Cleo The Magnificent
by Louis Zangwill
BOOK I. CLEO
CLEO THE MAGNIFICENT
* * * * *
MR. LOUIS ZANGWILL'S WORKS.
A Drama in Dutch.
Spectator: Certainly a book which has not merely cleverness
but real vitality.
Speaker: Deliciously original ... and told with great spirit,
humor and dramatic vigor.
T. P. in Weekly Sun: What a delightful creation Mrs. de
Griendt is! Indeed I should have personally been glad if we had had
more of her.... I think the reader will agree with me that I have not
exaggerated the literary merit of this exquisitely-described scene.
The World and a Man.
Academy: A masterful novelist.
Illustrated London News: One of the cleverest novels of the
Pall Mall Gazette: Finely told.... It is an achievement in a
high form of art.
Daily Chronicle: It contains many passages which the greatest
masters in the same genre might have been proud to have written.
The Beautiful Miss Brooke.
Brooklyn Eagle: A brilliant bit of work.
Detroit Free Press: He has analyzed with ability and
finish.... This is a story to be admired for its discernment and its
Boston Beacon: The story is thoroughly entertaining and well
done, ... and in analysis of character, force, and directness, it
exceeds the author's previous essays in fiction.
Chicago Record: Very few recent novels which have come out of
England will compare with this story in two pointsabsolute
conciseness of form and analysis of motive.... Here is a theme of vital
truthfulness and Mr. Louis Zangwill has dealt with it with the hand of
a master of form....
A Nineteenth Century Miracle.
Academy: As tantalizing a problem as was ever bound in cloth.
Pall Mall Gazette: As tangled a skein as ever the brain of
Daily Chronicle: We have seldom read a better piece of
Morning Leader: It would probably defy the most ingeniously
imaginative reader to make in the course of the story even an
approximate leap toward the heart of the miracle that Louis Zangwill
has wrought for his astonishment.
* * * * *
CLEO THE MAGNIFICENT
The Muse of the Real
Author of The Beautiful Miss Brooke, The World and a Man, Etc.,
New York: G. W. Dillingham Co., Publishers. London: Wm. Heinemann.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1897, by G. W.
DILLINGHAM CO., In the office of the Librarian of Congress at
Washington, D. C.
Cleo the Magnificent.
BOOK I. CLEO THE MAGNIFICENT
It was past midnight, and both men were smoking leisurely by the
study fireside. Morgan Druce sat just on the edge of a low chair, his
long, slim body bent forward, his clean-shaven boyish face well within
the glow of the fire. Though he appeared to be looking at it, he was
only conscious of its warmth.
Robert Ingram, middle-aged and bearded, lolled back in sensuous
comfort. The long and the short of it is, he resumed, you've a
soul-crisis on just at present. Crises are bad for the digestion, and I
took care to grow out of them long ago.
Our temperaments are very different, said Morgan.
That's what makes your case so difficult to meet, returned Ingram.
It's your infernal temperament. One never knows how to take it. In
fact, you're the sort of person in whose existence I never really
believed; for though, as you know, I once had ideals and a literary
conscience, I was always aware they would go as soon as I had a market
for everything I could manufacture. You are the genuine incorruptible
artist, to whom art is sacred. I really don't know whether to be
doubtful of my cynicism or your sanity.
That my case is a pretty bad one I've already admitted, put
Now, if you were only some poor devil who was alone in the world,
went on Ingram without heeding his remark, I could take you in hand
and make something of you, for you've quite brains enough. Poor devils
are generally more reasonable in their views than you, even when
they're geniuses. You simply keep on wearing out your heart day after
day. Why? For fame? What is it worth? Well, I won't answer the
questionI deal quite enough in platitudes.
You don't understand, Ingram. What do you really know of me?
Well, if I don't know you by this time, you must be an uncommonly
deep personor perhaps I am an uncommonly shallow one.
Morgan Druce did not answer. His last remark had been more of a
reflection than an interrogation. What did Ingram really know of him,
he asked himself again, despite the five years of the indefinable
relation between them? Admitting that the man beneath the cynic was
kindly and sympathetic, yet he could not but be aware that Ingram's
treason to the aspirations of his youth had destroyed the finer edge of
feeling. His vision did not respond to subtler vibrations; his judgment
was broad and coarse.
Such was Morgan's intuition about Robert Ingram. He believed the man
to be sincere with him and he trusted him. And yet, as he looked up now
and saw Ingram, relapsed into his luxurious arm chair, blowing rings of
smoke, he seemed to detect something in his expression that filled him
with a vague distrust about the genuineness of his professed interest
in him. There was a sort of swagger in his whole posture, a slickness
about his well-dressed, well-fed body, and a self-satisfaction in his
somewhat burly face, nay, even in the manner his fat fingers held his
fat cigar, that set Morgan wondering for the first time whether
Ingram's attitude to literature did not in truth sum up the whole man;
whether that popular novelist and dramatist could really have a place
in his heart for anything that was of unimportance to his own personal
existencefor a poor devil of a poetaster, for instance.
It was one of those sudden doubts that are created by a chance
glimpse from an accidental new point of view; and Morgan thrust it from
him as absurd and unjust. It could have no foundation, else why had
Ingram responded to his appeal at the beginning? Why had he tolerated
his calls all these years? Why were they talking together in that room
He had often been puzzled about this relation between them, though,
as with his friendship with Lady Thiselton, its very strangeness and
originality pleased him. His relation to that charming woman was, he
felt, both indefinable and incredible; and his relation to the man
beside him, though less odd, could be included neither in the category
of acquaintanceship nor in that of friendship. Morgan was ignorant of
Ingram's personal life, even as Ingram was ignorant of such a large
fact in his own as Lady Thiselton. Their coming together had been
always on the ground of their one common interest; otherwise there was
the most absolute mutual exclusiveness between their existences. True
that Morgan's periodical appearance at this Albert Gate flat, of which
Ingram had made for himself a luxurious bachelor's home, had eventually
resulted in a certain frankness of speech and familiarity of manner
between them. But here their intercourse began and ended.
Perhaps Morgan had all along seen the position a little bit out of
perspective; the very freedom with which Ingram had come to unmask
himself before him and the intimacy with which they addressed each
other had perhaps misled him. The cheery breeziness of Ingram had
attracted him a good deal from the first, and he had liked the man for
the ready good nature he had displayed towards him. And altogether it
had been easy for him to think that he had done more than just rub up
against the surface of Ingram's life, the depth and fullness of which
he had scarcely realised.
At the beginning he had looked upon his being allowed to come and
see the older man now and again as a privilege. It had never struck him
to look at these visits of his from the other's point of view. It was
precisely this point of view that now forced itself upon him as he
struggled with the suspicion that had come to him. Had Ingram looked
upon him merely as somebody who deserved to be good-humouredly
tolerated? And was his openness only due to the consciousness of his
(Morgan's) being an outsider, into whose ears he had got into the habit
of speaking thoughts he would have told to no other living person,
pretty much as he might have written them in a diary? Such a habit was
easy to acquire with regard to an outsider whom one came into contact
with periodically, and with whom one had a long talk each time.
He was not pleased, however, that such a train of thought should
have come to him, and, urged by something akin to remorse, his mind
went travelling back over the past five years in search of arguments in
favour of Ingram.
There was a long interval during which both smoked in silence.
Do you remember, asked Morgan, at length, the circumstances under
which we first became acquainted?
Perfectly, responded Ingram. You wrote me a long letter, a rather
pathetic one. That was the first intimation I had of your existence.
Did you destroy that letter?
I never destroy letterscompromising ones, of course, always
Then I may assume it still exists. Would it give you very much
trouble to find it now?
I pride myself upon my system, answered Ingram.
Please put it to the test, then.
Your system is excellent, admitted Morgan, as at the end of about
five minutes Ingram held up the sheets in triumph. Now I wonder if
you'd read it to me. I want to hear how it sounds.
Certainly, you amusing beggar, said Ingram. You wrote it during
your last crisis and you want to compare your feelings then with now.
I forget what I wrote, said Morgan, with an attempt at gaiety. It
must be very dramatic, so please put the proper expression into it,
just as if it were a passage in one of your plays.
Dear Mr. Ingram, read out that gentleman. For nearly six years I
have been trying to live by writing verseever since I was seventeen.
Six years of passionate hope and longing, failure and failure, all
years of wandering in the desert, of groping in the dark. I know no
oneno one to criticise meno one to encourage, to blame, or to
praise; only the voice of purpose in my breast. Amid loneliness this
passion for fruitless labour has grown strong, frenzied, blind. Perhaps
one day I shall penetrateif I live. But for life one must have food;
for work one must have shelter. At twenty-three one does not want to
die; not when one has lived always in the future, when one has striven
and toiled for recognition that may yet come. Not mere recognition of
genius or talent, of knack or gift, but recognition of Truth as opposed
to Imposture, of my right to life, of my right to give free and full
expression of the individuality that is mine.
As matters are nowI am utterly friendless so far as my inner life
is concernedI can see no other end than fall. God knows what shape
that fall is destined to take; into what mire my soul must plunge in
the fight for life. I could bear anything if I were not so utterly
alone and helpless. I would do hack-work if I but knew Grub Street. I
would sell my soul to a publisher for fifty pounds a year. Anything to
get my foot on the lowest rung of the ladder! Anything to help me on
the way to freedom!
If you could see me, speak to me, help me in any way! Believe me, I
do not wish to force my personality on you. I do not want you to give
me any material thing. I only beg of you to aid me in asserting my
claim on life by telling how I may win bread.
I should be deeply grateful for a word from you. In any case,
pardon this intrusion. Yours, etc., Morgan Druce.
* * * * *
Ingram drew a long breath and threw the sheets on to the table.
Have I read it nicely? he asked.
And I wrote thatto you, Robert Ingram! exclaimed Morgan,
You did, said Ingram, quietly. And you know what the sequel was.
You were moved by my appeal. You came to seek me out.
Well, your letter interested me. It was not the letter of a duffer
or a swindlerthe sort of thing you can tell by its ornate
pompousness; and it just caught me when I was somewhat bored by things,
so that I rather welcomed it as an excitement. I expected to find you
lodging in some miserable cottagea Chatterton in a garret. I came to
bring food to the hungry. Instead
You found me living in a palace standing in a fine park, with no
lack of loaves and fishes, of milk and honey.
It was the greatest surprise of my life. When I could no longer
doubt that the only people called Druce in the neighbourhood lived in
the magnificent Elizabethan mansion, whose name was that of the
supposed cottage from which you addressed your letter, I began to think
the family kept a skeleton in one of the cupboards. In plain
You thought one of the members of the family must be a lunatic.
Anyway, the champagne was first-class, the cigars were worth
half-a-crown apiece, said Ingram, laughing.
And when you had gone into the matter you thought that if I wasn't
quite a lunatic, I was not far short of one for disagreeing with my
Frankly, I did.
You never really sympathised.
I didall the time I conceived of you as a Chatterton.
A palace is worse than a garret, asserted Morgan, under the
conditions in which I lived.
Bah! You know nothing about garrets. And, as I pointed out to you,
even if, in spite of the competition, you did sell your soul to a
publisher for fifty pounds a year, he'd take care to stick to it. You
were hopelessly wrong in your ideas about getting your foot on the
first rung of the ladder.
I am ashamed of ever having had those ideasof ever having been
willing to suppress my individuality, if only temporarily, for the sake
of living. It all ought to have ended then. Why did you advise me to go
I only advised you to go on writingI took the other thing for
granted. In the light of my experience of myself at the same age, I
judged it was the only advice you would take. And then having entered
on the adventure, I wanted to finish it; so naturally I set about
making peace between father and son. Excellent man, your father! So
open to reason! You must have been deuced clumsy to irritate him. To
refuse to enter such a business! You'd have been a rich man in a few
years. But I'm sorry to see your last remark implied a sort of
It was a stupid remark, admitted Morgan. Of course I wanted to go
on. At twenty-three one does not want to die.
If there is still a prospect of being allowed to write poetry,
added Ingram. You wanted to be put in the way of earning fifty pounds
a year, and naturally you invoked the assistance of the man who was
reputed to have a weakness for embryo genius. However, at the age of
twenty-eight, it appears, one does want to die. I helped you over the
last crisis; perhaps I may help you over this one. Let us look at the
facts. You've had a good chance and you've been defeated. Your poetry
is not wanted. As I've told you before, I am not competent to say
whether it's great or whether it's downright drivelit's years since I
discovered my limitations. You've been imprudent enough to pay the
expenses of publishing two small volumes, and certain it is that nobody
found any greatness in them. I admit I couldn't make head or tail of
the bulk of the stuffI'm satisfied myself to write what plain folk
can understand. To put the matter bluntly, you send work to market that
most people would look on as the ravings of a lunatic. Now, my advice
iscut poetry. There is plenty in the world for you to live for. Go
and travel awhile. See men and cities, sculpture and paintings. Study
humanity instead of merely thinking about it. Sail over the wide seas;
breathe in the good air; be true to your youth and fall in love right
bravely. You are richall this is in your power. I am sure your father
will be pleased.
Morgan was touched by the other's enthusiasm.
I have always misunderstood you, he cried, remorsefully; you are
not the mere gross tradesman you boast of being.
Really, you embarrass me. Anyway, I hope that, now your opinion of
me has gone up, my advice will bear fruit. After which I shall not mind
confessing that that last nice bit is a quotation from my first novel.
I could have invented nothing more apropos.
You give me advice I am powerless to act on, said Morgan, after
some hesitation. I spent my last shilling to-day.
No money! ejaculated Ingram. The deuce! Don't you draw a regular
income from your father?
That was not the arrangement, said Morgan. I was the first-born,
and he was mortally offended by my refusal to enter the bank and carry
on the name and the tradition of the house. During all those six years
there had been friction and bitterness between us. At last came an
appalling outbreak, and I was suffering from the full pain of my wounds
when I wrote to you. You were good enough to tell him that genius
sometimes earned quite considerable amounts, and the ultimate result of
your intercession, of which you only knew the happy issue, not the
details, was that he agreed to give me six thousand pounds, with the
understanding I was never to expect another penny from him. My brother
was to take my commercial birthright and I the responsibility for my
whole future. I've earned nothing save an odd few shillings now and
again, and all I had from my father I've somehow managed to mess away.
Good God! shrieked Ingram. Six thousand pounds in five years! An
exemplary young man of simple habits like you! What could you have done
with it all? You're not a spendthrift. You don't gamble, do you?
I don't know how it has gone, said Morgan, helplessly. I made bad
investments, I lent some of it away, and I suppose I spent the rest.
And you wanted to sell your soul to a publisher for fifty pounds a
year! The fact is, I suppose, you don't know the value of money at
allit just melts away.
For me money has no value. I don't care a pin about it, said
That's scarcely the point, said Ingram. Whether you care about it
or not, you'll have to raise some of it. Let me interview your father.
The fault is his. He knew you were a poet, and yet he was imprudent
enough to give you capital instead of an income.
It was my doing. I wanted to be perfectly free and independent of
himnot to be worried by sordid complaints and lectures and warnings
with each quarter's cheque. I told him so frankly, and I so annoyed him
even at the end that he gave me the money, saying he did not care what
I did with it. I certainly intend to stand by the arrangement I made
with him. That money was to be the last, and the last it shall be.
You are difficult, said Ingram.
You must be indulgent.
Ingram lighted a new cigar and appeared lost in reflection a little
There is only one thing, then, I can suggest, he said at last.
And that is? asked Morgan, in a tone that clearly indicated his
belief that he was beyond all suggestions.
You can be my ghost. Don't be alarmedyou must do some work, you
know, and that is the only work I can think of for you. I have to
refuse very many commissions. Try your hand at some of them and I'll
run over the work and sign. As I've said before, you've got brains
enough if you'll only use them in the right direction.
You mean it for the best; but I could not be party to a fraud.
How so? My business in life is to manufacture stories and plays for
the people. My signature merely guarantees the quality just as the name
of a maker on a pianoforte guarantees the instrument. But every such
maker employs others whose names do not appear in connection with the
The whole thing is impossible. Forgive me for ignoring your
arguments. I ought never to have troubled you with my miserable
concerns. It would, perhaps, have been better if I had never written
And Morgan took up his own letter from the table, morbidly
fascinated by it, and impelled to read again the words that had been
wrung from him five years before by his torturing sense of his position
But, as he began to read, an odour he had been vaguely conscious of
inhaling all along was wafted very perceptibly to his nostrils. Then he
became aware that the letter was subtly scented.
An unreasoning anger came upon him.
Some woman has had this in her possession, he exclaimed.
Ingram looked at him strangely, hesitated, then seemed finally to
You are a veritable Lecoq, he said coolly.
Then that conception of Ingram that had before begun to hover in
Morgan's mind now forced itself upon him wholly. He had always
understood that the man had been inclined to take him somewhat as a
good joke, but this he had not minded so much, so long as he believed
that his personality and his aspirations really interested him. Now his
sense of not having been looked upon seriously predominated, and with
it came an exaggerated consciousness of everything in Ingram that was
obnoxious to his spirit. If the re-reading of the letter had been a
torture for him, the knowledge that it had been ruthlessly exposed to
other eyes aggravated the pain tenfold, especially at this particular
And so this person, whose vile scent impregnates this, has had my
soul laid bare before her for her amusement!
Whose vile scent? repeated Ingram, angrily. I must ask you not to
use such language about any friend of mine.
You went to her, no doubt, to be praised and fawned upon for your
generosity to me, and afterwards
Don't be a fool! exclaimed Ingram, cutting him short.
Thank you. I shall take the advice. I have been a fool long
Morgan moved out of the room, leaving Ingram flushed and motionless.
As Morgan had told Ingram, he had that day spent his last shilling.
He had thus no option but to walk home to his rooms in Chester Terrace,
Regent's Park. It was a long walk, and one had already struck, but he
did not hurry. The night was a fine one of early spring, and it suited
his mood to linger in the free air.
He had not really gone to Ingram for advice, though he had been
unable to prevent his despair from showing itself. He was sorry that
the exhaustion of his funds should have come just at the moment when he
had resigned himself to the final abandonment of the ambition that had
determined his whole life. He was sure now that a mind like Ingram's
would inevitably set down his despair to his money difficulties. But
the next moment he told himself it was grotesque on his part to care
just then what inference Ingram might draw about him. Ingram and he
would be concerned with each other but little in the future!
But what was the future to be? Were there not others who would be
fully as astonished as Ingram at learning the truth? And even if it
were possible for him to hide besides there was Margaret Medhurst. What
meaning could the future have for him without her?
His old inner life had at length come to an end and he was now to
pass from it into he knew not whatperhaps a raw, cold air. And yet
his feeling now was not so entirely one of despair as when he had that
evening rung Ingram's bell. He seemed to have been stung out of his
terrible apathy. The smart had stirred up his deadened nerves. He was
trying to set in order the jumble that possessed his mind and to think
clear and straight.
The vague figure of a scented woman reading his letter haunted him,
and at moments Ingram was added to the picture, and he saw them uniting
in mockery of himprosaic, prosperous author, and strange, romantic
Though that letter of five years before had been wrung from him, he
had written it with but the vaguest idea of sending it. A romantic
impulse had dictated its form as an appeal to a prominent novelist, and
it was only when he had finished it that the same romantic impulse
urged him to post it. His feeling about it was purely poetic, and he
scarcely realised he was addressing a real, living person. The
commercial world of literature was to him a mysterious, far-off chaos,
and at very bottom he had no belief the letter would be the means of
his getting nearer to it.
So far as he was concerned at the moment, he had sent his bolt
flying into the clouds, and the contingency of its being shown about
had never occurred to him; moreover, if Ingram had left his appeal
unanswered, the fact he now resented so much would never have come
within the sphere of his consciousness. But to become cognisant of it
years later at a moment of despair humiliated him unbearably. The mere
re-reading of the letter had already humiliated him, for the lapse of
time, the change of circumstance, the literary degeneration of Ingram,
and his very acquaintance with the man, had made him feel the words
very differently than when they had come spontaneously out of his
blood. His sense of their futility added to his resentment.
But as he now walked along he was beginning to be conscious that,
side by side with this resentment, had come something fantastic,
something luring, immanent in the far faintness of the scent that had
perfumed his letter.
He found himself repeating Browning's lines with a sense of the
thrill and romance of life.
Heap cassia, sandal-buds and stripes
Of labdanum, and aloe balls,
Smeared with dull nard an Indian wipes
From out her hair: such balsam falls
Down seaside mountain pedestals,
From treetops, where tired winds are fain,
Spent with the vast and howling main,
To treasure half their island-gain.
And strew faint sweetness from some old
Egyptian's fine worm-eaten shroud,
Which breaks to dust when once unrolled;
Or shredded perfume, like a cloud
From closet long to quiet vowed,
With mothed and dropping arras hung,
Mouldering her lute and books among,
As when a queen, long dead, was young.
If his sense of overwhelming defeat made for despair, he was
conscious of his nature being effectively appealed to from another
direction. If he had that evening determined to throttle his ambition
and write poetry no more, he seemed to have become aware of the
stirring of a new motive for existence. But what it was he could not
definitely tell himself.
And always before him rose the figure of the scented serpent-woman
holding his letter in her long fingers, her white teeth gleaming in
I shall livelive! he exclaimed, as he entered his own door at
He lighted the gas in his large, comfortable sitting-room, and
noticed there were letters for him on the mantel resting against the
clock, whose hands pointed to half-past two.
But he would not look at them just yet. His was a strange mood just
then and he did not wish his thoughts disturbed. There was something he
had to do at once. Let the letters wait till he had finished.
Again he heard Ingram's voice reading. Every word had branded itself
Soon he had the large table littered with bundles of manuscript.
They represented his poetic output. Many of them had travelled far and
wide; never again should they be sent forth into the world to bring him
that which his heart had most desired. He took up one here and there
and ran his eye through it. Considering the years he had worked, the
outputfor a young man's musewas perhaps not large. But then he had
only taken up his pen when inspiration had come. Certainly during the
earlier years most of his time had been spent in reading and study.
Otherwise he had had a habit of losing himself in the play of his
imagination, awaking after having lived in worlds innumerable. Thus the
actual amount of verse he had produced in the first years was really
He could not help dawdling a little before proceeding with the work
of destruction. They were strange products, most of these poems of his;
mirroring vague metaphysical moods, unseizable mystic fancies;
incomprehensible save to one whose own inwardness they suggested, or to
one of infinite emotional sympathy. A blurred, shapeless spirit brooded
behind these melodious masses of words, these outpourings of
disconnected ideasa spirit invisible for reason and responsive only
to divination, as love responds to love. Sometimes it was hidden amid a
flow of sensuous images; sometimes in an impression of a landscape, of
an atmospheric effect, of a play of light and shade. Such impression
was never pure and complete, such visual effect never pictured for its
own sake; for here and there amid it would lurk a phrase that was not
of it, that struck a notean elusive key-notewhich set vibrating
something haunting in its familiarity, terrifying in its strangeness;
something mocking and meaningless, that went echoing away into the
He had not been able to find contentment in the mere presentation of
beauty. Even where he dealt with the concrete there was always
something to destroy the semblance of reality. The world that was
revealed to his vision was a surface-world, for he had not pierced it
by experience, but only dimly through the medium of books, and the
elements it gave him he used freely. But his combinations of them were
seldom along the lines of the possible. Here a colour would flash out
at one; there a jewel would sparkle; now a perfume would be wafted; now
a bird would sing. But all this individual definiteness was merged into
a general blur, or formed itself into a sort of kaleidoscopic pattern
that subtly suggested a meaning to be seized.
And all that Morgan now looked over again gave back to him the
spirit he had put into them. The gaps in his expression of that spirit
he was blind to. Shaped in the mould of his peculiar fantasy, these
poems lived for the mind that had created them, that had been compelled
by its own inner necessity to give them what was to him their
particular form, to others their very formlessness.
His belief that this poetry was of immortal quality was unshaken,
but he had been born into a wrong world, he now told himself. He was
aware that he did not know the world of every-day affairs; that he was
not fitted to know it. The very thought of its swirling
incomprehensible activities turned him giddy; and if he walked amid it
daily it was for him pure visual perception. Beyond that perception he
did not seek to look and so he escaped discomfort.
Well, let him not linger. His old lifethe singer's lifewas over,
and nothing of it must remain.
The grate was a big one, but even then the work of destruction would
take some time. A fire had been laid that morning, but had not been
lighted. He put back the coals into the vase and filled the grate with
his manuscripts. Then, striking a match, he watched the blaze
blackening and curling up the edges of the sheets.
When eventually the table was bare, he reflected it was strange he
should now feel so little emotion. His predominating sense was one of
physical fatigue, but the figure of the scented woman was still with
him. Would it not be splendid, he asked himself, now that his past life
lay there in a charred heap, to enter with his new life into the life
of this womannay, to win her away from Ingram?
He took his letters. There were three of them, and they read as
My Dear Morgan:This is to let you know I shall be in town
to-morrow. I want you to come and meet me at Victoria at one
o'clock and we shall lunch together before I go on to my
My chief business is to see friend Medhurst about my eyes. I
my present reading-glasses no longer suit me. By the way, I've
some splendid ideas for you to work out. It's quite clear to
now from whom you inherited your genius. Mind you are in time.
Your dad, Archibald D.
P. S.The 'Pleiad' to-day publishes that little poem of yours
about Diana. I feel very proud of being your father. Present
regards to Mr. Ingram.
Morgan merely smiled. He had not had a poem published for many
months, and this was his first indication that the one in point had
been accepted. Curious, he reflected, it should just appear that day.
Dear Prince Charming, ran the second. This is to reproach
for not coming yesterday afternoon. For two hours I waited
without giving up hope. Softest-hearted of mortals, for me
is your heart a stone! I had all the sensations of Mariana in
the moated grange, but whilst you are in the world, I
shall not wish myself dead.
When are you going to take me to Whitechapel? My mind wanders
longingly from this prosaic Belgrave Square to yon fantastic
region. It's quite a month since we last got lost together. I
have next Monday and Thursday free. I wonder whether it will
occur to you to connect the two last sentences. Either dayor
bothwill suit me. This doesn't count as a letter. I shall
you a real one this evening. Helen.
Dear Morgan, read the last. As you have probably heard, your
father is coming to town to see Mr. Medhurst professionally,
of course he is to dine here to-morrow evening. Come in and
us; we shall be strictly en famille. By the way,
not only finished 'Chiron' and the 'Spanish Marauder,' but she
has actually sold both! They look very well, indeed, in
Yours ever, Kate Medhurst.
P. S.Diana sends her love and hopes that if you have any
stamps you will bring them with you.
This postscript was in the writing of the young lady herself.
The reading of these letters did not give him any pleasure just
then. These other lives in whose round he was an important figure were
going on without any intuition of his inner tragedy, without any
suspicion that they would henceforwards have to go on without him; that
he could no more carry them forward into his vague, new life than those
equally vital elements of his old selfhis poems! How strangely did
their moods contrast with hishis father's playful good-humour, Lady
Thiselton's sprightly camaraderie and Mrs. Medhurst's cheerful
But the last letter made him wince. It was only a simple invitation,
but it hurt him as though a finger had been put on a raw wound. For he,
who had made a failure of his existence, whose one remaining link with
life was a mere grotesque possibility of an adventure with an unknown
serpent-woman, loved Margaret Medhurst with a poet's despairing love.
The figure of the scented woman floated up again. She had let the
letter fall into her lap now and her wonderful face seemed to smile at
He awoke in the morning, acceptant of what he had done in the night.
A calmness had set in and with it had come a clarification of his
thought. His grasp of the position was more definite, and his feeling
was that, to meet it adequately, he must disattach himself completely
from the past.
But the future was mystic and seductive.
However, his tendency to dwell on it had to be put aside in favour
of commonplace things that must be done immediately. As Ingram had
pointed out to him, he might be as indifferent to money as he pleased,
yet he must give it his first attention. Though ready cash was
exhausted, he remembered almost with surprise he had several
possessions that might be converted into it.
His breakfast was served to him as usual, but he did not open the
promised letter which duly arrived from Lady Thiselton. His general
sense of things filled his mind sufficiently.
His first business was to wait upon the family jeweller in Oxford
Street, from whom he had made occasional purchases for birthday
presents. The experience was a strange one for him, and he felt
somewhat timid about it. However, when he had explained what he wanted,
he was agreeably astonished at the man's insisting, with a great show
of goodwill towards him, he must accommodate him with fifty pounds, and
before Morgan had recovered from his flurry, he had given an I. O. U.
for the amount and had bank notes in his pocket.
Why, I shouldn't think of charging you any interest, the
jeweller had declared, and Morgan was much puzzled to understand why.
Nor did he quite know what this piece of paper he had signed
He had now accomplished all the action his brain had planned, and it
was time to go and meet his father. And then it struck him as curious
that life seemed to be ignoring his ideas and to be taking him forward
despite himself. With all his intense feeling that he must complete his
disattachment from the past, its impetus was stronger than he. Somehow
he must go and meet his father; he must dine with the
Medhursts that evening.
As was clear from Archibald Druce's note, the relation between
father and son was scarcely so theatrical as Ingram might have gathered
from Morgan's talk the evening before, a fact of which Morgan was well
aware. He had not really intended to give Ingram a theatrical
impression, but the somewhat subtle truth could never have been
conveyed in the few words they had had together, apart from the fact
that it must inevitably have got coloured by the mood of the moment.
There had been many vicissitudes between father and son. The latter
well remembered the moment when, unable to keep his big idea to himself
any longer, he had divulged it to his father as they were strolling
together in the grounds one sunny afternoon. The two had always been on
the best of terms. Now Archibald Druce's ideas about his Morgan's
career had been definitely shaped for years. He intended that the boy
should, after passing through the University, enter the banking
business with which his whole life had been associated, and ultimately
become a partner therein. But Morgan's own idea of his mission in life
seemed to the banker so extraordinary that it made him laugh outright.
Unfortunately, too, in addition to pooh-poohing his son's unexpected
ambition, he went on, by way of implanting in him sensible and serious
views of life, to point out that the right to spend money had to be
acquired by effort expended.
Morgan had made up his mind at a very boyish age that he was
destined to become an immortal bard; the conceptions he had then formed
had remained with him in all their boyish freshness. They were pure
conceptions, detached from the realities, of which he then knew
nothing. Poetry was a great and glorious thing, and when he first
decided that his whole life could be devoted to nothing nobler, he had
selected it away from the actual material circumstances from which
existence cannot be extricated.
But in this first talk with his father he had already been brought
into collision with these sordid complications. Archibald's
well-intentioned scorn had inflicted a wound that pained still after
the lapse of years. Moreover, by raising financial questions, he had
unwittingly poured poison into that wound. Morgan, however, refused to
have his eyes opened and clung desperately to his detached conception
of poetry and the poet's life.
The thought of his being destined for business terrified the lad. He
felt he could never live in the atmosphere of an office. He was born to
sing, to charm, to enchant. What had he to do with money? He must argue
with his father and convince him. And he effectually did succeed in
making him understand he was serious. The banker was upset, and Morgan,
carried along by the freshness and purity of his enthusiasm, made an
altogether wrong judgment of the position. For the first opposition and
the first clash of wills represented a bigger fact to Morgan than it
did to the father, who, not entirely understanding the force of the
ferment in his son's mind, as yet took it for granted that time was
only needed to eradicate this strange, startling madness. He therefore
pressed Morgan to proceed at once to the University, in the belief he
would take a more sensible view of things when he was a few years
older. But Morgan refused. He held to his ambition with frenzied
persistence, and he had felt the bitterness of dependence. He
determined, therefore, to try his wings at once, remembering that money
was attached to success, and, in the optimism of enthusiasm,
forming impossible hopes of supporting himself before long.
Archibald Druce did not mind his being apparently idle for awhile,
and, by a sort of common understanding, the subject was not touched
upon between them for some time. Morgan perforce had to live at home,
and, as time went by, this very fact caused him a great deal of misery.
Perhaps the very magnificence of his surroundings made matters worse
His mother, too, was against him, and, after awhile she seemed to
expend all the time she could spare from playing the rôle of grande
dame in the county, in egging on his father against him. The sense
of her injustice embittered him, for he knew he could not fairly be
accused of spending his time unprofitably. He was studying perhaps
harder than he would have done at college, for he was a student almost
as much as he was poet. Of recreation, though, he had no stint. He
rode, fished, swam and boated; but always alone, for his instinct made
for solitude. With his brother he was not unfriendly, but there was no
intimate sympathy between the two.
During the years that followed there were many fallings-out and
reconciliations between father and son. If the banker had been entirely
able to rid his mind of the plans he had so long cherished for his son,
he would have been quite content that the latter should go through life
as a gentleman of wealth and leisure. But he was wedded to the business
to which he had given the best energies of his life, and the idea that
Morgan must eventually take his place in it amounted almost to an
obsession. A reconciliation always made Morgan happy, for its own sake
quite as much as for the belief that his ambition was being recognised.
Estrangement and friction were always terrible things to him and caused
him unspeakable suffering.
His letter to Ingram was the culmination. It was sincere and
expressed exactly what he felt. The immediate cause of the mood which
prompted it had been Archibald's putting before him again all the old
propositions and his letting it be clearly seen he had never really
Then followed a few months of happiness in London. At last he felt
master of his own destinyfree of all that had vexed him, free to
succeed. But the routine of his days was much the same as before. He
studied and wrote and dreamed. Now and again he was allowed to come and
chat with Ingram. Friends of the family made him welcome at their
houses whenever he chose to emerge from the isolation that was natural
to him. At the Medhurst's, in particular, he was almost one of the
But, some time after Morgan's leaving home, Archibald Druce retired
from active affairs and began to acquire the taste for reading. And now
came a great change in Archibald's attitude. Morgan one day realised
with astonishment that his father had become perfectly reconciled to
the idea of his following a literary career, nay, that he was now proud
of having a son who was a man of letters. Archibald, in fact, seemed to
be relishing the literary atmosphere tremendously. He made constant
additions to his library, consulting Morgan as to the choice of books,
and spent a great part of his time amid its oaken magnificence. He read
very many novels, buying the newest ones as they appeared. When
Morgan's first volume of poems was published, Archibald went about in a
state of intense excitement. He bought fifty copies to give away, and
never went abroad without carrying one in his pocket. He bragged and
boasted about Morgan, till one might have imagined the latter had
scornfully refused the laureateship.
Morgan, however, had no great respect for his father's literary
judgment. It was all very well when he came to him for advice about his
reading, but there were times when the banker did not hesitate to lay
down the law, for he was growing accustomed to a respectful hearing on
the part of his friends, which was somewhat spoiling him. All his world
knew he had trouble with his eyes. As a matter of fact, his sight was
scarcely worse than it had been for years, his visual weakness being
little more than imaginary, and but one of the manifestations of his
Altogether, Archibald Druce seemed quite satisfied with Morgan's
slow progress. Once he had finally got rid of the notion of making
Morgan a banker, he was a delightful man to have for a father, a fact
which Morgan fully appreciated. Often had he asked the latter if he
were all right for money, and Morgan had replied he was; so that he
knew quite well his father would take a very lenient view of his
expenditure and had no desire at all to hold him to the arrangement
made. But Archibald always limited himself to the general question, and
never sought to know whether Morgan was living on his interest or
spending the capital.
The relation between the two now was a perfectly hearty one. The
banker was glad to have Morgan home for a few days now and again, and
equally enjoyed coming to town occasionally to see him. But in spite of
his father's liberality and cordiality, Morgan's pride, combined with
the sense of his failure, made him determine never to come upon the
paternal purse again. It was this very pride perhaps that had made him
somewhat distort his father's attituderather by implication than by
any definite statementin his last evening's conversation with Ingram.
He was but too conscious of that attitude as he waited on the
platform for the train to arriveit had gradually become an
intolerable irony to him.
I'm perfectly ravenous, said Archibald Druce. We must lunch at
Morgan restrained his usual impatient stride, falling in with the
slow, dignified step of his sire, who, though of broad build, would
have been as tall as his son, had it not been for a slight stoop, of
which he was proud, as it gave him an air of erudition.
They repaired to a restaurant close at hand and had a sumptuous
lunch served them. Archibald, who had a weakness for punning, was in
one of his gayest moods, and was not above being occasionally
appreciated by the waiter. Morgan did his best to appear cheerful; he
did not wish his father to suspect anything was amiss. He listened to a
humourous account of home affairs with smiling face, even interposing a
few humourous comments of his own. Eventually he enquired about his
father's eyesight and Archibald's face brightened still more. Soon the
banker grew eloquent on the subject, detailing all the minute symptoms
a morbid attention had detected.
But I've great faith in Johnhe's the cleverest oculist in the
Kingdom. And so I thought I'd better come up to town and see him
beforeha, I was just going to let my secret slip out!
And Archibald sipped his coffee and beamed at Morgan behind his gold
That sounds like a direct encouragement to me to be inquisitive,
Well, if you'd like to know the secret, it's simply this: I'm going
to write a book.
What about? Morgan's tone and gesture summed up his amused
A good many things, answered Archibald, his face assuming a
serious expression. You see, I've got into the habit of thinking a
good deal of late, and I've come to the conclusion I ought to be
putting my thoughts down on paper. New ideas occur to me almost every
day, and I'm really beginning to feel that a man like myself can derive
more mental culture from the free play of his own original thought than
from simply following other men's, however admirable it be. The latter
course rather encourages a certain mental laziness, whereas in thinking
for oneself so many points occur which cannot be passed over till they
have been wrestled with and vanquished. Now yesterday, for instance,
some very stiff problems occurred to meas thus: Can a man justly lay
claim to merit for the talents he possesses, and is it immodest of him
to let others perceive by his conversation that he is quite aware he
possesses them? Or, on the contrary, is not the fact that he is
talented purely a piece of good fortune, and would it not be the merest
humbug on his part to pretend to be blind to it? Again, if a man
performs what is called a good deed, ought he to claim merit for that?
Does not the performance of such a deed give one pleasure, and is not
that pleasure the real end in view? It has struck me of late that on
such points there's a great confusion of thinking, and between
ourselves, Morgan, I've been lately arriving at conclusions that most
people would call revolutionary and dangerous. But I set truth above
all things, and I can't do better than devote my remaining years to its
service. Now, I think I have really sufficient material for an original
and interesting volume. I have been a man of affairs all my days, and I
think the views of such a man who has lived in contact with the world
should at least be as valuable as those of a college professor who has
been secluded from it. It is really about this volume I propose to
write that I want to consult you. I have made a memorandum of a few
points I should like to thresh out thoroughly with you.
Morgan was rather startled at this sudden and serious awakening of
literary ambition in his father, though he had before now had many a
hint that he was wrestling with formidable ethical and moral
difficulties. He could see Archibald had set his heart on writing the
book, so he could not do otherwise than encourage him. It would simply
keep him enjoyably occupied, and, as the task would no doubt cause him
to dip into accredited works on ethical science, he would ultimately
discover that the problems he had chanced upon were not quite so
original as he supposed.
But even while Morgan discussed the idea with his father, he had a
curious dream-like consciousness of his own affairs, which somehow
seemed to be retarded by this appearance of the banker in London. And,
all the time he was endeavoring to concentrate himself on the
conversation, he was aware of that floating vision which had never
ceased to haunt him.
Minute details respecting the work were gone into, even to the
colour of the paper on which it was to be written. Morgan did not know
whether blue or buff was the more restful for the eyes, and the
question was left open for John Medhurst to decide. Archibald looked
tremendously pleased at his son's reception of his project, and it
certainly raised his opinion of Morgan's judgment.
I'm glad to see you've not been spoiled by success, Morgan, he
could not help saying.
It was a strange irony, Morgan thought, that his father's acceptance
of him should be so complete just when he himself had finally abandoned
all hope. The reflection would have been a bitter one had he not found
Archibald's pride in him amusing, in view of the latter's new theories
Later on, at the hotel, Archibald produced the copy of the Pleiad,
which contained the verses inspired by Margaret Medhurst's younger
sister, and insisted on reading them aloud. His paternal pride was more
than satisfied by the small sum total of Morgan's published work, and
each little addition to it furnished an occasion of great excitement
Of course, Ingram was mentioned before long, and Morgan had to say
that that gentleman and he were no longer friends. Archibald said he
was sorry, and looked it. He considered Ingram a great author, and the
breach rather a misfortune.
Is there no hope of smoothing things over? he asked. Why not take
me into your confidence? I flatter myself I have had some experience in
patching up even serious differences between people, and you know I'm
at your disposal.
Time had, indeed, brought about a strange reversal of rôle between
the banker and Ingram.
Morgan explained that Ingram had behaved in such a way as to make
him revise his estimate of him, but that it would scarcely serve any
purpose to go into details.
The banker again said he was sorry, and looked it still more than
before. Anyhow, as the subject was so obviously disagreeable to Morgan,
he would not allude to it again.
In the afternoon they took a little stroll together, and, after
partaking of a cup of tea, they parted, promising to see each other at
By the way, said his father, at the last moment, I hear from
Katie that they haven't seen very much of you of late, and that you had
struck them as pre-occupied. She even seemed rather doubtful about your
coming this evening. I hope you don't stick too long at your desk. I've
long since found out that sort of thing is a mistake.
Morgan arrived rather late at Wimpole Street, for father and son had
dallied almost till evening. However, he was the earlier of the two,
and he took the opportunity of presenting Diana with the stamps he had
got together for her and of chatting with her about her collection and
her newest acquisitions. He was relieved to find that Mrs. Medhurst
gave him his usual warm welcome, but at the same time he felt rather
guilty about his unsuspected intention to cease all relations with the
family. This house was more associated with happiness for him than any
other place in the world; he had passed in it perhaps the best moments
of his life. He had always been a favourite with the Medhursts, and
they had believed in him and taken his part even in the early days when
he had been looked at askance in his own family.
Were oblivion of all else possible, he would have felt to-night
supremely happy, for that needed but the sole condition of his being
where he was. But he thought of the borrowed money in his pocket, of
the charred remains of his manuscripts, of his hopeless love for
Margaret, now so near him, speaking to him, of the vague future to
which he was going to abandon himself. And the comfort he could not
help finding here mingled strangely with the emotions that troubled his
spirit and gave him a quivering sense of unrest.
The link between him and the Medhursts had been from the first one
of more than ordinary friendship. For, some thirty years before, when
Mrs. Medhurst was only seventeen, Archibald Druce had been a suitor for
her hand. But her romance with John Medhurst had already begun, and she
waited to marry her true love seven years later. Though Archibald
married within a few years of his rejection, he had all but kept Kate
to her promise to be a sister to him all his life. Certainly he had
remained one of her most devoted admirers.
Mrs. Medhurst was still beautiful, and even Morgan admitted that she
was just the mother a girl like Margaret ought to have. Her face was
winning and sweet, and the simplicity of her attire held no suggestion
of severity. Morgan's eye was pleased by the quiet harmony of the gray
silk dress with its silver girdle and its touches of silver at the
throat and wrists.
Margaret herself was only just nineteen. Taller than her mother by
half a head, she was built with a slender grace and a rare purity of
outline. A somewhat high forehead lent her distinction, perhaps
accentuating the shade of thoughtfulness that was characteristic of her
expression, and that never clashed with its sweetness; rather were the
two qualities blended into a charming spirituality. Her dark blue,
velvety eyes suggested the clear depth of a stream, her cheeks were
modelled in a full, soft curve, her nostrils were delicately chiselled,
and her mouth was small, red and sweet. The neck showed cool and white
above the silver-blue of her girl's soft, silk evening gown that came
almost to her throat. Margaret rather affected silver-blueshe knew
quite well it made her adorable; for, being a sweet human being, she
had just a charming touch of vanity, and would have been less charming
without it. The only other note of colour was given by the quaint
silver buckle at her waist, for the sash was of the same material as
the gown itself.
At sixty-three, Archibald Drucefor the old fellow's heart was
still susceptibleworshipped her almost as much as he had once
worshipped her mother. And Morgan had only realised how she had grown
into his spirit just when despair had begun to show itself again. The
discovery had perhaps given him a fresh spurt of hope, but the charred
mass had marked the end of that.
John Medhurst was somewhat past fifty, and his beard was getting
just a little grey. He was of medium height, and wore spectacles
himselfa fact which, in view of his profession, had given Archibald
endless material for humour. His manner and voice alike were singularly
soft and gentle. He possessed both a sense of humour and a quiet humour
of his own; and his laugh was always ready to ring out. Sometimes it
struck Morgan that Margaret's features were hinted at in his face even
more than in Mrs. Medhurst's, but so subtly, that the resemblance would
seem to vanish for long stretches of time, and he would only be able to
detect it at odd moments.
Archibald arrived quite half an hour late, so that his ferocious
knock and ring caused general rejoicing. His spirits invariably mounted
as soon as he set foot on the Medhursts' doorstep, and, once within the
house, he overflowed with jest and laughter, extracting fun and
merriment from anything and everything, making rather a terrible noise
and enjoying every instant.
My scamp of a boy and I got talking together, he explained, in
high-pitched apology. Now, Morgan has some ideas in that head-piece of
hishere he tapped his son playfully on the skullso that when we
two do get talking together, we both find it so fascinating that
we lose all count of time. I've had quite a rush to get here, though I
see Morgan has raced me. I suppose that, at my age, I mustn't
To keep pace with the youngsters.
Margaret finished the sentence for him in playful anticipation of
his platitudinarianism. Archibald took her in his arms and kissed her
on the forehead, with a No harm at my age, my dear, after which he
laughed gleefully, and proceeded to kiss Diana on the lips, adding: No
harm at your age, my dear.
I'm thirteen, and I shall really not allow that sort of thing any
more, said Diana, severely.
Not from meyour sweetheart! exclaimed Archibald. Ah! I
understand, he went on. It's the grown-up frock.
She was in a shaped dress to-day, but he had recalled her as she was
in her poke-bonnet days, when she had been wont to accept the same kind
of salutation without demur. It did not seem so very long ago since he
had seen her bare-kneed, in short, crimson skirts and all sorts of
fantastic caps and brilliant turbans; and he now reminded her of the
fact, undeterred by the haughtiness of her mien and the arrogantly
rippling masses of golden-brown hair, just a shade darker than
She gave him a withering glance that asked how he dared!
Perhaps it's not the frock. It's the poem in the 'Pleiad.' Morgan
has turned her head, recommenced Archibald.
Morgan, take me down, please, said Diana, majestically ignoring
her tormentor, who thereupon offered his arm to Mrs. Medhurst, and
Margaret and her father brought up the rear.
But when they came to take their seats, they somehow got mixed up
again, so that Morgan found himself next to Margaret, whilst Diana and
Archibald sat opposite. Morgan had more than a suspicion that this was
the result of adroit manoeuvring on Diana's part. Very soon, however,
there arose such a clattering dispute between that young lady and her
neighbour, that Morgan could not talk to his, which made him rather
angry. Anyhow, it was impossible not to be amused after a while by the
altercation, for Diana's tongue was ready and brisk and attacking.
Margaret was a far less militant character, and would never strike,
were there the slightest chance of wounding. Diana's aim was always to
wound, and to wound deeply, provided it was some dear friend she was
In view of the fact that this was the last visit he purposed to the
Medhursts, Morgan had been feeling that a close conversation with
Margaret would prove too much of an ordeal for him, and he had
determined to talk to her as little as possible. But somehow he did not
find himself welcoming the practical inhibition from the other side of
the table; it gave him a sense of frustrated desire. If his will made
him say I must not talk to her intimately, for I shall lose all the
ground I have gained by purposely avoiding this house so long; I shall
be drawn back close to her and, as the parting must come nevertheless,
the greater will be its anguish, his temperament made reply: What!
you calculating effects, whose business has always been poetry? Let
your business still be poetry, but weave it out of life instead of
words. Abandon yourself without underthought. Live in that wonderful
region which is here, even as it is everywhere, but in which only the
souls of poets may wander and rejoice. And his temperament prevailed
over his will. He allowed the full flow of love to flood his spirit.
Great poems were summed up in one quick flash; in a second he lived
through a century of fine words.
And, as if divining his thought, she turned to him and spoke. Her
words seemed softly to ring through the din, and he gave himself up to
the full delight of the moment.
Do you know, Morganfor he was always Morgan to everybody
therea great change has occurred in my dignity the last few days?
You are to marry a peer, he hazarded.
I have risen much higher than that.
You were at the utmost height.
I only moved in yesterday, with my benches and mess and clay and
wax and tools. Pa had a hole made in the roof and a top light put in. I
feel so pleased with my studio, and, of course, I mean to entertain
there. We shall have such gay times, and I've a fine excuse for keeping
the company young and select.
Too high up for old legs?
How shrewd! she exclaimed. I see that for real worldly insight
one must go to a poet.
Thank you. This is the first time I've been accused of common
That is hardly to be wondered at. Your poems have every other
quality. You'll come up and see my studio anyhow?
No, by candle light. And you the bearer, like the Latin motto on
one of my old school books.
Meanwhile the combat opposite still raged, and in the end Archibald
and Diana had to be parted almost by force. Diana sent a final shot
from the door, and then scampered away.
The little rogue! murmured Archibald, and then broke into one of
those unrestrained laughs which he usually reserved for his own
The three men drew near the fire. Medhurst said something about
taking Diana in hand. She had been somewhat spoiled at school, being
looked upon as a sort of demi-goddess by her classmates. Archibald
declared he wouldn't have her any different for the world. What was the
good of a girl if she was just the same as any other girl? Thence,
proceeding to attack convention, Archibald eventually steered the
conversation round to the contribution he himself purposed making to
ethical philosophy, for he had been waiting for an opportunity to let
Medhurst into the secret.
It's curious that the more one thinks, John, the more one gets
one's notions upset. I know quite well that most people would think it
a highly dangerous doctrine to put forward, but I really cannot see
that the man who is a saint deserves any more to be praised than the
man who is a murderer. The murderer is simply unfortunate and ought to
be pitied. Nature gave him the impulse to murderin fact, on a closer
analysis, all personal responsibility seems to disappear.
And what does your wife say to all this? Isn't she rather alarmed?
My wife! exclaimed the banker, contemptuously. She's hopelessly
behind the times. Why, she's a perfect child. She takes no interest in
anything beyond the tittle-tattle of the county. We had quite a scene
the other day because I gave expression to my opinion that young people
should be properly instructed in life by means of explanatory
handbooks, instead of being left to gather their knowledge haphazard. I
have never known her to make a single original remarkher observations
are invariably the most obvious. Morgan should be thankful for the
happy hazard of nature which fashioned his brain rather in the mould of
mine than in that of his mother.
And so you really intend publishing? said Medhurst.
I am not afraid. People must be taught to look the problems of life
straight in the face. Truth must be driven home, my dear John, and it
is my intention to say some pretty straight things to the world.
Have you yet fixed on a title? asked Medhurst, secretly amused at
this sudden, strange development on the part of his old friend.
Ah! there's just the difficulty. It was one of the first questions
I put to myselfwhat about the title? The thing is to get a good
striking one, and that's by no means an easy task. The title of a book
is almost as important as its contents, and, confound it all, my dear
John, I'm blessed if it doesn't take nearly as long to manufacture.
I've been cudgelling my brains for the last three months, and I must
confess my mind is an absolute blank so far.
Why not call it 'Plain Thoughts of a Practical Thinker?' suggested
Morgan. And perhaps you might add a sub-title'An attempt to
investigate some questions of primary importance that are usually
shelved.' How does that strike you?
Splendid! exclaimed Archibald, enthusiastically. 'Plain Thoughts
of a Practical Thinker'the very thing. 'An attempt to investigate
some questions of primary importance that are usually shelved.'
Admirable! 'Practical Thinker!' That is just the idea I want to convey
to the world. I am not one of your mere dreamers, your theorists, your
college professors. I speak as one who has had a large experience of
men and affairs, as one who has for years administered the fortunes of
a great house. And yet I have sufficient of the thinker and the
idealist in me to have begotten a son whose name will live in English
letters. It will, Morgan, I tell you. You are a little bit
misunderstood now, but what great man has ever escaped
misunderstanding? I expect to be misunderstood, but if they think I am
to be howled down'Plain Thoughts of a Practical Thinker!' A perfect
inspiration! Suppose we join the ladies. I want to tell Kate about it.
While Archibald unfolded his literary scheme to Mrs. Medhurst, Diana
mimicking his enthusiastic gestures at a safe distance, Morgan and
Margaret sat apart in that region of the drawing-room which lay nearest
the door. She had been telling him about some parties she had gone to,
and he, terribly jealous of the men who had danced with her, made
pretence to rally her about them. She, however, remained quite calm,
admitting cheerfully she had a good many admirers, who filled
her programme, and whom it was always pleasant to meet. Then they were
both silent and looked at each other.
Once upon a time, said Margaret, deciding at length to speak her
mind; you used to be one of those who wrote on my programme.
Now you never appear anywhere. I suppose you are afraid you might have
to talk to me a little.
You are unjust, he said somewhat bitterly. It is not kind of you
to say such things.
If a friend suddenly develops a distaste for one's company and
manifests it as markedly as you have, how can one be blind to it? You
are a changed man, Morgan. In two months you have come here once to
tea, and you had not even the decency to put on a cheerful face. Such a
lackadaisical expression you had! And not even an enquiry about my
great works. You seemed to be saying the whole time, 'How you
commonplace people depress meme, the genius, the genius; you are
killing my inspiration.'
Something in his look checked her.
Genius suffers from fits of melancholy as well as from fits of
inspiration, he reminded her.
Poor Morgan! said Margaret, softening. And so you've had a fit of
melancholy! What a long one, too! All the same, I ought to reproach you
for not believing in our sympathy. Well, I suppose now I may tell mamma
not to be afraid to send you a card for our dance next month.
I had no idea your mamma was so timid a person, he said, with
successful evasion. And how goes Chiron, how the Spanish marauder? And
how much did you get for them? he went on gaily, in one breath. You
see I am well posted in your affairs.
Well, since you are a little bit interested, come.
Instinctively they looked towards the other group. Archibald still
harangued Mrs. Medhurst, endeavouring to prove to her that John's
abilities were no merit of his, any more than her beauty was a merit of
hers. A happy accident was the cause of either, and he had been
intellectually wrong in lavishing so many compliments on her during all
Morgan and Margaret left the room quietly, and stole up the stairs
on tip-toe, like two children at play. Right on the top landing
Margaret threw open a door, and Morgan peered into a shadowy abyss, for
the one gaslight was round a corner by which its rays were cut off from
this part of the landing.
The candle is on a ledge in the hall, explained Margaret,
disappearing within the darkness; and in a second he heard her strike a
This is the hall, she went on. I insisted on pa having it
partitioned off from the rest of the roomthough, as you see, only by
a sort of green baize screen that doesn't reach to the ceiling. But it
makes the place ever so much more romantic.
Morgan stepped into the tiny vestibule, which was fitted with a
little oak table, and passed through a door in the green baize into the
Was I not to be the candle-bearer? he asked, taking the light from
her. What a tremendous place!
It's perfectly ripping, said Margaret, though I reckon it won't
hold more than four of us when we're in a gay mood. That's an old
piano. It takes up a lot of room, but there's still a good deal of
thumping to be got out of it. As yet the place is quite bare, but all
next week I'm going to hunt up odd things in back streets, and when you
come again you'll be astonished at the transformation. All that mess
there covered up in the cornerwell, you can guess what it consists
And where are Chiron and the Spanish gentleman?
The first casts are on the mantel yonderlost in the gloom. Pa
wants them for the drawing-room, but I am so childishly pleased, I
can't part with them yet. The moulds were to be destroyed after sixty
examples of each had been taken. I have received twenty-five pounds
each. You see, Morgan, I, too, am a genius.
On closer examination Morgan found he could conscientiously extol
Margaret's handiwork. From a technical point of view both figures were
excellent, and there was a virility and vigour in the handling which
one would scarcely have associated with the work of a young lady
modeller, and which certainly showed she had towered above her
material. The Spanish Marauder swaggered along in helmet, breast-plate,
doublet and hose, a hare and pheasant slung jauntily over his shoulder,
and his jolly, devil-may-care face, that had evidently smelt powder,
full of an arrogant self-satisfaction. The Chiron was a strong piece of
anatomical modelling. The ancient centaur, indeed, looked very wise and
very noble, and the horse into which he merged was arranged with quiet
skill in its lying posture, so that not a line, limb, hoof or muscle
struck a note of awkwardness.
Then you think I really am worth talking toa little? asked
He set down the light on the mantelshelf and somehow found himself
holding her hand. Neither appeared to be aware of the fact.
My dear Margaret, I was hoping you had accepted my fit of
You stupid Morgan! I only wanted you to tell me how clever I am. I
am so greedy for praisebecause I haven't any of those melancholy
fits, and my vanity must be gratified somehow. At least, when I
do have the mopes I always know the reason, and it has never been
anything connected with my genius.
What! you don't mean to say that you ever
Sometimes, she interrupted. A good deal of late, only, unlike
you, I never let anybody guess.
I thought you were a perfectly happy girl in the first flood of
enthusiasm for your work and with all those nice men to admire you.
Her fingers tightened perceptibly on his.
If you continue to plague me about those nice men, Morgan, you
shall not have a single dance next time, but you'll just see those nice
men get them all.
I am sure you don't look a bit as if you could devise such cruel
Would it be a very terrible punishment?
I would do any penance to avoid it.
You'd look too comic in sackcloth and ashes. Come to my
A charming penance, Margaret.
Perhaps we ought to go down now, she suggested, irrelevantly.
He took up the light again.
Have you fixed the date for the warming?
Impossible yet. But I'll send you
Not cardsnow you've moved up into Bohemia!
Oh, no. A little pink note. I hope that is the correct thing in
Bohemia, or, at least, that it isn't incorrect.
In Bohemia there are no correct things.
What an awful place it must be. Whatever one does is wrong.
On the contrary, whatever one does is right.
Then all things are correct in Bohemia!
How can that be, Margaret? There are thingsno, there aren't,
andandI'm afraid I've got myself into an awful tangle. You've quite
turned my head with your logic.
He began to move across the room towards the door.
If it's only my logic that turns your head, then I take everything
back. I won't speak to you ever again.
My goodness! began Morgan, losing his wits, forgetting he held the
candle and letting it fall. The light vanished like a spectre. I beg
your pardon, he ejaculated, in some astonishment, whilst Margaret's
laugh rang out.
Just as he stooped down to recover the candle, they became aware of
footsteps, and in a moment the handle of the outer door was being
All dark, said Diana's voice. Then I suppose they're not
hereor, at least, I shouldn't like to think they were. I fancy Marjy
put a candle and matches on the table.
They heard the sound of her fumbling, and, as if by common
understanding, they remained still as mice. Then Diana declared the
things weren't there, and Archibald suggested they might inspect the
place in the dark.
I certainly shall do nothing so improper, returned Diana severely.
There must be match-light at least. I draw the line at that. Produce
your pretty, golden box.
Diana opened the green baize door, and Archibald struck a light.
Ho, ho! he said, playfully.
We are evidently de trop said Diana. Let us retire.
Be careful, called Margaret. You'll burn your fingers.
But the mischief was already done. Archibald uttered a dn, threw
down the end of the match and stamped on it wrathfully.
Morgan picked up the fallen candle, lighted it and replaced it on
the mantelshelf. The wax was broken in the middle, and the top part
leaned disconsolately to one side.
We are sorry to have unwittingly interfered with your little
arrangement, said Margaret, curtseying in mock apology. But you are
quite welcome to make free of my humble abode, so we shall leave you in
possession. Come, Morgan. And the two swept out of the room.
Come and lunch with me to-morrow at the hotel, said Archibald to
Morgan, as he got into a hansom an hour later. We'll spend the
afternoon together. There are some points about my book I want to
settle. 'Plain Thoughts of a Practical Thinker!' Splendid title!
Morgan, you're indeed a genius. 'An attempt to investigate some
questions of primary importance that are usually shelved.' That just
hits it offthe very book I intended to write!
When his father had driven off, Morgan, seized with a restlessness,
began to stroll slowly homeward. He had at least wrung some happiness
from the evening. His love for Margaret had been strong enough to
absorb him, save when at moments his sense of his general position had
obtruded. But now he surrendered himself once more to the mood which
the events of the day had interrupted.
He was again conscious of the tragedy of his past life with its
culminating episode of the evening before, and of the infinite
possibility that life held of mystery and fantasya mystery and
fantasy into which he was going to plunge. The hours he had just
enjoyed, he told himself, must not be allowed to influence him. They
must be sternly isolated from the future; the disattachment of the new
life before him from the wreckage of the old must be complete.
Wreckage! He used the word deliberately, though he was aware there
were elements in the position that would have made his estimate of it
seem grotesque to many ears.
He was the son of a father of unlimited wealth, who idolised him
now. In addition to very many acquaintanceships, both in London and the
country, that were pleasant even if they did not occupy the centre of
his consciousness, he had the friendship of Lady Thiselton and the more
intimate though less fantastic relation with the Medhursts. And,
moreover, he was in love with a beautiful and talented girl, who, he
modestly felt, had a great esteem for himthough any other eyes than
those of the diffident lover would have seen at a glance that she loved
him in return.
How could all these things fail to make a man happy, especially when
the man was only twenty-eight years old?
But Morgan's happiness was dependent on his attitude towards things,
not on the things themselves. And just now he but perceived all these
elements that might have made another life enviable as so many ironies.
His ambitionhis self-realisation and its recognition by his
fellowshad been all in all to him; its abandonment had been the
culmination of anguish infinite. The best years of his youth had been
lost in vain effort, and some of the bitterness of early opposition
that success might have purged still lingered in his spirit. His nature
was proud and sensitive and his very failure made it impossible for him
to ask for more money, even though he knew it would be forthcoming
without stint. What wonder now if he perceived his life as a tragedy!
Common Sense would have advised him to put on one side all emotions
and moods that arose out of and summed up the past, all the subtle
feelings that possessed and mastered him; would have urged him to begin
a new epoch, seek the paternal aid, retain his friendships, and
persevere in his love; would have given him assurance of a perfectly
satisfactory outlook if he would but readjust his mental focus.
But Common Sense is obtuse and safe. Morgan was a mass of fine
sensibility; his temperament was full of subtle light and
shadetherefore dangerous. Plain-souled, clumsy-handed Common Sense,
with perception limited to the thick outlines of character, could not
have comprehended him, and would unwittingly have confessed it by
classifying him contemptuously.
Morgan had lived his own lifefelt it. His present estimation of it
was, therefore, spontaneous; not a cold estimation by mere intellect,
but a living one by his whole complex being. And, as the result, he was
meditating, at this period of pause and summing-up, to carry forward
all that Common Sense would have suppressed, and to suppress all that
Common Sense would have carried forward, to sacrifice all the
inter-relations with others that constituted his outer lifeeven as he
had already sacrificed the expression of his corresponding inner life;
retaining only his emotional unrest.
And the seductive picture of the scented serpent-woman, ever smiling
at him now with gleaming teeth, symbolised the future for him, and
alone preserved the continuity of interest that stimulated him to go
forward at all. His attitude, in some respects, was analogous to that
of a romantic boy playing with the idea of running away from home,
drawn by visions of marvellous adventures in strange lands. The sequel
might be vague and in the clouds, but that very fact only made it the
His temperament had said to him that evening: Let your business
still be poetry, but weave it out of life instead of out of words. The
thought resurged in his brain and then it struck him as crystallising
his whole feeling about the future course of his existence, as
furnishing the key to his position.
To make of life a fantasy, a poem, a dream! The idea was an
But beyond a half-considered intention of changing to humbler rooms
and hiding therein from his world, he did not meditate any definite
activity. The feeling at the bottom of his mind was rather that events
would shape themselves. To this attitude of passivity his whole life
had tended. His will-strength had gone into his passionate desire of
poetic achievement, and were it not that he had, so to speak, grown
into relation with others, his life would have been utterly static. The
movement of their lives alone had taken his along. He had not the least
idea now how he was going to become acquainted with the strange woman
who filled his thoughts, but, without actually translating his feelings
on the point into definite terms, he counted it as a certainty that a
path would somehow be opened. It pleased him, too, to think that he
owed his cognisance of her existence to that first impulse which had
caused him to write to Ingram. That fantastic initiation had set in
motion fantastic life-waves that were now flowing back to him.
For others the regularities of existence, the steady round of work,
the care and hoarding of money; for him the mystery and the colour of
And in a flash of insight he seemed to understand that the poet in
him had already asserted itself in his life as well as in his work. Was
it not the very curiousness of his relationship with Ingram had made it
so palatable? Was it not the strangeness of his friendship with Lady
Thiselton and the originality of her personality that appealed to him
so much, and was it not his imaginative side that had always been so
pleased with both? Was it not his peculiar temperament that had always
made him keep his relation with each person a thing apart, so that each
was unaware of the others; that had made him like to feel that his
life, in a manner, was cut up into strips, along each of which he could
look back with a certain sense of completeness, though it was only by
the nice fusion of all these isolated completenesses that his existence
could be seen as a whole?
But underneath the imaginative spirit of the poet lay the human
spirit of the man. And if the former predominated the latter was not
entirely dormant. If the poet in him coloured his life and thought, it
was the man in him that felt the results, so that the instincts of the
poet often clashed with the sympathies and affections of the man. Of
this discord within himself he could not help being aware, but he knew
it purely by its effect, for he had never searched deeply into the
complexity of his nature.
Thus it was that the man in him was grieved at his having had to
make promises of further visits to the Medhursts; was paying for every
grain of happiness wrung from the evening by a reaction of pain
unspeakable. But the poet in him governed, was trying to suppress the
He was roused from his meditations by a familiar voice when he was
but a few feet from his own door.
I have been hovering about for a quarter of an hour.
He was startled, then laughed. The veiled woman stood on tip-toe and
kissed him on the forehead, he stooping mechanically to meet her
You don't mind the veil? she said.
How did you know I was not indoors and abed by this time? he
I didn't know. I only came to meditate in the moonlight. I have
been enjoying such exquisite emotions. Are you too tired for a
promenade round the circle?
He fell in with her humour.
Morgan, reproaches have been accumulating. To save timeyou know I
never waste anyyou shall have them all in one ferocious phrase. You
have been brutal to me of late. I don't mean to say that you've ever
ceased to be charming, butwhy, at least, didn't you answer my note?
It only came this morning, he stammered, and I haven't had time
to read it yet.
In other words, you wrinkled your brow as soon as you saw it, made
up your mind I was beginning to be somewhat of a nuisance, and threw it
aside unopened. Of course, you forgot all about it afterwards. You have
a perfect genius for putting crude facts in a delicate way.
Another new discovery about me.
That is but the natural result of the profound thought I bestow
Your profound thought contradicts itself. It declares me brutal and
charming with the same breath.
Profound thought always contradicts itself. I know it for a fact,
because I've been looking up Hegel. The nice things and nasty things I
say about you arise equally from my love for you, which is thus the
unifying principle. The apparent contradictoriness, therefore,
disappears in a higher synthesis.
Quarter! A man can't stand having philosophers hurled at his head.
But I kiss your head sometimes. I'm sure I'd much prefer that
always, only you goad me into the other thing.
Yes. By your masterly inactivity when I am concerned. I have to
force myself into your life, and after we've been chums for three
years, you, left to yourself, ignore my existence. You have such a
terrible power of negative resistance against poor, strong-willed me.
But, after all, you admire me tremendously, don't you, dear Morgan?
I have told you scores of times you are the cleverest woman in the
I am the only woman who understands your poetry. I don't mean that
as a bit of sarcasm at the expense of your complimentI merely want to
show you I deserve it.
He made no reply. For a few moments there was a silence.
How reticent you are to-night! she said at length. You usually
have quite a deal to tell me. Are the sentimental chapters preying on
your mind? I do so much want to know about those sentimental chapters,
but you always evade the subject. Tell me, are there any in your
Ours was to be an intellectual companionship only.
Comprising intellectual sympathy and kissing on the foreheadboth
of them chaste, stony, saint-like, tantalising things. But I'd be
content for the time being if I were only sure your heart were
perfectly free. I couldn't bear the thought of your making love to
You are amusing.
I am jealous.
Then you have been imagining sentimental chapters for me.
Well, being a woman of the world, thirty-three years of ageno
deception, Morganand, knowing you have lived twenty-eight, I
naturally suspect the existence of those chapters, you darling sphinx.
And when I suddenly come across a poem from your pen about a sweet
little girl, my suspicion becomes almost a certainty.
He could not help laughing.
That sweet little girl is too concrete, too much away from your
metaphysical manner, to be a mere creation of your brain. What vexed me
particularly was that the most stupid woman I knowI mean my dear
friend Lauraadmired the thing and called it a gem. Now I don't like
my monopoly threatened in that way. I have always prayed against your
own prayer. I don't want the world at large to admire youyet. I want
you, disgusted with the world's non-acceptance of you, to find
consolation in my love. There is a fair proposal for you, Morgan. Love
me, marry meand after that you may become as great as you like. Your
poetry as yet is my friend, but I begin to feel afraid of it when you
start pictures of sweet little girls.
He did not take her the least bit seriouslyhe never did. Her
occasional courtship of him had been always so light and airy, so
dispassionately epigrammatic, that he looked on it as mere whimsical
banter and rather good amusement. She had plagued him into consenting
to that kiss on the forehead which she gave him each time they met,
referring to it constantly as an advantage won by hard effort. The
circumstance of their first meeting had been commonplace enougha
chance introduction at an afternoon tea. They were friends whilst yet
utter strangers to each other, for a mutual personal magnetism had
acted immediately. He understood that her playfulness did but conceal
fine qualities of character that would have pleased even the aphoristic
moralist, whose conception of the ideal woman she mercilessly outraged.
That she had really understood and appreciated his work naturally
counted a good deal in her favour. He knew her worth, but of course he
did not want to marry her. If to-day there was a more earnest ring than
usual in her love-making, he had got too indurated to it to believe in
Who is the sweet little girl? she insisted. I repeat, I am
jealous. This is my first experience of that queer emotion, for you are
the first man I have ever loved.
He found this most amusing of all.
Really, Morgan, it is perfectly harassing to have one's tragedy
taken for light comedy. You know my wedded life was unhappy. The late
baronet was absolutely ignorant of Schopenhauer, and even cursed him to
my face for a madman, just because he happened to be my favourite
philosopher. Since I've dipped into Hegel, I've come largely to agree
with my husband's denunciation, though not on the same grounds. Not
that I profess to know anything either about Hegel or Schopenhauer.
Edward always thought me a blue-stockingme, who have only a woman's
tea-table smattering of philosophy! Why, it takes all the fun out of
life to be a blue-stocking! Edward hadn't any brains. I married him
without love, and in face of his attitude towards Schopenhauer, you may
guess what chance it had of springing up. During the brilliant years of
my widow-hoodeight in numbermy heart has remained positively
untouched by anybody but you. It's your childlike helplessness that
You flatter me.
There are other things, of course. You've splendid large eyes and
nice, soft, silky hair, and such a pretty curl to your lip. And you've
such a charming, innocent look. If only you'd promise not to write any
more poems about sweet little girls, you'd be perfect.
Whether it was that her proximity at this moment of inner
perturbation and suffering roused in him an overmastering desire for
her sympathy, or whether her last remark exercised an insidious drawing
power, he did not quite know, but he found himself saying immediately:
I can make that promise very easily. I made a bonfire last night.
She understood at once.
Which explains much for which I've been reproaching you! she
exclaimed sympathetically. You have been suffering, dear Morgan.
Her voice had grown soft and coaxing. His determination to shun
everybody could not stand against this real concern for him. In a few
words he told her of his despair and of the dubiousness of his
position. But he could not bring himself to speak of his hopeless love,
or to raise the veil that concealed his other friendships from her. His
comradeship with her had always stood for him as a thing apart; and
this attitude of his towards it had made it the more charming. It had
been quite natural for him to take it entirely by itself and as
unrelated to the rest of his external life.
But, my dear Morgan, she protested, this can't go on. How do you
intend to live?
He was glad she did not have recourse to that crude, obvious
suggestion of his begging a replenishment from the paternal coffers.
But he did not know how to reply to her question, which rather made him
regret the turn the conversation had taken. The one future for him was
that in which floated mystically the figure of the scented
serpent-woman, and he felt that that drift of things he was relying on
had begun by a wrong move.
Perhaps I shall write stories, he hazarded.
You alarm me, she cried. Your idea is hopelessly impracticable.
How could you possibly hope to rival the Robert Ingrams?
The Ingrams! he echoed, glancing at her sharply.
I only mention him because he happens to be as popular as all the
rest put together, and because I happened to make his acquaintance some
Morgan made no remark. He was relieved at her explanation, about
which there was nothing surprising, for he well knew that Ingram moved
in high social latitudes.
Besides, she went on, you would naturally be tempted to draw
women like me, which would simply be courting extinction. Of course, in
Ingram's novels no fashionable lady ever does the things I do, and the
critics would insist I was an utter impossibility. Now, as to the fifty
pounds you've gotbefore long the sin of that borrowing will rise up
against you and you'll be signing again, signing away whole pounds of
your flesh. And I daresay you overlook you've various little debts. No
doubt you owe your tailor, say a year's account, and then your rooms
are pretty expensive, and quarter-day has a spiteful habit of swooping
down on one four times a year, andand you mustn't have to bother your
pretty head about all these sordid things.
This was somewhat of an appalling speech for Morgan, who certainly
did not want to cheat his creditors. And, indeed, it now occurred to
him that he must be indebted to his tailor for quite a large amount.
Although his horror of debts was far above the average, he never
realised the conception money as ordinary people realise it. So far
as it figured in his thoughts at all, money was a gorgeous, poetic
unitthe treasure of romance, the gold and silver of fairyland. In
practice, the very abundance of it at his command had till lately kept
his attention from dwelling on it; just as it did not dwell on, say,
the second toe of his left footan equally constant factor in his
existencetill some pain might make him aware it was there. His
present forced awareness of the prosaic side of the notion money gave
him somewhat of a sense of being caught amid a swirl of storm-blown
The remedy is simple, he said, at last.
It is. I have forty thousand a year. Marry me for my money.
Declined, with thanks.
So blunt, yet so pointed. A pity it's not original. But I know what
you meant by your remedy. You don't see it would be a double crime, and
you are too good a man even to commit a single one.
I mean I should follow you. It would be just lovely to be rowed
across the Styx together. Of course, I should have to pay your obolus.
It is getting late. I really think we ought to turn back.
Lady Thiselton sighed.
I must confess I am dejected, she said. I should like to have a
quiet cry. What are you going to do, Morgan?
But he knew that would mean bankruptcy, and he had also an
unpleasant conviction that she meant what she said about following him.
And even if we did go to throw sugar to Cerberus, your father would
step in and inherit your debts, and you will have sacrificed us both in
vain. The result is the same, whether we go to Whitechapel or to the
other place. You can't make it otherwise. Now, if you won't let me be
your wife, at least let me be a sort of mother to you.
Her thought met his just at the right junction. He did not answer
because her argument was unanswerable. How else avoid coming on the
paternal purse again?
I am only asking you, Morgan, to let me help you live just as you
want to live.
She spoke with pleading and humility.
We shall be towards each other just as we are now, she continued,
and although I intended to torment you till you agreed I was worth an
occasional kiss on the forehead in return for minewhich would not at
all take us out of the platonic, or rather plutonic, regions in which
you so sternly insist we must abideI shall give you my word to cease
from active hostilities for six whole months. Just thinkI undertake
to be content for the next six months with kissing you on the forehead
once each time. Is that not sufficiently an earnest of my good faith?
Again he gave her no answer, and, in the silence that followed,
their footsteps seemed to be echoed back to them. Since to die were
futile, let it be she rather than another that helped him to live. She
was a good friend and a loyal one. Of course, it was repugnant to take
money from a woman, but to take it from anybody else would be still
As is usually the case in life, she again chimed in his thought,
the choice is not between the good and the less good, but between the
bad and the worse. Believe me, I understand and sympathise with your
hesitations. But between such friends as we are and such original
people to boot, scruples of a conventional kind ought not to enter.
With us money should count for nothing. So please don't choose 'the
worse,' and perhaps 'the bad' won't turn out so very bad after all.
Still he could not prevail upon himself to accept her generosity,
though conscious he was undeserving of her long-sufferance.
If I could but see the least prospect of repaying you, I should not
hesitate so much, he said at last.
My dear Morgan, in life one mustn't look too far ahead, else
existence becomes impossible. Let us not bother too much about the
future, but let us seize the flying moments; which means we ought to go
to Whitechapel on Thursday and spend a happy day.
He was still lost in thought.
And your silencemay I put the usual interpretation on it?
I suppose so, he said, shame-facedly. Please don't think me
ungracious, he added.
You very dear person! she cried; and after that they walked for
fully five minutes without exchanging a word.
The matter had been decided and, according to their wont, there was
no further manifestation, no further reference to it on either side.
Each understood the other's emotions, and that sufficed.
Shall I put you into a hansom? said Morgan, looking at his watch
as they passed out of the park. It is getting on towards two.
Mayn't I come in and smoke a cigarette? pleaded Lady Thiselton.
My nerves have been tried a little, and a few minutes' rest will
I fear the lady of the house would not approve.
Oh! we shall creep in quietly without disturbing her pious dreams.
Do be nice, Morgan. You know I never smoke any other cigarettes than
yoursI am never wicked except in your company.
They entered almost noiselessly.
How silent the night is, she remarked, and what a feeling of
sleeping multitudes there is in the air! Suppose the morrow should dawn
and they should never awaken. I am shivering. Your room is cold, though
the moonlight is quite pretty.
He lighted his reading lamp under its big, green shade. She would
not have the gasshe liked the room full of dusk and shadow. The fire
was ready laid, and Morgan put a match to it, after which he proceeded
to look for the cigarettes. When eventually he turned towards her, he
uttered a suppressed exclamation.
She had taken off her heavy cloak and her hat and thrown them
carelessly on a chair. She now stood a little to the left of the fire,
her face half turned towards it, and was busy removing her long gloves.
Her features, amid which nestled mystic trembling shadows, showed
bloodless, as though carved of ivory, and her great, dark brown eyes
were wonderfully soft and caressing. Her hair ran in a flowing curve
off the warm white pallor of her brow till it was lost beyond the ear.
Almost on top of her head it lay in a coil, bound with a wide, green
velvet band that was fastened in front with a great emerald. Her
throat, neck and shoulders rose with the same dull, smooth whiteness,
and with an exquisite firmness, from the strange, green velvet costume
it had pleased her to wear, and were set in its gold border that glowed
and sparkled with smaller emeralds. The robe curved in at the waist,
defining the adorable grace of her figure and falling to the ground in
gleaming folds and strange contrasts of light and shade. And on each
side hung a long, open sleeve with bright yellow lining spread out to
the viewa wide, descending sweep of gold in glistening contrast with
the deep green of the costume.
She had now placed her gloves on the same chair, and her long, bare
arms showed in all the firm beauty of warm ivory tones, without a touch
of rose in their whole length, even to the very finger tips. A thick,
gold bracelet encircled the wrist of her right hand. On the other hand
the gleam of ornament was given by the wedding ring and a similar ring
on the same finger set with a limpid diamond.
Well, she said, smiling.
You have taken me unawares. One moment you are a soberly clad
person, and the next a queenly blaze.
The moonlight is really wonderful. Turn out the lamp and let me
play the 'Moonlight Sonata.'
No, smoke your cigarette instead, he suggested.
You are afraid I might cause the good lady pleasant dreams instead
of pious ones. Thank you, dear.
He held her a light, and, after she had taken a puff or two, she
passed her cigarette to him.
Your tribute, Morgan, she demanded.
He took a puff and passed it back to her. Then, when she had smoked
It is delicious, she said. Your lips have given it their
sweetness of honey, their fragrance of myrrh.
She leaned leisurely against the mantel, whilst he drew a chair for
himself to the opposite corner of the fire. The great emerald gleamed
through a dainty cloud of smoke.
It is lovely here, she said at last. Such moments as these are
the happiest of my life. One's nature must rebel sometimes against
being driven along the prescribed lines. There are sides to one's soul,
absolutely unallowed for in the ordinary scheme of civilized existence.
But instead of letting me moralise, you might be saying some nice
About me, of course.
Oh! I am enjoying the spectacle you present.
I built a palace in the air, and, lo and behold! it has proved to
be a real palace. I went up to my room to-night and was feeling
fanciful and sentimental, which means, of course, I was thinking about
you. And then I imagined this whole sceneonly a little different; I
in this dress, and you at my feet, worshipping me and calling me all
sorts of sweet names. And I was coy and held back!
She paused a moment and laughed merrily.
Of course, she went on, I could not resist putting on the costume
in order to get nearer the real feeling of such a scene, and it was so
delicious that I at once wrapped myself up and come here in a cab. The
maid told me you were not expected till late. It's very amusing, by the
waythat girl really believes I'm your sister! So I made a descent on
dear, stupid Laurathe admirer of your sweet-little-girl poemand
whiled away an hour or so. All muffled up, of course. Her heart's weak,
you know. Then I strolled back here. And now my imaginary scene is
being enacted. Not exactly as I imagined it, but I know the realities
of existence and the usual tragic fate of expectations, and so I have
reason to feel ecstatic over the result. Besides, I think I really do
look very nice. The contractor for the clay must accidentally have
supplied a little of the first quality at the time I was made. He must
have torn his hair on finding out the mistake. Come, Morgan, kiss me on
She put the cigarette on the mantel, prettily blew away the smoke,
and held her two splendid arms towards him. But he did not move.
I'll even put on the veil and keep my hands behind me, like a good
Helen! Please, he protested.
Forgive me, she said, and there was a strain of pathos in her
voice. For the moment I forgot my promiseI was fancying this was a
mere continuation of my vision. But I shall not do it againI shall
bite out my tongue first.
He was moved, and awoke to the understanding that he had not yet
estimated, according to the ordinary reckoning of the world, the
pecuniary favour he had accepted from her. The fact that he felt shame
at the resource of which circumstances forced him to avail himself
could not affect his sense of her nobility, and it was a true instinct
of gratitude that made him rise in order to bestow what she had ceased
to demand. But, somewhat to his astonishment, she waved him back.
No, Morgan; I really meant what I said, and you must not think I am
After which he felt forced to pin her to her request, protesting her
honesty was not in dispute.
You know I am to be trusted, she whispered demurely. I am so glad
you did not insist on the veil. I must really smoke another cigarette
to get calm; I am as agitated as a girl getting her first kiss.
And I'll smoke another to keep you company, he said.
Let us meet clandestinely somewhere on Thursday about ten o'clock,
she said a little later. It makes it ever so much more piquant to
proceed mysteriously. We shall lunch in those parts. I must be home
again by five, as I have a small dinner-party. I have an idea, Morgan.
One of my men writes he won't be able to turn up. You've never dined at
my house in state. Come and fill the vacant place.
He shook his head. His instinct was to refuse without considering.
She insisted a little, but, seeing his heart was against it, left the
subject, turning gaily to something else.
Soon he went out with her and saw her into a hansom. It was past two
when he bade her good-night, having agreed to a rendezvous for Thursday
in the heart of the city.
It was a little past mid-day, and Archibald Druce, who had returned
an hour before from an early morning professional appointment with
Medhurst, was feeling restless and lonely. Morgan was not due till
half-past one, and so the old man wandered disconsolately about the
hotel, seeking some congenial spirit with whom to hold converse. At
length, peering into the smoking-room, he discovered a white-haired,
stately gentleman, with a somewhat military air, whose grave appearance
was encouraging. With him Archibald began an exchange of civilities,
and very soon launched out into an account of his interview of that
I assure you, my dear sir, said the banker, though the other had
not questioned the fact in any way, I can see absolutely nothing. The
room is a perfect blur, and I fear I dare not venture out into these
crowded London thoroughfares for the rest of the day. The worst of it
is that the introduction of the cocaine into my eyes has been of no
avail. Of course my eminent friend could not know I was possessed of
such remarkable eyes, and as it was necessary for him to see into them,
no blame attaches to him for having adopted the usual means of causing
my extremely small pupils to expand. Now the curious point is that my
pupils were totally unaffected by the cocaine, and I fear my eminent
friend had to work on me under difficulties. The couple of hours I
spent with him in his wonderful workroom have, however, proved
exceedingly profitable to me. I assure you, my dear sir, they have been
No doubt, said the military person, his fingers fidgetting
uneasily with his newspaper.
Between ourselves, continued Archibald confidentially, I rather
imagine that my friend enjoyed the time I spent with him. It is not
often he gets a really intelligent patient to work onin fact, he
found me so appreciative that he exhibited especially some profoundly
interesting experiments. Amongst other things, he threw a gigantic
representation of my retinal system of blood vessels on to a white
screen merely by turning a strong light sideways into my eye. And the
explanation of it was quite simple. The retinal vessels stand out
slightly in relief, and thus a perfect shadow of the system is cast on
the retina. It was this shadow I saw, and the white screen was merely a
convenient background for it. I don't know if I make myself clear.
Perfectly clear, perfectly, said the military person.
Indeed, John Medhurst seemed quite loth to part with me. I quite
believe he enjoyed the experiments as much as I did. He brought out his
books and very kindly allowed me to inspect the platesand
extraordinarily fine plates they are!and thus acquire some idea of
the inner mechanism of the human eye. What a truly wonderful place the
That no intelligent man can deny, said the military person.
My friend holds a most distinguished position in his profession,
and I esteem it a great honour and privilege to be on such intimate
terms with him, said Archibald, offering a cigar to the other and
lighting one himself. Now you know, he went on, in a somewhat
softened and more intimate tone; there's quite a little bit of a
romance in the story of our friendship.
Indeed, said the military person more genially, his palate
savouring the exquisite aroma of the cigar.
Archibald smiled tenderly.
His wife's an old flame of mine, he explained, veiling his emotion
with jocular phraseology. An old flame, did I say? I'm still over head
and heels in love with her. But I was too lateshe and John had
already made their little arrangements. And very soon after John and I
became friends, and friends we've remained to this day. Kate has two of
the loveliest girls, and I'm hanged if I'm not head over heels in love
with them as well. The younger one is a regular little she-devil!
Ha! ha! ha! guffawed the military person.
Upon my honour she is, insisted Archibald. Why, she flirts
outrageously with me. I'm sure I don't know how many heads the little
witch is going to turn when she grows up. And her sister, MargaretI
couldn't tell you which of the two I like the betterhas quite an
extraordinary talent for plastic art. I mean to give her a commission
before I return to my place. I'd like for one thing to have a bust of
her mother in my studythat would be so inspiring. And long ago I took
a fancy to have a nice sphinx. A thing of that kind, you know, is good
to remind one of man's intellectual limitations.
I suppose so, said the military person, vaguely.
Her figures are extremely lifelike. Just imagine, a thing cast in
dead bronze to have all the reality of life so that you would almost
expect it to move.
She must be a highly-gifted young lady.
You will scarcely credit it, my dear sir, but she is only
nineteenon my word of honour, said Archibald with growing
enthusiasm. Only the other day she sold two of her things for
twenty-five pounds apiece. Twenty-five pounds apiece! he repeated
slowly, as if that represented to him a gigantic amount. The examples
are to be strictly limited to sixty of each, after which the moulds are
to be destroyed. They are both magnificent pieces of work. Why, you
fancy you almost hear Chiron's voice and the twanging of his harp.
Indeed, said the military person.
She is perfectly sweet and beautiful as well as clever, went on
Archibald. Now my dog of a boy, between ourselvesha! ha! ha!
He's a bit smitten? suggested the military person.
Archibald laughed gleefully. And I fancy that a certain clever
young lady of nineteen who knows how to model is also a bit smitten.
Only my boy doesn't seem to come to the point. But then he's a poet.
A what? inquired the military person, startled.
A poet, stoutly repeated Archibald. And a very great poet, I
venture to assert, he will be one of these fine days. Naturally he is
not a man of actionhe is a dreamer. But when I wanted Kate I wasn't
satisfied just to go on dreaming about herha! ha! Now if my boy would
only stop dreaming and just get married instead, I'd settle as much on
them as ever they'd want. You see, a genius like my son, he went on,
lowering his voice almost to a whisper, must be exempt from the sordid
cares of money-earning, and my eminent friend, though his position in
life is an extremely honourable one, is not a man of means. He may have
put by a bit out of his hard-earned income, but, as I always say to
him, he wants that against a rainy day. But it's no use my talking to
himhe will keep on worrying about his girls having no fortunes. 'And
suppose they don't marry,' says he; and I have positively to laugh him
into a more cheerful mood. 'Don't be a fool, John,' I say to him,
'those two girls are worth all the fortunes in the world, and the man
who didn't think as much wouldn't be worth marrying.'
Your views are extremely generous, said the military person. They
do you credit.
Not at all, my dear sir, said Archibald, looking pleased; my
views are simply rational. I consider the blind worship of mere money
an utter mistake. There are higher things in life. I may say I am in
entire sympathy with my son's aspirations. By the way, it occurs to me
that the extraordinary refusal of my pupils to expand under cocaine may
be but another manifestation of the remarkable nervous system that
characterises my family. It may be connected in some mysterious way
with my son's genius. But possibly, sir, you may know my son?
I fear I have not that honour. I know only one literary
gentlemanhe is the editor of the 'Christian Bugle.' Might I suggest
that we exchange cards?
Willingly, said Archibald. Very happy to make your acquaintance,
Major Hemming, he resumed, after the mutual self-introduction had been
effected. My son is to be here shortly, when you will have the
opportunity of meeting him. Perhaps you will do us the honour of
lunching with us?
I should be delighted, but unfortunately I am lunching with a
I am sorry we are not to have the pleasure, said Archibald. But
perhaps you would like a copy of my son's book. It is but a small
volume, as you see. And Archibald pulled the parchment-bound,
deckle-edged booklet from his outer breast pocket. Don't hesitate, my
dear sir, it will give me pleasure if you will accept it.
You are most kind, said the Major. I shall look forward to
reading it with the utmost pleasure.
I am sure you will agree that only a genius could have written
those poems, said Archibald.
I have no doubt but what I shall form a high opinion of your son's
gifts, said the Major.
Being of a literary temperament myself, went on Archibald, I
happily have been able to appreciate his. I do not want him to work for
money, and I have, therefore, put him on a sound financial basis. So
far, he appeals only to a very select section of the public. But he has
not written a line which he has not been inspired to write. As regards
the general publicI myself, in my humble way, have become aware of
the indifference and stupidity of the general public. When, after
thorough re-examination of every point of my mental position, I try and
speak plainly to such of my fellow-men as I have the opportunity of
addressing, I am met with an absolute want of intelligent
comprehension. However, I intend to say what I have to say, and I am
now at work on a volume, the nature of which you will sufficiently
gather from its title: 'Plain Thoughts of a Practical Thinkeran
attempt to investigate some questions of primary importance that are
An excellent idea, sir.
To give you an example of the narrowness even of people who occupy
a high position in the social sphere, whenever I have ventured to
assert my sincere belief that children should be instructed in life by
means of competent handbooks instead of being allowed to pick up their
knowledge in a haphazard, more or less dangerous fashion, I have been
met with a frigid politeness, behind which the shocked disapproval was
but too manifest.
Humph! said the Major. I must confess your proposition is
certainly a startling one.
It is a common-sense one, said Archibald, curtly.
Pardon me, said the Major, somewhat stiffly, but I do think that
in the interests of morality and religion it would be exceedingly
unfortunate if your ideas were generally adopted.
I am perfectly prepared to argue the point, said Archibald,
drawing himself up, whilst his eye flashed with the light of battle.
I fear I have no time just now, said the Major, glancing at his
watch. I must be off. I wish you a very good morning, sir.
Morgan, my boy, cried the banker, when that gentleman at last
appeared, I've spent the last hour tackling one of the most terrible
Philistines I have ever met.
END OF BOOK I.
Which way do we go? asked Lady Thisleton, as they stood hesitating
at a crossing-stage in Broad Street, City. Wouldn't it be nice to stay
here and philosophise?
She was dressed as plainly as possible in a dark brown coat and
skirt, and wore a small hat and veil, so that she was not in the least
conspicuous. Both she and Morgan, having entered on the day's
adventure, were determined to enjoy it, though his mood was far from
being whole-hearted. And, as they surveyed the slow medley of omnibuses
that moved between them and the pavement they were struck by the scene
in the same impersonal way. They did not feel that they formed any part
of it; they saw it as with the eyes of a floating, invisible spirit. To
them it was collective movement and colourmovement in the hurrying
streams pouring from every exit of the giant stations, in the massed
chaos of vehicles, in the sense of bustle and business and purpose;
colour in the crudities of blue, green, yellow, red, that flared from
omnibuses and shop windows, and that yet were fused into the dun
monochrome of town, to the overwhelming sense of which asphalt and
paving and street lamp and stone buildings and sober costumes all
contributed, and with which the very hubbub seemed to blend.
A vague feeling of tragedy seemed to invade them as their eyes
rested on all this life; but it was the result of an intellectual
perception, not of a sympathetic realisation and comprehension of this
throbbing reality. As for Morgan, the scene made him remember he had
once tried to wrestle with political economy and had disliked it
tremendously, and the thought made him smile.
Why do you smile? said Lady Thiselton. Certainly it is not gay
here. I feel quite overwhelmed. All these facespre-occupied,
cheerful, sad, worn, despairing, hopeful, starved, well-fedsuggest
such a whirl. I invent a whole biography for each one that catches my
eye. I wonder how far I am rightI who am only a woman of the world;
which means I know nothing of life outside of my own four walls and a
few other four walls that more or less resemble them. But it's all
really lovely, isn't it, Morgan? What suffering must be here! You can't
imagine how I'm enjoying everything. Of course I sympathise as well.
But mine is a sort of artistic sympathy. I'm not noble enough to feel
the real thing. Isn't it all interesting?
There's a policeman staring at us suspiciously.
Then we'd better move on. The good policeman's dream of paradise
must be a place in which he is the one static soul and in which the
blest keep passing on to all eternity.
They crossed the road and moved along with the crowd. The bells of
St. Botolph's struck ten as they turned into Bishopsgate.
I feel the mediæval spirit coming on and begin to see visions of
highly-coloured Lord Mayors and aldermen and burghers and beef-eaters.
And somehow Dick Whittington and his cat are mixed up with it all, and
exhibitions with glass roofs and careful craftsmen and apprentices, and
Christopher Wren. Alas and alack! Where is old London?
I don't know, said Morgan. But I do know where Whitechapel is. We
have to pass through Houndsditch. I looked it up on the map to refresh
my memory. I have always found Houndsditch a disappointment.
So have I, said Lady Thiselton. It is every bit as uninspiring as
a West End street. Some of the side alleys look interesting though, but
then such strange people seem to be in absolute possession, and you
feel you have no right to set foot within their territory. I am really
a fearful coward.
They walked on silently.
Why don't you contradict me, Morgan, and tell me I'm brave? You
never voluntarily pay me a compliment. If I want compliments I have to
put them before you as so many propositions, to which, being a truthful
person, you are forced to give your assent.
You are brave, said Morgan.
Thank you. Every stone in this part of the city has its
associations, its traditions, its history. And then there are venerable
churches isolated amid the serried buildings of commerce, with charming
bits of hidden green and trees. I'm chattering away like a country
cousin come up to see the sights of London town and to carry back its
fifteenth century flavour. Let us forget history and tradition, and let
us get an unadulterated vision of the modern. Here is a nice place to
They had turned into Aldgate and had gone some distance in the
direction of Whitechapel, and the new scene had a character of its own.
Both felt the spirit of toil here, where the grime of industry struck a
coarser and somberer note.
I feel a million miles from home, which is just what I want to
feel, declared Lady Thiselton. And there is quite a market place
opposite, and bookstalls. This is just what Browning could have
described. Why did he not come here for inspiration? Here, too, he
might have found a square, old yellow book and paid eightpence for it,
and tossed it in the air and caught it again and twirled it about by
the crumpled vellum covers, and could have wandered on reading it
through a perilous path of fire-irons, tribes of tongs, shovels in
sheaves, skeleton bedsteads, wardrobe drawers agape, and cast clothes
a-sweetening in the sun. But the crowd is really too thick to walk
amongst. As we are on pleasure bent, let us be recklessly extravagant
and take a twopenny ride on top of a tram-car.
Morgan admitted he was beginning to find it unpleasant to be at such
close quarters with the crowd. Some of the people he was brushing up
against, he complained, were not too scrupulously clean.
No doubt, he added, I shall find them with their mysterious
bundles more picturesque from a distance.
Why some of them are quite spick and span with their polished silk
hats, and there are any number of pretty girls. The shops, too, seem
quite attractive. I can even imagine myself living here for a time,
Let us get on our tram car. That may give my imagination the
At first they had the top all to themselves, and were borne smoothly
onwards, cutting through the very centre of the turmoil. The red brick
church was the furthest point she had ever reached in the East of
London, Lady Thiselton informed Morgan. She had been in the
neighbourhood two or three times in company with her husband, who had
been interested in a sort of mission and dispensary combined, his idea
being not only to make wicked people religious, but to irritate the
devil by keeping their souls out of his clutch as long as possible.
Now it is only like the High Street of a big provincial town, she
commented, after they had passed the London Hospital. I think it's
Three begrimed, strapping youths came clambering up noisily and,
sitting immediately in front of them, continued a conversation about a
certain she. Their vocabulary became so offensive that Lady Thiselton
whispered she thought it perfectly improper for a lady to keep on
looking at the backs of men's necks on the top of a car, in full view
of the whole world.
They descended and strolled on further. There was no crowd now to
hinder them, and they were curious to see what this far-stretching
thoroughfare led to.
So far it seems a broad stretch of mean quaintness. I had no idea
London was so big. And what grimy side streets! I shudder to think of
the grimy network that lies on either hand. Morgan, I feel a very
Your emotions are strangely unpredictable.
What right have I to forty thousand a year when there are people
starving in these back streets? asked Lady Thiselton indignantly. I
am going to turn Socialist.
You are not.
You'll never abandon individualism.
Of course not. I'd never think of parting with that. But I really
don't see why I shouldn't be a Socialist as well. I pity those poor,
benighted beings that have room in their narrow souls for only one set
of opinions. I like to be everything, to hold every 'ism,' and to be
labelled all over with every 'ist,' like the window of that
'eating-house' yonder. Which reminds me of my dinner party to-night.
Isn't it terrible to eat in Belgrave Square when some people have to
eat in a place like that. It's positively wicked. I have an idea. I
think I can't do better than inaugurate my new 'ism' by lunching there
to-day. Suppose we do so on our way back.
But I never confessed to be converted to socialism, he
Why it's a dear little eating-house, a perfect love of a place.
I take it for granted you wish to meet your guests to-night with a
smiling face, he warned her.
The consciousness of having had the courage of my 'ism' will fill
me with such a glow of goodness that I cannot fail to appear a
veritable Madonna. Of course, you know I am counting on you.
But I haven't filled up the place. I've been relying on nagging you
You know I don't want to, he grumbled yieldingly.
But I want you to. Don't be angry, dear, she went on, coaxingly.
Haven't I amused you the whole time?
He ended by promising to come, if not incapacitated by the lunch,
and felt fairly secure of passing the evening at home.
After they had wandered about for some time longer and had paid
pennies to see a curious compound animal, a sort of ox, sheep, horse,
donkey and goat rolled into one, and an abnormally fat woman, more
decently clad than the life-size coloured picture of her in the window
had led them to imagine, they invaded the love of an eating-house. They
stepped within the threshold firmly enough, but then stood hesitant.
The place gave them a general sense of brownness. It was the
old-fashioned style of coffee-house, with a sanded pathway down the
middle and a row of stalls on either side, each separated from its
neighbours by tall partitions. Everything was of a dirty brown,
panelling, partitions, benches and the bare tables. A brown light came
through the dingy windows, and the very odours that hung in the dingy
atmosphere suggested the same tint.
A coatless, aproned waiter emerged from the back to greet the first
mid-day customers, and, in reply to their enquiry for lunch, invited
them to be seated within one of the stalls. After he had wiped their
table he disappeared, and he returned in a moment with a table cloth,
followed by a shorter and stouter man, also in shirt sleeves. They
began to see they had made an impression, and were to be served in
accordance with the host's sense of the fitness of things.
The proprietorfor such the stout man wasby way of special
civility, remarked that it was fine weather, and asked what he might
The correct thing, said Lady Thiselton; and, on the man staring,
what everybody usually has here, she added, in explanation.
Boiled beef and suet to-day, or roast beef and Yorkshire, or chops
and steaks, enumerated the man.
So boiled beef and suet was ordered on the assumption it was the
correct thing, and, while the waiter was busy getting it, the
proprietor felt it his duty to entertain them till it came.
His intentions were no doubt strictly honourable, but, Morgan, do
you think we shall have to talk to people like that when socialism is
established? My goodness! she exclaimed, examining the slices of meat
closely. What are those green streaks?
Perhaps that's perfectly right. The green streakslike the boiled
carrotmay be just a little surprise by way of extra. Neither is
included in the description of the dish.
Morgan, I really don't think I can eat this, she said faintly.
Not at all. You forget I'm a bundle of 'isms,' and in practice one
can only be true to one at a time. When that one begins to make me feel
uncomfortable, I become true to another. Thus I am always true to
myself. All the mutually contradictory 'isms' unite in a higher
synthesis. Am I not the most lovely higher synthesis you ever saw?
All of which Hegelian dialectics mean that I'd better tell them to
take this stuff away.
If you think they won't maltreat us. They look terribly fierce; and
they may have any number of myrmidons within call. That sort of people,
you know, doesn't like to have its cooking criticised.
So long as we pay, we'll not find them too sensitive.
The matter was soon arranged, they adopting the man's suggestion of
a nice, juicy steak. And when it arrived they felt compelled to
pronounce it excellent.
I shouldn't be surprised if those green streaks were the proper
thing after all, said Lady Thiselton.
Doubtless we have missed some extraordinary delicacy, said Morgan.
But please tell me which particular 'ism' is in possession at the
moment. I am not quite clear on the point.
That is just my state of mind. But I fancy that, at the present
moment, I am given over to emotion rather than to thought. This
interior is affecting me artistically. I was just thinking what a
lovely Dutch picture it would make. But I really am sincere about my
'isms.' The arguments in favour of any one 'ism' are unanswerable, and
I have to admit the truth of each, whenever I consider it. All human
thought ends in the blind alley of Paradox. Hegel was a word-juggler.
Nice phrases are pleasing, but let us not take them seriously.
And Lady Thiselton proceeded to utter a good many nice phrases,
which Morgan found pleasing, and did not take seriously. Customers
dropped in by ones and twos till at length all the other stalls were
filled, everybody instinctively avoiding the stall where a tablecloth
gleamed its white warning. When some men, having eaten, began smoking
their clays, Lady Thiselton's sharp ear detected some speculative
remarks about herself and Morgan, tinged with facetiousness and gore.
She thereupon suggested she was pining for something mystic and
spiritualistic, being quite tired of this realistic interior.
I am trying to banish it by contemplating the Blessed Damozel, she
said, and quoted whisperingly:
'The Blessed Damozel leaned out
From the gold bar of Heaven;
Her eyes were deeper than the depth
Of waters stilled at even;
She had three lilies in her hand,
And the stars in her hair were seven.'
A moment later they stepped out into the afternoon light that nearly
blinded them with its mournful glare. But a heavy sadness had descended
on Morgan. The lines Lady Thiselton had whispered to him had set him
thinking of Margaret.
The same evening, Morgan, not feeling any alarming symptoms, had to
carry out his promise to join Lady Thiselton's little dinner party. She
received him with a formality that made him laugh inwardlyand almost
outwardly. But the impulse died away as with a start he perceived that
Robert Ingram was in the drawing-room. He reflected, however, that,
though the encounter was an unexpected one, there was nothing very
astonishing about it. Helen had herself told him she had made the
novelist's acquaintance, and to find him dining at her house was no
matter for surprise. The position, nevertheless, was a most curious
one, especially when their hostess unsuspectingly introduced the two
men. Ingram's manner was a little bit bewildered, as iffrom his
knowledge of Morganhe feared the latter might make a scene by
dramatically cutting him.
However, nothing of the kind happened, Morgan behaving with perfect
gravity. He had to give his arm to Mrs. BlackstoneHelen's dear
friend, Laura, of whom she had spoken to him as the most stupid woman
she knew. He would have welcomed the opportunity of talking to herfor
he was sure her conception of Helen would be astonishingly amusing, but
he had a feeling that something important was going to arise from his
coming here to-night, and that there were possibilities of explosion in
the position. This gave him a general sense of expectant excitement, so
that at first he was a little bit impatient of Mrs. Blackstone's
remarks. He learnt that she admired intensely that sweet little poem of
his, and that she had been longing to meet the writer; also that
reading was a great blessing when one felt miserable. Did he not admire
Mr. Ingram? She herself adored his work. He was constrained to reply
that Ingram was one of his literary heresies, whereupon she, with ready
resource, supposed that tastes differed, and then, as the result of a
luminous thought, she added that a poet would naturally not be so much
interested in mere prose. Of course poetry ranked the higher, but she
was ashamed to confessshe made the confession without any sign of
shameshe scarcely ever read any at all. She had several favourite
novelists who each published so many books a year that it took all the
time she could spare to keep pace with them.
And indeed I'm glad they manage to write so much. They help to
fight against the flood of nasty realistic works we get nowadays. I
should like to see those all burnt.
Mrs. Blackstone went on to observe that she couldn't make out why
people went on writing such filth. She preferred books of a sound,
Morgan, feeling himself called upon to make common cause against the
Philistine, put in a tentative word of defence.
That's true, admitted Mrs. Blackstone.
He soon drew further admissions from her, she never suspecting the
extent of the ground she was yielding till, just at the moment of
rising, she apparently gave up her whole position with the naïve
I always thought they had a reason for introducing that sort of
thing. Thank you so much, Mr. Druce, for explaining it to me.
He was not quite sure whether he had been bored or amused. All the
same he now felt glad he had come; he seemed to be so much more
actively interested in what was to follow. Instinctively he looked at
Ingram, and the novelist came to talk to him whilst the other men
discussed the hygienic aspects of smoking.
Well, have you got over your temper yet?
The phrasing was unfortunate, though its conciliatory intention was
obvious. Morgan felt he was being addressed as if he were a sulky
child, and his resentment leapt up afresh.
I beg you will not interest yourself further in me, he said.
Suppose we omit some of the conversation, suggested Ingram, and
assume all that sort of thing to have been said. You are hurt because I
showed your letter to a friend. Aren't you taking a distorted view of
the matter? Recollect that at the time you were an utter stranger, and
your letter was a bolt from the blue. I cannot see that I committed so
very great a crime.
It is as great or as little as you feel it to be.
And how may it be purged? asked Ingram ironically.
Ponder over it till you perceive its enormity, then apologize to me
in the presence of the woman.
Morgan scarcely realised what he was saying till the words were out.
Apparently he had spoken without hesitating and without thinking, but
he knew that his utterance was the result of all that had occupied his
mind for many days past. He felt now he was on the road towards the
realisation of that fantastic future, that poem in life that was to
take the place of the poetry in words he had abandoned.
Ingram gave him a strange, piercing look. Morgan had never before
seen in his face such an expression as he saw in it now. There was a
pregnant pause before the reply came.
Very well, then. We will go to her to-night. No doubt the others
will now be glad to hear our views on tobacco smoke.
Morgan was conscious of a strange glow of pleasure, of a strange
satisfaction. All his sense of romance and mystery was astir. How
charming was the promise of the phantasy to come! The smiling, scented
serpent-woman was holding her arms to him! And again those lines of
Browning echoed through him, and his whole being seemed invaded as by a
faint sweetness from some old Egyptian's fine, worm-eaten shroud.
He defended moderate smoking with vivacity.
Afterwards, the guests being disposed for conversation in the
drawing-room, Helen managed to sit with Morgan a little apart.
What do you think of Mr. Ingram? she asked. Did you talk to him
He seems fairly intelligent, replied Morgan; more intelligent, in
fact, than his work would lead one to suppose. You told me the other
day, did you not, that you have known him some little time?
It is only during the last few months that I have cultivated him or
rather he me.
I see Mrs. Blackstone has possession of him now. She must be very
She is his greatest confidante. That I am her greatest
confidante, you know already, ergowell, I'll leave you to make
the deduction. She is really a good soul, and a marked success as an
But is Mr. Ingram aware of that?
Quite. That is why he speaks into her such a deal. He finds me
perfectly deaf otherwise.
All this was a revelation to Morgan.
You seem to be hinting at something, he could not help exclaiming.
Of course. Mr. Ingram is anxious to marry a title, and, since he
does not object to having a good-looking person attached to it, he has
done me the honour to pretend to be in love with me. He has been
proposing for the last six weeks, and has offered to purify his books
still further to suit my virginal soul.
And you professed to be telling me everything interesting, he
Why, I left off telling you about my wooers and proposals at your
own request. You insisted they would never make you jealous, and they
rather bored you. So I did not say a word about this one. Of course
Laura is anxious to further his cause. She thinks me a good woman and
somewhat of a prude. Poor soul! She doesn't suspect the wedding ring
with the diamond in it you've seen me sometimes wear! You know it's the
sort of thing wicked women affect when they want to be cynical about
the marriage tie. Well, Laura is doing her best to persuade me to be
the instrument of Mr. Ingram's reform. She thinks it such a pity his
life has not been so wholesome in tone as his novels. Her admiration of
him is so great that she wants him to live up to her conception of the
author of his novels, and I am to be sacrificed for the purpose. She is
ten years my senior, and you will observe her interest in me is quite
maternal. But I must tell you more about it another time. The doctor's
looking bored. I must go and amuse him.
Shortly after midnight Morgan and Ingram were driving towards
Hampstead, in which vicinity, the latter explained, resided the lady
upon whom they were going to call. For a long time the two sat
silentthey seemed to have nothing to say to each other.
And even while Morgan was thrilled through and through with
expectancy of romance, he could not help his brain playing a little
with the general position, which, in face of what he had learnt
to-night, was far more complicated than he had imagined. He smiled as
it occurred to him how easily he could annoy Ingram by marrying Helen.
Curious, he thought, that Ingram had not the least suspicion of it!
May I not ask who is the lady? he said at last.
She is nobody in particular, said Ingram. I call her 'Cleo,'
which is sufficient for all practical purposes. There is really no
reason why I should not tell you now that Cleo, in fact, has been the
companion of my leisure for the past six years. I will leave you to
form your own impression of her.
Ingram spoke with an exaggerated air of bluntness, as if to indicate
his indifference to whatever effect his statement might produce on
Morgan. The latter, however, was not very much surprised. His active
feeling was rather one of bewilderment as to the part Ingram was
playing in this tangle of relations. The fact that Ingram had turned up
as a suitor for Helen's hand, when he himself had been all these years
in active relation with either unknown to the other, had exhausted all
the possibilities of astonishment in him. But he found it strange that
Ingram, in spite of his matrimonial intention, should still continue on
such terms with this 'Cleo' as to be able to bring a friend to see her
in the way he was doing now. Ingram's very readiness to fall in with
the suggestion struck him as bearing some significance he could not yet
Yet, though his mind was thus occupied, Morgan cared little about
Ingram's private designs. It satisfied him to feel that Ingram was his
unconscious tool, and that he was at length drifting in the right
direction. On rattled the vehicle through empty, dark streets, where
the very street lamps looked lonely and subtly fostered his mood.
They drew up at length in a narrow street of stucco houses, and
Morgan followed Ingram through a wooden gate up a glass-covered
stairway that led to an ordinary front door. Ingram opened it with a
latch-key, and they stood in a square, little hall, prettily furnished
and dimly lighted by an antique hanging lamp.
Cleo expects me, said Ingram, but I must ascertain if she will
receive both of us.
He disappeared through a door at the back of the hall, and,
returning soon, led Morgan through a sort of anteroom into a large
inner apartment, on the threshold of which they were met by a waft of
strange perfume which Morgan recognised immediately, though for a
moment it somewhat overpowered him. The scene, too, was so bizarre that
his perception of it lacked sharpness, and his first impression was a
dreamy one of fusing colour.
The room itself was large and square, and more than half of the
marble inlaid floor was raised several inches above the other
partthat on which Morgan stood as he entered. In the centre of this
lower part was a small marble fountain, with two tiers of basins,
beautifully carved. The water played prettily, overflowing from the
lower and larger basin into a daintily-bordered square tank set in the
floor. Against the wall beyond the fountain was built a marble slab,
supported by a double arch, under which stood ewers and vases. And
higher up in this same wall were set two pairs of tiny windows, divided
into little coloured panes, with designs of flowers and peacocks.
The ceiling seemed a quaint, flat, immense tangle of gold, green,
red and blue thread work, each line of which could be followed till the
eye lost it in the maze; and three lamps, suspended by brass chains,
filled the room with a ruby light that came through the interstices of
fine brass and silver work. The walls were marked out in panelling and
covered with a strange, decorative pattern. The raised part of the
floor was spread with richly woven rugs of warm tints, and a few stools
of curious workmanship stood about. Books lay scattered here and there,
as if thrown carelessly on the ground after perusal. In the centre was
a gilded couch, upholstered in silk, and, as Ingram mentioned his name,
Morgan found himself bowing to the wonderful woman who reclined on it.
She rose at his greeting, tall and of a gipsy-like brown, and clad
in a straight terra-cotta robe tied in front with a broad, gold girdle,
whose long ends fell floating to the ground. Her feet were sandalled.
Her hair was of a rich, golden red, and somehow showed up in contrast
to the blue grey of her eyes. Her lips were full and of a startling
scarlet, as though they bled. She smiled to Morgan, displaying two rows
of tiny white teeth, and held out to him a long, brown hand.
He took it in his, and the contact set vibrating every chord of his
nature that had been strung up during the past days. At last he was
face to face with the dream-woman who had haunted him, and she was even
as he had seen her! And with all his emotion at this sacred moment
there mingled a sense of pride that his poet's instinct had divined
I am happy to know you, Mr. Druce. Mr. Ingram has just explained to
me why he has brought you. I am so sorry to be the cause of your
Her voice was curiously soft, without the least ring or even
suggestion of firmness; warm and yielding as a summer wavelet.
Morgan was somewhat startled at her words; he had almost expected
some strange, rich, musical language to fall from her lips.
Ingram drew over a stool, and Cleo bade him be seated. There was
somewhat of an embarrassed silence. Morgan scarcely knew how to meet
the occasion. It struck him that perhaps he ought to be grateful to
Ingram, for he had now a conviction that the letter of his which Cleo
had had in her possession had really interested her in himhad touched
some sympathetic chord in herand that the task of cultivating her
would not, for that very reason, prove a difficult one. He was certain
that her nature had much in common with his own, and that the future
which was now to be unrolled was to be a series of tableaux as charming
as this first one.
He felt it incumbent upon him to dispose of the matter for which
nominally he had come, and murmured that Ingram had now sufficiently
shown his good faith, and that he personally was quite satisfied. As he
spoke he looked at Cleo again, and her eyes and lips gleamed at him
strangely. He was aware she wished to say a good deal to him, but that
the presence of Ingram hindered. And as the same constrained silence
once more fell upon them, the elusive odour of her perfume seemed to
obtrude again, as though taking the opportunity to assert itself.
Ingram at length remarked that the hour was late, and that if Cleo
would excuse them he would escort Mr. Druce back. He was glad that
harmony had been re-established, and he expressed his thanks to Cleo
for so willingly receiving his friend and helping to heal the breach.
Morgan did not mind having this first interview with Cleo thus cut
short, especially as he could not talk with Ingram there to listen. He
was, moreover, uncomfortably aware that Ingram was watching him closely
the whole time, and he did not fail to detect the tinge of irony in the
novelist's last little speech. But he felt he had closed his account
with the man, and he would not trouble his brains any more about his
motives or meaning. He therefore rose to say good-night to Cleo. She
offered them wine, but both men refused, so she smilingly gave her hand
again without striving to detain them.
Outside, each seemed given up to his own thoughts. Morgan would make
no comment on what had been revealed to him, nor apparently did Ingram
want to hear any.
They separated at a cab rank, each taking a separate vehicle. And
only as they were about to part did Ingram break the silence:
I need hardly tell you you have seen a hidden side of my life. I
look to you to forget.
The very rapidity of the glimpse that Morgan had had into that
Hampstead interior made it the more fascinating to dwell upon in
imagination, and, though the definite figure of Cleo now took the place
of the vague, smiling woman who had always been with him, it seemed to
him that he had discerned Cleo's every feature from the beginning.
The general flow of his thoughts and moods were coloured by this
fantastic adventure on which, he now felt, he was fairly embarked.
Nevertheless his life was not proceeding precisely on the lines he had
conceived when he had resolved to transport his imaginative
combinations from the field of paper to the field of life, to weave
dreams from reality instead of from thought. That disattachment he had
decided on in order that he might abandon himself wholly to the urging
of his temperament was proving a much more gradual process than he had
For as yet the old relations were being continued; the man in
himwhich the poet was unable to suppress entirelycould not break
these off abruptly. Thus, when Margaret's pink note announcing the
studio-warming arrived, he could not possibly accept the notion of
ignoring it, for was he not her true and healthy lover? His friendship,
too, with Lady Thiselton, had even become strengthened in spite of
himself. He could not help telling himself again and again that she was
as firm and true as a rock. And the very man in him that appreciated
her sterling qualities had still a sense of shame at his having taken
money from her, forced though his hand had been. The vagueness and
nebulousness of the future that suited the poet made the man with his
healthy repugnance to debt extremely uncomfortable.
The flow of his existence had thus split up into two currents, but
the stronger by far was the poetic force in him that made for a
desperate playing with life.
Yet several days passed without his being impelled to go to Cleo
again. Even as he had been wont to wait for inspiration, so he waited
now for the spirit to move him to the next step in this life-fantasy.
His time got frittered away, he scarcely knew how. He replied to
several letters from his father, who wrote to him at great length on
particular points of ethics, for the banker had by now seriously set to
work on his magnum opus. Two or three times Helen ran in to see
him at tea-time, and did her best to amuse him. The mere reflection
that Ingram must suppose he was but the most casual acquaintance of
Helen's was sufficient for that; so that she had not a very difficult
task, and expressed herself highly pleased at the agreeable mood in
which she was now finding him. She chatted quite freely about Ingram
and the latest developments of his courtship of her. She had refused
him for the fifth time, but he didn't seem the least bit discouraged
By the way, she went on, I've just been reading his biography in
a magazine. Evidently he has not been as frank with his interviewer as
he has been with me. The way I made him confess was just lovely, though
now he makes that a grievance, much to my indignation. All I said was I
couldn't possibly begin to consider his case till I knew all about him.
I made no promise at all. At first, indeed, he was foolish enough to
insist his record was spotless. A man who writes novels of such sound
moral tone! If only he had written naturalistic novels, I might have
Morgan wondered if Ingram had included Cleo in his confession. He
was rather inclined to doubt it, because he felt sure that the very
strangeness of that liaison would have made Helen want to tell
him about it.
And what do you intend to do with him ultimately? he asked.
Well, if I thought it would make you the least bit jealous, I
should announce that I intended to accept him. But as there is no
possible advantage to be gained by such a falsehood, it would be very
extravagant of me to waste it. I've scattered so many of them in my
time that I must be economical for the rest of my life.
Though he had never for a moment believed there was any possibility
of her marrying Ingram, he was yet relieved to hear her state her
intentions so definitely. Such was his sense of Ingram's unworthiness
A couple of days later he went to Margaret's studio-warming. Both
the experience and the anticipation of it were emotionally exciting.
But as a good many of Margaret's particular friends were there, her
attention had to be spread out a great deal, and he did not have to
talk to her much at first. Certainly there was nothing between them
that could be called conversation.
He found it soothing to talk a little with Mrs. Medhurst, who was
always equable, nice, and apparently in a pleased mood. She also had
been receiving long confidential letters from his father, and she
expressed the fear that at the rate the latter was now going in the
direction of iconoclasm he was courting public suppression.
He is very much in earnest, she added. I have written him at
length about the bringing up of daughtershe insisted on having my
views. He is very modest, thoughjust ventures to hope for success.
'If I only had Morgan's pen,' he once wrote, yearningly.
To be reminded now how completely his father had been won over to
belief in him was but to have all the bitterness of his failure again
concentrated in one moment.
During the rest of the time he found himself carrying on a
half-hearted conversation here and there, yet with all his attention on
Margaret. He followed her with his eyes, watching her every movement
and gesture, noting her every smile, catching her laughter and the
sound of her voice. Something that was light, that was sunshine, seemed
to detach itself from her and to fill the whole room; something that
brought a sense of happiness to mingle with his strange mood.
He felt that happiness as a sick man feels a cool, soft caress on
One afternoon Morgan took a hansom and drove to Hampstead. He
entered the glass-covered way that led up to Cleo's door and knocked
unhesitatingly. The servant who responded to his summons stared at him
in undisguised astonishment.
Is your mistress at home? he asked, for he did not know by what
name to enquire for Cleo. He sent in his own, however, and was
immediately ushered into her presence. This gave him no elation,
because he had taken it for granted she would receive him.
I had a sort of presentiment you would come to-day, said Cleo,
throwing on one side the novel she had been reading, and the cover of
which, illumined with seven mystic stars and a veiled floating figure,
just caught his eye.
And I just felt that I must come, he said as, at her
invitation, he took a seat on one of the quaint stools with somewhat of
an air of long habituation to this strange Egyptian chamber.
Cleo was lounging on her gilded settee, obviously arrayed to receive
him in the hope of his calling. A vague, mystic light that compelled an
almost religious emotion came through the tiny window panes. The
fountain played with a soft splash.
Do you know I am what the vulgar call 'superstitious?' she
continued. I always knew you would come into my life.
As she spoke her eyes seemed to shine with a greater fire. The
scarlet of her lips to-day was somewhat concealed by the half shadows;
her hair, too, seemed silkier and more restrained in tone than his
first impression of it. Her gown was of a vague coloura sort of
blue-grey, in which the element of blue was suggested as a light
continuous tinge. A crimson silk scarf, fastened with an opal buckle,
formed a pleasing sash, and fell to the knee. As before, her feet were
That letter of yours Robert showed meyears ago nowmade me love
you at once, she explained. Only a man of genius could have written
it. How my heart bled for you when you said, 'I see no other end to the
comedy than fall. God knows what shape that fall will take, into what
mud my soul plunge in the fight for life. I could bear anything if I
were not so utterly alone and helpless.... If you could see me, speak
to mehelp me in any way!' Yes, I wanted to see youspeak to
youhelp you. It was I who made Robert respond to your appeal. I
remember how disgusted I was with him when he insisted on taking the
whole thing as a splendid joke, just because he found you had a rich
Her strange, soft voice seemed almost informed with dramatic passion
as she quoted his letter. It was clear she knew the whole of it by
heart. So Ingram's violation of his confidence, he reflected, had been
responsible for this interweaving of his life with Cleo's, and his
presence here to-day was but the natural continuation of the beginning
then made. He confessed to having been angered with Ingram.
My blundering vision could not see how the strands were being
woven, he added.
I was certain all along they were being woven, she
returned. The incident at the time made a great impression on me, and
I knew that one day we should come together.
It gave him a thrill of joy to learn that he had been occupying her
thoughts for years past; that, having once come within her
consciousness, he had remained in her vision as a never-fading image.
I am encouraged to ask you about yourself, he said. You know I
love you, too.
This last statement was not an insincere one, for he did not
conceive it as a real statement made to a real human being. Cleo was
his wonderful dream-woman, and he had no notion at all of getting any
insight into her as a real woman playing an actual rôle in actual life.
He did not think of her as an element of real life at all; she was
simply the heroine of the fantasy he was busy weaving. His declaration
represented exactly his sentiment towards her in that rôle; it
expressed his sense of the fitness of things at the moment, was the
requisite correct touch the position demandedthis position which he
had mentally isolated from the rest of reality, and in which for the
time being he had lost himself.
I know, dear, she answered. I will tell you gladly, for I want
you to understand and appreciate me. Like you I have always been
conscious of genius, but I have had to wait long, bitter years. 'Tis
always so with genius. I have ever felt myself a chosen spirit, and I
am sure I am destined to become the greatest actress that has yet
charmed and captivated the world. Am I not tall, surpassingly
beautiful, lithe and supple as a reedgraceful as a lily? But that is
not all. In me is reincarnated the spirit of the ancient East, and it
is my mission to interpret that spirit to the modern world. I will help
you, dear, to realize that same spirit, and then one day, in a grand
burst of inspiration you shall write the play of my life. Then shall I
break upon the civilized world as a revelation.
I can remember no time at which I have not been conscious of my
mission. But six years ago, when I set out on my journey into the
world, I was scarcely more than a child. I had no influenceI knew
nobody; and so I had no chance of making a real appearance at once. I
had to begin by joining a touring company, and that only to play the
rôle of a servant girl. At the time I was glad of any beginning, for I
was confident I should make my way. But I soon found myself stranded.
Then what do you think I did?
You wrote a letter to Ingramjust as I did? he exclaimed
That is very clever of you. It is exactly what I did. He had a
successful play running at one theatre and I read that he was at work
on a new play for another manager. I thought that, if I could only
induce him to see me, I might get a real chance. My letter produced the
desired effect, for in it I had told him exactly what my future was to
be. We had an interview and he perfectly agreed with everything I had
said about myself. But he swore he could do nothing for me. His plays,
he asserted, contained no fit part for meit would be a thousand
pities if I let my strength and energies be dissipated in playing minor
parts that any intelligent school girl with a pair of bright eyes could
do ample justice to. Then he confided to me that he, too, had plans and
ambitions, but that he was not making nearly so much money as he was
said to be doing in the personal paragraphs of the newspapers. He was
putting aside, however, all he could spare, so that he might have a
vast theatre of his own; and if that came to pass I was the one being
on earth to be associated with him in such a mighty undertaking. Would
I stay with him and wait?
So I stayed with him, and I have waitedsix years! We have built
our vast theatre again and againit was to be the vastest in the
world, so that my audience should be worthy of my great gifts. Time
after time have we gone together into every detail of the scheme, I
always believing that at last we were getting ready in earnest. You
will wonder, perhaps, how it is I have allowed myself to be deceived
for so long. It was because I believed in him during the first three
years, and during the second three I had already lost so much time that
I dared not disbelieve in him. It was always: 'Just six months
more, Cleo, dear, and then we shall astonish the world.' And then the
vision of that vast theatre was too fascinating for me to abandon. His
excuses were always plausible. Now he had made some terribly bad
investment, now a publisher had gone bankrupt, now the sales of his
books had fallen tremendously. Besides, he kept complaining bitterly
that he was being forced to suppress his genius and individuality and
to work for money. Just as he was waiting patiently, so must I wait
patiently. He was to write me my great piece, and I was to interpret
it. He bought this house for me and had this room rebuilt to suit my
ideas, so that the spirit in me should be nourished by a congenial
environment. By sitting here each day and meditating, I have ministered
to my sacred moods and I have kept pure the essence of the ages which I
am to revive for the modern world. Thus the years have not been wasted.
I have matured. I am confident my powers have increased, and I have
never felt more eager to exercise them than now. Let me but appear in a
suitable rôle and both fame and fortune are assured to me, for I shall
easily eclipse every living actress.
Of course, I have recognised now that Robert has been playing me
false, at least of late. I should not like to think that he did not
really have those ideas in the first years, but I realise now he has
abandoned them and hasn't the courage to confess the truth. Of course,
he says that his year's finances have all gone wrong again, and that he
had seriously underestimated the capital necessary for the undertaking.
I am not a prisoner, of course. I have always had perfect liberty,
and I engaged the maids myself. They are too well paid not to be
attached to me. Robert is supposed to be my husband. Of course, they
know he isn't. Altogether, I have not been so very unhappy here. This
room has been a great comfort to me, and Robert and I have always got
on well together. But now we must part. He will miss me after all this
time, but there is no reason why we should not part in peace.
She related all this with the greatest naïveté, so that her absolute
faith in herself, her genius, and her mission, did not astonish him.
The words seemed to flow naturally from the personality.
He was aware she had scarcely given him a biography, but he liked to
take her as a mystical figure floating out of a sort of nebula. Such
personal details as might have been relatable of any other woman he did
not want to know; they would have interfered with this purely artistic
vision of her.
I wish that I had a fortune to place at your disposal, he
murmured. You should have your theatre at once.
My vast theatre! she sighed. I fear I must dismiss that as a
hopeless dream. But I could take a theatre and make a less ambitious
beginning with very little money, indeed, she added, yearningly.
Then Morgan told her the condition of his finances; how he had
exhausted his own resources, and how a friendhe referred to Helen
in this highly general mannerhad lent him five hundred pounds, of
which he had scarcely spent anything yet, but which he had not the
slightest idea how he was going to repay. Of course, he could not and
would not apply to his father again; on which point Cleo readily
expressed her sympathy with him.
Asked by him how much she thought would be sufficient to launch her
on her career, she could not say at once, but promised to think about
it and discuss the matter with him when he came again. She explained
that whatever the amount was, it would only be necessary to have it to
draw upon in case of need. Success being certain from the first, money
would come flowing in immediately, and, if they did decide to embark on
the adventure, he would certainly be able to repay his friend very
Her words to him were so many oracular statements, and he no more
thought of questioning them than a child thinks of questioning its
teacher about the names of the strange marks that constitute the
You will be coming again, then, on Thursday, said Cleo, as he
stooped to kiss her hand in token of farewell.
My dear, said Cleo, when Morgan came again, I want to bind you to
me for always. Let us marry at once, or, at least, as soon as possible.
Then, since we shall have thrown in our lots for good and always, we
shall achieve together what we have been unable to do separately. My
spirit shall act on yours, and one day your genius shall fashion the
great masterpiece of my life. As soon as we are married we shall take a
theatre and I shall put on the most suitable play I can find. As I have
already told you, I have given up those idle dreams of a vast theatre
of my own, in which to make my début. But never before have I felt my
powers to be so ripe. Let me but appear for one evening in a part that
will enable me to do justice to my gifts and I shall bring the world to
my feet. I look to you to help me now, and, by making myself yours for
always I shall at least be showing my gratitude and my confidence in
you. It is but right that two geniuses should be mated. The fact that
we both thought of the same resource under similar conditionsfor were
you not as forlorn and alone as I?was prophetic, and clearly
indicated it was fated your life and mine were to be cast together.
Her masterful definiteness hypnotised him. Her will was strong
enough to do what his own had failed to complete, to draw him away from
the rest of the world and absorb his life in hers.
Cleo had entered into his spirit and had at length not only silenced
but won over the man in him. She had seized on his whole being,
appropriated his every thought, and had attuned to hers every chord of
his complex nature. Her perfume and colour, her exotic beauty, had
entwined themselves in his every fibre, had enslaved his senses, and
intoxicated the thinking part of him. Her genius, too, cast an added
glamour of enchantment over the new life that lay before hima
dream-life into which this marriage would take him entirely, and by
contrast with which, apart from its anguish, the real life behind him
lay dull and leaden.
To link his life with hers! To launch Cleo as a great actress! To
win renown side by side! He yielded himself to the prospect with eager
The notion of taking a theatre that Cleo had put before him at their
last meeting had already led him to make a rough calculation of his
present resources, and he had estimated that a financial clearing-up
would leave him with but little more than three hundred pounds. He
mentioned this now somewhat hesitatingly, for he feared that sum might
be quite inadequate. He was relieved to hear Cleo say that she could
make it suffice; and with her clever management he would very soon be
able to discharge his debt to his friend. She knew exactly how to go to
work and would make all arrangements, but of course she would let him
help her as much as he could.
We shall set to work the very day we marry, for we must not lose
any time. All I shall take away from here are my costumes. I have some
money that Robert has given me from time to time, but that I am going
to return to him. It would be a desecration for us to use a penny of
his in our new life. Of course we must make our home temporarily in
The next day Morgan paid all his odd, floating debts, and got his
particular possessions together; all of which did not occupy him very
long. When he saw Cleo again it was arranged that she should take the
requisite formal steps for their marriage before the registrar, and
that she should also begin negotiations for the renting of a Strand
theatre. She had had her final reckoning with Ingram, who had assumed
an air of indifference, and had not wanted to know anything about her
plans or future movements.
'Since you have made up your mind,' he said, 'I have no option but
to bow to your wishes.' But I could see that his lips were drawn as if
his heart ached at having to lose me. I must have meant so much to him
all this time. Poor Robert!
Of course, I gave him back his money, she went on, when her
emotion had subsided. He took that with the same indifference. He said
he could quite appreciate my feeling about it and he would not oppose
my wishes on the point.
As regards his family and friends, Morgan made up his mind to write
to his father, to Lady Thiselton, and to Mrs. Medhurst, simply
announcing the mere fact that he had married. He would not give any
particulars nor say a word as to the personality of Cleo. The rest of
his acquaintances he would simply ignore.
However, on the day before his marriage, Morgan happened to come
across Mrs. Medhurst's dance card amid a heap of papers he was about to
destroy, and somewhat to his surprise found it was for that very
evening. He had accepted the invitation verbally, when talking to Mrs.
Medhurst at the studio-warming. And now a strange notion seemed to come
whizzing at him and he arrested it with a clutch.
Why should he not go and dance with Margaret for the last time?
In a moment his mind was made up. And shortly after ten o'clock he
found himself being received by Mrs. Medhurst. A half-dizziness came
over him as he shook hands with herthe festal atmosphere that
pervaded the rooms seemed to blur his senses. He would have stumbled
had it not been that Margaret's voice fell upon his ear just then, and
he became aware that her hand was in his. He saw her, as she stood at
her mother's side, a clear and gracious figure against the mist of
She was in white to-night with just a lily in her hair, and it
showed graciously in a dainty setting of green. An adorable tiny edge
of arm peeped between sleeve and glove. Morgan thought of the lines
Helen had whispered to him at the Whitechapel Coffee House:
The Blessed Damozel leaned out
From the gold bar of Heaven;
Her eyes were deeper than the depth
Of waters stilled at even.
He wrote his name on her programme. He was feeling timid and
self-distrustful, and having taken a dance near the beginning he
hesitated perceptibly before taking another lower down. She thanked him
gravely as he returned her the card and he thought he detected a
half-sorrowful expression in her face. No doubt she had been quick to
observe the constraint of his manner, and he felt she must be
He was glad that the arriving guests were claiming her attention,
and he moved away and mingled with the crowd. But he was indifferent to
the scene, to the music and dancing, to all but Margaret. He could not
turn his eyes away from her. He took note of every man that asked a
dance of her. One of them kept writing on her programme for what seemed
to Morgan an unbearable time, Margaret looking on with a tolerant
half-smile. He knew the fellow well and hated him. Fledgling at one or
other of the learned professions, always aggressively smooth and
well-bred, a veritable paragon of polish without a single redeeming
mannerism, to Morgan he represented one large swagger. There was
something in the pose of the eye-glasses and in the clean-shaven upper
lip that told of boundless conceit and infinite self-assurance. What
right had he, was Morgan's indignant thoughtand he made the criticism
as of a mere external fact from which he stood aloofto be so friendly
with Margaret? How was it that she should show such little insight as
to be imposed upon by so specious a personality? No doubt she thought
him perfectly charming!
He was very angry and bitter, and already half-repented the impulse
that had driven him here. If the experience, in all its emotional
bearings, was a unique one, it was likewise a disagreeable one. When
the time came round for him to dance with Margaret he tried hard to
appear perfectly at his ease, and to make a show of good spirits.
Exercising the privilege of an old friend, he began to tease her about
the rapidity with which her programme had got filled.
A girl must flirt a little, she asserted calmly, after a short
passage-at-arms. You're not jealous, Morgan, are you?
I am only observant, he answered evasively.
Your gift of observation must be truly wonderfulyou manage to
exercise it at so great a distance, or perhaps you send out your astral
body to do the observing, which must be the reason why it's invisible
I dare not speak at all. You turn my every word into a scourge
Don't you feel you deserve the scourging?
I have had another melancholy fit, he urged, forced to defend
Poor Morgan! she said, pityingly. I do believe you have some
trouble that you are keeping to yourself. Do you know, I've been
thinking so for some time now. You don't trust your friends
sufficiently. Come now, isn't my surmise near the truth?
The tears almost welled up to his eyes. He did not answer her, for
he could not speak at all; but his silence was tantamount to an
Poor Morgan! she repeated softly, as if to herself, and the
sympathy in her voice troubled him still more. And the trouble? Of
course, you are going to tell me first.
Well, not to-night, he answered, closing his heart against her
with a superhuman effort. I must not spoil your evening.
Do you think I shall enjoy it, now that I know?
Why should you not? he asked, and there was a shade of rebuff in
his tone. A half-savage impulse was urging him to pick a sort of
quarrel with her.
You are unkind, she exclaimed in distress. Is my friendship
nothing to you? Perhaps I am wrong to show you that I care about yours.
I ought not to have let you see I was so concerned about your trouble,
but I could not know that was going to vex you.
He did not answer, because her words disarmed him.
Forgive me, Morgan, she went on gently. Of course, you are
irritable and all unstrung, and I ought to be very much more patient
instead of flying at you. It would be wicked for us two to quarrel, but
I really do want you to be nice to me.
She was led away just then, and he felt glad to be relieved of the
responsibility of carrying on the conversation.
Dance after dance went by. It hurt him to see that eye-glassed
plausible young man dancing with Margaret. His mood grew hateful. The
hours at length became unendurable. He slipped away quietly and went
But all through the evening he had been conscious in the back part
of his mind of the new life he had embarked upon. And even whilst he
held the sweet lily in his arms, his very love for her bringing him
anguish and bitterness, he was yet aware of scenes that sought to
obtrudescenes in which figured the wonderful woman with whom he had
thrown in his lot, in which she stood in the glare of the footlights
with a dense packed theatre applauding to madness; scenes not outlined
clear and projected in space, but which were to him shapeless
silhouettes and dazzling formless patches of light flitting across the
extreme background of his consciousness.
* * * * *
About mid-day Morgan Druce and Selina Mary Kettering were united in
holy matrimony. She had given her true name for the occasion, but
Morgan, intent on signing his own, scarcely noticed hers. She was Cleo
to him, and Cleo she would remain. It was not till about an hour later,
when they were lunching at a West End restaurant, that his mind began
to play about the fact that he really was married now. Yet it seemed
incredible. For him marriage had always connoted something large and
elaborate, a substantial experience with which were involved
complicated preliminaries, a process so transforming that one almost
expected one's very chemical composition to be changed by it.
But all had been so astonishingly simple. The whole morning had been
singularly like other mornings. The visit to the registrar's office had
been short and unimpressive. His bone and tissue were perfectly
unaffected by it. Cleo and he had lunched here before. How then was his
relation to her so different from what it had been?
He argued with himself. He told himself he was married, but
he refused to believe it. With all his knowledge and certainty of the
fact, he failed to convince himself. And yet that certainty set him
speculating as to what his father and mother would say when they read
the curt announcement he intended dispatching that afternoon. He
wondered what Helen would think, what Margaret. The fragrance and
beauty of the lily seemed suddenly to invade his spirit. He had a sense
of sweetness and light, followed by a reaction of pain. Perhaps
Margaret would be crushed by the news; perhapsand he could not help
the thought, grotesque though it wasshe would marry that smooth,
eye-glassed young man.
There was a strange ringing in his ears; he was conscious of his
whole being soaring far away, a floating, palpitating spirit amid great
spaces of mystery and dream. A universal music was swelling around him,
a mighty concerto bursting full upon him from the stillness of infinite
distancesthe sobbing of violins, the blare of brazen instruments, an
orchestral clash and clang.
You may smoke, said Cleo.
With a start he found himself amid the garish mirrors of the gilded
END OF BOOK II.
Had the transition from bachelorhood to the married state been less
easy and less quickly achieved, Morgan might perhaps have realised that
the pattern of life he was weaving had not the same undetachedness from
the real as a pattern woven in dream, but that it was a part and parcel
of the real. As it was, he was not the man to stop and think, once he
had made his plunge into the strange, vague future that had appealed to
him. And now this theatrical enterprise, with Cleo as the star, loomed
ahead of him not only as the redemption of his empty life, but wrapped
in that seductive romance which his mood and temperament demanded.
For the present, they had taken furnished rooms in Bloomsbury, where
they lived under an assumed name. Morgan did not leave his new address
at his old quarters, for he did not want any letters to follow him, no
matter from whom they came. He felt he had done all he could in writing
the three letters he had decided to write. And with the sending of
those letters, he seemed to be detaching himself from his old life with
one clean cut; his imagination left free to construct the tableaux of
what he believedsuch was the impression Cleo's personality had made
on himwas going to be a gorgeous panoramic future, a triumphant
historic march through the civilised world. The fact that Cleo now went
about clothed like any other mortal did not detract from his estimate
of her genius, for the mere dispensation with such extraneous splendour
left untouched the splendour of the woman herself.
And, from this mere moving from one London street to another, he had
all the feeling of having placed a thousand miles between himself and
everybody who knew him. In the theatrical enterprise he was to figure
under his present assumed name, though that was only likely to come
within the public cognizance as the name borne by Cleo's husband, a
personage none of his friends would think of associating with himself.
He thought he might thus fairly count on remaining undiscovered,
though, of course, he could not provide against chance encounters. But
he felt he would be very angry if any attempt were made to follow him
up and interfere in any way with the destiny he had chosen.
Meanwhile, with an exaggerated sense of his own helplessness, he
looked up to Cleo with an unshakable confidence, placing an oracular
value on her every word. She symbolised for him an all-conquering power
before which destiny itself could make no front. Had he been an artist
he would have painted her as the triumphant figure of allegory,
standing amid the stars with one foot planted on the terrestrial globe.
His attitude towards her was one of wondering admiration and blind
assent; with so much deliberateness did she turn her vision on that
seething world which she was preparing to conquer, and which had always
been to him such a whirling, giddy, incomprehensible chaos that he had
never been able to look steadily at it. Now, timidly peeping from
behind her skirts, he ventured to open his eyes on it. Alone, he would
never have known where to touch the heterogeneous, noisy mass, but she,
displaying a definite and intimate knowledge of its constituents, at
once began to establish relations with it here and there. These efforts
of hers seemed to him at first random and isolated, and he watched with
interested expectancy for the light-giving result as a child might
watch the preparations for an elaborate conjuring trick. Eventually he
began to see, with a pleased sort of surprise, that the floating set of
relations entered into by Cleo was assuming recognisable shape as a
The marvel she inspired in him deepened daily, so wonderful seemed
her purposefulness, her energy, her faith in herself. And though,
beside these qualities of hers, his diffidence compelled him to
self-effacement, he yet seemed to draw something from her very
From the beginning he had given up all the money to her, only too
pleased to be rid of the control of it. But when the arrangements were
fairly advanced, she insisted on his mastering the details of the
expenditure she was making and on going into the figures with him each
time she drew up what she considered a likely profit and loss account,
which she did at least once each evening. The result was always on the
right side and always large, and he was not quite clear that it did not
necessarily represent a sure fact, if a future one. Figures had always
irritated him, but, as she performed all the arithmetical processes and
he simply had to exert his intelligence to the extent of grasping what
each item stood for, he was pleased to find himself equal to the
Their three hundred pounds in the meantime had dwindled
considerably, but, as Cleo showed no signs of anxiety, it never
occurred to Morgan to feel uneasy. Cleo, who, for the sake of
simplicity and also to enhance her authority over the people she should
employ, was making every arrangement in her name only, had had to pay a
large sum down before she had been allowed to take possession of the
theatre, for she had been preceded by some other enterprising actress,
with whom the lessees had been less stringent, and who had come to
grief, much to their disgust. The costumers and the printers, too, were
shy of unknown dames with stage ambitions, and their co-operation was
not to be obtained without a show of bank notes.
Nor was Cleo unprepared in the all-important question of the play
itself. She had employed some of her past leisure at Hampstead in
translating many pieces from the French, and she now gave Morgan half a
dozen to read, saying she had already formed her own opinion as to
which one contained the best part for her and she wanted to see if his
judgment would tally with hers. Morgan was glad to have this quiet task
to keep him occupied for a few days. He took it, however, very
solemnly, for he wished to arrive at an honest decision, but he did not
wish it to be different from hers. However, he could not say he liked
any of the plays. Half of them were modern, half Oriental; all
artificial and stilted, and full of long-winded inanity. Eventually he
selected one of the Oriental, which he thought would at any rate give
Cleo an opportunity of displaying her dressesto such Machiavellian
extent had she already influenced him. To his delight, she declared
that his choice was hers. He timidly ventured on a little criticism,
but she laughed and assured him that the play itself signified
nothingplays were mere excuses for acting. This one provided a part
which, if not the ideal one for her, would at least enable her to
display herself and her genius to some advantage. Of course, she was
well aware she was not making the début that befitted her genius, as
that would have involved a play written specially for her in which
every other part was artistically subordinated to her own, a vast
theatre such as the one she had dreamed of, and a lavish expenditure;
her brain, moreover, being entirely relieved of all material
considerations and her spirit left unfettered. Under the present
make-shift circumstances she must be content with such humble beginning
as the poor funds at her disposal would allow her. And Morgan felt
quite guilty at his inability to provide the ideal début she described,
feeling she had quite a right to despise this mean and unworthy
beginning, and that it was really generous of her to face the
difficulties occasioned by their narrow means without complaint.
That there were difficulties he could not help knowing, for Cleo was
at no pains to conceal the fact. Rather was she intent on showing that
she was perfectly capable of vanquishing them. When the open-handed
policy she had been compelled to adopt had reduced their resources to
about fifty pounds, Cleo withdrew the money from the bank, saying it
would be safer in her pocket. But by this time her unhesitating
payments had begun to produce their effect, and it had got about that
she was no mere penniless adventuress, but a wealthy stage-struck dame.
As a mysterious personage, suddenly springing from nowhere into the
theatrical world, she began to arouse a good deal of interest, and the
flâneurs in those circles obtained kudos by pretending to precise
information about her. The rumour of riches spread. Tradespeople became
sweet and pliantthe plucking of a goose with golden feathers was not
an every-day event.
Cleo, who could afford to pay anything out of the profits of the
huge success to come, cleverly betrayed the rich amateur's ignorance of
charges, varying it by the occasional query: Isn't that rather dear?
Her delight at securing an abatement of a few shillings was so
undisguised that it caused much amusement to complaisant tradesmen.
The transaction of all this preliminary business afforded Cleo an
immense enjoyment. Her front to the world throughout had been the
perfection of boldness.
And now Morgan found himself doing quite a deal of work, arranging
parts for typewriting, reading proofs and trying to understand
something of theto himintricate system of theatrical accounts. He
was proud when he succeeded in following business details, astonished
to find they were not beyond his intelligence. He passed to and from
the theatre several times a day, curiously glad to feel himself a
working part of all this complex machinery. But he was never quite
comfortable in the building, wandering uneasily about its corridors and
almost feeling as though he ought to explain his presence to one or
other of its scattered population he encountered in odd corners.
Everybody about the building seemed vaguely respectful to him, as
though possessed of some faint notion that he was attached to Cleo in
some incomprehensible way or other.
So far Cleo had behaved with perfect sang-froid. If at home she had
occasionally allowed her natural excitement to appear, it had been of a
pleasurable kind and fully sympathised with by Morgan. In the mere
commercial transactions that had relation to the enterprise, she had
shown herself as calm and unshakable as a rock, but as soon as the
actual fact of her chosen art began to be concerned, she commenced to
reveal other sides of her nature that disturbed Morgan's blind worship
in no little degree.
The first thing that began to stir his doubts was her method of
engaging the players, for she put on the airs of a grand patron, and
such pleasure did this part of the business give her that she prolonged
it unduly. She made actors and actresses wait upon her time after time
when she had not the slightest intention of engaging them. She liked to
have a crowd waiting in her anteroom at the theatre and admitted to her
august presence one at a time. It behoved her, she explained to Morgan,
to impress people from the beginning, and, though this was the first
time she had had a theatre of her own, she wanted to appear as if to
the manner born. Moreover, when he took the opportunity, by way of
expostulation, to express his sympathy with the rejected applicants,
who had been kept hanging about in vain, she was able to make a show
of justification, urging it had been necessary for her to have the
widest latitude of choice.
When the company was complete she laughingly admitted it was none of
the finest, but it would make an excellent foil for herself.
But it was only when the rehearsals began that Morgan discovered
Cleo possessed attributes, frequently associated with genius, it is
true, but by no means certain symptoms of it. Her patience was
astonishingly short and she possessed a temper that was perfectly
ungovernable, once it was roused. He likewise observed that there was a
certain domineering spirit in the whole control of the theatre.
His eyes were first opened to this state of affairs one day when he
had wandered on to the stage and stood surveying the desolate emptiness
of the house, in the vague spaces of which cleaners flitted about or
busied themselves amid the dim tiers of swathed seats. Orchestra
practice was proceeding in the band room, and Morgan stayed to listen
for awhile. A sudden high-pitched brutal comment gave him the first
inkling of the conductor's bullying methods.
The discovery soon followed that the stage manager was worse than
the conductor, and that, when Cleo once lost her head, which she did
very easily at rehearsals, she became almost hysteric. She was,
however, always ready to explain away her exhibitions of temper, saying
that the stupidity of the players and the worry of making things go
right were trying beyond human endurance. Which explanation he had
perforce to accept.
It was in apprehension of witnessing her outbreaks that he dared not
stay at the theatre during rehearsal hours for more than a few minutes
at a time. He could not help knowing, however, lounging about the house
as he did, that Cleo was disliked by all the company, she and the stage
manager being bracketed together as a pair of bullies. He was aware he
himself was better liked, for he got on very well indeed with a couple
of the men and thought them very decent fellows. Though their poverty
forced them to borrow occasional half-crowns of him, that only made him
sympathise with them the more.
Morgan himself would have been puzzled to tell what difference the
new light in which Cleo was showing herself was making in his attitude
towards her. Her personality, taken as a whole, remained fully as
wonderful and impressive for him as before, and in the hours of her
calm he could scarcely believe he had ever seen her worked up into such
tense, nervous states. At such times there seemed possibilities of
indulgent explanation, for in all else she was living up to his
conception and to his expectations of her. His faith in her genius was
unshaken. Nothing had occurred to make him doubt the glorious successes
to come. Yet were the shortcomings she had so far displayed distinct
and tormenting drawbacks to the enthusiasm with which he had begun.
The frenzy of activity grew greater as the time of opening
approached. The three weeks allotted for the rehearsal swept by for
Morgan in tempestuous flightan impression which he got from watching
the feverish evolutions of his Cleo. He found himself, too, drawn into
London night life, assisting at restaurant supper parties and sitting
down with men in evening dress who affected cloaks and crush hats, and
who were scarcely names to him. Cleo presided, sometimes as hostess,
sometimes as guest; Morgan, who figured as my husband, having the
feeling that the others were just civilly tolerant to him. As for
himself, he was inclined to be taciturn, being little versed in the
matters on which the rest discoursed so racily. Cleo gave him to
understand that these men, and others he had stumbled against in the
corridors of the theatre and who seemed to have an easy entrée to her,
were those whose good will it was necessary to securecritics,
journalists and the like. She further confided to him that she
considered she had achieved a triumph in drawing them round her. Asked
if they were of the first importance, she had to confess most of them
were attached to various weekly papers, whose influence, however, she
thought must be considerable. The names of the sheets were but dimly
familiar to Morgan and had that equivocal ring about them that
suggested vagueness of circulation. He did not quite approve of this
fawning on critics and hinted as much, whereupon Cleo insisted the
critics were only too glad to fawn on her.
Do you suppose they have no insight? she asked, that they are
incapable of recognising beauty and genius? They can read the future in
my face, and for the sake of their own reputation they dare not
overlook or ignore me at the outset.
The world seemed to hold its breath on the last day, and Morgan was
conscious of a strange hush that seemed to hang over the crowded,
grinding thoroughfares. The last of the money had been spent in
advertising, and every portable effect, including his own watch, had
gone to raise more. All day long he lounged about the theatre in
feverish suspense. From the box office manan incommunicative
individual with an absurd mustache, who spoke with an air of resentment
at being accostedhe learned that the advance booking had been very
slight, that, so far, the announcements and the various odd paragraphs
from the pen of Bohemian acquaintances, who had spoken very favourably
of Cleo's beauty, had failed to attract more than seven or eight
But never for a moment did Cleo lose faith in the venturethat
would have been to lose faith in herself. Of course she knew her name
was absolutely unfamiliar to the public, she explained, in anticipation
of unsatisfactory takings, and, therefore, she could not expect to draw
a full house the first night. She had, however, taken steps to secure
appearances by an extensive distribution of paper. But she expected the
effect of her performance to be magnetic. She alone would stand forth
and the play and the rest of the players would scarcely obtrude on the
consciousness of the spectators. After the first evening or two they
would certainly have to turn away business.
The near approach of the moment when the realisation of his
panoramic visions was at last to begin, freshened again in Morgan all
his sense of the romance of the situation. There had been times in the
last few days when he had suffered from despondency. There were sides
to theatrical life that were little to his taste. He had long since
known, for instance, that the stage manager was addicted to obscene
talk; and when, one day, just as in the middle of a rehearsal he was
about to step from the wings on to the stage, he was arrested by a
torrent of vileness that came from that same individual, he was not
very much surprised at the mere fact. But he was vexed and disgusted
that the fellow should not have restrained himself in the presence of
Cleo. What was worse, Cleo herself seemed to be perfectly unaware of
anything exceptionable, for she made not the least protest; from which
Morgan gathered that the sort of thing must be quite usual and that,
had he not shunned the rehearsals so persistently, he would have known
it before. Thus, there were moments when he felt utterly alone in this
strange life, when he longed for real, human sympathy. He yearned for
some other being who was not Cleo, to whom to turn, to whom to pour out
the human emotion that was in him; some being who belonged to the life
from which he had cut himself off, and to which he looked back almost
as from another world. Yet these were only momentary longings that
mastered him. His whole interest, his whole imagination, were bound up
with his present life; and the fascination exerted over him by Cleo and
the wonderful future he believed was to be hers sufficed to attach him
enthusiastically to her career.
Thus, as the rising of the curtain approached, so did the excitement
in him overcome every other emotion; so did he become absolutely a
creature of this region into which he had plunged, breathing its air
with avidity and entranced by the prospect.
I've a surprise in store for you, dear, Cleo confided to him that
day at lunch. I've arranged a special scene at the beginning of the
second act, in which I alone appear. No one has any suspicion of it,
but I tell you, dear, the effect will be wonderful. Coming after I
shall have charmed everybody with my acting in the first act, it will
carry the audience off its feet with enthusiasm.
Morgan, installed in a box, all by himself, was eagerly interested
in the audience as it came straggling into the house, which, thanks to
the paper distributed, ultimately presented a pretty compact
appearance. He himself was ignorant how much real business had been
done, but, so far as he could judge, the gallery and pit were being
fairly well patronised. No doubt a good many had been drawn by the
gorgeous poster representing Cleo, twice her natural size, and dressed
in a costume somewhat like the one she had worn when he had first made
her acquaintance. Appropriately huge ornamental letter-press declared
her to be The Basha's Favourite; and it was on the first act of The
Basha's Favourite that the audience was now waiting for the curtain to
And at this moment of culminating excitement the scene impressed
Morgan curiously. His mood was essentially one of romance. That the
play itself was full of inanities was forgotten; but its title and
Egyptian colour together with Cleo's personality had somehow got
inter-blent and interwoven with the enterprise itself, making even its
commercial and prosaic sides instinct with mystery and unreality. He
seemed to have wandered into an Arabian Nights' tale. The figures that
filled the stalls, pit, and galleries took on the aspect of a crowd
that might people a dream or the visions a child seeks in its pillow.
He was conscious of the shapeless totality of myriad conversationsa
blur of sound, mystic and bewildering.
Now, too, the front rows of stalls, which he knew were reserved for
the critics, began to fill, and a waft of unpleasantness came to him as
he recognised a few of the acquaintances he had made at recent supper
parties. The disturbance was fatal to his mood. He felt suddenly
unstrung. A strange sense of unhappiness invaded hima bitter,
far-embracing uncertainty. He was uncertain of himself, of his life, of
all life. The solid scene faded from before his eyes. He became
self-centred. All his consciousness of living and having livedhis
consciousness of all he had ever felt and all he had ever thought and
all he had ever donewas with him as a vast bitterness that gave him a
sense as of an infinite nebula. And then, as in a flash, this nebula
concentred itself into a pointa point that was his whole sense of
life and consciousness. He was now as in a black tomb, without past,
without future, without sense of direction, without an active thought;
with only a mere awareness of existing, with only the cognizance of the
present time-point on the flowingness of his consciousness.
The tuning of instruments began just then, and the rasping sound
tore at him, dragging him back to a consciousness of externals. Then,
as his eyes rested again on the stalls, he drew right back
instinctively into the shadow of his box. For he had caught sight of
She was in the fourth row from the orchestra and by her side he
recognised Mrs. Blackstone. They could only have just entered, for he
was sure those two seats had been empty but the moment before. He felt
tolerably certain Helen had not yet seen him, and he intended to take
care she should not see him. Yet he had an intuition that she knew all.
In his altered position in the box he was fairly safe from
recognition by her, even whilst he could watch her closely, noting the
quick, eager glances she cast about her from time to time as if she
thought it possible he might be seated amid the audience. Eventually,
however, she lapsed into a sort of listless immobility.
And even though he shrank from her, her advent brought back to him a
yearning wistfulness; it awakened and half-appeased a sense akin to
home-sickness. In that moment he would have liked to fly to herhow
much had she stood for in his life! She symbolized for him all that of
humanness which is comprised in the word comradeship; she represented
the truth, attachment and loyalty in human relations even as Margaret
represented the perfume, the sweetness, and the perfection.
The rise of the curtain forced him to take his eyes off her. The
background of the scene on the stage was apparently the pillared
exterior of a palace, yet the foreground was a carpeted space in which
a many-coloured medley of yataghaned men with baggy breeches and
beautiful slave-girls in Oriental costumes kept re-forming in
ever-shifting kaleidoscopic grouping. And then the audience suddenly
were aware that the medley had divided into two harmonious sub-medleys,
whilst, in the chasm left towards the front, Cleo stood majestically
and addressed a verbose harangue to the Basha, her relation to whom was
known from the title of the play. In full view and hearing of so
heterogeneous a crowd did the Basha in return reproach her with
coldness and indifference to him, which she vehemently denied, playing
the femme incomprise and by her perfect self-assurance cloaking
an intrigue, which Morgan knew she was carrying on with a handsome
Christian, because, having read the play, he knew what was coming.
In the unfolding of the plot, Morgan was quite uninterested. In
fact, he had long since lost all grasp of its movement and meaning,
and, instead of taking in the dialogue, he contented himself with
judging effects and their impression on the audience.
Though he had seen a little of the rehearsals, he had not yet
acquired any notion of Cleo's abilities, for she had been busy
directing and criticising, simply reading her part as a fill-in. He
had all along taken it for granted that she must be a great actress. At
his most despondent moments he had never doubted that, simply because
it had never occurred to him to doubt it. However, he was not without
some notion of what good acting should be, and he felt something like a
murderous bludgeon blow when, at the end of five minutes, it began to
be forced on him that she had not even the least glimmer of instinct
for her art.
Despite all her magnificence and the absence of any gaucherie in her
movements when off the stage, all natural grace disappeared the moment
she attempted to be somebody else. Her delivery was unnatural and
pompous; her motions were stiff, strained, ridiculous. The whole of the
first act was unsatisfying to the intelligence, but instead of
dominating it by the force of her personality, Cleo, by the
incompetence of her acting, set up its silliness in relief. If she had
not talked as much as all the other characters put togetherfor every
word that even the Basha managed to steal in elicited ten against
itthere would have been nothing to suggest she was the leading
character. At one point, indeed, her absurd strutting about the stage
drew a chuckle from somewhere among the ranks of the critics. To watch
her became so painful that Morgan at last turned away his eyes.
All was over. His beautiful visions had gone. His eyes were suddenly
opened and he found himself transported from dreamland, not to
realityfor he could not yet believe this was realitybut into what
seemed a horrible nightmare.
The act ended at last and the curtain fell amid a frigid silence.
Then there was a little clapping in the gallerythe colour had no
doubt pleased a few of the spectators. But it died away immediately in
There were the usual noises of shuffling and disarrangement and
talking and exits. Morgan drew back as far as he could into the shadow.
He was glad to be thus isolatedhe could overhear no criticism or
comments. Naturally his looks stole towards Helen. She had not moved.
He could see that a strange, sad expression had come over her face.
Then she seemed to smile as Mrs. Blackstone made some remark to her and
a reply fell languidly from her lips, after which a desultory
conversation sprang up between the two.
In that moment it seemed to Morgan that Helen had some wondrous
power against fate and he seemed to be wishing with the intensity of
prayer that she might raise her hand and release him from his
But he knew that was only a yearning fancy!
And as the thought came to him that the curtain was to rise again in
a moment, it brought back to his memory the precious confidence Cleo
had whispered to him at lunch time.
I've a surprise in store for you, dearthe words surged up again
in his earsI've arranged a special scene at the beginning of the
second act, in which I alone appear. No one has any suspicion of it,
but I tell you, dear, that the effect will be wonderful. Coming after I
shall have charmed everybody with my acting in the first act, it will
carry the audience off its feet with enthusiasm.
As nobody had the air of having been charmed by the first act, he
wondered how the predicted effect would be altered in consequence.
Morgan, of course, could not guess the nature of the new scene that
Cleo was now going to introduce. The stage during the second act was to
represent a private apartment in the palace, and here the action
assumed some dramatic semblance, taking the following course: The
Christian lover manages to effect an entry into this same private
apartment and to hold a long, loving discourse with the Basha's
favourite, and when eventually the two are about to embrace, in comes
no less a personage than the Basha himself, and advances quietly on
tip-toe and listens for awhile. Suddenly he stamps his foot on the
ground and the room is filled, as by magic, with eunuchs and soldiers.
The audience once more get kaleidoscopic impressions, and Cleo and the
Christian are seized and bound, both spitting defiance and declaring
their mutual eternal love, on hearing which the Basha turns pale under
his Oriental skin. The curtain falls as he bids his myrmidons put her
into a sack and heave her into the Nile, and his favourite is carried
off, loudly bidding her lover take heart, for she loves him and will
love him always.
Morgan could not see what Cleo could possibly add to this, and his
curiosity gave him some little temporary spurt of interest as the
curtain rose. Up it went, slowly, slowly, and the apartment in the
palace stood revealed in all the glory of gilded pillars and mirrors
and rugs. In front of a huge stretch of mirror on the right was a
couch, on which sat Cleo, wrapped in a sort of yellow silk cloak which
fell about her in pleasing folds. Morgan was beginning to think that
she must have deemed it best to omit the innovation, when Cleo rose
languorously, took a step towards the great mirror, and, standing
erect, inspected herself therein. Yes, I am worthy of him, she said
to herself proudly, then, with a brusque movement, she disengaged the
garment from her shoulders and it slipped to the ground and lay there
in a soft heap. The spectators then became aware that, save for a sort
of transparent web of floating serpentine drapery, it had been her sole
covering, and Cleo herself remained gazing into the mirror, regarding
her gleaming reflection with evident admiration, whilst the other
mirrors likewise gave back the sinuous grace and superb modelling of
The silence for a moment was profound and painful. Cleo's audacity
had caught the audience by the throat so that it could not breathe. Her
all-consuming egotism had driven her to this device for satisfying her
rage for the world's admiration. And as she stood there in statuesque
pose, her rich golden-red hair falling over her shoulders and the full
scarlet of her lips gleaming startlingly, awaiting a great storm of
charmed applause, for which the audience seemed to be gathering its
forces in the interval, again she sent that strange loose softness of
her voice floating through the theatre like a hot wind: Yes, I am
worthy of him.
But she had scarcely got through the phrase when a piercing cat-call
shrilled through the house from the back of the pit. Almost
simultaneously a derisive howl came from the gallery; and then an
appalling hissing, hooting, and groaning broke on Cleo with the force
of a tempest that drove towards her from all points. She turned a
defiant face to it and gave the house a blazing look of contempt. But a
whole chorus of cat-calls now sprang up, dominating a sort of see-saw
of dissonant disapprobation. The stalls alone sat in solemn, wondering
silence, not unmixed with apprehension. And suddenly the curtain began
to descend, whereupon the uproar ceased abruptly in favour of a mighty
spontaneous outbreak of cheering, unmistakably ironic.
Those behind the scenes had been as much astonished as those in
front, and the stage manager, as soon as he had collected his wits, had
adopted the only sensible alternative the situation afforded.
A silence fell again upon the theatre. Not a person stirred. An
obvious curiosity as to what was to follow possessed the house. In a
minute the curtain rose againon the same apartment in the palace.
Cleo reclined on the same couch, robed in a terra-cotta gown which
Morgan recognised at once. And then there came a tapping at a little
window, and, after much appropriate dramatic business, this window was
opened by Cleo, and her lover leaped into the room, man-like and
But Cleo's audacious mistake had wrought a miracle on the audience,
destroying the stage-illusion, and rousing its dormant light of
intelligence. Its capacity for being profoundly played upon and
emotionally excited by the inartistic unrealities of absurd
characterisation and of absurd combinations of circumstance had been
rendered unresponsive. In vain did the play appeal to its ethical
sense, striving to enlist its hope for the ultimate triumph of the
Good, the True, and the Wronged. It had begun to view The Basha's
Favourite in an extremely critical mood, and to manifest its keen
sense of the utter impossibility of a play, which in years gone by had
enchanted and moved to tears average audiences, not only in its native
land, but in London as well, where it had been a sort of fountain-head
for multitudinous adaptation.
Cleo, however, went straight on with the performance, carrying it
through with an indomitable defiance, caring not at all that the
intensest passages, which otherwise would have thrilled, were received
with scorn and laughter and ironical cheers and cries of Go it, old
girl! Each time a servant made an entry he was received with an
enormous ovation. Single voices were heard again and again in sarcastic
comment, now from the top of the house, now from the back. As the
curtain fell at the end of each act, the disorder became volcanic, but
the stage manager knew better than to allow the curtain to go up again
in response to the continued applause.
Certain it was that the audience thoroughly enjoyed its evening,
and, when the curtain fell for the last time, surpassed itself in a
great demonstration of its frolicsome mood. It had been obvious
throughout that the house had been quite conscious of its own superior
intellectuality, of its immeasurable elevation above the fare offered.
But Morgan derived his sense of the ghastly failure of the whole
business, not so much from the demeanour of the audience as from that
of one of the critics, who somehow summed it up for him. This critic,
whose bald pate had fascinated his eye, had a curiously irritating,
spasmodic chuckle, and Morgan in vain tried to be unaware of him.
In the intervals of the acts he had remained numbed and dazed, only
gathering to himself a grain of sympathy from the piteous look in
Helen's face. Her demeanour confirmed his intuition, that she must know
everything. She had sat rigid and mournfully attentive in contrast to
Mrs. Blackstone, who had laughed with decorous unrestraint the whole
evening. But he could not prevail upon himself to let her discover him,
and at once plunged behind the scenes to get to Cleo.
He found her in her dressing-room with her maid, who had come to the
theatre to help her, and he had a thrill of disgust as he watched her
rub the cleansing grease over her painted cheeks. It now struck him as
horriblethis pollution of the human face night after night with
filthy cosmetics that could only be removed by a filthier grease. He
felt that all she had so far restrained was going to break forth and he
stood by with subdued mien. Such shattering as had befallen himself he
was strong enough not to consider for the moment. His immediate feeling
was one of pity for her. He fancied he saw her now, not as the heroine
of his fantasy, but just as she was. Sympathy in him there was none,
and he could not make a hypocritical show of any. But he soon
understood that she took it for granted his faith in her was as
unshaken as her own; that she really believed her performance had been
a great one. Her self-illusion was pitiable. She burst forth into
bitter invective against the public, he listening without being able to
find his tongue, but with the consciousness that, even if she had
behaved madly that evening, the audience deserved at least some of her
censure. Why had it sat there, so determined to have its evening's fun
out, cruelly hounding and torturing a creature who, from her very
temperament, must have found the punishment a hellish one? Why, if
people had really been shocked, had they not quietly left the theatre?
That surely would have been sufficient indication of their disapproval.
I am not beaten yet! cried Cleo, with frenzy. The day will come when
these people will fight and trample over one another's bodies to catch
the least glimpse of me. To-day they have rejected me with scorn, as
they have always rejected the greatest. Read the early careers of the
actresses the world now worships! But I am a hundred times more
determined than before. The public shall treasure the dust my feet have
trod on. They shall look back on to-night as a blot on their lives. My
genius shall triumph! My genius shall force them to submission!
However, he induced her to come and have a little supper alone with
him. As they passed out through the stage door the man handed him a
twisted note, which Cleo was too absorbed to notice. A glance sufficed
to enable him to recognize Helen's writing, though it was but hastily
scrawled in lead. The fact that it was addressed to him in his
newly-assumed name was the final confirmation of her knowledge of his
fate. He put it away till he could read it, trying not to wonder at its
Meanwhile, he was shutting his eyes as to what was to follow. He
knew very well that even if he opened them he would equally see
nothing, but it gave him some comfort to imagine he was shutting out a
view it were better not to look at. He managed to get Cleo to eat and
drink a little, and when she was calmer she told him the theatre was to
open the next evening just as if they had scored a great success. He
knew better than to make any show of opposition or disapproval just
then, though his heart became still heavier at this announcement of
hers. He mentally vowed, however, he would take care to remain behind
the scenes. He did not venture to ask her whether she intended to
repeat the innovation that had done the mischief, because he feared
her pride might force her to defiant assertion that she would most
certainly repeat it; whereas, if no reference were made to it, she
would, in all probability, quietly omit it.
She ended by a great fit of hysteric weeping that lasted half the
My poor, dear Morgan, read Lady Thiselton's note. My heart
a-bleeding. The moment I saw her appear I understood
Of course, I don't know how you came to meet her, but such a
creature was bound to be fatal to you. Your marriage to her
only be considered as the veriest mockery. It would be a crime
against Heavenobserve that this crisis has made me
religiousto look upon it seriously at all. Won't you come to
see me, Morgan? You must need a friend and surely I have the
right to be that friend. Why not come to-morrow afternoon; or
when you will, if you will send me a message. H. T.
P. S.I hope she'll see this so that she quarrels with you
casts you off.
He knew he must go to her, but he shrank from doing so as yet,
though he did not try to explain to himself the shrinking. So he sent
her a line saying he would come one afternoon when he felt he had the
courage. After posting the letter he had a great longing to cry.
He realised the ugliness of the position now, his terrible relation
to this strange, hysteric woman, and the thought kept darting through
his mind like a whizzing shaft of flame: I am married to her, I am
married to her!
To weave poetry out of life! That was simply to attempt what poets
and philosophers and even imaginative men of affairs, seduced by the
apparent novelty of the notion, had attempted before him. At a certain
point of existence, such men find it easy to tell themselvesas if in
unsuspecting answer to some dim foresight of what the experiment might
lead tothat it does not matter much what happens to one in life, so
long as it is a series of interesting happenings; interesting, that is,
to each according to his temperament. But poems woven of reality are
not the same detached products as poems written on paper. They are an
integral part of life, and, as such, related to its great forward
sweep. All the consequences that attach to human action must attach to
the particular weaving, however fantastic and pleasing the immediate
Morgan was now face to face with the consequences of this attitude
he had taken towards existence, though it had been forced on him by his
temperament. And they were consequences that were not goodly to look
Cleo had gone early to the theatre to go into the accounts and to
show everybody she was not in the least disconcerted. When he himself
arrived some time later she informed him that last night's takings were
about twenty-five pounds, but she had already paid away the bulk of it
for fresh advertising. She was once more calm and business-like,
despite that their funds were exhausted, and besides various
liabilities there were the salaries and wages to be paid at the end of
the week. As yet, however, nobody about the house had any suspicion of
the emptiness of the treasury.
The newspapers, he was glad to find, had dealt with Cleo very
gently. The notices were short and cold, just giving an outline of the
play, which, they said, was indifferently acted and practically a
failure. No mention was made of her indiscretion and it was perfectly
obvious from the tone of these notices that the writers had felt she
had been sufficiently punished, and that, for the rest, she was not to
be taken seriously. There came, too, a message from the censor, to
whom, somehow, last night's occurrence had got known, to the effect
that the beginning of the second act must be omitted, else he must
forbid the play to be repeated. From his letter it was clear the censor
was taking the same charitable view as the critics, and that he foresaw
the piece would very soon die a natural death. Cleo shrugged her
shoulders and wrote the necessary undertaking. Morgan understood that
her innovation might have got her into serious trouble, had not the
entire hopelessness of her acting proclaimed her as a person to be
That same day Morgan could not help broaching the subject of the
finances. The money side of the enterprise had by now got stamped on
his brain. He had a grasp of the various items of their liabilities,
and he felt the responsibility for them to rest upon him. No longer
might he repose at ease in the secure shade of her mighty presence.
She, however, refused to bow her head under the weight of business
We have till the week's end, she said. There is nothing to worry
He did not find this reply reassuring and felt impelled to make out
for himself a list of the debts, including the salaries and wages that
would have to be provided for by the Saturday. The total amount was
about three hundred pounds, the same as the sum already expended. He
carefully put the list away in his pocket-book, with what end he knew
In the evening the house presented a rather more than half-filled
appearance, a result which had been mainly achieved by paper. At the
box office the takings were only about seven pounds. It was quite clear
that Cleo, whatever gossip she might have caused in professional
circles, had created no profound sensation in the town, so that not
even a succès de scandale was decreed to her. The play itself
went very fairly indeed this second time, though it was acted scarcely
a whit better than the evening before. Cleo perhaps put a trifle more
ornamentation into her part, but the audience showed no critical
On the third evening the theatre was two-thirds empty, and two
pounds four and sixpence represented the seats actually paid for. On
the fourth evening they played almost to empty benches, the takings
amounting to seventeen shillings and sixpence. This ended the
The fifth dayFridaywas an eventful one, for duns began to arrive
early in the morning. The creditors had suddenly become assailed with
doubts, which were now deepened by the return of their emissaries, who
not only had been unable to obtain access to Cleo, but who had
furtively been warned by the traitorous stage manager to look sharp
after their money. The camaraderie that had hitherto subsisted
between that gentleman and Cleo had come to an abrupt end, she cutting
him short impatiently in the course of some discussion and bidding him
not to argue. In further token of his annoyance he had worded a notice
she had told him to put up as follows:
The curtain will not rise to-night. Treasury to-morrow at mid-day,
The actors and actresses looked very sad, indeed, as their eye
stumbled on the last two words. Cleo, in ignorance that the stage
manager had exceeded her directions, for he had inserted the treasury
part of the announcement on his own responsibility, was invaded by the
company in a body. Being pressed by the ladies and gentlemen for some
definite statement about their salariesfor several of them were in
great need, having long been out of an engagementshe turned on them
in towering fury and asked how they dared insult her by questioning her
bona fides in that way. But as soon as she learned what had
dictated their action, she at once sent for the stage manager and, in
presence of all assembled, curtly ordered him to leave her theatre
immediately. At first he stood dumfounded, and, on her repeating her
injunction more vehemently, he began to bluster back at her. A pretty
scene ensued, he, with much Billingsgate, lustily demanding his money,
she insisting he must come for it at the right time and place. In the
end, she sent for the police, and the astonished stage manager found
himself forcibly ejected. She next proceeded to tear down the offensive
notice, and soon afterwards the company departed, leaving Cleo and
Morgan in sole possession.
What's going to happen to-morrow? he could not help saying, when
Cleo had at length finished telling him her estimate of the stage
When mid-day comes, the salaries shall be paid without fail,
replied Cleo unhesitatingly. You just don't trouble your mind, she
added. Leave me to arrange everything.
He pressed her for details. But beyond a general assurance, conveyed
with an air of mystery that on the morrow he would find their coffers
quite replete, she would tell him nothing. They went to lunch together,
for there was always some small silver at the bottom of Cleo's purse,
and she then gave him to understand she had business to transact here
and there during the afternoon, and that he must amuse himself alone as
best he could.
Vaguely supposing that this secret business had reference to the
raising of funds, Morgan separated from her and went back to their
rooms, where, at least, he felt he was hidden away from the world. A
little later he had an idea. He would go and see Helen.
Helen looked wonderfully sweet to-day and an atmosphere of quiet
calm seemed to pervade the room. It seemed to Morgan as if he had
entered into a haven. Helen wore a simple grey gown that went well with
her subdued demeanour. The sanity and soundness that underlay her
occasional frolicsomeness and high spirits became in that moment
accentuated for him; and the almost superstitious feeling he had
experienced at seeing her at the theatre now returned to him, the
feeling that she was possessed of some magic power to redeem him.
I have been too shame-faced to come before, he began. I knew I
did not deserve to see you again.
Don't, please, said Helen. If you make speeches of that kind you
will force me to be flippant, quite against my sense of the fitness of
things at this moment. Not that I want to be too tragic, but my state
of mind is rather a complex one. What's yours?
Mine is a very simple one. I am just conscious of mere existence
and of a heavy weight on my head.
I don't like your symptoms, Morgan. If I diagnose correctly, they
mean nascent 'desperation.' Now, so long as I am in the world, you
ought never to develop that disease.
But I omitted one important factor of my state of mind, he
confessed; and that is the knowledge that you are in the
And does it take your attention off the weight of the loadjust a
It is the one pleasant fact I have to dwell upon. But please talk a
little about yourself. It will do me good.
She, however, had little to tell him. His letter had dealt her a
heavy blow. His silence about the details of his sudden action had made
her the prey of her imagination, which had created frightful
possibilities. Her favourite theory had beenan indiscretion committed
by him in some moment of depression and a remorse that had resulted in
a marriage with some vile person. But she had been somewhat reassured
at seeing him go into the theatre one day in company with Cleo. That
had been a pure accident, of course, but it had enabled her to divine a
good deal. Cleo's appearanceshe had taken particular notice of her
facehad at least narrowed that vast dreadfulness which had till then
tortured her. But it was a face that by no means pleased her.
However, continued Helen, it seems I've been talking about you
instead of about myself. I have been living, I suppose, in the usual
conventional routine. My conduct has been really most exemplary and the
austerest chaperon would have patted me on the head approvingly. Oh,
no, I forget. There's one little matter over which I should have got
lectured and that is my rejection of so eligible a bachelor as Mr.
Ingram, on the mere ground that I couldn't overlook his past life.
Anyhow, he hasn't committed suicide, though I fancy he has done
You mean he has followed my example? suggested Morgan.
Not anything as bad as that. You know I'm only the daughter of a
country gentleman and the widow of a baronet. Well, he has consoled
himself by marrying the genuine brand of aristocracy, though she's a
divorçée. Her income's double mine; her intelligence one-tenth of
She must be a very brilliant woman, indeed.
You have developed courtly qualities, I perceive. But I am quite
ready to concede, on re-consideration, that her intellect is only the
hundredth part of mine. You know I am frightfully conceited about my
brains. But now tell me how everything came to happen? Where did you
He recollected that Ingram was implicated in the recital and could
not be kept out. But he was in a mood when he could no longer keep back
anything. He hungered for every crumb of sympathy he could get, and,
besides, he looked upon things now with such changed eyes that such
reservations relating to his personal life as he had before set up
seemed futile and meaningless. Very soon Helen had learned how his
connection with Ingram had begun and developed, by what strange chance
the letter he had written to him had spun the first thread of the web
in which he was now floundering, and how he had sought to lose himself
in the apparent dreamland before him. Helen's eyes were fixed on him as
her quick brain seized on every point. The narration came to her as a
And if I hadn't insisted on your dining that evening, she cried,
you would never have got into this purgatory of a dreamland.
I think I should have got there all the same, he answered,
smiling, conscious of how much good it was doing him to talk to his
dear friend again. I must have met Ingram sooner or later and then the
same thing would have happened.
Ingram is a blackguard! said Helen severely. With all his
thick-headed cleverness, he had yet insight enough to know that you
would be taken with that creature. Probably he knew already how your
letter had impressed her and that she was curious about you. And so he
reckoned to play on your temperament, hoping that might prove an easy
method of ending his connection with her. Why, he must have jumped at
the idea of taking you to her.
Morgan was rather apologetic on Ingram's behalf, pleading that he
must have yielded to the sudden temptation and was not really such a
There have been times when, I feel sure, he spoke to me from his
heart. But I do not feel revengeful against him, so let him be dead and
buried, so far as we are concerned.
With all my heart, said Helen. But I confess, she went on
laughingly, it annoys me to think you saw more of the game than I that
evening. That is a fact that wounds my vanity. And now about this
theatre business. You must be in a terrible plight. Was there ever such
a man as you, Morgan, for getting into scrapes?
When a man is born into the wrong world he began.
He must be a very interesting sort of person to know, concluded
When Morgan went on to relate the history of the enterprise he
seemed to get a saner adjustment of his mental focus. In the telling he
had sight of the whole business as a lamentable, real piece of his
personal life, even perceiving as he described the stormy incidents of
that morningmore dramatic than anything in The Basha's
Favouritethat it had not been without its humorous elements. He
understood quite well, of course, that unless Cleo now found the
requisite money, she would be hopelessly bankrupt.
And so she's confident of finding it, observed Helen.
I am quite in the dark, said Morgan.
Perhaps she intends opening the theatre again.
You don't expect she'd take any notice of the prohibition! Now
Morgan, dear, I think you've treated her handsomely and she has cause
to be grateful to you. You offered her the incense of a profound faith
in her genius and a profound admiration of her person. Not content with
that, she needs must have the same incensecompounded of the same two
essentials, observe youfrom the world at large. For this purpose you
made her a nice little money present and enabled her to realise her
dreams of a theatre. You gave her the greatest joy of her life. In
returnwhat has she given you? A few kisses, a pretence of love, and a
heavy burden on your poor head! If the madcap hadn't tied you to her,
the worst criticism to be made would have been that you could have got
the kisses and the rest very much cheaper. But as it iswell, I think
you'd better say good-bye to her.
Morgan shook his head. Impossible! he said.
She wouldn't grieve very much, insisted Helen. She certainly
couldn't go on doing anything for long except thinking of herself. You
may be sure that once she realises your present estimate of her, she
will not wish to keep you longer. She is not wickedas I am, you
knowshe is simply an exaggerated incarnation of the most
unsatisfactory sides of feminine nature. All women have something of
her in them, but the less of her they have the more charming you'll
find them. In the sham, tawdry world of the footlights she feels
something akin to her whole being. It calls to such a woman almost from
her very cradle, and fly to it she must. It is true that, in her case,
this stage-infatuation was a real misfortune, for in some other walk
she might have made a furore. That nude scene, in fact, was symbolic of
the temperament, and, had she taken to writing, would have come out as
an autobiographic novel. There are women who cannot make themselves
interesting to men without the confidence-trick, who cannot even talk
to a man for the first time without laying bare their whole souls.
Should a woman you scarcely know try the trick on youshun her. She
also is afflicted with the same disease as your Cleo, with the same
rage for displaying her interesting self; though it may find a more
refinedand certainly a more decentexpression. I am giving you so
long a lecture because you sadly need it. I am giving away my sisters
to you, because you must be protected against them. If I had given you
a few such sermons in the past, you would not have had to undergo the
punishment of listening to this one now. Now, having well lectured you,
let us proceed to be practical. I am going to pay the debts she has
incurred and after that she ought to leave you free.
No, Helen! exclaimed Morgan. You have paid enough already. I feel
utterly contemptible when I think of the use to which I have put your
Why will you persist in taking such unphilosophic views? For a
poet, you have a singular grip on the world. To me money is not such a
reality. And if it were, what is it between you and me? If the position
were reversed, Morganit may be a shocking admission to makeI should
not hesitate to take money from you, you conventional Philistine. I
thought you were above such petty considerationsto say nothing of
It's unkind of you to overload me with debt and employ specious
arguments to persuade me the load doesn't weigh.
How can there be such a thing as a debt between us? I don't really
believe you're going to punish me by not behaving sensibly.
And so the battle continued, each fighting doggedly. He kept
dragging in the five hundred pounds he had already had, and she
insisting that mustn't count, even if regarded from a strict business
point of view. For she claimed that he had caused her unspeakable
torture of late, at least as great as that of a lady plaintiff in a
breach of promise case, and she was, therefore, entitled to damages.
The pleasure he would give her by his agreeing to the cancelling of the
old debt would only be fair compensation. Then, since this old debt had
been wiped out, there was no reason why she should not help now.
He ended by compromising on both points. The repayment of the five
hundred pounds was to be deferred indefinitely, the debt itself being
absolutely cancelled in the meanwhile, but it was to revive if he
should ever have the means to satisfy it. And also Helen was to be
allowed to pay the theatrical liabilities, provided Cleo agreed to her
doing so, though her identity was not to be divulged.
And now that we have at last come to an understanding, I think we
deserve some tea after our exertions, she declared, rising to ring for
it. Practically I have gained my points, though not verbally. I have
profound faith in woman's dogged persistence. It can achieve
anythingeven win your love, Morgan. Let me see. How far had we got?
You were to kiss me on the forehead once each time? And this stage has
four months to run before any advance can be made.
Her reference to her love for him chilled him. Somehow he now
believed in it as real, though he had always taken it as a toying
pretence. He had come to her to-day as to a comradeto feel himself in
shelter for a little while, and for the luxury of opening his heart to
her. And now there came upon him a great sense of guilt towards Helen,
perhaps accentuated at that moment when his consciousness of her worth
had arrived at its fullest and had endeared her to him more than ever
before. He was filled with remorse as he remembered he had taken
pleasure in keeping from her the knowledge of Margaret's very
existence, when Margaret was for him all that Helen aspired to be.
His habit of keeping the various threads of his life distinct had
led him to omit the consideration of what might be involved in their
subtle relation, for they were all necessarily related since they were
merged in the wholeness of his life; and it seemed to him now, all
a-thrill as he was with Helen's sympathy, he had behaved abominably in
not telling her that his spirit vibrated only for Margaret, that the
thought of Margaret brought him all the magic emotion that floats and
palpitates, like some wondrous sweet perfume, and that the elect who
love true alone may know.
He had already told her to-day much of what he had hidden from her.
Let him complete the confession and reveal even what was most sacred to
him. Even now he was conscious of certain instincts that made for
reservation, but he fought against them.
Helen, he called, I wonder whether you would care to listen to
the sentimental chapters.
She had been watching his face whilst he had hesitated and she now
You know we used to talk quite a deal about those sentimental
chapters, he went on. There was a sweet little girl, too, whose
existence you suspected.
I remember, said Helen faintly. We did talk about those chapters,
but you would never let me get a glimpse of what was inside them. And
then I could never really learn whether they were real or imaginary. As
a woman of the world, I believed there must be such chapters in the
biography of a young man who had lived twenty-eight whole years; as a
woman in love with the young man of twenty-eight, I longed to
disbelieve in them. Which shows that the real nature of the individual
is finer than life is. Life would make us all cynics if the noble in
some of us did not find truth too plebeian a fellow to keep company
with. I have long since suspected that truth is not that beautiful nude
young person one sees rising out of wells at Academy Exhibitions.
Illusion, at any rate, is every whit as real a factor of the universe,
and it is far more agreeable to live with. So, naturally, Morgan, I
chose it to live with, hoping, of course, it was not illusion. However,
there was a sweet, little girl?
Your inference from my poem was perfectly correct.
Farewell, my fine dreams, said Helen, in mock-heroic declamation,
which did not blind him to the pain beneath. But you'll introduce me
to her, won't you?
It's the sweet little girl's sister, he corrected; but I can't
introduce you to her, because I shall never see her again.
You shall see her again, said Helen. Don't be such a faint
Even if I were free, I am not fit even to look at her.
The sooner you get a more appreciative conception of yourself, the
Truth has too great a hold over me for that.
How fine it must be to be loved by you, half-mused Helen. With
you it is first love and everlasting.
Yes, it is everlasting. It is a quality of my fibre, divinely
inwoven like mind in matter. It is something immortal, so that even if
Margaret change and forget me wholly, she can never take away the
living fragrance that came to me in the first times. I have loved her
and shall love her always.
What nice things you say. If they could only have been inspired by
me! But all that is over now. So her name's Margaret. I am sure she
will never change, nor even begin to forget you, Morgan. But won't you
begin to read those chapters now? I do so want to hear them.
He placed them before her unreservedly and she at length had his
life complete. But when he had finished he was alarmed at her pallor.
You are not well, Helen, he cried impulsively.
'Tis nothing. I shall be all right in a moment. She drew her
breath heavily. It feels like pins and needles, she added. I want to
get the transition over now, though it is rather an abrupt one.
The transition! he repeated, only half-comprehending.
Yes. It is attended with queer sensations. Pins and needles,
thousands of themand something feels tight. But I shall emerge all
the better for it. So far I have only loved you; henceforth I want to
love you and Margaret as well.
How I have made you suffer! he murmured brokenly. His hand sought
hers. My good angel!
She drew her hand back.
Nonot angel, but only a simple prophet; and as a prophet I tell
you you were born to be happy.
He shook his head, bethinking himself he must go back to his Cleo.
Now I hope you won't make me miserable again, said Helen, as he
rose to go, by leaving me in the dark about you. And mind you let me
know at once if you have need of me to-morrow. A special messenger will
be sure to find me, as I shall not be leaving the house till four
o'clock. Keep a stout heart and let the light of hope vanquish the
vapours and fogs. Above all, bear my prophecy in mind.
When Morgan got back to their lodgings he had the sensation of
entering the atmosphere of a charnel house. Cleo had not come home yet,
and he had leisure to ponder on Helen's attitude towards him and her
bearing when she had learned all. Of course, he told himself, he must
not take any notice of her wild suggestion that he and Cleo must part
and that their marriage didn't count; nor did he permit himself to be
allured by her optimistic pre-perception of the future. Noble heart
that she was, she had been striving to lessen his pain. He felt he
understood what had prompted her every word. And the readiness with
which she had bowed her head in acceptance of the emotional position as
soon as she knew about Margaret compelled his admiration. Not a word of
rebellion, but only a quick gasp of breath; and then he was conscious
he had won a sturdy ally.
Ally! When there was to be no battle, was not the word an empty one?
Yet no; surely it was a blessed thing to know of a ready and willing
heart, even if its services could not avail one! That which signified
naught in practical light signified much humanly.
He was awake now, could see the exact bearings of things, and he
felt a desperate courage to stand his ground. All his sense of
suffering, of the shipwreck he had made, and of what he might have to
face in the next few days, had become fused into one large poignant
emotion. It was an extra poignancy to be aware that Helen would
continue to suffer because of his determination to face the
consequences. But he was married to Cleo, and, unless she expressly
left him, he must stand by her.
Cleo returned about half-past five and ordered some tea. She said
she was just a little tired, but her face was jubilant as she handed
him two weekly papers that had appeared that day containing laudatory
notices of The Basha's Favourite, In spite of her attempting to
appear calm, he could see she was very much excited about them, and
when he had read the strings of unblushing falsehood and handed them
back to her in silence, she lovingly let her eye run over them again.
Over the tea, she grew eloquent once more, especially drawing his
attention to the truth of particular phrases and to the admirable
insight and appreciation of the writers. But she volunteered no
information about the business which had occupied her afternoon. Morgan
was somewhat puzzled. He was still inclined to hold to his belief that
she had gone on some harum-scarum chase after money, but as she did not
manifest the least sign of disappointment or dejection, it was hard to
think that her pockets were as empty as before. He refrained from
questioning her, however, for in a grim way he had begun to derive
entertainment from watching her, and he, therefore, did not wish to
interfere with her. He preferred to wait and see what coup it was she
was now preparing.
After tea, Cleo suggested it would be a good idea if she had her
effects removed from the theatre. Her costumes, in particular, she was
eager to have safe at home. So Morgan accompanied her to the theatre.
She had already packed everything in a large trunk, which she now had
carried down. But in the corridor the two commissionaires attached to
the house sternly blocked the way. They were very sorry, but the
lessees' orders were that nothing was to be allowed to pass out, having
regard to the amount still due under the contract for the theatre.
Cleo passionately ordered them to stand aside. The men insisted that
though the obligation of paying their wages rested on her, they were
still the lessees' servants, and had to obey their orders. Morgan
argued with them quietly, but found them obdurate. He did not know if
this action of the lessees was legal or not, but anyhow money was owing
to them and there seemed to be a show of justice on their side. He took
Cleo aside and besought her to let the matter rest for the moment,
pointing out that, as the men were so determined, there was nothing
else to be done, short of a physical set-to. Besides, he added, if
you are quite confident of settling everything to-morrow, the trunk may
just as well stay here over night.
To this Cleo ultimately agreed, won over by Morgan's last argument.
But none the less did she give loud expression to all that was in her
mind anent the lessees and the commissionaires. She went home again
with Morgan in the worst of humours at having been thus baffled. But
later in the evening she attired herself gaily and carried him off to a
little restaurant supper party, given by a gentleman he had met before,
but about whose occupation he possessed no information, though he had
gathered that the theatre was his chief interest. There was one other
lady, plentifully powdered, and two other men of the party, but the
host was the most garrulous of all, pouring out the most fulsome
flattery of Cleo's acting and assuring her the critics hadn't treated
her fairly and that all artistic aspiration was wasted on the British
public. The same ground was traversed again and again, the bulk of the
conversation centering round Cleo.
To Morgan it seemed that Cleo had made an enormous number of
acquaintances in the few weeks that had elapsed since their marriage,
and with many of them she appeared to be on terms of easy
camaraderie. Every day during the week scores of visitors had
dropped in to see her and to chat familiarlyall sorts of strange men
and women that seemed to flock round her, anomalous citizens of
Bohemia, vague hangers-on of the theatrical cosmos; all that strange
melange of the happy-go-lucky, the eccentric, the ill-balanced, the
blackguardly, the unprincipled, the hapless, the shiftless, the
unclassed, the sensual and the besotted that shoulder and hustle one
another in the world of the theatre; all the riff-raff recruited from
the greater world without by the fascinating glare of the footlights.
The supper was a gay one, and Cleo, drawing new life from the stream
of adulation, strolled home on Morgan's arm, overflowing with the
wonder of her own personality, was it in regard to her genius as an
actress, or was it in regard to the magnetism of her beauty. Her step
seemed to have recovered all its old springiness; her defeat was as if
it had not been. She was very optimistic about her career and again
spoke of Morgan one day writing the play of her life. That would be, of
course, after they had travelled in Egypt and the East. He was
sufficiently taken off his guard by her demeanour to begin to think it
was impossible she should not have some mysterious financial resource
to fall back upon for the morrow.
We shall not want to be very long at the theatre, were her last
words to him that night. Let us try and get there by ten. I shall pay
the salaries at twelve o'clock and we can leave the house soon after.
Morgan's attitude in the morning was one of interested expectancy.
Cleo was as full of vitality as ever. Perhaps it was that, as she
entered the theatre, the sight of her trunk, waiting in the corridor
for redemption, stimulated her masterfulness afresh, for she found
pretext for asserting her authority over everybody on the premises. Up
to the last moment she revelled in the enjoyment of all the powers and
privileges that one acquires over other human beings by engaging to pay
them a wage.
As the time went by and Morgan saw no sign of the appearance of the
requisite cash, he ventured at last to broach the subject to her, and
she replied firmly and clearly:
At twelve o'clock the salaries shall be paid.
But at the time specified, Cleo, who was sitting with him in her
private room, hid her face in her hands and began to sob hysterically.
Then he was able to elicit the truth. She had passed the last afternoon
interviewing moneylenders, but they had all laughed in her facewhich
had simply called forth her contempt for them. As a matter of fact, she
had been expecting a miracle to happen!
A conviction had come to her that, when the moment for making
payment arrived, she would have the necessary money. How or whence it
was to come she had not considered; her belief was simply a blind one.
Though she had not found it waiting for her on her arrival at the
theatre, her faith that the powers that worked the universe could not
possibly allow her to undergo the great humiliation of being a
defaulter towards those she had employed, was still unshaken. In her
the sense of the Ego was so great that, if rightly interpreted, her
feeling about the world would have been found to be that it was created
specially for her and carefully shaped and subordinated to suit the
needs of her existence. She could not understand her being so utterly
beaten as she really was. Her half-crazy, superstitious notion could
only have been combatted by its non-realisation. At her hesitating
confession that she had been expecting the money to come somehow,
Morgan had at once grasped the whole working of her mind, for he
understood now what manner of woman it was that he had made his wife.
He knew that the company and employés were assembled, expecting to
be called momentarily.
Cleo, he said, I have had the offer of enough money to pay all
that is owing. You must decide whether I am to avail myself of it. If
you say 'yes,' it shall be here within an hour.
But she scarcely heeded, for in that moment she rose as if following
up some train of thought, and pulled out every drawer of the bureau,
looking carefully into each as though in search of something. When at
last the perception was forced on her that the miracle had still not
happened, she sat down again with a sigh.
He repeated his statement and she wanted to know from whom the offer
A friend, he answered.
It is some woman who loves you, she flashed at him.
He could not repress a start.
It is! It is! she exclaimed excitedly, her eyes ablaze. Do not
attempt to deny it; I can read it in your face. Ah, I understand now;
it is the same friend who helped you before. And you led me to believe
it was a man.
I made no mention of the sex.
But you knew I was deceived all the same. How dared you conceal
from me that you had had the money from a woman you had loved? Did I
not return Mr. Ingram all he had given me, because I felt it would be a
desecration to use a penny of it? And I thought you were fine, Morgan,
I thought you were fine.
Scorn rang in her tones, but he did not answer, because he wished to
avoid a scene. It were better, he thought, to let the storm exhaust
itself. The unassuming introduction of the woman you had loved, in
place of the reverse, did not, however, escape him.
Had I suspected the truth, she went on, admirably dramatic now
that she was not on the stage, I should rather have taken some deadly
poison than have touched this filthy money of hers. Did you take me for
some vile creature? I shall pay back every farthing. Oh, to throw it
all in her face! No, no! this is my affair. How dare you suggest that
I, your wife, should accept more of her money! As if I could fall so
low! These debts are mine. You are not to interfere.
He could only bow to her will. In the first moment of disillusion he
had not been without a certain apprehension that she might wish to take
advantage of the fact that he belonged to a wealthy family. But he saw
now the thought had done her an injustice. Creature of rich, luscious
sentiment, of gorgeous emotions, she scorned to be untrue to the
equatorial magnificence of her nature. Nor had she yet finished
expressing her resentment. All the untamable tiger in her had been
roused, all the fiery, indomitable pride that was as essentially a part
of her as her fixed conception of her genius. She was not to be
browbeaten by adverse fortune into whining and accepting charity from
her husband's mistressesshe had slipped into using the plural now.
She turned at bay against the whole situation. Let these people go
unpaid for the presentshe would pay them when she could. She wanted
to go out at once and make a speech to them, but Morgan, fearful of
some great uproar, managed to prevail on her to let him make the
announcement that money engagements could not be kept.
Very much to his astonishment, everybody took the news quietly
enough. Is there no chance of getting anything? he was asked, and sad
indeed were all faces when he assured them every penny had been lost,
and that, though his wife had been confident of raising some more
moneyhe mentioned this possibly with the idea of softening the
bitterness against Cleoher hope had been quite disappointed. Morgan
himself almost trembled with emotion, for he knew how eagerly some of
them had sought the engagement. Three weeks of rehearsal and a week of
acting under most trying and disheartening circumstances, and then to
receive nothing! And all that time they had submitted to be bullied and
blustered at. If the whole affair had not been so piteous it would have
The stage manager, arriving just then, was less tractable, and
Morgan feared his vehemence would excite the others.
And she had theimpudence to chuck me out of hertheatre, he
screamed; and now I can't get apenny out of her!
He announced his intention of breaking her head forthwith, and
threatened to do for Morgan, who barred his way.
Cleo left the theatre a little later, followed by abuse from the
stage manager, who was forcibly held back by some of the company. She
looked longingly at the trunk in the hall, but had apparently resigned
herself to the loss of her costumes, for she passed by in silence.
In the afternoon, Morgan was astonished at being served at their
rooms with a writ, which concerned both him and Cleo, and which had
been taken out on behalf of one of the creditors. Though Cleo had run
the theatre on her own responsibility only, it had been thought
possible that he might possess resources, with the result that he had
been made co-defendant.
Cleo seized the paper and calmly tore it up.
Then followed a long consultation, Cleo manifesting some signs of
depression at the sum total of the results of her efforts, beside which
her unshaken belief in the future contrasted curiously. Everything had
been against her. She had had a bad company and a stupid first-night
audience, and had from the first been crippled by want of money. She
recapitulated all her disadvantages, dwelling on each and making the
most of it. But this was only by way of beginning a long wail of
lament. The undisguised coldness of his demeanour towards her ever
since the night of her début had wounded her deeply, though she had
been too proud to say anything. Her indictment against him was bitter
and severe. The discontinuance of his slavish admiration for her and of
his blind belief in her genius was in her eyes an unpardonable sin. As
soon as the public had turned against her, she averred, he sheep-like,
had followed their example. And he was the one human being in the whole
world whom she had trusted and believed in, the one she would have
looked to for sympathy and comfort. She had shown her trust in him by
marrying hima privilege she would not lightly have accorded to
anotherand he should have stood by her in her misfortunes. Why,
so-and-so had told her her acting had never been surpassed on the
English stage; and he had seen every piece played in London during the
last thirty years. She repeated the flattery and fawning that had been
bestowed upon her by the men who had been fluttering around her,
accepting all as the natural outpour of their sincerity; she quoted
with unction the lying notices she had shown him the day before.
Morgan knew better than to expect her to have one thought of
sympathy for him, to utter one word of sorrow for the plight into which
her stage-madness had brought him. She seemed to think that his
dominating sentiment should be, throughout all and despite all, one of
gratitude to her for having married him. In proof of which she now
mentioned that she had won the admiration of millionaires, of foreign
counts by the score, of Indian princes and Eastern potentates, all of
whom had written her letters of sympathy at her shameful treatment by
the public, had declared their love for her, and had offered to place
their whole fortunes at her disposal. She had indignantly destroyed
these letters without showing them to him, and would not have thought
of claiming any credit for this had he not forced her to do so by his
brutality towards her. The Indian prince, in particular, had proved
persistent, and even now it was open to her to become mistress of a
gorgeous palace and a regiment of servants.
By way of contrasting the fineness of her own conduct with the
coarseness of his, she did her best to exasperate him about Helen,
applying terrible epithets to her and vowing, in a burst of tiger-like
tragedy, she would destroy the beauty of this woman he had loved with
vitriol, should their paths ever cross. In addition to Helen, there
were general allusions to his mistresses, for Cleo, having begun by
converting singular into plural, now retained both singular and plural.
Lastly, quieting down somewhat amid a flood of tears, she claimed that
Ingram would not have acted in so dastardly a fashionhe, at least,
had always valued her at her true worth. It was his misfortune, not his
fault, that his money affairs had not turned out well and that he had
been unable to build for her the promised theatre. It was his very
sense of the dignity of her genius that made him object to giving her a
less impressive début. Ingram, too, had had no thought but for her, and
he had been undoubtedly heartbroken at her leaving him.
And when, in the end, he prevailed upon her to say what she purposed
doing, she informed him that to mark her sense of the degradation that
would be involved in the acceptance of the aid offered by her rival,
she had preferred to borrow five pounds of her maid, who was at least
an old and faithful servantshe had taken her with her from
Hampsteadand who stood by her loyally. Out of these five pounds she
intended to pay the landlady's bill for the week, and the balance would
bring them within the shelter of her parents' home.
Whatever feeling of humiliation Morgan might have had at the
confession of this loan was all but lost in his surprise at her sudden
mention of parents. He had never thought of her at all in relation to
parents or in relation to other human beings whose blood flowed in her
veins. She had pre-eminently struck him as a figure to be taken as
detached; his feeling about her, though he had never precisely
formulated it, was that she had not come into existence as other
people, but that, in her case, there had been a special act of
creation. Her parents had got impasted into the vagueness of that
background, out of which she had come floating into his life.
The position, however, was a difficult one for him. He could
scarcely chide her for borrowing, grotesque as the borrowing was. The
maid, he learnt, was leaving her that same afternoon and was to be
married soon. What helped him to decide was the great curiosity that
had come upon him to make the acquaintance of the people who had given
her to the world. Something of his old attitude came back to him. The
desire to see what strange thing was to follow next stirred in him
again. But this time a greater bitterness was mixed with it, a better
grip on the wholeness of life, an active consciousness that, though he
might now derive a grim sort of enjoyment from watching the unfolding
of circumstance, the experience would be nevertheless real, would
represent so much of his personal life. No longer would it be a mere
desperate submission to idle drifting amid the scenes of a dreamland;
though the same temperament as before was at the back of his decision.
Of course, his general determination to face the full responsibility of
his relation to Cleo likewise counted for a good deal in his assenting
to accompany her on this visit she purposed to her parents.
He questioned her about her family, and she told him that her father
was a printer at Dover; that her mother was simply her mother; that she
had a brother and two sisters, all unmarried, all living at home. She
was barely eighteen when she had left Dover, but she had ceased
communicating with her family as soon as she had made Ingram's
acquaintance. However, in anticipation of a great success, she had
written to them again a few weeks back, informing them of her marriage
and of the theatre of her own which she was to have immediately. Her
father, in reply, had written her a cordial letter, and had, in fact,
suggested she should bring her husband to see them if she should ever
find a suitable opportunity. They would therefore be likely to meet
with a warm welcome, and they could stay at Dover till her plans were
mature, which would be very shortly. What these plans were likely to be
he could not elicit, though he gathered some vague millionaire was
connected with them, and that they would enable her to clear off all
the debts almost immediately. But since, at the moment, they were
entirely without resources, it would be useless, she pointed out, for
them to take any notice of the writ that had been served. Creditors
would obviously be putting themselves to vain expense in suing them
now, and it was therefore best for them to go for a little while where
at least they would be free from being worried.
During the evening Morgan managed to find an opportunity of writing
to Helen a brief account of the day, saying he would look for her
answer at the Dover post-office.
And he and Cleo left London by an early train in the morning.
END OF BOOK III.
The son and daughters of the Kettering family were out taking the
air, as the Sunday morning was a fine one, and Morgan sat talking with
his father-in-law in a front room, that was depressing with horse-hair
upholstery and wax fruit under glass shades and a series of prints
representing certain emotional moments in the life of a young
blue-jacket. Cleo was in some distant region of the house with her
mother, who had beamed on Morgan with a most unaccountable
Mr. Simon Kettering himself was a mild-featured little man, whose
Sunday broad-cloth was but a thin disguise of the fact that all the
week he worked amid his journeymen in apron and shirt-sleeves. He wore
spectacles with light steel frames that seemed to cut deep into his
flesh; his hair was fast greying and his face was much lined, which,
however, interfered little with the benevolence of his expression. His
hands were large and coarse-grained and of a tint that no longer yields
On their arrival, about a quarter of an hour previously, Cleo had
left Morgan in the hall and had gone up to see her parents, returning
for him some five minutes later and introducing him to them in the room
in which he now sat. As he was not present at the actual meeting of
Cleo and the old people, he now asked Mr. Kettering if the sudden
appearance of his daughter after all these years hadn't startled him.
Me! exclaimed his father-in-law. Why, not a bit! When she was
only that big, I soon found out it wasn't any use taking notice of her
goings and comings. The missus has been worrying about her a good deal.
But I always said to her: 'Selina's a girl who can take care of
herself, and sure enough she'll turn up all right one of these fine
days.' It was very wrong of her, though, not to let us have a line from
her for nigh on six years. But I fancy she was always a bit ashamed of
us. Her notions were always so grand, and plain, hard-working people
weren't good enough for her. I'm very sorry indeed that things have
turned out so disastrously. My Selina, to tell the truth, is a queer
creature, sir, and, if I may take the liberty of saying so, I think you
were a fool to marry her.
Cleo, at her first interview with her parents, had made a clean
breast of the fact that her theatre had been a failure and that they
had lost all their money, though she did not omit to mention she was
conducting negotiations which would soon put them on their feet again.
Morgan smiled at Mr. Kettering's bluntness, and he somehow divined that
there was a shrewd pair of eyes behind those spectacles that took in
far more than they appeared to do.
I'm hanged if I'd ever have married her, pursued the
master-printer, and that's telling you the plain truth, sir. You see
what she has done for you already. Why did you give her all that money?
You should have let her go on acting and drawing a regular salary,
instead of risking all that capital in that monstrously foolish way.
You'll excuse my freedom, I know, sir.
From which Morgan deduced that Cleo's version of the whole affair
had not been entirely coloured by truth. From the way Mr. Kettering
dropped his voice and looked reverential as he mentioned all that
money, it was quite clear Cleo's imagination had magnified the loss to
accord with her sense of the fitness of things. A great loss of money
was the next glorious thing to a great success.
Mr. Kettering proceeded to lay it down as a general maxim that there
was nothing in life like drawing a regular salary. Ever since he had
been a master-printer on his own account, he had been regretting the
fact. A workman knew exactly how much he had to spend and how to spend
it. But in these days when competition was so severe and trade so
uncertain, the master had much to be thankful for if he could pay his
way at all. Not that he himself was not perfectly able to earn a living
at all times, he added in some haste, as if to reassure his son-in-law;
and certainly his daughter and her husband were quite welcome to be his
guests as long as they chose to stay under his roof.
Morgan felt drawn towards the old man, though he perceived that
Simon Kettering's soul could not take wing out of the atmosphere of his
workshop, and that whosoever wished to commune with him must descend
into it. But it was from this very atmosphere that Cleo had
emergedCleo, with her vitriolic notions and her pretentious scents!
This, then, was that mystic past against which her figure had stood
Cleo and her mother returned a few minutes later, interrupting Mr.
Kettering's account of the many vexations that preyed on himhis
troubles with his men, the heavy expense of constantly renewing the
composition on his machine rollers, the idleness and wantonness of the
apprentice, the perpetual ordering of sorts from the type-founder,
the inconsiderateness of customers who kept his type locked up, and the
carelessness of everybody but himself in the handling of his material.
We've been getting along capitally, Mr. Druce and I, he broke off
to explain to the two women. It's well on towards dinner-time, and the
children ought to be coming in soon.
Cleo seemed relieved to find that Morgan hadn't been bored. Her
mother, in whose strange, deep-cut features was suggested something of
the spirit of Cleo's face, was a brisk-looking, homely matron of fifty.
So Cleo is really married! she repeated for the tenth time, her
face aglow with satisfaction. And her eyes rested wonderingly on Morgan
till he almost fancied he could hear her mental exclamation: A real
Soon the other members of the family arrived, Mary and Alice and
their brother Mark, a young man of thirty, who looked hard-working and
reticent, and had large moustachios. They stopped almost on the
threshold as they perceived there were strangers in the parlour, then
they recognised their long-lost sister; but, embarrassed by the
presence of the strange gentleman, as well as by the startling fact of
her presence, they stood hesitant and rather shame-faced. Cleo smiled
at them encouragingly, whereupon her sisters came tripping over and
smothered her with kisses. Their expressions of love were so loud and
so flowery that Morgan began to recognise the family blood. When, a
moment later, he was introduced to them as Cleo's husband, their faces
became of a fiery red, as though there were something discreditable in
the fact of matrimony, and they exhibited a stiff shyness that was
almost stupid. The introduction completed, they stood looking at him,
giggling and giggling. But Mark now came forward with outstretched
hand, saying quietly: I am glad to know you, sir.
Let us go in to dinner, children, said Mr. Kettering.
They dined in the back room on the same floor, for the ground floor
and the basement were devoted to the trade. It was a long, narrow room,
lighted by one window at the end, and almost filled by the table.
Morgan found himself between Alice and Mark, whilst Mary sat opposite
him. Both the girls were young, Mary about twenty, whilst Alice did not
seem more than seventeen. In appearance they struck him as inferior
imitations of their sister. They were much shorter and far less
well-proportioned than Cleo, their red hair was coarser than hers, and
their features were duller. Their voices, too, were reminiscent of
hers. Altogether, though it was abundantly evident that they were
Cleo's sisters, they were perfectly unarrestive. Nature had made a
success of Cleo, but had egregiously failed to repeat the performance.
The one servant of the house waited at table, prim, sedate, formal.
A corresponding air of restraint seemed to prevail during the whole
meal. It was not till afterwards that he realised that they were
somewhat in awe of him as being obviously a fine gentleman, and that
they were feeling they had to live up to him. Cleo showed no
inclination to speak, and the other women would not venture to begin.
Mr. Kettering, on whom lay the onus of entertaining, at length strove
to face his responsibilities, and, addressing himself to Morgan,
discussed the comparative fineness of the weather at London and Dover.
Morgan, in return, asked questions about the town and the harbour and
the boats, managing to keep up some sort of a conversation with him.
Eventually the situation began to depress him, so terribly stiff were
they all in their attempt to be genteel. Besides, his appetite was of
the poorest, though he was somewhat astonished to find the fare so
plentiful. Mrs. Kettering kept pressing him to eat more and more, and
apparently found it hard to understand that his refusals were final.
Are you sure? she asked him each time; and once she plucked up
courage to assure him he must not stand on ceremony with them, and that
he need not hesitate to eat his fill. Morgan thought it extraordinary
she should so persistently refuse to believe in the sincerity of his
small consumption of food, but, attributing her solicitude to sheer
good-nature, he was sorry to cause her such evident dissatisfaction.
He was glad when the meal was over, for he was beginning to feel
stifled. The family did not disperse, coffee now being served, of so
curious a flavour that Morgan could not get further than the first sip.
Don't you like coffee, sir? asked Mrs. Kettering.
He began to feel a little bit persecuted. He did not hesitate to
reply in the negative, since the question was put from Mrs. Kettering's
point of view and the answer had only to apply to her conception of the
At length Cleo said she was going to take him for a stroll, and he
willingly fell in with the idea. But they did not go far, taking
possession of a seat as soon as they arrived on the sea-front. They
seemed to have nothing to say to each other. Cleo appeared lost in
thought, and he, after gazing idly at the few promenaders and the
children playing on the shingle and at the white cliffs of France
gleaming across the straits, relapsed into a half reverie. He had
somewhat of a sense of physical relief at being able to breathe here at
his ease; of temporary respite and security from being hunted by
creditors. But he was intensely miserable all the same, the one
immediate gleam of light being the hope of a letter from Helen.
As yet the Kettering family was a new experience to him, and though
the stiff gentility and aggressive hospitality so far exhibited had
made him somewhat uncomfortable, his judgment of these people was
favourable enough. Still, he was possessed of the idea that he was not
going to stay in that house more than a few days. Not that he had the
least conception of what else he was going to do, but events had been
following each other in such quick succession that he could not believe
in a cessation of them. The last two days, in particular, had seemed
very crowded. Yesterday all those dramatic events in the
theatrethough not on its stage; to-day their departure from London
and their incursion into the reality of that poetic nebulousness from
which Cleo had originally emerged.
He was glad that Kettering had not addressed to him any personal
questions, for he wished to tell neither truth nor falsehood about
himself. The anticipation of the topic arising was not an agreeable
one, and it was likewise unpleasant to dwell upon the possibility of
embarrassment arising from Cleo's habit of embellishment. He wondered
what her schemes were, though he could not take them seriously. And
this train of thought ultimately brought back to him the fear that
perhaps after all pressure might be brought to bear on him to make him
avail himself of his father's purse. The thought of his father gave him
nowas it had given him throughout all this time of trialan
uncontrollable emotion, but he would not let his mind speculate about
the grief and attitude of his family, forcibly interposing a veil
between himself and them. Tired out at length, he let his reverie merge
into mere uncritical perception. He was conscious of afternoon
sunshine, of a great stretch of sky, with a continent of white cloud
containing big blue lakes; his eye took in the expanse of sea,
glistening, streaked, patched, lined, and shaded, with the pier in his
centre of vision, a mass of kiosks, pole-lamps, and conventional
iron-work. And in the foreground parasols dotted here and there made
spots of black, brown, green, and red against the yellowish shingle.
Commonplace as the scene was, he found it restful to dwell upon in a
lazy fashion. He forgot for a while that Cleo was by his side, and when
he awoke again to the consciousness of her presence he found she had
been engaged in reading again the two favourable notices of her
performance, which she had carefully carried about with her.
Soon Alice and Mary appeared, and all four went home together. Tea
was laid in the same room, the table being set out as for a heavy meal.
Did you enjoy your walk, sir? asked Mr. Kettering, while the trim
servant, waiting at table with the same solemn gravity as before, put
before him a huge cup of very strong tea, of which no milk or sugar
could alleviate the astringency. He now found he was expected to eat
large quantities of boiled fish, plum-cake and sweets; and Mrs.
Kettering, perceiving that he didn't do justice to the fare, enumerated
to him other things that were in the larder, with the suggestion that
he might perhaps prefer a choice of them. Some of the stiffness that
had characterised the former meal had vanishedMorgan could see now
that had been due to shyness at his presenceand, though Mark still
showed little willingness to converse, the girls were evidently
beginning to find themselves again, occasional gigglings heralding
their return to normality. But the concentration of the united
attention of the family for Morgan's benefit was somewhat
disconcerting. The girls vied with each other in pressing plum-cake
upon him, and seemed to view his refusal as a personal rebuff. He did
not understand just then that each considered a bit of her own niceness
went into the cake when held towards him with her own hand, and that it
was this niceness he was rejecting. As for the cake, they took it for
granted that there could be no difficulty about disposing of that.
Before the end, Morgan got the sensation of having the food rammed down
his throat with a pole.
They tried to flirt with him, too, but here again he unconsciously
annoyed them by his unresponsiveness. In fact, being entirely
unacquainted with the game as they were in the habit of playing it, he
set down the strange attempts of Cleo's sisters to provoke him to
banter as rather silly. He did not know that they had thrown off their
first unquestioning acceptance of his impressiveness and were now
subjecting him to sharp criticism. They had their own notionand a
very definite one it wasof what a perfect gentleman should be, and
they were not disposed lightly to accept a substitute. What, however,
struck him particularly was their unbounded affection for their father
and mother, for Cleo and Mark, and last, though not least, for each
During the evening Mary grew so bold as to offer to show him the
harbour by night, and he welcomed the suggestion as likely to afford
him a little quiet distraction. He had sat amid the family for several
hours, and it had not occurred to anybody he might like to be just
alone. The day had seemed interminable, and as they had been behaving
more freely among themselves, once the restraint had worn off, he had
begun to get a somewhat revised perception of them. Their peculiar
atmosphere was beginning to enter into his being, and his vision of
them, therefore, to lose its first impersonality.
Though the sky was clear, there was no moon that evening, which
elicited the remark from Mary that it was a pity. Morgan presumed that
moonlight made the harbour look much more poetic, whereupon Mary
admitted that she wasn't thinking of the harbour, but of the fact that
it made walking with a girl much more poetic. She wanted him to say
that walking with her was so heavenly, absence of moonlight
notwithstanding, that he couldn't possibly imagine any improvement. But
he didn't say it. He only just gave the faintest indication of a laugh.
When he happened to admire the far-stretching, soft shadow of the
sea, with its gentle, irregular line of white where it met the shore,
she asked him if he wouldn't like to be rowing just then with a girl on
a lovely lake. She wanted him to sayyes, if the girl were she. But he
did not say it, and he had no idea that she was getting angry.
They walked on a little in silence, passing a girl talking to a man
under the full light of a lamp. Mary remarked that the girl was
exquisitely pretty. She wanted him to say that she herself was a
thousandfold prettier. But he did not say it; and she led him off the
front rather sulkily, taking him over a drawbridge and on to the quay
that bisected the harbour. They strolled about amid the piles of timber
and along more quays and drawbridges, now and again encountering other
promenaders in the soft darkness. For awhile Morgan found the stillness
delicious, almost forgetting the existence of his companion. But very
soon she recommenced her tactics, making statements that credited
himby implicationwith flirtations galore, and hinting at vast
experience on her own part and lovers by the score. Certainly she laid
pitfalls by the score, but she was so invariably unsuccessful that she
could not help at last giving expression to her vexation.
You're the first man I've ever known, she said frankly, who
didn't think me beautiful.
He recognised he had got a whiff of his Cleo there, but, just as he
was about to deliver the polite reply to which she had forced him, they
happened to turn round the side of a great wood-stack and, at the same
moment, an impressive chorus of voices floated softly across the night.
They were now on a quay that ran across the harbour, parallel with the
cliffs that rose at the back of it. To right and left were the massed
silhouettes of shipping and small craft, of odd superannuated sailing
vessels and huge-funnelled steamers, and in the intervening waters were
moored half a dozen Russian gun-boats. On the largest of these a
sailors' service was being held. They could hear the priest's sweet
voice raised in exhortation, and then again rose the sailors' chant.
Morgan listened enraptured. The velvety surface of the water,
traversed here and there by glistering bars, the subdued stars above,
the profound silence of the night, the strange whiteness of the cliff
beyond, rising in marked contrast to the dark line of dwellings at its
foot, save where the patches of green on its face showed as grey stains
in the darkness, the looming hulls and intertangled masts and rigging,
the mystic scattered lights of the harbourthe enchantment of all
entered into his spirit, attuned to this beautiful singing of the
And then, of a sudden, a bugle-call rang out, clear and
far-reaching, from the great barracks of the Western heights; instinct
in its rhythm with discipline, valour, and martial fire; thrilling into
the spaces of the night in strange contrast to the spirit of peace that
breathed in the sweet concord of the sailors' chanting of evening
What a funny lingo! said Alice, as the chaplain's voice was again
heard in prayer. Her laugh rang out, loud and scornful, insulting the
solemnity and beauty of the scene. Morgan instinctively began to move
on, pained to think that these sojourners in English waters might deem
they were being scoffed at.
It wasn't at them I was laughing, she explained, as if aware she
had offended him. Something came into my mind that happened just at
that spot. It's so funny that I can't help laughing every time I think
of it. If you're very, very good, perhaps I may tell you.
She looked up at him, wagging her head about to indicate her last
sentence had been intended playfully. Morgan expressed a desire to hear
it, in a sort of indifferent murmur.
Well, there was a fellow I let dance with me three or four times,
and I went for a walk with him twice or so. Then he began to get a bit
cheeky, and so I thought I'd put him in his place. I wouldn't take any
notice of him for a long time, and when we passed him in the street I
pretended not to know him. At last one day he comes up to me and he
says: 'Mary, I can't stand it any longer. If you won't speak to me
again I'll go and drown myself.' And then he begged so hard that at
last I promised to go for a walk with him in the evening. Well, I kept
my promise, and we strolled along here. And just at that very spot we
stood still to look at the harbour. 'John,' said I, 'there's the water;
now drown yourself.'
Again she laughed immoderately at the recollection of this brilliant
jeu d'esprit and her admirer's discomfiture.
But the jeu d'esprit kept echoing oddly through Morgan's
There's the water. Now drown yourself!
Morgan found the Monday infinitely easier to get through. For the
members of the family were absorbed in the duties of life, so that he
was left much to himself. Alice and Mary kept the accounts and served
behind the counter in the stationery shop. In a workshop at the back
Simon Kettering, Mark, four journeymen and one apprentice stood at
case, whilst in the basement two antiquated printing machines rumbled
on, worked by a small gas-engine. There was also a Columbian press for
pulling posters and a platen machine for small work. Mr. Kettering
devoted a few odd minutes to showing Morgan over the establishment. As
he observed, it was not a magnificent concern; but he had it all under
his eye and by hard work made it yield him a living. Still, times were
hard andand Mr. Kettering, having once begun to enlarge on the
subject of his disadvantages, proceeded to pour forth all the
accumulated vexations of his spirit.
Cleo remained in the parlour during the morning writing letters, but
she did not offer to enlighten Morgan as to their nature. He was rather
glad of this incommunicativeness of hers, for he felt in too restless a
mood to talk to her. Impatiently as he was awaiting Helen's letter, he
would not inquire at the post-office till the evening. He could not
bear the idea of coming away empty-handed.
Meanwhile he amused himself rummaging leisurely amid the contents of
an old mahogany book-case. He found rather a medley of worn
school-booksold-fashioned geographies and histories and foreign
conversation grammars; of mouldy novels, many in French and Italian; of
illustrated lives of actresses, prime donne, and celebrated courtezans.
Most of the novels and non-scholastic books were of a shoddy,
sensational type. Here, then, he had evidently stumbled across the
source of Cleo's early mental nourishment; this was the literature with
which her nature had found affinity. In nearly every book he took down
he came across passages underlined, with occasionally a note in the
margin in her own handwriting. The rich manner and false, pompous
sublimity of these passages brought a smile to his lips, though making
his heart contract painfully. He called to mind the books he had seen
lying about on the occasion of his memorable visit to her in company
with Ingram, and he now had an intuition that the slumbering of her
fierce activity for so many years had been facilitated by a plentiful
provision of literature of the same kind. Her imagination had found
some compensating stimulation and satisfaction in the luscious scenes
amid which it had wandered.
And suddenly he had a startled flash of memory anent a paper-covered
novel he was holding in his hands. The lithographed wrapper, with its
illuminated veiled figure and its seven mystic stars, he had seen
before; and he now recognised the book as an older copy of the very one
he had found her reading the first time he had ventured to call on her
by himself. It was the work of a lurid lady novelist, popular some ten
years before. He turned its pages with bitter interest. Passage after
passage was marked and underlined. And at length he lighted on one that
seemed to jump from the page and strike him in the face. It was doubly
underlined in red ink, as well as thickly marked down the margin.
In me is reincarnated the spirit of the ancient East, and
is my mission to interpret that spirit to the modern world.
And lower down on the same page, indicated with the like emphasis:
By sitting in this temple each day and meditating herein I
ministered to my sacred moods, and I have kept pure the
of the ages, which I am to revive for the modern world.
Morgan remembered only too well by whom and on what occasion such
words had been addressed to him. He put back the volume and shut the
At the one o'clock dinner they all came together again. There was
the same profuse solidity of fare as on the previous day, and the same
insistence that Morgan must do justice to it. The girls seemed in high
spirits, mysterious signs and words passing between them, accompanied
by much laughter, of which Morgan dimly suspected he was the cause.
When the clerk at the post-office, looking through a little heap of
letters, picked out one and put it aside, Morgan could scarcely
restrain his emotion. He chafed at having to wait whilst the man
satisfied himself there were no others for him, and the quiet way he
took the letter revealed little of his almost overmastering impulse to
snatch at it as a wild beast might snatch at meat. Blessed writing on
the envelope! Tears were streaming down his cheeks as he stepped again
into the street! And when at last he began to read, all that he had
suppressed surged up and almost choked him.
My very dear friend, said Helen, I want to write to you such
great deal because I know how welcome a long letter will be,
yet I fear that I cannot make this one very long for the
reason that I am feeling serious. Moods are like dresses. Some
them do not suit me at all. Seriousness not only spoils me, it
makes me absolutely idiotic. Most people I know, however,
me like that because then I express my agreement with their
opinions so very readily. But to be serious. I don't quite
understand what you are going to do at Dover. Still, I am glad
you've gone, for I'm dying to know what her sisters are like.
the way, I mean to make the acquaintance of the Medhursts. I
an idea I shan't find that a very difficult task. Then perhaps
letters may be more agreeable reading for you, for of course
shall continue corresponding unless you are back in town
long. Morgan, don't lose faith! I told you I was a prophetor
should it be prophetess? When I looked you in the face last I
read therein that you were born to be happy.
In the meanwhile I don't want you to be uncomfortable. And I
come to a point I hate to mention because I am afraid of you.
fly at one so savagely. I don't think you ought to allow a
question of mere money to poison such sweet human relation as
ours. Won't you look at it in the right spirit? I implore you,
do. I want you to believe that I understand and sympathise
your feelings, but recollect now I am writing to you as your
friend, without any admixture of anything else, and it is as
best friend I want you to respond to me. Forget that I am only
woman. Let my purse be yours. Take only a trifle if you will,
still take it. It will make me happy, for I want to feel sure
that you are bearing up. Meanwhile I am in dreadful suspense
hear from you.
P. S. In the name of Heaven, write me quickly to tell me what
the sisters are like. I have bought a map of London in
and I spend hours wandering with you in some of the strange
places. What funny shapes the Thames has in some of the
and how nicely the pieces underneath it fit into it. Alas! the
days, the days that are no more! What a sob re-echoes from
Blessed writing! In what an impasse were his life without it!
Though in his reply to Helen he promised to accept her money in case
of need, he could not prevail on himself to begin just then. His
instinct was against that course as strongly as ever, and he was
precisely like a proud, obstinate child that continues in its fixed
attitude long after being convinced. He gave her an account of the
Kettering family in as gay a note as he could strike from his leaden
mood, for he wished to allay her anxiety about him. He had read in her
letter far more than the mere words; her heart beat through every line.
There were still five shillings in his pocketenough to pay the
postage on sixty letters, he grimly reflected. So far he had had no
occasion to spend money for anything else, and no beggar had crossed
his path to tempt from him the little he had. He needed nothing beyond
his food, and of that the Ketterings' hospitality provided a
sufficiency, though by the third day the over-profusion of plain dishes
was no longer maintained.
Cleo seemed to be getting mysterious letters from town, and she gave
him to understand she would be able to put her new scheme before him
very soon now, but in the meantime he must be patient. The memory of
her defeat had already almost gone from her mind, as did all things
which were disagreeable to it and which, therefore, it could not
assimilate; and, if she conversed with him at all, it was only on the
subject of her genius, her imagination making, if possible, still more
gorgeous flights than in the first days he had known her.
But this bluster about her genius only made him smile bitterly now,
for he knew but too well that the foundations of any scheme of hers
could not be laid in the good, solid earth. He could not guess the
nature of the negotiations she had apparently begun, though he had a
suspicion she was offering her genius to moneylenders as a security for
some gigantic advance. The thought made him feel some impatience. She
could not expect him, interested as he might be in her evolutions, to
stay here indefinitely, eating the bread of hard-working Simon
Kettering, even if that were not becoming daily unpleasanter. He was
already thinking that, in his next letter to Helen, he must tell her to
send him a little money, so that, even if he did not leave the town, he
could either live elsewhere or arrange to pay Kettering for his board
and lodging, thus giving Cleo a fair time in which to reveal her hand.
He would be as patient as possible with her, so that she should not
have any real ground for the least reproach to him.
By the fourth day a fuller comprehension of the family had come to
Morgan, and a growing unhappiness at living with it. His perception of
the Ketterings, at first of the same nature as a traveller's perception
of people among whom he is sojourning for the first time, had ceased to
be art. Their spirit had begun to act on his, and he now not only saw
them as a full reality, but he likewise felt them as a full reality.
His first impression of them had merged gradually into his present one,
though there had been well-marked stages on the route.
At the beginning, the Ketterings' interpretation of hospitality had
been indicated by the quantity of food provided; the incessant pressing
him to eat had been a special attention to him, and his refusal had
been taken first as mere ceremonynatural on the part of a
gentlemanand next as somewhat of a slight. And in proportion as he
became less of a novelty to them, so did they resume their normal mode
of life. By the time the fact of his being their guest had ceased to
occupy the centre of their consciousness breakfast had become reduced
to coffeeof the same curious flavourand thick bread and butter, tea
to the same astringent beverage as before and thin bread and butter,
the two other repasts of the day being likewise administered with a due
regard for economy. Mrs. Kettering, too, no longer enumerated the
contents of the larder in the hope of tempting him with some delicacy
that was not on the table. The trim servant girl who had waited so
staidly and respectfully at table had now developed into a perfect
slattern who had the habit of answering her mistress back, sometimes in
a way that almost amounted to bullying, and who seemed to have as much
to say in the concerns of the family as any one of its members. The
kitchen, too, obtruded and occupied the foreground of life.
Morgan did not, on account of this change, which he knew did not
signify any falling off in hospitable feeling, and which, indeed, he
rather appreciated so far as the reduced fare was concerned, reverse
his judgment that he had fallen among kind-hearted folk. It had been a
strain on them to maintain an appearance of gentility, and their recoil
had been merely that of a stretched piece of elastic. He had lost his
importance as a special person, and was now only just one of them. He
understood that the family was exactly what it had to be, that its
temperament and mode of life were perfectly attuned; yet, for him,
there were a thousand unseizable roughnesses that depressed his spirit.
Though the Ketterings and he spoke the same mother-tongue, words bore
different values for him, and full communion was impossible.
But his estimation of them was more of the nature of passive mental
apprehension than of active criticism. He himself, however, had been
criticised and he knew it, for Alice and Mary had at length made him
feel that he did not satisfy their conception of a gentleman. The
simplicity of his manners did not convince them. They seemed to hold by
some complicated code of etiquette for ladies and gentlemenHeaven
knew how they had become possessed of itof which he fell sadly short.
He did not understand in the least their shibboleth of flirtation,
their particular methods of banter, the precise shade of significance
of their facial expressions and movements, the exact values of their
phrases and catch-words; all of which was knowledge that, according to
their notion, was the common stock-in-trade of breeding. Their
atmosphere of coquetry did not appeal to him; and, as a rule, he
remained supremely ignorant of the fact that they were
coquetting with him. Thus it was they giggled and laughed and made fun
of him, having attained to a vast feeling of superiority over him, and
a not less vast pity for their poor, dear sister, who had married him!
He could see that nature had made precisely the same failure with
their personalities as with their bodies. Each was a bundle of traits
that individually made Cleo echo through his brain, yet the total
effect lacked convincingness. In Cleo all such characteristics were
fused into her general magnificence; in Mary and Alice they seemed to
exist at random, failing to give any sense of harmony, but only one of
irritation. The airs and graces they assumed did but emphasise their
crudity. It was, indeed, an illumining perception when it struck Morgan
that their absurd movements and struttings and the queen-like way in
which they tried to hold their heads bore a singular resemblance to the
stage-gestures of The Basha's Favourite. At the same time they
possessed a large fund of animal spirits. They talked a good deal about
dancing and sitting with young men in hidden corners, or going a-rowing
with them; though when or where they did any of these things he could
not quite make out.
Then again, the ostentatious love for the rest of the family and for
each other they had exhibited the first day turned out to be a
dependent variable that often approached vanishing-point. If the girls
showed a certain uncouth good-humour in their calm moments, they
certainly had violent tempers which they made no effort to restrain. If
Alice, attempting to pass along the narrow dining-room, caught her
dress on Mary's chair: If anybody else were to sit like that she
would commence angrily, and then a nice quarrel would ensue. Quarrels,
indeed, seemed to be evolved from incredible beginnings, and the
evenings bristled with them. Mrs. Kettering was easily drawn into these
disagreements and took a leading part in no few of them. Simon and
Mark, however, would remain impassive, the first reading his paper and
uttering now and again a facetious, mild protest, the second smoking
his eternal pipe in unyielding taciturnity. Mrs. Kettering likewise
annoyed her daughters by constantly talking to Morgan in their presence
of the difficulty of finding husbands for them.
One morning Cleo, who was down early, pounced upon a letter for him
and wanted to read it. But as he recognised his father's writingthe
envelope had had much redirection in varying scriptsand as her
letters were always sealed to him, he refused to open it in her
presence. He was not in the mood for a squabble with her. The fact that
his father had managed to pierce his inaccessibility had unnerved him,
the mere sight of the letter almost making him tremble. He put it in
his pocket; it was imperative he should be alone when reading it. Cleo
grew sulky and looked it. Alice and Mary, being in a particularly
affectionate mood that morning, came hovering round her, entwining her
waist with their long arms, pressing their faces gently against hers,
and kissing her with ostentatious sympathy. What has the naughty man
been doing to our darling? they asked in a sort of playful, mincing
lisp. Has he made our dear, dear sister miserable? Naughty, naughty
That made a beginning. As a continuation Mrs. Kettering took it into
her head once more to lament the scarcity of possible husbands for
Alice and Mary over the breakfast table. They retorted that no doubt
there were plenty of husbands to be picked up without a penny, who'd be
glad to come and stay at the house and idle about and eat their fill.
Evidently they had overheard talk between their parents, for it had
been represented to them that Cleo and her husband were only in Dover
on a friendly visit to the family.
Before the others had realised it Morgan had risen and left the
house. His every nerve was a-tingle with pain. He was finished with the
Ketterings, he told himself; it was impossible for him ever to set foot
in that house again.
The sense that a final rupture had occurred between him and the
Ketterings was so strong in Morgan that for the moment he omitted to
consider the difficulties that might arise as regards Cleo. He saw now
that by becoming their guest under circumstances such as his he had
exposed himself to the possibility of insult from the first. But he did
not condemn them; he simply felt he could not live in contact with
He was too unstrung to read his father's letter yet, though, as he
thought of it again, the reflection occurred to him that old relations
were intruding into the new life that had begun with Cleo. First Helen
and then his father had overtaken him!
He started to walk briskly through the town, which he soon cleared.
The movement helped to calm his excitement, though it did not diminish
his bitterness. All the morning he tramped through the country,
deriving some little comfort from the feeling that he was all alone. He
lunched on bread and cheese at a wayside inn, partaking of the meal in
an old room with rough tables and benches. Near him lay four huge
potatoes, newly broiled in their skins. Through the window he looked
out on to a yard where poultry strutted about amid straw, dung, and
rubbish, in the shadow of a hay-rick. Not till then had he the heart to
take the letter from his pocket. An examination of the redirections
proved interesting. It had been first sent to the address where he had
lived with Cleo, whence it had been redirected care of Cleo's maid,
who, in turn, had forwarded it to Dover. He understood now how those
first mysterious letters had come for Cleo so quickly, though he did
not quite see why she should have concealed from him this arrangement
with the maid.
As he broke the envelope a labourer in corduroys came into the room,
and seemed taken aback at finding a gentleman there. He was the owner
of the broiled potatoes, but apologised for taking possession of them.
Morgan bade him sit down and have his meal, but the man, his face
shining with good-humour, insisted he must not disturb him, but would
go and stand at the bar. He took only two of the potatoes, his
good-nature impelling him to leave the other two for Morgan, with the
hearty, encouraging remark: Pull into them, sir!
My Dear Son:
I am writing this only with the faintest hope of its ever
reaching you. If by any chance it does, I beg of you to inform
of your whereabouts at once. Your letter came upon us like a
bombshell. I do not wish to reproach you for the hurt we have
suffered. I only want you to believe now in my desire to stand
you, however terrible the mistake you have made.
Of course, we put the worst interpretation on your silence
the person you had made your wife. I hurried up to town at
but you had gone from your old rooms and left not a trace. I
learnt, however, that you had a sister who used to come to see
you sometimes. I suppose that is your wife. Naturally I
you had acted towards me as you had because you thought I
reproach you for having spoilt your life. How little you seem
know me, Morgan! That is what I have to reproach you
was I so little in your confidence? Did you think me incapable
sympathising with you because you are a young man and I an
How little you seem to know me, Morgan, I must repeat again.
I do not want to indulge in useless retrospect. I do not want
exercise my imagination and yours in tracing out some more
desirable course of events that might have resulted from your
acting otherwise. But I cannot help giving expression to my
sorrow at the plight in which you now must be. I do not know
the whole thing came aboutwhat led to your acquaintance with
the lady who is now your wife; but I do wish that, instead of
writing me that curt letter, you had had sufficient belief in
love and sympathy to come to me despite all. My pen is
to express all that is in my heart. I can only just tell you
this is the worst heart-ache I have had in my life.
If this reaches you, dear Morgan, don't be too proud to let me
hear from you at once. I am an old man now, remember, and this
suspense is killing. Especially as I have come so near to
you and have only just missed you by a day or two. On coming
to town I at once called at Mr. Ingram's flat, and then I
for the first time he had married a great society lady. The
commissionaire gave me his new address in Grosvenor Gardens,
there I was fortunate enough to find him. He seemed astonished
hear you had got married and disappeared. I asked him about
quarrel with him, and then he told me what he knewthat you
run through all the six thousand pounds, had been afraid to
me, and had behaved abominably rudely to him because he made
you certain suggestions for your own benefit. He was sorry he
could not help me to find you. He seemed, indeed, quite
distressed about you and sympathised with me in my trouble.
My poor Morgan! How could a genius like you be bothered with
having to manage money? What is the use of a man like you
a rich father if his riches are not for you to enjoy! If you
only said a word! It was hopelessly foolish of me to imagine
had suddenly developed the ability to husband your resources.
you seemed so comfortable and cheerful when I last saw you
did not suspect anything. And then my attention was so
concentrated on my book that I scarcely had a thought for
You must forgive me for having called a private detective to
aid. What else could I do? The anxiety was terrible, and I
slept for nights. He was a long time about it, and he ought to
have done it sooner, for I gave him a very good photo of you
work with. But he assumed you had gone further afield, and
to find you in the provinces. So your wife is an actress! The
detective assures me she stood naked on the stage before a
theatre full of people. That isn't true, I hope.
As I have already said, I was too late when I called at your
address, and the landlady said she couldn't forward letters,
no new address had been left with her. But it struck me that
perhaps she had her reasons for making that statement, and so
I write in the hope that my letter may be forwarded after all.
it is, then write at once to your dear father, who, if you
made a mistake, will help you to live it down. I implore you
to keep away from me any longer.
Of course, I have seen the Medhursts several times. John and
Kate feel the blow quite as much as I do, though they have
their best to console me. Margaret, too, poor girl, is very
She shuts herself up in her studio and pretends to be working.
But I'm hanged if I can make out what she's at. There is just
mass of blackfish wax, and, though I always find her shaping
with her fingers, it always seems to look the same. The
composition of my book has progressed fairly well, but I am
looking forward to your helping me with it a tremendous lot.
Though he was twenty-eight, Morgan felt he still had in him a
child's fresh spring of emotion, and he had no more than a child's
strength to struggle against it. He hurried from the inn, suppressing
his sobs for a moment with one grand effort.
He walked back to the town and found an expected letter from Helen
awaiting him at the post-office. He had asked for ten pounds, and she
had sent him a bank-note. She had written him only just a few lines to
accompany it, but promised to make amends as regards length next time.
She said he had made her happy by giving her so practical a proof of
his belief in her friendship, and added she was very glad indeed he was
thinking of lodging elsewhere, instead of staying with that horrid and
amusing family. She hoped he would make up his mind on the point very
soon; and the sooner he had a terrific quarrel with his Cleo the
better. As soon as she should hear of it she would execute a war-dance,
adequately complicated for the occasion.
How good to him were those he had fled from! How endless was the
morass into which he had floundered!
And yet the very touch of the bank-note stung him. It represented
the fact of his degradation; it summed up the hopelessness of his
position. The sympathy poured upon him, welcome though it was, but
emphasised his sense of the pitiable failure of his existence. He still
burned under the terrible insult of the morning; he smarted from the
friction of living amid the petty, squabbling vulgarity of the
Kettering household. He remembered, too, he must come to some
understanding with Cleo; he must give her an opportunity of joining him
wherever he should be staying. And, of course, he must also write to
thank Mr. and Mrs. Kettering for their hospitality.
The afternoon passed by. He dined modestly at a sort of coffee-house
at the back of the harbour and arranged for a bed-room there. Later in
the evening he found himself forced to go out again, for it suffocated
him to stay within four walls. And even as he walked at random, the
blackest fit of his life came upon him. He thought of those first years
of enthusiastic striving, and those following years of half-hearted
striving; he thought of the long stretches of time dissipated in mental
lounging, in lethargic inaction he had been unable to combat, so
paralysing had been his sense of the futility of effort. Looking back
now, his whole inner life seemed to have been a long, increasing
bitterness. But he did not pity himself; his attitude was one of cruel
self-criticism. If only he had been an isolated soul he would not have
felt so keenly. But the course of his life had reacted on others and
embittered their existence. It seemed as if he could not take a step
without wounding those who loved him. He was not fit to breathe the
same air with them, he told himself.
Of Margaret he scarce dared think, so great was his sense of his
unworthiness; but the light of her face, as it swam up before him,
thrilled him with the consciousness that his love for her was abiding,
that this affair on which he had embarked was a grotesque nightmare in
which his true being had not been concerned at all, though it had
become irredeemably involved in it. Once or twice it had given him
pleasure to imagine that it was in Helen's power to do more than just
sympathise with him, but then he had never forgotten that was only a
wistful fancy. It brought the tears to his eyes to think of her attempt
to cheer him with her prophecy of happiness for him. Happiness for him!
Dream as vain as his Cleo's lust for glory!
It was past ten o'clock, and the sea-front was already deserted. He
strolled eastward, following the roadway to where the houses ended,
when it swept round the foot of the cliff, on whose top rose the
ancient castle, and eventually degenerated into an ascending foot-path
protected by a wooden rail. He stayed awhile at the bend, gazing into
the immense darkness, in which, here and there, glimmered a light from
a passing vessel, and listening to the swish of the water lapping the
foot of the sea-wall. A fisherman preparing his bait hailed him
Good-night! from the glooms of a small, primitive jetty. He returned
the salute civilly, but, as he was not in the mood for human
intercourse, he sang out and wished the man a good haul and then moved
on. Up, up the incline he went, the rugged cliff-front towering above
him, clothed with great grey patches. The path narrowed as it wound its
way up the side and at length ran into the cliff, through which a long
gallery had been hewn. But the solid blackness that faced him at its
mouth did not give him pause. He felt his way along, stumbling up the
rough incline, and turned down another gallery which intersected this
one at right angles, and which led to the face of the cliff where its
opening, high above the water, was barred by a tall iron rail. Here he
stood and looked out to sea.
The nocturne was beautiful in its largeness and silence. The
sublimity of the great spaces emphasised his own existence just then as
petty, crabbed, and sordid. The discords within him were so harsh that
he could not respond to the sweet mystery of the night, or to the music
that called from sea and sky, from the shadows and the spaces.
Again that bitter sense of his whole life became concentred in one
moment. And then, as the sound of the soft-flowing tide came up to him
again, it seemed to bring with it words that echoed strangely through
his being. And his being seized upon them and gripped them. The voice
of Mary Kettering seemed to be commanding him, as if her hostile spirit
were hovering near, and he could hear her vulgar laugh disgracing the
There's the water. Now drown yourself!
The consciousness of his personal unimportance to the world was
accentuated against the free vastness on which he gazed. The mission
that alone had had power to stir his blood, of being a voice to the
spell of which all men should yield, had been decreed against. His hope
of winning the right to live amid and breathe an atmosphere in harmony
with his being, an atmosphere in which his individuality, as he
conceived it, should ripen and expand and yield all the fragrance that
was in it, was utterly dead.
He could not detach his dead hope from his life; its rotting carcass
weighed it down and poisoned it. The love, too, that Margaret had
inspired in him but remained as an exquisite bitterness. And as for
those who loved him, better they should bear the blow at once than that
he should torture them constantly. Let them mourn for him now; let
them, in the years that were to come, sometimes feel his presence with
them and think of him as one who had had good in him, but whose life
had proved piteously futile. For them much pain now and an occasional
pang in the future; for him, the sweetness of unending rest, for was
there not sweetness in death?
He looked again out to sea, striving to pierce the darkness that
floated over the world like a spirit, and divining the far-off line
where the sky touched the water.
One last, glorious swim to reach it! And out there, in the
infinitudes, amid the silence and the loneness, with all the still
music of the universe lulling him to sleep, should his being gently
merge into the all-pervasive essence; there, in the large freedom of
the airs, under the full spread of Heaven's stars, and in the soft
embrace of the velvet waters, should he feel his blood beat to an end;
there, in the heart of those mysterious spaces, were fitting place for
a poet to die!
He turned to go back and descend to the shore below, but just then
he heard a strange whispering that reechoed through the passages. A
flash of light seemed to fly down the long gallery, driving the
darkness before it, and then a young man and a girl passed by, the
former holding a lighted match. He waited a moment, half-startled,
half-annoyed at their intrusion, then groped his way after them,
eventually stumbling out of the tunnel's mouth. And, as he descended
the incline again, he became aware of other couples standing about in
the shadows, within alcoves of the cliff, or seated on the grassy slope
just outside the wooden hand-rail. In his first abstraction he had
He could not begin his swim here with the consciousness of all these
human beings so near at hand. He wanted the complete sense of isolation
from his fellow-creatures, the feeling that he and the infinite were
alone face to face. An idea came to him. On the other side of the town
stretched some miles of shingle at the foot of the cliffs. Here he
would seek the aloneness he felt to be imperative.
He started to walk briskly the length of the town, and his way took
him through the harbour again. Here again he caught glimpses of
isolated couples, leaning against the stacks of wood or half-lost in
the shade of some black hull rising high alongside the footways.
His perception of externals seemed to have grown keener; his glance
seemed to pierce where the shadows were thickest.
And all these couples gave him just then a sense of the vast, futile
movement of life on the planet, of the infinite succession of human
generations, each appearing and blossoming and mating and dying. He
seemed in that moment to feel a hideous meaninglessness in this tidal
wave of life travelling through the ages.
He crossed the railway line and passed on to the broad shingle that
sloped to the water's edge. The air was almost still, the water was
smooth and gentle. He set his face westward and trudged along, seeking
the place where his foot should stand on the solid shore for the last
time. He calculated to go about a mile, so as to be free from any sense
of the proximity of the town; but he was somewhat dismayed to pass
another couple after he had gone about a hundred yards.
Couplescouples everywhere! Should he never escape from them? How
crude seemed all this love-making when one caught a glimpse of it from
the outside as a large, collective fact!
That, however, proved to be the last encounter, but as he tramped on
over the grey shingle, amid which shone the white sprinkling of chalky
pebbles, a sudden screech pierced the night and a train came rushing
along the track that ran alongside the beach, its engine vomiting a
lurid smoke that showed ghastly in the dark and that disappeared within
the tunnel under the cliff like a giant flame snuffed out. And soon he
had ceased to hear its roaring.
The incident seemed to him symbolic. His flame, too, was to be
snuffed out; but he had the thought, with a grim smile, that he wasn't
going to make so much noise about it.
Now and again he floundered into a puddle or rivulet that flowed
seaward across the expanse of shelving shore, but he felt his sense of
aloneness amid nature increase at each step gained. The pieces of
chalk, scattered on all hands, grew larger and larger, evidently fallen
from above and rounded by the wash of the waves. The patched whiteness
of the cliffs rose high on his right; a tiny, solitary light shone far
out at sea. Clouds were beginning to gather, and some of the stars were
hidden. The night grew darker; the stillness disturbed by his footsteps
alone and the low melody of the gently-breaking waters. The sea itself
stretched before him, a vast, soft shadow, but the eye had to look at
it determinedly to separate it from the sky. And now Shakespeare's
Cliff towered up, its side gashed and scarred as by a giant's axe. The
fallen masses lay heaped at its foot, grotesque yet solemn. Then there
were larger masses, piles of enormous boulders on his right, as if a
whole cliff had crashed to fragments; and a great expanse of them,
mossy and weed-covered, stretching on his left to the water's edge. He
was aware of them, too, ahead of him, extending in the gloom
indefinitely. And soon he had to pick out a tortuous way between the
mighty heaps on one hand and the far-spread belt of rock on the other.
On and on he passed, and stayed at length by a chalk rock, tall as
himself, wrought by the tides into the semblance of a head, a veritable
giant's head, with masses of long, intertangled weeds on its top and
sides, like the strange, wild unkempt locks of a sea-god; its front
showing blurred features like a carven face eaten away by the slow gnaw
of a thousand centuries.
If you had but a tongue, what secrets of the deep you could tell!
he could not help saying aloud.
And then, as he stood listening, his wish seemed to be answered. The
face before him seemed to glow with a light as of life in the mystic
gloom that wrapped it. And it spoke to him through the silence with a
voice that was as a golden bell sounding from the heart of the
universe. It spoke a language that his being comprehended; it sang to
him a song of peace and sweetness and wonders. And he knew that the
melody that beat through it was but a murmur of the great essence
calling to him; the essence that was fragrance, that was light, that
was music; the essence that sometimes showed through the grossness of
things and that he himself had striven to capture as it flashed here
and there for those in whom burned an intenser spark of itself than was
allotted to the generality of menfor the bard, the painter, the
seertowards whom it leapt as flame leaps to flame, yet who saw it but
as the seekers of visions see an elusive gleam flash and half die
within the blur of a magic crystal.
Here, then, was the spot!
He proceeded to disrobe himself, for he wished to feel the embrace
of the waters on his bare flesh. But he was not so absorbed in his self
and his purpose as to extrude all thoughts of those who were dear to
him. Nay, such thoughts, perhaps, were part of his very self. Eyes that
till now were dry became blinded with tears, so that the shaded,
floating night-world seemed to palpitate before him in a strange blur
that was like a despairing mood externalised. It were best so, he
reassured himself again; better that he should now plunge into the
sweet mystery, of which the little he knew was by a dim, exquisite
divination, better that he should live only as a sad memory than as an
Then, too, it occurred to him, it was right that his clothes should
be left on shore. He would put them out of the reach of the tide, and
the weight of a boulder should defy the wind. The letters of his father
and Helen would serve to identify the owner of the clothes; he would
not destroy them, since there was nothing in them save what the writers
might be proud of having written. They would then know the worst at
once, instead of having to endure the long-drawn, vain hope that is
worse than despair. Even if his body were not washed ashore there could
be no mistaking his fate.
He picked his way to the water's edge and strode in unhesitatingly.
The tide was just on the turn, and the touch of the light-swelling
waves was at first cold and gentle. But soon he was breasting them with
steady stroke, moving out to some indefinite point where should be the
full mystery of the night and the spaces, and whence the shore should
be swallowed up in the darkness. His sense of the world passed into a
large vagueness; the blood pulsed through his veins exquisitely; the
kiss of the water was warm and sweet. Steadily, steadily his hands
cleft it, the activity of his brain dwindling and dwindling and lapsing
at length into a mere self-abandonment to the sensuousness of the
motion. He was scarcely conscious of controlling his muscles; his arms
seemed to work of themselves in rhythmical sweep. Onward, onward! with
only a fused feeling of warmth and exhilaration and a drowsy sense of
The consciousness of time had passed away, and that of space was a
mere intensity of feeling. Once or twice he was dreamily aware of a
strange halo of light haunting his universe.
But at last the vibrating hoot of some great passing steamship drove
suddenly across the waters, a keen note that thrilled through him
startlingly, dispelling the delicious languor that possessed him. He
had a sense as of awakening from slumber, and then he knew that the
vague halo was a long beam, flying round at some distance from him,
that came from the light-house at the end of the great stone pier. His
mind leapt again to full activity, shaking off the medley of sensation
that had been flowing against his passive consciousness with such dull
His blood glowed with the full glory of the sea; he was conscious of
a clear sanity, for the brooding mists had vanished from his spirit.
And even as he heard and felt the throb of mighty engines that came to
him from afar, and considered what mastery over the deeps they
represented, the thought occurred to him that he, too, was master of
the boundless water, buoyant at his will. An exaltation sprang up in
him as he realised throughout all his fibre its sensuous vastness, its
And with this exultant sense of mastery, with this feeling of the
good red blood coursing through him, there seemed to have awakened in
him an invincible something that held him to existence with a grip that
could know no loosening, that made his whole being cohere with a
strength that not all the forces of dissolution could relax.
On and on he swam; on and on. What an ecstacy it was to live!
Once more a vision of his life passed before him as a single flash,
and this time it drew from him a scornful anger.
Fool! Should he who rode abreast the ocean in absolute mastery not
be master of his own existence? Fool! The universe before had sung to
him of life, not of death; its essence had called to him not to take
him into itself, but to remind him that within him was some of its own
glorious fire that might yet make his life glorious. That, too, had now
leapt up, had burnt away all the vapours and purged his spirit; that,
too, sang and joined in the universal chant. He recognised its clear
melody, inspiring him to place faith in it and to be true to himself.
Action must be the key to the redemption of his life; a flourishing,
masterful Will-To-Live the force behind it. He had made mistakes; it
was for him to convert them into a good, to make of them a solid
pedestal on which his manhood should stand firm.
Back to the shore again! Back to human beings and human love and
And just then an odd thought intruded on him, grotesque yet
touching; one of those incongruous memories that invade one's solemnest
moments. He had a vision of a labourer in soiled corduroys leaving him
half his dinner at the wayside inn that morning.
He turned on his back to rest awhile, but he found he could not
endure the changed position. For the reality of the world was lost to
him again, and he had a sense of floating alone in the immensity of
strange, dark places; the cloud-stained sky seeming to rest on his
face. The night, too, had grown darker, and the throb of the
steam-vessel came to him now more faintly. He was conscious of being
left behind. A momentary fear invaded him.
And in that moment he seemed to see the shapes of those who loved
him imploring him with streaming eyes, now beckoning him, now holding
their arms to him.
He set his face landwards and thrust all uncertainty from him. He
could just distinguish the softly-gleaming cliffs, but he felt strong
and pure and stout-hearted. Back! Back! Back to land, to work, to love!
A rougher tide rolling in helped him. He knew the spot whence he had
started; it was just beyond the point where the cliff rose to its
highest. The sense of distance annihilated gave him new strength, and
at last he stood again amid the fallen boulders and shook the water
from him. He sacrificed an undergarment as a towel, then dressed
himself quickly; and, suffused by the new, living spirit, he turned his
steps townward again.
But he could not go home to his lodgings and sleep. It was a small
confined bed-room he had taken, whereas he felt the need of breathing
deep of the full wind that had by now sprung up. He felt that the open
night brought inspiration, and he wished, too, to yield to all the
activity that urged within him. He passed again by the harbour, plunged
into the town and through the streets that ran up the hill-side to the
Action, action, action! He had come through the crisis with
miraculous strength, with inexhaustible energy. On, on, through the
grey night, exulting in the wind even as he had exulted in the sea!
Meanwhile his plans were coming to him.
He had often, in his bitter moments, envied the bricklayer and the
cobbler. Why should he not begin to learn a trade even now?
He was conscious of intelligence, of patience, of the desire to
labour. Why should not Kettering give him a chance in his workshop? The
old man had shown him real kindness and was evidently well-disposed
towards him. He felt sure he could enlist his sympathy, for, despite
the apparent limitation of his interests, Simon Kettering had impressed
him as having, in a general way, a keen understanding of things. The
vulgarity of life in that household was but a small consideration to
him now. His vow never to return to it had been made when he had taken
the old vision of things. His new and saner vision made him see that
vow was a mistake. Was he not strong enough to defy the corrosiveness
of a mean, vulgar atmosphere? Nay, his life, by its own inner force,
would flow impervious to such influence.
To labour, and by the work of his own hands to pay those whom Cleo
Not till he had done this would he feel true to himself; not till
then would he deem himself worthy of the love of those who were dear to
It were easy to fall back on his father's generosity, to live an
empty life of indolence; but that would not give him that respect of
self which alone could keep him attuned to the harmonies of being, and
thus bring him the longed-for peace of spirit. For his sense of life
was the sum of his inner moods, and no mere superficial remedy could
inform them with that pure flowingness that constitutes happiness.
To go though the discipline he had set himself, to labour hard and
achieve a fixed, worthy end by his own unaided efforts, no matter what
stretch of his life it consumed, were to vindicate himself, were to
vindicate his Will-To-Live!
He had arrived at a culminating point in existence. The
understanding of what his life had lacked had come to him at last, and
with it a recognition of that by which it was to be guided in future.
Life, to be true, must involve all the functions of the soulthought,
emotion and will; must be lived with a healthy fulness. He had not so
lived it. His error had lain in detachment, which had well-nigh brought
him to the verge of destruction. And now it was with him a time of
He desired to face that full actuality of things from which he had
always shrunk as from a terrifying chaos, wilfully shutting out from
his vision all but its superficial forms and tones. He wished to open
his spirit to the feeling and throb of the living world.
Discipline, self-discipline! On that basis alone could the human
soul develop and attain to Individuality and Freedom.
He seemed to recognise some Force working in him like a Redeemer; he
fancied he saw some strange Necessity in his life, working through all
its dark moments, its action eventually forcing upon him a true
estimation of existence, of his relation to things.
His being should assimilate from the living world all that should
serve to build it up; even as a plant wonderfully drew from the earth
just that which its fibre needed. But for that end he must move through
the living worldnot shun it. More and more of its essence would he
take into himself, more and more would he defy the mean, the ugly, the
evil; till at last he should be strong enough to walk unscathed even
through the fire.
That thought which had come to him a short time before about the
meaninglessness of life, and of the perpetual mating that carried it
on, now recurred to him again; but this time he had an accompanying
sense of its utter falsity. He had been wrong in his thought, he told
himself, because to view life in that large way from an apparently
outside point of view was in reality to lose all sight of the meaning
under quest. It was the point of view which was unsuitable, not the
meaning which was absent! The error was the same fatal one of
detachment. If man projected a critical mind, a mere isolated bit of
himself, to which adhered nothing of his essential nature, into a
boundless space and bade it look from thence on the march of humanity
and deliver judgment thereon, surely that judgment could not be a true
The true judgment of life was only to be made by the help of the
full humanness of the observer. Life had to be felt within; not viewed
from without from an imagined cosmic standpoint.
Not then in the long parade of history must the meaning of life be
sought, nor in its massed manifestations, the sum total resulting from
its activities; not amid the buried relics in geologic strata, not in
the large sweep of scientific law. But each human being might find it
for himself in his own limited span; for the individual life, lived
true with the fulness of the human spirit, was its own end, its own
meaning. And whosoever lived true to himself felt and knew the meaning
of life. Living and mating might be foreshortened to mere dry facts in
the great stretch of a cosmic outlook; by the emotion of the individual
they were touched to divinity.
Let him, then, since he wished to live true, not seek to escape from
himself, but to accept his own human outlook and be true to the fulness
of his being. Let him recognise the eternal principles of humanness
underlying man's varying attempts to express them in binding rules of
conduct, and let him take his place in man's worlda world, both of
facts and relations, selected by man's innate nature from the swirling,
chaotic continuity of which man was a partfacing the fulness of life
with the fulness of character.
He had climbed the long, ascending road. Above him sat the dark
castle on the top of a grey slope; and, looking downwards on his left,
he saw the town sleeping in its valley, its many points of light
gleaming through a palpitating mist. He could just discern the other
hill beyond as a tone that was lost in the dark sky, a faint luminous
spot showing here and there on the top.
He stayed a moment to admire the nocturne and was glad that he had
lived to see all this beauty. Yes, everything called to him for life,
not for death. He continued his wandering, heedless whither; and, when
at last he became conscious of fatigue, he had covered many miles and
had strayed through many by-paths. The first frenzy of restlessness had
worn itself out, and he sat for awhile on a barred gate, previous to
turning back to the town.
His only guide now was the general sense that he must keep the sea
on his left. He was but a few hundred feet from it. Once or twice he
divined the water, almost indistinguishable from cloud, when a great
indentation in the cliff made its edge sweep in towards him; and once a
ship's light flashed out of it for half a second. He swung along
steadily, and after a time found himself traversing a great, dusky
stretch of land. He had the feeling of crawling over it like an insect,
so vast was his sense of this flat earth; he seemed just a bit of it
moving on it and thinking about it, as if it had attained through him
to consciousness of itself!
He fell into a slow saunter, philosophic fancies coming to
interweave themselves with his thoughts; and, when he awoke again from
a long reverie, the road had grown narrow, rough and stony. He stumbled
along till at length he again made out the castle in the distance,
perched on its sombre eminence, just a flat silhouette against a
lighter greyish sky.
The road dipped between two slopes that cut off the view, and, when
he had passed them, the battlemented silhouette seemed to show deeper
and the sky lighter. The morn was approaching.
Imperceptibly the darkness thinned. A quiet feeling of holiness was
in the air. The stretch of common on either hand began to take on a
shade of brown, though the rare clumps of scattered bushes still showed
dark and solid. A fresh morning breeze came to him, scent-laden.
In some parts the clouds were lightening, melting, and as he came
again into full view of the sea, he saw its whole surface glistening
and of an indefinite colour. Sometimes it struck him as a sort of
steely grey, sometimes it flashed upon him as a vague, elusive green.
It was almost light now, and he could see the landscape distinct and
wonderfully sharp-cut. A minute later he was almost sure that the sea
was green, and, to his surprise, he became aware of luminous blue bars
among the clouds. There was a lovely piece of green, too, with orange
streaks in it. Then there came a full flood of mystic pink, and the
water was one laughing sparkle. He drew deep breaths of the air and
gloried in the dawn.
The pure, sweet dawn, to him symbolic of Resurrection and Life!
Though tired now, he still lingered, strolling at ease down to the
town again and lounging on the beach and in the harbour. When, in the
end, he arrived at the coffee-house where he had taken his lodging he
found it already open, and porters and sailors were taking their
He threw himself across his bed and slept soundly till mid-day.
END OF BOOK IV.
Morgan waited till half-past one before calling again at the
Ketterings, for by then, as he knew, the printer had about finished his
lunch, and usually had some few minutes to spare.
He did not ring at the side entrance, but walked through the shop,
where only a boy was in charge at this hour, and into the workshop at
the back. Here, to his satisfaction, he found Mr. Kettering himself
busy measuring up galleys with a long piece of string. The old man was
startled to see him, but said he was glad he had come, as he had been
anxious about him and had wanted to talk to him. Morgan noticed that he
seemed a little excited. His face, too, seemed a trifle more worn and
lined than usual behind his spectacles, and his beard had a scraggy
I'm afraid, sir, my daughters were very rude to you yesterday
morning, he continued, and I want you to accept my sincere apology
for their conduct. They are hard-working girls enough, but they haven't
much sense, and I'm afraid not much consideration for other folks'
feelings. I only hope you'll overlook it this time. However, there's
something else I must tell you at once. Selina has gone away.
Gone away! echoed Morgan.
Yes, said Mr. Kettering, sadly. Altogether we've had a nice
upset. Mother's ill in bed to-day. It was this way: Of course I spoke a
bit sharply to those scatter-brained girls, and they answered me back
in a way it makes my blood boil to think about. Women-folk are all a
bit crazy. That's the opinion I've been forced to, sir, and if I had my
days over again, I'd never so much as look at one of them. Then
Selinashe joined in and said it stifled her to live here. It was
worse than living in a mud-hovel. Then the mother said she'd better go
and live in a mud-hovel. And after that they all four fell a-screaming
and I couldn't do anything to stop them. As soon as I could get a word
in edgeways I begged them to be quiet, but Selina was excited and
disowned us all. She said she never believed she was our child; she
could never possibly have come from such filth as us, and then she lost
her head and cursed usI never heard the like in my life. My heart
bled for you, sir, for I said to myself: this can't be the first
exhibition she has made of herself since her marriage, especially as
things went wrong. However, business had to be attended to, which put
an end to the scene. But when I went up to dinner, Selina told me she
had packed up and was going away that afternoon, and that we needn't
expect ever to see her again. Of course I tried to talk her over, and
asked her not to be foolish, but to stop till she had her arrangements
properly made. Then she told me sharply not to mind about her
arrangements, and that she had no need of my charity. She pulled out
and showed me fifty pounds in bank-notes. They came the day before, she
said, and she had any number of thousands waiting for her. 'But what
about your husband?' I asked. 'My husband?' she snorted. 'I'll make you
a present of him if you like. There's another woman in love with him,
who's ready to give him as much money as he cares to take from her. And
he has any number of mistresses besides. So you don't expect I'm going
to trouble my head about him. Besides, he hasn't said six words to me
since we've been here. If he had cared about me he'd have shown it.'
And, sure enough, she went off by the afternoon train. 'Tell him he's
rid of me now, as soon as he gets over his fit of the sulks and comes
back,' was the last she said. Yes, women-folk are all crazy. You'll
excuse me repeating the remark, I know, sir; but you remember what I
told you when you came on Sunday. I don't mean any disrespect by it,
but I can't help thinking you were a fool to marry her.
And Kettering took up his cord again as if to continue his
Morgan's brain was for an instant full of a whirling mass of
thought. He could not hide from himself that he had not the slightest
sense of sorrow or regret. He knew perfectly well that Cleo esteemed
him no more than a dead twig, that, by his abstention from offering up
to her daily an incense and a sweet savour of gross flattery, he had
destroyed all possibility of her continuing to imagine he counted for
something in her life. And, of course, she was not the kind of woman to
stay in so sordid and narrow a household with a penniless man, who was
nothing to her beyond her husbandshe with her gorgeous demands upon
life! No doubt her departure had been already arranged with the person
who had sent her the money she had shown her father and she had been
glad to seize upon any pretext. However, he thought it right to assure
Mr. Kettering that Cleo's accusations against him were entirely false
and that, as regards his conduct towards her, no reproach could be made
You've no need to tell me that, said Mr. Kettering, I never for a
moment doubted you. You know, sir, he added, you're quite welcome to
make my home yours so long as it suits your convenience.
Morgan replied that, as Kettering was probably aware, he had no
money, but that he was anxious to earn some, however little. Could he
not do so by learning to set up type?
Kettering looked hard at him, and Morgan bore the gaze without
I can see you mean it, he said, so we won't waste time discussing
whether you're serious. Now, Mr. Druce, I don't know who you are, and
I'm not going to ask you any questions. I flatter myself I've got some
little skill in reading faces, and I knew from the first that you were
a gentleman, and one with his heart in the right place. Now don't think
I'm taking liberties, sir, but I should like you to think the matter
over again and see whether you would not do better to communicate with
your family and friends. I don't want to know how you came to have the
misfortune to marry my girl, but I feel that as a fellow-man I ought to
ask you to reconsider your position. Maybe your folk are fretting and
anxious about you. I'm only a plain man, but I think I can lay some
claim to common sense, and believe me I only venture to speak to you
like this because I respect you.
I do intend communicating with my people, said Morgan, touched by
the old man's sincerity and thoughtfulness, but I want to earn my
bread all the same. That is essential.
I understand, said Kettering. You want to feel yourself stand on
your own legs. Yes, that's a fine thing to feel. Well, as I said, I
like your face and I trust you. I hope you're not vexed at what I
ventured to say.
On the contrary, said Morgan, I am sincerely grateful to you for
having said it.
Kettering's face beamed, and its benevolent quality grew more
A boy apprentice is supposed to take seven years learning the
trade, sir, but we needn't get discouraged about that. A man anxious to
learn, with his wits about him
I am anxious, and I have my wits about me, put in Morgan.
Well, after three months he could make himself deuced handy.
Kettering's mild oath was simply intended by way of encouragement.
You see, he went on, once you'd learnt the lay of the case, you'd
soon get your hand in for straightforward setting, and then if you
didn't mind exercising your muscles, you could do a bit of pulling at
press. And a man of your education, sir, might turn his knowledge to
account in proof-reading. Not that there's much scope for that sort of
thing, sir, in my little business. But it's just an idea we might keep
in mind. There's no knowing what might come of it. Now I'm not going to
omit the business part, sir. I know you must be wanting to hear about
that, and I know you'd prefer to make a bargain on a strict business
basis. Perhaps you care to make a suggestion.
I am too ignorant for that. I want you to give me just what I am
worth and no more. Of course, I know that I shall not be worth anything
for some time.
In a few minutes they had arranged everything in such a way that
there should be no obligation on either side. Morgan was to live in the
house. A wage was to be put to his credit from the beginning for all
work done by him that was of use, at the regular piece rates, and
such work as pulling at press and clearing, which could only be
estimated by time, was to be entered at time rates. Of course his
earnings at first would be very small, but they would increase from
week to week. On the other hand, an agreed weekly value was put on his
board and lodging, which from the first would be charged against his
earnings. And when eventually the wages due to him had overtaken the
amount thus due by him, he should get the weekly balance in cash, or he
might then, if he preferred, board and lodge where it pleased him.
Morgan was touched by old Kettering's sympathetic comprehension of
his needs, but when he sought to give expression to his thanks, the old
man would not listen.
Mark entered just then, and, the situation having been made clear to
him in a few words, readily agreed to have Morgan by his side in the
workshop, and to make of him a sort of protégé.
The whole interview had consumed barely half an hour, and Morgan
went out just as the journeymen were returning for their afternoon's
work. He had arranged to begin in the morning, since they had a heavy
job to get finished that afternoon, and could not spare a moment to
initiate him. Mark, however, said he would teach him the lay of the
case that evening from a diagram. Kettering, before he left, said he
would make it his business to give the girls to understand that they
must treat him with respect, but begged him to ignore them in case they
should misbehave, winding up with his oft-expressed conviction that all
women-folk were crazy, and it was a mistake to take them seriously.
However, Morgan troubled himself little about the girls; they had no
terrors for him now. An exquisite peace came upon him. It was many
years since he had had the feeling.
He was not sorry to have the afternoon free, for it gave him the
opportunity of writing long letters to Helen and to his father. He felt
he owed it to both to make them understand his changed attitude.
One real critical moment in a life, he went on to write to Helen,
after narrating all that had occurred up to that very moment, suffices
to work changes that may seem almost miraculous. I am not going to say
that the prophecy you made just to encourage me a little is going to be
fulfilled. Happiness is not for meI have lost the essential factors
of that. But a cheerful acceptance of life, a full use of each day, a
consciousness of submission to a healthy self-discipline, must bring me
a healthy sense of worthiness.
Of course you will see that my making the payment of Cleo's debts a
sort of goal will enable me to test my strength. Once I arrive at the
goal, I shall be able to hold my head high. I have done the one and
only thing, and it was good for me that the means were so near at hand.
And so I hope to have your approval both of my determination and of my
returning you this bank-note. I have still eighteen-pence in my pocket,
and Mr. Kettering says I can draw a few shillings whenever I feel in
need of them.
I dare say my donning an apron and holding a composing-stick must
at moments seem quite comic to you. Viewed by itself, it no doubt is
comic. But it isn't a fact to be looked at by itself. It is a fact
which has a relation to my whole existencein the past, present, and
futureand must be strictly viewed in such relation.
I don't know why I should mention this except that I caught a
sudden glimpse of myself as a workman and found myself smiling. Every
life must have its critical moments, and I feel that I have just passed
through mine. I have come out with different conceptions of things;
moreover, I seem to have found the key to the scheme of my existence,
and, though as yet only in a haunting way, to understand the underlying
principle, working through all my dreamings, my failures, my mistakes,
and my folly, towards my redemption.
In the letter to his father he necessarily had to condense a good
deal, as the ground to be covered was so extensive. And some instinct
urged him to be silent about his attempt at suicide. He told briefly of
his marriage, which he described as a sort of a jump with his eyes open
he had suddenly been impelled to take. He had fallen on a place
astonishingly different from what it had appeared to him, for he had
been the victim of a mirage, through which the force of his impulse had
taken him into underlying abysses. He went on to describe Cleo's
failure and his own awakening; how they had gone to Dover, how Cleo had
left him, and why he was remaining there now. He likewise included a
message for the Medhursts, but asked his father not to tell them his
whereabouts. It would be sufficient if they were assured all was well
with him. It was an odd fancy, but he wanted to have the feeling that
he was hiding from them.
He had been too touched by his father's letter not to be frank and
sincere, as indeed he would have been in any case, and he only omitted
to say how close he had been to his end because he shrank from giving
There is one thing in particular I want to ask you, he concluded,
and that is not to be tempted to come here to see me. If you really do
sympathise with my motives for the life I have chosen, you will
understand my fear that a meeting between us now might unnerve me. I
know it is a great thing to ask you to be satisfied with the knowledge
that I am well and cheerful, and that, my wife having left me of her
own accord, I have nothing to reproach myself with in my conduct to her
from beginning to end. But I want to begin my new work and submit
myself to the new discipline. So much for me depends upon it that,
though I am strong and confident, I must not run the risk of being
distracted from my purpose by forces that are stronger than I. Where
the issue is so greatas it is, according to my conception of
thingsit is but natural I should distrust myself a little. The year
is just half gone. Give me the opportunity of testing myself and of
inuring myself to the discipline with no other encouragement save the
knowledge of the worthiness of my purpose and the goodwill and approval
of whoever understands me. I want to stand alone for the
presentisolation brings out every atom of strength in me. Then,
perhaps, when the new year comes and I shall have had the strength to
stand firm, I may be able to look you in the face.
Helen, in her reply, would not agree with him that he had lost the
essential factors of happiness. She still stood by her prophecy. She
understood and entered into his every feeling, and approved of his
plans unreservedly. The ten pounds she had given to a starving man.
I wanted to celebrate your choice between life and death, and
the dawn of your new era, by making a human being happy, if
for a little while. You should have seen his face when he
understood all that lump of money was really his. What
must have stirred in him! He must have thought that the age of
miracles had come again. It gave me the sensation of drinking
some ethereal brand of champagneit was to your happiness, of
course, I drank.
I was aware, from the beginning, that you were beset with
dangers from your own temperament and disposition. But
after all, it is best that your temperament should have worked
itself out its own way. You will emerge the better and the
stronger for it in the end, and then, when you do come into
happiness, you will be able to appreciate it with your whole
being. But I must own to a sense of guiltI might have been a
truer friend to you had it not been for my selfish love for
You have yet to forgive me for that.
It rather vexes me that I cannot do more than just look on and
see events shape themselves inevitably, like a spring
I should so much have loved to be the good fairy of your life.
But, alas! that cannot be, since its very inner force is its
P. S. I have managed to write you a whole letter without one
flippant phrase. Which is certainly a proof that your
to me not to look upon you, in apron and shirt-sleeves,
up type, as a comic picture has made a due impression on me. I
seeing you the whole time as a sort of glorified, idealised
workman, enveloped in a mystic halo, and standing for the
of labor and the nobility of man. By the way, I have met Miss
Medhurst. I had quite a thrill as we shook hands! And she had
the slightest idea I was of any special interest, more than
other casual person she might meet. Strange dramatic position,
was it not? Of course, I never want her to know about me.
reminds me, I am rather alarmed lest your mood of confession
should have led you to make me known to your sireI hope not.
And please don't. May I come to Dover for a day now and again
order to see you for ten minutes each time? I have decided to
Scotland and pass August at Folkestone instead, just lounging
the beach and reading novels. Please say 'yes.'
P. P. S. I don't like the idea of my rôle being limited to
writing you amusing letters. Won't you allot me a more active
satisfying part? Would it not be a good idea for you to
me your 'London agent?' Suppose you give me the list of your
creditors and remit me your money as soon as you have a decent
instalment put by. You could leave the distribution to me. The
workmen should be paid first, of course. I shall arrange to
ferret them out, which, I think, will not be difficult, as
of them are, no doubt, attached to the theatre. It would make
so happy if you said 'yes.' After all, one's life, when once
conditions are settled, and its allotted tasks performed,
reduces itself to inter-relations with a few chosen
and everything else becomes a mere background against which
lives. It is the few who occupy one's central consciousness
make one happy or miserable. You will see, therefore, how
important to me this apparently little thing will be.
His father's reply was brief and to the point. He thanked his dear
son for listening to his prayer, and was happy to hear that everything
was now well. As to the irreparable mistake, that, of course, must be
faced and lived down. He would respect Morgan's wishes and not seek to
see him for the present. Directly he had received Morgan's letter he
had sent a long telegram to the Medhursts, which he was now
supplementing by a letter. They had telegraphed back, asking him to
convey to Morgan their love and hoping they might hear about him from
time to time. You have made me understand a good deal to which I have
been blind, he went on. You were never an ordinary lad; you had
special needs, as has every lad of any individuality. I should have
sought to comprehend them, instead of trying to drive you along the
ordinary lines. No wonder there was a discorda jarring and a
clashing. God speed you, my dear son, and with all my heart do I wish
you success in doing that which you feel to be right. For the present,
When Morgan wrote again to Helen he prayed her not to come just yet.
His mood was desperately set on isolation, till he could feel he had
tackled the task before him and made substantial progress. He hoped she
would not alter her plans, as she had meditated, but he gladly accepted
her services as London agent. There was little chance, though, of his
being able to send her the first remittance for several months, by
which time she would probably be back in town.
Meanwhile Morgan had settled down at case and was patiently
learning to pick up the stamps. He was initiated into the mysteries
of ems and ens, of leading and spacing and making-up. Racks and galleys
and wooden and metal furniture played a large part in his dreams;
turpentine, paraffin and machine-oil, roller composition and inks
became the breath of his nostrils. By an effort of concentration he
would never before have been capable of, he made rapid advance,
Kettering generously letting him do such work as he could do most
effectively, so that his wages' account mounted week by week. The close
attention his work demanded made mind-wandering and aimless thinking
impossible; but as time went by and he found himself acquiring skill,
his enthusiasm grew, and he threw himself into his new occupation
almost with frenzy, taking a sort of savage satisfaction in the grey
grime of the workshop with its soiled wooden fittings, and in the
silent companionship of his aproned co-workers.
He filled up his time at every department of the trade,
learningbesides type-setting and proof-correctingto take the
gas-engine to pieces and to clean it, to help to make ready formes on
the machine, to mix inks, to clean rollers and to work at press, either
as inker or puller. But the grime had no power to enter into his
spirit, though some slight suggestion of his occupation began
eventually to show itself in his face. His hands, too, suffered
severely, for soft white hands get quickly ill-used in a printer's
Still smarting under a long lecture from their father, Alice and
Mary had at first taken care to confine conversation with him to trade
exigencies; but after a few days they had grown to accept him as part
of the household, and were civil to him again. Mrs. Kettering liked to
get him to herself of an evening and talk to him for two hours at a
time. Kettering himself would fidget a good deal at such times, but
scarcely ventured to intrude, though apparently his greatest delight
was also to converse with Morgan. But Mrs. Kettering showed no such
scruples about entering into the conversation and eventually taking
Morgan captive, being entirely without respect for the fact that her
husband was in legal possession. In either case Morgan's contribution
to the conversation rarely exceeded one-fourth of the whole.
Mark continued taciturn as ever, though his enormous mustachios
seemed to grow constantly, as if benefitting by the energy that should
have gone into speech. Sometimes he would accompany Morgan on a long
walk, and on such occasions Morgan would try to discover the secret of
his personality. He learnt after some difficulty that Mark regarded
women pretty well as so many demons put on this earth to entrap men's
souls. He however had to confess he hadn't formed this opinion from
outside experience, but then, he added, he had taken good care to steer
free of the sex. He was satisfied to do his work and smoke his pipea
veritable pipe of peace.
This philosophy, however, only represented one-half of him, though
its few simple facts had had to be elicited in little bits, buried in
irrelevances, and as there were apparently numbers of such little bits,
the process of extrication had been a somewhat painful one. Nor did the
other half come as a single revelation. It was also conveyed in little
bits, which Morgan had to dig out and piece together and these bits
were more difficult to find than the others, for they were infinitely
tinier. Mark had once been in love, but had been too shy to let the
object of it suspect it, or, rather, he had not known which way to set
to work, and the prize had been snapped up by another.
Of course, Morgan's thought sometimes indulged in flights that had
little relation to the workshop or to the processes of printing, but
only within strict and narrow limits. These he further narrowed by
giving up a great part of his leisure to the perusal of such technical
books as Kettering possessed. Cleo still figured largely for him. She
had been too big and important a fact in his life to lose her place as
yet in the centre of his consciousness. But even had he the power, he
would not have attempted to gather any intelligence as to her
movements, though he could not help speculating somewhat on the very
point. Should she ever return into his life againand he could not
make up his mind as to the probability of her doing sothen would be
time enough for him to concern himself with her practically.
And amid all his toil, he had ever a sense of something light and
dainty, something he was aware of as a haunting, unseen presence. And
then at moments there gleamed upon him the wistful fancy that, beneath
all the phrases and arguments with which he had equipped himself for
the battle, it was really his love for Margaret was helping him to be
strong, that it was the hope of his one day attaining to be worthy of
her friendship was aiding his self-purification, that it was the flame
she had lit in him had now sprung up again, defying all the mean
elements by which he was surrounded to eat into his spirit.
And once the fancy had come to him, he nurtured it, so that it grew
and grew and became part of his very self. If, indeed, it had not been
truth when it had first come to him, it was truth now.
Strolling out one evening, about the end of August, to cool after
the heated atmosphere of the workshop, Morgan was dreaming a beautiful
vain dream. He had gone half way down the shorter St. Margaret's road,
and in the distance rose the square church-tower. For the last two or
three minutes he had been conscious of people a few yards ahead of him,
and, as their slow stroll was yet slower than his, he had been getting
nearer and nearer to them. Now his eye rested half vacantly on their
backs, and the perception forced itself upon him that the three backs
were those of ladies; and the next thing that dawned upon him was that
there was something familiar as well as pleasing about the carriage,
the curves, and the movements of those backs, still some twenty paces
ahead of him. But he was still dreaming of Margaret, and these
perceptions from the outer world were not strong enough to destroy the
images in possession of his mind. He was quite close on them before he
became aware that he had stumbled on Mrs. Medhurst, Margaret, and
Though conscious of them, he had, in his abstraction, almost walked
on them in the narrow road, making them turn instinctively. He knew he
was trembling visibly as he stood face to face with Margaret, her
figure flashing on him for a moment like a divine vision; then he saw
nothing and felt a fire burning at his temples.
Morgan, said Mrs. Medhurst's sweet voice, and the cloud of things
passed away, and he became aware her arm was supporting him.
So we know your hiding-place now, sang out Diana. Why wouldn't
you let my old sweetheart tell me? I'm sure I'd have got it out of him
all the same had he been in London.
Morgan doesn't even offer to shake hands with us, said Margaret in
Now that the encounter had been made, he pulled himself together to
face it. He felt shame-faced and altogether unstrung, and he knew that
the instinct that had made him insist on isolation had been fully
justified. He was over-conscious, too, of the stains on his hands as he
held it out. And yet beneath all his discomfort there was a full tide
of immeasurable happiness. He could not speak yet. His throat
swelledthe emotion was too overpowering. Here again was Margaret, the
real Margaret, by his side, talking to him!
His eyes took her in greedily. Under the large straw hat, with its
poppies and corn, her face showed exquisite, a face that might float
tantalisingly across a painter's vision, and vanish after but allowing
him the merest glimpse. Though she was clad in a simple dark blue serge
dress, the grace of her figure seemed to him a revelation, and a
ravishing sprig of cornflower peeped from her waistband. There was a
repose, too, and a gentleness in her bearing that made him think, by
contrast, of his Cleo, and of the uncouthness of Alice and Mary when
they attempted to be stately.
Perhaps the very thought seemed to call out to him in warning, for,
suppressing a sigh, he tore his eyes away from her.
Why couldn't you let us know? persisted Diana, who had been
evidently much put out by the failure of her artful letters to seduce
Archibald into giving away the secret of Morgan's whereabouts.
Mrs. Medhurst and Margaret both looked at Morgan and smiled, as if
to convey to him that they understood his motives, and to
indicate that Diana was not in the secret. Diana's quick eyes, however,
noted the movement, though she said nothing just then.
I had reasons, said Morgan, vaguely, feeling he must make some
sort of an answer to so definite a question.
We are staying at St. Margaret's, explained Mrs. Medhurst, and we
have been taking a stroll along the cliff-path. It began to get too
dangerous, so we climbed a fence and cut across somebody's ploughed
field, and then through a common, till at last we got on to this road.
And now we're wending our steps homeward. You, Morgan, I suppose, are
wandering after the labours of the day?
He felt they were talking to him in as simple and natural a manner
as if they had but parted the day before, under normal circumstances;
and he was grateful for this delicacy that abstained from embarrassing
him and made the meeting an easy one for him.
The beauty of the evening tempted me, he said, growing more at his
And shall not our beauty tempt you as well, suggested Mrs.
Medhurst laughingly, to come and see our humble cottage. It is a
quaint place. Mr. Medhurst bought it and we furnished it ourselves.
Do come, Morgan, put in Margaret persuasively, as if some instinct
told her he was going to hesitate.
He knew that battling against the temptation would be hopeless. He
seemed to be walking with angels in the last flood of the evening
sunlight, and something of the divine calm of evening came over his
spirit. He was borne along, gently, gently, till all the sense of the
day's toil behind him fell away. The cool air breathed on him, and
fluttered the blades of grass on the common, and shook the purple
wild-flowers that grew along the wayside. It was laden with the odour
of the sheaves that were spread over the fields amid the brown stubble,
and seemed to waft to him something of the elemental poetry of the
great mother Earth, of the informing spirit of religions of antiquity,
of the human joy in the harvest festival, of the symbolic cornucopia,
of the grateful offerings of first-fruits.
With a rare understanding of his emotions, they referred no more to
him or his work, but plunged at once into their holiday adventures, so
that he also was carried away from himself. Diana was learning to swim,
and was as full of the subject as she had once or twice, according to
her own account, been of sea-water. Margaret's enthusiasms were all for
boating, and she took the others out whenever the sea was smooth enough
to soothe her mother's fears. The cottage, too, was such fun that they
never grew tired of it. And then there was a field near at hand where
they had a tennis-court marked out, and where Diana and Margaret kept
the ball going between them.
It did not take them long to reach St. Margaret's, and they entered
their cottage just as the sun was on the point of sinking. Morgan, now
abandoned to his adventure, was delighted with the curiously-built
place, with its tiny hall, on one side of which was the little
drawing-room, and on the other the dining-room. The walls were boarded
and the ceilings were low, rough and whitewashed. Sketches and prints
were hung in profusion, nooks were draped, and wicker and quaint chairs
and knick-knacks were arranged in a charming disorder, whilst books
were scattered everywhere. A piano loomed huge in the crowded little
drawing-room. And all this had been achieved, whispered Mrs. Medhurst
confidentially in his ear, by the outlay of an incredibly few pounds.
Morgan had an enchanted couple of hours, handling the books,
listening to Margaret's playing, and admiring Diana's skill with the
mandoline, which her many-sided caprice had taken up of late. He joined
them in their evening meal for, according to their rural regime, they
dined at two and supped about nine. The dining-room opened direct into
a third inner room, which mysterious place Morgan judged to be a
kitchen; for the cottage was built long and low.
When eventually he rose to go, they bade him good-night with the
same implication of normality. It almost seemed they were taking it for
granted he would come again on the morrow. But he knew their omission
to give him a definite invitation was dictated by their feeling for
him; that they did not wish to seem to intrude on the life he had
chosen, but were leaving it to him to decide.
He strode off through the gathering darkness on the hour's walk that
would take him back to Dover. The colour had not quite died out of the
west, and, as he watched the violets and the cold blues and the pearl
greys fading with the strange, lingering light on the distant horizon,
his feeling of the evening just passed brought back to him the echo of
some lines in the poem, from which Helen had once quoted to him:
It lies in heaven, across the flood
Of ether, as a bridge.
Beneath, the tides of day and night
With flame and darkness ridge
He had the sensation of being in the middle spaces now, floating
down towards earth again from some rare ethereal region, to which his
spirit had mounted.
Perhaps, too, of Margaret might it be true, as of the Blessed
... she cast her arms along
The golden barriers,
And laid her face between her hands
He recalled now what his father had written in his first letter
about her shutting herself up in her studio and her pretence of being
at work on a mass of wax. The hint of her suffering had been almost
intolerable to him then; and he knew that, in spite of all her gaiety
to-night, the wound had not healed. He pictured the four of them
sitting in the shaded lamp-light of the little drawing-room, and, as
the echo of the music she had played surged again in his ears, he
seemed to feel behind it a strange, ineffable sadness, as one might be
conscious of the dark depths of a moon-lit stream. Her every movement
rose before him again, giving him the sense of pain suppressed for his
He had abandoned himself to the charm of the eveningit had been so
wonderful to him! But now his vision seemed to have grown keener, to be
piercing deeper. His memory of each moment was marvellously clear. How
vivid still was the picture of Mrs. Medhurst bending down into the
light, when he had noticed how the gold was fading out of the still
beautiful hair. In the haunting memory of her sweet face he seemed to
see now an under-expression of anxious pity and love.
Perhaps now that the pressure was relaxed, Margaret had stolen up to
her room and was sobbing passionately to a silent world.
They seemed to beat through him, these sobs! And then Mrs.
Medhurst's face again seemed to be with him, and the knowledge that his
father had loved her in the olden days seemed to bring her closer to
his heart. He stood still and threw out his arms in the darkness, with
the vain yearning fancy that perhaps she might be there, that perhaps
she might take him to her.
Morgan, sang out a voice by his side.
His arms dropped and his heart beat painfully, and, though in a
moment he had perceived it was Diana had overtaken him in the gloom, he
could not recover himself.
Why, you're crying! she exclaimed, as her hand stole into his.
And so is she. That makes a pair of you. I'm sure I don't know what
it's all about, but it's enough to vex a saint. Something mysterious
has happened and nobody will tell me a word about it. And I dare not
ask Margaret. I tried it once, and it just started her off cryingI
thought she'd never stop!
He did not answer her. He but held her little hand tighter, aware
that the contact made his own seem coarser. They moved on together.
Suddenly he checked himself. You must not come any further, he
began. I must see you back.
Tell me first what has happened, she persisted; Why have you
become a workman?
I cannot and must not tell you. Besides, you could never
I understand a good deal more than you grown-up people think I do.
Why can't you leave off being a workman? And why don't you come and
marry Margaret? She's awfully in love with you, and so are you with
heryou know you are!
Yes Diana, I know I am, fell from his lips, and immediately he
regretted the words.
Then come back now and tell her, said Diana, tugging at him as if
to make him turn.
But look at my hands, he said, half in jest, half in earnest. See
how rough and stained they are! I shall always be a workman, and I
shall always be very poor.
Margaret doesn't care anything about that, she protested. She's
not that sort of girl. Do come back, please, Morgan. Mamma's reading
downstairs. I'll steal up to Marjy and tell her you're waiting for her.
If you stand under the window, I'm sure you'll hear her crying. Come
along, Morgan, you can take ever such a nice walk together, and
And,he echoed stupidly.
Oh, I was going to say I'll be glad to get the pair of you off my
I'm afraid that pleasure will have to be postponed indefinitely,
he observed. And now, Diana, he added, as sternly as he could, you
must be going back home without methat is, I'll see you safe to where
the houses begin.
Morgan, you're a brute! she answered with equal sternness. But I
mean to get to the bottom of this mystery all the same. I'll make a bet
with you. How long do you give me to find out?
Ten years, said Morgan. He had now turned back with her.
Ten years! she echoed mockingly. Why there'll be any number of
olive-branches by then. Yours, of course, I mean.
Diana! You are a very wicked girl.
Well, I'm fourteen. That's quite old enough to be wicked, isn't it?
Good-night, Morgan. And she suddenly sped ahead, and before he could
recover from his astonishment she had become a shadow amid the
He strode after her, though he had not the least anxiety for her, as
they were not yet a mile distant from the cottage. From the speed with
which she kept ahead of him, it was clear she was determined to elude
him; seeing which he contented himself with keeping within range of
When, eventually, he turned towards Dover again, it was with a
feeling of half-sorrow that he should have happened to take that walk.
Strong and firm as he was, he was not strong enough to endure such
ordeals. He had winced most whilst Diana had been speaking to him. And
then the figure of Cleo came up again. Cleo, to whom he was married!
In the depression that now came upon him, a friendship with
Margaret, even years hence, seemed an impossibility to him. She might
remain with him as an ideal figure, but the real living Margaret was
too dazzling for him to look upon.
Morgan did not venture again to take any walks to the east of the
town, though he dwelt with pain on the possibility of the Medhursts
hoping to fall in with him again. He could only trust that they would
understand, though from their point of view there might perhaps seem no
reason why he should avoid them so utterly. Had not the last encounter
been a success, they might argue, and had he not been perfectly
cheerful and, to all appearance, happy in their company?
Once or twice he thought of writing to Mrs. Medhurst, but he could
not get down a word, and the pen dropped from his hand.
He felt the effects for several days, a vision of that lamp-lit room
continuing to obtrude between him and his work, and the stream of music
still flowing from Margaret's fingers. His proofs were dirty and needed
much correction; and he even found himself setting up his thoughts in
type, instead of following his copy.
However, he toiled on, almost with desperation, and Mr. Kettering's
respect for him and his abilities advanced greatly. He and Mark had
never ceased to call him sir; and Morgan, on his part, could never
cease wondering how such sterling character could exist side by side in
the same family with the general instability that characterised the
women. As for Alice and Mary, he had been so long now in the house that
an occasional quarrel with them signified nothing; in fact, that was
part of the routine of the life.
About the end of the year he got his first chance in life. Mr.
Kettering had been very proud, indeed, of employing him, especially as
he had proved so apt a learner, and the experiment had entirely been
crowned with success. The old man had enlarged on Morgan's superior
culture to the traveller of a great London paper firmhimself a man of
some educationwho had for many years been going abroad regularly on
the business of his firm, and who as regularly looked in for
Kettering's order. This Mr. Brett thus came to make Morgan's
acquaintance, discovered he knew Greek and Latin, and divined some
mystery was at the back of Morgan's present position.
The direct result of this acquaintance was that, on the first day of
the next year, Morgan found himself installed as reader in a large
firm of printers in Upper Thames street, London, in which a brother of
Mr. Brett was the junior partner. He had thoroughly mastered the
business of proof-reading under Kettering's tuition, and his Greek and
Latin and general culture had done the rest for him, for there was now
scope for all of it in his new position. His salary at starting was two
pounds fifteen shillings per week, the same as that of his predecessor,
who had left the firm voluntarily.
But even before leaving Dover he had had the satisfaction of being
able to send Helen a few pounds to pay some of the workmen, and she had
been able to make a satisfactory report to him. While she had been in
Scotland a couple of letters had passed between them which sufficed for
all they had to say to each other; and to his father as well he had
reported progress from time to time. Simon and Mark Kettering both
exhibited signs of emotion when the moment for parting came, and,
though they were sorry to lose him, rejoiced with him at his promotion.
And I can only hope, were Simon's last words, that my daughter
will never turn up to worry you, and that, even if you forget her,
you'll sometimes think of us folk here at Dover. And, be sure, if you
ever find yourself in the town again, there's a hearty welcome waiting
for you at my house.
In London, Morgan took a large, airy garret in Southwark, to get
from which to his work he had only to cross the bridge, and fitted it
with a narrow folding-bed and the few things he needed. He made his own
breakfast, had his dinner sent into the works at one o'clock from a
neighboring coffee-shop, had tea made for him by one of the girl
folders, and supped at home on bread and cheese. In this way he managed
to live and to dress neatlypatronising a very different sort of
tailor from his old London oneon a pound a week. Every penny of the
rest he put by rigorously.
About this time he learnt that his father could not come to town
yet, as the winter was a severe one, and he had had a touch of
rheumatism. As Morgan had come to look forward to seeing him now, this
was a disappointment. Moreover, he had grown to take a keener interest
now in the affairs of the home. At one time it had occupied little part
of his thoughts, but now a finer sensibility to his domestic ties
seemed to have arisen in him. He was very much concerned about this
illness of his father's, the full extent of which, he had an idea, had
been concealed from him. Helen, too, he saw but once during his first
month in London, on which occasion he donned his best garments and went
to take tea with her. Though their friendship had been so long passive,
it was not less intense than heretofore. By some mutual instinct they
seemed to avoid discussing his personal concerns now, Helen receiving
him just as an old friend and as if there had been nothing in their
lives to make a special link between them. She seemed to have grown
somewhat graver in expression, and he was not sure that he did not like
her face better like that. She amused and cheered him, and, once they
had come together again, she insisted there was no reason now why he
should not come oftener. And so, on a rare Saturday afternoon, when he
was free, he would come in for an hour and listen to her pleasant
chatting. Only when he brought her money would she permit herself any
reference to his progress in life.
Of Cleo he heard nothing. She had not made another appearance on the
boards, or, if she had, it had been in some obscure way. She intruded
into his thoughts often enough, and was still a reality to him when he
specially dwelt on her. But he was quite startled one day at suddenly
realising the rapidity with which she was becoming a far-off shadow.
There were moments now when he could almost believe that the whole
episode of his marriage had been the veriest product of his fancy.
Frequently in the evenings and on rest days he would employ his
leisure wandering amid the regions in which his lot was now cast. For
the first time now he felt the mammoth city as a reality; for the first
time he seemed to comprehend itwhat it was and what it represented.
In the days when he had trodden these same pavements with Helen its
aspect had been merely panoramic. Now he himself was of it, a living
and breathing unit of the multitude of toilers that peopled these vast
industrial quarters. His vision pierced the swarming surface, the great
grimy thoroughfares with their tramlines, their miles of sordid shops,
their windowed expanse of brick, dingy and far-stretching, their
serried lines of narrow houses.
And then he would feel that a great sense of the spirit of human
life was passing into his blood. Leaping flashes of light came to him
at times, as he sat in his garret with the fused murmur of the world
surging in his ears, illumining for him abysses that had appeared to
him once dark and bottomless.
It was early in March before Archibald Druce was well enough to come
to town. Morgan's working day ended at seven o'clock, and at that hour
Archibald called at the printing establishment, and the two went off
Morgan was excited, and he could see his father was. Neither had any
news, since, in their exchange of letters, everything had already
been told. Still, they talked a little about the home, and then there
were further details of Archibald's illness. Both perhaps felt the
meeting was a trifle cold, but they knew the constraint would melt away
I haven't yet thought how we're going to spend the evening, said
the old man. We must dine together somewhere. After that we might
perhaps look in at a theatre; it won't matter if we are late.
Morgan, who had no alternative suggestion to offer, readily fell in
with this one, remarking that the dinner for him would be a rather
magnificent kind of supper.
They eventually settled on a restaurant and ordered their repast.
Then, somehow, as they sat facing each other, their tongue-strings
seemed to get loosened.
It was a long time since they had last met, and Archibald, who had
been full of his book then, now confessed he had put it aside for the
present. For several months past his mind had not been in sufficiently
fresh condition to enable him to work on it. Morgan remembered now how
he had suggested a title for it half in scorn, and even such small
remembrance was painful to him. He felt he had had something very like
contempt for his father's literary scheme, forgetting, in the
self-castigation of the moment, that at the time it had merely struck
him humourously, and that his sin had not been quite so heinous as it
now appeared to him. If the element of humour now coloured his vision
of things but very slightly, that was only natural to his present stage
They lingered over their coffee, not rising till about half-past
Suppose you just come and sit with me in my room, father, said
Morgan. If we have to decide on a theatre now, I am afraid we shall be
quarrelling the rest of the evening. Besides, I do not want to acquire
the habits of a young man about town. We can have a quiet talk for the
rest of the evening.
Yes, I should like to see your place, said his father. It will
enable me to judge of your powers of graphic description.
He was beginning to be more cheerful already and to show it. He took
Morgan's arm affectionately, and they went back to Upper Thames street
and crossed Southwark Bridge.
I hope the woman hasn't forgotten to lay the fire, said Morgan, as
he turned the key.
A moment later he had lighted the cheap lamp and the room stood
revealed in all its bareness. A small table, three wooden chairs, the
little bed, a trunk in the corner, and a washstand, were insufficient
to make it look furnished, garret as it was.
I recognise the place, said Archibald, depositing his things on
the trunk. It's quite large and airy. You are lucky to have only the
front walls sloping. But the window gives you a back view, so perhaps I
ought to have said 'back walls.'
Morgan lighted the fire, and the two sat down before it.
What have you in that cupboard just by you? asked Archibald. I
feel inquisitive. I must get up and poke about.... Coals and crockery,
he enumerated with slow unction, a saucepan, a coffee-pot, a tea-pot,
a broom, and some exceedingly dirty dusters. My dear Morgan, what a
wonderfully compact place you have here; it's a miracle of
I've given up coffee at night, but I make excellent cocoa. You
shall have some before you go.
Capital! said the old fellow. I'm enjoying myself immensely. This
is quite a picnic.
I am quite comfortable here, said Morgan, half to himself.
There's only one suggestion I have to make, said his progenitor,
and that is you ought to have just a strip of carpet under your feet,
or a small rug would do just as well. Last year at home, now, I had the
carpet taken out of the drawing-room, in favour of a polished floor,
but, Lord bless you, I found myself doing nothing else but sneezing, in
spite of the odd rugs, for in a drawing-room you don't just happen to
think where you're standing. But here when you just sit down at your
table or by your fire it would be so easy to take care you've got the
thing underfoot. I must send you a rug to-morrowyou know I owe you a
Birthday present! I had forgotten there were such things in the
world. Thank you for reminding me, father. Such gifts, when they are
sincere, add sweetness to life. And it will be nice to have something
of yours here.
The fire blazed up cheerfully. They sat a little while in silence.
When do you calculate you will get those debts paid off? asked
Archibald at length.
Within three years, if all goes well, said Morgan. I make a lot
extra sometimes, now. I did a little article for a magazine we print
and a little work for another journal. I am friendly with both editors.
Besides, my salary may improve. In fact, my hopes at starting have been
And after that? asked Archibald, looking at him with unconcealed
anxiety. It was evident it was a question he had been wanting to ask.
Morgan hesitated a moment, though his answer was ready.
After that I see no reason why I should not follow along the same
lines. I shall be on the high road to build up a career for myself, and
I have a feeling that I shall eventually branch off into journalism,
where all the knowledge and experience I shall have gained will be of
use to me.
Tell me, Morgan, said Archibald. Have you abandoned your first
Morgan leaned forward towards the fire and rested his head on his
hands. For a moment he seemed lost in meditation, and then at last
There are times, he said, when poetry still beats in my blood,
when melody comes to me hauntingly. Often, as I sit here brooding,
there surges up a full flood of I know not what, save that it is
exquisitely beautiful. And, as I walk through these long, grey streets,
lined with flaring market-stalls and massed thick with people, I seem
to feel a great throb, a living heart-beat, that speaks to me of
humanity; and what these bustling streets hold of humanness, of the
warmth and energy of life, comes to me like a flowing tide. The pain,
too, I feel; for there are odd, pathetic episodes. One catches sight of
faces pinched, starved, unrebellious, large-eyed children of six
a-marketing shrewdly with slender purses; and now and then a figure
detaches itself from the crowd and speaks a whole history. If there is
much pain and privation, much foulness and wickedness, there is also
much of the joy of life, of the ecstacy of overflowing animal spirits.
There are plague-spots, there are besotted critical jeerers at the
wayside with an aggressive sense of superiority to all unlike
themselves; there are half-grown lads and girls boisterously
foul-mouthed. But probe beneath the large, vigorous unrestraint, the
rollicking vagabondage of the streets, and you will find the
far-spread, steadyif colourlessrespectability of the industrial
family. And at moments something grand, rugged, and passionate, a
roaring harmonic discord, seems to sweep though the reeking grime,
through the swarming boisterousness, through the magnificent brutality,
through the utterance of putrid tongues, through the grey, lamp-lit
atmospheres, as though man and his activities were but the swirled
symbols of a music played in high Heaven. And as I stand listening,
terrified yet thrilled, there seems to come a sudden lull; and then I
perceive a goodness showing through the rough-and-readiness, sometimes
blurred in the individual lives, sometimes inspired to a full glow.
Often its leaps and flickerings are irregular, inconsistent,
unpredictable. In the ruffian the spark is scarcely alive, but in some
rare moment it will quicken and show through tremblingly.
And all these perceptions to which I was blind before have wrought
their effect on me. They have fused into and strengthened the better
part of me. They make poetry in me, not such as I once wrote, but a
full-blooded, living poetry. You see, father, I have drawn inspiration
from all this reality. I have felt the true spirit of the universe in
this dense-packed encampment on the march of civilisation, this living
pattern in Time's kaleidoscope; the same spirit that lies behind the
green country and the sweet airs, behind a great idea, a noble deed, a
And so I feel that I am fortified enough to defy all external
sordidness. The soiled lime-washed walls, the heavy grind of machinery,
and the tinged breath of the printing-house I am insensible to; and
with this result I am satisfied. I will not take up my harp wherewith
to gather harmonies from amid the discords of things, as I feel it is
in me to do. If such dream comes to me at times I know it must remain a
dream, for I must continue with my shoulder to the wheel and do my full
share of human labour!
He broke off. An almost sacred stillness followed his half-mused
speech, to which Archibald had listened with bent head.
Will you forgive me, dear Morgan, if I remind you of something?
said the old man, breaking the long silence. I feel you are the best
judge of your own life, and I do not mean to say a word that should
make you imagine I am trying to interfere with you. I only want to ask
you not to forget that we at home have claims upon you as well. We want
to have you near us a little, too. Your mother has been fretting about
you of late.
My mother! said Morgan. Is she aware of my existence? She never
cared about me.
But she cares about you now. Won't you come home to us when you are
through thisin three years' time, say? pleaded the old man. Your
end will have been achieved, you will feel sure of yourself by then.
And, to tell the truth, Morgan, I've set my heart onyour being a
Archibald looked down almost guiltily as he spoke.
Morgan had a consciousness of the strange, complete reversion of the
position the years had brought about.
I could never, never consent not to live by my own labour, he
said, giving utterance to what, at the moment, he intensely felt to be
the one essential condition of existence for him.
Come now, surely we can get over that difficulty, said Archibald
eagerly. I take it it is immaterial to you what work you do, so long
as it is of a kind in which you can employ your faculties. After all,
the principal point in your present occupation is the discipline it
affords and the habits of mind it is forming in you; all of which could
be employed in some other direction. It would simply be a matter of
your mastering a different set of facts for the different employment,
which you could do very quickly. Why not accept a position in the bank?
That would afford you an honorable livelihood, and it would help you to
be near us. Then perhaps some day, when you feel you have lived down
the old mistakes, you may be inspired to take up your pen again.
Mistakes! Why should they kill for ever the first fresh ambition of
your life? Mistakes! I made them, too, when I was young. So has every
man who is worth his salt. Of course, there's one mistake you can't
undoyou don't mind my alluding to it, Morgan. But if you continue to
face it as you are doing nowmy God, Morgan! you are suffering!
Archibald groaned heavily, then checked himself and put on as
cheerful a face as he could muster.
I meant to have proved to you, he continued, that you scarcely
take a scientificI had almost said an intelligentview of your
function in life. The desire to live by your own labour is actuated by
the very proper feeling that you ought to be doing your duty in the
social organism. Your present work is equal to, say, three respectable
pairs of boots a week. That, you will admit, is a fair measure of your
utility. Now, if by becoming a great poet, you could give pleasure and
delight to thousands of your fellow-men, it seems to me your utility
would be fairly represented by quite a considerable number of pairs of
boots, and very respectable ones, too.
How it would have delighted me to hear you argue like that when I
was a boy, almost whispered Morgan. Forgive me, father, he added
immediately. I did not mean any reproach.
I admit my not arguing in that way at the time was one of my
mistakes. But I am sure you will yet be a great man. For the present,
however, I shall be content with your assurance that you'll come back
to the bank eventually. Gradually, perhaps, you'll fall thence into the
vocation you were born for.
I think I can promise so far as the bank is concerned, said
Thank you, said his father and bent down to warm his hands in the
flames, so that the light shone on his face.
There was a silence. Scarcely a sound came to them here in this
lonely, bare garret. Morgan studied his father's face anxiously. How
silvery was the hair in places; and there were lines that had not been
there a year before. Both these signs seemed to accuse him louder than
Father, he cried, let me come closer to you.
The next evening Morgan sat pretending to be reading a book, his
feet sedulously planted on a new Turkey rug, which struck a startling
note of colour and decoration amid the bleakness of the attic. At last
he closed the volume and let it fall wearily on his knee. The visit of
his father had tried him severely. He had been shaken by a storm of
emotion, and it had left him somewhat shattered. And now that Archibald
had departed, an aching sense of loneliness had come to him such as
only comes to the man who lives thus isolated. He had been able to
leave his work for an hour in the middle of the day, so that, including
his usual dinner interval, he had passed two hours in his father's
company and seen him to his train. The old man had been miserable in
town; he couldn't bear to be so near Morgan yet cut off from him all
day, and, since he was far from well and needed the comforts of his own
home, it was decided between them he should go at once.
At last Morgan threw down the book impatiently. He walked round the
room for a time, but could not rid himself of his restlessness. My
soul is sick, he repeated again and again. I need my friends. He
poked the fire and threw more coal on; he looked for awhile through the
panes of the window into the vague blackness of the March night. And at
last he bethought himself of getting ready his evening meal, merely for
the sake of concentrating himself on something. Just as he was on the
point of opening the cupboard, into which his father had pried so
jocularly, there came a timid tap at the door.
Come in! he cried, not quite certain that there was anybody
As his invitation seemed to be complied with, he instinctively
turned his head to view his visitor, who stood just within the door
smiling at him.
What! Margaret! he cried, as his head almost swam.
She closed the door softly and advanced into the room.
I've just come to pay you a visit, Morgan, she said laughingly.
Please say it was nice of me to come. What! Aren't you going to shake
hands with one of your oldest friends?
He was not quite sure that his brain hadn't given way, and that her
presence was not a mere manifestation of the fact. He had never been
able to trust himself sufficiently to go near the Medhursts. Sedulously
keeping to the London south of the river and to the immediate vicinity
of his worksave on his rare visits to Belgrave Squarehe had run but
little risk of encountering any of them or, indeed, any other
acquaintances. He was aware the Medhursts knew he was in London and
employed by a large firm, but they had never been told the exact
details of his whereabouts. However, he found himself shaking hands
with Margaret but too bewildered to say anything.
What a strange expression in your face, Morgan! It seems to ask any
number of questions, but I can't make out whether it looks pleased or
angry. At least be polite enough to make me welcome. It's nice and warm
in here, so I think I'd better take my jacket off.
You don't give me time to recover my breath, Margaret. Of course,
you are more than welcome, but I am not good enough for you to visit.
Come, take a chair by the fire.
You not good enough! It is simply wicked of you to talk like that.
But why are you rubbing your eyes? I believe you think I'm a phantom.
She removed her jacket and also her hat, instinctively throwing
them, as Archibald had done the evening before, across the trunk. Then
she smiled at him again in lovely reassurance that she was real flesh
and blood. She had on a soft woollen dress of that favourite
silver-blue in which she always looked her best. She wore a bunch of
forget-me-nots at her waist, and a little knot of the same flowers at
her throat was fastened with a small, lyre-shaped brooch, set with
pearls. There was just a touch of creamy lace at her wrists and throat,
and what dainty little tendrils of golden hair lay on her forehead!
Your chair is very hard, she exclaimed, jumping up almost
immediately. I think I'll sit on the bed instead.
You won't find that much better, he said, drawn into good humour
by her briskness, and charmed that so exquisite a presence should grace
It's miles better, said Margaret. But you still look puzzled.
Isn't your ingenuity equal to the task of guessing how I found you
I don't know, unless Diana's old sweetheart paid you a visit
yesterday, he answered smiling, as he spread the new rug under her
feet. But he certainly said nothing to me about it this afternoon when
I saw him off.
He was probably afraid to let you know he'd been weak enough to
yield to our blandishments. I had an idea you were living in a
garretthe garret always seems to put a sort of hall-mark on genius.
It's a very nice garret, too. I like mine better, thoughit's a lump
If the pure pleasure of being near her began to predominate, it was
certainly not unaccompanied by the pain that was always with him
because of his vain love for her; so that his entire feeling was a
rather mixed and undecided one. He could not quite abandon himself to
gladness at her coming, and perhaps the very unexpectedness of it aided
this emotional embarrassment.
Have you been working much of late? he asked, that being a natural
question to follow her reference to her studio. He was, indeed,
relieved that the conversation had got on so definite a tack and that
she had not alluded to his avoidance of her family or reproached him
I'm just doing a little group of greyhounds. I'm going to exhibit
them at the Academy. It's such a bother and such fun, too! I've got
over the worst part now. The big mother and two little ones playing at
the side of her make twelve legs and three tailsquite a forest of
them. I had no end of trouble to get a good composition. But the chief
bother was with the models. The dog would never keep still, and I had
to keep on moving my wax figure just as it moved. Sometimes it would
turn upside down, and then I had to turn my work upside down as well.
Do you know what I should like to do, Morgan?
I don't, but I should like to.
I wonder if you'd let me make a bust of you! I want to very much.
Why? he asked, without meaning that exactly, but only by way of
Well, she smiled, I just want to. I could have an old bench
brought up here and a lot of clay. If you sat to me, say, for a couple
of hours every Sunday morning, you'd begin to recognise yourself after
He was powerless to refuse. With her speaking to him, he became as
passive as the clay she moulded. He knew her power; perhaps that was
why his instinct had led him to elude it.
That is really good of you, dear Morgan, she exclaimed, while her
eyes sparkled with honest delight.
Time was, perhaps, when seeing her thus he might have taken her
But don't look as if you already regretted making the promise, she
went on to protest. I assure you it won't hurt a bit; not any more
than having your hair cut. By the way, why do you wear your hair so
short? Oughtn't a poet to have long, noble locks? They come out very
effectively in clay, those long, noble locks. I hope I'm not making
your bed too hard. Come now, Morgan, are you still so heavy-hearted?
What can I do to make you merry?
Take supper with me, he responded quickly, with an atoning flash
of briskness, the while he upbraided himself for oppressing her with
his dejection. It will be a real Bohemian supper.
How nice! I'm dying with hunger.
In here, I mean, he explained. I make my own supper.
I know. We heard all about the inside of that cupboard.
You won't mind sitting on the hard chair?
No. What's the menu?
Bread and cheese and
Not beer, I hope, she interrupted hastily.
And cocoa, he finished. Do you mind keeping house here for two
minutes whilst I run down to get the milk. We have a dairy two doors
He returned in a moment and she helped him to set out the table, for
which there was no cloth.
This chair is hard, she said again later, when she had been
seated on it some little time. I must send you a soft chair, Morgan. I
haven't given you a birthday present this year.
Indeed, you must not. Such luxuries are out of place here, and you
ought not to try to spoil me.
But, dear Morgan, you've a lovely rug, and I'm sure you ought to
have a nice chair to keep it company. You've your guests to think of
now. I must have something to sit on when I come and so must your papa.
I'm willing to admit my suggestion was not quite a disinterested one;
in fact, I'm prepared to be perfectly unscrupulous so long as I carry
I'd better yield before you get so far as that. Only, of course,
the chair shall be used exclusively for my visitors.
Oh, you must sit on it sometimes, as well.
Well, let us not quarrel about it.
Of course we're not going to quarrel about it. We're going to be
the best of friends now, aren't we?
I never dared dream he began.
Dreaming hasn't anything to do with it. It really isn't at all
necessary, so the omission need not count. All along I've had the
feeling as if you were thrusting me back away from your life, and I
have always wanted to count for something in it, if ever so little.
Won't you let me now be of some help to you? It is wicked of you to
continue in this terrible solitude. I feel that you've promised to let
me come here and model you really against your will; don't deny it,
Morganyour face spoke only too plainly. I should be standing here and
talking to you, but you would be as solitary as if I had never come. I
want to break down that stupid barrier between us; I want you to
believe in me, to trust me and to show me you trust me.
It is myself I dare not trust. Such a friendship needs strength,
and I am not strong enough, Margaret.
Then you must find the strength, Morgan. Weakness is an unmanly
excuse, and you are a man.
You talk like that because you still do not realise what it means
for me toto
Go on, she said. I am strong enough to listen.
There was a silence, but she knew he was collecting his scattered
To be friends with you, he went on determinedly. You say that I
kept you at arm's length. That is true. But then you don't know what my
life has beenyou never did really know even when we were close
Tell me then, Morgan. Make me understand why you kept me at arm's
length. I do not know how you came to marry so suddenly, what woman you
married, or why she left you. I want to know all about her. Tell me, if
it doesn't hurt you too much. Perhaps it will hurt you less after you
have told me.
I have kept you at arm's length, Margaret, because I loved you. I
am struggling now to keep you at arm's length because I still love you.
Dare you stay here and listen to me after that?
She looked him straight in the face.
I dare, Morgan. I want you to know me as well as to love me. If you
had understood me, you would neither have thrust me back nor would you
be struggling to do so now. You no doubt always considered me just a
pretty girl, who thought and acted always as becomes what it called a
young lady; a colourless, conventional creature, without any judgment
or emotions of her own; just a white sheet of paper with a name written
across in beautiful lettering; a simpering thing in petticoats who must
smile and blush just at the right moments and be perfectly proper at
all times; who must never act unless she has a fixed rule to guide her;
who is supposed to understand nothing at all of real life; for whom
human beings are reduced to a strange uniformity, the men in their
evening dress so simple, so nice, so attentive, so easy to understand,
the womenbut then such a young person is not supposed to concern
herself with the women. That, I'm sure, is the sort of girl I appeared
to you, Morgan. I am sorry that, so far, I cannot take your love for me
as a compliment. You saw me as a painter might see a model, and perhaps
you enshrined my image as a sort of poetic fancy. You loved me as an
unreal spirit. But I am not what you thought me; I am a real person. I
can think and judge for myself, and I can be myself. That is why I have
had the courage to come here to you, and had I known earlier where you
were I should have forced this interview on you long ago. And this
despite the fact that you are married, that you love me and that
Ilove you. I have the courage to face the occasion, to outrage
convention where convention makes no provision for the needs of the
particular occasion. I know that, despite all, we can be very dear
friends. Only trust me a little, Morgan, learn to know me better, and I
am sure you will trust me altogether. Make an effort to be strong and
perhaps I may help you.
And so Morgan poured himself out to her, told her all; and, if at
times he faltered, she bade him go on, she would not blush.
The recital was a long one. Interruptions and discussions were
frequent; they were also making pretence to sup. Neither remembered the
flight of time.
Of course, I have known the bare facts for a long time, said
Margaret, but only in a very vague way and in a very puzzling one.
There was so much left to my imagination, and it bothered me so much to
fill up the blanks. And so you are working to pay off her debts. I know
it feels awfully nice to earn money for one's self. Do you know that
I'm quite rich. Guess how much I made last year by my modelling?
How much? he asked.
Eighty-seven pounds, after paying all my expenses, she exclaimed.
I wanted to pay for my own frocks, but papa wouldn't let me. And so
I've got it all and I don't know what to do with it; at least I know
what I should like to do with it.
But surely papa wouldn't disapprove of your doing what you liked
Oh, papa wouldn't disapprove, she said, colouring a little, but
I'm afraid you would.
I? You're not intending to buy me a silver chair with jewels set in
it, are you?
I thought you might pay some of those debts with the money and let
me be your creditor instead, she said hesitatingly. Of course, you
would pay me back as you saved enough, just as you are doing now with
the others. And it would be a sort of symbol of the new footing on
which we start from to-day.
Dear Margaret, he said, please don't try and press that on me. It
won't help me in the least, as you see yourself. Besides, what need
have we of a symbol? I want you to believe in the new footing just as
much without it. And then, he added, in a gayer note, there is
another reason why I can't allow you to have such ideas. Heroines
always do that sort of thing, and it's quite too conventional for you.
She laughed and did not persist, though she had coloured still more.
And just then she bethought herself of the hour and drew forth her tiny
This is being wicked with a vengeance! she exclaimed. I really
must be going back.
You must let me come with you, else I shall be nervous all night
and my hair may be grey by the morning.
Part of the excitement of the adventure was to come alone and to go
alone. But as I can't have your hair turning grey
Do they know at home where you were going? he asked, as he helped
her on with her jacket.
I didn't tell them, but I dare say they'll guess, and I mean to let
them know anyway. I'm going to leave you these, and she unfastened the
bunch of forget-me-nots and put them on the table.
He saw her to her own door; it was long since he had set foot in
Wimpole street. She gave him a long comrade's hand-clasp, saying: We
had a charming Bohemian supper. You have made me happier to-night than
I have been for years.
He turned away as she rang the bell and he walked all the way back
to Southwark. Now that he had taken her into his life at last, he
seemed to have unburdened himself of some overwhelming weight. Margaret
knew everything at last, understood everything, and loved him through
all. His self-distrust had made him keep himself hidden from the
Medhursts, but she had helped him to find and know his own strength.
She was right. He was strong enough to accept her friendship.
Though he would have to be at his desk at the usual hour in the
morning, he could not go to bed at once. The flowers she had left
seemed to fill the room with sweetness. And something of lightness and
fragrance seemed to remain with him, to be flitting here and there with
the silence of a phantom, to be hovering in the air, to be bending over
him, to be nestling close to him. Then, as he closed his eyes dreamily,
Margaret seemed to float before him. He was aware of her eyes, her
hair, her voice; he saw her just as she had sat there with her face and
hands showing exquisite against the silver-blue of her dress, and the
forget-me-nots at her throat and waist.
In the autumn of the third year of Morgan's engagement with the
Upper Thames street firm of printers he found himself with enough money
to pay off the balance due to his one remaining creditor. There had
been a good deal of method displayed in the order in which he had
enjoined Helen to settle the debts, and this particular firm had been
left to the last because it had received a goodly sum in the first days
when Cleo was using up their ready money.
It was Saturday, and he had just got away from the works. He had
been intending to take this last instalment to Helen that very
afternoon; but the idea came to him that he would rather enjoy the
sensation of making this last payment in person, and he proceeded
immediately to act on it.
Arrived at the business place of the firm, he explained to a clerk
that he wished to clear off an old matter, and recalled the occasion to
him. The man looked surprised, and went to consult his principal. An
old ledger had to be looked up, and then Morgan was informed the
account had been settled very shortly after the closing of the theatre.
The principal now remembered the circumstances perfectly. A cheque had
come from a certain firm of solicitors in the West End, much to his
surprise. After some further searching the clerk was able to tell
Morgan who these solicitors were.
This last piece of information simply corroborated what he had at
once suspected. Helen had carried out, without consulting him, the very
same suggestion that Margaret had once made to him, and was keeping the
sums he had been sending her from time to time. He understood, though,
that she must have done it mainly for the sake of the actors and
He said nothing to her of his discovery when he called at Belgrave
Square a couple of hours later, but just handed her the money, which
she quietly placed in a drawer of her escritoire.
And now I have to congratulate you, Morgan, she said. You have
shown the stuff you are made of. Tell me, how does it feel?
I feel extraordinarily light-hearted, he admitted.
I'm sorry, she said, and looked it.
He stared at her.
There is a story of a hungry peasant gorging himself on bread and
cheese, and, when he couldn't eat any more, they brought in the stuffed
geese and other delicacies.
Stupid! the stuffed geese and other delicacies have yet to come in.
If the coarser part of the feast has made you so joyful, the rest will
be wasted on you to-day.
I feel more stupid than ever. Still, my capacities for storing away
joy are unlimited, and, what is more, I shall appreciate every crumb.
Very well. She took up a journal from the table near her. Let me
read you this paragraph: 'In the course of the coming session an
extraordinary case will be reached in the Divorce Courts. The
petitioner is a lady of title belonging to one of the noblest and
oldest families in the kingdom, and the respondent is a well-known
novelist and dramatist. The parties were married barely three years
back and the wedding was much discussed at the time. It is rumoured
that facts of a strange and sensational character are likely to come to
light at the trial, and the occasion will not be the first one on which
the petitioner has figured in the same Court.'
She passed him the paperit was a gossippy society weeklyand he
read the paragraph again. For a moment quick vague flashes seemed to
rise in his brain as from a vain attempt to strike a flint; then light
came to him.
Ingram and Cleo, he cried. She went back to him!
Precisely, smiled Helen. You will remember my lamenting I could
not be the good fairy of your life, because things were already
destined to work themselves out for your happiness. You see now I was a
But a sort of dizziness came to him on account of his stumbling
efforts to think, to trace the significance of things.
Don't faint, please. I'm only a helpless woman, and I'm sure I
couldn't rise to the occasion. Perhaps I've been too precipitate. I've
made you swallow the whole stuffed goose at once.
I'm not so sure that my personal life is going to be affected by
it, he began.
Stuff and nonsense! she cried. Your proceedings will be reduced
to the utmost simplicity. There will be no defence at all. I have been,
watching affairs patiently for three years now, and what has happened
was bound to come. Do you know who sent your Cleo those bank-notes she
had at Dover? Do you know where she went directly after leaving you?
There is a certain house in Hampstead you know quite well. It has a
room in it with a fountain, and really pretty hanging lamps, and
peacocks on the windows. Well, she immediately took repossession of it.
And very glad her rightful lord and master was to have her back again!
The distraction of his affections by the engrossing interest of
ambitious matrimonial schemes had been only temporary. As for his
wifewell, about the living one should be silent unless one has
something nice to say. Therefore I'll say nothing about her. Before
long, Morgan, you'll be a free man, and a certain chapter of your life
will be erased. Fox &Kraft are an excellent firm of solicitorsalmost
a pity to employ such steam-hammers to crack such a very simple nut.
You are going along much too fast, Helen. You know I am leaving
Upper Thames street next week; it is an old promise made to my father.
I must consult him first. Of course, I shall be glad to have this
meaningless tie that binds me to Cleo cut right through, and for ever.
But I do not care to let my happiness rest on such a basis. Margaret
and I shall remain friends and nothing more.
Stuff and nonsense! she cried again. Your father is too wise a
man not to agree with me. And so I am quite content you shall abide by
his counsel. Otherwise I'd have to force you into happiness even if I
had to do it by threatening suicide, and you know my threats are not
I shall be guided by my father, he conceded. But don't overwhelm
me so much, please. My emotions at this moment are much too complex for
Then let me give you some tea. It will put all your notionsand
your emotionsin order.
The tea certainly did soothe him. He had never known that the
beverage could be so delicious.
How did you find out about Ingram and Cleo? he asked suddenly.
Oh, that was very easy. The moment I heard she had bank-notes I had
a very strong suspicion of the truth. As I was eager to learn whether I
could be your good fairy, I had that house watched. When my suspicions
were corroborated I waltzed round my room sixteen times, and, you may
be sure, I was determined never to lose sight of your Cleo for a
moment. But my task was not a difficult one. That delightful room seems
to have been as fatal to her imagination as she was to yours. She made
some desperate attempts to leave it; twice she crossed to America and
made obscure appearances on the boards, and once she sojourned in Paris
for several months. But all in vainshe had to go back and sit
on her gilded couch. Do you know, I rather like her; after all, she has
never tried to turn to account her connection with you, Morgan. She's
no mere vulgar adventuress. There's something really taking about her.
But I'd like to slap her sisters. When do you leave for the country?
A fortnight hence, I hope, said Morgan. But I am rather vague
about what immediately is going to follow. In a general way it is
understood that I am to work in the bank, which is precisely what I
refused to do thirteen years ago.
Thirteen years! That is a good stretch out of a life, said Helen,
with a half sigh, Time flies. I scarcely realise that I am thirty-six
already. And the years seem to bring nothing but perplexity and
embarrassment at the increase of my fortune. It is perfectly
meaningless and absurd to me, this monstrous fortune. I feel I haven't
any right to it; though, as I derive no happiness from it, that feeling
ought not to give me very much concern. Happiness depends on one's
personal relations with othersa few others, that isand though I
shake hands with a vast crowd, I have no close personal relations; not,
at least, in the sense in which I understand the phrase. A sort of
subtle fusion must accompany. I should have preferred to leave my
fortune to you, Morgan, but I knew you wouldn't like to benefit by my
death, so I have disposed of it otherwise.
He looked hard at her.
Why this sudden lugubriousness? he asked.
Well, she said enigmatically, and the enigma was repeated in the
accompanying shrug of her shoulders.
He seemed, however, to pierce beyond the smiling placidity of her
expression, and to be aware of something that chilled him, of something
that seemed to say: There are such things as broken hearts.
You've never had the life you deserved to have, Helen, he cried.
There have been those who have envied me. My biography would read
like a record of every earthly happiness. I am the daughter of a rich
country gentleman with whom I have always been on the best of terms,
only agriculture bores me rather. I was presented to my sovereign at
seventeen. I danced and rode and flirted and was supposed to be having
a good time, and a Baronet thought he fell in love with me, and did
really marry me. I have always had a big house, a big income, a
position in society. What more can a woman want? Well, all these things
do not constitute the personal life. The remembrance of the whole
course of my personal life is a vivid one to me, and it seems to have
run through all these things like a thin thread of silver through a
mass of stuff. Looking back, this swirl of the social world, its
functions, its movements, the acquaintanceships it brought me, seem to
me all strangely unreal. I seem to be aware of a large, swarming
vision, amid which I have lived. But nothing of it has ever in-mingled
with my real sense of happiness or misery. Fortune, societythese are
not the essentials. The essentials are the same for all ranks, and it
is on those that personal happiness depends. Up to the age of
twenty-five even a clever girl may delude herself into thinking that
the hearty fun and enjoyment she may be extracting from her
circumstances and her position in the world are really what make
happiness, but if she have real brains, a clear vision and quick
sympathies, she will inevitably stifle in her atmosphere of mere
pleasure. She will not continue to set store on her material
advantages, on the stage accessories by which she may be surrounded.
She will long for something elseand most often not get it. If I had
only been penniless and had loved and married a man who had all his
fighting to do yet! I should have lived beside him, conscious of being
helpful, of being valued for what my companionship meant to him, with a
sense of my dignity and worth as a human being. Instead, I was born
rich, I married a man who had no fighting to do, and so I was a mere
mate to him. I was but a child and there was no one to warn me.
Everybody about me was stupid, enslaved to ideas that are rotten at the
core! We dangle baubles before our children and poison the fresh, pure
fount of humanity. Thus it is I have been a waste and useless force in
the world. If it had only been decreed to me to have children of my
own, I feel sure I should have been a better woman than I am.
Her voice died away in a strange sweet murmur. In her face there
came a look as of holy meditation; her eyes shone with a light of
I am tired of England, she resumed in a moment. I shall be going
away before long. I want to find some secluded spot near a lovely
Italian lake, where I may stay and rest indefinitely. Perhaps for
years, for I am very tired. I shall wait till I see your happiness
completed, Morgan, even though this may be our last meeting. Till then
I dare not go; you are not to be trusted to take the happiness that is
within your grasp. You know I claim to be a connoisseur of women, and I
am perfectly satisfied that you shall marry your Margaret. That is the
highest compliment I could pay her. There is that indefinable,
unseizable something in her face which reveals the whole personality,
and it won me immediately. We have met three or four times now, but, of
course, I do not figure sufficiently in her consciousness that she
should mention me specially to you. One thing I am grateful to you for,
that you are respecting my wish that she should not know we have ever
been friends. After all, I am only a sort of imaginary figure to whom
you come and talk, and I haven't really counted in your life. You know
I have a weakness for mysticism, and I like to think of myself as a
sort of phantom that just accompanied you on your way a little and
perhaps helped you a little at a critical moment and then disappeared.
So promise me Margaret shall never, never know.
She knows everything but that, he replied. It hurts me to make
the promise, but I understand why you wish me to. Besides, I must look
on this one reservation from her as the penaltythe lingering symbol
of the past. But there is now one thing I should like to mention,
Helen, and that is, I want to recur to that money, the five hundred
pounds I borrowed of you. You see I have tasted blood.
When you feel you can spare the money, dear Morgan, I should wish
you to do some good work with it. Seek out those who may need ita
struggling student, a starving poet, a brave orphaned boy or girl
toiling to support the younger children. Save some human being from
despair, and restore his faith and hope. That is the best repayment you
could make me. And now there is one thing I should like to ask you. Do
She hesitated. His look bade her continue.
Well, she continued, smiling a little. I was going to ask you to
kiss mea real kissif you thought your Margaret could spare me one.
You have never given me a real kiss, Morgan, and it would be for the
She looked down almost demurely. For sole reply he took her in his
arms and their lips came together. Gently she disengaged herself at
length; and, as the hot tears fell from his eyes, he felt impelled to
fall on his knees and cover his face with his hands.
When he looked up again he was alone in the room. His sobs broke
forth afresh as he divined why she had left him.
A moment later he stole from the house.
The bell rang again and the passengers' gangway was hauled up on to
the pier. Morgan leaned against the deck-rail and looked westwards
towards a point where the Dover cliff rose highest and then swept
round. It was at that spot had begun the new ordering of his life which
had at last culminated in the great happiness of to-day.
On a deck-chair close by his elbow sat Margaret. As he shifted his
position a little his eye caught sight of a dainty ear and a soft
cheek, gleaming exquisite through her veil against the golden brown of
her large velvet hat and of the stretch of velvet mantle.
Morgan, dear, she said, pulling him playfully by the sleeve,
brides are supposed to be too excited to eat on their wedding day. So
I was when I woke up, and I didn't eat any breakfast. And now the fresh
air makes me as hungry as a hunter. Do get me something nice, please.
When he came back, the mails and luggage had been got on board. The
water began to seethe and foam away from the paddle-wheels, and, with a
pleasant hoot, the boat steamed away. And then, as Morgan leaned
against the side, he fell a-musing on many things, all woven in a web
of wonder at his happiness. Different parts of his life flashed at him,
all out of order and irrelevantly. How near, too, had he just passed to
the Ketterings! Cleo's father rose before him again with his greying
hair and his good face, bent, aproned, and in corduroys, just as he was
wont to stand in the Dover workshop. He remembered the kindly
invitation the old man had given him when they parted, and he felt
touched as he now called to mind the letter he had received from him on
his ceasing to be his son-in-law. I am glad to know you are free from
her, and hope you won't think me an unnatural father; but she never
tried to win my affections, whereas you won them without trying. I do
hope that at no distant day you will marry a true lady, who will make
up to you for the past. I know what you must have suffered.
He had been concerned about Cleo, and had so overflowed with pity
for her that he had scarce had the strength to take the step that had
made his happiness possible. But he knew that she was quite well and
happy, living at the same house where he had first seen her, and that
it had been perfectly indifferent to her whether she were tied to him
And now his old fancy came to him again that he could trace a
distinct unity in his life, as though it had been moulded by a guiding
Power. As Helen had said, the inner spring of his life had been its own
And as he looked at Margaret again, the dream that had sometimes
come to him did not now seem so unrealisable as it had in the old days
when he had been cut off from her. The burning of his old manuscripts
had marked his sense that his ambition was utterly dead. But he had
never regretted the burning. And now he even rejoiced at it. For, by
toil and discipline and facing the fulness of the living world, he had
attained to a clear sanity, to a just sense of values; the romantic
blur of his early poetic vision clarifying into the strong definiteness
of the Real. Assuredly he could now no longer write those nebulous,
elusive word-harmonies. Nor for him the mere æsthetic toying, the
dainty piece of colour-work; but poetry that should throb with vitality
and humanness. From dream poetry he had passed to dream life. Now that
he had won his way to true life, was he not, too, to win his way to
To be a voice whose enchantment should echo down the ages, whose
never-dying melody should accompany the generations on their toilsome
way, ever fresh, ever sweet for human hearts!
So did he dare to aspire again, and in his fancy it was Margaret's
spirit that floated on and on for ever, her fragrance immanent in the
songs he should sing!
The sea was radiant with sunlight. A soft wind breathed in his face.
The dwindling town nestled lazily in its valley, and the line of white
cliffs stretched on either hand. And as Margaret's voice spoke to him
again, something of her sweetness seemed to rise and rest on the spring