her income again and again till the last farthing was taken. Even
then Fate was not satisfied, and your friend must catch the smallpox
and lose her eyes. But as soon as she was well she decided to come to
England and learn to be a masseuse. I suppose she did not want to stop
in Australia, where she was known. How attractive courage is! And
where shall we find an example of courage equal to that of this blind
woman coming to England to learn to be a masseuse? What I don't
understand is bearing with her life in the dark, going out to her work
every day to earn her dinner, and very often robbed by the girl who
led her about?

"How well you remember, dear."

"Of course I do. Now, how was it? Her next misfortune was a
sentimental one. There was some sort of a love story in this blind
woman's life, not the conventional, sentimental story which never
happens, but a hint, a suggestion, of that passion which takes a
hundred thousand shapes, finding its way even to a blind woman's life.
Now don't tell me; it's all coming back to me. Something about a
student who lived in the same house as she did; a very young man; and
they made acquaintance on the stairs; they took to visiting each
other; they became friends, but it was not with him she fell in love.
This student had a pal who came to share his rooms, an older man with
serious tastes, a great classical scholar, and he used to go down to
read to the blind woman in the evening. It really was a very pretty
story, and very true. He used to translate the Greek tragedies aloud
to her. I wonder if she expected him to marry her?"

"No, she knew he could not marry her, but that made no difference."

"You're quite right. It was just the one interest in her life, and it
was taken from her. He was a doctor, wasn't he?"

Doris nodded, and I remembered how he had gone out to Africa. "No
sooner did he get there than he caught a fever, one of the worst
kinds. The poor blind masseuse did not hear anything of her loss for a
long time. The friend upstairs didn't dare to come down to tell her.
But at last the truth could be hidden from her no longer. It's
extraordinary how tragedy follows some."

"Isn't it?"

"And now she sits alone in the dark. No one comes to read to her. But
she bears with her solitude rather than put up with the pious people
who would interest themselves in her. You said there were no
interesting books written for the blind, only pieties. The charitable
are often no better than Shylocks, they want their money's worth. I
only see her, of course, through your description, but if I see her
truly she was one of those who loved life, and life took everything
from her!"

"Do you remember the story of the other blind woman?"

"Yes and no, vaguely. She was a singer, wasn't she?" Doris nodded.
"And I think she was born blind, or lost her sight when she was three
or four years old. You described her to me as a tall, handsome woman
with dark, crinkly hair, and a mouth like red velvet."

"I don't think I said like red velvet, dear."

"Well, it doesn't sound like a woman's description of another woman,
but I think you told me that she had had love affairs, and it was that
that made me give her a mouth like red velvet. Why should she not have
love affairs? She was as much a woman as another; only one doesn't
realise until one hears a story of this kind what the life of the
blind must be, how differently they must think and feel about things
from those who see. Her lover must have been a wonder to her,
something strange, mysterious; the blind must be more capable of love
than anybody else. She wouldn't know if he were a man of forty or one
of twenty. And what difference could it make to her?"

"Ah, the blind are very sensitive, much more so than we are."

"Perhaps."

"I think Judith would have known the difference between a young man
and a middle-aged. There was little she didn't know."

"I daresay you're quite right. But still everything must have been
more intense and vague. When the blind woman's lover is not speaking
to her he is away; she is unable to follow him, and sitting at home
she imagines him in society surrounded by others who are not blind.
She doesn't know what eyes are, but she imagines them like--what?
anyhow she imagines them more beautiful than they are. No, Doris, no
eyes are more beautiful than yours; she imagines every one with eyes
like yours. I have not thought of her much lately, but I used to think
of her when you told me the story, as standing on a platform in front
of the public, calm as a caryatid. She must have had a beautiful voice
to have been able to get an engagement; and the great courage that
these blind women have! Fancy the struggle to get an engagement, a
difficult thing to do in any circumstances--but in hers! And when her
voice began to fail her she must have suffered, for her voice was her
one possession, the one thing that distinguished her from others, the
one thing she knew herself by, her personality as it were. She didn't
know her face as other women know theirs; she only knew herself when
she sang, then she became an entity, as it were. Nor could teaching
recompense her for what she had lost, however intelligent her pupils
might be, or however well they paid her. How did she lose her pupils?"

"I don't think there was any reason. She lost her pupils in the
ordinary way; she was unlucky. As you were just saying, it was more
difficult for her to earn her living than for those who could see, and
Judith is no longer as young as she was; she isn't old, she is still a
handsome woman, but in a few years.... If old-age pensions are to be
granted to people, they surely ought to be granted to blind women."

"Yes, I remember; the sentiment of the whole story is in my mind; only
I am a little confused about the facts. I remember you wrote a lot of
letters--how was it?"

"Well, I just felt that the thing to do was to get an annuity for
Judith; I could not afford to give her one myself; so after a great
deal of trouble I got into communication with a rich woman who was
interested in the blind and wanted to found one."

"You are quite right, that was it. You must have written dozens of
letters."

"Yes, indeed, and all to no purpose. Judith knew the trouble I was
taking, but she couldn't bear with her loneliness any longer; the
dread of the long evenings by herself began to prey upon her nerves,
and she went off to Peckham to marry a blind man--quite an elderly
man; he was over sixty. They had known each other for some time, and
he taught music like her; but though he only earned forty or fifty
pounds a year, still she preferred to have somebody to live with than
the annuity."

"But I don't see why she should lose her annuity."

"Don't you remember, dear? This to me is the point of the story. The
charitable woman drew back, not from any sordid motive, because she
regretted her money, but for a fixed idea; she had learned from
somebody that blind people shouldn't marry, and she did not feel
herself justified in giving her money to encouraging such marriages."

"Was there ever anything so extraordinary as human nature? Its
goodness, its stupidity, its cruelty! The woman meant well; one can't
even hate her for it; it was just a lack of perception, a desire to
live up to principles. That is what sets every one agog, trying to
live up to principles, abstract ideas. If they only think of what they
are and what others are! The folly of it! This puzzle-headed woman--I
mean the charitable woman pondering over the fate of the race, as if
she could do anything to advance or retard its destiny!"

"You always liked those stories, dear. You said that you would write
them."

"Yes, but I'm afraid the pathos is a little deeper than I could reach;
only Turgenieff could write them. But here we are at the Dog's Home."

"Don't talk like that--it's unkind."

"I don't mean to be unkind, but I have to try to realise things before
I can appreciate them."

It seemed not a little incongruous that these two little spinsters
should pay for our dinners, and I tried to induce Doris to agree to
some modification in the present arrangements, but she said it was
their wish to entertain us.

The evening I spent in that hotel hearing Doris sing, and myself
talking literature to a company of about a dozen spinsters, all plain
and elderly, all trying to live upon incomes varying from a hundred
and fifty to two hundred pounds a year, comes up before my mind, every
incident. Life is full of incidents, only our intelligence is not
always sufficiently trained to perceive them; and the incident I am
about to mention was important in the life I am describing. Miss Tubbs
had asked me what wine I would drink. And in a moment of inadvertence
I said "Vin Ordinaire," forgetting that the two shillings the wine
would cost would probably mean that Miss Tubbs would very likely have
to go without her cup of tea at five o'clock next day in order that
her expenditure should not exceed her limit, and I thought how
difficult life must be on these slippery rocks, incomes of one hundred
and fifty a year. Poor little gentlefolk, roving about from one
boarding-house to another, always in search of the cheapest, sometimes
getting into boarding-houses where the cheapness of the food
necessitates sending for the doctor, so the gain on one side is a loss
on the other. Poor little gentlefolk, the odds-and-ends of existence,
the pence and threepenny bits of human life!

That Doris's singing should have provoked remarks painfully
inadequate, mattered little. Inadequate remarks about singing and
about the other arts are as common in London drawing-rooms as in
hotels and boarding-houses (all hotels are boarding-houses; there is
really no difference), and the company I found in these winter resorts
would have interested me at any other time. I can be interested in the
woman who collects stamps, in the gentle soul who keeps a botany book
in which all kinds of quaint entries are found, in the lady who writes
for the papers, and the one who is supposed to have a past. Wherever
human beings collect there is always to be found somebody of interest,
but when one's interest is centred in a lady, everybody else becomes
an enemy; and I looked upon all these harmless spinsters as my
enemies, and their proposals for excursions, and luncheons, and
dinners caused me much misgiving, not only because they separated me
from Doris, but because I felt that any incident, the proposed picnic,
might prove a shipwrecking reef. One cannot predict what will happen.
Life is so full of incidents; a woman's jealous tongue or the arrival
of some acquaintance might bring about a catastrophe. A love affair
hangs upon a gossamer thread, you know, and that is why I tried to
persuade Doris away from her friends.

She was very kind and good and didn't inflict the society of these
people too much upon me. Perhaps she was conscious of the danger
herself, and we only visited the boarding-houses in the evening. But
these visits grew intolerable. The society of Miss Tubbs and Miss
Whitworth jarred the impressions of a long day spent in the open air,
in a landscape where once the temples of the gods had been, where men
had once lived who had seen, or at all events believed, in the fauns
and the dryads, in the grotto where the siren swims.

One afternoon I said to Doris: "I'm afraid I can't go to see Miss
Tubbs this evening. Can't we devise something else? Another dinner in
a boarding-house would lead me to suicide, I think."

"You would like to drown yourself in that bay and join the nymphs. Do
you think they would prove kinder than I?"

I did not answer Doris. I suddenly seemed to despair; the exquisite
tenderness of the sky, and the inveigling curves of the bay seemed to
become detestable to me, theatrical, absurd. "Good God!" I thought: "I
shall never win her love. All my journey is in vain, and all this
love-making." The scene before me was the most beautiful in shape and
colour I had ever seen; but I am in no mood to describe the
Leonardo-like mountains enframing the azure bay. The reader must
imagine us leaning over a low wall watching the sea water gurgling
among the rocks. We had come to see some gardens. The waiter at my
hotel had told me of some, the property of a gentleman kind enough to
throw them open to the public twice a week; and I had taken his
advice, though gardens find little favour with me--now and again an
old English garden, but the well-kept horticultural is my abhorrence.
But one cannot tell a coachman to drive along the road, one must tell
him to go somewhere, so we had come to see what was to be seen. And
all was as I had imagined it, only worse; the tall wrought-iron gate
was twenty feet high, there was a naked pavilion behind it, and a
woman seated at a table with a cash-box in front of her. This woman
took a franc apiece, and told us that the money was to be devoted to a
charitable purpose; we were then free to wander down a gravel walk
twenty feet wide branching to the right and the left, along a line of
closely clipped shrubs, with a bunch of tall grasses here and a
foreign fir there; gardens that a painter would turn from in horror. I
said to Doris:

"This is as tedious as a play at the _Comédie_, as tiresome as a
tragedy by Racine, and very like one. Let us seek out one of the
external walks overlooking the sea; even there I'm afraid the
knowledge that these shrubs are behind us will spoil our pleasure."

Doris laughed; that was one of her charms, she could be amused; and it
was in this mood that we sat down on a seat placed in a low wall
overlooking the bay, looking at each other, basking in the rays of the
afternoon sun, and there we sat for some little while indolent as
lizards. Pointing to one at a little distance I said:

"It is delightful to be here with you, Doris, but the sunlight is not
sufficient for me. Doris, dear, I am very unhappy. I have lain awake
all night thinking of you, and now I must tell you that yesterday I
was sorely tempted to go down to that bay and join the nymphs there.
Don't ask me if I believe that I should find a nymph to love me; one
doesn't know what one believes, I only know that I am unhappy."

"But why, dear, do you allow yourself to be unhappy? Look at that
lizard. Isn't he nice? Isn't he satisfied? He desires nothing but what
he has got, light and warmth."

"And, Doris, would you like me to be as content as that lizard--to
desire nothing more than light and warmth?"

Doris looked at me, and thinking her eyes more beautiful even than the
sunlight, I said:

  "'And the sunlight clasps the earth,
    And the moonbeams kiss the sea,
  But what are all those kissings worth,
    If thou kiss not me?'

"That is the eternal song of the spheres and of the flowers. If I don't
become part of the great harmony, I must die."

"But you do kiss me," Doris answered wilfully, "when the evening turns
cold and the coachman puts up the hood of the carriage."

"Wilful Doris! Pretty puss cat!"

"I'm not a puss cat; I'm not playing with you, dear. I do assure you I
feel the strain of these days; but what am I to do? You wouldn't have
me tell you to stay at my hotel and to compromise myself before all
these people?"

"These people! Those boarding-houses are driving me mad! That Miss
Forman!"

"I thought you liked her. You said she is good, 'a simple, kind
person, without pretensions.' And that is enough, according to
yesterday's creed. You were never nicer than you were yesterday
speaking of her (I remember your words): you said the flesh fades, the
intellect withers, only the heart remembers. Do you recant all this?"

"No, I recant nothing; only yesterday's truth is not to-day's. One day
we are attracted by goodness, another day by beauty; and beauty has
been calling me day after day: at first the call was heard far away
like a horn in the woods, but now the call has become more imperative,
and all the landscape is musical. Yesterday standing by those ancient
ruins, it seemed to me as if I had been transported out of my present
nature back to my original nature of two thousand years ago. The sight
of those ancient columns quickened a new soul within me; or should I
say a soul that had been overlaid began to emerge? The dead are never
wholly dead; their ideas live in us. I am sure that in England I never
appreciated you as intensely as I do here. Doris, I have learned to
appreciate you like a work of art. It is the spirit of antiquity that
has taken hold of me, that has risen out of the earth and claimed me.
That hat I would put away----"

"Don't you like my hat?"

"Yes, I like it, but I am thinking of the Doris that lived two
thousand years ago; she did not wear a hat. In imagination I see the
nymph that is in you, though I may never see her with mortal eyes."

"Why should you not see her, dear?"

"I have begun to despair. All these boarding-houses and their
inhabitants jar the spirit that this landscape has kindled within me.
I want to go away with you where I may love you. I am afraid what I am
saying may seem exaggerated, but it is quite true that you remind me
of antiquity, and in a way that I cannot explain though it is quite
clear to me."

"But you do possess me, dear?"

"No, Doris, not as I wish. This journey will be a bitter memory that
will endure for ever; we must think not only of the day that we live,
but of the days in front of us; we must store our memories as the
squirrel stores nuts, we must have a winter hoard. If some way is not
found out of this horrible dilemma, I shall remember you as a
collector remembers a vase which a workman handed to him and which
slipped and was broken, or like a vase that was stolen from him; I
cannot find a perfect simile, at least not at this moment; my speech
is imperfect, but you will understand."

"Yes, I understand, I think I understand."

"If I do not get you, it will seem to me that I have lived in vain."

"But, dear one, things are not so bad as that. We need not be in Paris
for some days yet, and though I cannot ask you to my hotel, there is
no reason why----"

"Doris, do not raise up false hopes."

"I was only going to say, dear, that it does not seem to be necessary
that we should go straight back to Paris."

"You mean that we might stop somewhere at some old Roman town, at
Arles in an eighteenth-century house. O Doris, how enchanting this
would be! I hardly dare to think lest----"

"Lest what, dear? Lest I should deceive you?"

There was a delicious coo in her voice, the very love coo; it cannot
be imitated any more than the death-rattle, and exalted and inspired
by her promise of herself, of all herself, I spoke in praise of the
eighteenth century, saying that it had loved antiquity better than the
nineteenth, and had reproduced its spirit.

"Is it not strange that, in the midst of reality, artistic conceptions
always hang about me; but shall I ever possess you, Doris? Is it my
delicious fate to spend three days with you in an old Roman town?"

"There is no reason why it shouldn't be. Where shall it be?"

"Any town would be sufficient with you, Doris; but let us think of
some beautiful place"; and looking across the bay into the sunset, I
recalled as many names as I could; many of those old Roman towns rose
up before my eyes, classic remains mingling with mediaeval towers,
cathedral spires rising over walls on which Roman sentries had once
paced. We could only spend our honeymoon in a town with a beautiful
name--a beautiful name was essential--a name that it would be a
delight to remember for ever after; the name would have to express by
some harmonious combination of syllables the loves that would be
expended there. Rocomadour imitated too obviously the sound of sucking
doves, and was rejected for that reason. Cahor tempted us, but it was
too stern a name; its Italian name, Devona, appealed to us; but, after
all, we could not think of Cahor as Devona. And for many reasons were
rejected Armance, Vezelay, Oloron, Correz, Valat, and Gedre. Among
these, only Armance gave us any serious pause. Armance! That evening
and the next we studied _L'Indicateur des Chemins de fer_.
"Armance," I said, interrupting Doris, who was telling me that we
should lose our tickets by the _Côte d'Azur_. For in Doris's
opinion it was necessary that we should leave Plessy by the _Côte
d'Azur_. Her friends would certainly come to the station to see her
off. "That is a matter of no moment," I said. "At Marseilles we can
catch an express train, which will be nearly as good. There are two
excellent trains; either will do, if you have decided to spend three
days at Armance."

She asked me if Armance were a village or a town, and I answered,
"What matter?"--for everywhere in France there are good beds and good
food and good wine--ay, and omelettes. We should do very well in any
village in the south of France for three days. But suddenly two names
caught my eye, Orelay and Verlancourt, and we agreed that we preferred
either of these names to Armance.

"Which name shall give shelter to two unfortunate lovers flying in
search of solitude?"

"Orelay is a beautiful name."

"Orelay it shall be," I said. "We shall be able to get there from
Marseilles in a few hours."

"You see, dear, it would be impossible for me to travel all the way to
Paris--a journey of at least twenty-four hours would kill me, and I'm
not strong; nothing tires me more than railway traveling. We must stop
somewhere. Why not at Orelay?"

As this history can have only one merit, that of absolute truth, I
must confess that the subterfuge whereby Doris sought to justify
herself to herself, delighted me. Perhaps no quality is more human
than that of subterfuge. She might unveil her body, but she could not
unveil her soul. We may only lift a corner of the veil; he who would
strip human nature naked and exhibit it displays a rattling skeleton,
no more: where there is no subterfuge there is no life.

This story will be read, no doubt, by the young and the old, the wise
and the foolish, by the temperate and the intemperate, but the subject
matter is so common to all men that it will interest every one, even
ecclesiastics, every one except certain gentlemen residing chiefly in
Constantinople, whose hostility to the lover on his errand is so well
known, and so easily understandable, that I must renounce all hope of
numbering them among the admirers of my own or Doris's frailty. But
happily these gentlemen are rare in England, though it is suspected
that one or two may be found among the reviewers on the staff of
certain newspapers; otherwise how shall we account for the solitary
falsetto voices in the choir of our daily and weekly press, shouting
abstinence from the housetops? But with the exception of these few
critics every one will find pleasure in this narrative; even in aged
men and women enough sex is left to allow them to take an interest in
a love story; in these modern days when the novel wanders even as far
as the nuns in their cells (I have good authority for making this
statement), perhaps I may be able to count upon an aged Mother Abbess
to be, outwardly perhaps a disapproving, but at heart a sympathetic
reader. Indeed, I count upon the ascetic more than upon any other
class for appreciation, for the imagination of those who have had no
experience in love adventures will enkindle, and they will appreciate
perhaps more intensely than any other the mental trouble that a
journey to Orelay with Doris would entail.

It would take nearly five hours according to the time table to get
from Marseilles to Orelay; and these five hours would wear themselves
wearily away in conversation with Doris, in talking to her of every
subject except the subject uppermost in my mind. I should have kept a
notebook, just as I had arranged to do when I thought I was going on
the yachting excursion among the Greek Islands with Gertrude; but,
having no notes, I can only appeal to the reader's imagination. I must
ask him to remember the week of cruel abstinence I had been through,
and to take it into his consideration. My dear, dear reader, I am sure
you can see me if you try (in your mind's eye, of course) walking
about the corridors, seeking the guard, asking every one I meet:

"How far away are we now from Orelay?"

"Orelay? Nearly two hours from Orelay."

Our heavy luggage had been sent on before, but we had a number of
dressing cases and bags with us, and there might not be time to remove
all these. The guard, who had promised to take them out of the
carriage for us, might not arrive in time. However this might be,
he was not to be found anywhere, and I sought him how many times
up and down the long length of the train. You can see me, reader,
can you not? walking about the train, imagining all kinds of
catastrophes--that the train might break down, or that it might not
stop at Orelay; or, a still more likely catastrophe, that the young
lady might change her mind. What if that were to happen at the last
moment! Ah, if that were to happen I should have perchance to throw
myself out of the train, unless peradventure I refrained for the sake
of writing the story of a lover's deception. The transitional stage is
an intolerable one, and I wondered if Doris felt it as keenly, and
every time I passed our carriage on my way up and down in search of
the guard, I stopped a moment to study her face; she sat with her eyes
closed, perhaps dozing. How prosaic of her to doze on the way to
Orelay! Why was she not as agitated as I?

And the question presented itself suddenly, Do women attach the same
interest to love adventures as we do? Do women ask themselves as often
as we do if God, the Devil, or Calamitous Fate will intervene between
us and our pleasure? Will it be snatched out of our arms and from our
lips? Perhaps never before, only once in any case, did I experience an
excitement so lancinating as I experienced that day. And as I write
the sad thought floats past that such expectations will never be my
lot again. The delights of the moment are perhaps behind me, but why
should I feel sad for that? Life is always beautiful, in age as well
as in youth; the old have a joy that the youths do not
know--recollection. It is through memory we know ourselves; without
memory it might be said we have hardly lived at all, or only like
animals.

This is a point on which I would speak seriously to every reader,
especially to my young readers; for it is of the utmost importance
that every one should select adventures that not only please them at
the moment, but can be looked back upon with admiration, and for which
one can offer up a mute thanksgiving. My life would not have been
complete, a corner-stone would have been lacking if Doris had not come
to Orelay with me. Without her I should not have known the joy that
perfect beauty gives; that beauty which haunted in antiquity would
never have been known to me. But without more, as the lawyers say, we
will return to Doris. I asked her if she had been asleep? No, she had
not slept, only it rested her to keep her eyes closed, the sunlight
fatigued her. I did not like to hear her talk of fatigue, and to hide
from her what was passing in my mind I tried to invent some
conversation. Orelay--what a lovely name it was! Did she think the
town would vindicate or belie its name? She smiled faintly and said
she would not feel fatigued as soon as she got out of the train, and
there was some consolation in the thought that her health would not
allow her to get farther that day than Orelay.

We decided to stay at the Hôtel des Valois. One of the passengers had
spoken to me of this hotel; he had never stayed there himself, but he
believed it to be an excellent hotel. But it was not his
recommendation that influenced me, it was the name--the Hôtel des
Valois. How splendid! And when we got out at Orelay I asked the
porters and the station-master if they could recommend a hotel. No,
but they agreed that the Hôtel des Valois was as good as any other. We
drove there wondering what it would be like. Everything had turned out
well up to the present, but everything would go for naught if the
Hôtel des Valois should prove unworthy of its name. And the first
sight of it was certainly disappointing. Its courtyard was
insignificant, only saved by a beautiful ilex tree growing in one
corner. The next moment I noticed that the porch of the hotel was
pretty and refined--a curious porch it was, giving the hotel for a
moment the look of an eighteenth-century English country house. There
were numerous windows with small panes, and one divined the hall
beyond the porch. The hall delighted us, and I said to Doris as we
passed through that the hotel must have been a nobleman's house some
long while ago, when Orelay had a society of its own, perhaps a
language, for in the seventeenth or the eighteenth century Provençal
or some other dialect must have been written or spoken at Orelay. We
admired the galleries overlooking the hall, and the staircase leading
to them. We seemed to have been transported into the eighteenth
century; the atmosphere was that of a Boucher, a provincial Boucher
perhaps, but an eighteenth-century artist for all that. The doves that
crowd round Aphrodite seemed to have led us right; and we foresaw a
large quiet bedroom with an Aubusson carpet in the middle of a parquet
floor, writing-tables in the corners of the room or in the
silken-curtained windows.

This was the kind of room I had imagined--one as large as a
drawing-room, and furnished like a drawing-room, with sofas and
arm-chairs that we could draw around the fire, and myself and Doris
sitting there talking. Love is composed in a large measure of desire
of intimacy, and if the affection that birds experience in making
their nest be not imitated, love descends to the base satisfaction of
animals which merely meet in obedience to an instinct, and separate as
soon as the instinct has been served. Birds understand love better
than all animals, except man. Who has not thought with admiration of
the weaver-birds, and of our own native wren? But the rooms that were
offered to us corresponded in no wise with those that we had imagined
the doors of the beautiful galleries would lead us into. The French
words _chambre meublée_ will convey an idea of the rooms we were
shown into; for do not the words evoke a high bed pushed into the
corner, an eider-down on top, a tall dusty window facing the bed, with
skimpy red curtains and a vacant fireplace? There were, no doubt, a
few chairs--but what chairs!

The scene was at once tragic and comic. It was of vital importance to
myself and Doris to find a room such as I have attempted to describe,
and it was of equal indifference to the waiter whether we did or
didn't. The appearance of each contributed to the character of the
scene. Doris's appearance I have tried to make clear to the reader;
mine must be imagined; it only remains for me to tell what the waiter
was like; an old man, short and thick, slow on the feet from long
service, enveloped in an enormous apron; one only saw the ends of his
trousers and his head; and the head was one of the strangest ever
seen, for there was not a hair upon it; he was bald as an egg, and his
head was the shape of an egg, and the colour of an Easter egg, a
pretty pink all over. The eyes were like a ferret's, small and
restless and watery, a long nose and a straight drooping chin, and a
thick provincial accent--that alone amused me.

"Have you no other rooms?"

"Nous n'avons que cela."

I quote his words in the language in which they were spoken, for I
remember how brutal they seemed, and how entirely in keeping with the
character of the room. No doubt the words will seem flat and tame to
the reader, but they never can seem that to me. "_Nous n'avons que
cela_" will always be to me as pregnant with meaning as the famous
_to be or not to be_. For it really amounted to that. I can see
Doris standing by me, charming, graceful as a little Tanagra
statuette, seemingly not aware of the degradation that the possession
of her love would mean in such a room as that which we stood in; and I
think I can honestly say that I wished we had never come to Orelay,
that we had gone straight on to Paris. It were better even to
sacrifice her love than that it should be degraded by vulgar
circumstances; and, instead of a holy rite, my honeymoon had come to
seem to me what the black mass must seem to the devout Christian.

"The rooms will look better," Doris said, "when fires have been
lighted, and when our bags are unpacked. A skirt thrown over the arm
of a chair furnishes a room."

Taking her hands in mine I kissed them, and was almost consoled; but
at that moment my eyes fell upon the beds, and I said:

"Those beds! O Doris, those beds! yours is no better than mine." Women
are always satisfied, or they are kind, or they are wise; and accept
the inevitable without a murmur.

"Dearest, ask the waiter to bring us some hot water."

I did so, and while he was away I paced the room, unable to think of
anything but the high bed; it was impossible to put out of my sight
the ridiculous spectacle of a couple in a nightgown and pyjama suit
climbing into it. The vision of myself and Doris lying under that
eider-down, facing that tall window, with nothing to shut out the
light but those vulgar lace curtains, pursued me, and I paced the room
till the pink waiter returned with two jugs; and then, feeling very
miserable, I began to unpack my bag without getting further than the
removal of the brushes and comb; Doris unpacked a few things, and she
washed her hands, and I thought I might wash mine; but before I had
finished washing them I left the dreadful basin, and going to Doris
with dripping hands I said:

"There is very little difference in the rooms. Perhaps you would like
to sleep in mine?"

"I can see no difference. I think I'll remain where I am."

Which room she slept in may seem insignificant to the reader, but this
is not so, for had we changed rooms this story would never have been
written. I can see myself even now walking to and fro like a caged
animal vainly seeking for a way of escape, till suddenly--my adventure
reminds me very much of the beginning of many romantic novels--the
tapestry that the wind had blown aside, the discovery of the secret
door--suddenly I discovered a door in the wall paper; it was
unlatched, and pushing through it I descended two steps, and lo! I was
in the room of my heart's desire; a large, richly-coloured saloon with
beautifully proportioned windows and red silk damask curtains hanging
from carved cornices, and all the old gilding still upon them. And the
silk fell into such graceful folds that the proportions of the windows
were enhanced. And the walls were stretched with silk of a fine
romantic design, the dominant note of which was red to match the
curtains. There were wall lights, and a curious old clock on the
marble chimney-piece amid branching candelabra. I stayed a moment to
examine the clock, deciding very soon that it was not of much value
... it was made in Marseilles a hundred years ago.

"A beautiful room in its proportions and in its colour," I said, and
seeing another door ajar I went through it and discovered a bedroom
likewise in red with two beds facing each other. The beds were high,
it is true, and a phrase from a letter I had written to Doris,
"aggressively virtuous," rose up in my mind as I looked upon them. But
the curtains hung well from _les ciels de lit_ (one cannot say
_cieux de lit_, I suppose)--the English word is, I think,
"tester." "This room is far from the bedroom of my dreams," I
muttered, "but _à la rigueur ça peut marcher_." But pursuing my
quest a little farther, I came upon a spacious bedroom with two
windows looking out on the courtyard--a room which would have
satisfied the most imaginative lover, a room worthy of the adorable
Doris, and I can say this as I look back fondly on her many various
perfections. A great bed wide and low, "like a battlefield as our bed
should be," I said, for the lines of the old poet were running in my
head:

 "Madame, shall we undress you for the fight?
  The wars are naked that you make to-night."

And, looking upon it, I stood there like one transfigured, filled with
a great joy; for the curtains hanging from a graceful tester like a
crown would have satisfied the painter Boucher.... He rarely painted
bedrooms. I do not remember any at this moment; but I remember many by
Fragonard, and Fragonard would have said: "I have no fault to find
with that bed." The carpet was not Aubusson, but it was nevertheless a
finely-designed carpet, and its colour was harmonious; the sofa was
shapely enough, and the Louis XVI. arm-chairs were filled with deep
cushions. I turned to the toilet-table fearing it might prove an
incongruity, but it was in perfect keeping with the room, and I began
at once to look forward to seeing it laid out with all the manifold
ivories and silver of Doris's dressing-case.

Imagine my flight, dear reader, if you can, back to Doris, whom I had
left trying to make the best of that miserable square room; more like
a prison cell than a bedroom.

"What is the matter, dearest?" she asked.

But without answering her I said, "Give me your hand," and led her as
a prince leads his betrothed, in a fairy tale, through the
richly-coloured salon, lingering a moment for her to admire it, and
then I took her through my room, the double-bedded room, saying: "All
this is nothing; wait till you see your room." And Doris paused
overcome by the beauty of the bed, of the curtains falling from the
tester gracefully as laburnum or acacia branches in June.

"The rooms are beautiful, but a little cheerless."

"Doris, Doris, you don't deserve to lie there! The windows of course
must be opened, fresh air must be let in, and fires must be lighted.
But think of you and me sitting here side by side talking before our
bedtime."

Fires were lighted quickly, servants came in bearing candelabra in
their hands, and among them, and with Doris by my side, I imagined
myself a prince, for who is a prince but he who possesses the most
desirable thing in the world, who finds himself in the most delectable
circumstances? And what circumstance is more delightful than sitting
in a great shadowy bedroom, watching the logs burning, shedding their
grateful heat through the room, for the logs that were brought to us,
as we soon discovered, were not the soft wood grown for consumption in
Parisian hotels; the logs that warmed our toes in Orelay were dense
and hard as iron, and burned like coal, only more fragrantly, and very
soon the bareness of the room disappeared; a petticoat, as Doris had
said, thrown over a chair gives an inhabited look to a room at once;
and the contents of her dressing-case, as I anticipated, took the room
back to one hundred years ago, when some great lady sat there in a
flowered silk gown before one of those inlaid dressing tables, filled
with pigments and powders and glasses.

There was one of those tables in the room, and I drew it from the
corner and raised its lid, the lid with the looking-glass in it. And I
liked the unpacking of her dressing-case, the discovery of a multitude
of things for bodily use, the various sponges; the flat sponge for the
face, the round sponge for the body, and the little sponges; all the
scissors and the powder for the nails, and the scents, the soft silks,
the lace scarfs, and the long silk nightgown soon to droop over her
shoulders. My description by no means exhausts the many things she
produced from her dressing-case and bags, nor would the most complete
catalogue convey an impression of Doris's cleanliness of her little
body! One would have to see her arranging her things, with her long
curved hands and almond nails carefully cut--they were her immediate
care, and many powders and ointments and polishers were called into
requisition. Some reader will cry that all this is most unimportant,
but he is either hypocritical or stupid, for it is only with scent and
silk and artifices that we raise love from an instinct to a passion.

"I am longing," said Doris, "to see that beautiful red drawing-room
with all the candelabra lighted and half a dozen logs blazing on the
hearth. It is extraordinary how cold it is."

To procure an impartial mind, bodily ease is necessary, and we sat on
either side of a splendid fire warming our toes. At the bottom of his
heart every Christian feels, though he may not care to admit it in
these modern days, that every attempt to make love a beautiful and
pleasurable thing is a return to paganism. In his eyes the only excuse
for man's love of woman is that without it the world would come to an
end. Why he should consider the end of the world a misfortune I have
never been able to find out, for if his creed be a true one the
principal use of this world is to supply Hell with fuel. He is never
weary of telling us that very few indeed may hope to get to Heaven.

"But France is not a Christian country, and yet you see the high bed
has not become extinct," said Doris.

Doris, who was doubtless feeling a little tired, sat looking into the
fire. Her attitude encouraged reverie; dream linked into dream till at
last the chain of dreams was broken by the entrance of the pink waiter
bringing in our dinner. In the afternoon I had called him an imbecile,
which made him very angry, and he had explained that he was not an
imbecile, but if I hurried him he lost his head altogether. Of course
one is sorry for speaking rudely to a waiter; it is a shocking thing
to do, and nothing but the appearance of the bedroom we were shown
into would excuse me. His garrulousness, which was an irritation in
the afternoon, was an amusement as he laid the cloth and told me the
bill of fare; moreover, I had to consult him about the wine, and I
liked to hear him telling me in his strong Southern accent of a
certain wine of the country, as good as Pomard and as strong, and
which would be known all over the world, only it did not bear
transportation. Remembering how tired we were, and the verse--

 "Quand on boit du Pomard on devient bon on aime,
  On devient aussi bon que le Pomard lui-même--"

we drank, hoping that the wine would awaken us. But the effect of that
strong Southern wine seemed to be more lethargic than exhilarating,
and when dinner was over and we had returned to our seats by the
fireside we were too weary to talk, and too nervous.

The next morning, the coffee and the rolls and butter were ready
before Doris, and the vexation of seeing the breakfast growing cold
was recompensed by the pleasure of teasing her, urging her to pass her
arms into her dressing-gown, to come as she was, it did not matter
what she had on underneath. The waiter did not count; he was not a
man, he was a waiter, a pink creature, pinker than anything in the
world, except a baby's bottom, and looking very like that.

"Hasten, dear, hasten!" and I went back to the salon and engaged in
chatter with the old provincial, my English accent contrasting
strangely with his. It was the first time I had heard the Southern
accent. At Plessy I had heard all accents, Swiss, German, Italian;
there was plenty of Parisian accent there, and I had told a Parisian
flower-woman, whose husband was a Savoyard, that I declined to believe
any more in the Southern accent _"C'est une blague qu'on m'a
faite"_; but at Orelay I had discovered the true accent, and I
listened to the old man for the sake of hearing it. He was asking me
for my appreciation of the wine we had drunk last night when Doris
entered in a foamy white dressing-gown.

"You liked the wine, dear, didn't you? He wants to know if we will
have the same wine for twelve-o'clock breakfast."

"Dear me, it's eleven o'clock now," Doris answered, and she looked at
the waiter.

"Monsieur and Madame will go for a little walk; perhaps you would like
to breakfast at one?"

We agreed that we could not breakfast before one, and our waiter
suggested a visit to the cathedral--it would fill up the time
pleasantly and profitably; but Doris, when she had had her coffee,
wanted to sit on my knee and to talk to me; and then there was a
piano, and she wanted to play me some things, or rather I wanted to
hear her. But the piano was a poor one; the notes did not come back,
she said, and we talked for some hours without perceiving that the
time was passing. After lunch the waiter again inquired if we intended
to go for a little walk; there were vespers about four in the
cathedral.

"It would do Monsieur and Madame good."

"The walk or the cathedral?" we inquired, and, a little embarrassed,
the old fellow began to tell us that he had not been to the cathedral
for some years, but the last time he was there he had been much
impressed by the darkness. It was all he could do to find his way from
pillar to pillar; he had nearly fallen over the few kneeling women who
crouched there listening to the clergy intoning Latin verses.
According to his account there were no windows anywhere except high up
in the dome. And leaning his hands on the table, looking like all the
waiters that ever existed or that will ever exist, his _tablier_,
reaching nearly to his chin, upheld by strings passed over the
shoulders, he told us that it was impossible to see what was happening
in the chancel; but there had seemed to be a great number of clergy
seated in the darkness at the back, for one heard voices behind the
tall pieces of furniture singing Latin verses; one only heard the
terminations of the words, an "us" and a "noster," and words ending in
"e," and the organ always coming in a little late.

"My good man," I said, "your description leaves nothing to be desired.
Why should I go to the cathedral unless to verify your impressions? I
am sure the service is exactly as you describe it, and I would not for
the world destroy the picture you have evoked of those forgotten
priests intoning their vespers in the middle of the granite church
behind a three-branched candlestick."

The poor man left the room very much disconcerted, feeling, Doris
said, as if he had lost one of the forks.

"Thank Heaven that matter is done with--a great weight is off my
mind."

"But there is the museum. You would like to see that?" said Doris, and
a change came into my face.

"Well, Doris, the waiter has told us that there is a celebrated study
by David in the museum, 'The Nymph of Orelay.'"

"But, dear one, am I not your nymph of Orelay?" and Doris slipped on
her knees and put her arms about me. "Will I not do as well as the
painted creature in the museum?"

"Far better," I said, "far better. Now we are free, Doris, freed from
the cathedral and from the museum. All the day belongs to us, and
to-morrow we may pass as we like."

"And so we will," Doris said meditatively; and so we did, dear reader,
and I consider the time was well spent, for by so doing we avoided
catching cold, a thing easy to do when a mistral is blowing. It was
not until the following evening we remembered that time was always on
the wing, that our little bags would have to be packed. Next morning
we were going.

"Going away by the train," Doris said regretfully. "Would we were
going away in a carriage! We shall leave Orelay knowing nothing of it
but this suite of apartments."

"There is no reason why we should not drive," and I stopped packing my
bag, and stood looking at her.

"I wonder if we should have stayed three days if we had not discovered
these rooms? Dear one, I think I should not have meant so much to you
in those humbler rooms: you attach much importance to these cornices
and hangings."

"I should have loved you always, Doris, but I think I can love you
better here," and with our bags in our hands we wandered from the
bedroom into the drawing-room and stood admiring its bygone splendour.
"Doris, dear, you must play me 'The Nut Bush.' I want to hear it on
that old piano. Tinkle it, dear, tinkle it, and don't play 'The Nut
Bush' too sentimentally, nor yet too gaily."

"Which way will you have it?" she asked; "'a true love's truth or a
light love's art'?"

"I would have it dainty and fantastic as Schumann wrote it, 'only the
song of a secret bird.'"

"With a pathos of loneliness in it?"

"That is it," I cried, "that is the right time to play it in, without
stress on either side.... No, you mustn't leave the piano, Doris.
Sing me some songs. Go on singing Schumann or Schubert; there are no
other songs. Let me hear you sing 'The Moonlight' or 'The
Lotus-flower.' Schumann and Schubert were the singing birds of the
fifties; I love their romantic sentimentalities, orange gardens, south
winds, a lake with a pinnace upon it, and a nightingale singing in a
dark wood by a lonely shore; that is how they felt, how they dreamed."

And resigning herself to my humour, she sang song after song till at
last, awaking from a long reverie of music and old association of
memories, I said, "Play me a waltz, Doris; I would hear an old-time
waltz played in this room; its romantic flourishes will evoke the
departed spirits." And very soon, sitting in my chair with half-closed
eyes, it seemed to me that I saw crinolines faintly gliding over the
floor, and white-stockinged feet, sloping shoulders and glistening
necks with chignons--swan-like women, and long-whiskered cavaliers
wearing peg-top trousers and braided coats dancing or talking with
them.... The music suddenly stopped and Doris said:

"If we are to catch our train we must go on with our packing."

"You mustn't talk to me of trains," and overcome with a Schumann-like
longing and melancholy I took her in my arms, overcome by her beauty.
She was perfection. No Chelsea or Dresden figure was ever more dainty,
gayer, or brighter. She was Schumann and Dresden, but a Dresden of an
earlier period than Schumann; but why compare her to anything? She was
Doris, the very embodiment of her name.

"Ah, Doris, why are we leaving here? Why can't we remain here for
ever?"

"It is strange," she said; "I feel the charm of those old stately
rooms as much as you do. But, dearest, we have missed the train."

The pink waiter came up, I promised to hasten, but my love of Doris
delayed us unduly, and we arrived at the station only to hear that the
train had gone away some ten minutes before. The train that had left
was the only good train in the day, and missing it had given us
another twenty-four hours in Orelay; but Doris was superstitious. "Our
three days are done," she said; "if we don't go today we shall go
to-morrow, and to go on the fourth day would be unlucky. What shall we
do all day? The spell has been broken. We have left our hotel. Let us
take a carriage," she pleaded, "and drive to the next station. The sun
is shining, and the country is beautiful; we saw it from the railway,
a strange red country grey with olives, olive orchards extending to
the very foot of the mountains, and mingling with the pine trees
descending the slopes."

"The slopes!" I said, "the precipitous sides of that high rock! Shall
I ever forget it, beginning like the tail of a lion and rising up to
the sky, towering above the level landscape like a sphinx."

"The drive would be delightful!"

"And it would be a continuation of the romance of the old Empire
drawing-room. A post-chaise would be the thing if we could discover
one."

Sometimes Nature seems to conspire to carry out an idea, and though no
veritable post-chaise of old time was discovered in the coach-house
behind the courtyard in which the ilex trees flourished, we happened
to catch sight of a carriage some twenty-five or thirty years old, a
cumbersome old thing hung upon C springs, of the security of which the
coachman seemed doubtful. He spoke disparagingly, telling us that the
proprietor had been trying to sell it, but no one would buy it, so
heavy was it on the horses' backs, so out of fashion one was ashamed
to go out in it. The coachman's notions of beauty did not concern us,
but Doris dreaded lest one of the wheels should come off; however, on
examination it was found to be roadworthy, and I said to Doris as I
helped her into it:

"If it be no post-chaise, at all events ladies wearing crinolines have
sat inside it, that is certain, and gentlemen wearing peg-top trousers
with braid upon them. Good God, Doris, if you were to wear a crinoline
I should love you beyond hope of repentance. Don't I remember when I
was a boy every one wore white stockings; I had only heard of black
ones, and I always hoped to meet a lady wearing black stockings... now
my hope is to meet one wearing white."

"We might have searched the town for a crinoline and a pair of white
stockings."

"Yes, and I might have discovered a black silk stock. I wonder how I
should have looked in it. Doris," I said, "we have missed the best
part of our adventure. We forgot to dress for the part we are playing,
the lovers of Orelay."

Who will disagree with me when I say that no adventure is complete
unless it necessitates an amount of ceremonial, the wearing of wigs,
high bodices, stockings, and breeches? Every one likes to dress
himself up, whether for a masquerade ball or to be enrolled in some
strange order. Have you, reader, ever seen any one enrolled in any of
these orders? If you have, you will excuse the little comedy and
believe it to be natural--the comedy that Doris and I played in the
old carriage driving from Orelay to Verlancourt, where we hoped to
breakfast.

We could hardly speak for excitement. Doris thought of how she would
look in a crinoline, and I remembered the illustrations in an early
edition of Balzac of which I am the happy possessor. How nice the men
looked in the light trousers and the black stockings of the period;
and crossing my legs I followed with interest the line of my calf.
Somebody did that in "Les Illusions Perdues." She and I lay back
thinking which story in "The Human Comedy" was the most applicable to
our case; and the only one we could think of was when Madame Bargeton,
a provincial blue-stocking, left Angoulême for Paris with Lucien de
Rubempré. There were no railways in the forties; they must have
travelled in a post-chaise. Yes, I remember their journey, faintly it
is true, but I remember it. Madame Bargeton was a woman of
five-and-thirty at least, and Doris was much younger. Lucien was only
one-and-twenty, and even at that time I was more than that. The names
of these people and of the people they met at the theatre and in the
Tuileries Gardens--Rastignac, Madame d'Espard, the Duchess of
Chaulieu, Madame de Rochefide, and Canalis--carried my mind back from
crinolines and white stockings, from peg-top trousers and braided
coats, to the slim trousers that were almost breeches and to the
high-breasted gowns of the Restoration. Our mothers and fathers wore
the crinolines and the peg-top trousers, and our grandfathers the
tight trousers and the black silk stocks. The remembrance of these
costumes filled me with a tenderness and a melancholy I could not
subdue, and I could see that Doris was thinking of the same subject as
myself.

We were thinking of that subject which interested men before history
began, the mutability of human things, the vanishing of generations.
Young as she was, Doris was thinking of death; nor is it the least
extraordinary she should, for as soon as any one has reached the age
of reflection the thought of death may come upon him at any moment,
though he be in the middle of a ballroom or lying in the arms of his
mistress. If the scene be a ballroom he has only to look outside, and
the night will remind him that in a few years he will enter the
eternal night; or if the scene be a bedroom the beautiful face of his
mistress may perchance remind him of another whose face was equally
beautiful and who is now under the earth; lesser things will suffice
to recall his thoughts from life to death, a rose petal falling on a
marble table, a dead bird in the path as he walks in his garden. And
after the thought of death the most familiar thought is the decay of
the bodily vesture. The first grey hair may seem to us an amusing
accident, but very few years will pass before another and yet another
appear, and if these do not succeed in reminding us that decay has
begun, a black speck on a tooth cannot fail to do so; and when we go
to the dentist to have it stopped we have begun to repair artificially
the falling structure. The activity of youth soon passes, and its
slenderness. I remember still the shock I felt on hearing an athlete
say that he could no longer run races of a hundred yards; he was half
a second or a quarter of a second slower than he was last year. I
looked at him saying, "But you are only one-and-twenty," and he
answered, "Yes, that is it." A football player I believe is out of
date at eight-and-twenty. Out of date! What a pathos there is in the
words--out of date! _Suranné_, as the French say. How are we to
render it in English? By the beautiful but artificial word
"yester-year"? Yester-year perhaps, for a sorrow clings about it; it
conveys a sense of autumn, of "the long decline of roses." There is
something ghostlike in the out-of-date. The landscape about Plessy had
transported us back into antiquity, making us dream of nymphs and
dryads, but the gilt cornices and damask hangings and the salon at
Orelay had made us dream of a generation ago, of the youth of our
parents. Ancient conveys no personal meaning, but the out-of-date
transports us, as it were, to the stern of the vessel, throws us into
a mournful attitude; we lean our heads upon our hands and, looking
back, we see the white wake of the vessel with shores sinking in the
horizon and the crests of the mountains passing away into the clouds.

While musing on these abstract questions raised by my remark that we
had not managed our adventure properly, since we had forgotten to
provide ourselves with proper costumes, the present suddenly thrust
itself upon me.

"Good God!" I said to Doris, "let us look back, for we shall never see
Orelay again!" and she from one window, and I from the other, saw the
spires of Orelay for the last time. We could not tear ourselves away,
but fortunately the road turned; Orelay was blotted out from our sight
for ever, and we sank back to remember that a certain portion of our
lives was over and done, a beautiful part of our lives had been thrown
into the void, into the great rubble-heap of emotions that had been
lived through, that are no more.

"Of what are you thinking, dear? You have been far away. This is the
first time we have been separated, and we are not yet five miles from
Orelay."

"Five miles! Ah, if it were only five!"

We did not speak for a long time, and watching the midday sun, I
thought that peradventure it was not farther from us than yesterday.
Were I to say so to Doris she would answer, "It will be the same in
Paris," but if she did it would be the first falsehood she had told
me, for we both knew that things are never the same; things
change--for better or worse, but they change.

This last sentence seems to me somewhat trite, and if I were to
continue this story any further my pen would run into many other
superficial and facile observations, for my mind is no longer
engrossed with the story. I no longer remember it; I do not mean that
I do not remember whether we got to Verlancourt, whether we had
breakfast, or whether we drove all the way to Paris with relays of
horses. I am of course quite certain about the facts: we breakfasted
at Verlancourt, and after breakfast we asked the coachman whether he
would care to go on to Paris with us; he raised his eyes--"The
carriage is a very old one, surely, Monsieur----" Doris and I laughed,
for, truth to tell, we had been so abominably shaken that we were glad
to exchange the picturesque old coach of our fathers' generation for
the train.

These stories are memories, not inventions, and an account of the days
I spent in Paris would interest nobody; all the details are forgotten,
and invention and remembrance do not agree any better than the goat
and the cabbage. So, omitting all that does not interest me--and if it
does not interest me how can it interest the reader?--I will tell
merely that my adventure with Doris was barren of scandal or
unpleasant consequences. Her mother, a dear unsuspicious
woman--whether her credulity was the depth of folly or the depth of
wisdom I know not; there are many such mothers, my blessing be upon
them!--took charge of her daughter, and Doris and her mother returned
to England. I am afraid that when I confess that I did not speak to
Doris of marriage I shall forfeit the good opinion of my reader, who
will, of course, think that a love story with such an agreeable
creature as Doris merited a lifetime of devotion; but I pray the
reader to discover an excuse for me in the fact that Doris had told me
when we were at Plessy that there was no question of her marrying any
one but Albert. Had she not sacrificed the great love of her life in
order that she might remain constant to Albert? Is it to be expected,
then, that having done that, she would put Albert aside and throw her
lot in with mine? She might have done this; men and women act
inconsequently. Having on one occasion refused to drop the mutton chop
for the shadow, on the next occasion they would drop it for the shadow
of the shadow; but Doris was made of sterner stuff, and some months
afterwards she wrote me a steady, sensible little letter telling me
that she was going to be married, and that it seemed to her quite
natural that she should marry Albert. Years have passed away, and
nothing has happened to lead me to believe that she has not proved a
true and loving wife. Albert has always told me that he found all the
qualities in her which he had foreseen from the first time he looked
upon her pretty, sparkling face. Frown not, reader; accuse me not of
superficial cynicism! Albert is part of the world's inheritance. You
may be Albert yourself--every one has been or will be Albert; Albert
is in us all, just as I am in you all. Doris, too, is in you, dear
lady who sit reading my book--Doris my three-days mistress at Orelay,
and Doris the faithful spouse of Albert for twenty years in a lonely
London suburb.

Study and boudoir would like to know if Doris had any children. About
two years afterwards I heard that she was "expecting." The word came
up spontaneously in my mind, perhaps because I had written it in the
beginning of the story. Reader, do you remember in "Massimilla Doni"
how Balzac, when he came to the last pages, declares that he dare not
tell you the end of the adventure. One word, he says, will suffice for
the worshippers of the ideal--_Massimilla Doni_ was "expecting."
I have not read the story for many years, but the memory of it shines
in my mind bright--well, as the morning star; and I looked up this
last paragraph when I began to write this story, but had to excuse
myself for not translating it, my pretext being that I was baffled by
certain grammatical obscurities, or what seemed to me such. I seemed
to understand and to admire it all till I came to the line that
"_les peuplades de cent cathédrales gothiques_" (which might be
rendered as the figured company of a hundred Gothic cathedrals),
"_tout le peuple des figures qui brisent leur forme pour venir à
vous, artistes compréhensifs, toutes ces angéliques filles
incorporelles accoururent autour du lit de Massimilla, et y
pleurèrent!_" What puzzles me is why statues should break their
forms (_form_ I suppose should be translated by _mould_)--break
their moulds--the expression seems very inadequate--break their
moulds "in order to go to you, great imaginative artists."  How
could they break their moulds or their forms to go to the
imaginative artists, the mould or the form being the gift of
the imaginative artists? I should have understood Balzac better if
he had said that the statues escape from their niches and the madonnas
and the angels from their frames to gather round the bed of
_Massimilla_ to weep. Balzac's idea seems to have got a little
tangled, or maybe I am stupid to-day. However, here is the passage:

"Les péris, les ondines, les fées, les sylphides du vieux temps, les
muses de la Grèce, les vierges de marbre de la Certosa di Pavia, le
Jour et la Nuit de Michel Ange, les petits anges que Bellini le
premier mit au bas des tableaux d'église, et que Raphaël a faits si
divinement au bas de la vierge au donataire, et de la madone qui gèle
a Dresde, les délicieuses filles d'Orcagna, dans l'église de
San-Michele à Florence, les chœurs célestes du tombeau de Saint Sébald
à Nuremberg, quelques vierges du Duomo de Milan, les peuplades de cent
cathédrales gothiques, tout le peuple des figures qui brisent leur
forme pour venir à vous, artistes compréhensifs, toutes ces angéliques
filles incorporelles accoururent autour du lit de Massimilla, et y
pleurèrent."



CHAPTER IX

IN THE LUXEMBOURG GARDENS


There was a time when my dream was not literature, but painting; and I
remember an American giving me a commission to make a small copy of
Ingres's "Perseus and Andromeda," and myself sitting on a high stool
in the Luxembourg, trying to catch the terror of the head thrown back,
of the arms widespread, chained to the rock, and the beauty of the
foot advanced to the edge of the sea. Since my copying days the
picture has been transferred to the Louvre. What has become of my
copy, whether I ever finished it and received the money I had been
promised, matters very little. Memories of an art that one has
abandoned are not pleasant memories. Maybe the poor thing is in some
Western state where the people are ignorant enough to accept it as a
sketch for the original picture. My hope is that it has drifted away,
and become part of the world's rubbish and dust. But why am I thinking
of it at all? Only because a more interesting memory hangs upon it.

After working at it all one morning, I left the museum feeling half
satisfied with my drawing, but dreading the winged monster that
awaited me after lunch. In those days I was poor, though rich for the
Quarter. I moved in a society of art students, and we used to meet for
breakfast in a queer little café; the meal cost us about a shilling.
On my return from this café soon after twelve--I had breakfasted early
that morning--I remember how, overcome by a sudden idleness, I could
not go back to my work, and feeling that I must watch the birds and
the sunlight (they seemed to understand each other so well), I threw
myself on a bench and began to wonder if there was anything better in
the world worth doing than to sit in an alley of clipped limes,
smoking, thinking of Paris and of myself.

Every one, or nearly every one, except perhaps the upper classes,
whose ideas of Paris are the principal boulevards--the Rue de Rivoli,
the Rue de la Paix--knows the Luxembourg Gardens; and watching April
playing and listening to water trickling from a vase that a great
stone Neptune held in his arms at the end of the alley, my thoughts
embraced not only the garden, but all I know of Paris, of the old city
that lies far away behind the Hôtel de Ville and behind the Boulevard
St. Antoine. I thought of a certain palace now a museum, rarely
visited, of its finely proportioned courtyard decorated with
bas-reliefs by Jean Goujon. I had gone there a week ago with Mildred;
but finding she had never heard of Madame de Sévigné, and did not care
whether she had lived in this palace or another, I spoke to her of the
Place des Vosges, saying we might go there, hoping that she would feel
interested in it because it had once been the habitation of the old
French nobility. As I spoke, its colour rose up before my eyes, pretty
tones of yellow and brown brick, the wrought-iron railings and the
high-pitched roofs and the slim chimneys. As I walked beside her I
tried to remember if there were any colonnades. It is strange how one
forgets; yes, and how one remembers. The Place des Vosges has always
seemed to me something more than an exhibition of the most beautiful
domestic architecture in France. The mind of a nation shapes itself,
like rocks, by a process of slow accumulation, and it takes centuries
to gather together an idea so characteristic as the Place des Vosges.
One cannot view it--I cannot, at least--without thinking of the great
monarchical centuries, and of the picturesque names which I have
learned from Balzac's novels and from the history of France. In his
"Étude de Catherine de Médicis," Balzac speaks of Madame de Sauve, and
I am sure she must have lived in the Place des Vosges. Monsieur de
Montresser might have occupied a flat on the first floor. Le Comte
Bouverand de la Loyère, La Marquise d'Osmond, Le Comte de Coëtlogon,
La Marquise de Villefranche, and Le Duc de Cadore, and many other
names rise up in my mind, but I will not burden this story with them.
I suppose the right thing to do would be to find out who had lived in
the Place des Vosges; but the search, I am afraid, would prove tedious
and perhaps not worth the trouble. For if none of the bearers of the
names I have mentioned lived in the Place des Vosges, it is certain
that others bearing equally noble names lived there.

Its appearance is the same to-day as it was in the seventeenth
century, but it is now inhabited by the small tradespeople of the
Quarter; the last great person who lived there was Victor Hugo; his
house has been converted into a museum, and it is there that the most
interesting relics of the great poet are stored. I unburdened my mind
to Mildred, and my enthusiasm enkindled in her an interest sufficient
to induce her to go there with me, for I could not forgo a companion
that day, though she was far from being the ideal companion for such
sentimental prowling as mine. Afterwards we visited Notre Dame
together, and the quays, and the old streets; but Mildred lacked the
historical sense, I am afraid, for as we returned in the glow of the
sunset, when the monumented Seine is most beautiful, she said that
Paris wasn't bad for an old city, and it was the memory of this
somewhat crude remark that caused a smile to light up my lips as I
looked down the dark green alley through which the April sunlight
flickered.

But I did not think long of her; my attention was distracted by the
beauty of a line of masonry striking across the pale spring sky,
tender as a faded eighteenth-century silk, only the blue was a young
blue like that of a newly opened flower; and it seemed to me that I
could detect in the clouds going by, great designs for groups and
single figures, and I compared this aerial sculpture with the
sculpture on the roofs. In every angle of the palace there are
statues, and in every corner of the gardens one finds groups or single
figures. Ancient Rome had sixty thousand statues--a statue for every
thirty-three or thirty-four inhabitants; in Paris the proportion of
statues to the people is not so great, still there are a great many;
no city has had so many since antiquity; and that is why Paris always
reminds me of those great days of Greece and Rome when this world was
the only world.

When one tires of watching the sunlight there is no greater delight
than to become absorbed in the beauty of the balustrades, the stately
flights of steps, the long avenues of clipped limes, the shapely stone
basins, every one monumented in some special way. "How shapely these
gardens are," I said, and I fell to dreaming of many rocky hills
where, at the entrance of cool caves, a Neptune lies, a vase in his
arms with water flowing from it. Yesterevening I walked in these
gardens with a sculptor; together we pondered Carpeau's fountain, and,
after admiring Frémiet's horses, we went to Watteau's statue,
appropriately placed in a dell, among greenswards like those he loved
to paint. At this moment my meditation was broken.

"I thought I should find you in the museum painting, but here you are,
idling in this pretty alley, and in the evening you'll tell us you've
been working all day."

"Will you come for a walk?" I said, thinking that the gardens might
interest her, and, if they did not, the people we should meet could
not fail to amuse her. It was just the time to see the man who came
every morning to feed the sparrows; he had taught them to take bread
from his lips, and I thought that Mildred would like to see the funny
little birds hopping about his feet, so quaint, so full of themselves,
seeming to know all about it. Then if we had luck we might meet Robin
Hood, for in those days a man used to wander in the gardens wearing
the costume of the outlaw, and armed with a bow and quiver. The
strange folk one meets in the Luxembourg Gardens are part of their
charm. Had I not once met a man in armour, not plate, but the
beautiful chain armour of the thirteenth century, sitting on a bench
eating his lunch, his helmet beside him?--a model no doubt come from a
studio for the lunch hour, or maybe he was an _exalté_ or a
_fumist_; a very innocent _fumist_ if he were one, not one
of the Quarter certainly, for even the youngest among us would know
that it would take more than a suit of armour to astonish the
frequenters of the gardens. As we came down a flight of steps we met
an old man and his wife, an aged couple nearly seventy years of age,
playing football, and the gambols of this ancient pair in the pretty
April sunlight were pathetic to watch. I called her attention to them,
telling her that in another part of the garden three old women came to
dance; but seeing that Mildred was not interested, I took the first
opportunity to talk of something else. She was more interested in the
life of the Quarter, in _le bal Bullier_, in my stories of
grisettes and students; and I noticed that she considered every
student as he passed, his slim body buttoned tightly in a long
frock-coat, with hair flowing over his shoulders from under his
slouched hat, just as she had considered each man on board the boat a
week ago as we crossed from Folkestone to Boulogne. We had met on the
boat; I noticed her the moment I got on board; her quiet, neat clothes
were unmistakably French, though not the florid French clothes
Englishwomen so often buy and wear so badly. The stays she had on I
thought must be one of those little ribbon stays with very few bones,
and as she walked up and down she kept pressing her leather waistband
still more neatly into its place, looking first over one shoulder and
then over the other. She reminded me of a bird, so quick were her
movements, and so alert. She was nice-looking, not exactly pretty, for
her lips were thin, her mouth too tightly closed, the under lip almost
disappearing, her eyes sloped up very much at the corners, and her
eyebrows were black, and they nearly met.

The next time I saw her she was beside me at dinner--we had come by
chance to the same hotel, a small hotel in the Rue du Bac. Her mother
was with her, an elderly, sedate Englishwoman, to whom the girl talked
very affectionately, "Yes, dearest mamma"; "No, dearest mamma." She
had a gay voice, though she never seemed to laugh or joke; but her
face had a sad expression, and she sighed continually. After dinner
her mother went to the piano and played with a great deal of accent
and noise the "Brooklyn Cake Walk."

"We used to dance that at Nice. Oh, dear mamma, do you remember that
lovely two-step?"

Her mother nodded and smiled, and began playing a Beethoven sonata,
but she had not played many bars before her daughter said:

"Now, mother, don't play any more; come and talk to us."

I asked her if she did not like Beethoven. She shrugged her shoulders;
an expression of irritation came into her face. She either did not
want to talk of Beethoven then, or she was incapable of forming any
opinion about him, and, judging from her interest in the "Brooklyn
Cake Walk," I said:

"The Cake Walk is gayer, isn't it?"

The sarcasm seemed lost upon her; she sat looking at me with a vague
expression in her eyes, and I found it impossible to say whether it
was indifference or stupidity.

"Mildred plays Beethoven beautifully. My daughter loves music. She
plays the violin better than anybody you ever heard in your life."

"Well, she must play very well indeed, for I've heard Sarasate
and----"

"If Mildred would only practise," and she pressed her daughter to play
something for me.

"I haven't got my keys--they're upstairs. No, mother ... leave me
alone; I'm thinking of other things."

Her mother went back to the piano and continued the sonata. Mildred
looked at me, shrugged her shoulders, and then turned over the
illustrated papers, saying they were stupid. We began to talk about
foreign travel, and I learned that she and her mother spent only a
small part of every year in England. She liked the Continent much
better; English clothes were detestable; English pictures she did not
know anything about, but suspected they must be pretty bad, or else
why had I come to France to paint? She admitted, however, she had met
some nice Englishmen, but Yankees--oh! Yankees! There was one at
Biarritz. Do you know Biarritz? No, nor Italy. Italians are nice, are
they not? There was one at Cannes.

"Don't think I'm not interested in hearing about pictures, because I
am, but I must look at your ring, it's so like mine. This one was
given to me by an Irishman, who said the curse of Moreen Dhu would be
upon me if I gave it away."

"But who is Moreen Dhu? I never heard of her."

"You mustn't ask me; I'm not a bit an intelligent woman. People always
get sick of me if they see me two days running."

"I doubt very much if that is true. If it were you wouldn't say it."

"Why not? I shouldn't have thought of saying it if it weren't true."

Next evening at dinner I noticed that she was dressed more carefully
than usual; she wore a cream-coloured gown with a cerise waistband and
a cerise bow at the side of her neck. I noticed, too, that she talked
less; she seemed preoccupied. And after dinner she seemed anxious; I
could not help thinking that she wished her mamma away, and was
searching for an excuse to send her to bed.

"Mamma, dear, won't you play us the 'Impassionata'?"

"But, Milly dear, you know quite well that I can't play it."

Mamma was nevertheless persuaded to play not only the "Impassionata"
but her entire repertoire. She was not allowed to leave the piano, and
had begun to play Sydney Smith when the door opened, and a man's face
appeared for a second. Remembering her interest in men, I said:

"Did you see that man? What a nice, fresh-looking young man!"

She put her finger on her lip, and wrote on a piece of paper:

"Not a word. He's my fiancé, and mother doesn't know he's here. She
does not approve; he hasn't a bean." ... "Thank you, mother, thank
you; you played that sonata very nicely."

"Won't you play, my dear?"

"No, mother dear, I'm feeling rather tired; we've had a long day."

And the two bade me good-night, leaving me alone in the sitting-room
to finish a letter. But I had not quite got down to the signature when
she came in looking very agitated, even a little frightened.

"Isn't it awful?" she said. "I was in the dining-room with my fiancé,
and the waiter caught us kissing. I had to beg of him not to tell
mamma. He said _'Foi de gentilhomme,_' so I suppose it's all
right."

"Why not have your fiancé in here? I'm going to bed."

"Oh, no, I wouldn't think of turning you out. I'll see him in my
bedroom; it's safer, and if one's conscience is clear it doesn't
matter what people say."

A few days afterwards, as I was slinging my paintbox over my
shoulders, I heard some one stop in the passage, and speaking to me
through the open door she said:

"You were so awfully decent the other night when Donald looked in. I
know you will think it cheek; I am the most impudent woman in the
world; but do you mind my telling mamma that I am going to the Louvre
with you to see the pictures? You won't give me away, will you?"

"I never split on any one."

"My poor darling ought to go back. He's away from the office without
leave, and he may get the sack; but he's going to stay another night.
Can you come now? Mamma is in the salon. Come just to say a word to
her and we will go out together. Donald is waiting at the corner."

Next morning as I was shaving I heard a knock at my door.

"_Entré!_"

"Oh, I beg your pardon, but I didn't want to miss you. I'll wait for
you in the salon."

When I came downstairs she showed me a wedding ring. She had married
Donald, or said she had.

"Oh, I am tired. I hate going to the shops, and now mamma wants me to
go shopping with her. Can't you stay and talk to me, and later on we
might sneak out together and go somewhere?... Are you painting
to-day?"

"Well, no, I'm going to a museum a long way from here. I have never
seen Madame de Sévigné's house."

"Who is she?"

"The woman who wrote the famous letters."

"I am afraid I shall only bore you, because I can't talk about books."

"You had better come; you can't stay in this hotel by yourself all the
morning."

There was some reason which I have forgotten why she could not go out
with Donald, and I suppose it was my curiosity in all things human
that persuaded me to yield to her desire to accompany me, though, as I
told her, I was going to visit Madame de Sévigné's house. The reader
doubtless remembers that we visited not only Madame de Sévigné's
house, but also Victor Hugo's in the Place des Vosges, and perhaps her
remark as we returned home in the evening along the quays, that "Paris
wasn't bad for an old city," has not yet slipped out of the reader's
memory. For it was a strange remark, and one could hardly hear it
without feeling an interest in the speaker; at least, that was how I
felt. It was that remark that drew my attention to her again, and when
we stopped before the door of our hotel, I remembered that I had spent
the day talking to her about things that could have no meaning for
her. Madame de Sévigné and Jean Goujon, old Paris and its associated
ideas could have been studied on another occasion, but an opportunity
of studying Mildred might never occur again. I was dining out that
evening; the next day I did not see her, and the day after, as I sat
in the Luxembourg Gardens, beguiled from my work by the pretty April
sunlight and the birds in the alley (I have spoken already of these
things), as I sat admiring them, a thought of Mildred sprang into my
mind, a sudden fear that I might never see her again; and it was just
when I had begun to feel that I would like to walk about the gardens
with her that I heard her voice. These coincidences often occur, yet
we always think them strange, almost providential. The reader knows
how I rose to meet her, and how I asked her to come for a walk in the
gardens. Very soon we turned in the direction of the museum, for,
thinking to propitiate me, Mildred suggested I should take her there,
and I did not like to refuse, though I feared some of the pictures and
statues might distract me from the end I now had in view, which was to
find out if Donald had been her first lover, and if her dear little
mamma suspected anything.

"So your mother knows nothing about your marriage?"

"Nothing. He ought to go back, but he's going to stay another night. I
think I told you. Poor dear little mamma, she never suspected a bit."

As we walked to the museum I caught glimpses of what Donald's past
life had been, learning incidentally that his father was rich, but
since Donald was sixteen he had been considered a ne'er-do-well. He
had gone away to sea when he was a boy, and had been third mate on a
merchant ship; in a hotel in America he had been a boot-black, and
just before he came to Paris he fought a drunken stoker and won a
purse of five pounds.

She asked me which were the best pictures, but she could not keep her
attention fixed, and her attempts to remember the names of the
painters were pathetic. "Ingres, did you say? I must try to
remember.... Puvis de Chavannes? What a curious name! but I do like
his picture. He has given that man Donald's shoulders," she said,
laying her hand on my arm and stopping me before a picture of a young
naked man sitting amid some grey rocks, with grey trees and a grey
sky. The young man in the picture had dark curly hair, and Mildred
said she would like to sit by him and put her hands through his hair.
"He has got big muscles, just like Donald. I like a man to be strong:
I hate a little man."

We wandered on talking of love and lovers, our conversation
occasionally interrupted, for however interested I was in Mildred, and
I was very much interested, the sight of a picture sometimes called
away my attention. When we came to the sculpture-room it seemed to me
that Mildred was more interested in sculpture than in painting, for
she stopped suddenly before Rodin's "L'age d'arain," and I began to
wonder if her mind were really accessible to the beauty of the
sculptor's art, or if her interest were entirely in the model that had
posed before Rodin. Sculpture is a more primitive art than painting;
sculpture and music are the two primitive arts, and they are therefore
open to the appreciation of the vulgar; at least, that is how I tried
to correlate Mildred with Rodin, and at the same moment the thought
rose up in my mind that one so interested in sex as Mildred was could
not be without interest in art. For though it be true that sex is
antecedent to art, art was enlisted in the service of sex very early
in the history of the race, and has, if a colloquialism may be allowed
here, done yeoman service ever since. Even in modern days,
notwithstanding the invention of the telephone and the motor car, we
are still dependent upon art for the beginning of our courtships.
To-day the courtship begins by the man and the woman sending each
other books. Before books were invented music served the purpose of
the lover. For when man ceased to capture woman, he went to the
river's edge and cut a reed and made it into a flute and played it for
her pleasure; and when he had won her with his music he began to take
an interest in the tune for its own sake. Amusing thoughts like these
floated through my mind in the Luxembourg galleries--how could it be
otherwise since I was there with Mildred?--and I began to argue that
it was not likely that one so highly strung as Mildred could be blind
to the sculptor's dream of a slender boy, and that boy, too, swaying
like a lily in some ecstasy of efflorescence.

"The only fault I find with him is that he is not long enough from the
knee to the foot, and the thigh seems too long. I like the greater
length to be from the knee to the foot rather than from the knee to
the hip. Now, have I said anything foolish?"

"Not the least. I think you are right. I prefer your proportions. A
short tibia is not pretty."

A look of reverie came into her eyes. "I don't know if I told you that
we are going to Italy next week?"

"Yes, you told me."

Her thoughts jerked off at right angles, and turning her back on the
statue, she began to tell me how she had made Donald's acquaintance.
She and her mother were then living in a boarding-house in the same
square in which Donald's father lived, and they used to walk in the
square, and one day as she was running home trying to escape a shower,
he had come forward with his umbrella. That was in July, a few days
before she went away to Tenby for a month. It was at Tenby she had
become intimate with Toby Wells; he had succeeded for a time in
putting Donald out of her mind. She had met Toby at Nice.

"But you like Donald much better than Toby?"

"Of course I do; he came here to marry me. Oh, yes, I've forgotten all
about Toby. You see, I met Donald when I went back to London. But do
look at that woman's back; see where her head is. I wonder what made
Rodin put a woman in that position."

She looked at me, and there was a look of curious inquiry on her face.
Overcome with a sudden shyness, I hastened to assure her that the
statue was "La Danaide."

"Rodin often introduces a trivial voluptuousness into art; and his
sculpture may be sometimes called _l'article de Paris_. It is
occasionally soiled by the sentiment, of which Gounod is the great
exponent, a base soul who poured a sort of bath-water melody down the
back of every woman he met, Margaret or Madeline, it was all the
same."

"Clearly this is not a day to walk about a picture-gallery with you.
Come, let us sit down, and we'll talk about lighter things, about
lovers. You won't mind telling me; you know you can trust me. One of
these days you will meet a man who will absorb you utterly, and all
these passing passions will wax to one passion that will know no
change."

"Do you think so? I wonder."

"Do you doubt it?"

"I don't think any one man could absorb me; no one man could fill my
life."

"Not even Donald?"

"Donald is wonderful. Do you remember that morning, a few days after
we arrived?"

"Your wedding night?"

"Yes, my wedding night."

We are interested in any one who is himself or herself, and this girl
was certainly herself and nothing but herself. Travelling about as she
did with her quiet, respectable mother, who never suspected anything,
she seemed to indicate a type--type is hardly the word, for she was an
exception. Never had I seen any one like her before, her frankness and
her daring; here at least was one who had the courage of her
instincts. She was man-crazy if you will, but now and then I caught
sight of another Mildred when she sighed, when that little
dissatisfied look appeared in her face, and the other Mildred only
floated up for a moment like a water-flower or weed on the surface of
a stream.

"... You know I do mean to be a good girl. I think one ought to be
good. But really, if you read the Bible----Oh, must you go?--it has
been such a relief talking things over with you. Shall I see you
to-night? There is no one else in the hotel I can talk to, and mamma
will play the piano, and when, she plays Beethoven it gets upon my
nerves."

"You play the violin, don't you?"

"Yes, I play," and that peculiar sad look which I had begun to think
was characteristic of her came into her face, and I asked myself if
this sudden misting of expression should be ascribed to stupidity or
to a sudden thought or emotion. "I am sorry you're not dining at the
hotel."

"I am sorry, too; I'm dining with students in the Quarter; they would
amuse you."

"I wish I were a grisette."

"If you were I would take you with me. Now I must say good-bye; I have
to get on with my painting."

That night I returned to the hotel late and went away early in the
morning. But the next day she came upon me again in the gardens, and
as we walked on together she told me that Donald had gone away.

"He was obliged to return, you see; he left the office without leave,
and he had only two pounds, the poor darling. I don't know if I told
you that he had to borrow two pounds to come here."

"No, you omitted that little fact. You see, you are so absorbed in
yourself that you think all these things are as interesting to
everybody else as they are to you."

"Now you're unkind," and she looked at me reproachfully. "It is the
first time you have been unsympathetic. If I talked to you it was
because I thought my chatter interested you. Moreover, I believed that
you were a little interested in me, and I have come all this way--"

My heart was touched, and I begged of her to believe that my remark
was only uttered in sport, to tease her. But it was a long time before
I could get her to finish the sentence. "You have come a long way, you
said--"

"I came to tell you that we are going to Rome tomorrow. I didn't like
to go away without seeing you, but it seems as if I were mistaken; it
would not have mattered to you if I had."

She had her fiddle-case with her; and to offer to carry it for her
seemed an easy way out of my difficulty; but she would not surrender
it for a while. I asked her if she had been playing at a concert, or
if she were coming from a lesson. No; well, then, why had she her
fiddle-case with her?

"Don't ask me; leave me in peace. It doesn't matter. I cannot play
now, and ten minutes ago my head was full of it."

These little ebullitions of temper were common in Mildred, and I knew
that the present one would soon pass away. In order that its passing
might be accomplished as rapidly as possible, I suggested we should
sit down, and I spoke to her of Donald.

"I don't want to talk about him. You have offended me."

"I'm sorry you are leaving Paris. This is the beautiful month. How
pleasant it is here, a soft diffused warmth in the air, the sunlight
flickering like a live thing in the leaves, and the sound of water
dripping at the end of the alley. We are all alone here, Mildred.
Come, tell me why you brought your fiddle-case."

"Well," she said, "I brought it on the chance of meeting you. I
thought you might like to hear me play. We are going away to-morrow
morning. I can't play in that hotel, in that stuffy little room; mamma
would want to accompany me."

"Play to me in the Luxembourg Gardens!"

"One can do anything one likes here; no one pays any attention to
anybody else," and she pointed with her parasol to a long poet, with
hair floating over his shoulders, who walked up and down the other end
of the alley reciting his verses.

"Perhaps your playing will interrupt him."

"Oh, if he doesn't like it he'll move away. But I don't want to play;
I can't play when I'm out of humour, and I was just in the very humour
for playing until your remark about--"

"About what?"

"You know very well," she answered.

The desire to hear her play the fiddle in the gardens gained upon me.
The moment was an enchanting one, the light falling through the
translucid leaves and the poet walking up and down carried my thoughts
into another age. I began to see a picture--myself, the poet, and
this girl playing the violin for us; other figures were wanting to
make up the composition. Cabanel's picture of the Florentine poet
intruded itself, interrupting my vision, the picture of Dante reading
his verses at one end of a stone bench to a frightened girl whose
lover is drawing her away from him who had been to Hell and witnessed
the tortures of the damned, who had met the miserable lovers of Rimini
whirling through space and heard their story from them. Lizard-like, a
man lies along a low wall, listening to the poet's story. But why
describe a picture so well known? Why mention it at all? Only because
its design intruded itself, spoiling my dream, an abortive idea that I
dimly perceived in Nature without being able to grasp it; an illusive
suggestion for a picture was passing by me, and so eager was my
pursuit of the vision that there was no strength in me to ask Mildred
to play. True that the sound of her violin might help me, but it must
happen accidentally, just as everything else was happening, without
sequence, without logic. At that moment my ear caught the sound of
violin-playing; some dance measure of old time was being played, and
in the sunlit interspace three women appeared dancing a gavotte,
advancing and retiring through the light and shade. The one who played
the violin leaned sometimes against a tree, and sometimes she joined
the others, playing as she danced.

"I know that gavotte. Come, let us go to them. I'll play for them if
they'll let me."

Very soon the woman who played the violin seemed to recognise Mildred
as a better player than herself. She handed her fiddle to a bystander
and the gavotte proceeded, the three old ladies bowing and holding up
their skirts and pointing their toes with the grace of bygone times.
Never, I think, did reality seem more like a dream. "But who are these
three women?" I asked myself, and, sinking on a bench like one
enchanted, I dreamed that these were three sisters, the remnant of a
noble family who had lost its money during several generations till at
last nothing remained, and the poor old women had to devise some mode
of earning their living. I imagined the scene in some great house
which they would have to leave on the morrow, and they talking
together, thinking they must go forth to beg, till she who played the
fiddle said that something would happen to save them from the shame of
mendicancy. I imagined her saying that their last crust of bread would
not be eaten before some one would come to tell them that a fortune
awaited them. And it so happened that the day they divided this crust
the one to whom faith had been given came upon an old letter. She
stood reading till the others asked her what she was reading with so
much interest. "I told you," she said, "that we should be saved, that
God in His great mercy would not turn us out into the streets to beg.
This letter contains explicit directions how the gavotte used to be
danced when our ancestors lived in the Place des Vosges."

"But what help to us to know the true step of the gavotte?" cried the
youngest sister.

"A great deal," the eldest answered gravely; "I can play the fiddle,
and we can all learn to dance; we'll go to dance the gavotte in the
Luxembourg Gardens whenever it is fine--the true gavotte as it was
danced when Madame de Sévigné drove up in a painted coach drawn by six
horses, and entered the courtyard of her hotel decorated with
bas-reliefs by Jean Goujon."

This is the story that I dreamed as I sat on the bench listening to
the pretty, sprightly music flowing like a live thing. Under the
fingers of the old woman the music scratched along like dead leaves
along a pathway, without accent, without rhythm; now the old gavotte
tripped like the springtime, pretty as the budding trees, as the
sunlight along the swards. Mildred brought out the contrast between
the detached and the slurred notes. How gaily it went! Full of the
fashion of the time--the wigs, the swords, the bows, the gallantry!
How sedate! How charming! How well she understood it! How well the old
women danced to it! How delighted every one was! She played on until
the old women, unable to dance any more, sat down to listen to her.
After trying some few things which I did not know, I heard her playing
a piece of music which I could not but think I had heard before--in
church! Beginning it on the low string, she poured out the long, long
phrase that never seems to end, so stern and so evocative of
Protestantism that I could not but think of a soul going forth on its
way to the Judgment Seat, telling perforce as it goes how it has
desired and sought salvation, pleading almost defiantly. But Mildred
could not appreciate such religious exaltation, yet it was her playing
that had inspired the thought in me. Had she been taught to play it?
Was she echoing another's thought? Her playing did not sound like an
echo; it seemed to come from the heart, or out of some unconscious
self, an ante-natal self that in her present incarnation only emerged
in music, borne up by some mysterious current to be sucked down by
another.

She played other things, not certain what she was going to play; and
then, as if suddenly moved to tell us about other things, she began to
play a very simple, singing melody, interrupted now and again, so it
seemed to me, by little fluttering confessions. I seemed to see a lady
in white, at the close of day, in a dusky boudoir, one of Alfred
Stevens's women, only much more refined, one whose lover has been
unfaithful to her, or maybe a woman who is weary of lovers and knows
not what to turn her mind to, hesitating between the convent and the
ball-room. Ah, the beautiful lament--how well Mildred played
it!--followed by the slight crescendo, and then the return of the soul
upon itself, bewailing its weakness, confessing its follies in
elegant, lovely language, seemingly speaking in a casual way, yet
saying such profound things, profound even as Bach. The form is
different, more light, more graceful, apparently more superficial, but
just as deep; for when we go to the bottom of things all things are
deep, one as deep as another, just as all things are shallow, one as
shallow as another; for have not mystics of every age held that things
exist not in themselves, but in the eye that sees and the ear that
hears?

A crowd had collected to hear her, for she was playing out of the
great silence that is in every soul, in that of the light-o'-love as
well as of the saint, and she went on playing, apparently unaware of
the number of people she had collected about her. She stopped playing
and returned to me.

"You play beautifully; why did you say you didn't like Beethoven?"

"I didn't say I didn't like Beethoven; you know very well mamma can't
play the 'Impassionata.'"

"Why aren't you always like this?"

"I don't know. One can't always be the same. I feel differently when I
play; the mood only comes over me sometimes. I used to play a great
deal; I only play occasionally now, just when I feel like it."

We walked through the alleys by the statues, seeing them hardly at
all, thinking of the music.

"I must be getting back," she said. "You see, I've got to pack up.
Mother can't do any packing; I've to do hers for her. I hope we shall
meet again some day."

"What good would it be? I only like you when you're playing, and
you're not often in the mood."

"I'm sorry for that; perhaps if you knew me better----"

"Now you're married, and I suppose Donald will come to Rome to fetch
you?"

"Oh, I don't think he'll be able. He has got no money."

"And you'll fall in love with some one else?"

"Well, perhaps so; I don't feel that I ever could again after this
week." Stopping suddenly in front of a hosier's shop, she said: "I
like those collars; they have just come out--those turned-down ones.
Do you like them as well as the great high stand-up collars about
three inches deep? When they were the fashion men could hardly move
their heads." Then she made some remarks about neckties and the colour
she liked best--violet. "Yes, there's a nice shade of violet. Poor
Donald! He's so handsome."

After the hosier's shop she spoke no more about music. And long before
we reached the hotel she who had played--I cannot say for certain what
she played that day in the Luxembourg Gardens; my love of music was
not then fully awakened; could it have been?--the names of Bach and
Chopin come up in my mind--"I can't speak about music," she said, as
we turned into the Rue du Bac, and she ran up the stairs of the hotel
possessed completely by the other Mildred. She asked her mother to
play the "Brooklyn Cake Walk," and she danced "the lovely two-step,"
as she had learned it at Nice, for my enjoyment. I noticed that she
looked extraordinarily comic as she skipped up and down the room, the
line of her chin deflected, and that always gives a slightly comic
look to a face. She came downstairs with me, and, standing at the
hotel door, she told me of something that had happened yesterday.

"Mother and I went to Cook's to get the tickets. When we went into the
office I saw a Yank--oh, so nicely dressed! Lovely patent-leather
boots. And I thought, 'Oh, dear, he'll never look at me.' But
presently he did, and took out his card-case and folded up a card and
put it on the ledge behind him, and gave me a look and moved away. So
I walked over and took it up. Mamma never saw, but the clerks did."

       *       *       *       *       *

I have reported Mildred's story truthfully at a particular moment of
her life. Those who travel meet people now and again whose
individuality is so strong that it survives. Mildred's has survived
many years, and I have written this account of it because it seems to
me to throw a gleam into the mystery of life without, however, doing
anything to destroy the mystery.



CHAPTER X

A REMEMBRANCE


It was in the vastness of Westminster Hall that I saw her for the
first time--saw her pointed face, her red hair, her brilliant teeth.
The next time was in her own home--a farm-house that had been rebuilt
and was half a villa. At the back were wheat-stacks, a noisy
thrashing-machine, a pigeon-cote, and stables whence, with jangle of
harness and cries of yokels, the great farm-horses always seemed to be
coming from or going to their work on the downs. In a garden planted
with variegated firs she tended her flowers all day; and in the
parlour, where we assembled in the evening, her husband smoked his
pipe in silence; the young ladies, their blonde hair hanging down
their backs, played waltzes; she alone talked. Her conversation was
effusive, her laughter abundant and bright. I had only just turned
eighteen, and was deeply interested in religious problems, and one day
I told her the book I carried in my pocket, and sometimes pretended to
study, was Kant's "Critique of Pure Reason." My explanation of the
value of the work did not seem to strike her, and her manifest want of
interest in the discussion of religious problems surprised me, for she
passed for a religious woman, and I failed to understand how mere
belief could satisfy any one. One day in the greenhouse, whither I had
wandered, she interrupted some allusion to the chapter entitled "The
Deduction of the Categories" with a burst of laughter, and declared
that she would call me Kant. The nickname was not adopted by the rest
of the family--another was invented which appealed more to their
imagination--but she held to the name she had given me, and during the
course of our long friendship never addressed me by any other.

There was no reason why I should have become the friend of these
people. We were opposed in character and temperament, but somehow we
seemed to suit. There was little reflection on either side; certainly
there was none on mine; at that time I was incapable of any; my youth
was a vague dream, and my friends were the shadows on the dream. I saw
and understood them only as one sees and understands the summer clouds
when, lying at length in the tall grass, one watches the clouds curl
and uncurl. In such mood, visit succeeded visit, and before I was
aware, the old Squire who walked about the downs in a tall hat died,
and my friends moved into the family place, distant about a hundred
yards--an Italian house, sheltered among the elms that grew along the
seashore. And in their new house they became to me more real than
shadows; they were then like figures on a stage, and the building of
the new wing and the planting of the new garden interested me as might
an incident in a play; and I left them as I might leave a play, taking
up another thread in life, thinking very little of them, if I thought
at all. Years passed, and after a long absence abroad I met them by
chance in London.

Again visit succeeded visit. My friends were the same as when I had
left them; their house was the same, the conduct of their lives was
the same. I do not think I was conscious of any change until, one day,
walking with one of the girls in the garden, a sensation of home came
upon me. I seemed always to have known these people; they seemed part
and parcel of my life. It was a sudden and enchanting awaking of love;
life seemed to lengthen out like the fields at dawn, and to become
distinct and real in many new and unimagined ways. Above all, I was
surprised to find myself admiring her who, fifteen years ago, had
appeared to me not a little dowdy. She was now fifty-five, but such an
age seemed impossible for so girl-like a figure and such young and
effusive laughter. I was, however, sure that she was fifteen years
older than when I first saw her, but those fifteen years had brought
each within range of the other's understanding and sympathy. We became
companions. I noticed what dresses she wore, and told her which I
liked her best in. She was only cross with me when I surprised her in
the potting-shed wearing an old bonnet out of which hung a faded
poppy. She used to cry: "Don't look at me, Kant. I know I'm like an
old gipsy woman."

"You look charming," I said, "in that old bonnet."

She put down the watering-can and laughingly took it from her head.
"It is a regular show."

"Not at all. You look charming when working in the greenhouse.... I
like you better like that than when you are dressed to go to
Brighton."

"Do you?... I thought you liked me best in my new black silk."

"I think I like you equally well at all times."

We looked at each other. There was an accent of love in our
friendship. "And strange, is it not," I said, "I did not admire you
half as much when I knew you first?"

"How was that? I was quite a young woman then."

"Yes," I said, regretting my own words; "but, don't you see, at that
time I was a mere boy--I lived in a dream, hardly seeing what passed
around me."

"Yes, of course," she said gaily, "you were so young then, all you saw
in me was a woman with a grown-up son."

Her dress was pinned up, she held in her hand the bonnet which she
said made her look like an old gipsy woman, and the sunlight fell on
the red hair, now grown a little thinner, but each of the immaculate
teeth was an elegant piece of statuary, and not a wrinkle was there on
that pretty, vixen-like face. Her figure especially showed no signs of
age, and if she and her daughters were in the room it was she I
admired.

One day, while seeking through the store-room for a sheet of brown
paper to pack up a book in, I came across a pile of old
_Athenaeums_. Had I happened upon a set of drawings by Raphael I
could not have been more astonished. Not one, but twenty copies of the
_Athenaeum_ in a house where never a book was read. I looked at
the dates--three-and-thirty years ago. At that moment she was
gathering some withering apples from the floor.

"Whoever," I cried, "could have left these copies of the
_Athenaeum_ here?"

"Oh, they are my _Athenaeums_," she said. "I always used to read
the _Athenaeum_ when I was engaged to be married to Mr. Bartlett.
You must have heard of him--he wrote that famous book about the
Euphrates. I was very fond of reading in those days, and he and I used
to talk about books in the old garden at Wandsworth. It is all built
over now."

This sudden discovery of dead tastes and sympathies seemed to draw us
closer together, and in the quietness of the store-room, amid the
odour of the apples, her face flushed with all the spirit of her
girlhood, and I understood her as if I had lived it with her.

"You must have been a delightful girl. I believe if I had known you
then I should have asked you to marry me."

"I believe you would, Kant.... So you thought because I never read
books now that I had never read any? You have no idea how fond of
books I was once, and if I had married Mr. Bartlett I believe I should
have been quite a blue-stocking. But then Dick came, and my father
thought it a more suitable match, and I had young children to look
after. We were very poor in those days; the old Squire never attempted
to help us."

At this time I seemed to be always with my friends; I came to see them
when I pleased, and sometimes I stayed a week, sometimes I stayed six
months: but however long my visit they said it was not long enough.
The five-o'clock from London brought me down in time for dinner, and I
used to run up to my room just as if I were a member of the family. If
I missed this train and came down by the six-o'clock, I found them at
dinner, and then the lamplight seemed to accentuate our affectionate
intimacy, and to pass round the table shaking hands with them all was
in itself a peculiar delight. On one of these occasions, missing her
from her place, I said: "Surely you have not allowed her to remain
till this hour in the garden?"

I was told that she was ill, and had been for the last fortnight
confined to her room. Several days passed; allusion to her illness
became more frequent; and then I heard that the local doctor would
accept the responsibility no longer, and had demanded a consultation
with a London physician. But she would not hear of so much expense for
her sake, and declared herself to be quite sufficiently well to go to
London.

The little pony-carriage took her to the station, and I saw her in the
waiting-room wrapped up in shawls. She was ashamed to see me, but in
truth the disease had not changed her as she thought it had. There are
some who are so beautiful that disease cannot deform them, and she was
endowed with such exquisite life that she would turn to smile back on
you over the brink of the grave.

We thought the train was taking her from us for ever, but she came
back hopeful. Operation had been pronounced unnecessary, but she
remained in her room many days before the medicine had reduced her
sufficiently to allow her to come downstairs. Nearly a month passed,
and then she appeared looking strangely well, and every day she grew
better until she regained her girlish figure and the quick dance of
movement which was a grace and a joy in the silent peacefulness of the
old house. Her grace and lightness were astonishing, and one day,
coming down dressed to go in the carriage, she raced across the
library, opened her escritoire, hunting through its innumerable
drawers for one of the sums of money which she kept there wrapped up
in pieces of paper.

"How nice you look! You are quite well now, and your figure is like a
girl of fifteen."

She turned and looked at me with that love in her face which an old
woman feels for a young man who is something less and something more
to her than her son. As a flush of summer lingers in autumn's face, so
does a sensation of sex float in such an affection. There is something
strangely tender in the yearning of the young man for the decadent
charms of her whom he regards as the mother of his election, and who,
at the same time, suggests to him the girl he would have loved if time
had not robbed him of her youth. There is a waywardness in such an
affection that formal man knows not of.

I remember that day, for it was the last time I saw her beautiful.
Soon after we noticed that she did not quite recover, and we thought
it was because she did not take her medicine regularly. She spent
long hours alone in her greenhouse, the hot sun playing fiercely
on her back, and we supplicated--I was the foremost among her
supplicators--that she would not carry the heavy flower-pots to and
fro, nor cans of water from the tank at the bottom of the garden, and
to save her I undertook to water her flowers for her. But she was one
of those who would do everything herself--who thought that if she did
not shut the door it was not properly shut. She was always speaking of
her work. "If I leave my work," she would say, "even for one week,
everything gets so behind-hand that I despair of ever being able to
make up the arrear. The worst of it is that no one can take up my work
where I leave off." And as she grew worse this idea developed until it
became a kind of craze. At last, speculating on the strength of our
friendship, I told her her life belonged to her husband and children,
and that she had no right to squander it in this fashion. I urged that
with ordinary forbearance she might live for twenty years, but at the
present rate of force-expenditure she could not hope to live long. I
spoke brutally, but she smiled, knowing how much I loved her; and,
looking back, it seems to me she must have known she could not be
saved, and preferred to give the last summer of her life entirely to
her flowers. It was pathetic to see her, poor moribund one, sitting
through the long noons alone, the sun beating in upon her through the
fiery glass, tending her flowers. I remember how she used to come in
in the evenings exhausted, and lie down on the little sofa. Her
husband, with an anxious, quiet, kindly look in his eyes, used to draw
the skirt over her feet and sit down at her feet, tender, loving,
soliciting the right to clasp her hand, as if they had not been
married thirty years, but were only sweethearts. At that time we used
all to implore her to allow us to send for the London doctor, and I
remember how proud I was when she looked up and said, "Very well,
Kant, it shall be as you wish it." I remember, too, waiting by the
little wood at the corner of the lane, where I should be sure to meet
the doctor as he came up from the station. The old elms were beautiful
with green, the sky was beautiful with blue, and we lingered, looking
out on the fair pasturage where the sheep moved so peacefully, and,
with the exquisite warmth of summer in our flesh, we talked of her who
was to die.

"Is it then incurable?"

"There is no such thing as cure.... We cannot create, we can only
stimulate an existent force, and every time we stimulate we weaken,
and so on until exhaustion. Our drugs merely precipitate the end."

"Then there is no hope?"

"I'm afraid not."

"Can she live for five years?"

"I should think it extremely improbable."

"What length of life do you give her?"

"You are asking too much.... I should say about a year."

The doctor passed up the leafy avenue. I remained looking at the silly
sheep, seeing in all the green landscape only a dark, narrow space.
That day I saw her for the last time. She was sitting on a low chair,
very ill indeed, and the voice, weak, but still young and pure, said:
"Is that you, Kant? Come round here and let me look at you." Amid my
work in London, I used to receive letters from my friends, letters
telling me of the march of the disease, and with each letter death
grew more and more realisable until her death seemed to stand in
person before me. It could not be much longer delayed, and the letter
came which told me that "Mother was not expected to live through the
winter." Soon after came another letter: "Mother will not live another
month"; and this was followed by a telegram: "Mother is dying; come at
once."

It was a bleak and gusty afternoon in the depth of winter, and the
Sunday train stopped at every station, and the journey dragged its
jogging length of four hours out to the weary end. The little station
shivered by an icy sea, and going up the lane the wind rattled and
beat my face like an iron. I hurried, looking through the trees for
the lights that would shine across the park if she were not dead, and
welcome indeed to my eyes were the gleaming yellow squares. Slipping
in the back way, and meeting the butler in the passage, I said: "How
is she?"

"Very bad indeed, sir."

She did not die that night, nor the next, nor yet the next; and as we
waited for death, slow but sure of foot, to come and take what
remained of her from us, I thought often of the degradation that these
lingering deaths impose upon the watchers, and how they force into
disgraceful prominence all that is animal in us. For, however great
our grief may be, we must eat and drink, and must even talk of other
things than the beloved one whom we are about to lose; for we may not
escape from our shameful nature. And, eating and drinking, we
commented on the news that came hourly from the sickroom: "Mother will
not live the week." A few days after, "Mother will hardly get over
Sunday"; and the following week, "Mother will not pass the night."
Lunch was the meal that shocked me most, and I often thought, "She is
dying upstairs while we are eating jam tarts."

One day I had to ride over the downs for some letters, and when, on my
return, I walked in from the stables, I met her son. He was in tears,
and sobbing he said: "My dear old chap, it is all over; she is gone."
I took his hand and burst into tears. Then one of her daughters came
downstairs and I was told how she had passed away. A few hours before
she died she had asked for a silk thread; for thirty years, before
sleeping, she always passed one between her beautiful teeth. Her poor
arms were shrunken to the very bone and were not larger than a little
child's. Haggard and over-worn, she was lifted up, and the silk was
given to her and the glass was held before her; but her eyes were
glazed with death, and she fell back exhausted. Then her breathing
grew thicker, and at last and quite suddenly, she realised that she
was about to die; and looking round wildly, not seeing those who were
collected about her bed, she said, "Oh, to die when so much remains
undone! How will they get on without me!"

I helped to write the letters, so melancholy, so conventional, and
expressing so little of our grief, and the while the girls sat weaving
wreaths for the dead, and at every hour wreaths and letters of
sympathy arrived. The girls went upstairs where the dead lay, and when
they returned they told me how beautiful their mother looked. And
during those dreadful days, how many times did I refuse to look on her
dead! My memory of her was an intensely living thing, and I could not
be persuaded to sacrifice it. We thought the day would never come, but
it came. There was a copious lunch, cigars were smoked, the crops, the
price of lambs, and the hunting, which the frost had much interfered
with, were alluded to furtively, and the conversation was interspersed
with references to the excellent qualities of the deceased. I remember
the weather was beautiful, full of pure sunlight, with the colour of
the coming spring in the face of the heavens. And the funeral
procession wound along the barren sea road, the lily-covered coffin on
a trolley drawn by the estate labourers. That day every slightest line
and every colour of that bitter, barren coast impressed themselves on
my mind, and I saw more distinctly than I had ever done before the old
church with red-brown roofs and square dogmatic tower, the forlorn
village, the grey undulations of the dreary hills, whose ring of trees
showed aloft like a plume. In the church the faces of the girls were
discomposed with grief, and they wept hysterically in each other's
arms. The querulous voice of the organ, the hideous hymn, and the
grating voice of the aged parson standing in white surplice on the
altar-steps! Dear heart! I saw thee in thy garden while others looked
unto that sunless hole, while old men, white-haired and tottering,
impelled by senile curiosity, pressed forward and looked down into
that comfortless hole.

The crowd quickly dispersed; the relatives and the friends of the
deceased, as they returned home, sought those who were most agreeable
and sympathetic, and matters of private interest were discussed. Those
who had come from a distance consulted their watches, and an apology
to life was implicit in their looks, and the time they had surrendered
to something outside of life evidently struck them as being strangely
disproportionate. The sunlight laughed along the sea, and the young
corn was thick in the fields; leaves were beginning in the branches,
larks rose higher and higher, disappearing in the pale air, and, as we
approached the plantations, the amorous cawing of the rooks sounded
pleasantly in the ear. The appearance of death in the springtime, at
the moment when the world renews its life, touched my soul with that
anguish which the familiar spectacle has always and will never fail to
cause as long as a human heart beats beneath the heavens. And,
dropping behind the chattering crowd that in mourning-weed wended its
way through the sad spring landscape, I thought of her whom I had
loved so long and should never see again. I thought of memory as a
shrine where we can worship without shame, of friendship, and of the
pure escapement it offers us from our natural instincts; I remembered
that there is love other than that which the young man offers to her
he would take to wife, and I knew how much more intense and strangely
personal was my love of her than the love which that day I saw the
world offering to its creatures.



CHAPTER XI

BRING IN THE LAMP


For many days there has not been a wind in the trees, and the
landscape reminds me of a somnambulist--the same silence, the same
mystery, the same awe. The thick foliage of the ash never stirs; even
the fingery leaves hanging out from the topmost twigs are still. The
hawthorns growing out of a tumbled wall are turning yellow and brown,
the hollyhocks are over, the chrysanthemums are beginning. Last night
a faint pink sky melted into the solemn blue of midnight. There were
few stars; Jupiter, wearisomely brilliant, sailed overhead; red Mars
hung above the horizon under a round, decorative moon.... The last
days of September! and every day the light dies a few minutes earlier.
At half-past five one perceives a chilliness about one's feet; no
doubt there is a touch of frost in the air; that is why the leaves
hang so plaintively. There is certainly a touch of frost in the air,
and one is tempted to put a match to the fire. It is difficult to say
whether one feels cold or whether one desires the company of the
blaze. Tea is over, the dusk gathers, and the brute Despondency lurks
in the corners. At the close of day, when one's work is over,
benumbing thoughts arise in the study and in the studio. Think of a
painter of architecture finishing the thirty-sixth pillar (there are
forty-three). The dusk has interrupted his labour, and an ache begins
in his heart as he rises from the easel. Be his talent great or
little, he must ask himself who will care should he leave the last
seven pillars unfinished? Think of the writer of stories! Two, three,
or four more stories are required to make up a requisite number of
pages. The dusk has interrupted his labour, and he rises from his
writing-table asking who will care whether the last stories are
written or left unwritten? If he write them his ideas will flicker
green for a brief springtime, they will enjoy a little summer; when
his garden is fading in the autumn his leaves will be well-nigh
forgotten; winter will overtake them sooner than it overtakes his
garden, perhaps. The flowers he deemed immortal are more mortal than
the rose. "Why," he asks, "should any one be interested in my stories
any more than in the thousand and one stories published this year?
Mine are among the number of trivial things that compose the tedium
which we call life." His thoughts will flit back over the past, and
his own life will seem hardly more real than the day's work on the
easel if he be a painter, on the secretaire if he be a writer. He will
seem to himself like a horse going round and round a well. But the
horse is pumping water--water is necessary; but art, even if his work
is good enough to be called art, is not, so far as he knows, necessary
to any one. Whosoever he may be, proof is not wanting that the world
can do well without his work. But however sure he may feel that that
is so, and in the hours I describe it seems sure indeed, he will have
to continue his labour. Man was born to labour, as the oldest texts
say; he must continue to drive his furrow to the end of the field,
otherwise he would lie down and die of sheer boredom, or go mad. He
asks himself why he became a maker of idols. "An idol-maker, an
idol-maker," he cries, "who can find no worshippers for his wares!
Better the sailor before the mast or the soldier in the field." His
thoughts break away, and he begins to dream of a life of action. It
would be a fine thing, he thinks, to start away in a ship for South
America, where there are forests and mountain ranges almost unknown.
He has read of the wild shepherds of the Pampas. So inured are they to
horseback that they cannot walk a mile without resting; and sitting by
the fire at the end of the autumn day, he can see them galloping
through the long grass of the Pampas, whirling three balls attached by
leather thongs. The weapon is called the bolus, and flying through the
air it encircles the legs of the guana, bringing it to the earth. But
if he went to America, would he find content in a hunter's life? Can
the artist put by his dreams and find content in the hunter's life?
His dreams would follow him, and sitting by the camp-fire in the
evening he would begin to think how he might paint the shadows or tell
of the uncouth life of those who sat around him eating of jerked meat.
No, there is nothing for him but to follow the furrow; he will have to
write stories till his brain fades or death intervenes. And what story
shall he write to complete his book, since it must be completed, it
forming part of the procession of things? The best part of
story-writing is the seeking for the subject. Now there is a sound of
church bells in the still air, beautiful sounds of peace and long
tradition, and he likes to listen, thinking of the hymns and the
homely sermons of the good minister. Shall he get up and go? Perhaps
the service would soothe his despondency; but there is not courage
enough in his heart. He can do no more than strike a match; the fire
lights up. It is one of those autumn afternoons with just that touch
of frost in the air which makes a fire welcome, and as he crouches in
his arm-chair the warmth soothes the spirit and flesh, and in the doze
of the flesh the spirit awakes. What--is the story coming now? Yes; it
is forming independently of his will, and he says, "Let it take
shape." And the scene that rises up in his mind is a ball-room; he
sees women all arow, delicate necks and arms of young girls, and young
men in black collected about the doorways. Some couples are moving to
the rhythm of a languorous waltz, a French imitation of Strauss, a
waltz never played now, forgotten perhaps by everybody but him--a
waltz he heard twenty long years ago. That waltz has lain ever since
forgotten in his brain, but now he hears it all; never before was he
able to remember that _coda_, and it comes with a scent of
violets in it--the perfume of a little blond woman who dreams as she
dances with the young man blond as herself. Let it be that the choice
was made by her rather than by him, and let her wear _crêpe de
chime_, with perhaps a touch of white somewhere, and a white frill
about her neck. Let her be a widow whose husband died six months after
marriage, six months ago. Let her have come from some distant part of
the world, from America--Baltimore will do as well as any other,
perhaps better, for the dreamer by the fire has no faintest notion
whether Baltimore lies in the middle of a plain or surrounded by
mountains, whether it be built of marble or brick or stone. Let her
come from Baltimore, from some prettily named street--Cathedral
Street--there must be a Cathedral Street in Baltimore. The sound of
the church bells in the air no doubt led the dreamer to choose
Cathedral Street for her to live in.... The dance would have to be an
informal one, some little dance that she might come to though her
husband was dead only six months. Coming from America, she would be
dancing the sliding Boston step, and the two together would pass
between the different groups sliding forward and back, avoiding the
dancer here, and reappearing from behind a group of French men and
women bumping up and down, hammering the floor, the men holding the
women as if they were guitars. An American widow dances, her hand upon
her partner's shoulder, fitting herself into him, finding a nook
between his arm and side, and her head is leaned upon his shoulder.
She follows his every step; when he reverses there is never a hitch or
jolt; they are always going to the same rhythm. How delicious are
these moments of sex and rhythm, and how intense if the woman should
take a little handkerchief edged with black and thrust it into her
dancer's cuff with some little murmur implying that she wishes him to
keep it. To whomsoever these things happen life becomes a song. A
little event of this kind lifts one out of the humdrum of material
existence. I suppose the cause of our extraordinary happiness is that
one is again, as it were, marching in step; one has dropped into the
Great Procession and is actively doing the great Work. There is no
denying it, that in these moments of sex one does feel more conscious
than at any other time of rhythm, and, after all, rhythm is joy. It is
rhythm that makes music, that makes poetry, that makes pictures; what
we are all after is rhythm, and the whole of the young man's life is
going to a tune as he walks home, to the same tune as the stars are
going over his head. All things are singing together. And he sings as
he passes the _concierge's_ lodge, pitying the poor couple
asleep--what do they know of love? Humble beasts unable to experience
the joy of rhythm. Exalted he goes upstairs; he is on rhythm bent,
words follow ideas, rhymes follow words, and he sits down at his
writing-table and drawing forth a sheet of paper he writes. A song
moves within him, a fragrant song of blond hair and perfume--the
handkerchief inspires him, and he must get the rondel perfect: a
rondel, or something like a rondel, which he will read to her
tomorrow, for she has appointed to meet him--where? No better place
for lovers than the garden of L'Église de la Trinité. His night passes
in shallow sleep; but his wakings are delicious, for at every awaking
he perceives a faint odour of violets. He dreams of blond hair and how
carefully he will dress himself in the morning! Would she like him
better in his yellow or his grey trousers? Or should he wear a violet
or a grey necktie? These are the questions that are important; and
what more important questions are there for a young man of twenty-five
going to meet a delicious little Dresden figure with blond hair and
forget-me-not eyes in the garden of L'Église de la Trinité? He knows
she will come, only he hopes not to be kept too long waiting, and at
ten o'clock he is there for sure, walking up and down watching the
nursemaids and the perambulators drawn up in the shade. On another
occasion he might have looked at the nursemaids, but this day the
prettiest is plain-featured; they are but the ordinary bread of
existence; to-day he is going to partake of more extraordinary fare.
He hopes so, at least, and the twenty years that have gone by have
done nothing to obliterate the moment when he saw her walk across the
gravelled space, a dainty little woman with blond hair, dressed in
black, coming to her appointment. The dreamer sees her and her lover
going together out of the garden. He follows them down the street,
hearing them talking, trying to decide where they shall go to
breakfast. To take her to a Parisian restaurant would be a common
pleasure. He is bent on taking her to the country. Both want to sit on
the warm grass and kiss each other peradventure. All souls dream of
the country when they are in love; and she would hear him tell her
that he loves her under the shade of trees. She is Chloe, and he is
whomsoever was Chloe's lover. Whither are they going? Are they going
to Bougeval? Many things may be said in its favour, but he has been
there; and he has been to Meudon; he would go with her to some place
where he has never been before, and where perchance he will never be
again. Vincennes? The name is a pretty one, and it lures him. And they
go there, arriving about eleven o'clock, a little early for breakfast.

The sun is shining, the sky is blue, white clouds are unfolding--like
gay pennants they seem to him. He is glad the sun is shining--all is
omen, all is oracle, the clouds are the love pennants of the sky. What
a chatter of thoughts and images are going on in his brain, perchance
in hers, too! Moreover, there is her poem in his pocket--he must read
it to her, and that she may hear it they sit upon the grass. Twenty
years ago there was some rough grass facing the villas, and some trees
and bushes, with here and there a bench for lovers to sit upon--for
all kinds of people to sit upon, but lovers think that this world is
made only for lovers. Only love is of serious account, and the object
of all music and poetry, of pictures and sculpture, is to incite love,
to praise love, to make love seem the only serious occupation.
Vincennes, its trees and its white clouds lifting themselves in the
blue sky, were regarded that day by these lovers as a very suitable
setting for their gallantries. The dear little woman sits--the dreamer
can see her on the warm grass--hidden as well as she can hide herself
behind some bushes, the black crêpe dress hiding her feet or
pretending to hide them. White stockings were the fashion; she wears
white stockings, and how pretty and charming they look in the little
black shoes! The younger generation now only knows black stockings;
the charms of white are only known to the middle-aged. But the young
man must read her his poem. He wants her to hear it because the poem
pleases him, and because he feels that his poem will aid him to her
affections. And when she asks him if he has thought of her during the
night, he has to answer that her violet-scented handkerchief awoke him
many times, that the wakings were delicious. What time did he go to
bed? Very late; he had sat up writing a poem to her telling of the
beauty of her blond hair.

 "Lady, unwreath thy hair,
  That is so long and fair.
  May flowers are not more sweet
  Than the shower of loosened hair
  That will fall around my feet.
  Lady, unwreath thy hair,
  That is so long and fair.

 "The golden curls they paint,
  Round the forehead of a saint,
  Ne'er glittered half so bright
  As thy enchanted hair,
  Full of shadow, full of light.
  Lady, unwreath thy hair,
  That is so long and fair.

 "Lady, unwreath thy hair,
  That is so long and fair,
  And weave a web of gold
  Of thy enchanted hair,
  Till all be in its hold.
  Lady, unwreath thy hair,
  That is so long and fair."

"Do let me see your poem.... It is charming. But what do you mean by
'enchanted hair'? Is it that my hair has enchanted you? 'And weave a
web of gold.'... 'Unwreath'--do you mean unloose my hair?"

 "Dames, tressez vos cheveux blonds
  Qui sont si lourds et si longs.

"How well it goes with French!"

"I don't understand French, but I like your poem in English. Do you
know, I like it very much!"

It is easy to obtain appreciation for poetry in such circumstances.
Horace's best ode would not please a young woman as much as the
mediocre verses of the young man she is in love with. It is well that
it should be so, and this is the dreamer's criticism of life as he
sits lost in shadow, lit up here and there by the blaze. He remembers
the warmth of the grass and the scanty bushes; there was hardly
sufficient cover that spring day for lovers in Vincennes, and he tries
to remember if he put his hand on her white ankle while she was
reading the poem. So far as he can remember he did, and she checked
him and was rather cross, declaring just like the puss-cat that he
must not do such things, that she would not have come out with him had
she thought he was going to misbehave himself in that way. But she is
not really angry with him. How can she be? Was it not he who wrote
that her hair was enchanted? And what concern is it of hers that the
phrase was borrowed from another poet? Her concern is that he should
think her hair enchanted, and her hands go up to it. The young man
prays to unloose it, to let it fall about her shoulders. He must be
paid for his poem, and the only payment he will accept is to see her
hair unwreathed.

"But I cannot undo my hair on the common. Is there no other payment?"
and she leans a little forward, her eyes fixed upon him. The dreamer
can see her eyes, clear young eyes, but he cannot remember her mouth,
how full the lips were or how thin; ah, but he remembers kissing her!
On such a day a young man kisses his young woman, and it may be
doubted if the young woman would ever go out with him again if he
refrained, the circumstances being as I describe. But the lovers of
Vincennes have to be careful. The lady with the enchanted hair has
just spied a middle-aged gentleman with his two sons sitting on a
bench at a little distance.

"Do be quiet, I beg of you. I assure you, he saw us."

"If he did it would matter little; he would remember his young days,
before his children were born. Moreover, he looks kindly disposed."

Later on the lovers address themselves to him, for time wears away
even with lovers, and the desire of breakfast has come upon them both.
The kindly disposed gentleman tells them the way to the restaurant. He
insists even on walking part of the way with them, and they learn from
him that the restaurant has only just been opened for the season; the
season is not yet fairly begun, but no doubt they will be able to get
something to eat, an omelette and a cutlet.

Now the accomplished story-teller would look forward to this
restaurant; already his thoughts would fix themselves on a _cabinet
particulier_, and his fancy, if he were a naturalistic writer,
would rejoice in recording the fact that the mirror was scrawled over
with names of lovers, and he would select the ugliest names. But, dear
reader, if you are expecting a _cabinet particulier_ in this
story, and an amorous encounter to take place therein, turn the page
at once--you will be disappointed if you do not; this story contains
nothing that will shock your--shall I say your "prudish
susceptibilities"? When the auburn-haired poet and the corn-coloured
American lunched at Vincennes they chose a table by the window in the
great long _salle_ lined with tables, and they were attended by
an army of waiters weary of their leisure.

There was a lake at Vincennes then, I am sure, with an island upon it
and tall saplings, through which the morning sun was shining. The eyes
of the lovers admired the scene, and they admired too the pretty
reflections, and the swans moving about the island. The accomplished
story-teller cries, "But if there is to be no scene in the restaurant,
how is the story to finish?" Why should stories finish? And would a
sensual _dénouement_ be a better end than, let us say, that the
lovers are caught in a shower as they leave the restaurant? Such an
accident might have happened: nothing is more likely than a shower at
the end of April or the beginning of May, and I can imagine the lovers
of Vincennes rushing into one of the _concierge's_ lodges at the
gates of the villas.

"For a few minutes," they say; "the rain will be over soon."

But they are not long there when a servant appears carrying three
umbrellas; she gives one to Marie, one to me; she keeps one for
herself.

"But who is she? You told me you knew no one at Vincennes."

"No more I do."

"But you must know the people who live here; the servant says that
Monsieur (meaning her master) knows Monsieur (meaning you)."

"I swear to you I don't know anybody here; but let's go--it will be
rather fun."

"But what shall we say in explanation? Shall we say we're cousins?"

"Nobody believes in cousins; shall we say we're husband and wife?"

The dreamer sees two figures; memory reflects them like a convex
mirror, reducing them to a tenth their original size, but he sees them
clearly, and he follows them through the rain up the steps of the
villa to the _perron_--an explicit word that the English language
lacks. The young man continues to protest that he never was at
Vincennes before, that he knows no one living there, and they are both
a little excited by the adventure. Who can be the owner of the house?
A man of ordinary tastes, it would seem, and while waiting for their
host the lovers examine the Turkey carpet, the richly upholstered
sofas and chairs.

A pretty little situation from which an accomplished story-teller
could evolve some playful imaginings. The accomplished story-teller
would see at once that _le bon bourgeois et sa dame_ and the
children are learning English, and here is an occasion of practice for
the whole family. The accomplished story-teller would see at once that
the family must take a fancy to the young couple, and in his story the
rain must continue to fall in torrents; these would prevent the lovers
from returning to Paris. Why should they not stay to dinner? After
dinner the accomplished story-teller would bring in a number of
neighbours, and set them dancing and singing. What easier to suppose
than that it was _la bourgeoise's_ evening at home? The young
couple would sit in a distant corner oblivious to all but their own
sweet selves. _Le bourgeois et sa dame_ would watch them with
kindly interest, deeming it a kindness not to tell them that there
were no trains after twelve; and when the lovers at last determined
that they must depart, _le bourgeois_ and _la bourgeoise_
would tell them that their room was quite ready, that there was no
possibility of returning to Paris that night. A pretty little
situation that might with advantage be placed on the stage--on the
French stage. A pretty, although a painful, dilemma for a young woman
to find herself in, particularly when she is passionately in love with
the young man. "Bitterly," the accomplished story-teller would say,
"did the young widow regret the sacrifice to propriety she had made in
allowing her young man to pass her off as his wife!" The accomplished
story-teller would then assure his reader that the pretty American had
acted precisely as a lady should act under the circumstances. But not
being myself an accomplished story-teller, I will not attempt to say
how a lady should act in such a situation, and it would be a fatuous
thing for me to suggest that the lady was passionately in love. The
situation that my fancy creates is ingenious; and I regret it did not
happen. Nature spins her romances differently; and I feel sure that
the lovers returned from Vincennes merely a little fluttered by their
adventure. The reader would like to know if any appointment was made
to meet again; if one was made it must have been for the next day or
the next, for have we not imagined the young widow's passage already
taken? Did she not tell that she was going back to America at the end
of the week? He had said: "In a few days the Atlantic will be between
us," and this fact had made them feel very sad, for the Atlantic is a
big thing and cannot be ignored, particularly in love affairs. It
would have been better for the poet if he had accepted the bourgeois'
invitation to dinner; friends, as I suggested, might have come in, an
impromptu dance might have been arranged, or the rain might have begun
again; something would certainly have happened to make them miss the
train; and they would have been asked to stay the night. The widow did
not speak French, the young man did; he might have arranged it all
with the _bourgeois et sa dame_, and the dear little widow might
never have known her fate--O happy fate!--until the time came for them
to go to their room. But he, foolish fellow, missed the chance the
rain gave him, and all that came of this outing was a promise to come
back next year, and to dance the Boston with him again; meanwhile he
must wear her garter upon his arm. Did the suggestion that she should
give him her garter come from her or from him? Was the garter given in
the cab when they returned from Vincennes, or was it given the next
time they met in Paris? To answer these questions would not help the
story; suffice it to say that she said that the elastic would last a
year, and when she took his arm and found it upon it she would know
that he had been faithful to her. There was the little handkerchief
which she had given him, and this he must keep in a drawer. Perhaps
some of the scent would survive this long year of separation. I am
sure that she charged him to write a letter to the steamer she had
taken her passage in, and, careless fellow! instead of doing so he
wrote verses, and the end of all this love affair, which began so
well, was an angry letter bidding him good-bye for ever, saying he was
not worthy because he had missed the post. All this happened twenty
years ago; perhaps the earth is over her charming little personality,
and it will be over me before long. Nothing endures; life is but
change. What we call death is only change. Death and life always
overlapping, mixed inextricably, and no meaning in anything, merely a
stream of change in which things happen. Sometimes the happenings are
pleasant, sometimes unpleasant, and in neither the pleasant nor the
unpleasant can we detect any purpose. Twenty long years ago, and there
is no hope, not a particle.

       *       *       *       *       *

I have come to the end of my mood; an ache in my heart brings me to my
feet, and looking round I cry out: "How dark is the room! Why is there
no light? Bring in the lamp!"



CHAPTER XII

SUNDAY EVENING IN LONDON


Married folk always know, only the bachelor asks, "Where shall I dine?
Shall I spend two shillings in a chop-house, or five in my club, or
ten at the Café Royal?" For two or three more shillings one may sit on
the balcony of the Savoy, facing the spectacle of evening darkening on
the river, with lights of bridge and wharf and warehouse afloat in the
tide. Married folk know their bedfellows; bachelors, and perhaps
spinsters, are not so sure of theirs: this is a side issue which we
will not pursue; an allusion to it will suffice to bring before the
reader the radical difference between the lives of the married and the
unmarried. O married ones, from breakfast to six, only, do our lives
resemble yours! At that hour we begin to experience a sense of freedom
and, I confess it, of loneliness. Perhaps life is essentially a lonely
thing, and the married and the unmarried differ only in this, that we
are lonely when we are by ourselves, and they are lonely when they are
together.

At half-past six the bachelor has to tidy up after the day's work, to
put his picture away if he be a painter, to put his writings away if
he be a writer, and then the very serious question arises, with whom
shall he dine? His thoughts fly through Belgravia and Mayfair, and
after whisking round Portman Square, and some other square in the
northern neighbourhood, they soar and go away northward to Regent's
Park, seeking out somebody living in one of those stately terraces who
will ask him to stay to dinner. At So-and-So's there is always a round
of beef and cold chicken-pie, whereas What-do-you-call-them's begin
with soup. But really the food is not of much consequence; it is
interesting company he seeks.

It was last week that I realised, and for the first time, how
different was the life of the married from the unmarried. The day was
Sunday, and I had been writing all day, and in the hush that begins
about six o'clock I remembered I had no dinner engagement that
evening. The cup of tea I generally take about half-past four had
enabled me to do another hour's work, but a little after six sentences
refused to form themselves, a little dizziness began in the brain, and
the question not only "Where shall I dine?" but "Where shall I pass
the hour before dinner?" presented itself. The first thing to do was
to dress, and while dressing I remembered that I had not wandered in
St. James's Park for some time, and that that park since boyhood had
fascinated me. St. James's Park and the Green Park have never been
divided in my admiration of their beauty. The trees that grow along
the Piccadilly railings are more beautiful in St. James's Park, or
seem so, for the dells are well designed. The art of landscape-gardening
is more akin to the art of a musician than to that of
a painter; it is a sort of architecture with colour added. The
formal landscape-gardening of Versailles reminds one of a tragedy by
Racine, but the romantic modulations of the green hills along the
Piccadilly areas are as enchanting as Haydn. There was a time when a
boy used to walk from Brompton to Piccadilly to see, not the dells,
but the women going home from the Argyle Rooms and the Alhambra, but
after a slight hesitation he often crossed from the frequented to the
silent side, to stand in admiration of the white rays of moonlight
stealing between the trunks of the trees, allowing him to perceive the
shapes of the hollows through the darkness. The trees grow so
beautifully about these mounds, and upon the mounds, that it is easy
to fill the interspaces with figures from Gainsborough's pictures,
ladies in hoops and powdered hair, elegant gentlemen wearing buckled
shoes, tail-coats, and the swords which made them gentlemen.
Gainsborough did not make his gentlemen plead--that was his fault; but
Watteau's ladies put their fans to their lips so archly, asking the
pleading lover if he believes all he says, knowing well that his vows
are only part of the gracious entertainment. But why did not the great
designer of St. James's Park build little Greek temples--those
pillared and domed temples which give such grace to English parks?
Perhaps the great artist who laid out the Green Park was a moralist
and a seer, and divining the stream of ladies that come up from
Brompton to Piccadilly he thought--well, well, his thoughts were his
own, and now the earth is over him, as Rossetti would say.

Five-and-twenty years ago the white rays slanted between the
tree-trunks, and the interspaces lengthened out, disappearing in
illusive lights and shades, and, ascending the hill, the boy used to
look over the empty plain, wondering at the lights of the Horse Guards
shining far away like a village. Perhaps to-night, about midnight, I
may find myself in Piccadilly again, for we change very little; what
interested us in our youth interests us almost to the end. St. James's
Park is perhaps more beautiful in the sunset--there is the lake, and,
led by remembrance of some sunsets I had seen on it, I turned out of
Victoria Street last Sunday, taking the eastern gate, my thoughts
occupied with beautiful Nature, seeing in imagination the shapes of
the trees designing themselves grandly against the sky, and the little
life of the ponds--the ducks going hither and thither, every duck
intent upon its own business and its own desire. I was extremely
fortunate, for the effect of light in the Green Park was more
beautiful last Sunday than anything I had ever seen; the branches of
the tall plane trees hung over the greensward, the deciduous foliage
hardly stirring in the pale sunshine, and my heart went out to the
ceremonious and cynical garden, artificial as eighteenth-century
couplets. Wild Nature repels me; and I thought how interesting it was
to consider one's self, to ponder one's sympathies. Our antipathies
are not quite so interesting to consider, but they are interesting,
too, in a way, for they belong to one's self, and self is man's main
business: all outside of self is uncertain; all comes from self, all
returns to self. The reason I desired St. James's Park last Sunday was
surely because it was part of me--not that part known to my friends;
our friends understand only those margins of themselves which they
discover in us. Never did I meet one who discovered for himself or
herself that I loved trees better than flowers, or was deeply
interested in the fact when attention was called to it....

I watch the trees and never weary of their swaying--solemnly silent
and strangely green they are in the long, rainy days, excited when a
breeze is blowing; in fine weather they gossip like frivolous girls!
In their tremulous decline they are more beautiful than ever, far more
beautiful than flowers. Now, I am telling myself, the very
subconscious soul is speaking. And with what extraordinary loveliness
did the long branches hang out of the tall, stately plane trees like
plumes; in the hush of sound and decline of light the droop of the
deciduous foliage spoke like a memory. I seemed to have known the park
for centuries; yon glade I recognised as one that Watteau had painted.
But in what picture? It is difficult to say, so easily do his pictures
flow one into the other, always the same melancholy, the melancholy of
festival, that pain in the heart, that yearning for the beyond which
all suffer whose business in life is to wear painted or embroidered
dresses, and to listen or to plead, with this for sole variation, that
they who listen to-day will plead to-morrow. Watteau divined the
sorrow of those who sit under colonnades always playing some part,
great or small, in love's comedy, listening to the murmur of the
fountain, watching a gentleman and lady advancing and bowing, bowing
and retiring, dancing a pavane on a richly coloured carpet. Pierrot,
the white, sensual animal, the eighteenth-century modification of the
satyr, of the faun, plays a guitar; the pipe of Pan has been exchanged
for a guitar.

As the twilight gathered under the plane trees my vision became more
mixed and morbid, and I hardly knew if the picture I saw was the
picture in the Dulwich Gallery or the exquisite picture in the Louvre,
"Une Assemblée dans la Parc." We all know that picture, the gallants
and the ladies by the water-side, and the blue evening showing through
the tall trees. The picture before me was like that picture, only the
placing of the trees and the slope of the greensward did not admit of
so extended a composition. A rough tree-trunk, from which a great
branch had been broken or lopped off, stood out suddenly in very
nineteenth-century naturalness, awaking the ghost of a picture which I
recognised at once as Corot. Behind the tree a tender, evanescent sky,
pure and transparent as the very heart of a flower, rose up, filling
the park with romance, and as the sunset drooped upon the water, my
soul said, "The Lake!" Ah, the pensive shadow that falls from the
hills on either side of "The Lake," leaving the middle of the picture
suffused with a long stream of light, narrowing as it approached the
low horizon. But the line of the trees on the hither side of this
London lake was heavier than the spiritual trees in the picture
entitled "By the Water-side," and there was not anywhere the beauty of
the broken birch that leans over the lake in "Le Lac de Garde." Then I
thought of "The Ravine," for the darkening island reminded me of the
hillside in the picture. But the St. James's Park sky lacked the
refined concentration of light in "The Ravine," so beautifully placed,
low down in the picture, behind some dark branches jutting from the
right. The difference between Nature and Corot is as great as the
difference between a true and a false Corot. Not that there is
anything untrue in Nature, only Nature lacks humanity--self! Therefore
not quite so interesting as a good Corot.

So did I chatter to myself as I walked toward the bridge, that dear
bridge, thrown straight as a plank across the lake, with numerous
water-fowl collected there, a black swan driving the ducks about,
snatching more than his due share of bread, and little children
staring stolidly, afraid of the swan, and constantly reproved by their
mothers for reasons which must always seem obscure to the bachelor. A
little breeze was blowing, and the ducks bobbed like corks in the
waves, keeping themselves in place with graceful side-strokes of their
webbed feet. Sometimes the ducks rose from the water and flew round
the trees by Queen Anne's Mansions, or they fled down the lake with
outstretched necks like ducks on a Japanese fan, dropping at last into
the water by the darkening island, leaving long silver lines, which
the night instantly obliterated.

An impression of passing away, of the effacement of individual life.
One sighs, remembering that it is even so, that life passes, sunrise
after sunrise, moonlight upon moonlight, evening upon evening, and we
like May-flies on the surface of a stream, no more than they for all
our poets and priests.

The clock struck seven, reminding me of the dinner-hour, reminding
me that I should have to dine alone that evening. To avoid dining
alone I should not have lingered in St. James's Park, but if I had
not lingered I should have missed an exquisite hour of meditation,
and meditations are as necessary to me as absinthe to the
absinthe-drinker. Only some little incident was wanting--a meeting
with one whom one has not seen for a long time, a man or a woman, it
would not matter which, a peg whereon to hang the description of the
dusk among the trees, but I had met no friend in the Park. But one
appeared on the threshold of St. James's Street. There I met a young
man, a painter, one whose pictures interested me sometimes, and we
went to a restaurant to talk art.

"After dinner," I said, "we will get the best cigars and walk about
the circus. Every Sunday night it is crowded; we shall see the women
hurrying to and fro on love's quest. The warm night will bring them
all out in white dresses, and a white dress in the moonlight is an
enchantment. Don't you like the feather boas reaching almost to the
ground? I do. Lights-o'-love going about their business interest me
extraordinarily, for they and the tinkers and gipsies are the last
that remain of the old world when outlawry was common. Now we are all
socialists, more or less occupied with the performance of duties which
obtain every one's approval. Methinks it is a relief to know that
somebody lives out of society. I like all this London, this midnight
London, when the round moon rises above the gracious line of Regent
Street, and flaming Jupiter soars like a hawk, following some quest of
his own. We on our little, he on his greater quest."

       *       *       *       *       *

The night was hot and breathless, like a fume, and upon a great silken
sky the circular and sonorous street circled like an amphitheatre....
I threw open my light overcoat, and, seizing the arm of my friend, I
said:

"He reminds me of a Turk lying amid houris. The gnawing, creeping
sensualities of his phrase--his one phrase--how descriptive it is of
the form and whiteness of a shoulder, the supple fulness of the arm's
muscle, the brightness of eyes increased by kohl! Scent is burning on
silver dishes, and through the fumes appear the subdued colours of
embroidered stuffs and the inscrutable traceries of bronze lamps. Or,
maybe, the scene passes on a terrace overlooking a dark river. Behind
the domes and minarets a yellow moon dreams like an odalisque, her
hand on the circle of her breast; and through the torrid silence of
the garden, through the odour of over-ripe fruit and the falling sound
thereof, comes the melancholy warble of a fountain. Or is it the
sorrow of lilies rising through the languid air to the sky? The night
is blue and breathless; the spasms of the lightning are intermittent
among the minarets and the domes; the hot, fierce fever of the garden
waxes in the almond scent of peaches and the white odalisques
advancing, sleek oracles of mood.... He reminds me of the dark-eyed
Bohemian who comes into a tavern silently, and, standing in a corner,
plays long, wild, ravishing strains. I see him not, I hardly hear him;
my thoughts are far away; my soul slumbers, desiring nothing. I care
not to lift my head. Why should I break the spell of my meditations?
But I feel that his dark eyes are fixed upon me, and little by little,
in spite of my will, my senses awake; a strange germination is in
progress within me; thoughts and desires that I dread, of whose
existence in myself I was not aware, whose existence in myself I would
fain deny, come swiftly and come slowly, and settle and absorb and
become part of me.... Fear is upon me, but I may not pause; I am
hurried on; repudiation is impossible, supplication and the wringing
of hands are vain; God has abandoned me; my worst nature is uppermost.
I see it floating up from the depths of my being, a viscous scum. But
I can do nothing to check or control.... God has abandoned me.... I am
the prey to that dark, sensual-eyed Bohemian and his abominable
fiddle; and seizing my bank-notes, my gold and my silver, I throw him
all I have. I bid him cease, and fall back exhausted. Give me "The
Ring," give me "The Ring." Its cloud palaces, its sea-caves and
forests, and the animality therein, its giants and dwarfs and sirens,
its mankind and its godkind--surely it is nearer to life! Or go into
the meadows with Beethoven, and listen to the lark and the blackbird!
We are nearer life lying by a shady brook, hearing the quail in the
meadows and the yellow-hammer in the thicket, than we are now, under
this oppressive sky. This street is like Klinsor's garden; here, too,
are flower-maidens--patchouli, jessamine, violet. Here is the
languorous atmosphere of "Parsifal." Come, let us go; let us seek the
country, the moon-haunted dells we shall see through Piccadilly
railings. Have you ever stood in the dip of Piccadilly and watched the
moonlight among the trees, and imagined a comedy by Wycherley acted
there, a goodly company of gallants and fine ladies seated under the
trees watching it? Every one has come there in painted sedan-chairs;
the bearers are gathered together at a little distance."

"My dear friend, you're talking so much that you don't see those who
are passing us. That girl, she who has just turned to look back,
favours heliotrope; it is delicious still upon the air; she is as
pretty a girl as any that ever came in a sedan-chair to see a comedy
by Wycherley. The comedy varies very little: it is always the same
comedy, and it is always interesting. The circus in a sultry summer
night under a full moon is very like Klinsor's garden. Come, if you be
not _Parsifal_."



CHAPTER XIII

RESURGAM


I was in London when my brother wrote telling me that mother was ill.
She was not in any immediate danger, he said, but if a change for the
worse were to take place, and it were necessary for me to come over,
he would send a telegram. A few hours after a telegram was handed to
me. It contained four words: "_Come at once.--Maurice._" "So
mother is dying," I muttered to myself, and I stood at gaze,
foreseeing myself taken into her room by a nurse and given a chair by
the bedside, foreseeing a hand lying outside the bed which I should
have to hold until I heard the death-rattle and saw her face become
quiet for ever.

This was my first vision, but in the midst of my packing, I remembered
that mother might linger for days. The dear friend who lies in the
church-yard under the downs lingered for weeks; every day her husband
and her children saw her dying under their eyes: why should not this
misfortune be mine? I know not to what God, but I prayed all night in
the train, and on board the boat; I got into the train at the
Broadstone praying. It is impossible, at least for me, to find words
to express adequately the agony of mind I endured on that journey.
Words can only hint at it, but I think that any one possessed of any
experience of life, or who has any gift of imagination, will be able
to guess at the terror that haunted me--terror of what?--not so much
that my mother might die, nor hope that she might live, but just that
I might arrive in time to see her die. In this confession I am afraid
I shall seem hard and selfish to some; that will be because many
people lack imagination, or the leisure to try to understand that
there are not only many degrees of sensibility, but many kinds, and it
is doubtful if any reader can say with truth any more than that my
sensibility is not his or hers. It is my privilege to be sympathetic
with ideas I do not share, and in certain moods I approach those who
take a sad pleasure in last words, good-byes, and at looking on the
dead. In my present mood it seems to me that it is not unlikely that
my mother's last good-bye and her death appeared to me more awful in
imagination than it would have ever done in reality. Indeed, there can
be hardly any doubt that this is so, for we are only half-conscious of
what is happening. Reality clouds, our actions mitigate, our
perception; we can see clearly only when we look back or forwards.
There is something very merciful about reality; if there were not, we
should not be able to live at all.

But to the journey. How shall I tell it? The third part must have been
the most painful, so clearly do I remember it: the curious agony of
mind caused by a sudden recognition of objects long forgotten--a tree
or a bit of bog-land. The familiar country, evocative of a great part
of my childhood, carried my thoughts hither and thither. My thoughts
ranged like the swallows; the birds had no doubt just arrived, and in
swift elliptical flights they hunted for gnats along the banks of the
old weedy canal. That weedy canal along which the train travelled took
my thoughts back to the very beginning of my life, when I stood at the
carriage window and plagued my father and mother with questions
regarding the life of the barges passing up and down. And it was the
sudden awakenings from these memories that were so terrible--the
sudden thrust of the thought that I was going westward to see my
mother die, and that nothing could save her from death or me from
seeing her die. Perhaps to find one's self suddenly deprived of all
will is the greatest suffering of all. How many times did I say to
myself, "Nothing can save me unless I get out at the next station,"
and I imagined myself taking a car and driving away through the
country! But if I did such a thing I should be looked upon as a
madman. "One is bound on a wheel," I muttered, and I began to think
how men under sentence of death must often wonder why they were
selected especially for such a fate, and the mystery, the riddle of it
all, must be perhaps the greatest part of their pain.

The morning was one of the most beautiful I had ever seen, and I used
to catch myself thinking out a picturesque expression to describe it.
It seemed to me that the earth might be compared to an egg, it looked
so warm under the white sky, and the sky was as soft as the breast
feathers of a dove. This sudden bow-wowing of the literary skeleton
made me feel that I wanted to kick myself. Nature has forgotten to
provide us with a third leg whereby we may revenge ourselves on
instincts that we cannot control. A moment afterward I found myself
plunged in reflections regarding the impossibility of keeping one's
thoughts fixed on any one subject for any considerable length of time.
At the end of these reflections I fell back, wondering, again asking
if I were really destined to watch by my mother's death-bed. That day
I seemed to become a sheer mentality, a sort of buzz of thought, and I
could think of myself only as of a fly climbing a glass dome. It
seemed to me that I was like a fly climbing and falling back, buzzing,
and climbing again. "Never," I said to myself, "have I been more than
a fly buzzing in a glass dome. And, good Lord, who made the glass
dome?" How often did I ask myself that question, and why it was made,
and if it were going to endure for ever!

In such sore perplexity of mind questions from anybody would be
intolerable, and I shrank back into the corner of the carriage
whenever a passer-by reminded me, however vaguely, of anybody I had
ever known; the mental strain increased mile after mile, for the names
of the stations grew more familiar. I began to try to remember how
many there were before we arrived at Claremorris, the station at which
I was going to get out. Half an hour afterward the train slackened,
the porter cried out "Ballyhaunis." The next would be Claremorris, and
I watched every field, foreseeing the long road, myself on one side of
the car, the driver on the other; a two hours' drive in silence or in
talk--in talk, for I should have to tell him my errand.... He might be
able to tell me about my mother, if the news of her illness had got as
far as Claremorris. At the public-house where I went to get a car I
made inquiries, but nothing was known. My mother must have fallen ill
suddenly--of what? I had not heard she was ailing; I did not remember
her ever to have been ill. At that moment some trees reminded me that
we were close to Ballyglass, and my thoughts wandered away to the long
road on the other side of the hill, and I saw there (for do we not
often see things in memory as plainly as if they were before us?) the
two cream-coloured ponies, Ivory and Primrose, she used to drive, and
the phaeton, and myself in it, a little child in frocks, anxious,
above all things, to see the mail-coach go by. A great sight it was to
see it go by with mail-bags and luggage, the guard blowing a horn, the
horses trotting splendidly, the lengthy reins swinging, and the
driver, his head leaned a little on one side to save his hat from
being blown away--he used to wear a grey beaver hat. The great event
of that time was the day that we went to Ballyglass, not to see the
coach go by, but to get into it, for in those days the railway stopped
at Athenry. And that was the day I saw the canal, and heard with
astonishment that there was a time long ago, no doubt in my father's
youth, when people used to go to Dublin in a barge. Those memories
were like a stupor, and awaking suddenly I saw that more than two and
a half miles lay between me and my mother. In half an hour more I
should know whether she were alive or dead, and I watched the horse
trotting, interested in his shambling gait, or not at all interested
in it--I do not know which. On occasions of great nervous tension one
observes everything.... Everything I remembered best appeared with
mechanical regularity; now it was a wood, a while afterward somebody's
farmyard, later on a line of cottages, another wood, one of my own
gate lodges. An old sawyer lived in it now--looking after it for me;
and I hoped that the wheels of the car would not bring him out, for it
would distress me to see him. The firs in the low-lying land had grown
a little within the last thirty years, but not much. We came to the
bridge; we left it behind us; the gate lodge and the drive from it;
the plantation that I knew so well, the lilac bushes, the laburnums--good
Heavens! How terrible was all this resurrection! Mists hide the
mountains from us, the present hides the past; but there are times
when the present does not exist at all, when every mist is cleared
away, and the past confronts us in naked outline, and that perhaps is
why it is so painful to me to return home. The little hill at the
beginning of the drive is but a little hill, but to me it is much
more, so intimately is it associated with all the pains and troubles
of childhood. All this park was once a fairyland to me; now it is but
a thin reality, a book which I have read, and the very thought of
which bores me, so well do I know it. There is the lilac bush! I used
to go there with my mother thirty years ago at this time of year, and
we used to come home with our hands full of bloom. Two more turnings
and we should be within sight of the house! This is how men feel when
condemned to death. I am sure of it. At the last hill the driver
allowed his horse to fall into a walk, but I begged of him to drive on
the horse, for I saw some peasants about the steps of the hall door;
they were waiting, no doubt, for news, or perhaps they had news. "We
have bad news for you," they cried in the wailing tones of the West.

"Not altogether bad news," I said to myself; "my mother is dead, but I
have been saved the useless pain, the torture of spirit, I should have
endured if I had arrived in time." China roses used to grow over the
railings; very few blooms were left. I noticed just a few as I ran up
the high steps, asking myself why I could not put the past behind me.
If ever there was a time to live in the present this was one; but
never was the present further from me and the past clearer than when I
opened the hall door and stood in the hall paved with grey stones and
painted grey and blue. Three generations had played there; in that
corner I had learned to spin my first top, and I had kept on trying,
showing a perseverance that amazed my father. He said, "If he will
show as much perseverance in other things as he does in the spinning
of a top, he will not fail." He used to catch me trying and trying to
spin that top when he came downstairs on his way to the stables to see
his beloved racehorses; that is the very chair on which he used to put
his hat and gloves. In those days tall hats were worn in the country,
and it was the business of his valet to keep them well brushed. How
the little old man used to watch me, objecting in a way to my spinning
my top in the hall, fearful lest I should overturn the chair on which
the hat stood: sometimes that did happen, and then, oh dear!

In search of some one I opened the drawing-room door. My sister was
there, and I found her on a sofa weeping for our mother, who had died
that morning. We are so constituted that we demand outward signs of
our emotions, especially of grief; we are doubtful of its genuineness
unless it is accompanied by sighs and tears; and that, I suppose, is
why my sister's tears were welcomed by me, for, truth to tell, I was a
little shocked at my own insensibility. This was stupid of me, for I
knew through experience that we do not begin to suffer immediately
after the accident; everything takes time, grief as well as pain. But
in a moment so awful as the one I am describing one does not reflect;
one falls back on the convention that grief and tears are inseparable
as fire and smoke. If I could not weep it were well that my sister
could, and I accepted her tears as a tribute paid to our mother's
goodness--a goodness which never failed, for it was instinctive. It
even seemed to me a pity that Nina had to dry her eyes so that she
might tell me the sad facts--when mother died, of her illness, and the
specialist that had not arrived in time. I learned that some one had
blundered--not that that mattered much, for mother would not have
submitted to an operation.

While listening to her, I unwittingly remembered how we used to talk
of the dear woman whose funeral I described in the pages entitled "A
Remembrance." We used to talk, her daughters and her son and her
husband and I, of her who was dying upstairs. We were greatly moved--I
at least appreciated my love of her--yet our talk would drift from her
suddenly, and we would speak of indifferent things, or maybe the
butler would arrive to tell us lunch was ready. How these incidents
jar our finer feelings! They seem to degrade life, and to such a point
that we are ashamed of living, and are tempted to regard life itself
as a disgrace.

I foresaw that the same interruptions, the same devagations, would
happen among ourselves in the square Georgian house standing on a
hill-top overlooking a long winding lake, as had happened among my
friends in the Italian house under the downs amid bunches of evergreen
oaks. Nor had I to wait long for one of these unhappy devagations. My
sister had to tell me who was staying in the house: an aunt was there,
my mother's sister, and an uncle, my mother's brother, was coming over
next day. It is easy to guess how the very mention of these names
beguiled us from what should be the subject of our thought. And the
room itself supplied plenty of distractions: all the old furniture,
the colour of the walls, the very atmosphere of the room took my
thought back to my childhood. The sofa on which my sister was sitting
had been broken years ago, and I unwittingly remembered how it had
been broken. It had been taken away to a lumber-room; somebody had had
it mended. I began to wonder who had done this--mother, most likely;
she looked after every thing. I have said that I had just arrived
after a long journey. I had eaten nothing since the night before. My
sister spoke of lunch and we went into the dining-room, and in the
middle of the meal my brother came in looking so very solemn that I
began to wonder if he had assumed the expression he thought
appropriate to the occasion--I mean if he had involuntarily
exaggerated the expression of grief he would naturally wear. We are so
constituted that the true and the false overlap each other, and so
subtly that no analysis can determine where one ends and the other
begins. I remembered how the relatives and the friends on the day of
the funeral in Sussex arrived, each one with a very grave face,
perchance interrupting us in the middle of some trivial conversation;
if so, we instantly became grave and talked of the dead woman
sympathetically for a few minutes; then on the first opportunity, and
with a feeling of relief, we began to talk of indifferent things; and
with every fresh arrival the comedy was re-acted. Returning from the
past to the present, I listened to my brother, who was speaking of the
blunder that had been made: how a wrong doctor had come down owing
to--the fault was laid upon somebody, no matter upon whom; the subject
was a painful one and might well have been dropped, but he did not
dare to talk of anything but our mother, and we all strove to carry on
the conversation as long as possible. But my brother and I had not
seen each other for years; he had come back from India after a long
absence. Nor, I think, had I seen my sister since she was married, and
that was a long while ago; she had had children; I had not seen her
before in middle age. We were anxious to ask each other questions, to
hear each other's news, and we were anxious to see the landscape that
we had not seen, at least not together, for many years; and I remember
how we were tempted out of the house by the soft sunlight floating on
the lawn. The same gentle day full of mist and sunlight that I had
watched since early morning had been prolonged, and the evening
differed hardly from the morning; the exaltation in the air was a
little more intense. My mother died certainly on the most beautiful
day I had ever seen, the most winsome, the most white, the most
wanton, as full of love as a girl in a lane who stops to gather a
spray of hawthorn. How many times, like many another, did I wonder why
death should have come to any one on such a bridal-like day. That we
should expect Nature to prepare a decoration in accordance with our
moods is part of the old savagery. Through reason we know that Nature
cares for us not at all, that our sufferings concern her not in the
least, but our instincts conform to the time when the sun stood still
and angels were about. It was impossible for us not to wonder why the
black shadow of death should have fallen across the white radiant day.
I say "us," for my brother no doubt pondered the coincidence, though
he did not speak his thoughts to me. No one dares to speak such
thoughts; they are the foolish substance of ourselves which we try to
conceal from others, forgetting that we are all alike. The day moved
slowly from afternoon to evening, like a bride hidden within a white
veil, her hands and her veil filled with white blossom; but a black
bird, tiny like a humming-bird, had perched upon a bunch of blossom,
and I seemed to lose sight of the day in the sinister black speck that
had intruded itself upon it. No doubt I could think of something
better were I to set my mind upon doing so, but that is how I thought
the day I walked on the lawn with my brother, ashamed and yet
compelled to talk of what our lives had been during the years that
separated us. How could one be overpowered with grief amid so many
distracting circumstances? Everything I saw was at once new and old. I
had come among my brother and sister suddenly, not having seen them,
as I have said, for many years; this was our first meeting since
childhood, and we were assembled in the house where we had all been
born. The ivy grown all over one side of the house, the disappearance
of the laburnum, the gap in the woods--these things were new; but the
lake that I had not seen since a little child I did not need to look
at, so well did I know how every shore was bent, and the place of
every island. My first adventures began on that long yellow strand; I
did not need to turn my head to see it, for I knew that trees
intervened and I knew the twisting path through the wood. That yellow
strand speckled with tufts of rushes was my first playground. But when
my brother proposed that we should walk there, I found some excuse;
why go? The reality would destroy the dream. What reality could equal
my memory of the firs where the rabbits burrowed, of the drain where
we fished for minnows, of the long strand with the lake far away in
summertime? How well I remember that yellow sand, hard and level in
some places as the floor of a ball-room. The water there is so shallow
that our governess used to allow us to wander at will, to run on ahead
in pursuit of a sandpiper. The bird used to fly round with little
cries; and we often used to think it was wounded; perhaps it pretended
to be wounded in order to lead us away from its nest. We did not think
it possible to see the lake in any new aspect, yet there it lay as we
had never seen it before, so still, so soft, so grey, like a white
muslin scarf flowing out, winding past island and headland. The
silence was so intense that one thought of the fairy-books of long
ago, of sleeping woods and haunted castles; there were the castles on
islands lying in misted water, faint as dreams. Now and then a bird
uttered a piercing little chatter from the branches of the tall
larches, and ducks talked in the reeds, but their talk was only a soft
murmur, hardly louder than the rustle of the reeds now in full leaf.
Everything was spellbound that day; the shadows of reed and island
seemed fixed for ever as in a magic mirror--a mirror that somebody had
breathed upon, and, listening to the little gurgle of the water about
the limestone shingle, one seemed to hear eternity murmuring its sad
monotony.

The lake curves inland, forming a pleasant bay among the woods; there
is a sandy spit where some pines have found roothold, and they live on
somehow despite the harsh sallies of the wind in winter. Along the
shore dead reeds lie in rows three feet deep among the rushes; had
they been placed there by hand they could not have been placed with
more regularity; and there is an old cart-track, with hawthorns
growing out of a tumbled wall. The hillside is planted--beautiful
beeches and hollies at one end, and at the other some lawny
interspaces with tall larches swaying tasselled branches shedding
faint shadows. These were the wonder of my childhood. A path leads
through the wood, and under the rugged pine somebody has placed a
seat, a roughly hewn stone supported by two upright stones. For some
reason unknown to me this seat always suggested, even when I was a
child, a pilgrim's seat. I suppose the suggestion came from the
knowledge that my grandmother used to go every day to the tomb at the
end of the wood where her husband and sons lay, and whither she was
taken herself long ago when I was in frocks; and twenty years after my
father was taken there.

What a ceaseless recurrence of the same things! A hearse will appear
again in a few days, perhaps the same hearse, the horses covered up
with black made to look ridiculous with voluminous weed, the coachman
no better than a zany, the ominous superior mute directing the others
with a wand; there will be a procession of relatives and friends, all
wearing crepe and black gloves, and most of them thinking how soon
they can get back to their business: that masquerade which we call a
funeral!

Fearing premature burial (a very common fear), my mother had asked
that her burial should be postponed until a natural change in the
elements of her body should leave no doubt that life no longer
lingered there. And the interval between her death and her burial I
spent along the lake's shore. The same weather continued day after
day, and it is almost impossible to find words to express the beauty
of the grey reflection of the islands and the reeds, and the faint
evanescent shores floating away, disappearing in the sun-haze, and the
silence about the shores, a kind of enchanted silence, interrupted, as
I have said, only by the low gurgle of the water about the limestone
shingle. Now and then the song of a bird would break out, and all was
silence again.... "A silence that seems to come out of the very heart
of things!" I said, and I stopped to listen, like one at the world's
end; I walked on, wondering, through the rushes and tussocked grass
and juniper bushes which grew along the wilding shore, along the edge
of the wood. Coming from the town, I could not but admire the
emptiness of the country; hardly ever did I hear the sound of a human
voice or a footstep; only once did I meet some wood-gatherers, poor
women carrying bundles of faggots, bent under their loads. And
thinking that perchance I knew them--they were evidently from the
village; if so, I must have known them when I was a boy--I was
suddenly seized by an unaccountable dread or a shyness, occasioned no
doubt by the sense of the immense difference that time had effected in
us: they were the same, but I was different. The books I had pondered
and the pictures I had seen had estranged me from them, simple souls
that they were; and the consciousness of the injustice of the human
lot made it a pain to me to look into their eyes. So I was glad to be
able to pass behind some bushes, and to escape into the wood without
their perceiving me.

And coming upon pleasant interspaces, pleasanter even than those that
lingered in my memory, I lay down, for, though the days were the first
days of May, the grass was long and warm and ready for the scythe, the
tasselled branches of the tall larches swung faintly in a delicious
breeze, and the words of the old Irish poet came into my mind, "The
wood was like a harp in the hands of a harper." To see the boughs, to
listen to them, seemed a sufficient delight, and I began to admire the
low sky full of cotton-like clouds, and the white flower that was
beginning to light up the little leaves of the hedgerow, and I suppose
it was the May-flower that drew down upon me a sudden thought of the
beloved girl lost to me for ever. My mother's death had closed that
wound a little, but in a moment all my grief reappeared, the wound
gaped again, and it was impossible to stanch the bleeding.

A man cannot lament two women at the same time, and only a month ago
the most beautiful thing that had ever appeared in my life, an idea
which I knew from the first I was destined to follow, had appeared to
me, had stayed with me for a while, and had passed from me. All the
partial loves of my youth seemed to find expression at last in a
passion that would know no change. Who shall explain the mystery of
love that time cannot change? Fate is the only word that conveys any
idea of it, for of what use to say that her hair was blond and thick,
that her eyes were grey and blue? I had known many women before her,
and many had hair and eyes as fine and as deep as hers. But never one
but she had had the indispensable quality of making me feel I was more
intensely alive when she was by me than I was when she was away. It
is that tingle of life that we are always seeking, and that perhaps we
must lose in order to retain. On such a day, under the swaying
branches of the larches, the whiteness of the lake curving so
beautifully amid low shores could not fail to remind me of her body,
and its mystery reminded me of her mystery; but the melancholy line of
mountains rippling down the southern sky was not like her at all. One
forgets what is unlike, caring only to dwell upon what is like....
Thinking of her my senses grow dizzy, a sort of madness creeps up
behind the eyes. What an exquisite despair is this--that one shall
never possess that beautiful personality again, sweet-scented as the
May-time, that I shall never hold that dainty oval face in my hands
again, shall look into those beautiful eyes no more, that all the
intimacy of her person is now but a memory never to be renewed by
actual presence--in these moments of passionate memory one experiences
real grief, a pang that never has found expression perchance except in
Niobe; even that concentration of features is more an expression of
despair than grief. And it was the grief that this girl inspired that
prevented me from mourning my mother as I should like to have mourned
her, as she was worthy of being mourned, for she was a good woman, her
virtues shone with more admirable light year after year; and had I
lived with her, had I been with her during the last years of her life,
her death would have come upon me with a sense of personal loss; I
should have mourned her the day she died as I mourn her now,
intimately; when I am alone in the evening, when the fire is sinking,
the sweetness of her presence steals by me, and I realise what I lost
in losing her.

We do not grieve for the dead because they have been deprived of the
pleasures of this life (if this life be a pleasure), but because of
our own loss. But who would impugn such selfishness? It is the best
thing we have, it is our very selves. Think of a mistress's shame if
her lover were to tell her that he loved her because she wished to be
beloved, because he thought it would give her pleasure to be
loved--she would hate him for such altruism, and deem him unworthy of
her. She would certainly think like this, and turn her face from him
for a while until some desire of possession would send her back to
him. We are always thinking of ourselves directly or indirectly. I was
thinking of myself when shame prevented me from going to meet the poor
wood-gatherers; they would not have thought at all of the injustice of
having been left to the labour of the fields while I had gone forth to
enjoy the world; they would have been interested to see me again, and
a few kind words would have made their load seem easier on their
backs. Called back by a sudden association of ideas, I began to
consider that shameful injustice is undoubtedly a part of our human
lot, for we may only grieve passionately for the casual, or what seems
the merely casual; perhaps because the ultimate law is hidden from us;
I am thinking now of her who comes suddenly into our lives tempting us
with colour, fugitive as that of a flower, luring us with light as
rapid as the light shed from the wings of a dove. Why, I asked myself,
as I lay under the larches, are we to mourn transitory delight so
intensely, why should it possess us more entirely than the sorrow that
we experience for her who endured the labour of child-bearing, who
nourished us perchance at her breast, whose devotion to us was
unceasing, and who grew kindlier and more divorced from every thought
of self as the years went by? From injustice there can be no escape,
not a particle. At best we can, indeed we must, acquiesce in the fact
that the only sorrow to be found in our hearts for aged persons is a
sort of gentle sorrow, such as the year itself administers to our
senses in autumn, when we come home with our hands full of the
beautiful single dahlias that the Dutchmen loved and painted, bound up
with sprays of reddening creepers; we come home along the sunny roads
over which the yellow beeches lean so pathetically, and we are sad for
the year, but we do not grieve passionately; our hearts do not break.

Then again we cannot grieve as the conventions would have us
grieve--in strange dress; the very fact of wearing crepe and black
gloves alienates us from our real selves; we are no longer ourselves,
we are mummers engaged in the performance of a masque. I could have
mourned my mother better without crêpe. "There never has been invented
anything so horrible as the modern funeral," I cried out. A picture of
the hearse and the mutes rose up in my mind, and it was at that very
moment that the song of the bird broke out again, and just above my
head in the larches an ugly, shrilling song of about a dozen notes
with an accent on the two last, a stupid, tiresome stave that never
varied. "What bird can it be," I cried out, "that comes to interrupt
my meditations?" and getting up I tried to discover it amid the
branches of the tree under which I had been lying. It broke out again
in another tree a little farther away, and again in another. I
followed it, and it led me round the wood towards the hilltop to the
foot of the steps, two short flights; the second flight, or part of it
at least, has to be removed when the vault is opened. It consists, no
doubt, of a single chamber with shelves along either side; curiosity
leads few into vaults not more than a hundred years old; above the
vault is the monument, a very simple one, a sort of table built in,
and when my father was buried, a priest scrambled up or was lifted up
by the crowd, and he delivered a funeral oration from the top of it.

That day the box edgings were trampled under foot, and all the flowers
in the beds. My mother, perhaps, cared little for flowers, or she did
not live here sufficiently long to see that this garden was carefully
tended; for years there were no children to come here for a walk, and
it was thought sufficient to keep in repair the boundary wall so that
cattle should not get in. No trees were cut here when the Woods were
thinned, and the pines and the yews have grown so thickly that the
place is overshadowed; and the sepulchral dark is never lifted even at
midday. At the back of the tomb, in the wood behind it, the headstones
of old graves show above the ground, though the earth has nearly
claimed them; only a few inches show above the dead leaves; all this
hillside must have been a graveyard once, hundreds of years ago, and
this ancient graveyard has never been forgotten by me, principally on
account of something that happened long ago when I was a little child.
The mystery of the wood used to appeal to my curiosity, but I never
dared to scramble over the low wall until one day, leaving my
governess, who was praying by the tomb, I discovered a gap through
which I could climb. My wanderings were suddenly brought to an end by
the appearance, or the fancied appearance, of somebody in a brown
dress--a woman I thought it must be; she seemed to float along the
ground, and I hurried back, falling and hurting myself severely in my
hurry to escape through the gap. So great was my fear that I spoke not
of my hurt to my governess, but of the being I had seen, beseeching of
her to come back; but she would not come back, and this fact impressed
me greatly. I said to myself, "If she didn't believe somebody was
there she'd come back." The fear endured for long afterwards; and I
used to beg of her not to cross the open space between the last shift
of the wood and the tomb itself. We can re-live in imagination an
emotion already experienced. Everything I had felt when I was a child
about the mysterious hollows in the beech wood behind the tomb and the
old stone there, and the being I had seen clothed in a brown cloak, I
could re-live again, but the wood enkindled no new emotion in me.
Everything seemed very trivial. The steps leading to the tomb, the
tomb itself, the boundary wall, and the enchanted wood was now no more
than a mere ordinary plantation. There were a few old stones showing
through the leaves, that is all. Marvels never cease; in youth one
finds the exterior world marvellous, later on one finds one's inner
life extraordinary, and what seemed marvellous to me now was that I
should have changed so much. The seeing of the ghost might be put down
to my fancy, but how explain the change in the wood--was its mystery
also a dream, an imagination? Which is the truth--that experience robs
the earth of its mystery, or that we have changed so that the
evanescent emanations which we used suddenly to grow aware of, and
which sometimes used to take shape, are still there, only our eyes are
no longer capable of perceiving them? May not this be so?--for as one
sense develops, another declines. The mystic who lives on the hillside
in the edge of a cave, pondering eternal rather than ephemeral things,
obtains glimpses, just as the child does, of a life outside this life
of ours. Or do we think these things because man will not consent to
die like a plant? Wondering if a glimpse of another life had once been
vouchsafed to me when my senses were more finely wrought, I descended
the hillside; the bird, probably a chaffinch, repeated its cry without
any variation. I went down the hillside and lay in the shadow of the
tasselled larches, trying to convince myself that I had not hoped to
see the brown lady, if it were a lady I had seen, bending over the
stones of the old burial-ground.


One day the silence of the woods was broken by the sound of a mason's
hammer, and on making inquiry from a passing workman--his hodman
probably--I learned that on opening the vault it had been discovered
that there was not room for another coffin. But no enlargement of the
vault was necessary; a couple of more shelves was all that would be
wanted for many a year to come. His meaning was not to be
mistaken--when two more shelves had been added there would be room for
my brothers, myself, and my sister, but the next generation would have
to order that a further excavation be made in the hill or look out for
a new burial-ground. He stood looking at me, and I watched for a
moment a fine young man whose eyes were pale as the landscape, and I
wondered if he expected me to say that I was glad that things had
turned out very well.... The sound of the mason's hammer got upon my
nerves, and feeling the wood to be no longer a place for meditation, I
wandered round the shore as far as the old boat-house, wondering how
it was that the words of a simple peasant could have succeeded in
producing such a strange revulsion of feeling in me. No doubt it was
the intensity with which I realised the fact that we are never far
from death, none of us, that made it seem as if I were thinking on
this subject for the first time. As soon as we reach the age of
reflection the thought of death is never long out of our minds. It is
a subject on which we are always thinking. We go to bed thinking that
another day has gone, that we are another day nearer our graves. Any
incident suffices to remind us of death. That very morning I had seen
two old blue-bottles huddled together in the corner of a pane, and at
once remembered that a term of life is set out for all things--a few
months for the blue-bottle, a few years for me. One forgets how one
thought twenty years ago, but I am prone to think that even the young
meditate very often upon death; it must be so, for all their books
contain verses on the mutability of things, and as we advance in years
it would seem that we think more and more on this one subject, for
what is all modern literature but a reek of regret that we are but
bubbles on a stream? I thought that nothing that could be said on this
old subject could move me, but that boy from Derryanny had brought
home to me the thought that follows us from youth to age better than
literature could have done; he had exceeded all the poets, not by any
single phrase--it was more his attitude of mind towards death (towards
my death) that had startled me--and as I walked along the shore I
tried to remember his words. They were simple enough, no doubt, so
simple that I could not remember them, only that he had reminded me
that Michael Malia, that was the mason's name, had known me since I
was a little boy; I do not know how he got it out; I should not have
been able to express the idea myself, but without choosing his words,
without being aware of them, speaking unconsciously, just as he
breathed, he had told me that if my heart were set on any particular
place I had only to tell Michael Malia and he would keep it for me;
there would be a convenient place for me just above my grandfather
when they had got the new shelf up; he had heard we were both writers.

That country boy took it out of me as perhaps no poet had ever done! I
shall never forget him as I saw him going away stolidly through the
green wood, his bag of lime on his back.

And sitting down in front of the tranquil lake I said, "In twenty or
thirty years I shall certainly join the others in that horrible vault;
nothing can save me," and again the present slipped away from me and
my mind became again clear as glass; the present is only subconscious;
were it not so we could not live. I have said all this before; again I
seemed to myself like a fly crawling up a pane of glass, falling back,
buzzing, and crawling again. Every expedient that I explored proved
illusory, every one led to the same conclusion that the dead are
powerless. "The living do with us what they like," I muttered, and I
thought of all my Catholic relations, every one of whom believes in
the intervention of priests and holy water, the Immaculate Conception,
the Pope's Indulgences, and a host of other things which I could not
remember, so great was my anguish of mind at the thought that my poor
pagan body should be delivered helpless into their pious hands. I
remembered their faces, I could hear their voices--that of my dear
brother, whom I shall always think of as a strayed cardinal rather
than as a colonel; I could see his pale eyes moist with faith in the
intercession of the Virgin--one can always tell a Catholic at sight,
just as one can tell a consumptive. The curving lake, the pale
mountains, the low shores, the sunlight, and the haze contributed not
a little to frighten me; the country looked intensely Catholic at that
moment. My thoughts swerved, and I began to wonder if the face of a
country takes its character from the ideas of those living in it. "How
shall I escape from that vault?" I cried out suddenly. Michael Malia's
hodman had said that they might place me just above my grandfather,
and my grandfather was a man of letters, a historian whose histories I
had not read; and in the midst of the horror my probable burial
inspired in me, I found some amusement in the admission that I should
like the old gentleman whose portrait hung in the dining-room to have
read my novels. This being so, it was not improbable that he would
like me to read his histories, and I began to speculate on what the
author of a history of the French Revolution[1] would think of "Esther
Waters." The colour of the chocolate coat he wears in his picture
fixed itself in my mind's eye, and I began to compare it with the
colour of the brown garment worn by the ghost I had seen in the wood.
Good Heavens, if it were his ghost I had seen!

[Footnote 1: Still unpublished.]

And listening to the lapping of the lake water I imagined a horrible
colloquy in that vault. It all came into my mind, his dialogue and my
dialogue. "Great God," I cried out, "something must be done to
escape!" and my eyes were strained out on the lake, upon the island on
which a Welshman had built a castle. I saw all the woods reaching down
to the water's edge, and the woods I did not see I remembered; all the
larch trees that grew on the hillsides came into my mind suddenly, and
I thought what a splendid pyre might be built out of them. No trees
had been cut for the last thirty years; I might live for another
thirty. What splendid timber there would then be to build a pyre for
me!--a pyre fifty feet high, saturated with scented oils, and me lying
on the top of it with all my books (they would make a nice pillow for
my head). The ancient heroes used to be laid with their arms beside
them; their horses were slaughtered so that their spirits might be
free to serve them in the aerial kingdoms they had gone to inhabit. My
pyre should be built on the island facing me; its flames would be seen
for miles and miles; the lake would be lighted up by it, and my body
would become a sort of beacon-fire--the beacon of the pagan future
awaiting old Ireland! Nor would the price of such a funeral be
anything too excessive--a few hundred pounds perhaps, the price of a
thousand larches and a few barrels of scented oil and the great feast:
for while I was roasting, my mourners should eat roast meat and drink
wine and wear gay dresses--the men as well as the women; and the
gayest music would be played. The "Marriage of Figaro" and some
Offenbach would be pleasing to my spirit, the ride of the Valkyrie
would be an appropriate piece; but I am improvising a selection, and
that is a thing that requires careful consideration. It would be a
fine thing indeed if such a funeral--I hate the word--such a burning
as this could be undertaken, and there is no reason why it should not
be, unless the law interdicts public burnings of human bodies. And
then my face clouded, and my soul too; I grew melancholy as the lake,
as the southern mountains that rippled down the sky plaintive as an
Irish melody, for the burning I had dreamed of so splendidly might
never take place. I might have to fall back on the Public Crematorium
in England--in Ireland there is no Crematorium; Ireland lingers in the
belief in the resurrection of the body. "Before I decide," I said to
myself, "what my own funeral shall be, I must find out what funeral
liberties the modern law and Christian morality permit the citizen,"
and this I should not be able to discover until I returned to Dublin.

It was by the side of dulcet Lough Cara that I began to imagine my
interview with the old family solicitor, prejudiced and white-headed
as the king in a certain kind of romantic play, a devout Catholic who
would certainly understand very little of my paganism; but I should
catch him on two well-sharpened horns--whether he should be guilty of
so unbusiness-like an act as to refuse to make a will for theological
reasons, or to do a violence to his conscience by assisting a
fellow-creature to dispose of his body in a way that would give the
Almighty much trouble to bring about the resurrection of the body in
the valley of Jehoshaphat. The embarrassment of the family solicitor
would be amusing, and if he declined to draw up my will for me there
would be plenty of other solicitors who would not hesitate to draw up
whatever will I was minded to make. In order to secure the burial of
my body, my notion was to leave all my property, lands, money,
pictures, and furniture to my brother, Colonel Maurice Moore on the
condition that I should be burnt and the ashes disposed of without the
humiliation of Christian rites; that if the conditions that the
inheritance carried with it were so disagreeable to Colonel Maurice
Moore that he could not bring himself to see that the disposal of my
remains was carried out according to my wishes, my property, lands,
money, pictures, and furniture, should go to my brother Augustus
Moore; that in the event of his declining to carry out my wishes
regarding the disposal of my remains, all my property should go to my
brother Julian Moore; that if he should refuse to carry out my wishes
regarding the disposal of my remains, all the said property should go
to my friend Sir William Eden, who would, I felt sure, take a sad
pleasure in giving effect to the wishes of his old friend. A will
drawn up on these lines would secure me against all chance of being
buried with my ancestors in Kiltoon, and during the next two days I
pondered my own burning. My brother might think that he was put to a
good deal of expense, but he would not fail me. He had taken off my
hands the disagreeable task of seeing the undertakers and making
arrangements for the saying of Masses, etc., arrangements which would
be intensely disagreeable to me to make so. I had plenty of time to
think out the details of my burning; and I grew happy in the thought
that I had escaped from the disgrace of Christian burial--a disgrace
which was never, until the last two days, wholly realised by me, but
which was nevertheless always suspected. No doubt it was the dread of
Kiltoon that had inspired that thought of death from which in late
years I had never seemed able to escape. I am of the romantic
temperament, and it would be a pity to forgo the burning I had
imagined. I delighted in the vision that had come upon me of the
felling of the larch trees on the hillside and the building of the
pyre about the old castle. It would reach much higher; I imagined it
at least fifty feet high. I saw it flaming in imagination, and when
half of it was burnt, the mourners would have to take to the boats, so
intense would be the heat. What a splendid spectacle! Never did any
man imagine a more splendid funeral! It would be a pity if the law
obliged me to forgo it. But there was no use hoping that the law would
not; there was a law against the burning of human remains, and I might
have to fall back on the Public Crematorium: it only remained for me
to decide what I would wish to be done with the ashes. In a moment of
happy inspiration I conceived the idea of a Greek vase as the only
suitable repository for my ashes, and I began to remember all the
Greek vases I had seen: all are beautiful, even the Roman Greek; these
are sometimes clumsy and heavy, but the sculpture is finely designed
and executed. Any Greek vase I decided would satisfy me, provided, of
course, that the relief represented Bacchanals dancing, and nearly
every Greek vase is decorated in this way. The purchase of the vase
would be an additional expense; no doubt I was running my brother in
for a good deal of money; it is becoming more and more difficult to
buy original Greek sculpture! and in a moment of posthumous parsimony
my thoughts turned to a copy of a Greek vase in granite, granite being
more durable than marble, and I wanted the vase to last for a long
time. It was delightful to take a sheet of paper and a pencil and to
draw all that I remembered of the different vases I had seen,
different riots of lusty men carrying horns of wine, intermingled with
graceful girls dancing gracefully, youths playing on pipes, and amidst
them fauns, the lovely animality of the woods, of the landscape ages,
when men first began to milk their goats, and when one man out of the
tribe, more pensive, more meditative than the others, went down to the
river's bank and cut a reed and found music within it. The vase I
remembered best has upright handles springing from the necks of swans.
It stands about two feet high, perhaps a little more, and its cavity
should be capable of containing all that remains of me after my
burning. None would have thought, from the happy smile upon my lips,
that I was thinking of a Grecian urn and a little pile of white ashes.
"O death, where is thy sting?" I murmured, and the pencil dropped from
my hand, for my memory was more beautiful than anything I could
realise upon paper. I could only remember one side of a youth, that
side of him next to an impulsive maiden; her delight gives her wings;
his left arm is about her shoulder. She is more impulsive than he, and
I wondered at his wistfulness--whether he was thinking of another love
or a volume of poems that he loved better. Little by little many of
the figures in the dance were remembered, for the sculpture was so
well done that the years had only clouded my memory. The clouds
dispersed, and I saw this time one whole figure, that of a
dancing-girl; her right arm is extended, her left arm is bent, she
holds a scarf as she dances, and the muscles of the arms are placed so
well, and the breasts too, that one thinks that the girl must have
been before the sculptor as he worked. Ingres and Antiquity alone knew
how to simplify. There is little, but that little is so correct that
detail is unnecessary, and I exulted in remembrance of the dainty
design of the belly, half hidden, half revealed by little liquid
folds. "How exquisite," I said, "is that thigh! how well it advances!
And we poor moderns have lived upon that beauty now well-nigh two
thousand years? But how vainly we have attempted to imitate that
drapery flowing about the ankles, like foam breaking on the crest of a
wave." A slender youth stands next; his shoulders are raised, for the
pipes are to his lips, his feet are drawn close together, and by him a
satyr dances wildly, clashing cymbals as he dances. He is followed, I
think--it is difficult to say whether this be a recollection of
another vase or whether the figure is included in the same group--by a
faun tempting the teeth and claws of a panther with a bunch of grapes.
And it was this winsome faun that decided me to select this vase as
the repository of my ashes. And I determined to stipulate in my will
that this vase be chosen. But my will must not be too complicated,
otherwise it might be contested. All that is not common can easily be
argued to be madness by a loquacious lawyer before a stupid jury. Who
except a madman, asks the lawyer, would trouble to this extent as to
what shall be done with his remains? Everybody in the court agrees
with him, for every one in court is anxious to prove to his neighbour
that he is a good Christian. Everything is convention, and lead
coffins and oak coffins cannot be held as proof of insanity, because
men believe still in the resurrection of the body. Were the Pharaohs
insane? Was the building of the Great Pyramid an act of madness? The
common assurance is that it matters nothing at all what becomes of our
remains, yet the world has always been engaged in setting up tombs. It
is only those pretty satyrs who do not think of tombs. Satyrs wander
away into some hidden place when they feel death upon them. But poor
humanity desires to be remembered. The desire to be remembered for at
least some little while after death is as deep an instinct as any that
might be readily named, and our lives are applied to securing some
little immortality for ourselves. What more natural than that every
one should desire his death and burial to be, as it were, typical of
the ideas which he agreed to accept during life: what other purpose is
served by the consecration of plots of ground and the erection of
crosses? In this at least I am not different from other people; if I
am anxious about my burning, it is because I would to the last
manifest and express my ideas, and neither in my prose nor verse have
I ever traced out my thoughts as completely or as perfectly as I have
done in this order for my tomb. One trouble, however, still remained
upon my mind. Where should the vase be placed? Not in Westminster
Abbey. Fie upon all places of Christian burial! A museum inspires
lofty thoughts in a few; Gouncourt speaks of the icy admiration of
crowds. The vase might stand in the stone wall, and in the very corner
where I learned to spin my top? But sooner or later a housemaid would
break it. The house itself will become the property of another family,
and the stranger will look upon the vase with idle curiosity, or
perhaps think it depressing to have me in the hall. An order for my
removal to a garret might be made out.

The disposal of the vase caused me a great deal of anxiety, and I
foresaw that unless I hit upon some idea whereby I could safeguard it
from injury for ever, my project would be deprived of half its value.
As I sat thinking I heard a noise of feet suddenly on the staircase.
"They are bringing down my mother's coffin," I said, and at that
moment the door was opened and I was told that the funeral procession
was waiting for me. My brother, and various relatives and friends,
were waiting in the hall; black gloves were on every hand, crepe
streamed from every hat, "All the paraphernalia of grief," I muttered;
"nothing is wanting." My soul revolted against this mockery. "But why
should I pity my mother? She wished to lie beside her husband. And far
be it from me to criticise such a desire!"

The coffin was lifted upon the hearse. A gardener of old time came up
to ask me if I wished there to be any crying. I did not at first
understand what he meant; he began to explain, and I began to
understand that he meant the cries with which the Western peasant
follows his dead to the grave. Horrible savagery! and I ordered that
there was to be no keening; but three or four women, unable to contain
themselves, rushed forward and began a keen. It was difficult to try
to stop them. I fancy that every one looked round to see if there were
any clouds in the sky, for it was about a mile and a half to the
chapel; we would have to walk three miles at least, and if it rained,
we should probably catch heavy colds. We thought of the damp of the
wood, and the drip from the melancholy boughs of yew and fir growing
about that sepulchre on the hillside. But there was no danger of rain;
Castle Island lay in the misted water, faint and grey, reminding me of
what a splendid burial I might have if the law did not intervene to
prevent me. And as we followed the straggling grey Irish road, with
scant meagre fields on either side--fields that seemed to be on the
point of drifting into marsh land--past the houses of the poor people,
I tried to devise a scheme for the safeguarding of the vase. But
Rameses the Second had not succeeded in securing his body against
violation; it had been unswathed; I had seen his photograph in the
Strand, and where he failed, how should I succeed?

Twenty priests had been engaged to sing a Mass, and whilst they
chanted, my mind continued to roam, seeking the unattainable, seeking
that which Rameses had been unable to find. Unexpectedly, at the very
moment when the priest began to intone the Pater Noster, I thought of
the deep sea as the only clean and holy receptacle for the vase
containing my ashes. If it were dropped where the sea is deepest it
would not reach the bottom, but would hang suspended in dark, moveless
depths where only a few fishes range, in a cool, deep grave "made
without hands, in a world without stain," surrounded by a lovely revel
of Bacchanals, youths and maidens, and wild creatures from the woods,
man in his primitive animality. But nothing lasts for ever. In some
millions of years the sea will begin to wither, and the vase
containing me will sink (my hope is that it will sink down to some
secure foundation of rocks to stand in the airless and waterless
desert that the earth will then be).

Rameses failed, but I shall succeed. Surrounded by dancing youths and
maidens, my tomb shall stand on a high rock in the solitude of the
extinct sea of an extinct planet. Millions of years will pass away,
and the earth, after having lain dead for a long winter, as it does
now for a few weeks under frost and snow, will, with all other
revolving planets, become absorbed in the sun, and the sun itself will
become absorbed in greater suns, Sirius and his like. In the matters
of grave moment, millions of years are but seconds; billions convey
very little to our minds. At the end of, let us say, some billion
years the ultimate moment towards which everything from the beginning
has been moving will be reached; and from that moment the tide will
begin to flow out again, the eternal dispersal of things will begin
again; suns will be scattered abroad, and in tremendous sun-quakes
planets will be thrown off; in loud earth-quakes these planets will
throw off moons. Millions of years will pass away, the earth will
become cool, and out of the primal mud life will begin again in the
shape of plants, and then of fish, and then of animals. It is like
madness, but is it madder than Christian doctrine? and I believe that
billions of years hence, billions and billions of years hence, I shall
be sitting in the same room as I sit now, writing the same lines as I
am now writing: I believe that again, a few years later, my ashes will
swing in the moveless and silent depths of the Pacific Ocean, and that
the same figures, the same nymphs, and the same fauns will dance
around me again.





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