Ensign Knightley and Other Stories
A. E. W. Mason
Part 5 out of 5
So the princess turned her away and gat her from the hall, but Solita
remained with her lord, making moan and easing his fetters with her
hands as best she might. Hence it fell out that she who should have
comforted must needs be comforted herself, and that the Sieur Rudel
did right willingly.
The like, he would say to me, hath often happened to him since, and
when he was harassed with sore distress he must needs turn him about
to stop a woman's tears; for which he thanked God most heartily, and
prayed that so it might ever be, since thus he clean forgot his own
sad plight. Whence, meseems, may men understand how noble a gentleman
was my good lord the Sieur Rudel.
Now when the night was well spent and drawing on to dawn, Solita, for
very weariness, fell asleep at the pillar's foot, and Rudel began to
take counsel with himself if, by any manner of means, he might outwit
the Princess Joceliande. For this he saw, that she would not have him
wed her handmaiden, and for that cause, and for no cowardice of his,
had so cruelly entreated him. And when he had pondered a little with
himself, he bent and touched Solita with his hands, and called to her
in a low voice.
"Solita," he said, "it is in Joceliande's heart to keep us twain
each from other. Rise, therefore, and get thee to the good abbot who
baptised thee. Ever hath he stood my friend, and for friendship's sake
this thing he will do. Bring him hither into the hall, that he may
marry us even this night, and when the morning comes I will tell the
princess of our marriage; and so will she know that her cruelty is of
small avail, and release me unto thee."
Thereupon Solita rose right joyously.
"Surely, my dear lord," said she, "no man can match thee, neither in
craft nor prowess," and she hurried through the dark passages towards
the lodging of the abbot. Hard by this lodging was the chapel of the
castle, and when she came thereto the windows were ablaze with light,
and Solita clapped her ear to the door. But no sound did she hear, no,
not so much as the stirring of a mouse, and bethinking her that the
good abbot might be holding silent vigil, she gently pressed upon the
door, so that it opened for the space of an inch; and when she looked
into the chapel, she beheld the Princess Joceliande stretched upon
the steps before the altar. Her coronet had fallen from her head and
rolled across the stones, and she lay like one that had fallen asleep
in the counting of her beads. Greatly did Solita marvel at the sight,
but no word she said lest she should wake the princess; and in a
little, becoming afeard of the silence and of the shadows which the
flickering candles set racing on the wall, she shut the door quickly
and stole on tiptoe to the abbot. Long she entreated him or ever she
prevailed, for the holy man was timorous, and feared the wrath of the
princess. But at the last, for the Sieur Rudel's sake, he consented,
and married them privily in the hall as the grey dawn was breaking
across the sea.
Now, in the morning, the princess bid Solita be brought to her, and
when they were alone, gently and cunningly she spake:
"Child," she said, "I doubt not thy heart is hot against me for that I
will not enlarge the Sieur Rudel. Alas! fain were I to do this thing,
but for the honour of my Court I may not. Bound are we not by our
wills but by our necessities--and thus it is with all women. Men may
ride forth and shape their lives with their good swords; but for us,
we must needs bide where we were born, and order such things as fall
to us, as best we can. Therefore, child, take my word to heart: the
Sieur Rudel loves thee, and thou wouldst keep his love. Let my age
point to thee the way! What if I release him? No longer can he stay
with us, holding high honour and dignity, since he hath turned him
from his knightlihood and avoided this great adventure, but forth
with you must he fare. And all day long will he sit with you in your
chamber, idle as a woman, and ever his thoughts will go back to the
times of his nobility. The clash of steel will grow louder in
his ears; he will list again to the praises of minstrels in the
banquet-hall, and when men speak to him of great achievements wrought
by other hands, then thou wilt see the life die out of his eyes, and
his heart will become cold as stone, and thou wilt lose his love. A
great thing will it be for thee if he come not to hate thee in the
end. But if, of thy own free will, thou send him from thee, then shalt
thou ever keep his love. Thy image will ride before his eyes in the
van of battles; for very lack of thee he will move from endeavour to
endeavour; and so thy life will be enshrined in his most noble deeds."
At these words, with such cunning gentleness were they spoken, Solita
was sore troubled.
"I cannot send him from me," she cried, "for never did woman so love
her lord--no, not ever in the world!"
"Then prove thy love," said Joceliande again. "A kingdom is given into
his hand, and he will not take it because of thee. It is a hard thing,
I trow right well. But the cross becomes a crown when a woman lifts
it. Think! A kingdom! And never yet was kingdom established but the
stones of its walls were mortised with the blood of women's hearts."
So she pleaded, hiding her own thoughts, until Solita answered her,
"God help me, but he shall go to Broye!"
Much ado had the Princess Joceliande to hide her joy for the success
of her device; but Solita, poor lass! had neither eyes nor thoughts
for her. Forthwith she rose to her feet, and quickly gat her to the
hall, lest her courage should fail, before that she had accomplished
her resolve. But when she came near to the Sieur Rudel, blithely he
smiled at her and called "Solita, my wife." It seemed to her that
words so sweet had never as yet been spoken since the world began, and
all her strength ebbed from her, and she stood like one that is dumb,
gazing piteously at her husband. Again Rudel called to her, but no
answer could she make, and she turned and fled sobbing to the chamber
of the princess.
"I could not speak," she said; "my lips were locked, and Rudel holds
But the princess spoke gently and craftily, bidding her take heart,
for that she herself would go with her and second her words; and
taking Solita by the hand, she led her again to the hall.
This time Solita made haste to speak first. "Rudel," she said, "no
honour can I bring to you, but only foul disgrace, and that is no fit
gift from one who loves you. Therefore, from this hour I hold you quit
of your promise and pray you to undertake this mission and set forth
But the Sieur Rudel would hearken to nothing of what she said.
"No foul disgrace can come to me," he cried, "but only if I prove
false to you and lose your love. My promise I will keep, and all the
more for that I see the Princess Joceliande hath set you on to this."
But Solita protested that it was not so, and that of her own will and
desire she released him, for the longing to sacrifice herself for her
dear lord's sake grew upon her as she thought upon it. Yet he would
"My word I passed to you when you were a maid, and shall I not keep it
now that you are a wife?" he cried.
"Wife?" cried the princess, "you are his wife?" And she roughly
gripped Solita's wrist so that the girl could not withhold a cry.
"In truth, madame," replied the Sieur Rudel, "even last night, in this
hall, Solita and I were married by the good abbot, and therefore I
will not leave her while she lives."
Still Joceliande would not believe it, bethinking her that the Sieur
Rudel had hit upon the pretence as a device for his enlargement; but
Solita showed to her the ring which the abbot had taken from the
finger of her lord and placed upon hers, and then the princess knew
that of a surety they were married, and her hatred for Solita burned
in her blood like fire.
But no sign she gave of what she felt, but rather spoke with greater
softness to them both, bidding them look forward beyond the first
delights of love, and behold how all their years to come were the
price they needs must pay.
Now, while they were yet debating each with other, came Sir Broyance
into the hall, and straightway the princess called to him and begged
him to add his prayers to Solita's. But he answered:
"That, madame, I will not do, for, indeed, the esteem I have for the
Sieur Rudel is much increased, and I hold it no cowardice that he
should refuse a kingdom for his wife's sake, but the sweetest bravery.
And therefore it was that I broke off my plea last night and sought
not to persuade him."
At that Rudel was greatly rejoiced, and said:
"Dost hear him, Solita? Even he who most has need of me acquits me of
disgrace. Truly I will never leave thee while I live."
But the princess turned sharply to Sir Broyance. "Sir, have you
changed your tune?" she said; "for never was a man so urgent as you
with me for the Sieur Rudel's help."
"Alas! madame," he replied, "I knew not then that he was plighted to
the maiden Solita, or never would I have borne this message. For
this I surely know, that all my days are waste and barren because I
suffered my mistress to send me from her after a will-of-the-wisp
honour, even as Solita would send her lord."
Thereupon Solita brake in upon him:
"But, my lord, you have won great renown, and far and wide is your
prowess known and sung."
"That avails me nothing," he replied, "my life rings hollow like an
empty cup, and so are two lives wasted."
"Nay, my lord, neither life is wasted. For much have you done for
others, though maybe little for yourself, while for her you loved the
noise of your achievements must have been enough."
"Of that I cannot tell," he answered. "But this I know: she drags a
pale life out behind convent walls. Often have I passed the gate with
my warriors, but never could I hold speech with her."
"She will have seen your banners glancing in the sun," said Solita,
"and so will she know her sacrifice was good." Thereupon she turned
her again to her husband. "For my sake, dear Rudel, I pray you go to
But still he persisted, saying he would not depart from her till
death, until at last she ceased from her importunities, and went sadly
to her chamber. Then she unbound her hair and stood gazing at her
likeness in the mirror.
"O cursed beauty," she cried, "wherein I took vain pride for my sweet
lord's sake--truly art thou my ruin and snare!" And while she thus
made moan, the princess came softly into her chamber.
"He will not leave me, madame," she sobbed. Joceliande came over to
her and gently laid her hand upon her head and whispered in her ear,
"Not while you live!"
For awhile Solita sat silent.
"Ay, madame," she said at length, "even as I came alone to these
coasts, so will I go from them;" and slowly she drew from its sheath a
little knife which she carried at her girdle. She tried the point upon
her finger, so that the blood sprang from the prick and dropped on her
white gown. At the sight she gave a cry and dropped the knife, and "I
cannot do it" she said, "I have not the courage. But you, madame! Ever
have you been kind to me, and therefore show me this last kindness."
"I will well," said the princess; and she made Solita to sit upon a
couch, and with two bands of her golden hair she tied her hands fast
behind her, and so laid her upon her back on the couch. And when she
had so laid her she said:
"But for all that you die, he shall not go to Broye, but here shall he
bide, and share my throne with me."
Thereupon did Solita perceive all the treachery of Princess
Joceliande, and vainly she struggled to free her hands and to cry out
for help. But Joceliande clapped her palm upon Solita's mouth, and
drawing a gold pin from her own hair, she drove it straight into her
heart, until nothing but the little knob could be seen. So Solita
died, and quickly the princess wiped the blood from her breast, and
unbound her hands and arranged her limbs as though she slept. Then she
returned to the hall, and, summoning the warden, bade him loose the
"It shall be even as you wish," she said to him. Wise and prudent had
she been, had she ended with that; but her malice was not yet sated,
and so she suffered it to lead her to her ruin. For she stretched out
her hand to him and said, "I myself will take you to your wife." And
greatly marvelling, the Sieur Rudel took her hand and followed.
Now when they were come to Solita's chamber, the princess entered
first, and turned her again to my Lord Rudel and laid her finger to
her lips, saying, "Hush!" Therefore he came in after her on tiptoe and
stood a little way from the foot of the couch, fearing lest he might
wake his wife.
"Is she not still?" asked Joceliande in a whisper. "Is she not still
"Still and white as a folded lily," he replied, "and like a folded
lily, too, in her white flesh there sleeps a heart of gold." Therewith
he crept softly to the couch and bent above her, and in an instant he
perceived that her bosom did not rise and fall. He gazed swiftly at
the princess; she was watching him, and their glances met. He dropped
upon his knees by the couch and felt about Solita's heart that he
might know whether it beat or not, and his fingers touched the knob of
Joceliande's bodkin. Gently he drew the gown from Solita's bosom, and
beheld how that she had been slain. Then did he weep, believing that
in truth she had killed herself, but the princess must needs touch him
upon the shoulder.
"My lord," she said, "why weep for the handmaid when the princess
Then the Sieur Rudel rose straightway to his feet and said:
"This is thy doing!" For a little Joceliande denied it, saying that of
her own will and desire Solita had perished. But Rudel looked her ever
sternly in the face, and again he said, "This is thy doing!" and at
that Joceliande could gainsay him no more. But she dropped upon the
floor, and kissed his feet, and cried:
"It was for love of thee, Rudel. Look, my kingdom is large and of much
wealth, yet of no worth is it to me, but only if it bring thee service
and great honour. A princess am I, yet no joy do I have of my degree,
but only if thou share my siege with me."
Then Rudel broke out upon her, thrusting her from him with his hand
and spurning her with his foot as she crouched upon the floor.
"No princess art thou, but a changeling. For surely princess never did
such foul wrong and crime;" and even as he spake, many of the nobles
burst into the chamber, for they had heard the outcry below and
marvelled what it might mean. And when Rudel beheld them crowding
the doorway, "Come in, my lords," said he, "so that ye may know what
manner of woman ye serve and worship. There lies my dear wife, Solita,
murdered by this vile princess, and for love of me she saith, for love
of me!" And again he turned him to Joceliande. "Now all the reverence
I held thee in is turned to hatred, God be thanked; such is the
guerdon of thy love for me."
Joceliande, when she heard his injuries, knew indeed that her love was
unavailing, and that by no means might she win him to share her siege
with her. Therefore her love changed to a bitter fury, and standing
up forthwith she bade the nobles take their swords and smite off the
Sieur Rudel's head. But no one so much as moved a hand towards his
hilt. Then spake Rudel again:
"O vile and treacherous," he cried, "who will obey thee?" and his eyes
fell upon Solita where she lay in her white beauty upon the golden
pillow of her hair. Thereupon he dropped again upon his knees by the
couch, and took her within his arms, kissing her lips and her eyes,
and bidding her wake; this with many tears. But seeing she would not,
but was dead in very truth, he got him to his feet and turned to where
the princess stood like stone in the middle of the chamber. "Now for
thy sin," he cried, "a shameful death shalt thou die and a painful,
and may the devil have thy soul!"
He bade the nobles depart from the chamber, and following them the
last, firmly barred the door upon the outside. Thus was the Princess
Joceliande left alone with dead Solita, and ever she heard the closing
and barring of doors and the sound of feet growing fainter and
fainter. But no one came to her, loud though she cried, and sorely was
she afeard, gazing now at the dead body, now wondering what manner of
death the Sieur Rudel planned for her. Then she walked to the window
if by any chance she might win help that way, and saw the ships riding
at their anchorage with sails loose, and heard the songs of the
sailors as they made ready to cast free; and between the coast and
the castle were many men hurrying backwards and forwards with all the
purveyance of a voyage. Then did she think that she was to be left
alone in the tower, to starve to death in company of the girl she had
murdered, and great moan she made; but other device was in the mind
of my ingenious master Lord Rudel. For all about the castle he piled
stacks of wood and drenched them with oil, bethinking him that
Solita his wife, if little joy she had had of her life, should have
undeniable honour in her obsequies. And so having set fire to the
stacks, he got him into the ships with all the company that had
dwelled within the castle, and drew out a little way from shore. Then
the ships lay to and watched the flames mounting the castle walls. The
tower wherein the Princess Joceliande was prisoned was the topmost
turret of the building, so that many a roof crashed in, and many a
rampart bowed out and crumbled to the ground, or ever the fire touched
it. But just as night was drawing on, lo! a great tongue of flame
burst through the window from within, and the Sieur Rudel beheld in
the midst of it as it were the figure of a woman dancing.
Thereupon he signed to his sailors to hoist the sail again, and the
other ships obeying his example, he led the way gallantly to Broye.
A LIBERAL EDUCATION.
"So you couldn't wait!"
Mrs. Branscome turned full on the speaker as she answered
deliberately: "You have evidently not been long in London, Mr. Hilton,
or you would not ask that question."
"I arrived yesterday evening."
"Quite so. Then will you forgive me one tiny word of advice? You will
learn the truth of it soon by yourself; but I want to convince you at
once of the uselessness--to use no harder word--of trying to revive a
flirtation--let me see! yes, quite two years old. You might as well
galvanise a mummy and expect it to walk about. Besides," she added
inconsistently, "I had to marry and--and--you never came."
"Then you sent the locket!"
The word sent a shiver through Mrs. Branscome with a remembrance of
the desecration of a gift which she had cherished as a holy thing. She
clung to flippancy as her defence.
"Oh, no! I never sent it. I lost it somewhere, I think. Must you go?"
she continued, as Hilton moved silently to the door. "I expect my
husband in just now. Won't you wait and meet him?"
"How dare you?" Hilton burst out. "Is there nothing of your true self
* * * * *
David Hilton's education was as yet in its infancy. This was not only
his first visit to England, but, indeed, to any spot further afield
than Interlaken. All of his six-and-twenty years that he could
recollect had been passed in a _chalet_ on the Scheidegg above
Grindelwald, his only companion an elderly recluse who had
deliberately cut himself off from communion with his fellows. The
trouble which had driven Mr. Strange, an author at one time of some
mark, into this seclusion, was now as completely forgotten as his
name. Even David knew nothing of its cause. That Strange was his uncle
and had adopted him when left an orphan at the age of six, was the
sum of his information. For although the pair had lived together for
twenty years, there had been little intercourse of thought between
them, and none of sentiment. Strange had, indeed, throughout shut his
nephew, not merely from his heart, but also from his confidence, at
first out of sheer neglect, and afterwards, as the lad grew towards
manhood, from deliberate intent. For, by continually brooding over his
embittered life, he had at last impregnated his weak nature with the
savage cynicism which embraced even his one comrade; and the child he
had originally chosen as a solace for his loneliness, became in the
end the victim of a heartless experiment. Strange's plan was based
upon a method of training. In the first place, he thoroughly isolated
David from any actual experience of persons beyond the simple
shepherd folk who attended to their needs and a few Alpine guides who
accompanied him on mountain expeditions. He kept incessant guard over
his own past life, letting no incidents or deductions escape, and fed
the youth's mind solely upon the ideal polities of the ancients,
his object being to launch him suddenly upon the world with little
knowledge of it beyond what had filtered through his books, and
possessed of an intuitive hostility to existing modes. What kind of a
career would ensue? Strange anticipated the solution of the problem
with an approach to excitement. Two events, however, prevented the
complete realisation of his scheme. One was a lingering illness which
struck him down when David was twenty-four and about to enter on his
ordeal. The second, occurring simultaneously, was the advent of Mrs.
Branscome--then Kate Alden--to Grindelwald.
They met by chance on the snow slopes of the Wetterhorn early one
August morning. Miss Alden was trying to disentangle some meaning
from the _patois_ of her guides, and gratefully accepted Hilton's
assistance. Half-an-hour after she had continued the ascent, David
noticed a small gold locket glistening in her steps. It recalled him
to himself, and he picked it up and went home with a strange trouble
clutching at his heart. The next morning he carried the locket down
into the valley, found its owner and--forgot to restore it. It became
an excuse for further descents. Meanwhile, the theories were wooed
with a certain coldness. In front of them stood perpetually the one
real thing which had surged up through the quiet of his life, and,
lover-like, he justified its presence to himself, by seeing in Kate
Alden's frank face the incarnation of the ideal patterns of his books.
The visits to Grindelwald grew more frequent and more prolonged. The
climax, however, came unexpectedly to both. David had commissioned a
jeweller at Berne to fashion a fac-simile of the locket for his own
wearing, and, meaning to restore the original, handed Kate Alden the
copy the evening before she left. An explanation of the mistake led to
mutual avowals and a betrothal. Hilton returned to nurse his adoptive
father, and was to seek England as soon as he could obtain his
release. Meanwhile, Kate pledged herself to wait for him. She kept the
new locket, empty except for a sprig of edelweiss he had placed in
it, and agreed that if she needed her lover's presence, she should
despatch it as an imperative summons.
During the next two years Strange's life ebbed sullenly away. The
approach of death brought no closer intimacy between uncle and nephew,
since indeed the former held it almost as a grievance against
David that he should die before he could witness the issue of his
experiment. Consequently the younger man kept his secret to himself,
and embraced it the more closely for his secrecy, fostering it through
the dreary night watches, until the image of Kate Alden became a
Star-in-the-East to him, beckoning towards London. When the end came,
David found himself the possessor of a moderate fortune; and with the
humiliating knowledge that this legacy awoke his first feeling of
gratitude towards his uncle, he locked the door of the _chalet_, and
so landed at Charing Cross one wet November evening. Meanwhile the
locket had never come.
* * * * *
After Hilton had left, Mrs. Branscome's forced indifference gave way.
As she crouched beside the fire, numbed by pain beyond the power of
thought, she could conjure up but one memory--the morning of their
first meeting. She recollected that the sun had just risen over the
shoulder of the Shreckhorn, and how it had seemed to her young fancy
that David had come to her straight from the heart of it. The sound of
her husband's step in the hall brought her with a shock to facts. "He
must go back," she muttered, "he must go back."
David, however, harboured no such design. One phrase of hers had
struck root in his thoughts. "I had to marry," she had said, and
certain failings in her voice warned him that this, whatever it
meant, was in her eyes the truth. It had given the lie direct to the
flippancy which she had assumed, and David determined to remain until
he had fathomed its innermost meaning. A fear, indeed, lest the one
single faith he felt as real should crumble to ashes made his resolve
almost an instinct of self-preservation. The idea of accepting the
situation never occurred to him, his training having effectually
prevented any growth of respect for the _status quo_ as such. Nor did
he realise at this time that his determination might perhaps prove
unfair to Mrs. Branscome. A certain habit of abstraction, nurtured in
him by the spirit of inquiry which he had imbibed from his books, had
become so intuitive as to penetrate even into his passion. From the
first he had been accustomed to watch his increasing intimacy with
Kate Alden from the standpoint of a third person, analysing her
actions and feelings no less than his own. And now this tendency gave
the crowning impetus to a resolve which sprang originally from his
necessity to find sure foothold somewhere amid the wreckage of his
From this period might be dated the real commencement of Hilton's
education. He returned to the Branscomes' house, sedulously schooled
his looks and his words, save when betrayed into an occasional
denunciation of the marriage laws, and succeeded at last in overcoming
a distaste which Mr. Branscome unaccountably evinced for him. To a
certain extent, also, he was taken up by social entertainers. There
was an element of romance in the life he had led which appealed
favourably to the seekers after novelty--"a second St. Simeon
Skylights" he had been rashly termed by one good lady, whose wealth
outweighed her learning. At first his gathering crowd of acquaintances
only served to fence him more closely within himself; but as he began
to realise that this was only the unit of another crowd, a crowd of
designs and intentions working darkly, even he, sustained by the
strength of a single aim, felt himself whirling at times. Thus he
slowly grew to some knowledge of the difficulties and complications
which must beset any young girl like Kate Alden, whose nearest
relation and chaperon had been a feather-headed cousin not so
many years her elder. At last, in a dim way, he began to see the
possibility of replacing his bitterness with pity. For Mrs. Branscome
did not love her husband; he plainly perceived that, if only from the
formal precision with which she performed her duties. She appeared to
him, indeed, to be paying off an obligation rather than working out
the intention of her life.
The actual solution of his perplexities came by an accident. Amongst
the visitors who fell under Hilton's observation at the Branscomes'
was a certain Mr. Marston, a complacent widower of some
five-and-thirty years, and Branscome's fellow servant at the
Admiralty. Hilton's attention was attracted to this man by the air
of embarrassment with which Mrs. Branscome received his approaches.
Resolute to neglect no clue, however slight, David sought Marston's
companionship, and, as a reward, discovered one afternoon in a Crown
Derby teacup on the mantel-shelf of the latter's room his own present
of two years back. The exclamation which this discovery extorted
"Where did you get this?"
"Why? Have you seen it before?"
The question pointed out to David the need of wariness.
"No!" he answered. "Its shape rather struck me, that's all. The emblem
of a conquest, I suppose?"
The invitation stumbled awkwardly from unaccustomed lips, but
Marston noticed no more than the words. He was chewing the cud of a
disappointment and answered with a short laugh:
"No! Rather of a rebuff. The lady tore her hand away in a hurry--the
link on the bracelet was thin, I suppose. Anyway, that was left in my
"You were proposing to her?"
"Well, hardly. I was married at the time."
There was a silence for some moments, during which Hilton slowly
gathered into his mind a consciousness of the humiliation which Kate
must have endured, and read in that the explanation of her words "I
had to marry." Marston took up the tale, babbling resentfully of
a nursery prudishness, but his remarks fell on deaf ears until he
mentioned a withered flower, which he had found inside the locket.
Then David's self control partially gave way. In imagination he saw
Marston carelessly tossing the sprig aside and the touch of his
fingers seemed to sully the love of which it was the token. The locket
burned into his hand. Without a word he dropped it on to the floor,
and ground it to pieces with his heel. A new light broke in upon
"So this accounts for all your railing against the marriage laws," he
laughed. "By Jove, you have kept things quiet. I wouldn't have given
you credit for it."
His eyes travelled from the carpet to David's face, and he stopped
"You had better hold your tongue," David said quietly. "Pick up the
"Do you think I would touch them now?"
Marston rose from his lounge; David stepped in front of the door.
There was a litheness in his movements which denoted obedient muscles.
Marston perceived this now with considerable discomfort, and thought
it best to comply: he knelt down and picked up the fragments of the
"Now throw them into the grate!"
That done, David took his leave. Once outside the house, however, his
emotion fairly mastered him. The episode of which he had just heard
was so mean and petty in itself, and yet so far-reaching in its
consequences that it set his senses aflame in an increased revolt
against the order of the world. Marriage was practically a necessity
to a girl as unprotected as Kate Alden; he now acquiesced in that. But
that it should have been forced upon her by the vanity of a trivial
person like Marston, engaged in the pursuit of his desires, sent a
fever of repulsion through his veins. He turned back to the door
deluded by the notion that it was his duty to render the occurrence
impossible of repetition. He was checked, however, by the thought of
Mrs. Branscome. The shame he felt hinted the full force of degradation
of which she must have been conscious, and begot in him a strange
feeling of loyalty. Up till now the true meaning of chivalry had
been unknown to him. In consequence of his bringing up he had been
incapable of regarding faith in persons as a working motive in one's
life. Even the first dawn of his passion had failed to teach him that;
all the confidence and trust which he gained thereby being a mere
reflection, from what he saw in Kate Alden, of truth to him. It was
necessary that he should feel her trouble first and his poignant sense
of that now revealed to him, not merely the wantonness of the perils
women are compelled to run, but their consequent sufferings and their
endurance in suppressing them.
A feverish impulse towards self-sacrifice sprang up within him. He
would bury the incident of that afternoon as a dead thing--nay, more,
for Mrs. Branscome's sake he would leave England and return to his
retreat among the mountains. If she had suffered, why should he claim
an exemption? The idea had just sufficient strength to impel him to
catch the night-mail from Charing Cross. That it was already weakening
was evidenced by a half-feeling of regret that he had not missed the
The regret swelled during his journey to the coast. The scene he had
just come through became, from much pondering on it, almost unreal,
and, with the blurring of the impression it had caused, there rose a
doubt as to the accuracy of his vision of Mrs. Branscome's distress,
which he had conjured out of it. His chivalry, in a word, had grown
too quickly to take firm root. It was an exotic planted in soil not
yet fully prepared. David began to think himself a fool, and at last,
as the train neared Dover, a question which had been vaguely throbbing
in his brain suddenly took shape. Why had she not sent for him? True,
the locket was lost, but she might have written. The formulation of
the question shattered almost all the work of the last few hours. He
cursed his recent thoughts as a child's fairy dreams. Why should he
leave England after all? If he was to sacrifice himself it should be
for some one who cared sufficiently for him to justify the act.
There might, of course, have been some hidden obstacle in the way,
which Mrs. Branscome could not surmount. The revelation of Marston's
unimagined story warned him of the possibility of that. But the
chances were against it. Anyway, he quibbled to himself, he had a
clear right to pursue the matter until he unearthed the truth. Acting
upon this decision, David returned to town, though not without a
lurking sense of shame.
A few evenings after, he sought out Mrs. Branscome at a dance. The
blood rushed to her face when she caught his figure, and as quickly
"So you have not gone, after all?" There was something pitiful in her
tone of reproach.
"No. What made you think I had?"
"Mr. Marston told me!"
"Did he tell you why?"
"I guessed that, and I thanked you in my heart."
David was disconcerted; the woman he saw corresponded so ill with what
he was schooling himself to believe her. He sought to conceal his
confusion, as she had once done, and played a part. Like her, he
"Well! I came to see London life, you know. It makes a pretty comedy."
"Comedies end in tears at times."
"Even then common politeness makes us sit them out. Can you spare me a
Mrs. Branscome pleaded fatigue, and barely suppressed a sigh of relief
as she noted her husband's approach. David followed her glance, and
bent over her, speaking hurriedly:--
"You said you knew why I went away; I want to tell you why I came
"No! no!" she exclaimed. "It could be of no use--of no help to either
"I came back," he went on, ignoring her interruption, "merely to ask
you one question. Will you hear it and answer it? I can wait," he
added, as she kept silence.
"Then, to-morrow, as soon as possible," Mrs. Branscome replied, beaten
by his persistency. "Come at seven; we dine at eight, so I can give
you half-an-hour. But you are ungenerous."
That night began what may be termed the crisis of Hilton's education.
This was the second time he had caught Mrs. Branscome unawares. On the
first occasion--that of his unexpected arrival in England--he did not
possess the experience to measure accurately looks and movements,
or to comprehend them as the connotation of words. It is doubtful,
besides, whether, had he owned the skill, he would have had the power
to exercise it, so engrossed was he in his own distress. By the
process, however, of continually repressing the visible signs of his
own emotions, he had now learnt to appreciate them in others. And
in Mrs. Branscome's sudden change of colour, in little convulsive
movements of her hands, and in a certain droop of eyelids veiling eyes
which met the gaze frankly as a rule, he read this evening sure proofs
of the constancy of her heart. This fresh knowledge affected him in
two ways. On the one hand it gave breath to the selfish passion which
now dominated his ideas. At the same time, however it assured him
that when he asked his question: "Why did you not send for me?" an
unassailable answer would be forthcoming; and, moreover, by convincing
him of this, it destroyed the sole excuse he had pleaded to himself
for claiming the right to ask it. In self-defence Hilton had recourse
to his old outcry against the marriage laws and, finding this barren,
came in the end to frankly devising schemes for their circumvention.
Such inward personal conflicts were, of necessity, strange to a man
dry-nursed on abstractions, and, after a night of tension, they tossed
him up on the shores of the morning broken in mind and irresolute for
good or ill.
* * * * *
Mrs. Branscome received him impassively at the appointed time. David
saw that he was expected to speak to the point, and a growing scorn
for his own insistence urged him to the same course. He plunged
abruptly into his subject and his manner showed him in the rough, more
particularly to himself.
"What I came back to ask you is just this. You know--you must
know--that I would have come, whatever the consequence. Why did you
not send for me after, after--?"
"Why did I not send for you?" Mrs. Branscome took him up, repeating
his words mechanically, as though their meaning had not reached her.
"You don't mean that you never received my letter. Oh, don't say that!
It can't have miscarried, I registered it."
"Then you did write?"
This confirmation of her fear drove a breach through her composure.
"Of course, of course, I wrote," she cried. "You doubt that? What can
you think of me? Yes, I wrote, and when no answer came, I fancied
you had forgotten me--that you had never really cared, and so I--I
Her voice dried in her throat. The thought of this ruin of two lives,
made inevitable by a mistake in which neither shared, brought a sense
of futility which paralysed her.
The same idea was working in Hilton's mind, but to a different end. It
fixed the true nature of this woman for the first time clearly within
his recognition, and the new light blinded him. Before, his imagined
grievance had always coloured the picture; now, he began to realise
not only that she was no more responsible for the catastrophe than
himself, but that he must have stood in the same light to her as she
had done to him. The events of the past few months passed before his
mind as on a clear mirror. He compared the gentle distinction of her
bearing with his own flaunting resentment.
"I am sorry," he said, "I have wronged you in thought and word and
action. The fact is, I never saw you plainly before; myself stood in
Mrs. Branscome barely heeded his words. The feelings her watchfulness
had hitherto restrained having once broken their barriers swept her
away on a full flow. She recalled the very terms of her letter. She
had written it in the room in which they were standing. Mr. Branscome
had called just as she addressed the envelope--she had questioned him
about its registration to Switzerland, and, yes, he had promised to
look after it and had taken it away. "Yes!" she repeated to herself
aloud, directing her eyes instinctively towards her husband's study
door. "He promised to post it."
The sound of the words and a sudden movement from Hilton woke her to
alarm. David had turned to the window, and she felt that he had heard
and understood. The silence pressed on her like a dead weight. For
Hilton, this was the crucial moment of his ordeal. He had understood
only too clearly, and this second proof of the harm a petty sin could
radiate struck through him the same fiery repulsion which had stung
him to revolt when he quitted Marston's rooms. He flung up the window
and faced the sunset. Strips of black cloud barred it across, and he
noticed, with a minute attention of which he was hardly conscious,
that their lower edges took a colour like the afterglow on a Swiss
rock mountain. The perception sent a riot of associations through his
brain which strengthened his wavering purpose. Must he lose her after
all, he thought; now that he had risen to a true estimation of her
worth? His fancy throned Kate queen of his mountain home, and he
turned towards her, but a light of fear in her eyes stopped the words
on his lips.
"I trust you," she said, simply.
The storm of his passions quieted down. That one sentence just
expressed to him the debt he owed to her. In return--well, he could do
no less than leave her her illusion.
"Good-bye," he said. "All the good that comes to us, somehow, seems to
spring from women like yourself, while we give you nothing but trouble
in return. Even this last misery, which my selfishness has brought to
you, lifts me to breathe a cleaner air."
"He must have forgotten to post it," Mrs. Branscome pleaded.
"Yes; we must believe that. Good-bye!"
For a moment he stayed to watch her white figure, outlined against the
dusk of the room, and then gently closed the door on her. The next
morning David left England, not, however, for Grindelwald. He dreaded
the morbid selfishness which grows from isolation, and sought a
finishing school in the companionship of practical men.
THE TWENTY-KRONER STORY.
The surgeon has a weakness for men who make their living on the sea.
From the skipper of a Dogger Bank fishing-smack to the stoker of a
Cardiff tramp, from Margate 'longshoreman to a crabber of the Stilly
Isles, he embraces them all in a lusty affection. And this not merely
out of his own love of salt water but because his diagnosis reveals
the gentleman in them more surely than in the general run of his
wealthier patients. "A primitive gentleman, if you like," Lincott will
say, "not above tearing his meat with his fingers or wearing the
same shirt night and day for a couple of months on end, but still a
gentleman." As one of the innumerable instances which had built up his
conviction, Lincott will offer you the twenty-kroner story.
As he was walking through the wards of his hospital he stopped for
a moment by the bed of a brewer's drayman who was suffering from an
access of _delirium tremens_. The drayman's language was violent and
voluble. But he sank into a coma with the usual suddenness common to
such cases, and in the pause which followed Lincott heard a gentle
voice a few beds away earnestly apologising to a nurse for the trouble
she was put to. "Why," she replied with a laugh, "I am here to be
troubled." Apologies of the kind are not so frequently heard in the
wards of an East End hospital. This one, besides, was spoken with an
accent not very pronounced, it is true, but unfamiliar. Lincott moved
down to the bed. It was occupied by a man apparently tall, with a pair
of remorseful blue eyes set in an open face, and a thatch of yellow
hair dusted with grey.
"What's the matter?" asked Lincott, and the patient explained. He was
a Norseman from Finland, fifty-three years old, and he had worked all
his life on English ships. He had risen from "decky" to mate. Then he
had injured himself, and since he could work no more he had come into
the hospital to be cured. Lincott examined him, found that a slight
operation was all the man needed, and performed it himself. In six
weeks time Helling, as the sailor was named, was discharged. He made a
simple and dignified little speech of thanks to the nurses for their
attention, and another to the surgeon for saving his life.
"Nonsense!" said Lincott, as he held out his hand. "Any medical
student could have performed that operation."
"Then I have another reason to thank you," answered Helling. "The
nurses have told me about you, sir, and I'm grateful you spared the
time to perform it yourself."
"What are you going to do?" asked Lincott.
"Find a ship, sir," answered Helling. Then he hesitated, and slowly
slipped his finger and thumb along the waist-band of his trousers. But
he only repeated, "I must find a ship," and so left the hospital.
Three weeks later Helling called at Lincott's house in Harley Street.
Now, when hospital patients take the trouble, after they have been
discharged, to find out the doctor's private address and call, it
generally means they have come to beg. Lincott, remembering how
Helling's simple courtesies had impressed him, experienced an actual
disappointment. He felt his theories about the seafaring man begin to
totter. However, Helling was shown into the consulting-room, and at
the sight of him Lincott's disappointment vanished. He did not start
up, since manifestations of surprise are amongst those things with
which doctors find it advisable to dispense, but he hooked a chair
forward with his foot.
"Now then, sit down! Chuck yourself about! Sit down," said Lincott
genially. "You look bad."
Helling, in fact, was gaunt with famine; his eyes were sunk and dull;
he was so thin that he seemed to have grown in height.
"I had some trouble in finding a ship," he said; and sitting down on
the edge of the chair, twirled his hat in some embarrassment.
"It is three weeks since you left the hospital?"
"You should have come here before," the surgeon was moved to say.
"No," answered Helling. "I couldn't come before, sir. You see, I had
no ship. But I found one this morning, and I start to-morrow."
"But for these three weeks? You have been starving." Lincott slipped
his hand into his pocket. It seemed to him afterwards simply
providential that he did not fumble his money, that no clink of coins
was heard. For Helling answered,
"Yes, sir, I've been starving." He drew back his shoulders and
laughed. "I'm proud to know that I've been starving."
He laid his hat on the ground, drew out and unclasped his knife, felt
along the waist-band of his breeches, cut a few stitches, and finally
produced a little gold coin. This coin he held between his forefinger
"Forty years ago," he said, "when I was a nipper and starting on
my first voyage, my mother gave me this. She sewed it up in the
waist-band of my breeches with her own hands and told me never to part
with it until I'd been starving. I've been near to starvation often
and often enough. But I never have starved before. This coin has
always stood between that and me. Now, however, I have actually been
starving and I can part with it."
He got up from his chair and timidly laid the piece of gold on the
table by Lincott's elbow. Then he picked up his hat. The surgeon
said nothing, and he did not touch the coin. Neither did he look at
Helling, but sat with his forehead propped in his hand as though he
were reading the letters on his desk. Helling, afraid to speak lest
his coin should be refused, walked noiselessly to the door and
noiselessly unlatched it.
"Wait a bit!" said Lincott. Helling stopped anxiously in the doorway.
"Where have you slept"--Lincott paused to steady his voice--"for the
last three weeks?" he continued.
"Under arches by the river, sir," replied Helling. "On benches along
the Embankment, once or twice in the parks. But that's all over now,"
he said earnestly. "I'm all right. I've got my ship. I couldn't part
with that before, because it was the only thing I had to hang on to
the world with. But I'm all right now."
Lincott took up the coin and turned it over in the palm of his hand.
"Twenty kroners," he said. "Do you know what that's worth in England?"
"Yes, I do," answered Helling with some trepidation.
"Fifteen shillings," said Lincott. "Think of it, fifteen shillings,
"I know," interrupted Helling quickly, mistaking the surgeon's
meaning. "But please, please, you mustn't think I value what you have
done for me at that. It's only fifteen shillings, but it has meant a
fortune to me all the last three weeks. Each time that I've drawn my
belt tighter I have felt that coin underneath it burn against my skin.
When I passed a coffee-stall in the early morning and saw the steam
and the cake I knew I could have bought up the whole stall if I chose.
I could have had meals, and meals, and meals. I could have slept in
beds under roofs. It's only fifteen shillings; nothing at all to
you," and he looked round the consulting-room, with its pictures and
electric lights, "but I want you to take it at what it has been worth
to me ever since I came out of the hospital."
Lincott took Helling into his dining-room. On a pedestal stood a great
silver vase, blazing its magnificence across the room.
"You see that?" he asked.
"Yes," said Helling.
"It was given to me by a patient. It must have cost at the least
Helling tapped the vase with his knuckles.
"Yes, sir, that's a present," he said enviously. "That _is_ a
Lincott laughed and threw up the window.
"You can pitch it out into the street if you like. By the side of your
coin it's muck."
Lincott keeps the coin. He points out that Helling was fifty-three at
the time that he gave him this present, and that the operation was one
which any practitioner could have performed.
THE FIFTH PICTURE.
Lady Tamworth felt unutterably bored. The sensation of lassitude, even
in its less acute degrees, was rare with her; for she possessed a
nature of so fresh a buoyancy that she was able, as a rule, to extract
diversion from any environment. Her mind took impressions with the
vivid clearness of a mirror, and also, it should be owned, with a
mirror's transient objectivity. To-day, however, the mirror was
clouded. She looked out of the window; a level row of grey houses
frowned at her across the street. She looked upwards; a grey pall of
cloud swung over the rooftops. The interior of the room appeared to
her even less inviting than the street. It was the afternoon of the
first drawing-room, and a _debutante_ was exhibiting herself to her
friends. She stood in the centre, a figure from a Twelfth-Night cake,
amidst a babble of congratulations, and was plainly occupied in a
perpetual struggle to conceal her moments of enthusiasm beneath a
crust of deprecatory languor.
The spectacle would have afforded choice entertainment to Lady
Tamworth, had she viewed it in the company of a sympathetic companion.
Solitary appreciation of the humorous, however, only induced in her
a yet more despondent mood. The tea seemed tepid; the conversation
matched the tea. Epigrams without point, sallies void of wit, and
cynicisms innocent of the sting of an apt application floated about
her on a ripple of unintelligent laughter. A phrase of Mr. Dale's
recurred to her mind, "Hock and seltzer with the sparkle out of it;"
so he had stigmatised the style and she sadly thanked him for the
There was, moreover, a particular reason for her discontent. Nobody
realised the presence of Lady Tamworth, and this unaccustomed neglect
shot a barbed question at her breast. "After all why should they?" She
was useless, she reflected; she did nothing, exercised no influence.
The thought, however, was too painful for lengthened endurance; the
very humiliation of it produced the antidote. She remembered that she
had at last persuaded her lazy Sir John to stand for Parliament. Only
wait until he was elected! She would exercise an influence then. The
vision of a _salon_ was miraged before her, with herself in the middle
deftly manipulating the destinies of a nation.
"Lady Tamworth!" a voice sounded at her elbow.
"Mr. Dale!" She turned with a sudden sprightliness. "My guardian angel
"So bad as that?"
"I have an intuition." She paused impressively upon the word.
"Never mind!" said he soothingly. "It will go away."
Lady Tamworth glared, that is, as well as she could; nature had not
really adapted her for glaring. "I have an intuition," she resumed,
"that this is what the suburbs mean." And she waved her hand
"They are perhaps a trifle excessive," he returned. "But then you
needn't have come."
"Oh, yes! Clients of Sir John." Lady Tamworth sighed and sank with a
weary elegance into a chair. Mr. Dale interpreted the sigh. "Ah! A
wife's duties," he began.
"No man can know," she interrupted, and she spread out her hands in
pathetic forgiveness of an over-exacting world. Her companion laughed
brutally. "You _are_ rude!" she said and laughed too. And then, "Tell
me something new!"
"I met an admirer of yours to-day."
"But that's nothing new." She looked up at him with a plaintive
"I will begin again," he replied submissively. "I walked down the
Mile-End road this morning to Sir John's jute-factory."
"You fail to interest me," she said with some emphasis.
"I am so sorry. Good-bye!"
"You may, if you like, go on with the first story."
"There is only one. It was in the Mile-End road I met the
"Oh!" Lady Tamworth sat up and blushed. However, Lady Tamworth blushed
"It was a queer incident," Mr. Dale continued. "I caught sight of a
necktie in a little dusty shop-window near the Pavilion Theatre. I
had never seen anything like it in my life; it fairly fascinated me,
seemed to dare me to buy it."
The lady's foot began to tap upon the carpet. Mr. Dale stopped and
leaned critically forward.
"Well! Why don't you go on?" she asked impatiently.
"It's pretty," he reflected aloud.
The foot disappeared demurely into the seclusion of petticoats. "You
exasperate me," she remarked. But her face hardly guaranteed her
words. "We were speaking of ties."
"Ah, the tie wasn't pretty. It was of satin, bright yellow with blue
spots. And an idea struck me; yes, an idea! Sir John's election
colours are yellow, his opponent's blue. So I thought the tie would
make a tactful present, symbolical (do you see?) of the state of the
parties in the constituency."
He paused a second time.
"I went in and bought it."
"Julian Fairholm sold it to me."
Lady Tamworth stared at the speaker in pure perplexity. Then all at
once she understood and the blood eddied into her cheeks. "I don't
believe it!" she exclaimed.
"His face would be difficult to mistake," Mr. Dale objected. "Besides
I had time to assure myself, for I had to wait my turn. When I entered
the shop, he was serving a woman with baby-linen. Oh yes! Julian
Fairholm sold me the tie."
Lady Tamworth kept her eyes upon the ground. Then she looked up. She
struck the arm of her chair with her closed fist and cried in a quick
petulance, "How dare he?"
"Exactly what I thought," answered her companion smoothly. "The
colours were crude by themselves, the combination was detestable. And
he an artist too!" Mr. Dale laughed pleasantly.
"Did he speak to you?"
"He asked me whether I would take a packet of pins instead of a
"Ah, don't," she entreated, and rose from her chair. It might have
been her own degradation of which Mr. Dale was speaking.
"By the way," he added, "I was so taken aback that I forgot to present
the tie. Would you?"
"No! No!" she said decisively and turned away. But a sudden notion
checked her. "On second thoughts I will; but I can't promise to make
him wear it."
The smile which sped the words flickered strangely upon quivering lips
and her eyes shone with anger. However the tie changed hands, and Lady
Tamworth tripped down stairs and stepped into her brougham. The packet
lay upon her lap and she unfolded it. A round ticket was enclosed, and
the bill. On the ticket was printed, _A Present from Zedediah Moss_.
With a convulsion of disgust she swept the parcel on to the floor.
"How dare he?" she cried again, and her thoughts flew back to the
brief period of their engagement. She had been just Kitty Arlton in
those days, the daughter of a poor sea-captain but dowered with
the compensating grace of personal attractions. Providence had
indisputably designed her for the establishment of the family
fortunes; such at all events was the family creed, and the girl
herself felt no inclination to doubt a faith which was backed by the
evidence of her looking-glass. Julian Fairholm at that time shared a
studio with her brother, and the acquaintance thus begun ripened into
an attachment and ended in a betrothal. For Julian, in the common
prediction, possessed that vague blessing, a future. It is true the
common prediction was always protected by a saving clause: "If he
could struggle free from his mysticism." But none the less his
pictures were beginning to sell, and the family displayed a moderate
content. The discomposing appearance of Sir John Tamworth, however,
gave a different complexion to the matter. Sir John was rich, and had
besides the confident pertinacity of success. In a word, Kitty Arlton
married Sir John.
Lady Tamworth's recollections of the episode were characteristically
vague; they came back to her in pieces like disconnected sections of
a wooden puzzle. She remembered that she had written an exquisitely
pathetic letter to Fairholm "when the end came," as she expressed it;
and she recalled queer scraps of the artist's talk about the danger
of forming ties. "New ties," he would say, "mean new duties, and they
hamper and clog the will." Ah yes, the will; he was always holding
forth about that and here was the lecture finally exemplified! He
was selling baby-linen in the Mile-End road. She had borne her
disappointment, she reflected, without any talk about will. The
thought of her self-sacrifice even now brought the tears to her eyes;
she saw herself wearing her orange-blossoms in the spirit of an
Sections of the puzzle, however, were missing to Lady Tamworth's
perceptions. For, in fact, her sense of sacrifice had been mainly
artificial, and fostered by a vanity which made the possession of a
broken romance seem to pose her on a notable pedestal of duty. What
had really attracted her to Julian was the evidence of her power shown
in the subjugation of a being intellectually higher than his compeers.
It was not so much the man she had cared for, as the sight of herself
in a superior setting; a sure proof whereof might have been found in a
certain wilful pleasure which she had drawn from constantly impelling
him to acts and admissions which she knew to be alien to his nature.
It was some revival of this idea which explained her exclamation, "How
dare he?" For his conduct appeared more in the light of an outrage and
insult to her than of a degradation of himself. He must be rescued
from his position, she determined.
She stooped to pick up the bill from the floor as the brougham swung
sharply round a corner. She looked out of the window; the coachman had
turned into Berkeley Square; in another hundred yards she would reach
home. She hastily pulled the check-string, and the footman came to the
door. "Drive down the Mile-End road," she said; "I will fetch Sir John
home." Lady Tamworth read the address on the bill. "Near the Pavilion
Theatre," Mr. Dale had explained. She would just see the place this
evening, she determined, and then reflect on the practical course to
The decision relieved her of her sense of humiliation, and she nestled
back among her furs with a sigh of content. There was a pleasurable
excitement about her present impulse which contrasted very brightly
with her recent _ennui_. She felt that her wish to do something,
to exert an influence, had been providentially answered. The task,
besides, seemed to her to have a flavour of antique chivalry; it
smacked of the princess undoing enchantments, and reminded her vaguely
of Camelot. She determined to stop at the house and begin the work
at once; so she summoned the footman a second time and gave him the
address. So great indeed was the charm which her conception exercised
over her, that her very indignation against Julian changed to pity.
He had to be fitted to the chivalric pattern, and consequently
refashioned. Her harlequin fancy straightway transformed him into the
romantic lover who, having lost his mistress, had lost the world and
therefore, naturally, held the sale of baby-linen on a par with the
painting of pictures. "Poor Julian!" she thought.
The carriage stopped suddenly in front of a shuttered window. A
neighbouring gas-lamp lit up the letters on the board above it, _Z.
Moss_. This unexpected check in the full flight of ardour dropped her
to earth like a plummet. And as if to accentuate her disappointment
the surrounding shops were aglare with light; customers pressed
busily in and out of them, and even on the roadway naphtha-jets waved
flauntingly over barrows of sweet-stuff and fruit. Only this sordid
little house was dark. "They can't afford to close at this hour," she
The footman came to the carriage door, disdain perceptibly struggling
through his mask of impassivity.
"Why is the shop closed?" Lady Tamworth asked.
"The name, perhaps, my lady," he suggested. "It is Friday."
Lady Tamworth had forgotten the day. "Very well," she said sullenly.
"Home at once!" However, she corrected herself adroitly: "I mean, of
course, fetch Sir John first."
Sir John was duly fetched and carried home jubilant at so rare an
attention. The tie was presented to him on the way, and he bellowed
his merriment at its shape and colour. To her surprise Lady Tamworth
found herself defending the style, and inveighing against the monotony
of the fashions of the West End. Nor was this the only occasion on
which she disagreed with her husband that evening. He launched an
aphorism across the dinner-table which he had cogitated from the
report of a divorce-suit in the evening papers. "It is a strange
thing," he said, "that the woman who knows her influence over a man
usually employs it to hurt him; the woman who doesn't, employs it
unconsciously for his good."
"You don't mean that?" she asked earnestly.
"I have noticed it more than once," he replied.
For a moment Lady Tamworth's chivalric edifice showed cracks and
rents; it threatened to crumble like a house of cards; but only for
a moment. For she merely considered the remark in reference to the
future; she applied it to her present wish to exercise an influence
over Julian. The issue of that, however, lay still in the dark, and
was consequently imaginable as inclination prompted. A glance at Sir
Julian sufficed to finally reassure her. He was rosy and modern, and
so plainly incapable of appreciating chivalric impulses. To estimate
them rightly one must have an insight into their nature, and therefore
an actual experience of their fire; but such fire left traces on the
person. Chivalric people were hollow-cheeked with luminous eyes; at
least chivalric men were hollow-cheeked, she corrected herself with
a look at the mirror. At all events Sir John and his aphorism were
beneath serious reflection; and she determined to repeat her journey
upon the first opportunity.
The opportunity, however, was delayed for a week and occasioned Lady
Tamworth no small amount of self-pity. Here was noble work waiting for
her hand, and duty kept her chained to the social oar!
On the afternoon, then, of the following Friday she dressed with
what even for her was unusual care, aiming at a complex effect of
daintiness and severity, and drove down in a hansom to Whitechapel.
She stopped the cab some yards from the shop and walked up to the
window. Through the glass she could see Julian standing behind the
counter. His hands (she noticed them particularly because he was
displaying some cheap skeins of coloured wool) seemed perhaps a trifle
thinner and more nervous, his features a little sharpened, and there
was a sprinkling of grey in the black of his hair. For the first time
since the conception of her scheme Lady Tamworth experienced a feeling
of irresolution. With Fairholm in the flesh before her eyes, the task
appeared difficult; its reality pressed in upon her, driving a breach
through the flimsy wall of her fancies. She resolved to wait until the
shop should be empty, and to that end took a few steps slowly up the
street and returned yet more slowly. She looked into the window again;
Julian was alone now, and still she hesitated. The admiring comments
of two loungers on the kerb concerning her appearance at last
determined her, and she brusquely thrust open the door. A little bell
jangled shrilly above it and Julian looked up.
"Lady Tamworth!" he said after the merest pause and with no more than
a natural start of surprise. Lady Tamworth, however, was too taken
aback by the cool manner of his greeting to respond at once. She had
forecast the commencement of the interview upon such wholly different
lines that she felt lost and bewildered. An abashed confusion was the
least that she expected from him, and she was prepared to increase it
with a nicely-tempered indignation. Now the positions seemed actually
reversed; he was looking at her with a composed attention, while she
was filled with embarrassment.
A suspicion flashed through her mind that she had come upon a fool's
errand. "Julian!" she said with something of humility in her voice,
and she timidly reached out her little gloved hand towards him. Julian
took it into the palm of his own and gazed at it with a sort of
wondering tenderness, as though he had lighted upon a toy which he
remembered to have prized dearly in an almost forgotten childhood.
This second blow to her pride quickened in her a feeling of
exasperation. She drew her fingers quickly out of his grasp. "What
brought you down to this!" She snapped out the words at him; she had
not come to Whitechapel to be slighted at all events.
"I have risen," he answered quietly.
"Risen? And you sell baby-linen!"
Julian laughed in pure contentment. "You don't understand," he said.
For a moment he looked at her as one debating with himself and then:
"You have a right to understand. I will tell you." He leaned across
the counter, and as he spoke the eager passion of a devotee began to
kindle in his eyes and vibrate through the tones of his voice. "The
knowledge of a truth worked into your heart will lift you, eh, must
lift you high? But base your life upon that truth, centre yourself
about it, till your thoughts become instincts born from it! It must
lift you still higher then; ah, how much higher! Well, I have done
that. Yes, that's why I am here. And I owe it all to you."
Lady Tamworth repeated his words in sheer bewilderment. "You owe it
all to me?"
"Yes," he nodded, "all to you." And with genuine gratitude he added,
"You didn't know the good that you had done."
"Ah, don't say that!" she cried.
The bell tinkled over the shop-door and a woman entered. Lady Tamworth
bent forward and said hastily, "I must speak to you."
"Then you must buy something; what shall it be?" Fairholm had already
recovered his self-possession and was drawing out one of the shelves
in the wall behind him.
"No, no!" she exclaimed, "not here; I can't speak to you here. Come
and call on me; what day will you come?"
Julian shook his head. "Not at all, I am afraid. I have not the time."
A boy came out from the inner room and began to get ready the
shutters. "Ah, it's Friday," she said. "You will be closing soon."
"In five minutes."
"Then I will wait for you. Yes, I will wait for you."
She paused at the door and looked at Julian. He was deferentially
waiting on his customer, and Lady Tamworth noticed with a queer
feeling of repugnance that he had even acquired the shopman's trick of
rubbing the hands. Those five minutes proved for her a most unenviable
period. Julian's sentence,--"I owe it all to you"--pressed heavily
upon her conscience. Spoken bitterly, she would have given little heed
to it; but there had been a convincing sincerity in the ring of
his voice. The words, besides, brought back to her Sir John's
uncomfortable aphorism and freighted it with an accusation. She
applied it now as a search-light upon her jumbled recollections of
Julian's courtship, and began to realise that her efforts during that
time had been directed thoughtlessly towards enlarging her influence
over him. If, indeed, Julian owed this change in his condition to her,
then Sir John was right, and she had employed her influence to his
hurt. And it only made her fault the greater that Julian was himself
unconscious of his degradation. She commenced to feel a personal
responsibility commanding her to rescue him from his slough, which
was increased moreover by a fear that her persuasions might prove
ineffectual. For Julian's manner pointed now to an utter absence of
feeling so far as she was concerned.
At last Julian came out to her. "You will leave here," she cried
impulsively. "You will come back to us, to your friends!"
"Never," he answered firmly.
"You must," she pleaded; "you said you owed it all to me."
"Well, don't you see? If you stay here, I can never forgive myself; I
shall have ruined your life."
"Ruined it?" Julian asked in a tone of wonder. "You have made it." He
stopped and looked at Lady Tamworth in perplexity. The same perplexity
was stamped upon her face. "We are at cross-purposes, I think," he
continued. "My rooms are close here. Let me give you some tea, and
explain to you that you have no cause to blame yourself."
Lady Tamworth assented with some relief. The speech had an odd
civilised flavour which contrasted pleasantly with what she had
imagined of his mode of life.
They crossed the road and turned into a narrow side-street. Julian
halted before a house of a slovenly exterior, and opened the door. A
bare rickety staircase rose upwards from their feet. Fairholm closed
the door behind Lady Tamworth, struck a match (for it was quite dark
within this passage), and they mounted to the fourth and topmost
floor. They stopped again upon a little landing in front of a second
door. A wall-paper of a cheap and offensive pattern, which had here
and there peeled from the plaster, added, Lady Tamworth observed, a
paltry air of tawdriness to the poverty of the place. Julian fumbled
in his pocket for a key, unlocked the door, and stepped aside for his
companion to enter. Following her in, he lit a pair of wax candles
on the mantelpiece and a brass lamp in the corner of the room. Lady
Tamworth fancied that unawares she had slipped into fairyland;
so great was the contrast between this retreat and the sordid
surroundings amidst which it was perched. It was furnished with a
dainty, and almost a feminine luxury. The room, she could see, was no
more than an oblong garret; but along one side mouse-coloured curtains
fell to the ground in folds from the angle where the sloping roof met
the wall; on the other a cheerful fire glowed from a hearth of white
tiles and a kettle sang merrily upon the hob. A broad couch, piled
with silk cushions occupied the far end beneath the window, and the
feet sank with a delicate pleasure into a thick velvety carpet. In the
centre a small inlaid table of cedar wood held a silver tea-service.
The candlesticks were of silver also, and cast in a light and
fantastic fashion. The solitary discord was a black easel funereally
Julian prepared the tea, and talked while he prepared it. "It is this
way," he began quietly. "You know what I have always believed; that
the will was the man, his soul, his life, everything. Well, in the old
days thoughts and ideas commenced to make themselves felt in me, to
crop up in my work. I would start on a picture with a clear settled
design; when it was finished, I would notice that by some unconscious
freak I had introduced a figure, an arabesque, always something which
made the whole incongruous and bizarre. I discovered the cause during
the week after I received your last letter. The thoughts, the ideas
were yours; better than mine perhaps, but none the less death to me."
Lady Tamworth stirred uneasily under a sense of guilt, and murmured
a faint objection. Julian shook off the occupation of his theme and
handed her some cake, and began again, standing over her with the cake
in his hand, and to all seeming unconscious that there was a strain of
cruelty in his words. "I found out what that meant. My emotions were
mastering me, drowning the will in me. You see, I cared for you so
A frank contempt stressing the last word cut into his hearer with the
keenness of a knife. "You are unkind," she said weakly.
"There's no reproach to you. I have got over it long ago," he replied
cheerily. "And you showed me how to get over it; that's why I am
grateful. For I began to wonder after that, why I, who had always been
on my guard against the emotions, should become so thoroughly their
slave. And at last I found out the reason; it was the work I was
"Your work?" she exclaimed.
"Exactly! You remember what Plato remarked about the actor?"
"How should I?" asked poor Lady Tamworth.
"Well, he wouldn't have him in his ideal State because acting develops
the emotions, the shifty unstable part of a man. But that's true of
art as well; to do good work in art you must feel your work as an
emotion. So I cut myself clear from it all. I furnished these rooms
and came down here,--to live." And Julian drew a long breath, like a
man escaped from danger.
"But why come here?" Lady Tamworth urged. "You might have gone into
"No, no, no!" he answered, setting down the cake and pacing about the
room. "Wherever else I went, I must have formed new ties, created new
duties. I didn't want that; one's feelings form the ties, one's
soul pays the duties. No, London is the only place where a man can
disappear. Besides I had to do something, and I chose this work,
because it didn't touch me. I could throw it off the moment it was
done. In the shop I earn the means to live; I live here."
"But what kind of a life is it?" she asked in despair.
"I will tell you," he replied, sinking his tone to an eager whisper;
"but you mustn't repeat it, you must keep it a secret. When I am in
this room alone at night, the walls widen and widen away until at last
they vanish," and he nodded mysteriously at her. "The roof curls up
like a roll of parchment, and I am left on an open platform."
"What do you mean?" gasped Lady Tamworth.
"Yes, on an open platform underneath the stars. And do you know,"
he sank his voice yet lower, "I hear them at times; very faintly of
course,--their songs have so far to travel; but I hear them,--yes, I
hear the stars."
Lady Tamworth rose in a whirl of alarm. Before this crazy exaltation,
her very desire to pursue her purpose vanished. For Julian's manner
even more than his words contributed to her fears. In spite of his
homily, emotion was dominant in his expression, swaying his body,
burning on his face and lighting his eyes with a fire of changing
colours. And every note in his voice was struck within the scale of
She glanced about the room; her eyes fell on the easel. "Don't you
ever paint?" she asked hurriedly.
He dropped his head and stood shifting from one foot to the other, as
if he was ashamed. "At times," he said hesitatingly; "at times I have
to,--I can't help it,--I have to express myself. Look!" He stepped
suddenly across the room and slid the curtains back along the rail.
The wall was frescoed from floor to ceiling.
"Julian!" Lady Tamworth cried. She forgot all her fears in face of
this splendid revelation of his skill. Here was the fulfilment of his
In the centre four pictures were ranged, the stages in the progress of
an allegory, but executed with such masterful craft and of so vivid an
intention that they read their message straightway into the heart of
one's understanding. Round about this group, were smaller sketches,
miniatures of pure fancy. It seemed as if the artist had sought relief
in painting these from the pressure of his chief design. Here, for
instance, Day and Night were chasing one another through the rings of
Saturn; there a swarm of silver stars was settling down through the
darkness to the earth.
"Julian, you must come back. You can't stay here."
"I don't mean to stay here long. It is merely a halting-place."
"But for how long?"
"I have one more picture to complete."
They turned again to the wall. Suddenly something caught Lady
Tamworth's eye. She bent forward and examined the four pictures with
a close scrutiny. Then she looked back again to Julian with a happy
smile upon her face. "You have done these lately?"
"Quite lately; they are the stages of a man's life, of the struggle
between his passions and his will."
He began to describe them. In the first picture a brutish god was
seated on a throne of clay; before the god a man of coarse heavy
features lay grovelling; but from his shoulders sprang a white figure,
weak as yet and shadowy, but pointing against the god the shadow of a
spear; and underneath was written, "At last he knoweth what he made."
In the second, the figure which grovelled and that which sprang from
its shoulders were plodding along a high-road at night, chained
together by the wrist. The white figure halted behind, the other
pressed on; and underneath was written, "They know each other not." In
the third the figures marched level, that which had grovelled scowling
at its companion; but the white figure had grown tall and strong and
watched its companion with contempt. Above the sky had brightened
with the gleam of stars; and underneath was written, "They know each
other." In the fourth, the white figure pressed on ahead and dragged
the other by the chain impatiently. Before them the sun was rising
over the edge of a heath and the road ran straight towards it in a
golden line; and underneath was written, "He knoweth his burden."
Lady Tamworth waited when he had finished, in a laughing expectancy.
"And is that all?" she asked. "Is that all?"
"No," he replied slowly; "there is yet a further stage. It is
unfinished." And he pointed to the easel.
"I don't mean that. Is that all you have to say of these?"
"I think so. Yes."
"Look at me!"
Julian turned wonderingly to Lady Tamworth. She watched him with a
dancing sparkle of her eyes. "Now look at the pictures!" Julian obeyed
her. "Well," she said after a pause, with a touch of anxiety. "What do
you see now?"
"Nothing?" she asked. "Do you mean that?"
"Yes! What should I see?" She caught him by the arm and stared
intently into his eyes in a horror of disbelief. He met her gaze with
a frank astonishment. She dropped his arm and turned away.
"What should I see?" he repeated.
"Nothing," she echoed with a quivering sadness in her voice. "It is
late, I must go."
The white figure in each of those four pictures wore her face,
idealised and illumined, but still unmistakably her face; and he did
not know it, could not perceive it though she stood by his side! The
futility of her errand was proved to her. She drew on her gloves and
looking towards the easel inquired dully, "What stage is that?"
"The last; and it is the last picture I shall paint. As soon as it is
completed I shall leave here."
"You will leave?" she asked, paying little heed to his words.
"Yes! The experiment has not succeeded," and he waved a hand towards
the wall. "I shall take better means next time."
"How much remains to be done?" Lady Tamworth stepped over to the
easel. With a quick spring Julian placed himself in front of it.
"No!" he cried vehemently, raising a hand to warn her off. "No!"
Lady Tamworth's curiosity began to reawaken. "You have shown me the
"I know; you had a right to see them."
"Then why not that?"
"I have told you," he said stubbornly. "It is not finished."
"But when it is finished?" she insisted.
Julian looked at her strangely. "Well, why not?" he said reasoning
with himself. "Why not? It is the masterpiece."
"You will let me know when it's ready?"
"I will send it to you; for I shall leave here the day I finish it."
They went down stairs and back into the Mile-End road. Julian hailed a
passing hansom, and Lady Tamworth drove westwards to Berkeley Square.
The fifth picture arrived a week later in the dusk of the afternoon.
Lady Tamworth unpacked it herself with an odd foreboding.
It represented an orchard glowing in the noontide sun. From the
branches of a tree with lolling tongue and swollen twisted face swung
the figure which had grovelled before the god. A broken chain dangled
on its wrist, a few links of the chain lay on the grass beneath, and
above the white figure winged and triumphant faded into the blue of
the sky; and underneath was written, "He freeth himself from his
Lady Tamworth rushed to the bell and pealed loudly for her maid.
"Quick!" she cried, "I am going out." But the shrill screech of a
newsboy pierced into the room. With a cry she flung open the window.
She could hear his voice plainly at the corner of the square. For a
while she clung to the sash in a dumb sickness. Then she said quietly:
"Never mind! I will not go out after all! I did not know I was so
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