But underneath the imaginative spirit of the poet lay the human spirit of the man. And if the former predominated the latter was not entirely dormant. If the poet in him coloured his life and thought, it was the man in him that felt the results, so that the instincts of the poet often clashed with the sympathies and affections of the man. Of this discord within himself he could not help being aware, but he knew it purely by its effect, for he had never searched deeply into the complexity of his nature.
Thus it was that the man in him was grieved at his having had to make promises of further visits to the Medhursts; was paying for every grain of happiness wrung from the evening by a reaction of pain unspeakable. But the poet in him governed, was trying to suppress the man.
He was roused from his meditations by a familiar voice when he was but a few feet from his own door.
"I have been hovering about for a quarter of an hour."
He was startled, then laughed. The veiled woman stood on tip-toe and kissed him on the forehead, he stooping mechanically to meet her movement.
"You don't mind the veil?" she said.
"How did you know I was not indoors and abed by this time?" he asked.
"I didn't know. I only came to meditate in the moonlight. I have been enjoying such exquisite emotions. Are you too tired for a promenade round the circle?"
He fell in with her humour.
"Morgan, reproaches have been accumulating. To save time—you know I never waste any—you shall have them all in one ferocious phrase. You have been brutal to me of late. I don't mean to say that you've ever ceased to be charming, but—why, at least, didn't you answer my note?"
"It only came this morning," he stammered, "and I haven't had time to read it yet."
"In other words, you wrinkled your brow as soon as you saw it, made up your mind I was beginning to be somewhat of a nuisance, and threw it aside unopened. Of course, you forgot all about it afterwards. You have a perfect genius for putting crude facts in a delicate way."
"Another new discovery about me."
"That is but the natural result of the profound thought I bestow upon you."
"Your profound thought contradicts itself. It declares me brutal and charming with the same breath."
"Profound thought always contradicts itself. I know it for a fact, because I've been looking up Hegel. The nice things and nasty things I say about you arise equally from my love for you, which is thus the unifying principle. The apparent contradictoriness, therefore, disappears in a higher synthesis."
"Quarter! A man can't stand having philosophers hurled at his head."
"But I kiss your head sometimes. I'm sure I'd much prefer that always, only you goad me into the other thing."
"Yes. By your masterly inactivity when I am concerned. I have to force myself into your life, and after we've been chums for three years, you, left to yourself, ignore my existence. You have such a terrible power of negative resistance against poor, strong-willed me. But, after all, you admire me tremendously, don't you, dear Morgan?"
"I have told you scores of times you are the cleverest woman in the kingdom."
"I am the only woman who understands your poetry. I don't mean that as a bit of sarcasm at the expense of your compliment—I merely want to show you I deserve it."
He made no reply. For a few moments there was a silence.
"How reticent you are to-night!" she said at length. "You usually have quite a deal to tell me. Are the sentimental chapters preying on your mind? I do so much want to know about those sentimental chapters, but you always evade the subject. Tell me, are there any in your life?"
"Ours was to be an intellectual companionship only."
"Comprising intellectual sympathy and kissing on the forehead—both of them chaste, stony, saint-like, tantalising things. But I'd be content for the time being if I were only sure your heart were perfectly free. I couldn't bear the thought of your making love to another woman."
"You are amusing."
"I am jealous."
"Then you have been imagining sentimental chapters for me."
"Well, being a woman of the world, thirty-three years of age—no deception, Morgan—and, knowing you have lived twenty-eight, I naturally suspect the existence of those chapters, you darling sphinx. And when I suddenly come across a poem from your pen about a sweet little girl, my suspicion becomes almost a certainty."
He could not help laughing.
"That sweet little girl is too concrete, too much away from your metaphysical manner, to be a mere creation of your brain. What vexed me particularly was that the most stupid woman I know—I mean my dear friend Laura—admired the thing and called it a gem. Now I don't like my monopoly threatened in that way. I have always prayed against your own prayer. I don't want the world at large to admire you—yet. I want you, disgusted with the world's non-acceptance of you, to find consolation in my love. There is a fair proposal for you, Morgan. Love me, marry me—and after that you may become as great as you like. Your poetry as yet is my friend, but I begin to feel afraid of it when you start pictures of sweet little girls."
He did not take her the least bit seriously—he never did. Her occasional courtship of him had been always so light and airy, so dispassionately epigrammatic, that he looked on it as mere whimsical banter and rather good amusement. She had plagued him into consenting to that kiss on the forehead which she gave him each time they met, referring to it constantly as an advantage won by hard effort. The circumstance of their first meeting had been commonplace enough—a chance introduction at an afternoon tea. They were friends whilst yet utter strangers to each other, for a mutual personal magnetism had acted immediately. He understood that her playfulness did but conceal fine qualities of character that would have pleased even the aphoristic moralist, whose conception of the ideal woman she mercilessly outraged. That she had really understood and appreciated his work naturally counted a good deal in her favour. He knew her worth, but of course he did not want to marry her. If to-day there was a more earnest ring than usual in her love-making, he had got too indurated to it to believe in it.
"Who is the sweet little girl?" she insisted. "I repeat, I am jealous. This is my first experience of that queer emotion, for you are the first man I have ever loved."
He found this most amusing of all.
"Really, Morgan, it is perfectly harassing to have one's tragedy taken for light comedy. You know my wedded life was unhappy. The late baronet was absolutely ignorant of Schopenhauer, and even cursed him to my face for a madman, just because he happened to be my favourite philosopher. Since I've dipped into Hegel, I've come largely to agree with my husband's denunciation, though not on the same grounds. Not that I profess to know anything either about Hegel or Schopenhauer. Edward always thought me a blue-stocking—me, who have only a woman's tea-table smattering of philosophy! Why, it takes all the fun out of life to be a blue-stocking! Edward hadn't any brains. I married him without love, and in face of his attitude towards Schopenhauer, you may guess what chance it had of springing up. During the brilliant years of my widow-hood—eight in number—my heart has remained positively untouched by anybody but you. It's your childlike helplessness that fascinates me."
"You flatter me."
"There are other things, of course. You've splendid large eyes and nice, soft, silky hair, and such a pretty curl to your lip. And you've such a charming, innocent look. If only you'd promise not to write any more poems about sweet little girls, you'd be perfect."
Whether it was that her proximity at this moment of inner perturbation and suffering roused in him an overmastering desire for her sympathy, or whether her last remark exercised an insidious drawing power, he did not quite know, but he found himself saying immediately:
"I can make that promise very easily. I made a bonfire last night."
She understood at once.
"Which explains much for which I've been reproaching you!" she exclaimed sympathetically. "You have been suffering, dear Morgan."
Her voice had grown soft and coaxing. His determination to shun everybody could not stand against this real concern for him. In a few words he told her of his despair and of the dubiousness of his position. But he could not bring himself to speak of his hopeless love, or to raise the veil that concealed his other friendships from her. His comradeship with her had always stood for him as a thing apart; and this attitude of his towards it had made it the more charming. It had been quite natural for him to take it entirely by itself and as unrelated to the rest of his external life.
"But, my dear Morgan," she protested, "this can't go on. How do you intend to live?"
He was glad she did not have recourse to that crude, obvious suggestion of his begging a replenishment from the paternal coffers. But he did not know how to reply to her question, which rather made him regret the turn the conversation had taken. The one future for him was that in which floated mystically the figure of the scented serpent-woman, and he felt that that drift of things he was relying on had begun by a wrong move.
"Perhaps I shall write stories," he hazarded.
"You alarm me," she cried. "Your idea is hopelessly impracticable. How could you possibly hope to rival the Robert Ingrams?"
"The Ingrams!" he echoed, glancing at her sharply.
"I only mention him because he happens to be as popular as all the rest put together, and because I happened to make his acquaintance some time back."
Morgan made no remark. He was relieved at her explanation, about which there was nothing surprising, for he well knew that Ingram moved in high social latitudes.
"Besides," she went on, "you would naturally be tempted to draw women like me, which would simply be courting extinction. Of course, in Ingram's novels no fashionable lady ever does the things I do, and the critics would insist I was an utter impossibility. Now, as to the fifty pounds you've got—before long the sin of that borrowing will rise up against you and you'll be signing again, signing away whole pounds of your flesh. And I daresay you overlook you've various little debts. No doubt you owe your tailor, say a year's account, and then your rooms are pretty expensive, and quarter-day has a spiteful habit of swooping down on one four times a year, and—and you mustn't have to bother your pretty head about all these sordid things."
This was somewhat of an appalling speech for Morgan, who certainly did not want to cheat his creditors. And, indeed, it now occurred to him that he must be indebted to his tailor for quite a large amount. Although his horror of debts was far above the average, he never realised the conception "money" as ordinary people realise it. So far as it figured in his thoughts at all, money was a gorgeous, poetic unit—the treasure of romance, the gold and silver of fairyland. In practice, the very abundance of it at his command had till lately kept his attention from dwelling on it; just as it did not dwell on, say, the second toe of his left foot—an equally constant factor in his existence—till some pain might make him aware it was there. His present forced awareness of the prosaic side of the notion "money" gave him somewhat of a sense of being caught amid a swirl of storm-blown icicles.
"The remedy is simple," he said, at last.
"It is. I have forty thousand a year. Marry me for my money."
"Declined, with thanks."
"So blunt, yet so pointed. A pity it's not original. But I know what you meant by your remedy. You don't see it would be a double crime, and you are too good a man even to commit a single one."
"I mean I should follow you. It would be just lovely to be rowed across the Styx together. Of course, I should have to pay your obolus."
"It is getting late. I really think we ought to turn back."
Lady Thiselton sighed.
"I must confess I am dejected," she said. "I should like to have a quiet cry. What are you going to do, Morgan?"
But he knew that would mean bankruptcy, and he had also an unpleasant conviction that she meant what she said about following him.
"And even if we did go to throw sugar to Cerberus, your father would step in and inherit your debts, and you will have sacrificed us both in vain. The result is the same, whether we go to Whitechapel or to the other place. You can't make it otherwise. Now, if you won't let me be your wife, at least let me be a sort of mother to you."
Her thought met his just at the right junction. He did not answer because her argument was unanswerable. How else avoid coming on the paternal purse again?
"I am only asking you, Morgan, to let me help you live just as you want to live."
She spoke with pleading and humility.
"We shall be towards each other just as we are now," she continued, "and although I intended to torment you till you agreed I was worth an occasional kiss on the forehead in return for mine—which would not at all take us out of the platonic, or rather plutonic, regions in which you so sternly insist we must abide—I shall give you my word to cease from active hostilities for six whole months. Just think—I undertake to be content for the next six months with kissing you on the forehead once each time. Is that not sufficiently an earnest of my good faith?"
Again he gave her no answer, and, in the silence that followed, their footsteps seemed to be echoed back to them. Since to die were futile, let it be she rather than another that helped him to live. She was a good friend and a loyal one. Of course, it was repugnant to take money from a woman, but to take it from anybody else would be still more repugnant.
"As is usually the case in life," she again chimed in his thought, "the choice is not between the good and the less good, but between the bad and the worse. Believe me, I understand and sympathise with your hesitations. But between such friends as we are and such original people to boot, scruples of a conventional kind ought not to enter. With us money should count for nothing. So please don't choose 'the worse,' and perhaps 'the bad' won't turn out so very bad after all."
Still he could not prevail upon himself to accept her generosity, though conscious he was undeserving of her long-sufferance.
"If I could but see the least prospect of repaying you, I should not hesitate so much," he said at last.
"My dear Morgan, in life one mustn't look too far ahead, else existence becomes impossible. Let us not bother too much about the future, but let us seize the flying moments; which means we ought to go to Whitechapel on Thursday and spend a happy day."
He was still lost in thought.
"And your silence—may I put the usual interpretation on it?"
"I suppose so," he said, shame-facedly. "Please don't think me ungracious," he added.
"You very dear person!" she cried; and after that they walked for fully five minutes without exchanging a word.
The matter had been decided and, according to their wont, there was no further manifestation, no further reference to it on either side. Each understood the other's emotions, and that sufficed.
"Shall I put you into a hansom?" said Morgan, looking at his watch as they passed out of the park. "It is getting on towards two."
"Mayn't I come in and smoke a cigarette?" pleaded Lady Thiselton. "My nerves have been tried a little, and a few minutes' rest will soothe me."
"I fear the lady of the house would not approve."
"Oh! we shall creep in quietly without disturbing her pious dreams. Do be nice, Morgan. You know I never smoke any other cigarettes than yours—I am never wicked except in your company."
They entered almost noiselessly.
"How silent the night is," she remarked, "and what a feeling of sleeping multitudes there is in the air! Suppose the morrow should dawn and they should never awaken. I am shivering. Your room is cold, though the moonlight is quite pretty."
He lighted his reading lamp under its big, green shade. She would not have the gas—she liked the room full of dusk and shadow. The fire was ready laid, and Morgan put a match to it, after which he proceeded to look for the cigarettes. When eventually he turned towards her, he uttered a suppressed exclamation.
She had taken off her heavy cloak and her hat and thrown them carelessly on a chair. She now stood a little to the left of the fire, her face half turned towards it, and was busy removing her long gloves. Her features, amid which nestled mystic trembling shadows, showed bloodless, as though carved of ivory, and her great, dark brown eyes were wonderfully soft and caressing. Her hair ran in a flowing curve off the warm white pallor of her brow till it was lost beyond the ear. Almost on top of her head it lay in a coil, bound with a wide, green velvet band that was fastened in front with a great emerald. Her throat, neck and shoulders rose with the same dull, smooth whiteness, and with an exquisite firmness, from the strange, green velvet costume it had pleased her to wear, and were set in its gold border that glowed and sparkled with smaller emeralds. The robe curved in at the waist, defining the adorable grace of her figure and falling to the ground in gleaming folds and strange contrasts of light and shade. And on each side hung a long, open sleeve with bright yellow lining spread out to the view—a wide, descending sweep of gold in glistening contrast with the deep green of the costume.
She had now placed her gloves on the same chair, and her long, bare arms showed in all the firm beauty of warm ivory tones, without a touch of rose in their whole length, even to the very finger tips. A thick, gold bracelet encircled the wrist of her right hand. On the other hand the gleam of ornament was given by the wedding ring and a similar ring on the same finger set with a limpid diamond.
"Well," she said, smiling.
"You have taken me unawares. One moment you are a soberly clad person, and the next a queenly blaze."
"The moonlight is really wonderful. Turn out the lamp and let me play the 'Moonlight Sonata.'"
"No, smoke your cigarette instead," he suggested.
"You are afraid I might cause the good lady pleasant dreams instead of pious ones. Thank you, dear."
He held her a light, and, after she had taken a puff or two, she passed her cigarette to him.
"Your tribute, Morgan," she demanded.
He took a puff and passed it back to her. Then, when she had smoked a little:
"It is delicious," she said. "Your lips have given it their sweetness of honey, their fragrance of myrrh."
She leaned leisurely against the mantel, whilst he drew a chair for himself to the opposite corner of the fire. The great emerald gleamed through a dainty cloud of smoke.
"It is lovely here," she said at last. "Such moments as these are the happiest of my life. One's nature must rebel sometimes against being driven along the prescribed lines. There are sides to one's soul, absolutely unallowed for in the ordinary scheme of civilized existence. But instead of letting me moralise, you might be saying some nice things."
"About me, of course."
"Oh! I am enjoying the spectacle you present."
"I built a palace in the air, and, lo and behold! it has proved to be a real palace. I went up to my room to-night and was feeling fanciful and sentimental, which means, of course, I was thinking about you. And then I imagined this whole scene—only a little different; I in this dress, and you at my feet, worshipping me and calling me all sorts of sweet names. And I was coy and held back!"
She paused a moment and laughed merrily.
"Of course," she went on, "I could not resist putting on the costume in order to get nearer the real feeling of such a scene, and it was so delicious that I at once wrapped myself up and come here in a cab. The maid told me you were not expected till late. It's very amusing, by the way—that girl really believes I'm your sister! So I made a descent on dear, stupid Laura—the admirer of your sweet-little-girl poem—and whiled away an hour or so. All muffled up, of course. Her heart's weak, you know. Then I strolled back here. And now my imaginary scene is being enacted. Not exactly as I imagined it, but I know the realities of existence and the usual tragic fate of expectations, and so I have reason to feel ecstatic over the result. Besides, I think I really do look very nice. The contractor for the clay must accidentally have supplied a little of the first quality at the time I was made. He must have torn his hair on finding out the mistake. Come, Morgan, kiss me on the forehead."
She put the cigarette on the mantel, prettily blew away the smoke, and held her two splendid arms towards him. But he did not move.
"I'll even put on the veil and keep my hands behind me, like a good child."
"Helen! Please," he protested.
"Forgive me," she said, and there was a strain of pathos in her voice. "For the moment I forgot my promise—I was fancying this was a mere continuation of my vision. But I shall not do it again—I shall bite out my tongue first."
He was moved, and awoke to the understanding that he had not yet estimated, according to the ordinary reckoning of the world, the pecuniary favour he had accepted from her. The fact that he felt shame at the resource of which circumstances forced him to avail himself could not affect his sense of her nobility, and it was a true instinct of gratitude that made him rise in order to bestow what she had ceased to demand. But, somewhat to his astonishment, she waved him back.
"No, Morgan; I really meant what I said, and you must not think I am only tricky."
After which he felt forced to pin her to her request, protesting her honesty was not in dispute.
"You know I am to be trusted," she whispered demurely. "I am so glad you did not insist on the veil. I must really smoke another cigarette to get calm; I am as agitated as a girl getting her first kiss."
"And I'll smoke another to keep you company," he said.
"Let us meet clandestinely somewhere on Thursday about ten o'clock," she said a little later. "It makes it ever so much more piquant to proceed mysteriously. We shall lunch in those parts. I must be home again by five, as I have a small dinner-party. I have an idea, Morgan. One of my men writes he won't be able to turn up. You've never dined at my house in state. Come and fill the vacant place."
He shook his head. His instinct was to refuse without considering. She insisted a little, but, seeing his heart was against it, left the subject, turning gaily to something else.
Soon he went out with her and saw her into a hansom. It was past two when he bade her good-night, having agreed to a rendezvous for Thursday in the heart of the city.
It was a little past mid-day, and Archibald Druce, who had returned an hour before from an early morning professional appointment with Medhurst, was feeling restless and lonely. Morgan was not due till half-past one, and so the old man wandered disconsolately about the hotel, seeking some congenial spirit with whom to hold converse. At length, peering into the smoking-room, he discovered a white-haired, stately gentleman, with a somewhat military air, whose grave appearance was encouraging. With him Archibald began an exchange of civilities, and very soon launched out into an account of his interview of that morning.
"I assure you, my dear sir," said the banker, though the other had not questioned the fact in any way, "I can see absolutely nothing. The room is a perfect blur, and I fear I dare not venture out into these crowded London thoroughfares for the rest of the day. The worst of it is that the introduction of the cocaine into my eyes has been of no avail. Of course my eminent friend could not know I was possessed of such remarkable eyes, and as it was necessary for him to see into them, no blame attaches to him for having adopted the usual means of causing my extremely small pupils to expand. Now the curious point is that my pupils were totally unaffected by the cocaine, and I fear my eminent friend had to work on me under difficulties. The couple of hours I spent with him in his wonderful workroom have, however, proved exceedingly profitable to me. I assure you, my dear sir, they have been most instructive."
"No doubt," said the military person, his fingers fidgetting uneasily with his newspaper.
"Between ourselves," continued Archibald confidentially, "I rather imagine that my friend enjoyed the time I spent with him. It is not often he gets a really intelligent patient to work on—in fact, he found me so appreciative that he exhibited especially some profoundly interesting experiments. Amongst other things, he threw a gigantic representation of my retinal system of blood vessels on to a white screen merely by turning a strong light sideways into my eye. And the explanation of it was quite simple. The retinal vessels stand out slightly in relief, and thus a perfect shadow of the system is cast on the retina. It was this shadow I saw, and the white screen was merely a convenient background for it. I don't know if I make myself clear."
"Perfectly clear, perfectly," said the military person.
"Indeed, John Medhurst seemed quite loth to part with me. I quite believe he enjoyed the experiments as much as I did. He brought out his books and very kindly allowed me to inspect the plates—and extraordinarily fine plates they are!—and thus acquire some idea of the inner mechanism of the human eye. What a truly wonderful place the universe is—wonderful!"
"That no intelligent man can deny," said the military person.
"My friend holds a most distinguished position in his profession, and I esteem it a great honour and privilege to be on such intimate terms with him," said Archibald, offering a cigar to the other and lighting one himself. "Now you know," he went on, in a somewhat softened and more intimate tone; "there's quite a little bit of a romance in the story of our friendship."
"Indeed," said the military person more genially, his palate savouring the exquisite aroma of the cigar.
Archibald smiled tenderly.
"His wife's an old flame of mine," he explained, veiling his emotion with jocular phraseology. "An old flame, did I say? I'm still over head and heels in love with her. But I was too late—she and John had already made their little arrangements. And very soon after John and I became friends, and friends we've remained to this day. Kate has two of the loveliest girls, and I'm hanged if I'm not head over heels in love with them as well. The younger one is a regular little she-devil!"
"Ha! ha! ha!" guffawed the military person.
"Upon my honour she is," insisted Archibald. "Why, she flirts outrageously with me. I'm sure I don't know how many heads the little witch is going to turn when she grows up. And her sister, Margaret—I couldn't tell you which of the two I like the better—has quite an extraordinary talent for plastic art. I mean to give her a commission before I return to my place. I'd like for one thing to have a bust of her mother in my study—that would be so inspiring. And long ago I took a fancy to have a nice sphinx. A thing of that kind, you know, is good to remind one of man's intellectual limitations."
"I suppose so," said the military person, vaguely.
"Her figures are extremely lifelike. Just imagine, a thing cast in dead bronze to have all the reality of life so that you would almost expect it to move."
"She must be a highly-gifted young lady."
"You will scarcely credit it, my dear sir, but she is only nineteen—on my word of honour," said Archibald with growing enthusiasm. "Only the other day she sold two of her things for twenty-five pounds apiece. Twenty-five pounds apiece!" he repeated slowly, as if that represented to him a gigantic amount. "The examples are to be strictly limited to sixty of each, after which the moulds are to be destroyed. They are both magnificent pieces of work. Why, you fancy you almost hear Chiron's voice and the twanging of his harp."
"Indeed," said the military person.
"She is perfectly sweet and beautiful as well as clever," went on Archibald. "Now my dog of a boy, between ourselves—ha! ha! ha!——"
"He's a bit smitten?" suggested the military person.
Archibald laughed gleefully. "And I fancy that a certain clever young lady of nineteen who knows how to model is also a bit smitten. Only my boy doesn't seem to come to the point. But then he's a poet."
"A what?" inquired the military person, startled.
"A poet," stoutly repeated Archibald. "And a very great poet, I venture to assert, he will be one of these fine days. Naturally he is not a man of action—he is a dreamer. But when I wanted Kate I wasn't satisfied just to go on dreaming about her—ha! ha! Now if my boy would only stop dreaming and just get married instead, I'd settle as much on them as ever they'd want. You see, a genius like my son," he went on, lowering his voice almost to a whisper, "must be exempt from the sordid cares of money-earning, and my eminent friend, though his position in life is an extremely honourable one, is not a man of means. He may have put by a bit out of his hard-earned income, but, as I always say to him, he wants that against a rainy day. But it's no use my talking to him—he will keep on worrying about his girls having no fortunes. 'And suppose they don't marry,' says he; and I have positively to laugh him into a more cheerful mood. 'Don't be a fool, John,' I say to him, 'those two girls are worth all the fortunes in the world, and the man who didn't think as much wouldn't be worth marrying.'"
"Your views are extremely generous," said the military person. "They do you credit."
"Not at all, my dear sir," said Archibald, looking pleased; "my views are simply rational. I consider the blind worship of mere money an utter mistake. There are higher things in life. I may say I am in entire sympathy with my son's aspirations. By the way, it occurs to me that the extraordinary refusal of my pupils to expand under cocaine may be but another manifestation of the remarkable nervous system that characterises my family. It may be connected in some mysterious way with my son's genius. But possibly, sir, you may know my son?"
"I fear I have not that honour. I know only one literary gentleman—he is the editor of the 'Christian Bugle.' Might I suggest that we exchange cards?"
"Willingly," said Archibald. "Very happy to make your acquaintance, Major Hemming," he resumed, after the mutual self-introduction had been effected. "My son is to be here shortly, when you will have the opportunity of meeting him. Perhaps you will do us the honour of lunching with us?"
"I should be delighted, but unfortunately I am lunching with a friend."
"I am sorry we are not to have the pleasure," said Archibald. "But perhaps you would like a copy of my son's book. It is but a small volume, as you see." And Archibald pulled the parchment-bound, deckle-edged booklet from his outer breast pocket. "Don't hesitate, my dear sir, it will give me pleasure if you will accept it."
"You are most kind," said the Major. "I shall look forward to reading it with the utmost pleasure."
"I am sure you will agree that only a genius could have written those poems," said Archibald.
"I have no doubt but what I shall form a high opinion of your son's gifts," said the Major.
"Being of a literary temperament myself," went on Archibald, "I happily have been able to appreciate his. I do not want him to work for money, and I have, therefore, put him on a sound financial basis. So far, he appeals only to a very select section of the public. But he has not written a line which he has not been inspired to write. As regards the general public—I myself, in my humble way, have become aware of the indifference and stupidity of the general public. When, after thorough re-examination of every point of my mental position, I try and speak plainly to such of my fellow-men as I have the opportunity of addressing, I am met with an absolute want of intelligent comprehension. However, I intend to say what I have to say, and I am now at work on a volume, the nature of which you will sufficiently gather from its title: 'Plain Thoughts of a Practical Thinker—an attempt to investigate some questions of primary importance that are usually shelved.'"
"An excellent idea, sir."
"To give you an example of the narrowness even of people who occupy a high position in the social sphere, whenever I have ventured to assert my sincere belief that children should be instructed in life by means of competent handbooks instead of being allowed to pick up their knowledge in a haphazard, more or less dangerous fashion, I have been met with a frigid politeness, behind which the shocked disapproval was but too manifest."
"Humph!" said the Major. "I must confess your proposition is certainly a startling one."
"It is a common-sense one," said Archibald, curtly.
"Pardon me," said the Major, somewhat stiffly, "but I do think that in the interests of morality and religion it would be exceedingly unfortunate if your ideas were generally adopted."
"I am perfectly prepared to argue the point," said Archibald, drawing himself up, whilst his eye flashed with the light of battle.
"I fear I have no time just now," said the Major, glancing at his watch. "I must be off. I wish you a very good morning, sir."
"Morgan, my boy," cried the banker, when that gentleman at last appeared, "I've spent the last hour tackling one of the most terrible Philistines I have ever met."
END OF BOOK I.
"Which way do we go?" asked Lady Thisleton, as they stood hesitating at a crossing-stage in Broad Street, City. "Wouldn't it be nice to stay here and philosophise?"
She was dressed as plainly as possible in a dark brown coat and skirt, and wore a small hat and veil, so that she was not in the least conspicuous. Both she and Morgan, having entered on the day's adventure, were determined to enjoy it, though his mood was far from being whole-hearted. And, as they surveyed the slow medley of omnibuses that moved between them and the pavement they were struck by the scene in the same impersonal way. They did not feel that they formed any part of it; they saw it as with the eyes of a floating, invisible spirit. To them it was collective movement and colour—movement in the hurrying streams pouring from every exit of the giant stations, in the massed chaos of vehicles, in the sense of bustle and business and purpose; colour in the crudities of blue, green, yellow, red, that flared from omnibuses and shop windows, and that yet were fused into the dun monochrome of town, to the overwhelming sense of which asphalt and paving and street lamp and stone buildings and sober costumes all contributed, and with which the very hubbub seemed to blend.
A vague feeling of tragedy seemed to invade them as their eyes rested on all this life; but it was the result of an intellectual perception, not of a sympathetic realisation and comprehension of this throbbing reality. As for Morgan, the scene made him remember he had once tried to wrestle with political economy and had disliked it tremendously, and the thought made him smile.
"Why do you smile?" said Lady Thiselton. "Certainly it is not gay here. I feel quite overwhelmed. All these faces—pre-occupied, cheerful, sad, worn, despairing, hopeful, starved, well-fed—suggest such a whirl. I invent a whole biography for each one that catches my eye. I wonder how far I am right—I who am only a woman of the world; which means I know nothing of life outside of my own four walls and a few other four walls that more or less resemble them. But it's all really lovely, isn't it, Morgan? What suffering must be here! You can't imagine how I'm enjoying everything. Of course I sympathise as well. But mine is a sort of artistic sympathy. I'm not noble enough to feel the real thing. Isn't it all interesting?"
"There's a policeman staring at us suspiciously."
"Then we'd better move on. The good policeman's dream of paradise must be a place in which he is the one static soul and in which the blest keep passing on to all eternity."
They crossed the road and moved along with the crowd. The bells of St. Botolph's struck ten as they turned into Bishopsgate.
"I feel the mediaeval spirit coming on and begin to see visions of highly-coloured Lord Mayors and aldermen and burghers and beef-eaters. And somehow Dick Whittington and his cat are mixed up with it all, and exhibitions with glass roofs and careful craftsmen and apprentices, and Christopher Wren. Alas and alack! Where is old London?"
"I don't know," said Morgan. "But I do know where Whitechapel is. We have to pass through Houndsditch. I looked it up on the map to refresh my memory. I have always found Houndsditch a disappointment."
"So have I," said Lady Thiselton. "It is every bit as uninspiring as a West End street. Some of the side alleys look interesting though, but then such strange people seem to be in absolute possession, and you feel you have no right to set foot within their territory. I am really a fearful coward."
They walked on silently.
"Why don't you contradict me, Morgan, and tell me I'm brave? You never voluntarily pay me a compliment. If I want compliments I have to put them before you as so many propositions, to which, being a truthful person, you are forced to give your assent."
"You are brave," said Morgan.
"Thank you. Every stone in this part of the city has its associations, its traditions, its history. And then there are venerable churches isolated amid the serried buildings of commerce, with charming bits of hidden green and trees. I'm chattering away like a country cousin come up to see the sights of London town and to carry back its fifteenth century flavour. Let us forget history and tradition, and let us get an unadulterated vision of the modern. Here is a nice place to stand."
They had turned into Aldgate and had gone some distance in the direction of Whitechapel, and the new scene had a character of its own. Both felt the spirit of toil here, where the grime of industry struck a coarser and somberer note.
"I feel a million miles from home, which is just what I want to feel," declared Lady Thiselton. "And there is quite a market place opposite, and bookstalls. This is just what Browning could have described. Why did he not come here for inspiration? Here, too, he might have found a square, old yellow book and paid eightpence for it, and tossed it in the air and caught it again and twirled it about by the crumpled vellum covers, and could have wandered on reading it through a perilous path of fire-irons, tribes of tongs, shovels in sheaves, skeleton bedsteads, wardrobe drawers agape, and cast clothes a-sweetening in the sun. But the crowd is really too thick to walk amongst. As we are on pleasure bent, let us be recklessly extravagant and take a twopenny ride on top of a tram-car."
Morgan admitted he was beginning to find it unpleasant to be at such close quarters with the crowd. Some of the people he was brushing up against, he complained, were not too scrupulously clean.
"No doubt," he added, "I shall find them with their mysterious bundles more picturesque from a distance."
"Why some of them are quite spick and span with their polished silk hats, and there are any number of pretty girls. The shops, too, seem quite attractive. I can even imagine myself living here for a time, cannot you?"
"Let us get on our tram car. That may give my imagination the necessary stimulus."
At first they had the top all to themselves, and were borne smoothly onwards, cutting through the very centre of the turmoil. The red brick church was the furthest point she had ever reached in the East of London, Lady Thiselton informed Morgan. She had been in the neighbourhood two or three times in company with her husband, who had been interested in a sort of mission and dispensary combined, his idea being not only to make wicked people religious, but to irritate the devil by keeping their souls out of his clutch as long as possible.
"Now it is only like the High Street of a big provincial town," she commented, after they had passed the London Hospital. "I think it's getting monotonous."
Three begrimed, strapping youths came clambering up noisily and, sitting immediately in front of them, continued a conversation about a certain "she." Their vocabulary became so offensive that Lady Thiselton whispered she thought it perfectly improper for a lady to keep on looking at the backs of men's necks on the top of a car, in full view of the whole world.
They descended and strolled on further. There was no crowd now to hinder them, and they were curious to see what this far-stretching thoroughfare led to.
"So far it seems a broad stretch of mean quaintness. I had no idea London was so big. And what grimy side streets! I shudder to think of the grimy network that lies on either hand. Morgan, I feel a very immoral person."
"Your emotions are strangely unpredictable."
"What right have I to forty thousand a year when there are people starving in these back streets?" asked Lady Thiselton indignantly. "I am going to turn Socialist."
"You are not."
"You'll never abandon individualism."
"Of course not. I'd never think of parting with that. But I really don't see why I shouldn't be a Socialist as well. I pity those poor, benighted beings that have room in their narrow souls for only one set of opinions. I like to be everything, to hold every 'ism,' and to be labelled all over with every 'ist,' like the window of that 'eating-house' yonder. Which reminds me of my dinner party to-night. Isn't it terrible to eat in Belgrave Square when some people have to eat in a place like that. It's positively wicked. I have an idea. I think I can't do better than inaugurate my new 'ism' by lunching there to-day. Suppose we do so on our way back."
"But I never confessed to be converted to socialism," he protested.
"Why it's a dear little eating-house, a perfect love of a place."
"I take it for granted you wish to meet your guests to-night with a smiling face," he warned her.
"The consciousness of having had the courage of my 'ism' will fill me with such a glow of goodness that I cannot fail to appear a veritable Madonna. Of course, you know I am counting on you."
"But I haven't filled up the place. I've been relying on nagging you into coming."
"You know I don't want to," he grumbled yieldingly.
"But I want you to. Don't be angry, dear," she went on, coaxingly. "Haven't I amused you the whole time?"
He ended by promising to come, if not incapacitated by the lunch, and felt fairly secure of passing the evening at home.
After they had wandered about for some time longer and had paid pennies to see a curious compound animal, a sort of ox, sheep, horse, donkey and goat rolled into one, and an abnormally fat woman, more decently clad than the life-size coloured picture of her in the window had led them to imagine, they invaded the love of an eating-house. They stepped within the threshold firmly enough, but then stood hesitant. The place gave them a general sense of brownness. It was the old-fashioned style of coffee-house, with a sanded pathway down the middle and a row of stalls on either side, each separated from its neighbours by tall partitions. Everything was of a dirty brown, panelling, partitions, benches and the bare tables. A brown light came through the dingy windows, and the very odours that hung in the dingy atmosphere suggested the same tint.
A coatless, aproned waiter emerged from the back to greet the first mid-day customers, and, in reply to their enquiry for lunch, invited them to be seated within one of the stalls. After he had wiped their table he disappeared, and he returned in a moment with a table cloth, followed by a shorter and stouter man, also in shirt sleeves. They began to see they had made an impression, and were to be served in accordance with the host's sense of the fitness of things.
The proprietor—for such the stout man was—by way of special civility, remarked that it was fine weather, and asked what he might get them.
"The correct thing," said Lady Thiselton; and, on the man staring, "what everybody usually has here," she added, in explanation.
"Boiled beef and suet to-day, or roast beef and Yorkshire, or chops and steaks," enumerated the man.
So "boiled beef and suet" was ordered on the assumption it was the correct thing, and, while the waiter was busy getting it, the proprietor felt it his duty to entertain them till it came.
"His intentions were no doubt strictly honourable, but, Morgan, do you think we shall have to talk to people like that when socialism is established? My goodness!" she exclaimed, examining the slices of meat closely. "What are those green streaks?"
"Perhaps that's perfectly right. The green streaks—like the boiled carrot—may be just a little surprise by way of extra. Neither is included in the description of the dish."
"Morgan, I really don't think I can eat this," she said faintly.
"Not at all. You forget I'm a bundle of 'isms,' and in practice one can only be true to one at a time. When that one begins to make me feel uncomfortable, I become true to another. Thus I am always true to myself. All the mutually contradictory 'isms' unite in a higher synthesis. Am I not the most lovely higher synthesis you ever saw?"
"All of which Hegelian dialectics mean that I'd better tell them to take this stuff away."
"If you think they won't maltreat us. They look terribly fierce; and they may have any number of myrmidons within call. That sort of people, you know, doesn't like to have its cooking criticised."
"So long as we pay, we'll not find them too sensitive."
The matter was soon arranged, they adopting the man's suggestion of a "nice, juicy steak." And when it arrived they felt compelled to pronounce it excellent.
"I shouldn't be surprised if those green streaks were the proper thing after all," said Lady Thiselton.
"Doubtless we have missed some extraordinary delicacy," said Morgan. "But please tell me which particular 'ism' is in possession at the moment. I am not quite clear on the point."
"That is just my state of mind. But I fancy that, at the present moment, I am given over to emotion rather than to thought. This interior is affecting me artistically. I was just thinking what a lovely Dutch picture it would make. But I really am sincere about my 'isms.' The arguments in favour of any one 'ism' are unanswerable, and I have to admit the truth of each, whenever I consider it. All human thought ends in the blind alley of Paradox. Hegel was a word-juggler. Nice phrases are pleasing, but let us not take them seriously."
And Lady Thiselton proceeded to utter a good many "nice phrases," which Morgan found pleasing, and did not take seriously. Customers dropped in by ones and twos till at length all the other stalls were filled, everybody instinctively avoiding the stall where a tablecloth gleamed its white warning. When some men, having eaten, began smoking their clays, Lady Thiselton's sharp ear detected some speculative remarks about herself and Morgan, tinged with facetiousness and gore. She thereupon suggested she was pining for something mystic and spiritualistic, being quite tired of this realistic interior.
"I am trying to banish it by contemplating the Blessed Damozel," she said, and quoted whisperingly:
"'The Blessed Damozel leaned out From the gold bar of Heaven; Her eyes were deeper than the depth Of waters stilled at even; She had three lilies in her hand, And the stars in her hair were seven.'"
A moment later they stepped out into the afternoon light that nearly blinded them with its mournful glare. But a heavy sadness had descended on Morgan. The lines Lady Thiselton had whispered to him had set him thinking of Margaret.
The same evening, Morgan, not feeling any alarming symptoms, had to carry out his promise to join Lady Thiselton's little dinner party. She received him with a formality that made him laugh inwardly—and almost outwardly. But the impulse died away as with a start he perceived that Robert Ingram was in the drawing-room. He reflected, however, that, though the encounter was an unexpected one, there was nothing very astonishing about it. Helen had herself told him she had made the novelist's acquaintance, and to find him dining at her house was no matter for surprise. The position, nevertheless, was a most curious one, especially when their hostess unsuspectingly introduced the two men. Ingram's manner was a little bit bewildered, as if—from his knowledge of Morgan—he feared the latter might make a scene by dramatically cutting him.
However, nothing of the kind happened, Morgan behaving with perfect gravity. He had to give his arm to Mrs. Blackstone—Helen's dear friend, Laura, of whom she had spoken to him as the most stupid woman she knew. He would have welcomed the opportunity of talking to her—for he was sure her conception of Helen would be astonishingly amusing, but he had a feeling that something important was going to arise from his coming here to-night, and that there were possibilities of explosion in the position. This gave him a general sense of expectant excitement, so that at first he was a little bit impatient of Mrs. Blackstone's remarks. He learnt that she admired intensely that sweet little poem of his, and that she had been longing to meet the writer; also that reading was a great blessing when one felt miserable. Did he not admire Mr. Ingram? She herself adored his work. He was constrained to reply that Ingram was one of his literary heresies, whereupon she, with ready resource, supposed that tastes differed, and then, as the result of a luminous thought, she added that a poet would naturally not be so much interested in mere prose. Of course poetry ranked the higher, but she was ashamed to confess—she made the confession without any sign of shame—she scarcely ever read any at all. She had several favourite novelists who each published so many books a year that it took all the time she could spare to keep pace with them.
"And indeed I'm glad they manage to write so much. They help to fight against the flood of nasty realistic works we get nowadays. I should like to see those all burnt."
Mrs. Blackstone went on to observe that she couldn't make out why people went on writing such filth. She preferred books of a sound, moral tone.
Morgan, feeling himself called upon to make common cause against the Philistine, put in a tentative word of defence.
"That's true," admitted Mrs. Blackstone.
He soon drew further admissions from her, she never suspecting the extent of the ground she was yielding till, just at the moment of rising, she apparently gave up her whole position with the naive statement:
"I always thought they had a reason for introducing that sort of thing. Thank you so much, Mr. Druce, for explaining it to me."
He was not quite sure whether he had been bored or amused. All the same he now felt glad he had come; he seemed to be so much more actively interested in what was to follow. Instinctively he looked at Ingram, and the novelist came to talk to him whilst the other men discussed the hygienic aspects of smoking.
"Well, have you got over your temper yet?"
The phrasing was unfortunate, though its conciliatory intention was obvious. Morgan felt he was being addressed as if he were a sulky child, and his resentment leapt up afresh.
"I beg you will not interest yourself further in me," he said.
"Suppose we omit some of the conversation," suggested Ingram, "and assume all that sort of thing to have been said. You are hurt because I showed your letter to a friend. Aren't you taking a distorted view of the matter? Recollect that at the time you were an utter stranger, and your letter was a bolt from the blue. I cannot see that I committed so very great a crime."
"It is as great or as little as you feel it to be."
"And how may it be purged?" asked Ingram ironically.
"Ponder over it till you perceive its enormity, then apologize to me in the presence of the woman."
Morgan scarcely realised what he was saying till the words were out. Apparently he had spoken without hesitating and without thinking, but he knew that his utterance was the result of all that had occupied his mind for many days past. He felt now he was on the road towards the realisation of that fantastic future, that poem in life that was to take the place of the poetry in words he had abandoned.
Ingram gave him a strange, piercing look. Morgan had never before seen in his face such an expression as he saw in it now. There was a pregnant pause before the reply came.
"Very well, then. We will go to her to-night. No doubt the others will now be glad to hear our views on tobacco smoke."
Morgan was conscious of a strange glow of pleasure, of a strange satisfaction. All his sense of romance and mystery was astir. How charming was the promise of the phantasy to come! The smiling, scented serpent-woman was holding her arms to him! And again those lines of Browning echoed through him, and his whole being seemed invaded as by a "faint sweetness from some old Egyptian's fine, worm-eaten shroud."
He defended moderate smoking with vivacity.
Afterwards, the guests being disposed for conversation in the drawing-room, Helen managed to sit with Morgan a little apart.
"What do you think of Mr. Ingram?" she asked. "Did you talk to him at all?"
"He seems fairly intelligent," replied Morgan; "more intelligent, in fact, than his work would lead one to suppose. You told me the other day, did you not, that you have known him some little time?"
"It is only during the last few months that I have cultivated him or rather he me."
"I see Mrs. Blackstone has possession of him now. She must be very happy."
"She is his greatest confidante. That I am her greatest confidante, you know already, ergo—well, I'll leave you to make the deduction. She is really a good soul, and a marked success as an ear trumpet."
"But is Mr. Ingram aware of that?"
"Quite. That is why he speaks into her such a deal. He finds me perfectly deaf otherwise."
All this was a revelation to Morgan.
"You seem to be hinting at something," he could not help exclaiming.
"Of course. Mr. Ingram is anxious to marry a title, and, since he does not object to having a good-looking person attached to it, he has done me the honour to pretend to be in love with me. He has been proposing for the last six weeks, and has offered to purify his books still further to suit my virginal soul."
"And you professed to be telling me everything interesting," he reproached her.
"Why, I left off telling you about my wooers and proposals at your own request. You insisted they would never make you jealous, and they rather bored you. So I did not say a word about this one. Of course Laura is anxious to further his cause. She thinks me a good woman and somewhat of a prude. Poor soul! She doesn't suspect the wedding ring with the diamond in it you've seen me sometimes wear! You know it's the sort of thing wicked women affect when they want to be cynical about the marriage tie. Well, Laura is doing her best to persuade me to be the instrument of Mr. Ingram's reform. She thinks it such a pity his life has not been so wholesome in tone as his novels. Her admiration of him is so great that she wants him to live up to her conception of the author of his novels, and I am to be sacrificed for the purpose. She is ten years my senior, and you will observe her interest in me is quite maternal. But I must tell you more about it another time. The doctor's looking bored. I must go and amuse him."
Shortly after midnight Morgan and Ingram were driving towards Hampstead, in which vicinity, the latter explained, resided the lady upon whom they were going to call. For a long time the two sat silent—they seemed to have nothing to say to each other.
And even while Morgan was thrilled through and through with expectancy of romance, he could not help his brain playing a little with the general position, which, in face of what he had learnt to-night, was far more complicated than he had imagined. He smiled as it occurred to him how easily he could annoy Ingram by marrying Helen. Curious, he thought, that Ingram had not the least suspicion of it!
"May I not ask who is the lady?" he said at last.
"She is nobody in particular," said Ingram. "I call her 'Cleo,' which is sufficient for all practical purposes. There is really no reason why I should not tell you now that Cleo, in fact, has been the companion of my leisure for the past six years. I will leave you to form your own impression of her."
Ingram spoke with an exaggerated air of bluntness, as if to indicate his indifference to whatever effect his statement might produce on Morgan. The latter, however, was not very much surprised. His active feeling was rather one of bewilderment as to the part Ingram was playing in this tangle of relations. The fact that Ingram had turned up as a suitor for Helen's hand, when he himself had been all these years in active relation with either unknown to the other, had exhausted all the possibilities of astonishment in him. But he found it strange that Ingram, in spite of his matrimonial intention, should still continue on such terms with this 'Cleo' as to be able to bring a friend to see her in the way he was doing now. Ingram's very readiness to fall in with the suggestion struck him as bearing some significance he could not yet fathom.
Yet, though his mind was thus occupied, Morgan cared little about Ingram's private designs. It satisfied him to feel that Ingram was his unconscious tool, and that he was at length drifting in the right direction. On rattled the vehicle through empty, dark streets, where the very street lamps looked lonely and subtly fostered his mood.
They drew up at length in a narrow street of stucco houses, and Morgan followed Ingram through a wooden gate up a glass-covered stairway that led to an ordinary front door. Ingram opened it with a latch-key, and they stood in a square, little hall, prettily furnished and dimly lighted by an antique hanging lamp.
"Cleo expects me," said Ingram, "but I must ascertain if she will receive both of us."
He disappeared through a door at the back of the hall, and, returning soon, led Morgan through a sort of anteroom into a large inner apartment, on the threshold of which they were met by a waft of strange perfume which Morgan recognised immediately, though for a moment it somewhat overpowered him. The scene, too, was so bizarre that his perception of it lacked sharpness, and his first impression was a dreamy one of fusing colour.
The room itself was large and square, and more than half of the marble inlaid floor was raised several inches above the other part—that on which Morgan stood as he entered. In the centre of this lower part was a small marble fountain, with two tiers of basins, beautifully carved. The water played prettily, overflowing from the lower and larger basin into a daintily-bordered square tank set in the floor. Against the wall beyond the fountain was built a marble slab, supported by a double arch, under which stood ewers and vases. And higher up in this same wall were set two pairs of tiny windows, divided into little coloured panes, with designs of flowers and peacocks.
The ceiling seemed a quaint, flat, immense tangle of gold, green, red and blue thread work, each line of which could be followed till the eye lost it in the maze; and three lamps, suspended by brass chains, filled the room with a ruby light that came through the interstices of fine brass and silver work. The walls were marked out in panelling and covered with a strange, decorative pattern. The raised part of the floor was spread with richly woven rugs of warm tints, and a few stools of curious workmanship stood about. Books lay scattered here and there, as if thrown carelessly on the ground after perusal. In the centre was a gilded couch, upholstered in silk, and, as Ingram mentioned his name, Morgan found himself bowing to the wonderful woman who reclined on it.
She rose at his greeting, tall and of a gipsy-like brown, and clad in a straight terra-cotta robe tied in front with a broad, gold girdle, whose long ends fell floating to the ground. Her feet were sandalled. Her hair was of a rich, golden red, and somehow showed up in contrast to the blue grey of her eyes. Her lips were full and of a startling scarlet, as though they bled. She smiled to Morgan, displaying two rows of tiny white teeth, and held out to him a long, brown hand.
He took it in his, and the contact set vibrating every chord of his nature that had been strung up during the past days. At last he was face to face with the dream-woman who had haunted him, and she was even as he had seen her! And with all his emotion at this sacred moment there mingled a sense of pride that his poet's instinct had divined true.
"I am happy to know you, Mr. Druce. Mr. Ingram has just explained to me why he has brought you. I am so sorry to be the cause of your anger."
Her voice was curiously soft, without the least ring or even suggestion of firmness; warm and yielding as a summer wavelet.
Morgan was somewhat startled at her words; he had almost expected some strange, rich, musical language to fall from her lips.
Ingram drew over a stool, and Cleo bade him be seated. There was somewhat of an embarrassed silence. Morgan scarcely knew how to meet the occasion. It struck him that perhaps he ought to be grateful to Ingram, for he had now a conviction that the letter of his which Cleo had had in her possession had really interested her in him—had touched some sympathetic chord in her—and that the task of cultivating her would not, for that very reason, prove a difficult one. He was certain that her nature had much in common with his own, and that the future which was now to be unrolled was to be a series of tableaux as charming as this first one.
He felt it incumbent upon him to dispose of the matter for which nominally he had come, and murmured that Ingram had now sufficiently shown his good faith, and that he personally was quite satisfied. As he spoke he looked at Cleo again, and her eyes and lips gleamed at him strangely. He was aware she wished to say a good deal to him, but that the presence of Ingram hindered. And as the same constrained silence once more fell upon them, the elusive odour of her perfume seemed to obtrude again, as though taking the opportunity to assert itself.
Ingram at length remarked that the hour was late, and that if Cleo would excuse them he would escort Mr. Druce back. He was glad that harmony had been re-established, and he expressed his thanks to Cleo for so willingly receiving his friend and helping to heal the breach.
Morgan did not mind having this first interview with Cleo thus cut short, especially as he could not talk with Ingram there to listen. He was, moreover, uncomfortably aware that Ingram was watching him closely the whole time, and he did not fail to detect the tinge of irony in the novelist's last little speech. But he felt he had closed his account with the man, and he would not trouble his brains any more about his motives or meaning. He therefore rose to say good-night to Cleo. She offered them wine, but both men refused, so she smilingly gave her hand again without striving to detain them.
Outside, each seemed given up to his own thoughts. Morgan would make no comment on what had been revealed to him, nor apparently did Ingram want to hear any.
They separated at a cab rank, each taking a separate vehicle. And only as they were about to part did Ingram break the silence:
"I need hardly tell you you have seen a hidden side of my life. I look to you to forget."
The very rapidity of the glimpse that Morgan had had into that Hampstead interior made it the more fascinating to dwell upon in imagination, and, though the definite figure of Cleo now took the place of the vague, smiling woman who had always been with him, it seemed to him that he had discerned Cleo's every feature from the beginning.
The general flow of his thoughts and moods were coloured by this fantastic adventure on which, he now felt, he was fairly embarked. Nevertheless his life was not proceeding precisely on the lines he had conceived when he had resolved to transport his imaginative combinations from the field of paper to the field of life, to weave dreams from reality instead of from thought. That disattachment he had decided on in order that he might abandon himself wholly to the urging of his temperament was proving a much more gradual process than he had supposed.
For as yet the old relations were being continued; the man in him—which the poet was unable to suppress entirely—could not break these off abruptly. Thus, when Margaret's pink note announcing the studio-warming arrived, he could not possibly accept the notion of ignoring it, for was he not her true and healthy lover? His friendship, too, with Lady Thiselton, had even become strengthened in spite of himself. He could not help telling himself again and again that she was as firm and true as a rock. And the very man in him that appreciated her sterling qualities had still a sense of shame at his having taken money from her, forced though his hand had been. The vagueness and nebulousness of the future that suited the poet made the man with his healthy repugnance to debt extremely uncomfortable.
The flow of his existence had thus split up into two currents, but the stronger by far was the poetic force in him that made for a desperate playing with life.
Yet several days passed without his being impelled to go to Cleo again. Even as he had been wont to wait for inspiration, so he waited now for the spirit to move him to the next step in this life-fantasy. His time got frittered away, he scarcely knew how. He replied to several letters from his father, who wrote to him at great length on particular points of ethics, for the banker had by now seriously set to work on his magnum opus. Two or three times Helen ran in to see him at tea-time, and did her best to amuse him. The mere reflection that Ingram must suppose he was but the most casual acquaintance of Helen's was sufficient for that; so that she had not a very difficult task, and expressed herself highly pleased at the agreeable mood in which she was now finding him. She chatted quite freely about Ingram and the latest developments of his courtship of her. She had refused him for the fifth time, but he didn't seem the least bit discouraged yet.
"By the way," she went on, "I've just been reading his biography in a magazine. Evidently he has not been as frank with his interviewer as he has been with me. The way I made him confess was just lovely, though now he makes that a grievance, much to my indignation. All I said was I couldn't possibly begin to consider his case till I knew all about him. I made no promise at all. At first, indeed, he was foolish enough to insist his record was spotless. A man who writes novels of such sound moral tone! If only he had written naturalistic novels, I might have believed him."
Morgan wondered if Ingram had included Cleo in his "confession." He was rather inclined to doubt it, because he felt sure that the very strangeness of that liaison would have made Helen want to tell him about it.
"And what do you intend to do with him ultimately?" he asked.
"Well, if I thought it would make you the least bit jealous, I should announce that I intended to accept him. But as there is no possible advantage to be gained by such a falsehood, it would be very extravagant of me to waste it. I've scattered so many of them in my time that I must be economical for the rest of my life."
Though he had never for a moment believed there was any possibility of her marrying Ingram, he was yet relieved to hear her state her intentions so definitely. Such was his sense of Ingram's unworthiness of her!
A couple of days later he went to Margaret's studio-warming. Both the experience and the anticipation of it were emotionally exciting. But as a good many of Margaret's particular friends were there, her attention had to be spread out a great deal, and he did not have to talk to her much at first. Certainly there was nothing between them that could be called conversation.
He found it soothing to talk a little with Mrs. Medhurst, who was always equable, nice, and apparently in a pleased mood. She also had been receiving long confidential letters from his father, and she expressed the fear that at the rate the latter was now going in the direction of iconoclasm he was courting public suppression.
"He is very much in earnest," she added. "I have written him at length about the bringing up of daughters—he insisted on having my views. He is very modest, though—just ventures to hope for success. 'If I only had Morgan's pen,' he once wrote, yearningly."
To be reminded now how completely his father had been won over to belief in him was but to have all the bitterness of his failure again concentrated in one moment.
During the rest of the time he found himself carrying on a half-hearted conversation here and there, yet with all his attention on Margaret. He followed her with his eyes, watching her every movement and gesture, noting her every smile, catching her laughter and the sound of her voice. Something that was light, that was sunshine, seemed to detach itself from her and to fill the whole room; something that brought a sense of happiness to mingle with his strange mood.
He felt that happiness as a sick man feels a cool, soft caress on his brow.
One afternoon Morgan took a hansom and drove to Hampstead. He entered the glass-covered way that led up to Cleo's door and knocked unhesitatingly. The servant who responded to his summons stared at him in undisguised astonishment.
"Is your mistress at home?" he asked, for he did not know by what name to enquire for Cleo. He sent in his own, however, and was immediately ushered into her presence. This gave him no elation, because he had taken it for granted she would receive him.
"I had a sort of presentiment you would come to-day," said Cleo, throwing on one side the novel she had been reading, and the cover of which, illumined with seven mystic stars and a veiled floating figure, just caught his eye.
"And I just felt that I must come," he said as, at her invitation, he took a seat on one of the quaint stools with somewhat of an air of long habituation to this strange Egyptian chamber.
Cleo was lounging on her gilded settee, obviously arrayed to receive him in the hope of his calling. A vague, mystic light that compelled an almost religious emotion came through the tiny window panes. The fountain played with a soft splash.
"Do you know I am what the vulgar call 'superstitious?'" she continued. "I always knew you would come into my life."
As she spoke her eyes seemed to shine with a greater fire. The scarlet of her lips to-day was somewhat concealed by the half shadows; her hair, too, seemed silkier and more restrained in tone than his first impression of it. Her gown was of a vague colour—a sort of blue-grey, in which the element of blue was suggested as a light continuous tinge. A crimson silk scarf, fastened with an opal buckle, formed a pleasing sash, and fell to the knee. As before, her feet were sandalled.
"That letter of yours Robert showed me—years ago now—made me love you at once," she explained. "Only a man of genius could have written it. How my heart bled for you when you said, 'I see no other end to the comedy than fall. God knows what shape that fall will take, into what mud my soul plunge in the fight for life. I could bear anything if I were not so utterly alone and helpless.... If you could see me, speak to me—help me in any way!' Yes, I wanted to see you—speak to you—help you. It was I who made Robert respond to your appeal. I remember how disgusted I was with him when he insisted on taking the whole thing as a splendid joke, just because he found you had a rich father."
Her strange, soft voice seemed almost informed with dramatic passion as she quoted his letter. It was clear she knew the whole of it by heart. So Ingram's violation of his confidence, he reflected, had been responsible for this interweaving of his life with Cleo's, and his presence here to-day was but the natural continuation of the beginning then made. He confessed to having been angered with Ingram.
"My blundering vision could not see how the strands were being woven," he added.
"I was certain all along they were being woven," she returned. "The incident at the time made a great impression on me, and I knew that one day we should come together."
It gave him a thrill of joy to learn that he had been occupying her thoughts for years past; that, having once come within her consciousness, he had remained in her vision as a never-fading image.
"I am encouraged to ask you about yourself," he said. "You know I love you, too."
This last statement was not an insincere one, for he did not conceive it as a real statement made to a real human being. Cleo was his wonderful dream-woman, and he had no notion at all of getting any insight into her as a real woman playing an actual role in actual life. He did not think of her as an element of real life at all; she was simply the heroine of the fantasy he was busy weaving. His declaration represented exactly his sentiment towards her in that role; it expressed his sense of the fitness of things at the moment, was the requisite correct touch the position demanded—this position which he had mentally isolated from the rest of reality, and in which for the time being he had lost himself.
"I know, dear," she answered. "I will tell you gladly, for I want you to understand and appreciate me. Like you I have always been conscious of genius, but I have had to wait long, bitter years. 'Tis always so with genius. I have ever felt myself a chosen spirit, and I am sure I am destined to become the greatest actress that has yet charmed and captivated the world. Am I not tall, surpassingly beautiful, lithe and supple as a reed—graceful as a lily? But that is not all. In me is reincarnated the spirit of the ancient East, and it is my mission to interpret that spirit to the modern world. I will help you, dear, to realize that same spirit, and then one day, in a grand burst of inspiration you shall write the play of my life. Then shall I break upon the civilized world as a revelation.
"I can remember no time at which I have not been conscious of my mission. But six years ago, when I set out on my journey into the world, I was scarcely more than a child. I had no influence—I knew nobody; and so I had no chance of making a real appearance at once. I had to begin by joining a touring company, and that only to play the role of a servant girl. At the time I was glad of any beginning, for I was confident I should make my way. But I soon found myself stranded. Then what do you think I did?"
"You wrote a letter to Ingram—just as I did?" he exclaimed excitedly.
"That is very clever of you. It is exactly what I did. He had a successful play running at one theatre and I read that he was at work on a new play for another manager. I thought that, if I could only induce him to see me, I might get a real chance. My letter produced the desired effect, for in it I had told him exactly what my future was to be. We had an interview and he perfectly agreed with everything I had said about myself. But he swore he could do nothing for me. His plays, he asserted, contained no fit part for me—it would be a thousand pities if I let my strength and energies be dissipated in playing minor parts that any intelligent school girl with a pair of bright eyes could do ample justice to. Then he confided to me that he, too, had plans and ambitions, but that he was not making nearly so much money as he was said to be doing in the personal paragraphs of the newspapers. He was putting aside, however, all he could spare, so that he might have a vast theatre of his own; and if that came to pass I was the one being on earth to be associated with him in such a mighty undertaking. Would I stay with him and wait?
"So I stayed with him, and I have waited—six years! We have built our vast theatre again and again—it was to be the vastest in the world, so that my audience should be worthy of my great gifts. Time after time have we gone together into every detail of the scheme, I always believing that at last we were getting ready in earnest. You will wonder, perhaps, how it is I have allowed myself to be deceived for so long. It was because I believed in him during the first three years, and during the second three I had already lost so much time that I dared not disbelieve in him. It was always: 'Just six months more, Cleo, dear, and then we shall astonish the world.' And then the vision of that vast theatre was too fascinating for me to abandon. His excuses were always plausible. Now he had made some terribly bad investment, now a publisher had gone bankrupt, now the sales of his books had fallen tremendously. Besides, he kept complaining bitterly that he was being forced to suppress his genius and individuality and to work for money. Just as he was waiting patiently, so must I wait patiently. He was to write me my great piece, and I was to interpret it. He bought this house for me and had this room rebuilt to suit my ideas, so that the spirit in me should be nourished by a congenial environment. By sitting here each day and meditating, I have ministered to my sacred moods and I have kept pure the essence of the ages which I am to revive for the modern world. Thus the years have not been wasted. I have matured. I am confident my powers have increased, and I have never felt more eager to exercise them than now. Let me but appear in a suitable role and both fame and fortune are assured to me, for I shall easily eclipse every living actress.
"Of course, I have recognised now that Robert has been playing me false, at least of late. I should not like to think that he did not really have those ideas in the first years, but I realise now he has abandoned them and hasn't the courage to confess the truth. Of course, he says that his year's finances have all gone wrong again, and that he had seriously underestimated the capital necessary for the undertaking.
"I am not a prisoner, of course. I have always had perfect liberty, and I engaged the maids myself. They are too well paid not to be attached to me. Robert is supposed to be my husband. Of course, they know he isn't. Altogether, I have not been so very unhappy here. This room has been a great comfort to me, and Robert and I have always got on well together. But now we must part. He will miss me after all this time, but there is no reason why we should not part in peace."
She related all this with the greatest naivete, so that her absolute faith in herself, her genius, and her mission, did not astonish him. The words seemed to flow naturally from the personality.
He was aware she had scarcely given him a biography, but he liked to take her as a mystical figure floating out of a sort of nebula. Such personal details as might have been relatable of any other woman he did not want to know; they would have interfered with this purely artistic vision of her.
"I wish that I had a fortune to place at your disposal," he murmured. "You should have your theatre at once."
"My vast theatre!" she sighed. "I fear I must dismiss that as a hopeless dream. But I could take a theatre and make a less ambitious beginning with very little money, indeed," she added, yearningly.
Then Morgan told her the condition of his finances; how he had exhausted his own resources, and how "a friend"—he referred to Helen in this highly general manner—had lent him five hundred pounds, of which he had scarcely spent anything yet, but which he had not the slightest idea how he was going to repay. Of course, he could not and would not apply to his father again; on which point Cleo readily expressed her sympathy with him.
Asked by him how much she thought would be sufficient to launch her on her career, she could not say at once, but promised to think about it and discuss the matter with him when he came again. She explained that whatever the amount was, it would only be necessary to have it to draw upon in case of need. Success being certain from the first, money would come flowing in immediately, and, if they did decide to embark on the adventure, he would certainly be able to repay his friend very soon.
Her words to him were so many oracular statements, and he no more thought of questioning them than a child thinks of questioning its teacher about the names of the strange marks that constitute the alphabet.
"You will be coming again, then, on Thursday," said Cleo, as he stooped to kiss her hand in token of farewell.
"My dear," said Cleo, when Morgan came again, "I want to bind you to me for always. Let us marry at once, or, at least, as soon as possible. Then, since we shall have thrown in our lots for good and always, we shall achieve together what we have been unable to do separately. My spirit shall act on yours, and one day your genius shall fashion the great masterpiece of my life. As soon as we are married we shall take a theatre and I shall put on the most suitable play I can find. As I have already told you, I have given up those idle dreams of a vast theatre of my own, in which to make my debut. But never before have I felt my powers to be so ripe. Let me but appear for one evening in a part that will enable me to do justice to my gifts and I shall bring the world to my feet. I look to you to help me now, and, by making myself yours for always I shall at least be showing my gratitude and my confidence in you. It is but right that two geniuses should be mated. The fact that we both thought of the same resource under similar conditions—for were you not as forlorn and alone as I?—was prophetic, and clearly indicated it was fated your life and mine were to be cast together."
Her masterful definiteness hypnotised him. Her will was strong enough to do what his own had failed to complete, to draw him away from the rest of the world and absorb his life in hers.
Cleo had entered into his spirit and had at length not only silenced but won over the man in him. She had seized on his whole being, appropriated his every thought, and had attuned to hers every chord of his complex nature. Her perfume and colour, her exotic beauty, had entwined themselves in his every fibre, had enslaved his senses, and intoxicated the thinking part of him. Her genius, too, cast an added glamour of enchantment over the new life that lay before him—a dream-life into which this marriage would take him entirely, and by contrast with which, apart from its anguish, the real life behind him lay dull and leaden.
To link his life with hers! To launch Cleo as a great actress! To win renown side by side! He yielded himself to the prospect with eager enthusiasm!
The notion of taking a theatre that Cleo had put before him at their last meeting had already led him to make a rough calculation of his present resources, and he had estimated that a financial clearing-up would leave him with but little more than three hundred pounds. He mentioned this now somewhat hesitatingly, for he feared that sum might be quite inadequate. He was relieved to hear Cleo say that she could make it suffice; and with her clever management he would very soon be able to discharge his debt to his friend. She knew exactly how to go to work and would make all arrangements, but of course she would let him help her as much as he could.
"We shall set to work the very day we marry, for we must not lose any time. All I shall take away from here are my costumes. I have some money that Robert has given me from time to time, but that I am going to return to him. It would be a desecration for us to use a penny of his in our new life. Of course we must make our home temporarily in furnished rooms."
The next day Morgan paid all his odd, floating debts, and got his particular possessions together; all of which did not occupy him very long. When he saw Cleo again it was arranged that she should take the requisite formal steps for their marriage before the registrar, and that she should also begin negotiations for the renting of a Strand theatre. She had had her final reckoning with Ingram, who had assumed an air of indifference, and had not wanted to know anything about her plans or future movements.
"'Since you have made up your mind,' he said, 'I have no option but to bow to your wishes.' But I could see that his lips were drawn as if his heart ached at having to lose me. I must have meant so much to him all this time. Poor Robert!"
"Of course, I gave him back his money," she went on, when her emotion had subsided. "He took that with the same indifference. He said he could quite appreciate my feeling about it and he would not oppose my wishes on the point."
As regards his family and friends, Morgan made up his mind to write to his father, to Lady Thiselton, and to Mrs. Medhurst, simply announcing the mere fact that he had married. He would not give any particulars nor say a word as to the personality of Cleo. The rest of his acquaintances he would simply ignore.
However, on the day before his marriage, Morgan happened to come across Mrs. Medhurst's dance card amid a heap of papers he was about to destroy, and somewhat to his surprise found it was for that very evening. He had accepted the invitation verbally, when talking to Mrs. Medhurst at the studio-warming. And now a strange notion seemed to come whizzing at him and he arrested it with a clutch.
Why should he not go and dance with Margaret for the last time?
In a moment his mind was made up. And shortly after ten o'clock he found himself being received by Mrs. Medhurst. A half-dizziness came over him as he shook hands with her—the festal atmosphere that pervaded the rooms seemed to blur his senses. He would have stumbled had it not been that Margaret's voice fell upon his ear just then, and he became aware that her hand was in his. He saw her, as she stood at her mother's side, a clear and gracious figure against the mist of things.
She was in white to-night with just a lily in her hair, and it showed graciously in a dainty setting of green. An adorable tiny edge of arm peeped between sleeve and glove. Morgan thought of the lines Helen had whispered to him at the Whitechapel Coffee House:
"The Blessed Damozel leaned out From the gold bar of Heaven; Her eyes were deeper than the depth Of waters stilled at even."
He wrote his name on her programme. He was feeling timid and self-distrustful, and having taken a dance near the beginning he hesitated perceptibly before taking another lower down. She thanked him gravely as he returned her the card and he thought he detected a half-sorrowful expression in her face. No doubt she had been quick to observe the constraint of his manner, and he felt she must be suspecting something.
He was glad that the arriving guests were claiming her attention, and he moved away and mingled with the crowd. But he was indifferent to the scene, to the music and dancing, to all but Margaret. He could not turn his eyes away from her. He took note of every man that asked a dance of her. One of them kept writing on her programme for what seemed to Morgan an unbearable time, Margaret looking on with a tolerant half-smile. He knew the fellow well and hated him. Fledgling at one or other of the learned professions, always aggressively smooth and well-bred, a veritable paragon of polish without a single redeeming mannerism, to Morgan he represented one large swagger. There was something in the pose of the eye-glasses and in the clean-shaven upper lip that told of boundless conceit and infinite self-assurance. What right had he, was Morgan's indignant thought—and he made the criticism as of a mere external fact from which he stood aloof—to be so friendly with Margaret? How was it that she should show such little insight as to be imposed upon by so specious a personality? No doubt she thought him perfectly charming!
He was very angry and bitter, and already half-repented the impulse that had driven him here. If the experience, in all its emotional bearings, was a unique one, it was likewise a disagreeable one. When the time came round for him to dance with Margaret he tried hard to appear perfectly at his ease, and to make a show of good spirits. Exercising the privilege of an old friend, he began to tease her about the rapidity with which her programme had got filled.
"A girl must flirt a little," she asserted calmly, after a short passage-at-arms. "You're not jealous, Morgan, are you?"
"I am only observant," he answered evasively.
"Your gift of observation must be truly wonderful—you manage to exercise it at so great a distance, or perhaps you send out your astral body to do the observing, which must be the reason why it's invisible to me."
"I dare not speak at all. You turn my every word into a scourge against me."
"Don't you feel you deserve the scourging?"
"I have had another melancholy fit," he urged, forced to defend himself.
"Poor Morgan!" she said, pityingly. "I do believe you have some trouble that you are keeping to yourself. Do you know, I've been thinking so for some time now. You don't trust your friends sufficiently. Come now, isn't my surmise near the truth?"
The tears almost welled up to his eyes. He did not answer her, for he could not speak at all; but his silence was tantamount to an admission.
"Poor Morgan!" she repeated softly, as if to herself, and the sympathy in her voice troubled him still more. "And the trouble? Of course, you are going to tell me first."
"Well, not to-night," he answered, closing his heart against her with a superhuman effort. "I must not spoil your evening."
"Do you think I shall enjoy it, now that I know?"
"Why should you not?" he asked, and there was a shade of rebuff in his tone. A half-savage impulse was urging him to pick a sort of quarrel with her.
"You are unkind," she exclaimed in distress. "Is my friendship nothing to you? Perhaps I am wrong to show you that I care about yours. I ought not to have let you see I was so concerned about your trouble, but I could not know that was going to vex you."
He did not answer, because her words disarmed him.
"Forgive me, Morgan," she went on gently. "Of course, you are irritable and all unstrung, and I ought to be very much more patient instead of flying at you. It would be wicked for us two to quarrel, but I really do want you to be nice to me."
She was led away just then, and he felt glad to be relieved of the responsibility of carrying on the conversation.
Dance after dance went by. It hurt him to see that eye-glassed plausible young man dancing with Margaret. His mood grew hateful. The hours at length became unendurable. He slipped away quietly and went home.
But all through the evening he had been conscious in the back part of his mind of the new life he had embarked upon. And even whilst he held the sweet lily in his arms, his very love for her bringing him anguish and bitterness, he was yet aware of scenes that sought to obtrude—scenes in which figured the wonderful woman with whom he had thrown in his lot, in which she stood in the glare of the footlights with a dense packed theatre applauding to madness; scenes not outlined clear and projected in space, but which were to him shapeless silhouettes and dazzling formless patches of light flitting across the extreme background of his consciousness.
* * * * *
About mid-day Morgan Druce and Selina Mary Kettering were united in holy matrimony. She had given her true name for the occasion, but Morgan, intent on signing his own, scarcely noticed hers. She was Cleo to him, and Cleo she would remain. It was not till about an hour later, when they were lunching at a West End restaurant, that his mind began to play about the fact that he really was married now. Yet it seemed incredible. For him marriage had always connoted something large and elaborate, a substantial experience with which were involved complicated preliminaries, a process so transforming that one almost expected one's very chemical composition to be changed by it.
But all had been so astonishingly simple. The whole morning had been singularly like other mornings. The visit to the registrar's office had been short and unimpressive. His bone and tissue were perfectly unaffected by it. Cleo and he had lunched here before. How then was his relation to her so different from what it had been?
He argued with himself. He told himself he was married, but he refused to believe it. With all his knowledge and certainty of the fact, he failed to convince himself. And yet that certainty set him speculating as to what his father and mother would say when they read the curt announcement he intended dispatching that afternoon. He wondered what Helen would think, what Margaret. The fragrance and beauty of the lily seemed suddenly to invade his spirit. He had a sense of sweetness and light, followed by a reaction of pain. Perhaps Margaret would be crushed by the news; perhaps—and he could not help the thought, grotesque though it was—she would marry that smooth, eye-glassed young man.
There was a strange ringing in his ears; he was conscious of his whole being soaring far away, a floating, palpitating spirit amid great spaces of mystery and dream. A universal music was swelling around him, a mighty concerto bursting full upon him from the stillness of infinite distances—the sobbing of violins, the blare of brazen instruments, an orchestral clash and clang.
"You may smoke," said Cleo.
With a start he found himself amid the garish mirrors of the gilded restaurant.
END OF BOOK II.
Had the transition from bachelorhood to the married state been less easy and less quickly achieved, Morgan might perhaps have realised that the pattern of life he was weaving had not the same undetachedness from the real as a pattern woven in dream, but that it was a part and parcel of the real. As it was, he was not the man to stop and think, once he had made his plunge into the strange, vague future that had appealed to him. And now this theatrical enterprise, with Cleo as the star, loomed ahead of him not only as the redemption of his empty life, but wrapped in that seductive romance which his mood and temperament demanded.
For the present, they had taken furnished rooms in Bloomsbury, where they lived under an assumed name. Morgan did not leave his new address at his old quarters, for he did not want any letters to follow him, no matter from whom they came. He felt he had done all he could in writing the three letters he had decided to write. And with the sending of those letters, he seemed to be detaching himself from his old life with one clean cut; his imagination left free to construct the tableaux of what he believed—such was the impression Cleo's personality had made on him—was going to be a gorgeous panoramic future, a triumphant historic march through the civilised world. The fact that Cleo now went about clothed like any other mortal did not detract from his estimate of her genius, for the mere dispensation with such extraneous splendour left untouched the splendour of the woman herself.
And, from this mere moving from one London street to another, he had all the feeling of having placed a thousand miles between himself and everybody who knew him. In the theatrical enterprise he was to figure under his present assumed name, though that was only likely to come within the public cognizance as the name borne by Cleo's husband, a personage none of his friends would think of associating with himself. He thought he might thus fairly count on remaining undiscovered, though, of course, he could not provide against chance encounters. But he felt he would be very angry if any attempt were made to follow him up and interfere in any way with the destiny he had chosen.
Meanwhile, with an exaggerated sense of his own helplessness, he looked up to Cleo with an unshakable confidence, placing an oracular value on her every word. She symbolised for him an all-conquering power before which destiny itself could make no front. Had he been an artist he would have painted her as the triumphant figure of allegory, standing amid the stars with one foot planted on the terrestrial globe. His attitude towards her was one of wondering admiration and blind assent; with so much deliberateness did she turn her vision on that seething world which she was preparing to conquer, and which had always been to him such a whirling, giddy, incomprehensible chaos that he had never been able to look steadily at it. Now, timidly peeping from behind her skirts, he ventured to open his eyes on it. Alone, he would never have known where to touch the heterogeneous, noisy mass, but she, displaying a definite and intimate knowledge of its constituents, at once began to establish relations with it here and there. These efforts of hers seemed to him at first random and isolated, and he watched with interested expectancy for the light-giving result as a child might watch the preparations for an elaborate conjuring trick. Eventually he began to see, with a pleased sort of surprise, that the floating set of relations entered into by Cleo was assuming recognisable shape as a theatrical enterprise.