"So it is you, Evelyn. Let me look at you." And, holding both her hands, he stood looking into the face which he had expected to find so much changed that he hardly found it changed at all, his eyes passing over, almost without notice, the white hairs among the red, and the wrinkles about the eyes and forehead, which, however, became more apparent when she smiled. His touch was more conclusive of disappointment than his eyes; her hands seemed harder than they used to be, the knuckles had thickened, and, not altogether liking his scrutiny, she laughed, withdrawing her hands.
"Where is your valet, Owen?"
It was then that he saw that her teeth had aged a little, yellowed a little; a dark spot menaced the loss of one of the eye-teeth if not attended to at once. But her figure seemed the same, and to get a back view he dropped his stick. No, the convent had not bent her; a tall, erect figure was set off to advantage by a dark blue linen dress, and the small, well-reared head and its roll of thick hair by the blue straw hat trimmed with cornflowers.
"Her appearance is all right; the vent must be in her mind," he said, preparing himself for a great disillusionment as soon as their talk passed out of the ordinary ruts.
"My valet? I didn't bring him. You might not be able to put him up."
"But is there any one to carry my bag? I'll carry it myself if you don't live too far from here."
"About a mile. We can call at the inn and tell them to send a fly for your bag—if you don't mind the walk."
"Mind the walk—and you for companionship? Evelyn, dear, it is delightful to find myself walking with you, and in the country," he added, looking round.
"The country is prettier farther on."
Owen looked round without, however, being able to give his attention to the landscape.
"Prettier farther on? But how long have you been here?"
"Nearly two years now. And you—when did you return?"
"How did you know I was away?"
"You didn't write."
"I returned yesterday."
"Yesterday? You only read yesterday my letter written six months ago."
"We have so much to talk about, Evelyn, so much to learn from each other."
"The facts will appear one by one quite naturally. Tell me, weren't you surprised to hear I had left the convent? And tell me, weren't you a little disappointed?"
"Disappointed, my dear Evelyn? Should I have wired to you, and come down here if—. It seemed as if the time would never pass."
"I don't mean that you aren't glad to see me. I can see you are. But admit that you were disappointed that I hadn't succeeded—"
"I see what you mean. Well, I was disappointed that you were disappointed; I admit so much." And, walking up the sunny road, he wondered how it was that she had been able to guess what his thoughts were on reading her letter. After all, he was not such a brute as he had fancied himself, and her divination relieved his mind of the fear that he lacked natural feeling, since she had guessed that a certain feeling of disappointment was inevitable on hearing that she had not been able to follow the chosen path. But how clever of her! What insight!
"I hope you don't misunderstand. I cannot put into words the pleasure—."
"I quite understand. Even if we turn out of our path sometimes, we don't like others to vacillate... conversions, divagations, are not sympathetic."
"Quite true. The man who knows, or thinks he knows, whither he is going commands our respect, and we are willing to follow—"
"Even though he is the stupider?"
"Which is nearly always." And they ceased talking, each agreeably surprised by the other's sympathy.
It was on his lips to say, "We are both elderly people now, and must cling to each other." But no one cares to admit he is elderly, and he did not speak the words for his sake and for hers, and he refrained from asking her further questions about the convent; for he had come to see a woman, loved for so many years, and who would always be loved by him, and not to gratify his curiosity; he asked why she had chosen this distant country to live in.
"Distant country? You call this country distant? You, who have only just come back—"
"Returned yesterday from the Amur."
"From the Amur? I thought I was the amour."
"So you are. I am speaking now of a river in Manchuria."
'Manchuria? But why did you go there?"
"Oh, my dear Evelyn, we have so much to tell each other that it seems hopeless. Can you tell me why you—no, don't answer, don't try to tell why you went to the convent; but tell me why you came to live in this neighbourhood?"
"Well, the land is very cheap here, and I wanted a large piece of ground."
"Oh, so you've settled here?"
"Yes; I've built a cottage... But I haven't been able to lay the garden out yet."
"Built a cottage?"
"What is there surprising in that?"
"Only this, that I returned home resolved to do some building at Riversdale—a gate lodge," and he talked to her of the gate lodge he had in mind, until he became aware of the incongruity. "But I didn't come here to talk to you of gate lodges. Tell me, Evelyn, how do you spend your time?"
"I go to town every morning to teach singing; I have singing-classes."
"So you are a singing-mistress now. Well, everything comes round at last. Your mother—"
"Yes, everything comes round again," she said, sighing; "and the neighbourhood isn't inconvenient. There is a good train in the morning and a good train in the evening; the one you came by is a wretched one, but if you had come by the later train you would have seen less of me. You're not sorry?"
"My dear Evelyn, don't be affected. I'm trying to take it all in. You have retreated from the convent, and are now a singing-mistress. Have you lost your voice?"
"I'm afraid a good deal of it." And, pointing with her parasol, she said, "There is the inn; I will tell them to fetch your bag."
As she went towards the "Stag and Hounds" he congratulated himself that the earlier woman still subsisted in the later, there could be no doubt of that, and in sufficient proportion for her to create a new life, and out of nothing but her own wits, for if she had escaped from the convent with her intelligence, or part of it, she hadn't escaped with her money; the nuns had got her money safe enough. She would be loth to admit it, but it could not be otherwise. So out of her own wits she had negotiated the purchase of a large piece of ground (she had said a large piece), and built a cottage, and a very pretty cottage too, he was sure of that; and his face assumed a blank expression, for he was away with her in some past time, in the midst of an architectural discussion. But returning gradually from this happy past, her intelligence seemed to him like some strong twine or wire! "How clever of her to have discovered this country where land was cheap!" And he looked round, seeing its beauty because she lived in it. Above all, to have found work to do, no easy matter when one has torn oneself and one's past to shreds, as she had done. No doubt she was making quite a nice little income by teaching; and, in increasing admiration, he walked round the dusty inn and the triangular piece of grass in front of it. A game of bat-and-trap was in progress, and he conceived a love for that old English game, though till now he thought it stupid and vulgar. The horse-pond appealed to him as a picturesque piece of water, and, standing back from it, he admired the rows of trees on the further bank—pollards of some kind—and, still more, the reflections of these trees in the dark green water; and his eyes followed the swallows, dipping and gliding through the moveless air. A spire showed between the trees, a girl and some children were gathering wild flowers in the hedgerows. How like England! But here was Evelyn!
"Did you ever see a more beautiful evening? And aren't you glad that the evening in which I see you again is—one would like to call it beatific, only I don't like the word; it reminds me of the convent you have left."
"One goes away in order that one may return home, Owen."
"Quite true; and all my travels were necessary for me to admire your long, red road winding gracefully up the hillside between tall hedges, full of roses, convolvulus, and ivy, under trees throwing a pleasant shade." And coming suddenly upon an extraordinary fragrance, he threw up his head, and, with dilated nostrils, cried out, "Honeysuckle!"
"Yes, isn't it sweet?" she said. And, standing under a cottage porch, he thought of the days gone by; and their memory was as overpowering as the vine.
"I have brought you no present."
"Owen, you only returned yesterday."
"All the same, I should have brought you something. A bunch of wild flowers I can give you, and I will begin my nosegay with a branch of this honeysuckle. There are dog-roses in the hedges. I used to send you expensive flowers, but times have changed." And he insisted on returning to the brook, having seen, so he said, some forget-me-nots among the sedges. And with these and some sprays of a little pink flower, which he told her was the cuckoo-flower, they walked, telling and asking each other the names of different wayside weeds till they arrived at the cottage.
"There is my cottage."
And Owen saw, some twenty or thirty yards from the roadside, the white gables of a cottage thrusting over against a space of blue sky. Flights of swallows flew shrieking past, and the large elms on the right threw out branches so invitingly that Owen thought of long hours passed in the shade with books and music; but, despite these shady elms, the cottage wore a severe air—a severe cottage it was, if a cottage can be severe. Owen was glad Evelyn hadn't forgotten a verandah.
"A verandah always suggests a Creole. But there is no Creole in you."
"You wouldn't have thought my cottage severe if you hadn't known that I had come from a convent, Owen. You like it, all the same."
Owen fell to praising the cottage which he didn't like.
"On one thing I did insist—that the hall was to be the principal room. What do you think of it? And tell me if you like the chimney-piece. There are going to be seats in the windows. Of course, I haven't half finished furnishing." And she took him round the room, telling how lucky she had been picking up that old oak dresser with handles, everything complete for five pounds ten, and the oak settle standing in the window for seven.
"I can't consider the furniture till I have put these flowers in water." So he fetched a vase and filled it, and when his nosegay had been sufficiently admired, he said "But, Evelyn, I must give you some flower-vases.... And you have no writing-table."
"Not a very good one. You see, I have had to buy so many things."
"You must let me give you one. The first time you come up to London we will go round the shops."
"You'll want to buy me an expensive piece, unsuitable to my cottage, won't you, Owen?" She led him through the dining-room past the kitchen, into which they peeped.
"Eliza's cooking an excellent dinner!" he said. And they went through the kitchen into the garden.
"You see what a piece of ground I have. We are enclosing it." And Owen saw two little boys painting a paling. "Now, do you like the green? It was too green, but this morning I put a little yellow into it; it is better now." They walked round the acre of rough ground overlooking the valley, Owen saying that Evelyn was quite a landed proprietor.
"But who are these boys? You have quite a number," he said, coming upon three more digging, or trying to dig.
"They are digging the celery-bed."
"But one is a hunchback, he can't do much work; and that one has a short leg; the third boy seems all right, but he isn't more than seven or eight. I am afraid you won't have very much celery this year." They passed through the wicket into the farther end of Evelyn's domain, which part projected on the valley, and there they came upon two more children, one of whom was blind.
"This poor child—what work can he do?"
"You'd be surprised; and his ear is excellent. We're thinking of putting him to piano-tuning."
"We are thinking?"
"Yes, Owen; these little boys live here with me in the new wing. I'm afraid they are not very comfortable there, but they don't complain."
"Seven little crippled boys, whom you look after!"
"Six—the seventh is my servant's son; he is delicate, but he isn't a cripple. We don't call him her son here, she is nominally his aunt."
"You look after these boys, and go up to London to earn their living?"
"I earn sufficient to run my little establishment."
As they returned to the cottage, one of the boys thrust his spade into the ground.
"Please, miss, may we stay up a little longer this evening? It won't be dark till nine or half-past, miss."
"Yes, you can stay up." And Owen and Evelyn went into the house. "I do hope, Owen, that Eliza's cooking will not seem to you too utterly undistinguished."
"You have forgotten, Evelyn, that I have been living on hunter's fare for the last two years."
At that moment Eliza put the soup-tureen on the table.
"Why, the soup is excellent! An excellent soup, Eliza!"
"There is a chicken coming, Sir Owen, and Miss Innes told me to be sure to put plenty of butter on it before putting it into the oven, that that was the way you liked it cooked."
"I am glad you did, Eliza; the buttering of the chicken is what we always overlook in England. We never seem to understand the part that good butter plays in cooking; only in England does any one talk of such a thing as cooking-butter." And he detained Eliza, who fidgeted before him, thinking of the vegetables waiting in the kitchen, of what a strange man he was, while he told her that his cook, a Frenchman, always insisted on having his butter from France, costing him, Owen, nearly three shillings a pound.
"Law, Sir Owen!" And Eliza went back to the kitchen to fetch her vegetables, and Evelyn laughed, saying:
"You have succeeded in impressing her."
"You have cooked the chicken excellently well, Eliza, and the butter you used must have been particularly good," he said, when the servant returned with the potatoes and brussels sprouts. But he was anxious for her to leave the room so that he might ask Evelyn if she remembered the chickens they used to eat in France.
"Evelyn, dear, shall we ever be in France again?"
"My poor little boys, what would happen to them while I was away? For you, who care about sweets, Owen, I'm afraid Eliza will seem a little behind the times; afraid of a failure, we decided on a rice pudding."
"Excellent; I should like nothing better."
Owen was in good humour, and she asked him if he had brought something to smoke—a cigar.
"Some cigarettes. I have given up smoking cigars, stinking things!"
"But you used to be so fond of cigars, Owen?"
"Oh, a long time ago. Didn't you notice that man in the trap in front of us as we came from the station? That vile cigar, the whole evening smelt of it."
"My dear Owen!"
Then he got up from the table and went to the piano and waited there for Evelyn, who was talking to Eliza about the purchase of another bed and where it should be placed in the dormitory, a matter so trivial that a dozen words should suffice to settle it, so he thought; but they kept on talking, and when Eliza left the room she took up some coarse sewing. To bring her to the piano he struck a few notes, saying:
"The Muses are awake, Evelyn."
"No, Owen, no; I am in no mood for singing."
When he asked her if she never sang, the answer was, "Sometimes I go to the piano when I am restless; I sing a little, yes, a little into my muff; you know what I mean. But this evening I would sooner talk. You said we had so much to talk about." He admitted she knew what his feelings were better than he knew them himself. It would be a pity to waste this evening in music (this evening was consecrate to themselves), and from talking of Elizabeth and Isolde they drifted into remembrances of the old days so dear to him. But he had always reproached Evelyn with a fault, a certain restlessness; it was rare for her to settle herself down to a nice quiet chat, and this was a serious fault in a woman, a fault in everybody, for a nice quiet chat is one of the best things in life. He was prone to admit, however, that when the mood for a chat was upon her nobody could talk or listen as she could by a fireside. Yielding to her humour, like a bird she would talk on and on with an enthusiasm and an interest in what she was saying which made her a wonder and a delight; and seeing that by some good fortune he had come upon her in one of these rare humours, he did not regret her refusal to sing, and watched her at his feet listening to him with an avidity which was enchanting, making him feel that there was nothing in the world but he and she. She had once said, enchanting him with the admission, for it was so true, that if she were alone with a man for an evening he must hate her very much if he was not to fall in love with her. On reminding her of her saying she admitted that she had forgotten it. It seemed to him that his dead mistress had come to life again. Her eyes shone with something of their old light, and he said to himself, "The convent has faded out of her mind and out of her face." Interpenetrated with her sweet atmosphere, which had for ever haunted him, he breathed like one who hears music going by. Every moment was a surprise. The next great surprise being the discovery that the convent had not quelled the daring of her thought—it came and went swallow-like, as before.
"Because there were no men in the convent. Though I am virtuous, Owen, and must remain so, I can't live without men. If I am deprived of men's society for a few days I wilt."
The picture of herself painted in these few words, Evelyn wilting amid the treble of the nuns like a plant in an uncongenial soil, delighted Owen, enabling him to forget the sad fact that she was virtuous and would have to remain so. For she was still his Evelyn, a hero worshipper, with man for her hero always, even though it were a priest. A moment of the thought caused him a sigh, but he was in the seventh heaven when she told him the first letter she had written when she left the convent was for him. He had maligned her in thinking the past had no meaning for her. For who was so faithful to her friends? Again he forgot everything but himself sitting by her, seeing her bright eyes, listening to her voice, absorbed by her atmosphere; and talking and listening by turns he was carried away in a delicious oblivion of everything except the sensation of the moment. It seemed to him like floating down the current of some enchanted river; but even in enchanted rivers there are eddies, otherwise the enchantment of the current and the flowery banks under which it flows would become monotonous, and presently Owen was caught in an eddy. The stream flowed gaily while he told her of his experience in the desert; she was interested in the gazelles and in the eagles, though qualifying the sport as cruel, and in his synthesis of the desert—a desire for a drink of clean water. Nor did she resent his allusion to his meeting with Ulick at Dowlands, interrupting him, however, to tell him that Ulick had married Louise.
Louise! What an evocation of past times was in this name! And their talk passed into a number of little sallies.
"Well, he'll spend a great deal of her money for her."
"No, he is doing pretty well for himself."
It seemed like listening to a fairy tale to hear that Ulick was doing very well for himself; and travelling back to the convent, by those mysterious roads which conversation follows, Owen learned that it was at the end of the first year of her postulancy that Evelyn had heard of her father's illness. Up to that moment he had not noticed a change in her humour, not until he began to question her as to her reason for suddenly returning from Rome to the convent. It was then that a strange look came into her face; she got up from her chair and walked about the room, gloomy and agitated, sitting down in a corner like one overcome, whelmed in some extraordinary trouble. When he went to her she crossed the room, settling herself in another corner, tucking herself away into it. His question had awakened some terrific memory; and perforce he did not dare to ask her what her trouble was, none that she could confide to him, that was clear, and he began to think that it would be better to leave her for a while. He could go out and speak with the little boys, for a memory like the one which had laid hold of her must pass away suddenly, and his absence would help to pass it. If she were not better when he returned it would be well for him to seek some excuse to sleep at the inn, for her appearance in the corner frightened him; and standing by the window, looking into the quiet evening, he railed against his folly. Any one but himself would have guessed that there was some grave reason for her life in the convent. Such an end as this to the evening that had begun so well! "My God, what am I to do!" And, turning impulsively, he was about to fling himself at her feet, beseeching of her to confide her trouble, but something in her appearance prevented him, and in dismay he wondered what he had said to provoke such a change. What had been said could not be unsaid, the essential was that the ugly thought upon her like some nightmare should be forgotten. Now what could he say to win her out of this dreadful gloom? If he were to play something!
A very few bars convinced him that music would prove no healer to her trouble. To lead her thoughts out of this trouble—was there no way? What had they been talking about? The bullfinches which she had taught to whistle the motives of "The Ring"; but such a laborious occupation could only have been undertaken for some definite purpose, to preserve her sanity, perhaps, and it would be natural for a woman to resent any mention of mental trouble such as she had suffered from on her return from Rome. Something had happened to her in Rome—what? And he sat for a long time, or what seemed to him a long time, perplexed, fearing to speak lest he might say something to irritate her, prolonging her present humour.
"If I had only known, Evelyn, if I had only known!" he said, unable to resist the temptation of speech any longer. As she did not answer, he added, after a moment's pause, "I think I shall go out and talk to those boys." But on his way to the door he stopped. "I wish that brig had gone down."
"That brig? What do you mean?"
"The boat which took me round the world and brought me back, and which I am going to sell, my travelling days being over." Seeing she was interested, he continued to tell her how the Medusa had been declared no longer seaworthy, and of his purchase of another yacht.
"But you said you wished the brig had gone down."
And, seizing the pretext, he began to tell her of the first thing that came into his head; how he had sailed some thousands of miles from the Cape to the Mauritius, explaining the mysteries of great circle sailing, and why they had sailed due south, though the Mauritius was in the north-west, in order that they might catch the trade winds. Before reaching these there were days when the sailors did little else but shift the sails, trying to catch every breeze that fluttered about them, tacking all the while, with nothing to distract them but the monotonous albatross. The birds would come up the seas, venturing within a few yards of the vessel, and float away again, becoming mere specks on the horizon. Again the specks would begin to grow larger, and the birds would return easily on moveless wings.
"When one hears the albatross flies for thousands of miles one wonders how it could do this without fatigue; but one wonders no longer when one has seen them fly, for they do not weary themselves by moving their wings, their wings never move, they float month after month until the mating instinct begins to stir in them, and then in couples they float down the seas to the pole. There is nothing so wonderful as the flight of a bird; and it seemed to me that I never could weary of watching it. But I did weary of the albatross, and one night, after praying that I might never see one again, I was awakened by the pitching of the vessel, by the rattling of ropes, and the clashing of the blocks against swaying spars. I had been awakened before by storms at sea. You remember, Evelyn, when I returned to Dulwich—I had been nearly wrecked off the coast of Marseilles?" Evelyn nodded. "But the sensation was not like anything I had ever experienced at sea before, and interested and alarmed I climbed, catching a rope, steadying myself, reaching the poop somehow."
"'We're in the trades, Sir Owen!' the man at the helm shouted to me. 'We're making twelve or fourteen knots an hour; a splendid wind!'
"The sails were set and the vessel leaned to starboard, and then the rattle of ropes began again and the crashing of the blocks as she leaned over to port. Such surges, you have no idea, Evelyn, threatening the brig, but slipping under the keel, lifting her to the crest of the wave. Caught by the wind for a moment she seemed to be driven into the depths, her starboard grazing the sea or very nearly. The spectacle was terrific; the lone stars and the great cloud of canvas, the whole seeming such a little thing beneath it, and no one on deck but the helmsman bound to the helm, and well for him—a slip would have cost him his life, he would have been carried into the sea. An excellent sailor, yet even he was alarmed at the canvas we carried, so he confided to me; but my skipper knew his business, a first-rate man that skipper, the best sailor I have ever met. There are few like him left, for the art of sailing is nearly a lost art, and the difficulty of getting men who can handle square sails is extraordinary. But this one, the last of an old line, came up, crying out quite cheerfully, "Sir Owen, we're in luck indeed to have caught the trades so soon."
"Day after day, night after night, we flew like a seagull. 'Record sailing,' my skipper often cried to me, telling me the number of knots we had made in the last four-and-twenty hours."
"And the albatrosses, I hope you didn't catch one?"
"One day the skipper suggested that we should, the breast feathers being very beautiful; and, the wind having slackened a little, a hook was baited with a piece of salt pork, which the hungry bird seized. As soon as he was drawn on board he flapped about more helpless than anything I have ever seen, falling into everything he could fall into, biting several of the crew. You know the sonnet in which Baudelaire compares the bird on the wing to the poet with the Muse beside him, and the albatross on deck to the poet in the drawing-room. You remember the sonnet, how the sailors teased the bird with their short black pipes."
"But the breast feathers?"
"We didn't kill the bird; I wouldn't allow him to be killed. We threw him overboard, and down into the sea he went like a log."
Evelyn asked if he were drowned.
"Albatrosses don't drown. He swam for a time and fluttered, and at last succeeded in getting on the wing. I was very glad to see him float away, and was still more glad a few minutes afterwards, for before the bird was out of sight a sign appeared in the heavens, and I began to think of the story of 'The Ancient Mariner.' You know—"
"Yes, I know the story, how all his misfortunes arose from the killing of an albatross. But what was the sign?"
"A dull yellow like a rainbow, only more pointed, and my skipper said to me, 'Sir Owen, that is one of them hurricanes; if I knew which way she was going I'd try to get out of the way as fast as I could, for we shall be torn to pieces in a very few minutes.' I assure you it was an anxious moment watching that red, yellow light in the sky; it grew fainter, and eventually disappeared, and the skipper said, 'We have just missed it.' A few days afterwards we came into the Mauritius, and the first thing we saw was a great vessel in the ports, her iron masts twisted and torn just like hairpins, Evelyn. She had been caught in the tornado, a great three-masted vessel.... We should have gone down like an open boat."
"And after you left the Mauritius your destination was—"
"Borneo, Sumatra, the Malay Archipelago."
"But what were you seeking in the Malay Archipelago?"
"What does one ever seek? One seeks, no matter what; and, not being able to see you, Evelyn, I thought I would try to see everything in the world."
"But there is nothing to see in Borneo?"
"Well, you will laugh when I tell you, but it seemed to me that I'd like to see the orang-outang in his native forests. I had been to Greece, and I knew the Italian Renaissance—"
"And after so much art to see an orang-outang in a tree would be a new experience, Owen."
"Soon there will be no more higher apes, if medical science continues to progress; no more gorillas or chimpanzees."
"In a world without gorillas life will not be worth living. I quite understand."
"I should be sorry for anything to disappear. The poor mother is speared, for she will fight for her little one; ugly as he may be in our eyes he is beautiful in hers."
"But you didn't do this, Owen?"
"No; after two or three days in a forest one wearies of it; and after all it wasn't very likely that I should have got a snapshot. The camera is my weapon."
"And after the orang-outang which you failed to meet?"
"I spent some time in Japan."
"Well, then, I went to Manchuria, to the Amur, a country almost forgotten." And he told her how the eagles drove the wild sheep over the precipices, and of a wolf hunt with eagles."
"You have seen now everything the world has to show?"
"Very nearly, and after seeing it all I come back to the one thing that interests me."
Tears rose to Evelyn's eyes; such an avowal of love a woman hardly ever hears.
The voices of the children playing in the garden reached their ears, and Evelyn said:
"They should have been in bed long ago, but, Owen, your being here makes everything so exceptional."
"Really? I'm glad of that," he answered shyly, fearing to say anything which would carry her thoughts back among unpleasant memories. But it was quite safe to speak of her love of the poor, and of poor children. "What inspired you to start this home, Evelyn?"
"Well, you see, I had to have something to work for, some interest; and not having any children of my own... They really must go to bed."
"But, Evelyn, why will you interrupt our talk? Let us go on talking; tell me about the convent. Your adventures are so much more wonderful than mine. You haven't half told me what there is to tell—the Prioress and the sub-Prioress, you never liked her?"
A smile gathered about her lips, and he asked her what she was smiling at; and it was with some difficulty he persuaded her to tell him about Sister Winifred and Father Daly."
"Counterparts! counterparts!" he said. "And Cecilia giving the whole show away because her counterpart was a dwarf! How could you live among such babies?"
"After all, Owen, are they any more babies than we are? Our interests are just as unreal."
"Your interest here is not as unreal; their hope is to build a wall of prayer between a sinful world and the wrath of God. Such silliness passes out of perception."
"Your perception? We come into the world with different perceptions; but do not let us drift into argument, not this evening, Owen."
"Quite so, let us not drift into argument.... I am sorry you charged me with being disappointed that you didn't remain in the convent; you see I didn't know of the wonderful work you were doing here. Your kindness is more than a nun's kindness." But he feared his casual words might provoke her, and hastened to ask her about Sister Winifred, at length persuading her into the admission that Sister Winifred used to whip the children.
"I'm sure she liked whipping them. Women who shut themselves out from life develop cruelty. I can quite understand how she would like to hear them cry."
"Tell me more about the nuns."
"No, Owen, I wouldn't speak ill of the nuns. Don't press me to speak ill of them. You don't know, Owen, what might have become of me had it not been for the convent. I don't know what might have become of me. I might have drifted away and nothing have ever been heard of me again." A dark look gathered in her face, "vanishing like the shadow of a black wing over a sunny surface," Owen said to himself, "Now what has frightened her? Not her love of me, for that love she always looked on as legitimate." He remembered how she used to cling to that view, while admitting it to be contrary to the teaching of the Church. Did she still cling to this belief? "Probably, for we do hot change our instinctive beliefs," he said, and longed to question her; but not daring, and, thinking a lighter topic of conversation desirable, he told her he would like to teach Eliza how to make coffee.
"There is only one way of making coffee" he said, and he had learned the secret from a friend, who had always the best coffee. He had known him as a bachelor, he had known him as a married man, and afterwards as a divorced man, but in these different circumstances the coffee remained the same. So he said, "My good friend how is it that your cooks make equally good coffee?" And the friend answered that it was himself who had taught every cook how to make coffee; it was only a question of boiling water. And, still talking of the making of coffee, they wandered into the garden and stood watching the little boys all arow, their heads tucked in for Eliza's son to jump over them, and they were laughing, enjoying their play, inspired, no doubt, by the dusk and the mystery of yon great moon rising out of the end of the grey valley.
"I'm afraid Jack will hurt the others, or tire them; they really must go to bed. You'll excuse me, Owen, I shall be back with you in about half an hour?"
He strolled through the wicket about the piece of waste ground, thinking of the change that had come over her when he spoke of her return from Rome. Possibly she had met Ulick in Rome and had fled from him, or some other man. But he was not in the least curious to inquire out her secret, sufficient it was for him to know that her mood had passed. How suddenly it had passed! And how fortunate his mention of the yacht! Her attention had suddenly been distracted, now she was as charming as before... gone to look after those little boys, to see that their beds were comfortable, and that their night-shirts had buttons on them. Every day in London their living was earned in tiresome lessons to pupils who had no gift for singing, but had to be encouraged for the sake of their money, which was spent on this hillside.
"Such is the mysterious way of life. Our rewards are never those we anticipate, but we are rewarded."
The money he had spent on her had brought her to this hillside to attend on six cripples, destitute little boys. After all what better reward could he have hoped for? But a great part of his love of her had been lost. Never again would he take her hand or kiss her again. So his heart filled with a natural sadness and a great tenderness, and he stood watching the smoke rising from the cottagers' chimneys straight into the evening air. She had told him that one of her little boys had come from that village, and to hear how the child had been adopted he must scramble down this rough path. The moment was propitious for a chat with the cottagers, whom he would find sitting at their doors, the men smoking their pipes, the women knitting or gossiping, "the characteristic end of every day since the beginning of the world," he said, "and it will be pleasant to read her portrait in these humble minds."
"A fine evening, my man?"
"Fine enough, sir; the wheat rick will be up before the Goodwood races, the first time for the last thirty years." And the talk turned on the price of corn and on the coming harvest, and then on Miss Innes, who sometimes came down to see them and sang songs for the children.
"So she sings for the children? She used to do that in Italy."
"Has she been in Italy, sir?"
To interest them he told how Evelyn had sung in all the opera houses of Europe; and then, fearing his confessions were indiscreet, he asked the woman nearest him if she was the mother of the little boy Evelyn had taken to live with her.
"No, sir, 'e is Mrs. Watney's son in the next cottage." And Owen moved away to interrogate Mrs. Watney, who told him that her son was not a cripple.
"'Is limbs be sound enough, only the poor little chap 'ad the small-pox badly when he was four, and 'as been blind ever since. A extraordinary 'appy child; and Miss Innes has promised to 'ave him taught the pianna."
"A piano-tuner must have a good ear, and Miss Innes says his ear is perfect. He'll whistle anything he hears."
Owen bade the cottagers good-night and climbed up the hillside again. The lights were burning in the boy's dormitory, so Evelyn must still be there, and finding a large stone among the rough ground where he could sit he waited for her, interested in the round moon, looking like the engraved dial of some great clock, and in the grey valley and the sullen sky passing overhead into a dim blueness, in which he could detect a star here and there. The evening hummed a little still, and the sounds of voices, the last sounds to die out of a landscape, became rare and faint. One by one the gossiping folk under the hill crept within doors, and Owen was so absorbed by the silence that he did not hear Evelyn approaching; and when she spoke he hardly answered her, and she, as if participating already in his emotion, stood by him, not asking for words from him, looking with him into the solitude of the valley, seeking to see beyond the veils of blue mist gathering and blotting out all detail, creeping up intimately tender. What could he say to her worth saying at such a moment? he began to ask himself; and just then a song came from a hawthorn growing by the edge of the hill, a solitary song, mysterious and strange, a passionate strain which freed their souls, till, walking about this dusky hillside, the lovers seemed to lose their bodies and to become all spirit; and they walked on in silence, speech seeming a sacrilege.
"So now you are going to settle down at Riversdale; your travels are over?"
"Yes, they are over. I shall travel no more. I didn't find what I sought."
"And what was that?"
And her words as she spoke them sounded to Owen passionate, tender, and melancholy as the nightingale; and his words, too, seemed to partake of the same passionate melancholy.
"Forgetfulness of you."
"So you wished to forget me? I am sorry."
"Sorry that I haven't forgotten you? That, Evelyn, is impossible for me to believe; it isn't human to wish ourselves forgotten."
"No, Owen, I don't wish you to forget me, I am glad you have not; but I am sorry there was any need for you to seek forgetfulness."
"And is there any need?"
"Yes, for the Evelyn you loved died years ago."
"Oh, Evelyn, don't say that; she is not dead?"
"Perhaps not altogether, a trace here and there, a slight flavour, but not a woman who could bring you happiness as you understand happiness, Owen."
"All the happiness I ever had I owe to you. How can I thank you for those ten years?"
"But you paid for them with a great deal of sorrow."
"Had it not been for you, Evelyn, I shouldn't have lived at all. How often have I told you that? I have seen all the world, and yet I have only seen one thing in the world—you."
"Owen, you mustn't speak to me like that."
"While that bird is singing you are afraid to listen to me! How passionately it sings, but how little it feels compared with what I am feeling. Why did you say that the Evelyn of old is dead?"
"Well, Owen, don't you know that we are always dying, always changing. You are in love, not with me, but with your memory of me."
"A great deal of my love is memory, of course, still—"
Words again seemed vain, foolish, even sacrilegious, so little could he convey to her of what he believed to be the truth, and they walked in silence through the fragrance of the soft night, thinking of the colour of the sky, in which the sunset was not yet quite dead. His memory of his love of this woman long ago in Dulwich, in Paris, and in all the cities and scenes they had visited together, raised him above himself; and he felt that her soul mingled with his in an ecstatic sadness beyond words, but which the nightingale sang clearly; the stars, too, sang it clearly; and they stood mute in the midst of the immortal symphony about them. "Evelyn, I love you. How wonderful our lives have been!" But what use to break the music, audible and inaudible, with such weak words? The villagers under the hill could speak as well; the bird in the bush and the stars above it were speaking for him; and he was content to listen.
The silence of the night grew more intense, there were millions of stars, small and great, and the moon now shone amidst them alone, "of different birth," divided from them for ever as he was divided from this woman, whose arm touched his as they walked through the darkness, divided for ever, unable to communicate his soul to hers. Did she understand what he was feeling—the mystery of their lives written in the stars, sung by the nightingale and breathed by the flowers? Did she understand? Had the convent rule left her sufficient sensibility to understand such simple human truths?
"How sweetly the tobacco plant smells!" she said.
"Yes, doesn't it? But what is the meaning of our story? My finding you at Dulwich—Evelyn, have you ever thought enough about it? How extraordinary that event was, extraordinary as the stars above us; my going down that evening and hearing you sing? Do you remember the look with which you greeted me—do you remember that cup of tea?"
"It was coffee."
"And then all our meetings in the garden under the cedar-tree?"
"You used to say we looked like a picture by Marcus Stone when we sat under it."
"Never mind what we looked like. Think of it! Of our journey to Paris, and my visit to Brussels to hear you sing."
"And Madame Savelli, who wouldn't let me speak to you; she said I might tire my voice."
"Yes, how I hated her and Olive that day! You sang 'Elizabeth,' and when you walked up, to the sound of flutes and clarionettes,' seemingly to the stars, there was something in the way you did it that put a fear into my heart. It was all predestined from the beginning."
"So you believe, Owen, that the end is fated, and that I was created to come back after many wanderings to help these poor little crippled boys?"
"Is that the meaning of it all, Evelyn?"
"Maybe—who knows?—that meaning as well as another." And through the dusk he could see her eyes shining with something of their old light.
"Was it fated from the beginning that I should only, meet you here to part with you again? Is that the meaning you read in the song of the nightingale, in the stare of the moon and the perfume of the garden? There is a meaning, Evelyn, in our lives for certain, but are you reading it aright?"
For a moment the meaning of their lives seemed clear to them. Life had a meaning! for a moment, they were both sure of it; they had met for something, there was a design in life, and though they were separated on earth they seemed to move in celestial circles, just as the stars moved in that great design above them, each sphere rolling on, filled with love for its sister sphere, guided and controlled each by the other, yet always apart. Owen walked thinking how, billions of years hence, all those lights might wax into one light, all souls to one soul, all ends to one end. For one moment he Height possess Evelyn's soul as he had never been able to possess it on earth... perhaps.
"I love you now just as much as I loved you before, perhaps more, for there is memory to aid me."
"You are in love with memory, not with me."
Her words went to his heart, as the thorn of the rose is said to go to the nightingale's heart, and, unable to answer her, he listened. "How wonderfully the bird sings, the interpreter of the primal melancholy from which we never escape... since the beginning of time, its interpreter."
"Is he telling his own story, or is he telling ours?"
"Both, for all love songs are as ours, made of the same intense passionate melancholy. Why is love the most melancholy of all joys? With what passionate melancholy he enchants her who is sitting in the nest close by! The origin of art is sex; woman is a reed, and our desire—"
"Hush! Listen to the nightingale! His discourse is better than yours."
"How absorbed he is in his song, stave after stave; he seems to say, 'You want more tunes? If that is all, you shall have more.' Hush!" And they listened to the rich warble, sounding so strange in the midst of the lonely country. "A love-call of three notes, which he repeats before passing into cadenzas. Hush!" The bird started again, and this time as if encouraged by the success of his last efforts.
"What flutings! What trills! What runs! Pearls and jewels scattered. Little tunes of three or four notes, casting a spell about the hillside, followed by passionate cadenzas."
Another bird answered far away out of the stillness, the same sweet strain it was; and listening, they seemed to hear the same strain within their hearts—a silent, mysterious song. All the world seemed singing the same sweet strain of melancholy, now when the moon passed out of the dusk—shining high up in the heavens, with stars above and beneath—Owen thought of some mysterious music-maker. Flocks of various coloured stars, flaming Jupiter high up in the sky, red Mars low down in the horizon, the Great Bear beautifully distinct, the polar star at an angle—the star whereby Owen used to steer. All the world seemed to be going to the same sweet strain, the soul, seemingly freed, rose to the lips, and, in her pride, sought words wherewith to tell the passionate melancholy of the night and of life. But the soul could not tell it; only the nightingale, who, without knowing it, was singing what the soul may only feel.
"The bird is telling me what your voice used to tell me long ago."
The lovers wandered through the garden, suffused with delicate scents, and Owen told her of the legend of the nightingale and the swallow, a legend coming down from some barbaric age, from a king called Pandion, who, despite his wife's beauty, fell in love with her sister, and ravished her in some town in Thessaly, the name of which Owen could not remember. Fearing, however, that his lust would reach his wife's ears, Pandion cut out the girl's tongue. This barbarous act, committed before Greece was, had been redeemed by the Grecian spirit, which had added that the girl; though without tongue to tell the cruel deed, had, nevertheless, hands wherewith to weave it. The weft of her misfortune only inspired another barbarous deed: Pandion killed both sisters and his son Italus. Again the Grecian spirit touched the legend, changing the tongueless girl into a swallow, a bird with a little cry, and fleet wings to carry its cry all over the world, and the unhappy wife into the bird "which sleeps all day and sings all night." "Sophocles," Owen said, "speaks of the nightingale as moaning all the night in ivy clusters, moaning or humming. A strange expression his seems to us, our musical sense being different from that of the antique world, if the antique world really possessed any musical sense." The lovers wandered round the house, listening to the bird's sweet singing, stopping at the hill's steep side so that they might listen better.
"Now the bird is telling of sorrows other than ours—isn't that so, Evelyn? I don't seem to recognise anything of ourselves in its song; it is singing a new song."
"Perhaps," Evelyn answered, "now it is singing the sadness of the mother under the hill for her son."
"I went to see her, she is not unhappy; she is happy that her son is With you."
"But another child died last year; and for her, if she is listening, the bird is certainly singing the death of that child."
When they had completed once more the round of the garden, the bird seemed to have again changed his intervals; a gaiety seemed to have come into his singing, and Owen said:
"Now his music is lighter; he is singing an inveigling little story, the story of first love. Look, Evelyn, do you see that boy and girl walking under the hedge with their arms entwined? They, too, have stopped to listen to the nightingale, but the song they really hear comes out of their own hearts."
Then the song changed, suddenly acquiring a strange, voluptuous accent, which carried Owen's thoughts back to a night when he had been awakened out of his sleep by a woman's voice singing, and, starting up in bed, he had listened, rousing himself sufficiently from sleep to distinguish that the voice he was listening to was Evelyn's. The song was a love-call, and, believing it to be such, he had thrown aside the curtain, and had found her leaning out of her window, singing the Star Song, not to the evening star, as in the opera, but to the morning star shining white like a diamond out of the dawning of the sky. The valley under the castle walls was submerged in mist, and the distant hillside was indistinguishable. The castle seemed to stand by the side of some frozen sea, so intense was the silence. He had always looked back upon this morning as one of the great moments of his life, and going to her room like going to some great religious rite. Each man must worship where he finds the Godhead.
"Who knows," he said to Evelyn, "that the bird in the nest close by does not listen with the same rapture—"
"As you, in the box, used to listen to me on the stage? For the comparison to hold good, I should have sung Italian music, roulades. Listen to those cadenzas!"
"How melancholy are their gaieties!"
"Yes, aren't they?" she answered. "How poignant the two notes!—with which il commence son grand air."
"But our love-call ended years ago," she said, with an accent of regret in her voice. And they walked towards the house, Owen dreading that some sudden impulse might throw her into his arms and her mind might be unhinged again, and he would lose her utterly. So he spoke to her of the first; thing that came into her mind, and what came first was a memory of Moschus's lament for Bion and the brevity of human life as contrasted with the long life of the world.
"'The mallows wither in the garden, and the green parsley—' how does it go?" And he tried to remember as they went upstairs. "'The mallows wither in the garden—' no, that is not how it begins. 'Ah me! when the mallows wither in the garden, and the green parsley, and the curled tendrils of the anise, on a later day these live again and spring in another year; but we men, we, the great and mighty, or wise, when once we have died in the hollow earth we sleep, gone down into silence, a fight long and endless and unawakening sleep."
"Begin, ye Sicilian Muses, begin the Dirge!"
And Evelyn listened, saying, "How very beautiful! how very wonderful!"
"But you believe, Evelyn, that we do live again?"
"It is too late to argue that question; it is nearly midnight. I hope you will like your room. Eliza has unstrapped your portmanteau, I see. Your bed is comfortable, I think."
It surprised him that she should follow him into his room, and stand there talking to him, talking even about the bed he was to sleep in. It would have been easy to lay his hands upon her shoulder, saying, "Evelyn, are we to be parted?" but something held him back. And he listened to her story of the buying of the bed, hearing that it had been forgotten in the interest excited by the rumour of certain portfolios filled with engravings supposed to be of great value. The wardrobe, too, had been bought at the same auction, and he looked into its panels, praising them.
"But you want more light." She went over and lighted the candles on the dressing-table, accomplishing the duties of hostess quite unconcerned, ignoring the past. "One would think she had forgotten it," he said to himself. "Are we to part like this? But it is for her to decide. So quiet, so self-contained; it doesn't seem even to occur to her." He waited, incapable of speech or action, paralysed, till she bade him good-night. As soon as the door closed, or a moment after, he began to realise his mistake. What he should have done was to lay his hand upon her shoulder and lead her to the window-seat, and sit with her there till a greyness came into the sky and a cold air rustled in the trees. "Of course, of course," he muttered, for he could see himself and her in the dawn together, united again and tasting again in a kiss infinity. In her kiss he had tasted that unity, that binding together of the mortal to the immortal, of the finite to the infinite, which Paracelsus—He tried to recall the words, "He who tastes a crust of bread has tasted of the universe, even to the furthest star." She had always been his universe, and he had always believed that she had come out of the star-shine like a goddess when it pleases Divinity to lie with a mortal. Of this he was sure, that he had never kissed her except in this belief.... This had sanctified their love, whereas other men knew love as an animal satisfaction. It had always seemed to him that there was something essential in her, something which had always been in human nature and which always would be. This light, this joy, and this aspiration he had seen in certain moments: when she walked on the stage as Elizabeth or Elza, she had always seemed to reflect a little of that light which floats down through the generations ... illuminating "the liquid surface of man's life." But a change had come, darkening that light, causing it to pass, at least into eclipse. He drew his hand across his eyes—a phase of her life was hidden from him; yet it, too, may have had a meaning.... We understand so little of life. No, no, it had no meaning in his mind, and we are only concerned with our own minds. All the same, the fact remained—she had had to seek rest in a convent; and the idea that had driven her there, though now lying at the bottom of her mind, might be brought to the surface—any chance word; he had had proof. Perhaps it was as well that he had not laid his hand upon her shoulder and asked her to stay with him, for by what spectacle of remorse, of terror, might he not have been confronted to-morrow or the next day? Cured! Nobody is ever cured. Never again would she be the same woman as had left Dulwich to go to Paris with him, he knew that well enough; and he, too, was very far indeed from being the same Owen Asher who had gone to Dulwich to hear a concert of Elizabethan music.
A period for every one, for every one a season. The gates of love open, and we pass into the garden and out of it by another gate, which never opens for us again. To linger by a closed or a closing gate is not wise: the tarrying lover is a subject for contempt and jeers; better to pass out quickly and to fare on, though it requires courage to fare on through the autumn, knowing that after autumn comes winter. True, the winds would grow harder. The autumn of their lives was not over, the skies were still bright above them, and the winds soft and low. The winds would grow harder, but they must still fare on through the snow. But there is a joy by the hearth when the yule-log is burning. So thanking God that he had not attempted to detain her, he wandered to the window to watch the stars, which seemed to him like a golden net; and he asked who had cast that net, and if he and she were parcel of some great draught which, at some indefinite date, would be drawn out of the depths, and if, when that time came, they would remember the joy and sorrow they had endured upon earth, or if all would be swept into forgetfulness. At some indefinite date they might meet among the stars, but what stellar infinities might be drawn together mattered little to him; his sole interest was in this lag end of their journey—if their lives should be united henceforth or lived separately.
Nothing repeats itself, so it was well he had not asked her to stay with him. Of mistress and lover a fitting end had been written long ago, just as the end of those stars was written long before the stars came into being; but it might well be that they might take the road, this lag end of it, together as husband and wife. If he didn't marry —he could marry nobody but her—what would he do with his life? what sort of end? He had no heart for further travels, and feared to wear away the years amid books and pictures, collecting rare porcelain and French furniture; there is very little else for an old man. With her the lag end of the journey would be delectable. In the same house together, leading her in the evenings to the piano! Even if she had lost part of her voice, sufficient remained to recall the old days when he used to journey thousands of miles to hear her; and he lay quite still, listening to the sweet thought of marriage, singing like a bird in the acacia-tree, trill after trill, and then a run— delicious crescendos reaching to the stars, diminuendos sinking into the valley.
The bird suddenly ceased, and with its song in his brain Owen dozed, awakening at dawn, remembering her, how she had built herself a cottage, and settled her life here among four or five little crippled boys. Could she undo her life to follow him? Uprooted, transplanted, her brain might give way again, and this time without hope of recovery. Or was he cheating himself, trying to find reasons for not asking her to marry him—perhaps his manifest duty towards her. Owen looked into his soul, asking himself if he were acting from a selfish or an unselfish motive.
Sleep seemed as far away as ever, and, getting out of bed, he drew the curtains, seeking the landscape, still hidden in the mist, only a few tree-tops showing over the grey vapour—the valley filled with it—and over the hidden hill one streak of crimson. A rook cawed and flew away into the mist, leaving Owen to wonder what the bird's errand might be; and this rook was followed by others, and seeing nothing distinctly, and knowing nothing of himself or of this woman whom he had loved so long, he returned to his bed frightened, counting his years, asking himself how many more he had to live.
A knock! Only Eliza bringing his bath water. Good heavens! he had been asleep. "Eliza, what time is it?"
"Half-past eight, Sir Owen. Miss Innes will be soon home from Mass to give the little boys their breakfast."
"Home from Mass!" he muttered. And he learned from Eliza that Miss Innes got up every morning at seven, for a Catholic gentleman lived in the neighbourhood who had a private chaplain. "And she goes to Mass," Owen muttered, "every morning, and comes back to give the little boys their breakfast!"
There was no Catholic gentleman within a mile of Riversdale, he was thankful to say, and his thankfulness on the point was proof to him of how years and circumstances had estranged him from Evelyn; for, though he would not obstruct or forbid, it would be impossible for him to keep a sneer out of his face when she told him she had been to the sacraments or refrained from meat on Friday. "What a strange notion it is to think that a priest can help one," he said, thinking then that his presence would be a sneer, however he might control his tongue or his face; she would feel that he held her little observances in contempt, and her, too, just a little. How could it be otherwise? How could he admire one who slipped her neck into a spiritual halter and allowed herself to be led? Yet he loved her—or was it the memory of their love that he loved? Which? He loved her when he saw her among the crippled children distributing porridge and milk, or maybe it was not love, but admiration.
"My dear, I didn't know you would be down so soon. If you will only go into the garden and wait for me, I shan't be long."
"Now then, children, you must hurry with your porridge; Sir Owen is waiting for his breakfast."
"My dear Evelyn, I am not in a hurry. Let the children take their time."
And he went into the garden to think if life at Riversdale would suit her as well as this life. It would be impossible for him to accompany her to chapel, and if he did not do so there would be an estrangement.... Nor could he allow Riversdale to be turned into an orphanage. Perhaps he would allow her to do anything; that pleased her; all the same, she would feel that the permission did not come out of his instinct, only out of a desire to please her.
"Well, Owen," she said as soon as he had finished breakfast, "I don't want to hurry you, but if you are to catch that train we must start at once."
It was one of her off days, and she was going to spend it at the cottage. There were a great many things for her to do. She never had much time, but she would go to the station with him.
"But you have already walked two miles."
"Ah! Eliza has told you?"
"Yes, that you go to Mass every morning."
Owen seemed to regret the fact, and when he broke silence again it was to inquire into the expenses of the orphanage and to deplore the necessity which governed her life of going to London every day, returning home late, and he offered her a subscription which would cover the entire cost. But his offer of money seemed to embarrass her, and he understood that her pleasure was to go to London to work for these children, for only in that way could the home be entirely her own. If she were to accept help from the outside it would drift away from her and from its original intention, just as the convent had done. Nor was it very likely that she would care to give up her work and come to live at Riversdale, as his wife, of course as his wife, and it would pain her to refuse him.... Better leave things as they were.
"You are right," he said, "not to live in London; one avoids a great deal of loneliness. One is more lonely in London than anywhere I know. The country is the natural home of man. Man is an arborial animal," he added, laughing, "and is only happy among trees."
"And woman, what is she? A material animal?"
"I suppose so. You have your children; I have my trees."
The words seemed to have a meaning which eluded them, and they pondered while they descended the hillside until the piece of low-lying land came into view and the bridge crossing the sluggish stream, amid whose rushes he had gathered the wild forget-me-not. As he was about to speak of them he remembered her singing classes, and that yester evening had worn away without hearing her sing. "You have lost all interest in music, I fear. You think of it now as a means of making money... for your children," he added, so that his words might not wound her.
"And you, Owen, does music still interest you,"—she nearly said, "now that I am out of it?" but stopped, the words on her lips.
"Yes," he said, "I think it does," and there was an eagerness in his voice when he said, "I have been trying my hand at composition again, and I have written a good many songs and some piano pieces, one for piano and violin."
"Well, something in that way... not very strict in form perhaps."
"That doesn't matter."
"When you come to see me I should like to show you some of my things. You will come to see me when you are in London... when you have a moment?"
"Evelyn always keeps her promises," he said to himself, and he did not give up hope that she would come to see him, although nearly two weeks went by without his hearing from her. Then a note came, saying that she had been kept busy and had not been able to find spare time, but yesterday a pupil had written saying she would not come to her lesson, "so now I can come to you."
"Miss Innes, Sir Owen."
His face lighted up, and laying his book aside he sprang out of his chair, and all consciousness of time ceased in his mind till she began to put on her glove.
"You have only just arrived, and already you are going."
"My dear Owen, I have been here an hour, and the time has passed quickly for you because you have been playing your music over for me and I have been singing... humming, for it is hardly singing now."
"I am sorry, Evelyn, the time has seemed so long to you. I didn't intend to bore you. You said you would like to see some of my music."
"So I did, Owen, and some of the best things you have composed are among those you have shown me. Your writing has improved a great deal."
"I am so glad you think so. When will you come again?"
"The first spare hour."
"Really? You promise."
They saw each other at intervals. Sometimes the intervals were very long, and Owen would write to her complaining, and he would get a note telling that her time was not her own, and that a great deal of money was necessary for her boys. But she would try to come and see him next week, and he would write begging her not to disappoint him, as he was giving a concert and wanted her help to compose the programme.
A great deal of time was spent in Berkeley Square, more than she could afford, trying pieces over; and she would often say, "My dear Owen, I really must go now or I shall miss my train at Victoria." He always looked disappointed when she said she was going, and he never could understand why she would not sing at his concerts. It was very difficult even to persuade her to come to one.
"You see, I cannot sleep here, Owen. I have to go to a hotel."
One day she got a letter from him which she feared to open. "It is to ask me to help him to compose another programme, and I haven't got a minute."
She was mistaken. The letter was to tell her that he had been elected president of the new choral society... "a group of young musicians." The envelope enclosed a programme, and she read: "President, Sir Owen Asher, Bart." "I'm glad, I'm glad," she said as she walked up the room. "He has some natural talent for music, and if he hadn't been born a rich man and spent his life doing other things he might have done something in music. If he had begun younger... if he hadn't met me... a good many ifs; but there it is, and that is how it has ended."