Infomotions, Inc.To-morrow? / Cross, Victoria, 1868-1952



Author: Cross, Victoria, 1868-1952
Title: To-morrow?
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): lucia; howard; victor
Contributor(s): Bright, Mynors, 1818-1883 [Translator]
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Identifier: etext3609
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Title: To-morrow?

Author: Victoria Cross

Release Date: January, 2002  [Etext #3609]
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To-morrow?

By

Victoria Cross




"Cras te victurum, cras dicis Postume semper
Dic mihi cras istud, Postume quando venit?
Quam longe cras istud, ubi est? aut unde petendum?
Cras istud quanti dic mihi, possit emi?
Cras vives? hodie jam vivere, Postume, serum est
Ille sapit, quisquis Postume, vixit heri."

MART. v. lviii.




CHAPTER I.


"REJECTED! rejected!"

I crushed the letter spasmodically in my hand as I walked
mechanically up and down the length of the dining-room, a rage of
anger filling my brain and the blood thundering in my ears.

"Rejected! and that not for the first time. Another year and a
half's work flung away--simply flung away, and I am no nearer
recognition than ever. Incredible it seems that they won't accept
that."

I stopped under the gasalier and glanced again through the letter I
had just received.

"DEAR SIR,--With reference to your last MS., we regret to say we
cannot undertake its publication, owing to the open way in which you
express your unusual religious views and your contempt for existing
institutions.

"At the same time, our reader expresses his admiration for your
style, and his regret that your unmistakably brilliant genius should
be directed towards unsatisfactory subjects.--We are," etc., etc.

The blood flowed hotly over my face, and my teeth closed hard upon
my lip.

Always the same thing! rejection from every quarter.

The last clause in the letter, which might have brought some
momentary gratification to a man less certain, less absolutely sure
of his own powers than I was, could bring none to me.

It only served to make sharper the edge of my keen disappointment.
Brilliant genius! I read the words with the shadow of a satirical
smile.

What need to tell me that I possessed a power that inflamed every
vein, that heated all the blood in my system, that filled, till they
seemed buoyant, every cell of my brain? As much need as to tell the
expectant mother she has a life within her own.

I was tired of praise, tired of being called gifted, tired of
hearing reiterated by others that which I knew so well myself.

We are invariably little grateful for anything freely and constantly
offered to us, and I cared now simply nothing for compliments,
praise, or felicitation.

These had been given to me from my childhood upwards, and yet here,
at six and twenty, I was still unknown, unrecognized, obscure, and
not a single line of my writing had met the public eye.

I craved and thirsted after success far more than a fever-stricken
man in the desert can crave after water, for the longings and
desires of the body are finite, and when a fixed pitch in them has
been surpassed, death grants us a merciful cessation of all desire,
but the longings of the mind are infinite, absolutely without limit
and without period; and where a physical desire, ungratified, must
eventually destroy itself as it wears away the matter that has given
it birth, a mental desire does not wane with the flesh it wastes,
but remains ravening to the last, and reigns supreme over the death
agony, up to the final moment of actual dissolution.

I had done what I could to attain my own wishes; I was not one of
those idle, clever fellows who imagine talent independent of work,
and who are too lazy to throw into words and commit to paper the
brilliant but vague, unformed inspirations that visit them between
the circling rings of smoke from their cigar.

I had no thought, no expectation, no wish even to be offered that
celebrated sweet condition of the palm without the dust of the
struggle in the arena.

But for me it had been dust, dust, and nothing but dust, and there
were times when it seemed to blind, choke, overpower me.

My capacity for work was unlimited; labour was comparatively no
labour to me. The mechanical work of embodying an idea in a
manuscript was as nothing to me.

To write came to me as naturally as to speak.

Therefore work had not been wanting. Manuscript after manuscript had
been completed, submitted to various publishers, and returned with
thanks, with commendation, and regrets that I had not written
something totally different.

And there they all stood in a pile, an irritating, distracting pile,
a monument of unrequited labour, an unrealised capital, a silent
testimony to the exceeding narrowness of the limits of British
indulgence to talent.

My persistent ill-luck was all the more aggravating as I was not
handicapped by poverty, as so many authors are. The question of
terms had not been one to present a difficulty.

I had no need to ask a publisher to accept my MSS. at his own
financial risk.

I was not the traditional struggling young writer of the lady
novelist who treats poverty and genius as convertible terms, making
up with the former quality whatever her hero lacks of the other.

No; although the combination may be very romantic, I confess,
notwithstanding that I was an unrecognised author, I was not living
in a garret, nor writing my MSS. by the proverbially flaring candle,
nor going without my dinner in order to pay for foolscap.

But my feelings were as bitter, and the sense of disappointment as
sharp, as any attic-dwelling genius' could have been, even if we
suppose the lady novelist to have thrown in a conventionally
consumptive wife.

In fact they were stronger because more absolute, more concentrated
in themselves.

There were no pangs of hunger to distract my attention, no
traditionally patient wife to look sadly at me, no responsibilities
for others lying upon me and my rejected MSS.

Simply all my own desires for myself centred in them.

There was one side issue which at times seemed to include
everything, to be everything in itself, but the moments when this
forced itself in overwhelming prominence upon my brain were few.

The wish that I had to publish my works could not be traced to
distinct motives; it did not spring from a desire to gain money, nor
yet celebrity.

I was not particularly keen on fame while I lived, and I certainly
had no sentimental ideas of my name surviving me.

I cared little in fact whether my name ever reached the public,
provided only my works were known and read. The wish to give them
out was not a thing of motive, nor thought, nor will. It was the
fierce, instinctive impulse that accompanies all creative power, the
tremendous impetus towards production that is an integral part of
all conceptive capacity. The same driving necessity that compels a
writer in the middle of the night to rise and take his pen and
commit to paper some thought or thoughts that are racing about in
his brain, trying to find an outlet, that compels him to produce
them as far as he is able, this same urgent impulse forces him to
complete his manuscript, and when completed, to strain his utmost to
give it actual life in the thoughts and brains of the public.

The pressing want to produce is as wholly natural, as innate, as
independent of the individual's volition as the conceptive impulse
itself.

And it was thus with me.

I could not be said to wish to publish from this or that motive,
because of this, that, or the other. I was simply dominated by the
instinct to do so, which grew more and more urgent as it found no
gratification.

It had risen now rampant at this last rebuff, and it seemed to rage
about in my brain like a Bengal tiger in a net.

I walked up and down the long dining-room, backwards and forwards,
from the grate where the fire blazed to the glass-panelled sideboard
at the other end, where its reflection sparkled, yawning every now
and then from sheer nervous irritation. "Cursed, infernal nuisance!"

I had just muttered this when the door was pushed open, but the
enterer, on hearing my exclamation, promptly drew it to again, and
would have shut it, but that I caught the handle.

It was the butler.

"What do you want, Simmonds," I said.

"Nothing, sir. I was told to enquire if you was in."

"Well, I am."

"Yes, sir. Please, Mr. Hilton said was you ready for dinner?"

"Certainly; and, Simmonds, where's Nous?"

"Tied up, sir, in the stable."

"Tied up! Again! I gave orders he was never to be tied up!"

"Yes, sir; but please, sir, he was that dirty and muddy to go
scrimmaging over the house, and it's the ruination of the furniture-
-"

"The dog is not to be tied up," I interrupted.

"Have him let loose at once, and in future remember, if he comes in
wet and muddy, and chooses to lie on the drawing-room couch, let
him."

The man disappeared, and I walked over to the hearth.

A minute or two later there was a scratching and whining outside the
door, and I went to it and let Nous in.

He bounded over me, licked my face furiously, and scratched
enthusiastically at my shirt front.

He was wet, and his fur laden with mud, as the butler had said, and
my clothes suffered from his demonstrativeness, but his feelings
were of more import than a dress-coat, and I would not have hurt
them by checking his greeting.

"Dear old boy," I said, taking the collar off with which he had been
chained up,--and just then my father came into the room.

"Ah, got back, Victor?"

"Yes," I said, looking up.

"They've rejected your last, eh?" he said at once.

"Yes. Why? Have they sent it? How did you know it was rejected?"

"By your face, my dear boy," answered my father.

"It's odd that these failures knock you up still. You must be
accustomed to them now!"

That was cutting, and it cut.

"One does not easily get accustomed to anything that is against
natural law," I said, coldly.

"Oh! and you mean that it is against the natural law of things that
so brilliant a genius as yourself should be perpetually rejected?"

I nodded. "Just so," I answered.

"It is a pity they will not take your estimation of your own
powers!"

"There is very little difference in the estimation," I said. "The
difference is in the courage. I have the courage to write things
they have not the courage to print. There is no question as to my
powers. No one, except yourself, perhaps, has ever denied those."

"Well, why the dickens don't you write something that they will
accept? Why not make up something quite conventional?"

I looked across the hearth at him with a half amused, half ironical
smile, and said nothing. It is so hard to explain to an outsider the
involuntariness of all real talent.

This great leading characteristic is invariably but imperfectly
grasped by others.

They cannot realise it.

I was too flat in spirits and too tired in body to feel inclined to
enter then into an abstruse discussion with him, and I would have
let the matter slide.

His last remark to the ear of anyone who has genuine talent, whether
artist or author or poet, or what you please, sounds like a
sacrilegious blasphemy.

"Make up something!"

Great heavens! What an expression!

Is a writer, then, a cook, preparing a new dish? Is he a nursery
maid soothing a refractory child? Is he a woman's dressmaker taking
her mistress's orders?

Dinner was served just then, and we took our seats at the table in
silence.

I thought I should have no need to answer.

However, when the butler had deposited the soup and shut the door
after him, my father returned to the attack.

"Yes, Victor," he said in a friendly way, as if a happy solution of
my difficulties had just occurred to him, "why don't you make up
something quite orthodox and keep your own opinions out of it?"

I sighed and took half a glass of claret to fortify me. I saw I was
in for propounding my views upon genius, and I did not feel up to
it.

I could have avoided the argument, doubtless, by seeming to assent,
by promising to "make up something," and saved myself a number of
words.

But there is a strong impulse in me to revolt against allowing
myself to seem to accept a false statement or opinion that I do not
really hold.

And I pulled myself together with an effort.

"I don't think you understand in the least my view of a writer and
his writings," I said. "It is not a voluntary thing, led up to by
pre-determination. There can be no question of making up. I never
try to write nor to think. I do not invoke my own ideas. They spring
into being of themselves, quite unsought. And, in a measure, they
are uncontrollable."

My father was staring at me in silence.

"Eh?" he said merely as I paused.

I laughed.

"What I mean is, that a man, as a man, endowed with will, control,
wishes, and so on, ceases to exist, you may say, while he is
writing. He becomes then the tool of that peculiar, mysterious power
that is moving in his brain. He writes as a clerk writes from
dictation. He is the clerk pro tem of the impulse stirring his
being, which dictates to him what it pleases. There is no
consideration in his mind--'I will write this or that' or 'I won't
write the other.' He simply feels he must write a particular thing;
it crowds off his pen before he can stop it. He does not know where,
whence, how, or why the idea came to him. But it is there,
clamouring to be written, and he writes it because he must. The
expression, very often, of a thought is as uncontrollable as a
physical spasm, and the man who writes it cannot always be held
responsible for it."

"My dear Victor!"

"No, really," I said, laughing, "I am simply stating ordinary facts.
I believe any writer, any acknowledged writer of talent, will bear
me out, more or less. It is the old idea of inspiration--one cannot
express it better--a breathing into. It is exactly that. The man of
genius, in any form, feels at times-that is to say, when his fit is
on, that there is a breathing into his brain. It becomes full of
images he is unfamiliar with, crowded with thoughts that are quite
foreign perhaps to the man himself, to his life, to his habits, and
invested with a peculiar knowledge of things he has had no personal
experience of. Then as suddenly as it came the fit goes; it is over,
and he can write no more. Should he be so foolish as to try, his
sentences become mere linked chains of nouns and verbs; his
inspiration has gone. He cannot invoke it, cannot restrain it,
cannot retain it, cannot recall it, and only very slightly control
it."

"Ha!" said my father reflectively, going on with his soup, "deuced
inconvenient."

"Inconvenient it may be," I said quietly. "All the same, that which
is written under inspiration is the only stuff worth reading. The
Greeks expressed the peculiar feeling that a man has when his
inspiration comes upon him by the phrase, entheos eimi, and we can
hardly find a better one, only unfortunately we don't believe in
gods. Otherwise, entheos eimi contains everything, for the man who
was only common clay before his inspiration, and will be common clay
when it departs, feels, for the time, as if a god had descended, and
was within him. And when, afterwards, he looks at what he has
written he feels it is something not wholly his own, but that it is
the work of some powerful influence he can hardly comprehend, and
cannot certainly rule."

"But really I don't see that this has much relation to what I said
about your writing something to please the British public!"

"It is the whole gist of the matter," I said. "I am proving to you
that I am, to a certain extent, helpless in what I write; that it is
impossible for me to think of publics, British or otherwise, of
publishers or critics, when I am writing. I have no time to consider
them, no space in my brain for them, no memory that such things, or
anything outside of what I am describing, exists even. My only
thought is to drive along my pen fast enough, in obedience to the
strenuous impulse urging me. I do not 'make up,' as your phrase is,
anything. I simply put down on paper, as fast as I can, the thoughts
that are pouring into my brain, like the waves of a flood flowing
over it. I am whirled away on the stream myself; my identity is
lost, submerged. Now look here, I'll give you a cut and dried
instance which will make clear how it is that I offend the
prejudices, or the proprieties, or whatever you call it, in my
books; at least I imagine it is in this way: Suppose I have a death
scene to write. My MS. is waiting for that to complete it. I don't
say to myself beforehand, Now there shall be a bed with Tomkins
dying in it; there shall be Maria at the left-hand corner, and Jane
at the right. The wife and doctor shall be grouped artistically at
the foot. Tomkins shall make two speeches before he dies; no, three-
-three is more natural--uneven number. Now what shall Tomkins say?
Yes. Ah--hum--what the deuce shall I make him say? It must not be
too much like what a dying man would say, because the British public
is dead against realism. It must not either show any strong contempt
for religion; a little mild contempt, of course, goes down and is
fashionable, but I must not express it forcibly. He must not either
evince a disbelief in immortality--at least that's dangerous ground.
Some publishers will accept it and some won't.--Better leave it out.
Ah--hum--what shall Tomkins say? I have it! A retrospect of his past
life! And yet--No, stay! that won't do. Something that sounds like
something that might possibly be immoral might turn up in it, and
that would be fatal--damn the MS. utterly. Well, look here, Tomkins
has got to die, and I've got to finish the book, so I must get
something down. 'Darling Mabel, this parting is terrible, but still
I feel we shall meet in another world.' Now, is that safe? Has a
similar phrase been put in heaps of novels before? Because the
British public won't have anything too new. It likes to head over
again what it has heard at least fifty thousand times before, and
then it knows it won't be shocked. Yes, that sentence will do. Now I
must put in a few more and then, thank goodness, the scene will be
done! Now," I said, springing up from the table, "do you call that
art? do you call it genius? Is a collection of bald phrases and
second-hand sentiments, hooked together like that, worth anything
when it's done?"

"My dear boy, don't excite yourself like that," my father answered
deliberately. "Sit down and finish your soup."

"Oh, hang the soup!" I said, resuming my seat. "Shall I sound the
gong? I have not told you my way yet, but I'm coming to it when the
man's gone." I sounded the gong, and the butler came in with the
next course.

There was no carving ever done at our table, so my father had only
to tranquilly continue eating while I talked. He had forced me into
the discussion, and now he should hear it to the end.

"Of course, if you do write the death of Tomkins like that you can
keep your scenes orthodox, or whatever word you have in view. But,
supposing my MS. is lying incomplete;--I have a conviction that I am
going to write of death, but the method of the man's death is at
present unknown to me, unthought of.--Then, some afternoon, I happen
to be sitting smoking, and just perhaps wondering whether I shall go
round to the club or not, when suddenly a scene, a death scene, the
scene I have been waiting for, comes rushing through my head. It
comes upon me with tremendous impetus; mechanically, almost
unconsciously, I take up a pen and write. Space opens before me and
I see a hospital ward. A blaze of light floods it. Rows of narrow
beds are there, and on one I see Tomkins--dying. I make my way to
him: now I am by his bed. I see him stretched beneath my eyes. I see
the pillow dark with the sweat of his death agony--the night-shirt
torn at his throat to get air. Have I time to consider then whether
the British public like the word night-shirt, and whether it would
not be safer to put Tomkins into a dressing-gown? The man is there
before me, dying, and he is in his night-shirt, and I must write it.
Besides, my pen is tearing on. I cannot stop--he is dying. Will he
speak before he dies? I do not know yet. His eyelids quiver, the
black veins in his throat knot up, he gasps. I bend lower: 'his
breath comes hurriedly: his eyes open and fix upon me: they are red,
vitreous but conscious: then I know he will speak, he is going to--
the next moment his half-strangled voice reaches my ear. He is
speaking, and that which I hear him say, I write: no more, no less,
no different. His voice dies away, inarticulate. I see his lips
whiten and draw back upon his teeth. His hands clutch me as a
convulsive spasm wrenches his muscles. There is a tense, rigid
silence, and then one deep-drawn groan. Nerve, limb, muscle, and
flesh collapse as the Life is set loose. The damp body sinks back,
leaving its death sweat on my arms, its gasp in my ears. Tomkins is
dead. But the impulse is not done with me yet. I cannot get out of
that hospital ward till I have done everything, passed through all
the circumstances that crop up naturally from the death of Tomkins.
There is no ' making up.' The scene is being enacted before me. It
is. It exists. It is the truth for the time being, and, as the
truth, I write it. There is the miserable girl, sobbing
convulsively, with her arms out-stretched in the bed-clothes. Can I
leave her without some words of consolation? I must write down that
she is there, because I see her there. There are some arrangements
to be made with the nurse, and then, when I am leaving the ward, or
at least intend to, my brain hurries the doctor up the ward to me. I
don't ' make him up.' I had not the remotest idea of the head doctor
appearing when I sat down to write. But now I see him approaching me
between the beds, and before I can pass him, as I want to, he
button-holes me and proceeds to explain that Tomkins never would
have died if he had undergone an operation that the doctor had
perceived from the very first moment was necessary. After a long
talk with him, perhaps, my pen stops. I pause: and when I pause I
know the inspiration has gone. As the ancients would say, the Muse
or the God has departed and dictates no more. I fling aside the
paper and look at my watch. Several hours passed in the hospital,
but I'll go round to the club now. And I go. I know Tomkins is dead.
It only occurs to me afterwards, as a secondary consideration, that
in consequence the MS. is finished. Tomkins was not for the
manuscript, but the manuscript for Tomkins. Now the point is--Can I
be held responsible for that scene? It is not my fault that I have
mentally seen a private soldier dying in hospital. The whole thing
was involuntary."

"Very extraordinary views!" muttered my father.

I shrugged my shoulders in silence, and called up Nous to give him
my untouched dinner.

"The best joke of it is, too," I said, suspending a strip of sirloin
over the collie's nose, "the publishers admit if I had less talent
they would print my things. I could not understand why my 'Laura
Dean' was refused, so I went down to the publishers to try and find
out. I saw the reader himself, and an awfully nice fellow he is,
too. In reply to my question, he said the objection to the book was
that it dealt with a wife leaving her husband. I stared at him in
amazement. 'But, great Scott!' I said, 'that's a good old-fashioned
theme enough. It's as old as the hills. It's the subject of--' and I
gave him a list of about a dozen eminent novels. 'Yes,' he admitted.
'But they are not written in the same way.' 'Is there anything
coarse or low in the writing?' 'Oh, no! I should not say that!'
'Well, what is the matter with it, then?' 'The thing is too much
brought before you. Of course, in these books you have mentioned the
wife runs away, but it does not make much impression. You have put
it all so forcibly, and given the characters and episode so much
life, and driven the idea of her infidelity so far home to one,
that, well, it becomes a different thing--one realises it.' 'Oh,
then you admit the immoral theme and the language to be
unobjectionable, and the book would have been accepted by the
British public provided only it had been less well written?' 'Yes, I
suppose it comes to that.' And then I caught his eye, and we both
laughed. He is a clever fellow himself, I should think, and the
ludicrousness of the idea tickled him as much as it did me. I came
away. His admission was quite the truth. It is the British way to
take the second-rate in every art and scout the best. Write a book
poorly and feebly, and it passes. Write the same thing powerfully
and well, and the cry is--It's improper! It's just the same thing in
painting. Paint a nude woman snowy white, without a shade or a
shadow, and looking altogether as no mortal woman ever did look, and
the picture will be hung at the Academy, and people will say, 'How
charming! So artistic!' But paint a woman with a glow on her neck
and bosom, and the warm blood running in her arms, dare to make her
a living, breathing thing on canvas, and your picture will be
rejected. 'Excellent, unequalled, perfect, but--it cannot be seen!'
And what is British art as a consequence? Justly is it looked down
upon by the other nations. We simply set our heel upon the best men.
And look at our productions! Look at the rot and the trash that
floods the libraries every year! Look at the average novel! It's a
disgrace to our intellect! Look at the woodeny dolls that are its
men and women! And behold our Academy! See our pictures!"

"Don't rock your chair like that, Victor; it annoys me."

"Very good," I said, bringing my chair down on its fore legs again.
"Are you ready for the cheese?"

"Yes; but won't you eat anything?"

"No, thanks. I am fed upon annoyance just now."

"You are getting thin on it, too," he answered, looking at me. "It's
a pity you are so excitable!"

"It's a pity I was born in this confounded Britain! I should have
got on all right with Parisian readers. But I don't despair even
here. They can reject my MSS., but they can't take out my brains. I
daresay I shall stumble across some man at last with courage enough
to stand by me in the beginning and help me force open the British
public's jaws and cram my ideas down its throat; and that once done,
it will digest them perfectly, for it's a tough old beast, though
very blind. Why on earth has that fellow carried off the champagne?"

"You finished the bottle yourself just this minute!" returned my
father, in surprise.

"Did I? Oh, very likely! Absence of mind!"

"It seems to me if you had a little less of this talent you boast of
you would be considerably the gainer."

"Possibly," I rejoined. "But a gift is a gift. You can't say to
nature, take this back and let me have something more paying!
Besides, I can't admit that for any earthly reason I would change. I
have no desire to be a second-rate writer when I know I am a first!"

"By Jove! if conceit could carry the day!"

"No, there is no conceit," I persisted. "Is it conceit to say my
hair is black? It is black, and everybody can see it is. I have
nothing to do with it. Nature made it black, and black it is, and I
know it. Should I gain anything by contending that it was red? I
don't see that I should. However," I added, laughing, "The point is
of no consequence. Put me down as a fifth-rate writer, if you like,
until I become the fashion!"

"It does not seem you ever will, at this pace," he said quietly.

"Very good," I answered, equally quietly.

"Then you will not have the trouble of changing your opinion."

There was a long silence then. We each smoked without a word. At
twenty minutes to ten my father got up. He always went to bed
horribly early.

"What are you going to do, Victor?"

"I am going out," I answered, getting up and stretching myself.

"Will you be late?"

"Probably. I got no sleep last night, nor the night before. It's no
earthly use my going to bed when I feel like this. I can't get to
sleep by repeating hymns, as some fellow suggested the other day."

"Why don't you take morphia or something to help you?"

"I don't care to begin taking drugs," I said, "I would rather wear
myself out, and induce sleep in that way. I shall take a three
hours' walk or so."

"Well, good-night."

"Good-night."

When he was gone, I sat a few minutes in the easy chair, with my
head in my hands thinking. I had meant to ask him a question at
dinner, but that argument on talent had put it on one side. Well, it
would do later.

"Coming out, Nous?" I said to the collie. The dog started and
pricked his ears.

"Out?" I repeated, and he leapt to his feet and gave himself a
joyful shake, and then stood on the hearth-rug in front of me,
swaying slowly his great brush of a tail and poising his head at an
intelligent angle. I got up, felt for my latch-key, and went into
the hall. Nous waited impatiently while I put on my hat and
overcoat, and then we went out together. The night was cold, wet,
and foggy. It was late in November, and a light mist veiled the end
of each black, deserted street.

I took no heed of anything, neither the atmosphere round me nor the
direction in which my feet carried me. I was wrapped up in a maze of
thoughts, and there was not a decently pleasant one in the whole
lot.

They were warmed and brightened every now and then as a form that I
loved glided amongst them, but even that form dragged after it a
chain of painful, fettering considerations, and the gleams of light
that it threw round it were only like those weak, pallid flashes of
sun that flit through the clouds of thunder and storm in a
hurricane.




CHAPTER II.


The next morning when I came down to breakfast it was late, and my
father had already withdrawn to his own library. I had missed again
speaking to him, as I could not seek and disturb him there.

He also was a writer, though quite of a different school from
myself. He wrote ardently upon politics, political economy, and
statistics, things which I took no interest in.

The nation might arrange itself how it pleased for all I cared. What
I wanted to arrange was my own life. I had no ambition to set my
country's affairs straight, my own thoughts were too much engaged in
tugging my own into some sort of order.

There were some letters for me, and I turned them over listlessly,
balancing them tip in succession against the toast-rack in front of
me, without opening any. The last I came to was quite different from
any of the others, and being the last, it stood foremost before me,
and I looked at it while I went on with my breakfast.

It is curious how representative a letter generally is of its
writer. The mere outside is like a psychological photograph. Of
course it does not give details, but it presents you with a
wonderfully accurate outline of the cut of a person's identity. This
envelope was square, and looked as hard, white and clean as if a
stone-tablet had passed through the post. It bore a delicate, weak,
feminine superscription, hurried and careless; the writing unformed,
but graceful and distinguished; and on the other side of the letter,
stamped in grey, stood a crest, and the motto subscrolled.

Yes, the woman who had written it was very like the letter.
Immaculate and perhaps somewhat hard, delicate, and in will a little
weak, impulsive and undecided, well-bred, and strikingly typical of
the class to which she belonged.

I broke the letter open after a minute and read--

"DEAREST VICTOR,--Do come and see me as soon as you possibly can. A
scheme for the next canvas occurred to me last night, but I want you
to help me execute it. What about the manuscripts? If you can't
come, tell me. Bring Nous.  LUCIA."

I smiled as I replaced the letter. The composition was rather
defective, and left the meaning decidedly indistinct. If I could not
come I was to tell her. Tell her what? About the MS., or that I
couldn't come?

And under what circumstances was I to take Nous? Apparently if I
could not do so.

I was not sneering at the little note, and it went into my breast
pocket, but it amused me.

"That is the way I ought to write for the British, I suppose?" I
muttered, with a yawn. "Muddle all one's language up until nobody
has the faintest idea of what the author's sentiments are, and then
they don't know whether he means anything heterodox or not."

I got up. I might as well obey the orders I had just received.

There was a tired confusion of thought in my brain--a floating mass
of half-formed embryonic ideas, wishes, plans and suggestions filled
it that were quite useless for prompting or guiding any definite
resolution as to what I should do in the immediate future.

Everything seemed to depend on something else, and it was impossible
to find any positive basis upon which I could found a resolve.

If I could succeed as an author, my way was clear, but if I could
not, and if . . . and if . . . And so on through a wearying,
perplexing series of conditions.

Just then I felt unequal to regulating and giving order to this
inward chaos, and I abandoned the attempt.

Meanwhile I would go over to the house in South Kensington, whence
the letter had come.

It was about eleven when I arrived there, and I was told Miss Grant
was "upstairs, as usual."

I nodded, and went up the necessary six flights of stairs to a
familiar landing on the third floor.

A door in front of me stood ajar, and with a sign to Nous to remain
on the stairs, I knocked at it.

There was no answer and no sound from within, and thinking the room
was empty after all, I pushed the door wide and went in.

It was a huge room, used as a studio, facing the north light, and
with three large windows.

Before the middle one there was an easel, and the girl was in the
room, standing there in front of the canvas between me and the
light. She was seemingly entirely abstracted and absorbed. She was
completely motionless, and for the moment she communicated her
stillness to me.

I paused, silent, looking at her.

She was standing directly in front of me, facing the canvas, that
was perfectly blank at present.

One hand rested on her hip, the other was raised and pressed to her
head, as when a person looks into distance, and the arm and elbow
and wrist traced a delicate curve against the dull grey square of
London window pane.

A twist of hair about as thick as my arm fell nearly to her waist.
It was decidedly not gold; that is, it did not suggest dye and the
Haymarket; but it was fair and curly, and seemed to hold light
imprisoned amongst it.

The figure was tall, and erred, perhaps, on the side of slightness.

Certainly it would have been too slight for those men whose scale of
admiration runs--so much in the pound. But the architecture of the
form was perfect. Each line was worthy of study in itself as a thing
of beauty, and the harmony of them all in the whole figure, whether
it moved or was at rest, gave an indefinable pleasure to the eye.

What a lovely thing it was this form, seeming to hold in itself the
light and pleasure and glow of life, as it stood, the only brilliant
thing in that cold north room.

And it might be mine, might have belonged to me long since if . . .
well if . . . that was just it.

I made a step forward and she turned.

"Oh, I'm so glad you've come," she said, laying her hand in mine. "I
want you so much."

We shook hands.

Although we were cousins, and had been engaged for the last two
years, this was our invariable method of greeting and leave-taking.

I had never kissed her, nor was I sure whether I ever really desired
to.

There were times when the thought that precedes the impulse or the
impulse that gives birth to the thought came to me, but always when
I was away from her and not with her, and consequently the desire
culminated in nothing.

When I was actually beside her all my own feelings seemed suddenly
held in suspension, just as one stops with feet chained when one
discovers one has come abruptly upon sacred ground.

There had been times when I had hurried to this girl with words
eager to be spoken on my lips, and at the first sight of her they
had died unuttered on my tongue, just as words die into silence in
the presence of a somnambulist.

"Why am I specially necessary?" I said, smiling, as we stood in
front of the easel. "Will you let me paint you as Hyacinthus?" I
went into a fit of laughter. "My dear girl! anything to oblige you,
but consider," I said, looking down into her eager eyes; "you ought
not to have a model of six-and-twenty. Hyacinthus was probably
sixteen."

"You don't know how old he was!" she said, mockingly, her azure,
sunny eyes lighting up with laughter, too, as she leant on the
bending maul-stick and looked up at me.

"No, I don't know," I answered; "but I can infer it. If we only went
upon what we actually know we should not go very far."

"Well, he might have been as much as nineteen, and you don't look
quite six-and-twenty; and the remaining difference I can soften
down. Have you any other excuse to make to get out of the bother of
sitting?"

"You are a horrid little wretch to put it like that," I answered,
"and I won't say another word of advice. Paint your Greek youth as
you please. Of course, you'll give him this mustache with waxed
ends? It's very appropriate!"

"No; of course I shan't. Now, Victor, do be sensible. You can be so
nice at times!"

"Can I really? You are kind!"

"I want to hear about the manuscript. Was it accepted?" she said
very gently, with her hand on mine.

"Well, that's soon told," I answered. "It wasn't."

She said nothing. Probably she knew that the mere expression "I am
sorry" would be inadequate to say to a man who felt every failure as
keenly as I did, and I hastened to remove her difficulty.

"Don't let us talk of it," I said. "Tell me of the new conception."

"It is to be called 'The Death of Hyacinthus,'" she said, glancing
at the vast, vacant canvas, on which, doubtless, her eye saw the
whole vision already. "The scene is to be flooded with sunlight,
that pours in upon a green, open glade. The life-sized figure of
Hyacinthus will be standing three-quarters towards the spectator,
and a little towards the rush of light from the setting sun. His
eyes are to be fixed upon the quoit which will be here, at this end
of the canvas, opposite him. It will be tinged blood-red in the
sun's rays, and seem a little above him."

She paused, with her eyes on the canvas. She had drifted away on the
stream of her idea. "And what about the two gods?" I asked.

She started.

"Oh yes, I was going to tell you. Zephyrus will only be represented
by the effect of the wind seen on the bushes, on the trees, and
every blade of grass or fern in the picture. These small tamarisk
trees that fringe the glade will be bent nearly double. The spirit
of the wind must be in the whole painting. That will be the great
effect, of course."

"And Apollo?"

"I cannot put him in. You see, I do want this to be taken at the
Academy next year, and though they have scores of nude women, they
would not have a nude god at any price: and it would be too
inartistic to clothe Apollo. So I have supposed him invisible; being
a god, he would be so to all except Hyacinthus. Simply his hand,
holding the quoit, will be faintly suggested, and the light allowed
to fall through it."

There was silence. "Do you like it?" she said suddenly to me.

"Yes. I think the idea is unconventional: but on that account you
will probably be rejected."

"I must risk it. Hyacinthus is to be in white, and must look
radiantly, gloriously happy."

"I say, do you want me to look radiantly, gloriously happy-because
that will be rather difficult just now."

"As far as you can. You see, the point is that he was struck and
killed in the moment of supreme confidence and light-hearted joy."

"How very uncomfortable! Is that to be my fate?" I said laughing.

"Well, will you, Victor?"

"Will I what?"

"Take your seat here, now, and let me sketch you?"

"Certainly; but I thought you said he was to be standing?"

"I don't think I can take you for the whole figure. You are too much
occupied to be able to spare the time. And I can find another model
for the figure. I should like to take you for the whole, but you may
be going away or something before the painting is finished. But in
any case I have set my heart on giving him your head and neck."

"You flatter me awfully," I returned. "You shall have them--but that
wretched Nous is outside all this time. May I let him in?"

"Oh yes! I did not know you had brought him!" she exclaimed, and ran
herself to the door and called him in.

He came in meekly. And I stood where she had left me by the easel,
and watched her bend over him and caress him, and I thought I was
badly used.

"Now, will you sit there?" she said, coming back and indicating a
chair.

I took it in silence. Then she paused, looking at me.

"What is it?" I said, enquiringly.

"Would you--" and she hesitated.

"Continue: command me."

"Could you take off your collar?"

"I think, perhaps, I could," I said, looking up into her serious
face. "I am not aware that it is an absolute fixture!"

She laughed, but she was seldom chaffed out of a reply.

"It might have been in one with the shirt!" she said.

"Far-seeing intuitiveness! I admit it might; but fortunately in this
case it's not. Then you'll excuse me if I take off my coat?"

"Yes, I want you to--coat, collar, and tie; so that I can sketch
your neck down to the base of the throat."

"Ah!" I said, drawing off my coat, "I was wondering how you were
going to fix up Hyacinthus with a lavender tie!"

She deigned no answer to that, and sat down just in front of me. A
piece of plain drawing paper was put upon the easel before the
canvas.

"Will you raise your head more? and throw your eyes up? higher,
above my head!"

"May I not look straight at you?"

"No: up! up! to the window above me!"

"Won't you come and put me in the right position?"

"No. I am sure you have intellect enough to understand verbal
directions."

"Well there," I said, throwing myself into the position she wanted;
"that is easy: but how about that jolly expression? where's that to
come from?"

"Can't you imagine for a moment that you are successful, and we are
married?"

"A pretty good stretch of the imagination that!" I muttered, "as
things are at present!"

And involuntarily I brought my eyes down from the window to the
pale, delicate, abstracted face opposite me. I did not intend to
convey any reproach to her, but perhaps she thought so, for she
seemed to answer that which she took to be in my mind.

"But, Victor, you know," she said, laying down the pencil she had
just taken up, "it is in your own hands. I am willing to marry you
when you like!"

She said it very gently, but with just a touch of cold restraint
that irritated me excessively.

"Oh yes, I know it's all my own confounded fault, but that does not
make it any pleasanter. However, let all that pass. I'll look as
cheerful as I can."

There was a long silence. She was absorbed in the drawing, and I in
my own thoughts, as I stared through the upper pane, as directed, at
the grey, drifting, hurrying November clouds. Had I descried a quoit
there about to descend upon me I should have been rather pleased
than not. At last I became conscious of an intolerable crick in my
neck.

"May I move?"

"Oh, one minute! one minute!" she answered, and her voice struck me.
It was faint, breathless, mechanical: the voice of a person whose
whole being is tense with some straining effort. At least fifteen
more minutes of silence passed.

"I say! I really must turn my head now!"

"No, no! not for worlds! Keep still!"

I kept still, but I felt sick with the peculiar cramp in my neck.
Suddenly she dropped the crayon and started up.

"Now you may move, Victor! I've finished!"

I brought my head down to its ordinary level with considerable
thankfulness, and as my eyes fell upon her I was rather startled.
Her figure seemed expanded as she stood, and the white serge of her
bodice rose and fell heavily. All the blood had flowed from her
face, leaving it blanched, colourless. In her eyes the azure iris
had disappeared, the dilated pupils had brimmed over it, and left
nothing behind the lashes but shining, liquid blackness.
Unconsciously, seemingly, her left hand was pressed to her left
side, beneath the heart, and I saw it tremble; and the whole form
quivered as she leaned slightly forward with her gaze bent upon the
canvas. There was for the time being some great force lent her. Some
power had stirred in the brain, and now seemed overflowing through
the physical system--doubtless at its expense. This was inspiration,
certainly, and valuable for its creative power, but the merely
physical life and physical frame panted and fainted after its
painful throes to produce that which the brain commanded. I looked
at the girl, oblivious of me, oblivious of herself and of the pain
that forced her hand mechanically to her side--looked half with
pleasure, half with alarm. It must always bring a delight to the
human being to watch the triumph of intellect over matter, of the
mental over the physical system, of the mind over the body. The
sympathy of our own mind must go with the fellow-mind in its
struggles for freedom. It is like one captive calling to another
from behind his prison bars. But when we love the body too, and when
our reason tells us that the striving captive, if set free, must
die; when we remember that by some horrible, unnatural anomaly this
spirit, that at times seems divinity itself, is condemned to live in
this abominable prison and to perish there, with and in its fetters,
then the wave of exultant pleasure, of exuberant, arrogant triumph,
that swept over us, poor fellow-prisoners, watching those fetters
shaken and almost cast off, thunders back upon us, turned into the
bitterest humiliation. I felt it all--the pitiable mockery of man's
nature, the inexplicable, terrible union of a god and a brute in one
frame, and the god dependent on the brute, and both mortal--as I
looked at the slight, lovely form of the woman I loved, and saw it
rocked and swayed, and left pained and breathless with the struggles
of the powers within to assert and express themselves. It had so
happened that I had never seen her at work before. It was only
recently that she had been allowed to give up set studies for her
own creative fancy. For years she had been employed in acquiring the
technique of her art; and even beside these considerations, I had
not been with her in her moments of most tense application, and I
should not have been with her now but that I was needed as a tool in
the work. And as I saw her at this moment, filled with mental energy
and dominated by the pleasure of mental labour, a quick sympathetic
elation came over me, almost immediately after to be replaced by
simple fear.

"I am afraid you have overtaxed yourself rather," I said, in
conventional phrase; "I'm afraid you're in pain."

"Oh, that's nothing! Come and tell me what you think!" she said,
extending her hand, but not taking her eyes from the drawing. "This
is only the first study, of course. But tell me, have I got a
sufficiently--well--expectant--rapt expression? I am not quite
sure."

I saw she was too utterly preoccupied to attend to anything I said
of herself then, so I did not insist farther, and went up to the
easel. I was not an artist nor a critic, nor in any way qualified to
be a judge of painting as painting; but of genius, who is not a
judge? In any art it is recognisable, patent, obvious to all. There
is no human clod, no boor who is utterly insensible to its
influence. It needs no education to perceive its presence, though
the ignorant could not tell you what that presence was. Genius is as
the sun itself: as universally perceptible. Even the rustic clown
feels the sun hot upon his face. Ask him what sun is, and he cannot
say, but he feels the difference between sun and no sun. And the
power in this rough drawing beat in upon my perceptions as the sun
beats on the labourer's face.

"I think it's a triumph," I answered. "You have caught a most
startling look of concentration."

"I am so glad!" she said, lightly.

The strain was over, and she was descending into ordinary mundane
life again, but the hand she had put on my arm chilled through the
shirt sleeve like ice.

"Do you recognise yourself?"

"Ye--es," I said, slowly; "except for that very glorified nose
you've given me!"

She laughed, and moved the paper off the easel.

"Now I just want to give you an idea of how the tamarisk will be
swayed," she said, holding a crayon between her tiny white teeth,
and motioning me to a couch under the window. "Sit down there and
wait a minute. I'll just sketch them roughly for you to get an
approximation."

I sat down on the couch facing her, and occupied myself by replacing
my collar, etc. The studio was fireless and uncommonly chilly. Then
I leaned back and studied the girl as she sat there, one little foot
crossed over the other, and a piece of mill-board supported on her
raised knee. The tamarisk seemed to call for little expense of the
divine energy, for she was as tranquil, smiling, and human as usual,
now, as she sketched the bushes. They were far more mechanical work,
naturally, than creating an expression and throwing it on a human
face. The light from the window behind me fell full upon her, and
seemed positively to brighten in her proximity. I wonder how, in
their canons of beauty, the Latins could possibly have inscribed
Frons minima, underrating the forehead, the sublimest feature in the
human face, the great distinction between our countenance and that
of our Simian prototypes. In this woman I thought it was, perhaps,
her chief attraction. Round the temples and summit her light hair
lay in thick loose curls. It did not "stray" anywhere. On the
contrary, it was very intelligent hair, and knew exactly what to do
with itself, how to curl upwards here and catch the light, how to
cluster together there in adorable circles and half-circles in the
shadow. And then came her forehead, a smooth band of white velvet,
upon which two bow-like eyebrows were delicately traced. Excepting
these and the vivid blue colouring in the eyes, and the rose and
white tinting of the flesh, she had no positive beauties. The nose
was a straight little nose, but very English, not the least
sculptural, and the lips were rather too thick. They looked best
when she was speaking, and their crimson was divided, and showed the
small, even teeth behind them. Sitting watching her, now that her
face was no longer flushed and animated in conversation, I noticed
it looked white and tired, and all round the eyes were faint,
discoloured shades. She looked overworked: looked as I myself looked
in the early morning when I went upstairs from a night's work in my
study to dress for breakfast.

"What were you doing last night?" I asked, abruptly. If I
interrupted the work on the bushes, no matter; she must work less.

She looked up with a sudden flush.

"How did you know?" she answered, looking at me with confusion and
perplexity in her eyes.

"I know nothing. I merely ask you. You were up all night?"

Her face became quite pale again, and she raised her eyebrows with a
slight smile of indifference.

"Yes, I was."

I paled too, with annoyance.

"Lucia! this is the one thing I asked you to do for me; to give your
nights, at least, to rest!"

"I know you did," she said, passionately, looking at me, her lips
quivering and her face growing paler and paler. "But it is
impossible sometimes! What gain is there in discussing these things?
A perfect scheme came to me last night, and I sat here thinking of
it--planning it upon this canvas. I could not have slept had I left
this room. Besides, to close your brain to your ideas when they do
come!--it is madness! I might never have seen the picture so vividly
before me again if I had not stayed to think it out, to realise it,
to impress it, as it were, clearly on myself. I cannot promise you,
Victor--I never have, I would not before--to go to bed and try to
sleep when a plan occurs to me suddenly for a canvas, as it did last
night!"

"But think of sitting in a room like this all night with no fire!
This studio is positively freezing!"

"Is it? I don't feel it."

"No. That is what I complain of. You feel nothing and think of
nothing while you are at work, and you will injure yourself
unconsciously. If you do these things you will certainly break
down."

She merely shrugged her shoulders and looked past me through the
window, an arrogant determination filling her blue eyes. The next
minute she was speaking rapidly, and with an intonation of
impatience in her voice.

"You know I am given over to the work--entirely, utterly. It is
useless to expect me to sacrifice it to anything. On the contrary,
everything must be sacrificed to it. Health, life itself, must be in
the second place. I only value my life for the sake of this talent.
Of course, I know if I lose my life I lose it too; but, equally, I
can produce nothing without work. If I am to succeed I must work
simply--it is necessity."

Each word was incisive, and seemed to cut slightly like falling
steel from those soft, warm lips. A sudden desire rushed through me
to teach her--at any rate, to exert myself to the utmost to teach
her--that her life was valuable to her for other things than the
capacity it gave to work. But I checked the words and the thoughts
that rose, acting on the same principle as had guided me hitherto.
To wake her to a sense of the pleasure and the gifts life holds,
without being able to confer either--that could not be any gain. I
merely said:

"And if you give up your life for the sake of this painting, Lucia,
is that fair to me?"

"You would have your work," she answered.

The tone was cold and calm, and she went on sketching.

"Do you think that would console me?"

"I do not think: I am convinced of it. You are a man to whom your
work, your genius, is everything. This holds the first, the ruling
place in your life, and will always do so. I am in the second, I
believe; but it is the second, and the step between is wide. It is
quite right it should be so. I am not complaining, but it is useless
to deny that it is so. Well, when one loses but the second object in
one's life--"

A soft smile swept over her face, and she lifted the white lids and
dark lashes--that had been drooped as she looked down at the drawing
paper--with a brilliant, mocking flash in her eyes. I met them, and
though I was not looking at it, but directly back into her eyes, the
whole charming figure forced itself upon my vision. The round throat
and the fine shoulders and the delicate curves of the long figure,
sloping to the waist beneath the white serge bodice. Had she really
but a second place? If I realised at any time I was not to possess
her after all, what then? Should I be consolable? An angry denial
leapt to my lips. There was no question of first or second. These
two passions for this woman and for my own success were coordinate
forces, and their very equality it was that kept me passive, without
decisive action between them.

There was a sort of confusion in my brain--a longing to make some
protestations. The words crowded excitedly to my lips, but I kept
them closed. The conversation was on dangerous, critical ground. If
I began to speak now, in this frame of mind, I did not know what I
might say. My own brain was not sufficiently clear and collected. I
did not know myself quite how far that which she had said was the
truth. It is useless to talk vaguely and at random, or on mere
passing sensations of the moment. Before speaking to another, before
entering on a discussion, one must know exactly what one is saying--
be prepared to act in accordance with every statement, and accept
and realise the responsibility of each word, and all this at that
moment I was not,--far from it. I felt my thoughts disordered and
confused. Before my mental eye swam a mist of manuscript; before my
physical eye rose and fell that gently beating breast. I took out my
watch.

"It's a quarter past twelve, Lucia," I said, rising; "I must go."

The girl started to her feet and came in front of me.

"Victor, are you offended at what I said?"

I looked down at her with a slight smile.

"I am not so easily offended," I said, quietly.

"I will talk about all these things with you another day--not now."

"And do forgive me for siting up at nights. I know you do not like
it. I know it ruins my looks, but I must work. Besides, all my
excitement, all my amusement, is in it too. When I am not with you
it is all I have. It is different for you, as a man, besides your
work and besides myself, you have all sorts of distractions and--"

"What sort of distractions do you think I have?" I asked, quietly,
and looking straight into her eyes.

Her words might mean and include a very great deal.

"Oh, how can I say! When you feel restless and unable to work at
seven in the evening, say from then till seven the next morning your
time is your own--balls, the Empire; there are a thousand things--
all the pleasure, or at any rate the passing excitement that you can
take in these ways, I crush into the excitement that there is in
work--in overwork."

There was nothing in the actual words, but I felt the thoughts that
underlay them, unexpressed. I resented the opinion she held of me.
It was untrue, and I meant to remove it. I was silent an instant,
thinking how to find words passably comprehensible and yet
conventionally circumlocutory and euphemistic. After a moment I said
simply--

"If you think I am leading a fast life, it is a mistake. I am not.
What makes you think I have distractions, as you put it?"

"Oh, nothing, except that I know you are constantly not at home at--
in the evenings. But really, Victor--" she added, a scarlet flush
leaping across her face, and then leaving it pale and cold, with a
shade of reserve and pride upon it. "I have no wish to approach this
subject at all. I should never think of enquiring into or
interfering with a man's life. These are things that must rest in
his own hands."

I looked at her, as the graceful figure seemed to expand with pride,
at the dignity of each line of her form and the pose of the
distinguished head, and an irritated flush crept into my own face.

"I am out constantly, as you say," I answered, "because I cannot
sleep, but I walk then simply in search of fatigue. Pleasure, Lucia!
there can be none for me now until you belong to me. As for my life,
it is a hard-working and as absolutely without relief as your own--
absolutely."

She was silent.

"You don't believe me?"

"Of course I believe you," she answered, impulsively, putting her
white hand suddenly into mine. "If you say so, but--"

"But what?"

She hesitated and coloured. I had not the least idea of what she was
really going to say. I thought the "but" led to some condition more
or less contradictory to her expression of belief in me, or,
perhaps, to some statement she had heard, or something that she had
thought. And I pressed her.

"But what?" I repeated.

"I was going to say, I have no wish to make your life harder than it
is. I do not want our engagement to impose impossible laws upon you,
nor do I set up an imaginary standard for you. You have your honour
and your own self-respect, and I know I shall always be satisfied
with the standard you raise for yourself."

The voice was very soft, and her touch and eyes caressing. She had
not said in the least what I had expected, and she had touched, as
she always did in me, the best springs in my thoughts. Her own
pride, and her unquestioning assumption of mine, stung all that I
had.

"Even you, Lucia, could not have a higher!" I answered on the
impulse.

She smiled.

"That is exactly what I say," she said, and the smile went on into a
slight laugh. "When will you come again to sit for Hyacinthus?"

"To-morrow, at the same time! Will that do?"

"Yes. It's immensely good of you. How can I thank you?"

I looked down at the red lips, at the delightful neck and shoulders,
for a second in silence, then I pressed her hand, whistled to Nous,
and went out. As soon as I had passed down the stairs and reached
the street the bitter rush of feelings that the sight of this girl
roused in me, and that her actual presence held in check, swept over
me unrestrained. Why had I left her like that? I asked myself
savagely. Why had I not drawn her into my arms and kissed her till
all that soft delicate face was one flame of scarlet? Then a
contemptuous smile came with the answering thought. What use were
mere empty kisses if she gave me a thousand! This state of things
could not go on. The life that I led seemed growing more and more
unendurable week by week. It was a life of perpetual restraint, of
refusal to every wish, of denial to every desire that rose in me, in
which there was a bar laid upon every impulse, and an immovable
chain upon every tendency. I was ambitious, and I could get no
recognition. I was gifted, at least in my own estimation, and I
could force open no field for my gifts. I was in love, and there was
no means of attaining its object. Patience! patience! This was what
I had been saying to myself hour by hour for two years, but there
were times when it seemed that my brain, my whole system, was
collapsing in the nervous irritation, in the chafing and the
straining of this existence, which was filled with nothing but
successless work, continuous disappointment, and unsatisfied
desires.

Night succeeded night in which sleep was an impossibility, when my
head seemed light and turning as in delirium with the violence and
intensity of longing to shape my life differently. Could I have
obtained the fulfilment of one desire or of the other, the strength
of my nature would have flowed naturally into the channel opened
before it. Could I have seen my work succeeding I would have
foregone everything else willingly and worked with satisfied ardour,
closing my eyes to the pleasure of life. Could I have obtained Lucia
I would have been content to work and wait patiently till success
chose to come to me. But the latter desire depended on the former,
and when I thought of Lucia, her image only brought back upon me the
stunning, deadening sense of the necessity of success, and so my
thoughts were dragged round in a perpetual, wearying, dizzying
circle, like a fixed wheel revolving without motion forward.

I had grown to hate my present daily existence. It was a state of
enforced passive inaction that seemed corroding my nerves as the
long worn fetter eats into the flesh. The current of life was
running at its swiftest and fiercest in my veins. Vitality was
ardent in the brain and blood, but there was no worthy expense of my
energies, and they simply fell back upon themselves again and again,
thwarted, baffled, unused, until existence seemed an intolerable
curse. I saw daily other men's works accepted and received, and
their talent and genius praised that could produce such a work,
which, when it drifted into my hands, I recognised was no better
than the MSS. lying in my study, unused, wasted. Sometimes the
morning of a day would pass in looking through the reviews and
criticisms of the favourite novel of the hour, the afternoon in
reading the book itself and forming a judgment of it, and then an
evening of sickly irritation would follow, in which, pacing
backwards and forwards, in the empty study, I had to admit that the
author, no more gifted, no more favoured with talent than myself,
had been successful and I had not. The very praise I received for my
powers from men who would not help me to employ them was a maddening
stimulus.

"Talent? Yes, decidedly, but too heterodox for us."

This was the general resume of the opinion of the publishing world
that had determined to eject me and shut its door in my face. Had it
been hinted that the rejection was on the ground of incapacity it
would have been easier to bear, but, without exception, every
declined manuscript had been accompanied with a warm commendation of
the art that the critic chose to think was so misapplied. Often,
walking up and down the length of that study with these letters of
empty compliment crowding the mantelpiece, I felt like a captured
tiger in a cage, being goaded and thrust at through the bars. And,
together with this excessive longing of the brain to employ its
power raged the useless, vehement desire for the woman, until in
those moments of silent solitude, it seemed as if two living
vultures were upon me, slowly tearing me asunder. As I walked away
from Lucia this morning, and when I reached my own steps, I was
conscious of a sense of physical illness; my head seemed light and
dizzy, as when one gets up after long fever. I was so long opening
the door that Nous, who had pushed his whole body close up against
it, looked at me with surprise. As we went in I had one clear
determination, and that was to apply once more to my father for
help. He could, if he would, enable me to marry Lucia. Success must
come with time. It was this time that would be transformed. This
time, this daily life of waiting work, that hung upon me now like a
wolf, with its fangs, gnawing my brain, would then, if I possessed
her, pass by like a dove upon wings. After luncheon, when he was
standing by the hearth, I thought, was a good time to approach the
subject, and I came up to the other end of the mantelpiece.

"Don't you think you could," I said, striking a lucifer and lighting
up a cigar, without the least wish to smoke at that moment, "manage
to let Lucia and myself arrange something?"

He looked at me a little ironically.

"Have you heard that the firm have rescinded their decision, and are
going to bring out the book after all?" he asked quietly.

I coloured with anger and annoyance at the sneer. "No," I answered,
simply, "I have not."

"Then, my dear Victor, you know it is quite useless to re-open this
old question. I have told you before, and I can only repeat it now,
I am not going to make you an independent allowance, that you may
marry your cousin and comfortably settle down into a do-nothing
existence."

"I never propose such an existence," I answered calmly. "Have I ever
led it? am I leading it now?"

"No, because just now you have every incentive to work, and you have
all your energies turned in that one direction, but with a secured
income, independence, and married to this girl, I know exactly what
you would become, and if I can prevent it, I am not going to have my
son a confirmed idler about town."

"I can't think how you can so misjudge me," I said. "If you would
make me an allowance--say 300 Pounds Sterling a year--half the rent
of this house we live in!" I added bitterly. "I should marry Lucia,
but on that account I should not neglect the work. Incentive! I
should have every inducement to work then as now!--if inducement
were necessary--Which it is not. I work now, not because I am driven
by motives and wishes, but because to write is as natural to me as
to sleep or breathe!"

"Please remember you are talking to a sane Englishman," he answered
coldly; "and if you want me to listen to you, you must talk sense."

"Very good," I said, bringing my teeth down nervously on the cigar.
"Put it entirely on the ground of motive if you like; I should want
to succeed then doubly, and success is only a thing of time. It will
come one day to me, as it has come to others who have had the same
difficulties at first."

My father smiled sceptically.

"We shall see. In any case, if you are so certain of success, you
can't object to the fulfilment of your wishes resting on so sure a
contingency!"

"That has nothing to do with it. I did not say how long success
might not be deferred, and I am unwilling to wait in these
circumstances."

"Ah!--delightful frankness!" he returned derisively, and I looked
away from him into the fire.

It shot across me then, amongst my own worrying thoughts, how
strange it is that one human being should have so little sympathy
with another, that where one can, without the least annoyance to
himself, confer all that another desires, there seems always some
inexplicable impulse to withhold it. And I--if I had power to give,
if I ever possessed money, it should be to give, give freely and
without conditions to those who needed it.

Perhaps my father guessed what I was thinking of. At any rate, he
recommenced the conversation by saying--

"You have had a great deal done for you, Victor, though you may
consider yourself very ill-used. You had a most expensive education.
Then you passed into the army--brilliantly, I admit, but you were
aided in every possible way. Then you had a fancy to go to India.
Well, I got your regiment changed, and you went. Six months after
you write that you have determined to become an author. I assent to
that, much against my judgment, and you send in your papers. Good.
What have you done since then? Nothing but write things no one will
print, and hang about your cousin!"

A dull anger lit up in all my veins, and sent the blood to my head
at his words. Still, they were practically the truth, and I knew I
had no right to resent them.

"Now," he continued, "I make you a reasonable and just proposal, and
you know that it is so. I give you every opportunity to display your
talent, if you have any, which I very seriously doubt. You have
leisure and unlimited means at your disposal. I only stipulate that
before I make you independent, and before you marry, you shall give
some proof of your powers in literature. I don't say you must wait
till you have acquired a fortune. Your first production that is
accepted and acknowledged sets you free. When I see you are really
on the way to a profession, I will take care your finances don't
trouble you, and as to marriage, you can then, of course, do what
you please. But as to assisting you now to hurry into an affair that
I don't under any circumstances particularly approve of--No."

"Why don't you approve of it?" I said, with a faint smile; "if I
were in love with a housemaid or a ballet dancer I could understand
your objection, but a girl in our own rank, educated, pretty,
clever--what more would you have?"

My father shrugged his shoulders and elevated his eyebrows, and
finally answered--"I should have liked a little more sanity between
you. Remember there is insanity on her side and insanity on yours,
and you both of you seem half-cracky already, to my mind. Then you
are cousins. The relationship is near, unpleasantly near. You are
both very much alike, extremely excitable, and with both your heads
stuffed full of nonsense. She is exceedingly delicate, and no
wonder, sitting up all night sketching and sitting in all day
painting! I wish you could have chosen some strong, sensible,
matter-of-fact young woman!"

I smiled as I listened. The combination of those three adjectives
fairly set my teeth on edge, and suddenly I seemed to see Lucia's
pale brilliant face, with its dilated eyes and genius-lit pupils,
swimming in the shaft of sunlight that fell between us on the rug.

"What the children of two such maniacs will be, I tremble to think
of!" he said after a minute.

I laughed outright, flung my cigar end into the fire, and stretched
myself.

"I don't think you need trouble about the children!" I said
significantly.

His remark sounded so ludicrous to me that my answer came
spontaneously, but it was the worst thing I could have said. My
father's old-fashioned ideas were the rock upon which we invariably
split. Otherwise we should have got on very well. But he was
entirely of the school of yesterday, and I was entirely of the
school of to-morrow. His forehead contracted violently, and he said
curtly--

"Now, don't let me hear any of that ridiculous nonsense you were
talking the other day! I won't have these sentiments expressed in my
hearing!"

I laughed, and said nothing. I never wish to express sentiments in
anybody's hearing that they don't want.

"Of course," he said, finally, after a long pause, "you can please
yourself. If you like to try and find a situation as clerk or
secretary or shoe-black, and marry this girl on the proceeds, do so.
But if you do, you will get no help from me in future. Don't come to
me then for funds to bring out your MSS. If you choose to disgrace
your family and disappoint my expectations, consider yourself
entirely cut off from me, that's all."

There was another stretch of silence, and then--

"Well, which is it to be, Victor? Lucia or Genius?"

"I really hardly know," I answered, lightly. "I want them both. I'll
think it over."

And with Nous, who had sprung to his feet as I moved, closely
following me, I crossed the dining-room and went out, upstairs to my
own writing and sitting-room. Here I flung myself into an arm-chair
and let my hand hang over the side and rest on the collie's neck.
And as I curled absently the locks of fur round my fingers, the
thought came--When would my hand play as familiarly with those
short, glistening curls on Lucia's forehead? Of course, as far as
that went, we were engaged, and I might have put our relations on a
far more intimate and familiar footing than they were now. I might
have kissed her, twisted and untwisted that great cable of hair, put
my arm round her waist, and so on and so on. No one would have
objected since we were fiances and, in addition, cousins. And it is
difficult to define exactly the impulse that had prompted me to
abstain from all of these things. Partly it was an impulse in her
defence, and partly in my own. I felt that it was difficult enough,
hard enough, to keep in perfect control my own passionate impulses
when I was with her, even now, while there was the screen and shield
between us of her abstracted calm; when there was a certain coldness
and reserve around her; when there was no beginning, no opening, no
invitation of demonstration; when her complete unconsciousness of
herself helped me to restrain and conceal all my own feelings; but
if this were dispelled; if she came to greet me with the bright
conscious flush of passion; if I saw reflected in her eyes the fire
that burnt in me; if I were permitted to take her into my arms and
cheat myself for a single illusive instant with the thought that she
was mine--what would it all mean? Only giving a sharper, more
cutting edge to the bit in my mouth and rousing in her a hunger I
could not satisfy. She was at present devoted to her art with a
devotion that left her practically indifferent to everything else,
and there was a thin frame of ice round her, which her abstraction
and her ceaseless work built up; but I was convinced that the
smouldering fire of a woman's nature lay underneath--that it was
concealed never cheated me for an instant into the belief it was not
existent. She was pure--perfectly, absolutely immaculate; but there
was another power within and transfused throughout her innocence
that swayed and subdued my will as innocence alone could never do.
She reminded me of some exquisite, delicate porcelain flagon filled
with sparkling wine, that sends its hot crimson glow through the
snowy transparent tints of its circling walls. The wine within lies,
at present, in glowing tranquillity, unshaken and unstirred, and the
beauty and the purity of the flagon grows upon one as one looks. One
would hesitate certainly to stretch an unclean hand to lift it,
hesitate to touch it with lips that were not pure--but as certainly
one sees that, if hand and lip are clean, and one may raise it to
oneself, there is intoxication within that cup. Though its brilliant
walls are white, they are not so because they hold thin water or
turgid milk or yet vacancy. Of the nature of porcelain, they are
clear and brilliant, for as such they left the potter's hands; but
that faint flush stealing through them tells us that that within is
wine. And as the purity of a cup like this is different from that of
a clean, thick, common china cup standing empty on the board, so was
Lucia different from the ordinary virtuous English girl. And for her
I would do and suffer much, and feel glad in it. I looked upon her
as this vase, and since I had known her I had kept my hand clean,
that one day I might take it without remorse. And in my treatment of
herself I acted as I did because I saw that, as yet, her passions
and her nature slumbered, just as the wine, unshaken, is steady
within the cup.

Now, in my present helpless condition, to merely wake and rouse
them, to distract and disturb her, and lift her out of her art, to
draw her half from her own life, before I could take her wholly into
my own, seemed a sacrilegious cruelty. And this was why, from the
commencement of our engagement, I had said to myself--On this one
condition only.

This was why, on the evening when I put the circlet of the
engagement ring over the delicate finger, I had not touched the lips
thanking me. I knew I could not kiss her coldly. These things depend
upon one's nature. Some men shake hands listlessly. I cannot. If I
take a friend's hand I grasp it warmly. How then, here, with those
passive lips under mine, could I prevent them from drawing in the
enthusiasm from my own? And this once done, I did not know how it
might stir in her, and break up her life and turn her aside from the
tranquil path of abstraction and occupation she was following now. I
am not saying that, as a rule, a woman waits for her lover's kiss to
arouse her. On the contrary, I am well aware that most women are
uncommonly wide-awake from their thirteenth year, and it is a very
old-fashioned and quite exploded idea to suppose that the springs of
their nature lie dormant until one particular individual unlocks
them. I am only saying that this girl was as yet entirely given over
to her genius, and happy in it; and I loved her too well to weaken
an impulse towards art which she could gratify, and create an
impulse towards love which I could not for so long satisfy. So with
all this in my brain, and with a guard upon myself that had never
been relaxed since, I released her hand, with my ring upon it, as
gently as I had taken it, and the quiver of nervous, painful
excitement, that had shot through me as she laid it on my knee
confirmed my resolution. Why teach her also, one moment before she
need know it, the pain of self-repression?

"Is it not pretty," she had said.

"Which, the hand or the ring?"

"Why, the ring, of course," she had said, laughing. "You are too
bad, Victor!"

"I don't know. I think the hand is decidedly the lovelier. But the
ring is useful as a sign that now there is but one man in the world
for you, as, Lucia, there is for me henceforth but one woman."

She had looked up suddenly, and her eyes had met mine with the
passion kept out of them, and only reverence for her there. And even
at that the fugitive scarlet had stained the pale skin, and the eyes
had widened and darkened upon me, asking, Tell me, explain what this
mysterious feeling is that seems stirring faintly in me? And I had
looked back at her in silence, with a word unuttered, but still
perhaps divined by her, on my lips.

Later!

And now things had come to a crisis. I felt as if I could not stand
any longer, clear-headed and hard-working as I had been, against
this repeated raising, then deferring, then breaking down of hope.

Constantly I had given rein to my thoughts and wishes; many times I
had said, "This book will certainly be accepted, and then a month or
a few weeks and she is my own."

But the book had not been taken, the weeks passed by and Lucia was
as far from me as ever. And it could not continue. The perpetual
excitation and reaction was slowly injuring and confusing the brain
like a noxious drug administered to procure lunacy. And the
temptation swept over me now to let go my hold on work, on this
bitter effort to succeed, on this vain, useless striving for
recognition, and sink into some humble position which would supply
the necessities for a quiet obscure existence--shared with this
woman. The weeks, months, years, passed now, wasted, in a dull
torture, in a low fever, filled with long, dragging hopes,
expectations, possibilities, and no realities. Better sweep all
these away and settle into a level, solid existence, contented with
the simple natural pleasures that life offers without striving for.
Contented! I laughed as the word drifted across my brain. That was
just what I felt I could not be in any life but the one I coveted--a
life of power, recognition, distinction. Other men were. They
married the women they loved, and dropped into quiet lives of daily
work and regular incomes, and were content in them. Yes; but that
was insufficient argument.

They had not within them the suffocating weight of a desire
ungratified, the stifling sense of a power unused. Nature, who has
appointed no greater joy for us than the exercise of the capacities
she has given us, has also no heavier, bitterer burden she can lay
upon us than these capacities barred down in us unemployed. As I
thought, my father's words recurred to me, "A secretary, a clerk or
a shoeblack." It was improbable I should descend to the shoeblack.
It was possible that I could become a secretary or a clerk. A
secretary or a clerk! The idea amused me. I leaned my elbows on my
knees, my forehead on my hands, as I sat and stared down at the
bear-skin rug at my feet and saw a vision of fifth-rate existence
pass before me. A suburban villa or squalid London lodgings; the
hurried early breakfast served by a slavey; the tram or bus to the
city; the society of seedy clerks; the pipe instead of the cigar;
the public billiard room instead of the club; the omnibus instead of
the hansom; the fortnight up the Thames instead of the spring at
Cairo. A day of uncongenial work--but at the end of it Lucia!

The thought seemed to come suddenly and stunningly through my brain
like a bullet. The blood rushed to my face and I got up and crossed
to the window, looking out and seeing nothing. Lucia daily, hourly,
side by side with me in my life, and utterly my own possession! Yes,
it was worth it! Worth all those petty considerations that had been
passing before me, but there was another heavier than all the others
massed together. My leisure would be taken from me. It would be
impossible to write then as I was writing now. Now, I was absolutely
my own master, and disposed of my time exactly as I pleased, and
days passed constantly which were wholly spent in the preparation of
a manuscript and when my train of thought was never interrupted. If
all my days were given to monotonous business work, how then, and
when, would the writing be accomplished? My evenings and nights
would be my own--or Lucia's; and this line of reflection finished in
an ironical laugh. I walked to and fro, one word hammering
persistently on my brain-sacrifice. To accept a humble, working
position, and in it to marry a woman as lovely, as vehemently
desired, and as long waited for as Lucia, would mean the sacrifice
of my talent. It would mean a suppression, a thrusting aside of
work, and, to a certain extent, of thought. In such a life there
would be so little place for it. Between the necessity of rejecting
impersonal or imaginative thought to make room for the diurnal
business routine, and the irresistible temptations to reject it at
other times for present personal pleasure, it would be rarely
accepted or welcomed, and its impetus would gradually weaken or
lessen. Even as I thought of it, a revolt rose in me. The revolt of
all the higher instincts against enslavement by the lower. The
rebellion of all the intellectual impulses against being ruled by
the physical. What! weaken, enervate, starve, destroy the mental
sinews to gratify the passion for a woman? Crush down the mental
emotions to give reins to the physical? It would be the work of a
fool. A rooting-up fruit trees to clear a space for weeds. And what
of those twenty-six years of life that lay behind me? Did they count
for nothing? Was all the repression and the hard work they contained
to be flung aside now and wasted? Was the whole principle that had
shaped them, of living in and for the intellect, to be utterly
reversed now? And yet it was a wretched, poor, burdensome thing,
life, as it had been lived by me. The past years stared me in the
face mockingly. Clean, capable of being scrutinised in the sunlight,
estimable from a moral and mental standpoint, but absolutely barren
of pleasure, and, so far, barren of result. I looked at them with
little satisfaction or pride. They were as immaculate, as bare, as
denuded, as irritating, and as painful to contemplate as a chalk
cliff. The character that is summed up in the line "video meliora
proboque, detiora sequor" is supposed to be very common, and meets
with universal comprehension and commiseration. Mine, perhaps, would
find neither. I followed the good--that is, good as the world's
opinion goes--the straight line in life, without any of the
enthusiasm for virtue to form a consolation and support. I looked
upon vice without that repulsion that makes resistance to it easy,
pleasant, involuntary almost. I felt no sense of strong condemnation
of those acts or failings or lapses in others which I studiously
avoided myself. Therefore, I had neither the pleasure that might be
derived from the evil itself, nor the warm satisfaction and personal
pride that comes from conscious superiority to one's neighbours. I
had lived the life of a Puritan, but I had neither the heart nor
brain of one. None of the rigid bigotry, none of the exultant
delight in morality, none of the merciless joy in trampling upon
pleasure which gives him his reward. I looked round upon life and
its many devious ways with eyes listless and indifferent to its vice
and sympathetic to its pleasure, and back upon my own straight path
with something of regret that my self-respect had been strong enough
to hold me to it. And now the temptation came to sacrifice all that
I had clung to. To abolish the thought and remembrance of my talent,
muffle and stifle the powers of the brain, and remember only that I
had the pulses and senses and blood of a man. It came over me
slowly, this phase of rebellious animalism, like a mantle falling
over me. Thought followed thought insidiously, imperceptibly, like
fold upon fold of a cloth dropped upon me, as I sat in the silent
room alone. To take this girl and force back her art upon itself, to
mutilate her brain-power and drug it with her roused sensuality, to
turn her into a simple instrument of pleasure for myself, and lend
myself to her as such. To yield to this inflowing tide of desire
that beat, now, heavily through all my veins, and let the brain go
down beneath its waves.

If I chose I could do it, and none but myself could gauge the depth
of my debasement. No eye could discern the high level ground now on
which I stood and the morass that swam before me. I should marry
this girl and the world asks no more. This other lower life that lay
in my power appealed to me in all its sweetness--this woman as she
would be when mine. Those lips with the mark of mine upon them;
those delicate nerves stung to frenzy; that form tense, and the
limbs strung with passion; those eyes terror-stricken between
anguish and ecstasy.

The thought of the woman's personality clung to me like a viscous
web. I struggled against it, but it enwrapped me; I could not shake
it from me.

Again and again my arm encircled those soft yielding shoulders; the
warm agitated bosom was touching mine; my hands held, and felt
within it, the smooth muscles of the white arm--a vision of the
whole indefinably supple form swam giddily before me in a
suffocating proximity, till I pressed my hands on my eyes, and the
thought came involuntarily,--Is this insanity?

My brain gave her into my arms now as I sat there, and the blind
physical system clamoured in agony, Where is she? An hour passed,
and then I got up and laughed. The destructive wave of emotion had
risen in me, rolled through me and gone by. The struggle was over,
and I lived again but to work. I stood on the rug rolling a
cigarette, and lighted it leisurely, trying to recall a respectable
calm, and when I had fairly succeeded I went out and downstairs. I
came into the dining-room and found my father still there, looking
through a budget of political pamphlets that had just come in by the
post.

He looked up, and I met his eyes with a laugh.

"I have decided not to look out for a vacancy in the shoeblack
line," I said; "but to go on--up the hill. Is there any claret or
water or soda about--I don't much care what it is?"

"There is claret and soda too--there on the cheffonier. What a pity
it is, Victor, you are so unreasonable! You make yourself look
deplorably ill about every trifle! You are certainly trying to find
a short cut out of the world! Why don't you take things more
easily?"

"I am as I am," I muttered. "I'm going out now," I said, when I had
finished the soda.

"I'm going to look Howard up. I have got a new plan of work if he'll
join me in it. I shall see."

My father elevated his shoulders as much as to say, Some new phase
of dementia, I suppose, and I went out.

I took the underground to Baker Street, and thence two minutes' walk
brought me to the house I wanted. Howard was a friend of mine, an
intimate friend, though, strictly speaking, from his character he
ought not to have been.

As a general rule I steer clear of friendships with men who are very
much opposed to me in character; it saves a lot of bother in the
end. However, in this case, although I believed Howard to be a weak,
worthless, untrustworthy individual, I could not help liking him. He
was talented and of a pleasing--at least to me--personality. When I
came into his room he was sitting reading in a long chair by the
fire.

"Oh! is that you, Vic? Come in," he said, turning a good-looking
discontented face towards me, not improved just now by the effects
of a severe attack of jaundice.

"How are you?" I said, shaking his saffron-hued hand.

"Pretty beastly. And you?"

"Your remark might serve, I think," I said, taking a chair opposite
him.

"Aren't you any better?" and I scanned his face closely.

He was not more than twenty, and had a singularly fine type of
countenance.

"Oh yes, thanks! Crawling on."

"Any news?"

"None, I think, except that I've broken with Kitty."

I laughed.

"I knew you'd have to!" I said. "Did I not say so from the first? I
felt sure you could never stand her!"

"I am rather sorry, for she was very pretty; but the last straw she
put upon me was too much. I couldn't--after that--no, I couldn't,
really."

"What was it?" I said, laughing, as he shook his head dubiously and
looked meditatively into the fire.

"Why, I sent her a sonnet--at least, no, a verse--and we were
talking about it afterwards, I had written--"

     'And leaning sideways, looks, and lifts
     The tresses of her heavy hair.'

"See?"

I nodded.

"Well, she objected to the adjective 'heavy,' and wanted me to
insert another. What word do you think she suggested?"

"Can't say at all. Golden, perhaps!"

"Worse!" he answered, with a groan. "Golden is hackneyed but still
conceivable. No--Crimpy! my dear fellow! Think of it!"

I went into a fit of laughter.

"Heavens! well I must say I never should have thought of that," I
said. "What a fearful girl. And what did you say?"

"Say! I tried to explain to her the awfulness of it, the
incongruity, but no, she couldn't see it! We jawed about it for a
couple of hours with the result that our engagement is now off!"

"Good. I am very glad to hear it; but perhaps a Breach of Promise
will come on?"

"Can't help it. Anything would be better than to go through life
with a girl who didn't feel there are some things no fellar can do;
and one of them, that he can't put a word like crimpy in his
sonnet."

"Been doing any work?"

"Yes; one poem. Like to see it?"

"Very much."

He got up and went to a table littered all over with papers--
written, printed, and blank. After a time he extracted the one he
wanted, handed it to me, and then flung himself into the chair
again.

"Whew! This title won't do. 'The Hermaphrodite!' That's far too
alarming for the British public."

"Oh, bother! Well, go on. Read the poem."

I did so in silence.

"First-rate," I said, when I had finished. "Not a weak line in it.
Not a single weak line. And there's nothing to prevent its being
taken even in this d----d England, I think. The title's the worst
part. You'll have to alter that."

"Why? Swinburne has a poem, 'Hermaphroditus.'"

"Yes--in a volume; and there it's Latinised; and then Swinburne has
made his name, which of course is everything. If you want to make
your debut before the English reading world you must do so with 'Ode
to my father's tombstone,' or something of that sort!"

"Well, if you think Latin would improve it, let's put 'Duplexus' as
its title," he answered, laughing and trying to snatch back the
paper.

"Not on any account!" I said. "That would sound cynical, and cynical
when you're unknown you must not be."

"Oh, well, there! I leave it to you to find a title! I don't care
what it's called."

I looked through the verses trying to catch an idea for a name.
Numbers suggested themselves to me, but none sufficiently vague and
indefinite to suit the English ear. At last I said--

"Do you think Linked Spheres would do?"

"Linked Spheres?" replied Howard, with elevated brows. "What on
earth has that to do with the subject?"

"Well, I have taken it from this line where you say, 'And in his
brain are two divided worlds of thought.'"

"But I say that they are divided--divided isn't linked!"

"No, I quite admit it. But though divided they must be linked to a
certain extent by being both within his brain. It is not quite right
though, because the walls of the skull might, by encircling the two
worlds, be said to unite them, but they could not 'link' anything. I
follow all that, and I don't think the title is particularly
artistic. It's not clear enough. Your own is much better from the
view of intrinsic fitness. But the beauty of Linked Spheres is its
indistinctness. You must not be too clear. That has been my great
fault--perspicuity--and I am beginning to see it now. It has fatally
barred my getting on. I always do try to make people see exactly
what I mean, and that is apparently a mistake. When I write about
passion everybody feels it is passion, and is shocked in
consequence. When another fellow writes about it you feel he is
trying to say something, but you are not quite sure what, and so it
doesn't matter."

"'Muddle it! muddle it!' must be your watchword if you want to pass
muster through the British press. Linked Spheres is a splendid
muddle--very indefinite, quite void of connection with the subject
in hand, and with a pleasant tinkle about the sound, just like
Gladstone's speeches! Linked Spheres! It's impossible, for how the
deuce would you link a sphere? Metaphor all wrong, and no one will
know in the least what you mean, but it sounds pleasant and
polished, and perfectly proper, and you'll find your editor will
swallow the poem at a gulp."

Howard laughed.

"You're in an awful huff, Victor, with the British press, that's
clear!"

I laughed too.

"Yes I am, I admit it, and all this leads up to the question I came
to ask you this afternoon. Will you come over to Paris with me? I am
going."

I got up and leant against the mantel-piece, pushing a place clear
for my elbow on it between a bottle of liqueur and a copy of "The
Holy Grail."

"You're great at springing mines upon one. Paris? why Paris? And how
can you tear yourself away from Lucia?"

"I wish you would not pronounce that word as if it rhymed with
Fuchsia," I said.

"Well, how do you want me to pronounce it?"

"You know quite well its Lu-chee-ah, and the accent is on the middle
syllable, not the first."

"Oh, all right: Lu-CHEE-ah. Ah! what a mouthful! I would rather say
Miss Grant!"

"It might be as well if you did," I said, coldly.

Howard looked at me and opened his eyes.

"You are uncommonly sticky to-day," he said, kicking a very old
slipper off his swinging foot and catching it on the toe again.

"Well, what about Paris? Let's hear."

"I am so sick of this rotten, wishy-washy England. They won't take
my things as they stand, and I'm not going to write 'Tales of my
First Feeding Bottle' to please them. So I'm going over to Paris. I
shall turn my MSS. into French and publish them there. The language
lends itself to perfect lucidity, and the Paris press allows men to
write as men. Besides, the French admire word-painting, which is my
particular vein. The English don't. They like composition. Here an
author's pen must remain always a stick dipped in ink. It must never
become what mine is--a painter's brush, wet, dripping, overflowing
with oil colour. It struck me you might care to come too, and do the
same with your verse. If so--come, by all means."

I looked down at his intelligent face and hoped he would come.
Selfish, conceited, and self-sufficient as I may be, there is a
strand of weakness made up in my composition that forces me to find
the companionship of another intellect whenever possible.

"Yes; I'll come," he answered after a minute, getting on to his feet
and thrusting both hands into his pockets with an energetic air.
"I'm rather dubious about the books and the translation business;
but anyway we can have a high old time in Paris!"

"But look here, Howard," I returned, "whether I succeed or not, I am
not meditating having any high old time, or rather what you mean--a
low old time. I'm going there to work."

"Oh, we all know you're a saint!" he said derisively. "But--'A
doubtful throne is ice on summer seas!' We shall see how long your
virtue lasts at La Scala and in the Champs Elysees, with Lucia
safely packed away in England!"

I smiled and raised my eyebrows in silence. The point was not worth
discussing. Howard and I looked at some things from such an
enormously different level that conversation on them was merely
waste of time. It was as if a man upon a cliff started a
dissertation with another in a boat lying on the sea beneath. Half
the excellent arguments would drift away upon the wind, lost,
rendered nil by the mere difference of level in the two planes. The
two main chains that bound my whole psychological system--self-
control and self-respect--were entirely absent in him. He looked at
his every good action from the point of utility, at his every bad
one from the point of secrecy. He would do the first if it were
useful to him, and the last if it were secret. These, I believe,
were the only two conditions that ever occurred to him. He was weak,
even contemptible, in character, and I could not help clearly seeing
it, but my friendship to him was won over by his talents, and by a
certain good-tempered, easy, pleasant way he had. Widely different
though we were, we had never had a quarrel. We got on together
perfectly, and he might say things to me that would have offended me
from an other man. Liking! Liking! What is it? It is as difficult to
define, as impossible to imprison between the limits of motives and
reasons, of "Whys" and "becauses," as Loving. I liked Howard, or
rather I liked his society, which is not the same thing. Often the
people who are the most disappointing in the great issues of life
are the pleasantest to live with through the trifles of everyday
existence and vice versa. I would not have trusted Howard in a
crisis for any consideration, but then crises don't come every day,
and he was delightful to discuss a chapter or a sonnet with.

"When are you going, by the way? Not to-morrow, I hope, for behold
this room!" and he glanced round helplessly.

It was certainly in the most frightful of literary confusions.
Masses of loose papers, letters, bills, poems, drifted over the
tables; books stood in piles upon the floor; newspapers occupied the
chairs.

"No, next week. Shall we say Saturday?"

"All right. I'll be ready by then. Cross--evening, I suppose?"

"Very likely. But I shall see you again," I said, looking at my
watch. "By Jove! close to seven. I must go. Try and get rid of that
confounded jaundice. Good-bye!"

Howard extended his hand.

"By the way, what about the tin? Can you manage?"--

"Oh yes! That's all right," I said.

I was Howard's bank, upon which he drew fitfully and spasmodically:
that is to say, when any expensive little fancy seized him. He
always insisted on giving me I.O.U.'s and acknowledgments for the
sums he borrowed, which I as regularly tore in pieces and put in the
fire. I was half way down the stairs when I ran back and opened his
door again.

"Howard!"

"Hullo!"

"Have you a copy of that verse? I have not half studied it this
evening."

"What?" he said, looking round his chair back. "Your precious Linked
Spheres? Yes; take that one if you like."

I took up the paper.

"Thanks!" I said, and re-descended the stairs.

Going down Baker Street, I stopped at the first lamp-post, and read
some lines of it again. A glow of admiration, almost of affection,
towards the curious lines, full of nascent genius, lit slowly in me.

"Splendid! magnificent!" I muttered. "If not here, I'll see it's got
out in Paris."




CHAPTER III.


The next week saw myself and Howard installed in Paris. We had two
large, comfortable rooms on the second floor, opening into each
other, well furnished and upholstered in every way as sitting-rooms,
as most of the French bedrooms are.

They faced a corner where several boulevards met and diverged, and
there was a constant stream of Paris life flowing beneath our
windows every hour of the day. A balcony ran outside, and on this in
the evening we used to stand and smoke and flick paper balls on to
the heads of the grisettes and the bonnes passing far underneath. On
the ground floor of the hotel was a cafe that extended also over the
pavement with its chairs and tables, and was open to the general
public as well as to those who were staying in the hotel.

Howard and I got on admirably as usual. Although we were so
different we had the common ground of a similarity in intellect. On
all strictly intellectual subjects, in psychological discussions, on
points of artistic merit, we seldom differed. His brain was, when he
chose to exert it, singularly brilliant, and in a companion this
compensates me for everything else almost that is wanting. I could
not certainly have lived in the same intimacy with a fool who had
been as high principled, as moral, and as sober as Howard was the
reverse of all these. Our mode of life was very different, as
naturally it would be, since I had come with a predetermination to
do nothing but work, and he with an equally strong one to idle his
days away in the most enjoyable manner he could invent. For myself,
I was fairly content with the prospect before me. Work I was
accustomed to, and it was easy. A new idea for a manuscript had
begun to hover fitfully before my mental vision, and was gradually
absorbing my thoughts into itself. Had I been able to write to and
hear from Lucia I should have been satisfied, but my father had made
the absence of all correspondence between us a sine qua non of my
coming here. When I had heard this I had looked at him with some
little amusement. Such a stipulation as this seemed to me to have
only one interpretation--he hoped and thought I should forget her!

"What is the meaning of this?" I asked. "What can be the benefit of
it? How can the fact of our writing or not writing be of importance?
Do you think I shall ever relinquish Lucia? I am resigned to wait as
long as must be, but I am utterly determined to have her in the
end."

To which my father had answered grimly with a smile,--

"Very well, my dear Victor, see that you get her!"

Which remark had made me grind my teeth and then laugh and shrug my
shoulders.

"And you won't permit a letter a month?"

"No."

"Oh, dressed in your little brief authority!" I thought, looking at
him. Then I said--

"Very good--I agree."

"I consider I have your word that you will not write, nor hear from
her, directly or indirectly, within this year?"

"Certainly you have."

And so the matter was settled.

When Lucia heard of it, we met each other's eyes, and she elevated
her eyebrows, and a faint smile curved her lips.

"It will make no difference," she murmured, and nothing more.

After all, I don't know that I cared very greatly about the letters.
It was Lucia herself that I wanted--nothing less. It gives me very
little pleasure to read a letter, and I never have understood the
cherishing locks of hair and dead roses business.

The desire for the presence of the living personality is too sharp-
edged to let me feel satisfaction in substitutory objects and vague
associations. To have put my hand round Lucia's living throat; yes,
that would have been a keen delight, but I was not dead set on
possessing myself of her handkerchief that I might kiss in private.
I had one portrait of her--that was all--and that I rarely looked
at.

The first thing I did in Paris was to find a translator for Howard's
poem, which, after a time, appeared in one of the literary papers in
its French dress, and returned to its original title. He came to me
suddenly one evening with a contemporary paper in his hand, and the
flush of gratified talent, and the pride that is its first cousin,
kindling in his face.

"Look here, Vic!" he said; "isn't this first-class? Here's a
critique on my verses, and just see how they crack them up!"

I took the paper and read the paragraph, Howard leaning over my
shoulder and resting his knee on the arm of my chair. When I had
finished I looked up at him.

"Not a word more than it deserves, old man!" I said. "Now you
realise, don't you, what you can be and do if you choose!"

"Yes. Well, really, if all that's true, I ought to make some sort of
a name some day, eh?"

And for a time it seemed that a lasting impression had been made
upon him. He seemed to feel that elation and enthusiasm stir in him
which makes it a joy to the genius to renounce all for his work.
With regard to my own manuscripts, I sent some of them, in English,
to one of the French publishing firms, and there ensued a blank of
three weeks. At the end of that time I received a peremptory note
inviting me to call at their office. When I presented myself I was
shown into a bare, square room, where an august little man was
standing, using a silver toothpick. He was short, with a large-sized
lower chest; bald, with a short, grey beard cut to a sharp point;
waxed moustache ends, sticking out ferociously; and brown eyes, keen
with intelligence. He bowed elaborately.

I could speak French, he supposed.

I assented, and the conversation then went on very fast.

Monsieur's works had been read by their Anglo-French reader and
highly approved. There was no doubt that Monsieur possessed a
talent, a talent that he would say was--colossal. At the same time,
these works were all too English in tone to catch the taste of the
Parisian world, and Monsieur had seemed to put a restraint upon his
pen, that rendered his works a touch too cold.

Great heavens! how I raised my eyebrows at that; remembering that in
England I had been always rejected on account of being too warm.

Now, his proposition was this:--If Monsieur felt disposed to write a
manuscript, in which the scene should be laid in France, and some of
the characters, at least, be French, and also allow himself a little
greater latitude, then he should be delighted to put the manuscript
in the hands of their very best translator, and give it out to an
audience that, above all things, admired vigour.

I heard all this with satisfaction. The offer meant a lot more work
for me, but I did not mind that, with success--dear success--in
view. I closed with his proposition at once, and after some
formalities and details had been gone into and settled, I rushed
home to tell Howard.

So, for a time, settled into working intellectual grooves, our life
ran on quietly from day to day with a fair prospect on ahead of us.

And then came an unlucky incident which jerked the wheels of
Howard's existence out of the narrow, hard line of effort, and after
that they ran along anyhow, sometimes on and sometimes off it, and
kept me in dread of a total smash. The Champs Elysees were full of
the late afternoon sunlight, and we sauntered slowly, criticising
the occupants of the various carriages rolling up to the great arch
of Napoleon, and arguing in a broken, desultory way on our usual
subject of talk--literature.

Howard was on the outside, nearest the road, walking on the actual
kerb, and flicking up the leaves in the gutter, as he talked, with
the point of his cane. As we strolled, with our eyes more or less
directed on the string of vehicles moving in the centre of the sunny
road, we noticed one small, black brougham going the same way as
ourselves, that seemed conspicuous by being closed amongst the rest
of the open victorias. Suddenly it detached itself from the line of
other carriages and dashed up alongside of the pavement where we
were walking. Its wheels ground in the gutter, and I caught Howard's
arm to draw him more on to the pavement.

"Look out!" I exclaimed. "What a way to drive!" I added, as the
coachman whipped up his horses and drove on some fifty yards, close
to the kerb. There he pulled up abruptly. The door of the brougham
was pushed open and a woman got out. Such a figure it was that
outlined itself in the sunny light, standing on the white trottoir,
and with the vista of the Champs Elysees behind it--a form seductive
in every line, with a fine hip, and a tiny arched foot that tapped
the pavement impatiently.

"What's up?" I said to Howard. "Whom is she waiting for, I wonder?"

A few steps more brought us up to her, and then, to our
astonishment, she turned fully towards me, and said in her own
language,--

"Will you come and dine with me this evening, Monsieur? The carriage
will take us home now!"

We both stopped short. There was a second of blank amaze, and the
woman's face stamped itself on our startled vision;--the eyes,
liquid and gleaming, behind a veil of black lashes; the smooth firm
nose, with its raised and tremulous nostril; the oval of either
cheek, with the damask glow in it; and the curled mouth of deepest
crimson, with the essence of sensuous languor in its curve.

For a second we stared at it in the sunlight, and that second
sufficed to let us take in the situation; and there was something in
her words and tone of confidence, and something of authority in the
way she pointed to her carriage, that annoyed me.

"Thank you! I only dine with my friends," I answered coldly.

I suppose she was not insensible to the contempt in my tone and eyes
as I looked down on her, for her next words came in a more humble,
ingratiating voice.

"Make me one of them, then, Monsieur!--at once;" and she smiled--a
lovely smile on such a mouth. Howard stood in silence, staring at
her. I was very much amused and a little annoyed.

"You flatter me!" I returned, satirically; "but I have as many as I
want already."

Howard broke in.

"Won't you extend your invitation to me?" he said, eagerly, and she
threw a quick side-glance over him.

"I can't invite you both--at the same time!" she said, with a laugh
and a little Parisian shrug; and then she looked at me again with a
look that one would say was abominable or charming, according as
one's particular mood at the moment was.

My mood was not such as to condemn it.

My next words were simply said for me, as it were, by my long habit
of self-restraint.

"My presence is not in the question at all, to embarrass you," I
said, curtly, and added to Howard--

"We may as well go on."

But that was not at all his view.

"Ask me," he said, with his shaky French accent; "I'll come!" and he
put his hand on her arm, with a glance that matched her own. She
seemed pretty well indifferent which of us it should be, and she
merely said imperiously,--

"Come, then!" and with a grimace over her shoulder at me,
disappeared into her brougham again.

Howard would have followed instantly, but I seized his arm.

"What are you doing?" I said in English. "Is it worth it, Howard?
You may regret it. She is probably some married woman!"

Howard wrenched himself free from me.

"Don't talk to me! I'm not the fellow to refuse a jolly good lark
when it's offered to me!"

He flung himself into the brougham without another word, drew the
door to after him, and they were gone, whirling up the Champs
Elysees, leaving me standing on the kerb looking after the polished
black back of the brougham receding and growing small in the
distance.

"Well!" I thought, "if another fellow had told me this tale, I
should have thought it a howler!"

The suddenness of the whole thing had taken my breath away, and I
must have stood there many seconds in confused thought, in which a
flexible form and arched foot took a prominent part.

When I roused myself I saw Nous was lying down beside me with the
patience of a philosopher, and catching the flies that buzzed along
the sunny pavement--to kill time.

I called him, and went on up toward the Arc.

"I couldn't have done otherwise," I thought. I knew I did not wish
to have done otherwise. I knew I should say again exactly the same
if the brougham were again before me, but yet--

"I want nothing now that I have my work on hand," I told myself, as
the arched foot went on before me up the pavement.

"By-and-by"--but then life seemed all by-and-bys for me.

I shortened my walk. Everything seemed to jar upon my nerves. I went
back to the hotel by a quiet way, and then up to the empty room to
work.

Howard did not return for a couple of days. On the third I was
sitting after dinner at one of the tables outside the hotel cafe,
smoking, under the line of trees that edge the Paris kerb, when a
fiacre drew up at my very elbow, and Howard got out. He did not see
me for a minute, engaged with paying the cocher and hunting for a
pourboire, and then he was just going straight across the lighted
trottoir into the hotel when I called to him.

"Hullo, Vic! there you are!" he said, turning back. "I didn't see
you under the tree."

He came back and drew up a chair, with a scraping sound, to the
opposite side of my table, leant his elbows upon it, and pushed his
hat back. There was a blaze of light, all across the pavement to
where we were sitting, from the windows and open glass doors of the
cafe. He looked well and uncommonly jolly; a man who lives his life,
such as it is, without thought, without reflection, and without
philosophy--who views the passing hour without grudging, the past
without regret.

"You look awfully seedy," he said. "Anything up?"

"No," I answered. "Well? 'How have we sped in this contest?' How
went the dinner?"

"I'll tell you," he said, turning round to secure a passing garcon.
"Let's get hold of a drink first. Oh, she's got a jolly place!" he
said, when the garcon, and eventually the drink, had been captured.
"Nice house and all that. She's married, as you said, and of very
good family. Received everywhere, you know."

"Husband at the dinner?" I asked laconically.

"No; husband gone to Tunis on business."

"Expected back to-day, I suppose?"

"No, to-morrow."

"Pity."

"Yes. You should have gone, Vic! She'd have satisfied you! Lovely
figure! I never knew a lovelier!"

I said nothing.

"What did you think of her stopping us like that?" he went on after
a minute.

"I thought it consummate cheek," I said. "I should not have believed
it if it hadn't actually happened before my eyes."

"Yes, it was cheeky; but do you know, she is not very cheeky,
really. An awfully nice woman, and very clever. But aren't these
Parisiennes queer? You can't imagine any woman doing such a thing in
England, can you?"

"Hardly."

"It seems she had seen us once before. It was you she wanted, not
me. Why didn't you go, you duffer? I only came in a bad second!"

I laughed.

"She had read my things and likes them. Do you know, I think it is
rather a good thing I have met her, it will urge me to do more--
don't look at me 'in that tone of voice,' I am sure it will, really,
Victor!"

"Are you going to see her again, then?" I asked.

"Yes, oh yes!"

"When the husband next visits Tunis, I suppose?"

"Yes, and before that, even when he's here. She is going to
patronise my talent--see?"

"I see."

"I must write my next thing to her, of course. It's a nuisance being
hampered with this beastly French language!"

And then the conversation went on. We sat there and talked and
argued from the particular to the general, and back again, until the
waiters came and cleared the chairs off the pavement and began to
turn out the lights in the cafe--and it was a conversation after
which I slept badly.

After this incident I saw less of Howard, and our lives ran farther
and farther apart. I grew more and more absorbed in the developing
manuscript. He grew more and more taken up in the stream of
amusement he had entered. He wrote very little. A couple of lines
that had occurred to him perhaps at the theatre, and were jotted
hastily on the edge of a programme, was all that a whole week
produced. And even these would have been lost through his
carelessness but for me.

The days were generally divided between headache and sleep; the
nights between the theatre and drink. I regretted it; and this life
that was being wasted, poured out in uselessness, within my sight
oppressed me. I should hardly have noticed it with another man, but
I knew that this one had been planned for higher things.

I used to try and rouse in him his pride and love for himself, or,
at any rate, for his talent. I used to insist on his hearing me read
sometimes those disconnected lines that his own brain, dulled by
drink, had almost forgotten.

"Are they not splendid?" I would say; "and you are the author! You
are their parent, Howard! Think! Any man could lead the life you are
leading! not one in a thousand could produce these lines!"

Howard would look at me suspiciously with heavy eyes.

"Are you sure I wrote that? I don't think I remember it!"

What a crime!

"I know you did," I would answer, and then urge him to give every
day and night in the week, if he liked, to pleasure except one--"let
one be sacred to work!"

"And just think," he would answer, lazily, "if I were dying, how
those days and nights wasted would come and stare me in the face!"

"Wasted! in the building of such lines as these?"

"But what's the good of them when they are built? They don't make me
enjoy life!"

And he pursued his own path and I could not stop him. I hoped and
thought he would get tired after a time of the Paris halls and
drunken nights and sick headaches, but I waited in vain. He had
gradually got intimate with the back as well as the front of the
scenes, and this I liked less than anything. The state of Howard's
finances, too, threw an extra weight of responsibility on me, for he
must have trodden a straighter road, and perhaps he would have
worked more if he had had less money. And the money--his superfluous
cash--came generally from me. His own allowance was small; just
enough to keep him and no more. Gifts, under the name of loans, from
me supplied all extras, and filled all deficiencies and gaps. What
could I answer when he used to say, "Dear old boy! let me have
another twenty!" And yet I knew it was handing him the razor to cut
his throat. I hoped the sight of another fellow working as
persistently as I did would have been an encouragement to him to
make some sort of effort himself, but he looked upon me as a
misguided creature, and took pains not to follow my example.

"How do you know that you will ever marry Lucia? or make a success
of your books or anything?" he asked me one evening as we went
upstairs after dinner, he to dress before going to La Scarletta, I
to work on the MS.

"You are working for an uncertainty, a dream. It may never come off,
and then where will you be. Now, at least, I know what I am going to
have this evening. Such enjoyment as there is I get it, and there's
an end of it, and no worry about it. As for you, you are all worry;
and even granted that you get, in the end, something superlatively
satisfactory, why, it will hardly make up to you for all you have
gone through to get it!"

I said nothing. We had got up to our rooms by this time, and I flung
myself into the easy chair.

Howard went into his room and brought back his dress shoes to put
them on in mine, that he might follow up his argument.

"Now, look here, Vic, which of us two fellows is the most ready to
go out of the world? In the Bible or prayer-book or somewhere we are
told to live so that we may be willing and prepared to die any
minute. Well, that's just what I do. I haven't a scrap of a tie to
life. I don't think there will be anything better in it than what I
have had already. I'd go to-morrow. But you, you would not like it a
bit, and you can't deny it. You have got all the ties of your
unsatisfied desires. You want to get Lucia--you want to make your
name. You would be awfully cut up now if you were told you were
going to be bundled out of life in ten minutes; and I--I shouldn't
care!"

Howard had finished fastening his patent shoes, and now sat back in
his chair, one leg crossed over the other, and his hands behind his
head.

"Being brought into life is just like being invited to a feast from
which you may be called away at any minute. Well, if you have eaten
and drunk to satiety you will be only too glad to get up and go away
and sleep. But if you have sat at the table, hungering all the time
and repressing yourself, then, when the sudden call comes, and you
must rise and leave it for ever, think what a misery and bitterness
to be dragged away from the brilliant table, with all its dishes and
its wines untasted, its flowers unsmelt, and be crammed away into
the darkness--hungry, thirsty, and unsatisfied. Take my word for it,
Vic, you'll have a bad five minutes on your deathbed!"

I listened in silence. I felt ill and dispirited and disinclined for
talk.

"That's all Horace. I don't care much about Latin as a whole, but I
do think he is splendid. I'd have that book made the general
testament. I'd have it taught in all the Board Schools and sworn on
in the Law Courts. I'd have every fellow take it as a guide through
life; if he really acts up to it, it ensures his happiness. Its
philosophy beats all the religions hollow. ' Take the day.' 'Put no
trust in to-morrow.' ' Seek not to know the future; whatever it is,
bear it.' 'Each night be able to say I have lived.' 'Retire from
life, satisfied, as from a banquet.' And so on ad lib. You know it
all, Victor. You were brought up upon it, but you haven't profited
by it--not a scrap. Well, I'm going!"

He leant forward, picked up his shoes, and went into his own room.
It was about twelve when he came in that night and found me just
finishing off a chapter. The fire had gone out from neglect; the
window stood open and the lace curtains waved in the damp night
wind. Howard stalked across the room and banged the glass doors
shut, and told me it was beastly cold in here. I was just fully
absorbed in the closing passages of my scene, and felt a nervous
irritation at being interrupted.

"There's a fire-lighter behind the scuttle, throw it into the grate
and you'll soon have a blaze," I said, without looking up.

Howard drew off his lavender gloves and flung them down on the
table. One fell on the last sheet I had written.

"Confound you! do be careful!" I muttered, picking it up, and
noticing the great blur it left on the page. "The sheets are wet."

"It doesn't matter, they're not a new pair!" answered Howard,
coolly, going down on his knees to light up the fire. He
accomplished this in a few minutes, and then settled down in the
long chair with a cigar. I wrote on feverishly, expecting to be
addressed and interrupted every moment. It was a great bore his
coming in just now, disturbing me. I had a difficult thing to
express, and I was just pursuing the tail end of an idea I could not
quite grasp. My pen hovered uncertainly over the paper. I could not
exactly give words to the impression in my brain, and the sense that
he was going to speak, about to speak each second, worried me. At
the same time I never wished to be ungracious to Howard when he did
return to our rooms; never wished to feel it was my execrably bad
company that induced him to stay away from them all night instead of
half.

"I say, Vic!"

"Well?"

"Do you know that kissing song Embrasse moi?"

I nodded.

"Don't you think it awfully fetching? I like that refrain so much--
Embrasse moi, chumph! chumph!--and then the orchestra exactly
imitates the sound of a kiss--then Encore une fois!! chumph! chumph!
Don't you?"

"Yes; it isn't bad."

Silence.

"Victor!"

"What?"

"La Faina was there to-night!"

"Oh!"

"Do you know her?"

"I've heard of her."

Silence.

"Vic!"

"Yes?"

"Do you know what Faina means?"

"Of course I do!"

"Do you think it a nice name?"

"Not particularly."

"Well, it's better than Grille d'Egout anyway, isn't it?"

"About on a par, I should say." "How many frills do you think she
had on her petticoat?"

"Oh, I don't know--forty!"

"No; four. I counted them. Her figure is not much up atop, but
her"--

"Oh, stow all that!" I interrupted; "there's a good fellow, I'm just
doing a convent interior."

"All right. The rest is silence. Ah!" with a yawn, and getting up to
saunter round the room, "that's a jolly good song--Embrace moi!
chumph! chumph! Encore une fois!! chumph! chumph!"

He did not address me again, but somehow my ideas were scattered.
The convent scene went wrong. Ballet dancers seemed standing in the
aisle where nuns should have been kneeling, and, after a second or
so, I flung my pen down and pushed away the paper.

"Done?" exclaimed Howard, delightedly.

"Yes," I said simply, rising.

"Come and have a smoke," he said, drawing up both easy chairs to the
fire.

I took the cigar he offered and sat down. Howard threw himself into
the other chair, crossed his legs, and proceeded to give me an
account of his experiences. I suppose I was rather silent, for after
a time he broke in upon himself by saying abruptly,--

"Are you very savage with me for interrupting your work?"

"Savage?" I repeated. "Oh, no! the work can wait, I get plenty of
time at it!" Perhaps he misunderstood me, and my words conveyed to
him more than I meant. Any way, the next afternoon he came home
early to dine with me, and afterwards, when I was speaking of the
evening's work, he came up to me where I stood at the mantelpiece
and took something out of his pocket with a confident air.

"I've brought you something," he said, and he thrust suddenly into
my hand--under my eyes--a photograph.

My glance fell full on it, and I saw distinctly what it was--a full-
length figure of the danseuse Faina. Traditionally, perhaps, I ought
to have flung it into the fire--any way the grate--or torn it up.
But I am not fond of throwing other, people's things into the fire,
nor of tearing them up, simply because they offend my own views. He
had no right, perhaps, to thrust it upon me as he had, but that fact
would not, in my opinion, constitute my right to destroy it. So I
merely laid it on the mantelpiece.

"Extraordinary thing! Where did you pick that up?"

"Faina sent it to you with her love, and an invitation to supper to-
night after the last 'turn,'" replied Howard, rolling a cigarette,
sticking it with his lips, and looking at me over it.

"Oh! really? "I said, drily.

"Why, Victor, you've quite coloured up!" said Howard with a sort of
derisive triumph.

I felt I had. Why? I can hardly say. The word "love," the sudden
view of the portrait, dashed, whirling headlong over each other,
through my brain, followed by a sort of hazy cloud, out of which
looked two azure eyes.

"She is very lovely, isn't she?" Howard remarked affectionately,
setting the card upright against the wall.

"Very--in her own way," I assented.

I admitted it willingly, with pleasure. Why not?--an evident fact.
The blue slime in a blocked gutter of the road is very lovely also.

"Well, I'm going there to-night, because I admire the sister, and
you must come, too. You are killing yourself by sticking to the work
in the way you do. Come along! Where's the harm? Lucia will never
know. I won't split. God's in heaven and the Czar's a long way off!
So you may as well come and knock about a little. This monotonous
life will put an end to you!"

I was silent.

"Lucia won't know," he repeated.

"There's no question of Lucia's knowing anything," I said.

"Then why do you work as you do, and always refuse to come to a
supper, or a dance, or anything? You can't be really a quiet fellow
or you wouldn't write things the English won't have. You say it's
not a question of Lucia--then what the dickens is it that makes you
live the life you do?"

I did not answer him. I leant in silence against the mantelpiece,
staring absently at the portrait of Faina, and Howard got tired of
waiting for my answer. He went to dress, and I sat down at the
writing-table, absently sketching women's heads on my blotting
paper. Should I go with him or not? I felt tired of writing, tired
of work. Wine, laughter, sound, smiles, other voices?--Then four
points rose before me, very distinct and clear, like sharp mountain
peaks from a valley of mist.

FIRST. Supposing--if such a thing were possible--supposing on coming
out of this house I came face to face with Lucia, should I be
entirely pleased.

NEXT. Should I, when the present inclination were over, have a
satisfactory memory of this supper.

NEXT. Did I habitually mean to spend my evenings in this way?

LAST. Was it worth while spoiling a record for the sake of a single
deviation?

I answered No to each of these as they came before me in order, with
the upshot that I determined not to go. When Howard came in again I
looked up. He was dressed to the Enth, and as I glanced at his good-
looking, intelligent face, I thought how incongruous it seemed for
him to degrade himself with drink at this supper, and return, as he
probably would, a pitiable object to look at and listen to.

"Going to work, eh?"

I nodded. Howard hitched the cape of his overcoat straight, and went
out. As he shut the door I sprang suddenly to my feet. For a moment
the impulse towards distraction, amusement, relief from strain,
physical movement, overcame me. All the strong, ardent life rushed
up within me. A tremendous prompting came to shout after him, "Wait
a minute, Howard! I'll come, too, after all!" I was half way to the
door. Then I laughed and turned back. I went up to the mantelpiece
and unlocked the doors of a portrait frame that stood there, and
flung them open. It was the frame of Lucia's portrait, which, like
the temple of Janus, stood closed in times of peace and open in
times of war. Now was war, and I gazed at the picture within for
encouragement. There was equal sinuous, supple beauty in this form
as in that outline on the Paris card, that lay, perhaps, in the
pocket of every flaneur on the boulevards. I looked at the smooth,
perfect shoulders, and those soft arms that had never yet been drawn
round a lover's neck; at the extreme pride and dignity that lay in
every line of the form that had never been touched by a rough hand.
It swept from me in one gust the thoughts and tendencies struggling
to rise. It brought back all the old revolt from the lowest, all the
old admiration for the highest, in human nature. "Yes, you are worth
it," I muttered, looking hard at the chaste, exquisite pride in face
and form; "you are worth being worthy of, and I will not for an
evening, nor for an hour, make myself a brute that you would despise
if you knew his nature. Whether you ever know or not, what does that
matter? I must know. Shall I come back to feel your inferior? No!
Not a day, nor a night, shall there be, the history of which you
might not read." All my own pride was stirred as I looked at the
portrait of this woman, who, I knew, was absolutely pure, and I
would not now have followed Howard had my life depended on it.

I gave the photograph of Faina, which still stood up against the
wall, a flick that sent it horizontal on the marble, and then, with
Lucia's eyes just above me, I sat down to write.

Seven o'clock came, and the bright light pouring into the room over
the table covered with loose sheets of paper found me writing still.
I looked up, then back on the page, decided I need not add another
word, flung down my pen, leaned back in my chair, and proceeded to
light up a cigar. "Good!" I thought with lazy satisfaction, as my
eyes wandered over the completely covered table and the drying
sheets upon the floor.

"It was a splendid inspiration that! Had I gone out last night,
infallibly I should have missed it." Just then I heard a blundering,
uncertain step upon the stair, and then a dig in the centre of the
door panel.

I smiled.

"How long will it take him to find the lock, I wonder?" I thought.

The period was protracted. Round and round the keyhole did a shaky,
unsteady hand guide the wandering key. It scratched above, it dug at
the door beneath, while the low indistinct murmur of one repeated
word reached me within. At last, in sheer pity, I got up and opened
the door from the inside. Howard came unsteadily over the threshold,
and half blundered against me. His face was deadly pale; a bright
greenish shade lay close about his bloodshot eyes; his grey lips
shook. With difficulty he staggered to the chair opposite me and sat
down. I shut the door and resumed my seat and cigar.

"Enjoy yourself?" I asked.

He was not very steady on his feet, but fairly clear in his brain.

"Yes. But it's no good--can't stand it," he murmured, pressing his
hand hard upon his head and across his eyes.

His voice was little more than a gasp.

"God!--this weakness"--

We sat without speaking. In the bright light, in a glass opposite, I
caught sight of my own face. I was as pale as he from work, as he
from pleasure. My eyes were as bloodshot as his from sleeplessness,
as his from drink. My hand shook as much as his from mental
excitement, as his from physical exhaustion. He was the
representative of those who sacrifice to-morrow for to-day. I, of
those who sacrifice to-day for to-morrow. And I wondered, as I
smoked on with his collapsed figure before me, which was the greater
fool. "Do neither" is the cry. "Take the gifts of to-day without
robbing to-morrow." Estimable rule, I agree, if you are fortunate
enough to have the chance of carrying it out. But very few of us
have. A man with Howard's constitution could only purchase the hours
last night with the hours of this morning. Success would not come to
me to-morrow unless I were willing to struggle for it to-day.

"What did you drink?" I asked, after a pause.

"Maraschino, cognac, and clic," he answered, and a gesture of his
hand and first finger showed he meant in the same glass. I laughed.

"What a mixture! No wonder you're mixed yourself!"

"Can't stand it!" he only muttered again.

"No, you must sit it out or sleep it off now," I said, getting up
with a stretch. "Faina in good form?"

"Magnificent--Vic, you should have been there!"

"Thanks! yes, I think so!" I said, gathering up the precious pages
from the floor and table and piling them on a console. I wanted to
go and get my own breakfast, but the look of Howard's face, as it
lay against the chair back, bloodless, and the colour of ashes, made
me hesitate to leave him.

"Can I get you anything?" I said.

"No--help me into bed," he muttered, without opening his eyes,
moving his head restlessly from side to side.

"Come along, then," I answered, bending over him; "here's my arm."

He half raised his lids at that, and then feebly pushed a leaden
hand and arm through mine. There was a pause. He seemed unable to
make a farther movement, and sat, his head sunk into his chest, his
arm hanging through mine.

"Come, Howard, make an effort," I said, after a minute, and he
staggered uncertainly to his feet.

Getting him into the next room and into bed was a lengthy and
difficult matter, but at last, after protracted pauses, it was
effected, and he fell back upon the pillows--face and lips one tint
with the linen. I spoke to him, but I got no articulate answer, only
groans in response.

"I am going to fetch you some coffee," I said, leaning over him.

His eyes opened wide, and fixed upon me with a sort of helpless
terror.

"No, no! don't go!--stay!" he whispered, clutching my wrist with his
damp, shaking fingers. "Stay--a minute."

"But you want something to pull you round. I shan't be two seconds,"
I answered, trying to unclasp his clinging fingers.

"Never mind! Oh, Vic, for God's sake stay."

There was an abject appeal in the bloodshot eyes, a desperate
tenacity in his clutch. He looked at me as if he dared look nowhere
else. Some horror seemed pressing upon his confused and weakened
brain, and I thought I could soothe him best by staying.

"Very well--there, I'm not going," I said, reassuringly.

Still he did not relax his grip upon me, but his eyes closed again,
and he seemed satisfied. I sat down on a chair at the bedside and
waited. The sun poured brighter and brighter through the blinds and
touched up the mantelpiece.

The photograph of Faina's sister, surrounded by some others of her
set, was propped up in the centre of it, on a couple of paper
volumes. My own head was aching violently now, and after a time the
woman's figure on the glossy, sun-flecked surface of the card began
to sway and swim before my eyes as I looked lazily at it.

The minutes passed by and Howard did not move. At last, I ventured
to try and withdraw my stiffening arm without rousing him, but at
the first movement his fingers tightened and his groans recommenced.

After a time my hunger passed into drowsiness. I leant forward
gradually, and at last my head sank down on the edge of his bed, and
I drifted into oblivion.




CHAPTER IV.


May had come round again. The days and weeks had glided by in a
monotony of work, varied by feverish blanks when I could do nothing,
and the pile of manuscript lay growing dusty in its corner. Then at
last the day arrived when the final line was written and the whole
despatched. That was three months back, three months of anxious
waiting, in which Howard had chaffed me daily on my looks and
health.

"You're dwindling to a most interesting skeleton, Vic," he used to
say. "Catch me bothering myself about anything I wrote in the same
way."

Now, however, it was over. I had just left the publisher's office.
The book had been accepted, and I was a free man. A gush of fresh
life ran through me and stirred in my veins in response to the fresh
life of spring that seemed in the sunny air, in the green leaves
fluttering round the Bourse, in the white butterflies that floated
across the dusty asphalt.

When I got back I found Howard half asleep in the armchair. He sat
up as I came in, and regarded me with a confused stare. I saw he had
been drinking, but his brain was still tolerably clear.

"Rejected, by Jove!" he remarked as he saw the MS.

"No," I answered, throwing it on to a side table and myself into the
chair opposite him--"no, thank heaven, it's all right now! They've
accepted it. Congratulate me!"

"But what on earth have you brought it back for, then?" he said,
blinking his heavy eyes and looking at me resentfully, as if he
suspected I was playing some practical joke.

"Oh, there are a few things they want altered, that's all," I
answered. "I am to let them have it again the day after to-morrow."

"And what about terms?" he continued, getting out a roll of
cigarette papers and beginning to roll himself some cigarettes.

He was wide awake now, and had shaken off his intoxicated stupor.
His face was bent slightly as he made the cigarettes, so that I
could hardly see it. I sat watching his trembling fingers rolling
the papers in an absent silence.

"Oh, terms?" I said at last. "Fairly good, I think. They pay me a
small sum and reserve me one-third of all profits from the book. I
really don't care much about the terms. Once the book is out my name
is made, and the money will come in all right in time. They've taken
it; that is the main point. If you knew the glorious relief it is to
me!"

Howard laughed. He flung himself back in the chair and propped his
feet up against the support of the mantelpiece.

"I think you are very lucky," he said. There was silence, then he
asked abruptly--"How much are they going to give you for it?"

"Three thousand francs."

Howard paled suddenly and fixed his eyes upon me.

"And what will you do with it?" he asked, after a minute.

"Well," I answered, without reflection, "I thought you would like
two thousand to send home and get rid of that half-yearly interest."

The blood dyed all his face suddenly crimson, and he brought down
his feet upon the fender with a crash.

"I wish to hell you'd wait till I asked you for it!" he said
savagely, springing up and crossing to the window.

There he stood looking out with his hands thrust deep into his
pockets. I was fairly startled, and the colour rose uncomfortably in
my own face.

It seemed, I almost felt, as if I had done something excessively
ill-bred. But Howard and I were on such intimate terms, and made so
little account of what we said to each other, that I had expressed
the thought uppermost in my mind at the moment of his question as a
matter of course. Then, too, he borrowed so constantly and so freely
from me that the idea of offence over money matters or mentioning
them seemed quite impossible.

"No," I thought, glancing at him as he still stood between me and
the light; "there must be something else in his mind," and I
wondered.

He was seldom out of temper, and seldom made himself disagreeable to
me. In conversation, in all our life together, he generally yielded
to me with an almost womanly compliance. His present tone and manner
were absolutely new to me. I did not understand them, and I liked
him well enough to take the trouble to get up after a second and
follow him to the window.

"Howard," I said gently, "what is the matter? I am sorry if I have
annoyed you."

He turned upon me suddenly from the window.

"Did I ever say I wanted the money you might get from your cursed
book?" he said, passionately. "Do you suppose I couldn't get as much
for something of my own if I chose?"

Now, considering Howard was always in want of money, and perpetually
lamenting his inability, real or imagined, to get it, the last
remark seemed rather odd, and the vehemence with which he spoke
against me was altogether incomprehensible.

"Of course," I answered quietly, looking down into his excited face.
"I merely offered the money as a convenience, pro tem, as it
happened to be at hand, that's all. But surely it doesn't matter.
Perhaps I should not have done. I apologise. Doesn't that make it
square?"

I thought he was out of health, irritable, disappointed that he had
not made more of his own work, and jealous of my success, and I was
willing to say anything to soften his feelings.

Howard simply turned away from me again, and I caught a mutter of
"damned impertinence."

Seeing it was useless to say anything further at the moment, I
strolled back into the centre of the room again, called Nous to me,
and sat down.

"Jealous!" I thought, with contemptuous amusement; "how
extraordinary!"

Then my thoughts rushed away in a sudden stream to Lucia, and I saw
her face, glowing with delight, look out upon me from the blank
surface of the wall.

"How soon now shall I possess you?" was my one thought. "How long to
our marriage?"

I began by allowing three months, but I shortened and shortened the
time till I cut it down to a fortnight.

"Could I persuade her to let it be in a fortnight?" and I thought I
could.

A quarter of an hour passed, and Howard had not moved from his
position in the window. A very little day-dreaming is enough for me,
especially about a woman. I yawned, stretched, and finally got up.

"Howard," I said, "I'm going out for a turn with Nous, but I will
came back in time for dinner."

I lingered, but he said nothing. I put on my hat, called the dog,
and went out. I started to walk to the Arc, and the distance there
and back would have taken me, as I had said, till our dinner hour,
but half way there the inclination failed. I felt tired and turned
back.

"How utterly done up I feel!" I thought; "not worth anything. This
last book has thoroughly taken it out of me. Rest! Rest! That was
what I longed for now. My whole system seemed crying out for it. Of
all the benefits the just-accomplished work would bring, celebrity,
money, even, yes, even Lucia, seemed not so seductive in those
moments as the possibility of gratifying this intolerable mental and
physical craving for repose."

As I walked home a sense of tranquillity, a quiet, peaceful feeling
of relief was transfused through me, and seemed communicated from
the mind to the body and to every nerve of my frame, as if I were
under the influence of some soothing drug.

I reached the hotel considerably before the time I had mentioned to
Howard, and I supposed he would be out. However, as I came near I
saw that our window was well lighted up. In fact, there seemed an
unusually brilliant light in the room. Nous and I went up the
stairs. He seemed to know and feel his master's good spirits, and
kept licking my hand at intervals as he bounded up the stairs beside
me, and then outstripping me, he would wait on the landing above me
impatiently till I got there, in a hurry to race up the next flight.

As I opened my door a peculiar scent of smoke reached me, and the
air was clouded and singularly warm. Howard was in the room, and I
could not make out at first what he was doing. He was crouching on
his heels in front of the grate and seemingly stirring or poking
something beneath the bars. Some, I can hardly define what,
instinct, guided my eyes to the side table where I had left my
manuscript. It was gone. At that instant: the wind from the wide
open window and door blew the lamp flame and stirred the curtains,
and a great sheet of whole black tinder drifted across the carpet up
to my feet.

Then I knew--he was burning, or had burnt, my work. A flame was
dying down in the grate, filled and overflowing with ragged black
fragments. With a curse I sprang towards the fender, but Nous was
quicker than I. Either divining my intention, or made suspicious by
the queer, sinister look Howard's figure had, the dog flew upon him
with a growl, rolled him over and seized the clothing at his neck.

In another instant I would have called him off, but Howard was an
inveterate coward. I saw his face turn livid with terror as the dog
pinned his throat to the floor. His hand stretched out convulsively
and grasped a long table knife that lay, together with the string
that had held my manuscript, beside him on the floor. He seized it,
and in an instant, before my eyes, he had plunged it deep into the
breast of the dog standing over him. It was all done in a second--a
flash. There was a gush of blood upon the floor, a broken moan from
Nous, and then he staggered and fell over on his side--motionless.

Howard struggled breathless, white as death, to his feet. For one
second I stood transfixed, watching him with blazing eyes. Then one
step forward and I was upon him. My two hands closed like steel
round his throat, and by his head, thus, I dragged him from the
hearth out into the centre of the room.

"You unutterable, unspeakable cur and devil!" I muttered, and I saw
his face blackening under my grip.

A gust of wind passed through the room, blowing to the door with a
bang, and it whirled aloft, round us, broken and quivering pieces of
black tinder. The air was full of them. And the dead dog lay in a
pool of blood before us. It seemed to me that my brain was rocking
with the fury and rage I felt--my whole frame convulsed in it. The
loss, the irreparable loss, the killed hopes I saw in those floating
ashes round me, came home to me till my brain seemed breaking
asunder with anger. To murder him came the impulse! How? There were
a thousand ways! To grind my fingers still deeper into his throat--
THUS! THUS! Or that long knife that lay there on the rug, driven
into and twisted round in his breast; or that sharp corner of the
fender to batter out his brains; or drag him through the long, open
window and hurl him in the darkness from that second floor balcony.
Which? Devil! devil! Then as I held him there the thought pierced
me,--Was I a brute to feel a blind rage like this? Had I ever in my
life lost my own self-command, that command which sets us where we
stand as men, as sane, highly-organised beings? And should a
miserable, worthless cur like this have the power to break that
self-control?

My whole pride and self-respect rose within me and commanded my
passion back within its bounds. I unclosed my hands from his throat,
and dropped him upon the ground as I would have dropped a loathsome
rag. I watched him rise to his knees, trembling, livid, and
terrified, and then scramble to his feet, with satisfaction that
such a thing as he had not broken my own self-rule.

"Go out of this room," I said, and he hurried to the communicating
door and shut and locked it securely after him.

I heard him do so with a contemptuous smile. Had I wanted to follow
him, my weight flung against the flimsy door would have crushed it
in. And I was left standing there alone in the smoke-filled room
with nothing but the thunderings of my own pulses to break the
silence.

"Inconceivable," I murmured, as the wind, stirring it, made the
tinder creak in the grate as it lay in thick masses; "simply
inconceivable."

I walked to the hearth and bent over the dog. He was already growing
cold. He had not moved after his first fall. That vicious, brutal
stab must have gone straight in to the heart. The knife was wet half
way to the hilt. I lifted the dog and laid him on the sofa, and then
mechanically went towards the blowing night-air and into the
balcony. My brain seemed only just maintaining its right balance.
So: all my labour, all my confident expectations, all the triumphant
pleasure with which I had come back that afternoon, all the result
of this past year's effort were now--nothing. Marked in a little
floating dust. And not one vestige, not an outline nor portion of an
outline even, remained. There was no rough draft, no sketch, no note
or notes of the work existing. I always wrote every manuscript, from
its first word to its last, on the paper that went to the publisher.
My inspiration of the time was transferred direct to the page before
me, and there it stood, without alteration, without correction. I
never wanted to touch it or change it after it was once written. I
was struck down, back again to the foot of the hill of work up which
I had been struggling twelve months. Lucia, celebrity, pleasure,
liberty, everything I coveted was now removed, taken far off into
indefinite distance from me. For twelve months they had been coming
nearer, steadily nearer, with each accomplished page, and to-day,
only to-day, I had left the publisher's office knowing they were
close to me, almost within my very arms. Like the prisoner serving
his time in gaol, and living, as it were, in the last day that sets
him free, I had been living these twelve months in the day when the
last line should be written. Now all to be recommenced from the
wearying, sickening beginning. And why? Why had he done it? That I
could not understand. As a psychological enigma it leapt fitfully
before my brain between the spasms of personal desperation. He had
nothing to gain, everything to lose by my failure. He knew I was a
man to always do the utmost for my friend, simply because he was my
friend, and therefore from any increase of power in me he could
derive nothing but benefit. There was absolutely no motive, could be
no cause, for the act except undiluted jealousy and envy. I stepped
inside the room again and went again to the hearth. Except when I
saw the piles of black tinder I could not realise that he had done
it. It seemed incredible, as if I must be dreaming. But there they
lay, leaf upon leaf, some whole and perfect yet, sheets of black
tinder, curled round at the corners where the flames had rolled them
up, and lined still with white marks where the ink had been. Yes, it
was so. The whole of my work was a nothing, and I a dependent pauper
again.

Where was that whole brilliant structure now that I had lived for
and so passionately loved through this past year? Along each line
had flowed the very essence of my feelings at the time the line was
written, and each one was irreplaceable. The fervour of a past
inspiration, like the fervour of a past desire, can never be
recalled. I gazed down into the grate and felt, stealthily creeping
upon me, as if it had been a beast with me in the empty room, my
intense hatred of this other man, divided from me by a few feet of
space and one slight partition. There was no outlet from his room
except into this. A few steps, force my way in, and what would
follow?

I pressed both hands across my eyes and bowed my head till it leant
hard upon the mantelpiece, feeling the longing and the urging
towards physical violence against him rush upon me and tear me like
wolves. The mental rage diffused itself through all the physical
system till it seemed like poison pouring through my veins. Every
pulse, beating convulsively in arms and chest and neck, seemed to
clamour together in hungry fury. I leant there trying to stifle, to
kill the thoughts that came and beat down the brutal rage. And as I
stood there I heard Howard cough in the next room--that slight
effeminate cough he gave when nervous or confused. I felt my blood
leap at the sound, and it rushed in a scalding stream over my face.
I raised my head and began mechanically to pace the room.

Even now it hardly seemed real, and my eyes kept returning and
returning to the console where the manuscript had always lain out of
work hours through the past year. "Devil! devil!" I muttered at
intervals; "what an unutterable devil." I don't know how long I
walked up and down, but suddenly a sense of physical fatigue, of
collapse, forced itself upon me. I threw myself in the corner of the
couch and took the dog's dead head upon my knee. Dead! It seemed
strange--the constant companion of ten years. I had had him from his
first earliest days.

Even before his eyes had opened I was struck by the intelligent way
he had lain at his mother's side, and surnamed him Nous on the spot,
after my favourite quality. I admit, like all good intelligences,
because they have always their own particular views on everything,
he had given a great deal of trouble. He had gnawed up my important
business letters when cutting his teeth; he had made beds on my new
light spring suits; he had sucked his favourite, most greasy mutton
bone on the couch where my best manuscript lay drying; and out of
doors he strongly objected to follow.

It is extremely annoying on a hot August afternoon, when you have
just time to catch the Richmond train, and a friend is with you, to
have your collie suddenly start off at a gallop in the opposite
direction to the station, and pay absolutely no attention to the
most distracted whistling and calling. Nothing for it but to start
in pursuit, to run yourself into a fever, and after lapse of time to
return with the fugitive to find your train missed and your friend
as savage as a bear.

"If that dog were mine I'd thrash him within an inch of his life!"
was the usual remark when I got back.

"Then I am extremely glad he is not yours," I used to answer,
fastening on the dog's collar, and making him walk at the end of a
foot of chain as a punishment.

"You'll never teach him like that, Vic. If you gave him a good kick
in the eye now he'd remember it!"

"Thanks very much for your advice," I returned, "but I should never
forgive myself if I kicked any animal in the eye."

"You are a queer, weak-hearted sort of fellow!" was the general
answer, in a contemptuous tone, at which I used to shrug my
shoulders and continue to manage my dog in my own way.

He would remember a blow, a kick, or a thrashing. I knew that. And
that was exactly what I meant to avoid, whatever it cost at times to
keep my temper with him. Besides, in all physical violence towards
another object there is a peculiar, dangerous, seductive
fascination. Once indulged in at all, it grows rapidly and
imperceptibly into a positively delicious pleasure and habit, just
as, if never indulged in, there grows up an always increasing horror
and loathing of it.

Rage and anger, and their physical expression, become by habit a
sort of joy, similar to the joy in intoxication, but if only the
habit can be formed the other way there is an equal joy obtainable
from self-restraint.

Control of the strongest passions is supposed to be difficult to
attain, but the whole difficulty lies in laying the first stones of
its foundation. If this is done the fabric will then go on building
itself. Day by day a brick will be added to the walls, until finally
no shock can overthrow them.

More and more as a man holds in his passions, more and more as he
feels the pride of holding all the reins of his whole system firmly
in his hand, will he have an abhorrence of scattering them to the
idle winds at the bidding of the first fool who chances to vex him.
But if he forms the habit of holding those reins so loosely that
they drag along in the mud, and are trampled on at every instant,
more and more difficult is it to gather them up.

The man who begins striking his dog as a punishment will proceed to
kick it when it comes accidentally in his way, and then go on to
knocking it about, simply because he feels in a bad humour.

So I never would, when I came back from these chasings, crimson,
heated, breathless, made to look like a fool, and excessively
annoyed altogether, cheat myself with the excuse that Nous wanted
correction, or any other nonsense to cover my own ill-temper. As a
matter of fact, he soon learnt it was uninteresting to be brought
back to the very same corner from where he had started and have to
walk all the rest of the way at the end of a scrap of chain, and his
education passed happily over without a single rough word. It took
longer perhaps than a treatment by blows, but I had my reward.

The dog conceived a limitless, boundless affection for me which more
than repaid me. Some men, of course, don't want affection. They only
care for obedience, and not at all how it is attained.

For myself I can see no pleasure in being merely dreaded. I should
hate to see anything--man, woman, servant, dog, anything--start in
terror at my footstep; hate to feel I brought gloom wherever I came,
and left relief behind me.

Nous was extremely quick-witted, and it used to amuse me enormously
the way he behaved when, as sometimes happened, I trod upon his foot
accidentally, or fell over him in the dark. Knowing that he had
never had a voluntary blow from me in his life, he would leap
enthusiastically over me and lick my hands after his first yelp, as
much as to say--

"Yes; I know it was quite an accident. I know, I am sure you didn't
mean it."

We had been inseparable, he and I, for these ten years. He had
walked by my side, eaten from my plate, slept on my bed, and his
death now in my service left a heavy, jagged-edged wound. As I sat
there in the corner of the couch, with my hand absently stroking the
glossy black coat, there came the very soft jarring of a key in the
lock.

I glanced towards Howard's door. The sound continued. The key was
being very slowly and gently turned, and then the handle was grasped
and cautiously revolved. He evidently hoped I was asleep, and wanted
to enter without disturbing me. I sat in silence with my eyes on the
door, which slowly opened.

Howard stood on the threshold. He saw I was sitting there facing
him, and he seemed to pause, unable to come forward or retreat. He
did not look particularly happy as a result of his work. His face
was pallid and haggard. Fool! to have flung away a valuable friend,
and shackled himself with the fear of another man!

"What do you want?" I said, as he did not move.

"My manuscripts, Victor. I left them here."

"There they are on the table. They are quite safe. Did you think I
should act as you have? Come and take them if you want them."

He had to pass close before me to do so, and I watched his nervous,
hurried approach to the table, and the trembling of his hand as he
gathered up the papers, with contemptuous eyes.

When he had grasped them all in his hand he gave an involuntary side
look at me and the motionless form beside me--a look that he seemed
unable to abstain from giving, though against his will. I met his
glance, and he hurried away back to his own door, and went through
it as a leper will shuffle and shamble away out of one's sight.

As soon as the morning came, I left the hotel without having tried
the vain attempt of sleep, and did not return to it till the
evening. At noon I called upon the publisher and explained that an
unfortunate accident had occurred, and the MS. I had received back
from him yesterday had been destroyed.

At that he beamed upon me blandly, and remarked that such a thing
was unfortunate, but that without doubt M'sieur would make all haste
to re-copy it, and would let him have a new draft as soon as
possible.

I shook my head, feeling my lips and throat grow dry as I answered--

"That which you had was the original, not a copy. I have no copy of
it from which I can replace it."

"But M'sieur will certainly have his notes, his private work, his
first scheme?"

"None. I do not work in that way. There is not a scrap of paper
relative to it anywhere."

Upon this the publisher rose, looked at me in a long silence, and
then said in an icy tone,--

"Then M'sieur wishes me to understand that he does not intend to
allow our firm to publish his work at all?"

I flushed at the insult his words contained. They practically
intimated that he thought the whole thing an invention, and that I
was going to give the MS. elsewhere. I got up too, and said--

"I have told you the MS. is destroyed, and I have no means of
reproducing it, therefore it is impossible for it to be brought out
by your or any other firm."

The man before me merely raised his shoulders over his ears, bowed,
spread out the palms of his hands, raised his eyebrows, and
muttered,--

"Comme vous voulez, M'sieur."

Confound him! was he a liar that he assumed me to be one. There was
nothing to do but to bow and leave.

As I walked out of his office into the fresh, sparkling, morning
sunlight, life to me had a very bitter savour. I walked through the
streets till I felt tired in every muscle. Then I sat thinking on a
bench in a green corner of the Champs Elysees, watching absently the
sun patches jump from leaf to neighbouring leaf as the wind elevated
and depressed them, and trying to mentally seize upon and analyse
this vile, low impulse of another man's envy.

It was dark when I came back to the hotel. When I came up to my room
I was surprised to see quite a little crowd of figures clustered
round my door, all talking at once in their shrill French tones, all
gesticulating at each other as if about to tear off each other's
scalps.

Angry exclamations reached me as I came towards them.

"Mais je vous dis, je ne savais pas!"

"Mais c'est impossible!"

"Pas en regie!"

"Que voulez vous? C'est un barbare!"

Then as I came up there was a general cry of "Le voila! le voila!"
and in an instant they were all around me, all clamouring,
screaming, questioning me at once. The master of the hotel in the
greatest agitation, the manager in his shirt sleeves, two or three
waiters, a man looking like a gendarme, and another official with a
paper in his hand. For a second they shouted so--nothing could be
distinguished except broken phrases and the continual repetition of
the words "Notification" and "M'sieur le Commissionaire."

"A vous la responsibilite!"

"Moi? je n'en savais rien!"

"Il veut abimer notre sante!"

"Il partera tout de suite!"

I looked at them for a moment in amaze, and the fellow with the
paper thundered out--"Silence," which produced the effect of cold
thrown suddenly in boiling water. The little crowd pressed in upon
me closely and listened awe-struck as the Commissionaire spoke to
me, in French, of course.

"Monsieur," he said, in an impressive tone, "I am informed you have
a dog here!"

I nodded.

"A dog--dead!" and the accent on the last word was terrific.

"My dog unfortunately has died," I said. "Yes"--and I wondered more
and more the upshot of it all.

"Then," thundered the official, purple with excited rage, "how is
it, Monsieur, you have not sent a notification to the police?"

I was fairly taken aback. The matter, though I barely yet
comprehended it, was evidently, in their estimation, one of serious
importance. Involuntarily, I glanced round at the others as the
Commissionaire scowled threateningly at me. They noted my glance,
and attributing it, I suppose, to guilty confusion, there were
suppressed and complacent murmurs all round me, and shakes of the
head.

"Pas d'explication!"

"Vous voyez ca?"

"Point d'excuse!"

"It is scandalous, it is shameful, it is abominable, M'sieur,"
shouted the Commissionaire, "the way you have acted! Twenty-four
hours you hide the dead body of a dog in your bedroom! You hope to
escape the eye of the law! You would bring disgrace on the
gendarmerie, on the municipality of Paris! You laugh at our
regulations, M'sieur, you laugh!" and he brandished the paper
violently. "But you will find the authority of France is greater
than you! There are cells, M'sieur, there are courts, there are
judges for your education!!!"

Matters were apparently growing serious for me. I had evidently
offended them all desperately somehow. "You go out in the morning,"
he continued, furiously, "and you do not slink back here till it is
dark! You are a coward, M'sieur! a coward!"

No Englishman likes hearing himself abused, and my own anger now was
considerably roused. But still, in my way about life, I have found
the inestimable value of conciliation. It saves one such an infinity
of trouble. I suppose I lean naturally towards it. At any rate, I
always feel this--that if you have not the power on your side it is
undignified to assume that which you cannot enforce, and if you have
the power you can then afford to be civil.

A pleasant manner has never once failed me in bringing about an
effect which is highly convenient to oneself, and in the long run it
spares one's vanity considerably. There is hardly any human being,
however aggressive he may be at first, that does not melt into
respect before an imperturbable civility. I felt in this case, too,
that I was probably in the wrong from their point of view. It was
the question of another country's ways, and I have a lenient feeling
towards the epichortyon. So, annoyed and irritated as I was, I
checked my own feelings and said,--

"I think it is altogether a misunderstanding! I have no intention of
breaking any regulations. I was not aware that a dog's death would
be a matter where the law would interfere."

The fury on the purple face opposite me subsided somewhat.

"Is it then possible," he said, more quietly, "that you are in
ignorance of our rule, that, when any animal dies in a private
dwelling-house, the fact shall be notified within twelve hours to
the police, in order that the dead body may be immediately removed?"

All eyes fixed upon me with breathless uncertainty.

"Certainly," I said, "I did not know of the regulation. If I had, I
should have complied with it. There is no similar rule in England."

A great change took place in the official's manner. His face
cleared, and he waved his arm with a gesture of magnificent
condescension. His whole attitude expressed clearly that so
enlightened and cultured a person as himself was in the habit of
making every allowance for any poor, benighted pagan like me.

"Well, M'sieur; well, I accept your statement, and I withdraw my
expressions of a moment back. But think, M'sieur, of the risk to
which your conduct has exposed others. Think of the pollution of the
air, the contamination of the atmosphere! Think, M'sieur, of the
typhoid! the fever!! the cholera!!!"

He looked round upon the others, and a sympathetic shudder of horror
passed over them.

As an Englishman, of course, I felt strongly inclined to derisive
laughter. However, I merely said,--

"Well, what is to be done next?"

"The body must be removed, M'sieur!" he answered, with a touch of
severity, "at once!!"

"How?"

"A scavenger will remove it."

I stood silent. The idea repelled me. This thing that had been
petted and cared for by me for ten years, had slept at my side, and
often been held in my arms, now to be flung upon a dust heap, with
the rotting matter of a Paris street. The mind will not change its
associations so quickly. I looked at the man and said,--

"Can I not bury the dog somewhere myself?"

"I am afraid--I hardly know--" he said. "These are the rules,--that
all dead animals are taken by the municipality."

He spoke reluctantly now. His personal animosity against me was
evidently dead. Fortunate that I had not offended him earlier in the
interview; if I had, he would certainly now have dragged the dog
from me with every species of indignity and insult, and I could have
done nothing against him, armoured up as he was with the law. As
things stood, he was clearly on my side.

"Perhaps this gentleman," I said, indicating the master of the
hotel, "would let me purchase a piece of ground for a grave in his
courtyard. If so, would you allow me to bury the dog there?"

The master of the hotel, who saw now that after all there would be
no serious row with the police, nor discredit on his hotel, and
began to think his fury had been somewhat misdirected, hastened to
assure me that I need not consider the matter; that not only was a
portion, but the whole courtyard at my disposition, and not as a
purchase, but as a free gift, if M'sieur le Commissionaire
sanctioned the proceeding.

The official hesitated, and the onlookers, their sympathies engaged,
murmured,--

"Ah, pauvre chien!"

"C'est l'affection vois-tu?"

"Il aime le chien, c'est naturel!"

"L'affection, c'est toujours touchante!"

The Commissionaire, his own inclination thus backed up by the
prevailing sentiment, turned to me, and said--

"Well, M'sieur, I ought to take your dog from you, but still, as you
say you will bury the dog yourself, and, as I am sure this gentleman
will see that the grave is deep enough to protect the health of the
public, I believe I may safely grant you the permission you ask. It
is accorded, M'sieur!" and he bowed, full of satisfied amiable
authority and friendly feeling.

I held out my hand to him on the impulse.

"I am extremely obliged to you!"

He grasped it warmly in his, and laid his left effusively on his
heart.

"You have my sincere sympathy, M'sieur."

Then lifting his hat and bowing, and putting out of sight the
formidable document he had shaken in my face, he retreated down the
corridor, followed by the other official, and leaving the hotel
manager with me.

"I will have a grave dug at once, M'sieur," he said; "and you shall
be informed when it is ready."

I thanked him and entered my own room.

A good three hours later I was following the gardener downstairs,
the dead body of Nous, wrapped completely in one of my overcoats, in
my arms. We went into the courtyard. It was raining now, the night
quite dark, and a gusty wind blowing. We crossed the yard to where a
broad flower-bed was planted. Here a grave, wide and deep enough for
a human being, had been dug. A lantern, in which the flame blew
fitfully, was set on the huge heap of mould and sent an uncertain
light over the grave. I got down into it, and laid Nous gently,
still wrapped in the coat, on the damp earth, with a heavy heart.

I vaulted out of the grave and stood, while the man filled it in,
listening to the steady fall of the earth and its dull thud, thud.
The rain came down steadily, and the man looked at me and said--

"Monsieur will be drenched through, he had better go within."

"No, no," I said; "continue."

And I waited while he dug away the mound, and the chilly wind
rattled the branches of a tree near, and the rain soaked with a
monotonous splashing into the earth, and the light flickered, barely
strong enough to show me the man's working figure. When he had
finished, when the grave was filled and the upper soil smoothed
over, I turned and, mentally and physically chilled, went slowly
back into the hotel. As I entered the gas-lit corridor I saw a
figure there at the door. It was Howard. He was still in the hotel,
and though I detested his proximity even, I had no influence on his
departure. He was evidently hanging about there waiting for somebody
or something, and to my intense indignation, as he caught sight of
me, he came towards me.

"Oh, Victor," he said hurriedly, in an uncertain tone, "I must speak
to you!"

What intolerable insolence to dare to come to me, the man he had so
mortally injured. My impulse was to stretch out my right arm and
fell him to the ground with a blow that should have the force of my
whole system in it. The colour came hot in all my face.

"Pray don't let us have a scene here," I said, coldly.

"Very good, then come outside. It is only for a few seconds. You
always used to say you would never refuse to hear a person once,
whatever they had done."

It was my principle, as he said, and I controlled the loathing I had
of him, of his voice, his look, his presence, and said--

"Come out, then," and we went down to the door.

There was an alley just outside the hotel, a cul de sac, black and
empty. Down this we turned, and when we had passed the side door of
the hotel he spoke.

"Victor, I am awfully sorry about the MS.; I am really. I would give
worlds to replace it now if I could. I have been utterly wretched
since. Is there anything I can do now to help you?"

"No," I said bitterly, "you cannot re-write my manuscript nor
resuscitate my dog."

"Oh, why did I do it? I can't think! I can't understand it! If you
knew what I have felt since!"

"Have you nothing more to say than this?" I asked; "because this
sort of thing is useless and leads to nothing."

"But what do you think of me? You hate me! But it was not
premeditated, I swear. I had no motive, no gain in doing it, and we
have been great friends always; but I suppose that can never be
again now! But still it was an impulse, a sudden impulse, only
because I was so jealous of you! It was irresistible at the moment!
The thing was in flames before I realised it! You know yourself what
impulse is! You always knew I was like that!"

"Impulse!" I repeated. "Yes, I knew you were impulsive, but that
such an impulse could ever come to you as that--to burn, irreparably
destroy the year's work, and all the hopes of a man who was an
intimate friend, and against whom you had never had the shadow of a
complaint, that I never could have believed! Impulse! It is not one
that I can conceive existing except in hell!"

We were talking with voices moderated, rather low than otherwise;
but the hatred I felt of him I let come into each word and edge it
like a knife.

He drew in his breath.

"Then our friendship is at an end?" he said, in a weak nervous tone.

"Utterly. As if it had never been. You have cut out its very roots.
I had a great friendship for you--more, a great affection. It would
have stood a great deal. I would have passed over many injuries that
you might have done. Anything almost but this, that you knew was so
completely blasting to all my own desires. This shows me what your
feelings must have been at the time, at any rate, and remember a
thick manuscript is not burnt in a minute. How long must it have
taken you to destroy those sheets upon sheets of paper in which you
knew another man's very heart, and blood, and nerve had been
infused? All that time you must have been animated with the sheer
lust of cruelly and brutally ill-using and injuring me, and in
return I"--

I shut and locked my lips upon the words that rose.

To abuse or curse another is almost as degrading to oneself as to
strike him.

We had come up to the end of the alley now, and we paused by the
blank brick wall. There was a lamp projecting from it which threw
some light upon us both, and, as his figure came distinctly before
my eyes, I felt one intolerable desire to leap upon him--this
miserable creature who had destroyed my work--fling him to the
ground, and grind his face and head to a shapeless mass in this
slimy gutter that flowed at our feet.

Could he have faintly realised what my feelings were, coward as he
was, he would never have come up this empty alley with me.

"Well, Victor, I am leaving Paris to-night; but I felt I could not
go without telling you how infinitely I regret it all. If you can
never be my friend again, you can forgive me. Let me hear you say
that you do before I go."

Forgive him! Great God! Forgive an injury so wanton, so excuseless!
Every savage instinct in me leapt up at the word.

The manuscript! I felt inclined to shout to him. The manuscript!
Give that back to me and then come and talk about forgiveness. Had
the act and the motive been as loathsome, but the injury, the actual
injury, the positive loss to me been less, I could have forgiven;
but the blow was so sharp, the damage so irremediable, I could not.
Even at his words I seemed to see staring me in the face the months
of toil awaiting me before I could rebuild--if I could ever--the
fabric he had destroyed in half-an-hour.

And crowding upon this came the thought of what he had robbed me of,
the name, the freedom, the power that those vanished paper pages had
been pregnant with for me. He was leaving Paris, he said; and so
might I have been leaving free and successful, leaving to return to
Lucia, but for him.

And now I was to remain--remain here, a prisoner, to work on another
twelve weary months at that most nauseating of tasks, repairing
undone work. To recommence, to take up the old burden, to start it
all over again, now when I had just made myself free! To be shackled
again with the weight of uncertainty and expectancy for another
year, through him, and by God he talked of forgiveness!--to me!--
now!

It was too soon. Later--later, perhaps, when I was calmer, when some
of the injury had been repaired, when a spark of hope had been
rekindled; then, if he asked, but now--The days before me stretched
such a bitter, hopeless blank! And how did I know that his act could
ever be nullified! It might so turn out that now I never should
accomplish my end.

My health had worn thin and my brain was tired out. Either might
give way, and then--a life blasted through him! Brute and devil!
that was what he had wished, and was perhaps wishing still, even
now, when he professed to be so anxious for forgiveness. I glanced
towards his face opposite me, but it was too dark to see its
expression. A slight, steady drizzle fell between us; I only saw his
slight figure before me in the uncertain light, and again something
urged me.

Take your revenge now while you can get it. This man may have
spoiled all your life, but when you realise it, then he may be away
and out of your power. Thrash him! Half kill him now while you have
the chance! But I did not stir. Vengeance has always seemed to me a
poor thing. Supposing . . . After? . . . If I satiated my rage then,
what after. I should have two things to regret instead of one. No.
Let him go with his vile act upon his head.

But forgive? I could not. He had taken the inside, the best of my
life, and I hated, purely hated him. I turned a step aside, his mere
outline before my eyes sent the hate running hotly through me.

"I can't," I muttered; "no, I can't."

Howard sprang forward and put his hand on my arm, and at the touch I
seemed to abhor him more.

"Victor, I wish I could say how I regret it. I wish I could express
myself, but I can't. If you knew--I would cut off my right hand now
to undo it! I would indeed!"

"Who wants you right hand" I said, savagely, stopping and turning on
him as I shook off his detestable touch. "Fool! You can talk now!
Replace a single chapter of that book I slaved at--that would be
more to the purpose!"

Howard's face grew paler. I saw that, even in the darkness.

"It is not open to me, Victor, now," he said; "but it is still open
to you to forgive."

His voice had a grave significance in it. No words that he could
have chosen would have been better. The short, quiet sentence was
like a sword to divide my hatred, and penetrate to the better part
of man. The truth, the unerring force, the reflections of this
life's chances and decrees in those words went home. It was not open
to him now to repair; later, it might not be open to me to forgive.
And later, when all these present vivid feelings were swept away in
the past, should I not wish I had forgiven.

I stood silent, and the query went through me--What is forgiveness?
Is it to feel again as we have felt before the injury? This is
impossible. Do what I would that affection I had had for him could
never re-awaken. It was stamped out, obliterated, as a flower is
ground into the dust beneath one's heel.

Still the loathing and the hatred I had for him now would pass.
Years would cancel it all, and bring with them mere indifference
towards him, the thought of him and of his act. To say the words
now, and let the time to come slowly fill them with truth, was
better, surely, than to reiterate my hatred of him--hatred which
years hence would seem almost foolish to me myself.

"I can't think that my forgiveness can be of very serious import to
you," I said quietly. "However, it is yours."

"You will shake hands with me, then, won't you?" and he held out his
hand.

With an effort I stretched out mine and took his, and held it for a
second as in old times.

"Good-bye, Victor," he said, in rather a strained voice, "I shall
never cease to regret what I have done."

He hesitated, as if wondering if I should speak. I did not, and he
turned and went down the alley, and the darkness closed up after
him. I leant silent against the wall, hating myself for forgiving
him and letting him go, and yet knowing I would do the same again.

"One must forgive, one must forgive; otherwise one is no better than
brute," I thought mechanically. "Later I shall be glad,"--and
similar phrases by which Principle excuses itself to furious,
disappointed Nature.

After a time I grew calmer, and I went back to the hotel and up to
my room. It seemed emptier, blanker still, now that even the dead
body of the dog had gone. In the grate, and scattered over the
carpet, remained still remnants of black tinder. I felt suddenly
tired, worn out. I flung myself, dressed as I was, upon the bed, and
lay there in a sort of stupor. And the slow, dark hours of that
terrible night of depression tramped over me with leaden footsteps.




CHAPTER V.


The next morning, just as I had dropped into an uneasy doze, there
came a knocking and a hammering, and a muttering outside my door.

"M'sieur! M'sieur!" Tap-tap-tap. "Que diable donc! Qu'il dort!
M'sieur! Profondement! Est ce qu'il est mort? Ah! c'est une bete
Anglaise!" Tap-tap-tap.

All this came through the wall in a hazy sort of confusion, mingling
with my sleep, before it roused me to go and open the door. Finally,
however, I stumbled off the bed and unlocked the door, and threw it
open.

"What now" I thought. "Have I broken any more of your confounded
Gallic regulations."

It was not a Commissary of Police this time, but a uniformed
commissionaire, with a note in his hand. Possibly serenely
unconscious that I had heard his polite remarks outside, he bowed
urbanely.

"Bonjour, M'sieur! A thousand apologies for disturbing M'sieur! But
Madame said I was to deliver this note personally."

I looked at him with elevated eyebrows. I knew no Madame in Paris.

"I think there is some mistake," I said.

"But why? Monsieur Eeltone? Numero quinze, is it not?"

"Hilton. Yes, that is my name."

He gave me a triumphant glance, and handed me the note with a
flourish. The envelope was that of the Grand Hotel; but the writing
on it was Lucia's writing. Lucia here in Paris! Close to me! How?
Why? The blood poured over my face. With a sense of delight I tore
the envelope open:--

"I am at the above hotel. I shall remain at home all to-day in the
hope that you may be able to come and see me."
"LUCIA."

I looked up the man in the doorway bowed with a deprecating air.

"Madame said I was to wait for an answer."

He had a subdued smile upon his face, which seemed to say--"We know
all about these little notes! We are accustomed to them here in
Paris!"

I told him to enter, and he followed me into the room and took an
interested glance round. Probably, to his view, my pallid face and
blood-shot eyes, my last night's clothes, my boots on my feet, and
the bed unslept-in, conveyed the idea of a drunken fit only just
over in time to make room for the morning's intrigue. A young,
beautiful English madame--for the title Miss is barely recognised,
never understood in Paris--staying at the hotel and sending notes to
a young English M'sieur in another. Yes, this was plainly an
intrigue of the genuine order, and the mari would doubtless arrive
from England later. All was plain, and he stood with a patronising
smile by the table, while I scribbled a note to Lucia.

"My Dearest Life,--I am rushing, flying to you now. I will be with
you as soon as fiacre can bring me."
"VICTOR."

I closed it, and made him wait while I sealed it, lest he should
interfere with it. Then I handed it to him with a two-franc piece,
and with bon jours and remerciments and grins he withdrew.

I dressed hurriedly and yet carefully, and shaved with a dangerously
trembling hand. The first fiacre that was passing as I left the
hotel I took, and was driven, through the bright sunshine that
filled the Paris boulevards, to the Grand. I sat back in it, with my
arms folded, feeling my heart like a stone within me. Lucia's
coming, that, thirty-six hours back, would have infused the extreme
of delight through me, was now useless, worthless.

I could do nothing, say nothing. I was a prisoner again, fettered,
bound, as if I had an iron collar on my neck, and manacles on my
wrists. I looked through the shining, quivering sunlight that fell
on every side with blank, unseeing eyes, and the bitterest curses
against Howard rose to my lips, checked only by the knowledge that I
had forgiven him.

When I reached the hotel, and mentioned her name, I was shown up to
a private sitting-room on the first floor, facing the gay Paris
boulevard, and with the bright light streaming in through its half-
closed persiennes. A figure rose at the opening of the door, and
came towards me with outstretched hands.

"Lucia!"

My eyes fixed on her, and my glance rushed over her in a second, and
poured with feverish haste their report back into my brain. Within
the first moment of my entry of the room, I was conscious of, I
recognised that there was a great change, an almost indefinable, but
nevertheless distinctly perceptible, metamorphosis in this woman
since I had seen her last. Lucia was a somnambulist no longer. She
had awakened. It was a lovely, living woman who crossed the room to
me now; a woman awake to her own powers, conscious of the sceptre,
and the gifts, and the kingdom that Nature puts into the hands of a
woman for a few years, I felt all this as I looked at her, saw it in
her advance towards me, heard it in the soft tones of her voice as
she said,--

"Well, Victor, are you glad I have come?"

And it was with my heart suddenly beating hard, and my face pale,
and a mist before my eyes, that I came forward to her. What had been
the first slight shock to her sleeping woman's passions I had no
idea.

Perhaps some chance glance from a man's eyes upon her as she passed
him in a crowd had suddenly struck through the ice of her
abstraction. Perhaps some pressure of an arm meaning she did not
even comprehend. Perhaps some word, overheard between two men, whose
meaning she did not even comprehend. Perhaps it was only Nature
unaided that had whispered to her,--"Life is passing, and its
greatest pleasure is as yet untried. Get up and seek it."

Perhaps any of these, or all or none. I could not say. The change
was there. Lucia was conscious, awake. Pure, delicate, as from her
integral nature she would always, but still awake. As she stood, the
sun fell upon her light hair and seemed to get tangled there, a hot,
rose glow was in her face, and the smooth scarlet lips parted in a
faint seducing smile.

"Now, tell me everything," she said, softly, "I am sure the
manuscript is finished by now."

She pointed to a wicker chair for me, and drew one just opposite it
in which she threw herself, full in the morning light, but just
avoiding the stabbing sun-rays. I saw in a sort of mechanical manner
the way in which she was dressed. It was as a woman only dresses
once or twice, perhaps, in her lifetime; and that is when she is
determined to win, through the sheer strength and force of her
beauty, in the face of every obstacle, the man she desires.

Every detail had been thought of, every beauty of her form studied
and enhanced, from the light curls on her forehead, and the curves
of her bosom rising and falling under its lace bodice, to the tiny
shoes that came from beneath the folds of her delicate-coloured
skirt.

It was presumably of cotton, for Lucia herself had informed me that
she never wore anything in the mornings except cotton or serge; if
so, it was a glorified cotton of a clear rose tint. Film upon film
of lace hung over it in transparent folds, through which the glowing
colour deepened and blushed at her slightest movement, as the hot
colour in the heart of a rose flushes through all its leaves.

Above her supple hips, clasping her waist, shone an open-work band
of Maltese silver, and above this rose delicate vase-like lines,
swelling and expanding at last into the rounded curves of her bosom;
here the colour seemed to glow deeper and warmer where her heart was
beating tumultuously, and then towards her neck it paled again,
beneath ruffle and ruffle of lace that lay like foam against the
soft, snow-white throat. It was a symphony of colour. A perfect
harmony of perfect tones in union with the brilliant fairness of her
skin. The sleeves, half open to the elbow, revealed a white,
rounded, downy arm, and the thousand subtle pink-and-white tints of
her flesh seemed to melt and merge themselves into a bewildering,
distracting glow within that rose-hued sleeve. She made one
exquisite, intoxicating vision to the senses. In those moments I can
hardly say I saw her. She rather seemed to sway before the dizzy
sight of my excited eyes.

Dimly yet keenly, vaguely yet convincingly, I felt she had come as
an adorable antagonist to my resolutions. Traditionally speaking,
such a knowledge should have made me instantly on my guard.

I ought certainly to have summoned my control, my judgment, and so
on, to say nothing of an icy reserve. But I did not. My whole heart
seemed to rush out to her, my whole being to strain towards her. I
longed to take her entirely in my arms, to kiss her on the lips and
throat, and say,--

"Ask whatever you will and it shall be granted."

"The manuscript is finished, isn't it?" she repeated.

Oh, bitter, bitter, and cruel fate that had dragged the fruits of my
labour, and with them everything, out of my hand!

"It was finished, Lucia, a few days ago," I said, speaking calmly
with a great effort; "but an accident happened and it was
destroyed."

I felt myself growing paler and paler as I spoke, meeting her
lovely, eager eyes fixed on mine.

"Destroyed?" she echoed, growing white to the lips. "Oh, Victor!
How?"

"I would rather not say, Lucia, exactly how it occurred, but it had
been accepted by a publisher here, and I was going to make one or
two trifling alterations in it to please him, and so I had it back.
Well, then, as I say, something happened, and the thing was
destroyed."

There was a dead silence.

I saw her heart beating painfully beneath the laces on her bosom,
and pain stamped on all her face. Then she said abruptly,--

"Have you Howard with you still?"

"No. He left Paris last night," I answered.

Her eyes met mine full across the sunlight. We looked at each other
in silence.

She asked nothing farther.

I believe she comprehended the whole case as it stood, because she
would know that had I lost or injured the MSS. myself I should have
no reason for concealing it. As a matter of honourable feeling I
wanted to keep the fact from her, but I could not help her guessing
it. Curiously enough her next question, after a long pause--though I
did not see that in her mind there could have been connection
between the subjects--was:

"Where is Nous?"

"Nous is dead."

"How did he die?"

"That, also, I would rather not say."

At that, in addition to a sharper look of distress, a puzzled
surprise came into her face. She raised her delicate eyebrows and
looked at me with a perplexed, half-frightened expression.

"Victor," she said, leaning forward a little in her chair, "was it
he that tore up the manuscript? and did you kill him in a fit of
rage?"

I looked back at her, also with surprise, that she could suggest
such a thing of me as possible.

"Oh, no!" I said hastily; "nothing at all of the sort. No! If either
the loss of the book or the dog's death had occurred in any way
through my fault I would tell you. I have no secrets of my own from
you, but both of these concern another man, and therefore I would
rather let them pass."

There was silence.

Then I asked, looking at her,--

"Are you alone here, Lucia?"

"Except, of course, for my maid--Yes."

My heart beat harder. Why? I hardly know, except that the word
"alone" has such a charm in it connected with a woman we love.

"Of course," she said, leaning back, "it is a little unconventional
my coming here alone; but Mama was not well enough, and I--Victor,"
she said, with a sudden indrawn breath, "I felt I must come and see
you. I told her I felt I should die there if they would not let me
come!"

I saw her breast heave as she spoke, her cheek flushed and paled
alternately, the azure of her eyes deepened slowly as the pupils
widened in them, till there seemed midnight behind the lashes.

I felt a dangerous current stirring in all my blood at her words, a
dry spasm seemed in my throat, blocking all speech.

"I thought you must have finished by now, and I came to say--I came
to say"--she murmured.

The blood rushed scarlet, staining all the fair skin, across the
face before me, and the bright lips fluttered in uncertain
hesitation.

I guessed the situation.

She had come to say to me phrases that seemed quite easy, quite
simple to her, murmuring them to herself in the silence of an empty
studio, and now face to face with me, listening and expectant, they
had become difficult, impossible. I leant forward, the blood hot in
my own cheek, a dull flame waking in every vein.

"Darling," I said, taking her soft left hand within both my own, "I
cannot tell exactly what you wish to tell me; but listen--I had
finished all, and had things not turned out as they have I should
have been starting now to come to you and say, 'Lucia I am free now
to be your slave.' All this year we have been separated I have
thought only of you, waking and sleeping, longed for you, dreamed of
you, lived in the hour of our re-union, desired with an intensity
beyond all words that day that gives you to me; and, forty hours
back, that day, Lucia, seemed so near, but now--dearest"--

I stopped, choked, suffocated with the weight of hopeless,
despairing passion that fell back upon itself within me.

Lucia leant forward, the beating, palpitating bosom was close to me,
her white, nerveless hand lay close in mine.

"And now, Victor?"

"Now all is vanished. I am exactly in the position where I was when
I left you in England a year ago."

"And what do you mean--what are we--what?"--

"My sweet, what can we do? I must recommence. I must work on another
year."

I felt the burning, tremulous fingers grow cold in mine. Her face
paled till it was like white stone. Then suddenly she withdrew her
hand from my clasp, and started to her feet.

"Victor, I cannot! no, I cannot! I cannot wait another year! It will
kill me!" she said, passionately, looking away from me, and pacing a
short length of the floor backwards and forwards before me, as I
rose, too, and stood watching dizzily the incomparable figure pass
and repass, hardly master of myself.

"Dearest," she continued; "this is what I came to say--let us marry
now. I thought you would have successfully finished your work, and
we might do so; but now, now, even as it is, let it be as it is, let
it be unfinished, and still, still let us marry. There is no real
bar as there might be. There is no question of wrong to any one. We
are to be married--it cannot matter to any one when we are. Continue
to work afterwards. I am willing to be second always, in every
thing, to your work. But don't drive me from you altogether. Let me
stay with you now I have come. Let us marry now--here. Let us go
before some official--the Maire, or some one, or English consul, no
matter whom--this afternoon! Victor, if not now, that day you desire
will never come. I shall never be your own. Think how it has receded
and receded into time! We have been engaged now more than three
years!"

She paused in front of me, and lifted her face--brilliant, glowing,
appealing--with an intensity of passionate, eager longing in it that
defied her words to express. Her whole form quivered with
excitement, till I saw the laces of her dress tremble. On the bodice
beneath my eyes, the lace fell from the shoulders, and its folds on
each side divided slightly in the centre, leaving a depression there
in which the rose-colour glowed crimson. It riveted my eyes this
line--this channel of colour burnt fiercely beneath my lids.

I could see nothing but it; it seemed everywhere, to fill the room,
to scorch into my brain, this palpitating, throbbing, crimson line.
That terrible impulse of blind excitement was rapidly drawing me
into itself--the impulse that counts nothing, knows nothing, reckons
nothing but itself; that will buy the present hour at any sacrifice-
-that accepts everything, ignores everything but that one moment it
feels approaching. This impulse urged me, pressed me, strained
violently upon me.

It left me barely conscious of anything except the absorbing longing
to take her, draw her close, hard into my arms, and say, "Yes, let
all go; from this day henceforward you are mine." But almost
unconsciously to myself my reason rebelled against being thus thrust
down and trampled upon by this sudden, brute instinct rushing
furiously through my frame, and my reason clutched me and clung to
me and maintained its hold, and, feeling myself wrenched asunder by
these two opposite forces, I stood immovable and silent.

"Victor," she said, after a minute, and the warm, white uncertain
hand sought mine again and held it, "I have been working hard since
you left, and the canvas is nearly finished, but I am willing to
relinquish it for the present, to let it go. In all this time you
have been away from me I have been slowly learning that one's own
life and one's own life's happiness is of more worth than these
abstract ideas, than one's work or talent or anything else. I have
been feeling that you and I are letting day after day go by and are
working for a to-morrow that for us may never come. Is this your
philosophy?"

I looked down on her as she clasped my hand and drew it up to her
breast, her eyes were on mine, and all my mental perceptions were
blinded and forced down under the pressure of the physical senses.

"Take me into your life, Victor. I swear I won't interfere with your
work. Let me sit somewhere beside you all day long while you write,
and let me lie all night long watching you while you write, if you
like! Oh, do let me! do speak to me?"

She pressed my hand in, convulsively, upon her breast, until it
seemed to be in the midst of tremulous warmth, close upon the
throbbing heart itself. I could not think. Thought seemed slipping
from me. I felt sinking deeper each minute into the quicksand of
desire. Nothing seemed clear any longer. All within my brain was
merged into one hot, clinging haze, in which still loomed the idea
that I must not yield. It would be dishonourable to my father,
disappointing to myself, destructive to my work. I could not realise
it then, could not see it, but I knew and remembered in a dim way
that it was so, that it had been so decided, and I must adhere to
it.

"It is impossible, Lucia."

"Why?"

"Because I promised my father we should not marry until I had got
out some book."

"But rescind the promise! Say that you cannot carry it out! Give up
all help from him, and let us live our lives apart!"

"I have no means to do it with."

"You can make them! Surely with all your knowledge you can get some
ordinary work to do till you can get your works out!"

"Even if I had the means I could not, after the understanding
between us, after all he has done for me, throw him over at a
moment's notice."

"He has no right to ask such a sacrifice!"

"It has all been thought out," I said dully, "and settled before. I
can't re-argue it all now. I decided it finally before I left
England, and I am in the same position now as I was then."

A scarlet colour stole into the rose glow on Lucia's face.

"You don't care for me, Victor!" she said passionately. "You can't!
No man could and speak so!" and she threw my hand from her and
herself into the long chair in a sudden, wild storm of excited
tears.

I hardly knew what I was doing. I felt as if I had been struck
sharply on the eyes as I heard her words. I fell on my knees beside
her chair, and put both my arms up and clasped them round the soft
waist, and let them lean hard on the hips, in a spasm of angry
passion.

"What are you thinking of? You know there is nothing I covet like
yourself," I said savagely, the blood flowing over my face as hotly
as it burnt in her own. "But we can't do this. We should both
despise ourselves afterwards. You should be the last person to urge
it on me. What do I ask you? To wait another nine months! That's
all. You should help me."

"Help you?" she said, her eyes blazing upon me with anger, shame and
passion. "Help you in making a fatal mistake? No, I will not! You
can refuse me if you like, but all the responsibility is with you. I
warn you against it. I have come to warn you. When it is too late
you will wish this day back again. You are not tied now after a
whole year's work, and after a misfortune you could not help. If you
always wait in life until you have settled and arranged everything
just to your satisfaction you will find that you lose your desires.
They will slip like sand through your hands while you are arranging
your circumstances. Life is never, never quite as we would have it.
We must take our pleasures one by one as they are offered to us; it
is hopeless to think we can gain them all together. Oh, Victor
dearest!" she added, stretching out two rounded, glowing arms in a
sort of half-timid desperation and clasping them round my neck,
while mine still held her heaving waist, "love now, and win your
name by-and-by"

There was delirium in my brain. The whole woman's form swam before
my sight. My arms locked themselves violently round the yielding,
pulsating waist.

"I would if I could," I muttered, and that was as much as I could
say.

"You can," she urged in a soft, desperate voice. "Why not? I can't
believe you love me if you let me go back now."

"I can't believe you love me if you urge me to do what I think is
dishonourable."

Her arms dropped from my neck.

"Oh, it is a mistake," she said.

"Perhaps so."

We had both risen. The floor seemed to bend beneath my feet. I felt
her pulses still beating against my arms. I looked at her. Our eyes
met, and the gaze seemed locked, fixed, and we neither of us could
transfer it. My throat seemed rigid, dry as a desert; her voice was
choked, suffocated in tears. But "Kiss me, at least; oh, kiss me!"
was written on the whole imploring face, on the wildly quivering
lips, in the burning, distracted eyes. But what use? Rather such a
kiss, here, now, might bring an irremediable loss. In any case, the
pain of parting after would be ten times intensified for us both.
Could I then go? Would any force then be left in me? Would my will
stand beyond a certain point? I did not know. It seemed the only
safety for us both, the one rock still left in the wild ocean of our
passion--an absolute denial to the rushing feelings to find
expression in the least of acts or words.

I did not believe nor think she could misunderstand me. I felt sure
the struggle and the suffering and the desire must be printed in my
face. I knew she must see in it that I was not cold before the
despairing, passionate longing I saw stirring all her pained,
excited frame. To me it seemed as if she must see me ageing and my
face lining before her eyes. I held her hand in mine hard for a
moment. Then I dropped it gently, and she looked at me--stunned. And
so, unkissed, untouched by my lips that ached so desperately for
hers, I left her and went out through the passages and down the
steps and out of the hotel into the brilliant streets with my nerves
strung tense to sheer agony.

I had acted, of course, in a correct and orthodox manner. No one
could reproach me for the interview just past, but in my heart there
was a self-condemning voice. Pleasure seldom unveils her face and
offers herself to us twice, and Venus is a dangerous goddess to
offend. I said, "Wait, wait," and "to-morrow," but those ominous
lines beat dully through my brain--

 "to daurion tis oiden;
  os oun et eudi estin."

When I reached my hotel, thought, intelligent thought, seemed
collapsing, and my brain spinning round and round within my skull.

"The end of me," I muttered, "at this rate will certainly be a cell
in a lunatic asylum."

For the first time, I released my rule against drugs. I sent the
hotel porter for a draught of chloral. When it came I drank it, and,
in the middle of the brilliant afternoon sunshine, threw myself on
the bed, conscious of nothing but a longing for oblivion.
Unaccustomed to it, the drug seized well upon me. For long,
merciful, quiet hours I knew nothing.

After this there came a blank of many days: idle, barren days, in
which I did nothing, knew nothing except that I suffered. My brain
seemed blank, empty, like a quarry of black slate. The power that
seemed to dwell there at times was gone now; crushed all that
impersonal emotion of the writer's mind by the blighting personal
emotion of the man.

A fortnight passed, and at the end of it I had done nothing; another
week, and then another, and I had still not written a line.

At last one night, sitting idle in the cafe after dinner, I felt the
old impulse stir in me, a rush of eager inclination to write went
through me. A sudden sense of power filled me. The brain, empty and
idle a few minutes before, became charged with energy and desire to
expend it. A corresponding current of activity poured along each
vein. The old familiar impetus swayed me.

I welcomed it gladly and went upstairs, got out paper and a pen, and
the remembrance of my own life slipped away from me. All that night
I wrote, and the next day, and the fresh manuscript was fairly
started. For a whole fortnight I wrote almost incessantly. I
snatched a little food in the cafe, hardly knowing what I ate.

The nights passed feverishly without sleep, while the brain
revolved, excitedly, scenes written or to be written. Towards the
end of the fortnight the impulses to work steadily declined. I
forced myself to write at intervals; but, as usual, the forced work
was worthless, and I destroyed it when it was done. No, it was no
use. I could merely shrug my shoulders and smoke and wait.

The hot, blank days of August drifted by, and as I saw the
boulevards empty themselves day by day, and Paris grow hotter and
duller each afternoon, I felt the solitary existence weigh heavier
and heavier upon me. The loss of the dog seemed to have made a
larger gap in my existence than I should have believed; his unused
collars still lay upon my mantelpiece, his plate and saucer still
stood in the corner by the hearth, and sometimes when I was climbing
the dark stairs at night to my empty room I felt as if I would have
given years of my life to have had the dog leap up into my arms in
welcome.

One of these nights, when I came into the unlighted room, I saw a
letter lying, a white square, in the dusk, upon the table. I
supposed it was from my father, as Lucia never wrote, and I was too
occupied, or indifferent, or rather both, to keep up other
correspondents.

In answer to the first long desperate letter that I had written to
my father after Lucia's visit, in which I told him, without
explaining farther, that an accident had happened to the MS., and
begging him to release me from the arrangement made before I left
England, I had received a derisive note from him, full of ironical
sympathy with my misfortunes, and advising me to settle down to
another year's work, with a good grace and a contented spirit.

My appeals on behalf of Lucia and myself he simply ignored.

I tore the letter into atoms and flung them over the balcony, and
since then my letters to him had been short notes, out of which I
studiously kept my own feelings. There was no one now to whom I
could either speak or write a word of personal matters.

An anchorite in a cave of the desert could not have been more shut
off from that dear communication with his fellows that a man hardly
values till he loses it.

When I had lighted the lamp I sat staring at the loose sheets of the
manuscript lying on the side table, noting painfully how far it was
from completion, and it was only when I lifted it to the middle
table for work that I glanced at the letter again.

As my eyes fell on the superscription the blood leapt into my face--
it was Howard's. There was a strong disinclination in me to take up
the letter, to read it, to let my thoughts flow in his direction at
all. Resolutely I had tried to banish the memory of him from my
mind, to utterly throw out his image from my recollection. The
thought of him was disagreeable, and therefore never welcomed.

The idea of one person cherishing, as the phrase is, hatred, envy,
or anger against another, always seems to me incomprehensible. All
these are unpleasant sensations, and I sweep them out of my mind as
quickly as I possibly can, not from any exalted motives, but simply
as useless, cumbering lumber, for which I decline to use my brain at
a storehouse. Howard had injured me enough.

Was I to waste my time and my energies in hating him? And yet the
time had not come when I could think of him with calm indifference.
Therefore, to scout the idea of him whenever it presented itself, to
refuse to dwell upon him and what he had inflicted on me, was the
only way to escape additional pain and discomfort for myself. And
now, at sight of his handwriting, the beast, the monster of
declining hate rose in me again, and I remembered him.

It came back upon me that evening, his image, and I knew that I
hated him still. I took up the letter with a feeling of revolt and
disgust, as if it had been a filthy object, broke it open, and
read:--

"DEAR VICTOR,--I expect you will say to yourself it is the greatest
cheek my writing to you, and I know it is, but I am reduced to that
state of desperation when a man ceases to feel degradation."

"I am writing to ask you for help--you will wonder how I can. So do
I. I wonder at myself. But I know you are the best of fellows, and I
feel you will help me now in spite of all that has happened. Victor
send me what you can, as near 15 Pounds Sterling as possible, to
save me from irrevocable disgrace. I have no one but yourself to
apply to. If you refuse I am done for. You will know what a
desperate position I am in, I must be in, to ask you at all.--Yours
in despair and everlasting regret, HOWARD."

I read it through, and then dropped the letter and its envelope into
the fire, glad to get rid of the sight of the familiar hand. And I
watched it burn, and I thought of the manuscript which must have
curled and writhed in the same way, leaf by leaf, as he lighted it,
and I asked myself again--What is forgiveness?

I knew that I hated him. I had now the opportunity of consigning him
to "irrevocable disgrace," as he put it. But I knew that I should
send him the help he asked for on the same principle as I had
refrained from injuring him, forgiven him, shaken hands with him.
And why? I wondered. What was my motive? Simply, I think, a mere
instinct to preserve my own self-respect.

I enclosed a cheque for 20 Pounds Sterling in a blank sheet of
paper, put it in an envelope, and went out that same night and
posted it. When I had his letter of thanks I glanced through it
hastily and then burnt it, and tried to stamp out the re-awakened
memory of him from my brain. Weeks followed weeks of the same
colourless, monotonous existence; some of them were wasted in
physical ill-health, some in mental inactivity, but slowly a
manuscript grew and grew again into being.

The slow winter wore away, and the ice froze or the fog pressed on
the long French windows of my room. My father invited me to run over
and spend Christmas with him, but I dreaded the interruption and the
delay in the work. I stayed and pressed forward with it, and in the
last days of March the whole book stood complete.

It was one of the first nights of May. The first warm, spring-like
night of the season, and the seats at the Concert des Ambassadeurs
were crowded by the Parisians consuming their brandied cherries
under the canopy of fluttering light green leaves of the opening
limes. I sat, one of the audience, and heard the band clashing, and
watched the dancers flit on and off the glittering diminutive stage,
with indifferent eyes and ears.

I was thinking of my success. The band might thunder its hardest,
but it could not drown the publisher's voice in my ears, which
repeated over and over the words I had heard that morning. "Yes,
M'sieur, your book has been accepted. We shall hope to bring it out
in September."

I sat there at peace with all the world. Howard was entirely
forgiven now; my father's treatment forgotten. Let the past go. What
did anything matter? And I tapped my stick on the flooring at the
end of the songs I had barely heard, out of sheer good humour, and
swallowed the second-rate brandy and smoked an infamous cigar with
imperturbable complacence; and as I got up with the mass at the
finale I heard my nearest neighbour's remark to his companion, which
might be freely translated thus:

"How jolly these pigs of English always look!"

As I was leaving, a woman ran down the gravel walk after me, and
slipped her arm through mine. I turned and paused. She was very
small, pretty, and Parisian from her black eyebrows, cocked like one
of her own circumflex accents, to her patent shoes under her silk
skirt.

"What do you want" I said, in her own tongue, of course. "Money?"

"We don't put it like that!" she said, thrusting out her red lips.

"Well, it comes to that in the end generally," I said, whirling my
cane round in my hand and smiling." It will save you trouble if you
take it now," and I offered her two five-franc pieces and withdrew
my arm. "Go to the bar and drink my health with it!" She took the
money, but still looked at me.

"Give me a kiss!" she said in a low tone, so low that I did not
catch the last word.

"Give you what" I asked.

She stamped her foot.

"Un baiser!" she said, with a little French scream. "Embrasse moi!
Stupide!"

I laughed slightly as I looked down upon her. It seemed so
ludicrous, the proposition, just then to me. I had hardly lived the
life I had in Paris for the last thirty months, to now, in the
moment of success and freedom, mar its remembrance by even so much
as a chance kiss to a cafe chantant girl.

For a second we looked at each other. I noted the tint and the curl
of the offered lips, damp with cosmetic, and suggestive of past
kisses, and the untouched lips of Lucia seemed almost against my own
as I looked. Then I loosened her hand, which clung to my sleeve, and
turned from her, and went on down the path. She shrieked some vile
French words after me, and sent the five-franc piece rolling after
me down the gravel slope.

I laughed and shrugged my shoulders without looking back, and went
on out of the gardens down into the now silent streets. What a flood
of good spirits poured through my frame as I passed on! I hardly
seemed to walk. The buoyant, almost intolerable, unbearable sense of
elation within me seemed pressing me forward without volition.

The incident just passed, the woman's hand on mine, the woman's
words, though from her they were nothing to me, had yet touched and
unlocked those impulses which, until now, had been so sternly
repressed, barred down, sepulchred and sealed. They rose upwards,
and with an exultant triumph I remembered I was free now to live and
to love. My work was done, honourably and faithfully accomplished.

Thirty months lay behind me, an unblemished scroll in time,
recording one unbroken stretch of labour, suffering, and repression.
And now it was over, and I was at liberty. An unspeakable animation
swelled in me; and through all the excited, burning frame seemed to
run living fire that formed one thought in my brain, one loved word
on my lips--Lucia! Like two planets, at the end of each dark street
I turned, I seemed to see her eyes. To her, to her my feet seemed
carrying me. I was only returning to my empty room, but no matter! A
few days more and then England and Lucia!

I was glad now of everything I had suffered, every emotion
repressed, every weakness vanquished. Strange, wonderful power that
lies in that slight, grey tissue which we call brain! It seemed
hardly credible that this buoyant sense of exultation, this
overflowing, stupendous joy of gratified pride and ambition, this
triumphant pleasure in my own powers and their recognition at last,
these brilliant vistas that opened in my thoughts, could come from
the movements of a little matter with a little blood flowing through
it. And yet, so soon, a few years and I, who seemed now like some
eternal being carried through worlds of space and endless cycles of
years, should be--nothing. Well, no matter; I lived now and Lucia
lived!

The street was quite empty, and, half unconsciously, I began to sing
the song Bella Napoli, always a favourite of mine, for the sake of
the refrain, Santa Lucia! Santa Lucia! The notes echoed down the
silent street as the words flowed from my tongue in the intoxication
of pleasure--pure, simple, single, undiluted pleasure of the relief
after those weary months of strain. The ground beneath my feet
seemed buoyant air, each pulse within me beat with keen life, and
the name of the woman I loved formed itself again and again on my
lips, fluttered and lingered there, almost like the touch of a pure
and invisible kiss.




CHAPTER VI.


The lamps burned in a subdued way under their dark, rose-coloured
shades, the trail of the women's skirts hardly made any sound on the
thick carpet, the room was large, and the piano that was being
played mildly at the other end of it failed to disturb our
conversation.

"Well, now, then?"

I leant over the back of Lucia's low easy-chair and waited eagerly
for her answer. It was the second night after my return to England.
I had dined with the Grants, and now in this dim, secluded corner of
the drawing-room I had the first opportunity of serious conversation
with her.

"I don't know, Victor; not at present."

"Lucia! what do you mean!"

"What I say, dearest," she answered quietly.

Looking down on her I could see, beneath a confusion of black
eyelashes and dark eyebrow, that the blue eyes looked straight out
in front of her, her arm lay along the wicker side-rest of the
chair, languid, indolent, relaxed.

"But why?" I said. "Why not at once? Tell me."

She was silent for some time, then she said,--

"When I came to you last year I urged our marriage, and you said it
could not be; now you urge it, and I say it cannot be. That's all."

I bit my lips suddenly, and I was glad she was not looking at me. I
was silent, too, for a minute; then I said,--

"But surely you are not thinking of punishing me for that; of
avenging yourself? You knew all the circumstances, and you
acquiesced in my decision. You would not now think of revenge--it is
so unlike you!"

"Oh no, no! You misunderstood me. How can you think I should occupy
myself with a ridiculous, petty idea of revenge?" and she laughed a
slight, fatigued laugh. "No, I merely meant that Chance had so
arranged it."

"But how, then? There is no obstacle now."

"Not on your side; no."

"Then what is it, dearest, on yours?"

She did not answer me for a long time, and then it was seemingly
with reluctance, and a slight flush crept into her pale face as she
said merely the two words,--

"My health."

I hardly know exactly what sensation her answer roused in me, but I
think it was nearer relief than any other. In those few seconds of
silence all sorts of apprehensions and fears had crowded in upon me.
Her health! What barrier need that make between us? And in that
moment of selfish passion that was all I heeded.

"What has that to do with our marriage?" I asked, laughing, and
bending down farther over her. "You don't mean that you are too ill
to go through the ceremony. Come!"

She met my gaze fully, and then laughed too. After a second she
said,--

"If you disbelieve me and think I am making up, you can at any rate
tell from my looks that I am ill--any man can see that."

I looked at her critically now, remembering my feeling of shock when
I had first seen her on my return. Yes; I remembered I had thought
her looking fearfully overworked and exhausted, and now I looked at
her again with redoubled anxiety.

From the black lace of her dinner dress, cut as low as vanity dared
to dictate, and with but one narrow black strip supporting it on her
shoulders, her white throat and breast and light head rose like dawn
out of the night ocean. The milky arms that lay idly along the chair
were as smooth, as downy, but far less dimpled than when I had seen
them in Paris. Round the throat I could trace now the clavicles,
formerly invisible, and lower, at the edge of her bodice, the
depression in the centre of the soft breast was wider. Yes; she was
very much thinner, and the face above only confirmed the impression
of illness. It was pale, and looked slightly swollen; the eyes were
dilated and surrounded with blue shades; the lips were red, almost
unnaturally so, to the point of soreness, as they get to look in
fever.

"Well, have you come to your conclusion?" she said, as she raised
her eyes suddenly and intercepted mine surveying her.

I coloured slightly, looked away, and then said merely, "Yes, you
don't look well."

She gave a little slighting laugh, as much as to say, "You might
have arrived at that before, one would think!"

"But Lucia," I said, entreatingly, "this is all very serious; do
tell me what is wrong."

"Ah, my health becomes a serious matter," she answered, leaning her
soft head back on my arm that was resting on the top of her chair,
and looking up at me with her brilliant, clever eyes ablaze with
indulgent derision, "if it is likely to stop our marriage when YOU
desire it!"

I winced before the delicate thrust in her words, and hardly knew
whether the pain of them was drowned in the pleasure the confident
touch of her head transfused through my arm.

"That is unnecessarily unkind," I answered, quietly. "Your health or
ill-health would always be a serious matter, but since you hint it--
yes, I admit--if it prevented our marriage, if it came between us
now, Lucia, it would surpass even the importance it has at all other
times. Tell me what is the matter," I persisted.

The little head turned restlessly on my coat sleeve, and the warmth
from the cheeks and lips came into my wrist. She seemed half
inclined to yawn, and the delicate left hand, with my ring flashing
on it, came to her lips and closed them when they had barely parted.

"People call it hysteria," she said at last. "It is a form of
hysteria now, but it did not begin with that. It was overstrain,
nervous breakdown, a collapse of the system. See my hand when I hold
it up, how it shakes? I can't control that, and my heart beats
wildly at the slightest exertion. I am exhausted, limp, Victor,
ironed out by the events of last year, very much like what your
collar would be without its starch!"

She was looking up at me now and half laughing. She had raised her
hand between me and the nearest lamp; it quivered violently, as she
said, and looked transparent and scarlet close against the light. I
caught it in mine and drew it up to my lips.

"Victor!" she said, indignantly, "release it! remember where we
are!"

"I don't care where we are!" I muttered, letting go her hand, but
not before I had kissed it passionately across the tiny knuckles and
in the palm. It fell nerveless into her lap; her face grew so
desperately pallid, even her lips, that I was startled.

"Lucia! What is the matter?"

The lids that seemed ready to sink over her eyes lifted again.

"Nothing; but--I was telling you, just this minute, I am exhausted--
done for."

I looked at her in dismay, and I saw her heart must be beating
violently; the red geraniums against her breast rose and sank in a
series of rapid, irregular jerks.

"I am sorry," I murmured. "Forgive me;" and my heart sank suddenly
with a vague, in definable sense of apprehension as I looked at her.

Where was the girl who had come to me a year ago, full of
overflowing, eager, exuberant health and life, hungry for love,
longing and ardent for a kiss? Not here; somewhere in the past that
I had neglected and refused. And the contrast between the two images
struck me like a lash across the brain. The next minute I had
recovered myself. This was only a passing in disposition of Lucia's,
the sooner we were married now the better.

"Well, dearest, if it is only hysteria and nervous strain, and so
on," I said, taking up the main thread of our conversation, "then,
for that, our marriage and a long rest, in which you would do
nothing but amuse yourself, would be the best thing. Make up your
mind, Lucia, to give yourself, trust yourself, to me, and I will
promise to get you quite well, sooner than any doctor can. I suppose
you have seen one?"

"Yes."

"Well, what does he do for you?"

"Oh, I take hydrochloric acid, sulphuric acid, and strychnine
through the day, and digitalis and potassium bromide at night."

"Good heavens! Lucia! how can you be so foolish?" I exclaimed. "It's
most unwise to take all these things."

"You are not a doctor," she answered languidly.

"No; and therefore I can talk common sense," I said, flushing.
"Come, dearest, let us settle which is to be the happiest day in my
life."

"Don't fuss, Victor. I can't settle any time just now."

"But at least give me an idea!"

"I can't give you what I have not got myself."

"Do you mean you have no idea when we shall be married?"

"Yes. I have just said so."

My hand closed involuntarily on the back of the chair till the
basket-work creaked. She heard it, and felt perhaps, also, the
sudden tension in the arm beneath her head. She raised her eyes with
a gleam of the old desire in them: they were soft, and her voice was
gentle, with out any mockery in it now, as she said,--

"I am excessively sorry about it, Victor, but you may trust me. I
will give you some certain date the moment I can, when I am better.
You can't think I would voluntarily defer it, do you?"

The whole lovely, inert form heaved a little as she spoke; the
eyelids and nostrils in the up-turned face quivered, the lips
parted, and, convinced, I bent over her with a hurried, desperate
murmur.

"No! no! But, then, when? How long? Is it days, weeks, or the end of
the season?"

"Yes; I should think about the end. I can not fix it nearer. It is
bad taste to press me any farther."

She lifted her head from my arm and sat up right, though even then,
after a minute, her figure drooped languidly towards the side of the
chair, and she doubled one of her white, round arms on the wicker-
work to form a support. I stood silent, irritated, disappointed,
perplexed, biting my lips in nervous, absent-mindedness. She spoke
twice to me without my hearing what her words were, and I had to
apologise.

"I was only saying I should like you to see the "Death of
Hyacinthus" now it is finished: see the result of last year's
efforts and the cause of this year's ill-health!"

"Certainly; I want to see it very much. When may I?"

"To-morrow, if you like, but I want you to see the Academy first. I
should like you to come to it prejudiced, with your eyes full of all
the successful pictures of the year."

"Is it not at the Academy, Lucia?"

"Don't look so apprehensive!" she said, with a slight laugh. "It has
not been rejected--simply, I could not get it finished in time for
presentation. I was ill, and it just missed this season by a very
little."

"And now, what are you going to do with it?"

"I must offer it next year, that's all."

"What a disappointment for you!"

"Yes, I should have thought so some time ago; but I seem to be much
more apathetic now to everything. Each year that one lives one gets
to expect less and less from life, and one grows more philosophic,
more contented with what is thrown in one's way, and less
disappointed when one's hopes and expectations are not realised.
Judging by those things which we do gain and enjoy and experience
the worth lessness of, I suppose we learn by degrees to infer that
others so longed-for and coveted would prove as valueless if
possessed."

Her voice was low and tired, and had the sound of suppressed tears
in it.

"You are in a depressed frame of mind," I said.

"Yes;" then, with a cynical smile, "hysteric, as I told you. Well,
will you come to-morrow about eleven, and then afterwards we can
come back here to criticise 'Hyacinthus'?"

"Yes; I shall be delighted."

"I think mama is going to take our carriage, so come in yours, will
you?"

"Very good," I answered, and there was a long silence. Not broken,
in fact, until there was the stir of some of the guests leaving.

As the third or fourth left the room, I came round and took her hand
as I stood in front of her.

"Good-night, Lucia, I hope you may be granted all the sleep you have
stolen from me," I said gently; then, partly influenced by the
contact of that delicious hand, and prompted by my own impulse, and
partly deliberately to excite, if possible, her own instincts as
allies to fight for me, I pressed it hard as I added,--

"On how many more nights is this hated formula, 'Good-night,' to be
said between us? Minimise them, my darling, for my sake!"

Into the tone I allowed to enter all the strength of my feelings at
the moment. She only coloured painfully up to the heavy eyes,
whether from confusion or pleasure or passion I could not tell. She
made no answer, and the soft, captive hand struggled faintly to be
free.

We were surrounded the next instant by the press of talking,
laughing guests passing down to the door, and I could do nothing but
drop her hand and leave her with a composed face, and my brain
feeling literally on fire. The perplexity, mystery, uncertainty, and
irritation which Lucia's illness and manner had poured suddenly in
upon the elation, the assured triumph, the excited expectations and
eager desire with which I had come, produced a state of thought in
which I hardly recognised my reasoning being.

I made my way over to Mrs. Grant with the conventional smile, and
then, once without the drawing-room, hurried down to the door and
the night air. In the hall I recognised, standing waiting for his
carriage, a familiar figure. It was a man I had known intimately in
India: he was home now on furlough, and as friends we were often
invited to the same houses.

"I say, Dick," I said, as I came up to him, "it's a lovely night.
Are you game for a walk? If so, send the carriage home and come with
me round to my place. I want your advice and condolences."

We were at the foot of the stairs. The other men and women had
collected nearer the door.

"Condolences! Why, yesterday you told me congratulations were the
order of the day!" he answered in a tone of good-natured raillery.

"They are so no longer," I answered, gloomily. "My head is simply
splitting too. I can't think where I get these confounded
headaches," I muttered, pushing the hair up off my forehead, and
wishing I could push off some of the oppressing ideas. "Are you
coming with me, Dick?"

He looked at me attentively, and possibly seeing the excitement I
tried to suppress, and the flush it drove to my face, he debated my
sobriety. I think he came to the right conclusion, for the next
moment he said,--

"Yes; I'll come. Just let me get my over coat and tell the
coachman."

I had the same thing to do, and we met a second or two later at the
bottom of the steps, and turned to walk towards my place. As we
walked down the street he slipped his arm in mine and said,--

"You seem frightfully upset. What has happened?"

"That's just what I want to know!" I answered. "If I knew I should
not so much mind, but this is what I hate about women, they never
will speak out nor come to the point. It is the one great fault of
the sex. I despise it utterly. It can do no good, and it is most
annoying and irritating to a person who has a right to confidence."

"My dear fellow," he said, soothingly, "you can't expect your
fiancee, if that's what you mean, to be so uncommonly direct in
speech as you are! You have a way of very much going to the point in
everything, but you won't find it in other people, even throwing
women out of the question."

"What is the use of wrapping things up in mystery? But women delight
in it! The more they can mystify and mislead and perplex you, and
leave their real or their possible meaning doubtful and involved,
the greater the pleasure they have. They will carry on a
conversation for hours by hints, suggestions, ambiguous terms,
allusions, phrases that may mean anything or nothing, and then leave
at the end, in obscurity, the whole matter, which could have been
explained and made perfectly clear and settled on a satisfactory
basis in a few short sentences. It's a petty, abominable trait in
their character."

Dick raised his eyebrows considerably.

"She has offended, evidently," he said.

"Offended? She simply tortured me all this evening, either
intentionally or involuntarily. She said too little and too much.
And her manner was worse than her words. I could not make out
whether she was telling me the truth or a series of delicate
excuses; she herself did not calculate on my believing. Everything
she said to-night, if proved false, she might justify to-morrow by
saying, 'Oh, well, of course, I never thought you would take that
seriously; I thought you would understand that was a euphemism to
save your feelings, and so on; you know one does not say to a
person's face one is tired of him and wishes the thing off.' That is
what she may say afterwards, or, of course, what she told me may be
the truth. It may be an excuse that sounds like the truth, or the
truth that sounds like an excuse. She contrived to leave it
confoundedly indistinct, and that is what I complain of."

"You haven't given me any clue yet as to what the conversation was,"
Dick said quietly as we paced down the silent street.

My head seemed reeling with pain and the blood that flowed to it.
The moonlight, and the black shadows it deepened, jumped together
before my eyes.

"The accursed upshot of it was that she won't have anything to do
with our marriage at present," I returned.

"Oh! And what reason did she assign?"

"After considerable hesitation she said her health; but, as I say,
she would not speak out, and such an excuse between us is
monstrous!"

"After considerable hesitation she said her health; but, as I say,
she would not speak out, and such an excuse between us is monstrous!
Ours is not a formal 'mariage de convenance;' it lies with
ourselves. She is obviously not seriously ill; if she hesitates on
her own account she must know she has nothing to fear from me; if
she hesitates on mine, then it is folly and nonsense. I don't care
about anything! I don't care what is the matter with her, I would
marry her if she were dying, rotting of leprosy to-morrow!"

"I say, old fellow, you must not excite yourself like this! You will
be seriously ill if you don't look out," Dick answered,
remonstratingly. "It's no use working yourself up into a fever."

"I am not working myself up; unfortunately that has been done for
me," I answered, with a short laugh. "Well, Dick, I am sick of
everything, disgusted with everything! It's the same old story
perpetually repeated. All that one fixes one's eyes on in the
distance turns into dust as one approaches it. For the last year I
have thought of this meeting this evening, and now it has come, what
is it?"

"You are taking me by surprise to-night, Victor! I remember you in
the regiment as so deuced calm."

"I'm never calm!" I returned. "Exteriorly, yes, of course, for one's
own convenience and self-respect, to outsiders, one is always calm;
but the exterior is not the reality. I am not one of those things
naturally which I command myself into being: existence to me is
nothing but a close-fitting, strangling, self-restraint. It drags
upon me like a prisoner's gangrening fetter, and I'm getting tired
of it. I think I'll slip it off altogether!"

I talked straight out of the distraction of my own thoughts, the
pain in my head was acute, stunning my brain, and my vision seemed
all wrong, as when one has been drinking. I was conscious of Dick
looking at me anxiously, as he said--

"That's all nonsense! You are quite out of your senses this evening!
You wouldn't throw up your life now, when you are just on the point
of success, surely?"

"If I can't force our marriage, it's likely to come to that, I
think," I muttered. "I am totally at a loss. I know nothing. I can
conjecture nothing. I have not seen her nor heard from her this past
year; and now she will say nothing. I pressed her as much, I think,
as a fellow decently could. If she had spoken clearly and definitely
it would have been different. Whatever statement a woman made to me
of any painful facts; or if she came to me with any confession of
folly, or change of feeling, or misfortune, or whatever it was, no
matter what, I should enter into it and understand her. But Lucia
to-night treated me like a stranger, fenced with me like an enemy. I
have no clue as to what to think and what to believe. Simply, I see
that she is no longer keen on the matter, and there is a large
possibility of my not having her at all. By God! if it is so"--

I broke off into silence. After all, there is no use in talk; and
the knives twisted backwards and forwards in my head helped to stop
speech.

We walked on in silence. The streets were very quiet here; we had
left the Grants' late, and now it was getting towards morning. We
verged directly towards Knightsbridge; for some time our steps were
the only sound. Then, after a pause, Dick said quietly--

"I think, Victor, you are going on a wrong tack altogether. You
don't make enough allowance for the fact that she is a girl, and has
not seen you for a year, remember. It is all very well for you to
talk of to-the-point confessions and plain statements, but
practically, if a girl were to talk as frankly as you would like, I
am afraid the idea of modesty would rather come to grief."

"Oh! modesty," I said impatiently, "be--Modesty! It's all very well
as a pretty, becoming, every-day fashion, but it should be laid
aside in the serious matters of life. It is an artificiality;
admirable, useful, excellent as a daily conventional rule, but it
should yield when there is a great natural question at issue.
Modesty! a fictitious, artificial, inculcated shame to intrude
itself between two people considering gravely the vital matter of
their love, their union, their future life! It's preposterous!"

"It very often does so," remarked Dick. "I am not saying whether it
should or it shouldn't."

"No," I answered more calmly; "and I entirely see what you mean, and
I think you are perfectly right there. Lucia is steeped in fashion,
soaked through with the prejudice and bringing up of her own rank.
And I suppose I do like it and expect it, certainly, as a general
rule; only, when the thing on hand is very important, and a society
woman fences with you behind a screen of elegant, delicate language,
you feel sometimes you would prefer the intelligible candour of a
kitchen maid."

Dick laughed.

"I doubt the charm of the latter individual, Vic! You must have a
little more patience with this girl, and the confidence will come by
degrees, if you don't lose your self-command with her; but I'd
advise you to be careful. The way in which you have been talking to
me now gives an impression of--well, almost brutality, that I didn't
think was in you."

I laughed contemptuously.

"Oh, you needn't be afraid of the word; I know there is a lot of it
in me. It's just that knowledge that enables me to keep it under. I
know if I had not kept myself, for the sake of the work, out of it,
that I should have led a brutish existence. However, you needn't
think that I am going to frighten Lucia. I have had such a deuce of
a lot of practice in patience and restraint, and all those fine
things, that I am quite sure of myself when I am with her. But as to
gaining her confidence, that is impossible before the ceremony, I
believe. She has been brought up in that monstrous idea, like the
rest of our fashionable girls, that the man into whose possession
she is to give herself utterly with the ceremony, up to the last
moment before it, is to be treated with the most absolute reserve.
The contrast is too ludicrous--driven to the point of exaggeration
to which they drive it. In Lucia's eyes an unusual, an unfashionable
word, no matter how great the necessity for it, is a crime. I
believe she would walk to the block rather than let a word pass her
lips in my hearing an hour before our marriage that in twenty-four
hours afterwards might be a common phrase between us. You may call
it modesty and charming, if you like. All I can say is, there are
limits to its charm."

The approach of morning was distinct now. A grey light hung in a
faint misty veil over the Green Park and top of Piccadilly. As it
fell from the cloudy, neutral-tinted sky, it showed one solitary
figure, a woman with a trailing skirt and battered hat, passing Hyde
Park corner.

In the waste of deserted street and roadway, glimmering in the dull,
grey light, that one dishevelled black figure reminded one of the
remnant of some wrecked vessel, drifting at dawn along a sullen
coast. She drifted somewhat faster up to us as we came to the corner
and touched Dick, who was next to the road, on the arm. He shook her
hand off without speaking.

"Have you any money with you, Dick?" I asked.

"Yes; but I am not going to give any to her," he answered.

I would have given the woman some, but I had none. I had left it
behind when I changed my clothes for dinner. She heard Dick's answer
to me plainly, and it exasperated her. All the natural, florid,
unstudied eloquence of the lower orders was at her command, and
well-turned periods of perfect abuse and neat incisive remarks upon
our characters, our persons and attributes generally, rippled in a
smooth, unbroken stream from her lips as she followed us. Just at
that moment there was not a policeman nor any other being within
sight.

We walked on, and the woman's curses and imprecations upon us filled
the grey silence of the street. At last a porter on his way to work
passed us, and she transferred her attentions and oratory to him.
Dick glanced at me and laughed.

"Well, there was an extensive vocabulary, Victor! How would some of
those words sound in your fiancee's mouth?"

I laughed too.

"You always were good at a sophistical sneer, but vile language has
nothing to do with what I was talking about."

"No; of course not. It does strike one as curious, doesn't it," he
added after a minute, "that a creature like that and the girl we
have been with this evening can belong to the same sex."

"Well, I don't know," I answered; "I know there is the sort of idea
that it is funny, but somehow it does not strike me more with
reference to woman than to ourselves. I mean it does not seem more
incongruous than that a man like yourself and an offal sweeper
belong to the same sex."

"No; perhaps not. One of those houses is yours, isn't it?" Dick
said.

"Yes; number 2," I answered, as we went up to the door.

"They seem to have turned the light out."

I opened the door and Dick went in. I followed, and when the door
was shut behind us the hall was in nether darkness. We found our way
to the foot of the stairs, where an undefined heap barred our way.
Not knowing what it was I kicked it, and Dick exclaimed,--

"Take care! I think that's your man," and a groan confirmed the
statement.

"Hullo, Walters! I am very sorry. I had no idea it was you. I hope I
haven't hurt you!" I said as the servant got on his feet. "Why do
you turn the lights out? However, it's just as well you are here.
Bring me upstairs the soda, champagne, and the new lot of cigars. I
suppose there is the lamp in my room?"

"Yes, sir."

"You won't care to turn out again, Dick, to-night, will you?" I said
as we went upstairs. "There's an awfully comfortable sofa in my
room, quite as good as a bed. Will you accept that?"

"Oh yes; I always find I can go to sleep anywhere. Do you remember,
when we were camping out at Shikarpur, those nights on the shaky-
legged native benches?"

"Rather! That was when I never bothered about anything. I have never
slept so well since."

We went into my room. Two lamps were burning here, and the thick
blinds shut out all signs of the dreary dawning light. Walters
followed us in a few seconds and set a tray of glasses and bottles
on the table. I flung off my overcoat and sat down in an arm-chair,
pressing the palms of my hands hard on my forehead in the vain
effort to deaden the tearing pain.

"Try some of those cigars," I said, after a minute, "they are not
bad, and take whatever you like to drink," and I got up and filled
my glass at the same time.

"I think that brandy is the worst thing for your head," remarked
Dick, looking dubiously at the glass.

"But I am so confoundedly thirsty!"

"Take the soda without the brandy, then. Really, I would advise you
not to touch that spirit to-night."

"Oh, I don't much care! let it be the soda;" and I filled another
tumbler with the latter and drank it. "But what is your own opinion
about this business with Lucia," I asked, when Dick had stretched
himself on the sofa and started his cigar. "What puzzles me so is
the great change in her--a change apparently in the whole tenour of
her feelings. You can't think how wide the difference is between her
now and a year ago. I told you that she came over to Paris to see
me, didn't I?"

Dick nodded.

"That was only twelve months back, and she was simply--well, she was
evidently very much in love then. You know what I mean, and she made
no effort to conceal it. She urged our marriage; and then, when we
decided it was impossible, she would have liked me to go any
reasonable lengths in demonstration of my love for her, and so on. I
made a mistake there, perhaps, but I thought it unwise. We hardly
knew where we were as it was. She seemed utterly weak, and I felt
she might say things in those moments she would be fearfully cut up
to remember afterwards. It seemed dishonourable in my shackled,
circumscribed position to lead her any farther on. That was my idea-
-perhaps it was mistaken--I don't know. Anyway we shook hands
merely. Then, at that time, she invited a kiss in every way short of
demanding it. Now, to-night I kissed her hand, not a very
extraordinary nor embarrassing action, and yet I thought she was
going to faint as a result. It moved some very strong sensation,
repulsion or disgust, or something, and I want to know what."

"You see, Vic," Dick said, after a minute or two of silence, laying
down the cigar and driving his elbow into the sofa cushion, and
leaning his head on his hand. He looked past me absently towards the
fender, and spoke as a person does whose opinion has long since been
formed. "We can't hold over anything in this life, opportunities,
our own powers, health, youth, they are all things you can't store
for the future. All we can do is to use them when they are put into
our hands. Still less can we reserve and warehouse our own feelings
and emotions, and least of all, those of others. You might compare
passion to a gas. If you allow gas its expansion it diffuses itself
and is lost. If you subject it to confinement with close pressure,
it becomes a liquid and loses its original form. It is the same with
passion. It is impossible to maintain it as such. Either it
evaporates in gratification or it undergoes some metamorphosis in
suppression."

I said nothing. There was a sort of coldness and weight in his words
and tone that increased my own apprehensions.

"You can keep nothing up to the pitch of a crisis. We all know that.
Even a kettle of water, when it is once boiling, you cannot keep it
so. It must boil over into the flames or simmer down or dry up. And
if you reject a woman at the crisis of her passion, there is an
enormous probability that, in waiting, her virtue or her inclination
or her health will break down. Either her feelings may transport her
into some folly or they may cool. If her will is too strong to allow
the folly, and her nature too ardent to permit the cooling, then her
constitution must give way. This last is what, judging from all I
see, I should think--since you ask my opinion, old fellow, you know-
-has happened in Lucia's case."

I looked at him with a faint feeling of surprise. His manner, voice,
and words conveyed such an idea of certainty and perfect decision in
his own mind.

"Yes," I answered; "I suppose that is it. Well, that is what she
told me, virtually, herself."

"You cannot wonder at it!"

I coloured hotly as I answered,--

"I know it seems as if I had been a confounded prig in refusing her
last year--people may say so; but if I had given in and kept her
with me in Paris, then everybody would have been slanging me for
that!"

Dick laughed.

"No, Victor; I am not slanging you for one or the other course. You
acted up to your own principle--every fellow must do that; but I am
not sure your principle is the best--that perpetual denial to
impulse, that refusal to take what you can get in the moment,
because of what you may be called upon to pay hereafter. At any
rate, it may not be the luckiest nor the happiest. But still, in the
case of a man who has many equally strong wishes, it is difficult to
say what he should do. In your case the upshot of either resolution
would have been the same--as things are, you will get your book out
and be discontented; in the other case, you would have married Lucia
and been discontented!"

"You may be as cynical as you please," I muttered, with my hands
pressed over my eyes. "I am not responsible for the complex nature
of the human brain, nor can I simplify it. I know what I am going to
do now. Having secured the work, I am going to gain Lucia too, if it
is in the power of any man--whether, as you put it, her virtue, or
her health, or her inclination, or the whole lot together, have
broken down!"

"And if you don't get her, you will get over it: we all do, Vic," he
said, with a smile.

"Very possibly," I assented.

It was not worth while to discuss a contingency I had determined to
prevent.

"A man's profession is his best friend," Dick went on, stretching
himself out on the couch. "That he can command; and for the rest--
purchasable pleasures--those he can command. These affaires-de-
coeur, which you can't command, are always more bother than they are
worth."

There was silence, then he added,--

"One good one, though, fairly early in life, is useful, like
vaccination. You are not so likely to fall in love again after it;
just as, after vaccination, you are not so likely to have smallpox.
For myself, I should prefer smallpox to being in love."

I merely laughed, without replying. In my present state I was not
sure that he was far wrong.

"I say," Dick remarked, after a pause; "you are looking most awfully
seedy. Hadn't you better turn in and try and get some sleep? One
always thinks one can't, but one generally does."

"Yes; I think I had better," I said, getting up. I turned one lamp
out and the other down.

"It's odd--I wonder what the ultimate, future event will be"--

"'Quid sit futurum eras, fuge quaerere,'" answered Dick, with a
laugh, as he turned and settled himself on the couch.

"There are a couple of rugs," I said, depositing them on his feet.
"Draw them up if you're cold."

"All right. Thanks! Good-night!"

"Good night!"

I slipped off my clothes and got into bed, feeling almost uncertain
on my feet. My head seemed literally whirling and swimming in pain.
When I awoke the following morning and looked round it was past ten.
Dick had gone. I looked at the couch, it was empty, and a note was
stuck by his pin into the sofa pillow. I sat up in bed, and by
leaning forward and extending my arm I got hold of the pillow, and
thence the paper and read it.

"8 A.M.--You are still asleep and I don't like to wake you, but I
want to be back at my place by nine, so I am departing like the
guest of an Arab. If you have nothing better to do this evening,
come and dine with me. Army and Navy. Seven."

 "Very good," I thought; I put the note and the pin on the table
beside me, and got up. The headache was gone, and the head felt none
the worse for it. The sun was streaming in through the blinds now.
The gloom, the apprehensions, the pain of the previous night, had
all cleared from the field together. I dressed and shaved with a
steady hand, thinking, in a sane, easy way, very different from the
inflamed, convulsive working of the brain last night. The work was
set afloat in Paris--I should soon find readers on the asphalt--that
quarter of my sky was clear. As for the sudden darkening squall that
had sprung up in the other quarter, formerly so serene, the quarter
over which reigned Lucia's star--it was only a squall, it would
pass. She must be capable of being roused again to those feelings
she had once known. And if I had nothing else, I had, at least, in
my favour the sheer force and intensity of my own passion--which is,
after all, the weapon under which a woman quickest sinks. I felt
that I cared more keenly for Lucia than most men of eight-and-twenty
in the nineteenth century care for the women they marry. I was
conscious of it instinctively; even if the memory of these last ten
barren, empty years that I had lived did not convince me that a
passion for any one object would be greater in myself than in men
whose multiplicity of previous loves must lessen the value of each
succeeding one. My work, which had been Lucia's successful rival,
had protected her from lesser ones.

Nothing, except the possession of this woman, had ever been a
synonym of pleasure with me, and therefore its expectation had a
stronger hold over me than it could have had over a man who was
accustomed to acknowledge and recognise pleasure under a hundred
names. I felt the impetus of this undiffused, undissipated passion,
in its undivided strength, stir and vitalise all my energies, and
its power over my own frame made me involuntarily, instinctively
confident of the power it would have over hers.

"We will see how long it is before you capitulate, oh my fortified
and arrogant city!" I thought, as I finished dressing and went
downstairs. My father was reading the paper, apparently waiting
breakfast for me. We were on the very best of terms now.

He felt convinced of my capability to work, and assured of my
success. With that surprising tendency of the human mind to delegate
its own powers to another, he accepted completely the verdict of the
Parisian publisher upon qualities he had had under his own
observation for an odd twenty years. Now, forsooth, because another
man had told him so, he took it for granted that I had some talent.
And all the time we had lived together he had hesitated to form that
opinion from first-hand knowledge. Extraordinary trait in human
nature, this liking to be thought for, instead of thinking for
yourself! This waiting to take up, second-hand, ready-made, the
views of another man, even when the fresh materials are at your
hand, and you may examine them and form your own. It is a universal
tendency, of course, and displays itself everywhere; in religion, in
morality, in fashions, in vices, in simple conversation--everywhere.

The glorious and free gift of Nature to every man, the capacity for
perception and judgment, he shamefacedly, as if it were a disgrace,
tries to shift off upon another. It always amuses me immensely when
brought before me, and it did now in my father's case. He assumed,
as innumerable people do, that success or failure proves or
disproves merit, which is such a curious opinion, as remarkable as
if a person believed the absence or presence of the hall-mark proved
or disproved the identity of gold. On no point did he and I differ
more widely than on this.

It has always seemed to me that the formation of a judgment and
opinion is an involuntary function of the mind, not a matter of
effort, as others seem to regard it. Your judgment may be wrong, so
may your opinion; your perception may be misled. I understand that.
But can you exist without judgment, without opinion, without
perception, till another man hand you his? This is hard to realise.

My father in all these years had not said my son is a fool and will
not succeed, nor had he said my son is clever and will succeed, but
what he had said was this, he may be a fool or he may be clever, we
will see what the publishers say. And this attitude of mind, which
repeated itself in different forms in half the men one meets, is
fascinatingly incomprehensible to me. If I have the opportunity of
seeing a man or testing a ring, what do I care, what does it matter
to me, whether he is successful or unsuccessful, whether the ring is
hall-marked or not! I have my own eyes, ears, and intelligence at
command. What more do I want? Give me the man or the metal: in a
very short time I have decided their worth to my own satisfaction. I
may be wrong in my estimate, of course, but that is another matter.

If my brain is in a healthy state, I can do more avoid its forming
an exact, personal opinion of the man, and a computation of his
powers, than I can avoid my eye spontaneously taking his shape and
muscles into its vision. In their natural, unimpaired state, neither
organ should need artificial aid. But my father was looking at me
now through the mental spectacles of my success, which made to him
hugely big that merit which, before, he could not see at all. Thanks
to those spectacles, an easy indulgence was granted me. Little that
I could do now was wrong. Another man had thought fit to pay me for
my powers. That elevated me in his estimation as the powers
themselves never had done. He had no longer any wish apparently to
oppose me. Since my brains were now authenticated by the seal of a
publisher, he was sufficiently satisfied that they might be trusted
to decide my own life and conduct. However, besides all this, he was
strictly a man of his word, and having promised that, with my
success, all opposition to my marriage would cease, he kept his
conditions, as I had kept mine.

"I am very sorry to be so late," I said, as we drew our chairs to
the table. "I am afraid you have waited for me."

"My dear boy, a few minutes are of no consequence!"

"I had rather a stiff headache last night, and only got to sleep
when it was nearly time to get up. I hope I didn't wake you coming
home last night? That idiot Walters must needs turn out the gas and
go to sleep in the hall. Of course I kicked him over. Did it disturb
you?"

"I should think it was calculated to disturb Walters more than me!"
he returned. "No; I didn't hear you. Were you late? Will you have
sole or bacon?"

"Sole, please," I said. "Yes; Dick and I walked back from Lucia's
place."

"How did you find her?" he asked, stirring his tea I had just handed
him, and looking at me. "Don't you think she has deteriorated in
looks very much?"

"Enormously," I replied, without hesitation.

There is nothing like conceding at once to your opponent any point
that you admit yourself. It saves discussion being wasted upon that
which you are really agreed about, and gives more weight to all you
refuse to relinquish to him afterwards.

My father looked a little surprised, and did not answer immediately,
and I continued,--

"She was always, as far as I remember, a girl who could look
exceedingly pretty and positively plain, and all the intermediate
gradations, within twenty-four hours, but really," I added, meeting
his eyes across the breakfast table, and the full blaze of the
sunlight falling into my own, "to me, in any one of them, she is
equally"--

I hesitated a second, and he put in--

"Attractive?"

It was not the word I should have used, but it served, and I let it
pass.

"I suppose it's really her talent that fetches you as much as
anything, eh?" he said, after a few minutes.

"And her character," I answered; "her whole personality. I suppose
all those things weighed at first, but, as a matter of fact, now it
is quite enough that she is the woman I have determined upon."

"An admission of your own obstinacy," he answered, tartly.

"That may be the right term for it," I returned, "but I hardly think
it is. Theoretically, Lucia has belonged to me the past four years.
An idea, a habit of the mind, is full grown and has some strength at
four years of age."

My father said nothing, but lapsed into the silence of defeat or of
contempt, and we pursued our breakfast.

"Will you let me have the victoria this morning?" I said, after a
long silence. "She wants me to drive her to the Academy."

"Of course; I'm glad you can find something to do here. I'm afraid
of its seeming dull to you after Paris."

I looked up with elevated eyebrows.

"And wherein do you imagine the gaiety of Paris consisted?" I asked.

"Oh, I've no doubt you found plenty of amusement there," he
answered, with an indulgent smile.

"I assure you there was not one single hour of the whole time that
was not spent in work or thought," I said, seriously.

He laughed.

"I am delighted to hear it, I'm sure, Victor," he said, with the air
of a person who accepts the general truth of a statement with a
large reservation of their own opinion on the details of it.
However, I did not care. I had worked for my own sake; lived
correctly for my own sake--and whether another knew it or not
mattered to me not at all.

"No; on the contrary, I am very pleased to be back," I said. "I
always look upon the place where you are as home."

A pleased expression came over his face as I spoke. We were
sincerely attached to each other in spite of the jarring dissonance
of character. Later that same morning when I was sitting beside
Lucia as we drove to the Academy, I studied her closely in the sharp
morning light, and I was alarmed at the pallor and exhaustion of her
face. I am not an admirer of ill-health in any form. The hectic
flush of phthisis, even, dear to the poets, has positively no charm
for me; and Lucia's illness was not phthisis, and certainly did not
enhance her looks.

"Who is your medical man, Lucia?" I asked.

"Why do you wish to know?"

"That I may be satisfied that he is a good one."

"I should prefer not to tell you his name."

"Why?"

"Because I object," she said simply, in her coldest tone.

"That is not a sufficient reason."

"I am of opinion that it is," she returned frigidly, with a
supercilious accent.

I leant back in the carriage without answering, and looked away from
her. How I hated her in that moment! After all, I thought, why do
you trouble to get this particular woman above everything? Fifty
women that you meet in the course of a week are as pretty--possibly
of more worth--probably more civil. Why not select a more accessible
divinity? Or else content yourself with Horace's parabilem venerem
facilemque?

Then I glanced involuntarily at her, and I knew it was impossible.
My eyes swept over the form beside me, as she sat cold, impassive;
her attitude one of quiet ease, her whole mien the essence of calm
self-possession. That excess of pride and dignity and supercilious
arrogance that in Lucia replaced, at times, her seductive plasticity
at others, had always exercised a violent attraction over me. And
now, when this pride seemed joined with a positive hostility to
myself, it failed to repel; it simply raised to its highest pitch a
savage and acrimonious determination to subdue it.

As I sat silent, with my eyes turned away from her to the blaze of
glaring pavement and roadway, and noted mechanically the crush of
traffic on ahead, Dick's remark on my brutality recurred to me, and
I forced the most good-natured smile to my lips, and the quietest
tone to my voice, as I turned to her and said,--

"Of course, dearest, I will consider it sufficient if you say so."

Perhaps she expected farther opposition, and my yielding surprised
her. She looked at me full for a minute in silence, then, failing to
discover a trace of the savage irritation I was feeling, she laid
her hand impulsively on mine, and said with a smile,--

"You are a dear, good-tempered fellow, Victor!" at which I laughed--
considerably.

The Academy is a place of all others, I should think, most
calculated to fatigue and oppress a person in nervous ill-health. It
was just twelve when Lucia and I arrived. The sun was at its
hottest, and the crowds within the rooms at their thickest. The air
seemed lifeless and laden with dust, swept up by the women's
dresses, and filled with a mixture of scents from White Rose to Eau
de Cologne. The daylight was harshly bright, and the unbroken lines
of pictures in their glaring gilt frames, annoyed and jarred upon
the eye.

We moved very slowly with the rank of people passing down our side
of the gallery. Lucia never removed her eyes from the walls, except
to glance at me and make me refer to a name in the catalogue, and
the women who passed her were able to scrutinise her dress and face
without a return glance. This they did to the utmost limits of good
breeding, for both were sufficiently worthy of notice.

Whether Lucia looked pretty or plain, at her best or her worst, she
always looked more or less striking. Some women are like this; they
can appear everything but quiet and common-place. Lucia would be
noticed everywhere, sometimes favourably, sometimes the reverse; but
noticed she must infallibly be. An exceptionally beautiful figure, a
certain extravagance in dress, and an unusually fair skin made her
conspicuous where far more regular faces and straight profiles
passed unnoticed. She herself was absolutely indifferent to
everything save the paintings. Twice I called her attention to men
who saluted her without being seen by her as she passed close to
them.

"I am very sorry," she said in answer. "It is a stupid fashion to
notice one's friends here. One should not be supposed to recognise
them at the Academy any more than in church!"

We drifted on slowly with the mass, and at last came to a standstill
before a wedge of figures in front of a prominent canvas. A nude
female figure stood upright, facing the spectator, with both arms
upraised to fasten a pomegranate blossom in the tightly twisted
hair: an indefinite heap of sketchy clothing lay upon the ground.

"The title?" murmured Lucia; and I pressed my way a little forward
to see the number, looked it up in the catalogue, and read to her
"The Toilette." "Before the toilette! I should think," said Lucia,
in a satirical whisper. I nodded and laughed.

We could not move on till the circle before us moved, and we stood
silent looking at the shadowy representation of human flesh and
blood smiling with fixed inanity from the canvas.

"The most successful picture of the year!" remarked one man just in
front of us.

"Eminently artistic!" murmured another, stifling a yawn.

"Did you ever see such a thing?" said Lucia. "No living woman ever
looked like that!"

"No," I answered, unguardedly.

Lucia threw a sudden, brilliant, mocking glance over my face.

"Come, Victor! you ought to have said you didn't know!"

I coloured, and then laughed.

"Ah, yes; so I ought. Well, really, I answered you in absence of
mind."

"Oh, don't apologise! Let's sit down."

I glanced at her face. It was white to the lips which laughed so
readily. I looked round desperately. The lounge behind was filled
completely before the most successful picture of the year.

"Let us try another room," I said, hastily drawing her arm more
through mine. It leant heavily there, and she grew more pallid.

"They are all alike--I can't stand the heat--we must go, I think,"
she murmured.

"It doesn't seem very easy," I said.

Lucia threw a helpless glance round on the crown pressing up eagerly
to catch a glimpse of the popular painting, and some one in artistic
circles recognised her.

A whisper went from one to the other of the little sets within the
crowd, and they fell back from us; heads were turned from the canvas
towards Lucia. There was an exit made, and I walked determinedly
through the staring loungers, who yielded before us.

A voice said behind us,--

"They say she'll be the greatest artist of the times!"

"How I envy her!" came a girl's answer.

Lucia's blue-white lips smiled mockingly.

"Take me home, Victor," she said, faintly.

       .        .        .        .        .        .       .

The hot summer days dragged slowly by.

The Grants did not leave town, and I hesitated to do as my father
suggested, and go myself. I waited, and saw Lucia daily, and hoped
daily to hear the words I thirsted for, but she persistently refused
to say anything of herself or her health or her wishes. I might see
her as often as I liked, go and come to and from her house as I
pleased, but speak of our marriage or allow me any of the privileges
of a fiance she would not.

As the weeks passed the life became intolerable for me. I could not
expect my book to be produced till the autumn. There was no fresh
impetus in my brain toward writing another. All my thoughts centred
now round this woman, whom I saw apparently growing more listless,
languid, and indifferent to myself every day.

The nervous strain told upon me. Night followed night in which I got
no sleep, and which left me with a blinding headache to commence the
day. Gradually these headaches lengthened, till they stretched
throughout the tedious, desultory hours; and one stifling August
afternoon, lying, dizzy with pain, on the couch, I determined to win
an answer from her or cut all the ties, dear and clinging though
they might be, and leave her finally.

To-morrow! What was to-morrow? My brain went round when I tried to
think of the simplest thing. We had some men coming in to luncheon,
I remembered, but I would go and see her early in the morning. We
were generally alone with each other in the morning. This evening I
should have no chance of speaking as I meant to speak. When the
evening came, I felt unfit even to go and see her, and it was later
than I intended the next morning when I reached the house. I had
made myself later, too, by stopping on the way to get her some
flowers. There was little in the shop worth having but some lilies,
all price, scent, and brilliance. I took these and hurried on. They
were very fine specimens, certainly, I thought, as I glanced over
them. I care very little for flowers; they are useful, of course,
sometimes, as a present for women, and a button-hole; but there, for
me, their merits cease. Howard would have sentimentalised into two
or three verses over these.

I found her in the drawing-room, as usual now, for the studio was
rarely ever visited, except when she went to gaze in an abstracted
way on the finished work. She was doing nothing--as usual now--she
who formerly worked without ceasing every hour of daylight. Nor was
there anything near her that suggested or made possible the
supposition of work or even occupation. Every book was ranged in
different cases in remote corners of the room. Not a newspaper, nor
blotting-book, nor pen, lay on the table. She was sitting in an
armchair facing the window, her knees crossed idly, her elbow
leaning on a table beside her, her head resting on her hand; idle,
listless. Perhaps her toilette alone, as an elaborate work, might
excuse her from any other for several hours. She looked round with a
smile, and even that was tired, as I entered and crossed to her.

"How are you, dearest, to-day?" I said, as I took her hand. "No,
pray, don't get up," I added, as she made a movement to rise, and to
obviate her doing so, I dropped into a low wicker chair, which I
drew up close to hers, and laid the lilies on her lap.

"I am as well as usual, thanks, Victor. These are lovely! Where did
you get them?"

"At a shop in Regent Street. I wanted something extraordinary, but
they had nothing."

"What could you have more beautiful than these?"

"Beautiful? Yes; but there is no worth in beauty unless there is
some peculiarity about it to attract one. May I do that for you?"

She had lifted the flowers and begun to fasten them into the front
of her bodice, a difficult work, covered, as it was, with an
intricate maze of lace.

"Thank you! I am perfectly capable of achieving it myself."

The familiar, cold pride in the tone brought an ironical smile to my
lips--suppressed, however, before she saw it.

"You are afraid of the risk of my hand touching your breast
accidentally in fastening a flower!" I thought, satirically, as I
watched her in silence, and remembered the mission with which I had
come. I glanced at the clock and saw it was later than I thought.

"Do you know what I have come for this morning, Lucia?" I asked,
leaning my elbow on the arm of her chair, and looking into the soft
blue eyes that seemed to have a sort of timidity in them of me now.

"To torment me as usual, I suppose," she answered.

"That depends upon how you take it," I said, with a slight laugh.

"I have come to say Good-bye."

I watched her keenly as I spoke, and I saw she was perceptibly
startled. She fixed her eyes upon me, and the colour began to recede
visibly from her face. However, she only said calmly after a
moment,--

"Well, if you are going away, I shall have peace at any rate."

"Yes, dear," I answered gently, "you will have peace certainly as
far as I am concerned, for if I go now I shall consider our
engagement terminated."

Lucia started into an upright position in her chair.

"Victor!" she exclaimed, fixing two widely-dilated eyes upon me,
"what are you talking about? What have I done? What do you mean? You
must not go!"

And her hand sought mine and closed over it with an appealing,
seducing touch. It went through my nerves and frame like flame. It
seemed to confuse and scatter speech, sweep it from me as some
useless trifle, and wake one intolerable burning desire for action.

I withdrew my hand suddenly, unbent my arm, and leaning over the
intervening chair side, put it round the low exquisite waist and
tried to draw her towards me. But this most irritating of women
resented immediately that which she had just invited.

"You must not!" she said, vehemently, trying with both hands to
disengage her waist from my arm, her face changing uncertainly from
white to scarlet, her eyes meeting mine with a fugitive alarm, which
nearly, but not entirely, overwhelmed a furtive transitory look of
pleasure at the contact.

I had not mistaken her, I thought, she was both weak and sensual. I
must conquer the first quality, and seduce the second, and the
battle was won. But it was hard to prevent my own self-command
slipping from me, and if I did not keep that, my real object would
be lost in this useless sort of coquetry, or possibly a quarrel. I
wanted all my own judgment--and it was difficult to summon it and
keep it--to tell me exactly how far to push matters to excite her,
without driving her to get up and leave me altogether.

"Nonsense!" I said, looking down into the changing face and on to
the heaving, panting bosom; "if we are engaged, you know, I have a
right to do much more than put my arm round your waist."

"Right!" she repeated, scornfully, "there is no right except what I
choose! Take your arm away!"

"Listen to me," I said quietly, paying no heed to her request,
except to tighten my clasp just so much as I dared.

Such a waist it was, yielding, supple, and warm; it was maddening to
have to restrain the muscles in my arm and regulate their pressure.
The blood went to my brain, and it was with a severe effort I
collected my thoughts.

"You say," I continued, "that I must not go. Lucia, there is only
one single condition on which I will stay."

"What is it?" she murmured.

She had ceased to resist my arm now. The colour was hot in her face,
and her eyes confused.

"That you name some definite and definitive date for our marriage."

"This question again! How you do torture me! It worries me to have
to think about it!"

"I know, dearest; that is why I say, settle something, and don't
think about it any more."

"How can you be so absurd!" she answered, leaning her head back
against the chair, and averting her soft, flushed face as far from
me as she could, so successfully that there was little view of
anything except the white throat and under-part of her chin as she
strained her head back from me.

"Please let things go on as they are."

The words were a positive entreaty, but they fell upon ground where
passion had blocked access to any of the tenderer, impersonal
feelings. I only felt a rage of impatience as I heard her.

"No, dearest," I said very gently; "that is just what they cannot
do;" and I looked at the swelling neck with the faint blue veins
visible in its transparency, and thought, "You must be my own, or I
must cease to see you, otherwise I shall strangle you."

"I cannot stand this sort of thing any longer. Not even for you,
Lucia, can I run the risk of losing the little brains I possess,
which is extremely likely to happen if I let things, as you say, go
on as they are."

"Why?" she said, fretfully, turning her head from side to side.
"What do I do to you?"

I did not answer this, but I raised myself so that I could look into
her face, and our eyes met. She flushed crimson, and did not repeat
the question.

"You will kill me if you worry me like this!" she said, evasively,
and she did actually look very ill at the moment.

"My sweet, why do you not trust me with the cause of all this
hesitation? Are you afraid of me, or do you misunderstand me? Lucia,
the woman I have once loved is the woman I must always love.
Whatever had happened, whatever she had done, whatever I had heard
of her or from her, I should love her still. Has anything occurred
since you were with me in Paris that you are afraid to tell me of?
Has anyone else come between us? If so, tell me. I shall understand
everything. If there is anything to forgive, I will forgive
everything. I swear there is nothing that can make any difference to
my love for you."

Lucia looked me steadily in the face now. A contemptuous smile
curved her lips, all the confusion died out of her eyes, and they
filled with a limitless arrogance and self-reliance. I had my answer
in her face. It was the face of a woman whose virtue is absolutely
invulnerable, and whose honour is unshadowed, and who has suffered
too acutely in the maintenance of both to hear the faintest hint of
weakness without a smile. A fierce, delighted satisfaction ran
through me before she spoke.

"What do you insinuate, Victor?" she said, lightly, but with pointed
directness. "That I have been in love with two men at the same time?
No; nothing of my own will nor my own action stands between us.
Forgive, forsooth!" and she gave a delightful, mocking laugh.

"You are the person to be forgiven, if anybody, for inflicting this
year upon me! Now, I ask you to wait a little and you won't!"

"Because I don't see any adequate reason," I returned. "Last year I
told you mine, now I demand yours."

I kept my arm round her, and could feel the pulses in her waist
throb under it, but I turned my eyes away from her and stared
fixedly at the carpet, waiting for her to speak, with the best
patience I could command.

"I have told you till I am tired of telling you I must get better
first," she said, pettishly.

"But you are not getting better," I persisted.

"On the contrary, all these four months you have been getting
steadily worse."

So long a silence followed this that I looked into her face again
suddenly, the lips were quivering, and the eyes brimming with tears.
She turned her head away, but not before I had seen them.

"Dearest, would you rather I released you from your promise to me?"
I said, bending nearer over her. "Do you wish that?"

One single, violent sob shook the lovely breast beneath me and
swelled the throat.

"No," she said, passionately; "you know I don't!"

"There is no alternative between that or our marriage," I said,
quietly.

I was not trying to be inflexible, nor to harden my heart against
her. It was hardened by passion, which at no time is an inspirer of
tenderness, and mine had been sufficiently irritated through four
months of alternate excitation and resistance to be determined now.
My difficulty was not to avoid being too tender, but to check myself
from being too harsh. Had I heard my own words in cool blood they
might have seemed hard, and my insistence inconsiderate and
blamable, but my calm was only artificial, and my judgment little
else than a blind clinging to the object with which I had come.

"Why can't you go away for a time and then we can marry later, when
you come back?" she answered, in a weak, evasive tone.

"It is not wholly a question of being away from you," I returned.
"So long as I am engaged to you, Lucia, my whole life is totally
different from that which it would be if I were not."

"I give you permission to lead any life you please," she said
vehemently.

"Thank you!" I thought, sarcastically; "but your permission has
nothing to do with it."

"It is useless to discuss the matter," I said aloud. "I cannot argue
the point with you; I have said there is no third alternative."

"I think you are most unkind," and Lucia let two lovely arms and
hands sink over the sides of the chair in gesture of weak despair.

I noticed, indifferently, that she was unnaturally pale.

"If you consent to our marriage, Lucia," I urged, pressing that
alluring waist, "I will promise this, if it will simplify matters--
you shall continue to live as if you were unmarried until you
yourself put things on another footing."

She glanced at me quickly, as I spoke, with an unexpressed surprise.

"Then what would you gain?" she said, coldly, and the unveiled
cynicism in the words went home.

I flushed.

"The certainty," I answered, briefly. "This indefinite state of
things is simply intolerable."

She was silent for a second; then she said violently, the scarlet
flowing over her face up to her eyes--

"No! It would be impossible to maintain such relations as those
after marriage, and you know it! That is quite out of the question!"

I merely shrugged my shoulders in silence.

"I am waiting for your answer, Lucia," I said, after a few moments.

"And if I cannot give you one?"

"Then I leave town to-morrow morning."

She gave a fleeting glance into my face, and then suddenly burst
into a passion of convulsive sobs and tears--sobs that seemed to
tear her breast asunder, and tears that started in a blinding
torrent, drenching her eyelids and eyelashes and pale cheeks.

"It is most unkind, it is horrible, it is cruel of you to press me
in this way!" she sobbed, trying with both hot, trembling hands to
push my arm away and to free herself from my clasp.

The sight of her tears hurt me, the pain stamped on the soft face,
and the tumultuous rising and falling of her breast in those
agonised sobs, reproached me, but the hurt and the reproach were
dull. If she thought her tears would induce me to hesitate or to
desist, she was wrong. They were to me simply a favourable sign of
her weakness, and urged me to press my advantage. I felt
instinctively that it would not do to fail now; having gone so far,
I must go farther, and be successful. Probably I should be much
sooner forgiven by Lucia herself. Nothing is less pardonable, either
in love or war, than an unsuccessful attempt.

Her resistance was nothing but nervous folly and weakness, and I
believed she herself would be glad to be forced to give it up.
Besides, even if my reason had not told me all this, my own feelings
would have been enough to make me relentless.

"You may cry," I thought, looking at her as she sobbed with her head
strained away from me, "but before I go you shall speak."

"What is your decision?" I said.

"What am I to say?" she murmured, in a voice choked by tears.

"Promise me some fixed date."

"I can't--now--like this. I will tell you to-morrow."

"No; to-day. You have deferred it from week to week. You must tell
me now."

Silence, broken only by the sound of tears.

I waited, determined not to lose my patience.

"Tell me," I repeated after a pause.

"Victor, you must lend me your handkerchief," she said, turning her
streaming eyes towards me.

The tears rained down over her lips and chin, and fell on the silk
collar round her neck. She could not take her own handkerchief from
her pocket, sitting as she was with my arm round her. I drew out
mine and dried the wet eyes, and then pressed the soft reluctant
head against my shoulder. Once there, it remained, too weary to lift
itself again.

"Tell me, dearest."

"What, Victor?"

"The date."

"What date?"

"The thirteenth of next month," I said, decidedly.

I felt a startled quiver shoot through her.

"Oh, I could not really settle it without--without--thinking."

"Yes, you can, and must."

"But I don't know how long that is."

"It is exactly three weeks from now."

"But why the thirteenth?"

"We must appoint some date, and that is when my book appears in
Paris, that's all; but choose another, if you like."

"The thirteenth is unlucky."

"What do you gain by all this trifling, Lucia?"

Some slight accent of all the angry surge of feelings within me
crept, perhaps, into my tone. She did not answer, but began to cry
again, not passionately this time, but in a weak, enervated
listlessness.

"You are most unkind, Victor!"

"Is it to be the thirteenth?"

"I never knew you to be like this before."

"May I count it as the thirteenth?"

Silence. I waited and glanced at the clock again. The whole morning
had slipped away. I should infallibly be late for that luncheon, but
I could not help it.

"Lucia!"

"What, Victor?"

"Is it the thirteenth?"

"I don't know."

"Then I tell you that it is."

Almost beside myself with irritation, and uncertain whether I most
loved or detested her, I drew her violently round towards me, bent
over her and pressed my lips on hers, wet, ice-cold, and quivering.
If there is anything in magnetism, or power to subdue another's
volition, it ought to have acted fully then. I myself was at that
moment the incarnation of will. My whole system was bowed to the
intense effort to make her, by force, say what I desired.

"Say yes," I insisted.

She struggled violently, and the lips fluttered dumbly under mine;
her breast swelled against mine; her soft hand tried to push back my
shoulder.

"Say it," and I pressed her lips harder.

Either the force of the stronger will, or mere passion--and I am
inclined to think the latter--had its influence.

"Yes, then, yes," she said, in a faint convulsive murmur, that was
only just audible, but with the whole accent of assent in it.

"You promise?"

"Yes, I promise, absolutely. Oh, let me go. I am suffocated."

I released her instantly. I had no desire to keep her now that the
point was gained, and I did not believe from her character that once
having spoken she would retract. She started up, rose from the chair
apparently with difficulty, made a few steps as if to cross the
room, staggered, and, before I could reach her, fell heavily her
full length along the floor. Her head, with its soft mass of bright
hair, struck the ground almost at my feet, the pale face, drenched
with tears, turned upward to the light. God! what a brute I felt!
What had I done? I felt as if I had struck her. The first impulse of
tenderness towards her welled up over my passion and turned it to a
desperate self-reproach. A second later, Mrs. Grant came into the
room.

"What has happened?" she said quickly, and then, as her gaze took in
Lucia's figure, she turned to me with a blaze of anger in her eyes.
"What have you been saying?" she exclaimed. "I will not have these
scenes, Victor! I shall forbid you to see her!"

She fell on her knees beside Lucia, and unfastened the collar of her
dress, still wet and stained with tears.

"Shall I not lift her up?" I asked, and Mrs. Grant raised her face
again to me, white with suppressed anger.

"No," she answered, curtly. "Will you kindly leave this room. Your
presence here is not needed."

I looked towards the fallen figure on the rug. The light head and
the stone-white face seemed to multiply into a thousand replicas,
and eddy round me. I walked out of the room.

"It will never be," I thought over and over to myself as I went down
the stairs.

I turned into the dining-room, and flung myself into an armchair and
waited there. Everything but Lucia herself was forgotten. My
consciousness seemed suspended almost as completely as hers. At last
the door opened, and Mrs. Grant herself came in. She started on
seeing me.

"You still here, Victor," she said coldly.

"How could I go?" I murmured. "Is she better?"

"Yes; she is better."

Mrs. Grant's face was white and composed, her tones like ice. I saw
she was unwilling to trust herself to speak to me even.

"May I not speak to her for one minute?"

"Certainly not. Are you not satisfied with the mischief you have
done already?" Her voice shook with suppressed indignation. "She
tells me she has fixed the thirteenth for your marriage. So that is
the subject you came to press to-day! I think your conduct is most
disgraceful."

My attitude of mind was--I don't care two d---s what you think.
However, I merely said,--

"I think you do me an injustice. I did not mean to distress Lucia
to-day; but what is the use of this sort of thing going on as it has
been doing? I have offered to release her from the engagement if she
wishes, and in that case, I should go away altogether. I don't see
that to keep up our present relations is any benefit to either of
us."

Mrs. Grant's eyebrows relaxed a little.

"Perhaps you are right, Victor," she said, with a sigh. "Only we
must be careful, or we shall lose her altogether."

Her voice shook now with something that was not anger. I held out my
hand.

"I will come in the evening," I said, gently, "to hear of her if I
cannot see her. May I?"

Mrs. Grant smiled, we shook hands, and I went out. I walked absently
up the pavement, and then stood looking out as absently for a
hansom. Now I had pushed matters to the point, I had not delayed nor
put off action in this case, and I had attained the object with
which I had come, but somehow I did not feel so satisfied as I had
anticipated I should when I came away victorious.

Things were so different now from what they had been a year ago, and
as I stood there looking up and down for a crawler, above the noise
of the London thoroughfare, her own words to me in Paris rang with
terrible distinctness, that prophecy wrung from her in the agony of
her woman's longing--"I shall never be your own."

I almost believed it now.

"Looks like it," I thought, as I hailed a coming crawler and got in.

I said nothing to the man, but I suppose he had noted my glance at
my watch before I got into the cab, and, in the hopes of an over-
fare, he began lashing his horse across the head and neck. It was
this that roused me out of a gloomy reverie, and I pushed up the
trap.

"If you touch that animal again I'll get out," I said, angrily, as
the poor brute tossed his head from side to side.

"Beg pardin', sir! Thought you was in a 'urry, sir!" came through
the roof.

"Drive decently, and don't think," I muttered, relapsing into my own
thoughts, cutting as the lash on the chestnut's neck.

I had stopped the lash, but I could not stop my thoughts. After
dinner that evening I went to see her again. In this I did not
succeed. I was told she had already gone to bed, but she had left a
message for me, and not a word was said about rescinding the promise
that had been forced from her in the morning. On the whole I went
away satisfied and relieved.

"She will be all right," I thought, "now she has once made up her
mind. It is extraordinary; women seem to have as great an aversion
to forming a decision as children have to taking medicine."

"What should I do with myself now?" I questioned, standing idly in
the hot, dusty London street. It was too early for me to go to bed,
and I knew the pater would have turned in before I got back. I
sauntered down two streets, and then drove to the Club. In the card-
room I found Dick and two other fellows, one of whom was a stranger
to me. As I made the convenient fourth, we played a rubber at whist.
After this it seemed generally voted that the weather was too
fatiguing for the strain of whist, and an adjournment was made to an
open window, chairs, and drinks. I was preoccupied with my own
thoughts, and I sat listening fitfully to the other men's gossip.
Sometimes a sentence came to me; at one moment I was listening
without hearing, the next I was hearing without listening. At last
the phrase struck me--"Yes; dying horribly, like a rat of
phosphorus."

I looked across to the man sitting opposite me. He was a young
fellow, and I had gathered from to-night's conversation that he was
studying medicine.

"Who is that?" I asked, with a sort of idle curiosity.

"Oh, only a fellow in the hospital," he answered with a cigarette
between his teeth. "A paying patient. D. T., you know. I saw him
last night in the ward. Shan't see him there to-morrow night, I
expect," he added with a laugh, bringing down his rocking, tiled
chair on its four legs, and determining at last to light the
cigarette.

"You wanted to see the death, I thought," remarked Dick.

"I did; but, hang it, the fellow's been dying so long, my
curiosity's worn out. However, I may come in for the show to-morrow
morning if I am down at the hospital in time."

There was rather a cold silence after this remark, which made the
young fellow look up and then add, hastily.--

"He's such an awful coward, you know, one can't feel much sympathy
for him. 'Oh, it's so hard to die,' he goes on, 'at twenty-three!
Can nothing save me? It seems so hard at twenty-three!' Well, I
suppose no one does like going out, but still if a fellow knows he's
got to"--

He paused. No one spoke for the minute, and then he went on,--

"Brought it on himself, too; I never saw a fellow so thoroughly
knocked out! And now he does nothing but whine over it--'Oh, I'd do
so differently if I had my time over again!' I said to him last
night, 'Now, look here, Johnson, why don't you try and console
yourself with thinking you enjoyed life at the time?'"

"Did you say Johnson?" I asked. "What is his Christian name?"

"Howard," he answered.

The two other men started, and looked at me. The speaker glanced at
them, and then added hastily to me,--

"Do you know him?"

"Slightly," I answered, coldly.

He coloured.

"I am sorry if I"--

"Not at all," I said. "All that concerns him is quite a matter of
indifference to me."

There was a pause, and then, by tacit mutual consent, the topic was
not renewed. The men spoke of other things, and I sat in silence.

So Howard had killed himself--was dying in this way, like a poisoned
rat. It was, as I had said, a matter of indifference to me. I did
not feel one pulse of sorrow or regret. It is strange how completely
and entirely these emotions of love, affection, friendship, hate
expire, and leave no trace of their past existence.

I hear and read much of "lingering memories," "clinging
remembrance," but for me the tender track of a past affection does
not exist. He had, as I had told him, cut out our friendship by the
roots, and I heard now of his approaching death as that of an
absolute stranger.

I wondered idly where was that softening influence, and on what sort
of natures did it act, that is supposed to survive all dead
attachments, all broken friendships. Certainly, according to
tradition, it seemed as if I ought now to feel some sort of emotion
at hearing the fate of a man who had once held so large a share of
my affections.

There ought to have been some touch of sentimental sadness in my
thoughts, some recollections of first days together, and so on. But
there was none. By that night's work he had made himself as nothing
to me henceforward.

I wondered in a desultory way whether the sudden complete
annihilation of an emotion in the human heart in this way showed the
hardness of the heart, or the magnitude of the offence, or the poor
quality of the emotion itself; and then I was roused by Dick's voice
saying Good-night to the other fellows, and he and I were left by
the window alone.

He looked across at me, and said.--

"If you would like to see Howard, I believe Thompson could get you
admission any time."

His voice was low and sympathetic.

I raised my eyebrows and said,--

"What should I want to see him for?"

Dick looked surprised, and then said, hesitatingly,--

"Surely you were very great friends at one time!"

I laughed.

"Yes," I answered, "but there is a great deal in that at one time!"

A few days later my father pointed out the announcement of Howard's
death in The Times as we sat at breakfast.

I nodded.

"Yes; I heard at the Club he was dying."

"What was it? They don't say here."

"No," I said; "they would not."

"What was it?"

"Excess."

We neither said anything further with reference to it, but Howard's
death was in both our thoughts, and as we got up from the table he
said, suddenly,--

"There's a great thing in having a quiet, moderate nature, or at
least self-control," and then he added afterwards, as if struck by a
sudden amending thought, "Well, of course, that comes virtually to
the same thing."

"Does it?" I thought. "By Jove, not to the man himself!"

"Would you think, then," I asked, with a smile, looking across the
rug at him as we stood by the fire, "that the existence of a lion-
tamer was quite the same as that of a maiden lady who kept cats?"

He laid down his paper suddenly and stared at me.

"I don't understand--I--you don't mean that you"--

"I mean," I said, "that it's extremely difficult to see the best
course. Howard has just died, raving mad, for giving way to his
impulses; I may die, raving mad, for controlling mine."

He looked at me apprehensively. "I am sorry, Victor, if--You don't
think you have overworked, do you?"

I laughed as I met his eyes scanning my face anxiously for traces of
the possible insanity.

"No; none of the slates are loose at present," I said. "That's all
right, but I am seedy altogether; out of sorts all round--that's
all."




CHAPTER VII.


One unbroken flood of golden sunlight lay like a fallen silken veil
over the points and peaks of the downs, over the swelling sides and
the soft rolling dip of the valley, and the still September blue
stretched cloudless overhead. It was the late afternoon of the
thirteenth, a day that had been hot, oppressive, stifling in town,
but here was simply warm, still, and tranquil.

All through the early hours of the day a parallel--if one may use
the idea--oppression to the heat in the stirless air had weighed
upon me. We had been married that morning, and before the ceremony
my one sensation had been that of strain, during it tense anxiety,
and afterwards reproach, and none of these are pleasant emotions.
When I looked back to the morning, now, it seemed to be in the far
distance; I don't know why, but ages seemed to have elapsed in the
hours of this day.

Lucia had come up to the altar, her face whiter, more absolutely
colourless than the veil over it, and my heart sank with
apprehension as I first caught sight of her. Never, except in death,
and already with the coffin enclosing it, have I seen a face so
pallid. She walked steadily--she was a woman who always walked well,
as a swan swims well, by nature--and the graceful figure passed on
calmly towards us.

She kept the lids drooped over her eyes, and her white lips were
closed firmly in repose. It seemed like a statue moving, and for a
second I felt as if the church, the people, she, I, the whole scene
were unreal, and my own blood changing into stone. The next second
she was beside me, and then she suddenly lifted her eyes.

They glowed upon me as if there were actual fire stirring in the
lustrous black pupils, and they gave back the joyous beat to my
pulses, and sent my blood flowing onward again. The glance made us
both human directly. But how anxious I felt all the time. Would she
faint? I asked myself, desperately, over and over again. The colour
of her face was terrifying, and the hand she gave me for the ring
was cold as the touch of snow, and trembled convulsively. How long
it all seemed! and how I loathed the prayers and the hymns, and
sickened at the address! What earthly good is it to match words
against a man's passion? As it is, it is, and no admonitions will
alter it. However, all was over at last, and we were in the vestry.
Lucia could not write her name; she tried, for no woman had less
affectation and more self-command than she had, but the
tremulousness of the fingers would not be controlled, and the mere
effort agitated her so that she fell back in the chair, quivering,
till each point of lace in her dress shook, and every eye could see
the violent heart-beats under her bodice.

"Don't sign it, dearest!" I exclaimed, feeling like a murderer as I
looked into the blanched, nervous face, and widely-dilated eyes.

There was a blank pause for a moment of sympathy and apprehension,
as her shaking hand dropped the pen, and then the clergyman picked
it up and finished the half-written name. I felt a sharp self-
reproach, and Dick did not mend matters as he turned from her to me
and said, in an indignant mutter,--

"She is not in a fit state to be married at all, Victor!"

He looked at me as if I were committing a crime, and I coloured and
felt like a brute. Then there was the long breakfast, and the
reception, and, as I say, it seemed as if centuries were rolling
over my head in each five minutes, but now it was all done with; the
burden of other's society had slipped from us, and the weight of my
own oppression I seemed to have left, together with the sullen heat
of town air. In all the journey down Lucia had been recovering. The
scarlet had been coming back to her lips, and as the first breath of
air came to us, straight from the heart of the smiling, sun-lit
valley, they parted in a laugh, the light leapt up in the soft azure
eyes, the rose-colour under the skin, and she bent forward to me and
said, impulsively,--

"Victor, if you want to know, I feel perfectly happy!"

"And I, too, you darling!" I said, smiling back into the brilliant
face.

"It seems quite a new thing to feel. I don't ever remember feeling
happy until now, and I am five-and-twenty. Think, a whole third of
an ordinary lifetime passed before I have known it!"

I laughed.

"Well, you are going to begin now, at any-rate," I said.

"Yes; I think so," she answered, both the carmine lips still curved
in smiles. "But still it is late to begin. It is not wise; one
should begin at fifteen--ten years back."

"Begin what?" I said, laughing.

"To be happy."

"By all means," I answered. "Begin as soon as you get the chance;
but I think most people do. Only it is the chance that is generally
wanting!"

"I don't know," Lucia said, looking away from me through the window,
where the flying sunny slopes of the valley sped by. "People muddle
away their chances of happiness in life. Ten years ago, when I was
fifteen and you were twenty--well, we might have married then, and
felt all that we feel now a whole ten years ago, which I have passed
without a single happy day."

A shade of sadness came into the eyes, and darkened them as she
spoke.

"But why do you think of that now?" I asked. "It is no use. The ten
years have gone beyond recall, and, if you have not been happy, you
have something to show for the time. You have been working."

"Yes," Lucia repeated; "I have been working."

There was silence. I hoped I had recalled to her thoughts the great
canvas that stood complete in her studio. For myself, I knew that
the keenest touch of pleasure that stirred my frame now was held in
the ever-present thought that this day saw the birth of my work in
Paris. Not for worlds would I have hinted this to Lucia. To have
breathed a word that assigned even a part of my pleasure at the
moment to anything but the possession of herself was the last thing
that I would have done.

Every pleasure is kin to every other, and they each tend to enhance
and strengthen another, so that in reality this inner pleasure of my
thoughts that reverted constantly to the Paris publishers was no
enemy, not even a rival, but rather a coadjutor of the passionate,
personal pleasure in the woman beside me. The brain already
intoxicated with one pleasant emotion lends itself more, not less,
readily to another, just as a brutal lover inflames his love with
wine. In precisely the same way, my passion for Lucia was inflamed
by the wine of gratified ambition. All the same, I said nothing
touching on the book for fear lest she should misunderstand me, nor
hinted--that which I felt myself--that this scene put back ten
years, when I was full of vague ambitions and unaccomplished plans,
would not have possessed the zest it had for me now.

Man, unfortunately, is not the desirer of one thing at a time, but
of many things, and the gratification of a single desire is not
enough to content him. If a person is both hungry and thirsty, you
cannot satisfy him, however kindly you may supply him with bread.
Another line of thought that ran side by side with this in my brain,
as I watched the shadow pass over the girl's face as she thought of
her ten lost years, was, that had we had these sensations at fifteen
and twenty they would certainly not have out-lasted us till now! But
this also I would not say. The passing of our passions, however we
may recognise it as philosophers, is not pleasant to us as lovers.

"Oh! there is our house, I believe!" said Lucia, suddenly, as we
neared the station.

"Yes; you can just see it from the line, I know," I answered,
looking through the window. "What a glorious evening!"

All before our eyes lay in the still, liquid golden light, and
through the burnished haze that seemed to slope obliquely between us
and it we saw the square white house, lying a little blow the level
of the line, and all but hidden behind a delicate, intricate
profusion of light green foliage. Behind it rose a rolling slope,
clothed half-way up with a copse of young larch trees, whose slender
stems sent long shadows down the whole length of its side, falling
across the sun-baked, waving, brown-and-yellow grasses, and the red
cows, lying lower down the slope, drowsy, as all else seemed in the
mellow sunlight.

At the side of the house stretched a lawn, shaded-in from the
carriage drive by a fringe of larch and spruce, and on this lawn,
innocent of tennis-courts and similar abominations, were planted
here and there single trees. It had been the fancy of the owner that
not one of these on the lawn should be indigenous, and almost every
country out of Europe was represented by one lovely forest denizen.

The crytomera, the cedar of Japan, raised its delicate rosy crest
here under the blue of an English sky; a young Turkish cypress shot
like a dart from the ground and threw its narrow shadow straight as
a spear across the emerald turf; and farther on a small squat tree,
from China, unfurled smooth, glossy, polished leaves of lightest
green, and thick-lipped succulent scarlet flowers, indolently to the
kiss of the British sun. We caught a passing glimpse of it, and
Lucia drew in her breath softly, with pleasure.

"How lovely! What a pretty house, Victor!" she said.

"Yes; I know it is supposed to be a very charming place."

"And don't you think so, too?" she asked, turning to me, and the
side light from the window caught the curly hair under the velvet
hat brim and turned it into gold.

"I haven't got a very keen artistic eye, Lucia, I think. Certainly
not for houses," I answered, laughing, and looking straight into
those eyes of lapis lazuli and then away. "But I adore this one, as
it is going to give me the happiest hours in my life!"

And I met her eyes. A slow flush mounted into Lucia's face, and then
she seemed to tear her gaze from mine with difficulty and turned to
the window, so that I could not see her face; her ear, however,
betrayed her all the same, for the painful blush reached even there,
and flooded its white, pink-tinted porcelain with scarlet.

A second after, the train was at a standstill, drawn up at the
platform of the station. It was very quiet, and even the train
coming in hardly seemed to disturb the sleepy stillness that hung
over the strips of asphalt, the beds of hollyhocks and lilac bushes
against the whitewashed walls, where the rural fancy of the
stationmaster had gone so far as to range a row of straw bee-hives.

There were few passengers by the train, and little luggage except
our own. The single porter, the stationmaster, some workmen, and a
few market women, with white aprons and baskets of eggs on their
arms, stared wonderingly at Lucia as she stood with the golden
sunlight pouring down upon her light hair and brilliant face, and
the glory of Parisian fashion embodied in her dress.

My friend's carriage had come to meet the train, and I left her for
a moment to speak to the footman about our luggage. As I walked back
up the platform she was standing three-quarter ways towards me, the
attitude which displays best that most alluring line in a woman's
figure, the line from under the arms to the waist.

In Lucia it was specially striking, not straight, but like the back
of a Z, a sharp, smooth slope to the low waist, and formed a perfect
harmony with the two curves of the hips, and the long fall of the
skirt beneath. All my frame--every limb and muscle--quickened with
keen pleasure as my eye met the familiar lines, as yet familiar to
one sense only, and then followed the inevitable, involuntary rush
of exultant remembrance of my absolute possession now.

I let it come and flood my brain with a half-drunken satisfaction,
and the phrase formed itself on my lips, "Well, hang it, my to-
morrow has come at last!" As I came up to her I saw her eyes were
fixed upon me with a searching gaze. I thanked heaven Lucia was not
one of the horrible, modern women, if indeed they exist outside a
lady's novel, who are always analysing you and your emotions, and
testing the depth of your inferiority to themselves. I believed she
was only studying and weighing my outer appearance, of which I was
far more confident than of the inner personality. So I met the blue,
soft-shaded eyes in the flare of the sunlight without embarrassment,
and smiled back into them as I joined her.

"Well, darling, now come," I said; "I think I have made that idiot
understand your hand-bag is not to be shaken!"

Lucia pushed a little pale gloved hand through my arm, impetuously,
and said, as we turned to follow the decline of the platform towards
the carriage,--

"Victor! you are so good-looking!"

I laughed. I was right, then. She had only been thinking of the
exterior. What a comfort! A few steps had brought us to the carriage
door, and the servant was holding it open. I waited to answer her
till we had started, but when she had got in, and I had followed,
she threw herself back on the cushions and put one hand on my
shoulder, and before I could speak she went on in a low voice,--

"Yes! It is very charming now, of course; but all the same you have
nearly killed me!"

The words were spoken with such a bitter, tremulous vehemence, that
I turned and looked at her in startled silence. Her eyes still
passed keenly backwards and forwards over my face.

"Oh, yes! if you knew one-tenth of what I have suffered this last
year! how I have coveted--longed. It doesn't matter what I say to
you now, does it! Oh, I am so glad that all this terrible repression
and restraint is done away with, and that we are free to do and say
what we like! I am so glad I am your wife at last!"

The trembling, excited accents, springing straight from her
thoughts, and poured into my ear from her warm, parting lips,
stirred my own tolerably well-governed feelings to a painful
intensity, and I felt only too sharply that I, at any rate, had not
done with self-restraint. I said nothing. I was rendered dumb by the
riot within me, but I pushed my arm round her waist and drew her
against me.

The violence and want of tenderness in the action pleased her,
perhaps, being a woman. The waist yielded gladly, and the whole form
sank against me with relaxed and satisfied pleasure.

We neither of us spoke again until the carriage drew up between the
bright green of the larches, stabbed through with long shafts of
light, and before the shallow steps and open windows of the house.
On each side of the steps stood, not classic urns to remind one
irresistibly of graveyards, but honest, bright, terracotta, human-
looking flower-pots, from which rose or trailed the loveliest plants
a skilful gardener could wrest from September. A white peacock paced
majestically across the red gravel towards the larches, and
underneath these, swinging exuberantly on suspended perches, with
the strips and bars of sunlight flashing on their glittering
feathers, chattered together nearly a dozen Oriental parrots.

Lucia looked at the scene with an artist's quick eye, and I heard an
instinctive murmur about its making a pretty sketch.

I told her she would be otherwise occupied now than in making
sketches, and we both laughed as we passed up the steps together.

In the hall hovered, like two evil shadows, her maid and my valet,
lying in wait for us to remind us of clothes and the serious duties
of life. I saw Lucia carried off from me with despairing eyes,
knowing it would be ages before I saw her again.

It did not take me long to get into another suit, and then I
returned to the dining-room, and roamed about from end to end, too
restless to sit down to glance at the papers that lay on the
different tables, or even to light up a cigar. I walked about
aimlessly, longing for the woman's presence beside me again.

It was a very large room--two, properly, knocked into one--with a
window looking to the front and the carriage-drive, and another at
the side, opening, with French glass doors, on to the low stone
terrace which overlooked the lawn.

Through these I wandered at last on to the terrace, and rested my
arms on the low balustrade, looking with unseeing eyes across the
lawn, with its tropical trees standing motionless in the golden
haze. Everything around me was very still, and a peculiar strained
calm seemed to be upon me also--the calm of an intense desire,
hushed and expectant, in all the blood.

A swift, hurried step came on to the terrace, and I turned
instantly.

The light fell all over her, the living incarnation of my long drawn
out hopes and dreams. She had changed her dress to a light dinner-
silk. The bodice was modest--I mean by that, it was unobtrusive--
very. Excess of nervous excitement, the wealth of evening sunlight,
and her fashion of dressing made her dazzling to look upon, and I
stood for a second in silence.

She misunderstood my pause and glance, and a rush of hot colour came
into her face, and the tears suddenly started to her eyes.

"You don't like my dress," she exclaimed. "I told Celine she was
cutting it too low!"

A step forward and I had her in my arms. Ah! what were dreams to the
keen, sharp delight of feeling her there--alive, and in the flesh--
throbbing and pulsating against me? I declared the dress was
perfect, that I would not have the bodice half an inch higher for
anything, that she looked adorable, and so on, until she was
comforted. The tears passed into laughter, and the flush died away;
but she trembled against me distressingly, and her lips quivered
nervously.

I held her to me, but she seemed to flutter uncertainly in my clasp,
just as a bird flutters wildly without aim at the limit of its
tethering cord, and when I released her she sank into the wire chair
at our side with a look of exhaustion stamped on the soft, delicate
face. I saw that it would require all my tact and care to make this
evening a success, and I determined that it should be one for her.
Standing there beside her, looking down on her light head, I made a
rough, mental examination of my thoughts. I seized those that had
anything of self in them, rolled them hastily together, and thrust
them into an obscure corner of my brain out of hearing, to leave the
better part of my love for her free to guide me.

I drew a chair close to her and sat down, letting my arm rest along
the top rail of hers, behind the soft head, which, after a minute,
sank gently back upon it with a movement of tired relief. We neither
spoke, and the perfect, sunny calm of the evening air, the silence,
and the physical rest seemed to soothe her. When the servant came on
to the terrace to announce the dinner, she had recovered, and her
arm on mine was warm and firm.

As soon as we had finished dinner, she rose restlessly from the
table and looked at me with a hesitating air. I smiled back at her,
but it hurt me inwardly this want of confidence, this lack of
familiarity she seemed to have. This sort of hesitation before she
made the simplest request, the start and flush when I spoke suddenly
to her, this timidity of me now, hurt and puzzled me. I, who had
taught my dog implicit trust, seemed to have missed the way with the
woman.

I remembered Paris: my own harshness to her there came back upon me
like a blow. The indelible impression of my hardness had been given
then, and she dreaded it now. She had been conquered then; her will
and desire had been broken down to mine; she had been forced to
yield and to suffer; she had appealed to me and found me inflexible,
relentless; and now I had the fruits of my victory. The woman I
loved, though she might love me, feared me instinctively, as the
once well-beaten dog ever afterwards fears its master.

To me, who hated victory, who loathed subduing others, and the price
they bring of fear and shrinking, the realisation of her feeling
towards me was like a sudden physical pain. I got up from the table
feeling my face grow white with sharp distress. I hardly knew at the
moment how to express my thoughts; besides, I knew words would be of
no avail. An impression given is a scar upon the mind like a scar
upon the flesh. She fixed her eyes on my face with a sort of
apprehension in them, that was extremely bitter to me.

"What were you going to say, dearest?" I said, merely, with a faint
smile; "go on."

"Oh, nothing much!" she said, hastily, flushing and paling almost in
the same moment; "only I feel so restless. Come and show me all the
rest of the house, will you?"

I assented, and we passed out of the dining-room into the hall and
up the shallow flight of stairs. I put my right hand on the banister
and my left arm round her waist, and the whole sweet figure beside
me, and the white neck and ear so near me, drove out the thoughts of
a minute back, and I only laughed as I felt her waist contract
convulsively as I touched it.

"Would you like to take my arm better?" I said, mockingly, and drew
her round to me so that the soft face was just beneath my own. In
the subdued light of the staircase she lifted her lids, and I saw
her eyes, gleaming and sparkling, brimming over with gaiety and
pleasure, and the arm next me she raised and twisted close round my
neck.

"No, Victor; here is the place for my arm now! You won't push it
away as you did in Paris, will you?"

The words hurt cruelly. Could I never obliterate that wretched
memory? It was vivid with her; it clung to me. It seemed a shadow
dogging my present pleasure. I stopped suddenly on the staircase and
took her wholly into my arms. All the supple form yielded at my
touch, till it leaned hard against my own; the face, pallid with
excitement, was raised to mine; the glitter of her eyes swam before
my vision as I caught it from beneath the half-drooped lids; the
lips, parted in a faint breath, then closed as mine joined them. As
they touched, no consciousness was left except that both our lives
seemed mingling, panting, fainting on our lips.

The pain that is pleasure, and the pleasure that is pain, thrilled
and pierced every nerve as I held her and felt those lips under
mine, her heart beat under my heart, her weak arms twisted round my
throat. When at last my lips set hers free, on fire with the passion
of my own, they moved in a half-delirious murmur,--

"Victor, you don't know how I love you!"

I have no distinct recollection of passing up the remaining stairs,
but we did reach the landing, and a second or two later were
standing in the drawing-room. I think she said it was pretty, and so
on, but I hardly heard, my head was reeling, and all my senses dull,
her figure leant a little against me, and the pressure of her arm
was upon mine. After the drawing-room, the reading-room, and a
breakfast-room, all opening from the same corridor, had been passed
through, there were still two rooms unexplored on that floor. I
turned the handle of the nearer door, and then pushed it open.

Lucia stepped on to the threshold, and then I felt her arm start
violently in mine, and she drew back with a sharp, instinctive
movement.

I looked down upon her and murmured,--

"Our room, dearest."

The colour blazed all over the fair skin, till it seemed scorching
it, and tears startled into the dismayed eyes, which she turned from
me confusedly, as she shrank back into the passage.

I was startled, and a chill seemed to fall upon me, and penetrate
deeper as a grey pallor succeeded to the burning flush, and she had
to lay one trembling hand on my arm again for actual support.

"Victor, it is nothing!" she said, hurriedly, forcing a smile to her
lips.

"It--it--startled me."

She made a nervous step forward, as if she would have forced herself
to enter the room with me, but I collected myself with a great
effort, and gently drew the door shut.

"There is another sitting-room a little farther on; come and look at
it," I said, quietly, in a light, indifferent tone, as if we were
meeting in society for the first time.

I drew her on past the door, feeling her hand fluttering on my arm,
and her feet uncertain beside my own. Inwardly I was alarmed--
dismayed. Her extreme nervousness, and the physical effect upon her,
frightened me. With crushing force and clearness came back to me the
remembrance of the fearless, eager, unrestrained abandonment of body
and mind, the gay exuberance of careless passion, with all the
vigour of youth and health in it, that had leapt up to meet my
caress a year ago,--and been refused. We passed on to a door on the
other side of the corridor, which opened to another sitting-room. A
lovely evening had given way to a lovelier night. Beyond the long
window panes, set open to the still air, we caught sight of the
sinking golden crescent of the moon towards the south; above and all
round, to the low horizon, the sky was crowded, sparkling, and
brilliant with stars. I moved two chairs close up to the open
window, but she stood by the sill and leaned forward to the night
air.

"You think me very silly?" she said, with her head turned away from
me.

"I think you are not well, dearest," I said, gently.

There was silence. Words seemed frozen on my lips. A sort of terror
filled me of exciting or embarrassing her. I stood beside the window
frame watching her. After a minute or two she dropped back into a
chair and looked up at me with a laugh.

"I think I am all right, only you startled me! By the way, Victor,
if anything ever does happen to me, you will remember you have your
work and your talent to turn to, won't you? I mean you would not do
anything desperate. I want you to promise me that."

She lay back in the easy chair, burying her light head and polished
white shoulder in the velvet cushion, and swinging one little foot
idly as she looked up smiling for her answer. The bright light in
the room fell full upon her, and I looked down upon this brilliant
piece of life, full of glowing tints and warm pulses and subtle
powers, and my brain flamed with the pleasure of the senses. I
hardly noted her words.

"Dear little girl!" I said, smiling back into her eyes. "I refuse to
think of such things at all!"

"Oh, well, it doesn't matter! I don't expect you would," she said,
laughing, the colour leaping up in her cheeks, and the vivid blue
deepening behind her lashes. "Come and make much of me now while you
have got me."

Her whole face and form were instinct with a delicious invitation,
and I bent down to and over her, filled with the delight of the
moment. We made one chair do for both of us, and looked through the
window at intervals to escape each other's eyes, and laughed at
nothing, and talked a very extraordinary astronomy. At last, with
her soft fingers in my hair and on my throat, and her white arm
above the elbow clasped in my hand, speech, even laughter, grew
choked in dense feelings for all the command I kept upon myself; and
we sat in silence, hearing each other's breath, feeling each pulse
that beat in the other's throat and breast.

There had been a long silence when the last star of Orion slid over
the horizon, followed by my impatient eyes. I looked at my watch. I
hardly know why I did it then. It was an involuntary action rather
than a conscious one. I did not say anything as I replaced it, but
she glanced sharply at me, and I saw her lips whitened.

I knew the intense excitement that was moving her, it spoke to me in
every line of her form--in her eyes, torn wide open by it, in the
faint gleam of sweat that showed on the white forehead. I was not
blind to it, but the tumult within me, made all the greater by the
sight of it, left me insensible to its danger for her.

She got up from where we were sitting, and began to walk restlessly
round the table. I wheeled my chair slightly round so that I could
watch her. Nothing struck me particularly as I did so except the
extreme grace and attraction in the moving form. The heavy silk
skirt dragged backwards and forwards over the carpet almost
soundless, the moonlight and gaslight alternately gleaming on its
folds. Each time that she came between me and the table my eyes
followed with dizzy delight the soft side curve of her breast, the
lines of the exquisite waist, the white idle hand that sometimes
touched the edge of my chair arm, sometimes not, as she passed. One
of these times I caught it and detained her, and looked up at her
face, but the light was behind her, and only fell on the bright
hair.

"Why do you walk about so?" I asked.

"I don't know. Victor, I feel very strange. I hope nothing is going
to happen. I never felt quite like this before;" and she broke her
hand loose from me and passed on.

I sprang up and followed her, and put my arm round her.

"Going to happen, dearest! What do you mean? Do you feel ill?"

I looked at her. She was very white, and her lips were parted and
pale. There was a distressed and strangely absent look upon her face
which startled me, though I had no clue to its significance.

"Yes, very ill," she answered, her eyes wandering away from my
anxious ones looking down at her, as we stood for a moment together.

Then she gently pushed away my arm and continued her walk.

"You know my heart always does beat and hurt if I am very happy, or
very excited, or any thing, but it's never been quite so bad as this
before." And then, catching the distress upon my face, she added, "I
daresay this is nothing. It will go off. I think it is only
hysterical. Don't look so unhappy!" And a faint smile swept over her
pallid face.

She made her way to the sideboard and drank some water standing
there. Then she continued to move slowly round the room, both hands
pressed beneath her left breast, and her delicate eyebrows
contracted into one dark line across her colourless face.

"I overworked myself so tremendously just lately," she said, after a
minute, "after--well, after I came to you in Paris. I shall take a
long rest now. I hope I shall get strong again. When one is as
delicate as this, life is not worth having."

And then, before I could answer, she stopped suddenly, and looked
across the room at me with dilated eyes.

"Is there any brandy I could have?" she asked, abruptly.

My handbag stood in the corner of the room. There was a flask of
brandy there. In two seconds I had got it out and was beside her
with the traveling-glass half filled.

She took it with a fluttering, uncertain hand, and drank a little,
but not even then did the colour come back to her lips--they were
apart and grey. She set the glass down on the table with a
wandering, undecided movement, and then turned towards me and linked
two ice-cold hands round my neck,--

"Hold me up! I am sinking!" and her head fell heavily against my
shoulder.

I clasped my arm firmly round her waist. I was startled, distressed,
alarmed, but still, even then, I did not think there was any serious
danger. I thought she was hysterical, as she had said; over-
strained, and over-excited. I thought at most this was a fainting
attack. I thought--God knows what I thought. I must have been blind.

She put her hand to her throat, and I saw she wanted air. Supporting
her, I crossed to the window, and stood where the cool night breeze
came blowing in upon her face. My hand followed hers to her bodice,
and I loosened all the delicate lace ruffles round it that it had
never been my privilege to touch till now, and that were no whiter
than the lovely breast from which I unloosed them.

So we stood for a few seconds, her lids were drooped over her eyes.
At intervals, it seemed to me, her heart gave great single,
convulsive throbs that thudded through both our beings.

Then suddenly she tore her eyes wide open, and fixed them in an
unreasoning agony upon me. A straining, fearful effort seemed in
them. I pressed her to me.

"What is it, dearest?" I said quietly, trying to recall her to
herself. "Why do you look at me so?"

"Because I cannot see you! I have lost my sight! Oh, Victor, I am
DYING!"

The words were a strained cry of terrified anguish, and they cleft
through my brain like the stroke of an axe. With blinding suddenness
I knew then what was coming. My heart seemed turned into stone. Only
Reason rejected the truth. The gong stood on the table close beside
us. I stretched out my arm and struck it furiously, my eyes fixed in
terror on her face. The Great Change was there; the shadow already
of dissolution. The door was thrust open and a servant hurried in.

"A doctor!" I said to him, "quick for your life."

But I saw, before any doctor could reach us, she would have gone
from me. I strained my arms round her.

"Speak to me, my darling, speak," I said wildly, raising the dying
head higher on my breast.

Both her hands were clasped hard upon her heart. A frightful agony
was reflected in the bloodless face, but for the moment death
retreated.

"Victor! To think I am dying! I shall never paint again! Oh, don't
let me go! Keep me! oh, keep me with you!"

My brain seemed bursting as I heard her. The only prayer of my life
broke then in a frenzy from my lips, "Great God! spare her!"

"Hold me up! oh, keep me, Victor! I am dying."

"Dearest, you are fainting!"

There was no answer. Heavier and heavier the pressure grew on my
breast, the arm slid heavily from my shoulders, the head fell slowly
backwards on my arm. I looked into her eyes. They were black as I
had seen them long ago in the studio. Fearfully, terribly dilated
they were, and in their depths was that look as if the soul were
listening to a far-off summons, calling, calling to it, to depart.

"My life! Speak to me once more! One word!"

Probably my voice did not reach her. For her already the silence
held but that one imperious command. My brief rule of this spirit
was over. It no longer heeded me. She no longer answered me. Her
eyes were still fixed upon me in helpless horror, terror, and
despair; but they knew me no longer. The unwilling soul had already
started on its journey, and its earthly love was no more to it than
its earthly form. I held her motionless, my eyes on hers, then I saw
a glaze, a slow glaze fit upon them, they set in it, and it told me
she was dead.

Without a struggle, without a spasm, without a deeper breath to mark
the severance, her soul had drifted away from me, out of her body
that I held in my arms. Without a farewell, without a word, without
any knowledge of the second when the life had fled, without a sound
beyond that despairing, terrified appeal to me to keep her. I stood
rigid, petrified, my arms locked round her like iron bands. I heard
the door open and steps. Then I saw the doctor before me. He gave
one glance at the drooping head.

"Lay her down flat," he said.

I lifted her into my arms wholly, and walked through the door into
the corridor to the opposite room--our room, and laid her on the
bed. He followed me to the bedside and bent over her. I drew back
and stood beside the curtain motionless. Everything was swaying
before my eyes in darkened confusion. Was this my wedding night?
There was the room, full of warm, shaded light; there was the bed,
and on it a passive woman's figure, and another man bent over it and
tore aside the bodice and unclasped the white stays.

I watched his hand part them and pass indifferently beneath them,
and beneath the linen, and rest over the left breast and then
beneath it. The shade grew colder on his face. There was an intense
silence in the room, then the words came across it, "Quite extinct."
My ears seemed to fill with sounds, the ground to rise upward, the
bed to heave, and I went forward blindly and tore his hand from her
breast and pushed him from the bed.

"Then go and leave us," I said, and I heard my own voice as from a
great distance.

He looked at me, and his face and everything around was dark before
my eyes.

"Will you kindly go out of this room?" I repeated, and he walked to
the door.

I opened it, he passed out, and I shut and locked it, and came back
to the bed. The weight of nerveless, passive beauty on it had
crushed a depression in its whiteness, the head had sunk down
sideways to the pillow as in tired sleep. Across the throat and
breast, over and amongst the disturbed laces of her dress, and on
the parted gleaming satin of her stays fell a flood of rose-coloured
light. One shoulder rose from it and caught a shadow; another shade
lay lower in the dimples of the elbow; the inside of the arm looked
warm. The throat, the round soft throat, seemed glowing; the fallen
head, the passive arms, the whole outstretched form seemed relaxed
in the abandonment of sleep. Had I often seen her in my dreams like
this? This was but the realisation of my dreams. I bent over her,
then threw myself wildly upon the bed beside her, and drew her into
my arms.

"Lucia! my Lucia!" The sweet face almost seemed to smile as I drew
the head to me, and a soft curl of hair fell upon my arm as I pushed
it round her neck and pressed her breast to mine. It came softly and
unresistingly, just so much as my arm pressed it, with terrible
compliance. The throat chilled through my arm to the bone, numbed
it.

I laid my other hand upon her neck, pushed it lower till it rested
above her heart, and enclosed one breast, nerveless, pulseless, and
cold, colder than any snow. Slowly it chilled through my fingers. I
smoothed one passive arm--how cold. Then my hand sought her waist,
and my arm leant upon her hip--as once in Paris--and here the
coldness held and froze me.

Through her silk skirt it penetrated; the damp, eternal coldness
pierced through my quivering, living arm; it seemed dividing my
veins like steel.

It was a dead woman that I clasped: a corpse. I strained my eyes
down upon her face, that seemed but asleep.

"Lucia?"

And the word was one frenzied, senseless question; and the sweet
mouth seemed to smile back, in its last eternal smile, my answer,--

"Yes, I am Lucia, and you possess me now."

Like a torrent dammed up for a moment, the flood of insensate,
impotent desire flowed again, raging through all my veins, and
engulfed me; my burning arms interlaced her, my weight pressed upon
her, my trembling lips, full of torturing flame, sought hers, met,
closed upon them in a frenzy of vain, fruitless longing and stayed--
frozen there.

When I was hardly well from weeks of raving illness that followed,
but yet well enough to walk and go about like a rational being, I
went to the cemetery to see all that now remained to me beyond my
own fearful memory. Dick was beside me. He had insisted on coming
with me, and, when we reached the grave, he stood beside me at its
edge, as he had stood beside me at the altar.

A huge slab of white marble lay horizontal upon the narrow, single
grave. Fools! They should have made it a double one. A heavy iron
chain, swinging great balls, studded with spikes, was linked from
post to post round the tomb. At its head rose a cross, extending its
arms against a background of cypresses.

I looked at it all with dry and savage eyes. The illimitable regret,
the boundless, hopeless remorse for the irrevocable that has been
shaped by our own heedless hands, the unspeakable yearning for that,
once more, which has been freely ours and we have flung away, rose
like a swelling tide within me, and rolled through me in thundering,
deadening waves standing at her grave. I stared half blindly at the
words on the stone--"Wife of V. Hilton." Wife! What a mockery!

I looked, and that slab of white marble--spotless and relentless--
that barred her into the grave, seemed to my still half-unstable
brain symbolical of that last year of virgin purity of life that had
broken her strength to bear. That spiked iron linked round the
helpless dust seemed like the chains of repression that had tortured
and crushed the soft ardent nature. That arrogant cross, stretching
its arms threateningly above the lonely tomb, seemed the cross upon
which we had crucified--she and I--the desires of the flesh. And at
its foot, I read,--"She sleeps to waken to a glad to-morrow." And
then a bitter laugh burst from my lips.

"Who put that?" I asked. "Great God! that that word should follow me
even here!"

Dick took my arm.

"We know nothing. There may be a to-morrow;" at which I merely
laughed again.

"Wife of V. Hilton!" I repeated, reading from the stone. "If she had
been, Dick, it would not have been so hard."

Dick said nothing. After a time he urged me to come away from the
grave.

"Where? To what?" I asked him; and we both stood silent, gazing upon
her cross.

.   .   .   .   .   .   .

Months have passed by, and Dick consoles me still, and tells me I
shall refind the zest of life by and by, later on, in the future,
to-morrow.





End of Project Gutenberg Etext of To-morrow? by Victoria Cross


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