Infomotions, Inc.The Divine Fire / Sinclair, May, 1863-1946



Author: Sinclair, May, 1863-1946
Title: The Divine Fire
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): rickman; jewdwine; lucia; flossie; maddox; kitty; keith; keith rickman; harden; horace jewdwine; horace; miss harden; miss palliser; lucia harden
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Title: The Divine Fire

Author: May Sinclair

Release Date: November 9, 2004  [eBook #13996]

Language: English

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THE DIVINE FIRE

by

MAY SINCLAIR

Author of _Mr. and Mrs. Nevill Tyson_, _Two Sides of a Question_,
etc. etc.

1904







Mr. OWEN SEAMAN in _Punch_ says:--

     "Miss Sinclair is always quietly sure of herself. That is why she
     will not be hurried, but moves through her gradual scheme with so
     leisured a serenity; why her style, fluent and facile, never
     forces its natural eloquence; why her humour plays with a
     diffused light over all her work and seldom needs the
     advertisement of scintillating epigrams. Judged by almost every
     standard to which a comedy like this should be referred, I find
     her book, 'The Divine Fire' the most remarkable that I have read
     for many years."

BY THE SAME AUTHOR
_TWO SIDES OF A QUESTION_




CONTENTS

BOOK I
DISJECTA MEMBRA POETAE

BOOK II
LUCIA'S WAY

BOOK III
THE HOUSE OF BONDAGE

BOOK IV
THE MAN HIMSELF




BOOK I

DISJECTA MEMBRA POETAE




CHAPTER I


Horace Jewdwine had made the most remarkable of his many remarkable
discoveries. At least he thought he had. He could not be quite sure,
which was his excuse for referring it to his cousin Lucia, whose
instinct (he would not call it judgement) in these matters was
infallible--strangely infallible for so young a girl. What, he
wondered, would she say to Savage Keith Rickman?

On Saturday, when he first came down into Devonshire, he would have
been glad to know. But to-day, which was a Tuesday, he was not
interested in Rickman. To eat strawberries all morning; to lie out in
the hammock all afternoon, under the beach-tree on the lawn of Court
House; to let the peace of the old green garden sink into him; to look
at Lucia and forget, utterly forget, about his work (the making of
discoveries), that was what he wanted. But Lucia wanted to talk, and
to talk about Rickman earnestly as if he were a burning question, when
even lying in the hammock Jewdwine was so hot that it bothered him to
talk at all.

He was beginning to be sorry that he had introduced him--the exciting
topic, that is to say, not the man; for Rickman you could scarcely
introduce, not at any rate to Lucia Harden.

"Well, Lucia?" He pronounced her name in the Italian manner,
"Loo-chee-a," with a languid stress on the vowels, and his tone
conveyed a certain weary but polite forbearance.

Lucia herself, he noticed, had an ardent look, as if a particularly
interesting idea had just occurred to her. He wished it hadn't. An
idea of Lucia's would commit him to an opinion of his own; and at the
moment Jewdwine was not prepared to abandon himself to anything so
definite and irretrievable. He had not yet made up his mind about
Rickman, and did not want to make it up now. Certainty was impossible
owing to his somewhat embarrassing acquaintance with the man. That,
again, was where Lucia had come in. Her vision of him would be free
and undisturbed by any suggestion of his bodily presence.

Meanwhile, Rickman's poem, or rather the first two Acts of his
neo-classic drama, _Helen in Leuce_, lay on Lucia's lap. Jewdwine had
obtained it under protest and with much secrecy. He had promised
Rickman, solemnly, not to show it to a soul; but he had shown it to
Lucia. It was all right, he said, so long as he refrained from
disclosing the name of the person who had written it. Not that she
would have been any the wiser if he had.

"And it was you who discovered him?" Her voice lingered with a
peculiarly tender and agreeable vibration on the "you." He closed his
eyes and let that, too, sink into him.

"Yes," he murmured, "nobody else has had a hand in it--as yet."

"And what are you going to do with him now you have discovered him?"

He opened his eyes, startled by the uncomfortable suggestion. It had
not yet occurred to him that the discovery of Rickman could entail any
responsibility whatever.

"I don't know that I'm going to do anything with him. Unless some day
I use him for an article."

"Oh, Horace, is that the way you treat your friends?"

He smiled. "Yes Lucy, sometimes, when they deserve it."

"You haven't told me your friend's name?"

"No. I betrayed his innocent confidence sufficiently in showing you
his play. I can't tell you his name."

"After all, his name doesn't matter."

"No, it doesn't matter. Very likely you'll hear enough of it some
day. You haven't told me what you think of him."

"I don't know what I think--But then, I don't know him."

"No," he said, roused to interest by her hesitation, "you don't know
him. That's the beauty of it."

She gave the manuscript back into his hands. "Take him away. He makes
me feel uncomfortable."

"To tell the truth, Lucy, he makes me feel uncomfortable, too."

"Why?"

"Well, when you think you've got hold of a genius, and you take him up
and stake your reputation on him--and all the time you can't be sure
whether it's a spark of the divine fire or a mere flash in the pan. It
happens over and over again. The burnt critic dreads the divine fire."

His eyes were fixed on the title page as if fascinated by the words,
_Helen in Leuce_.

"But this is not bad--it's _not_ bad for two and twenty."

"Only two and twenty?"

"That's all. It looks as if he were made for immortality."

She turned to him that ardent gaze which made the hot day hotter.

"Dear Horace, you're going to do great things for him."

The worst of having a cousin who adores you is that magnificence is
expected of you, regularly and as a matter of course. He was not even
sure that Lucia did not credit him with power to work miracles. The
idea was flattering but also somewhat inconvenient.

"I don't know about great things. I should like to do something. The
question is what. He's a little unfortunate in--in his surroundings,
and he's been ill, poor fellow. If one could give him a change. If one
were only rich and could afford to send him abroad for a year. I _had_
thought of asking him down to Oxford."

"And why didn't you?"

"Well, you know, one gets rather crowded up with things in term time."

Lucia looked thoughtfully at the refined, luxurious figure in the
hammock. Horace was entitled to the hammock, for he had been ill. He
was entitled also to the ministrations of his cousin Lucia. Lucia
spent her time in planning and doing kind things, and, from the sudden
luminous sweetness of her face, he gathered that something of the sort
was in preparation now.

It was. "Horace," she said, "would you like to ask him here?"

"No, Lucy, I wouldn't. I don't think it would do."

"But why not--if he's your friend?"

"If he's my friend."

"You _said_ he was your friend. You did, you know." (Another awkward
consequence of a cousin's adoration; she is apt to remember and attach
importance to your most trivial utterances.)

"Pardon me, I said he was my find."

"Where did you find him?"

"I found him in the City--in a shop."

She smiled at the rhythmic utterance. The tragedy of the revelation
was such that it could be expressed only in blank verse.

"The shop doesn't matter."

"No, but he does. You couldn't stand him, Lucia. You see, for one
thing, he sometimes drops his aitches."

"Well, if he does,--he'll be out all day, and there's the open country
to drop them in. I really don't mind, if you'd like to ask him. Do you
think he'd like to be asked?"

"There's no possible doubt about that."

"Then ask him. Ask him now. You can't do it when father's not at
home."

Jewdwine repressed a smile. Even now, from the windows of the east
wing, there burst, suddenly, the sound of fiddling, a masterly
fiddling inspired by infernal passion, controlled by divine technique.
It was his uncle, Sir Frederick, and he wished him at the devil. If
all accounts were true, Sir Frederick, when not actually fiddling, was
going there with a celerity that left nothing to be desired; he was,
if you came to think of it, a rather amazing sort of chaperone.

And yet, but for that fleeting and tumultuous presence, Horace himself
would not be staying at Court House. Really, he reflected. Lucia ought
to get some lady to live with her. It was the correct thing, and
therefore it was not a little surprising that Lucia did not do it. An
expression of disapproval passed over his pale, fastidious face.

"Father won't mind," she said.

"No, but I should." He said it in a tone which was meant to settle the
question.

She sat still, turning over the pages of the manuscript which she had
again taken on her lap.

"I suppose he is very dreadful. Still, I think we ought to do
something for him."

"And what would you propose to do?"

There was an irritating smile on her cousin's face. He was thinking,
"So she wants to patronize him, does she?"

He did not say what he thought; with Lucia that was unnecessary, for
she always knew. He only said, "I don't exactly see you playing
Beatrice to his Dante."

Lucia coloured, and Horace felt that he had been right. The Hardens
had always been patronizing; his mother and sister were the most
superbly patronizing women he knew. And Rickman might or might not be
a great man, but Lucia, even at three and twenty, was a great lady in
her way. Why shouldn't she patronize him, if she liked? And he smiled
again more irritatingly than ever. Nobody could be more irritating
than this Oxford don when he gave his mind to it.

"Lucy--if you only knew him, I don't think you'd suggest my bringing
him down here."

He was smiling still, while his imagination dallied with the monstrous
vision.

"I wouldn't have suggested it," she said coldly, "if I hadn't thought
you'd like it."

Horace felt a little ashamed of himself. He knew he had only to think
about Lucia in her presence to change the colour on her cheeks, and
his last thought had left a stain there like the mark of a blow. Never
had he known any woman so sensitive as his cousin Lucia.

"So I should like it, dear, if it were possible, or rather if _he_
were not impossible. His manners have not that repose which
distinguishes his _Helen_. Really, for two and twenty, he is
marvellously restrained."

"Restrained? Do you think so?"

"Certainly," he said, his thought gaining precision in opposition to
her vagueness, "his _Helen_ is pure Vere de Vere. You might read me
some of it."

She read, and in the golden afternoon her voice built up the cold,
polished marble of the verse. She had not been able to tell him what
she thought of Rickman; but her voice, in its profound vibrations,
made apparent that which she, and she only, had discerned in him, the
troubled pulse of youth, the passion of the imprisoned and tumultuous
soul, the soul which Horace had assured her inhabited the body of an
aitchless shopman. Lucia might not have the intuition of genius, but
she had the genius of intuition; she had seen what the great Oxford
critic had not been able to see.

The sound of the fiddling ceased as suddenly as it had begun; and over
the grey house and the green garden was the peace of heaven and of the
enfolding hills.

Jewdwine breathed a sigh of contentment at the close of the great
chorus in the second Act. After all, Rickman was the best antidote to
Rickman.

But Lucia was looking ardent again, as if she were about to speak.

"Don't, Lucy," he murmured.

"Don't what?"

"Don't talk any more about him now. It's too hot. Wait till the cool
of the evening."

"I thought you wanted me to play to you then."

Jewdwine looked at her; he noted the purity of her face, the beautiful
pose of her body, stretched in the deck-chair, her fine white hands
and arms that hung there, slender, inert and frail. He admired these
things so much that he failed to see that they expressed not only
beauty but a certain delicacy of physique, and that her languor which
appealed to him was the languor of fatigue.

"You might play to me, now," he said.

She looked at him again, a lingering, meditative look, a look in
which, if adoration was quiescent, there was no criticism and no
reproach, only a melancholy wonder. And he, too, wondered; wondered
what she was thinking of.

She was thinking a dreadful thought. "Is Horace selfish? Is Horace
selfish?" a little voice kept calling at the back of her brain and
would not be quiet. At last she answered it to her own satisfaction.
"No, he is not selfish, he is only ill."

And presently, as if on mature consideration, she rose and went into
the house.

His eyes followed, well pleased, the delicate undulations of her
figure.

Horace Jewdwine was the most exacting, the most fastidious of men. His
entire nature was dominated by the critical faculty in him; and Lucia
satisfied its most difficult demands. Try as he would, there was
really nothing in her which he could take exception to, barring her
absurd adoration of his uncle Frederick; and even that, when you came
to think of it, flowed from the innocence which was more than half her
charm. He could not say positively wherein her beauty consisted,
therefore he was always tempted to look at her in the hope of finding
out. There was nothing insistent and nothing obvious about it. Some
women, for instance, irritated your admiration by the capricious
prettiness of one or two features, or fatigued it by the monotonous
regularity of all. The beauty of others was vulgarized by the
flamboyance of some irrelevant detail, such as hair. Lucia's hair was
merely dark; and it made, as hair should make, the simplest adornment
for her head, the most perfect setting for her face. As for her
features, (though it was impossible to think of them, or anything
about her as incorrect) they eluded while they fascinated him by their
subtlety. Lucia's beauty, in short, appealed to him, because it did
not commit him to any irretrievable opinion.

But nothing, not even her beauty, pleased him better than the way in
which she managed her intellect, divining by some infallible instinct
how much of it was wanted by any given listener at a given time. She
had none of the nasty tricks that clever women have, always on the
look out to go one better, and to catch you tripping. Her lucidity was
remarkable; but it served to show up other people's strong points
rather than her own. Lucia did not impress you as being clever, and
Jewdwine, who had a clever man's natural distaste for clever women,
admired his cousin's intellect, as well he might, for it was he who
had taught her how to use it. Her sense of humour, too (for Lucia was
dangerously gifted), that sense which more than any of her senses can
wreck a woman--he would have liked her just as well if she had had
none; but some, no doubt, she needed, if only to save her from the
situations to which her kindness and her innocence exposed her; and
she had just the right amount and no more. Heavens! Supposing, without
it, she had met Keith Rickman and had yielded to the temptation to be
kind to him! Even in the heat Jewdwine shivered at the thought.

He put it from him, he put Rickman altogether from his mind. It was
not to think about Rickman that he came down to Court House. On a day
as hot as this, he wanted nothing but to keep cool. The gentle
oscillation of the hammock in the green shadows of the beech-tree
symbolized this attitude towards Rickman and all other ardent
questions.

Still, it was not disagreeable to know that if he could only make up
his mind to something very definite and irretrievable indeed, Court
House would one day be his. It was the only house in England that came
up to his idea of what a country house should be. A square Tudor
building with two short, gable-ended wings, thrown out at right angles
to its front; three friendly grey walls enclosing a little courtyard
made golden all day long with sunshine from the south. Court House was
older than anything near it except Harmouth Bridge and the Parish
Church. Standing apart in its own green lands, it looked older than
the young red earth beneath it, a mass upheaved from the grey
foundations of the hills. Its face, turned seawards, was rough and
pitted with the salt air; thousands upon thousands of lichens gave it
a greenish bloom, with here and there a rusty patch on groin and
gable. It contained the Harden Library, _the_ Harden Library, one of
the finest private collections in the country. It contained also his
cousin Lucia.

He had always loved Court House, but not always his cousin Lucia. The
scholarly descendant of a long line of scholars, Jewdwine knew that he
had been a favourite with his grandfather, Sir Joseph Harden, the
Master of Lazarus, he was convinced (erroneously) that he was a Harden
by blood and by temperament, and of course if he had only been a
Harden by name, and not a Jewdwine, Court House and the great Harden
Library would have been his instead of his cousin Lucia's. He knew
that his grandfather had wished them to be his. Lucia's mother was
dead long ago; and when his uncle Sir Frederick definitely renounced
the domestic life, Lucia and Lucia alone stood between him and the
inheritance that should have been his. This hardly constituted a
reason for being fond of Lucia.

His grandfather had wished him to be fond of her. But not until
Jewdwine was five and twenty and began to feel the primordial manhood
stirring in his scholarly blood did he perceive that his cousin Lucia
was not a hindrance but a way. The way was so obvious that it was no
wonder that he did not see it all at once. He did not really see it
till Sir Joseph sent for him on his death-bed.

"There's been some mistake, Horace," Sir Joseph had then said. "Your
mother should have been the boy and your uncle Frederick the girl.
Then Lucia would have been a Jewdwine, and you a Harden."

And Horace had said, "I'm afraid I can't be a Harden, sir; but is
there any reason why Lucia--?"

"I was coming to that," said Sir Joseph. But he never came to it.
Horace, however, was in some way aware that the same idea had occurred
to both of them. Whatever it was, the old man had died happy in it.

There was no engagement, only a something altogether intangible and
vague, understood to be an understanding. And Lucia adored him. If she
had not adored him he might have been urged to something irretrievable
and definite. As it was, there was no need, and nothing could have
been more soothing than the golden concord of that understanding.

Needless to say if Lucia had been anybody but Lucia, such a solution
would have been impossible. He was fastidious. He would not have
married a woman simply because his grandfather wished it; and he could
not have married a woman simply because she inherited property that
ought to have been his. And he could not have married any woman who
would have suspected him of such brutality. He could only marry a
woman who was consummately suitable to him, in whom nothing jarred,
nothing offended; and his cousin Lucia was such a woman. The very fact
that she was his cousin was an assurance of her rightness. It followed
that, love being the expression of that perfect and predestined
harmony, he could only marry for love. Not for a great estate, for
Court House and the Harden Library. No, to do him justice, his seeking
of Lucia was independent of his reflection that these things would be
added unto him. Still, once married to Lucia, there was only Sir
Frederick and his infernal fiddle between him and ultimate, inviolable
possession; and Sir Frederick, to use his own phrase, had "about
played himself out." From what a stage and to what mad music!

From the east wing came the sound, not of his uncle's fiddle, but of
the music he desired, the tremendous and difficult music that, on a
hot July afternoon, taxed the delicate player's strength to its
utmost. Lucia began with Scarlatti and Bach; wandered off through
Schumann into Chopin, a moonlit enchanted wilderness of sound; paused,
and wound up superbly with Beethoven, the "Sonata Appassionata."

And as she came back to him over the green lawn she seemed to Jewdwine
to be trailing tumultuous echoes of her music; the splendour and the
passion of her playing hung about her like a luminous cloud. He rose
and went to meet her, and in his eyes there was a light, a light of
wonder and of worship.

"I think," she said, "you do look a little happier."

"I am tolerably happy, thanks."

"So am I."

"Yes, but _you_ don't look it. What are you thinking of?"

She turned, and they walked together towards the house.

"I was thinking--it's quite cool, now, Horace--of what you said--about
that friend of yours."

"Lucy! Was I rude? Did I make you unhappy?"

"Not you. Don't you see that it's just because I'm happy that I want
to be kind to him?"

"Just like your sweetness. But, dear child, you can't be kind to
everybody. It really doesn't do."

She said no more; she had certainly something else to think about.

That was on a Tuesday, a hot afternoon in July, eighteen ninety-one.




CHAPTER II


It was Wednesday evening in April, eighteen ninety-two. Spring was
coming up on the south wind from the river; spring was in the narrow
streets and in the great highway of the Strand, and in a certain
bookseller's shop in the Strand. And it was Easter, not to say Bank
Holiday, already in the soul of the young man who sat there compiling
the Quarterly Catalogue. For it was in the days of his obscurity.

The shop, a corner one, was part of a gigantic modern structure, with
a decorated facade in pinkish terra-cotta, and topped by four pinkish
cupolas. It was brutally, tyrannously imposing. It towered above its
neighbours, dwarfing the long sky-line of the Strand; its flushed
cupolas mocked the white and heavenly soaring of St. Mary's. Whether
you approached it from the river, or from the City, or from the west,
you could see nothing else, so monstrous was it, so flagrant and so
new. Though the day was not yet done, the electric light streamed over
the pavement from the huge windows of the ground floor; a coronal of
dazzling globes hung over the doorway at the corner; there, as you
turned, the sombre windows of the second-hand department stretched
half way down the side street; here, in the great thoroughfare, the
newest of new books stood out, solicitous and alluring, in suits of
blazing scarlet and vivid green, of vellum and gilt, of polished
leather that shone like amber and malachite and lapis lazuli.

Within, a wall broken by a wide and lofty arch divided the front from
the back shop. On the right of the arch was the mahogany pew of the
cashier, on the left, a tall pillar stove radiating intolerable heat.
Four steps led through the arch into the back shop, the floor of
which was raised in a sort of platform. On the platform was a table,
and at the table sat the young man compiling the Quarterly Catalogue.

Front shop and back shop reeked with the smells of new mahogany, dust,
pillar-stove, gum, hot-pressed paper and Russia leather. He sat in the
middle of them, in an atmosphere so thick that it could be seen
hanging about him like an aura, luminous in the glare of the electric
light. His slender, nervous hands worked rapidly, with a business-like
air of dexterity and dispatch. But every now and then he raised his
head and stared for quite a long time at the round, white, foolish
face of the clock, and whenever he did this his eyes were the eyes of
a young man who has no adequate sense of his surroundings.

The remarkable thing about the new shop was that already, like a bar
or a restaurant, it drew to it a certain group of young men,
punctually, irresistibly. A small group--you could almost count them
on the fingers of one hand--they came from Fleet Street, from the
Temple, from the Junior Journalists' Club over the way. They were
never seen looking in at the windows or hanging about the counter;
they were not the least bit of good to the shop, those customers. But
they were evidently some good to the young man. Whatever they did or
did not do, they always ended by drifting to the platform, to his
table. They sat on it in friendly attitudes and talked to him.

He was so glad to be talked to, so frankly, engagingly, beautifully
glad, that the pathos of it would have been too poignant, the
obligation it almost forced on you too unbearable, but for his power,
his monstrous, mysterious, personal glamour.

It lay partly, no doubt, in his appearance; not, no, not at all, in
his make-up. He wore, like a thousand city clerks, a high collar, a
speckled tie, a straight, dark blue serge suit. But in spite of the
stiffness thus imposed on him, he had, unaccountably, the shy, savage
beauty of an animal untamed, uncaught. He belonged to the slender,
nervous, fair type; but the colour proper to it had been taken out of
him by the shop. His head presented the utmost clearness of line
compatible with irregularity of outline; and his face (from its heavy
square forehead to its light square jaw) was full of strange
harmonies, adjustments, compensations. His chin, rather long in a
front view, rather prominent in profile, balanced the powerful
proportions of his forehead. His upper lip, in spite of its slender
arch, betrayed a youthful eagerness of the senses; but this effect was
subtilized by the fineness of his lower lip, and, when they closed, it
disappeared in the sudden, serious straightening of the lines. Even
his nose (otherwise a firm feature, straight in the bridge and rather
broad at the end) became grave or eager as the pose of the head hid or
revealed the nostrils. He had queer eyes, of a thick dark blue, large,
though deep set, showing a great deal of iris and very little white.
Without being good-looking he was good to look at, when you could look
long enough to find all these things out. He did not like being looked
at. If you tried to hold him that way, his eyes were all over the
place, seeking an escape; but they held _you_, whether you liked it or
not.

It was uncanny, that fascination. If he had chosen to exert it in the
interests of his shop he could presumably have cleaned those friendly
young men out any day. But he never did exert it. Surrounded by wares
whose very appearance was a venal solicitation, he never hinted by so
much as the turn of a phrase that there was anything about him to be
bought. And after what had passed between them, they felt that to hint
it themselves--to him--would have been the last indelicacy. If they
ever asked the price of a book it was to propitiate the grim grizzled
fellow, so like a Methodist parson, who glared at them from the
counter.

They kept their discovery to themselves, as if it had been something
too precious to be handled, as if its charm, the poetry, the pathos of
it must escape under discussion. But any of them who did compare notes
agreed that their first idea had been that the shop was absurdly too
big for the young man; their next that the young man was too big for
the shop, miles, oh miles too big for it; their final impression being
the tragedy of the disproportion, the misfit. Then, sadly, with
lowered voices, they admitted that he had one flaw; when the poor
fellow got excited, don't you know, he sometimes dropt--no--no, he
skipped--his aitches. It didn't happen often, but they felt it
terrible that it should happen at all--to him. They touched it
tenderly; if it was not exactly part of his poetry it was part of his
pathos. The shop was responsible for it. He ought never, never to have
been there.

And yet, bad as it was, they felt that he must be consoled, sustained
by what he knew about himself, what it was inconceivable that he
should not know.

He may, indeed, have reflected with some complacency that in spite of
everything, his great classic drama, _Helen in Leuce_, was lying
finished in the dressing-table drawer in his bedroom, and that for the
last month those very modern poems that he called _Saturnalia_ had
been careering through the columns of _The Planet_. But at the moment
he was mainly supported by the coming of Easter.




CHAPTER III


The scene of the tragedy, that shop in the Strand, was well-lit and
well-appointed. But he, Savage Keith Rickman, had much preferred the
dark little second-hand shop in the City where he had laboured as a
boy. There was something soothing in its very obscurity and
retirement. He could sit there for an hour at a time, peacefully
reading his Homer. In that agreeable dusty twilight, outward forms
were dimmed with familiarity and dirt. His dreams took shape before
him, they came and went at will, undisturbed by any gross collision
with reality. There was hardly any part of it that was not consecrated
by some divine visitation. It was in the corner by the window,
standing on a step-ladder and fumbling in the darkness for a copy of
Demosthenes, _De Corona_, that he lit on his first Idea. From his seat
behind the counter, staring, as was his custom, into the recess where
the coal-scuttle was, he first saw the immortal face of Helen in
Leuce.

Here, all that beautiful world of thought lay open to the terrific
invasion of things. His dreams refused to stand out with sufficient
distinctness from a background of coloured bindings, plate glass and
mahogany. They were liable at any moment to be broken by the violent
contours of customers. A sight of Helen in Leuce could be obtained
only by dint of much concentrated staring at the clock; and as often
as not Mr. Rickman's eye dropt its visionary freight on encountering
the cashier's eye in its passage from the clock to the paper.

But (as he reflected with some humour) though Mr. Rickman's ideas so
frequently miscarried, owing to that malignant influence, his genius,
like Nature irresistible and indestructible, compelled him perpetually
to bring forth. Exposed on his little dais or platform, in hideous
publicity, he suffered the divine labour and agony of creation. He was
the slave of his passion and his hour.




CHAPTER IV


A wave of heat broke from the pillar-stove and spread through the
shop, strewing the heavier smells like a wrack behind it. And through
it all, with every swing of the great mahogany doors, there stole into
his young senses a something delicious and disturbing, faintly
discernible as the Spring.

He thrust his work from him, tilted back his chair at a dangerous
angle, and began reviewing his engagements for the coming Bank
Holiday.

He was only three and twenty, and at three and twenty an infinite
measure of life can be pressed into the great three days. He saw in
fancy the procession of the hours, the flight of the dreams, of all
the gorgeous intellectual pageants that move through the pages of
_Saturnalia_. For in ninety-two Savage Keith Rickman was a little poet
about town, a cockney poet, the poet not only of neo-classic drama,
but of green suburban Saturday noons, and flaming Saturday nights, and
of a great many things besides. He had made his plans long beforehand,
and was prepared to consign to instant perdition the person or thing
that should interfere with them. Good Friday morning, an hour's
cycling before breakfast in Regent's Park, by way of pumping some air
into his lungs, then, ten hours at least of high Parnassian leisure,
of dalliance in Academic shades; he saw himself wooing some reluctant
classic, or, far more likely, flirting with his own capricious and
bewildering muse. (In a world of prose it is only by such divine
snatches that poets are made) Friday evening, dinner at his club, the
Junior Journalists'. Saturday morning, recovery from dinner at the
Junior Journalists'. Saturday afternoon, to Hampstead or the
Hippodrome with Flossie Walker, the little clerk, who lived in his
boarding-house and never had any fun to speak of. Saturday night,
supper with--well, with Miss Poppy Grace of the Jubilee Variety
Theatre. He had a sudden vision of Poppy as he was wont to meet her in
delightful intimacy, instantaneously followed by her image that
flaunted on the posters out there in the Strand, Poppy as she appeared
behind the foot-lights, in red silk skirts and black silk stockings,
skimming, whirling, swaying, and deftly shaking her foot at him.
Midnight and morning merging into one. Sunday, to Richmond, probably,
with Poppy and some others. Monday, up the river with Himself. Not for
worlds, that is to say, not for any amount of Poppies, would he have
broken his appointment with that brilliant and yet inscrutable
companion who is so eternally fascinating at twenty-three. Monday was
indistinct but luminous, a restless, shimmering background for ideas.
Ideas! They swarmed like motes in the blue air; they loomed, they
floated, vague, and somewhat supernaturally large, all made out of Mr.
Rickman's brain. And in the midst of the ideas a figure insanely
whirled, till it became a mere wheel of flying skirts and tossing
limbs.

At this point Mr. Rickman caught the cashier's eye looking at him over
the little mahogany rails of his pew, and he began wondering how on
earth the cashier would behave when they loosed him out for the Bank
Holiday. Then he set to and wrote hard at the Quarterly Catalogue. In
all London there was not a more prolific or versatile writer than
Savage Keith Rickman. But if in ninety-two you had asked him for his
masterpiece, his _magnum opus_, his life-work, he would mention
nothing that he had written, but refer you, soberly and benignly, to
that colossal performance, the Quarterly Catalogue.

"Vandam: Amours of Great Men (a little soiled). Rare. 30s." He was
in the middle of the Vs now and within measurable distance of the end.
Business being slack in the front shop, he finished earlier than
usual, and actually found himself with nearly a whole hour upon his
hands before dinner. He had half a mind to spend it at his club, the
Junior Journalists', in the side street over the way.

Only half a mind; for Mr. Rickman entertained the most innocent
beliefs with regard to that club of his. He was not yet sure whether
it belonged to him or he to it; but in going to the Junior
Journalists' he conceived himself to be going into society. So extreme
was his illusion.

Mr. Rickman's place was in the shop and his home was in a boarding
house, and for years he had thought of belonging to that club; but
quite hopelessly, as of a thing beyond attainment. It had never
occurred to him that anything could come of those invasions of the
friendly young men. Yet this was what had come of them. He was
friends, under the rose, that is to say, over the counter, with Horace
Jewdwine of Lazarus College, Oxford. Jewdwine had proposed him on his
own merits, somebody else had seconded him (he supposed) on
Jewdwine's, and between them they had smuggled him in. This would be
his first appearance as a Junior Journalist. And he might well feel a
little diffident about it; for, though some of the members knew him,
he could not honestly say he knew any of them, except Rankin (of _The
Planet_) who possibly mightn't, and Jewdwine who certainly wouldn't,
be there. But the plunge had to be made some time; he might as well
make it now.

From the threshold of the Junior Journalists' he looked back across
the side street, as across a gulf, at the place he had just left. His
eyes moved from the jutting sign-board at the corner, announcing
_Gentlemen's Libraries Purchased_, to the legend that ran above the
window, blazoned in letters of gold:

_Isaac Rickman: New & Second-Hand Bookseller._

His connexion with it was by no means casual and temporary. It was his
father's shop.




CHAPTER V


The little booksellers of the Strand, in their death struggle against
Rickman's, never cursed that house more heartily than did the Junior
Journalists, in their friendly, shabby little den, smelling of old
leather and tobacco and the town. They complained that it cut on
two-thirds of the light from the front windows of the reading-room.
Not that any of them were ever known to read in it. They used it
chiefly as a place to talk in, for which purpose little illumination
was required.

To-night one of the windows in question was occupied by a small group
of talkers isolated from the rest. There was Mackinnon, of _The
Literary Observer_. There were the three wild young spirits of _The
Planet_, Stables, who had launched it with frightful impetus into
space (having borrowed a sum sufficient for the purpose), Maddox, who
controlled its course, and Rankin, whose brilliance made it twinkle so
brightly in the firmament. With them, but emphatically not of them,
was Horace Jewdwine, of Lazarus, who had come up from Oxford to join
the staff of _The Museion_.

Jewdwine and Mackinnon, both secure of a position and a salary, looked
solemn and a little anxious; but the men of _The Planet_, having
formed themselves into a sort of unlimited liability company, and
started a brand new "weekly" of their own (upon no sort of security
beyond their bare brains) were as persons without a single care, worry
or responsibility. They were exchanging ideas in an off-hand and
light-hearted manner, the only stipulation being that the ideas must
be new; for, by some unwritten law of the club, the conversational
currency was liable at any moment to be called in.

This evening, however, they had hit on a topic almost virgin from the
mint.

"S.K.R.? _Who_ is he? _What_ is he?" said Mackinnon.

"I can't tell you what he _is_; but I can pretty soon tell you what
he's not," said Stables. He was a very young man with a white face and
red eyelids, who looked as if he sat up all night and went to bed in
the day-time, as indeed he generally did.

"_Omnis negatio est determinatio_," murmured Jewdwine, without looking
up from the letter he was trying to write.

"What has he done?" persisted Mackinnon.

"He's done a great many remarkable things," said Rankin; "things
almost as remarkable as himself."

"Who unearthed him?"

"I did," said Rankin, so complacently that the deep lines relaxed
round the five copper-coloured bosses that were his chin and cheeks
and brow. (The rest of Rankin's face was spectacles and moustache.)

"Oh, did you?" said Maddox. Maddox was a short man with large
shoulders; heavy browed, heavy jowled, heavy moustached. Maddox's
appearance belied him; he looked British when he was half Celt; he
struck you as overbearing when he was only top-heavy; he spoke as if
he was angry when he was only in fun, as you could see by his eyes.
Little babyish blue eyes they were with curly corners, a gay light in
the sombre truculence of his face. They looked cautiously round.

"I can tell you a little tale about S.K.R. You know the last time
Smythe was ill--?"

"You mean drunk."

"Well--temporarily extinguished. S.K.R., who knows his music-halls,
was offered Smythe's berth. We delicately intimated to him that if he
liked at any time to devote a little paragraph to Miss Poppy Grace, he
was at perfect liberty to do so."

"A liberty he interpreted as poetic licence."

"Nothing of the sort. He absolutely declined the job."

"Why?"

"Well--the marvellous boy informed me that he was too intimate with
the lady to write about her. At any rate with that noble impartiality
which distinguishes the utterances of _The Planet_."

"Steady, man. He _never_ told ye _that_!" said Mackinnon.

"I didn't say he _told_ me, I said he informed me."

"And whar's the differ'nce? I don't see it at all."

"Trepan him, trepan him."

Stables took out his penknife and indicated by dumb show a surgical
operation on Mackinnon's dome-like head.

"I gathered it," continued Maddox suavely, "from his manner. I culled
his young thought like a flower."

"Perhaps," Rankin suggested, "he was afraid of compromising Poppy."

"He might have left that subtle consideration to Pilkington."

"That was it. He scented Dicky's hand in it, and wasn't particularly
anxious to oblige him. The point of the joke is that he happens to owe
Dicky a great deal more than he can conveniently pay. That'll give you
some faint notion of the magnificence of his cheek."

Stables was impressed. He wondered what sort of young man it could be
who had the moral courage to oppose Dicky Pilkington at such a moment.
He could not have done it himself. Dicky Pilkington was the great and
mysterious power at the back of _The Planet_.

"But this isn't the end of it. I told him, for his future guidance and
encouragement, that he had mistaken cause and effect--that little
variety _artistes_, like other people, are not popular because they
are written about, but written about because they are popular--that
_The Planet_ is the organ of public opinion, not of private opinions;
in short, that he wasn't in it, at all. I thought I'd sat on him till
he was about flat--and the very next week he comes bounding in with
his _Saturnalia_, as he calls them."

"That was your moment. Why didn't you rise up in your majesty and
r-r-reject them?"

"Couldn't. They were too damned good." Maddox smiled at the
reminiscence. "I wasn't going to let him sign them, but he took the
wind out of my sails by stating beforehand that he didn't want
to--that if I didn't mind--_mind_, if you please--he'd very much
rather not. It's only the last week (when the _Saturnalia_ were
getting better and better) that he graciously permitted his initials
to appear. S.K.R.--Savage Keith Rickman."

"Good Lord!" said Rankin; "what must he be like?"

"Ask Jewdwine," said Stables; "he's Jewdwine's man."

"Excuse _me_," said Maddox, "he is _mine_. I say, Jewdwine, what _is_
he like?"

Jewdwine did not respond very eagerly; he wanted to get on with his
letter. But the club had another unwritten law as to writing. If a
majority of members desired to write, silence was vigorously insisted
on. Any number short of a majority wrote as best they could. For this
unfortunate scribe there could be no concession; he was in a minority
of one.

"If"--said he, "you can imagine the soul of a young Sophocles,
battling with that of a--of a junior journalist in the body of a
dissipated little Cockney--"

"Can't," said Stables. "Haven't got enough imagination."

"The child of 'Ellas and of Ollywell Street'--innocent of--er--the
rough breathing," suggested Maddox.

As it was now seven o'clock, and the Junior Journalists were dropping
off one by one to the dining-room below, the young men of _The Planet_
began to stretch their legs, and raise their voices, and behave like
young men who believe their privacy to be inviolable and complete.
They soon had the place to themselves, except for one person whose
entrance had been covered by the outgoing stream; and he had
delicately turned his back on them, and taken a seat in the farthest
window, where his unobtrusive presence could be no possible hindrance
to conversation.

"I've seen him after supper," said Maddox. He was obliged to speak
rather loudly, because of the noise that came up from the overcrowded
dining-room.

"Well, then, how did he strike you?"

Maddox's eyes curled with limpid, infantile devilry.

"Well, I daresay he might be a bit of a bounder when he's sober, but
he's a perfect little gentleman when he's drunk. Softens him down
somehow."

"_In vino veritas_--a true gentleman at heart."

"One of Nature's gentlemen. _I_ know 'em," said Stables.

"One of Art's gentlemen," interposed Jewdwine severely, "and a very
fine gentleman too, if you take him that way."

Jewdwine raised his head from his letter and looked round uneasily.
Personalities were not altogether to his taste; besides, he was really
anxious to finish that letter. He caught sight of a back at the other
window.

"I think," said he quietly, "this conversation had better cease."

The owner of the back had moved, a little ostentatiously. He now got
up and crossed the room. The back was still towards the group of
talkers. Jewdwine followed its passage. He was fascinated. He gasped.

He could have sworn to that back anywhere, with its square but slender
shoulders, its defiant swing from the straight hips, the head tossed a
little backwards as if to correct the student's tendency to stoop. He
looked from the back to Maddox. Maddox could not see what he saw, but
his face reflected the horror of Jewdwine's.

Their voices were inaudible enough now.

"Do you know who it is?"

"I should think I did. It's the man himself."

"How truly damnable," said Rankin. After those words there was a
silence which Jewdwine, like the wise man he was, utilized for his
correspondence.

It was Maddox who recovered first. "Call him what you like," said he,
in a wonderfully natural voice, between two puffs of a cigarette, "I
consider him an uncommonly good sort. A bit of a bounder, but no end
of a good sort."

The others were evidently impressed by this bold though desperate
policy. Maddox himself was inclined to think that it had saved the
situation, but he was anxious to make sure. Edging his chair by slow
degrees, he turned discreetly round. With the tail of his eye he could
see "the man himself" standing at the far end of the room. He saw too
that his own effort, though supreme, had been unavailing. It had
deceived no one, least of all S.K.R. "The man himself" stood on the
very hearth of the club, with his back to the fireplace. It was the
attitude of mastery, a mastery the more superb because unconscious.
His eyes too, were the eyes of a master, twinkling a little as to
their light, but steady as to their direction, being fixed on Maddox.
He was smiling.

There was nothing malignant, or bitter, or sardonic about that smile.
No devilry of delight at their confusion. No base abandonment of the
whole countenance to mirth, but a curious one-sided smile, implying
delicacies, reservations. A slow smile, reminiscent, ruminant,
appreciative; it expressed (if so subtle and refined a thing could be
said to express anything) a certain exquisite enjoyment of the phrases
in which they had defined him.

And seeing it, Maddox said to himself, "He isn't a gentleman. He's
something more."

In that moment the Celtic soul of Maddox had recognized its master,
and had sworn to him unhesitating allegiance.




CHAPTER VI


It was not until Rankin and the others had left the room that Jewdwine
had courage to raise his head tentatively. He had only seen that young
man's back, and he still clung to the hope that it might not be
Rickman's, after all.

He looked up as steadily as he dared. Oh, no doubt that it was
Rickman's back; no doubt, too, that it was his, Jewdwine's, duty to go
up and speak to him. The young man had changed his place; he was at
his window again, contemplating--as Jewdwine reflected with a pang of
sympathy--the shop. So profound, so sacred almost, was his absorption
that Jewdwine hesitated in his approach.

"_Is_ it Rickman?" he asked, still tentative.

"Mr. Jewdwine!" Rickman's soul leapt to Jewdwine's from the depths;
but the "Mister" marked the space it had had to travel. "When did you
come up?"

"Three hours ago." ("He looks innocent," said Jewdwine to himself.)

"Then you weren't prepared for that?"

Jewdwine followed his fascinated gaze. He smiled faintly.

"You haven't noticed our new departure? We not only purchase
Gentlemen's Libraries, but we sell the works of persons who may or may
not be gentlemen."

Jewdwine felt profoundly uncomfortable. Rickman's face preserved its
inimitable innocence, but he continued to stare fixedly before him.

"Poor fellow," thought Jewdwine, "he must have heard those
imbecilities." He felt horribly responsible, responsible to the Club
for the behaviour of Rickman and responsible to Rickman for the
behaviour of the Club. What could he do to make it up to him? Happy
thought--he would ask him to dinner at--yes, at his sister's, Miss
Jewdwine's, house at Hampstead. That was to say, if his cousin, Lucia
Harden, did not happen to be staying there. He was not quite sure how
Rickman would strike that most fastidious of young ladies. And Rankin
had said he drank.

In the light of Lucia Harden's and his sister's possible criticism, he
considered him more carefully than he had done before.

The contrast between the two men was certainly rather marked. A
gentleman can be neither more nor less than a gentleman, and Rickman,
in a sense not altogether intended by Maddox, was decidedly more. His
individuality was too exuberant, too irrepressible. He had the
restless, emphatic air of a man who has but little leisure and is too
obviously anxious to make the most of what he has. He always seemed to
be talking against time; and as he talked his emotions played visibly,
too visibly, on his humorous, irregular face. Taking into account his
remarkable firmness of physique, it struck you that this transparency
must be due to some excessive radiance of soul. A soul (in Jewdwine's
opinion) a trifle too demonstrative in its hospitality to vagrant
impressions. The Junior Journalists may have been a little hard on
him. On the whole, he left you dubious until the moment when, from
pure nervousness, his speech went wild, even suffering that slight
elision of the aspirate observed by some of them. But then, he had a
voice of such singular musical felicity that it charmed you into
forgetfulness of these enormities.

It had charmed Jewdwine from the first, and Jewdwine was hard to
charm. There was no room for speculation as to him. Even to the eye
his type had none of the uncertainty and complexity of Rickman's. He
looked neither more nor less than he was--an Oxford don, developing
into a London Journalist. You divined that the process would be slow.
There was no unseemly haste about Jewdwine; time had not been spared
in the moulding of his body and his soul. He bore the impress of the
ages; the whole man was clean-cut, aristocratic, finished, defined.
You instinctively looked up to him; which was perhaps the reason why
you remembered his conspicuously intellectual forehead and his
pathetically fastidious nose, and forgot the vacillating mouth that
drooped under a scanty, colourless moustache, hiding its weakness out
of sight.

Rickman had always looked up to him. For Jewdwine, as Rankin had
intimated, was the man who had discovered S.K.R. He was always
discovering him. Not, as he was careful to inform you, that this
argued any sort of intimacy; on the contrary, it meant that he was
always losing sight of him in between. These lapses in their
intercourse might be shorter or longer (they were frequently immense),
but they had this advantage, that each fresh encounter presented
Rickman as an entirely new thing, if anything, more curious and
interesting than on the day, three years ago, when he unearthed him
from behind the counter of a dingy second-hand bookshop in the City.
He felt responsible for that, too.

Rickman was instantly aware that he was under criticism. But he
mistook its nature and its grounds.

"Don't suppose," said he, "I'm ashamed of the shop. It isn't that. I
wasn't ashamed of our other place--that little rat 'ole in the City."

Jewdwine shuddered through all his being.

"--But I _am_ ashamed of this gaudy, pink concern. It's so brutally
big. It can't live, you know, without sucking the life out of the
little booksellers. They mayn't have made a great thing out of it, but
they were happy enough before we came here."

"I never thought of it in that light."

"Haven't you? I have."

It was evident that little Rickman was deeply moved. His sentiments
did him credit, and he deserved to be asked to dinner. At Hampstead?
No--no, not at Hampstead; here, at the Club. The Club was the proper
thing; a public recognition of him was the _amende honorable_.
Besides, after all, it was the Club, not Jewdwine, that had offended,
and it was right that the Club should expiate its offence.

"What are you doing at Easter?" he asked.

Rickman stroked his upper lip and smiled as if cherishing a joy as
secret and unborn as his moustache. He recited a selection from the
tale of his engagements.

"Can you dine with me here on Saturday? You're free, then, didn't you
say?"

Rickman hesitated. That was not what he had said. He was anything but
free, for was he not engaged for that evening to Miss Poppy Grace? He
was pulled two ways, a hard pull. He admired Jewdwine with simple,
hero-worshipping fervour; but he also admired Miss Poppy Grace. Again,
he shrank from mentioning an engagement of that sort to Jewdwine,
while, on the other hand concealment was equally painful, being
foreign to his nature.

So he flushed a little as he replied, "Thanks awfully, I'm afraid I
can't. I'm booked that night to Poppy Grace."

The flush deepened. Besides his natural sensitiveness on the subject
of Miss Poppy Grace, he suffered tortures not wholly sentimental
whenever he had occasion to mention her by her name. Poppy Grace--he
felt that somehow it did not give you a very high idea of the lady,
and that in this it did her an injustice. He could have avoided it by
referring to her loftily as Miss Grace; but this course, besides being
unfamiliar would have savoured somewhat of subterfuge. So he blurted
it all out with an air of defiance, as much as to say that when you
had called her Poppy Grace you had said the worst of her.

Jewdwine's face expressed, as Rickman had anticipated, an exquisite
disapproval. His own taste in women was refined almost to nullity. How
a poet and a scholar, even if not strictly speaking a gentleman, could
care to spend two minutes in the society of Poppy Grace, was
incomprehensible to Jewdwine.

"I didn't know you cultivated that sort of person."

"Oh--cultivate her--?"--His tone implied that the soil was rather too
light for _that_.

"How long have you known her?"

"About six months, on and off."

"Oh, only on and off."

"On and off the _stage_, I mean. And that's knowledge," said Rickman.
"Anybody can know them on; but it's not one man in a thousand knows
them off--really knows them."

"I'm very glad to hear it."

He changed the subject. In Rickman the poet he was deeply interested;
but at the moment Rickman the man inspired him with disgust.

Jewdwine had a weak digestion. When he sat at the high table, peering
at his sole and chicken, with critical and pathetic twitchings of his
fastidious nose, he shuddered at the vigorous animal appetites of
undergraduates in Hall.

Even so he shrank now from the coarse exuberance of Rickman's youth.
When it came to women, Rickman _was_ impossible.

Now Jewdwine, while pursuing an inner train of thought that had
Rickman for its subject, was also keeping his eye on a hansom, and
wondering whether he would hail it and so reach Hampstead in time for
dinner, or whether he would dine at the Club. Edith would be annoyed
if he failed to keep his appointment, and the Club dinners were not
good. But neither were Edith's; moreover, by dining at the Club for
one-and-six, and taking a twopenny tram instead of a three-and-sixpenny
cab, he would save one and tenpence.

"And yet," he continued thoughtfully, "the man who wrote _Helen in
Leuce_ was a poet. Or at least," he added, "one seventh part a poet."

Though Jewdwine's lower nature was preoccupied, the supreme critical
faculty performed its functions with precision. The arithmetical
method was perhaps suggested by the other calculation. He could not be
quite sure, but he believed he had summed up Savage Rickman pretty
accurately.

"Thanks," said Rickman, "you've got the fraction all right, anyhow. A
poet one day out of seven; the other six days a potman in an infernal,
stinking, flaring Gin-Palace-of-Art."

As he looked up at Rickman's, blazing with all its lights, he felt
that he had hit on the satisfying, the defining phrase.

His face expressed a wistful desire to confer further with Jewdwine on
this matter; but a certain delicacy restrained him.

Something fine in Jewdwine's nature, something half-human,
half-tutorial, responded to the mute appeal that said so plainly,
"Won't you hear me? I've so much to ask, so much to say. So many
ideas, and you're the only man that can understand them." Jewdwine
impressed everybody, himself included, as a person of prodigious
understanding.

The question was, having understood Rickman, having discovered in him
a neglected genius, having introduced him to the Club and asked him to
dinner on the strength of it, how much further was he prepared to go?
Why--provided he was sure of the genius, almost any length, short of
introducing him to the ladies of his family. But was he sure? Savage
Rickman was young, and youth is deceptive. Supposing he--Jewdwine--was
deceived? Supposing the genius were to elude him, leaving him saddled
with the man? What on earth should he do with him?

Things had been simpler in the earlier days of their acquaintance,
when the counter stood between them, and formed a firm natural barrier
to closer intercourse. Nobody, not even Jewdwine, knew what that
handshake across the counter had meant for Rickman; how his soul had
hungered and thirsted for Jewdwine's society; how, in "the little
rat'ole in the City," it had consumed itself with longing. It was his
first great passion, a passion that waited upon chance; to be
gratified for five minutes, ten minutes at the most. Once Jewdwine had
hung about the shop for half an hour talking; the interview being
broken by Rickman's incessant calls to the counter. Once, they had
taken a walk together down Cheapside, which from that moment became a
holy place. Then came the day when, at Jewdwine's invitation, _Helen
in Leuce_ travelled down from London to Oxford, and from Oxford to
Harmouth. Her neo-classic beauty appealed to Jewdwine's taste (and to
the taste of Jewdwine's cousin); he recognized in Rickman a disciple,
and was instantly persuaded of his genius. At one bound Rickman had
leapt the barrier of the counter; and here he was, enthusiastic and
devoted. To be sure, his devotion was not fed largely upon praise;
for, unlike the younger man, Jewdwine admired but sparingly. Neither
was it tainted with any thought of material advantage. Jewdwine was
very free with his criticism and advice; but, beyond these high
intellectual aids, it never occurred to Rickman that he had anything
to gain by Jewdwine's friendship. Discipleship is the purest of all
human relations.

Jewdwine divined this purity, and was touched by it. He prepared to
accept a certain amount of responsibility. He looked at his watch. He
could still get to Hampstead by eight o'clock, if he took a
cab--say,--twenty minutes. He could spare him another ten. The Junior
Journalists were coming back from their dinner and the room would soon
be crowded. He took his disciple's arm in a protecting manner and
steered him into a near recess. He felt that the ten minutes he was
about to give him would be decisive in the young man's career.

"You've still got to find your formula. Not to have found your
formula," he said solemnly, "is not to have found yourself."

"Perhaps I haven't been looking in very likely places," said Rickman,
nobly touched, as he always was by the more personal utterances of the
master.

"The Jubilee Variety Theatre, for instance. Do you go there to find
the ideal, or in pursuit of the fugitive actuality?"

"Whichever you like to call it. Its name on the programme is Miss
Poppy Grace."

"Look here, Rickman," said Jewdwine, gently; "when are you going to
give up this business?"

"Which business?"

"Well, at the moment I referred to your situation in the Gin Palace of
Art--"

"I can't chuck it just yet. There's my father, you see. It would spoil
all his pleasure in that new plate-glass and mahogany devilry. He's
excited about it; wants to make it a big thing--"

"So he puts a big man into it?"

"Oh, well, I must see him started."

He spoke simply, as of a thing self-evident and indisputable. Jewdwine
admired.

"You're quite right. You _are_ handicapped. Heavily handicapped. So,
for Goodness' sake, don't weight yourself any more. If you can't drop
the Gin Palace, drop Miss Poppy Grace."

"Poppy Grace? She weighs about as much as a feather."

"Drop her, drop her, all the same."

"I can't. She wouldn't drop. She'd float."

"Don't float with her."

As he rose he spoke slowly and impressively. "What you've got to do
is to pull yourself together. You can't afford to be dissolute, or
even dissipated."

Rickman looked hard at Jewdwine's boots. Irreproachable boots, well
made, well polished, unspotted by the world. And the only
distinguishable word in Rickman's answer was "Life." And as he said
"Life" he blushed like a girl when for the first time she says "Love,"
a blush of rapture and of shame, her young blood sensitive to the
least hint of apathy in her audience.

Jewdwine's apathy was immense.

"Another name for the fugitive actuality," he said. "Well, I'm afraid
I haven't any more time--" He looked round the room a little vaguely,
and as he did so he laid on the young man's shoulder a delicate
fastidious hand. "There are one or two men here I should have liked to
introduce you to, if I'd had time.--Another night, perhaps--" He
piloted him downstairs and so out into the Strand.

"Good night. Good night. Take my advice and leave the fugitive
actuality alone."

Those were Jewdwine's last words, spoken from the depths of the
hansom. It carried him to the classic heights of Hampstead, to the
haunts of the cultivated, the intellectual, the refined.

Rickman remained a moment. His dreamy gaze was fixed on the massive
pile before him, that rose, solidly soaring, flaunting a brutal
challenge to the tender April sky. It stood for the vast material
reality, the whole of that eternal, implacable Power which is at
enmity with dreams; which may be conquered, propitiated, absorbed, but
never annihilated or denied.

_That_ actuality was not fugitive.




CHAPTER VII


Perhaps it was not to be wondered at if Mr. Rickman had not yet found
himself. There were, as he sorrowfully reflected, so many Mr.
Rickmans.

There was Mr. Rickman of the front shop and second-hand department,
known as "our Mr. Rickman." The shop was proud of him; his appearance
was supposed to give it a certain _cachet_. He neither strutted nor
grovelled; he moved about from shelf to shelf in an absent-minded
scholarly manner. He served you, not with obsequiousness, nor yet with
condescension, but with a certain remoteness and abstraction, a noble
apathy. Though a bookseller, his literary conscience remained
incorruptible. He would introduce you to his favourite authors with a
magnificent take-it-or-leave-it air, while an almost imperceptible
lifting of his eyebrows as he handed you _your_ favourite was a subtle
criticism of your taste. This method of conducting business was called
keeping up the tone of the establishment. The appearance and
disappearance of this person was timed and regulated by circumstances
beyond his own control, so that of necessity all the other Mr.
Rickmans were subject to him.

For there was Mr. Rickman the student and recluse, who inhabited the
insides of other men's books. Owing to his habitual converse with
intellects greater--really greater--than his own, he was an
exceedingly humble and reverent person. A high and stainless soul. You
would never have suspected his connection with Mr. Rickman, the Junior
Journalist, the obscure writer of brilliant paragraphs, a fellow
destitute of reverence and decency and everything except consummate
impudence, a disconcerting humour and a startling style. But he was
still more distantly related to Mr. Rickman the young man about town.
And that made four. Besides these four there was a fifth, the serene
and perfect intelligence, who from some height immeasurably far above
them sat in judgement on them all. But for his abnormal sense of
humour he would have been a Mr. Rickman of the pure reason, no good at
all. As it was, he occasionally offered some reflection which was
enjoyed but seldom acted upon.

And underneath these Mr. Rickmans, though inextricably, damnably one
with them, was a certain apparently commonplace but amiable young man,
who lived in a Bloomsbury boarding-house and dropped his aitches. This
young man was tender and chivalrous, full of little innocent
civilities to the ladies of his boarding-house; he admired, above all
things, modesty in a woman, and somewhere, in the dark and unexplored
corners of his nature, he concealed a prejudice in favour of marriage
and the sanctities of home.

That made six, and no doubt they would have pulled together well
enough; but the bother was that any one of them was liable at any
moment to the visitation of the seventh--Mr. Rickman the genius. There
was no telling whether he would come in the form of a high god or a
demon, a consolation or a torment. Sometimes he would descend upon Mr.
Rickman in the second-hand department, and attempt to seduce him from
his allegiance to the Quarterly Catalogue. Or he would take up the
poor journalist's copy as it lay on a table, and change it so that its
own editor wouldn't know it again. And sometimes he would swoop down
on the little bookseller as he sat at breakfast on a Sunday morning,
in his nice frock coat and clean collar, and wrap his big flapping
wings round him, and carry him off to the place where the divine ideas
come from leaving a silent and to all appearances idiotic young
gentleman in his place. Or he would sit down by that young gentleman's
side and shake him out of his little innocences and complacencies, and
turn all his little jokes into his own incomprehensible humour. And
then the boarding-house would look uncomfortable and say to itself
that Mr. Rickman had been drinking.

In short, it was a very confusing state of affairs, and one that made
it almost impossible for Mr. Rickman to establish his identity. Seven
Rickmans--only think of it! And some reckon an eighth, Mr. Rickman
drunk. But this is not altogether fair; for intoxication acted rather
on all seven at once, producing in them a gentle fusion with each
other and the universe. They had ceased to struggle. But Mr. Rickman
was not often drunk, or at least not nearly so often as his friends
supposed.

So it was all very well for Jewdwine, who was not so bewilderingly
constructed, to talk about finding your formula and pulling yourself
together. How, Mr. Rickman argued, could you hope to find the formula
of a fellow who could only be expressed in fractions, and vulgar
fractions, too? How on earth could you pull yourself together when
Nature had deliberately cut you into little pieces? Never since poor
Orpheus was torn to tatters by the Maenads was there a poet so horribly
subdivided. Talk of being dissolute, dissipated! Those adjectives were
a poor description of S.K.R. It was more than sowing a mere handful of
wild oats, it was a disintegration, a scattering of Rickmans to all
the winds of the world.

Find himself, indeed!

Still, he was perfectly willing to try; and to that end (after dining
with people who were anything but cultivated, or intellectual, or
refined) he turned himself loose into the streets.

The streets--he was never tired of them. After nine or ten hours of
sitting in a dusty second-hand bookshop, his soul was dry with thirst
for the living world, and the young joy of the world, "the fugitive
actuality." And her ways were in the streets.

Being a young poet about town, he turned to the streets as naturally
as a young poet in the country turns to the woods and fields. For in
the streets, if you know how to listen, you can hear the lyric soul of
things as plainly, more plainly perhaps, than in the woods or fields.
Only it sings another sort of song. And going into the streets was
Rickman's way (the only way open to him as yet) of going into society.
The doors were thrown hospitably wide to him; one day was as good as
another; the world was always at home.

It was a world where he could pick and choose his acquaintance;
where, indeed, out of that multitudinous, never-ending procession of
persons, his power of selection was unlimited. He never had any
difficulty with them; their methods were so charmingly simple and
direct. In the streets the soul is surprised through the lifting of an
eyelid, and the secret of the heart sits lightly on the curl of the
lip. These passers by never wearied him; they flung him the flower of
the mystery and--passed by. The perfection of social intercourse he
conceived as a similar succession of radiant intimacies.

To-night he went southwards down Gower Street, drawn by the
never-ending fugitive perspective of the lamps. He went westwards down
Shaftesbury Avenue to Piccadilly. The Circus was a gleaming basin
filled with grey night clear as water, the floor of it alive with
lights. Lights that stood still; lights that wandered from darkness
into darkness; that met and parted, darting, wheeling, and crossing in
their flight. Long avenues opened out of it, precipitous deep cuttings
leading into the night. The steep, shadowy masses of building seemed
piled sky-high, like a city of the air; here the gleam of some golden
white facade, there some aerial battlement crowned with stars, with
clusters, and points, and rings of flame that made a lucid twilight of
the dark above them. Over all was an illusion of immensity.

Nine o'clock of an April night--the time when a great city has most
power over those that love her; the time when she lowers her voice and
subdues her brilliance, intimating that she is not what she seems;
when she makes herself unearthly and insubstantial, veiling her
grossness in the half-transparent night. Like some consummate
temptress, she plays the mystic, clothing herself with light and
darkness, skirting the intangible, hinting at the infinities, flinging
out the eternal spiritual lure, so that she may better seduce the
senses through the soul. And Rickman was too young a poet to
distinguish clearly between his senses and his imagination, or his
imagination and his soul.

He stood in Piccadilly Circus and regarded the spectacle of the night.
He watched the groups gathering at the street corners, the boys that
went laughing arm in arm, the young girls smiling into their lovers'
eyes; here and there the faces of other women, dubious divinities of
the gas-light and the pavement, passing and passing. A very ordinary
spectacle. But to Rickman it had an immense significance, a rhythmic,
processional resonance and grandeur. It was an unrhymed song out of
_Saturnalia_, it was the luminous, passionate nocturne of the streets.

Half-past nine; a young girl met him and stopped. She laughed into his
face.

"Pretty well pleased with yourself, aren't you?" said the young girl.

He laughed back again. He was pleased with the world, so of course he
was pleased with himself. They were one. The same spirit was in Mr.
Rickman that was in the young girl and in the young April night.

They walked together as far as the Strand, conversing innocently.




CHAPTER VIII


At ten o'clock he found himself in a corridor of the Jubilee Variety
Theatre. The young girl had vanished.

For a moment he stood debating whether he would go home and work out
some ideas he had. Or whether he would pursue the young Joy, the
fugitive actuality, to the very threshold of the dawn. Whether, in
short, he would make a night of it.

He was aroused by the sound of a box-door opening and shutting; and a
shining shirt-front and a shining face darted suddenly into the light.
At the same moment a voice hailed him.

"Hello, Razors! That you?"

Voice, face, and shining shirt-front belonged to Mr. Richard
Pilkington, Financial Agent, of Shaftesbury Avenue.

"Razors" was the name by which Rickman was known to his intimates in
subtle allusion to his youth. He responded sulkily to the hail. Dicky
Pilkington was the last person he desired to meet. For he owed Dicky a
certain sum, not large, but larger than he could conveniently pay, and
Dicky was objectionable for other reasons. He had mysterious relations
with the Management of the Jubilee Theatre, and consequently unlimited
facilities of access to Miss Poppy Grace. Besides, there was something
about him that was deadly to ideas.

Ideas or no ideas, Mr. Pilkington was not to be evaded. He bore down
on Rickman, shining genially, and addressed him with an air of banter.

"Couldn't have arranged it better. You're the very fellow I want."

There was a suggestion of a chuckle in his voice which sent Rickman's
thoughts flying fearfully to his last I.O.U. The alert mind of
Pilkington followed their flight. He was intensely amused. He always
was amused when anybody showed a marked distaste for his society.

"Your business, not mine, this time, Rick. I happen to know of a
ripping old library for sale down in Devonshire. Shouldn't have
thought of it if I hadn't seen you."

"Well?" Rickman's face expressed an utter inability to perceive the
connection. Once the iron shutters had closed on Rickman's he felt
that he was no more a part of it. Words could not express his
abhorrence of the indecent people who insisted on talking shop out of
shop hours. And Dicky never had any decency.

"Well--it's practically on our hands, d'ye see? And if your people
care to take over the whole lot, I can let you have it pretty
reasonably."

Rickman's face emptied itself of all expression whatever.

"I say, you are a cool young cuss. Is this the way you generally do
business?"

"I'll think it over."

"Wouldn't think too long if I were you. It ought to go by auction, and
it might; only private contract's preferred."

"Why preferred?"

"Out of respect for the feelin's of the family."

Rickman's eyes were wandering dreamily from the matter in hand. They
had alighted on an enormous photograph of Miss Poppy Grace. For an
instant thought, like a cloud, obscured the brilliance of Mr.
Pilkington's face.

"Anyhow I've given you the straight tip," said Pilkington.

"Thanks. We'll send a fellow down to overhaul the thing."

"He'd better hurry up then. It _may_ have to go by auction after all.
But if you'd like the refusal of it, now's your chance."

But Rickman betrayed no enthusiasm.

"You'd better see the guv'nor about it."

Mr. Pilkington looked Rickman up and down, and encountered an
immovable determination in his gaze.

"Right you are. I'll send him word to-night. Ta-ta!" He turned again
in the moment of departing. "I say, he must send a good man down, you
know. It'll take an expert. There's a lot of old things--Greek and
Latin--that's something in _your_ line, isn't it?"

But Rickman's line at present was the line of least resistance. It was
ten past ten, and Poppy Grace was "on" from ten fifteen to ten forty.




CHAPTER IX


She was only an ordinary little variety actress, and he knew her
little programme pretty well by heart. But her fascinations were
independent of the glamour of the foot-lights. It was off the stage
that he had first come to know her, really know her, a thing that at
the first blush of it seems impossible; for the great goddess Diana is
not more divinely secret and secluded than (to a young bookseller) a
popular Dance and Song Artiste in private life. Poppy's rooms were
next door to the boarding-house balcony, and it was the balcony that
did it.

Now, in the matter of balconies, if you choose to regard the receding
wooden partition as a partition, and sit very far back behind it, you
will have your balcony all to yourself, that is to say, you will see
nothing, neither will you be seen. If, however, you prefer, as Mr.
Rickman preferred, to lean forward over the railings and observe
things passing in the street below, you can hardly help establishing
some sort of communication with the next-door neighbour who happens to
be doing the same thing. At first this communication was purely in the
region of the mind, without so much as the movement of an eyelid on
either side, and that made it all the more intimate and intense. But
to sit there Sunday evening after Sunday evening, when the other
boarders were at church, both looking at the same plane-tree opposite,
or the same tail-end of a sunset flung across the chimney pots,
without uttering a syllable or a sound, was at last seen by both in
its true light, as a thing not only painful but absurd. So one evening
the deep, full-hearted silence burst and flowered into speech. In
common courtesy Mr. Rickman had to open his lips to ask her whether
she objected to his smoking (she did not). Then it came to
acknowledging each other in the streets; after that, to Poppy's coming
out and looking over the balcony about the time when Mr. Rickman would
be coming home from the shop, and to Mr. Rickman's looking to see if
Poppy was looking; and so on, to that wonderful night when he saw her
home from the Jubilee Theatre. The stars were out; not that Poppy
cared a rap about the stars.

Her first appearance to-night was in the character of a coster-girl, a
part well suited to her audacity and impertinent prettiness. Poppy was
the tiniest dancer that ever whirled across a stage, a circumstance
that somewhat diminished the vulgarity of her impersonation, while it
gave it a very engaging character of its own. Her small Cockney face,
with its impudent laughing nose, its curling mouth (none too small),
its big, twinkling blue eyes, was framed in a golden fringe and side
curls. She wore a purple velveteen skirt, a purple velveteen jacket
with a large lace collar, and a still larger purple velveteen hat with
white ostrich feathers that swayed madly from the perpendicular.

The secret of Poppy's popularity lay in this, that you could always
depend on her; she always played the same part in the same manner; but
her manner was her own. To come on the stage quietly; to look, in
spite of her coster costume, the picture of suburban innocence, and
pink and white propriety; to stand facing her audience for a second of
time, motionless and in perfect gravity--it was a trick that, though
Poppy never varied it, had a more killing effect than the most
ingenious impromptu.

"Sh--sh--sh--sh!" A flutter of programmes in the pit was indignantly
suppressed by the gallery. There was a movement of Poppy's right
eyelid which in a larger woman would have been called a wink; in Poppy
it appeared as an exaggerated twinkle. It was greeted with a roar of
rapturous applause. Then Poppy, with her hands on her hips, and her
head on one side, raised her Cockney voice in a high-pitched song,
executing between each verse a slow, swinging chassee to the stage
Humorist with the concertina.

      "Oh, she's my fancy girl,
        With 'er 'air all outer curl,
      'Ooks orf, eyes orf, petticoats all awry.
        For then she isn't shy;
        She gives 'er bangs a twirl,
    And it's--'Kiss me quick!'--and--'That's the Trick!'
    --and--(_dim_)--'_Wouldn't_ yer like to try?'"

When the stage Humorist with the concertina stopped chasseeing, and
put his finger to his nose, and observed, "That's wot you might call a
dim innuender," Rickman could have kicked him.

    (_cresc._),
         'But got up fit ter kill,
            In 'er velverteen an' frill,
          It's--'Ands orf!'--'Heyes orf!'--'Fetch yer one in the heye!'--
            A strollin' down the 'Igh,
            With 'Enery, Alf an' Bill,
    It's--'None er that!'--and 'Mind my 'at!'--and
    (_fortissimo_)--'WOULDN'T yer like to try!'"

"To try! To try!" Her chassee quickened ever so little, doubled on
itself, and became a tortuous thing. Poppy's feet beat out the measure
that is danced on East End pavements to the music of the concertina.
In the very abandonment of burlesque Poppy remained an artist, and her
dance preserved the gravity of the original ballet, designed for
performance on a flagstone. Now it unfolded; it burst its bounds; it
was a rhythmic stampede. Louder and louder, her clicking heels beat
the furious time; higher and higher her dexterous toes flew to her
feathers that bowed to meet them, and when her last superhuman kick
sent her hat flying, and the Humorist caught it on his head, they had
brought the house down.

Rickman went out to the bar, where he found Dicky Pilkington, and at
Dicky's suggestion he endeavoured to quench with brandy and soda his
inextinguishable thirst.

He returned to the storm and glare of the ballet, the last appearance
of that small, incarnate genius of Folly. There were other dancers,
but he saw none but her. He knew every pose and movement of her body,
from her first tentative, preluding pirouette, to her last moon-struck
dance, when she tossed her tall grenadier's cap to the back of the
stage, and still spinning, shook out her hair, and flung herself
backwards, till it streamed and eddied with the whirlwind of her
dance. In her fantastic dress (she wore her colours, the red and
black) her very womanhood had vanished, she was a mere insignificant
morsel of flesh and blood, inspired by the dizzy, reckless Fury of the
foot-lights.

There was a noise of many boots beating the floor of the house; it
grew into a thick, solid body of sound, torn at intervals by a
screaming whistle from the galleries. Someone up there shouted her
name--"Poppy--Poppy Grace!" and Rickman shivered.

To Rickman's mind the name was an outrage; it reeked of popularity; it
suggested--absurdly and abominably--a certain cheap drink of sudden
and ephemeral effervescence. He never let his mind dwell on those
dreadful syllables any longer than he could help; he never thought of
her as Poppy Grace at all. He thought of her in undefined,
extraordinary ways; now as some nameless aerial spirit, unaccountably
wandering about in a world too gross for it; and now as the Young Joy,
the fugitive actuality. To-night, after brandy and soda, his
imagination possessed itself of Poppy, and wove round her the glory
and gloom of the world. It saw in her, not the incarnation of the rosy
moment, but the eternal sacrifice of woman, the tragedy of her
abasement, her obedience to the world. Which, when he came to think of
it, was really very clever of his imagination.

Meanwhile Poppy was behaving, as she had behaved for the last fifty
nights, like a lunatic humming top. Now it had steadied itself in the
intensity of its speed; the little humming-top was sleeping. Poppy, as
she span, seemed to be standing, her feet rooted, her body swaying
delicately from the hips, like a flower rocked by the wind, the light
of her flickering flamewise. There was a stir, a wave, as if the heart
of the house had heaved. Pit and gallery breathed hard. Rickman leaned
forward with clouded eyes and troubled forehead, while the young
shop-men--the other young shop-men--thrilled with familiar and
delicious emotion. Now she curtsied, as she had curtsied for the last
fifty nights, bowing lower and lower till her hair fell over her face
and swept the stage; and now she shook her head till the great golden
whorl of hair seemed the only part of her left spinning; then Poppy
folded her arms and sank, sank till she sat on her heels, herself
invisible, curtained in modest and mystic fashion by her hair.

"Bravo! Bravo!" "That's the trick!"--"Encore!"--"Oh, _she's_ my fancy
girl!"--"Encore-ore-ore-ore-ore!"

It was all over.




CHAPTER X


He hurried back to Bloomsbury, in the wake of her hansom, to the house
of the balcony opposite the plane-trees. The plane-tree was
half-withdrawn into the night, but the balcony hung out black in the
yellow light from its three long windows. Poppy was not in the
balcony.

He went up into the room where the light was, a room that had been
once an ordinary Bloomsbury drawing-room, the drawing-room of
Propriety. Now it was Poppy's drawing-room.

You came straight out of a desert of dreary and obscure
respectability, and it burst, it blossomed into Poppy before your
eyes. Portraits of Poppy on the walls, in every conceivable and
inconceivable attitude. Poppy's canary in the window, in a cage hung
with yellow gauze. Poppy's mandoline in an easy chair by itself.
Poppy's hat on the grand piano, tumbling head over heels among a
litter of coffee cups. On the tea-table a pair of shoes that could
have belonged to nobody but Poppy, they were so diminutive. In the
waste paper basket a bouquet that must have been Poppy's too, it was
so enormous. And on the table in the window a Japanese flower-bowl
that served as a handy receptacle for cigarette ash and spent vestas.
Two immense mirrors facing each other reflected these objects and
Poppy, when she was there, for ever and ever, in diminishing
perspective. But Poppy was not there.

Passing through this brilliant scene into the back room beyond, he
found her finishing her supper.

Poppy was not at all surprised to see him. She addressed him as
"Rickets," and invited him under that name to sit down and have some
supper, too.

But Rickets did not want any supper. He sat down at the clear end of
the table, and looked on as in a dream. And when Poppy had finished
she came and sat by him on the clear end of the table, and made
cigarettes, and drank champagne out of a little tumbler.

"Thought you might feel a little lonely over there, Ricky-ticky," said
she.

Poppy was in spirits. If she had yielded to the glad impulse of her
heart, she would have stood on one foot and twirled the other over
Ricky-ticky's head. But she restrained herself. Somehow, before
Ricky-ticky, Poppy never played any of those tricks that delighted Mr.
Pilkington and other gentlemen of her acquaintance. She merely sat on
the table. She was in her ballet-dress, and before sitting on the
table she arranged her red skirts over her black legs with a
prodigious air of propriety. Poppy herself did not know whether this
meant that she wanted Ricky-ticky to think her nice, or whether she
wanted to think Ricky-ticky nice. After all, it came to the same
thing; for to Poppy the peculiar charm of Ricky-ticky was his
innocence.

The clock on St. Pancras church struck half-past eleven; in his
hanging cage in the front room, behind his yellow gauze curtain,
Poppy's canary woke out of his first sleep. He untucked his head from
under his wing and chirrupped drowsily.

"Oh, dicky," said Poppy, "it's time you were in your little bed!"

He did not take the hint. He was intent on certain movements of
Poppy's fingers and the tip of her tongue concerned in the making of
cigarettes.

He was gazing into her face as if it held for him the secret of the
world. And that look embarrassed her. It had all the assurance of age
and all the wonder of youth in it. Poppy's eyes were trained to look
out for danger signals in the eyes of boys, for Poppy, according to
those lights of hers, was honest. If she knew the secret of the world,
she would not have told it to Ricky-ticky; he was much too young. Men,
in Poppy's code of morality, were different. But this amazing,
dreamy, interrogative look was not the sort of thing that Poppy was
accustomed to, and for once in her life Poppy felt shy.

"I say, Rickets, there goes a quarter to twelve. _Did_ I wake him out
of his little sleep?"

Poppy talked as much to the canary as to Rickets, which made it all
quite proper. As for Rickman, he talked hardly at all.

"You'll have to go in ten minutes, Rick." And by way of softening this
announcement she gave him some champagne.

He had paid no attention to that hint either, being occupied with a
curious phenomenon. Though Poppy was, for her, most unusually
stationary, he found that it was making him slightly giddy to look at
her.

He was arriving at that moment of intoxication when things lose their
baldness and immobility, and the world begins to float like an
enchanted island in a beautiful blood-warm haze. Nothing could be more
agreeable than the first approaches of this blessed state; he
encouraged it, anticipating with ecstasy each stage in the mounting of
the illusion. For when he was sober he saw Poppy very much as she was;
but when he was drunk she became for him a being immaculate, divine.
He moved in a region of gross but glorious exaggeration, where his
wretched little Cockney passion assumed the proportions of a superb
romance. His soul that minute was the home of the purest, most exalted
emotions. Yes, he could certainly feel it coming on. Poppy's face was
growing bigger and bigger, opening out and blossoming like an enormous
flower.

"Nine minutes up. In another minute you go."

It seemed to him that Poppy was measuring time by pouring champagne
into little tumblers, and that she gave him champagne to drink. He
knew it was no use drinking it, for that thirst of his was
unquenchable; but he drank, for the sake of the illusion; and as he
drank it seemed to him that not only was Poppy worthy of all
adoration, but that his passion for her was no mere vulgar and earthly
passion; it was a glorious and immortal thing.

Poppy looked at him curiously. She was the soul of hospitality, but
it struck her that she was being a little too liberal with the
champagne.

"No, Razors. No more fizz. If I were to drink a drop more it would
spoil my little dance that always fetches the boys."

She turned her tumbler upside down in token of renunciation and led
the way into the front room. He followed her with enchanted feet. He
was now moving as in an Arabian Night's dream.

In the front room was a sofa--No, a divan, and on the divan the skin
of a Polar bear sprawling. Rickman and Poppy sat on the top of the
bear. Such a disreputable, out-of-elbow, cosmopolitan bear! His little
eye-holes were screwed up in a wicked wink, a wink that repudiated any
connection with his native waters of the Pole.

The house was very still. Behind his yellow gauze curtain the canary
stirred in his sleep. "Swe-eet," he murmured plaintively in his dream.

"Swe-eet, dicky!" echoed Poppy. Then because she had nothing to say
she began to sing. She sang the song of Simpson the tenor, Simpson the
master of tears.

    "'Twas on the night our little byby died,
    And Bill, 'e comes, and, 'Sal,' 'e sez,'look ere,
    I've signed a pledge,'ser 'e, 'agains the beer.
          'D'ye see?'
          Sez 'e.
        'And wot I 'ope ter syve
    Will tittervyte 'is bloomin' little gryve.'
    Then--Well--yo' should 'ave 'eard us 'ow we cried--
    Like bloomin' kids--the--night--the byby--died.

"That song," said Poppy, "doesn't exactly suit my style of beauty. You
should have heard Simpey sing it. _That_ 'd 'ave given you something to
'owl for."

For Rickman looked depressed.

The sound of Poppy's song waked the canary; he fluttered down from his
perch and stretched his wings, trailing them on the floor of his cage
to brush the sleep out of them.

"Did you ever see such affectation," said Poppy, "look at him,
striking attitudes up there, all by 'is little self!"

Poppy seemed to cling to the idea of the canary as a symbol of
propriety.

"Do you know, Rickets, it's past twelve o'clock?"

No, he didn't know. He had taken no count of time. But he knew that he
had drunk a great many little tumblers of champagne, and that his love
for Poppy seemed more than ever a supersensuous and immortal thing. He
pulled himself together in order to tell her so; but at that moment he
was confronted by an insuperable difficulty. In the tender and
passionate speech that he was about to make to her, it would be
necessary to address her by name. But how--in Heaven's name--could he
address a divinity as Poppy? He settled the difficulty by deciding
that he would not address her at all. There should be no invocation.
He would simply explain.

He got up and walked about the room and explained in such words as
pleased him the distinction between the corruptible and the
incorruptible Eros. From time to time he chanted his own poems in the
intervals of explaining; for they bore upon the matter in hand.

"Rickets," said Poppy, severely, "you've had too much fizz. I can see
it in your eyes--most unmistakably. I know it isn't very nice of me to
say so, when it's my fizz you've been drinking; but it isn't really
mine, it's Dicky Pilkington's--at least he paid for it."

But Rickets did not hear her. His soul, soaring on wings of champagne,
was borne far away from Dicky Pilkington.

    "Know" (chanted Rickets) "that the Love which is my Lord most high,
      He changeth not with seasons and with days,
      His feet are shod with light in all his ways.
    And when he followeth none have power to fly.

    "He chooseth whom he will, and draweth nigh.
      To them alone whom he himself doth raise
      Unto his perfect service and his praise;
    Of such Love's lowliest minister am I."

"If you'd asked me," said Poppy, "I should have said he had a pretty
good opinion of himself. What do you say, Dicky?"

"Sweet!" sang the canary in one pure, penetrating note, the voice of
Innocence itself.

"Isn't he rakish?" But Poppy got no answer from the sonneteer. He had
wheeled round from her, carried away in the triumph and rapture of the
sestette. His steps marked the beat of the iambics, he turned on his
heel at the end of every line. For the moment he was sober, as men
count sobriety.

    "For he I serve hath paced Heaven's golden floor,
         And chanted with the Seraphims' glad choir;
         Lo! All his wings are plumed with fervent fire;
    He hath twain that bear him upward evermore,
    With twain he veils his holy eyes before
         The mystery of his own divine desire.

"Does it remind you of anything?" he asked. It struck her as odd that
he seemed to realize her presence with difficulty.

"No, I can't say that I ever heard anything like it in my life."

"Well, the idea's bagged from Dante--I mean Dante-gabrier-rossetti.
But he doesn't want it as badly as I do. In fac', I don' think he
wants it at all where he is now. If he does, he can take any of mine
in exchange. You bear me out, Poppy--I invite the gentleman to step
down and make 's own s'lection: Nobody can say I plagiarize
anyborry--anyborry but myself."

"All right, don't you worry, old chappy," said Poppy soothingly. "You
come here and sit quiet."

He came and sat down beside her, as if the evening had only just
begun. He sat down carefully, tenderly, lest he should crush so much
as the hem of her fan-like, diaphanous skirts. And then he began to
talk to her.

He said there was no woman--no lady--in the world for whom he felt
such reverence and admiration; "Pop-oppy," he said, "you're fit to
dance before God on the floor of Heaven when they've swept it."

"Oh come," said Poppy, "can't you go one better?"

He could. He did. He intimated that though he worshipped every hair of
Poppy's little head and every inch of Poppy's little body, what held
him, at the moment, were the fascinations of her mind, and the
positively gorgeous beauty of her soul. Yes; there could be no doubt
that the object of his devotion was Poppy's imperishable soul.

"Well," said Poppy, "that tykes the very tip-top macaroon!"

Then she laughed; she laughed as if she would never have done. She
laughed, first with her eyes, then with her throat, then with her
whole body, shaking her head and rocking herself backwards and
forwards. She laughed till her hair came down, and he took it and
smoothed it into two sleek straight bands, and tied them in a loose
knot under her chin.

Then she stopped laughing. Her face between the two tight sheaths of
hair seemed to close and shrink to a thin sharp bud. It closed and
opened again, it grew nearer and bigger, it bent forward and put out
its mouth (for it had a mouth, this extraordinary flower) and kissed
him.

"I sy, it's nearly one o'clock," said she. "You've got to clear out of
this. Come!"

She rose; she stood before him holding out her hands to help him to
get up and go. She laughed again. She laughed wide-mouthed, her head
flung back, her face foreshortened, her white throat swelled and
quivering--the abandoned figure of Low Comedy incarnate. But that was
not what he saw.

To him it was as if the dark, impenetrable world had suddenly
unfolded, had blossomed and flowered in the rose of her mouth; as if
all the roses of all the world went to make up the petals of that
rose. Her body was nothing but a shining, transparent vessel for the
fire of life. It ran over; it leapt from her; the hands she stretched
out to him were two shallow lamps that could hardly hold the tall,
upward shooting, wind-tortured splendour of the flame.

He rose unsteadily to his feet. The movement, being somewhat
complicated, brought him within a yard of his own figure as presented
in one of the long mirrors. He stood there, arrested, fascinated,
shocked by that person in the mirror. The face he was accustomed to
see in mirrors was grave, and not high coloured, and it always kept
its mouth shut. This person's face was very red, and his mouth was
slightly open, a detail he noticed with a peculiar disgust. He could
not get away from it, either. It was held there, illuminated, insisted
on, repeated for ever and ever, smaller and smaller, an endless
procession of faces, all animated by one frenzy and one flame. He was
appalled by this mysterious multiplication of his person, and by the
flushed and brilliant infamy of his face. The face was the worst; he
thought he had never seen anything so detestable as the face. He sat
down and hid it in his hands.

"Poor Rickets," said Poppy softly. She drew his hands from his face by
a finger at a time.

"Oh, Ricky-ticky, you are such a rum little fellow. I suppose that's
why I like you. But for the life of me I can't think why I kissed you;
unless it was to say Good-night."

A kiss more or less was nothing to Poppy. And that one, she felt, had
been valedictory. She had kissed, not Ricky-ticky, but his dying
Innocence, the boy in him. And she had really wanted him to go.

The house was stiller than ever. The canary had tucked his head under
his wing and gone to sleep again. Out of the silence the clock of St.
Pancras Church struck one.

And yet he had not gone.




CHAPTER XI


A step was heard on the pavement outside; then the click of a
latch-key; a step on the stairs, at the threshold, and Mr. Pilkington
walked in with the air of being the master of the house and everything
in it.

The little laughing mask slipped from Poppy's face, her eyes were two
sapphire crescents darting fright under down-dropped lids. There was a
look in Dicky's face she did not care for. But Rickman--as Maddox had
testified--was a perfect little gentleman when he was drunk, and at
the sight of Pilkington, chivalry, immortal chivalry, leapt in his
heart.

He became suddenly grave, steady and coherent.

"I was just going, Miss Grace. But--if you want me to stay a little
longer, I'll stay."

"You'd better _go_," said Miss Grace.

Her eyes followed him sullenly as he went; so did Pilkington's.

"Well," she said, "I suppose that's what you wanted?"

"Yes, but there's no good overdoing the thing, you know. This," said
Pilkington, "is a damned sight too expensive game for him to play."

"He's all right. It wasn't his fault. I let him drink too much
champagne."

"What did you do that for? Couldn't you see he'd had enough already?"

"How was I to know? He's nicer when he's drunk than other people are
when they're sober."

He looked at her critically. "I know all about him. What I'd like to
know is what you see in him."

Poppy returned his look with interest. Coarseness in Dicky
Pilkington's eyes sat brilliant and unashamed.

"Would you? So would I. P'raps it's wot I don't see in him."

Now subtlety was the last thing Dicky expected from Poppy, and it
aroused suspicion.

Whatever Poppy's instructions were she had evidently exceeded them.
Poppy read his thoughts with accuracy.

"I only did what you told me. If you don't like it, you can finish the
job yourself. I'm tired," said Poppy, wearily coiling up her hair.

She was no longer in spirits.




CHAPTER XII


A tiny jet of gas made a glimmer in the fan-light of Mrs. Downey's
boarding-house next door. Mrs. Downey kept it burning there for Mr.
Rickman.

Guided by this beacon, he reached his door, escaping many dangers. For
the curbstone was a rocking precipice, and the street below it a grey
and shimmering stream, that rolled, and flowed, and rolled, and never
rested. The houses, too, were so drunk as to be dangerous. They bowed
over him, swaying hideously from their foundations. They seemed to be
attracted, just as he was, by that abominable slimy flow and glister
of the asphalt. Another wriggle of the latch-key, and they would be
over on the top of him.

He approached his bedroom candle with infinite precaution. He had
tried to effect a noiseless entry, but every match, as it spurted and
went out, was a little fiendish spit-fire tongue betraying him. From
behind a bedroom door, ajar at the dark end of the passage, the voice
of Mrs. Downey gently reminded him not to forget to turn the gas out.

There was a bright clear space in his brain which Pilkington's
champagne had not penetrated, so intolerably clear and bright that it
hurt him to look at it. In that space three figures reeled and
whirled; three, yet one and the same; Poppy of the coster-dance, Poppy
of the lunatic ballet, and Poppy of the Arabian night. Beyond the
bright space and the figures there was a dark place that was somehow
curtained off. Something had happened there, he could not see what.
And in trying to see he forgot to turn the gas out. He turned it up
instead.

He left it blazing away at the rate of a penny an hour, a witness
against him in the face of morning. But he did not forget to sit down
at the bottom of the stairs and take his boots off, lest he should
wake Flossie Walker, the little clerk, who worked so hard, and had to
be up so early. He left them on the stairs, where Flossie tripped over
them in the morning.

On the first landing a young man in a frowsy sleeping suit stood
waiting for him. A fresh, sober, and thoroughly wide-awake young man.

"Gurra bed, Spinks," said Mr. Rickman severely to the young man.

"All right, old man." Mr. Spinks lowered his voice to a discreet
whisper. "I say--do you want me to help you find your legs?"

"Wish you'd fin' any par' of me that is n' legs," said Mr. Rickman.
And he went on to explain and to demonstrate to Mr. Spinks the
resemblance (amounting to identity) between himself and the Manx arms.
"Three legs, rampant, on the bend, proper. Amazin', isn't it?"

"It _is_ amazin'."

Feigning surprise and interest, Mr. Spinks relieved him of his candle;
and under that escort Mr. Rickman managed to attain to the second
floor.

Mr. Rickman's room was bared to the glimmer of a lamp in the street
below. He plunged and stumbled through a litter of books. The glimmer
fell on the books, on many books; books that covered three walls from
floor to ceiling; books ranged above and beside the little camp-bed in
the corner; books piled on the table and under it. The glimmer fell,
too, on the mantel-piece, reflected from the glass above it, right on
to the white statuette of the Venus of Milo that supported a
photograph of a dancing Poppy--Poppy, who laughed in the face of the
goddess with insatiable impudence, and flung to the immortal forehead
the flick of her shameless foot. White and austere gleamed the Venus
(if Venus she be, for some say she is a Wingless Victory, and Rickman,
when sober, inclined to that opinion). White and austere gleamed the
little camp-bed in the corner. He ignored Mr. Spinks' discreet
suggestion. He wasn't going to undress to please Spinks or anybody.
He'd see Spinks in another world first. He wasn't going to bed like a
potman; he was going to sit up like a poet and write. That's what he
was going to do. This was his study.

With shaking hands he lit the lamp on his study table; the wick
sputtered, and the light in his head jigged horribly with the jigging
of the flame. It was as if he was being stabbed with little knives of
light.

He plunged his head into a basin of cold water, threw open his window
and leaned out into the pure regenerating night. Spinks sat down on a
chair and watched him, his fresh, handsome face clouded with anxiety.
He adored Rickman sober; but for Rickman drunk he had a curious
yearning affection. If anything, he preferred him in that state. It
seemed to bring him nearer to him. Spinks had never been drunk in his
life, but that was his feeling.

Rickman laid his arms upon the window sill and his head upon his arms.

"'The blessed damozel leaned out,'" he said (the idea in his mind
being that _he_ was a blessed damozel).

"'From the gold bar of heaven.'"

("Never knew they had 'em up there," murmured Spinks.)

"'Her eyes were deeper than the depth of waters stilled at
even'--Oh--my--God!"

A great sigh shook him, and went shuddering into the night like the
passing of a lost soul. He got up and staggered to the table, and
grasped it by the edge, nearly upsetting the lamp. The flare in his
brain had died down as the lamp burnt steadily. Under its shade a
round of light fell on his Euripides, open at the page he had been
reading the night before.

[Greek: ELENE]

He saw it very black, with the edges a little wavering, a little
blurred, as if it had been burnt by fire into the whiteness of the
page. Below, the smaller type of a chorus reeled and shook through all
its lines. Set up by an intoxicated compositor.

Under the Euripides was the piled up manuscript of Rickman's great
neo-classic drama, _Helen in Leuce_. He implored Spinks to read it.
(Spinks was a draper's assistant and uncultured.) He thrust the
manuscript into his hands.

"There," he said, "rea' that. Tha's the sor' o' thing I write when I'm
drunk. Couldn' do it now t' save my life. Temp'rance been _my_ ruin."

He threw himself on his bed.

"It's all righ'. At nine o'clock to-morrow morning, no--at a quar'er
pas' nine, I mean three quar'ers pas' nine, I shall be drunk. Not
disgustingly and ridicklelously, as you are, Spinky, at this minute,
but soo-p-p-perbubbly, loominously, divinely drunk! You don' know what
I could do if I was only drunk."

"Oh, come, I shouldn't complain, if I was you. You'll do pretty well
as you are, I think."

With an almost maternal tenderness and tact Mr. Spinks contrived to
separate the poet from his poem. He then undressed him. That is to
say, by alternate feats of strength, dexterity and cunning, he
succeeded in disengaging him from the looser portion of his clothing.
From his shirt and trousers Rickman refused to part, refused with a
shake of the head, slow, gentle, and implacable, and with a smile of
great sweetness and gravity and wisdom. He seemed to regard those
garments with a peculiar emotion as the symbols of his dignity, and
more especially, as the insignia of sobriety.

Spinks sat down and stared at the object of his devotion. "Poor old
chappie," he murmured tenderly. He was helpless before that slow
melancholy shaking of the head, that mysterious and steadfast smile.
He approached tip-toe on deprecating feet. But Rickman would none of
him; his whole attitude was eloquent of rebuke. He waved Spinks away
with one pathetic hand; with the other he clutched and gathered round
him the last remnants of his personal majesty. And thus, in his own
time and in his own fashion, he wandered to his bed. Even then he
conveyed reproach and reproof by his manner of entering it; he seemed
to vanish subtly, to withdraw himself, as into some sacred and
inviolable retreat.

Spinks crept away, saddened by the rebuff. After all, he was no nearer
to Rickman drunk than to Rickman sober. Half an hour later, he was
asleep in the adjoining room, dreaming a lightsome dream of ladies and
_mousselines de laine_, when suddenly the dream turned to a
nightmare. It seemed to him that there descended upon him a heavy
rolling weight, as of a bale of woollens. He awoke and found that it
was Rickman.

The poet lay face downwards across the body of his friend, and was
crooning into his ear the great chorus from the third act of Helen in
Leuce. He said that nobody but Spinky understood it. And Spinky
couldn't understand it if he wasn't drunk.

Whereupon Spinks was most curiously uplifted and consoled.




CHAPTER XIII


He woke tired out, as well he might be, after spending half the night
in the pursuit of young Joy personified in Miss Poppy Grace, young
Joy, who, like that little dancer, is the swiftest of all swift
things.

Rickman carried into this adventure a sort of innocence that renewed
itself, as by a miracle, every evening. His youth remained virgin
because of its incorruptible hope. He almost disarmed criticism by the
gaiety, the naivete of the pursuit. She was always in front of him,
that young Joy; but if he did not overtake her by midnight, he was all
the more sure that he would find her in the morning, with the dew on
her feet and the dawn on her forehead. He was convinced that it was
that sweet mystic mouth of hers which would one day tell him the
secret of the world. And long before the morning she would pick up her
skirts and be off again, swifter than ever, carrying her secret with
her.

And so the chase went on.

At the present moment he found himself in the society of Shame, the
oldest and most haggard of all the daughters of the night. She was in
no hurry to leave him. It seemed to him that she sat beside him,
formless and immense, that she laid her hands about him, and that the
burning on his poor forehead was her brand there; that the scorching
in his poor throat was the clutch of her fingers, and the torment in
all his miserable body her fine manipulation of his nerves. She knew
the secret of the world; and had no sort of hesitation about telling
it; it sounded to him uncommonly like something that he had heard
before. He recognized her as the form and voice of his own desire, the
loathsome familiar body of unutterable thoughts, sordid, virulent,
accusing, with a tongue that lashed through the flesh to the obscure
spirit inside him. And because he was a poet, and knew himself a poet,
because he had sinned chiefly through his imagination, it was through
his imagination that he suffered, so that the horror was supreme. For
all the while, though Shame was there, his ideas were there too,
somewhere, the divine thoughts and the proud beautiful dreams, and the
great pure loves, winged and veiled; they stood a long way off and
turned away their faces from him, and that was the worst punishment he
had to bear.

Which meant that as Savage Keith Rickman lay in bed the morning after
that glorious April night, he knew that he had been making an April
fool of himself. He knew it by the pain in his head and other
disagreeable signs; also by the remarkable fact that he still wore the
shirt and trousers of the day.

And he knew that in spite of the pain he would have to get up and go
down to breakfast as if nothing had happened; he would have to meet
Mr. Spinks' eyes twinkling with malign intelligence, and Flossie's
wondering looks, and Mrs. Downey's tender womanly concern, as he
turned white over the bacon and the butter. He didn't know which were
worse, the knowing eyes or the innocent ones. He had to be at the shop
by nine o'clock, too, to force that poor, dizzy, aching head of his to
its eight hours' work.

In this unnerved, attenuated state, this mortal paleness of mind and
body, it was terrible to have to face the robust reality of
"Rickman's". At nine o'clock in the morning it was more real to him
than any real thing; it even assumed an abominable personality; it was
an all-compelling, all-consuming power that sucked from him his time,
his life, his energy, and for six days out of the seven required of
him his soul. That at the same time it provided him with the means of
bodily subsistence only added to the horror of the thing. It was as if
"Rickman's", destroyer and preserver, renewed his life every quarter
day that it might draw in, devour, annihilate it as before. There was
a diabolical precision in the action of the machine that made and
unmade him.

And yet, with its rhythm of days and weeks, it was in its turn part
of a vaster system, whose revolutions brought round a longer
pause--when for three days his soul would be given back to him. The
only thing that kept him up at this moment was the blessed hope of the
Bank holiday.

While young Keith was still lying very sick and miserable in his bed,
the elder Rickman, in his villa residence at Ilford in Essex, was up
and eager for the day. By the time Keith had got down to breakfast
Isaac had caught the early train that landed him in the City at nine.
Before half-past he was in the front shop, taking a look round.

And as he looked round and surveyed his possessions, his new stock on
the shelves, his plate-glass and his mahogany fittings, his
assistants, from the boy in shirt sleeves now washing down the great
front window to the gentlemanly cashier, high collared and
frock-coated, in his pew, he rubbed his hands softly, and his heart
swelled with thankfulness and pride. For Isaac Rickman was a dreamer,
too, in his way. There are dreams and dreams, and the incontestable
merit and glory of Isaac's dreams was that they had all, or very
nearly all, come true. They were of the sort that can be handed over
the counter, locked up in a cash-box and lodged in the Bank. His
latest dream had been carried out in plate-glass and mahogany; it
towered into space and was finished off with a beautiful pink cupola
at the top.

There was not much of the father in the son. Keith, presumably, took
after his mother, a hectic, pale-haired, woman who had died in the
supreme effort of his birth. On her own birth there had been something
in the nature of a slur. She had taken it to heart, and exhausted
herself in the endeavour to conceal from her very respectable husband
the shameful fact that she had once served as barmaid in a City
restaurant, and that she was the illegitimate daughter of a village
sempstress and a village squire. Isaac, before he dreamed of
greatness, had met her at a Band of Hope meeting, and had married her
because of her sweetness and pathetic beauty. She left to her boy her
fairness, her expressive face, her own nerves and her mother's
passion. Isaac and he were alike only in a certain slenderness, a
fleshless refinement of physique. Coarseness in grain, usually
revealed by the lower half of a man's countenance, had with the elder
Rickman taken up its abode in the superior, the intellectual region.
Isaac's eyes and forehead trafficked grossly with the world, while the
rest of his face preserved the stern reticences and sanctities of the
spirit. Isaac was a Wesleyan; and his dress (soft black felt hat,
smooth black frock-coat, narrow tie, black but clerical) almost
suggested that he was a minister of that persuasion. His lips were
hidden under an iron grey moustache, the short grizzled beard was
smoothed forward and fined to a point by the perpetual caress of a
meditative hand. Such was Isaac.

Impossible to deny a certain genius to the man who had raised that
mighty pile, the Gin Palace of Art. Those stately premises, with their
clustering lights, their carpeted floors, their polished fittings,
were very different from the dark little house in Paternoster Row
where Keith first saw what light there was to be seen. When Isaac grew
great and moved further west, the little shop was kept on and devoted
to the sale of Bibles, hymn-books and Nonconformist literature. For
Isaac, life was a compromise between the pious Wesleyan he was and the
successful tradesman he aspired to be. There were, in fact, two
Rickman's: Rickman's in the City and Rickman's in the Strand.
Rickman's in the Strand bore on its fore-front most unmistakeably the
seal of the world; Rickman's in the City was sealed with the Lord's
seal.

So that now there was not a single need of the great book-buying,
book-loving Public that Rickman's did not provide for and represent.
It pandered to (Isaac said "catered for") the highest and the lowest,
the spirit as well as the flesh. Only Isaac was wise enough to keep
the two branches of the business separate and distinct. His right hand
professed complete ignorance of the doings of his left.

It may be that Isaac's heart was in his City shop. But there was
something in him greater than his heart, his ambition, which was
colossal. He meant, he always had meant, to be the founder of a great
House, which should make the name of Rickman live after him. He aimed
at nothing less than supremacy. He proposed to spread his nets till
they had drawn in the greater part of the book trade of London; till
Rickman's had reared its gigantic palaces in every district of the
capital. In '92 there was some talk of depression in the book trade.
Firms had failed. Isaac did not join in the talk, and he had his own
theory of the failure. Men went smash for want of will, for want of
brains, for want of courage and capital. Above all for want of
capital. As if any man need want capital so long as he had the pluck
to borrow, that is to say, to buy it. So ran his dream. And Isaac
believed in his dream, and what was more, he had made Mr. Richard
Pilkington, Financial Agent, of Shaftesbury Avenue, believe in it.
"Rickman's," backed by Pilkington, would stand firm, firm as a rock.

Courage and capital are great, but brains are greater. It was not only
by shrewdness, energy and an incomparable audacity that Isaac Rickman
had raised himself from those obscure beginnings. Isaac was an artist
in his own enormous way, and he had made an exhaustive study of the
Public. With incredible versatility he followed every twist and turn
of the great mind; the slow colossal movements which make capital, the
fitful balancing, the sudden start and mad rush forward by which, if
you can but foresee and keep pace with it, you reap the golden harvest
of the hour. He never took his eye off the Public. He laid his finger,
as it were, on that mighty pulse and recorded its fluctuations in his
ledger.

But there was a region beyond those fluctuations. With new books there
was always a pound's worth of risk to a pennyworth of profit; but
there was no end of money to be got out of old ones, if only you knew
how to set about it. And Isaac did not quite know how. In his front
shop it was the Public, in his side shop it was the books that
mattered, and knowledge of the one, however exhaustive, was no guide
to the other. Isaac by himself cut a somewhat unfortunate figure; he
stood fully equipped in the field where there was much danger and but
little gain; he was helpless where the price of knowledge ruled
immeasurably high. In the second-hand department audacity without
education can do nothing. What he still wanted, then, was brains and
yet more brains; not the raw material, mind you, he had plenty of
that, but the finished product, the trained, cultured intellect. Isaac
was a self-made man, a man ignorant of many things, religious, but
uneducated.

But he had a son, and the son had a head on his shoulders a
magnificent head that boy had. Mr. Horace Jewdwine had noticed it the
first minute he came into the shop. And the magnificence of Keith's
head had been pointed out to Isaac long before that, when Keith
couldn't have been more than ten--why, nine he was; that was the
beginning of it. Isaac could remember how Sir Joseph Harden of
Lazarus, the great scholar, who was one of Isaac's best customers,
poking round the little dingy shop in Paternoster Row (it was all
second-hand in those days), came on the young monkey perched on the
step-ladder, reading Homer. Sir Joseph had made him come down and
translate for him then and there. And Keith went at it, translating
for twenty minutes straight on end. Sir Joseph had said nothing, but
he asked him what he was going to be, and the young Turk grinned up at
him and said he was going to be a poet, "like 'Omer, that was what he
was going to be." Isaac had said that was just like his impudence, but
Sir Joseph stood there looking at him and smiling on the side of his
face that Keith couldn't see, and he told the little chap to "work
hard and mind his rough breathings." Isaac had supposed that was some
sort of a joke, for Keith, he tried hard to grin, though his face went
red hot all over. Then Sir Joseph had turned round very serious and
asked if he, Rickman, had any other sons, because, whatever he did
with the rest of them, he must make this one a scholar. Isaac had said
No, he hadn't any but that one boy, and he would have to be brought up
to the business. He was afraid he couldn't spare the time to make much
of a scholar of him. Time, said Isaac, was money. What Sir Joseph said
then Isaac had never forgotten. He had said; "True, time was money,
loose cash in your pockets; but brains were capital." And there wasn't
a better investment for them, he had added, than a good sound
classical education. Isaac was to send the boy to the City of London,
then to the London University, if he couldn't rise to Oxford; but Sir
Joseph's advice was Oxford. Let him try for a scholarship. He added
that he would like to do something for him later on if he lived. Isaac
had never forgotten it; his memory being assisted by the circumstance
that Sir Joseph had that very same day bought one hundred and
twenty-five pounds' worth of books for his great library down in
Devonshire.

The boy was sent to an "Academy," then to the City of London; Isaac
had not risen to Oxford. Keith never tried for a scholarship, and if
he had, Isaac would have drawn the line at a university education, as
tending towards an unholy leisure and the wisdom of this world.
Otherwise he had spared no expense, for he had grasped the fact that
this was an investment, and he looked to have his money back again
with something like fifty per cent. interest. And the boy, the boy was
to come back, too, with a brain as bright as steel, all its queer
little complicated parts in working order; in short, a superb machine;
and Isaac would only have to touch a spring to set it going.

But the question was, what spring? And that, unfortunately, was what
old Rickman never could lay his finger on.

Still it went, that machine of his, apparently of its own accord. It
went mysteriously, capriciously, but fairly satisfactorily on the
whole. And Isaac was wise; his very respect for the thing that had
cost him so much prevented him from tampering with it.

It was in accordance with this policy of caution that they lived
apart. Isaac loved the suburbs; Keith loved the town, and it was as
well for one of them to live in it, near to their place of business.
Isaac had married again, and though he was proud of his boy and fond
of him, he contrived to be completely happy without him. He loved his
little detached villa residence at Ilford in Essex, with its little
flower-garden showing from the high road, its little stable for the
pony and little paddock for the cow. He loved his large smooth-faced
second wife, with her large balance at the bank and still larger
credit in the Wesleyan circle they lived and moved in. He loved that
Wesleyan circle, the comfortable, safe community that knew only the
best, the Sunday best, of him. And Keith loved none of these things.
By the education he had got and which he, Isaac, had given him, by the
"religion" he hadn't got, and which nothing would induce him to take,
by the obscure barriers of individuality and temperament, the son was
separated from the father. As for meeting each other half-way, Isaac
had tried it once or twice of a Sunday, when Keith had met him indeed,
but with a directness that shocked Isaac and distressed him. He was
made positively uncomfortable by his son's money-bought superiority;
though the boy didn't bring it out and show it, Isaac felt all the
time that it was there. He was very much happier without the boy.
Keith among other things suggested vividly the thoughts which the
Wesleyan desired to put away from Saturday afternoon to Monday
morning, thoughts of the present evil world, for which, on Sundays, he
more than half suspected that he might be imperilling his immortal
soul.

Sometimes in the watches of the night, especially of a Sunday night,
it occurred to him that (owing to the domestic arrangement which kept
the boy in a place which, when all was said and done, was a place of
temptation) Keith's soul, no less immortal, might be in jeopardy too.
He thought of him, an innocent lad, thrown on the mercy of London, as
it were. But Isaac had faith in the mercy of the Lord. Besides, he
wasn't the sort, a quiet, studious young fellow like Keith wasn't. And
when Isaac's conscience began to feel a little uncertain upon that
point, he simply laid the case circumstantially before the Lord, who
knew all his difficulties and all his sins, and was infinitely able
and eternally willing to bear them for him. By casting Keith upon the
Lord an immense burden of responsibility was slipped from his
conscience; and by the time Monday morning came round Isaac was again
convinced that he had made the very best arrangements.

For not only was the state of Keith's soul a reproach to Isaac's
conscience, but the brilliance of Keith's intellect was a terror to
it. Any day that same swift illuminating power might be turned on to
the dark places in his own soul, showing up the deplorable
discrepancies between his inner and his outer life. He wanted his son
and everybody else to think well of him, and Keith's lucid sincerity
at times appalled him. He had not yet discovered that his protection
was in the very thing he feared. Keith was so recklessly single-minded
that it never occurred to him that his father could lead a double
life; he never doubted for an instant that, as in his own case, the
Saturday to Monday state revealed the real man. He, Keith, sat so
lightly to the business and with so detached a mind, that he simply
could not imagine how any human being could be so wedded to a thing in
itself uninteresting as to sacrifice to it any immortal chances. The
book trade was not a matter for high spiritual romance; it was simply
the way they got their living, as honest a way as any other, taking it
all round. The shop was one thing, and his father was another. In
fact, so far from identifying them, he was inclined to pity his father
as a fellow-victim of the tyranny and malignity of the shop.

But when in his right mind he had no grudge whatever against the shop.
He had been born over the shop, nursed behind the shop, and the shop
had been his schoolroom ever since he could spell. It was books found
in the shop and studied in the shop that first opened his eyes to the
glory of the world, as he sat on the step-ladder, reading his
Shakespeare or puzzling out his first Greek by the light of a single
gas-flare; and for the sake of these things he had a tender
recollection of Paternoster Row. It was to Rickman's that he owed his
education. Doggedly at first and afterwards mechanically,
abstractedly, he got through the work he had to do. At times he even
appreciated with a certain enjoyment the exquisite irony of his fate.
Perhaps, when it came to the Gin Palace of Art, he had felt that the
thing was getting almost beyond a joke. He had not been prepared for
that lurid departure. He did not realize that he was in it, that his
father had staked, not only his hopes, but his capital on him. He
simply knew that "the guv'nor" was wrapt up in the horrid thing, that
he had spent enormous sums on it, and he wasn't going to throw him
over at the start.

But he had not the smallest intention of spending his whole life so.
As always, long ago, in the darkness of the City shop, he had seen a
brilliance of his own spreading around Rickman's and beyond it,
shining away into the distance, so he saw it now, flinging out a
broad, flaming, unmistakable path that could by no possibility lead
back there. He only suffered a certain limited and unimportant part of
him to be made into a machine.

Meanwhile it was perhaps in the divine mercy that the workings of
this machine were hidden from Isaac. He hadn't even found out that the
secret spring was not in the brain but the heart of it. He would look
up a little uneasily as Keith pushed through the big swinging doors
and took his seat at the table on the platform, and while he wondered
what Keith was thinking of him, ten to one Keith wasn't thinking of
him at all.

This morning, however, he _was_ thinking of him, as it happened. And
when the old man saw him up there, holding his poor bursting head in
his hands, and said: "'Ead achin' my boy, again? That comes of
studyin' too 'ard!" he thought with a touch of compunction, "What
would he say if he knew I'd gone drunk to bed last night? And if he
knew about Poppy?"

Isaac approached his son gingerly and with a certain fear. The only
thing he had discovered about this admirable machine of his was that
it went better when you left it alone. It had not been going quite so
well lately though, and this morning it seemed decidedly out of order.
He took a seat at the table and busied himself with a catalogue.
Presently he rose and touched the boy gently on the shoulder.

"Come into the office a minute, will you?" he said, with a glance at
the cashier. And Keith, wondering what on earth he wanted with him,
followed into a recess shut on from the shop by a plate-glass and
mahogany screen. Isaac hunted among the papers on his writing-table
for a letter he could not find.

"You remember your old friend, Sir Joseph Harden, don't you?"

"Yes." Keith was in fact devoted to Sir Joseph's memory. He had often
wondered what it was, that mysterious "something" which Sir Joseph
would have done for him, if he had lived, and whether, if he had done
it, it would have made a difference.

"Well, I got a letter from his place in Devonshire this morning.
They've asked me to send them some one down to catalogue his library.
They want an expert, and he must go at once and finish by the
twenty-seventh, or it's no use. Dear me, where is that letter?"

Keith goaded his brain to an agonizing activity. It seemed to him
that some such proposal had been made to him before. But where or when
he couldn't for the life of him remember.

"Pilkington says he told you something about it, last night. I've
heard from him this morning, too."

Pilkington--he remembered now. Dicky had bothered him about a library
last night; and he had wished Dicky at the devil. He beat his brains
till he struck from them an illuminating flash (Lord, how it hurt
too!).

"He didn't say it was the Harden Library."

"It is, though." Isaac's coarse forehead flushed with triumph. "He's
promised me the refusal of it when it comes into the market."

At any other time Keith would have been interested; but his head ached
too much now. Still he was not too far gone to recognize the magnitude
of the affair.

"You'll have to go down and look at it," continued Isaac persuasively,
"and here's the opportunity. You go on their business, and do mine at
the same time, and get well paid for it, too."

"I don't quite like going that way. If the thing's got to be sold why
do they want it catalogued?"

"That's their business, not mine."

"It looks like 'their' mistake, whoever they are. Where's the letter?"

"I've mislaid it. That's not my business either. My business is to
send you off before they find out their mistake. You can catch the
eleven express from Waterloo if you look sharp."

Sharp? Never had he looked less so. Still, with his aching head he
dimly perceived that his Easter was being tampered with.

"And supposing they want me to stay?"

"Stay then. The longer the better."

"I'll go after Easter then. I can't go before. I can't possibly.
It's--it's out of the question."

His brain was clear enough on that point. He had suffered many things
from the brutality of Rickman's; but hitherto its dealings had always
been plain and above-board. It had kept him many an evening working
overtime, it had even exacted an occasional Saturday afternoon; but
it had never before swindled him out of a Bank holiday. The thing was
incredible; it could not be. Rickman's had no rights over his Easter;
whatever happened, that holy festival was indubitably, incontestably
his.

"Don't be afraid. You'll get your holiday, my boy, when you come back.
I'll make it worth your while."

"It isn't money--damn my head! It's so confoundedly inconvenient. You
see, I'd made no end of engagements."

"It's a foolish thing to make engagements so long beforehand. We never
know the day or the hour--"

"I knew both."

"Well, in any case you couldn't be going to any place of amusement on
the Sunday."

Isaac and his conscience had agreed together to assume that young
Keith walked habitually and of his own fancy in the right way.

"Come," he continued, "you're not going to fling up a chance like this
without rhyme or reason."

"I don't know," said Keith, with a queer little one-sided smile, "I'd
fling up a good many chances for a really good rhyme."

As for reason, there were at least two reasons why the present chance
should not lightly be let go. One was the Harden Library. If the
Harden Library was not great, it was almost historic, it contained the
Aldine Plato of 1513, the Neapolitan Horace of 1474, and the _Aurea
Legenda_ of Wynkyn de Worde. The other reason was Dicky Pilkington,
the Vandal into whose hands destiny had delivered it. Upon the Harden
Library Pilkington was about to descend like Alaric on the treasures
of Rome. Rickman's was hand in glove with Pilkington, and since the
young barbarian actually offered them the chance of buying it outright
for an old song, no time was to be lost. It would not do to trust too
long to Dicky's ignorance. At any moment knowledge might enter into
him and corrupt his soul.

No; clearly, he would have to go; he didn't see how he was to get out
of it.

Isaac became uneasy, for the spirit of imprecation sat visibly on his
son's brow. "When I said I'd make it worth your while I meant it."

"I know. It isn't that--"

"Wot is it? Wot is it then? Wot's the matter with you? Wot tomfoolery
are you up to? Is it--" (Isaac's gross forehead flushed, his speech
came thick through his stern lips.) "Is it a woman?"

He had also been young; though he had denied his youth.

The boy's white face quivered with a little wave of heat and pain. He
clasped his forehead with his hands.

"Let me think."

His fingers tightened their hold, as if to grasp thought by holding
the dizzy aching head that contained it. He could think of nothing but
Poppy. He had seen his father's point quite steadily and clearly a
minute ago; but when he thought of Poppy his brain began to turn round
and round again. He gripped his forehead harder still, to stop it.

His thinking drifted into a kind of moody metaphysics instead of
concentrating itself on the matter in hand. "It takes a poet," he said
to himself, "to create a world, and this world would disgrace a Junior
Journalist." Was it, he wondered, the last effort of a cycle of
transcendental decadence, melancholy, sophisticated? Or was it a cruel
young jest flung off in the barbarous spring-time of creative energy?
Either way it chiefly impressed him with its imbecility. He saw
through it. He saw through most things, Himself included. He knew
perfectly well that he had developed this sudden turn for speculative
thought because he was baulked of an appointment with a little variety
actress. That he should see through the little variety actress was not
to be expected. Poppy was in her nature impenetrable, woman being the
ultimate fact, the inexorable necessity of thought. Supposing the
universe to be nothing more than a dance of fortuitous atoms, then
Poppy, herself a fortuitous atom, led the dance; she was the whirligig
centre towards which all things whirled. No wonder that it made him
giddy to think of her.

Suddenly out of its giddiness his brain conceived and instantly
matured a plan. A practical plan. He would catch that eleven-thirty
express all right. He would go down into Devonshire, and stay in
Devonshire till Saturday. If necessary, he would sit up with those
abominable books all Thursday night and Friday night. And on Saturday
he would return. At the worst he would only have to go down again on
Monday. He would have missed the Junior Journalists' dinner, he would
be lucky if he saw the ghost of an idea on this side Whit Sunday, but
he would have torn the heart out of his holiday.

He rose abruptly. "All right. It's a most awful nuisance, as it
happens, but I'll go."

"I'm glad you're willing to oblige me. You'll not regret it."

Isaac was really meditating something very handsome in the way of a
commission. As he looked benignly into his son's face and saw its deep
misery and repugnance, he answered his own question.

"It _is_ a woman."




BOOK II

LUCIA'S WAY




CHAPTER XIV


He wondered how much longer they were going to keep him waiting. His
head still ached, and every nerve was irritable. He began to suspect
the servant of having failed to report his arrival; he thought of
ringing for him and announcing himself a second time. Then he
remembered that he was only the man who had come about the books; he
was there on the Hardens' business, and their time was his time. And
there were worse places to wait in than the library of Court House.

He found himself in a long low room that seemed to him immense. It was
lighted by four deep-set windows, one to the south, one (a smaller
side lattice) to the east, two to the west, and still the corners were
left in gloom. The bookcases that covered the length and height of the
walls were of one blackness with the oak floor and ceiling. The
scattered blues and crimsons of the carpets (repeated in duller tones
in the old morocco bindings), the gilded tracery of the tooling, and
here and there a blood-red lettering-piece, gave an effect as of some
dim rich arabesque flung on to the darkness. At this hour the sunlight
made the most of all it found there; it washed the faded carpet with a
new dye; it licked every jutting angle, every polished surface, every
patch of vellum; it streamed out of the great golden white busts on
their pedestals in the windows, it lay in pale gleams over the eastern
walls till it perished in the marble blackness of the roof and floor,
sucked in as by an upper and nether abyss. This blackness intensified
the glory of the April world outside whose luminous greens and blues
were held like blazonry in the leaded lozenge panes. The two western
windows thrown open looked over the valley to the hills; Castle Hill
with its black battlement of pines, and round-topped Core; to Harmouth
Gap, the great doorway of the west wind, and the straight brown flank
of Muttersmoor, stretching to the sea. He seated himself by one of
these open lattices, looked at the view, one of the loveliest in south
Devon, and thought of Miss Poppy Grace. The vision of her that had
still attended him on his journey down faded as if rebuked by the
great tranquil presence of the hills. He was left supremely, magically
alone.

Now it may have been prescience, it may have been merely the
deplorable state of his nerves, but, as he continued to look out upon
that unfamiliar landscape, the beauty of it, in growing on him, became
almost intolerable. It affected him with an indescribable uneasiness,
a yearning, a foreboding, a terror. He gave a deep sigh and turned his
back on it abruptly.

He picked up a book that lay on the window seat; it was the _History
of Harmouth_, and the history of Harmouth was the history of the
Hardens of Court House. Court House was older than Harmouth and the
Hardens were older than Court House. In early Tudor times, the
chronicler informed him, the house was the court of justice for east
Devon. Under Elizabeth it and the land for miles around it passed to
the Hardens as a reward for their services to the Crown. The first
thing they did was to pull down the gibbet on the north side and build
their kitchen offices there. Next they threw out a short gable-ended
wing to the east, and another to the west, enclosing a pleasant
courtyard on the south. The west wing was now thrown into one with the
long room that held the Harden Library.

Rickman searched carefully for information under this head. He learnt
that the Harden library was the work of ten generations of scholars
beginning with Sir Thomas, a Jacobean maker of madrigals, and ending
with Sir Joseph, the Victorian Master of Lazarus; that the founder's
date is carved on the oak chimney-piece at the north end, with the
Harden motto:

     16 INVICTUS 20;

that the late Master of Lazarus bought books by the cartload, and was
obliged to break through the south wall and sacrifice the west wing
(his wife's boudoir) to make room for them. But where he looked for
some record of these treasures he found nothing but an elaborate
description of the Harden arms with all their quarterings. The
historian was not useful for Rickman's purposes. He was preoccupied
with the Hardens, their antiquity and splendour; he grovelled before
them; every event in their history gave him an opportunity of
observing that their motto was _Invictus_. He certainly seemed to have
found them so; for when he wrote of them his style took on the curious
contortions and prostrations of his spirit. The poor wretch, in the
pay of the local bookseller, had saturated himself with heraldry till
he saw gules.

To a vision thus inflamed book-collecting was simply a quaint
hereditary freak, and scholarship a distinction wholly superfluous in
a race that owned half the parish, and had its arms blazoned on the
east windows of a church and the sign-board of a public-house. And
with the last generation the hereditary passion had apparently
exhausted itself. "The present owner, Sir Frederick Harden," said the
chronicler, "has made no addition to the library of his ancestors."
What he had done was not recorded in the history of the Hardens. It
was silent also as to the ladies of that house, beyond drawing
attention to the curious fact that no woman had ever been permitted to
inherit the Harden Library. The inspired pen of the chronicler evoked
the long procession of those Hardens whose motto was _Invictus_;
crossed-legged crusading Hardens, Hardens in trunk hose, Hardens in
ruff and doublet, in ruffles and periwig; Hardens in powder and
patches, in the loosest of stocks and the tightest of trousers; and
never a petticoat among them all. It was just as well, Rickman
reflected, that Poppy's frivolous little phantom had not danced after
him into the Harden library; those other phantoms might not have
received it very kindly, unless indeed Sir Thomas, the maker of
madrigals, had spared it a shadowy smile.

He looked round and realized that his separation from Poppy would be
disagreeably prolonged if he was expected to catalogue and arrange all
the books in the Harden Library. Allowing so much time to so much
space, (measuring by feet of bookshelf) hours ran rapidly to days, and
days to weeks--why, months might pass and find him still labouring
there. He would be buried in the blackness, forgotten by Poppy and the
world. That was assuming that the Harden Library really belonged to
the Hardens. And if it was to belong to Dicky Pilkington, what on
earth had he been sent for?

"You were sent in answer to my letter, I suppose?"

Rickman's nervous system was still so far under the dominion of
Dicky's champagne that he started violently. Double doors and double
carpets deadened all sound of coming and going, and the voice seemed
to have got into the room by itself. As from its softness he judged it
to be still some yards distant, he suffered a further shock on finding
a lady standing by his elbow.

It had been growing on him lately, this habit of starting at nothing,
this ridiculous spasm of shoulder-blade, eyelids and mouth. It was a
cause of many smiles to the young ladies of his boarding-house; and
this lady was smiling too, though after another fashion. Her smile was
remote and delicately poised; it hovered in the fine, long-drawn
corners of her mouth and eyes; it sobered suddenly as a second and
less violent movement turned towards her his white and too expressive
face. He could not say by what subtle and tender transitions it passed
into indifference, nor how in passing it contrived to intimate her
regret at having taken him somewhat at a disadvantage. It was all done
and atoned for in the lifting of an eyelid, before he could take in
what she had actually said.

Her letter? He murmured some sort of assent, and entered on a dreamy
and protracted search for his pocket handkerchief. He was miserably
conscious that she was looking, looking down on him all the time. For
this lady was tall, so tall indeed that her gaze seemed to light on
his eyelids rather than his eyes. When he had found his courage and
his handkerchief he looked up and their eyes met half way. Hers were
brown with the tinge of hazel that makes brown eyes clear; they had a
liquid surface of light divided from their darkness, and behind the
darkness was more light, and the light and darkness were both
unfathomable.

These eyes were entirely unembarrassed by the encounter. They still
swept him with their long gaze, lucid, meditative, and a little
critical.

"You have been very prompt."

"We understood that no time was to be lost."

She hesitated. "Mr. Rickman understood, did he not, that I asked for
some one with experience?"

Most certainly Mr. Rickman understood.

"Do you think you will be able to do what I want?"

Her eyes implied that he seemed to her too young to have had any
experience at all.

Knowing that a sense of humour was not one of the things required of
him, he controlled a smile.

"We understood you wanted an expert, so I came myself."

"You are Mr. Rickman then?"

"Well--Mr. Rickman's son."

The lady puckered her brows as if trying to recall something, an idea,
a memory that escaped her. She gave it up.

"Have you been waiting long?"

"Not more than half an hour or so."

"I am sorry. Perhaps you had better stay now and see what has to be
done."

He was tired, he had eaten nothing all day, his nerves were out of
order, and he had an abominable headache, but he intimated that he and
his time were at her service. She spoke with authority, and he
wondered who she was. Sir Frederick Harden's daughter? Or his sister?
Or his wife?

"As you see, the books are fairly well arranged. It will not take very
long to sort them."

Oh wouldn't it, though! His heart sank miserably as he followed her
progress round the room.

"They'll have to be catalogued under their subjects--alphabetically,
of course."

"Quite so."

She continued with the same swiftness and serenity, mistress of his
time and intelligence, as of her own luminous and elaborate plan.
"Their size will have to be given, the edition, the place and date of
publication, the number of their shelf, and their place on the
shelves."

Their place on the shelves indeed! If those books had got into Dicky
Pilkington's clutches their place would know them no more. He
wondered; did she know nothing about Dicky Pilkington? Her plan
implied certainty of possession, the permanence of the Harden Library
world without end. He wondered whether he ought not to remind her that
it might be about to come into the market, if it were not already as
good as sold?

"Besides the cataloguing I want notes on all the rare or remarkable
books. I believe some of them are unique."

He wondered more and more, and ended by wondering whether Dicky
Pilkington were really so sure of his game?

"I see. You want a catalogue _raisonne_."

"I want something like this." She opened a drawer and showed him one
of Rickman's Special Quarterly Catalogues of a year back. He
remembered; it used to be sent regularly to old Sir Joseph Harden,
their best customer.

"My grandfather said these catalogues were models of their kind--they
could only have been done by a scholar. He wanted the library
catalogued on the same lines. It was to have been done in his
lifetime--"

"I wish it had been. I should have liked to have worked for Sir Joseph
'Arden."

Stirred by the praise, and by a sudden recollection of Sir Joseph, he
spoke with a certain emotion, so that an aitch went by the board.

"Are you quite sure," said she, "that you know all about this sort of
work?"

Had she noticed that hideous accident? And did it shake her belief in
his fitness for the scholarly task?

"This _is_ my work. I made that catalogue. I have to make them every
quarter, so it keeps my hand in."

"Are you a quick worker?"

"Yes, I can be pretty quick."

"Could you finish my catalogue by the twenty-seventh? That's a little
more than three weeks."

"Well--it would depend rather on the number of notes you wanted. Let
me see--there must be about fourteen or fifteen thousand books here--"

"There are fifteen thousand."

"It would take three weeks to make an ordinary catalogue; and that
would be quick work, even for me. I'm afraid you must give me rather
more time."

"I can't. I'm leaving England on the twenty-sixth."

"Couldn't I go on with it in your absence?"

"No, that would hardly do."

"If you could only give me another week--"

"I couldn't possibly. I have to join my father at Cannes on the
twenty-seventh."

So she was Sir Frederick Harden's daughter then, not his wife. Her
last words were illuminating; they suggested the programme of a family
whose affairs were in liquidation. They also revealed Sir Frederick
Harden's amazing indifference to the fate of the library, an
indifference that argued a certain ignorance of its commercial value.
His father who had a scent keen as a hound's for business had taken in
the situation. And Dicky, you might trust Dicky to be sure of his
game. But if this were so, why should the Hardens engage in such a
leisurely and expensive undertaking as a catalogue _raisonne_? Was the
gay Sir Frederick trying to throw dust in the eyes of his creditors?

"I see," he said, "Sir Frederick Harden is anxious to have the
catalogue finished before you leave?"

"No, he isn't anxious about it at all. He doesn't know it's being
done. It is entirely my affair."

So Sir Frederick's affairs and his daughter's were separate and
distinct; and apparently neither knew what the other was about.
Rickman's conscience reproached him for the rather low cunning which
had prompted him to force her hand. It also suggested that he ought
not to take advantage of her ignorance. Miss Harden was charming, but
evidently she was a little rash.

"If I may make the suggestion, it might perhaps be wiser to wait till
your return."

"If it isn't done before I go," said Miss Harden, "it may never be
done at all."

"And you are very anxious that it should be done?"

"Yes, I am. But if you can't do it, you had better say so at once."

"That would not be strictly true. I could do it, if I worked at it
pretty nearly all day and half the night. Say sixteen hours out of the
twenty-four."

"You are thinking of one person's work?"

"Yes."

"But if there are two persons?"

"Then, of course, it would take eight hours."

"So, if _I_ worked, too--"

"In that case," he replied imperturbably, "it would take twelve
hours."

"You said eight just now."

"Assuming that the two persons worked equally hard."

She crossed to a table in the middle of the room, it was littered with
papers. She brought and showed him some sheets covered with delicate
handwriting; her work, poor lady.

"This is a rough catalogue as far as I've got. I think it will be some
help."

"Very great help," he murmured, stung by an indescribable compunction.
He had not reckoned on this complication; and it made the ambiguity of
his position detestable. It was bad enough to come sneaking into her
house as his father's agent and spy, and be doing his business all the
while that this adorably innocent lady believed him to be exclusively
engaged on hers. But that she should work with him, toiling at a
catalogue which would eventually be Rickman's catalogue, there was
something in the notion extremely repulsive to his sense of honour.
Under its muffling of headache his mind wrestled feebly with the
situation. He wished he had not got drunk last night so that he could
see the thing clearly all round. As far as he could see at present the
only decent course was to back out of it.

"What I have done covers the first five sections up to F."

"I see," he said with a faint interest, "you are keeping the classical
and modern sections distinct."

"Yes, I thought that was better."

"Much better."

"I haven't begun the classical section yet. Can I leave that to you?"

"Certainly." He felt that every assent was committing him to he knew
not what.

"You see a great deal of the work is done already. That makes a
difference, doesn't it?"

"Oh, yes; it makes all the difference." And indeed it did.

"In this case you can undertake it?"

"No. I think that in this case I couldn't undertake it at all."

"But--why not?" she asked, as well she might.

Why not, indeed? He walked two or three paces from her, trying to
think it out. If only his head didn't ache so abominably! To refuse to
share the work with her was of course to lay himself open to a most
disgusting suspicion.

He paced back again. Did she suspect him of mercenary motives? No; she
suspected nothing. Her face expressed disappointment and bewilderment,
so far as she allowed it to express anything. One more turn. Thank
Goodness, she was not looking at him; she was giving him time. Only a
second, though. She had seated herself, as much as to say she was now
waiting for an explanation. He mustn't keep her waiting; he must say
something, but what on earth was he going to say?

And as he looked at the lady so serenely seated, there rose up before
him a sudden impertinent, incongruous vision of Miss Poppy Grace's
legs. They reminded him that certain affairs of his own imperatively
called him back to town. Happy thought--why not say so?

"I ought to have said that in any case I couldn't undertake it. I
couldn't make time without giving up some very important engagements."

"Could you not have thought of that before you came?"

"I did think of it. I thought I could fit everything in by going up to
town from Saturday to Monday. But if I'm to finish by the
twenty-seventh, even--even with your help, I oughtn't to lose a day,
much less three days."

"I see. You are afraid of not being able to finish?"

He wavered, selecting some form of expression that might shadow forth
what was passing in his mind.

"I'm afraid of making any promises I mightn't be able to keep."

Man's vacillation is Fate's determination, and Miss Harden was as firm
as Fate. He felt that the fine long hands playing with the catalogue
were shaping events for him, while her eyes measured him with their
meditative gaze.

"I must risk that," she said. "I should lose more than three days in
finding a substitute, and I think you will do the work as I want it
done."

"And supposing I can't do it in time?"

"Will you do your best--that's all?"

"Certainly; whatever I do, I shall do my best. And if I fail you--"

Left unfinished, hanging in mid air, the phrase suggested the vague
phantasmal contingencies for which he could find no name.

"I am willing to take the risk."

Her phrase too was satisfying. Its generous amplitude covered him like
a cloak.

"But we haven't arranged anything about terms."

No, they had not. Was it in her adorable simplicity, or in the mere
recklessness of her youth, that she engaged him first and talked about
terms afterwards? Or did she know an honest man when she saw one? He
took his note-book and pencil and made out an estimate with the
rapidity of happy inspiration, a fantastic estimate, incredibly and
ludicrously small.

"Then," said she, "there will be your expenses."

He had not thought of that difficulty; but he soared above it, still
reckless and inspired.

"Expenses? Oh, expenses are included."

She considered the estimate with the prettiest pucker of her
meditative brows.

"I don't understand these things; but--it seems very little."

"Our usual charge."

So swiftly did the wings of his inspiration carry him into the blue
ideal, high above both verbal verity and the gross material fact.

She acquiesced, though with some reluctance. "Well, and when do you
think you can begin?"

"Whenever it's most convenient to you. I shall have to take a look
round first."

"You can do that at once."

By this time he had forgotten that whatever he might have drunk he had
eaten nothing since the dinner of last night. He had ceased to feel
faint and headachy and hungry, having reached that stage of faintness,
headache and hunger when the body sheds its weight and seems to walk
gloriously upon air, to be possessed of supernatural energy. He went
up and down library steps that were ladders, and stood perilously on
the tops of them. He walked round and round the walls, making
calculations, till the library began to swing slowly round too, and a
thin circle of grey mist swung with it. And all the time he was
obscurely aware of a delicate grey-clad figure going to and fro in the
grey mist, or seated intent at the table, doing his work. He felt that
her eyes followed him now and then.

Heroism sustained him for an hour. At the end of the hour his progress
round the room grew slower; and in passing by the table where she sat,
he had to steady himself with one hand. A cold sweat broke on his
forehead. He mopped it furtively. He had every reason to believe that
his appearance was repulsive; and, in the same painful instant in
which this conviction sank into him, she raised her head and he saw
that she was beautiful. The upward look revealed her. It was as if
some veil, soft but obscuring, had dropped from her face. As her eyes
scanned him gently, it occurred to him that she had probably never
before had an opportunity of intimately observing a gentleman
suffering from the remoter effects of intoxication.

"You look tired," she said. "Or are you ill?"

He stood shame-faced before her; for her eyes were more disconcerting
than when they had looked down on him from their height. They were
tranquil now, full of kind thought and innocence and candour. Of
innocence above all, a luminous innocence, a piercing purity. He was
troubled by her presence; but it was not so much her womanhood that
troubled him as the deep mystery of her youth.

He could not look at it as it looked at him; for in looking at it he
remembered last night and many nights before. Somehow it made him see
the things it could not see, his drunkenness, his folly, his passion,
the villainous naked body of his sin. And it was for their work, and
their marks upon him, that she pitied him.

"Have you had anything to _eat_?" said she.

"Oh, yes, thanks," he answered vaguely.

"When?"

"Well--as far as I can remember it was about eight o'clock last
night."

"Oh--how very thoughtless of me. I am so sorry."

"It's my own fault entirely. I wouldn't have mentioned it, except to
account for my stupidity."

She crossed the room with a quick movement of distress and rang the
bell. With horror he perceived her hospitable intention.

She was actually ordering his dinner and his room. He heard every word
of her soft voice; it was saying that he was to have some soup, and
the chicken, and the tart--no, the jelly, and a bottle of burgundy, in
the morning-room. He saw the young footman standing almost on tip-toe,
winged for service, fired with her enthusiasm and her secrecy.

Coming on that sinister and ambiguous errand, how could he sleep under
her roof? How could he eat her chicken, and drink her burgundy, and
sit in her morning-room? And how could he explain that he could not?
Happily she left him to settle the point with the footman.

With surprise and a little concern Lucia Harden learnt that the rather
extraordinary young man, Mr. Savage Keith Rickman, had betaken himself
to an hotel. It appeared, that courteously, but with an earnestness
that admitted of no contradiction, he had declined all hospitality
whatever.




CHAPTER XV


It was Friday morning, and Mr. Rickman lay in bed, outwardly beholding
through the open window the divinity of the sea, inwardly
contemplating the phantoms of the mind. For he judged them to be
phantoms (alcoholic in their origin), his scruples of last night.
Strictly speaking, it was on Wednesday night that he had got drunk;
but he felt as if his intoxication had prolonged itself abnormally, as
if this were the first moment of indubitable sobriety.

And as he lay there, he prepared himself to act the part of the cold,
abstracted, supercilious man of business, the part already too
horribly familiar to him as young Mr. Rickman of Rickman's. He
reflected how nearly he had wrecked his prospects in that character.
He bade himself beware of woman and of drink, the two things most
fatal to stability of judgement. He recalled, painfully, the events of
last evening. He was not quite sure what he had done, or hadn't done;
but he believed he had all but flung up the chance of securing for
Rickman's the great Harden Library. And he had quite a vivid and
disturbing recollection of the face, the person that had inspired him
with that impulse of fantastic folly.

In the candid light of morning this view of his conduct presented
itself as the sane thinking of a regenerated intellect. He realized,
as he had not realized before, how colossal was the opportunity he had
so narrowly let slip. The great Harden Library would come virgin into
the market, undefiled by the touch of commerce, the breath of
publicity. It had been the pure and solitary delight of scholar lovers
who would have been insulted by the suggestion that they should
traffic in its treasures. Everything depended on his keeping its
secret inviolate. Heavens! supposing he had backed out of that
catalogue, and Miss Harden had called in another expert. At this
point he detected in himself a tendency to wander from the matter in
hand. He reminded himself that whatever else he was there for, he was
there to guard the virginal seclusion of the Aldine Plato, the
Neapolitan Horace and the _Aurea Legenda_ of Wynkyn de Worde. He tried
to shut his eyes against his vivid and disturbing vision of the lady
of the library. It suggested that he was allowing that innocent person
to pay fifteen pounds for a catalogue which he had some reason to
believe would be of no earthly use to her. He sat up in bed, and
silenced its suggestions with all the gravity of his official
character. If the young lady insisted on having a catalogue made, he
might as well make it as any one else; in fact, a great deal better.
He tried to make himself believe that he regretted having charged her
fifteen pounds when he might have got fifty. It was more than
unbusiness-like; it was, even for him, an incredibly idiotic thing to
do; he would never have done it if he had not been hopelessly drunk
the night before.

He got out of bed with a certain slow dignity and stepped into his
cold bath solemnly, as into a font of regeneration. And as he bathed
he still rehearsed with brilliance his appointed part. No criticism of
the performance was offered by his actual self as revealed to him in
the looking-glass. It stared at him with an abstracted air,
conspicuous in the helpless pathos of its nakedness. It affected
absorption in the intricate evolutions of the bath. Something in its
manner inspired him with a vague distrust. He noticed that this
morning it soaped itself with a peculiar care, that it displayed more
than usual interest in the trivial details of dress. It rejected an
otherwise irreproachable shirt because of a minute wine stain on the
cuff. It sniffed critically at its coat and trousers, and flung them
to the other end of the room. It arrayed itself finally in a brand-new
suit of grey flannel, altogether inexpressive of his role. He could
not but feel that its behaviour compromised the dignity of the
character he had determined to represent. It is not in his best coat
and trousers that the book-dealer sets out on the dusty quest of the
Aldine Plato and the Neapolitan Horace and the _Aurea Legenda_ of
Wynkyn de Worde.

He could no longer conceal the fact that he had dressed himself
elaborately for an interview with Miss Harden. But he endeavoured to
adjust his mind to a new and less disturbing view of the lady. He had
seen her last night through a flush of emotion that obscured her; he
would see her to-day in the pure and imperturbable light of the
morning, and his nerves should not play the devil with him this time.
He would be cool, calm, incorruptibly impersonal, as became Rickman,
the man of business, Rickman of Rickman's.

Unfortunately, though the role was rehearsed with ease in the privacy
of his bedroom, it proved impossible to sustain it under Miss Harden's
candid eyes. At the first sight of them he lost all grasp and memory
of his part; he broke down disgracefully, miserably. The sound of her
voice revived his agony of the previous night. True, the flush of
emotion had subsided, but in the fierce intellectual light that
followed, his doubts and scruples showed plainer than ever. They even
acquired a certain logical order and cohesion.

He concealed himself behind the projecting wing of a bookcase and
wrestled with them there. Dispassionately considered, the situation
stood thus. He was possessed of certain knowledge relating to Sir
Frederick Harden's affairs. That was neither bad nor good. He had
allowed Sir Frederick Harden's daughter to engage him in a certain
capacity, knowing perfectly well that she would not have done so had
she herself possessed that knowledge. That was bad--distinctly bad. He
was going to take advantage of that engagement to act in another
capacity, not contemplated by his employer, namely, as valuer of said
employer's property and possibly as the agent for its purchase, well
knowing that such purchase would be effected without reference to its
intrinsic or even to its market value. That was worse.

These were the simple data of his problem. The problem (seen with
excruciating lucidity) stated itself thus. Assuming, first of all,
Miss Harden's ignorance and his own knowledge, what was the correct
attitude of his knowledge to her ignorance? In other words, was it his
business to enlighten her as to the state of her father's finances?

No; it might be somebody else's business, but most decidedly it was
not his. His business, as far as he could see it, was simply to
withdraw as gracefully as possible from a position so difficult to
occupy with any decency.

He must then make another attempt to back out of it. No doubt it would
be an uncommonly awkward thing to do. The lady had already shown a
very pretty little will of her own, and supposing she insisted on
holding him to his bargain? There was that estimate, too; it seemed to
have clinched things, somehow, between him and Miss Harden. He did not
exactly know how to deal with that high-handed innocence, but he would
ask her to allow him to re-consider it.

He approached her with his head tossed up a little more than usual,
his way when he was about to do something disagreeable, to drive a
bargain or to ask a favour.

"Miss Harden, may I speak to you one moment?"

She looked up. Her face and figure were radiant in the light from the
south window.

"What is it?" she asked.

She was busy at one of the bookcases with a note-book and pencil,
cataloguing on an absurd but independent plan of her own. He gave a
rueful glance at her.

"I'm not sure that I ought to have let you engage me last night. I
wonder if I might ask you--"

"To release you from your engagement?"

"You must think I'm behaving very badly."

She did not contradict him; neither did she assent. She held him for
the moment under her long penetrating gaze. Her eyes were not of the
detective sort, quick to penetrate disguises. They were (though she
did not know it) eyes that possessed the power of spiritual seduction,
luring souls to confession. Your falseness might escape them; but if
there was any truth in you, she compelled you to be true.

She compelled Rickman to be impulsive.

"I'd give anything to know what I ought to do."

She did not help him out.

"I can't make up my mind about this work."

"Is it the question of time? I thought we had made that clear? You
didn't undertake to finish by the twenty-seventh."

"The question is whether I should have undertaken it at all."

"It might have been as well to have answered that question first."

"I couldn't answer it. There were so many things--"

"Do you want a longer time in town?"

"I want a longer time here, to think it over, to make up my mind
whether I can go on--"

"And in the meanwhile?"

"The work goes on just the same."

"And if you decide that you can't continue it?"

"I should find a substitute."

"The substitute might not be just the same. For instance, he might not
have so scrupulous a conscience."

"You mean he might not be so eager to back out of his engagements."

"I mean what I said. Your position seems to be a little difficult."

"I wish to goodness, Miss Harden, I could explain it."

"I don't suggest that you should explain it. It doesn't seem to be so
very clear to yourself."

"It isn't. I really _don't_ know what I ought to do."

"No more do I. But I can tell you what you ought to have done. You
ought to have made up your mind last night."

"Well, the fact is--last night--I hadn't very much mind left to make
up."

"No, I remember. You _were_ rather done up. I don't want to bind you
by last night, if it's at all unfair to you."

"It isn't in the least unfair to me. But I'm not sure that it mightn't
be very unfair to you; and, you see, I want to think it out."

"Very well, think it out, and let me know some time to-night. Will
that satisfy you?"

"It ought to."

And for the moment it did satisfy him. He felt that conscience, that
stern guardian of his conduct, was off duty for the day. He was free
(for the day) to abandon himself to the charm of Miss Harden's
society. The experience, he told himself, would be altogether new and
delightful.

New it undoubtedly was; but he remained a little uncertain as to the
delight; the immediate effect of Miss Harden's presence being an
intellectual disturbance amounting almost to aberration. It showed
itself, first of all, in a frightful exaltation of the consciousness
of self. To Mr. Rickman, striving to be noiseless, it seemed that the
sound of his boots, as he crossed the library, reverberated through
the immensity of space, while the creaking of his new braces
advertised in the most horrible manner his rising up and his sitting
down. Things were worse when he sat down; for then his breathing,
light but noticeably frequent, made him the unquiet centre of the
room. In the surrounding stillness the blowing of his nose became a
monstrous and appalling act. And no sooner was his attention
abstracted from his nose than it settled in his throat, producing a
series of spasmodic contractions which he imagined to be distinctly
audible. It was really as if his body had somehow detached itself, and
was rioting in a conspicuous and unseemly individuality of its own. He
wondered what Miss Harden thought of its behaviour.

This state of things was bad enough when he was separated from her by
the entire length of the room; but their work required a certain
collaboration, and there were occasions when he was established near
her, when deliberately, in cold blood and of his own initiative, he
was compelled to speak to her. No language could describe the anguish
and difficulty of these approaches. His way was beset by obstacles and
perils, by traps and snares; and at every turn there waited for him
the shameful pitfall of the aitch. He whose easy courtesy charmed away
the shyness of Miss Flossie Walker, whose conversation (when he
deigned to converse) was the wonder and delight of the ladies of his
boarding-house, now blushed to hear himself speak. The tones of his
voice were hateful to him; he detected in them some subtle and
abominable quality that he had not observed before. How would they
appeal to Miss Harden? For this miserable consciousness of himself was
pervaded, transcended by his consciousness of her.

Of her beauty he grew every minute more aware. It was not of the
conspicuous and conquering kind; it carried no flaming banner of
triumphant sex; indeed, it demanded a kindred fineness of perception
to discern it, being yet vague with the softness of her youth. Her
hair was mere darkness without colour or flame, her face mere
whiteness without a flush; all her colour and her light were, where
her soul was, in her mouth and eyes. These showed more vivid for that
toneless setting; they dominated her face. However he looked at her
his gaze was led up to them. For the long dim lines of her body flowed
upwards from her feet like the curves of a slender flame, mingling,
aspiring, vanishing; the edges of her features were indistinct as the
edges of a flame. This effect of an upward sweep was repeated in the
tilt of her vivid mouth and emphasised by the arch of her eyebrows,
giving a faintly interrogative expression to her face. All this he
noticed. He noticed everything about her, from the fine curling
flame-like edges of her mouth and the flawless rim of her ears, to her
finger-tips and the slope of her small imperious feet. He caught every
inflection of her voice; without looking at her, he was aware of every
turn of her head, every movement of her eyelids; he watched with
furtive interest her way of touching and handling things, of rising
and sitting, of walking and being still. It was a new way, unlike
Poppy's way, or Flossie's way, or the way of any woman he had yet
seen. What struck him most was the intense quiet of her presence; it
was this that made his own so noisy and obtrusive.

And yet, she didn't, she really didn't appear to notice it. She might
have been unaware that there was any such person as Mr. Savage Keith
Rickman in the room. He wondered how on earth she achieved that serene
unconsciousness; he came to the conclusion that it was not her own
achievement at all, but the achievement of her race. Theirs too that
something subtly imperious in her bearing, which seemed not so much
the attitude of her mind as the way her head was set on her shoulders.
He could not say that she betrayed any sense of his social
inferiority, unless it were in a certain courtesy which he gathered to
be rather more finished than any she would have shown to a man of her
own class.

It was not only finished, it was final. The thing was so perfect in
itself that obviously it could lead no further. She would say in her
exquisite voice, "Would you mind taking these five volumes back to
your shelf?" or, "I'm sorry to interrupt you, but can you tell me
whether this is the original binding?" Under no circumstances could he
imagine himself replying, "I wouldn't mind taking fifty volumes," or
"I like being interrupted." All this was a complete inversion of the
rules that Keith Rickman was acquainted with as governing polite
intercourse between the sexes, and he found it extremely
disconcerting. It was as if some fine but untransparent veil had been
hung between him and her, dividing them more effectually than a
barricade.

The wonder, which grew with the morning, was not so much in the things
she said as in the things she didn't say. Her powers of reservation
seemed to Rickman little short of miraculous. Until yesterday he had
never met a woman who did not, by some look or tone or movement of her
body, reveal what she was thinking about him. Whatever Miss Harden
thought about him she kept it to herself. Unfortunately the same high
degree of reticence was expected from him, and to Keith Rickman, when
not restrained by excess of shyness, reticence came hard. It was apt
to break down when a severe strain was put on it, as had been the case
that morning. And it was appointed that the same thing should happen
to him this afternoon.

As far as he could remember it happened in this way. He was busy
getting the Greek dramatists into their places, an enterprise which
frequently took him to her end of the room where Sir Joseph had
established his classical library. He was sitting on the top of the
steps, when she approached him carrying six vellum bound volumes in
her arms, Sir Joseph's edition of Euripides of which the notes
exceeded the text. He dismounted and took the books from her, turning
very red as he did so.

"You should let me do all the carrying. These books are too heavy for
you."

"Thank you, I think they ought to go with the others, on this shelf."

He did not answer all at once. He was absorbed in the Euripides. It
was an _edition de luxe_, the Greek text exquisitely printed from a
fount of semi-uncial type, the special glory of the Harden Classics.

He exclaimed, "What magnificent type!"

She smiled.

"It's rare too. I've never seen any other specimen--in modern
printing."

"There is no other specimen," said she.

"Yes, there is. One book at least, printed, I think, in Germany."

"Is there? It was set up from a new fount specially made for this
edition. I always supposed my grandfather invented it."

"Oh no, he couldn't have done that. He may have adapted it. In fact,
he must have adapted it."

This young man had set aside a cherished tradition, as lightly as if
he were blowing the dust off the leaves. She was interested.

"How can you tell that?"

"Oh, I know. It's very like a manuscript in the British Museum."

"What manuscript?"

"The Greek text of the Complutensian Polyglot." (He could not help
saying to himself, 'That ought to fetch her!') "But it doesn't follow
that it's the same type. Whatever it is, it's very beautiful."

"It's easier to read, too, than the ordinary kind."

He was still turning over the pages, handling the book as a lover
handles the thing he loves. The very touch of the vellum thrilled him
with an almost sensual rapture. Here and there a line flashed from a
chorus and lured him deeper into the text. His impulse was still to
exclaim, but a finer instinct taught him to suppress his scholarly
emotion. Looking up as she spoke he saw her eyes fixed on him with a
curious sympathy. And as he thought of the possible destiny of the
Euripides he felt guilty as of a treachery towards her in loving the
same book.

"Do you read Euripides?" he asked with naive wonder.

"Yes."

"And AEschylus and Sophocles and Aristoph--?" Mr. Rickman became
embarrassed as he recalled certain curious passages, and in his
embarrassment he rushed upon his doom--"and--and 'Omer?"

It was a breakdown unparalleled in his history. Never since his
childhood had he neglected the aspirate in Homer. A flush made
manifest his agony. He frowned, and gazed at her steadily, as if he
defied her to judge him by that lapse.

"Yes," said the lady; but she was not thinking of Homer.

"By Jove," he murmured pensively. His eyes turned from her and
devoured the text. He was torn between abject admiration of the lady
and of the book.

"Which do you like best?" he asked suddenly. AEschylus or Sophocles?
But it's an absurd question."

"Why absurd?"

"Because they're so different."

"Are they?" To tell the truth she was not thinking of them any more
than she had been thinking of Homer.

He became perfectly hectic with excitement. "Rather! Can't you see the
difference? Sophocles carved his tragedies. He carved them in ivory,
polished them up, back and front, till you can't see the marks of the
chisel. And AEschylus jabbed his out of the naked granite where it
stood, and left them there with the sea at their feet, and the mist
round their heads, and the fire at their hearts."

"But--but he left the edges a little rough."

"He did. God leaves them so sometimes when he's making a big thing."

Something like a faint ripple of light passed over her face under the
obscuring veil it wore for him.

"But Sophocles is perfect," said she. She was not thinking of
Sophocles one bit; she was thinking that when God made Mr. Rickman he
had left the edges rough, and wondering whether it was possible that
he had made "a big thing."

"Oh yes, he's perfect." He began to quote softly and fluently, to her
uttermost surprise. His English was at times a thing to shudder at,
but his Greek was irreproachable, perfect in its modulation and its
flow. Freed from all flaws of accent, the musical quality of his voice
declared itself indubitably, marvellously pure.

The veil lifted. Her smile was a flash of intelligence, the sexless,
impersonal intelligence of the scholar. This maker of catalogues, with
the tripping tongue that Greek made golden, he had touched the
electric chain that linked them under the deep, under the social gulf.

"Did you ever hear such a chorus? Pure liquid gold, every line of it.
Still, you can read Sophocles with your hair on. I should have thought
most worn--most ladies would like Euripides best?"

"Why? Because they understand him best?"

"No. Because he understood them best."

"Did he understand them? Euripides," said the young lady with
decision, "was a decadent."

"Was he? How about the _Bacchae_? Of course, it's worth all the rest of
his plays put together; they're not in the same street with it. It's a
thing to dream about, to go mad about."

"My grandfather says it's not Euripidean." "Good Lord! How do we know
it isn't the most Euripidean of the lot?"

"Well, it stands alone, doesn't it?"

"Yes. And he stands with it."

"Does he? My grandfather was judging him by his average."

"His average? Oh, I say, you know, you could reduce some very great
poets to mediocrity by striking their average. Wouldn't you allow a
man to be at least as great as his greatest achievement?"

"I wonder--"

"Anyhow, those are ripping good notes in that edition."

"They ought to be. They were by a good scholar--his greatest
achievement."

He put down the Harden Euripides; and it struck Lucia that if Sir
Joseph had been there this truthful young man would not have hesitated
to put him down too. She laid her hand on the book with an air of
possession and protection, which was a lesson in tact for the truthful
young man. He leaned up against the bookcase with his hands in his
pockets.

"I say," said he, "I hope you don't mind my talking like this to you?"

"No. Why shouldn't you?"

"Well, it isn't exactly what I'm here for."

That exciting conversation had lasted barely fifteen minutes; but it
had set him for the time being at his ease. He had at any rate proved
himself a scholar, and he was so far happier. He felt that he was
beginning to get on with Miss Harden, to see a little way across the
gulf, discerning the outlines of the further shore where that high
lady walked unveiled.

Then suddenly, owing to a most humiliating incident, the gulf yawned
again.

It was five o'clock, and he was left alone in the company of a
fascinating little tea-table, laid, as if for a guest, with fine white
linen, silk embroidered, with early Georgian silver and old china. It
was laid for him, that little tea-table. He had delayed a little
before beginning his repast, and it happened that when Miss Harden
appeared again she found him holding a tea-cup to his lips with one
hand, while the other groped in a dish of cream cakes, abstractedly,
and without the guidance of a selective eye. Both eyes indeed were
gazing dreamily over the rim of the tea-cup at her empty chair. He was
all right; so why, oh why did he turn brick-red and dash his cup down
and draw back his innocent hand? That was what he had seen the errand
boy at Rickman's do, when he caught him eating lunch in a dark
passage. He always had compassion on that poor pariah and left him to
finish his meal in privacy; and with the same delicacy Miss Harden,
perceiving his agony, withdrew. He was aware that the incident had
marked him.

He stood exactly where he stood before. Expert knowledge was nothing.
Mere conversational dexterity was nothing. He could talk to her about
Euripides and Sophocles till all was blue; he could not blow his nose
before her, or eat and drink before her, like a gentleman, without
shame and fear.

They talked no more that evening.




CHAPTER XVI


At seven he again refused Miss Harden's hospitality and withdrew to
his hotel. He was to return before nine to let her know his decision,
and as yet he had done nothing towards thinking it out.

A letter had come for him by the evening post. It had been forwarded
from his rooms and ran thus.

     "My dear Rickets:

     "I haven't forgotten about your little supper, so mind you turn
     up at our little pic-nic before Dicky drinks all the champagne.
     It's going to be awfully select.

     "Ever your own and nobody else's,

     "Poppy Grace.

     "P.S.--How is your poor head?"

There are many ways of being kind and that was Poppy's way. She wanted
to tell him not to be cut up about Wednesday night; that, whatever
Dicky Pilkington thought of his pretensions, she still reckoned him in
the number of the awfully select. And lest he should have deeper
grounds for uneasiness her postscript hinted in the most delicate
manner possible that she had not taken him seriously, attributing his
utterances to their true cause. And yet she was his own and nobody
else's. She was a good sort, Poppy, taking her all round.

He tried to think about Poppy and found it difficult. His mind
wandered; not into the realms of fancy, but into paths strange and
humiliating for a scholar and a poet. He caught himself murmuring,
"Harmouth--Harcombe--Homer--Harden." He had got them all right. He
never dreamed of--of dropping them when he wasn't excited. It was
only in the beaten tracks where his father had gone before him that he
was apt to slide. He was triumphant over Harmouth where he might have
tripped over Hammersmith. Homer and Hesiod were as safe with him as
with Horace Jewdwine. (He couldn't think how he had managed to come to
grief over Homer just now. It was nerves, or luck, or pure accident,
the sort of thing that might have happened to anybody.) Thank Heaven,
his tongue was almost virgin to the aitch in Harden.

Harden--Lucia Harden. He knew her name and how to pronounce it; for he
had seen it written in the fly-leaf of a book, and heard it spoken by
the footman who called her Miss Loocher. This he took to be a
corruption of the Italian form.

Here he again tried to evoke a vivid image of Poppy; but without
success. And then he remembered that he had still to think it out.

First of all, then, he would eliminate sentiment. Sentiment apart, he
was by no means sure that he would do well to act on the impulse of
the morning and decamp. After all, what _was_ he sure of? Was he sure
that Sir Frederick Harden's affairs, including his library, were
involved beyond redemption? Put it that there was an off-chance of Sir
Frederick's financial recovery.

From the bare, uninteresting, financial point of view that event would
entail some regrettable consequences for himself. He had been
extremely rash. He had undertaken to accomplish three weeks' expert
work to the value of fifty pounds for which he had charged fifteen, an
estimate that at Rickman's would have been considered ridiculous for a
man's bare time. He had not so much as mentioned his fare; he had
refused board and lodging; and on the most sanguine computation his
fees would only cover his expenses by about five pounds. The
difference between fifteen pounds and fifty would have to be refunded
out of his own private pocket. When it came to settling accounts with
Rickman's his position would be, to say the least of it, embarrassing.
It was difficult to unravel the mental process that had led him into
it; but it was not the first time that these luxurious subtleties of
conscience had caused him to run short of ready money. It was only
another of those innumerable occasions when he and his father failed
to see face to face, and when he had had to pay for the pleasure of
supporting a fantastic personal view. Only the view in this case was
so hideously complicated and--and exaggerated. And this time in order
to clear himself he would be compelled to borrow again from Dicky
Pilkington. There was no other way. No sooner did Sir Frederick's head
appear rising above water than he saw his own hopelessly submerged.

Nevertheless it was this prospect that he found himself contemplating
with all the ardour of desire. It justified not only his presence in
the Harden Library, but Miss Harden's presence as his collaborator.
With all its unpleasantness it was infinitely preferable to the other
alternative. He let his mind dwell on it until the off-chance began to
look like an absolute certainty.

Put it then that Sir Frederick recovered. In this case the Hardens
scored. Since he had charged Miss Harden fifteen where he was entitled
to fifty, the best part of his labour might be considered a free gift
to the lady. What was more, in the matter of commission, he stood to
lose a very considerable sum. Put it that the chances were even, and
the whole business resolved itself into a game of pitch and toss.
Heads, Miss Harden lost; tails, she won; and he wasn't responsible for
the tossing.

But put it that Sir Frederick did not recover. Then he, Keith Rickman,
was in a position most unpleasant for himself; but he could not make
things a bit pleasanter for Miss Harden by wriggling out of it. The
library would be sold whether he stayed there or not; and by staying
he might possibly protect her interests in the sale. It wasn't a nice
thing to have to be keeping his eye all the time on the Aldine Plato
and the Neapolitan Horace and the _Aurea Legenda_ of Wynkyn de Worde;
but he would only be doing what must be done by somebody in any case.
Conclusion; however unpleasant for him to be the agent for the sale,
it would be safer for Miss Harden.

And how about those confounded profits, represented by his commission?
That was easily settled. He would have nothing to do with the filthy
things. He wouldn't touch his commission with the end of the poker.
Unfortunately he would never be able to explain all this to her, and
Heaven only knew what she would think of him when it all came out in
the long-run, as it was bound to come. Well, it wouldn't matter what
she thought of him so long as he knew that his hands were clean.
Rickman's' hands might not be so presentable, but they were not human
hands as his were; they were the iron, irresponsible hands of a
machine.

There remained his arrangements for the Bank holiday. They seemed to
have been made so long ago that they hardly counted. Still, there was
that engagement to Poppy Grace, and he had promised to take poor
Flossie to the Hippodrome. Poor Flossie would be disappointed if he
did not take her to the Hippodrome. At the moment Flossie's
disappointment presented itself as considerably more vital than his
own.

To-morrow, then, being Saturday, he would go up to town; and on Monday
he would return to his ambiguous post.

He had thought it out.




CHAPTER XVII


"There's a lot of rot," said Mr. Rickman, "talked about Greek tragedy.
But really, if you come to think of it, it's only in Sophocles you get
the tragedy of Fate. There isn't any such thing in AEschylus, you
know."

He had gone up to acquaint Miss Harden with his decision and had been
led off into this hopeful track by the seductions that still lurked in
the Euripides.

"There's Nemesis, which is the same thing," said she.

"Not at all the same thing. Nemesis is simply the horrid jealousy of
the gods; and the responsibility lies with the person who provokes
them, whether it's Prometheus, or Agamemnon, or Agamemnon's great
great grandfather. It's the tragedy of human responsibility, the most
brutal tragedy of all. All these people are crumpled up with it, they
go about tearing their hair over it, and howling out [Greek: drasanti
pathein]. There isn't any Fate in that, you know. Is there?"

He did not wait for an answer.

"In Sophocles now, it's all the other way about. His people aren't
responsible in the least. They're just a thundering lot of lunatics.
They go knocking their poor heads against the divine law, and trying
to see which is the hardest, till they end by breaking both. There's
no question of paying for the damage. It's pure Fate."

"Well--and Euripides?"

"Oh, Euripides goes on another tack altogether. There aren't any laws
to break, yet everybody's miserable all round, and nobody's
responsible. It's [Greek: to pathonti pathein]. They suffer because
they suffer, and there's an end of it. And it's the end of Fate in
Greek tragedy. I know this isn't the orthodox view of it."

He paused, a little out of breath, for he had talked as usual against
time, leaving behind him a luminous trail of ideas struck out
furiously as he rushed along. His excitement was of the strong-winged
kind that carried him triumphantly over all obstacles, even the
barrier of the aitch.

Was she listening?

She was; but as she listened she looked down, and her fingers played
with the slender gold chain that went twice round her throat and fell
among the laces of her gown. On her mouth there was the same smile he
had seen when he first saw her; he took it for a smile of innermost
amusement. It didn't lurk; there was nothing underhand about it. It
hovered, delicately poised for flight.

"Euripides," she said, "had the deeper insight, then. He knew that
character is destiny."

"That character is destiny? Whose character? For all I know your
character may be my destiny."

It was one of those unconsidered speeches, flashed out in the heat of
argument, which nevertheless, once uttered are felt to be terrific and
momentous. He wondered how Miss Harden would take it. She took it (as
she seemed to take most things) calmly.

"No character could have any power over you except through your own."

"Perhaps not. All the same, you are not me, you are something outside.
You would be my destiny."

He paused again. Personalities were pitfalls which he must avoid. No
such danger existed for the lady; she simply ignored it; her mind
never touched those deeper issues of the discussion where his
floundered, perilously immersed. Still she was not unwilling to pursue
the theme.

"It all depends," said she, "on what you mean by destiny."

"Well, say I mean the end, the end I'm moving towards, the end I
ultimately arrive at--"

"Surely that depends on your character, your character, of course, as
a whole."

"It may or mayn't. It may depend on what I eat or don't eat for
dinner, on the paper I take in or the pattern of my waistcoat. And the
end may be utterly repellent to my character as a whole. Say I end by
adopting an unsuitable profession. Is that my character or my
destiny?"

"Your character, I think, or you wouldn't have adopted it."

"H'm. Supposing it adopts me?"

"It couldn't--against your will."

"No. But my will in this instance might not be the expression of my
character as a whole. Why, I may be doing violence to my character as
a whole by--by the unique absurdity that dishes me. That's destiny, if
you like, but it's not character--not my character, anyhow."

Personalities again. Whither could he flee from their presence? Even
the frigid realm of abstractions was shaken by the beating of his own
passionate heart. Her eyes had the allurements of the confessional; he
hovered, fascinated, round the holy precincts, for ever on the brink
of revelation. It was ungovernable, this tendency to talk about
himself. In another minute--But no, most decidedly that was not what
he was there for.

If it came to that, what _was_ he there for? It was so incredible that
he should be there at all. And yet there he was going to stay, for
three weeks, and more. He had come to tell her so.

Miss Harden received the announcement as if it had been a foregone
conclusion.

"It is settled, then?" said she, "you will have no more scruples?"

"None."

"There's only one thing. I must ask you not to give anybody any
information about the library. We don't want to be bothered with
dealers and collectors. Some of the books are so valuable that we
should never have any peace if their whereabouts became known. Can you
keep the secret?"

His heart sank as he remembered the Aldine Plato and the Neapolitan
Horace and the _Aurea Legenda_ of Wynkyn de Worde. But he pledged
himself to absolute discretion, an inviolable secrecy. Why not? He was
a dealer himself and obviously it was his interest to keep other
dealers in the dark. It was an entirely sensible and business-like
pledge. And yet in giving it he felt that he was committing himself to
something unique, something profound, and intimate and irrevocable. He
had burnt his ships, severed himself body and soul from Rickman's. If
it were Miss Harden's interest that he should defend that secret from
his own father, he would have to defend it. He had given his word; and
for the life of him he could not tell why.

In the same way he felt that in spite of his many ingenious arguments
his determination to stay had in it something mysterious and
unforeseen. He had said to her, "Your character may be my destiny."
And perhaps it was. He felt that tremendous issues hung upon his
decision, and that all along he had been forced into it somehow from
outside himself, rather than from within. And yet, as he sat there
feeling all this, while he worked at the abominable catalogue
_raisonne_, he decided further that he would not go away at all.

He would not go back to town to-morrow. He could not afford the time.
He must and would finish that catalogue _raisonne_ by the
twenty-seventh. He had as good as pledged his word to Miss Harden.
Supposing the pledge had a purely ideal, even fantastic value, he was
none the less bound by it, in fact considerably more. For he and she
could only meet in an ideal and fantastic region, and he served her in
an ideal and fantastic capacity, on the wholly ideal and fantastic
assumption that the library was hers. Such a pledge would, he
imagined, be held supreme in the world where honour and Miss Harden
met face to face. And on him it was conceivably more binding than the
promise to take Flossie to the Hippodrome on Saturday, or to
intoxicate himself on Sunday with champagne in the society of Miss
Poppy Grace. Its sovereignty cancelled the priority of the more
trivial and the grosser claim. His word to Miss Harden was one of
those fine immortal things that can only be redeemed at the cost of
the actual. To redeem it he was prepared for sacrifice, even the
sacrifice of the great three days.

He worked late that night and she told him of a short cut to the town
by the river path at the bottom of the garden. Half-way to the river
he stopped and looked back. The beech tree dreamed, silent on a slope
of glimmering lawn. The house loomed in the background, a grey mass
with blurred outlines. From a window open in the east wing he could
hear the sound of a piano.

He stood still and listened. All around was the tender, indescribable
Devonshire night; it hung about him with warm scented breath; he felt
its heart beat in the innumerable pulses of the stars. Behind the blue
transparent darkness the music throbbed like a dawn; it swayed and
sank, piano, pianissimo, and streamed out again into the night,
dividing the darkness. It flowed on in a tumult, a tremendous tumult,
rhythmic and controlled. What was she playing? If he stayed till
midnight he must hear it through. Night sheltered him, and he drew
nearer lest he should lose a note. He stretched himself on the lawn,
and, with his head on his arms, he lay under the beech-tree, under the
stars, dreaming, while Lucia Harden played to him the Sonata
Appassionata.

It was good to be there; but he did not know, and the music did not
tell him why he was there and what he was there for.

And yet it was the Sonata Appassionata.




CHAPTER XVIII


It was the afternoon of Saturday the fourth that Mr. Rickman, looking
up from his table, saw a brilliant apparition coming across the lawn.
He dreaded afternoon callers, he dreaded the post, he dreaded every
person and every thing which reminded him that Lucia Harden had a life
that he knew not and that knew not him.

"Lucia--Lucia!" Mr. Rickman looked up and saw the brilliant apparition
standing in the south window. "Lu-chee-a!--" it pleaded. "You can't
say you're out when I can see perfectly well that you're in."

"Go away Kitty, I'm busy."

"You've no business to be busy at five o'clock in the afternoon."

Miss Kitty Palliser's body was outside the window, but her head,
crowned with a marvellous double-peaked hat of Parma violets, was
already within the room.

"I'm dying of thirst," she said; "take me in and be kind to me and
give me tea."

Lucia rose and went to the window, reluctant but resigned. Scraps of
their conversation floated down to Mr. Rickman's end of the room.

"Yes, you may well look at my hat."

"I wasn't looking at it, I was looking through it."

"Well, if you can see through my hat, Lucia, you can see through me.
What do you think of it?"

"Of the hat? Oh, the hat is a poem."

"Isn't it? Did you ever see anything so inspired, so impassioned?"

"Inspired, but--don't you think--just a little, a little meaningless?"

"Meaningless? It's _packed_ with meaning."

"I should like to know what it means."

"If it means nothing else it means that I've been going to and fro
the whole blessed afternoon, paying calls in Harmouth for my sins."

"Poor Kitty."

"The last three times I paid calls in Harmouth," said poor Kitty, "I
sported a cycling skirt, the blousiest of blouses, and a tam-o'shanter
over my left ear. Of course everybody was in. So I thought if I went
like this--brand new frock--swagger hat--white gloves--that everybody
would be out."

"And were they?"

"No. Just like my luck--they were all--all in!"

"And yet you have the audacity to come here and ask for tea?"

"For Goodness' sake, don't talk of tea."

"I thought you were so thirsty."

"So I am. I thirst for amusement."

"Kitty! You've been amusing yourself all afternoon--at other people's
expense."

"Yes. It's cheap--awfully cheap, but fatiguing. I don't want to amuse
myself; I want to be amused."

Mr. Rickman took a longer look at the brilliant apparition.

Now, at a little distance, Miss Palliser passed as merely an ordinary
specimen of a brilliant but conventional type. This effect was an
illusion produced by her irreproachably correct attire. As she drew
nearer it became apparent that convention could never have had very
much to do with her. Tailor and milliner were responsible for the
general correctness of Miss Palliser's appearance, Miss Palliser
herself for the riot and confusion of the details. Her coat, flung
open, displayed a tangle of laces disposed after her own fancy. Her
skirts, so flawless and sedate, swept as if inspired by the storm of
her long-legged impetuous stride. Under her too, too fashionable hat
her brown hair was twisted in a way entirely her own; and fashion had
left untouched the wild originality of her face. Bumpy brows, jutting
eyebrows, and nose long in the bridge, wide in the nostril, tilted in
a gentle gradient; a wide full-lipped nervous mouth, and no chin to
speak of. A thin face lit by restless greenish eyes; stag-like,
dog-like, humorous and alert.

Miss Palliser sent the gaze of those eyes round the room. The hungry,
Satanic humour in them roved, seeking what it might devour. It fell
upon Mr. Rickman.

"What have you got there?"

Miss Harden's reply was inaudible.

"Let me in. I want to look at it."

"Don't, Kitty." Apparently an explanation followed from Miss Harden.
It also was inaudible.

"Lu-_chee_-a.! Where is Miss Roots, B.A.?"

"Please, _please_, Kitty. Do go into the morning-room."

This painful scene was cut short by Robert, who announced that tea was
served.

"Oh joy!" said Miss Palliser, and disappeared.

Lucia, following, found her examining the tea-tray.

"Only two cups," said Miss Palliser. "Isn't it going to get any tea
then?"

"Isn't what going to get any tea?"

"It. The man thing you keep in there."

"Yes. But it doesn't get it here."

"I think you might ask it in. It might amuse me."

Lucia ignored the suggestion.

"I haven't talked," said Miss Palliser, "to a man thing for ages."

"It hasn't come to be talked to. It's much too busy."

"Mayn't it come in, just for a treat?"

Lucia shook her head.

"What's it like? Is it nice to look at?"

"No--yes--no."

"What? Haven't you made up your mind yet?"

"I haven't thought about it."

"Lucia, you're a perfect dog in the manger. You don't care a rap about
the creature yourself, and yet you refuse to share it with your
friend. I put it to you. Here we are, you and I, living in a howling
wilderness untrodden by the foot of man, where even curates are at a
premium--is it right, is it fair of you, to have a presentable
man-thing in the house and to keep it to yourself?"

"Well--you see, it--it isn't so very presentable."

"Rubbish, I saw it. It looked perfectly all right."

"That," said Lucia, "is illusion. You haven't heard it speak."

"What's wrong with it?"

"Nothing--nothing. Only it isn't exactly what you'd call a gentleman."

"Oh. Well, I think you might have told me that before."

"I've been trying to tell you."

Kitty reflected a moment. "So it's making a catalogue, is it? Whose
bright idea is that?"

"It was grandpapa's. It's mine now." She did not mention that it was
also Horace Jewdwine's.

"And what will your little papa say?"

"He won't say anything. He never does. The library's mine--mine to do
as I like with."

"You've broken the spell. Isn't there some weird legend about women
never inheriting it?"

"Well, they never have. I shall be the first."

"I say, if I were you, I should feel a little creepy."

"I do--sometimes. That's one reason why I want to get this thing made
in my lifetime, before I go away."

"Good gracious. You're not going away to die."

"I don't know what I'm going away to do. Anyhow, the catalogue will be
done. All ready for Horace when he steps into my shoes."

"Unless--happy thought--you marry him. That, I suppose, is _another_
pair of shoes?"

There was a pause, during which Miss Palliser gazed thoughtfully at
her friend.

"What have you been doing to yourself? You look most awfully tired."

"I've been sitting up rather late the last few nights, cataloguing."

"What on earth did you do that for?"

"Because I want to finish by the twenty-seventh."

There was a pause while Miss Palliser ate tea-cake.

"Is Horace coming down before you go?"

"No. He's too busy. Besides, he never comes when father isn't here."

"Oh dear no, he doesn't think it proper. It's odd," said Miss
Palliser, looking down at her tea-cake with an air of profound
philosophic reflection. "You can't ask your cousin to stay with you,
because it's improper; but it isn't improper to sit up making
catalogues with young Mr. Thing-um-a-jig till all hours of the night."

"Why should it be improper?"

"For Goodness' sake don't ask me. How should _I_ know? Don't you find
yourself wishing sometimes that Mr. Thing-um-a-jig was Mr. Jewdwine?"

"More tea, Kitty?"

"Rather! I'm going into the library to choose a book when I've
finished my tea. I shall take the opportunity of observing for myself
whether Mr.--Mr.--"

"Mr. Savage Keith Rickman."

"Good Lord deliver us! Whether Mr. Savage Keith Rickman is a proper
person for you to know. That reminds me. Dearest, do you know what
they talk about in Harmouth? They talk about _you_. Conversation
jiggers round you like a silly moth round a candle. Would you like to
know what Harmouth thinks of you?"

"No. I haven't the smallest curiosity."

"I shall tell you all the same, because it's good for you to see
yourself as others see you. They say, dear, that you do put on such a
thundering lot of side. They say that attitude is absurd in one so
young. They say you ought to marry, that if you don't marry you can't
possibly hope to keep it up, and they say you never will marry if you
continue to be so exclusive. Exclusive was the word. But before I left
they'd married you to Mr. Jewdwine. You see dear, you're so exclusive
that you're bound to marry into your own family, no other family being
good enough."

"It's certainly a new light on my character."

"I ought to tell you that Mrs. Crampton takes a charitable view. She
says she doesn't believe you really mean it, dear, she thinks that you
are only very, _very_ shy. She has heard _so_ much about you, and is
_dying_ to know you. Don't be frightened, Lucia, I was most discreet."

"How did you show your discretion?"

"I told her not to die. I tried to persuade her that she wouldn't love
you so much if she did know you."

"Kitty, that wasn't very kind."

"It was the kindest thing I could think of. It must soothe her to
feel that this exclusiveness doesn't imply any reflection on her
social position, but merely a weird unaccountable dislike. How is it
that some people can't understand that your social position is like
your digestion or the nose on your face, you're never aware of either,
unless there's something wrong with it."

"Kitty, you're not in a nice mood this afternoon."

"I know I'm not. I've been in Harmouth. Lucy, there are moments when I
loathe my fellow-creatures."

"Poor things. Whatever have they been doing now?"

"Oh, I don't know. The same old thing. They make my life a burden to
me?"

"But how?"

"They're always bothering me, always trying to get at you through me.
They're always asking me to tea to meet people in the hope that I'll
ask them back to meet you. I'm worn out with keeping them off you.
Some day all Harmouth will come bursting into your drawing-room over
my prostrate form, flattened out upon the door-mat."

"Never mind."

"I wouldn't, sweetheart, if they really cared about you. But they
don't. If you lost your money and your social position to-morrow they
wouldn't care a rap. That's why I hate them."

"Why do you visit them if you hate them?"

"Because, as I told you, I hunger and thirst for amusement, and they
do amuse me when they don't make me ill."

"Dear Kitty, I'm sure they're nicer than you think. Most people are,
you know."

"If you think so, why don't _you_ visit them?" snapped Kitty.

"I would, if--"

"If they ceased to be amusing; if they broke their legs or lost their
money, or if they got paralytic strokes, or something. You'd visit
them in their affliction, but not in the ordinary playful
circumstances of life. That's because you're an angel. _I_," said Miss
Palliser sententiously, "am not. Why do I always come to you when I
feel most hopelessly the other thing?"

Lucia said something that had a very soothing effect; it sounded like
"Skittles!" but the word was "Kitti-kin!"

"Lucy, I shouldn't be such a bad sort if I lived with you. I've been
here exactly twenty minutes, and I've laid in enough goodness to last
me for a week. And now," said Miss Palliser with decision, "I'm
going."

Lucia looked up in some trepidation.

"Where are you going to?"

"I am going--to choose that book."

"Oh, Kitty, do be careful."

"I am always careful," said Miss Palliser, "in choosing a book."

In about ten minutes' time she returned. Her chastened mood had
vanished.

"Lucia," said she, "you have an immense regard for that young man."

"How do you know that I have an immense regard for him?"

"I suppose you expect me to say that I can tell by your manner. I
can't. Your manner is perfection. It's by Robert's manner that I
judged. Robert's manner is not perfection; for a footman, you know,
it's a shade too eager, too emotional."

"That, to my mind, is the charm of Robert."

"Still, there are drawbacks. A footman's face ought not to betray the
feelings of his mistress. That's how I knew that Mabel Flosser was
cooling off--by the increasing frostiness of Blundell. I shall feel
sure of you, Lucia, as long as Robert continues to struggle against
his fascinating smile. Take my advice--if you should ever cherish a
secret passion, get rid of Robert, for, sure as fate, he'll give you
away. Perhaps," she added meditatively, it _was_ a little mean of me."

"Kitty, what have you been up to?"

"It was your fault. You shouldn't be so mysterious. Wishing to
ascertain your real opinion of Mr. Savage Keith Rickman, I watched
Robert as he was bringing in his tea."

"I hope he was properly attentive."

"Attentive isn't the word for it. He may have felt that my eye was
upon him, and so got flustered, but it struck me that he overdid the
thing. He waited on Mr. Rickman as if he positively loved him. That
won't do, you know. He'll be raising fatal hopes in the bosom of the
Savage Keith. Let us hope that Mr. Rickman is not observant."

"He is, as it happens, excessively observant."

"So I found out. I found out all sorts of things."

"What things?"

"Well, in the first place, that he is conscientious. He doesn't waste
time. He writes with one hand while he takes his tea with the other;
which of course is very clever of him. He's marvellously ambidexterous
so long as he doesn't know you're looking at him. Unfortunately, my
eye arrested him in the double act. Lucy, my eye must have some
horrible malignant power, for it instantly gave him St. Vitus's dance.
Have you ever noticed anything peculiar about my eye?"

"What a shame."

"Yes. I'm afraid he'll have to do a little re-copying."

"Oh, Kitty, why couldn't you leave the poor thing in peace?"

"There wasn't any peace to leave him in. Really, you'd have thought
that taking afternoon tea was an offence within the meaning of the
Act. He couldn't have been more excited if I'd caught him in his bath.
Mr. Rickman suffers from excess of modesty."

"Mr. Rickman could hardly say the same of you. You might have had the
decency to go away."

"There wouldn't have been any decency in going away. Flight would have
argued that I shared the theory of his guilt. I stayed where I was for
two seconds just to reassure him; then I went away--to the other end
of the room."

"You should have gone away altogether."

"Why? The library is big enough for two. It's so big that you could
take a bath or do a murder at one end without anybody being aware of
it at the other. I went away; I wandered round the bookcases; I even
hummed a tune, not so much to show that I was at my ease as to set him
at his."

"In fact, you behaved as like a dreadful young person as you possibly
could."

"I thought that would set him at his ease sooner than anything. I did
it on purpose. I am nothing if not subtle. _You_ would have crushed
him with a delicate and ladylike retreat; _I_ left him as happy as he
could be, smiling dreamily to himself over the catalogue."

"And then?"

"Then, I admit, I felt it might be time to go. But before I went I
made another discovery. You know, Lucia, he really is rather nice to
look at. Adieu, my exclusive one."




CHAPTER XIX


The chronicler who recorded that no woman had ever inherited the
Harden Library contented himself with the bare statement of the fact.
It was not his business to search into its causes, which belonged to
the obscurer regions of psychology. Sir Joseph Harden and those
book-lovers who went before him had the incurable defects of their
qualities. Hereditary instinct, working in them with a force as of
some blind fatality, drove too many of them to espouse their
opposites. Their wives were not expected to do anything noteworthy,
beyond sitting for their portraits to the masters of their day;
though, as a matter of fact, many of them contrived to achieve a far
less enviable distinction. The portraits have immortalized their faces
and their temperaments. Ladies of lax fibre, with shining lips and
hazy eyes; ladies of slender build, with small and fragile foreheads,
they hang for ever facing their uniformly heavy-browed and serious
lords. Looking at those faces you cannot wonder that those old
scholars had but a poor opinion of woman, the irrational and mutable
element in things, or that the library had been handed down from
father to son, from uncle to nephew, evading the cosmic vanity by
devious lines of descent. It was a tradition in the family that its
men should be scholars and its women beauties, occasionally frail.

And scholarship, in obedience to the family tradition, ran superbly in
the male line for ten generations, when it encountered an insuperable
obstacle in the temperament of Sir Frederick. Then came Sir
Frederick's daughter, and between them they made short work of the
family tradition. Sir Frederick had appropriated the features of one
of his great grandmothers, her auburn hair, her side-long eyes, her
fawn-like, tilted lip, her perfect ease of manners and of morals. By a
still more perverse hereditary freak the Harden intellect which had
lapsed in Sir Frederick appeared again in his daughter, not in its
well-known austere and colourless form, but with a certain brilliance
and passion, a touch of purely feminine uncertainty and charm.

The Harden intellect had changed its sex. It was Horace Jewdwine who
had found that out, counting it as the first of his many remarkable
discoveries. Being (in spite of his conviction to the contrary) a
Jewdwine rather than a Harden, he had felt a certain malignant but
voluptuous satisfaction in drawing the attention of the Master of
Lazarus to this curious lapse in the family tradition. Now in the
opinion of the Master of Lazarus the feminine intellect was simply a
contradiction in terms. Having engaged the best masters in the county,
whose fees together with their fares (second class from Exeter to
Harmouth) he had himself punctually paid, he had declined to take any
further interest in his grand-daughter. He had no objection to her
taking up music, a study which, being no musician, he was unable to
regard as in any sense intellectual. He supported his view by frequent
allusions to the brainlessness of song-birds; in fact, he had been
always a little bitter on the subject, having before his eyes the
flagrant instance of his son Frederick.

Frederick was no scholar. He despised his forefathers as a race of
pedants, and boasted that he never opened a book, barring the book of
life, in which he flattered himself he could have stood a very stiff
examination. He used a certain unbowdlerized edition which he was
careful to conceal from the ladies of his family. Before he was forty
Frederick had fiddled away the family tradition, and not only the
family tradition, but the family splendour and the family credit. When
Lucia at seventeen was studying the classics under Horace Jewdwine,
Frederick's debts came rolling in; at about the same period old Sir
Joseph's health showed signs of failing, and Frederick took to raising
money on his expectations. He had just five years to do it in.

It was then that Lucia first began to notice a change in her
grandfather's manner towards her. Sometimes she would catch his eyes
fixed on her with a curious, scrutinizing gaze, and once or twice she
thought she detected in them a profound sadness. Whenever at these
moments they happened to meet her eyes they were immediately averted.
Sir Joseph had not been given to betraying emotion, save only on
points of scholarship, and it was evident that he had something on his
mind.

What he had on his mind was the thought that at the rate Frederick was
living he might at any moment cease to live, and then what would
become of Lucia? And what would become of the Harden Library? What of
the family tradition? By much pondering on the consequences of
Frederick's decease Sir Joseph had considerably hastened his own.
Lucia knew nothing of all this. She was only aware that her
grandfather had sent for Horace Jewdwine on his death-bed. What had
passed between them remained known only to Horace. But part of a sum
of money left by Sir Joseph's will towards the founding of a Harden
scholarship was transferred by a codicil to Lucia for her education.

The task begun by Horace Jewdwine was continued by a learned lady,
Miss Sophia Roots, B.A.; and Miss Roots did her work so well that when
Sir Frederick assumed his rightful guardianship of his daughter he
pronounced her the worst educated young woman in Europe. Of all that
Miss Roots had so laboriously imparted to her she retained, not a
smattering, but a masterly selection. And now at four and twenty she
had what is called a beautiful view of life; with that exciting book
which her father kept so sedulously out of her reach she was
acquainted as it were through anthologies and translations. For
anything Lucia knew to the contrary, life might be all bursts of lyric
rapture and noble sequences of selected prose. She was even in danger
of trusting too much to her own inspired version of certain passages.
But anthologies are not always representative, and nobody knew better
than Lucia that the best translations sometimes fail to give the
spirit of the original.

Something of this spirit she caught from her father's brilliant and
disturbing presence. Lucia adored her father. He brought into her life
an element of uncertainty and freedom that saved it from the tyranny
of books. It was a perpetual coming and going. A dozen times in a year
Sir Frederick hurled himself from Harmouth to London, from London to
the Continent, and from the Continent back again to Harmouth, to
recruit. The very transience of his appearances and Lucia's ignorance
of all that lay behind them preserved her in her attitude of
adoration.

Sir Frederick took precious good care that it should not be disturbed
by the familiarity born of frequent intercourse, that she should see
him only in his moods of unnatural sobriety. And as he left Lucia to
the library so much, it was to be supposed that, in defiance of the
family tradition, he would leave the library to Lucia. But after all
Sir Frederick had some respect for the family tradition. When it
seemed only too likely that a woman would inherit the Harden Library,
he stepped in and saved it from that supreme disgrace by the happy
expedient of a bill of sale. Otherwise his natural inclination would
have been to leave it to his daughter, for whom he had more or less
affection, rather than to his nephew, for whom he had none.

As it happened, it was Horace Jewdwine who was responsible for the
labour which Lucia had so impetuously undertaken. Lucia was aware that
her grandfather's desire had been to rearrange and catalogue the
library. When she came of age and found herself mistress of a tiny
income (derived from capital left by her mother, carefully tied up to
keep it from Sir Frederick, and enlarged by regular accumulations at
compound interest) her first idea was to carry out her grandfather's
wishes; but it was not until Horace Jewdwine's last visit that her
idea became a determination. Horace had been strolling round the
library, turning over the books, not exactly with the covetous eye of
the heir apparent, but with that peculiar air of appropriation which
he affected in all matters of the intellect. In that mood Lucia had
found him irritating, and it had appeared that Horace had been
irritated, too. He had always felt a little sore about the library;
not that he really wanted it himself, but that he hated to see it in
the possession of such a rank barbarian as his uncle Frederick. A
person who, if his life depended on it, could not have told an Aldine
from an Elzevir. A person, incapable not only of appreciating valuable
books, but of taking ordinary decent care of them. There were gaps on
the shelves, a thing that he hated to see. Lucia, too; Lucia would
take books out by tens and twenties at a time and leave them lying all
over the house, and they would be stuck in again anywhere and anyhow.
No sort of method in their arrangement. No blinds, no glass doors to
protect them. He had pointed this out to Lucia, suggesting that it was
not a good thing to let too much dust accumulate on the tops of books,
neither was it altogether desirable that a strong south-westerly light
should play upon them all day long. Had she ever noticed how the
bindings were cracking and fading? For all this he seemed to be
blaming Lucia; and this, Lucia tried to persuade herself, was no great
matter; but when he asked for a catalogue, and she calmly told him
that there was none, he became involved in a sentence about a scandal
and a Vandal in which his opinion of his uncle Frederick unmistakably
appeared. He even forgot himself so far as to reflect on the sanity of
the late Master of Lazarus, at which point Lucia had left him to his
reflections.

She had not yet forgiven Horace for his interference that day, nor for
his remark about the scandal and the Vandal. As for his other
observations, they were insufferably rue. Hence her desperate efforts
to set the library in order before she went abroad; hence the secrecy
and haste with which she had applied to Rickman's, without asking
Horace's advice as she naturally would have done; hence, too, her vast
delight at the success of her unassisted scheme. Mr. Rickman was
turning out splendidly. If she had looked all through London she could
not have found a better man.




CHAPTER XX


It was Easter Sunday and Lucia's heart was glad, for she had had a
letter from her father. There never was such a father and there never
were such letters as, once in a blue moon and when the fancy seized
him, he wrote to his adorable Lucy. Generally speaking they were all
about himself and his fiddle, the fiddle that when he was at home he
played from morning to night. But this letter was more exciting. It
was full of all the foolish and delightful things they were to do
together in Cannes, in Venice and in Florence and in Rome. He was
always in one or other of these places, but this was the first time he
had proposed that his adorable Lucy should join him. "You're too young
to see the world," he used to say. "You wouldn't enjoy it, Lucy, you
really wouldn't. The world is simply wasted on any woman under five
and thirty." Lucia was not quite five and twenty. She was not very
strong, and she felt that if she didn't see the world soon she might
not enjoy it very much when she did see it. And it was barely a month
now till the twenty-seventh.

Lucia went singing downstairs and into the library to throw all its
four windows open to the delicious spring, and there, to her amazement
(for it was Sunday), she came upon Mr. Rickman cataloguing hard.

She felt a little pang of self-reproach at the sight of him. There was
something pathetic in his attitude, in his bowed head and spread
elbows, the whole assiduous and devoted figure. How hard he was
working, with what a surprising speed in his slender nervous hands.
She had not meant him to give up the whole of his three days' holiday
to her, and she really could not take his Easter Sunday, poor little
man. So, with that courtesy which was Mr. Rickman's admiration and
despair, she insisted on restoring it to him, and earnestly advised
his spending it in the open air. In the evening he could have the
library to himself, to read or write or rest in; he would, she
thought, be more comfortable there than in the inn. Mr. Rickman
admitted that he would like to have a walk to stretch his legs a bit,
and as she opened the south window she had a back view of him
stretching them across the lawn. He walked as rapidly as he wrote,
holding his head very high in the air. He wore a light grey suit and a
new straw hat with a dull olive green ribbon on it, poor dear. She was
glad that it was a fine day for the hat.

She watched him till the beech-tree hid him from her sight; then she
opened the west windows, and the south wind that she had just let in
tried to rush out again by them, and in its passage it lifted up the
leaves of Mr. Rickman's catalogue and sent them flying. The last of
them, escaping playfully from her grasp, careered across the room and
hid itself under a window curtain. Stooping to recover it, she came
upon a long slip of paper printed on one side. It was signed S.K.R.,
and Savage Keith Rickman was the name she had seen on Mr. Rickman's
card. The headline, _Helen in Leuce_, drew her up with a little shock
of recognition. The title was familiar, so was the motto from
Euripides,

[Greek: su Dios ephus, o HElena thugater,]

and she read,

    The wonder and the curse of friend and foe,
        She watched the ranks of battle cloud and shine,
        And heard, Achilles, that great voice of thine,
    That thundered in the trenches far below.

    Tears upon tears, woe upon mortal woe,
        Follow her feet and funeral fire on fire,
        While she, that phantom of the heart's desire,
    Flies thither, where all dreams and phantoms go.

    Oh Strength unconquerable, Achilles! Thee
        She follows far into the shadeless land
        Of Leuce, girdled by the gleaming sand,
    Amidst the calm of an enchanted sea,
        Where, children of the Immortals, hand in hand,
    Ye share one golden immortality.

It was a voice from the sad modern world she knew so well, and in
spite of its form (which was a little too neo-classic and conventional
to please her) she felt it to be a cry from the heart of a living man.
That man she had identified with the boy her grandfather had found,
years ago, in a City bookshop. There had been no room for doubt on
that point when she saw him in the flush of his intellectual passion,
bursting so joyously, so preposterously, into Greek. He had,
therefore, already a certain claim on her attention. Besides, he
seemed to be undergoing some incomprehensible struggle which she
conceived to be of a moral nature, and she had been sorry for him on
that account.

But, if he were also--Was it possible that her grandfather's
marvellous boy had grown into her cousin's still more marvellous man?
Horace, too, had made his great discovery in a City shop. _Helen in
Leuce_ and a City shop--it hardly amounted to proof; but, if it did,
what then? Oh then, she was still more profoundly sorry for him. For
then he was a modern poet, which in the best of circumstances is to be
marked for suffering. And to Mr. Rickman circumstances had not been
exactly kind.

A modern poet, was he? One whom the gods torment with inspired and
hopeless passion; a lover of his own "fugitive and yet eternal bride,"
the Helen of Homer, of AEschylus and Euripides, the Helen of Marlowe
and Goethe, the Helen of them all. And for Mr. Rickman, unhappy Mr.
Rickman, perdition lurked darkly in her very name. What, oh what must
it feel like, to be capable of eliding the aitch in "Helen" and yet
divinely and deliriously in love with her? Here Lucia was wrong, for
Mr. Rickman was entirely happy with the aitch in Helen.

She was so sorry for him. But she did not see at the moment what she
could do for him besides being sorry. And yet, if he were Horace's
friend, she must do more. She was aware that she had been sorry for
him chiefly because he was not a gentleman. Well, she had seen men
before who were not gentlemen and she had been very far from feeling
any sort of sorrow for them. But she had never in all her life seen
anything like this inspired young Cockney, with his musical voice and
afflicting accent, a person whose emotions declared themselves
publicly and painfully, whose thoughts came and went as transparently
as the blood in his cheeks, who yet contrived somehow to remain in the
last resort impenetrable.

She could not ignore him. Apart from Horace he had established his
claim; and if he _was_ Horace's friend he had another and a stronger
title to consideration. But was he? She had really no proof.

She wondered whether Mr. Rickman had missed his sonnet. She laid it
almost tenderly in a conspicuous place on his table, and put a bronze
head of Pallas Athene on it to keep it down. Then she wondered again
whether he enjoyed the bookshop, whether he enjoyed making catalogues
_raisonnes_, whether he enjoyed himself generally, and she hoped that
at any rate he would enjoy his Easter Sunday. Poor little man.

Lucia was so happy herself that she wanted Mr. Rickman to be happy
too.




CHAPTER XXI


Mr. Rickman was anything but happy as he set out for his walk that
glorious April morning.

Outside the gate of Court House he stood and looked about him,
uncertain of the way he would go. All ways were open to him, and
finally, avoiding the high road, he climbed up a steep and stony lane
to the great eastern rampart which is Harcombe Hill. Beneath him lay
Harmouth, at the red mouth of the valley where the river Hare trickles
into the sea through a barrier of shingle. Two gigantic and flaming
cliffs dwarf the little town to the proportions of a hamlet. In any
other situation Harmouth might have preserved its elegant Regency air,
but sprawling on the beach and scattered on the hillsides it has a
haphazard appearance, as if it had been dropped there when those two
huge arms of the upland stretched out and opened to the sea.

But Nature on the whole has been kind to Harmouth, though the first
thing that strikes the stranger in that place is her amazing and
apparently capricious versatility. Nature, round about Harmouth, is
never in the same mood for a mile together. The cliffs change their
form and colour with every dip in the way; now they are red like
blood, and now a soft and powdery pink with violet shadows in their
seams. Inland, it is a medley of fields and orchards, beech-woods,
pine-woods, dark moorland and sallow down, cut by the deep warm lanes
where hardly a leaf stirs on a windy day. It is not so much a
landscape as the fragments of many landscapes, samples in little of
the things that Nature does elsewhere on a grand scale. The effect on
a stranger is at first alluring, captivating, like the caprices of a
beautiful woman; then it becomes disconcerting, maddening, fatiguing;
and a great longing seizes him for vast level spaces, for sameness,
for the infinity where he may lose himself and rest. Then one day he
climbs to the top of Harcombe or Muttersmoor and finds the immensity
he longed for. As far as his sight can reach, the shoulders of the
hills and the prone backs of the long ridges are all of one height;
the combes and valleys are mere rifts and dents in a great moor that
has no boundary but the sky. The country has revealed its august,
eternal soul. He is no longer distracted by its many moods; he loves
it the more for them, as a man loves the mutable ways of the woman
whose soul he knows.

Rickman stood upon a vantage ground, looking over the valley and the
bay. To him it was as if the soul of this land, like the soul of Lucia
Harden, had put on a veil. The hillside beneath him dropped steeply to
the valley and the town. Down there, alone and apart from Harmouth,
divided from the last white Regency villa by half a mile of
meadow-land, stood Court House; and as he looked at it he became more
acutely conscious of his misery. He sat down among the furze and
heather and bracken; he could think of nothing better than to sit
there and stare into the face of Nature, not like a poet whom love
makes lyrical, but like a quite ordinary person whom it makes dumb.
And Nature never turned to a poet a lovelier and more appealing face.
It had rained in the night. From the enfolding blue, sky blue and sea
blue, blue of the aerial hills, the earth flung out her colours, new
washed, radiantly, immaculately pure. Bared to the sea, she flamed
from rose pink to rose red. Only the greater hills and the dark flank
of Muttersmoor waited for their hour, the hour of the ling and the
heather; the valleys and the lower slopes were glad with green. There
was an art in Nature's way; for, lest a joyousness so brimming and so
tender should melt and overflow into mere pathos, it was bounded and
restrained by that solemn and tragic line of Muttersmoor drawn
straight against the sky.

It was the same scene that had troubled him when he first looked at
it, and it troubled him still; not with that thrill of prescient
delight and terror, but with a feeling more mysterious and baffling,
an exquisite and indefinable reproach. He stared, as if he could hope
by staring to capture the meaning of the beautiful tender face; but
beyond that inscrutable reproach it had no meaning for him and no
expression. He had come to a land prophetic of inspiration, where, if
anywhere, he might have hoped to hear the lyric soul of things; and
the lyric soul of things absolutely refused to sing to him. It had
sung loud enough in the streets last Wednesday; it had hymned the
procession of his dreams and the loud tumultuous orgy of his passions;
and why could he not hear it now? For here his senses were satisfied
to the full. Never had Nature's material loveliness been more vividly,
piercingly present to him. The warm air was like a touch, palpable yet
divine. He lay face downwards on the earth and pressed it with his
hands; he smelt the good smell of the grass and young bracken, and the
sweet almond-scented blossom of the furze. And he suffered all the
torment of the lover who possesses the lips and body of his mistress,
and knows that her heart is far from him and that her soul is not for
him.

He felt himself to be severed from the sources of his inspiration;
estranged, profoundly and eternally, from the beauty he desired. And
that conviction, melancholy in itself, was followed by an overpowering
sense of intellectual dissolution, the corruption and decay of the
poetic faculty in him. He was aware, feverishly aware, of a faint
flowing measure, the reverberation of dead songs; of ideas, a
miserable attenuated procession, trailing feebly in the dark of his
brain, which when he tried to grasp them would be gone. They were only
the ghosts of the ideas that he had brought with him from London, that
had died on the journey down. The beauty of this place was devilish
and malign. He looked into Harmouth valley as if it had been a
graveyard. They were all buried down there, his dead dreams and his
dead power, buried without hope of any resurrection. Rickman's genius,
the only thing he genuinely trusted, had forsaken him.

It may be that every poet once in his lifetime has to come to this
Calvary, to hang through his black hour on the cross, and send out
after the faithless deity his Lama Sabachthani. For Rickman no agony
could compare with that isolation and emptiness of soul. He could see
nothing beyond that hour, for he had never felt anything like it
before, not even on waking in the morning after getting drunk. His
ideas had always come back again when he was in a fit state to receive
them. But this time, though he had not been drinking, he felt that
they had gone for ever, and that all his songs were sung. And over his
head high up in the sky, a lark, a little fiend of a lark, had chosen
that moment for bursting into music. With diabolical ease and
maddening ecstasy, he flung out his perfect and incommunicable song. A
song of joy and mockery and triumph.

He did not know how old that skylark was, but here was he, Savage
Keith Rickman, played out at three and twenty. Was it, he wondered,
the result, not of ordinary inebriety, but of the finer excesses of
the soul? Was he a precocious genius? Had he taken to the immortal
drink too early and too hard? Or was it, as Jewdwine had suggested,
that there were too many Rickmans, and that this poor seventh part of
him had been crushed by the competition of the other six? The horrible
thing was that they would live on for years, eating and getting drunk
and falling in love and buying suits of clothes, while the poet in him
was dead, like Keats, at three and twenty.

Then suddenly, for no reason whatever, a vision of Lucia Harden rose
before him like a light and refused to leave him.

It wrought in him, as he contemplated it, a gradual burning
illumination. He perceived that it was he himself who was responsible
for all this. He perceived the real nature of the things he had
pursued so passionately, the thing he called pleasure, the thing he
called love, and the thing he called his imagination. His notion of
pleasure was getting drunk and making love to Miss Poppy Grace; the
love he made was better described by a stronger and coarser
monosyllable, and he had used his imagination to glorify it. Oh yes,
because he had imagination, because he was a poet, he had not gone
down into the clay-pits and wallowed in the clay; neither had he been
content to dabble in it; he had taken it up in his hands and moulded
it into the form of a divinity, and then fallen down and worshipped
it. Fallen down and worshipped at the feet, the gaily twirling feet of
Miss Poppy Grace.

Poor Poppy, if he could have thought of her at all, he might have felt
a sort of pity for her transience, the transience of the feeling she
inspired. But he did not think of her; he did not even try to think
of her. Her image, once so persistent, had dropped clean out of his
mind, which was one reason why it was so empty. It had not been much
to boast of, that infatuation for Poppy, and yet somehow, after living
so intimately with it, he felt quite lost without it. It was a little
odd, if you came to think of it, that the thing he called his genius,
and the thing he called his love, should have chosen the same moment
to abandon him. Was it--was it possible--that there was some vital
connection between them? As the singing of birds in the pairing
season, was his genius merely a rather peculiar symptom of the very
ordinary condition known as falling in love? So that, failing that
source of inspiration--? That no doubt _was_ what was the matter with
him. His imagination languished because his passion for Poppy was
played out, and he had nothing to put in its place.

Well, yes, there was something; something that was not an instinct or
a passion, but an acquired taste. To be sure he had acquired it very
quickly, it had only taken him three days. In those three days he had
developed a preference for the society of ladies (the women of his own
class were not ladies but "young ladies," a distinction he now
appreciated for the first time). It was a preference that, as things
stood, he would never be able to gratify; there was something about it
ruinous and unhappy, like a craze for first editions in an impecunious
scholar, for ever limited to the twopenny bundle and the eighteenpenny
lot. He could not hope to enjoy Miss Harden's society for more than
three weeks at the outside. He only enjoyed it at all through an
accident too extraordinary, too fantastic to occur again. Between him
and her there stood the barrier of the counter. The barrier itself was
not insuperable: he might get over the counter, so might Miss Harden;
but there were other things that she never could get over. Though in
some ways he was all right, in others, again, he was not--he could see
very well that he was not--what Miss Harden would call a gentleman. He
was, through that abominable nervousness of his, an impossible person,
hopelessly, irredeemably involved in social solecisms. Or if not
impossible, he was, at any rate, highly improbable.

Perceiving all this, he was still unable to perceive the meaning of
his insight and his misery. He did not know, and there was nobody to
tell him, that this emptiness of his was the emptiness created by the
forerunners and servants of Love, who sweep and purify the
death-chamber where a soul has died and another soul is waiting to be
born. For in the house of Love there is only one chamber for birth and
for dying; and into that clean, unfurnished place the soul enters
unattended and endures its agony alone. There is no Mother-soul to
bear for it the birth-pains of the new life.

But Mr. Rickman was young, and youth's healthy instinct urged him to
vigorous exercise as the best means of shaking off his misery. He
crossed the road that runs along the top of Harcombe Hill and made for
the cliffs in a south-easterly direction across the fields. He then
kept along the coast-line, dipping into Harcombe valley, climbing
again to Easton Down. Here the coast was upheaved into terraces of
grey limestone, topped by a layer of sand riddled with rabbit holes.
Before one of these two young hawks were watching, perched on a
projecting boulder. So intent was their gaze and they so motionless
that the air seemed to stand still and wait for the sweep of their
wings. Mr. Rickman, whom youth made reckless, lay flat on his stomach
and peered over the edge of the cliff. He was fascinated, breathlessly
absorbed. He pressed the turf a little closer in his eagerness, and so
loosened a large stone that rolled down, starting a cataract of sand
and rubble. He had just time to throw himself back sideways, as the
hollow fringe of turf gave way and plunged down the cliff-side. So far
from taking his escape with becoming seriousness, he amused himself by
trying to feel as he would have felt if he had actually gone over the
cliff. He found that his keenest emotion was a thrill of horror, as he
imagined Miss Harden a possible spectator of the ridiculous evolutions
performed by his person in its passage through the air.

After an hour of dipping and climbing he reached a small fishing
village. Here he dined and rested, and it was mid-afternoon before he
turned again towards Harmouth. There was no chance of missing his way;
he had nothing to do but follow the coast-line as he had done before.

There were signs in the valley of the white fog that sometimes, even
in April, comes in before sunset; already a veil of liquid air was
drawn across the hills, and when he crossed Easton Down (if it was
Easton Down) again the sea's face was blurred with mist.

As he went on westwards the mist kept pace with him, gradually
diminishing the view he had hoped to see. And as it shifted and closed
round him, his movements became labyrinthine, then circular.

And now his view was all foreground; he was simply walking through
circles of moor, enclosed by walls of fine grey fog. He passed through
these walls, like a spirit, into smaller and smaller circles; then,
hopelessly bewildered, he stopped, turned, and walked in what he took
to be a contrary direction, feeling that the chance of going over the
cliff-side lent an agreeable excitement to a pastime that threatened
to become monotonous. This was assuming the cliff-side to be somewhere
near; and he was beginning to feel that it might be anywhere, under
his feet for all he knew, when the fog lifted a little from the high
ground, and he saw that he had lost his bearings altogether. He had
been going round and round through these circles without returning to
the point he started from. He went forward less cautiously in a larger
round, and then he suddenly stood still. He was not alone.

His foreground had widened slightly and a figure stood in the middle
of it. There was something familiar in the blurred outlines, traced as
if by a watery finger on the wall of mist. An idea had taken shape
stealthily behind him and flung its shadow there. The idea was Lucia
Harden. The fog hung in her hair in drops like rain; it made her grey
dress cling close about her straight, fine limbs; it gave its own
grandeur and indistinctness to her solitary figure.

She turned, unstartled, but with an air of imperfect recognition. He
raised his hat; the hat with the green ribbon on it.

"I beg your pardon, but can you tell me the shortest cut to Harmouth?
I think I've lost my way."

She answered absently. "You are all right. Turn to the left, and
you'll find the path along the cliff. It will bring you out on to
Harmouth beach."

He followed the path she had pointed out. Still absently she looked
after him, a dim figure going down into the fog, and it occurred to
her that she had sent him on a dangerous way. There were rabbit wires
and pitfalls on that path; places where the cliff was eaten away under
its curling edge of turf, and for Mr. Rickman, who didn't know his
ground, a single step might mean death.

She could not see him now. She called to him; "Mr. Rickman!" but there
was no answer; only the sound of Mr. Rickman going down deeper. She
called again, a little imperiously, and yet again. The last time her
voice carried well, for there was the vibrating note of terror in it.
He turned and saw her coming down the path towards him.

"I forgot," she said, still with the slight tremor of fear in her
voice. It seemed to draw out and intensify its sweetness. "That path
isn't safe in a fog like this. You had better go round by the road."

"Oh, thanks. You shouldn't have troubled. I should have got on all
right." They were climbing up the moor together.

"I'm afraid you wouldn't. I wasn't thinking, or I would never have
sent you that way."

"Why not? It was a very good way."

"Yes. But you were going down into the thick of the fog. You might
easily have walked over the cliff--and broken your neck."

He laughed as if that was the most delightfully humorous idea.

"I don't know," said he, "that it would have mattered very much if I
had."

She said nothing. She never did when he made these excursions into the
personal. Of course it would not have mattered to Miss Harden if he
had gone over the cliff. He had been guilty, not only of an
unpardonable social solecism, but of a still more unpardonable
platitude.

They had reached the top of the cliff, and Lucia stood still.

"Isn't there another short cut cut across the valley?" he asked.

"There is; but I don't advise you to try it. And there is a way round
by the road--if you can find it."

He smiled. Had he tried to approach her too soon, and was she
reminding him that short cuts are dangerous? There was a way round--if
he could find it. If indeed!

"Oh, I shall find it all right," said he, inspired by his double
meaning.

"I don't think you will, if the fog lasts. I am going that way and I
had better show you."

Show him? Was it possible?

She led the way, all too swiftly, yet with a certain leisure in her
haste. He followed with a shy delight.

He was familiar enough by this time with her indoor aspect, with her
unique and perfect manner of sitting still; now he saw that her beauty
was of that rare kind that is most beautiful in movement. He would
have liked that walk to last for ever, for the pure pleasure of
following, now the delicate poise of her head, now the faint ripple of
her shoulders under her thin coat, now the lines of her skirt breaking
and flowing with the almost imperceptible swinging of her hips.

Her beauty, as he now reflected, was of the sort that dwells less in
the parts than in the whole, it was subtle, pervading, and profound.
It rejected all but the finer elements of sex. In those light
vanishing curves her womanhood was more suggested than defined; it
dawned on him in tender adumbration rather than in light. Such beauty
is eloquent and prophetic through its richness of association, its
kindred with all forms of loveliness. As Lucia moved she parted with
some of that remoter quality that had first fascinated, then estranged
him; she took on the grace of the creatures that live free in the
sunlight and in the open air.

The mist shut them in with its grey walls. There was nothing to be
seen but the patch of grass trodden by her feet, and her moving
figure, grey on grey.

The walk was somewhat lacking in incident and conversational openings.
Such as occurred seemed, like Kitty Palliser's hat, to be packed with
meaning. There was the moment, the dreadful moment, when he lagged
behind and lost sight of her. The moment, his opportunity, when an
enormous bramble caught and pinned her by the feet and skirt. She
tried to tread on it with one foot and walk away from it with the
other, a thing manifestly impossible and absurd. Besides, it
hurt--horribly. He knelt before her on the wet moor, unconscious of
his brand-new trousers, conscious of nothing but the exquisite moment;
and, with hands that trembled violently, freed first her delicate feet
and then her skirt. He breathed hard, for the operation was intricate
and took time. That bramble seemed to have neither beginning nor end,
it branched out in all directions and was set with multitudinous and
powerful thorns. Lucia stood still, being indeed unable to move, and
watched his long, slender fingers adroitly disentangling her.

"I'm afraid you're hurting yourself," said she.

"Not at all," said Mr. Rickman gallantly, though the thorns tortured
his hands, drawing drops of blood. His bliss annihilated pain.

"Take care," said she, "you are letting yourself get terribly torn."

He took no notice; but breathed harder than ever. "There, I've got it
all off now, I think."

"Thank you very much." She drew her skirt gently from his detaining
grasp.

"No--wait--please. There's a great hulking brute of a thorn stuck in
the hem."

She waited.

"Confound my clumsiness! I've done it now!"

"Done what?" She looked down; on the dainty hem there appeared three
distinct crimson stains. Mr. Rickman's face was crimson, too, with a
flush of agony. Whatever he did for her his clumsiness made wrong.

"I'm awfully sorry, but I've ruined your--your pretty dress, Miss
Harden."

For it was a pretty, a very pretty, a charming dress. And he was
making matters worse by rubbing it with his pocket-handkerchief.

"Please--please don't bother," said she, "it doesn't matter." (How
different from the behaviour of Miss Walker when Spinks spilt the
melted butter on her shoulder!) "You've hurt your own hands more than
my dress."

The episode seemed significant of the perils that awaited him in his
intercourse with Miss Harden.

She went on. The narrow hill-track ended in the broad bridle-path that
goes straight up Harcombe (not Harmouth) valley. He wondered, with
quite painful perplexity, whether he ought still to follow at a
discreet distance, or whether he might now walk beside her. She
settled the question by turning round and waiting for him to come up
with her. So they went up the valley together, and together climbed
the steep road that leads out of it and back in the direction they had
just left. The mist was thinner here at the top of the hill, and
Rickman recognized the road he had crossed when he had turned
eastwards that morning. He could now have found his way back perfectly
well; but he did not say so. A few minutes' walk brought them to the
place where he had sat down in his misery and looked over Harmouth
valley.

Here they stopped, each struck by the strange landscape now suddenly
revealed to them. They stood in clear air above the fog. It had come
rolling in from the south, submerging the cliffs, and the town, and
the valley; and now it lay smooth and cold and blue-white, like the
sea under a winter sky. They might have been looking down on some
mysterious world made before man. No land was to be seen save the tops
of the hills lashed by the torn edges of the mist. Westward, across
the bay, the peaks of the cliffs showed like a low, flat coast, a dull
purplish line tormented by a livid surf. The flooded valley had become
an arm of that vague sea. And from under the fog, immeasurably far
below, there came the muffled sound of the mother sea, as if it were
beating on the invisible floor of the world.

"I say, that's rather uncanny, isn't it?" So uncanny did it seem to
him that he felt that it called for remark.

She looked at him with that faintly interrogative lifting of the
eyebrows, which always seemed familiar to him. He remembered
afterwards that Horace Jewdwine had the same trick. But in her,
accompanied as it was by a pretty lifting of the corners of her mouth,
it expressed friendly interest, in Jewdwine, apathy and a certain
insolence. And yet all the time she was wondering how she should break
it to him that their ways must now diverge.

"There's a horrible unconsciousness about it," he went on, pursuing as
usual his own fancy. "If you _could_ get bare nature without spirit,
it would look like that."

"It _doesn't_ look quite real," she admitted. (After that, there must
be no more concessions. They must separate.)

"It hasn't any reality but what we give it."

"Hasn't it?"

(A statement so sweeping challenged contradiction.)

"You think that's only my Cockney view?"

"I think it isn't Nature. It's your own idea."

"It isn't even my own idea; I bagged it from Coleridge. P'raps you'll
say he muddled himself with opium till he couldn't tell which was
Nature and which was Coleridge; but there was old Wordsworth, as sober
as a churchwarden, and he knew. What you call my Cockney view is the
view of the modern poets. They don't--they can't distinguish between
Nature and the human soul. Talk of getting near to Nature--we wouldn't
know Nature if we saw it now. Those everlasting poets have got so near
it that they've blocked the view for themselves and everybody else."

"Really, you talk as if they were a set of trippers."

"So they are! Wordsworth was nothing but a tripper, a glorified
tripper. Nature never looked the same since he ran his Excursion-train
through the Lake country--special service to Tintern and Yarrow."

"This is slightly profane."

"No--it only means that if you want Nature you musn't go to the poets
of Nature. They've humanized it. I wouldn't mind that, if they hadn't
womanized it, too."

"That only means that they loved it," she said softly.

"It means that they've demoralized it; and that now it demoralizes us.
Nature is the supreme sentimentalist. It's all their fault. They've
been flinging themselves on the bosom of Mother Earth, and sitting and
writing Stanzas in Dejection on it, and lying down like a tired child
on it, and weeping away their lives of care, that they have borne and
yet must bear on it, till they've saturated it with their beastly
pathos. There isn't a dry comfortable place left for anybody else."

"Perhaps that's just the way Nature inspires poets, by giving out the
humanity it absorbs."

"Perhaps. I can't say it inspires me."

"Are you a poet?" she asked. She was beginning to think it must be a
case of mistaken identity; for this was not what she had expected of
him.

He did not answer at first, neither did he look at her. He looked at
the beautiful face of Nature (the sentimentalist), and a wave of hot
colour rushed again over his own.

"I don't know whether I am or not."

"Let us hope not, since you want to make a clean sweep of them."

"I'd make a clean sweep of myself if I stood in my own light. Anything
for a good view. But I'm afraid it's too late." His tone dropped from
the extreme of levity to an almost tragic earnest. "We've done our
work, and it can't be undone. We've given Nature a human voice, and
now we shall never--never hear anything else."

"That's rather dreadful; I wish you hadn't."

"Oh, no, you don't. It's not the human voice you draw the line
at--it's the Cockney accent."

Lucia's smile flickered and went out, extinguished by the waves of her
blush. She was not prepared to have her thoughts read--and read aloud
to her--in this way; and that particular thought was one she would
have preferred him not to read.

"I daresay Keats had a Cockney accent, if we did but know; and I
daresay a good many people never heard anything else."

"I'm afraid you'd have heard it yourself, Miss Harden, if you'd met
him."

"Possibly. It isn't what I should have remembered him by, though. That
reminds me. I came upon a poem--a sonnet--of yours--if it was
yours--this morning. It was lying on the library floor. You will find
it under the bronze Pallas on the table."

Mr. Rickman stooped, picked up a sod and examined it carefully.

"Thank you very much. It _was_ mine. I was afraid it was lost."

"It would have been a great pity if it had been."

Mr. Rickman dropped his sod.

She answered the question that appeared in his eyes, though not on his
tongue. "Yes, I read it. It was printed, you see. I read it before I
could make up my mind whether I might or not."

"It was all right. But I wish you hadn't."

To look at Mr. Rickman you would have said that all his mind was
concentrated on the heel of his boot, as it slowly but savagely ground
the sod to dust. Even so, the action seemed to say, even so could he
have destroyed that sonnet.

"What did you think of it?"

He had looked up, when she least expected, with his disarming and
ingenuous smile. Lucia felt that he had laid an ambush for her by his
abstraction; the question and the smile shot, flashed, out of it with
a directness that made subterfuge impossible.

The seriousness of the question was what made it so awkward for a lady
with the pleasure-giving instinct. If Mr. Rickman had merely asked her
if she liked his new straw hat with the olive green ribbon (supposing
them to be on terms that made such a question possible) she would
probably have said "Yes," whether she liked it or not; because she
wanted to give pleasure, because she didn't care a straw about his
straw hat. But when Mr. Rickman asked her how she liked his sonnet, he
was talking about the things that really mattered; and in the things
that really mattered Lucia was sincerity itself.

"I thought," said she, "I thought the first dozen lines extremely
beautiful."

"In a sonnet _every_ line should be beautiful--should be perfect."

"Oh--if you're aiming at perfection."

"Why, what else in Heaven's name should I aim at?"

Lucia was silent; and he mistook her silence for distrust.

"I don't want you to judge me by that sonnet."

"But I shouldn't dream of judging you by that sonnet, any more than I
should judge that sonnet by its last two lines. They're not the last
you'll ever write."

"They're the last you will ever read."

"Well, it's something to have written one good sonnet."

"One swallow doesn't make a spring."

"No; but it tells us spring is coming, and the other swallows."

"There won't be any other swallows. All my swallows have flown."

"Oh, they'll fly back again, you'll see, if you wait till next
spring."

"You weren't serious just now when you asked me if I was a poet. _I_
was serious enough when I said I didn't know."

Something passed over Lucia's face, a ripple of shadow and flame, some
moving of the under currents of the soul that told him that he was
understood, that something had happened there, something that for the
moment permitted him to be personal.

"What made you say so?"

"I can't tell you. Not natural modesty. I'm modest about some things,
but not about that."

"Yet surely you must know?"

"I did yesterday."

"Yesterday?"

"Yesterday--last night; in fact up to eleven o'clock this morning I
firmly believed that I had genius, or something uncommonly like it. I
still believe that I _had_ it."

He seemed to himself to have become almost grossly personal; but to
Lucia he had ceased to be personal at all; he had passed into the
region of realities; and in so passing had become intensely
interesting. To Lucia, with the blood of ten generations of scholars
in her veins, the question of a man's talent was supremely important;
the man himself might not matter, but his talent mattered very much;
to discuss it with him was entirely natural and proper. So she never
once stopped to ask herself why she was standing on Harcombe Hill,
holding this really very intimate conversation with Mr. Rickman.

"The things," he continued, "the things I've written prove it. I can
say so without the smallest conceit, because I haven't it now, and
never shall have it again. I feel as if it had belonged to somebody
else."

Mr. Rickman was losing all likeness to his former self. He spoke no
longer impulsively, but in the steady deliberate tones of unalterable
conviction. And Lucia no longer heard the Cockney accent in this voice
that came to her out of a suffering so lucid and so profound. She
forgot that it came from the other side of the social gulf. If at any
point in that conversation she had thought of dismissing him, she
could not have dismissed him now. There was very little use in having
saved his neck if she abandoned him to his misery.

Instead of abandoning him she sat down on a rough seat by the roadside
to consider Mr. Rickman's case in all its bearings. In doing so she
found herself for the first time contemplating his personal appearance
as such; and that not altogether with disapproval. Though it was not
in the least what she would have expected, he showed to advantage in
the open air. She began to perceive the secret of his extravagant and
preposterous charm. There was something about him--something that he
had no right to have about him, being born a dweller in cities, which
none the less he undeniably and inevitably had, something that made
him one with this moorland setting, untamed and beautiful and shy. The
great natural features of the landscape did him no wrong; for he was
natural too.

Well, she had found his sonnet for him; but could she help him to
recover what he had lost now?

"I hope you won't mind my asking, but don't you know any one who can
help you?"

"Not any one who can help me out of this."

"I believe it must have been you Sir Joseph Harden used to talk about.
I think he saw you once when you were a boy. I know if he were alive
he would have been glad to help you."

"He did help me. I owe my education to the advice he gave my father."

"Is that the case? I am very glad."

She paused, exultant; she felt that she was now upon the right track.
"You said you had written other things. What have you written?"

"A lyrical drama for one thing. That sonnet was meant for a sort of
motto to it."

A lyrical drama? She was right, then; he was Horace Jewdwine's great
"find." If so, the subject was fenced around with difficulty. She must
on no account give Horace away. Mr. Rickman had seemed annoyed because
she had read his sonnet (which was printed); he would be still more
annoyed if he knew that she had read his lyrical drama in manuscript.
He was inclined to be reticent about his writings.

Lucia was wrong. Mr. Rickman had never been less inclined to
reticence in his life. He wished she had read his drama instead of his
sonnet. His spring-time was there; the swift unreturning spring-time
of his youth. If she had read his drama she would have believed in his
pursuit of the intangible perfection. As it was, she never would
believe.

"I wonder," she said, feeling her ground carefully, "if my cousin
Horace Jewdwine would be any good to you?"

"Mr. Jewdwine?"

"Do you know him?"

"Yes, slightly. That is--he knows--he knows what I can do. I mean what
I've done."

"Really?" The chain of evidence was now complete. "Well, what does he
say?"

Rickman laughed as he recalled his last conversation with the critic.
"He says I'm one-seventh part a poet.

"Does he? Then you may be very sure you are a great deal more. My
cousin is most terribly exacting. I should be glad if I succeeded in
satisfying him; but I don't think I should be seriously unhappy if--if
I failed. Did he say anything to discourage, to depress you?"

"Not he. I don't think I should have minded if he had. I felt strong
enough for anything then. It was this morning. I was sitting out here,
looking at all this beautiful inspiring scenery, when it came to me,
that notion that I should never do anything again."

"Is it--" her hesitations were delightful to him--"is it the want of
recognition that disheartens you?"

He laughed again, a healthy honest laugh. "Oh, dear me, no! I don't
worry about recognition. That would be all right if I could go on. But
I can't go on."

"Have you ever felt like this before?"

"N--no. No, never. And for the life of me I can't think why I should
now."

"And yet you've been making catalogues for years, haven't you?"

Lucia had said to herself, "It's that catalogue _raisonne_, I know."

"Do you like making catalogues?"

"Well, under ordinary circumstances it isn't exactly what you'd call
exciting. But I'm afraid that hasn't got anything to do with it this
time."

"It may have everything to do with it--such a dreadful kind of work."

"No. It isn't the work that's dreadful."

"Then perhaps it's the worry? And I'm afraid I'm responsible for
that."

He started, shaken out of his admirable self-possession by that
glaring personality. "How could you be?"

"By insisting on engaging you as I did. From what you told me it's
very evident that you had something on your mind, and that the work
has been very dreadful, very difficult."

"I _have_ something on my mind and--it _has_ been difficult--all the
same--"

"I wouldn't have pressed you if I had really known. I'm very sorry. Is
it too late? Would it be any good if I released you now?"

If she released him!

"Miss Harden, you are most awfully good to me."

"_Would_ that help you?"

He looked at her. Over her face there ran again that little ripple of
thought and sympathy, like shadow and flame. One fear was removed from
him. Whatever happened Miss Harden would never misunderstand him. At
the same time he realized that any prospect, however calamitous, would
be more endurable than the course she now proposed.

"It wouldn't help me. The best thing I can do is to stay where I am
and finish."

"Is that the truth?"

"Nothing but the truth."

("But not the whole truth," thought Lucia.)

"Well," she said, rising, "whatever you do, don't lose heart."

He smiled drearily. It was all very well to say that, when his heart
was lost already.

"Wait--wait till next spring comes."

He could put what meaning he liked into that graceful little
commonplace. But it dismissed at the same time that it reassured him.
The very ease and delicacy with which it was done left him no doubt on
that point.

He was not going to accept his dismissal then and there. A bold
thought leapt in his brain. Could he--might he--? She had read his
sonnet; would it do to ask her to read his drama also? To be sure the
sonnet had but fourteen lines, while the drama had twice as many
hundred. But the drama, the drama, his beautiful _Helen in Leuce_, was
his ultimate achievement, the highest, completest expression of his
soul. And what he required of Lucia Harden was not her praise, but
fuller, more perfect comprehension. He stood in a cruel and false
position, and he longed for her to know the finest and the best of
him, before she knew (as she must know) the worst.

She was turning away; but there was a closed gate between her and the
hill-path that led down into the valley.

"Miss Harden--"

"Yes?"

She turned. His heart beat violently. He was afraid to look up lest
his face should betray his emotion; it must seem so disproportioned to
its cause. And yet he was going to ask her for leave to put his drama,
the fine offspring of his soul, into her hands.

"May I send you the drama I spoke of? I would like you to see it."

"Nothing would give me greater pleasure."

He tried to stammer out some words of thanks; but they died before
utterance.

"You know your way now, don't you?" said she.

"Yes, thanks."

Her hand was on the gate; he opened it to let her pass. He also made a
movement as though he would have held out his hand, but thought better
of it, raising his hat instead.

He stood uncovered until she had passed.

He walked up and down the road, giving her time to get well out of
sight. Then he returned to the place where he had suffered, and stood
a long while looking over the valley.

He knew now the meaning of his great misery; and it was misery no
longer. The veil was lifted from the face of Nature; and it was a
face that he had never yet seen. It had lost that look of mysterious,
indefinable reproach. It was as if the beauty of the land, seeking
after the heart that should love it, was appeased and reconciled. He
could hear the lyric soul of things most clearly and unmistakably, and
it was singing a new song. A strange, double-burdened contradictory
song. There was sorrow in it, such sorrow as her children drink from
the breast of the tragic earth; and through it all and over it the
laughter as of some yet virgin and imperishable joy.

For Nature sings to every poet the song of his own soul.

He spent the last of that Easter Sunday in his shabby little bedroom
in the Marine Hotel, where with windows open to the wind and sea he
sat writing long past midnight. And hope rose again in him as he
surveyed the first rough draft--that wild battlefield and
slaughter-ground of lines, lines shooting and flying in all
directions, lines broken and scattered and routed by other lines,
over-ridden and trampled down by word upon triumphing word. Above the
hideous confusion at least two verses shone luminous and clear; they
had come swinging into the pure ether, full-formed and golden from
their birth. And over the whole he wrote in legible characters, "_On
Harcombe Hill_."

His doubt had died there; and on Easter Monday he awoke exulting in
another blessed day.




CHAPTER XXII


Lucia had yielded recklessly to her pleasure-giving instinct, and was
only half contented. She had given pleasure to her father by writing
him a long letter; she was in a fair way of giving pleasure to Horace
Jewdwine by undertaking this monstrous labour of the catalogue; and
she had given pleasure to herself in giving pleasure to them. But
there was one person to whom she had not given pleasure; and that
person was Horace Jewdwine's friend. On the contrary, she had robbed
the poor man of the one solitary pleasure he had anticipated in his
three days' holiday; with what disastrous results she had just
witnessed.

It was impossible for Lucia to do anybody a wrong, however innocently,
without making up for it. On that Sunday evening she conceived a great
idea. She had deprived Mr. Rickman of a small opportunity; she would
give him a large one. Restitution was to be on a noble scale. Lucia
had a small sum left to her by her grandfather, and even when Mr.
Rickman was paid for his four weeks' work on the catalogue that sum
would only be reduced to L285. On the strength of it she now proposed
to offer Mr. Rickman the post of secretary to herself, for one year,
at a salary of a hundred, the remainder to be devoted to his
travelling and household expenses. As secretary he would assist her in
editing Sir Joseph's unpublished works, while she secured him abundant
leisure for his own.

For one year he would be free from all sordid demands on his time and
energy. He would be free, for one year, from the shop and the
Quarterly Catalogue. He would enrich his mind, and improve his
manners, with travel, for one year. At the end of that year he would
know if there was anything in him.

In other words she would give the little man his chance.

The plan had the further advantage that it would have given her
grandfather pleasure if he could have known it. It was also to be
presumed that it would give pleasure to Horace Jewdwine, since it was
the very thing he himself had said he wished to do for Rickman. Of all
conceivable ways of spending Sir Joseph's money it was the fittest and
most beautiful. In its lesser way it was in line with the best
traditions of the family; for the Hardens had been known for
generations as the patrons of poor scholars and struggling men of
letters. And as Lucia inherited the intellect of her forefathers in a
more graceful, capricious and spontaneous form, so what in them had
been heavy patronage, appeared in her as the pleasure-giving instinct.
If she had inherited a large fortune along with it she would have been
a lady of lavish and indiscreet munificence.

By way of discretion she slept on her programme before finally
committing herself to it. In the morning discretion suggested that she
had better wait a week. She decided to act on that suggestion; at the
same time she stifled the inner voice which kept telling her that the
thing she was doing "to please Horace" would not really please him at
all.

She had already ignored the advice he had given her on one point; for
Horace had long ago told her plainly that there was no use in editing
their grandfather's posthumous works; that on any subject other than
textual criticism, Sir Joseph was absurd.

Meanwhile, by sympathy perhaps, Rickman also had become discreet. He
entered on his new week a new man. As if he had divined that he was on
his trial, he redoubled his prodigious efforts, he applied himself to
his hideous task with silent and concentrated frenzy. He seemed to
live and move and have his being in the catalogue _raisonne_. Whenever
Lucia had occasion to look up at him he was assiduous, rapid,
absorbed, He never stopped to talk about AEschylus and Euripides. Now
and then they exchanged a necessary word, but not more than once or
twice in the morning. If Lucia by any chance gave him an opening he
ignored it. He maintained a silence that was almost stern.

Mr. Rickman was undergoing a process of regeneration.

He would not have called it by so fine a name. In fact, in its earlier
stages he seemed to himself to be merely pushing to the point of mania
a strong predilection for personal cleanliness. He was first of all
possessed, recklessly, ruinously, by a passion for immaculate shirts.
He had telegraphed to Spinks to send down all of his linen that he
could lay his hands on; meanwhile he had supplied deficiencies at the
local haberdashers. At Mrs. Downey's there was a low standard for the
more slender particulars of the toilette, and Mr. Rickman had compared
favourably with his fellow-boarders. Now he looked back with
incredulity and horror to his former self. Since his person had been
brought into daily contact with Miss Harden he had begun to bestow on
it a solemn, almost religious care. In the matter of the pocket
handkerchief he practised an extreme ritual, permitting himself none
but the finest lawn, which he changed after the first trivial
crumpling. The pocket-handkerchief being thus glorified and exalted in
the hierarchy of dress, one source of painful misgiving was removed.

For the first few days he had been merely formal in this cult of the
person. Piety was appeased with external rites and symbols, with
changes of vestment, excessive lustrations, and the like. Now he had
grown earnest, uncompromising, in his religion; and consistency
entailed a further step. Clearly his person, the object of such
superstitious veneration, must be guarded from all unbecoming and
ridiculous accidents; such an accident, for instance, as getting
drunk. If you came to think of it, few things could be more
compromising to the person than that (Heavens! if Miss Harden had seen
it last Wednesday night!). And since any friendship with ladies of
doubtful character might be considered equally derogatory from its
dignity, he further resolved to eliminate (absolutely) Miss Poppy
Grace. He took no credit for these acts of renunciation. They seemed
to him no more morally meritorious than the removal of dust from his
coat sleeves, or of ink-stains from his hands.

But though he exterminated the devil in him with so light a touch, it
was gravely, tragically almost, that he turned to the expulsion of the
Cockney. Intoxication was an unlucky casualty; so, if you came to
think of it, was a violent infatuation for Miss Poppy Grace;
infinitely more disastrous, more humiliating, were the fatal habits of
his speech. Take the occasional but terrific destruction of the aitch.
It was worse than drink; it wrecked a man more certainly, more utterly
beyond redemption and excuse. It was anxiety on this point that partly
accounted for his reserve. He simply dared not talk about AEschylus or
Euripides, because such topics were exciting, and excitement was apt
to induce this lapse.

But most of all he dreaded the supreme agitation of love. For he knew
now perfectly well what had happened to him; though he had never known
it happen to him in this manner before. It was love as his heart had
imagined it in the days before he became the thrall of Miss Poppy
Grace. He had known the feeling, but until now he had not known the
woman who could inspire it. It was as if his heart had renewed its
primal virginity in preparation for some divine experience.

The night of Sunday beheld the withdrawal of Mr. Rickman into the
immensity of his preposterous dream. From this blessed state he
emerged on Monday morning, enlightened as to the whole comedy and
tragedy of his passion. To approach Lucia Harden required nothing less
than a change of spirit; and Mr. Rickman doubted whether he could
manage that. He could only change his shirts. And at this point there
arose the hideous fear lest love itself might work to hinder and
betray him.

As it turned out, love proved his ally, not his enemy. So far from
exciting him, it produced a depression that rendered him disinclined
for continuous utterance. In this it did him good service. It
prevented him from obtruding his presence unduly on Miss Harden. In
his seat at the opposite table he had achieved something of her
profound detachment, her consummate calm. And Lucia said to herself,
"Good. He can keep quiet for a whole day at a time, which is what I
doubted."

Six days had passed in this manner, and he had not yet attempted to
penetrate the mystery and seclusion of the Aldine Plato, the
Neapolitan Horace and the _Aurea Legenda_ of Wynkyn de Worde. He
turned away his eyes from that corner of the bookcase where he had
good reason to suppose them to be. He would have to look at them some
time, meanwhile he shrank from approaching them as from some gross
impiety. His father had written to him several times, making special
inquiries after the Aldine Plato, the Neapolitan Horace, and the
_Aurea Legenda_ of Wynkyn de Worde. He replied with generalities in a
guarded manner. He was kept very busy, and was as yet unable to send
him any more detailed information. He had begun to feel it strange
that these questions should be put, to marvel at the assumption that
they could in any way concern him. Rickman's had ceased altogether to
exist for him.

He was beginning to lose all sense of strangeness in his position. The
six days might have been six years and Court House the home of his
infancy, Lucia's presence filled it with so warm an atmosphere of
kindness and of love. The very servants had learnt something of her
gentle, considerate ways. He was at home there as he had never been at
home before. He knew every aspect of the library, through all the
changes of the light, from the first waking of its blues and crimsons
in the early morning to the broad and golden sweep of noonday through
the south window; from the quick rushing flame of the sunset to its
premature death among the rafters. Then the lamps; a little light in
the centre where they sat, and the thick enclosing darkness round
about them.

Each of those six days was like a Sunday, and Sunday to Rickman was
always a day of beatitude, being the day of dreams. And she, in her
sweet unfamiliar beauty, only half real, though so piercingly present
to him, was an incarnate dream. She always sat with her back to the
south window, so that her head and shoulders appeared somewhat
indistinct against the outer world, a background of flower-beds and
green grass and sky, covered with the criss-cross of the leaded
lozenge panes and the watery shimmer of the glass. The outline of her
head was indicated by a little line of light that threaded her hair
and tipped the curve of her small ears. He knew every change of her
face, from its serene, faint-tinted morning look, to its flower-like
pallor in the dusk. He knew only too well its look under the
lamp-light after a hard day's work; the look that came with a slight
blurring of its soft contours, and a drooping of tired eyelids over
pathetic eyes. He saw what Jewdwine had failed to see, that Lucia was
not strong.

Six days, and three days before that, nine days in all; and it was as
if he had known that face all his life; he could not conceive a time
when he had not known it. As for the things he had known, horrible,
curious and incredible things, such as Rickman's, Mrs. Downey's, St.
Pancras Church, and the editor of _The Museion_ (whose last letter he
had left unanswered), they belonged to an infinitely remote and
unimaginable past. It seemed the entirely obvious and natural thing
that he should be sitting there alone with Lucia Harden. He was never
very far from her. The east window looked across the courtyard to the
window of her drawing-room; he could see her there, sitting in the
lamp-light; he could hear the music that she made. Her bedroom was
above the library; it was pleasant to him to know that when she left
him it was to sleep there overhead. The deep quiet of his passion had
drawn him again into his dream.

And then all of a sudden, he woke up and broke the silence. It was ten
o'clock on Saturday evening. Lucia had shifted the shade of the lamp.
From where he sat her face was in twilight and her body in darkness.
He had got up to put a book into its place, when he saw her leaning
back and covering her eyes with her hand.

The sight was too much for him. He came up and stood beside her.

"Miss Harden, I don't like this. I--I can't stand it any longer."

She looked up. She had been unaware of Mr. Rickman for the last hour,
and certainly did not expect to find him there.

"What is it that you can't stand?"

"To see you working from morning to night. It--it isn't right, you
know. You're paying me for this, and doing the half of it yourself."

"I'm not doing a quarter of it. You forget that you're working three
times as fast as I can."

"And you forget that you're working three times as hard."

"No. I'm leaving the hard work to you."

"I wish you'd leave it all to me."

"In that case we should never have finished," said the lady.

He smiled. "Perhaps not. At any rate you've worked so hard that I can
finish it now by myself."

She looked round the room. Undisguised fatigue was in the look. What
they had done was nothing to what they had yet to do.

"You can't," she said.

"I can. Easily. I miscalculated the time it would take."

She said nothing, for she knew that he had lied. His miscalculation
was all the other way. She bent again over her work. It was all that
he could do not to lift her arms gently but firmly from the table, to
take away her pen and ink, and put out her lamp. He would have liked
to have done some violence to the catalogue.

"I say, you know, you'll make yourself ill. You're burning the candle
at both ends. May I suggest that the game isn't worth the candle?"

"Have you very much more to do?"

"About two hours' work. Would it be impertinent to say that I could do
it better by myself?"

She looked at her watch and ignored his last question. "You can't do
two hours' work. It's twenty minutes past your time already."

Past his time, indeed! As if he hadn't been working past his time
every night since he came. She had grown mighty particular all of a
sudden!

"The presence of these engaging little Elzevirs is a terrible
temptation to a second-hand bookseller, still I believe you can trust
me with them alone."

From the expression of her face he gathered that this remark was even
more impertinent than the other. He had meant it to be.

"I really think," said the lady, "that you had better go."

"Just as you please; I shall only have to sit up two hours later
to-morrow night."

He walked to his place with his head thrown farther back and his chin
thrust farther forward than ever. He began to sort and arrange his
papers preparatory to his departure. It took him five minutes. At the
end of the five minutes he was aware that Lucia had risen and was
bidding him Good-night.

"You were quite right," she was saying. "I _am_ tired, and I had
better leave off. If you had rather stay and finish, please stay."

At those words Mr. Rickman was filled with a monstrous and amazing
courage. He made for the door, crossing without a tremor the whole
length of the library. He reached the door before Miss Harden, and
opened it. He returned her good-night with a hope that she would be
rested in the morning. And as he went back to his solitary labour he
smiled softly to himself, a smile of self-congratulation.

He had meant her to go--and she had gone.

Upstairs in her room overhead Lucia communed with her own face in the
glass.

"My private secretary?"

The face in the glass looked dubious.

"Of course I would rather have a gentleman for my private secretary.
Some people would say he isn't a gentleman." (She had said it herself
the other day.)

The face in the glass smiled dimly, between two parted veils of hair.

"What _is_ a gentleman?"

The face in the glass suggested that this was indeed a subtle and a
difficult question.

"It was not his business if I chose to tire myself. Would it have been
his business if he'd been a gentleman?"

The face in the glass offered no opinion.

"I think I like him best when he's impertinent. He is so _very_ funny,
poor dear, when he tries to be polite."

The face in the glass, framed by two white arms raising a column of
hair, was suffused with rosy mirth.

"I wonder what Horace really thinks of him?"

The face, triumphantly crowned with its dark coil, looked grave.

"He _is_ a gentleman. At least, he lied like one."

By this time Lucia was in bed, and there was no face in the glass to
dispute or corroborate that statement.




CHAPTER XXIII


The next morning he gave into her hands the manuscript of _Helen in
Leuce_. It had arrived two or three days ago, packed by Spinks between
his new shirts. She had expected to feel a little guilty as she
received the familiar sheets; but as she glanced over them she saw
that they were anything but familiar; what she had to deal with was a
clean new draft.

She had a fairly clear recollection of the outline of the play.

In Act I Helen lands in the enchanted island of Leuce, and is found
watching the ship that brought her sailing away with the dead
Menelaus, for he, being altogether mortal, may not follow her there.
The Chorus tells the story of Helen, her rape by Theseus, her marriage
with Menelaus, her flight with Paris, the tragedy of Troy and her
return to Argos. It tells how through all her adventures the godhead
in her remained pure, untouched, holding itself apart.

In Act II Helen is asleep, for the soul of Leda still troubles her
divinity, and her mortality is heavy upon her. Helen rises out of her
sleep; her divinity is seen struggling with her mortality, burning
through the beauty of her body. Desire wakens in Achilles, and in
Helen terror and anguish, as of one about to enter again into the pain
of mortal life. But he may not touch her till he, too, has put on
immortality. Helen prays for deliverance from the power of Aphrodite.
She rouses in Achilles a great anger against Aphrodite by reminding
him of the death of Patroclus; so that he calls down upon the goddess
the curses of all the generations of men.

It was this Act that lived in Lucia's memory. Act III she had not yet
read, but she had gathered from the argument that Pallas Athene was
there to appear to Achilles and divest him of his mortality; that she
was to lead him to Helen, whose apotheosis was supposed to be
complete; the Act concluding with two choruses, an epithalamium
celebrating the wedding of Helen and Achilles, and a Hymn in praise of
Athene.

She remembered how when Horace had first told her of the subject,
Helen in Leuce, she had looked it up in Lempriere, found a reference
in Homer and another in Euripides, had shaken her head and said, "What
can he make of that?"

Now for the first time she saw what he had made of it. Rickman's Helen
was to the Helena of Euripides what Shelley's Prometheus is to the
Prometheus of AEschylus. Rickman had done what seemed good in his own
eyes. He had made his own metres, his own myth and his own drama. A
drama of flesh and blood, a drama of spirit, a drama of dreams. Only a
very young poet could have had the courage to charge it with such a
weight of symbolism; but he had contrived to breathe into his symbols
the breath of life; the phantoms of his brain, a shadowy Helen and
Achilles, turned into flesh and blood under his hands. It was as if
their bodies, warm, throbbing, full-formed, instinct with irresistible
and violent life, had come crashing through the delicate fabric of his
dream.

As she read Lucia's mind was troubled, shaken out of its critical
serenity. She heard a new music; she felt herself in the grasp of a
new power, a new spirit. It was not the classic spirit. There was too
much tumult in its harmonies, as if the music of a whole orchestra had
been torn from its instruments and flung broadcast, riding
triumphantly on the wings of a great wind. There were passages
(notably the Hymn to Aphrodite in the second Act) that brought the
things of sense and the terrible mysteries of flesh and blood so near
to her that she flinched. Rickman had made her share the thrilling
triumph, the flushed passion of his youth. And when she was most hurt
and bruised under the confusion of it, he lifted her up and carried
her away into the regions of spiritual beauty and eternal strength.

It was all over; the tumult of the flesh and the agony of the spirit;
over, too, the heaven-piercing singing, the rapture of spirit and of
flesh made one. Rickman had ended his amazing drama with the broad
majestic music of his Hymn to Athene. Lucia had borne up under the
parting of Helen and Menelaus; but she was young, and at that touch of
superb and ultimate beauty, two tears, the large and heavy tears of
youth, fell upon Rickman's immaculate manuscript, where their marks
remain to this day. The sight of them had the happy effect of making
her laugh, and then, and not till then, she thought of Rickman--Mr.
Rickman. She thought of him living a dreadful life among dreadful
people; she thought of him sitting in his father's shop, making
catalogues _raisonnes_; she thought of him sitting in the library
making one at that very moment. And this was the man she had had the
impertinence to pity; whom Horace would say she now proposed to
patronize. As she stood contemplating the pile of manuscript before
her, Miss Lucia Harden felt (for a great lady) quite absurdly small.

In that humble mood she was found by Miss Palliser.

"What's up?" said Kitty.

"Kitty, that little man in there--he's written the most beautiful
play. It's so terribly sad."

"What, the play?"

"No, the little man. It's a classic, Kitty--it'll live."

"Then I'm sure you needn't pity him. Let's have a look at the thing."
Miss Palliser dipped into the manuscript, and was lost.

"By Jove," she said, "it does look ripping. Where does the sadness
come in?"

"He thinks he'll never write another."

"Well, perhaps he won't."

"He will--think of it--he's a genius, the real thing, this time.
Only--he has to stand behind a counter and make catalogues."

Miss Palliser meditated. "Does he--does he by any chance drop his
aitches?"

"Kitty, he _does_."

"Then Lucy, dear child, beware, beware, his flashing eyes, his
floating hair--"

"Don't. That little man is on my mind."

"I shouldn't let him stop there too long, if I were you. He might
refuse to get on."

"I must do something for him, and I must do it now. What _can_ I do?"

"Not much, I imagine."

"I--I think I'll ask him to dinner."

"I wouldn't. You said he drops his aitches. Weave," said Miss
Palliser, "a circle round him thrice, and close your eyes with holy
dread, but whatever you do, don't ask him to dinner."

"Why not?"

"Because ten to one it would make him most horribly uncomfortable. Not
that that matters so much. But wouldn't the faithful Robert think it a
little odd?"

"Robert is too faithful to think anything at all."

"I'm not so sure of that. Personally, I wish you _would_ ask him to
dinner--I seem to foresee a certain amount of amusing incident."

"Well, I don't think I will ask him--to dinner. Perhaps he wouldn't
enjoy it. But as I've got to talk over his play with him, I should
like to ask him to something."

"Ask him to coffee afterwards."

"Coffee hardly seems enough."

"It depends. Serve it festively--on a table, and pour it out yourself.
Offer him strange and bewitching forms of food. Comfort him with--with
angel cake--and savoury sandwiches and bread and butter."

"I see--a sort of compromise?"

"Exactly. Society, my child, is based on compromise."

"Very well, then, I'll write him a note."

She wrote it, and sent Robert with it to the library.

"I suppose," said she, "it's about time to dress for dinner?"

"Don't make yourself too pretty, dear."

Lucia looked back through the doorway.

"I shall make myself as pretty as ever I can. He has had nothing but
ugly things to look at all his life."

Miss Palliser apostrophized the departing figure of her friend.

"Oh Lucy, Lucy, what an angelic little fool you _are_!"




CHAPTER XXIV


Half-past six, and Miss Harden had not yet appeared in the library. It
was the first time that Rickman had passed a whole day without seeing
her. He began to be uneasy, to wonder whether she were really ill. At
seven he was leaving the house as usual for his hotel when Robert
brought him a little three-cornered note.

     "Dear Mr. Rickman," it said (Dear Mr. Rickman!) "you see I have
     taken your advice, and given myself a holiday. I have spent it
     very pleasantly--reading _Helen in Leuce_. It would give me much
     pleasure if you would come in for coffee this evening, about
     eight o'clock. We can then talk it over.

     "Very truly yours,

     "LUCIA HARDEN.

"You need only send a verbal answer."

A verbal answer? No. That would never do. He could not trust himself
with speech, but in writing he knew he was impeccable.

     "Dear Miss Harden. How very kind of you! But I am sorry that you
     did not give yourself a complete rest. I should be sorrier, if I
     were not so grateful for the trouble you have taken. It will give
     me great pleasure to come in this evening at the time you name.

     "With many thanks, yours very truly,

     "S.K. RICKMAN."

He was not pleased with it; it erred on the side of redundancy; he had
not attained the perfect utterance, the supreme simplicity. But he was
obliged to let it go. Two hours later Robert announced that coffee was
served in the drawing-room.

It seemed that to reach the drawing-room you had to cross the whole
length of the house from west to east. In this passage he realized
(what his mind had not greatly dwelt upon), the antiquity of the
Hardens, and the march of their splendid generations. Going from the
Tudor Library into the grim stone hall of the Court House, he took a
cold plunge backward into time. Thence his progress was
straightforward, bringing him into the Jacobean picture gallery that
cut the house from north to south. Here he paused, perceiving that the
double line of portraits began with a Vandyck and a Lely. Robert stood
with his hand on the brass rose knob of an oak door; in his eternal
attitude of affection, mingled with immobile respect, he waited for
the moment when Mr. Rickman should elect to tear himself from the Lely
and the Vandyck. The moment came, and Mr. Rickman heard himself
announced in a clear high voice as he passed over the threshold.

He found himself in a long oak-panelled room; that room whose west
window looked out across the courtyard to the east window of the
library. It was almost dark except for a small fire-lit, lamp-lit,
square at the far end. Lucia was sitting in a low chair by the
fireplace, under the tall shaded lamp, where the light fell full on
her shoulders. She was not alone. On a settee by the other side of the
open hearth sat the young lady who had intruded on his solitude in the
library. The presence of the young lady filled him with anxiety and
dismay.

He had to cross a vast, dim space before he reached that lighted
region. With what seemed to him a reeling and uncertain gait, he
approached over the perilously slippery parquet. Miss Harden rose and
came forward, mercifully cutting short that frightful passage from the
threshold to her chair.

Lucia had not carried out the intention she had announced to Kitty.
She had dressed in haste; but in Rickman's eyes the effect was that
which Kitty had seen fit to deprecate. She had made herself very
pretty indeed. He could not have given a very clear account of it,
could not have said whether the thing she wore, that floating,
sweeping, curling, trailing, folding and caressing garment were made
of grey gossamer in white or white in grey, but he was aware that it
showed how divinely her slender body carried its flower, her head;
showed that her arms, her throat, and the first sweep and swell of her
shoulders, were of one tone with the luminous pallor of her face.
Something in the dress, in her bearing and manner of approach, gave
her the assured charm of womanhood for the unfinished loveliness of
youth.

She introduced him to her friend Miss Palliser, whose green eyes
smiled in recognition. He bowed with the stiffness of a back
unaccustomed to that form of salutation. He hardly knew what happened
after that, till he found himself backing, nervously, ridiculously
backing into a lonely seat in the middle of the room.

The three were now grouped in a neat geometrical figure, Mr. Rickman,
on the chair of his choice, forming the apex of a prolonged triangle,
having the hearthrug for its base. He was aware that Miss Harden and
Miss Palliser were saying something; but he had no idea of what they
said. He sat there wondering whether he ought to be seated at all,
whether he ought not rather to be hovering about that little table,
ready to wait upon Miss Palliser. He was still wondering when Miss
Palliser got up with the evident intention of waiting upon him.

That, he knew, was all wrong; it was not to be permitted for a moment.
Inspired by a strange, unnatural courage, he advanced and took his
coffee from her hand, retreating with it to his remote and solitary
position.

He sat silent, moodily looking at his coffee, stirring it from time to
time and wondering whether he would ever be brave enough to drink it.
He waited for an opportunity of dispatching it unperceived. The
presence of Miss Palliser paralysed him. He wondered whether he ought
to say anything to her or to Miss Harden, or to neither or to both; he
tried to think of something suitable to say.

Meanwhile Miss Palliser talked for all three. It seemed that she had
dined with her friend on her way to an "at home" in Harmouth.

"Bread and butter?" said she judicially "N--no, I think not, thanks.
I've got to eat jellies and sandwiches and things for two hours
straight on end. It sounds horrible, but I shall be driven to it. At
the Flossers," she explained for her friend's benefit, "you must
either eat or talk; and if you can't talk scandal you're not expected
to talk at all." And still talking Miss Palliser slowly bore down upon
Mr. Rickman with a plate of bread and butter.

Mr. Rickman's earnest and chivalrous endeavour to forestall her caused
a rug to slide under his feet. It slid, and Mr. Rickman with it, for
quite a considerable distance; and though Mr. Rickman, indeed,
preserved the erect attitude by a series of complicated movements (a
superb triumph of muscular ingenuity, but somewhat curious and
fantastic as a spectacle), his coffee cup flung itself violently on
its side, and poured out its contents at the lady's feet.

He looked at Miss Harden. She was smiling; for who wouldn't have
smiled? But her smile became almost tender in her perception of his
distress.

Miss Palliser continued to talk.

"Ah," said Miss Palliser, "I was waiting for that to happen. I've been
wondering which of us would do it first. I rather thought it would be
me; but for pure, delightful unexpectedness, give me a parquet floor.
I wouldn't mop it up with my pocket handkerchief, if I were you."

"No--please--it doesn't matter. It happens every day."

"And it puts a visitor on an agreeable footing at once. You _can't_
keep up any stiffness or formality, when what you took for a
drawing-room turns itself into a skating rink."

"Quite so," said Rickman, "and if you fall, it breaks the ice." He was
entering shyly into her humour. "I'm afraid my be-h-haviour wasn't
quite so h-happy and spontaneous as it might have been."

"I assure you it was extremely naive and natural, as far as it went,"
said Kitty, laughing.

"I think you were very clever to keep your balance," said Lucia.

"Too clever by half. If you'd been a really genial person, Mr.
Rickman, you'd have lost it."

Thus lightly did they cover his confusion, thus adroitly turn the
malignant hand of circumstance.

"Kitty," said Lucia, "I don't want to hurry you, but it's past nine,
and you'll _have_ to hurry if you don't want to be late."

"But I do want to be late. I mean to be late. I can't eat sandwiches
for more than two hours."

And Kitty flung herself on her settee again in crosslegged,
unpremeditated ease, and there she conversed with Mr. Rickman as if
she had known him all her life. Kitty was amused at last.

So was Mr. Rickman. He found himself answering with appropriate
light-heartedness; he heard himself laughing in the manner of one
infinitely at ease. It was impossible to be anything else in Kitty
Palliser's society. He was, in fact, surprised. Though it was only by
immense expenditure of thought and effort that he managed to secure
the elusive aspirate, still he secured it. Never for a moment did he
allow himself to be cheated into the monstrous belief that its absence
was, or could be unperceived.

But though he was grateful to Miss Palliser, he wished all the time
that she would go. At last she rose and drew her fur-collared cloak
about her with a slow, reluctant air.

"Well, I suppose I must be off. I shall be back before eleven, Lucy.
Good-night, Mr. Rickman, if I don't see you again."

He was alone with Lucia Harden.

It was one thing to be alone with Lucia Harden in the library or on
Harcombe Moor, and quite another thing to be left with her in that
lamp-lit, fire-lit room. The library belonged to her race and to their
historic past; the moor to nature and to all time; this room to her
and to the burning present. There was no sign or suggestion of another
presence.

A kindly room (barring that parquet floor!); a beautiful room; full of
warm lights, and broad and pleasing shadows; furnished with an extreme
simplicity, such bareness as musicians love. He was struck by that
absence of all trivial decoration, all disturbing and irrelevant
detail. In such a room, the divinity of the human form was not dwarfed
or obscured by excess of furniture. Such a room, he reflected, was
also eminently disadvantageous to any figure that was not entirely
sure of its divinity. But for two persons who desired to know each
other better there couldn't be a better place. It left them so
securely, so intimately alone.

For the first time, then, he was alone with Lucia Harden.

She had risen and had unlocked a drawer in the writing-table near her,
and taken out the thick pile of manuscript. He noticed that she
detached from it some loose pencilled sheets and put them back into
the drawer. She seated herself in her old place and signed to him to
take the low chair beside her.

He approached her (for the first time) without nervousness or
embarrassment; for he saw his _Helen_ lying on her knees and knew that
she held his dreams in her soul. He had made her acquainted with the
best and highest in him, and she would judge him by that alone. In her
sight his genius would stand apart from all in him that was jarring
and obscure. It at least was untouched by the accident of his birth,
the baseness of his false position.

"I sent for you," said she, "because I wanted to talk to you about
this, while it is all fresh in my mind. I thought we could talk better
here."

"Thanks. I want awfully to know what you have to say."

"I can't have anything to say that you don't know already."

"I--I know nothing." (What a hypocrite he felt as he said it!)

"Nor I. As far as knowledge goes I haven't any right to speak.
Only--the other evening, you expressed such absolute disbelief in
yourself--"

"I was perfectly sincere."

"I know you were. That's what made me believe in you."

(Well then, if _that_ was what made her believe in him he would
continue to express disbelief in himself.)

She paused. "It's the little men, isn't it, the men of talent, that
are always so self-conscious and so sure? I don't know much about it,
but it seems to me that genius isn't bound to be like that. It might
be so different from your ordinary self that you couldn't be aware of
it in the ordinary way. There would always be a sort of divine
uncertainty about it."

"I'm afraid I don't agree with you. All the great geniuses have been
not only aware of themselves, but most uncommonly certain."

"Still, their genius may have been the part of themselves they
understood least. If they had tried to understand it, they would have
doubted too."

"There's something in that. You mean genius understands
everything--except itself?

"I think that's what I meant."

"Yes; but whether genius understands itself or not, whatever it does,
you see, it doesn't doubt."

"Doesn't it? Have you read Keats' letters? _He_ doubted."

"Only when he was in love with Fanny Brawne."

He paused abruptly. He was seized by an idea, a rushing irresistible
idea that lifted him off his feet and whirled him suddenly into a
region of light, tumultuous and profound. Keats was in love when he
doubted. Could that be the explanation of his own misgiving?

"That," he said hastily, "that's another thing altogether. Any way, if
you don't believe in yourself, you'll have some difficulty in making
other people believe in you."

"And if other people _do_ believe in you, before you believe in
yourself?"

"Before? It might be done before, but not after. You may make a man
conceited, but you can't give him back the conceit he had on Saturday,
if he's lost it all by Monday."

"That means that you know you've written a beautiful thing and you
only think you'll never write another."

"Perhaps it does." (He had to keep it up for the pleasure of hearing
her say she believed in him.)

"Well, I don't suppose you will write another _Helen in Leuce_."

"I'm afraid not." He went on to tell her that the wonder was how he
wrote the thing at all. It had been done anyhow, anywhere, in
successive bursts or spasms of creative energy; the circumstances of
his life (he referred to them with some diffidence) not being exactly
favourable to sustained effort. "How did _you_ feel about it?" he
inquired.

"I can hardly tell you. I think I felt as you feel about anything
beautiful that comes to you for the first time. I don't know what it
is you've done. It's as if something had been done to me, as if I'd
been given a new sense. It's like hearing Beethoven or Wagner for the
first time." As she spoke she saw the swift blood grow hot in his
face, she saw the slight trembling of the hand that propped his chin
and she thought, "Poor fellow, so much emotion for a little praise?"

"What did you mean by it?" she said.

He considered a moment--as who should say "What the dickens did I mean
by it?"

Lucia leaned back now, for the first time, in the breathing space he
gave her, attentively watching the man she proposed to make her
secretary; and as she watched him she found herself defending him
against her own criticism. If he dropped his aitches it was not
grossly as the illiterate do; she wouldn't go so far as to say he
_dropped_ them; he slipped them, slided them; it was no more than a
subtle slur, a delicate elision. And that only in the commoner words,
the current coin of his world. He was as right as possible, she
noticed, in all words whose acquaintance he had made on his own
account. And his voice--his voice pleaded against her prejudice with
all its lyric modulations. Much may be forgiven to such voices. And
there were other points in his favour.

Kitty was right. He was nice to look at. She was beginning to know the
changes of his face; she liked it best when, as now, its features
became suddenly subtle and serious and straight. At the moment his
eyes, almost opaque from the thickness of their blue, were dull under
the shadow of the eye-bone. But when he grew excited (as he frequently
did) they had a way of clearing suddenly, they flashed first colour at
you, then light, then fire. That was what they were doing now; for now
he let himself go.

His Helen, he said, was the eternal Beauty, the eternal Dream. Beauty
perpetually desirous of incarnation, perpetually unfaithful to flesh
and blood; the Dream that longs for the embrace of reality, that
wanders never satisfied till it finds a reality as immortal as itself.
Helen couldn't stay in the house of Theseus, or the house of Menelaus
or the house of Priam. Theseus was a fool if he thought he would take
her by force, and Paris was a fool if he thought he could keep her for
pleasure; and Menelaus was the biggest fool of all if he expected her
to bear him children and to mind his house. They all do violence to
the divinity in her, and she vindicates it by eluding them. Her
vengeance is the vengeance of an immortal made victim to mortality.
Helen of Argos and Troy is the Dream divorced from reality.

"Yes--yes. I see." She leaned back in her chair, fascinated, while the
wonderful voice went on, covering its own offences with exquisite
resonances and overtones.

"This divorce is the cause of all the evil that can happen to men and
women. Because of it Helen becomes an instrument in the hands of
Aphrodite--Venus Genetrix--do you see? She's the marriage-breaker, the
destroyer of men. She brings war and pestilence and death. She is the
supreme illusion. But _Helen in Leuce_ is the true Helen. In Leuce,
you know, she appears as she is, in her divine form, freed from the
tyranny of perpetual incarnation. I can't explain it, but that's the
idea. Don't you see how the chorus in praise of Aphrodite breaks off
into a prayer for deliverance from her? And at the end I make Athene
bring Helen to Achilles, who was her enemy in Troy.--That's part of
the idea, too."

"And Achilles?"

"Achilles is strength, virility, indestructible _will_."

It seemed that while trivial excitement corrupted, intense feeling
purified his speech, and as he pronounced these words every accent was
irreproachable. A lyric exaltation seemed to have seized him as it had
seized him in the reading of Sophocles.

"The idea is reconciliation, the wedding of the Dream to reality. I
haven't made up my mind whether the last chorus will be the
Epithalamium or the Hymn to Pallas Athene."

He paused for reflection, and in reflection the lyric rapture died.
He added pensively. "The 'Ymn, I think."

Lucia averted her ardent gaze before the horror in his young blue
eyes. They were the eyes of some wild winged creature dashed down from
its soaring and frenzied by the fall. Lucia could have wept for him.

"Then this," said she, feigning an uninterrupted absorption in the
manuscript, "this is not what my cousin saw?"

"No, h--he only saw the first draft of the two first Acts. It was
horribly stiff and cold. He said it was classical; I don't know what
he'd say it is now. I began it that way, and it finished itself this
way, and then I re-wrote the beginning."

"I see. I see. Something happened to you." As she spoke she still kept
her eyes fixed on the manuscript, as if she were only reading what was
written there. "You woke up--in the middle of the second Act, wasn't
it?--and came to life. You heard the world--the real world--calling to
you, and Helen and Achilles and all the rest of them turned to flesh
and blood on your hands."

"Yes," he said, "they were only symbols and I'd no notion what they
meant till they left off meaning it."

She looked from the manuscript to him. "You know in your heart you
_must_ be certain of yourself. And yet--I suspect the trouble with you
is that _your_ dream is divorced from reality."

He stared in amazement at the young girl who thus interpreted him to
herself. At this rate he saw no end to her powers of divination. There
were depths in his life where her innocence could not penetrate, but
she had seized on the essential. It had been as she had said. That
first draft was the work of the young scholar poet, the adorer of
classic form, the dreamer who found in his dreams escape from the
grossness of his own lower nature and from the brutalities of the
world he lived in. A great neo-classic drama was to be his protest
against modernity and actuality. Then came an interval of a year in
which he learnt many things that are not to be found in books, or
adequately expressed through neo-classic drama; and the thing was
finished and re-written at a time when, as she had said, something
had happened to him; when that same gross actual world was making its
claims felt through all his senses. And he was suffering now the deep
melancholy of perspicuous youth, unable to part with its dreams but
aware that its dreams are hopelessly divorced from reality. That was
so; but how on earth did she know it?

"It's hardly a divorce," he said, laughing. "I think it's separation
by mutual consent."

"That's a pity," said she, "life is so lovable."

"I don't always find it either lovable or loving. But then it's life
in a fifth-rate boarding-house in Bloomsbury--if you know what that
is."

She did not know what that was, and her silence suggested that she
conceived it to be something too unpleasant to discuss with him.

"I work eight hours a day in my father's shop--"

"And when your work is done?"

"I go back to the boarding-house and dine."

"And after dinner?"

Mr. Rickman became visibly embarrassed. "Oh, after dinner, there are
the streets, and the theatres, and--and things."

"Nothing else?"

"Nothing. Except a club I belong to."

"That's something, isn't it? You make friends."

"I don't know anybody in it, except Mr. Jewdwine; and I don't really
know him. It's the shop, you know. You forget the shop."

"No I don't forget it; but I wish you would. If only you could get
away from it, away from everything. If you could get away from London
altogether for a while."

"If--if? I shall never get away."

"Why not? I've been thinking it over. I wonder whether things could
not be made a little easier for you? You ought to make your peace with
the world, you know. Supposing you could go and live where the world
happens to be beautiful, in Rome or Florence or Venice, wouldn't that
reconcile you to reality?"

"It might. But I don't see how I'm to go and live there. You see
there's the shop. There always is the shop."

"Would it be impossible to leave it for a little while?"

"Not impossible, perhaps; but"--he smiled, "well--highly imprudent."

"But if something else were open to you?"

"Nothing else is, at present. Most doors seem closed pretty tight
except the one marked Tradesmen's Entrance."

"You can't 'arrive' by that."

"Not, I admit, with any dignity. My idea was to walk up the
steps--there are a great many steps, I know--to the big front door and
keep on knocking at it till they let me in."

"I'm afraid the front door isn't always open very early in the day.
But there may be side doors."

"I don't know where to find them. And if I did, they would be bolted,
too."

"Not the one I am thinking of. Would you like to go abroad, to Italy?"

"There are a great many things I should like to do, and not the
remotest chance of doing them."

"Supposing that you got the chance, some way--even if it wasn't quite
the best way--would you take it?"

"The chance? I wish I saw one!"

"I think I told you I was going abroad to join my father. We shall be
in Italy for some time. When we are settled, in Rome, for the winter,
I shall want a secretary. I'm thinking of editing my grandfather's
unpublished writings, and I can't do this without a scholar's help. It
struck me that if you want to go abroad, and nothing better turns up,
you might care to take this work for a year. For the sake of seeing
Italy."

Seeing Italy? Italy that he had once desired with all his heart to
see. And now it was nothing to him that he would see Italy; the point
was that he would see her. Talk of open doors! It was dawning on him
that the door of heaven was being opened to him. He could say nothing.
He leaned forward staring at his own loosely clasped hands.

She mistook his silence for hesitation, and it was her turn to become
diffident and shy. "The salary would not be very large, I'm afraid--"

The salary? He smiled. She had opened the door of heaven for him and
she actually proposed to pay him for walking in!

"But there would be no expenses, and you would have space and time. I
should not want your help for more than three or four hours in the
morning. After that you would be absolutely free."

And still he said nothing. But the fine long nervous hands tortured
each other in their clasp. So this was what came of keeping up the
farce?

"Of course," she said, "you must think it over."

"Miss Harden, I don't know how to thank you. I don't know what to
say."

"Don't say anything. Think."

"I don't know what to think."

But he was thinking hard; trying to realize where he was and what was
being proposed to him. To have entertained the possibility of such a
proposal in the middle of last week would have argued that he was
drunk. And here he was indubitably, conspicuously sober. Sober? Well,
not exactly. He ought never to have taken that little cup of black
coffee! Was there any difference between drinking champagne with Miss
Poppy Grace and drinking coffee with Lucia Harden, when the effect was
so indistinguishably the same? Or rather, for completeness and
splendour of hallucination there was no comparison. He was drunk,
drunk as he had never been drunk before, most luminously, most
divinely intoxicated with that little cup of black coffee.

And yet her scheme was entirely in keeping with that ideal and
fantastic world he lived in; a world which in the last six days had
yet, for him, the illusion of reality. He was aware that it _was_
illusion. An illusion which she blindly shared.

He was overcome by the appalling extent of his knowledge and her
ignorance. She thought she was rich; he knew that she was in all
probability poor. She thought a hundred a year (or thereabouts) an
insignificant sum; he knew that before long she might have less than
that to live on. She thought herself at the present moment a wise and
understanding woman. He knew that she was a child. A child playing
with its own beautiful imagination.

He wondered how much of him she understood. Should he tell her that
she did not understand him at all; that she was engaging as her
private secretary a young man who drank, who was quite shockingly
drunk no longer ago than the middle of last week; a young man who was
an intimate friend of a lady whom it was impossible to describe
accurately in her presence? Or did she understand him better than he
understood himself? Had she, with her child's innocence, the divine
lucidity of a child? Did she fail to realize his baser possibilities
because they were the least real part of him? Or was she, in this,
ideal and fantastic too?

Whichever it was, her fascination was so persuasive that he found
himself yielding to her proposal as if it were the most natural thing
in the world. He accepted it as humbly, as gratefully, as gravely, as
if it were a thing actually in her power to bestow. If he could have
suspected her of any intention to patronize him, he could not have
resented it, knowing as he did its pathetic impotence.

"I know it isn't the best way," she said, "but it _is_ a way.

"It's a glorious way."

"I don't know about the glory. But you will see Florence and Venice
and Rome, and they are glorious."

Yes, he would see them, if she said so. Why not? In this ideal and
fantastic world, could any prospect be more ideal and fantastic than
another?

"And you will have plenty of time to yourself. You will be a great
deal alone. Too much alone perhaps. You must think of that. It might
really be better for you to stay in London where you are beginning to
make friends."

Was she trying to break it to him as gently, as delicately as possible
that there would be no intimacy between him and her? That as her
private secretary his privacy would be painfully unbroken?

She saw it and corrected herself. "Friends, I mean, who may be able to
help you more. You must choose between the two advantages. It will be
a complete break with your old life."

"That would be the best thing that could happen to me."

This time she did not see. "Well--don't be in a hurry. There isn't any
hurry. Remember, it means a whole year out of your life."

A whole year out of his life? Was that the way she looked at it?

Yes. She was giving him his chance; but she did not conceive herself
to be giving him anything more. She understood him sufficiently to
trust him; her insight went so far and no farther. She actually
believed that there could be a choice for him between seeing her every
day for a whole year and never seeing her again. Evidently she had not
the remotest conception of his state of mind. He doubted whether it
could have occurred to her to allow for the possibility of her private
secretary falling in love with her in the innermost privacy of his
secretaryship. He saw that hers was not the order of mind that
entertains such possibilities on an intimate footing. She was
generous, large-sighted; he understood that she would let herself be
carried away on the superb sweep of the impersonal, reckless of
contingencies. He also understood that with this particular private
secretary she would consider herself safe. The social difference was
as much her protection as some preposterous incompatibility of age.
And as if that were not enough, in their thoughts they were so akin
that she might feel herself guarded from him by some law of spiritual
consanguinity.

"Oh, my life--" he said with a queer short laugh that sounded like a
sob,--"well, I must be getting back to my work."

"You are _not_ going to work again to-night?"

"I must." Yet he did not get up to go. He seemed to be waiting to say
something. "I--I haven't thanked you. I don't know how to."

"Don't try. I've done nothing. There is little that one person can do
for another."

"There's something that you might do for me--some day--if I might
ask--if you would."

"What is that?"

She followed his gaze as it travelled into the depth of the room
beyond the circle of the lamp-light, where the grand piano stood. Its
keyboard shone in an even band of white, its massive body merged in
the gleaming darkness.

"If you would play to me--some day."

"I will play to you with pleasure." Her voice sounded as if she were
breathing more freely; perhaps she had wondered what on earth he was
going to say. "Now, if you like."

Why not? If she had enjoyed his music, had he not a right to enjoy
hers? Why should she not give him that little pleasure, he who had so
few?

"What shall I play?"

"I should like to hear that thing you were playing the other night."

"Let me think. Oh, the Sonata Appassionata."

"Yes, if it isn't too late." The moment he had said it he reflected
that that was a scruple that might have been better left to the lady.

He watched her grey-white figure departing into the dusk of the room.
He longed to follow, but some fear restrained him. He remained where
he was, leaning back in the deep chair under the lamp while she sat
down there in the dusk, playing to him the Sonata Appassionata.

The space around the lamp grew dim to him; she had gathered into
herself all the whiteness of the flame; the music was a part of her
radiance, it was the singing of her pulses, the rhythm of her breath.

When she had stopped playing he rose and held out his hand to say
good-night.

"Thank you. I don't think so badly of my life now. You've given me one
perfect moment."

"Are you so fond of music?"

She was about to ring when he prevented her.

"Please don't ring. I can find my way. I'd rather."

She judged that he desired to keep the perfection of his moment
unimpaired. She understood his feeling about it, for the Sonata
Appassionata is a most glorious and moving composition, and she had
played it well.

It was true that he desired to be alone; and he took advantage of his
solitude to linger in the picture gallery. He went down the double
row of portraits that began with Sir Thomas, the maker of madrigals,
and ended with Sir Frederick, the father of Lucia. He paused at each,
searching for Lucia's likeness in the likeness of those dead and gone
gentlemen and ladies; gentlemen with grave and intellectual faces,
some peevish, others proud (rather like Jewdwine), ladies with faces
joyous, dreamy, sad, voluptuous, tender and insipid, faces alike only
in their indestructible racial distinction. Lucia had taken nothing
from them but what was beautiful and fine; hers was the deep-drawn
unconscious beauty of the race; beauty of flesh and blood purified,
spiritualized in its passage through the generations, beauty that
gives the illusion of eternity, being both younger and older than the
soul. It was as if Nature had become Art in the making of Lucia,
forming her by the subtlest processes of selection and rejection.

Having gone the round of the gallery, he paused before the modern
portraits which brought him again to the door of the drawing-room. Sir
Frederick held him with his joyous satyr-face, for it was curiously,
incredibly like his daughter's (to be sure, Sir Frederick had blue
eyes and reddish hair, which made a difference). His eyebrows had a
far-off hint of her; she lingered in the tilted corners of his mouth
and eyes. And if there could be any likeness between a thing so gross
and a thing so spiritual, his upper lip took a sweep that suggested
Lucia's with its long-drawn subtle curve.

He was startled out of these reflections by the opening of the door.
Lucia stood beside him. She had a lamp in her hand which she raised
for an instant, so that the light fell full upon the portrait. Her own
face appeared as if illuminated from within by the flaming spirit of
love.

"That is my father," she said simply, and passed on.

He looked again at the portrait, but the likeness had vanished. In the
frank sensuality of Sir Frederick's crimson smirk he could find no
affinity to Lucia's grave and tender smile.

"There are some things," he said to himself, "that she could never
see."




CHAPTER XXV


If Lucia was not, as her father had pronounced her, the worst educated
young woman in Europe, there was a sense (not intended by Sir
Frederick) in which her education might be called incomplete. She had
learnt the things that she liked, and she had left unlearnt the things
that she did not like. It was the method of discreet skipping; and it
answered so well in the world of books that she had applied it to the
world of men and women. She knew the people she liked, and she left
unknown those whom she did not like. Here in Harmouth her peculiar art
or instinct of selection earned for her, as Kitty Palliser had lately
told her, the character of exclusiveness. This, by the way was family
tradition again. From time immemorial there had been a certain
well-recognized distance between Court House and the little Georgian
town. And when Harmouth was discovered by a stock-broker and became a
watering-place, and people began to talk about Harmouth society, Court
House remained innocently unaware that anything of the sort existed.
Lucia selected her friends elsewhere with such supreme fastidiousness
that she could count them on the fingers of one hand, her instinct,
like all great natural gifts, being entirely spontaneous and
unconscious.

And now it seemed she had added Mr. Savage Keith Rickman to the list.
She owned quite frankly that in spite of everything she liked him.

But Rickman was right. Lucia with all her insight had not the remotest
conception of his state of mind. The acquaintance had arisen quite
naturally out of her desire to please Horace, and if on this there
supervened a desire to please Mr. Rickman, there was not a particle
of vanity in it. She had no thought of being Mr. Rickman's
inspiration; her attitude to his genius was humbly reverent, her
attitude to his manhood profoundly unconscious. She had preserved a
most formidable innocence. There had been nothing in Horace Jewdwine's
slow and well-regulated courtship to stir her senses, or give her the
smallest inkling of her own power that way. Kitty's suggestion seemed
to her preposterous; it was only the Kittishness of Kitty, and could
have no possible application to herself.

All this was not humility on her part--nothing of the sort. So far
from being humble, Miss Lucia Harden held the superb conviction that
any course she adopted was consecrated by her adoption. It was as if
she had been aware that her nature was rich, and that she could afford
to do what other women couldn't; "there were ways," she would say, "of
doing them."

And in Mr. Savage Keith Rickman she had divined a nature no less
generously gifted. He could afford to take what she could afford to
offer; better still, he would take just so much and no more. With some
people certain possibilities were moral miracles; and her instinct
told her that this man's mind was incapable of vulgar misconception.
She was safe with him. These things she pondered during that brief
time when Rickman lingered in the portrait gallery.

He saw her again that night for yet another moment. Lucia was called
back into the picture gallery by the voice of Kitty Palliser, whose
return coincided with his departure. Kitty, from the safe threshold of
the drawing-room, looked back after his retreating figure.

"Poor darling, he has dressed himself with care."

"He always does. He has broken every literary convention."

Lucia drew Kitty into the room and shut the door.

"Has he been trying any more experiments in diminished friction on
polished surfaces?"

"No; there was a good deal more repose about him after you left. The
friction was decidedly diminished. What do you think of him?"

"Oh, I rather like the way he drops his aitches. It gives a pathetic
piquancy to his conversation."

"Don't Kitty."

"I won't. But, after all, how do we know that this young man is not a
fraud?"

"How do we know anything?"

"Oh, if you're going to be metaphysical, _I_'m off to my little bed."

"Not yet, Kitty. Sit down and toast your toes. I want to talk to you."

"All right, fire away."

But Lucia hesitated; Kitty was in an unpropitious mood.

"What do you think I've done?" she said.

Kitty's green eyes danced merrily; but in spite of their mockery Lucia
told her tale.

"It was the best I could do," said she.

Kitty's eyes had left off dancing.

"Lucia, you _can't_. It's impossible. You must _not_ go on being so
kind to people. Remember, dear, if he is a heaven-born genius, he's
not--he really _is_ not a gentleman."

"I know. I've thought of that. But if he isn't a gentleman, he isn't
the other thing. He's something by himself.

"I admit he's a genius, but--he drops his aitches."

"He doesn't drop half as many as he did. He only does it when he's
flustered. And I won't let him be flustered. I shall be very kind to
him."

"Oh," groaned Kitty, "there's no possible doubt about that."

"On the whole I think I'm rather glad he isn't a gentleman. He would
be much more likely to get in my way if he were. I don't believe this
little man would get in my way. He's got eyes at the back of his head,
and nerves all over him; he'd see in a minute when I didn't want him.
He'd see it before I did, and be off."

"You don't know. You might have to be very unpleasant to him before
you said good-bye."

"No, I should never have to be unpleasant to him; because he would
know that would be very unpleasant for me."

"All this might mean that he was a gentleman; but I'm afraid it only
means that he's a genius."

"Genius of that sort," said Lucia, "comes to very much the same
thing." And Kitty reluctantly admitted that it did. She sat silent for
some minutes gazing into the fire.

"Lucia, does it never occur to you that in your passion for giving
pleasure you may be giving a great deal of pain?"

"It doesn't occur to me that I'm giving either in this case; and it
will not occur to him. He knows I'm only giving him his chance. I owe
it him. Kitty--when you only think what I've done. I've taken this
wonderful, beautiful, delicate thing and set it down to the most
abominable drudgery for three weeks. No wonder he was depressed. And I
took his Easter from him--Kitty--think--his one happy breathing-time
in the whole hateful year."

"Whitsuntide and Christmas yet remain."

"They're not at all the same thing."

"That's you, Lucy, all over; you bagged his Bank Holiday, and you
think you've got to give him a year in Italy to make up."

"Not altogether to make up."

"Well, I don't know what to say. There's no doubt you can do a great
many things other women can't; still, it certainly seems a risky thing
to do."

"How risky?"

"I don't want to be coarse, but--I'm not humbugging this
time--supposing, merely supposing--he falls in love with you, what
then?"

"But he won't."

"How do you know?"

"Because he's in love already, in love with perfection."

"But as he'll be sure to identify perfection with you--"

"He will see very little of me."

"Then he's all the more likely to."

"Kitty, _am_ I the sort of woman who allows that sort of thing to
happen--with that sort of man?"

"My dear, you're the sort of woman who treats men as if they were
disembodied spirits, and that's the most dangerous sort I know. If
I'm not mistaken Mr. Savage Keith Rickman's spirit is very much
embodied."

"What _is_ the good of trying to make me uncomfortable when it's all
settled? I can't go back on my word."

"No, I suppose you've got to stick to it. Unless, of course, your
father interferes."

"Father never interferes. Did you ever know him in his life refuse me
anything I wanted?"

"I can't say I ever did." Kitty's tone intimated that perhaps it would
have been better if he sometimes had. "Still, Sir Frederick objects
strongly to people who interfere with him, and he may not care to have
the young Savage poet, or poet Savage, hanging about."

"Father? He won't mind a bit. He says he's going to take part of the
Palazzo Barberini for six months. It's big enough to hold fifty
poets."

"Not big enough to hold one like Mr. Savage Keith Rickman." Kitty rose
to her feet; she stood majestic, for the spirit of prophecy was upon
her; she gathered herself together for the deliverance of her soul.
"You say he won't be in the way. He will. He'll be most horribly in
the way. He'll go sliding and falling all over the place, and dashing
cups of coffee on the marble floor of the Palazzo; he'll wind his feet
in the tails of your best gowns, not out of any malice, but in sheer
nervous panic; he'll do unutterable things with soup--I can see him
doing them."

"I can't."

"No. I know you can't. I don't say you've no imagination; but I _do_
say you're deficient in a certain kind of profane fancy."




CHAPTER XXVI


It was extraordinary; if he had given himself time to reflect on it he
might even have considered it uncanny, the peace that had settled on
him with regard to the Harden Library.

It remained absolutely unshaken by the growing agitation of his
father's letters. Isaac wrote reproachfully, irritably, frantically,
and received only the briefest, most unsatisfactory replies. "I can't
tell you anything more than I have. But I wouldn't be in a hurry to
make any arrangements with Pilkington, if I were you." Not the
smallest reference to the Aldine Plato, the Neapolitan Horace or the
_Aurea Legenda_ of Wynkyn de Worde.

Why indeed should he trouble himself? He couldn't understand his
father's state of mind. He had now a positive intuition that Sir
Frederick would recover in the manner of a gentleman whose motto was
_Invictus_; an infinite assurance was conveyed by that tilted
faun-like smile. He even found himself believing in his own delightful
future as Miss Harden's private secretary, so entirely had he
submitted to the empire of divine possibility.

Meanwhile he redoubled his attentions to the catalogue. (Could there
be anything more unreasonable than that catalogue _raisonne_?) He had
frequently got up and worked at it for an hour or two before
breakfast, lifted out of bed by the bounding of his heart. But whereas
he had been in the habit of leaving it at any time between nine
o'clock and midnight, he now sat up with it till the small hours of
the morning. This extreme devotion was necessary if he was to finish
it by the twenty-seventh. It was now the fifteenth.

He had told Miss Harden that he could work better by himself, and
apparently she had taken him at his word; she had left him to finish
the catalogue alone. As it happened he didn't work a bit better by
himself. What with speculating on the chance of her appearing,
listening for her voice and her footsteps on the stairs, or the
distant sound of her playing, to say nothing of his desperate efforts
not to stare out of the windows when he knew her to be in the garden,
Lucia absent was even more disturbing than Lucia on the spot. He tried
to console himself with the reflection that she was no longer
overworking herself; and herein appeared the great purity and
self-abnegation of Mr. Rickman's love. Rather than see her making
herself ill, he was actually manoeuvring so as not to see her at all.
He kept his vigils secret, having a suspicion that if she heard of
them she would insist on returning to her hideous task.

To this end he devised an ingenious system of deceit. He left off work
for an hour every afternoon, alleging his need of air and exercise. He
then asked permission to sit up a little later than usual by way of
making good the time thus lost. He knew that by eleven the lights
would be out, and Lucia and the servants all in bed. He demanded black
coffee to keep him awake and the key of the side door to let himself
out. All on the understanding that he would leave the house by
half-past eleven or twelve at the latest. He could thus put in a good
five hours extra without any one being any the wiser; and four o'clock
would find Mr. Rickman stealing back to his hotel over the grey and
dewy grass.

For three days and three nights love's miraculous energy sustained
him. On the fourth night he was overcome by a slight fatigue, and at
one o'clock he lay down on the hearth rug to sleep, registering in his
brain his intention to wake punctually at two.

And for three days and three nights Lucia hardly gave a thought to Mr.
Rickman. She was busy with preparations for her departure, trying to
see as much of Kitty Palliser as possible, and thinking a great deal
of that adorable father whom she would meet on the twenty-seventh.

Lucia's room, as Mr. Rickman knew, was in the west wing, over the
south-west end of the library, and from her window she could see the
pale yellow green shaft of light that Mr. Rickman's lamp flung across
the lawn. The clock on the stable belfry struck the hours one by one,
and Lucia, fast asleep, never knew that the shaft of light lay there
until the dawn.

On the fourth night, the night of Thursday, the fifteenth, Lucia did
not sleep so well. She dreamed, but her dreams were too light and
transparent to veil the reality that lay on the waking side of them.
Three times that night she started on her journey to Cannes, three
times she missed her train, and three times she said to herself, "It's
only a dream, so of course it doesn't matter." When, after prodigious
efforts extending over interminable time, she found herself on
Harmouth platform, shuddering in her nightgown before a whole train
full of people, she was not in the least disconcerted, because of her
perception of that reality behind her dream; no, not even when Mr.
Rickman appeared just as she was saying to herself, "It doesn't
matter. This is only the fifteenth and I don't really start till the
twenty-sixth." His presence was so transparent, so insubstantial, that
it didn't seem to matter either. He said, "Miss 'Arden, you've made a
miscalculation. You must start this minute if you're to be there in
time." His statement seemed to her to be founded on some solid
reality; but when she asked him what he was doing there, he spoilt it
all by saying that as private secretary he was in charge of the
expedition. By that, and by something unnatural and absurd in his
appearance, she knew that she was dreaming. Then, for more time than
she could measure, she lay watching herself dream, with a curious
sense of being able to foretell and control the fantastic procession
of events.

And now she was aware of something that moved with their movement, a
trouble or a terror that hovered out there, not on the waking border
but in the region of reality that lay on the other side. Almost
discernible behind the transparent insubstantial walls of sleep, it
waited to break through them and invade her dream. For refuge from it
she plunged deeper into her dream. She came out walking on a terrace
of grey grass set with strange clusters of swords, sharp-pointed and
double-edged. Tall grey trees shot up into a grey white sky; they
were coated with sharp scales, grey and toothed like the scales of a
shark's skin; and some bore yet more swords for branches, slender and
waving swords; and some, branchless, were topped with heads of curled
scimitars, the blades pointing downwards. All these scaly, spiky,
two-edged things stood out piercing and distinct against the grey; and
she knew that they were aloes and palm-trees, and that she had come to
the end of her journey and was walking in the garden of the Villa des
Palmes. And the thing she dreaded was still waiting a little way
beyond the garden, beyond the insubstantial walls; it was looking for
her, crying after her, it stretched out its arms to draw her from her
sleep.

A little twilight wind came creeping over the grey grass, it covered
her feet like water, it rose higher and higher above the sword points
of the aloes, and she sank in it and floated, floated and sank. And
now it tossed and rolled and shook the palm-trees till all their
blades rattled like steel; and beyond the wind she heard the calling
of the thing she feared, the thing that had hunted her from dream to
dream. She feared it no longer; she too was looking and crying; all
her desire was to find what she had feared; to answer it, to see it
face to face. Her body was clasped tight by the arms of the wind; yet
her yearning was so strong that she struggled with them and flung them
from her, breaking through the bonds and barriers of sleep.

Lucia was awake and accounting for her dream. The weather had changed
in the night, and a cold wind was rushing through the open window on
to her bed. She had been lying with her feet uncovered, and the
bed-clothes heaped on to her chest. She had been waked by the rattling
of a loosened lattice in the room below. She got out of bed and looked
out of the window. There was a vast movement in the sky, as if the
darkness were being visibly upheaved and rolled away westwards by the
wind. Over the garden was the dense grey blackness of an obliterated
dawn. The trees, not yet detached from the ground of night, showed
like monstrous skeletons of the whole immense body of gloom, while the
violent rocking of their branches made them one with that dark and
wandering tumult of cloud and wind.

The shaft of light no longer lay upon the lawn; Mr. Rickman's lamp
was out; therefore, she argued, Mr. Rickman had gone; having, in the
recklessness of his genius, forgotten to close the library windows.

One of the west windows creaked and crashed by turns as it swung
heavily in its leaded frame. Lucia put on her dressing gown and
slippers, threw a light shawl about her shoulders, and went down to
fasten the lattice. A small swinging lamp gave light to the hall and
staircase. A gleam followed her into the library; it lay in a pool
behind her, its thin stream lost in the blackness of the floor. She
could distinguish nothing in the room but the three dim white busts on
their dusky pedestals. Behind the latticework the window panes were
like chequered sheets of liquid twilight let down over the face of the
night.

The wind held the open lattice backwards, and she had some difficulty
in reaching the hasp. A shallow gust ran over the floor, chilling her
half-naked feet. As she leaned out on the sill a great fear came over
her, the fear that had always possessed her in childhood at the coming
and passing of the night. As she struggled with the lattice, she had a
sense of pulling it against some detaining hand. It swung slowly round
and the figure of a man slid with it side-long, and stood behind it
looking in. The figure seemed to lean forward out of the darkness; its
face, pressed close against the panes, was vivid, as if seen in a
strong daylight. She saw the flame of its red moustache and hair, the
flicker of its faun-like tilted smile. Its eyes were fixed piercingly
on hers.

It stood so for the space of six heart-beats. The window slipped from
her hand and swung back on its hinges. The cloud was heaved from the
edges of the world, and face and figure were wiped out by the great
grey sweep of the dawn. Lucia (strangely as it seemed to her
afterwards) was not startled by the apparition, but by the aspect of
the world it had appeared in. She stood motionless, as if afraid of
waking her own fear; she caught the lattice, drew it towards her and
deliberately secured it by the hasp. She turned with relief from the
terrible twilight of the windows to the darkness of the room. She
crossed it with slow soft footsteps, lest she should give her terror
the signal to pursue.

There was a slight stir on the hearth as a mound of ashes sank and
broke asunder, opening its dull red heart.

Lucia turned in the direction of the sound, came forward and saw that
she was not alone.

Stretched on the rug in front of the fireplace with his feet towards
her lay Mr. Rickman.

Her first feeling was of relief, protection, deliverance. She stood
looking at him, finding comfort in the sheer corporeality of his
presence. But as she looked at him that emotion merged in concern for
Mr. Rickman himself. He lay on his back in a deep sleep; one arm was
flung above his head, the hand brushing back his damp hair; his
forehead was beaded with the thick sweat of exhaustion. He must have
been lying so for hours, having dropped off to sleep when the night
was still warm. He had thrown back his coat and loosened his
shirt-collar, and lay undefended from the draught that raked the
floor. The window at this end of the room had been left open too, and
the fire was almost dead.

Lucia looked doubtfully at the window. She knew its ways; it sagged on
its hinges and was not to be shut without the grating shriek of iron
upon stone. She looked, still more doubtfully, at Mr. Rickman. His
face in the strange light showed white and sharp and pathetically
refined.

And as she looked her heart was filled with compassion for the
helpless sleeper. She moved very softly to the fireplace, where an oak
chest stood open stored with wood; she gathered the embers together
and laid on them a few light logs. The first log dropped through the
ashes to the hearth, and Mr. Rickman heaved a deep sigh and turned on
his side.

Lucia knelt there motionless, till his breathing assured her that he
still slept. With swift noiseless movements she went on building up
the dying fire. The wood crackled; a little flame leapt up, and Mr.
Rickman opened his eyes. For a moment he kept them open, fixed in
sleepy wonder on the woman who knelt beside him by the hearth. He was
obscurely aware that it was Lucia Harden, but his wonder was free from
the more vivid and disturbing element of surprise; for he had been
dreaming about her and was still under the enchantment of his dream.
Never had she seemed more beautiful to him.

Her head was bowed, her face turned from him and shaded by her hair;
and with her hands she tended a dying flame. Her shawl had slipped
from her shoulders, and he saw the delicate curve of her body as she
knelt; it was overlaid by her hair that fell to her hips in a loose
flat braid. He closed his eyes again, feigning abysmal sleep. He kept
guard over his breath, over his eyelids, lest a tremor should startle
her into shame-faced flight. Yet he knew that she had risen and that
her face was set towards him; that she turned from him and then paused
in her going; that she looked at the fire again to make sure of its
burning, and at him to make sure of his sleep (so intently that she
never noticed the white thing which had slipped from her shoulders as
she stood upright); that she stooped to draw his coat more closely
over him. He heard the flowing of her gown, and saw without seeing her
feet shining as she went from him.

And his desire went after her, and the mere bodiless idea of her
became a torment to his body as it had been a joy to his soul.

He took up her shawl which lay there by the hearth and looked at it;
he stroked it, unfolded it, spread it out and looked at it again; he
held it to his face; its whiteness and its tender texture were as
flame to his sight and touch, the scarcely perceptible scent of it
pierced him like a delicate pain. He gathered it up again in a heap
and covered it with kisses. Then, because it made his longing for her
insupportable, he flung it back, that innocent little white shawl, as
if shaking off her touch and her presence.

He rose to his feet and ramped up and down the room savagely, like a
wild animal in a cage. With every thought of Lucia his torment
returned upon him. He tried to think of the whiteness and the beauty
of her soul, and he could think of nothing but the whiteness of her
face and the beauty of her bending body.

He sat down, stretched his arms on the table and laid his miserable
head upon them, all among the pages of the catalogue _raisonne_. He
had passed from his agony of desire to an agony of contrition. He felt
that the very vehemence of his longing was an affront to her white
unconsciousness Up till now he had not admitted that he was "in love"
with Lucia; he was indeed hardly aware of it. He imagined his feeling
for her to be something altogether immaterial and incorruptible. It
now seemed to him that in the last few minutes he had lowered it
almost to the level of the emotion inspired by Miss Poppy Grace. It
was not, and it never could be, what it had been three weeks ago. Why,
he could not even recall his sensations of Easter Sunday, that strange
renewal of his heart's virginity his first vague imperfect vision of
the dawn of love, his joy when he discerned its tender and mysterious
approach. He knew that it held no rights, or held them only on the
most subtle and uncertain tenure, that his soul touched the soul of
Lucia Harden by the extreme tips of its wings stretched to the utmost.
Still his passion for her had been, so far, satisfied by that
difficult and immaterial relationship. He was bound to her by an
immaterial, intangible link.

But he had put an end to that relationship; he had broken the
immaterial, intangible link. It was as if he had given a body to some
delicate and spiritual dream, and destroyed it in a furious embrace.
And in destroying it he had destroyed everything.

Then he reflected that though this deed seemed to belong wholly to the
present moment, it had in reality been done a long time before, when
he first became the slave of that absurd and execrable passion for
Miss Poppy Grace. Rickman the poet had believed in Love, the immortal
and invincible, the highest of high divinities, and as such had
celebrated him in song. But he had been unfortunate in his first
actual experience of him. He had found him, not "pacing Heaven's
golden floor," but staggering across Miss Grace's drawing-room, a most
offensive, fifth-rate, disreputable little god. Of course he knew it
wasn't the same thing, it wasn't the same thing at all. But he was
bound by his past. He had forged a chain of infamous but irresistible
association that degraded love in his eyes, that in his thoughts
degraded _her_. Every hour that he had spent in the little dancer's
society had its kindred with this hour. In his passion for Lucia
Harden there leapt up the passion of that night--that night three
weeks ago. It was then--then--that he had sinned against her.

He had not meant--he had not meant to love her--like that. And yet he
perceived how all along, unremittently, imperceptibly, this passion
had waylaid him and misled him and found him out. It was it that had
drawn him every morning across the fields to Court House, that upheld
him on his giddy perch on the library steps, that chained him to his
chair at the library table and kept him sweating over that abominable
catalogue till four o'clock in the morning. It had looked at him with
so pure and spiritual a face that he had not recognized it. But how
otherwise could he have stayed here for three weeks, fooling with that
unlucky conscience of his; persuading it one minute that he had
nothing to do with Miss Harden, and that her father's affairs were no
business of his, the next that they were so much his business that he
was bound not to betray them; while as for Miss Harden, he had so much
to do with her that it was his duty to stay where he was and protect
her? He had had absolutely no duty in the matter except to tell her
the truth and clear out.

Telling the truth--it ought to have been easy for him who was so
truthful, so passionately sincere. And yet almost anything would have
been easier, for the next step to telling the truth was going away. Of
course he had suffered in staying, but he would have suffered anything
rather than go.

It had been so insidious. His feet had been caught in a net so fine
that he had thought it woven of the hairs split by an exceedingly
acute and subtle conscience. He should have stood still and snapt them
one by one; but he had struggled, until he was so entangled that he
could not get out. And now he perceived that the net which seemed so
fine was the strong net woven by desire. All his subtle reasonings,
his chivalry, his delicacy, his sincerity itself, could be reduced to
this simple and contemptible element. Positively, his whole character,
as he now contemplated it seemed to slip away from him and dissolve in
the irresistible stream, primeval, monstrous, indestructible.

The horror of his position returned upon him, the burden of his
knowledge and her ignorance. If only she knew, if only he could go to
her and tell her everything, all that he knew and all that he guessed!
He was still firm in his conviction that he had no moral right to his
knowledge; it was a thing he almost seemed to have come by
dishonestly. If Miss Harden knew nothing of her father's affairs, it
was to be presumed that they had been purposely kept from her to save
her pain. He had no right to tell her.

No matter, he would tell her, he would tell her this morning, and
having told her, he would go away.

He got up and paced to and fro again. He stood before the open window
till he had chilled himself through; then he came back and cowered
over the fire. A white thing lay by the hearth at his feet, it was
Lucia Harden's shawl, lying crumpled where he had thrown it. It was
the sign and symbol of her presence there. It was also the proof of
it.

How would she feel if she knew that he had been aware of it all the
time? The fact remained that she had risked his waking; there was
comfort for him in that. She had always been kind to him, and he had
never had even a momentary illusion as to the source and the nature of
her kindness. He had taken it, as he had taken her extreme courtesy,
for the measure of the distance that divided them. It showed her
secure in her detachment, her freedom from any intimate thought of
him, from any thought of him at all. But in this last act of kindness
it could hardly be that she had not taken him into consideration. She
could hardly have been pleased if she knew he had been awake, yet she
had risked his waking. Before she risked it she must have credited him
with something of her own simplicity of soul.

And this was how he had repaid her.

He saw her as she had knelt by him, mending the dying fire, as she had
stood looking at him, as she had stooped over him to cover him, and as
she had turned away; and he saw himself, sinning as he had sinned
against her in his heart.

He knew perfectly well that the average man would have felt no
compunction whatever upon this head. To the average man his
imagination (if he has any) is an unreal thing; to Rickman it was the
most real thing about him. It was so young, and in its youth so
ungovernably creative, that it flung out its ideas, as it were, alive
and kicking. It was only partially true of him that his dream was
divorced from reality. For with him the phantoms of the mind (which to
the average man are merely phantoms), projected themselves with a
bodily vividness and violence. Not only had they the colour and
authority of accomplished fact, they were invested with an immortality
denied to facts. His imagination was in this so far spiritual that it
perceived desire to be the eternal soul of the deed, and the deed to
be but the perishing body of desire. From this point of view, conduct
may figure as comparatively unimportant; therefore this point of view
is very properly avoided by the average man.

Rickman, now reduced to the last degree of humility and contrition,
picked up Lucia's shawl very gently and reverently, and folded it with
care, smoothing out the horrid creases he had made in it. He took it
to the other end of the room and laid it over the back of her chair,
so that it might look to Robert as if his mistress had left it there.

Would he see her again that morning? That depended on the amount of
work that remained for her to do. He looked over her table; her tray
was empty, the slips were pinned together in bundles in the way he had
taught her, Section XII, Poetry, was complete. There was nothing now
to keep her in the library. And he had only ten days' work to do. He
might see her once or twice perhaps on those days; but she would not
sit with him, nor work with him, and when the ten days were over she
would go away and he would never see her again.

Then he remembered that he had got to tell her and go away himself, at
once, this very morning.

Meanwhile he sat down and worked till it was time to go back to his
hotel. He worked mechanically, miserably, oppressed alike by his sense
of his own villainy and of the futility of his task. He did not know
how, when it was ended, he was to take up this kind of work again. He
had only been kept up by his joy in her presence, and in her absence
by the hope of her return. But he could not bear to look into a future
in which she had no part.




CHAPTER XXVII


He found a letter from Dicky Pilkington waiting for him at the hotel.
Dicky's subtlety seemed to have divined his scruples, for he gave him
the information he most wanted in terms whose terseness left very
little room for uncertainty. "Look sharp," wrote Dicky, "and let me
know if you've made up your great mind about that library. If Freddy
Harden doesn't pay up I shall have to put my men in on the
twenty-seventh. Between you and me there isn't the ghost of a chance
for Freddy. I hear the unlucky devil's just cleaned himself out at
Monte Carlo."

The twenty-seventh? It was the day when Miss Harden was to join her
father at Cannes. The coincidence of dates was significant; it
amounted to proof. It meant that Sir Frederick must have long
anticipated the catastrophe, and that he had the decency to spare her
the last painful details. She would not have to witness the invasion
of the Vandals, the overturning of the household gods, and the
defilement of their sacred places.

Well, he thought bitterly, they couldn't be much more defiled than
they were already. He saw himself as an abominable object, a thing
with a double face and an unclean and aitchless tongue, sitting there
from morning to night, spying, calculating, appraising, with a view to
fraud. At least that was how she would think of him when she knew; and
he had got to tell her.

He was on the rack again; and the wonder was how he had ever left it.
It seemed to him that he could never have been long released at any
time. He had had moments of comparative ease, when he could lie on it
at one end of the room and see Lucia sitting at the other, and the
sight of her must have soothed his agony. He had had moments of
forgetfulness, of illusion, when he had gone to sleep on the rack, and
had dreamed the most delicious dreams, moments even of deliverance,
when his conscience, exhausted with the sheer effort of winding, had
dropped to sleep too. And then had come the reckless moments, when he
had yielded himself wholly to the delight of her presence; and that
supreme instant when his love for Lucia seemed to have set him free.

And now it was love itself, furiously accusing, that flung him back
upon the torture, and stretched him out further than he had been
stretched before.

But Dicky's letter had to be answered at once. He settled Dicky for
the present by reminding him that nothing could be done by either of
them till the twenty-seventh. But he thought that if Sir Frederick or
any of his family were unable to pay up, there ought to be no
difficulty in arranging with his father.

To his father he sent a word of warning. "For Goodness' sake don't
commit yourself with Pilkington until you see me. I shall probably be
back in town to-morrow afternoon!"

Having settled Dicky, he breakfasted, bathed, was a little long over
his dressing, taking care that nothing in his appearance should
suggest the dishevelled person of the dawn. Thus he was rather later
than usual in presenting himself at the library. He found Miss Harden
there at his end of the table, with his note-book, busy over his pile
and engaged in finishing his Section--Philosophy. Her clear and candid
eyes greeted him without a shadow of remembrance. She had always this
air of accepting him provisionally, for the moment only, as if her
kindness had no springs in the past and could promise nothing for the
future. He had always found this manner a little distressing, and it
baffled him completely now. Still, in another minute he would have to
tell her, whatever her manner or her mood.

"Miss Harden," he began, "you've been so awfully good to me, there's
something that I want most awfully to say to you."

"Well, say it." But there was that in her tone which warned him not to
be too long about it.

"It's something I ought to have said--to have confessed--ages ago--"

"Oh no, really Mr. Rickman, if it's a confession, you mustn't do it
now. We shall never finish at this rate."

"When may I?"

"Some time in the afternoon, perhaps." Her smile, which was
exceedingly subtle, disconcerted him inexpressibly. She turned at once
to the business of the day. The question was whether he would begin on
a new section, or finish this one with her, writing at her dictation?

He too was calm, business-like, detached. He strangled a happy smile
which suggested that her question was absurd. To start a new section
was to work gloomily by himself, at some distant quarter of the room;
to write to her dictation was to be near her, soothed by her voice and
made forgetful by her eyes. Hypocritically he feigned a minute's
reflection, as if it were a matter for hesitation and for choice.

"Wouldn't you find it less tiring if I read and you wrote?"

"No, I had better read. You can write faster than I can."

So he wrote his fastest, while Lucia Harden read out titles to him in
the sonorous Latin tongue. She was standing ankle-deep in Gnostics and
Neo-Platonists; as for Mr. Rickman, he was, as he observed, out of his
depth there altogether.

"Iamblichus, _De Mysteriis Egyptiorum_. Do you know him?"

Mr. Rickman smiled as he admitted that his acquaintance with
Iamblichus was of the slightest; Lucia laughed as she confessed an
ignorance extending to the very name. He noticed that she always
seemed pleased when she had any ignorance to own up to; had she found
out that this gave pleasure to other people?

"Is he Philosophy, or is he Religion?" She invariably deferred to
Rickman on a question of classification. She handed the book to him.
"Can you tell?"

"I really don't know; he seems to be both. I'd better have a look at
him." He turned over the pages, glancing at the text. "I say, listen
to this."

He hit on a passage at random, and read out the Greek, translating
fluently.

"'If then the presence of the divine fire and the unspeakable form of
the divine light descend upon a man, wholly filling and dominating
him, and encompassing him on every side, so that he can in no way
carry on his own affairs, what sense or understanding or perception of
ordinary matters should he have who has received the divine fire?' Can
he be referring to the business capacity of poets?"

Lucia listened amused. And all the time he was thinking, "If I don't
tell her now I shall never tell her. She'll sneak off with Miss
Palliser somewhere in the afternoon." Neither noticed that Robert had
come in and was standing by with a telegram. Robert gazed at Mr.
Rickman with admiration, while he respectfully waited for the end of
the paragraph; that, he judged, being the proper moment for attracting
his mistress' attention.

Never in all his life would Rickman forget that passage in the _De
Mysteriis_ which he had not been thinking about. As Lucia took the
telegram she was still looking at Rickman and the smile of amusement
was still on her face. Robert respectfully withdrew. Lucia opened the
envelope and Rickman looked down, apparently absorbed in Iamblichus.
He was now considering in what form of words he would tell her.

Then, without looking up, he knew that something had happened. His
first feeling was that it had happened to himself. He could not say
how or why or what was the precise moment of its happening; he only
knew that she had been talking to him, listening to him, smiling at
him, and that then something had swept him on one side and carried her
away, he did not know where, except that it was beyond his reach.

He looked up, startled by a sudden change in her breathing. She was
standing opposite him; she seemed to be keeping herself upright by her
hands pressed palms downwards on the table. The telegram was spread
open there before her; and she was not looking at it; she was looking
straight at him, but without seeing him. Her mouth was so tightly
closed that it might have been the pressure of her lips that drove
the blood from them; she breathed heavily through her nostrils, her
small thin breast heaving without a sob. In her face there was neither
sorrow nor terror, and he could see that there was no thought in her
brain, and that all the life in her body was gathered into her
swollen, labouring heart. And as he looked at her he was pierced with
a great pang of pity.

She stood there so, supporting herself by her hands for about a
minute. He was certain that no sense of his presence reached her
across the gulf of her unknown and immeasurable anguish.

At last she drew her hands from the table, first one, then the other,
slowly, as if she were dragging a weight; her body swayed, and he
sprang to his feet with an inarticulate murmur, and held out one arm
to steady her. At his touch her perishing will revived and her
faintness passed from her. She put him gently aside and went slowly
out of the room.

As he turned to the table the five words of her telegram stared him in
the face: "Your father died this morning."

It would have been horrible if he had told her.

His first thought was for her; and he thanked Heaven that had tied his
tongue. Then, try as he would to realize her suffering, it eluded him;
he could only feel that a moment ago she had been with him, standing
there and smiling, and that now he was alone. He could still feel her
hand pushing against his outstretched arm. There had been nothing to
wound him in that gesture of repulse; it was as if she had accepted
rather than refused his touch, as if her numbed body took from it the
impetus it craved.

There was a sound of hurry and confusion in the house; servants went
up and downstairs, or stood about whispering in the passages. He heard
footsteps in that room above him which he knew to be her room. A bell
rang once; he could feel the vibration of the wire down the wall of
the library. It was her bell and he wondered if she were ill.

Robert rushed in with a wild white face, shaken out of his respectful
calm. He was asking Rickman if he had seen this month's Bradshaw. They
joined in a frenzied search for it.

She was not ill; she was going away.

A few minutes later he heard the sound of wheels grating on the gravel
drive, of the front door being flung open, of her voice, her sweet
quiet voice, then the grating of the wheels again, and she was gone.
That, of course, ended it.

Now for the first time he realized what Sir Frederick's death meant
for himself. In thus snatching her from him in the very crisis of
confession it had taken away his chance of redeeming his dishonour.

If he had only told her!




CHAPTER XXVIII


He did not go back to town on the seventh, after all. He stayed to
finish roughly, brutally almost, with the utmost possible dispatch,
the disastrous catalogue, which would now be required, whatever
happened. Until every book in the library had passed through his hands
he was hardly in a position to give a just estimate of its value. His
father had written again in some perturbation. It seemed that the old
song for which he might obtain the Harden library went to the tune of
one thousand pounds; but Pilkington was asking one thousand two
hundred. "It's a large sum," wrote Isaac, "and without more precise
information than you've given me yet, I can't tell whether we should
be justified in paying it."

That confirmed his worst misgivings. He answered it very precisely
indeed. "We shouldn't be morally justified in paying less than four
thousand for such a collection; and we should make a pretty big profit
at that. But if we can't afford the price we must simply withdraw. In
fact I consider that we ought to hold back in any case until we see
whether Miss Harden or any of her people are going to come forward.
It's only fair to give them the chance. You can expect me on the
twentieth."

Beside writing to his father, he had done the only honest and
straightforward thing that was left for him to do. He had written to
Horace Jewdwine. That was indeed what he ought to have done at the
very first. He could see it now, the simple, obvious duty that had
been staring him in the face all the time. He hardly cared to think
what subtle but atrocious egoism of passion had prevented him from
disclosing to Jewdwine the fact of his presence at Court House; even
now he said nothing about the two weeks that he had spent working with
Jewdwine's cousin. The catalogue _raisonne_ was so bound up with the
history of his passion that the thing had become a catalogue
_raisonne_ of its vicissitudes. Some instinct, not wholly selfish,
told him that the least said about that the better. He wrote on the
assumption that Jewdwine knew (as he might very well have done) the
truth about the Harden library, briefly informing him that they,
Rickman's, had been or rather would be in treaty with Mr. Pilkington
for the purchase; but that he, Savage Keith Rickman, considered it was
only fair to suggest that Mr. Jewdwine or some other member of Sir
Frederick Harden's family should have the option of buying it,
provided it could be so arranged with Mr. Pilkington. As Jewdwine was
probably aware, the library represented security for one thousand
pounds; whereas Rickman estimated its market value at four or even
five times as much. But as Mr. Pilkington was not inclined to let it
go for less than one thousand two hundred, Jewdwine had better be
prepared to offer a little more than that sum. If Jewdwine felt
inclined to act on this suggestion Rickman would be glad if he would
let him know within the next ten days; as otherwise his father would
be obliged to close with Mr. Pilkington in due form after the
twenty-seventh. Would he kindly wire an acknowledgement of the letter?

Jewdwine had wired from London, "Thanks. Letter received; will write."
That was on the seventeenth, and it was now the twenty-seventh and
Jewdwine had not written. Rickman should have been back in London long
before that time; he had allowed himself four days to finish his
horrible work; and he had finished it. But as it happened the end of
twelve days found him still in Harmouth. Seven of them passed without
his being very vividly aware of them, though up till now he had kept a
strict account of time. Two weeks once struck off the reckoning, he
had come down to calculating by days, by hours, by half hours, to
measuring minutes as if they had been drops of some precious liquid
slowly evaporating. And now he had let a whole week go by without
comment, while he lay in bed in his room at the Marine Hotel, doing
nothing, not even sleeping. For seven days Mr. Rickman had been ill.
The broad term nervous fever was considered to have sufficiently
covered all his symptoms.

They were not improved by the discovery that Jewdwine had failed to
give any sign; while the only reply sent by Rickman's was a brief note
from his father to the effect that Keith's letter should have his very
best consideration, and that by the time he saw him he would no doubt
be in a better position to answer it. There was a postcard written on
the twenty-first, inquiring the cause of his non-appearance on the
twentieth. This had been answered by the doctor. It had been followed
by a letter of purely parental solicitude, in which all mention of
business was avoided. Avoided; and it was now the twenty-seventh.

Rickman literally flung from his sick-bed a feverish and illegible
note to Horace Jewdwine. "For God's sake, wire me what you mean to
do," an effort which sent his temperature up considerably. He passed
these days of convalescence in an anxious watching for the post. To
the chambermaid, to the head waiter, to the landlord and landlady of
the Marine Hotel, to the friendly commercial gentleman, who put his
head twice a day round the door to inquire "'ow he was gettin' on,"
Mr. Rickman had during his seven days' illness put the same unvarying
question. These persons had adopted a policy of silence, shaking their
heads or twisting their mouths into the suggestion of a "No," by way
of escape from the poignancy of the situation. But on the afternoon of
the twenty-ninth, Mr. Rickman being for the first time up and dressed,
Tom, the waiter, replied to the accustomed query with a cheerful "No
sir, no letters; but a lady was inquiring for you this morning, sir."
In Tom's mind a lady and a letter amounted to very much the same
thing.

"Do you know who it was?"

"Yes sir, Miss Palliser."

"Miss Parry? I don't know any Miss Parry," said Rickman wearily.

"I didn't say Miss Parry, sir I said Miss Palliser, sir. Wanted to
know 'ow you was; I said you was a trifle better, sir."

"I? I'm all right. I think I shall go out and take a walk." The
violent excitement of his veins and nerves gave him the illusion of
recovered strength.

His walk extended from the hotel door to a seat on the seafront
opposite. He repeated it the next morning with less difficulty, and
even succeeded in reaching a further seat beyond the range of the
hotel windows. There he sat looking at the sea, and watching without
interest the loiterers on the esplanade. At last, by sheer repetition,
three figures forced themselves on his attention; two ladies, one
young, the other middle-aged, and a clergyman, who walked incessantly
up and down. They were talking as they passed him; he caught the man's
steep-pitched organ monotone, "Yes, I shall certainly go up to the
house and see her," and the girl's voice that answered in a hard
bright trill, "You won't see her. She hasn't seen any body but Kitty
Palliser."

The blood boiled in his brain. She? She? Was it possible that they
were talking about her? He sat there debating this question for ten
minutes, when he was aware that he himself had become an object of
intense interest to the three. The two ladies were, in fact, staring
rather hard. The stare of the younger was so wide that it merely
included him as an unregarded detail in the panorama of sea and sky;
but the stare of the elder, a stout lady in a florid gown, was
concentrated, almost passionate; it came straight at him through a
double eye-glass elevated on a tortoiseshell stem. The clergyman
endeavoured to suggest by his attitude that he took no part in the
staring or the talk; he smiled out to sea with an air of beatific
union with Nature.

Harmouth beach is a safe place for scandal; for even a steep-pitched
organ monotone with a brilliant feminine flourish on the top of it are
lost in the accompaniment of the sea. So happily for him no word of
the dialogue reached Rickman. All the same, to have a pair of blank
blue eyes, and a tortoiseshell binocular levelled at him in that
fashion is a little disturbing to a young man just recovering from a
nervous fever; and Rickman got up and dragged himself to the other end
of the esplanade out of the reach of the enemy's fire. Therefore he
did not see that Miss Palliser, who had been watching the scene from a
balcony on the front, had come down and joined the group; neither did
he hear her cheerful replies to a volley of inquiries.

"Yes; I've seen her. Nice day isn't it? What? No, I wouldn't if I
were you. I say, what a swagger eye-glass! Jolly, those long stems,
aren't they? You can stare for ever without pinching your nose or
gouging your next door neighbour's eye out with your elbow--Oh yes,
rather; he's a friend of Horace Jewdwine's. Do observe Tubs bathing;
his figure is not adapted--Did you say a gentleman? Yes, no, yes; ask
somebody else. It entirely depends on the point of view. He's an
awfully good sort. _Really_, Tubs ought to be made to bathe before
breakfast, when there's nobody about. Yes, of course she did. She gave
him the work to please Mr. Jewdwine, I suppose. He's been ill, poor
little beggar; I must go and speak to him."

After having thus first harried, then effectually baffled the enemy,
Miss Palliser started with a swinging stride in pursuit of Mr.
Rickman. He sat alone in an attitude of extreme dejection, on the
stones of an unfinished and forsaken jetty that marked the farthest
western limit of the esplanade. Having turned his back on that public
rendezvous, he was unaware of Miss Palliser's approach until she stood
beside him.

"Glad to see you out again," said she.

He sprang to his feet and raised his hat. At the first sight of his
face Miss Palliser had a shrewd idea of the cause and nature of his
illness.

"Thank you so much for your kind messages. I'm all right again, as you
see."

"I see nothing of the sort, as yet." She had meant to tell him that it
was Lucia who had sent her to inquire; but she thought better of it.

"Oh, well, I ought to get round in this bracing air."

"Harmouth air," said Kitty, "is not particularly bracing. In fact it's
very relaxing. It probably helped you to break down."

"Well, I shall be out of it soon, anyway." He sighed. "Miss Palliser,
can you tell me if Miss Harden has come back?"

"She came back the day before yesterday."

"Have you seen her?"

"Yes, I've seen her."

There was a long pause, filled by the insistent clamour of the sea.
His next question was less audible to the outer than to the inner ear.

"How is she?"

Miss Palliser was seldom at a loss for a word; but this time she
hesitated. "She--she is very plucky."

There was another and a longer pause in which neither had the courage
to look at the other.

"Can I--Would it be possible for me to see her?"

Miss Palliser did not answer.

"I wouldn't dream of asking her, except that I've got something on my
mind."

"And she--my dear man, she's got everything on her mind."

"I know. I--I want to see her on business."

Miss Palliser's lithe figure grew rigid. She turned on him a look of
indignation and contempt. "Everybody wants to see her on business. But
some of them have had the grace to wait."

He smiled in the faint tolerant manner of a man so steeped in the
bitterness of the situation that no comment on it can add a further
sting.

"I can't wait. My business hasn't much to do with me; but it has a
great deal to do with Miss Harden."

She looked at him as he spoke. Something in his face and in his voice
too made her feel that her judgement of him had been unspeakably,
unpardonably coarse.

"I beg your pardon," she said gently.

"Oh don't. I'm not surprised that you thought that of me."

"I didn't think it. I don't quite know what I'm saying. I've spent the
last two days trying to keep fools from worrying her. I hate the
people who want to go to her; I hate the people who keep away; I hate
them all. But I'm sorry I spoke like that to you. You look horribly
ill."

"I'm not ill. But I'm nearly out of my mind about this business."

"What is it? Tell me, has it anything to do with the library?

"Yes."

"Well; the library's going to be sold."

"I know. That's what I want to speak to her about."

"There's not a bit of good in speaking to her. There are at this
moment," said Kitty incisively, "two persons in the house who call
themselves the men in possession."

"The brutes--"

"You may as well sit down. You can't turn them out, they're two to
one, and their position is, I believe, legally sound."

"I must go to her at once--I knew this would happen--Miss Palliser, is
any one with her?"

"I am with her. I'm going back to her in a minute; but I want to talk
to you first. Everybody's looking at us, but that can't be helped. Did
you say you _knew_ this would happen?"

"Yes--Miss Palliser, I'm in the most intolerable position with regard
to Miss Harden."

"You knew they were making these arrangements?"

"Oh yes, I knew it all the time I was working for her. What's more,
I'm supposed to be the agent for the sale."

"Well--if it's got to be sold, why not?"

"Well, you see, my father's only an ordinary dealer. I'm about the
only person concerned who knows the real value and I know that it's
been undervalued. Of course, without the smallest dishonesty on Mr.
Pilkington's part."

"Mr. who?" Kitty had not yet heard of Mr. Pilkington.

"Pilkington."

"What's his address?"

He gave it her.

Kitty made a note of the name and address.

"Unfortunately Mr. Pilkington has an absolute right to sell it, and my
father has an absolute right to buy it."

"Well, somebody's got to buy it, I suppose?"

"Yes, but it seems to me we oughtn't to do anything till we know
whether any of Miss Harden's people will come forward."

"She is the last of her people."

"How about Mr. Jewdwine? He's her cousin."

"On her mother's side."

"Still he's her cousin. I wrote to him ten days ago; and I haven't got
any answer as yet."

"What did you say to him?"

"I invited him to step in and buy the library over our heads."

"And how much would he have had to pay for it?"

"Probably more than one thousand two hundred."

"Well--if you think that Mr. Jewdwine is the man to deal so lightly
with two hundred pounds, let alone the thousand! Really, that's the
quaintest thing you've done yet. May I ask if this is the way you
generally do business?"

"No, I can't say that it is."

"Well, well, you were very safe."

"Safe? I don't want to be safe. Don't you see how horrible it is for
me? I'd give anything if he or anyone else would come in now and walk
over us."

"Still, I don't wonder that you got no answer to your very remarkable
proposal."

"It seemed to me a very simple and obvious proposal."

"I don't know much about business," said Kitty, "but I can think of a
much more simple and obvious one. Why can't your people buy in the
library and sell it again for Miss Harden on commission?"

"Do you suppose I haven't thought of that? It would be very simple and
obvious if it rested with me, but I'm afraid my father mightn't see it
in the same light. You see, the thing doesn't lie between Miss Harden
and me, but between my father and Mr. Pilkington."

"I don't understand."

"It's this way. My father won't be buying the library from Miss
Harden, but from Mr. Pilkington. And--my father is a man of business."

"And you most certainly are not."

"So he isn't likely to give any more for it than he can help."

"Of course not."

"Well, but--do you know what the library was valued at?"

Kitty did, and she would have blurted it out had not an inner voice
told her to be discreet for once. He took her silence for a confession
of ignorance.

"Would you think a thousand pounds an absurdly high valuation?"

"I don't know."

Kitty tried to banish all expression from her face. She really knew
very little about business and was as yet unaware of the necessary
publicity of bills of sale. The suspicion crossed her mind that
Rickman, in his father's interests, might be trying to pump her as to
the smallest sum that need be offered.

"Because," he added, "it isn't. Miss Harden stands to lose something
like three thousand pounds by it."

Kitty's evil surmises vanished utterly. "Good Heavens!" she exclaimed,
"how do you make that out?"

"It's only the difference between what the library ought to fetch and
what will be given for it. Of course no dealer could give the _full_
value; still, between one thousand and four thousand there's a
considerable difference."

"And who pockets it?"

"My fa--the dealer, if he succeeds in selling again to the best
advantage. He might not, and my father, as it happens, considers that
he's taking a great risk. But I know more about it than he does, and I
don't agree with him. That's why I don't want him to get hold of those
books if I can help it."

Kitty was thoughtful.

"You see," he continued, "I know he'd like to do what he thinks
generous under the circumstances, but he isn't interested in Miss
Harden, and he _is_ interested in the Harden library. It's a chance
that a dealer like him only gets once in a lifetime and I'm afraid it
isn't in human nature to let it go."

"But," said Kitty wildly, "he _must_ let it go. You must make him. Do
you mean to say you're going to sit and look on calmly while Miss
Harden loses three thousand pounds?"

"I'm not looking on calmly. On the contrary, I've lost my head."

"What's the good of losing your head, if Miss Harden loses her money?
What do you propose to do _besides_ losing your head? Lose time I
suppose? As if you hadn't lost enough already."

"I wrote to Mr. Jewdwine as soon as I heard of Sir Frederick Harden's
death. Still, you're right, I did lose time; and time was everything.
You can't reproach me more than I reproach myself."

"My dear man, I'm not reproaching you. I only want to know what you're
going to _do_?"

"Do? Is there anything left for me to do?"

"Not much, that I can see."

"If I'd only spoken straight out in the beginning--"

"Do you mean to her?"

"To her." He whispered the pronoun so softly that it sounded like a
sigh.

"Why didn't you?"

"Why didn't I? I can see it was the one honest thing to do. But I
thought I'd no business to know about her father's affairs if she
didn't; and certainly no business to talk about them."

"No. I don't see how you could have done it."

"All the same I'd made up my mind to do it that morning--when the
telegram came. That stopped me."

"You were well out of it. You don't know what an awful thing it would
have been to do. She worshipped her father. Is this what you've been
making yourself ill about?"

"I suppose so. You know how adorably kind she was to me?"

"I can guess. She is adorably kind to every one," said Kitty, gentle
but astute.

"And, you see, I've behaved dishonourably to her."

"No. I don't see that."

"Don't you? Don't you? Why, my father sent me partly as his agent, and
all the time she believed I was only working for her."

"Did you behave as your father's agent?"

"No. But I let her slave from morning till night over that catalogue."

"Which she would have done in any case."

"Don't you see that I ought to have backed out of it altogether, in
the very beginning?"

"Ah yes--if everybody did what they ought."

"I tried twice, but it was no good. I suppose I didn't try hard
enough."

"What good would you have done by going, if she wanted you to stay?"

"That's how I argued. But the fact is, I stayed because I couldn't go
away. Of course, it was an abominable position, but I assure you it
felt like heaven when it didn't feel like 'ell."

His anguish, mercifully, was too great for him to feel the horror of
his lapse. And Kitty hardly noticed it; at any rate she never felt the
smallest inclination to smile, not even in recalling it afterwards.

It was, if you came to think of it, an unusual, a remarkable
confession. But she remembered that he had had a nervous fever; it was
his nerves, then, and his fever that had cried out, a cry covered,
made decent almost, by the clangour of the sea.

She wondered how it came that, when her mind was as full as it could
be of Lucia and her affairs, it could give such concentrated attention
to him and his. If he had been what the tortoiseshell eye-glass took
him for, a common man, it ought to have been easy and natural to
dismiss him. But she could not dismiss him. There was some force in
him, not consciously exerted, which held her there on that conspicuous
seat beside him under the gaze of the tortoiseshell eye-glass. Kitty
was by no means deficient in what she had called "profane fancy," and
she felt to her finger tips that she was making a spectacle of herself
at the end of the esplanade. Their backs at this moment she knew must
be standing out very clear and bold against the sky-line. But she
herself was losing the keen sense she had once had of his
inappropriateness to the scenes he moved in. Wherever he was he was
natural; he was (she had it in one word) sincere, as few people are
sincere nowadays. He was not a common man. That was it. All along it
had been the justification of their strange proceedings, this fact
that he was not common, that he was indeed unique. On that ground
Lucia had always met him, and she had ignored the rest. Kitty was
trying to sympathize with Lucia.

"But," he went on, simply, "I can't tell her that."

"No, you can't tell her that, but you can tell her everything else.
Look here, supposing that instead of sitting here tearing your
nervous system to tatters you go straight away and do it."

"What will she think of me?"

"Think of you? If she thinks of you at all, she'll bless you for
having spared her father's memory up to the last possible minute."

"Has it occurred to you that my motives are open to the worst
construction?"

"Well, frankly, it has. But it won't occur to Miss Harden. Go to her
and tell her everything."

"After all, what am I to tell her?"

"Oh, it doesn't matter much what you tell her now."

"It matters a great deal to me. I don't want her to think me more
dishonourable than I am."

"Oh, she won't do that."

"Perhaps she can't?"

"Well, you see, I don't know how dishonourable you've been. I only
know if I'd done a dishonourable thing--if I'd done--oh, the most
disgraceful thing I can imagine, a thing I couldn't _possibly_ tell to
anybody else, I wouldn't mind telling Lucia Harden. I should _have_ to
tell her. It wouldn't matter. She's so perfectly good, that your own
little amateur efforts in that line simply aren't in it; so when it
comes to telling her things, you may as well be hung for a sheep as a
lamb. And wait a minute; you're not likely to make a lamb of your
sheep; but don't go to the other extreme, and make a full-grown sheep
of your lamb."

"I shall not deceive her."

"You couldn't. She's not only a good woman, but a very clever one,
though she doesn't let you see it. Mind you, you won't find her clever
about stupid things. I doubt if you'll be able to make her understand
all this library affair. But she'll understand _your_ business."

They rose, and walked together, forgetful of the eagerly observant
group.

"Could she see me to-day--this evening? I'm going to-morrow."

"Yes, I'll tell her you're coming. When you _do_ see her, don't be
afraid--speak out."

"I'm not afraid of speaking to her--I'm afraid--"

"Of what?"

"Simply of _seeing_ her."

"You mean you are afraid of seeing her changed?" She understood him;
for it was what she herself had been afraid of.

"Horribly afraid."

"My dear Mr. Rickman, people in great trouble don't change to other
people. They only change to themselves."

He raised his hat and turned from her without speaking.

Kitty felt remorseful as she looked after him, for she had not
scrupled to sacrifice him to her idea. Kitty's idea was to get as high
a price as possible out of Rickman Senior, and Rickman Junior was the
only man who could get it. If the object was to shunt Rickman Senior
altogether, Rickman Junior could be depended on for that, too. She
could see that under the influence of his unhappy passion he had
absolutely detached himself from his father's interests and his own.
Kitty was profoundly sorry for him, and if she had yielded to her
impulses of mercy and pity she would have kept him from Lucia as she
would have kept a poor insane moth from the candle. It might be
necessary to turn the moth out of doors in order to save it,
and--well, she would have turned him out of doors, too, in sheer mercy
and pity. But Kitty had a practical mind, and that practical mind
perceived the services that might be rendered by a person so
suicidally inspired. If she had read him aright, fire and water were
nothing to what Mr. Rickman was prepared to go through for Lucia.
Therefore she sent him to Lucia.

But it was on his own account, for his healing and his consolation,
that she advised him to make a clean breast of it.




CHAPTER XXIX


Lucia was in the library and alone. Everything was as she had left it
that morning two weeks ago; she saw the same solid floor and ceiling,
the same faded Persian rugs, the same yellow pale busts on their tall
pedestals, the same bookshelves, wing after wing and row upon row. The
south lattice still showed through its leaded lozenge panes the bright
green lawn, the beech tree and the blue sky; the west lattice held the
valley and the hills, with the river, a sinuous band of silver between
the emerald and the amethyst. These things were so woven with the
tissue of her mind that the sense of them had remained with her during
the terrible seven days at Cannes. But now they appeared to her
stripped of their air of permanence and familiarity. They were blurred
and insubstantial, like things remembered rather than actually seen.
All that subdued and tender loveliness belonged only to her young
past, and she had been torn from it so violently, it had been flung so
far behind her, that it seemed to her at the moment incredible and
impossible. Life, that had hitherto dealt with her so gently and so
graciously, had in the last two weeks turned hideous and brutal.

She had no very clear idea of how she had got to Cannes. The going was
wiped out. She had been driven through the garden of the Villa des
Palmes and had recognized it as the garden of her dream. She had
passed (through the doors of the Villa) into a state of stupor in
which she had recognized nothing, and thence into a sequence of states
which she could now too well recall. There had been a state of waking,
in which she had found herself in a little gilt and velvet salon.
There was another woman in it, a vast woman in a thin black dress
twinkling all over with little black eyes. She had a great white
powdered face, and they called her Madame. Then followed a state of
hallucination, in which she believed Madame to be an innocent person,
the housekeeper; a state of obsession, in which Madame, as she looked
at her, seemed to grow vaster, to become immense; a state of
imbecility in which her mind feebly tried to grapple with the details
of her father's death as presented brokenly by Madame. Last had come a
state of frenzy, in which she had freed herself from Madame. After
that something had appeared to her in vivid violent illumination.

So vivid and so violent that it seemed to her even now that she was
still sitting in the gilt and velvet salon in the Villa des Palmes;
she still saw the thin green light that came slanting through the
half-closed shutters; warm southern smells floated in, they mixed with
the thick stifling scent of patchouli and orris root wafted from
Madame as she went to and fro, and with some other odour, bitter and
sickly, that came from the room beyond.

She had made out certain familiar objects in this unfamiliar scene.
Her father's travelling rug lay folded on the red velvet sofa; his cap
and gloves were there, just as he had flung them down; his violin,
dumb in its black coffin-like case, stood propped up against the wall.
Everywhere else (only gradually discerned) were things belonging to
Madame, evidence of her supreme and intimate occupation of the room.

And outside was the garden of sharp aloes and palms, where, as she
believed, her father's spirit had gone looking for her, and had not
found her. His body lay in the inner room behind the closed door.

That horrible little gilt and velvet salon! Whenever she thought of it
she saw Madame; she saw Madame's little dry eyes blinking in her great
white powdered face; she saw the vast heaving of Madame's bust where
the little jet sequins shivered and shook; she heard her voice cooing
and purring voluptuous condolence; and she felt again her own passion
of disgust and fear as she wrenched herself free from the warm scented
body, quivering in its thin black sheath.

Then she saw the inner room behind the closed door. Nothing was
obscure and secret there. The slats of the shutter let in great shafts
of daylight; the coffin stood in the middle of the room, raised on
trestles, and covered with a white sheet. A crucifix stood at the head
of the coffin, propped against a chest of drawers. Three candles,
flickering in their sockets, were set on the table at its foot. On
each knob of the two top-drawers hung a wreath of yellow immortelles.

That long coffin, raised high on its trestles, seemed to fill the
little room. Lucia saw it now, she saw the face in it turned up to the
ceiling, sharp and yellow, the limp red moustache hanging like a
curtain over the half-open mouth. No trace of the tilted faun-like
smile.

She would never get away from that terrible room. The pattern of its
walls (garlands of pink rosebuds between blue stripes) was stamped
upon her brain. There too, as in the salon, abode the inextinguishable
odour shaken from Madame's dress, it mixed with the hot reek of
carbolic and the bitter stabbing odour of the coffin.

On the floor by the trestles lay a glove, a long enormous glove,
Madame's glove; it was greyish white, and wrinkled like the cast skin
of a snake. The finger of its fellow hung from the chest of drawers
beside the crucifix. It pointed downwards at the dead man.

Within the gay garlanded walls, surrounded by those symbols and
souvenirs of Madame, he lay with his face turned up to the ceiling,
and his mouth half open, as if it still gasped piteously for breath.
One more breath to beg for forgiveness, to defend himself, explain;
while bit by bit the place he had lived in gave up his secret.

She could not tell whether she forgave him or not. When she stood by
him there she could have implored _his_ forgiveness for having thus
come upon him unawares, for having found what he had taken such pains
to hide from her. It seemed somehow cruel and unfair. She did not tax
him with hypocrisy, because he had so long contrived to keep himself
clean in her sight; she was grateful to him for having spared her this
knowledge. But whether she forgave him or not--no, looking back on it
at this moment she could not tell. Lucia was too young for the great
forgiveness that comes of understanding.

She walked up and down the library, staring at the books, at the
tables piled with papers; she stood at each window in turn and looked
out on the garden, the valley and the hills, Harmouth Gap, and the
long brown rampart line of Muttersmoor. It was simply impossible for
her to realize their once intimate relation to her life.

She was unaware that her mood was chiefly the result of physical and
mental exhaustion. It seemed to her rather that she had acquired
strange powers of insight, that she had pierced to the back of the
illusion. Never had she possessed so luminous a sense of the unreality
of things. She found this view consoling, for it is the desire of
unhappy youth that there shall be no permanence where there is pain.

On this unreal and insubstantial background faces came and went all
day long, faces solemn and obsequious, faces glazed and feverish with
emotion; Robert's face with red-rimmed eyes hiding Robert's
unutterable sympathy under a thin mask of fright; Kitty's face with an
entirely new expression on it; and her own face met them with an
incomprehensible and tearless calm. For she was not even sure of that,
not even sure of her own sorrow. She had had to do with sorrow once
before, when her grandfather died, and she thought she would be sure
to know it when it came to her again; but she had no name for this new
feeling, and at times it seemed to her that it was not sorrow at all.

Whatever it was, she had determined to bear it as far as possible
alone. She was almost sorry that she had not refused Kitty's offer to
stay with her; she suffered so from Kitty's inability to conceal the
truth. Not that Kitty said anything; it was her unnatural silence that
was so terrible. With that extraordinary acuteness that had come upon
her now Lucia saw, in the involuntary hardening and flushing of
Kitty's face, that in Kitty's mind her father was not only suspected,
but condemned. She was afraid lest she herself should in some moments
of weakness betray him; and Kitty's strange unusual tenderness
inspired her with terror. She shrank even from old Mrs. Palliser,
Kitty's mother, with her soft trembling face and clinging hands. Their
sympathy was poignant and unnerving, and she needed all her strength
for the things she had to do.

She did them, too. While one half of her brain had slackened its grip
of the world, the other half retained the most perfect grasp of
certain necessary details. She spent the morning with her father's
solicitor, while he explained to her the first principles of finance,
and the inner meaning of mortgages and bills of sale. She understood
clearly that the things which would naturally have come to her on her
father's death belonged in a certain sense to Mr. Richard Pilkington
of Shaftesbury Avenue. Mr. Schofield, poor man, had approached this
branch of his subject gently and gingerly, with every delicacy of
phrasing that his fancy could suggest. He leaned back in his chair and
looked at her through half-closed eyes, respectfully veiling the
shrewdness of his gaze. Lucia had at first displayed so little
interest and intelligence that he felt himself compelled to a broader
and simpler statement of the facts. With the exception of her own
personal possessions, nothing in Court House remained to her, nothing,
not a book, not a solitary piece of drawing-room furniture. Mr.
Pilkington's bill of sale was, he grieved to say, inclusive of
everything, from the Harden library and the great gallery of
portraits, to the glass and china in the pantry, and the blankets on
the beds. "Not even," he had said, "that little paper weight that you
have in your hand, Miss Harden." And Lucia had examined the paper
weight as if she saw it for the first time; she put it down and
smiled. It struck her as incomprehensible, ludicrous almost that any
one could spend so much passion and solemnity on things so
unimportant, so irrelevant; she was not in the least surprised to hear
that they did not belong to her; the inconceivable thing was that they
ever had belonged to her.

And as the solicitor looked at her the corners of his mouth twitched
with a little spasm of pity; his eyes lost their veiled shrewdness,
and when she smiled they stared in frankest fright. For a moment he
supposed that the shock of his announcement had turned her brain. It
never occurred to that astute intelligence that she was smiling at
his own simplicity.

When he had left she returned to the writing-table; she sorted and
arranged a disordered heap of business letters, letters of condolence
and tradesmen's bills. She pushed aside the letters of condolence--Kitty
would answer those. She unlocked a drawer and took from it two open
envelopes scored with many postmarks and addressed to Harmouth, to
Cannes and to Harmouth again; these she scrutinized anxiously, as if
they disclosed some secret guarded by their contents. Then she read
the letters carefully all over again.

One was from her cousin Edith Jewdwine. Edith's sympathy covered two
sheets; it flowed from her pen, facile and fluent. Edith had had the
influenza, otherwise Edith would have come to Lucia at once. Could not
Lucia come to her instead? Edith could not bear to think of Lucia
alone there in her trouble, in that great big house. She was glad that
Kitty Palliser was with her. If only she had not been so unfortunate
as to catch influenza, and so on!

Lucia was sorry that Edith had influenza, but she was not sorry that
she had not come. She did not want Edith with her.

The other letter was from Horace. Horace had refined his expressions
of condolence into one faultless phrase. The rest of his letter
consisted of apologies and offers of service. These his close cramped
handwriting confined to the centre of the sheet, leaving a broad and
decent margin to suggest the inexpressible. He had heard of his
uncle's death indirectly; why had she not sent for him? If she had
wired to him at once he could have made arrangements to meet and take
her to Cannes, or he could have joined her there and brought her home.
At present he was overwhelmed with business; but he hoped to run down
to Harmouth at the end of the week, and travel up to town with her. He
understood that she was going to stay with Edith. Busy as he was, he
would come now, at any minute, if he could be of any immediate use.
She had only to wire if she wanted him.

She laid down that letter, pushed it aside, took it up again, and
read it a second time, as if to satisfy herself as to the writer's
meaning. She was not sure as to what Horace was or was not willing to
do, but there could be no doubt that he was deeply sorry for her. Why
had she not sent for him? Why indeed? Her first instinct had been to
send for him. She had only to let him know that she was in trouble,
and he would have come to her at any inconvenience to himself. And
that, of course, was why she had not sent. It would have been so
impossible for him to refuse.

And now she was thankful that she had spared him, and that he had not
followed her to those terrible rooms in the Villa des Palmes, that he
knew nothing of those seven days. She would have endured any
suffering, paid any price to obliterate the memory of them. It was
horrible to think how nearly Horace had been there. Horace of all
people--the fastidious, the immaculate, the merciless. If she had
found it hard to judge her dead father tenderly, she knew what
Horace's judgement would have been.

She had "only to wire if she wanted him." Oh no; he was the last
person that she wanted now.

Those two letters she answered without more delay. To Horace she wrote
in a reassuring manner, so as to absolve him from any sense of
obligation he might happen to feel. She would rather he came down a
little later than he proposed. Meanwhile he was not to be anxious, for
Mr. Schofield was managing her affairs extremely well. She admitted
that when those wonderful affairs were settled her income would be but
small (she considered that this was a thing Horace ought to be told
before--before he wrote any more letters). She added that the library,
the pictures and the furniture would have to be sold. And Court House,
too, she was afraid. (That also was a fact that must not be concealed
from him for a moment. It seemed to concern Horace so much more than
it did her.) These things, which it was her duty to tell him, she told
simply and plainly. But she omitted to mention that two men in
possession were sitting in the housekeeper's room, in attitudes of
more or less constraint. She ended by assuring Horace of her
gratitude, with a fervency which suggested that he had some cause to
doubt it. And indeed, at the moment, she could hardly tell whether
she were more grateful to him for offering to come to her or for
having stopped away.

All this necessary business Lucia transacted with one half of her
mind; while the other stood far off, possessed by its sense of
unreality, of illusion.

Next she went through the tradesmen's bills. There were a great many
people to be paid, and unless Court House were sold there would be
nothing to pay them with. It was at this point that Robert came in
with the announcement that Mr. Rickman had called and wished to see
her.

At first (the active intelligence being busy with accounts), her only
idea was that she owed Mr. Rickman fifteen pounds and that when all
debts were paid fifteen pounds would represent a very solid portion of
her income. Then her dreaming self awoke to the memory of something
unachieved, an obligation rashly incurred, a promise that could never
be fulfilled.

Yes. She would see Mr. Rickman.




CHAPTER XXX


Lucia had risen and was standing in the embrasure of the south window.
She had her back to the door, so that she could not see him as he came
in.

He wondered how on earth he was going to get over the space between
the window and the door. A sudden wave of weakness went through his
body; he had horrible sensations of sinking at the middle and of
giving way altogether at the knees. He had been afraid of seeing her
suffer; now he knew that what he was really afraid of was her fear of
seeing him. He expected to see her face set in abhorrence of his
sympathy, her body shrink in anticipation of a touch on her pain.

Lucia spared him all the embarrassments of that approach As if she had
divined his feeling, she turned, she came forward to meet him, she
held out her hand and smiled as she would have smiled if nothing had
happened.

His hand trembled visibly as it dropped from hers. He hid it in his
breast pocket, where it pretended to be looking for things.

"Miss Palliser said she thought you would see me--"

"Yes, I wanted to see you; I would have sent for you if you had not
come. Sit down, please."

She sat down herself, in her old place at the writing table.

He took the chair beside her and leaned back, resting his arm on the
table. She turned so as to face him.

She was not so changed but that his hungry and unhappy eyes could rest
on her, appeased and comforted. And yet she _was_ changed, too. Her
girlhood, with all its innocence of suffering, had died in her. But
the touch of that death was masterly, it had redeemed her beauty from
the vagueness of its youth. Grief, that drags or sharpens or deforms
the faces of older women, had given to hers the precision that it
lacked. There was a faint sallow tinge in the whiteness of her skin,
and her eyelids drooped as if she were tired to the point of
exhaustion. He noticed, too, the pathetic tension that restrained the
quivering of her mouth. It was the upper lip that trembled.

"You have been ill?" she said.

And as he answered that, "Oh, it was nothing," he was aware for the
first time how very much it had been. She too was aware of it.

She expressed her concern; she hoped that they had looked after him
well at the hotel.

Decidedly she had grown older and her manner had grown older too. It
suggested that it was she who was the protector; that she wished, as
far as possible, to spare him in an interview which must necessarily
be painful. It was as if she remembered that he at any rate was young,
and that these gloomy circumstances must be highly distasteful to his
youth. In that she was the same as ever; every nerve in her shrank
from the pain of giving pain.

At least that was his first impression. And then (no consoling view
being really open to him) he told himself he was a fool to suppose
that in the circumstances she could think of him at all. He had
nothing tangible to go upon. He could see through it. He could see
perfectly through the smile, the self-possession, even the air of
polite and leisurely interest in his illness. She dwelt on him because
he was of all themes the one most indifferent to her. She was simply
holding herself in, according to the indestructible instincts of her
race.

He need not have been afraid of seeing her suffer; that, at any rate,
he would not see. To let him see it would have been to her an extreme
personal degradation, an offence against the decencies of her class.
This sorrow of hers, this invisible, yet implacable sorrow, stood
between them, waving him away. It opened up again the impassable gulf.
He felt himself not only a stranger, but an inferior, separated from
her beyond all possibility of approach. She had not changed. She had
simply reverted to her type.

Her eyes waited for him to speak. But they were not the eyes he knew,
the eyes that had drawn him to confession. It was borne in upon him
that this (though it might be his last moment with her) was not the
moment to confess. There was a positive grossness in the idea of
unburdening himself in the presence of this incommunicable grief. It
was like putting in a claim for consideration as an equal sufferer. He
had no right to obtrude himself upon her at all. In her calm-eyed
attention there was a hint--a very delicate and gentle one--that he
would do well to be impersonal, business-like, and, above all, brief.

"It was about the library that I wanted to see you, Miss Harden."

"Was it? I was just going to ask you not to do anything more to the
catalogue if you have not finished it."

"I finished it ten days ago--before the twenty-seventh."

She smiled faintly. "Then you kept your promise. It doesn't matter.
What I most wanted to speak to you about was the secretaryship I
offered you. I'm afraid we must give it up."

"Oh--Miss Harden--" his tone expressed that he had always given it up,
that it was not to be thought of for an instant. But evidently she was
possessed with the idea that he had a claim upon her.

"I'm very sorry, but as things have turned out I shan't be able to
keep a secretary. In fact, as you may have heard, I'm not able to keep
anything hardly--not even my promises."

"Please--please don't think of it--"

"There is no use thinking of it. Still, I wanted you to know that I
really meant it--I believed it could be done. Of course I don't know
how much you really wanted it."

"Wanted it? I'd 'ave given half my life for a year of it."

Lucia's hand, laid lightly on the table's edge, felt a strong
vibration communicated to it from Mr. Rickman's arm. She looked up, in
time to see his white face quiver before he hid it with his hand.

"I'm so sorry. Did it mean so much to you?"

He smiled through his agony at the cause assigned to it. "I'm not
thinking of that. What it means to me--what it always will mean is
your goodness--in thinking of it. In thinking of it now."

It was his nearest approach to a sympathetic allusion.

She did not wince (perceptibly), but she ignored the allusion.

"Oh, that's nothing. You would have been of great use to me. If I
thought of helping you at all, my idea was simply--how shall I put
it?--to make up in some way for the harm I've done you."

"What harm have you ever done me?"

For one moment he thought that she had discovered his preposterous
passion, and reproached herself for being a cause of pain. But she
explained.

"I ought to say the harm the catalogue did you. I'm afraid it was
responsible for your illness."

He protested. But she stuck to it. "And after all I might just as well
have let you go. For the library will have to be sold. But I did not
know that."

"I knew it, though."

"You knew it? How did you know it?"

"I know Mr. Pilkington, who knows my father. He practically gave him
the refusal of the library. Which is exactly what I want to speak to
you about."

He explained the situation to her as he had explained it to Miss
Palliser, only at greater length and with considerably greater
difficulty. For Lucia did not take it up as Miss Palliser had done,
point by point, she laid it down, rather, dismissed it with a
statement of her trust in the integrity of Rickman's.

"If," she said, "the library must be sold, I'm very glad that it's
your father who is going to buy it."

He tried to make her see (without too deeply incriminating his father)
that this was not the destiny most to be desired for it.

It was in approaching this part of his subject that he most diverged
from his manner of treating it before Miss Palliser.

Miss Palliser had appreciated the commercial point of view. Her
practical mind accepted the assumption that a dealer was but human,
and that abnegation on his part in such a matter would amount to
nothing less than a moral miracle. But Miss Harden would have a
higher conception of human obligation than Miss Palliser; at any rate
he could hardly expect her sense of honour to be less delicate than
his own, and if _he_ considered that his father was morally bound to
withdraw from the business she could only think one thing of his
remaining in it. Therefore to suggest to Miss Harden that his father
might insist upon remaining, constituted a far more terrible exposure
of that person than anything he had said to Miss Palliser.

"Why shouldn't he buy it?" she asked.

"Because, I'm afraid, selling it in--in that way, you won't make much
money over it."

"Well--it's not a question of making money, it's a question of paying
a debt."

"How much you make--or lose--of course, depends on the amount of the
debt--what it was valued at."

Lucia, unlike Kitty, was neither suspicious nor discreet. She had the
required fact at her fingers' ends and instantly produced it. "It was
valued at exactly one thousand pounds."

"And it should have been valued at four. My father can't give anything
like that. We ought to be able to find somebody who can. But it might
take a considerable time."

"And there is no time. What do you advise me to do then?"

"Well, if we could persuade Mr. Pilkington to sell by auction that
would be all right. If we can't, I advise you to buy it back, or a
part of it, yourself. Buy back the books that make it valuable. You've
got the Aldine Plato and the Neapolitan Horace and the _Aurea Legenda_
printed by Wynken de Worde." (He positively blushed as he consummated
this final act of treachery to Rickman's.) "And heaps of others
equally valuable; I can give you a list of fifty or so. You can buy
them for a pound a-piece and sell the lot for three thousand. If
Pilkington collars the rest he'll still be paid, and there may be
something over."

She considered a moment. "Has Mr. Pilkington any idea of the value of
those books?"

"I'm certain he hasn't. Only an expert could have."

"Would it be perfectly fair to him?"

"To _him_? Perfectly fair. You buy them at his own valuation."

"I see. I should like to do that--if--if it can be managed."

"I think it can be managed. My father isn't likely to settle with Mr.
Pilkington without consulting me. If he _has_ settled we must try and
get him to withdraw."

"Oh, surely there would be no difficulty about that?"

He said nothing. It was really terrible the way she took integrity for
granted. To be sure his father had a reputation with the family. He
remembered how Sir Joseph used to praise him to his face as the only
honest dealer in London. But Sir Joseph was in the habit of buying
books, not selling them.

He rose and turned away, evading her innocent eyes.

"I hope not. I'll see Mr. Pilkington about it. By the way, here _is_
Mr. Pilkington. Did you expect him?"

"No, I--" Her voice died away, extinguished in her horror.




CHAPTER XXXI


There could be no mistake about it.

Mr. Pilkington was coming by the private way, stepping softly over a
fair green lawn. The low golden light before sunset flooded the lawn
so that Mr. Pilkington walking in it was strangely and gloriously
illuminated. Everything about him shone, from his high silk hat to the
tips of his varnished boots. His frock coat and trousers of grey
summer suiting clung to his figure like a warm and sunny skin. All
over Mr. Pilkington and round about him there hung the atmosphere of
the City. Not of the actual murky labyrinth, roofed with fog, but of
the City as she stands transfigured before the eyes of the young
speculator, in her orient golden mood.

Lucia had seen him. The light died out of her face, her lips
straightened. She stood motionless, superb, intent. With such a look
and in such an attitude a Roman maiden might have listened to the feet
of the Vandal at the gate.

He was coming very swiftly, was Dicky, as if borne by an impetus of
conquest. As he caught sight of Miss Harden through the open window,
though he kept his head rigidly averted, his eyes slewed round towards
her, and at the same moment his fingers rose instinctively to his
little fair moustache. It was the gesture of the irresistible male.

"_Must_ I see him?" she asked helplessly. She had realized everything
in that moment.

"Not unless you like. Shall I deal with him?"

"If you would be so good. But no--it doesn't matter. I shall have to
see him later."

She sat down again and waited. The silence was so tense that it seemed
to bear the impact of her pulses; it throbbed and quivered with pain.
Outside, the sound of the pebbles, crunched under Pilkington's
footsteps, became a concert of shrieks.

Rickman did not offer to go as Mr. Pilkington advanced; for, Heaven
knew how, in some obscure and subtle way she had managed to convey to
him that his presence was a protection.

Mr. Pilkington entered the room with the air of a man completely
assured as to his reception. He bowed to Miss Harden; an extraordinary
bow. No words could have conveyed the exquisite intimations of Mr.
Pilkington's spine. It was as if he had said to her, "Madam, you
needn't be afraid; in your presence I am all deference and chivalry
and restraint." But no sooner had Dicky achieved this admirable effect
of refinement than he spoilt it all by the glance he levelled at young
Rickman. _That_ expressed nothing but the crude emotion of the
insolent male, baulked of his desire to find himself alone on the
field. It insulted her as brutally as any words by its unblushing
assumption of the attitude of sex.

"I must introduce myself, Miss 'Arden," he said, ignoring Rickman. "I
think I have _not_ had the pleasure--" His large mouth closed
reluctantly on the unfinished phrase.

He seated himself with circumstance, parting the tails of his coat
very carefully. He had chosen a seat opposite the window. As if
conscious of the glory of his appearance, he offered himself liberally
to the light. He let it play over his figure, a figure that youth
subdued to sleekness that would one day be corpulence; it drew out all
the yellow in his moustache and hair; it blazed in his gold-rimmed
eye-glass; thence it alighted, a pale watery splendour, on the bridge
of his nose. It was a bridge where two nationalities met and contended
for mastery. Mr. Pilkington's nose had started with a distinctly
Semitic intention, frustrated by the Anglo-Saxon in him, its downward
course being docked to the proportion of a snub. Nobody knew better
than Mr. Pilkington that it was that snub that saved him. He was proud
of it as a proof of his descent from the dominant race. Assisted by
his reluctantly closing mouth and double eye-glass it inspired
confidence, giving to Mr. Pilkington's face an expression of extreme
openness and candour. He was proud of his eye-glass too. He
considered that it made him look like a man of science or of letters.
But it didn't. It did much better for him than that. It took all the
subtlety out of his face and endowed it with an earnest and enormous
stare. And as that large mouth couldn't and wouldn't close properly,
his sentences had a way of dying off in a faint gasp, leaving a great
deal to the imagination. All these natural characteristics were
invaluable for business purposes.

But if you had asked Mr. Pilkington for the secret of his success, he
would have told you that he owed it to his possession of two
qualities, "bounce" and "tact." To both, mind you; for tact without
bounce will carry a man neither far nor high; while bounce without
tact will elevate him occasionally to his own perdition.
Conversationally he was furnished with tentacles sensitive to the
lightest touch of an idea; he had the very subtlest discernment of
shades within shades. He grasped with airy impact; he moved by a
delicate contact and recoil, a process he was pleased to describe as
"feelin' his way."

He did not rush brutally into business, as a man of coarser fibre
might have done. He removed his gloves, adjusted his eye-glass and
admired the view. He shrank from the suggestion that he had come to
"take possession," but clearly he could not take possession of the
view. It was a safe and soothing topic.

"You have a very glorious outlook here, Miss Harden."

Then Mr. Pilkington perceived a shade. Miss Harden's outlook was _not_
glorious.

By an almost visible recoil from his own blunder he strove to convey
an impression of excessive delicacy.

"Wot very exceptional weather we are enjoying--" Perceiving another
and a finer shade (for evidently Miss Harden was not enjoying the
weather, or indeed anything else) Mr. Pilkington again shifted his
ground. He spoke of books. He noticed with approval the arrangement of
the library. He admired the Harden taste in costly bindings, as if he
were by no means personally concerned with any of these things. And
thus by a delicate and imperceptible transition, he slid into his
theme.

"Now, as regards this--this sale, Miss Harden. I hope you
understand--"

"I understand that you are my father's chief creditor, and that the
sale is necessary."

"Quite so. But I'm most awfully sorry for the necessity As for time--I
don't want you to feel that you're pressed or hurried in any way." Mr.
Pilkington's eyes gazed up at her under their great glasses, humid and
immense. His lower lip drooped in an uncertain manner. He had a great
deal of nice feeling about him, had Dicky.

"I hope those men aren't making a nuisance of themselves They've had
strict orders to keep in the background I'm orf'ly upset," said Mr.
Pilkington in a thick emotional voice, "about this affair; and I want
to consider you, Miss Harden, in every possible way."

"You are very kind. But I would rather you didn't consider me, in any
way at all."

As she said this Mr. Rickman looked at her with a grave smile,
conveying (behind Mr. Pilkington's back) an unmistakable warning.

Mr. Pilkington smiled too, a large and fluttering smile as of one
indulgent to any little attempt at brilliance on the part of a young
lady under a cloud. Lucia swept him and his smile with her long and
steady gaze, a gaze which made Dicky exceedingly uncomfortable.

"I think if you have any arrangements to make, you had better see my
solicitor."

"I have an appointment," said Dicky, not without a certain dignity,
"with Mr. Schofield, to-morrow morning."

"Then I suppose what you want now is to look over the house?"

The question and the gaze were so direct that Dicky (who had meant to
amble delicately round that point for another quarter of an hour) lost
his head, dropped his eye-glass, and fairly let himself go.

"Well, perhaps as I _am_ here, I'd better 'ave a look round. Of
course--if--if it's in any way inconvenient--"

"Not in the least. You can look round at once."

She rang the bell. On her way to it she gathered up some books that
were lying out of sight and laid them on the table.

"These," she said to Rickman, "belong to the library. They must go
with the rest."

He looked at them. One was an Aldine Dante, he had seen her reading
it. He took Pilkington aside and said something to him in a tone which
Lucia could not hear. Her hand was on the door when Pilkington sprang
forward.

"One moment, Miss Harden. Everything must be sold in the regular way,
but if you'll tell me of any books you've a special fancy for, I'll
make a note of them and buy them in for you." He paused, awaiting the
breath of inspiration. It came. "For--for a merely nominal sum."

To do Dicky justice this delicate idea greatly commended itself to his
good nature. Business is business, but not willingly did Dicky inflict
pain, least of all upon a young and pretty woman. Besides he had an
eye to his reputation; he was disposed to do this thing handsomely.
Rickman envied him his inspiration, his "merely nominal sum."

"Thank you. The books were not mine," said Lucia in spite of another
meaning look from her ally.

"Quite so. But I should disregard that if I were you. Anyhow you can
think it over, and if you change your mind you can let me or Mr
Rickman know before the sale."

Lucia looked down at him from her height. "I shall not change my mind.
If I want to keep any of the books, I can buy them from Mr. Rickman."

She turned to Rickman in the doorway. "All the same, it was kind of
you to think of it." She said it very distinctly, so that Mr.
Pilkington could hear.

Rickman followed her out of the room and closed the door behind them.
She turned on him eyes positively luminous with trust. It was as if
she had abandoned the leading of her intellect and flung the reins on
the neck of her intuition.

"I was right, wasn't I? I would so much rather buy them back from
you."

"From my father?"

"It's the same thing, isn't it?"

He smiled sadly. "I'm afraid it isn't, quite. Why didn't you accept
his offer?"

"I couldn't." She shuddered slightly. Her face expressed her deep and
desperate repugnance. "I _can_ buy them back from you. He is really
arranging with your father, isn't he?"

"Yes." It was the third time that she had appealed from Pilkington to
him, and there was a profound humiliation in the thought that at this
precise moment the loathsome Dicky might be of more solid use to her
than he.

"Well then," she said almost triumphantly. "I shall be safe. You will
do your best for me."

It was a statement, but he met it as if it had been a question.

"I will indeed."

He saw that it was in identifying his father with him that she left it
to their honour.




CHAPTER XXXII


Dicky Pilkington did not belong to the aristocracy of finance. Indeed,
finance had not in any form claimed him at the first.

Under the grey frock-coat and gleaming shirt-front, hidden away behind
the unapparent splendours of Dicky Pilkington's attire (his undermost
garments were of woven silk), in a corner of his young barbarian heart
there lurked an obscure veneration for culture and for art. When his
day's work was done, the time that Dicky did not spend in the
promenade of the Jubilee Variety Theatre, he spent in reading Karl
Pearson and Robert Louis Stevenson, with his feet on the fender. He
knew the Greek characters. He _said_ he could tell Plato from
Aristotle by the look of the text. Dicky had begun life as a Junior
Journalist. But before that, long, long before, when he was an
innocent schoolboy, Dicky had a pair of wings, dear little cherubic
wings, that fluttered uneasily under his little jacket. The wings
moulted as Dicky grew older; they shrank (in the course of his
evolution) to mere rudimentary appendages, and poor Dicky flopped
instead of flying. Finally they dropped off and Dicky was much happier
without them. Rickman used to say that if you stripped him you saw the
marks of them still quite plainly; and Dicky was always stripping
himself and showing them. They proved to these writing fellows what he
might have been if he had only chosen. He had begun by being a poet
like the best of them, and in his heart of hearts Dicky believed that
it was as a poet he should end. His maxim upon this head was: "When
I've feathered my nest it will be time enough for me to sing."

Dicky's nest was not long in feathering, and yet Dicky had not begun
to sing. Still, at moments, after supper, or on a Sunday afternoon,
walking in a green lane, Dicky would unbosom himself. He would tell
you touching legends of his boyhood and adolescence. Then he would
talk to you of women. And then he would tell you how it was that he
came to forsake literature for finance.

He had begun in a small way by financing little tradesmen, little
journalists and actresses in temporary difficulties; lending small
sums to distressed clergymen, to governesses and the mistresses of
boarding-houses. By charging a moderate interest he acquired a
character for fairness and straight-forwardness. Now and then he did
what he called a really tip-top generous thing. "Character," said
Dicky Pilkington, "is capital"; and at thirty he had managed to save
enough of it to live on without bothering about earning any more.

Then, by slow degrees, Dicky extended his business. He lent larger
sums at correspondingly higher interest. Then he let himself go. He
was caught by the glory of the thing, the poetry of finance. He soared
to all the heights and sounded all the depths of speculation. He took
risks with rapture. He fancied himself lending vast sums at giddy
interest. "That," said Dicky to his conscience, was to "cover his
risk." He hadn't forgotten that character is capital. And when it
occurred to him, as it sometimes did, that he was making rather a
large hole in it, he would then achieve some colossal act of
generosity which set him on his legs again. So that Dicky Pilkington
was always happy in his conscience as in everything else.

He had been prepared to do the handsome thing by Miss Harden, only her
manner had somehow "choked him off." He could have afforded it, for he
considered this Freddy Harden business as his very largest deal. He
held a mortgage on the land, from the river to the top of Harcombe
Hill. There was any amount to be got out of the pictures and the
furniture. And the library was not altogether to be sneezed at. It had
been Fred Harden's last desperate resource, (rather poor security in
Dicky's opinion); but if the sum advanced had not been prodigious
(compared with the sums that had gone before it) the interest had
been high. So that, in returning from his tour of inspection, he felt
considerably elated.

Rickman, as he went down the High Street that evening, saw Dicky a
little way in front of him. He noticed that the financial agent was an
object of considerable interest to the people of Harmouth. Men stood
at shop doors and street corners, women (according to their social
standing) hung out of bedroom windows or hid behind parlour curtains
to look after him as he went. Here and there Rickman caught sullen and
indignant glances, derisive words and laughter. Evidently the spirit
of Harmouth was hostile to Dicky. A Harden was a Harden, and Sir
Frederick's magnificently complete disaster had moved even the
townspeople, his creditors.

The excitement caused by Dicky concentrated at the windows of the
London and Provincial Bank, where Sir Frederick had had a large
balance--overdrawn.

Harmouth High Street is a lane, wide at the top and narrow at the
bottom, which gives on to the esplanade between the Marine Hotel and
the Bank. At a certain distance these buildings cut the view into a
thin slip of grey beach and steep blue sea. The form of Dicky was now
visible in the centre of that slip, top-hatted, distinct against the
blue. He stood on the edge of the esplanade as on a railway platform,
reading the paper and smoking a cigar. From time to time, looking up
with an expression half visionary, half voluptuous, he puffed and spat
in dreamy rhythmic sequence.

"_Coelum, non animam_," said Rickman to himself, "they change their
skies, but not their habits." When he came up with him, he found the
soul of Pilkington disporting itself in its own airy element,
exchanging ideas with two young damsels who frolicked on the beach
below. Backwards and forwards flew the light-hearted banter, like
balls of sea-foam, Mr. Pilkington the inspirer and the inspired. The
after-glow of his last triumphant witticism still illuminated his
countenance when he turned again to the printed page.

Now, owing to its peculiar construction, Harmouth High Street acts as
a funnel for the off-shore breezes; they rush through it as they rush
through Windy Gap, that rift in the coast before which the wary
fisherman slackens sail. Just such an air was careering seawards when
Mr. Pilkington was about to perform the difficult feat of folding his
paper backwards. It smote one side of the broadsheet and tore it from
his grasp, making it flutter like a sail escaped from the lanyard. The
breeze dropped; it hovered; it waited like the wanton that it was; and
when Mr. Pilkington's free hand made a clutch at the flying columns,
it seized that moment to lift his hat from his head and dash it to the
ground. Then the demon of the wind entered into and possessed that
high thing; the hat rolled, it curvetted, it turned brim over crown,
it took wings and flew, low and eager like a cormorant; finally it
struck the beach, gathering a frightful impetus from the shock, and
bounded seawards, the pebbles beating from it a thin drum-like note.
Never was any created thing so tortured with indecent merriment in the
face of doom. The end seemed certain, for Dicky Pilkington, though he
joined in the hysterics of the crowd, had not compromised his dignity
by pursuit; when, just as the hat touched the foam of perdition, Molly
Trick, the fat bathing woman, interposed the bulwark of her body; she
stooped; she spread her wide skirts, and the maniac leapt into them as
into a haven.

The young men who watched this breezy incident over the blinds of the
London and Provincial Bank were immensely diverted. Even Rickman
laughed as Dicky turned to him his cheerful face buffeted by the wind.

Mr. Pilkington had put up at the same hotel as Rickman, and they found
themselves alone at the dinner-table.

"Glori-orious air this," said Mr. Pilkington. "I don't know how you
feel, young 'un, but there's a voice that tells me I shall dine."

Mr. Pilkington was not deceived by that prophetic voice. He dined with
appetite undiminished by his companion's gloom. From time to time he
rallied him on his coyness under the fascinations of beef-steak, lager
beer, apricots and Devonshire cream.

"Well, Razors," he said at last, "and wot do you think of the Harden
Library?"

Rickman was discreet. "Oh, it isn't bad for a private show. Sir
Frederick doesn't seem to have been much of a collector."

"Wasn't he, though! In his own line he was a pretty considerable
collector, quite a what d'you call 'em--virtuoso."

"Not very much virtue about him, I imagine."

"Well, whatever there may have been, in ten years that joker went
through his capital as if it had been a paper hoop. Slap through it
and out at the other side, on his feet, grinning at you."

"How did he manage it?"

"Cards--horses--women--everything you can name," said Dicky, "that's
amusing, and at the same time expensive. They're precious slow down
here in the country; but get 'em up to town, and there's nothing like
'em for going the pace, when they _do_ go it."

"His velocity must have been something tremendous, to judge by the
smash." Rickman was looking at the financial agent with an expression
which some people might have been inclined to resent, but Dicky's
gaiety was proof against criticism.

"What did he die of?" Rickman asked slowly.

"What a beastly question to ask at dinner. He died, like most people,
of his way of living. If Freddy Harden had had opportunities equal to
his talents he would have smashed up ten years ago. Talent wasn't the
word for it, it was genius--genius."

"I see. And when you come across a poor struggling devil with a gift
like that, you long to be kind to him, don't you? To bring him
forward, to remove every obstacle to his career?"

"Well, yes, I suppose I did run Harden for all he was worth. Queer
fish, Harden. He used to rave like a lunatic about his daughter; but I
don't suppose he spent a fiver on her in his life. It's pretty rough
on her, this business. But Loocher'll do. She's got cheek enough for
half a dozen." Dicky chuckled at the memory of his discomfiture. "I
like it. I like a girl with some bounce in her. Trust her to fall on
her little tootsies anywhere you drop her."

"I can't say you've made the falling very easy for her."

Dicky's bright face clouded. "Wot the devil has that got to do with
me? I've done _my_ level best. Why, I could have cleaned them out
years ago, if I'd chosen. Now, just to show you what sort of fellow
Freddy Harden was--last time I ever saw him, poor chap, he told me
that girl of his was a regular musical genius, just a little more
technique, you know, and she'd beat Paderewski into a cocked hat. She
was wonderful. That's the way he piled it on, and it may have been all
true; he could have made a fortune, fiddling, if he hadn't been as
proud as Satan and as lazy as a wombat. Well, I said, if that was so,
I'd take her up and run her as a pro.--for friendship, mind you. I
liked Freddy, and I was orf'ly sorry for him. She could pay me if she
pulled it off; if not, she could let it stand over till the day of
judgement."

Rickman flushed. "Did you know anything of Miss Harden, then?"

"Not I. Never set eyes on her. She might have been as ugly as sin for
all I knew. I risked that."

"What did Sir Frederick say to your generous proposal?"

Dicky's face became luminous at the recollection. "He said he'd see me
d--d first. But I meant it. I'd do it to-morrow if she asked me
prettily."

"Have you any notion how she'll be left after all this?"

"Yes. There's the house, and her mother's money. Freddy couldn't get
at that. When it's all settled up she can't be so badly off, I fancy.
Still it's a beastly back-hander in the face, poor girl. By Jove, she
does stand up to it in form, too. Too d----d well bred to let you know
she's hit. You wouldn't think she'd be plucky, to look at her, would
you? It's queer how the breeding comes out in a woman."

Rickman held himself in with difficulty. When pearls are cast before
swine you look for depreciation as a matter of course; you would be
infinitely more revolted if, instead of trampling them under their
feet, the animals insisted on wearing them in their snouts. So
Pilkington rootling in Miss Harden's affairs; Pilkington posing as
Miss Harden's adviser; Pilkington adorning his obscene conversation
with Miss Harden's name, was to Rickman an infinitely more abominable
beast than Pilkington behaving according to his nature. But to quarrel
with Pilkington on this head would have provoked the vulgarest of
comments, and for Miss Harden's sake he restrained himself.

Dicky remained unconscious. "I'm glad you put me up to offering some
of those books back. It goes against me to sell them, but what the
devil am I to do?"

"_I_ can't tell you."

"I shan't collar all this furniture, either. I'll buy in some of it
and return it. The decent thing would be to give her back poor
Freddy's portrait."

He passed his hand over a bunch of bananas,--he selected one, pinched
it, smelt it, put it down and took another.

"It's a pity it's a Watts, that portrait," he murmured dreamily. He
seemed to be wrestling with himself; and apparently he overcame. When
he had eaten his banana his face was flushed and almost firm.

"I'll not take it. He sticks in my throat, does Freddy."

Rickman left the table. If he had disliked Dicky when he was callous,
he loathed him when he was kind.

He threw open the window, and sat on the ledge. The breeze had died
down and the heat in the little hotel was stifling. Across the passage
glasses clinked in the bar, sounding a suitable accompaniment to the
voice of Dicky. From time to time bursts of laughter came from the
billiard-room overhead. Outside there, in the night, the sea smothered
these jarring human notes with its own majestic tumult. Rickman,
giving up his sickened senses to the night and the sea, was fortunate
enough to miss a great deal that Pilkington was saying.

For Dicky, still seated at the table, talked on. He had mingled soda
with whisky, and as he drank it, the veil of our earthly life lifted
for Dicky, and there was revealed to him the underlying verity, the
fabric of the world. In other words, Dicky had arrived at the inspired
moment of the evening, and was chanting the Hymn of Finance.

"Look," said Dicky, "at the Power it gives you. Now all you writing
chaps, you know, you're not in it, you're not in it at all. You're
simply 'opping and dodging round the outside--you 'aven't a chance of
really seeing the show. Whereas--look at _me_. I go and take my seat
plump down in the middle of the stage box. I've got my ear to the
heart of 'Umanity and my 'and on its pulse. I've got a grip of
realities. You say you want to por-tray life. Very well, por-tray it.
When all's said and done you've only got a picture. And wot's a
picture, if it's ever so lifelike? You 'aven't got a bit nearer to the
real thing. I tell you, you aren't in it with me. I'd have been a
writer myself if I'd thought it was good enough. I began that way; but
as to going back to it, you might just as well expect me to go back to
kissing a woman's photo when I can put my arm round her waist."

And Dicky, gracefully descending on the wings of his metaphor,
alighted on Miss Poppy Grace. But to Rickman the figure of Poppy, once
an obsession, was now as indistinct as the figure of Dicky seen
through a cloud of tobacco smoke. He was roused by a more direct
appeal, and what seemed to him a violent change of theme.

"Did you notice what rum eyes Miss Harden's got? They haven't taught
her how to use 'em, though. Hi, Ricky! Aren't you going to join us in
a drink?"

"No, I'm not." His tone implied that he was not going to join
Pilkington in anything.

"You seem a bit cut up on Miss Harden's account."

"If you mean that I think she's been most infernally treated, I do."

"H'm. Well, I will say the wind is not exactly tempered to that shorn
lamb. But it's an ill wind that blows nobody any good. Queer how
things are mixed up in this world. You wouldn't think there was much
connexion between Miss Harden and Miss Poppy Grace, would you? Well,
wot's Loocher's loss is Popsie's gain; if that's any consolation."

"I certainly don't see the connexion."

"No? I say, can't you shut the window? That d----d sea makes such a
noise I can't hear myself speak. I was going to say I'd some notion of
running Poppy on her own before long. And I think--I _think_ I can do
it out of this haul, before she signs another contract. Of course, we
expect you and your friends to back us."

Dicky's voice came slightly muffled from the depths of his long
tumbler.

Rickman turned round. "What did you say about Bacchus?" He had turned
in anger, but at the spectacle presented by Pilkington he laughed
aloud in the insolence of his youth.

"Shut that window, can't you? I say, if you can get at any of the
papers and give them the tip--"

"Well?" Rickman's hand closed fiercely over the top of a soda-water
syphon. Pilkington followed the movement with an innocent, but by no
means unobservant eye.

Only the other day they had been rivals for the favour of Miss Poppy
Grace, which seemed to be very evenly divided between them. If Rickman
had her heart, he--Pilkington--held her by the power of the purse.
Jealous he might be, but jealousy counted for little in the great mind
of Pilkington. Human passions were the stuff he worked in. Where they
raged highest it was his to ride on the whirlwind and direct the
storm. If in Poppy's case they raged too high, his position as
creditor gave him a tight grip of young Rickman. On the other hand,
Rickman was now a full-fledged Junior Journalist, and Pilkington, amid
the wreck of morals and the crash of creeds, had preserved a simple
childlike faith in the omnipotence of the press. So, if it was madness
for Rickman to irritate Pilkington, it was not altogether expedient
for Pilkington to irritate him.

"Look here, Razors," said he, "you needn't go shying any syphons
about. There's nothing behind this show but business. What I do for
Miss Grace I do for cold cash. See? Of course, I take an interest in
the girl--"

"Interest at something like a hundred and fifty per cent., I suppose?"

"That's about the figure--With your permission, I'll remove that
fizz-gig out of your way--What do you think of it--my idea, I mean?"

"I think there's a d----d lot more interest than principle in it."

"You young goat! I'm out of it. Honour bright. So if you feel inclined
to slog away and boom the lady, there's no reason why you shouldn't."

"Is there any reason why I should?" inquired Rickman with treacherous
severity. So immense was his calm that Dicky was taken in by it and
blundered.

"Well, yes," said he, "in that case, we might consider our little
account settled."

"Our little account, Dicky, will be run up on the wrong side of the
paper if you don't take care."

"Wot d'you mean?"

"I mean that when you've got a particularly filthy job on hand, it's
as well to keep away from people who are not fond of dirt. At any
rate, I advise you not to come too near me."

Dicky for the first time that evening looked uncomfortable. It
occurred to Dicky that whisky and soda was not the very best drink to
talk business on.

"I've noticed, Rickman," said he, "that since you've been living down
in the country, you don't seem able to understand a joke."

But Rickman had got his legs on the other side of the window ledge,
and as Dicky approached him he slid down on to the esplanade and
slipped into the night.




CHAPTER XXXIII


Hardly knowing how he got there he found himself on the top of
Harcombe Hill. His head was bare and the soles of his thin slippers
were cut with the flints of the hillside lane. He had walked, walked,
walked, driven by a fury in his body and a fever in his feet.

His first idea had been to get as far away as possible from his
companion. He felt that he never could be clean again after his
contact with Dicky. How had the thing happened? Yesterday London
seemed as far away from Harmouth as Babylon from Arcadia, and Rickman
was not more infinitely removed from Lucia than Lucia was from Poppy;
yet here they were, all three tangled together in Dicky's complicated
draw-net. He held them all, Lucia by her honour, Poppy by her vanity,
and him, Rickman, by the lusts and follies of his youth. This was what
it had led him to, that superb triumphal progress of the passions. In
language as plain as he could put it, he--he--had been offered a bribe
to advertise Poppy Grace for the benefit of Dicky, who kept her. To
advertise a little painted--he disposed of poor Poppy in a powerful
word which would have given her propriety a fit if it could have heard
him. That he himself should ever have been infatuated with Poppy
seemed to him now incredible, monstrous. In the last three weeks he
had not only grown sober, but mature. That youth of his which once
seemed immortal, had then ceased to be a part of him. He had cut
himself loose from it and put it behind him with all its miseries and
tumults and pollutions. But he couldn't get rid of it. Like an unclean
spirit cast out of him it seemed to have entered into Dicky as into a
convenient herd of swine. And in Dicky's detestable person it rose up
against him and pursued him. For Dicky, though sensual as any swine,
was cautious. Dicky, even with an unclean spirit in him, was not in
the least likely to rush violently down any steep place into the sea
and so perish out of his life.

That Dicky should have appeared on his last night here seemed the
vilest stroke that fate had dealt him yet. But Dicky could not follow
him up Harcombe Hill.

He looked before him. The lights of Harmouth opened out a thin line to
the esplanade, dividing the sea from the land by fire instead of foam;
strewn in the bed of the valley they revealed, as through some pure
and liquid medium, its darkness and its depth. Above them the great
flank of Muttersmoor stretched like the rampart of the night. Night
itself was twilight against that black and tragic line.

And Rickman, standing bareheaded on the hillside, was lifted up out of
his immense misery and unrest. He remembered how this land that he
loved so passionately had once refused him the inspiration that he
sought. And now it seemed to him that it could refuse him nothing,
that Nature under cover of the darkness gave up her inmost ultimate
secret. And if it be true that Nature's innermost ultimate secret is
known only to the pure, it was a sign of his own cleansing, this sense
of comfort and reconciliation, of unspoiled communion, of profound
immeasurable peace. In that moment his genius seemed to have passed
behind veils upon veils of separation, to possess that tender and
tragic beauty, to become one with the soul of the divine illimitable
night.

He was not in the least deceived as to the true source of his
inspiration. In all this, if you went back far enough, his body
counted; his body which he had made a house of shame and hunger and
desire, shaken by its own shivering nerves and leaping desperate
pulses. But what of that now? What matter, since that tumult of his
blood had set throbbing such subtle, such infinite vibrations in his
soul. _That_ was what counted. He could tell by it the quality and
immensity of his passion, by just that spiritual resonance and
response. It was the measure of Lucia's power to move him, the measure
too of his nearness to her no less than of his separation.

She could not take away what she had given; and among his sources of
inspiration, of the unique and unforgettable secret that had passed
into him with the night, on Harcombe Hill, as he looked towards
Muttersmoor, she also counted. She would be always there, a part of
it, a part of him, whether she would or no--if that was any
consolation.




CHAPTER XXXIV


He had made no empty promise when he assured her that he would do his
best; for there was something that could still be done. He built great
hopes on the result of the coming interview with his father. His idea
was to go up to town by the early morning train and talk the whole
thing over as calmly as might be. He would first of all appeal to his
father's better feelings; he would make him see this thing as he saw
it, he would rouse in him the spirit of integrity, the spirit of mercy
and pity, the spirit of justice and chivalry and honour.

But if all the arts of persuasion failed to touch him, Rickman Junior
had in reserve one powerful argument against which Rickman Senior
would hardly be able to contend. There would no doubt be inspirations,
but as to the main lines of his pleading he was already clear. He felt
entirely confident and light-hearted as he rose at five the next
morning to catch that early train.

Rickman Senior was not in the shop when Rickman Junior arrived on the
scene. He was in a great bare room on an upper floor of the
second-hand department. He looked more than ever studious and ascetic,
having exchanged his soft felt hat for a velvet skull-cup, and his
frock coat for a thin alpaca. He was attended by a charwoman with
scrubbing brush and pail, a boy with ladder and broom, and a carpenter
with foot-rule, note-book and pencil. He moved among them with his
most solemn, most visionary air, the air, not so much of a Wesleyan
minister, as of a priest engaged in some high service of dedication.
He was in fact making arrangements for the reception of no less than
fifteen thousand volumes, the collection of the late Sir Joseph
Harden, of Court House, Harmouth. And as he looked around him his face
expressed the smooth and delicately voluptuous satisfaction of the
dreamer who has touched his dream.

This look of beatitude faded perceptibly when the message came that
Mr. Keith was in the front shop and wished to see him. Mr. Keith, it
appeared, had no time to spare. Isaac had, in fact, experienced a
slight shock at the earliness of Keith's return. His first thought was
that at the last moment there had been some serious hitch with
Pilkington. He found Keith sitting before the counter in the attitude
of a rather imperious customer; but the warm pressure of his son's
hand removed this disagreeable effect of superiority. Keith's face
wore signs of worry and agitation that confirmed Isaac's original
fear.

"Well," he said a little anxiously, "I didn't expect you back as early
as this."

"I haven't come to stop. I've got to catch the twelve-thirty back
again. I came up because I wanted to talk to you."

"Come," said Isaac, "into the office."

He laid his hand on Keith's shoulder as they went. He felt very kindly
towards him at that moment. His heart was big with trust in the
brilliant, impetuous boy. When he touched Keith's hand he had felt
that intellectual virtue had gone out of it. He guessed that there was
a crisis in the affairs of the House of Rickman, and that Keith had
come with warning and with help. He knew his power of swift and
effectual action in a crisis. Yes, yes; Keith's wits might go
wool-gathering; but he was safe enough when he had gathered his wool.

"Well?" he repeated, lifting grave interrogative eyebrows. He had
seated himself; but Keith remained standing, a sign with him of
extreme perturbation.

"I thought I could explain things better if I saw you," he began.

"Quite so; quite so. I hope you haven't come to tell me there's been
any 'itch."

"Well, I told you as much when I wrote."

"I understood you advised me to withdraw, because you thought
Pilkington wanted a big price."

"I didn't know what he wanted; I knew what we ought to give."

"That was settled by looking in the register. You don't mean to say
_he_'s going to back out of it?"

Keith was so preoccupied that he failed to see the drift of his
father's questioning. "You see," he continued, following his own
thoughts, "it's not as if we had only ourselves to consider. There's
Miss Harden."

"Ah, yes, Pilkington did make some mention of a young lady."

"She was good enough to say she'd rather we bought the library than
anybody. I think we're bound to justify her confidence."

"Certainly, most certainly, we are," said Isaac with solemnity. He was
agreeably flattered by this tribute to the greatness of his house.

"I thought I did right in promising that we would do our very best for
her."

"Of course you were. But that's all settled. Mr. Pilkington knows that
I'm prepared to meet his wishes."

"His wishes?"

"He gave me to understand that he was anxious to have a sum to hand
over to the young lady. In fact, he wrote me a most touching appeal."

"What d----d impertinence! He had no business to appeal!"

"Well, per'aps it wasn't strictly business-like. But I think, under
the circumstances, 'e was morally--_morally_--justified. And I think
he will consider I've responded very handsomely."

"You've made him an offer, then?"

"I made it three days ago, provisionally, and he's accepted it," said
Isaac, with some heat. "Why, he's got the cheque."

"For how much?"

"For twelve hundred."

"My dear father, you know, really, that won't do."

"Do you think it was foolish to pay the two hundred extra?"

Isaac gazed at him over his fine gold-rimmed spectacles; and as he
gazed he kept drawing his beard slowly through one lean and meditative
hand. It was thus that he grasped his son's argument and drew it to a
point.

"Foolish? It was--Don't you see? We--we simply can't do it."

"Why, you said yourself we could go as far as four thousand five, or
four thousand at the very least."

Keith looked steadily at his father, who was too deeply and solemnly
absorbed to perceive the meaning of the look. "That was not quite what
I said. I said--if we were _not_ prepared to go so far, it was our
duty to withdraw. I thought I had made that clear to you."

"You 'aven't made it clear to me why you're objecting to that two
hundred now."

Isaac was beginning to feel that stupidity was now his refuge.

"I'm not objecting to your reckless extravagance, as you seem to
think. I'm trying to suggest that twelve hundred is a ridiculously
small offer for a collection which can't be worth less than four
thousand."

"It may be worth that to a collector. It isn't worth it to me."

"It's worth it to any dealer who knows his business."

"Pretty business, if you have to buy at fancy prices and sell at a
risk."

"I allowed for the risk in the valuation--I always do. There's one
point where you _are_ extravagant, if you like. What's the use of
paying me for advice if you won't take it?"

Isaac's stupidity increased.

"'Ow do you mean--paying you for your advice?"

"Paying a valuer, then, if you won't accept his valuation."

So unwilling was he to admit the sharpness of his father's practice
that he tried to persuade himself that they had merely disagreed on a
point of connoisseurship. "My advice, if you remember, was to withdraw
decently, or pay a decent price."

"I've paid my price, and I'm certainly not going to withdraw."

"Well, but I'm afraid, if you won't withdraw, I must. You haven't paid
_my_ price, and I can't be responsible."

Isaac caressed his beard gently, and looked at Keith with a gaze so
clear that it might have passed for pure. He was saying to himself,
as he had said once before, "There's a woman in it."

"Don't you see," Keith broke out, "the atrocious position that I'm in?
I promised Miss Harden that we'd do our best for her, and now we're
taking advantage of the situation to drive an iniquitous bargain with
her."

As Keith made this powerful statement Isaac smiled, puzzled and
indulgent, as at some play of diverting but incomprehensible humour.
In fact, he never could clearly distinguish between Keith's sense of
humour and his sense of honour; both seemed equally removed from the
safe, intelligible methods of ordinary men. He wasn't sure but what
there was something fine in it, something in keeping with the
intellectual extravagance that distinguished his son from other
people's sons. There were moments when it amused and interested him,
but he did not care to have it obtruded on him in business hours.

"I'm driving no bargain with the lady at all. The books aren't hers,
they're Pilkington's. I'm dealing with him."

"And you refuse to consider her interests?"

"How can you say so when I'm paying two hundred more than I need do,
on her account alone? You must explain that clearly to her."

"Not I. You can explain it yourself. To me, you see, the whole thing's
simply a colossal fraud. I won't have anything to do with it."

"You _'aven't_ anything to do with it. I made the bargain, and I keep
to it."

"Very well, then, you must choose between your bargain and me."

"Wot do you mean, choose between my bargain and you?"

"I mean exactly what I say. I know (if you don't) that that two
hundred ought to be three thousand, and if it isn't paid I shall have
to shunt the business. I never meant to stay in it for ever, but in
this case I shall simply clear out at once, that's all. See?"

"No. I don't see. I don't see myself paying three thousand to a man
who's willing to take two hundred."

"See my point, I mean. If the three thousand isn't paid, I go. On the
other hand, if it is paid, I stay."

This was one of those inspirations on which he had counted, and it
presented itself to him as a "clincher." At the same instant he
realized that he was selling himself into slavery for three thousand
pounds. No, not for three thousand pounds, for his honour's sake and
Lucia Harden's.

Isaac looked graver, alarmed even; it struck him that Keith's peculiar
vein of extravagance was becoming dangerous.

"You can calculate the interest at four per cent., and knock a hundred
and twenty off my salary, if you like; but I'll stay. It's pretty
clear, isn't it? I think, on the whole, it might be as well for you to
close with the offer. It seems to me that if I'm worth anything at
all, I'm worth three thousand."

"I haven't priced your services yet." Isaac's gaze shifted. He was
beginning to feel something of that profound discomfort he had
experienced before in the presence of his son. "Now, when you spoke to
Miss 'Arden, had she any notion of the value of the library?"

"None whatever, till I told her."

"Do you mean to stand there and say that you were fool enough to tell
her?"

"Certainly; I thought it only fair to her."

"And did you think it was fair to me?"

"Why not? If you're not dealing with her what difference could it
make?"

He said to himself, "I've got him there!"

Isaac was indeed staggered by the blow, and lost his admirable
composure.

"Do you know wot you've done? You've compromised me. You've
compromised the honour and the reputation of my 'Ouse. And you've done
it for a woman. You can't 'ide it; you're a perfect fool where women
are concerned."

"If anybody's compromised, I think it's me. I pledged my word."

"And wot business had you to pledge it?"

"Oh, I thought it safe. I didn't think you'd dishonour my draft on
your reputation."

"Draft indeed! That's it. You might just as well 'ave taken my
cheque-book out of the drawer there and forged my signature at the
bottom. Why, it's moral forgery--that's wot it is. I can see it all.
You thought you were acting very generous and grand with this young
lady. I say you were mean. You did it on the cheap. You'd no expense,
or risk, or responsibility at all. I know you can't see it that way,
but that's 'ow it is."

Keith did not defend himself against this view of his conduct, and
Isaac preserved his attitude of moral superiority.

"I'm not blaming you, my boy. It's my own fault. I shouldn't 'ave sent
you out like that, _with_ cart blansh, so to speak, and without it. I
should 'ave given you some responsibility."

"Oh, thanks, I couldn't very well have done with more than I had."

"Ah--you don't know the kind of responsibility I mean. You seem very
ready to play fast and loose with my business. I daresay, now, you
think since you 'aven't much to lose, you 'aven't much to gain?"

"Well, frankly, I can't see that I have--much. But I've got to catch a
train in twenty minutes, and I want to know what you're going to do?
Am I worth three thousand, or am I not?"

"You're worth a great deal more to me. You've got an education I
'aven't got; you've got brains; you've got tact, when you choose to
use it. You've got expert knowledge, and I can't carry on my business
without that. I'm not unreasonable. I can see that you can't act to
advantage if you're not made responsible, if you haven't any direct
interest in the business." He fixed his son with a glance that was
nothing if not spiritually fine. Keith found himself struggling
against an infamous, an intolerable suspicion.

"And that," said Isaac, "is wot I mean to give you. I've thought it
well over, and I believe it's worth my while." He went on, joining his
finger-tips, like a man who fits careful thought to careful thought,
suggesting the final adjustment of a plan long ago determined and
approved, for something in Keith's face made him anxious that this
offer should not appear to be born of the subject under discussion.

"It was always my intention to take you into partnership. I didn't
mean to do it quite so soon, but rather than 'ear this talk of
flinging up the business, I'm prepared to do it now."

"On the same conditions?"

Now that Rickman's should eventually become Rickman and Son was a very
natural development, and in any ordinary circumstances Isaac could
hardly have made a more innocent and suitable proposal. But it was no
longer possible for Keith to ignore its significance. It meant that
his father was ready to buy his services at any price; to bribe him
into silence.

His worst misgivings had never included such a possibility. In fact,
before going down to Devonshire he had never had any serious
misgivings at all. His position in his father's shop had hitherto
presented no difficulties to a sensitive honour. He had not been sure
that his honour was particularly sensitive, not more so, he supposed,
than other people's. Acting as part of the machinery of Rickman's, he
had sometimes made a clever bargain; he had never, so far as he knew,
driven a hard one. He was expected to make clever bargains, to buy
cheap and sell dear, to watch people's faces, lowering the price by
their anxiety to sell, raising it by their eagerness to buy. That was
his stern duty in the second-hand department. But there had been so
many occasions on which he had never done his duty; times when he was
tempted to actual defiance of it, when a wistful calculating look in
the eyes of some seedy scholar would knock all the moral fibre out of
him, and a two and sixpenny book would go for ninepence or a shilling.
And such was his conception of loyalty to Rickman's, that he generally
paid for these excesses out of his own pocket, so that conscience was
satisfied both ways. Therefore there had been no moral element in his
dislike to Rickman's; he had shrunk from it with the half-fantastic
aversion of the mind, not with this sickening hatred of the soul.
After three weeks of Lucia Harden's society, he had perceived how
sordid were the beginnings from which his life had sprung. As his
boyish dreams had been wrought like a broidery of stars on the floor
of the back-shop, so honour, an unattainable ideal, had stood out in
forlorn splendour against a darker and a dirtier background. He had
felt himself obscurely tainted and involved. Now he realized, as he
had never realized before, that the foundations of Rickman's were laid
in bottomless corruption. It was a House built, not only on every vile
and vulgar art known to trade, but on many instances of such a day's
work as this. And it was into this pit of infamy that his father was
blandly inviting him to descend. He had such an abominably clear
vision of it that he writhed and shuddered with shame and disgust; he
could hardly have suffered more if he had gone down into it bodily
himself. He endured in imagination the emotions that his father should
have felt and apparently did not feel.

He came out of his shudderings and writhings unspeakably consoled and
clean; knowing that it is with such nausea and pangs that the soul of
honour is born.

Their eyes met; and it was the elder Rickman's turn for bitterness. It
had come, the moment that he had dreaded. He was afraid to meet his
son's eyes, for he knew that they had judged him. He felt that he
stood revealed in that sudden illumination of the boy's radiant soul.
An instinct of self-preservation now prompted him to belittle Keith's
character. He had found amazing comfort in the reflection that Keith
was not all that he ought to be. As far as Isaac could make out, he
was always running after the women. He was a regular young profligate,
an infidel he was. What right had he to sit in judgement?

Shrewd even in anger, he took refuge in an adroit misconstruction of
Keith's language. "I lay down _no_ conditions. I'm much too anxious
about you. I want to see you in a house of your own, settled down and
married to some good girl who'll keep you steady and respectable. It's
a simple straightforward offer, and you take it or leave it."

"I'll take it on two conditions. First, as I said before, that we
either withdraw or pay over that three thousand. Second, that in the
future no bargains are made without my knowledge--and consent. That
means giving me the entire control of my own department."

"It means reducing me to a mere cypher."

"Such bargains are questions for experts, and should be left to
experts."

"If I were to leave them to experts like you I should be bankrupt in a
fortnight."

"I'm sorry, but you must choose between your methods and mine. There's
ten minutes to do it in."

"It won't take ten minutes to see what will ruin me quickest. As I
told you before, I'm not going back on my bargain."

"Nor I on mine."

Isaac spent three minutes in reflection. He reflected first, that
Keith had been in the past "a young profligate"; secondly, that he was
at the present moment in love; thirdly, that in the future he would
infallibly be hungry. He would think very differently when he had
forgotten the lady; or if he didn't think differently he would behave
differently when his belly pinched him. Isaac was a firm believer in
the persuasive power of the primitive appetites.

"Only seven minutes," murmured Keith. "I'm sorry to hurry you, father,
but I really must catch that train."

"Wait--steady. Do you know wot you're about? You shan't do anything
rash for want of a clear understanding. Mind--as you stand there,
you're nothing but a paid shop-assistant; and if you leave the shop,
you leave it without a penny to your name."

"Quite so. My name will hardly be any the worse for that. You're sure
you've decided? You--really--do not--want--to keep me?"

After all, did he want to keep him, to be unsettled in his conscience
and ruined in his trade? What, after all, had Keith brought into the
business but three alien and terrible spirits, the spirit of
superiority, the spirit of criticism, the spirit of tempestuous youth?
He would be glad to be rid of him, to be rid of those clear young
eyes, of the whole brilliant and insurgent presence. Not that he
believed that it would really go. He had a genial vision of the hour
of Keith's humiliation and return, a vivid image of Keith crawling
back on that empty belly.

At that moment Keith smiled, a smile that had in it all the sweetness
of his youth. It softened his father's mood, though it could not
change it.

"I'm afraid I can't afford to pay your price, my boy."

He was the first to turn away.

And Keith understood too thoroughly to condemn. That was it. His
father couldn't pay his price. The question was, could he afford to
pay it himself?

As the great swinging doors closed behind him, he realized that
whatever price he had paid for it, he had redeemed his soul. And he
had bought his liberty.




CHAPTER XXXV


Really, as Miss Harden's solicitor pointed out to her in the presence
of Miss Palliser, things looked very black against the young man. It
was clear, from the letter Mr. Schofield had received from Mr.
Jewdwine that morning, that the library was worth at least three times
the amount these Rickmans had paid for it. Barring the fact that sale
by private contract was irregular and unsatisfactory, he completely
exonerated Mr. Pilkington from all blame in the matter. His valuation
had evidently been made in all good faith, if in some ignorance. But
the young man, who by Pilkington's account had been acting all along
as his father's agent, must have been perfectly aware of the nature of
the bargain he had made. There was every reason to suppose that he had
known all about the bill of sale before he came down to Harmouth; and
there could be no doubt he had made use of his very exceptional
opportunities to inform himself precisely of the value of the books he
was cataloguing. He must have known that they had been undervalued by
Mr. Pilkington, and seen his chance of buying them for a mere song.

So what does he do? He carefully conceals his knowledge from the
persons most concerned; obviously, that he and his father may keep the
market to themselves. Then at the last moment he comes and pretends to
give Miss Harden a chance of forestalling the purchase, knowing well
that before she can take a single step the purchase will be concluded.
Then he hurries up to town; and the next thing you hear is that he's
very sorry, but arrangements have unfortunately already been made with
Mr. Pilkington. No doubt, as agent of the sale, that young man would
pocket a very substantial commission. Clearly in the face of the
evidence, it was impossible to acquit him of dishonesty; but no
action could be brought against him, because the matter lay entirely
between him and Mr. Pilkington.

Lucia and Kitty had listened attentively to the masterly analysis of
Mr. Rickman's motives; and at the end Kitty admitted that appearances
were certainly against him; while Lucia protested that he was a poet
and therefore constitutionally incapable of the peculiar sort of
cleverness imputed to him. The man of law submitted that because he
was a poet it did not follow that he was not an uncommonly knowing
young man too. Whereupon Kitty pointed out one or two flaws in the
legal argument. In the first place, urged Kitty, the one thing that
this knowing young man did not know was the amount of security the
library represented.

Mr. Schofield smiled in genial forbearance with a lady's ignorance. He
_must_ have known, for such information is always published for the
benefit of all whom it may concern.

But Kitty went on triumphantly. There was nothing to prove it, nothing
to show that this knowing young man knew all the facts when he first
undertook to work for Miss Harden. So far from concealing the facts
later on, he had, to her certain knowledge, written at once to Mr.
Jewdwine advising him to buy in the library, literally over old
Rickman's head. That old Rickman's action had not followed on young
Rickman's visit to town was sufficiently proved by the dates. The
letter to Mr. Pilkington enclosing the cheque for twelve hundred had
been written and posted at least twelve hours before his arrival. What
the evidence did prove was that he had moved heaven and earth to make
his father withdraw from his bargain.

Mr. Schofield coldly replied that the better half of Miss Palliser's
arguments rested on the statements of the young man himself, to which
he was hardly inclined to attach so much importance as she did. If his
main assertion was correct, that he had written to inform Mr. Jewdwine
of the facts, it was a little odd, to say the least of it, that Mr.
Jewdwine made no mention of having received that letter. And that he
had _not_ received it might be fairly inferred from the discrepancy
between young Rickman's exaggerated account of the value and Mr.
Jewdwine's more moderate estimate.

Lucia and Kitty first looked at each other, and then away to opposite
corners of the room. And at that moment Kitty was certain, while Lucia
doubted; for Kitty went by the logic of the evidence and Lucia by the
intuition which was one with her desire. Surely it was more likely
that Rickman had never written to Horace than that Horace should have
failed her, if he knew? Meanwhile the cold legal voice went on to
shatter the last point in Kitty's defence, observing that if Rickman
had not had time to get up to town before his father wrote to Mr.
Pilkington he had had plenty of time to telegraph. He added that the
young man's moral character need not concern them now. Whatever might
be thought of his conduct it was not actionable. And to the legal mind
what was not actionable was irrelevant.

But for Lucia, to whom at the moment material things were unrealities,
the burning question was the honesty or dishonesty of Rickman; for it
involved the loyalty or disloyalty, or rather, the ardour or the
indifference of Horace. If Rickman were cleared of the grosser guilt,
her cousin was, on a certain minor count, condemned; and there could
be no doubt which of the two she was the more anxious to acquit.

"I suppose you'll see him if he calls?" asked Kitty when they were
alone.

"See who?"

"Mr. Savage Keith Rickman." Even in the midst of their misery Kitty
could not forbear a smile.

But for once Lucia was inaccessible to the humour of the name.

"Of course I shall see him," she said gravely.




CHAPTER XXXVI


He called soon after six that evening, coming straight from the
station to the house. Miss Palliser was in the library, but his face
as he entered bore such unmistakable signs of emotion that Kitty in
the kindness of her heart withdrew.

He was alone there, as he had been on that evening of his first
coming. He looked round at the place he had loved so well, and knew
that he was looking at it now for the last time. At his feet the long
shadow from the bust of Sophocles lay dusk upon the dull crimson; the
level light from the west streamed over the bookshelves, lying softly
on brown Russia leather and milk-white vellum, lighting up the
delicate gold of the tooling, glowing in the blood-red splashes of the
lettering pieces; it fell slant-wise on the black chimney piece,
chiselling afresh the Harden motto: _Invictus_. There was nothing
meretricious, nothing flagrantly modern there, as in that place of
books he had just left; its bloom was the bloom of time, the beauty of
a world already passing away. Yet how he had loved it; how he had
given himself up to it; how it had soothed him with its suggestion of
immortal things. And now, for this last time, he felt himself
surrounded by intelligences, influences; above the voices of his
anguish and his shame he heard the stately generations calling; they
approved; they upheld him in his resolution.

He turned and saw Lucia standing beside him. She had come in unheard,
as on that evening which seemed now so long ago.

She held out her hand. Not to have shaken hands with the poor fellow,
would, she felt, have been to condemn him without a hearing.

He did not see the offered hand, nor yet the chair it signed to him
to take. As if he knew that he was on his trial, he stood rigidly
before her. His eyes alone approached her, looking to hers to see if
they condemned him.

Lucia's eyes were strictly non-committal. They, too, seemed to stand
still, to wait, wide and expectant, for his defence. Her attitude was
so far judicial that she was not going to help him by a leading
question. She merely relieved the torture of his visible bodily
constraint by inviting him to sit down. He dropped into a chair that
stood obliquely by the window, and screwed himself round in it so as
to face her.

"I saw my father this morning," he began. "I went up by the early
train."

"I know."

"Then you know by this time that I was a day too late."

"Mr. Pilkington sent me your father's letter."

"What did you think of it?"

The question, so cool, so sudden, so direct, was not what she felt she
had a right to expect from him.

"Well--what did you think of it yourself?"

She looked at him and saw that she had said a cruel thing.

"Can't you imagine what I think of it?"

This again was too sudden; it took her at a disadvantage, compelling
her instantly to commit herself to a theory of innocence or
complicity.

"If you can't," said he, "of course there's no more to be said." He
said it very simply, as if he were not in the least offended, and she
looked at him again.

No. There was no wounded dignity about him, there was the tragic
irremediable misery of a man condemned unheard. And could that be her
doing--Lucia's? She who used to be so kind and just? Never in all her
life had she condemned anybody unheard.

But she had to choose between this man who a month ago was an utter
stranger to her, and Horace who was of her own blood, her own class,
her own life. Did she really want Mr. Rickman to be tainted that
Horace might be clean? And she knew he trusted her; he had made his
appeal to the spirit that had once divined him. He might well say,
"could she not imagine what he thought of it?"

"Yes," she said gently, "I think I can. If you had not told me what
the library was worth, of course I should have thought your father
very generous in giving as much for it as he has done."

"I did tell you I was anxious he--we--should not buy it; because I
knew we couldn't give you a proper price."

"Yes, you told me. And I wanted you to buy it, because I thought you
would do your best for me."

"I know. I know. If it wasn't for that--but that's the horrible part
of it."

"Why? You did your best, did you not?"

"Yes. I really thought it would be all right if I went up and saw him.
I felt certain he would see it as I did--"

"Well?"

He answered with painful hesitation. "Well--he didn't see it. My
father hasn't very much imagination--he couldn't realize the thing in
the same way, because he wasn't in it as I was. He'd seen nobody but
Pilkington, you see."

Something in her face told him that this line of defence was
distasteful to her, that he had no right to make a personal matter of
an abstract question of justice. It was through those personalities
that he had always erred.

"I don't see what that has to do with it," she said.

"He--he thought it was only a question of a bargain between Pilkington
and him."

"What you mean is that he wouldn't admit that I came into it at all?"

She saw that she was putting him to the torture. He could not defend
himself without exposing his father; but she meant that he should
defend himself, that he should if possible stand clear.

"Yes. He hadn't seen you. He wouldn't go back on his bargain, and I
couldn't make him. God knows I tried hard enough!

"Did you think you could do anything by trying?"

"I thought I could do a good deal. I had a hold on him, you see. I
happen to be extremely useful to him in this branch of his business. I
was trained for it; in fact, I'm hopelessly mixed up with it. Well, he
can't do very much without me, and I told him that if he didn't give
up the library I should give him up. It wasn't a nice thing to have to
say to your father--"

"And you said it?" Her face expressed both admiration and a certain
horror.

"Yes. I told him he must choose between me and his bargain."

"That must have been hard."

"He didn't seem to find it so. Anyhow, he hasn't chosen me."

"I meant hard for you to have to say it."

"I assure you it came uncommonly easy at the moment."

"Don't--don't."

"I'm not going to defend him simply because he happens to be my
father. I don't even defend myself."

"You? You didn't know."

"I knew quite enough. I knew he might cheat you without meaning to. I
didn't think he'd do it so soon or so infamously, but, to tell the
truth, I went up to town on purpose to prevent it."

"I know--I know that was what you went for." She seemed to be
answering some incessant voice that accused him, and he perceived that
the precipitancy of his action suggested a very different
interpretation. His position was odious enough in all conscience, but
as yet it had not occurred to him that he could be suspected of
complicity in the actual fraud.

"Why didn't I do something to prevent it before?"

"But--didn't you?"

"I did everything I could. I wrote to my father--if that's anything;
the result, as you see, was a cheque for the two hundred that should
have been three thousand."

"Did it never occur to you to write to anybody else, to Mr. Jewdwine,
for instance?"

She brought out the question shrinkingly, as if urged against her will
by some intolerable compulsion, and he judged that this time they had
touched what was, for her, a vital point.

"Of course it occurred to me. Haven't you heard from him?"

"I have. But hardly in time for him to do anything."

He reflected. Jewdwine had written; therefore his intentions had been
good. But he had delayed considerably in writing; evidently, then, he
had been embarrassed. He had not mentioned that he had heard from him;
and why shouldn't he have mentioned it? Oh, well--after all, why
should he? At the back of his mind there had crawled a wriggling,
worm-like suspicion of Jewdwine. He saw it wriggling and stamped on it
instantly.

There were signs of acute anxiety on Miss Harden's face. It was as if
she implored him to say something consoling about Jewdwine, something
that would make him pure in her troubled sight. A light dawned on him.

"Did you write to him?" she asked.

He saw what she wanted him to say, and he said it. "Yes, I wrote. But
I suppose I did it too late, like everything else I've done."

He had told the truth, but not the whole truth, which would have been
damaging to Jewdwine. To deny altogether that he had written would
have been a clumsy and unnecessary falsehood, easily detected.
Something more masterly was required of him, and he achieved it
without an instant's hesitation, and with his eyes open to the
consequences. He knew that he was deliberately suppressing the one
detail that proved his own innocence. But as their eyes met he saw
that she knew it, too; that she divined him through the web that
wrapped him round.

"Well," she said, "if you wrote to Mr. Jewdwine, you did indeed do
your best."

The answer, on her part, was no less masterly in its way. He could not
help admiring its significant ambiguity. It was both an act of
justice, an assurance of her belief in him, and a superb intimation of
her trust in Horace Jewdwine. And it was not only superb, it was
almost humble in that which it further confessed and implied--her
gratitude to him for having made that act of justice consistent with
loyalty to her cousin. How clever of her to pack so many meanings
into one little phrase!

"I did it too late," he said, emphasizing the point which served for
Jewdwine's vindication.

"Never mind that. You did it."

"Miss Harden, is it possible that you still believe in me?" The
question was wrung from him; for her belief in him remained
incredible.

"Why should it not be possible?"

"Any man of business would tell you that appearances are against me."

"Well, I don't believe in appearances; and I do believe in you. You
are not a man of business, you see."

"Thank goodness, I'm not, now."

"You never were, I think."

"No. And yet, I'm so horribly mixed up with this business, that I can
never think of myself as an honest man again."

She seemed to be considering whether this outburst was genuine or only
part of his sublime pretence.

"And I could never think of you as anything else. I should say, from
all I have seen of you, that you are if anything _too_ honest, too
painfully sincere."

("Yes, yes," her heart cried out, "I believe in him, _because_ he
didn't tell the truth about that letter to Horace." She could have
loved him for that lie.)

He was now at liberty to part with her on that understanding, leaving
her to think him all that was disinterested and honourable and fine.
But he could not do it. Not in the face of her almost impassioned
declaration of belief. At that moment he was ready rather to fall at
her feet in the torture of his shame. And as he looked at her, tears
came into his eyes, those tears that cut through the flesh like
knives, that are painful to bring forth and terrible to see.

"I've not been an honest man, though. I've no right to let you believe
in me."

Her face was sweeter than ever with its piteous, pathetic smile
struggling through the white eclipse of grief.

"What have you done?"

"It's not what I've done. It's what I didn't do. I told you that I
knew the library was going to be sold. I told you that yesterday, and
you naturally thought I only _knew_ it yesterday, didn't you?"

"Well, yes, but I don't see--"

She paused, and his confession dropped into the silence with an awful
weight.

"I knew--all the time."

She leaned back in her chair, the change of bodily posture emphasizing
the spiritual recoil.

"All the time, and you never told me?"

"All the time and I never told you. I'd _almost_ forgotten when you
offered me that secretaryship, but I knew it when I let you engage me;
I knew it before I came down. I never would have come if I'd realized
what it meant, but when I did know, I stayed all the same."

"What do you think you ought to have done?"

"Of course--I ought to have gone away--since I couldn't be honest and
tell you."

"And why" (she said it very gently but with no change in her
attitude), "why couldn't you be honest and tell me?"

"I'm not sure that I'd any right to tell you what I hadn't any right
to know. I'm only sure of one thing--as I did know, I oughtn't to have
stayed. But," he reiterated sorrowfully, "I did stay."

"You stayed to help me."

"Yes; with all my dishonesty I wouldn't have done it if I hadn't made
myself believe that. As it's turned out, I've helped to ruin you."

"Please--please don't. As far as I'm concerned you've nothing to
reproach yourself with. Your position was a very difficult one."

"I ought never to have got into it."

"Still, you did your best."

"My best! You can't say I did what an honourable man would have done;
I mean at the beginning."

"No--no. I'm afraid I can't say that."

He did not expect anything but sincerity from her, neither did he
desire that her sense of honour should be less fine than his. But he
longed for some word of absolution, some look even that should
reinstate him in his self-esteem; and it seemed to him that there was
none.

"You can't think worse of me than I think myself," he said, and
turned mournfully away.

She sat suddenly upright, with one hand on the arm of her chair, as if
ready to rise and cut off his retreat.

"Wait," she said. "Have you any idea what you are going to do?"

The question held him within a foot's length of her chair, where the
light fell full on his face.

"I only know I'm not going back to the shop."

"You were in earnest, then? It really has come to that?"

"It couldn't very well come to anything else."

She looked up at him gravely, realizing for the first time, through
her own sorrow, the precise nature and the consequences of his action.
He had burnt his ships, parted with his means of livelihood, in a
Quixotic endeavour to serve her interests, and redeem his own honour.

"Forgive my asking, but for the present this leaves you stranded?"

"It leaves me free."

She rose. "I know what that means. You won't mind my paying my debts
at once, instead of later?"

He stared stupidly, as if her words had stunned him. She was seated at
her writing table, and had begun filling in a cheque before he
completely grasped the horrible significance of what she had said.

"What are you doing?" he asked.

"I'm writing thirty instead of fifteen, because that is what you ought
to have asked for in the beginning. You see I am more business-like
now than I was then."

He smiled.

"And do you really suppose I am going to take it?"

He meant his smile to be bitter, but somehow it was not. After all,
she was so helpless and so young.

"Of course you are going to take it."

"I needn't ask what you think of me."

This time the smile was bitterness itself.

"But it's yours--what I owe you. I'm only paying it to-day instead of
some other day."

"But you have not got to pay me anything. What do you think you're
paying me for?"

"For your work, for the catalogue, of course."

"That infamous catalogue ought never to have been made--not by me at
any rate."

"But you made it. You made it for me. I ordered it."

"You ordered it from my father. In ordinary circumstances you would
have owed him fifteen pounds. But even he wouldn't take it now. I
think he considers himself quite sufficiently paid."

"You are mixing up two things that are absolutely distinct."

"No. I'm only refusing to be mixed up with them."

"But you are mixed up with them."

He laughed at that shot, as a brave man laughs at a hurt.

"You needn't remind me of that. I meant--any more than I can help;
though it may seem to you that I haven't very much lower to sink."

"Believe me, I don't associate you with this wretched business. I want
you to forget it."

"I can't forget it. If I could, it would only be by refusing to
degrade myself further in connection with it."

His words were clumsy and wild as the hasty terrified movements of a
naked soul, trying to gather round it the last rags of decency and
honour.

"There is no connection," she added, more gently than ever, seeing how
she hurt him. "Don't you see that it lies between you and me?"

He saw that as she spoke she was curling the cheque into a convenient
form for slipping into his hand in the moment of leave-taking.

"Indeed--indeed you must," she whispered.

He drew back sharply.

"Miss Harden, won't you leave me a shred of self-respect?"

"And what about mine?" said she.

It was too much even for chivalry to bear.

"That's not exactly my affair, is it?"

He hardly realised the full significance of his answer, but he deemed
it apt. If, as she had been so careful to point out to him, her honour
and his moved on different planes, how could her self-respect be his
affair?

"It ought to be," she murmured in a tone whose sweetness should have
been a salve to any wound. But he did not perceive its meaning any
more than he had perceived his own, being still blinded by what seemed
to him the cruelty and degradation of the final blow.

She had stripped him; then she stabbed.

To hide his shame and his hurt, he turned his face from her and left
her. So strangely and so drunkenly did he go, with such a mist in his
eyes, and such anguish and fury in his heart and brain, that on the
threshold of the Harden library he stumbled past Miss Palliser without
seeing her.

She found Lucia standing where he had left her, looking at a little
roll of pale green paper that her fingers curled and uncurled.

"Lucia," she said, "what have you done to him?"

Lucia let the little roll of paper fall from her fingers to the floor.

"I don't know, Kitty. Something horrible, I think."




BOOK III

THE HOUSE OF BONDAGE




CHAPTER XXXVII


Mrs. Downey's boarding-house was the light of Tavistock Place,
Bloomsbury. In the brown monotony of the street it stood out splendid,
conspicuous. Its door and half its front were painted a beautiful, a
remarkable pea-green, while its door knob and door-knocker were of
polished brass. Mrs. Downey's boarding-house knew nothing of
concealment or disguise. Every evening, at the hour of seven, through
its ground-floor window it offered to the world a scene of stupefying
brilliance. The blinds were up, the curtains half-drawn, revealing the
allurements of the interior.

From both sides of the street, the entire length of the dinner-table
was visible. Above it, a handsome gilt gaselier spread out its
branches, and on this gaselier as many as three gas-jets burned
furiously at once. In the intense illumination the faces of the
boarders could be distinctly seen. They sat, as it were, transfigured,
in a nebulous whorl or glory of yellow light. It fell on the high
collars, the quite remarkably high collars of the young gentlemen, and
on those gay, those positively hilarious blouses which the young
ladies at Mrs. Downey's wear. Beside the water-bottles and tumblers of
red glass it lay like a rosy shadow on the cloth. It gave back their
green again to the aspidistras that, rising from a ruche of pink
paper, formed the central ornament of the table. It made a luminous
body of Mrs. Downey's face. The graver values were not sacrificed to
this joyous expenditure of gas-light, for the wall-paper (the design
was in chocolate, on a ground of ochre) sustained the note of
fundamental melancholy. At the back of the apartment, immediately
behind Mrs. Downey, an immense mahogany sideboard shone wine-dark in a
gorgeous gloom. On the sideboard stood a Family Bible, and on the
Family Bible a tea-urn, a tea-urn that might have been silver. There
was design in this arrangement; but for the Bible the tea-urn would
have been obliterated by Mrs. Downey; thus elevated, it closed, it
crowned the vista with a beauty that was final, monumental and
supreme.

You had only to glance through those windows to see that Mrs. Downey's
combined the splendid publicity of an hotel with the refinements of a
well-appointed home. That it offered, together with a luxurious table,
the society of youthful persons of both sexes. And if everything
around Mrs. Downey was on a liberal scale, so was Mrs. Downey herself.
She was expansive in her person, prodigal in sympathy, exuberant in
dress. If she had one eye to the main chance, the other smiled at you
in pure benignity. On her round face was a festal flush, flooding and
effacing the little care-worn lines and wrinkles which appeared on it
by day. It wore the colour of the hour which, evening after evening,
renewed for her the great drama and spectacle of the Dinner.

Her table was disposed with a view to scenic effect. It was not by
accident that Mrs. Downey herself was seated at the obscure or
sideboard end, and that she gathered round her there the older and
less attractive members of her circle. This arrangement was flattering
to them, for it constituted an order of precedence and they were in
the seats of honour. It had also the further advantage of giving
prominence to the young people whose brilliant appearance of an
evening was as good as an advertisement for Mrs. Downey's.

First then, at the top of the table, sat two elderly ladies,
dishevelled birds of passage, guests of a day and a night. Next, on
Mrs. Downey's right, came old Miss Bramble, with old Mr. Partridge
opposite on the left. The young gentleman at the extreme bottom or
public end of the table was Mr. Spinks. He was almost blatantly
visible from the street. At Mr. Spinks's side sat Miss Ada Bishop,
the young lady in the fascinating pink blouse; and opposite him, Miss
Flossie Walker, in the still more fascinating blue. To the left of
Miss Bishop in the very centre of the table was a middle-aged
commercial gentleman, Mr. Soper (not specially conspicuous); and
facing him and on Miss Walker's right came Miss Roots, who might be
any age you please between thirty and forty. Between them at the
present moment, there was an empty chair.

Miss Roots was the link between the melancholy decadence above the
aspidistras and the glorious and triumphant youth below. As far as
could be inferred with any certainty she had leanings to the side of
youth. Her presence was no restraint upon its glad and frolicsome
humour. It felt that it could trust her. She had never been known to
betray any of the secrets that passed at the risk of their lives from
Miss Bishop's side of the table to Miss Walker's. There was reason to
suppose that Miss Roots was aware of the surreptitious manufacture of
bread pellets by Mr. Spinks (Mr. Spinks being the spirit of youth
incarnate); but when one of these missiles struck Miss Roots full in
the throat, when it should have just delicately grazed the top of Miss
Flossie's frizzled hair, Miss Roots not only ignored the incident at
the time, but never made the faintest allusion to it afterwards.
Therefore Mr. Spinks voted Miss Roots to be a brick, and a trump, and
what he called a real lady.

Very curious and interesting was the behaviour of these people among
themselves. It was an eternal game of chivy or hide-and-seek, each
person being by turn the hunter and the hunted. Mrs. Downey tried to
talk to the birds of passage; but the birds of passage would talk to
nobody but each other. Miss Bramble took not the slightest notice of
Mr. Partridge. Mr. Partridge did everything he could to make himself
agreeable to Miss Bramble; but she was always looking away over the
aspidistras, towards the young end of the table, with a little air of
strained attention, at once alien and alert. Mr. Spinks spent himself
in perpetual endeavours to stimulate a sense of humour in Miss Walker,
who hadn't quite enough of it, with very violent effects on Miss
Bishop, who had it in excess; while Mr. Soper was incessantly trying
to catch the eye of Miss Roots around the aspidistras, an enterprise
in which he was but rarely successful; Miss Walker finally making no
attempt to bridge over the space between her chair and Miss Roots.

That empty seat was reserved for Mr. Rickman, who was generally late.
On his arrival the blinds would be pulled down in deference to his
wish for a more perfect privacy. Meanwhile they remained up, so that
wandering persons in hansoms, lonely persons having furnished
apartments, persons living expensively in hotels or miserably in other
boarding-houses, might look in, and long to be received into Mrs.
Downey's, to enjoy the luxury, the comfort, the society.

The society--Yes; as Mrs. Downey surveyed her table and its guests,
her imagination ignored the base commercial tie; she felt herself to
be a social power, having called into existence an assembly so
various, so brilliant, and so gay. One thing only interfered with Mrs.
Downey's happiness, Mr. Rickman's habit of being late. Such a habit
would not have mattered so much in any of the other boarders, because,
remarkable as they were collectively, individually, Mrs. Downey seldom
thought of them unless they happened to be there, whereas with Mr.
Rickman, now, whether he was there or not, she could think of nothing
else.

And to-night Mr. Rickman was later than ever.

"I'm really beginning to be afraid," said Mrs. Downey, "that he can't
be coming."

The middle-aged gentleman, Mr. Soper, was heard muttering something to
the effect that he thought they could bear up if he didn't come.
Whereupon Mrs. Downey begged Mr. Soper's pardon in a manner which was
a challenge to him to repeat his last remark. Therefore he repeated
it.

"I say, I 'ope we can manage to bear up."

"Speak for yourself, Mr. Soper." (This from Mr. Spinks who adored
Rickman.)

"Well, really, I can't think how it is you and he don't seem to hit it
off together. A young fellow that can make himself so pleasant when he
likes."

"Ah-h! When he likes. And when he doesn't like? When he comes into the
room like a young lord with his head in the air, and plumps himself
down straight in front of you, and looks at you as if you were a
sorter ea'wig or a centerpede? Call that pleasant?"

Mr. Spinks chuckled behind his table napkin. "He means a centre piece.
Wouldn't he make a handsome one!"

Mr. Soper combined a certain stateliness of carriage with a restless
insignificance of feature.

"We all know," said Mrs. Downey, "that Mr. Rickman is a very reserved
gentleman. He has his own thoughts."

"Thoughts? I've got my thoughts. But they don't make me disagreeable
to everybody."

Mr. Spinks craned forward as far as the height of his collar permitted
him. "I wouldn't be too cock-sure if I were you, Mr. Soper."

The young end of the table heaved and quivered with primeval mirth.
Even Flossie Walker was moved to a faint smile. For Mr. Soper, though
outwardly taciturn and morose, was possessed inwardly by a perfect
fury of sociability, an immortal and insatiable craving to converse.
It was an instinct which, if gratified, would have undermined the
whole fabric of the Dinner, being essentially egoistic, destructive
and malign. Mr. Soper resented the rapidity with which Rickman had
been accepted by the boarding-house; he himself, after two years'
residence, only maintaining a precarious popularity by little
offerings of bon-bons to the ladies. Hence the bitterness of his
present mood.

"There are thoughts _and_ thoughts," said Mrs. Downey severely, for
the commercial gentleman had touched her in a very sensitive place.
"And when Mr. Rickman is in wot I call 'is vein, there's nobody like
him for making a dinner go off."

Here Mr. Soper achieved a sardonic, a really sardonic smile. "Oh, of
course, if you're eludin' to the young gentleman's appetite--"

But this was insufferable, it was wounding Mrs. Downey in the
tenderest spot of all. The rose of her face became a peony.

"I'm doing no such thing. If any gentleman wishes to pay me a
compliment--" her gay smile took for granted that no gentleman could
be so barbarous as not to feel that wish--"let him show an appetite.
As for the ladies, I wish they had an appetite to show. Mr. Partridge,
let me give you a little more canary pudding. It's as light as light.
No? Oh--come, Mr. Partridge."

Mr. Partridge's gesture of refusal was so vast, so expressive, that it
amounted to a solemn personal revelation which implied, not so much
that Mr. Partridge rejected canary pudding as that he renounced
pleasure, of which canary pudding was but the symbol and the sign.

"Mr. Spinks then? He'll let me give him another slice, _I_ know."

"You bet. Tell you wot it is, Mrs. Downey, the canary that pudding was
made of, must have been an uncommonly fine bird."

There was a swift step on the pavement, the determined click of a
latch-key, and the clang of a closing door.

"Why, here _is_ Mr. Rickman," said Mrs. Downey, betraying the
preoccupation of her soul.

Rickman's entrance produced a certain vibration down both sides of the
table, a movement unanimous, yet discordant, as if the nerves of this
social body that was "Mrs. Downey's" were being played upon every way
at once. Each boarder seemed to be preparing for an experience that,
whether agreeable or otherwise, would be disturbing to the last
degree. The birds of passage raised their heads with a faint flutter.
Miss Walker contemplated a chromo-lithograph with a dreamy air. Mr.
Soper strove vainly to fix himself in an attitude of dignified
detachment.

The boarding-house was about to suffer the tremendous invasion of a
foreign element. For a moment it was united.

Mrs. Downey's face revealed a grave anxiety. She was evidently asking
herself: "Was he, or was he not, in his vein?"

A glance at the object of his adoration decided the question for Mr.
Spinks. Rickman was, thank goodness, _not_ in his vein, in which state
he was incomprehensible to anybody but Miss Roots. He was in that
comparatively commonplace condition which rendered him accessible to
Mr. Spinks.

"Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce my friend, the lyte Mr.
Ryzors. Jemima, show the deceased gentleman to his chair. Miss
Walker, Mr. Ryzors. He is really 'appy to myke your acquaintance, Miss
Walker, though at first sight he may not appear so. Wot you might be
apt to mistyke for coldness is merely 'is intense reserve."

"Oh, dry up, Spinks."

No, Mr. Rickman was certainly not in his vein this evening. He made no
apology whatever for his lateness. He ignored the commercial
gentleman's "Good-evening, Rickman." As he slipped into his place
between Miss Walker and Miss Roots he forgot his usual "Busy to-day at
the Museum, Miss Roots?"--a question that recognized her as a fellow
worker in the fields of literature, thus lightening the obscurity that
hid her labours there.

And for Miss Flossie's timid greeting (the lifting of her upper lip
that just showed two dear little white teeth) he gave back a reluctant
and embarrassed smile. He used to like sitting by Flossie because she
was so pretty and so plump. He used to be sorry for her, because she
worked so hard, and, though plump, was so pathetically anaemic and so
shy. Critically considered, her body, in spite of its plumpness, was a
little too small for her head, and her features were a little too
small for her face, but then they were so very correct, as correct as
her demeanour and the way she did her hair. She had clusters and curls
and loops and coils of hair, black as her eyes, which were so black
that he couldn't tell the iris from the pupil. Not that Flossie had
ever let him try. And now he had forgotten whether they were black or
blue, forgotten everything about them and her. Flossie might be as
correct as Flossie pleased, she simply didn't matter.

When she saw him smile she turned up her eyes to the chromo-lithograph
again. The little clerk brought with her from the City an air of
incorruptible propriety, assumed for purposes of self-protection, and
at variance with her style of hair-dressing and the blueness and
gaiety of her blouse. With all that it implied and took for granted,
it used to strike him as pathetic. But now, he didn't find Flossie in
the least pathetic.

He was waiting for the question which was bound to come.

It came from Spinks, and in a form more horrible than any that he had
imagined.

"I say, Rickets, wot did you want all those shirts for down in
Devonshire?"

Instead of replying Rickets blew his nose, making his
pocket-handkerchief conceal as much of his face as possible. At that
moment he caught Miss Bishop staring at him, and if there was one
thing that Mr. Rickman disliked more than another it was being stared
at. Particularly by Miss Bishop. Miss Bishop had red hair, a loose
vivacious mouth, and her stare was grossly interrogative.

Flossie sent out a little winged look at him like a soft dark
butterfly. It skimmed and hovered about him, and flitted, too ethereal
to alight.

Miss Bishop however had no scruples, and put it to him point blank.

"Devonshire?" said Miss Bishop, "what were you doing down there?" She
planted her elbows on the table and propped her chin on her
finger-tips; her stare thus tilted was partly covered by her eyelids.

"If you really want," said Mr. Spinks, "to see that gentleman
opposite, you'll have to take a telescope." The adoring youth
conceived that it had been given to him alone of the boarders to
penetrate the mind of Rickman, that he was the guardian of his mood,
whose mission it was to protect him from the impertinent approaches of
the rest.

"A telescope? Wot d'you mean?"

"Don't you think he's got a sort of a far-away look? Especially about
the mouth and nose?"

Whether it was from being stared at or for some other reason, but by
this time Mr. Rickman had certainly become a little distant. He was
not getting on well with anybody or anything, not even with Mrs.
Downey's excellent dinner, nor yet with the claret, an extra ordered
for his private drinking, always to Mrs. Downey's secret trepidation.
She gave a half-timid, half-tender look at him and signalled to her
ladies to withdraw. She herself remained behind, superintending the
removal of the feast; keeping a motherly eye, too, on the poor boy and
his claret. Ever since that one dreadful Sunday morning when she had
found him asleep in full evening dress upon his bedroom floor, Mrs.
Downey was always expecting to see him drop under the table. He had
never done it yet, but there was no knowing when he mightn't.

Whatever the extent of Mr. Rickman's alleged intemperance, his was not
the vice of the solitary drinker, and to-night the claret was nearly
all drunk by Spinks and Soper. It had the effect of waking in the
commercial gentleman the demon of sociability that slept.

What Mr. Soper wanted to know was whether Rickman could recommend
'Armouth as a holiday resort? Could he tell him of any first-class
commercial hotel or boarding-house down there? To which Rickman
replied that he really couldn't tell him anything at all.

"Perhaps," said Mrs. Downey, peering over the edge of the table-cloth
she was helping to fold. "Perhaps he has his reasons."

The claret had made Mr. Soper not only sociable but jocose. "Reasons?
That's a new name for 'em. If he don't want more than one at a time, I
wish he'd introduce the rest of 'em to me."

"I daresay he would be very happy, if he thought you would understand
them, Mr. Soper."

"Understand 'em? Why, I don't suppose they talk Greek."

"Ryzors," said Spinks indignantly, "could give 'em points if they did.
He speaks the language."

Mr. Soper replied that in that case perhaps Mr. Rickman would oblige
him with the Greek for "crumby bits."

At the moment Mr. Rickman did not look like obliging Mr. Soper with
anything. The provocation was certainly immense. Mr. Soper's voice
inspired him with a fury of disgust. The muscles of his mouth
twitched; the blood rushed visibly to his forehead; he stood looming
over the table like a young pink thunder-god.

Mrs. Downey and Mr. Partridge retreated in some alarm. Mr. Soper,
however, was one of those people who are not roused but merely
disconcerted by the spectacle of passion. Mr. Soper said he supposed
he could "make a 'armless remark." And still thirsting for
companionship he pursued Mrs. Downey to the drawing-room. As he went,
he fingered his little box of bon-bons as if it had been a talisman or
charm.

Rickman poured himself out some claret which he drank slowly, with
closed eyelids, leaning back in his chair. "For God's sake, Spinks,"
he muttered; "don't speak to me."

"All right, old chappy, I won't." But he whispered, "I wouldn't go off
just yet, Ryzors, if I were you" (by "going off," Mr. Spinks meant
departure in a train of thought). "He'll be back in another minute."

He was back already, sociable, elated, smoking a cigar. Upstairs with
the ladies he and his bon-bons had met with unprecedented success.
Rickman opened his eyes.

"Ever try," said Mr. Soper, "a Flor di Dindigul? 'Ave one. You'll find
the flavour very delicate and mild." He held it out, that Flor di
Dindigul, as an olive branch to the tempestuous young man.

It was not accepted. It was not even seen.

Rickman rose to his feet. To his irritated vision the opposite wall
seemed to heave and bulge forward, its chocolate design to become
distended and to burst, spreading itself in blotches on the yellow
ochre. On the face of the hideous welter swam the face of Mr. Soper,
as it were bodiless and alone.

He drew in his breath with a slight shudder, pushed his chair back
from the table, and strode out of the room.

Spinks looked after him sorrowfully.

"Wy couldn't you leave him alone, Soper? You might see he didn't want
to talk."

"How could I see wot he wanted? One minute 'e's as chatty and
sociable--and the next he's up like three dozen of bottled stout.
_It's wot I sy._ You can't dee-pend on 'im with any certainty."

That opinion was secretly shared by Miss Flossie Walker.




CHAPTER XXXVIII


Rickman, it seemed, was doomed to inspire that sense of agonizing
uncertainty.

It was the second evening after his return. The Dinner was not going
off well. Miss Walker was depressed, Mr. Spinks was not in his
accustomed spirits, and Mrs. Downey had been going about with red eyes
all day. Mr. Rickman had confided to her the deplorable state of his
finances. And Mrs. Downey had said to herself she had known from the
first that he would not be permanent.

He didn't want to be permanent. He desired to vanish, to disappear
from the boarding-house and the boarders, and from Poppy Grace on the
balcony next door; to get away from every face and every voice that he
had known before he knew Lucia Harden's. Being convinced that he would
never see her again, he wanted to be alone with his vivid and piercing
memory of her. At first it was the pain that pierced. She had taken
out her little two-edged sword and stabbed him. It wouldn't have
mattered, he said, if the sword had been a true little sword, but it
wasn't; it had snapt and left a nasty bit of steel inside him. Her
last phrase was the touch that finished him. But the very sting of it
created a healthy reaction. By his revolt against that solitary
instance of her cruelty he had recovered his right to dwell upon her
kindness. He dwelt upon it until at times he entered again into
possession of the tender, beautiful, dominating dream. So intense was
his hallucination, that as he walked alone in any southerly direction
he still felt Muttersmoor on his right hand and Harcombe on his left,
and he had waked in the morning to the sound of the sea beating upon
Harmouth beach.

But these feelings visited him more rarely in the boarding-house than
elsewhere. That was why he wanted to get away from it. The illusion
was destroyed by these irrelevant persons of the dinner-table. Not
that he noticed them much; but when he did it was to discover in them
some quality that he had not observed before. He found imbecility in
the manners of Spinks, coarseness and violence in the figures of Mrs.
Downey and Miss Bishop, insipidity in the whole person of Miss Flossie
Walker. And now, as he looked round the table, he wondered how it was
he ever came there. After living for four weeks with Lucia Harden or
the thought of her, he had a positive difficulty in recognizing even
Spinks and Flossie as people he had once intimately known. Miss Roots
alone, for some inscrutable reason, seemed familiar, in keeping with
that divine experience to which the actual hour did violence. It was
almost as if she understood.

A shrewdly sympathetic glance went out from a pair of hazel eyes set
in a plain, clever, strenuous face. Miss Roots was glad, she said, to
see him back again. He turned to her with the question that had never
failed to flatter and delight. Was Miss Roots doing anything specially
interesting now? But there was no interest in his tone.

Miss Roots looked up with a smile that would have been gay if it had
not been so weary. Yes, she was collecting material for a book on
Antimachus of Colophon. No, not her own book.

(At the mention of Antimachus of Colophon, Mr. Soper folded his arms
and frowned with implacable resentment. Mr. Soper was convinced that
these subjects were introduced on purpose to exclude him from the
conversation.)

Miss Roots, like Mr. Rickman, lived apart from the murmur of the
boarding-house. She had raised a barrier of books in a bedroom six
feet by nine, behind which she worked obscurely. She had never been
known to converse until Mr. Rickman came. A sort of fluctuating
friendship had sprung up between Mr. Rickman and Miss Roots. He had an
odd feeling, half pity, half liking, for this humble servant of
literature, doomed to its labour, ignorant of its delight. And yet
Miss Roots had a heart which went out to the mad-cap journalist, wild
with youth and the joy of letters. And now these things were coming
back to her. The sources of intellectual desire had been drying up
with the blood in her cheeks; but when Rickman came they began to flow
again. When Rickman talked as only he could talk, Miss Roots felt a
faint fervour, a reminiscent thrill. She preened her poor little
thoughts as if for pairing time, when soul fluttered to soul across
the dinner-table. She knew that, intellectually speaking, she had been
assigned to Rickman; for Mrs. Downey held that just as Mr. Rickman was
the first to rouse Miss Roots to conversation, so Miss Roots alone had
the power of drawing him out to the best advantage.

"Indeed?" said Rickman in a voice devoid of all intelligence.

Now if anything could have drawn Mr. Rickman out it was Antimachus of
Colophon. Four weeks ago he would have been more interested in
Antimachus than Miss Roots herself, he would have talked about him by
the hour together. So that when he said nothing but "Indeed?" she
perceived that something was the matter with him. But she also
perceived that he was anxious to be talked to, therefore she talked
on.

Miss Roots was right; though his mind was unable to take in a word she
said to him, he listened, soothed by the singular refinement of her
voice. It was a quality he had not noticed in it four weeks ago.
Suddenly a word flashed out, dividing the evening with a line of
light.

"So you've been staying in Harmouth?"

He started noticeably, and looked at her as if he had not heard. Miss
Roots seemed unaware of having said anything specially luminous; she
repeated her question with a smile.

"Why?" he asked. "Have you been there?"

"I've not only been there, I was born there."

He looked at her. Miss Roots had always been, to say the least of it,
prosaic, and now it was as if poetry had dropped from her lips, as if
she had said, "I too was born in Arcadia."

"I suppose," she said, "you saw that beautiful old house by the
river?"

"Which beautiful old house by the river?"

"Court House. You see it from the bridge. You must have noticed it."

"Oh, yes, I know the one you mean."

"Did you happen to see or hear anything of the lady who lives in it?
Miss Lucia Harden?"

"I--I must have seen her, but I can't exactly say. Do you know her?"

His words seemed to be torn from him in pieces, shaken by the violent
beating of his heart.

"Know her?" said Miss Roots. "I lived five years with her. I taught
her."

He looked at her again in wonder, in wonder and a sort of tenderness.
For a second his heart had come to life again and leapt like a lunatic
to his lips. Happily his wits were there before it. He stroked his
upper lip, as if brushing away some wild phrase that sat there.

"Then I'm sure," he said, contriving a smile, "that Miss Harden is an
exceedingly well educated lady."

Miss Roots' hazel eyes looked up at him intelligently; but as they met
that unnatural smile of gallantry there was a queer compression of her
shrewd and strenuous face. She changed the subject. He wondered if by
any chance she knew; if she corresponded with Miss Harden; if Miss
Harden had mentioned him in the days before her troubles came; if Miss
Roots were trying to test him, to draw him out as she had never drawn
him out before. No, it was not in the least likely that Miss Harden
should have mentioned him; if she had, Miss Roots would have said so.
She would never have set a trap for him; she was a kind and
straightforward little lady. Her queer look meant nothing, it was only
her way of dealing with a compliment.

The sweat on his forehead witnessed to the hot labour of his thought.
He wondered whether anybody had observed it.

Mr. Soper had, and drew his own conclusions.

"'E's been at it again," said Mr. Soper, with significance. But nobody
took any notice of him; and upstairs in the drawing-room that night
his bon-bons failed to charm.

"I suppose you're pleased," said he, approaching his hostess, "now
you've got Mr. Rickman back again?"

A deeper flush than the Dinner could account for was Mrs. Downey's
sole reply.

"'is manners 'aven't improved since 'is residence in the country. I
met 'im in the City to-day--wy, we were on the same slab of
pavement--and 'e went past and took no more notice of me than if I'd
been the Peabody statue."

"Depend upon it, he was full of something."

"Full of unsociability and conceit. And wot is 'e? Wot is 'e? 'Is
father keeps a bookshop."

"A very fine bookshop, too," said Miss Roots. It was the first time
that she had ever spoken of her own accord to Mr. Soper.

"He may have come out lately, but you should have seen the way 'e
began, in a dirty little second 'and shop in the City. A place," said
Mr. Soper, "I wouldn't 'ave put my nose into if I was paid. Crammed
full of narsty, mangy, 'Olloway Street rubbish."

"Look here now," said Mr. Spinks, now scarlet with fury, "you needn't
throw his business in his face, for he's chucked it."

"I don't think any the better of him for that."

"Don't you? Well, he won't worry himself into fits about your
opinion."

"'Ad he got a new berth then, when he flung up the old one?"

Now one thing Mrs. Downey, with all her indulgence, did not permit,
and that was any public allusion to her boarders' affairs. She might
not refuse to discuss them privately with Miss Bramble or Miss Roots,
but that was a very different thing. Therefore she maintained a
dignified silence.

"Well, then, I should like to know 'ow he's going to pay 'is way."

Before the grossness of this insinuation Mrs. Downey abandoned her
policy of silence.

"Some day," said Mrs. Downey, "Mr. Rickman will be in a very different
position to wot he is now. You mark my words." (And nobody marked them
but little Flossie Walker.)

Two tears rolled down Mrs. Downey's face and mingled with the tartan
of her blouse. A murmur of sympathy went round the room, and Mr. Soper
perceived that the rest of the company were sitting in an atmosphere
of emotion from which he was shut out.

"I beg of you, Mr. Soper, that you will let Mr. Rickman be, for once
this evening. Living together as we do, we all ought," said Mrs.
Downey, "to respect each other's feelings."

"Ah--feelings. Wot sort of respect does your young gentleman ever show
to mine? Takes me up one day and cuts me dead the next."

"He wouldn't have dreamed of such a thing if he hadn't been worried in
his mind. Mr. Rickman, Mr. Soper, is in trouble."

Mr. Soper was softened. "Is he? Well, really, I'm very sorry to hear
it, very sorry, I'm sure."

"My fear is," said Mrs. Downey, controlling her voice with difficulty,
"that he may be leaving us."

"If he does, Mrs. Downey, nobody will regret it more than I do."

"Well, I hope it won't come to that."

Mrs. Downey did not consider it politic to add that she was prepared
to make any sacrifice to prevent it. It was as well that Mr. Soper
should realize the consequences of an inability to pay your way. She
was not prepared to make any sacrifice for the sake of keeping _him_.

"But what," said Mrs. Downey to herself, "will the Dinner be without
Mr. Rickman?"

The Dinner was, in her imagination, a function, a literary symposium.
At the present moment, if you were to believe Mrs. Downey, no
dinner-table in London could show such a gathering of remarkable
people. But to none of these remarkable people did Mrs. Downey feel as
she felt to Mr. Rickman, who was the most remarkable of them all. By
her own statement she had enjoyed exceptional opportunities for
studying the ways of genius. There was a room at Mrs. Downey's which
she exhibited with pride as "Mr. Blenkinsop's room." Mr. Blenkinsop
was a poet, and Mr. Rickman had succeeded him. If Mrs. Downey did not
immediately recognize Mr. Rickman as a genius it was because he was so
utterly unlike Mr. Blenkinsop. But she had felt from the first that,
as she expressed it, "there was something about him," though what it
was she couldn't really say. Only from the first she had had that
feeling in her heart--"He will not be permanent." The joy she had in
his youth and mystery was drenched with the pathos of mutability. Mrs.
Downey rebelled against mutability's decree. "Perhaps," she said, "we
might come to some arrangement."

All night long in her bedroom on the ground-floor, Mrs. Downey lay
awake considering what arrangement could be come to. This was but a
discreet way of stating her previous determination to make any
sacrifice if only she could keep him. The sacrifice which Mrs. Downey
(towards the small hours of the morning) found herself contemplating
amounted to no less than four shillings a week. Occupying his present
bed-sitting room he should remain for twenty-one shillings a week
instead of twenty-five.

Unfortunately, at breakfast the next morning their evil genius
prompted Mr. Spinks and Mr. Soper to display enormous appetites, and
Mrs. Downey, to her everlasting shame, was herself tempted of the
devil. A fall of four shillings a week, serious enough in itself, was
not to be contemplated with gentlemen eating their heads off in that
fashion. It would have to be made up in some way, to be taken out of
somebody or something. She would--yes, she would take it out of them
all round by taking it out of the Dinner. And yet when it came to the
point, Mrs. Downey's soul recoiled from the immorality of this
suggestion. There rose before her, as in a vision, the Dinner of the
future, solid in essentials but docked of its splendour, its character
and its pride. No; that must not be. What the Dinner was now it must
remain as long as there were eight boarders to eat it. If Mrs. Downey
made any sacrifice she must make it pure.

"On the condition," said Mrs. Downey by way of putting a business-like
face on it, "on the condition of his permanence."

But it seemed that twenty-one shillings were more than Mr. Rickman
could afford to pay.

Mrs. Downey spent another restless night, and again towards the small
hours of the morning she decided on a plan. After breakfast she
watched Mr. Soper out of the dining-room, closed the door behind him
with offensive and elaborate precaution, and approached Mr. Rickman
secretly. If he would promise not to tell the other gentlemen, she
would let him have the third floor back for eighteen shillings.

Mr. Rickman stood by the door like one in great haste to be gone. He
could not afford eighteen shillings either. He would stay where he was
on the old terms for a fortnight, at the end of which time, he said
firmly, he would be obliged to go. Mr. Rickman's blue eyes were dark
and profound with the pathos of recent illness and suffering, so that
he appeared to be touched by Mrs. Downey's kindness. But he wasn't
touched by it; no, not the least bit in the world. His heart inside
him was like a great lump of dried leather. Mrs. Downey looked at him,
sighed, and said no more. Things were more serious with him than she
had supposed.

Things were very serious indeed.

His absence at Harmouth had entailed consequences that he had not
foreseen. During those four weeks, owing to the perturbation of his
mind and the incessant demands on his time, he had written nothing.
True, while he was away his poems had found a publisher; but he had
nothing to expect from them; it would be lucky if they paid their
expenses. On his return to town he found that his place on _The
Planet_ had been filled up. At the most he could only reckon on
placing now and then, at infrequent intervals, an article or a poem.
The places would be few, for from the crowd of popular magazines he
was excluded by the very nature of his genius. To make matters worse,
he owed about thirty pounds to Dicky Pilkington. The sum of two
guineas, which _The Museion_ owed him for his sonnet, would, if he
accepted Mrs. Downey's last offer, keep him for exactly two weeks. And
afterwards? Afterwards, of course, he would have to borrow another ten
pounds from Dicky, hire some den at a few shillings a week, and try
his luck for as many months as his money held out. Then there would be
another "afterwards," but that need not concern him now.

The only thing that concerned him was the occult tie between him and
Miss Roots. Up to the day fixed for his departure he was drawn by an
irresistible fascination to Miss Roots. His manner to her became
marked by an extreme gentleness and sympathy. Of course it was
impossible to believe that it was Miss Roots who lit the intellectual
flame that burnt in Lucia. Enough to know that she had sat with her in
the library and in the room where she made music; that she had walked
with her in the old green garden, and on Harcombe Hill and
Muttersmoor. Enough to sit beside Miss Roots and know that all the
time her heart was where his was, and that if he were to speak of
these things she would kindle and understand. But he did not speak of
them; for from the way Miss Roots had referred to Lucia Harden and to
Court House, it was evident that she knew nothing of what had happened
to them, and he did not feel equal to telling her. Lucia's pain was so
great a part of his pain that as yet he could not touch it. But though
he never openly approached the subject of Harmouth, he was for ever
skirting it, keeping it in sight.

He came very near to it one evening, when, finding himself alone with
Miss Roots in the back drawing-room, he asked her how long it was
since she had been in Devonshire. It seemed that it was no longer ago
than last year. Only last year? It was still warm then, the link
between her and the woman whom he loved. He found himself looking at
Miss Roots, scanning the lines of her plain face as if it held for him
some new and wonderful significance. For him that faced flamed
transfigured as in the moment when she had first spoken of Lucia. The
thin lips which had seemed to him so utterly unattractive had touched
Lucia's, and were baptized into her freshness and her charm; her eyes
had looked into Lucia's and carried something of their light. In her
presence he drifted into a sort of mysticism peculiar to lovers,
seeing the hand of a holy destiny in the chance that had seated him
beside her. Though her shrewdness might divine his secret he felt that
with her it would be safe.

As for his other companions of the dinner-table he was obliged to
admit that they displayed an admirable delicacy. After Mrs. Downey's
revelation not one of them had asked him what he had been doing those
four weeks. Spinks had a theory, which he kept to himself. Old Rickets
had been having a high old time. He had eloped with a barmaid or an
opera girl. For those four weeks, he had no doubt, Rickets had been
gloriously, ruinously, on the loose. Mrs. Downey's speculations had
taken the same turn. Mr. Rickman's extraordinary request that all his
clean linen should be forwarded to him at once had set her mind
working; it suggested a young man living in luxury beyond his means.
Mrs. Downey's fancy kindled and blushed by turns as it followed him
into a glorious or disreputable unknown. Whatever the adventures of
those four weeks she felt that they were responsible for his awful
state of impecuniosity. And yet she desired to keep him. "There is
something about him," said Mrs. Downey to Miss Roots, and paused
searching for the illuminating word; "something that goes to your
heart without 'is knowing it."

She had found it, the nameless, ineluctable charm.

And so for those last days the Dinner became a high funereal ceremony,
increasing in valedictory splendour that proclaimed unmistakably, "Mr.
Rickman is going."

In a neighbouring street he had found a room, cheap and passably
clean, and (failing a financial miracle worked on his behalf) he would
move into it to-morrow. He was going, now that he would have given
anything to stay.

In the dining-room after dinner, Spinks with a dejected countenance,
sat guarding for the last time the sacred silence of Rickman. They had
finished their coffee, when the door that let out the maid with empty
cups let in Miss Bishop, Miss Bramble and Miss Walker.

First came Miss Bishop; she advanced in a side-long and embarrassed
manner, giggling, and her face for once was as red as her hair. She
carried a little wooden box which with an unaccustomed shyness she
asked him to accept. The sliding lid disclosed a dozen cedar pencils
side by side, their points all ready sharpened, also a card with the
inscription: "Mr. Rickman, with best wishes from Ada Bishop." At one
corner was a date suggesting that the gift marked an epoch; at the
other the letters P.T.O. The reverse displayed this legend, "If you
ever want any typing done, I'll always do it for _you_ at 6d. a thou.
_Only don't let on._ Yours, A.B." Now Miss Bishop's usual charge was,
as he knew, a shilling per thousand.

"Gentlemen," said she, explaining away her modest offering, "always
like anything that saves them trouble." At this point, Miss Bishop,
torn by a supreme giggle, vanished violently from the scene.

Mr. Rickman smiled sadly, but his heart remained as before. He had not
loved Miss Bishop.

Next came Miss Bramble with her gift mysteriously concealed in silver
paper. "All brain-workers," said Miss Bramble, "suffered from cold
feet." So she had just knitted him a pair of socks--"_bed_-socks" (in
a whisper), "that would help to keep him warm." Her poor old eyes were
scarlet, not so much from knitting the bed-socks, as from
contemplating the terrible possibility of his needing them.

Under Mr. Rickman's waistcoat there was the least little ghost of a
quiver. He had not loved Miss Bramble; but Miss Bramble had loved him.
She had loved him because he was young, and because he had sometimes
repeated to her the little dinner-table jests that she was too deaf to
hear.

Last of the three, very grave and demure, came Flossie, and she, like
her friend, carried her gift uncovered. She proffered it with her most
becoming air of correctness and propriety. It was a cabinet photograph
of herself in her best attitude, her best mood and her best blue
blouse. It was framed beautifully and appropriately in white silk,
embroidered with blue forget-me-nots by Flossie's clever hands. She
had sat up half the night to finish it. He took it gently from her and
looked at it for what seemed to Flossie an excessively long time. He
was trying to think of something particularly pretty and suitable to
say. In his absorption he did not notice that he was alone with her,
that as Flossie advanced Spinks and Soper had withdrawn.

"I don't know whether you'll care for it," said she. She was standing
very close beside him, and her face under the gas-light looked pale
and tender.

"Of course I'll care for it." He laid her gift on the table beside the
others and stood contemplating them. She saw him smile. He was smiling
at the bed-socks.

"You are all much too good to me, you know."

"Oh, Mr. Rickman, you've been so awfully good to me."

He looked round a little anxiously and perceived that they were
alone.

"No, Flossie," he said, "I've not been good to anyone, I'm not very
good to myself. All the same, I'm not an utter brute; I shan't forget
you."

Flossie's eyes had followed, almost jealously, the movement of his
hand in putting down her gift; and they had rested there, fixed on her
own portrait, and veiled by their large white lids. She now raised
them suddenly, and over their black profundity there moved a curious
golden glitter that flashed full on his face.

"You didn't remember me, much, last time you went away."

"I didn't remember anybody, Flossie; I had too much to think of."

It struck him that this was the first time she had looked him full in
the face; but it did not strike him that it was also the first time
that he had found himself alone in a room with her, though they had
been together many times out of doors and in crowded theatres and
concert halls. Her look conveyed some accusation that he at first
failed to understand. And then there came into his mind the promise he
had made to her at Easter, to take her to the play, the promise broken
without apology or explanation. So she still resented it, did she?
Poor little Flossie, she was so plump and pretty, and she had been so
dependent on him for the small pleasures of her life.

"You're always thinking," said Flossie, and laughed.

"I'm sorry, Flossie; it's a disgusting habit, I own. I'll make up for
it some day. We'll do a lot of theatres and--and things together, when
my ship comes in."

"Thank you, Mr. Rickman," said she with a return to her old demeanour.
"And now I suppose I'd better say good-night?"

She turned. They said good-night. He sprang to open, the door for her.
As she went through it, his heart, if it did not go with her, was
touched, most palpably, unmistakably touched at seeing her go. He had
not loved Flossie; but he might have loved her.

Mr. Soper, who had been waiting all the while on the stairs, walked in
through the open door. He closed it secretly.

He laid his hand affectionately on Rickman's shoulder. "Rickman," he
said solemnly, "while I 'ave the opportunity, I want to speak to you.
If it should 'appen that a fiver would be useful to you, don't you
hesitate to come to me."

"Oh, Soper, thanks most awfully. Really, no, I couldn't think of it."

"But I mean it. I really do. So don't you 'esitate; and there needn't
be any hurry about repayment. That," said Mr. Soper, "is quite
immaterial." Failing to extract from Rickman any distinct promise, he
withdrew; but not before he had pressed upon his immediate acceptance
a box of his favourites, the Flor di Dindigul.

By this time Rickman's heart was exceedingly uncomfortable inside him.
He had hated Soper.

He thought it was all over, and he was glad to escape from these
really very trying interviews to the quiet of his own room. There he
found Spinks sitting on his bed waiting for him. Spinks had come to
lay before him an offering and a scheme. The offering was no less than
two dozen of gents' best all-wool knitted hose, double-toed and
heeled. The scheme was for enabling Rickman thenceforward to purchase
all manner of retail haberdashery at wholesale prices by the simple
method of impersonating Spinks. At least in the long-run it amounted
to that, and Rickman had some difficulty in persuading Spinks that his
scheme, though in the last degree glorious and romantic, was, from an
ethical point of view, not strictly feasible.

"What a rum joker you are, Rickman. I never thought of that. I
wonder--" (He mused in an unconscious endeavour to restore the moral
balance between him and Rickman). "I wonder who'll put you to bed, old
chappy, when you're tight."

"Don't fret, Spinky. I'm almost afraid that I shall never be tight
again in this world."

"Oh, Gosh," said Spinks, and sighed profoundly. Then, with a slight
recovery, "do you mean you won't be able to afford it?"

"You can put it that way, if you like."

In time Spinks left him and Rickman was alone. Just as he was
wondering whether or no he would pack his books up before turning in,
there was a soft rap at his door. He said, "Come in" to the rap; and
to himself he said, "Who next?"

It was Mrs. Downey; she glanced round the room, looked at Flossie's
photograph with disapproval, and removed, not without severity, Miss
Bramble's bed-socks from a chair. She had brought no gift; but she sat
down heavily like a woman who has carried a burden about with her all
day, and can carry it no farther. Her features were almost obliterated
with emotion and glazed with tears that she made no effort to remove.

"Mr. Rickman," she said, "do you reelly wish to go, or do you not?"

He looked up surprised. "My dear Mrs. Downey, I don't; believe me. Did
I ever say I did?"

Her face grew brighter and rounder till the very glaze on it made it
shine like a great red sun. "Well, we'd all been wondering, and some
of us said one thing, and some another, and I didn't know what to
think. But if you want to stay perhaps--we can come to some
arrangement." It was the consecrated phrase.

He shook his head.

"Come, I've been thinking it over. You won't be paying less than five
shillings a week for your empty room, perhaps more?"

He would, he said, be paying six shillings.

"There now! And that, with your food, makes sixteen shillings at the
very least."

"Well--it depends upon the food."

"I should think it did depend upon it." Mrs. Downey's face literally
blazed with triumph. She said to herself, "I was right. Mr. Spinks
said he'd take it out of his clothes. Miss Bramble said he'd take it
out of his fire. _I_ said he'd take it out of his dinner."

"Now," she continued, "if you didn't mind moving into the front
attic--it's a good attic--for a time, I could let you 'ave that, _and_
board you, for fifteen shillings a week, or for fourteen, I could, and
welcome. As I seldom let that attic, it would be money in the pocket
to me."

"Come," she went on, well pleased. "I know all about it. Why, Mr.
Blenkinsop, when he first started to write, he lived up there six
months at a time. He had his ups, you may say, and his downs. One year
in the attic and the next on the second floor, having his meals
separate and his own apartments. Then up he'd go again quite cheerful,
as regularly as the bills came round." Here Mrs. Downey entered at
some length upon the history of the splendour and misery of Mr.
Blenkinsop. "And that, I suppose," said Mrs. Downey, "is what it is to
be a poet."

"In fact," said Rickman relating the incident afterwards to Miss
Roots, "talk to Mrs. Downey of the Attic Bee and she will thoroughly
understand the allusion."

After about half an hour's conversation she left him without having
received any clear and definite acceptance of her proposal. That did
not prevent her from announcing to the drawing-room that Mr. Rickman
was not going after all.

At the hour of the last post a letter was pushed under his door. It
was from Horace Jewdwine, asking him to dine with him at Hampstead the
next evening. Nothing more, nothing less; but the sight of the
signature made his brain reel for a second. He stood staring at it.
From the adjoining room came sounds made by Spinks, dancing a jig of
joy which brought up Mr. Soper raging from the floor below.

Jewdwine? Why, he had made up his mind that after the affair of the
Harden library, Jewdwine most certainly would have nothing more to do
with him.

Jewdwine was another link. And at that thought his heart heaved and
became alive again.




CHAPTER XXXIX


In the act of death, as in everything else that he had ever done, Sir
Frederick Harden had hit on the most inappropriate, the most
inconvenient moment--the moment, that is to say, when Horace Jewdwine
had been appointed editor of _The Museion_, when every minute of his
day was taken up with forming his staff and thoroughly reorganizing
the business of his paper. It was, besides, the long-desired moment,
for which all his years at Oxford had been a training and a
consecration; it was that supreme, that nuptial moment in which an
ambitious man embraces for the first time his Opportunity.

The news of Lucia's trouble found him, as it were, in the ardours and
preoccupations of the honeymoon.

It was characteristic of Jewdwine that in this courting of Opportunity
there had been no violent pursuit, no dishevelment, no seizing by the
hair. He had hung back, rather; he had waited, till he had given
himself value, till Opportunity had come to him, with delicate and
ceremonious approach. Still, his head had swum a little at her coming,
so that in the contemplation of his golden bride he had for the time
being lost sight of Lucia.

As for marrying his cousin, that was a question with which for the
present he felt he really could not deal. No doubt it would crop up
again later on to worry him.

Meanwhile he gave to Lucia every minute that he could spare from the
allurements of his golden bride. For more than a fortnight her affairs
had been weighing on him like a nightmare. But only like a nightmare,
a thing that troubled him chiefly in the watches of the night, leaving
his waking thoughts free to go about the business of the day, a thing
against which he felt that it was impossible to contend. For Lucia's
affairs had the vagueness, the confusion of a nightmare. Details no
doubt there were; but they had disappeared in the immensity of the
general effect. Being powerless to deal with them himself, he had sent
down his own solicitor to assist in disentangling them. But as the
full meaning of the disaster sank into him he realized with the cold
pang of disappointment that their marriage must now be indefinitely
postponed.

To be sure, what had as yet passed between them hardly amounted to an
understanding. All Jewdwine's understandings had been with himself.
But the very fact that he was not prepared to act on such an
understanding made him feel as responsible as if it actually existed.
Being conscious of something rather more than cousinly tenderness in
the past, he really could not be sure that he was not already
irretrievably committed. Not that Lucia's manner had ever taken
anything of the sort for granted. He had nothing to fear from her. But
he had much (he told himself) to fear from his own conscience and his
honour.

All this was the result of deliberate reflection. In the beginning of
the trouble, at the first news of his uncle's death, his sympathy with
Lucia had been free from any sordid anxiety for the future which he
then conceived to be inseparably bound up with his own. Rickman's
letter was the first intimation that anything had gone wrong. It was a
shock none the less severe because it was not altogether a surprise.
It was just like his uncle Frederick to raise money on the Harden
Library. The shock lay in Rickman's assumption that he, Jewdwine, was
prepared, instantly, at ten days' notice, to redeem it. It was what he
would have liked to have done; what, if he had been a rich man, he
infallibly would have done; what even now, with his limited resources,
he might do if it were not for the risk. Rickman had assured him that
there was no risk, had implied almost that it was an opportunity, a
splendid investment for his money. He could see for himself that it
was his chance of doing _the_ beautiful thing for Lucia. Looking back
upon it all afterwards, long afterwards, he found consolation in the
thought that his first, or nearly his first, impulse had been
generous.

At first, too, he had not given a thought to Rickman except as the
medium, the unauthorized and somewhat curious medium, of a very
startling communication. Enough that he was expected to produce at ten
days' notice a sum which might be anything you pleased over one
thousand two hundred pounds. It was not until he realized that he was
seriously invited to contend with Rickman's in a private bid for the
Harden library that he began to criticize Rickman's movement in the
matter. Everything depended on Rickman's estimate of the risk, and
Rickman was not infallible. In denying Rickman's infallibility he had
not as yet committed himself to any harsh judgement of his friend. His
first really unpleasant reflection was that Rickman's information was
unsatisfactory, because vague; his next that Rickman was giving him
precious little time for deliberation. He was excessively annoyed with
Rickman upon both these heads, but chiefly upon the latter. He was
being hurried; he might almost say that pressure was being put on him.
And why?

It was at this point he found himself drawn into that dangerous line,
the attributing of motives.

He perceived in Rickman's suggestion a readiness, an eagerness to
stand back and, as it were, pass on the Harden library. Rickman was a
sharp fellow; he knew pretty well what he was about. Jewdwine's mind
went back to the dawn of their acquaintance, and to a certain Florio
Montaigne. Rickman had got the better of him over that Florio
Montaigne. Hitherto, whenever Jewdwine had thought of that little
transaction he had smiled in spite of himself; he really could not
help admiring the smartness of a young man who had worsted him in a
bargain. Jewdwine was a terror to all the second-hand booksellers in
London and Oxford; he would waste so much of their good time in
cheapening a book that it was hardly worth their while to sell it to
him at double the price originally asked. The idea that he had paid
five shillings for a book that he should have got for four and six
would keep Jewdwine awake at night. And now his thought advanced by
rapid steps in the direction unfavourable to Rickman. Rickman had
driven a clever bargain over that Florio Montaigne; Rickman had
cheated him, yes, cheated him infamously, over that Florio Montaigne.
You could see a great deal through a very small hole, and a man who
would cheat you over a Florio Montaigne would cheat you over a whole
library if he got the chance. Not that there was any cheating in the
second-hand book-trade; it was each man for himself and the Lord for
us all.

The question was, what was young Rickman driving at? And what was he,
Jewdwine, being let in for now? He found himself unable to accept
Rickman's alleged motive in all its grand simplicity. It was too
simple and too grand to be entirely probable. If young Rickman was not
infallible, he was an expert in his trade. He was not likely to be
grossly mistaken in his valuation. If the Harden library would be
worth four or five thousand pounds to Jewdwine it would be worth as
much or more to Rickman's. Young Rickman being merely old Rickman's
assistant, he could hardly be acting without his father's knowledge.
If young Rickman honestly thought that the library was worth that sum,
it was not likely that they would let the prize slip out of their
hands. The thing was not in human nature.

The more he thought of it the more he was convinced that it was a
put-up job. He strongly suspected that young Rickman, in the rashness
of his youth, had proceeded farther than he cared to own, that
Rickman's found themselves let in for a bad bargain, and were anxious
to get out of it. Young Rickman had no doubt discovered that the great
Harden library was not the prize they had always imagined it to be.
Jewdwine remembered that there was no record, no proper catalogue, or
if there ever had been, it had been mislaid or lost. He had a vision
(unconsciously exaggerated) of the inconceivable disorder of the place
when he had last visited it; and as he recalled those great gaps on
the shelves it struck him that the library had been gutted. His uncle
Frederick had not been altogether the fool he seemed to be; nothing
was more likely than that he knew perfectly well the value of the
volumes that were the unique glory of the collection, and had long ago
turned them into ready money. The rest would be comparatively
worthless.

He read Rickman's letter over again and had a moment of compunction.
It seemed a very simple and straightforward letter. But then, Rickman
was a very clever fellow, he had the gift of expression; and there was
that Florio Montaigne. He wouldn't have suspected him if only his
record had been pure.

So instead of committing himself by writing to Rickman, he had sent
his solicitor down to look into these matters. A day or two later, in
reply to his further inquiries his solicitor assured him that there
could be no doubt that the library was intact.

To Jewdwine in his present state of mind this information was
upsetting. It not only compelled him to modify his opinion of Rickman
after having formed it, but it threw him back on the agony and
responsibility of decision. On the last morning of the term allowed
him for reflection he received that hurried note from Rickman, who had
flung all his emotions into one agonized line, "For God's sake wire me
what you mean to do." The young poet, so careful of his prose style,
had not perceived that what he had written was blank verse of the
purest; which to Jewdwine in itself sufficiently revealed the disorder
of his mind.

That _cri de coeur_ rang in Jewdwine's brain for the next twenty-four
hours. Then at the last moment he came forward with an offer of one
thousand three hundred. The next day he heard from Lucia (what indeed
he feared) that he had stepped in too late. The library was sold, to
Isaac Rickman.

His dominant emotion was now anger; he was furious with Rickman for
not having given him more time. He forgot his own delay, his fears and
vacillations; he felt that he would have done this thing if he had
only had more time. He had no doubt that Rickman had meant honestly by
him; but he had blundered; he could and he should have given him more
time. But gradually, as the certainty of his own generosity grew on
him, his indignation cooled. Reinstated in his self-esteem he could
afford to do justice to Rickman. What was more, now that the danger
was over he saw his risk more clearly than ever. He had a vision of
his brilliant future clouded by a debt of one thousand three hundred
pounds impetuously raised on the unknown, of the Harden library hung
like a mill-stone round his neck. He had no doubt that Rickman, in the
very ardour of his honesty, had greatly exaggerated its value. And as
he surveyed the probable consequences of his own superb impulse, he
was almost grateful to Rickman for not having given him time to make a
fool of himself. Thanks to Rickman, he had now all the credit of that
reckless offer without the risk.

A week later he had a long letter from Lucia. She thanked him with
much warmth and affection for his generosity; it was evident that it
had touched her deeply. She assured him (as she had assured him
before) that she needed no help. The library had sold for twelve
hundred pounds, and two hundred had been handed over to her. Mr.
Pilkington was afraid that no further sum would be forthcoming from
the sale of the pictures and furniture, which had been valued over
rather than under their present market price, and represented the bulk
of the security. Still, she hoped to sell Court House; it could not
bring in less than five thousand. That and a small part of her capital
would pay off all remaining debts. It was a wearisome business; but
Horace would be glad to hear that she would come out of it not owing a
farthing to anybody, and would still have enough to live on.

Yes. Jewdwine had his pride. He was glad that his disreputable uncle's
affairs had not landed him in the Bankruptcy Court after all; but he
had a movement of indignation on Lucia's account and of admiration for
Lucia.

No more of herself or her affairs; the rest was concerned with Rickman
and his. "My dear Horace," she wrote, "we must do something for this
poor little friend of yours. You were quite right about him. He is a
genius; but fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, for himself, he is
so much else besides. To think that _he_ of all people should be
entangled in our miserable business! He has got badly hurt, too. First
of all, it preyed on his mind till he worried himself into a nervous
fever. Kitty Palliser, who saw him, said he was nearly off his head.
It seems he considered his honour implicated. As it happens he has
behaved splendidly. He did everything in his power to prevent our
losing the library, or at any rate to keep it out of his father's
hands; and the mere fact that he failed doesn't lessen our obligation.
He has simply ruined his own prospects in the attempt. Do you know, he
tried to force his father to withdraw by threatening to leave their
business if he didn't; and he had to keep his word. The horrible
thing is that I actually owe him money--money which he won't take. He
had been working hard for three weeks on a catalogue for me, and is
insulted at the bare suggestion of payment. And here he is--absolutely
stranded; in debt, I believe, and without a farthing. What in the
world am I to do?"

"Poor Lucy!" thought Jewdwine, "as if she hadn't enough to bear
without having Rickman on her shoulders."

"It seems to me that as he has done all this for us, we ought to stand
by him. If you _could_ do anything for him--couldn't you help him with
some introductions? Or, better still, give him work, at any rate till
he has found his feet? I'm sure you can count on his devotion--"

"Dear Lucy, she might be recommending me a valet."

"_Do_ do something for him, and you will oblige me more than I can
say."

That letter of Lucia's gave Jewdwine much matter for reflection and
some pain. He had winced at the sale of Court House; it struck him as
a personal blow. He had had a kind of tacit understanding with himself
that, in that future which he had meant to share with Lucia, Court
House would be the home of his retirement. Still, it must go. He had
to live in town, and if at the moment he could have afforded to marry
a penniless Lucia he could not have afforded two establishments.

As for the redemption of the Harden library he realized with a sharp
pang that risk there had been none. He saw that what young Rickman had
offered him was a unique and splendid opportunity, the opportunity of
doing a beautiful thing for Lucia, and that without the smallest
inconvenience to himself. And this opportunity had been missed. Just
because he could not make up his mind about Rickman, could not see
what Lucia had always seen, what he too saw now, that positively
luminous sincerity of his. He saw it even now reluctantly--though he
could never veer round again to his absurd theory of Rickman's
dishonesty. He would have liked, if he could, to regard him as a
culpable bungler; but even this consoling view was closed to him by
Lucia. It was plain from her account that Rickman's task had been
beyond human power. Jewdwine, therefore, was forced to the painful
conclusion that for this loss to himself and Lucia he had nothing to
blame but his own vacillation.

As for Rickman--

Lucia had taken a great deal of pains with that part of her subject,
for she was determined to do justice to it. She was aware that it was
open to her to take the ordinary practical view of Rickman as a
culpable blunderer, who, by holding his tongue when he should have
spoken, had involved her in the loss of much valuable property. To an
ordinary practical woman the fact that this blunder had entailed such
serious consequences to herself would have made any other theory
impossible. But Lucia was not a woman who could be depended on for any
ordinary practical view. Mere material issues could never confuse her
estimate of spiritual values. To her, Rickman's conduct in that
instance was a flaw in honour, and as such she had already
sufficiently judged it. The significant thing was that he too should
have so judged it; that he should have been capable of such profound
suffering in the thought of it.

And now, somehow, it didn't seem to her to count.

It simply disappeared in her final pure and luminous view of Rickman's
character. What really counted was the alertness of his whole attitude
to honour, his readiness to follow the voice of his own ultimate
vision, to repudiate the unclean thing revealed in its uncleanness;
above all, what counted was his passionate sincerity. With her
unerring instinct of selection Lucia had again seized on the
essential. The triumph of Rickman's greater qualities appealed to her
as a spectacle; it was not spoiled for her by the reflection that she
personally had been more affected by his failure. If she showed her
insight into Rickman's character by admitting the relative
insignificance of that failure, she showed an equal insight into
Jewdwine's by suppressing all mention of it now. For Horace would have
regarded it as essential. It would have loomed large in his view by
reason of its material consequences. Allowing for Horace's view she
kept her portrait truer by omitting it.

And Jewdwine accepted her portrait as the true one. It appealed
irresistibly to his artistic sense. He was by profession a connoisseur
of things beautifully done. Rickman's behaviour, as described by
Lucia, revived his earlier amused admiration for his young disciple.
It was so like him. In its spontaneity, its unexpectedness, its--its
colossal impertinence, it was pure Rickman.

Lucia had achieved a masterpiece of appreciation.

But what helped him in his almost joyous re-discovery of his Rickman
was his perception that here (in doing justice to Rickman) lay his
chance of rehabilitating himself. If he could not buy back the Harden
library, he could at any rate redeem his own character. He did not
hold himself responsible for Lucia's father's debts, but he was
willing, not to say glad, to take up Lucia's. It was certainly most
improper that she should be under any obligation to Rickman. In any
case, Rickman's action concerned Lucia's family as much as Lucia; that
is to say, it was his (Jewdwine's) affair. And personally he disliked
indebtedness.

Another man might have handed Rickman a cheque for fifty pounds (the
price of the catalogue _raisonne_) and washed his hands of him. But
Jewdwine was incapable of that grossness.

He gave the matter a fortnight's delicate consideration. At the end of
that time he had made up his mind not only to invite Rickman to
contribute regularly to _The Museion_ (a thing he would have done in
any case) but to offer him, temporarily, the sub-editorship. Rash as
this resolution seemed, Jewdwine had fenced himself carefully from any
risk. The arrangement was not to be considered permanent until Rickman
had proved himself both capable and steady--if then. In giving him any
work at all on _The Museion_ Jewdwine felt that he was stretching a
point. It was a somewhat liberal rendering of his editorial programme.

_The Museion_ was the one solitary literary journal that had the
courage to profess openly a philosophy of criticism. Its philosophy
might be obsolete, it might be fantastic, it might be altogether
wrong; the point was that it was there. Its presence was a protest
against the spirit of anarchy in the world of letters. The paper had
lost influence lately owing to a certain rigidity in the methods of
its late editor, also to an increasing dulness in its style. It was
suffering, like all old things, from the unequal competition with
insurgent youth. The proprietors were almost relieved when the death
of its editor provided them with a suitable opportunity for giving it
over into the hands of younger men. "We want new blood," said the
proprietors. The difficulty was how to combine new blood with the old
spirit, and Horace Jewdwine solved their problem, presenting the
remarkable combination of an old head upon comparatively young
shoulders. He was responsible, authoritative, inspired by a high and
noble seriousness. He had taken his Aristotle with a high and noble
seriousness; and in the same spirit he had approached his Kant, his
Hegel and his Schopenhauer in succession. He was equipped with the
most beautiful metaphysical theory of Art, and had himself written
certain _Prolegomena to AEsthetics_.

Metaphysics had preyed on Jewdwine like a flame. He was consumed with
a passion for unity. The unity which Nature only strives after,
blindly, furiously, ineffectually; the unity barely reached by the
serene and luminous processes of Thought--the artist achieves it with
one stroke. In him, by the twin acts of vision and creation, the
worlds of Nature and the Idea are made one. He leaps at a bound into
the very heart of the Absolute. He alone can be said to have attained,
and (this was the point which Jewdwine insisted on) attained only by
the sacrifice of his individuality.

Thus Jewdwine in his _Prolegomena to AEsthetics_.

As that work could be regarded only as a brutal and terrific challenge
to the intellect, the safer course was to praise it, and it was
unanimously praised. Nobody was able to understand a word of it except
the last chapter on "Individualism in Modern Art." But as criticism
wisely concentrated itself on this the only comprehensible portion of
the book, Jewdwine (who otherwise would have perished in his own
profundity) actually achieved some journalistic notoriety as a dealer
in piquant paradox and vigorous personalities.

Jewdwine was ambitious. On the strength of his _Prolegomena_ he had
come up from Oxford with a remarkable reputation, which he had every
inducement to cherish and to guard. He was therefore the best possible
editor for such a review as _The Museion_, and such a review as _The
Museion_ was the best possible instrument of his ambition.

His aim was to preserve the tradition of the paper as pure as on the
day when it was given into his hands.

He was a little doubtful as to how far young Rickman would lend
himself to that.

However, as the fruit of Jewdwine's meditations, Rickman received a
note inviting him to dine with the editor alone, at Hampstead.
Jewdwine, whose health required pure air, had settled very comfortably
in that high suburb. And, as his marriage seemed likely to remain long
a matter for dubious reflection, he had arranged that his sister Edith
should keep house for him. In inviting Rickman to dine at Hampstead
his intention was distinctly friendly; at the same time he was careful
to fix an evening when Miss Jewdwine would not be there. He was
willing to help Rickman in every possible way short of introducing him
to the ladies of his family.

But before dinner was ended he had to admit that this precaution was
excessive. Rickman (barring certain dreadful possibilities of speech)
was really by no means unpresentable. He was attired with perfect
sanity. His methods at the dinner table, if at all unusual, erred on
the side of restraint rather than of extravagance; he gave indications
of a certain curious personal refinement; and in the matter of wine he
was almost incredibly abstemious. It was the first time that Jewdwine
had come to close quarters with his disciple, and with some surprise
he saw himself going through the experience without a shock. Either he
had been mistaken in Rickman, or Rickman had improved. Shy he still
was, but he had lost much of his old ungovernable nervousness, and
gave Jewdwine the impression of an immense reserve. He seemed to have
entered into some ennobling possession which raised him above the
region of small confusions and excitements. His eye, when Jewdwine
caught it, no longer struggled to escape; but it seemed to be held
less by him than by its own controlling inner vision.

Jewdwine watched him narrowly. It never entered into his head that
what he was watching was the effect of three weeks' intercourse with
Lucia Harden. He attributed it to Rickman's deliverance from the shop.
To be sure Rickman did not strike him as particularly happy, but this
again he accounted for by the depressing state of his finances.

Neither of them made the most distant allusion to Lucia. Jewdwine was
not aware of the extent of Rickman's acquaintance with his cousin,
neither could he well have conceived it. And for Rickman it was not
yet possible either to speak or to hear of Lucia without pain.

It was not until dinner was over, and Rickman was no longer eating
Jewdwine's food, that they ventured on the unpleasant topic that lay
before them, conspicuous, though untouched. Jewdwine felt that, as it
was impossible to ignore what had passed between them since they had
last met, the only thing was to refer to it as casually as might be.

"By the way, Rickman," he said when they were alone in his study, "you
were quite right about that library. I only wish you could have let me
know a little sooner."

"I wish I had," said Rickman, and his tone implied that he appreciated
the painfulness of the subject.

There was a pause which Rickman broke by congratulating Jewdwine on
his appointment. This he did with a very pretty diffidence and
modesty, which smoothed over the awkwardness of the transition, if
indeed it did not convey an adroit suggestion of the insignificance of
all other affairs. The editor, still observing his unconscious
candidate, was very favourably impressed. He laid before him the views
and aims of _The Museion_.

Yes; he thought it had a future before it. He was going to make it the
organ of philosophic criticism, as opposed to the mere personal view.
It would, therefore, be unique. Yes; certainly it would also be
unpopular. Heaven forbid that anything he was concerned in should be
popular. It was sufficient that it should be impartial and
incorruptible. Its tone was to be sober and scholarly, but militant.
Rickman gathered that its staff were to be so many knights-errant
defending the virtue of the English Language. No loose slip-shod
journalistic phrase would be permitted in its columns. Its articles,
besides being well reasoned, would be examples of the purity it
preached. It was to set its face sternly against Democracy,
Commercialism and Decadence.

The disciple caught fire from the master's enthusiasm; he approved,
aspired, exulted. His heart was big with belief in Jewdwine and his
work. Being innocent himself of any sordid taint, he admired above all
things what he called his friend's intellectual chastity. Jewdwine
felt the truth of what Lucia had told him. He could count absolutely
on Rickman's devotion. He arrived by well-constructed stages at the
offer of the sub-editorship.

Rickman looked up with a curious uncomprehending stare. When he
clearly understood the proposal that was being made to him, he flushed
deeply and showed unmistakable signs of agitation.

"Do you think," said Jewdwine discreetly, "you'd care to try it for a
time?"

"I don't know, I'm sure," said Rickman thoughtfully.

"Well, it's only an experiment. I'm not offering you anything
permanent."

"Of course, that makes all the difference."

"It does; if it isn't good enough--"

"You don't understand me. That's what would make it all right."

"Make what all right?"

"My accepting--if you really only want a stop-gap."

"I see," said Jewdwine to himself, "the youth has tasted liberty, and
he objects to being caught and caged."

"The question is," said Rickman, sinking into thought again, "whether
you really want _me_."

"My dear fellow, why on earth should I say so if I didn't?"

"N--no. Only I thought, after the mess I've made of things, that none
of your family would ever care to have anything to do with me again."
It was the nearest he had come to mentioning Lucia Harden, and the
pain it cost him was visible on his face.

"My family," said Jewdwine with a stiff smile, "will _not_ have
anything to do with you. It has nothing to do with _The Museion_.

"In that case, I don't see why I shouldn't try it, if I can be of any
use to you." From the calmness of his manner you would have supposed
that salaried appointments hung on every lamp-post, ready to drop into
the mouths of impecunious young men of letters.

"Thanks. Then we'll consider that settled for the present."

Impossible to suppose that Rickman was not properly grateful. Still,
instead of thanking Jewdwine, he had made Jewdwine thank him. And he
had done it quite unconsciously, without any lapse from his habitual
sincerity, or the least change in his becoming attitude of modesty.
Jewdwine considered that what Maddox had qualified as Rickman's
colossal cheek was simply his colossal ignorance; not to say his
insanely perverted view of the value of salaried appointments.

"Oh," said he, "I shall want you as a contributor, too. I don't know
how you'll work in with the rest, but we shall see. I won't have any
but picked men. The review has always stood high; but I want it to
stand higher. It isn't a commercial speculation. There's no question
of making it pay. It must keep up its independence whether it can
afford it or not. We've been almost living on Vaughan's
advertisements. All the same, I mean to slaughter those new men he's
got hold of."

Rickman admired this reckless policy. It did not occur to him at the
moment that Jewdwine was reader to a rival publisher.

"What," he said, "all of them at once?"

"No--We shall work them off weekly, one at a time."

Rickman laughed. "One at a time? Then you allow them the merit of
individuality?"

"It isn't a merit; it's a vice, _the_ vice of the age. It shrieks; it
ramps. Individuality means slow disease in ethics and politics, but
it's sudden death to art. When will you young men learn that art is
self-restraint, not self-expansion?"

"Self expansion--it seems an innocent impulse."

"If it were an impulse--but it isn't. It's a pose. A cold, conscious,
systematic pose. So deadly artificial; and so futile, if they did but
know. After all, the individual is born, not made."

"I believe you!"

"Yes; but he isn't born nowadays. He belongs to the ages of inspired
innocence and inspired energy. We are not inspired; we are not
energetic; we are not innocent. We're deliberate and languid and
corrupt. And we can't reproduce by our vile mechanical process what
only exists by the grace of nature and of God. Look at the modern
individual--for all their cant and rant, is there a more contemptible
object on the face of this earth? Don't talk to me of individuality."

"It's given us one or two artists--"

"Artists? Yes, artists by the million; and no Art. To produce Art, the
artist's individuality must conform to the Absolute."

Jewdwine in ninety-two was a man of enormous utterances and noble
truths. With him all artistic achievements stood or fell according to
the canons of the _Prolegomena to AEsthetics_. Therefore in ninety-two
his conversation was not what you would call diverting. Yet it made
you giddy; his ideas kept on circulating round and round the same icy,
invisible pole. Rickman, in describing the interview afterwards, said
he thought he had caught a cold in the head talking to Jewdwine; his
intellect seemed to be sitting in a thorough draught.

"And if the artist has a non-conforming devil in him? If he's the sort
of genius who can't and won't conform? Strikes me the poor old
Absolute's got to climb down."

"If he's a genius--he generally isn't--he'll know that he'll express
himself best by conforming. He isn't lost by it, but enlarged. Look at
Greek art. There," said Jewdwine, a rapt and visionary air passing
over his usually apathetic face, "the individual, the artist, is
always subdued to the universal, the absolute beauty."

"And in modern art, I take it, the universal absolute beauty is
subdued to the individual. That seems only fair. What you've got to
reckon with is the man himself."

"Who wants the man himself? We want the thing itself--the reality, the
pure object of art. Do any of your new men understand that?"

"We _want_ it--some of us."

"Do you _understand_ it?"

"Not I. Do you understand it yourself? Would you know it if you met it
in the street?"

"It never is in the street."

"How do you know? You can't say where it is or what it is. You can't
say anything about it at all. But while you're all trying to find out,
the most unlikely person suddenly gets up and produces it. And _he_
can't tell you where he got it. Though, if you ask him, ten to one
he'll tell you he's been sitting on it all the time."

"Well," said Jewdwine, "tell me when you've 'sat on' anything
yourself."

"I will." He rose to go, being anxious to avoid the suspicion of
having pushed that question to a personal issue. It was only in reply
to more searching inquiries that he mentioned (on the doorstep) that a
book of his was coming out in the autumn.

"What, _Helen_?"

"No. _Saturnalia_ and--a lot of things you haven't seen yet." It was a
rapid nervous communication, made in the moment of withdrawing his
hand from Jewdwine's.

"Who's your publisher?" called out Jewdwine.

Rickman laughed as the night received him. "Vaughan!" he shouted from
the garden gate.

"Now, what on earth," said Jewdwine, "could have been his motive for
not consulting me?" He had not got the clue to the hesitation and
secrecy of the young man's behaviour. He did not know that there were
three things which Rickman desired at any cost to keep pure--his
genius, his friendship for Horace Jewdwine, and his love for Lucia
Harden.




CHAPTER XL


The end of May found Rickman still at Mrs. Downey's, established on
the second floor in a glory that exceeded the glory of Mr. Blenkinsop.
He had now not only a bedroom, but a study, furnished with a
simplicity that had the effect of luxury, and lined from floor to
ceiling with his books. Mrs. Downey had agreed that Mr. Rickman
should, whenever the mysterious fancy took him, have his meals served
to him in his own apartment after the high manner of Mr. Blenkinsop;
and it was under protest that she accepted any compensation for the
break thus made in the triumphal order of the Dinner.

Here then at last, he was absolutely alone and free. Feeling perhaps
how nearly it had lost him, or impressed by the sudden change in his
position, the boarding-house revered this privacy of Rickman's as a
sacred thing. Not even Mr. Soper would have dared to violate his
virgin leisure. The charm of it was unbroken, it was even heightened
by the inaudible presence of Miss Roots in her den on the same floor.
Miss Roots indeed was the tie that bound him to Mrs. Downey's;
otherwise the dream of his affluence would have been chambers in
Westminster or the Temple. For his income, in its leap from zero to a
fluctuating two hundred a year, appeared to him as boundless
affluence. To be sure, Jewdwine had expressly stated that it would not
be permanent, but this he had understood to be merely a delicate way
of referring to his former imperfect record of sobriety. And he had
become rich not only in money but in time. Rickman's had demanded an
eight or even a ten hours' day; the office of _The Museion_ claimed
him but five hours of four days in the week. From five o'clock on
Thursday evening till eleven on Monday morning, whatever work remained
for him to do could be done in his own time and his own temper.

Much of the leisure time at his disposal he spent in endeavouring to
follow the Harden library in its dispersion. He attended the great
auctions in the hope of intercepting some treasure in its passage from
Rickman's to the home of the collector. Once, in his father's absence,
he bought a dozen volumes straight over the counter from his successor
there. It was also about this time that Spinks and Soper appeared in
the new character of book fanciers, buying according to Rickman's
instructions and selling to him on commission, a transaction which
filled these gentlemen with superb importance. Thus Rickman became
possessed of about twenty or thirty volumes which he ranged behind a
curtain, on a shelf apart. The collection, formed gradually, included
nothing of any intrinsic value; such as it was he treasured it with a
view to restoring it ultimately to Lucia Harden. He was considering
whether with the means at his disposal he could procure a certain
Aldine Dante of his memory, when the Harden library disappeared from
the market as suddenly and mysteriously as it had come. No volume
belonging to it could be bought for love or money; and none were
displayed in the windows of Rickman's. Keith learnt nothing by his
inquiries beyond the extent of his estrangement from his father. When
he called at the shop his successor regretted that he was unable to
give him any information. When he visited the suburban villa Isaac
refused to see him. When he wrote Isaac never answered the letters.
His stepmother in an unpleasant interview gave him to understand that
the separation was final and complete.

He would have been more hurt by this rupture but for that other and
abiding pain. The thought of Lucia Harden checked his enjoyment in the
prospect of a now unimpeded career. Rickman was like some young
athlete who walks on to the field stripped and strong for the race,
but invisibly handicapped, having had the heart knocked out of him by
some shameful incident outside the course. Apart from his own disgrace
he was miserably anxious about Lucia herself, about her health, her
happiness, her prospects; his misery being by no means lightened by
his perception that these things were not exactly his concern.

He tried to picture her living as poor ladies live; he had seen them
sometimes at Mrs. Downey's. He could not see her there, or rather,
seeing her he could see nothing else; he perceived that surroundings
and material accessories contributed nothing to his idea of her.
Still, he knew nothing; and he had to accept his ignorance as part,
and the worst part, of the separation that was his punishment. Many
mixed feelings, shame and passion, delicacy and pride restrained him
from asking Jewdwine any question. Even if Jewdwine had not told him
as much, he would have known that his acquaintance with Jewdwine's
affairs would not involve acquaintance with Jewdwine's family. He had
absolutely nothing to hope for from that connection.

And yet he hoped. The probabilities were that if Lucia did not make
her home with her cousins, she would at any rate stay with them the
greater part of the year. He was always walking up to Hampstead Heath
on the chance of some day seeing her there. Sometimes he would pass by
the front of Jewdwine's beautiful old brown house, and glance quickly
through the delicate iron gate and up at the windows. But she was
never there. Sometimes he would sit for hours on one of the seats
under the elm tree at the back. There was a high walk there
overlooking the West Heath and shaded by the elms and by Jewdwine's
garden wall. The wall had a door in it that might some day open and
let out the thing he longed for. Only it never did. There was nothing
to hope for from Jewdwine's house.

At last his longing became intolerable, and one day, in the office, he
made up his mind to approach Jewdwine himself. He had been telling him
about the apparent check in the career of the Harden library, when he
saw his opportunity and took it.

"By the way, can you tell me where your cousin is now?"

"Miss Harden," said Jewdwine coldly, "is in Germany with Miss
Palliser." He added, as if he evidently felt that some explanation was
necessary (not on Rickman's account, but on his own), "She was to have
come to us, but we were obliged to give her up to Miss Palliser, who
is living alone."

"Alone?"

"Yes. Mrs. Palliser is dead."

Rickman turned abruptly away to the window and stared into the street
below. Jewdwine from his seat by the table looked after him
thoughtfully. He would have given a good deal to know what was implied
in the sudden turning of Rickman's back. What on earth did it matter
to Rickman if old Mrs. Palliser was dead or alive? What could he be
thinking of?

He was thinking of Kitty who had shown him kindness, of Kitty and the
pleasant jests with which she used to cover his embarrassment; of
Kitty who had understood him at the last. It was impossible not to
feel some grief for the grief of Lucia's friend; but he had no
business to show it. Therefore he had turned away.

And then he thought of Lucia; and in his heart he cursed that other
business which was his and yet not his; he cursed the making of the
catalogue; he cursed the great Harden Library which had brought them
together and divided them. But for that, his genius, a thing apart,
might have claimed her friendship for itself. As it was, his genius,
being after all bound up with his person which suffered and was
ashamed, had (as far as Lucia was concerned) to accept its humiliation
and dismissal.

And all the time his genius, already vigorous enough in all
conscience, throve on his suffering as it had thriven on his joy. In
that summer of ninety-two, Rickman's _Saturnalia_ were followed by _On
Harcombe Hill_ and _The Four Winds_, and that greatest poem of his
lyric period, _The Song of Confession_. Upon the young poet about town
there had descended, as it were out of heaven, a power hitherto
undreamed of and undivined. No rapture of the body was ever so winged
and flamed, or lost itself in such heights and depths of music, as
that cry of the passion of his soul.




CHAPTER XLI


Meanwhile, of a Sunday evening, Miss Poppy Grace wondered why
Ricky-ticky never by any chance appeared upon his balcony. At last,
coming home about ten o'clock from one of his walks to Hampstead, he
found Poppy leaning out over _her_ balcony most unmistakably on the
look-out.

"Come in and have some supper," said she.

"No thanks, I fancy it's a little late."

"Better late than never, when it's supper with _me_. Catch!" And
Poppy, in defiance of all propriety, tossed her latch-key over the
balcony. And somehow that latch-key had to be returned. He did not use
it, but rang, with the intention of handing it to the servant; an
intention divined and frustrated by Poppy, who opened the door to him
herself.

"Don't go away," she said, "I've got something to tell you."

"Not now, I think--"

Her eyes were hideous to him in their great rings of paint and bistre.

"Why ever not? It'll only tyke a minute. Come in; there's nobody up
there that matters."

And because he had no desire to be brutal or uncivil, he went up into
the room he knew so well. It being summer, the folding doors were
thrown wide open, and in the room beyond they came upon a large lady
in a dirty tea-gown, eating lobster. For Poppy, now that she saw
respectability departing from her, held out to it a pathetic little
hand, and the tea-gown, pending an engagement as heavy matron on the
provincial stage, was glad enough to play Propriety in Miss Grace's
drawing-room. To-night Poppy made short work of Propriety. She waited
with admirable patience while the large lady (whom she addressed
affectionately as Tiny) followed up the last thin trail of mayonnaise;
but when Tiny showed a disposition to toy with the intricacies of an
empty claw, Poppy protested.

"Hurry up and clear out, there's a dear. I want to give Rickets his
supper, and we haven't got a minute to spare."

And Tiny, who seemed to know her business, hurried up and cleared out.

But Rickets didn't want any supper, and Poppy was visibly abstracted
and depressed. She mingled whipped cream with minute fragments of
lobster, and finally fell to torturing a sandwich with a spoon; and
all with an immense affectation of not having a minute to spare.

"Well, Ryzors," she said at last (and her accent jarred him horribly),
"this is very strynge behyviour."

"Which?"

"Which? Do you know you haven't been near me for two months?"

He laughed uneasily. "I couldn't be near you when I was away."

"Never said you could. But what did you go away for?"

"Business."

"Too busy to write, I suppose?"

"Much too busy."

She rose, and with one hand on his shoulder steered him into the front
room.

"Sit down," she said. "And don't look so sulky. I want to talk to you
sensibly."

He sat down where he had sat that night two months ago, on the Polar
bear skin. She sat down too, with a sweeping side-long movement of her
hips that drew her thin skirts close about her. She contemplated the
effect a little dubiously, then with shy nervous fingers loosened and
shook out the folds. He leaned back, withdrawn as far as possible into
the corner of the divan. The associations of the place were
unspeakably loathsome to him.

"Look here, dear"--(In Poppy's world the term of endearment went for
nothing; it was simply the stamp upon the current coin of comradeship.
If only that had been the beginning and the end between them!)

"I haven't a minute--but, I'm going to ask you something" (though
Poppy hadn't a minute she was applying herself very leisurely to the
making of cigarettes). "Don't go and get huffy at what I'm going to
say. Do you happen to owe Dicky anything?"

"Why?"

"Tell you why afterwards. _Do_ you owe him anything?"

"Oh, well--a certain amount--Why?"

"Why? Because I think he owes _you_ something. And that's a grudge. It
isn't my business, but if I were you, Rickets, I'd pay him orf and
have done with him."

"Oh, that's all right. I'm safe enough."

"You? It's just you who isn't. Dicky's not a bad sort, in his way. All
the same, he'd sell you up as soon as look at you. Unless--" (for a
moment her bright eyes clouded, charged with the melancholy meanings
of the world) "Unless you happened to be an orf'ly pretty woman." She
laid her right leg across her left knee and struck a vesta on the heel
of her shoe.

"Then, of course, he'd sooner look at me."

Poppy puffed at her cigarette and threw the vesta into the grate with
a dexterous jerk of her white forearm. "Look at you first. Sell you
up--after." Then Poppy burst into song--

    "Oh, he is such a nice little boy,
    When there's nothing you do to annoy;
        But he's apt to stand aloof
        If you arsk him for the oof,
      And it's then that he looks coy.
        Oh, he'll show the cloven hoof,
        If you put him to the proof.
    When you want him to hand you the boodle
    He's _not_ such a nice little boy.

"Yes, dickee, _I_ see you!"

The canary, persuaded by Poppy's song that it was broad daylight, was
awake and splashing in his bath. Again in Poppy's mind (how
unnecessarily) he stood for the respectabilities and proprieties; he
was an understudy for Tiny of the dirty tea-gown.

"Going?"

"Yes. I must go."

"Wait." She rose and held him by the collar of his coat, a lapel in
each small hand. He grasped her wrists by an instinctive movement of
self-preservation, and gently slackened her hold. She gave his coat a
little shake. "What's the matter with you, Rickets? You're such a
howling swell."

Her eyes twinkled in the old way, and he smiled in spite of himself.

"Say, I'm a little nuisance, Rickets, _say_ I'm a little nuisance."

"You are a little nuisance.

"A d----d little nuisance."

"A d----d little nuisance."

"Ah, now you feel better, don't you? Poor Ricky-ticky, don't you be
afraid. It's only a _little_ nuisance. It'll never be a big one. It's
done growing. That is, I won't rag you any more, if you'll tell me one
thing--oh, what a whopper of a sigh!--Promise me you'll pay Dicky
off."

"All right. I'll pay him."

"To-morrow?"

"To-morrow, then. Don't, Poppy. I--I've got a sore throat." For Poppy,
standing on tip-toe, had made an effort to embrace him.

"I sy, if you blush like that, Rickets, you'll have a fit. Poor dear!
_Did_ I crumple his nice little stylish collar!"

He endured while she smoothed out an imaginary wrinkle, her head very
much on one side. "You see, Razors, we've been such chums. Whatever
happens, I want to be all right and straight with you."

"What should happen?"

"Oh, anything." Again there was that troubling of the bright shallows
of her eyes. "You remember larst time you were here?" (his shudder
told her that he remembered well). "I _did_ try to send you away,
didn't I?"

"As far as I can remember, you did."

"What did you think I did it for?"

"I suppose, because you wanted me to go."

"Stupid! I did it because I wanted you to _stay_." She looked into his
eyes and the light went out of her own; among its paint and powder her
audacity lay dead. It was as if she saw on his face the shadow of
Lucia Harden, and knew that her hour had come.

She met it laughing. "Good-night, Ricky-ticky."

As he took her hand he muttered something about being "fearfully
sorry."

"Sorry?" Poppy conjured up a poor flickering ghost of her inimitable
wink. "The champagne was bad, dear. Don't you worry."

When he had left her, she flung herself face downwards on the divan.
"Oh, dicky, will you hold your horrid little tongue?" But as she
sobbed aloud, the canary, symbol of invincible Propriety, rocked on
his perch and shook over her his piercing and exultant song.

Rickman was sorry for her, but the sight and touch of her were hateful
to him. He took her advice however. He had had good luck with some
articles, and he called on Pilkington the next afternoon and paid him
his thirty pounds with the interest. Dicky was in a good humour and
inclined to be communicative. He congratulated him on his present
berth, and informed him that Rickman's was "going it." The old man had
just raised four thousand on the Harden library, the only security
that he, Dicky, would accept.

"I suppose," said Rickman simply, "you'd no idea of its value when you
let him buy it?"

Dicky stared through his eye-glass with his blue eyes immense and
clear.

"My dear fellow, do you take me for a d----d fool?"

So that had been Dicky's little game? Trust Dicky.

And yet for the time being, held in the opposing grip of two firm
cupidities, it was safe, the great Harden library, once the joy of
scholars, loved with such high intellectual passion, and now the
centre of so many hot schemes and rivalries and lusts. Now that the
work of sacrilege was complete, housed at last in the Gin Palace of
Art, it stood, useless in its desecrated beauty, cumbering the shelves
whence no sale would remove it until either Rickman's or Pilkington
let go. So far the Hardens were avenged.




CHAPTER XLII


More than once, after that night when Rickman dined with him, Jewdwine
became the prey of many misgivings. He felt that in taking Rickman up
he was assuming an immense responsibility. It might have been better,
happier for Rickman, poor fellow, if after all he had left him in his
decent obscurity; but having dragged him out of it, he was in a manner
answerable to the world for Rickman and to Rickman for the world.
Supposing Rickman disappointed the world? Supposing the world
disappointed Rickman?

Jewdwine lived in the hope, natural to a distinguished critic, of some
day lighting upon a genius. The glory of that find would go far to
compensate him for his daily traffic with mediocrity. Genius was
rarely to be seen, but Jewdwine felt that he would be the first to
recognize it if he did see it; the first to penetrate its many curious
disguises; the first to give it an introduction (if it wanted one) to
his own superior world. And here was Rickman--manifestly in need of
that introduction--a man who unquestionably had about him some of the
marks by which a genius is identified; and yet he left you terribly
uncertain. He was the very incarnation of uncertainty. Jewdwine was
perfectly willing to help the man if only he were sure of the genius.
But was he sure? Had it really pleased the inscrutable divine thing to
take up its abode in this otherwise rather impossible person?

Meanwhile Rickman seemed to be settling down fairly comfortably to the
work of _The Museion_; and Jewdwine, having other things to think of,
began to forget his existence. He was in fact rapidly realizing his
dream. He had won for himself and his paper a position lonely and
unique. The reputation of _The Museion_ was out of all proportion to
its circulation, but Jewdwine was making himself heard. As an editor
and critic he was respected for his incorruptibility and for the
purity of his passion for literature. His utterances were considered
to carry authority and weight.

Just at first the weight was perhaps the more conspicuous quality of
the two. Jewdwine could not be parted from his "Absolute." He had
lived with it for years in Oxford, and he brought it up to town with
him; it walked beside him on the London pavements and beckoned him
incessantly into the vast inane. It cut a very majestic figure in his
columns, till some irritable compositor docked it of its capital and
compelled it to march with the rank and file of vulgar adjectives.
Even thus degraded it ruled his paragraphs as it ruled his thoughts.

But lately the review seemed to be making efforts to redeem itself
from the charge of heaviness. In certain of its columns there was a
curious radiance and agitation, as of some winged and luminous
creature struggling against obscurity; and it was felt that Jewdwine
was binding in a pious tradition of dulness a spirit that would
otherwise have danced and flown. Whether it was his own spirit or
somebody else's did not definitely appear; but now and again it broke
loose altogether, and then, when people complimented him on the
brilliance of his appearance that week, he smiled inscrutably.

It was impossible to say how far Jewdwine's conscience approved of
these outbursts of individuality. Certainly he did his best to
restrain them, his desire being to give to his columns a distinguished
unity of form. He saw himself the founder of a new and higher school
of journalism, thus satisfying his undying tutorial instincts. He had
chosen his staff from the most promising among the young band of
disciples who thronged his lecture-room at Oxford; men moulded on his
methods, inspired by his ideals, drenched in his metaphysics; crude
young men of uncontrollable enthusiasm, whose style awaited at his
hands the final polishing.

He knew that he had done a risky thing in associating young Rickman
with them in this high enterprise. But under all his doubts there lay
a faith in the genius of his sub-editor, a faith the more fascinating
because it was so far removed from any certainty. In giving Rickman
his present post he conceived himself not only to be paying a debt of
honour, but doing the best possible thing for _The Museion_. It was
also, he considered, the best possible thing for Rickman. His work on
the review would give him the discipline he most needed, the
discipline he had never had. To be brought into line with an august
tradition; to be caught up out of the slough of modern journalism into
a rarer atmosphere; to breathe the eternal spirit of great literature
(a spirit which according to Jewdwine did not blow altogether where it
listed); to have his too exuberant individuality chastened and
controlled, would be for Rickman an unspeakable benefit at this
critical stage of his career.

The chastening and controlling were difficult. Rickman's phrases were
frequently more powerful than polite. Like many young writers of
violent imagination he was apt to be somewhat vividly erotic in his
metaphors. And he had little ways that were very irritating to
Jewdwine. He was wasteful with the office paper and with string; he
would use penny stamps where halfpenny ones would have served his
purpose; he had once permitted himself to differ with Jewdwine on a
point of scholarship in the presence of the junior clerk. There were
times when Jewdwine longed to turn him out and have done with him; and
yet Rickman stayed on. When all was said and done there was a charm
about him. Jewdwine in fact had proved the truth of Lucia's saying; he
could rely absolutely on his devotion. He could not afford to let him
go. Though Rickman tampered shamelessly with the traditions of the
review, it could not be said that as yet he had injured its
circulation. His contributions were noticed with approval in rival
columns; and they had even been quoted by Continental critics with
whom _The Museion_ passed as being the only British review that had
the true interests of literature at heart.

But though Rickman helped to bring fame to _The Museion_, _The
Museion_ brought none to him. The identity of its contributors was
merged in that of its editor, and those brilliant articles were never
signed.

The spring of ninety-three, which found Jewdwine comfortably seated
on the summit of his ambition, saw Rickman almost as obscure as in the
spring of ninety-two. His poems had not yet appeared. Vaughan
evidently regarded them as so many sensitive plants, and, fearing for
them the boisterous seasons of autumn and spring, had kept them back
till the coming May, when, as he expressed it, the market would be
less crowded. This delay gave time to that erratic artist, Mordaunt
Crawley, to complete the remarkable illustrations on which Vaughan
relied chiefly for success. Vaughan had spared no expense, but
naturally it was the artist and the printer, not the poet, whom he
paid.

Rickman, however, had not thought of his _Saturnalia_ as a source of
revenue. It had been such a pleasure to write them that the wonder was
he had not been called upon to pay for that. Happily for him he was by
this time independent. As sub-editor and contributor to _The Museion_,
he was drawing two small but regular incomes. He could also count on a
third (smaller and more uncertain) from _The Planet_, where from the
moment of his capture by Jewdwine he had been reinstated.

He found it easy enough to work for both. _The Planet_ was poor, and
it was out of sheer perversity that it indulged a disinterested
passion for literature. In fact, Maddox and his men were trying to do
with gaiety of heart what Jewdwine was doing with superb solemnity.
But whenever Rickman mentioned Maddox to Jewdwine, Jewdwine would
shrug his shoulders and say, "Maddox is not important"; and when he
mentioned _The Museion_ to Maddox, Maddox would correct him with a
laugh, "The Museum, you mean," and refer to his fellow-contributors as
"a respectable collection of meiocene fossils." Maddox had conceived a
jealous and violent admiration for Savage Keith Rickman. "Rickman," he
said, "you shall not go over body and soul to _The Museion_." He
regarded himself as the keeper and lover of Rickman's soul, and would
not have been sorry to bring about a divorce between it and Jewdwine.
His irregular attentions were to save it from a suicidal devotion to a
joyless consort. So that Rickman was torn between Maddox's enthusiasm
for him and his own enthusiasm for Jewdwine.

That affection endured, being one with his impetuous and generous
youth; while his genius, that thing alone and apart, escaped from
Jewdwine. He knew that Jewdwine's incorruptibility left him nothing to
expect in the way of approval and protection, and the knowledge did
not greatly affect him. He preferred that his friend should remain
incorruptible. That Jewdwine should greatly delight in his
_Saturnalia_ was more than he at any time expected. For there his
muse, Modernity, had begun to turn her back resolutely on the masters
and the models, to fling off the golden fetters of rhyme, gird up her
draperies to her naked thighs, and step out with her great swinging
stride on perilous paths of her own. To be sure there were other
things which Jewdwine had not seen, on which he himself felt that he
might rest a pretty secure claim to immortality.

Of his progress thither his friends had to accept Vaughan's
announcements as the only intimation. Rickman had not called upon any
of the Junior Journalists to smooth the way for him. He had not, in
fact, called on any of them at all, but as April advanced he retreated
more and more into a foolish privacy; and with the approaches of May
he vanished. One night, however, some Junior Journalists caught him at
the club, belated, eating supper. They afterwards recalled that he had
then seemed to them possessed by a perfect demon of indiscretion; and
when his book finally appeared on the first of May, it was felt that
it could hardly have been produced under more unfavourable auspices.
This reckless attitude was evidently unaffected (nobody had ever
accused Rickman of affectation); and even Maddox pronounced it
imprudent in the extreme. As for Jewdwine, it could not be accounted
for by any motives known to him. His experience compelled him to take
a somewhat cynical view of the literary character. Jewdwine among his
authors was like a man insusceptible of passion, but aware of the
fascinations that caused him to be pursued by the solicitations of the
fair. He was flattered by the pursuit, but the pursuer inspired him
with the liveliest contempt. It had not yet occurred to him that
Rickman could have any delicacy in approaching him. Still less could
he believe that Rickman could be indifferent to the fate of his book.
His carelessness therefore did not strike him as entirely genuine.
There could be no doubt however as to the genuineness of Rickman's
surprise when he came upon Jewdwine in the office reading
_Saturnalia_.

He smiled upon him, innocent and unconscious. "Ah!" he said, "so
you're reading it? You won't like it."

Jewdwine crossed one leg over the other, and it was wonderful the
amount of annoyance he managed to convey by the gesture. His face,
too, wore a worried and uncertain look; so worried and so uncertain
that Rickman was sorry for him. He felt he must make it easy for him.

"At any rate, you won't admire its personal appearance."

"I don't. What possessed you to give it to Vaughan?"

"Some devil, I think."

"You certainly might have done better."

"Perhaps. If I'd taken the trouble. But I didn't."

Jewdwine raised his eyebrows (whenever he did that Rickman thought of
someone who used to raise her eyebrows too, but with a difference).

"You see, it was last year. I let things slide."

Jewdwine looked as if he didn't see. "If you had come to me, I think I
could have helped you."

"I didn't want to bother you. I knew you wouldn't care for the
things."

"Well, frankly, I don't care very much for some of them. But I should
have stretched a point to keep you clear of Crawley. I'm sorry he put
temptation in your way."

"He didn't. They say I put temptation in his way. Horrid, isn't it, to
think there's something in me that appeals to his diseased
imagination?"

"It's a pity. And I don't know what I can do for you. You see you've
identified yourself with a school I particularly abominate. It isn't a
school. A school implies a master and some attempt at discipline. It
should have a formula. Crawley has none."

"Oh, I don't know about that." He stood beside Jewdwine, who was
gazing at the frontispiece. "Talk about absolute beauty, any fool can
show you the beauty of a beautiful thing, or the ugliness of an ugly
one; but it takes a clever beast like Crawley to show you beauty in
anything so absolutely repulsive as that woman's face. Look at it!
He's got hold of something. He's caught the lurking fascination,
the--the leer of life."

Jewdwine made a gesture of disgust.

"Of course, it's no good as an illustration. I don't see life with a
leer on its face. But he can draw. Look at the fellow's line. Did you
ever see anything like the purity of it? It's a high and holy
abstraction. By Jove! He's got _his_ formula. Pure line remains pure,
however bestial the object it describes. I wish he'd drawn it at
illustrating _me_. But I suppose if he saw it that way he had to draw
it that way."

Jewdwine turned over the pages gingerly, as if he feared to be
polluted. He was at the moment profoundly sorry for Rickman in this
marriage of his art with Mordaunt Crawley's. Whatever might be said of
Rickman's radiant and impetuous genius it neither lurked nor leered;
it was in no way represented by that strange and shameless figure,
half Maenad, half modern courtesan, the face foreshortened, tilted back
in the act of emptying a wine-cup.

"At any rate," said Rickman, "he hasn't lied. He's had the courage to
be his filthy self."

"Still, the result isn't exactly a flattering portrait of your Muse."

"She _is_ a caution. It's quite enough to make you and Hanson lump me
with Letheby and that lot."

This touched Jewdwine in two sensitive places at once. He objected to
being "lumped" with Hanson. He also felt that his generosity had been
called in question. For a moment the truth that was in him looked out
of his grave and earnest eyes.

"I do _not_ lump you with Letheby or anybody. On the contrary, I think
you stand by yourself. Quite one half of this book is great poetry."

"You really think that?"

"Yes," said Jewdwine solemnly; "I do think it. That's why I deplore
the appearance of the other half. But if you _had_ to publish, why
couldn't you bring out your _Helen in Leuce_? It was far finer than
anything you have here."

"Yes. Helen's all right _now_." His tone implied only too plainly that
she was not all right when Jewdwine had approved of her.

"_Now?_ What on earth have you been doing to her?"

"Only putting a little life into her limbs. But Vaughan wouldn't have
her at any price."

"My dear Rickman, you should have come to _me_. I hope to goodness
Vaughan won't tempt you into any more _Saturnalia_."

"After all--what's wrong with them?"

Jewdwine leaned back, keenly alive to these stirrings of dissent; he
withdrew, as it were, his protecting presence a foot or two farther.
He spoke slowly and with emphasis.

"Excess," said he; "too much of everything. Too much force, too much
fire, and too much smoke with your fire. In other words, too much
temperament, too much Rickman."

"Too much Rickman?"

"Yes; far too much. It's nothing but a flaming orgy of individuality."

"And that's why it's all wrong?" He really wondered whether there
might not be something in that view after all.

"It seems so to me. Look here, my dear fellow. Because a poet happens
to have been drunk once or twice in his life it's no reason why he
should write a poem called _Intoxication_. That sort of exhibition,
you know, is scandalous."

Rickman hung his head. That one poem he would have given anything at
the moment to recall. It _was_ scandalous if you came to think of it.
Only in the joy of writing it he had not thought of it; that was all.

"It's simply astounding in a splendid scholar like you, Rickman. It's
such an awful waste." He looked at him as he spoke, and his soul was
in his eyes. It gave him a curious likeness to his cousin, and in that
moment Rickman worshipped him. "Go back. Go back to your Virgil and
your Homer and your Sophocles, and learn a little more restraint.
There's nothing like them. They'll take you out of this ugly, weary,
modern world where you and I, Rickman, had no business to be born."

"And yet," said Rickman, "there _are_ modern poets."

"There are very few, and those not the greatest. By modern, I mean
inspired by the modern spirit; and the modern spirit does not inspire
great poetry. The greatest have been obliged to go back--back to
primeval nature, back to the Middle Ages, back to Greece and Rome--but
always back."

"I can't go back," said Rickman. "I mayn't know what I'm working for
yet, but I believe I'm on the right road. How can I go back?"

"Why not? Milton went back to the Creation, and _he_ was only born in
the seventeenth century. You have had the unspeakable misfortune to be
born in the nineteenth. You must live on your imagination--the world
has nothing for you."

"I believe it _has_ something for me, if I could only find it."

"Well, don't lose too much time in looking for it. Art's long and
life's short, especially modern life; and that's the trouble."

Rickman shook his head. "No; that's not the trouble. It's the other
way about. Life's infinite and art's one. And at first, you know, it's
the infinity that staggers you." He flung himself into a chair
opposite Jewdwine, planted his elbows on the table, and propped his
chin on his hands. He looked as if he saw the infinity he spoke of. "I
can't describe to you," he said, "what it is merely to be alive out
there in the streets, on a sunny day, when the air's all fine watery
gold, and goes dancing and singing into your head like dry champagne.
I've given up alcohol. It isn't really necessary. I got as drunk as a
lord the other day going over Hampstead Heath in a west wind" (he
_looked_ drunk at the mere thought of it). "Does it ever affect _you_
in that way?"

Jewdwine smiled. The wind on Hampstead Heath had never affected him in
that way.

"No. It isn't what you think. I used to go mad about women, just as I
used to drink. I don't seem to care a rap about them now." But his
eyes had a peculiar large and brilliant look, as if he saw the woman
of his desire approaching him. His voice softened. "Don't you know
when the world--all the divine maddening beauty of it--lies naked
before your eyes, and you want to get hold of it--now--this minute,
and instead it gets hold of you, and pulls you every way at
once--don't you know? The thing's got a thousand faces, and two
thousand arms, and ten thousand devils in it."

Jewdwine didn't know. How should he? He had a horror of this forcing
of the sensuous and passionate note. The author of the _Prolegomena to
AEsthetics_ recoiled from "too much temperament." He felt, moreover,
the jealous pang of the master who realizes that he has lost his hold.
This was not that Rickman who used to hang all flushed and fervid on
Jewdwine's words. He remembered how once on an April day, a year ago,
the disciple had turned at the call of woman and of the world, the
call of the Spring in his heart and in his urgent blood.

And yet this was not that Rickman either.

"My dear Rickman, I don't understand. Are you talking about the world?
Or the flesh? Or the devils?"

"All of them, if you like. And you can throw in the sun and the moon
and the stars, too. There are moments, Jewdwine, when I understand
God. At any rate I know how he felt the very day before creation. His
world's all raw chaos to me, and I've got to make my world out of it."

"I'm afraid I cannot help you _there_."

As they parted he felt that perhaps he had failed to be sufficiently
sympathetic. "I'll do my best," said he, "to set you right with the
public."

Left alone, he stood staring earnestly at the chair where Rickman had
sat propping his chin in his hands. He seemed to be contemplating his
phantom; the phantom that had begun to haunt him.

What had he let himself in for?




CHAPTER XLIII


There was one man who was sure, perfectly sure; and that man was
Maddox. He had read Rickman's book before Jewdwine had seen it, and
while Jewdwine was still shaking his head over it in the office of the
_The Museion_, its chances were being eagerly discussed in the office
of _The Planet_. Maddox was disgusted with the publishers, Stables
with the price, Rankin with the illustrations.

"It's all very well," said Rankin; "but those borrowed plumes will
have to be paid for."

"Borrowed plumes with a vengeance," said Maddox. "Vaughan might just
as well have turned him out tarred and feathered as illustrated by
Mordaunt Crawley. Mind you, some of that tar will stick. It'll take
him all his time to get it off."

"Did you see," said Stables, "that Hanson bracketed him with Letheby
in this morning's _Courier_?"

"No, did he?" said Maddox; "I'm sorry for that. It's rough on little
Rickman."

"It's what you must expect," said Rankin, "if you're illustrated by
Crawley."

"It's what you must expect," said Stables, "if you go out of your way
to offend people who can help you. You know he refused an introduction
to Hanson the other day?"

"No!"

"Fact. And it was in his sublimest manner. He said he hadn't any use
for Hanson. Hanson couldn't help him till he'd helped himself. I don't
know whether any one was kind enough to tell that tale to Hanson."

"Hanson," said Maddox, "is too big a man to mind it if they did."

"Anyhow, he _hasn't_ helped him."

"No," said Rankin; "but that's another story. Hanson was dining with
Jewdwine, and Jewdwine was cracking up Rickman most extravagantly (for
him). That was quite enough to make Hanson jump on him. He was bound
to do it by way of asserting his independence."

"I wonder if Jewdwine calculated that that would be the natural
effect."

"Oh, come, he's a subtle beast; but I don't suppose he's as subtle as
all that."

"You'll find that all the reviews will follow Hanson like a flock of
sheep."

"How about the _Literary Observer_? Mackinnon was friendly."

Maddox smiled. "He was. But our Ricky-ticky alienated Mackinnon on the
very eve of publication."

"How?"

"By some awful jest. Something about Mackinnon's head and the dome of
the British Museum."

"Well, if it was a joke, Mackinnon wouldn't see it."

"No, but he'd feel it, which would be a great deal worse. Our
Ricky-ticky is devoid of common prudence."

"Our Ricky-ticky is a d----d fool," said Stables.

"Well," said Rankin, "I suppose he knows what he's about. He's got
Jewdwine at his back."

Maddox shrugged his enormous shoulders. "Jewdwine? Jewdwine won't
slate his own man, but he can't very well turn round and boom the set
he always goes for. This," said Maddox, "is my deal. I shall sail in
and discover Ricky-ticky."

"He's taking precious good care to hide himself. It's a thousand
pities he ever got in with those wretched decadents."

"He isn't in with them."

"Well, he mayn't be exactly immersed, but the tide's caught him."

"The tide? You might be talking of the Atlantic."

"The stream then--' the stream of tendency that makes for '--muck."

"It isn't a stream, it's a filthy duck-pond in somebody's back yard.
There's just enough water for the rest to drown in, but it isn't deep
enough to float a man of Rickman's size. He's only got his feet wet,
and that won't hurt him."

"There are things," said Rankin, "in Saturnalia that lend themselves
to Crawley's treatment."

"And there are things in it that Crawley can't touch. And look at the
later poems--The Four Winds, On Harcombe Hill, and The Song of
Confession. Good God! It makes my blood boil to compare the man who
wrote that with Letheby. Letheby! I could wring Vaughan's neck and
Hanson's too. I should like to take their heads and knock them
together. As for Letheby I'll do for him. I'll smash him in one
column, and I'll give Rickman his send-off in four."

(The Planet in those early days was liberal with its space.)

"After all," he added in a calmer tone, "he was right. We can't help
him, except by taking a back seat and letting him speak for himself. I
shall quote freely. The Song of Confession is the best answer to
Hanson."

"It seems to me," said Stables, "you'll want a whole number at this
rate."

"I shall want six columns, if I'm to do him any justice," said Maddox,
rising. "Poor beggar, I expect he's a bit off colour. I shall go and
look him up."

At eight that evening he went and looked him up. He found him in his
room tranquilly reading. Thinking of him as a man of genius who had
courted failure and madly fooled away his chances, and seeing him
sitting there, so detached, and so unconscious, Maddox was profoundly
moved. He had come with cursing and with consolation, with sympathy,
with prophecy, with voluble belief. But all he could say was, "It's
all right, Rickman. It's great, my son, it's great."

All the same he did not conceal his doubts as to the sort of reception
Rickman had to expect. That part of the business, he said, had been
grossly mismanaged, and it was Rickman's own fault.

"Look here," he said, "what on earth possessed you to go and refuse
that introduction to Hanson? Was it just your cheek, or the devil's
own pride, or what?"

"Neither," said Rickman, in a tone that pathetically intimated that
he was worn out. "I think it was chiefly my desire for peace and
quiet. I'm writing some more poems, you see. I wouldn't have refused
it at any other time."

"At any other time it wouldn't have mattered so much. You should be
civil to the people who can help you."

"I rather distrust that sort of civility myself. I've seen too much of
the dirty back stairs of Fleet Street. I've tumbled over the miserable
people who sit on them all day long, and I don't mean anybody to
tumble over me. When I've got my best trousers on I want to keep them
clean."

"It's a mistake," said Maddox, "to wear your best trousers every day."

"Perhaps. But I mean to wear them."

"Wear them by all means. But you must make up your mind for a certain
amount of wear and tear. In your case it will probably be tear."

"That's my look-out."

"Quite so. I wouldn't say anything if it was only Hanson you'd
offended, but you shouldn't alienate your friends."

"My friends?"

"Yes. Why, oh why, did you make that joke about Mackinnon's head?"

"We were all making jokes about Mackinnon's head."

"Yes; but we weren't all of us bringing out poems the next day. Your
position, Ricky-ticky, was one of peculiar delicacy--and danger."

"What does it matter?" said Rickman wearily. "I can trust my friends
to speak the truth about me."

"Heaven bless you, Rickman, and may your spring suitings last for
ever." He added, as Jewdwine had added, "Anyhow, this friend will do
his level best for you."

At which Rickman's demon returned again. "Don't crack me up too much,
Maddy. You might do me harm."

But before midnight Maddox burst into the office and flung himself on
to his desk.

"Give me room!" he cried; "I mean to spread myself, to roll, to
wallow, to wanton, to volupt!"

Before morning he had poured out his soul, in four columns of _The
Planet_, the exuberant, irrepressible soul of the Celt. He did it in
an hour and twenty minutes. As he said himself afterwards (relating
his marvellous achievement) he was sustained by one continuous
inspiration; his passionate pen paused neither for punctuation nor for
thought. The thoughts, he said, were there. As the critical notices
only appeared weekly, to pause would have entailed a delay of seven
days, and he meant that his panegyric should appear the very next day
after the article in the _Literary Observer_, as an answer to Hanson's
damnable paragraph.

If Maddox was urged to these excesses by his contempt for Jewdwine's
critical cowardice, Jewdwine was cooled by the spectacle of Maddox's
intemperance. He had begun by feeling a little bitter towards Rickman
on his own account. He was disappointed in him. Rickman had shown that
he was indifferent to his opinion. That being so, Jewdwine might have
been forgiven if he had had no very keen desire to help him. Still, he
_had_ desired to help him; but his desire had ceased after reading
Maddox's review. There was no pleasure in helping him now, since he
had allowed himself to be taken up and caressed so violently by other
people. The clumsy hand of Maddox had brushed the first bloom from his
Rickman, that once delightful youth. He was no longer Jewdwine's
Rickman, his disciple, his discovery.

But though Jewdwine felt bitter, he was careful that no tinge of this
personal feeling should appear in his review of Rickman's poems. It
was exceedingly difficult for him to review them at all. He had to
take an independent attitude, and most possible attitudes had been
taken already. He could not ignore Rickman's deplorable connection
with the Decadents; and yet he could not insist on it, for that was
what Hanson and the rest had done. Rickman had got to stay there; he
could not step in and pluck him out like a brand from the burning; for
Maddox had just accomplished that heroic feat. He would say nothing
that would lend countenance to the extravagance of Maddox. There was
really no room for fresh appreciation anywhere. He could not give
blame where Hanson had given it; and Maddox had plastered every line
with praise. He would have been the first to praise Rickman, provided
that he _was_ the first. Not that Jewdwine ever committed himself. As
a critic his surest resource had always lain in understatement. If the
swan was a goose, Jewdwine had as good as said so. If the goose proved
a swan, Jewdwine had implied as much by his magnificent reserve. But
this time the middle course was imposed on him less by conviction than
necessity. He had to hold the balance true between Hanson and Maddox.

In his efforts to hold it true, he became more than ever academic and
judicial. So judicial, so impartial was he in his opinion, that he
really seemed to have no opinion at all; to be merely summing up the
evidence and leaving the verdict to the incorruptible jury. Every
sentence sounded as though it had been passed through a refrigerator.
Not a hint or a sign that he had ever recognized in Rickman the
possibility of greatness.

Now, if Rickman had not been connected with _The Museion_, the review
would have done him neither harm nor good. As it was, it did him harm.
It was naturally supposed that Jewdwine, so far from understating his
admiration, had suppressed his bad opinion in the interests of
friendship. Rickman's _Saturnalia_ remained where Hanson had placed
it, rather low in the ranks of young Decadence.

And then, just because he had suppressed the truth about him, because
he felt that he had given Rickman some grounds for bitterness,
Jewdwine began to feel more and more bitter himself.

If Rickman felt any bitterness he never showed it. He had only two
thoughts on reading Jewdwine's articles. "It wouldn't have mattered
except that _she_ will see it"; and "I wouldn't have minded if it was
what he really thought."

Maddox, rightly judging that Rickman would be suffering more in his
affection than his vanity, called on him that afternoon and dragged
him out for his usual Saturday walk. As if the thought of Jewdwine
dominated their movements, they found themselves on the way to
Hampstead. Maddox attempted consolation.

"It really doesn't matter much what Jewdwine says. These fellows come
up from Oxford with wet towels round their heads to keep the
metaphysics in. Jewdwine's muddled himself with the Absolute Beauty
till he doesn't know a beautiful thing if you stick it under his
nose."

"Possibly not; if you keep it farther off he might have a better
chance. Trust him to know."

"Well, if he knows, he doesn't care."

"Oh, doesn't he. That's where Jewdwine's great. He cares for nothing
else. He cares more than any man alive--in his heart."

"D--n his heart! I don't believe he has one."

"Would you oblige me by not talking about him any more?"

Maddox obliged him.

They tramped far into the country, returning at nightfall by the great
road that crosses the high ground of the Heath. Rickman loved that
road; for by night, or on a misty evening, it was possible to imagine
some remote resemblance between it and the long straight ridge of
Harcombe Hill.

They paused by common consent where the Heath drops suddenly from the
edge of the road; opening out the view towards London. The hollow
beneath them, filled by a thin fog, had become mysterious and immense.

"By the way," said Maddox, following an apparently irrelevant train of
thought, "what has become of your friendship for Miss Poppy Grace?"

"It has gone," said Rickman, "where the old trousers go. Look there--"

Above them heaven seemed to hang low, bringing its stars nearer. A few
clouds drifted across it, drenched in the blue of the night behind
them, a grey-blue, watery and opaque. Below, sunk in a night greyer
and deeper, were the lights of London. The ridge they stood on was
like the rampart of another world hung between the stars which are the
lights of poets, and the lights which are the stars of men. Under the
stars Maddox chanted softly the last verses of the _Song of
Confession_ that Rickman had made.

"Oh, Ricky-ticky," he said, "you know everything. How did you know
it?"

"Because I've been there."

"But--you didn't stay?"

"No--no. I didn't stay. I couldn't."

"I'm still there. And for the life of me I see no way out. It's like
going round in the underground railway--a vicious circle. Since you're
given to confession--own up. Don't you ever want to get back there?"

"Not yet. My way won't take me back if I only stick to it."

Under the stars he endeavoured to account for his extraordinary
choosing of the way.

"I've three reasons for keeping straight. To begin with, I've got a
conviction that I'll write something great if I don't go to the devil
first. Then, there's Horace Jewdwine."

Maddox hardened his face; he had been told not to talk about Jewdwine,
and he wasn't going to.

"If I go to the devil, he won't go with me. Say what you like, he's a
saint compared with you and me. If he doesn't understand Songs of
Confession, it's because he's never had anything to confess. The third
reason--if I go to the devil--no, I can't tell you the third reason.
It's also the reason why I wear my magnificent trousers. All the
reasons amount to that. If I go to the devil I can't wear those
trousers. Never, Maddox, believe me, never again."

Maddox smiled, and, unlike Maddox, he said one thing and thought
another.

What he said was. "Your trousers, Ricky-ticky, are of too heavenly a
pattern for this wicked world. They are such stuff as dreams are made
of, and their little life--" he paused. What he thought was--"Your
way, Ricky-ticky, is deuced hard for the likes of me. But I'll go with
you as far as I can, my son."

Under the stars they looked into each other's faces and they knew
themselves aright.




CHAPTER XLIV


Jewdwine made up for the coldness of his published utterances by the
fervour of his secret counsel. His advice to Rickman was, "Beware of
the friendship of little men."

This Rickman understood to be a reflection on Maddox's position in the
world of letters. He did not care a rap about Maddox's position; but
there were moments when it was borne in upon him that Maddox was a
bigger man even than Horace Jewdwine, that his reckless manner poorly
disguised a deeper insight and a sounder judgement. His work on _The
Planet_ proved it every day. And though for himself he could have
desired a somewhat discreeter champion, he had the highest opinion of
his friend's courage in standing up for him when there was absolutely
nothing to be gained by it. He had every reason therefore to be
attached to Maddox.

But it was true enough that he knew too many little men; men who were
at home in that house of bondage from which he was for ever longing to
escape; men whom he had met as he had described, sitting contentedly
on the dirty back-stairs of Fleet Street; men who in rubbing shoulders
with each other in that crowded thoroughfare had had to allow for a
great deal of what Maddox called wear and tear. Those little men had
remained invincibly, imperturbably friendly. They knew perfectly well
that he thought them little men, and they delighted in their great man
all the same, more than ever, in fact, since his new suit of morals
provided them with a subject of eternal jest. For Maddox was but
human, and he had found Rickman's phrase too pregnant with humour to
be lost. They were sometimes very funny, those Junior Journalists,
especially on a Saturday night. But Rickman was not interested in the
unseemly obstacle race they dignified by the name of a career, and he
did not care to mix too freely with young men so little concerned
about removing the dirt and sweat of it. He clung to Maddox and Rankin
as the strongest and the cleanest of them all. But even they had
inspirations that left him cold, and they thought many things large
and important that were too small for him to see. He would have died
rather than let either of them know what he was doing now. He saw with
dismay that they suspected him of doing something, that their
suspicions excited them most horribly, that they were watching him;
and he had told Maddox that what he desired most was peace and
quietness.

He found it in the Secret Chamber of the Muse, where he shut himself
up when his work with them was done. In there, his days and nights
were as the days and nights of God. There he forecast the schemes of
dramas yet to be, dramas no longer neo-classic. And as his genius
foresaw the approach of its maturity, it purified and emptied itself
of the personal passion that obscures the dramatist's vision of the
world. This it did in a sequence of Nine and Twenty sonnets, a golden
chain that bound Lucia's name to his whether she would or no. They
recorded nine and twenty moments in the life of his passion, from the
day of its birth up to the present hour, the hour of its purification.

For it was still young in him; though at this distance of time Lucia's
image was no longer one and indivisible. He had come to think of her
as two persons clothed mysteriously in the same garment of flesh. One
carried that garment a little more conspicuously than the other; it
was by her beauty that she pierced him with the pain of longing; and
not by her beauty only, but by the marks of suffering that in his
memory still obscured it. She came before him, and her tragic eyes
reproached him with the intolerable pathos of her fate, making him
suffer too, through his exceeding pity. And yet his longing had not
been consumed by pity, but had mingled with it as flame in flame. Long
after he had parted from her, his senses ached as they recalled the
exquisite movements of her body. He had only to shut his eyes, and he
was aware of the little ripple of her shoulders and the delicate
swaying of her hips. To lie awake in the dark was to see her kneeling
at his side, to feel the fragrance of her thick braid of hair
flattened and warmed by her sleep, and the light touch of her hands as
they covered him. And before that memory his shame still burnt deeper
than his desire.

But this Lucia had no desire for him and no pity. Her countenance,
seen even in dreams, expressed a calm but immutable repugnance. No
wonder, for _she_ was only acquainted with the pitiably inadequate
sample of him introduced to her as Mr. Rickman of Rickman's. He was
aware that she belonged exclusively not only to Jewdwine's class, but
to Jewdwine himself in some way (a way unspeakably disagreeable to
contemplate). If he was not to think of her as enduring the
abominations of poverty, he must think of her as married to Jewdwine.
Married to Jewdwine, she would make an end of his friendship as she
had made an end of his peace of mind. There had been moments, at the
first, when he had felt a fierce and unforgiving rage against her for
the annoyance that she caused him.

But now, dividing the host of turbulent and tormenting memories, there
appeared a different Lucia, an invincible but intimate presence that
brought with it a sense of deliverance and consolation. It was Lucia
herself that saved him from Lucia. Her eyes were full of discernment
and of an infinite tenderness and compassion. They kindled in him the
desire that fulfils itself in its own utterance.

That this Lucia was not wholly the creature of his imagination he was
assured by his memory of certain passages in his life at Harmouth, a
memory that had all the vividness and insistence of the other. It was
the Lucia he had known before the other Lucia, the Lucia who had
divined and would divine him still. In a way she was more real than
the other, more real than flesh and blood, even as that part of him by
which he apprehended her was more real than the rest. From her he was
not and could not be divided; they belonged to each other, and by no
possibility could he think of this Lucia as married to Jewdwine, or of
his friendship for Jewdwine as in anyway affected by her. He was hers
by right of her perfect comprehension of him; for such comprehension
was of the nature of possession. It was also an assurance of her
forgiveness, if indeed she had anything to forgive. He had not wronged
her; it was the other Lucia he had wronged. In all this he never once
thought of her as his inspiration. She would not have desired him to
think of her so, being both too humble and too proud to claim any part
in the genius she divined. But she could not repudiate all connection
with it, because it was in the moments when his genius was most
dominant that he had this untroubled assurance of her presence.

And there in the Secret Chamber he bound her to him by an
indestructible chain, the chain of the Nine and Twenty Sonnets.

The question was what should he do with it now that it was made? To
dedicate twenty-nine sonnets to Lucia was one thing, to print them was
another. If it was inevitable that he should thus reveal himself after
the manner of poets, it was also inevitable that she should regard a
public declaration as an insult rather than an honour. And he himself
shrank from exposing so sacred a thing to the pollution and violence
of publicity. Therefore he took each sonnet as it was written, and hid
it in a drawer. But he was not without prescience of their ultimate
value, and after all this method of disposal seemed to him somehow
unsatisfactory. So he determined that he would leave the manuscript to
Lucia in his will, to be afterwards dealt with as she judged best,
whether she chose to publish or to burn. In the former case the
proceeds might be regarded as partial payment of a debt.

And so two years passed and it was Spring again.





CHAPTER XLV


There are many ways of achieving distinction, but few are more
effectual than a steady habit of punctuality. By this you may shine
even in the appalling gloom of the underground railway. Among all the
women who wait every morning for the City trains at Gower Street
Station, there was none more conspicuously punctual than Miss Flossie
Walker. The early clerk who travelled citywards was always sure of
seeing that little figure on the same spot at the same moment,
provided he himself were punctual and kept a sharp look-out. This you
may be sure he took good care to do. To look at Flossie once was to
look again and yet again. And he was fortunate indeed if his route lay
between Moorgate Street Station and the Bank, for then he had the
pleasure of seeing her sharply threading her way among the traffic, if
that can be said of anything so soft and round as Flossie.

If Flossie's figure was small and round, her face was somewhat large,
a perfect oval moulded in the subtlest curves, smooth and white
moreover, with a tinge of ivory sallow towards the roots of her black
hair. Wonderful hair was Flossie's. In those days she parted it in the
middle and waved it symmetrically on either side of her low forehead;
she brought it over her ears, covering all but the tips and the
delicate pink lobes; she coiled it at the back in an elaborate spiral
and twisted it into innumerable little curls about the nape of her
neck. Unfortunately that neck was rather short; but she wore low
collars which made the most of it. And then Flossie's features were so
very correct. She had a correct little nose, neither straight nor
aquiline, but a distracting mixture of both, and a correct little
mouth, so correct and so small that you wondered how it managed to
display so many white teeth in one diminutive smile. Flossie's eyes
were not as her mouth; they were large, full-lidded, long-lashed, and
blacker than her hair. No wonder if the poor clerk who passed her on
her way to and fro in the City rejoiced as they looked up at him. She
might be going to her work as he to his, but what with her bright eyes
and her blue ribbons, she looked the very genius of holiday as she
went.

At first she was a little subdued and awed by the Bank, and by her own
position in it. But when this feeling wore off, the plump girl rolled
into her place with a delicious abandonment. Flossie was one of fifty
girls who sat, row after row, at long flat desks covered with green
cloth. A soft monotonous light was reflected from the cream-coloured
walls against which Flossie's head stood out with striking effect,
like some modern study in black and morbid white. You would have
picked her out among the fifty at once. Hers was the lightest of light
labour, the delicate handling of thousands of cancelled notes--airy,
insubstantial things, as it were the ghosts of bank-notes, released
from the gross conditions of the currency. Towards the middle of the
morning Flossie would be immersed in a pale agitated sea of
bank-notes. The air would be full of light sounds, always the sharp
brisk rustling of the notes, and now and then a human undertone, or
towards lunch time, a breath that was like a sigh. A place to grow
light-headed in if you began to think about it. Happily no thought was
required beyond the intelligence that lives in sensitive finger-tips.
It was almost mechanical labour, and for that Flossie had more than a
taste, she had a positive genius. It was mechanical labour idealized
and reduced to a fine art, an art in which the personality of the
artist counted. The work displayed to perfection the prettiness of
Flossie's hands, from the rapid play of her fingers in sifting, and
their little fluttering, hovering movements in arranging, to the
exquisitely soft touches of the palms when she gathered all her
sheaves of notes into one sheaf, shaking, caressing, coaxing the rough
edges into line. Flossie worked with the rhythm and precision of a
machine; and yet humanly, self-consciously, almost coquettishly, as
under the master's eye.

But all this was of yesterday. To-day Flossie was different. She was
not quite so precise, so punctual as she had been. Something had gone
wrong with the bright little mechanism. It worked erratically, now
under protest, and now with spurts of terrifying activity. The fine
fly-wheels of thought had set off whirring on their own account and
had got mixed up with the rest of the machinery. Flossie had begun to
philosophise, to annoy destiny with questions. There was time for that
in the afternoon when the worst of the sorting was done. She was in
the stage of doubt so attractive in philosophers and women, asking
herself: Is knowledge possible? And if so, what do I know? She was
aware that there are certain insurpassable limits to human knowledge;
all the same, woman-like, she raised herself on tip-toe, and tried to
peep over the boundaries. What did she know? She knew that somebody
pitied her, because, poor little woman, she had to earn her own living
like a man. Well, she would not have to do that if he--if he--Yes, and
if he didn't? And how was she to know? And yet, and yet she had an
idea. Anybody may have an idea. Then the long desks became the green
tables where Flossie gambled with fate; trying--trying--trying to
force the invisible hand.

For with Flossie it was spring-time too. Under the little clerk's
correctness and demureness there ran and mingled with her blood the
warm undercurrent of a dream. The dream had come to her many springs
ago; and as Flossie grew plumper and rosier it grew plump and rosy
too. To be married (to a person hitherto unspecified in fancy, whose
features remained a blur or a blank), to be the mistress of a dear
little house (the house stood out very clear in Flossie's fancy), and
the mother of a dear little girl (a figure ever present to her,
complete in socks and shoes and all the delicious details of its
dress). Compared with that vision of Flossie's, no dream was ever so
soft, so rosy and so young.

And now in the Spring-time all her being moved softly under the
current of the dream. Flossie's fancy did not associate it consciously
with Keith Rickman (she would have blushed if the association had been
made apparent to her); the Spring did that for her, mingling with her
blood.

Meanwhile, as Flossie dreamed, the same hour every week-day morning
Rickman was awakened by the same sounds, the click of the door-latch
in the bedroom overhead and the patter of a girl's feet on the stairs.
He knew it was Miss Flossie Walker going down to early breakfast. And
when he heard it, he turned in his bed on the side farthest from the
window and sighed. Such a deep unhappy sigh.

Lucia had delivered him from Lucia, but there were other troubles from
which she could not save him. Not, in the warm spring days, from the
newly awakened trouble of his youth; not, in the sleepless summer
nights, from the brief but recurrent tyranny of sense, and not from
the incessant hunger of the heart. Though it was she who had created
that hunger in him, it was not (at five and twenty) to be satisfied by
the mere image of her, however vividly present to him. He was only
five and twenty, and the spring had come with its piercing sweetness,
its irresistible delicate lure, to the great stirring, melting, and
unbinding of his manhood. He could be faithful to Lucia for ever in
his soul; but there were moments in this season when he was aware of a
distinct cleavage between his soul and his senses.

It seemed to him that Miss Flossie Walker lay in wait for him in just
those moments, with the secret but infallible instinct of the
creatures whom the Spring touches to its own uses. He could not blame
her. Flossie was innocent, being but the unconscious handmaid of the
Spring.

It was not because Lucia was forever absent and Flossie forever on the
spot. At first he was unaware of the danger that lurked for him in
Flossie's ways, because his soul in its love for Lucia was so utterly
secure. At first the sighs were all on Flossie's account; poor
Flossie, who had to be up so early while he settled himself for
another luxurious slumber. At first he only pitied Flossie. He thought
of her at odd moments as a poor little girl (rather pretty) who worked
too hard and never had any fun to speak of; but the rest of the time
he never thought of her at all.

And in the early days of their acquaintance, Miss Flossie Walker (then
only an apprentice to a firm of type-writers in Holborn) was very much
to be pitied. He could remember how she had come (a little while
before that memorable Bank holiday) to Mrs. Downey's boarding-house, a
plump but rather anaemic maiden, black-haired, and demure. He had
begun by talking to her at table, because she sat next to him, and he
had ended, if there ever is an end to these things, by taking her to
matinees, picture-galleries, restaurants, and the British Museum. The
girl was so young, so confiding, and so obviously respectable, that he
was careful to keep to the most guileless of middle-class
entertainments. A few weeks of this existence brought shy smiles and a
lively play of dimples on Flossie's face. She grew plumper still, less
anaemic, though hardly less demure. A few months, and Flossie's beauty
flowered and expanded, she began to dress as became it, entering into
rivalry with Miss Ada Bishop, until it dawned on him that Flossie was
really, in her own place and way, a very engaging little creature.

About this time Flossie's circumstances had improved as much as her
appearance. Her father had been a clerk in the Bank of England, and on
his death she obtained a post there as a sorter. That position gave
Flossie both dignity and independence; it meant light work and hours
which brought hope with them every day towards three o'clock. Under
these circumstances Flossie's beauty went on flowering and expanding,
till she became more than ever a thing of danger and disaster.

Her intimacy with Mr. Rickman, which had lapsed lately, owing to his
increasing passion for solitude and separation, revived suddenly in
the spring of ninety-five. It happened in this manner. With the
spring, Mrs. Downey's was once more agitated by the hope of the Bank
holiday, and Mr. Spinks inquired of Rickman if he were going out of
town for Easter. (Rickman was incautiously dining that evening at the
general table.) But Rickman wasn't going out of town. He said he
thought of going somewhere up the river. He had also thought, though
he did not say so, that in fulfilment of an ancient promise he would
take Miss Flossie to the play on Saturday afternoon. Yet when it came
to the point he had some diffidence in asking her. She might not think
it proper.

It was Mr. Soper who precipitated his resolve. He wanted to know if
Rickman had made up a party for the River, and 'ad any companion?

No. He hadn't made up a party. Thanks, awfully. He was going by
Himself.

Mr. Soper didn't think now that was a very enjoyable way of spendin' a
Bank holiday.

He put it that if it was Rickman's intention to hire a row-boat, it
wouldn't be at all a bad idea if he, Soper, and Mr. Spinks, say, were
to join.

As Soper's incredible suggestion sank into him, the expression of
Rickman's face was pitiable to see. It was then that casually, as if
the idea had only just occurred to him, he wondered whether Miss
Walker would by any chance care for a matinee ticket for the play? He
was anxious to give his offer an uncertain and impromptu character,
suggesting that Miss Walker must be torn between her many engagements,
and have matinee tickets in large numbers up the sleeve of her
charming blouse.

Flossie was so shy that when you spoke to her she never answered all
at once; so shy that when she spoke to you she never turned her head
to look at you, but left you to judge of the effect you made on her by
the corners of her mouth and eyes. So now he had to look very
carefully at her to see whether she were saying yes or no. Casually
again (as if this course were not necessarily involved in acceptance)
he inquired whether he might have the pleasure of taking her.

Miss Bishop looked another way. Her loose mouth hung desirous. (Miss
Bishop's face was flagrantly frank, devoid of all repose. None of
these people had any repose about them except Flossie.) Flossie was
dubious and demure. Was he quite sure it was a pleasure? He protested
that in a world where few things were certain, that, at any rate,
admitted of no doubt. Flossie deliberated whether this further step
were or were not a departure from her ideal of propriety. And it was
not until he showed signs of retracting his proposal that she
intimated her consent. But as for pleasure, if Flossie were pleased
she did not allow it to appear. And although her heart beat excitedly
under her blue blouse, it was on the side that was not next to Mr.
Rickman.

Then Miss Roots began to talk of incomprehensible things excitedly.
So excitedly, that she had, for the moment, quite a colour. And while
they talked, all the other boarders turned in their places and watched
Mr. Rickman as if he had been some wonderful enchanter; Mr. Soper
alone emphasizing by an attitude his entire aloofness from the general
interest.

And all the time Miss Roots was talking, Flossie, without saying a
word, contrived to seize upon the disengaged portion of his mind. He
wondered what she was thinking about.

She was thinking, first, that it really paid to put on your best
blouse every evening. Next, that it wasn't worth while if he would
keep on talking to the lady on his right. Then that she couldn't
decide the point until she knew where he was going on Sunday.

That she never knew; but she went to the play with him on Saturday,
and on many Saturdays after that. There was nobody so gay that spring
as Flossie.

Coming fresh to Flossie after a long estrangement, Rickman couldn't
recognize her from his old account of her as a poor little girl who
worked too hard and never had any fun to speak of. In so describing
her, no doubt he had been influenced by the melancholy of his earlier
mood. But there were other reasons why he still insisted on regarding
her in this pathetic light. It provided him with several very
agreeable sensations, and the most agreeable of all was the voluptuous
passion of pity. It kept him detached, always in the superior position
of a benefactor. Benefactor, indeed! He was in a fair way of becoming
Flossie's deity, her Providence, the mystic source of theatre-tickets
and joy. No really brave man ever shrinks from the dangers of
apotheosis, when the process involves no loss of personal dignity. And
apart from the gratification of his natural healthy vanity, Rickman's
heart was touched by the thought that the little thing turned to him
instinctively for all her innocent pleasures.

Then all at once the innocent pleasures ceased. They ceased just as
Flossie's palpitating heart told her that she was really making an
impression on this singularly unimpressionable young man. She knew it
by the sudden softening of his voice as he spoke to her, by the
curious brilliant dilation of his eyes as they followed her about the
room. For after much easy practice on Mr. Spinks she knew precisely by
what movements and what glances she could best produce these
interesting effects. And yet nothing could be farther from Flossie's
fancy than flirtation. The little clerk was nothing if not practical,
even under the tender impulse of her dream.

Flossie was determined that whatever else she failed in she would not
fail in her woman's trade. She would have considered herself disgraced
by such bankruptcy. Not that she feared it. Nature had started her
with a sufficient capital of fascination, and at Mrs. Downey's she
had, so to speak, established a connection. And now it seemed there
had come a period of depression. It still rained tickets, more tickets
than ever, but there was no Mr. Rickman to escort her to the concert
or the play; Mr. Rickman always had another engagement, never
specified. No Mr. Rickman to take her into the suburbs on a Sunday;
Mr. Rickman was off, goodness knew where, scouring the country on his
bicycle. No Mr. Rickman to talk to her at dinner; Mr. Rickman took all
his meals in his own room now. For these and all other delinquencies
his invariable excuse was that he was busy; and Flossie, mind you, was
sharp enough to see through _that_.

No. Mr. Rickman had changed, suddenly, unaccountably, without a
moment's warning. First of all, the other boarders noticed that he had
become most frightfully irritable in his temper. He had not been over
polite to any of them lately, but to her he was insufferably rude,
most ungentlemanly, she called it. He would pretend not to see her if
by any chance she looked his way, not to hear her if by any chance she
spoke to him. Once (they were quite alone) he had broken off in the
middle of an exciting conversation and rushed out of the room, out of
the house. She saw him over the balcony railings, walking up and down
the street like a lunatic, with his hands thrust down into his pockets
and no hat on. And he was not only ungentlemanly but positively
unkind. If they met on the stairs (somehow they did this very often)
he would draw himself up flat against the wall as if he was afraid of
the frill of her dress touching him. If she came into the drawing-room
he would walk out of it; or if he stayed, it was only to sit staring
at her (poor innocent little Flossie, who was so pretty) with an ugly
scowl on his face. There were times when poor innocent little Flossie
said to herself that she positively believed he hated her. And she was
so innocent that she couldn't think what she had done to make him hate
her.

She was right about the hatred. An indignant anger was certainly what
he felt when he first realized that she had power to make him feel at
all. Her prettiness tormented him; therefore he hated her, and
everything about her. He hated the sound of her little tongue upraised
among the boarders, and of her little feet running up and down the
stairs. He hated every glance of her black eyes and every attitude and
movement of her plump little body. More than all he hated the touch of
her soft arms as they stirred against him at the tightly packed
dinner-table. Therefore he avoided the dinner-table, and the
drawing-room; he avoided as far as possible the house, filled as it
was with the disastrous presence. He fatigued himself with excesses of
walking and cycling, in the hope that when he flung himself into his
bed at midnight he would be too tired to feel. And sometimes he was.

At last poor Flossie, weary of conjecture, unbent so far as to seek
counsel of Miss Bishop. For Miss Bishop gave you to understand that on
the subject of "gentlemen" there was nothing that she did not know. It
was a little humiliating, for only a month ago Flossie had said to her
in strictest confidence, "I feel it in my bones, Ada, that he's going
to come forward this spring."

Ada laughed coarsely, but not unkindly, at the tale of her perplexity.
Ada had every reason to be sympathetic; for Mr. Rickman once securely
attached, Mr. Spinks would be lonely, unappropriated, free. "Don't you
worry," said she, "_he's_ all right."

"All right? Can't you see how frightfully rude he is to me?"

"I should think I did see it. A jolly lot you know about gentlemen.
You've nothing to go on when they're so everlastingly polite, but when
they turn mad like that all of a sudden, you may be sure they're
coming to the point. To tell you the truth, I didn't use to think
you'd very much chance, Flossie; but when I saw him walk out of the
room the other day, I said to myself, 'She's got 'im!'"

"I wish I knew. I don't want it hanging on for ever."

"It won't. If he doesn't propose in May, he will in June, when you've
got a new dress and a new hat."

Flossie shook her head despairingly. "I wonder," said she, "what I'd
really better do. I think sometimes I'd better go away."

"Well, sometimes that _does_ fetch them; and then, again, sometimes it
doesn't. It's risky. Some girls," she added reflectively, "try doing
their hair another way; but I wouldn't, if I was you. That's risky,
too. If they're really fond of you, as often as not it only puts them
off."

"Then what _am_ I to do?"

"If you take my advice," said Miss Bishop, "you'll not do anything.
You'll just go on the same as before, as if you hadn't noticed
anything out of the way."

And Flossie went on just the same as before, with the result that
every morning Mr. Rickman sighed more and more heavily as he heard the
early patter of those feet upon the floor.




CHAPTER XLVI


Flossie had been working with one eye on the clock all afternoon. At
the closing hour she went out into Lothbury with the other girls; but
instead of going up Moorgate Street as usual, she turned out of
Prince's Street to her right, and thence made her way westward as
quickly as she could for the crowd. It was September, a day when it
was good to be out of doors at that hour. The sunlight filtered into
the dusty thoroughfare from the west, on her left the sprawling
mounted legends over the shops were so many gold blazons on an endless
field of grey; on her right, a little way ahead, the tall plane-tree
in Wood Street hung out its green leaves over Cheapside like a signal.
Thither Flossie was bound.

As she sidled out of the throng into the quiet little lane, Mr.
Rickman came forward, raising his hat. He had been waiting under the
plane-tree for twenty minutes, and was now beguiling his sylvan
solitude with a cigarette. Two years had worked a considerable change
in his appearance. His face had grown graver and clearer cut. He had
lost his hectic look and had more the air of a man of the world than
of a young poet about town. To Flossie's admiration and delight he
wore an irreproachable frock-coat and shining linen; she interpreted
these changes as corresponding with the improvement in his prospects,
and judged that the profession of literature was answering fairly
well.

They shook hands seriously, as if they attached importance to these
trifles. "Am I dreadfully late?" she asked.

"Dreadfully." He smiled with one corner of his mouth, holding his
cigarette firmly in the other, while he took from her the little cape
she carried over her arm.

"I expect I've kept you waiting a good bit?" A keen observer of
Flossie's face might have detected in it a faintly triumphant
appreciation of the fact. "I'm awfully sorry I got behind-hand and had
to stay till I'd finished up."

"Never mind, Flossie, it don't matter. At any rate it's worth it." The
words implied that Mr. Rickman's time was valuable, otherwise he would
not have given it to Flossie. "Where shall we go, and what shall we
do?"

"I don't much care."

"Shall we have tea somewhere while we're making up our minds?"

"Well--I wouldn't mind. I hadn't time to get any at the Bank."

"All right. Come along." And they plunged into Cheapside again, he
breasting the stream, making a passage for her. They found a favourite
confectioner's in St. Paul's Churchyard, where they had sometimes gone
before. He noticed that she took her seat with rather a weary air.

"Floss, you must come for a walk on the Embankment. You look as if you
didn't get out enough. Why will you go up and down in that abominable
underground? You're awfully white, you know."

"I never had a red face."

"Then what's the matter?"

"Nothing, I shall be better when I've had my tea."

She had her tea, which after a proper protest on her part was paid for
by Rickman. Then they turned into the cathedral gardens, where it was
still pleasant under the trees. Thus approached from the north-east,
the building rose up before them in detached incoherent masses, the
curve of its great dome broken by the line of the north transept seen
obliquely from below. It turned a forbidding face citywards, a face of
sallow stone blackened by immemorial grime, while the north-west
columns of the portico shone almost white against the nearer gloom.

"It's clever of it to look so beautiful," murmured Rickman, "when it's
so infernally ugly." He stood for a few minutes, lost in admiration of
its eccentricity. Thus interested, he was not aware that his own
expression had grown somewhat abstracted, impersonal and cold.

"I call that silly," said Flossie, looking at him out of the corner of
her black eyes. Had he come there to pay attention--to the Cathedral?

"Do you? Why?"

"Because--I suppose you wouldn't say I was beautiful if I were--well,
downright ugly?"

"I might, Flossie, if your ugliness was as characteristic, as
suggestive as this."

Flossie shrugged her shoulders (not, he thought, a pretty action in a
lady with so short a neck). To her St. Paul's was about as beautiful
as the Bank and infinitely less "suggestive." Mr. Rickman interpreted
her apathy as fatigue and looked about for a lonely seat. They found
one under the angle of the transept.

"Let's sit down here," he said; "better not exert ourselves violently
so soon after tea."

"For all the tea I've had, it wouldn't matter," said Flossie as if
resenting an ignoble implication. Rickman laughed a little
uncomfortably and blushed. Perhaps she had hardly given him the right
to concern himself with these intimate matters. Yet from the very
first his feeling for Flossie had shown itself in minute cares for her
physical well-being. They sat for a while in silence. A man passed
them smoking; he turned his head to look back at the girl, and the
flying ash from his cigarette lighted on her dress.

"Confound the brute!" said Rickman, trying to brush away the obnoxious
powder with a touch which would have been more effectual if it had
been less of a caress. She shivered slightly, and he put her cape
gently about her shoulders. A curious garment, Flossie's cape, made of
some thin grey-blue stuff, with gold braid on the collar, cheap,
pretty and a little vulgar.

"There's not much warmth in that thing," he said, feeling it with his
fingers.

"I don't want to be warm, thank you, a day like this," she retorted,
pushing back the cape. For, though it was no longer spring, Flossie's
dream tugged at her heartstrings. There was a dull anger against him
in her heart. At that moment Flossie could have fought savagely for
her dream.

What could have made her so irritable, poor little girl? She didn't
look well; or--perhaps it was her work. He was sorry for all women who
worked. And Flossie--she was such an utter woman. That touch of
exaggeration in the curves of her soft figure made her irresistibly,
superlatively feminine. To be sure, as he had hinted in that unguarded
moment, her beauty was of the kind that suggests nothing more
interesting than itself. Yet there were times when it had power over
him, when he was helpless and stupid before it. And now, as he leaned
back looking at her, his intellect seemed to melt away gradually and
merge in dreamy sense. They sat for a while, still without speaking;
then he suddenly bent forward, gazing into her eyes.

"What is it, Flossie? Tell me."

Flossie turned away her face from the excited face approaching it.

"Tell me."

"It's nothing. Can't you see I'm only tired. I've 'ad a hard day."

"I thought you never had hard days at the Bank?"

"No. No more we do--not to speak of."

"Then it's something you don't like to speak of. I say--have the other
women been worrying you?"

"No, I should think not indeed. Catch any one trying that on with me!"

"Then I can't see what it can be."

"I daresay you can't. You don't know what it is! It's not much, but
it's the same thing day after day, day after day, till I'm sick and
tired of it all! I don't see any end to it either."

"I'm so sorry, Floss," said Rickman in a queer thick voice. She had
turned her face towards him now, and its expression was
inscrutable--to him. To another man it would have said that it was all
very well for him to be sorry; he could put a stop to it soon enough
if he liked.

"Oh--you needn't be sorry."

"Why not? Do you think I don't care?"

Immense play of expression on Flossie's face. She bit her lip; and
that meant that he might care no end, or he mightn't care a rap, how
was she to know? She smiled a bitter smile as much as to say that she
_didn't_ know, neither did she greatly care. Then her lips quivered,
which meant that if by any chance he did care, it was a cruel shame to
leave a poor girl in the dark.

"Care? About the Bank?" she said at last. "You needn't. I shan't
stand it much longer. I shall fling it up some of these days; see if I
don't."

"Would that be wise?"

"I don't know whether it's wise or not. I know I can't go on like this
for ever."

"Yes, but would anything else be better, or even half as good? You
didn't get much fun out of that last place, you know."

"Well, for all the fun I get out of that old Bank, I might as well be
in a ladies' boarding school. If I thought it would end in
anything--but it won't."

"How do you know? It may end in your marrying a big fat manager."

"Don't be silly."

"Supposing you knew it would end some day, not necessarily in marrying
the manager, would you mind going on with it?"

She looked away from him, and tears formed under her eyelashes, the
vague light tears that never fall. "There's no use my talking of
flinging it up. I'm fixed there for good."

"Who knows?" said Rickman; and if Flossie's eyes had been candid they
would have said, "You ought to know, if anybody does." Whatever they
said, it made him shudder, with fear, with shame, but no, not with
hatred. "Poor Flossie," he said gently; and there was a pause during
which Flossie looked more demure than ever after her little outburst.
She had seen the look in his eyes that foreboded flight.

He rose abruptly. "Do you know, I'm awfully sorry, but I've got an
appointment at half past five to meet a fellow in Fleet Street."

The fellow was Maddox, but the appointment, he had made it that very
minute, which was the twenty-fifth minute past five.

They went their ways; he to Fleet Street, and she home. Maddox did not
turn up to the appointment and Rickman had to keep it with himself. As
the result of the interview he determined to try the effect of a
little timely absence. He did not attempt to conceal from himself that
he was really most Horribly afraid; his state of mind or rather body
(for the disorder was purely physical) was such that he positively
dared not remain in the same house with Flossie another day. What he
needed was change of air and scene. He approached Mrs. Downey with a
shame-faced air, and a tale of how he was seedy and thought if he
could get away for a week it would set him up. It seemed to him that
Mrs. Downey's manner conveyed the most perfect comprehension of his
condition. He did not care; he was brought so low that he could almost
have confided in Mrs. Downey. "Mark my words," said the wise woman to
the drawing-room. "He'll be back again before the week's up." And as
usual, little Flossie marked them.

He walked out to Hampstead that very evening and engaged rooms there
by the week, on the understanding that he might require them for a
month or more. He did not certainly know how long the cure would take.

Hampstead is a charming and salubrious suburb, and Jewdwine was really
very decent to him while he was there, but in four days he had had
more of the cure than he wanted. Or was it that he didn't want to be
cured? Anyway a week was enough to prove that the flight to Hampstead
was a mistake. He had now an opportunity of observing Miss Flossie
from a judicious distance, with the result that her image was seen
through a tender wash of atmosphere at the precise moment when it
acquired relief. He began to miss her morning greetings, the soft
touch of her hand when they said good-night, and the voice that seemed
to be always saying, "How orf'ly good of you," "Thanks orf'ly, Mr.
Rickman, I've had a lovely day." He hadn't given her many lovely days
lately, poor little girl.

At the end of the week, coming up from Fleet Street, instead of making
straight for the Hampstead Road as he ought to have done, he found
himself turning aside in the direction of Tavistock Place. The excuse
that he made to himself was that he wanted a book that he had left
behind at Mrs. Downey's. Now it was not in the least likely that he
had left it in the dining-room, nor yet in the drawing-room, but it
was in those places that he thought of looking first. Not finding what
he wanted, he went on dejectedly to the second floor, feeling that he
must fulfil the quest that justified his presence. And there in his
study, in, yes, _in_ it, as far in as anybody could get, by the
bookcase next the window, Flossie was sitting; and sitting (if you
could believe it) on the floor; sitting and moving her hands along the
shelves as familiarly as you please. Good Heavens! if she wasn't busy
dusting his books!

Flossie didn't see him, for she had her back to the door; and he stood
there on the threshold for a second, just looking at her. She wore a
loose dark-blue overall evidently intended to wrap her up and conceal
her. But so far from concealing her, the overall, tucked in and
smoothed out, and altogether adorably moulded by her crouching
attitude, betrayed the full but tender outline of her body. Her face,
all but the white curve of her cheek and forehead, was hidden from
him, but he could see the ivory bistre at the nape of her bowed neck,
with the delicate black tendrils of her curls clustering above it. Her
throat, as she stooped over her task, was puckered and gathered, like
some incredibly soft stuff, in little folds under her chin. He drew in
his breath with a sighing sound which to Flossie was the first
intimation of his presence.

To say that Flossie rose to her feet would be a misleading description
of her method. She held on to the edge of a bookshelf by the tips of
her fingers and drew herself up from the floor, slowly, as it were by
some mysterious unfolding process, not ungraceful. She turned on him
the wide half-mischievous, half-frightened eyes of a child caught this
time in some superb enormity.

"Flossie," he said with an affectation of severity, "what _have_ you
been doing?"

She produced her duster gingerly. "You can see," said she, "only I
didn't mean you to catch me at it." She knelt down by the fireplace
and gave her duster a little flick up the chimney. "I never, never in
all my life saw such a lot of dust. I can't think how you've gone on
living with it."

He smiled. "No more can I, Flossie. I don't know how I did it."

"Well, you haven't got to do it, now. It's all perfectly sweet and
clean."

"It's all perfectly sweet, I know that, dear." She turned towards the
door but not without a dissatisfied look back at the bookcase she had
left. "Aren't you going to let me thank you?"

"You needn't. I was only helping Mrs. Downey."

"Oh--"

"She's been having a grand turn-out while you were away."

"The deuce she has--"

"Oh you needn't be frightened. Nobody's touched your precious books
but me. I wouldn't let them."

"Why wouldn't you let them?"

"Be-cause--Oh, I say, it's six o'clock; are you going to stay?"

"Perhaps. Why?"

"Because I'd only one more shelf to dust and then I'd 'ave finished.
I--I'm in rather a hurry."

"Why won't you stay and dust it now?"

"Well--you know--" She took one step inside the room timidly, then
another, and stood still.

"Is it me you're afraid of? I'll sit outside, on the stairs, if you'd
rather."

"How silly!" She removed an invisible atom of dust from a chair as she
spoke, as much as to say she was inspired solely by the instinct of
order.

The diminutive smile played about the corners of her mouth. "Miss
Roots said I'd better not meddle with your books."

"Did she? Then Miss Roots is a beast."

"She seemed to think I didn't know how to dust them."

"Perhaps she's right. I say, suppose you let me see."

And Flossie, willingly cajoled, began again, and, as he saw with
horror, on his hoarded relics of the Harden library. "No, Flossie," he
said, with a queer change in his voice. "Not those." But Flossie's
fingers moved along their tops with a delicacy born of the incessant
manipulation of bank notes. All the same, she did do it wrong, for she
dusted towards the backs instead of away from them. But he hadn't the
heart to correct her. He watched a moment; then he pretended to be
looking for the book he had pretended he wanted to find, then he sat
down and pretended to write a letter whilst Flossie went on dusting,
skilfully, delicately. She even managed to get through ten volumes of
his own Bekker's Plato without damage to the beautiful but perishing
Russia leather. That made it all the more singular that the back of
the eleventh volume should come off suddenly with a rip.

She gave a little cry of dismay. He looked up, and she came to him
holding the book in one hand and its back in the other. She really was
a little frightened. "Look," she said, "I didn't think it would have
gone and done like that."

"Oh, I say, Flossie--"

"I'm orf'ly sorry." Her mouth dropped, not unbecomingly; her eyes were
so liquid that he could have sworn they had tears in them. She looked
more than ever like an unhappy child, standing beside him in her long
straight overall. "And I wouldn't let anybody look at them but me."

"Why wouldn't you? I've asked you that before, Flossie--why wouldn't
you?" He took the book and its mutilated fragment from her, and held
both her hands in his.

"Because I knew you were fond enough of _them_."

"And is there anything I wasn't fond enough of--do you think?"

"I don't think; I know."

"No, you know nothing, you know nothing at all about anything. What
_did_ you think?"

"I thought you hated me."

"Hated you?"

"Yes. Hated me like poison."

He put his arms about her, gathering her to him! He drew her head down
over his heart. "I hate you like this--and this--and this," he said,
kissing in turn her forehead, her eyelids and her mouth. He held her
at arm's length and gazed at her as if he wondered whether they were
the same woman, the Flossie he had once known, and this Flossie that
he had kissed. Then he led her to the sofa, and drew her down by his
side, and held her hands to keep her there. And yet he felt that it
was he who was being led; he who was being drawn, he who was being
held--over the brink of the immeasurable, inexpiable folly. In all
this his genius remained alone and apart, unmoved by anything he did
or said, as if it knew that through it all the golden chain still
held.

Her mouth quivered. "If you didn't hate me, why were you so rude to
me, then?" was the first thing she said.

"Because I loved you when I didn't want to love you, and it was more
than I could stand. And because--because I didn't know it. But _you_
knew it," he said almost savagely. It seemed to him that his tongue
refused the guidance of his brain.

"I'm sure I didn't know anything of the sort." Her mouth quivered
again; but this time it was with a smile.

"Why not? Because I didn't say so in a lot of stupid words? You _are_
literal. But surely you understood? Not just at first, of course; I
didn't care a bit at first; I didn't care till long after."

"Long after what?" Flossie was thinking of Miss Poppy Grace on the
balcony next door.

"Never mind what."

Flossie knew all about Miss Poppy Grace, and she didn't mind at all.

"Would I be here now if I didn't love you?" He still had to persuade
himself that this was love. It seemed incredible.

"Rubbish--you know you only came to look at those silly old books,"
said Flossie, nodding contemptuously towards the bookcase.

"Did you imagine I was in love with them? And think of all the things
we've done together. Didn't you know? Didn't you feel it coming on?"

"I know you've been orf'ly good--orf'ly. But as for anything else, I'm
sure I _never_ thought of it."

"Then think of it now. Or--does that mean that you don't care for me?"

There was an awful pause. Then Flossie said very indistinctly, so
indistinctly that he had to lean his face to hers to catch the words,
"No, of course it doesn't." Her voice cleared suddenly. "But if you
didn't hate me, why did you go away?"

"I went away because I was ill."

"And are you any better?"

"Yes, I think I'm better. I think I'm nearly all right now. I might
say I'll undertake never to be ill again, at least, not if you'll
marry me."

At these words his genius turned and looked at him with eyes ominous
and aghast. He had a vision of another woman kneeling beside a hearth
as her hands tended a dying fire. And he hardly saw the woman at his
side as he drew her to him and kissed her again because of the pain at
his heart. And Flossie wondered why in that moment he did not look at
her.

He was looking now. And as he looked his genius hid his face.

"You knew that was what I wanted?"

She shook her head slowly. "What does that mean? That you didn't know?
Or that you won't? But you will, Flossie?"

As he drew her to him a second time the old terror woke in his heart;
but only for a moment. For this time Flossie kissed him of her own
accord, with a kiss, not passionate like his own, but sweet and
fugitive. It was like a reminder of the transience of the thing he
sought, a challenge rousing him to assert its immortality.

He put her from him, and stooped over his own outstretched arms and
clasped hands; staring stupidly at the floor. When he spoke again it
was hardly, incisively, as a man speaks the truth he hates. "Do you
know what this means? It means waiting."

"Waiting?"

"Yes. I'm not a bit well off, you know; I couldn't give you the sort
of home you ought to have just yet. I'd no business to say anything
about it; but somehow I thought you'd rather know. And of course I've
no business to ask you, but--will you wait?"

"Well--if we must, we must."

"And if it means working at that beastly Bank for another year, do you
think you can keep it up so long?"

"I'll try to."

She leaned towards him, and they sat there, holding each other's
hands, looking into each other's eyes, hearing nothing, feeling
nothing, but the beating of their own riotous hearts.

It was love as nature loves to have it. It was also what men call
honest love. But in the days when he had loved dishonestly, he had
never slipped from Poppy Grace's side with such a sense of misery and
solitude and shame.




CHAPTER XLVII


The game was over and Flossie had won. She had forced Fate's hand, or
rather, Mr Rickman's. Not by any coarse premeditated methods; Flossie
was too subtly feminine for that. She had trusted rather to the
inspiration of the moment, and when her beautiful womanly emotions
gave her the opening she had simply followed it, that was all. And
could anything have been more correct? She had not "given herself
away" once by word or look. With true maidenly modesty she had hidden
her own feelings until she was perfectly sure of Mr. Rickman's. There
was nothing--nothing to make her feel ashamed when she looked back
upon that day; a reflection from which she derived much consolation
afterwards.

It gave her courage to fly downstairs to Mrs. Downey's private room
where that lady sat doing her accounts, to lean over the back of Mrs.
Downey's chair and to whisper into her ear, "I've been dusting Mr.
Rickman's books, He caught me at it."

Mrs. Downey could not have shown more excitement if Flossie had told
her that the kitchen boiler had burst. "Flossie! My goodness, whatever
did he say?"

"He didn't mind one bit. Only--you won't tell him you told me not to
touch them, will you, Mrs. Downey?" She brought her soft blushing
cheek close to Mrs. Downey's and the warmth of it told her tale.

And Mrs. Downey promised not to tell, pardoning the subterfuge for
love's sake, which excuses all. "Has he gone, Flossie?" she inquired
anxiously.

"No. He's not going. He's come back for good."

"There! Didn't I say he would!"

"And what d'you think," said Flossie, sitting down and spreading her
plump arm on the secretary all over the accounts. "He's done it. He
did it up there."

Mrs. Downey stared, and Flossie nodded as much as to say "Fact!"

"You don't mean to say so?"

"Nobody's more surprised than myself."

The rest was kisses and congratulations, wholly magnanimous on Mrs.
Downey's part; for the announcement of Flossie's engagement cost her
one of the gayest, most desirable, and most remunerative of her
brilliant circle. Mr. Spinks (regarded by himself and everybody else
as permanent) gave notice and vanished from that hour, carrying with
him the hopes of Miss Ada Bishop. Meanwhile Flossie (hitherto regarded
from a merely decorative point of view) became a person of
considerable importance in the boarding-house. It was not merely that
she was an engaged young lady; for, as Miss Bishop pointed out to her
with some natural asperity, anybody can be engaged; but she had now
the privilege, denied to any other boarder, of going in and out of Mr.
Rickman's study. She said that she went in to tidy it; but strange to
say, the more Flossie tidied it the more hopeless it became. Mr.
Rickman's study was never what you might call a really tidy room; but
at any rate there had always been a certain repose about it. And now
you could not well imagine a more unrestful place, a place more
suggestive of hurry and disorder, of an utter lack of the leisure in
which ideas ripen and grow great.

The table had become a troubled sea of primeval manuscript, where Mr.
Rickman sat with his head in his hands, brooding over the face of the
waters. He had once profanely said that God's world was a chaos he had
got to work on. Now it was _his_ world that was chaos. A tempestuous
chaos, where things to be weltered in the wreck of things that were.
Rickman's genius, like Nature, destroyed in order that it might
create; yet it seemed to him that nowadays the destruction was out of
all proportion to the creation. He sighed as he gazed at the piteous
fragments that represented six months' labour; fragments that wept
blood; the torn and mutilated limbs of living thoughts; with here and
there huge torsos of blank verse, lopped and hewn in the omnipotent
fury of a god at war with his world; mixed up with undeveloped and
ethereal shapes, the embryos of dreams.

And yet it was not altogether the divine rage of the artist that had
wrought this havoc. The confusion argued a power at war with itself
rather than with its creations; the very vastness of it all suggested
a deity tied as to time, but apparently unshackled as to space. That
was it. There really wasn't as much time as there used to be. It was
in his free evenings and on Sundays that his best thoughts came to
him, the beautiful shy thoughts that must be delicately courted. And
now his free evenings and his Sundays were given up to the courting of
Flossie. And even on a week-day this was what would happen. He would
rush home early from Fleet Street and settle down for two hours' work
before dinner. Then a little timid knock would be heard at the door,
and Flossie would come in bringing him a cup of tea. He couldn't just
swill it down like a pig and send the dear little thing away. He _had_
to let her sit and see him drink it, slowly, as if he thoroughly
enjoyed it. Or he would come in (as on that blessed evening six months
ago) and find Flossie dusting books; standing perhaps on two tottering
hassocks and a chair, at an altitude perilous to so plump a person.
And Flossie had to be lifted down from the hassocks and punished with
hard kisses, and told not to do it again. And Flossie would do it
again. So that a great deal of time was lost in this way. And with the
touch of those soft little arms about his neck demoralization would
set in for the evening.

And then there was Flossie's education to be attended to; and that
took more time than anything. It meant that, as the November days drew
in, he had to read or talk to Flossie as she sat in his armchair with
her dear little feet on his fender, and her dear little hands mending
his socks and shirts and things. They might have been married for
years, only they weren't; that was what made it so exciting. Flossie's
hands were always mending or making something (generally something to
wear), and it was rather strange that it never occurred to such a
busy person that other people might be busy too. He tried to break it
to her. He told her (like a brute) that he thought all his things must
be mended now, and that perhaps for another week he would be better
without any tea. And Flossie (very naturally offended) didn't put her
dear little nose in at his door for two weeks. And for all you could
get through in that time it was hardly worth while offending her.

But he was very far wrong in supposing that Flossie never thought
about his work. She had been thinking a great deal about it lately.
One cold bright Sunday morning in November she tapped at his door and
walked in dressed for the open air. "Aren't you coming for a walk,"
she said, "this lovely day?"

"Too busy." To signify his annoyance, or to keep himself from
temptation, he bent closer over the article he was writing for _The
Museion_. She came and stood beside him, watching him as he worked,
still with his air of passionate preoccupation. Presently he found
himself drawn against his will into the following conversation.

"How long does it take you to do one of those things?"

"It depends."

"Depends on what?"

"Oh, on the amount of trouble I take over it."

"And do they pay you any more for taking trouble?"

"No, Flossie. I'm sorry to say they frequently pay me less."

"Then why on earth do you do it?"

This question seemed to him so curious that it caused him to look up,
beholding for the first time the plump figure clothed entirely in a
new suit of brown, and wearing on its head a fascinating hat made of
something that resembled fur. He tried to look at it with disapproval,
while his mind dealt independently with the amazing question put to
him.

"Well, Flossie, if you really care anything about style--"

"Style?" She stroked down the front of her jacket with a delicious
movement of her little hands. "Don't you like it?"

He smiled. "I adore it. It makes you look like a dear little brown
Beaver, as you are." "The Beaver" was only one of the many names he
had for her; it was suggested irresistibly by her plumpness, her
singularly practical intelligence, and her secretive ways.

"Then what do you mean by style?" asked the Beaver in a challenging
tone that forced him to lay down his pen.

"What do I mean by style?" He explained, moved by the mad lust for
mystification which seizes a man in the presence of adorable
simplicity. "I don't mean anything in the least resembling a Beaver's
coat (there really isn't any style about a Beaver's coat). And if you
want me to say it's the clothing of your thoughts, I won't. The less
clothing they have the better. It can't be treated as a Beaver treats
its coats. You can put it on and off (I was putting it on when you
came in and interrupted me); and you can mend it, and brush it up a
bit; but you can't measure it, or make it to order, and when it wears
out you can't get another where you got the first. Style isn't the
clothing, it's the body of your thoughts, my Beaver; and in a slap-up,
A 1 style, the style of the masters, _my_ style, you can't tell the
body from the soul."

"If you'd said you couldn't tell the body from the skirt it would
sound like sense."

That remark was (for the Beaver) really so witty that he leaned back
in his chair and laughed at it. But the Beaver was in no laughing
humour. "Look here," she said, "you _say_ that if you write those
stylish things that take up such a lot of time, they only pay you less
for them."

"Well?"

"Well, is it fair of you to go on writing them?"

"Fair of _me_? My dear child, why not?"

"Be-_cause_, if I buy stylish things I _have_ to pay for them. And
I've been buying them long enough, just to please you."

"I don't follow. But I suppose a Beaver has to reason backwards;
because, you know, all its intelligence is in its tail."

"Gracious, Keith! You are a silly."

"I am not alone in my opinion. It's the opinion of some very eminent
zoologists." He drew her gently on his knee; raised her veil and
looked into her eyes. They were (as he had often had occasion to
notice) of so deep and black a black that the iris was indistinguishable
from the pupil, and this blackness limited the range of their expression.
They could only tell you what Flossie was feeling, never what she was
thinking; for thought requires a translucent medium, and the light of
Flossie's eyes was all on the surface. On the other hand, the turns
and movements of her body were always a sufficient indication of the
attitude of her mind. At the present moment, sitting on Keith's knee,
her pose was not one of pure complacency. But holding her there, that
little brown Beaver, his own unyielding virile body deliciously aware
of the strange, incredible softness of hers, he wondered whether it
were possible for him to feel anything but tender to a creature so
strangely and pathetically made. Positively she seemed to melt and
grow softer by sheer contact; and presently she smiled a sweet
diminutive smile that didn't uncover more than two of her little
white teeth.

"Oh, what a shame it is to treat a Beaver so!" said he.

"When are you going to take me for a nice walk?" said she. "Any time
before Christmas?"

"Perhaps. But you mustn't build on it."

"I don't see that I can build on anything at this rate."

"I suppose a Beaver can't be happy unless it's always building? That's
why some people say it hasn't any intelligence at all. They won't even
allow that it can build. They think its architectural talent is all a
delusion and a sham; because it builds in season and out of season.
Keep it in your study, and it will make a moat round the hearthrug
with tobacco pouches and manuscripts and boots--whatever it can lay
its hands on. It will even take the ideas out of a man's head, if it
can't find anything better. Is there any logic in an animal that can
do that?" And if Flossie did not understand the drift of these remarks
at least she seemed to understand the kisses that punctuated them.

But before very long he obtained more light on the Beaver's logic, and
owned that it was singularly sound. They managed to put in a great
many nice walks between that Sunday and Christmas. Whenever he could
spare time Rickman made a point of meeting Flossie at the end of her
day's work. He generally waited at the corner where the long
windowless wall of the Bank stretches along Prince's Street, iron and
implacable. It was too cold now to sit under the shadow of St. Paul's.
Sometimes they would walk home along Holborn, sometimes they would go
down Ludgate Hill and thence on to the Embankment. It was certainly
better for Flossie to be out of doors than in the dingy drawing-room
in Tavistock Place. They could talk freely in the less crowded
thorough-fares; and it was surprising the things they still found to
say to each other all about nothing. Every trace of Flossie's
depression had vanished; she walked with a brisk step, she chatted
gaily, she laughed the happiest laughter at the poorest jokes. All was
going well; and why, oh why could he not let well alone?

They were walking on the Embankment one day, and she, for such a
correct little person, was mad with mirth, when he broke out.
"Flossie, you little lunatic! You might be going to marry a
stock-broker instead of a journalist."

"I'm going to marry a very rich man--for me."

"For you, darling? A devilish poor one, I'm afraid."

"Oh don't! We've said enough about that."

"Yes, but I haven't told you everything. Do you know, I might have
been fairly well off by now, if I'd only chosen."

Now there was no need whatever for him to make that revelation. He was
driven to it by vanity. He wanted to make an impression. He wanted
Flossie to see him in all his moral beauty.

"How was that?" she asked with interest.

"I can't tell you much about it. It was something to do with business.
I got an offer of a thumping big partnership three years ago--and I
refused it."

He had made an impression. Flossie turned on him a look of wonder, a
look uncertain and inscrutable. "What did you do that for?"

"I did it because it was right. I didn't like the business."

"That's not quite the same thing, is it?"

"Not always. It happened to be in this case."

"Why, what sort of business was it?"

"It wasn't scavenging, and it wasn't burglary--exactly. It was--" he
hesitated--"only the second-hand book-trade."

"I know--they make a lot of money that way."

"They make too much for my taste sometimes. Besides--"

"Besides what?" They had turned into an embrasure of the parapet to
discuss this question. They stood close together looking over the
river.

"It isn't my trade. I'm only a blooming journalist."

"You don't make so very much out of that, do you? Is that the reason
why we have to wait?"

"I'm afraid so. But I hope I shall be something more than a journalist
some day."

"You _like_ writing, don't you?"

"Yes, Flossie; I shouldn't be much good at it, if I didn't."

"I see." She was looking eastwards away from him, and her expression
had changed; but it was still inscrutable. And yet by the turning of
her head, he saw her mind moving towards a conclusion; but it was
impossible to say whether she reached it by the slow process of
induction, or by woman's rapid intuition. Anyhow she had reached it.
Presently she spoke again. "Could you still get that thing, that
partnership any time--if you tried?"

"Any time. But I'm not going to try."

She turned round abruptly with an air of almost fierce determination.
"Well, if _I_ get an offer of a good place, _I_ shan't refuse it. I
shall leave the Bank." She spoke as if so desperate a step would be
followed by the instantaneous collapse of that institution.

He was surprised to find how uneasy this threat always made him. The
proverbial safety of the Bank had impressed him in more ways than one.
And Flossie's post there had other obvious advantages. It brought her
into contact with women of a better class than her own, with small
refinements, and conventions which were not conspicuous at Mrs.
Downey's.

"Let me implore you not to do that. Heaven knows, I hate you having to
earn your own living at all, but I'd rather you did it that way than
any other."

"Why, what difference would it make to you, I should like to know?"

"It makes all the difference if I know you're doing easy work, not
slaving yourself to death as some girls do. It _is_ an easy berth.
And--and I like the look of those girls I saw you with to-day. They
were nice. I'd rather think of you working with them than sitting in
some horrible office like a man. Promise me you won't go looking out
for anything else."

"All right. I promise."

"No, but--on your honour?"

"Honour bright. There! Anything for a quiet life."

They turned on to the street again. Rickman looked at his watch. "Look
here, we're both late for dinner--supposing we go and dine somewhere
and do a theatre after, eh?"

"Oh no--we mustn't." All the same Flossie's eyes brightened, for she
dearly loved the play.

"Why not?"

"Because I don't think perhaps you ought to."

"You mean I can't afford it?"

"Well--"

"Oh, I fancy even a journalist's income will run to that."

It did run to that and to a hansom afterwards, though Flossie
protested, dragging at his arm.

"I'd rather walk," said she, "indeed I would."

"Nonsense. Come, bundle in."

"Please--please let me walk." He helped her in and closed the apron
sharply. He was annoyed. That was the second time she had insisted on
his poverty. He thought she had a little too much the air of preparing
herself to be a poor man's wife. Of course it was pretty of her; but
he thought it would have been prettier still if she had let it alone.

Now Flossie had never thought of him as a poor man before to-night;
but somehow the idea of the good income he might have had and hadn't
made him appear poor by comparison. She lay back in the hansom
meditating. "If you could only write a play like that, Keith, what a
lot of money you'd make."

"Shouldn't I? But then, you see, I couldn't write a play like that."

"Rubbish. I don't believe that author--what d'you call him?--is so
very much cleverer than you."

"Thanks." He bowed ironically.

"Well, I mean it. And look how they clapped him--why, they made as
much fuss about him as any of the actors. I say, wouldn't you like to
hear them calling 'Author! Author!'? And then clapping!"

"H'm!"

"Oh, wouldn't you love it just; you needn't pretend! Look there, I
declare I've split my glove." (That meant, as Flossie had calculated,
a new pair that _she_ should not have to pay for.)

"If _you_ clapped me I would, Flossie. I should need all the
consolation I could get if I'd written as bad a play."

"Well, if that was a bad play, I'd like to see a good one."

"I'll take you to a good one some day."

"Soon?"

"Well, I'm afraid not very soon." He smiled; for the play he thought
of taking her to was not yet written; would never be written if many
of his evenings were like this. But to Flossie, meditating, his words
bore only one interpretation--that Keith was really very much worse
off than she had taken him to be.

As they lingered on the doorstep in Tavistock Place, a young man
approached them in a deprecating manner from the other side of the
street, and took off his hat to Flossie.

"Hallo, Spinks!" said Rickman.

"That you, Razors?" said Spinks.

"It is. What are you doing here?"

"Oh nothing. I was in the neighbourhood, and I thought I'd have a look
at the old place."

"Come in, will you? (If they don't come, Flossie, I shall _have_ to
use my latch-key.")

"Not to-night, thanks, it's a bit too late. I'd better be going." But
he did not go.

"I hope," said Flossie politely, "you're comfortable where you are
now?"

"Oh, very comfortable, very comfortable indeed." Yet his voice had a
melancholy sound, and under the gas-light his face (a face not
specially designed for pathos) looked limp and utterly dejected.

"I think, Keith," said Flossie, "you'd better ring again." Ringing was
a concession to propriety that Flossie insisted on and he approved. He
rang again; and Mrs. Downey in a beautiful wrapper herself opened the
door. At the sight of Spinks she gave a joyful exclamation and invited
him into the hall. They left him there.

"What's up?" asked Rickman as they parted on his landing.

"Who with? Sidney? I can't tell you--really."

"I wonder why he left."

"I can't tell you that, either." They said good-night at the foot of
the stairs, and she kissed him laughing. And the two men heard it
echoing in their dreams, that mysterious laughter of woman, which is
as the ripple over the face of the deep.




CHAPTER XLVIII


Isaac Rickman stood in his front shop at the close of a slack winter
day. He looked about him with a gaze uncheered by the contemplation of
his plate-glass and mahogany; and as he looked he gathered his beard
into a serious meditative hand, not as of old, but with a certain
agitation in the gesture.

Isaac was suffering from depression; so was the book-trade. Every year
the pulse of business beat more feebly, and in the present year,
eighteen ninety-six, it was almost standing still. Isaac had seen the
little booksellers one by one go under, but their failure put no heart
into him; and now the wave of depression was swallowing him up too. He
had not got the grip of the London book-trade; he would never build
any more Gin Palaces of Art; he had not yet freed himself from the
power of Pilkington; and more than all his depression the mortgage of
the Harden Library weighed heavily on his soul. The Public in which he
trusted had grown tricky; and he found that even capital and
incomparable personal audacity are powerless against the malignity of
events.

For his own part Isaac dated his decline from the hour of his son's
defection. He had not been brought to this pass by any rashness in
speculation, or by any flaw whatever in his original scheme. But his
original scheme had taken for granted Keith's collaboration. He had
calculated to a nicety what it would cost him to build up his
fortunes; and all these calculations had been based on the union of
his own borrowed capital with Keith's brilliant brains. And Keith with
unimaginable perfidy had removed himself and his brilliant brains at
the crisis of the start. Isaac thought he had estimated pretty
accurately the value of his son's contribution; but it was only in
the actual experiment of separation that he realized the difference it
had made.

The immediate effect of the blow was to paralyse the second-hand
department. As far as new books went Isaac was fairly safe. If the
Public was tricky he was generally up to its tricks. But with
second-hand books you never knew where you were, not unless you had
made a special study of the subject. Owing to his defective education
he had always been helpless in the second-hand shop; liable at any
moment to be over-reached by one of those innocent, lantern-jawed
student fellows who go poking their noses everywhere.

And in buying he was still more at a disadvantage. He had grown
nervous in the auction-room; he never knew what to do there, and when
he did it, it was generally wrong. He would let himself be outbidden
where Keith would have carried all before him by a superb if reckless
persistence.

But if business was at its worst in the second-hand department, in the
front shop there was a sense of a sadder and more personal desolation.
Rickman's was no longer sought after. It had ceased to be the
rendezvous of affable young men from Fleet Street and the Temple. The
customers who came nowadays were of another sort, and the tone of the
business was changing for the worse. The spirit, that something
illuminating, intimate, and immortal, had perished from the place.

At first Isaac had not been able to take its departure seriously. He
had never really grasped the ground of that disagreement with his son;
he had put it all down to "some nonsense about a woman"; and certain
hints dropped by Pilkington supported him in that belief. Keith, he
had said to himself, would come back when his belly pinched him. Every
day he looked to see him crawling through the big swinging doors on
that empty belly. When he did it, Isaac meant to take him back
instantly, unquestioned, unreproved and unreproached. His triumph
would be so complete that he could afford that magnanimity. But Keith
had not come back; he had never put his nose inside the shop from that
day to this. He called to see his father now and again on a Sunday
(for Isaac no longer refused to admit him into his house); and then,
as if in obedience to the holy conventions that ruled in the little
villa at Ilford in Essex, no allusion was made to the business that
had driven them apart. In the same spirit Isaac sternly refrained from
inquiring into the state of Keith's finances; but from his personal
appearance he gathered that, if Keith returned to the shop, it would
not be hunger that would send him there. And if the young man's manner
had not suggested the unlikelihood of his return, a hint to that
effect was conveyed by his clothes. They were the symbols of
prosperity, nay more, of a social advance that there could be no going
back upon. Isaac had only to look at him to realize his separation.
The thing was monstrous, incomprehensible, but certain. But it was in
Keith's gaze (the gaze which he could never meet, so disturbing was it
in its luminous sincerity) that he read the signs of a more profound
and spiritual desertion.

Isaac stood pondering these things in the front shop, at the hour of
closing. As he moved drearily away, the lights were turned out one by
one behind him, the great iron shutters went up with a clang, and it
was dark in Rickman's.

That evening, instead of hailing a Liverpool Street 'bus, he crossed
the Strand and walked up Bow Street, and so into Bloomsbury. It was
the first time for four years that he had called in Tavistock Place.
He used to go up alone to the boarding-house drawing-room, and wait
there till Keith appeared and took him into his bedroom on the second
floor. Now his name brought an obsequious smile to the maid's face;
she attended him upstairs and ushered him with ceremony into a
luxurious library. Keith was writing at a table strewn with
manuscripts, and he did not look up all at once. The lamp-light fell
on his fair head and boyish face, and Isaac's heart yearned towards
his son. He held out his hand and smiled after his fashion, but said
no word.

The grip of the eager young hand gave him hope.

Keith drew up two chairs to the fire. The chairs were very deep, very
large, very low, comfortable beyond Isaac's dreams of comfort. Keith
lay back in his, graceful in his abandoned attitude; Isaac sat up very
straight and stiff, crushing in his knees the soft felt hat that made
him look for ever like a Methodist parson.

His eyes rested heavily on the littered table. "Well," he said, "how
long have you been at it?"

"Oh, ever since nine in the morning--"

(Longer hours than he had in the shop); "--and--I've two more hours to
put through still." (And yet he had received him gladly.)

"It doesn't look quite as easy as making catalogues."

"It isn't."

Isaac had found the opening he desired. "I should think all this
literary work was rather a 'eavy strain."

"It does make you feel a bit muzzy sometimes, when you're at it from
morning to night."

"Is the game worth the candle? Is it worth it? Have you made your
fortune at it?"

"Not yet."

"Well--I gave you three years."

Keith smiled. "What did you give me them for? To make my fortune in?"

"To learn common-sense in."

Keith laughed. "It wasn't enough for that. You should have given me
three hundred, at the very least!"

The laugh was discouraging, and Isaac felt that he was on the wrong
tack.

"I'd give you as many as you like, if I could afford to wait. But I
consider I've waited long enough already."

"What were you waiting for?"

"For you to come back--"

Keith's face was radiant with innocent inquiry.

"--To come back into the business."

The light of innocence died out of the face as suddenly as it had
kindled.

"My dear father, I shall never come back. I thought I'd made that very
clear to you."

"You never made it clear--your behaviour to me. Not but what I 'ad an
idea, which perhaps I need not name. I've never asked what there was
at the bottom of that foolish business, and I've never blamed you for
it. If it made you act badly to me, I've reason to believe it kept you
out of worse mischief."

Keith felt a queer tightening at the heart. He understood that his
father was referring darkly to Lucia Harden. He was surprised to find
that even this remote and shadowy allusion was more than he could
bear. He must call him off that trail; and the best way of doing it
was to announce his engagement.

"As you seem to be rather mixed, father, I ought to tell you that I'm
engaged to be married. Have been for the last eighteen months."

"Married?" Isaac's face was tense with anxiety; for he could not tell
what this news meant for him; whether it would remove his son farther
from him, or bring him, beyond all expectation, near.

"May I ask who the lady is? Any of your fine friends in Devonshire?"

Keith was silent, tongue-tied with presentiment of the coming blow. It
came.

"I needn't ask. It's that--that Miss 'Arden. _I_'ve heard of her."

"As it happens it's somebody you haven't heard of. You may have seen
her, though--Miss Flossie Walker."

"No. I've never seen her, not to my knowledge. How long have you known
her?"

"Ever since I came here. She's one of the boarders."

"Ah-h. Has she any means?"

"None."

Isaac's heart leapt high.

"Aren't you going to congratulate me?"

"How can I, when I haven't seen the lady?"

"You would, if you _had_ seen her."

"And when is it to be? Like most young people, you're a bit impatient,
I suppose?"

Keith betrayed the extremity of his impatience by a painful flush.
This subject of his marriage was not to be approached without a
certain shame.

"I suppose so; and like most young people we shall have to wait."

Isaac's eyes narrowed and blinked in the manner of a man uncertain of
his focus; as it happened, he was just beginning to see.

"Ah--that's what's wearing you out, is it?"

"I'm beginning to get a bit sick of it, I own."

"What's she like to look at it, this young lady? Is she pretty?"

"Very."

A queer hungry look came over the boy's face. Isaac had seen that look
there once or twice before. His lips widened in a rigid smile; he had
to moisten them before they would stretch. He was profoundly moved by
Keith's disclosure, by the thought of that imperishable and untameable
desire. It held for him the promise of his own continuance. It stirred
in him the strange fury of his fatherhood, a fatherhood destructive
and malign, that feeds on the life of children. As he looked at his
son his sickly frame trembled before that embodiment of passion and
vigour and immortal youth. He longed to possess himself of these
things, of the superb young intellect, of the abounding life, to
possess himself and live.

And he would possess them. Providence was on his side. Providence had
guided him. He could not have chosen his moment better; he had come at
a crisis in Keith's life. He knew the boy's nature; after all, he
would be brought back to him by hunger, the invincible, implacable
hunger of the flesh.

"Your mother was pretty. But she lost her looks before I could marry
her. I had to wait for her; so I know what you're going through. But I
fancy waiting comes harder on you than it did on me."

"It does," said Keith savagely. "Every day I think I'll marry
to-morrow and risk it. But," he added in a gentler tone, "that might
come hard on her."

"You _could_ marry to-morrow, if you'd accept the proposal I came to
make to you."

Keith gave a keen look at his father. He had been touched by the bent
figure, the wasted face; the evident signs of sickness and suffering.
He had resolved to be very tender with him. But not even pity could
blind him to the detestable cunning of that move. It revolted him. He
had not yet realized that the old man was fighting for his life.

"I'm not open to any proposals," he said coldly. "I've chosen my
profession, and I mean to stick to it."

"That's all very well; but you should 'ave a solid standby, over and
above."

"Literature doesn't leave much room for anything over and above."

"That's where you're making a mistake. Wot you want is variety of
occupation. There's no reason why you shouldn't combine literature
with a more profitable business."

"I can't make it combine with any business at all."

"Well, I can understand your being proud of your profession."

"Can you understand my profession being proud of me?"

Isaac smiled. Yes, he could well understand it.

"And," said he, "I can understand your objection to the shop."

"I haven't any objection to the shop."

"Well--then there's no reason why we shouldn't come to an agreement.
If I don't mind owning that I can't get on without your help, you
might allow that you'd get on a bit better with mine."

"Why, _aren't_ you getting on, father?"

"Well, considering that my second-'and business depended on you
entirely--and that that's where the profits are to be made
nowadays--That's where I'm 'andicapped. I can't operate without
knowledge; and from hour to hour I've never any seecurity that I'm not
being cheated."

Isaac would gladly have recalled that word. Keith met it with silence,
a silence more significant than any speech; charged as it was with
reminiscence and reproof.

"Now, what I propose--"

"Please don't propose anything. I--I--I can't do what you want."

Keith positively stammered in his nervous agitation.

"Wait till you hear what I want. I'm not going to ask you to make
catalogues, or stand behind the counter, or," he added almost humbly,
"to do anything a gentleman doesn't do." He looked round the room. The
materials of the furnishing were cheap; but Keith had appeased his
sense of beauty in the simplicity of the forms and the broad harmony
of the colours. Isaac was impressed and a little disheartened by the
refinement of his surroundings, a refinement that might be fatal to
his enterprise. "You shall 'ave your own private room fitted up on the
first floor, with a writing table, and a swivel chair. You needn't
come into contact with customers at all. All I want is to 'ave you on
the spot to refer to. I want you to give me the use of those brains of
yours. Practically you'd be a sleeping partner; but we should 'alve
profits from the first."

"Thanks--thanks" (his voice seemed to choke him)--"it's awfully good
and--and generous of you. But I can't."

"Why not?"

"I've about fifteen reasons. One's enough. I don't like the business,
and I won't have anything to do with it."

"You--don't--like--the business?" said Isaac, with the air of
considering an entirely new proposition.

"No. I don't like it."

"I am going to raise the tone of the business. That's wot I want you
for. To raise the tone of the business."

"I should have to raise the tone of the British public first."

"Well--an intelligent bookseller has a good deal of influence with
customers; and you with your reputation, there's nothing you couldn't
do. You could make the business anything you chose. In a few years we
should be at the very head of the trade. I don't deny that the house
has been going down. There's been considerable depression. Still, I
should be in a very different position now, Keith, if you hadn't left
me. And in the second-hand department--_your_ department--there are
still enormous--e_nor_mous--profits to be made."

"That's precisely why I object to my department, as you call it. I
don't approve of those enormous profits."

"Now look 'ere. Let's have a quiet talk. We never have 'ad, for you
were always so violent. If you'd stated your objections to me in a
quiet reasonable manner, there'd never have been any misunderstanding.
Supposing you explain why you object to those profits."

"I object, because in nine cases out of ten they're got by trading on
another person's ignorance."

"Of course they are. Why not? If he's ignorant, it's only fair he
should pay for his ignorance; and if I'm an expert, it's fair I should
get an expert's profits. It's all a question of buying and selling. He
can't sell what he hasn't got; and I can't sell what I haven't got.
Supposing I've got knowledge that he hasn't--if I can't make a profit
out of _that_, what can I make a profit out of?"

"I can't say. My own experience of the business was unfortunate. It
struck me, if you remember, that some of your profits meant uncommonly
sharp practice."

"Talk of ignorance! Really, for a clever fellow, Keith, you talk a
deal of folly. There's sharp practice in every trade--in your own
trade, if it comes to that. Supposing you write a silly book, and some
of your friends boom it high and low, and the Public buys it for a
work of genius--well--aren't you making a profit out of other people's
ignorance? Of course you are."

"I haven't made _much_ profit that way--yet."

"Because you're unbusiness-like. Well. I'm perfectly willing to
believe your objections are conscientious. But look at it another way.
I'm a God-fearing, religious-minded man" (unconsciously he caressed
his soft hat, the hat of a Methodist parson, as he spoke), "is it
likely I'd continue in any business I couldn't reconcile to my
conscience?"

"I've no doubt you've reconciled it to your conscience. That's hardly
a reason why I should reconcile it to mine."

"That means that you'll let me be ruined for want of a little advice
which I'd 'ave paid you well for?"

"If my advice is all you want, you can have it any day for nothing."

"Wot you get for nothing is worth just about wot you get it for. No.
Mine was a fair business proposal, and either you come into it or you
stay out."

"Most decidedly I prefer--to stay out."

"Then," said Isaac suddenly, "I shall have to give up the shop."

"I'm most awfully sorry."

"There's no good your being sorry if you won't help me."

"I would help you--if I could."

"If you could!" He paused. Prudence plucked him by the sleeve,
whispering that never while he lived must he breathe the word
Insolvency; but a wilder instinct urged him to disclosure. "Why--it
rests with you to keep me out of the Bankruptcy Court."

Keith said nothing. He had held out against the appeal to his
appetites; it was harder to withstand this call on his finer feelings.
But if the immediate effect of the news was to shock and distress him,
the next instant he was struggling with a shameful reflection. For all
his shame it was impossible not to suspect his father of some deeper,
more complicated ruse.

Isaac sat very still, turning on his son a look of concentrated
resentment. Keith's youth was hateful to him now; it withheld
pitilessly, implacably, the life that it was in its hands to give.
Meanwhile Keith wrestled with his suspicion and overcame it.

"Look here, father, I'll do what I can. I'll come round to-morrow and
look into things for you, if that's any good."

The instant he had made the offer he was aware of its futility. It was
not for his business capacity that he was valued; and he never had
been permitted to interfere with the finances of the shop. The
suggestion roused his father to a passion that partook of terror.

"Look into things?" He rose trembling. "You mind your own business. I
can look into things myself. There'd 'ave been no need to look into
them at all if you 'adn't robbed and deceived me. Robbed and deceived
me, I said. You took your education--which _I_ gave _you_ to put into
_my_ business--you took it out of the business, and set up with it on
your own account. And I tell you you might as well 'ave made off with
a few thousands out of my till. Robbing's wot _you've_ been guilty of
in the sight of God; and you can come and talk to me about your
conscience. I don't understand your kind of conscience--Keith." There
was still a touch of appeal in his utterance of his son's name.

"Perhaps not," said Keith sorrowfully. "I don't understand it myself."

He walked with his father to Holborn, silently, through the drizzling
rain. He held an umbrella over him, while they waited, still
silently, for the Liverpool Street omnibus. He noticed with some
anxiety that the old man walked queerly, shuffling and trailing his
left foot, that he had difficulty in mounting the step of the omnibus,
and was got into his seat only after much heaving and harrying on the
part of the conductor. His face and attitude, as he sank crouching
into his seat, were those of a man returning from the funeral of his
last hope.

And in Keith's heart there was sorrow, too, as for something dead and
departed.




CHAPTER XLIX


If, much to Rickman's regret, Flossie did not take kindly to Miss
Roots, very soon after her engagement she discovered her bosom friend
in Miss Ada Bishop. The friendship was not founded, as are so many
feminine attachments, upon fantasy or caprice, but rested securely on
the enduring commonplace. If Flossie respected Ada because of her
knowledge of dress, and her remarkable insight into the ways of
gentlemen, Ada admired Flossie because of the engagement, which, after
all, was not (like some girls' engagements) an airy possibility or a
fiction, but an accomplished fact.

This attachment, together with the firm possession of Keith, helped to
tide Flossie over the tedium of waiting. Only one thing was wanting to
complete her happiness, and even that the thoughtful gods provided.

About six o'clock one evening, as Rickman was going out of the house,
he was thrust violently back into the passage by some one coming in.
It was young Spinks; and the luggage that he carried in his hand gave
a frightful impetus to his entry. At the sight of Rickman he let go a
hat-box, an umbrella and a portmanteau, and laid hold of him by both
hands.

"Razors--what luck! I say, I've gone and done it. Chucked them--hooked
it. Stood it eighteen months--couldn't stand it any longer. On my soul
I couldn't. But it's all right--I'll explain."

"Explain what? To whom, you God-forsaken lunatic?"

"Sh--sh--sh! To you. For Heaven's syke don't talk so loud. They'll
hear you. You haven't got a train you want to catch, or an
appointment, have you?"

"I haven't got a train, but I have got an appointment."

"You might spare a fellow five minutes, ten minutes, can't you? I
shan't keep you more than ten at the outside. There's something I must
tell you; but I can't do it here. And _not there_!" As Rickman opened
the dining-room door Spinks drew back with a gesture of abhorrence. He
then made a dash for the adjoining room; but retired precipitately
backwards. "Oh damn! That's somebody's bedroom, now. How could _I_
tell?"

"Look here, if you're going to make an ass of yourself, you'd better
come up to my room and do it quietly."

"Thanks, I've got a room somewhere; but I don't know which it is yet."

Rickman could only think that the youth had broken his habit of
sobriety. He closed the study door discreetly, lit the lamp and took a
good look at him. He fancied he caught a suggestion of melancholy in
the corners of his mouth and the lines of his high angular nose. But
there was no sign of intoxication in Sidney's clear grey eye, nor
trace of wasting emotion in his smooth shaven cheek. Under the
searching lamp-light he looked almost as fresh, as pink, as callow, as
he had done four years ago. He dropped helplessly into a low chair.
Rickman took a seat opposite him and waited. While not under the
direct stimulus of nervous excitement, young Spinks had some
difficulty in finding utterance. At last he spoke.

"I say, you must think I've acted in a very queer way."

"Queer isn't the word for it. It's astounding."

"D'you really think so? You mean I 'adn't any rights--it--it wasn't
fair to you--to come back as I've done?"

"Well, I don't know about its being very fair; it certainly wasn't
very safe."

"Safe? Safe? Ah--I was afraid you'd think that. Won't you let me
explain?"

"Certainly. I should like to know your reasons for running into me
like a giddy locomotive."

"Well, but I can't explain anything if you go on rotting like that."

"All right. Only look sharp. I've got to meet a fellow in Baker Street
at seven. If you'll get under weigh we might finish off the
explanation outside, if you're going back that way."

"Going back. Oh Lord--don't you know that I've come back here to stay.
I've got a room--"

"Oh, that's the explanation, is it?"

"No, that's the thing I've got to explain. I thought you'd think I'd
acted dishonourably in--in following her like this. But I couldn't
stand it over there without her. I tried, but on my soul I couldn't. I
shall be all right if I can only see her sometimes, at meals and--and
so forth. I shan't say a word. I haven't said a word. I don't even
think she knows; and if she did--So it's perfectly safe, you know,
Rickman, it's perfectly safe."

"Who doesn't know what? And if who did?" roared Rickman, overcome with
laughter.

"Sh--sh--sh--Flossie. I mean--M--miss Walker."

Rickman stopped laughing and looked at young Spinks with something
like compassion. "I say, old chap, what do you mean?"

"I mean that I should have gone off my chump if I'd hung on at that
place. I couldn't get her out of my mind, not even in the shop. I used
to lie awake at nights, thinking of her. And then, you know--I
couldn't eat."

"In fact, you were pretty bad, were you?"

"Oh, well, I just chucked it up and came here. It's all right, Razors;
you needn't mind. I never had a chance with her. She never gave me so
much as a thought. Not a thought. It's the queerest thing. I couldn't
tell you how I got into this state--I don't know myself. Only now
she's engaged and so forth, you might think that--well, you might
think"--young Spinks had evidently come to the most delicate and
complicated part of his explanation--"well, that I'd no right to go on
getting into states. But when it doesn't make any difference to her,
and it can't matter to you--" He paused; but Rickman gathered that
what he wished to plead was that in those circumstances he was clearly
welcome to his "state." "I mean that if it's all up with me, you know,
it's all right--I mean, it's safe enough--for you."

Poor Spinks became lost in the maze of his own beautiful sentiments.
Adoration for Rickman (himself the soul of honour) struggled blindly
with his passion for Flossie Walker. But the thought, which his brain
had formed, which his tongue refused to utter, was that the
hopelessness of his passion made it no disloyalty to his friend. "It
can make no difference to her, my being here," he said simply.

"Nonsense, you've as much right to be here as I have."

"Yes, but under the circumstances, it mightn't have been perfectly
fair to you. See?"

"My dear Spinky, it's perfectly fair to me; but is it--you won't mind
me suggesting it--is it perfectly fair to yourself?"

Spinks sat silent for a minute, laying his hand upon the place of,
thought, as if trying to take that idea in. "Yes," he said
deliberately. "That's all right. In fact, nothing else will do my
business. It sounds queer; but that's the only way to get her out of
my head. You see, when I see her I don't think about her; but when I
don't see her I can't think of anything else."

Rickman was interested. It struck him that latterly he had been
affected in precisely the opposite way. It was curious to compare
young Sidney's sensations with his own. He forgot all about the man in
Baker Street.

"I don't mean to say I shall ever get over it. When a man goes through
this sort of business it leaves its mark on him somewhere." And indeed
it seemed to have stamped an expression of permanent foolishness on
Spinks's comely face.

Rickman smiled even while he sympathized. "Yes, I daresay. I'm sorry,
old man; but if I were you I wouldn't be too down in the mouth. It's
not worth it--I mean; after all, there are other things besides women
in the world. It wouldn't be a bad place even if there weren't any
women in it. Life is good," said the engaged man. "You had better
dress for dinner." He could give no richer consolation without seeming
to depreciate the unique value of Flossie. As for Spinks's present
determination, he thought it decidedly risky for Spinks; but if Spinks
enjoyed balancing himself in this way on the edge of perdition it was
no business of his.

As it happened, the event seemed to prove that Spinks knew very well
what he was about. The callow youth had evidently hit on the right
treatment for his own disease. In one point, however, his modesty had
deceived him. His presence was far from being a matter of indifference
to Flossie. A rejected lover is useful in so many ways. It may be a
triumph to make one man supremely happy; but the effect is
considerably heightened if you have at the same time made another man
supremely wretched. Flossie found that the spectacle of young Sidney's
dejection restored all its first fresh piquancy to her engagement. At
Tavistock Place he more than justified his existence. True, he did not
remain depressed for very long, and there was something not altogether
flattering in the high rebound of his elastic youth; but, as Miss
Bishop was careful to point out, his joyous presence would have a most
salutary effect in disturbing that prosaic sense of security in which
gentlemen's affections have been known to sleep.

But Spinks was destined to serve the object of his infatuation in yet
another way.

It was in the second spring after Rickman's engagement. Flossie and
Ada were in the drawing-room one half hour before dinner, putting
their heads together over a new fashion-book.

"Shouldn't wonder," said Miss Bishop, "if you saw me coming out in one
of these Gloriana coats this spring. I shall get a fawn. Fawn's my
colour."

"I must say I love blue. I think I'm almost mad about blue; any shade
of blue, I don't care what it is. I know I can't go wrong about a
colour. But then there's the style--" Flossie's fingers turned over
the pages with soft lingering touches, while her face expressed the
gravest hesitation. "Keith likes me best in these stiff tailor-made
things; but I can't bear them. I like more of a fancy style."

"I see you do," said Miss Bishop solemnly.

"Yes, that's because she's a bit of a fancy article herself," murmured
a voice from the back drawing-room, where Mr. Spinks had concealed
himself behind a curtain, and now listened with a voluptuous sense of
unlawful initiation.

"I sy, we shall have to stop, if he _will_ keep on listening that
wy."

"Don't stop, please, Miss Ada. There, I've got my fingers in my ears.
On my honour, I have. You can talk as many secrets as you like now. I
can't hear a word."

The two girls dropped their voices to a low impassioned monotone.

"You've got to dress for somebody else besides yourself now--an
engaged young lady."

"Oh, I don't know that he takes so much notice. But he's given me lots
of things, besides my ring. I'm to have a real silver belt--a
Russian--next birthday."

"I sy, he's orf'ly good to you, you know. Some gentlemen get so
careless once they're sure of you. D'you know, we all think you acted
so honourable, giving out your engagement as soon as it was on. When
do you think you'll be married?"

"I can't say. I don't know yet. Never, I think, as long as I'm in that
old Bank."

Even with his fingers in his ears, young Sidney heard that voice, and
before he could stop himself he was listening again.

"Don't you like it?" said Miss Bishop.

"No. I hate it."

Spinks gave a cough; and Miss Bishop began reading to herself in
ostentatious silence, till the provocations of the page grew
irresistible.

"Look here, Floss," she said excitedly. "Look at _me_. 'Fawn will be
the pree-vyling colour this year, and for morning wear a plain
tailor-myde costume in palest fawn is, for 'er who can stand it, most
undeniably _chic_.'" Hitherto Miss Bishop had avoided that word (which
she pronounced "chick") whenever she met it; but now, in its thrilling
connection with the fawn-coloured costume, it was brought home to her
in a peculiarly personal manner, and she pondered. "I wish I knew what
that word meant. It's always coming up in my magazine."

"I think," said Flossie, "it means something like smart. Stylish, you
know."

Young Sidney leapt suddenly from his seat. "Go it, Flossie! Give us
the French for a nice little cup er tea."

"Really, it's too bad we can't have a plyce to ourselves where we can
talk. I'm going." And as Miss Bishop went she still pondered Flossie's
rendering of the word _chic_. Little did any of them know what grave
issues were to hang on it.

Then Mr. Spinks emerged from his hiding-place. "Miss Walker," he said
(he considered it more honourable to call her Miss Walker now whenever
he could think of it; only he couldn't always think), "I didn't know
you knew the French language."

"And why shouldn't I know it as well as other people?"

"I expect you know it a jolly sight better. Do you think, now, you
could read and write it easily?"

"I might," said Flossie guardedly, "if I had a little practice."

"Because, if you could--You say your're tired of the Bank?"

"I should think I _was_ tired of it."

"Well, Flossie, do you know, a good typewriter girl who can read and
write French can get twice as much as you're getting."

"How do you know?"

"Girl I know told me so. She's corresponding clerk for a big firm of
wine merchants in the City. She's going to be married this autumn; and
if you looked sharp, you might get her berth."

"In a wine-merchant's shop? Mr. Rickman wouldn't hear of it."

"It isn't a shop, you know, it's an office. You ask him."

Flossie did not ask him; she knew a trick worth two of that. But not
very long after Mr. Spinks had made his suggestion, finding Keith very
snug in his study one evening, reading Anatole France, to his immense
delight she whispered into his ear a little shy request that some day,
when he wasn't busy, he would help her a bit with her French. The
lessons were arranged for then and there, at so many kisses an hour,
payable by quarterly instalments, if desired. And for several evenings
(sitting very close together, as persons must sit who are looking over
the same book) they read, translating turn by turn, the delicious
_Livre de Mon Ami_, until Flossie's interest was exhausted.

"Come, I'm not going on with any more of that stuff, so you needn't
think it. I've no time to waste, if you have; and I haven't come
across one word in that book yet that'll be any use to me."

"What a utilitarian Beaver!" He lay back in his chair laughing at her,
as he might have laughed at the fascinating folly of a child.

"I'll tell you what it is, Mr. Savage; I'll get another French master,
if you don't look out. Some one who'll teach me the way I want to
learn."

"I'll teach you any way you like, Floss, on any system; if you'll only
explain what you want. What's your idea?"

"My idea's this. How would it be if you and me were to write French
letters to each other?"

"Rather! The Beaver's intelligence is going to its head. That's the
way to learn, Floss; you'll get over the ground like winking. But you
know--I shall have to raise my terms."

"All right. We'll see about that."

He was delighted with her idea. That Flossie should have an idea at
all was something so deliciously new and surprising; and what could be
more heartrending than these prodigious intellectual efforts, her
evident fear that her limitations constituted a barrier between them?
As if it mattered! As if he wanted a literary critic for his wife. And
how brutally he had criticized _her_--as if it mattered! Still, in
spite of his compunction, the French lessons were not altogether a
success. There was too much disagreement and discussion about terms;
for the master became more and more exorbitant in his charges as the
days went on, and the pupil still complained that she was learning
nothing. She was thoroughly dissatisfied with his method. He would
break off at the most interesting, the most instructive point, and let
loose his imagination in all sorts of ridiculous histories that
followed from the idea of her being a Beaver; and when she desired him
to tell her such simple things as the French for "Your esteemed favour
to hand," "Cheque enclosed," "We have forwarded to you to-day as per
invoice," he wanted to know what on earth a beaver had to do with
invoices.

It was Spinks who explained the nature of the connection.

Poor Spinks, who had made the suggestion with an almost suicidally
honourable intention, was to his immense astonishment merely sworn at
for his interference. And when Flossie brought Keith his tea that
evening she found him in a most ungentlemanly humour.

She waited demurely for a pause in the storm that raged round Spinks
and his confounded wine-merchant. She cast a significant glance at the
table strewn at that moment with the rough draft of Rickman's tragedy.
(Flossie couldn't understand why he could never write a thing out
clearly from the first, nor why she shouldn't write it for him at his
dictation.)

"It's all very well, Keith," said she, "but if _you_ can't do more,
_I_ must."

Before she left the room it was understood between them that Flossie
would renounce her wine-merchant, and that they would be married, if
possible, some time in the autumn. He felt curiously shaken by that
interview.

He spent the evening reading over what he had written, vainly trying
to recall his inspiration, to kindle himself anew at his own flame.
Last night he had had more inspiration than he could do with; his
ideas had come upon him with a rush, in a singing torrent of light.
His mind had been then almost intolerably luminous; now, there was
twilight on its high parts and darkness over the face of its deep. His
ideas, arrested in mid-air, had been flung down into the deep; and
from the farther shore he caught, as it were, the flutter of a gown
and the light laughter of a fugitive Muse.




CHAPTER L


One day, four years after the publication of _Saturnalia_, Rickman
received a letter in an unknown hand; a woman's hand, but with a
familiar vivid signature, the signature that is to be seen beneath the
portraits of Walter Fielding, the greatest among contemporary poets,
the living god of Rickman's idolatry.

     "Dear Sir," he wrote (or rather, some woman had written for him),
     "I came across your Poems the other day; by chance, I must
     confess, and not by choice. I have something to say to you about
     them, and I would therefore be glad if you could call on me here,
     to-morrow. I say, call on me; for I am an old man, and you, if I
     am not mistaken, are a young one; and I say to-morrow, because
     the day after to-morrow I may not have that desire to see you
     which I feel to-day.

     "Faithfully yours,

     "Walter Fielding.

     "PS.--You had better come in time for lunch at one o'clock."

Rickman's hand trembled as he answered that letter. All evening he
said to himself, "To-morrow I shall see Fielding"; and the beating of
his heart kept him awake until the dawn of the wonderful day. And as
he dressed he said to himself, "To-day I shall see Fielding." That he
should see him was enough. He could hardly bear to think what Fielding
had to say to him.

He had risen early, so as to go down into Surrey on his bicycle.
About noon he struck into the long golden road that goes straight
across the high moor where the great poet had built him a house.
Inside his gates, a fork of the road sloped to the shore of a large
lake fringed with the crimson heather. The house stood far back on a
flat stretch of moor, that looked as if it had been cut with one sweep
of a gigantic scythe from the sheltering pine-woods.

He saw Fielding far off, standing at the door of his house to welcome
him. Fielding was seventy-five and he looked sixty. A strong straight
figure, not over tall nor over slender, wearing, sanely but loosely,
the ordinary dress of an English gentleman. A head with strong
straight features, masses of white hair that hid the summit of the
forehead, a curling moustache and beard, close-clipped, showing the
line of the mouth still red as in his youth. A head to be carved in
silver or bronze, its edges bitten by time, like the edges of an
antique bust or coin.

"So you've come, have you?" was his greeting which the grasp of his
hand made friendly.

He took Rickman straight into his study, where a lady sat writing at a
table in the window.

"First of all," said he, "I must introduce you to Miss Gurney, who
introduced you to me."

Miss Gurney rose and held out a slender feverish hand. She did not
smile (her face narrowed so abruptly below her cheekbones that there
was hardly room for a smile on it), but her eyes under their thick
black brows turned on him an eager gaze.

Her eyes, he thought, were too piercing to be altogether friendly. He
wondered whether it was the flame in them that had consumed her face
and made it so white and small.

She made a few unremarkable remarks and turned again to her writing
table.

"Yes, Gertrude, you may go."

Her sallow nervous hands had already begun gathering up her work in
preparation for the word that banished her. When it came she smiled
(by some miracle), and went.

They had a little while to wait before luncheon. The poet offered
whisky and soda, and could hardly conceal his surprise when it was
refused.

"You must forgive me," he said presently, "for never having heard of
you till yesterday. My secretary keeps these things from me as a rule.
This time she allowed herself to be corrupted."

Rickman felt a sudden interest in Miss Gurney.

"Your poems were sent to her by a friend of hers, with the request--a
most improper one--that I should read them. I had no intention of
reading them; but I was pleased with the volume at first sight. It was
exactly the right length."

"The right length?"

"Yes, small octavo; the very best length for making cigar lighters."

Rickman had heard of the sardonic, the cruel humour with which
Fielding scathed his contemporaries; still, he could hardly have
expected even him to deal such a violent and devilish blow. Though he
flushed with the smart he bore himself bravely under it. After all, it
was to see Fielding that he had come.

"I am proud," said he, "to have served so luminous a purpose."

His readiness seemed to have disarmed the formidable Fielding. He
leaned back in his chair and looked at the young man a moment or two
without speaking. Then the demon stirred in him again with a malignant
twinkle of his keen eyes.

"You see I was determined to treat you honourably, as you came to me
through a friend of Miss Gurney's. But for her, you would have gone
where your contemporaries go--into the waste-paper basket. They serve
no purpose--luminous or otherwise." He chuckled ominously. "I had the
knife ready for you. But if you want to know why I paused in the deed
of destruction, it was because I was fascinated, positively fascinated
by the abominations of your illustrator. And so, before I knew what I
was doing (or I assure you I would never have done it), I had read,
actually read the lines which the creature quotes at the bottom of his
foul frontispiece. Why he quoted them I do not know--they have no more
to do with his obscenities than I have. And then--I read the poem they
were taken from."

He paused. His pauses were deadly.

"You have one great merit in my eyes."

Rickman looked up with a courageous smile, prepared for another
double-edged pleasantry more murderous than the last.

"You have not imitated me."

For one horrible moment Rickman was inspired to turn some phrase about
the hopelessness of imitating the inimitable. He thought better of it;
but not before the old man divined his flattering intention. He shook
himself savagely in his chair.

"Don't--please don't say what you were going to say. If you knew how I
loathe my imitators. I shouldn't have sent for you if you had been one
of them."

His mind seemed to be diverted from his present victim by some
voluptuous and iniquitous reminiscence. Then he began again. "But you
and your _Saturnalia_--Ah!"

He leant forward suddenly as he gave out the interjection like a
growl.

"Do you know you're a very terrible young man? What do you mean by
setting my old cracked heart dancing to those detestable tunes? I wish
I'd never read the d----d things."

He threw himself back in his chair.

"No, no; you haven't learnt any of those tunes from me. My Muse wears
a straighter and a longer petticoat; and I flatter myself she has the
manners of an English gentlewoman."

Rickman blushed painfully this time. He had no reply to make to that.

"I didn't mean," Fielding went on, "to talk to you about your _Saturnalia_.
But _On Harcombe Hill_, and _The Song of Confession_--those
are great poems."

Rickman looked up, startled out of his self-possession by the
unexpected words and the sudden curious vibration in the voice that
uttered them. Yet he could hardly realize that Fielding was praising
him.

"They moved me," said Fielding, "as nothing moves me now, except the
Psalms of David. I have been a great poet, as poets go nowadays; but"
(he smiled radiantly) "the painful conviction is forced upon me that
you will be a greater--if you live. I wanted to tell you this,
because nobody else is likely to find it out until you're _dead_. You
may make up your mind to that, my friend."

"I had made up my mind to many things. But they don't matter--now."

Fielding ignored the compliment. "_Has_ any one found it out? Except
yourself?"

"Only one person."

"Man or woman?"

He thought of Maddox, that irresponsible person. "A man. And perhaps
he hardly counts."

The old poet gave him a keen glance from his all-knowing eyes.

"There _is_ one other person, who apparently doesn't count, either.
Well, I think that was the luncheon-bell."

On their way to the dining-room he remarked: "That's another reason
why I sent for you. Because I hear they've not been particularly kind
to you. Don't suppose I'm going to pity you for that."

"I don't pity myself, sir."

"No--no--you don't. That's what I like about you," he added, taking
his guest by the arm and steering him to his place.

At luncheon Miss Gurney took a prominent part in the conversation,
which Rickman for her sake endeavoured to divert from the enthralling
subject of himself. But his host (perceiving with evident amusement
his modest intention) brought it up again.

"Don't imagine, for a moment," said he, "that Miss Gurney admires you.
She hates young poets."

Miss Gurney smiled; but as Rickman saw, more in assent than polite
denial. Throughout the meal she had the air of merely tolerating his
presence there because it humoured the great man's eccentricity. From
time to time she looked at him with an interest in which he detected a
certain fear. The fear, he gathered, was lest his coming should
disturb, or in any way do harm to the object of her flagrant
adoration.

After she had left the table Fielding reproached him for mixing water
with his wine.

"In one way," said he, "you're a disappointment. I should have
preferred to see you drink your wine like a man."

"Unfortunately," said Rickman, "it's not so easy to drink it like a
man, if you've ever drunk it like a beast."

"Ah-h. You're an even more remarkable person than I thought you were,"
said the poet, rising abruptly from the table.

He proposed that they should take a walk in the garden, or rather on
the moor; for the heather ran crimson to the poet's doors, and the
young pines stood sentinel at his windows.

They walked slowly towards the lake. On their way there Fielding
stopped and drew a deep breath, filling his lungs with the pure, sweet
air.

"Ah! that's better." He looked round him. "After all, we're right,
Rickman. It's the poets that shall judge the world; and if _we_ say
it's beautiful, it _is_ beautiful. _And_ good."

Happy Fielding, thought Rickman. Fielding had never suffered as he had
suffered; _his_ dream had never been divorced from reality. It seemed
fitting to the younger poet that his god should inhabit these pure and
lofty spaces, should walk thus on golden roads through a land of
crimson, in an atmosphere of crystal calm. He would have liked to talk
to Fielding of Fielding; but his awe restrained him.

Fielding's mind did not wander long from his companion. "Let me see,"
said he, "do you follow any trade or profession?" He added with a
smile, "besides your own?"

"I'm a journalist." Rickman mentioned his connection with _The
Museion_ and _The Planet_.

"Ah, I knew there was an unlucky star somewhere. Well, at any rate,
you won't have to turn your Muse on to the streets to get your living.
But a trade's better than a profession; and a craft's better than a
trade. It doesn't monopolize the higher centres. I certainly had the
impression that you had been in trade."

Rickman wondered who could have given it to him. Miss Gurney's friend,
he supposed. But who was Miss Gurney's friend? A hope came to him
that made his heart stand still. But he answered calmly.

"I was. I worked for two years in a second-hand bookshop as a
bibliographical expert; and before that I stood behind the counter
most of my time."

"Why did you leave it? You weren't ashamed of your trade?"

"Not of my trade, but of the way I had to follow it. I'm not ashamed
of working for Mr. Horace Jewdwine."

He brought the name in awkwardly. In bringing it in at all he had some
vague hope that it might lead Fielding to disclose the identity of the
friend. Horace Jewdwine was a link; if his name were familiar to
Fielding there would be no proof perhaps, but a very strong
presumption that what he hoped was true.

"He is a friend of yours?"

"Yes." His hope leapt high; but Fielding dashed it to the ground.

"I never heard of him. I see," he said, "you've got a conscience. Have
you also got a wife?"

"Not yet--but--"

"Good. So young a man as you cannot afford to keep _both_. I am so old
that I may be pardoned if I give you some advice. But why should I?
You won't take it."

"I should like to hear it all the same, sir."

"Well, well, it's cheap enough. Whatever you do, don't fritter
yourself away upon the sort of women it may be your misfortune to have
met."

It was beautifully done, this first intimation of his consciousness of
any difference between them; between Rickman who had glorified a
variety actress, and Walter Fielding whose Muse had "always had the
manners of an English gentlewoman." And to Rickman's heart, amid vivid
images of Poppies and Flossies, the memory of Lucia Harden stirred
like a dividing sword.

"That is my advice," said Fielding. "But you will not take it."

"These things," said Rickman, "are not always in our power."

In the silence which followed he put the question that was burning in
him.

"May I ask who the friend was who told Miss Gurney about me?"

"You may ask Miss Gurney; but I do not think she'll tell you. It seems
to be a secret, and Miss Gurney, strange to say, is a young woman who
can keep a secret."

He led the way to a seat overlooking the lake where they sat for
awhile in silence, and Rickman found his thoughts roaming from his
god.

Presently Fielding rose and turned back to the house. Rickman felt
that the slow footsteps were measuring now the moments that he had to
be with him. He was glad that they were slow.

Fielding stopped at his house-door, and stood for a second gazing
earnestly at the young man.

"When you write anything," he said, "you may always send it to me. But
no more--please--no more _Saturnalia_."

"There won't be any more _Saturnalia_."

"Good. I do not ask you to come again to see me."

Rickman struggled for an answer, but could not think of anything
better than, "It's enough for me to have seen you once," which was not
at all what he had meant to say.

Fielding smiled faintly; his humour pleased, Rickman fancied, with the
ambiguity of his shy speech.

"I'm afraid I've tired you, sir," he said impulsively.

"You have not tired me. I tire myself. But here is Miss Gurney; she
will look after you and give you tea."

"Geniality," he continued, "is not my strong point, as you may have
perceived. And any unnatural effort of the kind fatigues me. My own
fault."

"You have been very generous to me."

"Generous? There can't be any generosity between equals. Only a simple
act of justice. It is you who have been good to me."

"I? To you?"

"Yes. You have satisfied my curiosity. I own that sometimes I have
wanted to know what sort of voice will be singing after I am dead. And
now I _do_ know. Good-bye, and thank you."

He pressed his hand, turned abruptly and shuffled into the house. He
was noticeably the worse for his walk, and Rickman felt that he had to
answer for it to Miss Gurney.

"I'm afraid I've tired him. I hope I haven't done him harm."

Miss Gurney glanced sharply at him, turned, and disappeared through
the study window. Her manner implied that if he had harmed Fielding
she would make him feel it.

She came back still unsmiling. "No. You have not tired him."

"Then," said he as he followed her into the drawing-room, "I am
forgiven?"

"Yes. But I did not say you had not done him harm."

The lady paused in her amenities to pour out his tea.

"Miss Gurney," he said as he took the cup from her, "can you tell me
the name of the friend who sent my book to you?"

"No, I'm afraid I cannot."

"I see. After all, I am not forgiven?"

"I am not at all sure that you ought to be."

"I heard what he said to you," she went on almost fiercely. "That's
why I hate young poets. He says there is only you to hate."

"So, of course, you hate me?"

"I think I do. I wish I had never heard of you. I wish he had never
seen you. I hope you will never come again. I haven't looked at your
poems that he praises so. He says they are beautiful. Very well, I
shall hate them _because_ they are beautiful. He says they have more
life in them than his. Do you understand _now_ why I hate them and
you? He was young before you came here. You have made him feel that he
is old, that he must die. I don't know what else he said to you. Shall
I tell you what he said to me? He said that the world will forget him
when it's listening to you."

"You misunderstood him." He thought that he understood her; but it
puzzled him that, adoring Fielding as she did, she yet permitted
herself to doubt.

"Do you suppose I thought that he grudged you your fame? Because he
doesn't. But I do."

"You needn't. At present it only exists in his imagination."

"That's enough. If it exists there--"

"You mean, it will go down the ages?"

She nodded.

"And you don't want it to go?"

"Not unless his goes too, and goes farther."

"You need hardly be afraid."

"I'm _not_ afraid. Only, he has always stood alone, so high that no
one has touched him. I've always seen him that way, all my life--and I
can't bear to see him any other way. I can't bear any one to touch
him, or even to come anywhere near him."

"No one ever will touch him. Whoever comes after him, he will always
stand alone. And," he added gently, "you will always see him so."

"Yes," she said, but in a voice that told him she was still
unconsoled. "If I had seen him when he was young, I suppose I should
always see him young. Not that I care about that so much. His youth is
the part of him that interests me least; perhaps because it was never
in any way a part of me."

He looked at her. Did she realize how far Fielding's youth, if report
spoke truly, had belonged to, or in her own words, "been a part of"
other women? Did she resent their part in him? He thought not. It was
not so much that she was jealous of Fielding's youth, as that she
shrank from any appearance of disloyalty to his age.

"And yet," she said, "I feel that no one has a right to be young when
he is old. I hate young poets because they are young. I hate my own
youth--"

Her youth? Yes, it was youth that leapt quivering in her tragic face,
like a blown flame. Her body hardly counted except as fuel to the
eager and incessant fire.

"Don't hate it," he said. "It is the most beautiful thing you have to
give him."

"Ah--if I _could_ give it him!"

He smiled. "You have given it him. He isn't old when he can inspire
such devotion. He is to be envied."

He rose and held out his hand. As she took it, Miss Gurney's
flame-like gaze rested on him a moment and grew soft.

"If you want to know, it was Lucia Harden who sent me your poems,"
said she. And he knew that for once Miss Gurney had betrayed a secret.

He wondered what had made her change her mind. He wondered whether
Lucia had really made a secret of it. He wondered what the secret had
to do with Fielding. And wondering he went away, envying him the love
that kept its own divine fire burning for him on his hearth.




CHAPTER LI


There were times when Rickman, harassed by his engagement, reviewed
his literary position with dismay. Of success as men count success, he
had none. He was recognized as a poet by perhaps a score of people; to
a few hundreds he was a mere name in the literary papers; to the great
mass of his fellow-countrymen he was not even a name. He had gone his
own way and remained obscure; while his friends, Jewdwine and Maddox,
had gone theirs and won for themselves solid reputations. As for
Rankin (turned novelist) he had achieved celebrity. They had not been
able to impart to him the secret of success. But the recognition and
something more than recognition of the veteran poet consoled him for
the years of failure, and he felt that he could go through many such
on the strength of it.

The incident was so momentous that he was moved to speak of it to
Jewdwine and to Maddox. As everything that interested him interested
Maddox, he related it to Maddox in full; but with Jewdwine (such was
his exceeding delicacy) he observed a certain modest reticence. Still
there was no diminution in his engaging candour, his innocent
assumption that Jewdwine would be as pleased and excited as Maddox and
himself.

"He really seemed," said he, selecting from among Fielding's
utterances, "to think the things were great."

Jewdwine raised his eyebrows. "My dear Rickman, I congratulate you."
He paused for so long that his next remark, thoughtfully produced,
seemed to have no reference to Rickman's communication. "Fielding is
getting very old." If Rickman had been in a state of mind to attend
carefully to Jewdwine's manner, he might have gathered that the
incident had caused him some uneasiness.

It had indeed provided the editor of _The Museion_ with much matter
for disagreeable thought. As it happened (after months of grave
deliberation), he had lately had occasion to form a very definite
opinion as to the value of Rickman the journalist. He knew that
Rickman the journalist had no more deadly enemy than Rickman the poet;
and at that particular moment he did not greatly care to be reminded
of his existence. Jewdwine's attitude to Rickman and his confidences
was the result of a change in the attitude of _The Museion_ and its
proprietors. _The Museion_ was on the eve of a revolution, and to
Jewdwine as its editor Rickman the journalist had suddenly become
invaluable.

The revolution itself was not altogether sudden. For many months the
behaviour of _The Museion_ had been a spectacle of great joy to the
young men of its contemporary, _The Planet_. The spirit of competition
had latterly seized upon that most severely academic of reviews, and
it was now making desperate efforts to be popular. It was as if a
middle-aged and absent-minded don, suddenly alive to the existence of
athletic sports in his neighbourhood, should insist on entering
himself for all the events, clothed, uniquely, if inappropriately, in
cap and gown. He would be a very moving figure in the eyes of
hilarious and immortal youth. And such a figure did _The Museion_ in
its latter days present. But the proprietors were going to change all
that. _The Museion_ was about to be withdrawn from circulation and
reissued in a new form under the new title of _Metropolis_. As if
aware of the shocking incongruity it was going to fling off its cap
and gown. Whatever its staying power might be, its spirit and its
outward appearance should henceforth in no way differ from those of
other competitors in the race for money and position.

While the details of the change were being planned in the offices of
_The Museion_, the burning question for the proprietors was this:
would their editor, their great, their unique and lonely editor, be
prepared to go with them? Or would he (and with him his brilliant and
enthusiastic staff) insist on standing by the principles that had been
the glory of the paper and its ruin? Mr. Jewdwine had shown himself
fairly amenable so far, but would he be any use to them when it really
came to the point?

To Jewdwine that point was the turning-point in his career. He had
had to put that burning question to himself. Was he, after all,
prepared to stand by his principles? It was pretty certain that if he
did, his principles would not stand by him. Was there anything in them
that _would_ stand at all against the brutal pressure that was
moulding literature at the present hour? No organ of philosophic
criticism could (at the present hour) exist, unless created and
maintained by Jewdwine single-handed and at vast expense. His position
was becoming more unique and more lonely every day, quite intolerably
lonely and unique. For Jewdwine after all was human. He longed for
eminence, but not for such eminence as meant isolation. Isolation is
not powerful; and even more than for eminence he longed for power. He
longed for it with the passion of a weak will governed despotically by
a strong intellect. It amounted to a positive obsession, the tyranny
of a cold and sane idea. He knew perfectly well now what his position
as editor of _The Museion_ was worth. Compared with that great, that
noble but solitary person, even Maddox had more power. But the editor
of _Metropolis_, by a few trifling concessions to the spirit of
modernity, would in a very short time carry all before him. He must
then either run with the race or drop out of it altogether; and
between these two courses, Jewdwine, with all his genius for
hesitation, could not waver. After much deliberation he had consented
(not without some show of condescension) to give his name and
leadership to Metropolis; and he reaped the reward of his plasticity
in a substantial addition to his income.

This great change in the organization of the review called for certain
corresponding changes in its staff. And it was here that Rickman came
in. He had been retained on _The Museion_ partly in recognition of his
brilliance, partly by way of satisfying the claims of Jewdwine's
magnanimity. On _The Museion_ he had not proved plastic either as
sub-editor or as contributor. He did not fit in well with the
traditions of the paper; for he was, to Jewdwine, modernity incarnate,
the living spirit of revolt, to be bound down with difficulty by the
editorial hand. Looking back on the record of the past four years
Jewdwine marvelled how and why it was that he had kept him. A score
of times he had been tempted to dismiss him after some fresh enormity;
and a score of times Rickman had endeared himself by the seductive
graces of his style. But Rickman on the staff of _Metropolis_ was,
Jewdwine considered, Rickman in the right place. Not only could he now
be allowed to let loose his joyous individuality without prejudice to
the principles of that paper (for the paper strictly speaking would
have no principles), but he was indispensable if it was to preserve
the distinction which its editor still desired. Jewdwine had no need
of the poet; but of the journalistic side of Rickman he had endless
need. It was a baser faculty, but his care must be to develop it, to
train it, to handle it judiciously, until by handling he had made it
pliable to all the uses of his paper. Jewdwine had a genius for
licking young men into shape. He could hardly recognize that band of
awkward and enthusiastic followers in his present highly disciplined
and meritorious staff. None of them were like Rickman; none of them
had done anything to rouse an uneasy suspicion of their genius. Still,
none of them were precisely fitted for his present purpose. Rickman
the poet, of course, you could not lick into shape. His shape, plastic
only under the divine fire, was fashioned by the fingers of the god.
But Rickman the journalist, once get him on to the right journal,
would prove to be made of less unmanageable stuff. If he had not
hitherto proved manageable, that was no doubt because hitherto he had
been employed on the wrong journal.

And yet, when he came to discuss the change of programme with the
different members of his staff (some of whom he was giving their
dismissal), it was with Rickman (whom he proposed to retain) that he
felt the most acute embarrassment. Rickman, although at the moment
dining with Jewdwine, was so abominably direct.

"I see," he said, after listening to a lengthy exposition of the
proprietors' view; "they want to popularize the thing."

Jewdwine winced perceptibly. "Well, hardly," said he. "In that case
they would have been obliged to change their editor. We certainly want
to draw a rather larger public than we have done; and to do that we
must make _some_ concessions to modernity. There's no doubt that the
paper's interests have suffered from its tradition. We have been too
exclusive, too detached. We can no longer afford to be detached. We
propose to abandon the tradition in favour of--well--of a somewhat
broader attitude." He looked keenly at Rickman, as if he defied him to
put it any other way.

"I see. We've either got to take a more genial view of our
contemporaries--or scoot."

"You may put it that way if you like. It simply means that if we are
to appeal to a wider public, we must take a wider view. It's surely in
the interests of the public, _and_ of literature, that we should not
narrow the influence of the paper any more than we can help. Not make
the best criticism inaccessible." He continued to take the lofty and
the noble view. The habit was inveterate. But his last remark started
him on the way of self-justification. "Of course I couldn't go on with
the paper if I hadn't come to see this for myself. The fact is, you
cannot run a leading review on abstract principles."

Rickman forbore to smile at the fulfilment of his prophecy. Jewdwine's
"Absolute" had been obliged to "climb down."

"Not," said Jewdwine, "if that review is really to lead public
opinion."

"And certainly not," said Rickman, "if public opinion is to lead the
review."

"In either case," said Jewdwine nobly, "the principles remain."

"Only they're not applied?"

"They are not applied, because there is nothing to apply them to. In
the present state of literature a review like _The Museion_ has no
reason for its existence."

"I don't know. It was a very useful protest against some forms of
modernity."

"My dear fellow, modernity simply means democracy. And when once
democracy has been forced on us there's no good protesting any
longer."

"All the same, you'll go on protesting, you know."

"As a harmless private person, yes. As a critic I must accept a
certain amount of defeat at the hands of the majority."

"But you don't happen to believe in the majority?"

"I do believe in it," said he, bitterly. "I believe that it has
destroyed criticism by destroying literature. A critic only exists
through the existence of great men. And there are no great men
nowadays; only a great number of little men."

"I see. Othello's occupation's gone."

"Not at all. Othello's occupation's only beginning. You can't
criticize these people, but you must review them. And I assure you it
means far more labour and a finer discrimination to pick out your
little man from a crowd of little men than to recognize your great man
when you see him."

"When you see him--"

"Ah yes--_when_ I see him. But where is he? Show me," said Jewdwine,
"one work of unmistakable genius published any time in the last five,
the last ten years."

Rickman looked at him and said nothing. And to Jewdwine his silence
was singularly uncomfortable. He would have been more uneasy still but
for his conviction that the serenity in Rickman's eyes was reflected
from the eyes of Fielding. Rickman, he thought, was rather too
obviously elated at the great man's praise; and the exhibition of
elation was unpleasant to him. Worse than all, he realized that
Rickman, in spite of his serenity, was hurt. On the top of that came a
miserable misgiving as to the worthiness of his own attitude to his
friend.

As for Rickman, he had no feeling that he could have put into words,
beyond owning in his heart that he was hurt. He had never before had
any occasion for such a confession; he felt it to be humiliating both
to Jewdwine and himself. Sometimes, in moments of depression he had
suspected that it was Jewdwine's coldness that preserved his
incorruptibility; but he had so sincere a desire for purity in their
relations, that he had submitted without resentment to the freezing
process that ensured it. He had in reserve his expectation of the day
when, by some superlative achievement, he would take that soul,
hitherto invincible, by storm. But now, in his inmost heart he owned
that he was hurt.

Jewdwine changed the subject.




CHAPTER LII


When Jewdwine changed the subject, it was to intimate that his friend
might now expect a salary rising steadily with the fortunes of
_Metropolis_.

That promise to marry Flossie in the autumn had made Rickman very
uneasy on this head. The sources of his income had been hitherto
uncertain; for _The Planet_ might at any moment cease to be, and only
indomitable hope could say that _The Museion_ would be long for this
world.

The amount of his income, too, depended on conditions which were, to
some extent, beyond his own control. It had never sunk below a hundred
and fifty, and had never risen above three hundred, even in the years
when he wrote more articles than poems. Whereas, if he wrote more
poems than articles, two hundred was the highest figure it had yet
attained. And supposing the poems came and the articles didn't? For in
these things he was in the hands of the god. Therefore he had long
been a prey to devastating anxiety. But he hoped great things from the
transformation of _The Museion_. It certainly promised him a larger
and more certain revenue in the future, almost justifying his marriage
in the autumn. It had been expressly understood that his promise to
Flossie was to be fulfilled only if possible. But meanwhile he had got
to make it possible, for Flossie (in spite of _her_ promise) kept the
terror of her wine-merchant perpetually dangling above his head. He
had visited Messrs. Vassell & Hawkins' detestable establishment; and
it made him shudder to think of his pretty Beaver shut up in a little
mahogany cage, with her bright eyes peeping sad and shy through the
brass netting, and her dear little nostrils sniffing the villainous
alcoholic air.

But as the time approached and their marriage grew every day more
certain and more near, the joy and excitement of the bridegroom were
mingled with an inexplicable terror and misgiving. He had been
disagreeably impressed by the manner of Flossie's insistence on his
poverty. He had not missed the fine contempt conveyed by all her
references to his profession, which she not unjustly regarded as the
cause of the poverty. He was well aware that his genius was a heavy
burden for so small a thing to bear; and his chivalry had determined
that it should lie lightly on her lest it should crush or injure her.
It was part of her engaging innocence that she knew nothing of the
world in which his supremacy began and hers ended, that she had not
even suspected its existence. If he had any illusions about her it was
his own mind that created and controlled them. He delighted in them
deliberately, as in a thing of his creating; seeing through them with
that extraordinary lucidity of his, yet abandoning himself all the
more. Flossie's weakness made him tender, her very faults amused him.
As for his future, he could not conceive of his marriage as in any way
affecting him as a poet and a man of letters. While the little
suburban Eros lit his low flame upon the hearth, his genius would
still stand apart, guarding with holy hands the immortal fire. For
those two flames could never mingle. In that dream he saw himself
travelling with ease and rapidity along two infinite lines that never
touched and never diverged; a feat only possible given two Rickmans,
not one Rickman. There used to be many more of him; it was something
that he had reduced the quantity to two. And in dreams nothing is
absurd, nothing impossible.

Pity that the conditions of waking life are so singularly limited. At
first it had been only a simple question of time and space. Not that
Flossie took up so very much space; and he owned that she left him
plenty of time for the everyday work that paid. But where was that
divine solitude? Where were those long days of nebulous conception?
Where the days when he removed himself, as it were, and watched his
full-orbed creations careering in the intellectual void? The days when
Keith Rickman was as a god? He was hardly aware how fast they were
vanishing already; and where would they be in two months' time? It
was on his tragedy that he based his hopes for his future; the future,
in which Flossie had no part. He knew that the plea of art sounded
weak before the inexorable claims of nature; he felt that something
ought to be sacrificed to the supreme passion; but he couldn't give up
his tragedy. He was consumed by two indomitable passions; and who was
to say which of them was supreme? Still, tragedies in blank verse were
a luxury; and Flossie had more than once pointed out to him he
couldn't afford luxuries. He would sit up working on the tragedy till
long past midnight; and when he woke in the morning his sense of guilt
could not have been greater if he had been indulging in the most
hateful orgies. But you can't burn even genius at both ends; and his
paying work began to suffer. Jewdwine complained that it was not up to
his usual level. Maddox had returned several articles. So at last he
stuffed his tragedy into a drawer to wait there for a diviner hour.
"That would have been a big expensive job," he said to himself. "I
suppose it's possible to put as good work into the little things that
pay; but I shall have to cut myself in pieces." That was what he was
doing now; changing his gold into copper as fast as he could, so many
pennies for one sovereign. Nobody was cheated. He knew that in his
talent (his mere journalistic talent) there was a genius that no
amount of journalism had as yet subdued. But he had an awful vision of
the future, when he saw himself swallowed up body and soul in
journalism. The gods were dead; but there were still men and columns.

That would be the inevitable surrender to reality. To have no part in
the triumph of the poetic legions; but to march with the rank and
file, to a detestable music not his own; a mere mercenary ingloriously
fighting in a foreign cause.

To Jewdwine, Jewdwine once incorruptible, it seemed that Rickman was
preparing himself very suitably for the new campaign. But Maddox
mourned as he returned those articles; and when he heard of the
approaching marriage which explained them he was frantic. He rushed up
on Sunday afternoon, and marched Rickman out into the suburbs and on
to a lonely place on Hampstead Heath. And there, for the space of one
hour, with his arm linked in Rickman's, he wrestled with Rickman for
his body and his soul. Jewdwine's cry had been, "Beware of the
friendship of little men"; the burden of Maddox was, "Beware of the
love of little women."

"That's all you know about it, Maddy. The love of great women absorbs
you, dominates you. The little women leave you free."

Maddox groaned.

"A fat lot of freedom you'll get, Ricky, when you're married." Rickman
looked straight before him to the deep blue hills of the west, as if
freedom lay on the other side of them. "Good God," he said, "what am I
to do? I must marry. I can't go back to Poppy Grace, and her sort."

"If that's all," said Maddox, "I don't see much difference. Except
that marriage is worse. It lasts longer." Whereupon Rickman blushed,
and said that wasn't all, and that Maddox was a brute. He would change
his opinion when he knew Miss Walker.

Before very long he had an opportunity of changing it.

Rickman had been in error when he told Flossie that if she would
consent to marry him he would never again be ill. For he was ill the
first week in September, not two years after he had made that
ill-considered statement. The Fielding episode, when the first fine
stimulus was over, had left him miserable and restless. It was as if
he had heard the sound of Lucia Harden's voice passing through the
immeasurable darkness that divided them. And now he seemed to be
suffering from something not unlike the nervous fever that had
attacked him once before at Harmouth; complicated, this time, by a
severe cold on the chest, caught by walking about through pouring rain
in great agony of mind.

For Flossie (who may have felt latterly that she had chanced upon
another season of depression in her woman's trade) that illness was a
piece of amazing good luck, coming as it did at the moment of Keith's
misgivings. It not only drew them together, just as they were drifting
insensibly apart, but it revealed them to each other in a tenderer and
serener light. There was a little hard spot in Flossie which was
impervious to the subtler charm of Rickman when he was well. But
Rickman ill and at her mercy, confined to the bed where (so long as
Flossie waited on him) he lay very quietly, with the sheet drawn tight
up to his chin, in a state of touching dependence and humiliation, was
a wholly different person from the stormy and incomprehensible Rickman
who for more than two years had struggled so madly in her toils. And
if, to the eye of Mrs. Downey, Flossie appeared untouched by the
really heartrending pathos of his attitude in sleep; beholding unmoved
his huddled boyish form under the blankets, one half-naked arm laid
slack along the bed, the other thrust out straight into the cold
outside it; if she left Mrs. Downey to cover the poor fellow up,
wondering why on earth the girl could sit there and never do it; if,
when he woke, she missed the extreme poignancy of appeal in the
murmurs that followed her as she went Beaver-like about her business
in the room, it may be that in that unaccustomed service the hidden
prescient motherhood in her was awakened and appeased (Flossie being
still under the dominion of her dream). As yet it struggled blindly
with her invincible propriety; a struggle poor Rickman was made aware
of by the half-averted manner of her approaches, the secrecy and
hesitation of her touch. But the little clerk undoubtedly found that
patting pillows, straightening coverlets, and making mustard plasters,
was an employment more satisfying to her nature than the perpetual
handling of bank notes. And to Rickman lying there with his hungry
heart filled for the time quite full with its own humility and
gratitude, lying in a helplessness that had in it something soothing
and agreeable, feeling the soft shy woman's hands about his bed,
following with affectionate, remorseful eyes her coming and going, or
watching as she sat patiently mending his socks, it came with the
freshness of a new discovery that she was, after all, a very engaging
little Beaver. He had never for one instant glorified his love for
her; he understood it too thoroughly. It was love as Nature loves to
have it; honest enough, too, but of its kind singularly devoid of any
inspiring quality. Flossie had never moved him to the making of
sonnets or of songs. Moreover, he had discovered in her a certain
lack of tenderness, or of the outward signs of tenderness. Not but
what Flossie commanded all the foolish endearing language of young
love; only she was apt to lavish it on little details of attire, on
furniture, on things seen in shop-windows and passionately desired.
But there was something very transfiguring in the firelight of his
bedroom hearth. As he lay in it, enjoying the pure sweet foretaste of
domestic felicity, it was as if he saw more clearly into himself and
her and the life that would so soon make them one. If it was not the
best life, he told himself that of its kind it would be very good. He
had no doubt now that Flossie loved him. He was led to this certainty
by the maternal quality in her present dealings with him, when perhaps
it should have warned him rather that these cares were not for him.

Flossie had somewhat elaborated her dream. Bearing the fascinating
name of Muriel Maud, it had grown softer and rosier than ever. She
could not any longer deny its mysterious association with Keith
Rickman, though she would have died rather than that Keith should have
suspected it. And now as she sat mending Keith's socks her fancy all
the time was busy fashioning delicious garments for her dream. Flossie
never pursued her vision of Muriel Maud beyond the period of
enchanting infancy; when it outgrew the tender folly of those
garments, it was dismissed from Flossie's fancy with unmaternal
harshness. Therefore it appeared eternally innocent and young, mortal
in a delicate immortality. In fact, viewing her life too in the light
of the bedroom firelight, Flossie was herself deceived.

They were both blissfully unaware that Nature cares nothing about
love, but was bent upon using them for the only end she does care
about, the end that gives to love the illusion of its own eternity.

But Maddox saw through it in a minute. It was in the earlier stages of
the poet's illness, and Maddox had happened to put his head into
Rickman's room at the moment when Flossie, compelled by Mrs. Downey,
was helping to put a stinging mustard plaster on his chest. They
shrieked, and Maddox instantly withdrew.

He painted the scene afterwards for Rankin in the lurid and symbolic
colours of his Celtic fancy. "Talk of Samson among the Philistines,
it's nothing to Ricky-ticky in that d----d boarding-house. There was a
woman on each side of his bed. They'd got him down on it; they were
pinning the poor little chap in his blankets. I could just see
Ricky-ticky's face between their shoulders; it was very red; and I
shall never forget the expression on it, never. The agony, Rankin, the
hopeless, unutterable agony."

"What were they doing to him?"

"I couldn't see properly. But I think they were cutting his hair off."

He declared later that he had distinctly heard the squeaking of that
young Delilah's scissors. "We're not told whether Delilah was Samson's
wife," said he. "But the Scriptures were never wrong on a point of
human nature."

At which Rankin looked depressed; for he too was thinking of getting
married; though, as Maddox reminded him for his comfort, not to Miss
Flossie Walker.

"Is our Ricky-ticky," urged Rankin, "the man to show wisdom in
choosing a wife?"

"He isn't the man to marry at all."

"Did you expect him to live like an anchorite, then?"

"I didn't expect anything. He might have lived as he liked, provided
he didn't ruin himself as he's doing now."

And though Maddox now saw that young Delilah frequently, and always at
her prettiest and her best, he did not change his opinion.




CHAPTER LIII


It was now the third week in September, and the wedding was fixed for
the twenty-fifth of October. Everything was fixed, even Flossie's
ideas on the subject of her trousseau. There never was a little woman
so unwavering in her choice of such things as clothes and furniture.
To be married in ivory white, and to go away in powder blue; to have a
drawing-room furnished in imitation rosewood and tapestry, and a
dining-room in stamped velvet and black oak (imitation, too), had been
Flossie's firm determination from the first. It saves endless time and
contention when a young woman so absolutely knows her own mind.

Not but what she required approval and support in her decisions;
otherwise she would have been hardly recognizable as a young woman.
And for Rickman to go shopping with the Beaver in Tottenham Court
Road, to follow her undeviating course through the furniture
galleries, to note the infallible instinct by which she made for and
seized upon the objects of her choice, to see the austerity with which
she resisted the seductions of the salesman who sought to entangle her
with a more expensive article, the calmness of her mind in dealing
with the most intricate problems of measurement and price, was to be
led a helpless captive in a triumph of practical ability. Ability,
good Lord! was there ever anything like Flossie's grasp of all facts
that can be expressed in figures? His brain reeled before the
terrifying velocity of her mental arithmetic. What a little woman it
was to do sums in the top of its head!

Not that she dragged him on the chain for ever. There were idyllic
resting-places, delicious, thrilling pauses in her progress; when she
tried every chair in succession in the drawing-room suite; when she
settled herself in the tapestry one, before the little rosewood
tea-table (spread, for the heightening of the illusion, with a
tea-service all complete); when she pretended to pour out tea, smiling
over the tea-pot in the prettiest delight. With such a smile she would
welcome him, with such a smile she would pour out his tea when he came
back from Fleet Street to the home that was to be. (It did not occur
to him that at the moment Flossie was only smiling at the tea-pot.)
Though he stood aloof from the anticipatory scene, as he looked at her
he grew positively weak with tenderness. In everything Flossie had her
way. When they climbed (as they inevitably did) to the upper galleries
he indeed offered some show of resistance when she insisted on
choosing a terrible bedstead of brass with mother-o'-pearl ornaments.
But to do him justice, it was sheer nervous terror which prompted the
brutal remark that, "Really, mother-o'-pearl ornaments were more than
he could stand"; for he melted and gave in at once at the sight of
Flossie feeling the rosy down coverlet with her little hands. When
their eyes met, Flossie's face was as rosy as the coverlet; so that
the attendant spirit of commerce himself turned from them abashed.
That there would, that there must be, such a moment Keith had had a
horrible foreboding as he followed up the stairs.

Nobody could have been more happy than Flossie following the dream in
Tottenham Court Road; and Rickman was happy because she was. Happy for
a whole fortnight; and then for the first time they quarrelled.

And this was how it happened. They were going to live at Ealing; not
because they liked it, but because the neighbourhood was cheap.
Flossie had said, "When we're rich, we'll go to Kensington"; and he
had answered with an odious flippancy, "Yes, and when we die we'll go
to heaven"; but for the present, Flossie (wise Flossie who loved
economy even more than Kensington) was content with Ealing. That she
was obliged to be content with it made her feel, naturally, that she
was entitled to gratification on every other point. It was not over
Ealing, then, that they quarrelled, but over the choosing of the
house. Flossie was all for a gay little brand-new, red-brick villa,
with nice clean white paint about it, only two minutes from the tram;
he for a little old-fashioned brown-brick house with jasmine all over
it, and a garden all grass and lilac bushes at the back. He said the
garden would be nice to sit in. She said, what was the good of sitting
in a garden when you had to walk ever so far to the tram? He retorted
that walking was a reason for sitting; and she that if it came to that
they could sit in the house. She wouldn't hear of the old brown house,
nor he of the brand-new villa. He was peculiarly sensitive to his
surroundings.

"The villa," said he, "is a detestable little den."

"It isn't," said she, "it's got a lovely bay window in the drawing
room, and a _dear_ little balcony on the top."

"But there isn't a quiet place in it, dear, where I could write."

"Oh, that's all you're thinking of--"

"Well, there isn't, really. Whereas here" (they were going now through
the little brown house), "there's a jolly big room at the back, where
you can see miles away over the fields towards Harrow."

"Oh, you've got time to look out of the window, have you, though you
_are_ so busy?"

"Never mind the window, let's look at the house. What's wrong with
it?"

"What's wrong with the house? It won't suit the furniture, that's
what's wrong with it."

"You mean the furniture won't suit it?"

"The furniture's chosen and the house isn't. There's no good going
back on that."

"Look here, this is the room I meant." They had climbed to the top of
the little brown house, and Flossie had hardly condescended to glance
through the doors he had opened on their way. He opened one now at the
head of the stairs, and this time she looked in.

"It would make all the difference to me, Floss," he said humbly, "if I
had a place like this when I want to get away to write."

"When you want to get away from me, you mean." Her lips shook; she
looked round her with angry eyes, as if jealous of the place, and all
that he meant to do in it.

It was a large room, with a wide window looking on to the garden and
away across meadows and cornfields to Harrow Hill with its thin church
spire. The window was guarded with iron bars. The wall-paper was
designed in little circles; and in each circle there were figures of
little boys and girls, absurd and gay. So many hundreds of little
figures, and so absurd and gay, that to sit in that room surrounded by
them, to look at them and endeavour to count them, was to go mad. But
those figures fascinated Flossie.

"Oh, Lord, what a beastly wall-paper," said he.

"I think it's sweet," said she. And though she wasn't going to let him
have the house, she was ready to quarrel with him again about the
wall-paper. And then, in the corner by the window they came upon a
child's toy, a little wooden horse, broken. He pointed it out to her,
half-smiling. "Some kiddy must have left that there."

"Of course," said she, "it's been a nursery. And, I say, Keith, I
think it must have _died_."

"How do you make that out?"

"It couldn't have been long here. Don't you see, the wall-paper's all
new." (He thought that was rather sharp of her, the practical Beaver!)
"And yet," she said continuing her train of induction; "it couldn't.
If it had, they'd never have left _that_ here."

Ah, that was not sharp; it was something better. There was, after all,
about his Beaver a certain poetry and tenderness.

She picked up the little wooden horse, and held it in her hands, and
adjusted its loosened mane, and mended its broken legs, fitting the
edges delicately with her clever fingers. And it seemed to him that as
she bent over the toy her face grew soft again. When she lifted her
head her eyes rested on him, but without seeing him. Never had Flossie
had so poignant a vision of Muriel Maud.

He looked at her with a new wonder in his heart. For the first time he
was made aware of the change that two years had worked in her. She had
grown, he thought, finer in growing firmer; her body in its maturity
was acquiring a strength and richness that had been wanting in its
youth; as if through that time of waiting it were being fashioned for
the end it waited for. But that was not all. She had clothed herself
unconsciously with poetry. She stood for a moment transfigured before
him; a woman with sweet eyes beholding her desired destiny from far.
Her soul (for a moment) rose in her face like a star--a dim prophetic
star that trembled between darkness and dawn. He knew that she saw
herself now as the possible mother of his children.

The anger and the jealousy were over; and all of a sudden she gave in.

"You can have the house, if you like, Keith."

"All right; I do like it. That's a dear little Beaver."

As he approached her her glance fled. "I didn't say you could have the
room. I want to keep it empty."

He put his arm round her and led her to the window. "What do you want
to keep it empty for, Flossie?"

Her poor little thoughts, surprised and dismayed, went scurrying
hither and thither, trying to hide their trail.

"Oh," she said, still looking away from him. "To store things in." He
drew her closer to him and kissed her tenderly.

It seemed to him that a serene and happy light rested on the garden,
on the empty house, and on the empty room that she had peopled already
with her innocent dream. It seemed to him that in that remote gaze of
her woman's eyes, abstracted from her lover, unconsciously desirous of
the end beyond desire, he saw revealed the mystery, the sanctity, the
purity of wedded love. And seeing it he forgave her that momentary
abstraction.

But the Beaver never dreamed; she was far too practical. She was
building, that was all.




CHAPTER LIV


That evening as they sat down to dinner, it might have been noticed
that Mrs Downey's face was more flushed and festal than it had been
since the day was fixed for Mr. Rickman's wedding and departure. She
seated herself expansively, with a gay rustling of many frills, and
smiled well pleased upon the arrangements of her table. From these
signs it was evident that Mrs. Downey was expecting another boarder, a
boarder of whom she had reason to be proud. Rickman noticed with
dismay that the stranger's place was laid beside his own. He knew them
so well, these eternal, restless birds of passage, draggled with their
flight from one boarding-house to another. The only tolerable thing
about them was that, being here to-day, they were gone to-morrow.

The new boarder was late, culpably late. But Mrs. Downey was proud of
that too, as arguing that the poor bird of passage had stayed to
smooth her ruffled plumage. Mrs. Downey approved of all persons who
thus voluntarily acknowledged the high ceremonial character of the
Dinner. She was glad that Mr. Rickman would appear to-night in full
evening dress, to rush away in the middle of the meal, a splendour the
more glorious, being brief. She was waiting for the delightful moment
when she would explain to the visitor that the gentleman who had just
left the room was Mr. Rickman, "the reviewer and dramatic critic." She
would say it, as she had said it many times before, with the easy
accomplished smile of the hostess familiar with celebrity.

But that moment never came. The very anticipation of it was lost in
the thrill of the visitor's belated entrance. Yet nothing could have
been quieter than the manner of it. She (for it _was_ a lady) came
into the room as if she had lived at Mrs. Downey's all her life, and
knew her way already from the doorway to her chair. When she said,
"I'm so sorry, I'm afraid I'm rather late," she seemed to be taking
for granted their recognition of a familiar personal characteristic.
Perhaps it was because she was so tall that her voice sounded like
music dropped downward from a height.

There was a stir, a movement down each side of the table; it was
subtle, like the flutter of light and wind, and sympathetic, answering
to her footfall and the flowing rhythm of her gown. As it passed, Mrs.
Downey's face became if possible more luminous, Miss Bramble's figure
if possible more erect. A feeble flame flickered in Mr. Partridge's
cheeks; Mr. Soper began feeling nervously in his pocket for the box of
bon-bons, his talisman of success; while Mr. Spinks appeared as if
endeavouring to assume a mental attitude not properly his own. Miss
Bishop searched, double-chinned, for any crumbs that might have lodged
in the bosom of her blouse; and Flossie, oh, Flossie became more
demure, more correct, more absolutely the model of all propriety. Each
was so occupied with his or herself that no one noticed the very
remarkable behaviour of Mr. Rickman. He rose to his feet. He turned
his back on Flossie. There was a look on his face as of a man seized
with sudden terror, and about to fly.

In turning he found himself face to face with Lucia Harden.

He had the presence of mind to stand back and draw her chair from the
table for her; so that his action appeared the natural movement of
politeness.

Though she held out her hand by an instinct of recognition, there was
a perceptible pause before she spoke. He had known that it was she
before he saw her. She had to look at him twice to make quite sure.

And then, being sure, she smiled; not the slow, cold smile of
politeness that dies downwards on the lips, but the swift smile of
pleasure that leaps to the eyes and forehead.

"Mr. Rickman--? I think I should have known you anywhere else; but I
didn't expect to meet you here."

He looked at her courageously.

And as he looked there fell from him the past five years, the long
estranging years of bitterness and misery and vain desire, and the
years, still more estranging, of his madness and his folly; and not
the thinnest phantom shadow of time divided him from the days of
Harmouth, That moment of recognition annihilated all between; a lustre
of his life swept away in one sweep of her eyelids, dropped fathom
deep and forgotten in the gaze of her pure and tender eyes. It was not
the Lucia of their last meeting; the tragic and terrible Lucia who had
been so divided from him by her suffering and her grief. As she had
appeared to him on that evening, the last of his brief, incredible
happiness, when he sat with her alone in the drawing-room at Court
House, and she had declared her belief in him, so she appeared to him
now. The unforgettable movements of her face, the sweet curve of her
mouth (the upper lip so soft and fine that it seemed to quiver
delicately with the rhythm of her pulses and her breath), the turn of
her head, the lifting of her eyebrows, told him that she had kept no
memory of his part in the things that had happened after that.

And he too forgot. With Lucia sitting at his right hand, he forgot the
woman sitting at his left; he forgot the house of bondage, and he
forgot that other house where the wedding chamber yet waited for the
bride.

"I should have known you anywhere." His eyes dropped and he said no
more.

That act of recognition had only lasted a second; but it had made its
mark. Over the dim, fluttering table was the hush of a profound
astonishment. He neither saw nor felt it; nor did he hear Mrs. Downey
scattering the silence with agitated apologies.

"You'll excuse us beginning, Miss Harden; but it's Mr. Rickman's night
at the theatre."

Miss Harden looked at him again, lifting her eyebrows with that air of
interested inquiry that he knew so well. And yet, beyond those first
half dozen words he said nothing.

"Silly boy," said Mrs. Downey to herself, "why can't he say he's sorry
he has to go. I'm sure I gave him his opportunity." She was annoyed at
his rudeness.

Whether he were sorry or not, he went at his appointed time. He never
knew how he got out of the room, nor how he had behaved before going.
He had simply looked at her, held her hand and left her. And he had
not said a word; or none at least that he could remember.

Miss Harden was, it seemed, the guest, or the ostensible guest, of
Miss Roots. And Miss Roots enjoyed herself, delighting openly in the
recovery of the friend she had lost sight of for so many years. But
from Mrs. Downey's point of view the Dinner that night was not exactly
a success. Mr. Rickman had behaved in an extraordinary manner. Mr.
Soper and Miss Bishop had never looked so--well, so out of place and
common. And she could see that Mr. Spinks had taken advantage of the
general consternation to help himself outrageously to ginger.

Lucia took her friend aside when it was over. "You might have told me
he was here," said she.

"My dear, I didn't know you knew him."

"Then, did he never--" Whatever Lucia was going to say she thought
better of it.

She did not see him till the next night, after dinner, when he came to
her as she was sitting in a corner of the back drawing-room alone. And
as he came, she looked at him with a curiously intent yet baffled
gaze, as if trying to fit a present impression to one past. And yet
she could hardly have had any difficulty in recognizing him; for his
face was unforgettable, unique; but she missed something in it which
used to be familiar. And now she saw that what she had missed was the
restless look of youth; the sensuous eagerness that had helped to make
it so irregular. It had settled into the other look that she had found
there more rarely; the look that strengthened and refined the mobile
features, and brought them into harmony with the clean prominent lines
of the chin and of the serious level brows. Of all his looks it was
the one that she used to like best.

"So you've come back again?" he said.

"But I never was away."

"I thought you were abroad?"

"Who told you that?"

"I don't know. I suppose I must have dreamt it."

"I think you must. I've been in town for the last six weeks."

"In town?"

"Yes, if Hampstead's town. I've been staying with the Jewdwines.
Didn't he tell you?"

"No, he never told me anything."

She was silent for a moment. "So _that's_ why you never came to see
me."

"To see you? I didn't know--and if I had I shouldn't have thought--"
He hesitated.

"Of what? Of coming to see me?"

"No, that you would have cared for me to come."

"I think that's not a thing you ought to say. Of course I cared."

"Well, but I couldn't take that for granted, could I?"

"Couldn't you? Not after the messages I sent you?"

"But I never got any messages."

"Didn't you?" Her upper lip quivered; it was as if she winced at some
thought that struck her like a blow. "Then my cousin must have
forgotten to give them to you. Just like him; he is shockingly
careless."

Now Rickman knew it was not just like him; Jewdwine was not careless,
he was in all things painfully meticulous; and he never forgot.

"I don't think I can forgive him for that."

"You must forgive him. He is overwhelmed with work. And he isn't
really as thoughtless as you might suppose. He has given me news of
you regularly. You can't think how glad I was to hear you were getting
on so well. As for the latest news of all--" She lifted her face and
looked at him with her sweet kind eyes. "It _is_ true that you are
going to be married?"

"Quite true."

"I was so glad to hear that, too."

"Thanks." There was a slight spasm in his throat. That thick difficult
word stuck in it and choked him for the moment.

"I hope I shall meet your wife some day."

"You have met her." Lucia looked puzzled and he smiled, a little sadly
for a bridegroom. "You sat next her at dinner. She's here somewhere."

Lucia turned her head to where Flossie was sitting by a table, sitting
very upright, with her little air of strained propriety.

"Is it--is it that pretty lady? Do you think I might go up and speak
to her? I would so like to know her."

"I'll bring her to you. There's rather a crowd just now in the other
room."

He went to her, hardly knowing how he went.

"Flossie," he said, "I want to introduce you to Miss Harden."

Flossie's eyes brightened with surprise and pleasure; for she had
learnt from Mrs. Downey that the visitor was the daughter of Sir
Frederick Harden; and Lucia's distinction subdued her from afar.
Keith, being aware of nothing but Lucia, failed to perceive, as he
otherwise might have done, that he had risen in Flossie's opinion by
his evident intimacy with Miss Harden. She came blushing and smiling
and a little awkward, steered by Keith. But for all her awkwardness
she had never looked prettier than at that moment of her approach.

If Keith had wanted to know precisely where he stood in the order of
Lucia's intimacies, he might have learnt it from her reception of Miss
Walker. By it he might have measured, too, the height of her belief in
him, the depth of her ignorance. She who had divined him was ready to
take his unknown betrothed on trust; to credit her, not with vast
intellect, perhaps (what did that matter?), but certainly with some
rare and lovely quality of soul. He loved her; that was enough. Lucia
deduced the quality from the love, not the love from the quality. His
pretty lady must be lovable since he loved her. He had noticed long
ago that Lucia's face had a way of growing more beautiful in the act
of admiration; as if it actually absorbed the loveliness it loved to
look upon. And now, as she made a place for Flossie at her side, it
wore that look of wonder, ardent yet restrained, that look of shy and
tentative delight with which five years ago she had approached his
_Helen_. It was as if she had said to herself, "He always brought his
best to show me. Five years ago he brought me his dream, to read and
care for. Now he brings me the real thing, to read and care for too."
She was evidently preparing to read Flossie as if she had been a new
and beautiful poem.

He was unaware of all this; unaware of everything except the mingled
beatitude and torture of the moment. He sat leaning forward, staring
over his clasped hands at Lucia's feet, where he longed to fall down
and worship. He heard her telling Flossie how glad she was to meet
her; how unexpected was her finding of him here, after fire years; how
five years ago she had known him in Devonshire; and so on. But in his
ears the music of her voice detached itself wholly from the meaning of
her words. Thus he missed the assurance which, if he had only listened
intelligently, they might have had for him; the assurance of an
indestructible friendship that welcomed and enfolded his pretty lady
for his sake.

But whatever her almost joyous acceptance of the pretty lady promised
for the future, it could not be said that, conversationally, Lucia was
getting on very fast with Flossie in the present; and Rickman's
abstraction did not make things easier. Therefore she was a little
relieved when Miss Roots joined them, and Rickman, startled into
consciousness, got up and left the room. He feared that lady's
sympathy and shrewdness. Nothing could be hidden from her clever eyes.

And now, perceiving that the conversation flagged, Miss Roots
endeavoured to support it.

"Have you seen _Metropolis_?" she asked in her tired voice.

Lucia shook her head. "I don't know that I want to see it."

"You'd better not say so before Miss Walker."

"Oh, never mind me," said Miss Walker. "I haven't been yet. Is it
good?"

"Some people seem to think so. It depends."

"Yes; there's such a difference in the way they put them on the stage,
too."

Miss Roots' face relaxed, and her fatigued intelligence awoke.

"Who's on in it?" asked Flossie, happy and unconscious; and the spirit
of mischief seized upon Miss Roots.

"I can't tell you. I'm not well posted in these things. But I think
you'd better not ask Mr. Rickman to take you to see _Metropolis_."

Flossie was mystified, and a little indignant. If the play was so
improper, why had Miss Roots taken for granted that she had seen it?

"That wasn't at all nice of her, was it?" said Lucia, smiling as Miss
Roots went away. Her look was a healing touch laid on Flossie's
wounded vanity. "That's the sort of little trap she used to lay for
me."

"I suppose you mean she was rotting me. I always know when other
people are rotting. But that's the worst of her; you never can tell,
and she makes you look so ignorant, doesn't she?"

"She makes me _feel_ ignorant, but that's another thing."

"But whatever did she mean just now?"

"Just now she meant that you knew all about _Metropolis_."

"Why should I? Do _you_ know anything about it?"

"Not much; though it is my cousin's paper. But as Mr. Rickman writes
for it, you see--"

"Well, how was I to know that? He's always writing for something; and
he'd never think of coming to _me_ every time. I never talk shop to
him, and he never talks shop to me. Of course he told me that he'd got
on to some better paying thing," she added, anxious to show that she
was not shut out from the secrets of his heart; "but when you said
_Metropolis_ I didn't take it in."

Lucia made no further attempt to converse. She said good-night and
followed Sophie Roots to her tiny room.

"That was rather dreadful," she said to herself. "I wonder--" But if
she did not linger long over her wondering neither did she stop to
find out why she was so passionately anxious to think well of the
woman who was to be Keith Rickman's wife, and why it was such a relief
to her to be angry with Sophie for teasing the poor child.




CHAPTER LV


He asked himself how it was that he had had no premonition of the
thing that was about to happen to him; that the supreme moment should
have come upon him so casually and with so light a step; that he went
to meet it in a mood so commonplace and unprepared? (Good Heavens! He
remembered that he had been eating pea soup at the time, and wishing
it were artichoke.)

Had he not known that she would come back again, and in just that way?
Had he not looked for her coming five years ago? And what were five
years, after all? How was it that he had heard no summons of the
golden and reverberant hour?

And what was he going to do with it, or it with him, now that it had
come? That was a question that he preferred to leave unanswered for
the present.

It seemed that Lucia was going to stay for a week as Miss Roots'
guest; and it was Mrs. Downey's hope that she would be with them for a
much longer period on her own account. This hope Rickman judged to be
altogether baseless; she would never be able to bear the place for
more than a week. He inquired of Miss Roots early the next morning on
this subject; and at the same time he found out from her what Lucia
had been doing in the last five years. She had not been (as Jewdwine
had allowed him to suppose) abroad all the time with Kitty Palliser.
She had only lived with Miss Palliser in the holidays. The rest of the
year, of the five years, she had been working for her living as music
mistress in a Women's College somewhere in the south of England. To
his gesture of horror Miss Roots replied that this was by no means the
hideous destiny he conceived it to be.

"But--for _her_--" he exclaimed.

"And why not for her?" Miss Roots, B.A., retorted, stung by his
undisguised repugnance. If Lucia _had_ got her post merely by interest
(which Miss Roots seemed to consider as something of a blot on her
career) at the end of her first year she had the pick of the students
waiting for her. Unfortunately Lucia had never been strong; and this
summer her health had completely broken down.

At that he shuddered, and turned abruptly away. Miss Roots looked at
him and wondered why. When he approached her again it was to offer
her, with every delicacy and hesitation, the loan of his study for the
time of Miss Harden's visit. This was not an easy thing to do; but he
was helped by several inspirations. The room, he said, was simply
standing empty all day. He had hardly any use for it now. He would be
kept busy at the office up to the time of his marriage. And he thought
it would be a little more comfortable for Miss Harden than the public
drawing-room.

"I want," he said (lying with a certain splendour), "to pay some
attention to her. You see, she's my editor's cousin--"

Miss Roots turned on him a large look that took him in, his monstrous
mendacity and all. But she nodded as much as to say that the
explanation passed.

"One hardly likes to think of her, you know, sitting in the same room
with Soper."

"We all have to put up with Mr. Soper."

"Yes; but if she isn't strong, she ought to have some place where she
can be alone and rest. Besides, it'll be nicer for _you_. You'll see a
great deal more of her, you know, that way."

In the end the offer was accepted. For, as Miss Roots pointed out to
her friend, it would give him far more pleasure to lend his room than
to sit in it himself.

Certainly it gave him pleasure, a thrilling, subtle, and perfidious
pleasure, every time that he thought of Lucia occupying his room. But
before she could be allowed to enter, he caused it to be thoroughly
cleansed, and purified as far as possible from the tobacco smoke that
lingered in the curtains and the armchairs. He tidied it up with his
own hands, removing or concealing the unlovelier signs of his
presence and profession. He bought several cushions (silk and down)
for the sofa, and a curtain for the door to keep out the draught, and
a soft rug for Lucia's feet; also a tea-table, a brass kettle and a
spirit lamp, and flowers in an expensive pot. He did things to them to
make them look as if they had been some little time in use. He caused
a wrinkle to appear in the smooth blue cheeks of the sofa cushions. He
rubbed some of the youth off the edges of the tea-table. He made the
brass kettle dance lightly on the floor, until, without injury to its
essential beauty, it had acquired a look of experience. It was the
deceit involved in these proceedings that gave him the first clear
consciousness of guilt. He persuaded himself that all these articles
would come in nicely for the little house at Ealing, then remembered
that he had provided most of them already.

In doubt as to the propriety of these preparations, he again
approached Miss Roots. "I say," said he, "you needn't tell her all
these things are mine. I'm going to leave them here in case she wants
to stay on afterwards. She won't have to pay so much then, you know."
He hesitated. "Do you think that's a thing that can be done?"

"Oh yes, it can be done," she replied with an unmistakable emphasis.

"But I mayn't do it? Mayn't I? It's all right if she doesn't know, you
know."

Miss Roots said nothing; but he gathered that she would not betray
him, that she understood.

He could not explain matters half so clearly to himself. He might have
wanted to lend his study to his friend's cousin; he certainly did want
to lend it to Lucia for her own sake; but besides these very proper
and natural desires he had other motives which would not bear too
strict examination. Lucia sitting in the same room with Mr. Soper was
not a spectacle that could be calmly contemplated; but he hoped that
by providing her with a refuge from Mr Soper he might induce her to
stay till the moment of his own departure. And there was another
selfish consideration. It was impossible to see her, to talk to her
with any pleasure in the public drawing-room. Lucia could not come
into his study as long as it was his; but if he gave it up to her and
her friend, it was just possible that he might be permitted to call on
her there. That she accepted him as a friend he could not any longer
doubt. There were so many things that he had to say to her, such long
arrears of explanation and understanding to make up. He could see
that, unlike the Lucia he used to know, she had misunderstood him;
indeed she had owned as much. And for this he had to thank Horace
Jewdwine.

Jewdwine's behaviour gave him much matter for reflection, painful, but
instructive. Jewdwine had not lied to him about Lucia's movements; but
he had allowed him to remain in error. He had kept his cousin
regularly posted in the news she had asked for, as concerning an
unfortunate young man in whom they were both interested; but he had
contrived that no sign of her solicitude should reach the object of
it. It was as if he had been merely anxious to render an account of
his stewardship; to assure her that the unfortunate young man was now
prospering under his protection, was indeed doing so well that there
was no occasion for Lucia to worry herself about him any more.
Apparently he had even gone so far as to admit that there was
friendship between Rickman and himself, while taking care that there
should never be anything of the sort between Rickman and Lucia. He had
constituted himself a way by which news of Rickman might reach Lucia;
but he had sternly closed every path from Lucia to Rickman. That meant
that Lucia might be depended upon; but that Rickman must be allowed no
footing lest he should advance too far. In other words it meant that
they acknowledged, and always would acknowledge, the genius while they
judged it expedient to ignore the man.

But _she_ had not always ignored him. Did it not rather mean, then,
that Jewdwine would not trust her there; that, knowing her nature and
how defenceless it lay before the impulses of its own kindness, he
feared for her any personal communication with his friend? It did not
occur to Rickman that what Jewdwine dreaded more than anything for
Lucia was the influence of a unique and irresistible personal charm.
As far as he could see, Jewdwine was merely desperately anxious to
protect his kinswoman from what he considered an undesirable
acquaintance. And five years ago his fears and his behaviour would
have been justifiable; for Rickman owned that at that period he had
not been fit to sit in the same room with Lucia Harden, far less, if
it came to that, than poor Soper. But his life since he had known her
was judged even by Jewdwine to be irreproachable. As Rickman
understood the situation, he had been sacrificed to a prejudice, a
convention, an ineradicable class-feeling on the part of the
distinguished and fastidious don. It was not the class-feeling itself
that he resented; he could have forgiven Jewdwine a sentiment over
which he had apparently no control; he could have forgiven him
anything, even his silence and his subterfuge, if he had only
delivered Lucia's messages. That was an unpardonable cruelty. It was
like holding back a cup of water from a man dying of thirst. He had
consumed his heart with longing for some word or sign from her; he had
tortured himself with his belief in her utter repudiation of him; and
Jewdwine, who had proof of the contrary, had abandoned him to his
belief. He could only think that, after taking him up so gently, Lucia
had dropped him and left him where he fell. He owned that Jewdwine was
not bound to tell him that Lucia had returned to England, or to
provide against any false impression he might form as to her
whereabouts; and it was not there, of course, that the cruelty came
in. He could have borne the sense of physical separation if, instead
of being forced to infer her indifference from her silence, he had
known that her kind thoughts had returned to him continually; if he
had known that whatever else had been taken from him, he had kept her
friendship. Her friendship--it was little enough compared with what he
wanted--but it had already done so much for him that he knew what he
could have made of it, if he had only been certain that it was his. He
could have lived those five years on the memory of her, as other men
live on hope; sustained by the intangible but radiant presence, by
inimitable, incommunicable ardours, by immaterial satisfactions and
delights. If they had not destroyed all bodily longing, they would at
least have made impossible its separation from her and transference to
another woman. They would have saved him from this base concession to
the folly of the flesh, this marriage which, as its hour approached,
seemed to him more inevitable and more disastrous. Madness lay in the
thought that his deliverance had been near him on the very day when he
fixed that hour; and that at no time had it been very far away. No;
not when two years ago he had stood hesitating on the edge of the
inexpiable, immeasurable folly; the folly that had received, engulfed
him now beyond deliverance and return. If only he had known; if he
could have been sure of her friendship; if he could have seen her for
one moment in many months, one hour in many years, the thing would
never have begun; or, being begun, could never have been carried
through.

Meanwhile the friendship remained. His being married could not make it
less; and his being unmarried would certainly not have made it more.
As there could be neither more nor less of it, he ought to have been
able to regard it as a simple, definite, solidly satisfactory thing.
But he had no sooner realized that so much at least was his than he
perceived that he had only the very vaguest notion as to the nature
and extent of it. Of all human relations, friendship was the
obscurest, the most uncertainly defined. At this point he remembered
one fatal thing about her; it had always been her nature to give
pleasure and be kind. The passion, he imagined, was indestructible;
and with a temperament like that she might be ten times his friend
without his knowing from one day to another how he really stood with
her. And hitherto one means of judging had been altogether denied to
him; he had never had an opportunity of observing her ways with other
men.

This third evening he watched her jealously, testing her dealings with
him by her behaviour to the boarders, and notably to Spinks and Soper.
For Lucia, whether she was afraid of hurting the feelings of these
people, or whether she hesitated to establish herself altogether in
Mr. Rickman's study, had determined to spend the first hours after
dinner in the drawing-room. Miss Roots protested against these weak
concessions to the social order. "You'll never be able to stand them,
dear," she said; "they're terrible."

But Lucia had her way. "You've stood them for five years," said she.

"Yes, but I've had my work, and I'm used to it; and in any case I'm
not Miss Lucia Harden."

"Mr. Rickman stands them."

"Does he? You wouldn't say so if you'd known him for five years."

"I wonder why he stayed."

"Do you? Perhaps Miss Flossie could enlighten you."

"Of course. I was forgetting her."

"Don't forget her," said Miss Roots drily; "she's important."

Miss Roots went up to the study, and Lucia turned into the
drawing-room. She owned to herself that what took her there was not so
much an impulse of politeness as an irresistible desire to know what
manner of people Keith Rickman had had to live among. In those
evenings the scene had grown familiar to her; the long room with the
three tall windows looking on the street; the Nottingham lace curtains
tied with yellow sashes in the middle; the vivid blue-green painting
of the wood-work, a bad match for the wall paper; the oleographs and
pier-glasses in their gilded frames; the carpet, with its monstrous
meaningless design in brown and amber; the table, secretary, and
cabinet of walnut wood whose markings simulated some horrible
discoloration of decay; the base company of chairs, and the villainous
little maroon velvet ottoman, worn by the backs of many boarders; and
beyond the blue-green folding doors the dim little chamber looking on
a mews. And the boarders, growing familiar, too, to her sensitive
impressionable brain; Miss Bramble, upright in her morning gown and
poor little lace cap and collar; Mrs. Downey sitting, flushed and
weary, in the most remote and most uncomfortable chair; Mr. Spinks
reading the paper with an air of a man engaged in profound literary
research; the two girls sitting together on the ottoman under the
gaselier; Mr. Soper wandering uneasily among them, with his
insignificant smile and his offerings of bon-bons; and Keith Rickman
sitting apart, staring at his hands, or looking at Flossie with his
blue, deep-set, profoundly pathetic eyes. For that pretty lady's sake,
how he must have suffered in those five years.

Rickman, from his retreat in the back drawing-room, watched her ways.
She was kind to Miss Bramble. She was kind to that old ruffian
Partridge whose neck he would willingly have wrung. She was kind, good
Heavens! yes, she was kind to Soper. When the commercial gentleman
approached her with his infernal box of bon-bons, she took one. He
could have murdered Soper. He was profoundly depressed by the
spectacle of Lucia's ways. If she behaved like that to every one, what
had he to go upon? Nothing, nothing; it was just her way. And yet, he
did not exactly see her sending messages to Soper.

He rose and opened the grand piano that stood in the back
drawing-room. He went up to her (meeting with a nervous smile
Flossie's inquiring look as he passed). He stood a moment with one arm
on the chimney-piece, and waited, looking down at Lucia. Presently she
raised her head and smiled, as surely she could never have smiled at
Soper.

"Do you want me to play for you?" she said.

"That is exactly what I wanted." He drew the flattering inference
that, while apparently absorbed in conversation with Miss Bramble, she
had been aware of his presence in the background, and of every
movement he had made.

"Well, I must ask our hostess first, mustn't I?"

She went to that lady and bent over her with her request.

If Lucia's aim was to give pleasure she had certainly achieved it.
Mrs. Downey may or may not have loved music, but she was visibly
excited at the prospect of hearing it. So were the boarders. They
settled themselves solemnly in their seats. Spinks crushed his noisy
newspaper into a ball and thrust it behind him; Miss Bramble put away
her clicking needles; while Mr. Soper let himself sink into a chair
with elaborate silence; one and all (with the exception of Mr.
Partridge, who slept) they turned their faces, politely expectant,
towards the inner room. It struck Lucia that in this the poor things
were better mannered than many a more aristocratic audience.

Rickman lit the candles on the piano and seated himself beside her.

"I know what I have got to play." said she.

"What?"

"The Sonata Appassionata, isn't it?"

"Fancy your remembering."

"Of course I remember. It isn't every one who cares for Beethoven. I'm
afraid the others won't like it, though."

"They've got to like it," he said doggedly.

And Lucia, with her fatal passion for giving pleasure, played. And as
the stream of music flowed through the half-lit room, it swept away
all sense of his surroundings, all memory of the love and truth and
honour pledged to his betrothed, and every little scruple of pity or
of conscience. It bore down upon the barriers that stood between him
and Lucia, and swept them away too. And the secret sources of his
inspiration, sealed for so many months, were opened and flowed with
the flowing of the stream; and over them the deep flood of his longing
and his misery rose and broke and mingled with the tumult. And through
it, and high above it all, it was as if his soul made music with her;
turning the Sonata Appassionata into a singing of many voices, a
symphony of many strings.

So lost was he that he failed to perceive the effect of her playing on
the audience of the outer room. Flossie sat there, very quiet in her
awe; Miss Bishop kept her loose mouth open, drinking in the sounds;
Mr. Soper leaned forward breathing heavily in a stupid wonder; there,
over the tops of the chairs, one up-standing ribbon on Miss Bramble's
cap seemed to be beating time to the music all by itself; while Mrs.
Downey flushed and swelled with pride at the astonishing capabilities
of her piano. He did not notice either that, as Lucia played the
tender opening bars of the Sonata, Mr. Partridge shook off the slumber
that bound him at this hour; that, as she struck the thundering chords
that signal the presto Finale, he raised his head like an old
war-horse at the sound of the trumpet. He stared solemnly at Lucia as
she came forward followed by Rickman; then he rose from his own
consecrated chair, heavily but with a certain dignity suited to the
moral grandeur of the act, and made a gesture of abdication.

"I was a professional myself once," said he. "My instrument was the
flute."

There was no doubt about the spirit of Lucia's reception that night.
Perhaps the finest appreciation of connoisseurs had never touched her
more than did the praise of that simple audience. Rickman was the only
one who did not thank her. For when her playing was over he had turned
suddenly very cold, seized with a fierce shivering, the reaction from
the tense fever of his nerves; and it was with difficulty that he
controlled the chattering of his teeth. But before they parted for the
night he asked if he might "call" some afternoon; his tone pointing
the allusion to the arrangement that permitted this approach, "We
can't talk very well here, can we?" he said.

She answered by inviting him and Miss Walker to tea the next day. He
was conscious of a base inward exultation when he heard poor Flossie
say that she could only look in later for a little while. In October,
work was heavy at the Bank, and the Beaver seldom got home till after
tea-time. His conscience asked him sternly if he had reckoned on that
too?

When to-morrow came, Miss Hoots was busy also, and disappeared after
tea. He had certainly reckoned on that disappearance.

There was a moment of embarrassment on his part when he found himself
alone with Lucia in the room (his room) that he had made ready for
her. He had done his work so thoroughly well that the place looked as
if it had been ready for her since the beginning of time.

She was tired. He remembered how tired she used to be at Harmouth; and
he noticed with a pang how little it took to tire her now. She leaned
back in his chair, propped by the cushions he had chosen for her
(chosen with a distinct prevision of the beauty of the white face and
dark hair against that particular shade of greenish blue). She had
been reading one of his books; it lay in her lap. Her feet rested on
his fender, they stretched out towards the warmth of his fire. If only
it were permitted to him always to buy things for her; always to give
her the rest she needed; always to care for her and keep her warm and
well. He wondered how things had gone with her those five years. Had
she been happy in that college in the south? Had they been kind to
her, those women; or had they tortured her, as only women can torture
women, in some devilish, subtle way? Or would overwork account for the
failure of her strength? He thought he saw signs in her tender face of
some obscure, deep-seated suffering of the delicate nerves. Well,
anyhow she was resting now. And in looking at her he rested, too, from
the labour of conscience and the trouble of desire. Heart and senses
were made quiet by her mere presence. If his hands trembled as they
waited on her it was not with passion but with some new feeling,
indescribable and profound. For brought so near to him as this, so
near as to create the illusion of possession, she became for him
something too sacred for his hands to touch.

He could count on about half an hour of this illusion before Flossie
appeared. Afraid of losing one moment of it, he began instantly on the
thing he had to say.

"All this time I've been waiting to thank you for your introduction to
Fielding."

"Oh," she said eagerly, "what did he say? Tell me."

He told her. As she listened he could see how small a pleasure was
enough to give life again to her tired face.

"I am so glad," she said in the low voice of sincerity; "so very
glad." She paused. "That justifies my belief in you. Not that it
needed any justification."

"I don't know. Your cousin, who is the best critic I know, would tell
you that it did."

"My cousin--perhaps. But he _does_ see that those poems are great.
Only he's so made that I think no greatness reconciles him to--well,
to little faults, if they are faults of taste."

"Did you find many faults of taste?"

She smiled. "I found some; but only in the younger poems. There were
none--none at all--in the later ones. Which of course is what one
might expect."

"It is, indeed. Did you look at the dates? Did you notice that all
those later things were written either at Harmouth, or after?"

"I did."

"And didn't that strike you as significant? Didn't you draw any
conclusions?"

"I drew the conclusion that--that the poet I knew had worked out his
own salvation."

"Exactly--the poet you knew. Didn't it occur to you that he might
never have done it, if you hadn't known him?"

He looked at her steadily. The colour on her face had deepened, but
her eyes, as they met his, were grave and meditative. She seemed to be
considering the precise meaning of his words before she answered.

"No, I didn't."

"What, never? Think. Don't you remember how you used to help me?"

She shook her head. "I only remember that I meant to have helped you.
And I was very sorry because I couldn't. But I see now how absurd it
was of me; and how unnecessary."

He knew that she was thinking now of her private secretary.

"It was beautiful of you. But, you know, it couldn't have happened. It
was one of those beautiful things that never can happen."

"That's why I was so sorry. I thought it must look as if I hadn't
meant it."

"But you did mean it. Nothing can alter that, can it?"

"No. You must take the will for the deed."

"I do. The will is the only thing that matters."

"Yes. But--it was absurd of me--but I thought you might have been
counting on it?"

"Did I count on it? I suppose I did; though I knew it was impossible.
You forget that I knew all the time it was impossible. It was only a
beautiful idea."

"I'm sorry, then, that it had to remain an idea."

"Don't be sorry. Perhaps that's the only way it could remain
beautiful. It wouldn't have done, you know. You only thought it could
because you were so kind. It was all very well for me to work for you
for three weeks or so. It would have been very different when you had
me on your hands for a whole year at a stretch. And it's much better
for me that it never came off than if I'd had to see you sorry for it
afterwards."

"If I had been sorry, I should not have let you see it."

"I should have seen it, though, whether you let me or not. I always
see these things."

"But I think, you know, that I wouldn't have been sorry."

"You would! You would! You couldn't have stood me."

"I think I could."

"What, a person with a villainous cockney accent? Who was capable of
murdering the Queen's English any day in your drawing-room?"

"Oh, no; whatever you do you'll never do that."

"Well, I don't know. I'm not really to be trusted unless I've got a
pen in my hand. I'm better than I used to be. I've struggled against
it. Still, a man who has once murdered the Queen's English always
feels, you know, as if he'd got the body under the sofa. It's like
homicidal mania; the poor wretch may be cured, but he lives in terror
of an attack returning. He knows it doesn't matter what he is or what
he does; he may live like a saint or write like an archangel; but one
aitch omitted from his conversation will wreck him at the last."

"You needn't be afraid; you never omit them."

"You mean I never omit them now. But I did five years ago. I couldn't
help it. Everybody about me did it. The only difference between them
and me was that I knew it, and they didn't."

"You _were_ conscious of it, then?"

"Conscious? Do you know, that for every lapse of the sort in your
presence I suffered the torments of the damned? Do you suppose I
didn't know how terrible I was?"

She shook her head, this time with disapproval. "You shouldn't say
these things."

"Do you mean, I shouldn't say them, or shouldn't say them to you?"

"Well, I think you shouldn't say them to me. Don't you see that it
sounds as if I had done or said something to make you feel like that."

"You? Good Heavens! rather not! But whatever you said or did, I
couldn't help knowing how you thought of me."

"And how was that?"

"Well, as half a poet, you know, and half a hair-dresser."

"That's funny; but it's another of the things you shouldn't say.
Because you know it isn't true."

"I only say them because I want you to see how impossible it was."

"For me to help you?"

"Yes."

"I do see it. It _was_ impossible--but not for any of the reasons you
suppose. If it had been possible--"

"What then?"

"Then, perhaps, I needn't have felt so sorry and ashamed. You know I
really _am_ a little bit ashamed of having asked a great poet to be my
private secretary."

It was thus that she extricated herself from the embarrassing position
in which his clumsiness had placed her. For he saw what she meant when
she told him that he should not say these things to her. He had made
her feel that she ought to defend him from the charges he had brought
against himself, when she knew them to be true, when her gentleness
could only have spared him at the expense of her sincerity. How
beautifully she had turned it off. He refrained from the obvious
pretty speeches. His eyes had answered her.

"If you knew that you _had_ done something for me; not a little thing
but a great one--" He paused; and in the silence they heard the sound
of Flossie's feet coming up the stair. He had only just time to finish
his sentence--"Would it please you or annoy you?"

She answered hurriedly; for as she rose, Flossie was knocking at the
door.

"It would please me more than I can say."

"Then," he said in a voice that was too low for Flossie to hear, "you
_shall_ know it."




CHAPTER LVI


It was impossible that Rickman's intimacy with Miss Harden should pass
unnoticed by the other boarders. But it was well understood by Miss
Roots, by Flossie and by all of them, that any attentions he paid to
her were paid strictly to his editor's cousin. And if there was the
least little shade of duplicity in this explanation, his conscience
held him so far guiltless, seeing that he had adopted it more on
Lucia's account than his own. Incidentally, however, he was not
displeased that it had apparently satisfied Flossie.

But if Flossie felt no uneasiness at the approaches of Mr. Rickman and
Miss Harden, the news that Lucia was staying under the same roof with
the impossible young poet could hardly be received with complacency by
her relations. It threw Edith Jewdwine into an agony of alarm. Horace
as yet knew nothing about it; for he was abroad. Even Edith had heard
nothing until her return from her autumn holiday in Wales, when a
letter from Lucia informed her that she would be staying for the next
week or two with Sophie Roots in Tavistock Place. Edith was utterly
unprepared for her cousin's change of plans. She had not asked Lucia
to go with her to Wales; for Lucia's last idea had been to spend
September and October in Devonshire with Kitty Palliser. Edith, eager
for her holiday, had not stopped to see whether the arrangements with
Kitty were completed; and Lucia, aware of Edith's impatience, had
omitted to mention that they were not. But what made Lucia's move so
particularly trying to Edith was the circumstance that relations
between them had latterly been a little strained; and when Edith
searched her heart she found that for this unhappy tension it was she
and not Lucia who had been to blame.

And now (while Lucia was resting calmly on Mr. Rickman's sofa), in
the grave and beautiful drawing-room of the old brown house at
Hampstead a refined and fastidious little lady walked up and down in a
state of high nervous excitement. That little lady bore in her slight
way a remarkable resemblance to her brother Horace. It was Horace in
petticoats, diminutive and dark. There was the same clearness, the
same distinction of feature, the same supercilious forehead, the same
quivering of the high-bred nose, the same drooping of the unhappy
mouth. Bat the flame of Edith's small steel black eyes revealed a
creature of more ardour and more energy.

At the moment Edith was visited with severe compunction; an intrusive
uncomfortable feeling that she had never before been thus compelled to
entertain. For looking back upon the past two years she perceived that
her conduct as mistress of that drawing-room and house had not always
been as fastidious and refined as she could wish. The house and the
drawing-room were mainly the cause of it. Before Horace became editor
of _The Museion_, Edith had been mistress of a minute establishment
kept up with difficulty on a narrow income. In a drawing-room
seventeen feet by twelve she received with difficulty a small circle
of the cultured; ladies as refined and fastidious as herself, and
(after superhuman efforts on the part of these ladies) occasionally a
preoccupied and superlatively married man. From this position,
compatible with her exclusiveness, but not with her temperament or her
ambition, Edith found herself raised suddenly to a perfect eminence of
culture and refinement as head of the great editor's house. She held a
sort of salon, to which her brother's reputation attracted many
figures if possible more distinguished than his own. She found herself
the object of much flattering attention on the part of persons anxious
to stand well with Horace Jewdwine. With a dignity positively
marvellous in so small a woman, her head held high and made higher
still by the raised roll of her black hair, Edith reigned for three
years in that long drawing-room. She laid down the law grandiloquently
to the young aspirants who thronged her court; she rewarded with
superb compliments those who had achieved. Happily for Edith those
gentlemen were masters of social legerdemain; and they conveyed their
smiles up the sleeves of their dress-coats adroitly unperceived.

And then, in the very flower of her small dynasty, Lucia came. Lucia,
with her music and her youth and her indestructible charm. And the
little court, fickle by its very nature, went over bodily to Lucia! To
Lucia who did not want it, who would much rather have been without it,
but must needs encourage it, play to it, sympathize with it, just to
satisfy that instinct of hers which was so fatal and so blind. And
Horace, who to Edith's great relief had freed himself from this most
undesirable attachment, who for three years had presented every
appearance of judicious apathy, Horace, perceiving that men's eyes
(and women's too) loved to follow and to rest upon his cousin,
discovering all over again on his own account the mysterious genius of
her fascination, had ended by bowing down and worshipping too. His
adoration was the more profound (and in Edith's shrewd opinion more
dangerous), because he kept it to himself; because it pledged him to
nothing in the eyes of Lucia and the world.

But the eyes of the world, especially of the journalistic world, are
exceedingly sharp; and if Lucia had not been charming in herself those
literary ladies and gentlemen would have found her so, as the lady
whom Horace Jewdwine was presumably about to marry. It was Hanson,
Hanson of the _Courier_, who sent the rumour round, "_La reine est
morte, vive la reine_." The superb despotic Edith saw herself not only
deserted, but deposed; left with neither court nor kingdom; declining
from the palace of royalty to the cottage of the private gentlewoman,
and maintaining her imperious refinement on a revenue absurdly
disproportioned to that end. Not that as yet there had been any
suggestion of Edith's abdication. As yet Lucia had only spent her
winter holidays at Hampstead. But when, at the end of the present
summer, Lucia suddenly and unexpectedly broke down and her salary
ceased with her strength, it became a question of providing her with a
home for three months at the very least. Even then, the revolution was
delayed; for Horace had gone abroad in the autumn. But with every
month that Edith remained in power she loved power more; and in her
heart she had been considering how, without scandal to the world, or
annoyance to Horace, or offence to Lucia, she could put her rival
delicately aside. She had long been on the look-out for easy posts for
Lucia, for posts in rich and aristocratic families in the provinces,
or better still for ladies in want of charming travelling companions.

But now, better, a thousand times better, that Edith should have been
forced to abdicate than that Lucia should have taken herself out of
the way in this fashion; a fashion so hideously suggestive of social
suicide; that she should be living within four miles of her fastidious
and refined relations in a fifth-rate boarding-house inhabitated by
goodness knows whom. If only that had been all! Of course it was
intolerable to think of Lucia mixing with the sort of people whom
nobody but Goodness ever does know; but, after all, she wouldn't mix
with them; she hadn't had time to; and if instantly removed from the
place of contamination she might yet be presented to society again
without spot or taint. But it was not all. Out of the many hundred
base abodes of Bloomsbury Lucia had picked out the one house she ought
to have avoided, the one address which for five years her cousin
Horace had been endeavouring to conceal from her; it being the address
of the one disreputable, the one impossible person of his
acquaintance. Rickman had appeared, as strange people sometimes did,
at Edith's court; an appearance easily explained and justified by the
fact that he was a genius of whom Horace Jewdwine hoped great things.
But he had never been suffered in that salon when Lucia had been
there. Horace had taken untold pains, he had even lied frequently and
elaborately, to prevent Lucia's encountering, were it only by
accident, that one impossible person; and here she was living,
actually living in the same house with him. Even if Rickman could be
trusted to efface himself (which wasn't very likely; for if there is
anything more irrepressible than a cockney vulgarian it is a poet; and
Rickman was both!), could they, could anybody trust Lucia and her
idiotic impulse to be kind? To be kind at any cost. She never
calculated the cost of anything; which was another irritating
reflection for Miss Jewdwine. Poor as she was, she thought nothing of
paying twenty-five or thirty shillings for her board and a miserable
lodging, when she might--she ought--to have been living with her
relations free of all expense. But there was the sting, the
unspeakable sting; for it meant that Lucia would do anything, pay
anything, rather than stop another week in Hampstead. And Edith knew
that it was she who had made Lucia feel like that; she who had driven
her to this deplorable step. Not by anything done, or said, or even
implied; but by things not done, things not said, things darkly or
passionately thought. For Lucia, with her terrible gift of intuition,
must somehow have known all the time what Edith hardly knew, what at
least she would never have recognized if she had not observed the
effect on Lucia. Edith had no patience with people who were so
abominably sensitive. It was all nerves, nerves, nerves. Lucia was and
always had been hopelessly neurotic. And if people were to be shaken
and upset by every passing current of another person's thought, it
was, Edith said to herself a little pathetically, rather hard upon the
other person. Nobody can help their thoughts; and there was something
positively indecent in the uncanny insight that divined them. All the
same, Edith, confronted with the consequences of these movements of
the unfettered brain, was stung with compunction and considerable
shame. Horace would be furious when he knew; more furious with Edith
than Lucia. Therefore Edith was furious with Sophia Roots, the cause
of this disaster, who must have known that even if Lucia was too
weak-minded to refuse her most improper invitation, that invitation
ought never to have been given. Edith had her pride, the pride of all
the Jewdwines and the Hardens; and her private grievances gave way
before a family catastrophe. She did not want Lucia at Hampstead; but
at all cost to herself Lucia must be brought back to her cousin's
house before anybody knew that she had ever left it. It was even
better that Horace should marry her than that they should risk the
scandal of a mesalliance, or even-a passing acquaintance with a man
like Rickman. She would go and fetch Lucia now, this very evening.

She went as fast as a hansom could take her, and was shown up into
Rickman's room where she had the good luck to find Lucia alone. Lucia
was too tired to go out very much; and at that moment of her cousin's
entrance she was resting on Mr. Rickman's sofa. As the poor poet had
been so careful to remove the more telling tokens of his occupation,
Edith did not see that it was Mr. Rickman's room; and she was a little
surprised to find Sophia Roots so comfortably, not to say luxuriously
lodged.

She lost no time in delivering her soul, lest Sophia should pop in
upon them.

"Lu-_chee_-a," she said with emphasis, "I think you ought to have told
me."

"Told you what?"

"Why, that you hadn't anywhere to go to, instead of coming here."

"But I didn't come here because I hadn't anywhere to go to. I came
because I wanted to see something of Sophie after all these years."

"You could have seen Sophie at Hampstead. I would have asked her to
stay with you if I'd known you wanted her."

"That would have been very nice of you. But I'm afraid she wouldn't
have come. You see she can't leave her work at the Museum--ever, poor
thing."

"Oh. Then you don't see so much of Sophie after all?"

"Not as much as I should like. But I must be somewhere; and I'm
perfectly happy here."

As she rose to make tea for Edith (at the poet's table, and with the
poet's brass kettle), she looked, to Edith's critical eyes, most
suspiciously at home. Edith's eyes, alert for literature, roamed over
the bookcases before they settled on the tea-pot (the poet's tea-pot);
but it was the tea-pot that brought her to her point. Did Lucia mix
with the other boarders after all?

"This isn't a bad room," she said. "I suppose you have all your meals
up here?"

"Only tea and breakfast."

"But, my dear girl, where do you lunch and dine?"

"Downstairs, in the dining-room."

"With all the other boarders?"

Lucia smiled. "Yes, all of them. You see we can't very well turn any
of them out."

"Really, Lucia, before you do things like this you might stop to
consider how your friends must feel about it."

"Why should they feel anything? It's all right, Edith, really it is."

"Right for you to take your meals with these dreadful people? You
can't say they're not dreadful, Lucia; for they are."

"They're not half so dreadful as you might suppose. In fact you've no
idea how nice they can be, some of them. Indeed I don't know one of
them that isn't kind and considerate and polite in some way. Yes,
polite. They're all inconceivably polite. And do you know, they all
want me to stay on; and I've half a mind to stay."

"Oh, no, my dear, you're not going to stay. I've come to carry you off
the very minute we've finished tea. Sophia should have known better
than to bring you here."

"Poor little Sophie. If she can stand it, I might."

"That doesn't follow at all. And if you can stand it, your relations
can't. So make up your mind that you're going back with me."

"It's extremely kind of you; but I should hurt Sophie's feelings
terribly if I went. Why should I go?"

"Because it isn't a fit place for you to be in. To begin with, I don't
suppose they feed you properly."

"You can't say I look the worse for it."

No, certainly she couldn't; for Lucia looked better than she had done
for many months. In the fine air of Hampstead she had been white and
languid and depressed; here in Bloomsbury she had a faint colour, and
in spite of her fatigue, looked almost vigorous. What was more, her
face bore out her own account of herself. She had said she was
perfectly happy, and she looked it.

A horrible idea occurred to Edith. But she did not mean to speak of
Rickman till she had got Lucia safe at Hampstead.

"Besides," said Lucia simply, "I'm staying for the best of all
possible reasons; because I want to."

"Well, if it's pleasant for you, you forget that it's anything but
pleasant for Horace and me. Horace--if you care what he thinks--would
be exceedingly annoyed if he knew about it."

"Isn't he just a little unreasonable?"

"He is not. Is it nice for him to know that you prefer living with
these people to staying in his house?"

"What would he say if he knew that one of these people lent us this
room?"

The words and the smile that accompanied them challenged Edith to
speak; and speak she must. But she could not bring herself to utter
the abominable name. "And was that on Sophie's account or yours?"

"On both our accounts; and it was beautifully done."

"Oh, if it was done beautifully there's no doubt on whose account it
was done. I should have thought you were the last person, Lucia, to
put yourself under such an obligation."

"There was no obligation. It was kinder to Mr. Rickman to take his
room than refuse it, that was all."

Lucia had no difficulty whatever in bringing out the name. And that,
if Edith's perceptions had not been dulled by horror, would have
struck her as a favourable sign.

"Young Rickman!" Edith's astonishment was a master stroke in all that
it ignored and in all that it implied of the impossibility of that
person. "Your notions of kindness are more than I can understand.
Whatever possessed you to take his room? If he'd offered it fifty
times!"

"But it wasn't wanted."

Edith relaxed the tension of her indignant body and sank back in her
chair (or rather, Mr. Rickman's chair) with an immense relief. "You
mean he isn't in the house at present?"

"Oh yes, he's in the house, I'm glad to say. Neither Sophie nor I
could stand very much of the house without him."

That admission, instead of rousing Edith to renewed indignation,
appeared to crush her. "Lucia," she murmured, "you are hopeless."

Another cup of tea, however, revived the spirit of remonstrance.

"I know you don't see it, Lucia, but you are laying yourself under an
obligation of the worst sort; the sort that puts a woman more than
anything in a man's power."

Lucia ignored the baser implication (so like Lucia). "I'm under so
many obligations to Mr. Rickman already, that one more hardly counts."
She hastened to appease the dumb distress now visible on her cousin's
face. "I don't mean money obligations; though there's that,
too--Horace knows all about it. I don't know if I can explain--" She
laid her hands in her lap and looked at Edith and beyond her, with
liquid and untroubled eyes; not seeing her, but seeing things very far
off, invisible from Edith's point of view; which things she must
endeavour, if possible, to make her see. "The kind of obligations I
mean are so difficult to describe, because there's nothing to take
hold of. Only, when you've once made a man believe in you and trust
you, so that he comes to you ever afterwards expecting nothing but
wonderful discernment, and irreproachable tact, and--and an almost
impalpable delicacy of treatment, and you know that you failed in all
these things just when he needed them most, you do feel some
obligations. There's the obligation to make up for your blunders; the
obligation to think about him in a certain way because no other way
does justice to his idea of you; the obligation to show him the same
consideration he showed to you; the obligation to take a simple
kindness from him as he would have taken it from you--"

"My _dear_ Lucia, you forget that a man may accept many things from a
woman that she cannot possibly accept from him."

"Yes, but they are quite another set of things. They don't come into
it at all. That's where you make the mistake, Edith. I've got--for my
own sake--to behave to that man as finely as he behaved to me. I owe
him a sort of spiritual redress. I always shall owe it him; but I'm
doing something towards it now." She said to herself, "I am a fool to
try to explain it to her. She'll never understand. I wish Kitty were
here. She would have understood in a minute."

Edith did not understand. She thought that Lucia's perceptions in
this matter were blunt, when they were only superlatively fine.

"All this," said she, "implies an amount of intimacy that I was not
aware of."

"Intimacy? Yes, I suppose it _is_ intimacy, of a sort."

"And how it could have happened with a man like that--"

"A man like what?"

"Well, my dear girl, a man that Horace wouldn't dream of allowing you
to meet, even in his own house."

"Horace? You talk about my being under an obligation. It was he who
helped to put me under it."

"And how?"

"By never delivering one of my messages to him; by letting him believe
that I behaved horribly to him; that I sent him away and never gave
him a thought--when he had been so magnificent. There were a thousand
things I wanted to explain and set right; and I asked Horace for an
opportunity and he never gave it me. He can't blame me if I take it
now."

"If Horace did all these things, he did them for the best possible
reasons. He knows rather more of this young man than you do, or could
have any idea of. I don't know what he is now, but he was, at one
time, thoroughly disreputable."

"Whatever _did_ he do?"

"Do? He did everything. He drank; he ran after the worst sort of
women--he mixes now with the lowest class of journalists in town; he
lived for months, Horace says, with a horrid little actress in the
next house to this."

Lucia's face quivered like a pale flame.

"I don't believe it. I don't believe it for a moment."

"It's absurd to say you don't believe what everybody knows, and what
anybody here can tell you."

"I never heard a word against him here. Ask Sophie She's known him for
five years. Besides, _I_ know him. That's enough."

"Lucy, when you once get hold of an idea you're blind to everything
outside it."

"I take after my family in that. But no, I'm not blind. He may have
gone wrong once, at some time--but never, no, I'm sure of it, since I
knew him."

"Still, when a man has once lived that sort of life, the coarseness
must remain."

"Coarseness? There isn't any refinement, any gentleness he isn't
capable of. He's fine through and through. Stay and meet him, Edith,
and see for yourself."

"I _have_ met him."

"And yet you can't see?"

"I've seen all I want to see."

"Don't, Edith--"

There was a sound of feet running swiftly up the stair; the door of
the adjoining room opened and shut, and a man's voice was heard
singing. These sounds conveyed to Edith a frightful sense of the
nearness and intimacy of the young man, and of the horror of Lucia's
position. As she listened she held her cousin by her two hands in a
dumb agony of entreaty.

"Horace is coming back," she whispered.

"No, Edith, it's no good. I'm going to stay till Kitty takes me."

Edith wondered whether, after all, Lucia was so very fastidious and
refined; whether, indeed, in taking after her family, she did not take
after the least estimable of the Hardens. There was a wild strain in
them; their women had been known to do queer things, unaccountable,
disagreeable, disreputable things; and Lucia was Sir Frederick's
daughter. Somehow that young voice singing in the next room rubbed
this impression into her. She stiffened and drew back.

"And am I to tell Horace, then, that you are happy here?"

"Yes. Tell him to come and see how happy I am."

"Very well."

As Edith opened the door to go, the voice in the next room stopped
singing, and the young man became suddenly very still.




CHAPTER LVII


Lucia lay back in her chair, wondering, not at Edith, but at herself.
Her cousin's visit had been so far effectual that it had made her
aware of the attitude of her own mind. If she had been told beforehand
that she could be happy in a Bloomsbury boarding-house, or within any
reasonable distance of such people as Miss Bishop and Mr. Soper, the
thing would have appeared to her absurd. And yet it was so. She was
happy among these dreadful people, as she had not been happy at
Hampstead among the cultured and refined. But when she came to examine
into the nature of this happiness she found that it contained no
positive element; that it consisted mainly of relief, relief from the
strain of an incessant anxiety and uncertainty. That the strain had
been divided between her and Horace had only made it worse, for she
had had the larger share of the anxiety, he of the uncertainty. Not
that he was more uncertain than in the old days at Harmouth. He was
less so. But she had never been anxious then. For after all they had
understood each other; and apparently it was the understanding now
that failed. Yet Horace had been right when he told himself that Lucia
would never imply anything, infer anything, claim anything, take
anything for granted on the sanction of that understanding. She would
not have hurried by a look or word the slow movements of the love
which somehow he had led her to believe in. Love between man and woman
to her mind was a sort of genius; and genius, as she said long ago to
poor Rickman, must always have about it a divine uncertainty. Yes,
love too was the wind of the divine spirit blowing where it listeth,
the kindling of the divine fire. She had waited for it patiently,
reverently, not altogether humbly, but with a superb possession of her
soul. Better to wait for years than rush to meet it, and so be tossed
by the wind and shrivelled by the fire. Then, when the crash came five
years ago, though she could hardly conceive it as altering her
cousin's attitude, she knew that it must alter hers. The understanding
had been partly a family affair; and her side of the family was now
involved in debt and poverty and dishonour. When the debts were paid
off, and the poverty reduced and the honour redeemed, it would be time
to re-consider the understanding. But, as it was just possible that
Horace, if not exactly fascinated by her debts and all the rest of it,
might feel that these very things bound him, challenged him in some
sort to protection, Lucia withdrew herself from the reach of the
chivalrous delivering arm. She took her stand, not quite outside the
circle of the cousinly relation, but on the uttermost fringe and verge
of it, where she entered more and more into her own possession. They
met; they wrote long letters to each other all about art and
literature and philosophy, those ancient unimpassioned themes; for, if
Lucia assumed nothing herself she allowed Horace to assume that
whatever interested him must necessarily interest her. In short,
perceiving the horrible situation in which poor Horace had been left
by that premature understanding, she did everything she could to help
him out of it.

And she succeeded beyond her own or Horace's expectation.

After three years' hard work, when all the debts were paid, and she
was independent, Lucia thought she might now trust herself to stay
with Horace in his house at Hampstead. She had stayed there already
with Edith when Horace was away, but that was different. And at first
all was well; that is to say, there was no anxiety and no uncertainty.
The calm and successful critic of _The Museion_ knew his own mind; and
Lucia said to herself that she knew hers. The understanding between
them was perfect now. They were simply first cousins; each was the
other's best friend; and they could never be anything else. She stood
very much nearer to the heart of the circle, in a place where it was
warm and comfortable and safe. If Horace could only have let her stay
there, all would have been well still. But a mature Lucia, a Lucia
entirely self-possessed, calm and successful, too, in her lesser way;
a Lucia without any drawbacks, and almost to his mind as uncertain as
himself; a Lucia who might be carried off any day before his eyes by
some one of the many brilliant young men whom it was impossible not to
introduce to her, proved fatally disturbing to Horace Jewdwine. And it
was then that the anxiety and uncertainty began.

They were at their height in the sixth year, when Lucia broke down and
came to Hampstead to recover. Fate (not Lucia, of course; you could
not think such things about Lucia) seemed anxious to precipitate
matters, and Jewdwine in his soul abhorred precipitancy. Edith, too,
was secretly alarmed, and Lucia could read secrets. But it was to
avoid both a grossly pathetic appeal to the emotions and an appearance
of collusion with the intrigues of Fate that Lucia had feigned
recovery and betaken herself to Sophie in Tavistock Place, before, and
(this was subtlety again), well before the return of Horace from his
holiday. And if the awful reflection visited her that this step might
prove to be a more importunate appeal than any, to be a positive
forcing of his hand, Edith had dissipated it by showing very plainly
that the appeal was to their pride and not their pity.

Lucia did not consider herself by any means an object of pity. She was
happy. The absence of intolerable tension was enough to make her so.
As for the society she was thrown with, after the wear of incessant
subtleties and uncertainties there was something positively soothing
in straightforward uninspired vulgarity. These people knew their own
minds, if their minds were not worth knowing; and that was something.
It seemed to her that her own mind was growing healthier every day;
till, by the time Edith visited her, there was no need to feign
recovery, for recovery had come. And with it had come many benign and
salutary things; the old delicious joy of giving pleasure; a new sense
of the redeeming and atoning pathos of the world; all manner of sweet
compunctions and tender tolerances; the divine chance, she told
herself, for all the charities in which she might have failed. There
had come Sophie. And there had come, at last, in spite of everything,
Keith Rickman.

As for Keith Rickman, her interest in him was not only a strong
personal matter, but it had been part of the cool intellectual game
she had played, for Horace's distraction and her own deception; a game
which Horace, with his subterfuges and suppressions, had not played
fair. But when, seeking to excuse him, she began to consider the
possible motives of her cousin's behaviour, Lucia was profoundly
disturbed.

It had come to this: if Horace had cared for her he might have had a
right to interfere. But he did not care. Therefore, no interference,
she vowed, should come between her and her friendship for the poet who
had honoured her by trusting her. She could not help feeling a little
bitter with Horace for the harm he had done her, or rather, might have
done her in Keith Rickman's eyes.

For all that she had now to make amends.




CHAPTER LVIII


Meanwhile the Beaver, like a sensible Beaver, went on calmly
furnishing her house. She thoroughly approved of Keith's acquaintance
with Miss Harden, as she approved of everything that gave importance
to the man she was going to marry. If she had not yet given a thought
to his work, except as a way (rather more uncertain and unsatisfactory
than most ways) of making money, she thought a great deal of the
consideration it brought him with that lady. She was prouder of Keith
now than she ever had been before. But the Beaver was before all
things a practical person; and she had perceived further that for
Keith to make up to people like Miss Harden was one of the surest and
quickest means of getting on. Hitherto she had been both distressed
and annoyed by his backwardness in making up to anybody. And when
Keith told her that he wanted to pay some attention to his editor's
cousin, if she was a little surprised at this unusual display of
smartness (for when had Keith been known to pay attention to any
editors, let alone their cousins?), she accepted the explanation as
entirely natural. She was wide awake now to the importance of
_Metropolis_ and Mr. Jewdwine. By all means, then, let him cultivate
Mr. Jewdwine's cousin. And if there had been no Mr. Jewdwine in the
case, Flossie would still have smiled on the acquaintance; for it
meant social advancement, a step nearer Kensington. So nobody was more
delighted than Flossie when Miss Harden invited Keith to tea in her
own room, especially as she was always included in the invitation.

It was Miss Bishop, primed with all the resources of her science, who
looked upon these advances with alarm. It struck Miss Bishop that Miss
Harden and Mr. Rickman were going it pretty strong. She wouldn't have
liked those goings on if she'd been Flossie. You might take it from
her that gentlemen never knew their own minds when there were two to
choose from; and Miss Bishop hadn't a doubt that it was a toss-up
between Flossie and Miss Harden. Miss Harden would be willing enough;
anybody could see that. Ladies don't keep on asking gentlemen to have
tea with them alone in their rooms if they're not up to something.

It was not only Miss Bishop's fatal science that led her to these
conclusions, but the still more fatal prescience of love. When Flossie
was once securely married to Mr. Rickman the heart of Spinks would
turn to her for consolation, that she knew. It was a matter of common
experience that gentlemen's hearts were thus caught on the rebound.
But if that Miss Harden carried off Rickman, there would be nothing
left for Flossie but to marry Spinks, for the preservation of her
trousseau and her dignity. Therefore Miss Bishop was more than ever
set on Flossie's marrying Mr. Rickman.

They were turning over the trousseau, the trousseau which might play
such a disastrous part in the final adjustment of Flossie's mind.

"Your dresses are orfully smart and that," said Ada; "and yet somehow
they don't seem to do you justice. It would have been worth your while
to go to a tip-top dressmaker, my dear. You'd have a better chance
than that Miss Harden any day. No, I don't like you in that powder
blue; I don't, really." Miss Bishop was nothing if not frank.

"I never go wrong about a colour," said Flossie passionately.

"No. It isn't the colour. It's the cut. It makes her look as if she
'ad a better figure than you; and that's nonsense. You've got a bust,
and she hasn't. Gentlemen don't care to look at a girl who's as flat
as two boards back and front. That's what I say, it's the cut that
gives her her style."

"No, it isn't. It isn't her clothes at all; it's the way she carries
them. She may look as if she was well dressed; but she isn't."

"Anyhow I like that coat of hers better than yours."

"It hasn't got the new sleeves," said Flossie, fondling her
powder-blue.

It was this immobile complacency of hers in the face of his own
profound and sundering agitations that stirred in Rickman the first
stinging of remorse. For he could see that the poor Beaver, with her
blind and ineradicable instinct, was going on building--you couldn't
call them castles in the air--but houses such as Beavers build, houses
of mud in running water. Her ceaseless winding in and out of shops,
her mad and furious buying of furniture, her wild grasping at any
loose articles that came in her way, from rugs to rolling-pins,
appeared to him as so many futile efforts to construct a dam. Over and
over again the insane impulse came on him to seize her little hands
and stop her; to tell her that it was no good, that the absurd thing
could never stand, that he alone knew the strength of the stream, its
sources and its currents. But he hadn't the heart to tell her, and the
Beaver went on constructing her dam, without knowing that it was a
dam, because she was born with the passion thus to build.

She could not see that anything had happened, and Heaven forbid that
he should let her see. He might abandon hope, but the Beaver he could
not abandon. That was not to be thought of for an instant. He was too
deeply pledged for that. Lest he should be in danger of forgetting, it
was brought home to him a dozen times a day.

The very moment when Flossie was making that triumphant display of her
wedding finery he had caught a glimpse of her (iniquitously) as he
passed her room on his way to Spinks's. She was standing, a jubilant
little figure, in the line of the half-open door, shaking out and
trailing before her some white, shiny, frilly thing, the sight of
which made him shudder for the terror, and sigh for the pity of it.
And the girls' laughter and the banging of the door as he went by,
what was it but a reminder of the proprieties and decencies that bound
him? A hint that he had pledged himself thrice over by that unlawful
peep?

It seemed to him that was the beginning of many unlawful glimpses,
discoveries of things he ought never to have seen. Was it that he was
more quick to see? Or that Flossie was less careful than she had been?
Or was it simply the result of living in this detestable
boarding-house, where, morally speaking, the doors were never shut?
Propinquity, that had brought them together, had done its best for
Flossie and its worst. It had revealed too little and too much. He had
only to forget her for a week, to come back and see her as she really
was; to wonder what he had ever seen in her. Her very prettiness
offended him. Her flagrantly feminine contours, once admired, now
struck him as exaggerated, as an emphasis of the charm which is most
subduing when subdued. As for her mind, good Heavens! Had it taken him
five years to discover that her mind was a _cul de sac_? When he came
to think of it, he had to own that intellectually, conversationally
even, he had advanced no farther with her than on the first day of
their acquaintance. There was something compact and immovable about
Flossie. In those five years he had never known her change or modify
an opinion of people or of things. And yet Flossie was not stupid, or
if she were her stupidity was a force; it had an invincible impetus
and sweep, dragging the dead weight of character behind it. It was
beginning to terrify him. In fact he was becoming painfully sensitive
to everything she said or did. Her little tongue was neither sharp nor
hard, and yet it hurt him every time it spoke. It did not always speak
good grammar. Sometimes, in moments of flurry or excitement, an
aspirate miscarried. Happily those moments were rare; for at bottom
Flossie's temperament was singularly calm. Remembering his own past
lapses, he felt that he was the last person to throw a stone at her;
but that reflection did not prevent a shudder from going down his back
every time it happened. And if her speech remained irreproachable, the
offending strain ran through all her movements. He disliked the way
she walked, and the way she sat down, the way she spread her skirts or
gathered them, the way she carried her body and turned her head, the
way her black eyes provoked a stare and then resented it, her changes
of posture under observation, the perpetual movement of her hands that
were always settling and resettling her hat, her hair, her veil; all
the blushings and bridlings, the pruderies and impertinences of the
pretty woman of her class, he disliked them all. He more than
disliked, he distrusted her air of over-strained propriety. He
detected in it the first note of falseness in her character. In a
thousand little things her instincts, her perceptions were at fault.

This was disagreeably borne in upon him that first Saturday after
Lucia's arrival, when he and Flossie were in the train going down to
Ealing. The compartment was packed with City men (how he wished
Flossie would turn her head and not her eyes if she must look at
them!); and as they got in at Earl's Court, one of them, a polite
person, gave up his seat to the lady. Flossie turned an unseeing eye
on the polite person, and took his seat with a superb pretence of
having found it herself after much search. And when Rickman said
"Thanks" to the polite person her indignant glance informed him that
she had expected support in her policy of repudiation.

"My dear Beaver," he said as he helped her on to the platform at
Ealing, "when you take another person's seat the least you can do is
to say Thank you."

"I _never_ speak to gentlemen in trains and buses. That's the way they
always begin."

"Good Heavens, the poor man was only being civil."

"Thank you. I've gone about enough to know what 'is kind of civility
means. I wasn't going to lay myself open to impertinence."

"I should have thought you'd gone about enough to know the
difference."

Flossie said nothing. She was furious with him for his failure to
defend her from the insulting advances of the City gentleman. But
perhaps she would hardly have taken it so seriously, if it had not
been significant to her of a still more intolerable desertion. Ada
Bishop had said something to her just before they started, something
that had been almost too much even for Flossie's complacency.

"I'm glad," she still heard Ada saying, "you're going to take him out
all day. If I were you I shouldn't let him see too much of that Miss
Harden."

There hadn't been much to take hold of in Ada's words, but Ada's
manner had made them unmistakable; and from that moment a little worm
had begun to gnaw at Flossie's heart.

And he, as he looked at her with that strange new sight of his that
was already bringing sorrow to them both, he said to himself that he
supposed it was her "going about," her sad acquaintance with unlovely
manners, that had made her as she was. Only how was it that he had
never noticed it before? Poor little girl; it was only last Saturday
when they had come back from looking over the house at Ealing that,
drawing upon all the appropriate resources of natural history, he had
called her a little vesper Vole, because she lived in a Bank and only
came out of it in the evening. What Flossie called him that time
didn't matter; it was her parsimony in the item of endearments that
provoked him to excesses of the kind. And now the thought of those
things made him furious; furious with himself; furious with Fate for
throwing Flossie in his way; furious with Flossie for being there. And
when he was ready to damn her because she was a woman, he melted, and
could have wept because she was a Beaver. Poor little girl; one day to
be called a vesper Vole, the next to be forgotten altogether, the next
to be remembered after this fashion.

And so they went on silently together, Flossie in pain because of the
little worm gnawing at her heart, he thinking many things, sad and
bitter and tender things, of the woman walking by his side. From time
to time she looked at him as she had looked at those City gentlemen,
not turning her head, but slewing the large dark of her eye into its
corner. Presently she spoke.

"You don't seem to have very much to say for yourself to-day."

"To-day? I'm not given to talking very much at any time."

"Oh, come, you don't seem to have any difficulty in talking to Miss
Harden. I've heard you. Wot a time you did sit yesterday. And you were
up there an hour or more before I came, I know."

"Three quarters of an hour, to be strictly accurate."

"Well, that was long enough, wasn't it?"

"Quite long enough for all I had to say."

Now that was playing into Flossie's hands, for it meant that he had
had nothing to say after her arrival. And she was sharp enough to see
it.

"That's all very well, Keith," said she, apparently ignoring her
advantage, "but Ada says they'll be talking if she keeps on asking you
up there just when she's all by herself. It's not the thing to do. I
wouldn't do it if it was me, no more would Ada."

"My dear child, Miss Harden may do a great many things that you and
Ada mayn't. Because, you see, she knows how to do them and you don't."

"Oh well, if you're satisfied. But it isn't very nice for me to 'ave
you talked about, just when we're going to be married, is it?"

"I think you needn't mind Ada. Miss Harden knows that I _have_ to see
her sometimes, and that I can't very well see her in any other way.
And I think you might know it too."

"Oh, don't you go thinking I'm jealous. I know _you're_ all right."

"If I'm all right, who's wrong?"

"Well--of course I understand what you want with _her_; but I can't
see what she wants with you."

"You _little_ fool. What should she want, except to help me?"

Flossie said nothing to that, for indeed her mind had not formulated
any clear charge against Miss Harden. Keith had annoyed her and she
wanted to punish him a little. She was also curious to see in what
manner the chivalry that had deserted her would defend Miss Harden.

He stood still and looked at her with brilliant, angry eyes.

"You don't understand a great deal, Flossie; but there's one thing you
_shall_ understand--You are not to say these things about Miss Harden.
Not that you'll do her any harm, mind, by saying them. Think for one
minute who and what she is, and you'll see that the only person you
are harming is yourself."

Flossie did think for a minute, and remembered that Lucia was the
daughter of a baronet and the cousin of an editor; and she did see
that this time she had gone a bit too far.

"And in injuring yourself, you know, you injure me," he said more
gently. "I don't know whether that will appeal at all to you."

It did appeal to her in the sense in which her practical mind
understood that injury.

"Do you really think she'll be able to help you to a good thing?"

He laughed aloud. "I think she'll help me to many good things. She has
done that already.

"Oh, well then, I suppose it's all right."

Though he said it was all right he knew that it was all wrong; that
she was all wrong too. He wondered again how it was that he had never
noticed it before. It seemed to him now that he must always have seen
it, and that he had struggled not to see it, as he was struggling now.

Struggle as he would, he knew that he was only putting off the
inevitable surrender. Putting off the moment that must face him yet,
at some turning of the stair or opening of a door, as they went from
room to room of the house that, empty, had once seemed to him
desirable, and now, littered with the solid irrevocable results of
Flossie's furnishing, inspired him with detestation and despair. How
could he ever live in it? He and his dream, the dream that Lucia had
told him was divorced from reality? She had told him too that his
trouble all lay there, and he remembered that then as now she had
advised a reconciliation. But better a divorce than reconciliation
with any of the realities that faced him now. Better even illusion
than these infallible perceptions. Better to be decently, charitably
blind where women are concerned, than to see them so; to see poor
Flossie as she was, a reality divorced from any dream.

A foolish train of thought that. As if he were only a dreamer. As if
it were a dream that had to do with it. As if his dream had not long
ago loved, followed, and embraced a divine reality. As if it had ever
fallen away after that one superb act of reconciliation.

He had done poor Flossie some injustice. She suffered in his eyes
because she came short, not of the dream, but of the reality. To be
placed beside Lucia Harden would have been a severe test for any
woman; but for Flossie it was cruelty itself. He had never subjected
her to that, not even in thought; for he felt that the comparison,
cruel to one woman, was profanation to the other. It was only feminine
Fate who could be so unkind as to put those two side by side, that he
might look well, and measure his love for Flossie by his love for
Lucia, seeing it too as it was. Maddox had not been far wrong there.
For anything spiritual in that emotion, he might as well have gone
back to Poppy Grace. Better; since between him and Flossie that gross
tie, once formed, could not be broken. Better; since there had at
least been no hypocrisy in his relations with the joyous Poppy. Better
anything than this baseness skulking under the superstition of
morality. If a man has no other feeling for an innocent woman than
that, better that a mill-stone should be hanged about his neck than
that he should offend by marrying her.

And yet there had been something finer and purer in this later love
than in the first infatuation of his youth. On that day, seven days
ago, the last day it had to live, he had been touched by something
more sacred, more immortal than desire. There had been no illusion in
the poetry that clothed the figure of a woman standing in an empty
room, dearer to her than the bridal chamber; a woman whose face grew
soft as her instinct outran the bridal terror and the bridal joy,
divining beyond love the end that sanctifies it.

But beyond all that again he could see that, whereas the love of all
other women had torn him asunder, the love of Lucia made him whole.
Poppy had drawn him by his senses; Flossie by his senses and his
heart; Lucia held him by his senses, his heart, his intellect, his
will, by his spirit, by his genius, by the whole man. Long after his
senses had renounced their part in her, the rest of him would cling to
her, satisfied and appeased. And but for Flossie it would have been so
even now. Though his senses had rest in Lucia's presence, their
longing for her was reawakened, not only by the thought of his
approaching marriage, but by the memory of that one moment when he had
realized the mystery of it, the moment of poor Flossie's
transfiguration, when he had seen through the thick material veil,
deep into the spiritual heart of love. With Lucia the veil had been
transparent from the first. It was not with her as it was with those
women who must wait for the hour of motherhood to glorify them. Of
those two years of his betrothal what was there that he would care to
keep? Only one immortal moment, that yet knew of the mortality before
and after it. While of the last seven days Lucia had made a whole
heavenly procession of ascending hours, every moment winged with the
immortal fire. Flying moments; but flame touched flame in flying, and
they became one life.

But he was going to marry Flossie.

And she, the child that was to have borne the burden of his genius and
his passion, poor little blameless victim of the imagination that
glorifies desire, how would it be with her in this empty house, empty
of the love she had looked for and would never find? How would it be
with him? Had he pledged himself to a life of falsehood, and had he
yet to know what torment awaited him at the hands of the avenging
truth? Truth, as he had once defined it, was the soul of the fact. It
was the fact that he was going to marry Flossie; but it was not the
truth. Only love could have given it a soul and made it true. If he
was bound to maintain that it had a soul when it hadn't, that was
where the falseness would come in.

Yet no. He might go mad by thinking about it, but life after all was
simpler than thought. Things righted themselves when you left off
thinking about them. He would be unhappy; but that could only make
Flossie unhappy if she cared for him. And in a year's time, when he
had left off thinking, she would have left off caring. He had shrewdly
divined that what Flossie chiefly wanted was to have children; or if
she did not want it, Nature wanted it for her, which came to the same
thing. As for mating her to a man of genius, that was just Nature's
wanton extravagance. Maddox had once said that any man would have done
as well, perhaps better; Flossie wouldn't care. Well, he would give
her children, and she would care for them. Indeed, he sincerely hoped
that for him she would not care. It would make things simpler.
Maddox, he remembered, had also said that she was the sort of woman
who would immolate her husband for her children; whereas Poppy--but
then, Maddox was a beast.

It never occurred for a moment to him to throw Flossie over. That, he
had settled once for all, could not now be done. Circumstances
conspired to make the thing irrevocable. Her utter dependence on him,
the fact that she had no home but the one he offered her, no choice
between marriage and earning her own living in a way she hated, the
flagrant half-domestic intimacy in which they had been living, more
than all, the baseness of his past love, and the inadequacy of his
present feeling for her, both calling on him to atone, all these
things made a promise of marriage as binding as the actual tie. Their
engagement might possibly have been broken off at any of its earlier
stages without profound dishonour. It was one thing to jilt a girl
within a decent interval of the first congratulations; another thing
altogether to abandon her with her trousseau on her hands. It had gone
so far that his failure at the last moment would be the grossest
insult he could offer her.

Gross indeed; yet not so gross but that he could think of one still
grosser--to let her marry him when he had no feeling to offer her but
such indifference as marriage deepens to disgust, or such disgust as
it tones down into indifference. Would he go on shuddering and wincing
as he had shuddered and winced to-day? Passion that might have
condoned her failings was out of the question; but would it be
possible to keep up the decent appearance of respect?

And yet he was going to marry her.

That was impressed on him by Flossie's voice saying that if he
wouldn't decide which of those two rooms was to be _their_ room, she
must. Because the men wanted to put up the bedstead.

It was an intimation that he was bound to her, not by any fine ties of
feeling or of honour, but by a stout unbreakable chain of material
facts. He looked out of the window. The vans were unloading in the
street. It seemed to him that there was something almost grossly
compromising in the wash-stand, dumped down there in the garden; and
as the bedstead was being borne into the house in portions,
reverentially, processionally, he surrendered before that supreme
symbol of finality. As he had made his bed, he must lie; even if it
was a brass bed with mother-o'-pearl ornaments; and he refused to
listen to the inner voice which suggested that the bed was not made
yet, it was not even paid for, and that he would be a fool to lie on
it. He turned sad eyes on the little woman so flushed and eager over
her packages. He had committed himself more deeply with every purchase
they had made that day. How carefully he had laboured at his own
destruction.

He had gone so far with these absurd reflections, that when Flossie
exclaimed, "There, after all I've forgotten the kitchen hammer," his
nerves relaxed their tension, and he experienced a sense of momentary
but divine release. And when she insisted on repairing her oversight
as they went back, he felt that the kitchen hammer had clinched the
matter; and that if only they had not bought it he might yet be free.

There was something in the Beaver's building, after all.




CHAPTER LIX


He did not appear that evening, not even to listen to Lucia's music,
for his misery was heavy upon him. Mercifully, he was able to forget
it for a while in attending to the work that waited for him; an
article for _The Planet_ to be written; proofs to correct and
manuscripts to look through for _Metropolis_; all neglected till the
last possible moment, which moment had now come. For once he reaped
the benefit of his reckless habits of postponement.

But four hours saw him through it; and midnight recalled him to his
care. Instead of undressing he refilled his lamp, made up his fire,
and drew his chair to the hearth. There was a question, put off, too,
like his work, from hour to hour, and silenced by the scuffling,
meaningless movements of the day. It related to the promise he had
made to Lucia Harden at the end of their last interview. He had then
said to her that, since she desired it, she should know what it was
that she had done for him. Hitherto he had determined that she should
not know it yet; not know it till death had removed from her his
embarrassing, preposterous personality. The gift of knowledge that she
might have refused from the man, she could then accept from the poet.
The only condition that honour, that chivalry insisted on was the
removal of the man. But there were other ways of getting rid of a man
besides the clumsy device of death. Might he not be considered to have
effaced himself sufficiently by marriage? As far as Lucia was
concerned he could see very little difference between the two
processes; in fact, marriage was, if anything, the safer. For the
important thing was that she should know somehow; that he should hand
over his gift to her before it was too late. And suppose--suppose he
should fail to remove himself in time? Beholding the years as they
now stretched before him, it seemed to him that he would never die.

There was another consideration which concerned his honour, not as a
man but as a poet. He knew what it was in him to do. The nature of the
gift was such that if he brought it to her to-day she would know that
he had given her his best; if he kept it till to-morrow it would be
his best no longer. Besides, it was only a gift when you looked at it
one way. He was giving her (as he believed) an immortal thing; but its
very immortality gave it a certain material value. The thing might be
sold for much, and its price might go far towards covering that debt
he owed her, or it might be held by her as a sort of security. He
could see that his marriage would be a hindrance to speedy payment on
any other system.

He rose, unlocked a drawer, and took from it the manuscript of the
nine and twenty sonnets and the sealed envelope that contained his
testament concerning them. He had looked at them but once since he had
put them away three years ago, and that was on the night of his
engagement. Looking at them again he knew he was not mistaken in his
judgement, when calmly, surely, and persistently he had thought of the
thing as immortal. But according to another condition that his honour
had laid down, its immortality depended upon her. At this point honour
itself raised the question whether it was fair to throw on her the
burden of so great a decision? She might hesitate to deny him so large
a part of his immortality, and yet object to being so intimately, so
personally bound up with it. He could see her delicate conscience
straining under the choice.

But surely she knew him well enough to know that he had left her free?
She would know that he could accept nothing from her pity, not even a
portion of his immortality. She would trust his sincerity; for that at
any rate had never failed her. And since what he had written he had
written, she would see that unless he destroyed it with his own hands
the decision as to publication must rest with her. It concerned her so
intimately, so personally, that it could not be given to the world
without her consent. Whether what he had written should have been
written was another matter. If she thought not, if her refinement
accused him of a sin against good taste, that would only make his
problem simpler. Even if her accusation remained unspoken, he would
know it, he would see it, through whatever web her tenderness wrapped
round it. His genius would contend against her judgement, would not
yield a point to her opinion, but his honour would take it as settling
the question of publication. In no case should she be able to say or
think that he had used his genius as a cover for a cowardly passion,
or that by compelling her admiration he had taken advantage of her
pride.

But would she say it or think it? Not she. He knew her. And if his
knowledge had brought much misery, it brought consolation too. Where
Lucia was concerned he had never been sustained by any personal
conceit; he had never walked vainly in the illusion of her love. At
that supreme point his imagination had utterly broken down; he had
never won from it a moment's respite from his intolerable lucidity.
There was a certain dignity about his despair, in that of all the
wonderful web of his dreams he had made no fine cloak to cover it. It
shivered and suffered in a noble nakedness, absolutely unashamed. But
one thing he knew also, that if Lucia did not love him, she loved his
genius. Even when lucidity made suffering unendurable, he had still
the assurance that his genius would never suffer at her hands. For did
she not know that God gives the heart of a poet to be as fuel to his
genius, for ever consumed and inconsumable? That of all his passions
his love is the nearest akin to the divine fire? She of all women
would never deny him the eternal right to utterance.

Neither could she well find fault with the manner of it. He went
through the sonnets again, trying to read them with her woman's eyes.
There was nothing, nothing, not an image, not a word that could
offend. Here was no "flaming orgy of individuality." He had chosen
purposely the consecrated form that pledged him to perfection, bound
him to a magnificent restraint.

There still remained the scruple as to the propriety of choosing this
precise moment for his gift. It was over-ridden by the invincible
desire to give, the torturing curiosity to know how she would take it.

One more last scruple, easily disposed of. In all this there was no
disloyalty to the woman he was going to make his wife. For the Sonnets
belonged to the past in which she had no part, and to the future which
concerned her even less.

The next day, then, at about five o'clock, the time at which Lucia had
told him she would be free, he came to her, bringing his gift with
him.

Lucia's face gladdened when she saw the manuscript in his hand; for
though they had discussed very freely what he had done once, he had
been rather sadly silent, she thought, as to what he was doing now. He
had seemed to her anxious to avoid any question on the subject. She
had wondered whether his genius had been much affected by his other
work; and had been half afraid to ask lest she should learn that it
was dead, destroyed by journalism. She had heard so much of the perils
of that career, that she had begun to regret her part in helping him
to it. So that her glance as it lighted on the gift was, he thought,
propitious.

He drew up his chair near her (he had not to wait for any invitation
to do that now), and she noticed the trembling of his hands as he
spread the manuscript on his knees. He had always been nervous in
approaching the subject of his poems, and she said to herself, "Has he
not got over that?"

Apparently he had not got over it; for he sat there for several
perceptible moments sunk in the low chair beside her, saying nothing,
only curling and uncurling the sheets with the same nervous movement
of his hand. She came to his help smiling.

"What is it? New poems?"

"No, I don't think I can call them new. I wrote them four or five
years ago."

He saw that some of the gladness died out of her face, and he wondered
why.

"Were you going to read them to me?"

"Good Heavens, no." He laughed the short laugh she had heard once or
twice before that always sounded like a sob.

"I don't want to read them to you. I want to give them to you--"

"To read?" She held out her hand.

"Yes, to read, of course, but not now."

The hand was withdrawn, evidently with some distressing consciousness
of its precipitancy.

"You said the other night that you would have been glad to know that
you had done something for me; and somehow I believe you meant it."

"I did, indeed."

"If you read these things you will know. There's no other way in which
I could tell you; for you will see that they are part of what you did
for me."

"I don't understand."

"You will, though, when you've read them. That," he said meditatively,
"is why I don't want you to read them now." But then it struck him
that he had blundered, introducing a passionate personal revelation
under the dangerous veil of mystery. He had not meant to say, "What
you have done for me was to make me love you," but, "I have done a
great thing, and what you did for me was to make me do it." For all
that she should know, or he acknowledge, the passion was the means,
not the end.

"I don't want to be cryptic, and perhaps I ought to explain a little.
I meant that you'll see that they're the best things I've written, and
that I should not have written them if it had not been for you. I
don't know whether you'll forgive me for writing them, but I think you
will. Because you'll understand that I had to."

"Have you published any of them?"

It seemed to him that the question was dictated by a sudden fear.

"Rather not. I want to talk to you about that later on, when you've
read them."

"When will you want them back?"

"I don't want them back at all. I brought them for you to keep."

"To keep?"

"Yes, if you care for them."

"But this is the original manuscript?" She was most painfully aware of
the value of the thing.

He smiled. "Yes, I couldn't give you a copy, because there isn't
one."

"What a reckless person you are. I must make a copy, then, and keep
that."

"That would spoil my pleasure and my gift, too. It's only valuable
because it's unique."

"Whatever it is it's sure to be that."

"I don't mean in that way altogether--" he hesitated, for he had
touched a part of his subject which had to be handled gently; and he
was aware that in handling it at all he was courting rejection of the
gift.

"And you are going to leave it with me now?"

"Yes."

She did not look up, but kept her eyes fixed on the sheets that lay in
her lap, her hands lightly covering them. Was it possible that her
finger-tips had caught the secret of the page beneath them and that
their delicate nerves had already carried it to her brain? Was she
considering what she was to do?

"You will see that one page is left blank; I couldn't fill it up till
I knew whether you would accept the dedication."

"I?" She looked up. She was no doubt surprised; but he thought he
could read something in her look that was deeper and sweeter than
surprise.

"If you could, it would give me great pleasure. It's the only
acknowledgement I can make for all your kindness."

"Please, please don't talk of my kindness."

"I won't. If it were any other book, it might be merely a question of
acknowledgement, but this book belongs to you."

"Are you quite sure--" She was about to question his right to offer
it, which was as good as questioning his honour, as good as assuming
that--She paused, horrified as she realized what it was that she had
almost assumed. Kitty had often told her that she erred through excess
of subtlety. It wouldn't have mattered with anybody less subtle than
Keith Rickman; but he would see it all. He did.

"Quite sure that I oughtn't to offer it to anybody else? I am quite
sure. It was written four years ago, before--before I knew anybody
else. It has nothing to do with anybody else, it couldn't have been
dedicated to anybody else. If you don't accept it--"

"But I do." Her eagerness was the natural recoil from her hesitation.
She was so anxious to atone for that shocking blunder she had made.

"I say, how you do take things on trust."

"Some things."

"But you mustn't. You can't accept the dedication of a book you
haven't read. Do you know, now I come to think of it, you've always
taken me on trust? Do you remember when first I came to you--it's more
than five years ago--you took me on trust then?" (Their talk had a way
of running to this refrain of 'Do you remember?') "Do you remember how
you said,' I must risk it'?"

"Yes, I remember how I insisted on keeping you, and how very unwilling
you were to be kept."

"Do you mind telling me what made you want to keep me? You didn't know
me in the least, you know."

"I wanted to keep you _because_ you didn't want to stay. I knew then
that I could trust you. But I confess that most people might not have
seen it in that way."

"Well, I can't let you take these sonnets on trust. For this time,
your principle doesn't apply, you see. You can't say you're accepting
this dedication because I don't want to give it to you." Though he
laughed he rose and backed towards the door, suddenly anxious to be
gone.

"Isn't it enough that I want to accept it?"

He shook his head, still backing, and at the door he paused to speak.
"You've accepted nothing--as yet."

"Of course," she said to herself, "it would have been wiser to have
read them first. But I can trust him."

But as she was about to read them a knock, a familiar knock at the
door interrupted her. "Kitty!"

She laid the manuscript hastily aside, well out of Kitty's roving
sight. She had noticed how his hands had trembled as he brought it;
she did not notice that her own shook a little in thus putting it away
from her.

Kitty Palliser, up in town for a week, had come less on her own
account than as an impetuous ambassador from the now frantic Edith.
She too was prepared to move heaven and earth, if only she could
snatch her Lucy from Tavistock Place. But her anxiety was not wholly
on Lucia's account, as presently appeared.

"How can you stand it for a minute?" said she.

"I'm standing it very well indeed."

"But what on earth do you find to do all day long, when," said Kitty
severely, "you're _not_ talking to young Rickman?"

"All day long I go out, or lie down and read, or talk to Sophie."

"And in the evenings?"

"In the evenings sometimes I make an old man happy by playing."

"And I expect you're making a young man unhappy by playing, too--a
very dangerous game."

"Kitty, that young man is perfectly happy. He's going to be married."

"All the worse. Then you'll make a young woman unhappy as well. This
little game would be dangerous enough with a man of your own set. It
isn't fair to play it with him, Lucy, when you know the rules and he
doesn't."

"I assure you, Kitty, he knows them as well as you or I do; better."

"I doubt it." Kitty's eyes roamed round the room (they had not lost
their alert and hungry look) and they took in the situation at a
glance. That move in the game would never have been made if he had
known the rules. How could she let him make it?

"Really, Lucy, for a nice woman you do the queerest things."

"And, really, Kitty, for a clever woman, you say the stupidest. You're
getting like Edith."

"I am not like Edith. I only say stupid things. She thinks them.
What's more, in thinking them she only thinks of herself and her
precious family. I'm thinking of you, dear, and"--Kitty's voice grew
soft--"and of him. You ought to think of him a little too."

"I _do_ think of him. I've been thinking of him all the time."

"I know you have. But don't let him suffer because of the insanely
beautiful way you have of thinking."

There was a pause, in which it was evident to Kitty that Lucia was
thinking deeply, and beautifully too.

"Have I made him suffer? I'm afraid I did once. He was valuable, and
I damaged him."

"Yes; and ever since you've been trying to put him together again; in
your own way, not his. That's fatal."

Lucia shook her head and followed her own train of thought. "Kitty, to
be perfectly honest, I think--I'm not sure, but I think--from
something he said to-day that you were right about him once. I mean
about his beginning to care too much. I'm afraid it was so, at
Harmouth, towards the end. But it isn't so any more. He tried to tell
me just now. He did it beautifully; as if he knew that that would make
me happier. At least I think that's what he meant. He didn't say much,
but I'm sure he was thinking about his marriage."

"Heaven help his wife then--if he got as far as that. I suppose you
take a beautiful view of her, too? Drop it, for goodness' sake, drop
it."

"Not I. It would mean dropping him. It's all right, Kitty. You don't
know the ways of poets."

"Perhaps not. But I know the ways of men."

Though Kitty had not accomplished her mission she so far prevailed
that she carried her Lucy off to dinner.

It was somewhere towards midnight, when all the house was quiet, that
Lucia first looked into Keith Rickman's sonnets. She had been led to
expect something in the nature of a personal revelation, and the first
sonnet struck the key-note, gave her the clue.

    I asked the minist'ring priests who never tire
      In love's high service, who behold their bliss
      Through golden gloom of Love's dread mysteries,
    What heaven there be for earth's foregone desire?

    And they kept silence. But the gentle choir
      Who sing Love's praises answered me, "There is
      No voice to speak of these deep sanctities,
    For Love hath sealed his servants' lips with fire."

    Yet in his faithfulness put thou thy faith,
      Though he hath bound thee in the house of pain,
        And given thy body to the scourging years,
        And brought thee for thy thirst the drink of tears,
    That sorrowing thou shouldst serve him unto death;
      For when Love reigneth, all his saints shall reign.

She kindled and flamed, her whole being one inspired and burning
sympathy. She knew what it was all about. She was on the track of a
Poet's Progress in quest of the beloved Perfection, Beauty and Truth
in one. Of those nine and twenty sonnets she looked for a score that
should make immortal the moments of triumph and of vision, the moments
of rapture and fulfilment of the heart's desire. Her glance fell now
on two lines that clearly pointed to the goal of those who travel on
the divine way--

    --Elysian calm and passion with no stain
        Of mortal tears, no touch of mortal pain--

She hoped he had reached it. And more than that she hoped. She was
ignorant of what his life had been before he knew her; but the _Song
of Confession_ had made her realize that besides this way where the
poet went invincibly there was another where the man desired to go,
where, as they were so ready to tell her, he had not always gone. But
that was before she knew him. She hoped (taking her beautiful view)
that in this gift of his he had meant to give to her who understood
him some hint or sign that he had come near it also, the way of
Righteousness. She looked to find many sonnets dealing with these
secret matters of the soul. Therefore she approached them fearlessly,
since she knew what they were all about. And since, in that curious
humility of the man that went so oddly with the poet's pride, he had
so exaggerated his obligation, taking, as he said, the will for the
deed and making of her desire to serve him a service actually done;
since his imagination had played round her for a moment as it played
round all things, transforming, magnifying, glorifying, she might
perhaps find one sonnet of dedication to her who had understood him.

But when she had read them all, she saw, and could not help seeing,
that the whole nine and twenty were one continuous dedication--and to
her. If she had found what she looked for, she found also that a
revelation had been made to her of things even more sacred, more
personal; a revelation that was in its way unique. He had hidden
nothing, kept back nothing, not one moment of that three-weeks'
passion (for so she dated it). It was all laid before her as it had
been; all its immortal splendour, and all its mortal suffering and its
shame. Not a line (if she could have stayed to think of that), not a
word that could offend her taste or hurt her pride. The thing was
perfect. She understood why it had been shown to her. She understood
that he wanted to tell her that he had loved her. She understood that
he never would have told her if it had not been all over. It was
because it was all over that he had brought her this, to show her how
great a thing she had done for him, she who thought she had done
nothing. As she locked the sonnets away in a safe place for the night,
in her heart there was a great pride and a still greater thankfulness
and joy. Joy because it was all over, pride because it had once been,
and thankfulness because it had been given her to know.

And in his room behind the wall that separated them the poet walked up
and down, tortured by suspense; and said to himself over and over
again, "I wonder how she'll take it."




CHAPTER LX


That was on a Thursday. It had been arranged earlier in the week that
Flossie and he were to dine with Lucia on Friday evening. On Saturday
and Sunday the Beaver would be let loose, and would claim him for her
own. He could not hope to see Lucia alone before Monday evening; his
suspense, then, would have to endure for the better part of four days.
He had nothing to hope for from Friday evening. Lucia's manner was too
perfect to afford any clue as to how she had taken it. If she were
offended she would hardly let him see it before Flossie and Miss
Roots. If she accepted, there again the occasion forbade her to give
any sign to one of her guests that should exclude the other two.
Still, it was just possible that he might gather something from her
silence.

But as it happened, he had not even that to go upon. Never had Lucia
been less silent than on Friday night. Not that she talked more than
usual, but that all her looks, all her gestures spoke. They spoke of
her pleasure in the happiness of her friend; of tenderness to the
little woman whom he loved (so little and he so great); of love that
embraced them both, the great and the little, a large, understanding
love that was light and warmth in one. For Lucia believed firmly that
she understood. She had always desired him to be happy, to be
reconciled to the beautiful and glorious world; she had tried to bring
about that reconciliation; and she conceived herself to have failed.
And now because the thing had been done so beautifully, so perfectly
(if a little unexpectedly), by somebody else, because she was relieved
of all anxiety and responsibility, Lucia was rejoicing with all her
heart.

He had not been five minutes in the room before he saw it all. Lucia
believed that it was all over, and was letting herself go, carried
away by the spectacle of a supreme and triumphal happiness. She
triumphed too. Her eyes when they looked at him seemed to be saying,
"Didn't I tell you so?"

He saw why they had been asked to dinner. The spirit of the bridal
hour was upon her, and she had made a little feast to celebrate it.
Like everything she did, it was simple and beautiful and exquisite of
its kind. And yet it was not with that immaculate white linen cloth,
spread on Keith's writing-table, strewn with slender green foliage and
set out with delicate food and fruit and wine, nor with those white
flowers, nor with those six shaded candles, that she had worked the
joyous tender charm. These things, in her hands and in his eyes,
became sacramental, symbolic of Lucia's soul with its pure thoughts
and beautiful beliefs, its inspired and burning charities.

And the hero of this feast of happiness sat at her right hand, facing
his little bride-elect, a miserable man consumed with anguish and
remorse. He had never had so painful a sense of the pathos of his
Beaver. For if anybody was happy it was she. Flossie was aware that it
was her hour, and that high honour was being paid to her. Moreover, he
could see for the moment that the worm had ceased to gnaw, and that
she had become the almost affectionate thrall of the lady whose motto
was _Invictus_. She had been forced (poor little girl) to anticipate
her trousseau in order to attire herself fitly for the occasion, and
was looking remarkably pretty in her way. She sat very upright, and
all her demeanour was irreproachably modest, quiet and demure. Nothing
could have been more correct than her smile, frequent, but so
diminutive that it just lifted her upper lip and no more. No insight,
no foreboding troubled her. Her face, soft and golden white in the
candlelight, expressed a shy and delicate content. For Flossie was a
little materialist through and through. Her smooth and over feminine
body seemed to have grown smoother and more feminine still under the
touch of pleasure; all that was hard and immobile in her melting in
the sense of well-being.

It was not merely that Flossie was on her good behaviour. His
imagination (in league with his conscience) suggested that the poor
child, divinely protected by the righteousness of her cause, was
inspired to confound his judgement of her, to give no vantage ground
to his disloyalty, to throw him defenceless on his own remorse. Or was
it Lucia who inspired her? Lucia, whose loving spirit could create the
thing it loved, whose sweetness was of so fine and piercing a quality
that what it touched it penetrated. He could not tell, but he thanked
Heaven that at least for this hour which was hers the little thing was
happy. He, for his part, by unprecedented acts of subterfuge and
hypocrisy, endeavoured to conceal his agony.

Miss Roots alone divined it. Beyond looking festive in a black silk
gown and a kind of white satin waistcoat, that clever lady took a
strained and awkward part in the rejoicing. He was inclined to think
that the waistcoat committed her to severity, until he became aware
that she was watching him with a furtive sympathy in the clever eyes
that saw through his pitiful play. How was it that Lucia, she who once
understood him, could not divine him too?

From this estranging mood he was roused by the innocent laughter of
the Beaver. He was aware of certain thin and melancholy sounds that
floated up from some room below. They struggled with the noises of the
street, overcame, and rose strident and triumphant to invade the
feast. They seemed to him in perfect keeping with the misery and
insanity of the hour.

It was Mr. Partridge playing on his flute.

Miss Roots looked at Lucia. "That's you, Lucy. You've been talking to
him about that flute. I suppose you told him you would love to hear
him play it?"

"No, Sophie, I didn't tell him that." But Lucy looked a little guilty.
The flute rose as if in passionate protest against her denial. It
seemed to say "You did! You know you did!"

"I only said it was a pity he'd given it up, and I meant it. But oh!"
and Lucy put her hands up to her ears, "I don't mean it any more."

"That comes," said Rickman, "of taking things on trust."

She smiled and shook her head. It was her first approach to a sign of
reassurance.

"That's the sort of thing she's always doing. It doesn't matter for
you, Lucy. You won't have to stay on and hear him."

"I don't know. I think I shall stay on. You see, Mr. Rickman, I can't
part with this pretty room."

"Do you like it?"

"I like it very much indeed. You're all coming to dine with me here
again some day."

"And you must come and dine with us, Miss Harden, when we've got
settled." It was Flossie who spoke.

"I shall be delighted."

He looked up, surprised. He could not have believed the Beaver could
have done it so prettily. He had not even realized that it could be
done at all. It never occurred to him that his marriage could bring
him nearer to Lucia Harden. He looked kindly at the Beaver and blessed
her for that thought. And then a thought bolder than the Beaver's came
to him. "I hope," he said, "you'll do more than that. You must come
and stay with us in the summer. You shall sit out in a deck-chair in
the garden all day. That's the way to get strong."

Then he remembered that she could do that just as well in someone
else's garden up at Hampstead, and he looked shy and anxious as he
added, "Will you come?"

"Of course I'll come," said she.

He saw her going through the house at Ealing and sitting in the little
green garden with the lilac bushes about her all in flower. And at the
thought of her coming he was profoundly moved. His eyes moistened, and
under the table his knees shook violently with the agitation of his
nerves. Miss Roots gave one queer little glance at him and another at
Flossie, and the moment passed.

And Lucia had not divined it. No, not for a moment, not even in the
moment of leave-taking. She was still holding Flossie's hand in hers
when her eyes met his, kind eyes that were still saying almost
triumphantly, "I told you so."

As she dropped Flossie's hand for his, she answered the question that
he had not dared to ask. "I've read them," she said, and there was no
diminution in her glad look.

"When may I see you?"

"To-morrow, can you? Any time after four?"




CHAPTER LXI


He came into Lucia's presence with a sense of doing something
voluntary and yet inevitable, something sanctioned and foreappointed;
a sense of carrying on a thing already begun, of returning, through a
door that had never been shut, to the life wherein alone he knew
himself. And yet this life, measured by days and hours and counting
their times of meeting only, ran hardly to six weeks.

Since times and places were of no account, he might have been coming,
as he came five years ago, to hear her judgement on his neo-classic
drama. Strange and great things had happened to his genius since that
day. Between _Helen in Leuce_ and the Nine and Twenty Sonnets there
lay the newly discovered, heavenly countries of the soul.

"Well," he said, glancing at the poems, as he seated himself. "What do
you think of them? Am I forgiven? Do you consent?"

"So many questions? They're all answered, aren't they, if I say I
consent?"

"And do you?" There was acute anxiety in his voice and eyes. It struck
her as painful that the man, whom she was beginning to look on as
possibly the greatest poet of his age, should think it necessary to
plead to her for such a little thing.

"I do indeed."

"Without reservations?"

"What reservations should there be? Of course I could only be
glad--and proud--that you should do me so much honour. If I can't say
very much about it, don't think I don't feel it. I feel it more than I
can say."

"Do you really mean it? I was afraid that it might offend you; or
that you'd think I oughtn't to have written the things; or at any rate
that I'd no business to show them to you. And as for the dedication, I
couldn't tell how you'd feel about that."

And she, having before her eyes the greatness of his genius, was
troubled by the humility and hesitation of his approach. It recalled
to her the ways of his pathetic youth, his youth that obscurity made
wild and shy and unassured.

"I can't tell either," she replied, "I don't know whether I ought to
feel proud or humble about it; but I think I feel both. Your wanting
to dedicate anything to me would have been enough to make me very
proud. Even if it had been a little thing--but this thing is great. In
some ways it seems to me the greatest thing you've done yet. I did
think just at first that I ought perhaps to refuse because of that.
And then I saw that, really, that was what made it easy for me to
accept. It's so great that the dedication doesn't count."

"But it _does_ count. It's the only thing that counts to me. You can't
take it like that and separate it from the rest. Those sonnets would
still be dedicated to you even if you refused to let me write your
name before them. I want you to see that they _are_ the dedication."

Lucia shook her head. She had seen it. She could see nothing else when
she read them. How was it that the poet's bodily presence made her
inclined to ignore the reference to herself; to take these poems
dedicated to her as an event, not in her life or his, but in the
history of literature?

"No," she said, "you must not look at them that way. If they were, it
might be a reason for refusing. I know most people would think they'd
less right to accept what wasn't really dedicated to them. But, you
see, it's just because it isn't really dedicated to me that I can
accept it."

"But it is--"

"No, not to me. You wouldn't be so great a poet if it were. I don't
see myself here; but I see you, and your idea of me. It's--it's
dedicated to that dream of yours. Didn't I tell you your dream was
divorced from reality?"

"You told me it would be reconciled to it."

"And it is, isn't it? And the reality is worth all the dreams that
ever were?"

He could have told her that so it appeared to those who are bound in
the house of bondage; but that in Leuce, the country of deliverance,
the dream and the reality are indivisible, being both divine. He could
have told her that he had known as much five years ago; even before he
knew her.

"After all," he said, "that's admitting that they _are_ divided. And
that, if you remember, was what I said, not what you said."

Lucia evaded the issue in a fashion truly feminine. "It doesn't matter
a bit what either of us said then, so long as _you_ know now."

"There's one thing I don't know. I don't know how you really take it;
or whether you will really understand. Just now I thought you did, But
after all it seems you don't. You think I'm only trying to pay you a
stupid literary compliment. You think when I wrote those things I
didn't mean them; my imagination was simply taking a rather more
eccentric flight than usual. Isn't that so?"

"I'm certainly allowing for your imagination. I can't forget that you
are a poet. You won't let me forget it. I can't separate your genius
from the rest of you."

"And I can't separate the rest of me from it. That makes the
difference, you see." He was angry as he said that. He had wondered
whether she would deal as tenderly with his passion as she had dealt
with his dream; and she had dealt just as tenderly. But it was because
she identified the passion with the dream. He had not been prepared
for that view of it; and somehow it annoyed him. But for that, he
would never have spoken as he now did. "When I wondered how you would
take it I thought it might possibly strike you as something rather too
real, almost offensively so. Do you know, I'd rather you'd taken it
that way than that you should talk about my dreams. My _dreams_." (It
was shocking, the violent emphasis of disgust the poet, the dreamer,
flung into that one word.) "As if I'd dreamed that I knew you. As if
I'd dreamed that I cared for you. Would you rather think I dreamed it?
You can if you like. Or would you rather think it was the most real
thing that ever happened to me? So real that after it happened--_because_
it happened--I left off being the sort of man and the sort of poet I
was, and became another sort. So real and so strong that it saved me
from one or two other things, uncommonly strong and real, that had got
a pretty tight hold of me, too. Would you rather think that you'd
really done this for me, or that I'd dreamed it all?"

She looked at his face, the unforgotten, unforgetable face, which when
she first knew it had kindled and darkened so swiftly and
inexplicably. She knew it now. She held the key of all its mysteries.
It was the face that had turned to her five years ago with just that
look; in the mouth and lifted chin that imperious impetuous
determination to make her see; in the eyes that pathetic trust in her
seeing. The same face; and yet it would have told her, if he had not,
that he was another man. No, not another man; but of all the ways that
were then open to him to take he had chosen the noblest. And so, of
all the expressions that in its youth had played on that singularly
expressive face, it was the finest only that had become dominant. That
face had never lied to her. Why should he not plead for the sincerity
of his passion, since it was all over now? Was it possible that there
was some secret insincerity in her? How was it that she had made him
think that she desired to ignore, to repudiate her part in him? That
she preferred a meaningless compliment to the confession which was the
highest honour that could be paid to any woman? Was it because the
honour was so great that she was afraid to take it?

"Of course I would rather think it was really so."

"Then you must believe that I really cared for you; and that it is
only because I cared that it is really so."

"I do believe it. But I can't take it all to myself. Another person
might have cared just as much, and it might have done him harm--I
would never have forgiven myself if I had done you harm--I want you to
see that it wasn't anything in _me_; it was something in _you_ that
made the difference."

He smiled sadly. "You know it _does_ sound as if you wanted to keep
out of it."

"Does it? If I had really been in it, do you think that I wouldn't be
glad and thankful? I am, even for the little that I have done. Even
though I know another woman might have done as much, or more, I'm glad
I was the one. But, you see, I didn't know I was in it at all. I
didn't know the sort of help you wanted. Perhaps, if I had known, I
couldn't have helped you. But my knowing or not knowing doesn't matter
one bit. If I _did_ help you--that way--I helped some one else too. At
least I should like to think I did. I should like to think that one
reason why you care for your wife so much is because you cared a
little for me. There is that way of looking at it." Then, lest she
should seem to be seeking some extraneous justification of a fact that
in her heart she abhorred, she added, "Every way I look at it I'm
glad. I'm glad that you cared. I'm glad because it's been, and glad
because it's over. For if it hadn't been over--"

"What were you going to say?"

"I was going to say that if it hadn't been over you couldn't have
given me these. I didn't say it; because it would have sounded as if
that were all I cared about. As if I wouldn't have been almost as glad
if you'd never written a line of them. Only in that case I should
never have known."

"No. You would never have known."

"I think I should have been glad, even if the poems had been--not very
good poems."

"You wouldn't have known in that case either. I wouldn't have shown
them to you if they had not been good. As it is, when I wrote them I
never meant to show them to you."

"Oh, but I think--"

"Of course you do. But I wasn't going to print them before you'd seen
them. Do you know what I'd meant to do with them--what in fact I _did_
do with them? I left them to you in my will with directions that they
weren't to be published without your consent. It seems a rather
unusual bequest, but you know I had a conceited hope that some time
they might be valuable. I don't know whether they would have sold for
three thousand pounds--I admit it was a draft on posterity that
posterity might have dishonoured--but I thought they might possibly go
a little way towards paying my debt."

"Your debt? I don't understand." But the trembling of her mouth belied
its words.

"Don't you? Don't you remember?"

"No, I don't. I never _have_ remembered."

"Probably not. But you can hardly suppose that I've forgotten it."

"What has it to do with you, or me--or this?"

"Not much, perhaps; but still something, you'll admit."

"I admit nothing. I can't bear your ever having thought of it. I wish
you hadn't told me. It spoils everything."

"Does it? Such a little thing? Surely a friend might be allowed to
leave you a small legacy when he was decently dead? And it wasn't
_his_ fault, was it, if it paid a debt as well?"

The tears rose in her eyes to answer him.

"But you see I didn't leave it. I didn't wait for that. I was afraid
that my being dead would put you in a more embarrassing position than
if I'd been alive. You might have hated those poems and yet you might
have shrunk from suppressing them for fear of wounding the immortal
vanity of a blessed spirit. Or you might have taken that horrid
literary view I implored you not to take. You might have hesitated to
inflict so great a loss on the literature of your country." He tried
to speak lightly, as if it were merely a whimsical and extravagant
notion that he should be reckoned among the poets. And yet in his
heart he knew that it must be so. "But now the things can't be
published unless you will accept them as they were originally meant.
There's nothing gross about the transaction; nothing that need offend
either you or me."

"I can't--I can't--"

"Well," he said gently, fearing the appearance of grossness in
pressing the question, "we can settle that afterwards, can't we?
Meanwhile at all events the publication rests with you."

"The publication has nothing whatever to do with me--The dedication,
_perhaps_."

"You've accepted that. Still, you might object to your name appearing
before the public with mine."

Lucia looked bewildered. She thought she had followed him in all his
subtleties; but she had had difficulty in realizing that he was
actually proposing to suppress his poems in deference to her
scruples, if she had any. Some shadowy notion of his meaning was
penetrating her now.

"My name," she said, "will mean nothing to the public."

"Then you consent?"

"Of course. It's absurd to talk about my consent. Besides, why should
I mind now--when it is all over?"

He was silent for a moment. When he spoke again, it was by an effort,
as if he unwillingly obeyed some superior constraint. "If it hadn't
been all over would you have minded then? Would you have refused your
consent?"

"To your publishing your own poems? How could I?"

"To the dedication, I mean. If it hadn't been all over, would you have
given your consent to that?"

His anxiety had deepened to an agony which seemed to have made his
face grow sharp and thin almost as she looked at him. She judged that
this question was vital, and that the truth was required of her.

"No, not to that. You see, it's only because it's all over that I've
consented now."

"I see; that's the condition? You would never have consented but for
that."

"Why should we talk about that now?"

"I wanted to know the truth."

"Why should you? It's a truth that has nothing to do with things as
they are, only with things as they might have been. Isn't it enough to
be glad that they weren't, that it is all over, and that this is the
end of it?"

Even as she said the words it struck her that there was something
ominous in this reiteration.

"But it isn't all over. This isn't the end of it."

His voice was so low that she could hardly have heard it but for the
intense vibration of the tones. There was a pause in which they seemed
still to be throbbing, but with no meaning behind the passionate pulse
of sound.

"I didn't mean to tell you. I know you'd rather think it wasn't so.
And I would have let you think it if it hadn't been for what you told
me--what I made you tell me."

"I don't understand. What did I tell you?"

"You told me the truth." He spoke with a sudden savage energy. "How
could I go on lying after that?"

She looked at him with that almost imperceptible twitching of her
soft mouth which he knew to be a sign of suffering; and in her eyes
there was pain and a vague terror.

"I might have gone on lying to the end, if nothing had depended on it.
But if you tell me that you only give your consent to a thing on one
condition, and I know that I can't possibly fulfil the condition, what
am I to do? Say nothing about it, and do what you would loathe me for
doing if you knew?"

Till now she had left the manuscript lying in her lap, where
unconsciously her hands covered it with a gentle protecting touch. But
as he spoke she took it up and put it away from her with an
irresistible impulse of rejection. He knew that he was answered.

"If I had," he said, "in one sense I should have done you no wrong.
All this would be nothing to the world which would read these poems.
But when I knew that it made all the difference to _you_--"

She turned, as he had seen her turn once and only Once before, in
reproach that was almost anger.

"To me? Do you suppose I'm thinking of myself?"

"Perhaps not. That doesn't prevent my thinking of you. But I was
thinking of myself, too. Supposing I had done this thing that you
would have loathed; even though you had never known it, I should have
felt that I had betrayed your trust, that I had taken something from
you that I had no right to take, something that you would never have
given me if you had known. What was I to do?"

She did not answer him. Once before, he remembered, when his honour
was in difficulties, she had refused to help it out, left it to
struggle to the light; which was what it did now.

"It would have been better to have said nothing and done nothing."

He expected her to close instantly with that view of his behaviour
which honour had presented as the final one, but this she did not do.

"If you had said nothing you might have done what you liked."

"I see. It's my saying it that makes the difference?"

"That is _not_ what I meant. I meant that you were free to publish
what you have written. You are not free to say these things to me."

"For the life of me I don't know why I said them. It means perdition
for my poems and for me. I knew that was all I had to gain by telling
you the truth."

"But it _isn't_ the truth. You know it isn't. You don't even think it
is."

"And if it were, would it be so terrible to you to hear it?"

She did not answer. She only looked at him, as if by looking she could
read the truth. For his face had never lied.

He persisted. "If it were true, what would you think of me?"

"I should think it most dishonourable of you to say so. But it isn't
true."

He smiled. "Therefore it can't be dishonourable of me to say so."

"No, not that. You are not dishonourable; therefore it can't be true.
Let us forget that you ever said it."

"But I can't forget that it's true any more than I can make it untrue.
You think me dishonourable, because you think I've changed. But I
haven't changed. It always was so, ever since I knew you; and that's
more than five years ago now. I am dishonourable; but that's not where
the dishonour comes in. _The_ dishonourable thing would have been to
have left off caring for you. But I never did leave off. There never
was a minute when it wasn't true, nor a minute when I didn't think it.
If I was sure of nothing else I was always sure of that. Where the
dishonour came in was in caring for another woman, in another way."

"The dishonour would come in if you'd left off caring for her. And you
haven't done that. It would come in a little now, I think, if you said
that you didn't care. But you don't say it; you don't even think it.
Shall I tell you the truth? You've let your genius get too strong a
hold over you. You've let it get hold, too, of this feeling that you
had for me. And now, though you know perfectly well--as well as I
do--that it's all over, your genius is trying to persuade you that the
feeling is still there when it isn't."

"That is not so, but you can say it is, if it makes you any happier."

"It does make me happier to think that it's your genius, not you, that
says these things. For I can forgive your genius; but I couldn't have
forgiven you."

At that moment he felt a savage jealousy of his genius, because she
loved it. "And yet, you said a little while ago you couldn't separate
the two."

"You have obliged me to separate them, to find an excuse for you. This
ought not to have happened; but it could not have happened to a man
who was not a poet."

All the time she was miserably aware that she was trying to defend
herself with subtleties against the impact of a terrible reality. And
because that reality must weigh more heavily on him than her, she was
trying to defend him too, against himself, to force on him, against
himself, her own subtilizing, justifying view.

But his subtlety was a match for hers. "Your cousin once did me the
honour to say I was one-seventh part a poet, and upon my honour I
prefer his estimate to yours."

"What is mine?"

"That I'm nothing but a poet. That there wasn't enough of me left over
to make a man."

"That is not my estimate, and you know it. I think you so much a man
that your heart will keep you right, even though your genius has led
you very far astray."

"Is that all you know about it?"

"Well, I'm not sure that it is your genius, this time. I rather think
it's your sense of honour. I believe you think that because you once
cared for me you've got to go on caring, lest I should accuse you of
being faithless to your dream." ("Surely," she said to herself, "I've
made it easy for him now?")

But the word was too much for him. "For Goodness' sake don't talk to
me any more about my dream. You may think any mortal thing you like
about me, so long as you don't do that."

She smiled faintly, as if with an effort at forbearance. "Very well
then, I won't talk about your dream. I'll say you were afraid lest I
should think you had been faithless to _me_. It would never have
occurred to you if you hadn't seen me again. It will not occur to you
after I am gone. It will be all over by to-morrow."

"Why to-morrow?" He spoke stupidly. Fear had made him stupid. "Why
to-morrow?"

"Because I am going to-morrow."

Then he knew that it was indeed all over. The door which had been open
to him was about to close; and once closed it would never be open to
him again.

"What _must_ you think of me--"

"I think you have done very wrong, and that our talking about it only
makes it worse. And so--I'm sorry--but I must ask you to leave me."

But he did not leave her. "And I must ask you to forgive me," he said
gently.

"I? I have nothing to forgive. You haven't done anything to me. But I
should never forgive you if I thought this foolishness could make one
moment's difference to--to Flossie."

"It never has made any difference to her," he replied coldly, "or to
my feeling for her. I never felt towards any woman as I feel towards
you. It isn't the same thing at all. Heaven knows I thought I cared
enough for her to marry her. But it seems I didn't. That's why I say
it makes no difference to her. Nothing is altered by it. As far as
Flossie is concerned, whether I marry her or not I shall have behaved
abominably. I don't know which is the more dishonourable."

"Don't you?"

"No. I only know which I'm going to do."

She turned her head away. And that turning away was intolerable. It
was the closing of the door.

"Is it so very terrible to you?" he said gently.

He could not see the tears in her eyes, but he heard them in her
voice, and he knew that he had wounded her, Hot in her pride, but in
her tenderness and honour--Lucia's honour.

"To me? I'm not thinking of myself--not of myself at all. How could I
think of myself? I'm thinking of _her_." She turned to him and let her
tears gather in her eyes unheeded. "Don't you see what you've done?"

Oh, yes; he saw very well what he had done. He had taken the
friendship she had given to him to last his life and destroyed it in a
moment, with his own hands. All for the sake of a subtlety, a
fantastic scruple, a question asked, a thing said under some obscure
compulsion. He had been moved by he knew not what insane urgency of
honour. And whatever else he saw he did not see how he could have done
otherwise. The only alternative was to say nothing, to do nothing.
Supposing he had suppressed both his passion and the poems that
immortalized it, what would she have thought of him then? Would she
not have thought that he had either dedicated to her a thing that he
was afterwards ashamed of, or that he had meant nothing by the
dedication?

"Don't you see what you have done?" she said. "You've made me wish I
had never come here and that I'd never seen you again. It was only the
other night--the dear little girl--she came up here and sat with me,
and we had a talk. We talked about you. She told me how she came to
know you, and how good you'd been to her and how long it was before
either of you knew. She told me things about herself. She is very
shy--very reserved--but she let me see how much she cares--and how
much you care. Think what you must be to her. She has no father and no
mother, she has nobody but you. She told me that. And then--she took
me up to her room and showed me all her pretty things. She was so
happy--and how can I look at her again? She would hate me if she knew;
and I couldn't blame her, poor child. She could never understand that
it was not my fault."

But as she said it her conscience rose in contradiction and told her
that it was her fault. Her fault in the very beginning for drawing him
into an intimacy that his youth and inexperience made dangerous. Her
fault for sacrificing, yes, sacrificing him to that impulse to give
pleasure which had only meant giving pleasure to herself at his
expense. Her fault for endlessly refining on the facts of life, till
she lost all feeling of its simpler and more obvious issues. Kitty had
been right when she told her that she treated men as if they were
disembodied spirits. She had trusted too much to her own subtlety.
That was how all her blunders, had been made. If she had been cold as
well as subtle--but Lucia was capable of passionate indiscreet things
to be followed by torments of her pride. Her pride had only made
matters worse. It was her pride, in the beginning, that had blinded
her. When she had told Kitty that she was not the sort of woman to let
this sort of thing happen with this sort of man, she had summed up her
abiding attitude to one particular possibility. She had trusted to the
social gulf to keep her safe, apart. Afterwards, she knew that she had
not trusted so much to the social gulf. She had not been quite so
proud; neither, since Kitty had opened her eyes, had she been so
blind; but she had been ten times more foolish. Her mind had refused
to dwell upon Kitty's dreadful suggestions, because they were
dreadful. Unconscious of her sex, she had remained unconscious of her
power; she had trusted (unconsciously) to the power of another woman
for protection. Flossie had, so to speak, detached and absorbed the
passionate part of Keith Rickman; by which process the rest of him was
left subtler and more pure. She had thought she could really deal with
him now as a disembodied spirit. And so under the shelter of his
engagement she had, after her own manner, let herself go.

These thoughts swept through her brain like one thought, as she
contemplated the misery she had made. They came with the surging of
the blood in her cheeks, so swiftly that she had no time to see that
they hardly exhausted the aspects of her case. And it was not her own
case that she was thinking of.

She turned to him pleading. "Don't you see that I could never forgive
myself if I thought that I had hurt her? You are not going to make me
so unhappy?"

"Do you mean, am I going to marry her?"

She said nothing; for she was conscious now, conscious and ashamed of
using a power that she had no right to have; ashamed, too, of being
forced to acknowledge the truth of the thing she had so passionately
denied.

"You needn't be afraid," he said. "Of course I am going to marry her."

He turned away from her as he had turned away five years ago, with the
same hopeless sense of dishonour and defeat. She called him back, as
she had called him back five years ago, and for the same purpose, of
delivering a final stab. Only that this time she knew it was a stab;
and her own heart felt the pain as she delivered it.

But the terrible thing had to be done. She had got to return the
manuscript, the gift that should never have been given. She gathered
the loosened sheets tenderly, like things that she was grieved to part
from. He admitted that she was handling her sword with all gentleness
so as to avoid as far as possible any suggestion of a thrust.

"You must take them back," she said. "I can't keep them--or--or have
anything to do with them after what you told me. I should feel as if
I'd taken what belonged to some one else."

As he took the sheets from her and pocketed them, she felt that again
he was pocketing an insult as well as a stab.

But the victim was no longer an inexperienced youth. So he smiled
valorously, as beseemed his manhood. "And yet," he murmured, "you say
it isn't true."

She did not contradict him this time. And as he turned he heard behind
him the closing of the door.




BOOK IV

THE MAN HIMSELF




CHAPTER LXII


After all, the wedding did not take place on the twenty-fifth; for on
the twentieth Keith was summoned to Ilford by a letter from his
stepmother. Mrs. Rickman said she thought he ought to know (as if
Keith were seeking to avoid the knowledge!) that his father had had a
slight paralytic seizure. He had recovered, but it had left him very
unsettled and depressed. He kept on for ever worrying to see Keith.
Mrs. Rickman hoped (not without a touch of asperity) that Keith would
lose no time in coming, as his father seemed so uneasy in his mind.

Very uneasy in his mind was Isaac, as upstairs in the big front
bedroom, (which from its excess of glass and mahogany bore a curious
resemblance to the front shop,) he lay, a strangely shrunken figure in
the great bed. His face, once so reticent and regular, was drawn on
one side, twisted into an oblique expression of abandonment and agony.

Keith was not prepared for the change; and he broke down completely as
the poor right hand (which Isaac _would_ use) opened and closed in a
vain effort to clasp his. But Isaac was intolerant of sympathy, and at
once rebuked all reference to his illness. Above the wreck of his
austere face, his eyes, blood-shot as they were and hooded under their
slack lids, defied you to notice any change in him.

"I sent for you," he said, "because I wanted to talk over a little
business." His utterance was thick and uncertain; the act of speech
showed the swollen tongue struggling in the distorted mouth.

"Oh, don't bother about business now, father," said Keith, trying hard
to steady his voice.

His father gave an irritable glance, as if he were repelling an
accusation of mortality, conveyed in the word "now."

"And why not now as well as any other time?"

Keith blew his nose hard and turned away.

"What's the matter with you? Do you suppose I'm ill?"

"Oh no, of course not."

"No. I'm just lying here to rest and get up my strength again; God
willing. But _in case_ anything should happen to me, Keith, I want you
to be clear as to how you stand."

"Oh, that's all right," said Keith cheerfully.

"It's not all right. It's not as I meant it to be. Between you and me,
my big house hasn't come to much. I think if you'd stayed in
it--well--we won't say any more about that. But Paternoster
Row--now--that's sound. Mrs. Rickman always 'ad a fancy for the City
'ouse, and she's put money into it. You'll have your share that was
settled on you when I married your poor mother. You stick to the City
'ouse, Keith, and it'll bring you in something some day. And the
Name'll still go on." It was pathetic, his persistent clinging to the
immortality of his name. Pathetic, too, his inability to see it
otherwise than as blazoned for ever and ever over a shop-front. His
son's fame (if he ever achieved it) was a mere subsidiary glory. "But
Pilkington'll get the Strand 'ouse. Whatever I do I can't save it. I
don't mind owning now, the Strand 'ouse was a mistake."

"A very great mistake."

"And Pilkington'll get the 'Arden library."

"You don't know. You may get rid of him--before that time."

Isaac seemed to be torn by his thoughts the more because they found no
expression in his face that was bound, mouth, eye, and eyelid in its
own agony. Before _what_ time? Before the day of his death, or the day
of redemption? "The mortgage," he said, "'as still three years to run.
But I can't raise the money."

Keith was silent. He hardly liked to ask, though he would have given
a great deal to know, the amount of the sum his father could not
raise. A possibility, a splendid, undreamed of possibility, had risen
up before him; but he turned away from it; it was infamous to
entertain it, for it depended on his father's death. And yet for the
life of him he could not help wondering whether the share which would
ultimately come to him would by any chance cover that mortgage. To be
any good it would have to come before the three years were up,
though--He put the splendid horrible thought aside. He could not
contemplate it. The wish was certainly not the father of that thought.
But supposing the thought became the father of a wish?

"That reminds me," said Isaac, "that there was something else I 'ad to
say to you."

He did not say it all at once. At the very thought of it his swollen
tongue moved impotently without words. At last he got it out.

"I've been thinking it over--that affair of the library. And I've been
led to see that what I did was wrong. Wrong, I mean, in the sight of
God."

There was a sense he could not get rid of, in which it might still be
considered superlatively right.

"And wot you did--"

"Oh, never mind what I did. _That's_ all right."

"You did the righteous and the Christian thing."

"Did I? I'm sure I don't know why I did it."

"Ah--if you'd done it for the love of God, there's no doubt it'd 'ave
been more pleasing to 'im."

"Well, you know I didn't do it for the love--of God."

"You did it for the love of woman? I was right then, after all."

Isaac felt inexpressibly consoled by Keith's cheerful disclaimer of
all credit. His manner did away with the solemnity of the occasion;
but it certainly smoothed for him the painful path of confession.

"Well, yes. If it hadn't been for Miss Harden I don't suppose I should
have done it at all."

He said it very simply; but not all the magnificent consolations of
religion could have given Isaac greater peace. It was a little more
even, the balance of righteousness between him and Keith. He had never
sinned, as Keith had done, after the flesh. Of the deeds done in the
body he would have but a very small account to render at the last.

"And you see, you haven't got anything for it out of _her_."

There was a certain satisfaction in his tone. He saw a mark of the
divine displeasure in Keith's failure to marry the woman he desired.

"And if I could only raise that money--"

He meant it--he meant it. The balance, held in God's hands, hung
steady now.

"How much is it?" asked Keith; for he thought, "Perhaps he's only
holding on to that share for my sake; and if he knew that I would give
it up now, he might really--"

"Four thousand nine with th' interest," said Isaac.

"Do you think, Keith, it would have sold for five?"

"Well, yes, I think it very possibly might."

"Ah!" Isaac turned his face from his son. The sigh expressed a
profound, an infinite repentance.




CHAPTER LXIII


On the twenty-fifth Isaac Rickman lay dead in his villa at Ilford. Two
days after Keith's visit he had been seized by a second and more
terrible paralytic stroke; and from it he did not recover. The wedding
was now indefinitely postponed till such time as Keith could have
succeeded in winding up his father's affairs.

They proved rather less involved than he had expected. Isaac had
escaped dying insolvent. Though a heavy mortgage delivered Rickman's
in the Strand into Pilkington's possession, the City house was not
only sound, as Isaac had said, but in a fairly flourishing condition.
Some blind but wholly salutary instinct had made him hold on to that
humbler and obscurer shop where first his fortunes had been made; and
with its immense patronage among the Nonconformist population
Rickman's in the City held a high and honourable position in the
trade. The bulk of the profits had to go to the bookseller's widow as
chief owner of the capital; still, the slender partnership settled on
his son, if preserved intact and carefully manipulated, would yield in
time a very comfortable addition to Keith's income. If Isaac had
lived, his affairs (as far as he was concerned) would have been easily
settled. But for his son and heir they proved most seriously
complicated.

For Keith was heir, not only to his father's estate, but to that very
considerable debt of honour which Isaac had left unpaid. It seemed as
if the Harden library, the symbol of a superb intellectual vanity, was
doomed to be in eternal necessity of redemption. Until yesterday it
had not occurred to Keith that it could be his destiny to redeem it.
Yesterday he had refused to let his mind dally with that possibility;
to-day it had become the most fitting subject of his contemplation.

The thing was more easily conceived than done. His literary income
amounted, all told, to about three hundred and fifty a year, but its
sources were not absolutely secure. _Metropolis_ or _The Planet_ might
conceivably at any moment cease to be. And there was his marriage. It
was put off; but only for a matter of weeks. He had only a hundred and
fifty pounds in ready money; the rest had been swallowed up by the
little house at Ealing. It was impossible to redeem the Harden library
unless he parted with his patrimony; which was, after all, his only
safe and imperishable source of income. Still, he had not the smallest
hesitation on this head. Neither he nor Flossie had taken it into
their calculations when they agreed to marry, and he was not going to
consider it now.

The first step proved simple. Mrs. Rickman had no objection to buying
him out. On the contrary, she was thankful to get rid of a most
reckless and uncomfortable partner. But in the present state of the
trade it was impossible to estimate his share at more than four
thousand. That covered the principal; but Isaac had paid no interest
for more than two years; and that interest Keith would have to pay.
Though the four thousand was secure, and Pilkington had given him
three years to raise the seven hundred and fifty in, it was not so
easily done on an income of three hundred and fifty. Not easy in three
years; and impossible in any number of years if he married. Possible
only, yes, just possible, if his marriage were postponed until such
time as he could have collected the money. Some brilliant stroke of
luck might unexpectedly reduce the term; but three years must be
allowed. _Metropolis_ and _The Planet_ were surely good for another
three years. The other alternative, that of repudiating the
obligation, never entered his head for an instant. He could not have
touched a shilling of his father's money till this debt was cleared.

There could be no doubt as to what honour demanded of him. But how
would Flossie take it? The worst of it was that he was bound (in
honour again) to give her the option of breaking off their engagement,
if she didn't care to wait. And after all that had passed between
them it might not be so easy to persuade her that he was not glad of
the excuse; for he himself was so lacking in conviction. Still she was
very intelligent; and she would see that it wasn't his fault if their
marriage had to be put off. The situation was inevitable and
impersonal, and as such it was bound to be hard on somebody. He
admitted that it was particularly hard on Flossie. It would have been
harder still if Flossie had been out of work; but Flossie, with
characteristic prudence, had held on to her post till the very eve of
her wedding-day, and had contrived to return to it when she foresaw
the necessity for delay. Otherwise he would have had to insist on
providing for her until she was independent again; which would have
complicated matters really most horribly. It was quite horrible enough
to have to explain all this to Flossie. The last time he had explained
things (for he had explained them) to Flossie the result had not been
exactly happy. But then the things themselves had been very different,
and he had had to admit with the utmost contrition that a woman could
hardly have had more reasonable grounds for resentment. That was all
over and done with now. In that explanation they had explained
everything away. They had left no single thread of illusion hanging
round the life they were to live together. They accepted themselves
and each other as they were. And in the absence of any brighter
prospect for either of them there was high wisdom in that acceptance.

If then there was a lack of rapture in his relations with Flossie,
there would henceforth at any rate be calm. Her temperament was, he
judged, essentially placid, not to say apathetic. There was a soft
smoothness about the plump little lady that would be a security
against friction. She was not great at understanding; but, taking it
all together, she was now in an infinitely better position for
understanding him than she had been two weeks ago. Besides, it was
after all a simple question of figures; and Flossie's attitude to
figures was, unlike his own, singularly uninfluenced by passion. She
would take the sensible, practical view.

The sensible practical view was precisely what Flossie did take. But
her capabilities of passion he had again misjudged.

He chose his moment with discretion, when time and place and Flossie's
mood were most propitious. The time was Sunday evening, the place was
the Regent's Park, Flossie's mood was gentle and demure. She had been
very nice to him since his father's death, and had shown him many
careful small attentions which, with his abiding sense of his own
shortcomings towards her, he had found extremely touching. She seemed
to him somehow a different woman, not perhaps so pretty as she had
been, but nicer. He may have been the dupe of an illusory effect of
toilette, for Flossie was in black. She had discussed the propriety of
mourning with Miss Bishop, and wore it to-day for the first time with
a pretty air of solemnity mingled with satisfaction in her own
delicate intimation that she was one with her lover in his grief. She
had not yet discovered that black was unbecoming to her, which would
have been fatal to the mood.

The flowers were gay in the Broad Walk, Flossie tried to be gay too;
and called on him to admire their beauty. They sat down together on a
seat in the embrasure of a bed of chrysanthemums. Flossie was
interested in everything, in the chrysanthemums, in the weather and in
the passers-by--most particularly interested, he noticed, in the
family groups. Her black eyes, that glanced so restlessly at the men
and so jealously at the women, sank softly on the children, happy and
appeased. Poor Flossie. He had long ago divined her heart. He did his
best to please her; he sat down when she told him to sit down, stared
when she told him to stare, and relapsed into his now habitual
attitude of dejection. A little girl toddled past him in play; stopped
at his knees and touched them with her hand and rubbed her small body
against them, chuckling with delight.

"The dear little mite," said Flossie; "she's taken quite a fancy to
you, Keith." Her face was soft and shy under her black veil, and when
she looked at him she blushed. He turned his head away. He could not
meet that look in Flossie's eyes when he thought of what he had to say
to her. He was going to put the joy of life a little farther from her;
to delay her woman's tender ineradicable hope.

This was not the moment or the place to do it in. They rose and
walked on, turning into the open Park. And there, sitting under a
solitary tree by the path that goes towards St. John's Wood, he broke
it to her gently.

"Flossie," he said, "I've something to tell you that you mayn't like
to hear."

She made no sign of agitation beyond scraping a worn place in the
grass with the tips of her little shoes. "Well," she said, with an
admirable attempt at patience, "what is it _now_?"

"You mean you think it's been about enough already?"

"If it's really anything unpleasant, for goodness' sake let's have it
out and get it over."

"Right, Flossie. I'm awfully sorry, but I'm afraid we shan't be able
to marry for another two years, perhaps three."

"And why not?" Her black eyes darted a vindictive look at him under
her soft veil.

"My father's death has made a difference to me."

Her lips tightened, and she drew a sharp but inaudible breath through
her nostrils. He had been wrong in supposing that she had not looked
for any improvement in his finances after his father's death. On the
contrary, knowing of their reconciliation and deceived by the imposing
appearance of Rickman's in the Strand, she had counted on a very
substantial increase of income.

"Do you mean to say, Keith, he hasn't left you anything?"

He laughed softly--an unpleasant way he had in situations where most
people would consider it only decent to keep grave.

"He _has_ left me something. A bad debt."

"What have you got to do with his bad debts? Nobody can come down on
you to pay them." She paused. A horrible thought had struck her.
"_Can_ they? You don't mean to say they can?"

He shook his head and struggled with his monstrous mirth.

"Keith! What 'ave you done? You surely haven't been backing any
bills?"

He laughed outright this time, for the sheer misery of the thing.

"No, oh dear me, no. Not in your sense at least."

"There _isn't_ any other sense. Either you did or you didn't; and I
think you might tell me which."

"It's not quite so simple, dear. I didn't back his bills, d'you see,
but I backed _him_.'

"Can they make you responsible? Have they got it down in black and
white?"

"Nobody can make me responsible, except myself. It's what they call a
debt of honour, Flossie. Those debts are not always down in black and
white."

"Why can't you speak plain? I really can't think what you mean by
that."

"Can't you? I'll endeavour to explain. A debt of honour, Beaver dear,
is a debt that's got to be paid whoever else goes unpaid."

"A fine lot of honour about that," said she.

Was it possible to make the Beaver understand? He, gave her a slight
outline of the situation; and he really could not complain of any
fault in the Beaver's intelligence. For, by dint of a masterly cross
examination, she possessed herself of all the details, even of those
which he most desired to keep from her. After their last great
explanation there had been more than a tacit agreement between them
that the name of Lucia Harden was never to come up again in any future
discussion; and that name he would not give. She, however, readily
inferred it from his silence.

"You needn't tell me the lady's name," said she.

"I certainly needn't. The name has nothing whatever to do with it.'"

"Oh, hasn't it? You'll not make me believe that you'd 'ave taken it up
this way for any one but her."

"Whether I would or wouldn't doesn't affect the point of honour."

"I don't see where it comes in there."

"If you don't I can't make you see it."

"I said I didn't see where it comes in--_there_. I know what's
honourable as well as you, though I daresay my notions wouldn't agree
with yours."

"Upon my soul, I shouldn't wonder if they didn't!"

"Look here, Keith. Did you ever make Miss Harden any promise to pay
her that money when your father died?"

"Of course I didn't--How could I? Do you suppose she'd have let me do
anything of the sort?"

"I don't know what she wouldn't have let you do. Anyhow you didn't
make her any promise. Think of the promises and promises you've made
to me."

"I do think of them. Have I broken one of them?"

"I don't say you have yet; but you want to."

"I don't wa--I won't break them, I'll keep every one of the blessed
lot, if you'll only give me time."

"Give you time? I know what that means. It means that I'm to go back
and earn my living. I can slave till I drop for all you care--while
you go and throw away all that money on another woman. And I'm to give
you time to do it in!"

"I won't ask you to wait for me. I'm perfectly willing to release you
from your engagement if you like. It seems only fair to you."

"You care a lot, don't you, about what's fair to me? I believe you'd
take the bread out of my mouth to give it to her."

"I would, Flossie, if it was her bread. That money doesn't belong to
you or me; it belongs to Miss Harden."

"It seems to me," said Flossie, "that everything belongs to her. I'm
sure you've as good as told me so."

"I've certainly given you some right to think so. But that has nothing
to do with it; and we agreed that we were going to let it alone,
didn't we?"

"It wasn't me that brought it up again, it was you; and it's got
everything to do with it. You wouldn't have behaved like this, and you
wouldn't be sitting there talking about what's honourable, if it
hadn't been for Miss Harden."

"That may very well be. But it doesn't mean what you think it does. It
means that before I knew Miss Harden I didn't know or care very much
about what's honourable. She taught me to care. I wasn't fit to speak
to a decent woman before I knew her. She made me decent."

"Did she sit up half the night with you to do it?".

He made a gesture of miserable impatience.

"You needn't tell me. I can see her."

"You can't. She did it by simply being what she is. If I ever manage
to do anything right it will be because of her, as you say. But it
doesn't follow that it'll be for her. There's a great difference."

"I don't see it."

"You must try to see it. There's one thing I haven't told you about
that confounded money. It was I who let her in for losing it. Isn't
that enough to make me keen?"

"You always were keen where she was concerned."

"Look here, Flossie, I thought you were going to give up this sort of
thing?"

"So I was when I thought you were going to give her up. It doesn't
look like it."

"My dear child, how can I give up what I never had or could have?"

"Well then--are you going to give up your idea?"

"No, I am not. But you can either give me up or wait for me, as I
said. But if you marry me, you must marry me and my idea too. You
don't like my idea; but that's no reason why you shouldn't like me."

"You're not taking much pains to make me like you."

"I'm taking all the pains I know. But your liking or not liking me
won't alter me a little bit. You'll have to take me as I am."

As she looked up at him she realized at last the indomitable nature of
the man she had to deal with. And yet he was not unalterable, even on
his own showing. She knew some one who had altered him out of all
knowledge.

"Come," said she, "don't say you never change."

"I don't say it. You'll have to allow for that possibility, too."

"It seems to me I have to allow for a good many things."

"You have indeed."

"Well, are we going to sit here all night?"

"I'm ready."

They walked back in silence over the straight path that seemed as if
it would never end. Flossie stopped half-way in it, stung by an idea.

"There's something you haven't thought of. What are you going to do
with the house? And with all that furniture?"

"Let them to somebody. That's all right, Beaver. The house and the
furniture can't run away."

"No, but they'll never be the same again."

Nothing would ever be the same again; that was clear. The flowers were
still gay in the Broad Walk, and the children, though a little
sleepier, were still adorable; but Flossie did not turn to look at
them as she passed. Would she ever look at them, at anything, with
pleasure again? He had made life very difficult, very cruel to this
poor child, whom after all he had promised to protect and care for.

"I say, Beaver dear, it _is_ hard luck on you."

The look and the tone would have softened most women, at least for the
time being; but the Beaver remained implacable.

"I'll try to make it easier for you. I'll work like mad. I'll do
anything to shorten the time."

"Shorten the time? You don't know how many years you're asking me to
wait."

"I'm not asking you to wait. I'm asking you to choose."

"Do you want me to do it now?"

"No, certainly not." She was not indeed in a mood favourable to
choice; and he would not influence her decision. It was mean to urge
her to an arduous constancy; meaner still to precipitate her refusal.
"You must think. You can, you know, when you give your mind to it."

She appeared to be giving her mind to it for the rest of the way home;
and her silence left him also free to think it over. After all, what
had he done? He had not asked her to wait, but what if he had? Many
men have to ask as much of the woman who loves them. Some men have
asked even more of the woman whom they love. That was the secret. He
could have asked it with a clear conscience if he had but loved her.




CHAPTER LXIV


Flossie was in no hurry about making up her mind. If Keith had asked
her to give him time, it was only fair that he should give her time
too, and since his mind was made up in any case, time could be no
object to him. So days and weeks had passed on and she had conveyed to
him no hint of her decision.

On that Sunday evening, in the seclusion of her bedroom, Flossie said
to herself that she had made one great mistake. Prudence and foresight
were all very well in their way, but this time she had blundered
through excess of caution. In sticking to the post that made her
independent she had broken her strongest line of defence. If only she
had had the courage to relinquish it at the crucial moment, she would
have stood a very much better chance in her contest with Keith. She
could then have appealed to his pity as she had done with such signal
success two years ago, when the result of the appeal had been to bring
him violently to the point. She was wise enough to know that in
contending with a chivalrous man a woman's strongest defence is her
defencelessness. Though she was unable to believe that pure abstract
honour was or could be the sole and supreme motive of Keith's
behaviour, she felt that if she could have said to him, "I've thrown
up a good situation to marry you," his chivalry would not have held
out against that argument.

But Flossie never made mistakes. She was too consummate a diplomatist.
Therefore, though appearances were against her, it was only reasonable
to suppose that she had not really done so now, and that her original
inspiration had been right. It was foresight so subtle, so advanced,
that it outstripped the ordinary processes of calculation, and
appeared afterwards as the mysterious leading of a profounder power,
of the under-soul that presses the innocent intellect into the
services of its own elemental instincts. The people who yield most
obediently to this compulsion are said to have good luck.

Flossie's good luck, however, was not yet apparent either to herself
or to her fellow-boarders at Tavistock Place. Not that she had
enlarged on her trouble to any of them. The whole thing had been too
profoundly humiliating for that. To say nothing of being engaged to a
man who had shown so very little impatience to marry her, to have
taken and furnished a house and be unable to live in it, to have
received congratulations and wedding presents which had all proved
premature, to know, and feel that everybody else knew, that her
bedroom was at this moment lumbered up with a trousseau which, whether
she wore it or put it by two years, would make her equally ridiculous,
was really a very trying position for any young lady, and to Flossie,
whose nature was most delicately sensitive to such considerations, it
was torture. But, after all, these things were material and external;
and the worst of Flossie's suffering was in her soul. Before the
appearance of Miss Harden, the last two years had passed for Flossie
in gorgeous triumphal procession through the boarding-house. She had
been the invincible heroine of Mrs. Downey's for two years, she had
dragged its young hero at her chariot wheels for two years, she had
filled the heart of Ada Bishop with envy and the hearts of Mr. Soper
and Mr. Spinks with jealousy and anguish for two years; and now she
had all these people pitying her and looking down on her because she
had been so queerly treated; and this was even more intolerable to
poor Flossie. She knew perfectly well what every one of them was
saying. She knew that Ada Bishop had thanked Goodness she wasn't in
her shoes; that Miss Bramble spoke of her persistently as "that poor
young thing"; that Mrs. Downey didn't know which she pitied most, her
or poor Mr. Rickman. He was poor Mr. Rickman, if you please, because
he was considered to have entangled himself so inextricably with her.
She knew that Miss Roots maintained that it was all her (Flossie's)
own fault for holding Keith to his engagement; that Mr. Partridge had
wondered why girls were in such a hurry to get married; and that Mr.
Soper said she'd made a great mistake in ever taking up with a young
fellow you could depend on with so little certainty. And the burden of
it all was that Flossie had made a fool of herself and been made a
fool of. So she was very bitter in her little heart against the man
who was the cause of it all; and if she did not instantly throw Keith
Rickman over, that was because Flossie was not really such a fool as
for the moment she had been made to look.

But there was one person of the boarding-house whose opinion was as
yet unknown to Flossie or to anybody else; it was doubtful indeed if
it was known altogether to himself; for Mr. Spinks conceived that
honour bound him to a superb reticence on the subject. He had followed
with breathless anxiety every turn in the love affairs of Flossie and
his friend. He could not deny that a base and secret exultation had
possessed him on the amazing advent of Miss Harden; for love had made
him preternaturally keen, and he was visited with mysterious
intimations of the truth. He did not encourage these visitings. He had
tried hard to persuade himself that he was glad for Flossie's sake
when Miss Harden went away; when, whatever there had been between
Rickets and the lady, it had come to nothing; when the wedding day
remained fixed, immovably fixed. But he had not been glad at all. On
the contrary he had suffered horribly, and had felt the subsequent
delay as a cruel prolongation of his agony. In the irony of destiny,
shortly before the fatal twenty-fifth, Mr. Spinks had been made
partner in his uncle's business, and was now enjoying an income
superior to Rickman's not only in amount but in security. If anything
could have added to his dejection it was that. His one consolation
hitherto had been that after all, if Rickman did marry Flossie, as
_he_ was not in a position to marry her, it came to the same thing in
the long run. Now he saw himself cut off from that source of comfort
by a solid four hundred a year with prospects of a rise. He could
forego the obviously impossible; but in that rosy dawn of incarnation
his dream appeared more than ever desirable. Whenever Mr. Spinks's
imagination encountered the idea of marriage it had tried to look
another way. Marriage remote and unattainable left Mr. Spinks's
imagination in comparative peace; but brought within the bounds of
possibility its appeal was simply maddening. And now, bringing it
nearer still, so near that it was impossible to look another way,
there came these disturbing suggestions of a misunderstanding between
Rickman and his Beaver. The boarding-house knew nothing but that the
wedding was put off because Rickman was in difficulties and could not
afford to marry at the moment. Spinks would have accepted this
explanation as sufficient if it had not been for the peculiar
behaviour of Rickman, and the very mysterious and agitating change in
Flossie's manner. Old Rickets had returned to his awful solitude. He
absented himself entirely from the dinner-table. When you met him on
the stairs he was incommunicative and gloomy; and whatever you asked
him to do he was too busy to do it. His sole attention to poor Flossie
was to take her for an occasional airing in the Park on Sunday
afternoons. Spinks had come across them there walking sadly side by
side. Flossie for propriety's sake would be making a little
conversation as he went by; but Rickman had always the shut mouth and
steady eyes of invincible determination.

What was it that Razors was so determined about? To marry Flossie? Or
not to marry her? That was the question which agitated poor Spinks
from morning till night, or rather from night till morning. The worst
of it was that the very nature of his woes compelled him as an
honourable person to keep them to himself.

But there was no secret which could be long concealed from the eyes of
that clever lady, Miss Roots; and she had contrived in the most
delicate manner to convey to the unfortunate youth that he had her
sympathy. Spinks, bound by his honour, had used no words in divulging
his agony; but their unspoken confidences had gone so far that Miss
Roots at last permitted herself to say that it might be as well to
find out whether "it was on or off."

"But," said the miserable Spinks, "would that be fair to Rickman?"

"I think so," said the lady, with a smile that would have been sweet
had it been rather less astute. "Mind you, I'm not in their secrets;
but I believe you really needn't be afraid of that."

"Yes. But how in Heaven's name am I to find out? I can't ask him, and
I can't ask her."

"Why can't you ask them?"

Spinks was unable to say why; but his delicacy shrank from either
course as in some subtle way unfair. Besides he distrusted Miss
Roots's counsel, for she had not been nice to Flossie.

"Oh Lord," said Spinks, "what an orful mess I'm in!" He said it to
himself; for he had resolved to talk no longer to Miss Roots.

He could have borne it better had not the terrible preoccupation of
Rickman thrown Flossie on his hands. In common decency he had to talk
to her at the dinner-table. But it was chivalry (surely) that drew him
to her in the drawing-room afterwards. She had to be protected (poor
Flossie) from the shrewdness of Miss Roots, the impertinence of Mr.
Soper, and the painful sympathy of the other boarders. With the very
best and noblest intentions in the world, Mr. Spinks descended nightly
into that atmosphere of gloom, and there let loose his imperishable
hilarity.

He was quite safe, he knew, as long as their relations could be kept
upon a purely hilarious footing; but Flossie's manner intimated (what
it had never intimated before) that she now realized and preferred the
serious side of him; and there was no way by which the humorous Spinks
was more profoundly flattered than in being taken seriously. Some
nights they had the drawing-room to themselves but for the harmless
presence of Mr. Partridge dozing in his chair; and then, to see
Flossie struggling to keep a polite little smile hovering on a mouth
too tiny to support it; to see her give up the effort and suddenly
become grave; to see her turn away to hide her gravity with all the
precautions another woman takes to conceal her merriment; to see her
sitting there, absolutely unmoved by the diverting behaviour of Mr.
Partridge in his slumber, was profoundly agitating to Mr. Spinks.

"I'm sure," said Flossie one night (it was nearly three weeks after
the scene with Rickman in the Park), "I'm sure I don't know why we're
laughing so much. There's nothing to laugh at that I can see."

Spinks could have have replied in Byron's fashion that if he laughed
'twas that he might not weep, but he restrained himself; and all he
said was, "I like to see you larf."

"Well, you can't say you've ever seen me cry."

"No, I haven't. I shouldn't like to see _that_, Flossie. And I
shouldn't like to be the one that made you."

"Wouldn't you?" Flossie put her pocket handkerchief to her little
nose, and under the corner of it there peeped the tail-end of a
lurking smile.

"No," said Spinks simply, "I wouldn't." He was thinking of Miss Roots.
The theory of Rickman's bad behaviour had never entered his head.
"What's more, I don't think any nice person would do it."

"Don't you?"

"No. Not any really nice person."

"It's generally," said Flossie, sweetly meditative, "the nicest person
you know who can make you cry most. Not that _I_'m crying."

"No. But I can see that somebody's been annoying you, and I think I
can guess pretty well who it is, too. Nothing would please me more
than to 'ave five minutes' private conversation with that person." He
was thinking of Miss Harden now.

"You mustn't dream of it. It wouldn't do, you know; it really
wouldn't. Look here, promise me you'll never say a word."

"Well it's safe enough to promise. There aren't many opportunities of
meeting."

"No, that's the worst of it, there aren't now. Still, you might meet
him any minute on the stairs, or anywhere. And if you go saying things
you'll only make him angry."

"Oh it's a him, is it?" (_Now_ he was thinking of Soper.) "_I_ know.
Don't say Soper's been making himself unpleasant."

"He's always unpleasant."

"Is he? By 'Eaven, if I catch him!"

"Do be quiet. It isn't Mr. Soper."

"Isn't it?"

"No. How could it be? You don't call Mr. Soper _nice_, do you?"

Spinks was really quiet for a moment. "I say, Flossie, have you and
Rickets been 'aving a bit of a tiff?"

"What do you want to know that for? It's nothing to you."

"Well, it isn't just my curiosity. It's because I might be able to
help you, Floss, if you didn't mind telling me what it was. I'm not a
clever fellow, but there's no one in this house understands old Razors
as well as I do."

"Then you must be pretty sharp, for I can't understand him at all. Has
he been saying anything to you?"

"Oh no, he wouldn't say anything. You don't talk about these things,
you know."

"I thought he might--to you."

"Me? I'm the very last person he'd dream of talking to."

"I thought you were such friends."

"So we are. But you see he never talks about you to me, Flossie."

"Why ever not?"

"That's why. Because we're friends. Because he wouldn't think it
fair--"

"Fair to who?"

"To me, of course."

"Why shouldn't it be fair to you?" Her eyes, close-lidded, were fixed
upon the floor. As long as she looked at him Spinks held himself well
in hand; but the sudden withdrawing of those dangerous weapons threw
him off his guard.

"Because he knows I--Oh hang it all, that's what I swore I wouldn't
say."

"You haven't said it."

"No, but I've made you see it."

His handsome face stiffened with horror at his stupidity. To let fall
the slightest hint of his feeling was, he felt, the last disloyalty to
Rickman. He had a vague idea that he ought instantly to go. But
instead of going he sat there, silent, fixing on his own enormity a
mental stare so concentrated that it would have drawn Flossie's
attention to it, if she had not seen it all the time.

"If there's anything to see," said she, "there's no reason why I
shouldn't see it."

"P'raps not. There's every reason, though, why I should have held my
silly tongue."

"Why, what difference does it make?"

"It doesn't make any difference to you, of course, and it can't make
any difference--really--to him; but it's a downright dishonourable
thing to do, and that makes a jolly lot of difference to me. You see,
I haven't any business to go and feel like this."

"Oh well, you can't help your feelings, can you?" she said softly.
"Anybody may have feelings--"

"Yes, but a decent chap, you know, wouldn't let on that he had any--at
least, not when the girl he--he--you know what I mean, it's what I
mustn't say--when she and the other fellow weren't hitting it off very
well together."

"Oh, you think it might make a difference then?"

"No, I don't--not reelly. It's only the feeling I have about it, don't
you see. It seems somehow so orf'ly mean. Razors wouldn't have done it
if it had been me, you know."

"But it couldn't have been you."

"Of course it couldn't," said the miserable Spinks with a weak spurt
of anger; "that was only my way of putting it."

"What are you driving at? What ever did you think I said?"

"Never mind what you said. You're making me talk about it, and I said
I wouldn't."

"When did you say that?"

"Ages ago--when Rickets first told me you--and he--"

"Oh that? That was so long ago that it doesn't matter much now."

"Oh, doesn't it though, it matters a jolly sight more. You said"
(there was bitterness in his tone), "you said it couldn't have been
me. As if I didn't know that."

"I didn't mean it couldn't have been you, not in that way. I only
meant that you'd have--well, you'd have behaved very differently, if
it had been you; and so I believe you would."

"You don't know how I'd 'ave behaved."

"I've a pretty good idea, though." She looked straight at him this
time, and he grew strangely brave.

"Look here, Flossie," he said solemnly, "you know--as I've just let it
out--that I'm most orf'ly gone on you. I don't suppose there's
anything I wouldn't do for you except--well, I really don't know what
you're driving at, but if it's anything to do with Razors, I'd rather
not hear about it, if you don't mind. It isn't fair, really. You see,
it's putting me in such a 'orribly delicate position."

"I don't think you're very kind, Sidney. You don't think of me, or
what sort of a position you put me in. I'm sure I wouldn't have said a
word, only you asked me to tell you all about it; you needn't say you
didn't."

"That was when I thought, p'raps, I could help you to patch it up. But
if I can't, it's another matter."

"Patch it up? Do you think I'd let you try? I don't believe in
patching things up, once they're--broken off."

"I say Flossie, it hasn't come to that?"

"It couldn't come to anything else, the way it was going."

"Oh Lord"--Spinks buried a crimson face in his hands. If only he
hadn't felt such a horrible exultation!

"I thought you knew. Isn't that what we've been talking about all the
time?"

"I didn't understand. I only thought--_he_ didn't tell me, mind you--I
thought it was just put off because he couldn't afford to marry quite
so soon."

"Don't you think three hundred a year is enough to marry on?"

"Well, I shouldn't care to marry on that myself; not if it wasn't
regular. He's quite right, Flossie. You see, a man hasn't got only his
wife to think of."

"No--I suppose he must think of himself a little too."

"Oh well, no; if he's a decent chap, he thinks of his children."

Flossie's face was crimson, too, while her thoughts flew to that
unfurnished room in the brown house at Ealing. She was losing sight of
Keith Rickman; for behind Keith Rickman there was Sidney Spinks; and
behind Sidney Spinks there was the indomitable Dream. She did not look
at Spinks, therefore, but gazed steadily at the top of Mr. Partridge's
head. With one word Spinks had destroyed the effect he had calculated
on from his honourable reticence. Perhaps it was because Flossie's
thoughts had flown so far that her voice seemed to come from somewhere
a long way off, too.

"What would you think enough to marry on, then?"

"Well, I shouldn't care to do it much under four hundred myself," he
said guardedly.

"And I suppose if you hadn't it you'd expect a girl to wait for you
any time until you'd made it?"

"Well of course I should, if we were engaged already. But I shouldn't
ask any girl to marry me unless I could afford to keep her--"

"You wouldn't _ask_, but--"

"No, and I wouldn't let on that I cared for her either. I wouldn't let
on under four hundred--certain."

"Oh," said Flossie very quietly. And Spinks was crushed under a sense
of fresh disloyalty to Rickman. His defence of Rickman had been made
to turn into a pleading for himself. "But Razors is different; he'll
be making twice that in no time, you'll see. I shouldn't be afraid to
ask any one if I was him."

Vainly the honourable youth sought to hide his splendour; Flossie had
drawn from him all she needed now to know.

"Look, here, Floss, you say it's broken off. Would you mind telling me
was it you--or was it he who did it?" His tone expressed acute anxiety
on this point, for in poor Spinks's code of honour it made all the
difference. But he felt that his question was clearly answered, for
the silence of Razors argued sufficiently that it was he.

"Well," said Flossie with a touch of maidenly dignity, "whichever it
was, it wasn't likely to be Keith."

Spinks's face would have fallen, but for its immense surprise. In this
case Rickman ought, yes, he certainly ought to have told him. It
wasn't behaving quite straight, he considered, to keep it from the man
who had the best right in the world to know, a fellow who had always
acted straight with him. But perhaps, poor chap, he was only waiting a
little on the chance of the Beaver changing her mind.

"Don't you think, Flossie, that if he tried hard he could bring it on
again?"

"No, he couldn't. Never. Not if he tried from now till next year. Not
if he went on his bended knees to me."

Spinks reflected that Rickman's knees didn't take kindly to bending.
"Haven't you been a little, just a little hard on him? He's such a
sensitive little chap. If I was a woman I don't think I could let him
go like that. You might let him have another try."

Poor Spinks was so earnest, so sincere, so unaffectedly determined not
to take advantage of the situation, that it dawned on Flossie that
dignity must now yield a little to diplomacy. She was not making the
best possible case for herself by representing the rupture as
one-sided. "To tell you the truth, Sidney, he doesn't want to try.
We've agreed about it. We've both of us found we'd made a great
mistake--".

"I wish _I_ could be as sure of that."

"Why, what difference could it make to you?" said Flossie, turning on
him the large eyes of innocence, eyes so dark, so deep, that her
thoughts were lost in them.

"It would make all the difference in the world, if I knew you weren't
making a lot bigger mistake now." He rose, "I think, if you don't
mind, I'll 'ave a few words with Rickets, after all. I think I'll go
up and see him now."

There was no change in the expression of her eyes, but her eyelids
quivered. "No, Sidney, don't. For Goodness' sake don't go and say
anything."

"I'm not going to say anything. I only want to know--"

"I've told you everything--everything I can."

"Yes; but it's what you can't tell me that I want to know."

"Well, but do wait a bit. Don't you speak to him before I see him.
Because I don't want him to think I've given him away."

"I'll take good care he doesn't think that, Flossie. But I'm going to
get this off my mind to-night."

"Well then, you must just take him a message from me. Say, I've
thought it over and that I've told you everything. Don't forget. I've
told you everything, say. Mind you tell him that before you begin
about anything else. Then he'll understand."

"All right. I'll tell him."

Her eyes followed him dubiously as he stumbled over Mr. Partridge's
legs in his excited crossing of the room. She was by no means sure of
her ambassador's discretion. His heart would make no blunder; but
could she trust his head?

Up to this point Flossie had played her game with admirable skill. She
had, without showing one card of her own, caused Spinks to reveal his
entire hand. It was not until she had drawn from him the assurance of
his imperishable devotion, together with the exact amount of his
equally imperishable income, that she had committed herself to a
really decisive move. She was perfectly well aware of its delicacy and
danger. Not for worlds would she have had Spinks guess that Rickman
was still waiting for her decision. And yet, if Spinks referred rashly
and without any preparation to the breaking off of the engagement,
Rickman's natural reply would be that this was the first he had heard
of it. Therefore did she so manoeuvre and contrive as to make Rickman
suppose that Spinks was the accredited bearer of her ultimatum, while
Spinks himself remained unaware that he was conveying the first
intimation of it. It was an exceedingly risky thing to do. But
Flossie, playing for high stakes, had calculated her risk to a nicety.
She must make up her mind to lose something. As the game now stood the
moral approbation of Spinks was more valuable to her than the moral
approbation of Rickman; and in venturing this final move she had
reckoned that the moral approbation of Rickman was all she had to
lose. Unless, of course, he chose to give her away.

But Rickman could be trusted not to give her away.

When Spinks presented himself in Rickman's study he obtained admission
in spite of the lateness of the hour. The youth's solemn agitation was
not to be gainsaid. He first of all delivered himself of Flossie's
message, faithfully, word for word.

"Oh, so she's told you everything, has she? And what did she tell
you?"

"Why, that it was all over between you, broken off, you know."

"And you've come to me to know if it's true, is that it?"

"Well no, why should I? Of course it's true if she says so."

Rickman reflected for a moment; the situation, he perceived, was
delicate in the extreme, delicate beyond his power to deal with it.
But the god did not forsake his own, and inspiration came to him.

"You're right there, Spinky. Of course it's true if she says so."

"She seemed to think you wouldn't mind her telling me. She said you'd
understand."

"Oh yes, I think I understand. Did she tell you she had broken it
off?" (He was really anxious to know how she had put it.)

"Yes, but she was most awfully nice about it. I made out--I mean she
gave me the impression--that she did it, well, partly because she
thought you wanted it off. But that's just what I want to be sure
about. Do you want it off, or don't you?"

"Is that what she wants to know?"

"No. It's what I want to know. What's more, Rickets, I think I've got
a fair right to know it, too."

"What do you want me to say? That I don't want to marry Miss Walker or
that I do?"

Spinks's face flushed with the rosy dawn of an idea. It was possible
that Rickets didn't want to marry her, that he was in need of
protection, of deliverance. There was a great deed that he, Spinks,
could do for Rickets. His eyes grew solemn as they beheld his destiny.

"Look here," said he, "I want you to tell me nothing but the bally
truth. It's the least you can do under the circumstances. I don't want
it for her, well--yes I do--but I want it for myself, too."

"All right, Spinky, you shall have the best truth I can give you at
such uncommonly short notice. I can't say I don't want to marry Miss
Walker, because that wouldn't be very polite to the lady. But I can
say I think she's shown most admirable judgement, and that I'm
perfectly satisfied with her decision. I wouldn't have her go back, on
it for worlds. Will that satisfy you?"

"It would if I thought you really meant it."

"I do mean it, God forgive me. But that isn't her fault, poor little
girl. The whole thing was the most infernal muddle and mistake."

"Ah--that was what she called it--a mistake." Spinks seemed to be
clinging to and cherishing this word of charm.

"I'm glad for her sake that she found it out in time. I'm not the sort
of man a girl like Flossie ought to marry. I ought never to have asked
her."

"Upon my soul, Rickets, I believe you're right there. That's not
saying anything against you, or against her either."

"No. Certainly not against _her_. She's all right, Spinky--"

"I know, I know."

Still Spinks hesitated, restraining his ardent embrace of the truth
presented to him, held back by some scruple of shy unbelieving
modesty.

"Then you think, you really _do_ think, that there isn't any reason
why I shouldn't cut in?"

"No, Heaven bless you; no reason in the world, as far as I'm
concerned. For God's sake cut in and win; the sooner the better. Now,
this minute, if you feel like it."

But still he lingered, for the worst was yet to come. He lingered,
nursing a colossal scruple. Poor Spinks's honour was dear to him
because it was less the gift of nature than the supreme imitative
effort of his adoring heart. He loved honour because Rickman loved it;
just as he had loved Flossie for the same reason. These were the only
ways in which he could imitate him; and like all imitators he
exaggerated the master's manner.

"I say, I don't know what you'll think of me. I said I'd never let on
to Flossie that I cared; and I didn't mean to, I didn't on my word. I
don't know how it happened; but to-night we got talking--to tell you
the truth I thought I was doing my best to get her to make it up with
you--"

"Thanks; that was kind," said Rickman in a queer voice which put
Spinks off a bit.

"I was really, Razors. I do believe I'd have died rather than let her
know how I felt about her; but before I could say knife--"

"She got it out of you?"

"No, she didn't do anything of the sort. It was all me. Like a damn
fool I let it out--some'ow."

Nothing could have been more demoralizing than the spectacle of
Spinks's face as he delivered himself of his immense confession; so
fantastically did it endeavour to chasten rapture with remorse.
Rickman controlled himself the better to enjoy it; for Spinks, taken
seriously, yielded an inexhaustible vein of purest comedy. "Oh,
Spinky," he said with grave reproach, "how could you?"

"Well, I know it was a beastly dishonourable thing to do; but you see
I was really most awkwardly situated."

"I daresay you were." It was all very well to laugh; but in spite of
his amusement he sympathized with Spinky's delicacy. He also had found
himself in awkward situations more than once.

"Still," continued Spinks with extreme dejection, "I can't think how I
came to let it out."

That, and the dejection, was too much for Rickman's gravity.

"If you want the truth, Spinky, the pity was you ever kept it in."

And his laughter, held in, piled up, monstrous, insane, ungovernable,
broke forth, dispersing the last scruple that clouded the beatitude of
Spinks.




CHAPTER LXV


Often, after half a night spent in a vain striving to shape some
immense idea into the form of beauty, be had turned the thing neck and
crop out of his mind and gone to sleep on it. Whenever he did this he
was sure to wake up and find it there waiting for him, full-formed and
perfect as he had dreamed it and desired. It had happened so often
that he had grown to trust this profounder inspiration of his sleep.

Hitherto it was only the problems of his heart that had been thus
divinely dealt with; he had been left to struggle hopelessly with the
problems of his life; and of these Flossie was the most insoluble. And
now that he had given up thinking of her, had abandoned her to her own
mysterious workings, it too had been solved and in the same simple,
inevitable way. His contempt for Flossie's methods could not blind him
to the beneficence of the result.

He wrote to her that night to the effect that he gladly and entirely
acquiesced in her decision; but that he should have thought that he
and not Mr. Spinks had been entitled to the first intimation of it. He
had no doubt, however, that she had done the best and wisest thing. He
forbore to add "for both of us." His chivalry still persisted in
regarding Flossie as a deeply injured person. He had wronged her from
the beginning. Had he not laid on her, first the burden of his
passion, and yet again the double burden of his genius and his honour?
A heavier load, that, and wholly unfitted for the poor little back
that would have had to bear it. It never occurred to him that he had
been in any way the victim of Flossie's powerful instincts. It was
Maddox who said that Mr. Spinks had made himself immortal by his
marriage; that he should be put on the Civil List for his services to
literature.

Of Rickman's place in literature there could be no question for the
next two or three years. He foresaw that the all-important thing was
his place on _The Planet_, his place on _Metropolis_, his place (if he
could find one) on any other paper. He had looked to journalism for
the means to support a wife, and journalism alone could maintain him
in his struggle with Pilkington. Whether Maddox was right or wrong in
his opinion of the disastrous influence of Flossie, there could be no
doubt that for the present Rickman's genius had no more formidable
rival than his honour. If it is perdition to a great tragic dramatist
when passion impels him to marry on three hundred a year, it can
hardly be desirable that conscience should constrain him to raise
seven hundred and fifty pounds in three years. Fate seemed bent in
forcing him to live his tragedies rather than write them; but Rickman,
free of Flossie, faced the desperate prospect with the old reckless
spirit of his youth.

For the first year the prospect did not look so very desperate. He had
found cheap rooms unfurnished in Torrington Square where the houses
are smaller and less sumptuous than Mrs. Downey's. He had succeeded in
letting the little house in Ealing, where the abominable furniture
that had nearly cost so dear justified its existence by adding a small
sum to his income. He had benefited indirectly by Rankin's greatness;
for Rankin seldom contributed anything to _The Planet_ now beyond his
lively column once a week; and Rickman was frequently called on to
fill his place. _The Planet_ was good for at least a solid hundred a
year; _Metropolis_ (once it began to pay) for a solid two hundred and
fifty or more; other papers for small and varying sums. When he totted
it all up together he found that he was affluent. He could reckon on a
round four hundred all told. In Torrington Square, by the practice of
a little ingenious economy, he could easily live on a hundred and
twenty-five; so that by the end of the first year he should have saved
the considerable sum of two hundred and seventy-five pounds. At that
rate, in three years--no, in two years and a--well, in rather more
than two and a half years the thing would be done. By a little extra
exertion he might be able to reduce it to two years; to one, perhaps,
by a magnificent stroke of luck. Such luck, for instance, as a stage
success, a run of a hundred nights for the tragedy whose First Act he
was writing now.

That, of course, it would be madness to count on; but he had some
hopes from the sudden and extraordinary transformation of _The
Museion_.

Sudden enough, to the uninitiated, seeing that in September,
ninety-seven, the organ of philosophic criticism to all appearances
died, and that in October it burst into life again under a new cover
and a new title, Jewdwine himself sounding the trump of resurrection.
_The Museion's_ old contributors knew it no more; or failed to
recognise it in _Metropolis_. On the tinted cover there was no trace
of the familiar symbolic head-piece, so suggestive of an Ionic frieze,
but the new title in the broadest, boldest, blackest of type
proclaimed its almost wanton repudiation of the old tradition.

Jewdwine's first "concession to modernity," was a long leading review
of the "Art of Herbert Rankin." Herbert Rankin was so much amused with
it that it kept him quiet for at least three weeks in his playground
of _The Planet_. After such a handsome appreciation as that, he had to
wait a decent interval before "going for Jewdwine." When he remarked
to Rickman that it would have been more to the purpose if Jewdwine had
devoted his six columns to the Art of S.K.R., Rickman blushed and
turned his head away, as if Rankin had been guilty of some gross
indelicacy. He was still virginally sensitive where Jewdwine was
concerned.

But, in a sense not intended by Rankin, Jewdwine was very much
occupied, not to say perturbed by the art of S.K.R. Not exactly to the
exclusion of every other interest; for Rickman, looking in on the
great editor one afternoon, found him almost enthusiastic over his
"last discovery." A new poet, according to Jewdwine, had arisen in the
person of an eminent Cabinet Minister, who in ninety-seven was
beguiling the tedium of office with a very pretty playing on the
pastoral pipe. Mr. Fulcher's _In Arcadia_ lay on the editorial table,
bound in white vellum, with the figure of the great God Pan
symbolizing Mr. Fulcher, on the cover. Jewdwine's attitude to Mr.
Fulcher was for Jewdwine humble, not to say reverent. He intimated to
Rickman that in Fulcher he had found what he had wanted.

Jewdwine in the early days of _Metropolis_ wore the hungry look of a
man who, having swallowed all his formulas, finds himself unnourished.
"The soul," Jewdwine used to say (perverting Emerson) "is appeased by
a formula"; and it was clear that his soul would never be appeased
until it had found a new one. Those who now conversed intimately with
Jewdwine were entertained no longer with the Absolute, but they heard
a great deal about the "Return to Nature." Mr. Fulcher's pipings,
therefore, were entirely in harmony with Jewdwine's change of mood.

But Rickman, who had once protested so vigorously against the
Absolute, would not hear of the Return to Nature, either. That cry was
only a symptom of the inevitable sickness of the academic spirit,
surfeited with its own philosophy. He shook his head mournfully over
Mr. Fulcher. What looked to Jewdwine like simplicity seemed to him
only a more intolerably sophisticated pose than any other.

"I prefer Mr. Fulcher in Downing Street to Mr. Fulcher in Arcadia. Mr.
Fulcher," he said, "can no more return to Nature than he can enter a
second time into his mother's womb and be born."

He walked up and down the little office excitedly, while he drew for
Jewdwine's benefit an unattractive picture of the poet as babe,
drinking from the breasts of the bounteous mother. "You can't go for
ever hanging on your mother's breasts; it isn't decent and it isn't
manly. Return to Nature! It's only too easy to return, and stay.
You'll do no good at all if you've never been there; but if you mean
to grow up you must break loose and get away. The great mother is
inclined to bug some of her children rather too tight, I fancy; and by
Heaven! it's pretty tough work for some of them wriggling out of her
arms."

He came to a sudden standstill, and turned on Jewdwine the sudden
leaping light of the blue eyes that seemed to see through Jewdwine and
beyond him. No formula could ever frame and hold for him that vision
of his calling which had come to him four years ago on Harcombe Hill.
He had conceived and sung of Nature, not as the indomitable parent by
turns tyrannous and kind, but as the virgin mystery, the shy and
tender bride that waits in golden abysmal secrecy for the embrace of
spirit, herself athirst for the passionate immortal hour. He foresaw
the supreme and indestructible union. He saw one eternal nature and a
thousand forms of art, differing according to the virile soul. And
what he saw he endeavoured to describe to Jewdwine. "That means, mind
you, that your poet is a grown-up man and not a slobbering infant."

"Exactly. And Nature will be the mother of his art, as _I_ said."

"As you didn't say--The mother _only_. There isn't any immaculate
conception of truth. Don't you believe it for a moment."

Jewdwine retired into himself a moment to meditate on that telling
word. He wondered what lay beyond it.

"And Art," continued Rickman, "is truth, just because it isn't
Nature."

"If you mean," said Jewdwine, seeking a formula, "that modern art is
essentially subjective, I agree with you."

"I mean that really virile and original art--the art, I believe of the
future--must spring from the supreme surrender of Nature to the human
soul."

"And do you honestly believe that the art of the future will be one
bit more 'virile' than the art of the present day?"

"On the whole I do."

"Well, I don't. I see nothing that makes for it. No art can hold out
for ever against commercialism. The nineteenth century has been
commercial enough in all conscience, bestially, brutally commercial;
but its commercialism and brutality will be nothing to the
commercialism and brutality of the twentieth. If these things are
deadly to art now, they'll be ten times more deadly then. The
mortality, among poets, my dear Rickman, will be something terrific."

"Not a bit of it. The next century, if I'm not mistaken, will see a
pretty big flare up of a revolution; and the soul will come out on
top. Robespierre and Martin Luther won't be in it, Jewdwine, with the
poets of that school."

"I'm glad you feel able to take that view of it. I don't seem to see
the poets of the twentieth century myself."

"I see them all right," said Rickman, simply. "They won't be the poets
of Nature, like the nineteenth century chaps; they'll be the poets of
human nature--dramatic poets, to a man. Of course, it'll take a
revolution to produce that sort."

"A revolution? A cataclysm, you mean."

"No. If you come to think of it, it's only the natural way a healthy
poet grows. Look at Shakespeare. I believe, you know, that most poets
would grow into dramatic poets if they lived long enough. Only
sometimes they don't live; and sometimes they don't grow. Lyric poets
are cases of arrested development, that's all."

Jewdwine listened with considerable amusement as his subordinate
propounded to him this novel view. He wondered what literary enormity
Rickman might be contemplating now. That he had something at the back
of his mind was pretty evident. Jewdwine meant to lie low till, from
that obscure region, Rickman, as was his wont, should have brought out
his monster for inspection.

He produced it the next instant, blushingly, tenderly, yet with no
diminution of his sublime belief.

"You see--you'll think it sheer lunacy, but--I've a sort of idea that
if I'm to go on at all, myself, it must be on those lines. Modern
poetic drama--It's that or nothing, you know."

Jewdwine's face said very plainly that he had no doubt whatever of the
alternative. It also expressed a curious and indefinable relief.

"Modern poetic drama? So that's your modest ambition, is it?"

Rickman owned that indeed it was.

"My dear fellow, modern poetic drama is a contradiction in all its
terms. There are only three schools of poetry possible--the classic,
the romantic and the natural. Art only exists by one of three
principles, normal beauty, spiritual spontaneity, and vital mystery or
charm. And none of these three is to be found in modern life." These
were the laws he had laid down in the _Prolegomena to AEsthetics_,
which Rickman, in the insolence of his genius, had defied. Somehow the
life seemed to have departed from those stately propositions, but
Jewdwine clung to them in a desperate effort to preserve his critical
integrity. He was soothed by the sound of his own voice repeating
them. He caught as it were an echo of the majestic harmonies that
once floated through his lecture-room at Lazarus. "Besides," he went
on, "where will you find your drama to begin with?"

"In modern men and women."

"But modern men and women are essentially undramatic, _and_ unpoetic."

"Still, I must take them, because, you see, there's nothing else to
take. There never was or will be. The men and women of Shakespeare's
time were modern to him, you know. If they seem poetic to us, that's
because a poet made them so; and he made them so because he saw
that--essentially--they _were_ so."

Jewdwine pushed out his lips in the manner of one unwillingly dubious.

"My dear Rickman, you have got to learn your limitations; or if not
your limitations, the limitations made for you by the ridiculous and
unlovely conditions of modern life."

"I have learnt them. After all, what am I to do? I _am_ modern--modern
as my hat," said Rickman, turning it in his hands. "I admit that my
hat isn't even a fugitive form of the eternal and absolute beauty. It
is, I'm afraid, horribly like everybody else's hat. In moments of
profound insight I feel that _I_ am horribly like everybody else. If
it wasn't for that I should have no hope of achieving my modest
ambition."

"I'm not saying anything against your modesty or your ambition. I'm
not defying you to write a modern blank verse play; but I defy anybody
to act one."

"I know," said Rickman, "it's sad of course, but to the frivolous mind
of a critic there always will be something ridiculous in the notion of
blank verse spouted on the stage by a person in a frock-coat and a
top-hat. But do you think you'd see that frock-coat and top-hat if
once the great tragic passions got inside them?"

"Where _are_ the great tragic passions?"

"They exist and are poetic."

"As survivals only. They are poetic but not modern. We have the
passions of the divorce-court and the Stock Exchange. They are modern,
if you like, but not strikingly poetic."

"Well--even a stock-broker--if you insist on stockbrokers--"

"I don't. Take the people--take the women I know, the women you know.
Is there--honestly, is there any poetry in them?"

"There is--heaps. Oceans of poetry--There always has been and will be.
It's the poets, the great poets that don't turn up to time."

"Well; I don't care how great a poet you may be. Modern poetic drama
is the path of perdition for you. I wish," he added with an
unmistakable air of turning to a subject of real interest. "I wish I
knew what to do with Fulcher."

"I don't know. I only know Mr. Fulcher's art hasn't much to do with
nature. I'm afraid it's the illegitimate offspring of Mr. Fulcher and
some young shepherdess of Covent Garden."

"He seems to have proved himself pretty much at home in Arcadia."

"Don't you believe him. He's only at home in Downing Street. You'd
better leave him there."

But Jewdwine did not leave him there. He exalted Mr. Fulcher to the
seventh heaven in four and a half columns of _Metropolis_. With his
journalistic scent for the alluring and the vivid phrase, he took
everything notable that Rickman had said and adapted it to Mr.
Fulcher. _In Arcadia_ supplying a really golden opportunity for a
critical essay on "Truth to Nature," wherein Mr. Fulcher learnt, to
his immense bewilderment, that there is no immaculate conception of
that truth; but that to Mr. Fulcher, as poet, belonged the exultation
of paternity. Jewdwine quoted Coleridge to the effect that Mr. Fulcher
only received what he was pleased to give, and that in Mr. Fulcher's
life alone did Nature live. And when Rankin, falling on that article,
asked Maddox what it meant, Maddox replied that it meant nothing
except that Mr. Fulcher was a Cabinet Minister.

But within three months of the day on which Jewdwine had pronounced
the modern poetic drama to be dead, Rickman had written the First Act
of his tragedy which proved it (as far as a First Act can prove
anything) to be very much alive.

Jewdwine received the announcement of this achievement with every
appearance of pleasure. He was indeed genuinely relieved to think that
Rickman was thus harmlessly employed. The incessant successful
production of _Saturnalia_ would have been prejudicial to the
interests of _The Museion_; a series of triumphant _Helens in Leuce_
would have turned Rickman aside for ever from the columns of
_Metropolis_; but Jewdwine told himself that he had nothing to fear
from the rivalries of the modern Tragic Muse. Rickman the journalist
would live; for Rickman the poet had set out on the path of perdition.

Nobody could say that it was Jewdwine who had encouraged him to take
it.




CHAPTER LXVI


In January, ninety-eight, _Metropolis_ began to pay, and Rickman's
hopes were justified. He was now a solid man, a man of income. For
eighteen months he kept strictly within the limits he had allowed
himself. His nature inclined him to a riotous and absurd expenditure,
and for eighteen months he wrestled with and did violence to his
nature. Each sum he saved stood for some triumph of ingenious
abnegation, some miracle of self-restraint. And for eighteen months
Dicky Pilkington, beholding the spectacle of his heroism, laid ten to
one against his ultimate success. The thing, Dicky said, was
impossible; he could never keep it up. But Rickman once abandoned to a
persistent and passionate economy, there was no more holding him in on
that path than on any other. By the middle of the following year, out
of an income of four hundred he had saved that sum.

He said to himself that the worst was over now. He had paid off more
than half of his debt, and the remainder had still another fourteen
months to run. Only fourteen months' passionate economy and the Harden
library would be redeemed. As he saw himself within measurable
distance of his end, he was seized by an anxiety, an excitement that
he had not been aware of at the start. The sight of the goal perturbed
him; it suggested the failure that up to that moment he had not
allowed himself to contemplate. Like an athlete he gathered himself
together for the final spurt; and ninety-nine was a brilliant year for
_The Planet_ made glorious by the poems, articles and paragraphs
showered on it by S.K.R. Maddox shook his head over some of them; but
he took them all and boasted, as he well might, that _The Planet_
published more Rickman--the real Rickman--in six months than
_Metropolis_ would do in as many years. He distinguished between
Rickman's genius and his talent; provided he got his best work,
anybody else was welcome to his second-best. By anybody else he meant
Jewdwine.

Yet it was a nobler feeling than professional rivalry that made him
abhor the poet's connection with _Metropolis_; for Maddox was if
anything more jealous for Rickman's reputation than for his own. From
the very beginning he had never ceased to wonder at his unaccountable
affection for Horace Jewdwine; the infatuation, for it amounted to
infatuation, would have been comprehensible enough in any other man,
but it was unaccountable in Rickman, who was wholly destitute of
reverence for the sources of his income. Jewdwine of _The Museion_ had
been in Maddox's opinion a harmless philosophic crank; he had done
nothing, absolutely nothing for Rickman's genius; but Jewdwine of
_Metropolis_ was dangerous, for he encouraged Rickman's talent; and
Rickman's talent would, he was afraid, be ultimately destructive to
the higher power.

So Maddox prayed to heaven for promotion, that he might make Rickman
independent of Jewdwine and his journal. There were many things that
he had in his mind to do for him in the day of advancement. His eyes
raked the horizon, sighting promotion from afar. And in the last two
years, promotion had come very near to Maddox. There were quarters,
influential quarters, where he Was spoken of as a singularly original
young man; and he had the knack of getting hold of singularly original
young men; young men of originality too singular perhaps to make the
paper pay. Still, though the orbit of _The Planet_ was hardly so vast
as Maddox had anticipated, as to its brilliance there could be no two
opinions. In the year ninety-eight, the year that saw Rickman first
struggling in the financier's toils, Maddox had delivered his paper
from the power of Pilkington. Promotion played with Maddox; it hovered
round him, touching him tentatively with the tips of its wings; he
lured it by every innocent art within his power, but hitherto it had
always settled on some less wild and wanton head.

At last it came, it kept on coming, from a quarter where, as he had
every right to look for it, he had of course never dreamed of looking.
Rankin's publishers, grown rich on the proceeds of Rankin's pen, were
dissatisfied with their reader (the poor man had not discovered
Rankin); on Rankin's advice they offered his post to Maddox (who had),
and that at double his salary. They grew richer, and at a further hint
from Rankin they made Maddox a director. In the same mad year they
started a new monthly, and (Rankin again) appointed Maddox as their
editor.

His opportunity had come. On the very night of this third appointment
Maddox called on Rickman and proposed on behalf of Rankin and Stables
to hand over to him the editorship of _The Planet_. For Stables, he
said, was too dog lazy, and Rankin too grossly prosperous to have
anything to do with it. He didn't think any of them would ever make a
fortune out of it; but its editor's income would be at any rate
secure. He omitted to mention that it would be practically secured out
of his, Maddox's, own pocket.

"You may reckon," said he, "on three hundred and fifty." He named the
sum modestly, humbly almost; not that he thought Rickman would be
sorry to have that little addition to his income, but because he was
always diffident in offering anything to Rickman, "when you thought of
what he was"; and he found something startling, not to say upsetting,
in the joy that leapt up in his young eyes. You never could tell how
Ricky-ticky would take a thing; but if he had known he was going to
take it that way he would have written him a note. He wondered whether
Ricky-ticky was in a tight corner, head over ears in debt or love. Did
the young lunatic want to marry after that near shave he had two years
ago? You wouldn't exactly refuse three hundred and fifty; but a beggar
must be brought pretty low to be crumpled up in that way by the mere
mention of the sum.

Maddox was not aware that no other combination of figures could have
excited precisely those emotions; three hundred and fifty being the
exact sum that Rickman needed for the accomplishment of his purpose.
It brought his dream nearer to him by a year. A year? Why, it did
more. He had only to ask and Maddox would advance the money. His dream
was now, this moment, within his grasp.

And all he could say was, "I say, you know, this is awfully good of
you."

"Good of you, Rickets, to take the thing off my hands. I can't very
well run a monthly and a weekly with all my other jobs thrown in."

"The question is whether I can manage two weeklies and the other
things."

"No, you can't. You're not built that way. But if you take _The
Planet_, you can afford to chuck _Metropolis_. Tell you the truth,
that's one reason why I want you to take it."

Some of the joy died out of Rickman's face.

"The other reason is, of course, that I can't think of a better man."

"It's awfully good of you to think of me at all. But why do you want
me to chuck _Metropolis_?"

"Never mind why. I don't say _The Planet_ is the best imaginable place
for you, nor are you the best imaginable man for _The Planet_; but I
really can't think of a better."

"No, but why--"

"(Confound him, why can't he leave it alone? I shall lose my temper in
another minute," said Maddox to himself.) "The question is, would you
like it? Because, if you wouldn't, don't imagine you've got to take it
to oblige me."

"Of course I'd like it. There isn't anything I'd like so well."

"It's settled then."

It might have been, but Rickman turned on him again with his
ungovernable "Why?"

"If you'd like it, Ricky, there's nothing more to be said. I know it
isn't exactly a sumptuous berth for you, but it's a bit better
salary."

"I'm not thinking of the salary. Oh, yes, I am, though; God forgive
me, I'm thinking of nothing else."

"Salary apart," said Maddox, with the least touch of resentment, "it's
a better thing for you to edit _The Planet_ than to sub-edit
_Metropolis_."

"Of course it is. Still, I should like to know why you want me to
throw Jewdwine over."

"Hang Jewdwine. I said _Metropolis_."

"I'm glad you admit the distinction."

"I _don't_ admit it."

"Why do you want me to throw the thing over, then? Do you mean that I
can't work for you and Jewdwine at the same time?"

"I never said anything about Jewdwine at all. But--if you will have
it--I can't say I consider the connection desirable for the editor of
_The Planet_."

"I think I'm the best judge of that."

"I said--for the editor of _The Planet_."

"For the editor of _The Planet_ then, why not?"

"Ours is a poor but honest paper," said Maddox with his devilish
twinkle.

"I don't see how I can very well be the editor of _The Planet_ so long
as it insists on shying a dead cat every week at the editor of
_Metropolis_."

"We have never mentioned the editor of _Metropolis_. Still--if you can
induce Rankin to give up his little jest--the cat is certainly very
dead by this time."

"He'll have to give it up if you make me editor."

"You'd better tell him so."

"I shall."

"All right, Rickets; only wait till you _are_ editor. Then you can put
as much side on as you like."

"Good heavens, did you ever see me put on side?"

"Well, I've seen you strike an attitude occasionally."

"All my attitudes put together hardly amount to side."

"They do, if they assume that they're going to affect the attitude of
our paper."

"I didn't know it had one."

"It has a very decided attitude with regard to the ethics of
reviewing; and whatever else you make it give up, it's not going to
give up that. _The Planet_, Ricky, doesn't put on side. Side would be
fatal to any freedom in the handling of dead cats. I wouldn't go so
far as to say that it makes its moral being its prime care; but there
are some abuses which it lives to expose, though the exposure doesn't
help it much to live."

"Oh, I say, Maddy! That's what keeps you going. My poems would have
sunk you long ago, if it hadn't been for your thrilling
personalities."

"Personalities or no personalities, what I mean to rub into you is
that _The Planet_ is impartial; it's _the_ only impartial review in
this country. It has always reserved to itself an absolutely
untrammelled hand in the shying of dead cats; and because a man
happens to be a friend of the editor, it's no guarantee whatever that
he won't have one slung at him the minute he deserves it. His only
security is to perpetrate some crime so atrocious that we can't
publish his name for fear of letting ourselves in for an action for
libel. Your attitude to Mr. Jewdwine is naturally personal. Ours is
not. I should have thought you'd have been the first to see that."

"I don't see what you've got against him, to begin with. I wish you'd
tell me plainly what it is."

"If you will have it, it's simply this--he isn't honest."

"What the devil _do_ you mean?"

"I mean what you mean when you say a woman isn't honest. As you've so
often remarked, there's such a thing as intellectual chastity. Some
people have it, and some have not. You have it, my dear Rickets, in
perfection, not to say excess; but most of us manage to lose it more
or less as we go on. It's a deuced hard thing, I can tell you, for any
editor to keep; and Jewdwine, I'm afraid, has latterly been induced to
part with it to a considerable, a very considerable extent. It's a
thousand pities; for Jewdwine had the makings in him of a really fine
critic. He might have been a classic if he'd died soon enough."

"He _is_ a classic--he's the only man whose opinion's really worth
having at this moment."

"Whom are we talking about? Jewdwine? Or the editor of _Metropolis_?"

"I'm talking about Jewdwine. I happen to know him, if you don't."

"And I'm talking about the other fellow whom you don't happen to know
a little bit. Nobody cares a tuppenny damn about _his_ opinion, except
the fools who read it and the knaves who buy it."

"And who do you imagine those people are?"

"Most of them are publishers, I believe. But a good few are authors, I
regret to say."

"Authors have cheek enough for most things; but I should like to see
one suggesting to Jewdwine that he should sell him his opinion."

"My dear fellow, anybody may suggest it. That's what he's there for,
since he turned his opinion on to the streets. Whether you get a
pretty opinion or not depends on the length of your purse."

"Why don't you call it bribery at once?"

"Because bribery's too harsh a term to apply to an editor, _mon
semblable, mon frere_; but in a woman, or a parliamentary candidate,
it might possibly be called corruption."

"Thanks. Well, you've made me a very generous offer, Maddox, so
generous that I'm glad you've explained yourself before I took it. For
after that, you know, it would have been rather awkward for me to have
to tell you you're a liar!"

"You consider me a liar, do you?" said Maddox in a mild dispassionate
voice.

"Certainly I do, when you say these thing about Jewdwine."

"How about Rankin? He says them."

"Then Rankin's a liar, too!"

"And Stables?"

"_And_ Stables--if he says them."

"My dear Rickman, everybody says them; only they don't say them to
you. We can't all be liars."

"There's a difference, I admit. Anybody who says them is a liar; and
anybody who says them to _me_ is a d----d liar! That's the
difference."

Whereupon Maddox intimated (as honour indeed compelled him) that
Rickman was the sort of young fool for which there is no salvation.
And by the time Rickman had replied with suitable hyperbole; and
Maddox, because of the great love he bore to Rickman, had observed
that if Rickman chose to cut his confused throat he might do so
without its being a matter of permanent regret to Maddox; and Rickman,
because of the great love he bore to Maddox, had suggested his
immediate departure for perdition, it was pretty clearly understood
that Rickman himself preferred to perish, everlastingly perish, rather
than be connected even remotely with Maddox and his paper. And on that
understanding they separated.

And when the door was closed between them, Rickman realised that his
folly was even as Maddox had described it. In one night, and at a
crisis of his finances, he had severed himself from a fairly permanent
source of income; flung up the most desirable chance that had
presented itself hitherto in his career; and quarrelled disgracefully
and disagreeably with his best friend. He supposed the split was bound
to come; but if he could only have staved it off for another year,
till he had collected that seven hundred and fifty! There could be no
doubt that that was what he ought to have done. He ought to have been
prudent for Lucia's sake. And on the top of it all came the terrible
reflection--Was it really worth it? Did he really believe in Jewdwine?
Or had he sacrificed himself for an idea?




CHAPTER LXVII


Rickman could never be made to speak of the quarrel with Maddox. He
merely mentioned to Jewdwine in the most casual manner that he had
left _The Planet_. As for his grounds for that abrupt departure
Jewdwine was entirely in the dark. It was Lucia that enlightened him.

For all things, even the deep things of journalism, sooner or later
come to light. Rickman, before the quarrel, had given Miss Roots an
introduction to the young men of _The Planet_, and its editor had
taken kindly to Miss Roots. Maddox, it is true, did his best to keep
the matter quiet, until in a moment of expansion he allowed that
shrewd lady to lure him into confidences. Maddox tried to take it and
present it philosophically. "It was bound to happen," he said. "Our
Ricky-ticky is a bad hand at serving two masters," but as to which was
God and which Mammon in this connection he modestly reserved his
opinion. Jewdwine's name was carefully avoided, but Miss Roots was
left in no doubt as to the subject of dispute.

She and Maddox were one in their inextinguishable enthusiasm for their
Rickman, for Rickman had the gift, the rarest of all gifts, of uniting
the hearts that loved him. If Jewdwine had showed anything like a
proper appreciation of the poet, Maddox would have spared him now. So
the two looked at each other, with eyes that plumbed all the depths of
the unspoken and unspeakable, eyes that sent out a twinkling flash of
admiration as they agreed that it was "just like Rickman." That phrase
was for ever on the lips of his admirers, a testimony to the fact that
Rickman was invariably true to himself.

He was being tr