H. G. Wells
Part 7 out of 7
"It would be different all the same. It wouldn't be you."
"It wouldn't be you either. I suppose that's the gist of the
whole thing." He stared at a little eddy. "The rule's all right,
so long as there isn't a case. Rules are for established things,
like the pieces and positions of a game. Men and women are not
established things; they're experiments, all of them. Every
human being is a new thing, exists to do new things. Find the
thing you want to do most intensely, make sure that's it, and do
it with all your might. If you live, well and good; if you die,
well and good. Your purpose is done. . . . Well, this is OUR
He woke the glassy water to swirling activity again, and made the
deep-blue shapes below writhe and shiver.
"This is MY thing," said Ann Veronica, softly, with thoughtful
eyes upon him.
Then she looked up the sweep of pine-trees to the towering
sunlit cliffs and the high heaven above and then back to his
face. She drew in a deep breath of the sweet mountain air. Her
eyes were soft and grave, and there was the faintest of smiles
upon her resolute lips.
Later they loitered along a winding path above the inn, and made
love to one another. Their journey had made them indolent, the
afternoon was warm, and it seemed impossible to breathe a sweeter
air. The flowers and turf, a wild strawberry, a rare butterfly,
and suchlike little intimate things had become more interesting
than mountains. Their flitting hands were always touching. Deep
silences came between them. . . .
"I had thought to go on to Kandersteg," said Capes, "but this is
a pleasant place. There is not a soul in the inn but ourselves.
Let us stay the night here. Then we can loiter and gossip to our
"Agreed," said Ann Veronica.
"After all, it's our honeymoon."
"All we shall get," said Ann Veronica.
"This place is very beautiful."
"Any place would be beautiful," said Ann Veronica, in a low
For a time they walked in silence.
"I wonder," she began, presently, "why I love you --and love you
so much? . . . I know now what it is to be an abandoned female.
I AM an abandoned female. I'm not ashamed--of the things I'm
doing. I want to put myself into your hands. You know--I wish I
could roll my little body up small and squeeze it into your hand
and grip your fingers upon it. Tight. I want you to hold me and
have me SO. . . . Everything. Everything. It's a pure joy of
giving--giving to YOU. I have never spoken of these things to any
human being. Just dreamed--and ran away even from my dreams. It
is as if my lips had been sealed about them. And now I break the
seals--for you. Only I wish--I wish to-day I was a thousand
times, ten thousand times more beautiful."
Capes lifted her hand and kissed it.
"You are a thousand times more beautiful," he said, "than
anything else could be. . . . You are you. You are all the
beauty in the world. Beauty doesn't mean, never has meant,
anything--anything at all but you. It heralded you, promised you.
. . ."
They lay side by side in a shallow nest of turf and mosses among
bowlders and stunted bushes on a high rock, and watched the day
sky deepen to evening between the vast precipices overhead and
looked over the tree-tops down the widening gorge. A distant
suggestion of chalets and a glimpse of the road set them talking
for a time of the world they had left behind.
Capes spoke casually of their plans for work. "It's a flabby,
loose-willed world we have to face. It won't even know whether
to be scandalized at us or forgiving. It will hold aloof, a
little undecided whether to pelt or not--"
"That depends whether we carry ourselves as though we expected
pelting," said Ann Veronica.
"Then, as we succeed, it will begin to sidle back to us. It will
do its best to overlook things--"
"If we let it, poor dear."
"That's if we succeed. If we fail," said Capes, "then--"
"We aren't going to fail," said Ann Veronica.
Life seemed a very brave and glorious enterprise to Ann Veronica
that day. She was quivering with the sense of Capes at her side
and glowing with heroic love; it seemed to her that if they put
their hands jointly against the Alps and pushed they would be
able to push them aside. She lay and nibbled at a sprig of dwarf
"FAIL!" she said.
Presently it occurred to Ann Veronica to ask about the journey he
had planned. He had his sections of the Siegfried map folded in
his pocket, and he squatted up with his legs crossed like an
Indian idol while she lay prone beside him and followed every
movement of his indicatory finger.
"Here," he said, "is this Blau See, and here we rest until
to-morrow. I think we rest here until to-morrow?"
There was a brief silence.
"It is a very pleasant place," said Ann Veronica, biting a
rhododendron stalk through, and with that faint shadow of a smile
returning to her lips. . . .
"And then?" said Ann Veronica.
"Then we go on to this place, the Oeschinensee. It's a lake
among precipices, and there is a little inn where we can stay,
and sit and eat our dinner at a pleasant table that looks upon
the lake. For some days we shall be very idle there among the
trees and rocks. There are boats on the lake and shady depths
and wildernesses of pine-wood. After a day or so, perhaps, we
will go on one or two little excursions and see how good your
head is--a mild scramble or so; and then up to a hut on a pass
just here, and out upon the Blumlis-alp glacier that spreads out
so and so."
She roused herself from some dream at the word. "Glaciers?" she
"Under the Wilde Frau--which was named after you."
He bent and kissed her hair and paused, and then forced his
attention back to the map. "One day," he resumed, "we will start
off early and come down into Kandersteg and up these zigzags and
here and here, and so past this Daubensee to a tiny inn--it won't
be busy yet, though; we may get it all to ourselves--on the brim
of the steepest zigzag you can imagine, thousands of feet of
zigzag; and you will sit and eat lunch with me and look out
across the Rhone Valley and over blue distances beyond blue
distances to the Matterhorn and Monte Rosa and a long regiment of
sunny, snowy mountains. And when we see them we shall at once
want to go to them--that's the way with beautiful things--and
down we shall go, like flies down a wall, to Leukerbad, and so to
Leuk Station, here, and then by train up the Rhone Valley and
this little side valley to Stalden; and there, in the cool of the
afternoon, we shall start off up a gorge, torrents and cliffs
below us and above us, to sleep in a half-way inn, and go on next
day to Saas Fee, Saas of the Magic, Saas of the Pagan People.
And there, about Saas, are ice and snows again, and sometimes we
will loiter among the rocks and trees about Saas or peep into
Samuel Butler's chapels, and sometimes we will climb up out of
the way of the other people on to the glaciers and snow. And,
for one expedition at least, we will go up this desolate valley
here to Mattmark, and so on to Monte Moro. There indeed you see
Monte Rosa. Almost the best of all."
"Is it very beautiful?"
"When I saw it there it was very beautiful. It was wonderful.
It was the crowned queen of mountains in her robes of shining
white. It towered up high above the level of the pass, thousands
of feet, still, shining, and white, and below, thousands of feet
below, was a floor of little woolly clouds. And then presently
these clouds began to wear thin and expose steep, deep slopes,
going down and down, with grass and pine-trees, down and down,
and at last, through a great rent in the clouds, bare roofs,
shining like very minute pin-heads, and a road like a fibre of
white silk-Macugnana, in Italy. That will be a fine day--it will
have to be, when first you set eyes on Italy. . . . That's as
far as we go."
"Can't we go down into Italy?"
"No," he said; "it won't run to that now. We must wave our hands
at the blue hills far away there and go back to London and work."
"Italy's for a good girl," he said, and laid his hand for a
moment on her shoulder. "She must look forward to Italy."
"I say," she reflected, "you ARE rather the master, you know."
The idea struck him as novel. "Of course I'm manager for this
expedition," he said, after an interval of self-examination.
She slid her cheek down the tweed sleeve of his coat. "Nice
sleeve," she said, and came to his hand and kissed it.
"I say!" he cried. "Look here! Aren't you going a little too
far? This--this is degradation--making a fuss with sleeves. You
mustn't do things like that."
"Free woman--and equal."
"I do it--of my own free will," said Ann Veronica, kissing his
hand again. "It's nothing to what I WILL do."
"Oh, well!" he said, a little doubtfully, "it's just a phase,"
and bent down and rested his hand on her shoulder for a moment,
with his heart beating and his nerves a-quiver. Then as she lay
very still, with her hands clinched and her black hair tumbled
about her face, he came still closer and softly kissed the nape
of her neck. . . .
Most of the things that he had planned they did. But they
climbed more than he had intended because Ann Veronica proved
rather a good climber, steady-headed and plucky, rather daring,
but quite willing to be cautious at his command.
One of the things that most surprised him in her was her capacity
for blind obedience. She loved to be told to do things.
He knew the circle of mountains about Saas Fee fairly well: he
had been there twice before, and it was fine to get away from the
straggling pedestrians into the high, lonely places, and sit and
munch sandwiches and talk together and do things together that
were just a little difficult and dangerous. And they could talk,
they found; and never once, it seemed, did their meaning and
intention hitch. They were enormously pleased with one another;
they found each other beyond measure better than they had
expected, if only because of the want of substance in mere
expectation. Their conversation degenerated again and again into
a strain of self-congratulation that would have irked an
"You're--I don't know," said Ann Veronica. "You're splendid."
"It isn't that you're splendid or I," said Capes. "But we satisfy
one another. Heaven alone knows why. So completely! The oddest
fitness! What is it made of? Texture of skin and texture of
mind? Complexion and voice. I don't think I've got illusions,
nor you. . . . If I had never met anything of you at all but a
scrap of your skin binding a book, Ann Veronica, I know I would
have kept that somewhere near to me. . . . All your faults are
just jolly modelling to make you real and solid."
"The faults are the best part of it," said Ann Veronica; "why,
even our little vicious strains run the same way. Even our
"Coarse?" said Capes, "We're not coarse."
"But if we were?" said Ann Veronica.
"I can talk to you and you to me without a scrap of effort," said
Capes; "that's the essence of it. It's made up of things as
small as the diameter of hairs and big as life and death. . . .
One always dreamed of this and never believed it. It's the
rarest luck, the wildest, most impossible accident. Most people,
every one I know else, seem to have mated with foreigners and to
talk uneasily in unfamiliar tongues, to be afraid of the
knowledge the other one has, of the other one's perpetual
misjudgment and misunderstandings.
"Why don't they wait?" he added.
Ann Veronica had one of her flashes of insight.
"One doesn't wait," said Ann Veronica.
She expanded that. "_I_ shouldn't have waited," she said. "I
might have muddled for a time. But it's as you say. I've had
the rarest luck and fallen on my feet."
"We've both fallen on our feet! We're the rarest of mortals!
The real thing! There's not a compromise nor a sham nor a
concession between us. We aren't afraid; we don't bother. We
don't consider each other; we needn't. That wrappered life, as
you call it--we've burned the confounded rags! Danced out of it!
"Stark!" echoed Ann Veronica.
As they came back from that day's climb--it was up the
Mittaghorn--they had to cross a shining space of wet, steep
rocks between two grass slopes that needed a little care. There
were a few loose, broken fragments of rock to reckon with upon
the ledges, and one place where hands did as much work as toes.
They used the rope--not that a rope was at all necessary, but
because Ann Veronica's exalted state of mind made the fact of the
rope agreeably symbolical; and, anyhow, it did insure a joint
death in the event of some remotely possibly mischance. Capes
went first, finding footholds and, where the drops in the
strata-edges came like long, awkward steps, placing Ann
Veronica's feet. About half-way across this interval, when
everything seemed going well, Capes had a shock.
"Heavens!" exclaimed Ann Veronica, with extraordinary passion.
"My God!" and ceased to move.
Capes became rigid and adhesive. Nothing ensued. "All right?" he
"I'll have to pay it."
"I've forgotten something. Oh, cuss it!"
"He said I would."
"That's the devil of it!"
"Devil of what? . . . You DO use vile language!"
"Forget about it like this."
"And I said I wouldn't. I said I'd do anything. I said I'd make
"Shirts at one--and--something a dozen. Oh, goodness! Bilking!
Ann Veronica, you're a bilker!"
"Will you tell me what all this is about?" said Capes.
"It's about forty pounds."
Capes waited patiently.
"G. I'm sorry. . . . But you've got to lend me forty pounds."
"It's some sort of delirium," said Capes. "The rarefied air? I
thought you had a better head."
"No! I'll explain lower. It's all right. Let's go on climbing
now. It's a thing I've unaccountably overlooked. All right
really. It can wait a bit longer. I borrowed forty pounds from
Mr. Ramage. Thank goodness you'll understand. That's why I
chucked Manning. . . . All right, I'm coming. But all this
business has driven it clean out of my head. . . . That's why he
was so annoyed, you know."
"Who was annoyed?"
"Mr. Ramage--about the forty pounds." She took a step. "My
dear," she added, by way of afterthought, "you DO obliterate
They found themselves next day talking love to one another high
up on some rocks above a steep bank of snow that overhung a
precipice on the eastern side of the Fee glacier. By this time
Capes' hair had bleached nearly white, and his skin had become a
skin of red copper shot with gold. They were now both in a state
of unprecedented physical fitness. And such skirts as Ann
Veronica had had when she entered the valley of Saas were safely
packed away in the hotel, and she wore a leather belt and loose
knickerbockers and puttees--a costume that suited the fine, long
lines of her limbs far better than any feminine walking-dress
could do. Her complexion had resisted the snow-glare
wonderfully; her skin had only deepened its natural warmth a
little under the Alpine sun. She had pushed aside her azure
veil, taken off her snow-glasses, and sat smiling under her hand
at the shining glories--the lit cornices, the blue shadows, the
softly rounded, enormous snow masses, the deep places full of
quivering luminosity--of the Taschhorn and Dom. The sky was
cloudless, effulgent blue.
Capes sat watching and admiring her, and then he fell praising
the day and fortune and their love for each other.
"Here we are," he said, "shining through each other like light
through a stained-glass window. With this air in our blood, this
sunlight soaking us. . . . Life is so good. Can it ever be so
Ann Veronica put out a firm hand and squeezed his arm. "It's
very good," she said. "It's glorious good!"
"Suppose now--look at this long snow-slope and then that blue
deep beyond--do you see that round pool of color in the ice--a
thousand feet or more below? Yes? Well, think--we've got to go
but ten steps and lie down and put our arms about each other.
See? Down we should rush in a foam--in a cloud of snow--to
flight and a dream. All the rest of our lives would be together
then, Ann Veronica. Every moment. And no ill-chances."
"If you tempt me too much ," she said, after a silence, "I shall
do it. I need only just jump up and throw myself upon you. I'm
a desperate young woman. And then as we went down you'd try to
explain. And that would spoil it. . . . You know you don't mean
"No, I don't. But I liked to say it."
"Rather! But I wonder why you don't mean it?"
"Because, I suppose, the other thing is better. What other
reason could there be? It's more complex, but it's better.
THIS, this glissade, would be damned scoundrelism. You know
that, and I know that, though we might be put to it to find a
reason why. It would be swindling. Drawing the pay of life and
then not living. And besides--We're going to live, Ann
Veronica! Oh, the things we'll do, the life we'll lead! There'll
be trouble in it at times--you and I aren't going to run without
friction. But we've got the brains to get over that, and tongues
in our heads to talk to each other. We sha'n't hang up on any
misunderstanding. Not us. And we're going to fight that old
world down there. That old world that had shoved up that silly
old hotel, and all the rest of it. . . . If we don't live it
will think we are afraid of it. . . . Die, indeed! We're going
to do work; we're going to unfold about each other; we're going
to have children."
"Girls!" cried Ann Veronica.
"Boys!" said Capes.
"Both!" said Ann Veronica. "Lots of 'em!"
Capes chuckled. "You delicate female!"
"Who cares," said Ann Veronica, "seeing it's you? Warm, soft
little wonders! Of course I want them."
"All sorts of things we're going to do," said Capes; "all sorts
of times we're going to have. Sooner or later we'll certainly do
something to clean those prisons you told me about--limewash the
underside of life. You and I. We can love on a snow cornice, we
can love over a pail of whitewash. Love anywhere. Anywhere!
Moonlight and music--pleasing, you know, but quite unnecessary.
We met dissecting dogfish. . . . Do you remember your first day
with me? . . . Do you indeed remember? The smell of decay and
cheap methylated spirit! . . . My dear! we've had so many
moments! I used to go over the times we'd had together, the
things we'd said--like a rosary of beads. But now it's beads by
the cask--like the hold of a West African trader. It feels like
too much gold-dust clutched in one's hand. One doesn't want to
lose a grain. And one must--some of it must slip through one's
"I don't care if it does," said Ann Veronica. "I don't care a
rap for remembering. I care for you. This moment couldn't be
better until the next moment comes. That's how it takes me. Why
should WE hoard? We aren't going out presently, like Japanese
lanterns in a gale. It's the poor dears who do, who know they
will, know they can't keep it up, who need to clutch at way-side
flowers. And put 'em in little books for remembrance. Flattened
flowers aren't for the likes of us. Moments, indeed! We like
each other fresh and fresh. It isn't illusions--for us. We two
just love each other --the real, identical other--all the time."
"The real, identical other," said Capes, and took and bit the tip
of her little finger.
"There's no delusions, so far as I know," said Ann Veronica.
"I don't believe there is one. If there is, it's a mere
wrapping--there's better underneath. It's only as if I'd begun
to know you the day before yesterday or there-abouts. You keep
on coming truer, after you have seemed to come altogether true.
You. . . . brick!"
"To think," he cried, "you are ten years younger than I! . . .
There are times when you make me feel a little thing at your
feet--a young, silly, protected thing. Do you know, Ann Veronica,
it is all a lie about your birth certificate; a forgery--and
fooling at that. You are one of the Immortals. Immortal! You
were in the beginning, and all the men in the world who have
known what love is have worshipped at your feet. You have
converted me to--Lester Ward! You are my dear friend, you are a
slip of a girl, but there are moments when my head has been on
your breast, when your heart has been beating close to my ears,
when I have known you for the goddess, when I have wished myself
your slave, when I have wished that you could kill me for the joy
of being killed by you. You are the High Priestess of Life. . .
"Your priestess," whispered Ann Veronica, softly. "A silly little
priestess who knew nothing of life at all until she came to you."
They sat for a time without speaking a word, in an enormous
shining globe of mutual satisfaction.
"Well," said Capes, at length, "we've to go down, Ann Veronica.
Life waits for us."
He stood up and waited for her to move.
"Gods!" cried Ann Veronica, and kept him standing. "And to think
that it's not a full year ago since I was a black-hearted rebel
school-girl, distressed, puzzled, perplexed, not understanding
that this great force of love was bursting its way through me!
All those nameless discontents--they were no more than love's
birth-pangs. I felt--I felt living in a masked world. I felt as
though I had bandaged eyes. I felt--wrapped in thick cobwebs.
They blinded me. They got in my mouth. And now--Dear! Dear!
The dayspring from on high hath visited me. I love. I am loved.
I want to shout! I want to sing! I am glad! I am glad to be
alive because you are alive! I am glad to be a woman because you
are a man! I am glad! I am glad! I am glad! I thank God for
life and you. I thank God for His sunlight on your face. I
thank God for the beauty you love and the faults you love. I
thank God for the very skin that is peeling from your nose, for
all things great and small that make us what we are. This is
grace I am saying! Oh! my dear! all the joy and weeping of life
are mixed in me now and all the gratitude. Never a new-born
dragon-fly that spread its wings in the morning has felt as glad
CHAPTER THE SEVENTEENTH
About four years and a quarter later--to be exact, it was four
years and four months--Mr. and Mrs. Capes stood side by side upon
an old Persian carpet that did duty as a hearthrug in the
dining-room of their flat and surveyed a shining dinner-table set
for four people, lit by skilfully-shaded electric lights,
brightened by frequent gleams of silver, and carefully and simply
adorned with sweet-pea blossom. Capes had altered scarcely at
all during the interval, except for a new quality of smartness in
the cut of his clothes, but Ann Veronica was nearly half an inch
taller; her face was at once stronger and softer, her neck firmer
and rounder, and her carriage definitely more womanly than it had
been in the days of her rebellion. She was a woman now to the
tips of her fingers; she had said good-bye to her girlhood in the
old garden four years and a quarter ago. She was dressed in a
simple evening gown of soft creamy silk, with a yoke of dark old
embroidery that enhanced the gentle gravity of her style, and her
black hair flowed off her open forehead to pass under the control
of a simple ribbon of silver. A silver necklace enhanced the
dusky beauty of her neck. Both husband and wife affected an
unnatural ease of manner for the benefit of the efficient
parlor-maid, who was putting the finishing touches to the
"It looks all right," said Capes.
"I think everything's right," said Ann Veronica, with the roaming
eye of a capable but not devoted house-mistress.
"I wonder if they will seem altered," she remarked for the third
"There I can't help," said Capes.
He walked through a wide open archway, curtained with deep-blue
curtains, into the apartment that served as a reception-room.
Ann Veronica, after a last survey of the dinner appointments,
followed him, rustling, came to his side by the high brass
fender, and touched two or three ornaments on the mantel above
the cheerful fireplace.
"It's still a marvel to me that we are to be forgiven," she said,
"My charm of manner, I suppose. But, indeed, he's very human."
"Did you tell him of the registry office?"
"No--o--certainly not so emphatically as I did about the play."
"It was an inspiration--your speaking to him?"
"I felt impudent. I believe I am getting impudent. I had not
been near the Royal Society since--since you disgraced me.
They both stood listening. It was not the arrival of the guests,
but merely the maid moving about in the hall.
"Wonderful man!" said Ann Veronica, reassured, and stroking his
cheek with her finger.
Capes made a quick movement as if to bite that aggressive digit,
but it withdrew to Ann Veronica's side.
"I was really interested in his stuff. I WAS talking to him
before I saw his name on the card beside the row of microscopes.
Then, naturally, I went on talking. He--he has rather a poor
opinion of his contemporaries. Of course, he had no idea who I
"But how did you tell him? You've never told me. Wasn't it--a
little bit of a scene?"
"Oh! let me see. I said I hadn't been at the Royal Society
soiree for four years, and got him to tell me about some of the
fresh Mendelian work. He loves the Mendelians because he hates
all the big names of the eighties and nineties. Then I think I
remarked that science was disgracefully under-endowed, and
confessed I'd had to take to more profitable courses. 'The fact
of it is,' I said, 'I'm the new playwright, Thomas More. Perhaps
you've heard--?' Well, you know, he had."
"Isn't it? 'I've not seen your play, Mr. More,' he said, 'but
I'm told it's the most amusing thing in London at the present
time. A friend of mine, Ogilvy'--I suppose that's Ogilvy &
Ogilvy, who do so many divorces, Vee?--'was speaking very highly
of it--very highly!' " He smiled into her eyes.
"You are developing far too retentive a memory for praises," said
"I'm still new to them. But after that it was easy. I told him
instantly and shamelessly that the play was going to be worth ten
thousand pounds. He agreed it was disgraceful. Then I assumed a
rather portentous manner to prepare him."
"How? Show me."
"I can't be portentous, dear, when you're about. It's my other
side of the moon. But I was portentous, I can assure you. 'My
name's NOT More, Mr. Stanley,' I said. 'That's my pet name.' "
"I think--yes, I went on in a pleasing blend of the casual and
sotto voce, 'The fact of it is, sir, I happen to be your
son-in-law, Capes. I do wish you could come and dine with us
some evening. It would make my wife very happy.' "
"What did he say?"
"What does any one say to an invitation to dinner point-blank?
One tries to collect one's wits. 'She is constantly thinking of
you,' I said."
"And he accepted meekly?"
"Practically. What else could he do? You can't kick up a scene
on the spur of the moment in the face of such conflicting values
as he had before him. With me behaving as if everything was
infinitely matter-of-fact, what could he do? And just then
Heaven sent old Manningtree--I didn't tell you before of the
fortunate intervention of Manningtree, did I? He was looking
quite infernally distinguished, with a wide crimson ribbon across
him--what IS a wide crimson ribbon? Some sort of knight, I
suppose. He is a knight. 'Well, young man,' he said, 'we
haven't seen you lately,' and something about 'Bateson &
Co.'--he's frightfully anti-Mendelian--having it all their own
way. So I introduced him to my father-in-law like a shot. I
think that WAS decision. Yes, it was Manningtree really secured
your father. He--"
"Here they are!" said Ann Veronica as the bell sounded.
They received the guests in their pretty little hall with genuine
effusion. Miss Stanley threw aside a black cloak to reveal a
discreet and dignified arrangement of brown silk, and then
embraced Ann Veronica with warmth. "So very clear and cold," she
said. "I feared we might have a fog." The housemaid's presence
acted as a useful restraint. Ann Veronica passed from her aunt
to her father, and put her arms about him and kissed his cheek.
"Dear old daddy!" she said, and was amazed to find herself
shedding tears. She veiled her emotion by taking off his
overcoat. "And this is Mr. Capes?" she heard her aunt saying.
All four people moved a little nervously into the drawing-room,
maintaining a sort of fluttered amiability of sound and movement.
Mr. Stanley professed a great solicitude to warm his hands.
"Quite unusually cold for the time of year," he said.
"Everything very nice, I am sure," Miss Stanley murmured to Capes
as he steered her to a place upon the little sofa before the
fire. Also she made little pussy-like sounds of a reassuring
"And let's have a look at you, Vee!" said Mr. Stanley, standing
up with a sudden geniality and rubbing his hands together.
Ann Veronica, who knew her dress became her, dropped a curtsy to
her father's regard.
Happily they had no one else to wait for, and it heartened her
mightily to think that she had ordered the promptest possible
service of the dinner. Capes stood beside Miss Stanley, who was
beaming unnaturally, and Mr. Stanley, in his effort to seem at
ease, took entire possession of the hearthrug.
"You found the flat easily?" said Capes in the pause. "The
numbers are a little difficult to see in the archway. They ought
to put a lamp."
Her father declared there had been no difficulty.
"Dinner is served, m'm," said the efficient parlor-maid in the
archway, and the worst was over.
"Come, daddy," said Ann Veronica, following her husband and Miss
Stanley; and in the fulness of her heart she gave a friendly
squeeze to the parental arm.
"Excellent fellow!" he answered a little irrelevantly. "I didn't
"Quite charming apartments," Miss Stanley admired; "charming!
Everything is so pretty and convenient."
The dinner was admirable as a dinner; nothing went wrong, from
the golden and excellent clear soup to the delightful iced
marrons and cream; and Miss Stanley's praises died away to an
appreciative acquiescence. A brisk talk sprang up between Capes
and Mr. Stanley, to which the two ladies subordinated themselves
intelligently. The burning topic of the Mendelian controversy
was approached on one or two occasions, but avoided dexterously;
and they talked chiefly of letters and art and the censorship of
the English stage. Mr. Stanley was inclined to think the
censorship should be extended to the supply of what he styled
latter-day fiction; good wholesome stories were being ousted, he
said, by "vicious, corrupting stuff" that "left a bad taste in
the mouth." He declared that no book could be satisfactory that
left a bad taste in the mouth, however much it seized and
interested the reader at the time. He did not like it, he said,
with a significant look, to be reminded of either his books or
his dinners after he had done with them. Capes agreed with the
"Life is upsetting enough, without the novels taking a share,"
said Mr. Stanley.
For a time Ann Veronica's attention was diverted by her aunt's
interest in the salted almonds.
"Quite particularly nice," said her aunt. "Exceptionally so."
When Ann Veronica could attend again she found the men were
discussing the ethics of the depreciation of house property
through the increasing tumult of traffic in the West End, and
agreeing with each other to a devastating extent. It came into
her head with real emotional force that this must be some
particularly fantastic sort of dream. It seemed to her that her
father was in some inexplicable way meaner-looking than she had
supposed, and yet also, as unaccountably, appealing. His tie had
demanded a struggle; he ought to have taken a clean one after his
first failure. Why was she noting things like this? Capes
seemed self-possessed and elaborately genial and commonplace, but
she knew him to be nervous by a little occasional clumsiness, by
the faintest shadow of vulgarity in the urgency of his
hospitality. She wished he could smoke and dull his nerves a
little. A gust of irrational impatience blew through her being.
Well, they'd got to the pheasants, and in a little while he would
smoke. What was it she had expected? Surely her moods were
getting a little out of hand.
She wished her father and aunt would not enjoy their dinner with
such quiet determination. Her father and her husband, who had
both been a little pale at their first encounter, were growing
now just faintly flushed. It was a pity people had to eat food.
"I suppose," said her father, "I have read at least half the
novels that have been at all successful during the last twenty
years. Three a week is my allowance, and, if I get short ones,
four. I change them in the morning at Cannon Street, and take my
book as I come down."
It occurred to her that she had never seen her father dining out
before, never watched him critically as an equal. To Capes he
was almost deferential, and she had never seen him deferential in
the old time, never. The dinner was stranger than she had ever
anticipated. It was as if she had grown right past her father
into something older and of infinitely wider outlook, as if he
had always been unsuspectedly a flattened figure, and now she had
discovered him from the other side.
It was a great relief to arrive at last at that pause when she
could say to her aunt, "Now, dear?" and rise and hold back the
curtain through the archway. Capes and her father stood up, and
her father made a belated movement toward the curtain. She
realized that he was the sort of man one does not think much
about at dinners. And Capes was thinking that his wife was a
supremely beautiful woman. He reached a silver cigar and
cigarette box from the sideboard and put it before his
father-in-law, and for a time the preliminaries of smoking
occupied them both. Then Capes flittered to the hearthrug and
poked the fire, stood up, and turned about. "Ann Veronica is
looking very well, don't you think?" he said, a little awkwardly.
"Very," said Mr. Stanley. "Very," and cracked a walnut
"Life--things--I don't think her prospects now--Hopeful
"You were in a difficult position," Mr. Stanley pronounced, and
seemed to hesitate whether he had not gone too far. He looked at
his port wine as though that tawny ruby contained the solution of
the matter. "All's well that ends well," he said; "and the less
one says about things the better."
"Of course," said Capes, and threw a newly lit cigar into the
fire through sheer nervousness. "Have some more port wine, sir?"
"It's a very sound wine," said Mr. Stanley, consenting with dignity.
"Ann Veronica has never looked quite so well, I think," said
Capes, clinging, because of a preconceived plan, to the
At last the evening was over, and Capes and his wife had gone
down to see Mr. Stanley and his sister into a taxicab, and had
waved an amiable farewell from the pavement steps.
"Great dears!" said Capes, as the vehicle passed out of sight.
"Yes, aren't they?" said Ann Veronica, after a thoughtful pause.
And then, "They seem changed."
"Come in out of the cold," said Capes, and took her arm.
"They seem smaller, you know, even physically smaller," she said.
"You've grown out of them. . . . Your aunt liked the pheasant."
"She liked everything. Did you hear us through the archway,
They went up by the lift in silence.
"It's odd," said Ann Veronica, re-entering the flat.
She shivered, and went to the fire and poked it. Capes sat down
in the arm-chair beside her.
"Life's so queer," she said, kneeling and looking into the
flames. "I wonder--I wonder if we shall ever get like that."
She turned a firelit face to her husband. "Did you tell him?"
Capes smiled faintly. "Yes."
"Well--a little clumsily."
"I poured him out some port wine, and I said--let me see--oh,
'You are going to be a grandfather!' "
"Yes. Was he pleased?"
"Calmly! He said--you won't mind my telling you?"
"Not a bit."
"He said, 'Poor Alice has got no end!' "
"Alice's are different," said Ann Veronica, after an interval.
"Quite different. She didn't choose her man. . . . Well, I told
aunt. . . . Husband of mine, I think we have rather overrated
the emotional capacity of those--those dears."
"What did your aunt say?"
"She didn't even kiss me. She said"--Ann Veronica shivered
again--" 'I hope it won't make you uncomfortable, my dear'--like
that--'and whatever you do, do be careful of your hair!' I
think--I judge from her manner--that she thought it was just a
little indelicate of us--considering everything; but she tried to
be practical and sympathetic and live down to our standards."
Capes looked at his wife's unsmiling face.
"Your father," he said, "remarked that all's well that ends well,
and that he was disposed to let bygones be bygones. He then
spoke with a certain fatherly kindliness of the past. . . ."
"And my heart has ached for him!"
"Oh, no doubt it cut him at the time. It must have cut him."
"We might even have--given it up for them!"
"I wonder if we could."
"I suppose all IS well that ends well. Somehow to-night--I don't
"I suppose so. I'm glad the old sore is assuaged. Very glad.
But if we had gone under--!"
They regarded one another silently, and Ann Veronica had one of
her penetrating flashes.
"We are not the sort that goes under," said Ann Veronica, holding
her hands so that the red reflections vanished from her eyes.
"We settled long ago--we're hard stuff. We're hard stuff!"
Then she went on: "To think that is my father! Oh, my dear! He
stood over me like a cliff; the thought of him nearly turned me
aside from everything we have done. He was the social order; he
was law and wisdom. And they come here, and they look at our
furniture to see if it is good; and they are not glad, it does
not stir them, that at last, at last we can dare to have
She dropped back into a crouching attitude and began to weep.
"Oh, my dear!" she cried, and suddenly flung herself, kneeling,
into her husband's arms.
"Do you remember the mountains? Do you remember how we loved one
another? How intensely we loved one another! Do you remember
the light on things and the glory of things? I'm greedy, I'm
greedy! I want children like the mountains and life like the
sky. Oh! and love--love! We've had so splendid a time, and
fought our fight and won. And it's like the petals falling from
a flower. Oh, I've loved love, dear! I've loved love and you,
and the glory of you; and the great time is over, and I have to
go carefully and bear children, and--take care of my hair--and
when I am done with that I shall be an old woman. The petals
have fallen --the red petals we loved so. We're hedged about
with discretions--and all this furniture--and successes! We are
successful at last! Successful! But the mountains, dear! We
won't forget the mountains, dear, ever. That shining slope of
snow, and how we talked of death! We might have died! Even when
we are old, when we are rich as we may be, we won't forget the
tune when we cared nothing for anything but the joy of one
another, when we risked everything for one another, when all the
wrappings and coverings seemed to have fallen from life and left
it light and fire. Stark and stark! Do you remember it all? . . .
Say you will never forget! That these common things and secondary
things sha'n't overwhelm us. These petals! I've been wanting
to cry all the evening, cry here on your shoulder for my petals.
Petals! . . . Silly woman! . . . I've never had these crying
fits before. . . ."
"Blood of my heart!" whispered Capes, holding her close to him.
"I know. I understand."
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