H. G. Wells
Part 6 out of 7
to be beaten gold just in order to make it a fitting setting for
yours. There you will be, in an inner temple. I want to enrich
it with hangings and gladden it with verses. I want to fill it
with fine and precious things. And by degrees, perhaps, that
maiden distrust of yours that makes you shrink from my kisses,
will vanish. . . . Forgive me if a certain warmth creeps into my
words! The Park is green and gray to-day, but I am glowing pink
and gold. . . . It is difficult to express these things."
They sat with tea and strawberries and cream before them at a
little table in front of the pavilion in Regent's Park. Her
confession was still unmade. Manning leaned forward on the
table, talking discursively on the probable brilliance of their
married life. Ann Veronica sat back in an attitude of
inattention, her eyes on a distant game of cricket, her mind
perplexed and busy. She was recalling the circumstances under
which she had engaged herself to Manning, and trying to
understand a curious development of the quality of this
The particulars of her engagement were very clear in her memory.
She had taken care he should have this momentous talk with her on
a garden-seat commanded by the windows of the house. They had
been playing tennis, with his manifest intention looming over
"Let us sit down for a moment," he had said. He made his speech
a little elaborately. She plucked at the knots of her racket and
heard him to the end, then spoke in a restrained undertone.
"You ask me to be engaged to you, Mr. Manning," she began.
"I want to lay all my life at your feet."
"Mr. Manning, I do not think I love you. . . . I want to be very
plain with you. I have nothing, nothing that can possibly be
passion for you. I am sure. Nothing at all."
He was silent for some moments.
"Perhaps that is only sleeping," he said. "How can you know?"
"I think--perhaps I am rather a cold-blooded person."
She stopped. He remained listening attentively.
"You have been very kind to me," she said.
"I would give my life for you."
Her heart had warmed toward him. It had seemed to her that life
might be very good indeed with his kindliness and sacrifice about
her. She thought of him as always courteous and helpful, as
realizing, indeed, his ideal of protection and service, as
chivalrously leaving her free to live her own life, rejoicing
with an infinite generosity in every detail of her irresponsive
being. She twanged the catgut under her fingers.
"It seems so unfair," she said, "to take all you offer me and
give so little in return."
"It is all the world to me. And we are not traders looking at
"You know, Mr. Manning, I do not really want to marry."
"It seems so--so unworthy"--she picked among her phrases "of the
noble love you give--"
She stopped, through the difficulty she found in expressing
"But I am judge of that," said Manning.
"Would you wait for me?"
Manning was silent for a space. "As my lady wills."
"Would you let me go on studying for a time?"
"If you order patience."
"I think, Mr. Manning . . . I do not know. It is so difficult.
When I think of the love you give me--One ought to give you back
"You like me?"
"Yes. And I am grateful to you. . . ."
Manning tapped with his racket on the turf through some moments
of silence. "You are the most perfect, the most glorious of
created things--tender, frank intellectual, brave, beautiful. I
am your servitor. I am ready to wait for you, to wait your
pleasure, to give all my life to winning it. Let me only wear
your livery. Give me but leave to try. You want to think for a
time, to be free for a time. That is so like you, Diana--Pallas
Athene! (Pallas Athene is better.) You are all the slender
goddesses. I understand. Let me engage myself. That is all I
She looked at him; his face, downcast and in profile, was
handsome and strong. Her gratitude swelled within her.
"You are too good for me," she said in a low voice.
"Then you--you will?"
A long pause.
"It isn't fair. . . ."
"But will you?"
For some seconds he had remained quite still.
"If I sit here," he said, standing up before her abruptly, "I
shall have to shout. Let us walk about. Tum, tum, tirray, tum,
tum, tum, te-tum--that thing of Mendelssohn's! If making one
human being absolutely happy is any satisfaction to you--"
He held out his hands, and she also stood up.
He drew her close up to him with a strong, steady pull. Then
suddenly, in front of all those windows, he folded her in his
arms and pressed her to him, and kissed her unresisting face.
"Don't!" cried Ann Veronica, struggling faintly, and he released
"Forgive me," he said. "But I am at singing-pitch."
She had a moment of sheer panic at the thing she had done. "Mr.
Manning," she said, "for a time--Will you tell no one? Will you
keep this--our secret? I'm doubtful-- Will you please not even
tell my aunt?"
"As you will," he said. "But if my manner tells! I cannot help
it if that shows. You only mean a secret for a little time?"
"Just for a little time," she said; "yes. . . ."
But the ring, and her aunt's triumphant eye, and a note of
approval in her father's manner, and a novel disposition in him
to praise Manning in a just, impartial voice had soon placed very
definite qualifications upon that covenanted secrecy.
At first the quality of her relationship to Manning seemed moving
and beautiful to Ann Veronica. She admired and rather pitied
him, and she was unfeignedly grateful to him. She even thought
that perhaps she might come to love him, in spite of that faint
indefinable flavor of absurdity that pervaded his courtly
bearing. She would never love him as she loved Capes, of course,
but there are grades and qualities of love. For Manning it would
be a more temperate love altogether. Much more temperate; the
discreet and joyless love of a virtuous, reluctant, condescending
wife. She had been quite convinced that an engagement with him
and at last a marriage had exactly that quality of compromise
which distinguishes the ways of the wise. It would be the
wrappered world almost at its best. She saw herself building up
a life upon that--a life restrained, kindly, beautiful, a little
pathetic and altogether dignified; a life of great disciplines
and suppressions and extensive reserves. . .
But the Ramage affair needed clearing up, of course; it was a
flaw upon that project. She had to explain about and pay off
that forty pounds. . . .
Then, quite insensibly, her queenliness had declined. She was
never able to trace the changes her attitude had undergone, from
the time when she believed herself to be the pampered Queen of
Fortune, the crown of a good man's love (and secretly, but nobly,
worshipping some one else), to the time when she realized she was
in fact just a mannequin for her lover's imagination, and that he
cared no more for the realities of her being, for the things she
felt and desired, for the passions and dreams that might move
her, than a child cares for the sawdust in its doll. She was the
actress his whim had chosen to play a passive part. . . .
It was one of the most educational disillusionments in Ann
But did many women get anything better?
This afternoon, when she was urgent to explain her hampering and
tainting complication with Ramage, the realization of this alien
quality in her relationship with Manning became acute. Hitherto
it had been qualified by her conception of all life as a
compromise, by her new effort to be unexacting of life. But she
perceived that to tell Manning of her Ramage adventures as they
had happened would be like tarring figures upon a water-color.
They were in different key, they had a different timbre. How
could she tell him what indeed already began to puzzle herself,
why she had borrowed that money at all? The plain fact was that
she had grabbed a bait. She had grabbed! She became less and
less attentive to his meditative, self-complacent fragments of
talk as she told herself this. Her secret thoughts made some
hasty, half-hearted excursions into the possibility of telling
the thing in romantic tones--Ramage was as a black villain, she
as a white, fantastically white, maiden. . . . She doubted if
Manning would even listen to that. He would refuse to listen and
absolve her unshriven.
Then it came to her with a shock, as an extraordinary oversight,
that she could never tell Manning about Ramage--never.
She dismissed the idea of doing so. But that still left the
forty pounds! . . .
Her mind went on generalizing. So it would always be between
herself and Manning. She saw her life before her robbed of all
generous illusions, the wrappered life unwrappered forever,
vistas of dull responses, crises of make-believe, years of
exacting mutual disregard in a misty garden of fine sentiments.
But did any woman get anything better from a man? Perhaps every
woman conceals herself from a man perforce! . . .
She thought of Capes. She could not help thinking of Capes.
Surely Capes was different. Capes looked at one and not over
one, spoke to one, treated one as a visible concrete fact. Capes
saw her, felt for her, cared for her greatly, even if he did not
love her. Anyhow, he did not sentimentalize her. And she had
been doubting since that walk in the Zoological Gardens whether,
indeed, he did simply care for her. Little things, almost
impalpable, had happened to justify that doubt; something in his
manner had belied his words. Did he not look for her in the
morning when she entered--come very quickly to her? She thought
of him as she had last seen him looking down the length of the
laboratory to see her go. Why had he glanced up--quite in that
way? . . .
The thought of Capes flooded her being like long-veiled sunlight
breaking again through clouds. It came to her like a dear thing
rediscovered, that she loved Capes. It came to her that to marry
any one but Capes was impossible. If she could not marry him,
she would not marry any one. She would end this sham with
Manning. It ought never to have begun. It was cheating, pitiful
cheating. And then if some day Capes wanted her--saw fit to
alter his views upon friendship. . . .
Dim possibilities that she would not seem to look at even to
herself gesticulated in the twilight background of her mind.
She leaped suddenly at a desperate resolution, and in one moment
had made it into a new self. She flung aside every plan she had
in life, every discretion. Of course, why not? She would be
She turned her eyes to Manning.
He was sitting back from the table now, with one arm over the
back of his green chair and the other resting on the little
table. He was smiling under his heavy mustache, and his head was
a little on one side as he looked at her.
"And what was that dreadful confession you had to make?" he was
saying. His quiet, kindly smile implied his serene disbelief in
any confessible thing. Ann Veronica pushed aside a tea-cup and
the vestiges of her strawberries and cream, and put her elbows
before her on the table. "Mr. Manning," she said, "I HAVE a
confession to make."
"I wish you would use my Christian name," he said.
She attended to that, and then dismissed it as unimportant.
Something in her voice and manner conveyed an effect of unwonted
gravity to him. For the first time he seemed to wonder what it
might be that she had to confess. His smile faded.
"I don't think our engagement can go on," she plunged, and felt
exactly that loss of breath that comes with a dive into icy
"But, how," he said, sitting up astonished beyond measure, "not
"I have been thinking while you have been talking. You see--I
She stared hard at her finger-nails. "It is hard to express
one's self, but I do want to be honest with you. When I promised
to marry you I thought I could; I thought it was a possible
arrangement. I did think it could be done. I admired your
chivalry. I was grateful."
"Go on," he said.
She moved her elbow nearer to him and spoke in a still lower
tone. "I told you I did not love you."
"I know," said Manning, nodding gravely. "It was fine and brave
"But there is something more."
She paused again.
"I--I am sorry-- I didn't explain. These things are difficult.
It wasn't clear to me that I had to explain. . . . I love some
They remained looking at each other for three or four seconds.
Then Manning flopped back in his chair and dropped his chin like
a man shot. There was a long silence between them.
"My God!" he said at last, with tremendous feeling, and then
again, "My God!"
Now that this thing was said her mind was clear and calm. She
heard this standard expression of a strong soul wrung with a
critical coldness that astonished herself. She realized dimly
that there was no personal thing behind his cry, that countless
myriads of Mannings had "My God!"-ed with an equal gusto at
situations as flatly apprehended. This mitigated her remorse
enormously. He rested his brow on his hand and conveyed
magnificent tragedy by his pose.
"But why," he said in the gasping voice of one subduing an agony,
and looked at her from under a pain-wrinkled brow, "why did you
not tell me this before?"
"I didn't know-- I thought I might be able to control myself."
"And you can't?"
"I don't think I ought to control myself."
"And I have been dreaming and thinking--"
"I am frightfully sorry. . . ."
"But-- This bolt from the blue! My God! Ann Veronica, you don't
understand. This--this shatters a world!"
She tried to feel sorry, but her sense of his immense egotism was
strong and clear.
He went on with intense urgency.
"Why did you ever let me love you? Why did you ever let me peep
through the gates of Paradise? Oh! my God! I don't begin to
feel and realize this yet. It seems to me just talk; it seems to
me like the fancy of a dream. Tell me I haven't heard. This is
a joke of yours." He made his voice very low and full, and
looked closely into her face.
She twisted her fingers tightly. "It isn't a joke," she said.
"I feel shabby and disgraced. . . . I ought never to have
thought of it. Of you, I mean. . . ."
He fell back in his chair with an expression of tremendous
desolation. "My God!" he said again. . . .
They became aware of the waitress standing over them with book
and pencil ready for their bill. "Never mind the bill," said
Manning tragically, standing up and thrusting a four-shilling
piece into her hand, and turning a broad back on her
astonishment. "Let us walk across the Park at least," he said to
Ann Veronica. "Just at present my mind simply won't take hold of
this at all. . . . I tell you--never mind the bill. Keep it!
They walked a long way that afternoon. They crossed the Park to
the westward, and then turned back and walked round the circle
about the Royal Botanical Gardens and then southwardly toward
Waterloo. They trudged and talked, and Manning struggled, as he
said, to "get the hang of it all."
It was a long, meandering talk, stupid, shameful, and
unavoidable. Ann Veronica was apologetic to the bottom of her
soul. At the same time she was wildly exultant at the resolution
she had taken, the end she had made to her blunder. She had only
to get through this, to solace Manning as much as she could, to
put such clumsy plasterings on his wounds as were possible, and
then, anyhow, she would be free--free to put her fate to the
test. She made a few protests, a few excuses for her action in
accepting him, a few lame explanations, but he did not heed them
or care for them. Then she realized that it was her business to
let Manning talk and impose his own interpretations upon the
situation so far as he was concerned. She did her best to do
this. But about his unknown rival he was acutely curious.
He made her tell him the core of the difficulty.
"I cannot say who he is," said Ann Veronica, "but he is a married
man. . . . No! I do not even know that he cares for me. It is
no good going into that. Only I just want him. I just want him,
and no one else will do. It is no good arguing about a thing
"But you thought you could forget him."
"I suppose I must have thought so. I didn't understand. Now I
"By God!" said Manning, making the most of the word, "I suppose
it's fate. Fate! You are so frank so splendid!
"I'm taking this calmly now," he said, almost as if he
apologized, "because I'm a little stunned."
Then he asked, "Tell me! has this man, has he DARED to make love
Ann Veronica had a vicious moment. "I wish he had," she said.
The long inconsecutive conversation by that time was getting on
her nerves. "When one wants a thing more than anything else in
the world," she said with outrageous frankness, "one naturally
wishes one had it."
She shocked him by that. She shattered the edifice he was
building up of himself as a devoted lover, waiting only his
chance to win her from a hopeless and consuming passion.
"Mr. Manning," she said, "I warned you not to idealize me. Men
ought not to idealize any woman. We aren't worth it. We've done
nothing to deserve it. And it hampers us. You don't know the
thoughts we have; the things we can do and say. You are a
sisterless man; you have never heard the ordinary talk that goes
on at a girls' boarding-school."
"Oh! but you ARE splendid and open and fearless! As if I couldn't
allow! What are all these little things? Nothing! Nothing! You
can't sully yourself. You can't! I tell you frankly you may
break off your engagement to me--I shall hold myself still
engaged to you, yours just the same. As for this
infatuation--it's like some obsession, some magic thing laid upon
you. It's not you--not a bit. It's a thing that's happened to
you. It is like some accident. I don't care. In a sense I
don't care. It makes no difference. . . . All the same, I wish
I had that fellow by the throat! Just the virile, unregenerate
man in me wishes that. . . .
"I suppose I should let go if I had.
"You know," he went on, "this doesn't seem to me to end anything.
I'm rather a persistent person. I'm the sort of dog, if you turn
it out of the room it lies down on the mat at the door. I'm not
a lovesick boy. I'm a man, and I know what I mean. It's a
tremendous blow, of course--but it doesn't kill me. And the
situation it makes!--the situation!"
Thus Manning, egotistical, inconsecutive, unreal. And Ann
Veronica walked beside him, trying in vain to soften her heart to
him by the thought of how she had ill-used him, and all the time,
as her feet and mind grew weary together, rejoicing more and more
that at the cost of this one interminable walk she escaped the
prospect of--what was it?--"Ten thousand days, ten thousand
nights" in his company. Whatever happened she need never return
to that possibility.
"For me," Manning went on, "this isn't final. In a sense it
alters nothing. I shall still wear your favor--even if it is a
stolen and forbidden favor--in my casque. . . . I shall still
believe in you. Trust you."
He repeated several times that he would trust her, though it
remained obscure just exactly where the trust came in.
"Look here," he cried out of a silence, with a sudden flash of
understanding, "did you mean to throw me over when you came out
with me this afternoon?"
Ann Veronica hesitated, and with a startled mind realized the
truth. "No," she answered, reluctantly.
"Very well," said Manning. "Then I don't take this as final.
That's all. I've bored you or something. . . . You think you
love this other man! No doubt you do love him. Before you have
He became darkly prophetic. He thrust out a rhetorical hand.
"I will MAKE you love me! Until he has faded--faded into a
memory. . ."
He saw her into the train at Waterloo, and stood, a tall, grave
figure, with hat upraised, as the carriage moved forward slowly
and hid him. Ann Veronica sat back with a sigh of relief.
Manning might go on now idealizing her as much as he liked. She
was no longer a confederate in that. He might go on as the
devoted lover until he tired. She had done forever with the Age
of Chivalry, and her own base adaptations of its traditions to
the compromising life. She was honest again.
But when she turned her thoughts to Morningside Park she
perceived the tangled skein of life was now to be further
complicated by his romantic importunity.
CHAPTER THE FOURTEENTH
THE COLLAPSE OF THE PENITENT
Spring had held back that year until the dawn of May, and then
spring and summer came with a rush together. Two days after this
conversation between Manning and Ann Veronica, Capes came into
the laboratory at lunch-time and found her alone there standing
by the open window, and not even pretending to be doing anything.
He came in with his hands in his trousers pockets and a general
air of depression in his bearing. He was engaged in detesting
Manning and himself in almost equal measure. His face brightened
at the sight of her, and he came toward her.
"What are you doing?" he asked.
"Nothing," said Ann Veronica, and stared over her shoulder out of
"So am I. . . . Lassitude?"
"I suppose so."
"_I_ can't work."
"Nor I," said Ann Veronica.
"It's the spring," he said. "It's the warming up of the year,
the coming of the light mornings, the way in which everything
begins to run about and begin new things. Work becomes
distasteful; one thinks of holidays. This year--I've got it
badly. I want to get away. I've never wanted to get away so
"Where do you go?"
"That's rather a fine sort of holiday!"
He made no answer for three or four seconds.
"Yes," he said, "I want to get away. I feel at moments as though
I could bolt for it. . . . Silly, isn't it? Undisciplined."
He went to the window and fidgeted with the blind, looking out to
where the tree-tops of Regent's Park showed distantly over the
houses. He turned round toward her and found her looking at him
and standing very still.
"It's the stir of spring," he said.
"I believe it is."
She glanced out of the window, and the distant trees were a froth
of hard spring green and almond blossom. She formed a wild
resolution, and, lest she should waver from it, she set about at
once to realize it. "I've broken off my engagement," she said,
in a matter-of-fact tone, and found her heart thumping in her
neck. He moved slightly, and she went on, with a slight catching
of her breath: "It's a bother and disturbance, but you see--"
She had to go through with it now, because she could think of
nothing but her preconceived words. Her voice was weak and flat.
"I've fallen in love."
He never helped her by a sound.
"I--I didn't love the man I was engaged to," she said. She met
his eyes for a moment, and could not interpret their expression.
They struck her as cold and indifferent.
Her heart failed her and her resolution became water. She
remained standing stiffly, unable even to move. She could not
look at him through an interval that seemed to her a vast gulf of
time. But she felt his lax figure become rigid.
At last his voice came to release her tension.
"I thought you weren't keeping up to the mark. You-- It's jolly
of you to confide in me. Still--" Then, with incredible and
obviously deliberate stupidity, and a voice as flat as her own,
he asked, "Who is the man?"
Her spirit raged within her at the dumbness, the paralysis that
had fallen upon her. Grace, confidence, the power of movement
even, seemed gone from her. A fever of shame ran through her
being. Horrible doubts assailed her. She sat down awkwardly and
helplessly on one of the little stools by her table and covered
her face with her hands.
"Can't you SEE how things are?" she said.
Before Capes could answer her in any way the door at the end of
the laboratory opened noisily and Miss Klegg appeared. She went
to her own table and sat down. At the sound of the door Ann
Veronica uncovered a tearless face, and with one swift movement
assumed a conversational attitude. Things hung for a moment in
an awkward silence.
"You see," said Ann Veronica, staring before her at the
window-sash, "that's the form my question takes at the present
Capes had not quite the same power of recovery. He stood with
his hands in his pockets looking at Miss Klegg's back. His face
was white. "It's--it's a difficult question." He appeared to be
paralyzed by abstruse acoustic calculations. Then, very
awkwardly, he took a stool and placed it at the end of Ann
Veronica's table, and sat down. He glanced at Miss Klegg again,
and spoke quickly and furtively, with eager eyes on Ann
"I had a faint idea once that things were as you say they are,
but the affair of the ring--of the unexpected ring--puzzled me.
Wish SHE"--he indicated Miss Klegg's back with a nod--"was at the
bottom of the sea. . . . I would like to talk to you about
this--soon. If you don't think it would be a social outrage,
perhaps I might walk with you to your railway station."
"I will wait," said Ann Veronica, still not looking at him, "and
we will go into Regent's Park. No--you shall come with me to
"Right!" he said, and hesitated, and then got up and went into
For a time they walked in silence through the back streets that
lead southward from the College. Capes bore a face of infinite
"The thing I feel most disposed to say, Miss Stanley," he began
at last, "is that this is very sudden."
"It's been coming on since first I came into the laboratory."
"What do you want?" he asked, bluntly.
"You!" said Ann Veronica.
The sense of publicity, of people coming and going about them,
kept them both unemotional. And neither had any of that
theatricality which demands gestures and facial expression.
"I suppose you know I like you tremendously?" he pursued.
"You told me that in the Zoological Gardens."
She found her muscles a-tremble. But there was nothing in her
bearing that a passer-by would have noted, to tell of the
excitement that possessed her.
"I"--he seemed to have a difficulty with the word--"I love you.
I've told you that practically already. But I can give it its
name now. You needn't be in any doubt about it. I tell you that
because it puts us on a footing. . . ."
They went on for a time without another word.
"But don't you know about me?" he said at last.
"Something. Not much."
"I'm a married man. And my wife won't live with me for reasons
that I think most women would consider sound. . . . Or I should
have made love to you long ago."
There came a silence again.
"I don't care," said Ann Veronica.
"But if you knew anything of that--"
"I did. It doesn't matter."
"Why did you tell me? I thought--I thought we were going to be
He was suddenly resentful. He seemed to charge her with the ruin
of their situation. "Why on earth did you TELL me?" he cried.
"I couldn't help it. It was an impulse. I HAD to."
"But it changes things. I thought you understood."
"I had to," she repeated. "I was sick of the make-believe. I
don't care! I'm glad I did. I'm glad I did."
"Look here!" said Capes, "what on earth do you want? What do you
think we can do? Don't you know what men are, and what life
is?--to come to me and talk to me like this!"
"I know--something, anyhow. But I don't care; I haven't a spark
of shame. I don't see any good in life if it hasn't got you in
it. I wanted you to know. And now you know. And the fences are
down for good. You can't look me in the eyes and say you don't
care for me."
"I've told you," he said.
"Very well," said Ann Veronica, with an air of concluding the
They walked side by side for a time.
"In that laboratory one gets to disregard these passions," began
Capes. "Men are curious animals, with a trick of falling in love
readily with girls about your age. One has to train one's self
not to. I've accustomed myself to think of you--as if you were
like every other girl who works at the schools--as something
quite outside these possibilities. If only out of loyalty to co-
education one has to do that. Apart from everything else, this
meeting of ours is a breach of a good rule."
"Rules are for every day," said Ann Veronica. "This is not every
day. This is something above all rules."
"Not for you?"
"No. No; I'm going to stick to the rules. . . . It's odd, but
nothing but cliche seems to meet this case. You've placed me in a
very exceptional position, Miss Stanley." The note of his own
voice exasperated him. "Oh, damn!" he said.
She made no answer, and for a time he debated some problems with
"No!" he said aloud at last.
"The plain common-sense of the case," he said, "is that we can't
possibly be lovers in the ordinary sense. That, I think, is
manifest. You know, I've done no work at all this afternoon.
I've been smoking cigarettes in the preparation-room and thinking
this out. We can't be lovers in the ordinary sense, but we can
be great and intimate friends."
"We are," said Ann Veronica.
"You've interested me enormously. . . ."
He paused with a sense of ineptitude. "I want to be your
friend," he said. "I said that at the Zoo, and I mean it. Let
us be friends--as near and close as friends can be."
Ann Veronica gave him a pallid profile.
"What is the good of pretending?" she said.
"We don't pretend."
"We do. Love is one thing and friendship quite another. Because
I'm younger than you. . . . I've got imagination. . . . I know
what I am talking about. Mr. Capes, do you think . . . do you
think I don't know the meaning of love?"
Capes made no answer for a time.
"My mind is full of confused stuff," he said at length. "I've
been thinking--all the afternoon. Oh, and weeks and months of
thought and feeling there are bottled up too. . . . I feel a
mixture of beast and uncle. I feel like a fraudulent trustee.
Every rule is against me-- Why did I let you begin this? I might
"I don't see that you could help--"
"I might have helped--"
"I ought to have--all the same.
"I wonder," he said, and went off at a tangent. "You know about
my scandalous past?"
"Very little. It doesn't seem to matter. Does it?"
"I think it does. Profoundly."
"It prevents our marrying. It forbids--all sorts of things."
"It can't prevent our loving."
"I'm afraid it can't. But, by Jove! it's going to make our
loving a fiercely abstract thing."
"You are separated from your wife?"
"Yes, but do you know how?"
"Why on earth--? A man ought to be labelled. You see, I'm
separated from my wife. But she doesn't and won't divorce me.
You don't understand the fix I am in. And you don't know what
led to our separation. And, in fact, all round the problem you
don't know and I don't see how I could possibly have told you
before. I wanted to, that day in the Zoo. But I trusted to that
ring of yours."
"Poor old ring!" said Ann Veronica.
"I ought never have gone to the Zoo, I suppose. I asked you to
go. But a man is a mixed creature. . . . I wanted the time with
you. I wanted it badly."
"Tell me about yourself," said Ann Veronica.
"To begin with, I was--I was in the divorce court. I was--I was a
co-respondent. You understand that term?"
Ann Veronica smiled faintly. "A modern girl does understand
these terms. She reads novels--and history --and all sorts of
things. Did you really doubt if I knew?"
"No. But I don't suppose you can understand."
"I don't see why I shouldn't."
"To know things by name is one thing; to know them by seeing them
and feeling them and being them quite another. That is where
life takes advantage of youth. You don't understand."
"Perhaps I don't."
"You don't. That's the difficulty. If I told you the facts, I
expect, since you are in love with me, you'd explain the whole
business as being very fine and honorable for me--the Higher
Morality, or something of that sort. . . . It wasn't."
"I don't deal very much," said Ann Veronica, "in the Higher
Morality, or the Higher Truth, or any of those things."
"Perhaps you don't. But a human being who is young and clean, as
you are, is apt to ennoble--or explain away."
"I've had a biological training. I'm a hard young woman."
"Nice clean hardness, anyhow. I think you are hard. There's
something--something ADULT about you. I'm talking to you now as
though you had all the wisdom and charity in the world. I'm
going to tell you things plainly. Plainly. It's best. And then
you can go home and think things over before we talk again. I
want you to be clear what you're really and truly up to, anyhow."
"I don't mind knowing," said Ann Veronica.
"It's precious unromantic."
"Well, tell me."
"I married pretty young," said Capes. "I've got--I have to tell
you this to make myself clear--a streak of ardent animal in my
composition. I married--I married a woman whom I still think one
of the most beautiful persons in the world. She is a year or so
older than I am, and she is, well, of a very serene and proud and
dignified temperament. If you met her you would, I am certain,
think her as fine as I do. She has never done a really ignoble
thing that I know of--never. I met her when we were both very
young, as young as you are. I loved her and made love to her,
and I don't think she quite loved me back in the same way."
He paused for a time. Ann Veronica said nothing.
"These are the sort of things that aren't supposed to happen.
They leave them out of novels--these incompatibilities. Young
people ignore them until they find themselves up against them.
My wife doesn't understand, doesn't understand now. She despises
me, I suppose. . . . We married, and for a time we were happy.
She was fine and tender. I worshipped her and subdued myself."
He left off abruptly. "Do you understand what I am talking
about? It's no good if you don't."
"I think so," said Ann Veronica, and colored. "In fact, yes, I
"Do you think of these things--these matters--as belonging to our
Higher Nature or our Lower?"
"I don't deal in Higher Things, I tell you," said Ann Veronica,
"or Lower, for the matter of that. I don't classify." She
hesitated. "Flesh and flowers are all alike to me."
"That's the comfort of you. Well, after a time there came a
fever in my blood. Don't think it was anything better than
fever--or a bit beautiful. It wasn't. Quite soon, after we were
married--it was just within a year--I formed a friendship with
the wife of a friend, a woman eight years older than myself. . .
. It wasn't anything splendid, you know. It was just a shabby,
stupid, furtive business that began between us. Like stealing.
We dressed it in a little music. . . . I want you to understand
clearly that I was indebted to the man in many small ways. I was
mean to him. . . . It was the gratification of an immense
necessity. We were two people with a craving. We felt like
thieves. We WERE thieves. . . . We LIKED each other well enough.
Well, my friend found us out, and would give no quarter. He
divorced her. How do you like the story?"
"Go on," said Ann Veronica, a little hoarsely, "tell me all of
"My wife was astounded--wounded beyond measure. She thought
me--filthy. All her pride raged at me. One particularly
humiliating thing came out--humiliating for me. There was a
second co-respondent. I hadn't heard of him before the trial. I
don't know why that should be so acutely humiliating. There's no
logic in these things. It was."
"Poor you!" said Ann Veronica.
"My wife refused absolutely to have anything more to do with me.
She could hardly speak to me; she insisted relentlessly upon a
separation. She had money of her own--much more than I have--and
there was no need to squabble about that. She has given herself
up to social work."
"That's all. Practically all. And yet-- Wait a little, you'd
better have every bit of it. One doesn't go about with these
passions allayed simply because they have made wreckage and a
scandal. There one is! The same stuff still! One has a craving
in one's blood, a craving roused, cut off from its redeeming and
guiding emotional side. A man has more freedom to do evil than a
woman. Irregularly, in a quite inglorious and unromantic way,
you know, I am a vicious man. That's --that's my private life.
Until the last few months. It isn't what I have been but what I
am. I haven't taken much account of it until now. My honor has
been in my scientific work and public discussion and the things I
write. Lots of us are like that. But, you see, I'm smirched.
For the sort of love-making you think about. I've muddled all
this business. I've had my time and lost my chances. I'm
damaged goods. And you're as clean as fire. You come with those
clear eyes of yours, as valiant as an angel. . . ."
He stopped abruptly.
"Well?" she said.
"It's so strange to think of you--troubled by such things. I
didn't think-- I don't know what I thought. Suddenly all this
makes you human. Makes you real."
"But don't you see how I must stand to you? Don't you see how it
bars us from being lovers-- You can't --at first. You must think
it over. It's all outside the world of your experience."
"I don't think it makes a rap of difference, except for one
thing. I love you more. I've wanted you--always. I didn't
dream, not even in my wildest dreaming, that--you might have any
need of me."
He made a little noise in his throat as if something had cried
out within him, and for a time they were both too full for
They were going up the slope into Waterloo Station.
"You go home and think of all this," he said, "and talk about it
to-morrow. Don't, don't say anything now, not anything. As for
loving you, I do. I do--with all my heart. It's no good hiding
it any more. I could never have talked to you like this,
forgetting everything that parts us, forgetting even your age, if
I did not love you utterly. If I were a clean, free man--We'll
have to talk of all these things. Thank goodness there's plenty
of opportunity! And we two can talk. Anyhow, now you've begun
it, there's nothing to keep us in all this from being the best
friends in the world. And talking of every conceivable thing. Is
"Nothing," said Ann Veronica, with a radiant face.
"Before this there was a sort of restraint--a make-believe. It's
"Friendship and love being separate things. And that confounded
They came upon a platform, and stood before her compartment.
He took her hand and looked into her eyes and spoke, divided
against himself, in a voice that was forced and insincere.
"I shall be very glad to have you for a friend," he said, "loving
friend. I had never dreamed of such a friend as you."
She smiled, sure of herself beyond any pretending, into his
troubled eyes. Hadn't they settled that already?
"I want you as a friend," he persisted, almost as if he disputed something.
The next morning she waited in the laboratory at the lunch-hour
in the reasonable certainty that he would come to her.
"Well, you have thought it over?" he said, sitting down beside her.
"I've been thinking of you all night," she answered.
"I don't care a rap for all these things."
He said nothing for a space.
"I don't see there's any getting away from the fact that you and
I love each other," he said, slowly. "So far you've got me and I
you. . . . You've got me. I'm like a creature just wakened up.
My eyes are open to you. I keep on thinking of you. I keep on
thinking of little details and aspects of your voice, your eyes,
the way you walk, the way your hair goes back from the side of
your forehead. I believe I have always been in love with you.
Always. Before ever I knew you."
She sat motionless, with her hand tightening over the edge of the
table, and he, too, said no more. She began to tremble
He stood up abruptly and went to the window.
"We have," he said, "to be the utmost friends."
She stood up and held her arms toward him. "I want you to kiss
me," she said.
He gripped the window-sill behind him.
"If I do," he said. . . . "No! I want to do without that. I
want to do without that for a time. I want to give you time to
think. I am a man--of a sort of experience. You are a girl with
very little. Just sit down on that stool again and let's talk of
this in cold blood. People of your sort-- I don't want the
instincts to--to rush our situation. Are you sure what it is you
want of me?"
"I want you. I want you to be my lover. I want to give myself
to you. I want to be whatever I can to you." She paused for a
moment. "Is that plain?" she asked.
"If I didn't love you better than myself," said Capes, "I
wouldn't fence like this with you.
"I am convinced you haven't thought this out," he went on. "You
do not know what such a relation means. We are in love. Our
heads swim with the thought of being together. But what can we
do? Here am I, fixed to respectability and this laboratory;
you're living at home. It means . . . just furtive meetings."
"I don't care how we meet," she said.
"It will spoil your life."
"It will make it. I want you. I am clear I want you. You are
different from all the world for me. You can think all round me.
You are the one person I can understand and feel--feel right
with. I don't idealize you. Don't imagine that. It isn't
because you're good, but because I may be rotten bad; and there's
something--something living and understanding in you. Something
that is born anew each time we meet, and pines when we are
separated. You see, I'm selfish. I'm rather scornful. I think
too much about myself. You're the only person I've really given
good, straight, unselfish thought to. I'm making a mess of my
life--unless you come in and take it. I am. In you--if you can
love me--there is salvation. Salvation. I know what I am doing
better than you do. Think--think of that engagement!"
Their talk had come to eloquent silences that contradicted all he
had to say.
She stood up before him, smiling faintly.
"I think we've exhausted this discussion," she said.
"I think we have," he answered, gravely, and took her in his
arms, and smoothed her hair from her forehead, and very tenderly
kissed her lips.
They spent the next Sunday in Richmond Park, and mingled the
happy sensation of being together uninterruptedly through the
long sunshine of a summer's day with the ample discussion of
their position. "This has all the clean freshness of spring and
youth," said Capes; "it is love with the down on; it is like the
glitter of dew in the sunlight to be lovers such as we are, with
no more than one warm kiss between us. I love everything to-day,
and all of you, but I love this, this--this innocence upon us
most of all.
"You can't imagine," he said, "what a beastly thing a furtive
love affair can be.
"This isn't furtive," said Ann Veronica.
"Not a bit of it. And we won't make it so. . . . We mustn't
make it so."
They loitered under trees, they sat on mossy banks they gossiped
on friendly benches, they came back to lunch at the "Star and
Garter," and talked their afternoon away in the garden that looks
out upon the crescent of the river. They had a universe to talk
"What are we going to do?" said Capes, with his eyes on the broad
distances beyond the ribbon of the river.
"I will do whatever you want," said Ann Veronica.
"My first love was all blundering," said Capes.
He thought for a moment, and went on: "Love is something that
has to be taken care of. One has to be so careful. . . . It's a
beautiful plant, but a tender one. . . . I didn't know. I've a
dread of love dropping its petals, becoming mean and ugly. How
can I tell you all I feel? I love you beyond measure. And I'm
afraid. . . . I'm anxious, joyfully anxious, like a man when he
has found a treasure."
"YOU know," said Ann Veronica. "I just came to you and put
myself in your hands."
"That's why, in a way, I'm prudish. I've--dreads. I don't want
to tear at you with hot, rough hands."
"As you will, dear lover. But for me it doesn't matter. Nothing
is wrong that you do. Nothing. I am quite clear about this. I
know exactly what I am doing. I give myself to you."
"God send you may never repent it!" cried Capes.
She put her hand in his to be squeezed.
"You see," he said, "it is doubtful if we can ever marry. Very
doubtful. I have been thinking-- I will go to my wife again. I
will do my utmost. But for a long time, anyhow, we lovers have
to be as if we were no more than friends."
He paused. She answered slowly. "That is as you will," she
"Why should it matter?" he said.
And then, as she answered nothing, "Seeing that we are lovers."
It was rather less than a week after that walk that Capes came
and sat down beside Ann Veronica for their customary talk in the
lunch hour. He took a handful of almonds and raisins that she
held out to him--for both these young people had given up the
practice of going out for luncheon--and kept her hand for a
moment to kiss her finger-tips. He did not speak for a moment.
"Well?" she said.
"I say!" he said, without any movement. "Let's go."
"Go!" She did not understand him at first, and then her heart
began to beat very rapidly.
"Stop this--this humbugging," he explained. "It's like the
Picture and the Bust. I can't stand it. Let's go. Go off and
live together--until we can marry. Dare you?"
"Do you mean NOW?"
"At the end of the session. It's the only clean way for us. Are
you prepared to do it?"
Her hands clenched. "Yes," she said, very faintly. And then:
"Of course! Always. It is what I have wanted, what I have meant
She stared before her, trying to keep back a rush of tears.
Capes kept obstinately stiff, and spoke between his teeth.
"There's endless reasons, no doubt, why we shouldn't," he said.
"Endless. It's wrong in the eyes of most people. For many of
them it will smirch us forever. . . . You DO understand?"
"Who cares for most people?" she said, not looking at him.
"I do. It means social isolation--struggle."
"If you dare--I dare," said Ann Veronica. "I was never so clear
in all my life as I have been in this business." She lifted
steadfast eyes to him. "Dare!" she said. The tears were welling
over now, but her voice was steady. "You're not a man for
me--not one of a sex, I mean. You're just a particular being
with nothing else in the world to class with you. You are just
necessary to life for me. I've never met any one like you. To
have you is all important. Nothing else weighs against it.
Morals only begin when that is settled. I sha'n't care a rap if
we can never marry. I'm not a bit afraid of anything--scandal,
difficulty, struggle. . . . I rather want them. I do want
"You'll get them," he said. "This means a plunge."
"Are you afraid?"
"Only for you! Most of my income will vanish. Even unbelieving
biological demonstrators must respect decorum; and besides, you
see--you were a student. We shall have--hardly any money."
"I don't care."
"Hardship and danger."
"And as for your people?"
"They don't count. That is the dreadful truth. This--all this
swamps them. They don't count, and I don't care."
Capes suddenly abandoned his attitude of meditative restraint.
"By Jove!" he broke out, "one tries to take a serious, sober
view. I don't quite know why. But this is a great lark, Ann
Veronica! This turns life into a glorious adventure!"
"Ah!" she cried in triumph.
"I shall have to give up biology, anyhow. I've always had a
sneaking desire for the writing-trade. That is what I must do.
"Of course you can."
"And biology was beginning to bore me a bit. One research is
very like another. . . . Latterly I've been doing things. . . .
Creative work appeals to me wonderfully. Things seem to come
rather easily. . . . But that, and that sort of thing, is just a
day-dream. For a time I must do journalism and work hard. . . .
What isn't a day-dream is this: that you and I are going to put
an end to flummery--and go!"
"Go!" said Ann Veronica, clenching her hands.
"For better or worse."
"For richer or poorer."
She could not go on, for she was laughing and crying at the same
time. "We were bound to do this when you kissed me," she sobbed
through her tears. "We have been all this time-- Only your queer
code of honor-- Honor! Once you begin with love you have to see
CHAPTER THE FIFTEENTH
THE LAST DAYS AT HOME
They decided to go to Switzerland at the session's end. "We'll
clean up everything tidy," said Capes. . . .
For her pride's sake, and to save herself from long day-dreams
and an unappeasable longing for her lover, Ann Veronica worked
hard at her biology during those closing weeks. She was, as
Capes had said, a hard young woman. She was keenly resolved to
do well in the school examination, and not to be drowned in the
seas of emotion that threatened to submerge her intellectual
Nevertheless, she could not prevent a rising excitement as the
dawn of the new life drew near to her--a thrilling of the nerves,
a secret and delicious exaltation above the common circumstances
of existence. Sometimes her straying mind would become
astonishingly active--embroidering bright and decorative things
that she could say to Capes; sometimes it passed into a state of
passive acquiescence, into a radiant, formless, golden joy. She
was aware of people--her aunt, her father, her fellow-students,
friends, and neighbors--moving about outside this glowing secret,
very much as an actor is aware of the dim audience beyond the
barrier of the footlights. They might applaud, or object, or
interfere, but the drama was her very own. She was going through
with that, anyhow.
The feeling of last days grew stronger with her as their number
diminished. She went about the familiar home with a clearer and
clearer sense of inevitable conclusions. She became exceptionally
considerate and affectionate with her father and aunt, and more
and more concerned about the coming catastrophe that she was
about to precipitate upon them. Her aunt had a once exasperating
habit of interrupting her work with demands for small household
services, but now Ann Veronica rendered them with a queer
readiness of anticipatory propitiation. She was greatly exercised
by the problem of confiding in the Widgetts; they were dears, and
she talked away two evenings with Constance without broaching the
topic; she made some vague intimations in letters to Miss Miniver
that Miss Miniver failed to mark. But she did not bother her
head very much about her relations with these sympathizers.
And at length her penultimate day in Morningside Park dawned for
her. She got up early, and walked about the garden in the dewy
June sunshine and revived her childhood. She was saying good-bye
to childhood and home, and her making; she was going out into the
great, multitudinous world; this time there would be no
returning. She was at the end of girlhood and on the eve of a
woman's crowning experience. She visited the corner that had
been her own little garden--her forget-me-nots and candytuft had
long since been elbowed into insignificance by weeds; she visited
the raspberry-canes that had sheltered that first love affair
with the little boy in velvet, and the greenhouse where she had
been wont to read her secret letters. Here was the place behind
the shed where she had used to hide from Roddy's persecutions,
and here the border of herbaceous perennials under whose stems
was fairyland. The back of the house had been the Alps for
climbing, and the shrubs in front of it a Terai. The knots and
broken pale that made the garden-fence scalable, and gave access
to the fields behind, were still to be traced. And here against
a wall were the plum-trees. In spite of God and wasps and her
father, she had stolen plums; and once because of discovered
misdeeds, and once because she had realized that her mother was
dead, she had lain on her face in the unmown grass, beneath the
elm-trees that came beyond the vegetables, and poured out her
soul in weeping.
Remote little Ann Veronica! She would never know the heart of
that child again! That child had loved fairy princes with velvet
suits and golden locks, and she was in love with a real man named
Capes, with little gleams of gold on his cheek and a pleasant
voice and firm and shapely hands. She was going to him soon and
certainly, going to his strong, embracing arms. She was going
through a new world with him side by side. She had been so busy
with life that, for a vast gulf of time, as it seemed, she had
given no thought to those ancient, imagined things of her
childhood. Now, abruptly, they were real again, though very
distant, and she had come to say farewell to them across one
She was unusually helpful at breakfast, and unselfish about the
eggs: and then she went off to catch the train before her
father's. She did this to please him. He hated travelling
second-class with her--indeed, he never did--but he also disliked
travelling in the same train when his daughter was in an inferior
class, because of the look of the thing. So he liked to go by a
different train. And in the Avenue she had an encounter with
It was an odd little encounter, that left vague and dubitable
impressions in her mind. She was aware of him--a silk-hatted,
shiny-black figure on the opposite side of the Avenue; and then,
abruptly and startlingly, he crossed the road and saluted and
spoke to her.
"I MUST speak to you," he said. "I can't keep away from you."
She made some inane response. She was struck by a change in his
appearance. His eyes looked a little bloodshot to her; his face
had lost something of its ruddy freshness.
He began a jerky, broken conversation that lasted until they
reached the station, and left her puzzled at its drift and
meaning. She quickened her pace, and so did he, talking at her
slightly averted ear. She made lumpish and inadequate
interruptions rather than replies. At times he seemed to be
claiming pity from her; at times he was threatening her with her
check and exposure; at times he was boasting of his inflexible
will, and how, in the end, he always got what he wanted. He said
that his life was boring and stupid without her. Something or
other--she did not catch what--he was damned if he could stand.
He was evidently nervous, and very anxious to be impressive; his
projecting eyes sought to dominate. The crowning aspect of the
incident, for her mind, was the discovery that he and her
indiscretion with him no longer mattered very much. Its
importance had vanished with her abandonment of compromise. Even
her debt to him was a triviality now.
And of course! She had a brilliant idea. It surprised her she
hadn't thought of it before! She tried to explain that she was
going to pay him forty pounds without fail next week. She said
as much to him. She repeated this breathlessly.
"I was glad you did not send it back again," he said.
He touched a long-standing sore, and Ann Veronica found herself
vainly trying to explain--the inexplicable. "It's because I mean
to send it back altogether," she said.
He ignored her protests in order to pursue some impressive line
of his own.
"Here we are, living in the same suburb," he began. "We have to
Her heart leaped within her as she caught that phrase. That knot
also would be cut. Modern, indeed! She was going to be as
primordial as chipped flint.
In the late afternoon, as Ann Veronica was gathering flowers for
the dinner-table, her father came strolling across the lawn
toward her with an affectation of great deliberation.
"I want to speak to you about a little thing, Vee," said Mr.
Ann Veronica's tense nerves started, and she stood still with her
eyes upon him, wondering what it might be that impended.
"You were talking to that fellow Ramage to-day--in the Avenue.
Walking to the station with him."
So that was it!
"He came and talked to me."
"Ye--e--es. "Mr. Stanley considered. "Well, I don't want you to
talk to him," he said, very firmly.
Ann Veronica paused before she answered. "Don't you think I
ought to?" she asked, very submissively.
"No." Mr. Stanley coughed and faced toward the house. "He is
not-- I don't like him. I think it inadvisable-- I don't want an
intimacy to spring up between you and a man of that type."
Ann Veronica reflected. "I HAVE--had one or two talks with him,
"Don't let there be any more. I-- In fact, I dislike him
"Suppose he comes and talks to me?"
"A girl can always keep a man at a distance if she cares to do
it. She-- She can snub him."
Ann Veronica picked a cornflower.
"I wouldn't make this objection," Mr. Stanley went on, "but there
are things--there are stories about Ramage. He's--He lives in a
world of possibilities outside your imagination. His treatment
of his wife is most unsatisfactory. Most unsatisfactory. A bad
man, in fact. A dissipated, loose-living man."
"I'll try not to see him again," said Ann Veronica. "I didn't
know you objected to him, daddy."
"Strongly," said Mr. Stanley, "very strongly."
The conversation hung. Ann Veronica wondered what her father
would do if she were to tell him the full story of her relations
"A man like that taints a girl by looking at her, by his mere
conversation." He adjusted his glasses on his nose. There was
another little thing he had to say. "One has to be so careful of
one's friends and acquaintances," he remarked, by way of
transition. "They mould one insensibly." His voice assumed an
easy detached tone. "I suppose, Vee, you don't see much of those
"I go in and talk to Constance sometimes."
"We were great friends at school."
"No doubt. . . . Still--I don't know whether I quite
like--Something ramshackle about those people, Vee. While I am
talking about your friends, I feel--I think you ought to know how
I look at it." His voice conveyed studied moderation. "I don't
mind, of course, your seeing her sometimes, still there are
differences--differences in social atmospheres. One gets drawn
into things. Before you know where you are you find yourself in
a complication. I don't want to influence you
unduly--But--They're artistic people, Vee. That's the fact about
them. We're different."
"I suppose we are," said Vee, rearranging the flowers in her
"Friendships that are all very well between school-girls don't
always go on into later life. It's--it's a social difference."
"I like Constance very much."
"No doubt. Still, one has to be reasonable. As you admitted to
me--one has to square one's self with the world. You don't know.
With people of that sort all sorts of things may happen. We
don't want things to happen."
Ann Veronica made no answer.
A vague desire to justify himself ruffled her father. "I may seem
unduly--anxious. I can't forget about your sister. It's that
has always made me--SHE, you know, was drawn into a set--didn't
discriminate Private theatricals."
Ann Veronica remained anxious to hear more of her sister's story
from her father's point of view, but he did not go on. Even so
much allusion as this to that family shadow, she felt, was an
immense recognition of her ripening years. She glanced at him.
He stood a little anxious and fussy, bothered by the
responsibility of her, entirely careless of what her life was or
was likely to be, ignoring her thoughts and feelings, ignorant of
every fact of importance in her life, explaining everything he
could not understand in her as nonsense and perversity, concerned
only with a terror of bothers and undesirable situations. "We
don't want things to happen!" Never had he shown his daughter so
clearly that the womenkind he was persuaded he had to protect and
control could please him in one way, and in one way only, and
that was by doing nothing except the punctual domestic duties and
being nothing except restful appearances. He had quite enough to
see to and worry about in the City without their doing things. He
had no use for Ann Veronica; he had never had a use for her since
she had been too old to sit upon his knee. Nothing but the
constraint of social usage now linked him to her. And the less
"anything" happened the better. The less she lived, in fact, the
better. These realizations rushed into Ann Veronica's mind and
hardened her heart against him. She spoke slowly. "I may not
see the Widgetts for some little time, father," she said. "I
don't think I shall."
"Some little tiff?"
"No; but I don't think I shall see them."
Suppose she were to add, "I am going away!"
"I'm glad to hear you say it," said Mr. Stanley, and was so
evidently pleased that Ann Veronica's heart smote her.
"I am very glad to hear you say it," he repeated, and refrained
from further inquiry. "I think we are growing sensible," he
said. "I think you are getting to understand me better."
He hesitated, and walked away from her toward the house. Her
eyes followed him. The curve of his shoulders, the very angle of
his feet, expressed relief at her apparent obedience. "Thank
goodness!" said that retreating aspect, "that's said and over.
Vee's all right. There's nothing happened at all!" She didn't
mean, he concluded, to give him any more trouble ever, and he was
free to begin a fresh chromatic novel--he had just finished the
Blue Lagoon, which he thought very beautiful and tender and
absolutely irrelevant to Morningside Park--or work in peace at
his microtome without bothering about her in the least.
The immense disillusionment that awaited him! The devastating
disillusionment! She had a vague desire to run after him, to
state her case to him, to wring some understanding from him of
what life was to her. She felt a cheat and a sneak to his
unsuspecting retreating back.
"But what can one do?" asked Ann Veronica.
She dressed carefully for dinner in a black dress that her father
liked, and that made her look serious and responsible. Dinner
was quite uneventful. Her father read a draft prospectus warily,
and her aunt dropped fragments of her projects for managing while
the cook had a holiday. After dinner Ann Veronica went into the
drawing-room with Miss Stanley, and her father went up to his den
for his pipe and pensive petrography. Later in the evening she
heard him whistling, poor man!
She felt very restless and excited. She refused coffee, though
she knew that anyhow she was doomed to a sleepless night. She
took up one of her father's novels and put it down again, fretted
up to her own room for some work, sat on her bed and meditated
upon the room that she was now really abandoning forever, and
returned at length with a stocking to darn. Her aunt was making
herself cuffs out of little slips of insertion under the newly
Ann Veronica sat down in the other arm-chair and darned badly for
a minute or so. Then she looked at her aunt, and traced with a
curious eye the careful arrangement of her hair, her sharp nose,
the little drooping lines of mouth and chin and cheek.
Her thought spoke aloud. "Were you ever in love, aunt?" she
Her aunt glanced up startled, and then sat very still, with hands
that had ceased to work. "What makes you ask such a question,
Vee?" she said.
Her aunt answered in a low voice: "I was engaged to him, dear,
for seven years, and then he died."
Ann Veronica made a sympathetic little murmur.
"He was in holy orders, and we were to have been married when he
got a living. He was a Wiltshire Edmondshaw, a very old family."
She sat very still.
Ann Veronica hesitated with a question that had leaped up in her
mind, and that she felt was cruel. "Are you sorry you waited,
aunt?" she said.
Her aunt was a long time before she answered. "His stipend
forbade it," she said, and seemed to fall into a train of
thought. "It would have been rash and unwise," she said at the
end of a meditation. "What he had was altogether insufficient."
Ann Veronica looked at the mildly pensive gray eyes and the
comfortable, rather refined face with a penetrating curiosity.
Presently her aunt sighed deeply and looked at the clock. "Time
for my Patience," she said. She got up, put the neat cuffs she
had made into her work-basket, and went to the bureau for the
little cards in the morocco case. Ann Veronica jumped up to get
her the card-table. "I haven't seen the new Patience, dear," she
said. "May I sit beside you?"
"It's a very difficult one," said her aunt. "Perhaps you will
help me shuffle?"
Ann Veronica did, and also assisted nimbly with the arrangements
of the rows of eight with which the struggle began. Then she sat
watching the play, sometimes offering a helpful suggestion,
sometimes letting her attention wander to the smoothly shining
arms she had folded across her knees just below the edge of the
table. She was feeling extraordinarily well that night, so that
the sense of her body was a deep delight, a realization of a
gentle warmth and strength and elastic firmness. Then she
glanced at the cards again, over which her aunt's many-ringed
hand played, and then at the rather weak, rather plump face that
surveyed its operations.
It came to Ann Veronica that life was wonderful beyond measure.
It seemed incredible that she and her aunt were, indeed,
creatures of the same blood, only by a birth or so different
beings, and part of that same broad interlacing stream of human
life that has invented the fauns and nymphs, Astarte, Aphrodite,
Freya, and all the twining beauty of the gods. The love-songs of
all the ages were singing in her blood, the scent of night stock
from the garden filled the air, and the moths that beat upon the
closed frames of the window next the lamp set her mind dreaming
of kisses in the dusk. Yet her aunt, with a ringed hand flitting
to her lips and a puzzled, worried look in her eyes, deaf to all
this riot of warmth and flitting desire, was playing
Patience--playing Patience, as if Dionysius and her curate had
died together. A faint buzz above the ceiling witnessed that
petrography, too, was active. Gray and tranquil world! Amazing,
passionless world! A world in which days without meaning, days
in which "we don't want things to happen" followed days without
meaning--until the last thing happened, the ultimate,
unavoidable, coarse, "disagreeable." It was her last evening in
that wrappered life against which she had rebelled. Warm reality
was now so near her she could hear it beating in her ears. Away
in London even now Capes was packing and preparing; Capes, the
magic man whose touch turned one to trembling fire. What was he
doing? What was he thinking? It was less than a day now, less
than twenty hours. Seventeen hours, sixteen hours. She glanced
at the soft-ticking clock with the exposed brass pendulum upon
the white marble mantel, and made a rapid calculation. To be
exact, it was just sixteen hours and twenty minutes. The slow
stars circled on to the moment of their meeting. The softly
glittering summer stars! She saw them shining over mountains of
snow, over valleys of haze and warm darkness. . . . There would
be no moon.
"I believe after all it's coming out!" said Miss Stanley. "The
aces made it easy."
Ann Veronica started from her reverie, sat up in her chair,
became attentive. "Look, dear," she said presently, "you can put
the ten on the Jack."
CHAPTER THE SIXTEENTH
IN THE MOUNTAINS
Next day Ann Veronica and Capes felt like newborn things. It
seemed to them they could never have been really alive before,
but only dimly anticipating existence. They sat face to face
beneath an experienced-looking rucksack and a brand new
portmanteau and a leather handbag, in the afternoon-boat train
that goes from Charing Cross to Folkestone for Boulogne. They
tried to read illustrated papers in an unconcerned manner and
with forced attention, lest they should catch the leaping
exultation in each other's eyes. And they admired Kent sedulously
from the windows.
They crossed the Channel in sunshine and a breeze that just
ruffled the sea to glittering scales of silver. Some of the
people who watched them standing side by side thought they must
be newly wedded because of their happy faces, and others that
they were an old-established couple because of their easy
confidence in each other.
At Boulogne they took train to Basle; next morning they
breakfasted together in the buffet of that station, and thence
they caught the Interlaken express, and so went by way of Spies
to Frutigen. There was no railway beyond Frutigen in those
days; they sent their baggage by post to Kandersteg, and walked
along the mule path to the left of the stream to that queer
hollow among the precipices, Blau See, where the petrifying
branches of trees lie in the blue deeps of an icy lake, and
pine-trees clamber among gigantic boulders. A little inn flying
a Swiss flag nestles under a great rock, and there they put aside
their knapsacks and lunched and rested in the mid-day shadow of
the gorge and the scent of resin. And later they paddled in a
boat above the mysterious deeps of the See, and peered down into
the green-blues and the blue-greens together. By that time it
seemed to them they had lived together twenty years.
Except for one memorable school excursion to Paris, Ann Veronica
had never yet been outside England. So that it seemed to her the
whole world had changed--the very light of it had changed.
Instead of English villas and cottages there were chalets and
Italian-built houses shining white; there were lakes of emerald
and sapphire and clustering castles, and such sweeps of hill and
mountain, such shining uplands of snow, as she had never seen
before. Everything was fresh and bright, from the kindly manners
of the Frutigen cobbler, who hammered mountain nails into her
boots, to the unfamiliar wild flowers that spangled the wayside.
And Capes had changed into the easiest and jolliest companion in
the world. The mere fact that he was there in the train
alongside her, helping her, sitting opposite to her in the
dining-car, presently sleeping on a seat within a yard of her,
made her heart sing until she was afraid their fellow passengers
would hear it. It was too good to be true. She would not sleep
for fear of losing a moment of that sense of his proximity. To
walk beside him, dressed akin to him, rucksacked and
companionable, was bliss in itself; each step she took was like
stepping once more across the threshold of heaven.
One trouble, however, shot its slanting bolts athwart the shining
warmth of that opening day and marred its perfection, and that
was the thought of her father.
She had treated him badly; she had hurt him and her aunt; she had
done wrong by their standards, and she would never persuade them
that she had done right. She thought of her father in the garden,
and of her aunt with her Patience, as she had seen them--how many
ages was it ago? Just one day intervened. She felt as if she
had struck them unawares. The thought of them distressed her
without subtracting at all from the oceans of happiness in which
she swam. But she wished she could put the thing she had done in
some way to them so that it would not hurt them so much as the
truth would certainly do. The thought of their faces, and
particularly of her aunt's, as it would meet the fact--
disconcerted, unfriendly, condemning, pained--occurred to her
again and again.
"Oh! I wish," she said, "that people thought alike about these
Capes watched the limpid water dripping from his oar. "I wish
they did," he said, "but they don't."
"I feel-- All this is the rightest of all conceivable things. I
want to tell every one. I want to boast myself."
"I told them a lie. I told them lies. I wrote three letters
yesterday and tore them up. It was so hopeless to put it to
them. At last--I told a story."
"You didn't tell them our position?"
"I implied we had married."
"They'll find out. They'll know."
"Sooner or later."
"Possibly--bit by bit. . . . But it was hopelessly hard to put.
I said I knew he disliked and distrusted you and your work--that
you shared all Russell's opinions: he hates Russell beyond
measure--and that we couldn't possibly face a conventional
marriage. What else could one say? I left him to suppose--a
registry perhaps. . . ."
Capes let his oar smack on the water.
"Do you mind very much?"
He shook his head.
"But it makes me feel inhuman," he added.
"And me. . . ."
"It's the perpetual trouble," he said, "of parent and child.
They can't help seeing things in the way they do. Nor can we.
WE don't think they're right, but they don't think we are. A
deadlock. In a very definite sense we are in the
wrong--hopelessly in the wrong. But--It's just this: who was to
"I wish no one had to be hurt," said Ann Veronica. "When one is
happy--I don't like to think of them. Last time I left home I
felt as hard as nails. But this is all different. It is
"There's a sort of instinct of rebellion," said Capes. "It isn't
anything to do with our times particularly. People think it is,
but they are wrong. It's to do with adolescence. Long before
religion and Society heard of Doubt, girls were all for midnight
coaches and Gretna Green. It's a sort of home-leaving instinct."
He followed up a line of thought.
"There's another instinct, too," he went on, "in a state of
suppression, unless I'm very much mistaken; a child-expelling
instinct. . . . I wonder. . . . There's no family uniting
instinct, anyhow; it's habit and sentiment and material
convenience hold families together after adolescence. There's
always friction, conflict, unwilling concessions. Always! I
don't believe there is any strong natural affection at all
between parents and growing-up children. There wasn't, I know,
between myself and my father. I didn't allow myself to see
things as they were in those days; now I do. I bored him. I
hated him. I suppose that shocks one's ideas. . . . It's true.
. . . There are sentimental and traditional deferences and
reverences, I know, between father and son; but that's just
exactly what prevents the development of an easy friendship.
Father-worshipping sons are abnormal--and they're no good. No
good at all. One's got to be a better man than one's father, or
what is the good of successive generations? Life is rebellion,
He rowed a stroke and watched the swirl of water from his oar
broaden and die away. At last he took up his thoughts again: "I
wonder if, some day, one won't need to rebel against customs and
laws? If this discord will have gone? Some day, perhaps--who
knows?--the old won't coddle and hamper the young, and the young
won't need to fly in the faces of the old. They'll face facts as
facts, and understand. Oh, to face facts! Gods! what a world it
might be if people faced facts! Understanding! Understanding!
There is no other salvation. Some day older people, perhaps,
will trouble to understand younger people, and there won't be
these fierce disruptions; there won't be barriers one must defy
or perish. . . . That's really our choice now, defy--or
futility. . . . The world, perhaps, will be educated out of its
idea of fixed standards. . . . I wonder, Ann Veronica, if, when
our time comes, we shall be any wiser?"
Ann Veronica watched a water-beetle fussing across the green
depths. "One can't tell. I'm a female thing at bottom. I like
high tone for a flourish and stars and ideas; but I want my
"It's odd--I have no doubt in my mind that what we are doing is
wrong," he said. "And yet I do it without compunction."
"I never felt so absolutely right," said Ann Veronica.
"You ARE a female thing at bottom," he admitted. "I'm not nearly
so sure as you. As for me, I look twice at it. . . . Life is
two things, that's how I see it; two things mixed and muddled up
together. Life is morality--life is adventure. Squire and
master. Adventure rules, and morality--looks up the trains in the
Bradshaw. Morality tells you what is right, and adventure moves
you. If morality means anything it means keeping bounds,
respecting implications, respecting implicit bounds. If
individuality means anything it means breaking bounds--adventure.
Will you be moral and your species, or immoral and yourself?
We've decided to be immoral. We needn't try and give ourselves
airs. We've deserted the posts in which we found ourselves, cut
our duties, exposed ourselves to risks that may destroy any sort
of social usefulness in us. . . . I don't know. One keeps rules
in order to be one's self. One studies Nature in order not to be
blindly ruled by her. There's no sense in morality, I suppose,
unless you are fundamentally immoral."
She watched his face as he traced his way through these
"Look at our affair," he went on, looking up at her. "No power on
earth will persuade me we're not two rather disreputable persons.
You desert your home; I throw up useful teaching, risk every hope
in your career. Here we are absconding, pretending to be what we
are not; shady, to say the least of it. It's not a bit of good
pretending there's any Higher Truth or wonderful principle in
this business. There isn't. We never started out in any
high-browed manner to scandalize and Shelleyfy. When first you
left your home you had no idea that _I_ was the hidden impulse.
I wasn't. You came out like an ant for your nuptial flight. It
was just a chance that we in particular hit against each
other--nothing predestined about it. We just hit against each
other, and here we are flying off at a tangent, a little
surprised at what we are doing, all our principles abandoned, and
tremendously and quite unreasonably proud of ourselves. Out of
all this we have struck a sort of harmony. . . . And it's
"Glorious!" said Ann Veronica.
"Would YOU like us--if some one told you the bare outline of our
story?--and what we are doing?"
"I shouldn't mind," said Ann Veronica.
"But if some one else asked your advice? If some one else said,
'Here is my teacher, a jaded married man on the verge of middle
age, and he and I have a violent passion for one another. We
propose to disregard all our ties, all our obligations, all the
established prohibitions of society, and begin life together
afresh.' What would you tell her?"
"If she asked advice, I should say she wasn't fit to do anything
of the sort. I should say that having a doubt was enough to
"But waive that point."
Back to Full Books