"One year, however, as the spring days wore on, and he did not appear among the guides, as was his wont, the elder men, who remembered his story and pitied him, grew uneasy; and, after much deliberation, it was determined that a party of them should force their way up to his eyrie. They cut their path across the ice where no foot among them had trodden before, and finding at length the lonely snow-encompassed hut, knocked loudly with their axe-staves on the door; but only the whirling echoes from the glacier's thousand walls replied, so the foremost put his strong shoulder to the worn timber and the door flew open with a crash.
"They found him dead, as they had more than half expected, lying stiff and frozen on the rough couch at the farther end of the hut; and, beside him, looking down upon him with a placid face, as a mother might watch beside her sleeping child, stood Jeanne. She wore the flowers pinned to her dress that she had gathered when their eyes had last seen her. The girl's face that had laughed back to their good-bye in the village, nineteen years ago.
"A strange steely light clung round her, half illuminating, half obscuring her, and the men drew back in fear, thinking they saw a vision, till one, bolder than the rest, stretched out his hand and touched the ice that formed her coffin.
"For eighteen years the man had lived there with this face that he had loved. A faint flush still lingered on the fair cheeks, the laughing lips were still red. Only at one spot, above her temple, the wavy hair lay matted underneath a clot of blood."
The Minor Poet ceased.
"What a very unpleasant way of preserving one's love!" said the Girton Girl.
"When did the story appear?" I asked. "I don't remember reading it."
"I never published it," explained the Minor Poet. "Within the same week two friends of mine, one of whom had just returned from Norway and the other from Switzerland, confided to me their intention of writing stories about girls who had fallen into glaciers, and who had been found by their friends long afterwards, looking as good as new; and a few days later I chanced upon a book, the heroine of which had been dug out of a glacier alive three hundred years after she had fallen in. There seemed to be a run on ice maidens, and I decided not to add to their number."
"It is curious," said the Philosopher, "how there seems to be a fashion even in thought. An idea has often occurred to me that has seemed to me quite new, and taking up a newspaper I have found that some man in Russia or San Francisco has just been saying the very same thing in almost the very same words. We say a thing is 'in the air'; it is more true than we are aware of. Thought does not grow in us. It is a thing apart, we simply gather it. All truths, all discoveries, all inventions, they have not come to us from any one man. The time grows ripe for them, and from this corner of the earth and from that, hands, guided by some instinct, grope for and grasp them. Buddha and Christ seize hold of the morality needful to civilisation, and promulgate it, unknown to one another, the one on the shores of the Ganges, the other by the Jordan. A dozen forgotten explorers, feeling America, prepared the way for Columbus to discover it. A deluge of blood is required to sweep away old follies, and Rousseau and Voltaire, and a myriad others are set to work to fashion the storm clouds. The steam-engine, the spinning loom is 'in the air.' A thousand brains are busy with them, a few go further than the rest. It is idle to talk of human thought; there is no such thing. Our minds are fed as our bodies with the food God has provided for us. Thought hangs by the wayside, and we pick it and cook it, and eat it, and cry out what clever 'thinkers' we are!"
"I cannot agree with you," replied the Minor Poet, "if we were simply automata, as your argument would suggest, what was the purpose of creating us?"
"The intelligent portion of mankind has been asking itself that question for many ages," returned the Philosopher.
"I hate people who always think as I do," said the Girton Girl; "there was a girl in our corridor who never would disagree with me. Every opinion I expressed turned out to be her opinion also. It always irritated me."
"That might have been weak-mindedness," said the Old Maid, which sounded ambiguous.
"It is not so unpleasant as having a person always disagreeing with you," said the Woman of the World. "My cousin Susan never would agree with any one. If I came down in red she would say, 'Why don't you try green, dear? every one says you look so well in green'; and when I wore green she would say, 'Why have you given up red dear? I thought you rather fancied yourself in red.' When I told her of my engagement to Tom, she burst into tears and said she couldn't help it. She had always felt that George and I were intended for one another; and when Tom never wrote for two whole months, and behaved disgracefully in—in other ways, and I told her I was engaged to George, she reminded me of every word I had ever said about my affection for Tom, and of how I had ridiculed poor George. Papa used to say, 'If any man ever tells Susan that he loves her, she will argue him out of it, and will never accept him until he has jilted her, and will refuse to marry him every time he asks her to fix the day."'
"Is she married?" asked the Philosopher.
"Oh, yes," answered the Woman of the World, "and is devoted to her children. She lets them do everything they don't want to."
THE DEGENERATION OF THOMAS HENRY
The most respectable cat I have ever known was Thomas Henry. His original name was Thomas, but it seemed absurd to call him that. The family at Hawarden would as soon think of addressing Mr. Gladstone as "Bill." He came to us from the Reform Club, via the butcher, and the moment I saw him I felt that of all the clubs in London that was the club he must have come from. Its atmosphere of solid dignity and petrified conservatism seemed to cling to him. Why he left the club I am unable, at this distance of time, to remember positively, but I am inclined to think that it came about owing to a difference with the new chef, an overbearing personage who wanted all the fire to himself. The butcher, hearing of the quarrel, and knowing us as a catless family, suggested a way out of the impasse that was welcomed both by cat and cook. The parting between them, I believe, was purely formal, and Thomas arrived prejudiced in our favour.
My wife, the moment she saw him, suggested Henry as a more suitable name. It struck me that the combination of the two would be still more appropriate, and accordingly, in the privacy of the domestic circle, Thomas Henry he was called. When speaking of him to friends, we generally alluded to him as Thomas Henry, Esquire.
He approved of us in his quiet, undemonstrative way. He chose my own particular easy chair for himself, and stuck to it. An ordinary cat I should have shot out, but Thomas Henry was not the cat one chivvies. Had I made it clear to him that I objected to his presence in my chair, I feel convinced he would have regarded me much as I should expect to be regarded by Queen Victoria, were that gracious Lady to call upon me in a friendly way, and were I to inform her that I was busy, and request her to look in again some other afternoon. He would have risen, and have walked away, but he never would have spoken to me again so long as we lived under the same roof.
We had a lady staying with us at the time—she still resides with us, but she is now older, and possessed of more judgment—who was no respecter of cats. Her argument was that seeing the tail stuck up, and came conveniently to one's hand, that was the natural appendage by which to raise a cat. She also laboured under the error that the way to feed a cat was to ram things into its head, and that its pleasure was to be taken out for a ride in a doll's perambulator. I dreaded the first meeting of Thomas Henry with this lady. I feared lest she should give him a false impression of us as a family, and that we should suffer in his eyes.
But I might have saved myself all anxiety. There was a something about Thomas Henry that checked forwardness and damped familiarity. His attitude towards her was friendly but firm. Hesitatingly, and with a new- born respect for cats, she put out her hand timidly towards its tail. He gently put it on the other side, and looked at her. It was not an angry look nor an offended look. It was the expression with which Solomon might have received the advances of the Queen of Sheba. It expressed condescension, combined with distance.
He was really a most gentlemanly cat. A friend of mine, who believes in the doctrine of the transmigration of souls, was convinced that he was Lord Chesterfield. He never clamoured for food, as other cats do. He would sit beside me at meals, and wait till he was served. He would eat only the knuckle-end of a leg of mutton, and would never look at over- done beef. A visitor of ours once offered him a piece of gristle; he said nothing, but quietly left the room, and we did not see him again until our friend had departed.
But every one has his price, and Thomas Henry's price was roast duck. Thomas Henry's attitude in the presence of roast duck came to me as a psychological revelation. It showed me at once the lower and more animal side of his nature. In the presence of roast duck Thomas Henry became simply and merely a cat, swayed by all the savage instincts of his race. His dignity fell from him as a cloak. He clawed for roast duck, he grovelled for it. I believe he would have sold himself to the devil for roast duck.
We accordingly avoided that particular dish: it was painful to see a cat's character so completely demoralised. Besides, his manners, when roast duck was on the table, afforded a bad example to the children.
He was a shining light among all the eats of our neighbourhood. One might have set one's watch by his movements. After dinner he invariably took half an hour's constitutional in the square; at ten o'clock each night, precisely, he returned to the area door, and at eleven o'clock he was asleep in my easy chair. He made no friends among the other cats. He took no pleasure in fighting, and I doubt his ever having loved, even in youth; his was too cold and self-contained a nature, female society he regarded with utter indifference.
So he lived with us a blameless existence during the whole winter. In the summer we took him down with us into the country. We thought the change of air would do him good; he was getting decidedly stout. Alas, poor Thomas Henry! the country was his ruin. What brought about the change I cannot say: maybe the air was too bracing. He slid down the moral incline with frightful rapidity. The first night he stopped out till eleven, the second night he never came home at all, the third night he came home at six o'clock in the morning, minus half the fur on the top of his head. Of course, there was a lady in the case, indeed, judging by the riot that went on all night, I am inclined to think there must have been a dozen. He was certainly a fine cat, and they took to calling for him in the day time. Then gentleman cats who had been wronged took to calling also, and demanding explanations, which Thomas Henry, to do him justice, was always ready to accord.
The village boys used to loiter round all day to watch the fights, and angry housewives would be constantly charging into our kitchen to fling dead cats upon the table, and appeal to Heaven and myself for justice. Our kitchen became a veritable cat's morgue, and I had to purchase a new kitchen table. The cook said it would make her work simpler if she could keep a table entirely to herself. She said it quite confused her, having so many dead cats lying round among her joints and vegetables: she was afraid of making a mistake. Accordingly, the old table was placed under the window, and devoted to the cats; and, after that, she would never allow anyone to bring a cat, however dead, to her table.
"What do you want me to do with it," I heard her asking an excited lady on one occasion; "cook it?"
"It's my cat," said the lady; "that's what that is."
"Well, I'm not making cat pie to-day," answered our cook. "You take it to its proper table. This is my table."
At first, "Justice" was generally satisfied with half a crown, but as time went on cats rose. I had hitherto regarded cats as a cheap commodity, and I became surprised at the value attached to them. I began to think seriously of breeding cats as an industry. At the prices current in that village, I could have made an income of thousands.
"Look what your beast has done," said one irate female, to whom I had been called out in the middle of dinner.
I looked. Thomas Henry appeared to have "done" a mangy, emaciated animal, that must have been far happier dead than alive. Had the poor creature been mine I should have thanked him; but some people never know when they are well off.
"I wouldn't ha' taken a five-pun' note for that cat," said the lady.
"It's a matter of opinion," I replied, "but personally I think you would have been unwise to refuse it. Taking the animal as it stands, I don't feel inclined to give you more than a shilling for it. If you think you can do better by taking it elsewhere, you do so."
"He was more like a Christian than a cat," said the lady.
"I'm not taking dead Christians," I answered firmly, "and even if I were I wouldn't give more than a shilling for a specimen like that. You can consider him as a Christian, or you can consider him as a cat; but he's not worth more than a shilling in either case."
We settled eventually for eighteenpence.
The number of cats that Thomas Henry contrived to dispose of also surprised me. Quite a massacre of cats seemed to be in progress.
One evening, going into the kitchen, for I made it a practice now to visit the kitchen each evening, to inspect the daily consignment of dead cats, I found, among others, a curiously marked tortoiseshell cat, lying on the table.
"That cat's worth half a sovereign," said the owner, who was standing by, drinking beer.
I took up the animal, and examined it.
"Your cat killed him yesterday," continued the man. "It's a burning shame."
"My cat has killed him three times," I replied. "He was killed on Saturday as Mrs. Hedger's cat; on Monday he was killed for Mrs. Myers. I was not quite positive on Monday; but I had my suspicions, and I made notes. Now I recognise him. You take my advice, and bury him before he breeds a fever. I don't care how many lives a cat has got; I only pay for one."
We gave Thomas Henry every chance to reform; but he only went from bad to worse, and added poaching and chicken-stalking to his other crimes, and I grew tired of paying for his vices.
I consulted the gardener, and the gardener said he had known cats taken that way before.
"Do you know of any cure for it?" I asked.
"Well, sir," replied the gardener, "I have heard as how a dose of brickbat and pond is a good thing in a general way."
"We'll try him with a dose just before bed time," I answered. The gardener administered it, and we had no further trouble with him.
Poor Thomas Henry! It shows to one how a reputation for respectability may lie in the mere absence of temptation. Born and bred in the atmosphere of the Reform Club, what gentleman could go wrong? I was sorry for Thomas Henry, and I have never believed in the moral influence of the country since.
THE CITY OF THE SEA
They say, the chroniclers who have written the history of that low-lying, wind-swept coast, that years ago the foam fringe of the ocean lay further to the east; so that where now the North Sea creeps among the treacherous sand-reefs, it was once dry land. In those days, between the Abbey and the sea, there stood a town of seven towers and four rich churches, surrounded by a wall of twelve stones' thickness, making it, as men reckoned then, a place of strength and much import; and the monks, glancing their eyes downward from the Abbey garden on the hill, saw beneath their feet its narrow streets, gay with the ever passing of rich merchandise, saw its many wharves and water-ways, ever noisy with the babel of strange tongues, saw its many painted masts, wagging their grave heads above the dormer roofs and quaintly-carved oak gables.
Thus the town prospered till there came a night when it did evil in the sight of God and man. Those were troublous times to Saxon dwellers by the sea, for the Danish water-rats swarmed round each river mouth, scenting treasure from afar; and by none was the white flash of their sharp, strong teeth more often seen than by the men of Eastern Anglia, and by none in Eastern Anglia more often than by the watchers on the walls of the town of seven towers that once stood upon the dry land, but which now lies twenty fathom deep below the waters. Many a bloody fight raged now without and now within its wall of twelve stones' thickness. Many a groan of dying man, many a shriek of murdered woman, many a wail of mangled child, knocked at the Abbey door upon its way to Heaven, calling the trembling-monks from their beds, to pray for the souls that were passing by.
But at length peace came to the long-troubled land: Dane and Saxon agreeing to dwell in friendship side by side, East Anglia being wide, and there being room for both. And all men rejoiced greatly, for all were weary of a strife in which little had been gained on either side beyond hard blows, and their thoughts were of the ingle-nook. So the long-bearded Danes, their thirsty axes harmless on their backs, passed to and fro in straggling bands, seeking where undisturbed and undisturbing they might build their homes; and thus it came about that Haafager and his company, as the sun was going down, drew near to the town of seven towers, that in those days stood on dry land between the Abbey and the sea.
And the men of the town, seeing the Danes, opened wide their gates saying:—
"We have fought, but now there is peace. Enter, and make merry with us, and to-morrow go your way."
But Haafager made answer:—
"I am an old man, I pray you do not take my words amiss. There is peace between us, as you say, and we thank you for your courtesy, but the stains are still fresh upon our swords. Let us camp here without your walls, and a little later, when the grass has grown upon the fields where we have striven, and our young men have had time to forget, we will make merry together, as men should who dwell side by side in the same land."
But the men of the town still urged Haafager, calling his people neighbours; and the Abbot, who had hastened down, fearing there might be strife, added his words to theirs, saying:—
"Pass in, my children. Let there indeed be peace between you, that the blessing of God may be upon the land, and upon both Dane and Saxon"; for the Abbot saw that the townsmen were well disposed towards the Danes, and knew that men, when they have feasted and drunk together, think kinder of one another.
Then answered Haafager, who knew the Abbot for a holy man:—
"Hold up your staff, my father, that the shadow of the cross your people worship may fall upon our path, so we will pass into the town and there shall be peace between us, for though your gods are not our gods, faith between man and man is of all altars."
And the Abbot held his staff aloft between Haafager's people and the sun, it being fashioned in the form of a cross, and under its shadow the Danes passed by into the town of seven towers, there being of them, with the women and the children, nearly two thousand souls, and the gates were made fast behind them.
So they who had fought face to face, feasted side by side, pledging one another in the wine cup, as was the custom; and Haafager's men, knowing themselves amongst friends, cast aside their arms, and when the feast was done, being weary, they lay down to sleep.
Then an evil voice arose in the town, and said: "Who are these that have come among us to share our land? Are not the stones of our streets red with the blood of wife and child that they have slain? Do men let the wolf go free when they have trapped him with meat? Let us fall upon them now that they are heavy with food and wine, so that not one of them shall escape. Thus no further harm shall come to us from them nor from their children."
And the voice of evil prevailed, and the men of the town of seven towers fell upon the Danes with whom they had broken meat, even to the women and the little children; and the blood of the people of Haafager cried with a loud voice at the Abbey door, through the long night it cried, saying:—
"I trusted in your spoken word. I broke meat with you. I put my faith in you and in your God. I passed beneath the shadow of your cross to enter your doors. Let your God make answer!"
Nor was there silence till the dawn.
Then the Abbot rose from where he knelt and called to God, saying:—
"Thou hast heard, O God. Make answer."
And there came a great sound from the sea as though a tongue had been given to the deep, so that the monks fell upon their knees in fear; but the Abbot answered:—
"It is the voice of God speaking through the waters. He hath made answer."
And that winter a mighty storm arose, the like of which no man had known before; for the sea was piled upon the dry land until the highest tower of the town of seven towers was not more high; and the waters moved forward over the dry land. And the men of the town of seven towers fled from the oncoming of the waters, but the waters overtook them so that not one of them escaped. And the town of the seven towers and of the four churches, and of the many streets and quays, was buried underneath the waters, and the feet of the waters still moved till they came to the hill whereon the Abbey stood. Then the Abbot prayed to God that the waters might be stayed, and God heard, and the sea came no farther.
And that this tale is true, and not a fable made by the weavers of words, he who doubts may know from the fisher-folk, who to-day ply their calling amongst the reefs and sandbanks of that lonely coast. For there are those among them who, peering from the bows of their small craft, have seen far down beneath their keels a city of strange streets and many quays. But as to this, I, who repeat these things to you, cannot speak of my own knowledge, for this city of the sea is only visible when a rare wind, blowing from the north, sweeps the shadows from the waves; and though on many a sunny day I have drifted where its seven towers should once have stood, yet for me that wind has never blown, pushing back the curtains of the sea, and, therefore, I have strained my eyes in vain.
But this I do know, that the rumbling stones of that ancient Abbey, between which and the foam fringe of the ocean the town of seven towers once lay, now stand upon a wave-washed cliff, and that he who looks forth from its shattered mullions to-day sees only the marshland and the wrinkled waters, hears only the plaint of the circling gulls and the weary crying of the sea.
And that God's anger is not everlasting, and that the evil that there is in men shall be blotted out, he who doubts may also learn from the wisdom of the simple fisher-folk, who dwell about the borders of the marsh-land; for they will tell him that on stormy nights there speaks a deep voice from the sea, calling the dead monks to rise from their forgotten graves, and chant a mass for the souls of the men of the town of seven towers. Clothed in long glittering white, they move with slowly pacing feet around the Abbey's grass-grown aisles, and the music of their prayers is heard above the screaming of the storm. And to this I also can bear witness, for I have seen the passing of their shrouded forms behind the blackness of the shattered shafts; I have heard their sweet, sad singing above the wailing of the wind.
Thus for many ages have the dead monks prayed that the men of the town of seven towers may be forgiven. Thus, for many ages yet shall they so pray, till the day come when of their once fair Abbey not a single stone shall stand upon its fellow; and in that day it shall be known that the anger of God against the men of the town of seven towers has passed away; and in that day the feet of the waters shall move back, and the town of seven towers shall stand again upon the dry land.
There be some, I know, who say that this is but a legend; who will tell you that the shadowy shapes that you may see with your own eyes on stormy nights, waving their gleaming arms behind the ruined buttresses are but of phosphorescent foam, tossed by the raging waves above the cliffs; and that the sweet, sad harmony cleaving the trouble of the night is but the aeolian music of the wind.
But such are of the blind, who see only with their eyes. For myself I see the white-robed monks, and hear the chanting of their mass for the souls of the sinful men of the town of seven towers. For it has been said that when an evil deed is done, a prayer is born to follow it through time into eternity, and plead for it. Thus is the whole world clasped around with folded hands both of the dead and of the living, as with a shield, lest the shafts of God's anger should consume it.
Therefore, I know that the good monks of this nameless Abbey are still praying that the sin of those they love may be forgiven.
God grant good men may say a mass for us.
MARION [their daughter].
DAN [a gentleman of no position].
* * * * *
SCENE: A room opening upon a garden. The shadows creep from their corners, driving before them the fading twilight.
MRS. TRAVERS sits in a wickerwork easy chair. MR. TRAVERS, smoking a cigar, sits the other side of the room. MARION stands by the open French window, looking out.
MR. TRAVERS. Nice little place Harry's got down here.
MRS. TRAVERS. Yes; I should keep this on if I were you, Marion. You'll find it very handy. One can entertain so cheaply up the river; one is not expected to make much of a show. [She turns to her husband.] Your poor cousin Emily used to work off quite half her list that way—relations and Americans, and those sort of people, you know—at that little place of theirs at Goring. You remember it—a poky hole I always thought it, but it had a lot of green stuff over the door—looked very pretty from the other side of the river. She always used to have cold meat and pickles for lunch—called it a picnic. People said it was so homely and simple.
MR. TRAVERS. They didn't stop long, I remember.
MRS. TRAVERS. And there was a special champagne she always kept for the river—only twenty-five shillings a dozen, I think she told me she paid for it, and very good it was too, for the price. That old Indian major—what was his name?—said it suited him better than anything else he had ever tried. He always used to drink a tumblerful before breakfast; such a funny thing to do. I've often wondered where she got it.
MR. TRAVERS. So did most people who tasted it. Marion wants to forget those lessons, not learn them. She is going to marry a rich man who will be able to entertain his guests decently.
MRS. TRAVERS. Oh, well, James, I don't know. None of us can afford to live up to the income we want people to think we've got. One must economise somewhere. A pretty figure we should cut in the county if I didn't know how to make fivepence look like a shilling. And, besides, there are certain people that one has to be civil to, that, at the same time, one doesn't want to introduce into one's regular circle. If you take my advice, Marion, you won't encourage those sisters of Harry's more than you can help. They're dear sweet girls, and you can be very nice to them; but don't have them too much about. Their manners are terribly old- fashioned, and they've no notion how to dress, and those sort of people let down the tone of a house.
MARION. I'm not likely to have many "dear sweet girls" on my visiting list. [With a laugh.] There will hardly be enough in common to make the company desired, on either side.
MRS. TRAVERS. Well, I only want you to be careful, my dear. So much depends on how you begin, and with prudence there's really no reason why you shouldn't do very well. I suppose there's no doubt about Harry's income. He won't object to a few inquiries?
MARION. I think you may trust me to see to that, mamma. It would be a bad bargain for me, if even the cash were not certain.
MR. TRAVERS [jumping up]. Oh, I do wish you women wouldn't discuss the matter in that horribly business-like way. One would think the girl was selling herself.
MRS. TRAVERS. Oh, don't be foolish, James. One must look at the practical side of these things. Marriage is a matter of sentiment to a man—very proper that it should be. A woman has to remember that she's fixing her position for life.
MARION. You see, papa dear, it's her one venture. If she doesn't sell herself to advantage then, she doesn't get another opportunity—very easily.
MR. TRAVERS. Umph! When I was a young man, girls talked more about love and less about income.
MARION. Perhaps they had not our educational advantages.
[DAN enters from the garden. He is a man of a little over forty, his linen somewhat frayed about the edges.]
MRS. TRAVERS. Ah! We were just wondering where all you people had got to.
DAN. We've been out sailing. I've been sent up to fetch you. It's delightful on the river. The moon is just rising.
MRS. TRAVERS. But it's so cold.
MR. TRAVERS. Oh, never mind the cold. It's many a long year since you and I looked at the moon together. It will do us good.
MRS. TRAVERS. Ah, dear. Boys will be boys. Give me my wrap then.
[DAN places it about her. They move towards the window, where they stand talking. MARION has slipped out and returns with her father's cap. He takes her face between his hands and looks at her.]
MR. TRAVERS. Do you really care for Harry, Marion?
MARION. As much as one can care for a man with five thousand a year. Perhaps he will make it ten one day—then I shall care for him twice as much. [Laughs.]
MR. TRAVERS. And are you content with this marriage?
[He shakes his head gravely at her.]
MRS. TRAVERS. Aren't you coming, Marion?
MARION. No. I'm feeling tired.
[MR. and MRS. TRAVERS go out.]
DAN. Are you going to leave Harry alone with two pairs of lovers?
MARION [with a laugh]. Yes—let him see how ridiculous they look. I hate the night—it follows you and asks questions. Shut it out. Come and talk to me. Amuse me.
DAN. What shall I talk to you about?
MARION. Oh, tell me all the news. What is the world doing? Who has run away with whose wife? Who has been swindling whom? Which philanthropist has been robbing the poor? What saint has been discovered sinning? What is the latest scandal? Who has been found out? and what is it they have been doing? and what is everybody saying about it?
DAN. Would it amuse you?
MARION [she sits by the piano, softly touching the keys, idly recalling many memories]. What should it do? Make me weep? Should not one be glad to know one's friends better?
DAN. I wish you wouldn't be clever. Everyone one meets is clever nowadays. It came in when the sun-flower went out. I preferred the sun- flower; it was more amusing.
MARION. And stupid people, I suppose, will come in when the clever people go out. I prefer the clever. They have better manners. You're exceedingly disagreeable. [She leaves the piano, and, throwing herself upon the couch, takes up a book.]
DAN. I know I am. The night has been with me also. It follows one and asks questions.
MARION. What questions has it been asking you?
DAN. Many—and so many of them have no answer. Why am I a useless, drifting log upon the world's tide? Why have all the young men passed me? Why am I, at thirty-nine, let us say, with brain, with power, with strength—nobody thinks I am worth anything, but I am—I know it. I might have been an able editor, devoting every morning from ten till three to arranging the affairs of the Universe, or a popular politician, trying to understand what I was talking about, and to believe it. And what am I? A newspaper reporter, at three-ha'pence a line—I beg their pardon, its occasionally twopence.
MARION. Does it matter?
DAN. Does it matter! Does it matter whether a Union Jack or a Tricolor floats over the turrets of Badajoz? yet we pour our blood into its ditches to decide the argument. Does it matter whether one star more or less is marked upon our charts? yet we grow blind peering into their depths. Does it matter that one keel should slip through the grip of the Polar ice? yet nearer, nearer to it, we pile our whitening bones. And it's worth playing, the game of life. And there's a meaning in it. It's worth playing, if only that it strengthens the muscles of our souls. I'd like to have taken a hand in it.
MARION. Why didn't you?
DAN. No partner. Dull playing by oneself. No object.
MARION [after a silence]. What was she like?
DAN. So like you that there are times when I almost wish I had never met you. You set me thinking about myself, and that is a subject I find it pleasanter to forget.
MARION. And this woman that was like me—she could have made a man's life?
MARION. Won't you tell me about her? Had she many faults?
DAN. Enough to love her by.
MARION. But she must have been good.
DAN. Good enough to be a woman.
MARION. That might mean so much or so little.
DAN. It should mean much to my thinking. There are few women.
MARION. Few! I thought the economists held that there were too many of us.
DAN. Not enough—not enough to go round. That is why a true woman has many lovers.
[There is a silence between them. Then MARION rises, but their eyes do not meet.]
MARION. How serious we have grown!
DAN. They say a dialogue between a man and woman always does.
MARION [she moves away, then, hesitating, half returns]. May I ask you a question?
DAN. That is an easy favour to grant.
MARION. If—if at any time you felt regard again for a woman, would you, for her sake, if she wished it, seek to gain, even now, that position in the world which is your right—which would make her proud of your friendship—would make her feel that even her life had not been altogether without purpose?
DAN. Too late! The old hack can only look over the hedge, and watch the field race by. The old ambition stirs within me at times—especially after a glass of good wine—and Harry's wine—God bless him—is excellent—but to-morrow morning—[with a shrug of his shoulders he finishes his meaning].
MARION. Then she could do nothing?
DAN. Nothing for his fortunes—much for himself. My dear young lady, never waste pity on a man in love—nor upon a child crying for the moon. The moon is a good thing to cry for.
MARION. I am glad I am like her. I am glad that I have met you.
[She gives him her hand, and for a moment he holds it. Then she goes out.]
[A flower has fallen from her breast, whether by chance or meaning, he knows not. He picks it up and kisses it; stands twirling it, undecided for a second, then lets it fall again upon the floor.]