Memoirs of My Dead Life
Part 3 out of 5
him who in middle age can be astonished by a blue sky, and still find
the sunlight a bewitchment. But who would not be bewitched by the
pretty sunlight that finds its way into the gardens of Plessy? I knew
I was going to walk with Doris by a sea blue as any drop-curtain, and
for a moment Doris seemed to be but a figure on a drop-curtain. Am I
very cynical? But are we not all figures on drop-curtains, and is not
everything comic opera, and "La Belle Helene" perhaps the only true
reality? Amused by the idea of Jason or Paris or Menelaus in Plessy, I
asked Doris what music was played by the local orchestra, and she told
me it played "The March of Aida" every evening. "Oh, the cornet," I
said, and I understood that the mission of Plessy was to redeem one
from the coil of one's daily existence, from Hebrew literature and its
concomitants, bishops, vicars, and curates--all these, especially
bishops, are regarded as being serious; whereas French novels and
their concomitants, pretty girls, are supposed to represent the
trivial side of life. A girl becomes serious only when she is engaged
to be married; the hiring of the house in which the family is reared
is regarded as serious; in fact all prejudices are serious; every
deflection from the normal, from the herd, is looked upon as trivial;
and I suppose that this is right: the world could not do without the
herd nor could the herd do without us--the eccentrics who go to Plessy
in quest of a golden fleece instead of putting stoves in the parish
churches (stoves and organs are always regarded as too devilishly
serious for words).
Once I had a long conversation with my archbishop concerning the Book
of Daniel, and were I to write out his lordship's erudition I might
even be deemed sufficiently serious for a review in the _Church
Gazette_. But looking back on this interview and judging it with
all the impartiality of which my nature is capable, I cannot in truth
say that I regard it as more serious than pretty Doris's fluent
conversation, or the melancholy aspect of his lordship's cathedral as
more serious than the pretty Southern sunlight glancing along the
seashore, lighting up the painted houses, and causing Doris to open
her parasol. What a splendid article I might write on the trivial side
of seriousness, but discussion is always trivial; I shall be much more
serious in trying to recall the graceful movement of the opening of
her parasol, and how prettily it enframed her face. True that almost
every face is pretty against the distended silk full of sunlight and
shadow, but Doris's, I swear to you, was as pretty as any medieval
virgin despite its modernness. Memline himself never designed a more
appealing little face. Think of the enchantment of such a face after a
long journey, by the sea that the Romans and the Greeks used to cross
in galleys, that I used to read about when I was a boy. There it was,
and on the other side the shore on which Carthage used to stand; there
it was, a blue bay with long red hills reaching out, reminding me of
hills I had seen somewhere, I think in a battle piece by Salvator
Rosa. It seemed to me that I had seen those hills before--no, not in a
picture; had I dreamed them, or was there some remembrance of a
previous existence struggling in my brain? There was a memory
somewhere, a broken memory, and I sought for the lost thread as well
as I could, for Doris rarely ceased talking.
"And there is the restaurant," she said, flinging up her parasol,
"built at the end of those rocks."
We were the first swallows to arrive; the flocks would not be here for
about three weeks. So we had the restaurant to ourselves, the waiter
and doubtless the cook; and they gave us all their attention. Would we
have breakfast in the glass pavilion? How shall I otherwise describe
it, for it seemed to be all glass? The scent of the sea came through
the window, and the air was like a cordial--it intoxicated; and
looking across the bay one seemed to be looking on the very thing that
Whistler had sought for in his Nocturnes, and that Steer had nearly
caught in that picture of children paddling, that dim, optimistic blue
that allures and puts the world behind one, the dream of the
opium-eater, the phrase of the syrens in "Tannhaeuser," the phrase
which begins like a barcarolle; but the accompaniment tears underneath
until we thrill with expectation.
As I looked across the bay, Doris seemed but a little thing, almost
insignificant, and the thought came that I had not come for nothing
even if I did not succeed in winning her.
"Doris, dear, forgive me if I am looking at this bay instead of you,
but I've never seen anything like this before," and feeling I was
doing very poor justice to the emotions I was experiencing, I said:
"Is it not strange that all this is at once to me new and old? I seem,
as it were, to have come into my inheritance."
"Your inheritance! Am I not----"
"Dearest, you are. Say that you are my inheritance, my beautiful
inheritance; how many years have I waited for it?" As I took her in my
arms she caught sight of the waiter, and turning from her I looked
across the bay, and my desire nearly died in the infinite sweetness
blowing across the bay.
"Azure hills, not blue; hitherto I have only seen blue."
"They're blue to-day because there is a slight mist, but they are in
"A red-hilled bay," I said, "and all the slopes flecked with the white
sides of villas."
"Peeping through olive trees."
"Olive trees, of course. I have never yet seen the olive; the olive
begins at Avignon or thereabouts, doesn't it? It was dark night when
we passed through Avignon."
"You'll see very few trees here; only olives and ilex."
"The ilex I know, and there is no more beautiful tree than the ilex."
"Were not the crocuses that grew
Under that ilex tree,
As beautiful in scent and hue
As ever fed the bee?"
"Whose verses are those?"
"Shelley's. I know no others. Are the lines very wonderful? They seem
no more than a statement, yet they hang about my memory. I am glad I
shall see the ilex tree."
"And the eucalyptus--plenty of eucalyptus trees."
"That was the scent that followed us this morning as we came through
"Yes, as we passed from our hotel one hung over the garden wall, and
the wind carried its scent after us."
The arrival of the waiter with _hors d'oeuvres_ distracted our
attention from the olive tree to its fruit, I rarely touch olives, but
that morning I ate many. Should we have mutton cutlets or lamb? Doris
said the Southern mutton was detestable. "Then we'll have lamb." An
idea came into my head, and it was this, that I had been mistaken
about Doris's beauty. Hers was not like any face that one may find in
a panel by Memline. She was like something, but I could not lay my
thoughts on what she was like.
"A sail would spoil the beauty of the bay," I said when the waiter
brought in the coffee, and left us--we hoped for the last time. Taking
hands and going to the window we sat looking across the sailless bay.
"How is it that no ships come here? Is the bay looked upon as a mere
ornament and reserved exclusively for the appreciation of visitors?
Those hills, too, look as if they had been designed in a like
intent.... How much more beautiful the bay is without a sail--why I
cannot tell, but----"
"A great galley rowed by fifty men would look well in this bay.... The
bay is antiquity, and those hills; all the morning while talking to
you a memory or a shadow of a memory has fretted in my mind like a fly
on a pane. Now I know why I have been expecting a nymph to rise out of
those waves during breakfast. For a thousand years men believed that
nymphs came up on those rocks, and that satyrs and their progeny might
be met in the woods and on the hillsides. Only a thin varnish has been
passed over these beliefs. One has only to come here to look down into
that blue sea-water to believe that nymphs swim about those rocks; and
when we go for a drive among those hillsides we'll keep a sharp
lookout for satyrs. Now I know why I like this country. It is heathen.
Those mountains--how different from the shambling Irish hills from
whence I have come! And you, Doris, you might have been dug up
yesterday, though you are but two-and-twenty. You are a thing of
yester age, not a bit like the little Memline head which I imagined
you to be like when I was coming here in the train, nor like anything
done by the Nuremberg painters. You are a Tanagra figure, and one of
the finest. In you I read all the winsomeness of antiquity. But I must
look at the bay now, for I may never see anything like it again; never
have I seen anything like it before. Forgive me, remember that three
days ago I was in Ireland, the day before yesterday I was in England,
yesterday I was in Paris. I have come out of the greyness of the
North. When I left Paris all was grey, and when the train passed
through Lyons a grey night was gathering; now I see no cloud at all:
the change is so wonderful. You cannot appreciate my admiration. You
have been looking at the bay for the last three weeks, and _La cote
d'azur_ has become nothing to you now but palms and promenades. To
me it is still quite different. I shall always see you beautiful,
whereas Plessy may lose her beauty in a few days. Let me enjoy it
while I may."
"Perhaps I shall not outlast Plessy."
"Yes, you will. Do you know, Doris, that you don't look a day older
since the first time I saw you walking across the room to the piano in
your white dress, your gold hair hanging down over your shoulders. It
has darkened a little, that is all."
"It is provoking you should see me when I am thin. I wish you had seen
me last year when I came from the rest cure. I went up more than a
stone in weight. Every one said that I didn't look more than sixteen.
I know I didn't, for all the women were jealous of me."
As I sat watching the dissolving line of the horizon, lost in a dream,
I heard my companion say:
"Of what are you thinking?"
"I'm thinking of something that happened long ago in that very bay."
"Tell me about it;" and her hand sought mine for a moment.
"Would you like to hear it? I'd like to tell it, but it's a long, long
story, and to remember it would be an effort. The colour of the sea
and the sky is enough; the warmth of the sunlight penetrates me; I
feel like a plant; the only difference between me and one of those
"I am sure those poor palms are shivering. There is not enough heat
here for them; they come from the south, and you come from the north."
"I suppose that is so. They grow, but they don't flourish here.
However, my mood is not philanthropic; I cannot pity even a palm tree
at the present moment. See how my cigar smoke curls and goes out! It
is strange, Doris, that I should meet you here, for some years ago it
was arranged that I should come here----"
"With a woman?"
"Yes, of course. How can it be otherwise? Our lives are woven along
and across with women. Some men find the reality of their lives in
women, others, as we were saying just now, in bishops."
"Tell me about the woman who asked you to come here? Did you love her?
And what prevented you from coming here with her?"
"It is one of the oddest stories--odd only because it is like myself.
Every character creates it own stories; we are like spools, and each
spool fills itself up with a different-coloured thread. The story,
such as it is, began one evening in Victoria Street at the end of a
long day's work. A letter began it. She wrote asking me to dine with
her, and her letter was most welcome, for I had no plans for that
evening. I do not know if you know that curious dread of life which
steals through the twilight; it had just laid its finger on my
shoulder when the bell rang, and I said: 'My visitor is welcome,
whoever she or he may be.' The visitor would have only spent a few
minutes perhaps with me, but Gertrude's letter--that was her name--was
a promise of a long and pleasant evening, for it was more than a mere
invitation to dinner. She wrote: 'I have not asked any one to meet
you, but you will not mind dining alone with me. I hope you will be
able to come, for I want to consult you on a matter about which I
think you will be able to advise me.' As I dressed I wondered what she
could have to propose, and with my curiosity enkindled I walked to her
house. The evening was fine--I remember it--and she did not live far
from me; we were neighbours. You see I knew Gertrude pretty well, and
I liked her. There had been some love passages between us, but I had
never been her lover; our story had got entangled, and as I went to
her I hoped that this vexatious knot was to be picked at last. To be
Gertrude's lover would be a pleasure indeed, for though a woman of
forty, a natural desire to please, a witty mind, and pretty manners
still kept her young; she had all the appearance of youth; and French
gowns and underwear that cost a little fortune made her a woman that
one would still take a pleasure in making love to. It would be
pleasant to be her lover for many reasons. There were disadvantages,
however, for Gertrude, though never vulgar herself, liked vulgar
things. Her friends were vulgar; her flat, for she had just left her
husband, was opulent, overdecorated; the windows were too heavily
curtained, the electric light seemed to be always turned on, and as
for the pictures--well, we won't talk of them; Gertrude was the only
one worth looking at. And she was rather like a Salon picture, a
Gervex, a Boldeni--I will not be unjust to Gertrude, she was not as
vulgar as a Boldeni. She had a pretty cooing manner, and her white
dress fell gracefully from her slender flanks. You can see her, can't
you, coming forward to meet me, rustling a little, breathing an odour
of orris root, taking my hand and very nearly pressing it against her
bosom? Gertrude knew how to suggest, and no sooner had the thought
that she wished to inspire passed through my mind than she let go my
hand, saying: 'Come, sit down by me, tell me what you have been
doing'; and her charm was that it was impossible to say whether what I
have described, dress, manner, and voice, was unconscious or
"Probably a little of both," Doris said.
"I see you understand. You always understand."
"And to make amends for the familiarity of pressing your hand to her
bosom she would say: 'I hope you will not mind dining alone with me,'
and immediately you would propound a little theory that two is company
and three is a county council, unless indeed the three consist of two
men and one woman. A woman is never really happy unless she is talking
to two men, woman being at heart a polyandrist."
"Doris, you know me so well that you can invent my conversations."
"Yes, I think I can. You have not changed; I have not forgotten you
though we have not seen each other for five years; and now go on, tell
me about Gertrude."
"Well, sitting beside her on the sofa----"
"Under the shaded electric light," interrupted Doris.
"I tried to discover--not the reason of this invitation to dinner; of
course it was natural that old friends should dine together, but she
had said in her letter that she wished to talk to me about some matter
on which she thought I could advise her. The servant would come in a
moment to announce that dinner was ready, and if Gertrude did not tell
me at once I might, if the story were a long one, have to wait till
dinner was over; her reluctance to confide in me seemed to point to
pecuniary help. Was it possible that Gertrude was going to ask me to
lend her money! If so, the loan would be a heavy one, more than I
could afford to lend. That is the advantage of knowing rich people;
when they ask for money they ask for more than one can afford to lend,
and one can say with truth: 'Were I to lend you five hundred pounds,
I should not be able to make ends meet at the end of the year.' Her
reluctance to confide in me seemed incomprehensible, unless indeed she
wanted to borrow money. But Gertrude was not that kind, and she was a
rich woman. At last, just before the servant came into the room, she
turned round saying that she had sent for me because she wished to
speak to me about a yacht. Imagine my surprise. To speak to me about a
yacht! If it had been about the picture.
"The door opened, the servant announced that dinner was ready, and we
had to talk in French during dinner, for her news was that she had
hired a yacht for the winter in order that she might visit Greece and
the Greek Islands. But she did not dare to travel in Greece alone for
six months, and it was difficult to find a man who was free and whom
one could trust. She thought she could trust me, and remembering that
I had once liked her, it had occurred to her to ask me if I would like
to go with her. I shall never forget how Gertrude confided her plan to
me, the charming modesty with which she murmured: 'Perhaps you do
still, and you will not bore me by claiming rights over me. I don't
mind your making love to me, but I don't like rights. You know what I
mean. When we return to England you will not pursue me. You know what
I have suffered from such pursuits; you know all about it?' Is it not
curious how a woman will sometimes paint her portrait in a single
phrase; not paint, but indicate in half-a-dozen lines her whole moral
nature? Gertrude exists in the words I have quoted just as God made
her. And now I have to tell you about the pursuit. When Gertrude
mentioned it I had forgotten it; a blankness came into my face, and
she said: 'Don't you remember?' 'Of course, of course,' I said, and
this is the story within the story.
"One day after lunch Gertrude, getting up, walked unconsciously
towards me, and quite naturally I took her in my arms, and when I had
told her how much I liked her, and the pleasure I took in her company,
she promised to meet me at a hotel in Lincoln. We were to meet there
in a fortnight's time; but two days before she sent for me, and told
me that she would have to send me away. I really did like Gertrude,
and I was quite overcome, and a long hour was spent begging of her to
tell why she had come to this determination. One of course says unjust
things, one accuses a woman of cruelty; what could be the meaning of
it? Did she like to play with a man as a cat plays with a mouse? But
Gertrude, though she seemed distressed at my accusations, refused to
give me any explanation of her conduct; tears came into her eyes--they
seemed like genuine tears--and it was difficult to believe that she
had taken all this trouble merely to arrive at this inexplicable and
most disagreeable end. Months passed without my hearing anything of
Gertrude, till one day she sent me a little present, and in response
to a letter she invited me to come to see her in the country. And,
walking through some beautiful woods, she told me the reason why she
had not gone to Lincoln. A Pole whom she had met at the gambling
tables at Monte Carlo was pursuing her, threatening her that if he saw
her with any other man he would murder her and her lover. This at
first seemed an incredible tale, but when she entered into details,
there could be no doubt that she was telling the truth, for had she
not on one occasion very nearly lost her life through this man? They
were in Germany together, she and the Pole, and he had locked her up
in her room without food for many hours, and coming in suddenly he had
pressed the muzzle of a pistol against her temple and pulled the
trigger. Fortunately, it did not go off. 'It was a very near thing,'
she said; 'the cartridge was indented, and I made up my mind that if
things went any further, I should have to tell my husband.' 'But
things can't go further than an indented cartridge,' I answered. 'What
you tell me is terrible'; and we talked for a long time, walking about
the woods, fearing that the Pole might spring from behind every bush,
the pistol in his hand. But he did not appear; she evidently knew
where he was, or had made some compact with him. Nevertheless, at the
close of the day, I drove through the summer evening not having got
anything from Gertrude except a promise that if she should find
herself free, she would send for me. Weeks and months went by during
which I saw Gertrude occasionally; you see love stories, once they get
entangled, remain entangled; that is what makes me fear that we shall
never be able to pick the knot that you have tied our love story into.
Misadventure followed misadventure. It seems to me that I behaved very
stupidly on many occasions; it would take too long to tell you
how--when I met her at the theatre I did not do exactly what I should
have done; and on another occasion when I met her driving in a suburb,
I did not stop her cab, and so on and so on until, resolved to bring
matters to a crisis, Gertrude had sent me an invitation to dinner, and
her plan was the charming one which I have told you, that we should
spend six months sailing about the Greek Islands in a yacht. We left
the dining-room and returned to the drawing-room, she telling me that
the yacht had been paid for--the schooner, the captain, the crew,
everything for six months; but I not unnaturally pointed out to her
that I could not accept her hospitality for so long a time, and the
greater part of the evening was spent in trying to persuade her to
allow me to pay--Gertrude was the richer--at least a third of the
upkeep of the yacht must come out of my pocket.
"The prospect of a six months' cruise among the Greek Islands kindled
my imagination, and while listening to Gertrude I was often in spirit
far away, landing perchance at Cyprus, exalted at the prospect of
visiting the Cyprians' temple; or perchance standing with Gertrude on
the deck of the yacht watching the stars growing dim in the east; the
sailors would be singing at the time, and out of the ashen stillness a
wind would come, and again we would hear the ripple of the water
parting as the jib filled and drew the schooner eastward. I imagined
how half an hour later an island would appear against the golden sky,
a lofty island lined with white buildings, perchance ancient fanes.
'What a delicious book my six months with Gertrude will be!' I said as
I walked home, and the title of the book was an inspiration, 'An
Unsentimental Journey.' It was Gertrude's own words that had suggested
it. Had she not said that she did not mind my making love to her, but
she did not like rights? She couldn't complain if I wrote a book, and
I imagined how every evening when the lover left her, the chronicler
would sit for an hour recording his impressions. Very often he would
continue writing until the pencil dropped from his hand, till he fell
asleep in the chair. An immediate note-taking would be necessary, so
fugitive are impressions, and an analysis of his feelings, their
waxing and their waning; he would observe himself as an astronomer
observes the course of a somewhat erratic star, and his descriptions
of himself and of her would be interwoven with descriptions of the
seas across which Menelaus had gone after Helen's beauty--beauty, the
noblest of men's quests.
"For once Nature seemed to me to put into the hands of the artist a
subject perfect in its every part; the end especially delighted me,
and I imagined our good-byes at Plymouth or Portsmouth or Hull,
wherever we might land. 'Well, Gertrude, goodbye. We have spent a very
pleasant six months together; I shall never forget our excursion. But
this is not a rupture; I may hope to see you some time during the
season? You will allow me to call about tea-time?' And she would
answer: 'Yes, you may call. You have been very nice.' Each would turn
away sighing, conscious of a little melancholy in the heart, for all
partings are sad; but at the bottom of the heart there would be a
sense of relief, of gladness--that gladness which the bird feels when
it leaves its roost: there is nothing more delicious perhaps than the
first beat of the wings. I forget now whether I looked forward most to
the lady or to the book.... If the winds had been more propitious, I
might have written a book that would have compared favourably with the
eighteenth-century literature, for the eighteenth century was cynical
in love; while making love to a woman, a gallant would often consider
a plan for her subsequent humiliation. Gouncourt----"
"But, dear one, finish about the yacht."
"Well, it seemed quite decided that Gertrude and I were to go to
Marseilles to meet the schooner; but the voyage from the Bay of Biscay
is a stormy and a tedious one; the weather was rough all the way, and
she took a long time to get to Gibraltar. She passed the strait
signalling to Lloyd's; we got a telegram; everything was ready; I had
ordered yachting clothes, shoes, and quantities of things; but after
that telegram no news came, and one evening Gertrude told me she was
beginning to feel anxious; the yacht ought to have arrived at
Marseilles. Three or four days passed, and then we read in the
paper--the _Evening Standard_, I think it was--the _Ring-Dove_,
a large schooner, had sunk off the coast while making for the Bay
of Plessy. Had she passed that point over yonder, no doubt she
would have been saved; all hands were lost, the captain, seven
men, and my book."
"Good heavens, how extraordinary! And what became of Gertrude? Were
you never her lover?"
"Never. We abstained while waiting for the yacht. Then she fell in
love with somebody else; she married her lover; and now he deplores
her; she found an excellent husband, and she died in his arms."
At every moment I expected Doris to ask me how it was that, for the
sake of writing a book, I had consented to go away for a six months'
cruise with a woman whom I didn't love. But there was a moment when I
loved her--the week before Lincoln. Whether Doris agreed tacitly that
my admiration of Gertrude's slender flanks and charm of manner and
taste in dress justified me in agreeing to go away with her, I don't
know; she did not trouble me with the embarrassing question I had
anticipated. Isn't it strange that people never ask the embarrassing
questions one foresees? She asked me instead with whom I had been in
love during the past five years, and this too embarrassed me, though
not to the extent the other question would have done. To say that
since I had seen Doris I had led a chaste life would be at once
incredible and ridiculous. Sighing a little, I spoke of a
_liaison_ that had lasted many years and had come to an end at
last. Fearing that Doris would ask if it had come to an end through
weariness, it seemed well to add that the lady had a daughter growing
up, and it was for the girl's sake we had agreed to bring our love
story to a close. We had, however, promised to remain friends.
Doris's silence embarrassed me a little, for she didn't ask any
questions about the lady and her daughter; and it was impossible to
tell from her manner whether she believed that this lady comprised the
whole of my love life for the last five years, and if she thought I
had really broken with her. For a moment or two I did not dare to look
at Doris, and then I felt that her disbelief mattered little, so long
as it did not enter as an influencing factor into the present
situation. Under a sky as blue and amid nature poetical as a
drop-curtain, one's moral nature dozes. No doubt that was it. There is
an English church at Plessy, but really! Dear little town, town of my
heart, where the local orchestra plays "The March of Aida" and "La
Belle Helene"! If I could inoculate you, reader, with the sentiment of
the delicious pastoral you would understand why, all the time I was at
Plessy, I looked upon myself as a hero of legend, whether of the
Argonauts or the siege of Troy matters little. Returning from Mount
Ida after a long absence, after presenting in imagination the fairest
of women with the apple, I said:
"You asked me whom I had been in love with; now tell me with whom have
you been in love?"
"For the last three years I have been engaged to be married."
"And you are still engaged?"
She nodded, her eyes fixed on the blue sea, and I said laughing, that
it was not of a marriage or an engagement to be married that I spoke,
but of the beautiful, irrepressible caprice.
"You wouldn't have me believe that no passion has caught you and
dragged you about for the last five years, just as a cat drags a
little mouse about?"
"It is strange that you should ask me that, for that is exactly what
"Only that I suffered much more than any mouse ever suffered."
"Doris, tell me. You know how sympathetic I am; you know I shall
understand. All things human interest me. If you have loved as much as
you say, your story will ... I must hear it."
"Why should I tell it?" and her eyes filled with tears. "I suffered
horribly. Don't speak to me about it. What is the good of going over
it all again?"
"Yes, there is good; very much good comes of speaking, if this love
story is over, if there is no possibility of reviving it. Tell it, and
in telling, the bitterness will pass from you. Who was this man? How
did you meet him?"
"He was a friend of Albert's. Albert introduced him."
"Albert is the man you are engaged to? The old story, the very oldest.
Why should it always be the friend? There are so many other men, but
it is always the friend who attracts." And I told Doris the story of a
friend who had once robbed me, and my story had the effect of drying
her tears. But they began again as soon as she tried to tell her own
story. There could be no doubt that she had suffered. Things are
interesting in proportion to the amount of ourselves we put into them;
Doris had clearly put all her life into this story; a sordid one it
may seem to some, a story of deception and lies, for of course Albert
was deceived as cruelly as many another good man. But Doris must have
suffered deeply, for at the memory of her sufferings her face streamed
with tears. As I looked at her tears I said: "It is strange that she
should weep so, for her story differs nowise from the many stories
happening daily in the lives of men and women. She will tell me the
old and beautiful story of lovers forced asunder by cruel fate, and
this spot is no doubt a choice one to hear her story." And raising my
eyes I admired once again the drooping shore, the serrated line of
mountains sweeping round the bay. And the colour was so intense that
it overpowered the senses like a perfume, "like musk," I thought. When
I turned to Doris I could see she was wholly immersed in her own
sorrow, and it took all my art to persuade her to tell it, or it
seemed as if all my art of persuasion were necessary.
"As soon as you knew you loved him, you resolved to see him no more?"
"You sent him away before you yielded to him?"
She nodded, and looking at me her eyes filled with tears, but which
only seemed to make them still more beautiful, she told me that they
had both felt that it was impossible to deceive Albert.
* * * * *
All love stories are alike in this; they all contain what the
reviewers call "sordid details." But if Tristan had not taken
advantage of King Mark's absence on a hunting expedition, the world
would have been the poorer of a great love story; and what, after all,
does King Mark's happiness matter to us--a poor passing thing, whose
life was only useful in this, that it gave us an immortal love story?
And if Wagner had not loved Madame Wasendonck, and if Madame
Wasendonck had not been unfaithful to her husband, we should not have
had "Tristan." Who then would, for the sake of Wasendonck's honour,
destroy the score of "Tristan"? Nor is the story of "Tristan" the only
one, nor the most famous. There is also the story of Helen. If
Menelaus's wife had not been unfaithful to him, the world would have
been the poorer of the greatest of all poems, the "Iliad" and the
"Odyssey." Dear me, when one thinks of it, one must admit that art
owes a great deal to adultery. Children are born of the marriage,
stories of the adulterous bed, and the world needs both--stories as
well as children. Even my little tale would not exist if Doris had
been a prudent maiden, nor would it have interested me to listen to
her that day by the sea if she had naught to tell me but her
unswerving love for Albert. Her story is not what the world calls a
great story, and it would be absurd to pretend that if a shorthand
writer had taken it down his report would compare with the stories of
Isolde and Helen, but I heard it from her lips, and her tears and her
beauty replaced the language of Wagner and of Homer; and so well did
they do this that I am not sure that the emotion I experienced in
listening to her was less than that which I have experienced before a
work of art.
"Do you know," she began, "perhaps you don't, perhaps you've never
loved enough to know the anxiety one may feel for the absent. We had
been together all day once, and when we bade each other good-bye we
agreed that we should not see each other for two days, till Thursday;
but that night in bed an extraordinary desire took hold of me to know
what had become of him. I felt I must hear from him; one word would be
enough. But we had promised. It was stupid, it was madness, yet I had
to take down the telephone, and when I got into communication what do
you think the answer was?--'Thank God you telephoned! I've been
walking about the room nearly out of my mind, feeling that I should go
mad if the miracle did not happen.'"
"If you loved Ralph better than Albert----"
"Why didn't I give up Albert? Albert's life would have been broken and
ruined if I had done that. You see he has loved me so many years that
his life has become centred in me. He is not one of those men who like
many women. Outside of his work nothing exists but me. He doesn't care
much for reading, but he reads the books I like. I don't know that he
cares much about music for its own sake, but he likes to hear me sing
just because it is me. He never notices other women; I don't think
that he knows what they wear, but he likes my dresses, not because
they are in good taste, but because I wear them. One can't sacrifice a
man like that. What would one think of oneself? One would die of
remorse. So there was nothing to be done but for Ralph to go away. It
nearly killed me."
"I'm afraid I can give you no such love; my affection for you will
prove very tepid after such violent emotions."
"I don't want such emotions again; I could not bear them, they would
kill me; even a part would kill me. Two months after Ralph left I was
but a little shadow. I was thinner than I am now, I was worn to a
thread, I could hardly keep body and skirt together."
We laughed at Doris's little joke; and we watched it curling and going
out like a wreath of cigarette smoke.
"But did you get no happiness at all out of this great love?"
"We were happy only a very little while."
"We had about six weeks of what I should call real happiness, the time
while Albert was away. When he came back the misery and remorse began
again. I had to see him--not Albert, the other--every day; and Albert
began to notice that I was different. We used to go out together, we
three, and at last the sham became too great and Albert said he could
not stand it any longer. 'I prefer you should go out with him alone,
and if it be for your happiness I'll give you up.'"
"So you nearly died of love! Well, now you must live for love, liking
things as they go by. Life is beautiful at the moment, sad when we
look back, fearful when we look forward; but I suppose it's hopeless
to expect a little Christian like you to live without drawing
conclusions, liking things as they go by as the nymphs do. Dry those
tears; forget that man. You tell me it is over and done. Remember
nothing except that the sky and the sea are blue, that it is a luxury
to feel alive here by the sea-shore. My happiness would be to make you
happy, to see you put the past out of your mind, to close your eyes to
the future. That will be easy to do by this beautiful sea-shore, under
those blue skies with flowers everywhere and drives among the
mountains awaiting us. We create our own worlds. Chance has left you
here and sent me to you. I want you to eat a great deal and to sleep
and to get fatter and to dream and to read Theocritus, so that when we
go to the mountains we shall be transported into antiquity. You must
forget Albert and him who made you unhappy--he allowed you to look
back and forwards."
"I think I deserve some happiness; you see I have sacrificed so much."
At these words my hopes rose--shall I say like a balloon out of which
a great weight of ballast has been thrown?--and so high did they go
that failure seemed like a little feather swimming in the gulf below.
"She deserved some happiness," and intends to make me her happiness.
Her words could bear no other interpretation; she had spoken without
thought, and instinctively. Albert was away; why should she not take
this happiness which I offered her? Would she understand that distance
made a difference, that it was one thing to deceive Albert if he were
with her, and another when she was a thousand miles away? It was as if
we were in a foreign country; we were under palm trees, we were by the
Mediterranean. With Albert a thousand miles away it would be so easy
for her to love me. She had said there was no question of her marrying
any one but Albert--and to be unfaithful is not to be inconstant.
These were the arguments which I would use if I found that I had
misunderstood her; but for the moment I did not dare to inquire; it
would be too painful to hear I had misunderstood her; but at last,
feeling she might guess the cause of my silence, I said, not being
able to think of anything more plausible:
"You spoke, didn't you, of going for a drive?"
"We were speaking of happiness--but if you'd like to go for a drive.
There's no happiness like driving."
She pinched my arm, and with a choking sensation in the throat I asked
her if I should send for a carriage.
"There will be time for a short drive before the sun setting. You said
you admired the hills--one day we will go to a hill town. There is a
beautiful one--Florac is the name of it--but we must start early in
the morning. To-day there will be only time to drive as far as the
point you have been admiring all the morning. The road winds through
the rocks, and you want to see the ilex trees."
"My dear, I want to see you."
"Well, you're looking at me. Come, don't be disagreeable."
"Disagreeable, Doris! I never felt more kindly in my life. I'm still
absorbed in the strange piece of luck which has brought us together,
and in such a well-chosen spot; no other would have pleased me as
"Now why do you like the landscape? Tell me."
"I cannot think of the landscape now, Doris: I'm thinking of you, of
what you said just now."
"What did I say?"
"You said--I tried to remember the words at the time, but I have
forgotten them, so many thoughts have passed through my mind
since--you said--how did you word it?--after having suffered as much
as you did, some share of happiness----"
"No, I didn't say that; I said, having sacrificed so much, I thought I
deserved a little happiness."
"So she knew what she was saying," I said to myself. "Her words were
not casual," but not daring to ask her if she intended to make me her
happiness, I spoke about the landscape. "You ask me why I like the
landscape? Because it carries me back into past times when men
believed in nymphs and in satyrs. I have always thought it must be a
wonderful thing to believe in the dryad. Do you know that men
wandering in the woods sometimes used to catch sight of a white breast
between the leaves, and henceforth they could love no mortal woman?
The beautiful name of their malady was nympholepsy. A disease that
every one would like to catch."
"But if you were to catch it you wouldn't be able to love me, so I'll
not bring you to the mountains. Some peasant girl----"
"Fie! Doris, I have never liked peasant girls."
"Your antiquity is eighteenth-century antiquity. There are many
alcoves in it."
"I don't know that the alcove was an invention of the eighteenth
century. There were alcoves at all times. But, Doris, good heavens!
what are those trees? Never did I see anything so ghastly; they are
like ghosts. Not only have they no leaves, but they have no bark nor
any twigs; nothing but great white trunks and branches."
"I think they are called plantains."
"That won't do, you are only guessing; I must ask the coachman."
"I think, sir, they are called plantains."
"You only think. Stop and I'll ask those people."
"Sont des plantains, Monsieur."
"Well, I told you so," Doris said, laughing.
Beyond this spectral avenue, on either side of us there were fields,
and Doris murmured:
"See how flat the country is, to the very feet of the hills, and the
folk working in the fields are pleasant to watch."
I declared that I could not watch them, nor could you, reader, if you
had been sitting by Doris. I had risen and come away from long months
of toil; and I remember how I told Doris as we drove across those
fields towards the hills, that it was not her beauty alone that
interested me; her beauty would not be itself were it not illumed by
her wit and her love of art. What would she be, for instance, if she
were not a musician? Or would her face be the same face if it were
robbed of its mirth? But mirth is enchanting only when the source of
it is the intelligence. Vacuous laughter is the most tiresome of
things; a face of stone is more inveigling. But Doris prided herself
on her beauty more than on her wit, and she was disinclined to admit
the contention that beauty is dependent upon the intelligence. Our
talk rambled on, now in one direction, now in another.
Lovers are divided into two kinds, the babbling and the silent.
We meet specimens of the silent kind on a Thames back-water--the punt
drawn up under the shady bank with the twain lying side by side, their
arms about each other all the afternoon. When evening comes, and it is
time to return home, her fellow gets out the sculls, and they part
saying: "Well, dear, next Sunday, at the same time." "Yes, at the same
time next Sunday."
We were of the babbling kind, as the small part of our conversation
that appears in this story shows.
"My dear, my dear, remember that we are in an open carriage."
"What do those folks matter to us?"
"My dear, if I don't like it?"
To justify my desire of her lips I began to compare her beauty with
that of a Greek head on a vase, saying that hers was a cameo-like
beauty, as dainty as any Tanagra figure.
"And to see you and not to claim you, not to hold your face in my
hands just as one holds a vase, is----"
"A kind of misery. What else shall I say? Fancy my disappointment if,
on digging among these mountains, I were to find a beautiful vase, and
some one were to say: 'You can look at it but not touch it.'"
"Do you love me as well as that?" she answered, somewhat moved, for my
words expressed a genuine emotion.
"I do indeed, Doris."
"We might get out here. I want you to see the view from the hilltop."
And, telling the driver that he need not follow us, to stay there and
rest his panting horse, we walked on. Whether Doris was thinking of
the view I know not; I only know that I thought only of kissing Doris.
To do so would be pleasant--in a way--even on this cold hillside, and
I noticed that the road bent round the shoulder of the mount. We soon
reached the hilltop, and we could see the road enter the village in
the dip between the hills, a double line of houses--not much
more--facing the sea, a village where we might go to have breakfast;
we might never go there; however that might be, we certainly should
remember that village and the road streaming out of it on the other
side towards the hills. Now and then we lost sight of the road; it
doubled round some rock or was hidden behind a group of trees; and
then we caught sight of it a little farther on, ascending the hills in
front of us, and no doubt on the other side it entered another
village, and so on around the coast of Italy. Even with the thought of
Doris's kisses in my mind, I could admire the road and the curves of
the bay. I felt in my pocket for a piece of paper and a pencil. The
colour was as beautiful as a Brabizon; there were many tints of blue,
no doubt, but the twilight had gathered the sea and sky into one tone,
or what seemed to be one tone.
"You wanted to see olive trees--those are olives."
"So those are olives! Do I at last look upon olives?"
"Are you disappointed?"
"Yes and no. The white gnarled trunk makes even the young trees seem
old. The olive is like an old man with skimpy legs. It seems to me a
pathetic tree. One does not like to say it is ugly; it is not ugly,
but it would be puzzling to say wherein lies its charm, for it throws
no shade, and is so grey--nothing is so grey as the olive. I like the
Where the road dipped there was a group of ilex trees, and it was in
their shade that I kissed Doris, and the beauty of the trees helps me
to appreciate the sentiment of those kisses. And I remember that road
and those ilex trees as I might remember a passage in Theocritus.
Doris--her very name suggests antiquity, and it was well that she was
kissed by me for the first time under ilex trees; true that I had
kissed her before, but that earlier love story has not found a
chronicler, and probably it never will. I like to think that the
beauty of the ilex is answerable, perhaps, for Doris's kisses--in a
measure. Her dainty grace, her Tanagra beauty, seemed to harmonise
with that of the ilex, for there is an antique beauty in this tree
that we find in none other. Theocritus must have composed many a poem
beneath it. It is the only tree that the ancient world could have
cared to notice; and if it were possible to carve statues of trees, I
am sure that the ilex is the tree sculptors would choose. The beech
and the birch, all the other trees, only began to be beautiful when
men invented painting. No other tree shapes itself out so beautifully
as the ilex, lifting itself up to the sky so abundantly and with such
dignity--a very queen in a velvet gown is the ilex tree; and we stood
looking at the group, admiring its glossy thickness, till suddenly the
ilex tree went out of my mind, and I thought of the lonely night that
"Doris, dear, it is more than flesh and blood can bear. My folly lay
in sending the telegram. Had I not sent it you wouldn't have known by
what train I was coming; you would have been fast asleep in your bed,
and I should have gone straight to your hotel."
"But, darling, you wouldn't compromise me. Every one would know that
we stayed at the same hotel."
"Dearest, it might happen by accident, and were it to happen by
accident what could you do?"
"All I can say is that it would be a most unfortunate accident."
"Then I have come a thousand miles for nothing. This is worse than the
time in London when I left you for your strictness. Can nothing be
"Am I not devoted to you? We have spent the whole day together. Now I
don't think it's at all nice of you to reproach me with having brought
you on a fool's errand."
"I didn't say that," and we quarrelled a little until we reached the
carriage. Doris was angry, and when she spoke again it was to say:
"If you are not satisfied, you can go back. I'm sorry. I think it's
most unreasonable that you should ask me to compromise myself."
"And I think it's unkind of you to suggest that I should go back, for
how can I go back?"
She did not ask me why--she was too angry at the moment--and it was
well she did not, for I should have been embarrassed to tell her that
I was fairly caught.
I had come a thousand miles to see her, and I could not say I was
going to take the _Cote d'azur_ back again, because she would not
let me stay at her hotel; to do so would be too childish, too futile.
The misery of the journey back would be unendurable. There was nothing
to do but to wait, and hope that life, which is always full of
accidents, would favour us. Better think no more about it. For it is
thinking that makes one miserable.
There were many little things which helped to pass the time away.
Doris went every evening to a certain shop to fetch two eggs that had
been laid that morning. It was necessary for her health that she
should eat eggs beaten up with milk between the first and second
breakfast. We went there, and it was amusing to pick my way through
the streets, carrying her eggs back to the hotel for her. She knew a
few people--strange folk, I thought them--elderly spinsters living
_en pension_ at different hotels. We dined with her friends, and
after dinner Doris sang, and when she had played many things that she
used to play to me in the old days, it was time for her to go to bed,
for she rarely slept after six o'clock, so she said.
"Good-night. Ah, no, the hour is ill," I murmured to myself as I
wended my lonely way, and I lay awake thinking if I had said anything
that would prejudice my chances of winning her, if I had omitted to
say anything that might have inclined her to yield. One lies awake at
night thinking of the mistakes one has made; thoughts clatter in one's
head. Good heavens! how stupid it was of me not to have used a certain
argument. Perhaps if I had spoken more tenderly, displayed a more
Christian spirit--all that paganism, that talk about nymphs and dryads
and satyrs and fauns frightened her. In the heat of the moment one
says more than one intends, though it is quite true that, as a rule,
it is well to insist that there is no such thing as our lower nature,
that everything about us is divine. So constituted are we that the
mind accepts the convention, and what we have to do is to keep to the
convention, just as in opera. Singing appears natural so long as the
characters do not speak. Once they speak they cannot go back to music;
the convention has been broken. As in Art so it is in Life. Tell a
woman that she is a nymph, and she must not expect any more from you
than she would from a faun, that all you know is the joy of the
sunlight, that you have no dreams beyond the worship of the perfect
circle of her breast, and the desire to gather grapes for her, and she
will give herself to you unconscious of sin. I must have fallen asleep
thinking of these things, and I must have slept soundly, for I
remembered nothing until the servant came in with my bath, and I saw
again the pretty sunlight flickering along the wall-paper. Before
parting the previous night, Doris and I had arranged that I was to
call an hour earlier than usual at the hotel; I was to be there at
half-past ten. She had promised to be ready. We were going to drive to
Florac, to one of the hill towns, and it would take two hours to get
there. We were going to breakfast there, and while I dressed, and in
the carriage going there, I cherished the hope that perhaps I might be
able to persuade Doris to breakfast in a private room, though feeling
all the while that it would be difficult to do so, for the public room
would be empty, and crowds of waiters would gather about us like
rooks, each trying to entice us towards his table.
The village of Florac is high up among the hills, built along certain
ledges of rock overlooking the valley, and going south in the train
one catches sight of many towns, like it built among mountain
declivities, hanging out like nests over the edge of precipices,
showing against a red background, crowning the rocky hill. No doubt
these mediaeval towns were built in these strange places because of
the security that summit gives against raiders. One can think of no
other reason, for it is hard to believe that in the fifteenth century
men were so captivated with the picturesque that for the sake of it
they would drag every necessary of life up these hills, several
hundred feet above the plain, probably by difficult paths--the
excellent road that wound along the edge of the hills, now to the
right, now to the left, looping itself round every sudden ascent like
a grey ribbon round a hat, did not exist when Florac was built. On the
left the ground shelves away into the valley, down towards the sea,
and olives were growing down all these hillsides. Above us were olive
trees, with here and there an orange orchard, and the golden fruit
shining among the dark leaves continued to interest me. Every now and
again some sudden aspect interrupted our conversation; the bay as it
swept round the carved mountains, looking in the distance more than
ever like an old Italian picture of a time before painters began to
think about values and truth of effect, when the minds of men were
concerned with beauty; as mine was, for every time I looked at Doris
it occurred to me that I had never seen anything prettier, and not
only her face but her talk still continued to enchant me. She was
always so eager to tell me things, that she must interrupt, and these
interruptions were pleasant. I identified them with her, and so
closely that I can remember how our talk began when we got out of the
suburbs. By the last villa there was a eucalyptus tree growing; the
sun was shining, and Doris had asked me to hold her parasol for her;
but the road zigzagged so constantly that I never shifted the parasol
in time, and a ray would catch her just in the face, adding perhaps to
the freckles--there were just a few down that little nose which was
always pleasant to look upon. I was saying that I still remember our
talk as we passed that eucalyptus tree. Doris had begun one of those
little confessions which are so interesting, and which one hears only
from a woman one is making love to, which probably would not interest
us were we to hear them from any one else. It delighted me to hear
Doris say: "This is the first time I have ever lived alone, that I
have ever been free from questions. It was a pleasure to remember
suddenly as I was dressing that no one would ask me where I was going,
that I was just like a bird by myself, free to spring off the branch
and to fly. At home there are always people round one; somebody is in
the dining-room, somebody is in the drawing-room; and if one goes down
the passage with one's hat on there is always somebody to ask where
one is going, and if you say you don't know they say, 'Are you going
to the right or to the left, because if you are going to the left I
should like you to stop at the apothecary's and to ask----?'" How I
agreed with her! Family life I said degrades the individual, and is
only less harmful than socialism, because one can escape from it....
"But, Doris, you're not ill! You are looking better."
"I weighed this morning, and I have gone up two pounds. You see I am
amused, and a woman's health is mainly a question whether she is
amused, whether somebody is making love to her."
"Making love! Doris, dear, there is no chance of making love to
anybody here. That is the only fault I find with the place; the sea,
the bay, the hill towns, everything I see is perfect in every detail,
only the essential is lacking. I was thinking, Doris, that for the
sake of your health we might go and spend a few days at Florac."
"My dear, it would be impossible. Everybody would know that I had been
"Maybe, but I don't agree. However, I am glad that you have gone up
two pounds.... I am sure that what you need is mountain air. The
seaside is no good at all for nerves. I have a friend in Paris who
suffers from nerves and has to go every year to Switzerland to climb
"Well, the Matterhorn or Mont Blanc; he has to climb mountains,
glaciers, something of that kind. I remember last year I wrote to him
saying that I did not understand the three past tenses in French, and
would he explain why--something, I have forgotten what--and he
answered: 'Avec mes pieds sur des glaciers je ne puis m'arreter pour
vous expliquer les trois passes.'"
Doris laughed and was interested, for I had introduced her some years
ago to the man who had written this letter; and then we discussed the
_fussent_ and the _eussent, ete_, and when our language of
the French Grammar was exhausted we returned to the point whence we
had come, whether it was possible to persuade Doris to pass three days
in the hotel at Florac--in the interests of her health, of course.
"I'm not sure at all that mountain air would not do me good. Plessy
lies very low and is very relaxing."
But though I convinced her that it would have been better if she had
gone at once to stop at Florac, I could do nothing to persuade her to
pass three days with me in the inn there. As we drove up through the
town the only hope that remained in my mind was that I might induce
her to take breakfast in a private room. But the _salle du
restaurant_ was fifty feet long by thirty feet wide, it contained a
hundred tables, maybe more, the floor was polished oak, and the
ceilings were painted and gilded, and there were fifty waiters waiting
for the swallows that would soon arrive from the north; we were the
"Shall we breakfast in a private room?" I whispered humbly.
"Good heavens! no! I wouldn't dare to go into a private room before
all these waiters."
My heart sank again, and when Doris said, "Where shall we sit?" I
answered, "Anywhere, anywhere, it doesn't matter."
It had taken two hours for the horses to crawl up to the mountain
town, and as I had no early breakfast I was ravenously hungry. A box
of sardines and a plate of butter, and the prospect of an omelette and
a steak, put all thoughts of Doris for the moment out of my head, and
that was a good thing. We babbled on, and it was impossible to say
which was the more interested, which enjoyed talking most; and the
pleasure which each took in talking and hearing the other talk became
"I didn't interrupt you just now, I thought it would be cruel, for you
were enjoying yourself so much," said Doris, laughing.
"Well, I promise not to interrupt the next time--you were in the midst
of one of your stories."
It was not long before she was telling me another story, for Doris was
full of stories. She observed life as it went by, and could recall
what she had seen. Our talk had gone back to years before, to the
evening when I first saw her cross the drawing-room in a white dress,
her gold hair hanging over her shoulders; and in that moment, as she
crossed the room, I had noticed a look of recognition in her eyes; the
look was purely instinctive; she was not aware of it herself, but I
could not help understanding it as a look whereby she recognised me as
one of her kin. I had often spoken to her of that look, and we liked
speaking about it, and about the time when we became friends in Paris.
She had written asking me to go to see her and her mother. I had found
them in a strange little hotel, just starting for some distant suburb,
going there to buy presents from an old couple, dealers in china and
glass, from whom, Doris's mother explained, she would be able to buy
her presents fifty per cent, cheaper than elsewhere. She was one of
those women who would spend three shillings on a cab in order to save
twopence on a vase.
"It took us two hours to get to that old, forgotten quarter, to the
old quaint street where they lived. They were old-world Jews who read
the Talmud, and seemed to be quite isolated, out of touch with the
modern world. It was like going back to the Middle Ages; this queer
old couple moving like goblins among the china and glass. Do you ever
see them now? Are they dead?"
"Let me tell you," cried Doris, "what happened. The old man died two
years ago, and his wife, who had lived with him for forty years, could
not bear to live alone, so what do you think she did? She sent for her
"To marry him?"
"No, not to marry him, but to talk to him about her husband. You see
this couple had lived together for so many years that she had become
ingrained, as it were, in the personality of her late husband, her
habits had become his habits, his thoughts had become hers. The story
really is very funny," and Doris burst out laughing, and for some time
she could not speak with laughing. "I am sorry for the poor man," she
said at last.
"For whom? For the brother-in-law?"
"Yes; you see he is dyspeptic, and he can't eat the dishes at all that
his brother used to like, but the wife can't and won't cook anything
"In other words," I said, "the souvenir of brother Isaac is poisoning
"That is it."
"What a strange place this world is!" And then my mind drifted back
suddenly. "O Doris, I'm so unhappy--this place--I wish I had never
"Now, now, have a little patience. Everything comes right in the end."
"We shall never be alone."
"Yes, we shall. Why do you think that?"
"Because I can't think of anything else."
"Well, you must think of something else. We're going to the factory
where they make perfume, and I'm going to buy a great many bottles of
scent for myself, and presents for friends. We shall be able to buy
the perfume twenty-five per cent. or fifty per cent. cheaper."
"Don't you think we might go to see the pictures? There are some in a
On inquiry we heard that they had been taken away, and I followed
Doris through the perfume factory. Very little work was doing; the
superintendent told us that they were waiting for the violets. A few
old women were stirring caldrons, and I listened wearily, for it did
not interest me in the least, particularly at that moment, to hear
that the flowers were laid upon layers of grease, that the grease
absorbed the perfume, and then the grease was got rid of by means of
alcohol. The workrooms were cold and draughty, and the choice of what
perfumes we were to buy took a long time. However, at last, Doris
decided that she would prefer three bottles of this, three bottles of
that, four of these, and two of those. Her perfume was heliotrope; she
always used it.
"And you like it, don't you dear?"
"Yes, but what does it matter what I like?"
"Now, don't be cross. Don't look so sad."
"I don't mind the purchase you made for your friends, but the purchase
of heliotrope is really too cynical."
"Cynical! Why is it cynical?"
"Because, dear, it is evocative of you, of that slender body moving
among fragrances of scented cambrics, and breathing its own dear odour
as I come forward to greet you. Why do you seek to torment me?"
"But, dear one----"
I was not to be appeased, and sat gloomily in the corner of the
carriage away from her. But she put out her hand, and the silken palm
calmed my nervous irritation, and we descended the steep roads, the
driver putting on and taking off the brake. The evening was growing
chilly, so I asked Doris if I might tell the coachman to stop his
horses and to put up the hood of the carriage. In a close carriage one
is nearly alone. But every moment I was reminded that people were
passing, and between her kisses the thought passed that I must go back
to Paris, however unkind it might be. It would be unkind to leave her,
for she was not very strong; she would require somebody to look after
her. As I was debating the question in my mind Doris said:
"You don't mind, dear, but before we go back to the hotel, I have a
visit to pay."
In the three weeks' time she had spent at Plessy before I came there,
Doris had made the acquaintance of all kinds of elderly spinsters, who
lived in the different hotels _en pension_, and who would go away
as soon as the visitors arrived, to seek another "resort" where the
season had not yet commenced, and where they could be boarded and
bedded for ten francs a day. I had made the acquaintance of Miss Tubbs
and Miss Whitworth, and we were dining with them that night. Doris had
explained that we could not refuse to dine with them at least once.
"But as we're going to spend the evening with them, I don't see the
"Of course not, dear, but don't you remember you promised to go to see
the Formans with me?"
Miss Forman had dined with us last night, but her mother had not been
able to come, and that was a relief to me whatever it may have been to
Doris; I had heard that Mrs. Forman was a very old woman, and as her
daughter struck me as an ineffectual person, I said as I sat down to
dinner, "One of the family is enough." What her mother's age could be
I could not guess, for Miss Forman herself might pass for seventy. But
after speaking to her for a little while one saw that she was not so
old as she looked at first sight. Nothing saddens me more than those
who have aged prematurely, for the cause of premature ageing is
generally a declension of the mind. As soon as the mind begins to
narrow and wither the body follows suit; prejudices and conventions
age us more than years do. Before speaking a word it was easy to see
from Miss Forman's appearance that no new idea had entered into her
life for a long while, and I imagined her at once to be one of those
daughters that one finds abroad in different provincial towns, living
with their mothers on small incomes. "The daughter's tragedy is
written all over her face," I said, and while speaking to her I
scrutinised her, reading in her everything that goes to make up that
tragedy. She had the face of those heroines, for they are
heroines--the broad low brow, the high nose, the sympathetic eyes,
grey and expressive of duty and sacrifice of self. Her dress and her
manners were as significant as her face, and seemed to hint at the
life she had lived. She wore a black silk gown which looked
old-fashioned--why I cannot say. Was it the gown or the piece of black
lace that she wore on her head, or the Victorian earrings that hung
from her ears down her dust-coloured neck, that gave her a sort of
bygone appearance, the look of an old photograph? Her manners took me
farther back in the century even than the photograph did; she seemed
to have come out of the pages of some trite and uninteresting novel, a
rather listless book written at the end of the eighteenth century,
before the art of novel-writing had been found out. She listened, and
her listening was in itself a politeness, and she never lost her
politeness, though she seldom understood what I said. When I finished
speaking she answered what I had said indirectly, like one whose mind
was not quite capable of following any conversation except the most
trite. She laughed if she thought I had said anything humourous, and
sometimes looked a little embarrassed; she only seemed to be at her
ease when speaking of her mother. If, for instance, we were speaking
of books, she would break in with her mother's opinions, thinking it
wonderful that her mother had read--shall we say, "The Three
Musketeers?" three times. She was interested in all her mother's
characteristics, and her habit was to speak of her mother as her
mamma. She seemed to delight in the word, and every time she
pronounced it a light came into her old face, and I began to
understand her and to feel that I could place her, to use a
colloquialism which is so expressive that perhaps its use may be
forgiven. "The daughter's tragedy," I muttered, and considering it,
philosophising according to my wont, I tried to reconcile myself to
this visit. "After all," I said, "I am on my own business, therefore I
have no right to grumble."
I wished to see what Miss Forman was like in her own house; above all,
I wished to see if her mother were as typical of the mother who
accepts her daughter's sacrifice, as Miss Forman was of the daughter
that has been sacrificed. From the daughter's appearance I had
imagined Mrs. Forman to be a tall, good-looking, distinguished woman,
lying upon a sofa, wearing a cap upon her white hair, her feet covered
with a shawl, and Miss Forman arranging it from time to time. Nature
is always surprising; she follows a rhythm of her own; we beat one,
two, three, four, but the invisible leader of the orchestra sets a
more subtle rhythm. But though Nature's rhythm is irregular, its
irregularity is more apparent than real, for when we listen we hear
that everything goes to a beat, and in looking at Mrs. Forman I
recognised that she was the inevitable mother of such a daughter, and
that Nature's combination was more harmonious than mine. The first
thing that struck me was that the personal energy I had missed in the
daughter survived in the mother, notwithstanding her seventy-five
years. The daughter reminded me now of a tree that had been
overshadowed; Miss Forman had remained a child, nor could she have
grown to womanhood unless somebody had taken her away; no doubt
somebody had wanted to marry her; there is nobody that has not had her
love affair, very few at least, and I imagined Miss Forman giving up
hers for the sake of her mamma, and I could hear her mamma--that
short, thick woman, looking more like a ball of lard than anything
else in the world, alert notwithstanding her sciatica, with two small
beady eyes in the glaring whiteness of her face--forgetful of her
daughter's sacrifice, saying to her some evening as they warmed their
shins over the fire:
"Well, Caroline, I never understood how it was that you didn't marry
Mr. So-and-so, I think he would have suited you very well."
My interest in these two women who had lived side by side all their
lives was slight; it was just animated by a slight curiosity to see if
Miss Forman would be as much interested in her mother in her own house
by her mother's side as she had been in the hotel among strangers. I
waited to hear her call her mother mamma; nor had I to wait long, for
as soon as the conversation turned on the house which the Formans had
lately purchased, and the land which Mrs. Forman was buying up and
planting with orange trees, Miss Forman broke in, and in her
high-pitched voice she told us enthusiastically that mamma was so
energetic; she never could be induced to sit down and be quiet; even
her sciatica could not keep her in her chair. A few moments after Miss
Forman told us that they did not leave Plessy even during the summer
heat. Mamma could not be induced to go away. The last time they had
gone to a hill village intending to spend some three or four weeks
there, but the food did not suit mamma at all, and Miss Forman
explained how the critical moment came and she had said to her mamma,
"Well, mamma, this place does not suit you; I think we had better go
home again"; and they had come home after six days in the hill
village, probably never to leave Plessy again; and turning to her
mother with a look of admiration on her face Miss Forman said: "I
always tell mamma that she will never be able to get away from here
until balloon travelling comes into fashion. If a balloon were to come
down to mamma's balcony, mamma might get into it and be induced to go
away for a little while for a change of air. She would not be afraid.
I don't think mamma was ever afraid of anything." Her voice seemed to
me to attain a certain ecstasy in the words, "I don't think mamma was
ever afraid of anything," and I said, "She is proud of her ideal, and
it is well that she should be, for there is no other in the world, not
for her at least," and noticing that the three women were talking
together, that I was no longer observed, I got up with a view to
studying the surroundings in which Mrs. Forman and her daughter lived.
On the wall facing the fireplace there were two portraits--two
engravings--and I did not need to look at the date to know that they
had been done in 1840; one was her Majesty Queen Victoria, the other
her Royal Consort, Prince Albert. Shall I be believed if I say that in
my little excursions round the room and the next room I discovered a
small rosewood table on which stood some wax fruit, a small sofa
covered with rep and antimacassars, just as in old days? More
characteristic still was the harmonium, with a hymn-book on the music
rest, and every Sunday, no doubt, Miss Forman played hymns with her
stiff, crooked fingers, and they said prayers together, the same
old-fashioned English prayers for which I always hanker a little.
Satisfied with the result of my quest, and fearing that it might be
regarded as an impertinence if I stayed away any longer, I returned to
the back drawing-room, only to accompany the Formans and Doris back
again to the front drawing-room. There was a piano there. The Formans
had persuaded Doris to sing, and she was going to do so to please
them. "They don't know anything about singing," she whispered to me;
"but what does that matter? You see, poor things, they have so little
to distract them in their lives; it will be quite a little event for
them to hear me sing," and she went to the piano and sang song after
"It is kind indeed of you to sing to us, to an old woman and a
middle-aged woman," Mrs. Forman said, "and I hope you will come to see
us again, both of you."
"What should bring me to see them again?" I asked myself as I tried to
get Doris away, for she lingered about the doorway with them, making
impossible plans, asking them to come to see her when they came to
England, telling them that if her health required it and she came to
Plessy again she would rush to see them. "Why should she go on like
that, knowing well that we shall never see them again, never in this
world?" I thought. Mrs. Forman insisted that her daughter should
accompany us to the gate, and all the way there Doris begged of Miss
Forman to come to dine with us; we were dining with Miss Tubbs and
Miss Whitworth, friends of hers; it would be so nice if she would
come. The carriage would be sent back for her; it would be so easy to
send it back. I offered up a prayer that Miss Forman might refuse, and
she did refuse many times; but Doris was so pressing that she
consented; but when we got into the carriage a thought struck her.
"No," she said, "I cannot go, for the dressmaker is coming this
evening to try on mamma's dress, and mamma is very particular about
her gowns; she hates any fulness in the waist; the last time the gown
had to go back--you must excuse me."
"Good-bye, dear, good-bye," I heard Doris crying, and I said to
myself, "How kind she is!"
"Now, my dear, aren't you glad that you came to see them? Aren't they
nice? Isn't she good? And you like goodness."
"Dear Doris, I like goodness, and I like to discover your kind heart.
Don't you remember my saying that your pretty face was dependent upon
your intelligence; that without your music and without your wit your
face would lose half its charm? Well, now, do you know that it seems
to me that it would only lose a third of its charm; for a third of my
love for you is my admiration of your good heart. You remember how,
years ago, I used to catch you doing acts of kindness? What has become
of the two blind women you used to help?"
"So you haven't forgotten them. You used to say that it was wonderful
that a blind woman should be able to get her living."
"Of course it is. It has always seemed to me extraordinary that any
one should be able to earn his living."
"You see, dear, you have not been forced to get yours, and you do not
realise that ninety per cent of men and women have to get theirs."
"But a blind woman! To get up in the morning and go out to earn enough
money to pay for her dinner; think of it! Getting up in the dark,
knowing that she must earn four, five, ten shillings a day, whatever
it is. Every day the problem presents itself, and she always in the
"Do you remember her story?"
"I think so. She was once rich, wasn't she? In fairly easy
circumstances, and she lost her fortune. It all went away from her bit
by bit. It is all coming back to me, how Fate in the story as you told
it seemed like a black shadow stretching out a paw, grabbing some part
of her income again and again till the last farthing was taken. Even
then Fate was not satisfied, and your friend must catch the smallpox
and lose her eyes. But as soon as she was well she decided to come to
England and learn to be a masseuse. I suppose she did not want to stop
in Australia, where she was known. How attractive courage is! And
where shall we find an example of courage equal to that of this blind
woman coming to England to learn to be a masseuse? What I don't
understand is bearing with her life in the dark, going out to her work
every day to earn her dinner, and very often robbed by the girl who
led her about?
"How well you remember, dear."
"Of course I do. Now, how was it? Her next misfortune was a
sentimental one. There was some sort of a love story in this blind
woman's life, not the conventional, sentimental story which never
happens, but a hint, a suggestion, of that passion which takes a
hundred thousand shapes, finding its way even to a blind woman's life.
Now don't tell me; it's all coming back to me. Something about a
student who lived in the same house as she did; a very young man; and
they made acquaintance on the stairs; they took to visiting each
other; they became friends, but it was not with him she fell in love.
This student had a pal who came to share his rooms, an older man with
serious tastes, a great classical scholar, and he used to go down to
read to the blind woman in the evening. It really was a very pretty
story, and very true. He used to translate the Greek tragedies aloud
to her. I wonder if she expected him to marry her?"
"No, she knew he could not marry her, but that made no difference."
"You're quite right. It was just the one interest in her life, and it
was taken from her. He was a doctor, wasn't he?"
Doris nodded, and I remembered how he had gone out to Africa. "No
sooner did he get there than he caught a fever, one of the worst
kinds. The poor blind masseuse did not hear anything of her loss for a
long time. The friend upstairs didn't dare to come down to tell her.
But at last the truth could be hidden from her no longer. It's
extraordinary how tragedy follows some."
"And now she sits alone in the dark. No one comes to read to her. But
she bears with her solitude rather than put up with the pious people
who would interest themselves in her. You said there were no
interesting books written for the blind, only pieties. The charitable
are often no better than Shylocks, they want their money's worth. I
only see her, of course, through your description, but if I see her
truly she was one of those who loved life, and life took everything
"Do you remember the story of the other blind woman?"
"Yes and no, vaguely. She was a singer, wasn't she?" Doris nodded.
"And I think she was born blind, or lost her sight when she was three
or four years old. You described her to me as a tall, handsome woman
with dark, crinkly hair, and a mouth like red velvet."
"I don't think I said like red velvet, dear."
"Well, it doesn't sound like a woman's description of another woman,
but I think you told me that she had had love affairs, and it was that
that made me give her a mouth like red velvet. Why should she not have
love affairs? She was as much a woman as another; only one doesn't
realise until one hears a story of this kind what the life of the
blind must be, how differently they must think and feel about things
from those who see. Her lover must have been a wonder to her,
something strange, mysterious; the blind must be more capable of love
than anybody else. She wouldn't know if he were a man of forty or one
of twenty. And what difference could it make to her?"
"Ah, the blind are very sensitive, much more so than we are."
"I think Judith would have known the difference between a young man
and a middle-aged. There was little she didn't know."
"I daresay you're quite right. But still everything must have been
more intense and vague. When the blind woman's lover is not speaking
to her he is away; she is unable to follow him, and sitting at home
she imagines him in society surrounded by others who are not blind.
She doesn't know what eyes are, but she imagines them like--what?
anyhow she imagines them more beautiful than they are. No, Doris, no
eyes are more beautiful than yours; she imagines every one with eyes
like yours. I have not thought of her much lately, but I used to think
of her when you told me the story, as standing on a platform in front
of the public, calm as a caryatid. She must have had a beautiful voice
to have been able to get an engagement; and the great courage that
these blind women have! Fancy the struggle to get an engagement, a
difficult thing to do in any circumstances--but in hers! And when her
voice began to fail her she must have suffered, for her voice was her
one possession, the one thing that distinguished her from others, the
one thing she knew herself by, her personality as it were. She didn't
know her face as other women know theirs; she only knew herself when
she sang, then she became an entity, as it were. Nor could teaching
recompense her for what she had lost, however intelligent her pupils
might be, or however well they paid her. How did she lose her pupils?"
"I don't think there was any reason. She lost her pupils in the
ordinary way; she was unlucky. As you were just saying, it was more
difficult for her to earn her living than for those who could see, and
Judith is no longer as young as she was; she isn't old, she is still a
handsome woman, but in a few years.... If old-age pensions are to be
granted to people, they surely ought to be granted to blind women."
"Yes, I remember; the sentiment of the whole story is in my mind; only
I am a little confused about the facts. I remember you wrote a lot of
letters--how was it?"
"Well, I just felt that the thing to do was to get an annuity for
Judith; I could not afford to give her one myself; so after a great
deal of trouble I got into communication with a rich woman who was
interested in the blind and wanted to found one."
"You are quite right, that was it. You must have written dozens of
"Yes, indeed, and all to no purpose. Judith knew the trouble I was
taking, but she couldn't bear with her loneliness any longer; the
dread of the long evenings by herself began to prey upon her nerves,
and she went off to Peckham to marry a blind man--quite an elderly
man; he was over sixty. They had known each other for some time, and
he taught music like her; but though he only earned forty or fifty
pounds a year, still she preferred to have somebody to live with than
"But I don't see why she should lose her annuity."
"Don't you remember, dear? This to me is the point of the story. The
charitable woman drew back, not from any sordid motive, because she
regretted her money, but for a fixed idea; she had learned from
somebody that blind people shouldn't marry, and she did not feel
herself justified in giving her money to encouraging such marriages."
"Was there ever anything so extraordinary as human nature? Its
goodness, its stupidity, its cruelty! The woman meant well; one can't
even hate her for it; it was just a lack of perception, a desire to
live up to principles. That is what sets every one agog, trying to
live up to principles, abstract ideas. If they only think of what they
are and what others are! The folly of it! This puzzle-headed woman--I
mean the charitable woman pondering over the fate of the race, as if
she could do anything to advance or retard its destiny!"
"You always liked those stories, dear. You said that you would write
"Yes, but I'm afraid the pathos is a little deeper than I could reach;
only Turgenieff could write them. But here we are at the Dog's Home."
"Don't talk like that--it's unkind."
"I don't mean to be unkind, but I have to try to realise things before
I can appreciate them."
It seemed not a little incongruous that these two little spinsters
should pay for our dinners, and I tried to induce Doris to agree to
some modification in the present arrangements, but she said it was
their wish to entertain us.
The evening I spent in that hotel hearing Doris sing, and myself
talking literature to a company of about a dozen spinsters, all plain
and elderly, all trying to live upon incomes varying from a hundred
and fifty to two hundred pounds a year, comes up before my mind, every
incident. Life is full of incidents, only our intelligence is not
always sufficiently trained to perceive them; and the incident I am
about to mention was important in the life I am describing. Miss Tubbs
had asked me what wine I would drink. And in a moment of inadvertence
I said "Vin Ordinaire," forgetting that the two shillings the wine
would cost would probably mean that Miss Tubbs would very likely have
to go without her cup of tea at five o'clock next day in order that
her expenditure should not exceed her limit, and I thought how
difficult life must be on these slippery rocks, incomes of one hundred
and fifty a year. Poor little gentlefolk, roving about from one
boarding-house to another, always in search of the cheapest, sometimes
getting into boarding-houses where the cheapness of the food
necessitates sending for the doctor, so the gain on one side is a loss
on the other. Poor little gentlefolk, the odds-and-ends of existence,
the pence and threepenny bits of human life!
That Doris's singing should have provoked remarks painfully
inadequate, mattered little. Inadequate remarks about singing and
about the other arts are as common in London drawing-rooms as in
hotels and boarding-houses (all hotels are boarding-houses; there is
really no difference), and the company I found in these winter resorts
would have interested me at any other time. I can be interested in the
woman who collects stamps, in the gentle soul who keeps a botany book
in which all kinds of quaint entries are found, in the lady who writes
for the papers, and the one who is supposed to have a past. Wherever
human beings collect there is always to be found somebody of interest,
but when one's interest is centred in a lady, everybody else becomes
an enemy; and I looked upon all these harmless spinsters as my
enemies, and their proposals for excursions, and luncheons, and
dinners caused me much misgiving, not only because they separated me
from Doris, but because I felt that any incident, the proposed picnic,
might prove a shipwrecking reef. One cannot predict what will happen.
Life is so full of incidents; a woman's jealous tongue or the arrival
of some acquaintance might bring about a catastrophe. A love affair
hangs upon a gossamer thread, you know, and that is why I tried to
persuade Doris away from her friends.
She was very kind and good and didn't inflict the society of these
people too much upon me. Perhaps she was conscious of the danger
herself, and we only visited the boarding-houses in the evening. But
these visits grew intolerable. The society of Miss Tubbs and Miss
Whitworth jarred the impressions of a long day spent in the open air,
in a landscape where once the temples of the gods had been, where men
had once lived who had seen, or at all events believed, in the fauns
and the dryads, in the grotto where the siren swims.
One afternoon I said to Doris: "I'm afraid I can't go to see Miss
Tubbs this evening. Can't we devise something else? Another dinner in
a boarding-house would lead me to suicide, I think."
"You would like to drown yourself in that bay and join the nymphs. Do
you think they would prove kinder than I?"
I did not answer Doris. I suddenly seemed to despair; the exquisite
tenderness of the sky, and the inveigling curves of the bay seemed to
become detestable to me, theatrical, absurd. "Good God!" I thought: "I
shall never win her love. All my journey is in vain, and all this
love-making." The scene before me was the most beautiful in shape and
colour I had ever seen; but I am in no mood to describe the
Leonardo-like mountains enframing the azure bay. The reader must
imagine us leaning over a low wall watching the sea water gurgling
among the rocks. We had come to see some gardens. The waiter at my
hotel had told me of some, the property of a gentleman kind enough to
throw them open to the public twice a week; and I had taken his
advice, though gardens find little favour with me--now and again an
old English garden, but the well-kept horticultural is my abhorrence.
But one cannot tell a coachman to drive along the road, one must tell
him to go somewhere, so we had come to see what was to be seen. And
all was as I had imagined it, only worse; the tall wrought-iron gate
was twenty feet high, there was a naked pavilion behind it, and a
woman seated at a table with a cash-box in front of her. This woman
took a franc apiece, and told us that the money was to be devoted to a
charitable purpose; we were then free to wander down a gravel walk
twenty feet wide branching to the right and the left, along a line of
closely clipped shrubs, with a bunch of tall grasses here and a
foreign fir there; gardens that a painter would turn from in horror. I
said to Doris:
"This is as tedious as a play at the _Comedie_, as tiresome as a
tragedy by Racine, and very like one. Let us seek out one of the
external walks overlooking the sea; even there I'm afraid the
knowledge that these shrubs are behind us will spoil our pleasure."
Doris laughed; that was one of her charms, she could be amused; and it
was in this mood that we sat down on a seat placed in a low wall
overlooking the bay, looking at each other, basking in the rays of the
afternoon sun, and there we sat for some little while indolent as
lizards. Pointing to one at a little distance I said:
"It is delightful to be here with you, Doris, but the sunlight is not
sufficient for me. Doris, dear, I am very unhappy. I have lain awake
all night thinking of you, and now I must tell you that yesterday I
was sorely tempted to go down to that bay and join the nymphs there.
Don't ask me if I believe that I should find a nymph to love me; one
doesn't know what one believes, I only know that I am unhappy."
"But why, dear, do you allow yourself to be unhappy? Look at that
lizard. Isn't he nice? Isn't he satisfied? He desires nothing but what
he has got, light and warmth."
"And, Doris, would you like me to be as content as that lizard--to
desire nothing more than light and warmth?"
Doris looked at me, and thinking her eyes more beautiful even than the
sunlight, I said:
"'And the sunlight clasps the earth,
And the moonbeams kiss the sea,
But what are all those kissings worth,
If thou kiss not me?'
"That is the eternal song of the spheres and of the flowers. If I don't
become part of the great harmony, I must die."
"But you do kiss me," Doris answered wilfully, "when the evening turns
cold and the coachman puts up the hood of the carriage."
"Wilful Doris! Pretty puss cat!"
"I'm not a puss cat; I'm not playing with you, dear. I do assure you I
feel the strain of these days; but what am I to do? You wouldn't have
me tell you to stay at my hotel and to compromise myself before all
"These people! Those boarding-houses are driving me mad! That Miss
"I thought you liked her. You said she is good, 'a simple, kind
person, without pretensions.' And that is enough, according to
yesterday's creed. You were never nicer than you were yesterday
speaking of her (I remember your words): you said the flesh fades, the
intellect withers, only the heart remembers. Do you recant all this?"
"No, I recant nothing; only yesterday's truth is not to-day's. One day
we are attracted by goodness, another day by beauty; and beauty has
been calling me day after day: at first the call was heard far away
like a horn in the woods, but now the call has become more imperative,
and all the landscape is musical. Yesterday standing by those ancient
ruins, it seemed to me as if I had been transported out of my present
nature back to my original nature of two thousand years ago. The sight
of those ancient columns quickened a new soul within me; or should I
say a soul that had been overlaid began to emerge? The dead are never
wholly dead; their ideas live in us. I am sure that in England I never
appreciated you as intensely as I do here. Doris, I have learned to
appreciate you like a work of art. It is the spirit of antiquity that
has taken hold of me, that has risen out of the earth and claimed me.
That hat I would put away----"
"Don't you like my hat?"
"Yes, I like it, but I am thinking of the Doris that lived two
thousand years ago; she did not wear a hat. In imagination I see the
nymph that is in you, though I may never see her with mortal eyes."
"Why should you not see her, dear?"
"I have begun to despair. All these boarding-houses and their
inhabitants jar the spirit that this landscape has kindled within me.
I want to go away with you where I may love you. I am afraid what I am
saying may seem exaggerated, but it is quite true that you remind me
of antiquity, and in a way that I cannot explain though it is quite
clear to me."
"But you do possess me, dear?"
"No, Doris, not as I wish. This journey will be a bitter memory that
will endure for ever; we must think not only of the day that we live,
but of the days in front of us; we must store our memories as the
squirrel stores nuts, we must have a winter hoard. If some way is not
found out of this horrible dilemma, I shall remember you as a
collector remembers a vase which a workman handed to him and which
slipped and was broken, or like a vase that was stolen from him; I
cannot find a perfect simile, at least not at this moment; my speech
is imperfect, but you will understand."
"Yes, I understand, I think I understand."
"If I do not get you, it will seem to me that I have lived in vain."
"But, dear one, things are not so bad as that. We need not be in Paris
for some days yet, and though I cannot ask you to my hotel, there is
no reason why----"
"Doris, do not raise up false hopes."
"I was only going to say, dear, that it does not seem to be necessary
that we should go straight back to Paris."
"You mean that we might stop somewhere at some old Roman town, at
Arles in an eighteenth-century house. O Doris, how enchanting this
would be! I hardly dare to think lest----"
"Lest what, dear? Lest I should deceive you?"
There was a delicious coo in her voice, the very love coo; it cannot
be imitated any more than the death-rattle, and exalted and inspired
by her promise of herself, of all herself, I spoke in praise of the
eighteenth century, saying that it had loved antiquity better than the
nineteenth, and had reproduced its spirit.
"Is it not strange that, in the midst of reality, artistic conceptions
always hang about me; but shall I ever possess you, Doris? Is it my
delicious fate to spend three days with you in an old Roman town?"
"There is no reason why it shouldn't be. Where shall it be?"
"Any town would be sufficient with you, Doris; but let us think of
some beautiful place"; and looking across the bay into the sunset, I
recalled as many names as I could; many of those old Roman towns rose
up before my eyes, classic remains mingling with mediaeval towers,
cathedral spires rising over walls on which Roman sentries had once
paced. We could only spend our honeymoon in a town with a beautiful
name--a beautiful name was essential--a name that it would be a
delight to remember for ever after; the name would have to express by
some harmonious combination of syllables the loves that would be
expended there. Rocomadour imitated too obviously the sound of sucking
doves, and was rejected for that reason. Cahor tempted us, but it was
too stern a name; its Italian name, Devona, appealed to us; but, after
all, we could not think of Cahor as Devona. And for many reasons were
rejected Armance, Vezelay, Oloron, Correz, Valat, and Gedre. Among
these, only Armance gave us any serious pause. Armance! That evening
and the next we studied _L'Indicateur des Chemins de fer_.
"Armance," I said, interrupting Doris, who was telling me that we
should lose our tickets by the _Cote d'Azur_. For in Doris's
opinion it was necessary that we should leave Plessy by the _Cote
d'Azur_. Her friends would certainly come to the station to see her
off. "That is a matter of no moment," I said. "At Marseilles we can
catch an express train, which will be nearly as good. There are two
excellent trains; either will do, if you have decided to spend three
days at Armance."
She asked me if Armance were a village or a town, and I answered,
"What matter?"--for everywhere in France there are good beds and good
food and good wine--ay, and omelettes. We should do very well in any
village in the south of France for three days. But suddenly two names
caught my eye, Orelay and Verlancourt, and we agreed that we preferred
either of these names to Armance.
"Which name shall give shelter to two unfortunate lovers flying in
search of solitude?"
"Orelay is a beautiful name."
"Orelay it shall be," I said. "We shall be able to get there from
Marseilles in a few hours."
"You see, dear, it would be impossible for me to travel all the way to
Paris--a journey of at least twenty-four hours would kill me, and I'm
not strong; nothing tires me more than railway traveling. We must stop
somewhere. Why not at Orelay?"
As this history can have only one merit, that of absolute truth, I
must confess that the subterfuge whereby Doris sought to justify
herself to herself, delighted me. Perhaps no quality is more human
than that of subterfuge. She might unveil her body, but she could not
unveil her soul. We may only lift a corner of the veil; he who would
strip human nature naked and exhibit it displays a rattling skeleton,
no more: where there is no subterfuge there is no life.
This story will be read, no doubt, by the young and the old, the wise
and the foolish, by the temperate and the intemperate, but the subject
matter is so common to all men that it will interest every one, even
ecclesiastics, every one except certain gentlemen residing chiefly in
Constantinople, whose hostility to the lover on his errand is so well
known, and so easily understandable, that I must renounce all hope of
numbering them among the admirers of my own or Doris's frailty. But
happily these gentlemen are rare in England, though it is suspected
that one or two may be found among the reviewers on the staff of
certain newspapers; otherwise how shall we account for the solitary
falsetto voices in the choir of our daily and weekly press, shouting
abstinence from the housetops? But with the exception of these few
critics every one will find pleasure in this narrative; even in aged
men and women enough sex is left to allow them to take an interest in
a love story; in these modern days when the novel wanders even as far
as the nuns in their cells (I have good authority for making this
statement), perhaps I may be able to count upon an aged Mother Abbess
to be, outwardly perhaps a disapproving, but at heart a sympathetic
reader. Indeed, I count upon the ascetic more than upon any other
class for appreciation, for the imagination of those who have had no
experience in love adventures will enkindle, and they will appreciate
perhaps more intensely than any other the mental trouble that a
journey to Orelay with Doris would entail.
It would take nearly five hours according to the time table to get
from Marseilles to Orelay; and these five hours would wear themselves
wearily away in conversation with Doris, in talking to her of every
subject except the subject uppermost in my mind. I should have kept a
notebook, just as I had arranged to do when I thought I was going on
the yachting excursion among the Greek Islands with Gertrude; but,
having no notes, I can only appeal to the reader's imagination. I must
ask him to remember the week of cruel abstinence I had been through,
and to take it into his consideration. My dear, dear reader, I am sure
you can see me if you try (in your mind's eye, of course) walking
about the corridors, seeking the guard, asking every one I meet:
"How far away are we now from Orelay?"
"Orelay? Nearly two hours from Orelay."
Our heavy luggage had been sent on before, but we had a number of
dressing cases and bags with us, and there might not be time to remove
all these. The guard, who had promised to take them out of the
carriage for us, might not arrive in time. However this might be,
he was not to be found anywhere, and I sought him how many times
up and down the long length of the train. You can see me, reader,
can you not? walking about the train, imagining all kinds of
catastrophes--that the train might break down, or that it might not
stop at Orelay; or, a still more likely catastrophe, that the young
lady might change her mind. What if that were to happen at the last
moment! Ah, if that were to happen I should have perchance to throw
myself out of the train, unless peradventure I refrained for the sake
of writing the story of a lover's deception. The transitional stage is
an intolerable one, and I wondered if Doris felt it as keenly, and
every time I passed our carriage on my way up and down in search of
the guard, I stopped a moment to study her face; she sat with her eyes
closed, perhaps dozing. How prosaic of her to doze on the way to
Orelay! Why was she not as agitated as I?
And the question presented itself suddenly, Do women attach the same
interest to love adventures as we do? Do women ask themselves as often
as we do if God, the Devil, or Calamitous Fate will intervene between
us and our pleasure? Will it be snatched out of our arms and from our
lips? Perhaps never before, only once in any case, did I experience an
excitement so lancinating as I experienced that day. And as I write
the sad thought floats past that such expectations will never be my
lot again. The delights of the moment are perhaps behind me, but why
should I feel sad for that? Life is always beautiful, in age as well
as in youth; the old have a joy that the youths do not know--
recollection. It is through memory we know ourselves; without
memory it might be said we have hardly lived at all, or only like
This is a point on which I would speak seriously to every reader,
especially to my young readers; for it is of the utmost importance
that every one should select adventures that not only please them at
the moment, but can be looked back upon with admiration, and for which
one can offer up a mute thanksgiving. My life would not have been
complete, a corner-stone would have been lacking if Doris had not come
to Orelay with me. Without her I should not have known the joy that
perfect beauty gives; that beauty which haunted in antiquity would
never have been known to me. But without more, as the lawyers say, we
will return to Doris. I asked her if she had been asleep? No, she had
not slept, only it rested her to keep her eyes closed, the sunlight
fatigued her. I did not like to hear her talk of fatigue, and to hide
from her what was passing in my mind I tried to invent some
conversation. Orelay--what a lovely name it was! Did she think the
town would vindicate or belie its name? She smiled faintly and said
she would not feel fatigued as soon as she got out of the train, and
there was some consolation in the thought that her health would not
allow her to get farther that day than Orelay.
We decided to stay at the Hotel des Valois. One of the passengers had
spoken to me of this hotel; he had never stayed there himself, but he
believed it to be an excellent hotel. But it was not his
recommendation that influenced me, it was the name--the Hotel des
Valois. How splendid! And when we got out at Orelay I asked the
porters and the station-master if they could recommend a hotel. No,
but they agreed that the Hotel des Valois was as good as any other. We
drove there wondering what it would be like. Everything had turned out
well up to the present, but everything would go for naught if the
Hotel des Valois should prove unworthy of its name. And the first
sight of it was certainly disappointing. Its courtyard was
insignificant, only saved by a beautiful ilex tree growing in one
corner. The next moment I noticed that the porch of the hotel was
pretty and refined--a curious porch it was, giving the hotel for a
moment the look of an eighteenth-century English country house. There
were numerous windows with small panes, and one divined the hall
beyond the porch. The hall delighted us, and I said to Doris as we
passed through that the hotel must have been a nobleman's house some
long while ago, when Orelay had a society of its own, perhaps a
language, for in the seventeenth or the eighteenth century Provencal
or some other dialect must have been written or spoken at Orelay. We
admired the galleries overlooking the hall, and the staircase leading
to them. We seemed to have been transported into the eighteenth
century; the atmosphere was that of a Boucher, a provincial Boucher
perhaps, but an eighteenth-century artist for all that. The doves that
crowd round Aphrodite seemed to have led us right; and we foresaw a
large quiet bedroom with an Aubusson carpet in the middle of a parquet
floor, writing-tables in the corners of the room or in the
This was the kind of room I had imagined--one as large as a
drawing-room, and furnished like a drawing-room, with sofas and
arm-chairs that we could draw around the fire, and myself and Doris
sitting there talking. Love is composed in a large measure of desire
of intimacy, and if the affection that birds experience in making
their nest be not imitated, love descends to the base satisfaction of
animals which merely meet in obedience to an instinct, and separate as
soon as the instinct has been served. Birds understand love better
than all animals, except man. Who has not thought with admiration of
the weaver-birds, and of our own native wren? But the rooms that were
offered to us corresponded in no wise with those that we had imagined
the doors of the beautiful galleries would lead us into. The French
words _chambre meublee_ will convey an idea of the rooms we were
shown into; for do not the words evoke a high bed pushed into the
corner, an eider-down on top, a tall dusty window facing the bed, with
skimpy red curtains and a vacant fireplace? There were, no doubt, a
few chairs--but what chairs!
The scene was at once tragic and comic. It was of vital importance to
myself and Doris to find a room such as I have attempted to describe,
and it was of equal indifference to the waiter whether we did or
didn't. The appearance of each contributed to the character of the
scene. Doris's appearance I have tried to make clear to the reader;
mine must be imagined; it only remains for me to tell what the waiter
was like; an old man, short and thick, slow on the feet from long
service, enveloped in an enormous apron; one only saw the ends of his
trousers and his head; and the head was one of the strangest ever
seen, for there was not a hair upon it; he was bald as an egg, and his
head was the shape of an egg, and the colour of an Easter egg, a
pretty pink all over. The eyes were like a ferret's, small and
restless and watery, a long nose and a straight drooping chin, and a
thick provincial accent--that alone amused me.
"Have you no other rooms?"
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