The Gorgeous Isle
by Gertrude Atherton
THE GORGEOUS ISLE
Scene: Nevis, B. W. I., 1842
Illustrated by C. Coles Phillips
New York Doubleday, Page &Company 1908
Copyright, 1908, by The Ess Ess Publishing Company
Copyright, 1908, by Gertrude Atherton Published, October, 1908
All Rights Reserved, Including That of Translation into Foreign
Languages, Including the Scandinavian
[Illustration: 'But what a joy to see you in colour. How does it
MRS. SPENCER WIGLEY, OF ST. KITTS, B. W. I.
We are all souls of fire and children of the sun.
BATH HOUSE. This hotel was erected in 1804 at a cost of £40,000,
although built entirely by slaves. Its varied and brilliant career came
to an end some time in the forties. The tide of fashion turned, and as
it was too large for a private residence, it was left to the elements.
Earthquakes have riven it, hurricanes unroofed it, and time devoured
it, but it is still magnificent in its ruin.
ATLANTIS. Bacon, in The New Atlantis, assumes America to be the
fabled continent of Atlantis, which, according to his theory, was not
submerged, but flooded to such an extent that all the inhabitants
perished except the few that fled to the highest mountain tops. I have,
however, preferred to adopt the Platonic theory, as at once more
plausible and interesting.
QUEEN ELIZABETH'S RING. West Indian tradition gives this historic
ring to the Warner family, as related in the story. It descended in the
direct line to Colonel Edward Warner, who bequeathed it by will to his
brother, Ashton Warner, as a diamond ring in shape of a heart, given
by Queen Elizabeth to the Earl of Essex. This will, dated 27th of
December, 1732, was proved in the Probate Court of Canterbury, England,
on the 21st of February following. From Ashton Warner it descended to
his son Joseph, and at the date of the story was in the possession of
Charles Warner, Esq., Solicitor-General of Trinidad, B. W. I.
The Gorgeous Isle
Bath House, the most ambitious structure ever erected in the West
Indies, and perhaps the most beautiful hotel the world has ever seen,
was the popular winter refuge of English people of fashion in the
earlier half of the nineteenth century. This immense irregular pile of
masonry stood on a terraced eminence rising from the flat border of
Nevis, a volcano whose fires had migrated to less fortunate isles and
covered with some fifty square miles of soil that yielded every luxury
of the Antilles. There was game in the jungles, fish in the sea, did
the men desire sport; there were groves of palm and cocoanut for
picnics, a town like a bazaar, a drive of twenty-four miles round the
base of the ever-beautiful ever-changing mountain; and a sloop always
ready to convey the guests to St. Kitts, Montserrat, or Antigua, where
they were sure of entertainment from the hospitable planters. There
were sea baths and sulphur baths; above all, the air was light and
stimulating on the hottest days, for the trade winds rarely deserted
Nevis and St. Kitts, no matter what the fate of the rest of that
Bath House was surrounded by wide gardens of tropical trees, ferns,
and flowers of gay and delicate hues. Its several terraces flamed with
colour, as well as its numerous little balconies and galleries, and the
flat surfaces of the roof: the whole effect being that of an Eastern
palace with hanging gardens, a vast pleasure house, designed for some
extravagant and voluptuous potentate. Anything less like an hotel had
never been erected; and the interior, with its lofty pillared rooms,
its costly mahogany furniture, its panels and hangings of rich
brocades, the thick rugs on the polished floors, if more European than
Oriental, equally resembled a palace; an effect in no wise diminished
by the brilliant plumage of the guests. If the climate compelled them
to forswear velvet and satin, their muslins were from Bengal and their
silks from Benares; and as the daughters of the planters emulated
these birds of fashion in all things, Nevis in winter would have been
independent of its gorgeous birds and flowers: the bonnets were
miracles of posies and plumes, and the crinoline set off the costly
materials, the flounces and fringes, the streamers and rosettes, the
frills of lace old and new. And as the English Creoles with their skin
like porcelain, and their small dainty figures, imitated their more
rosy and well-grown sisters of the North, the handsome strapping
coloured wenches copied their island betters in materials which if
flimsy were no less bright; so it is no matter for wonder that the
young bloods came from London to admire and loiter and flirt in an
enchanted clime that seemed made for naught else, that the sons of the
planters sent to London for their own finery, and the young coloured
bucks strutted about like peacocks on such days as they were not
grinding cane or serving the reckless guests of Bath House in the shops
That was the heyday of Nevis, a time of luxury and splendour and
gaiety unknown on even the most fertile of the other islands, for none
other was ever bold enough to venture such an hotel; and if the bold
adventurer came to grief, as was inevitable, still all honour to him
for his spirit, and the brief glory he gave to the loveliest island of
When Anne Percy smiled her mouth looked ripe and eager for pleasure,
her eyes sparkled with youth and gaiety, but when shy or thoughtful or
impatient her mouth was too large and closely set, her low thick brows
made her eyes look sullen and opaque, their blue too dark even for
beauty. It was a day when pencilled eyebrows inspired the sonnet,
when mouths were rosebuds, or should be for fashion's sake, when forms
were slight and languid, and a freckle was a blemish on the pink and
white complexions of England's high-born maidens. Anne was tanned by
the winds of moor and sea, she had a superb majestic figure, and strode
when she took her exercise in a thoroughly unladylike manner. She had
not an attribute, not even an affectation, in common with the beauties
of Bath House; and the reigning novelists of the day, Disraeli, Bulwer,
Dickens, Lady Blessington, Mrs. Norton, would never have modelled a
heroine of romance on her. There were plenty of fine women in England
even then, but they were not in fashion, and when fate took them to
court they soon learned to reduce their proportions, mince their gait,
and bleach their complexions.
But Anne had not yet been to court and had arrived that day at Bath
House. She drew down her heavy brows and looked as haughty as she felt
shy and impatient, staring at the dark oblongs of open window, beyond
which, effaced by the glare about her, was the warm perfumed tropic
night. But in the early Victorian era it would not have been thought
becoming for a girl to step out upon a terrace alone, nor, indeed, to
leave the wing of her chaperon, save briefly for the dance. Anne did
not dance, and had remained in the great saloon after dinner watching
with deep interest, for a time, the groups of men and women in evening
dress, playing whist or loo, the affected young ladies and their
gallants, strolling in from the music room, to show themselves off in
the long lane between the tables. But the sight, the most splendid she
had ever seen, had palled, the glare of the innumerable candles,
reflected in the mirrors, and even the crimson brocade of the walls,
dazzled her eyes. She had her reasons, moreover, for wishing to be
alone, a condition she had not realised since she had left England, now
nearly a month since, and she fairly sprang to her feet as her aunt
laid down her cards and signified that it was her pleasure to retire.
Anne rearranged Mrs. Nunn's lace shawl, which had fallen to her waist
in the ardour of the game, gathered up her fan, smelling-salts, and
winnings, then, with a slight drop in her spirit, steeled herself to
walk the great length of the saloon to the thrice blessed exit. Mrs.
Nunn, who had been a beauty, and always a woman of fashion, sailed
along like a light sloop on a mild afternoon, her curves of time and
crinoline not unlike sails filled by a gentle breeze; affectedly
unconscious but quite aware that many a card was laid down as she
rustled by, and that all the winter world of Nevis already knew that
the fashionable Mrs. Nunn, sister of one of the ladies of the
bed-chamber, had arrived by the afternoon packet, and eagerly
anticipated the intimate bits of court gossip with which she might
condescend to regale them.
But Miss Percy knew naught of courts and little of drawing-rooms,
and although pride held up her chin, and she tried to reflect that the
moors had given her a finer, freer carriage than any of these
languishing girls could boast, she followed her imposing chaperon with
a furious beating of the heart; a condition which gave her, as the
elegant Miss Bargarny remarked to the elegant Mr. Abergenny, the colour
of a milkmaid. But although the blood of the girl bred in a remote
corner of England was warm and rich in her veins, and her skin was
tanned, it would take more than colour to coarsen her features, and
perhaps it was the straight nose of the Percys' which enabled her to
step calmly along in the wake of her aunt whilst wishing that she might
fly through one of the windows. (A good nose is the backbone of moral
fortitude.) Although there were arches leading into drawing-rooms, and
morning-rooms, there was but one exit to the staircase, and in spite of
the grandeur and the masses of palms and tropic flowers everywhere, the
hotel had ceased to look like a fairy palace to the girl who had only
paused long enough in her journey from her old manor to furnish her
wardrobe in the darkest and dirtiest of winter cities. She had felt
like the enchanted princess in the fairy tale for a few hours, but now
she longed for nothing but her balcony up-stairs.
She had begun to wonder if she might beg her aunt to accelerate her
lady-like gait, when, to her horror, Mrs. Nunn was signalled by an
acquaintance, as yet unseen, and promptly sat down at her table;
announcing that she tarried but a moment. There was no other vacant
chair; all near by were occupied by dames as imposing as Mrs. Nunn or
by elderly gentlemen who bent the more attentively over their cards.
There was nothing for Anne to do but draw herself up to her full
height, and look quite indifferent to being the only woman in the room
to stand and invite the critical eye. In the early forties young
females were expected to be retiring, modest, and although they were
as often not, by the grace of that human nature which has changed
little in its progress down the centuries, they maintained a decent
pretence. There were a number of belles in the room, with their
attendant swains, and no doubt each thought herself a great beauty; but
not one of them would have stood up alone in the central promenade of
Bath House. Several of the men stared in disapproval; which emboldened
their fair partners to make disparaging remarks, until it was observed
that Lord Hunsdon, the greatest parti in the matrimonial market,
had gone in search of a chair.
Anne longed to fold the arms she knew not what to do with, but
apprehending open laughter, held them rigidly to her sides, shooting
anxious glances at the opposite mirror. She encountered a battery of
eyes. At the same time she heard a suppressed titter. It was only by an
effort of will that she refrained from running out of the room, and she
felt as if she had been dipped in the hot springs of Nevis. It was at
this agonising moment that the amiable Lord Hunsdon presented the
chair, with the murmured hope that he was not taking a liberty and that
she recalled his having had the good fortune to be presented to her by
his friend Mrs. Nunn earlier in the day. Anne, muttering her gratitude,
accepted the chair without looking at him, although after he had
retired her conscience smote her and she would have made an effort to
be agreeable had he lingered. But immediately she caught the drift of a
dialogue between two women at a neighbouring table, where the play had
stopped, that had beaten faintly upon her ears before she sank out of
sight; and in a moment she was conscious of nothing else.
My son insists that it is my duty to help him, and I am inclined to
agree with him, a clear decided voice announced. And after all he is
a gentleman, to say nothing of the fact that time was when he had to
hide himself from the importunities of Bath House. But since that
unhappy affairI fear our sex had much to answer forbut he has
No doubt! broke in a caustic voice, but that is hardly the point.
He has taken to ways of relieving his sufferings which make him quite
unfit for decent society
He can be reformed.
Fiddlesticks. No one ever reforms. He merely changes his vice. And
he! Mr. Mortlake, who is fond of what he calls the picturesqueness
of Charlestown by night, has seen himwell, it is enough that I should
have heard. You have been too intimate with the little Queen lately.
You never could stand it! Suffice it to say, that brandy, or rum, or
whatever he takes by the barrel, makes a madman of him.
I have heard these stories, but I also know that he only drinks by
fits and starts
Worse and worse.
Well! in tones of great decision, since a woman, and a woman of
our own class ruined him, Constance Mortlake, I believe it to be the
duty of our sex and rank to redeem him. Do you, with high and
increasing impatience, realise that the man is a genius, the poet of
Haven't I always doted on poetry since I was in love with Byron?
But we can buy this young man's poetry for a guinea a volumeten
guineas for special editions at Christmas. I hear that Lady Blessington
paid him a hundred pounds for three pages in last year's 'Book of
Beauty.' I am glad he is in no danger of starving, and am quite willing
to do my little share toward keeping him off the parish; but I prefer
to enjoy his genius without being inflicted by the horrid tenement in
which that genius has taken up its abode. Most undiscriminating faculty
genius seems to be. Besides, I have no respect for a man who lets his
life be ruined by a woman. Heavens, supposing wewe women
You can't have everything, and a man who can write like Byam
Don't believe you ever read a line of him. What on earth has a
leader of ton to do with poetry, unless, to be sure, to read up
a bit before caging the lion for a dinner where everybody will bore the
poor wretch to death by quoting his worst lines at him. As for Warner
there is no question that he writes even better than before he went to
the dogs, and that, to my mind, is proof that he holds his gifts in
fief from the devil not from Almighty God
Out upon you for a bigot. I should think you had lived in this
world long enough
Was there ever on this earth a more virtuous court than our young
Queen's, Maria Hunsdon?
It is too good to last. And it is not so long ago
Let us be permitted to forget the court of that iniquitous
manAnne could see a large-veined hand wave in the direction of a
long portrait of George IV.since we are mercifully and at last
permitted so to do. Besides, changing the subject hastily, I believe
in predestination. You forget that although married these thousand
years to an Englishman I am a Scot by birth
But Anne heard no more, although her ears were thirsty. Mrs. Nunn
brought her amiable nothings to a close, and a moment later they were
ascending the great staircase, where the pretty little Queen and her
stately husband smiled alike on the just and the unjust.
Mrs. Nunn entered Anne's room before passing on to her own. As
hostess to her young relative whose income would not have permitted her
to visit this most fashionable of winter cities uninvited, it behooved
her to see that the guest lacked no comfort. She was a selfish old
woman, but she rarely forgot her manners.
These coloured servants are so inefficient, she remarked as she
peered into the water jars and shook the mosquito netting. This is my
third visit here, so they are as disposed to respect my orders as their
limited intelligence and careless habits will permit. I should always
advise you to look in and under the bednot for bad characters, but
for caterpillars as long as your two hands, to say nothing of ants.
There are no snakes on the island, but I believe land crabs have been
seen on the stairs, and I am sure I never should recover if I got into
bed with one. The maid will bring your coffee about six. I shall not
appear till the half-after-nine breakfast.
Then you will not mind if I go out for a walk?
Dear me, no. This is not London. But of course you will not permit
a gentleman to attend you.
As I do not know any
But you will, said Mrs. Nunn amiably. You are handsome, my dear,
if not quite à la mode. I am glad you must wear white in this
climate. It becomes you far better than black. Good night.
She was gone at last. Anne locked the door that she might know to
the full the joy of being alone. She shook down her hair impatiently.
In spite of her twenty-two years, she had worn it in pendant braids,
save at the dinner hour, until her capture by Mrs. Nunn. It was rich,
heavy, dark hair, bright with much gold, worn in a bunch of curls on
either side of the face and coiled low on the neck. Anne made a little
face at herself in the glass. She knew that she possessed a noble,
straight, full figure, but she saw no beauty in the sunburnt skin, the
square jaw, the eyebrows as wide as her finger. Her mouth was also too
large, her eyelashes too short. She had her ideals of beauty, and,
having read many romances, they were the conventional ideals of the
day. She smiled at her aunt's hint that she might find favour in the
eyes of the beaux of Bath House. She knew nothing of the jargon of the
world, nothing of men. Nor did she desire knowledge of either. Even
had her father shown any disposition to part with his only companion,
she would have refused Mrs. Nunn's invitations to pass a season in
London, for she lived an inner life which gave her an increasing
distaste for realities. It was before the day when women, unimpelled by
poverty or genius, flew to the ink-pot with their over-burdened
imaginations. To write a book had never occurred to Anne, although she
had led a lonely life in a forgotten corner of England where even her
duties were few; the old servants knew their tasks before she was born,
and her father preferred his pen and his laboratory to the society of
his daughter. She must preside at his table, but between whiles she
could spend her time on the sea or the moors, in the library or with
her needleworkthe era of governesses passingas she listed.
And the wild North Sea, the moors and her books, above all, her
dreams, had sufficed. Her vivid and intense imagination had translated
her surroundings into the past, into far-off countries of which she
knew as much as any traveller, oftener and still oftener to the
tropics, to this very island of Nevis. Then, suddenly, her father had
died, leaving her, until she reached the age of five-and-twenty, in the
guardianship of his sister, Mrs. Nunn, who purposed making her
favourite pilgrimage the following winter, insisted that Anne accompany
her, and finally rented the manor over her head that she be forced to
comply. The truth was she intended to marry the girl as soon as
possible and had no mind that she should squander any more of her youth
unseen by man. The shrewd old woman knew the value of that very
ignorance of convention, that lack of feminine arts and wiles, so
assiduously cultivated by young ladies in the matrimonial market, that
suggestion of untrammelled nature, so humbly deprecated by Anne.
Moreover, concluded Mrs. Nunn, ruffling herself, she was a Percy and
could not but look well-bred, no matter how ill she managed her hoop or
curled her hair.
But although Mrs. Nunn could appraise the market value of a comely
exterior and the more primitive charms of nature, of Anne Percy she
knew nothing. She had puzzled for a moment at the vehement refusal of
the young recluse to visit the West Indies, and even more at her
ill-suppressed exultation when she realised that the migration was
settled. But, she concluded, there was no accounting for the vagaries
of the girl-brain, and dismissed the subject. Of the deep and
passionate maturity of Anne Percy's brain, of the reasons for the
alternate terror and delight at the prospect of visiting Nevis, she had
not a suspicion. If she had she would have hastened to leave her to the
roar of the North Sea and the wild voices of the moor.
Anne, free of the tight gown in which she had encased her rebellious
form for the benefit of the fine folk of Bath House, wrapped herself in
a long black mantle, drew down the curving glass globes that protected
the candles from draught and insects, and stepped out upon her balcony.
She even closed the window behind her; and then at last she felt that
she was indeed on Nevisand alone. Before her rose the dark cone of
the old volcano, its graceful sweep dim against the background of
stars; and the white cloud that ever floated about its summit like the
ghost of dead fires was crawling down the slopes to the little town at
its base. From this small but teeming capital came fitful sounds of
music and of less decorous revelry, and its lights seemed to flit
through the groves of palm and cocoanut trees, gently moving in the
Below the hotel, no man stirred. Anne stood with suspended breath
and half closed eyes. At this end of the island it was as still as
death and almost as dark. There was no moon, and the great crystal
stars barely defined the mountain and the tall slender shafts and high
verdure of the royal palm. Far away she saw a double row of lights on
St. Kitts, the open windows doubtless of Government House in the
capital, Basseterre, where a ball that had taken half the guests of
Bath House was in progress.
In a few moments she became aware of other impressions besides the
silence and the dark. The air was so warm, so caressing, so soft, that
she swayed slightly as if to meet it. The deep delicious perfumes of
tropical blooms, even of tree and shrub, would have been overpowering
had it not been for the lightness of the air and the constant though
gentle wind. Bred upon harsh salt winds, living a life of Spartan
simplicity, where the sprigs of lavender in the linen closet wafted all
she knew of scent to her eager nostrils, this first moment of tropical
pleasure confused itself with the dreams of years, and she hardly dared
open her eyes lest Nevis vanish and she find herself striding over the
moor, her head down, her hands clutching her cape, while the North Sea
thundered in her ears.
She lifted her head suddenly, straining her own throat. A bird
poured forth a flood of melody that seemed to give voice to the
perfumes and the rich beauty of the night, without troubling the
silence. She had read of this nightingale of a tropic noon but had
not imagined that a small brown bird, bred below the equator, could
rival in power and dulcet tones the great songster of the North. But it
sang as if its throat had the compass of a Mario's, and in a moment
another philomel pealed forth his desire, then another, and another,
until the whole island seemed to swirl in a musical tide. Anne, with a
sudden unconscious gesture, opened her arms and flung them out, as if
to embrace and hold all the enchantment of a Southern night before it
fled; and for the first time in her life she found that realities could
give the spirit a deep intoxicating draught.
The nightingales trilled into silence. The last sweet note seemed to
drift out over the water, and then Anne heard another sound, the deep
low murmur of the Caribbean Sea. Her mind swung to Byam Warner, to the
extraordinary poem which ten years ago had made his fame and
interpreted this unceasing melancholy of the sea's chant into a dirge
over the buried continent and its fate. With the passionate energy of
youthful genius abandoning itself to the ecstasies of imagination, he
had sung the lament of Atlantis, compelled the blue sepulchre to
recede, and led a prosaic but dazzled world through cities of such
beauty and splendour, such pleasant gardens and opulent wilds as the
rest of Earth had never dreamed of. He peopled it still with an
arrogant and wanton race, masters of the lore and the arts that had
gone with them, awaiting the great day when the enchantment should lift
and the most princely continent Earth has borne should rise once more
to the surface of the sea, lifting these jewelled islands, her mountain
peaks, high among the clouds.
It had been Byam Warner's first epic poem, and although he had won
the critical public with his songs of the Caribbean Sea and of Nevis,
the island of his birth, it was this remarkable achievement, white-hot
from first to last with poetic fire, replete with fascinating pictures
and living tragedy, that gave him as wide a popularity as any novelist
of the day. He had visited London immediately after, and, in spite of
some good folk who thought his poem shockingly immoral, was the lion of
the season, and a favourite at court. But he had soon wearied of
London, and although he had returned several times with increasing
fame, he had always left as abruptly, declaring that he could write
nowhere above the equator; and, notwithstanding revels where he shone
far more brilliantly than when in society, where indeed he was shy and
silent, that he cared for nothing else.
Little gossip had come to Warkworth Manor but Anne had read The
Blue Sepulchre when she was seventeen, and after that her allowance
went for his books. When a new volume appeared it was an event in her
life comparable only to marriage or birth in the lives of other women.
She abandoned her soul to this young magician of Nevis; her
imagination, almost as powerful as his own, gave her his living
presence more bountifully than had the real man, cursed with mortal
disenchantments, companioned her. So strong was her power of
realisation that there were hours when she believed that her thoughts
girdled the globe and drew his own into her mental heaven. In more
practical hours, when tramping the moor, or sailing her boat, she
dismissed this hope of intelligent response, inferring, somewhat
grimly, that the young, handsome, and popular poet had excited ardour
in many a female breast besides her own. Nevertheless, she permitted
herself to return again and again to the belief that he loved her and
dreamed of her; and certainly one of his most poignant sonnets had been
addressed to the unknown mate whom he had sought in vain.
Nor had he married. She had heard and read references to his
increasing dissipation, caused by an unhappy love affair, but his work,
instead of degenerating with his morals, showed increasing power and
beauty. The fire burned at times with so intense a radiance that it
would seem to have consumed his early voluptuousness while decimating
neither his human nor his spiritual passion. Each new volume sold many
editions. The critics declared that his lyrics were the finest of his
generation, and vowed the time could not be far off when he would unite
the imaginative energy of his first long poems with the nightingale
quality of his later, and produce one of the greatest poetical dramas
in the language. But the man had been cast into outer darkness. Society
had dropped him, and the young Queen would not permit his name to be
mentioned in her presence. That gentle spirit, the Countess of
Blessington, indifferent to the world that shut its door in her own
face, alone received him in what was still the most brilliant salon
in England. But even Anne knew that during a recent visit to London,
when a few faithful and distinguished men, including Count d'Orsay,
Disraeli, Barry Cornwall, Monckton Milnes, and Crabb Robinson, had
given him a banquet at the Travellers' Club, he had become so
disgracefully drunk that when he left England two days later,
announcing his intention never to return, not one of those long
suffering gentlemen had appeared at the dock to bid him farewell.
But Anne heard few of these horrid stories in detail, and her
imagination made no effort to supply the lack. Her attitude was
curiously indifferent. She had never seen his picture. He dwelt with
her in the realm of fancy, a creation of her own; and in spite of the
teeming incidents of that mental life, her common sense had assured her
long since that they would never meet, that with the real Byam Warner
she had naught to do. Her father had been forty-five when he was taken
off by a mis-made gas in his laboratory; she had expected to be still
his silent companion when herself was long past that agean age for
caps and knitting needles, and memories laid away in jars of old rose
It is possible that had Mrs. Nunn not succeeded in letting Warkworth
Manor she would never have uprooted her niece, who, face to face with
the prospect of Nevis, realised that she wished for nothing so little
as to meet Byam Warner, realised that the end of dreams would be the
finish of the best in life. But circumstances were too strong for Anne,
and she found herself in London fitting on excessively smart and
uncomfortable gowns, submitting to have her side locks cut short and
curled according to the latest mode, and even to wear a fillet, which
scraped her hitherto untrammelled brow.
She had little time to think about Byam Warner, but when the memory
of him shortened her breath she hastily assured herself that she was
unlikely to meet an outcast even on an island, that she should not know
him if she did, and that Bath House, whose doors were closed upon him,
was a world in itself. And she should see Nevis, which had been as much
her home as Warkworth Manor, see those other glowing bits of a vanished
paradise. There are certain people born for the tropics, even though
bred within the empire of the midnight sun, even when accident has
given their imagination no such impulse as Anne Percy's had received
from the works of Byam Warner. Mind and body respond the moment they
enter that mysterious belt which divides the moderate zones, upon whose
threshold the spirit of worldliness sinks inert, and within whose
charmed circle the principle of life is king. Those of the North with
the call of the tropics in their blood have never a moment of
strangeness; they are content, at home.
The pauses at the still more southern islands on the way up from
Barbadoes had been brief, but Anne had had glimpses of great fields of
cane, set with the stately homes of planters, the grace of palm-fringed
shores and silver sands; the awful majesty of volcanic islands, torn
and racked by earthquake, eaten by fire, sometimes rising so abruptly
from the sea as to imply a second half split to its base and hurled to
the depths. But although there had been much to delight and awe, the
wine in her cup had not risen to the brim until she came in sight of
Nevis, whose perfection of form and colour, added to the interest her
gifted and unhappy son had inspired, made her seem to eager romantic
eyes the incarnation of all the loveliness of all the tropics. To-night
Anne could forget even Byam Warner, who indeed had never seemed so far
away, and she only went within when the cloud rolled down Nevis and
enveloped her, as if in rebuke of those that would gaze upon her beauty
Anne started from the sound unhaunted sleep of youth conscious that
some one had entered her room and stood by her bed. It proved to be a
grinning barefoot coloured maid with coffee, rolls, and a plate of
luscious fruit. Anne's untuned ear could make little of the girl's
voluble replies to her questions, for the West Indian negroes used one
gender only, and made a limited vocabulary cover all demands. But she
gathered that it was about half-past-five o'clock, and that the loud
bell ringing in the distance informed the world of Nevis that it was
market day in Charlestown.
She had been shown the baths the day before and ran down-stairs to
the great stone tanks, enjoyed her swim in the sea water quite alone,
and returned to her room happy and normal, not a dream lingering in her
brain. As she dressed herself she longed for one of those old frocks in
which she had taken comfort at Warkworth, but even had not all her
ancient wardrobe been diplomatically presented by Mrs. Nunn to the
servants of their London lodging, she knew that it was due to her aunt
that she present herself at breakfast attired as a young lady of the
first fashion. She therefore accommodated herself to a white Indian
muslin ruffled to the waist and sweeping the ground all round. The
bodice was long and tight, exposing the neck, which Anne covered with a
white silk scarf. She put on her second best bonnet, trimmed with lilac
flowers instead of feathers, the scoop filled with blonde and mull, and
tied under the chin with lilac ribbons. Her waist, encircled by a lilac
sash of soft India silk looked no more than eighteen inches round, and
she surveyed herself with some complacency, feeling even reconciled to
the curls, as they modified the severity of her brow and profile,
bringing both into closer harmony with her full mouth and throat.
But what's the use? she thought, with a whimsical sigh. I mean
never to marry, so men cannot interest me, and it would be the very
irony of fate to make a favourable impression on a poet we wot of. So,
it all comes to this: I look my best to gratify the vanity of my aunt.
Well, let it pass.
She drew on her gloves and ran down-stairs, meeting no one. As she
left the hotel and stood for a few moments on the upper terrace she
forgot the discomforts of fashion The packet had arrived late in the
afternoon, there had been too much bustle to admit of observing the
island in detail, even had the hour been favourable, but this morning
it burst upon her in all its beauty.
The mountain, bordered with a strip of silver sands and trimmed with
lofty palms, rose in melting curves to the height of three thousand
feet and more, and although the most majestic of the Caribbees, there
was nothing on any part of it to inspire either terror or misgiving.
The exceeding grace of the long sweeping curves was enhanced by silvery
groves of lime trees and fields of yellow cane. Green as spring earlier
in the winter, at this season of harvest Nevis looked like a gold mine
turned wrong side out. The Great Houses, set in groves of palm and
cocoanut, and approached by avenues of tropical trees mixed with red
and white cedars, the spires of churches rising from romantic nooks,
their heavy tombs lost in a tangle of low feathery palms, gave the
human note without which the most resplendent verdure must pall in
time; and yet seemed indestructibly a part of that jewelled scene. High
above, where cultivation ceased, a deep collar of evergreen trees
encircled the cone, its harsh stiff outlines in no wise softened by the
white cloud hovering above the summit. Charlestown spread along the
shore of a curving bay, its many fine buildings and infinite number of
huckster shops, its stately houses and negro village alike shaded by
immense banana trees, the loftier cocoanut, and every variety of palm.
Anne, as she gazed, concluded that if choice were demanded, it must
be given to the royal palm and the cane fields. The former rose, a
splendid silvery shaft, to a great height, where it spread out into a
mass of long green blades shining like metal in the sun. But the cane
fields! They glittered a solid mass of gold on all visible curves of
the mountain. When the dazzled eye, grown accustomed to the sight which
no cloud in the deep blue tempered, separated it into parts, it was but
to admire the more. The cane, nearly eight feet in height, waxed from
gold to copper, where the long blade-like leaves rose waving from the
stalk. From the centre of the tip shot out a silver wand supporting a
plume of white feathers, shading into lilac. The whole island, rising
abruptly out of the rich blue waters of the sea, looked like a colossal
jewel that might once have graced the diadem of the buried continent.
The idea pleased Anne Percy at all events, and she lingered a few
moments half dazed by the beauty about her and wholly happy. And on the
terraces and in the gardens were the flowers and shrubs of the tropics,
whose perfumes were as sweet as their colours were unsurpassed; the
flaming hydrangea, the rose-shaped Arabian jasmine, the pink pluminia,
the bright yellow acacia, the scarlet trumpet flower, the purple and
white convolvulus, the silvery white blossoms of the lime tree, framed
with dark green leaves.
Anne shook herself out of her dream, descended the terraces, and
walked down a narrow avenue of royal palms to the town. She could hear
the Oyez! Oyez! of the criers announcing the wares brought in from
the country, and, eager for the new picture, walked as rapidly as her
fine frock would permit. She was obliged to hold up her long and
voluminous skirts, and her sleeves were so tight that the effort
cramped her arms. To stride after her usual fashion was impossible, and
she ambled along anathematising fashion and resolved to buy some cotton
in the town and privately make several short skirts in which she could
enjoy the less frequented parts of Nevis while her aunt slept. Without
realising it, for nothing in her monotonous life had touched her latent
characteristics, she was essentially a creature of action. Even her
day-dreams had been energetic, and if they had filled her life it was
because they had the field to themselves. In earlier centuries she
would have defended one of the castles of her ancestors with as much
efficiency and spirit as any man among them, and had she been born
thirty years later she would certainly have entered one of the careers
open to women, and filled her life with active accomplishment. But she
knew little of female careers, save, to be sure, of those dedicated to
fashion, which did not interest her; and less of self-analysis. But she
felt and lived in the present moment intensely. For twenty-two years
she had dwelt in the damp and windy North, and now the dream of those
years was fulfilled and she was amidst the warmth and glow of the
tropics. It was the greatest happiness that life had offered her and
she abandoned herself to it headlong.
As she entered the capital she suddenly became aware that she was
holding her skirts high over her hoop in a most unladylike manner. She
blushed, shook them down, and assumed a carriage and gait which would
have been approved by even the fastidious Mrs. Nunn. But she was no
less interested in the animated scene about her. The long street
winding from the Court House to the churchyard on the farther edge of
the town was a mass of moving colour and a babel of sound. The women,
ranging from ebony through all the various shades of copper and olive
to that repulsive white where the dark blood seems to flow just beneath
the skin, and bedecked in all the violence of blues and greens, reds
and yellows, some in country costume, their heads covered with
kerchiefs, others in a travesty on the prevailing fashion, stood in
their shops or behind the long double row of temporary stalls,
vociferating at the passers by as they called attention to fowl, meats,
hot soup, fruit, vegetables, wild birds, fish, cigars, sugar cakes,
castor oil, cloth, handkerchiefs, and wood. Many of the early buyers
were negroes of the better class, others servants of the white planters
and of Bath House, come early to secure the best bargains. Anne was
solicited incessantly, even her skirts being pulled, for since
emancipation, four years before, the negro had lost his awe of a white
skin. It was some time before she could separate the gibberish into
words, but finally she made out: Bargain! Bargain! Here's yo' fine
cowfee! Here's yo' pickled peppers! Come see! Come see! Only come see!
Make you buy. Want any jelly cocoanut? Any yams? Nice grenadilla. Make
yo' mouth water. Lady! Lady! Buy here! Very cheap! Very nice! Real!
Anne paused before a stall spread with cotton cloth and bought
enough for several skirts, the result of her complaisance being a siege
of itinerant vendors that nearly deafened her. The big women were
literally covered with their young (pic'nees"), who clung to their
skirts, waist, hips, bosoms; and these mites, with the parrot
proclivities of their years and race added their shrill: By'm, lady,
The proprietor of the cloth volubly promised to deliver the purchase
at Bath House and Anne fled down the street until she was stopped by a
drove of sheep whose owner was crying: Oyez! Oyez! Come to the
shambles of Mr. Columbus Brown. Nice fat lambs and big fat sheep. Very
cheap! Very cheap!
Anne retreated into a shop of some depth to avoid the dust. When the
drove had passed she was rescued by Lord Hunsdon, who lifted his broad
panama without smiling. He was a very serious looking young man, with
round staring anxious blue eyes under pent white brows, an ascetic
mouth and a benevolent dome. He was immaculate in white linen, and less
pinched about the waist than his fashionable contemporaries.
I believe it is not considered quite de rigueur for young
ladies and young gentlemen to walk unchaperoned, he said diffidently;
but in the circumstances I think I may come to your relief and escort
you back to the hotel.
Not yet, please, Anne emerged and walked rapidly toward the edge
of the town. I cannot go back and sit in the hotel till half past
nine. I am accustomed to a long walk before breakfast.
But Mrs. Nunn
She must get used to my tramps. I should fall ill if I gave them
up. Indeed, she is sadly aware that I am no fine lady, and no doubt
will shortly give me up. But if you are afraid of her, pray go
back. I recall, she said I was not to be escorted
If you are determined to go on I shall accompany you, particularly
as I wish to talk to you on a subject of great importance. Have I your
Quite lacking in vanity or worldliness, it was impossible that he
should be unaware of his importance as a young, wealthy, and unmarried
peer, and he shrewdly suspected that Mrs. Nunn would make an exception
in his favour on market day in Charlestown.
Anne, wondering what he could have to say to her, led the way past
the church to the open road that encircled the island. Then she
moderated her pace and looked up at him from the deeps of her bonnet.
Her gaze was cooler and more impersonal than he was wont to encounter,
but it crossed his burdened mind that a blooming face even if
unfashionably sunburnt, and a supple vigorous body were somewhat
attractive after a surfeit of dolls with their languid fine-lady airs
and affectation of physical delicacy; which he, being no fool,
suspected of covering fine appetites and stubborn selfishness. But
while he was young enough to admire the fresh beauty of his companion,
it was the strength and decision, the subtle suggestion of
high-mindedness, in this young lady's aspect, which had led him to a
resolution that he now proceeded to arrange in words as politic as
It may seem presumptuous to speak after so short an
Not after your rescue last night. I had like to have died of
embarrassment. I am not accustomed to have half a room gazing at me.
You will, he said gallantly. But it is kind of you to make it
easier. This is it. I have beenamvery unhappy about a friend of
mine here. Of course you know the work of one, who, many believe, is
our greatest poetByam Warner?
Anne drew her breath in and her eyelashes together. I have read his
poems, she said shortly.
I see! Like many others you cannot dissociate the genius from the
man. Because a fatal weakness
What have I said, pray, that you should jump to such a conclusion?
She had recovered her breath but not her poise. No one could admire
him more than I. About his private life I know little and care less. He
lives on this island, does he not?
We shall pass his house presently, but God knows if he is in it.
He is a West Indian, is he not?
A scion of two of its foremost families, whose distinction by no
means began with their emigration to the Antilles. One of his
ancestors, Sir Thomas Warner, colonised most of these islands for the
crownin the seventeenth century. A descendant living on Trinidad, has
in his possession the ring which Queen Elizabeth gave to Essexyou
recall my friend's poem and the magnificent invective put into the
frantic Queen's mouth at the bedside of Lady Nottingham? The ring was
presented to Sir Thomas by Charles I., on the eve of his first
expedition to these islands. The Byams are almost equally notable,
descended as they are from the father of Anne Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire
and Ormond. The spirit of British democracy still slept in the womb of
the century, with board schools, the telegraph, and the penny press,
and the aristocrat frankly admitted his pride of birth and demanded a
corresponding distinction in his friends. I hope I have not bored
you, continued the young nobleman anxiously; But I have given you
some idea of Warner's pedigree that you may see for yourself that the
theory of generations of gentle blood and breeding, combined with
exceptional advantages, sometimes culminating in genius, finds its
illustration in him. Also, alas! that such men are too often the prey
of a highly wrought nervous system that coarser natures and duller
brains are spared. When he was youngerI knew him at Cambridgenor,
indeed a few years since, he had not drained that system; his youthful
vigour immediately rushing in to resupply exhausted conduits. But even
earlier he was always disposed to drink more than was good for him, and
when a wretched woman made ducks and drakes of his life some four or
five years since, he becamewellI shall not go into details. This is
his house. It has quite a history. Alexander Hamilton, an American
statesman, was born in it. Have you ever heard of him?
Noyes, of course I have read Warner's beautiful poem to his
motherandI recall nowwhen one of the Hamiltons of Cambuskeith, a
relative of my mother, visited us some years ago, he talked of this
Alexander Hamilton, a cousin of his father, who had distinguished
himself in the United States of America.
Hunsdon nodded. Great pity he did not carry his talents to England
where they belonged. But this is the house where his parents lived when
he was born. It used to be surrounded by a high wall, but I believe an
earthquake flung that down before my friend's father bought the place.
Warner was also born here.
The old house, a fine piece of masonry, was built about three sides
of a court, in the centre of which was an immense banana tree whose
lower branches, as close as a thatched roof, curved but a few feet
above the ground. The front wall contained a wide gateway, which was
flanked by two royal palms quite a hundred feet in height. The large
unkempt garden at the side looked like a jungle in the hills, but was
rich in colour and perfume. The gates were open and they could see the
slatternly negro servants moving languidly about the rooms on the
ground floor, while two slept under the banana tree. A gallery
traversed the second story, its pillars covered with dusty vines. All
of the rooms of this story evidently opened upon the gallery, but every
door was closed. The general air of neglect and decay was more pathetic
to Anne, accustomed to exemplary housekeeping, than anything she had
yet heard of the poet. He was uncomfortable and ill-cared for, no doubt
of that. The humming-birds were darting about like living bits of
enamel set with jewels. The stately palms glittered like burnished
metal. Before the house, on the deep blue waters of the bay, was a
flotilla of white-sailed fishing-boats, and opposite was the green and
gold mass of St. Kitts, an isolated mountain chain rising as
mysteriously from the deep as the solitary cone of Nevis. She could
conceive of no more inspiring spot for a poet, but she sighed again as
she thought of the slatterns that miscared for him.
Lord Hunsdon echoed her sigh as they walked on. Even here he
disappears for days at a time, he resumed. Of course he does not
drink steadily. No man could do that in the tropics and live. But
spirits make a madman of him, and even when sober he now shuns the
vicinity of respectable people, knowing that they regard him as a
pariah. Of course his associateswell, I cannot go into particulars.
For a time I did not believe these stories, for each year brought a
volume from his pen, which showed a steady increase of power, and a
divine sense of beauty. Besides I have been much absorbed these last
few years. There seemed no loosening the hold of the Whigs upon the
destinies of England and it was every patriot's duty to work with all
his strength. You followed, of course, the tremendous battle that ended
in last year's victory. I was almost worn out with the struggle, and
when I found that these stories about Warner were persistent I came out
to investigate for myself. Alas! I had not heard the half. I spent
three months with him in that house. I used every argument, every more
subtle method I could command, to bring him to see the folly and the
wickedness of his course. I might as well have addressed the hurricane.
He did not even hate life. He was merely sick of it. He was happy only
when at work upon a new poemintoxicated, of course. When it was over
he went upon a horrible bout and then sank into an apathy from which no
art of mine could rouse him; although I am bound to add, in justice to
one of the gentlest and most courteous souls I have ever known, his
civility as a host never deserted him. I was, alas! obliged to return
to England with nothing accomplished, but I have come this year with
quite another plan. Will you listen to it, Miss Percy?
I am vastly interested. But she had little hope, and could well
conceive that three months of this good young man might have confirmed
the poet in his desire for oblivion.
I persuaded my mother to come with me, although without avowing my
object. I merely expatiated upon the beauty and salubrity of Nevis, and
the elegant comforts of Bath House. Women often demand much subtlety in
the handling. We arrived by the packet that preceded yourstwo weeks
ago, but I only yesterday broached my plan to her; she stood the trip
so ill, and then seemed to find so much delight in long gossips with
her old friendsa luxury denied her at home, where politics and
society absorb her. But yesterday I had a talk with her, and this is my
planthat she should persuade herself and a number of the other ladies
that it is their duty to restore to Warner his lost self-respect. For
that I believe to be the root of the trouble, not any real inclination
to dissipation and low society. This restoration can be accomplished
only by making him believe that people of the highest respectability
and fashion desire, nay demand, his company. As my mother knew him well
in England it will be quite natural she should write him a note asking
him to take a dish of tea with her and complimenting his latest
volumeI brought it with me. If he hesitates, as he well may do, she
can call upon him with me, and, while ignoring the cause, vow he has
been a recluse long enough, and that the ladies of Bath House are
determined to have much of him. Such a course must succeed, for,
naturally the most refined of men, he must long bitterly, when himself,
for the society of his own kind. Then, when the ice is broken, we will
ask others to meet him
And has your mother consented?
Practically. I have no doubt that she will. She is a woman who
needs a cause for her energies, and she never had a better one, not
even the restoration of the Tories and Sir Robert.
And you wish me to meet him?
Particularly, dear Miss Percy. I feel sure he would not care for
any of these other young ladies. I happen to know what he thinks of
young ladies. But youyou are so different! I do not wish to be a
flatterer, like so many of my shallow kind, but I am sure that he would
appreciate the privilege of knowing you, would feel at his ease with
you. But of course it all depends upon Mrs. Nunn. She may disapprove of
your meeting one with so bad a name.
Oh, she will follow Lady Hunsdon's cue, I fancy, said Anne,
repressing a smile. They all do, do they not, even here? I hope the
poet does not wear Hyperion locks and a velvet smoking jacket.
He used to wear his hair, and dress, like any ordinary gentleman.
But when I was here last year his wardrobe was in a shocking
condition. The immaculate Englishman sighed deeply. He is totally
demoralised. Fortunately we are about the same figure. If all his
clothes are gone to seed I can supply him till he can get a box out
from England. For the matter of that there is a tailor here who makes
admirable linen suits, and evening clothes not badly
Is he very fascinating? asked Anne ingenuously. She had long since
recovered her poise. My aunt has set her mind upon a high and mighty
marriage for me, and might apprehend
Fascinating! Apprehend! Great heavens! He was handsome once, a
beau garçon,no doubt fascinating enough. But now! He is a ruin.
No woman would look at him save in pity. But you must not think of
that. It is his soul I would savethat I would have you help me to
savewith a glance into the glowing eyes which he thought remarkably
like the blue of the Caribbean sea, and eloquent of fearless youth.
His soul, Miss Percy. I cannot, will not, let that perish for want of
Nor his fountain of song dry up, replied Anne, whose practical
side was uppermost. He should write, and better and better for twenty
years to come.
I should not care if he never wrote another line. I see a friend
with the most beautiful nature I have ever knownhe has the essence of
the old saints and martyrs in himgoing to ruin, wrecking all hopes of
happiness, mortal and immortal. I must save him! I must save him!
Anne glanced at the flushed face of her companion. His expression
was almost fanatical, but as he turned suddenly and she met the intense
little blue eyes, something flashed in them in no wise resembling
fanaticism. She stiffened and replied coldly:
You can count on me, of course. How could I refuse? But I have
sensations that assure me it is close upon the breakfast hour. Shall we
After breakfast, Mrs. Nunn, pretending to saunter through the saloon
and morning rooms with Anne, introduced her naturally to a number of
young people, and finally left her with a group, returning to the more
congenial society of Lady Hunsdon and Lady Constance Mortlake.
Anne, although shy and nervous, listened with much interest to the
conversation of these young ladies so near her own age, while taking
little part in it. The long windows opened upon an orchard of cocoanuts
and bananas, grenadillas and shaddocks, oranges and pineapples, but in
spite of the cool refreshing air, many of the girls were frankly
lounging, as became the tropics, others were turning the leaves of the
Journal des Modes, dabbling in water colours, pensively frowning at
an embroidery frame. Of the three young men present one was absorbed in
the Racing Calendar, another was making himself generally
agreeable, offering to read aloud or hold wool, and a third was
flirting in a corner with the sparkling Miss Bargarny.
All acknowledged Mrs. Nunn's introductions with much propriety and
little cordiality, for Anne was far too alert and robust, and
uncompromising of eye, to suit their modish taste. Nevertheless they
asked her politely what she thought of Nevis, and seemed satisfied with
her purposely conventional replies. Then the conversation drifted
naturally to the light and dainty accomplishments for which all save
herself professed a fondness; from thence to literature, where much
languid admiration was expressed of Disraeli's Venetia, a
performance of real elegance, and the latest achievement of the
exciting Mr. G. P. R. James. Dickens wrote about people one really
never had heard of, but Bulwer, of course, was one of themselves and
the equal of Scott. In poetry the palm was tossed between Mrs. Hemans
and L. E. L. on the one hand and that delightful impossible American,
Mr. Willis, and Barry Cornwall on the other. Young Tennyson received a
few words of praise. When the talk naturally swung to Byam Warner Anne
eagerly attended. Had he made a deep personal impression upon any of
these essentially feminine hearts? But the criticism of his poems was
as languid, affected, and undiscriminating as that of other work they
had pretended to discuss. They admired him, oh vastly! He was amazing,
a genius of the first water, the legitimate successor of Byron and
Shelley, to say nothing of Keats; he might easily surpass them all in a
few years. In short they rehearsed all the stock phrases which the
critics had set in motion years ago and which had been drifting about
ever since for the use of those unequal to the exertion of making their
own opinions, or afraid of not thinking with the elect. Had Warner been
falsely appraised by the higher powers their phrases would have been
nourished as faithfully; and Anne, with a movement of irrepressible
impatience, rose, murmured an excuse, and joined her aunt.
Lady Hunsdon was a short, thin, trimly made woman, with small, hard,
aquiline features, piercing eyes, and a mien of so much graciousness
that had she been a shade less well-bred she would have been
patronising. She looked younger than her years in spite of her little
cap and the sedateness of attire then common to women past their youth.
Lady Constance Mortlake had the high bust and stomach of advanced
years; her flabby cheeks were streaked with good living. Her expression
was shrewd and humorous, however, and her eyes were kinder than her
tongue. Mrs. Nunn rose with vast ceremony and presented her niece to
these two august dames, and as Anne courtesied, Lady Hunsdon said,
smiling, but with a penetrating glance at the newcomer:
My son tells me that he has acquainted you with our little plan to
reform the poet
Our? interrupted Lady Constance. None of mine. I sit and look
onas at any other doubtful experiment. I have no faith in the powers
of a parcel of old women to rival the seductions of brandy and Canary,
Madeira and rum.
Parcel of old women! I shall ask the prettiest of the girls to hear
him read his poems in my sitting-room.
Even if their mammas dare not refuse you, I doubt if the girls
brave the wrath of their gallants, who would never countenance their
meeting such a reprobate as Byam Warner
You forget the despotism of curiosity.
Well, they might gratify that by meeting him once, but they will
sound the beaux first. What do you suppose they come here for? Much
they care for the beauty of the tropics and sulphur baths. The tropics
are wondrous fine for making idle young gentlemen come to the point,
and there isn't a girl in Bath House who isn't on the catch. Those that
have fortunes want more, and most of them have too many brothers to
think of marrying for love. Their genius for matrimony has made half
the fame of Nevis, for they make Bath House so agreeable a place to run
to from the fogs of London that more eligibles flock here every year.
There isn't a disinterested girl in Bath House unless it be Mary
Denbigh, who has two thousand a year, has been disappointed in love,
and is twenty-nine and six months. She turned sharply to Anne, and
Have you come here after a husband?
If you will ask my aunt I fancy she will reply in the affirmative,
said Anne, mischievously.
Mrs. Nunn coloured, and the others looked somewhat taken aback.
That was not a very lady-like speech, said Mrs. Nunn severely.
Moreover, with great dignity, I have found your society so
agreeable, my dear, that I hope to enjoy it for several years to come.
Anne, quick in response, felt repentant and touched, but Lady
Constance remarked drily:
Prepare yourself for the worst, my dear Emily. I'll wager you this
purse I'm netting that Miss Percy will have the first proposal of the
season. She may differ from the prevailing mode in young ladies, but
she was fashioned to be the mother of fine healthy children; and young
men, who are human and normal au fond, whatever their ridiculous
affectations, will not be long in responding, whether they know what is
the matter with them or not.
Anne blushed at this plain speaking, and Mrs. Nunn bridled. I wish
you would remember that young girls
You told me yourself that she was two-and-twenty. She ought to have
three babies by this time. It is a shocking age for an unmarried
female. You have not made up your mind to be an old maid, I suppose?
she queried, pushing up her spectacles and dropping her netting. If
so, I'll turn matchmaker myself. I should succeed far better than Emily
Nunn, for I have married off five nieces of my own. Now don't say that
you have. You look as if it were on the tip of your tongue. All girls
say it when there is no man in sight. I shall hate you if you are not
as little commonplace as you look.
Anne shrugged her shoulders and said nothing, while Lady Hunsdon
remarked with her peremptory smile (this was one of a well known set):
We have wandered far from the subject of Mr. Warner. Not so far
either, for my son tells me, Miss Percy, that you have kindly consented
to meet himto help us, in fact. I hope you have no objections to
bring forward, Emily. I am very much set upon this matter of reclaiming
the poet. And as I can see that Miss Percy has independence of
character, and as I feel sure that she has not come to Nevis on the
catch, she can be of the greatest possible assistance to me. What
Constance says of the other young ladies is only too true. They will
pretend to comply, but gracefully evade any responsibility. I can count
upon none of them except Mary Denbigh, and she is rather passée,
Passée? cried Lady Constance. At thirty? What do you
expect? She looks like an elegiac figure weeping on a tombstone. I
can't stand the sight of her. And it's all kept up to make herself
interesting. Edwin Hay has been dead eleven years
Never mind poor Mary. We all know she is your pet abomination
She gives me a cramp in my spleen.
Well, to return to Mr. Warner. Will you all meet him when I ask him
to my sitting-room up-stairs? Will you spread the news of his coming
among the other guests? Hint that he has reformed? Excite in them a
desire to meet the great man?
She did not speak in a tone of appeal, and there was a mounting fire
in her eye.
Lady Constance shrugged her shoulders. You mean that you will cut
us if we don't. I never quarrel in the tropics. Besides, I have buried
too many of my old friends! I don't approve, but I shall be interested,
and my morals are as pure and solid as my new teeth. If you can marry
him to Mary Denbigh and leave her on the island
And you, Emily?
None had had more experience in yielding gracefully to social
tyrants than Mrs. Nunn. She thought Maria Hunsdon mad to take up with a
drunken poet, and could only be thankful that her charge was a
sensible, commonplace girl with no romantic notions in her head. I
never think in the tropics, my dear Maria, and now that you are here to
think for me, and provide a little variety, so much the better. What is
To ask him first for tea in my sitting-room, then for dinner; then
to organise picnics, and take him with us on excursions. I shall
frequently pick him up when I drivein short before a fortnight has
passed he will be a respectable member of society, and accepted as a
matter of course.
And what if he gets drunk?
That is what I purpose he shall not do. As soon as I know him well
enough I shall talk to him like a mother.
Better let Miss Percy talk to him like a sister. Well, regulate the
universe to suit yourself. I hope you will not forget to order Nevis to
have no earthquakes this winter, particularly while we are cooking our
gouty old limbs in the hot springs. By the way, whom have you decreed
James shall marry?
I should not think of interfering in such a matter. Lady Hunsdon
spoke with her usual bland emphasis, but darted a keen glance at Anne.
It was not disapproving, for Miss Percy's descent was long, she liked
the splendid vitality of the girl, and Hunsdon had riches of his own.
But, far cleverer than Mrs. Nunn, she suspected depths which might have
little in common with her son, and a will which might make a
mother-in-law hate her. Lady Hunsdon loved peace, and wondered that
anyone should question her rigid rules for enforcing it. But of Anne as
a valuable coadjutor in the present instance there could be no doubt,
and, to do her justice, she anticipated no danger in the meeting of a
fine girl, full of eager interest in life, and the demoralised being
her son so pathetically described. She was quite sincere in her desire
to lift the gifted young man from his moral quagmire, but this new
opportunity to exercise her power, almost moribund since her party was
no longer in Opposition, was a stronger motive still.
When Anne was alone in her room she sat down and stared through the
half-closed jalousies until the luncheon bell rang at two o'clock,
forgetting to change her frock. But she could make little of the
ferment in her mind, except that her mental companion, that arbitrary
creation she had called Byam Warner, was gone forever. Even did she
return to her northern home and dwell alone, his image would never
return. She could not even now recall the lineaments of that immortal
lover. The life of the imagination was past. Realities multiplied; no
doubt she was converging swiftly upon one so hideous as to make her
wish she had never been born. Any day she might be formally introduced
over a dish of tea to a degraded, broken creature whom all the world
despised as a man, and who she would be forced to remind herself was
the author of the poems of Byam Warner. Byron, at least, had never been
a common drunkard. Picturesque in even his dissipations, he had been a
superb romantic figure to the last. But this man! She could hear the
struggle and rattle of romance as it died within her. Oh, that she had
never seen Nevis, that her father had lived, that she could have gone
on! Then a peremptory thought asserted itself. The time was come
for her to live. To dream for twenty-two years was enough. She must
take up her part in life, grasp its realities, help others if she
could. She could not love this poor outcast, but were she offered a
share in his redemption she should embrace the circumstance as a sacred
In time, perhaps, she might even marry. That dreadful old woman was
right, no doubt, it was her manifest destiny. Certainly she should like
to have children and a fine establishment of her own. Lord Hunsdon was
unacceptable, but doubtless a prepossessing suitor would arrive before
long, and when he did she would marry him gladly and live rationally
and dream no more. And when she reached this decision she wept, and
could not go down to luncheon; but she did not retire from the mental
step she had taken.
Her mind had time to recover its balance.
It was a fortnight and more before she met Byam Warner. Lady
Hunsdon, to her secret wrath and amazement, met defeat with the poet
himself. He replied politely to her ladyship's flattering notes, but
only to remind her that he was very busy, that he had been a recluse
for some years, that he was too much out of health to be fit for the
society of ladies. The estimable Hunsdon, after one fruitless
interview, invariably found the poet from home when he called. The
massa was up in the hills. He was on St. Kitts. He was visiting
relatives on Antigua. Had he been in London he could not more
successfully have protected himself. Lord Hunsdon was a man of stubborn
purpose, but he could not search the closed rooms along the gallery.
But the poet's indifference to social patronage at least
accomplished one of the objects upon which Lady Hunsdon had set her
heart. The guests of Bath House, vaguely curious, or properly
scandalised, at the first, soon became quite feverish to meet the
distinguished friend of Lord Hunsdon. So rapidly does a fashion, a fad,
leap from bulb to blossom in idle minds, that before a fortnight was
out even the young men were anxious to extend the hand of good
fellowship, while as for the young ladies, they dreamed of placing his
reformation to their own private account, learned his less subtle poems
by heart, and began to write him anonymous notes.
Meanwhile, Anne, hoping that his purpose would prove of a
consistency with his habits, and determined to dismiss him from her
thoughts, found sufficient pleasure and distraction in her daily life.
She made her short skirtsseveral hemmed strips gathered into a
belt!and walked about the island in the early morning. The negroes
singing in the golden cane fields, the women walking along the white
road with their swinging hips, immense baskets poised on their heads,
pic'nees trotting behind, or clinging to their flanks, the lonely
odorous, silent jungles in the high recesses, the cold fringe of forest
close to the lost crater, the house in which Nelson courted and married
his bride and the church in which the marriage certificate is still
kept; she visited them all and alone. In the afternoon she drove with
her aunt, their phaeton one of a gay procession, stopping sometimes at
one of the Great Houses, where she was taken by the young people out to
the mill to see the grinding and partake of sling; home in the cool
of the evening to dress for the long dinner and brilliant evening. She
would not dance, but she made several friends among the young men,
notably that accomplished lady-killer and arbiter elegantiarum,
Mr. Abergenny, so prosilient in the London of his day; and found
herself in a fair way to be disliked thoroughly by all the other young
women save Lady Mary Denbigh; who, somewhat to her embarrassment,
showed a distinct preference for her society, particularly when Lord
Hunsdon was in attendance. The men she liked better than she had
believed possible, estimating them by their suspiciously small waists,
their pinched feet, and hair so carefully curled and puffed out at the
side; but although Lord Hunsdon's attentions were now unmistakable, she
liked him none the better that she esteemed him the more, and was glad
of the refuge the admiration of the other men afforded her.
And then, without any preliminary sign of capitulation, Byam Warner
wrote to Lady Hunsdon announcing that he now felt sufficiently
recovered to pay his devoirs to one who had been so kind, apologised
for any apparent discourtesy, and asked permission to drink a dish of
tea with her on the following evening.
Lady Hunsdon was quite carried out of herself by this victory, for
there was a Lady Toppington at Bath House, whose husband was in the
present cabinet and a close friend of Peel. She had given the finest
ball of the season to signalise the return of the Tories to power, and
would have taken quick possession of the social reins had Lady Hunsdon
laid them down for a moment. Politics enjoyed a rest on Nevis, but
other interests loomed large in proportion, and the apparent defeat of
the hitherto invulnerable leader of ton excited both joy and
hope in the breast of Lady Toppington and her little court. Now did
Lady Hunsdon sweep rivals aside with her flexible eyebrows, and on the
evening when she was able to announce her triumph, she was besieged in
her stately chair, not unlike a throne.
But she was deaf to hints and bolder hopes. She would not thrust a
shy young man, long a hermit, into a miscellaneous company when he had
come merely to drink tea with herself and son and a few intimate
friends. Later, of course, they should all meet him, but they must
possess their souls in patience. To this dictum they submitted as
gracefully as possible, but they were not so much in awe of Lady
Hunsdon as to forbear to peep from windows and sequestered nooks on the
following evening at nine o'clock, when Byam Warner emerged from the
palm avenue, ran hurriedly up the long flights of steps between the
terraces, and, escorted by Lord Hunsdon, who met him at the door, up to
the suite of his hostess.
Anne was standing in the deep embrasure of the window when he
entered the sitting-room, where she, in common with Lady Constance
Mortlake, Lady Mary Denbigh, Mrs. Nunn, and Miss Bargarny, who was a
favourite of Lady Hunsdon and would take no denial, had been bidden to
do honour to the poet. She heard Lady Hunsdon's dulcet icy tones greet
him and present him to her guests, the ceremonious responses of the
ladiesbut not a syllable from Warnerbefore she steeled herself to
turn and walk forward. But the ordeal she had anticipated was still to
face. Warner did not raise his eyes as her name was pronounced. He
merely bowed mechanically and had the appearance of not having removed
his gaze from the floor since he entered the room. He was deathly pale,
and his lips were closely pressed as if to preserve their firmness.
Anne, emboldened by a shyness greater than her own, and relieved of the
immediate prospect of meeting his eyes, examined him curiously after he
had taken a chair and the others were amiably covering his silence with
their chatter. He had dressed himself in an old but immaculate white
linen suit with a high collar and small necktie. It was evident that he
had always been very thin, for his clothes, unassisted by stays, fitted
without a wrinkle, although his shoulders were perhaps more bowed than
when his tailor had measured him. His hair was properly cut and parted,
but although he was still young, its black was bright with silver. His
head and brow were nobly formed, his set features fine and sensitive,
but his thin face was lined and gray. It was unmistakably the face of a
dissipated man, but oddly enough the chin was not noticeably weak, and
the ideality of the brow, and the delicacy of the nostril and upper lip
were unaltered. Nevertheless, and in spite of the suggestion of ease
which still lingered about his tall figure, there was something so
abject about his whole appearance, his painful self-consciousness at
finding himself once more among people that had justly cast him out was
so apparent, that Anne longed for an excuse to bid him go forth and
hide himself once more. But to dismiss him was the part of Lady
Hunsdon, who had no intention of doing anything of the sort. It is
doubtful if either she or any of the others saw aught in his bearing
but the natural embarrassment of a shy man at finding himself once more
within the enchanted circle. Lady Hunsdon expatiated upon the beauty of
Nevis, long familiar to her through his works, vowed that she had come
to the island only to see for herself how much he had exaggerated, but
was quite vanquished and speechless. Not to have met her son's most
valued friend would have blurred and flawed the wonderful experience.
Warner bowed gravely once or twice, but did not raise his eyes, to
Anne's continued relief: she dreaded what she must meet in them. If the
rest of his face was a ruin, what sinks of iniquity, what wells of
horror, must be those recording features? There were lines about them
and not from laughter! He looked as if he had never smiled. She pitied
him so deeply that she could have wept, for she had never seen an
unhappier mortal; but she had no desire to approach him further.
Miss Bargarny poured the tea, and when she passed his cup, roguishly
quoted a couplet from one of his poems; lines that had no reference to
teaGod knows, he had never written about teabut which tripped from
her tongue so gracefully that they had the effect of sounding apropos.
He blushed slightly and bowed again; and shortly after, when all the
cups had been handed about and he had drained his own, seemed to
recover his poise, for he addressed a few remarks to Lady Hunsdon, at
whose right he sat. Anne, who was seated some distance from the table
could not even hear his voice, but Lady Hunsdon received such as he
ventured upon with so much empressement, that he manifestly rose
in courage; in a few moments he was extending his attention to Lady
Mary Denbigh, who leaned forward with an exalted expression shaded by
ringlets, raising her imperceptible bosom with an eloquent sigh. By
this time Lord Hunsdon was talking into Anne's ear and she could hear
nothing of the conversation opposite, although now and again she caught
a syllable from a low toneless voice. But his first agony was passed as
well as her own, and she endeavoured to forget him in her swain's
comments upon the political news arrived with the packet that
afternoon. When tea was over and Miss Bargarny, who cultivated
liveliness of manner, had engaged the poet in a discussion upon the
relative merits of Shelley and Nathaniel P. Willisastonishingly
original on her part, mild to the outposts of indifference on hisAnne
followed Hunsdon to the other side of the room to look over an album of
his mother's, just unpacked. It contained calotypes of the most
distinguished men and women of the day, and Anne, who had barely seen a
daguerreotype before, and never a presentment of the famous people of
her time, became so absorbed that she forgot the poet to whose spirit
hers had been wedded these five years, and whose visible part had
sickened the very depths of her being. Lord Hunsdon had the pleasure of
watching her kindling eyes as he told her personal details of each of
his friends, and when Anne cried out that she was living in a bit of
contemporary history, he too flushed, and felt that his suit prospered.
But Anne was thinking as little of him as of Warner, and so intent was
she upon the ugly striking physiognomy of the author of Venetia, with
his Byronic curls and flowing collar, that she was hardly aware that
Lord Hunsdon's attentions had been claimed by his mother; who skilfully
transferred him to the side of Lady Mary.
A moment later she turned abruptly and met the eyes of Warner. He
was sitting apart, and he was staring at her. It was not meeting his
eyes so suddenly that turned her hands to ice and made them shake as
she returned to the album, but the eyes themselves that looked out from
the ruin of his face. She had expected them to be sneering, lascivious,
bold, anything but what they were: the most spiritual and at the same
time the most tormented eyes that had ever been set in the face of a
mortal. She caught her breath. What could it mean? No man could live
the life he had livedLady Mary, who had a fine turn for gossip, had
told her all that Lord Hunsdon had left unsaidand keep his soul
unspotted. It was marvellous, incredible. She recalled confusedly
something Hunsdon had said about his having a beautiful
characterwell, that was originally, not after years of degradation.
Besides, Hunsdon was a fanatical enthusiast.
At this point she became aware that Warner was standing beside her,
but as she glanced up in a surprise that restored her self-possession,
he had averted his eyes, and embarrassment had claimed him again. She
was too much of a woman not to rush to the rescue.
[Illustration: At this point she became aware that Warner was
standing beside her"]
I have never seen anything so interesting! she exclaimed with
great animation, I am sure you will agree with me, although of course
you have met all these great people. Is not this process a vast
improvement upon the daguerreotype? And I am told they expect to do
better still. Have you read 'Venetia'? Do you remember that Disraeli
makes Lord CadurcisByronassert that Shakespeare did not write his
own plays? Fancy!
I never for a moment supposed that he did, replied Warner,
evidently grasping at a subject upon which he felt at home. Nor did
Byron. Nor, I fancy, will a good many others, when they begin to think
for themselvesor study the Elizabethan era. I have never read any of
Disraeli's novels. Do you think them worth reading?
He was looking at her now, still with that expression of a saint at
the stake, but obviously inattentive to her literary opinions. Before
she could answer he said abruptly:
What a fine walker you are! I have never seen a woman walk as you
do. It is not the custom here, and even in England the ladies seemed
far too elegant to do more than stroll through a park.
I am not at all elegant, replied Anne, smiling; as my aunt will
tell you. I had to make myself some short skirts, and I get up at
unearthly hours to have my tramp and return in time to dress for
breakfast. But I have never met you.
I have passed you several times, but of course you did not notice
me. I have a hut up in one of the jungles and I am always prowling
about at that hour in the morning. He hesitated, drew in his breath
audibly, and as he looked down again, the colour rose under his pallid
loose skin. I came here to-day to meet you, he added.
For a moment Anne felt that she was going to faint. Good God! Had
this dreary outcast found his way to her castles in Spain? Could he
know? She was unable to articulate, and he went on.
You must pardon me if that was too bold a thing to sayyou are the
last person to whom I would give offence! But you have seemed to me the
very spirit of the fresh robust North. I have fancied I could see the
salt wind blowing about you. All the English creoles of this island are
like porcelain. The fine ladies that come to Bath House take too much
care of their complexions, doubtless of their pretty feetthey all
want to be beauties rather than women. That is the reason you seem
something of a goddess by contrast, and vastly refreshing to a West
Anne drew a long breath as he blundered through his explanation. She
was relieved, but at the same time femininely conscious of
disappointment. Nor was there sentiment in his low monotonous voice. He
paid but the homage of weary man to vital youth.
I am unfashionably healthy, she said, hoping that her eyes danced
with laughter at the idea of being likened to a goddess. She continued
with great vivacity, How relieved I am that you have never noticed the
hang of my morning skirts. Ah, that is because you are a poet. But I
wish I could give you one-tenth of the pleasure, by my suggestion of
the North, that I derive from your wonderful tropics. Don't fancy that
I get up at five merely for the pleasure of exercise. My chief object
is to enjoy your island for a bit while all the rest of the world is
asleep. These last sixteen days have been the happiest of my life. She
brought out the last words somewhat defiantly, but she met his gaze,
I am not surprised to learn that you are a poet. What else could be
expectedonce I learned to pay compliments gracefully, but if I have
forgotten the art, I have not lost my power to admire and appreciate
beauty in any form. It has given me the greatest pleasure I have known
for years to watch you, and I thank you for coming to Nevis.
Anne by this time was accustomed to the high-flown compliments of
polite society, but she could not doubt the sincerity of this man, who
had no place in a world where idle flattery was the small coin of talk.
She blushed slightly and changed the subject, and as he talked, less
and less haltingly, of the traditions of Nevis, she watched his eyes,
fascinated. They were not the eyes of mere youth, any more than of a
man who had seen far too much of life. Neither, upon closer inspection,
were they the eyes of a saint or a martyr, although she could better
understand Hunsdon's estimate by picturing him born three centuries
earlier. But they were the eyes of the undying idealist, of the inner
vision, of a mental and spiritual life apart from the frailties of the
body. They seemed to look at her, intent as was his gaze, as from a
vast distance, from heights which neither she nor all that respectable
world that despised his poor shell could ever attain. With it all there
was no hint of superciliousness: the eyes were too sad, too terribly
wise in their own way for that; and his whole manner went far beyond
modesty; it had all the pitiable self-consciousness of one that has
fallen from the higher social plane. No common man, no matter what his
fame and offences, could lose his self-respect as this poor gentleman
had done. Anne, filled with a pity she had never known was in her,
exerted herself to divert his mind from the gulf which had so long
separated him from his class. She talked as she fancied other women
must have talked to him when he visited London in the first flush of
his youth and fame. She even began with The Blue Sepulchre, which now
no longer ranked with the best of his work, so far had he progressed
beyond the unlicensed imagination of youth. She told him that she
looked down from her balcony every morning expecting to see the domes
and towers of ancient cities rise from the sea. And, alas! in the
enthusiasm of her cause, before she could call a halt, she had told him
all that his poetry had meant to her in her lonely life by the North
Sea; in a few moments he was aware that she possessed every volume he
had written, knew every line by heart; and although she caught herself
up in time jealously to conceal the more portentous meanings it had
held for her, he heard enough to make his eyes kindle at this delicious
echo of his youth, coming from an innocent lovely creature who had
evidently heard little of his evil life.
I knew that you came from the sea! he exclaimed. And the purple
rolling moors! How well I remember them, and longed to write of them.
But only these latitudes drive my pen. Indeed, I once tried to write
about the heatherthe purple twilightno figment of the poetical
fancy, that. The atmosphere at that hour literally is purple.
When it is purple! But you should see the moors in all their
moods as I have done. I rarely missed a day in winter, no matter how
wildI have tramped half a day many a time. And I can assure you that
the sea itself cannot look more wild, more terrifyingwith the wrack
driving overhead, and the rain falling in torrents, and the wind
whistling and roaring, and rushing past you as if called by the sea to
some frightful tryst, some horrible orgy of the elements, and striving
to tear you up and carry you with it. Stillstillperhaps it is as
beautifulthenin its way, as in its season of colour and peace.
Ah! I knew you would say that. He added in a moment, You are the
only person that has quoted my lines to me that has not embarrassed me
painfully. For the moment I felt that you had written them, not I!
I often used to feel that I had; all, that is The magnet of
danger to the curiosity in her feminine soul was irresistible. All but
your ode to the mate whom you never could find.
And then she turned cold, for she remembered the story of the woman
who had been his ruin. But he did not pale nor shrink; he merely smiled
and his eyes seemed to withdraw still farther away. Ah! that woman of
whom all poets dream. Perhaps we really find her as we invoke her for a
bit with the pen. Then he broke off abruptly and looked hard at her,
his eyes no longer absent. Youyou he began. Ten years ago
And then his face flushed so darkly that Anne laughed gaily to cover
the cold and horror that gripped her once more.
Ten years ago? I was only twelve! And nowI am made to feel every
day that two-and-twenty is quite old. In three more years I shall be an
orthodox old maid. All the women in Bath House intimate that I am
already beyond the marriageable age.
The men do not, I fancy! The poet spoke with the energy of a man
himself. Besides, I lookedhappened to lookthrough the window of
the saloon one night and saw you talking to no less than four
Here she turned away in insufferable confusion, and he, too, seemed
to realise that he had betrayed a deeper interest than he had intended.
With a muttered au revoir he left her, and when she finally turned her
head he was gone. Miss Bargarny was exclaiming:
Well, dear Lady Hunsdon, he was quite delightful, genteel,
altogether the gentleman. Thank heaven I never heard all those naughty
stories, so I can admire without stint. Did you notice, Mary, how
pleased he was when I recited that couplet?
I saw that he was very much embarrassed, replied Lady Mary, who
for an elegiac figure had a surprising reserve of human nature. It was
too soon to be personal with a poor man who has been out of the world
so long. But I think he enjoyed himself after the first embarrassment
wore off. I feel surer still, with an exalted expression turned
suddenly upon Lord Hunsdon, that we shall rescue him. We must have him
here often, not lose a day of this precious time. Then we can leave
Nevis without anxiety, or perhaps induce him to go with us. She
reflected that were she mistress of Hunsdon Towers she should be quite
willing to give the famous poet a turret and pass as his mundane
Hunsdon moved toward her as if her enthusiasm were a magnet. It has
all exceeded my fondest hopes, he exclaimed. He was quite like his
old self before he left
Thanks to Miss Percy, broke in a stridulous voice. He was
devoured with ennui, to say nothing of shyness, until he summoned up
courage to talk to her, and then he seemed to me quite like any
ordinary young spark. I don't know that he quite forgot to be a poet,
she concluded with some gallantry, for she had taken a great fancy to
Anne and was determined to marry her brilliantly, but he certainly
ceased for a few moments to look like a God-forsaken one. What were you
talking about, my dear?
Dear Lady ConstanceOh, Nevis, and his poetry, for the most
I should think he would be sick of both subjects. Come now, be
frank. Did not you get on the subject of your pretty self? I'll be
bound he has an eye for a fine girl as well as the best of them. You
make Mary and Lillian look like paper dolls.
I do protest! cried Miss Bargarny indignantly. If he does it is
practically because he is alives in the country himself. If he lived
in London among people of the first fashion
He'd admire her all the more. Look at the other beaux. Wait until
Miss Percy is in the high tide of a London season. You forget that if
girls are always on the catch, men are always ready for a change.
Miss Bargarny's black eyes were in flames, but she dared not provoke
that dreaded tongue further. She forced herself to smile as she turned
to Anne, standing abashed during this discussion of herself, and
longing to be alone with her chaotic thoughts. Confess, dear Miss
Percy, that you did not talk about yourself, but about that most
fascinating of all subjects to man, himself. I believe you have
the true instinct of the coquette, in spite of your great lack of
experience, and that is a coquette's chiefest sugar-plum.
I believe I did talk about himselfnaturally, as I have always
been a great admirer of his work, and the very inexperience you mention
makes me seize upon such subjects as I know anything about.
Lady Mary went forward and put her arm about her new friend's waist.
Let us take a turn in the orchard before it is time to retire, she
said. I long to talk to you about our new acquaintance. Try to devise
a plan to bring him here daily, she said over her shoulder to the
complacent hostess; and to Lord Hunsdon, Will you come for us in a
quarter of an hour?
It was only of late that Lady Mary had determined to lay away in
lavender the luxury of sorrow. When a woman is thirty ambition looms as
an excellent substitute for romance, and there had been unexpected
opportunities to charm a wealthy peer during the past five weeks. She
hated poetry and thought this poet a horror, but he was an excellent
weapon in the siege of Hunsdon Towers. She was not jealous of Anne, for
she divined that Hunsdon's suit, if suit it were, was hopeless, and
believed that her new friend's good nature would help her to win the
prize of a dozen seasons. So she refreshed her complexion with
buttermilk and spirits of wine, and made love to Anne; who saw through
her manoeuvres but was quite willing to further them if it would save
herself the ordeal of refusing Lord Hunsdon.
On the following evening there was so much more dancing than
usuala number of officers had come over from St. Kittsthat the
saloon was deserted by the young people, and at the height of the
impromptu ball Anne found herself alone near one of the open windows.
The older people were intent upon cards. Anne, who had grown bolder
since her first appearance in the world, now close upon three weeks
ago, obeyed an impulse to step through the window, descended the
terrace and walked along the beach. She could have gone to her room and
found the solitude she craved, but she wanted movement, and the night
was so beautiful that it called to her irresistibly. The moon was at
the full, she could see the blue of the sea under its crystal flood.
The blades of the palm trees glittered like sinister weapons
unsheathed. She could outline every leaf of palm, cocoanut, and banana
that fringed the shore. The nightingales ceased their warbling and she
heard that other and still more enchanting music of a tropic night, the
tiny ringing of a million silver bells. What fairy-like creature of the
insect world gave out this lovely music she was at no pains to
discover. It was enough that it was, and she had leaned out of her
window many a night and wondered why Byam Warner had never sung its
music in his verse.
Byam Warner! Howhow was she to think of him? Her overthrown ideals
no longer even interested her, belonging as they did to some far off
time when she had not come herself to dream upon these ravishing
shores. And now the surrender of the past three weeks had been far more
rudely disturbed. Would even Nevis dominate again? Must not such a man,
even in his ruin, cast his shadow over any scene of which he was a
part? And of Nevis he was a part! She had been able to disassociate
them only until he stood before her, quick. And now she should see him,
talk to him every day, possibly receive his devotions, for there was no
doubt that he admired her as the antithesis of all to which he had been
accustomed from birth; unquestionably she must take her part in his
redemption. The thought thrilled her, and she paused a moment looking
out over the water. Faded, even repellent, as that husk was, not only
was his genius so far unimpaired, but she believed that she had caught
a glimpse of a great soul dwelling apart in that polluted tenement.
From the latter she shrank with all the aversion of uncontaminated
girlhood, but she felt that she owed it to her intellect to recognise
the separateness of those highest faculties possessed by the few, from
the flesh they were forced to carry in common with the aborigines. And
it seemed almost incredible that his life had not swamped, mired,
smothered all that was lofty and beautiful in that inner citadel; her
feminine curiosity impelled her to discover if this really were so, or
if he had merely retained a trick of expression.
She was skirting the town, keeping close to the shore, but she
paused again, involuntarily, to look in the direction of that baker's
dwelling, through the window of which, some months since, Byam Warner,
mad with drink, had precipitated himself one night, shrieking for the
handsome wife of the indignant spouse. For this escapade he had lain in
jail until a coloured planter had bailed him outfor the white Creoles
thought it a good opportunity to emphasize their opinion of himand
although he had been dismissed with a fine, the judge had delivered
himself of a weighty reprimand which was duly published in the local
paper. He had lain in prison only forty-eight hours, but he had lain
in prison, and the disgrace was indelible. No wonder he had been
ashamed to hold up his head, had hesitated so long to accept Lady
Hunsdon's invitation. The wonder was it had been extended. Anne
shrewdly inferred it never would have been in London, no matter what
the entreaties of Lord Hunsdon, but on this island many laws were
relaxed and many a sin left behind.
Then her thoughts swung to his indubious assertion that he had
emerged from his lair merely that he might meet her. She recalled the
admiration in his eyes, the desperate effort with which he had overcome
his shyness and approached her. What irony, if after having been
ignorant, unsuspecting, of her existence during all those years of her
worship, when she had been his more truly than in many a corporeal
marriage, he should love her now that she could only think of him with
pity and contempt. It gave her a fierce shock of repulsion that he
might wish to marry her, dwell even in thought upon possessing her
untouched youth after the lewdness of his own life. She must crush any
such hope in its bulb if she would not hate him and do him ill when she
sincerely wished him well. She reviewed the beaux of Bath House for one
upon whom she might pretend to fix her affections, and at once, before
Warner's inclination ripened into passion; but the very thought of
entering into a serious flirtation with any of those tight-waisted,
tight-trousered exquisites induced a sensation of ennui, and with
Hunsdon she did not care to trifle. He might be wearisome, but he was
good and sincere, and Lady Mary should have him were it in her power to
bring about that eminently proper match.
It was at this point in her reflections that she found herself
opposite the house of the poet.
She had walked more rapidly than she had been aware of and was
shocked at her apparent unmaidenliness in approaching the house of a
man, and at night, in whom she was irresistibly interested; although,
to be sure, if she walked round the island, to pass his house sooner or
later was inevitable. She was about to turn and hurry home, when she
saw what had appeared to be a shadow detach itself from the tree in the
court and approach her. She recognised Warner and stood rooted to the
ground with terror. All the wild and detestable stories she had heard
of him sprang to her mind in bold relief, and although she had met many
a hard character when tramping her moors and felt sure of coming off
best in a struggle, her strength ebbed out of her before this
approaching embodiment of all mysterious vice. To fly down the beach in
a hoop was impossible; besides she would look ridiculous. But what
would he do! She forgot his eyes and remembered only his adventures.
But he looked anything but formidable as he came closer, and, being
without a hat, bowed courteously. Under the softening rays of the moon
his features looked less worn, his skin less pallid, and, perhaps
because she was alone and attracted him strongly, his hang-dog air was
less apparent. He even made an effort to straighten his listless
shoulders as he came close enough to get a full view of the beautiful
young woman, standing with uncovered head and neck in the bright light
of the moon and staring at him with unaccountable apprehension.
It is I, Miss Percy, he said. Have you walked ahead of your
party? I have not seen anyone pass.
Iit is a dreadful thing to do, I knowI stepped out of the
windowjust to take a stroll by myself. I never seem to get a moment
alone. I am so tired of hearing people chatter. I was thinkingbefore
I knew it I was here. I must go back. My aunt will be very angry.
Let me get you a cloak. Your shoulders are bare and the fog will
come down presently.
He went rapidly into the house and she had her chance to flee, but
she waited obediently until he returned with a long black Inverness,
which he laid about her shoulders. I shall walk home with you, he
said. I don't think you are quite prudent to go about alone at night.
There are rough characters in the town.
Ah!never again. You are very kind. I do not know why I should
He did not make the conventional response, and for a few moments
they walked on in silence. Then, gathering confidence, as he barely
looked at her and was undeniably sober, she asked abruptly: Why have
you never written of the fairy orchestra one hears every night? It is
about the only phase of Nevis you have neglected.
The little bells? Thank you for calling my attention to it. I
rememberI once thought of it. But so many other things claimed my
attention, and I forgot it. I fancy I seldom hear it. But you are
right; it is very lovely and quite peculiar to the West Indies. If it
would please you I will write some verses about itwellone of these
I wish you would write them while I am here.
I am not in the mood for writing at present.
He spoke hurriedly, and she understood. Hunsdon had told her that he
never wrote save under stimulants. Could it be possible that he had
made up his mind not to drink as long as she was on Nevis? She turned
to him a radiant face of which she was quite unconscious, as she
replied eagerly. Yes! We have all resolved that you shall not write a
line this winter. A few months out of your life are nothing to
sacrifice to people that admire and long to know you as we do. Never
was a man so sought. I cannot tell you how many schemes we have already
devised to get hold of you
But whyin heaven's name? I cannot help feeling the absurdity.
Not at all. You are the most celebrated poet of the day, and all
the world loves a lion.
For some five years, the world of Bath House has existed without
the capers of the local lion, he responded dryly.
Ah, but you were so determined a recluse. It takes a Lady Hunsdon
to coax a lion from his cave. And, no doubt, she is the only person to
come to Bath House during all these years who knew you well enough to
take such a liberty. You are such an old and intimate friend of her
He stole a quick glance at her, as if to ascertain were she as
ignorant of his life as she pretended, but she was now successfully in
the rôle of the vivacious young woman, who, in common with the rest of
the world, admired his work and was flattered to know the author.
Don't think that we mean to make fools of ourselves and bore you,
she added, with another radiant and somewhat anxious smile. But now
that the opportunity has come we are all so happy, and we feel deeply
the compliment you have already paid us. Lady Hunsdon hopes that you
will read from your works some evening
Good God, no! Unless, to be sure, you have a charity entertainment.
I have done that in the past and felt that the object compensated for
the torture. But I am somewhat surprised to find that you are a lion
I don't think I amthat is, I hardly know. You are the first great
man I have ever seen. Perhaps after a season in London I shall be quite
frivolous and worldly.
I can imagine nothing of the kind. I am not so surprised to learn
that you have not yet spent a season in town.
Oh, yes, I am a country girl, she said roguishly.
Not quite that. But he did not pursue the subject, and in a few
moments they came to the gates of Bath House. He took the cloak from
her shoulders. It would exceed the bounds of decorum should I escort
you further, he said formally. If you will hasten you will not take
cold. Good night.
She thanked him and ran up the steps and, avoiding the saloon, to
her own room.
I have begun well, she thought triumphantly. No one could say
that I have not done my part. And if he does not drink for three
Anne conceived more respect for Lord Hunsdon as the days went on,
for there was no doubt that his stratagem, carefully planned and
carried out, was succeeding. Whether Warner suspected his object or not
no one could guess, but that he was flattered and encouraged there
could be no question. Invitations to Bath House descended in showers.
He breakfasted, lunched, dined there, drove with the ladies in the
afternoon, and finally summoned up courage to be host at a picnic in
the hills. He was still shy and quiet, but he no longer looked abject
and listless. His shoulders were less bowed, even his skin grew more
normal of hue, the flesh beneath it firmer. It might be a fool's
paradise; these spoilt people of the world might have forgotten him
before their return next winter, but the mere fact that they overlooked
his flagrant insults to society and once more permitted him to become
an active member of his own class was enough to soothe ugly memories
and make the blood run more freely in his veins.
Anne treated him with a uniform courtesy and flattering animation,
but made no opportunities for private conversation, and he on his side
made no overt attempt at deliberate approach. On the contrary, although
she often caught him regarding her steadily, sometimes with a sadness
that made her turn aside with a paling colour, he seemed rather to
avoid her than otherwise. Not so Lord Hunsdon. He was ever at her side
in spite of her manifest indifference, and daily confided to her his
delight in Warner's response, and his hopes. He joined her in no more
of her walks, but he rarely failed to attend her in the orchard in the
afternoonwhere the younger guests never tired of watching the little
black boys scramble up the tall thin smooth cocoanut trees, and,
grinning and singing amidst the thick mass of leaves at the top, shake
down the green delicious fruitor in the saloon after dinner.
Frequently he invited a small party to take grenadilla ices on the
terrace of the gay little restaurant in Charlestown, where half the
creole world of Nevis was to be met, and upon one occasion he took
several of the more venturesome out to spear turtles, that Anne alone
might be gratified. So far he had made no declaration, and often stared
at her with an apprehension and a diffidence that seemed a travesty on
the fettered and tortured soul that looked from Warner's eyes; but his
purpose showed no wavering, despite the efforts of Lady Hunsdon and of
Anne herself to bring him to the feet of Lady Mary. That his mother was
uneasy was manifest. She was too worldly to pin her faith to the
apparent indifference of any portionless young woman to a wealthy peer
of the realm, and the more she saw of Anne Percy the less she favoured
her as a daughter-in-law. Lady Constance, who understood her perfectly,
laughed outright one evening as she intercepted a scowl directed at
Hunsdon and Miss Percy, who sat apart in one of the withdrawing-rooms.
She won't have him. Do not worry.
I am not at all sure. You forget that Hunsdon would be a great
match for any girl.
She does not care two straws about making a great match.
She is made on the grand scale. Hunsdon is all very well, but he
makes no appeal to the imagination. I am almost glad Warner has made
such a wreck of himself. A handsome, dashing young poet, with the world
at his feet, might be fatal to her. Warner never was dashing, to be
sure, but he certainly was handsome ten years ago, and fame is a
He improves every day, but he seems to fancy Miss Percy as little
as any of the others.
Poor devil! I suppose he recalls the time when so many girls tried
to marry him. I cannot see much improvement myself, although he does
not look quite so much like a lost soul roaming about in search of a
respectable tenement. But his physical attraction is all gone. Not one
of the girls is in love with him, not one of the men jealous.
Oh, certainly no woman could fall in love with him, any more than
any parent would accept him. And as he is quite safe I wish he would
command more of Miss Percy's attention, and leave her with the less to
bestow on Hunsdon.
He is too much in love with her.
I seem to be the only person in Bath House with eyes in my head. He
is desperately, miserably, in love with her, and too conscious of his
own ruin, too respectful of her, to dream of addressing her. He would
stay away altogether, I fancy, did he not find a doubtful pleasure in
looking at her.
I am distressed if I have added to his trouble, said Lady Hunsdon,
who prided herself upon always experiencing the correct sentiments. I
hoped he came so often to us because we had restored his lost
self-respect, and he was grateful to be among his equals once more.
Oh, that, doubtless. But the rose leaves crumple more with every
visit. I only hope the reaction will not awaken the echoes of Nevis.
What a raven! Let us hope for the best and continue to do our duty.
If he really is in love with Anne Percy it may prove his redemption.
Much more likely his damnation. It will be the last drop in a cup
of bitterness already too full.
You grow sentimental.
Always was. But that never prevented me from seeing things as they
are. The result is that I am generally called cynical. But don't worry
about Hunsdon. He needs a refusal, and this is his only opportunity.
Lady Mary Denbigh achieved a signal triumph; she persuaded the poet
to accompany her to church. Fig Tree Church, romantically poised on the
side of the mountain, was this year the favoured place of worship with
the guests of Bath House; and where this select extract of London led
all the world of Nevis followed. And not merely the wives and daughters
of the English creole planters, but the coloured population, high and
low, who could make themselves smart enough. It was long since Warner
had entered a church, and the brilliant scene contributed to the humour
of his mood. The church looked as gay as an afternoon rout in London at
the height of the season, and the aristocracy of Nevis were quite as
fine as the guests of Bath House. Their costumes were of delicate
fabrics radiant of hue, and they were beflounced and beruffled, and
fringed and ribboned. There were floating scarves and sashes of lace
and silk; bonnets were covered with plumes and flowers, the little
bunch of curls on either side of nearly every face, half-concealed by a
mass of blonde or tulle. Behind the elect sat the respectable coloured
creoles, often dignified and noble of aspect, for the West Indian
African had been torn from a superior race; their dress differing
little from that of their betters. But who shall describe the mass of
coloured folk massed at the back of the church, a caricature of the
gentry, in their Sunday abandon to the mightiest of their passions.
Their colours were primal, their crinolines and bonnets enormousthe
latter perched far back; their plumes, if cheaper, were even longer;
where flowers and ribbons took the place of feathers heads looked like
window boxes; their sleeves were so tight that they could not hold
their prayer books at the correct angle, and more than one had stumbled
over her train as she dropped her skirts and tripped into the church.
They were still further bedecked with a profusion of false jewellery,
cotton lace and fringe, ribbons streaming from every curve and angle,
and shoes as gaudy as the flowers on their bonnets. Their men, in
imitation of the aristocrats, wore, of the best quality they could
muster, smart coats, flowered waistcoats, ruffled neck-cloths, tight
white trousers, and pointed boots a size too small. They were the
tradespeople of the village; in some cases the servants of the estates,
although by far the greater number of the young women of humbler Nevis
had received a smattering of education and were now too good to work.
Their parents might get a living as best they could, huckstering or on
the plantations, while the improved offspring, content to herd in one
room on the scantiest fare, dreamed of gala days and a scrap of new
finery. Nevertheless, many of them were handsomer than the white
fragile looking aristocrats, with their olive or cream coloured skins,
liquid black eyes, and superb undulating figures.
Warner had more than once written of the tragedy of these people,
his poet's imagination tracing the descent of the finer specimens from
ancient kings whose dust was mixed with the sands of the desert; and
his had been one of the most impassioned voices lifted in the cause of
emancipation. For these reasons he was much beloved by the coloured
folk of Nevis of all ranks, and some one of them had never failed to
come forward, when he lay ill and neglected, or the bailiffs threatened
to sell his house over his head. All obligations were faithfully
discharged, for he received handsome sums from his publishers, but his
patrimony was long since squandered; nothing remained to him but his
home and a bit of land high on the mountain, which he had clung to
because he loved its wild beauty and solitude.
Lady Mary Denbigh, with her languishing airs, her Book of Beauty
style, bored him more than anyone in Bath House, and he had begun to
suspect that her attentions were due not more to vanity than to a
desire to find favour with Lord Hunsdon. But she was seldom far from
Anne Percy, whose propinquity he could enjoy even if debarred
communion. And Lady Mary frequently made Anne the theme of her remarks,
in entertaining the poet; whose covert admiration she too detected and
encouraged, although not without resentment. Miss Percy was undeniably
handsome and high-born, but alas, quite lacking in fashion, in style,
in ton. Not that Lady Mary despaired of her. If she could be
persuaded to pass three seasons in London, divorced from that stranded
corner of England where she had spent twenty-two long years, all her
new friends felt quite hopeful that she would yet do them credit and
become a young lady of the highest fashion. Her figure was really good,
if somewhat Amazonian, and her face, if not quite regularwith those
black eyebrows as wide as one's finger, and that square chin, when all
the beauties had oval contours and delicate arches above limpid
eyeswas, as she had before maintained, singularly striking and
handsome, and if perhaps too warmly coloured, this was not held to be a
fault by some.
Warner recalled the bitter-sweet of her babble as he heard her sigh
gently beside him, her long golden ringlets shading her bent face. His
eyes wandered, after their habit, to Anne Percy, who sat across the
church, distinguished in that gay throng by bonnet and gloves and gown
of immaculate white. He worshipped every irregular line in that noble,
impulsive, passionate face and wondered that he had ever thought
another woman beautiful; condemned his imagination that it had lacked
the wit to conceive a like combination. Her eyes, commonly full of
laughter, he had seen darken with anger and melt with tenderness. There
were moments when she looked so strong as momentarily to isolate
herself from normal womanhood, and suggest unlimited if unsuspected
powers of good or evil; but those were fleeting impressions; as a rule
she looked the most completely human woman he had ever known.
He sighed and looked away. A wave of superlative bitterness shook
him, but he was too just to curse life, or anyone but himself. He did
not even curse the worthless woman who had struck the curb from his
inherited weakness and made him a slave instead of a rigid and insolent
master. She had been no worse, hardly more captivating, than a thousand
other women, but she had appealed powerfully to his poetical
imagination, and he had elevated her into the sovereignship of his
destiny, endowed her with all the graces of soul, the grandeur of
character and passion, that he had hitherto shaped from the rich
components in his brain. When he was faced with the naked truth his
mental disquiet was as great as his anguish. If this woman, one of the
most finished works of the most civilised country on the globe, had
revealed herself to be but common clay, where should he find another
worth loving? Surely the woman was not yet evolved who could fasten
herself permanently to his soul and his senses. This may have been a
rash conclusion for a man of his years, but a poet is as old in brain
at six-and-twenty as he is green in soul at sixty. With all the ardour
of his youth and temperament he had longed for his mate, dreamed of a
life of exalted companionship on the most poetic of isles; and one
woman, cleverer than many he had met, had read his dreams, simulated
his ideal, and amused herself until the game ceased to amuse her; and
the richest nabob of the moment returned from India with a brown skull
like a mummy had offered his rupees in exchange for the social state
that only the daughter of a great lord could give him. She had laughed
good naturedly as Warner flung himself at her feet in an agony of
incredulous despair, and told him that no mood had become him so well,
for hitherto he had never expressed himself fully save in verse. And
Anne, neither classic nor modish, still vaguely resembled her! It was
this suggestion of the woman whom at least he must always remember as
the perfection of female beauty, that had tempted him to lurk in the
darkness of the terrace and watch Anne through the windows of Bath
House. In a day when girls cultivated the sylph, minced in their
speech, had numberless affectations, his early choice had possessed a
noble, large figure and a lofty dignity. She was not ashamed to walk,
was to be seen on her horse in the Row every morning, and cultivated
her excellent brain.
But the resemblance, Warner had divined at once, was superficial,
and the first interview had justified his instinct. Anne was a child in
many ways; the other, although younger in years, had been cool, shrewd,
calculating, making no false moves in any game she chose to play.
Warner knew that if he had discovered a gold mine in Nevis and won her,
he should have hated her long since.
But Anne Percy! He could not make the same mistake twice. And had he
met her when he had a decent home and an honoured name to offer her he
believed that he could have found happiness in her till the end of his
life. Nor, had she loved him, would she have been influenced by worldly
considerations. He had seen little of women of the great normal middle
class. Conditions had thrown him with the very high or the very low,
and experience taught him that the former when unmarried were all
angling for husbands, and the latter for patrons. Therefore had he
created a world of ideal womenone secret of his popularity, for every
woman that read his poems looked into the poet's magic mirror and saw
herself; and he had found happiness in creating, as poets must. Even
since his ostracism there had been many hours of sustained happiness
and moments of rapture when he had quite forgotten his position among
men. And Anne Percy, in her radiant presence, drove his ideals into the
shadows and covered them with cobwebs! And he could never claim her!
Even were he not a poor broken creature, with little alive in him but
that still flickering soul dwelling in his faded unspeakable body, he
would not even offer the commonest attentions to this uncommon girl who
was worthy of the best of men. Nor did he wish to suffer any more
deeply than he did at present. To know her better would be to love her
more. When she left the island he hoped to relegate her to the plane
upon which he dwelt in dreams, and forget that she had not been a
But he was sometimes surprised at the strength of his suffering and
his longing. He was so unutterably tired, had been for years, so weary
in mind and body through excess and misery and remorse, so bitterly
old, that he was amazed there should be moments when he experienced the
fleeting hopes and deep despair of any other lover of his years. He
left his bed at night and went out and walked about the island, or
rowed until he was lost under the stars; he dreamed miserably of her
over his books, or hid in the cane fields to watch her swing by in the
early morning, divested of that hideous hoop-skirt, and unconsciously
mimicking the undulating gait of the coloured women she passed. He had
replenished his wardrobe and was becoming as dandified as any blood in
Bath House, having borrowed from Hunsdon against his next remittance.
And as he was eating regularly for the first time in yearsless and
less of the concoctions of his own worthless servantsand drinking not
at all, there was no doubt that he was improving in appearance as well
as in health, in vitality. The last word rose in his brain to-day for
the first time. Could it be that this mortal lassitude might leave him,
neck and heel? That red blood would run in his veins once more? To what
end? He was none the less disgraced, none the less unfit to aspire to
the hand of Anne Percy. Not only would the world denounce her if she
yielded, but his own self-contempt was too deep to permit him to take
so much innocent loveliness to himself. But the thought often maddened
him, and to-day, as he looked up and caught her eyes fixed upon him,
suddenly to be withdrawn with a deep blush, he had to control himself
from abruptly leaving the church. More than once he had suspected an
interest, which in happier conditions might have developed very
rapidly. There was no doubt that his work meant more to her than to any
woman he had ever met, and he was convinced that she avoided him both
from a natural shrinking and because her strong common sense compelled
her to see him as he was, forbade her imagination to transmute his
battered husk into the semblance of what was left of his better self.
But she could love him. That was the thought that sent the blood to his
head and drove him from his pillow.
But it did not drive him to brandy. He had felt no temptation to
drink since he met her. It was true that before his final downfall he
had only felt the actual necessity of stimulant coincidently with the
awakening of his wondrous but strangely heavy muse; but during the past
five years he had burnt out tormenting thoughts and remorse with
alcohol, drinking but the more deeply when his familiar throbbed dully
and demanded release.
He could not look ahead. He had not the least idea what would be the
immediate result of the departure of Anne Percy, his return to the
loneliness of his home. With a reinvigorated body, and some renewal of
his faith in woman, he might resist temptation if he thought it worth
while. But the next poem? What then? He had never written a line of
serious work except under the influence of brandy. He knew that he
never should. And with nothing else to live for, to forswear the muse
to whom he was indebted for all the happiness he had ever known was too
much for God or man to ask of him.
He had been sitting tensely, and he suddenly leaned back and
endeavoured to invoke into his soul the peace that pervaded the house
of worship. The good clergyman was droning, fans and silken skirts were
rustling, eyes challenging. But outside the light wind was singing in
the palm trees, the warm air entered through the window beside him
laden with the sweet perfumes of the tropics. The sky was as blue as
heaven. He reflected gratefully that at least he had never grown
insensible to the beauty of his island, never even contemplated
deserting her for either the superior advantages or the superior
dissipations of the great world. To live his life on Nevis and with
Anne Percy! Oh God! He almost groaned aloud, and then came to himself
as Lady Mary rose and extended the half of her hymn book.
As he left the church Hunsdon took his arm, and begging Lady Mary to
excuse them both, led him down the mountain by a side path to Hamilton
House. It was evident that the young nobleman had something on his
mind, but it was not until they were in Warner's study, and he had
fidgeted about for a few moments that he brought it out.
Of course, old fellow, you divine that I have a favour to ask? he
said, growing very red, and staring out of the window.
Warner, who had seated himself, looked surprised, but replied that
no favour was too great to be asked by the best of friends. Then he
wondered if Hunsdon had guessed his love for Anne Percy and was come to
warn him from Bath House. With a hot rush of blood to the head he
almost hoped that the favour was nothing less and he might relieve his
overcharged feelings by pitching Hunsdon out of the window.
But nothing could have been so far from Hunsdon's well-regulated
mind. He had come on a very different errand.
The truth iswell, my dear Byam, you no doubt have seen how it is
with me, long since. The state of my affections. But I do not seem to
make much headway. Miss Percy is charming to all, but the only reason
that I sometimes permit myself to hope is because she is occasionally
rude to me. I am told that is always a propitious sign in females.
Do you want me to propose for you? asked Warner.
Oh, by no means. I shall do that myself when I think the moment is
ripe. But it is not, as yet. What do you think?
I have not the least idea, not being an eavesdropper.
Of course not, dear old fellow. And naturally you do not take much
interest in such matters. But there are certain preliminary steps a man
may take, and as I never paid court to a woman before I fear I am not
as skilled as some. I feel that you could assist me materially.
I have few opportunities of talking apart with Miss Percy, but I am
willing to inform her of the high esteem in which I hold you
Oh dear me no. Her aunt, I fear, does too much of that. Young women
should not be antagonised by being made to feel that their relatives
and friends are too anxious for a match. I fancy they are not unlike
us, the best of them, in that regard. No, what I should like, what
would be of inestimable service in my suit, would be to have you write
a sonnet or madrigal to her in my name, that is to say that I could
signwhich would not be so good as to betray the authorship. As you
know, many men with no pretensions whatever, write odes and sonnets to
their fair ones, but I could not even make a rhyme. She does not know
that, however, and if it were not too fine, yet delicately
flatteringI feel sure that she would be touched.
By all means, my dear fellow. Warner almost laughed aloud as he
wheeled about and took up a quill. He had no jealousy of Hunsdon, knew
that he would never win Anne Percy; but the irony of inditing a sonnet
to her in the name of another man took away his breath.
He wrote steadily for an hour, copying and polishing, for he was too
great an artist to send forth even an anonymous trifle incomplete in
finish. Lord Hunsdon, who was a young man of excellent parts, took from
the table a copy of the De Augmentis Scientiarum, and read
diligently until Warner crossed the room and handed him the sonnet.
Hunsdon was enraptured, but Warner refused to be thanked.
It would be an odd circumstance, he said dryly, if I could not do
that much for you.
Hunsdon blushed furiously. Only one thing more could make me the
happiest of men, he cried, with that kindling of the eye that in other
conditions would have developed into a steady fanaticism. And when all
is well, you must come and live with us. Now that the world has found
you once more I feel that I above all should be held to account did you
despise and forget it again. I shall not even leave you behind when I
return to England. Now, I must run off and copy this. Remember, you
dine with us to-night.
Lord Hunsdon had already bought an album in Charlestown, and after
copying the sonnet several times to practise his chirography, he
inscribed it upon the first pagea pink onesigning it Your most
obedient Hunsdon, with an austere flourish. Then he carefully wrapped
the album in tissue paper and sent it to Anne's room, with strict
orders to his man not to leave it unless she were quite alone. The best
of men have their vanities; the idea that the superior Mary Denbigh or
the satirical Miss Bargarny might witness the offering's arrival was
Anne was alone and unfolded the large square package with much
curiosity. It was one of those albums that the young ladies of her day
loved to possess; indeed, so far, she had been the only girl in Bath
House without one, and had read the flattering verses in several with
some envy. This tribute was sumptuously bound in brown calf embossed
with gold, and all the leaves were delicately tinted. She turned over
the pale greens and pinks, blues and canaries, with that subtle
indefinable pleasure that colour gives to certain temperaments. She had
not glanced at the servant, and fancied the album a present from Lady
Constance. When she saw the signature on the first page she stared, for
Lord Hunsdon was the last person she would have suspected of
cultivating the muse. She began the sonnet with a ripple of laughter,
but paled before she finished. Trifling as it was she recognised it as
the work of Byam Warner. She could never be mistaken there. It
resembled nothing of his that she knew, but the grace of the verse, the
fine instinctive choice of words, the glitter and sweep of phrase,
belonged to him and none other. Her heart leaped as she wondered if it
were not the first bit of verse he had ever written while sober. And
she had inspired it! The thought brought another in its train and she
went suddenly to her window and stared through the jalousies at the
dazzling sunlight on the palms, for the first time seeing nothing of
the beauty of Nevis.
The poem had been written from himself to her. A phrase or two not
intended for Hunsdon's unsuspecting eye assured her of that. It was not
an old sonnet furbished up to fit the purpose of a friend. And fragile
as the thing was, still it was poetryand he had written it when
soberand to her
She repeated this discovery many times before she could give shape
to the greater thought building in her brain. It was a beginning, a
milestone. Might it not be within her compass to influence him so
indelibly that his muse would continue to wake at her call, at the mere
thought of her, with no aid from that foul hag of drink, which of late
had almost made her hate his poetry as the work of a base alliance? She
believed that if he did not love her he was yet so deep in admiration
that she could inspire him with a profound attachment if she chose. And
the result? If only she were a seer, as certain of her Scotch kin
claimed to be. A hopeless love might inspire him to the greater work
the world expected of him; she had read of the flowering of genius in
the strong soil of misery. But he had suffered enough already, poor
devil! The result of loving for the last time, with no hope of
possession, might fling him from Parnassus into the Inferno, where he
would roast in unproductive torment for the rest of his mortal span.
Even that might not be for long. He looked frail enough beside these
fresh young English sportsmen, or even the high-coloured planters,
burnt without and within.
It was a terrible question for any woman to be forced to ask,
particularly were she honest enough to confess that no woman should ask
it. What right had she to put her finger into any man's destiny unless
she were willing to take the consequences and share that destiny if
invited? But that no woman could be expected to do. Why could he not
have realised her mental picture of him: that glorified being with whom
she had dwelt so long? She sighed as she recalled her many
disillusionments of the past few weeks. Bath House was the world in
little. It seemed years since she had left Warkworth Manor. She found
that world a somewhat mean and sordid place. She still loved the gaiety
and sumptuousness of her new life, for it appealed to inherited
instincts. But she had not found a responsive spirit. The young married
women were absorbed in their children or their flirtations. The girls
were superficially read, accomplished, conceited, insincere, with not
an aspiration above getting a husband of fortune. Lady Mary, alarmed at
last, was become cool and spiteful. Lady Hunsdon was almost an enemy.
Lady Constance seemed to have more heart than most of her ilk in spite
of her caustic tongue, but she hardly made a sympathetic companion for
a romantic young girl brought up in the country. It was true that she
had recently made an interesting acquaintance in Miss Medora Ogilvy,
the clever daughter of one of the planters, who vowed she loved her and
swore undying friendship; but Anne needed more time to reciprocate
feelings so ardent, particularly in her present state of mind.
On the whole she liked the young men better, as they were less
spiteful and petty, but they had read little and the only subject of
which, barring sport and society, they had any real knowledge, was
politics, and this they vowed too fatiguing for the tropics. They
preferred the language of compliment, they loved to dawdle, to hold a
skein of worsted, to read a novel aloud, or The Yellowplush Papers or
selections from Boz; when tired of female society, or when it was too
hot to hunt or fish, they retired to the gaming tables. Anne had never
dreamed that the genus man could be so little stirring, and although
she was flattered by their attentions, particularly by those of Mr.
Abergenny, and her natural coquetry was often responsive, for mere
youth must have its way, she was appalled by her general sense of
disappointment and wondered what her future was to be. She had no
desire to return to her manor, and for a season in London she cared as
little. She would have been glad to remain on Nevis, but to this she
knew that Mrs. Nunn would not hearken. London was inevitable; and
possibly she would meet some intelligent and interesting man who would
help her to bury romance and fulfil the proper destiny of woman.
She wondered to-day as she had wondered once or twice before, could
she have loved Byam Warner in spite of his unlikeness to her
exaggerated ideal had she found him a normal member of society, as fine
in appearance as his years and his original endowment deserved. It was
a question to which she could find no answer, but certainly his
conversation, could she but permit herself to enjoy it, must be far
superior to that of anyone else on Nevis. And a flirtation with the
poet of the day would have been exciting, something to remember, a
feather in her cap. She had her share of feminine vanityit grew
daily, she fanciedand it was by no means unfed by the manifest
admiration, possibly love, of this great poet in his ruin. Whatever his
tribute might be worth, it was offered to none but herself, and if the
man were beneath consideration the poet was of a radiance undimmed.
Suddenly it occurred to her that did he tread his present straight
and hygienic path for a full year he might indeed be his old self when
next she came to Nevis. The island was healthy at all seasons, those
who lived on it were immune from fever. Nature would remake what Warner
had unmade too early to have destroyed root and sap. Many a man had
sown his wild oats and lived to a hale old age. Would that mean that
next winter Byam Warner would be handsome, attractive, confident? She
often heard the good looks of his youth referred to, and there
certainly were the remains of beauty in that wrecked countenance. His
eyes were sunken, but they were still of a deep black gray, and they
daily gained in brightness. His hair was almost black, and abundant.
The shape of his head and brow and profile were above reproach, for
dissipation had never grossened him. But his face, although improving,
was still haggard and lined and stamped with satiety; his mouth
betrayed the wild passions that had wrecked him, and was often drawn in
lines of bitterness and disgust. There was nothing commanding in his
carriage, such as women love, and his manners were too reserved, too
shy, to fascinate her sex apart from the halo of his fame. A return to
health and vigour might improve him vastly, but nothing could ever make
him a dashing romantic figure; and although sometimes a light came into
his face that revealed the poet, commonly he betrayed not an inkling of
his gifts. But even so he might be more worth while than any man she
had met so far, whatever the great world might have in store; and she
wished that his reformation had been accomplished the winter before and
she were now in enjoyment of the result. Then she found distaste in the
thought that she might have had no hand in his reclamation, and was
glad to recall his hint that but for her he would never have crossed
the threshold of Bath House. And then she was overwhelmed with the
sense of her responsibility. It was not for the first time, but not
until to-day had she faced the question of how far she ought to go. And
even to-day she did not feel up to reasoning it out. She knew too
little of the world, of men; there was no one to whom she could go for
advice. She re-read the sonnet, determined to be guided by events,
registered a vow that in no case would she shirk what she might believe
to be her duty; and then wrote a prim little note of acknowledgment to
Lady Hunsdon, having in vain besought the poet to read aloud to a
select audience, acted upon the hint he had unwittingly dropped to Anne
Percy and organised a charity performance for the benefit of an island
recently devastated by earthquake. Warner was visibly out of
countenance when gaily reminded by Anne of his careless words, but he
could do no less than comply, for the wretched victims were in want of
bread. Lady Mary, Miss Bargarny, and several others offered their
services. All aristocratic Nevis were invited to contribute their
presence and the price of a ticket, and the performance would end with
a dance that should outlast the night.
Nevis was in a great flutter of excitement, partly because of the
promised ball, for which the military band of St. Kitts was engaged,
partly because but a favoured few, and years ago, had heard Byam Warner
read. Indeed, his low voice was never heard three yards away, in a
drawing-room, although it had frequently made Charlestown ring. He was
now on his old footing at the Great Houses. The nobler felt many a pang
of conscience that they had permitted a stranger at Bath House to
accomplish a work so manifestly their own, while others dared not be
stigmatised as provincial, prejudiced, middle-class. If London could
afford a superb indifference to the mere social offences of a great
poet, well, so could Nevis. They forgot that London had arisen as one
man and flung him out, neck and crop. Lady Hunsdon had eclipsed London;
rather, for the nonce did she epitomise it. Her gowns came not even
from Bond Street. They were confected in Paris. Hers was the most
distinguished Tory salon in London. Her son was the golden fish
for which all maidens fortunate enough to be within reach of the sacred
pond angled. It was whispered that Warner would accompany Hunsdon to
London, be a guest in his several stately homes, possibly be returned
from one of his numerous boroughs. The poet approached his zenith for
the second time.
Curricles, phaetons, gigs, britzskas, barouches, family chaises
brought the elect of Nevis, and their guests, from St. Kitts to Bath
House a little before nine o'clock; the lowly of Charlestown to the
terrace before the ever open windows of the saloon where the
performance was to be held. In the friendly bedrooms of the hotel there
was a great shaking down of skirts, rearranging of tresses. Miss Medora
Ogilvy went straight to Anne's room, by invitation, and finding it
empty, proceeded to beautify herself. Byron had been much in vogue at
the time of her birthwas yet, for that matterand she had been named
romantically. But there was little romance in the shrewd brain of Miss
Ogilvy. She was well educated and accomplishedlike many of her kind
she had gone to school in England; she could cook and manage even West
Indian servantsher mother was an invalid; and she wished for nothing
under heaven but to marry a man of elegant fortune and turn her back
upon Nevis for ever. She really liked Anne and thought her quite the
most admirable girl she had ever met, but she was not of those that
deceive themselves, and frankly admitted that the chief attraction of
her new friend was her almost constant proximity to Lord Hunsdon.
Miss Ogilvy was petite, with excellent features and slanting black
eyes that gave her countenance a slightly Oriental cast. She wore her
black hair in smooth bands over her ears, à la Victoria, and her
complexion was as transparently white as only a West Indian's can be.
To-night she pirouetted before the pier glass with much complacency.
She wore a full flowing skirt of pink satin, with little flounces of
lace and rosettes on the front, puffed tight sleeves, and a corsage of
white illusion, pink bands, flowers, and rosettes. As she settled a
wreath of pink rosebuds on her head and wriggled her shoulders still
higher above her bodice, she felt disposed to hum a tune. She was but
nineteen and Lady Mary was twenty-nine if she was a day.
Anne, who had been assisting Mrs. Nunn's maid to adjust lavender
satin folds and the best point lace shawl, entered at the moment and
was greeted with rapture.
Dearest Miss Percy! What a vision! A Nereid! A Lorelei! You will
extinguish us all. Poor Lord Hunsdon. Poor Mr. Warnerah, ma belle, I have eyes in my head. But what a joy to see you in colour. How does
My aunt insisted while we were in London that I buy one or two
coloured gowns. My father has been dead more than a year. I put this on
to-night to please her, although I have two white evening gowns.
She wore green taffeta flowing open in front over a white
embroidered muslin slip, and trimmed with white fringe. A sash whose
fringed ends hung down in front, girt her small waist. Her arms and
neck were bare, but slipping from the shoulders, carelessly held in the
fashion of the day, was a white crêpe scarf fringed with green. She
wore her hair in the usual bunch of curls on either side of her face,
but in a higher knot than usual, and had bound her head with the golden
fillet Mrs. Nunn had pressed upon her in London. Depending from it and
resting on her forehead, was an oblong emerald; Anne had a few family
jewels although she wore no others to-night.
I vow! continued Miss Ogilvy, tripping about her, quite classic!
And at the same time such style! Such ton! Madame Lucille made
that gown. Am I not right?
Anne confessed that Madame Celeste had made it.
Celeste, I meant. How could I be so stupid? But it is two long
years since I laid eyes on Bond Street. A humbler person, plain Mrs.
Barclay, sends out my gowns. What do you think, dear Miss Percy, shall
I look provincial, second-rate, amongst all these lucky people of
You are lovely and your gown is quite perfect, said Anne warmly,
and then the two girls went down-stairs arm in arm, vowing eternal
friendship. Miss Ogilvy professed a deep interest in the poet, declared
that she had begged her obdurate papa time and again to call upon and
reclaim him; and Anne, who now detested Lady Mary, was resolved to
further her new friend's interests with Lord Hunsdon. He joined them at
the foot of the staircase and escorted them to a little inner balcony
above the saloon. There was no danger of interference from Lady Mary,
who was to perform, or from Lady Hunsdon, who occupied the chair of
state in the front row.
They were late and looked down upon a brilliant scene. Not even a
dowager wore black, and the young women, married and single, were in
every hue, primary and intermediate. Almost as many wore their hair
à la Victoria as in the more becoming curls, for loyalty, so long
dead and forgotten, was become the rage since the young Queen had
raised the corpse. But they softened the severity of the coiffure with
wreaths, and feathers, and fillets, and even coquettish little lace
laps, filled with flowers. The men were equally fine in modish coats
and satin waistcoats; narrow and severe or deep and ruffled neckties
but one degree removed from the stock, or in flowing collars à la
Byron. Their hair was parted in the middle and puffed out at the
side; not a few wore a flat band of whisker that looked like the strap
of the condemned. Both Hunsdon and Warner shaved, or Anne would have
There was a platform at the end of the saloon, with curtains at the
back separating it from a small withdrawing-room, and it had been
tastefully embellished with rugs, jars of gorgeous flowers, a reading
stand, a harp and a piano.
Who will sway over the harp? asked Miss Ogilvy humorously.
Lady Mary. Ah! They are about to begin.
A fine applause greeted Miss Bargarny, who executed the overture to
Semiramide quite as well as it deserved. After the clapping was over
and she had obligingly given an encore, she remained at the piano, and
Mr. Stewart, a young man with red hair and complexion, in kilts and
pink knees, emerged from the curtains, and sang in a thundering voice
several of Burns's tenderest songs. After their final retirement the
curtains were drawn apart with much dignity, and Lady Mary stepped
forth; a vision, as her severest critics were forced to admit. She was
in diaphanous white, with frosted flowers amidst her golden ringlets, a
little crown of stars above her brow, and a scarf of silver tissue.
All she needs is wings! exclaimed Miss Ogilvy, and added to
herself, may she soon get them!
Lady Mary, acknowledging the rapturous greeting with a seraphic
expression and the grand air, literally floated to the harp, where
nothing could have displayed to a greater advantage her long willowy
figure, her long white thin arms, the drooping gold of her ringlets. As
the golden music tinkled from the tips of her taper fingersformed for
the harp, which may have had somewhat to do with her choice of
instrumenther ethereal loveliness swayed in unison, and, one might
fancyif not a rivalemitted a music of its own.
She doesn't look a day over twenty! exclaimed Miss Ogilvy. Who
would dream that she was thirty? But those fragile creatures break all
at once. When she does fade she will be even more passée than
But women know so many arts nowadays, said Anne drily. And she
would be the last to ignore them.
Ah! no doubt she will hang on till she gets a husband. I never knew
anyone to want one so badly.
Lady Mary? asked Hunsdon wonderingly. I had long since grown to
look upon her as a confirmed old maid.
La! La! my lord! Miss Ogilvy suddenly resolved upon a bold stroke.
She's trying with all her might and main to marry your own most
My most intimate friend? He is in England. Nottingdale. Do you know
him? Or do you perchance mean Warner?
Never heard of the first and it certainly is not the last. Oh, my
lord! And then she laughed so archly that poor Lord Hunsdon could not
fail to read her meaning. His fresh coloured face, warm with ascending
heat, turned a deep brick red. He felt offended with both Miss Ogilvy
and Lady Mary, and edged closer to Anne as if for protection.
This conversation took place while Lady Mary was bowing in response
to the plaudits her performance evoked. She tinkled out another
selection, and then, with a gently dissenting gesture, the dreaming
eyes almost somnambulistic, floated through the curtains.
There was a brief interval for rapturous vocatives and then the
curtains were flung apart and Spring burst through, crying,
I come! I come! Ye have called me long.
I come o'er the mountains with light and song!
Ye may trace my step o'er the wakening earth
By the winds that tell of the violet's birth.
The young lady, attired in white and hung with garlands, looked not
unlike the engraving of Spring in the illustrated editions of the
poems of the gentle Felicia. For a moment Anne, who had long outgrown
Mrs. Hemans, was disposed to laugh, but as the sweet ecstatic voice
trilled on a wave of sadness swept over her, a familiar scene of her
childhood rose and effaced the one beneath. She saw the favourite room
of her mother in the tower overhanging the sea, her brothers sprawled
on the hearthrug, herself in her own little chair, her mother in her
deep invalid sofa holding her youngest child in her arms, while she
softly recited the Evening Prayer at a Girl's School, The Coronation
of Inez del Castro, Juana, or, to please the more robust taste of
the boys, Bernardo del Carpio, and Casabianca, the last two in
sweet inadequate tones. Lines, long forgotten swept back to Anne out of
The night wind shook the tapestry round an ancient palace
And torches, as it rose and fell, waved through the
There was music on the midnight
From a royal fane it rolled.
The warrior bowed his crested head, and tamed his heart of
And sued the haughty king to free his long imprisoned sire.
Mrs. Percy had been a gentle, sentimental, romantic creature with
golden ringlets and floating sylph-like form, not unlike Lady Mary's.
She received little attention from her scientific husband and devoted
her short life to her children and to poetry, writing graceful vacant
verses herself. Mrs. Hemans was her favourite poet, although her eyes
could kindle when she read The Corsair, or The Bride of Arbydos,
particularly as she had once met Byron and remembered him as the
handsomest of mortals. But she would have thought it indecorous even to
mention his name before her young children. Mrs. Hemans was as much a
part of the evening hour in winter as the dusk and the blazing logs,
and the children loved her almost as well as the gentle being who
renewed her girlhood in those romantic effusions. A malignant fever
raging up the coast, had burnt out that scene for ever, leaving Anne
alone and aghast, for her father, the first horror and remorse over,
subsided once more into his laboratory. Then had come a succession of
governesses; finally the library was discovered; she ceased to miss her
old companions. But she never forgot them, and no doubt the sweetness
and melancholy of the memory did as much as the imaginary Byam Warner
to save her from the fate of her dry dehumanised father.
Anne came to herself as a charade progressed, and Miss Ogilvy gaily
commented upon the interpretation of the middle syllable of
Caterpillar, as A, in the architecture of which one of the handsomest
girls and her swain made a striking silhouette. Then she remembered
that the next name on the programme was Warner's; he was to read for
half an hour from his own work; after which all would hie themselves to
the music room and dance.
There was a longer interval than usual. Anne's hands and feet became
nerveless bits of ice. Had his courage given out? Had he run away?
Worse still, was he nerving himself to an ordeal to which he would
prove unequal? A humiliating breakdown! Anne's blood pounded through
her body as he finally emerged from the curtains, and she broke her
fan, much to the amusement of Miss Ogilvy.
The company, although it had once or twice permitted its applause to
go beyond the bounds prescribed by elegant civility, had reserved its
real enthusiasm for the poet whose halo of present fashion electrified
their springs of Christianity. As he entered, correctly attired,
although more soberly than most of his audience, and walked slowly to
the reading stand, they not only clapped but stamped and cried his name
until the walls resounded; and so excited the coloured people (with
whom his popularity had never waned) that a stentorian chorus burst
through the windows and drowned the more polite if no less ardent
greeting of the elect.
Warner blushed faintly and bent his head in acknowledgment, but
otherwise gave no sign of the astonishment he must feel, and stood
quite still until the noise had died away down to its final echo in the
neighbourhood of the palm avenue. When he finally lifted his book a
sudden breathless silence fell upon the company. Anne leaned over the
railing in almost uncontrollable excitement, her face white, her breath
short. Lord Hunsdon was too agitated himself to observe her, but the
unaffected Miss Ogilvy took note and matured plans.
Warner began to read in his low, toneless, but distinct voice. In a
few moments the excitement subsided; he was pronounced insufferably
monotonous. Fans rustled, hoops scraped the hard floors. Lady Constance
gave a loud admonitory cough. Warner paid no heed. Still he read on in
low monotone. A few moments more and its spell had enmeshed the
company. The silence was so deep that the low murmur of the sea could
be heard beyond (or within) his own voice. The most impatient, the most
vehement, raised significant eyebrows and shot out optical affirmations
that nothing could be more effective than the verbal method the poet
had adoptedalthough doubtless it was quite his own, so in keeping was
it with his reserved, retiring, non-committal personality. Be that as
it may, the dramatic scenes, the impassioned phrases, the virile
original vocabulary that flowed from his set lips could never be
delivered so potently by tones that matched their tenor. The contrast
flung them into undreamed of relief. Those most familiar with his work
wondered that they had never understood it before.
Anne felt more than all this. She closed her eyes and enjoyed a
delusion. It was the soul of the poet reading. The body there was but a
fallacy of vision, non-existent, really dead, perhaps; subservient for
a while longer to that imperious immortal part that had not yet
fulfilled its earthly mission. She had allowed herself to believe that
she had caught fleeting glimpses of this man's soul, so different from
his battered clay; to-night she heard it, and heard as she never did by
the North Sea when all her world was one vast delusion. It murmured
like the sea itself, the gray cold sea of some strange dark planet
beyond the stars, whence came, who knew? all genius; a sea whose tides
would rise high and higher until they exhausted the clay they beat upon
while they had yet a message to deliver to Earth. That clay! If it
could but be preserved a few years longer! Great as was his
accomplished work he must do greater yet. No student of his more
ambitious poems, half lyric, half dramatic, believed his powers were
Anne came to herself amidst a new thunder of applause. She told
herself with a sigh and an angry blush that she was a romantic idiot
and the sooner she married and had a little family to think of the
better. Heaven knew what folly she might be capable of did she give
rein to dreams. She became aware that Warner, compelled to silence, was
looking straight at her, and she automatically beat her hands together.
He smiled slightly and gave his head an almost imperceptible shake.
Then some one in the audience called for the popular poem in which he
had so vigorously denounced Macaulay's unjust estimate of Byron a few
years since, holding up to scorn the brain of the mere man of letters
who dared to criticise or even to attempt to understand the abnormal
brain and temperament of a great poet. He recited it from memory and
then retired followed by a tumult of approval that he well knew he
never should evoke again.
When Anne descended the company was streaming toward the music room,
whence issued the rich summons of a full military band. She manoeuvred
so well that Lord Hunsdon led out Miss Ogilvy for the first dance, and
sat down beside Mrs. Nunn, hoping that Warner would summon courage to
take the empty chair beside her. Her pulses beat high with excitement
and delight in his triumph, and she longed to show him recklessly for
once the admiration and the faith she had taken care to conceal under a
correctly flattering manner. But Warner stood talking with a group of
men, and even could he have ignored a sudden imperious beckoning of
Lady Hunsdon's fan he would have been too late. With one of those
concerted impulses to which men no less than women are subject, the
young bloods of Bath House, the moment they saw Anne Percy radiant in
colour, with an even deeper blush and brighter eyes than usual,
determined that she and she alone should be the belle of the evening.
She had hardly seated herself when she was surrounded, she was besieged
for dances; and in spite of her protests that she had never danced save
with her governesses, she found herself whirling about the room in the
arm of Mr. Abergenny, and followed by many an angry eye. Abergenny
might be untitled and less of a catch than Lord Hunsdon, but he had
far more dash, manner, and address; he possessed a fine property, if
somewhat impaired by high living, and was a man of note and fashion in
London. His word alone had stamped more than one ambitious beauty for
good or ill, and this was not the first time that he had intimated his
entire approval of Miss Percy. Anne guessed that his intentions were
never serious, but he had amused her more than the others, and since
she must know the world, doubtless she should be grateful for tutelage
Although trembling and suffused with terrified blushes, all her old
shyness in possession, Mr. Abergenny was so admirable a partner, he
gave her so many courteous hints, he kept her so persistently in the
thick of the dancing, where critical eyes could hardly follow her, that
her confidence not only returned, but before she had completed the
circuit of the room three times she was vastly enjoying herself. She
danced round and square dances with her various admirers for the next
hour, and when the country dance was at its height she found herself
tripping alone between the long files with no return of bashfulness and
no less grace than Lady Mary herself; forgetting that there could be no
better preparation for grace in the ball-room than years of free
exercise out of doors.
She abandoned herself to the new and unanticipated pleasure, and not
only of dancing but of being the acknowledged belle of the night.
Beyond the intoxication of the moment nothing existed. Once indeed, she
met Warner's eyes, and they flashed with surprise and rage, but she
forgot him and danced until even her strong frame could stand no more,
and she went to bed with the dawn and slept till afternoon.
Depressed with reaction and heavy with unwonted sleeping by
daylight, she was glad to go from her dressing-table to the carriage
waiting to take herself and her aunt for the customary drive. It was
but a moment before her mind was startled into its accustomed activity.
Mr. Warner has disappeared again. Mrs. Nunn tilted her lace
parasol against the slanting sun. Poor Maria!
That is the general interpretation. Maria, with whom he was to dine
to-night, received a note from him this morning asking to be excused as
he was going away for some time; and when Hunsdon rushed down to
Hamilton Houseunshaved and without his plungehe was told that the
poet was gone; none of the servants could say where nor when he would
return. So that is probably the last of the reformed poet. I suppose
last night's excitement proved too much for him.
Anne's feeling was almost insupportable, but she forced her tone
into the register which Miss Bargarny and her kind would employ to
express lively detached regret. That would be quite dreadful, and most
ungrateful. But I do not believeanything of the sort. No doubt all
that reading of his own work stirred his muse and he has shut himself
up to write.
Well, as he always shuts himself up with a quart of brandy at the
same time, that is equally the end of him as far as we are concerned.
For my part I have never been able to make out what all of you find in
him to admire. He would be quite ordinary to look at if it were not for
a few good lines, and I never heard him utter a remark worth listening
to. And as for fashion! Compare him last night with Lord Hunsdon or Mr.
I think myself he made a mistake not to appear in a rolling collar
and a Turkish coat and turban! I don't fancy that he emulates Lord
Hunsdon or Mr. Abergenny in anything.
At least not in devotion to you, so you will not miss him. And you
have nothing to regret, if he was the fashionthanks to
Mariafor awhile; a young girl should never suffer detrimentals to
hang about her. Which of your beaux do you fancy most? she demanded in
a tone elaborately playful.
Which? Oh, Lord Hunsdon is the better man, and Mr. Abergenny the
I don't fancy that Mr. Abergenny's attentions are ever very
serious, said Mrs. Nunn musingly. He certainly could make any young
lady the fashion, but he is fickle and must marry fortune. But
Hunsdonhe is quite independent, and as steady asshe glanced about
in search of a simile, remembered West Indian earthquakes, and added
lamelyas the Prince Consort himself. Then she felt that the
inspiration had been a happy one, and continued with more animation
than was her wont: You know they are really friendly.
The Prince Consort and Hunsdon. It is almost an intimacy.
Why not? I suppose a prince must have friends like other people,
and there are not many of his rank in England. I do not see how the
Prince Consort could do better than Hunsdon. The Queen certainly must
I am glad you so warmly commend Hunsdon. I have the highest respect
for him myselfthe very greatest.
If you mean that you wish me to marry him, Aunt Emilyhave you
ever reflected that it might cool your friendship with Lady Hunsdon?
She does not like me and I am sure would oppose the match. I may add,
however, that Lord Hunsdon has so far made no attempt to address me.
I don't fancy you are more blind than everybody else in Bath House.
I am gratified, indeed, to see that you are not. You are mistaken in
thinking that your marriage with Hunsdon would affect my friendship
with Maria. It is true that she has conceived the notion that you have
an independent spirit, and is in favour of Mary Denbigh at present; but
she is too much a woman of the world not to accept the inevitable. And
we have been friends for five-and-forty years. She could not get along
without me. I have not been idle in this matter. I sing your praises to
her, assure her that you have never crossed my will in anything. Last
night I told her how sweetly you had submitted to buying that coloured
gown, and to wear that filletit becomes you marvellously well. I have
also told her what a tractable daughter you were.
I couldn't help myself. I had not a penny of my own
One of the unwritten laws of the world you now live in is to tell
the least of all you know. The fact remains. You were
tractablesubmissive. You never made a scene for poor Harold in your
He wouldn't have known if I had.
Well, well, I am sure you are submissive, and always will be when
your interest demands it. I admire a certain amount of spirit, and your
difference from all these other girls, whatever it is, makes you very
attractive to the young men. Abergenny says that you are an out-of-door
goddess, which I think very pretty; but on the whole I prefer Hunsdon's
protest: that you are the most womanly woman he ever set eyes on.
It has more sense. I never read in any mythology of indoor
goddesses. Opinion seems to differ, however. Lady Mary said to me
yesterday: 'You are so masculine, dear Miss Percy. You make us all look
the merest females!'
Mary Denbigh is a cat. You know she is a cat. She would give Maria
many a scratch if she caught Hunsdon. But she will not. It is all in
your own hands, my dear.
Anne did not make the hoped for response. She did not even blush,
and Mrs. Nunn continued, anxiety creeping into her voice: You need
never be much thrown with Maria. She would settle herself in the dower
house which is almost as fine as Hunsdon Towers. In town she has her
own house in Grosvenor Square. Hunsdon House in Piccadillyone of the
greatest mansions in Londonwould be all your own.
But she could not command the attention of her niece again, and
permitting herself to conclude that the maiden was lost in a pleasing
reverie, she subsided into silence, closed her eyes to the beauty of
land and sea, and also declined into reverie, drowsy reverie in which
pictures of herself in all the glory of near kinship to a beautiful and
wealthy young peeress, were mixed with speculations upon her possible
luck at cards that night. She had lost heavily of late and it was time
she retrieved her fortunes.
At dinner and in the saloon later the talk was all of the poet's
disappearance. Some held out for the known eccentricities of genius,
others avowed themselves in favour of the theory that respectable
society had risen to its surfeit the night before. The natural reaction
had set in and he was enjoying himself once more in his own way and
wondering that he had submitted to be bored so long. Anne went to bed
her mind a chaos of doubt and terror.
She would have overslept again had it not been for the faithful maid
with her coffee. She sprang out of bed at once, a trifle disburdened by
the thought of a long ramble alone in the early morning, and,
postponing her swim in the tanks below until her return, dressed so
hurriedly that had hats been in vogue hers no doubt would have gone on
back foremost. She was feverishly afraid of being intercepted, although
such a thing had never occurred, the other women being far too elegant
to rise so early, and a proper sense of decorum forbidding the young
men to offer their escort.
The sea had never been a stiller, hotter blue, the mountain more
golden, the sky more like an opening rose. But she strode on seeing
nothing. Sleep had given her no rest and she was in a torment of spirit
that was a new experience in her uneventful life. She recalled the
angry astonished eyes of Warner as she danced with all the abandon of a
girl at her first ball. No doubt he had thought her vain and frivolous,
the average young lady at whose approach he fled when he could. No
doubt he thought her in love with Abergenny, whose habit of turning
female heads was well known to him, and upon whom she had certainly
beamed good will. No doubt he had expected her to manage to pass him,
knowing his diffidence, and offer her congratulations; whereas she had
taken no notice of him whatever. No doubtoh, no doubthe had rushed
off in a fury of disappointment and disgust, and all the good work of
the past weeks had been undone, all her plans of meeting him a year
hence as handsome and fine a man as he had every right to be, were
frustrated. She had for some time past detected signs that apathy was
gradually relieving a naturally fine spirit of its heavy burden, that
his weary indifference was giving place to a watchful alertness, which
in spite of the old mask he continued to wear, occasionally manifested
itself in a flash of the eye or a quiver of the nostril. Anne could not
doubt that he loved her, inexperienced in such matters as she might be.
However she may have kept him at a distance her thoughts had seldom
left him, and he had betrayed himself in a hundred ways.
Had she been half interested in Hunsdon or Abergenny and they had
been so unreasonable as to rush off and disappear merely because she
had enjoyed her first ball-room triumphs as any girl must, she would
have been both derisive and angry at the liberty; but Warner inspired
no such feminine ebullition. He was a great and sacred responsibility,
one, moreover, that she had assumed voluntarily. That he had
unexpectedly fallen in love with her but deepened this responsibility,
and she had betrayed her trust, she had betrayed her trust!
She left the road suddenly and struck upward into one of the
sheltered gorges, sat down in the shadow of the jungle and wept with
the brief violence of a tropical storm in summer. Relief was
inevitable. When the paroxism was over she found a shaded seat under a
cocoanut tree and determined not to return to the hotel for breakfast,
nor indeed until she felt herself able to endure the sight of mere
people; and endeavoured to expel all thought of Warner from her still
tormented mind. In the distance she could see Monserrat and Antigua,
gray blurs on the blue water, she could hear the singing of negroes in
the cane fields far away, but near her no living thing moved save the
monkeys in the tree tops, the blue butterflies, the jewelled
humming-birds. On three sides of her was a dense growth of banana,
cocoanut and palm trees, cactus, and a fragrant shrub covered with pink
flowers. Almost overhanging her was the collar of forest about the
cone, and the ever-faithful snow-white cloud that only left the brow of
Nevis to creep down and embrace her by night. She took off her bonnet
and wished as she had rarely done before that she might never leave
this warm fragrant poetic land. It was made for such as she, whose
whole nature was tuned to poetry and romance, even if denied the gift
of expressionor of consummation! Why should she not remain here? She
had some money, quite enough to rent or even build a little house in
one of these high solitudes, where she could always look from her
window and see the sapphire sea, that so marvellously changed to
chrysoprase near the silver palm-fringed shore, inhale these delicious
scents, and dream and dream in this caressing air. She hated the
thought of London. The world had no real call for her. She wondered at
her submission to the will of a woman who had not the least
comprehension of her nature. On Nevis would she stay, live her own
life, find happiness in beauty and solitude, since the highest
happiness was not for her; and at this point she heard a step in the
She sprang to her feet startled, but even before the heavy leaves
parted she knew that it was Warner. When he stood before her he lifted
his hat politely and dropped it on the ground, and although he did not
smile he certainly was sober.
The relief, the reaction, was so great that the blood rushed to
Anne's brow, the tears to her eyes. She made no attempt to speak at
once and he looked at her in silence. Perhaps it was the mountain
solitude that gave his spirit greater freedom; perhaps it was merely
the effect of the beneficial régime of the past two months; there might
be another reason less easy of analysis; but she had never seen him so
assured, so well, so much a man of his own world. His shoulders were
quite straight, his carriage was quite erect, there was colour in his
face and his eyes were bright. Nor did the haunted, tormented
expression she had so often seen look out at her. These were the eyes
of a man who had returned to his place among men. He looked young,
She spoke finally. Iwe all thoughtyou disappeared so abruptly
what am I saying?
You believed that I had returned to the pit out of which youyou
alone, mind youhad dragged me. You might have known me better.
You should not put such a burden on me. You have character
Oh yes, I had character enough, but doubtless you noticed when you
first met me that I had ceased to exercise it. I went to the dogs quite
deliberately, and, with my enfeebled will and frame, I should have
stayed there, had not you magnetised me into your presence, where I was
forced to behave if I would remain. Later, for reasons both prosaic and
sentimental, I remained without effort. I have never had any real love
of spirits, although I loved their effect well enough.
You must have loved that oththat woman very much.
She made a fool of me. There is always a time in a man's life when
he can be made a complete ass of if the woman with the will to make an
ass of him happens along coincidently. I fancied myself sated with
fame, tired of life, a remote and tragic figure among menthe trail of
Byron is over us all. That was the moment for the great and fatal
passion, and the woman was all that a malignant fate could devise; not
only to inspire the passion, but to transform a frame of mind
arbitrarily imagined into a sickening reality. From a romantic solitary
being I became a prosaic outcast. Nor could I recall anything in the
world I had left worth the sacrifice of the magician that gave me brief
spells of happiness and oblivion. Nobody pretended that it injured my
work, and I remained in the pit.
And your self-respect? You were satisfied? Oh surelyyou
lookedwhen I first saw you
I loathed myself, of course. My brain was unaffected, was it not? I
abhorred my body, and would willingly have slashed it off could I have
gone on writing without it. Either I compelled my soul to stand aside,
or I was made on that planI cannot tell; but my inner life was never
polluted by my visible madness. I have been vile but I have never had a
vile thought. I fancy you understand this. And when I am writing my ego
does not exist at allmy worst enemies have never accused me of the
egoism common to poets. I have lived in another realm, where I have
remembered nothing of this. Had it been otherwise no doubt I should
have put it all at an end long ago.
Anne had averted her eyes, caught in one of those inner crises where
the faculties are almost suspended. She faltered out: And afterwhen
I come back next year, shall I find you like this?
He paused so long before replying that she moved with uncontrollable
excitement, and as she did so his eyes caught hers and held them.
The intensity of his gaze did not waver but he said, unsteadily,
until his own excitement mastered him, I have assured myself again and
again that I never should dare to tell you that I loved you; that I was
not fit to approach you; that I must let you go, and try to live with
the memory of you. But now I remember nothing but that I love you. I
can speak of what I have been, but I cannot recall it. I feel nothing
but that I am a man in the restored vigour of youth in the presence of
the woman I want. If love is egoistical then I am rampant this moment
with egoism. If I could have the bliss of marrying you I never should
return to the past even in thought. I am a poet no longer. I am nothing
but a lover. I remember nothing, want nothing, but the perfection of
human happiness I should find with you.
The words poured from his lips before he finished, and the trained
monotony of his voice had gone to the winds. His face was violently
flushed, his eyes flashing. I dare! he cried exultingly. I dare! It
would be heaven of a sort to have broken through those awful barriers
even if you told me to go and never enter your presence again.
I cannot do that! I cannot! And then she flung her arms out from
her deep womanly figure with a gesture expressive as much of maternal
yearning as of youthful and irresistible passion. I will stay with you
forever, she said.
Several hours later Miss Ogilvy, who was riding slowly along the
road after a call at Bath House, suddenly drew rein and stared at an
approaching picture. She had a pretty taste in art, had Miss Medora,
and had painted all her island friends. Never had she longed more than
at this moment for palette and brush. A tall supple figure was coming
down the white road between the palms and the cane fields, clad in
white, the bonnet hanging on the arm, the sun making a golden web on
the chestnut hair. Never had the Caribbean Sea looked as blue as this
girl's eyes. Even her cheeks were as pink as the flowers in her belt.
She seemed to float rather than walk, and about her head was a cloud of
blue butterflies. Miss Ogilvy had seen Anne striding many a morning,
and it was the ethereal gait that challenged her attention as much as
the beauty of the picture.
They were abreast in a moment, and although Miss Ogilvy prided
herself upon the correctness of her deportment, she cried out
impulsively, and with no formal greeting: What, in heaven's name, dear
Anne, has happened? I never saw any one look so beautifulsohappy!
I am going to marry Byam Warner, said Anne.
Miss Ogilvy turned pale. She had intended to scheme for this very
result, but confronted with the fact, her better nature prevailed, and
she faltered out,
Ohohit is too great a risk! No woman should go as far as that.
We are all willing to help him, but that you should be
sacrificedyouyou of all
I am not sacrificing myself. Do you fancy I am so great a fool as
that? Nonothat is not the reason I shall marry him!
He certainly is a great poet and has improved vastly in appearance.
I never should have believed it to be possible. The inevitable was
working in Miss Ogilvy. But Mrs. Nunn? All her friends? There will be
dreadful scenes. Oh Anne, dear, they will rush you off. They will never
My aunt controls nothing but my property, and not the interest of
that. If she refuses her consent I shall simply walk up to Fig Tree
Church and marry Mr. Warner.
Miss Ogilvy recovered herself completely. You will do nothing of
the sort, she cried, warm with friendship and the prospect of figuring
in the most sensational episode Nevis had known this many a year. Come
to me. Be my guest until the banns have been properly published, and
marry from Ogilvy Grange. Everything must be de rigueur, or I
should never forgive myself. And it would give me the greatest
happiness, dear Anne. Mama and papa do everything I wish, and papa is
one of Mr. Warner's father's oldest friends. Mrs. Nunn will not
consent. So promise that you will come to me.
I am very grateful. I had not thought much about Aunt Emily's
opposition, but no doubt she will turn me out of Bath House. You may
see me at the Grange to-night.
Send one of the grooms with a note as soon as you have had the
inevitable scene. I only hope the result will be that I send the coach
for you to-day. I do hope you'll be happy. Why shouldn't you? Byam
Warner would not be the first man to settle down in matrimony. But can
you stand living your life on Nevis.
I should have wished to live here had I never met Byam Warner.
Ohwellyou are not to be pitied. I shall paint you while you are
at the Grange, all in whiteonly in a smarter gownin this setting,
and with those blue butterflies circling about your head. You cannot
imagine what a picture you made. What a pity I frightened them away.
Now, mind you write me at once.
She kissed her radiant friend with a sigh, doubting that even
conquest of Lord Hunsdon would make herself look like a goddess, and
Anne went her way, even more slowly than before. She was in no haste
to face Mrs. Nunn, and she would re-live the morning hours before other
mere mortals scattered those precious images in her mind. Warner had
taken her up to his hut concealed in a hollow of the mountain and
surrounded on all sides by the jungle, then, while she sat on the one
chair the establishment boasted, he had cooked their breakfast, a
palatable mess of rice and plantains, and the best of coffee. They had
consumed it with great merriment under a banana tree, then washed the
dishes in a brook. Afterward he had shaken down several young cocoanuts
and they had pledged themselves in the green wine. Then they had
returned to the shade and talkedwhat had they not talked about? Anne
opened the sealed book of the past five years of which he had been the
hero. He read it with amazement and delight, but contrite that he had
received no message from that turbulent young brain by the North Sea.
But he atoned by confessing that he had recognised her as his own the
moment he laid eyes on her, that she was all and more than he had once
modelled in the mists of his brain. He demanded every detail of that
long union, so imaginative and so real, and told Anne that never before
had a poet had the fortune to meet a woman who was a locked fountain of
poetry, yet who revealed the sparkling flood by a method of her own
with which no words could compete.
And will you write my poems? Anne had asked eagerly. But he had
drawn down a broad leaf between his face and hers. I told you that I
was a poet no longermerely a lover. To know absolute happiness in two
forms in this world you must take them in turn. I shall write no more.
Were you perfectly happy when you wrote? asked Anne, a little
I can almost understand it.
I can no more express it than I have ever been able to tell in
verse the half of what I blindly conceived.
I should think that might have clouded your happiness.
Yeswhen a poem was revolving and seething in my distracted head.
Never tempt me to write, for while the thing is gestating I am a brute,
moody, irritable, unhappy. The whole poem seems to work itself out
remorselessly before I can put pen to paper, and at the same time is
enveloped in a mist. I catch glimpses like will-o'-the-wisps in a fog
bank, sudden visions of perfect form that seem to turn to grinning
masks. It is maddening! But when the great moment arrives and I am at
my desk I am the happiest man on earth.
By tacit consent the subject of the stimulants under which he had
always written was ignored, as well as the terrible chapter of his life
which it was her blessed fortune to close. They had discussed the
future, talked of practical things. He had told her that his house
could be put in order while they travelled among the islands, and that
he made quite enough to support her properly if they lived on Nevis.
She had three hundred a year and would have more did she consent to let
the manor for a longer term, and he had assured her that hers was a
fortune on Nevis outside of Bath House. They finally decided to marry
at once that he might show her the other islands before the hurricane
In spite of loitering Anne arrived at the hotel quite two hours
before luncheon, and after divesting herself of a frock that would send
Mrs. Nunn into hysterics if her news did not, she went to her aunt's
Mrs. Nunn, fresh from her sulphur bath, was reclining on a sofa in
her large cool room, where the jalousies were half closed, and dawdling
over Godey's Lady's Book, a fashion magazine printed in the
United States, which found great favour in her eyes.
My dear Anne, she said languidly, I suppose you breakfasted with
Miss Ogilvy. La! La! You are more burnt than ever. Your face is quite
red. And I would have you well bleached before the London season. Pray
sit down. It affects my nerves to see you wander about like that.
Anne took a chair facing her aunt. I did not breakfast with Miss
Ogilvy. I have been talking to Mr. Warner all the morning.
Heavens! what a waste of time, when you might have been talking to
Hunsdon in the morning-room. It was quite empty. Maria has Mr. Warner
in charge. I hope you have not been walking about with him. You know I
No one saw us. We talked up in one of the jungles.
One of the jungles! Mrs. Nunn sat up. I never heard anything
sound so horrid. Do you tell me that you have the habit of sitting in
junglesdear mewith young gentlemen! I forbid you to go out again
This was the first time.
It assuredly will be the last.
I think not. Mr. Warner has a hut in the jungle and I am going to
Whatyou And then as she met Anne's eyes she gave a piercing
scream, and her maid rushed in. The sal volatile! she gasped. The
She fell back limp, and Anne, who was unaccustomed to the easy
fainting of fine ladies, was terrified and administered the
restoratives. But Mrs. Nunn may have been less time reviving than Anne
fancied, for when she finally opened her eyes they were very hard and
her features singularly composed.
You may go, Claire, she said to the maid. Return in an hour and
pack my boxes. We leave by the packet to-morrow. Now, she added,
turning to Anne, I am prepared to talk to you. Only kindly remember,
if you have anything further of a startling nature to communicate, that
I am accustomed to less direct and brutal methods.
I am sorry, said Anne humbly. Mrs. Nunn waved apology aside.
Of course you know that I shall never give my consent. Are you
determined to marry without it?
[Illustration: 'I never wish to see you again']
Your father all over. It was his expression of inhuman obstinacy in
your eyes that gave me even more of a shock than your words. Many a
time I endeavoured to gain his consent to your visiting London where
you would have seen the world and been sensibly married by this time.
Never under my earlier tutelage would you have made a fool of yourself.
And you have used Hunsdon abominably ill.
I have given him no encouragement whatever
Do not argue. My nerves will not stand it. Now this much I have the
right to demand: You are of age, I cannot prevent your marrying this
outcast, but you owe it to me as well as to yourself to return to
London, be presented to Her Majesty, and do a London season
I never expect to leave the West Indies again, unless to be sure,
Mr. Warner should feel obliged to go to London himself. If you sail
to-morrow I shall go to Medora Ogilvy
You have planned it all out! shrieked Mrs. Nunn. Anne hastily
poured out another dose of sal volatile.
I met Medora on my way home. She fancied how you would take it and
offered me shelter.
I am gratified that my sense of propriety is so well known. You can
go to her. I proclaim to the world that I wash my hands of the
disgraceful affair by leaving to-morrow. Great God! What a victory for
Maria Hunsdon. I believe she plotted it all along.
Then she plunged into worldly argument, abuse of Warner, awful
pictures of the future. Finally Anne rose.
I don't wish to do your nerves a real injury, so I shall leave you
until you are calmer, she said.
I never wish to see you again.
Mrs. Nunn, although she had talked with much heat, was still
collected enough to console herself with the reflection that Anne would
be terrified into sailing with her on the morrow; it was
incomprehensible to her well-regulated mind that any young lady in her
niece's position in life would consent to a scandal.
To do her justice, she had no wish to precipitate Anne into an act
which she believed must be fatal to her happiness, and she trusted to
further argument to persuade her to return to London if only for the
trousseau. With her niece and the poet on different sides of the
equator she would answer for the result.
Nevertheless, she called in Lady Hunsdon and Lady Constance
Mortlake, and fairly enjoyed the consternation visible upon the bright
satisfied countenance of her Maria. Lady Hunsdon, indeed, thought it a
great pity that Anne had not spared her son by selecting one of the
beaux of Bath House instead of the dissolute poet.
It is quite a tragedy! she said with energy, and I for one cannot
permit it. I feel as if it were my fault
It is, said Lady Constance.
But is it? I am inclined to blame my son, as he brought me here to
reform Mr. Warnerand that part of the work I take credit for
Devil a bit. He never would have come to Bath House without Anne
Percy as a bait. I have learned that he was several times seen staring
through the windows of the saloon before he accepted your invitation.
In that case he would have managed to meet her even had I not taken
him in hand.
Logical but doubtful. He had long since lost the entrée to Bath
House and to all the Great Houses. Only you, worse luck, had the power
to bring him into a circle where he was able to meet the girl.
Then you must admit that I have done some good. Had he not been
able to meet her, he no doubt would have gone from bad to worse. I at
least have been the medium in his reform, the necessary medium.
I don't believe in reform.
You were brought up at the court of George IV.
So were you, and therefore should have more sense. Warner is
temporarily set up. No doubt of that. He feels a new man and looks like
one. No doubt he has sworn never to drink again and means it. But wait
till the honeymoon has turned to green cheese. Wait till he begets
another poem. Poets to my mind have neither more nor less than a rotten
spot in the brain that breaks out periodically, as hidden diseases
break out in the body. Look at poor Byron.
It was Lady Hunsdon's turn to be satiric. Poor dear Byron must have
had a row of rotten spots one of which was always in eruption. One may
judge not so much by his achievements as by his performances.
Never mind! cried Lady Constance, the colour deepening in her
pendulous cheeks streaked with purple. He was the most beautiful
mortal that ever breathed and I was in love with him and am proud of
I feel much more original that I was not
Oh, dear friends, cried Mrs. Nunn, pathetically. We have to do
with a living poetunhappily. Byron has been in Hucknall-Torkard
church these twenty years. Do advise me.
Stay and see it through, said Lady Constance. I know love when I
see it. It is so rare nowadays that it fairly wears a halo. By and by
it will be extinct on earth and then we shall be kneeling to St. Eros
and St. Venus and forget all the naughty stories about them, just as we
have forgotten the local gossip about the present saints. You cannot
prevent this match. You cannot even postpone it. I regret it as much as
you do, but I cannot help sympathising with them! So young and so full
of high and beautiful ideals! They will be happy for a time. Who knows?
He really may be a new man. Maria can convince herself of anything she
chooses; I feel disposed to take a leaf out of her book.
Mrs. Nunn set her lips, thrust her bust up and her chin out. She
looked obstinate and felt implacable. I go to-morrow. Upon that I am
resolved. I should be criminal to encourage her
There was a tap at the door. A servant entered with a note.
From Anne! announced Mrs. Nunn. She dismissed the servant and read
DEAR AUNT EMILY:
Miss Ogilvy has sent the coach for me, feeling sure that I
have incurred your displeasure, and asking me to go at once
to the Grange. I have no wish to leave you if you remain at
Bath House, but if you are resolved upon going to-morrow, I
shall accept her invitation. Will you not let me come in
and say good bye, dear aunt? Be sure that I am deeply
grateful for all you have done for me and only wish that I
might spare you so much pain.
Mrs. Nunn called in her maid and sent a verbal refusal to see her
I would have saved her if I could. She was now quite composed, in
the full sense of duty done. But it is imperative that I go to-morrow
and announce aloud my disapproval of this unfortunate marriage. I shall
renounce my guardianship of her property the day I return to London. I
cannot save her, so I wash my hands.
I shall stay for the wedding, said Lady Constance, and all London
can know it.
It is my duty also to remain, said Lady Hunsdon, and my son must
be best man. But Emily is quite right to go.
Anne, during the ensuing month, had her first experience since
childhood of home life. Mrs. Ogilvy lay on a sofa in one of her great
cool rooms all day, but she made no complaint and diffused an
atmosphere of peace and gentleness throughout the house. The younger
children were pretty creatures, well trained by their English
governess, and Mr. Ogilvy, richly coloured by sun and port, spent much
of his time on horseback; amiable at home when his will was not
crossed. The large stone house, painted a dazzling white, and
surrounded by a grove of tropical trees, stood so high on the mountain
that the garden terraces behind it finished at the entrance to the
evergreen forest. It was fitted up with every Antillian luxury: fine
mahogany furniturethe only wood that defied the boring of the West
Indian wormlight cane chairs, polished floors of pitch pine,
innumerable cabinets filled with bibelôts collected during many English
visits, tables covered with newspapers and magazines, the least
possible drapery, and a good library. In the garden was a pavilion
enclosing a marble swimming tank. Plates of luscious fruits and cooling
drinks were constantly passed about by the coloured servants, who
looked as if they had even less to do than their masters. Anne was
given a large room at the top of the house from which she could see the
water, the white road where the negro women, with great baskets on
their heads and followed by their brood, passed the fine carriages from
Bath House; and, on all sides, save above, the rich cane fields. Byam
Warner came to breakfast and remained to dinner.
Miss Ogilvy was in her element. To use her own expression, Nevis and
Bath House were in an uproar. The unforeseen engagement following on
the heels of the famous poet's transformation, the haughty departure of
Mrs. Nunn, and the manifest approval of Lady Hunsdon and Lady
Constance, who called assiduously at The Grange, the distinguished
ancestry and appearance of Miss Percy, and the fact that the wedding
was to take place on the island instead of in London, combined to make
a sensation such as Nevis had not known since the marriage of Nelson
and Mrs. Nisbet in 1787. Strange memories of Byam Warner were
dismissed. He was a great poet and Nevis's very own. Never had Nevis so
loved Medora. The Grange overflowed with visitors every afternoon, the
piano tinkled out dance music half the night.
It was quite a week before Lord Hunsdon called at the Grange, nor
did Anne and Medora meet him, even when lunching at Bath House. But one
morning he rode out, and after a few moments of constrained politeness
in the drawing-room, deliberately asked Anne to walk with him in the
garden. She followed him with some apprehension. He was pale, his lips
were more closely pressed, his eyes more round and burning, than ever.
When they were beyond the range of Miss Medora's attentive eye, he
I have not come here before, dear Miss Percy, because I had to
conquer my selfish disappointment. You cannot fail to know what my own
hopes were. But I have conquered and we will never allude to the matter
again. My friendship for Warner is now uppermost and it is of him I
wish to speak.
Last night I sat late with him. He is full of hope, of
youthrenewed youth must seem a wonderful possession to a man: we are
so prone to let it slip by unheeded! Well, he is changed. I never hoped
for half as much. He tells me that the demon has fled. He has never a
sting of its tail. That may be because he never really craved drink
save when writinguntil these last years. It is this I wish to talk to
you about. You have the most solemn responsibility that ever descended
upon a woman: a beautiful soul, a beautiful mind in your keeping. If
you ever relax your vigilanceever love him less
I never shall.
No, he said with a sigh, I don't fancy you will. But you must
never leave him. He is not weak in one sense, but in loneliness he
might turn to composition again, and there could be but one result.
But if he had done without stimulant for a long whilewas quite
happywell, do not you think I might be stimulant enough? She laughed
and blushed, but she brought it out.
Lord Hunsdon shook his head. No, I do not believe that even you
could work that miracle. I have known him since we were at Cambridge
together, and I am convinced that there is some strange lack in that
marvellous brain which renders his creative faculty helpless until
fired by alcohol. If the human brain is a mystery how much more so is
genius? Much is said and written, but we are none the wiser. But this
peculiar fact I do know. The island records and traditions tell us that
all his forefathers save one were abstemious, dignified, normal men,
mentally active and important. But his grandfather, who spent the
greater part of his time in London, was one of the most dissolute men
of the Regency. He was a wit at court, a personal friend of the Prince
Regent. There was no form of dissipation he did not cultivate, and he
died of excess at a comparatively early age. By what would seem to be a
special tinkering of the devil with the work of Almighty God those
lusts have taken possession of one section of Byam Warner's brain only,
diseased it, redistributed its particles in a manner that has resulted
in the abnormal faculty we call genius, but deprived it of that final
energy which would permit those great powers to find their outlet
without artificial stimulant. These may be fanciful ideas, but they
have become fixed in my mind, and I have come here to-day to ask you to
make me a solemn promise.
That you will never permit him to write again. You are not the
woman to loosen your hold on a man's strongest feelings when the
novelty has passed. You can hold, influence him, forever. When you see
signs of recurring life in that faculty, divert him and it will
subside. He has fame enough. Nor do I think that he was ever untowardly
ambitious. Youyou can always persuade him to let the pen
But you make no allowance for those creative energies. They may
still be very strong, demand their rights. That cry may in time be as
irresistible as any of his more normal instincts.
He has written enough, said Lord Hunsdon firmly. He must rest on
his laurels. You must persuade him that he cannot add to his fame. With
feminine arts you will induce him to believe that it is best to let
I have given little thought to all this
But you will now! Give me your promise, dear Miss Percy, or I
cannot leave this island in peace.
But do you believe that Byam Warner will be content to settle down
for the rest of his mortal life to an existence of mere domestic
By no means. He delights in literature, and although he is well
read, there are tomes which not even a Bacon could master in one
lifetime. Moreover, he should buy back his cane fields. That would keep
him much out of doors, as overseers are of little more worth than
negroes. Then Lord Hunsdon had an inspiration. Encourage him to write
prose. There need be no fury of creation in that. The greater part of
his mind is capable of accomplishing anything unassisted. Interest him
in politics. He is a Tory and he loves me. Remind him constantly of the
Whig inferno from which we have just emerged. I am sure he would write
political pamphlets of incomparable influence. I have never heard
Warner talk politics, but I don't doubt that his mind would illuminate
that subject as it does everything else it touches. Fill the house with
quarterlies and newspapers.
He might write a political romance, after the pattern of Disraeli,
said Anne, who wondered why Lord Hunsdon did not take to romantic
Oh, not fiction, not by any means. Work that requires the exercise
of the merely intellectual powers, not that fatal creative-spot. But
will you promise, Miss Percy? Will you permit me to make sure that you
understand your solemn responsibility?
He faced her, his eyes flashing with that fanatical fire that would
have sent him to the stake three centuries since. They seemed to
retreat, become minute, bore through her. Anne, whose mind was in
confusion, and not a little angered, stirred uneasily, but she replied
in a calm decided tone.
I fully realise my responsibility. Make no doubt of that. I know
what I have done, what I am undertaking, I shall live for him, never
for myself. I promise you that, if you think the promise necessary.
And you will never let him write another line of poetry?
Not if I believed it would do him more hurt than good.
That is not enough, cried Hunsdon passionately. You must be
unconditional. One surrender and he is lost. If it were a mere case of
brandy while he was writingbut you have not the least idea what it
leads to. He is transformed, another mannot a man at all. And when he
emerged, did he enter that horror again, he would loathe himself as he
never did before. He would be without one shred of self-respect. I
shudder to think what would be the final result.
You will admit that as his wife I may find better opportunities to
understand that complicated nature than you have had.
Will you not make me that promise?
I will only promise to be guided by my judgment, not by my
feelings. I hear Byam's voice. After all, it is hardly fair to talk him
over like this.
Hunsdon did not give up the siege, and rode out daily, much to the
complacency of Miss Ogilvy, to whom Anne contrived to turn him over.
Lady Constance, who found Medora amusing, was still further amused by
the subtle currents beneath the surface, blind only to the shrewd young
Colonial's court of herself, and was finally inspired to invite her to
London for the season. Miss Ogilvy, in her own way, was as happy as
Anne. A younger sister was returning from England and could take over
her duties at the Grange; Lady Mary, riding dashingly about the island
with the spirit of eighteen, was caught in a shower, neglected to
change her garments at once, had a fever, and arose as yellow as a
lemon; Medora was nineteen and as white as an amaryllis.
The day of the wedding arrived. Never was there such a ringing of
bells, so splendid an array of equipages and gowns. Fig Tree Church
could hardly hold the planters and their wives, the guests from Bath
House, as well as those from St. Kitts, and the Byams and Warners that
had sailed over from half a dozen islands. Outside, the churchyard, the
road, the fields were crowded with the coloured folk, humble and
ambitious. Bonnets and parasols gave this dense throng the effect of a
moving tropical garden, and if the women were too mindful of their new
manners to shout as the Ogilvy coach rolled past containing the bride
hardly visible under clouds of tulle, the men set up a wild roar as
they caught sight of Warner hastily approaching the rear of the church
by a side path. Mr. Ogilvy gave the bride away, Lord Hunsdon was best
man, and Medora the only bridesmaid. Anne had pleaded for a quiet
wedding at the Grange, but to this her young hostess would not harken;
and the festival was vastly to her credit, from the beautiful
decorations of the chancel to the wedding-breakfast at the Grange. Lord
Hunsdon was much interested to learn that the dainty, varied, and
appetising repast was ordered and partly cooked by the accomplished
creature beside himwhose eyes certainly had a most attractive
Oriental slant. It so happened that his lordship was deeply concerned
with the Orient, and hoped that the cares of state, now that the Tories
were safely planted, would permit him to visit it.
The negroes were dined on a platform in one of the bare cane fields,
and danced afterward until the bridal party started for the beach
before Charlestown; then all, high and low, followed in the wake of the
Grange coach with its four horses decorated with white ribbons and
driven by postillions. One of the wedding presents had been a fine
little sloop, and in it Warner and his bride set off at four in the
afternoon, almost the entire population of Nevis, white and black,
crowding the sands and cheering good will.
* * * * *
That honeymoon among the islands was so replete with beauty and
bliss and the fulfilment of every romantic and ardent dream, that when
it was finished it was almost a relief to Anne to adjust her faculties
to the homely details of housekeeping. For two months they wandered
amongst that chain of enchanted islands set in a summer sea, the
sympathetic trade winds filling their sails and tempering the heat on
shore. St. Thomas with its little city on three hills like a painted
fairy tale; St. Croix with its old Spanish arcades and palm avenues;
the red-roofed Dutch village in the green crater of St. Bartholomew,
which shot straight out of the sea without a hand's width of shore;
Antigua with its English landscapes and tropical hospitality; St.
Lucia, looking like an exploded mountain chain, that had caught the
bright plains and forests of another island while the earth was in its
throes, green as a shattered emerald by day, flaming with the long
torches of gigantic fireflies by night; St. Vincent with its smoking
volcanoes and rich plantations; Martinique, that bit of old France,
with its almost perpendicular flights of street-steps cut in the rock,
lined with ancient houses; beautiful honey-coloured women always
passing up and down with tall jars or baskets on their stately heads;
Dominica, with its rugged mountains, roaring cataracts, and brilliant
verdure; Trinidad, with its terrible cliffs, infinitely coloured
valleys, mountain masses; its groves of citron, and hedges of scarlet
hybiscus and white hydrangea, towns set in the green amphitheatres of
gentle hills, impenetrable forests, and lakes of boiling pitch: Warner
and Anne lingered on all of them, climbed to the summit of volcanoes
hidden in the clouds and gazed into awful craters evil of smell and
resounding with the menace of deep, imprisoned, persistent tides;
sailed on the quiet lake in the crater of Mt. Pelée; rode on creole
ponies for days through scented chromatic forests with serrated heights
frowning above them, and companioned by birds as vivid as the flowers
and as silent. There were no wild beasts, nothing to mar days and
nights so heavy laden with beauty that Anne wondered if the cold North
existed on the same planet, and sometimes longed for the scent of
English violets. In Trinidad they were entertained in great state by
the most distinguished of Warner's relatives, a high official of the
island. Anne wore for an evening the famous ring, and was nearly
prostrated with excitement and the fear of losing it. If she had not
been half drugged with happiness and the ineffable beauty which
scarcely for a moment deserted her waking senses, she would have
attempted to define the quiver of terror that crossed her nerves now
and again; for life at white heat has been embolismal since the death
of the gods. As to Warner, he who had written many poems, now devoted
himself to living one, and achieved a perfect success.
Hamilton House had been repaired during their absence, without and
within. It was not necessary to refurnish, for the fine old mansion was
set thick with mahogany four-posters, settles, chests, tables and
chairsmore stately than comfortable. They arrived without warning,
but the servants, under the merciless driving of Mr. Ogilvy, had been
on the alert for several days, and as the sloop was becalmed for two
hours not three miles from shore, until the lagging evening breeze
filled the sails, when Warner and Anne finally landed and were led in
triumph to their home by some twenty of their friends, every room of
the upper story was flooded with the light of wax candles set in long
polished globes, the crystal and silver of the wedding presents was on
the great mahogany dining-table laden with the plenty of the tropics,
muslin curtains fluttered in the evening wind, the pitch-pine floors
shone like glass, and flowers were on every stand and table.
There was a very long and very gay dinner, and many more guests came
during the evening. When the last of them had gone and Anne went to her
own pink room, the only luxurious room in the house, she felt happier
than even during the past enchanted weeks, for she was at home and the
home was her own.
She had never been permitted to interfere with the ancient and
admirable housekeeping at Warkworth Manor, but she discovered next
morning that the spirit of the housewife was in her, and was far more
exultant over her bunch of keys, her consultations with her major-domo,
her struggles with the most worthless servants on earth, than she had
ever been over her first doll or her first novel. The routine into
which the young couple immediately settled was unique to both and had
little of monotony in it. After their early walk Warner spent the
morning in his library, where he had a large case of books, Hunsdon's
wedding present, to consider. He resisted his friend's proposition to
write political pamphlets with the seriousness that rises from the
deepest humour, but he loved to read and ponder, and his few hours of
solitude were easily occupied with the lore of the centuries. After
siesta they rode and called at one or other of the Great Houses, and
every evening they were dined or dined others. Bath House was closed,
but the island was always gay until the dead heat of summer came and
hurricanes threatened but rarely thinned the heavy air, when although
tropical storms were frequent, the rain was as hot as the earth.
Even then Warner and Anne had a companionship of which they never
tired, and there was a new interest in watching the torn Caribbean and
the furious driving of the wind among the trees. They could always
exercise on the long veranda, or play games within doors.
Then, for a time, this perfect state of bliss was threatened. Anne
was thrown from her horse, frightened by a flash of lightning, as,
caught in a storm, they were riding full speed for home, and was in
agony and peril for several days, confined to her bed for a fortnight
longer. There were the best of doctors on so wealthy an island as
Nevis, and she recovered completely, although forced to shroud not the
least of her desires. But the wild despair of Warner while she was in
danger, and his following devotion, his inspired ingenuity in diverting
her during her term of sadness and protest, made her feel that to
cherish disappointment even in her inmost soul would be flying in the
face of providence; her spirits struggled up to their normal high
level, and once more she was the happiest of women. It was another
fortnight before she could leave the house, but the languor was a new
and pleasant sensation and not unbecoming the weather. Warner read
aloud instead of to himself, and they wondered that they had never
discovered this firm subtle link in comradeship before. The rainy
summer is the winter of the tropics, and they felt the same delight in
hiding themselves within their own four walls that others so often
experience in a sterner clime when the elements forbid social
Anne could never recall just when it was she discovered, or rather
divined, that her husband was once more a dual being. A vague sense of
change cohered into fact when she realised that for some time he had
been reading aloud and pursuing an undercurrent of independent thought.
His devotion increased, were that possible, but the time came when he
no longer could conceal that he was often absent in mind and depressed
in spirit. He took to long rambles in which she could not accompany him
at that season while so far from robust, smilingly excusing himself by
reminding her that being so much more vigorous than of old he needed a
corresponding amount of exercise. There finally came an entire week
when he was forced to remain indoors, so persistent were the torrential
rains, and after the first two days he ceased even to pretend to read,
but sat staring out of the window with blank eyes and set lips, at the
gray deluge beating down the palm trees. He came to the table and
consumed his meals mechanically. Nor was he irritable. The gentleness
of his nature seemed unaffected, but that his mental part seethed was
autoptical. If he was less the lover he clung to Anne as to a rock in
mid-ocean, and if he would not talk he was uneasy if she left the room.
There was but one explanation, and he was becoming less the man and
more the poet every day. He slept little, and lost the spring from his
gait. Anne was as convinced as Lord Hunsdon or Lady Constance that all
geniuses were unsound of mind no matter how normal they might be while
the creative faculty slept. Sleep it must, and no doubt this familiar
of Warner's had been almost moribund owing to the extraordinary and
unexpected change that had taken place in his life, and the new
interest that had held every faculty. This interest was no less alive,
but it was no longer novel, and a ghost had risen in his brain
clamouring for form and substance.
Anne wished that he would write the poem and have done with it. She
had never for a moment demanded that he should sacrifice his career to
her, and during the past months, having admired as much as she loved
him, she had dismissed as a mere legend the belief held by his friends
that he could not write without stimulant. And she loved the poet as
much as she loved the man. Indeed it was the poet she had loved first,
to whom she had owed a happiness during many lonely years almost as
perfect as the man had given her. That he had no weakness for spirits
was indubious. There were always cognac and Madeira on the table in the
living room where they received the convivial planters, and she drank
Canary herself at table. It was patent to her that he refrained from
writing because he had voluntarily given her his word he would write no
more, and that he had but to take pen in hand for the flood to burst.
She did not broach the subject for some days, waiting for him to make
an appeal of some sort, no matter how subtle, but toward the end of
this stormy week when he was looking more forlorn and haunted every
moment, she suddenly determined to wait no longer.
They were standing at the window watching the moon fight its way
amidst torn black clouds and flinging glittering doles upon the black
and swollen waters. She put her hand on his shoulder as a man might
have done and said in a matter-of-fact tone:
You want to write. You are quick with a new poem. That must be
patent even to the servants. I wish you would write it.
He jerked up his shoulders as if to dislodge her hand, then
recollected himself and put his arm about her.
I never intend to write another poem, he said.
That is nonsense. A poem must be much like a baby. If it is
conceived it must be born. Do you deny it is there? tapping his
When the devil takes possession it is better to stifle him before
he grows to his full strength.
You are unjust to speak in that fashion of the most divine of all
gifts. You are not intimating that your poem is too wicked to publish?
No! He flung out his hands, striking the window. His eyes expanded
and flashed. I believe it to be the most beautiful poem ever
conceived! he cried. I never before knew much about any of my poems
until I had pen in hand, but although I could not recite a line of this
I can see it all. I can feel it. I can hear it. It calls me in my
dreams and whispers when I am closest to you. And youyouare its
inspiration. You have liberated all that was locked from my imagination
before. I lived in an unreal world until I knew, lived with you.
Knowing that so well, I believed that my deserted muse would either
take herself off in disdain, or be smothered dead. Art has always been
jealous of mortal happiness. But the emotions I have experienced in the
past six monthsdespair, hope, despair, hope, superlative happiness,
mere content, the very madness of terror, and its equally violent
reaction when I experienced the profoundest religious emotionall this
has enriched my nature, my mind, that abnormal patch in my brain that
creates. Ever since I took pen in hand I have dreamed of a poetic
meridian that I have never approacheduntil now!
What must it be? cried Anne, quivering with excitement and
delight. You have done more than other men already.
I have never written a great poetical drama. My faculty has been
mainly narrative, lyric, epic, with dramatic action in short bursts
only. The power to build a great, sustained, and varied drama, the
richness and ripeness of dramatic imagination, of character portrayal,
representation as distinct from analysis, of vigorous scenes that sweep
through the excited brain of the reader with the rush of the hurricane,
and owe nothing to metrical sweetness, to lyrical melodythat has
never come beforeand nownow
You will write it! Do youcan you imagine that I am jealousthat
I am not as ambitious for you as you could be for yourself?
I have never been ambitious before. I have never cared enough about
the world. I wrote first because the songs sang off the point of my
quill, and then to keep a roof over my head. I have never placed any
inordinate value on my work after it was done, although the making of
it gave me the keenest happiness, the polishing delighted all the
artist in me. It is only now, now, for the first time, that I have been
fancying myself going down to posterity in the company of the
immortals. Oh God, what irony! When it did not matter the inspiration
lagged, and now it can do me no good!
But it shall! And as much for me as for your fame. Your work has
been little less to me than yourself. I must have this!
He turned to her for the first time and looked at her curiously. Is
it possible that you do not know the reason why I cannot write? he
asked. We have avoided the subject, but I understood that you knew.
Hunsdon told me
Oh, yes, but that was when you were physically and morally a
she stopped short, blushing painfully.
A wreck, he supplemented grimly.
Well! You had let yourself go. Now it is different. You are well.
You are happy. Even your brain is strongeryour will, as a matter of
I never wrote a line in my earliest youth without stimulant.
But you might have done so. It is only a freak of imagination that
prompts you to believe that you cannot write alone, that you must take
alcohol into partnership, as it were. Even little people are ruled by
imagination; how much more so a great faculty in which imagination must
follow many morbid and eccentric tracks? And habit, no doubt, is the
greatest of all forces, while it is undisturbed. But that old habit of
yours has been shattered these last months. You made no attempt to
resist before. You could resist now. If I have been the inspiration of
this poem, why cannot I take the place of brandy? It is no great
compliment to me if I cannot. Try.
He put his hands on her shoulders and looked more the man than the
poet for the moment. Anne, he said solemnly. Let well enough alone.
I made up my mind to write no more the day you promised to marry me. I
told you that the lover had buried the poet, and I believed it. But I
find that the poet must come to life now and againfor a while at
least. But although the process will be neither pleasant nor painless,
I shall strangle him in time.
YesI think so.
And be quite as happy as before?
Oh, I am not prophet enough for that. I can never be unhappy while
I have you.
And I could never be happy if I let you kill a gift that is as
living a part of yourself as your sense of vision or touch. Do you
suppose I ever deluded myself with the dream that you would settle down
into the domestic routine of yearswrite political pamphlets for
Hunsdon? I knew this would come and I never have had a misgiving. I
know you can write without stimulant. Nothing can be more fanciful than
that the highest of all mental gifts must have artificial aid. That may
be the need of the little man driving a pen for his daily bread, of the
small talent trying to create, but never for you!
There is some strange congenital want. I am certain of it. And if I
gave way, Anne, I should be a madman for days, perhaps weeksa
beastoh, you have not the faintest suspicion; and all I am living for
in the wretched present is that you never may.
I do not believe in permanent congenital weaknesses with a free
rich faculty like yours. I know how that fatal idea has wedged itself
in your brainbut if you tryif you persistyou will overcome it.
Promise me that you will try.
You are so strong, he said sadly. You cannot conceive, with all
your own imagination, the miserable weaknesses of the still
half-developed human brain. The greatest scientific minds that have
spent their lives in the study of the brain know next to nothing about
it. How should you, dear child? I know the curse that is the other half
of my gift to write, but of its cause, its meaning, I know nothing. You
are strong by instinct, but you have not the least idea why or how you
are strong. It is all a mysterious arrangement of particles.
But that is no reason one should not strive to overcome weakness.
Certainly not. But I have so much at stake that I think it wisest
to kill the temptation outright, and not tempt providence by dallying
with it. And this regarding the arbitrary exercise of the imagination:
It is the small people of whom you spoke just now who are the slaves of
what little imagination they have, who can make themselves ill or
sometimes well under its influence. But when a man uses his imagination
professionally as long as I have done it takes a place in his life
apart. It has no influence whatever on his daily life, on his physical
or even his mental being. He knows it too well. It would seem as if the
imagination itself were cognisant of this fact and was too wise to
I can understand that, but I also know that genius is too abnormal
to accept any such reasoning, no matter what the highly developed brain
may be capable of. Unknown to yourself you have become the victim first
of an idea, then of a habit. You will struggle and exhaust yourself and
end by hating yourself and me. You have no doubt that this would be a
greater work than your greatest?
Oh, no! no!
Then do me the justice to make one attempt at least to write it.
Come to the library!
His face had been turned from her for some moments, but at the last
words, so full of concrete suggestion, he moved irresistibly and she
saw that his eyes were blazing with eagerness, with a desire she had
Come, she said.
He stared at her, through her, miles beyond her, then turned
mechanically toward his library. Perhaps, he muttered. Who knows?
When Anne rose the next morning and tapped on Warner's door there
was no answer. She entered softly, but found that his bed had not been
occupied. For this she was not unprepared, and although she had no
intention of galling her poet with the routine of daily life, still
must he be fed, and she went at once to the library to invite him to
breakfast. He was not there. She glanced hastily over the loose sheets
of paper on his writing table. There were a few scratches,
unintelligible phrases, nothing more. In the gallery she met the
major-domo, who informed her that the master had gone out in his boat
about five o'clock. The day was clear and the waters calmer. There was
no reason for either surprise or uneasiness, and Anne, who expected
vagaries of every sort until the poem was finished, endeavoured to
while away the long day with a new novel sent her by Medora Ogilvy. But
she had instinctively taken a chair by a window facing the sea, and as
the day wore on and she saw no sign of boat of any sort, she finally
renounced the attempt to keep her mind in tune with fiction. She
snatched a brief luncheon and omitted siesta, returning to her seat by
the window. The fate of Shelley haunted her in spite of her powerful
will, and she sat rigid, her hands clasped about her knees, her face
white. When Warner's boat shot suddenly round the corner of the island
the relief was so great that without waiting to find a sunshade she ran
out of the house and down to the sands, reaching his side before the
boat was beached.
You should not come out at this hourand without a sunshade, he
said, but keeping his face from her.
If you could stand it for hours out on those hot waters it will not
hurt me for a moment or two here. Have you had any luncheon?
I got a bite in Basseterre. Let us go in.
As he raised himself she saw that his face was haggard, his eyes
faded. He looked as if he had not slept for weeks. When they reached
the living-room he flung himself, with a word of muttered apology, on a
sofa and slept until late. The dressing-bell roused him and he went to
his room, reappearing at the dinner table. There he talked of his
morning excursion, declaring that it had done him good, as he had long
felt in need of a change of exercise, and had missed the water.
It was not until they were in the living-room again that he said
abruptly: I can't do it. Let us not talk about it. The air is
delightfully cool. Shall we order the carriage and call on the
The roads were deep in mud, but the moon was bright, the air fresh
and stirred by the trade wind that always found its way to Nevis even
in summer during one hour of the twenty-four. Warner played billiards
with Mr. Ogilvy and Anne listened to the hopes and fears of her hostess
respecting Lord Hunsdon, while Felicia, the second daughter, poured out
her envy of Medora's good fortune in enjoying a London season, and its
sequel of visits to country houses.
They returned late. Warner was almost gay and very much the lover.
The next few days were magnificent and Anne saw for the first time a
West Indian island in all its glory of young and infinite greens. Less
like a jewel than in her golden prime Nevis seemed to throb with
awakening life like some great Bird of Paradise that had slept until
spring. Warner and Anne remained out of doors in all but the hotter
hours, and the poet was once more the normal young husband, rich in the
possession of a beautiful and sympathetic wife. Anne was wise enough to
make no allusion to the unborn poem. When curiosity piqued or
impatience beset, she invoked the ugly shade of Lady Byron, and
resolved anew that while alert to play her part in Warner's life, she
would be guided wholly by events.
The rains began again, those terrible rains of a tropic summer, when
the heavens are in flood and open their gates, beating palm tops to
earth, tearing the long leaves of the banana tree to ribbons, turning
the roads into roaring torrents, and day into night. Boats were used in
the streets of Charlestown. The heat was stifling. The Caribbean Sea
roared as if boiling tides were forcing their way from Mount Misery on
St. Kitts to the crater of Nevis. Warner pretended to read during the
day, but it was not long before Anne discovered that he stole from his
room every night, and she knew his goal. He appeared at the nine
o'clock breakfast, however, and neither made allusion to the vigils
written in his face. At first it was merely haggard, but before long
misery grew and deepened, misery and utter hopelessness; until Anne
could not bear to look at him.
The storms continued. Ten days passed. Anne was not sure that he
even slept in the daytime. He ceased to speak at all, although he
managed to convey to Anne his gratitude that she was good enough to let
him alone. Once she suggested a trip to England as soon as they could
get a packet for Barbadoes, but he merely shook his head, and Anne knew
that he would not stir from Nevis.
There came a night when Anne too gave up all attempt to sleep. Even
after her illness she had found no difficulty in resuming the long
unbroken rest of youth, but youth had taken itself off in a fright.
[Illustration: Then she left the room again"]
On this night she wandered about and faced the truth. It was a night
to assist the least imaginative to face an unhappy crisis. A small
hurricane raged, seeming to burst in wild roars from Nevis itself. The
streams on the mountain were cataracts. The sea threatened the island.
At another time, Anne, like other West Indians, would have paid
incessant visits to the barometer, but to-night she cared nothing for
the threat of the elements. A storm raged within her, and she had a
perfect comprehension of the madness and despair in the library.
She was out of her fool's paradise at last. She knew that he would
never write his drama without the aid that marvellous but rotten spot
in his brain demanded. And its delivery was in her hands. He was the
soul of honour, unselfish, high-minded. He had taken the woman he loved
better than himself into his life and he would keep the promise he had
voluntarily made her unless she released him. He would conquer and kill
the best part of him.
Anne had no apprehension of his physical death. No doubt his mere
bodily well-being would go on increasing after the struggle was over;
but what of his maimed and thwarted intellect, the mind-emptiness of a
man who had known the greatest of mortal joys, mental creation? What of
the haunting knowledge throughout a possibly long life, of having
deliberately done a divine gift to death?
Anne felt like a murderer herself. She went suddenly out into the
gallery, and stood for a moment with her arms rigidly upraised to the
black rolling sky. There was no response in the fury of the rain that
drowned her face, and compelled her to bend her head.
The great banana tree was whipping about like an alive creature in
agony. She could hardly keep her breath, and the salt spray flew over
the roof and touched her lips. The elements roared and shrieked and
whistled in a colossal orchestra, and above them she could hear that
most uncanny of all sounds in a West Indian storm, the rattling of the
hard seeds of the giant tree in their brittle pods.
But the noise inflamed rather than benumbed the tumult in her soul.
Little as her husband suspected it, the gossip of Bath House and her
own imagination had enabled her to realise the being he was and the
life he led when transformed by drink. She had long since put those
images from her, but they peopled the gallery to-night. And they were
hideous, loathsome. She felt old and dry and wrecked and polluted in
the mere contemplation of them. Could even her love survive such an
ordeal? Or life? She had experienced mortal happiness to an
extraordinary degree. Were she firm now, she might know it againnot
to the same degreedoubtless notbut all that a mere mortal had any
right to expect after that one foretaste of immortality. She had her
rights. Her life could be made monstrous for a time; then she would go
back and live on through countless years by the North Sea. For did
Warner return to the habits of the years that had preceded their
marriage his extinction would be a mere question of time. He might
survive this work, and another; for he would never return to this
battle between his love for her and for a love older still and far more
deeply ingrained. A year or two and he would be under the island.
And in any case he must suffer. As far as he was concerned it was a
question which was the less of the evils. If he returned from a long
disgrace in Charlestown to face her again, not even the great work he
had accomplished would make him hate himself the less, atone for the
final ruin of his self-respect. If he conquered he would be a maimed
and blighted being for the rest of his days.
And then the grinning images disappeared and she had another vision.
She saw Warner ten years hence, a sleek and prosperous planter, taking
an occasional recreation in the great capital with his handsome wife,
and smirking at the reminders of its prostration before his glorious
youth; congratulating himself and her at his escape; that his soul, not
his body, was rotting under Nevis.
Anne turned her face to the wall and pressed her hands to her eyes.
The noise of the storm she no longer heard, but the picture filled her
with terror. What right had either he or she to consider so
insignificant and transient a thing as human happiness, the welfare of
the body that began its decay with its birth? Genius of mental creation
was the most mysterious, the most God-like of all gifts, as well as the
rarest; the herd of small composers counted no more than the idle
gossip that filled up awkward pauses. Great gifts were not without
purpose bestowed; and as they should be exercised for the good of the
inarticulate millions so should they be carefully tended until Time
alone extinguished them. In Warner this great gift of poetic
imagination combined with a lyric melody never excelled, was to his
nature what religion was to common mortals. It had kept the white flame
of his inner life burning undimned when men whose lives were creditable
had long since forgotten that souls, except as mere religious
furniture, were to be taken into account.
Warner had been singled out to enrich the world of letters. That was
his mission on earth; all, no doubt, that he had been born for.
Youthful training exercised hardly more influence upon the development
of the race than literature. If it had no mission it would never have
tracked through the infinite variety of interests in the mundane mind
to become one of the earthly viceroys of God. And the chosen were few.
Nor had Warner, consciously or not, been indifferent to the sacredness
of his wardship. Never for a moment had it felt the blight of his wild
and often gross and sordid life. He had been passionate but never
sensual, romantic and primal, but never immoral. He had consoled
thousands for the penance of living, and he had written much that would
perish only with the English language. All this might be as nothing to
what strove for delivery now. And this he was desperately engaged in
stifling to death; and not the beauty of his mind alone but of his
nature, for beyond all doubt his gentleness and sweetness and
refinement were as much a part of his genius as irritability and
violence were fellows to the genius of other men.
Anne was tempted to wish that he had died before she met him, taken
body and unmaimed gifts out of life before she was burdened with their
keep. But she was a strong women and the wish passed. The wild
ebullition of self had gone before. She did not recall her promises to
Hunsdon but she remembered her solemn acknowledgment of her
responsibilities the night before her marriage and her silent vows at
Suddenly she became aware that she was soaked to the skin. She went
hastily within and changed her clothes, wrung out her hair and twisted
it up. Then she went to the library and opened the door softly. Warner
was sitting at the table with his face pressed to the wood, his arms
flung outward among the scattered white blank sheets. Anne longed to go
forward and take his head into the shelter of her deep maternal bosom.
But it was not the time for sentiment, maternal or connubial. To reach
his plane and solve his problem she must leave her sex behind her, and
treat him as a man and a comrade. She left the room, and returning a
moment later placed the decanter of brandy and a tumbler on the table
beside him. Then she left the room again.