Author of "The Return Of The Soldier"
New York George H. Doran Company
THE MEMORY OF
"Every mother is a judge who sentences the children for the sins of the father."
It was not because life was not good enough that Ellen Melville was crying as she sat by the window. The world, indeed, even so much of it as could be seen from her window, was extravagantly beautiful. The office of Mr. Mactavish James, Writer to the Signet, was in one of those decent grey streets that lie high on the northward slope of Edinburgh New Town, and Ellen was looking up the side-street that opened just opposite and revealed, menacing as the rattle of spears, the black rock and bastions of the Castle against the white beamless glare of the southern sky. And it was the hour of the clear Edinburgh twilight, that strange time when the world seems to have forgotten the sun though it keeps its colour; it could still be seen that the moss between the cobblestones was a wet bright green, and that a red autumn had been busy with the wind-nipped trees, yet these things were not gay, but cold and remote as brightness might be on the bed of a deep stream, fathoms beneath the visitation of the sun. At this time all the town was ghostly, and she loved it so. She took her mind by the arm and marched it up and down among the sights of Edinburgh, telling it that to be weeping with discontent in such a place was a scandalous turning up of the nose at good mercies. Now the Castle Esplanade, that all day had proudly supported the harsh, virile sounds and colours of the drilling regiments, would show to the slums its blank surface, bleached bone-white by the winds that raced above the city smoke. Now the Cowgate and the Canongate would be given over to the drama of the disorderly night; the slum-dwellers would foregather about the rotting doors of dead men's mansions and brawl among the not less brawling ghosts of a past that here never speaks of peace, but only of blood and argument. And Holyrood, under a black bank surmounted by a low bitten cliff, would lie like the camp of an invading and terrified army.... She stopped and said, "Yon about Holyrood's a fine image for the institution of monarchy." For she was a Suffragette, so far as it is possible to be a Suffragette effectively when one is just seventeen, and she spent much of her time composing speeches which she knew she would always be too shy to deliver. "There is a sinister air about palaces. Always they appear like the camp of an invading army that is uneasy and keeps a good look-out lest they need shoot. Remember they are always ready to shoot...." She interrupted herself with a click of annoyance. "I see myself standing on a herring-barrel and trying to hold the crowd with the like of that. It's too literary. I always am. I doubt I'll never make a speaker. 'Deed, I'll never be anything but the wee typist that I am...." And misery rushed in on her mind again. She fell to watching the succession of little black figures that huddled in their topcoats as they came down the side-street, bent suddenly at the waist as they came to the corner and met the full force of the east wind, and then pulled themselves upright and butted at it afresh with dour faces. The spectacle evoked a certain local pride, for such inclemencies were just part of the asperity of conditions which she reckoned as the price one had to pay for the dignity of living in Edinburgh; which indeed gave it its dignity, since to survive anything so horrible proved one good rough stuff fit to govern the rest of the world. But chiefly it evoked desolation. For she knew none of these people. In all the town there was nobody but her mother who was at all aware of her. It was six months since she left John Thompson's Ladies' College in John Square, so by this time the teachers would barely remember that she had been strong in Latin and mathematics but weak in French, and they were the only adult people who had ever heard her name. She wanted to be tremendously known as strong in everything by personalities more glittering than these. Less than that would do: just to see people's faces doing something else than express resentment at the east wind, to hear them say something else than "Twopence" to the tram-conductor. Perhaps if one once got people going there might happen an adventure which, even if one had no part in it, would be a spectacle. It was seventeen years since she had first taken up her seat in the world's hall (and it was none too comfortable a seat), but there was still no sign of the concert beginning.
"Yet, Lord, I've a lot to be thankful for!" breathed Ellen. She had this rich consciousness of her surroundings, a fortuitous possession, a mere congenital peculiarity like her red hair or her white skin, which did the girl no credit. It kept her happy even now, when from time to time she had to lick up a tear with the point of her tongue, on the thin joy of the twilight.
Really the world was very beautiful. She fell to thinking of those Saturdays that she and her mother, in the days when she was still at school, had spent on the Firth of Forth. Very often, after Mrs. Melville had done her shopping and Ellen had made the beds, they packed a basket with apples and sandwiches (for dinner out was a terrible price) and they took the tram down the south spurs to Leith or Grantown to find a steamer. Each port was the dwelling-place of romance. Leith was a squalid pack of black streets that debouched on a high brick wall delightfully surmounted by mast-tops, and from every door there flashed the cutlass gleam of the splendid sinister. Number 2, Sievering Street, was an opium den. It was a corner house with Nottingham lace curtains and a massive brown door that was always closed. You never would have known it, but that was what it was. And once Ellen and her mother had come back late and were taking a short cut through the alleys to the terminus of the Edinburgh trams (one saved twopence by not taking the Leith trams and had a sense of recovering the cost of the expedition), and were half-way down a silent street when they heard behind them flippety-flop, flippety-flop, stealthy and wicked as the human foot may be. They turned and saw a great black figure, humped but still high, keeping step with them a yard or so behind. Several times they turned, terrified by that tread, and could make nothing more of it, till the rays of a lamp showed them a tall Chinaman with a flat yellow face and a slimy pigtail drooping with a dreadful waggish school-girlishness over the shoulder of his blue nankin blouse; and long black eyes staring but unshining. They were between the high blank walls of warehouses closed for the night. They dared not run. Flippety-flop, flippety-flop, he came after them, always keeping step. Leith Walk was a yellow glow a long way off at the end of the street; it clarified into naphtha jets and roaring salesmen and a crowd that slowly flocked up and down the roadway and was channelled now and then by lumbering lighted cars; it became a protecting jostle about them. Ellen turned and saw the Chinaman's flat face creased with a grin. He had been savouring the women's terror under his tongue, sucking unimaginable sweetness and refreshment from it. Mrs. Melville was shedding angry tears and likening the Chinese to the Irish—a people of whom she had a low opinion—(Mr. Melville had been an Irishman)—but Ellen felt much sympathy as one might bestow upon some disappointed ogre in a fairy tale for this exiled Boxer who had tried to get a little homely pleasure. Ellen found it not altogether Grantown's gain that it was wholly uninhabited by horror, being an honest row of fishers' cottages set on a road beside the Firth to the west of Leith. Its wonder was its pier, a granite road driving its rough blocks out into the tumbling seas, the least urban thing in the world, that brought to the mind's eye men's bare chests and muscle-knotted arms, round-mouthed sea-chanteys, and great sound bodies caught to a wholesome death in the vicinity of upturned keels and foundered rust-red sails and the engulfing eternal sterilisation of the salt green waves.
From either of these places they sailed across the Firth: an arm of the sea that could achieve anything from an end-of-the-world desolation, when there was snow on the shores and the water rolled black shining mountains, to a South Seasish bland and tidy presentation of white and green islands enamelled on a blue channel under a smooth summer sky. Most often, for it was the cheapest trip, they crossed to Aberlady, where the tall trees stood at the sea's edge, and one could sit on seaweedy rocks in the shadow of green leaves. Last time they had gone it had been one of the "fairs," and men and women were dancing on the lawns that lay here and there among the wooded knolls. Ellen had sat with her feet in a pool and watched the dances over her shoulder. "Mummie," she had said, "we belong to a nation which keeps all its lightness in its feet," and Mrs. Melville had made a sharp remark like the ping of a mosquito about the Irish. Sometimes they would walk along a lane by the beach to Burntisland. There was nothing good about that except the name, and a queer resemblance to fortifications in the quays, which one felt might at any moment be manned by dripping mermen at war with the landfolk. There they would find a lurching, paintless, broad-bowed ferry, its funnel and metal work damascened by rust; with the streamers of the sunset high to the north-west, and another tenderer sunset swimming before their prow, spilling oily trails of lemon and rose and lilac on waters white with the fading of the meridian skies, they would sail back to quays that mounted black from troughs of gold.
She thought of it, still smiling; but the required ecstasy, that would reconcile her to her hopeless life, did not come. She waited for it with a canny look as she did at home when she held a match to the gas-ring to see if there was another shilling needed in the slot. The light did not come. By every evidence of her sense she was in the completest darkness. But she did not know what coin it was that would turn on the light again. Before there had been no fee demanded, but just appreciation of her surroundings, and that she had always had in hand; even to an extent that made her feel ridiculous to those persons, sufficiently numerous in Edinburgh, who regarded their own lack of it as a sign of the wealth of inhibition known as common sense, and hardly at ease on a country walk with anybody except her mother or her schoolfellow Rachael Wing. She thought listlessly now of their day-long excited explorations of the Pentland Hills. Why had that walk on Christmas Eve, two years ago, kept them happy for a term? They had just walked between the snow that lay white on the hills and the snow that hung black in the clouds, and had seen no living creature save the stray albatross that winged from peak to peak. She thought without more zest of their cycle-rides; though there had been a certain grim pride in squeezing forty miles a day out of the cycle which, having been won in a girls' magazine competition, constantly reminded her of its gratuitous character by a wild capriciousness. And there were occasions too which had been sanctified by political passion. There had been one happy morning when Rachael and she had ridden past Prestonpans, where the fisher-folk sat mending their nets on the beach, and they had eaten their lunch among the wild rose thickets that tumbled down from the road to the sea. Rachael had raised it all to something on a much higher level than an outing by munching vegetarian sandwiches and talking subversively, for she too was a Suffragette and a Socialist, at the great nine-foot wall round Lord Wemyss's estate, by which they were to cycle for some miles. She pointed out how its perfect taste and avoidance of red brick and its hoggish swallowing of tracts of pleasant land symbolised the specious charm and the thieving greed which were well known to be the attributes of the aristocracy. Rachael was wonderful. She was an Atheist, too. When she was twelve she had decided to do without God for a year, and it had worked. Ellen had not got as far as that. She thought religion rather pretty and a great consolation if one was poor. Rachael was even poorer than Ellen, but she had an unbreakable spirit and seemed to mind nothing in the world, not even that she never had new clothes because she had two elder sisters. It had always seemed so strange that such a clever girl couldn't make things with paper patterns as Ellen could, as Ellen had frequently done in the past, as Ellen never wished to do again. She was filled with terror by the thought that she should ever again pin brown paper out of Weldon's Fashions on to stuff that must not on any account run higher than a shilling the yard; that she should slash with the big cutting-out scissors just as Mrs. Melville murmured over her shoulder, "I doubt you've read the instructions right...." What was the good? She was decaying. That was proven by the present current of her thoughts, which had passed from the countryside, towards which she had always previously directed her mind when she had desired it to be happy, as one moves for warmth into a southern-facing room, and were now dwelling on the mean life of hopeless thrift she and her mother lived in Hume Park Square. She recollected admiringly the radiance that had been hers when she was sixteen; of the way she had not minded more than a wrinkle between the brows those Monday evenings when she had to dodge among the steamy wet clothes hanging on the kitchen pulleys as she cooked the supper, those Saturday nights when she and her mother had to wait for the cheap pieces at the butcher's among a crowd that hawked and spat and made jokes that were not geniality but merely a mental form of hawking and spitting; of the way that in those days her attention used to leap like a lion on the shy beast Beauty hiding in the bush, the housewifely briskness with which her soul took this beauty and simmered it in the pot of meditation into a meal that nourished life for days. At the thought of the premature senility that had robbed her of these accomplishments now that she was seventeen she began again to weep....
The door opened and Mr. Mactavish James lumbered in, treading bearishly on his soft slippers, and rubbing the gold frame of his spectacles against his nose to allay the irritation they had caused by their persistent pressure during the interview he had been holding with the representative of another firm: an interview in which he had disguised his sense of his client's moral instability by preserving the most impressive physical immobility. The air of the room struck cold on him, and he went to the fireplace and put on some coal, and sat down on a high stool where he could feel the warmth. He gloomed over it, pressing his hands on his thighs; decidedly Todd was in the wrong over this right of way, and Menzies & Lawson knew it. He looked dotingly across at Ellen, breathed "Well, well!"—that greeting by which Scot links himself to Scot in a mutual consciousness of a prudent despondency about life. Age permitted him, in spite of his type, to delight in her. In his youth he had turned his back on romance, lest it should dictate conduct that led away from prosperity, or should alter him in some manner that would prevent him from attaining that ungymnastic dignity which makes the respected townsman. He had meant from the first to end with a paunch. But now wealth was inalienably his and Beauty could beckon him on no strange pilgrimages, his soul retraced its steps and contemplated this bright thing as an earth creature might creep to the mouth of its lair and blink at the sun. And there was more than that to it. He loved her. He had never had enough to do with pitiful things (his wife Elizabeth had been a banker's daughter), and this, child had come to him, that day in June, so white, so weak, so chilled to the bone, for all the summer heat, by her monstrous ill-usage....
He said, "Nelly, will your mother be feared if you stop and take a few notes for Mr. Philip till eight? There is a chemist body coming through from the cordite works at Aberfay who can't come in the day but Saturday mornings, and you ken Mr. Philip's away to London for the week-end by the 8.30, so he's seeing him the night. Mr. Philip would be thankful if you'd stop."
"I will so, Mr. James," said Ellen.
"You're sure your mother'll not be feared?"
"What way would my mother be feared," said Ellen, "and me seventeen past?"
"There's many a lassie who's found being seventeen no protection from a wicked world." He emitted some great Burns-night chuckles, and kicked the fire to a blaze.
She said sternly, "Take note, Mr. James, that I haven't done a hand's turn this hour or more, and that not for want of asking for work. Dear knows I have my hand on Mr. Morrison's door-knob half the day."
Mr. James got up to go. "You're a fierce hussy, and mean to be a partner in the firm before you've done with us."
"If I were a man I would be that."
"Better than that for you, lassie, better than that. Wait till a good man comes by."
She snorted at the closing door, but felt that he had come near to defining what she wanted. It was not a good man she needed, of course, but nice men, nice women. She had often thought that of late. Sometimes she would sit up in bed and stare through the darkness at an imaginary group of people whom she desired to be with—well-found people who would disclose themselves to one another with vivacity and beautiful results; who in large lighted rooms would display a splendid social life that had been previously nurtured by separate tender intimacies at hearths that were more than grates and fenders, in private picture-galleries with wide spaces between the pictures, and libraries adorned with big-nosed marble busts. She knew that that environment existed for she had seen it. Once she had gone to a Primrose League picnic in the grounds of an Edinburgh M.P.'s country home and the secretary had taken her up to the house. They had waited in a high, long room with crossed swords on the walls wherever there were not bookshelves or the portraits of men and women so proud that they had not minded being painted plain, and there were French windows opening to a flagged terrace where one could lean on an ornate balustrade and look over a declivity made sweet with many flowering trees to a wooded cliff laced by a waterfall that seemed, so broad the intervening valley, to spring silently to the bouldered river-bed below. On a white bearskin, in front of one of the few unnecessary fires she had ever seen, slept a boar-hound. It was a pity that the books lying on the great round table were mostly the drawings of Dana Gibson and that when the lady of the house came in to speak to them she proved to be a lisping Jewess, but that could not dull the pearl of the spectacle. She insisted on using the memory as a guarantee that there must exist, to occupy this environment, that imagined society of thin men without an Edinburgh accent, of women who were neither thin like her schoolmistresses nor fat like her schoolfellows' mothers and whose hair had no short ends round the neck.
But sometimes it seemed likely, and in this sad twilight it seemed specially likely, that though such people certainly existed they had chosen some other scene than Edinburgh, whose society was as poor and restricted as its Zoo, perhaps for the same climatic reason. It was the plain fact of the matter that the most prominent citizen of Edinburgh to-day was Mary Queen of Scots. Every time one walked in the Old Town she had just gone by, beautiful and pale as though in her veins there flowed exquisite blood that diffused radiance instead of ruddiness, clad in the black and white that must have been a more solemn challenge, a more comprehensive announcement of free dealings with good and evil, than the mere extravagance of scarlet could have been; and wearing a string of pearls to salve the wound she doubtless always felt about her neck. Ellen glowed at the picture as girls do at womanly beauty. Nobody of a like intensity had lived here since. The Covenanters, the Jacobites, Sir Walter Scott and his fellows, had dropped nothing in the pool that could break the ripples started by that stone, that precious stone, flung there from France so long ago. The town had settled down into something that the tonic magic of the place prevented being decay, but it was though time still turned the hour-glass, but did it dreamingly, infatuated with the marvellous thing she had brought forth that now was not. So greatly had the play declined in plot and character since Mary's time that for the catastrophe of the present age there was nothing better than the snatching of the Church funds from the U.F.'s by the Wee Frees. It appeared to her an indication of the quality of the town's life that they spoke of their churches by initials just as the English, she had learned from the Socialist papers, spoke of their trade unions. And for personalities there were innumerable clergymen and Sir Thomas Gilzean, Edinburgh's romantic draper, who talked French with a facility that his fellow townsmen suspected of being a gift acquired on the brink of the pit, and who had a long wriggling waist which suggested that he was about to pick up the tails of his elegant frock-coat and dance. He was light indeed, but not enough to express the lightness of which life was capable; while the darker side of destiny was as inadequately represented by AEneas Walkinshaw, the last Jacobite, whom at the very moment Ellen could see standing under the lamp-post at the corner, in the moulting haberdashery of his wind-draggled kilts and lace ruffles, cramming treasonable correspondence into a pillar-box marked G.R.... She wanted people to be as splendid as the countryside, as noble as the mountains, as variable within the limits of beauty as the Firth of Forth, and this was what they were really like. She wept undisguisedly.
"What ails you, Miss Melville?" asked Mr. Philip James. He had lit the gas and seen that she was crying.
At first she said, "Nothing." But there grew out of her gratitude to this family a feeling that it was necessary, or at least decent, that she should always answer them with the cleanest candour. As one rewards the man who has restored a lost purse by giving him some of the coins in it, so she shared with them, by the most exact explanation of her motives whenever they were asked for, the self which they had saved. So she added, "It's just that I'm bored. Nothing ever happens to me!"
Mr. Philip had hoped she was going to leave it at that "Nothing," and bore her a grudge for her amplification at the same time that the way she looked when she made it swept him into sympathy. Indeed, he always felt about the lavish gratitude with which Ellen laid her personality at the disposal of the firm rather as the Englishman who finds the Chinaman whom he saved from death the day before sitting on his verandah in the expectation of being kept for the rest of his life that his rescuer has forced upon him. It was true that she was an excellent shorthand-typist, but she vexed the decent grey by her vividness. The sight of her through an open door, sitting at her typewriter in her blue linen overall, dispersed one's thoughts; it was as if a wireless found its waves jammed by another instrument. Often he found himself compelled to abandon his train of ideas and apprehend her experiences: to feel a little tired himself if she drooped over her machine, to imagine, as she pinned on her tam-o'-shanter and ran down the stairs, how the cold air would presently prick her smooth skin. Yet these apprehensions were quite uncoloured by any emotional tone. It was simply that she was essentially conspicuous, that one had to watch her as one watches a very tall man going through a crowd. Even now, instead of registering disapproval at her moodiness, he was looking at her red hair and thinking how it radiated flame through the twilight of her dark corner, although in the sunlight it always held the softness of the dusk. That was characteristic of her tendency always to differ from the occasion. He had once seen her at a silly sort of picnic where everybody was making a great deal of noise and playing rounders, and she had sat alone under a tree. And once, as he was walking along Princes Street on a cruel day when there was an easterly ha'ar blowing off the Firth, she had stepped towards him out of the drizzle, not seeing him but smiling sleepily. It was strange how he remembered all these things, for he had never liked her very much.
He put his papers on the table and sat down by the fire. "Well, what should happen? No news is good news, I've heard!"
She continued to disclose herself to him without the impediment of shyness, for he was unattractive to her because he had an Edinburgh accent and always carried an umbrella. He was so like hundreds of young men in the town, dark and sleek-headed and sturdily under-sized, with an air of sagacity and consciously shrewd eyes under a projecting brow, that it seemed like uttering one's complaint before a jury or some other representative body. She believed, too, that he was not one of the impeccable and happy to whom one dare not disclose one's need for pity, for she was sure that the clipped speech that slid through his half-opened mouth was a sign that secretly he was timid and ashamed. So she cried honestly, "I'm so dull that I'll die. You and Mr. James are awfully good to me, and I can put up with Mr. Morrison, though he's a doited old thing, and I like my work, but coming here in the morning and going home at night, day in and day out, it drives me crazy. I don't know what's the matter with me, but I want to run away to new places and see new people. This morning I was running to catch the tram and I saw the old wife who lives in the wee house by the cycle shop had put a bit heather in a glass bottle at the window, and do you know, I was near turning my back and going off to the Pentlands and letting the work go hang!"
They were both law-abiding people. They saw the gravity of her case.
"Not that I want the Pentlands. Dear knows I love the place, but I want something more than those old hills. I want to go somewhere right far away. The sight of a map makes me sick. And then I hear a band play—not the pipes, they make me think of Walter Scott's poetry, which I never could bear, but a band. I feel that if I followed it it would lead me somewhere that I would like to go. And the posters. There's one at the Waverley station—Venice. I could tear the thing down. Did you ever go to Italy, Mr. Philip?"
"No. I go with the girls to Germany every summer."
"My patience!" said Ellen bitterly. "The way the world is! The people who can afford to go to Italy go to Germany. And I—I'll die if I don't get away."
"Och, I often feel like this," said Mr. Philip. "I just take a week-end off at a hydro."
"A hydro!" snorted Ellen. "It's something more like the French Revolution I'm wanting. Something grand and coloured. Swords, and people being rescued, and things like that."
"There's nothing going on like that now," he said stolidly, "and we ought to be thankful for it."
"I know everything's over in Europe," she agreed sadly, "but there's revolutions in South America. I've read about them in Richard Harding Davis. Did ever you read him? Mind you, I'm not saying he's an artist, but the man has force. He makes you long to go."
"A dirty place," said Mr. Philip.
"What does that matter, where there's life? I feel—I feel"—she wrung her inky brown hands—"as if I should die if something didn't happen at once: something big, something that would bang out like the one o'clock gun up at the Castle. And nothing will. Nothing ever will!"
"Och, well," he comforted her, "you're young yet, you know."
"Young!" cried Ellen, and suddenly wept. If this was youth—!
He bent down and played with the fire-irons. It was odd how he didn't want to go away, although she was in distress. "Some that's been in South America don't find it to their taste," he said. "The fellow that's coming to-night wants to sell some property in Rio de Janeiro because he doesn't mean to go back."
"Ah, how can he do that?" asked Ellen unsteadily. The tears she was too proud to wipe away made her look like a fierce baby. "Property in Rio de Janeiro! It's like being related to someone in 'Treasure Island.'"
"'Treasure Island!' Imph!" He had seen his father draw Ellen often enough to know how to do it, though he himself would never have paid enough attention to her mental life to discover it. "You're struck on that Robert Louis Stevenson, but he wasn't so much. My Aunt Phemie was with him at Mr. Robert Thompson's school in Heriot Row, and she says he was an awful young blackguard, playing with the keelies all he could and gossiping with the cabmen on the rank. She wouldn't have a word to say to him, and grandfather would never ask him to the house, not even when all the English were licking his boots. I'm not much on these writing chaps myself." He made scornful noises and crossed his legs as though he had disposed of art.
"And who," asked Ellen, with temper, "might your Aunt Phemie be? There'll not be much in the papers when she's laid by in Trinity Cemetery, I'm thinking! The impairtinence of it! All these Edinburgh people ought to go on their knees and thank their Maker that just once, just once in that generation, He let something decent come out of Edinburgh!" She turned away from him and laid her cheek against the oak shutter.
Mr. Philip chuckled. When a woman did anything for itself, and not for its effect on the male, it seemed to him a proof of her incapacity to look after herself, and he found incapacity in women exciting and endearing. He watched her with a hard attention that was his kind of tenderness, as she sat humped schoolgirlishly in her shapeless blue overall, averting her face from the light but attempting a proud pose, and keeping her grief between her teeth as an ostler chews a straw.
"He had a good time, the way he travelled in France and the South Seas. But he deserved it. He wrote such lovely books. Ah," she said, listening to her own sombre interpretation of things as to sad music, "it isn't just chance that some people had adventures and others hadn't. One makes one's own fate. I have no fate because I'm too weak to make one." She looked down resentfully on her hands, that for all her present fierceness and the inkstains of her daily industry lay little things on her lap, and thought of Rachael Wing, who had so splendidly departed to London to go on the stage. "But it's hard to be punished just for what you are."
He wondered whether, although she was the typist, there was not something rare about her. He could not compare her in this moment with his sisters May and Gracie, who were always getting up French plays for bazaars, or Chrissie, who played the violin, for the earth held nothing to vex the sturdiness of these young women except the profligacy with which it offered its people attractions competitive with bazaars and violin solos. But he thought it unlikely that any occasion would have evoked from them this serene despair, which was no more irritable than that which is known by the nightingale. It was impossible that they could shed such tears as smudged her bright colours now, such exquisite distillations of innocent grief at the wasting of the youth of which she was so innocently proud, and generous rage at the decrying of a name that was neither relative nor friend nor employer but merely a maker of beauty. Without doubt she lived in a lonely world, where tears were shed for other things than the gift of gold, and where one could perform these simplicities before a witness without fear of contempt, because human intercourse went only to the tune of charity and pity. Suddenly he wanted to enter into this world; not indeed with the intention of naturalising himself as its inhabitant nor with the intention of staying there for ever, but as a navvy might stop on his way to work and refresh his horny sweating body by a swim in a sunny pool. He felt a thirst, a thing that stopped the breath for her pity. And although his desire was but for participation in kindness, his instinct for conformity was so suspicious of her vividness that he felt furtive and red-eared while he searched in the purse of his experiences to find the coin that would admit him to her world. The search at first was vain, for most of them that he cared to remember were mere manifestations of the kind of qualities that are mentioned in testimonials. But presently he gripped the disappointment that would buy him her pity.
He said, "I'm right sorry for you, Miss Melville. But you know ... We all have our troubles."
She raised her eyebrows.
"I wanted to go into the Navy."
"You did? Would your father not let you?" She said it in her red-headed "My-word-if-I'd-been-there" way.
"Aye, he would have liked it fine."
"What was it then?" She leaned forward and almost crooned at him. "What was it then?"
His speech became more clipped. "My eyes."
"Your eyes!" she breathed. He suddenly became a person to her. "I never thought."
"I'm as short-sighted as a bat."
"They look all right." She frowned at them as though they were traitors.
He basked in her pity. "They're not. I never could play football at the University."
She rose and stood beside him at the table, so that he would feel how sorry she was, and set one finger to her lips and murmured, "Well, well!" and at the end of a warm, drowsy moment, after which they seemed to know each other much better, she said softly and irrelevantly, "I saw you capped."
"Did you so? How did you notice me? It was one of the big graduations."
"I went with my mother to see my cousin Jeanie capped M.A., and we saw your name on the list. Philip Mactavish James. And mother said, 'Yon'll be the son of Mactavish James. Many's the time I've danced with him when I was Ellen Forbes.' Funny to think of them dancing!"
"Oh, father was a great man for the ladies." They both laughed. He vacillated from the emotional business of the moment. "Do you dance?" he asked.
"I did at school—"
"Don't you go to dances?"
She shook her head. It was a shame, thought Mr. Philip.
With that long slender waist she should have danced so beautifully; he could imagine how her head would droop back and show her throat, how her brows would become grave with great pleasure. He wished she could come to his mother's dances, but he knew so well the rigid standards of his own bourgeoisie that he felt displeased by his wish. It was impossible to ask a Miss Melville to a dance unless one could say, 'She's the daughter of old Mr. Melville in Moray Place. Do you not mind Melville, the wine merchant?' and specially impossible to ask this Miss Melville unless one had some such certificate to attach to her vividness. But he wished he could dance with her.
Ellen recalled him to the business of pity. She had thought of dances for no more than a minute, though it had long been one of her dreams to enter a ballroom by a marble staircase (which she imagined of a size and steepness really more suited to a water-chute), carrying a black ostrich-feather fan such as she had seen Sarah Bernhardt pythoning about with in "La Dame aux Camelias." This hour she had dedicated to Mr. Philip, and he knew it. She was thinking of him with an intentness which was associated with an entire obliviousness of his personal presence, just as a church circle might pray fervently for some missionary without attempting to visualise his face; and though he missed this quaint meaning of her abstraction, he was well content to watch it and nurse his private satisfaction. He was still aware that he was Mr. Philip of the firm, so he was not going to tell her that for two nights after he had heard the decision of the Medical Examiners he had cried himself to sleep, though he was fourteen past. But it was exquisite to know that if he had told her she would have been moved to some glorious gesture of pity. His imagination trembled at the thought of its glory as she turned to him with a benignity that was really good enough, and said diffidently, because her ambition was such a holy thing that she feared to speak of his: "Still, there are lots of things for you to do. I've heard...."
He was kindly and indulgent. "What have you heard?"
Ellen had, as her mother used to say, a great notion of politics. "Why, that you're going to stand for Parliament."
"That's true enough," he said, swelling a little.
"Could anything be finer?" she breathed. "What are you going to do?"
"I'll have to contest two-three hopeless seats. Then they'll give me something safe."
"But what will you do?"
He didn't follow.
"What'll you do after that?" She towered above him, her cheeks flushed with intellectual passion. "In Parliament, I mean. There's so much to do. Will it be housing? If it was me it would be housing. But what are you going to do?"
"I'll sit as a Liberal," he said, with an air of quiet competence. "We've always been Liberals."
"Ach! Liberal!" she said, with the spirit of one who had cried, "Keep the Liberal out!" at a Leith polling-booth and had been haled backwards by the hair from the person of Mr. Winston Churchill. Mr. Philip laughed again and felt a kind of glow. He never could get over a feeling that to discover a woman excited about an intellectual thing was like coming on her bathing; her cast-off femininity affected him as a heap of her clothes on the beach might have done. But the flash in her eyes died to the homelier fires of a more personal quarrel. "Is yon Mrs. Powell's heavy feet coming up the stair?" she enquired.
"It is so. I asked her to do a chop for me, so that I won't need to dine on the train...."
"Mercy me! We'll see the fine cook she is!" She ran out to the landing (she had never known he was so nice). Mr. Philip found that her absence acted curiously as a relief to an excitement that was beginning to buzz in his head. Then she came back with the tray, her cheeks bright and her mouth pursed, for she and the caretaker had been sandpapering each other's temperaments with a few words. "Be thankful she thought to boil a potato. No greens. And I had to ask for a bit bread. And the reason's not far to seek. She's had a drop again. It staggers me how your father, who's so particular with the rest of us, stands such a body in the place."
He did not answer her. The moment had become one of pure enjoyment. There was no sense of strain in his appreciation of her while she was putting down the tray, spreading out the plates, and doing things that were all directed to giving him comfort. Their relationship felt absolutely right.
"Will you have one of the bottles of Burgundy your father keeps for when he lunches in?" she said.
"I was just thinking I would," he answered, and went into his father's room. As he stooped before the cupboard her voice reached him, fortuitously uplifted in "The Flowers of the Forest are a' wede away." Now how did she look when she sang? It improved some people. He knelt for a minute in front of the dusty cupboard, frowning fiercely at the bottles because it struck him that she would stop singing when he went back, and he could think of no way of asking her to go on that would not be, as he put it, infra dig. And sure enough, when he entered the room a shy silence fell on her, which she broke by saying, "If you've not got the corkscrew there's one on my pocket-knife." He used it, telling himself that it spared turning on the gas again in the other room, and she stood behind him murmuring, "Yon's not a bad knife. Four blades and a thing that takes stones out of a horse's hoof...."
He sat down to his meal, and she remained by the fireplace until he said, "Pray sit down, Miss Melville, I wish I could ask you to join me...."
She obeyed because she was afraid she might be fretting him by standing there, and took the seat on the other side of the table. The gas-jet was behind her, so to him there was a gold halo about her head and her face was a dusky oval in which her eyes and the three-cornered patch of her mouth were points of ardour. She had an animal's faculty for keeping quite still. He felt a pricking appetite to force the moment on to something he could not quite previsage, and found himself saying, "Will you have some Burgundy?"
She was shocked. "Oh no!"
He perceived that here was a matter of principle. But he felt, although principles were among his conventions, not the least impulse to defer to it. Instead, the project of persuading her to do something he felt she oughtn't to do flooded him with a tingling pleasure.
He said, "But it's so pretty!" He could not imagine why he should have said that, and yet he knew when he had said it that he had hit on an argument that would weigh with her.
She sighed as who makes a concession. "Oh yes, it's pretty!" And then, to his perplexity, her face fell into complete repose. She was absorbed in the red beauty in his glass.
It angered him, yet he still felt bland and coaxing. "You'll have a glass?"
"No, thank you."
"You'll surely have a taste?"
"Just a drop...."
Their eyes met. He was peering into her face so that he could be sure she was looking at him, and somehow the grimace seemed to be promising her infinite pleasure.
She muttered, "Well, just a drop!" and found herself laughing unhappily.
He passed her his glass.
"But what," she asked in dismay, "will you drink from?"
Almost irritably he clicked his tongue, though he still smiled. "Drink it up! Drink it up!"
She raised the glass to her lips and set her head back that the sin might have swift progress, expecting the loveliest thing, like an ice, but warm and very worldly; and informed with solemn pleasure too, for such colours are spilt on marble floors when the sun sets behind cathedral windows, such colours come into the mind when great music is played or some deep voice speaks Shakespeare....
"Ach!" she screamed, and banged the glass down on the table. "It's horrid! It draws the mouth!" She started up and stood rubbing her knuckles into her cheeks and twisting her lips. She had never thought wine was like this. It was not so much a drink as a blow in the mouth. And yet somehow she felt ashamed of not liking it. "The matron at school used to give us something for toothache that was as bad as this!" she said peevishly, and tears stood in her eyes.
Mr. Philip stood up, laughing. The crisis of his pleasure in persuading her to do the thing which she hadn't wanted to do was his joy that she hadn't liked it when she had done it. And suddenly one of the walls of the neat mental chamber in which he customarily stood fell in; by the light that streamed in upon him he perceived that his ecstasy was only just beginning. At last he knew what he wanted to do. With gusto he marked that Ellen too was conscious that the incident was not at its close, for she was still wringing her hands, though the taste of the wine must long have gone from her mouth, and was stammering miserably, "Well, if yon stuff's a temptation to any poor folk—!" Again he felt that their relationship was on a proper footing; he moved towards her, walking masterfully. Oh, it was going to be ecstasy.... There was a loud knocking at the outer door.
She forgot all about the wine at once, he was so very big. And he looked as though he had gold rings in his ears, although he hadn't; it was just part of his sea-going air.
He looked at her very hard and said as though it hardly mattered, "I want to see Mr. James. My name's Yaverland."
"Will you step inside?" said Ellen, with her best English accent. "Mr. Philip's expecting you." She was glad he had come, for he looked interesting, but she hoped he would not interrupt her warm comfortable occupation of mothering Mr. Philip. To keep that mood aglow in herself she stopped as they went along the passage and begged, "You'll not make him miss his train? He's away to London to-night. He should leave here on the very clap of eight."
The stranger seemed, after a moment's silence, of which, since they stood in darkness, she could not read the cause, to lay aside a customary indifference for the sake of the gravity of the occasion. "Oh, certainly; he shall leave on the very clap of eight," he replied earnestly.
He spoke without an accent and was most romantically dark. Ellen wondered whether Mr. Philip would like him—she had noticed that Mr. Philip didn't seem to fancy people who were very tall. And she perceived with consternation as they entered the room that he had suddenly been overtaken by one of his moods. He had taken up the tray and was trying to slip it into the cupboard, which he might have seen would never hold it, and in any case was a queer place for a tray, and stood there with it in his hands, brick-red and glowering at them. She was going to take it from him when he dunted it down on the window-seat with a clatter. "What for can he not go on with his good chop?" thought Ellen. "We're putting on grand company manners for this bit chemist body, surely," and she pulled forward a chair for the stranger and sat down in the corner with her note-book on her knee.
"You're Mr. Yaverland?" said Mr. Philip, shooting his chin forward and squaring his shoulders, and looking as though his father were dead and he were the head of the firm.
"I'm Richard Yaverland. Mr. Frank Gibson said you might be good enough to see to my affairs for me. I've got a letter from him...."
Decidedly the man had an air. He slid the letter across the table as if he did not care in the least whether anybody ever picked it up and retreated into a courteous inattention. She felt a little cross at Mr. Philip for not showing that Edinburgh too understands the art of arrogance, for opening the letter so clumsily and omitting to say the nice friendly thing. Well, if he was put about it was his own fault for not going on with the chop, it being well known to all educated persons that one cannot work on an empty stomach. If this man would go soon she would run down to Mrs. Powell and get her to heat up the chop again. She eyed him anxiously to see if he looked the kind of person who left when one wanted him to, and found herself liking him for the way he slouched in his chair, as though he wanted to mitigate as much as possible his terrifying strength and immensity. What for did a fine man like him help to make cordite, the material of militarism, which is the curse of the nations? She wished he could have heard R.J. Campbell speak on peace the other night at the Synod Hall; it was fine. But probably he was a Conservative, for these big men were often unprogressive. She examined him carefully out of the corner of her eye to estimate the chances of his being brought into the fold of reform by properly selected oratory. That at least was the character of contemplation she intended, but though she was so young that she believed the enjoyment of any sensory impression sheer waste unless it was popped into the mental stockpot and made the basis of some sustaining moral soup, she found herself just looking at him. His black hair lay in streaks and rings on his rain-wet forehead and gave him an abandoned and magical air, like the ghost of a drowned man risen for revelry; his dark gold skin told a traveller's tale of far-off pleasurable weather; and the bare hand that lay on his knee was patterned like a snake's belly with brown marks, doubtless the stains of his occupation; and his face was marked with an expression that it vexed her she could not put a name to, for if at her age she could not read human nature like a book she never would. It was not hunger, for it was serene, and it was not greed, for it was austere, and yet it certainly signified that he habitually made upon life some urgent demand that was not wholly intellectual and that had not been wholly satisfied. As she wondered a slight retraction of his chin and a drooping of his heavy eyelids warned her, by their likeness to the controlled but embarrassed movements of a highly-bred animal approached by a stranger, that he knew she was watching him, and she took her gaze away. But she had to look again, just to confirm her feeling that however fanciful she might be about him his appearance would always give some further food for her imagination; and presently, for though she was the least vain person in the world she was the most egotistical, began to compare the large correctness of his features with the less academic spontaneity of her own. "Lord! Why has everybody but me got a straight nose!" she exclaimed to herself. "But it's all blethers to think that an indented chin means character. How can a dunt in your bone have anything to do with your mind?" She rubbed her own chin, which was a little white ball, and pushed it forward, glowering at his great jaw. Then her examination ended. She noticed that all over his upper lip and chin there was a faint bluish bloom, as if he had shaved closely and recently but the strong hair was already pressing through again. That disgusted her, although she reminded herself that he could not help it, that that was the way he was made. "There's something awful like an animal about a man," she thought, and shivered.
"Och, aye!" said Mr. Philip, which was a sure sign that he was upset, for in business he reckoned to say "Yes, yes." The two men began by exchange of politenesses about Mr. Frank Gibson, to whom they referred in the impersonal way of business conversations as though he were some well-known brand of integrity, and then proceeded to divest the property in Rio de Janeiro of all interest in a like manner. It was a house, it appeared, and was at present let to an American named Capel on a five years' lease, which had nearly expired. There was no likelihood of Capel requiring any extension of this lease, for he was going back to the States. So now Yaverland wanted to sell it. There ought to be no trouble in finding a buyer, for it was a famous house. "Everybody in Rio knows the Villa Miraflores," he said. She gasped at the name and wrote it in longhand; to compress such deliciousness into shorthand would have been sacrilege. After that she listened more eagerly to his voice, which she perceived was charged with suppressed magic as it might have been with suppressed laughter. The merry find no more difficulty in keeping a straight face than he found in using the flat phrase. And as she gleefully gazed at him, recognising in him her sort of person, his speech slipped the business leash. There were hedges of geranium and poinsettia about the villa, pergolas hung with bougainvillea, numberless palms, and a very pleasant orange grove in good bearing; in the courtyard a bronze Venus rode on a sprouting whale, and there were many fountains; and within there was much white marble and pillars of precious stone, and horrible liverish Viennese mosaics, for the house was something of a prodigy, having been built in a trade boom by a rastaqouere. "Mhm," said Mr. Philip sagaciously, and from the funeral slide of respect in his voice Ellen guessed that he imagined rastaqouere to be a Brazilian variety of Lord Provost. She would have laughed had there not been the plainest intimation that he was still upset about something in his question whether Yaverland thought he would be well advised to sell the house, whether he had any reasonable expectation of recovering the capital he had sunk in it; for she had noticed that whenever Mr. Philip felt miserable he was wont to try and cheer himself by suggesting that somebody had been "done."
But that worry was dissolved by the enchantment of Yaverland's answer. He hadn't the slightest idea what he had paid for the villa. It happened this way. He had won a lot of money at poker ("Tchk! Tchk!" said Mr. Philip, half shocked, but showing by the way he put one thumb in his waistcoat arm-hole that he was so far sensible of the change in the atmosphere that he felt the need of some romantic gesture), and had felt no shame in pocketing it since it came from a man who was gambling to try to show that he wasn't a Jew. Ellen hated him for that. She believed in absolute racial equality, and sometimes intended to marry a Hindu as a propagandist measure. And then he had remembered that a friend of his, de Cayagun of the Villa Miraflores, was broke and wanted to move. Even Rio was tired of poor de Cayagun, though he'd given it plenty of fun. There had been great times at the villa. His phrases, which seemed to have scent and colour as well as meaning, made her see red pools of wine on the marble floor and rose wreaths about the bronze whale's snout, and hear from the orange grove the sound of harps, yet from a sullenness in his faint smile she deduced there had been something dark in this delight. Perhaps somebody had got drunk. But he was saying now that that time had come to an end long before the night when he had won this money from Demetrios. De Cayagun had no more jewels to give away and even the servants had all left him.... She saw night invading the villa like a sickness of the light, the pools of wine lying black on marble that the dusk had made blue like cold flesh; and this stranger standing white-faced in the stripped banquet-hall, with the broken body of the Venus on a bier at his feet and above his head the creaking wings of birds come to establish desolation under the shattered roof. Why was he so sad because some people who were members of the parasite class and were probably devoid of all political idealism had had to stop having a good time? It was, she supposed, that ethereal abstract sorrow, undimmed by personal misery and unconfined by the syllogisms of moral judgment, that poets feel: that Milton had felt when he wrote "Comus" about somebody for whom he probably wouldn't have mixed a toddy, that she herself had often felt when the evening star shone its small perfect crescent above the funeral flame of the day. People would call it a piece of play-acting nonsense just because of its purity and their inveterate peering liking for personal emotion, which they seemed to honour according to its intensity even if that intensity progressed towards the disagreeable. She remembered how the neighbours had all respected Mrs. Ball in the house next door for the terrific manifestations of her abandonment to the grief of widowhood. "Tits, tits, puir body!" they had said with zestful reverence, and yet the woman had been behaving exactly as if she was seasick. She preferred the impersonal pang. It was right. Right as the furniture in the Chambers Museum was, as the clothes in Redfern's window in Princes Street were, as this stranger was. And it had a high meaning too. It was evoked by the end of things, by sunsets, by death, by silence, following song; by intimations that no motion is perpetual and that death is a part of the cosmic process. It had the sacred quality of any recognition of the truth....
Well, he was telling them how he had gone up to de Cayagun, and they had knocked up a notary and made him draft a deed of sale, which he had posted to his agents without reading. He had only the vaguest idea how much money had changed hands. Mr. Philip shook his head and chuckled knowingly, "Well, Mr. Yaverland, that is not how we do business in Scotland," and suggested that it might be wise to retain some part of the property: the orange grove, for instance. At that Yaverland was silent for a moment, and then replied with an august, sweet-tempered insolence that he couldn't see why he should, since he wasn't a marmalade fancier. "Besides, that's an impossible proposition. It's like selling a suburban villa and retaining an interest in the geranium bed...." In the warm, interesting atmosphere she detected an intimation of enmity between the two men; and it was like catching a caraway seed under a tooth while one was eating a good cake. She was disturbed and wanted to intervene, to warn the stranger that he made Mr. Philip dizzy by talking like that. And the reflection came to her that it would be sweet, too, to tell him that he could talk like that to her for ever, that he could go on as he was doing, being much more what one expected of an opera than a client, and she would follow him all the way. But it struck her suddenly and chillingly that she had no reason to suppose that he would be interested. His talk was in the nature of a monologue. He showed no sign of desiring any human companionship.
Still, he was wonderful. She did not take it as warning of any coldness or unkindness in him that it was impossible to imagine him linked by a human relationship to any ordinary person like herself; there are pictures too fine for private ownership. Just then he was being particularly fine in an exciting way. He sat up very straight, flung out his great arm with a gesture of abandonment, and said that he would have no more to do with this house. So might a conqueror speak of a city he was weary of looting. He wanted to sell it outright, and desired Mr. Philip to undertake the whole business of concluding the sale with the Rio agents. "It's all here," he said, and took from his pocket-book a packet of letters. "They hold the title-deeds and you'll see how things are getting on with the deal. But I suppose the language will be a difficulty. I can read you these, of course, but how will you carry on the correspondence?"
"Och, we can send out to a translator—"
A tingling ran through Ellen's veins. The men's words, uttered on one side in irritated languor and on the other with empty spruceness, had suddenly lifted her to the threshold of life. She had previsioned many moments in which she should disclose her unique value to a dazzled world, but most of them had seemed, even to herself, extremely unlikely to arrive. It was improbable that Mr. Asquith should fall into a river just as she was passing, and that he should be so helpless and the countryside so depopulated that she would be able to exact votes for women as the price of his rescue; besides, she could not swim. It was improbable, too, that she should be in a South American republic just when a revolution was proclaimed, and that, the Latin attitude to women being what it is, she should be given a high military command. But there had been one triumph which she knew to be not impossible even in her obscurity. It might conceivably happen that by some exhibition of the prodigious bloom of her efficiency she would repay her debt to the firm and make the first steps towards becoming the pioneer business queen. For it was one of her dreams, perhaps the six hundred and seventy-ninth in the series, that one day she would sit at a desk answering innumerable telephone calls with projecting jaw, as millionaires do on the movies, and crushing rivals like blackbeetles in order that, after being reviled by the foolish as a heartless plutocrat, she might hand a gigantic Trust over to the Socialist State.
"Mr. Philip," she said.
Apparently he did not hear her, though the other man turned his dark glance on her.
"Mr. Philip," she said. He looked across at her with a blankness she took as part of the business. "I've been taking Commercial Spanish at Skerry's. I took a first-class certificate. Maybe I could manage the letters?"
"Oh!" exclaimed Yaverland explosively. He appeared to be about to make some objection, and then he bit back the speech that was already in his mouth. And as he tried to find other words the beauty of her body caught his attention. It was, as it happened, very visible at that moment. The fulness of her overall had fallen to one side as she sat on the high stool, and so that linen was tightly wrapped about her, disclosing that she was made like a delicate fleet beast; in the valley between her high small breasts there lay a shadow, which grew greater when she breathed deeply. He looked at her with the dispassionateness which comes to men who have lived much in countries where nakedness offers itself unashamed to the sunlight, and said to himself, "I should like to see her run." He knew that a body like this must possess an infinite capacity for physical pleasure, that to her mere walking would give more joy than others find in dancing. And then he raised his eyes to her face and was sad. For sufficient reasons he was very sensitive to the tragedies of women, and he knew it was a tragedy that such a face should surmount such a body. For her body would imprison her in soft places: she would be allowed no adventures other than love, no achievements other than births. But her face was haggard, in spite of its youth, with appetite for travel in the hard places of the world, for the adventures and achievements that are the birthright of any man. "It's rotten luck to be a girl," he thought. "If she were a boy I could get her a job at Rio.... Lord, she has lovely hair!" He perceived sharply that he was not likely to be of any more use to her than most men would. All he could do would be to avert the humiliation which the moment seemed likely to bring down on her.
"Oh, this is a wonderful country," he said aloud, "where you get people studying Spanish in their off-hours." Ellen thought it rather wonderful too, and looked at her toes with a priggish blankness. "You've got a marvellous educational system...." He paused, conscious that he was too manifestly talking at random. "In two continents you've enjoyed the reputation of being able to talk the hind-leg off a donkey," he reminded himself. "It's the language to learn," he said aloud. "It's the language of the future. Ever been in Spain, Mr. James?"
"No," said Mr. Philip, "but I was thinking of going there—or mebbe Italy—ma Easter holidays." Ellen smiled brilliantly at him, for she knew that he had had no such thought till that evening's talk with her; she had converted him to a romantic. He caught her eye, only to glare coldly into the centre of her smile.
It was Yaverland's opportunity, for he had spent two years as chemist at the Romanones mines in Andalusia; and he had learned by now the art of talking to the Scotch, whom he had discovered to be as extravagantly literate as they were unsensuous. To them panpipes might play in vain, but almost any series of statistics or the more desiccated kind of social fact recited with a terrier-like air of sagacity would entrance them. "The mines are Baird's, you know—Sir Milne Baird; it's a Glasgow firm...." "Mhm," said Mr. Philip, "I know who you mean." Detestable, thought Yaverland, this Scotch locution which implies that one has made a vague or incorrect description which only the phenomenal intelligence of one's listener has enabled him to penetrate, but he set himself suavely enough to describe the instability of Spanish labour, its disposition to call strikes that were really larks, and the greater willingness with which it keeps its saints' days rather than the commandments; the feckless incapacity of the Spanish to exploit their own minerals and the evangelic part played in the shameful shoes by Scotch engineers; and the depleted state of the country in general, which he was careful to ascribe not so much to the presence of Catholicism as to the absence of Presbyterianism. And he advised Mr. Philip that while a sojourn in the towns would reveal these sad political conditions, there were other deplorable aspects of the national decay which could only be witnessed if he took a few rides over the countryside. ("A horse or a bicycle?" asked Mr. Philip doubtfully.) Then he would have a pleasant holiday. The language presented few difficulties, although travelling off the tracks in Andalusia was sometimes impeded by the linguistic ingenuity of the peasants, who, though they didn't neigh and whinny like the Castilians, went one better by omitting the consonants. Why, there was a place which spelt itself Algodonales on the map and calls itself Aooae.
He watched her under his lids as she silently tried it over.
It was a village of no importance, save for the road that close by forded the Guadalete, which was a pale icy mountain stream, snow-broth, as Shakespeare said. (Now what had he said to excite her so? Modesty and a sense of office discipline were restraining some eager cry of her mind, like white hands holding birds resolved on flight.) One passed through it on a ride that Mr. Philip must certainly take when he went to Spain. Yaverland himself had done it last February. He receded into a dream of that springtime, yet kept his consciousness of the girl's rapt attention, as one may clasp the warm hand of a friend while one thinks deeply, and he sent his voice out to Mr. Philip as into a void, describing how he had gone to Seville one saint's day and how the narrow decaying streets, choked with loveliness like stagnant ditches filled with a fair weed, had entertained him. For a time he had sat in the Moorish courts of the Alcazar; he had visited the House of Pontius Pilate and had watched through the carven windows the two stone women that pray for ever among the flowers in the courtyard; he had lingered by the market-stalls observing their exquisite, unprofitable trade. He was telling not half the beauty that he recollected, save in a phrase that he now and then dropped to the girl's manifest appetite for such things, and he took a malign pleasure in painting, so to speak, advertisement matter across the sky of his landscapes so that Mr. Philip could swallow them as being of potential commercial value and not mere foolish sensuous enjoyment. "There's so little real wealth in the country that they have to buy and sell mere pretty things for God knows what fraction of a farthing. On the stalls where you'd have cheap clocks and crockery and Austrian glass, they had stacks of violets and carnations—violetas y claveles...." Then a chill and a dimness passed over the bright spectacle and a sunset flamed up half across the sky as though light had been driven out of the gates by the sword and had scaled the heaven that it might storm the city from above. The lanes became little runnels of darkness and night slowly silted up the broader streets. The incessant orgy of sound that by day had been but the tuneless rattling of healthy throats and the chatter of castanets became charged with tragedy by its passage through the grave twilight. The people pressed about him like vivacious ghosts, differentiating themselves from the dusk by wearing white flowers in their hair or cherishing the glow-worm tip of a cigarette between their lips.
He remembered it very well. For that was a night that the torment of loneliness had rushed in upon him, an experience of the pain that had revisited him so often that a little more and he would be reconciled to the idea of death. Even then he had been intelligent about the mood and had known that his was not a loneliness that could be exorcised by any of the beautiful brown bodies which here professed the arts of love and the dance and that drunkenness which would bring a physical misery to match his mental state. Though this was wisdom, it added to his sense of being lost in black space like a wandering star. In the end he had gone into a cafe and drunk manzanilla, and with the limp complaisance of a wrecked seasick man whose raft has shivered and left him to the mercy of an octopus he had suffered adoption by a party of German engineers, who had made very merry with stories of tipsy priests and nuns who had not lived up to their position as the brides of Christ. Dismal night, forerunner of a hundred such. "Oh, God, what is the use of it all? I sit here yarning to this damned little dwarf of a solicitor and this girl who is sick to go to these countries from which I've come back cold and famined...."
But he went on, since the occasion seemed to demand it, giving a gay account of the beauty which he remembered so intensely because it had framed his agony; how the next day, under a sky that was temporarily pale and amiable because this was early spring, he had ridden down the long road between the brown heathy pastures to the blue barren downland that lies under the black mountains, and had come at last to a winding path that led not only through space but through time, for it ran nimbly in and out among the seasons. It travelled under the rosy eaves of a forest of blossoming almond up to a steep as haggard with weather as a Scotch moor, and dipped again to hedges of aloes and cactus and asphodel. At one moment a spindrift of orange blossom blew about him; at another he had watched the peasants in their brown capes stripping their dark green orange-groves and piling the golden globes into the panniers of donkeys which were gay with magenta tassels. At one time there was trouble getting the horse up the icy trail, yet a little later it was treading down the irises and jonquils and bending its head to snuff the rosemary. So on, beauty all the way, and infinitely variable, all the many days' journey to the coast, where the mountain drops suddenly to the surf and reflects the Mediterranean sky as a purple glamour on its snowy crest. Ah, such a country!
He meant to go at that, for his listeners were now like honey-drugged bees: to toss his papers on the table, go out, and let the situation settle itself after his departure. But Mr. Philip said, "But surely they're crool. Bullfights and that—"
He could not let that pass. "You don't understand. It's different over there."
"Surely right's right and wrong's wrong, wherever you are?" said Mr. Philip.
"No. Spain's a place, as I said, where one travels in time as well as in space...." He didn't himself agree that the bullfight was so much crueller than most organised activities of men. From the bull's point of view, indeed, it was a nobler way of becoming roast beef than any other and gave him the chance of drawing blood for blood; and the toreador's life was good, as all dangerous lives are. But of course there were the horses; he shuddered at his unspoken memory of a horse stumbling from the arena at Seville with a riven belly and hanging entrails that gleamed like mother-o'-pearl. Oh, yes, he admitted, it was cruel; or, rather, would be if it were committed by a people like ourselves. But it wasn't. That was the point he wanted to make. When one travelled far back in time. It was hard for us—"for you, especially," he amplified, with a courteous, enthusiastic flinging out of his hand, "with your unparalleled Scotch system of education"—to comprehend the mentality of a people which had been prevented, by the economic insanity of its governors and the determination of the Church to sit on its intelligence till it stopped kicking, from growing up. Among the things it hadn't attained to was the easy anthropocentric attitude that is part of our civilisation.
Ellen thought him very wonderful, as he stood theorising about the experiences he had described, like a lecturer in front of his magic-lantern pictures; for he was wholly given up to speculation and yet was as substantial as any man of action.
Panic, he invited them to consider, was the habitual state of mind of primitive peoples, the flood that submerged all but the strongest swimmers. The savage spent his days suspecting and exorcising evil. The echo in the cliff is an enemy, the wind in the grass an approaching sickness, the new-born child clad in mystery and defilement. But it wasn't for us to laugh at the savage for, so to speak, not having found his earth-legs, since our quite recent ancestors had held comets and eclipses to be menacing gestures of the stars. Some primitive suspicions were reasonable, and chief among these the fear that man's ascendancy over the other animals might yet be disputed. Early man sat by the camp fire gnawing his bone and sneered through the dusk at the luminous, envious eyes of the wild beasts that stood in the forest fringes, but he was not easy in his mind about them. Their extreme immobility might be the sign of a tense patience biding its time. Who was to say that some night the position might not be reversed—that it would not be he who stood naked save for his own pelt among the undergrowth watching some happy firelit puma licking the grease of a good meal from its paws? That was the primitive doubt. It's an attitude that one may understand even now, he said, when one faces the spring of one of the larger carnivora; and Ellen thrilled to hear him refer to this as Edinburgh folk refer to a wrestle with the east wind. It's an attitude that was bound to persist, long after the rest of Europe had got going with more modern history, in Spain; where villages were subject on winter's nights to the visitations of wolves and bears, and where the Goths and the Arabs and the Christians and the Berbers proved so extravagantly the wrangling lack of solidarity in the human herd. There had from earliest times existed all round the Mediterranean basin a ceremony by which primitive man gave a concrete ritual expression to this fear: the killing of the bull. They took the bull as the representative of the brutes which were the enemies of man and slew him by a priest's knife and with much decorative circumstances to show that this was no mere butchering of meat. Well, there in Spain it survived.... He had spoken confidently and dogmatically, but his eyes asked them appealingly whether they didn't see, as if in his course through the world he had been disappointed by the number of people who never saw.
"That's all very fine," said Mr. Philip, "but they've had time to get over their little fancies. We're in the twentieth century now."
Ah, the conception might never emerge into their consciousness, and perhaps they would laugh at it if it did; but for all that it lies sunk in their minds and shapes their mental contour. When a dead city is buried by earth and no new city is built on its site the peasants tread out their paths on the terraces which show where the old streets ran. Something like that happened to a nation. Modern Spaniards hadn't, thanks to taxation and the Church, been able to build a mental life for themselves; so, since the mind of man must have a little exercise, they repeated imitatively the actions by which their forefathers had responded to their quite real psychological imperatives. You couldn't perhaps find in the whole of the Peninsula a man or woman who felt this fear of the beast, but that didn't affect his case. It was enough that all men and women in the Peninsula had once felt it and had formed a national habit of attending bullfights, and as silly subalterns sometimes lay the toe of their boots to a Hindu for the glory of the British Empire—keeping the animal creation in its place by kicks and blows to mules and dogs.
It was incredible, he exclaimed, the interweaving of the old and the new that made up the fabric of life in Spain. He could give them another illustration of that. He had lodged for three weeks in Seville, in a flat at the Cathedral end of the Canovas de Castillo—"that's a street," he interjected towards Ellen, "called after a statesman they assassinated, they don't quite know why." In the flat there lodged a priest, the usual drunken Spanish priest; and very early every morning, as the people first began to sing in the streets, a man drove up in an automobile and took him away for an hour. Presently he was told the story of this morning visitor by several people in the house, and he had listened to it as one didn't often listen to twice-told tales, for it was amazing to observe how each of the tellers, whether it was tipsy Fra Jeronimo or the triple-chinned landlady, Donna Gloria, or Pepe, the Atheist medical student who kept his skeletons in the washhouse on the roof, accepted it as a quite commonplace episode. The man in the automobile had lost his wife. He minded quite a lot, perhaps because he had gone through a good deal to get her. When he first met her she was another man's wife. He said nothing to her then, but presently the way that he stared at her at the bullfight and the opera and waited in the Paseo de la Delicias for her carriage to come by made Seville talk, and her husband called him out. The duel was fought on some sandy flat down by the river, and the husband was killed. It was given out that he had been gored by a bull, and within a year the widow married the man who had killed him. In another year she was dead of fever. Her husband gave great sums for Masses for her soul and to charity, and shut up the house where they had entertained Seville with the infantile, interminable gaieties that are loved by the South, and went abroad. When he returned he went back to live in that house, but now no one ever entered it except the priest; and he went not for any social purpose, but to say Mass over the woman's bed, which her husband had turned into an altar. Every day those two said Mass at that bed, though it was five years since she had died. That was a queer enough story for the present day, with its woman won by bloodshed and the long unassuagable grief of the lover and the resort to religion that struck us as irreverent because it was so utterly believing; it might have come out of the Decameron. But the last touch of wildness was added by the identity of the man in the automobile. For he was the Marquis d'Italica, the finest Spanish aviator, a man not only of the mediaeval courage one might have guessed from the story, but also of the most modern wit about machines....
Yaverland bit his lip suddenly. He had told the story without shame, for he knew well and counted it among the heartening facts of life, like the bravery of seamen and the sweetness of children, that to a man a woman's bed may sometimes be an altar. But Mr. Philip had ducked his head and his ears were red. Shame was entering the room like a bad smell.
For a minute Yaverland did not dare to look at Ellen. "I had forgotten she was a girl," he thought miserably. "I thought of nothing but how keen she is on Spain. I don't know how girls feel about things...." But she was sitting warm and rosy in a happy dream, looking very solemnly at a picture she was making in the darkness over his left shoulder. She had liked the story, although the thought of men fighting over a woman made her feel sick, as any conspicuous example of the passivity common in her sex always did. But the rest she had thought lovely. It was a beautiful idea of the Marquis's to turn the bed into an altar. Probably he had often gone into his wife's room to kiss her good-night. She saw a narrow iron bedstead such as she herself slept in, a face half hidden by the black hair flung wide across the pillow, a body bent like a bow under the bedclothes; for she herself still curled up at nights as dogs and children do; and the Marquis, whom she pictured as carrying a robin's egg blue enamelled candlestick like the one she always carried up to her room, kneeling down and kissing his wife very gently lest she should awake. Love must be a great compensation to those who have not political ambitions. She became aware that Yaverland's eyes were upon her, and she slowly smiled, reluctantly unveiling her good will to him. It again appeared to him that the world was a place in which one could be at one's ease without disgrace.
He stood up and brought a close to the business interview, and was gripping Mr. Philip's hand, when a sudden recollection reddened his face. "Ah, there's one thing," he said quite lightly, though the vein down the middle of his forehead had darkened. "You see from those letters that a Senor Vicente de Rojas is making an offer for the house. He's not to have it. Do you understand? Not at any price."
The effect of this restriction, made obviously at the behest of some deep passion, was to make him suddenly sinister. They gazed at him as though he had revealed that he carried arms. But Ellen remembered business again.
"Those letters," she reminded Mr. Philip, "had I not better read them over before Mr. Yaverland goes?"
Yaverland caught his breath, then spoke off-handedly. "You're forgetting. They don't speak Spanish in Brazil, but Portuguese." And added confidentially, "Of course you were thinking of the Argentine."
She was as hurt by the revelation of this vast breach in her omniscience as the bright twang of knowingness in her voice had told him she would be.
"Yes," she said unsteadily, "I was thinking of the Argentine."
He shook hands with Mr. Philip, and she took him down the corridor to the door. She blinked back her tears as he stood at the head of the stair and put up his collar with those strange hands that were speckled like a snake's belly, for it seemed a waste, like staying indoors when the menagerie procession is going round the town, to let anything so unusual go away without seeing as much of it as possible. Then she remembered the thing that she had wanted to say in the other room, and wondered if it would be bold to speak, and finally remarked in a voice disagreeable with shyness, "The people up on the Pentland Hills use that word you said was in Shakespeare. Snow-broth. When the hill-streams run full after the melting of the snows, that's snow-broth."
He liked women who were interested in queer-shaped fragments of fact, for they reminded him of his mother. He took pains to become animated at her news.
"They do, they do!" Ellen assured him, pleased by his response. "And they say 'hit' for 'it,' which is Anglo-Saxon."
He noticed that her overall, which she was growing out of, fitted tightly on her over-thin shoulders and showed how their line was spoilt by the deep dip of the clavicle, and wondered why that imperfection should make her more real to him than she had been when he had thought her wholly beautiful. Again he became aware of her discontent with her surroundings, which had exerted on her personality nothing of the weakening effect of despair, since it sprang from such a rich content with the universe, such a confident faith that the supremest beauty she could imagine existed somewhere and would satisfy her if only she could get at it. He said, with no motive but to confirm her belief that the world was full of interest, "You must go on with your Spanish, you know. Don't just treat it as a commercial language. There's a lot of fine stuff in Spanish literature." He hesitated, feeling uncertain as to whether "Celestina" or "Juan de Ruiz" were really suitable for a young girl. "Saint Teresa, you know," he suggested, with the air of one who had landed on his feet.
"Oh, I can't do with religion," said Ellen positively.
He spluttered a laugh that seemed to her the first irrational flaw in something exquisitely reasonable, and ran down the dark stairs. She attended imaginatively to the sound of his footsteps; as on her first excited night in country lodgings the summer before she had sat up in bed listening to horse's hooves beating through the moonlit village street, and had thought of the ghosts of highwaymen. But this was the ghost of an Elizabethan seaman. She could see him, bearded and with gold rings in his ears and the lustrousness of fever in his eyes, captaining with oaths and the rattle of arms a boat rowed by naked Indians along a yellow waterway between green cliffs of foliage. Yes, she could not imagine him consulting any map that was not gay with painted figures and long scrolls.
Dazed with the wonder of him, she went back into the room, and it was a second or two before she noticed that Mr. Philip was ramming his hat on his head and putting on his overcoat as though he had not a moment to lose. "You've no need to fash yourself," she told him happily. "It's not half-past seven yet. You've got a full hour. I can run down and heat up your chop, if you'll wait."
"Oh, spare yourself!" he begged her shortly.
She moved about the room, putting away papers and shutting drawers and winding up the eight-day clock on the mantelpiece a clear three days before it needed it, with a mixed motive of clearing up before her departure and making it clean and bare as befitted a place where heroes came to do business; and she was more than unaware that Mr. Philip was watching her like an ambushed assassin, she was confident in a conception of the world which excluded any such happening. He was standing by the mantelpiece fastening his furry storm-gloves, and though he found it teasing to adjust the straps in the shadow, he would not step into the light and look down on his hands. For his little eye was set on Ellen, and it was dull with speculation as to whether she knew what he had meant to do to her that moment when the knocking came at the door. Because the thing that he had meant to do seemed foul when he looked on her honourably held little head and her straight blue smock, he began to tamper with reality, so that he might believe himself not to have incurred the guilt of that intention. Surely it had been she that had planned that thing, not he? Girls were nasty-minded and were always thinking about men. He began to remember the evening all over again, dusting with lasciviousness each of the gestures that had shone with such clear colours in his sight, dulling each of the sentences by which she had displayed to him her trimly-kept mental accoutrement until they became simpering babble, falsifying his minute memory of the scene until it became a record of her lust instead of his. Something deep in him stated quietly and glumly that he was now doing a wrong far worse than the thing that he had planned, and, though he would not listen, it was making him so sensible that the essence of the evening was his degradation that he felt very ill. If the palpitation of his heart and the shortness of his breath continued he would have to sit down and then she would be kind to him. He would never forgive her for all this trouble she had brought on him.
When she could no longer hold it in she exclaimed artlessly, "Yon Mr. Yaverland's a most interesting man."
He searched for an insult and felt resentful of the required effort, for his heart was making him very uncomfortable. He wished some crude gesture, some single ugly word, would do it. "You thought him an interesting man?" he asked naggingly. "You don't surprise me. It was a bit too plain you thought so. I'll thank you not to be so forward with a client again. It'll give the office a bad name. And chatting at the door like that!"
He looked for his umbrella, which was kept in this room and not in the hall-stand, lest its handsome cairngorm knob should tempt any of the needier visitors to the office, and removed its silk cover, which he placed in the pocket where he kept postage-stamps and, to provide for emergencies, a book of court plaster.
"I'm sure I'll not have to speak twice about this, Miss Melville," he said, with an appearance of forbearing kindliness, as he passed out of the door. "Good night."
She paused in the dark archway that led into Hume Park Square.
"It can't hurt me, what Mr. Philip said, because it isn't true." She wagged a pedagogic finger at herself. "See here! Think of it in terms of Euclid. If you do a faulty proof by superposition and haven't remembered the theorem rightly, you can go on saying, 'Lay AB along DE' till all's blue and you'll never make C coincide with F. In the same way Mr. Philip can blether to his silly heart's content and he'll never prove that I'm a bold girl. Me, Ellen Melville, who cares for nothing in the world except the enfranchisement of women and getting on...."
She felt better. "There's nothing in life you can't get the better of by thinking about it," she said sententiously, and fell to dabbing her eyes with her handkerchief. She could easily pass off her tearstains as the marks of a bad cold. "It's a dreadful thing to rejoice in another body's affliction, but sometimes I'm glad mother's so short-sighted.
"He wanted to make me unhappy, but he did not know how," she thought, with a sudden renewal of rage. "Now I should have minded awful if he had noticed that slip I made about the Brazilians talking Spanish. It was a mercy yon man Yaverland thought I was thinking of the Argentine." But indeed the stranger would never have wanted to hurt her; she felt sure that he was either very kind to people or very indifferent. She began to recall him delightedly, to see him standing in the villa garden against a hedge of scarlet flowers that marched as tall as soldiers beside a marble wall, to see him moving, dark and always a little fierce, through a world of beauty she was now too fatigued to imagine save as a kind of solidification of a sunset. Dreamily she moved to the little house in the corner....
It was her habit to let herself in with the latchkey just as if she were the man of the house.
"Mercy, Ellen, you're late! I was getting feared!" cried her mother, who had gone to the kitchen to boil up the cocoa when she heard the key in the lock. She liked that sound. Ellen thought herself a wonderful new sort of woman who was going to be just like a man; she would have been surprised if she had known how many of her stern-browed ambitions, how much of her virile swagger of life, were not the invention of her own soul, but had been suggested to her by an old woman who liked to pretend her daughter was a son.