"But you thought you could forget him."
"I suppose I must have thought so. I didn't understand. Now I do."
"By God!" said Manning, making the most of the word, "I suppose it's fate. Fate! You are so frank so splendid!
"I'm taking this calmly now," he said, almost as if he apologized, "because I'm a little stunned."
Then he asked, "Tell me! has this man, has he DARED to make love to you?"
Ann Veronica had a vicious moment. "I wish he had," she said.
The long inconsecutive conversation by that time was getting on her nerves. "When one wants a thing more than anything else in the world," she said with outrageous frankness, "one naturally wishes one had it."
She shocked him by that. She shattered the edifice he was building up of himself as a devoted lover, waiting only his chance to win her from a hopeless and consuming passion.
"Mr. Manning," she said, "I warned you not to idealize me. Men ought not to idealize any woman. We aren't worth it. We've done nothing to deserve it. And it hampers us. You don't know the thoughts we have; the things we can do and say. You are a sisterless man; you have never heard the ordinary talk that goes on at a girls' boarding-school."
"Oh! but you ARE splendid and open and fearless! As if I couldn't allow! What are all these little things? Nothing! Nothing! You can't sully yourself. You can't! I tell you frankly you may break off your engagement to me—I shall hold myself still engaged to you, yours just the same. As for this infatuation—it's like some obsession, some magic thing laid upon you. It's not you—not a bit. It's a thing that's happened to you. It is like some accident. I don't care. In a sense I don't care. It makes no difference.... All the same, I wish I had that fellow by the throat! Just the virile, unregenerate man in me wishes that....
"I suppose I should let go if I had.
"You know," he went on, "this doesn't seem to me to end anything.
"I'm rather a persistent person. I'm the sort of dog, if you turn it out of the room it lies down on the mat at the door. I'm not a lovesick boy. I'm a man, and I know what I mean. It's a tremendous blow, of course—but it doesn't kill me. And the situation it makes!—the situation!"
Thus Manning, egotistical, inconsecutive, unreal. And Ann Veronica walked beside him, trying in vain to soften her heart to him by the thought of how she had ill-used him, and all the time, as her feet and mind grew weary together, rejoicing more and more that at the cost of this one interminable walk she escaped the prospect of—what was it?—"Ten thousand days, ten thousand nights" in his company. Whatever happened she need never return to that possibility.
"For me," Manning went on, "this isn't final. In a sense it alters nothing. I shall still wear your favor—even if it is a stolen and forbidden favor—in my casque.... I shall still believe in you. Trust you."
He repeated several times that he would trust her, though it remained obscure just exactly where the trust came in.
"Look here," he cried out of a silence, with a sudden flash of understanding, "did you mean to throw me over when you came out with me this afternoon?"
Ann Veronica hesitated, and with a startled mind realized the truth. "No," she answered, reluctantly.
"Very well," said Manning. "Then I don't take this as final. That's all. I've bored you or something.... You think you love this other man! No doubt you do love him. Before you have lived—"
He became darkly prophetic. He thrust out a rhetorical hand.
"I will MAKE you love me! Until he has faded—faded into a memory..."
He saw her into the train at Waterloo, and stood, a tall, grave figure, with hat upraised, as the carriage moved forward slowly and hid him. Ann Veronica sat back with a sigh of relief. Manning might go on now idealizing her as much as he liked. She was no longer a confederate in that. He might go on as the devoted lover until he tired. She had done forever with the Age of Chivalry, and her own base adaptations of its traditions to the compromising life. She was honest again.
But when she turned her thoughts to Morningside Park she perceived the tangled skein of life was now to be further complicated by his romantic importunity.
CHAPTER THE FOURTEENTH
THE COLLAPSE OF THE PENITENT
Spring had held back that year until the dawn of May, and then spring and summer came with a rush together. Two days after this conversation between Manning and Ann Veronica, Capes came into the laboratory at lunch-time and found her alone there standing by the open window, and not even pretending to be doing anything.
He came in with his hands in his trousers pockets and a general air of depression in his bearing. He was engaged in detesting Manning and himself in almost equal measure. His face brightened at the sight of her, and he came toward her.
"What are you doing?" he asked.
"Nothing," said Ann Veronica, and stared over her shoulder out of the window.
"So am I.... Lassitude?"
"I suppose so."
"I can't work."
"Nor I," said Ann Veronica.
"It's the spring," he said. "It's the warming up of the year, the coming of the light mornings, the way in which everything begins to run about and begin new things. Work becomes distasteful; one thinks of holidays. This year—I've got it badly. I want to get away. I've never wanted to get away so much."
"Where do you go?"
"That's rather a fine sort of holiday!"
He made no answer for three or four seconds.
"Yes," he said, "I want to get away. I feel at moments as though I could bolt for it.... Silly, isn't it? Undisciplined."
He went to the window and fidgeted with the blind, looking out to where the tree-tops of Regent's Park showed distantly over the houses. He turned round toward her and found her looking at him and standing very still.
"It's the stir of spring," he said.
"I believe it is."
She glanced out of the window, and the distant trees were a froth of hard spring green and almond blossom. She formed a wild resolution, and, lest she should waver from it, she set about at once to realize it. "I've broken off my engagement," she said, in a matter-of-fact tone, and found her heart thumping in her neck. He moved slightly, and she went on, with a slight catching of her breath: "It's a bother and disturbance, but you see—" She had to go through with it now, because she could think of nothing but her preconceived words. Her voice was weak and flat.
"I've fallen in love."
He never helped her by a sound.
"I—I didn't love the man I was engaged to," she said. She met his eyes for a moment, and could not interpret their expression. They struck her as cold and indifferent.
Her heart failed her and her resolution became water. She remained standing stiffly, unable even to move. She could not look at him through an interval that seemed to her a vast gulf of time. But she felt his lax figure become rigid.
At last his voice came to release her tension.
"I thought you weren't keeping up to the mark. You—It's jolly of you to confide in me. Still—" Then, with incredible and obviously deliberate stupidity, and a voice as flat as her own, he asked, "Who is the man?"
Her spirit raged within her at the dumbness, the paralysis that had fallen upon her. Grace, confidence, the power of movement even, seemed gone from her. A fever of shame ran through her being. Horrible doubts assailed her. She sat down awkwardly and helplessly on one of the little stools by her table and covered her face with her hands.
"Can't you SEE how things are?" she said.
Before Capes could answer her in any way the door at the end of the laboratory opened noisily and Miss Klegg appeared. She went to her own table and sat down. At the sound of the door Ann Veronica uncovered a tearless face, and with one swift movement assumed a conversational attitude. Things hung for a moment in an awkward silence.
"You see," said Ann Veronica, staring before her at the window-sash, "that's the form my question takes at the present time."
Capes had not quite the same power of recovery. He stood with his hands in his pockets looking at Miss Klegg's back. His face was white. "It's—it's a difficult question." He appeared to be paralyzed by abstruse acoustic calculations. Then, very awkwardly, he took a stool and placed it at the end of Ann Veronica's table, and sat down. He glanced at Miss Klegg again, and spoke quickly and furtively, with eager eyes on Ann Veronica's face.
"I had a faint idea once that things were as you say they are, but the affair of the ring—of the unexpected ring—puzzled me. Wish SHE"—he indicated Miss Klegg's back with a nod—"was at the bottom of the sea.... I would like to talk to you about this—soon. If you don't think it would be a social outrage, perhaps I might walk with you to your railway station."
"I will wait," said Ann Veronica, still not looking at him, "and we will go into Regent's Park. No—you shall come with me to Waterloo."
"Right!" he said, and hesitated, and then got up and went into the preparation-room.
For a time they walked in silence through the back streets that lead southward from the College. Capes bore a face of infinite perplexity.
"The thing I feel most disposed to say, Miss Stanley," he began at last, "is that this is very sudden."
"It's been coming on since first I came into the laboratory."
"What do you want?" he asked, bluntly.
"You!" said Ann Veronica.
The sense of publicity, of people coming and going about them, kept them both unemotional. And neither had any of that theatricality which demands gestures and facial expression.
"I suppose you know I like you tremendously?" he pursued.
"You told me that in the Zoological Gardens."
She found her muscles a-tremble. But there was nothing in her bearing that a passer-by would have noted, to tell of the excitement that possessed her.
"I"—he seemed to have a difficulty with the word—"I love you. I've told you that practically already. But I can give it its name now. You needn't be in any doubt about it. I tell you that because it puts us on a footing...."
They went on for a time without another word.
"But don't you know about me?" he said at last.
"Something. Not much."
"I'm a married man. And my wife won't live with me for reasons that I think most women would consider sound.... Or I should have made love to you long ago."
There came a silence again.
"I don't care," said Ann Veronica.
"But if you knew anything of that—"
"I did. It doesn't matter."
"Why did you tell me? I thought—I thought we were going to be friends."
He was suddenly resentful. He seemed to charge her with the ruin of their situation. "Why on earth did you TELL me?" he cried.
"I couldn't help it. It was an impulse. I HAD to."
"But it changes things. I thought you understood."
"I had to," she repeated. "I was sick of the make-believe. I don't care! I'm glad I did. I'm glad I did."
"Look here!" said Capes, "what on earth do you want? What do you think we can do? Don't you know what men are, and what life is?—to come to me and talk to me like this!"
"I know—something, anyhow. But I don't care; I haven't a spark of shame. I don't see any good in life if it hasn't got you in it. I wanted you to know. And now you know. And the fences are down for good. You can't look me in the eyes and say you don't care for me."
"I've told you," he said.
"Very well," said Ann Veronica, with an air of concluding the discussion.
They walked side by side for a time.
"In that laboratory one gets to disregard these passions," began Capes. "Men are curious animals, with a trick of falling in love readily with girls about your age. One has to train one's self not to. I've accustomed myself to think of you—as if you were like every other girl who works at the schools—as something quite outside these possibilities. If only out of loyalty to co-education one has to do that. Apart from everything else, this meeting of ours is a breach of a good rule."
"Rules are for every day," said Ann Veronica. "This is not every day. This is something above all rules."
"Not for you?"
"No. No; I'm going to stick to the rules.... It's odd, but nothing but cliche seems to meet this case. You've placed me in a very exceptional position, Miss Stanley." The note of his own voice exasperated him. "Oh, damn!" he said.
She made no answer, and for a time he debated some problems with himself.
"No!" he said aloud at last.
"The plain common-sense of the case," he said, "is that we can't possibly be lovers in the ordinary sense. That, I think, is manifest. You know, I've done no work at all this afternoon. I've been smoking cigarettes in the preparation-room and thinking this out. We can't be lovers in the ordinary sense, but we can be great and intimate friends."
"We are," said Ann Veronica.
"You've interested me enormously...."
He paused with a sense of ineptitude. "I want to be your friend," he said. "I said that at the Zoo, and I mean it. Let us be friends—as near and close as friends can be."
Ann Veronica gave him a pallid profile.
"What is the good of pretending?" she said.
"We don't pretend."
"We do. Love is one thing and friendship quite another. Because I'm younger than you.... I've got imagination.... I know what I am talking about. Mr. Capes, do you think... do you think I don't know the meaning of love?"
Capes made no answer for a time.
"My mind is full of confused stuff," he said at length. "I've been thinking—all the afternoon. Oh, and weeks and months of thought and feeling there are bottled up too.... I feel a mixture of beast and uncle. I feel like a fraudulent trustee. Every rule is against me—Why did I let you begin this? I might have told—"
"I don't see that you could help—"
"I might have helped—"
"I ought to have—all the same.
"I wonder," he said, and went off at a tangent. "You know about my scandalous past?"
"Very little. It doesn't seem to matter. Does it?"
"I think it does. Profoundly."
"It prevents our marrying. It forbids—all sorts of things."
"It can't prevent our loving."
"I'm afraid it can't. But, by Jove! it's going to make our loving a fiercely abstract thing."
"You are separated from your wife?"
"Yes, but do you know how?"
"Why on earth—? A man ought to be labelled. You see, I'm separated from my wife. But she doesn't and won't divorce me. You don't understand the fix I am in. And you don't know what led to our separation. And, in fact, all round the problem you don't know and I don't see how I could possibly have told you before. I wanted to, that day in the Zoo. But I trusted to that ring of yours."
"Poor old ring!" said Ann Veronica.
"I ought never have gone to the Zoo, I suppose. I asked you to go. But a man is a mixed creature.... I wanted the time with you. I wanted it badly."
"Tell me about yourself," said Ann Veronica.
"To begin with, I was—I was in the divorce court. I was—I was a co-respondent. You understand that term?"
Ann Veronica smiled faintly. "A modern girl does understand these terms. She reads novels—and history—and all sorts of things. Did you really doubt if I knew?"
"No. But I don't suppose you can understand."
"I don't see why I shouldn't."
"To know things by name is one thing; to know them by seeing them and feeling them and being them quite another. That is where life takes advantage of youth. You don't understand."
"Perhaps I don't."
"You don't. That's the difficulty. If I told you the facts, I expect, since you are in love with me, you'd explain the whole business as being very fine and honorable for me—the Higher Morality, or something of that sort.... It wasn't."
"I don't deal very much," said Ann Veronica, "in the Higher Morality, or the Higher Truth, or any of those things."
"Perhaps you don't. But a human being who is young and clean, as you are, is apt to ennoble—or explain away."
"I've had a biological training. I'm a hard young woman."
"Nice clean hardness, anyhow. I think you are hard. There's something—something ADULT about you. I'm talking to you now as though you had all the wisdom and charity in the world. I'm going to tell you things plainly. Plainly. It's best. And then you can go home and think things over before we talk again. I want you to be clear what you're really and truly up to, anyhow."
"I don't mind knowing," said Ann Veronica.
"It's precious unromantic."
"Well, tell me."
"I married pretty young," said Capes. "I've got—I have to tell you this to make myself clear—a streak of ardent animal in my composition. I married—I married a woman whom I still think one of the most beautiful persons in the world. She is a year or so older than I am, and she is, well, of a very serene and proud and dignified temperament. If you met her you would, I am certain, think her as fine as I do. She has never done a really ignoble thing that I know of—never. I met her when we were both very young, as young as you are. I loved her and made love to her, and I don't think she quite loved me back in the same way."
He paused for a time. Ann Veronica said nothing.
"These are the sort of things that aren't supposed to happen. They leave them out of novels—these incompatibilities. Young people ignore them until they find themselves up against them. My wife doesn't understand, doesn't understand now. She despises me, I suppose.... We married, and for a time we were happy. She was fine and tender. I worshipped her and subdued myself."
He left off abruptly. "Do you understand what I am talking about? It's no good if you don't."
"I think so," said Ann Veronica, and colored. "In fact, yes, I do."
"Do you think of these things—these matters—as belonging to our Higher Nature or our Lower?"
"I don't deal in Higher Things, I tell you," said Ann Veronica, "or Lower, for the matter of that. I don't classify." She hesitated. "Flesh and flowers are all alike to me."
"That's the comfort of you. Well, after a time there came a fever in my blood. Don't think it was anything better than fever—or a bit beautiful. It wasn't. Quite soon, after we were married—it was just within a year—I formed a friendship with the wife of a friend, a woman eight years older than myself.... It wasn't anything splendid, you know. It was just a shabby, stupid, furtive business that began between us. Like stealing. We dressed it in a little music.... I want you to understand clearly that I was indebted to the man in many small ways. I was mean to him.... It was the gratification of an immense necessity. We were two people with a craving. We felt like thieves. We WERE thieves.... We LIKED each other well enough. Well, my friend found us out, and would give no quarter. He divorced her. How do you like the story?"
"Go on," said Ann Veronica, a little hoarsely, "tell me all of it."
"My wife was astounded—wounded beyond measure. She thought me—filthy. All her pride raged at me. One particularly humiliating thing came out—humiliating for me. There was a second co-respondent. I hadn't heard of him before the trial. I don't know why that should be so acutely humiliating. There's no logic in these things. It was."
"Poor you!" said Ann Veronica.
"My wife refused absolutely to have anything more to do with me. She could hardly speak to me; she insisted relentlessly upon a separation. She had money of her own—much more than I have—and there was no need to squabble about that. She has given herself up to social work."
"That's all. Practically all. And yet—Wait a little, you'd better have every bit of it. One doesn't go about with these passions allayed simply because they have made wreckage and a scandal. There one is! The same stuff still! One has a craving in one's blood, a craving roused, cut off from its redeeming and guiding emotional side. A man has more freedom to do evil than a woman. Irregularly, in a quite inglorious and unromantic way, you know, I am a vicious man. That's—that's my private life. Until the last few months. It isn't what I have been but what I am. I haven't taken much account of it until now. My honor has been in my scientific work and public discussion and the things I write. Lots of us are like that. But, you see, I'm smirched. For the sort of love-making you think about. I've muddled all this business. I've had my time and lost my chances. I'm damaged goods. And you're as clean as fire. You come with those clear eyes of yours, as valiant as an angel...."
He stopped abruptly.
"Well?" she said.
"It's so strange to think of you—troubled by such things. I didn't think—I don't know what I thought. Suddenly all this makes you human. Makes you real."
"But don't you see how I must stand to you? Don't you see how it bars us from being lovers—You can't—at first. You must think it over. It's all outside the world of your experience."
"I don't think it makes a rap of difference, except for one thing. I love you more. I've wanted you—always. I didn't dream, not even in my wildest dreaming, that—you might have any need of me."
He made a little noise in his throat as if something had cried out within him, and for a time they were both too full for speech.
They were going up the slope into Waterloo Station.
"You go home and think of all this," he said, "and talk about it to-morrow. Don't, don't say anything now, not anything. As for loving you, I do. I do—with all my heart. It's no good hiding it any more. I could never have talked to you like this, forgetting everything that parts us, forgetting even your age, if I did not love you utterly. If I were a clean, free man—We'll have to talk of all these things. Thank goodness there's plenty of opportunity! And we two can talk. Anyhow, now you've begun it, there's nothing to keep us in all this from being the best friends in the world. And talking of every conceivable thing. Is there?"
"Nothing," said Ann Veronica, with a radiant face.
"Before this there was a sort of restraint—a make-believe. It's gone."
"Friendship and love being separate things. And that confounded engagement!"
They came upon a platform, and stood before her compartment.
He took her hand and looked into her eyes and spoke, divided against himself, in a voice that was forced and insincere.
"I shall be very glad to have you for a friend," he said, "loving friend. I had never dreamed of such a friend as you."
She smiled, sure of herself beyond any pretending, into his troubled eyes. Hadn't they settled that already?
"I want you as a friend," he persisted, almost as if he disputed something.
The next morning she waited in the laboratory at the lunch-hour in the reasonable certainty that he would come to her.
"Well, you have thought it over?" he said, sitting down beside her.
"I've been thinking of you all night," she answered.
"I don't care a rap for all these things."
He said nothing for a space.
"I don't see there's any getting away from the fact that you and I love each other," he said, slowly. "So far you've got me and I you.... You've got me. I'm like a creature just wakened up. My eyes are open to you. I keep on thinking of you. I keep on thinking of little details and aspects of your voice, your eyes, the way you walk, the way your hair goes back from the side of your forehead. I believe I have always been in love with you. Always. Before ever I knew you."
She sat motionless, with her hand tightening over the edge of the table, and he, too, said no more. She began to tremble violently.
He stood up abruptly and went to the window.
"We have," he said, "to be the utmost friends."
She stood up and held her arms toward him. "I want you to kiss me," she said.
He gripped the window-sill behind him.
"If I do," he said.... "No! I want to do without that. I want to do without that for a time. I want to give you time to think. I am a man—of a sort of experience. You are a girl with very little. Just sit down on that stool again and let's talk of this in cold blood. People of your sort—I don't want the instincts to—to rush our situation. Are you sure what it is you want of me?"
"I want you. I want you to be my lover. I want to give myself to you. I want to be whatever I can to you." She paused for a moment. "Is that plain?" she asked.
"If I didn't love you better than myself," said Capes, "I wouldn't fence like this with you.
"I am convinced you haven't thought this out," he went on. "You do not know what such a relation means. We are in love. Our heads swim with the thought of being together. But what can we do? Here am I, fixed to respectability and this laboratory; you're living at home. It means... just furtive meetings."
"I don't care how we meet," she said.
"It will spoil your life."
"It will make it. I want you. I am clear I want you. You are different from all the world for me. You can think all round me. You are the one person I can understand and feel—feel right with. I don't idealize you. Don't imagine that. It isn't because you're good, but because I may be rotten bad; and there's something—something living and understanding in you. Something that is born anew each time we meet, and pines when we are separated. You see, I'm selfish. I'm rather scornful. I think too much about myself. You're the only person I've really given good, straight, unselfish thought to. I'm making a mess of my life—unless you come in and take it. I am. In you—if you can love me—there is salvation. Salvation. I know what I am doing better than you do. Think—think of that engagement!"
Their talk had come to eloquent silences that contradicted all he had to say.
She stood up before him, smiling faintly.
"I think we've exhausted this discussion," she said.
"I think we have," he answered, gravely, and took her in his arms, and smoothed her hair from her forehead, and very tenderly kissed her lips.
They spent the next Sunday in Richmond Park, and mingled the happy sensation of being together uninterruptedly through the long sunshine of a summer's day with the ample discussion of their position. "This has all the clean freshness of spring and youth," said Capes; "it is love with the down on; it is like the glitter of dew in the sunlight to be lovers such as we are, with no more than one warm kiss between us. I love everything to-day, and all of you, but I love this, this—this innocence upon us most of all.
"You can't imagine," he said, "what a beastly thing a furtive love affair can be.
"This isn't furtive," said Ann Veronica.
"Not a bit of it. And we won't make it so.... We mustn't make it so."
They loitered under trees, they sat on mossy banks they gossiped on friendly benches, they came back to lunch at the "Star and Garter," and talked their afternoon away in the garden that looks out upon the crescent of the river. They had a universe to talk about—two universes.
"What are we going to do?" said Capes, with his eyes on the broad distances beyond the ribbon of the river.
"I will do whatever you want," said Ann Veronica.
"My first love was all blundering," said Capes.
He thought for a moment, and went on: "Love is something that has to be taken care of. One has to be so careful.... It's a beautiful plant, but a tender one.... I didn't know. I've a dread of love dropping its petals, becoming mean and ugly. How can I tell you all I feel? I love you beyond measure. And I'm afraid.... I'm anxious, joyfully anxious, like a man when he has found a treasure."
"YOU know," said Ann Veronica. "I just came to you and put myself in your hands."
"That's why, in a way, I'm prudish. I've—dreads. I don't want to tear at you with hot, rough hands."
"As you will, dear lover. But for me it doesn't matter. Nothing is wrong that you do. Nothing. I am quite clear about this. I know exactly what I am doing. I give myself to you."
"God send you may never repent it!" cried Capes.
She put her hand in his to be squeezed.
"You see," he said, "it is doubtful if we can ever marry. Very doubtful. I have been thinking—I will go to my wife again. I will do my utmost. But for a long time, anyhow, we lovers have to be as if we were no more than friends."
He paused. She answered slowly. "That is as you will," she said.
"Why should it matter?" he said.
And then, as she answered nothing, "Seeing that we are lovers."
It was rather less than a week after that walk that Capes came and sat down beside Ann Veronica for their customary talk in the lunch hour. He took a handful of almonds and raisins that she held out to him—for both these young people had given up the practice of going out for luncheon—and kept her hand for a moment to kiss her finger-tips. He did not speak for a moment.
"Well?" she said.
"I say!" he said, without any movement. "Let's go."
"Go!" She did not understand him at first, and then her heart began to beat very rapidly.
"Stop this—this humbugging," he explained. "It's like the Picture and the Bust. I can't stand it. Let's go. Go off and live together—until we can marry. Dare you?"
"Do you mean NOW?"
"At the end of the session. It's the only clean way for us. Are you prepared to do it?"
Her hands clenched. "Yes," she said, very faintly. And then: "Of course! Always. It is what I have wanted, what I have meant all along."
She stared before her, trying to keep back a rush of tears.
Capes kept obstinately stiff, and spoke between his teeth.
"There's endless reasons, no doubt, why we shouldn't," he said. "Endless. It's wrong in the eyes of most people. For many of them it will smirch us forever.... You DO understand?"
"Who cares for most people?" she said, not looking at him.
"I do. It means social isolation—struggle."
"If you dare—I dare," said Ann Veronica. "I was never so clear in all my life as I have been in this business." She lifted steadfast eyes to him. "Dare!" she said. The tears were welling over now, but her voice was steady. "You're not a man for me—not one of a sex, I mean. You're just a particular being with nothing else in the world to class with you. You are just necessary to life for me. I've never met any one like you. To have you is all important. Nothing else weighs against it. Morals only begin when that is settled. I sha'n't care a rap if we can never marry. I'm not a bit afraid of anything—scandal, difficulty, struggle.... I rather want them. I do want them."
"You'll get them," he said. "This means a plunge."
"Are you afraid?"
"Only for you! Most of my income will vanish. Even unbelieving biological demonstrators must respect decorum; and besides, you see—you were a student. We shall have—hardly any money."
"I don't care."
"Hardship and danger."
"And as for your people?"
"They don't count. That is the dreadful truth. This—all this swamps them. They don't count, and I don't care."
Capes suddenly abandoned his attitude of meditative restraint. "By Jove!" he broke out, "one tries to take a serious, sober view. I don't quite know why. But this is a great lark, Ann Veronica! This turns life into a glorious adventure!"
"Ah!" she cried in triumph.
"I shall have to give up biology, anyhow. I've always had a sneaking desire for the writing-trade. That is what I must do. I can."
"Of course you can."
"And biology was beginning to bore me a bit. One research is very like another.... Latterly I've been doing things.... Creative work appeals to me wonderfully. Things seem to come rather easily.... But that, and that sort of thing, is just a day-dream. For a time I must do journalism and work hard.... What isn't a day-dream is this: that you and I are going to put an end to flummery—and go!"
"Go!" said Ann Veronica, clenching her hands.
"For better or worse."
"For richer or poorer."
She could not go on, for she was laughing and crying at the same time. "We were bound to do this when you kissed me," she sobbed through her tears. "We have been all this time—Only your queer code of honor—Honor! Once you begin with love you have to see it through."
CHAPTER THE FIFTEENTH
THE LAST DAYS AT HOME
They decided to go to Switzerland at the session's end. "We'll clean up everything tidy," said Capes....
For her pride's sake, and to save herself from long day-dreams and an unappeasable longing for her lover, Ann Veronica worked hard at her biology during those closing weeks. She was, as Capes had said, a hard young woman. She was keenly resolved to do well in the school examination, and not to be drowned in the seas of emotion that threatened to submerge her intellectual being.
Nevertheless, she could not prevent a rising excitement as the dawn of the new life drew near to her—a thrilling of the nerves, a secret and delicious exaltation above the common circumstances of existence. Sometimes her straying mind would become astonishingly active—embroidering bright and decorative things that she could say to Capes; sometimes it passed into a state of passive acquiescence, into a radiant, formless, golden joy. She was aware of people—her aunt, her father, her fellow-students, friends, and neighbors—moving about outside this glowing secret, very much as an actor is aware of the dim audience beyond the barrier of the footlights. They might applaud, or object, or interfere, but the drama was her very own. She was going through with that, anyhow.
The feeling of last days grew stronger with her as their number diminished. She went about the familiar home with a clearer and clearer sense of inevitable conclusions. She became exceptionally considerate and affectionate with her father and aunt, and more and more concerned about the coming catastrophe that she was about to precipitate upon them. Her aunt had a once exasperating habit of interrupting her work with demands for small household services, but now Ann Veronica rendered them with a queer readiness of anticipatory propitiation. She was greatly exercised by the problem of confiding in the Widgetts; they were dears, and she talked away two evenings with Constance without broaching the topic; she made some vague intimations in letters to Miss Miniver that Miss Miniver failed to mark. But she did not bother her head very much about her relations with these sympathizers.
And at length her penultimate day in Morningside Park dawned for her. She got up early, and walked about the garden in the dewy June sunshine and revived her childhood. She was saying good-bye to childhood and home, and her making; she was going out into the great, multitudinous world; this time there would be no returning. She was at the end of girlhood and on the eve of a woman's crowning experience. She visited the corner that had been her own little garden—her forget-me-nots and candytuft had long since been elbowed into insignificance by weeds; she visited the raspberry-canes that had sheltered that first love affair with the little boy in velvet, and the greenhouse where she had been wont to read her secret letters. Here was the place behind the shed where she had used to hide from Roddy's persecutions, and here the border of herbaceous perennials under whose stems was fairyland. The back of the house had been the Alps for climbing, and the shrubs in front of it a Terai. The knots and broken pale that made the garden-fence scalable, and gave access to the fields behind, were still to be traced. And here against a wall were the plum-trees. In spite of God and wasps and her father, she had stolen plums; and once because of discovered misdeeds, and once because she had realized that her mother was dead, she had lain on her face in the unmown grass, beneath the elm-trees that came beyond the vegetables, and poured out her soul in weeping.
Remote little Ann Veronica! She would never know the heart of that child again! That child had loved fairy princes with velvet suits and golden locks, and she was in love with a real man named Capes, with little gleams of gold on his cheek and a pleasant voice and firm and shapely hands. She was going to him soon and certainly, going to his strong, embracing arms. She was going through a new world with him side by side. She had been so busy with life that, for a vast gulf of time, as it seemed, she had given no thought to those ancient, imagined things of her childhood. Now, abruptly, they were real again, though very distant, and she had come to say farewell to them across one sundering year.
She was unusually helpful at breakfast, and unselfish about the eggs: and then she went off to catch the train before her father's. She did this to please him. He hated travelling second-class with her—indeed, he never did—but he also disliked travelling in the same train when his daughter was in an inferior class, because of the look of the thing. So he liked to go by a different train. And in the Avenue she had an encounter with Ramage.
It was an odd little encounter, that left vague and dubitable impressions in her mind. She was aware of him—a silk-hatted, shiny-black figure on the opposite side of the Avenue; and then, abruptly and startlingly, he crossed the road and saluted and spoke to her.
"I MUST speak to you," he said. "I can't keep away from you."
She made some inane response. She was struck by a change in his appearance. His eyes looked a little bloodshot to her; his face had lost something of its ruddy freshness.
He began a jerky, broken conversation that lasted until they reached the station, and left her puzzled at its drift and meaning. She quickened her pace, and so did he, talking at her slightly averted ear. She made lumpish and inadequate interruptions rather than replies. At times he seemed to be claiming pity from her; at times he was threatening her with her check and exposure; at times he was boasting of his inflexible will, and how, in the end, he always got what he wanted. He said that his life was boring and stupid without her. Something or other—she did not catch what—he was damned if he could stand. He was evidently nervous, and very anxious to be impressive; his projecting eyes sought to dominate. The crowning aspect of the incident, for her mind, was the discovery that he and her indiscretion with him no longer mattered very much. Its importance had vanished with her abandonment of compromise. Even her debt to him was a triviality now.
And of course! She had a brilliant idea. It surprised her she hadn't thought of it before! She tried to explain that she was going to pay him forty pounds without fail next week. She said as much to him. She repeated this breathlessly.
"I was glad you did not send it back again," he said.
He touched a long-standing sore, and Ann Veronica found herself vainly trying to explain—the inexplicable. "It's because I mean to send it back altogether," she said.
He ignored her protests in order to pursue some impressive line of his own.
"Here we are, living in the same suburb," he began. "We have to be—modern."
Her heart leaped within her as she caught that phrase. That knot also would be cut. Modern, indeed! She was going to be as primordial as chipped flint.
In the late afternoon, as Ann Veronica was gathering flowers for the dinner-table, her father came strolling across the lawn toward her with an affectation of great deliberation.
"I want to speak to you about a little thing, Vee," said Mr. Stanley.
Ann Veronica's tense nerves started, and she stood still with her eyes upon him, wondering what it might be that impended.
"You were talking to that fellow Ramage to-day—in the Avenue. Walking to the station with him."
So that was it!
"He came and talked to me."
"Ye—e—es." Mr. Stanley considered. "Well, I don't want you to talk to him," he said, very firmly.
Ann Veronica paused before she answered. "Don't you think I ought to?" she asked, very submissively.
"No." Mr. Stanley coughed and faced toward the house. "He is not—I don't like him. I think it inadvisable—I don't want an intimacy to spring up between you and a man of that type."
Ann Veronica reflected. "I HAVE—had one or two talks with him, daddy."
"Don't let there be any more. I—In fact, I dislike him extremely."
"Suppose he comes and talks to me?"
"A girl can always keep a man at a distance if she cares to do it. She—She can snub him."
Ann Veronica picked a cornflower.
"I wouldn't make this objection," Mr. Stanley went on, "but there are things—there are stories about Ramage. He's—He lives in a world of possibilities outside your imagination. His treatment of his wife is most unsatisfactory. Most unsatisfactory. A bad man, in fact. A dissipated, loose-living man."
"I'll try not to see him again," said Ann Veronica. "I didn't know you objected to him, daddy."
"Strongly," said Mr. Stanley, "very strongly."
The conversation hung. Ann Veronica wondered what her father would do if she were to tell him the full story of her relations with Ramage.
"A man like that taints a girl by looking at her, by his mere conversation." He adjusted his glasses on his nose. There was another little thing he had to say. "One has to be so careful of one's friends and acquaintances," he remarked, by way of transition. "They mould one insensibly." His voice assumed an easy detached tone. "I suppose, Vee, you don't see much of those Widgetts now?"
"I go in and talk to Constance sometimes."
"We were great friends at school."
"No doubt.... Still—I don't know whether I quite like—Something ramshackle about those people, Vee. While I am talking about your friends, I feel—I think you ought to know how I look at it." His voice conveyed studied moderation. "I don't mind, of course, your seeing her sometimes, still there are differences—differences in social atmospheres. One gets drawn into things. Before you know where you are you find yourself in a complication. I don't want to influence you unduly—But—They're artistic people, Vee. That's the fact about them. We're different."
"I suppose we are," said Vee, rearranging the flowers in her hand.
"Friendships that are all very well between school-girls don't always go on into later life. It's—it's a social difference."
"I like Constance very much."
"No doubt. Still, one has to be reasonable. As you admitted to me—one has to square one's self with the world. You don't know. With people of that sort all sorts of things may happen. We don't want things to happen."
Ann Veronica made no answer.
A vague desire to justify himself ruffled her father. "I may seem unduly—anxious. I can't forget about your sister. It's that has always made me—SHE, you know, was drawn into a set—didn't discriminate Private theatricals."
Ann Veronica remained anxious to hear more of her sister's story from her father's point of view, but he did not go on. Even so much allusion as this to that family shadow, she felt, was an immense recognition of her ripening years. She glanced at him. He stood a little anxious and fussy, bothered by the responsibility of her, entirely careless of what her life was or was likely to be, ignoring her thoughts and feelings, ignorant of every fact of importance in her life, explaining everything he could not understand in her as nonsense and perversity, concerned only with a terror of bothers and undesirable situations. "We don't want things to happen!" Never had he shown his daughter so clearly that the womenkind he was persuaded he had to protect and control could please him in one way, and in one way only, and that was by doing nothing except the punctual domestic duties and being nothing except restful appearances. He had quite enough to see to and worry about in the City without their doing things. He had no use for Ann Veronica; he had never had a use for her since she had been too old to sit upon his knee. Nothing but the constraint of social usage now linked him to her. And the less "anything" happened the better. The less she lived, in fact, the better. These realizations rushed into Ann Veronica's mind and hardened her heart against him. She spoke slowly. "I may not see the Widgetts for some little time, father," she said. "I don't think I shall."
"Some little tiff?"
"No; but I don't think I shall see them."
Suppose she were to add, "I am going away!"
"I'm glad to hear you say it," said Mr. Stanley, and was so evidently pleased that Ann Veronica's heart smote her.
"I am very glad to hear you say it," he repeated, and refrained from further inquiry. "I think we are growing sensible," he said. "I think you are getting to understand me better."
He hesitated, and walked away from her toward the house. Her eyes followed him. The curve of his shoulders, the very angle of his feet, expressed relief at her apparent obedience. "Thank goodness!" said that retreating aspect, "that's said and over. Vee's all right. There's nothing happened at all!" She didn't mean, he concluded, to give him any more trouble ever, and he was free to begin a fresh chromatic novel—he had just finished the Blue Lagoon, which he thought very beautiful and tender and absolutely irrelevant to Morningside Park—or work in peace at his microtome without bothering about her in the least.
The immense disillusionment that awaited him! The devastating disillusionment! She had a vague desire to run after him, to state her case to him, to wring some understanding from him of what life was to her. She felt a cheat and a sneak to his unsuspecting retreating back.
"But what can one do?" asked Ann Veronica.
She dressed carefully for dinner in a black dress that her father liked, and that made her look serious and responsible. Dinner was quite uneventful. Her father read a draft prospectus warily, and her aunt dropped fragments of her projects for managing while the cook had a holiday. After dinner Ann Veronica went into the drawing-room with Miss Stanley, and her father went up to his den for his pipe and pensive petrography. Later in the evening she heard him whistling, poor man!
She felt very restless and excited. She refused coffee, though she knew that anyhow she was doomed to a sleepless night. She took up one of her father's novels and put it down again, fretted up to her own room for some work, sat on her bed and meditated upon the room that she was now really abandoning forever, and returned at length with a stocking to darn. Her aunt was making herself cuffs out of little slips of insertion under the newly lit lamp.
Ann Veronica sat down in the other arm-chair and darned badly for a minute or so. Then she looked at her aunt, and traced with a curious eye the careful arrangement of her hair, her sharp nose, the little drooping lines of mouth and chin and cheek.
Her thought spoke aloud. "Were you ever in love, aunt?" she asked.
Her aunt glanced up startled, and then sat very still, with hands that had ceased to work. "What makes you ask such a question, Vee?" she said.
Her aunt answered in a low voice: "I was engaged to him, dear, for seven years, and then he died."
Ann Veronica made a sympathetic little murmur.
"He was in holy orders, and we were to have been married when he got a living. He was a Wiltshire Edmondshaw, a very old family."
She sat very still.
Ann Veronica hesitated with a question that had leaped up in her mind, and that she felt was cruel. "Are you sorry you waited, aunt?" she said.
Her aunt was a long time before she answered. "His stipend forbade it," she said, and seemed to fall into a train of thought. "It would have been rash and unwise," she said at the end of a meditation. "What he had was altogether insufficient."
Ann Veronica looked at the mildly pensive gray eyes and the comfortable, rather refined face with a penetrating curiosity. Presently her aunt sighed deeply and looked at the clock. "Time for my Patience," she said. She got up, put the neat cuffs she had made into her work-basket, and went to the bureau for the little cards in the morocco case. Ann Veronica jumped up to get her the card-table. "I haven't seen the new Patience, dear," she said. "May I sit beside you?"
"It's a very difficult one," said her aunt. "Perhaps you will help me shuffle?"
Ann Veronica did, and also assisted nimbly with the arrangements of the rows of eight with which the struggle began. Then she sat watching the play, sometimes offering a helpful suggestion, sometimes letting her attention wander to the smoothly shining arms she had folded across her knees just below the edge of the table. She was feeling extraordinarily well that night, so that the sense of her body was a deep delight, a realization of a gentle warmth and strength and elastic firmness. Then she glanced at the cards again, over which her aunt's many-ringed hand played, and then at the rather weak, rather plump face that surveyed its operations.
It came to Ann Veronica that life was wonderful beyond measure. It seemed incredible that she and her aunt were, indeed, creatures of the same blood, only by a birth or so different beings, and part of that same broad interlacing stream of human life that has invented the fauns and nymphs, Astarte, Aphrodite, Freya, and all the twining beauty of the gods. The love-songs of all the ages were singing in her blood, the scent of night stock from the garden filled the air, and the moths that beat upon the closed frames of the window next the lamp set her mind dreaming of kisses in the dusk. Yet her aunt, with a ringed hand flitting to her lips and a puzzled, worried look in her eyes, deaf to all this riot of warmth and flitting desire, was playing Patience—playing Patience, as if Dionysius and her curate had died together. A faint buzz above the ceiling witnessed that petrography, too, was active. Gray and tranquil world! Amazing, passionless world! A world in which days without meaning, days in which "we don't want things to happen" followed days without meaning—until the last thing happened, the ultimate, unavoidable, coarse, "disagreeable." It was her last evening in that wrappered life against which she had rebelled. Warm reality was now so near her she could hear it beating in her ears. Away in London even now Capes was packing and preparing; Capes, the magic man whose touch turned one to trembling fire. What was he doing? What was he thinking? It was less than a day now, less than twenty hours. Seventeen hours, sixteen hours. She glanced at the soft-ticking clock with the exposed brass pendulum upon the white marble mantel, and made a rapid calculation. To be exact, it was just sixteen hours and twenty minutes. The slow stars circled on to the moment of their meeting. The softly glittering summer stars! She saw them shining over mountains of snow, over valleys of haze and warm darkness.... There would be no moon.
"I believe after all it's coming out!" said Miss Stanley. "The aces made it easy."
Ann Veronica started from her reverie, sat up in her chair, became attentive. "Look, dear," she said presently, "you can put the ten on the Jack."
CHAPTER THE SIXTEENTH
IN THE MOUNTAINS
Next day Ann Veronica and Capes felt like newborn things. It seemed to them they could never have been really alive before, but only dimly anticipating existence. They sat face to face beneath an experienced-looking rucksack and a brand new portmanteau and a leather handbag, in the afternoon-boat train that goes from Charing Cross to Folkestone for Boulogne. They tried to read illustrated papers in an unconcerned manner and with forced attention, lest they should catch the leaping exultation in each other's eyes. And they admired Kent sedulously from the windows.
They crossed the Channel in sunshine and a breeze that just ruffled the sea to glittering scales of silver. Some of the people who watched them standing side by side thought they must be newly wedded because of their happy faces, and others that they were an old-established couple because of their easy confidence in each other.
At Boulogne they took train to Basle; next morning they breakfasted together in the buffet of that station, and thence they caught the Interlaken express, and so went by way of Spies to Frutigen. There was no railway beyond Frutigen in those days; they sent their baggage by post to Kandersteg, and walked along the mule path to the left of the stream to that queer hollow among the precipices, Blau See, where the petrifying branches of trees lie in the blue deeps of an icy lake, and pine-trees clamber among gigantic boulders. A little inn flying a Swiss flag nestles under a great rock, and there they put aside their knapsacks and lunched and rested in the mid-day shadow of the gorge and the scent of resin. And later they paddled in a boat above the mysterious deeps of the See, and peered down into the green-blues and the blue-greens together. By that time it seemed to them they had lived together twenty years.
Except for one memorable school excursion to Paris, Ann Veronica had never yet been outside England. So that it seemed to her the whole world had changed—the very light of it had changed. Instead of English villas and cottages there were chalets and Italian-built houses shining white; there were lakes of emerald and sapphire and clustering castles, and such sweeps of hill and mountain, such shining uplands of snow, as she had never seen before. Everything was fresh and bright, from the kindly manners of the Frutigen cobbler, who hammered mountain nails into her boots, to the unfamiliar wild flowers that spangled the wayside. And Capes had changed into the easiest and jolliest companion in the world. The mere fact that he was there in the train alongside her, helping her, sitting opposite to her in the dining-car, presently sleeping on a seat within a yard of her, made her heart sing until she was afraid their fellow passengers would hear it. It was too good to be true. She would not sleep for fear of losing a moment of that sense of his proximity. To walk beside him, dressed akin to him, rucksacked and companionable, was bliss in itself; each step she took was like stepping once more across the threshold of heaven.
One trouble, however, shot its slanting bolts athwart the shining warmth of that opening day and marred its perfection, and that was the thought of her father.
She had treated him badly; she had hurt him and her aunt; she had done wrong by their standards, and she would never persuade them that she had done right. She thought of her father in the garden, and of her aunt with her Patience, as she had seen them—how many ages was it ago? Just one day intervened. She felt as if she had struck them unawares. The thought of them distressed her without subtracting at all from the oceans of happiness in which she swam. But she wished she could put the thing she had done in some way to them so that it would not hurt them so much as the truth would certainly do. The thought of their faces, and particularly of her aunt's, as it would meet the fact—disconcerted, unfriendly, condemning, pained—occurred to her again and again.
"Oh! I wish," she said, "that people thought alike about these things."
Capes watched the limpid water dripping from his oar. "I wish they did," he said, "but they don't."
"I feel—All this is the rightest of all conceivable things. I want to tell every one. I want to boast myself."
"I told them a lie. I told them lies. I wrote three letters yesterday and tore them up. It was so hopeless to put it to them. At last—I told a story."
"You didn't tell them our position?"
"I implied we had married."
"They'll find out. They'll know."
"Sooner or later."
"Possibly—bit by bit.... But it was hopelessly hard to put. I said I knew he disliked and distrusted you and your work—that you shared all Russell's opinions: he hates Russell beyond measure—and that we couldn't possibly face a conventional marriage. What else could one say? I left him to suppose—a registry perhaps...."
Capes let his oar smack on the water.
"Do you mind very much?"
He shook his head.
"But it makes me feel inhuman," he added.
"It's the perpetual trouble," he said, "of parent and child. They can't help seeing things in the way they do. Nor can we. WE don't think they're right, but they don't think we are. A deadlock. In a very definite sense we are in the wrong—hopelessly in the wrong. But—It's just this: who was to be hurt?"
"I wish no one had to be hurt," said Ann Veronica. "When one is happy—I don't like to think of them. Last time I left home I felt as hard as nails. But this is all different. It is different."
"There's a sort of instinct of rebellion," said Capes. "It isn't anything to do with our times particularly. People think it is, but they are wrong. It's to do with adolescence. Long before religion and Society heard of Doubt, girls were all for midnight coaches and Gretna Green. It's a sort of home-leaving instinct."
He followed up a line of thought.
"There's another instinct, too," he went on, "in a state of suppression, unless I'm very much mistaken; a child-expelling instinct.... I wonder.... There's no family uniting instinct, anyhow; it's habit and sentiment and material convenience hold families together after adolescence. There's always friction, conflict, unwilling concessions. Always! I don't believe there is any strong natural affection at all between parents and growing-up children. There wasn't, I know, between myself and my father. I didn't allow myself to see things as they were in those days; now I do. I bored him. I hated him. I suppose that shocks one's ideas.... It's true.... There are sentimental and traditional deferences and reverences, I know, between father and son; but that's just exactly what prevents the development of an easy friendship. Father-worshipping sons are abnormal—and they're no good. No good at all. One's got to be a better man than one's father, or what is the good of successive generations? Life is rebellion, or nothing."
He rowed a stroke and watched the swirl of water from his oar broaden and die away. At last he took up his thoughts again: "I wonder if, some day, one won't need to rebel against customs and laws? If this discord will have gone? Some day, perhaps—who knows?—the old won't coddle and hamper the young, and the young won't need to fly in the faces of the old. They'll face facts as facts, and understand. Oh, to face facts! Gods! what a world it might be if people faced facts! Understanding! Understanding! There is no other salvation. Some day older people, perhaps, will trouble to understand younger people, and there won't be these fierce disruptions; there won't be barriers one must defy or perish.... That's really our choice now, defy—or futility.... The world, perhaps, will be educated out of its idea of fixed standards.... I wonder, Ann Veronica, if, when our time comes, we shall be any wiser?"
Ann Veronica watched a water-beetle fussing across the green depths. "One can't tell. I'm a female thing at bottom. I like high tone for a flourish and stars and ideas; but I want my things."
"It's odd—I have no doubt in my mind that what we are doing is wrong," he said. "And yet I do it without compunction."
"I never felt so absolutely right," said Ann Veronica.
"You ARE a female thing at bottom," he admitted. "I'm not nearly so sure as you. As for me, I look twice at it.... Life is two things, that's how I see it; two things mixed and muddled up together. Life is morality—life is adventure. Squire and master. Adventure rules, and morality—looks up the trains in the Bradshaw. Morality tells you what is right, and adventure moves you. If morality means anything it means keeping bounds, respecting implications, respecting implicit bounds. If individuality means anything it means breaking bounds—adventure.
"Will you be moral and your species, or immoral and yourself? We've decided to be immoral. We needn't try and give ourselves airs. We've deserted the posts in which we found ourselves, cut our duties, exposed ourselves to risks that may destroy any sort of social usefulness in us.... I don't know. One keeps rules in order to be one's self. One studies Nature in order not to be blindly ruled by her. There's no sense in morality, I suppose, unless you are fundamentally immoral."
She watched his face as he traced his way through these speculative thickets.
"Look at our affair," he went on, looking up at her. "No power on earth will persuade me we're not two rather disreputable persons. You desert your home; I throw up useful teaching, risk every hope in your career. Here we are absconding, pretending to be what we are not; shady, to say the least of it. It's not a bit of good pretending there's any Higher Truth or wonderful principle in this business. There isn't. We never started out in any high-browed manner to scandalize and Shelleyfy. When first you left your home you had no idea that I was the hidden impulse. I wasn't. You came out like an ant for your nuptial flight. It was just a chance that we in particular hit against each other—nothing predestined about it. We just hit against each other, and here we are flying off at a tangent, a little surprised at what we are doing, all our principles abandoned, and tremendously and quite unreasonably proud of ourselves. Out of all this we have struck a sort of harmony.... And it's gorgeous!"
"Glorious!" said Ann Veronica.
"Would YOU like us—if some one told you the bare outline of our story?—and what we are doing?"
"I shouldn't mind," said Ann Veronica.
"But if some one else asked your advice? If some one else said, 'Here is my teacher, a jaded married man on the verge of middle age, and he and I have a violent passion for one another. We propose to disregard all our ties, all our obligations, all the established prohibitions of society, and begin life together afresh.' What would you tell her?"
"If she asked advice, I should say she wasn't fit to do anything of the sort. I should say that having a doubt was enough to condemn it."
"But waive that point."
"It would be different all the same. It wouldn't be you."
"It wouldn't be you either. I suppose that's the gist of the whole thing." He stared at a little eddy. "The rule's all right, so long as there isn't a case. Rules are for established things, like the pieces and positions of a game. Men and women are not established things; they're experiments, all of them. Every human being is a new thing, exists to do new things. Find the thing you want to do most intensely, make sure that's it, and do it with all your might. If you live, well and good; if you die, well and good. Your purpose is done.... Well, this is OUR thing."
He woke the glassy water to swirling activity again, and made the deep-blue shapes below writhe and shiver.
"This is MY thing," said Ann Veronica, softly, with thoughtful eyes upon him.
Then she looked up the sweep of pine-trees to the towering sunlit cliffs and the high heaven above and then back to his face. She drew in a deep breath of the sweet mountain air. Her eyes were soft and grave, and there was the faintest of smiles upon her resolute lips.
Later they loitered along a winding path above the inn, and made love to one another. Their journey had made them indolent, the afternoon was warm, and it seemed impossible to breathe a sweeter air. The flowers and turf, a wild strawberry, a rare butterfly, and suchlike little intimate things had become more interesting than mountains. Their flitting hands were always touching. Deep silences came between them....
"I had thought to go on to Kandersteg," said Capes, "but this is a pleasant place. There is not a soul in the inn but ourselves. Let us stay the night here. Then we can loiter and gossip to our heart's content."
"Agreed," said Ann Veronica.
"After all, it's our honeymoon."
"All we shall get," said Ann Veronica.
"This place is very beautiful."
"Any place would be beautiful," said Ann Veronica, in a low voice.
For a time they walked in silence.
"I wonder," she began, presently, "why I love you—and love you so much?... I know now what it is to be an abandoned female. I AM an abandoned female. I'm not ashamed—of the things I'm doing. I want to put myself into your hands. You know—I wish I could roll my little body up small and squeeze it into your hand and grip your fingers upon it. Tight. I want you to hold me and have me SO.... Everything. Everything. It's a pure joy of giving—giving to YOU. I have never spoken of these things to any human being. Just dreamed—and ran away even from my dreams. It is as if my lips had been sealed about them. And now I break the seals—for you. Only I wish—I wish to-day I was a thousand times, ten thousand times more beautiful."
Capes lifted her hand and kissed it.
"You are a thousand times more beautiful," he said, "than anything else could be.... You are you. You are all the beauty in the world. Beauty doesn't mean, never has meant, anything—anything at all but you. It heralded you, promised you...."
They lay side by side in a shallow nest of turf and mosses among bowlders and stunted bushes on a high rock, and watched the day sky deepen to evening between the vast precipices overhead and looked over the tree-tops down the widening gorge. A distant suggestion of chalets and a glimpse of the road set them talking for a time of the world they had left behind.
Capes spoke casually of their plans for work. "It's a flabby, loose-willed world we have to face. It won't even know whether to be scandalized at us or forgiving. It will hold aloof, a little undecided whether to pelt or not—"
"That depends whether we carry ourselves as though we expected pelting," said Ann Veronica.
"Then, as we succeed, it will begin to sidle back to us. It will do its best to overlook things—"
"If we let it, poor dear."
"That's if we succeed. If we fail," said Capes, "then—"
"We aren't going to fail," said Ann Veronica.
Life seemed a very brave and glorious enterprise to Ann Veronica that day. She was quivering with the sense of Capes at her side and glowing with heroic love; it seemed to her that if they put their hands jointly against the Alps and pushed they would be able to push them aside. She lay and nibbled at a sprig of dwarf rhododendron.
"FAIL!" she said.
Presently it occurred to Ann Veronica to ask about the journey he had planned. He had his sections of the Siegfried map folded in his pocket, and he squatted up with his legs crossed like an Indian idol while she lay prone beside him and followed every movement of his indicatory finger.
"Here," he said, "is this Blau See, and here we rest until to-morrow. I think we rest here until to-morrow?"
There was a brief silence.
"It is a very pleasant place," said Ann Veronica, biting a rhododendron stalk through, and with that faint shadow of a smile returning to her lips....
"And then?" said Ann Veronica.
"Then we go on to this place, the Oeschinensee. It's a lake among precipices, and there is a little inn where we can stay, and sit and eat our dinner at a pleasant table that looks upon the lake. For some days we shall be very idle there among the trees and rocks. There are boats on the lake and shady depths and wildernesses of pine-wood. After a day or so, perhaps, we will go on one or two little excursions and see how good your head is—a mild scramble or so; and then up to a hut on a pass just here, and out upon the Blumlis-alp glacier that spreads out so and so."
She roused herself from some dream at the word. "Glaciers?" she said.
"Under the Wilde Frau—which was named after you."
He bent and kissed her hair and paused, and then forced his attention back to the map. "One day," he resumed, "we will start off early and come down into Kandersteg and up these zigzags and here and here, and so past this Daubensee to a tiny inn—it won't be busy yet, though; we may get it all to ourselves—on the brim of the steepest zigzag you can imagine, thousands of feet of zigzag; and you will sit and eat lunch with me and look out across the Rhone Valley and over blue distances beyond blue distances to the Matterhorn and Monte Rosa and a long regiment of sunny, snowy mountains. And when we see them we shall at once want to go to them—that's the way with beautiful things—and down we shall go, like flies down a wall, to Leukerbad, and so to Leuk Station, here, and then by train up the Rhone Valley and this little side valley to Stalden; and there, in the cool of the afternoon, we shall start off up a gorge, torrents and cliffs below us and above us, to sleep in a half-way inn, and go on next day to Saas Fee, Saas of the Magic, Saas of the Pagan People. And there, about Saas, are ice and snows again, and sometimes we will loiter among the rocks and trees about Saas or peep into Samuel Butler's chapels, and sometimes we will climb up out of the way of the other people on to the glaciers and snow. And, for one expedition at least, we will go up this desolate valley here to Mattmark, and so on to Monte Moro. There indeed you see Monte Rosa. Almost the best of all."
"Is it very beautiful?"
"When I saw it there it was very beautiful. It was wonderful. It was the crowned queen of mountains in her robes of shining white. It towered up high above the level of the pass, thousands of feet, still, shining, and white, and below, thousands of feet below, was a floor of little woolly clouds. And then presently these clouds began to wear thin and expose steep, deep slopes, going down and down, with grass and pine-trees, down and down, and at last, through a great rent in the clouds, bare roofs, shining like very minute pin-heads, and a road like a fibre of white silk-Macugnana, in Italy. That will be a fine day—it will have to be, when first you set eyes on Italy.... That's as far as we go."
"Can't we go down into Italy?"
"No," he said; "it won't run to that now. We must wave our hands at the blue hills far away there and go back to London and work."
"Italy's for a good girl," he said, and laid his hand for a moment on her shoulder. "She must look forward to Italy."
"I say," she reflected, "you ARE rather the master, you know."
The idea struck him as novel. "Of course I'm manager for this expedition," he said, after an interval of self-examination.
She slid her cheek down the tweed sleeve of his coat. "Nice sleeve," she said, and came to his hand and kissed it.
"I say!" he cried. "Look here! Aren't you going a little too far? This—this is degradation—making a fuss with sleeves. You mustn't do things like that."
"Free woman—and equal."
"I do it—of my own free will," said Ann Veronica, kissing his hand again. "It's nothing to what I WILL do."
"Oh, well!" he said, a little doubtfully, "it's just a phase," and bent down and rested his hand on her shoulder for a moment, with his heart beating and his nerves a-quiver. Then as she lay very still, with her hands clinched and her black hair tumbled about her face, he came still closer and softly kissed the nape of her neck....
Most of the things that he had planned they did. But they climbed more than he had intended because Ann Veronica proved rather a good climber, steady-headed and plucky, rather daring, but quite willing to be cautious at his command.
One of the things that most surprised him in her was her capacity for blind obedience. She loved to be told to do things.
He knew the circle of mountains about Saas Fee fairly well: he had been there twice before, and it was fine to get away from the straggling pedestrians into the high, lonely places, and sit and munch sandwiches and talk together and do things together that were just a little difficult and dangerous. And they could talk, they found; and never once, it seemed, did their meaning and intention hitch. They were enormously pleased with one another; they found each other beyond measure better than they had expected, if only because of the want of substance in mere expectation. Their conversation degenerated again and again into a strain of self-congratulation that would have irked an eavesdropper.
"You're—I don't know," said Ann Veronica. "You're splendid."
"It isn't that you're splendid or I," said Capes. "But we satisfy one another. Heaven alone knows why. So completely! The oddest fitness! What is it made of? Texture of skin and texture of mind? Complexion and voice. I don't think I've got illusions, nor you.... If I had never met anything of you at all but a scrap of your skin binding a book, Ann Veronica, I know I would have kept that somewhere near to me.... All your faults are just jolly modelling to make you real and solid."
"The faults are the best part of it," said Ann Veronica; "why, even our little vicious strains run the same way. Even our coarseness."
"Coarse?" said Capes, "We're not coarse."
"But if we were?" said Ann Veronica.
"I can talk to you and you to me without a scrap of effort," said Capes; "that's the essence of it. It's made up of things as small as the diameter of hairs and big as life and death.... One always dreamed of this and never believed it. It's the rarest luck, the wildest, most impossible accident. Most people, every one I know else, seem to have mated with foreigners and to talk uneasily in unfamiliar tongues, to be afraid of the knowledge the other one has, of the other one's perpetual misjudgment and misunderstandings.
"Why don't they wait?" he added.
Ann Veronica had one of her flashes of insight.
"One doesn't wait," said Ann Veronica.
She expanded that. "I shouldn't have waited," she said. "I might have muddled for a time. But it's as you say. I've had the rarest luck and fallen on my feet."
"We've both fallen on our feet! We're the rarest of mortals! The real thing! There's not a compromise nor a sham nor a concession between us. We aren't afraid; we don't bother. We don't consider each other; we needn't. That wrappered life, as you call it—we've burned the confounded rags! Danced out of it! We're stark!"
"Stark!" echoed Ann Veronica.
As they came back from that day's climb—it was up the Mittaghorn—they had to cross a shining space of wet, steep rocks between two grass slopes that needed a little care. There were a few loose, broken fragments of rock to reckon with upon the ledges, and one place where hands did as much work as toes. They used the rope—not that a rope was at all necessary, but because Ann Veronica's exalted state of mind made the fact of the rope agreeably symbolical; and, anyhow, it did insure a joint death in the event of some remotely possibly mischance. Capes went first, finding footholds and, where the drops in the strata-edges came like long, awkward steps, placing Ann Veronica's feet. About half-way across this interval, when everything seemed going well, Capes had a shock.
"Heavens!" exclaimed Ann Veronica, with extraordinary passion. "My God!" and ceased to move.
Capes became rigid and adhesive. Nothing ensued. "All right?" he asked.
"I'll have to pay it."
"I've forgotten something. Oh, cuss it!"
"He said I would."
"That's the devil of it!"
"Devil of what?... You DO use vile language!"
"Forget about it like this."
"And I said I wouldn't. I said I'd do anything. I said I'd make shirts."
"Shirts at one—and—something a dozen. Oh, goodness! Bilking! Ann Veronica, you're a bilker!"
"Will you tell me what all this is about?" said Capes.
"It's about forty pounds."
Capes waited patiently.
"G. I'm sorry.... But you've got to lend me forty pounds."
"It's some sort of delirium," said Capes. "The rarefied air? I thought you had a better head."
"No! I'll explain lower. It's all right. Let's go on climbing now. It's a thing I've unaccountably overlooked. All right really. It can wait a bit longer. I borrowed forty pounds from Mr. Ramage. Thank goodness you'll understand. That's why I chucked Manning.... All right, I'm coming. But all this business has driven it clean out of my head.... That's why he was so annoyed, you know."
"Who was annoyed?"
"Mr. Ramage—about the forty pounds." She took a step. "My dear," she added, by way of afterthought, "you DO obliterate things!"
They found themselves next day talking love to one another high up on some rocks above a steep bank of snow that overhung a precipice on the eastern side of the Fee glacier. By this time Capes' hair had bleached nearly white, and his skin had become a skin of red copper shot with gold. They were now both in a state of unprecedented physical fitness. And such skirts as Ann Veronica had had when she entered the valley of Saas were safely packed away in the hotel, and she wore a leather belt and loose knickerbockers and puttees—a costume that suited the fine, long lines of her limbs far better than any feminine walking-dress could do. Her complexion had resisted the snow-glare wonderfully; her skin had only deepened its natural warmth a little under the Alpine sun. She had pushed aside her azure veil, taken off her snow-glasses, and sat smiling under her hand at the shining glories—the lit cornices, the blue shadows, the softly rounded, enormous snow masses, the deep places full of quivering luminosity—of the Taschhorn and Dom. The sky was cloudless, effulgent blue.
Capes sat watching and admiring her, and then he fell praising the day and fortune and their love for each other.
"Here we are," he said, "shining through each other like light through a stained-glass window. With this air in our blood, this sunlight soaking us.... Life is so good. Can it ever be so good again?"
Ann Veronica put out a firm hand and squeezed his arm. "It's very good," she said. "It's glorious good!"
"Suppose now—look at this long snow-slope and then that blue deep beyond—do you see that round pool of color in the ice—a thousand feet or more below? Yes? Well, think—we've got to go but ten steps and lie down and put our arms about each other. See? Down we should rush in a foam—in a cloud of snow—to flight and a dream. All the rest of our lives would be together then, Ann Veronica. Every moment. And no ill-chances."
"If you tempt me too much," she said, after a silence, "I shall do it. I need only just jump up and throw myself upon you. I'm a desperate young woman. And then as we went down you'd try to explain. And that would spoil it.... You know you don't mean it."
"No, I don't. But I liked to say it."
"Rather! But I wonder why you don't mean it?"
"Because, I suppose, the other thing is better. What other reason could there be? It's more complex, but it's better. THIS, this glissade, would be damned scoundrelism. You know that, and I know that, though we might be put to it to find a reason why. It would be swindling. Drawing the pay of life and then not living. And besides—We're going to live, Ann Veronica! Oh, the things we'll do, the life we'll lead! There'll be trouble in it at times—you and I aren't going to run without friction. But we've got the brains to get over that, and tongues in our heads to talk to each other. We sha'n't hang up on any misunderstanding. Not us. And we're going to fight that old world down there. That old world that had shoved up that silly old hotel, and all the rest of it.... If we don't live it will think we are afraid of it.... Die, indeed! We're going to do work; we're going to unfold about each other; we're going to have children."
"Girls!" cried Ann Veronica.
"Boys!" said Capes.
"Both!" said Ann Veronica. "Lots of 'em!"
Capes chuckled. "You delicate female!"
"Who cares," said Ann Veronica, "seeing it's you? Warm, soft little wonders! Of course I want them."
"All sorts of things we're going to do," said Capes; "all sorts of times we're going to have. Sooner or later we'll certainly do something to clean those prisons you told me about—limewash the underside of life. You and I. We can love on a snow cornice, we can love over a pail of whitewash. Love anywhere. Anywhere! Moonlight and music—pleasing, you know, but quite unnecessary. We met dissecting dogfish.... Do you remember your first day with me?... Do you indeed remember? The smell of decay and cheap methylated spirit!... My dear! we've had so many moments! I used to go over the times we'd had together, the things we'd said—like a rosary of beads. But now it's beads by the cask—like the hold of a West African trader. It feels like too much gold-dust clutched in one's hand. One doesn't want to lose a grain. And one must—some of it must slip through one's fingers."
"I don't care if it does," said Ann Veronica. "I don't care a rap for remembering. I care for you. This moment couldn't be better until the next moment comes. That's how it takes me. Why should WE hoard? We aren't going out presently, like Japanese lanterns in a gale. It's the poor dears who do, who know they will, know they can't keep it up, who need to clutch at way-side flowers. And put 'em in little books for remembrance. Flattened flowers aren't for the likes of us. Moments, indeed! We like each other fresh and fresh. It isn't illusions—for us. We two just love each other—the real, identical other—all the time."
"The real, identical other," said Capes, and took and bit the tip of her little finger.
"There's no delusions, so far as I know," said Ann Veronica.
"I don't believe there is one. If there is, it's a mere wrapping—there's better underneath. It's only as if I'd begun to know you the day before yesterday or there-abouts. You keep on coming truer, after you have seemed to come altogether true. You... brick!"
"To think," he cried, "you are ten years younger than I!... There are times when you make me feel a little thing at your feet—a young, silly, protected thing. Do you know, Ann Veronica, it is all a lie about your birth certificate; a forgery—and fooling at that. You are one of the Immortals. Immortal! You were in the beginning, and all the men in the world who have known what love is have worshipped at your feet. You have converted me to—Lester Ward! You are my dear friend, you are a slip of a girl, but there are moments when my head has been on your breast, when your heart has been beating close to my ears, when I have known you for the goddess, when I have wished myself your slave, when I have wished that you could kill me for the joy of being killed by you. You are the High Priestess of Life...."
"Your priestess," whispered Ann Veronica, softly. "A silly little priestess who knew nothing of life at all until she came to you."
They sat for a time without speaking a word, in an enormous shining globe of mutual satisfaction.
"Well," said Capes, at length, "we've to go down, Ann Veronica. Life waits for us."
He stood up and waited for her to move.
"Gods!" cried Ann Veronica, and kept him standing. "And to think that it's not a full year ago since I was a black-hearted rebel school-girl, distressed, puzzled, perplexed, not understanding that this great force of love was bursting its way through me! All those nameless discontents—they were no more than love's birth-pangs. I felt—I felt living in a masked world. I felt as though I had bandaged eyes. I felt—wrapped in thick cobwebs. They blinded me. They got in my mouth. And now—Dear! Dear! The dayspring from on high hath visited me. I love. I am loved. I want to shout! I want to sing! I am glad! I am glad to be alive because you are alive! I am glad to be a woman because you are a man! I am glad! I am glad! I am glad! I thank God for life and you. I thank God for His sunlight on your face. I thank God for the beauty you love and the faults you love. I thank God for the very skin that is peeling from your nose, for all things great and small that make us what we are. This is grace I am saying! Oh! my dear! all the joy and weeping of life are mixed in me now and all the gratitude. Never a new-born dragon-fly that spread its wings in the morning has felt as glad as I!"
CHAPTER THE SEVENTEENTH
About four years and a quarter later—to be exact, it was four years and four months—Mr. and Mrs. Capes stood side by side upon an old Persian carpet that did duty as a hearthrug in the dining-room of their flat and surveyed a shining dinner-table set for four people, lit by skilfully-shaded electric lights, brightened by frequent gleams of silver, and carefully and simply adorned with sweet-pea blossom. Capes had altered scarcely at all during the interval, except for a new quality of smartness in the cut of his clothes, but Ann Veronica was nearly half an inch taller; her face was at once stronger and softer, her neck firmer and rounder, and her carriage definitely more womanly than it had been in the days of her rebellion. She was a woman now to the tips of her fingers; she had said good-bye to her girlhood in the old garden four years and a quarter ago. She was dressed in a simple evening gown of soft creamy silk, with a yoke of dark old embroidery that enhanced the gentle gravity of her style, and her black hair flowed off her open forehead to pass under the control of a simple ribbon of silver. A silver necklace enhanced the dusky beauty of her neck. Both husband and wife affected an unnatural ease of manner for the benefit of the efficient parlor-maid, who was putting the finishing touches to the sideboard arrangements.
"It looks all right," said Capes.
"I think everything's right," said Ann Veronica, with the roaming eye of a capable but not devoted house-mistress.
"I wonder if they will seem altered," she remarked for the third time.
"There I can't help," said Capes.
He walked through a wide open archway, curtained with deep-blue curtains, into the apartment that served as a reception-room. Ann Veronica, after a last survey of the dinner appointments, followed him, rustling, came to his side by the high brass fender, and touched two or three ornaments on the mantel above the cheerful fireplace.
"It's still a marvel to me that we are to be forgiven," she said, turning.
"My charm of manner, I suppose. But, indeed, he's very human."
"Did you tell him of the registry office?"
"No—o—certainly not so emphatically as I did about the play."
"It was an inspiration—your speaking to him?"
"I felt impudent. I believe I am getting impudent. I had not been near the Royal Society since—since you disgraced me. What's that?"
They both stood listening. It was not the arrival of the guests, but merely the maid moving about in the hall.
"Wonderful man!" said Ann Veronica, reassured, and stroking his cheek with her finger.
Capes made a quick movement as if to bite that aggressive digit, but it withdrew to Ann Veronica's side.
"I was really interested in his stuff. I WAS talking to him before I saw his name on the card beside the row of microscopes. Then, naturally, I went on talking. He—he has rather a poor opinion of his contemporaries. Of course, he had no idea who I was."
"But how did you tell him? You've never told me. Wasn't it—a little bit of a scene?"
"Oh! let me see. I said I hadn't been at the Royal Society soiree for four years, and got him to tell me about some of the fresh Mendelian work. He loves the Mendelians because he hates all the big names of the eighties and nineties. Then I think I remarked that science was disgracefully under-endowed, and confessed I'd had to take to more profitable courses. 'The fact of it is,' I said, 'I'm the new playwright, Thomas More. Perhaps you've heard—?' Well, you know, he had."
"Isn't it? 'I've not seen your play, Mr. More,' he said, 'but I'm told it's the most amusing thing in London at the present time. A friend of mine, Ogilvy'—I suppose that's Ogilvy & Ogilvy, who do so many divorces, Vee?—'was speaking very highly of it—very highly!'" He smiled into her eyes.
"You are developing far too retentive a memory for praises," said Ann Veronica.
"I'm still new to them. But after that it was easy. I told him instantly and shamelessly that the play was going to be worth ten thousand pounds. He agreed it was disgraceful. Then I assumed a rather portentous manner to prepare him."
"How? Show me."
"I can't be portentous, dear, when you're about. It's my other side of the moon. But I was portentous, I can assure you. 'My name's NOT More, Mr. Stanley,' I said. 'That's my pet name.'"