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Title: Zuleika Dobson; Or, An Oxford Love Story
Author: Beerbohm, Max, Sir
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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ZULEIKA DOBSON

or, AN OXFORD LOVE STORY

By Max Beerbohm



         NOTE to the 1922 edition

         I was in Italy when this book was first published.
         A year later (1912) I visited London, and I found
         that most of my friends and acquaintances spoke to
         me of Zu-like-a--a name which I hardly recognised
         and thoroughly disapproved. I had always thought
         of the lady as Zu-leek-a. Surely it was thus that
         Joseph thought of his Wife, and Selim of his Bride?
         And I do hope that it is thus that any reader of
         these pages will think of Miss Dobson.

                                              M.B.
                                              Rapallo, 1922.



ILLI ALMAE MATRI



ZULEIKA DOBSON



I

That old bell, presage of a train, had just sounded through Oxford
station; and the undergraduates who were waiting there, gay figures in
tweed or flannel, moved to the margin of the platform and gazed idly
up the line. Young and careless, in the glow of the afternoon sunshine,
they struck a sharp note of incongruity with the worn boards they stood
on, with the fading signals and grey eternal walls of that antique
station, which, familiar to them and insignificant, does yet whisper to
the tourist the last enchantments of the Middle Age.

At the door of the first-class waiting-room, aloof and venerable, stood
the Warden of Judas. An ebon pillar of tradition seemed he, in his garb
of old-fashioned cleric. Aloft, between the wide brim of his silk hat
and the white extent of his shirt-front, appeared those eyes which
hawks, that nose which eagles, had often envied. He supported his years
on an ebon stick. He alone was worthy of the background.

Came a whistle from the distance. The breast of an engine was descried,
and a long train curving after it, under a flight of smoke. It grew
and grew. Louder and louder, its noise foreran it. It became a furious,
enormous monster, and, with an instinct for safety, all men receded
from the platform’s margin. (Yet came there with it, unknown to them,
a danger far more terrible than itself.) Into the station it came
blustering, with cloud and clangour. Ere it had yet stopped, the door of
one carriage flew open, and from it, in a white travelling dress, in a
toque a-twinkle with fine diamonds, a lithe and radiant creature slipped
nimbly down to the platform.

A cynosure indeed! A hundred eyes were fixed on her, and half as many
hearts lost to her. The Warden of Judas himself had mounted on his nose
a pair of black-rimmed glasses. Him espying, the nymph darted in his
direction. The throng made way for her. She was at his side.

“Grandpapa!” she cried, and kissed the old man on either cheek. (Not a
youth there but would have bartered fifty years of his future for that
salute.)

“My dear Zuleika,” he said, “welcome to Oxford! Have you no luggage?”

“Heaps!” she answered. “And a maid who will find it.”

“Then,” said the Warden, “let us drive straight to College.” He offered
her his arm, and they proceeded slowly to the entrance. She chatted
gaily, blushing not in the long avenue of eyes she passed through. All
the youths, under her spell, were now quite oblivious of the relatives
they had come to meet. Parents, sisters, cousins, ran unclaimed about
the platform. Undutiful, all the youths were forming a serried suite to
their enchantress. In silence they followed her. They saw her leap into
the Warden’s landau, they saw the Warden seat himself upon her left. Nor
was it until the landau was lost to sight that they turned--how slowly,
and with how bad a grace!--to look for their relatives.

Through those slums which connect Oxford with the world, the landau
rolled on towards Judas. Not many youths occurred, for nearly all--it
was the Monday of Eights Week--were down by the river, cheering the
crews. There did, however, come spurring by, on a polo-pony, a very
splendid youth. His straw hat was encircled with a riband of blue and
white, and he raised it to the Warden.

“That,” said the Warden, “is the Duke of Dorset, a member of my College.
He dines at my table to-night.”

Zuleika, turning to regard his Grace, saw that he had not reined in and
was not even glancing back at her over his shoulder. She gave a little
start of dismay, but scarcely had her lips pouted ere they curved to a
smile--a smile with no malice in its corners.

As the landau rolled into “the Corn,” another youth--a pedestrian, and
very different--saluted the Warden. He wore a black jacket, rusty and
amorphous. His trousers were too short, and he himself was too short:
almost a dwarf. His face was as plain as his gait was undistinguished.
He squinted behind spectacles.

“And who is that?” asked Zuleika.

A deep flush overspread the cheek of the Warden. “That,” he said, “is
also a member of Judas. His name, I believe, is Noaks.”

“Is he dining with us to-night?” asked Zuleika.

“Certainly not,” said the Warden. “Most decidedly not.”

Noaks, unlike the Duke, had stopped for an ardent retrospect. He gazed
till the landau was out of his short sight; then, sighing, resumed his
solitary walk.

The landau was rolling into “the Broad,” over that ground which had once
blackened under the fagots lit for Latimer and Ridley. It rolled past
the portals of Balliol and of Trinity, past the Ashmolean. From those
pedestals which intersperse the railing of the Sheldonian, the high
grim busts of the Roman Emperors stared down at the fair stranger in
the equipage. Zuleika returned their stare with but a casual glance. The
inanimate had little charm for her.

A moment later, a certain old don emerged from Blackwell’s, where he had
been buying books. Looking across the road, he saw, to his amazement,
great beads of perspiration glistening on the brows of those Emperors.
He trembled, and hurried away. That evening, in Common Room, he told
what he had seen; and no amount of polite scepticism would convince him
that it was but the hallucination of one who had been reading too much
Mommsen. He persisted that he had seen what he described. It was not
until two days had elapsed that some credence was accorded him.

Yes, as the landau rolled by, sweat started from the brows of the
Emperors. They, at least, foresaw the peril that was overhanging Oxford,
and they gave such warning as they could. Let that be remembered to
their credit. Let that incline us to think more gently of them. In their
lives we know, they were infamous, some of them--“nihil non commiserunt
stupri, saevitiae, impietatis.” But are they too little punished, after
all? Here in Oxford, exposed eternally and inexorably to heat and frost,
to the four winds that lash them and the rains that wear them away, they
are expiating, in effigy, the abominations of their pride and cruelty
and lust. Who were lechers, they are without bodies; who were tyrants,
they are crowned never but with crowns of snow; who made themselves even
with the gods, they are by American visitors frequently mistaken for
the Twelve Apostles. It is but a little way down the road that the two
Bishops perished for their faith, and even now we do never pass the spot
without a tear for them. Yet how quickly they died in the flames! To
these Emperors, for whom none weeps, time will give no surcease. Surely,
it is sign of some grace in them that they rejoiced not, this bright
afternoon, in the evil that was to befall the city of their penance.



II

The sun streamed through the bay-window of a “best” bedroom in the
Warden’s house, and glorified the pale crayon-portraits on the wall,
the dimity curtains, the old fresh chintz. He invaded the many trunks
which--all painted Z. D.--gaped, in various stages of excavation, around
the room. The doors of the huge wardrobe stood, like the doors of
Janus’ temple in time of war, majestically open; and the sun seized this
opportunity of exploring the mahogany recesses. But the carpet, which
had faded under his immemorial visitations, was now almost ENTIRELY
hidden from him, hidden under layers of fair fine linen, layers of
silk, brocade, satin, chiffon, muslin. All the colours of the rainbow,
materialised by modistes, were there. Stacked on chairs were I know not
what of sachets, glove-cases, fan-cases. There were innumerable packages
in silver-paper and pink ribands. There was a pyramid of bandboxes.
There was a virgin forest of boot-trees. And rustling quickly hither and
thither, in and out of this profusion, with armfuls of finery, was an
obviously French maid. Alert, unerring, like a swallow she dipped and
darted. Nothing escaped her, and she never rested. She had the air of
the born unpacker--swift and firm, yet withal tender. Scarce had her
arms been laden but their loads were lying lightly between shelves or
tightly in drawers. To calculate, catch, distribute, seemed in her but a
single process. She was one of those who are born to make chaos cosmic.

Insomuch that ere the loud chapel-clock tolled another hour all the
trunks had been sent empty away. The carpet was unflecked by any scrap
of silver-paper. From the mantelpiece, photographs of Zuleika surveyed
the room with a possessive air. Zuleika’s pincushion, a-bristle with
new pins, lay on the dimity-flounced toilet-table, and round it stood
a multitude of multiform glass vessels, domed, all of them, with dull
gold, on which Z. D., in zianites and diamonds, was encrusted. On
a small table stood a great casket of malachite, initialled in like
fashion. On another small table stood Zuleika’s library. Both books were
in covers of dull gold. On the back of one cover BRADSHAW, in beryls,
was encrusted; on the back of the other, A.B.C. GUIDE, in amethysts,
beryls, chrysoprases, and garnets. And Zuleika’s great cheval-glass
stood ready to reflect her. Always it travelled with her, in a great
case specially made for it. It was framed in ivory, and of fluted ivory
were the slim columns it swung between. Of gold were its twin sconces,
and four tall tapers stood in each of them.

The door opened, and the Warden, with hospitable words, left his
grand-daughter at the threshold.

Zuleika wandered to her mirror. “Undress me, Melisande,” she said. Like
all who are wont to appear by night before the public, she had the habit
of resting towards sunset.

Presently Melisande withdrew. Her mistress, in a white peignoir tied
with a blue sash, lay in a great chintz chair, gazing out of the
bay-window. The quadrangle below was very beautiful, with its walls of
rugged grey, its cloisters, its grass carpet. But to her it was of no
more interest than if it had been the rattling court-yard to one of
those hotels in which she spent her life. She saw it, but heeded it not.
She seemed to be thinking of herself, or of something she desired, or of
some one she had never met. There was ennui, and there was wistfulness,
in her gaze. Yet one would have guessed these things to be transient--to
be no more than the little shadows that sometimes pass between a bright
mirror and the brightness it reflects.

Zuleika was not strictly beautiful. Her eyes were a trifle large, and
their lashes longer than they need have been. An anarchy of small curls
was her chevelure, a dark upland of misrule, every hair asserting its
rights over a not discreditable brow. For the rest, her features were
not at all original. They seemed to have been derived rather from a
gallimaufry of familiar models. From Madame la Marquise de Saint-Ouen
came the shapely tilt of the nose. The mouth was a mere replica of
Cupid’s bow, lacquered scarlet and strung with the littlest pearls.
No apple-tree, no wall of peaches, had not been robbed, nor any Tyrian
rose-garden, for the glory of Miss Dobson’s cheeks. Her neck was
imitation-marble. Her hands and feet were of very mean proportions. She
had no waist to speak of.

Yet, though a Greek would have railed at her asymmetry, and an
Elizabethan have called her “gipsy,” Miss Dobson now, in the midst of
the Edwardian Era, was the toast of two hemispheres. Late in her ‘teens
she had become an orphan and a governess. Her grandfather had refused
her appeal for a home or an allowance, on the ground that he would not
be burdened with the upshot of a marriage which he had once forbidden
and not yet forgiven. Lately, however, prompted by curiosity or by
remorse, he had asked her to spend a week or so of his declining
years with him. And she, “resting” between two engagements--one at
Hammerstein’s Victoria, N.Y.C., the other at the Folies Bergeres,
Paris--and having never been in Oxford, had so far let bygones be
bygones as to come and gratify the old man’s whim.

It may be that she still resented his indifference to those early
struggles which, even now, she shuddered to recall. For a governess’
life she had been, indeed, notably unfit. Hard she had thought it, that
penury should force her back into the school-room she was scarce out of,
there to champion the sums and maps and conjugations she had never
tried to master. Hating her work, she had failed signally to pick up
any learning from her little pupils, and had been driven from house
to house, a sullen and most ineffectual maiden. The sequence of her
situations was the swifter by reason of her pretty face. Was there a
grown-up son, always he fell in love with her, and she would let his
eyes trifle boldly with hers across the dinner-table. When he offered
her his hand, she would refuse it--not because she “knew her place,”
 but because she did not love him. Even had she been a good teacher, her
presence could not have been tolerated thereafter. Her corded trunk,
heavier by another packet of billets-doux and a month’s salary in
advance, was soon carried up the stairs of some other house.

It chanced that she came, at length, to be governess in a large family
that had Gibbs for its name and Notting Hill for its background. Edward,
the eldest son, was a clerk in the city, who spent his evenings in the
practice of amateur conjuring. He was a freckled youth, with hair that
bristled in places where it should have lain smooth, and he fell in love
with Zuleika duly, at first sight, during high-tea. In the course of the
evening, he sought to win her admiration by a display of all his tricks.
These were familiar to this household, and the children had been sent
to bed, the mother was dozing, long before the seance was at an end. But
Miss Dobson, unaccustomed to any gaieties, sat fascinated by the young
man’s sleight of hand, marvelling that a top-hat could hold so many
goldfish, and a handkerchief turn so swiftly into a silver florin. All
that night, she lay wide awake, haunted by the miracles he had wrought.
Next evening, when she asked him to repeat them, “Nay,” he whispered,
“I cannot bear to deceive the girl I love. Permit me to explain the
tricks.” So he explained them. His eyes sought hers across the bowl of
gold-fish, his fingers trembled as he taught her to manipulate the magic
canister. One by one, she mastered the paltry secrets. Her respect for
him waned with every revelation. He complimented her on her skill. “I
could not do it more neatly myself!” he said. “Oh, dear Miss Dobson,
will you but accept my hand, all these things shall be yours--the cards,
the canister, the goldfish, the demon egg-cup--all yours!” Zuleika,
with ravishing coyness, answered that if he would give her them now, she
would “think it over.” The swain consented, and at bed-time she
retired with the gift under her arm. In the light of her bedroom candle
Marguerite hung not in greater ecstasy over the jewel-casket than
hung Zuleika over the box of tricks. She clasped her hands over the
tremendous possibilities it held for her--manumission from her bondage,
wealth, fame, power. Stealthily, so soon as the house slumbered,
she packed her small outfit, embedding therein the precious gift.
Noiselessly, she shut the lid of her trunk, corded it, shouldered it,
stole down the stairs with it. Outside--how that chain had grated!
and her shoulder, how it was aching!--she soon found a cab. She took
a night’s sanctuary in some railway-hotel. Next day, she moved into
a small room in a lodging-house off the Edgware Road, and there for
a whole week she was sedulous in the practice of her tricks. Then she
inscribed her name on the books of a “Juvenile Party Entertainments
Agency.”

The Christmas holidays were at hand, and before long she got an
engagement. It was a great evening for her. Her repertory was, it must
be confessed, old and obvious; but the children, in deference to their
hostess, pretended not to know how the tricks were done, and assumed
their prettiest airs of wonder and delight. One of them even pretended
to be frightened, and was led howling from the room. In fact, the whole
thing went off splendidly. The hostess was charmed, and told Zuleika
that a glass of lemonade would be served to her in the hall. Other
engagements soon followed. Zuleika was very, very happy. I cannot claim
for her that she had a genuine passion for her art. The true conjurer
finds his guerdon in the consciousness of work done perfectly and for
its own sake. Lucre and applause are not necessary to him. If he were
set down, with the materials of his art, on a desert island, he would
yet be quite happy. He would not cease to produce the barber’s-pole from
his mouth. To the indifferent winds he would still speak his patter, and
even in the last throes of starvation would not eat his live rabbit or
his gold-fish. Zuleika, on a desert island, would have spent most of her
time in looking for a man’s foot-print. She was, indeed, far too human
a creature to care much for art. I do not say that she took her work
lightly. She thought she had genius, and she liked to be told that this
was so. But mainly she loved her work as a means of mere self-display.
The frank admiration which, into whatsoever house she entered, the
grown-up sons flashed on her; their eagerness to see her to the door;
their impressive way of putting her into her omnibus--these were the
things she revelled in. She was a nymph to whom men’s admiration was the
greater part of life. By day, whenever she went into the streets,
she was conscious that no man passed her without a stare; and this
consciousness gave a sharp zest to her outings. Sometimes she was
followed to her door--crude flattery which she was too innocent to fear.
Even when she went into the haberdasher’s to make some little purchase
of tape or riband, or into the grocer’s--for she was an epicure in her
humble way--to buy a tin of potted meat for her supper, the homage of
the young men behind the counter did flatter and exhilarate her. As the
homage of men became for her, more and more, a matter of course, the
more subtly necessary was it to her happiness. The more she won of it,
the more she treasured it. She was alone in the world, and it saved her
from any moment of regret that she had neither home nor friends. For
her the streets that lay around her had no squalor, since she paced them
always in the gold nimbus of her fascinations. Her bedroom seemed not
mean nor lonely to her, since the little square of glass, nailed above
the wash-stand, was ever there to reflect her face. Thereinto, indeed,
she was ever peering. She would droop her head from side to side, she
would bend it forward and see herself from beneath her eyelashes, then
tilt it back and watch herself over her supercilious chin. And she would
smile, frown, pout, languish--let all the emotions hover upon her face;
and always she seemed to herself lovelier than she had ever been.

Yet was there nothing Narcissine in her spirit. Her love for her own
image was not cold aestheticism. She valued that image not for its own
sake, but for sake of the glory it always won for her. In the little
remote music-hall, where she was soon appearing nightly as an “early
turn,” she reaped glory in a nightly harvest. She could feel that all
the gallery-boys, because of her, were scornful of the sweethearts
wedged between them, and she knew that she had but to say “Will any
gentleman in the audience be so good as to lend me his hat?” for the
stalls to rise as one man and rush towards the platform. But greater
things were in store for her. She was engaged at two halls in the West
End. Her horizon was fast receding and expanding. Homage became nightly
tangible in bouquets, rings, brooches--things acceptable and (luckier
than their donors) accepted. Even Sunday was not barren for Zuleika:
modish hostesses gave her postprandially to their guests. Came that
Sunday night, notanda candidissimo calculo! when she received certain
guttural compliments which made absolute her vogue and enabled her to
command, thenceforth, whatever terms she asked for.

Already, indeed, she was rich. She was living at the most exorbitant
hotel in all Mayfair. She had innumerable gowns and no necessity to buy
jewels; and she also had, which pleased her most, the fine cheval-glass
I have described. At the close of the Season, Paris claimed her for
a month’s engagement. Paris saw her and was prostrate. Boldini did a
portrait of her. Jules Bloch wrote a song about her; and this, for a
whole month, was howled up and down the cobbled alleys of Montmartre.
And all the little dandies were mad for “la Zuleika.” The jewellers
of the Rue de la Paix soon had nothing left to put in their
windows--everything had been bought for “la Zuleika.” For a whole month,
baccarat was not played at the Jockey Club--every member had succumbed
to a nobler passion. For a whole month, the whole demi-monde was
forgotten for one English virgin. Never, even in Paris, had a woman
triumphed so. When the day came for her departure, the city wore such an
air of sullen mourning as it had not worn since the Prussians marched to
its Elysee. Zuleika, quite untouched, would not linger in the conquered
city. Agents had come to her from every capital in Europe, and, for a
year, she ranged, in triumphal nomady, from one capital to another. In
Berlin, every night, the students escorted her home with torches. Prince
Vierfuenfsechs-Siebenachtneun offered her his hand, and was condemned
by the Kaiser to six months’ confinement in his little castle. In Yildiz
Kiosk, the tyrant who still throve there conferred on her the Order of
Chastity, and offered her the central couch in his seraglio. She
gave her performance in the Quirinal, and, from the Vatican, the Pope
launched against her a Bull which fell utterly flat. In Petersburg, the
Grand Duke Salamander Salamandrovitch fell enamoured of her. Of every
article in the apparatus of her conjuring-tricks he caused a replica
to be made in finest gold. These treasures he presented to her in that
great malachite casket which now stood on the little table in her room;
and thenceforth it was with these that she performed her wonders.
They did not mark the limit of the Grand Duke’s generosity. He was for
bestowing on Zuleika the half of his immensurable estates. The Grand
Duchess appealed to the Tzar. Zuleika was conducted across the frontier,
by an escort of love-sick Cossacks. On the Sunday before she left
Madrid, a great bull-fight was held in her honour. Fifteen bulls
received the coup-de-grace, and Alvarez, the matador of matadors, died
in the arena with her name on his lips. He had tried to kill the
last bull without taking his eyes off la divina senorita. A prettier
compliment had never been paid her, and she was immensely pleased with
it. For that matter, she was immensely pleased with everything. She
moved proudly to the incessant music of a paean, aye! of a paean that
was always crescendo.

Its echoes followed her when she crossed the Atlantic, till they were
lost in the louder, deeper, more blatant paean that rose for her from
the shores beyond. All the stops of that “mighty organ, many-piped,” the
New York press, were pulled out simultaneously, as far as they could be
pulled, in Zuleika’s honour. She delighted in the din. She read every
line that was printed about her, tasting her triumph as she had never
tasted it before. And how she revelled in the Brobdingnagian drawings of
her, which, printed in nineteen colours, towered between the columns or
sprawled across them! There she was, measuring herself back to back with
the Statue of Liberty; scudding through the firmament on a comet,
whilst a crowd of tiny men in evening-dress stared up at her from the
terrestrial globe; peering through a microscope held by Cupid over a
diminutive Uncle Sam; teaching the American Eagle to stand on its head;
and doing a hundred-and-one other things--whatever suggested itself
to the fancy of native art. And through all this iridescent maze of
symbolism were scattered many little slabs of realism. At home, on the
street, Zuleika was the smiling target of all snap-shooters, and all the
snap-shots were snapped up by the press and reproduced with annotations:
Zuleika Dobson walking on Broadway in the sables gifted her by Grand
Duke Salamander--she says “You can bounce blizzards in them”; Zuleika
Dobson yawning over a love-letter from millionaire Edelweiss; relishing
a cup of clam-broth--she says “They don’t use clams out there”; ordering
her maid to fix her a warm bath; finding a split in the gloves she has
just drawn on before starting for the musicale given in her honour by
Mrs. Suetonius X. Meistersinger, the most exclusive woman in New York;
chatting at the telephone to Miss Camille Van Spook, the best-born girl
in New York; laughing over the recollection of a compliment made her by
George Abimelech Post, the best-groomed man in New York; meditating a
new trick; admonishing a waiter who has upset a cocktail over her skirt;
having herself manicured; drinking tea in bed. Thus was Zuleika enabled
daily to be, as one might say, a spectator of her own wonderful life.
On her departure from New York, the papers spoke no more than the
truth when they said she had had “a lovely time.” The further she went
West--millionaire Edelweiss had loaned her his private car--the lovelier
her time was. Chicago drowned the echoes of New York; final Frisco
dwarfed the headlines of Chicago. Like one of its own prairie-fires, she
swept the country from end to end. Then she swept back, and sailed for
England. She was to return for a second season in the coming Fall. At
present, she was, as I have said, “resting.”

As she sat here in the bay-window of her room, she was not reviewing
the splendid pageant of her past. She was a young person whose reveries
never were in retrospect. For her the past was no treasury of distinct
memories, all hoarded and classified, some brighter than others and more
highly valued. All memories were for her but as the motes in one fused
radiance that followed her and made more luminous the pathway of
her future. She was always looking forward. She was looking forward
now--that shade of ennui had passed from her face--to the week she was
to spend in Oxford. A new city was a new toy to her, and--for it was
youth’s homage that she loved best--this city of youths was a toy after
her own heart.

Aye, and it was youths who gave homage to her most freely. She was
of that high-stepping and flamboyant type that captivates youth most
surely. Old men and men of middle age admired her, but she had not that
flower-like quality of shyness and helplessness, that look of innocence,
so dear to men who carry life’s secrets in their heads. Yet Zuleika
WAS very innocent, really. She was as pure as that young shepherdess
Marcella, who, all unguarded, roved the mountains and was by all the
shepherds adored. Like Marcella, she had given her heart to no man, had
preferred none. Youths were reputed to have died for love of her,
as Chrysostom died for love of the shepherdess; and she, like the
shepherdess, had shed no tear. When Chrysostom was lying on his bier in
the valley, and Marcella looked down from the high rock, Ambrosio,
the dead man’s comrade, cried out on her, upbraiding her with bitter
words--“Oh basilisk of our mountains!” Nor do I think Ambrosio spoke too
strongly. Marcella cared nothing for men’s admiration, and yet, instead
of retiring to one of those nunneries which are founded for her kind,
she chose to rove the mountains, causing despair to all the shepherds.
Zuleika, with her peculiar temperament, would have gone mad in a
nunnery. “But,” you may argue, “ought not she to have taken the veil,
even at the cost of her reason, rather than cause so much despair in the
world? If Marcella was a basilisk, as you seem to think, how about Miss
Dobson?” Ah, but Marcella knew quite well, boasted even, that she never
would or could love any man. Zuleika, on the other hand, was a woman of
really passionate fibre. She may not have had that conscious, separate,
and quite explicit desire to be a mother with which modern playwrights
credit every unmated member of her sex. But she did know that she could
love. And, surely, no woman who knows that of herself can be rightly
censured for not recluding herself from the world: it is only women
without the power to love who have no right to provoke men’s love.

Though Zuleika had never given her heart, strong in her were the desire
and the need that it should be given. Whithersoever she had fared, she
had seen nothing but youths fatuously prostrate to her--not one upright
figure which she could respect. There were the middle-aged men, the old
men, who did not bow down to her; but from middle-age, as from eld, she
had a sanguine aversion. She could love none but a youth. Nor--though
she herself, womanly, would utterly abase herself before her
ideal--could she love one who fell prone before her. And before her all
youths always did fall prone. She was an empress, and all youths were
her slaves. Their bondage delighted her, as I have said. But no empress
who has any pride can adore one of her slaves. Whom, then, could proud
Zuleika adore? It was a question which sometimes troubled her. There
were even moments when, looking into her cheval-glass, she cried out
against that arrangement in comely lines and tints which got for her
the dulia she delighted in. To be able to love once--would not that be
better than all the homage in the world? But would she ever meet whom,
looking up to him, she could love--she, the omnisubjugant? Would she
ever, ever meet him?

It was when she wondered thus, that the wistfulness came into her eyes.
Even now, as she sat by the window, that shadow returned to them. She
was wondering, shyly, had she met him at length? That young equestrian
who had not turned to look at her; whom she was to meet at dinner
to-night... was it he? The ends of her blue sash lay across her lap,
and she was lazily unravelling their fringes. “Blue and white!” she
remembered. “They were the colours he wore round his hat.” And she gave
a little laugh of coquetry. She laughed, and, long after, her lips were
still parted in a smile.

So did she sit, smiling, wondering, with the fringes of her sash
between her fingers, while the sun sank behind the opposite wall of the
quadrangle, and the shadows crept out across the grass, thirsty for the
dew.



III

The clock in the Warden’s drawing-room had just struck eight, and
already the ducal feet were beautiful on the white bearskin hearthrug.
So slim and long were they, of instep so nobly arched, that only with
a pair of glazed ox-tongues on a breakfast-table were they comparable.
Incomparable quite, the figure and face and vesture of him who ended in
them.

The Warden was talking to him, with all the deference of elderly
commoner to patrician boy. The other guests--an Oriel don and his
wife--were listening with earnest smile and submissive droop, at a
slight distance. Now and again, to put themselves at their ease, they
exchanged in undertone a word or two about the weather.

“The young lady whom you may have noticed with me,” the Warden was
saying, “is my orphaned grand-daughter.” (The wife of the Oriel don
discarded her smile, and sighed, with a glance at the Duke, who was
himself an orphan.) “She has come to stay with me.” (The Duke glanced
quickly round the room.) “I cannot think why she is not down yet.” (The
Oriel don fixed his eyes on the clock, as though he suspected it of
being fast.) “I must ask you to forgive her. She appears to be a bright,
pleasant young woman.”

“Married?” asked the Duke.

“No,” said the Warden; and a cloud of annoyance crossed the boy’s face.
“No; she devotes her life entirely to good works.”

“A hospital nurse?” the Duke murmured.

“No, Zuleika’s appointed task is to induce delightful wonder rather than
to alleviate pain. She performs conjuring-tricks.”

“Not--not Miss Zuleika Dobson?” cried the Duke.

“Ah yes. I forgot that she had achieved some fame in the outer world.
Perhaps she has already met you?”

“Never,” said the young man coldly. “But of course I have heard of Miss
Dobson. I did not know she was related to you.”

The Duke had an intense horror of unmarried girls. All his vacations
were spent in eluding them and their chaperons. That he should be
confronted with one of them--with such an one of them!--in Oxford,
seemed to him sheer violation of sanctuary. The tone, therefore, in
which he said “I shall be charmed,” in answer to the Warden’s request
that he would take Zuleika into dinner, was very glacial. So was his
gaze when, a moment later, the young lady made her entry.

“She did not look like an orphan,” said the wife of the Oriel don,
subsequently, on the way home. The criticism was a just one. Zuleika
would have looked singular in one of those lowly double-files of
straw-bonnets and drab cloaks which are so steadying a feature of
our social system. Tall and lissom, she was sheathed from the bosom
downwards in flamingo silk, and she was liberally festooned with
emeralds. Her dark hair was not even strained back from her forehead and
behind her ears, as an orphan’s should be. Parted somewhere at the side,
it fell in an avalanche of curls upon one eyebrow. From her right
ear drooped heavily a black pearl, from her left a pink; and their
difference gave an odd, bewildering witchery to the little face between.

Was the young Duke bewitched? Instantly, utterly. But none could
have guessed as much from his cold stare, his easy and impassive bow.
Throughout dinner, none guessed that his shirt-front was but the screen
of a fierce warfare waged between pride and passion. Zuleika, at the
foot of the table, fondly supposed him indifferent to her. Though he
sat on her right, not one word or glance would he give her. All his
conversation was addressed to the unassuming lady who sat on his other
side, next to the Warden. Her he edified and flustered beyond measure
by his insistent courtesy. Her husband, alone on the other side of
the table, was mortified by his utter failure to engage Zuleika in
small-talk. Zuleika was sitting with her profile turned to him--the
profile with the pink pearl--and was gazing full at the young Duke. She
was hardly more affable than a cameo. “Yes,” “No,” “I don’t know,”
 were the only answers she would vouchsafe to his questions. A vague “Oh
really?” was all he got for his timid little offerings of information.
In vain he started the topic of modern conjuring-tricks as compared with
the conjuring-tricks performed by the ancient Egyptians. Zuleika did not
even say “Oh really?” when he told her about the metamorphosis of the
bulls in the Temple of Osiris. He primed himself with a glass of sherry,
cleared his throat. “And what,” he asked, with a note of firmness, “did
you think of our cousins across the water?” Zuleika said “Yes;” and
then he gave in. Nor was she conscious that he ceased talking to her. At
intervals throughout the rest of dinner, she murmured “Yes,” and “No,”
 and “Oh really?” though the poor little don was now listening silently
to the Duke and the Warden.

She was in a trance of sheer happiness. At last, she thought, her hope
was fulfilled--that hope which, although she had seldom remembered it in
the joy of her constant triumphs, had been always lurking in her, lying
near to her heart and chafing her, like the shift of sackcloth which
that young brilliant girl, loved and lost of Giacopone di Todi, wore
always in secret submission to her own soul, under the fair soft robes
and the rubies men saw on her. At last, here was the youth who would not
bow down to her; whom, looking up to him, she could adore. She ate and
drank automatically, never taking her gaze from him. She felt not one
touch of pique at his behaviour. She was tremulous with a joy that was
new to her, greater than any joy she had known. Her soul was as a flower
in its opetide. She was in love. Rapt, she studied every lineament of
the pale and perfect face--the brow from which bronze-coloured hair rose
in tiers of burnished ripples; the large steel-coloured eyes, with their
carven lids; the carven nose, and the plastic lips. She noted how long
and slim were his fingers, and how slender his wrists. She noted the
glint cast by the candles upon his shirt-front. The two large white
pearls there seemed to her symbols of his nature. They were like two
moons: cold, remote, radiant. Even when she gazed at the Duke’s face,
she was aware of them in her vision.

Nor was the Duke unconscious, as he seemed to be, of her scrutiny.
Though he kept his head averse, he knew that always her eyes were
watching him. Obliquely, he saw them; saw, too, the contour of the face,
and the black pearl and the pink; could not blind himself, try as he
would. And he knew that he was in love.

Like Zuleika herself, this young Duke was in love for the first time.
Wooed though he had been by almost as many maidens as she by youths, his
heart, like hers, had remained cold. But he had never felt, as she
had, the desire to love. He was not now rejoicing, as she was, in the
sensation of first love; nay, he was furiously mortified by it, and
struggled with all his might against it. He had always fancied himself
secure against any so vulgar peril; always fancied that by him at least,
the proud old motto of his family--“Pas si bete”--would not be belied.
And I daresay, indeed, that had he never met Zuleika, the irresistible,
he would have lived, and at a very ripe old age died, a dandy without
reproach. For in him the dandiacal temper had been absolute hitherto,
quite untainted and unruffled. He was too much concerned with his
own perfection ever to think of admiring any one else. Different from
Zuleika, he cared for his wardrobe and his toilet-table not as a means
to making others admire him the more, but merely as a means through
which he could intensify, a ritual in which to express and realise, his
own idolatry. At Eton he had been called “Peacock,” and this nick-name
had followed him up to Oxford. It was not wholly apposite, however. For,
whereas the peacock is a fool even among birds, the Duke had already
taken (besides a particularly brilliant First in Mods) the Stanhope,
the Newdigate, the Lothian, and the Gaisford Prize for Greek Verse. And
these things he had achieved currente calamo, “wielding his pen,” as
Scott said of Byron, “with the easy negligence of a nobleman.” He was
now in his third year of residence, and was reading, a little, for
Literae Humaniores. There is no doubt that but for his untimely death he
would have taken a particularly brilliant First in that school also.

For the rest, he had many accomplishments. He was adroit in the killing
of all birds and fishes, stags and foxes. He played polo, cricket,
racquets, chess, and billiards as well as such things can be played.
He was fluent in all modern languages, had a very real talent in
water-colour, and was accounted, by those who had had the privilege of
hearing him, the best amateur pianist on this side of the Tweed. Little
wonder, then, that he was idolised by the undergraduates of his day.
He did not, however, honour many of them with his friendship. He had a
theoretic liking for them as a class, as the “young barbarians all at
play” in that little antique city; but individually they jarred on him,
and he saw little of them. Yet he sympathised with them always, and, on
occasion, would actively take their part against the dons. In the middle
of his second year, he had gone so far that a College Meeting had to be
held, and he was sent down for the rest of term. The Warden placed his
own landau at the disposal of the illustrious young exile, who therein
was driven to the station, followed by a long, vociferous procession
of undergraduates in cabs. Now, it happened that this was a time of
political excitement in London. The Liberals, who were in power,
had passed through the House of Commons a measure more than usually
socialistic; and this measure was down for its second reading in the
Lords on the very day that the Duke left Oxford, an exile. It was but a
few weeks since he had taken his seat in the Lords; and this afternoon,
for the want of anything better to do, he strayed in. The Leader of the
House was already droning his speech for the bill, and the Duke found
himself on one of the opposite benches. There sat his compeers, sullenly
waiting to vote for a bill which every one of them detested. As the
speaker subsided, the Duke, for the fun of the thing, rose. He made
a long speech against the bill. His gibes at the Government were so
scathing, so utterly destructive his criticism of the bill itself, so
lofty and so irresistible the flights of his eloquence, that, when he
resumed his seat, there was only one course left to the Leader of the
House. He rose and, in a few husky phrases, moved that the bill “be read
this day six months.” All England rang with the name of the young Duke.
He himself seemed to be the one person unmoved by his exploit. He did
not re-appear in the Upper Chamber, and was heard to speak in slighting
terms of its architecture, as well as of its upholstery. Nevertheless,
the Prime Minister became so nervous that he procured for him, a month
later, the Sovereign’s offer of a Garter which had just fallen vacant.
The Duke accepted it. He was, I understand, the only undergraduate on
whom this Order had ever been conferred. He was very much pleased with
the insignia, and when, on great occasions, he wore them, no one dared
say that the Prime Minister’s choice was not fully justified. But you
must not imagine that he cared for them as symbols of achievement and
power. The dark blue riband, and the star scintillating to eight
points, the heavy mantle of blue velvet, with its lining of taffeta
and shoulder-knots of white satin, the crimson surcoat, the great
embullioned tassels, and the chain of linked gold, and the plumes of
ostrich and heron uprising from the black velvet hat--these things had
for him little significance save as a fine setting, a finer setting than
the most elaborate smoking-suit, for that perfection of aspect which
the gods had given him. This was indeed the gift he valued beyond
all others. He knew well, however, that women care little for a man’s
appearance, and that what they seek in a man is strength of character,
and rank, and wealth. These three gifts the Duke had in a high degree,
and he was by women much courted because of them. Conscious that every
maiden he met was eager to be his Duchess, he had assumed always a
manner of high austerity among maidens, and even if he had wished to
flirt with Zuleika he would hardly have known how to do it. But he did
not wish to flirt with her. That she had bewitched him did but make
it the more needful that he should shun all converse with her. It was
imperative that he should banish her from his mind, quickly. He must not
dilute his own soul’s essence. He must not surrender to any passion his
dandihood. The dandy must be celibate, cloistral; is, indeed, but a monk
with a mirror for beads and breviary--an anchorite, mortifying his soul
that his body may be perfect. Till he met Zuleika, the Duke had not
known the meaning of temptation. He fought now, a St. Anthony, against
the apparition. He would not look at her, and he hated her. He loved
her, and he could not help seeing her. The black pearl and the pink
seemed to dangle ever nearer and clearer to him, mocking him and
beguiling. Inexpellible was her image.

So fierce was the conflict in him that his outward nonchalance gradually
gave way. As dinner drew to its close, his conversation with the wife
of the Oriel don flagged and halted. He sank, at length, into a deep
silence. He sat with downcast eyes, utterly distracted.

Suddenly, something fell, plump! into the dark whirlpool of his
thoughts. He started. The Warden was leaning forward, had just said
something to him.

“I beg your pardon?” asked the Duke. Dessert, he noticed, was on the
table, and he was paring an apple. The Oriel don was looking at him with
sympathy, as at one who had swooned and was just “coming to.”

“Is it true, my dear Duke,” the Warden repeated, “that you have been
persuaded to play to-morrow evening at the Judas concert?”

“Ah yes, I am going to play something.”

Zuleika bent suddenly forward, addressed him. “Oh,” she cried, clasping
her hands beneath her chin, “will you let me come and turn over the
leaves for you?”

He looked her full in the face. It was like seeing suddenly at close
quarters some great bright monument that one has long known only as a
sun-caught speck in the distance. He saw the large violet eyes open to
him, and their lashes curling to him; the vivid parted lips; and the
black pearl, and the pink.

“You are very kind,” he murmured, in a voice which sounded to him quite
far away. “But I always play without notes.”

Zuleika blushed. Not with shame, but with delirious pleasure. For that
snub she would just then have bartered all the homage she had hoarded.
This, she felt, was the climax. She would not outstay it. She rose,
smiling to the wife of the Oriel don. Every one rose. The Oriel don held
open the door, and the two ladies passed out of the room.

The Duke drew out his cigarette case. As he looked down at the
cigarettes, he was vaguely conscious of some strange phenomenon
somewhere between them and his eyes. Foredone by the agitation of the
past hour, he did not at once realise what it was that he saw. His
impression was of something in bad taste, some discord in his costume
... a black pearl and a pink pearl in his shirt-front!

Just for a moment, absurdly over-estimating poor Zuleika’s skill, he
supposed himself a victim of legerdemain. Another moment, and the import
of the studs revealed itself. He staggered up from his chair, covering
his breast with one arm, and murmured that he was faint. As he hurried
from the room, the Oriel don was pouring out a tumbler of water and
suggesting burnt feathers. The Warden, solicitous, followed him into
the hall. He snatched up his hat, gasping that he had spent a delightful
evening--was very sorry--was subject to these attacks. Once outside, he
took frankly to his heels.

At the corner of the Broad, he looked back over his shoulder. He had
half expected a scarlet figure skimming in pursuit. There was nothing.
He halted. Before him, the Broad lay empty beneath the moon. He went
slowly, mechanically, to his rooms.

The high grim busts of the Emperors stared down at him, their faces more
than ever tragically cavernous and distorted. They saw and read in
that moonlight the symbols on his breast. As he stood on his doorstep,
waiting for the door to be opened, he must have seemed to them a thing
for infinite compassion. For were they not privy to the doom that the
morrow, or the morrow’s morrow, held for him--held not indeed for him
alone, yet for him especially, as it were, and for him most lamentably?



IV

The breakfast-things were not yet cleared away. A plate streaked with
fine strains of marmalade, an empty toast-rack, a broken roll--these and
other things bore witness to a day inaugurated in the right spirit.

Away from them, reclining along his window-seat, was the Duke. Blue
spirals rose from his cigarette, nothing in the still air to trouble
them. From their railing, across the road, the Emperors gazed at him.

For a young man, sleep is a sure solvent of distress. There whirls not
for him in the night any so hideous a phantasmagoria as will not become,
in the clarity of next morning, a spruce procession for him to lead.
Brief the vague horror of his awakening; memory sweeps back to him,
and he sees nothing dreadful after all. “Why not?” is the sun’s bright
message to him, and “Why not indeed?” his answer. After hours of
agony and doubt prolonged to cock-crow, sleep had stolen to the Duke’s
bed-side. He awoke late, with a heavy sense of disaster; but lo! when he
remembered, everything took on a new aspect. He was in love. “Why not?”
 He mocked himself for the morbid vigil he had spent in probing and
vainly binding the wounds of his false pride. The old life was done
with. He laughed as he stepped into his bath. Why should the disseizin
of his soul have seemed shameful to him? He had had no soul till it
passed out of his keeping. His body thrilled to the cold water, his soul
as to a new sacrament. He was in love, and that was all he wished for...
There, on the dressing-table, lay the two studs, visible symbols of his
love. Dear to him, now, the colours of them! He took them in his hand,
one by one, fondling them. He wished he could wear them in the day-time;
but this, of course, was impossible. His toilet finished, he dropped
them into the left pocket of his waistcoat.

Therein, near to his heart, they were lying now, as he looked out at
the changed world--the world that had become Zuleika. “Zuleika!” his
recurrent murmur, was really an apostrophe to the whole world.

Piled against the wall were certain boxes of black japanned tin, which
had just been sent to him from London. At any other time he would
certainly not have left them unopened. For they contained his robes of
the Garter. Thursday, the day after to-morrow, was the date fixed for
the investiture of a foreign king who was now visiting England: and the
full chapter of Knights had been commanded to Windsor for the ceremony.
Yesterday the Duke had looked keenly forward to his excursion. It was
only in those too rarely required robes that he had the sense of being
fully dressed. But to-day not a thought had he of them.

Some clock clove with silver the stillness of the morning. Ere came the
second stroke, another and nearer clock was striking. And now there were
others chiming in. The air was confused with the sweet babel of its many
spires, some of them booming deep, measured sequences, some tinkling
impatiently and outwitting others which had begun before them. And when
this anthem of jealous antiphonies and uneven rhythms had dwindled quite
away and fainted in one last solitary note of silver, there started
somewhere another sequence; and this, almost at its last stroke, was
interrupted by yet another, which went on to tell the hour of noon in
its own way, quite slowly and significantly, as though none knew it.

And now Oxford was astir with footsteps and laughter--the laughter and
quick footsteps of youths released from lecture-rooms. The Duke shifted
from the window. Somehow, he did not care to be observed, though it was
usually at this hour that he showed himself for the setting of some
new fashion in costume. Many an undergraduate, looking up, missed the
picture in the window-frame.

The Duke paced to and fro, smiling ecstatically. He took the two studs
from his pocket and gazed at them. He looked in the glass, as one
seeking the sympathy of a familiar. For the first time in his life,
he turned impatiently aside. It was a new kind of sympathy he needed
to-day.

The front door slammed, and the staircase creaked to the ascent of two
heavy boots. The Duke listened, waited irresolute. The boots passed his
door, were already clumping up the next flight. “Noaks!” he cried. The
boots paused, then clumped down again. The door opened and disclosed
that homely figure which Zuleika had seen on her way to Judas.

Sensitive reader, start not at the apparition! Oxford is a plexus of
anomalies. These two youths were (odd as it may seem to you) subject to
the same Statutes, affiliated to the same College, reading for the same
School; aye! and though the one had inherited half a score of noble and
castellated roofs, whose mere repairs cost him annually thousands and
thousands of pounds, and the other’s people had but one little mean
square of lead, from which the fireworks of the Crystal Palace were
clearly visible every Thursday evening, in Oxford one roof sheltered
both of them. Furthermore, there was even some measure of intimacy
between them. It was the Duke’s whim to condescend further in the
direction of Noaks than in any other. He saw in Noaks his own foil and
antithesis, and made a point of walking up the High with him at least
once in every term. Noaks, for his part, regarded the Duke with feelings
mingled of idolatry and disapproval. The Duke’s First in Mods oppressed
him (who, by dint of dogged industry, had scraped a Second) more than
all the other differences between them. But the dullard’s envy of
brilliant men is always assuaged by the suspicion that they will come to
a bad end. Noaks may have regarded the Duke as a rather pathetic figure,
on the whole.

“Come in, Noaks,” said the Duke. “You have been to a lecture?”

“Aristotle’s Politics,” nodded Noaks.

“And what were they?” asked the Duke. He was eager for sympathy in his
love. But so little used was he to seeking sympathy that he could not
unburden himself. He temporised. Noaks muttered something about getting
back to work, and fumbled with the door-handle.

“Oh, my dear fellow, don’t go,” said the Duke. “Sit down. Our Schools
don’t come on for another year. A few minutes can’t make a difference in
your Class. I want to--to tell you something, Noaks. Do sit down.”

Noaks sat down on the edge of a chair. The Duke leaned against the
mantel-piece, facing him. “I suppose, Noaks,” he said, “you have never
been in love.”

“Why shouldn’t I have been in love?” asked the little man, angrily.

“I can’t imagine you in love,” said the Duke, smiling.

“And I can’t imagine YOU. You’re too pleased with yourself,” growled
Noaks.

“Spur your imagination, Noaks,” said his friend. “I AM in love.”

“So am I,” was an unexpected answer, and the Duke (whose need of
sympathy was too new to have taught him sympathy with others) laughed
aloud. “Whom do you love?” he asked, throwing himself into an arm-chair.

“I don’t know who she is,” was another unexpected answer.

“When did you meet her?” asked the Duke. “Where? What did you say to
her?”

“Yesterday. In the Corn. I didn’t SAY anything to her.”

“Is she beautiful?”

“Yes. What’s that to you?”

“Dark or fair?”

“She’s dark. She looks like a foreigner. She looks like--like one of
those photographs in the shop-windows.”

“A rhapsody, Noaks! What became of her? Was she alone?”

“She was with the old Warden, in his carriage.”

Zuleika--Noaks! The Duke started, as at an affront, and glared. Next
moment, he saw the absurdity of the situation. He relapsed into his
chair, smiling. “She’s the Warden’s niece,” he said. “I dined at the
Warden’s last night.”

Noaks sat still, peering across at the Duke. For the first time in his
life, he was resentful of the Duke’s great elegance and average stature,
his high lineage and incomputable wealth. Hitherto, these things
had been too remote for envy. But now, suddenly, they seemed near to
him--nearer and more overpowering than the First in Mods had ever been.
“And of course she’s in love with you?” he snarled.

Really, this was for the Duke a new issue. So salient was his own
passion that he had not had time to wonder whether it were returned.
Zuleika’s behaviour during dinner... But that was how so many young
women had behaved. It was no sign of disinterested love. It might mean
merely... Yet no! Surely, looking into her eyes, he had seen there a
radiance finer than could have been lit by common ambition. Love, none
other, must have lit in those purple depths the torches whose clear
flames had leapt out to him. She loved him. She, the beautiful, the
wonderful, had not tried to conceal her love for him. She had shown him
all--had shown all, poor darling! only to be snubbed by a prig, driven
away by a boor, fled from by a fool. To the nethermost corner of his
soul, he cursed himself for what he had done, and for all he had left
undone. He would go to her on his knees. He would implore her to impose
on him insufferable penances. There was no penance, how bittersweet
soever, could make him a little worthy of her.

“Come in!” he cried mechanically. Entered the landlady’s daughter.

“A lady downstairs,” she said, “asking to see your Grace. Says she’ll
step round again later if your Grace is busy.”

“What is her name?” asked the Duke, vacantly. He was gazing at the girl
with pain-shot eyes.

“Miss Zuleika Dobson,” pronounced the girl.

He rose.

“Show Miss Dobson up,” he said.

Noaks had darted to the looking-glass and was smoothing his hair with a
tremulous, enormous hand.

“Go!” said the Duke, pointing to the door. Noaks went, quickly. Echoes
of his boots fell from the upper stairs and met the ascending susurrus
of a silk skirt.

The lovers met. There was an interchange of ordinary greetings: from the
Duke, a comment on the weather; from Zuleika, a hope that he was well
again--they had been so sorry to lose him last night. Then came a pause.
The landlady’s daughter was clearing away the breakfast-things.
Zuleika glanced comprehensively at the room, and the Duke gazed at the
hearthrug. The landlady’s daughter clattered out with her freight. They
were alone.

“How pretty!” said Zuleika. She was looking at his star of the Garter,
which sparkled from a litter of books and papers on a small side-table.

“Yes,” he answered. “It is pretty, isn’t it?”

“Awfully pretty!” she rejoined.

This dialogue led them to another hollow pause. The Duke’s heart beat
violently within him. Why had he not asked her to take the star and keep
it as a gift? Too late now! Why could he not throw himself at her feet?
Here were two beings, lovers of each other, with none by. And yet...

She was examining a water-colour on the wall, seemed to be absorbed by
it. He watched her. She was even lovelier than he had remembered;
or rather her loveliness had been, in some subtle way, transmuted.
Something had given to her a graver, nobler beauty. Last night’s nymph
had become the Madonna of this morning. Despite her dress, which was
of a tremendous tartan, she diffused the pale authentic radiance of a
spirituality most high, most simple. The Duke wondered where lay the
change in her. He could not understand. Suddenly she turned to him, and
he understood. No longer the black pearl and the pink, but two white
pearls!... He thrilled to his heart’s core.

“I hope,” said Zuleika, “you aren’t awfully vexed with me for coming
like this?”

“Not at all,” said the Duke. “I am delighted to see you.” How inadequate
the words sounded, how formal and stupid!

“The fact is,” she continued, “I don’t know a soul in Oxford. And
I thought perhaps you’d give me luncheon, and take me to see the
boat-races. Will you?”

“I shall be charmed,” he said, pulling the bell-rope. Poor fool! he
attributed the shade of disappointment on Zuleika’s face to the coldness
of his tone. He would dispel that shade. He would avow himself. He would
leave her no longer in this false position. So soon as he had told them
about the meal, he would proclaim his passion.

The bell was answered by the landlady’s daughter.

“Miss Dobson will stay to luncheon,” said the Duke. The girl withdrew.
He wished he could have asked her not to.

He steeled himself. “Miss Dobson,” he said, “I wish to apologise to
you.”

Zuleika looked at him eagerly. “You can’t give me luncheon? You’ve got
something better to do?”

“No. I wish to ask you to forgive me for my behaviour last night.”

“There is nothing to forgive.”

“There is. My manners were vile. I know well what happened. Though you,
too, cannot have forgotten, I won’t spare myself the recital. You were
my hostess, and I ignored you. Magnanimous, you paid me the prettiest
compliment woman ever paid to man, and I insulted you. I left the house
in order that I might not see you again. To the doorsteps down which
he should have kicked me, your grandfather followed me with words of
kindliest courtesy. If he had sped me with a kick so skilful that my
skull had been shattered on the kerb, neither would he have outstepped
those bounds set to the conduct of English gentlemen, nor would you have
garnered more than a trifle on account of your proper reckoning. I do
not say that you are the first person whom I have wantonly injured. But
it is a fact that I, in whom pride has ever been the topmost quality,
have never expressed sorrow to any one for anything. Thus, I might urge
that my present abjectness must be intolerably painful to me, and should
incline you to forgive. But such an argument were specious merely.
I will be quite frank with you. I will confess to you that, in this
humbling of myself before you, I take a pleasure as passionate as it is
strange. A confusion of feelings? Yet you, with a woman’s instinct, will
have already caught the clue to it. It needs no mirror to assure me
that the clue is here for you, in my eyes. It needs no dictionary of
quotations to remind me that the eyes are the windows of the soul. And I
know that from two open windows my soul has been leaning and signalling
to you, in a code far more definitive and swifter than words of mine,
that I love you.”

Zuleika, listening to him, had grown gradually paler and paler. She had
raised her hands and cowered as though he were about to strike her. And
then, as he pronounced the last three words, she had clasped her hands
to her face and with a wild sob darted away from him. She was leaning
now against the window, her head bowed and her shoulders quivering.

The Duke came softly behind her. “Why should you cry? Why should you
turn away from me? Did I frighten you with the suddenness of my words? I
am not versed in the tricks of wooing. I should have been more patient.
But I love you so much that I could hardly have waited. A secret hope
that you loved me too emboldened me, compelled me. You DO love me. I
know it. And, knowing it, I do but ask you to give yourself to me, to
be my wife. Why should you cry? Why should you shrink from me? Dear,
if there were anything... any secret... if you had ever loved and been
deceived, do you think I should honour you the less deeply, should not
cherish you the more tenderly? Enough for me, that you are mine. Do you
think I should ever reproach you for anything that may have--”

Zuleika turned on him. “How dare you?” she gasped. “How dare you speak
to me like that?”

The Duke reeled back. Horror had come into his eyes. “You do not love
me!” he cried.

“LOVE you?” she retorted. “YOU?”

“You no longer love me. Why? Why?”

“What do you mean?”

“You loved me. Don’t trifle with me. You came to me loving me with all
your heart.”

“How do you know?”

“Look in the glass.” She went at his bidding. He followed her. “You
see them?” he said, after a long pause. Zuleika nodded. The two pearls
quivered to her nod.

“They were white when you came to me,” he sighed. “They were white
because you loved me. From them it was that I knew you loved me even as
I loved you. But their old colours have come back to them. That is how I
know that your love for me is dead.”

Zuleika stood gazing pensively, twitching the two pearls between her
fingers. Tears gathered in her eyes. She met the reflection of her
lover’s eyes, and her tears brimmed over. She buried her face in her
hands, and sobbed like a child.

Like a child’s, her sobbing ceased quite suddenly. She groped for her
handkerchief, angrily dried her eyes, and straightened and smoothed
herself.

“Now I’m going,” she said.

“You came here of your own accord, because you loved me,” said the Duke.
“And you shall not go till you have told me why you have left off loving
me.”

“How did you know I loved you?” she asked after a pause. “How did you
know I hadn’t simply put on another pair of ear-rings?”

The Duke, with a melancholy laugh, drew the two studs from his
waistcoat-pocket. “These are the studs I wore last night,” he said.

Zuleika gazed at them. “I see,” she said; then, looking up, “When did
they become like that?”

“It was when you left the dining-room that I saw the change in them.”

“How strange! It was when I went into the drawing-room that I noticed
mine. I was looking in the glass, and”--She started. “Then you were in
love with me last night?”

“I began to be in love with you from the moment I saw you.”

“Then how could you have behaved as you did?”

“Because I was a pedant. I tried to ignore you, as pedants always do try
to ignore any fact they cannot fit into their pet system. The basis
of my pet system was celibacy. I don’t mean the mere state of being
a bachelor. I mean celibacy of the soul--egoism, in fact. You have
converted me from that. I am now a confirmed tuist.”

“How dared you insult me?” she cried, with a stamp of her foot.
“How dared you make a fool of me before those people? Oh, it is too
infamous!”

“I have already asked you to forgive me for that. You said there was
nothing to forgive.”

“I didn’t dream that you were in love with me.”

“What difference can that make?”

“All the difference! All the difference in life!”

“Sit down! You bewilder me,” said the Duke. “Explain yourself!” he
commanded.

“Isn’t that rather much for a man to ask of a woman?”

“I don’t know. I have no experience of women. In the abstract, it seems
to me that every man has a right to some explanation from the woman who
has ruined his life.”

“You are frightfully sorry for yourself,” said Zuleika, with a bitter
laugh. “Of course it doesn’t occur to you that _I_ am at all to be
pitied. No! you are blind with selfishness. You love me--I don’t love
you: that is all you can realise. Probably you think you are the first
man who has ever fallen on such a plight.”

Said the Duke, bowing over a deprecatory hand, “If there were to pass my
window one tithe of them whose hearts have been lost to Miss Dobson, I
should win no solace from that interminable parade.”

Zuleika blushed. “Yet,” she said more gently, “be sure they would all be
not a little envious of YOU! Not one of them ever touched the surface of
my heart. You stirred my heart to its very depths. Yes, you made me love
you madly. The pearls told you no lie. You were my idol--the one thing
in the wide world to me. You were so different from any man I had ever
seen except in dreams. You did not make a fool of yourself. I admired
you. I respected you. I was all afire with adoration of you. And now,”
 she passed her hand across her eyes, “now it is all over. The idol has
come sliding down its pedestal to fawn and grovel with all the other
infatuates in the dust about my feet.”

The Duke looked thoughtfully at her. “I thought,” he said, “that you
revelled in your power over men’s hearts. I had always heard that you
lived for admiration.”

“Oh,” said Zuleika, “of course I like being admired. Oh yes, I like all
that very much indeed. In a way, I suppose, I’m even pleased that
YOU admire me. But oh, what a little miserable pleasure that is in
comparison with the rapture I have forfeited! I had never known the
rapture of being in love. I had longed for it, but I had never guessed
how wonderfully wonderful it was. It came to me. I shuddered and wavered
like a fountain in the wind. I was more helpless and flew lightlier
than a shred of thistledown among the stars. All night long, I could not
sleep for love of you; nor had I any desire of sleep, save that it might
take me to you in a dream. I remember nothing that happened to me this
morning before I found myself at your door.”

“Why did you ring the bell? Why didn’t you walk away?”

“Why? I had come to see you, to be near you, to be WITH you.”

“To force yourself on me.”

“Yes.”

“You know the meaning of the term ‘effective occupation’? Having marched
in, how could you have held your position, unless”--

“Oh, a man doesn’t necessarily drive a woman away because he isn’t in
love with her.”

“Yet that was what you thought I had done to you last night.”

“Yes, but I didn’t suppose you would take the trouble to do it again.
And if you had, I should have only loved you the more. I thought you
would most likely be rather amused, rather touched, by my importunity. I
thought you would take a listless advantage, make a plaything of me--the
diversion of a few idle hours in summer, and then, when you had tired
of me, would cast me aside, forget me, break my heart. I desired nothing
better than that. That is what I must have been vaguely hoping for. But
I had no definite scheme. I wanted to be with you and I came to you. It
seems years ago, now! How my heart beat as I waited on the doorstep! ‘Is
his Grace at home?’ ‘I don’t know. I’ll inquire. What name shall I say?’
I saw in the girl’s eyes that she, too, loved you. Have YOU seen that?”

“I have never looked at her,” said the Duke.

“No wonder, then, that she loves you,” sighed Zuleika. “She read my
secret at a glance. Women who love the same man have a kind of bitter
freemasonry. We resented each other. She envied me my beauty, my dress.
I envied the little fool her privilege of being always near to you.
Loving you, I could conceive no life sweeter than hers--to be always
near you; to black your boots, carry up your coals, scrub your doorstep;
always to be working for you, hard and humbly and without thanks. If you
had refused to see me, I would have bribed that girl with all my jewels
to cede me her position.”

The Duke made a step towards her. “You would do it still,” he said in a
low voice.

Zuleika raised her eyebrows. “I would not offer her one garnet,” she
said, “now.”

“You SHALL love me again,” he cried. “I will force you to. You said just
now that you had ceased to love me because I was just like other men. I
am not. My heart is no tablet of mere wax, from which an instant’s heat
can dissolve whatever impress it may bear, leaving it blank and soft
for another impress, and another, and another. My heart is a bright hard
gem, proof against any die. Came Cupid, with one of his arrow-points
for graver, and what he cut on the gem’s surface never can be effaced.
There, deeply and forever, your image is intagliated. No years, nor
fires, nor cataclysm of total Nature, can efface from that great gem
your image.”

“My dear Duke,” said Zuleika, “don’t be so silly. Look at the matter
sensibly. I know that lovers don’t try to regulate their emotions
according to logic; but they do, nevertheless, unconsciously conform
with some sort of logical system. I left off loving you when I found
that you loved me. There is the premiss. Very well! Is it likely that I
shall begin to love you again because you can’t leave off loving me?”

The Duke groaned. There was a clatter of plates outside, and she whom
Zuleika had envied came to lay the table for luncheon.

A smile flickered across Zuleika’s lips; and “Not one garnet!” she
murmured.



V

Luncheon passed in almost unbroken silence. Both Zuleika and the Duke
were ravenously hungry, as people always are after the stress of any
great emotional crisis. Between them, they made very short work of
a cold chicken, a salad, a gooseberry-tart and a Camembert. The Duke
filled his glass again and again. The cold classicism of his face had
been routed by the new romantic movement which had swept over his soul.
He looked two or three months older than when first I showed him to my
reader.

He drank his coffee at one draught, pushed back his chair, threw away
the cigarette he had just lit. “Listen!” he said.

Zuleika folded her hands on her lap.

“You do not love me. I accept as final your hint that you never will
love me. I need not say--could not, indeed, ever say--how deeply, deeply
you have pained me. As lover, I am rejected. But that rejection,” he
continued, striking the table, “is no stopper to my suit. It does but
drive me to the use of arguments. My pride shrinks from them. Love,
however, is greater than pride; and I, John, Albert, Edward, Claude,
Orde, Angus, Tankerton,* Tanville-Tankerton,** fourteenth Duke of
Dorset, Marquis of Dorset, Earl of Grove, Earl of Chastermaine, Viscount
Brewsby, Baron Grove, Baron Petstrap, and Baron Wolock, in the Peerage
of England, offer you my hand. Do not interrupt me. Do not toss your
head. Consider well what I am saying. Weigh the advantages you would
gain by acceptance of my hand. Indeed, they are manifold and tremendous.
They are also obvious: do not shut your eyes to them. You, Miss Dobson,
what are you? A conjurer, and a vagrant; without means, save such as you
can earn by the sleight of your hand; without position; without a
home; all unguarded but by your own self-respect. That you follow an
honourable calling, I do not for one moment deny. I do, however, ask
you to consider how great are its perils and hardships, its fatigues and
inconveniences. From all these evils I offer you instant refuge. I offer
you, Miss Dobson, a refuge more glorious and more augustly gilded
than you, in your airiest flights of fancy, can ever have hoped for or
imagined. I own about 340,000 acres. My town-residence is in St. James’s
Square. Tankerton, of which you may have seen photographs, is the chief
of my country-seats. It is a Tudor house, set on the ridge of a valley.
The valley, its park, is halved by a stream so narrow that the deer leap
across. The gardens are estraded upon the slope. Round the house runs
a wide paven terrace. There are always two or three peacocks trailing
their sheathed feathers along the balustrade, and stepping how stiffly!
as though they had just been unharnessed from Juno’s chariot. Two
flights of shallow steps lead down to the flowers and fountains. Oh,
the gardens are wonderful. There is a Jacobean garden of white roses.
Between the ends of two pleached alleys, under a dome of branches, is
a little lake, with a Triton of black marble, and with water-lilies.
Hither and thither under the archipelago of water-lilies, dart
gold-fish--tongues of flame in the dark water. There is also a long
strait alley of clipped yew. It ends in an alcove for a pagoda
of painted porcelain which the Prince Regent--peace be to his
ashes!--presented to my great-grandfather. There are many twisting
paths, and sudden aspects, and devious, fantastic arbours. Are you fond
of horses? In my stables of pine-wood and plated-silver seventy are
installed. Not all of them together could vie in power with one of the
meanest of my motor-cars.”

   *Pronounced as Tacton.

  **Pronounced as Tavvle-Tacton.

“Oh, I never go in motors,” said Zuleika. “They make one look like
nothing on earth, and like everybody else.”

“I myself,” said the Duke, “use them little for that very reason. Are
you interested in farming? At Tankerton there is a model farm which
would at any rate amuse you, with its heifers and hens and pigs that are
like so many big new toys. There is a tiny dairy, which is called ‘Her
Grace’s.’ You could make, therein, real butter with your own hands, and
round it into little pats, and press every pat with a different device.
The boudoir that would be yours is a blue room. Four Watteaus hang in
it. In the dining-hall hang portraits of my forefathers--in petto,
your forefathers-in-law--by many masters. Are you fond of peasants?
My tenantry are delightful creatures, and there is not one of them who
remembers the bringing of the news of the Battle of Waterloo. When a
new Duchess is brought to Tankerton, the oldest elm in the park must
be felled. That is one of many strange old customs. As she is driven
through the village, the children of the tenantry must strew the road
with daisies. The bridal chamber must be lighted with as many candles as
years have elapsed since the creation of the Dukedom. If you came into
it, there would be”--and the youth, closing his eyes, made a rapid
calculation--“exactly three hundred and eighty-eight candles. On the eve
of the death of a Duke of Dorset, two black owls come and perch on the
battlements. They remain there through the night, hooting. At dawn
they fly away, none knows whither. On the eve of the death of any other
Tanville-Tankerton, comes (no matter what be the time of year) a cuckoo.
It stays for an hour, cooing, then flies away, none knows whither.
Whenever this portent occurs, my steward telegraphs to me, that I, as
head of the family, be not unsteeled against the shock of a bereavement,
and that my authority be sooner given for the unsealing and garnishing
of the family-vault. Not every forefather of mine rests quiet beneath
his escutcheoned marble. There are they who revisit, in their wrath or
their remorse, the places wherein erst they suffered or wrought evil.
There is one who, every Halloween, flits into the dining-hall, and
hovers before the portrait which Hans Holbein made of him, and flings
his diaphanous grey form against the canvas, hoping, maybe, to catch
from it the fiery flesh-tints and the solid limbs that were his, and so
to be re-incarnate. He flies against the painting, only to find himself
t’other side of the wall it hangs on. There are five ghosts permanently
residing in the right wing of the house, two in the left, and eleven in
the park. But all are quite noiseless and quite harmless. My servants,
when they meet them in the corridors or on the stairs, stand aside to
let them pass, thus paying them the respect due to guests of mine; but
not even the rawest housemaid ever screams or flees at sight of them. I,
their host, often waylay them and try to commune with them; but always
they glide past me. And how gracefully they glide, these ghosts! It is a
pleasure to watch them. It is a lesson in deportment. May they never be
laid! Of all my household-pets, they are the dearest to me. I am Duke
of Strathsporran and Cairngorm, Marquis of Sorby, and Earl Cairngorm, in
the Peerage of Scotland. In the glens of the hills about Strathsporran
are many noble and nimble stags. But I have never set foot in my house
there, for it is carpeted throughout with the tartan of my clan. You
seem to like tartan. What tartan is it you are wearing?”

Zuleika looked down at her skirt. “I don’t know,” she said. “I got it in
Paris.”

“Well,” said the Duke, “it is very ugly. The Dalbraith tartan is
harmonious in comparison, and has, at least, the excuse of history. If
you married me, you would have the right to wear it. You would have many
strange and fascinating rights. You would go to Court. I admit that the
Hanoverian Court is not much. Still, it is better than nothing. At your
presentation, moreover, you would be given the entree. Is that nothing
to you? You would be driven to Court in my statecoach. It is swung so
high that the streetsters can hardly see its occupant. It is lined
with rose-silk; and on its panels, and on its hammer-cloth, my arms
are emblazoned--no one has ever been able to count the quarterings. You
would be wearing the family-jewels, reluctantly surrendered to you by my
aunt. They are many and marvellous, in their antique settings. I don’t
want to brag. It humiliates me to speak to you as I am speaking. But
I am heart-set on you, and to win you there is not a precious stone I
would leave unturned. Conceive a parure all of white stones--diamonds,
white sapphires, white topazes, tourmalines. Another, of rubies and
amethysts, set in gold filigree. Rings that once were poison-combs on
Florentine fingers. Red roses for your hair--every petal a hollowed
ruby. Amulets and ape-buckles, zones and fillets. Aye! know that you
would be weeping for wonder before you had seen a tithe of these gauds.
Know, too, Miss Dobson, that in the Peerage of France I am Duc d’Etretat
et de la Roche Guillaume. Louis Napoleon gave the title to my father for
not cutting him in the Bois. I have a house in the Champs Elysees. There
is a Swiss in its courtyard. He stands six-foot-seven in his stockings,
and the chasseurs are hardly less tall than he. Wherever I go, there are
two chefs in my retinue. Both are masters in their art, and furiously
jealous of each other. When I compliment either of them on some dish,
the other challenges him. They fight with rapiers, next morning, in the
garden of whatever house I am occupying. I do not know whether you are
greedy? If so, it may interest you to learn that I have a third chef,
who makes only souffles, and an Italian pastry-cook; to say nothing of
a Spaniard for salads, an Englishwoman for roasts, and an Abyssinian for
coffee. You found no trace of their handiwork in the meal you have just
had with me? No; for in Oxford it is a whim of mine--I may say a point
of honour--to lead the ordinary life of an undergraduate. What I eat
in this room is cooked by the heavy and unaided hand of Mrs. Batch,
my landlady. It is set before me by the unaided and--or are you in
error?--loving hand of her daughter. Other ministers have I none here. I
dispense with my private secretaries. I am unattended by a single valet.
So simple a way of life repels you? You would never be called upon to
share it. If you married me, I should take my name off the books of my
College. I propose that we should spend our honeymoon at Baiae. I have
a villa at Baiae. It is there that I keep my grandfather’s collection of
majolica. The sun shines there always. A long olive-grove secretes the
garden from the sea. When you walk in the garden, you know the sea only
in blue glimpses through the vacillating leaves. White-gleaming from the
bosky shade of this grove are several goddesses. Do you care for Canova?
I don’t myself. If you do, these figures will appeal to you: they are in
his best manner. Do you love the sea? This is not the only house of mine
that looks out on it. On the coast of County Clare--am I not Earl of
Enniskerry and Baron Shandrin in the Peerage of Ireland?--I have an
ancient castle. Sheer from a rock stands it, and the sea has always
raged up against its walls. Many ships lie wrecked under that loud
implacable sea. But mine is a brave strong castle. No storm affrights
it; and not the centuries, clustering houris, with their caresses can
seduce it from its hard austerity. I have several titles which for the
moment escape me. Baron Llffthwchl am I, and... and... but you can
find them for yourself in Debrett. In me you behold a Prince of the Holy
Roman Empire, and a Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Garter. Look
well at me! I am Hereditary Comber of the Queen’s Lap-Dogs. I am young.
I am handsome. My temper is sweet, and my character without blemish. In
fine, Miss Dobson, I am a most desirable parti.”

“But,” said Zuleika, “I don’t love you.”

The Duke stamped his foot. “I beg your pardon,” he said hastily. “I
ought not to have done that. But--you seem to have entirely missed the
point of what I was saying.”

“No, I haven’t,” said Zuleika.

“Then what,” cried the Duke, standing over her, “what is your reply?”

Said Zuleika, looking up at him, “My reply is that I think you are an
awful snob.”

The Duke turned on his heel, and strode to the other end of the room.
There he stood for some moments, his back to Zuleika.

“I think,” she resumed in a slow, meditative voice, “that you are, with
the possible exception of a Mr. Edelweiss, THE most awful snob I have
ever met.”

The Duke looked back over his shoulder. He gave Zuleika the stinging
reprimand of silence. She was sorry, and showed it in her eyes. She felt
she had gone too far. True, he was nothing to her now. But she had loved
him once. She could not forget that.

“Come!” she said. “Let us be good friends. Give me your hand!” He came
to her, slowly. “There!”

The Duke withdrew his fingers before she unclasped them. That
twice-flung taunt rankled still. It was monstrous to have been called
a snob. A snob!--he, whose readiness to form what would certainly be
regarded as a shocking misalliance ought to have stifled the charge, not
merely vindicated him from it! He had forgotten, in the blindness of his
love, how shocking the misalliance would be. Perhaps she, unloving, had
not been so forgetful? Perhaps her refusal had been made, generously,
for his own sake. Nay, rather for her own. Evidently, she had felt that
the high sphere from which he beckoned was no place for the likes of
her. Evidently, she feared she would pine away among those strange
splendours, never be acclimatised, always be unworthy. He had thought to
overwhelm her, and he had done his work too thoroughly. Now he must try
to lighten the load he had imposed.

Seating himself opposite to her, “You remember,” he said, “that there is
a dairy at Tankerton?”

“A dairy? Oh yes.”

“Do you remember what it is called?”

Zuleika knit her brows.

He helped her out. “It is called ‘Her Grace’s’.”

“Oh, of course!” said Zuleika.

“Do you know WHY it is called so?”

“Well, let’s see... I know you told me.”

“Did I? I think not. I will tell you now... That cool out-house dates
from the middle of the eighteenth century. My great-great-grandfather,
when he was a very old man, married en troisiemes noces a dairy-maid
on the Tankerton estate. Meg Speedwell was her name. He had seen her
walking across a field, not many months after the interment of his
second Duchess, Maria, that great and gifted lady. I know not whether it
was that her bonny mien fanned in him some embers of his youth, or that
he was loth to be outdone in gracious eccentricity by his crony the Duke
of Dewlap, who himself had just taken a bride from a dairy. (You have
read Meredith’s account of that affair? No? You should.) Whether it was
veritable love or mere modishness that formed my ancestor’s resolve,
presently the bells were ringing out, and the oldest elm in the park was
being felled, in Meg Speedwell’s honour, and the children were strewing
daisies on which Meg Speedwell trod, a proud young hoyden of a bride,
with her head in the air and her heart in the seventh heaven. The Duke
had given her already a horde of fine gifts; but these, he had said,
were nothing--trash in comparison with the gift that was to ensure for
her a perdurable felicity. After the wedding-breakfast, when all the
squires had ridden away on their cobs, and all the squires’ ladies in
their coaches, the Duke led his bride forth from the hall, leaning on
her arm, till they came to a little edifice of new white stone, very
spick and span, with two lattice-windows and a bright green door
between. This he bade her enter. A-flutter with excitement, she
turned the handle. In a moment she flounced back, red with shame and
anger--flounced forth from the fairest, whitest, dapperest dairy,
wherein was all of the best that the keenest dairy-maid might need. The
Duke bade her dry her eyes, for that it ill befitted a great lady to be
weeping on her wedding-day. ‘As for gratitude,’ he chuckled, ‘zounds!
that is a wine all the better for the keeping.’ Duchess Meg soon forgot
this unworthy wedding-gift, such was her rapture in the other, the so
august, appurtenances of her new life. What with her fine silk gowns
and farthingales, and her powder-closet, and the canopied bed she slept
in--a bed bigger far than the room she had slept in with her sisters,
and standing in a room far bigger than her father’s cottage; and
what with Betty, her maid, who had pinched and teased her at the
village-school, but now waited on her so meekly and trembled so
fearfully at a scolding; and what with the fine hot dishes that were set
before her every day, and the gallant speeches and glances of the fine
young gentlemen whom the Duke invited from London, Duchess Meg was quite
the happiest Duchess in all England. For a while, she was like a child
in a hay-rick. But anon, as the sheer delight of novelty wore away, she
began to take a more serious view of her position. She began to realise
her responsibilities. She was determined to do all that a great lady
ought to do. Twice every day she assumed the vapours. She schooled
herself in the mysteries of Ombre, of Macao. She spent hours over the
tambour-frame. She rode out on horse-back, with a riding-master. She had
a music-master to teach her the spinet; a dancing-master, too, to teach
her the Minuet and the Triumph and the Gaudy. All these accomplishments
she found mighty hard. She was afraid of her horse. All the morning, she
dreaded the hour when it would be brought round from the stables. She
dreaded her dancing-lesson. Try as she would, she could but stamp her
feet flat on the parquet, as though it had been the village-green. She
dreaded her music-lesson. Her fingers, disobedient to her ambition,
clumsily thumped the keys of the spinet, and by the notes of the score
propped up before her she was as cruelly perplexed as by the black and
red pips of the cards she conned at the gaming-table, or by the red
and gold threads that were always straying and snapping on her
tambour-frame. Still she persevered. Day in, day out, sullenly, she
worked hard to be a great lady. But skill came not to her, and hope
dwindled; only the dull effort remained. One accomplishment she did
master--to wit, the vapours: they became for her a dreadful reality. She
lost her appetite for the fine hot dishes. All night long she lay awake,
restless, tearful, under the fine silk canopy, till dawn stared her
into slumber. She seldom scolded Betty. She who had been so lusty and so
blooming saw in her mirror that she was pale and thin now; and the fine
young gentlemen, seeing it too, paid more heed now to their wine and
their dice than to her. And always, when she met him, the Duke smiled
the same mocking smile. Duchess Meg was pining slowly and surely away...
One morning, in Spring-time, she altogether vanished. Betty, bringing
the cup of chocolate to the bedside, found the bed empty. She raised the
alarm among her fellows. They searched high and low. Nowhere was their
mistress. The news was broken to their master, who, without comment,
rose, bade his man dress him, and presently walked out to the place
where he knew he would find her. And there, to be sure, she was,
churning, churning for dear life. Her sleeves were rolled above her
elbows, and her skirt was kilted high; and, as she looked back over her
shoulder and saw the Duke, there was the flush of roses in her cheeks,
and the light of a thousand thanks in her eyes. ‘Oh,’ she cried, ‘what
a curtsey I would drop you, but that to let go the handle were to spoil
all!’ And every morning, ever after, she woke when the birds woke, rose
when they rose, and went singing through the dawn to the dairy, there to
practise for her pleasure that sweet and lowly handicraft which she had
once practised for her need. And every evening, with her milking-stool
under her arm, and her milk-pail in her hand, she went into the field
and called the cows to her, as she had been wont to do. To those other,
those so august, accomplishments she no more pretended. She gave them
the go-by. And all the old zest and joyousness of her life came back
to her. Soundlier than ever slept she, and sweetlier dreamed, under the
fine silk canopy, till the birds called her to her work. Greater than
ever was her love of the fine furbelows that were hers to flaunt in, and
sharper her appetite for the fine hot dishes, and more tempestuous her
scolding of Betty, poor maid. She was more than ever now the cynosure,
the adored, of the fine young gentlemen. And as for her husband, she
looked up to him as the wisest, kindest man in all the world.”

“And the fine young gentlemen,” said Zuleika, “did she fall in love with
any of them?”

“You forget,” said the Duke coldly, “she was married to a member of my
family.”

“Oh, I beg your pardon. But tell me: did they ALL adore her?”

“Yes. Every one of them, wildly, madly.”

“Ah,” murmured Zuleika, with a smile of understanding. A shadow crossed
her face, “Even so,” she said, with some pique, “I don’t suppose she had
so very many adorers. She never went out into the world.”

“Tankerton,” said the Duke drily, “is a large house, and my
great-great-grandfather was the most hospitable of men. However,” he
added, marvelling that she had again missed the point so utterly, “my
purpose was not to confront you with a past rival in conquest, but to
set at rest a fear which I had, I think, roused in you by my somewhat
full description of the high majestic life to which you, as my bride,
would be translated.”

“A fear? What sort of a fear?”

“That you would not breathe freely--that you would starve (if I may use
a somewhat fantastic figure) among those strawberry-leaves. And so I
told you the story of Meg Speedwell, and how she lived happily ever
after. Nay, hear me out! The blood of Meg Speedwell’s lord flows in
my veins. I think I may boast that I have inherited something of his
sagacity. In any case, I can profit by his example. Do not fear that
I, if you were to wed me, should demand a metamorphosis of your present
self. I should take you as you are, gladly. I should encourage you to be
always exactly as you are--a radiant, irresistible member of the upper
middle-class, with a certain freedom of manner acquired through a
life of peculiar liberty. Can you guess what would be my principal
wedding-gift to you? Meg Speedwell had her dairy. For you, would be
built another outhouse--a neat hall wherein you would perform your
conjuring-tricks, every evening except Sunday, before me and my tenants
and my servants, and before such of my neighbours as might care to come.
None would respect you the less, seeing that I approved. Thus in
you would the pleasant history of Meg Speedwell repeat itself. You,
practising for your pleasure--nay, hear me out!--that sweet and lowly
handicraft which--”

“I won’t listen to another word!” cried Zuleika. “You are the most
insolent person I have ever met. I happen to come of a particularly good
family. I move in the best society. My manners are absolutely perfect.
If I found myself in the shoes of twenty Duchesses simultaneously, I
should know quite well how to behave. As for the one pair you can offer
me, I kick them away--so. I kick them back at you. I tell you--”

“Hush,” said the Duke, “hush! You are over-excited. There will be a
crowd under my window. There, there! I am sorry. I thought--”

“Oh, I know what you thought,” said Zuleika, in a quieter tone. “I am
sure you meant well. I am sorry I lost my temper. Only, you might have
given me credit for meaning what I said: that I would not marry you,
because I did not love you. I daresay there would be great advantages
in being your Duchess. But the fact is, I have no worldly wisdom. To me,
marriage is a sacrament. I could no more marry a man about whom I could
not make a fool of myself than I could marry one who made a fool of
himself about me. Else had I long ceased to be a spinster. Oh my friend,
do not imagine that I have not rejected, in my day, a score of suitors
quite as eligible as you.”

“As eligible? Who were they?” frowned the Duke.

“Oh, Archduke this, and Grand Duke that, and His Serene Highness the
other. I have a wretched memory for names.”

“And my name, too, will soon escape you, perhaps?”

“No. Oh, no. I shall always remember yours. You see, I was in love with
you. You deceived me into loving you...” She sighed. “Oh, had you but
been as strong as I thought you... Still, a swain the more. That is
something.” She leaned forward, smiling archly. “Those studs--show me
them again.”

The Duke displayed them in the hollow of his hand. She touched them
lightly, reverently, as a tourist touches a sacred relic in a church.

At length, “Do give me them,” she said. “I will keep them in a little
secret partition of my jewel-case.” The Duke had closed his fist. “Do!”
 she pleaded. “My other jewels--they have no separate meanings for me.
I never remember who gave me this one or that. These would be quite
different. I should always remember their history... Do!”

“Ask me for anything else,” said the Duke. “These are the one thing I
could not part with--even to you, for whose sake they are hallowed.”

Zuleika pouted. On the verge of persisting, she changed her mind, and
was silent.

“Well!” she said abruptly, “how about these races? Are you going to take
me to see them?”

“Races? What races?” murmured the Duke. “Oh yes. I had forgotten. Do you
really mean that you want to see them?”

“Why, of course! They are great fun, aren’t they?”

“And you are in a mood for great fun? Well, there is plenty of time. The
Second Division is not rowed till half-past four.”

“The Second Division? Why not take me to the First?”

“That is not rowed till six.”

“Isn’t this rather an odd arrangement?”

“No doubt. But Oxford never pretended to be strong in mathematics.”

“Why, it’s not yet three!” cried Zuleika, with a woebegone stare at the
clock. “What is to be done in the meantime?”

“Am not I sufficiently diverting?” asked the Duke bitterly.

“Quite candidly, no. Have you any friend lodging with you here?”

“One, overhead. A man named Noaks.”

“A small man, with spectacles?”

“Very small, with very large spectacles.”

“He was pointed out to me yesterday, as I was driving from the Station
... No, I don’t think I want to meet him. What can you have in common
with him?”

“One frailty, at least: he, too, Miss Dobson, loves you.”

“But of course he does. He saw me drive past. Very few of the others,”
 she said, rising and shaking herself, “have set eyes on me. Do let us go
out and look at the Colleges. I do need change of scene. If you were a
doctor, you would have prescribed that long ago. It is very bad for me
to be here, a kind of Cinderella, moping over the ashes of my love for
you. Where is your hat?”

Looking round, she caught sight of herself in the glass. “Oh,” she
cried, “what a fright I do look! I must never be seen like this!”

“You look very beautiful.”

“I don’t. That is a lover’s illusion. You yourself told me that this
tartan was perfectly hideous. There was no need to tell me that. I
came thus because I was coming to see you. I chose this frock in the
deliberate fear that you, if I made myself presentable, might succumb at
second sight of me. I would have sent out for a sack and dressed myself
in that, I would have blacked my face all over with burnt cork, only I
was afraid of being mobbed on the way to you.”

“Even so, you would but have been mobbed for your incorrigible beauty.”

“My beauty! How I hate it!” sighed Zuleika. “Still, here it is, and I
must needs make the best of it. Come! Take me to Judas. I will change my
things. Then I shall be fit for the races.”

As these two emerged, side by side, into the street, the Emperors
exchanged stony sidelong glances. For they saw the more than normal
pallor of the Duke’s face, and something very like desperation in his
eyes. They saw the tragedy progressing to its foreseen close. Unable to
stay its course, they were grimly fascinated now.



VI

“The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with
their bones.” At any rate, the sinner has a better chance than the saint
of being hereafter remembered. We, in whom original sin preponderates,
find him easier to understand. He is near to us, clear to us. The saint
is remote, dim. A very great saint may, of course, be remembered through
some sheer force of originality in him; and then the very mystery that
involves him for us makes him the harder to forget: he haunts us the
more surely because we shall never understand him. But the ordinary
saints grow faint to posterity; whilst quite ordinary sinners pass
vividly down the ages.

Of the disciples of Jesus, which is he that is most often remembered
and cited by us? Not the disciple whom Jesus loved; neither of the
Boanerges, nor any other of them who so steadfastly followed Him and
served Him; but the disciple who betrayed Him for thirty pieces of
silver. Judas Iscariot it is who outstands, overshadowing those
other fishermen. And perhaps it was by reason of this precedence that
Christopher Whitrid, Knight, in the reign of Henry VI., gave the name of
Judas to the College which he had founded. Or perhaps it was because he
felt that in a Christian community not even the meanest and basest of
men should be accounted beneath contempt, beyond redemption.

At any rate, thus he named his foundation. And, though for Oxford men
the savour of the name itself has long evaporated through its local
connexion, many things show that for the Founder himself it was no empty
vocable. In a niche above the gate stands a rudely carved statue
of Judas, holding a money-bag in his right hand. Among the original
statutes of the College is one by which the Bursar is enjoined to
distribute in Passion Week thirty pieces of silver among the needier
scholars “for saike of atonynge.” The meadow adjoining the back of the
College has been called from time immemorial “the Potter’s Field.” And
the name of Salt Cellar is not less ancient and significant.

Salt Cellar, that grey and green quadrangle visible from the room
assigned to Zuleika, is very beautiful, as I have said. So tranquil is
it as to seem remote not merely from the world, but even from Oxford, so
deeply is it hidden away in the core of Oxford’s heart. So tranquil
is it, one would guess that nothing had ever happened in it. For five
centuries these walls have stood, and during that time have beheld, one
would say, no sight less seemly than the good work of weeding, mowing,
rolling, that has made, at length, so exemplary the lawn. These
cloisters that grace the south and east sides--five centuries have
passed through them, leaving in them no echo, leaving on them no
sign, of all that the outer world, for good or evil, has been doing so
fiercely, so raucously.

And yet, if you are versed in the antiquities of Oxford, you know that
this small, still quadrangle has played its part in the rough-and-tumble
of history, and has been the background of high passions and strange
fates. The sun-dial in its midst has told the hours to more than one
bygone King. Charles I. lay for twelve nights in Judas; and it was here,
in this very quadrangle, that he heard from the lips of a breathless and
blood-stained messenger the news of Chalgrove Field. Sixty years later,
James, his son, came hither, black with threats, and from one of the
hind-windows of the Warden’s house--maybe, from the very room where now
Zuleika was changing her frock--addressed the Fellows, and presented
to them the Papist by him chosen to be their Warden, instead of the
Protestant whom they had elected. They were not of so stern a stuff as
the Fellows of Magdalen, who, despite His Majesty’s menaces, had just
rejected Bishop Farmer. The Papist was elected, there and then, al
fresco, without dissent. Cannot one see them, these Fellows of Judas,
huddled together round the sun-dial, like so many sheep in a storm? The
King’s wrath, according to a contemporary record, was so appeased by
their pliancy that he deigned to lie for two nights in Judas, and at
a grand refection in Hall “was gracious and merrie.” Perhaps it was in
lingering gratitude for such patronage that Judas remained so pious to
his memory even after smug Herrenhausen had been dumped down on us for
ever. Certainly, of all the Colleges none was more ardent than Judas for
James Stuart. Thither it was that young Sir Harry Esson led, under cover
of night, three-score recruits whom he had enlisted in the surrounding
villages. The cloisters of Salt Cellar were piled with arms and stores;
and on its grass--its sacred grass!--the squad was incessantly drilled,
against the good day when Ormond should land his men in Devon. For a
whole month Salt Cellar was a secret camp. But somehow, at length--woe
to “lost causes and impossible loyalties”--Herrenhausen had wind of
it; and one night, when the soldiers of the white cockade lay snoring
beneath the stars, stealthily the white-faced Warden unbarred his
postern--that very postern through which now Zuleika had passed on the
way to her bedroom--and stealthily through it, one by one on tip-toe,
came the King’s foot-guards. Not many shots rang out, nor many swords
clashed, in the night air, before the trick was won for law and order.
Most of the rebels were overpowered in their sleep; and those who had
time to snatch arms were too dazed to make good resistance. Sir Harry
Esson himself was the only one who did not live to be hanged. He had
sprung up alert, sword in hand, at the first alarm, setting his back to
the cloisters. There he fought calmly, ferociously, till a bullet went
through his chest. “By God, this College is well-named!” were the words
he uttered as he fell forward and died.

Comparatively tame was the scene now being enacted in this place. The
Duke, with bowed head, was pacing the path between the lawn and the
cloisters. Two other undergraduates stood watching him, whispering
to each other, under the archway that leads to the Front Quadrangle.
Presently, in a sheepish way, they approached him. He halted and looked
up.

“I say,” stammered the spokesman.

“Well?” asked the Duke. Both youths were slightly acquainted with him;
but he was not used to being spoken to by those whom he had not first
addressed. Moreover, he was loth to be thus disturbed in his sombre
reverie. His manner was not encouraging.

“Isn’t it a lovely day for the Eights?” faltered the spokesman.

“I conceive,” the Duke said, “that you hold back some other question.”

The spokesman smiled weakly. Nudged by the other, he muttered “Ask him
yourself!”

The Duke diverted his gaze to the other, who, with an angry look at the
one, cleared his throat, and said “I was going to ask if you thought
Miss Dobson would come and have luncheon with me to-morrow?”

“A sister of mine will be there,” explained the one, knowing the Duke to
be a precisian.

“If you are acquainted with Miss Dobson, a direct invitation should be
sent to her,” said the Duke. “If you are not--” The aposiopesis was icy.

“Well, you see,” said the other of the two, “that is just the
difficulty. I AM acquainted with her. But is she acquainted with ME? I
met her at breakfast this morning, at the Warden’s.”

“So did I,” added the one.

“But she--well,” continued the other, “she didn’t take much notice of
us. She seemed to be in a sort of dream.”

“Ah!” murmured the Duke, with melancholy interest.

“The only time she opened her lips,” said the other, “was when she asked
us whether we took tea or coffee.”

“She put hot milk in my tea,” volunteered the one, “and upset the cup
over my hand, and smiled vaguely.”

“And smiled vaguely,” sighed the Duke.

“She left us long before the marmalade stage,” said the one.

“Without a word,” said the other.

“Without a glance?” asked the Duke. It was testified by the one and the
other that there had been not so much as a glance.

“Doubtless,” the disingenuous Duke said, “she had a headache... Was she
pale?”

“Very pale,” answered the one.

“A healthy pallor,” qualified the other, who was a constant reader of
novels.

“Did she look,” the Duke inquired, “as if she had spent a sleepless
night?”

That was the impression made on both.

“Yet she did not seem listless or unhappy?”

No, they would not go so far as to say that.

“Indeed, were her eyes of an almost unnatural brilliance?”

“Quite unnatural,” confessed the one.

“Twin stars,” interpolated the other.

“Did she, in fact, seem to be consumed by some inward rapture?”

Yes, now they came to think of it, this was exactly how she HAD seemed.

It was sweet, it was bitter, for the Duke. “I remember,” Zuleika had
said to him, “nothing that happened to me this morning till I found
myself at your door.” It was bitter-sweet to have that outline filled in
by these artless pencils. No, it was only bitter, to be, at his time of
life, living in the past.

“The purpose of your tattle?” he asked coldly.

The two youths hurried to the point from which he had diverted them.
“When she went by with you just now,” said the one, “she evidently
didn’t know us from Adam.”

“And I had so hoped to ask her to luncheon,” said the other.

“Well?”

“Well, we wondered if you would re-introduce us. And then perhaps...”

There was a pause. The Duke was touched to kindness for these
fellow-lovers. He would fain preserve them from the anguish that beset
himself. So humanising is sorrow.

“You are in love with Miss Dobson?” he asked.

Both nodded.

“Then,” said he, “you will in time be thankful to me for not affording
you further traffic with that lady. To love and be scorned--does Fate
hold for us a greater inconvenience? You think I beg the question? Let
me tell you that I, too, love Miss Dobson, and that she scorns me.”

To the implied question “What chance would there be for you?” the reply
was obvious.

Amazed, abashed, the two youths turned on their heels.

“Stay!” said the Duke. “Let me, in justice to myself, correct an
inference you may have drawn. It is not by reason of any defect in
myself, perceived or imagined, that Miss Dobson scorns me. She scorns me
simply because I love her. All who love her she scorns. To see her is
to love her. Therefore shut your eyes to her. Strictly exclude her from
your horizon. Ignore her. Will you do this?”

“We will try,” said the one, after a pause.

“Thank you very much,” added the other.

The Duke watched them out of sight. He wished he could take the good
advice he had given them... Suppose he did take it! Suppose he went
to the Bursar, obtained an exeat, fled straight to London! What just
humiliation for Zuleika to come down and find her captive gone! He
pictured her staring around the quadrangle, ranging the cloisters,
calling to him. He pictured her rustling to the gate of the College,
inquiring at the porter’s lodge. “His Grace, Miss, he passed through a
minute ago. He’s going down this afternoon.”

Yet, even while his fancy luxuriated in this scheme, he well knew that
he would not accomplish anything of the kind--knew well that he would
wait here humbly, eagerly, even though Zuleika lingered over her toilet
till crack o’ doom. He had no desire that was not centred in her. Take
away his love for her, and what remained? Nothing--though only in the
past twenty-four hours had this love been added to him. Ah, why had
he ever seen her? He thought of his past, its cold splendour and
insouciance. But he knew that for him there was no returning. His boats
were burnt. The Cytherean babes had set their torches to that flotilla,
and it had blazed like match-wood. On the isle of the enchantress he was
stranded for ever. For ever stranded on the isle of an enchantress who
would have nothing to do with him! What, he wondered, should be done in
so piteous a quandary? There seemed to be two courses. One was to pine
slowly and painfully away. The other...

Academically, the Duke had often reasoned that a man for whom life holds
no chance of happiness cannot too quickly shake life off. Now, of a
sudden, there was for that theory a vivid application.

“Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer” was not a point by which he,
“more an antique Roman than a Dane,” was at all troubled. Never had he
given ear to that cackle which is called Public Opinion. The judgment
of his peers--this, he had often told himself, was the sole arbitrage he
could submit to; but then, who was to be on the bench? Peerless, he was
irresponsible--the captain of his soul, the despot of his future. No
injunction but from himself would he bow to; and his own injunctions--so
little Danish was he--had always been peremptory and lucid. Lucid and
peremptory, now, the command he issued to himself.

“So sorry to have been so long,” carolled a voice from above. The Duke
looked up. “I’m all but ready,” said Zuleika at her window.

That brief apparition changed the colour of his resolve. He realised
that to die for love of this lady would be no mere measure of
precaution, or counsel of despair. It would be in itself a passionate
indulgence--a fiery rapture, not to be foregone. What better could
he ask than to die for his love? Poor indeed seemed to him now
the sacrament of marriage beside the sacrament of death. Death was
incomparably the greater, the finer soul. Death was the one true bridal.

He flung back his head, spread wide his arms, quickened his pace almost
to running speed. Ah, he would win his bride before the setting of the
sun. He knew not by what means he would win her. Enough that even now,
full-hearted, fleet-footed, he was on his way to her, and that she heard
him coming.

When Zuleika, a vision in vaporous white, came out through the postern,
she wondered why he was walking at so remarkable a pace. To him, wildly
expressing in his movement the thought within him, she appeared as his
awful bride. With a cry of joy, he bounded towards her, and would have
caught her in his arms, had she not stepped nimbly aside.

“Forgive me!” he said, after a pause. “It was a mistake--an idiotic
mistake of identity. I thought you were...”

Zuleika, rigid, asked “Have I many doubles?”

“You know well that in all the world is none so blest as to be like you.
I can only say that I was over-wrought. I can only say that it shall not
occur again.”

She was very angry indeed. Of his penitence there could be no doubt. But
there are outrages for which no penitence can atone. This seemed to be
one of them. Her first impulse was to dismiss the Duke forthwith and for
ever. But she wanted to show herself at the races. And she could not go
alone. And except the Duke there was no one to take her. True, there was
the concert to-night; and she could show herself there to advantage; but
she wanted ALL Oxford to see her--see her NOW.

“I am forgiven?” he asked. In her, I am afraid, self-respect outweighed
charity. “I will try,” she said merely, “to forget what you have done.”
 Motioning him to her side, she opened her parasol, and signified her
readiness to start.

They passed together across the vast gravelled expanse of the Front
Quadrangle. In the porch of the College there were, as usual, some
chained-up dogs, patiently awaiting their masters. Zuleika, of course,
did not care for dogs. One has never known a good man to whom dogs were
not dear; but many of the best women have no such fondness. You will
find that the woman who is really kind to dogs is always one who has
failed to inspire sympathy in men. For the attractive woman, dogs are
mere dumb and restless brutes--possibly dangerous, certainly soulless.
Yet will coquetry teach her to caress any dog in the presence of a
man enslaved by her. Even Zuleika, it seems, was not above this rather
obvious device for awaking envy. Be sure she did not at all like the
look of the very big bulldog who was squatting outside the porter’s
lodge. Perhaps, but for her present anger, she would not have stooped
endearingly down to him, as she did, cooing over him and trying to pat
his head. Alas, her pretty act was a failure. The bulldog cowered away
from her, horrifically grimacing. This was strange. Like the majority
of his breed, Corker (for such was his name) had ever been wistful to
be noticed by any one--effusively grateful for every word or pat, an
ever-ready wagger and nuzzler, to none ineffable. No beggar, no burglar,
had ever been rebuffed by this catholic beast. But he drew the line at
Zuleika.

Seldom is even a fierce bulldog heard to growl. Yet Corker growled at
Zuleika.



VII

The Duke did not try to break the stony silence in which Zuleika walked.
Her displeasure was a luxury to him, for it was so soon to be dispelled.
A little while, and she would be hating herself for her pettiness. Here
was he, going to die for her; and here was she, blaming him for a breach
of manners. Decidedly, the slave had the whip-hand. He stole a sidelong
look at her, and could not repress a smile. His features quickly
composed themselves. The Triumph of Death must not be handled as a
cheap score. He wanted to die because he would thereby so poignantly
consummate his love, express it so completely, once and for all...
And she--who could say that she, knowing what he had done, might not,
illogically, come to love him? Perhaps she would devote her life to
mourning him. He saw her bending over his tomb, in beautiful humble
curves, under a starless sky, watering the violets with her tears.

Shades of Novalis and Friedrich Schlegel and other despicable
maunderers! He brushed them aside. He would be practical. The point was,
when and how to die? Time: the sooner the better. Manner:.. less easy to
determine. He must not die horribly, nor without dignity. The manner of
the Roman philosophers? But the only kind of bath which an undergraduate
can command is a hip-bath. Stay! there was the river. Drowning (he had
often heard) was a rather pleasant sensation. And to the river he was
even now on his way.

It troubled him that he could swim. Twice, indeed, from his yacht,
he had swum the Hellespont. And how about the animal instinct of
self-preservation, strong even in despair? No matter! His soul’s set
purpose would subdue that. The law of gravitation that brings one to the
surface? There his very skill in swimming would help him. He would swim
under water, along the river-bed, swim till he found weeds to cling to,
weird strong weeds that he would coil round him, exulting faintly...

As they turned into Radcliffe Square, the Duke’s ear caught the sound of
a far-distant gun. He started, and looked up at the clock of St. Mary’s.
Half-past four! The boats had started.

He had heard that whenever a woman was to blame for a disappointment,
the best way to avoid a scene was to inculpate oneself. He did not
wish Zuleika to store up yet more material for penitence. And so “I am
sorry,” he said. “That gun--did you hear it? It was the signal for the
race. I shall never forgive myself.”

“Then we shan’t see the race at all?” cried Zuleika.

“It will be over, alas, before we are near the river. All the people
will be coming back through the meadows.”

“Let us meet them.”

“Meet a torrent? Let us have tea in my rooms and go down quietly for the
other Division.”

“Let us go straight on.”

Through the square, across the High, down Grove Street, they passed.
The Duke looked up at the tower of Merton, “os oupot authis alla nyn
paunstaton.” Strange that to-night it would still be standing here,
in all its sober and solid beauty--still be gazing, over the roofs and
chimneys, at the tower of Magdalen, its rightful bride. Through untold
centuries of the future it would stand thus, gaze thus. He winced.
Oxford walls have a way of belittling us; and the Duke was loth to
regard his doom as trivial.

Aye, by all minerals we are mocked. Vegetables, yearly deciduous, are
far more sympathetic. The lilac and laburnum, making lovely now the
railed pathway to Christ Church meadow, were all a-swaying and a-nodding
to the Duke as he passed by. “Adieu, adieu, your Grace,” they were
whispering. “We are very sorry for you--very sorry indeed. We never
dared suppose you would predecease us. We think your death a very great
tragedy. Adieu! Perhaps we shall meet in another world--that is, if the
members of the animal kingdom have immortal souls, as we have.”

The Duke was little versed in their language; yet, as he passed between
these gently garrulous blooms, he caught at least the drift of their
salutation, and smiled a vague but courteous acknowledgment, to the
right and the left alternately, creating a very favourable impression.

No doubt, the young elms lining the straight way to the barges had seen
him coming; but any whispers of their leaves were lost in the murmur of
the crowd returning from the race. Here, at length, came the torrent
of which the Duke had spoken; and Zuleika’s heart rose at it. Here was
Oxford! From side to side the avenue was filled with a dense procession
of youths--youths interspersed with maidens whose parasols were as
flotsam and jetsam on a seething current of straw hats. Zuleika neither
quickened nor slackened her advance. But brightlier and brightlier shone
her eyes.

The vanguard of the procession was pausing now, swaying, breaking at
sight of her. She passed, imperial, through the way cloven for her. All
a-down the avenue, the throng parted as though some great invisible
comb were being drawn through it. The few youths who had already
seen Zuleika, and by whom her beauty had been bruited throughout the
University, were lost in a new wonder, so incomparably fairer was she
than the remembered vision. And the rest hardly recognised her from the
descriptions, so incomparably fairer was the reality than the hope.

She passed among them. None questioned the worthiness of her escort.
Could I give you better proof the awe in which our Duke was held? Any
man is glad to be seen escorting a very pretty woman. He thinks it adds
to his prestige. Whereas, in point of fact, his fellow-men are saying
merely “Who’s that appalling fellow with her?” or “Why does she go about
with that ass So-and-So?” Such cavil may in part be envy. But it is a
fact that no man, howsoever graced, can shine in juxtaposition to a very
pretty woman. The Duke himself cut a poor figure beside Zuleika. Yet not
one of all the undergraduates felt she could have made a wiser choice.

She swept among them. Her own intrinsic radiance was not all that
flashed from her. She was a moving reflector and refractor of all the
rays of all the eyes that mankind had turned on her. Her mien told the
story of her days. Bright eyes, light feet--she trod erect from a vista
whose glare was dazzling to all beholders. She swept among them, a
miracle, overwhelming, breath-bereaving. Nothing at all like her had
ever been seen in Oxford.

Mainly architectural, the beauties of Oxford. True, the place is no
longer one-sexed. There are the virguncules of Somerville and Lady
Margaret’s Hall; but beauty and the lust for learning have yet to be
allied. There are the innumerable wives and daughters around the Parks,
running in and out of their little red-brick villas; but the indignant
shade of celibacy seems to have called down on the dons a Nemesis which
precludes them from either marrying beauty or begetting it. (From the
Warden’s son, that unhappy curate, Zuleika inherited no tittle of
her charm. Some of it, there is no doubt, she did inherit from the
circus-rider who was her mother.)

But the casual feminine visitors? Well, the sisters and cousins of an
undergraduate seldom seem more passable to his comrades than to himself.
Altogether, the instinct of sex is not pandered to in Oxford. It is not,
however, as it may once have been, dormant. The modern importation of
samples of femininity serves to keep it alert, though not to gratify it.
A like result is achieved by another modern development--photography.
The undergraduate may, and usually does, surround himself with
photographs of pretty ladies known to the public. A phantom harem! Yet
the houris have an effect on their sultan. Surrounded both by plain
women of flesh and blood and by beauteous women on pasteboard, the
undergraduate is the easiest victim of living loveliness--is as a fire
ever well and truly laid, amenable to a spark. And if the spark be such
a flaring torch as Zuleika?--marvel not, reader, at the conflagration.

Not only was the whole throng of youths drawing asunder before her:
much of it, as she passed, was forming up in her wake. Thus, with the
confluence of two masses--one coming away from the river, the other
returning to it--chaos seethed around her and the Duke before they were
half-way along the avenue. Behind them, and on either side of them, the
people were crushed inextricably together, swaying and surging this way
and that. “Help!” cried many a shrill feminine voice. “Don’t push!” “Let
me out!” “You brute!” “Save me, save me!” Many ladies fainted, whilst
their escorts, supporting them and protecting them as best they could,
peered over the heads of their fellows for one glimpse of the divine
Miss Dobson. Yet for her and the Duke, in the midst of the terrific
compress, there was space enough. In front of them, as by a miracle
of deference, a way still cleared itself. They reached the end of the
avenue without a pause in their measured progress. Nor even when they
turned to the left, along the rather narrow path beside the barges, was
there any obstacle to their advance. Passing evenly forward, they alone
were cool, unhustled, undishevelled.

The Duke was so rapt in his private thoughts that he was hardly
conscious of the strange scene. And as for Zuleika, she, as well she
might be, was in the very best of good humours.

“What a lot of house-boats!” she exclaimed. “Are you going to take me on
to one of them?”

The Duke started. Already they were alongside the Judas barge. “Here,”
 he said, “is our goal.”

He stepped through the gate of the railings, out upon the plank, and
offered her his hand.

She looked back. The young men in the vanguard were crushing their
shoulders against the row behind them, to stay the oncoming host. She
had half a mind to go back through the midst of them; but she really did
want her tea, and she followed the Duke on to the barge, and under his
auspices climbed the steps to the roof.

It looked very cool and gay, this roof, under its awning of red and
white stripes. Nests of red and white flowers depended along either side
of it. Zuleika moved to the side which commanded a view of the bank. She
leaned her arms on the balustrade, and gazed down.

The crowd stretched as far as she could see--a vista of faces upturned
to her. Suddenly it hove forward. Its vanguard was swept irresistibly
past the barge--swept by the desire of the rest to see her at closer
quarters. Such was the impetus that the vision for each man was but
a lightning-flash: he was whirled past, struggling, almost before his
brain took the message of his eyes.

Those who were Judas men made frantic efforts to board the barge, trying
to hurl themselves through the gate in the railings; but they were swept
vainly on.

Presently the torrent began to slacken, became a mere river, a mere
procession of youths staring up rather shyly.

Before the last stragglers had marched by, Zuleika moved away to the
other side of the roof, and, after a glance at the sunlit river,
sank into one of the wicker chairs, and asked the Duke to look less
disagreeable and to give her some tea.

Among others hovering near the little buffet were the two youths whose
parley with the Duke I have recorded.

Zuleika was aware of the special persistence of their gaze. When the
Duke came back with her cup, she asked him who they were. He replied,
truthfully enough, that their names were unknown to him.

“Then,” she said, “ask them their names, and introduce them to me.”

“No,” said the Duke, sinking into the chair beside her. “That I shall
not do. I am your victim: not your pander. Those two men stand on the
threshold of a possibly useful and agreeable career. I am not going to
trip them up for you.”

“I am not sure,” said Zuleika, “that you are very polite. Certainly you
are foolish. It is natural for boys to fall in love. If these two are
in love with me, why not let them talk to me? It were an experience on
which they would always look back with romantic pleasure. They may never
see me again. Why grudge them this little thing?” She sipped her tea.
“As for tripping them up on a threshold--that is all nonsense. What harm
has unrequited love ever done to anybody?” She laughed. “Look at ME!
When I came to your rooms this morning, thinking I loved in vain, did I
seem one jot the worse for it? Did I look different?”

“You looked, I am bound to say, nobler, more spiritual.”

“More spiritual?” she exclaimed. “Do you mean I looked tired or ill?”

“No, you seemed quite fresh. But then, you are singular. You are no
criterion.”

“You mean you can’t judge those two young men by me? Well, I am only a
woman, of course. I have heard of women, no longer young, wasting away
because no man loved them. I have often heard of a young woman fretting
because some particular young man didn’t love her. But I never heard of
her wasting away. Certainly a young man doesn’t waste away for love of
some particular young woman. He very soon makes love to some other one.
If his be an ardent nature, the quicker his transition. All the most
ardent of my past adorers have married. Will you put my cup down,
please?”

“Past?” echoed the Duke, as he placed her cup on the floor. “Have any of
your lovers ceased to love you?”

“Ah no, no; not in retrospect. I remain their ideal, and all that, of
course. They cherish the thought of me. They see the world in terms of
me. But I am an inspiration, not an obsession; a glow, not a blight.”

“You don’t believe in the love that corrodes, the love that ruins?”

“No,” laughed Zuleika.

“You have never dipped into the Greek pastoral poets, nor sampled the
Elizabethan sonneteers?”

“No, never. You will think me lamentably crude: my experience of life
has been drawn from life itself.”

“Yet often you talk as though you had read rather much. Your way of
speech has what is called ‘the literary flavour’.”

“Ah, that is an unfortunate trick which I caught from a writer, a Mr.
Beerbohm, who once sat next to me at dinner somewhere. I can’t break
myself of it. I assure you I hardly ever open a book. Of life, though,
my experience has been very wide. Brief? But I suppose the soul of man
during the past two or three years has been much as it was in the reign
of Queen Elizabeth and of--whoever it was that reigned over the Greek
pastures. And I daresay the modern poets are making the same old silly
distortions. But forgive me,” she added gently, “perhaps you yourself
are a poet?”

“Only since yesterday,” answered the Duke (not less unfairly to himself
than to Roger Newdigate and Thomas Gaisford). And he felt he was
especially a dramatic poet. All the while that she had been sitting by
him here, talking so glibly, looking so straight into his eyes, flashing
at him so many pretty gestures, it was the sense of tragic irony
that prevailed in him--that sense which had stirred in him, and been
repressed, on the way from Judas. He knew that she was making her effect
consciously for the other young men by whom the roof of the barge was
now thronged. Him alone she seemed to observe. By her manner, she might
have seemed to be making love to him. He envied the men she was so
deliberately making envious--the men whom, in her undertone to him, she
was really addressing. But he did take comfort in the irony. Though she
used him as a stalking-horse, he, after all, was playing with her as a
cat plays with a mouse. While she chattered on, without an inkling that
he was no ordinary lover, and coaxing him to present two quite ordinary
young men to her, he held over her the revelation that he for love of
her was about to die.

And, while he drank in the radiance of her beauty, he heard her
chattering on. “So you see,” she was saying, “it couldn’t do those young
men any harm. Suppose unrequited love IS anguish: isn’t the discipline
wholesome? Suppose I AM a sort of furnace: shan’t I purge, refine,
temper? Those two boys are but scorched from here. That is horrid; and
what good will it do them?” She laid a hand on his arm. “Cast them into
the furnace for their own sake, dear Duke! Or cast one of them, or,” she
added, glancing round at the throng, “any one of these others!”

“For their own sake?” he echoed, withdrawing his arm. “If you were not,
as the whole world knows you to be, perfectly respectable, there might
be something in what you say. But as it is, you can but be an engine for
mischief; and your sophistries leave me unmoved. I shall certainly keep
you to myself.”

“I hate you,” said Zuleika, with an ugly petulance that crowned the
irony.

“So long as I live,” uttered the Duke, in a level voice, “you will
address no man but me.”

“If your prophecy is to be fulfilled,” laughed Zuleika, rising from her
chair, “your last moment is at hand.”

“It is,” he answered, rising too.

“What do you mean?” she asked, awed by something in his tone.

“I mean what I say: that my last moment is at hand.” He withdrew
his eyes from hers, and, leaning his elbows on the balustrade, gazed
thoughtfully at the river. “When I am dead,” he added, over his
shoulder, “you will find these fellows rather coy of your advances.”

For the first time since his avowal of his love for her, Zuleika found
herself genuinely interested in him. A suspicion of his meaning had
flashed through her soul.--But no! surely he could not mean THAT! It
must have been a metaphor merely. And yet, something in his eyes... She
leaned beside him. Her shoulder touched his. She gazed questioningly at
him. He did not turn his face to her. He gazed at the sunlit river.

The Judas Eight had just embarked for their voyage to the
starting-point. Standing on the edge of the raft that makes a floating
platform for the barge, William, the hoary bargee, was pushing them off
with his boat-hook, wishing them luck with deferential familiarity.
The raft was thronged with Old Judasians--mostly clergymen--who were
shouting hearty hortations, and evidently trying not to appear so old
as they felt--or rather, not to appear so startlingly old as their
contemporaries looked to them. It occurred to the Duke as a strange
thing, and a thing to be glad of, that he, in this world, would never be
an Old Judasian. Zuleika’s shoulder pressed his. He thrilled not at all.
To all intents, he was dead already.

The enormous eight young men in the thread-like skiff--the skiff that
would scarce have seemed an adequate vehicle for the tiny “cox” who sat
facing them--were staring up at Zuleika with that uniformity of impulse
which, in another direction, had enabled them to bump a boat on two of
the previous “nights.” If to-night they bumped the next boat, Univ.,
then would Judas be three places “up” on the river; and to-morrow Judas
would have a Bump Supper. Furthermore, if Univ. were bumped to-night,
Magdalen might be bumped to-morrow. Then would Judas, for the first
time in history, be head of the river. Oh tremulous hope! Yet, for
the moment, these eight young men seemed to have forgotten the awful
responsibility that rested on their over-developed shoulders. Their
hearts, already strained by rowing, had been transfixed this afternoon
by Eros’ darts. All of them had seen Zuleika as she came down to the
river; and now they sat gaping up at her, fumbling with their oars. The
tiny cox gaped too; but he it was who first recalled duty. With piping
adjurations he brought the giants back to their senses. The boat moved
away down stream, with a fairly steady stroke.

Not in a day can the traditions of Oxford be sent spinning. From all the
barges the usual punt-loads of young men were being ferried across
to the towing-path--young men naked of knee, armed with rattles,
post-horns, motor-hooters, gongs, and other instruments of clangour.
Though Zuleika filled their thoughts, they hurried along the
towing-path, as by custom, to the starting-point.

She, meanwhile, had not taken her eyes off the Duke’s profile. Nor
had she dared, for fear of disappointment, to ask him just what he had
meant.

“All these men,” he repeated dreamily, “will be coy of your advances.”
 It seemed to him a good thing that his death, his awful example, would
disinfatuate his fellow alumni. He had never been conscious of
public spirit. He had lived for himself alone. Love had come to him
yesternight, and to-day had waked in him a sympathy with mankind. It
was a fine thing to be a saviour. It was splendid to be human. He looked
quickly round to her who had wrought this change in him.

But the loveliest face in all the world will not please you if you see
it suddenly, eye to eye, at a distance of half an inch from your own.
It was thus that the Duke saw Zuleika’s: a monstrous deliquium a-glare.
Only for the fraction of an instant, though. Recoiling, he beheld the
loveliness that he knew--more adorably vivid now in its look of eager
questioning. And in his every fibre he thrilled to her. Even so had she
gazed at him last night, this morning. Aye, now as then, her soul was
full of him. He had recaptured, not her love, but his power to please
her. It was enough. He bowed his head; and “Moriturus te saluto” were
the words formed silently by his lips. He was glad that his death would
be a public service to the University. But the salutary lesson of
what the newspapers would call his “rash act” was, after all, only a
side-issue. The great thing, the prospect that flushed his cheek, was
the consummation of his own love, for its own sake, by his own death.
And, as he met her gaze, the question that had already flitted through
his brain found a faltering utterance; and “Shall you mourn me?” he
asked her.

But she would have no ellipses. “What are you going to do?” she
whispered.

“Do you not know?”

“Tell me.”

“Once and for all: you cannot love me?”

Slowly she shook her head. The black pearl and the pink, quivering, gave
stress to her ultimatum. But the violet of her eyes was all but hidden
by the dilation of her pupils.

“Then,” whispered the Duke, “when I shall have died, deeming life a vain
thing without you, will the gods give you tears for me? Miss Dobson,
will your soul awaken? When I shall have sunk for ever beneath these
waters whose supposed purpose here this afternoon is but that they be
ploughed by the blades of these young oarsmen, will there be struck from
that flint, your heart, some late and momentary spark of pity for me?”

“Why of course, of COURSE!” babbled Zuleika, with clasped hands and
dazzling eyes. “But,” she curbed herself, “it is--it would--oh, you
mustn’t THINK of it! I couldn’t allow it! I--I should never forgive
myself!”

“In fact, you would mourn me always?”

“Why yes!.. Y-es-always.” What else could she say? But would his answer
be that he dared not condemn her to lifelong torment?

“Then,” his answer was, “my joy in dying for you is made perfect.”

Her muscles relaxed. Her breath escaped between her teeth. “You are
utterly resolved?” she asked. “Are you?”

“Utterly.”

“Nothing I might say could change your purpose?”

“Nothing.”

“No entreaty, howsoever piteous, could move you?”

“None.”

Forthwith she urged, entreated, cajoled, commanded, with infinite
prettiness of ingenuity and of eloquence. Never was such a cascade of
dissuasion as hers. She only didn’t say she could love him. She never
hinted that. Indeed, throughout her pleading rang this recurrent motif:
that he must live to take to himself as mate some good, serious, clever
woman who would be a not unworthy mother of his children.

She laid stress on his youth, his great position, his brilliant
attainments, the much he had already achieved, the splendid
possibilities of his future. Though of course she spoke in undertones,
not to be overheard by the throng on the barge, it was almost as though
his health were being floridly proposed at some public banquet--say,
at a Tenants’ Dinner. Insomuch that, when she ceased, the Duke half
expected Jellings, his steward, to bob up uttering, with lifted hands, a
stentorian “For-or,” and all the company to take up the chant: “he’s--a
jolly good fellow.” His brief reply, on those occasions, seemed always
to indicate that, whatever else he might be, a jolly good fellow he was
not. But by Zuleika’s eulogy he really was touched. “Thank you--thank
you,” he gasped; and there were tears in his eyes. Dear the thought that
she so revered him, so wished him not to die. But this was no more than
a rush-light in the austere radiance of his joy in dying for her.

And the time was come. Now for the sacrament of his immersion in
infinity.

“Good-bye,” he said simply, and was about to swing himself on to the
ledge of the balustrade. Zuleika, divining his intention, made way for
him. Her bosom heaved quickly, quickly. All colour had left her face;
but her eyes shone as never before.

Already his foot was on the ledge, when hark! the sound of a distant
gun. To Zuleika, with all the chords of her soul strung to the utmost
tensity, the effect was as if she herself had been shot; and she
clutched at the Duke’s arm, like a frightened child. He laughed. “It was
the signal for the race,” he said, and laughed again, rather bitterly,
at the crude and trivial interruption of high matters.

“The race?” She laughed hysterically.

“Yes. ‘They’re off’.” He mingled his laughter with hers, gently seeking
to disengage his arm. “And perhaps,” he said, “I, clinging to the weeds
of the river’s bed, shall see dimly the boats and the oars pass over me,
and shall be able to gurgle a cheer for Judas.”

“Don’t!” she shuddered, with a woman’s notion that a jest means levity.
A tumult of thoughts surged in her, all confused. She only knew that
he must not die--not yet! A moment ago, his death would have been
beautiful. Not now! Her grip of his arm tightened. Only by breaking her
wrist could he have freed himself. A moment ago, she had been in the
seventh-heaven... Men were supposed to have died for love of her. It
had never been proved. There had always been something--card-debts,
ill-health, what not--to account for the tragedy. No man, to the best
of her recollection, had ever hinted that he was going to die for her.
Never, assuredly, had she seen the deed done. And then came he, the
first man she had loved, going to die here, before her eyes, because she
no longer loved him. But she knew now that he must not die--not yet!

All around her was the hush that falls on Oxford when the signal for the
race has sounded. In the distance could be heard faintly the noise of
cheering--a little sing-song sound, drawing nearer.

Ah, how could she have thought of letting him die so soon? She gazed
into his face--the face she might never have seen again. Even now, but
for that gun-shot, the waters would have closed over him, and his soul,
maybe, have passed away. She had saved him, thank heaven! She had him
still with her.

Gently, vainly, he still sought to unclasp her fingers from his arm.

“Not now!” she whispered. “Not yet!”

And the noise of the cheering, and of the trumpeting and rattling, as
it drew near, was an accompaniment to her joy in having saved her lover.
She would keep him with her--for a while! Let all be done in order. She
would savour the full sweetness of his sacrifice. Tomorrow--to-morrow,
yes, let him have his heart’s desire of death. Not now! Not yet!

“To-morrow,” she whispered, “to-morrow, if you will. Not yet!”

The first boat came jerking past in mid-stream; and the towing-path,
with its serried throng of runners, was like a live thing, keeping pace.
As in a dream, Zuleika saw it. And the din was in her ears. No heroine
of Wagner had ever a louder accompaniment than had ours to the surging
soul within her bosom.

And the Duke, tightly held by her, vibrated as to a powerful electric
current. He let her cling to him, and her magnetism range through him.
Ah, it was good not to have died! Fool, he had meant to drain off-hand,
at one coarse draught, the delicate wine of death. He would let his lips
caress the brim of the august goblet. He would dally with the aroma that
was there.

“So be it!” he cried into Zuleika’s ear--cried loudly, for it seemed as
though all the Wagnerian orchestras of Europe, with the Straussian ones
thrown in, were here to clash in unison the full volume of right music
for the glory of the reprieve.

The fact was that the Judas boat had just bumped Univ., exactly opposite
the Judas barge. The oarsmen in either boat sat humped, panting, some of
them rocking and writhing, after their wholesome exercise. But there
was not one of them whose eyes were not upcast at Zuleika. And the
vocalisation and instrumentation of the dancers and stampers on the
towing-path had by this time ceased to mean aught of joy in the victors
or of comfort for the vanquished, and had resolved itself into a wild
wordless hymn to the glory of Miss Dobson. Behind her and all around her
on the roof of the barge, young Judasians were venting in like manner
their hearts through their lungs. She paid no heed. It was as if she
stood alone with her lover on some silent pinnacle of the world. It was
as if she were a little girl with a brand-new and very expensive doll
which had banished all the little other old toys from her mind.

She simply could not, in her naive rapture, take her eyes off her
companion. To the dancers and stampers of the towing-path, many of whom
were now being ferried back across the river, and to the other youths
on the roof of the barge, Zuleika’s air of absorption must have seemed
a little strange. For already the news that the Duke loved Zuleika, and
that she loved him not, and would stoop to no man who loved her, had
spread like wild-fire among the undergraduates. The two youths in whom
the Duke had deigned to confide had not held their peace. And the effect
that Zuleika had made as she came down to the river was intensified by
the knowledge that not the great paragon himself did she deem worthy of
her. The mere sight of her had captured young Oxford. The news of her
supernal haughtiness had riveted the chains.

“Come!” said the Duke at length, staring around him with the eyes of one
awakened from a dream. “Come! I must take you back to Judas.”

“But you won’t leave me there?” pleaded Zuleika. “You will stay to
dinner? I am sure my grandfather would be delighted.”

“I am sure he would,” said the Duke, as he piloted her down the steps of
the barge. “But alas, I have to dine at the Junta to-night.”

“The Junta? What is that?”

“A little dining-club. It meets every Tuesday.”

“But--you don’t mean you are going to refuse me for that?”

“To do so is misery. But I have no choice. I have asked a guest.”

“Then ask another: ask me!” Zuleika’s notions of Oxford life were rather
hazy. It was with difficulty that the Duke made her realise that he
could not--not even if, as she suggested, she dressed herself up as a
man--invite her to the Junta. She then fell back on the impossibility
that he would not dine with her to-night, his last night in this world.
She could not understand that admirable fidelity to social engagements
which is one of the virtues implanted in the members of our aristocracy.
Bohemian by training and by career, she construed the Duke’s refusal as
either a cruel slight to herself or an act of imbecility. The thought of
being parted from her for one moment was torture to him; but “noblesse
oblige,” and it was quite impossible for him to break an engagement
merely because a more charming one offered itself: he would as soon have
cheated at cards.

And so, as they went side by side up the avenue, in the mellow light
of the westering sun, preceded in their course, and pursued, and
surrounded, by the mob of hoarse infatuate youths, Zuleika’s face was
as that of a little girl sulking. Vainly the Duke reasoned with her. She
could NOT see the point of view.

With that sudden softening that comes to the face of an angry woman who
has hit on a good argument, she turned to him and asked “How if I hadn’t
saved your life just now? Much you thought about your guest when you
were going to dive and die!”

“I did not forget him,” answered the Duke, smiling at her casuistry.
“Nor had I any scruple in disappointing him. Death cancels all
engagements.”

And Zuleika, worsted, resumed her sulking. But presently, as they neared
Judas, she relented. It was paltry to be cross with him who had resolved
to die for her and was going to die so on the morrow. And after all, she
would see him at the concert to-night. They would sit together. And all
to-morrow they would be together, till the time came for parting. Hers
was a naturally sunny disposition. And the evening was such a lovely
one, all bathed in gold. She was ashamed of her ill-humour.

“Forgive me,” she said, touching his arm. “Forgive me for being horrid.”
 And forgiven she promptly was. “And promise you will spend all to-morrow
with me.” And of course he promised.

As they stood together on the steps of the Warden’s front-door, exalted
above the level of the flushed and swaying crowd that filled the whole
length and breadth of Judas Street, she implored him not to be late for
the concert.

“I am never late,” he smiled.

“Ah, you’re so beautifully brought up!”

The door was opened.

“And--oh, you’re beautiful besides!” she whispered; and waved her hand
to him as she vanished into the hall.



VIII

A few minutes before half-past seven, the Duke, arrayed for dinner,
passed leisurely up the High. The arresting feature of his costume was
a mulberry-coloured coat, with brass buttons. This, to any one versed in
Oxford lore, betokened him a member of the Junta. It is awful to think
that a casual stranger might have mistaken him for a footman. It does
not do to think of such things.

The tradesmen, at the doors of their shops, bowed low as he passed,
rubbing their hands and smiling, hoping inwardly that they took no
liberty in sharing the cool rosy air of the evening with his Grace. They
noted that he wore in his shirt-front a black pearl and a pink. “Daring,
but becoming,” they opined.

The rooms of the Junta were over a stationer’s shop, next door but one
to the Mitre. They were small rooms; but as the Junta had now, besides
the Duke, only two members, and as no member might introduce more than
one guest, there was ample space.

The Duke had been elected in his second term. At that time there were
four members; but these were all leaving Oxford at the end of the summer
term, and there seemed to be in the ranks of the Bullingdon and the
Loder no one quite eligible for the Junta, that holy of holies. Thus it
was that the Duke inaugurated in solitude his second year of membership.
From time to time, he proposed and seconded a few candidates, after
“sounding” them as to whether they were willing to join. But always,
when election evening--the last Tuesday of term--drew near, he began to
have his doubts about these fellows. This one was “rowdy”; that one
was over-dressed; another did not ride quite straight to hounds; in the
pedigree of another a bar-sinister was more than suspected. Election
evening was always a rather melancholy time. After dinner, when the two
club servants had placed on the mahogany the time-worn Candidates’ Book
and the ballot-box, and had noiselessly withdrawn, the Duke, clearing
his throat, read aloud to himself “Mr. So-and-So, of Such-and-Such
College, proposed by the Duke of Dorset, seconded by the Duke of
Dorset,” and, in every case, when he drew out the drawer of the
ballot-box, found it was a black-ball that he had dropped into the urn.
Thus it was that at the end of the summer term the annual photographic
“group” taken by Messrs. Hills and Saunders was a presentment of the
Duke alone.

In the course of his third year he had become less exclusive. Not
because there seemed to be any one really worthy of the Junta; but
because the Junta, having thriven since the eighteenth century, must
not die. Suppose--one never knew--he were struck by lightning, the Junta
would be no more. So, not without reluctance, but unanimously, he had
elected The MacQuern, of Balliol, and Sir John Marraby, of Brasenose.

To-night, as he, a doomed man, went up into the familiar rooms, he was
wholly glad that he had thus relented. As yet, he was spared the tragic
knowledge that it would make no difference.*

   * The Junta has been reconstituted. But the apostolic line was
     broken, the thread was snapped; the old magic is fled.

The MacQuern and two other young men were already there.

“Mr. President,” said The MacQuern, “I present Mr. Trent-Garby, of
Christ Church.”

“The Junta is honoured,” said the Duke, bowing.

Such was the ritual of the club.

The other young man, because his host, Sir John Marraby, was not yet on
the scene, had no locus standi, and, though a friend of The MacQuern,
and well known to the Duke, had to be ignored.

A moment later, Sir John arrived. “Mr. President,” he said, “I present
Lord Sayes, of Magdalen.”

“The Junta is honoured,” said the Duke, bowing.

Both hosts and both guests, having been prominent in the throng that
vociferated around Zuleika an hour earlier, were slightly abashed in
the Duke’s presence. He, however, had not noticed any one in particular,
and, even if he had, that fine tradition of the club--“A member of the
Junta can do no wrong; a guest of the Junta cannot err”--would have
prevented him from showing his displeasure.

A Herculean figure filled the doorway.

“The Junta is honoured,” said the Duke, bowing to his guest.

“Duke,” said the newcomer quietly, “the honour is as much mine as
that of the interesting and ancient institution which I am this night
privileged to inspect.”

Turning to Sir John and The MacQuern, the Duke said “I present Mr.
Abimelech V. Oover, of Trinity.”

“The Junta,” they replied, “is honoured.”

“Gentlemen,” said the Rhodes Scholar, “your good courtesy is just such
as I would have anticipated from members of the ancient Junta. Like most
of my countrymen, I am a man of few words. We are habituated out there
to act rather than talk. Judged from the view-point of your beautiful
old civilisation, I am aware my curtness must seem crude. But,
gentlemen, believe me, right here--”

“Dinner is served, your Grace.”

Thus interrupted, Mr. Oover, with the resourcefulness of a practised
orator, brought his thanks to a quick but not abrupt conclusion. The
little company passed into the front room.

Through the window, from the High, fading daylight mingled with the
candle-light. The mulberry coats of the hosts, interspersed by the black
ones of the guests, made a fine pattern around the oval table a-gleam
with the many curious pieces of gold and silver plate that had accrued
to the Junta in course of years.

The President showed much deference to his guest. He seemed to listen
with close attention to the humorous anecdote with which, in the
American fashion, Mr. Oover inaugurated dinner.

To all Rhodes Scholars, indeed, his courtesy was invariable. He went out
of his way to cultivate them. And this he did more as a favour to Lord
Milner than of his own caprice. He found these Scholars, good fellows
though they were, rather oppressive. They had not--how could they
have?--the undergraduate’s virtue of taking Oxford as a matter of
course. The Germans loved it too little, the Colonials too much. The
Americans were, to a sensitive observer, the most troublesome--as being
the most troubled--of the whole lot. The Duke was not one of those
Englishmen who fling, or care to hear flung, cheap sneers at America.
Whenever any one in his presence said that America was not large
in area, he would firmly maintain that it was. He held, too, in his
enlightened way, that Americans have a perfect right to exist. But
he did often find himself wishing Mr. Rhodes had not enabled them to
exercise that right in Oxford. They were so awfully afraid of having
their strenuous native characters undermined by their delight in the
place. They held that the future was theirs, a glorious asset, far more
glorious than the past. But a theory, as the Duke saw, is one thing, an
emotion another. It is so much easier to covet what one hasn’t than to
revel in what one has. Also, it is so much easier to be enthusiastic
about what exists than about what doesn’t. The future doesn’t exist. The
past does. For, whereas all men can learn, the gift of prophecy has died
out. A man cannot work up in his breast any real excitement about what
possibly won’t happen. He cannot very well help being sentimentally
interested in what he knows has happened. On the other hand, he owes a
duty to his country. And, if his country be America, he ought to try to
feel a vivid respect for the future, and a cold contempt for the past.
Also, if he be selected by his country as a specimen of the best moral,
physical, and intellectual type that she can produce for the astounding
of the effete foreigner, and incidentally for the purpose of raising
that foreigner’s tone, he must--mustn’t he?--do his best to astound,
to exalt. But then comes in this difficulty. Young men don’t like to
astound and exalt their fellows. And Americans, individually, are of
all people the most anxious to please. That they talk overmuch is often
taken as a sign of self-satisfaction. It is merely a mannerism. Rhetoric
is a thing inbred in them. They are quite unconscious of it. It is as
natural to them as breathing. And, while they talk on, they really do
believe that they are a quick, businesslike people, by whom things are
“put through” with an almost brutal abruptness. This notion of theirs is
rather confusing to the patient English auditor.

Altogether, the American Rhodes Scholars, with their splendid native
gift of oratory, and their modest desire to please, and their not less
evident feeling that they ought merely to edify, and their constant
delight in all that of Oxford their English brethren don’t notice, and
their constant fear that they are being corrupted, are a noble, rather
than a comfortable, element in the social life of the University. So, at
least, they seemed to the Duke.

And to-night, but that he had invited Oover to dine with him, he could
have been dining with Zuleika. And this was his last dinner on earth.
Such thoughts made him the less able to take pleasure in his guest.
Perfect, however, the amenity of his manner.

This was the more commendable because Oover’s “aura” was even more
disturbing than that of the average Rhodes Scholar. To-night, besides
the usual conflicts in this young man’s bosom, raged a special one
between his desire to behave well and his jealousy of the man who had
to-day been Miss Dobson’s escort. In theory he denied the Duke’s right
to that honour. In sentiment he admitted it. Another conflict, you see.
And another. He longed to orate about the woman who had his heart; yet
she was the one topic that must be shirked.

The MacQuern and Mr. Trent-Garby, Sir John Marraby and Lord Sayes, they
too--though they were no orators--would fain have unpacked their hearts
in words about Zuleika. They spoke of this and that, automatically, none
listening to another--each man listening, wide-eyed, to his own heart’s
solo on the Zuleika theme, and drinking rather more champagne than was
good for him. Maybe, these youths sowed in themselves, on this night,
the seeds of lifelong intemperance. We cannot tell. They did not live
long enough for us to know.

While the six dined, a seventh, invisible to them, leaned moodily
against the mantel-piece, watching them. He was not of their time. His
long brown hair was knotted in a black riband behind. He wore a pale
brocaded coat and lace ruffles, silken stockings, a sword. Privy to
their doom, he watched them. He was loth that his Junta must die. Yes,
his. Could the diners have seen him, they would have known him by his
resemblance to the mezzotint portrait that hung on the wall above him.
They would have risen to their feet in presence of Humphrey Greddon,
founder and first president of the club.

His face was not so oval, nor were his eyes so big, nor his lips so
full, nor his hands so delicate, as they appeared in the mezzotint. Yet
(bating the conventions of eighteenth-century portraiture) the likeness
was a good one. Humphrey Greddon was not less well-knit and graceful
than the painter had made him, and, hard though the lines of the face
were, there was about him a certain air of high romance that could not
be explained away by the fact that he was of a period not our own. You
could understand the great love that Nellie O’Mora had borne him.

Under the mezzotint hung Hoppner’s miniature of that lovely and
ill-starred girl, with her soft dark eyes, and her curls all astray from
beneath her little blue turban. And the Duke was telling Mr. Oover her
story--how she had left her home for Humphrey Greddon when she was but
sixteen, and he an undergraduate at Christ Church; and had lived for him
in a cottage at Littlemore, whither he would ride, most days, to be with
her; and how he tired of her, broke his oath that he would marry her,
thereby broke her heart; and how she drowned herself in a mill-pond; and
how Greddon was killed in Venice, two years later, duelling on the Riva
Schiavoni with a Senator whose daughter he had seduced.

And he, Greddon, was not listening very attentively to the tale. He
had heard it told so often in this room, and he did not understand
the sentiments of the modern world. Nellie had been a monstrous pretty
creature. He had adored her, and had done with her. It was right that
she should always be toasted after dinner by the Junta, as in the days
when first he loved her--“Here’s to Nellie O’Mora, the fairest witch
that ever was or will be!” He would have resented the omission of that
toast. But he was sick of the pitying, melting looks that were always
cast towards her miniature. Nellie had been beautiful, but, by God! she
was always a dunce and a simpleton. How could he have spent his life
with her? She was a fool, by God! not to marry that fool Trailby, of
Merton, whom he took to see her.

Mr. Oover’s moral tone, and his sense of chivalry, were of the American
kind: far higher than ours, even, and far better expressed. Whereas the
English guests of the Junta, when they heard the tale of Nellie O’Mora,
would merely murmur “Poor girl!” or “What a shame!” Mr. Oover said in a
tone of quiet authority that compelled Greddon’s ear “Duke, I hope I am
not incognisant of the laws that govern the relations of guest and host.
But, Duke, I aver deliberately that the founder of this fine old
club; at which you are so splendidly entertaining me to-night, was an
unmitigated scoundrel. I say he was not a white man.”

At the word “scoundrel,” Humphrey Greddon had sprung forward, drawing
his sword, and loudly, in a voice audible to himself alone, challenged
the American to make good his words. Then, as this gentleman took no
notice, with one clean straight thrust Greddon ran him through the
heart, shouting “Die, you damned psalm-singer and traducer! And so die
all rebels against King George!”* Withdrawing the blade, he wiped it
daintily on his cambric handkerchief. There was no blood. Mr. Oover,
with unpunctured shirt-front, was repeating “I say he was not a white
man.” And Greddon remembered himself--remembered he was only a ghost,
impalpable, impotent, of no account. “But I shall meet you in Hell
to-morrow,” he hissed in Oover’s face. And there he was wrong. It is
quite certain that Oover went to Heaven.

   * As Edward VII. was at this time on the throne, it must have been
     to George III. that Mr. Greddon was referring.

Unable to avenge himself, Greddon had looked to the Duke to act for him.
When he saw that this young man did but smile at Oover and make a vague
deprecatory gesture, he again, in his wrath, forgot his disabilities.
Drawing himself to his full height, he took with great deliberation a
pinch of snuff, and, bowing low to the Duke, said “I am vastly obleeged
to your Grace for the fine high Courage you have exhibited in the behalf
of your most Admiring, most Humble Servant.” Then, having brushed away
a speck of snuff from his jabot, he turned on his heel; and only in the
doorway, where one of the club servants, carrying a decanter in each
hand, walked straight through him, did he realise that he had not
spoilt the Duke’s evening. With a volley of the most appalling
eighteenth-century oaths, he passed back into the nether world.

To the Duke, Nellie O’Mora had never been a very vital figure. He had
often repeated the legend of her. But, having never known what love was,
he could not imagine her rapture or her anguish. Himself the quarry of
all Mayfair’s wise virgins, he had always--so far as he thought of
the matter at all--suspected that Nellie’s death was due to thwarted
ambition. But to-night, while he told Oover about her, he could see
into her soul. Nor did he pity her. She had loved. She had known the
one thing worth living for--and dying for. She, as she went down to the
mill-pond, had felt just that ecstasy of self-sacrifice which he himself
had felt to-day and would feel to-morrow. And for a while, too--for a
full year--she had known the joy of being loved, had been for Greddon
“the fairest witch that ever was or will be.” He could not agree with
Oover’s long disquisition on her sufferings. And, glancing at her
well-remembered miniature, he wondered just what it was in her that had
captivated Greddon. He was in that blest state when a man cannot believe
the earth has been trodden by any really beautiful or desirable lady
save the lady of his own heart.

The moment had come for the removal of the table-cloth. The mahogany of
the Junta was laid bare--a clear dark lake, anon to reflect in its still
and ruddy depths the candelabras and the fruit-cradles, the slender
glasses and the stout old decanters, the forfeit-box and the snuff-box,
and other paraphernalia of the dignity of dessert. Lucidly, and
unwaveringly inverted in the depths these good things stood; and, so
soon as the wine had made its circuit, the Duke rose and with uplifted
glass proposed the first of the two toasts traditional to the Junta.
“Gentlemen, I give you Church and State.”

The toast having been honoured by all--and by none with a richer
reverence than by Oover, despite his passionate mental reservation in
favour of Pittsburg-Anabaptism and the Republican Ideal--the snuff-box
was handed round, and fruit was eaten.

Presently, when the wine had gone round again, the Duke rose and with
uplifted glass said “Gentlemen, I give you--” and there halted.
Silent, frowning, flushed, he stood for a few moments, and then, with
a deliberate gesture, tilted his glass and let fall the wine to the
carpet. “No,” he said, looking round the table, “I cannot give you
Nellie O’Mora.”

“Why not?” gasped Sir John Marraby.

“You have a right to ask that,” said the Duke, still standing. “I can
only say that my conscience is stronger than my sense of what is due to
the customs of the club. Nellie O’Mora,” he said, passing his hand over
his brow, “may have been in her day the fairest witch that ever was--so
fair that our founder had good reason to suppose her the fairest witch
that ever would be. But his prediction was a false one. So at least it
seems to me. Of course I cannot both hold this view and remain President
of this club. MacQuern--Marraby--which of you is Vice-President?”

“He is,” said Marraby.

“Then, MacQuern, you are hereby President, vice myself resigned. Take
the chair and propose the toast.”

“I would rather not,” said The MacQuern after a pause.

“Then, Marraby, YOU must.”

“Not I!” said Marraby.

“Why is this?” asked the Duke, looking from one to the other.

The MacQuern, with Scotch caution, was silent. But the impulsive
Marraby--Madcap Marraby, as they called him in B.N.C.--said “It’s
because I won’t lie!” and, leaping up, raised his glass aloft and cried
“I give you Zuleika Dobson, the fairest witch that ever was or will be!”

Mr. Oover, Lord Sayes, Mr. Trent-Garby, sprang to their feet; The
MacQuern rose to his. “Zuleika Dobson!” they cried, and drained their
glasses.

Then, when they had resumed their seats, came an awkward pause. The
Duke, still erect beside the chair he had vacated, looked very grave
and pale. Marraby had taken an outrageous liberty. But “a member of the
Junta can do no wrong,” and the liberty could not be resented. The Duke
felt that the blame was on himself, who had elected Marraby to the club.

Mr. Oover, too, looked grave. All the antiquarian in him deplored
the sudden rupture of a fine old Oxford tradition. All the chivalrous
American in him resented the slight on that fair victim of the feudal
system, Miss O’Mora. And, at the same time, all the Abimelech V. in him
rejoiced at having honoured by word and act the one woman in the world.

Gazing around at the flushed faces and heaving shirt-fronts of the
diners, the Duke forgot Marraby’s misdemeanour. What mattered far more
to him was that here were five young men deeply under the spell of
Zuleika. They must be saved, if possible. He knew how strong his
influence was in the University. He knew also how strong was Zuleika’s.
He had not much hope of the issue. But his new-born sense of duty to his
fellows spurred him on. “Is there,” he asked with a bitter smile, “any
one of you who doesn’t with his whole heart love Miss Dobson?”

Nobody held up a hand.

“As I feared,” said the Duke, knowing not that if a hand had been held
up he would have taken it as a personal insult. No man really in love
can forgive another for not sharing his ardour. His jealousy for himself
when his beloved prefers another man is hardly a stronger passion than
his jealousy for her when she is not preferred to all other women.

“You know her only by sight--by repute?” asked the Duke. They signified
that this was so. “I wish you would introduce me to her,” said Marraby.

“You are all coming to the Judas concert tonight?” the Duke asked,
ignoring Marraby. “You have all secured tickets?” They nodded. “To hear
me play, or to see Miss Dobson?” There was a murmur of “Both--both.”
 “And you would all of you, like Marraby, wish to be presented to this
lady?” Their eyes dilated. “That way happiness lies, think you?”

“Oh, happiness be hanged!” said Marraby.

To the Duke this seemed a profoundly sane remark--an epitome of his own
sentiments. But what was right for himself was not right for all. He
believed in convention as the best way for average mankind. And so,
slowly, calmly, he told to his fellow-diners just what he had told a few
hours earlier to those two young men in Salt Cellar. Not knowing that
his words had already been spread throughout Oxford, he was rather
surprised that they seemed to make no sensation. Quite flat, too, fell
his appeal that the syren be shunned by all.

Mr. Oover, during his year of residence, had been sorely tried by the
quaint old English custom of not making public speeches after private
dinners. It was with a deep sigh of satisfaction that he now rose to his
feet.

“Duke,” he said in a low voice, which yet penetrated to every corner
of the room, “I guess I am voicing these gentlemen when I say that your
words show up your good heart, all the time. Your mentality, too, is
bully, as we all predicate. One may say without exaggeration that your
scholarly and social attainments are a by-word throughout the solar
system, and be-yond. We rightly venerate you as our boss. Sir, we
worship the ground you walk on. But we owe a duty to our own free and
independent manhood. Sir, we worship the ground Miss Z. Dobson treads
on. We have pegged out a claim right there. And from that location
we aren’t to be budged--not for bob-nuts. We asseverate we
squat--where--we--squat, come--what--will. You say we have no chance to
win Miss Z. Dobson. That--we--know. We aren’t worthy. We lie prone. Let
her walk over us. You say her heart is cold. We don’t pro-fess we
can take the chill off. But, Sir, we can’t be diverted out of loving
her--not even by you, Sir. No, Sir! We love her, and--shall, and--will,
Sir, with--our--latest breath.”

This peroration evoked loud applause. “I love her, and shall, and will,”
 shouted each man. And again they honoured in wine her image. Sir John
Marraby uttered a cry familiar in the hunting-field. The MacQuern
contributed a few bars of a sentimental ballad in the dialect of his
country. “Hurrah, hurrah!” shouted Mr. Trent-Garby. Lord Sayes hummed
the latest waltz, waving his arms to its rhythm, while the wine he had
just spilt on his shirt-front trickled unheeded to his waistcoat. Mr.
Oover gave the Yale cheer.

The genial din was wafted down through the open window to the
passers-by. The wine-merchant across the way heard it, and smiled
pensively. “Youth, youth!” he murmured.

The genial din grew louder.

At any other time, the Duke would have been jarred by the disgrace to
the Junta. But now, as he stood with bent head, covering his face with
his hands, he thought only of the need to rid these young men, here
and now, of the influence that had befallen them. To-morrow his tragic
example might be too late, the mischief have sunk too deep, the agony be
life-long. His good breeding forbade him to cast over a dinner-table the
shadow of his death. His conscience insisted that he must. He uncovered
his face, and held up one hand for silence.

“We are all of us,” he said, “old enough to remember vividly the
demonstrations made in the streets of London when war was declared
between us and the Transvaal Republic. You, Mr. Oover, doubtless heard
in America the echoes of those ebullitions. The general idea was that
the war was going to be a very brief and simple affair--what was called
‘a walk-over.’ To me, though I was only a small boy, it seemed that all
this delirious pride in the prospect of crushing a trumpery foe argued
a defect in our sense of proportion. Still, I was able to understand the
demonstrators’ point of view. To ‘the giddy vulgar’ any sort of victory
is pleasant. But defeat? If, when that war was declared, every one had
been sure that not only should we fail to conquer the Transvaal, but
that IT would conquer US--that not only would it make good its freedom
and independence, but that we should forfeit ours--how would the
cits have felt then? Would they not have pulled long faces, spoken in
whispers, wept? You must forgive me for saying that the noise you have
just made around this table was very like to the noise made on the verge
of the Boer War. And your procedure seems to me as unaccountable as
would have seemed the antics of those mobs if England had been plainly
doomed to disaster and to vassalage. My guest here to-night, in the
course of his very eloquent and racy speech, spoke of the need that he
and you should preserve your ‘free and independent manhood.’ That seemed
to me an irreproachable ideal. But I confess I was somewhat taken aback
by my friend’s scheme for realising it. He declared his intention of
lying prone and letting Miss Dobson ‘walk over’ him; and he advised you
to follow his example; and to this counsel you gave evident approval.
Gentlemen, suppose that on the verge of the aforesaid war, some orator
had said to the British people ‘It is going to be a walk-over for our
enemy in the field. Mr. Kruger holds us in the hollow of his hand.
In subjection to him we shall find our long-lost freedom and
independence’--what would have been Britannia’s answer? What, on
reflection, is yours to Mr. Oover? What are Mr. Oover’s own second
thoughts?” The Duke paused, with a smile to his guest.

“Go right ahead, Duke,” said Mr. Oover. “I’ll re-ply when my turn
comes.”

“And not utterly demolish me, I hope,” said the Duke. His was the Oxford
manner. “Gentlemen,” he continued, “is it possible that Britannia would
have thrown her helmet in the air, shrieking ‘Slavery for ever’? You,
gentlemen, seem to think slavery a pleasant and an honourable state. You
have less experience of it than I. I have been enslaved to Miss Dobson
since yesterday evening; you, only since this afternoon; I, at close
quarters; you, at a respectful distance. Your fetters have not galled
you yet. MY wrists, MY ankles, are excoriated. The iron has entered into
my soul. I droop. I stumble. Blood flows from me. I quiver and curse. I
writhe. The sun mocks me. The moon titters in my face. I can stand it no
longer. I will no more of it. Tomorrow I die.”

The flushed faces of the diners grew gradually pale. Their eyes lost
lustre. Their tongues clove to the roofs of their mouths.

At length, almost inaudibly, The MacQuern asked “Do you mean you are
going to commit suicide?”

“Yes,” said the Duke, “if you choose to put it in that way. Yes. And it
is only by a chance that I did not commit suicide this afternoon.”

“You--don’t--say,” gasped Mr. Oover.

“I do indeed,” said the Duke. “And I ask you all to weigh well my
message.”

“But--but does Miss Dobson know?” asked Sir John.

“Oh yes,” was the reply. “Indeed, it was she who persuaded me not to die
till to-morrow.”

“But--but,” faltered Lord Sayes, “I saw her saying good-bye to you in
Judas Street. And--and she looked quite--as if nothing had happened.”

“Nothing HAD happened,” said the Duke. “And she was very much pleased
to have me still with her. But she isn’t so cruel as to hinder me from
dying for her to-morrow. I don’t think she exactly fixed the hour. It
shall be just after the Eights have been rowed. An earlier death would
mark in me a lack of courtesy to that contest... It seems strange to
you that I should do this thing? Take warning by me. Muster all your
will-power, and forget Miss Dobson. Tear up your tickets for the
concert. Stay here and play cards. Play high. Or rather, go back to your
various Colleges, and speed the news I have told you. Put all Oxford on
its guard against this woman who can love no lover. Let all Oxford
know that I, Dorset, who had so much reason to love life--I, the
nonpareil--am going to die for the love I bear this woman. And let no
man think I go unwilling. I am no lamb led to the slaughter. I am priest
as well as victim. I offer myself up with a pious joy. But enough
of this cold Hebraism! It is ill-attuned to my soul’s mood.
Self-sacrifice--bah! Regard me as a voluptuary. I am that. All my
baffled ardour speeds me to the bosom of Death. She is gentle and
wanton. She knows I could never have loved her for her own sake. She
has no illusions about me. She knows well I come to her because not
otherwise may I quench my passion.”

There was a long silence. The Duke, looking around at the bent heads and
drawn mouths of his auditors, saw that his words had gone home. It was
Marraby who revealed how powerfully home they had gone.

“Dorset,” he said huskily, “I shall die too.”

The Duke flung up his hands, staring wildly.

“I stand in with that,” said Mr. Oover.

“So do I!” said Lord Sayes. “And I!” said Mr. Trent-Garby; “And I!” The
MacQuern.

The Duke found voice. “Are you mad?” he asked, clutching at his throat.
“Are you all mad?”

“No, Duke,” said Mr. Oover. “Or, if we are, you have no right to be at
large. You have shown us the way. We--take it.”

“Just so,” said The MacQuern, stolidly.

“Listen, you fools,” cried the Duke. But through the open window came
the vibrant stroke of some clock. He wheeled round, plucked out his
watch--nine!--the concert!--his promise not to be late!--Zuleika!

All other thoughts vanished. In an instant he dodged beneath the sash
of the window. From the flower-box he sprang to the road beneath. (The
facade of the house is called, to this day, Dorset’s Leap.) Alighting
with the legerity of a cat, he swerved leftward in the recoil, and was
off, like a streak of mulberry-coloured lightning, down the High.

The other men had rushed to the window, fearing the worst. “No,” cried
Oover. “That’s all right. Saves time!” and he raised himself on to the
window-box. It splintered under his weight. He leapt heavily but well,
followed by some uprooted geraniums. Squaring his shoulders, he threw
back his head, and doubled down the slope.

There was a violent jostle between the remaining men. The MacQuern
cannily got out of it, and rushed downstairs. He emerged at the
front-door just after Marraby touched ground. The Baronet’s left ankle
had twisted under him. His face was drawn with pain as he hopped down
the High on his right foot, fingering his ticket for the concert. Next
leapt Lord Sayes. And last of all leapt Mr. Trent-Garby, who, catching
his foot in the ruined flower-box, fell headlong, and was, I regret to
say, killed. Lord Sayes passed Sir John in a few paces. The MacQuern
overtook Mr. Oover at St. Mary’s and outstripped him in Radcliffe
Square. The Duke came in an easy first.

Youth, youth!



IX

Across the Front Quadrangle, heedless of the great crowd to right and
left, Dorset rushed. Up the stone steps to the Hall he bounded, and
only on the Hall’s threshold was he brought to a pause. The doorway
was blocked by the backs of youths who had by hook and crook secured
standing-room. The whole scene was surprisingly unlike that of the
average College concert.

“Let me pass,” said the Duke, rather breathlessly. “Thank you. Make way
please. Thanks.” And with quick-pulsing heart he made his way down the
aisle to the front row. There awaited him a surprise that was like a
douche of cold water full in his face. Zuleika was not there! It had
never occurred to him that she herself might not be punctual.

The Warden was there, reading his programme with an air of great
solemnity. “Where,” asked the Duke, “is your grand-daughter?” His tone
was as of a man saying “If she is dead, don’t break it gently to me.”

“My grand-daughter?” said the Warden. “Ah, Duke, good evening.”

“She’s not ill?”

“Oh no, I think not. She said something about changing the dress she
wore at dinner. She will come.” And the Warden thanked his young friend
for the great kindness he had shown to Zuleika. He hoped the Duke had
not let her worry him with her artless prattle. “She seems to be a good,
amiable girl,” he added, in his detached way.

Sitting beside him, the Duke looked curiously at the venerable profile,
as at a mummy’s. To think that this had once been a man! To think that
his blood flowed in the veins of Zuleika! Hitherto the Duke had seen
nothing grotesque in him--had regarded him always as a dignified
specimen of priest and scholar. Such a life as the Warden’s, year
following year in ornamental seclusion from the follies and fusses of
the world, had to the Duke seemed rather admirable and enviable. Often
he himself had (for a minute or so) meditated taking a fellowship at All
Souls and spending here in Oxford the greater part of his life. He had
never been young, and it never had occurred to him that the Warden had
been young once. To-night he saw the old man in a new light--saw that
he was mad. Here was a man who--for had he not married and begotten a
child?--must have known, in some degree, the emotion of love. How, after
that, could he have gone on thus, year by year, rusting among his
books, asking no favour of life, waiting for death without a sign of
impatience? Why had he not killed himself long ago? Why cumbered he the
earth?

On the dais an undergraduate was singing a song entitled “She Loves Not
Me.” Such plaints are apt to leave us unharrowed. Across the footlights
of an opera-house, the despair of some Italian tenor in red tights and
a yellow wig may be convincing enough. Not so, at a concert, the despair
of a shy British amateur in evening dress. The undergraduate on the
dais, fumbling with his sheet of music while he predicted that only when
he were “laid within the church-yard cold and grey” would his lady
begin to pity him, seemed to the Duke rather ridiculous; but not half so
ridiculous as the Warden. This fictitious love-affair was less nugatory
than the actual humdrum for which Dr. Dobson had sold his soul to the
devil. Also, little as one might suspect it, the warbler was perhaps
expressing a genuine sentiment. Zuleika herself, belike, was in his
thoughts.

As he began the second stanza, predicting that when his lady died too
the angels of heaven would bear her straight to him, the audience heard
a loud murmur, or subdued roar, outside the Hall. And after a few bars
the warbler suddenly ceased, staring straight in front of him as though
he saw a vision. Automatically, all heads veered in the direction of his
gaze. From the entrance, slowly along the aisle, came Zuleika, brilliant
in black.

To the Duke, who had rapturously risen, she nodded and smiled as
she swerved down on the chair beside him. She looked to him somehow
different. He had quite forgiven her for being late: her mere presence
was a perfect excuse. And the very change in her, though he could not
define it, was somehow pleasing to him. He was about to question
her, but she shook her head and held up to her lips a black-gloved
forefinger, enjoining silence for the singer, who, with dogged British
pluck, had harked back to the beginning of the second stanza. When his
task was done and he shuffled down from the dais, he received a great
ovation. Zuleika, in the way peculiar to persons who are in the habit of
appearing before the public, held her hands well above the level of
her brow, and clapped them with a vigour demonstrative not less of her
presence than of her delight.

“And now,” she asked, turning to the Duke, “do you see? do you see?”

“Something, yes. But what?”

“Isn’t it plain?” Lightly she touched the lobe of her left ear. “Aren’t
you flattered?”

He knew now what made the difference. It was that her little face was
flanked by two black pearls.

“Think,” said she, “how deeply I must have been brooding over you since
we parted!”

“Is this really,” he asked, pointing to the left ear-ring, “the pearl
you wore to-day?”

“Yes. Isn’t it strange? A man ought to be pleased when a woman goes
quite unconsciously into mourning for him--goes just because she really
does mourn him.”

“I am more than pleased. I am touched. When did the change come?”

“I don’t know. I only noticed it after dinner, when I saw myself in the
mirror. All through dinner I had been thinking of you and of--well, of
to-morrow. And this dear sensitive pink pearl had again expressed my
soul. And there was I, in a yellow gown with green embroideries, gay
as a jacamar, jarring hideously on myself. I covered my eyes and rushed
upstairs, rang the bell and tore my things off. My maid was very cross.”

Cross! The Duke was shot through with envy of one who was in a position
to be unkind to Zuleika. “Happy maid!” he murmured. Zuleika replied that
he was stealing her thunder: hadn’t she envied the girl at his lodgings?
“But I,” she said, “wanted only to serve you in meekness. The idea of
ever being pert to you didn’t enter into my head. You show a side of
your character as unpleasing as it was unforeseen.”

“Perhaps then,” said the Duke, “it is as well that I am going to die.”
 She acknowledged his rebuke with a pretty gesture of penitence. “You
may have been faultless in love,” he added; “but you would not have laid
down your life for me.”

“Oh,” she answered, “wouldn’t I though? You don’t know me. That is just
the sort of thing I should have loved to do. I am much more romantic
than you are, really. I wonder,” she said, glancing at his breast, “if
YOUR pink pearl would have turned black? And I wonder if YOU would have
taken the trouble to change that extraordinary coat you are wearing?”

In sooth, no costume could have been more beautifully Cimmerian than
Zuleika’s. And yet, thought the Duke, watching her as the concert
proceeded, the effect of her was not lugubrious. Her darkness shone.
The black satin gown she wore was a stream of shifting high-lights.
Big black diamonds were around her throat and wrists, and tiny black
diamonds starred the fan she wielded. In her hair gleamed a great
raven’s wing. And brighter, brighter than all these were her eyes.
Assuredly no, there was nothing morbid about her. Would one even
(wondered the Duke, for a disloyal instant) go so far as to say she was
heartless? Ah no, she was merely strong. She was one who could tread the
tragic plane without stumbling, and be resilient in the valley of the
shadow. What she had just said was no more than the truth: she would
have loved to die for him, had he not forfeited her heart. She would
have asked no tears. That she had none to shed for him now, that she did
but share his exhilaration, was the measure of her worthiness to have
the homage of his self-slaughter.

“By the way,” she whispered, “I want to ask one little favour of you.
Will you, please, at the last moment to-morrow, call out my name in a
loud voice, so that every one around can hear?”

“Of course I will.”

“So that no one shall ever be able to say it wasn’t for me that you
died, you know.”

“May I use simply your Christian name?”

“Yes, I really don’t see why you shouldn’t--at such a moment.”

“Thank you.” His face glowed.

Thus did they commune, these two, radiant without and within. And behind
them, throughout the Hall, the undergraduates craned their necks for
a glimpse. The Duke’s piano solo, which was the last item in the first
half of the programme, was eagerly awaited. Already, whispered first
from the lips of Oover and the others who had come on from the Junta,
the news of his resolve had gone from ear to ear among the men. He, for
his part, had forgotten the scene at the Junta, the baleful effect of
his example. For him the Hall was a cave of solitude--no one there but
Zuleika and himself. Yet almost, like the late Mr. John Bright, he heard
in the air the beating of the wings of the Angel of Death. Not awful
wings; little wings that sprouted from the shoulders of a rosy and
blindfold child. Love and Death--for him they were exquisitely one. And
it seemed to him, when his turn came to play, that he floated, rather
than walked, to the dais.

He had not considered what he would play tonight. Nor, maybe, was he
conscious now of choosing. His fingers caressed the keyboard vaguely;
and anon this ivory had voice and language; and for its master, and for
some of his hearers, arose a vision. And it was as though in delicate
procession, very slowly, listless with weeping, certain figures passed
by, hooded, and drooping forasmuch as by the loss of him whom they were
following to his grave their own hold on life had been loosened. He
had been so beautiful and young. Lo, he was but a burden to be carried
hence, dust to be hidden out of sight. Very slowly, very wretchedly they
went by. But, as they went, another feeling, faint at first, an all but
imperceptible current, seemed to flow through the procession; and now
one, now another of the mourners would look wanly up, with cast-back
hood, as though listening; and anon all were listening on their way,
first in wonder, then in rapture; for the soul of their friend was
singing to them: they heard his voice, but clearer and more blithe than
they had ever known it--a voice etherealised by a triumph of joy that
was not yet for them to share. But presently the voice receded, its
echoes dying away into the sphere whence it came. It ceased; and the
mourners were left alone again with their sorrow, and passed on all
unsolaced, and drooping, weeping.

Soon after the Duke had begun to play, an invisible figure came and
stood by and listened; a frail man, dressed in the fashion of 1840; the
shade of none other than Frederic Chopin. Behind whom, a moment later,
came a woman of somewhat masculine aspect and dominant demeanour,
mounting guard over him, and, as it were, ready to catch him if he fell.
He bowed his head lower and lower, he looked up with an ecstasy more
and more intense, according to the procedure of his Marche Funebre. And
among the audience, too, there was a bowing and uplifting of heads, just
as among the figures of the mourners evoked. Yet the head of the player
himself was all the while erect, and his face glad and serene. Nobly
sensitive as was his playing of the mournful passages, he smiled
brilliantly through them.

And Zuleika returned his gaze with a smile not less gay. She was not
sure what he was playing. But she assumed that it was for her, and that
the music had some reference to his impending death. She was one of the
people who say “I don’t know anything about music really, but I know
what I like.” And she liked this; and she beat time to it with her fan.
She thought her Duke looked very handsome. She was proud of him. Strange
that this time yesterday she had been wildly in love with him! Strange,
too, that this time to-morrow he would be dead! She was immensely glad
she had saved him this afternoon. To-morrow! There came back to her what
he had told her about the omen at Tankerton, that stately home: “On the
eve of the death of a Duke of Dorset, two black owls come always and
perch on the battlements. They remain there through the night, hooting.
At dawn they fly away, none knows whither.” Perhaps, thought she, at
this very moment these two birds were on the battlements.

The music ceased. In the hush that followed it, her applause rang sharp
and notable. Not so Chopin’s. Of him and his intense excitement none but
his companion was aware. “Plus fin que Pachmann!” he reiterated, waving
his arms wildly, and dancing.

“Tu auras une migraine affreuse. Rentrons, petit coeur!” said George
Sand, gently but firmly.

“Laisse-moi le saluer,” cried the composer, struggling in her grasp.

“Demain soir, oui. Il sera parmi nous,” said the novelist, as she
hurried him away. “Moi aussi,” she added to herself, “je me promets un
beau plaisir en faisant la connaissance de ce jeune homme.”

Zuleika was the first to rise as “ce jeune homme” came down from the
dais. Now was the interval between the two parts of the programme.
There was a general creaking and scraping of pushed-back chairs as the
audience rose and went forth into the night. The noise aroused from
sleep the good Warden, who, having peered at his programme, complimented
the Duke with old-world courtesy and went to sleep again. Zuleika,
thrusting her fan under one arm, shook the player by both hands. Also,
she told him that she knew nothing about music really, but that she
knew what she liked. As she passed with him up the aisle, she said this
again. People who say it are never tired of saying it.

Outside, the crowd was greater than ever. All the undergraduates from
all the Colleges seemed now to be concentrated in the great Front
Quadrangle of Judas. Even in the glow of the Japanese lanterns that hung
around in honour of the concert, the faces of the lads looked a little
pale. For it was known by all now that the Duke was to die. Even while
the concert was in progress, the news had spread out from the Hall,
through the thronged doorway, down the thronged steps, to the confines
of the crowd. Nor had Oover and the other men from the Junta made any
secret of their own determination. And now, as the rest saw Zuleika
yet again at close quarters, and verified their remembrance of her, the
half-formed desire in them to die too was hardened to a vow.

You cannot make a man by standing a sheep on its hind-legs. But by
standing a flock of sheep in that position you can make a crowd of men.
If man were not a gregarious animal, the world might have achieved, by
this time, some real progress towards civilisation. Segregate him, and
he is no fool. But let him loose among his fellows, and he is lost--he
becomes just an unit in unreason. If any one of the undergraduates had
met Miss Dobson in the desert of Sahara, he would have fallen in love
with her; but not one in a thousand of them would have wished to die
because she did not love him. The Duke’s was a peculiar case. For him to
fall in love was itself a violent peripety, bound to produce a violent
upheaval; and such was his pride that for his love to be unrequited
would naturally enamour him of death. These other, these quite ordinary,
young men were the victims less of Zuleika than of the Duke’s example,
and of one another. A crowd, proportionately to its size, magnifies all
that in its units pertains to the emotions, and diminishes all that in
them pertains to thought. It was because these undergraduates were a
crowd that their passion for Zuleika was so intense; and it was because
they were a crowd that they followed so blindly the lead given to them.
To die for Miss Dobson was “the thing to do.” The Duke was going to do
it. The Junta was going to do it. It is a hateful fact, but we must face
the fact, that snobbishness was one of the springs to the tragedy here
chronicled.

We may set to this crowd’s credit that it refrained now from following
Zuleika. Not one of the ladies present was deserted by her escort. All
the men recognised the Duke’s right to be alone with Zuleika now. We may
set also to their credit that they carefully guarded the ladies from all
knowledge of what was afoot.

Side by side, the great lover and his beloved wandered away, beyond the
light of the Japanese lanterns, and came to Salt Cellar.

The moon, like a gardenia in the night’s button-hole--but no! why should
a writer never be able to mention the moon without likening her to
something else--usually something to which she bears not the faintest
resemblance?... The moon, looking like nothing whatsoever but herself,
was engaged in her old and futile endeavour to mark the hours correctly
on the sun-dial at the centre of the lawn. Never, except once, late one
night in the eighteenth century, when the toper who was Sub-Warden had
spent an hour in trying to set his watch here, had she received the
slightest encouragement. Still she wanly persisted. And this was the
more absurd in her because Salt Cellar offered very good scope for those
legitimate effects of hers which we one and all admire. Was it nothing
to her to have cut those black shadows across the cloisters? Was
it nothing to her that she so magically mingled her rays with the
candle-light shed forth from Zuleika’s bedroom? Nothing, that she
had cleansed the lawn of all its colour, and made of it a platform of
silver-grey, fit for fairies to dance on?

If Zuleika, as she paced the gravel path, had seen how transfigured--how
nobly like the Tragic Muse--she was just now, she could not have gone on
bothering the Duke for a keepsake of the tragedy that was to be.

She was still set on having his two studs. He was still firm in his
refusal to misappropriate those heirlooms. In vain she pointed out to
him that the pearls he meant, the white ones, no longer existed; that
the pearls he was wearing were no more “entailed” than if he had got
them yesterday. “And you actually DID get them yesterday,” she said.
“And from me. And I want them back.”

“You are ingenious,” he admitted. “I, in my simple way, am but head of
the Tanville-Tankerton family. Had you accepted my offer of marriage,
you would have had the right to wear these two pearls during your
life-time. I am very happy to die for you. But tamper with the property
of my successor I cannot and will not. I am sorry,” he added.

“Sorry!” echoed Zuleika. “Yes, and you were ‘sorry’ you couldn’t dine
with me to-night. But any little niggling scruple is more to you than I
am. What old maids men are!” And viciously with her fan she struck one
of the cloister pillars.

Her outburst was lost on the Duke. At her taunt about his not dining
with her, he had stood still, clapping one hand to his brow. The events
of the early evening swept back to him--his speech, its unforeseen and
horrible reception. He saw again the preternaturally solemn face of
Oover, and the flushed faces of the rest. He had thought, as he pointed
down to the abyss over which he stood, these fellows would recoil,
and pull themselves together. They had recoiled, and pulled themselves
together, only in the manner of athletes about to spring. He was
responsible for them. His own life was his to lose: others he must
not squander. Besides, he had reckoned to die alone, unique; aloft and
apart... “There is something--something I had forgotten,” he said to
Zuleika, “something that will be a great shock to you”; and he gave her
an outline of what had passed at the Junta.

“And you are sure they really MEANT it?” she asked in a voice that
trembled.

“I fear so. But they were over-excited. They will recant their folly. I
shall force them to.”

“They are not children. You yourself have just been calling them ‘men.’
Why should they obey you?”

She turned at sound of a footstep, and saw a young man approaching. He
wore a coat like the Duke’s, and in his hand he dangled a handkerchief.
He bowed awkwardly, and, holding out the handkerchief, said to her “I
beg your pardon, but I think you dropped this. I have just picked it
up.”

Zuleika looked at the handkerchief, which was obviously a man’s, and
smilingly shook her head.

“I don’t think you know The MacQuern,” said the Duke, with sulky grace.
“This,” he said to the intruder, “is Miss Dobson.”

“And is it really true,” asked Zuleika, retaining The MacQuern’s hand,
“that you want to die for me?”

Well, the Scots are a self-seeking and a resolute, but a shy, race;
swift to act, when swiftness is needed, but seldom knowing quite what to
say. The MacQuern, with native reluctance to give something for nothing,
had determined to have the pleasure of knowing the young lady for whom
he was to lay down his life; and this purpose he had, by the simple
stratagem of his own handkerchief, achieved. Nevertheless, in answer to
Zuleika’s question, and with the pressure of her hand to inspire him,
the only word that rose to his lips was “Ay” (which may be roughly
translated as “Yes”).

“You will do nothing of the sort,” interposed the Duke.

“There,” said Zuleika, still retaining The MacQuern’s hand, “you see, it
is forbidden. You must not defy our dear little Duke. He is not used to
it. It is not done.”

“I don’t know,” said The MacQuern, with a stony glance at the Duke,
“that he has anything to do with the matter.”

“He is older and wiser than you. More a man of the world. Regard him as
your tutor.”

“Do YOU want me not to die for you?” asked the young man.

“Ah, _I_ should not dare to impose my wishes on you,” said she, dropping
his hand. “Even,” she added, “if I knew what my wishes were. And I
don’t. I know only that I think it is very, very beautiful of you to
think of dying for me.”

“Then that settles it,” said The MacQuern.

“No, no! You must not let yourself be influenced by ME. Besides, I am
not in a mood to influence anybody. I am overwhelmed. Tell me,” she
said, heedless of the Duke, who stood tapping his heel on the ground,
with every manifestation of disapproval and impatience, “tell me, is it
true that some of the other men love me too, and--feel as you do?”

The MacQuern said cautiously that he could answer for no one but
himself. “But,” he allowed, “I saw a good many men whom I know, outside
the Hall here, just now, and they seemed to have made up their minds.”

“To die for me? To-morrow?”

“To-morrow. After the Eights, I suppose; at the same time as the Duke.
It wouldn’t do to leave the races undecided.”

“Of COURSE not. But the poor dears! It is too touching! I have done
nothing, nothing to deserve it.”

“Nothing whatsoever,” said the Duke drily.

“Oh HE,” said Zuleika, “thinks me an unredeemed brute; just because I
don’t love him. YOU, dear Mr. MacQuern--does one call you ‘Mr.’? ‘The’
would sound so odd in the vocative. And I can’t very well call you
‘MacQuern’--YOU don’t think me unkind, do you? I simply can’t bear to
think of all these young lives cut short without my having done a thing
to brighten them. What can I do?--what can I do to show my gratitude?”

An idea struck her. She looked up to the lit window of her room.
“Melisande!” she called.

A figure appeared at the window. “Mademoiselle desire?”

“My tricks, Melisande! Bring down the box, quick!” She turned excitedly
to the two young men. “It is all I can do in return, you see. If I could
dance for them, I would. If I could sing, I would sing to them. I do
what I can. You,” she said to the Duke, “must go on to the platform and
announce it.”

“Announce what?”

“Why, that I am going to do my tricks! All you need say is ‘Ladies and
gentlemen, I have the pleasure to--’ What is the matter now?”

“You make me feel slightly unwell,” said the Duke.

“And YOU are the most d-dis-disobliging and the unkindest and the
b-beastliest person I ever met,” Zuleika sobbed at him through her
hands. The MacQuern glared reproaches at him. So did Melisande, who had
just appeared through the postern, holding in her arms the great casket
of malachite. A painful scene; and the Duke gave in. He said he would do
anything--anything. Peace was restored.

The MacQuern had relieved Melisande of her burden; and to him was the
privilege of bearing it, in procession with his adored and her quelled
mentor, towards the Hall.

Zuleika babbled like a child going to a juvenile party. This was the
great night, as yet, in her life. Illustrious enough already it had
seemed to her, as eve of that ultimate flattery vowed her by the Duke.
So fine a thing had his doom seemed to her--his doom alone--that it had
sufficed to flood her pink pearl with the right hue. And now not on him
alone need she ponder. Now he was but the centre of a group--a group
that might grow and grow--a group that might with a little encouragement
be a multitude... With such hopes dimly whirling in the recesses of her
soul, her beautiful red lips babbled.



X

Sounds of a violin, drifting out through the open windows of the
Hall, suggested that the second part of the concert had begun. All the
undergraduates, however, except the few who figured in the programme,
had waited outside till their mistress should re-appear. The sisters
and cousins of the Judas men had been escorted back to their places and
hurriedly left there.

It was a hushed, tense crowd.

“The poor darlings!” murmured Zuleika, pausing to survey them. “And oh,”
 she exclaimed, “there won’t be room for all of them in there!”

“You might give an ‘overflow’ performance out here afterwards,”
 suggested the Duke, grimly.

This idea flashed on her a better. Why not give her performance here and
now?--now, so eager was she for contact, as it were, with this crowd;
here, by moonlight, in the pretty glow of these paper lanterns. Yes,
she said, let it be here and now; and she bade the Duke make the
announcement.

“What shall I say?” he asked. “‘Gentlemen, I have the pleasure to
announce that Miss Zuleika Dobson, the world-renowned She-Wizard, will
now oblige’? Or shall I call them ‘Gents,’ tout court?”

She could afford to laugh at his ill-humour. She had his promise of
obedience. She told him to say something graceful and simple.

The noise of the violin had ceased. There was not a breath of wind. The
crowd in the quadrangle was as still and as silent as the night itself.
Nowhere a tremour. And it was borne in on Zuleika that this crowd had
one mind as well as one heart--a common resolve, calm and clear, as well
as a common passion. No need for her to strengthen the spell now. No
waverers here. And thus it came true that gratitude was the sole motive
for her display.

She stood with eyes downcast and hands folded behind her, moonlit in
the glow of lanterns, modest to the point of pathos, while the Duke
gracefully and simply introduced her to the multitude. He was, he said,
empowered by the lady who stood beside him to say that she would be
pleased to give them an exhibition of her skill in the art to which
she had devoted her life--an art which, more potently perhaps than any
other, touched in mankind the sense of mystery and stirred the faculty
of wonder; the most truly romantic of all the arts: he referred to the
art of conjuring. It was not too much to say that by her mastery of this
art, in which hitherto, it must be confessed, women had made no very
great mark, Miss Zuleika Dobson (for such was the name of the lady who
stood beside him) had earned the esteem of the whole civilised world.
And here in Oxford, and in this College especially, she had a peculiar
claim to--might he say?--their affectionate regard, inasmuch as she was
the grand-daughter of their venerable and venerated Warden.

As the Duke ceased, there came from his hearers a sound like the
rustling of leaves. In return for it, Zuleika performed that graceful
act of subsidence to the verge of collapse which is usually kept for the
delectation of some royal person. And indeed, in the presence of this
doomed congress, she did experience humility; for she was not altogether
without imagination. But, as she arose from her “bob,” she was her own
bold self again, bright mistress of the situation.

It was impossible for her to give her entertainment in full. Some of her
tricks (notably the Secret Aquarium, and the Blazing Ball of Worsted)
needed special preparation, and a table fitted with a “servante” or
secret tray. The table for to-night’s performance was an ordinary one,
brought out from the porter’s lodge. The MacQuern deposited on it the
great casket. Zuleika, retaining him as her assistant, picked nimbly
out from their places and put in array the curious appurtenances of her
art--the Magic Canister, the Demon Egg-Cup, and the sundry other vessels
which, lost property of young Edward Gibbs, had been by a Romanoff
transmuted from wood to gold, and were now by the moon reduced
temporarily to silver.

In a great dense semicircle the young men disposed themselves around
her. Those who were in front squatted down on the gravel; those who were
behind knelt; the rest stood. Young Oxford! Here, in this mass of boyish
faces, all fused and obliterated, was the realisation of that phrase.
Two or three thousands of human bodies, human souls? Yet the effect of
them in the moonlight was as of one great passive monster.

So was it seen by the Duke, as he stood leaning against the wall,
behind Zuleika’s table. He saw it as a monster couchant and enchanted,
a monster that was to die; and its death was in part his own doing.
But remorse in him gave place to hostility. Zuleika had begun her
performance. She was producing the Barber’s Pole from her mouth. And
it was to her that the Duke’s heart went suddenly out in tenderness
and pity. He forgot her levity and vanity--her wickedness, as he had
inwardly called it. He thrilled with that intense anxiety which comes to
a man when he sees his beloved offering to the public an exhibition of
her skill, be it in singing, acting, dancing, or any other art. Would
she acquit herself well? The lover’s trepidation is painful enough when
the beloved has genius--how should these clods appreciate her? and who
set them in judgment over her? It must be worse when the beloved has
mediocrity. And Zuleika, in conjuring, had rather less than that. Though
indeed she took herself quite seriously as a conjurer, she brought to
her art neither conscience nor ambition, in any true sense of those
words. Since her debut, she had learned nothing and forgotten nothing.
The stale and narrow repertory which she had acquired from Edward Gibbs
was all she had to offer; and this, and her marked lack of skill, she
eked out with the self-same “patter” that had sufficed that impossible
young man. It was especially her jokes that now sent shudders up the
spine of her lover, and brought tears to his eyes, and kept him in
a state of terror as to what she would say next. “You see,” she had
exclaimed lightly after the production of the Barber’s Pole, “how easy
it is to set up business as a hairdresser.” Over the Demon Egg-Cup she
said that the egg was “as good as fresh.” And her constantly reiterated
catch-phrase--“Well, this is rather queer!”--was the most distressing
thing of all.

The Duke blushed to think what these men thought of her. Would love
were blind! These her lovers were doubtless judging her. They forgave
her--confound their impudence!--because of her beauty. The banality of
her performance was an added grace. It made her piteous. Damn them, they
were sorry for her. Little Noaks was squatting in the front row, peering
up at her through his spectacles. Noaks was as sorry for her as the rest
of them. Why didn’t the earth yawn and swallow them all up?

Our hero’s unreasoning rage was fed by a not unreasonable jealousy. It
was clear to him that Zuleika had forgotten his existence. To-day, as
soon as he had killed her love, she had shown him how much less to her
was his love than the crowd’s. And now again it was only the crowd she
cared for. He followed with his eyes her long slender figure as she
threaded her way in and out of the crowd, sinuously, confidingly,
producing a penny from one lad’s elbow, a threepenny-bit from between
another’s neck and collar, half a crown from another’s hair, and always
repeating in that flute-like voice of hers “Well, this is rather queer!”
 Hither and thither she fared, her neck and arms gleaming white from the
luminous blackness of her dress, in the luminous blueness of the night.
At a distance, she might have been a wraith; or a breeze made visible; a
vagrom breeze, warm and delicate, and in league with death.

Yes, that is how she might have seemed to a casual observer. But to the
Duke there was nothing weird about her: she was radiantly a woman; a
goddess; and his first and last love. Bitter his heart was, but only
against the mob she wooed, not against her for wooing it. She was cruel?
All goddesses are that. She was demeaning herself? His soul welled up
anew in pity, in passion.

Yonder, in the Hall, the concert ran its course, making a feeble
incidental music to the dark emotions of the quadrangle. It ended
somewhat before the close of Zuleika’s rival show; and then the steps
from the Hall were thronged by ladies, who, with a sprinkling of dons,
stood in attitudes of refined displeasure and vulgar curiosity. The
Warden was just awake enough to notice the sea of undergraduates.
Suspecting some breach of College discipline, he retired hastily to his
own quarters, for fear his dignity might be somehow compromised.

Was there ever, I wonder, an historian so pure as not to have wished
just once to fob off on his readers just one bright fable for effect?
I find myself sorely tempted to tell you that on Zuleika, as her
entertainment drew to a close, the spirit of the higher thaumaturgy
descended like a flame and found in her a worthy agent. Specious
Apollyon whispers to me “Where would be the harm? Tell your readers
that she cast a seed on the ground, and that therefrom presently arose
a tamarind-tree which blossomed and bore fruit and, withering, vanished.
Or say she conjured from an empty basket of osier a hissing and bridling
snake. Why not? Your readers would be excited, gratified. And you would
never be found out.” But the grave eyes of Clio are bent on me, her
servant. Oh pardon, madam: I did but waver for an instant. It is not too
late to tell my readers that the climax of Zuleika’s entertainment was
only that dismal affair, the Magic Canister.

It she took from the table, and, holding it aloft, cried “Now, before I
say good night, I want to see if I have your confidence. But you mustn’t
think this is the confidence trick!” She handed the vessel to The
MacQuern, who, looking like an overgrown acolyte, bore it after her as
she went again among the audience. Pausing before a man in the front
row, she asked him if he would trust her with his watch. He held it
out to her. “Thank you,” she said, letting her fingers touch his for a
moment before she dropped it into the Magic Canister. From another man
she borrowed a cigarette-case, from another a neck-tie, from another a
pair of sleeve-links, from Noaks a ring--one of those iron rings which
are supposed, rightly or wrongly, to alleviate rheumatism. And when she
had made an ample selection, she began her return-journey to the table.

On her way she saw in the shadow of the wall the figure of her forgotten
Duke. She saw him, the one man she had ever loved, also the first
man who had wished definitely to die for her; and she was touched by
remorse. She had said she would remember him to her dying day; and
already... But had he not refused her the wherewithal to remember
him--the pearls she needed as the clou of her dear collection, the great
relic among relics?

“Would you trust me with your studs?” she asked him, in a voice that
could be heard throughout the quadrangle, with a smile that was for him
alone.

There was no help for it. He quickly extricated from his shirt-front the
black pearl and the pink. Her thanks had a special emphasis.

The MacQuern placed the Magic Canister before her on the table. She
pressed the outer sheath down on it. Then she inverted it so that the
contents fell into the false lid; then she opened it, looked into it,
and, exclaiming “Well, this is rather queer!” held it up so that the
audience whose intelligence she was insulting might see there was
nothing in it.

“Accidents,” she said, “will happen in the best-regulated canisters!
But I think there is just a chance that I shall be able to restore your
property. Excuse me for a moment.” She then shut the canister, released
the false lid, made several passes over it, opened it, looked into it
and said with a flourish “Now I can clear my character!” Again she went
among the crowd, attended by The MacQuern; and the loans--priceless now
because she had touched them--were in due course severally restored.
When she took the canister from her acolyte, only the two studs remained
in it.

Not since the night of her flitting from the Gibbs’ humble home had
Zuleika thieved. Was she a back-slider? Would she rob the Duke, and his
heir-presumptive, and Tanville-Tankertons yet unborn? Alas, yes. But
what she now did was proof that she had qualms. And her way of doing it
showed that for legerdemain she had after all a natural aptitude which,
properly trained, might have won for her an honourable place in at least
the second rank of contemporary prestidigitators. With a gesture of her
disengaged hand, so swift as to be scarcely visible, she unhooked her
ear-rings and “passed” them into the canister. This she did as she
turned away from the crowd, on her way to the Duke. At the same moment,
in a manner technically not less good, though morally deplorable, she
withdrew the studs and “vanished” them into her bosom.

Was it triumph, or shame, or of both a little that so flushed her cheeks
as she stood before the man she had robbed? Or was it the excitement
of giving a present to the man she had loved? Certain it is that the
nakedness of her ears gave a new look to her face--a primitive look,
open and sweetly wild. The Duke saw the difference, without noticing
the cause. She was more adorable than ever. He blenched and swayed as in
proximity to a loveliness beyond endurance. His heart cried out within
him. A sudden mist came over his eyes.

In the canister that she held out to him, the two pearls rattled like
dice.

“Keep them!” he whispered.

“I shall,” she whispered back, almost shyly. “But these, these are for
you.” And she took one of his hands, and, holding it open, tilted the
canister over it, and let drop into it the two ear-rings, and went
quickly away.

As she re-appeared at the table, the crowd gave her a long ovation
of gratitude for her performance--an ovation all the more impressive
because it was solemn and subdued. She curtseyed again and again, not
indeed with the timid simplicity of her first obeisance (so familiar
already was she with the thought of the crowd’s doom), but rather in the
manner of a prima donna--chin up, eyelids down, all teeth manifest, and
hands from the bosom flung ecstatically wide asunder.

You know how, at a concert, a prima donna who has just sung insists on
shaking hands with the accompanist, and dragging him forward, to show
how beautiful her nature is, into the applause that is for herself
alone. And your heart, like mine, has gone out to the wretched victim.
Even so would you have felt for The MacQuern when Zuleika, on the
implied assumption that half the credit was his, grasped him by the
wrist, and, continuing to curtsey, would not release him till the last
echoes of the clapping had died away.

The ladies on the steps of the Hall moved down into the quadrangle,
spreading their resentment like a miasma. The tragic passion of the
crowd was merged in mere awkwardness. There was a general movement
towards the College gate.

Zuleika was putting her tricks back into the great casket, The MacQuern
assisting her. The Scots, as I have said, are a shy race, but a resolute
and a self-seeking. This young chieftain had not yet recovered from what
his heroine had let him in for. But he did not lose the opportunity of
asking her to lunch with him to-morrow.

“Delighted,” she said, fitting the Demon Egg-Cup into its groove.
Then, looking up at him, “Are you popular?” she asked. “Have you many
friends?” He nodded. She said he must invite them all.

This was a blow to the young man, who, at once thrifty and infatuate,
had planned a luncheon a deux. “I had hoped--” he began.

“Vainly,” she cut him short.

There was a pause. “Whom shall I invite, then?”

“I don’t know any of them. How should I have preferences?” She
remembered the Duke. She looked round and saw him still standing in the
shadow of the wall. He came towards her. “Of course,” she said hastily
to her host, “you must ask HIM.”

The MacQuern complied. He turned to the Duke and told him that Miss
Dobson had very kindly promised to lunch with him to-morrow. “And,” said
Zuleika, “I simply WON’T unless you will.”

The Duke looked at her. Had it not been arranged that he and she should
spend his last day together? Did it mean nothing that she had given him
her ear-rings? Quickly drawing about him some remnants of his tattered
pride, he hid his wound, and accepted the invitation.

“It seems a shame,” said Zuleika to The MacQuern, “to ask you to bring
this great heavy box all the way back again. But--”

Those last poor rags of pride fell away now. The Duke threw a prehensile
hand on the casket, and, coldly glaring at The MacQuern, pointed with
his other hand towards the College gate. He, and he alone, was going to
see Zuleika home. It was his last night on earth, and he was not to be
trifled with. Such was the message of his eyes. The Scotsman’s flashed
back a precisely similar message.

Men had fought for Zuleika, but never in her presence. Her eyes dilated.
She had not the slightest impulse to throw herself between the two
antagonists. Indeed, she stepped back, so as not to be in the way. A
short sharp fight--how much better that is than bad blood! She hoped the
better man would win; and (do not misjudge her) she rather hoped this
man was the Duke. It occurred to her--a vague memory of some play or
picture--that she ought to be holding aloft a candelabra of lit tapers;
no, that was only done indoors, and in the eighteenth century. Ought
she to hold a sponge? Idle, these speculations of hers, and based on
complete ignorance of the manners and customs of undergraduates. The
Duke and The MacQuern would never have come to blows in the presence of
a lady. Their conflict was necessarily spiritual.

And it was the Scotsman, Scots though he was, who had to yield. Cowed
by something demoniac in the will-power pitted against his, he found
himself retreating in the direction indicated by the Duke’s forefinger.

As he disappeared into the porch, Zuleika turned to the Duke. “You were
splendid,” she said softly. He knew that very well. Does the stag in his
hour of victory need a diploma from the hind? Holding in his hands the
malachite casket that was the symbol of his triumph, the Duke smiled
dictatorially at his darling. He came near to thinking of her as a
chattel. Then with a pang he remembered his abject devotion to her.
Abject no longer though! The victory he had just won restored his
manhood, his sense of supremacy among his fellows. He loved this woman
on equal terms. She was transcendent? So was he, Dorset. To-night
the world had on its moonlit surface two great ornaments--Zuleika and
himself. Neither of the pair could be replaced. Was one of them to be
shattered? Life and love were good. He had been mad to think of dying.

No word was spoken as they went together to Salt Cellar. She expected
him to talk about her conjuring tricks. Could he have been disappointed?
She dared not inquire; for she had the sensitiveness, though no other
quality whatsoever, of the true artist. She felt herself aggrieved. She
had half a mind to ask him to give her back her ear-rings. And by the
way, he hadn’t yet thanked her for them! Well, she would make allowances
for a condemned man. And again she remembered the omen of which he had
told her. She looked at him, and then up into the sky. “This same moon,”
 she said to herself, “sees the battlements of Tankerton. Does she see
two black owls there? Does she hear them hooting?”

They were in Salt Cellar now. “Melisande!” she called up to her window.

“Hush!” said the Duke, “I have something to say to you.”

“Well, you can say it all the better without that great box in your
hands. I want my maid to carry it up to my room for me.” And again she
called out for Melisande, and received no answer. “I suppose she’s in
the house-keeper’s room or somewhere. You had better put the box down
inside the door. She can bring it up later.”

She pushed open the postern; and the Duke, as he stepped across the
threshold, thrilled with a romantic awe. Re-emerging a moment later into
the moonlight, he felt that she had been right about the box: it was
fatal to self-expression; and he was glad he had not tried to speak
on the way from the Front Quad: the soul needs gesture; and the Duke’s
first gesture now was to seize Zuleika’s hands in his.

She was too startled to move. “Zuleika!” he whispered. She was too angry
to speak, but with a sudden twist she freed her wrists and darted back.

He laughed. “You are afraid of me. You are afraid to let me kiss you,
because you are afraid of loving me. This afternoon--here--I all but
kissed you. I mistook you for Death. I was enamoured of Death. I was a
fool. That is what YOU are, you incomparable darling: you are a fool.
You are afraid of life. I am not. I love life. I am going to live for
you, do you hear?”

She stood with her back to the postern. Anger in her eyes had given
place to scorn. “You mean,” she said, “that you go back on your
promise?”

“You will release me from it.”

“You mean you are afraid to die?”

“You will not be guilty of my death. You love me.”

“Good night, you miserable coward.” She stepped back through the
postern.

“Don’t, Zuleika! Miss Dobson, don’t! Pull yourself together! Reflect! I
implore you... You will repent...”

Slowly she closed the postern on him.

“You will repent. I shall wait here, under your window...”

He heard a bolt rasped into its socket. He heard the retreat of a light
tread on the paven hall.

And he hadn’t even kissed her! That was his first thought. He ground his
heel in the gravel.

And he had hurt her wrists! This was Zuleika’s first thought, as she
came into her bedroom. Yes, there were two red marks where he had
held her. No man had ever dared to lay hands on her. With a sense of
contamination, she proceeded to wash her hands thoroughly with soap and
water. From time to time such words as “cad” and “beast” came through
her teeth.

She dried her hands and flung herself into a chair, arose and went
pacing the room. So this was the end of her great night! What had she
done to deserve it? How had he dared?

There was a sound as of rain against the window. She was glad. The night
needed cleansing.

He had told her she was afraid of life. Life!--to have herself caressed
by HIM; humbly to devote herself to being humbly doted on; to be the
slave of a slave; to swim in a private pond of treacle--ugh! If the
thought weren’t so cloying and degrading, it would be laughable.

For a moment her hands hovered over those two golden and gemmed volumes
encasing Bradshaw and the A.B.C. Guide. To leave Oxford by an early
train, leave him to drown unthanked, unlooked at... But this could
not be done without slighting all those hundreds of other men ... And
besides...

Again that sound on the window-pane. This time it startled her. There
seemed to be no rain. Could it have been--little bits of gravel? She
darted noiselessly to the window, pushed it open, and looked down. She
saw the upturned face of the Duke. She stepped back, trembling with
fury, staring around her. Inspiration came.

She thrust her head out again. “Are you there?” she whispered.

“Yes, yes. I knew you would come.”

“Wait a moment, wait!”

The water-jug stood where she had left it, on the floor by the
wash-stand. It was almost full, rather heavy. She bore it steadily to
the window, and looked out.

“Come a little nearer!” she whispered.

The upturned and moonlit face obeyed her. She saw its lips forming the
word “Zuleika.” She took careful aim.

Full on the face crashed the cascade of moonlit water, shooting out on
all sides like the petals of some great silver anemone.

She laughed shrilly as she leapt back, letting the empty jug roll over
on the carpet. Then she stood tense, crouching, her hands to her mouth,
her eyes askance, as much as to say “Now I’ve done it!” She listened
hard, holding her breath. In the stillness of the night was a faint
sound of dripping water, and presently of footsteps going away. Then
stillness unbroken.



XI

I said that I was Clio’s servant. And I felt, when I said it, that you
looked at me dubiously, and murmured among yourselves.

Not that you doubted I was somewhat connected with Clio’s household. The
lady after whom I have named this book is alive, and well known to some
of you personally, to all of you by repute. Nor had you finished my
first page before you guessed my theme to be that episode in her life
which caused so great a sensation among the newspaper-reading public a
few years ago. (It all seems but yesterday, does it not? They are still
vivid to us, those head-lines. We have hardly yet ceased to be edified
by the morals pointed in those leading articles.) And yet very soon you
found me behaving just like any novelist--reporting the exact words
that passed between the protagonists at private interviews--aye, and the
exact thoughts and emotions that were in their breasts. Little wonder
that you wondered! Let me make things clear to you.

I have my mistress’ leave to do this. At first (for reasons which you
will presently understand) she demurred. But I pointed out to her that I
had been placed in a false position, and that until this were rectified
neither she nor I could reap the credit due to us.

Know, then, that for a long time Clio had been thoroughly discontented.
She was happy enough, she says, when first she left the home of Pierus,
her father, to become a Muse. On those humble beginnings she looks
back with affection. She kept only one servant, Herodotus. The romantic
element in him appealed to her. He died, and she had about her a large
staff of able and faithful servants, whose way of doing their work
irritated and depressed her. To them, apparently, life consisted of
nothing but politics and military operations--things to which she, being
a woman, was somewhat indifferent. She was jealous of Melpomene. It
seemed to her that her own servants worked from without at a mass of dry
details which might as well be forgotten. Melpomene’s worked on material
that was eternally interesting--the souls of men and women; and not
from without, either; but rather casting themselves into those souls
and showing to us the essence of them. She was particularly struck by a
remark of Aristotle’s, that tragedy was “more philosophic” than history,
inasmuch as it concerned itself with what might be, while history was
concerned with merely what had been. This summed up for her what she
had often felt, but could not have exactly formulated. She saw that the
department over which she presided was at best an inferior one. She saw
that just what she had liked--and rightly liked--in poor dear Herodotus
was just what prevented him from being a good historian. It was wrong to
mix up facts and fancies. But why should her present servants deal with
only one little special set of the variegated facts of life? It was not
in her power to interfere. The Nine, by the terms of the charter
that Zeus had granted to them, were bound to leave their servants an
absolutely free hand. But Clio could at least refrain from reading the
works which, by a legal fiction, she was supposed to inspire. Once or
twice in the course of a century, she would glance into this or that new
history book, only to lay it down with a shrug of her shoulders. Some
of the mediaeval chronicles she rather liked. But when, one day, Pallas
asked her what she thought of “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”
 her only answer was “ostis toia echei en edone echei en edone toia”
 (For people who like that kind of thing, that is the kind of thing they
like). This she did let slip. Generally, throughout all the centuries,
she kept up a pretence of thinking history the greatest of all the arts.
She always held her head high among her Sisters. It was only on the
sly that she was an omnivorous reader of dramatic and lyric poetry.
She watched with keen interest the earliest developments of the prose
romance in southern Europe; and after the publication of “Clarissa
Harlowe” she spent practically all her time in reading novels. It was
not until the Spring of the year 1863 that an entirely new element
forced itself into her peaceful life. Zeus fell in love with her.

To us, for whom so quickly “time doth transfix the flourish set on
youth,” there is something strange, even a trifle ludicrous, in the
thought that Zeus, after all these years, is still at the beck and call
of his passions. And it seems anyhow lamentable that he has not yet
gained self-confidence enough to appear in his own person to the lady
of his choice, and is still at pains to transform himself into whatever
object he deems likeliest to please her. To Clio, suddenly from Olympus,
he flashed down in the semblance of Kinglake’s “Invasion of the Crimea”
 (four vols., large 8vo, half-calf). She saw through his disguise
immediately, and, with great courage and independence, bade him begone.
Rebuffed, he was not deflected. Indeed it would seem that Clio’s high
spirit did but sharpen his desire. Hardly a day passed but he appeared
in what he hoped would be the irresistible form--a recently discovered
fragment of Polybius, an advance copy of the forthcoming issue of “The
Historical Review,” the note-book of Professor Carl Voertschlaffen...
One day, all-prying Hermes told him of Clio’s secret addiction to
novel-reading. Thenceforth, year in, year out, it was in the form of
fiction that Zeus wooed her. The sole result was that she grew sick of
the sight of novels, and found a perverse pleasure in reading history.
These dry details of what had actually happened were a relief, she told
herself, from all that make-believe.

One Sunday afternoon--the day before that very Monday on which this
narrative opens--it occurred to her how fine a thing history might be if
the historian had the novelist’s privileges. Suppose he could be present
at every scene which he was going to describe, a presence invisible and
inevitable, and equipped with power to see into the breasts of all the
persons whose actions he set himself to watch...

While the Muse was thus musing, Zeus (disguised as Miss Annie S. Swan’s
latest work) paid his usual visit. She let her eyes rest on him. Hither
and thither she divided her swift mind, and addressed him in winged
words. “Zeus, father of gods and men, cloud-compeller, what wouldst thou
of me? But first will I say what I would of thee”; and she besought him
to extend to the writers of history such privileges as are granted to
novelists. His whole manner had changed. He listened to her with the
massive gravity of a ruler who never yet has allowed private influence
to obscure his judgment. He was silent for some time after her appeal.
Then, in a voice of thunder, which made quake the slopes of Parnassus,
he gave his answer. He admitted the disabilities under which historians
laboured. But the novelists--were they not equally handicapped? They had
to treat of persons who never existed, events which never were. Only
by the privilege of being in the thick of those events, and in the very
bowels of those persons, could they hope to hold the reader’s attention.
If similar privileges were granted to the historian, the demand for
novels would cease forthwith, and many thousand of hard-working,
deserving men and women would be thrown out of employment. In fact, Clio
had asked him an impossible favour. But he might--he said he conceivably
might--be induced to let her have her way just once. In that event, all
she would have to do was to keep her eye on the world’s surface, and
then, so soon as she had reason to think that somewhere was impending
something of great import, to choose an historian. On him, straightway,
Zeus would confer invisibility, inevitability, and psychic penetration,
with a flawless memory thrown in.

On the following afternoon, Clio’s roving eye saw Zuleika stepping from
the Paddington platform into the Oxford train. A few moments later I
found myself suddenly on Parnassus. In hurried words Clio told me how I
came there, and what I had to do. She said she had selected me because
she knew me to be honest, sober, and capable, and no stranger to Oxford.
Another moment, and I was at the throne of Zeus. With a majesty of
gesture which I shall never forget, he stretched his hand over me, and I
was indued with the promised gifts. And then, lo! I was on the platform
of Oxford station. The train was not due for another hour. But the time
passed pleasantly enough.

It was fun to float all unseen, to float all unhampered by any corporeal
nonsense, up and down the platform. It was fun to watch the inmost
thoughts of the station-master, of the porters, of the young person at
the buffet. But of course I did not let the holiday-mood master me. I
realised the seriousness of my mission. I must concentrate myself on
the matter in hand: Miss Dobson’s visit. What was going to happen?
Prescience was no part of my outfit. From what I knew about Miss Dobson,
I deduced that she would be a great success. That was all. Had I had the
instinct that was given to those Emperors in stone, and even to the
dog Corker, I should have begged Clio to send in my stead some man of
stronger nerve. She had charged me to be calmly vigilant, scrupulously
fair. I could have been neither, had I from the outset foreseen all.
Only because the immediate future was broken to me by degrees, first as
a set of possibilities, then as a set of probabilities that yet might
not come off, was I able to fulfil the trust imposed in me. Even so, it
was hard. I had always accepted the doctrine that to understand all is
to forgive all. Thanks to Zeus, I understood all about Miss Dobson, and
yet there were moments when she repelled me--moments when I wished to
see her neither from without nor from within. So soon as the Duke of
Dorset met her on the Monday night, I felt I was in duty bound to keep
him under constant surveillance. Yet there were moments when I was so
sorry for him that I deemed myself a brute for shadowing him.

Ever since I can remember, I have been beset by a recurring doubt as
to whether I be or be not quite a gentleman. I have never attempted to
define that term: I have but feverishly wondered whether in its usual
acceptation (whatever that is) it be strictly applicable to myself. Many
people hold that the qualities connoted by it are primarily moral--a
kind heart, honourable conduct, and so forth. On Clio’s mission, I found
honour and kindness tugging me in precisely opposite directions. In so
far as honour tugged the harder, was I the more or the less gentlemanly?
But the test is not a fair one. Curiosity tugged on the side of honour.
This goes to prove me a cad? Oh, set against it the fact that I did
at one point betray Clio’s trust. When Miss Dobson had done the deed
recorded at the close of the foregoing chapter, I gave the Duke of
Dorset an hour’s grace.

I could have done no less. In the lives of most of us is some one thing
that we would not after the lapse of how many years soever confess to
our most understanding friend; the thing that does not bear thinking
of; the one thing to be forgotten; the unforgettable thing. Not
the commission of some great crime: this can be atoned for by great
penances; and the very enormity of it has a dark grandeur. Maybe, some
little deadly act of meanness, some hole-and-corner treachery? But
what a man has once willed to do, his will helps him to forget. The
unforgettable thing in his life is usually not a thing he has done or
left undone, but a thing done to him--some insolence or cruelty for
which he could not, or did not, avenge himself. This it is that often
comes back to him, years after, in his dreams, and thrusts itself
suddenly into his waking thoughts, so that he clenches his hands, and
shakes his head, and hums a tune loudly--anything to beat it off. In the
very hour when first befell him that odious humiliation, would you have
spied on him? I gave the Duke of Dorset an hour’s grace.

What were his thoughts in that interval, what words, if any, he uttered
to the night, never will be known. For this, Clio has abused me in
language less befitting a Muse than a fishwife. I do not care. I would
rather be chidden by Clio than by my own sense of delicacy, any day.



XII

Not less averse than from dogging the Duke was I from remaining another
instant in the presence of Miss Dobson. There seemed to be no possible
excuse for her. This time she had gone too far. She was outrageous. As
soon as the Duke had had time to get clear away, I floated out into the
night.

I may have consciously reasoned that the best way to forget the present
was in the revival of memories. Or I may have been driven by a mere
homing instinct. Anyhow, it was in the direction of my old College that
I went. Midnight was tolling as I floated in through the shut grim gate
at which I had so often stood knocking for admission.

The man who now occupied my room had sported his oak--my oak. I read the
name on the visiting-card attached thereto--E. J. Craddock--and went in.

E. J. Craddock, interloper, was sitting at my table, with elbows squared
and head on one side, in the act of literary composition. The oars and
caps on my walls betokened him a rowing-man. Indeed, I recognised his
somewhat heavy face as that of the man whom, from the Judas barge this
afternoon, I had seen rowing “stroke” in my College Eight.

He ought, therefore, to have been in bed and asleep two hours ago. And
the offence of his vigil was aggravated by a large tumbler that stood
in front of him, containing whisky and soda. From this he took a deep
draught. Then he read over what he had written. I did not care to peer
over his shoulder at MS. which, though written in my room, was not
intended for my eyes. But the writer’s brain was open to me; and he had
written “I, the undersigned Edward Joseph Craddock, do hereby leave and
bequeath all my personal and other property to Zuleika Dobson, spinster.
This is my last will and testament.”

He gnawed his pen, and presently altered the “hereby leave” to “hereby
and herewith leave.” Fool!

I thereby and therewith left him. As I emerged through the floor of the
room above--through the very carpet that had so often been steeped in
wine, and encrusted with smithereens of glass, in the brave old days
of a well-remembered occupant--I found two men, both of them evidently
reading-men. One of them was pacing round the room. “Do you know,” he
was saying, “what she reminded me of, all the time? Those words--aren’t
they in the Song of Solomon?--‘fair as the moon, clear as the sun,
and... and...’”

“‘Terrible as an army with banners,’” supplied his host--rather testily,
for he was writing a letter. It began “My dear Father. By the time you
receive this I shall have taken a step which...”

Clearly it was vain to seek distraction in my old College. I floated out
into the untenanted meadows. Over them was the usual coverlet of white
vapour, trailed from the Isis right up to Merton Wall. The scent of
these meadows’ moisture is the scent of Oxford. Even in hottest noon,
one feels that the sun has not dried THEM. Always there is moisture
drifting across them, drifting into the Colleges. It, one suspects,
must have had much to do with the evocation of what is called the Oxford
spirit--that gentlest spirit, so lingering and searching, so dear to
them who as youths were brought into ken of it, so exasperating to them
who were not. Yes, certainly, it is this mild, miasmal air, not less
than the grey beauty and gravity of the buildings, that has helped
Oxford to produce, and foster eternally, her peculiar race of
artist-scholars, scholar-artists. The undergraduate, in his brief
periods of residence, is too buoyant to be mastered by the spirit of
the place. He does but salute it, and catch the manner. It is on him
who stays to spend his maturity here that the spirit will in its fulness
gradually descend. The buildings and their traditions keep astir in his
mind whatsoever is gracious; the climate, enfolding and enfeebling him,
lulling him, keeps him careless of the sharp, harsh, exigent realities
of the outer world. Careless? Not utterly. These realities may be seen
by him. He may study them, be amused or touched by them. But they cannot
fire him. Oxford is too damp for that. The “movements” made there have
been no more than protests against the mobility of others. They have
been without the dynamic quality implied in their name. They have been
no more than the sighs of men gazing at what other men had left behind
them; faint, impossible appeals to the god of retrogression, uttered for
their own sake and ritual, rather than with any intent that they should
be heard. Oxford, that lotus-land, saps the will-power, the power
of action. But, in doing so, it clarifies the mind, makes larger the
vision, gives, above all, that playful and caressing suavity of manner
which comes of a conviction that nothing matters, except ideas, and that
not even ideas are worth dying for, inasmuch as the ghosts of them slain
seem worthy of yet more piously elaborate homage than can be given to
them in their heyday. If the Colleges could be transferred to the dry
and bracing top of some hill, doubtless they would be more evidently
useful to the nation. But let us be glad there is no engineer or
enchanter to compass that task. Egomet, I would liefer have the rest of
England subside into the sea than have Oxford set on a salubrious level.
For there is nothing in England to be matched with what lurks in the
vapours of these meadows, and in the shadows of these spires--that
mysterious, inenubilable spirit, spirit of Oxford. Oxford! The very
sight of the word printed, or sound of it spoken, is fraught for me with
most actual magic.

And on that moonlit night when I floated among the vapours of these
meadows, myself less than a vapour, I knew and loved Oxford as never
before, as never since. Yonder, in the Colleges, was the fume and fret
of tragedy--Love as Death’s decoy, and Youth following her. What then?
Not Oxford was menaced. Come what might, not a stone of Oxford’s walls
would be loosened, nor a wreath of her vapours be undone, nor lost a
breath of her sacred spirit.

I floated up into the higher, drier air, that I might, for once, see the
total body of that spirit.

There lay Oxford far beneath me, like a map in grey and black and
silver. All that I had known only as great single things I saw now
outspread in apposition, and tiny; tiny symbols, as it were, of
themselves, greatly symbolising their oneness. There they lay, these
multitudinous and disparate quadrangles, all their rivalries merged in
the making of a great catholic pattern. And the roofs of the buildings
around them seemed level with their lawns. No higher the roofs of the
very towers. Up from their tiny segment of the earth’s spinning surface
they stood negligible beneath infinity. And new, too, quite new, in
eternity; transient upstarts. I saw Oxford as a place that had no more
past and no more future than a mining-camp. I smiled down. O hoary and
unassailable mushroom!... But if a man carry his sense of proportion far
enough, lo! he is back at the point from which he started. He knows
that eternity, as conceived by him, is but an instant in eternity, and
infinity but a speck in infinity. How should they belittle the things
near to him?... Oxford was venerable and magical, after all, and
enduring. Aye, and not because she would endure was it the less
lamentable that the young lives within her walls were like to be taken.
My equanimity was gone; and a tear fell on Oxford.

And then, as though Oxford herself were speaking up to me, the air
vibrated with a sweet noise of music. It was the hour of one; the end
of the Duke’s hour of grace. Through the silvery tangle of sounds from
other clocks I floated quickly down to the Broad.



XIII

I had on the way a horrible apprehension. What if the Duke, in his
agony, had taken the one means to forgetfulness? His room, I could see,
was lit up; but a man does not necessarily choose to die in the dark. I
hovered, afraid, over the dome of the Sheldonian. I saw that the window
of the room above the Duke’s was also lit up. And there was no reason
at all to doubt the survival of Noaks. Perhaps the sight of him would
hearten me.

I was wrong. The sight of Noaks in his room was as dismal a thing as
could be. With his chin sunk on his breast, he sat there, on a rickety
chair, staring up at the mantel-piece. This he had decked out as a sort
of shrine. In the centre, aloft on an inverted tin that had contained
Abernethy biscuits, stood a blue plush frame, with an inner rim of
brass, several sizes too big for the picture-postcard installed in it.
Zuleika’s image gazed forth with a smile that was obviously not intended
for the humble worshipper at this execrable shrine. On either side
of her stood a small vase, one holding some geraniums, the other some
mignonette. And just beneath her was placed that iron ring which,
rightly or wrongly, Noaks supposed to alleviate rheumatism--that same
iron ring which, by her touch to-night, had been charged for him with a
yet deeper magic, insomuch that he dared no longer wear it, and had set
it before her as an oblation.

Yet, for all his humility, he was possessed by a spirit of egoism that
repelled me. While he sat peering over his spectacles at the beauteous
image, he said again and again to himself, in a hollow voice, “I am so
young to die.” Every time he said this, two large, pear-shaped
tears emerged from behind his spectacles, and found their way to
his waistcoat. It did not seem to strike him that quite half of
the undergraduates who contemplated death--and contemplated it in a
fearless, wholesome, manly fashion--were his juniors. It seemed to seem
to him that his own death, even though all those other far brighter
and more promising lives than his were to be sacrificed, was a thing to
bother about. Well, if he did not want to die, why could he not have,
at least, the courage of his cowardice? The world would not cease to
revolve because Noaks still clung to its surface. For me the whole
tragedy was cheapened by his participation in it. I was fain to
leave him. His squint, his short legs dangling towards the floor, his
tear-sodden waistcoat, and his refrain “I am so young to die,” were
beyond measure exasperating. Yet I hesitated to pass into the room
beneath, for fear of what I might see there.

How long I might have paltered, had no sound come from that room, I
know not. But a sound came, sharp and sudden in the night, instantly
reassuring. I swept down into the presence of the Duke.

He stood with his head flung back and his arms folded, gorgeous in a
dressing-gown of crimson brocade. In animation of pride and pomp,
he looked less like a mortal man than like a figure from some great
biblical group by Paul Veronese.

And this was he whom I had presumed to pity! And this was he whom I had
half expected to find dead.

His face, usually pale, was now red; and his hair, which no eye had ever
yet seen disordered, stood up in a glistening shock. These two changes
in him intensified the effect of vitality. One of them, however,
vanished as I watched it. The Duke’s face resumed its pallor. I realised
then that he had but blushed; and I realised, simultaneously, that what
had called that blush to his cheek was what had also been the signal to
me that he was alive. His blush had been a pendant to his sneeze. And
his sneeze had been a pendant to that outrage which he had been striving
to forget. He had caught cold.

He had caught cold. In the hour of his soul’s bitter need, his body had
been suborned against him. Base! Had he not stripped his body of its
wet vesture? Had he not vigorously dried his hair, and robed himself in
crimson, and struck in solitude such attitudes as were most congruous
with his high spirit and high rank? He had set himself to crush
remembrance of that by which through his body his soul had been
assailed. And well had he known that in this conflict a giant demon was
his antagonist. But that his own body would play traitor--no, this he
had not foreseen. This was too base a thing to be foreseen.

He stood quite still, a figure orgulous and splendent. And it seemed as
though the hot night, too, stood still, to watch him, in awe, through
the open lattices of his window, breathlessly. But to me, equipped
to see beneath the surface, he was piteous, piteous in ratio to the
pretension of his aspect. Had he crouched down and sobbed, I should have
been as much relieved as he. But he stood seignorial and aquiline.

Painless, by comparison with this conflict in him, seemed the conflict
that had raged in him yesternight. Then, it had been his dandihood
against his passion for Zuleika. What mattered the issue? Whichever
won, the victory were sweet. And of this he had all the while been
subconscious, gallantly though he fought for his pride of dandihood.
To-night in the battle between pride and memory, he knew from the outset
that pride’s was but a forlorn hope, and that memory would be barbarous
in her triumph. Not winning to oblivion, he must hate with a fathomless
hatred. Of all the emotions, hatred is the most excruciating. Of all
the objects of hatred, a woman once loved is the most hateful. Of all
deaths, the bitterest that can befall a man is that he lay down his life
to flatter the woman he deems vilest of her sex.

Such was the death that the Duke of Dorset saw confronting him. Most
men, when they are at war with the past, have the future as ally.
Looking steadfastly forward, they can forget. The Duke’s future was
openly in league with his past. For him, prospect was memory. All
that there was for him of future was the death to which his honour was
pledged. To envisage that was to... no, he would NOT envisage it! With a
passionate effort he hypnotised himself to think of nothing at all. His
brain, into which, by the power Zeus gave me, I was gazing, became a
perfect vacuum, insulated by the will. It was the kind of experiment
which scientists call “beautiful.” And yes, beautiful it was.

But not in the eyes of Nature. She abhors a vacuum. Seeing the enormous
odds against which the Duke was fighting, she might well have stood
aside. But she has no sense of sport whatsoever. She stepped in.

At first I did not realise what was happening. I saw the Duke’s eyes
contract, and the muscles of his mouth drawn down, and, at the same
time, a tense upward movement of his whole body. Then, suddenly, the
strain undone: a downward dart of the head, a loud percussion. Thrice
the Duke sneezed, with a sound that was as the bursting of the dams of
body and soul together; then sneezed again.

Now was his will broken. He capitulated. In rushed shame and horror and
hatred, pell-mell, to ravage him.

What care now, what use, for deportment? He walked coweringly round and
round his room, with frantic gestures, with head bowed. He shuffled and
slunk. His dressing-gown had the look of a gabardine.

Shame and horror and hatred went slashing and hewing throughout the
fallen citadel. At length, exhausted, he flung himself down on the
window-seat and leaned out into the night, panting. The air was full of
thunder. He clutched at his throat. From the depths of the black caverns
beneath their brows the eyes of the unsleeping Emperors watched him.

He had gone through much in the day that was past. He had loved and
lost. He had striven to recapture, and had failed. In a strange resolve
he had found serenity and joy. He had been at the point of death, and
had been saved. He had seen that his beloved was worthless, and he had
not cared. He had fought for her, and conquered; and had pled with her,
and--all these memories were loathsome by reason of that final thing
which had all the while lain in wait for him.

He looked back and saw himself as he had been at a score of crucial
moments in the day--always in the shadow of that final thing. He saw
himself as he had been on the playing-fields of Eton; aye! and in the
arms of his nurse, to and fro on the terrace of Tankerton--always in the
shadow of that final thing, always piteous and ludicrous, doomed. Thank
heaven the future was unknowable? It wasn’t, now. To-morrow--to-day--he
must die for that accursed fiend of a woman--the woman with the hyena
laugh.

What to do meanwhile? Impossible to sleep. He felt in his body the
strain of his quick sequence of spiritual adventures. He was dog-tired.
But his brain was furiously out of hand: no stopping it. And the night
was stifling. And all the while, in the dead silence, as though his soul
had ears, there was a sound. It was a very faint, unearthly sound, and
seemed to come from nowhere, yet to have a meaning. He feared he was
rather over-wrought.

He must express himself. That would soothe him. Ever since childhood
he had had, from time to time, the impulse to set down in writing
his thoughts or his moods. In such exercises he had found for his
self-consciousness the vent which natures less reserved than his find in
casual talk with Tom, Dick and Harry, with Jane, Susan, and Liz. Aloof
from either of these triads, he had in his first term at Eton taken to
himself as confidant, and retained ever since, a great quarto volume,
bound in red morocco and stamped with his coronet and cypher. It was
herein, year by year, that his soul spread itself.

He wrote mostly in English prose; but other modes were not infrequent.
Whenever he was abroad, it was his courteous habit to write in the
language of the country where he was residing--French, when he was in
his house on the Champs Elysees; Italian, when he was in his villa at
Baiae; and so on. When he was in his own country he felt himself free to
deviate sometimes from the vernacular into whatever language were aptest
to his frame of mind. In his sterner moods he gravitated to Latin,
and wrought the noble iron of that language to effects that were, if
anything, a trifle over-impressive. He found for his highest flights of
contemplation a handy vehicle in Sanscrit. In hours of mere joy it was
Greek poetry that flowed likeliest from his pen; and he had a special
fondness for the metre of Alcaeus.

And now, too, in his darkest hour, it was Greek that surged in
him--iambics of thunderous wrath such as those which are volleyed by
Prometheus. But as he sat down to his writing-table, and unlocked the
dear old album, and dipped his pen in the ink, a great calm fell on him.
The iambics in him began to breathe such sweetness as is on the lips of
Alcestis going to her doom. But, just as he set pen to paper, his hand
faltered, and he sprang up, victim of another and yet more violent fit
of sneezing.

Disbuskined, dangerous. The spirit of Juvenal woke in him. He would
flay. He would make Woman (as he called Zuleika) writhe. Latin
hexameters, of course. An epistle to his heir presumptive... “Vae tibi,”
 he began,

     “Vae tibi, vae misero, nisi circumspexeris artes
     Femineas, nam nulla salus quin femina possit
     Tradere, nulla fides quin”--

“Quin,” he repeated. In writing soliloquies, his trouble was to
curb inspiration. The thought that he was addressing his
heir-presumptive--now heir-only-too-apparent--gave him pause. Nor, he
reflected, was he addressing this brute only, but a huge posthumous
audience. These hexameters would be sure to appear in the “authorised”
 biography. “A melancholy interest attaches to the following lines,
written, it would seem, on the very eve of”... He winced. Was it really
possible, and no dream, that he was to die to-morrow--to-day?

Even you, unassuming reader, go about with a vague notion that in your
case, somehow, the ultimate demand of nature will be waived. The
Duke, until he conceived his sudden desire to die, had deemed himself
certainly exempt. And now, as he sat staring at his window, he saw in
the paling of the night the presage of the dawn of his own last day.
Sometimes (orphaned though he was in early childhood) he had even found
it hard to believe there was no exemption for those to whom he stood in
any personal relation. He remembered how, soon after he went to Eton,
he had received almost with incredulity the news of the death of his
god-father, Lord Stackley, an octogenarian.... He took from the table
his album, knowing that on one of the earliest pages was inscribed his
boyish sense of that bereavement. Yes, here the passage was, written in
a large round hand:

“Death knocks, as we know, at the door of the cottage and of the castle.
He stalks up the front-garden and the steep steps of the semi-detached
villa, and plies the ornamental knocker so imperiously that the panels
of imitation stained glass quiver in the thin front-door. Even the
family that occupies the topmost story of a building without a lift is
on his ghastly visiting-list. He rattles his fleshless knuckles against
the door of the gypsy’s caravan. Into the savage’s tent, wigwam, or
wattled hut, he darts unbidden. Even on the hermit in the cave he forces
his obnoxious presence. His is an universal beat, and he walks it with
a grin. But be sure it is at the sombre portal of the nobleman that he
knocks with the greatest gusto. It is there, where haply his visit will
be commemorated with a hatchment; it is then, when the muffled thunder
of the Dead March in ‘Saul’ will soon be rolling in cathedrals; it
is then, it is there, that the pride of his unquestioned power comes
grimliest home to him. Is there no withstanding him? Why should he be
admitted always with awe, a cravenly-honoured guest? When next he calls,
let the butler send him about his business, or tell him to step round to
the servants’ entrance. If it be made plain to him that his visits are
an impertinence, he will soon be disemboldened. Once the aristocracy
make a stand against him, there need be no more trouble about the
exorbitant Duties named after him. And for the hereditary system--that
system which both offends the common sense of the Radical, and wounds
the Tory by its implied admission that noblemen are mortal--a seemly
substitute will have been found.”

Artless and crude in expression, very boyish, it seemed now to its
author. Yet, in its simple wistfulness, it had quality: it rang true.
The Duke wondered whether, with all that he had since mastered in the
great art of English prose, he had not lost something, too.

“Is there no withstanding him?” To think that the boy who uttered that
cry, and gave back so brave an answer, was within nine years to go
seek death of his own accord! How the gods must be laughing! Yes,
the exquisite point of the joke, for them, was that he CHOSE to die.
But--and, as the thought flashed through him, he started like a man
shot--what if he chose not to? Stay, surely there was some reason why
he MUST die. Else, why throughout the night had he taken his doom for
granted?... Honour: yes, he had pledged himself. Better death than
dishonour. Was it, though? was it? Ah, he, who had come so near to
death, saw dishonour as a tiny trifle. Where was the sting of it? Not
he would be ridiculous to-morrow--to-day. Every one would acclaim his
splendid act of moral courage. She, she, the hyena woman, would be the
fool. No one would have thought of dying for her, had he not set the
example. Every one would follow his new example. Yes, he would
save Oxford yet. That was his duty. Duty and darling vengeance! And
life--life!

It was full dawn now. Gone was that faint, monotonous sound which had
punctuated in his soul the horrors of his vigil. But, in reminder of
those hours, his lamp was still burning. He extinguished it; and the
going-out of that tarnished light made perfect his sense of release.

He threw wide his arms in welcome of the great adorable day, and of all
the great adorable days that were to be his.

He leaned out from his window, drinking the dawn in. The gods had
made merry over him, had they? And the cry of the hyena had made night
hideous. Well, it was his turn now. He would laugh last and loudest.

And already, for what was to be, he laughed outright into the morning;
insomuch that the birds in the trees of Trinity, and still more the
Emperors over the way, marvelled greatly.



XIV

They had awaited thousands and innumerable thousands of daybreaks in the
Broad, these Emperors, counting the long slow hours till the night were
over. It is in the night especially that their fallen greatness haunts
them. Day brings some distraction. They are not incurious of the lives
around them--these little lives that succeed one another so quickly. To
them, in their immemorial old age, youth is a constant wonder. And so
is death, which to them comes not. Youth or death--which, they had often
asked themselves, was the goodlier? But it was ill that these two things
should be mated. It was ill-come, this day of days.

Long after the Duke was in bed and asleep, his peal of laughter echoed
in the ears of the Emperors. Why had he laughed?

And they said to themselves “We are very old men, and broken, and in a
land not our own. There are things that we do not understand.”

Brief was the freshness of the dawn. From all points of the compass,
dark grey clouds mounted into the sky. There, taking their places
as though in accordance to a strategic plan laid down for them, they
ponderously massed themselves, and presently, as at a given signal,
drew nearer to earth, and halted, an irresistible great army, awaiting
orders.

Somewhere under cover of them the sun went his way, transmitting a
sulphurous heat. The very birds in the trees of Trinity were oppressed
and did not twitter. The very leaves did not whisper.

Out through the railings, and across the road, prowled a skimpy and
dingy cat, trying to look like a tiger.

It was all very sinister and dismal.

The hours passed. The Broad put forth, one by one, its signs of waking.

Soon after eight o’clock, as usual, the front-door of the Duke’s
lodgings was opened from within. The Emperors watched for the faint
cloud of dust that presently emerged, and for her whom it preceded. To
them, this first outcoming of the landlady’s daughter was a moment of
daily interest. Katie!--they had known her as a toddling child; and
later as a little girl scampering off to school, all legs and pinafore
and streaming golden hair. And now she was sixteen years old. Her hair,
tied back at the nape of her neck, would very soon be “up.” Her big
blue eyes were as they had always been; but she had long passed out of
pinafores into aprons, had taken on a sedateness befitting her years and
her duties, and was anxious to be regarded rather as an aunt than as
a sister by her brother Clarence, aged twelve. The Emperors had always
predicted that she would be pretty. And very pretty she was.

As she came slowly out, with eyes downcast to her broom, sweeping the
dust so seriously over the doorstep and then across the pavement, and
anon when she reappeared with pail and scrubbing-brush, and abased
herself before the doorstep, and wrought so vehemently there, what
filled her little soul was not the dignity of manual labour. The duties
that Zuleika had envied her were dear to her exactly as they would have
been, yesterday morning, to Zuleika. The Emperors had often noticed that
during vacations their little favourite’s treatment of the doorstep was
languid and perfunctory. They knew well her secret, and always (for who
can be long in England without becoming sentimental?) they cherished the
hope of a romantic union between her and “a certain young gentleman,” as
they archly called the Duke. His continued indifference to her they took
almost as an affront to themselves. Where in all England was a prettier,
sweeter girl than their Katie? The sudden irruption of Zuleika into
Oxford was especially grievous to them because they could no longer
hope against hope that Katie would be led by the Duke to the altar, and
thence into the highest social circles, and live happily ever after.
Luckily it was for Katie, however, that they had no power to fill her
head with their foolish notions. It was well for her to have never
doubted she loved in vain. She had soon grown used to her lot. Not until
yesterday had there been any bitterness. Jealousy surged in Katie at the
very moment when she beheld Zuleika on the threshold. A glance at the
Duke’s face when she showed the visitor up was enough to acquaint
her with the state of his heart. And she did not, for confirming her
intuition, need the two or three opportunities she took of listening at
the keyhole. What in the course of those informal audiences did surprise
her--so much indeed that she could hardly believe her ear--was that it
was possible for a woman not to love the Duke. Her jealousy of “that
Miss Dobson” was for a while swallowed up in her pity for him. What she
had borne so cheerfully for herself she could not bear for her hero. She
wished she had not happened to listen.

And this morning, while she knelt swaying and spreading over “his”
 doorstep, her blue eyes added certain tears to be scrubbed away in the
general moisture of the stone. Rising, she dried her hands in her apron,
and dried her eyes with her hands. Lest her mother should see that she
had been crying, she loitered outside the door. Suddenly, her roving
glance changed to a stare of acute hostility. She knew well that the
person wandering towards her was--no, not “that Miss Dobson,” as she had
for the fraction of an instant supposed, but the next worst thing.

It has been said that Melisande indoors was an evidently French maid.
Out of doors she was not less evidently Zuleika’s. Not that she aped her
mistress. The resemblance had come by force of propinquity and devotion.
Nature had laid no basis for it. Not one point of form or colour had
the two women in common. It has been said that Zuleika was not strictly
beautiful. Melisande, like most Frenchwomen, was strictly plain. But
in expression and port, in her whole tournure, she had become, as
every good maid does, her mistress’ replica. The poise of her head, the
boldness of her regard and brilliance of her smile, the leisurely and
swinging way in which she walked, with a hand on the hip--all these
things of hers were Zuleika’s too. She was no conqueror. None but the
man to whom she was betrothed--a waiter at the Cafe Tourtel, named
Pelleas--had ever paid court to her; nor was she covetous of other
hearts. Yet she looked victorious, and insatiable of victories, and
“terrible as an army with banners.”

In the hand that was not on her hip she carried a letter. And on her
shoulders she had to bear the full burden of the hatred that Zuleika had
inspired in Katie. But this she did not know. She came glancing boldly,
leisurely, at the numbers on the front-doors.

Katie stepped back on to the doorstep, lest the inferiority of her
stature should mar the effect of her disdain.

“Good-day. Is it here that Duke D’Orsay lives?” asked Melisande, as
nearly accurate as a Gaul may be in such matters.

“The Duke of Dorset,” said Katie with a cold and insular emphasis,
“lives here.” And “You,” she tried to convey with her eyes, “you, for
all your smart black silk, are a hireling. I am Miss Batch. I happen to
have a hobby for housework. I have not been crying.”

“Then please mount this to him at once,” said Melisande, holding out the
letter. “It is from Miss Dobson’s part. Very express. I wait response.”

“You are very ugly,” Katie signalled with her eyes. “I am very pretty.
I have the Oxfordshire complexion. And I play the piano.” With her lips
she said merely, “His Grace is not called before nine o’clock.”

“But to-day you go wake him now--quick--is it not?”

“Quite out of the question,” said Katie. “If you care to leave
that letter here, I will see that it is placed on his Grace’s
breakfast-table, with the morning’s post.” “For the rest,” added her
eyes, “Down with France!”

“I find you droll, but droll, my little one!” cried Melisande.

Katie stepped back and shut the door in her face. “Like a little
Empress,” the Emperors commented.

The Frenchwoman threw up her hands and apostrophised heaven. To this day
she believes that all the bonnes of Oxford are mad, but mad, and of a
madness.

She stared at the door, at the pail and scrubbing-brush that had been
shut out with her, at the letter in her hand. She decided that she had
better drop the letter into the slit in the door and make report to Miss
Dobson.

As the envelope fell through the slit to the door-mat, Katie made at
Melisande a grimace which, had not the panels been opaque, would have
astonished the Emperors. Resuming her dignity, she picked the thing up,
and, at arm’s length, examined it. It was inscribed in pencil. Katie’s
lips curled at sight of the large, audacious handwriting. But it is
probable that whatever kind of handwriting Zuleika might have had would
have been just the kind that Katie would have expected.

Fingering the envelope, she wondered what the wretched woman had to
say. It occurred to her that the kettle was simmering on the hob in the
kitchen, and that she might easily steam open the envelope and master
its contents. However, her doing this would have in no way affected
the course of the tragedy. And so the gods (being to-day in a strictly
artistic mood) prompted her to mind her own business.

Laying the Duke’s table for breakfast, she made as usual a neat
rectangular pile of the letters that had come for him by post. Zuleika’s
letter she threw down askew. That luxury she allowed herself.

And he, when he saw the letter, allowed himself the luxury of leaving it
unopened awhile. Whatever its purport, he knew it could but minister to
his happy malice. A few hours ago, with what shame and dread it would
have stricken him! Now it was a dainty to be dallied with.

His eyes rested on the black tin boxes that contained his robes of the
Garter. Hateful had been the sight of them in the watches of the night,
when he thought he had worn those robes for the last time. But now--!

He opened Zuleika’s letter. It did not disappoint him.


“DEAR DUKE,--DO, DO forgive me. I am beyond words ashamed of the silly
tomboyish thing I did last night. Of course it was no worse than that,
but an awful fear haunts me that you MAY have thought I acted in anger
at the idea of your breaking your promise to me. Well, it is quite true
I had been hurt and angry when you hinted at doing that, but the moment
I left you I saw that you had been only in fun, and I enjoyed the joke
against myself, though I thought it was rather too bad of you. And
then, as a sort of revenge, but almost before I knew what I was doing,
I played that IDIOTIC practical joke on you. I have been MISERABLE ever
since. DO come round as early as possible and tell me I am forgiven. But
before you tell me that, please lecture me till I cry--though indeed I
have been crying half through the night. And then if you want to be VERY
horrid you may tease me for being so slow to see a joke. And then you
might take me to see some of the Colleges and things before we go on to
lunch at The MacQuern’s? Forgive pencil and scrawl. Am sitting up in bed
to write.--Your sincere friend,

“Z. D.

“P.S.--Please burn this.”


At that final injunction, the Duke abandoned himself to his mirth.
“Please burn this.” Poor dear young woman, how modest she was in the
glare of her diplomacy! Why there was nothing, not one phrase, to
compromise her in the eyes of a coroner’s jury!... Seriously, she
had good reason to be proud of her letter. For the purpose in view it
couldn’t have been better done. That was what made it so touchingly
absurd. He put himself in her position. He pictured himself as her,
“sitting up in bed,” pencil in hand, to explain away, to soothe, to
clinch and bind... Yes, if he had happened to be some other man--one
whom her insult might have angered without giving love its death-blow,
and one who could be frightened out of not keeping his word--this letter
would have been capital.

He helped himself to some more marmalade, and poured out another cup of
coffee. Nothing is more thrilling, thought he, than to be treated as a
cully by the person you hold in the hollow of your hand.

But within this great irony lay (to be glided over) another irony. He
knew well in what mood Zuleika had done what she had done to him last
night; yet he preferred to accept her explanation of it.

Officially, then, he acquitted her of anything worse than tomboyishness.
But this verdict for his own convenience implied no mercy to the
culprit. The sole point for him was how to administer her punishment the
most poignantly. Just how should he word his letter?

He rose from his chair, and “Dear Miss Dobson--no, MY dear Miss Dobson,”
 he murmured, pacing the room, “I am so very sorry I cannot come to see
you: I have to attend two lectures this morning. By contrast with this
weariness, it will be the more delightful to meet you at The MacQuern’s.
I want to see as much as I can of you to-day, because to-night there is
the Bump Supper, and to-morrow morning, alas! I must motor to Windsor
for this wretched Investiture. Meanwhile, how can you ask to be forgiven
when there is nothing whatever to forgive? It seems to me that mine, not
yours, is the form of humour that needs explanation. My proposal to die
for you was made in as playful a spirit as my proposal to marry you. And
it is really for me to ask forgiveness of you. One thing especially,” he
murmured, fingering in his waistcoat-pocket the ear-rings she had given
him, “pricks my conscience. I do feel that I ought not to have let
you give me these two pearls--at any rate, not the one which went into
premature mourning for me. As I have no means of deciding which of the
two this one is, I enclose them both, with the hope that the pretty
difference between them will in time reappear”... Or words to that
effect... Stay! why not add to the joy of contriving that effect the
greater joy of watching it? Why send Zuleika a letter? He would obey her
summons. He would speed to her side. He snatched up a hat.

In this haste, however, he detected a certain lack of dignity. He
steadied himself, and went slowly to the mirror. There he adjusted his
hat with care, and regarded himself very seriously, very sternly, from
various angles, like a man invited to paint his own portrait for the
Uffizi. He must be worthy of himself. It was well that Zuleika should
be chastened. Great was her sin. Out of life and death she had fashioned
toys for her vanity. But his joy must be in vindication of what was
noble, not in making suffer what was vile. Yesterday he had been her
puppet, her Jumping-Jack; to-day it was as avenging angel that he would
appear before her. The gods had mocked him who was now their minister.
Their minister? Their master, as being once more master of himself. It
was they who had plotted his undoing. Because they loved him they were
fain that he should die young. The Dobson woman was but their agent,
their cat’s-paw. By her they had all but got him. Not quite! And now, to
teach them, through her, a lesson they would not soon forget, he would
go forth.

Shaking with laughter, the gods leaned over the thunder-clouds to watch
him.

He went forth.

On the well-whitened doorstep he was confronted by a small boy in
uniform bearing a telegram.

“Duke of Dorset?” asked the small boy.

Opening the envelope, the Duke saw that the message, with which was a
prepaid form for reply, had been handed in at the Tankerton post-office.
It ran thus:


     Deeply regret inform your grace last night
     two black owls came and perched on battlements
     remained there through night hooting
     at dawn flew away none knows whither
     awaiting instructions            Jellings


The Duke’s face, though it grew white, moved not one muscle.

Somewhat shamed now, the gods ceased from laughing.

The Duke looked from the telegram to the boy. “Have you a pencil?” he
asked.

“Yes, my Lord,” said the boy, producing a stump of pencil.

Holding the prepaid form against the door, the Duke wrote:


     Jellings Tankerton Hall
     Prepare vault for funeral Monday

                              Dorset


His handwriting was as firmly and minutely beautiful as ever. Only in
that he forgot there was nothing to pay did he belie his calm. “Here,”
 he said to the boy, “is a shilling; and you may keep the change.”

“Thank you, my Lord,” said the boy, and went his way, as happy as a
postman.



XV

Humphrey Greddon, in the Duke’s place, would have taken a pinch of
snuff. But he could not have made that gesture with a finer air than the
Duke gave to its modern equivalent. In the art of taking and lighting
a cigarette, there was one man who had no rival in Europe. This time he
outdid even himself.

“Ah,” you say, “but ‘pluck’ is one thing, endurance another. A man who
doesn’t reel on receipt of his death-warrant may yet break down when he
has had time to think it over. How did the Duke acquit himself when he
came to the end of his cigarette? And by the way, how was it that after
he had read the telegram you didn’t give him again an hour’s grace?”

In a way, you have a perfect right to ask both those questions. But
their very pertinence shows that you think I might omit things that
matter. Please don’t interrupt me again. Am _I_ writing this history, or
are you?

Though the news that he must die was a yet sharper douche, as you have
suggested, than the douche inflicted by Zuleika, it did at least leave
unscathed the Duke’s pride. The gods can make a man ridiculous through
a woman, but they cannot make him ridiculous when they deal him a blow
direct. The very greatness of their power makes them, in that respect,
impotent. They had decreed that the Duke should die, and they had told
him so. There was nothing to demean him in that. True, he had just
measured himself against them. But there was no shame in being
gravelled. The peripety was according to the best rules of tragic art.
The whole thing was in the grand manner.

Thus I felt that there were no indelicacy, this time, in watching
him. Just as “pluck” comes of breeding, so is endurance especially an
attribute of the artist. Because he can stand outside himself, and (if
there be nothing ignoble in them) take a pleasure in his own sufferings,
the artist has a huge advantage over you and me. The Duke, so soon
as Zuleika’s spell was broken, had become himself again--a highly
self-conscious artist in life. And now, standing pensive on the
doorstep, he was almost enviable in his great affliction.

Through the wreaths of smoke which, as they came from his lips, hung in
the sultry air as they would have hung in a closed room, he gazed up at
the steadfast thunder-clouds. How nobly they had been massed for him!
One of them, a particularly large and dark one, might with advantage,
he thought, have been placed a little further to the left. He made a
gesture to that effect. Instantly the cloud rolled into position.
The gods were painfully anxious, now, to humour him in trifles. His
behaviour in the great emergency had so impressed them at a distance
that they rather dreaded meeting him anon at close quarters. They rather
wished they had not uncaged, last night, the two black owls. Too late.
What they had done they had done.

That faint monotonous sound in the stillness of the night--the Duke
remembered it now. What he had thought to be only his fancy had been
his death-knell, wafted to him along uncharted waves of ether, from the
battlements of Tankerton. It had ceased at daybreak. He wondered now
that he had not guessed its meaning. And he was glad that he had not.
He was thankful for the peace that had been granted to him, the joyous
arrogance in which he had gone to bed and got up for breakfast. He
valued these mercies the more for the great tragic irony that came of
them. Aye, and he was inclined to blame the gods for not having kept him
still longer in the dark and so made the irony still more awful. Why had
they not caused the telegram to be delayed in transmission? They
ought to have let him go and riddle Zuleika with his scorn and his
indifference. They ought to have let him hurl through her his defiance
of them. Art aside, they need not have grudged him that excursion.

He could not, he told himself, face Zuleika now. As artist, he saw that
there was irony enough left over to make the meeting a fine one. As
theologian, he did not hold her responsible for his destiny. But as a
man, after what she had done to him last night, and before what he had
to do for her to-day, he would not go out of his way to meet her. Of
course, he would not actually avoid her. To seem to run away from her
were beneath his dignity. But, if he did meet her, what in heaven’s
name should he say to her? He remembered his promise to lunch with The
MacQuern, and shuddered. She would be there. Death, as he had said,
cancelled all engagements. A very simple way out of the difficulty would
be to go straight to the river. No, that would be like running away. It
couldn’t be done.

Hardly had he rejected the notion when he had a glimpse of a female
figure coming quickly round the corner--a glimpse that sent him walking
quickly away, across the road, towards Turl Street, blushing violently.
Had she seen him? he asked himself. And had she seen that he saw her?
He heard her running after him. He did not look round, he quickened his
pace. She was gaining on him. Involuntarily, he ran--ran like a hare,
and, at the corner of Turl Street, rose like a trout, saw the pavement
rise at him, and fell, with a bang, prone.

Let it be said at once that in this matter the gods were absolutely
blameless. It is true they had decreed that a piece of orange-peel
should be thrown down this morning at the corner of Turl Street. But
the Master of Balliol, not the Duke, was the person they had destined
to slip on it. You must not imagine that they think out and appoint
everything that is to befall us, down to the smallest detail. Generally,
they just draw a sort of broad outline, and leave us to fill it in
according to our taste. Thus, in the matters of which this book is
record, it was they who made the Warden invite his grand-daughter to
Oxford, and invite the Duke to meet her on the evening of her arrival.
And it was they who prompted the Duke to die for her on the following
(Tuesday) afternoon. They had intended that he should execute his
resolve after, or before, the boat-race of that evening. But an
oversight upset this plan. They had forgotten on Monday night to uncage
the two black owls; and so it was necessary that the Duke’s death should
be postponed. They accordingly prompted Zuleika to save him. For the
rest, they let the tragedy run its own course--merely putting in a
felicitous touch here and there, or vetoing a superfluity, such as that
Katie should open Zuleika’s letter. It was no part of their scheme that
the Duke should mistake Melisande for her mistress, or that he should
run away from her, and they were genuinely sorry when he, instead of the
Master of Balliol, came to grief over the orange-peel.

Them, however, the Duke cursed as he fell; them again as he raised
himself on one elbow, giddy and sore; and when he found that the woman
bending over him was not she whom he dreaded, but her innocent maid, it
was against them that he almost foamed at the mouth.

“Monsieur le Duc has done himself harm--no?” panted Melisande. “Here is
a letter from Miss Dobson’s part. She say to me ‘Give it him with your
own hand.’”

The Duke received the letter and, sitting upright, tore it to shreds,
thus confirming a suspicion which Melisande had conceived at the moment
when he took to his heels, that all English noblemen are mad, but mad,
and of a madness.

“Nom de Dieu,” she cried, wringing her hands, “what shall I tell to
Mademoiselle?”

“Tell her--” the Duke choked back a phrase of which the memory would
have shamed his last hours. “Tell her,” he substituted, “that you have
seen Marius sitting among the ruins of Carthage,” and limped quickly
away down the Turl.

Both his hands had been abraded by the fall. He tended them angrily
with his handkerchief. Mr. Druce, the chemist, had anon the privilege of
bathing and plastering them, also of balming and binding the right knee
and the left shin. “Might have been a very nasty accident, your Grace,”
 he said. “It was,” said the Duke. Mr. Druce concurred.

Nevertheless, Mr. Druce’s remark sank deep. The Duke thought it quite
likely that the gods had intended the accident to be fatal, and that
only by his own skill and lightness in falling had he escaped the
ignominy of dying in full flight from a lady’s-maid. He had not, you
see, lost all sense of free-will. While Mr. Druce put the finishing
touches to his shin, “I am utterly purposed,” he said to himself, “that
for this death of mine I will choose my own manner and my own--well, not
‘time’ exactly, but whatever moment within my brief span of life shall
seem aptest to me. Unberufen,” he added, lightly tapping Mr. Druce’s
counter.

The sight of some bottles of Cold Mixture on that hospitable board
reminded him of a painful fact. In the clash of the morning’s
excitements, he had hardly felt the gross ailment that was on him.
He became fully conscious of it now, and there leapt in him a hideous
doubt: had he escaped a violent death only to succumb to “natural
causes”? He had never hitherto had anything the matter with him, and
thus he belonged to the worst, the most apprehensive, class of patients.
He knew that a cold, were it neglected, might turn malignant; and he
had a vision of himself gripped suddenly in the street by internal
agonies--a sympathetic crowd, an ambulance, his darkened bedroom; local
doctor making hopelessly wrong diagnosis; eminent specialists served up
hot by special train, commending local doctor’s treatment, but shaking
their heads and refusing to say more than “He has youth on his side”; a
slight rally at sunset; the end. All this flashed through his mind. He
quailed. There was not a moment to lose. He frankly confessed to Mr.
Druce that he had a cold.

Mr. Druce, trying to insinuate by his manner that this fact had not been
obvious, suggested the Mixture--a teaspoonful every two hours. “Give me
some now, please, at once,” said the Duke.

He felt magically better for the draught. He handled the little glass
lovingly, and eyed the bottle. “Why not two teaspoonfuls every hour?”
 he suggested, with an eagerness almost dipsomaniacal. But Mr. Druce was
respectfully firm against that. The Duke yielded. He fancied, indeed,
that the gods had meant him to die of an overdose.

Still, he had a craving for more. Few though his hours were, he hoped
the next two would pass quickly. And, though he knew Mr. Druce could be
trusted to send the bottle round to his rooms immediately, he preferred
to carry it away with him. He slipped it into the breast-pocket of his
coat, almost heedless of the slight extrusion it made there.

Just as he was about to cross the High again, on his way home, a
butcher’s cart dashed down the slope, recklessly driven. He stepped well
back on the pavement, and smiled a sardonic smile. He looked to right
and to left, carefully gauging the traffic. Some time elapsed before he
deemed the road clear enough for transit.

Safely across, he encountered a figure that seemed to loom up out of the
dim past. Oover! Was it but yesternight that Oover dined with him? With
the sensation of a man groping among archives, he began to apologise to
the Rhodes Scholar for having left him so abruptly at the Junta. Then,
presto!--as though those musty archives were changed to a crisp morning
paper agog with terrific head-lines--he remembered the awful resolve of
Oover, and of all young Oxford.

“Of course,” he asked, with a lightness that hardly hid his dread of the
answer, “you have dismissed the notion you were toying with when I left
you?”

Oover’s face, like his nature, was as sensitive as it was massive,
and it instantly expressed his pain at the doubt cast on his high
seriousness. “Duke,” he asked, “d’you take me for a skunk?”

“Without pretending to be quite sure what a skunk is,” said the Duke,
“I take you to be all that it isn’t. And the high esteem in which I
hold you is the measure for me of the loss that your death would be to
America and to Oxford.”

Oover blushed. “Duke” he said “that’s a bully testimonial. But don’t
worry. America can turn out millions just like me, and Oxford can have
as many of them as she can hold. On the other hand, how many of YOU
can be turned out, as per sample, in England? Yet you choose to destroy
yourself. You avail yourself of the Unwritten Law. And you’re right,
Sir. Love transcends all.”

“But does it? What if I told you I had changed my mind?”

“Then, Duke,” said Oover, slowly, “I should believe that all those yarns
I used to hear about the British aristocracy were true, after all. I
should aver that you were not a white man. Leading us on like that, and
then--Say, Duke! Are you going to die to-day, or not?”

“As a matter of fact, I am, but--”

“Shake!”

“But--”

Oover wrung the Duke’s hand, and was passing on. “Stay!” he was adjured.

“Sorry, unable. It’s just turning eleven o’clock, and I’ve a lecture.
While life lasts, I’m bound to respect Rhodes’ intentions.” The
conscientious Scholar hurried away.

The Duke wandered down the High, taking counsel with himself. He was
ashamed of having so utterly forgotten the mischief he had wrought at
large. At dawn he had vowed to undo it. Undo it he must. But the task
was not a simple one now. If he could say “Behold, I take back my word.
I spurn Miss Dobson, and embrace life,” it was possible that his example
would suffice. But now that he could only say “Behold, I spurn Miss
Dobson, and will not die for her, but I am going to commit suicide, all
the same,” it was clear that his words would carry very little force.
Also, he saw with pain that they placed him in a somewhat ludicrous
position. His end, as designed yesterday, had a large and simple
grandeur. So had his recantation of it. But this new compromise between
the two things had a fumbled, a feeble, an ignoble look. It seemed to
combine all the disadvantages of both courses. It stained his honour
without prolonging his life. Surely, this was a high price to pay for
snubbing Zuleika... Yes, he must revert without more ado to his first
scheme. He must die in the manner that he had blazoned forth. And he
must do it with a good grace, none knowing he was not glad; else the
action lost all dignity. True, this was no way to be a saviour. But only
by not dying at all could he have set a really potent example.... He
remembered the look that had come into Oover’s eyes just now at the
notion of his unfaith. Perhaps he would have been the mock, not the
saviour, of Oxford. Better dishonour than death, maybe. But, since
die he must, he must die not belittling or tarnishing the name of
Tanville-Tankerton.

Within these bounds, however, he must put forth his full might to avert
the general catastrophe--and to punish Zuleika nearly well enough, after
all, by intercepting that vast nosegay from her outstretched hands
and her distended nostrils. There was no time to be lost, then. But he
wondered, as he paced the grand curve between St. Mary’s and Magdalen
Bridge, just how was he to begin?

Down the flight of steps from Queen’s came lounging an average
undergraduate.

“Mr. Smith,” said the Duke, “a word with you.”

“But my name is not Smith,” said the young man.

“Generically it is,” replied the Duke. “You are Smith to all intents
and purposes. That, indeed, is why I address you. In making your
acquaintance, I make a thousand acquaintances. You are a short cut to
knowledge. Tell me, do you seriously think of drowning yourself this
afternoon?”

“Rather,” said the undergraduate.

“A meiosis in common use, equivalent to ‘Yes, assuredly,’” murmured the
Duke. “And why,” he then asked, “do you mean to do this?”

“Why? How can you ask? Why are YOU going to do it?”

“The Socratic manner is not a game at which two can play. Please answer
my question, to the best of your ability.”

“Well, because I can’t live without her. Because I want to prove my love
for her. Because--”

“One reason at a time please,” said the Duke, holding up his hand. “You
can’t live without her? Then I am to assume that you look forward to
dying?”

“Rather.”

“You are truly happy in that prospect?”

“Yes. Rather.”

“Now, suppose I showed you two pieces of equally fine amber--a big one
and a little one. Which of these would you rather possess?”

“The big one, I suppose.”

“And this because it is better to have more than to have less of a good
thing?”

“Just so.”

“Do you consider happiness a good thing or a bad one?”

“A good one.”

“So that a man would rather have more than less of happiness?”

“Undoubtedly.”

“Then does it not seem to you that you would do well to postpone your
suicide indefinitely?”

“But I have just said I can’t live without her.”

“You have still more recently declared yourself truly happy.”

“Yes, but--”

“Now, be careful, Mr. Smith. Remember, this is a matter of life and
death. Try to do yourself justice. I have asked you--”

But the undergraduate was walking away, not without a certain dignity.

The Duke felt that he had not handled his man skilfully. He remembered
that even Socrates, for all the popular charm of his mock-modesty and
his true geniality, had ceased after a while to be tolerable. Without
such a manner to grace his method, Socrates would have had a very brief
time indeed. The Duke recoiled from what he took to be another pitfall.
He almost smelt hemlock.

A party of four undergraduates abreast was approaching. How should he
address them? His choice wavered between the evangelic wistfulness of
“Are you saved?” and the breeziness of the recruiting sergeant’s “Come,
you’re fine upstanding young fellows. Isn’t it a pity,” etc. Meanwhile,
the quartet had passed by.

Two other undergraduates approached. The Duke asked them simply as a
personal favour to himself not to throw away their lives. They said
they were very sorry, but in this particular matter they must please
themselves. In vain he pled. They admitted that but for his example they
would never have thought of dying. They wished they could show him their
gratitude in any way but the one which would rob them of it.

The Duke drifted further down the High, bespeaking every undergraduate
he met, leaving untried no argument, no inducement. For one man, whose
name he happened to know, he invented an urgent personal message from
Miss Dobson imploring him not to die on her account. On another man he
offered to settle by hasty codicil a sum of money sufficient to yield
an annual income of two thousand pounds--three thousand--any sum within
reason. With another he offered to walk, arm in arm, to Carfax and back
again. All to no avail.

He found himself in the precincts of Magdalen, preaching from the little
open-air pulpit there an impassioned sermon on the sacredness of human
life, and referring to Zuleika in terms which John Knox would have
hesitated to utter. As he piled up the invective, he noticed an ominous
restiveness in the congregation--murmurs, clenching of hands, dark
looks. He saw the pulpit as yet another trap laid for him by the gods.
He had walked straight into it: another moment, and he might be dragged
down, overwhelmed by numbers, torn limb from limb. All that was in
him of quelling power he put hastily into his eyes, and manoeuvred his
tongue to gentler discourse, deprecating his right to judge “this lady,”
 and merely pointing the marvel, the awful though noble folly, of his
resolve. He ended on a note of quiet pathos. “To-night I shall be among
the shades. There be not you, my brothers.”

Good though the sermon was in style and sentiment, the flaw in its
reasoning was too patent for any converts to be made. As he walked out
of the quadrangle, the Duke felt the hopelessness of his cause. Still
he battled bravely for it up the High, waylaying, cajoling, commanding,
offering vast bribes. He carried his crusade into the Loder, and
thence into Vincent’s, and out into the street again, eager, untiring,
unavailing: everywhere he found his precept checkmated by his example.

The sight of The MacQuern coming out top-speed from the Market, with
a large but inexpensive bunch of flowers, reminded him of the luncheon
that was to be. Never to throw over an engagement was for him, as we
have seen, a point of honour. But this particular engagement--hateful,
when he accepted it, by reason of his love--was now impossible for
the reason which had made him take so ignominiously to his heels this
morning. He curtly told the Scot not to expect him.

“Is SHE not coming?” gasped the Scot, with quick suspicion.

“Oh,” said the Duke, turning on his heel, “she doesn’t know that I
shan’t be there. You may count on her.” This he took to be the very
truth, and he was glad to have made of it a thrust at the man who had
so uncouthly asserted himself last night. He could not help smiling,
though, at this little resentment erect after the cataclysm that had
swept away all else. Then he smiled to think how uneasy Zuleika would
be at his absence. What agonies of suspense she must have had all this
morning! He imagined her silent at the luncheon, with a vacant gaze at
the door, eating nothing at all. And he became aware that he was rather
hungry. He had done all he could to save young Oxford. Now for some
sandwiches! He went into the Junta.

As he rang the dining-room bell, his eyes rested on the miniature of
Nellie O’Mora. And the eyes of Nellie O’Mora seemed to meet his in
reproach. Just as she may have gazed at Greddon when he cast her off,
so now did she gaze at him who a few hours ago had refused to honour her
memory.

Yes, and many other eyes than hers rebuked him. It was around the walls
of this room that hung those presentments of the Junta as focussed,
year after year, in a certain corner of Tom Quad, by Messrs. Hills and
Saunders. All around, the members of the little hierarchy, a hierarchy
ever changing in all but youth and a certain sternness of aspect that
comes at the moment of being immortalised, were gazing forth now with a
sternness beyond their wont. Not one of them but had in his day handed
on loyally the praise of Nellie O’Mora, in the form their Founder had
ordained. And the Duke’s revolt last night had so incensed them that
they would, if they could, have come down from their frames and walked
straight out of the club, in chronological order--first, the men of
the ‘sixties, almost as near in time to Greddon as to the Duke, all
so gloriously be-whiskered and cravated, but how faded now, alas, by
exposure; and last of all in the procession and angrier perhaps than any
of them, the Duke himself--the Duke of a year ago, President and sole
Member.

But, as he gazed into the eyes of Nellie O’Mora now, Dorset needed not
for penitence the reproaches of his past self or of his forerunners.
“Sweet girl,” he murmured, “forgive me. I was mad. I was under the
sway of a deplorable infatuation. It is past. See,” he murmured with a
delicacy of feeling that justified the untruth, “I am come here for the
express purpose of undoing my impiety.” And, turning to the club-waiter
who at this moment answered the bell, he said “Bring me a glass of port,
please, Barrett.” Of sandwiches he said nothing.

At the word “See” he had stretched one hand towards Nellie; the other
he had laid on his heart, where it seemed to encounter some sort of hard
obstruction. This he vaguely fingered, wondering what it might be, while
he gave his order to Barrett. With a sudden cry he dipped his hand into
his breast-pocket and drew forth the bottle he had borne away from
Mr. Druce’s. He snatched out his watch: one o’clock!--fifteen minutes
overdue. Wildly he called the waiter back. “A tea-spoon, quick! No
port. A wine-glass and a tea-spoon. And--for I don’t mind telling you,
Barrett, that your mission is of an urgency beyond conjecture--take
lightning for your model. Go!”

Agitation mastered him. He tried vainly to feel his pulse, well knowing
that if he found it he could deduce nothing from its action. He saw
himself haggard in the looking-glass. Would Barrett never come? “Every
two hours”--the directions were explicit. Had he delivered himself into
the gods’ hands? The eyes of Nellie O’Mora were on him compassionately;
and all the eyes of his forerunners were on him in austere scorn: “See,”
 they seemed to be saying, “the chastisement of last night’s blasphemy.”
 Violently, insistently, he rang the bell.

In rushed Barrett at last. From the tea-spoon into the wine-glass the
Duke poured the draught of salvation, and then, raising it aloft, he
looked around at his fore-runners and in a firm voice cried “Gentlemen,
I give you Nellie O’Mora, the fairest witch that ever was or will be.”
 He drained his glass, heaved the deep sigh of a double satisfaction,
dismissed with a glance the wondering Barrett, and sat down.

He was glad to be able to face Nellie with a clear conscience. Her eyes
were not less sad now, but it seemed to him that their sadness came of a
knowledge that she would never see him again. She seemed to be saying
to him “Had you lived in my day, it is you that I would have loved, not
Greddon.” And he made silent answer, “Had you lived in my day, I should
have been Dobson-proof.” He realised, however, that to Zuleika he owed
the tenderness he now felt for Miss O’Mora. It was Zuleika that had
cured him of his aseity. She it was that had made his heart a warm and
negotiable thing. Yes, and that was the final cruelty. To love and be
loved--this, he had come to know, was all that mattered. Yesterday, to
love and die had seemed felicity enough. Now he knew that the secret,
the open secret, of happiness was in mutual love--a state that needed
not the fillip of death. And he had to die without having ever lived.
Admiration, homage, fear, he had sown broadcast. The one woman who had
loved him had turned to stone because he loved her. Death would lose
much of its sting for him if there were somewhere in the world just one
woman, however lowly, whose heart would be broken by his dying. What a
pity Nellie O’Mora was not really extant!

Suddenly he recalled certain words lightly spoken yesterday by Zuleika.
She had told him he was loved by the girl who waited on him--the
daughter of his landlady. Was this so? He had seen no sign of it, had
received no token of it. But, after all, how should he have seen a sign
of anything in one whom he had never consciously visualised? That she
had never thrust herself on his notice might mean merely that she had
been well brought-up. What likelier than that the daughter of Mrs.
Batch, that worthy soul, had been well brought up?

Here, at any rate, was the chance of a new element in his life, or
rather in his death. Here, possibly, was a maiden to mourn him. He would
lunch in his rooms.

With a farewell look at Nellie’s miniature, he took the medicine-bottle
from the table, and went quickly out. The heavens had grown steadily
darker and darker, the air more sulphurous and baleful. And the High had
a strangely woebegone look, being all forsaken by youth, in this hour of
luncheon. Even so would its look be all to-morrow, thought the Duke,
and for many morrows. Well he had done what he could. He was free now to
brighten a little his own last hours. He hastened on, eager to see the
landlady’s daughter. He wondered what she was like, and whether she
really loved him.

As he threw open the door of his sitting-room, he was aware of a rustle,
a rush, a cry. In another instant, he was aware of Zuleika Dobson at his
feet, at his knees, clasping him to her, sobbing, laughing, sobbing.



XVI

For what happened a few moments later you must not blame him. Some
measure of force was the only way out of an impossible situation. It was
in vain that he commanded the young lady to let go: she did but cling
the closer. It was in vain that he tried to disentangle himself of her
by standing first on one foot, then on the other, and veering sharply on
his heel: she did but sway as though hinged to him. He had no choice but
to grasp her by the wrists, cast her aside, and step clear of her into
the room.

Her hat, gauzily basking with a pair of long white gloves on one of his
arm-chairs, proclaimed that she had come to stay.

Nor did she rise. Propped on one elbow, with heaving bosom and parted
lips, she seemed to be trying to realise what had been done to her.
Through her undried tears her eyes shone up to him.

He asked: “To what am I indebted for this visit?”

“Ah, say that again!” she murmured. “Your voice is music.”

He repeated his question.

“Music!” she said dreamily; and such is the force of habit that “I
don’t,” she added, “know anything about music, really. But I know what I
like.”

“Had you not better get up from the floor?” he said. “The door is open,
and any one who passed might see you.”

Softly she stroked the carpet with the palms of her hands. “Happy
carpet!” she crooned. “Aye, happy the very women that wove the threads
that are trod by the feet of my beloved master. But hark! he bids his
slave rise and stand before him!”

Just after she had risen, a figure appeared in the doorway.

“I beg pardon, your Grace; Mother wants to know, will you be lunching
in?”

“Yes,” said the Duke. “I will ring when I am ready.” And it dawned on
him that this girl, who perhaps loved him, was, according to all known
standards, extraordinarily pretty.

“Will--” she hesitated, “will Miss Dobson be--”

“No,” he said. “I shall be alone.” And there was in the girl’s parting
half-glance at Zuleika that which told him he was truly loved, and made
him the more impatient of his offensive and accursed visitor.

“You want to be rid of me?” asked Zuleika, when the girl was gone.

“I have no wish to be rude; but--since you force me to say it--yes.”

“Then take me,” she cried, throwing back her arms, “and throw me out of
the window.”

He smiled coldly.

“You think I don’t mean it? You think I would struggle? Try me.” She let
herself droop sideways, in an attitude limp and portable. “Try me,” she
repeated.

“All this is very well conceived, no doubt,” said he, “and well
executed. But it happens to be otiose.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean you may set your mind at rest. I am not going to back out of my
promise.”

Zuleika flushed. “You are cruel. I would give the world and all not to
have written you that hateful letter. Forget it, forget it, for pity’s
sake!”

The Duke looked searchingly at her. “You mean that you now wish to
release me from my promise?”

“Release you? As if you were ever bound! Don’t torture me!”

He wondered what deep game she was playing. Very real, though, her
anguish seemed; and, if real it was, then--he stared, he gasped--there
could be but one explanation. He put it to her. “You love me?”

“With all my soul.”

His heart leapt. If she spoke truth, then indeed vengeance was his! But
“What proof have I?” he asked her.

“Proof? Have men absolutely NO intuition? If you need proof, produce it.
Where are my ear-rings?”

“Your ear-rings? Why?”

Impatiently she pointed to two white pearls that fastened the front
of her blouse. “These are your studs. It was from them I had the great
first hint this morning.”

“Black and pink, were they not, when you took them?”

“Of course. And then I forgot that I had them. When I undressed, they
must have rolled on to the carpet. Melisande found them this morning
when she was making the room ready for me to dress. That was just after
she came back from bringing you my first letter. I was bewildered. I
doubted. Might not the pearls have gone back to their natural state
simply through being yours no more? That is why I wrote again to you, my
own darling--a frantic little questioning letter. When I heard how you
had torn it up, I knew, I knew that the pearls had not mocked me. I
telescoped my toilet and came rushing round to you. How many hours have
I been waiting for you?”

The Duke had drawn her ear-rings from his waistcoat pocket, and was
contemplating them in the palm of his hand. Blanched, both of them, yes.
He laid them on the table. “Take them,” he said.

“No,” she shuddered. “I could never forget that once they were both
black.” She flung them into the fender. “Oh John,” she cried, turning to
him and falling again to her knees, “I do so want to forget what I have
been. I want to atone. You think you can drive me out of your life. You
cannot, darling--since you won’t kill me. Always I shall follow you on
my knees, thus.”

He looked down at her over his folded arms,

“I am not going to back out of my promise,” he repeated.

She stopped her ears.

With a stern joy he unfolded his arms, took some papers from his
breast-pocket, and, selecting one of them, handed it to her. It was the
telegram sent by his steward.

She read it. With a stern joy he watched her reading it.

Wild-eyed, she looked up from it to him, tried to speak, and swerved
down senseless.

He had not foreseen this. “Help!” he vaguely cried--was she not a
fellow-creature?--and rushed blindly out to his bedroom, whence he
returned, a moment later, with the water-jug. He dipped his hand, and
sprinkled the upturned face (Dew-drops on a white rose? But some
other, sharper analogy hovered to him). He dipped and sprinkled. The
water-beads broke, mingled--rivulets now. He dipped and flung, then
caught the horrible analogy and rebounded.

It was at this moment that Zuleika opened her eyes. “Where am I?” She
weakly raised herself on one elbow; and the suspension of the Duke’s
hatred would have been repealed simultaneously with that of her
consciousness, had it not already been repealed by the analogy. She put
a hand to her face, then looked at the wet palm wonderingly, looked at
the Duke, saw the water-jug beside him. She, too, it seemed, had caught
the analogy; for with a wan smile she said “We are quits now, John,
aren’t we?”

Her poor little jest drew to the Duke’s face no answering smile, did
but make hotter the blush there. The wave of her returning memory swept
on--swept up to her with a roar the instant past. “Oh,” she cried,
staggering to her feet, “the owls, the owls!”

Vengeance was his, and “Yes, there,” he said, “is the ineluctable hard
fact you wake to. The owls have hooted. The gods have spoken. This day
your wish is to be fulfilled.”

“The owls have hooted. The gods have spoken. This day--oh, it must not
be, John! Heaven have mercy on me!”

“The unerring owls have hooted. The dispiteous and humorous gods have
spoken. Miss Dobson, it has to be. And let me remind you,” he added,
with a glance at his watch, “that you ought not to keep The MacQuern
waiting for luncheon.”

“That is unworthy of you,” she said. There was in her eyes a look that
made the words sound as if they had been spoken by a dumb animal.

“You have sent him an excuse?”

“No, I have forgotten him.”

“That is unworthy of you. After all, he is going to die for you, like
the rest of us. I am but one of a number, you know. Use your sense of
proportion.”

“If I do that,” she said after a pause, “you may not be pleased by the
issue. I may find that whereas yesterday I was great in my sinfulness,
and to-day am great in my love, you, in your hate of me, are small. I
may find that what I had taken to be a great indifference is nothing but
a very small hate... Ah, I have wounded you? Forgive me, a weak woman,
talking at random in her wretchedness. Oh John, John, if I thought you
small, my love would but take on the crown of pity. Don’t forbid me to
call you John. I looked you up in Debrett while I was waiting for you.
That seemed to bring you nearer to me. So many other names you have,
too. I remember you told me them all yesterday, here in this room--not
twenty-four hours ago. Hours? Years!” She laughed hysterically. “John,
don’t you see why I won’t stop talking? It’s because I dare not think.”

“Yonder in Balliol,” he suavely said, “you will find the matter of my
death easier to forget than here.” He took her hat and gloves from the
arm-chair, and held them carefully out to her; but she did not take
them.

“I give you three minutes,” he told her. “Two minutes, that is, in
which to make yourself tidy before the mirror. A third in which to say
good-bye and be outside the front-door.”

“If I refuse?”

“You will not.”

“If I do?”

“I shall send for a policeman.”

She looked well at him. “Yes,” she slowly said, “I think you would do
that.”

She took her things from him, and laid them by the mirror. With a high
hand she quelled the excesses of her hair--some of the curls still
agleam with water--and knowingly poised and pinned her hat. Then, after
a few swift touches and passes at neck and waist, she took her gloves
and, wheeling round to him, “There!” she said, “I have been quick.”

“Admirably,” he allowed.

“Quick in more than meets the eye, John. Spiritually quick. You saw me
putting on my hat; you did not see love taking on the crown of pity, and
me bonneting her with it, tripping her up and trampling the life out of
her. Oh, a most cold-blooded business, John! Had to be done, though. No
other way out. So I just used my sense of proportion, as you rashly
bade me, and then hardened my heart at sight of you as you are. One of
a number? Yes, and a quite unlovable unit. So I am all right again. And
now, where is Balliol? Far from here?”

“No,” he answered, choking a little, as might a card-player who, having
been dealt a splendid hand, and having played it with flawless skill,
has yet--damn it!--lost the odd trick. “Balliol is quite near. At the
end of this street in fact. I can show it to you from the front-door.”

Yes, he had controlled himself. But this, he furiously felt, did not
make him look the less a fool. What ought he to have SAID? He prayed,
as he followed the victorious young woman downstairs, that l’esprit de
l’escalier might befall him. Alas, it did not.

“By the way,” she said, when he had shown her where Balliol lay, “have
you told anybody that you aren’t dying just for me?”

“No,” he answered, “I have preferred not to.”

“Then officially, as it were, and in the eyes of the world, you die for
me? Then all’s well that ends well. Shall we say good-bye here? I
shall be on the Judas Barge; but I suppose there will be a crush, as
yesterday?”

“Sure to be. There always is on the last night of the Eights, you know.
Good-bye.”

“Good-bye, little John--small John,” she cried across her shoulder,
having the last word.



XVII

He might not have grudged her the last word, had she properly needed
it. Its utter superfluity--the perfection of her victory without it--was
what galled him. Yes, she had outflanked him, taken him unawares, and he
had fired not one shot. Esprit de l’escalier--it was as he went upstairs
that he saw how he might yet have snatched from her, if not the victory,
the palm. Of course he ought to have laughed aloud--“Capital, capital!
You really do deserve to fool me. But ah, yours is a love that can’t be
dissembled. Never was man by maiden loved more ardently than I by you,
my poor girl, at this moment.”

And stay!--what if she really HAD been but pretending to have killed her
love? He paused on the threshold of his room. The sudden doubt made his
lost chance the more sickening. Yet was the doubt dear to him ... What
likelier, after all, than that she had been pretending? She had already
twitted him with his lack of intuition. He had not seen that she
loved him when she certainly did love him. He had needed the pearls’
demonstration of that.--The pearls! THEY would betray her. He darted to
the fender, and one of them he espied there instantly--white? A rather
flushed white, certainly. For the other he had to peer down. There it
lay, not very distinct on the hearth’s black-leading.

He turned away. He blamed himself for not dismissing from his mind the
hussy he had dismissed from his room. Oh for an ounce of civet and a
few poppies! The water-jug stood as a reminder of the hateful visit
and of... He took it hastily away into his bedroom. There he washed
his hands. The fact that he had touched Zuleika gave to this ablution a
symbolism that made it the more refreshing.

Civet, poppies? Was there not, at his call, a sweeter perfume, a
stronger anodyne? He rang the bell, almost caressingly.

His heart beat at sound of the clinking and rattling of the tray borne
up the stairs. She was coming, the girl who loved him, the girl whose
heart would be broken when he died. Yet, when the tray appeared in the
doorway, and she behind it, the tray took precedence of her in his soul
not less than in his sight. Twice, after an arduous morning, had his
luncheon been postponed, and the coming of it now made intolerable the
pangs of his hunger.

Also, while the girl laid the table-cloth, it occurred to him how
flimsy, after all, was the evidence that she loved him. Suppose she
did nothing of the kind! At the Junta, he had foreseen no difficulty in
asking her. Now he found himself a prey to embarrassment. He wondered
why. He had not failed in flow of gracious words to Nellie O’Mora. Well,
a miniature by Hoppner was one thing, a landlady’s live daughter was
another. At any rate, he must prime himself with food. He wished Mrs.
Batch had sent up something more calorific than cold salmon. He asked
her daughter what was to follow.

“There’s a pigeon-pie, your Grace.”

“Cold? Then please ask your mother to heat it in the oven--quickly.
Anything after that?”

“A custard pudding, your Grace.”

“Cold? Let this, too, be heated. And bring up a bottle of champagne,
please; and--and a bottle of port.”

His was a head that had always hitherto defied the grape. But he thought
that to-day, by all he had gone through, by all the shocks he had
suffered, and the strains he had steeled himself to bear, as well as by
the actual malady that gripped him, he might perchance have been sapped
enough to experience by reaction that cordial glow of which he had now
and again seen symptoms in his fellows.

Nor was he altogether disappointed of this hope. As the meal progressed,
and the last of the champagne sparkled in his glass, certain things
said to him by Zuleika--certain implied criticisms that had rankled,
yes--lost their power to discommode him. He was able to smile at the
impertinences of an angry woman, the tantrums of a tenth-rate conjurer
told to go away. He felt he had perhaps acted harshly. With all her
faults, she had adored him. Yes, he had been arbitrary. There seemed to
be a strain of brutality in his nature. Poor Zuleika! He was glad for
her that she had contrived to master her infatuation... Enough for him
that he was loved by this exquisite meek girl who had served him at the
feast. Anon, when he summoned her to clear the things away, he would bid
her tell him the tale of her lowly passion. He poured a second glass
of port, sipped it, quaffed it, poured a third. The grey gloom of the
weather did but, as he eyed the bottle, heighten his sense of the rich
sunshine so long ago imprisoned by the vintner and now released to make
glad his soul. Even so to be released was the love pent for him in the
heart of this sweet girl. Would that he loved her in return!... Why not?


                             “Prius insolentem
                    Serva Briseis niveo colore
                          Movit Achillem.”


Nor were it gracious to invite an avowal of love and offer none in
return. Yet, yet, expansive though his mood was, he could not pretend to
himself that he was about to feel in this girl’s presence anything but
gratitude. He might pretend to her? Deception were a very poor return
indeed for all her kindness. Besides, it might turn her head. Some small
token of his gratitude--some trinket by which to remember him--was all
that he could allow himself to offer... What trinket? Would she like
to have one of his scarf-pins? Studs? Still more abs--Ah! he had it, he
literally and most providentially had it, there, in the fender: a pair
of ear-rings!

He plucked the pink pearl and the black from where they lay, and rang
the bell.

His sense of dramatic propriety needed that the girl should, before he
addressed her, perform her task of clearing the table. If she had it
to perform after telling her love, and after receiving his gift and his
farewell, the bathos would be distressing for them both.

But, while he watched her at her task, he did wish she would be a little
quicker. For the glow in him seemed to be cooling momently. He wished
he had had more than three glasses from the crusted bottle which she was
putting away into the chiffonier. Down, doubt! Down, sense of disparity!
The moment was at hand. Would he let it slip? Now she was folding up the
table-cloth, now she was going.

“Stay!” he uttered. “I have something to say to you.” The girl turned to
him.

He forced his eyes to meet hers. “I understand,” he said in a
constrained voice, “that you regard me with sentiments of something more
than esteem.--Is this so?”

The girl had stepped quickly back, and her face was scarlet.

“Nay,” he said, having to go through with it now, “there is no cause for
embarrassment. And I am sure you will acquit me of wanton curiosity. Is
it a fact that you--love me?”

She tried to speak, could not. But she nodded her head.

The Duke, much relieved, came nearer to her.

“What is your name?” he asked gently.

“Katie,” she was able to gasp.

“Well, Katie, how long have you loved me?”

“Ever since,” she faltered, “ever since you came to engage the rooms.”

“You are not, of course, given to idolising any tenant of your
mother’s?”

“No.”

“May I boast myself the first possessor of your heart?”

“Yes.” She had become very pale now, and was trembling painfully.

“And may I assume that your love for me has been entirely
disinterested?... You do not catch my meaning? I will put my question in
another way. In loving me, you never supposed me likely to return your
love?”

The girl looked up at him quickly, but at once her eyelids fluttered
down again.

“Come, come!” said the Duke. “My question is a plain one. Did you ever
for an instant suppose, Katie, that I might come to love you?”

“No,” she said in a whisper; “I never dared to hope that.”

“Precisely,” said he. “You never imagined that you had anything to
gain by your affection. You were not contriving a trap for me. You were
upheld by no hope of becoming a young Duchess, with more frocks than
you could wear and more dross than you could scatter. I am glad. I
am touched. You are the first woman that has loved me in that way. Or
rather,” he muttered, “the first but one. And she... Answer me,” he
said, standing over the girl, and speaking with a great intensity. “If I
were to tell you that I loved you, would you cease to love me?”

“Oh your Grace!” cried the girl. “Why no! I never dared--”

“Enough!” he said. “The catechism is ended. I have something which I
should like to give you. Are your ears pierced?”

“Yes, your Grace.”

“Then, Katie, honour me by accepting this present.” So saying, he placed
in the girl’s hand the black pearl and the pink. The sight of them
banished for a moment all other emotions in their recipient. She forgot
herself. “Lor!” she said.

“I hope you will wear them always for my sake,” said the Duke.

She had expressed herself in the monosyllable. No words came to her
lips, but to her eyes many tears, through which the pearls were
visible. They whirled in her bewildered brain as a token that she was
loved--loved by HIM, though but yesterday he had loved another. It was
all so sudden, so beautiful. You might have knocked her down (she says
so to this day) with a feather. Seeing her agitation, the Duke pointed
to a chair, bade her be seated.

Her mind was cleared by the new posture. Suspicion crept into it,
followed by alarm. She looked at the ear-rings, then up at the Duke.

“No,” said he, misinterpreting the question in her eyes, “they are real
pearls.”

“It isn’t that,” she quavered, “it is--it is--”

“That they were given to me by Miss Dobson?”

“Oh, they were, were they? Then”--Katie rose, throwing the pearls on the
floor--“I’ll have nothing to do with them. I hate her.”

“So do I,” said the Duke, in a burst of confidence. “No, I don’t,” he
added hastily. “Please forget that I said that.”

It occurred to Katie that Miss Dobson would be ill-pleased that the
pearls should pass to her. She picked them up.

“Only--only--” again her doubts beset her and she looked from the pearls
to the Duke.

“Speak on,” he said.

“Oh you aren’t playing with me, are you? You don’t mean me harm, do you?
I have been well brought up. I have been warned against things. And it
seems so strange, what you have said to me. You are a Duke, and I--I am
only--”

“It is the privilege of nobility to condescend.”

“Yes, yes,” she cried. “I see. Oh I was wicked to doubt you. And love
levels all, doesn’t it? love and the Board school. Our stations are far
apart, but I’ve been educated far above mine. I’ve learnt more than most
real ladies have. I passed the Seventh Standard when I was only just
fourteen. I was considered one of the sharpest girls in the school. And
I’ve gone on learning since then,” she continued eagerly. “I utilise all
my spare moments. I’ve read twenty-seven of the Hundred Best Books. I
collect ferns. I play the piano, whenever...” She broke off, for she
remembered that her music was always interrupted by the ringing of the
Duke’s bell and a polite request that it should cease.

“I am glad to hear of these accomplishments. They do you great credit, I
am sure. But--well, I do not quite see why you enumerate them just now.”

“It isn’t that I am vain,” she pleaded. “I only mentioned them because
... oh, don’t you see? If I’m not ignorant, I shan’t disgrace you.
People won’t be so able to say you’ve been and thrown yourself away.”

“Thrown myself away? What do you mean?”

“Oh, they’ll make all sorts of objections, I know. They’ll all be
against me, and--”

“For heaven’s sake, explain yourself.”

“Your aunt, she looked a very proud lady--very high and hard. I thought
so when she came here last term. But you’re of age. You’re your own
master. Oh, I trust you; you’ll stand by me. If you love me really you
won’t listen to them.”

“Love you? I? Are you mad?”

Each stared at the other, utterly bewildered.

The girl was the first to break the silence. Her voice came in a
whisper. “You’ve not been playing a joke on me? You meant what you said,
didn’t you?”

“What have I said?”

“You said you loved me.”

“You must be dreaming.”

“I’m not. Here are the ear-rings you gave me.” She pinched them as
material proof. “You said you loved me just before you gave me them.
You know you did. And if I thought you’d been laughing at me all the
time--I’d--I’d”--a sob choked her voice--“I’d throw them in your face!”

“You must not speak to me in that manner,” said the Duke coldly. “And
let me warn you that this attempt to trap me and intimidate me--”

The girl had flung the ear-rings at his face. She had missed her mark.
But this did not extenuate the outrageous gesture. He pointed to the
door. “Go!” he said.

“Don’t try that on!” she laughed. “I shan’t go--not unless you drag
me out. And if you do that, I’ll raise the house. I’ll have in the
neighbours. I’ll tell them all what you’ve done, and--” But defiance
melted in the hot shame of humiliation. “Oh, you coward!” she gasped.
“You coward!” She caught her apron to her face and, swaying against the
wall, sobbed piteously.

Unaccustomed to love-affairs, the Duke could not sail lightly over a
flood of woman’s tears. He was filled with pity for the poor quivering
figure against the wall. How should he soothe her? Mechanically he
picked up the two pearls from the carpet, and crossed to her side. He
touched her on the shoulder. She shuddered away from him.

“Don’t,” he said gently. “Don’t cry. I can’t bear it. I have been stupid
and thoughtless. What did you say your name was? ‘Katie,’ to be sure.
Well, Katie, I want to beg your pardon. I expressed myself badly. I was
unhappy and lonely, and I saw in you a means of comfort. I snatched
at you, Katie, as at a straw. And then, I suppose, I must have said
something which made you think I loved you. I almost wish I did. I don’t
wonder you threw the ear-rings at me. I--I almost wish they had hit
me... You see, I have quite forgiven you. Now do you forgive me. You
will not refuse now to wear the ear-rings. I gave them to you as a
keepsake. Wear them always in memory of me. For you will never see me
again.”

The girl had ceased from crying, and her anger had spent itself in sobs.
She was gazing at him woebegone but composed.

“Where are you going?”

“You must not ask that,” said he. “Enough that my wings are spread.”

“Are you going because of ME?”

“Not in the least. Indeed, your devotion is one of the things which make
bitter my departure. And yet--I am glad you love me.”

“Don’t go,” she faltered. He came nearer to her, and this time she did
not shrink from him. “Don’t you find the rooms comfortable?” she asked,
gazing up at him. “Have you ever had any complaint to make about the
attendance?”

“No,” said the Duke, “the attendance has always been quite satisfactory.
I have never felt that so keenly as I do to-day.”

“Then why are you leaving? Why are you breaking my heart?”

“Suffice it that I cannot do otherwise. Henceforth you will see me no
more. But I doubt not that in the cultivation of my memory you will find
some sort of lugubrious satisfaction. See! here are the ear-rings. If
you like, I will put them in with my own hands.”

She held up her face side-ways. Into the lobe of her left ear he
insinuated the hook of the black pearl. On the cheek upturned to him
there were still traces of tears; the eyelashes were still spangled. For
all her blondness, they were quite dark, these glistening eyelashes. He
had an impulse, which he put from him. “Now the other ear,” he said. The
girl turned her head. Soon the pink pearl was in its place. Yet the girl
did not move. She seemed to be waiting. Nor did the Duke himself seem to
be quite satisfied. He let his fingers dally with the pearl. Anon, with
a sigh, he withdrew them. The girl looked up. Their eyes met. He looked
away from her. He turned away from her. “You may kiss my hand,” he
murmured, extending it towards her. After a pause, the warm pressure
of her lips was laid on it. He sighed, but did not look round. Another
pause, a longer pause, and then the clatter and clink of the outgoing
tray.



XVIII

Her actual offspring does not suffice a very motherly woman. Such a
woman was Mrs. Batch. Had she been blest with a dozen children, she
must yet have regarded herself as also a mother to whatever two young
gentlemen were lodging under her roof. Childless but for Katie and
Clarence, she had for her successive pairs of tenants a truly vast fund
of maternal feeling to draw on. Nor were the drafts made in secret. To
every gentleman, from the outset, she proclaimed the relation in which
she would stand to him. Moreover, always she needed a strong filial
sense in return: this was only fair.

Because the Duke was an orphan, even more than because he was a Duke,
her heart had with a special rush gone out to him when he and Mr. Noaks
became her tenants. But, perhaps because he had never known a mother,
he was evidently quite incapable of conceiving either Mrs. Batch as his
mother or himself as her son. Indeed, there was that in his manner,
in his look, which made her falter, for once, in exposition of her
theory--made her postpone the matter to some more favourable time. That
time never came, somehow. Still, her solicitude for him, her pride in
him, her sense that he was a great credit to her, rather waxed than
waned. He was more to her (such are the vagaries of the maternal
instinct) than Katie or Mr. Noaks: he was as much as Clarence.

It was, therefore, a deeply agitated woman who now came heaving up into
the Duke’s presence. His Grace was “giving notice”? She was sure she
begged his pardon for coming up so sudden. But the news was that
sudden. Hadn’t her girl made a mistake, maybe? Girls were so vague-like
nowadays. She was sure it was most kind of him to give those handsome
ear-rings. But the thought of him going off so unexpected--middle of
term, too--with never a why or a but! Well!

In some such welter of homely phrase (how foreign to these classic
pages!) did Mrs. Batch utter her pain. The Duke answered her tersely but
kindly. He apologised for going so abruptly, and said he would be very
happy to write for her future use a testimonial to the excellence of
her rooms and of her cooking; and with it he would give her a cheque not
only for the full term’s rent, and for his board since the beginning of
term, but also for such board as he would have been likely to have in
the term’s remainder. He asked her to present her accounts forthwith.

He occupied the few minutes of her absence by writing the testimonial.
It had shaped itself in his mind as a short ode in Doric Greek. But, for
the benefit of Mrs. Batch, he chose to do a rough equivalent in English.


     TO AN UNDERGRADUATE NEEDING
     ROOMS IN OXFORD

     (A Sonnet in Oxfordshire Dialect)

     Zeek w’ere thee will in t’Univursity,
     Lad, thee’ll not vind nor bread nor bed that
          matches
     Them as thee’ll vind, roight zure, at Mrs.
          Batch’s...


I do not quote the poem in extenso, because, frankly, I think it was one
of his least happily-inspired works. His was not a Muse that could with
a good grace doff the grand manner. Also, his command of the Oxfordshire
dialect seems to me based less on study than on conjecture. In fact, I
do not place the poem higher than among the curiosities of literature.
It has extrinsic value, however, as illustrating the Duke’s
thoughtfulness for others in the last hours of his life. And to Mrs.
Batch the MS., framed and glazed in her hall, is an asset beyond price
(witness her recent refusal of Mr. Pierpont Morgan’s sensational bid for
it).

This MS. she received together with the Duke’s cheque. The presentation
was made some twenty minutes after she had laid her accounts before him.

Lavish in giving large sums of his own accord, he was apt to be
circumspect in the matter of small payments. Such is ever the way of
opulent men. Nor do I see that we have a right to sneer at them for it.
We cannot deny that their existence is a temptation to us. It is in our
fallen nature to want to get something out of them; and, as we think in
small sums (heaven knows), it is of small sums that they are careful.
Absurd to suppose they really care about halfpence. It must, therefore,
be about us that they care; and we ought to be grateful to them for the
pains they are at to keep us guiltless. I do not suggest that Mrs. Batch
had at any point overcharged the Duke; but how was he to know that she
had not done so, except by checking the items, as was his wont? The
reductions that he made, here and there, did not in all amount to
three-and-sixpence. I do not say they were just. But I do say that his
motive for making them, and his satisfaction at having made them, were
rather beautiful than otherwise.

Having struck an average of Mrs. Batch’s weekly charges, and a similar
average of his own reductions, he had a basis on which to reckon his
board for the rest of the term. This amount he added to Mrs. Batch’s
amended total, plus the full term’s rent, and accordingly drew a cheque
on the local bank where he had an account. Mrs. Batch said she would
bring up a stamped receipt directly; but this the Duke waived,
saying that the cashed cheque itself would be a sufficient receipt.
Accordingly, he reduced by one penny the amount written on the cheque.
Remembering to initial the correction, he remembered also, with a
melancholy smile, that to-morrow the cheque would not be negotiable.
Handing it, and the sonnet, to Mrs. Batch, he bade her cash it before
the bank closed. “And,” he said, with a glance at his watch, “you have
no time to lose. It is a quarter to four.” Only two hours and a quarter
before the final races! How quickly the sands were running out!

Mrs. Batch paused on the threshold, wanted to know if she could “help
with the packing.” The Duke replied that he was taking nothing with him:
his various things would be sent for, packed, and removed, within a few
days. No, he did not want her to order a cab. He was going to walk. And
“Good-bye, Mrs. Batch,” he said. “For legal reasons with which I won’t
burden you, you really must cash that cheque at once.”

He sat down in solitude; and there crept over him a mood of deep
depression... Almost two hours and a quarter before the final races!
What on earth should he do in the meantime? He seemed to have done all
that there was for him to do. His executors would do the rest. He had no
farewell-letters to write. He had no friends with whom he was on terms
of valediction. There was nothing at all for him to do. He stared
blankly out of the window, at the greyness and blackness of the sky.
What a day! What a climate! Why did any sane person live in England? He
felt positively suicidal.

His dully vagrant eye lighted on the bottle of Cold Mixture. He ought to
have dosed himself a full hour ago. Well, he didn’t care.

Had Zuleika noticed the bottle? he idly wondered. Probably not. She
would have made some sprightly reference to it before she went.

Since there was nothing to do but sit and think, he wished he could
recapture that mood in which at luncheon he had been able to see Zuleika
as an object for pity. Never, till to-day, had he seen things otherwise
than they were. Nor had he ever needed to. Never, till last night, had
there been in his life anything he needed to forget. That woman! As
if it really mattered what she thought of him. He despised himself for
wishing to forget she despised him. But the wish was the measure of the
need. He eyed the chiffonier. Should he again solicit the grape?

Reluctantly he uncorked the crusted bottle, and filled a glass. Was he
come to this? He sighed and sipped, quaffed and sighed. The spell of the
old stored sunshine seemed not to work, this time. He could not cease
from plucking at the net of ignominies in which his soul lay enmeshed.
Would that he had died yesterday, escaping how much!

Not for an instant did he flinch from the mere fact of dying to-day.
Since he was not immortal, as he had supposed, it were as well he should
die now as fifty years hence. Better, indeed. To die “untimely,” as men
called it, was the timeliest of all deaths for one who had carved his
youth to greatness. What perfection could he, Dorset, achieve beyond
what was already his? Future years could but stale, if not actually
mar, that perfection. Yes, it was lucky to perish leaving much to the
imagination of posterity. Dear posterity was of a sentimental, not
a realistic, habit. She always imagined the dead young hero prancing
gloriously up to the Psalmist’s limit a young hero still; and it was the
sense of her vast loss that kept his memory green. Byron!--he would be
all forgotten to-day if he had lived to be a florid old gentleman with
iron-grey whiskers, writing very long, very able letters to “The Times”
 about the Repeal of the Corn Laws. Yes, Byron would have been that. It
was indicated in him. He would have been an old gentleman exacerbated by
Queen Victoria’s invincible prejudice against him, her brusque refusal
to “entertain” Lord John Russell’s timid nomination of him for a post
in the Government... Shelley would have been a poet to the last. But how
dull, how very dull, would have been the poetry of his middle age!--a
great unreadable mass interposed between him and us... Did Byron, mused
the Duke, know what was to be at Missolonghi? Did he know that he was
to die in service of the Greeks whom he despised? Byron might not have
minded that. But what if the Greeks had told him, in so many words,
that they despised HIM? How would he have felt then? Would he have been
content with his potations of barley-water?... The Duke replenished his
glass, hoping the spell might work yet.... Perhaps, had Byron not been a
dandy--but ah, had he not been in his soul a dandy there would have
been no Byron worth mentioning. And it was because he guarded not his
dandyism against this and that irrelevant passion, sexual or political,
that he cut so annoyingly incomplete a figure. He was absurd in his
politics, vulgar in his loves. Only in himself, at the times when he
stood haughtily aloof, was he impressive. Nature, fashioning him, had
fashioned also a pedestal for him to stand and brood on, to pose and
sing on. Off that pedestal he was lost.... “The idol has come sliding
down from its pedestal”--the Duke remembered these words spoken
yesterday by Zuleika. Yes, at the moment when he slid down, he, too, was
lost. For him, master-dandy, the common arena was no place. What had he
to do with love? He was an utter fool at it. Byron had at least had some
fun out of it. What fun had HE had? Last night, he had forgotten to kiss
Zuleika when he held her by the wrists. To-day it had been as much as he
could do to let poor little Katie kiss his hand. Better be vulgar
with Byron than a noodle with Dorset! he bitterly reflected... Still,
noodledom was nearer than vulgarity to dandyism. It was a less flagrant
lapse. And he had over Byron this further advantage: his noodledom was
not a matter of common knowledge; whereas Byron’s vulgarity had ever
needed to be in the glare of the footlights of Europe. The world
would say of him that he laid down his life for a woman. Deplorable
somersault? But nothing evident save this in his whole life was
faulty... The one other thing that might be carped at--the partisan
speech he made in the Lords--had exquisitely justified itself by its
result. For it was as a Knight of the Garter that he had set the perfect
seal on his dandyism. Yes, he reflected, it was on the day when first
he donned the most grandiose of all costumes, and wore it grandlier
than ever yet in history had it been worn, than ever would it be worn
hereafter, flaunting the robes with a grace unparalleled and inimitable,
and lending, as it were, to the very insignia a glory beyond their own,
that he once and for all fulfilled himself, doer of that which he had
been sent into the world to do.

And there floated into his mind a desire, vague at first, soon definite,
imperious, irresistible, to see himself once more, before he died,
indued in the fulness of his glory and his might.

Nothing hindered. There was yet a whole hour before he need start for
the river. His eyes dilated, somewhat as might those of a child about to
“dress up” for a charade; and already, in his impatience, he had undone
his neck-tie.

One after another, he unlocked and threw open the black tin boxes,
snatching out greedily their great good splendours of crimson and white
and royal blue and gold. You wonder he was not appalled by the task of
essaying unaided a toilet so extensive and so intricate? You wondered
even when you heard that he was wont at Oxford to make without help his
toilet of every day. Well, the true dandy is always capable of such high
independence. He is craftsman as well as artist. And, though any unaided
Knight but he with whom we are here concerned would belike have doddered
hopeless in that labyrinth of hooks and buckles which underlies the
visible glory of a Knight “arraied full and proper,” Dorset threaded his
way featly and without pause. He had mastered his first excitement. In
his swiftness was no haste. His procedure had the ease and inevitability
of a natural phenomenon, and was most like to the coming of a rainbow.

Crimson-doubleted, blue-ribanded, white-trunk-hosed, he stooped to
understrap his left knee with that strap of velvet round which
sparkles the proud gay motto of the Order. He affixed to his breast the
octoradiant star, so much larger and more lustrous than any actual star
in heaven. Round his neck he slung that long daedal chain wherefrom St.
George, slaying the Dragon, dangles. He bowed his shoulders to assume
that vast mantle of blue velvet, so voluminous, so enveloping, that,
despite the Cross of St. George blazing on it, and the shoulder-knots
like two great white tropical flowers planted on it, we seem to know
from it in what manner of mantle Elijah prophesied. Across his breast
he knotted this mantle’s two cords of gleaming bullion, one tassel a
due trifle higher than its fellow. All these things being done, he moved
away from the mirror, and drew on a pair of white kid gloves. Both of
these being buttoned, he plucked up certain folds of his mantle into the
hollow of his left arm, and with his right hand gave to his left hand
that ostrich-plumed and heron-plumed hat of black velvet in which a
Knight of the Garter is entitled to take his walks abroad. Then, with
head erect, and measured tread, he returned to the mirror.

You are thinking, I know, of Mr. Sargent’s famous portrait of him.
Forget it. Tankerton Hall is open to the public on Wednesdays. Go
there, and in the dining-hall stand to study well Sir Thomas Lawrence’s
portrait of the eleventh Duke. Imagine a man some twenty years younger
than he whom you there behold, but having some such features and some
such bearing, and clad in just such robes. Sublimate the dignity of
that bearing and of those features, and you will then have seen the
fourteenth Duke somewhat as he stood reflected in the mirror of his
room. Resist your impulse to pass on to the painting which hangs next
but two to Lawrence’s. It deserves, I know, all that you said about it
when (at the very time of the events in this chronicle) it was hanging
in Burlington House. Marvellous, I grant you, are those passes of the
swirling brush by which the velvet of the mantle is rendered--passes so
light and seemingly so fortuitous, yet, seen at the right distance,
so absolute in their power to create an illusion of the actual velvet.
Sheen of white satin and silk, glint of gold, glitter of diamonds--never
were such things caught by surer hand obedient to more voracious eye.
Yes, all the splendid surface of everything is there. Yet must you not
look. The soul is not there. An expensive, very new costume is there,
but no evocation of the high antique things it stands for; whereas by
the Duke it was just these things that were evoked to make an aura round
him, a warm symbolic glow sharpening the outlines of his own
particular magnificence. Reflecting him, the mirror reflected, in due
subordination, the history of England. There is nothing of that on Mr.
Sargent’s canvas. Obtruded instead is the astounding slickness of Mr.
Sargent’s technique: not the sitter, but the painter, is master here.
Nay, though I hate to say it, there is in the portrayal of the Duke’s
attitude and expression a hint of something like mockery--unintentional,
I am sure, but to a sensitive eye discernible. And--but it is clumsy of
me to be reminding you of the very picture I would have you forget.

Long stood the Duke gazing, immobile. One thing alone ruffled his deep
inward calm. This was the thought that he must presently put off from
him all his splendour, and be his normal self.

The shadow passed from his brow. He would go forth as he was. He would
be true to the motto he wore, and true to himself. A dandy he had lived.
In the full pomp and radiance of his dandyism he would die.

His soul rose from calm to triumph. A smile lit his face, and he held
his head higher than ever. He had brought nothing into this world and
could take nothing out of it? Well, what he loved best he could carry
with him to the very end; and in death they would not be divided.

The smile was still on his face as he passed out from his room. Down
the stairs he passed, and “Oh,” every stair creaked faintly, “I ought to
have been marble!”

And it did indeed seem that Mrs. Batch and Katie, who had hurried
out into the hall, were turned to some kind of stone at sight of the
descending apparition. A moment ago, Mrs. Batch had been hoping she
might yet at the last speak motherly words. A hopeless mute now! A
moment ago, Katie’s eyelids had been red with much weeping. Even from
them the colour suddenly ebbed now. Dead-white her face was between the
black pearl and the pink. “And this is the man of whom I dared once for
an instant hope that he loved me!”--it was thus that the Duke, quite
correctly, interpreted her gaze.

To her and to her mother he gave an inclusive bow as he swept slowly by.
Stone was the matron, and stone the maid.

Stone, too, the Emperors over the way; and the more poignantly thereby
was the Duke a sight to anguish them, being the very incarnation of what
themselves had erst been, or tried to be. But in this bitterness they
did not forget their sorrow at his doom. They were in a mood to forgive
him the one fault they had ever found in him--his indifference to their
Katie. And now--o mirum mirorum--even this one fault was wiped out.

For, stung by memory of a gibe lately cast at him by himself, the Duke
had paused and, impulsively looking back into the hall, had beckoned
Katie to him; and she had come (she knew not how) to him; and there,
standing on the doorstep whose whiteness was the symbol of her love,
he--very lightly, it is true, and on the upmost confines of the brow,
but quite perceptibly--had kissed her.



XIX

And now he had passed under the little arch between the eighth and the
ninth Emperor, rounded the Sheldonian, and been lost to sight of Katie,
whom, as he was equally glad and sorry he had kissed her, he was able to
dismiss from his mind.

In the quadrangle of the Old Schools he glanced round at the familiar
labels, blue and gold, over the iron-studded doors,--Schola Theologiae
et Antiquae Philosophiae; Museum Arundelianum; Schola Musicae. And
Bibliotheca Bodleiana--he paused there, to feel for the last time the
vague thrill he had always felt at sight of the small and devious portal
that had lured to itself, and would always lure, so many scholars from
the ends of the earth, scholars famous and scholars obscure, scholars
polyglot and of the most diverse bents, but none of them not stirred in
heart somewhat on the found threshold of the treasure-house. “How
deep, how perfect, the effect made here by refusal to make any effect
whatsoever!” thought the Duke. Perhaps, after all... but no: one could
lay down no general rule. He flung his mantle a little wider from his
breast, and proceeded into Radcliffe Square.

Another farewell look he gave to the old vast horse-chestnut that is
called Bishop Heber’s tree. Certainly, no: there was no general rule.
With its towering and bulging masses of verdure tricked out all over in
their annual finery of catkins, Bishop Heber’s tree stood for the very
type of ingenuous ostentation. And who should dare cavil? who not be
gladdened? Yet awful, more than gladdening, was the effect that the tree
made to-day. Strangely pale was the verdure against the black sky; and
the multitudinous catkins had a look almost ghostly. The Duke remembered
the legend that every one of these fair white spires of blossom is
the spirit of some dead man who, having loved Oxford much and well, is
suffered thus to revisit her, for a brief while, year by year. And
it pleased him to doubt not that on one of the topmost branches, next
Spring, his own spirit would be.

“Oh, look!” cried a young lady emerging with her brother and her aunt
through the gate of Brasenose.

“For heaven’s sake, Jessie, try to behave yourself,” hissed her brother.
“Aunt Mabel, for heaven’s sake don’t stare.” He compelled the pair to
walk on with him. “Jessie, if you look round over your shoulder...
No, it is NOT the Vice-Chancellor. It’s Dorset, of Judas--the Duke of
Dorset... Why on earth shouldn’t he?... No, it isn’t odd in the least...
No, I’m NOT losing my temper. Only, don’t call me your dear boy... No,
we will NOT walk slowly so as to let him pass us... Jessie, if you look
round...”

Poor fellow! However fond an undergraduate be of his womenfolk, at
Oxford they keep him in a painful state of tension: at any moment they
may somehow disgrace him. And if throughout the long day he shall have
had the added strain of guarding them from the knowledge that he is
about to commit suicide, a certain measure of irritability must be
condoned.

Poor Jessie and Aunt Mabel! They were destined to remember that Harold
had been “very peculiar” all day. They had arrived in the morning, happy
and eager despite the menace of the sky, and--well, they were destined
to reproach themselves for having felt that Harold was “really rather
impossible.” Oh, if he had only confided in them! They could have
reasoned with him, saved him--surely they could have saved him! When he
told them that the “First Division” of the races was always very dull,
and that they had much better let him go to it alone,--when he told them
that it was always very rowdy, and that ladies were not supposed to be
there--oh, why had they not guessed and clung to him, and kept him away
from the river?

Well, here they were, walking on Harold’s either side, blind to fate,
and only longing to look back at the gorgeous personage behind them.
Aunt Mabel had inwardly calculated that the velvet of the mantle alone
could not have cost less than four guineas a yard. One good look back,
and she would be able to calculate how many yards there were... She
followed the example of Lot’s wife; and Jessie followed hers.

“Very well,” said Harold. “That settles it. I go alone.” And he was gone
like an arrow, across the High, down Oriel Street.

The two women stood staring ruefully at each other.

“Pardon me,” said the Duke, with a sweep of his plumed hat. “I observe
you are stranded; and, if I read your thoughts aright, you are impugning
the courtesy of that young runagate. Neither of you, I am very sure, is
as one of those ladies who in Imperial Rome took a saucy pleasure in the
spectacle of death. Neither of you can have been warned by your escort
that you were on the way to see him die, of his own accord, in company
with many hundreds of other lads, myself included. Therefore, regard his
flight from you as an act not of unkindness, but of tardy compunction.
The hint you have had from him let me turn into a counsel. Go back, both
of you, to the place whence you came.”

“Thank you SO much,” said Aunt Mabel, with what she took to be great
presence of mind. “MOST kind of you. We’ll do JUST what you tell us.
Come, Jessie dear,” and she hurried her niece away with her.

Something in her manner of fixing him with her eye had made the Duke
suspect what was in her mind. Well, she would find out her mistake soon
enough, poor woman. He desired, however, that her mistake should be made
by no one else. He would give no more warnings.

Tragic it was for him, in Merton Street, to see among the crowd
converging to the meadows so many women, young and old, all imprescient,
troubled by nothing but the thunder that was in the air, that was on the
brows of their escorts. He knew not whether it was for their escorts or
for them that he felt the greater pity; and an added load for his heart
was the sense of his partial responsibility for what impended. But
his lips were sealed now. Why should he not enjoy the effect he was
creating?

It was with a measured tread, as yesterday with Zuleika, that he entered
the avenue of elms. The throng streamed past from behind him, parting
wide, and marvelling as it streamed. Under the pall of this evil evening
his splendour was the more inspiring. And, just as yesterday no man had
questioned his right to be with Zuleika, so to-day there was none to
deem him caparisoned too much. All the men felt at a glance that
he, coming to meet death thus, did no more than the right homage to
Zuleika--aye, and that he made them all partakers in his own glory,
casting his great mantle over all commorients. Reverence forbade them to
do more than glance. But the women with them were impelled by wonder to
stare hard, uttering sharp little cries that mingled with the cawing of
the rooks overhead. Thus did scores of men find themselves shamed like
our friend Harold. But this, you say, was no more than a just return for
their behaviour yesterday, when, in this very avenue, so many women were
almost crushed to death by them in their insensate eagerness to see Miss
Dobson.

To-day by scores of women it was calculated not only that the velvet of
the Duke’s mantle could not have cost less than four guineas a yard, but
also that there must be quite twenty-five yards of it. Some of the fair
mathematicians had, in the course of the past fortnight, visited the
Royal Academy and seen there Mr. Sargent’s portrait of the wearer, so
that their estimate now was but the endorsement of an estimate already
made. Yet their impression of the Duke was above all a spiritual one.
The nobility of his face and bearing was what most thrilled them as they
went by; and those of them who had heard the rumour that he was in love
with that frightfully flashy-looking creature, Zuleika Dobson, were more
than ever sure there wasn’t a word of truth in it.

As he neared the end of the avenue, the Duke was conscious of a thinning
in the procession on either side of him, and anon he was aware that not
one undergraduate was therein. And he knew at once--did not need to look
back to know--why this was. SHE was coming.

Yes, she had come into the avenue, her magnetism speeding before her,
insomuch that all along the way the men immediately ahead of her looked
round, beheld her, stood aside for her. With her walked The MacQuern,
and a little bodyguard of other blest acquaintances; and behind her
swayed the dense mass of the disorganised procession. And now the last
rank between her and the Duke was broken, and at the revealed vision
of him she faltered midway in some raillery she was addressing to The
MacQuern. Her eyes were fixed, her lips were parted, her tread had
become stealthy. With a brusque gesture of dismissal to the men beside
her, she darted forward, and lightly overtook the Duke just as he was
turning towards the barges.

“May I?” she whispered, smiling round into his face.

His shoulder-knots just perceptibly rose.

“There isn’t a policeman in sight, John. You’re at my mercy. No, no;
I’m at yours. Tolerate me. You really do look quite wonderful. There, I
won’t be so impertinent as to praise you. Only let me be with you. Will
you?”

The shoulder-knots repeated their answer.

“You needn’t listen to me; needn’t look at me--unless you care to use my
eyes as mirrors. Only let me be seen with you. That’s what I want. Not
that your society isn’t a boon in itself, John. Oh, I’ve been so bored
since I left you. The MacQuern is too, too dull, and so are his friends.
Oh, that meal with them in Balliol! As soon as I grew used to the
thought that they were going to die for me, I simply couldn’t stand
them. Poor boys! it was as much as I could do not to tell them I wished
them dead already. Indeed, when they brought me down for the first
races, I did suggest that they might as well die now as later. Only they
looked very solemn and said it couldn’t possibly be done till after the
final races. And oh, the tea with them! What have YOU been doing all the
afternoon? Oh John, after THEM, I could almost love you again. Why can’t
one fall in love with a man’s clothes? To think that all those splendid
things you have on are going to be spoilt--all for me. Nominally for
me, that is. It is very wonderful, John. I do appreciate it, really and
truly, though I know you think I don’t. John, if it weren’t mere spite
you feel for me--but it’s no good talking about that. Come, let us be as
cheerful as we may be. Is this the Judas house-boat?”

“The Judas barge,” said the Duke, irritated by a mistake which but
yesterday had rather charmed him.

As he followed his companion across the plank, there came dully from the
hills the first low growl of the pent storm. The sound struck for him a
strange contrast with the prattle he had perforce been listening to.

“Thunder,” said Zuleika over her shoulder.

“Evidently,” he answered.

Half-way up the stairs to the roof, she looked round. “Aren’t you
coming?” she asked.

He shook his head, and pointed to the raft in front of the barge. She
quickly descended.

“Forgive me,” he said, “my gesture was not a summons. The raft is for
men.”

“What do you want to do on it?”

“To wait there till the races are over.”

“But--what do you mean? Aren’t you coming up on to the roof at all?
Yesterday--”

“Oh, I see,” said the Duke, unable to repress a smile. “But to-day I am
not dressed for a flying-leap.”

Zuleika put a finger to her lips. “Don’t talk so loud. Those women up
there will hear you. No one must ever know I knew what was going to
happen. What evidence should I have that I tried to prevent it? Only my
own unsupported word--and the world is always against a woman. So do be
careful. I’ve thought it all out. The whole thing must be SPRUNG on me.
Don’t look so horribly cynical... What was I saying? Oh yes; well, it
doesn’t really matter. I had it fixed in my mind that you--but no, of
course, in that mantle you couldn’t. But why not come up on the roof
with me meanwhile, and then afterwards make some excuse and--” The rest
of her whisper was lost in another growl of thunder.

“I would rather make my excuses forthwith,” said the Duke. “And, as the
races must be almost due now, I advise you to go straight up and secure
a place against the railing.”

“It will look very odd, my going all alone into a crowd of people whom I
don’t know. I’m an unmarried girl. I do think you might--”

“Good-bye,” said the Duke.

Again Zuleika raised a warning finger.

“Good-bye, John,” she whispered. “See, I am still wearing your studs.
Good-bye. Don’t forget to call my name in a loud voice. You promised.”

“Yes.”

“And,” she added, after a pause, “remember this. I have loved but twice
in my life; and none but you have I loved. This, too: if you hadn’t
forced me to kill my love, I would have died with you. And you know it
is true.”

“Yes.” It was true enough.

Courteously he watched her up the stairs.

As she reached the roof, she cried down to him from the throng, “Then
you will wait down there to take me home afterwards?”

He bowed silently.

The raft was even more crowded than yesterday, but way was made for him
by Judasians past and present. He took his place in the centre of the
front row.

At his feet flowed the fateful river. From the various barges the last
punt-loads had been ferried across to the towing-path, and the last
of the men who were to follow the boats in their course had vanished
towards the starting-point. There remained, however, a fringe of lesser
enthusiasts. Their figures stood outlined sharply in that strange dark
clearness which immediately precedes a storm.

The thunder rumbled around the hills, and now and again there was a
faint glare on the horizon.

Would Judas bump Magdalen? Opinion on the raft seemed to be divided. But
the sanguine spirits were in a majority.

“If I were making a book on the event,” said a middle-aged clergyman,
with that air of breezy emancipation which is so distressing to the
laity, “I’d bet two to one we bump.”

“You demean your cloth, sir,” the Duke would have said, “without
cheating its disabilities,” had not his mouth been stopped by a loud and
prolonged thunder-clap.

In the hush thereafter, came the puny sound of a gunshot. The boats were
starting. Would Judas bump Magdalen? Would Judas be head of the river?

Strange, thought the Duke, that for him, standing as he did on the peak
of dandyism, on the brink of eternity, this trivial question of boats
could have importance. And yet, and yet, for this it was that his heart
was beating. A few minutes hence, an end to victors and vanquished
alike; and yet...

A sudden white vertical streak slid down the sky. Then there was
a consonance to split the drums of the world’s ears, followed by
a horrific rattling as of actual artillery--tens of thousands of
gun-carriages simultaneously at the gallop, colliding, crashing, heeling
over in the blackness.

Then, and yet more awful, silence; the little earth cowering voiceless
under the heavens’ menace. And, audible in the hush now, a faint sound;
the sound of the runners on the towing-path cheering the crews forward,
forward.

And there was another faint sound that came to the Duke’s ears. It he
understood when, a moment later, he saw the surface of the river alive
with infinitesimal fountains.

Rain!

His very mantle was aspersed. In another minute he would stand sodden,
inglorious, a mock. He didn’t hesitate.

“Zuleika!” he cried in a loud voice. Then he took a deep breath, and,
burying his face in his mantle, plunged.

Full on the river lay the mantle outspread. Then it, too, went under. A
great roll of water marked the spot. The plumed hat floated.

There was a confusion of shouts from the raft, of screams from the roof.
Many youths--all the youths there--cried “Zuleika!” and leapt emulously
headlong into the water. “Brave fellows!” shouted the elder men,
supposing rescue-work. The rain pelted, the thunder pealed. Here and
there was a glimpse of a young head above water--for an instant only.

Shouts and screams now from the infected barges on either side. A score
of fresh plunges. “Splendid fellows!”

Meanwhile, what of the Duke? I am glad to say that he was alive and (but
for the cold he had caught last night) well. Indeed, his mind had never
worked more clearly than in this swift dim underworld. His mantle, the
cords of it having come untied, had drifted off him, leaving his arms
free. With breath well-pent, he steadily swam, scarcely less amused than
annoyed that the gods had, after all, dictated the exact time at which
he should seek death.

I am loth to interrupt my narrative at this rather exciting moment--a
moment when the quick, tense style, exemplified in the last paragraph
but one, is so very desirable. But in justice to the gods I must pause
to put in a word of excuse for them. They had imagined that it was
in mere irony that the Duke had said he could not die till after the
bumping-races; and not until it seemed that he stood ready to make an
end of himself had the signal been given by Zeus for the rain to fall.
One is taught to refrain from irony, because mankind does tend to take
it literally. In the hearing of the gods, who hear all, it is conversely
unsafe to make a simple and direct statement. So what is one to do? The
dilemma needs a whole volume to itself.

But to return to the Duke. He had now been under water for a full
minute, swimming down stream; and he calculated that he had yet another
full minute of consciousness. Already the whole of his past life
had vividly presented itself to him--myriads of tiny incidents, long
forgotten, now standing out sharply in their due sequence. He had
mastered this conspectus in a flash of time, and was already tired of
it. How smooth and yielding were the weeds against his face! He wondered
if Mrs. Batch had been in time to cash the cheque. If not, of course his
executors would pay the amount, but there would be delays, long delays,
Mrs. Batch in meshes of red tape. Red tape for her, green weeds for
him--he smiled at this poor conceit, classifying it as a fair sample of
merman’s wit. He swam on through the quiet cool darkness, less quickly
now. Not many more strokes now, he told himself; a few, only a few; then
sleep. How was he come here? Some woman had sent him. Ever so many years
ago, some woman. He forgave her. There was nothing to forgive her. It
was the gods who had sent him--too soon, too soon. He let his arms rise
in the water, and he floated up. There was air in that over-world, and
something he needed to know there before he came down again to sleep.

He gasped the air into his lungs, and he remembered what it was that he
needed to know.

Had he risen in mid-stream, the keel of the Magdalen boat might have
killed him. The oars of Magdalen did all but graze his face. The eyes of
the Magdalen cox met his. The cords of the Magdalen rudder slipped from
the hands that held them; whereupon the Magdalen man who rowed “bow”
 missed his stroke.

An instant later, just where the line of barges begins, Judas had bumped
Magdalen.

A crash of thunder deadened the din of the stamping and dancing crowd on
the towing-path. The rain was a deluge making land and water as one.

And the conquered crew, and the conquering, both now had seen the face
of the Duke. A white smiling face, anon it was gone. Dorset was gone
down to his last sleep.

Victory and defeat alike forgotten, the crews staggered erect and flung
themselves into the river, the slender boats capsizing and spinning
futile around in a melley of oars.

From the towing-path--no more din there now, but great single cries
of “Zuleika!”--leapt figures innumerable through rain to river. The
arrested boats of the other crews drifted zigzag hither and thither. The
dropped oars rocked and clashed, sank and rebounded, as the men plunged
across them into the swirling stream.

And over all this confusion and concussion of men and man-made things
crashed the vaster discords of the heavens; and the waters of the
heavens fell ever denser and denser, as though to the aid of waters that
could not in themselves envelop so many hundreds of struggling human
forms.

All along the soaked towing-path lay strewn the horns, the rattles, the
motor-hooters, that the youths had flung aside before they leapt. Here
and there among these relics stood dazed elder men, staring through the
storm. There was one of them--a grey-beard--who stripped off his blazer,
plunged, grabbed at some live man, grappled him, was dragged under. He
came up again further along stream, swam choking to the bank, clung to
the grasses. He whimpered as he sought foot-hold in the slime. It was
ill to be down in that abominable sink of death.

Abominable, yes, to them who discerned there death only; but sacramental
and sweet enough to the men who were dying there for love. Any face that
rose was smiling.

The thunder receded; the rain was less vehement: the boats and the oars
had drifted against the banks. And always the patient river bore its
awful burden towards Iffley.

As on the towing-path, so on the youth-bereft rafts of the barges,
yonder, stood many stupefied elders, staring at the river, staring back
from the river into one another’s faces.

Dispeopled now were the roofs of the barges. Under the first drops of
the rain most of the women had come huddling down for shelter inside;
panic had presently driven down the rest. Yet on one roof one woman
still was. A strange, drenched figure, she stood bright-eyed in the
dimness; alone, as it was well she should be in her great hour; draining
the lees of such homage as had come to no woman in history recorded.



XX

Artistically, there is a good deal to be said for that old Greek friend
of ours, the Messenger; and I dare say you blame me for having, as it
were, made you an eye-witness of the death of the undergraduates, when
I might so easily have brought some one in to tell you about it after
it was all over... Some one? Whom? Are you not begging the question?
I admit there were, that evening in Oxford, many people who, when they
went home from the river, gave vivid reports of what they had seen. But
among them was none who had seen more than a small portion of the whole
affair. Certainly, I might have pieced together a dozen of the various
accounts, and put them all into the mouth of one person. But credibility
is not enough for Clio’s servant. I aim at truth. And so, as I by my
Zeus-given incorporeity was the one person who had a good view of the
scene at large, you must pardon me for having withheld the veil of
indirect narration.

“Too late,” you will say if I offer you a Messenger now. But it was not
thus that Mrs. Batch and Katie greeted Clarence when, lamentably soaked
with rain, that Messenger appeared on the threshold of the kitchen.
Katie was laying the table-cloth for seven o’clock supper. Neither she
nor her mother was clairvoyante. Neither of them knew what had been
happening. But, as Clarence had not come home since afternoon-school,
they had assumed that he was at the river; and they now assumed from the
look of him that something very unusual had been happening there. As to
what this was, they were not quickly enlightened. Our old Greek friend,
after a run of twenty miles, would always reel off a round hundred of
graphic verses unimpeachable in scansion. Clarence was of degenerate
mould. He collapsed on to a chair, and sat there gasping; and his
recovery was rather delayed than hastened by his mother, who, in her
solicitude, patted him vigorously between the shoulders.

“Let him alone, mother, do,” cried Katie, wringing her hands.

“The Duke, he’s drowned himself,” presently gasped the Messenger.

Blank verse, yes, so far as it went; but delivered without the slightest
regard for rhythm, and composed in stark defiance of those laws which
should regulate the breaking of bad news. You, please remember, were
carefully prepared by me against the shock of the Duke’s death; and yet
I hear you still mumbling that I didn’t let the actual fact be told you
by a Messenger. Come, do you really think your grievance against me
is for a moment comparable with that of Mrs. and Miss Batch against
Clarence? Did you feel faint at any moment in the foregoing chapter? No.
But Katie, at Clarence’s first words, fainted outright. Think a little
more about this poor girl senseless on the floor, and a little less
about your own paltry discomfort.

Mrs. Batch herself did not faint, but she was too much overwhelmed to
notice that her daughter had done so.

“No! Mercy on us! Speak, boy, can’t you?”

“The river,” gasped Clarence. “Threw himself in. On purpose. I was on
the towing-path. Saw him do it.”

Mrs. Batch gave a low moan.

“Katie’s fainted,” added the Messenger, not without a touch of personal
pride.

“Saw him do it,” Mrs. Batch repeated dully. “Katie,” she said, in the
same voice, “get up this instant.” But Katie did not hear her.

The mother was loth to have been outdone in sensibility by the daughter,
and it was with some temper that she hastened to make the necessary
ministrations.

“Where am I?” asked Katie, at length, echoing the words used in this
very house, at a similar juncture, on this very day, by another lover of
the Duke.

“Ah, you may well ask that,” said Mrs. Batch, with more force than
reason. “A mother’s support indeed! Well! And as for you,” she cried,
turning on Clarence, “sending her off like that with your--” She
was face to face again with the tragic news. Katie, remembering it
simultaneously, uttered a loud sob. Mrs. Batch capped this with a much
louder one. Clarence stood before the fire, slowly revolving on one
heel. His clothes steamed briskly.

“It isn’t true,” said Katie. She rose and came uncertainly towards her
brother, half threatening, half imploring.

“All right,” said he, strong in his advantage. “Then I shan’t tell
either of you anything more.”

Mrs. Batch through her tears called Katie a bad girl, and Clarence a bad
boy.

“Where did you get THEM?” asked Clarence, pointing to the ear-rings worn
by his sister.

“HE gave me them,” said Katie. Clarence curbed the brotherly intention
of telling her she looked “a sight” in them.

She stood staring into vacancy. “He didn’t love HER,” she murmured.
“That was all over. I’ll vow he didn’t love HER.”

“Who d’you mean by her?” asked Clarence.

“That Miss Dobson that’s been here.”

“What’s her other name?”

“Zuleika,” Katie enunciated with bitterest abhorrence.

“Well, then, he jolly well did love her. That’s the name he called out
just before he threw himself in. ‘Zuleika!’--like that,” added the boy,
with a most infelicitous attempt to reproduce the Duke’s manner.

Katie had shut her eyes, and clenched her hands.

“He hated her. He told me so,” she said.

“I was always a mother to him,” sobbed Mrs. Batch, rocking to and fro on
a chair in a corner. “Why didn’t he come to me in his trouble?”

“He kissed me,” said Katie, as in a trance. “No other man shall ever do
that.”

“He did?” exclaimed Clarence. “And you let him?”

“You wretched little whipper-snapper!” flashed Katie.

“Oh, I am, am I?” shouted Clarence, squaring up to his sister. “Say that
again, will you?”

There is no doubt that Katie would have said it again, had not her
mother closed the scene with a prolonged wail of censure.

“You ought to be thinking of ME, you wicked girl,” said Mrs. Batch.
Katie went across, and laid a gentle hand on her mother’s shoulder.
This, however, did but evoke a fresh flood of tears. Mrs. Batch had a
keen sense of the deportment owed to tragedy. Katie, by bickering with
Clarence, had thrown away the advantage she had gained by fainting. Mrs.
Batch was not going to let her retrieve it by shining as a consoler.
I hasten to add that this resolve was only sub-conscious in the good
woman. Her grief was perfectly sincere. And it was not the less so
because with it was mingled a certain joy in the greatness of the
calamity. She came of good sound peasant stock. Abiding in her was the
spirit of those old songs and ballads in which daisies and daffodillies
and lovers’ vows and smiles are so strangely inwoven with tombs and
ghosts, with murders and all manner of grim things. She had not had
education enough to spoil her nerve. She was able to take the rough with
the smooth. She was able to take all life for her province, and death
too.

The Duke was dead. This was the stupendous outline she had grasped: now
let it be filled in. She had been stricken: now let her be racked. Soon
after her daughter had moved away, Mrs. Batch dried her eyes, and bade
Clarence tell just what had happened. She did not flinch. Modern Katie
did.

Such had ever been the Duke’s magic in the household that Clarence
had at first forgotten to mention that any one else was dead. Of
this omission he was glad. It promised him a new lease of importance.
Meanwhile, he described in greater detail the Duke’s plunge. Mrs.
Batch’s mind, while she listened, ran ahead, dog-like, into the
immediate future, ranging around: “the family” would all be here
to-morrow, the Duke’s own room must be “put straight” to-night, “I was
of speaking”...

Katie’s mind harked back to the immediate past--to the tone of that
voice, to that hand which she had kissed, to the touch of those lips on
her brow, to the door-step she had made so white for him, day by day...

The sound of the rain had long ceased. There was the noise of a
gathering wind.

“Then in went a lot of others,” Clarence was saying. “And they all
shouted out ‘Zuleika!’ just like he did. Then a lot more went in.
First I thought it was some sort of fun. Not it!” And he told how,
by inquiries further down the river, he had learned the extent of the
disaster. “Hundreds and hundreds of them--ALL of them,” he summed up.
“And all for the love of HER,” he added, as with a sulky salute to
Romance.

Mrs. Batch had risen from her chair, the better to cope with such
magnitude. She stood with wide-spread arms, silent, gaping. She seemed,
by sheer force of sympathy, to be expanding to the dimensions of a
crowd.

Intensive Katie recked little of all these other deaths. “I only know,”
 she said, “that he hated her.”

“Hundreds and hundreds--ALL,” intoned Mrs. Batch, then gave a sudden
start, as having remembered something. Mr. Noaks! He, too! She staggered
to the door, leaving her actual offspring to their own devices, and went
heavily up the stairs, her mind scampering again before her.... If he
was safe and sound, dear young gentleman, heaven be praised! and she
would break the awful news to him, very gradually. If not, there was
another “family” to be solaced; “I’m a mother myself, Mrs. Noaks”...

The sitting-room door was closed. Twice did Mrs. Batch tap on the panel,
receiving no answer. She went in, gazed around in the dimness, sighed
deeply, and struck a match. Conspicuous on the table lay a piece of
paper. She bent to examine it. A piece of lined paper, torn from an
exercise book, it was neatly inscribed with the words “What is Life
without Love?” The final word and the note of interrogation were
somewhat blurred, as by a tear. The match had burnt itself out. The
landlady lit another, and read the legend a second time, that she might
take in the full pathos of it. Then she sat down in the arm-chair. For
some minutes she wept there. Then, having no more, tears, she went out
on tip-toe, closing the door very quietly.

As she descended the last flight of stairs, her daughter had just shut
the front-door, and was coming along the hall.

“Poor Mr. Noaks--he’s gone,” said the mother.

“Has he?” said Katie listlessly.

“Yes he has, you heartless girl. What’s that you’ve got in your hand?
Why, if it isn’t the black-leading! And what have you been doing with
that?”

“Let me alone, mother, do,” said poor Katie. She had done her lowly
task. She had expressed her mourning, as best she could, there where she
had been wont to express her love.



XXI

And Zuleika? She had done a wise thing, and was where it was best that
she should be.

Her face lay upturned on the water’s surface, and round it were the
masses of her dark hair, half floating, half submerged. Her eyes were
closed, and her lips were parted. Not Ophelia in the brook could have
seemed more at peace.

          “Like a creature native and indued
     Unto that element,”
 tranquil Zuleika lay.

Gently to and fro her tresses drifted on the water, or under the water
went ever ravelling and unravelling. Nothing else of her stirred.

What to her now the loves that she had inspired and played on? the lives
lost for her? Little thought had she now of them. Aloof she lay.

Steadily rising from the water was a thick vapour that turned to dew on
the window-pane. The air was heavy with scent of violets. These are the
flowers of mourning; but their scent here and now signified nothing; for
Eau de Violettes was the bath-essence that Zuleika always had.

The bath-room was not of the white-gleaming kind to which she was
accustomed. The walls were papered, not tiled, and the bath itself was
of japanned tin, framed in mahogany. These things, on the evening of
her arrival at the Warden’s, had rather distressed her. But she was the
better able to bear them because of that well-remembered past when a
bath-room was in itself a luxury pined for--days when a not-large and
not-full can of not-hot water, slammed down at her bedroom door by a
governess-resenting housemaid, was as much as the gods allowed her. And
there was, to dulcify for her the bath of this evening, the yet sharper
contrast with the plight she had just come home in, sopped, shivering,
clung to by her clothes. Because this bath was not a mere luxury, but a
necessary precaution, a sure means of salvation from chill, she did the
more gratefully bask in it, till Melisande came back to her, laden with
warmed towels.

A few minutes before eight o’clock she was fully ready to go down to
dinner, with even more than the usual glow of health, and hungry beyond
her wont.

Yet, as she went down, her heart somewhat misgave her. Indeed, by force
of the wide experience she had had as a governess, she never did feel
quite at her ease when she was staying in a private house: the fear of
not giving satisfaction haunted her; she was always on her guard; the
shadow of dismissal absurdly hovered. And to-night she could not tell
herself, as she usually did, not to be so silly. If her grandfather knew
already the motive by which those young men had been actuated, dinner
with him might be a rather strained affair. He might tell her, in so
many words, that he wished he had not invited her to Oxford.

Through the open door of the drawing room she saw him, standing
majestic, draped in a voluminous black gown. Her instinct was to run
away; but this she conquered. She went straight in, remembering not to
smile.

“Ah, ah,” said the Warden, shaking a forefinger at her with old-world
playfulness. “And what have you to say for yourself?”

Relieved, she was also a trifle shocked. Was it possible that he, a
responsible old man, could take things so lightly?

“Oh, grand-papa,” she answered, hanging her head, “what CAN I say? It
is--it is too, too, dreadful.”

“There, there, my dear. I was but jesting. If you have had an agreeable
time, you are forgiven for playing truant. Where have you been all day?”

She saw that she had misjudged him. “I have just come from the river,”
 she said gravely.

“Yes? And did the College make its fourth bump to-night?”

“I--I don’t know, grand-papa. There was so much happening. It--I will
tell you all about it at dinner.”

“Ah, but to-night,” he said, indicating his gown, “I cannot be with you.
The bump-supper, you know. I have to preside in Hall.”

Zuleika had forgotten there was to be a bump-supper, and, though she
was not very sure what a bump-supper was, she felt it would be a mockery
to-night.

“But grand-papa--” she began.

“My dear, I cannot dissociate myself from the life of the College. And,
alas,” he said, looking at the clock, “I must leave you now. As soon as
you have finished dinner, you might, if you would care to, come and peep
down at us from the gallery. There is apt to be some measure of
noise and racket, but all of it good-humoured and--boys will be
boys--pardonable. Will you come?”

“Perhaps, grand-papa,” she said awkwardly. Left alone, she hardly knew
whether to laugh or cry. In a moment, the butler came to her rescue,
telling her that dinner was served.

As the figure of the Warden emerged from Salt Cellar into the Front
Quadrangle, a hush fell on the group of gowned Fellows outside the Hall.
Most of them had only just been told the news, and (such is the force
of routine in an University) were still sceptical of it. And in face of
these doubts the three or four dons who had been down at the river were
now half ready to believe that there must, after all, be some mistake,
and that in this world of illusions they had to-night been specially
tricked. To rebut this theory, there was the notable absence of
undergraduates. Or was this an illusion, too? Men of thought, agile on
the plane of ideas, devils of fellows among books, they groped feebly
in this matter of actual life and death. The sight of their Warden
heartened them. After all, he was the responsible person. He was father
of the flock that had strayed, and grandfather of the beautiful Miss
Zuleika.

Like her, they remembered not to smile in greeting him.

“Good evening, gentlemen,” he said. “The storm seems to have passed.”

There was a murmur of “Yes, Warden.”

“And how did our boat acquit itself?”

There was a shuffling pause. Every one looked at the Sub-Warden: it was
manifestly for him to break the news, or to report the hallucination. He
was nudged forward--a large man, with a large beard at which he plucked
nervously.

“Well, really, Warden,” he said, “we--we hardly know,” * and he ended
with what can only be described as a giggle. He fell low in the esteem
of his fellows.


   *Those of my readers who are interested in athletic sports will
    remember the long controversy that raged as to whether Judas had
    actually bumped Magdalen; and they will not need to be minded that
    it was mainly through the evidence of Mr. E. T. A. Cook, who had
    been on the towing-path at the time, that the O. U. B. C. decided
    the point in Judas’ favour, and fixed the order of the boats for
    the following year accordingly.


Thinking of that past Sub-Warden whose fame was linked with the
sun-dial, the Warden eyed this one keenly.

“Well, gentlemen,” he presently said, “our young men seem to be already
at table. Shall we follow their example?” And he led the way up the
steps.

Already at table? The dons’ dubiety toyed with this hypothesis. But the
aspect of the Hall’s interior was hard to explain away. Here were the
three long tables, stretching white towards the dais, and laden with the
usual crockery and cutlery, and with pots of flowers in honour of the
occasion. And here, ranged along either wall, was the usual array of
scouts, motionless, with napkins across their arms. But that was all.

It became clear to the Warden that some organised prank or protest was
afoot. Dignity required that he should take no heed whatsoever. Looking
neither to the right nor to the left, stately he approached the dais,
his Fellows to heel.

In Judas, as in other Colleges, grace before meat is read by the Senior
Scholar. The Judas grace (composed, they say, by Christopher Whitrid
himself) is noted for its length and for the excellence of its Latinity.
Who was to read it to-night? The Warden, having searched his mind vainly
for a precedent, was driven to create one.

“The Junior Fellow,” he said, “will read grace.”

Blushing to the roots of his hair, and with crablike gait, Mr. Pedby,
the Junior Fellow, went and unhooked from the wall that little shield
of wood on which the words of the grace are carven. Mr. Pedby was--Mr.
Pedby is--a mathematician. His treatise on the Higher Theory of Short
Division by Decimals had already won for him an European reputation.
Judas was--Judas is--proud of Pedby. Nor is it denied that in
undertaking the duty thrust on him he quickly controlled his nerves and
read the Latin out in ringing accents. Better for him had he not done
so. The false quantities he made were so excruciating and so many that,
while the very scouts exchanged glances, the dons at the high table lost
all command of their features, and made horrible noises in the effort to
contain themselves. The very Warden dared not look from his plate.

In every breast around the high table, behind every shirt-front or
black silk waistcoat, glowed the recognition of a new birth. Suddenly,
unheralded, a thing of highest destiny had fallen into their academic
midst. The stock of Common Room talk had to-night been re-inforced and
enriched for all time. Summers and winters would come and go, old faces
would vanish, giving place to new, but the story of Pedby’s grace would
be told always. Here was a tradition that generations of dons yet unborn
would cherish and chuckle over. Something akin to awe mingled itself
with the subsiding merriment. And the dons, having finished their soup,
sipped in silence the dry brown sherry.

Those who sat opposite to the Warden, with their backs to the void,
were oblivious of the matter that had so recently teased them. They
were conscious only of an agreeable hush, in which they peered down
the vistas of the future, watching the tradition of Pedby’s grace as it
rolled brighter and ever brighter down to eternity.

The pop of a champagne cork startled them to remembrance that this was a
bump-supper, and a bump-supper of a peculiar kind. The turbot that
came after the soup, the champagne that succeeded the sherry, helped to
quicken in these men of thought the power to grapple with a reality. The
aforesaid three or four who had been down at the river recovered their
lost belief in the evidence of their eyes and ears. In the rest was a
spirit of receptivity which, as the meal went on, mounted to conviction.
The Sub-Warden made a second and more determined attempt to enlighten
the Warden; but the Warden’s eye met his with a suspicion so cruelly
pointed that he again floundered and gave in.

All adown those empty other tables gleamed the undisturbed cutlery, and
the flowers in the pots innocently bloomed. And all adown either wall,
unneeded but undisbanded, the scouts remained. Some of the elder ones
stood with closed eyes and heads sunk forward, now and again jerking
themselves erect, and blinking around, wondering, remembering.

And for a while this scene was looked down on by a not disinterested
stranger. For a while, her chin propped on her hands, Zuleika leaned
over the rail of the gallery, just as she had lately leaned over the
barge’s rail, staring down and along. But there was no spark of triumph
now in her eyes; only a deep melancholy; and in her mouth a taste as of
dust and ashes. She thought of last night, and of all the buoyant life
that this Hall had held. Of the Duke she thought, and of the whole vivid
and eager throng of his fellows in love. Her will, their will, had been
done. But, there rose to her lips the old, old question that withers
victory--“To what end?” Her eyes ranged along the tables, and an
appalling sense of loneliness swept over her. She turned away, wrapping
the folds of her cloak closer across her breast. Not in this College
only, but through and through Oxford, there was no heart that beat for
her--no, not one, she told herself, with that instinct for self-torture
which comes to souls in torment. She was utterly alone to-night in the
midst of a vast indifference. She! She! Was it possible? Were the gods
so merciless? Ah no, surely...

Down at the high table the feast drew to its close, and very different
was the mood of the feasters from that of the young woman whose glance
had for a moment rested on their unromantic heads. Generations of
undergraduates had said that Oxford would be all very well but for the
dons. Do you suppose that the dons had had no answering sentiment? Youth
is a very good thing to possess, no doubt; but it is a tiresome setting
for maturity. Youth all around prancing, vociferating, mocking; callow
and alien youth, having to be looked after and studied and taught,
as though nothing but it mattered, term after term--and now, all of a
sudden, in mid-term, peace, ataraxy, a profound and leisured stillness.
No lectures to deliver to-morrow; no “essays” to hear and criticise;
time for the unvexed pursuit of pure learning...

As the Fellows passed out on their way to Common Room, there to tackle
with a fresh appetite Pedby’s grace, they paused, as was their wont, on
the steps of the Hall, looking up at the sky, envisaging the weather.
The wind had dropped. There was even a glimpse of the moon riding behind
the clouds. And now, a solemn and plangent token of Oxford’s perpetuity,
the first stroke of Great Tom sounded.



XXII

Stroke by stroke, the great familiar monody of that incomparable curfew
rose and fell in the stillness.

Nothing of Oxford lingers more surely than it in the memory of Oxford
men; and to one revisiting these groves nothing is more eloquent of that
scrupulous historic economy whereby his own particular past is utilised
as the general present and future. “All’s as it was, all’s as it will
be,” says Great Tom; and that is what he stubbornly said on the evening
I here record.

Stroke by measured and leisured stroke, the old euphonious clangour
pervaded Oxford, spreading out over the meadows, along the river,
audible in Iffley. But to the dim groups gathering and dispersing on
either bank, and to the silent workers in the boats, the bell’s message
came softened, equivocal; came as a requiem for these dead.

Over the closed gates of Iffley lock, the water gushed down, eager for
the sacrament of the sea. Among the supine in the field hard by, there
was one whose breast bore a faint-gleaming star. And bending over him,
looking down at him with much love and pity in her eyes, was the shade
of Nellie O’Mora, that “fairest witch,” to whose memory he had to-day
atoned.

And yonder, “sitting upon the river-bank o’ergrown,” with questioning
eyes, was another shade, more habituated to these haunts--the shade
known so well to bathers “in the abandoned lasher,” and to dancers
“around the Fyfield elm in May.” At the bell’s final stroke, the Scholar
Gipsy rose, letting fall on the water his gathered wild-flowers, and
passed towards Cumnor.

And now, duly, throughout Oxford, the gates of the Colleges were closed,
and closed were the doors of the lodging-houses. Every night, for many
years, at this hour precisely, Mrs. Batch had come out from her kitchen,
to turn the key in the front-door. The function had long ago become
automatic. To-night, however, it was the cue for further tears. These
did not cease at her return to the kitchen, where she had gathered
about her some sympathetic neighbours--women of her own age and
kind, capacious of tragedy; women who might be relied on; founts of
ejaculation, wells of surmise, downpours of remembered premonitions.

With his elbows on the kitchen table, and his knuckles to his brow, sat
Clarence, intent on belated “prep.” Even an eye-witness of disaster may
pall if he repeat his story too often. Clarence had noted in the last
recital that he was losing his hold on his audience. So now he sat
committing to memory the names of the cantons of Switzerland, and waving
aside with a harsh gesture such questions as were still put to him by
the women.

Katie had sought refuge in the need for “putting the gentlemen’s rooms
straight,” against the arrival of the two families to-morrow. Duster
in hand, and by the light of a single candle that barely survived the
draught from the open window, she moved to and fro about the Duke’s
room, a wan and listless figure, casting queerest shadows on the
ceiling. There were other candles that she might have lit, but this
ambiguous gloom suited her sullen humour. Yes, I am sorry to say, Katie
was sullen. She had not ceased to mourn the Duke; but it was even more
anger than grief that she felt at his dying. She was as sure as ever
that he had not loved Miss Dobson; but this only made it the more
outrageous that he had died because of her. What was there in this woman
that men should so demean themselves for her? Katie, as you know, had at
first been unaffected by the death of the undergraduates at large. But,
because they too had died for Zuleika, she was bitterly incensed against
them now. What could they have admired in such a woman? She didn’t even
look like a lady. Katie caught the dim reflection of herself in the
mirror. She took the candle from the table, and examined the reflection
closely. She was sure she was just as pretty as Miss Dobson. It was only
the clothes that made the difference--the clothes and the behaviour.
Katie threw back her head, and smiled brilliantly, hand on hip. She
nodded reassuringly at herself; and the black pearl and the pink danced
a duet. She put the candle down, and undid her hair, roughly parting
it on one side, and letting it sweep down over the further eyebrow. She
fixed it in that fashion, and posed accordingly. Now! But gradually her
smile relaxed, and a mist came to her eyes. For she had to admit that
even so, after all, she hadn’t just that something which somehow Miss
Dobson had. She put away from her the hasty dream she had had of a whole
future generation of undergraduates drowning themselves, every one, in
honour of her. She went wearily on with her work.

Presently, after a last look round, she went up the creaking stairs, to
do Mr. Noaks’ room.

She found on the table that screed which her mother had recited so often
this evening. She put it in the waste-paper basket.

Also on the table were a lexicon, a Thucydides, and some note-books.
These she took and shelved without a tear for the closed labours they
bore witness to.

The next disorder that met her eye was one that gave her pause--seemed,
indeed, to transfix her.

Mr. Noaks had never, since he came to lodge here, possessed more than
one pair of boots. This fact had been for her a lasting source of
annoyance; for it meant that she had to polish Mr. Noaks’ boots always
in the early morning, when there were so many other things to be done,
instead of choosing her own time. Her annoyance had been all the keener
because Mr. Noaks’ boots more than made up in size for what they lacked
in number. Either of them singly took more time and polish than any
other pair imaginable. She would have recognised them, at a glance,
anywhere. Even so now, it was at a glance that she recognised the toes
of them protruding from beneath the window-curtain. She dismissed the
theory that Mr. Noaks might have gone utterly unshod to the river. She
scouted the hypothesis that his ghost could be shod thus. By process
of elimination she arrived at the truth. “Mr. Noaks,” she said quietly,
“come out of there.”

There was a slight quiver of the curtain; no more. Katie repeated her
words. There was a pause, then a convulsion of the curtain. Noaks stood
forth.

Always, in polishing his boots, Katie had found herself thinking of him
as a man of prodigious stature, well though she knew him to be quite
tiny. Even so now, at recognition of his boots, she had fixed her eyes
to meet his, when he should emerge, a full yard too high. With a sharp
drop she focussed him.

“By what right,” he asked, “do you come prying about my room?”

This was a stroke so unexpected that it left Katie mute. It equally
surprised Noaks, who had been about to throw himself on his knees and
implore this girl not to betray him. He was quick, though, to clinch his
advantage.

“This,” he said, “is the first time I have caught you. Let it be the
last.”

Was this the little man she had so long despised, and so superciliously
served? His very smallness gave him an air of concentrated force. She
remembered having read that all the greatest men in history had been of
less than the middle height. And--oh, her heart leapt--here was the
one man who had scorned to die for Miss Dobson. He alone had held out
against the folly of his fellows. Sole and splendid survivor he stood,
rock-footed, before her. And impulsively she abased herself, kneeling at
his feet as at the great double altar of some dark new faith.

“You are great, sir, you are wonderful,” she said, gazing up to him,
rapt. It was the first time she had ever called him “sir.”

It is easier, as Michelet suggested, for a woman to change her opinion
of a man than for him to change his opinion of himself. Noaks, despite
the presence of mind he had shown a few moments ago, still saw himself
as he had seen himself during the past hours: that is, as an arrant
little coward--one who by his fear to die had put himself outside the
pale of decent manhood. He had meant to escape from the house at dead of
night and, under an assumed name, work his passage out to Australia--a
land which had always made strong appeal to his imagination. No one, he
had reflected, would suppose because his body was not retrieved from
the water that he had not perished with the rest. And he had looked to
Australia to make a man of him yet: in Encounter Bay, perhaps, or in the
Gulf of Carpentaria, he might yet end nobly.

Thus Katie’s behaviour was as much an embarrassment as a relief; and he
asked her in what way he was great and wonderful.

“Modest, like all heroes!” she cried, and, still kneeling, proceeded to
sing his praises with a so infectious fervour that Noaks did begin to
feel he had done a fine thing in not dying. After all, was it not moral
cowardice as much as love that had tempted him to die? He had wrestled
with it, thrown it. “Yes,” said he, when her rhapsody was over, “perhaps
I am modest.”

“And that is why you hid yourself just now?”

“Yes,” he gladly said. “I hid myself for the same reason,” he added,
“when I heard your mother’s footstep.”

“But,” she faltered, with a sudden doubt, “that bit of writing which
Mother found on the table--”

“That? Oh, that was only a general reflection, copied out of a book.”

“Oh, won’t poor Mother be glad when she knows!”

“I don’t want her to know,” said Noaks, with a return of nervousness.
“You mustn’t tell any one. I--the fact is--”

“Ah, that is so like you!” the girl said tenderly. “I suppose it was
your modesty that all this while blinded me. Please, sir, I have a
confession to make to you. Never till to-night have I loved you.”

Exquisite was the shock of these words to one who, not without reason,
had always assumed that no woman would ever love him. Before he knew
what he was doing, he had bent down and kissed the sweet upturned face.
It was the first kiss he had ever given outside his family circle. It
was an artless and a resounding kiss.

He started back, dazed. What manner of man, he wondered, was he? A
coward, piling profligacy on poltroonery? Or a hero, claiming exemption
from moral law? What was done could not be undone; but it could be
righted. He drew off from the little finger of his left hand that iron
ring which, after a twinge of rheumatism, he had to-day resumed.

“Wear it,” he said.

“You mean--?” She leapt to her feet.

“That we are engaged. I hope you don’t think we have any choice?”

She clapped her hands, like the child she was, and adjusted the ring.

“It is very pretty,” she said.

“It is very simple,” he answered lightly. “But,” he added, with a change
of tone, “it is very durable. And that is the important thing. For I
shall not be in a position to marry before I am forty.”

A shadow of disappointment hovered over Katie’s clear young brow, but
was instantly chased away by the thought that to be engaged was almost
as splendid as to be married.

“Recently,” said her lover, “I meditated leaving Oxford for Australia.
But now that you have come into my life, I am compelled to drop that
notion, and to carve out the career I had first set for myself. A year
hence, if I get a Second in Greats--and I SHALL” he said, with a
fierce look that entranced her--“I shall have a very good chance of an
assistant-mastership in a good private school. In eighteen years, if I
am careful--and, with you waiting for me, I SHALL be careful--my savings
will enable me to start a small school of my own, and to take a wife.
Even then it would be more prudent to wait another five years, no doubt.
But there was always a streak of madness in the Noakses. I say ‘Prudence
to the winds!’”

“Ah, don’t say that!” exclaimed Katie, laying a hand on his sleeve.

“You are right. Never hesitate to curb me. And,” he said, touching the
ring, “an idea has just occurred to me. When the time comes, let this
be the wedding-ring. Gold is gaudy--not at all the thing for a
schoolmaster’s bride. It is a pity,” he muttered, examining her through
his spectacles, “that your hair is so golden. A schoolmaster’s bride
should--Good heavens! Those ear-rings! Where did you get THEM?”

“They were given to me to-day,” Katie faltered. “The Duke gave me them.”

“Indeed?”

“Please, sir, he gave me them as a memento.”

“And that memento shall immediately be handed over to his executors.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I should think so!” was on the tip of Noaks’ tongue, but suddenly he
ceased to see the pearls as trinkets finite and inapposite--saw them,
in a flash, as things transmutable by sale hereafter into desks, forms,
black-boards, maps, lockers, cubicles, gravel soil, diet unlimited, and
special attention to backward pupils. Simultaneously, he saw how mean
had been his motive for repudiating the gift. What more despicable than
jealousy of a man deceased? What sillier than to cast pearls before
executors? Sped by nothing but the pulse of his hot youth, he had wooed
and won this girl. Why flinch from her unsought dowry?

He told her his vision. Her eyes opened wide to it. “And oh,” she cried,
“then we can be married as soon as you take your degree!”

He bade her not be so foolish. Who ever heard of a head-master aged
three-and-twenty? What parent or guardian would trust a stripling? The
engagement must run its course. “And,” he said, fidgeting, “do you know
that I have hardly done any reading to-day?”

“You want to read NOW--TO-NIGHT?”

“I must put in a good two hours. Where are the books that were on my
table?”

Reverently--he was indeed a king of men--she took the books down from
the shelf, and placed them where she had found them. And she knew not
which thrilled her the more--the kiss he gave her at parting, or the
tone in which he told her that the one thing he could not and would not
stand was having his books disturbed.

Still less than before attuned to the lugubrious session downstairs, she
went straight up to her attic, and did a little dance there in the
dark. She threw open the lattice of the dormer-window, and leaned out,
smiling, throbbing.

The Emperors, gazing up, saw her happy, and wondered; saw Noaks’ ring on
her finger, and would fain have shaken their grey heads.

Presently she was aware of a protrusion from the window beneath hers.
The head of her beloved! Fondly she watched it, wished she could reach
down to stroke it. She loved him for having, after all, left his books.
It was sweet to be his excuse. Should she call softly to him? No, it
might shame him to be caught truant. He had already chidden her for
prying. So she did but gaze down on his head silently, wondering whether
in eighteen years it would be bald, wondering whether her own hair would
still have the fault of being golden. Most of all, she wondered whether
he loved her half so much as she loved him.

This happened to be precisely what he himself was wondering. Not that
he wished himself free. He was one of those in whom the will does not,
except under very great pressure, oppose the conscience. What pressure
here? Miss Batch was a superior girl; she would grace any station in
life. He had always been rather in awe of her. It was a fine thing to be
suddenly loved by her, to be in a position to over-rule her every whim.
Plighting his troth, he had feared she would be an encumbrance, only to
find she was a lever. But--was he deeply in love with her? How was it
that he could not at this moment recall her features, or the tone of her
voice, while of deplorable Miss Dobson, every lineament, every accent,
so vividly haunted him? Try as he would to beat off these memories, he
failed, and--some very great pressure here!--was glad he failed; glad
though he found himself relapsing to the self-contempt from which Miss
Batch had raised him. He scorned himself for being alive. And again, he
scorned himself for his infidelity. Yet he was glad he could not forget
that face, that voice--that queen. She had smiled at him when she
borrowed the ring. She had said “Thank you.” Oh, and now, at this very
moment, sleeping or waking, actually she was somewhere--she! herself!
This was an incredible, an indubitable, an all-magical fact for the
little fellow.

From the street below came a faint cry that was as the cry of his own
heart, uttered by her own lips. Quaking, he peered down, and dimly saw,
over the way, a cloaked woman.

She--yes, it was she herself--came gliding to the middle of the road,
gazing up at him.

“At last!” he heard her say. His instinct was to hide himself from the
queen he had not died for. Yet he could not move.

“Or,” she quavered, “are you a phantom sent to mock me? Speak!”

“Good evening,” he said huskily.

“I knew,” she murmured, “I knew the gods were not so cruel. Oh man of my
need,” she cried, stretching out her arms to him, “oh heaven-sent, I see
you only as a dark outline against the light of your room. But I know
you. Your name is Noaks, isn’t it? Dobson is mine. I am your Warden’s
grand-daughter. I am faint and foot-sore. I have ranged this desert city
in search of--of YOU. Let me hear from your own lips that you love me.
Tell me in your own words--” She broke off with a little scream, and did
not stand with forefinger pointed at him, gazing, gasping.

“Listen, Miss Dobson,” he stammered, writhing under what he took to be
the lash of her irony. “Give me time to explain. You see me here--”

“Hush,” she cried, “man of my greater, my deeper and nobler need!
Oh hush, ideal which not consciously I was out for to-night--ideal
vouchsafed to me by a crowning mercy! I sought a lover, I find a master.
I sought but a live youth, was blind to what his survival would betoken.
Oh master, you think me light and wicked. You stare coldly down at me
through your spectacles, whose glint I faintly discern now that the moon
peeps forth. You would be readier to forgive me the havoc I have wrought
if you could for the life of you understand what charm your friends
found in me. You marvel, as at the skull of Helen of Troy. No, you don’t
think me hideous: you simply think me plain. There was a time when I
thought YOU plain--you whose face, now that the moon shines full on it,
is seen to be of a beauty that is flawless without being insipid. Oh
that I were a glove upon that hand, that I might touch that cheek! You
shudder at the notion of such contact. My voice grates on you. You try
to silence me with frantic though exquisite gestures, and with noises
inarticulate but divine. I bow to your will, master. Chasten me with
your tongue.”

“I am not what you think me,” gibbered Noaks. “I was not afraid to die
for you. I love you. I was on my way to the river this afternoon, but
I--I tripped and sprained my ankle, and--and jarred my spine. They
carried me back here. I am still very weak. I can’t put my foot to the
ground. As soon as I can--”

Just then Zuleika heard a little sharp sound which, for the fraction of
an instant, before she knew it to be a clink of metal on the pavement,
she thought was the breaking of the heart within her. Looking quickly
down, she heard a shrill girlish laugh aloft. Looking quickly up,
she descried at the unlit window above her lover’s a face which she
remembered as that of the land-lady’s daughter.

“Find it, Miss Dobson,” laughed the girl. “Crawl for it. It can’t have
rolled far, and it’s the only engagement-ring you’ll get from HIM,” she
said, pointing to the livid face twisted painfully up at her from the
lower window. “Grovel for it, Miss Dobson. Ask him to step down and help
you. Oh, he can! That was all lies about his spine and ankle. Afraid,
that’s what he was--I see it all now--afraid of the water. I wish you’d
found him as I did--skulking behind the curtain. Oh, you’re welcome to
him.”

“Don’t listen,” Noaks cried down. “Don’t listen to that person. I admit
I have trifled with her affections. This is her revenge--these wicked
untruths--these--these--”

Zuleika silenced him with a gesture. “Your tone to me,” she said up to
Katie, “is not without offence; but the stamp of truth is on what you
tell me. We have both been deceived in this man, and are, in some sort,
sisters.”

“Sisters?” cried Katie. “Your sisters are the snake and the spider,
though neither of them wishes it known. I loathe you. And the Duke
loathed you, too.”

“What’s that?” gasped Zuleika.

“Didn’t he tell you? He told me. And I warrant he told you, too.”

“He died for love of me: d’you hear?”

“Ah, you’d like people to think so, wouldn’t you? Does a man who loves a
woman give away the keepsake she gave him? Look!” Katie leaned forward,
pointing to her ear-rings. “He loved ME,” she cried. “He put them in with
his own hands--told me to wear them always. And he kissed me--kissed me
good-bye in the street, where every one could see. He kissed me,” she
sobbed. “No other man shall ever do that.”

“Ah, that he did!” said a voice level with Zuleika. It was the voice of
Mrs. Batch, who a few moments ago had opened the door for her departing
guests.

“Ah, that he did!” echoed the guests.

“Never mind them, Miss Dobson,” cried Noaks, and at the sound of his
voice Mrs. Batch rushed into the middle of the road, to gaze up. “_I_
love you. Think what you will of me. I--”

“You!” flashed Zuleika. “As for you, little Sir Lily Liver, leaning
out there, and, I frankly tell you, looking like nothing so much as a
gargoyle hewn by a drunken stone-mason for the adornment of a Methodist
Chapel in one of the vilest suburbs of Leeds or Wigan, I do but
felicitate the river-god and his nymphs that their water was saved
to-day by your cowardice from the contamination of your plunge.”

“Shame on you, Mr. Noaks,” said Mrs. Batch, “making believe you were
dead--”

“Shame!” screamed Clarence, who had darted out into the fray.

“I found him hiding behind the curtain,” chimed in Katie.

“And I a mother to him!” said Mrs. Batch, shaking her fist. “‘What is
life without love?’ indeed! Oh, the cowardly, underhand--”

“Wretch,” prompted her cronies.

“Let’s kick him out of the house!” suggested Clarence, dancing for joy.

Zuleika, smiling brilliantly down at the boy, said “Just you run up and
fight him!”

“Right you are,” he answered, with a look of knightly devotion, and
darted back into the house.

“No escape!” she cried up to Noaks. “You’ve got to fight him now. He and
you are just about evenly matched, I fancy.”

But, grimly enough, Zuleika’s estimate was never put to the test. Is
it harder for a coward to fight with his fists than to kill himself? Or
again, is it easier for him to die than to endure a prolonged cross-fire
of women’s wrath and scorn? This I know: that in the life of even the
least and meanest of us there is somewhere one fine moment--one high
chance not missed. I like to think it was by operation of this law that
Noaks had now clambered out upon the window-sill, silencing, sickening,
scattering like chaff the women beneath him.

He was already not there when Clarence bounded into the room. “Come on!”
 yelled the boy, first thrusting his head behind the door, then diving
beneath the table, then plucking aside either window-curtain, vowing
vengeance.

Vengeance was not his. Down on the road without, not yet looked at but
by the steadfast eyes of the Emperors, the last of the undergraduates
lay dead; and fleet-footed Zuleika, with her fingers still pressed to
her ears, had taken full toll now.



XXIII

Twisting and turning in her flight, with wild eyes that fearfully
retained the image of that small man gathering himself to spring,
Zuleika found herself suddenly where she could no further go.

She was in that grim ravine by which you approach New College. At sight
of the great shut gate before her, she halted, and swerved to the wall.
She set her brow and the palms of her hands against the cold stones. She
threw back her head, and beat the stones with her fists.

It was not only what she had seen, it was what she had barely saved
herself from seeing, and what she had not quite saved herself from
hearing, that she strove so piteously to forget. She was sorrier for
herself, angrier, than she had been last night when the Duke laid hands
on her. Why should every day have a horrible ending? Last night she
had avenged herself. To-night’s outrage was all the more foul and mean
because of its certain immunity. And the fact that she had in some
measure brought it on herself did but whip her rage. What a fool she
had been to taunt the man! Yet no, how could she have foreseen that he
would--do THAT? How could she have guessed that he, who had not dared
seemly death for her in the gentle river, would dare--THAT?

She shuddered the more as she now remembered that this very day, in that
very house, she had invited for her very self a similar fate. What if
the Duke had taken her word? Strange! she wouldn’t have flinched then.
She had felt no horror at the notion of such a death. And thus she now
saw Noaks’ conduct in a new light--saw that he had but wished to prove
his love, not at all to affront her. This understanding quickly steadied
her nerves. She did not need now to forget what she had seen; and, not
needing to forget it--thus are our brains fashioned--she was able to
forget it.

But by removal of one load her soul was but bared for a more grievous
other. Her memory harked back to what had preceded the crisis. She
recalled those moments of doomed rapture in which her heart had soared
up to the apocalyptic window--recalled how, all the while she was
speaking to the man there, she had been chafed by the inadequacy of
language. Oh, how much more she had meant than she could express! Oh,
the ecstasy of that self-surrender! And the brevity of it! the sudden
odious awakening! Thrice in this Oxford she had been duped. Thrice all
that was fine and sweet in her had leapt forth, only to be scourged back
into hiding. Poor heart inhibited! She gazed about her. The stone alley
she had come into, the terrible shut gate, were for her a visible symbol
of the destiny she had to put up with. Wringing her hands, she hastened
along the way she had come. She vowed she would never again set foot in
Oxford. She wished herself out of the hateful little city to-night. She
even wished herself dead.

She deserved to suffer, you say? Maybe. I merely state that she did
suffer.

Emerging into Catherine Street, she knew whereabouts she was, and made
straight for Judas, turning away her eyes as she skirted the Broad, that
place of mocked hopes and shattered ideals.

Coming into Judas Street, she remembered the scene of yesterday--the
happy man with her, the noise of the vast happy crowd. She suffered in
a worse form what she had suffered in the gallery of the Hall. For
now--did I not say she was not without imagination?--her self-pity was
sharpened by remorse for the hundreds of homes robbed. She realised the
truth of what the poor Duke had once said to her: she was a danger in
the world... Aye, and all the more dire now. What if the youth of all
Europe were moved by Oxford’s example? That was a horribly possible
thing. It must be reckoned with. It must be averted. She must not show
herself to men. She must find some hiding-place, and there abide. Were
this a hardship? she asked herself. Was she not sickened for ever of
men’s homage? And was it not clear now that the absorbing need in her
soul, the need to love, would never--except for a brief while, now and
then, and by an unfortunate misunderstanding--be fulfilled?

So long ago that you may not remember, I compared her favourably with
the shepherdess Marcella, and pleaded her capacity for passion as an
excuse for her remaining at large. I hope you will now, despite your
rather evident animus against her, set this to her credit: that she did,
so soon as she realised the hopelessness of her case, make just that
decision which I blamed Marcella for not making at the outset. It was as
she stood on the Warden’s door-step that she decided to take the veil.

With something of a conventual hush in her voice, she said to the
butler, “Please tell my maid that we are leaving by a very early train
to-morrow, and that she must pack my things to-night.”

“Very well, Miss,” said the butler. “The Warden,” he added, “is in the
study, Miss, and was asking for you.”

She could face her grandfather without a tremour--now. She would hear
meekly whatever reproaches he might have for her, but their sting was
already drawn by the surprise she had in store for him.

It was he who seemed a trifle nervous. In his

“Well, did you come and peep down from the gallery?” there was a
distinct tremour.

Throwing aside her cloak, she went quickly to him, and laid a hand on
the lapel of his coat. “Poor grand-papa!” she said.

“Nonsense, my dear child,” he replied, disengaging himself. “I didn’t
give it a thought. If the young men chose to be so silly as to stay
away, I--I--”

“Grand-papa, haven’t you been told YET?”

“Told? I am a Gallio for such follies. I didn’t inquire.”

“But (forgive me, grand-papa, if I seem to you, for the moment, pert)
you are Warden here. It is your duty, even your privilege, to GUARD.
Is it not? Well, I grant you the adage that it is useless to bolt the
stable door when the horse has been stolen. But what shall be said of
the ostler who doesn’t know--won’t even ‘inquire’ whether--the horse HAS
been stolen, grand-papa?”

“You speak in riddles, Zuleika.”

“I wish with all my heart I need not tell you the answers. I think I
have a very real grievance against your staff--or whatever it is you
call your subordinates here. I go so far as to dub them dodderers. And
I shall the better justify that term by not shirking the duty they have
left undone. The reason why there were no undergraduates in your Hall
to-night is that they were all dead.”

“Dead?” he gasped. “Dead? It is disgraceful that I was not told. What
did they die of?”

“Of me.”

“Of you?”

“Yes. I am an epidemic, grand-papa, a scourge, such as the world has not
known. Those young men drowned themselves for love of me.”

He came towards her. “Do you realise, girl, what this means to me? I am
an old man. For more than half a century I have known this College. To
it, when my wife died, I gave all that there was of heart left in me.
For thirty years I have been Warden; and in that charge has been all my
pride. I have had no thought but for this great College, its honour and
prosperity. More than once lately have I asked myself whether my eyes
were growing dim, my hand less steady. ‘No’ was my answer, and again
‘No.’ And thus it is that I have lingered on to let Judas be struck down
from its high eminence, shamed in the eyes of England--a College for
ever tainted, and of evil omen.” He raised his head. “The disgrace to
myself is nothing. I care not how parents shall rage against me, and the
Heads of other Colleges make merry over my decrepitude. It is because
you have wrought the downfall of Judas that I am about to lay my undying
curse on you.”

“You mustn’t do that!” she cried. “It would be a sort of sacrilege. I am
going to be a nun. Besides, why should you? I can quite well understand
your feeling for Judas. But how is Judas more disgraced than any other
College? If it were only the Judas undergraduates who had--”

“There were others?” cried the Warden. “How many?”

“All. All the boys from all the Colleges.”

The Warden heaved a deep sigh. “Of course,” he said, “this changes the
aspect of the whole matter. I wish you had made it clear at once. You
gave me a very great shock,” he said sinking into his arm-chair, “and I
have not yet recovered. You must study the art of exposition.”

“That will depend on the rules of the convent.”

“Ah, I forgot that you were going into a convent. Anglican, I hope?”

Anglican, she supposed.

“As a young man,” he said, “I saw much of dear old Dr. Pusey. It might
have somewhat reconciled him to my marriage if he had known that my
grand-daughter would take the veil.” He adjusted his glasses, and looked
at her. “Are you sure you have a vocation?”

“Yes. I want to be out of the world. I want to do no more harm.”

He eyed her musingly. “That,” he said, “is rather a revulsion than
a vocation. I remember that I ventured to point out to Dr. Pusey the
difference between those two things, when he was almost persuading me
to enter a Brotherhood founded by one of his friends. It may be that the
world would be well rid of you, my dear child. But it is not the world
only that we must consider. Would you grace the recesses of the Church?”

“I could but try,” said Zuleika.

“‘You could but try’ are the very words Dr. Pusey used to me. I ventured
to say that in such a matter effort itself was a stigma of unfitness.
For all my moods of revulsion, I knew that my place was in the world. I
stayed there.”

“But suppose, grand-papa”--and, seeing in fancy the vast agitated
flotilla of crinolines, she could not forbear a smile--“suppose all the
young ladies of that period had drowned themselves for love of you?”

Her smile seemed to nettle the Warden. “I was greatly admired,” he said.
“Greatly,” he repeated.

“And you liked that, grand-papa?”

“Yes, my dear. Yes, I am afraid I did. But I never encouraged it.”

“Your own heart was never touched?”

“Never, until I met Laura Frith.”

“Who was she?”

“She was my future wife.”

“And how was it you singled her out from the rest? Was she very
beautiful?”

“No. It cannot be said that she was beautiful. Indeed, she was accounted
plain. I think it was her great dignity that attracted me. She did not
smile archly at me, nor shake her ringlets. In those days it was the
fashion for young ladies to embroider slippers for such men in holy
orders as best pleased their fancy. I received hundreds--thousands--of
such slippers. But never a pair from Laura Frith.”

“She did not love you?” asked Zuleika, who had seated herself on the
floor at her grandfather’s feet.

I concluded that she did not. It interested me very greatly. It fired
me.

“Was she incapable of love?”

“No, it was notorious in her circle that she had loved often, but loved
in vain.”

“Why did she marry you?”

“I think she was fatigued by my importunities. She was not very strong.
But it may be that she married me out of pique. She never told me. I did
not inquire.”

“Yet you were very happy with her?”

“While she lived, I was ideally happy.”

The young woman stretched out a hand, and laid it on the clasped hands
of the old man. He sat gazing into the past. She was silent for a while;
and in her eyes, still fixed intently on his face, there were tears.

“Grand-papa dear”--but there were tears in her voice, too.

“My child, you don’t understand. If I had needed pity--”

“I do understand--so well. I wasn’t pitying you, dear, I was envying you
a little.”

“Me?--an old man with only the remembrance of happiness?”

“You, who have had happiness granted to you. That isn’t what made me
cry, though. I cried because I was glad. You and I, with all this great
span of years between us, and yet--so wonderfully alike! I had always
thought of myself as a creature utterly apart.”

“Ah, that is how all young people think of themselves. It wears off.
Tell me about this wonderful resemblance of ours.”

He sat attentive while she described her heart to him. But when, at the
close of her confidences, she said, “So you see it’s a case of sheer
heredity, grand-papa,” the word “Fiddlesticks!” would out.

“Forgive me, my dear,” he said, patting her hand. “I was very much
interested. But I do believe young people are even more staggered by
themselves than they were in my day. And then, all these grand theories
they fall back on! Heredity... as if there were something to baffle us
in the fact of a young woman liking to be admired! And as if it were
passing strange of her to reserve her heart for a man she can respect
and look up to! And as if a man’s indifference to her were not of all
things the likeliest to give her a sense of inferiority to him! You and
I, my dear, may in some respects be very queer people, but in the matter
of the affections we are ordinary enough.”

“Oh grand-papa, do you really mean that?” she cried eagerly.

“At my age, a man husbands his resources. He says nothing that he does
not really mean. The indifference between you and other young women
is that which lay also between me and other young men: a special
attractiveness... Thousands of slippers, did I say? Tens of thousands. I
had hoarded them with a fatuous pride. On the evening of my betrothal I
made a bonfire of them, visible from three counties. I danced round it
all night.” And from his old eyes darted even now the reflections of
those flames.

“Glorious!” whispered Zuleika. “But ah,” she said, rising to her feet,
“tell me no more of it--poor me! You see, it isn’t a mere special
attractiveness that _I_ have. _I_ am irresistible.”

“A daring statement, my child--very hard to prove.”

“Hasn’t it been proved up to the hilt to-day?”

“To-day?... Ah, and so they did really all drown themselves for you?...
Dear, dear!... The Duke--he, too?”

“He set the example.”

“No! You don’t say so! He was a greatly-gifted young man--a true
ornament to the College. But he always seemed to me rather--what shall I
say?--inhuman... I remember now that he did seem rather excited when
he came to the concert last night and you weren’t yet there... You are
quite sure you were the cause of his death?”

“Quite,” said Zuleika, marvelling at the lie--or fib, rather: he had
been GOING to die for her. But why not have told the truth? Was it
possible, she wondered, that her wretched vanity had survived her
renunciation of the world? Why had she so resented just now the doubt
cast on that irresistibility which had blighted and cranked her whole
life?

“Well, my dear,” said the Warden, “I confess that I am
amazed--astounded.” Again he adjusted his glasses, and looked at her.

She found herself moving slowly around the study, with the gait of a
mannequin in a dress-maker’s show-room. She tried to stop this; but her
body seemed to be quite beyond control of her mind. It had the insolence
to go ambling on its own account. “Little space you’ll have in a convent
cell,” snarled her mind vindictively. Her body paid no heed whatever.

Her grandfather, leaning back in his chair, gazed at the ceiling, and
meditatively tapped the finger-tips of one hand against those of the
other. “Sister Zuleika,” he presently said to the ceiling.

“Well? and what is there so--so ridiculous in”--but the rest was lost in
trill after trill of laughter; and these were then lost in sobs.

The Warden had risen from his chair. “My dear,” he said, “I wasn’t
laughing. I was only--trying to imagine. If you really want to retire
from--”

“I do,” moaned Zuleika.

“Then perhaps--”

“But I don’t,” she wailed.

“Of course, you don’t, my dear.”

“Why, of course?”

“Come, you are tired, my poor child. That is very natural after this
wonderful, this historic day. Come dry your eyes. There, that’s better.
To-morrow--”

“I do believe you’re a little proud of me.”

“Heaven forgive me, I believe I am. A grandfather’s heart--But there,
good night, my dear. Let me light your candle.”

She took her cloak, and followed him out to the hall table. There she
mentioned that she was going away early to-morrow.

“To the convent?” he slyly asked.

“Ah, don’t tease me, grand-papa.”

“Well, I am sorry you are going away, my dear. But perhaps, in the
circumstances, it is best. You must come and stay here again, later
on,” he said, handing her the lit candle. “Not in term-time, though,” he
added.

“No,” she echoed, “not in term-time.”



XXIV

From the shifting gloom of the stair-case to the soft radiance cast
through the open door of her bedroom was for poor Zuleika an almost
heartening transition. She stood awhile on the threshold, watching
Melisande dart to and fro like a shuttle across a loom. Already the main
part of the packing seemed to have been accomplished. The wardrobe was a
yawning void, the carpet was here and there visible, many of the
trunks were already brimming and foaming over... Once more on the road!
Somewhat as, when beneath the stars the great tent had been struck, and
the lions were growling in their vans, and the horses were pawing the
stamped grass and whinnying, and the elephants trumpeting, Zuleika’s
mother may often have felt within her a wan exhilaration, so now did the
heart of that mother’s child rise and flutter amidst the familiar bustle
of “being off.” Weary she was of the world, and angry she was at not
being, after all, good enough for something better. And yet--well, at
least, good-bye to Oxford!

She envied Melisande, so nimbly and cheerfully laborious till the day
should come when her betrothed had saved enough to start a little cafe
of his own and make her his bride and dame de comptoir. Oh, to have a
purpose, a prospect, a stake in the world, as this faithful soul had!

“Can I help you at all, Melisande?” she asked, picking her way across
the strewn floor.

Melisande, patting down a pile of chiffon, seemed to be amused at such
a notion. “Mademoiselle has her own art. Do I mix myself in that?” she
cried, waving one hand towards the great malachite casket.

Zuleika looked at the casket, and then very gratefully at the maid. Her
art--how had she forgotten that? Here was solace, purpose. She would
work as she had never worked yet. She KNEW that she had it in her to do
better than she had ever done. She confessed to herself that she had too
often been slack in the matter of practice and rehearsal, trusting her
personal magnetism to carry her through. Only last night she had badly
fumbled, more than once. Her bravura business with the Demon Egg-Cup had
been simply vile. The audience hadn’t noticed it, perhaps, but she
had. Now she would perfect herself. Barely a fortnight now before her
engagement at the Folies Bergeres! What if--no, she must not think of
that! But the thought insisted. What if she essayed for Paris that
which again and again she had meant to graft on to her repertory--the
Provoking Thimble?

She flushed at the possibility. What if her whole present repertory were
but a passing phase in her art--a mere beginning--an earlier manner? She
remembered how marvellously last night she had manipulated the ear-rings
and the studs. Then lo! the light died out of her eyes, and her face
grew rigid. That memory had brought other memories in its wake.

For her, when she fled the Broad, Noaks’ window had blotted out all
else. Now she saw again that higher window, saw that girl flaunting her
ear-rings, gibing down at her. “He put them in with his own hands!”--the
words rang again in her ears, making her cheeks tingle. Oh, he had
thought it a very clever thing to do, no doubt--a splendid little
revenge, something after his own heart! “And he kissed me in the open
street”--excellent, excellent! She ground her teeth. And these doings
must have been fresh in his mind when she overtook him and walked with
him to the house-boat! Infamous! And she had then been wearing his
studs! She drew his attention to them when--

Her jewel-box stood open, to receive the jewels she wore to-night. She
went very calmly to it. There, in a corner of the topmost tray, rested
the two great white pearls--the pearls which, in one way and another,
had meant so much to her.

“Melisande!”

“Mademoiselle?”

“When we go to Paris, would you like to make a little present to your
fiance?”

“Je voudrais bien, mademoiselle.”

“Then you shall give him these,” said Zuleika, holding out the two
studs.

“Mais jamais de la vie! Chez Tourtel tout le monde le dirait
millionaire. Un garcon de cafe qui porte au plastron des perles
pareilles--merci!”

“Tell him he may tell every one that they were given to me by the late
Duke of Dorset, and given by me to you, and by you to him.”

“Mais--” The protest died on Melisande’s lips. Suddenly she had ceased
to see the pearls as trinkets finite and inapposite--saw them as things
presently transmutable into little marble tables, bocks, dominos,
absinthes au sucre, shiny black portfolios with weekly journals in them,
yellow staves with daily journals flapping from them, vermouths secs,
vermouths cassis...

“Mademoiselle is too amiable,” she said, taking the pearls.

And certainly, just then, Zuleika was looking very amiable indeed. The
look was transient. Nothing, she reflected, could undo what the Duke had
done. That hateful, impudent girl would take good care that every one
should know. “He put them in with his own hands.” HER ear-rings! “He
kissed me in the public street. He loved me”... Well, he had called out
“Zuleika!” and every one around had heard him. That was something. But
how glad all the old women in the world would be to shake their heads
and say “Oh, no, my dear, believe me! It wasn’t anything to do with HER.
I’m told on the very best authority,” and so forth, and so on. She knew
he had told any number of undergraduates he was going to die for her.
But they, poor fellows, could not bear witness. And good heavens!
If there were a doubt as to the Duke’s motive, why not doubts as to
theirs?... But many of them had called out “Zuleika!” too. And of course
any really impartial person who knew anything at all about the matter at
first hand would be sure in his own mind that it was perfectly absurd to
pretend that the whole thing wasn’t entirely and absolutely for her...
And of course some of the men must have left written evidence of their
intention. She remembered that at The MacQuern’s to-day was a Mr.
Craddock, who had made a will in her favour and wanted to read it aloud
to her in the middle of luncheon. Oh, there would be proof positive as
to many of the men. But of the others it would be said that they died
in trying to rescue their comrades. There would be all sorts of silly
far-fetched theories, and downright lies that couldn’t be disproved...

“Melisande, that crackling of tissue paper is driving me mad! Do leave
off! Can’t you see that I am waiting to be undressed?”

The maid hastened to her side, and with quick light fingers began to
undress her. “Mademoiselle va bien dormir--ca se voit,” she purred.

“I shan’t,” said Zuleika.

Nevertheless, it was soothing to be undressed, and yet more soothing
anon to sit merely night-gowned before the mirror, while, slowly and
gently, strongly and strand by strand, Melisande brushed her hair.

After all, it didn’t so much matter what the world thought. Let the
world whisper and insinuate what it would. To slur and sully, to
belittle and drag down--that was what the world always tried to do.
But great things were still great, and fair things still fair. With no
thought for the world’s opinion had these men gone down to the water
to-day. Their deed was for her and themselves alone. It had sufficed
them. Should it not suffice her? It did, oh it did. She was a wretch to
have repined.

At a gesture from her, Melisande brought to a close the rhythmical
ministrations, and--using no tissue paper this time--did what was yet to
be done among the trunks.

“WE know, you and I,” Zuleika whispered to the adorable creature in the
mirror; and the adorable creature gave back her nod and smile.

THEY knew, these two.

Yet, in their happiness, rose and floated a shadow between them. It was
the ghost of that one man who--THEY knew--had died irrelevantly, with a
cold heart.

Came also the horrid little ghost of one who had died late and unseemly.

And now, thick and fast, swept a whole multitude of other ghosts, the
ghosts of all them who, being dead, could not die again; the poor ghosts
of them who had done what they could, and could do no more.

No more? Was it not enough? The lady in the mirror gazed at the lady
in the room, reproachfully at first, then--for were they not
sisters?--relentingly, then pityingly. Each of the two covered her face
with her hands.

And there recurred, as by stealth, to the lady in the room a thought
that had assailed her not long ago in Judas Street... a thought about
the power of example...

And now, with pent breath and fast-beating heart, she stood staring at
the lady of the mirror, without seeing her; and now she wheeled round
and swiftly glided to that little table on which stood her two books.
She snatched Bradshaw.

We always intervene between Bradshaw and any one whom we see consulting
him. “Mademoiselle will permit me to find that which she seeks?” asked
Melisande.

“Be quiet,” said Zuleika. We always repulse, at first, any one who
intervenes between us and Bradshaw.

We always end by accepting the intervention. “See if it is possible to
go direct from here to Cambridge,” said Zuleika, handing the book on.
“If it isn’t, then--well, see how to get there.”

We never have any confidence in the intervener. Nor is the intervener,
when it comes to the point, sanguine. With mistrust mounting to
exasperation Zuleika sat watching the faint and frantic researches of
her maid.

“Stop!” she said suddenly. “I have a much better idea. Go down very
early to the station. See the station-master. Order me a special train.
For ten o’clock, say.”

Rising, she stretched her arms above her head. Her lips parted in a
yawn, met in a smile. With both hands she pushed back her hair from her
shoulders, and twisted it into a loose knot. Very lightly she slipped up
into bed, and very soon she was asleep.





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