"A man born out of his time, in whom the disintegration of custom, the fusing of the classes, produces an inner torment." And wondering how he bore it, Owen began to think of an end for Harding, deciding that sullen despair would take possession of him if the House of Lords were seriously threatened. He would leave some seat of ancient story, and proceed towards the midlands, seeking some blast furnace wherein to throw himself. "A sort of modern Empedocles." And Owen laughed aloud, for he was very much amused at his interpretation of his friend's character. It was one which he did not think even his friend would resent. "On the contrary, it would amuse him." And he picked up a newspaper from the club table.
The first words he saw were "Evelyn Innes in America." "So she has gone back to the stage, and without writing to me...." He sank back in his armchair lost in a great bitterness but without resentment. Next day, acting on a sudden resolve, he started for New York. But he did not remain there very long, only a few days, returning to England, exasperated, maddened against himself, unable to explain the cause of his misfortune to Harding.
"I suppose you'll use it in a novel some day. I don't care if you do, but you will never be able to explain how it happened." Harding followed his friend into the study, thinking of the excellent cigar which would be given to him more perhaps than of the story—a man who suddenly finds his will paralysed. "It was just that, paralysis of will, for after dinner when the time came to go to her I sat thinking of her, unable to get out of my chair, saying to myself, 'In five minutes, in five minutes,' and as the minutes went by I looked at the clock, saying to myself, 'If I don't go now I shall be late.' I can't explain, but it was almost a relief when I found it was too late."
"What I don't understand is why you didn't go next day?"
"Nor do I; for naturally I wanted to see her, only I couldn't go, something held me back, and in despair I returned to England, unable to endure the strain. There you have it, Harding; don't ask me any more for I can't tell you any more. During the voyage I was near out of my mind, and could have thrown myself overboard, yet I couldn't go to see her, though she is the only person I really care to see. Of course friends are different," he added apologetically.
"And you could not forget her in the desert?" "No, it only made me worse. Amid the sands her image would appear more distinct than ever. Now why is it that one loves one woman more than another, and what is there in this woman that enchants me, and from whom I cannot escape in thought?... Yet I didn't go to see her in New York."
"But would you go if she wrote to you?" "Oh, if she wrote—that would be different, but she never will. There is no doubt, Harding, love is a sort of madness, and it takes every man; none can look into his life without finding that at some time or another he was mad; the only thing is that it has taken me rather badly, and cure seems farther off than ever. Why is it, Harding, that a man should love one woman so much more than another? It certainly isn't because she has got a prettier face, or a more perfect figure, or a more sensual temperament; for there is no end to pretty faces, perfect figures, and sensual temperaments. Evelyn was pretty well furnished with these things. I am prepared to admit that she was, but of course there are more beautiful women and more sensual women, more charming women, cleverer women—I suppose there are—yet no one ever charmed me, enchanted me—that is the word—like this woman, and I can find no reason for the enchantment in her or in myself, only this, that she represents more of the divine essence out of which all things have come than any other woman."
"The divine essence?"
"Well, one has to use these words in order to be understood; but you know what I mean, Harding, the mystery lying behind all phenomena, the Breath, esoteric philosophers would say, out of which all things came, which drew the stars in the beginning out of chaos, creating myriads of things or the appearance of different things, for there is only one thing. That is how the mystics talk—isn't it? You know more about them than I do. If to every man some woman represented more of this impulse than any other woman, he would be unable to separate himself from her; she would always be a light in his life which he would follow, a light in the mind—that is what Evelyn is to me; I never understood it before, it is only lately—"
"The desert has turned you into a poet, I see, into a mystic."
"Hardly that; but in the desert there are long hours and nothing— only thought; one has to think, if one isn't a bedouin, just to save oneself from going mad: the empty spaces, the solitude, the sun! One of these days when you have finished your books, I should like to write one with you; my impressions of the desert as I rode from oasis to oasis, seeking Tahar—"
"Who was he?"
"He was the man who had the eagles. Haven't I told you already how—?"
"Yes, yes, Asher, but tell me did you meet Tahar, and did you see gazelles hunted?"
"Yes, and larger deer. My first idea was hawking and we went to a lake. One of these days I must tell you about that lake, about its wild fowl, about the buried city and the heron which was killed. We found it among Roman inscriptions. But to tell of these things—my goodness, Harding, it would take hours!"
"Don't try, Asher. Tell me about the gazelles."
"How we went from oasis to oasis in quest of this man who always eluded us, meeting him at last in Beclere's oasis. But you haven't heard about Beclere's, the proprietor, you might say, of one oasis; he discovered a Roman well, and added thousands of acres; but if I began to tell about Beclere's we should be here till midnight."
"I should like to hear about the gazelles first."
"I never knew you cared so much for sport, Harding; I thought you would be more interested in the desert itself, and in Beclere's. It spoils a story to cut it down to a mere sporting episode. There doesn't seem to be anything to tell now except I tell it at length: those great birds, nearly three feet high, with long heads like javelins, and round, clear eyes, and lank bodies, feathered thighs, and talons that find out instinctively the vital parts, the heart and the liver; the bird moves up seeking these. And that is what is so terrible, the cruel instinct which makes every life conditional on another's death. We live upon dead things, cooked or uncooked."
"But how are these birds carried?"
"That is what I asked myself all the way across the desert. The hawks are carried on the wrist, but a bird three feet high cannot be carried on the wrist. The eagle is carried on the pummel of the saddle."
"And how are the gazelles taken and the eagles recaptured?"
"They answer to the lure just like a hawk. The gazelles come down into the desert after the rains to feed among the low bushes, rosemary and lavender. In the plain, of course, they have no chance, the bird overtakes them at once; fleet as they are, wings are fleeter, and they are over-taken with incredible ease, the bird just flutters after them. But the hunt is more interesting when there are large rocks between which the gazelles can take cover; then the bird will alight on the rock and wait for the deer to be driven out, and the deer dreads the eagle so much that sometimes they won't leave the rocks, and we pick them up in our hands. The instinct of the eagle is extraordinary, as you will see; the first gazelle was a doe, and the eagle swept on in front, and, turning rapidly, flew straight into the hind's face, the talons gathered up ready to strangle her. But the buck will sometimes show fight, and, not caring to face the horns, the eagle will avoid a frontal attack and sweep round in the rear, attacking the buck in the quarters and riding him to death, just as a goshawk rides a rabbit, seeking out all the while the vital parts."
"But gazelles are such small deer; now it would be more interesting with larger deer."
"We killed some larger deer and some sheep, wild sheep I mean, or goats, it is hard to say which they are; the courage of the birds is extraordinary, they will attack almost anything, driving the sheep headlong over the precipices. We caught many a fox. The eagle strikes the fox with one talon, reserving the other to clutch the fox's throat when he turns round to bite. Eagles will attack wolves; wolves are hunted in Mongolia with eagles, the fight must be extraordinary. One of these days I must go there."
"If Evelyn Innes doesn't return to you."
"One must do something," Owen answered.
"Life would be too tedious if one were not doing something. Have another cigarette, Harding." And he went to the table and took one out of a silver box. "Do have one; it comes out of her box, she gave me this box. You haven't seen the inscription, have you?" And Harding had to get up and read it; he did this with a lack of enthusiasm and interest which annoyed Owen, but which did not prevent him from going to the escritoire and saying, "And in this pigeon-hole I keep her letters, eight hundred and fifty-three, extending over a period of ten years. How many letters would that be a year, Harding?"
"My dear Asher, I never could calculate anything." "Well, let us see." Owen took a pencil and did the sum, irritating Harding, who under his moustache wondered how anybody could be so self-centred, so blind to the picture he presented. "Eighty-five letters a year, Harding, more than one a week; that is a pretty good average, for when I saw her every day I didn't write to her."
"I should have thought you would write sometimes."
"Yes, sometimes we used to send each other notes."
"Will he never cease talking of her?" Harding said to himself; and, tempted by curiosity, he got up, lighted another cigarette, and sat down, determined to wait and see. Owen continued talking for the next half-hour. "True, he hasn't had an opportunity of speaking to anybody about her for the last year, and is letting it all off upon me."
"There is her portrait, Harding; you like it, don't you?"
Harding breathed again under his moustache. The portrait brought a new interest into the conversation, for it was a beautiful picture. A bright face which seemed to have been breathed into a grey background—a grey so beautiful, Harding had once written, that every ray of sunlight that came into the room awoke a melody and a harmony in it, and held the eye subjugated and enchanted. Out of a grey and a rose tint a permanent music had been made... and, being much less complete than an old master, it never satisfied. In this picture there were not one but a hundred pictures. To hang it in a different place in the room was to recreate it; it never was the same, whereas the complete portraits of the old masters have this fault—that they never rise above themselves. But a ray of light set Evelyn's portrait singing like a skylark—background, face, hair, dress—cadenza upon cadenza. When the blinds were let down, the music became graver, and the strain almost a religious one. And these changes in the portrait were like Evelyn herself, for she varied a good deal, as Owen had often remarked to Harding; for one reason or for some other—no matter the reason: suffice it to say that the picture would be like her when the gold had faded from her hair and no pair of stays would discover her hips. And now, sitting looking at it, Owen remembered the seeming accident which had inspired him to bring Evelyn to see the great painter whose genius it had been to Owen's credit to recognise always. One morning in the studio Evelyn had happened to sit on the edge of a chair; the painter had once seen her in the same attitude by the side of her accompanist, and he had told her not to move, and had gone for her grey shawl and placed it upon her shoulders. A friend of Owen's declared the portrait to be that of a housekeeper on account of the shawl—a strange article of dress, difficult to associate with a romantic singer. All the same, Evelyn was very probable in this picture; her past and her future were in this disconcerting compound of the commonplace and the rare; and the confusion which this picture created in the minds of Owen's friends was aggravated by the strange elliptical execution. Owen admitted the drawing to be not altogether grammatical; one eye was a little lower than the other, but the eyes were beautifully drawn—the right eye, for instance, and without the help of any shadow.
"Look at the face," he said to Harding, "achieved with shadow and light, the light faintly graduated with a delicate shade of rose."
He compared the face to a jewel the most beautiful in the world, and the background to eighteenth-century watered silk.
"The painter conjures," Harding said, "and she rises out of that grey background."
"Quite so, Harding."
Owen sat, his eyes fixed on the picture, his thoughts far away, thinking that it would be better, perhaps, if he never saw her again. Not to see her again! The words sounded very gloomy; for he was thinking of his ancestors at Riversdale, in their tomb, and himself going down to join them.
"I think, Asher, it is getting late; I must go now."
The friends bade each other good-night among the footmen who closed the front door.
In his great, lonely bedroom, full of tall mahogany furniture, Owen lay down; and he asked himself how it was that he had left America without seeing her. His journey to America was one of the uncanniest things that had ever happened in his life. Something seemed to have kept him from her, and it was impossible for him to determine what that thing was, whether some sudden weakening of the will in himself or some spiritual agency. But to believe in the transference of human thought, and that the nuns could influence his action at three thousand miles distance, seemed as if he were dropping into some base superstition. Between sleeping and waking a thought emerged which kept him awake till morning: "Why had Evelyn returned to the stage?" When he saw her last at Thornton Grange her retirement seemed to be definitely fixed. Nothing he could say had been able to move her. She was going to retire from the stage.... But she had not done so. Now, who had persuaded her? Was it Ulick Dean? Were these two in America together? The thought of Evelyn in New York with Ulick Dean, going to the theatre with her, Ulick sitting in the stalls, listening, just as he, Owen, had listened to her, became unendurable; he must have news of her; only from her father could he get reliable news. So he went to Dulwich, uncertain if he should send in his card begging for an interview, or if he should just push past the servant into the music-room, always supposing Innes were at home.
"Mr. Innes is at home," the servant-girl answered.
"Is he in the music-room?"
"Yes, sir. What name?"
"No name is necessary. I will announce myself," and he pushed past the girl.... "Excuse me, Mr. Innes, for coming into your house so abruptly, but I was afraid you mightn't see me if I sent in my name, and it would be impossible for me to go back to London without seeing you. You don't know me."
"I do. You are Sir Owen Asher."
"Yes, and have come because I can't live any longer without having some news of Evelyn. You know my story—how she sent me away. There is nothing to tell you; she has been here, I know, and has told you everything. But perhaps you don't know I have just come from the desert, having gone there hoping to forget her, and have come out of the desert uncured. You will tell me where she is, won't you?"
Innes did not answer for some while.
"My daughter went to America."
"Yes, I know that. I have just come from there, but I could not see her. The last time we met was at Thornton Grange, and she told me she had decided definitely to leave the stage. Now, why should she have gone back to the stage? That is what I have come to ask you."
This tall, thin, elderly man, impulsive as a child, wearing his heart on his sleeve, crying before him like a little child, moved Innes's contempt as much as it did his pity. "All the same he is suffering, and it is clear that he loves her very deeply." So perforce he had to answer that Evelyn had gone to America against the advice of her confessor because the Wimbledon nuns wanted money.
"Gone to sing for those nuns!" Owen shrieked. And for three minutes he blasphemed in the silence of the old music-room, Innes watching him, amazed that any man should so completely forget himself. How could she have loved him?
"She is returning next week; that is all I know of her movements... Sir Owen Asher."
"Returning next week! But what does it matter to me whether she returns or not? She won't see me. Do you think she will, Mr. Innes?"
"I cannot discuss these matters with you, Sir Owen," and Innes took up his pen as if anxious for Sir Owen to leave the room so that he might go on copying. Owen noticed this, but it was impossible for him to leave the room. For the last twelve years he had been thinking about Innes, and wanted to tell him how Evelyn had been loved, and he wanted to air his hatred of religious orders and religion in general.
"I am afraid I am disturbing you, but I can't help; it," and he dropped into a chair. "You have no idea, Mr. Innes, how I loved your daughter."
"She always speaks of you very well, never laying any blame upon you—I will say that."
"She is a truthful woman. That is the one thing that can be said."
Innes nodded a sort of acquiescence to this appreciation of his daughter's character; and Owen could not resist the temptation to try to take Evelyn's father into his confidence, he had been so long anxious for this talk.
"We have all been in love, you see; your love story is a little farther back than mine. We all know the bitterness of it—don't we?"
Innes admitted that to know the bitterness of love and its sweetness is the common lot of all men. The conversation dropped again, and Owen felt there was to be no unbosoming of himself that afternoon.
"The room has not changed. Twelve years ago I saw those old instruments for the first time. Not one, I think, has disappeared. It was here that I first heard Ferrabosco's pavane."
Innes remembered the pavane quite well, but refused to allow the conversation to digress into a description of Evelyn's playing of the viola da gamba. But if they were not to talk about Evelyn there was no use tarrying any longer in Dulwich; he had learned all the old man knew about his daughter. He got up.... At that moment the door opened and the servant announced Mr. Ulick Dean.
"How do you do, Mr. Innes?" Ulick said, glancing at Owen; and a suspicion crossed his mind that the tall man with small, inquisitive eyes who stood watching him must be Owen Asher, hoping that it was not so, and, at the same time, curious to make his predecessor's acquaintance; he admitted his curiosity as soon as Innes introduced him.
"The moment I saw you, Sir Owen, I guessed that it must be you. I had heard so much about you, you see, and your appearance is so distinctive."
These last words dissipated the gloom upon Owen's face—it is always pleasing to think that one is distinctive. And turning from Sir Owen to Innes, Ulick told him how, finding himself in London, he had availed himself of the opportunity to run down to see him. Owen sat criticising, watching him rather cynically, interested in his youth and in his thick, rebellious hair, flowing upwards from a white forehead. The full-fleshed face, lit with nervous, grey eyes, reminded Owen of a Roman bust. "A young Roman emperor," he said to himself, and he seemed to understand Evelyn's love of Ulick. Would that she had continued to love this young pagan! Far better than to have been duped by that grey, skinny Christian. And he listened to Ulick, admiring his independent thought, his flashes of wit.
Ulick was telling stories of an opera company to which it was likely he would be appointed secretary. A very unlikely thing indeed to happen, Owen thought, if the company were assembled outside the windows, within hearing of the stories which Ulick was telling about them. Very amusing were the young man's anecdotes and comments, but it seemed to Owen as if he would never cease talking; and Innes, though seeming to enjoy the young man's wit, seemed to feel with Owen that something must be done to bring it to an end.
"We shall be here all the afternoon listening to you, Ulick. I don't know if Sir Owen has anything else to do, but I have some parts to copy; there is a rehearsal to-night."
Ulick's manner at once grew so serious and formal that Innes feared he had offended him, and then Owen suddenly realised that they were both being sent away. In the street they must part, that was Owen's intention, but before he could utter it Ulick begged of him to wait a second, for he had forgotten his gloves. Without waiting for an answer he ran back to the house, leaving Uwen standing on the pavement, asking himself if he should wait for this impertinent young man, who took it for granted that he would.
"You have got your gloves," he said, looking disapprovingly at the tight kid gloves which Ulick was forcing over his fingers. "Do you remember the way? As well as I remember, one turns to the right."
"Yes, to the right." And talking of the old music, of harpsichords and viols, they walked on together till they heard the whistle of the train.
"We have just missed our train."
There was no use running, and there was no other train for half an hour.
"The waiting here will be intolerable," Owen said. "If you would care for a walk, we might go as far as Peckham. To walk to London would be too far, though, indeed, it would do both of us good."
"Yes, the evening is fine—why not walk to London? We can inquire out the way as we go."
"A Curious accident our meeting at Innes's."
"A lucky one for me. Far more pleasant living in this house than in that horrible hotel."
Owen was lying back in an armchair, indulging in sentimental and fatalistic dreams, and did not like this materialistic interpretation of his invitation to Ulick to come to stay with him at Berkeley Square. He wished to see the hand of Providence in everything that concerned himself and Evelyn, and the meeting with this young man seemed to point to something more than the young man's comfort.
"Looked at from another side, our meeting was unlucky. If you hadn't come in, Innes would have told me more about Evelyn. She must have an address in London, and he must know it."
"That doesn't seem so sure. She may intend to live in Dulwich when she returns from America."
"I can't see her living with her father; even the nuns seem more probable. I wonder how it was that all this time you and she never ran across each other. Did you never write to her?"
"No; I was abroad a great deal. And, besides, I knew she didn't want to see me, so what was the good in forcing myself upon her?"
It was difficult for Owen to reprove Ulick for having left Evelyn to her own devices. Had he not done so himself? Still, he felt that if he had remained in England, he would not have been so indifferent; and he followed his guest across the great tessellated hall towards the dining-room in front of a splendid servitude.
The footmen drew back their chairs so that they might sit down with the least inconvenience possible; and dinner at Berkeley Square reminded Ulick of some mysterious religious ceremony; he ate, overawed by the great butler—there was something colossal, Egyptian, hierarchic about him, and Ulick could not understand how it was that Sir Owen was not more impressed.
"Habit," he said to himself.
At one end of the room there was a great gold screen, and "in a dim, religious light" the impression deepened; passing from ancient Thebes to modern France, Ulick thought of a great cathedral. The celebrant, the deacon and the subdeacon were represented by first and second footmen, the third footman, who never left the sideboard, he compared to the acolyte, the voice of the great butler proposing different wines had a ritualistic ring in it; and, amused by his conception of dinner in Berkeley Square, Ulick admired Owen's dress. He wore a black velvet coat, trousers, and slippers. His white frilled shirt and his pearl studs reminded Ulick of his own plain shirt with only one stud, and he suspected vulgarity in a single stud, for it was convenient, and would therefore appeal to waiters and the middle classes. He must do something on the morrow to redeem his appearance, and he noticed Owen's cuffs and sleeve-links, which were superior to his own; and Owen's hands, they, too, were superior—well-shaped, bony hands, with reddish hair growing about the knuckles. Owen's nails were beautifully trimmed, and Ulick determined to go to a manicurist on the morrow. A delicious perfume emerged when Owen drew his handkerchief from his coat pocket; and all this personal care reminded Ulick of that time long ago when Owen was Evelyn's lover and travelled with her from capital to capital, hearing her sing everywhere. "Now he will never see her again," he thought, as he followed Owen back to his study, hoping to persuade him into telling the story of how he had gone down to Dulwich to write a criticism of Innes's concert, and how he had at once recognised that Evelyn had a beautiful voice, and would certainly win a high position on the lyric stage if she studied for it.
It was a solace to Owen's burdened heart to find somebody who would listen to him, and he talked on and on, telling of the day he and Evelyn had gone to Madame Savelli, and how he had had to leave Paris soon after, for his presence distracted Evelyn's attention from her singing-lessons. "In a year," Madame Savelli had said, "I will make something wonderful of her, Sir Owen, if you will only go away, and not come back for six months."
"He lives in recollection of that time," Ulick said to himself, "that is his life; the ten years he spent with her are his life, the rest counts for nothing." A moment after Owen was comparing himself to a man wandering in the twilight who suddenly finds a lamp: "A lamp that will never burn out," Ulick said to himself. "He will take that lamp into the tomb with him."
"But I must read you the notices." And going to an escritoire covered with ormolu—one of those pieces of French furniture which cost hundreds of pounds—he took out a bundle of Evelyn's notices. "The most interesting," he said, "were the first notices—before the critics had made up their mind about her."
He stopped in his untying of the parcel to tell Ulick about his journey to Brussels to hear her sing.
"You see, I had broken my leg out hunting, and there was a question whether I should be able to get there in time. Imagine my annoyance on being told I must not speak to her."
"Who told you that?"
"Oh, I understand I You arrived the very day of her first appearance?"
Owen threw up his head and began reading the notices.
"They are all the same," he said, after reading half a dozen, and Ulick felt relieved. "But stay, this one is different," and the long slip dismayed Ulick, who could not feel much interest in the impression that Evelyn had created as Elsa—he did not know how many years ago.
"'Miss Innes is a tall, graceful woman, who crosses the stage with slow, harmonious movements—any slight quickening of her step awakening a sense of foreboding in the spectator. Her eyes, too, are of great avail, and the moment she comes on the stage one is attracted by their strangeness—grave, mysterious, earnest eyes, which smile rarely; but when they do smile happiness seems to mount up from within, illuminating her life from end to end. She will never be unhappy again, one thinks. It is with her smile she recompenses her champion knight when he lays low Telramund, and it is with her smile she wins his love—and ours. We regret, for her sake, there are so few smiles in Wagner: very few indeed—not one in 'Senta' nor in 'Elizabeth.'" The newspaper cutting slipped from Owen's hand, and he talked for a long time about her walk and her smile, and then about her "Iphigenia," which he declared to be one of the most beautiful performances ever seen, her personality lending itself to the incarnation of this Greek idea of fate and self-sacrifice. But Gluck's music was, in Owen's opinion, old-fashioned even at the time it was written—containing beautiful things, of course, but somewhat stiff in the joints, lacking the clear insight and direct expression of Beethoven's. "One man used to write about her very well, and seemed to understand her better than any other. And writing about this performance he says—Now, if I could find you his article." The search proved a long one, but as it was about to be abandoned Owen turned up the cutting he was in search of.
"'Her nature intended her for the representation of ideal heroines whose love is pure, and it does not allow her to depict the violence of physical passion and the delirium of the senses. She is an artist of the peaks, whose feet may not descend into the plain and follow its ignominious route,' And then here: 'He who has seen her as the spotless spouse of the son of Parsifal, standing by the window, has assisted at the mystery of the chaste soul awaiting the coming of her predestined lover,' And 'He who has seen her as Elizabeth, ascending the hillside, has felt the nostalgia of the skies awaken in his heart,' Then he goes on to say that her special genius and her antecedents led her to 'Fidelio,' and designed her as the perfect embodiment of Leonore's soul—that pure, beautiful soul made wholly of sacrifice and love,' But you never saw her as Leonore so you can form no idea of what she really was,"
"I will read you what she wrote when she was studying 'Fidelio': 'Beethoven's music has nothing in common with the passion of the flesh; it lives in the realms of noble affections, pity, tenderness, love, spiritual yearnings for the life beyond the world, and its joy in the external world is as innocent as a happy child's. It is in this sense classical—it lives and loves and breathes in spheres of feeling and thought removed from the ordinary life of men. Wagner's later work, if we except some scenes from "The Ring"—notably the scenes between Wotan and Brunnhilde—is nearer to the life of the senses; its humanity is fresh in us, deep as Brunnhilde's; but essential man lives in the spirit. The desire of the flesh is more necessary to the life of the world than the aspirations of the soul, yet the aspirations of the soul are more human. The root is more necessary to the plant than its flower, but it is by the flower and not by the root that we know it."
"Is it not amazing that a woman who could think like that should be capable of flinging up her art—the art which I gave her—on account of the preaching of that wooden-headed Mostyn?" Sitting down suddenly he opened a drawer, and, taking out her photograph, he said: "Here she is as Leonore, but you should have seen her in the part. The photograph gives no idea whatever; you haven't seen her picture. Come, let me show you her picture: one of the most beautiful pictures that —— ever painted; the most beautiful in the room, and there are many beautiful things in this room. Isn't it extraordinary that a woman so beautiful, so gifted, so enchanting, so intended by life for life should be taken with the religious idea suddenly? She has gone mad without doubt. A woman who could do the things that she could do to pass over to religion, to scapulars, rosaries, indulgencies! My God! my God!" and he fell back in his armchair, and did not speak again for a long time. Getting up suddenly, he said, "If you want to smoke any more there are cigars on the table; I am going to bed."
"Well, it is hard upon him," Ulick said as he took a cigar; and lighting his candle, he wandered up the great green staircase by himself, seeking the room he had been given at the end of one of the long corridors.
"Did it ever occur to you," Owen said one evening, as the men sat smoking after dinner, after the servant had brought in the whisky and seltzer, between eleven and twelve, in that happy hour when the spirit descends and men and women sitting together are taken with a desire to communicate the incommunicable part of themselves—"did it ever occur to you," Owen said, blowing the smoke and sipping his whisky and seltzer from time to time, "that man is the most ridiculous animal on the face of this earth?"
"You include women?" Ulick asked.
"No, certainly not; women are not nearly so ridiculous, because they are more instinctive, more like the animals which we call the lower animals in our absurd self-conceit. As I have often said, women have never invented a religion; they are untainted with that madness, and they are not moralists. They accept the religions men invent, and sometimes they become saints, and they accept our moralities—what can they do, poor darlings, but accept? But they are not interested in moralities, or in religions. How can they be? They are the substance out of which life comes, whereas we are but the spirit, the crazy spirit—the lunatic crying for the moon. Spirit and substance being dependent one on the other, concessions have to be made; the substance in want of the spirit acquiesces, says, 'Very well, I will be religious and moral too.' Then the spirit and the substance are married. The substance has been infected—"
"What makes you say all this, Asher?"
"Well, because I have just been thinking that perhaps my misfortunes can be traced back to myself. Perhaps it was I who infected Evelyn."
"Yes, I may have brought about a natural reaction. For years I was speaking against religion to her, trying to persuade her; whereas if I had let the matter alone it would have died of inanition, for she was not really a religious woman."
"I see, I see," Ulick answered thoughtfully.
"Had she met you in the beginning," Owen continued, "she might have remained herself to the end; for you would have let her alone. Religion provokes me... I blaspheme; but you are indifferent, you are not interested. You are splendid, Ulick."
A smile crossed Ulick's lips, and Owen wondered what the cause of the smile might be, and would have asked, only he was too interested in his own thoughts; and the words, "I wonder you trouble about people's beliefs" turned him back upon himself, and he continued:
"I have often wondered. Perhaps something happens to one early in life, and the mind takes a bias. My animosity to religion may have worn away some edge off her mind, don't you see? The moral idea that one lover is all right, whereas any transgression means ruin to a woman, was never invented by her. It came from me; it is impossible she could have developed that moral idea from within—she was infected with it."
"You think so?" Ulick replied thoughtfully, and took another cigar.
"Yes, if she had met you," Owen continued, returning to his idea.
"But if she had met me in the beginning you wouldn't have known her; and you wouldn't consent to that so that she might be saved from Monsignor?"
"I'd make many sacrifices to save her from that nightmare of a man; but the surrender of one's past is unthinkable. The future? Yes. But there is nothing to be done. We don't know where she is. Her father said she would be in London at the end of the week; therefore she is in London now." "If she didn't change her mind." "No, she never changes her mind about such things; any change of plans always annoyed her. So she is in London, and we do not know her address. Isn't it strange? And yet we are more interested in her than in any other human being."
"It would be easy to get her address; I suppose Innes would tell us. I shouldn't mind going down to Dulwich if I were not so busy with this opera company. The number of people I have to see, five-and-twenty, thirty letters every day to be written—really I haven't a minute. But you, Asher, don't you think you might run down to Dulwich and interview the old gentleman? After all, you are the proper person. I am nobody in her life, only a friend of a few months, whereas she owes everything to you. It was you who discovered her—you who taught her, you whom she loved."
"Yes, there is a great deal in what you say, Ulick, a great deal in what you say. I hadn't thought of it in that light before. I suppose the lot does fall to me by right to go to the old gentleman and ask him. Before you came we were getting on very well, and he quite understood my position."
Several days passed and no step was taken to find Evelyn's address in London.
"If I were you, Asher, I would go down to-morrow, for I have been thinking over this matter, and the company of which I am the secretary of course cannot pay her what she used to get ten years ago, but I think my directors would be prepared to make her a very fair offer, and, after all, the great point would be to get her back to the stage."
"I quite agree, Ulick, I quite agree." "Very well, if you think so go to Dulwich." "Yes, yes, I'll go." And Owen came back that evening, not with Evelyn's address, but with the news that she was in London, living in a flat in Bayswater. "Think of that," Owen said, "a flat in Bayswater after the house I gave her in Park Lane. Think of that! Devoted to poor people, arranging school treats, and making clothes."
"So he wouldn't give you her address?"
"When I asked him, he said, and not unreasonably, 'If she wanted to see you she would write.' What could I answer? And to leave a letter with him for her would serve no purpose; my letter would not interest her; it might remain unanswered. No, no, mine is the past; there is no future for me in her life. If anybody could do anything it is you. She likes you."
"But, my good friend, I don't know where she is, and you won't find out."
"Haven't I been to see her father?"
"Oh, her father! A detective agency would give us her address within the next twenty-four hours, and the engagement must be filled up within a few weeks."
"I can't go to a detective agency and pay a man to track her out—no, not for anything."
"Not even to save her from Monsignor?"
"Not even that. There are certain things that cannot be done. Let us say no more."
A fortnight later Owen was reading in the corner by the window about five o'clock, waiting for Ulick to come home—he generally came in for a cup of tea—and hearing a latchkey in the door, he put down his book.
"Is Sir Owen in?"
"Sir Owen is in the study, sir."
And Ulick came in somewhat hurriedly. There was a light in his eyes which told Owen that something had happened, something that would interest him, and nothing could interest him unless news of Evelyn.
"Have you seen her?" and Owen took off his spectacles.
"Yes," Ulick answered, "I have seen her."
"You met her?"
"Tell me about it."
Ulick was too excited to sit down; he walked about the hearthrug in order to give more emphasis to his story.
"My hansom turned suddenly out of a large thoroughfare into some mean streets, and the neighbourhood seemed so sordid that I was just going to tell the driver to avoid such short cuts for the future when I caught sight of a tall figure in brown holland. To meet Evelyn in such a neighbourhood seemed very unlikely, but as the cab drew nearer I could not doubt that it was she. I put up my stick, but at that moment Evelyn turned into a doorway."
"What sort of place was it?"
"All noise and dirt; a lot of boys."
"It seemed more like a factory. Evelyn came forward and said, 'I will see you in half an hour, if you will wait for me at my flat,' 'But I don't know the address,' I said. She gave me the address, Ayrdale Mansions, and I went away in the cab; and after a good deal of driving we discovered Ayrdale Mansions, a huge block, all red brick and iron, a sort of model dwelling-houses, rather better."
"I went up a stone staircase."
"No. Merat opened the door to me. I told her I had met Miss Innes in a slum; she followed me into the drawing-room, saying, 'One of these days Mademoiselle will bring back some horrid things with her.'"
"Good Lord! Tell me what her rooms were like?"
"The flat is better than you would expect to find in such a building. It is the staircase that makes the place look like a model dwelling-house. There is a drawing-room and a dining-room."
"What kind of furniture has she in the drawing-room?"
"An oak settle in the middle of the room and—"
"That doesn't sound very luxurious."
"But there are photographs of pictures on the walls, Italian saints, the Renaissance, you know, Botticelli and Luini; her writing-table is near the window, and covered with papers; she evidently writes a great deal. Merat tells me she spends her evenings writing there quite contented."
"That will do about the room; now tell me about herself."
"She came in looking very like herself."
"Glad to see you?"
"I think she was. She didn't seem to have any scruples about seeing me. Our meeting was pure accident, so she was not responsible."
"Tell me, what did she look like?"
"Well, you know her appearance? She hasn't grown stouter her hair hasn't turned grey."
"Yet she has changed?"
"Yes, she has changed; but—I don't know exactly how to word it—an extraordinary goodness seems to have come into her face. It always seemed to me that a great deal of her charm was in the kindness which seemed to float about her and to look out of her eyes, and that look which you know, or which you don't know—"
"I know it very well."
"Well, that look is more apparent than ever. I noticed it especially as she leaned over the table looking at me."
"I know, those quiet, kindly eyes, steady as marble. A woman's eyes are more beautiful than a man's because they are steadier. Yes, it is impossible to look into her eyes and not to love her; her thick hair drawn back loosely over the ears. There never was anybody so winsome as she. You know what I mean?"
"How he loves her!" Ulick said to himself; "how he loves her! All his life is reflected in his love of her."
"Are you going to see her again?" Owen asked suddenly.
"Did she raise no difficulties?"
"You didn't speak to her about your plans to induce her to accept the engagement?"
"I suppose so, but I cannot somehow imagine that she will ever go back to the stage. She said, having made money enough for the nuns, she had finished with the stage for ever, and was glad of it."
"Once an idea gets into our minds we become the slaves of it, and her mind was always more like a man's than a woman's mind."
This point was discussed, Ulick pretending not to understand Owen's meaning in order to draw him into confidences.
"She has asked you to go to see her, so I suppose she likes you. I wish you well. Anything rather than Monsignor should get her. You have my best wishes."
"What does he mean by saying I have his best wishes? Does he mean that he would prefer me to be her lover, if that would save her from religion? Would he use me as the cat uses the monkey to pull the chestnuts out of the fire, and then take them from me." But he did not question Owen as to his meaning, and showed no surprise when a few days afterwards Owen came into the drawing-room, interrupting him in his work, saying:
"Have you forgotten?"
"Why, that you have an appointment with Evelyn."
"So I have, so I have!" he said, laying down his pen. "And if I don't hasten, I shall miss it."
Owen took his hat, saying, "Your hat wants brushing; you mustn't go to her with an unbrushed hat."
Ulick ran away north, casting one glance back. Owen—would he sit in his study thinking of his lost happiness or would he try to forget it in some picture-dealer's shop?
"Has Mr. Dean come in?"
"No, Sir Owen."
"What time is it?"
"Dinner is quite ready?"
"Quite ready, Sir Owen."
"I don't think there is any good in waiting. Something must have detained Mr. Dean."
"Very well, Sir Owen."
The butler left the room surprised, for if there was one thing that Sir Owen hated it was to dine by himself, yet Owen had not screamed out a single blasphemy, or even muttered a curse, and wondering at his master's strange resignation, the butler crossed the hall, hoping Sir Owen's health was not run down. He put the evening paper by Sir Owen, for there had been some important racing that day, and sometimes Sir Owen would talk quite affably. There were other times when he would not say a word, and this was one of them. He pushed the paper away, and went on eating, irritated by the sound of his knife and fork on his plate, the only sound in the dining-room, for the footmen went silently over the thick pile carpet, receiving their directions by a gesture from the great butler.
After dinner Owen had recourse to the evening paper, and he read it, and every other paper in his room, advertisements and all, asking himself what the devil had happened to Ulick. Some of his operatic friends must have asked him to dinner. A moment after it seemed to him that Ulick was treating his house like a hotel. "Damn him! he might have easily sent me a telegram." At half-past ten the footman brought in the whisky, and Owen sat sipping his drink, smoking cigars, and wondering why Ulick had net come home for dinner; and the clock had struck half-past eleven before Ulick's latchkey was heard in the door.
"I hope you didn't wait dinner for me?"
"We waited a little while. Where have you been?"
"She asked me to stay to dinner."
"Oh, she asked you to stay to dinner!" Such a simple explanation of Ulick's absence Owen hadn't thought of, and, reading his face, Ulick hastened to tell him that after dinner they had gone to a concert.
"Well, I suppose you were right to go with her; the concert must have been a great break in her life.... Sitting there all the evening, writing letters, trying to get situations for drunken men, girl mothers, philanthropy of every kind. How she must have enjoyed the concert! Tell me about it; and tell me how she was dressed."
Ulick had not remarked Evelyn's dress very particularly, and Owen was angry with him for only being able to tell him that she wore a pale silk of a faint greenish colour.
"And her cloak?"
"Oh, her cloak was all right; it seemed warm enough."
Owen wanted to know what jewellery she wore, and complained that she had sold all the jewellery he had given her for the nuns. Ulick was really sorry for him. Now, what did she think of the singing? To please him Ulick attributed all his criticism of the singers to Evelyn, and Owen said:
"Extraordinary, isn't it? Did she say that she regretted leaving the stage? And what did she say about me?"
Ulick had been expecting this question.
"She hoped you were very well, and that you did not speak unkindly of her."
"Speak unkindly of her!" and Owen's thoughts seemed to fade away.
Cigar after cigar, drink after drink, until sleep settled in their eyes, and both went to bed too weary to think of her any more.
But next day Owen remembered that Ulick had not told him if he had driven Evelyn home after the concert, and the fact that he had not mentioned how they had parted was in itself suspicious; and he determined to question Ulick. But Ulick was seldom in Berkeley Square; he pleaded as his excuse business appointments; he had business appointments all over London; Owen listened to his explanations, and then they talked of other things. In this way Owen never learnt on what terms Evelyn and Ulick were: whether she wrote to him, whether they saw each other daily or occasionally. It was not natural to think that after a dinner and a concert their intimacy should cease as suddenly as it had begun. No doubt they dined together in restaurants, and they went to concerts. Every hour which he spent away from Berkeley Square he spent with her ... possibly. To find out if this were true he would have to follow Ulick, and that he couldn't do. He might question him? No, he couldn't do that. And, sitting alone in his study in the evening, for Ulick had gone out after dinner, he asked himself if he could believe that Ulick was with the directors of the opera company. It was much more likely that he was in the Bayswater flat, trying to persuade Evelyn to return to the stage. So far he was doing good work, but the only means he had of persuading her was through her senses, by making love to her. Her senses had kindled for him once, why shouldn't they kindle again? It would be a hard struggle between the flesh and the idea, the idea which urged her in one direction, and the flesh which drew her in another. Which would prevail? Ulick was young, and Owen knew how her senses flared up, how certain music set her senses on fire and certain literature. "All alone in that flat," and the vision becoming suddenly intense he saw Ulick leading her to the piano, and heard the music, and saw her eyes lifted as she had lifted them many times to him—grey marble eyes, which would never soften for him again.
He had known her for so many years, and thought of her so intensely that every feature of her face could be recalled in its minutest line and expression; not only the general colour of her face, but the whiteness of the forehead, and where the white skin freckled. How strange it was that freckles should suit her, though they suited no other woman! And the blue tints under the eyes, he remembered them, and how the blue purpled, the rose red in the cheeks, and the various changes—the greys in the chin, the blue veins reticulating in the round white neck, and the pink shapes of the ear showing through the shadow. Her hair was visible to him, its colour in the light and in the shadow; and her long thin hands, the laces she wore at the wrists, her rings, the lines of the shoulders, and of the arms, the breasts—their size, their shape, and their very weight— every attitude that her body fell into naturally. From long knowledge and intense thinking he could see her at will; and there she was at the end of the sofa crossing and uncrossing her lovely legs, so long from the knees, showing through the thin evening gown; he thought of their sweetness and the seduction of the foot advancing, showing an inch or two beyond the skirt of her dress. And then she drew her rings from her fingers, dropping them into her lap, and unconsciously placed them again over the knuckles.
A great deal he would give—everything—for Ulick's youth, so that he might charm her again. But of what avail to begin again? Had he not charmed her before? and had not her love flowed past him like water, leaving nothing but a memory of it; yet it was all he had—all that life had given him. And it was so little, because she had never loved him. Every other quality Nature had bestowed upon her, but not the capacity for loving. For the first time it seemed to him he had begun to understand that she was incapable of love—in other words, of giving herself wholly to anybody. A strange mystery it was that one who could give her body so unreservedly should be so parsimonious about her soul. To give her body and retain herself was her gift, above all other women, thereby remaining always new, always unexpected, and always desirable. In the few visits to Paris which had been allowed to him by her, and by Madame Savelli, she had repaid him for the long abstinences by an extraordinary exaltation and rapture of body and of intellect, but he had always experienced a strange alienation, even when he held her in his arms—perhaps then more than ever did he feel that she never was, and never could be, his. The thought had always been at the back of his mind: "Tomorrow I shall be far from her, and she will be interested in other things. All she can give me is her body—a delicious possession it is—and a sweet friendliness, a kindliness which sometimes seems like love, but which is not." Some men would regard her as a cold sensualist; maybe so, though indeed he did not think that it was so, for her kindliness precluded such a criticism. But even if it were so, such superficial thinking about her mattered little to him who knew her as none other could ever know her, having lived with her since she was two or three and twenty till five and thirty—thinking of her always, noting every faintest shade of difference, comparing one mood with another, learning her as other men learn a difficult text from some ancient parchment, some obscure palimpsest—that is what she was, something written over. There was another text which he had never been able to master; and he sat in his chair conscious of nothing but some vague pain which—becoming more and more definite—awoke him at last. Though he had studied her so closely perhaps he knew as little of her as any one else, as little as she knew of herself. Of only one thing was there any surety, and that was she could only be saved by an appeal to the senses.
So he had done right in encouraging her friendship with Ulick, sending Ulick to her, putting his natural jealousy aside—preferring to suffer rather than that she should be lost. God only knew how he was suffering day by day, hour by hour; but it were better that he should suffer than that she should be abandoned to the spiritual constriction of the old Roman python. It was horrible to think, but the powerful coils would break and crush to pulp; then the beast would lubricate and swallow. Anything were better than this; Ulick's kisses would never be more to Evelyn than the passing trance of the senses; she never would love him as other women loved, giving their souls: she had never given her soul, why should she give it now? But, good God! if after some new adventure she should return to the python?
His heart failed him; but only for a moment. Ulick might prove to her the futility of her endeavour to lead a chaste life; and once that was established she would become the beautiful, enchanting being that he had known; but she would never return to him. If she only returned to herself! The spirit of sacrifice tempted him, despite the suffering he was enduring—a suffering which he compared to sudden scaldings: he was being scalded to death by degrees, covered from head to foot with blisters. A telegram in the hall for Ulick, a hesitation in Ulick's voice, a sudden shifting of the eyes—anything sufficed—and therewith he was burnt to the bone, far beyond the bone, into the very vitals. Even now in his study, he waited another scalding. At any moment Ulick might come in, and though he never betrayed himself by any word or look, still his presence would suggest that he had just come from Evelyn. Perhaps he had been walking with her in the park? But why wait in Berkeley Square? If a martyrdom of jealousy he must endure, let it be at Riversdale. Out of sight would not mean out of mind; but he would not be constantly reminded of his torment; there would be business to attend to which would distract his mind, and when he returned in a few days to Berkeley Square merciful Fate would have settled everything: she would be gone away with Ulick to be cured, or would remain behind, a living food for the serpent.
The valet was told that he must be ready to catch the half-past four train; and Ulick, when he returned from a long walk with Evelyn at half-past six, learnt that Sir Owen had gone to Riversdale.
"Sir Owen says, sir, he hopes to see you when he returns."
But what business had taken Sir Owen out of London, and so suddenly? The placid domestic could only tell him that Sir Owen often went to Riversdale on business connected with the estate. "Sir Owen often gets a wire from his agent." But this sudden call to see his agent did not strike Ulick as very likely; far more likely that Asher had gone out of town because he suspected—
"Poor chap! it must be dreadful seeing me come in and out of the house, suspecting every time I am going to or coming from her. But it was his own will that I should try to get her back to the stage and away from Monsignor. All the same, it must have been devilishly unpleasant." Ulick was very sorry for Owen, and hoped that if he did succeed in tempting Evelyn away from Monsignor Owen would not hate him for having done so. Nothing is more common than to hate one's collaborator. Ulick laughed and suddenly grew serious. "His years are against him. Old age, always a terror, becomes in an affair of this kind a special terror, for there is no hope; she will never go back to him, so I might as well get her. If I don't, Monsignor will"; and a smile appeared again on his face, for he had begun to feel that he would succeed in persuading Evelyn to accept the engagement, and to do that would mean taking him on as a lover.
When he lighted a cigar the conviction was borne in upon him, as the phrase goes, that to travel in an opera company without a mistress would be unendurable.... Where could he get one equal to Evelyn? Nowhere. No one in the company was comparable to her; and of course he loved her, and she loved him: differently, in some strange way he feared, but still she loved him, or was attracted to him—it did not matter which so long as he could succeed in persuading her to accept the engagement which his directors were most anxious to conclude. As they walked through Kensington Gardens that afternoon he had noticed how she had begun to talk suddenly on the question whether it would be permissible for a woman in certain circumstances to take a second lover, if her life with her first were entirely broken, and so on. He had answered perfunctorily, and as soon as possible turned the conversation upon other things. But it had come back—led back by her unconsciously to the moral question. So it would seem that she was coming round. But there was something hysterical, something so outside of herself—something so irresponsible in her yielding to him, that he did not altogether like the adventure which he had undertaken, and asked himself if he loved her sufficiently, finding without difficulty many reasons for loving her. Nowhere could he find anybody whom he admired more, or who interested him more. He had loved her, and they had spent a pleasant time together in that cottage on the river. A memory of it lit up his sensual imagination, and he determined to continue the experience just as any other young man would. Evelyn had denied herself to him in Italy for some strange reason; whatever that reason was it had been overcome, and once she yielded herself she was glorious. What happened before would happen again, and if things did not turn out as pleasantly as he hoped they would—that is to say, if she would not remain in the opera company, well, the fault would not be with him. She sang very well, though not as well as Owen thought; and he went upstairs to dress for dinner, thinking how pleasant it was to live in Berkeley Square.
They were dining together in a restaurant, and as she came forward to meet him he said to himself, "She looks like accepting the engagement." And when he spoke about it to her he only reminded her that by returning to the stage she would be able to make more money for her poor people, for he felt it were better not to argue. To take her hand and tell her that it was beautiful was much more in his line, to put his arm about her when they drove back together in the hansom, and speak to her of the cottage at Reading—this he could do very well; and he continued to inflame her senses until she withdrew herself from his arm, and he feared that he was compromising his chance of seeing her on the morrow.
"But you will come to the park, won't you? Remember, it is our last day together."
"Not the last," she said, "the last but one. Yes, I will see you to-morrow. Now goodbye."
"May I not go upstairs with you?"
"No, Ulick, I cannot bring you up to my flat; it is too late."
"Then walk a little way."
"But if I were to accept that engagement do you think I could remain a Catholic?"
Ulick could see no difficulty, and begged of her to explain.
His question was not answered until they had passed many lamp-posts, and then as they retraced their steps she said:
"Travelling about with an opera company do you think I could go to Mass, above all to Communion?"
"But you'll be on tour; nobody will know."
"What shall I do when I return to London?"
"Why look so far ahead?"
"All my friends know that I go to Mass."
"But you can go to Mass all the same and communicate."
"But if you were my lover?"
"Would that make any difference?"
"Of course it would make a difference if I were to continue to go to Mass and communicate; I should be committing a sacrilege. You cannot ask me to do that."
Ulick did not like the earnestness with which she spoke these words. That she was yielding, however, there could be little doubt, and whatever doubt remained in his mind was removed on the following day in the park under the lime-trees, where they had been sitting for some time, talking indolently—at least, Ulick had been talking indolently of the various singers who had been engaged. He had done most of the talking, watching the trees and the spire showing between them, enjoying the air, and the colour of the day, a little heedless of his companion, until looking up, startled by some break in her voice, he saw that she was crying.
"Evelyn, what is the matter? You are crying. I never saw you cry before."
She laughed a little, but there was a good deal of grief in her laughter, and confessed herself to be very unhappy. Life was proving too much for her, and when he questioned her as to her meaning, she admitted in broken answers that his departure with the company was more than she could bear.
"Why, then, not come with us? You'll sign the agreement?"
And they walked towards Bayswater together, talking from time to time, Ulick trying not to say anything which would disturb her resolution, though he had heard Owen say that once she had made a promise she never went back upon it.
There was all next day to be disposed of, but he would be very busy, and she would be busy too; she would have to make arrangements, so perhaps it would be better they should not meet.
"Then, at the railway station the day after to-morrow," and he bade her goodbye at her door.
Owen was in his study writing.
"I didn't know you had returned, Asher."
"I came back this afternoon," and he was on the point of adding, "and saw you with Evelyn as I drove through the park." But the admission was so painful a one to make that it died upon his lips, finding expression only in a look of suffering—a sort of scared look, which told Ulick that something had happened. Could it be that Owen had seen them in the park sitting under the limes? That long letter on the writing-table, which Owen put away so mysteriously—could it be to Evelyn? Ulick had guessed rightly. Owen had seen them in the park, and he was writing to Evelyn telling her that he could bear a great deal, but it was cruel and heartless for her to sit with Ulick under the same trees. He had stopped in the middle of the letter remembering that it might prevent her from going away with Ulick, and so throw her back into the power of Monsignor. Even so, he must write his letter; one has oneself to consider, and he could bear it no longer.
"I see you are writing, and I have many letters to write. You will excuse me?" And Ulick went to his room. After writing his letters, he sent word to Owen that he was dining out. "He will think I am dining with her, but no matter; anything is better than that we two should sit looking at each other all through the evening, thinking of one thing and unable to speak about it."
Next day he was out all day transacting business, thinking in the intervals, "To-morrow morning she will be in the station," sometimes asking himself if Owen had written to her.
But the letter he had caught sight of on Owen's table had not been posted. "After all, what is the good in writing a disagreeable letter to her? If she is going away with Ulick what does it matter under what trees they sat?" Yet everything else seemed to him nothing compared with the fact that she and Ulick had pursued their courtship under the limes facing the Serpentine; and Owen wondered at himself. "We are ruled by trifles," he said; all the same he did not send the letter.
And that night Owen and Ulick bade each other goodbye for the last time.
"Perhaps I shall see you later on in the year; in about six months' time we shall be back in London."
Owen could not bring himself to ask if Evelyn had accepted the engagement—what was the good? To ask would be a humiliation, and he would know to-morrow; the porter at her flat would tell him whether she was in London.
"Mr. Dean left this morning, Sir Owen."
The butler was about to add, "He left about an hour ago, in plenty of time to catch his train," but guessing Sir Owen's humour from his silence, he said nothing, and left the footman to attend on him.
"So he has persuaded her to go away with him. ... I wonder—" And Owen began to think if he should go to Ayrdale Mansions himself to find out. But if she had not gone away with Ulick, and if he should meet her in the street, how embarrassing it would be! Of what should he speak to her? Of the intrigue she had been carrying on with Ulick Dean? Should he pretend that he knew nothing of it? She would be ashamed of this renewal of her affection for Ulick, though she had not gone away with him; and if she had not gone, it would be only on account of Monsignor. He sat irresolute, his thoughts dropping away into remembrances of the day before—the two sitting together under the lime-trees. That was the unendurable bitterness; it was easy to forgive her Ulick, he was nothing compared to this deliberate soiling of the past. If she could not have avoided the park, she might have avoided certain corners sacred to the memory of their love-story—the groves of limes facing the Serpentine being especially sacred to his memory.
"But only man remembers; woman is the grosser animal." And in his armchair Owen meditated on the coarseness of the female mind, always careless of detail, even seeming to take pleasure in overlaying the past with the present. "A mistake," he thought. "We should look upon every episode as a picture, and each should hang in a place so carefully appointed that none should do injury to another. But few of us pay any regard to the hanging of our lives—women none at all. The canvases are hooked anywhere, any place will suffice, no matter whether they are hung straight or crooked; and a great many are left on the floor, their faces turned to the wall; and some are hidden away in cellars, where no memory ever reaches them. Poor canvases!" And then, his thoughts reverting suddenly to his proposed visit to Ayrdale Mansions, he asked himself what answer he could give if he were asked to explain Ulick's presence at Berkeley Square—proofs of his approval of Ulick's courtship; his motives would be misunderstood. Never again would his love of her be believed in.
"I have been a fool—one always is a fool, and acts wrongly, when one acts unselfishly. Self is our one guide—when we abandon self, we abandon the rudder."
He would have just been content to keep Evelyn as his friend, and she would have been willing to remain friends with him if he did not talk against religion, or annoy her by making love to her. "There is a time for everything," and he thought of his age. Passionate love should melt into friendship, and her friendship he might have had if he had thought only of himself; it would have been a worthy crown for the love he had borne for her during so many years. Now there was nothing left for him but a nasty sour rind of life to chew to the end—it was under his teeth, and it was sour enough, and it never would grow less sour. His sadness grew so deep that he forgot himself in it, and was awakened by the sound of wheels.
"Somebody coming to call. I won't see anybody," and he rang the bell. "I am not at home to anybody."
"But, Sir Owen, Mr. Dean—"
"Mr. Dean!" And Owen stood aghast, wondering what could have brought Ulick back again.
"Are you at home to Mr. Dean, sir?"
"Yes, yes," and at the same moment he caught sight of Ulick coming across the hall. "What has happened?" he said as soon as the door was closed.
"She tried to poison herself last night."
"Tried to poison herself! But she is not dead?"
"No, she's not dead, and will recover."
"Tried to poison herself!"
"Yes, that is what I came back to tell you. We were to have met at the station, but she didn't turn up; and, after waiting for a quarter of an hour, I felt something must have happened, and drove to Ayrdale Mansions."
"Tried to kill herself!"
"I'm afraid I have no time to tell you the story. Merat will be able to tell it to you better than I. I must get away by the next train. There is no danger; she will recover."
"You say she will recover?" and Owen drew his hands across his eyes. "I'm afraid I can hardly understand."
"But if you will just take a cab and go up to Ayrdale Mansions, you will find Merat, who will tell you everything."
"Yes, yes. You are sure she will recover?"
"But you—you are going away?"
"I have to, unless I give up my appointment. Of course, I should like to stay behind; but there is no danger, absolutely none, only an overdose of chloral."
"She suffered a great deal from sleeplessness. Perhaps it was an accident."
Ulick did not answer, and the elder man drove in one direction and the younger in another.
"Merat, this is terrible!"
"Won't you come into the drawing-room, Sir Owen?"
"She is in no danger?"
"No, Sir Owen."
"Can I see her?"
"Yes, of course, Sir Owen; but she is still asleep, and the doctor says she will not be able to understand or recognise anybody for some hours. You will see her if you call later."
"Yes, I'll call later; but first of all, tell me, Merat, when was the discovery made?"
"She left a letter for me to say she was not to be called, and knowing she had gone out for many hours, and finding her clothes and her boots wet through, I thought it better not to disturb her. Of course, I never suspected anything until Mr. Dean came."
"Yes, she was to meet him at the station." And as he said these words he remembered that Merat must know of Evelyn's intimacy with Ulick. She must have been watching it for the last month, and no doubt already connected Evelyn's attempted suicide in some way with Mr. Dean, but the fact that they had arranged to meet at the railway station did not point to a betrayal.
"There was no quarrel between them, then, Sir Owen?"
"None; oh, none, Merat."
"It is very strange."
"Yes, it is very strange, Merat; we might talk of it for hours without getting nearer to the truth. So Mr. Dean came here?"
"Yes. When I opened the door he said, 'Where is mademoiselle?' and I said, 'Asleep; she left a note that she was not to be called.' 'Then, Merat, something must have happened, for she was to meet me at the railway station. We must see to this at once.' Her door was locked, but Mr. Dean put his shoulder against it. In spite of the noise, she did not awake—a very few more grains would have killed her."
"Grains of what?"
"Chloral, Sir Owen. We thought she was dead. Mr. Dean went for the doctor. He looked very grave when he saw her; I could see he thought she was dead; but after examining her he said, 'She has a young heart, and will get over it.'"
"So that is your story, Merat?"
"Yes, Sir Owen, that is the story. There is no doubt about it she tried to kill herself, the doctor says."
"So, Merat, you think it was for Mr. Dean. Don't you know mademoiselle has taken a religious turn?"
"I know it, Sir Owen."
And he attributed the present misfortune to Monsignor, who had destroyed Evelyn's mind with ceremonies and sacraments.
"Good God! these people should be prosecuted." And he railed against the prelate and against religion, stopping only now and again when Merat went to her mistress's door, thinking she heard her call. "You say it was between eleven and twelve she came back?"
"It was after twelve, Sir Owen."
"Now where could she have been all that time, and in the rain, thinking how she might kill herself?"
"It couldn't have been anything else, Sir Owen. Her boots were soaked through as if she had been in the water, not caring where she went."
Owen wondered if it were possible she had ventured into the Serpentine.
"The park closes at nine, doesn't it, Sir Owen?" They talked of the possibility of hiding in the park and the keepers not discovering Evelyn in their rounds; it was quite possible for her to have escaped their notice if she hid in the bushes about the Long Water.
"You think, Sir Owen, that she intended to drown herself?"
"I don't know. You say her boots were wet through. Perhaps she went out to buy the chloral—perhaps she hadn't enough."
"Well, Sir Owen, she must have been doubtful if she had enough chloral to kill herself, for this is what I found." And the maid took out of her pocket several pairs of garters tied together.
"You think she tied these together so that she might hang herself?"
"There is no place she could hang herself except over the banisters. I thought that perhaps she feared the garters were not strong enough and she might fall and break her legs."
"Poor woman! Poor woman!" So if the garters had proved stronger, she would have strangled there minute by minute. Nothing but religious mania—that is what drove her to it."
"I am inclined to think, Sir Owen, it must have been something of that kind, for of course there were no money difficulties."
"The agony of mind she must have suffered! The agony of the suicide! And her agony, the worst of all, for she is a religious woman." Owen talked of how strange and mysterious are the motives which determine the lives of human beings. "You see, all her life was in disorder— leaving the stage and giving me up. Merat, there is no use in disguising it from you. You know all about it. Do you remember when we met for the first time?"
"Yes, Sir Owen; indeed I do." And the two stood looking at each other, thinking of the changes that time had made in themselves. Sir Owen's figure was thinner, if anything, than before; his face seemed shrunken, but there were only a few grey hairs, and the maid thought him still a very distinguished-looking man—old, of course; but still, nobody would think of him as an old man. Merat's shoulders seemed to be higher than they were when he last saw her; she had developed a bust, and her black dress showed off her hips. Her hair seemed a little thinner, so she was still typically French; France looked out of her eyes. "Isn't it strange? The day we first met we little thought that we would come to know each other so well; and you have known her always, travelled all over Europe with her. How I have loved that woman, Merat! And here you are together, come from Park Lane to this poor little flat in Bayswater. It is wonderful, Merat, after all these years, to be sitting here, talking together about her whom we both love, you have been very good to her, and have looked after her well; I shall never forget it to you."
"I have done my best, Sir Owen; and you know mademoiselle is one of those whom one cannot help liking."
"But living in this flat with her, Merat, you must feel lonely. Do you never wish for your own country?"
"But I am with mademoiselle, Sir Owen; and if I were to leave her, no one else could look after her—at least, not as I can. You see, we know each other so well, and everything belonging to her interests me. Perhaps you would like to see her, Sir Owen?"
"I'd like to see her, but what good would it do me or her? I'll see her in the evening, when I can speak to her. To see her lying there unconscious, Merat—no, it would only put thoughts of death into my mind; and she will have to die, though she didn't die last night, just as we all shall have to die—you and I, in a few years we shall be dead."
"Your thoughts are very gloomy, Sir Owen."
"You don't expect me to have gay thoughts to-day, do you, Merat? So here is where you live, you and she; and that is her writing-table?"
"Yes; she sits there in the evening, quite contented, writing letters."
"To whom?" Owen asked. "To no one but priests and nuns?"
"Yes, she is very interested in her poor people, and she has to write a great many letters on their behalf."
"I know—to get them work." And they walked round the room. "Well, Merat, this isn't what we are accustomed to—this isn't like Park Lane."
"Mademoiselle only cares for plain things now; if she had the money she would spend it all upon her poor people. It was a long time before I could persuade her to buy the sofa you have been sitting on just now; she has not had it above two months."
"And all these clothes, Merat—what are they?"
"Oh, I have forgotten to take them away." And Merat told him that these were clothes that Evelyn was making for her poor people—for little boys who were going upon a school-treat, mostly poor Irish; and Owen picked up a cap from the floor, and a little crooked smile came into his face when he heard it was intended for Paddy Sullivan.
"All the same, it is better she should think about poor people than about religion."
"Far better, Sir Owen, far better. Sometimes I'm afraid she will bring back things upon her. She comes back tired and sleeps; but when she spends her time in churches thinking of her sins, or what she imagines to be sins, Sir Owen, I hear her walking about her room at night, and in the morning she tells me she hasn't slept at all."
"What you tell me is very serious, Merat. All the same, all the same— jackets and coats for Paddy Sullivan's children. Well, it is very touching. There never was anybody quite so good, do you think there was, Merat?"
"That is the reason why we all love her; and you do, too, Sir Owen, though you pretend to hate goodness and to despise—"
"No, Merat, no. Tell mademoiselle, if she wakes, that I am coming back to see her this evening late—the later the better, I suppose, for she is not likely to fall asleep again once she awakes."
Merat mentioned between nine and ten o'clock, and, to distract his thoughts, Owen went to the theatre that evening, and was glad to leave it at ten, before the play was over.
"Is she awake?"
"She has been awake some time. I think you will be able to have a little talk with her." And Owen stole into the room with so little noise that Evelyn did not hear him, and all the room was seen and understood before she turned: the crucifix above the bedstead, the pious prints, engravings which they had bought in Italy—Botticelli and Filippo Lippi. She lay in a narrow iron bed, and all the form that he knew so well covered in a plain nightgown such as he had never seen before, but in keeping, he thought, with the rest of the room, and in conformity—such was his impression, there was no time for thinking—with her present opinions. The smallness of the chest of drawers surprised him. Where did she keep her clothes? It might be doubted if she possessed more than two or three gowns. Where were they hanging? The few chairs and the dressing-table, on which he caught sight of some ivory brushes he had given her, seemed the only furniture in the room.
"Oh, it is you, Owen. So you have come to see me. You are always kind."
"My dear Evelyn, there never can be any question of kindness between you and me. You will always be Evelyn, and I am only thinking now of how glad I am to have found you again."
"Found me again!" And her thoughts seemed to float away, her mind not being strong enough yet to think connectedly. "How did you hear about me?" Before he could answer she said, "I suppose Ulick—" And then, with an effort to remember, she added, "Yes, Merat told me he had come here," and the effort seemed to fatigue her.
"Perhaps it would be better if you didn't talk."
"Oh, no," she said, taking his hand, detaining it for a moment and then losing it; "tell me."
And he told her, speaking very gently so that his voice might not tire her, that Ulick had called at Berkeley Square.
"He told me you weren't going away with him."
A slight shudder passed through Evelyn's face, and she asked, "Where is Ulick?"
"He has gone away. If he had stayed he would have lost his post as secretary to the opera company."
Evelyn did not appear to hear the explanation, and it was some time before she said:
"He has gone away. I don't think we shall see much of him again, either you or I, Owen."
Owen did not resist asking if she regretted this, and she answered that she did not regret it at all. "And now you understand, Owen, what kind of woman I am; how hopeless everything is." In spite of herself, a little trace of her old wit returning to her, she added, "You see what an unfortunate man you are in your choice of a mistress."
Owen could not answer; and a moment after he remembered that it is only those who feel as deeply as Evelyn who can speak as lightly, otherwise they would not be able to resist the strain; and the strain was a very terrible one, he could see that, for she turned over in bed, and a little later he perceived that she had been crying. Turning suddenly, she exclaimed:
"Owen, Owen, I am very frightened!"
"Frightened of what, dear one?"
"I don't know, Owen, I can't tell you; but I am very frightened, for he seems not to be very far away and may come again."
"And who is 'he'?"
"It is impossible to tell you—a darkness, a shadow that seems always by me, and who was very near me last night. A little more chloral and I should not be here talking to you!"
"It is terrible, Evelyn, terrible! And how should I have lived?"
"You lived before me and you will live after me. Suicide is a mortal sin, so Monsignor would tell me. We are forbidden to kill ourselves even to escape sin, and that seems strange; for how shall I ever believe that God would not have forgiven me, that he would not have preferred me to kill myself than to have—?" And her voice died away, Owen wondered whether for lack of strength or unwillingness to express herself in words.
"My dear Evelyn! my dear Evelyn!"
"You don't understand, Owen; I am so different from what I was once. I know it, I feel it, the difference, and it can't be helped."
"But it can be helped, Evelyn. You've been living by yourself, spending whole days and nights alone, and you've been suffering from want of sleep—something had to happen; but now that it has happened you will get quite well, and if you had only done what I asked you before—if we had been married—I"
"Don't let us talk about it, Owen; you don't understand how different I am, how impossible—I—don't want to be unkind, you have been very good to me always; and, understanding you as I seem to understand you now, I am sorry you should have made such a bad choice, and that I was not more satisfactory."
"But you are perfectly satisfactory, Evelyn. If I am satisfied, who should have the right to grumble? The pain of losing you is better than the pleasure of winning anybody else.... So you think, Evelyn, you will never return to the stage?"
She did not answer, and, with dilated eyes, she looked through the room till Owen turned, wondering if he should see anything; and he was about to ask her if she saw the shadow again which she had spoken of a while ago, but refrained from speaking, seeing that the time was not one for questions.
"Evelyn," he said, "I will come to see you to-morrow. You are tired to-night."
"She will fall asleep again, and to-morrow will be quite well. But what a near escape!" And he lingered with Merat, feeling it were better she should know everything, yet loth to tell her that he had known all the while that Ulick was trying to persuade Evelyn to go away with him. But Merat must know that Ulick had been staying at Berkeley Square.
"I suppose Monsignor comes here to see her?"
"He has been here, Sir Owen."
Owen would have liked to question her, but it did not seem honourable to do so, and after a little talk about the danger of yielding to religious impulses, he noticed that Merat was drifting from him, evidently thinking such discussions useless.
On the landing he told her that Ulick had gone away with the opera company, and that it was not likely that he and mademoiselle would see each other again.
"But when Mr. Dean comes back to London?" Merat answered.
"Well, hardly even then; after a crisis like this she will not be anxious to see him. You know, Merat, he was staying with me at Berkeley Square; and I knew of his visits here, only it seemed to me the only way to save her from religion was by getting her to go back to the stage."
Owen took breath; he had told his story, or as much as was necessary, omitting the fact that he was an accomplice in the love-making which had led to attempted suicide.
"You don't think I was right?"
"Well, Sir Owen, you see, I don't think mademoiselle will ever go back to the stage."
"You think that, Merat? Well, then, the only thing to save her from religion is marriage. I don't mind telling you, nor is there any need to tell you—you must know—that I have always wanted her to be my wife, only she would not marry me, and for some reason impossible to get at."
"Mademoiselle is like nobody else; elle avait toujours son idee."
"Parfaitement, comme disent les paysannes de chez vous, d'une bete qui ne ressemble pas au troupeau et qui allait toujours."
"Oui, mademoiselle a eu toujours son idee. So Sir Owen thinks it was fear of going back to the stage that persuaded mademoiselle to—"
"Something like that, Merat. She liked Mr. Dean."
"But you are first in her thoughts, Sir Owen."
"That isn't astonishing. We have known each other so long. Now, after what has happened, perhaps she will think differently about marriage, do you understand, Merat. She may think differently to-morrow, for instance, and it would be better for all of us—for you, for myself, for her. Don't you agree?"
"Well, Sir Owen, there is nothing I should like more than to see mademoiselle married, only—"
"Only you don't think she'll marry me?"
"Comme monsieur a dit, elle a eu toujours son idee."
"But after the great shock surely she will see that marriage is the only way." Owen continued to talk of marriage a little while longer, and all the way home his thoughts ran on his chance of persuading Evelyn to marry him. It did not seem possible that she could refuse after the shock. The chances were all with him: he would catch her in a moment when her faith in religion would be weakened, for she must see that it had not saved her from attempted suicide; all the chances were in his favour, and he hardly doubted at all he would be able to persuade her to marry him. Once she agreed she would carry it out; nothing she hated as much as any alteration of plan.
His mind wandered back into the past years, and he recalled little facts significant of her character. However loud the storm she would cross the Channel, though there was no reason for it—merely, as she said, because it had been arranged to cross that day. He could remember the dress she wore on that occasion, and the expression of her face. Other instances equally trivial floated into his mind, every one strangely vivid, delighting him because they were characteristic of her. If he could only get her to say she would marry him. It would be unnecessary to explain why he had sent Ulick to her. Or he might explain. It didn't matter. Ulick would pass out of their lives, and all this miserable business would be forgotten.
The quickest way of being married was in a registry office, but would Evelyn look upon a civil marriage as sufficient? Once the civil marriage was an accomplished fact, she could be married afterwards in Church, even in a Catholic church; he would go there if it pleased her to go. Besides, Evelyn really looked upon marriage more as a civil than as a religious obligation. His thoughts continued to chatter, keeping him up late, till long after midnight, and awaking him early. And the sun seemed to him to have dawned on his wedding day. But even if they were to be married in a registry office a best man would be required. So his thoughts went to Harding, whom he knew to be in London. But Harding would be busy with his writing until the afternoon, and Owen strode about Bond Street, visiting the shops of various picture dealers, welcoming any acquaintance whom he happened to meet, walking to the end of the street with him, and spending the last hour—from three to four—in the National Gallery, whither he had gone to see some new acquisitions. But the new pictures did not interest him. "My thoughts are elsewhere."
And turning from the new Titian, it seemed to him that he might drive to Victoria Street; Harding's work must be over for the day.
"My dear Harding, you don't mind my interrupting you?" And he envied his friend's interest in his manuscripts when the writer put them away.
"You are not disturbing me; my secretary didn't come to-day, and everything is habit. I can no longer write except by dictation."
"If I had known that I would have called in the morning."
"Again some drama in which Evelyn Innes is concerned," Harding said to himself.
"Harding, I have come to ask your advice; you'll give me the very best. But you will have to hear the whole story."
"Well, I am a story-teller, and like to hear stories."
Owen told him how he had met Ulick Dean at Innes', and had invited him to stop at Berkeley Square, and how gradually the idea that he could make use of Ulick in order to tempt Evelyn back to the stage had come into his mind. Anything to save her from religion, from Monsignor.
Owen caught Harding looking at him from under his shaggy eyebrows, and anger had begun to colour his cheeks when Harding said:
"Don't you remember, Asher, coming here a couple of years ago, and—"
"Yes, I know. You predicted that Ulick Dean and I would become friends, and you are right; we did."
"And you preferred that Evelyn should be his mistress rather than that she shall go over to Monsignor?"
"I am not ashamed to confess I did; anything seemed better—but there is no use arguing the point. What I have come to tell you is that rather than go away with him she tried to kill herself." And he told Harding the story.
"What an extraordinary story! But nothing is extraordinary in human nature. What we consider the normal never happens. Nature's course is always zigzag, and no one can predict a human action."
"Well, then, my good friend, when you have done philosophising—I don't mean to be rude, but you see my nerves have been at strain for the last four-and-twenty hours; you will excuse me. My notion now is that everything has happened for the best." And he confided to Harding his hopes of being able to persuade Evelyn to marry him. "Only by marriage can she be saved, and I think I can persuade her." And he babbled about her appearance last night after her long sleep, comparing her with the portrait in his room. The painter had omitted nothing of her character; all that had happened he read into the picture—the restless spiritual eyes, and the large voluptuous mouth, and the small high temples which Leonardo would like to draw. The painting of this picture was as illusive as Evelyn herself, the treatment of the reddish hair and the grey background.
And Harding listened, saying, "So this is the end."
"You think she will marry me?"
"Everything in nature is unexpected, that is all I can tell you. Art is logic, Nature incoherency."
"Well, let us hope that Nature will be a little more coherent to-morrow than she was last night, and that Evelyn will do the right thing. Women generally marry when it is pressed upon them sufficiently, don't you think so, Harding?"
"I hope it will be so, since you desire it."
"And you will be my best man, won't you?"
"I shall be only too pleased. Now, if you wait for me while I change my boots we'll go out together." And the two men crossed the Green Park talking of the great moral laxity of the time they lived in; whereas in the eighteenth century men were even accused of boasting of their successes, now the conditions were reversed, men never admitting themselves to be anything else but virtuous; women, on the contrary, publishing their liaisons, and taking little pleasure in them until they were known to everybody.
"Liaisons have become as official as marriages. Who doesn't know—" And Harding mentioned a number of celebrated 'affairs' which had been going on for ten, some twenty years. "The real love affair of her ladyship now is probably some little tenor or drawing-master, and Cecil's a little milliner; but her ladyship and Cecil are forced to keep up appearances, for if they didn't who would talk about them any more?"
"You should write that as a short story," Owen suggested. And the two friends began to argue as to the number of lovers which fell to the lot of fashionable women, from the age of twenty-three to fifty. Two or three ladies were mentioned whose liaisons reached a couple of hundred, and there was another about whom they were not agreed, for some of her liaisons had lasted so long that Owen did not believe she had had more than fifty lovers.
"It is impossible to imagine any time for a young man more propitious than the present, or any society more agreeable than London. Morals, as the newspapers would say, are in abeyance, conscience is looked upon as pedantic, especially in women, and unbecoming." As the two walked up St. James' Street together, Harding noticed that Owen, notwithstanding his chatter about morals, was thinking of Evelyn, and took very little interest in the display of the season—in the slim nobility of England, fresh from Oxford, all in frock coats for the first time, delighting in canes, and deerskin gloves, in collars and ties, the newest fashion, going down the street in pairs, turning into their clubs, lifting their hats to the women who drove past in victorias and electric broughams.
"Never were women more charming than they are now," Owen said, in order not to appear too much immersed in his own thoughts, and he picked a woman out, pretending to be interested in her. "That one leaning a little to the left, her white dog sitting beside her."
"Like a rose in Maytime."
"Rather an orchid in a crystal glass."
Harding accepted the correction.
"Do you know who she is, Harding?"
The question was a thoughtless one, for no one knows the whole of the peerage, not even Harding, and it was painful for him to admit that he did not know the lady, who happened to be an earl's daughter— somebody he really should have known. Not having been born a peer himself, he had, as a friend once said, resolved to make amends for the mistake in his birth by never knowing anybody who hadn't a title. But this criticism was not a just one; Harding was not a snob. It has already been explained that love of order and tradition were part of his nature; the reader remembers, no doubt, Harding's idiosyncrasies, and how little interested he was in writers, and painters, avoiding always the society of such people. But his face brightened presently, for a very distinguished woman bowed to him, and he was glad to tell Owen he was going to stay with her in the autumn. The Duchess had just returned from Palestine, and it was beginning to be whispered she had gone there with a young man. The talk turned again on the morality of London, and exciting stories were told of a fracas which had occurred between two well-known men. So their desks had been broken open, and packets of love letters abstracted. New scandals were about to break to blossom, other scandals had been nipped in the bud.
Harding said nothing wittier had been said for many generations than the mot credited to a young girl, who had described a ball given that season by the women of forty as "The Hags' Hop." Somebody else had called it "The Roaring Forties." Which was the better description of the two? "The Roaring Forties" seemed a little pretentious, and preference was given to the more natural epigram, "The Hags' Hop."