Berenice by E. Phillips Oppenheim
You may not care for the play, Ellison said eagerly. You are of
the old world, and Isteinism to you will simply spell chaos and
vulgarity. But the woman! well, you will see her! I don't want to
prejudice you by praises which you would certainly think extravagant! I
will say nothing.
Matravers smiled gravely as he took his seat in the box and looked
out with some wonder at the ill-lit, half-empty theatre.
I am afraid, he said, that I am very much out of place here, yet
do not imagine that I bring with me any personal bias whatever. I know
nothing of the play, and Isteinism is merely a phrase to me. To-night I
have no individuality. I am a critic.
So much depends, Ellison remarked, upon the point of view. I am
afraid that you are the last man in the world to have any sympathy with
I do not properly understand the use of the word 'decadent,'
Matravers said. But you need not be alarmed as to my attitude.
Whatever my own gods may be, I am no slave to them. Isteinism has its
devotees, and whatever has had humanity and force enough in it to
attract a following must at least demand a respectful attention from
the Press. And to-night I am the Press!
I am sorry, Ellison remarked, glancing out into the gloomy well of
the theatre with an impatient frown, that there is so bad a house
to-night. It is depressing to play seriously to a handful of people!
It will not affect my judgment, Matravers said.
It will affect her acting, though, Ellison replied gloomily.
There are times when, even to us who know her strength, and are
partial to her, she appears to act with difficulty,to be encumbered
with all the diffidence of the amateur. For a whole scene she will be
little better than a stick. The change, when it comes, is like a sudden
fire from Heaven. Something flashes into her face, she becomes
inspired, she holds us breathless, hanging upon every word; it is then
one realizes that she is a genius.
Let us hope, Matravers said, that some such moment may visit her
to-night. One needs some compensation for a dinnerless evening, and
such surroundings as these!
He turned from the contemplation of the dreary, half-empty
auditorium with a faint shudder. The theatre was an ancient and
unpopular one. The hall-mark of failure and poverty was set alike upon
the tawdry and faded hangings, the dust-eaten decorations and the rows
of bare seats. It was a relief when the feeble overture came to an end,
and the curtain was rung up. He settled himself down at once to a
careful appreciation of the performance.
Matravers was not in any sense of the word a dramatic critic. He was
a man of letters; amongst the elect he was reckoned a master in his
art. He occupied a singular, in many respects a unique, position. But
in matters dramatic, he confessed to an ignorance which was strictly
actual and in no way assumed. His presence at the New Theatre on that
night, which was to become for him a very memorable one, was purely a
matter of chance and good nature. The greatest of London dailies had
decided to grant a passing notice to the extraordinary series of plays,
which in flightier journals had provoked something between the blankest
wonderment and the most boisterous ridicule. Their critic was
illMatravers, who had at first laughed at the idea, had consented
after much pressure to take his place. He felt himself from the first
confronted with a difficult task, yet he entered upon it with a certain
grave seriousness, characteristic of the man, anxious to arrive at and
to comprehend the true meaning of what in its first crude presentation
to his senses seemed wholly devoid of anything pertaining to art.
The first act was almost over before the heroine of the play, and
the actress concerning whose merits there was already some difference
of opinion, appeared. A little burst of applause, half-hearted from the
house generally, enthusiastic from a few, greeted her entrance.
Ellison, watching his companion's face closely, was gratified to find a
distinct change there. In Matravers' altered expression was something
more than the transitory sensation of pleasure, called up by the
unexpected appearance of a very beautiful woman. The whole
impassiveness of that calm, almost marble-still face, with its set,
cold lips, and slightly wearied eyes, had suddenly disappeared, and
what Ellison had hoped for had arrived. Matravers was, without doubt,
[Illustration: What I have seen, Matravers said gravely, I do not
Yet the woman, whose appearance had caused a certain thrill to
quiver through the house, and whose coming had certainly been an event
to Matravers, did absolutely nothing for the remainder of that dreary
first act to redeem the forlorn play, or to justify her own peculiar
reputation. She acted languidly, her enunciation was imperfect, her
gestures were forced and inapt. When the curtain went down upon the
first act, Matravers was looking grave. Ellison was obviously uneasy.
Berenice, he muttered, is not herself to-night. She will improve.
You must suspend your judgment.
Matravers fingered his programme nervously.
You are interested in this production, Ellison, he said, and I
should be sorry to write anything likely to do it harm. I think it
would be better if I went away now. I cannot be blamed if I decline to
give an opinion on anything which I have only partially seen.
Ellison shook his head.
No, I'll chance it, he said. Don't go. You haven't seen Berenice
at her best yet. You have not seen her at all, in fact.
What I have seen, Matravers said gravely, I do not like.
At least, Ellison protested, she is beautiful.
According to what canons of beauty, I wonder? Matravers remarked.
I hold myself a very poor judge of woman's looks, but I can at least
recognize the classical and Renaissance standards. The beauty which
this woman possesses, if any, is of the decadent order. I do not
recognize it. I cannot appreciate it!
Ellison laughed softly. He had a marvellous belief in this woman and
in her power of attracting.
You are not a woman's man, Matravers, or you would know that her
beauty is not a matter of curves and colouring! You cannot judge her as
a piece of statuary. All your remarks you would retract if you talked
with her for five minutes. I am not sure, he continued, that I dare
not warrant you to retract them before this evening is over. At least,
I ask you to stay. I will run my risk of your pulverization.
The curtain rang up again, the play proceeded. But not the same
playat least, so it seemed to Matraversnot the same play, surely
not the same woman! A situation improbable enough, but dramatic, had
occurred at the very beginning of the second act. She had risen to the
opportunity, triumphed over it, electrified her audience, delighted
Ellison, moved Matravers to silent wonder. Her personality seemed to
have dilated with the flash of genius which Matravers himself had been
amongst the first to recognize. The strange pallor of her face seemed
no longer the legacy of ill-health; her eyes, wonderfully soft and
dark, were lit now with all manner of strange fires. She carried
herself with supreme grace; there was not the faintest suspicion of
staginess in any one of her movements. And more wonderful than anything
to Matravers, himself a delighted worshipper of the beautiful in all
human sounds, was that marvellously sweet voice, so low and yet so
clear, expressing with perfect art the highest and most hallowed
emotions, with the least amount of actual sound. She seemed to pour out
the vial of her wrath, her outraged womanhood in tones raised little
above a whisper, and the man who fronted her seemed turned into the
actual semblance of an ashamed and unclean thing. Matravers made no
secret now of his interest. He had drawn his chair to the front of the
box, and the footlights fell full upon his pale, studious face turned
with grave and absolute attention upon the little drama working itself
out upon the stage. Ellison in the midst of his jubilation found time
to notice what to him seemed a somewhat singular incident. In crossing
the stage her eyes had for a moment met Matravers' earnest gaze, and
Ellison could almost have declared that a faint, welcoming light
flashed for a moment from the woman to the man. Yet he was sure that
the two were strangers. They had never mether very name had been
unknown to him. It must have been his fancy.
The curtain fell upon the second and final act amidst as much
applause as the sparsely filled theatre could offer; but mingled with
it, almost as the last words of her final speech had left her lips,
came a curious hoarse cry from somewhere in the cheaper seats near the
back of the house. It was heard very distinctly in every part; it rang
out upon the deep quivering stillness which reigns for a second between
the end of a play which has left the audience spellbound, and the burst
of applause which is its first reawakening instinct. It was drowned in
less than a moment, yet many people turned their startled heads towards
the rows of back seats. Matravers, one of the first to hear it, was one
of the most interestedperhaps because his sensitive ears had
recognized in it that peculiar inflection, the true ring of
earnestness. For it was essentially a human cry, a cry of sorrow, a
strange note charged in its very hoarseness and spontaneity with an
unutterable pathos. It was as though it had been actually drawn from
the heart to the lips, and long after the house had become deserted,
Matravers stood there, his hands resting upon the edge of the box, and
his dark face turned steadfastly to that far-away corner, where it
seemed to him that he could see a solitary, human figure, sitting with
bowed head amongst the wilderness of empty seats.
Ellison touched him upon the elbow.
You must come with me and be presented to Berenice, he said.
Matravers shook his head.
Please excuse me, he said; I would really rather not.
Ellison held out a crumpled half-sheet of notepaper.
This has just been brought in to me, he said.
Matravers read the single line, hastily written, and in pencil:
Bring your friend to me.B.
It will scarcely take us a moment, Ellison continued. Don't stop
to put on your coat; we are the last in the theatre now.
Matravers, whose will was usually a very dominant one, found himself
calmly obeying his companion. Following Ellison, he was bustled down a
long, narrow passage, across a bare wilderness of boards and odd pieces
of scenery, to the door of a room immediately behind the stage. As
Ellison raised his fingers to knock, it was opened from the inside, and
Berenice came out wrapped from head to foot in a black satin coat, and
with a piece of white lace twisted around her hair. She stopped when
she saw the two men, and held out her hand to Ellison, who immediately
Again Ellison fancied that in her greeting of him there were some
traces of a former knowledge. But nothing in her words or in his
alluded to it.
I am very much honoured, Matravers said simply. I am a rare
attendant at the theatre, and your performance gave me great pleasure.
I am very glad, she answered. Do you know that you made me
wretchedly nervous? I was told just as I was going on that you had come
to smash us all to atoms in that terrible Day.
I came as a critic, he answered, but I am a very incompetent one.
Perhaps you will appreciate my ignorance more when I tell you that this
is my first visit behind the scenes of a theatre.
[Illustration: But nothing in her words or in his alluded to it]
She laughed softly, and they looked around together at the dimly
burning gas-lights, the creaking scenery being drawn back from the
stage, the woman with a brush and mop sweeping, and at that dismal
perspective of holland-shrouded auditorium beyond, now quite deserted.
At least, she said, your impressions cannot be mixed ones. It is
He did not contradict her; and they both ignored Ellison's murmured
It is very draughty, he remarked, and you seem cold; we must not
keep you here. May wecan I, he added, glancing down the stone
passage, show you to your carriage?
She laughed softly.
You may come with me, she said, but our exit is like a rabbit
burrow; we must go in single file, and almost on hands and knees.
She led the way, and they followed her into the street. A small
brougham was waiting at the door, and her maid was standing by it. The
commissionaire stood away, and Matravers closed the carriage door upon
them. Her white, ungloved hand, loadedoverloaded it seemed to
himwith rings, stole through the window, and he held it for a moment
in his. He felt somehow that he was expected to say something. She was
looking at him very intently. There was some powder on her cheeks,
which he noted with an instinctive thrill of aversion.
Shall I tell him home? he asked.
If you please, she answered.
Madam! her maid interposed.
Home, please, Berenice said calmly. Good-by, Mr. Matravers.
The carriage rolled away. At the corner of the street Berenice
pulled the check-string. The Milan Restaurant, she told the man
Matravers and Ellison lit their cigarettes and strolled away on
foot. At the corner of the street Ellison had an inspiration.
Let us, he said, have some supper somewhere.
Matravers shook his head.
I really have a great deal of work to do, he said, and I must
write this notice for the Day. I think that I will go straight
Ellison thrust his arm through his companion's, and called a hansom.
It will only take us half an hour, he declared, and we will go to
one of the fashionable places. You will be amused! Come! It all enters,
you know, into your revised scheme of lifethe attainment of a fuller
and more catholic knowledge of your fellow-creatures. We will see our
fellow-creatures en fête.
Matravers suffered himself to be persuaded. They drove to a
restaurant close at hand, and stood for a moment at the entrance
looking for seats. The room was crowded.
I will go, Ellison said, and find the director. He knows me well,
and he will find me a table.
[Illustration: Her companion, who was intent upon the wine list,
He elbowed his way up to the further end of the apartment. Matravers
remained a somewhat conspicuous figure in the doorway looking from one
to another of the little parties with a smile, half amused, half
interested. Suddenly his face became grave,his heart gave an
unaccustomed leap! He stood quite still, his eyes fixed upon the bent
head and white shoulders of a woman only a few yards away from him.
Almost at the same moment Berenice looked up and their eyes met. The
colour left her cheeks,she was ghastly pale! A sentence which she had
just begun died away upon her lips; her companion, who was intent upon
the wine list, noticed nothing. She made a movement as though to rise.
Simultaneously Matravers turned upon his heel and left the room.
Ellison came hurrying back in a few moments and looked in vain for
his companion. As he stood there watching the throng of people,
Berenice called him to her.
Your friend, she said, has gone away. He stood for a moment in
the doorway like Banquo's ghost, and then he disappeared.
Ellison looked vaguely bewildered.
Matravers is an odd sort, he remarked. I suppose it is one of the
penalties of genius to be compelled to do eccentric things. I must have
my supper alone.
Or with us, she said. You know Mr. Thorndyke, don't you? There is
plenty of room here.
Matravers stood at an open window, reading a note by the grey dawn
light. Below him stretched the broad thoroughfare of Piccadilly,
noiseless, shadowy, deserted. He had thrown up the window overcome by a
sudden sense of suffocation, and a chill, damp breeze came stealing in,
cooling his parched forehead and hot, dry eyes. For the last two or
three hours he had been working with an unwonted and rare zest; it had
happened quite by chance, for as a rule he was a man of regular, even
mechanical habits. But to-night he scarcely knew himself,he had all
the sensations of a man who had passed through a new and altogether
unexpected experience. At midnight he had let himself into his room
after that swift, impulsive departure from the Milan, and had dropped
by chance into the chair before his writing-table. The sight of his
last unfinished sentence, abruptly abandoned in the centre of a neatly
written page of manuscript, had fascinated him, and as he sat there
idly with the loose sheet in his hands, holding it so that the
lamplight might fall upon its very legible characters, an idea flashed
into his brain,an idea which had persistently eluded him for days.
With the sudden stimulus of a purely mental activity, he had hastily
thrown aside his outdoor garment, and had written for several hours
with a readiness and facility which seemed, somehow, for the last few
days to have been denied to him.
He had become his old self again,the events of the evening lay
already far behind. Then had come a soft knocking at the door, followed
by the apologetic entrance of his servant bearing a note upon which his
name was written in hasty characters with an Immediate scrawled, as
though by an after-thought, upon the left-hand corner. He had torn it
open wondering at the woman's writing, and glanced at its brief
contents carelessly enough,but since then he had done no work. For
the present he was not likely to do any more.
The cold breeze, acting like a tonic upon his dazed senses, awoke in
him also a peculiar restlessness, a feeling of intolerable restraint at
the close environment of his little room and its associations. Its
atmosphere had suddenly become stifling. He caught up his cloak and
hat, and walked out again into the silent street; it seemed to him,
momentarily forgetful of the hour, like a city of the dead into which
he had wandered.
As he turned, from habit, towards the Park, the great houses on his
right frowned down upon him lightless and lifeless. The broad pavement,
pressed a few hours ago, and so soon to be pressed again by the steps
of an innumerable multitude, was deserted; his own footfall seemed to
awaken a strange and curiously persistent echo, as though some one were
indeed following him on the opposite side of the way under the shadow
of the drooping lime trees. Once he stopped and listened. The footsteps
ceased too. There was no one! With a faint smile at the illusion to
which he had for a moment yielded, he continued his walk.
Before him the outline of the arch stood out with gloomy
distinctness against a cold, lowering background of vapourous sky. Like
a man who was still half dreaming, he crossed the road and entered the
Park, making his way towards the trees. There was a spot about half-way
down, where, in the afternoons, he usually sat. Near it he found two
chairs, one on top of the other; he removed the upper one and sat down,
crossing his legs and lighting a cigarette which he took from his case.
Then in a transitory return of his ordinary state of mind he laughed
softly to himself. People would say that he was going mad.
Through half-closed eyes he looked out upon the broad drive. With
the aid of an imagination naturally powerful, he was passing with
marvellous facility into an unreal world of his own creation. The scene
remained the same, but the environment changed as though by magic.
Sunshine pierced the grey veil of clouds, gay voices and laughter broke
the chill silence. The horn of a four-in-hand sounded from the corner,
the path before him was thronged with men and women whose rustling
skirts brushed often against his knees as they made their way with
difficulty along the promenade. A glittering show of carriages and
coaches swept past the railings; the air was full of the sound of the
trampling of horses and the rolling of wheels. With a mental restraint
of which he was all the time half-conscious, he kept back the final
effort of his imagination for some time; but it came at last.
A victoria, drawn by a single dark bay horse, with servants in quiet
liveries, drew up at the paling, and a woman leaning back amongst the
cushions looked out at him across the sea of faces as she had indeed
looked more than once. She was surrounded by handsomer women in more
elaborate toilettes and more splendid equipages. Her cheeks were pale,
and she was undoubtedly thin. Nevertheless, to other people as well as
to him, she was a personality. Even then he seemed to feel the little
stir which always passed like electricity into the air directly her
carriage was stayed. When she had come, when he was perfectly sure of
her, and indeed under the spell of her near presence, he drew that note
again from his pocket and read it.
18, LARGE STREET, W.
I told you a lie! and I feel that you will never forgive
me! Yet I want to explain it. There is something I want you
to know! Will you come and see me? I shall be at home until
one o'clock to-morrow morning, or, if the afternoon suits
you better, from 4 to 6.
A lie! Yes, it was that. To him, an inveterate lover of truth, the
offence had seemed wholly unpardonable. He had set himself to forget
the woman and the incident as something altogether beneath his
recollection. The night, with its host of strange, half-awakened
sensations, was a memory to be lived down, to be crushed altogether.
For him, doubtless, that lie had been a providence. It put a stop to
any further intercourse between them,it stamped her at once with the
hall-mark of unworthiness. Yet he knew that he was disappointed;
disappointment was, perhaps, a mild word. He had walked through the
streets with Ellison, after that meeting with her at the theatre,
conscious of an unwonted buoyancy of spirits, feeling that he had drawn
into his life a new experience which promised to be a very pleasant
There were things about the woman which had not pleased him, but
they were, on the whole, merely superficial incidents, accidents he
chose to think, of her environment. He had even permitted himself to
look forward to their next meeting, to a definite continuance of their
acquaintance. Standing in the doorway of the brilliantly lighted Milan,
he had looked in at the vivid little scene with a certain eager
tolerance,there was much, after all, that was attractive in this side
of life, so much that was worth cultivating; he blamed himself that he
had stood aloof from it for so long.
Then their eyes had met, he had seen her sudden start, had felt his
heart sink like lead. She was a creature of common clay after all! His
eyes rested for a moment upon her companion, a man well known to him,
though of a class for whom his contempt was great, and with whom he had
no kinship. She was like this then! It was a pity.
His cigarette went out, and a rain-drop, which had been hovering
upon a leaf above him, fell with a splash upon the sheet of heavy white
paper. He rose to his feet, stiff and chilled and disillusioned. His
little ghost-world of fancies had faded away. Morning had come, and
eastwards, a single shaft of cold sunlight had pierced the grey sky.
At ten o'clock he breakfasted, after three hours' sleep and a cold
bath. In the bright, yet soft spring daylight, the lines of his face
had relaxed, and the pallor of his cheeks was less unnatural. He was
still a man of remarkable appearance; his features were strong and
firmly chiselled, his forehead was square and almost hard. He wore no
beard, but a slight, black moustache only half-concealed a delicate and
sensitive mouth. His complexion and his soft grey eyes were alike
possessed of a singular clearness, as though they were, indeed, the
indices of a temperate and well-contained life. His dress, and every
movement and detail of his person, were characterized by an extreme
deliberation; his whole appearance bespoke a peculiar and almost
feminine fastidiousness. The few appointments of his simple meal were
the most perfect of their kind. A delicate vase of freshly cut flowers
stood on the centre of the spotless table-cloth,the hangings and
colouring of the apartment were softly harmonious. The walls were hung
with fine engravings, with here and there a brilliant little
water-colour of the school of Corot; a few marble and bronze statuettes
were scattered about on the mantelpiece and on brackets. There was
nothing particularly striking anywhere, yet there was nothing on which
the eye could not rest with pleasure.
At half-past ten he lit a cigarette, and sat down at his desk. He
wrote quite steadily for an hour; at the end of that time he pinned
together the result of his work, and wrote a hasty note.
DEAR MR. HASLUP,
I went last night to the New Theatre, and I send you my
views as to what I saw there. But I beg that you will
remember my absolute ignorance on all matters pertaining to
the modern drama, and use your own discretion entirely as to
the disposal of the enclosed. I do not feel myself, in any
sense of the word, a competent critic, and I trust that you
will not feel yourself under the least obligation to give to
my views the weight of your journal.
His finger was upon the bell, when his servant entered, bearing a
note upon a salver. Matravers glanced at the handwriting already
becoming familiar to him, recognizing, too, the faint odour of violets
which seemed to escape into the room as his fingers broke the seal.
It is half-past eleven and you have not come! Does that
mean that you will not listen to me, that you mean to judge
me unheard? You will not be so unkind! I shall remain
indoors until one o'clock, and I shall expect you.
Matravers laid the note down, and covered it with a paper-weight.
Then he sealed his own letter, and gave it, with the manuscript, to his
servant. The man withdrew, and Matravers continued his writing.
He worked steadily until two o'clock. Then a simple luncheon was
brought in to him, and upon the tray another note. Matravers took it
with some hesitation, and read it thoughtfully.
You have made up your mind, then, not to come. Very well, I
too am determined. If you will not come to me, I shall come
to you! I shall remain in until four o'clock. You may expect
to see me any time after then.
Matravers ate his luncheon and pondered, finally deciding to abandon
a struggle in which his was obviously the weaker position. He lingered
for a while over his coffee; at three o'clock he retired for a few
moments into his dressing-room, and then descending the stairs, made
his way out into the street.
He had told himself only a few hours back that he would be wise to
ignore this summons from a woman, the ways of whose life must lie very
far indeed from his. Yet he knew that his meeting with her had affected
him as nothing of the sort had ever affected him beforea man
unimpressionable where women were concerned, and ever devoted to and
cultivating a somewhat unnatural exclusiveness. Her first note he had
been content to ignore,she might have written it in a fit of
piquebut the second had made him thoughtful. Her very persistence was
characteristic. Perhaps after all she was in the righthe had arrived
too hastily at an ignoble conclusion. Her attitude towards him was
curiously unconventional; it was an attitude such as none of the few
women with whom he had ever been brought into contact would have
dreamed of assuming. But none the less it had for him a fascination
which he could not measure or define,it had awakened a new sensation,
which, as a philosopher, he was anxious to probe. The mysticism of his
early morning wanderings seemed to him, as he walked leisurely through
the sunlit streets, in a sense ridiculous. After all it was a little
thing that he was going to do; he was going to make, against his will,
an afternoon call. To other men it would have seemed less than nothing.
Albeit he knew he was about to draw into his life a new experience.
He rang the bell at Number 18, Large Street, and gave his card to
the trim little maidservant who opened the door. In a minute or two she
returned, and invited him to follow her upstairs; her mistress was in,
and would see him at once. She led the way up the broad staircase into
a room which could, perhaps, be most aptly described as a feminine den.
The walls, above the low bookshelves which bordered the whole
apartment, were hung with a medley of water-colours and photographs,
water-colours which a single glance showed him were good, and of the
school then most in vogue. The carpet was soft and thick, divans and
easy chairs filled with cushions were plentiful. By the side of one of
these, which bore signs of recent occupation, was a reading stand, and
upon it a Shakespeare, and a volume of his own critical essays.
To him, with all his senses quickened by an intense curiosity, there
seemed to hang about the atmosphere of the room that subtle odour of
femininity which, in the case of a man, would probably have been
represented by tobacco smoke. A Sèvres jar of Neapolitan violets stood
upon the table near the divan. Henceforth the perfume of violets seemed
a thing apart from the perfume of all other flowers to the man who
stood there waiting, himself with a few of the light purple blossoms in
the buttonhole of his frock coat.
She came to him so noiselessly, that for a moment or two he was
unaware of her entrance. There was neither the rustle of skirts nor the
sound of any movement to apprise him of it, yet he became suddenly
conscious that he was not alone. He turned around at once and saw her
standing within a few feet of him. She held out her hand frankly.
So you have come, she said; I thought that you would. But then
you had very little choice, had you? she added with a little laugh.
She passed him, and deliberately seated herself amongst a pile of
cushions on the divan nearest her reading stand. For the moment he
neglected her gestured invitation, and remained standing, looking at
I was very glad to come, he said simply.
She shook her head.
You were afraid of my threat. You were afraid that I might come to
you. Well, it is probable, almost certain that I should have come. You
have saved yourself from that, at any rate.
Although the situation was a novel one to him, he was not in the
least embarrassed. He was altogether too sincere to be possessed of any
self-consciousness. He found himself at last actually in the presence
of the woman who, since first he had seen her, months ago, driving in
the Park, had been constantly in his thoughts, and he began to wonder
with perfect clearness of judgment wherein lay her peculiar
fascination! That she was handsome, of her type, went for nothing. The
world was full of more beautiful women whom he saw day by day without
the faintest thrill of interest. Besides, her face was too pale and her
form too thin for exceptional beauty. There must be something
else,something about her personality which refused to lend itself to
any absolute analysis. She was perfectly dressed,he realized that,
because he was never afterwards able to recall exactly what she wore.
Her eyes were soft and dark and luminous,soft with a light the power
of which he was not slow to recognize.
But none of these things were of any important account in reckoning
with the woman. He became convinced, in those few moments of deliberate
observation, that there was nothing in her personnel which could
justify her reputation. On the whole he was glad of it. Any other form
of attraction was more welcome to him than a purely physical one!
First of all, she began, leaning forward and looking at him over
her interlaced fingers; I want you to tell me this! You will answer me
faithfully, I know. What did you think of my writing to you, of my
persistence? Tell me exactly what you thought.
I was surprised, he answered; how could I help it? I was
surprised, too, he added, to find that I wanted very much to come.
The women whom you know, she said quietly,I suppose you do know
some,would not have done such a thing. Some people say that I am mad!
One may as well try to live up to one's reputation; I have taken a
little of the license of madness.
It was unusual, perhaps, he admitted; but who is not weary of
usual things? I gathered from your note that you had something to
explain. I was anxious to hear what that explanation could be.
She was silent for a moment, her eyes fixed upon vacancy, a faint
smile at the corners of her lips.
First, she said, let me tell you this. I want to have you
understand why I was anxious that you should not think worse of me than
I deserved. I am rather a spoilt woman. I have grown used to having my
own way; I wanted to know you, I have wanted to for some time. We have
passed one another day after day; I knew quite well all the time who
you were, and it seemed so stupid! Do you know once or twice I have had
an insane desire to come right up to your chair and break in upon your
meditations,hold out my hand and make you talk to me? That would have
been worse than this, would it not? But I firmly believe that I should
have done it some day. So you see I wrote my little note in
I do not know that I should have been so completely surprised after
all, he said. I, too, have felt something of what you have expressed.
I have been interested in your comings and your goings. But then you
knew that, or you would never have written to me.
One sacrifices so much, she murmured, on the altars of the modern
Goddess. We live in such a tiny compass,nothing ever happens. It is
only psychologically that one's emotions can be reached at all. Events
are quite out of date. I am speaking from a woman's point of view.
You should have lived, he said, smiling, in the days of Joan of
No doubt, she answered, I should have found that equally dull.
What I was endeavouring to do was, first of all to plead some
justification for wanting to know you. For a woman there is nothing
left but the study of personalities.
Mine, he answered with a faint gleam in his eyes, is very much at
I am going to take you at your word, she warned him.
You will be very much disappointed. I am perfectly willing to be
dissected, but the result will be inadequate.
She leaned back amongst the cushions and looked at him thoughtfully.
Listen, she said; I can tell you something of your history, as
you will see. I want you to fill in the blanks.
Mine, he murmured, will be the greater task. My life is a record
of blank places. The history is to come.
This, she said, is the extent of my knowledge. You were the
second son of Sir Lionel Matravers, and you have been an orphan since
you were very young. You were meant to take Holy Orders, but when the
time came you declined. At Oxford you did very well indeed. You
established a brilliant reputation as a classical scholar, and you
became a fellow of St. John's.
It was whilst you were there that you wrote Studies in Character. Two years ago, I do not know why, you gave up your fellowship and came
to London. You took up the editorship of a Reviewthe Bi-Weekly, I thinkbut you resigned it on a matter of principle. You have a
somewhat curious reputation. The Scrutineer invariably alludes
to you as the Apostle of Æstheticism. You are reported to have fixed
views as to the conduct of life, down even to its most trifling
details. That sounds unpleasant, but it probably isn't altogether
true.... Don't interrupt, please! You have no intimate friends, but you
go sometimes into society. You are apparently a mixture of poet,
philosopher, and man of fashion. I have heard you spoken of more than
once as a disciple of Epicurus. You also, in the course of your
literary work, review novelsunfortunately for meand six months ago
you were the cause of my nearly crying my eyes out. It was perhaps
silly of me to attempt, without any literary experience, to write a
modern story, but my own life supplied the motive, and at least I was
faithful to what I felt and knew. No one else has ever said such cruel
things about my work.
Woman-like, you see, I repay my injuries by becoming interested in
you. If you had praised my book, I daresay I should never have thought
of you at all. Then there is one thing more. Every day you sit in the
Park close to where I stop, andyou look at me. It seems as though we
had often spoken there. Shall I tell you what I have been vain enough
to think sometimes?
I have watched you from a distance, often before you have seen me.
You always sit in the same attitude, your eyebrows are a little
contracted, there is generally the ghost of a smile upon your lips. You
are like an outsider who has come to look upon a brilliant show. I
could fancy that you have clothed yourself in the personality of that
young Roman noble whose name you have made so famous, and from another
age were gazing tolerantly and even kindly upon the folly and the
pageantry which have survived for two thousand years. And then I have
taken my little place in the procession, and I have fancied that a
subtle change has stolen into your face. You have looked at me as
gravely as ever, but no longer as an impersonal spectator.
It is as though I have seemed a live person to you, and the others,
mummies. Once the change came so swiftly that I smiled at you,I could
not help it,and you looked away.
I remember it distinctly, he interrupted. I thought the smile was
for some one behind me.
She shook her head.
It was for you. Now I have finished. Fill in the blanks, please.
He was content to answer her in the same strain. The effect of her
complete naturalness was already upon him.
So far as my personal history is concerned, he told her, you are
wonderfully correct. There is nothing more to be said about it. I gave
up my fellowship at Oxford because I have always been convinced of the
increasing narrowness and limitations of purely academic culture and
scholarship. I was afraid of what I should become as an old man, of
what I was already growing into. I wanted to have a closer grip upon
human things, to be in more sympathetic relations with the great world
of my fellow-men. Can you understand me, I wonder? The influences of a
university town are too purely scholarly to produce literary work of
wide human interest. London had always fascinated methough as yet I
have met with many disappointments. As to the Bi-Weekly, it was
my first idea to undertake no fixed literary work, and it was only
after great pressure that I took it for a time. As you know, my
editorship was a failure.
He paused for a moment or two, and looked steadily at her. He was
anxious to watch the effect of what he was going to say.
You have mentioned my review upon your novel in the Bi-Weekly. I cannot say that I am sorry I wrote it. I never attacked a book with
so much pleasure. But I am very sorry indeed that you should have
written it. With your gifts you could have given to the world something
better than a mere psychological debauch!
She laughed softly, but genuinely.
I adore sincerity, she exclaimed, and it is so many years since I
was actually scolded. A 'psychological debauch' is delightful. But I
cannot help my views, can I? My experiences were made for me! I became
the creature of circumstances. No one is morally responsible for their
There are things, he said, which find their way into our thoughts
and consciousness, but of which it would be considered flagrantly bad
taste to speak. And there are things in the world which exist, which
have existed from time immemorial, the evil legacy of countless
generations, of which it seems to me to be equally bad taste to write.
Art has a limitless choice of subjects. I would not have you sully your
fine gifts by writing of anything save of the beautiful.
This is rank hedonism, she laughed. It is a survival of your
Some day, he answered, we will talk more fully of this. It is a
little early for us to discuss a subject upon which we hold such
You are afraid that we might quarrel!
He shook his head.
No, not that! Only as I am something of an idealist, and you, I
suppose, have placed yourself amongst the ranks of the realists, we
should scarcely meet upon a common basis. But will you forgive me if I
say soI am very sure that some day you will be a deserter?
[Illustration: Friends, she repeated, with a certain wistfulness
in her tone]
I do not know anything of your history, he continued gently, nor
am I asking for your confidence. Only in your story there was a
personal note, which seemed to me to somehow explain the bitterness and
directness with which you wroteof certain subjects. I think that you
yourself have had troubleor perhaps a dear friend has suffered, and
her grief has become yours. There was a little poison in your pen, I
think. Never mind! We shall be friends, and I shall watch it pass
Friends, she repeated with a certain wistfulness in her tone. But
have you forgottenwhat you came for?
I do not think, he said slowly, that it is of much consequence.
But it is, she insisted. You asked me distinctly where I wished
to be driven to from the theatre, and I told youhome! All the time I
knew that I was going to have supper with Mr. Thorndyke at the Milan!
Morally I lied to you!
Why? he asked.
I cannot tell you, she answered; it was an impulse. I thought
nothing of accepting the man's invitation. You know him, I daresay. He
is a millionaire, and it is his money which supports the theatre. He
has asked me several times, and although personally I dislike him, he
has, of course, a certain claim upon my acquaintance. I have made
excuses once or twice. Last night was the first time I have ever been
out anywhere with him. I do not of course pretend to be in the least
conventionalI have always permitted myself the utmost liberty of
action. YetI had wanted so much to know youI was afraid of
prejudicing you.... After all, you see, I have no explanation. It was
just an impulse. I have hated myself for it; but it is done!
It was, he said, a trifle of no importance. We will forget it.
A gleam of gratitude shone in her dark eyes. Her head drooped a
little. He fancied that her voice was not quite so steady.
It is good, she said, to hear you say that.
He looked around the room, and back into her face. Some dim
foreknowledge of what was to come between them seemed to flash before
his eyes. It was like a sudden glimpse into that unseen world so close
at hand, in which hethat Roman noblehad at any rate implicitly
believed. There was a faint smile upon his face as his eyes met hers.
At least, he said, I shall be able to come and talk with you now
at the railing, instead of watching you from my chair. For you were
quite right in what you said just now. I have watched for you every
dayfor many days.
You will be able to come, she said gravely, if you care to. You
mix so little with the men who love to talk scandal of a woman, that
you may never have heard themtalk of me. But they do, I know! I hear
all about itit used to amuse me! You have the reputation of ultra
exclusiveness! If you and I are known to be friends, you may have to
risk losing it.
His brows were slightly contracted, and he had half closed his
eyesa habit of his when anything was said which offended his taste.
I wonder whether you would mind not talking like that, he said.
Why not? I would not have you hear these things from other people.
It is best to be truthful, is it not? To run no risk of any
There is no fear of anything of that sort, he said calmly. I do
not pretend to be a magician or a diviner, yet I think I know you for
what you are, and it is sufficient. Some day
He broke off in the middle of a sentence. The door had opened. A man
stood upon the threshold. The servant announced himMr. Thorndyke.
Matravers rose at once to his feet. He had a habitthe outcome,
doubtless, of his epicurean tenets, of leaving at once, and at any
costs, society not wholly agreeable to him. He bowed coldly to the man
who was already greeting Berenice, and who was carrying a great bunch
of Parma violets.
Mr. Thorndyke was evidently astonished at his presenceand not
Have you come, Mr. Matravers, he asked coldly, to make your
I am not aware, Matravers answered calmly, of any reason why I
should do so.
Mr. Thorndyke raised his eyebrows, and drew an afternoon paper from
This is your writing, is it not? he asked.
Matravers glanced at the paragraph.
Mr. Thorndyke threw the paper upon the table.
Well, he said, I have no doubt it is an excellent piece of
literary worka satire I suppose you would call itand I must
congratulate you upon its complete success. I don't mind running the
theatre at a financial loss, but I have a distinct objection to being
made a laughing stock of. I suppose this paper appeared about two hours
ago, and already I can't move a yard without having to suffer the
condolences of some sympathizing ass. I shall close the theatre next
That is naturally, Matravers said, a matter of complete
indifference to me. In the cause of art I should say that you will do
well, unless you can select a play from a very different source. What I
wrote of the performance last night, I wrote according to my
convictions. You, he added, turning to Berenice, will at least
believe that, I am sure!
Most certainly I do, she assured him, holding out her hand. Must
you really go? You will come and see me againvery soon?
He bowed over her fingers, and then their eyes met for a moment. She
was very pale, but she looked at him bravely. He realized suddenly that
Mr. Thorndyke's threat was a serious blow to her.
I am very sorry, he said. You will not bear me any ill will?
None! she answered; you may be sure of that!
She walked with him to the open door, outside which the servant was
waiting to show him downstairs.
You will come and see me againvery soon? she repeated.
Yes, he answered simply, if I may I shall come again! I will come
as soon as you care to have me!
Matravers passed out into the street with a curious admixture of
sensations in a mind usually so free from any confusion of sentiments
or ideas. The few words which he had been compelled to exchange with
Thorndyke had grated very much against his sense of what was seemly; he
was on the whole both repelled and fascinated by the incidents of this
visit of his. Yet as he walked leisurely homewards through the bright,
crowded streets, he recognized the existence of that strange personal
charm in Berenice of which so many people had written and spoken. He
himself had become subject to it in some slight degree, not enough,
indeed, to engross his mind, yet enough to prevent any feeling of
disappointment at the result of his visit.
She was not an ordinary womanshe was not an ordinarily clever
woman. She did not belong to any type with which he was acquainted. She
must for ever occupy a place of her own in his thoughts and in his
estimation. It was a place very well defined, he told himself, and by
no means within that inner circle of his brain and heart wherein lay
the few things in life sweet and precious to him. The vague excitement
of the early morning seemed to him now, as he moved calmly along the
crowded, fashionable thoroughfare, a thing altogether unreal and
unnatural. He had been in an emotional frame of mind, he told himself
with a quiet smile, when the sight of those few lines in a handwriting
then unknown had so curiously stirred him. Now that he had seen and
spoken to her, her personality would recede to its proper proportions,
the old philosophic calm which hung around him in his studious life
like a mantle would have no further disturbance.
And then he suffered a rude shock! As he passed the corner of a
street, the perfume of Neapolitan violets came floating out from a
florist's shop upon the warm sunlit air. Every fibre of his being
quivered with a sudden emotion! The interior of that little room was
before him, and a woman's eyes looked into his. He clenched his hands
and walked swiftly on, with pale face and rigid lips, like a man
oppressed by some acute physical pain.
There must be nothing of this for him! It was part of a world which
was not his worldof which he must never even be a temporary denizen.
The thing passed away! With studious care he fixed his mind upon
trifles. There was a crease in his silk hat, clearly visible as he
glanced at his reflection in a plate-glass window. He turned into
Scott's, and waited whilst it was ironed. Then he walked homewards and
spent the remainder of the day carefully revising a bundle of proofs
which he found on his table fresh from the printer.
On the following morning he lunched at his club. Somehow, although
he was in no sense of the word an unpopular man, it was a rare thing
for any one to seek his company uninvited. The scholarly exclusiveness
of his Oxford days had not been altogether brushed off in this contact
with a larger and more spontaneous social life, and he figured in a
world which would gladly have known more of him, as a man of courteous
but severe reserve.
To-day he occupied his usual round table set in an alcove before a
tall window. For a recluse, he always found a singular pleasure in
watching the faces of the people in that broad living stream, little
units in the wheeling cycle of humanity of which he too felt himself to
be a part; but to-day his eyes were idle, and his sympathies
obstructed. Although a pronounced epicure in both food and drink, he
passed a new and delicate entrée, and not only ordered the wrong
claret, but drank it without a grimace. The world of his sensations had
been rudely disturbed. For the moment his sense of proportions was at
fault, and before luncheon was over it received a further shock. A
handsomely appointed drag rattled past the club on its way into
Piccadilly. The woman who occupied the front seat turned to look at the
window as they passed, with some evident curiosityand their eyes met.
Matravers set down the glass, which he had been in the act of raising
to his lips, untasted.
Berenice and her Father Confessor! he heard some one remark
lightly from the next table. Pity some one can't teach Thorndyke how
to drive! He's a disgrace to the Four-in-hand!
It was Berenice! The sight of her in such intimate association with
a man utterly distasteful to him was one before which he winced and
suffered. He was aware of a new and altogether undesired experience. To
rid himself of it with all possible speed, he finished his lunch
abruptly, and lighting a cigarette, started back to his rooms.
On the way he came face to face with Ellison, and the two men stood
together upon the pavement for a moment or two.
I am not quite sure, Ellison remarked with a little grimace,
whether I want to speak to you or not! What on earth has kindled the
destructive spirit in you to such an extent? Every one is talking of
your attack upon the New Theatre!
I was sent, Matravers answered, with a free hand to write an
honest criticismand I did it. Istein's work may have some merit, but
it is unclean work. It is not fit for the English stage.
It is exceedingly unlikely, Ellison remarked, that the English
stage will know him any more! No play could survive such an onslaught
as yours. I hear that Thorndyke is going to close the theatre.
If it was opened, Matravers said, for the purpose of presenting
such work as this latest production, the sooner it is closed the
Ellison shrugged his shoulders.
It is a large subject, he said, and I am not sure that we are of
one mind. We will not discuss it. At any rate, I am very sorry for
I do not think, Matravers said in measured tones, that you need
be sorry for her. With her gifts she will scarcely remain long without
an engagement. I trust that she may secure one which will not involve
the prostitution of her talent. Ellison laughed shortly. He had an
immense admiration for Matravers, but just at present he was a little
out of temper with him.
You admit her talent, then? he remarked. I am glad of that!
I am not sure, Matravers said, that talent is the proper word to
use. One might almost call it genius.
Ellison was considerably mollified.
I am glad to hear you say so, he declared. At the same time I am
afraid her position will be rather an awkward one. She will lose some
money by the closing of the theatre, and I don't exactly see what
London house is open for her just at present. These actor-managers are
all so clannish, and they have their own women.
I am sorry, Matravers said thoughtfully; at the same time I
cannot believe that she will remain very long undiscovered! Good
afternoon! I am forgetting that I have some writing to do.
Matravers walked slowly back to his rooms, filled with a new and
fascinating idea which Ellison's words had suddenly suggested to him.
If it was true that his pen had done her this ill turn, did he not owe
her some reparation? It would be a very pleasant way to pay his debt
and a very simple one. By the time he had reached his destination the
idea had taken definite hold of him.
[Illustration: At half-past four his servant brought in a small
For several hours he worked at the revision of a certain manuscript,
polishing and remodelling with infinite care and pains. Not even
content with the correct and tasteful arrangement of his sentences, he
read them over to himself aloud, lest by any chance there should have
crept into them some trick of alliteration, or juxtaposition of words
not entirely musical. In his work he gained, or seemed to gain, a
complete absorption. The cloudy disquiet of the last few hours appeared
to have passed away,to have been, indeed, only a fugitive and
At half-past four his servant brought in a small tea-equipagea
silver tray, with an old blue Worcester teapot and cup, and a quaintly
cut glass cream-jug. He made his tea, and drank it with his pen still
in his hand. He had scarcely turned back to his work, before the same
servant re-entered carrying a frock coat, an immaculately brushed silk
hat, and a fresh bunch of Neapolitan violets. For a moment Matravers
hesitated; then he laid down his pen, changed his coat, and once more
passed out into the streets, more brilliant than ever now with the
afternoon sunshine. He joined the throng of people leisurely making
their way towards the Park!
For nearly half an hour he sat in his usual place under the trees,
watching with indifferent eyes the constant stream of carriages passing
along the drive. It seemed to him only a few hours since he had sat
there before, almost in the same spot, a solitary figure in the cold,
grey twilight, yet watching then, even as he was watching now, for that
small victoria with its single occupant whose soft dark eyes had met
his so often with a frank curiosity which she had never troubled to
conceal. Something of that same perturbation of spirit which had driven
him then out into the dawn-lit streets, was upon him once more, only
with a very real and tangible difference. The grey half-lights, the
ghostly shadows, and the faint wind sounding in the tree-tops like the
rising and falling of a midnight sea upon some lonely shore, had given
to his early morning dreams an indefiniteness which they could scarcely
hope to possess now. He himself was a living unit of this gay and
brilliant world, whose conversation and light laughter filled the
sunlit air around him, whose skirts were brushing against his knees,
and whose jargon fell upon his ears with a familiar and a kindly sound.
There was no possibility here for such a wave of passion,he could
call it nothing else,as had swept through him, when he had first read
that brief message from the woman, who had already become something of
a disturbing element in his seemly life. Yet under a calm exterior he
was conscious of a distinct tremor of excitement when her carriage drew
up within a few feet of him, and obeying her mute but smiling command,
he rose and offered his hand as she stepped out on to the path.
This, she remarked, resting her daintily gloved fingers for a
moment in his, is the beginning of a new order of things. Do you
realize that only the day before yesterday we passed one another here
with a polite stare?
I remember it, he answered, perfectly. Long may the new order
But it is not going to last longwith me at any rate, she said,
laughing. Don't you know that I am almost ruined? Mr. Thorndyke is
going to close the theatre. He says that we have been losing money
every week. I shall have to sell my horses, and go and live in the
I hope, he said fervently, that you will not find it so bad as
Of course, she remarked, you know that yours is the hand which
has given us our death-blow. I have just read your notice. It is a
brilliant piece of satirical writing, of course, but need you have been
quite so severe? Don't you regret your handiwork a little?
I cannot, he answered deliberately. On the contrary, I feel that
I have done you a service. If you do not agree with me to-day, the time
will certainly come when you will do so. You have a gift which
delighted me: you are really an actress; you are one of very few.
That is a kind speech, she answered; but even if there is truth
in it, I am as yet quite unrecognized. There is no other theatre open
to me; you and I look upon Istein and his work from a different point
of view; but even if you are right, the part of Herdrine suited me. I
was beginning to get some excellent notices. If we could have kept the
thing going for only a few weeks longer, I think that I might have
established some sort of a reputation.
A reputation, perhaps, he admitted; but not of the best order.
You do not wish to be known only as the portrayer of unnatural
passions, the interpreter of diseased desires. It would be an ephemeral
reputation. It might lead you into many strange byways, but it would
never help you to rise. Art is above all things catholic, and
universal. You may be a perfect Herdrine; but Herdrine herself is but a
night weeda thing of no account. Even you cannot make her natural.
She is the puppet of a man's fantasy. She is never a woman.
I suppose, she said sorrowfully, that your judgment is the true
one. Yetbut we will talk of something else. How strange to be walking
here with you!
Berenice was always a much-observed woman, but to-day she seemed to
attract more even than ordinary attention. Her personality, her
toilette, which was superb, and her companion, were all alike
interesting to the slowly moving throng of men and women amongst whom
they were threading their way. The attitude of her sex towards Berenice
was in a certain sense a paradox. She was distinctly the most talented
and the most original of all the petticoat apostles, as the very man
who was now walking by her side had scornfully described the little
band of women writers who were accused of trying to launch upon society
a new type of their own sex. Her last novel was flooding all the
bookstalls; and if not of the day, was certainly the book of the hour.
She herself, known before only as a brilliant journalist writing under
a curious nom de plume, had suddenly become one of the most
marked figures in London life. Yet she had not gone so far as other
writers who had dealt with the same subject. Marriage, she had dared to
write, had become the whitewashing of the impure, the sanctifying of
the vicious! But she had not added the almost natural
corollary,therefore let there be no marriage. On the contrary,
marriage in the ideal she had written of as the most wonderful and the
most beautiful thing in life,only marriage in the ideal did not
She had never posed as a woman with a mission! She formulated
nowhere any scheme for the re-organization of those social conditions
whose bases she had very eloquently and very trenchantly held to be
rotten and impure. She had written as a prophet of woe! She had
preached only destruction, and from the first she had left her readers
curious as to what sexual system could possibly replace the old. The
thing which happened was inevitable. The amazing demand for her book
was exactly in inverse proportion to its popularity amongst her sex.
The crusade against men was well! Admittedly they were a bad lot, and
needed to be told of it. A little self-assertion on behalf of his
superior was a thing to be encouraged and applauded. But a crusade
against marriage! Berenice must be a most abandoned, as well as a most
immoral, woman! No one who even hinted at the doctrine of love without
marriage could be altogether respectable. Not that Berenice had ever
done that. Still, she had written of marriage,the usual run of
marriages,from a woman's point of view, as a very hateful thing. What
did she require, then, of her sex? To live and die old maids, whilst
men became regenerated? It was too absurd. There were a good many
curious things said, and it was certainly true, that since she had gone
upon the stage her toilette and equipage were unrivalled. Berenice
looked into the eyes of the women whom she met day by day, and she read
their verdict. But if she suffered, she said not a word to any of it.
They passed out from the glancing shadows of the trees towards the
Piccadilly entrance. Here they paused for a moment and stood together
looking down the drive. The sunlight seemed to touch with quivering
fire the brilliant phantasmagoria. Berenice was serious. Her dark eyes
swept down the broad path and her under-lip quivered.
It is this, she exclaimed, with a slight forward movement of her
parasol, which makes me long for an earthquake. Can one do anything
for women like that? They are not the creations of a God; they are the
parasitical images of type. Only it is a very small type and a very
large reproduction. Why do I say these things to you, I wonder? You are
against me, too! But then you are not a woman!
I am not against you in your detestation of type, he answered.
The whole world of our sex as well as yours is full of worn-out and
effete reproductions of an unworthy model. It is this intolerable
sameness which suffocates all thought. One meets it everywhere; the
deep melancholy of our days is its fruit. But the children of this
generation will never feel it. The taste of life between their teeth
will be neither like ashes nor green figs. They are numbed.
She flashed a look almost of anger upon him.
Yet you have ranged yourself upon their side. When my story first
appeared, its fate hung for days in the balance. Women had not made up
their minds how to take it. It came into your hands for review. Well!
you did not spare it, did you? It was you who turned the scale. Your
denunciation became the keynote of popular opinion concerning me. The
women for whose sake I had written it, that they might at least strike
one blow for freedom, took it with a virtuous shudder from the hands of
their daughters. I was pronounced unwholesome and depraved; even my
personal character was torn into shreds. How odd it all seems! she
added, with a light, mirthless laugh. It was you who put into their
hands the weapon with which to scourge me. Their trim, self-satisfied
little sentences of condemnation are emasculated versions of your
judgment. It is you whom I have to thank for the closing of the theatre
and the failure of Herdrine,you who are responsible for the fact that
these women look at me with insolence and the men as though I were a
courtesan. How strange it must seem to them to see us togetherthe
wolf and the lamb! Well, never mind. Take me somewhere and give me some
tea; you owe me that, at least.
They turned and left the park. For a few minutes conversation was
impossible, but as soon as they had emerged from the crowd he answered
If I have ever helped any one to believe ill of you, he said
slowly, I am only too happy that they should have the opportunity of
seeing us together. You are rather severe on me. I thought then, as I
think now, that it isto put it mildlyimpolitic to enter upon a
passionate denunciation of such an institution as marriage when any
substitute for it must necessarily be another step upon the downward
grade. The decadence of self-respect amongst young men, any contrast
between their lives and the lives of the women who are brought up to be
their wives, is too terribly painful a subject for us to discuss here.
Forgive me if I think now, as I have always thought, that it is not a
fitting subject for a novelistcertainly not for a woman. I may be
prejudiced; yet it was my duty to write as I thought. You must not
forget that! So far as your story went, I had nothing but praise for
it. There were many chapters which only an artist could have written.
She raised her eyebrows. They had turned into Bond Street now, and
were close to their destination.
You men of letters are so odd, she exclaimed. What is Art but
Truth? and if my book be not true, how can it know anything of art? But
never mind! We are talking shop, and I am a little tired of taking life
seriously. Here we are! Order me some tea, please, and a chocolate
He followed her to a tiny round table, and sat down by her side upon
the cushioned seat. As he gave his order and looked around the little
room, he smiled gravely to himself. It was the first time in his
life,at any rate since his boyhood,that he had taken a woman into a
public room. Decidedly it was a new era for him.
An incident, which Matravers had found once or twice uppermost in
his mind during the last few days, was recalled to him with sudden
vividness as he took his seat in an ill-lit, shabbily upholstered box
in the second tier of the New Theatre. He seemed almost to hear again
the echoes of that despairing cry which had rung out so plaintively
across the desert of empty benches from somewhere amongst the shadows
of the auditorium. Several times during the performance he had glanced
up in the same direction; once he had almost fancied he could see a
solitary, bent figure sitting rigid and motionless in the first row of
the amphitheatre. No man was possessed of a smaller share of curiosity
in the ordinary sense of the word than Matravers; but the thought that
this might be the same man come again to witness a play which had
appealed to him before with such peculiar potency, interested him
curiously. At the close of the second act he left his seat, and, after
several times losing his way, found himself in the little narrow space
behind the amphitheatre. Leaning over the partition, and looking
downwards, he had a good view of the man who sat there quite alone, his
head resting upon his hand, his eyes fixed steadily upon a soiled and
crumpled programme, which was spread out carefully before him.
Matravers wondered whether there was not in the clumsy figure and
awkward pose something vaguely familiar to him.
An attendant of the place standing by his side addressed him
Not much of a house for the last night, sir, he remarked.
Matravers agreed, and moved his head downwards towards the solitary
There is one man, at least, he said, who finds the play
The attendant smiled.
I am afraid that the gentleman is a little bit 'hoff,' sir. He
seems half silly to talk to. He's a queer sort, anyway. Comes here
every blessed night, and in the same place. Never misses. Once he came
sixpence short, and there was a rare fuss. They wouldn't let him in,
and he wouldn't go away. I lent it him at last.
Did he pay you back? Matravers asked.
The very next night; never had to ask him, either. There goes the
bell, sir. Curtain up in two minutes.
The subject of their conversation had not once turned his head or
moved towards them. Matravers, conscious that he was not likely to do
so, returned to his seat just as the curtain rose upon the last act.
The play, grim, pessimistic, yet lifted every now and then to a higher
level by strange flashes of genius on the part of the woman, dragged
wearily along to an end. The echoes of her last speech died away; she
looked at him across the footlights, her dark eyes soft with many
regrets, which, consciously or not, spoke to him also of reproach. The
curtain descended, and her hands fell to her side. It was the end, and
it was failure!
Matravers, making his way more hurriedly than usual from the house,
hoped to gain another glimpse of the man who had remained the solitary
tenant of the round of empty seats. But he was too late. The man and
the audience had melted away in a thin little stream. Matravers stood
on the kerbstone hesitating. He had not meant to go behind to-night. He
had a feeling that she must be regarding him at that moment as the
executioner of her ambitions. Besides, she was going on to a reception;
she would only be in a hurry. Nevertheless, he made his way round to
the stage door. He would at least have a glimpse of her. But as he
turned the corner, she was already stepping into her carriage. He
paused, and simultaneously with her disappearance he realized that he
was not the only one who had found his way to the narrow street to see
the last of Berenice. A man was standing upon the opposite pavement a
little way from the carriage, yet at such an angle that a faint, yellow
light shone upon what was visible of his pale face. He had watched her
come out, and was gazing now fixedly at the window of her brougham.
Matravers knew in a moment that this was the man whom he had seen
sitting alone in the amphitheatre; and almost without any definite idea
as to his purpose, he crossed the street towards him. The man, hearing
his footstep, looked up with a sudden start; then, without a second's
hesitation, he turned and hurried off. Matravers still followed him.
The man heard his footsteps, and turned round, then, with a little
moan, he started running, his shoulders bent, his head forward.
Matravers halted at once. The man plunged into the shadows, and was
lost amongst the stream of people pouring forth from the doors of the
At her door an hour later Berenice saw the outline of a figure now
become very familiar to her, and Matravers, who had been leaving a box
of roses, whose creamy pink-and-white blossoms, mingled together in a
neighbouring flower-shop, had pleased his fancy, heard his name called
softly across the pavement. He turned, and saw Berenice stepping from
her carriage. With an old-fashioned courtesy, which always sat well
upon him, he offered her his arm.
[Illustration: With an old-fashioned courtesy ... he offered her his
I thought that you were to be late, he said, looking down at her
with a shade of anxiety in his clear, grave face. Was not this Lady
Yes; don't talk to mejust yet. I am upset! Come in and sit with
He hesitated. With a scrupulous delicacy, which sometimes almost
irritated her, he had invariably refrained from paying her visits so
late as this. But to-night was different! Her fingers were clasping his
arm,and she was in trouble. He suffered himself to be led up the
stairs into her little room.
Some coffee for two, she told her woman. You can go to bed then!
I shall not want you again!
She threw herself into an empty chair, and loosened the silk ribbons
of her opera cloak.
Do you mind opening the window? she asked. It is stifling in
here. I can scarcely breathe!
He threw it wide open, and wheeled her chair up to it. The glare
from the West End lit up the dark sky. The silence of the little room
and the empty street below, seemed deepened by that faint, far-away
roar from the pandemonium of pleasure. A light from the opposite side
of the way,or was it the rising moon behind the dark houses?gleamed
upon her white throat, and in her soft, dim eyes. She lay quite still,
looking into vacancy. Her hand hung over the side of the chair nearest
to him. Half unconsciously he took it up and stroked it soothingly. The
tears gushed from her eyes. At his kindly touch her over-wrought
feelings gave way. Her fingers closed spasmodically upon his.
He said nothing. The time had passed when words were necessary
between them. They were near enough to one another now to understand
the value of silence. But those few moments seemed to him for ever like
a landmark in his life. A new relation was born between them in the
passionate intensity of that deep quietness.
He watched her bosom cease to heave, and the dimness pass from her
eyes. Then he took up the box which he had been carrying, and emptied
the pink-and-white blossoms into her lap. She stooped down and buried
her face in them. Their faint, delicate perfume seemed to fill the
You are very good, she said abruptly. Thank God that there is
some one who is good to me!
The coffee was in the room, and Berenice threw off her cloak and
brought it to him. A fit of restlessness seemed to have followed upon
her moment of weakness. She began walking with quick, uneven steps up
and down the room. Matravers forgot to drink his coffee. He was
watching her with a curious sense of emotional excitement. The little
chamber was full of half lights and shadows, and there seemed to him
something almost unearthly about this woman with her soft grey gown and
marble face. He was stirred by her presence in a new way. The rustle of
her silken skirts as she swept in and out of the dim light, the
delicate whiteness of her arms and throat, the flashing of a single
diamond in her dark coiled hair,these seemed trivial things enough,
yet they were yielding him a new and mysterious pleasure. For the first
time his sense of her beauty was fully aroused. Every now and then he
caught faint glimpses of her face. It was like the face of a new woman
to him. There was some tender and wonderful change there, which he
could not understand, and yet which seemed to strike some responsive
chord in his own emotions. Instinctively he felt that she was passing
into a new phase of life. Surely, he, too, was walking hand and hand
with her through the shadows! The touch of her interlaced fingers had
burned his flesh.
[Illustration: There seemed to him something almost unearthly about
this woman with her soft grey gown and marble face]
Presently she came and sat down beside him.
Forgive me! she murmured. It does me so much good to have you
here. I am very foolish!
Tell me about it!
She frowned very slightly, and looked away at a star.
It is nothing! It is beginning to seem less than nothing! I have
written a book for women, for the sake of women, because my heart ached
for their sufferings, and because I too have felt the fire. I wonder
whether it was really an evil book, she added, still looking away from
him at that single star in the dark sky. People say so! The newspapers
say so! Yet it was a true book! I wrote it from my soul,I wrote it
with my own blood. I have not been a good woman, but I have been a pure
woman! When I wrote it, I was lonely; I have always been lonely. But I
thought, now I shall know what it is like to have friends. Many women
will understand that I have suffered in doing this thing for their
sakes! For it was my own life which I lay bare, my own life, my own
sufferings, my own agony! I thought, they will come to me and they will
thank me for it! I shall have sympathy and I shall have friends.... And
now my book is written, and I am wiser. I know now that woman does not
want her freedom! Though they drag her down into hell, the chains of
her slavery have grown around her heart and have become precious to
her! Tell me, are those pure women who willingly give their souls and
their bodies in marriage to men who have sinned and who will sin again?
They do it without disguise, without shame, for position, or for
freedom, or for money! yet there are other women whom they call
courtesans, and from whose touch they snatch away the hem of their
skirts in horror! Oh, it is terrible! There can be no corruption worse
than this in hell!
Yours has been the common disappointment of all reformers, he said
gravely. Gratitude is the rarest tribute the world ever offers to
those who have laboured to cleanse it. When you are a little older you
will have learnt your lesson. But it is always very hard to learn....
Tell me about to-night!
She raised her head a little. A faint spot of colour stained her
There was one woman who praised me, who came to see me, and sent me
cards to go to her house. To-night I went. Foolishly I had hoped a good
deal from it! I did not like Lady Truton herself, but I hoped that I
should meet other women there who would be different! It was a new
experience to me to be going amongst my own sex. I was like a child
going to her first party. I was quite excited, almost nervous. I had a
little dream,there would be some women thereone would be
enoughwith whom I might be friends, and it would make life very
different to me to have even one woman friend. But they were all
horrid. They were vulgar, and one woman, she took me on one side and
praised my book. She agreed, she said, with every word in it! She had
found out that her husband had a mistress,some chorus-girl,and she
was repaying him in his own coin. She too had a loverand for every
infidelity of his she was repaying him in this manner. She dared to
assume that II should approve of her conduct; she asked me to go and
see her! My God! it was hideous.
Matravers laid his hand upon hers, and leaned forward in his chair.
Lady Truton's was the very worst house you could have gone to, he
said gently. You must not be too discouraged all at once. The women of
her set, thank God, are not in the least typical Englishwomen. They are
fast and silly,a few, I am afraid, worse. They make use of the free
discussions in these days of the relations between our sexes, to excuse
grotesque extravagances in dress and habits which society ought never
to pardon. Do not let their judgments or their misinterpretations
trouble you! You are as far above them, Berenice, as that little star
is from us.
I do not pretend to be anything but a woman, she said, bending her
head, and to stand alone always is very hard.
It is very hard for a man! It must be very much harder for a woman.
But, Berenice, you would not call yourself absolutely friendless!
She raised her head for a moment. Her dark eyes were wonderfully
Who is there that cares? she murmured.
He touched the tips of her fingers. Her soft, warm hand yielded
itself readily, and slid into his.
Do I count for no one? he whispered.
There was a silence in the little room. The yellow glare had faded
from the sky, and a night wind was blowing softly in. A clock in the
distance struck one. Together they sat and gazed out upon the darkness.
Looking more than once into her pale face, Matravers realized again
that wonderful change. His own emotions were curiously disturbed. He,
himself, so remarkable through all his life for a changeless serenity
of purpose, and a fixed masterly control over his whole environment,
felt himself suddenly like a rudderless ship at the mercy of a great
unknown sea. A sense of drifting was upon him. They were both drifting.
Surely this little room, with its dim light and shadows and its faint
odour of roses, had become a hotbed of tragedy. He had imagined that
death itself was something like this,a dissolution of all fixed
purposes. And with it all, this remnant of life, if it were but a
remnant, seemed suddenly to be flowing through his veins with all the
rich, surpassing sweetness of some exquisite symphony!
You count for a great deal, she said. If you had not come to me,
I think that I must have died.... If I were to lose you ... I think
that I should die.
She threw herself back in her chair with a gesture of complete
abandonment. Her arms hung loosely down over its sides. The moonlight,
which had been gradually gathering strength, shone softly upon her pale
face and on the soft, lustrous pearls at her throat. Her dark, wet eyes
seemed touched with smouldering fire. She looked at him. He sprang to
his feet and walked restlessly up and down the room. His forehead was
hot and dry, and his hands were trembling.
There is not any reason, he said, halting suddenly in front of
her, why we should lose one another. I was coming to-morrow morning to
make a proposition to you. If you accept it, we shall be forced to see
a great deal of one another.
You perhaps did not know that I had any ambitions as a dramatic
author. Yet my first serious work after I left Oxford was a play; I
took it up yesterday.
You have really written a play, she murmured, and you never told
At least I am telling you now, he reminded her; I am telling you
before any one, because I want your help.
You want what?
I want you to help me by taking the part of my heroine. I read it
yesterday by appointment to Fergusson. He accepted it at once on the
most liberal terms. I told him there was one conditionthat the part
of my heroine must be offered to you, if you would accept it. There was
a little difficulty, as, of course, Miss Robinson is a fixture at the
Pall Mall. However, Fergusson saw you last night from the back of the
dress circle, and this morning he has agreed. It only remains for you
to read, or allow me to read to you the play.
Do you mean to say that you are offering me the principal part in a
play of yoursat the Pall Mallwith Fergusson?
Well, I think that is about what it comes to, he assented.
She rose to her feet and took his hands in hers.
You are too goodmuch too good to me, she said softly. I dare
not take it; I am not strong enough.
It will be you, or no one, he said decidedly. But first I am
going to read you the play. If I may, I shall bring it to you
I want to ask you something, she said abruptly. You must answer
me faithfully. You are doing this, you are making me this offer because
you think that you owe me something. It is a sort of reparation for
your attack upon Herdrine. I want to know if it is that.
I can assure you, he said earnestly, that I am not nearly so
conscientious. I wrote the play solely as a literary work. I had no
thought of having it produced, of offering it to anybody. Then I saw
you at the New Theatre; I think that you inspired me with a sort of
dramatic excitement. I went home and read my play. Bathilde seemed to
me then to speak with your tongue, to look at me with your eyes, to be
clothed from her soul outwards with your personality. In the morning I
wrote to Fergusson.
I want to believe you, she said softly; but it seems so strange.
I am no actress like Adelaide Robinson; I am afraid that if I accept
your offer, I may hurt the play. She is popular, and I am unknown.
She has talent, he said, and experience; you have genius, which
is far above either. I am not leaving you any choice at all. To-morrow
I shall bring the play.
You may at least do that, she answered. It will be a pleasure to
hear it read. Come to luncheon, and we will have a long afternoon.
Matravers took his leave with a sense of relief. Their farewell had
been cordial enough, but unemotional. Yet even he, ignorant of women
and their ways as he was, was conscious that they had entered together
upon a new phase of their knowledge of each other. The touch of their
fingers, the few conventional words which passed between them, as she
leaned over the staircase watching him descend, seemed to him to savour
somehow of mockery. He passed out from her presence into the cool, soft
night, dazed, not a little bewildered at this new strong sense of
living, which had set his pulses beating to music and sent his blood
rushing through his body with a new sweetness. Yet with it all he was
distressed and unhappy. He was confronted with the one great influence
of life against which he had deliberately set his face.
Matravers began to find himself, for the first time in his life,
seriously attracted by a woman. He realized it in some measure as he
walked homeward in the early morning, after this last interview with
Berenice; he knew it for an absolute fact on the following evening as
he walked through the crowded streets back to his rooms with the
manuscript of the play which he had been reading to her in his pocket.
He felt himself moving in what was to some extent an unreal atmosphere.
His senses were tingling with the excitement of the last few hoursfor
the first time he knew the full fascination of a woman's intellectual
sympathy. He had gone to his task wholly devoid of any pleasurable
anticipation. It spoke much for the woman's tact that before he had
read half a dozen pages he was not only completely at his ease, but was
experiencing a new and very pleasurable sensation. The memory of it was
with him nowhe had no mind to disturb it by any vague alarm as to the
future of their relationship.
In Piccadilly he met Fergusson, who turned and walked with him.
I have been to your rooms, Matravers, the actor said. I want to
know whether you have arranged with your friend?
I have just left her, Matravers replied. She appears to like the
play, and has consented to play Bathilde.
The actor smiled. Was Matravers really so simple, or did he imagine
that an actress whose name was as yet unknown would hesitate to play
with him at the Pall Mall Theatre. Yet he himself had been hoping that
there might be some difficulty,he had a Bathilde of his own who
would take a great deal of pacifying. The thing was settled now
I should like, he said, to make her acquaintance at once.
I have thought of that, Matravers said. Will you lunch with me at
my rooms on Sunday and meet her? that is, of course, if she is able to
I shall be delighted, Fergusson answered. About two, I suppose?
Matravers assented, and the two men parted. The actor, with a little
shrug of his shoulders and the air of a man who has an unpleasant task
before him, turned southwards to interview the lady who certainly had
the first claim to play Bathilde. He found her at home and anxiously
If you had not come to-day, she remarked, I should have sent for
you. I want you to contradict that rubbish.
She threw the theatrical paper across at him, and watched him,
whilst he read the paragraph to which she had pointed. He laid the
I cannot altogether contradict it, he said. There is some truth
in what the man writes.
The lady was getting angry. She came over to Fergusson and stood by
You mean to tell me, she exclaimed, that you have accepted a play
for immediate production which I have not even seen, and in which the
principal part is to be given to one of those crackpots down at the New
Theatre, an amateur, an outsidera woman no one ever heard of before.
You can't exactly say that, he interposed calmly. I see you have
her novel on your table there, and she is a woman who has been talked
about a good deal lately. But the facts of the case are these.
Matravers brought me a play a few days ago which almost took my breath
away. It is by far the best thing of the sort I ever read. It is bound
to be a great success. I can't tell you any more now,you shall read
it yourself in a day or two. He was very easy to deal with as to terms,
but he made one condition: that a certain part in it,the principal
one, I admit,should be offered to this woman. I tried all I could to
talk him out of it, but absolutely without effect. I was forced to
consent. There is not a manager in London who would not jump at the
play on any conditions. You know our position. 'Her Majesty' is a
failure, and I haven't a single decent thing to put on. I simply dared
not let such a chance as this go by.
I never heard anything so ridiculous in my life, the lady
exclaimed. No, I'm not blaming you, Reggie! I don't suppose you could
have done anything else. But this woman, what a nerve she must have to
imagine that she can do it! I see her horrid Norwegian play has come to
utter grief at the New Theatre.
She is a clever woman, Fergusson remarked. One can only hope for
She flashed a quiet glance at him.
You know her, then,you have been to see her.
Not yet, Fergusson answered. I am going to meet her to-morrow.
Matravers has asked me to lunch.
Tell me about Matravers, she said.
I am afraid I do not know much. He is a very distinguished literary
man, but his work has generally been critical or philosophical,every
one will be surprised to hear that he has written a play. You will find
that there will be quite a stir about it. The reason why we have no
plays nowadays which can possibly be classed as literature, is because
the wrong class of man is writing for the stage. Smith and Francis and
all these men have fine dramatic instincts, but they are not scholars.
Their dialogue is mostly beneath contempt; there is a dash of
conventionality in their best work. Now, Matravers is a writer of an
altogether different type.
Thanks, she interrupted, but I don't want a homily. I am only
curious about the man himself.
Fergusson pulled himself up a little annoyed. He had begun to talk
about a subject of peculiar interest to him.
Oh, the man himself is rather an interesting personality, he
declared. He is a recluse, a dilettante, and a very brilliant man of
I want to know, the lady said impatiently, whether he is
Married! certainly not, Fergusson assured her.
Very well, then, I am going there to luncheon with you to-morrow.
Fergusson looked blank.
But, my dear girl, he protested, how on earth
Don't be foolish, Reggie, she said calmly. It is perfectly
natural for me to go! I have been your principal actress for several
seasons. I suppose if there is a second woman's part in the piece, it
will be mine, if I choose to take it. You must write and ask Matravers
for permission to bring me. You can mention my desire to meet the new
actress if you like.
Fergusson took up his hat.
Matravers is not the sort of man one feels like taking a liberty
with, he said. But I'll try him.
You can let me know to-night at the theatre, she directed.
Nothing short of a miracle could have made Matravers' luncheon party
a complete success; yet, so far as Berenice was concerned, it could
scarcely be looked upon in any other light. Her demeanour towards
Adelaide Robinson and Fergusson was such as to give absolutely no
opportunity for anything disagreeable! She frankly admitted both her
inexperience and her ignorance. Yet, before they left, both Fergusson
and his companion began to understand Matravers' confidence in her.
There was something almost magnetically attractive about her
The luncheon was very much what one who knew him would have expected
from Matraverssimple, yet served with exceeding elegance. The fruit,
the flowers, and the wine had been his own care; and the table had very
much the appearance of having been bodily transported from the palace
of a noble of some southern land. After the meal was over, they sat out
upon the shaded balcony and sipped their coffee and
liqueurs,Fergusson and Berenice wrapt in the discussion of many
details of the work which lay before them, whilst Matravers, with an
effort which he carefully concealed, talked continually with Adelaide
Is it true, she asked him, that you did not intend your play for
the stagethat you wrote it from a literary point of view only?
In a sense, that is quite true, he admitted. I wrote it without
any definite idea of offering it to any London manager. My doing so was
really only an impulse.
[Illustration: Matravers was suddenly conscious of an odd sense of
If Mr. Fergusson is rightand he is a pretty good judgeyou won't
regret having done so, she remarked. He thinks it is going to have a
He may be right, Matravers answered. For all our sakes, I hope
It will be a magnificent opportunity for your friend.
Matravers looked over towards Berenice. She was talking eagerly to
Fergusson, whose dark, handsome head was very close to hers, and in
whose eyes was already evident his growing admiration. Matravers was
suddenly conscious of an odd sense of disturbance. He was grateful to
Adelaide Robinson for her intervention. She had risen to her feet, and
glanced downwards at the little brougham drawn up below.
I am so sorry to go, she said; but I positively must make some
calls this afternoon.
Fergusson rose also, with obvious regret, and they left together.
Don't forget, he called back from the door; we read our parts
to-morrow, and rehearsals begin on Thursday.
I have it all down, Berenice answered. I will do my best to be
ready for Thursday.
Berenice remained standing, looking thoughtfully after the little
brougham, which was being driven down Piccadilly.
Matravers came back to her, and laid his hand gently upon her arm.
You must not think of going yet, he said. I want you to stay and
have tea with me.
I should like to, she answered. I seem to have so much to say to
He piled her chair with cushions and drew it back into the shade.
Then he lit a cigarette, and sat down by her side.
I suppose you must think that I am very ungrateful, she said. I
have scarcely said 'thank you' yet, have I?
You will please me best by never saying it, he answered. I only
hope that it will be a step you will never regret.
How could I?
He looked at her steadily, a certain grave concentration of thought
manifest in his dark eyes. Berenice was looking her best that
afternoon. She was certainly a very beautiful and a very
distinguished-looking woman. Her eyes met his frankly; her lips were
curved in a faintly tender smile.
Well, I hardly know, he said. You are going to be a popular
actress. Henceforth the stage will have claims upon you! It will become
You have plenty of confidence.
I have absolute confidence in you, he declared, and Fergusson is
equally confident about the play; chance has given you this
opportunitythe result is beyond question! Yet I confess that I have a
presentiment. If the manuscript of 'The Heart of the People' were in my
hands at this moment, I think that I would tear it into little pieces,
and watch them flutter down on to the pavement there.
I do not understand you, she said softly. You say that you have
It is because I have no doubtit is because I know that it will
make you a popular and a famous actress. You will gain this. I wonder
what you will lose.
She moved restlessly on her chair.
Why should I lose anything?
It is only a presentiment, he reminded her. I pray that you may
not lose anything. Yet you are coming under a very fascinating
influence. It is your personality I am afraid of. You are going to
belong definitely to a profession which is at once the most catholic
and the most narrowing in the world. I believe that you are strong
enough to stand alone, to remain yourself. I pray that it may be so,
and yet, there is just the shadow of the presentiment. Perhaps it is
Their chairs were close together; he suddenly felt the perfume of
her hair and the touch of her fingers upon his hand. Her face was quite
close to his.
At least, she murmured, I pray that I may never lose your
If only I could ensure you as confidently the fulfilment of all
your desires, he answered, you would be a very happy woman. I am too
lonely a man, Berenice, to part with any of my few joys. Whether you
change or no, you must never change towards me.
She was silent. There were no signs left of the brilliant levity
which had made their little luncheon pass off so successfully. She sat
with her head resting upon her elbow, gazing steadily up at the little
white clouds which floated over the housetops. A tea equipage was
brought out and deftly arranged between them.
To-day, Matravers said, I am going to have the luxury of having
my tea made for me. Please come back from dreamland and realize the
Englishman's idyll of domesticity.
She turned in her chair, and smiled upon him.
I can do it, she assured him. I believe you doubt my ability, but
you need not.
They talked lightly for some timean art which Matravers found
himself to be acquiring with wonderful facility. Then there was a
pause. When she spoke again, it was in an altogether different tone.
[Illustration: I can do it, she assured him. I believe you doubt
my ability, but you need not"]
I want you to answer me, she said, it is not too late. Shall I
give up Bathildeand the stage? Listen! You do not know anything of my
circumstances. I am not dependent upon either the stage or my writing
for a living. I ask you for your honest advice. Shall I give it up?
You are placing a very heavy responsibility upon my shoulders, he
answered her thoughtfully. Yet I will try to answer you honestly. I
should be happier if I could advise you to give it up! But I cannot!
You have the giftyou must use it. The obligation of self-development
is heaviest upon the shoulders of those whose foreheads Nature's
twin-sister has touched with fire! I would it were any other gift,
Berenice; but that is only a personal feeling. No! you must follow out
your destiny. You have an opportunity of occupying a unique and
marvellous position. You can create a new ideal. Only be true always to
yourself. Be very jealous indeed of absorbing any of the modes of
thought and life which will spring up everywhere around you in the new
world. Remember it is the old ideals which are the sweetest and the
truest.... Forgive me, please! I am talking like a pedagogue.
You are talking as I like to be talked to, she answered. Yet you
need not fear that my head will be turned, even if the success should
come. You forget that I am almost an old woman. The religion of my life
has long been conceived and fashioned.
He looked at her with a curious smile. If thirty seemed old to her,
what must she think of him?
I wonder, he said simply, if you would think me impertinent if I
were to ask you to tell me more about yourself. How is it that you are
altogether alone in the world?
The words had scarcely left his lips before he would have given much
to have recalled them. He saw her start, flinch back as though she had
been struck, and a grey pallor spread itself over her face, almost to
the lips. She looked at him fixedly for several moments without
One day, she said, I will tell you all that. You shall know
everything. But not now; not yet.
Whenever you will, he answered, ignoring her evident agitation.
Come! what do you say to a walk down through the Park? To-day is a
holiday for mea day to be marked with a white stone. I have
registered an oath that I will not even look at a pen. Will you not
help me to keep it?
By all means, she answered blithely. I will take you home with
me, and keep you there till the hour of temptation has passed. To-day
is to be my last day of idleness! I too have need of a white stone.
We will place them, he said, side by side.
Matravers' luncheon party marked the termination for some time of
any confidential intercourse between Berenice and himself. Every moment
of her time was claimed by Fergusson, who, in his anxiety to produce a
play from which he hoped so much before the wane of the season, gave no
one any rest, and worked himself almost into a fever. There were two
full rehearsals a day, and many private ones at her rooms. Matravers
calling there now and then found Fergusson always in possession, and by
degrees gave it up in despair. He had a horror of interfering in any
way, even of being asked for his advice concerning the practical
reproduction of his work. Fergusson's invitations to the rehearsals at
the theatre he rejected absolutely. As the time grew shorter, Berenice
became pale and almost haggard with the unceasing work which
Fergusson's anxiety imposed upon her. One night she sent for Matravers,
and hastening to her rooms, he found her for the first time alone.
[Illustration: Do you know that man is driving me slowly mad?]
I have sent Mr. Fergusson home, she exclaimed, welcoming him with
outstretched hands, but making no effort to rise from her easy chair.
Do you know that man is driving me slowly mad? I want you to
What can I do? he said.
Anything to bring him to reason! He is over-rehearsing! Every line,
every sentence, every gesture, he makes the subject of the most
exhaustive deliberation. He will have nothing spontaneous; it is
positively stifling. A few more days of it and my reason will go! He is
a great actor, but he does not seem to understand that to reduce
everything to mathematical proportions is to court failure.
I will go and see him, Matravers said. You wish for no more
I do not want to see his face again before the night of the
performance, she declared vehemently. I am perfect in my part. I have
thought about itdreamed about it. I have lived more as 'Bathilde'
than as myself for the last three weeks. Perhaps, she continued more
slowly, you will not be satisfied. I scarcely dare to hope that you
will be. Yet I have reached my limitations. The more I am made to
rehearse now, the less natural I shall become.
I will speak to Fergusson, Matravers promised. I will go and see
him to-night. But so far as you are concerned, I have no fear; you will
be the 'Bathilde' of my heart and my brain. You cannot fail!
She rose to her feet. It is, she said, The desire of my life to
make your 'Bathilde' a creature of flesh and blood. If I fail, I will
never act again.
If you fail, he said, the fault will be in my conception, not in
your execution. But indeed we will not consider anything so improbable.
Let us put the play behind us for a time and talk of something else!
You must be weary of it.
She shook her head. Not that! never that! Just now it is my life,
only it is the details which weary me, the eternal harping upon the
mechanical side of it. Will you read to me for a little? and I will
make you some coffee. You are not in a hurry, are you?
I have come, he said, to stay with you until you send me away! I
will read to you with pleasure. What will you have?
She handed him a little volume of poems; he glanced at the title and
made a faint grimace. They were his own.
Nevertheless, he read for an hour, till the streets below grew
silent, and his own voice, unaccustomed to such exercise, lost
something of its usual clearness. Then he laid the volume down, and
there was silence between them.
I have been thinking, he said at last, of a singular incident in
connection with your performance at the New Theatre; it was brought
into my mind just then. I meant to have mentioned it before.
She looked up with only a slight show of interest. Those days at the
theatre seemed to her now to be very far behind. There was nothing in
connection with them which she cared to remember.
It was the night of my first visit there, he continued. There is
a terrible scene at the end of the second act between Herdrine and her
husbandyou recollect it, of course. Just as you finished your
denunciation, I distinctly heard a curious cry from the back of the
house. It was a greater tribute to your acting than the applause, for
it was genuine.
The piece was gloomy enough, she remarked, to have dissolved the
house in tears.
At least, he said, it wrung the heart of one man. For I have not
told you all. I was interested enough to climb up into the
amphitheatre. The man sat there alone amongst a wilderness of empty
seats. He was the picture of abject misery. I could scarcely see his
face, but his attitude was convincing. It was not a thing of chance
either. I made some remark about him to an attendant, and he told me
that night after night that man had occupied the same seat, always
following every line of the play with the same mournful concentration,
never speaking to any one, never moving from his seat from the
beginning of the play to the end.
He must have been, she declared, a person of singularly morbid
taste. When I think of it now I shiver. I would not play Herdrine again
I am very glad to hear you say so, he said, smiling. Do you know
that to me the most interesting feature of the play was its obvious
effect upon this man. Its extreme pessimism is too much paraded, is
laid on altogether with too thick a hand to ring true. The thing is an
involved nightmare. One feels that as a work of art it is never
convincing, yet underneath it all there must be something human, for it
found its way into the heart of one man.
It is possible, she remarked, that he was mad. The man who found
it sufficiently amusing to come to the theatre night after night could
scarcely have been in full possession of his senses.
That is possible, he admitted; but I do not believe it. The man's
face was sad enough, but it was not the face of a madman.
You did see his face, then?
On the last night of the play, he continued. You remember you
were going on to Lady Truton's, so I did not come behind. But I had a
fancy to see you for a moment, and I came round into Pitt Street just
as you were driving off. On the other side of the way this man was
standing watching you!
She looked at him with a suddenly kindled interestor was it
fear?in her dark eyes. The colour had left her cheeks; she was white
to the lips.
Yes. As your carriage drove off he stood watching it. I don't know
what prompted me, but I crossed the street to speak to him. He seemed
such a lone, mournful figure standing there half dazed, shabby,
muttering softly to himself. But when he saw me coming, he gave one
half-frightened look at me and ran, literally ran down the street on to
the Strand. I could not follow,the police would have stopped him. So
You saw his face. What was he like?
Berenice had leaned right back amongst the yielding cushions of her
divan, and he could scarcely see her face. Yet her voice sounded to him
strange and forced. He looked at her in some surprise.
I had a glimpse of it. It was an ordinary face enough; in fact, it
disappointed me a little. But the odd part of it was that it seemed
vaguely familiar to me. I have seen it before, often. Yet, try as I
will, I cannot recollect where, or under what circumstances.
At Oxford, she suggested. By the bye, what was your college?
St. John's. No, I do not think,I hope that it was not at Oxford.
Some day I shall think of it quite suddenly.
Berenice rose from her chair with a sudden, tempestuous movement and
stood before him.
Listen! she exclaimed. Supposing I were to tell you that I knew
or could guess who that man waswhy he came! Oh, if I were to tell you
that I were a fraud, that
Matravers stopped her.
I beg, he said, that you will tell me nothing!
There was a short silence. Berenice seemed on the point of breaking
down. She was nervously lacing and interlacing her fingers. Her breath
was coming spasmodically.
Berenice, he said softly, you are over-wrought; you are not quite
yourself to-night. Do not tell me anything. Indeed, there is no need
for me to know; just as you are I am content with you, and proud to be
She sat down again. He could not see her face, but he fancied that
she was weeping. He himself found his customary serenity seriously
disturbed. Perhaps for the first time in his life he found himself not
wholly the master of his emotions. The atmosphere of the little room,
the perfume of the flowers, the soft beauty of the woman herself, whose
breath fell almost upon his cheek, affected him as nothing of the sort
had ever done before. He rose abruptly to his feet.
You will be so much better alone, he said, taking her fingers and
smoothing them softly in his for a moment. I am going away now.
At the threshold he paused. She had not looked up at him. She was
still sitting there with bowed head and hidden face. He closed the door
softly, and went out.
The enthusiasm with which Matravers' play had been received on the
night of its first appearance was, if anything, exceeded on the night
before the temporary closing of the theatre for the usual summer
vacation. The success of the play itself had never been for a moment
doubtful. For once the critics, the general press, and the public, were
in entire and happy agreement. The first night had witnessed an
extraordinary scene. An audience as brilliant as any which could have
been brought together in the first city in the world, had flatly
refused to leave the theatre until Matravers himself, reluctant and
ill-pleased, had joined Fergusson and Berenice before the footlights;
and now on the eve of its temporary withdrawal something of the same
sort was threatened again, and Matravers only escaped by standing up in
the front of his box, and bowing his acknowledgments to the delighted
It was a well-deserved success, for certainly as a play it was a
brilliant exception to anything which had lately been produced upon the
English stage. The worn-out methods and motives of most living
playwrights were rigorously avoided; everything about it was fresh and
spontaneous. Its sentiment was relieved by the most delicate vein of
humour. It was everywhere tender and human. The dialogue, to which
Matravers had devoted his usual fastidious care, was polished and
sprightly; there was not anywhere a single dull or unmusical line. It
was a classic, the critics declared,the first literary play by a
living author which London had witnessed for many years. The bookings
for months ahead were altogether phenomenal. Fergusson saw a certain
fortune within his hands, and Matravers, sharing also in the golden
harvest, found another and a still greater cause for satisfaction.
For Berenice had justified his selection. The same night, as the
greatest of critics, speaking through the columns of the principal
daily paper, had said, which had presented to them a new writer for the
stage, had given them also a new actress. She had surprised Matravers,
she had amazed Fergusson, who found himself compelled to look closely
to his own laurels. In short, she was a success, descended, if not from
the clouds, at least from the mists of Isteinism, but accorded, without
demur or hesitation, a foremost place amongst the few accepted
actresses. Her future and his position were absolutely secured, and her
reputation, as Matravers was happy to think, was made, not as the
portrayer of a sickly and unnatural type of diseased womanhood, but as
the woman of his own creation, a very sweet and pure English lady.
The house emptied at last, and Matravers made his way behind, where
many of Fergusson's friends had gathered together, and where
congratulations were the order of the day. A species of informal
reception was going on, champagne cup and sandwiches were being handed
around and a general air of extreme good humour pervaded the place.
Berenice was the centre of a group of men amongst whom Matravers was
annoyed to see Thorndyke. If he could have withdrawn unseen, he would
have done so; but already he was surrounded. A little stir at the
entrance attracted his attention. He turned round and found Fergusson
presenting him to a royal personage, who was graciously pleased,
however, to remember a former meeting, and waved away the words of
It chanced, without any design on his part, that Berenice and he
left almost at the same time, and met near the stage door. She dropped
Fergusson's armhe had left his guests to see her to her carriageand
motioned to Matravers.
Won't you see me home? she asked quietly. I have sent my maid on,
she was so tired, and I am all alone.
I shall be very pleased, Matravers answered. May I come in with
you? Fergusson lingered for a moment or two at the carriage door, and
then they drove off. Berenice, with a little sigh, leaned back amongst
You are very tired, I am afraid, he said gently. The last few
weeks must have been a terrible strain upon you.
They have been in many ways, she said, the happiest of my life.
I am glad of that; yet it is quite time that you had a rest.
She did not answer him,she did not speak again until the carriage
drew up before her house. He handed her out, and opened the door with
the latch-key which she passed over to him.
Good night, he said, holding out his hand.
You must please come in for a little time, she begged. I have
seen you scarcely at all lately. You have not even told me about your
He hesitated for a moment, then seeing the shade upon her face, he
stepped forward briskly.
I should like to come very much, he said, only you must be sure
to send me away if I stay too long. You are tired already.
I am tired, she admitted, leading the way upstairs, only it will
rest me much more to have you talk to me than to go to bed. Mine is
scarcely a physical fatigue. My nerves are all quivering. I could not
sleep! Tell me where you have been.
Matravers took the seat to which she motioned him, and obeyed her,
watching, whilst she stooped down over the fire and poured water into a
brazen coffee-pot, and took another cup and saucer from a quaint little
cupboard. She made the coffee carefully and well, and Matravers, as he
lit his cigarette, found himself wondering at this new and very natural
note of domesticity in her.
[Illustration: Matravers found himself wondering at this new and
very natural note of domesticity in her]
All the time he was talking, telling her in a few chosen sentences
of the little tour for which she really was responsibleof the
pink-and-white apple-blossoms of Brittany, of the peasants in their
quaint and picturesque garb, and of the old time-worn churches, the
exploration of which had constituted his chief interest. She listened
eagerly; every word of his description, so vivid and picturesque, was
interesting. When he had finished, he looked at her thoughtfully.
You too, he said, need a change! You have worked very hard, and
you will need all your strength for the autumn season.
I am going away, she said, very soon. Perhaps to-morrow.
He looked at her surprised.
Why not? What is there to keep me? The theatre is closed. London is
positively stifling. I am longing for some fresh air.
He was silent for a moment or two. It was so natural that she should
go, and yet in a sense it was so unexpected. Looking steadily across at
her as she leaned back amongst the cushions of her chair, her dark eyes
watching his face, her attitude and expression alike convincing him in
some subtle way of her satisfaction at his presence, he became suddenly
conscious that the time which he had dimly anticipated with mingled
fear and pleasure was now close at hand. His heart was beating with a
quickened throb! He was aghast as he realized with quick, unerring
truth the full effect of her words upon him. He drew a sharp little
breath and walked to the open window, taking in a long draught of the
fresh night air, sweetly scented with the perfume of the flowers in her
boxes. Her voice came to him low and sweet from the interior of the
There is a little farmhouse in Devonshire which belongs to me. It
is nothing but a tumbledown, grey stone place; but there are hills, and
meadows, and country lanes, and the sea. I want to go there.
Away from me! he cried hoarsely.
Will you come too? she murmured.
[Illustration: She did not answer him. But indeed there was no need]
He turned back into the room and looked at her. She was standing up,
coming towards him; a faint tinge of pink colour had stained her
cheekher bosom was heavingher eyes were challenging his with a
light which needed no borrowed brilliancy. Go with her! The man's
birthright, his passion, which through the long days of his austere
life had lain dormant and undreamt of swept up from his heart. He held
out his arms, and she came across the room to him with a sweet effort
of self-yielding which yet waited for while it invited his embrace.
You mean it? he murmured, you are sure?
She did not answer him. But indeed there was no need.
Matravers never altogether forgot the sensations with which he awoke
on the following morning. Notwithstanding a sleepless night, he rose
and made a deliberate toilet with a wonderful buoyancy of spirits. The
change which had come into his life was a thing so wonderful that he
could scarcely realize it. Yet it was true! He had found the one
experience in life which had hitherto been denied him, and he was
amazed at the full extent of its power and sweetness. He felt himself
to be many years younger! Old dreams and enthusiasms were suddenly
revived. Once more his foot seemed to be poised upon the threshold of
life! After all, he had not yet reached middle age! He was surprised to
find himself so young. Marriage, although so far as regarded himself he
had never imagined it a possible part of his life, was a condition
against which he held no vows. Instinctively he felt that with
Berenice, existence must inevitably become a fuller and a richer thing.
The old days of philosophic quietude, of self-contained and cultured
ease, had been in themselves very pleasant, but his was altogether too
large a nature to become in any way the slave of habit. He looked
forward to their abandonment without regret,what was to come would be
a continuation of the best part of them set to the sweetest music. He
was conscious of holding himself differently as he entered his
breakfast-room! Was it his fancy, or was the perfume of his little bowl
of roses indeed more sweet this morning, the sunshine mellower and
warmer, the flavour of his grapes more delicate? At any rate, he ate
with a rare appetite, and then whilst he smoked a cigarette afterwards,
an idea came to him! The colour rose in his cheeks,he felt like a
boy. In a few minutes he was walking through the streets, smiling
softly to himself as he thought of his strange errand.
He found his way to a jeweller's shop in Bond Street, and asked for
pearls! They were the only jewels she cared for, and he made a
deliberate and careful choice, wondering more than once, with a curious
sort of shyness, whether the man who served him so gravely had any idea
for what purpose he was buying the ring which had been the object of
his first inquiry. He walked home with a little square box in his hand,
and a much smaller one in his waistcoat pocket. On the pavement he had
hesitated for a moment, but a glance at his watch had decided him. It
was too early to go and see her yet. He walked back to his rooms! There
was a little work which he must finish during the day. He had better
attempt it at once.
On his desk a letter was waiting for him. With a little tremor of
pleasure he recognized her handwriting. He took it over to the tall
sunny window, with a smile of anticipation upon his lips. He broke the
seal and read:
My love, the daylight has come, and I am here where you
left me, a very happy and yet a very unhappy woman! Is it
indeed only a few hours since we parted? It all seems so
different. The starlight and the night wind and the deep,
sweet silence have gone! There is a great shaft of yellow
light in the sky, and a bank of purple clouds where the sun
has risen. Only the perfume of your roses lying crushed in
my lap remains to prove to me that it has not all been a
very sweet dream. Dearest, I have a secret to tell you,the
sorrow of my life. The time has come when you must, alas!
know it. Last night it was enough for me to hear you tell me
of your love! Nothing else in the world seemed worthy of a
moment's thought. But as you were leaving, you whispered
something about our marriage. How sweetly it sounded,and
yet how bitterly! For, dear, I can never marry you. I am
already married! I can see you start when you read this. You
will blame me for having kept this secret from you. Very
likely you will be angry with me. Only for the love of God
pity me a little!
My story is so commonplace. I can tell it you in a few
sentences. I married when I was seventeen at my father's
command, to save him from ruin. My husband, like my father,
was a city merchant. I did not love him, but then I did not
know what love was. My girlhood was a miserable one. My
father belonged to the sect of Calvinists. Our home was
hideous, and we were poor. Any release from it was welcome.
John Drage, the man whom I married, had one good quality. He
was generous. He bought me pictures, and booksthings which
I always craved. When my father's command came, it did not
seem a hardship. I married him. He was not so much a bad
man, perhaps, as a weak one. We lived together for four
years. I had one child, a little boy. Then I made a horrible
discovery. My husband, whom I knew to be a drunkard, was
hideously, debasingly false to me. The bald facts are these.
I myself saw him drunk and helped into his carriage by one
of those women whose trade it is to prey upon such
creatures. This was not an exceptional occurrence. It was a
There, I have told you. It would have hurt me less to have
cut off my right hand. But there shall be no
misunderstanding, nor any concealment between us. I left
John Drage's house that night. I took little Freddy with me;
but when I refused to return, he stole the child away from
me. Then I drew a sharp line at that point in my life. I had
neither friend nor relation, but there was some money which
had been left me soon after my marriage. I lived alone, and
I began to write. That is my story. That is why I cannot
Dear, I want you, now that you know my very ugly history,
to consider this. Whilst I was married, I was faithful to my
husband; since then I have been faithful to my self-respect.
But I have told myself always that if ever the time came
when I should love, I would give myself to that man without
hesitation and without shame. And that time has come, dear.
You know that I love you! Your coming has been the great
awakening joy of my life. Nothing that has gone before,
nothing that the future may hold, can ever trouble me if we
are togetheryou and I. I have suffered more than most
women. But you will help me to forget it.
I sit here with my face to the morning, and I seem to see a
new life stretching out before me. Is not love a beautiful
thing! I am not ambitious any more. I do not want any other
object in life than to make you happy, and to be made happy
by you. I began this letter with a heavy heart and with
trembling fingers. But now I am quite calm and quite happy.
I know that you will come to me. You see I have great faith
in your love. Thank God for it!
The letter fluttered from Matravers' fingers on to the floor. For
several minutes he stood quite still, with his hand pressed to his
heart. Then he calmly seated himself in a little easy chair which stood
by his side, with its back to the window. He had a curious sense of
being suddenly removed from his own personality,his own self. He was
another man gazing for the last time upon a very familiar scene.
He sat there with his head resting upon the palm of his hand,
looking with lingering eyes around his little room, even the simplest
objects of which were in a sense typical of the life which he was
abandoning. He knew that that life, if even its influence had not been
wide, had been a studiously well-ordered and a seemly thing. A touch of
that ultra æstheticism, which had given to all his writings a peculiar
tone and individuality, had permeated also his ideas as to the simplest
events of living. All that was commonplace and ugly and vicious had
ever repelled him. He had lived not only a clean life, but a sweet one.
His intense love for pure beauty, combined with a strong dash of
epicureanism, had given a certain colour to its outward form as well as
to its inward workings. Even the simplest objects by which he was
surrounded were the best of their kind,carefully and faithfully
chosen. The smallest details of his daily life had always been governed
by a love of comely and kindly order. Both in his conversation and in
his writings he had studiously avoided all excess, all shadow of evil
or unkindness. His opinions, well chosen and deliberate though they
were, were flavoured with a delicate temperateness so distinctive of
the man and of his habits. And now, it was all to come to an end! He
was about to sever the cords, to cut himself adrift from all that had
seemed precious, and dear, and beautiful to him. He, to whom even the
women of the streets had been as sacred things, was about to become the
established and the open lover of a woman whom he could never marry. To
a certain extent it was like moral shipwreck to him. Yet he loved her!
He was sure of that. He had called himself in the past, as indeed he
had every right to, something of a philosopher; but he had never tried
to harden within himself the human leaven which had kept him, in
sympathy and kindliness, always in close touch with his fellows. And
this was its fruit! To him of all men there had come this....
Soon he found himself in the street, on his way to her. Such a
letter as this called for no delay. It was barely twelve o'clock when
he rang the bell at her house. The girl who answered it handed him a
note. He asked quickly for her mistress.
She left an hour ago by the early train, he was told. She has gone
into the country.
She had made up her mind quite suddenly, and had not even taken her
maid. The address would probably be in the letter.
Still standing on the doorstep, he tore open the note and read it.
There were only a few lines.
Dearest, can you take a short holiday? I have a fancy to
have you come to me at my little house in Devonshire. London
is stifling me, and I want to taste the full sweetness of my
happiness. You see I do not doubt you! I know that you will
come. Shall you mind a tiresome railway journey? The address
is Bossington Old Manor House, Devonshire, and the station
is Minehead. Wire what train you are coming by, and I will
send something to meet you.
Matravers walked back to his rooms and ordered his portmanteau to be
packed. Then he went out, and after making all his arrangements for an
absence from town, bought a Bradshaw. There were two trains, he found,
by which he could travel, one at three, the other at half-past four. He
arranged to catch the earlier one, and drove to his club for lunch.
Afterwards he strolled towards the smoking-room, but finding it
unusually full, was on the point of withdrawing. As he lingered on the
threshold, a woman's name fell upon his ears. The speaker was Mr.
Thorndyke. He became rigid.
Why, yes, I gave her the victoria, he was saying. We called it a
birthday present, or something of that sort. I supposed every one knew
about that. Those little arrangements generally are known somehow!
The innuendo was unmistakable. Matravers advanced with his usual
leisurely walk to the little group of men.
I beg your pardon, he said quietly. I understood Mr. Thorndyke to
say, I believe, that he had given a carriage to a certain lady. Am I
Thorndyke turned upon him sharply. There was a sudden silence in the
crowded room. Matravers' clear, cold voice, although scarcely raised
above the pitch of ordinary conversation, had penetrated to its
And if I did, sir! What
These gentlemen will bear me witness that you did say so?
Matravers interrupted calmly. I regret to have to use unpleasant
language, Mr. Thorndyke, but I am compelled to tell you, and these
gentlemen, that your statement is a lie!
Thorndyke was a florid and a puffy man. The veins upon his temples
stood out like whipcord. He was not a pleasant sight to look upon.
What do you mean, sir? he spluttered. The carriage was mine
before she had it. Everybody recognizes it.
[Illustration: I am compelled to tell you, and these gentlemen,
that your statement is a lie!]
Exactly. The carriage was yours. You intended every one to
recognize it. But you have omitted to state, both here and in other
places, that the lady bought that carriage from you for two hundred and
sixty guineasa good deal more than its worth, I should imagine. You
heard her say that she was thinking of buying a victoria, and you
offered her yourspressed her to buy it. It was too small for your
horses, you said, and you were hard up. You even had it sent round to
her stables without her consent. I have heard this story before, sir,
and I have furnished myself with proofs of its falsehood. This,
gentlemen, he added, drawing some papers from his pocket, is Mr.
Thorndyke's receipt for the two hundred and sixty guineas for a
victoria, signed, as you will see, in his own handwriting, and here is
the lady's cheque with Mr. Thorndyke's endorsement, cancelled and
The papers were handed round. Thorndyke picked up his hat, but
Matravers barred his egress.
With regard to the insinuation which you coupled with your
falsehood, he continued, both are equally and absolutely false. I
know her to be a pure and upright woman. A short time ago you took
advantage of your position to make certain cowardly and disgraceful
propositions to her, since when her doors have been closed upon you! I
would have you know, sir, and remember, that the honour of that lady,
whom last night I asked to be my wife, is as dear to me as my own, and
if you dare now, or at any future time, to slander her, I shall treat
you as you deserve. You can go.
And be very careful, sir, thundered the old Earl of Ellesmere,
veteran member of the club, that you never show your face inside these
doors again, or, egad, I'm an old man, but I'll kick you out myself.
Thorndyke left the room amidst a chilling and unsympathetic silence.
As soon as he could get away, Matravers followed him. There was a
strange pain at his heart, a sense of intolerable depression had
settled down upon him. After all, what good had he done? Only a few
more days and her name, which for the moment he had cleared, would be
besmirched in earnest. His impeachment of Thorndyke would sound to
these men then like mock heroics. There would be no one to defend her
any more. There would be no defence. For ever in the eyes of all these
people she was doomed to become one of the Magdalens of the world.
It seemed a very unreal London through which Matravers was whirled
on his way from the club to Paddington. But before a third of the
distance was accomplished, there was a sudden check. A little boy, who
had wandered from his nurse in crossing the road, narrowly escaped
being run over by a carriage and pair, only to find himself knocked
down by the shaft of Matravers' hansom. There was a cry, and the driver
pulled his horse on to her haunches, but apparently just a second too
late. With a sickening sense of horror, Matravers saw the little fellow
literally under the horse's feet, and heard his shrill cry of terror.
He leaped out, and was the first to pick the child up, immeasurably
relieved to find that after all he was not seriously hurt. His clothes
were torn, and his hands were scratched, and there, apparently, the
mischief ended. Matravers lifted him into the cab, and turned to the
frightened nurse-girl for the address.
Nine, Greenfield Gardens, West Kensington, sir, she told him; and
please tell the master it wasn't my fault. He is so venturesome, I
can't control him nohow. His name is DrageFreddy Drage, sir.
And then once more Matravers felt that strange dizziness which had
come to him earlier in the day. Again he had that curious sense of
moving in a dream, as though he had, indeed, become part of an unreal
and shadowy world. The renewed motion of the cab as they drove back
again along Pall Mall, recalled him to himself. He leaned back and
looked at the boy steadily.
Yes, they were her eyes. There was no doubt about it. The little
fellow, not in the least shy, and, in fact, now become rather proud of
his adventure, commenced to prattle very soon. Matravers interrupted
him with a question,
Won't your mother be frightened to see you like this? The child
stared at him with wide-open eyes.
Why, mammy ain't there, he exclaimed. Mammy went away ever so
long ago. I don't think she's dead, though, 'cos daddy wouldn't let me
talk about her, only just lately, since he was ill. You see, he went
on with an explanatory wave of the hand, daddy's been a very bad man.
He's better nowleastways, he ain't so bad as he was; but I 'spect
that's why mammy went away. Don't you?
I daresay, Freddy, Matravers answered softly.
We're getting very near now, Freddy remarked, looking over the
apron of the cab. My! won't dada be surprised to see me drive up in a
cab with you! I hope he's at the window!
Will your father be at home now? Matravers asked.
Freddy stared at him.
Why, of course! Dad's always at home! Is my face very buggy? Don't
rub it any more, please. That's Jack Mason over there! I play with him.
I want him to see me. Hullo! Jack, he shouted, leaning out of the cab,
I've been run over, right over, face all buggy. Look at it! Hands
too, spreading them out. He's a nice boy, Freddy continued as the
cab turned a corner, but he can't run near so fast as me, and he's
lots older. Hullo! here we are! kicking vigorously at the apron.
Matravers looked up in surprise. They had stopped short before a
long row of shabby-genteel houses in the outskirts of Kensington. He
took the boy's outstretched hand and pushed open the gate. The door was
open, and Freddy dragged him into a room on the ground floor.
A man was lying on a sofa before the window, wrapped in an untidy
dressing-gown, and with the lower part of his body covered up with a
rug. His face, fair and florid, with more than a suggestion of
coarseness in the heavy jaw and thick lips, was drawn and wrinkled as
though with pain. His lips wore an habitually peevish expression. He
did not offer to rise when they came in. Matravers was thankful that
Freddy spared him the necessity of immediate speech. He had recognized
in a moment the man who had sat alone night after night in the back
seats of the New Theatre, whose slow drawn-out cry of agony had so
curiously affected him on that night of her performance. He recognized,
too, the undergraduate of his college sent down for flagrant
misbehaviour, the leader of a set whom he himself had denounced as a
disgrace to the University. And this man was her husband!
Daddy, the boy cried, dropping Matravers' hand and running over to
the couch, I've been run over by a hansom cab, and I'm all buggy, but
I ain't hurt, and this gentleman brought me home. Daddy can't get up,
you know, Freddy explained; his legs is bad.
Run over, eh! exclaimed the man on the couch. It's like that
girl's damned carelessness.
He patted the boy's head, not unkindly, and Matravers found words.
My cab unfortunately knocked your little boy down near Trafalgar
Square, but I am thankful to say that he was not hurt. I thought that I
had better bring him straight home, though, as he has had a roll in the
At the sound of Matravers' voice, the man started and looked at him
earnestly. A dull red flush stained his cheeks. He looked away.
It was very good of you, Mr. Matravers, he said. I can't think
what the girl could have been about.
I did not see her until after the accident. I am glad that it was
no worse, Matravers answered. You have not forgotten me, then?
John Drage shook his head.
No, sir, he said. I have not forgotten you. I should have known
your voice anywhere. Besides, I knew that you were in London. I saw you
at the New Theatre.
There was a short silence. Matravers glanced around the room with an
inward shiver. The usual horrors of a suburban parlour were augmented
by a general slovenliness, and an obvious disregard for any sort of
I am afraid, Drage, he said gently, that things have not gone
well with you.
You are quite right, the man answered bitterly. They have not!
They have gone very wrong indeed; and I have no one to blame but
I am sorry, Matravers said. You are an invalid, too, are you
I am worse than an invalid, the man on the couch groaned. I am a
prisoner on my back, most likely for ever; curse it! I have had a
paralytic stroke. I can't think why I couldn't die! It's hard
lines!damned hard lines! I wish I were dead twenty times a day! I am
alone here from morning to night, and not a soul to speak to. If it
wasn't for Freddy I should jolly soon end it!
The little boy's mother? Matravers ventured, with bowed head.
She left meyears ago. I don't know that I blame her,
particularly. Sit down, if you will, for a bit. I never have a visitor,
and it does me good to talk.
Matravers took the only unoccupied chair, and drew it back a little
into the darker part of the room.
You remember me then, Drage, he remarked. Yet it is a long time
since our college days.
I knew you directly I heard your voice, sir, the man answered. It
seemed to take me back to a night many years agoI want you to let me
remind you of it. I should like you to know that I never forgot it. We
were at St. John's then; you were right above mein a different world
altogether. You were a leader amongst the best of them, and I was a
hanger-on amongst the worst. You were in with the gentlemen set and the
reading set. Neither of them would have anything to do with meand
they were quite right. I was what they thought mea cad. I'd no head
for work, and no taste for anything worth doing, and I wasn't a
gentleman, and hadn't sense to behave like one. I'd no right to have
been at the University at all, but my poor old dad would have me go. He
had an idea that he could make a gentleman of me. It was a mistake!
Matravers moved slightly in his chair,he was suffering tortures.
Is it worth while recalling all these things? he asked quietly.
Life cannot be a success for all of us; yet it is the future, and not
I have no future, the man interrupted doggedly; no future here,
or in any other place. I have got my deserts. I wanted to remind you of
that night when you came to see me in my rooms, after I'd been sent
down for being drunk. I suppose you were the first gentleman who had
ever crossed my threshold, and I remember wondering what on earth you'd
come for! You didn't lecture me, and you didn't preach. You came and
sat down and smoked one of my cigars, and talked just as though we were
friends, and tried to make me see what a fool I was. It didn't do much
good in the endbut I never forgot it. You shook hands with me when
you left, and for once in my life I was ashamed of myself.
I am sorry, Matravers said with an effort, that I did not go to
see you oftener.
Drage shook his head.
It was too late then! I was done for,done for as far as Oxford
was concerned. But that was only the beginning. I might easily have
picked up if I'd had the pluck! The dad forgave me, and made me a
partner in the business before he died. I was a rich man, and I might
have been a millionaire; instead of that I was a damned fool! I can't
help swearing! you mustn't mind, sir! Remember what I am! I don't swear
when Freddy's in the room, if I can help it. I went the pace, drank,
kept women, and all the rest of it. My wife found me out and went away.
I ain't saying a word against her. She was a good woman, and I was a
bad man, and she left me! She was right enough! I wasn't fit for a
decent woman to live with. All the same, I missed her; and it was
another kick down Hellward for me when she went. I got desperate then;
I took to drink worse than ever, and I began to let my business go and
speculate. You wouldn't know anything of the city, sir; but I can tell
you this, when a cool chap with all his wits about him starts
speculating outside his business, it's touch and go with him; when a
chap in the state I was in goes for it, you can spell the result in
four letters! It's RUIN, ruin! That's what it meant for me. I lost two
hundred thousand pounds in three years, and my business went to pot
too. Then I had this cursed stroke, and here I am! I may stick on for
years, but I shall never be able to earn a penny again. Where Freddy's
schooling is to come from, or how we are to live, I don't know!
I am very sorry, Matravers said gently. Have you no friends then,
or relations who will help you?
Not a damned one, growled the man on the couch. I had plenty of
pals once, only too glad to count themselves John Drage's friends; but
where they are now I don't know. They seem to have melted away. There's
never a one comes near me. I could do without their money or their
help, somehow, but it's damned hard to lie here for ever and have not
one of 'em drop in just now and then for a bit of a talk and a cheering
word. That's what gives me the blues! I always was fond of company; I
hated being alone, and it's like hell to lie here day after day and see
no one but a cross landlady and a miserable servant girl. Lately, I
can't bear to be alone with Freddy. He's so damned like his mother, you
know. It brings a lump in my throat. I wouldn't mind so much if it were
only myself. I've had my cake! But it's rough on the boy!
It is rough on the boy, and it is rough on you, Matravers said
kindly. I wonder you have never thought of sending him to his mother!
She would surely like to have him!
The man's face grew black.
Not till I'm dead, he said doggedly. I don't want him set against
me! He's all I've got! I'm going to keep him for a bit. It ought not to
be so difficult for us to live. If only I could get down to the city
for a few hours!
Could not a friend there do some good for you? Matravers asked.
Of course he could, Mr. Drage answered eagerly; but I haven't got
a friend. See here!
He took a little account book from under his pillow, and with
trembling fingers thrust it before his visitor.
You see all these amounts. They are all owing to me from those
peoplemoney lent, and one thing and another. There is an envelope
with bills and I O U's. They belong to me, you understand, he said,
with a sudden touch of dignity. I never failed! My business was
stopped when I was taken ill, but there was enough to pay everybody.
Now some of these amounts have never been collected. If I could see
these people myself, they would pay, or if I could get a friend whom I
could trust! But there isn't a man comes near me!
Iam not a business man, Matravers said slowly; but if you cared
to explain things to me, I would go into the city and see what I could
The man raised himself on his elbow and gazed at his visitor
You mean this! he cried thickly. Say it again,quick! You mean
Certainly, Matravers answered. I will do what I can.
John Drage did not doubt his good fortune for a moment. No one ever
looked into Matravers' face and failed to believe him.
II'll thank you some day, he murmured. You've done me up! Will
He held out a thin white hand. Matravers took it between his own.
In a few moments they were absorbed in figures and explanations.
Finally the book was passed over to Matravers' keeping.
I will see what I can do, he said quietly. Some of these accounts
should certainly be recovered. I will come down and let you know how I
have got on.
[Illustration: You mean this! he cried thickly. Say it
If you would! If you don't mind! And, I wonder,do you take a
morning paper? If so, will you bring it when you've done with it, or an
old one will do? I can't read anything but newspapers; and lately I
haven't dared to spend a penny,because of Freddy, you know! It's so
I will come, and I will bring you something to read, Matravers
promised. I must go now!
John Drage held out his hand wistfully.
Good-by, he said. You're a good man! I wish I'd been like you.
It's an odd thing for me to say, butGod bless you, sir.
Matravers stood on the doorstep with his watch in his hand. It was
half-past three. There was just time to catch the four-thirty from
Waterloo! For a moment the little street faded away from before his
eyes! He saw himself at his journey's end! Berenice was there to meet
him! A breath of the country came to him on the breezea breath of
sweet-smelling flowers, and fresh moorland air, and the low murmur of
the blue sea. Yes, there was Berenice, with her dark hair blowing in
the wind, and that look of passionate peace in her pale, tired face!
Her arms were open, wide open! She had been weary so long! The struggle
had been so hard! and he, too, was weary
He started! He was still on the doorstep! Freddy was drumming on the
pane, and behind, there was a man lying on the couch, with his face
buried in his hands. He waved his hand and descended the steps firmly.
Back to my rooms, 147, Piccadilly, he told the cabman. I shall
not be going away to-day.
A man wrote it, from his little room in the heart of London, whilst
night faded into morning. He wrote it with leaden heart and unwilling
mechanical effortwrote it as a man might write his own doom. Every
fresh sentence, which stared up at him from the closely written sheets
seemed like another landmark in his sad descent from the pinnacles of
his late wonderful happiness down into the black waters of despair.
When he had finished, and the pen slipped from his stiff, nerveless
fingers, there were lines and marks in his face which had never been
there before, and which could never altogether pass away.
* * * * *
... A woman read it, seated on a shelving slant of moorland with the
blue sky overhead, and the soft murmur of the sea in her ears, and the
sunlight streaming around her. When she had finished, and the letter
had fallen to her side, crushed into a shapeless mass, the light had
died out of the sky and the air, and the song of the birds had changed
into a wail. And this was what the man had said to the woman:
Berenice, I have had a dream! I dreamed that I was coming
to you, that you and I were together somewhere in a new
world, where the men were gods and the women were saints,
where the sun always shone, and nothing that was not pure
and beautiful had any place! And now I am awake, and I know
that there is no such world.
You and I are standing on opposite sides of a deep, dark
precipice. I may not come to you! You must not come to me.
I have thought over this matter with all the seriousness
which befits it. You will never know how great and how
fierce the struggle has been. I am feeling an older and a
tired man. But now that is all over! I have crossed the
Rubicon! The mists have rolled away, and the truth is very
clear indeed to me! I shudder when I think to what misery I
might have brought you, if I had yielded to that sweetest
and most fascinating impulse of my life, which bade me
accept your sacrifice and come to you. Berenice, you are
very young yet, and you have woven some new and very
beautiful fancies which you have put into a book, and which
the world has found amusing! To you alone they have become
the essence of your life: they have become by constant
contemplation a part of yourself. Out of the greatness of
your heart you do not fear to put them into practice! But,
dear, you must find a new world to fit your fancies, for the
one in which we are forced to dwell, the world which, in
theory, finds them delightful, would find another and an
uglier world if we should venture upon their embodiment!
After all we are creatures of this world, and by this
world's laws we shall be judged. The things which are right
are right, and the things which are pure are pure. Love is
the greatest power in the world, but it cannot alter things
which are unalterable.
Once when I was climbing with a friend of mine in the
Engadine, we saw a white flower growing virtually out of a
cleft in the rocks, high above our heads. My friend was a
botanist, and he would have that flower! I lay on my back
and watched him struggle to reach it, watched him often
slipping backwards, but gradually crawling nearer and
nearer, until at last, breathless, with torn clothes and
bleeding hands, he grasped the tiny blossom, and held it out
to me in triumph! Together we admired it ceaselessly as we
retraced our steps. But as we left the high altitudes and
descended into the valley, a change took place in the
flower. Its petals drooped, its leaves shrank and faded.
White became grey, the freshness which had been its chief
beauty faded away with every step we took. My friend kept
it, but he kept it with sorrow! It was no longer a beautiful
Berenice, you are that flower! You are beautiful, and pure,
and strong! You think that you are strong enough to live in
the lowlands, but you are not! No love of mine, changeless
and whole as it must ever be, could keep your soul from
withering in the nether land of sin! For it would be sin!
In these days when you are young, when the fires of your
enthusiasm are newly kindled, and the wings of your
imagination have not been shorn, you may say to yourself
that it is not sin! You may say that love is the only true
and sweet shrine before which we need keep our lives holy
and pure, and that the time for regrets would never come!
Illusion! I, too, have tried to reason with myself in this
manner! I have tried passionately, earnestly, feverishly. I
have failed! I cannot! No one can! I know that to you I seem
to be writing like a Philistine, like a man of a generation
gone by! You have filled your little world with new ideals,
you have lit it with the lamp of love, and it all seems very
real and beautiful to you! But some day, though the lamp may
burn still as brightly as ever, a great white daylight will
break in through the walls. You will see things that you
have never seen before, and the light of that lamp will seem
cold and dim and ghostly. Nothing, nothing can ever alter
the fact that your husband lives, and that your little boy
is growing up with a great void in his heart. Some day he
will ask for his mother; even now he may be asking for her!
Berenice, would he ever look with large, indulgent eyes
upon that little world of yours! Alas!
* * * * *
I have read my letter over to myself, Berenice, and I fear
that it must sound to you very commonplace, even perhaps
cold! Yet, believe me when I tell you that I have passed
through a very fire of suffering, and if I am calm now it is
with the calm of an ineffable despair! In my life at Oxford,
and later, here in London, women have never borne any share.
Part of my scheme of living has been to regard them as
something outside my little cycle, an influence great
indeed, but one which had passed me by.
Yet I am now one of the world's great sufferers, one of
those who have found at once their greatest joy linked with
an unutterable despair. For I love you, Berenice! Never
doubt it! Though I should never look upon your face
againwhich God in His mercy forbidmy love for you must
be for ever a part and the greatest part of my life! Always
remember that, I pray you!
It seems strange to talk of one's plans with such a great,
black cloud of sorrow filling the air! But the outward form
of life does not change, even when the light has gone out
and one's heart is broken! I have some work before me which
I must finish; when it is over I shall go abroad! But that
can wait! When you are back in London, send for me! I am
schooling myself to meet a new Berenicemy friend! And I
have something still more to say to you!
The week that followed the sending of his letter was, to Matravers,
with his love for equable times and emotions, like a week in hell! He
had set himself a task not easy even to an ordinary man of business,
but to him trebly difficult and harassing. Day after day he spent in
the citya somewhat strange visitor there, with his grave, dignified
manner and studied fastidiousness of dress and deportment. He was
unversed in the ways of the men with whom he had to deal, and he had no
commercial aptitude whatever. But in a quiet way he was wonderfully
persistent, and he succeeded better, perhaps, than any other emissary
whom John Drage could have employed. The sum of money which he
eventually collected amounted to nearly fifteen hundred pounds, and
late one evening he started for Kensington with a bundle of papers
under his arm and a cheque-book in his pocket.
It was his last visit,at any rate, for the present,he told
himself with a sense of wonderful relief, as he walked through the Park
in the gathering twilight. For of late, something in connection with
his day's efforts had taken him every evening to the shabby little
house at Kensington, where his coming was eagerly welcomed by the
tired, sick man and the lonely boy. He had esteemed himself a man well
schooled in all manner of self-control, and little to be influenced in
a matter of duty by his personal likes and dislikes. But these visits
were a torture to him! To sit and talk for hours with a man, grateful
enough, but peevish and commonplace, and with a curious lack of
virility or self-reliance in his untoward circumstances, was trial
enough to Matravers, who had been used to select his associates and
associations with delicate and close care. But to remember that this
man had been, and indeed was, the husband of Berenice, was madness! It
was this man, whom at the best he could only regard with a kindly and
gentle contempt, who stood between him and such surprising happiness,
this man and the boy with his pale, serious face and dark eyes. And the
bitterness of fatefor he never realized that it would have been
possible for him to have acted otherwisehad made him their
Just as he was leaving the Park he glanced up at the sound of a
carriage passing him rapidly, and as he looked up he stood still! It
seemed to him that life itself was standing still in his veins.
Berenice had been silent. There had come no word from her! But nothing
so tragic, so horrible as this, had ever occurred to him! His heart had
been full of black despair, and his days had been days of misery; but
even the possibility of seeking for himself solace, by means not
altogether worthy, had never dawned upon him. Nor had he dreamed it of
her! Yet the man who waved his hand from the box-seat of the phaeton
with a courtesy seemingly real, but, under the circumstances, brutally
ironical, was Thorndyke, and the woman who sat by his side was
The carriage passed on down the broad drive, and Matravers stood
looking after it. Was it his fancy, or was that, indeed, a faint cry
which came travelling through the dim light to his ears as he stood
there under the treesa figure turned to stone. A faint cry, or the
wailing of a lost spirit! A sudden dizziness came over him, and he sat
down on one of the seats close at hand. There was a singing in his
ears, and a pain at his heart. He sat there with half-closed eyes,
battling with his weakness.
Presently he got up, and continued his journey. He found himself on
the doorstep of the shabby little house, and mechanically he passed in
and told the story of his day's efforts to the man who welcomed him so
eagerly. With his pocket-book in his hand he successfully underwent a
searching cross-examination, faithfully recording what one man had said
and what another, their excuses and their protestations. He made no
mistakes, and his memory served him amply. But when he had come to the
end of the list, and had placed the cheque-book in John Drage's
fingers, he felt that he must get away. Even his stoical endurance had
a measurable depth. But it was hard to escape from the man's most
unwelcome gratitude. John Drage had not the tact to recognize in his
benefactor the man to whom thanks are hateful.
And I had no claim upon you whatever! the sick man wound up,
half-breathless. If you had cut me dead, after my Oxford disgrace, it
would only have been exactly what I deserved. That's what makes it so
odd, your doing all this for me. I can't understand it, I'm damned if I
Matravers stood over him, a silent, unresponsive figure, seeking
only to make his escape. With difficulty he broke in upon the torrent
Will you do me the favour, Mr. Drage, he begged earnestly, of
saying no more about it. Any man of leisure would have done for you
what I have done. If you really wish to afford me a considerable
happiness, you can do so.
Anything in this world! John Drage declared vehemently.
Matravers thought for a moment. The proposition which he was about
to make had been in his mind from the first. The time had come now to
put it into words.
You must not be offended at what I am going to say, he began
gently. I am a rich man, and I have taken a great fancy to your boy. I
have no children of my own; in fact, I am quite alone in the world. If
you will allow me, I should like to undertake Freddy's education.
A light broke across the man's coarse face, momentarily
transfiguring it. He raised himself on his elbow, and gazed at his
visitor with eager scrutiny. Then he drew a deep sigh, and there were
tears in his eyes. He did not say a word. Matravers continued.
It will be a great pleasure for me, he said quietly. What I
propose is to invest a thousand pounds for that purpose in Freddy's
name. In fact, I have taken the liberty of already doing it. The papers
Matravers laid an envelope on the little table between them. Then he
Will you forgive me now, he said, if I hurry away? I will come
and see you again, and we will talk this over more thoroughly.
And still John Drage said nothing, but he held out his hand.
Matravers pressed the thin fingers between his own.
You must see Freddy, he said eagerly. I promised him that he
should come in before you went.
But Matravers shook his head. There was a pain at his heart like the
cutting of a knife.
I cannot stay another instant, he declared. Send Freddy over to
my rooms any time. Let him come and have tea with me!
Then they parted, and Matravers walked through a world of strange
shadows to Berenice's house. Her maid, recognizing him, took him up to
her room without ceremony. The door was softly opened and shut. He
stood upon the threshold. For a moment everything seemed dark before
Berenice seemed to dwell always in the twilight. At first Matravers
thought that the room was empty, and he advanced slowly towards the
window. And then he stopped short. Berenice was lying in a crumpled
heap on the low couch, almost within touch of his hands. She was lying
on her side, her supple figure all doubled up, and the folds of her
loose gown flowing around her in wild disorder. Her face was half
hidden in her clasped hands.
Berenice, he cried softly.
[Illustration: Berenice was lying in a crumpled heap on the low
She did not answer. She was asleep. He stood looking down upon her,
his heart full of an infinite tenderness. She, too, had suffered, then.
Her hair was in wild confusion, and there were marks of recent tears
upon her pale cheeks. A little lace handkerchief had slipped from her
fingers down on to the floor. He picked it up. It was wet! The glow of
the heavily-shaded lamp was upon her clasped white fingers and her
bowed head. He watched the rising and falling of her bosom as she
slept. To him, so great a stranger to women and their ways, there was a
curious fascination in all the trifling details of her toilette and
person, the innate daintiness of which appealed to him with a very
potent and insidious sweetness. Whilst she slept, he felt as one far
removed from her. It was like a beautiful picture upon which he was
gazing. The passion which had been raging within him like an autumn
storm was suddenly stilled. Only the purely æsthetic pleasure of her
presence and his contemplation of it remained. It seemed to him then
that he would have had her stay thus for ever! Before his fixed eyes
there floated a sort of mystic dream. There was another worldwas it
the world of sleep or of death?where they might join hands and dwell
together in beautiful places, and there was no one, not even their
consciences, to say them nay. The dust of earthly passion and sin, and
all the commonplace miseries of life, had faded for ever from their
knowledge. It was their souls which had come together ... and there was
a wonderful peace.
Then she opened her eyes and looked up at him. There was no more
dreaming! The old, miserable passion flooded his heart and senses. His
feet were upon the earth again! The whole world of those strange,
poignant sensations, stronger because of their late coming, welled up
She was only half awake, and she held up her soft, white arms to
him, gleaming like marble through the lace of her wide sleeves. She
looked up at him with the faint smile of a child.
He stooped down, and her arms closed around him like a soft yoke.
But he kissed her forehead so lightly that she scarcely realized that
this was almost his first caress.
Berenice, you have been angry with me!
She sat up, and the lamplight fell upon his face.
You have been ill, she cried in a shocked tone.
It is nothing. I am well. But to-nightI had a shock; I saw you
Her eyes met his. The hideous phantom which had been dogging his
steps was slain. He was ashamed of that awful but nameless fear.
It is true. Mr. Thorndyke has offered me an apology, which I am
forced to believe sincere. He has asked me to be his wife! I was sorry
He is a bad man! He has spoken ill of you! He has already a wife!
I am glad of it. I can obey my instincts now, and see him no more.
Personally he is distasteful to me! I had an idea he was honest! It is
She dismissed the subject with a wave of the hand. To her it was
altogether a minor matter. Then she looked at him.
You never answered my letter.
No, there was no answer. I came back.
You did not let me know.
You will find a message at your rooms when you get back.
He walked up and down the room. He knew at once that all he had done
hitherto had been in vain. The battle was still before him. She sat and
watched him with an inscrutable smile. Once as he passed her, she laid
her hand upon his arm. He stopped at once.
Your white flower was born to die and to wither, she said. A
night's frost would have killed it as surely as the lowland air. It is
like these violets. She took a bunch from her bosom. This morning
they were fresh and beautiful. Now they are crushed and faded! Yet they
have lived their life.
She threw them down upon the floor.
Do you think a woman is like that? she said softly. You are very,
very ignorant! She has a soul.
He held out his hand.
A soul to keep white and pure. A soul to give backto God!
Again she smiled at him slowly, and shook her dark head. You are
like a child in some things! You have lived so long amongst the dry
bones of scholarship, that you have lost your touch upon humanity. And
of us women, you knowso very little. You have tried to understand us
from books. How foolish! You must be my disciple, and I will teach
It is not teaching, he cried; it is temptation.
She turned upon him with a gleam of passion in her eyes.
Temptation! she cried. There spoke the whole selfishness of the
philosopher, the dilettante in morals! What is it that you fear? It is
the besmirchment of your own ideals, your own little code framed and
moulded with your own hands. What do you know of sin or of purity, you,
who have held yourself aloof from the world with a sort of delicate
care, as though you, forsooth, were too precious a thing to be soiled
with the dust of human passion and human love! That is where you are
all wrong. That is where you make your great mistake. You have judged
without experience. You speak of a soul which may be stained with sin;
you have no more knowledge than the Pharisees of old what constitutes
sin. Love can never stain anything! Love that is constant and true and
pure is above the marriage laws of men; it is above your little
self-constructed ideals; it is a thing of Heaven and of God! You wrote
to me like a child,and you are a child, for until you have learnt
what love is, you are without understanding.
Suddenly her outstretched hands dropped to her side. Her voice
became soft and low; her dark eyes were dimmed.
Come to me, and you shall know. I will show you in what narrow
paths you have been wandering. I will show you how beautiful a woman's
love can make your life!
If we can love and be pure, he said hoarsely, what is sin? What
He was standing by the window, and he pointed westwards with shaking
finger. The roar of Piccadilly and Regent Street came faintly into the
little room. She understood him.
You have a great deal to learn, dear, she whispered softly.
Remember this first, and before all, Love can sanctify everything.
But they too loved in the beginning!
She shook her head.
That they never could have done. Love is eternal. If it fades or
dies, then it never was love. Then it was sin.
But those poor creatures! How are they to tell between the true
love and the false?
She stamped her foot, and a quiver of passion shook her frame.
We are not talking about them. We are talking about ourselves! Do
you doubt your love or mine?
I cannot, he answered. Berenice!
Did you ever tellyour husband that you loved him?
Did he love you?
I believe, so far as he knew how to love anything,he did.
She waved her hand impatiently.
He has forgotten. He was shallow, and he was fond of life. He has
found consolation long ago. Do not talk of him. Do not dare to speak of
him again! Oh, why do you make me humble myself so?
He may not have forgotten. He may have repented. He may be longing
for you now,and suffering. Should we be sinless then?
She swept from her place, and stood before him with flashing eyes.
I forbid you to remind me of my shame. I forbid you to remind me
that I, too, like those poor women on the street, have been bought and
sold for money! I have worked out my own emancipation. I am free. It
was while I was living with him as his wife that I sinned,for I hated
him! Speak to me no more of that time! If you cannot forget it, you had
He stretched out his hands and held hers tightly.
Berenice, if you were alone in the world, and there was some great
barrier to our marriage, I would not hesitate any longer. I would take
you to myself. Don't think too hardly of me. I am like a man who is
denying himself heaven. But your husband lives. You belong to him. You
do not know whether he is in prosperity, or whether he has forgotten.
You do not know whether he has repented, or whether his life is still
such as to justify your taking the law into your own hands, and
forsaking him for ever. Listen to me, dear! If you will find out these
things, if you can say to yourself and to me, and to your conscience,
'he has found happiness without me, he has ignored and forgotten the
tie between us, he does not need my sympathy, or my care, or my
companionship,' then I will have no more scruples. Only let us be sure
that you are morally free from that man.
She wrenched her hands away from his. There was a bright, red spot
of colour flaring on her cheeks. Her eyes were on fire.
You are mad! she cried; you do not love me! No man can know what
love is who talks about doubts and scruples like you do! You are too
cold and too selfish to realize what love can be! And to think that I
have stopped to reason, to reason with you! Oh! my God! What have I
done to be humbled like this?
Leave me! Don't come near me any more! I shall thrust you out of my
life! You never loved me! I could not have loved you! Go away! It has
been a hideous mistake!
My God! Will you leave me? she moaned. You are driving me mad! I
Her white hand flashed out into the darkness, as though she would
have struck him! He bowed his head and went.
Matravers knew after that night that his was a broken life. Any
future such as he had planned for himself of active, intellectual toil
had now, he felt, become impossible. His ideals were all broken down. A
woman had found her way in between the joints of an armour which he had
grown to believe impenetrable, and henceforth life was a wreck. The
old, quiet stoicism, which had been the inner stimulus of his career,
was a thing altogether overthrown and impotent. He was too old to
reconstruct life anew; the fragments were too many, and the wreck too
complete. Only his philosophy showed him very plainly what the end must
be. Across the sky of his vision it seemed to be written in letters of
Early in the morning, having made his toilette as usual with a care
almost fastidious, he went out into the sunlit streets, moving like a
man in a deep dream amongst scenes which had become familiar to him day
by day. At his lawyer's he made his will, and signed it, thankful for
once for his great loneliness, insomuch as there was no one who could
call the disposal of his property to a stranger an injusticefor he
had left all to little Freddy; left it to him because of his mother's
eyes, as he thought with a faint smile. Then he called at his
publisher's and at the office of a leading review to which he was a
regular contributor, telling them to expect no more work from him for a
while; he was going abroad to take a long-earned holiday. He lunched at
his club, speaking in a more than usually friendly manner to the few
men with whom at times he had found it a pleasure to associate, and
finally, with that sense of unreality growing stronger and stronger, he
found himself once more in the Park, in his usual chair, looking out
with the same keen sympathy upon the intensely joyous, beautiful phase
of life which floated around him. The afternoon breeze rustled
pleasantly among the cool green leaves above his head, and the sunlight
slanted full across the shaded walk. On every hand were genial voices,
cordial greetings, and light farewells. With a sense almost of awe, he
thought of the days when he had sat there waiting for her carriage,
that he might look for a few moments upon that pale-faced woman, whose
influence over him seemed already to have commenced before even any
words had passed between them. He sat there, gravely acknowledging the
salutes of those with whom he was acquainted, wearing always the same
faint and impenetrable smilewonderful mask of a broken heart. And
still the memories came surging into his brain. He thought of that grey
morning when he had sat there alone, oppressed by some dim premonitions
of the tragedy amongst whose shadows he was already passing, so that
even the wind which had followed the dawn, and shaken the rain-drops
down upon him, had seemed to carry upon its bosom wailing cries and sad
human voices. As the slow moments passed along, he found himself
watching for her carriage with some remnant of the old wistfulness. But
it never came, and for that he was thankful.
At last he rose, and walked leisurely back to his rooms. He gave
orders to his servant to pack all his things for a journey; then, for
the last time, he stood up in the midst of his possessions, looking
around him with a vague sorrowfulness at the little familiar objects
which had become dear to him, both by association and by reason of a
certain sense of companionship which he had always been able to feel
for beautiful things, however inanimate. It was here that he had come
when he had first left Oxford, full of certain definite ambitions, and
with a mind fixed at least upon living a serene and well-ordered life.
He had woven many dreams within these four walls. How far away those
days now seemed to be from him! He would never dream any more; for him
the world's great dream was very close at hand.
He poured himself out a glass of wine from a quaintly cut decanter,
and set it down on his writing-desk, emptying into it with scrupulous
care the contents of a little packet which he had been carrying all day
in his waistcoat pocket. He paused for a moment before taking up his
pen, to move a little on one side the deep blue china bowl of flowers
which, summer and winter alike, stood always fresh upon his
writing-table. To-day it chanced, by some irony of fate, that they were
roses, and a swift flood of memories rushed into his tingling senses as
the perfume of the creamy blossoms floated up to him.
He set his teeth, and, taking out some paper, began to write.
Berenice, farewell! To-night I am going on a very long
journey, to a very far land. You and I may never meet again,
and so, farewell! Farewell to you, Berenice, whom I have
loved, and whom I dearly love. You are the only woman who
has ever wandered into my little life to teach me the great
depths of human passionand you came too late. But that was
not your fault.
For what I am doing, do you, at least, not blame me. If
there were a single person in the world dependent upon me,
or to whom my death would be a real loss, I would remain.
But there is no one. And, whereas alive I can do you no
good, dead I may! Berenice, your husband livesin suffering
and in poverty; your husband and your little boy. Freddy has
looked at me out of your dark eyes, my love, and whilst I
live I can never forget it. I hold his little hands, and I
look into his pure, childish face, and the great love which
I bear for his mother seems like an unholy thing. Leave your
husband out of the questionput every other consideration
on one side, Freddy's eyes must have kept us apart for ever.
And, dear, it is your boy's future, and the care of your
stricken husband, which must bring you into closer and more
intimate touch with the vast world of human sorrows. Love
is a sacrifice, and life is a sacrifice. I know, and that
knowledge is the comfort of my last sad night on earth,
that you will find your rightful place amongst her toiling
daughters. And it is because there is no fitting place for
me by your side that I am very well content to die. For
myself, I have well counted the cost. Death is an infinite
compulsion. Our little lives are but the veriest trifle in
the scale of eternity. Whether we go into everlasting sleep,
or into some other mystic state, a few short years here more
or less are no great matter, Berenice.
Again there came that curious pain at his heartstrings, and the
singing in his ears. The pen slipped from his fingers; his head
Berenice! he whispered. Berenice!
* * * * *
And as though by a miracle she heard him, for she was close at hand.
Whilst he had been writing, the door was softly opened and closed, a
tall, grey-mantled figure stood upon the threshold. It was Berenice!
May I come in? she cried softly. Her face was flushed, and her
cheeks were wet, but a smile was quivering upon her lips.
He did not answer. She came into the room, close to his side. Her
fingers clasped the hand which was hanging over the side of his chair.
The lamp had burnt very low; she could scarcely see his face.
Dear, I have come to you, she murmured. I am sorry. I want you to
forgive me. I do love you! you know that I love you!
The pressure of her fingers upon his hand was surely returned. She
stood up, and her cloak slipped from her shoulders on to the floor.
Why don't you speak to me? Don't you hear? Don't you understand? I
have come to you! I will not be sent away! It is too late! My carriage
brought me here. I have told my people that I shall not be returning!
Come away with me to-night! Let us start now! Listen! it is too late to
draw back! Every one knows that I have come to you! We shall be so
happy! Tell me that you are glad!
There was no answer. He did not move. She came close to him, so that
her cheek almost touched his.
Tell me that you are glad, she begged. Don't argue with me any
more. If you do, I shall stop your mouth with kisses. I am not like
you, dear! I must have love! I cannot live alone any longer! I have
touched the utmost limits of my endurance! I will stay with you!
You shall love me! Listen! If you do not, I swearbut no! You
will save me from that! Oh, I know that you will! But don't argue with
me! Words are so cold, and I am a womanand I must love and be loved,
or I shall die.... Ah!
She started round with a little scream. Her eyes, frightened and
dilated, were fixed upon the door. On the threshold a little boy was
standing in his night-shirt, looking at her with dark, inquiring eyes.
I want Mr. Matravers, if you please, he said deliberately. Will
you tell him? He don't know that I'm here yet! He will be so surprised!
Charlie Dunlopthat's where I livehas the fever, and dad sent me
here with a letter, but Mr. Matravers was out when we came, and nurse
put me to bed. Now she's gone away, and I'm so lonely. Is he asleep?
Please wake him, and tell him.
She turned up the lamp without moving her eyes from the little
white-clad figure. A great trembling was upon her! It was like a voice
from the shadows of another world. And Matravers, why did he not speak?
Slowly the lamp burned up. She leaned forward. He was sitting with
his head resting upon his hand, and the old, faint smile parting his
lips. But he did not look up! He did not speak to her! He was sitting
like a carved image!
For God's sake speak to me! she cried.
Then a certain rigidity in his posture struck her for the first
time, and she threw herself on the ground beside him with a cry of
fear. She pressed her lips to his, chafed his cold hand, and whispered
frantically in his ear! But there was no answerthere never could be
any answer. Matravers was dead, and the wine-glass at his side was
[Illustration: But there was no answerthere never could be any
* * * * *
Berenice did not faint! She did not even lose consciousness for a
moment. Moaning softly to herself, but dry-eyed, she leaned over his
shoulder and read the words which he had written to her, of which,
indeed, the ink was scarcely dry. When she had finished, she took up
the wine-glass in her own fingers, holding it so steadily that not a
drop was spilt.
Here was the panacea she craved! The problem of her troubled life
was so easily to be solved. Rest with the man she loved!
Her arms would fold around him as she sank to the ground. Perhaps he
was already waiting for her somewherein one of those mystic worlds
where the soul might shake itself free from this weary burden of human
passions and sorrows. Her lips parted in a wonderful smile. She raised
There was a soft patter across the carpet, and a gentle tug at her
I am very cold, Freddy cried piteously, holding out a little blue
foot from underneath his night-shirt. If you don't want to wake Mr.
Matravers, will you take me up to bed, please?
Through a mist of sudden tears, she looked down into her boy's face.
She drew a deep, quick breathher fingers were suddenly nerveless.
There was a great dull stain on the front of her dress, the wine-glass,
shattered into many pieces, lay at her feet. She fell on her knees, and
with a little burst of passionate sobs took him into her arms.
* * * * *
There were grey hairs in the woman's head, although she was still
quite young. A few yards ahead, the bath chair, wheeled by an
attendant, was disappearing in the shroud of white mist, which had
suddenly rolled in from the sea. But the woman lingered for a moment
with her eyes fixed upon that dim, distant line, where the twilight
fell softly upon the grey ocean. It was the single hour in the long day
which she claimed always for her ownfor it seemed to her in that
mysterious stillness, when the shadows were gathering and the winds had
dropped, that she could sometimes hear his voice. Perhaps, somewhere,
he too longed for that houra dweller, it might be, in that wonderful
spirit world of the unknown, of which he had spoken sometimes with a
curiously grave solemnity. Her hands clasped the iron railing, a light
shone for a moment in the pale-lined face turned so wistfully seawards!
Was it the low, sweet music of the sea, or was it indeed his voice
in her ears, languorous and soft, long-travelled yet very clear.
Somewhere at least he must know that hers had become at his bidding the
real sacrifice! A smile transfigured her face! It was for this she had
Then there came her summons. A querulous little cry reached her from
the bath chair, drawn up on the promenade. She waved her hand
I am coming, she cried; wait for me!
But her face was turned towards that dim, grey line of silvery
light, and the wind caught hold of her words and carried them away over
the bosom of the seaupwards!