Sacred And Profane Love
E. Arnold Bennett
Part 2 out of 4
my capacity. It amazed me how I had managed to reach London. I must have
come mechanically, in a heavy dream; for I had no hope, no energy, no
vivacity, no interest. For many weeks my mind had revolved round an awful
possibility, as if hypnotized by it, and that monotonous revolution
seemed alone to constitute my real life. Moreover, I was subject to
recurring nausea, and to disconcerting bodily pains and another symptom.
'This must end!' I said, struggling to my feet.
I summoned the courage of an absolute disgust. I felt that the power
which had triumphed over my dejection and my irresolution and brought me
to London might carry me a little further.
Leaving the hotel, I crossed the Strand. Innumerable omnibuses were
crawling past. I jumped into one at hazard, and the conductor put his arm
behind my back to support me. He was shouting, 'Putney, Putney, Putney!'
in an absent-minded manner: he had assisted me to mount without even
looking at me. I climbed to the top of the omnibus and sat down, and the
omnibus moved off. I knew not where I was going; Putney was nothing but a
name to me.
'Where to, lady?' snapped the conductor, coming upstairs.
'Oh, Putney,' I answered.
A little bell rang and he gave me a ticket. The omnibus was soon full. A
woman with a young child shared my seat. But the population of the roof
was always changing. I alone remained--so it appeared to me. And we moved
interminably forward through the gas-lit and crowded streets, under the
mild night. Occasionally, when we came within the circle of an arc-lamp,
I could see all my fellow-passengers very clearly; then they were nothing
but dark, featureless masses. The horses of the omnibus were changed. A
score of times the conductor came briskly upstairs, but he never looked
at me again. 'I've done with you,' his back seemed to say.
The houses stood up straight and sinister, thousands of houses unendingly
succeeding each other. Some were brilliantly illuminated; some were dark;
and some had one or two windows lighted. The phenomenon of a solitary
window lighted, high up in a house, filled me with the sense of the
tragic romance of London. Why, I cannot tell. But it did. London grew to
be almost unbearably mournful. There were too many people in London.
Suffering was packed too close. One can contemplate a single affliction
with some equanimity, but a million griefs, calamities, frustrations,
elbowing each other--No, no! And in all that multitude of sadnesses I
felt that mine was the worst. My loneliness, my fear, my foolish youth,
my inability to cope with circumstance, my appalling ignorance of the
very things which I ought to know! It was awful. And yet even then, in
that despairing certainty of disaster, I was conscious of the beauty of
life, the beauty of life's exceeding sorrow, and I hugged it to me, like
a red-hot iron.
We crossed a great river by a great bridge--a mysterious and mighty
stream; and then the streets closed in on us again. And at last, after
hours and hours, the omnibus swerved into a dark road and
'Putney!' cried the conductor, like fate.
I descended. Far off, at the end of the vista of the dark road, I saw a
red lamp. I knew that in large cities a red lamp indicated a doctor: it
was the one useful thing that I did know.
I approached the red lamp, cautiously, on the other side of the street.
Then some power forced me to cross the street and open a wicket. And in
the red glow of the lamp I saw an ivory button which I pushed. I could
plainly hear the result; it made me tremble. I had a narrow escape of
running away. The door was flung wide, and a middle-aged woman appeared
in the bright light of the interior of the house. She had a kind face. It
is astounding, the number of kind faces one meets.
'Is the doctor in?' I asked.
I would have given a year of my life to hear her say 'No.'
'Yes, miss,' she said. 'Will you step in?'
Events seemed to be moving all too rapidly.
I passed into a narrow hall, with an empty hat-rack, and so into the
surgery. From the back of the house came the sound of a piano--scales,
played very slowly. The surgery was empty. I noticed a card with letters
of the alphabet printed on it in different sizes; and then the piano
ceased, and there was the humming of an air in the passage, and a tall
man in a frock-coat, slippered and spectacled, came into the surgery.
'Good-evening, madam,' he said gruffly. 'Won't you sit down?'
'I--I--I want to ask you--'
He put a chair for me, and I dropped into it.
'There!' he said, after a moment. 'You felt as if you might faint,
I nodded. The tears came into my eyes.
'I thought so,' he said. 'I'll just give you a draught, if you
He busied himself behind me, and presently I was drinking something out
of a conical-shaped glass.
My heart beat furiously, but I felt strong.
'I want you to tell me, doctor,' I spoke firmly, 'whether I am about to
become a mother.'
'Ah?' he answered interrogatively, and then he hummed a fragment
of an air.
'I have lost my husband,' I was about to add; but suddenly I scorned such
a weakness and shut my lips.
'Since when--' the doctor began.
* * * * *
'No,' I heard him saying. 'You have been quite mistaken. But I am not
surprised. Such mistakes are frequently made--a kind of auto-suggestion.'
'Mistaken!' I murmured.
I could not prevent the room running round me as I reclined on the sofa;
and I fainted.
But in the night, safely in my room again at the hotel, I wondered
whether that secret fear, now exorcised, had not also been a hope. I
THREE HUMAN HEARTS
And now I was twenty-six.
Everyone who knows Jove knows the poignant and delicious day when the
lovers, undeclared, but sure of mutual passion, await the magic moment of
avowal, with all its changeful consequences. I resume my fragmentary
narrative at such a day in my life. As for me, I waited for the avowal as
for an earthquake. I felt as though I were the captain of a ship on fire,
and the only person aware that the flames were creeping towards a powder
magazine. And my love shone fiercely in my heart, like a southern star;
it held me, hypnotized, in a thrilling and exquisite entrancement, so
that if my secret, silent lover was away from me, as on that fatal night
in my drawing-room, my friends were but phantom presences in a shadowy
world. This is not an exaggerated figure, but the truth, for when I have
loved I have loved much....
My drawing-room in Bedford Court, that night on which the violent drama
of my life recommenced, indicated fairly the sorts of success which I
had achieved, and the direction of my tastes. The victim of Diaz had
gradually passed away, and a new creature had replaced her--a creature
rapidly developed, and somewhat brazened in the process under the sun of
an extraordinary double prosperity in London. I had soon learnt that my
face had a magic to win for me what wealth cannot buy. My books had given
me fame and money. And I could not prevent the world from worshipping the
woman whom it deemed the gods had greatly favoured. I could not have
prevented it, even had I wished, and I did not wish, I knew well that no
merit and no virtue, but merely the accident of facial curves, and the
accident of a convolution of the brain, had brought me this ascendancy,
and at first I reminded myself of the duty of humility. But when homage
is reiterated, when the pleasure of obeying a command and satisfying a
caprice is begged for, when roses are strewn, and even necks put down in
the path, one forgets to be humble; one forgets that in meekness alone
lies the sole good; one confuses deserts with the hazards of heredity.
However, in the end fate has no favourites. A woman who has beauty wants
to frame it in beauty. The eye is a sensualist, and its appetites, once
aroused, grow. A beautiful woman takes the same pleasure in the sight of
another beautiful woman as a man does; only jealousy or fear prevents her
from admitting the pleasure. I collected beautiful women.... Elegance is
a form of beauty. It not only enhances beauty, but it is the one thing
which will console the eye for the absence of beauty. The first rule
which I made for my home was that in it my eye should not be offended. I
lost much, doubtless, by adhering to it, but not more than I gained. And
since elegance is impossible without good manners, and good manners are a
convention, though a supremely good one, the society by which I
surrounded myself was conventional; superficially, of course, for it is
the business of a convention to be not more than superficial. Some
persons after knowing my drawing-room were astounded by my books, others
after reading my books were astounded by my drawing-room; but these
persons lacked perception. Given elegance, with or without beauty itself,
I had naturally sought, in my friends, intellectual courage, honest
thinking, kindness of heart, creative talent, distinction, wit. My search
had not been unfortunate.... You see Heaven had been so kind to me!
That night in my drawing-room (far too full of bric-a-brac of all climes
and ages), beneath the blaze of the two Empire chandeliers, which
Vicary, the musical composer, had found for me in Chartres, there were
perhaps a dozen guests assembled.
Vicary had just given, in his driest manner, a description of his recent
visit to receive the accolade from the Queen. It was replete with the
usual quaint Vicary details--such as the solemn warning whisper of an
equerry in Vicary's ear as he walked backwards, '_Mind the edge of the
carpet';_ and we all laughed, I absently, and yet a little
hysterically--all save Vicary, whose foible was never to laugh. But
immediately afterwards there was a pause, one of those disconcerting,
involuntary pauses which at a social gathering are like a chill hint of
autumn in late summer, and which accuse the hostess. It was over in an
instant; the broken current was resumed; everybody pretended that
everything was as usual at my receptions. But that pause was the
beginning of the downfall.
With a fierce effort I tried to escape from my entrancement, to be
interested in these unreal shadows whose voices seemed to come to me from
a distance, and to make my glance forget the door, where the one reality
in the world for me, my unspoken lover, should have appeared long since.
I joined unskilfully in a conversation which Vicary and Mrs. Sardis and
her daughter Jocelyn were conducting quite well without my assistance.
The rest were chattering now, in one or two groups, except Lord Francis
Alcar, who, I suddenly noticed, sat alone on a settee behind the piano.
Here was another unfortunate result of my preoccupation. By what
negligence had I allowed him to be thus forsaken? I rose and went across
to him, penitent, and glad to leave the others.
There are only two fundamental differences in the world--the difference
between sex and sex, and the difference between youth and age. Lord
Francis Alcar was sixty years older than me. His life was over before
mine had commenced. It seemed incredible; but I had acquired the whole of
my mundane experience, while he was merely waiting for death. At seventy,
men begin to be separated from their fellow-creatures. At eighty, they
are like islets sticking out of a sea. At eighty-five, with their
trembling and deliberate speech, they are the abstract voice of human
wisdom. They gather wisdom with amazing rapidity in the latter years, and
even their folly is wise then. Lord Francis was eighty-six; his faculties
enfeebled but intact after a career devoted to the three most costly of
all luxuries--pretty women, fine pictures, and rare books; a tall, spare
man, quietly proud of his age, his ability to go out in the evening
unattended, his amorous past, and his contributions to the history of
As I approached him, he leaned forward into his favourite attitude,
elbows on knees and fingertips lightly touching, and he looked up at me.
And his eyes, sunken and fatigued and yet audacious, seemed to flash out.
He opened his thin lips to speak. When old men speak, they have the air
of rousing themselves from an eternal contemplation in order to do so,
and what they say becomes accordingly oracular.
'Pallor suits you,' he piped gallantly, and then added: 'But do not carry
it to extremes.'
'Am I so pale, then?' I faltered, trying to smile naturally.
I sat down beside him, and smoothed out my black lace dress; he examined
it like a connoisseur.
'Yes,' he said at length. 'What is the matter?'
Lord Francis charged this apparently simple and naive question with a
strange intimate meaning. The men who surround a woman such as I, living
as I lived, are always demanding, with a secret thirst, 'Does she really
live without love? What does she conceal?' I have read this interrogation
in the eyes of scores of men; but no one, save Lord Francis, would have
had the right to put it into the tones of his voice. We were so mutually
foreign and disinterested, so at the opposite ends of life, that he had
nothing to gain and I nothing to lose, and I could have permitted to this
sage ruin of a male almost a confessor's freedom. Moreover, we had an
affectionate regard for each other.
I said nothing, and he repeated in his treble:
'What is the matter?'
'Love is the matter!' I might have passionately cried out to him, had we
been alone. But I merely responded to his tone with my eyes. I thanked
him with my eyes for his bold and flattering curiosity, senile, but
thoroughly masculine to the last. And I said:
'I am only a little exhausted. I finished my novel yesterday.'
It was my sixth novel in five years.
'With you,' he said, 'work is simply a drug.'
'Lord Francis,' I expostulated, 'how do you know that?'
'And it has got such a hold of you that you cannot do without it,' he
proceeded, with slow, faint shrillness. 'Some women take to morphia,
others take to work.'
'On the contrary,' I said, 'I have quite determined to do no more work
for twelve months.'
He faced me, vivacious, and leaned against the back of the settee.
'Then you mean to give yourself time to love?' he murmured, as it were
with a kind malice, and every crease in his veined and yellow features
was intensified by an enigmatic smile.
'Why not?' I laughed encouragingly. 'Why not? What do you advise?'
'I advise it,' he said positively. 'I advise it. You have already wasted
the best years.'
'One can never afterwards love as one loves at twenty. But there! You
have nothing to learn about love!'
He gave me one of those disrobing glances of which men who have dedicated
their existence to women alone have the secret. I shrank under the
ordeal; I tried to clutch my clothes about me.
The chatter from the other end of the room grew louder. Vicary was gazing
critically at his chandeliers.
'Does love bring happiness?' I asked Lord Francis, carefully ignoring
'For forty years,' he quavered, 'I made love to every pretty woman I
met, in the search for happiness. I may have got five per cent. return on
my outlay, which is perhaps not bad in these hard times; but I certainly
did not get even that in happiness. I got it in--other ways.'
'And if you had to begin afresh?'
He stood up, turned his back on the room, and looked down at me from his
bent height. His knotted hands were shaking, as they always shook.
'I would do the same again,' he whispered.
'Would you?' I said, looking up at him. 'Truly?'
'Yes. Only the fool and the very young expect happiness. The wise merely
hope to be interested, at least not to be bored, in their passage through
this world. Nothing is so interesting as love and grief, and the one
involves the other. Ah! would I not do the same again!'
He spoke gravely, wistfully, and vehemently, as if employing the last
spark of divine fire that was left in his decrepit frame. This undaunted
confession of a faith which had survived twenty years of inactive
meditation, this banner waved by an expiring arm in the face of the
eternity that mocks at the transience of human things, filled me with
admiration. My eyes moistened, but I continued to look up at him.
'What is the title of the new book?' he demanded casually, sinking
into a chair.
'_Burning Sappho_,' I answered. 'But the title is very misleading.'
'Bright star!' he exclaimed, taking my hand. 'With such a title you will
surely beat the record of the Good Dame.'
'Hsh!' I enjoined him.
Jocelyn Sardis was coming towards us.
The Good Dame was the sobriquet which Lord Francis had invented to
conceal--or to display--his courteous disdain of the ideals represented
by Mrs. Sardis, that pillar long established, that stately dowager, that
impeccable _doyenne_ of serious English fiction. Mrs. Sardis had
captured two continents. Her novels, dealing with all the profound
problems of the age, were read by philosophers and politicians, and one
of them had reached a circulation of a quarter of a million copies. Her
dignified and indefatigable pen furnished her with an income of fifteen
thousand pounds a year.
Jocelyn Sardis was just entering her mother's world, and she had
apparently not yet recovered from the surprise of the discovery that she
was a woman; a simple and lovable young creature with brains amply
sufficient for the making of apple-pies. As she greeted Lord Francis in
her clear, innocent voice, I wondered sadly why her mother should be so
anxious to embroider the work of Nature. I thought if Jocelyn could just
be left alone to fall in love with some average, kindly stockbroker, how
much more nearly the eternal purpose might be fulfilled....
'Yes, I remember,' Lord Francis was saying. 'It was at St. Malo. And what
did you think of the Breton peasant?'
'Oh,' said Jocelyn, 'mamma has not yet allowed us to study the condition
of the lower classes in France. We are all so busy with the new
'It must be very exhausting, my dear child,' said Lord Francis.
'I came to ask you to play something,' the child appealed to me. 'I have
never heard you play, and everyone says--'
'Jocelyn, my pet,' the precise, prim utterance of Mrs. Sardis floated
across the room.
'You are not to trouble Miss Peel. Perhaps she does not feel equal
My blood rose in an instant. I cannot tell why, unless it was that I
resented from Mrs. Sardis even the slightest allusion to the fact that I
was not entirely myself. The latent antagonism between us became
violently active in my heart. I believe I blushed. I know that I felt
murderous towards Mrs. Sardis. I gave her my most adorable smile, and I
said, with sugar in my voice:
'But I shall be delighted to play for Jocelyn.'
It was an act of bravado on my part to attempt to play the piano in the
mood in which I found myself; and that I should have begun the opening
phrase of Chopin's first Ballade, that composition so laden with
formidable memories--begun it without thinking and without
apprehension--showed how far I had lost my self-control. Not that the
silver sounds which shimmered from the Broadwood under my feverish hands
filled me with sentimental regrets for an irrecoverable past. No! But I
saw the victim of Diaz as though I had never been she. She was for me one
of those ladies that have loved and are dead. The simplicity of her mind
and her situation, compared with my mind and my situation, seemed
unbearably piteous to me. Why, I knew not. The pathos of that brief and
vanished idyll overcame me like some sad story of an antique princess.
And then, magically, I saw the pathos of my present position in it as in
a truth-revealing mirror. My fame, and my knowledge and my experience,
my trained imagination, my skill, my social splendour, my wealth, were
stripped away from me as inessential, and I was merely a woman in love,
to whom love could not fail to bring calamity and grief; a woman
expecting her lover, and yet to whom his coming could only be disastrous;
a woman with a heart divided between tremulous joy and dull sorrow; who
was at once in heaven and in hell; the victim of love. How often have I
called my dead Carlotta the victim of Diaz! Let me be less unjust, and
say that he, too, was the victim of love. What was Diaz but the
instrument of the god?
Jocelyn stood near me by the piano. I glanced at her as I played, and
smiled. She answered my smile; her eyes glistened with tears; I bent my
gaze suddenly to the keyboard. 'You too!' I thought sadly, 'You too!...
One day! One day even you will know what life is, and the look in those
innocent eyes will never be innocent again!'
Then there was a sharp crack at the other end of the room; the handle of
the door turned, and the door began to open. My heart bounded and
stopped. It must be he, at last! I perceived the fearful intensity of my
longing for his presence. But it was only a servant with a tray. My
fingers stammered and stumbled. For a few instants I forced them to obey
me; my pride was equal to the strain, though I felt sick and fainting.
And then I became aware that my guests were staring at me with alarmed
and anxious faces. Mrs. Sardis had started from her chair. I dropped my
hands. It was useless to fight further; the battle was lost.
'I will not play any more,' I said quickly. 'I ought not to have tried to
play from memory. Excuse me.'
And I left the piano as calmly as I could. I knew that by an effort I
could walk steadily and in a straight line across the room to Vicary and
the others, and I succeeded. They should not learn my secret.
'Poor thing!' murmured Mrs. Sardis sympathetically. 'Do sit down, dear.'
'Won't you have something to drink?' said Vicary.
'I am perfectly all right,' I said. 'I'm only sorry that my memory is not
what it used to be.' And I persisted in standing for a few moments by the
mantelpiece. In the glass I caught one glimpse of a face as white as
milk, Jocelyn remained at her post by the piano, frightened by she knew
not what, like a young child.
'Our friend finished a new work only yesterday,' said Lord Francis
shakily. He had followed me. 'She has wisely decided to take a long
holiday. Good-bye, my dear.'
These were the last words he ever spoke to me, though I saw him again. We
shook hands in silence, and he left. Nor would the others stay. I had
ruined the night. We were all self-conscious, diffident, suspicious. Even
Vicary was affected. How thankful I was that my silent lover had not
come! My secret was my own--and his. And no one should surprise it unless
we chose. I cared nothing what they thought, or what they guessed, as
they filed out of the door, a brilliant procession of which I had the
right to be proud; they could not guess my secret. I was sufficiently
woman of the world to baffle them as long as I wished to baffle them.
Then I noticed that Mrs. Sardis had stayed behind; she was examining some
lustre ware in the further drawing-room.
'I'm afraid Jocelyn has gone without her mother,' I said,
'I have told Jocelyn to go home alone,' replied Mrs. Sardis. 'The
carriage will return for me. Dear friend, I want to have a little talk
with you. Do you permit?'
'I shall be delighted,' I said.
'You are sure you are well enough?'
'There is nothing whatever the matter with me,' I answered slowly and
distinctly. 'Come to the fire, and let us be comfortable. And I told
Emmeline Palmer, my companion and secretary, who just then appeared, that
she might retire to bed.
Mrs. Sardis was nervous, and this condition, so singular in Mrs. Sardis,
naturally made me curious as to the cause of it. But my eyes still
furtively wandered to the door.
'My dear co-worker,' she began, and hesitated.
'Yes,' I encouraged her.
She put her matron's lips together:
'You know how proud I am of your calling, and how jealous I am of its
honour and its good name, and what a great mission I think we novelists
have in the work of regenerating the world.'
I nodded. That kind of eloquence always makes me mute. It leaves nothing
to be said.
'I wonder,' Mrs. Sardis continued, 'if you have ever realized what a
power _you_ are in England and America to-day.'
'Power!' I echoed. 'I have done nothing but try to write as honestly and
as well as I could what I felt I wanted to write.'
'No one can doubt your sincerity, my dear friend,' Mrs. Sardis said. 'And
I needn't tell you that I am a warm admirer of your talent, and that I
rejoice in your success. But the tendency of your work--'
'Surely,' I interrupted her coldly, 'you are not taking the trouble to
tell me that my books are doing harm to the great and righteous
'Do not let us poke fun at our public, my dear,' she protested. 'I
personally do not believe that your books are harmful, though their
originality is certainly daring, and their realism startling; but there
exists a considerable body of opinion, as you know, that strongly objects
to your books. It may be reactionary opinion, bigoted opinion, ignorant
opinion, what you like, but it exists, and it is not afraid to employ the
'I speak as one old enough to be your mother, and I speak after all to a
motherless young girl who happens to have genius with, perhaps, some of
the disadvantages of genius, when I urge you so to arrange your personal
life that this body of quite respectable adverse opinion shall not find
in it a handle to use against the fair fame of our calling.'
'Mrs. Sardis!' I cried. 'What do you mean?'
I felt my nostrils dilate in anger as I gazed, astounded, at this
incarnation of mediocrity who had dared to affront me on my own hearth;
and by virtue of my youth and my beauty, and all the homage I had
received, and the clear sincerity of my vision of life, I despised and
detested the mother of a family who had never taken one step beyond the
conventions in which she was born. Had she not even the wit to perceive
that I was accustomed to be addressed as queens are addressed?... Then,
as suddenly as it had flamed, my anger cooled, for I could see the
painful earnestness in her face. And Mrs. Sardis and I--what were we but
two groups of vital instincts, groping our respective ways out of one
mystery into another? Had we made ourselves? Had we chosen our
characters? Mrs. Sardis was fulfilling herself, as I was. She was a
natural force, as I was. As well be angry with a hurricane, or the heat
of the sun.
'What do you mean?' I repeated quietly. 'Tell me exactly what you mean.'
I thought she was aiming at the company which I sometimes kept, or the
freedom of my diversions on the English Sabbath. I thought what trifles
were these compared to the dilemma in which, possibly within a few hours,
I should find myself.
'To put it in as few words as possible,' said she, 'I mean your relations
with a married man. Forgive my bluntness, dear girl.'
Then my secret was not my secret! We were chattered about, he and I. We
had not hidden our feeling, our passions. And I had been imagining myself
a woman of the world equal to sustaining a difficult part in the masque
of existence. With an abandoned gesture I hid my face in my hands for a
moment, and then I dropped my hands, and leaned forward and looked
steadily at Mrs. Sardis. Her eyes were kind enough.
'You won't affect not to understand?' she said.
I assented with a motion of the head.
'Many persons say there is a--a liaison between you,' she said.
'And do you think that?' I asked quickly.
'If I had thought so, my daughter would not have been here to-night,' she
said solemnly. 'No, no; I do not believe it for an instant, and I brought
Jocelyn specially to prove to the world that I do not. I only heard the
gossip a few days ago; and to-night, as I sat here, it was borne in upon
me that I must speak to you to-night. And I have done so. Not everyone
would have done so, dear girl. Most of your friends are content to talk
'About me? Oh!' It was the expression of an almost physical pain.
'What can you expect them to do?' asked Mrs. Sardis mildly.
'True,' I agreed.
'You see, the circumstances are so extremely peculiar. Your friendship
'Let me tell you'--I stopped her--'that not a single word has ever passed
between me and--and the man you mean, that everybody might not hear. Not
a single word!'
'Dearest girl,' she exclaimed; 'how glad I am! How glad I am! Now I can
take measures to--.
'But--' I resumed.
In a flash I saw the futility of attempting to explain to a woman like
Mrs. Sardis, who had no doubts about the utter righteousness of her
own code, whose rules had no exceptions, whose principles could apply
to every conceivable case, and who was the very embodiment of the vast
stolid London that hemmed me in--of attempting to explain to such an
excellent, blind creature why, and in obedience to what ideal, I would
not answer for the future. I knew that I might as well talk to a
'Nothing,' I said, rising, 'except that I thank you. Be sure that I
am grateful. You have had a task which must have been very
unpleasant to you.'
She smiled, virtuously happy.
'You made it easy,' she murmured.
I perceived that she wanted to kiss me; but I avoided the caress. How I
hated kissing women!
'No more need be said,' she almost whispered, as I put my hand on the
knob of the front-door. I had escorted her myself to the hall.
'Only remember your great mission, the influence you wield, and the fair
fame of our calling.'
My impulse was to shriek. But I merely smiled as decently as I could; and
I opened the door.
And there, on the landing, just emerging from the lift, was Ispenlove,
haggard, pale, his necktie astray. He and Mrs. Sardis exchanged a brief
stare; she gave me a look of profound pain and passed in dignified
silence down the stairs; Ispenlove came into the flat.
'Nothing will convince her now that I am not a liar,' I reflected.
It was my last thought as I sank, exquisitely drowning, in the sea of
sensations caused by Ispenlove's presence.
Without a word, we passed together into the drawing-room, and I closed
the door. Ispenlove stood leaning against the piano, as though intensely
fatigued; he crushed his gibus with an almost savage movement, and then
bent his large, lustrous black eyes absently on the flat top of it. His
thin face was whiter even than usual, and his black hair, beard, and
moustache all dishevelled; the collar of his overcoat was twisted, and
his dinner-jacket rose an inch above it at the back of the neck.
I wanted to greet him, but I could not trust my lips. And I saw that he,
too, was trying in vain to speak.
At length I said, with that banality which too often surprises us in
'What is it? Do you know that your tie is under your ear?'
And as I uttered these words, my voice, breaking of itself and in
defiance of me, descended into a tone which sounded harsh and inimical.
'Ah!' he murmured, lifting his eyes to mine, 'if you turn against me
to-night, I shall--'
'Turn against you!' I cried, shocked. 'Let me help you with your
And I went near him, meaning to take his overcoat.
'It's finished between Mary and me,' he said, holding me with his gaze.
'It's finished. I've no one but you now; and I've come--I've come--'
He stopped. We read one another's eyes at arm's length, and all the
sorrow and pity and love that were in each of us rose to our eyes and
shone there. I shivered with pleasure when I saw his arms move, and then
he clutched and dragged me to him, and I hid my glowing face on his
shoulder, in the dear folds of his overcoat, and I felt his lips on my
neck. And then, since neither of us was a coward, we lifted our heads,
and our mouths met honestly and fairly, and, so united, we shut our eyes
for an eternal moment, and the world was not.
Such was the avowal.
I gave up my soul to him in that long kiss; all that was me, all that was
most secret and precious in me, ascended and poured itself out through my
tense lips, and was received by him. I kissed him with myself, with the
entire passionate energy of my being--not merely with my mouth. And if I
sighed, it was because I tried to give him more--more than I had--and
failed. Ah! The sensation of his nearness, the warmth of his face, the
titillation of his hair, the slow, luxurious intake of our breaths, the
sweet cruelty of his desperate clutch on my shoulders, the glimpses of
his skin through my eyelashes when I raised ever so little my eyelids!
Pain and joy of life, you were mingled then!
I remembered that I was a woman, and disengaged myself and withdrew from
him. I hated to do it; but I did it. We became self-conscious. The
brilliant and empty drawing-room scanned us unfavourably with all its
globes and mirrors. How difficult it is to be natural in a great crisis!
Our spirits clamoured for expression, beating vainly against a thousand
barred doors of speech. There was so much to say, to explain, to define,
and everything was so confused and dizzily revolving, that we knew not
which door to open first. And then I think we both felt, but I more than
he, that explanations and statements were futile, that even if all the
doors were thrown open together, they would be inadequate. The
deliciousness of silence, of wonder, of timidity, of things guessed at
'It makes me afraid,' he murmured at length.
'To be loved like that.... Your kiss ... you don't know.'
I smiled almost sadly. As if I did not know what my kiss had done! As if
I did not know that my kiss had created between us the happiness which
'You _do_ love me?' he demanded.
I nodded, and sat down.
'Say it, say it!' he pleaded.
'More than I can ever show you,' I said proudly.
'Honestly,' he said, 'I can't imagine what you have been able to see in
me. I'm nothing--I'm nobody--'
'Foolish boy!' I exclaimed. 'You are you.'
The profound significance of that age-worn phrase struck me for the
He rushed to me at the word 'boy,' and, standing over me, took my hand in
his hot hand. I let it lie, inert.
'But you haven't always loved me. I have always loved _you_, from the
moment when I drove with you, that first day, from the office to your
hotel. But you haven't always loved me.'
'No,' I admitted.
'Then when did you--? Tell me.'
'I was dull at first--I could not see. But when you told me that the end
of _Fate and Friendship_ was not as good as I could make it--do you
remember, that afternoon in the office?--and how reluctant you were to
tell me, how afraid you were to tell me?--your throat went dry, and you
stroked your forehead as you always do when you are nervous--There!
you are doing it now, foolish boy!'
I seized his left arm, and gently pulled it down from his face. Oh,
'It was brave of you to tell me--very brave! I loved you for telling me.
You were quite wrong about the end of that book. You didn't see the fine
point of it, and you never would have seen it--and I liked you, somehow,
for not seeing it, because it was so feminine--but I altered the book to
please you, and when I had altered it, against my conscience, I loved
'It's incredible! incredible!' he muttered, half to himself. 'I never
hoped till lately that you would care for me. I never dared to think of
such a thing. I knew you oughtn't to! It passes comprehension.'
'That is just what love does,' I said.
'No, no,' he went on quickly; 'you don't understand; you can't understand
my feelings when I began to suspect, about two months ago, that, after
all, the incredible had happened. I'm nothing but your publisher. I can't
talk. I can't write. I can't play. I can't do anything. And look at the
men you have here! I've sometimes wondered how often you've been
'None of them was like you,' I said. 'Perhaps that is why I have always
kept them off.'
I raised my eyes and lips, and he stooped and kissed me. He wanted to
take me in his arms again, but I would not yield myself.
'Be reasonable,' I urged him. 'Ought we not to think of our situation?'
He loosed me, stammering apologies, abasing himself.
'I ought to leave you, I ought never to see you again.' He spoke roughly.
'What am I doing to you? You who are so innocent and pure!'
'I entreat you not to talk like that,' I gasped, reddening.
'But I must talk like that,' he insisted. 'I must talk like that. You had
everything that a woman can desire, and I come into your life and offer
'I _have_ everything a woman can desire,' I corrected him softly.
'Angel!' he breathed. 'If I bring you disaster, you will forgive me,
'My happiness will only cease with your love,' I said.
'Happiness!' he repeated. 'I have never been so happy as I am now; but
such happiness is terrible. It seems to me impossible that such happiness
'Faint heart!' I chided him.
'It is for you I tremble,' he said. 'If--if--' He stopped. 'My darling,
How I pitied him! How I enveloped him in an effluent sympathy that rushed
warm from my heart! He accused himself of having disturbed my existence.
Whereas, was it not I who had disturbed his? He had fought against me, I
knew well, but fate had ordained his defeat. He had been swept away; he
had been captured; he had been caught in a snare of the high gods. And he
was begging forgiveness, he who alone had made my life worth living! I
wanted to kneel before him, to worship him, to dry his tears with my
hair. I swear that my feelings were as much those of a mother as of a
lover. He was ten years older than me, and yet he seemed boyish, and I an
aged woman full of experience, as he sat there opposite to me with his
wide, melancholy eyes and restless mouth.
'Wonderful, is it not,' he said, 'that we should be talking like this
to-night, and only yesterday we were Mr. and Miss to each other?'
'Wonderful!' I responded. 'But yesterday we talked with our eyes, and our
eyes did not say Mr. or Miss. Our eyes said--Ah, what they said can
never be translated into words!'
My gaze brooded on him like a caress, explored him with the unappeasable
curiosity of love, and blinded him like the sun. Could it be true that
Heaven had made that fine creature--noble and modest, nervous and full of
courage, impetuous and self-controlled, but, above all things, fine and
delicate--could it be true that Heaven had made him and then given him to
me, with his enchanting imperfections that themselves constituted
perfection? Oh, wonder, wonder! Oh, miraculous bounty which I had not
deserved! This thing had happened to me, of all women! How it showed, by
comparison, the sterility of my success and my fame and my worldly
splendour! I had hungered and thirsted for years; I had travelled
interminably through the hot desert of my brilliant career, until I had
almost ceased to hope that I should reach, one evening, the pool of water
and the palm. And now I might eat and drink and rest in the shade.
'Why were you so late to-night?' I asked abruptly.
'Late?' he replied absently. 'Is it late?'
We both looked at the clock. It was yet half an hour from midnight.
'Of course it isn't--not _very_,' I said. I was forgetting that.
Everybody left so early.'
'Why was that?'
I told him, in a confusion that was sweet to me, how I had suffered by
reason of his failure to appear. He glanced at me with tender amaze.
'But I am fortunate to-day,' I exclaimed. 'Was it not lucky they left
when they did? Suppose you had arrived, in that state, dearest man, and
burst into a room full of people? What would they have thought? Where
should I have looked?'
'Angel!' he cried. 'I'm so sorry. I forgot it was your evening. I must
have forgotten. I forgot everything, except that I was bound to see you
at once, instantly, with all speed.'
Poor boy! He was like a bird fluttering in my hand. Millions of women
must have so pictured to themselves the men who loved them, and whom
'But still, you _were_ rather late, you know,' I smiled.
'Do not ask me why,' he begged, with an expression of deep pain on his
face. 'I have had a scene with Mary. It would humiliate me to tell
you--to tell even you--what passed between us. But it is over. Our
relations in the future can never, in any case, be more than formal.'
A spasm of fierce jealousy shot through me--jealousy of Mary, my friend
Mary, who knew him with such profound intimacy that they could go
through a scene together which was 'humiliating.' I saw that my own
intimacy with him was still crude with the crudity of newness, and that
only years could mellow it. Mary, the good, sentimental Mary, had wasted
the years of their marriage--had never understood the value of the
treasure in her keeping. Why had they always been sad in their house?
What was the origin of that resigned and even cheerful gloom which had
pervaded their domestic life, and which I had remarked on my first visit
to Bloomsbury Square? Were these, too, mysteries that I must not ask my
lover to reveal? Resentment filled me. I came near to hating Mary, not
because she had made him unhappy--oh no!--but because she had had the
priority in his regard, and because there was nothing about him, however
secret and recondite, that I could be absolutely sure of the sole
knowledge of. She had been in the depths with him. I desired fervently
that I also might descend with him, and even deeper. Oh, that I might
have the joy and privilege of humiliation with him!
'I shall ask you nothing, dearest,' I murmured.
I had risen from my seat and gone to him, and was lightly touching his
hair with my fingers. He did not move, but sat staring into the fire.
Somehow, I adored him because he made no response to the fondling of
my hand. His strange acceptance of the caress as a matter of course
gave me the illusion that I was his wife, and that the years had
mellowed our intimacy.
He spoke my name slowly and distinctly, savouring it.
'Yes,' I answered softly and obediently.
'Carlotta! Listen! Our two lives are in our hands at this moment--this
moment while we talk here.'
His rapt eyes had not stirred from the fire.
'I feel it,' I said.
'What are we to do? What shall we decide to do?'
He slowly turned towards me. I lowered my glance.
'I don't know,' I said.
'Yes, you do, Carlotta,' he insisted. 'You do know.'
His voice trembled.
'Mary and I are such good friends,' I said. 'That is what makes it
'No, no, no!' he objected loudly. His nervousness had suddenly increased.
'Don't, for God's sake, begin to argue in that way! You are above
feminine logic. Mary is your friend. Good. You respect her; she respects
you. Good. Is that any reason why our lives should be ruined? Will that
benefit Mary? Do I not tell you that everything has ceased between us?'
'The idea of being false to Mary--'
'There's no question of being false. And if there was, would you be false
to love rather than to friendship? Between you and me there is love;
between Mary and me there is not love. It isn't her fault, nor mine,
least of all yours. It is the fault of the secret essence of existence.
Have you not yourself written that the only sacred thing is instinct? Are
we, or are we not, to be true to ourselves?'
'You see,' I said, 'your wife is so sentimental. She would be incapable
of looking at the affair as--as we do; as I should in her place.'
I knew that my protests were insincere, and that all my heart and brain
were with him, but I could not admit this frankly. Ah! And I knew also
that the sole avenue to peace and serenity, not to happiness, was the
path of renunciation and of obedience to the conventions of society, and
that this was precisely the path which we should never take. And on the
horizon of our joy I saw a dark cloud. It had always been there, but I
had refused to see it. I looked at it now steadily.
'Of course,' he groaned, 'if we are to be governed by Mary's
'Dear love,' I whispered, 'what do you want me to do?'
'The only possible, honest, just thing. I want you to go away with me, so
that Mary can get a divorce.'
He spoke sternly, as it were relentlessly.
'Does she guess--about me?' I asked, biting my lip, and looking
away from him.
'Not yet. Hasn't the slightest notion, I'm sure. But I'll tell her,
straight and fair.'
'Dearest friend,' I said, after a silence. 'Perhaps I know more of the
world than you think. Perhaps I'm a girl only in years and situation.
Forgive me if I speak plainly. Mary may prove unfaithfulness, but she
cannot get a decree unless she can prove other things as well.'
He stroked his forehead. As for me, I shuddered with agitation. He walked
across the room and back.
'Angel!' he said, putting his white face close to mine like an actor. 'I
will prove whether your love for me is great enough. I have struck her. I
struck her to-night in the presence of a servant. And I did it purposely,
in cold blood, so that she might be able to prove cruelty. Ah! Have I
not thought it all out? Have I not?'
A sob, painfully escaping, shook my whole frame.
'And this was before you had--had spoken to me!' I said bitterly.
Not myself, but some strange and frigid force within me uttered
'That is what love will do. That is the sort of thing love drives one
to,' he cried despairingly. 'Oh! I was not sure of you--I was not sure of
you. I struck her, on the off chance.'
And he sank on the sofa and wept passionately, unashamed, like a child.
I could not bear it. My heart would have broken if I had watched, without
assuaging, my boy's grief an instant longer than I did. I sprang to him.
I took him to my breast. I kissed his eyes until the tears ceased to
flow. Whatever it was or might be, I must share his dishonour.
'My poor girl!' he said at length. 'If you had refused me, if you had
even judged me, I intended to warn you plainly that it meant my death;
and if that failed, I should have gone to the office and shot myself.'
'Do not say such things,' I entreated him.
'But it is true. The revolver is in my pocket. Ah! I have made you cry!
You're frightened! But I'm not a brute; I'm only a little beside myself.
Pardon me, angel!'
He kissed me, smiling sadly with a trace of humour. He did not understand
me. He did not suspect the risk he had run. If I had hesitated to
surrender, and he had sought to move me by threatening suicide, I should
never have surrendered. I knew myself well enough to know that. I had a
conscience that was incapable of yielding to panic. A threat would have
parted us, perhaps for ever. Oh, the blindness of man! But I forgave him.
Nay, I cherished him the more for his childlike, savage simplicity.
'Carlotta,' he said, 'we shall leave everything. You grasp
'Yes,' I replied. 'Of all the things we have now, we shall have nothing
'If I thought it was a sacrifice for you, I would go out and never see
Noble fellow, proud now in the certainty that he sufficed for me! He
meant what he said.
'It is no sacrifice for me,' I murmured. 'The sacrifice would be not to
give up all in exchange for you.'
'We shall be exiles,' he went on, 'until the divorce business is over.
And then perhaps we shall creep back--shall we?--and try to find out how
many of our friends are our equals in moral courage.'
'Yes,' I said. 'We shall come back. They all do.'
'What do you mean?' he demanded.
'Thousands have done what we are going to do,' I said. 'And all of them
have thought that their own case was different from the other cases.'
'And a few have been happy. A few have not regretted the price. A few
have retained the illusion.'
'Illusion? Dearest girl, why do you talk like this?'
I could see that my heart's treasure was ruffled. He clasped my hand
'I must not hide from you the kind of woman you have chosen,' I answered
quietly, and as I spoke a hush fell upon my amorous passion. 'In me there
are two beings--myself and the observer of myself. It is the novelist's
disease, this duplication of personality. When I said illusion, I meant
the supreme illusion of love. Is it not an illusion? I have seen it in
others, and in exactly the same way I see it in myself and I see it in
you. Will it last?--who knows? None can tell.'
'Angel!' he expostulated.
'No one can foresee the end of love,' I said, with an exquisite gentle
sorrow. 'But when the illusion is as intense as mine, as yours, even if
its hour is brief, that hour is worth all the terrible years of
disillusion which it will cost. Darling, this precious night alone would
not be too dear if I paid for it with the rest of my life.'
He thanked me with a marvellous smile of confident adoration, and
his disengaged hand played with the gold chain which hung loosely
round my neck.
'Call it illusion if you like,' he said. 'Words are nothing. I only know
that for me it will be eternal. I only know that my one desire is to be
with you always, never to leave you, not to miss a moment of you; to have
you for mine, openly, securely. Carlotta, where shall we go?'
'We must travel, mustn't we?'
'Travel?' he repeated, with an air of discontent. 'Yes. But where to?'
'Travel,' I said. 'See things. See the world.'
'I had thought we might find some quiet little place,' he said wistfully,
and as if apologetically, where we could be alone, undisturbed, some spot
where we could have ourselves wholly to ourselves, and go walks into
mountains and return for dinner; and then the long, calm evenings!
Dearest, our honeymoon!'
Our honeymoon! I had not, in the pursuit of my calling, studied human
nature and collected documents for nothing. With how many brides had I
not talked! How many loves did I not know to have been paralyzed and
killed by a surfeit in the frail early stages of their existence!
Inexperienced as I was, my learning in humanity was wiser than the
experience of my impulsive, generous, magnanimous lover, to whom the very
thought of calculation would have been abhorrent. But I saw, I felt, I
lived through in a few seconds the interminable and monotonous length of
those calm days, and especially those calm evenings succeeding each other
with a formidable sameness. I had watched great loves faint and die. And
I knew that our love--miraculously sweet as it was--probably was not
greater than many great ones that had not stood the test. You perceive
the cold observer in me. I knew that when love lasted, the credit of the
survival was due far more often to the woman than to the man. The woman
must husband herself, dole herself out, economize herself so that she
might be splendidly wasteful when need was. The woman must plan, scheme,
devise, invent, reconnoitre, take precautions; and do all this sincerely
and lovingly in the name and honour of love. A passion, for her, is a
campaign; and her deadliest enemy is satiety. Looking into my own heart,
and into his, I saw nothing but hope for the future of our love. But the
beautiful plant must not be exposed to hazard. Suppose it sickened, such
a love as ours--what then? The misery of hell, the torture of the damned!
Only its rich and ample continuance could justify us.
'My dear,' I said submissively, 'I shall leave everything to you. The
idea of travelling occurred to me; that was all. I have never travelled
further than Cannes. Still, we have all our lives before us.'
'We will travel,' he said unselfishly. 'We'll go round the world--slowly.
I'll get the tickets at Cook's to-morrow.'
'But, dearest, if you would rather--'
'No, no! In any case we shall always have our evenings.'
'Of course we shall. Dearest, how good you are!'
'I wish I was,' he murmured.
I was glad, then, that I had never allowed my portrait to appear in a
periodical. We could not prevent the appearance in American newspapers of
heralding paragraphs, but the likelihood of our being recognised was
'Can you start soon?' he asked. 'Can you be ready?'
'Any time. The sooner the better, now that it is decided.'
'You do not regret? We have decided so quickly. Ah! you are the merest
girl, and I have taken advantage--'
I put my hand over his mouth. He seized it, and kept it there and kissed
it, and his ardent breath ran through my fingers.
'What about your business?' I said.
'I shall confide it to old Tate--tell him some story--he knows quite
as much about it as I do. To-morrow I will see to all that. The day
after, shall we start? No; to-morrow night. To-morrow night, eh? I'll
run in to-morrow and tell you what I've arranged. I must see you
'No,' I said. 'Do not come before lunch.'
'Not before lunch! Why?'
He was surprised. But I had been my own mistress for five years, with my
own habits, rules, privacies. I had never seen anyone before lunch. And
to-morrow, of all days, I should have so much to do and to arrange. Was
this man to come like an invader and disturb my morning? So felt the
celibate in me, instinctively, thoughtlessly. That deep-seated objection
to the intrusion of even the most loved male at certain times is common,
I think, to all women. Women are capable of putting love aside, like a
rich dress, and donning the _peignoir_ of matter-of-fact dailiness, in a
way which is an eternal enigma to men.... Then I saw, in a sudden flash,
that I had renounced my individual existence, that I had forfeited my
habits and rules, and privacies, that I was a man's woman. And the
passionate lover in me gloried in this.
'Come as soon as you like, dearest friend,' I said.
'Nobody except Mary will know anything till we are actually gone,' he
remarked. 'And I shall not tell her till the last thing. Afterwards,
won't they chatter! God! Let 'em.'
'They are already chattering,' I said. And I told him about Mrs. Sardis.
'When she met you on the landing,' I added, 'she drew her own
conclusions, my poor, poor boy!'
He was furious. I could see he wanted to take me in his arms and protect
me masculinely from the rising storm.
'All that is nothing,' I soothed him. 'Nothing. Against it, we have
our self-respect. We can scorn all that.' And I gave a short,
'Darling!' he murmured. 'You are more than a woman.'
'I hope not.' And I laughed again, but unnaturally.
He had risen; I leaned back in a large cushioned chair; we looked at
each other in silence--a silence that throbbed with the heavy pulse of an
unutterable and complex emotion--pleasure, pain, apprehension, even
terror. What had I done? Why had I, with a word--nay, without a word,
with merely a gesture and a glance--thrown my whole life into the
crucible of passion? Why did I exult in the tremendous and impetuous act,
like a martyr, and also like a girl? Was I playing with my existence as
an infant plays with a precious bibelot that a careless touch may
shatter? Why was I so fiercely, madly, drunkenly happy when I gazed into
'I suppose I must go,' he said disconsolately.
I nodded, and the next instant the clock struck.
'Yes,' he urged himself, 'I must go.'
He bent down, put his hands on the arms of the chair, and kissed me
violently, twice. The fire that consumes the world ran scorchingly
through me. Every muscle was suddenly strained into tension, and then
fell slack. My face flushed; I let my head slip sideways, so that my left
cheek was against the back of the chair. Through my drooping eyelashes I
could see the snake-like glitter of his eyes as he stood over me. I
shuddered and sighed. I was like someone fighting in vain against the
sweet seduction of an overwhelming and fatal drug. I wanted to entreat
him to go away, to rid me of the exquisite and sinister enchantment. But
I could not speak. I shut my eyes. This was love.
The next moment I heard the soft sound of his feet on the carpet. I
opened my eyes. He had stepped back. When our glances met he averted his
face, and went briskly for his overcoat, which lay on the floor by the
piano. I rose freed, re-established in my self-control. I arranged his
collar, straightened his necktie with a few touches, picked up his hat,
pushed back the crown, which flew up with a noise like a small explosion,
and gave it into his hands.
'Thank you,' he said. 'To-morrow morning, eh? I shall get to know
everything necessary before I come. And then we will fix things up.'
'Yes,' I said.
'I can let myself out,' he said.
I made a vague gesture, intended to signify that I could not think of
permitting him to let himself out. We left the drawing-room, and passed,
with precautions of silence, to the front-door, which I gently opened.
'Good-night, then,' he whispered formally, almost coldly.
I nodded. We neither of us even smiled.
We were grave, stern, and stiff in our immense self-consciousness.
'Too late for the lift,' I murmured out there with him in the vast,
glittering silence of the many-angled staircase, which disappeared above
us and below us into the mysterious unseen.
He nodded as I had nodded, and began to descend the broad, carpeted
steps, firmly, carefully, and neither quick nor slow. I leaned over the
baluster. When the turns of the staircase brought him opposite and below
me, he stopped and raised his hat, and we exchanged a smile. Then he
resolutely dropped his eyes and resumed the descent. From time to time I
had glimpses of parts of his figure as he passed story after story. Then
I heard his tread on the tessellated pavement of the main hall, the
distant clatter of double doors, and a shrill cab-whistle.
This was love, at last--the reality of love! He would have killed himself
had he failed to win me--killed himself! With the novelist's habit, I ran
off into a series of imagined scenes--the dead body, with the hole in the
temples and the awkward attitude of death; the discovery, the rush for
the police, the search for a motive, the inquest, the rapid-speaking
coroner, who spent his whole life at inquests; myself, cold and
impassive, giving evidence, and Mary listening to what I said.... But he
lived, with his delicate physical charm, his frail distinction, his
spiritual grace; and he had won me. The sense of mutual possession was
inexpressibly sweet to me. And it was all I had in the world now. When my
mind moved from that rock, all else seemed shifting, uncertain, perilous,
bodeful, and steeped in woe. The air was thick with disasters, and
injustice, and strange griefs immediately I loosed my hold on the immense
fact that he was mine.
'How calm I am!' I thought.
It was not till I had been in bed some three hours that I fully realized
the seismic upheaval which my soul had experienced.
I woke up from one of those dozes which, after a sleepless night, give
the brief illusion of complete rest, all my senses sharpened, and my mind
factitiously active. And I began at once to anticipate Frank's coming,
and to arrange rapidly my plans for closing the flat. I had determined
that it should be closed. Then someone knocked at the door, and it
occurred to me that there must have been a previous knock, which had, in
fact, wakened me. Save on special occasions, I was never wakened, and
Emmeline and my maid had injunctions not to come to me until I rang. My
thoughts ran instantly to Frank. He had arrived thus early, merely
because he could not keep away.
'How extremely indiscreet of him!' I thought. 'What detestable
prevarications with Emmeline this will lead to! I cannot possibly be
ready in time if he is to be in and out all day.'
Nevertheless, the prospect of seeing him quickly, and the idea of his
splendid impatience, drenched me with joy.
'What is it?' I called out.
Emmeline entered in that terrible mauve dressing-gown which I had been
powerless to persuade her to discard.
'So sorry to disturb you,' said Emmeline, feeling her loose golden hair
with one hand, 'but Mrs. Ispenlove has called, and wants to see you at
once. I'm afraid something has happened.'
My voice shook.
'Yes. Yvonne came to my room and told me that Mrs. Ispenlove was here,
and was either mad or very unwell, and would I go to her? So I got up at
once. What shall I do? Perhaps it's something very serious. Not
half-past eight, and calling like this!'
'Let her come in here immediately,' I said, turning my head on the
pillow, so that Emmeline should not see the blush which had spread over
my face and my neck.
It was inevitable that a terrible and desolating scene must pass between
Mary Ispenlove and myself. I could not foresee how I should emerge from
it, but I desperately resolved that I would suffer the worst without a
moment's delay, and that no conceivable appeal should induce me to
abandon Frank. I was, as I waited for Mrs. Ispenlove to appear, nothing
but an embodied and fierce instinct to guard what I had won. No
consideration of mercy could have touched me.
She entered with a strange, hysterical cry:
I had asked her long ago to use my Christian name--long before I ever
imagined what would come to pass between her husband and me; but I
always called her Mrs. Ispenlove. The difference in our ages justified
me. And that morning the difference seemed to be increased. I realized,
with a cruel justice of perception quite new in my estimate of her,
that she was old--an old woman. She had never been beautiful, but she
was tall and graceful, and her face had been attractive by the
sweetness of the mouth and the gray beneficence of the eyes; and now
that sweetness and that beneficence appeared suddenly to have been
swallowed up in the fatal despair of a woman who discovers that she has
lived too long. Gray hair, wrinkles, crow's-feet, tired eyes, drawn
mouth, and the terrible tell-tale hollow under the chin--these were
what I saw in Mary Ispenlove. She had learnt that the only thing worth
having in life is youth. I possessed everything that she lacked. Surely
the struggle was unequal. Fate might have chosen a less piteous victim.
I felt profoundly sorry for Mary Ispenlove, and this sorrow was
stronger in me even than the uneasiness, the false shame (for it was
not a real shame) which I experienced in her presence. I put out my
hands towards her, as it were, involuntarily. She sprang to me, took
them, and kissed me as I lay in bed.
'How beautiful you look--like that!' she exclaimed wildly, and with a
hopeless and acute envy in her tone.
'But why--' I began to protest, astounded.
'What will you think of me, disturbing you like this? What will you
think?' she moaned. And then her voice rose: 'I could not help it; I
couldn't, really. Oh, Carlotta! you are my friend, aren't you?'
One thing grew swiftly clear to me: that she was as yet perfectly
unaware of the relations between Frank and myself. My brain searched
hurriedly for an explanation of the visit. I was conscious of an
'You are my friend, aren't you?' she repeated insistently.
Her tears were dropping on my bosom. But could I answer that I was her
friend? I did not wish to be her enemy; she and Frank and I were dolls in
the great hands of fate, irresponsible, guiltless, meet for an
understanding sympathy. Why was I not still her friend? Did not my heart
bleed for her? Yet such is the power of convention over honourableness
that I could not bring myself to reply directly, 'Yes, I am your friend.'
'We have known each other a long time,' I ventured.
'There was no one else I could come to,' she said.
Her whole frame was shaking. I sat up, and asked her to pass my
dressing-gown, which I put round my shoulders. Then I rang the bell.
'What are you going to do?' she demanded fearfully.
'I am going to have the gas-stove lighted and some tea brought in, and
then we will talk.
Take your hat off, dear, and sit down in that chair. You'll be more
yourself after a cup of tea.'
How young I was then! I remember my naive satisfaction in this exhibition
of tact. I was young and hard, as youth is apt to be--hard in spite of
the compassion, too intellectual and arrogant, which I conceived for her.
And even while I forbade her to talk until she had drunk some tea, I
regretted the delay, and I suffered by it. Surely, I thought, she will
read in my demeanour something which she ought not to read there. But she
did not. She was one of the simplest of women. In ten thousand women one
is born without either claws or second-sight. She was that one,
defenceless as a rabbit.
'You are very kind to me,' she said, putting her cup on the mantelpiece
with a nervous rattle; 'and I need it.'
'Tell me,' I murmured. 'Tell me--what I can do.'
I had remained in bed; she was by the fireplace. A distance between us
'You can't do anything, my dear,' she said. 'Only I was obliged to talk
to someone, after all the night. It's about Frank.'
'Mr. Ispenlove!' I ejaculated, acting as well as I could, but not
'Yes. He has left me.'
'But why? What is the matter?'
Even to recall my share in this interview with Mary Ispenlove humiliates
me. But perhaps I have learned the value of humiliation. Still, could I
have behaved differently?
'You won't understand unless I begin a long time ago,' said Mary
Ispenlove. 'Carlotta, my married life has been awful--awful--a tragedy.
It has been a tragedy both for him and for me. But no one has suspected
it; we have hidden it.'
I nodded. I, however, had suspected it.
'It's just twenty years--yes, twenty--since I fell in love,' she
proceeded, gazing at me with her soft, moist eyes.
'With--Frank,' I assumed. I lay back in bed.
'No,' she said. 'With another man. That was in Brixton, when I was a
girl living with my father; my mother was dead. He was a barrister--I
mean the man I was in love with. He had only just been called to the Bar.
I think everybody knew that I had fallen in love with him. Certainly he
did; he could not help seeing it. I could not conceal it. Of course I can
understand now that it flattered him. Naturally it did. Any man is
flattered when a woman falls in love with him. And my father was rich,
and so on, and so on. We saw each other a lot. I hoped, and I kept on
hoping. Some people even said it was a match, and that I was throwing
myself away. Fancy--throwing myself away--me!--who have never been good
for anything! My father did not care much for the man; said he was
selfish and grasping. Possibly he was; but I was in love with him all the
same. Then I met Frank, and Frank fell in love with me. You know how
obstinate Frank is when he has once set his mind on a thing. Frank
determined to have me; and my father was on his side. I would not listen.
I didn't give him so much as a chance to propose to me. And this state of
things lasted for quite a long time. It wasn't my fault; it wasn't
'Just so,' I agreed, raising my head on one elbow, and listening
intently. It was the first sincere word I had spoken, and I was glad
to utter it.
'The man I had fallen in love with came nearer. He was decidedly tempted.
I began to feel sure of him. All I wanted was to marry him, whether he
loved me a great deal or only a little tiny bit. I was in that state.
Then he drew away. He scarcely ever came to the house, and I seemed never
to be able to meet him. And then one day my father showed me something
in the _Morning Post_. It was a paragraph saying that the man I was in
love with was going to marry a woman of title, a widow and the daughter
of a peer. I soon found out she was nearly twice his age. He had done it
to get on. He was getting on very well by himself, but I suppose that
wasn't fast enough for him. Carlotta, it nearly killed me. And I felt so
sorry for him. You can't guess how sorry I felt for him. I felt that he
didn't know what he had missed. Oh, how happy I should have made him! I
should have lived for him. I should have done everything for him. I
should have ... You don't mind me telling you all this?'
I made an imploring gesture.
'What a shame!' I burst out.
'Ah, my dear!' she said, 'he didn't love me. One can't blame him.'
'And then?' I questioned, with an eagerness that I tried to overcome.
'Frank was so persevering. And--and--I _did_ admire his character. A
woman couldn't help admiring his character, could she? And, besides, I
honestly thought I had got over the other affair, and that I was in love
with him. I refused him once, and then I married him. He was as mad for
me as I had been for the other one. Yes, I married him, and we both
imagined we were going to be happy.'
'And why haven't you been?' I asked.
'This is my shame,' she said. 'I could not forget the other one. We soon
found that out.'
'Did you _talk_ about it, you--and Frank?' I put in, amazed.
'Oh _no_!' she said. 'It was never mentioned--never once during fifteen
years. But he knew; and I knew that he knew. The other one was always
between us--always, always, always! The other one was always in my heart.
We did our best, both of us; but it was useless. The passion of my life
was--it was invincible. I _tried_ to love Frank. I could only like him.
Fancy his position! And we were helpless. Because, you know, Frank and I
are not the sort of people that go and make a scandal--at least, that was
what I thought,' she sighed. 'I know different now. Well, he died the day
'Crettell. He had just been made a judge. He was the youngest judge on
the bench--only forty-six.'
'Was _that_ the man?' I exclaimed; for Crettell's character was well
known in London.
'That was the man. Frank came in yesterday afternoon, and after he had
glanced at the paper, he said: "By the way, Crettell's dead." I did not
grasp it at first. He repeated: "Crettell--he's dead." I burst into
tears. I couldn't help it. And, besides, I forgot. Frank asked me very
roughly what I was crying for. You know, Frank has much changed these
last few months. He is not as nice as he used to be. Excuse me talking
like this, my dear. Something must be worrying him. Well, I said as well
as I could while I was crying that the news was a shock to me. I tried to
stop crying, but I couldn't. I sobbed. Frank threw down the paper and
stamped on it, and he swore. He said: "I know you've always been in love
with the brute, but you needn't make such a damn fuss about it." Oh, my
dear, how can I tell you these things? That angered me. This was the
first time in our married life that Crettell had been even referred to,
and it seemed to me that Frank put all the hatred of fifteen years into
that single sentence. Why was I angry? I didn't know. We had a scene.
Frank lost his temper, for the first time that I remember, and then he
recovered it. He said quietly he couldn't stand living with me any more;
and that he had long since wanted to leave me. He said he would never see
me again. And then one of the servants came in, and--'
'Nothing. I sent her out. And--and--Fran didn't come home last night.'
There was a silence. I could find nothing to say, and Mary had hidden her
face. I utterly forgot myself and my own state in this extraordinary
hazard of matrimony. I could only think of Mary's grief--a grief which,
nevertheless, I did not too well comprehend.
'Then you love him now?' I ventured at length.
She made no reply.
'You love him--is that so?' I pursued. 'Tell me honestly.'
I spoke as gently as it was in me to speak.
'Honestly!' she cried, looking up. 'Honestly! No! If I loved him, could I
have been so upset about Crettell? But we have been together so long. We
are husband and wife, Carlotta. We are so used to each other. And
generally he is so good. We've got on very well, considering. And now
he's left me. Think of the scandal! It will be terrible! terrible! A
separation at my age! Carlotta, it's unthinkable! He's mad--that's the
only explanation. Haven't I tried to be a good wife to him? He's never
found fault with me--never! And I'm sure, as regards him, I've had
nothing to complain of.'
'He will come back,' I said. 'He'll think things over and see reason.'
And it was just as though I heard some other person saying these words.
'But he didn't come _home_ last night,' Mary insisted. 'What the servants
are thinking I shouldn't like to guess.'
'What does it matter what the servants think?' I said brusquely.
'But it _does_ matter. He didn't come _home_. He must have slept at a
hotel. Fancy, sleeping at a hotel, and his home waiting for him! Oh,
Carlotta, you're too young to understand what I feel! You're very clever,
and you're very sympathetic; but you can't see things as I see them. Wait
till you've been married fifteen years. The scandal! The shame! And me
only too anxious to be a good wife, and to keep our home as it should be,
and to help him as much as I can with my stupid brains in his business!'
'I can understand perfectly,' I asserted. 'I can understand perfectly.'
And I could. The futility of arguing with Mary, of attempting to free her
ever so little from the coils of convention which had always bound her,
was only too plainly apparent. She was--and naturally, sincerely,
instinctively--the very incarnation and mouthpiece of the
conventionality of society, as she cowered there in her grief and her
quiet resentment. But this did not impair the authenticity of her grief
and her resentment. Her grief appealed to me powerfully, and her
resentment, almost angelic in its quality, seemed sufficiently justified.
I knew that my own position was in practice untenable, that logic must
always be inferior to emotion. I am intensely proud of my ability to see,
then, that no sentiment can be false which is sincere, and that Mary
Ispenlove's attitude towards marriage was exactly as natural, exactly as
free from artificiality, as my own. Can you go outside Nature? Is not the
polity of Londoners in London as much a part of Nature as the polity of
bees in a hive?
'Not a word for fifteen years, and then an explosion like that!' she
murmured, incessantly recurring to the core of her grievance. 'I did
wrong to marry him, I know. But I _did_ marry him--I _did_ marry him! We
are husband and wife. And he goes off and sleeps at a hotel! Carlotta, I
wish I had never been born! What will people say? I shall never be able
to look anyone in the face again.'
'He will come back,' I said again.
'Do you think so?'
This time she caught at the straw.
'Yes,' I said. 'And you will settle down gradually; and everything will
I said that because it was the one thing I could say. I repeat that I had
ceased to think of myself. I had become a spectator.
'It can never be the same between us again,' Mary breathed sadly.
At that moment Emmeline Palmer plunged, rather than came, into my
'Oh, Miss Peel--' she began, and then stopped, seeing Mrs. Ispenlove by
the fireplace, though she knew that Mrs. Ispenlove was with me.
'Anything wrong?' I asked, affecting a complete calm.
It was evident that the good creature had lost her head, as she sometimes
did, when I gave her too much to copy, or when the unusual occurred in no
matter what form. The excellent Emmeline was one of my mistakes.
'Mr. Ispenlove is here,' she whispered.
None of us spoke for a few seconds. Mary Ispenlove stared at me, but
whether in terror or astonishment, I could not guess. This was one of the
most dramatic moments of my life.
'Tell Mr. Ispenlove that I can see nobody,' I said, glancing at the wall.
She turned to go.
'And, Emmeline,' I stopped her. 'Do not tell him anything else.'
Surely the fact that Frank had called to see me before nine o'clock in
the morning, surely my uneasy demeanour, must at length arouse suspicion
even in the simple, trusting mind of his wife!
'How does he know that I am here?' Mary asked, lowering her voice, when
Emmeline had shut the door; 'I said nothing to the servants.'
I was saved. Her own swift explanation of his coming was, of course, the
most natural in the world. I seized on it.
'Never mind how,' I answered. 'Perhaps he was watching outside your
house, and followed you. The important thing is that he has come. It
proves,' I went on, inventing rapidly, 'that he has changed his mind and
recognises his mistake. Had you not better go back home as quickly as
you can? It would have been rather awkward for you to see him here,
'Yes, yes,' she said, her eyes softening and gleaming with joy. 'I will
go. Oh, Carlotta! how can I thank you? You are my best friend.'
'I have done nothing,' I protested. But I had.
'You are a dear!' she exclaimed, coming impulsively to the bed.
I sat up. She kissed me fervently. I rang the bell.
'Has Mr. Ispenlove gone?' I asked Emmeline.
'Yes,' said Emmeline.
In another minute his wife, too, had departed, timorously optimistic,
already denying in her heart that it could never be the same between them
again. She assuredly would not find Frank at home. But that was nothing.
I had escaped! I had escaped!
'Will you mind getting dressed at once?' I said to Emmeline. 'I should
like you to go out with a letter and a manuscript as soon as possible.'
I got a notebook and began to write to Frank. I told him all that had
happened, in full detail, writing hurriedly, in gusts, and abandoning
that regard for literary form which the professional author is apt to
preserve even in his least formal correspondence.
'After this,' I said, 'we must give up what we decided last night. I have
no good reason to offer you. The situation itself has not been changed by
what I have learnt from your wife. I have not even discovered that she
loves you, though in spite of what she says, which I have faithfully told
you, I fancy she does--at any rate, I think she is beginning to. My ideas
about the rights of love are not changed. My feelings towards you are not
changed. Nothing is changed. But she and I have been through that
interview, and so, after all, everything is changed; we must give it all
up. You will say I am illogical. I am--perhaps. It was a mere chance
that your wife came to me. I don't know why she did. If she had not come,
I should have given myself to you. Supposing she had written--I should
still have given myself to you. But I have been in her presence. I have
been with her. And then the thought that you struck her, for my sake! She
said nothing about that. That was the one thing she concealed. I could
have cried when she passed it over. After all, I don't know whether it is
sympathy for your wife that makes me change, or my self-respect--say my
self-pride; I'm a proud woman. I lied to her through all that interview.
'Oh, if I had only had the courage to begin by telling her outright and
bluntly that you and I had settled that I should take her place! That
would have stopped her. But I hadn't. And, besides, how could I foresee
what she would say to me and how she would affect me? No; I lied to her
at every point. My whole attitude was a lie. Supposing you and I had
gone off together before I had seen her, and then I had met her
afterwards, I could have looked her in the face--sorrowfully, with a
heart bleeding--but I could have looked her in the face. But after this
interview--no; it would be impossible for me to face her with you at
my side! Don't I put things crudely, horribly! I know everything that
you will say. You could not bring a single argument that I have not
'However, arguments are nothing. It is how I feel. Fate is against us.
Possibly I have ruined your life and mine without having done anything to
improve hers; and possibly I have saved us all three from terrible
misery. Possibly fate is with us. No one can say. I don't know what will
happen in the immediate future; I won't think about it. If you do as I
wish, if you have any desire to show me that I have any influence over
you, you will go back to live with your wife. Where did you sleep last
night? Or did you walk the streets? You must not answer this letter at
present. Write to me later. Do not try to see me. I won't see you. We
_mustn't_ meet. I am going away at once. I don't think I could stand
another scene with your wife, and she would be sure to come again to me.
'Try to resume your old existence. You can do it if you try. Remember
that your wife is no more to blame than you are, or than I am. Remember
that you loved her once. And remember that I act as I am acting because
there is no other way for me. _C'est plus fort que moi,_ I am going to
Torquay. I let you know this--I hate concealment; and anyway you would
find out. But I shall trust you not to follow me. I shall trust you. You
are saying that this is a very different woman from last night. It is. I
haven't yet realized what my feelings are. I expect I shall realize them
in a few days. I send with this a manuscript. It is nothing. I send it
merely to put Emmeline off the scent, so that she shall think that it is
purely business. Now I shall _trust_ you.--C. P.'
I commenced the letter without even a 'Dear Frank,' and I ended it
without an affectionate word.
'I should like you to take these down to Mr. Ispenlove's office,' I said
to Emmeline. 'Ask for him and give them to him yourself. There's no
answer. He's pretty sure to be in. But if he isn't, bring them back. I'm
going to Torquay by that eleven-thirty express--isn't it?'
'Eleven-thirty-five,' Emmeline corrected me coldly.
When she returned, she said she had seen Mr. Ispenlove and given him the
letter and the parcel.
I had acquaintances in Torquay, but I soon discovered that the place was
impossible for me. Torquay is the chosen home of the proprieties, the
respectabilities, and all the conventions. Nothing could dislodge them
from its beautiful hills; the very sea, as it beats primly, or with a
violence that never forgets to be discreet, on the indented shore,
acknowledges their sway. Aphrodite never visits there; the human race is
not continued there. People who have always lived within the conventions
go there to die within the conventions. The young do not flourish there;
they escape from the soft enervation. Since everybody is rich, there are
no poor. There are only the rich, and the servitors, who get rich. These
two classes never mix--even in the most modest villas they live on
opposite sides of the house. The life of the town is a vast conspiracy on
the part of the servitors to guard against any danger of the rich taking
all their riches to heaven. You can, if you are keen enough, detect
portions of this conspiracy in every shop. On the hills each abode stands
in its own undulating grounds, is approached by a winding drive of at
least ten yards, is wrapped about by the silence of elms, is flanked by
greenhouses, and exudes an immaculate propriety from all its windows. In
the morning the rich descend, the servitors ascend; the bosky and
perfectly-kept streets on the hills are trodden with apologetic celerity
by the emissaries of the servitors. The one interminable thoroughfare of
the town is graciously invaded by the rich, who, if they have not walked
down for the sake of exercise, step cautiously from their carriages,
enunciate a string of orders ending with the name of a house, and
cautiously regain their carriages. Each house has a name, and the pride
of the true servitor is his ability to deduce instantly from the name of
the house the name of its owner and the name of its street. In the
afternoon a vast and complicated game of visiting cards is played. One
does not begin to be serious till the evening; one eats then, solemnly
and fully, to the faint accompaniment of appropriate conversation. And
there is no relief, no surcease from utmost conventionality. It goes on
night and day; it hushes one to sleep, and wakes one up. On all but the
strongest minds it casts a narcotizing spell, so that thought is
arrested, and originality, vivacity, individuality become a crime--a
shame that must be hidden. Into this strange organism I took my wounded
heart, imagining that an atmosphere of coma might help to heal it. But
no! Within a week my state had become such that I could have cried out in
mid Union Street at noon: 'Look at me with your dead eyes, you dead who
have omitted to get buried, I am among you, and I am an adulteress in
spirit! And my body has sinned the sin! And I am alive as only grief can
be alive. I suffer the torture of vultures, but I would not exchange my
lot with yours!'
And one morning, after a fortnight, I thought of Monte Carlo. And the
vision of that place, which I had never seen, too voluptuously lovely to
be really beautiful, where there are no commandments, where
unconventionality and conventionality fight it out on even terms, where
the adulteress swarms, and the sin is for ever sinned, and wounded hearts
go about gaily, where it is impossible to distinguish between virtue and
vice, and where Toleration in fine clothes is the supreme social
goddess--the vision of Monte Carlo, as a place of refuge from the
exacerbating and moribund and yet eternal demureness of Torquay, appealed
to me so persuasively that I was on my way to the Riviera in two hours.
In that crisis of my life my moods were excessively capricious. Let me
say that I had not reached Exeter before I began to think kindly of
Torquay. What was Torquay but an almost sublime example of what the
human soul can accomplish in its unending quest of an ideal?
I left England on a calm, slate-coloured sea--sea that more than any
other sort of sea produces the reflective melancholy which makes
wonderful the faces of fishermen. How that brief voyage symbolized for me
the mysterious movement of humanity! We converged from the four quarters
of the universe, passed together an hour, helpless, in somewhat inimical
curiosity concerning each other, and then, mutually forgotten, took wing,
and spread out into the unknown. I think that as I stood near the hot
funnel, breasting the wind, and vacantly staring at the smooth expanse
that continually slipped from under us, I understood myself better than I
had done before. My soul was at peace--the peace of ruin after a
conflagration, but peace. Sometimes a little flame would dart out--flame
of regret, revolt, desire--and I would ruthlessly extinguish it. I felt
that I had nothing to live for, that no energy remained to me, no
interest, no hope. I saw the forty years of probable existence in front
of me flat and sterile as the sea itself. I was coldly glad that I had
finished my novel, well knowing that it would be my last. And the immense
disaster had been caused by a chance! Why had I been born with a vein of
overweening honesty in me? Why should I have sacrificed everything to the
pride of my conscience, seeing that consciences were the product of
education merely? Useless to try to answer the unanswerable! What is, is.
And circumstances are always at the mercy of character. I might have been
wrong, I might have been right; no ethical argument could have bent my
instinct. I did not sympathize with myself--I was too proud and
stern--but I sympathized with Frank. I wished ardently that he might be
consoled--that his agony might not be too terrible. I wondered where he
was, what he was doing. I had received no letter from him, but then I had
instructed that letters should not be forwarded to me. My compassion went
out after him, followed him into the dark, found him (as I hoped), and
surrounded him like an alleviating influence. I thought pityingly of the
ravage that had been occasioned by our love. His home was wrecked. Our
lives were equally wrecked. Our friends were grieved; they would think
sadly of my closed flat. Even the serio-comic figure of Emmeline touched
me; I had paid her three months' wages and dismissed her. Where would she
go with her mauve _peignoir_? She was over thirty, and would not easily
fall into another such situation. Imagine Emmeline struck down by a
splinter from our passionate explosion! Only Yvonne was content at the
prospect of revisiting France.
'_Ah! Qu'on est bien ici, madame_!' she said, when we had fixed ourselves
in the long and glittering _train de grand luxe_ that awaited us at
Calais. Once I had enjoyed luxury, but now the futility of all this
luxurious cushioned arrogance, which at its best only corresponded with a
railway director's dreams of paradise, seemed to me pathetic. Could it
detain youth, which is for ever flying? Could it keep out sorrow? Could
it breed hope? As the passengers, so correct in their travelling
costumes, passed to and fro in the corridors with the subdued murmurs
always adopted by English people when they wish to prove that they are
not excited, I thought: 'Does it matter how you and I go southwards? The
pride of the eye, and of the palate, and of the limbs, what can it help
us that this should be sated? We cannot leave our souls behind.' The
history of many of these men and women was written on their faces. I
wondered if my history was written on mine, gazing into the mirrors which
were everywhere, but seeing nothing save that which I had always seen.
Then I smiled, and Yvonne smiled respectfully in response. Was I not part
of the immense pretence that riches bring joy and that life is good? On
every table in the restaurant-cars were bunches of fresh flowers that had
been torn from the South, and would return there dead, having ministered
to the illusion that riches bring joy and that life is good. I hated
that. I could almost have wished that I was travelling southwards in a
slow, slow train, third class, where sorrow at any rate does not wear a
mask. Great grief is democratic, levelling--not downwards but upwards. It
strips away the inessential, and makes brothers. It is impatient with all
the unavailing inventions which obscure the brotherhood of mankind.
I descended from the train restlessly--there were ten minutes to elapse
before the departure--and walked along the platform, glimpsing the faces
in the long procession of windows, and then the flowers and napery in the
two restaurant-cars: wistful all alike, I thought--flowers and faces! How
fanciful, girlishly fanciful, I was! Opposite the door of the first car
stood a gigantic negro in the sober blue and crimson livery of the
International Sleeping Car Company. He wore white gloves, like all the
servants on the train: it was to foster the illusion; it was part of what
we paid for.
'When is luncheon served?' I asked him idly.
He looked massively down at me as I shivered slightly in my furs. He
contemplated me for an instant. He seemed to add me up, antipathetically,
as a product of Western civilization.
'Soon as the train starts, madam,' he replied suavely, in good American,
and resumed nonchalantly his stare into the distance of the platform.
'Thank you!' I said.
I was glad that I had encountered him on that platform and not in the
African bush. I speculated upon the chain of injustice and oppression
that had warped his destiny from what it ought to have been to what it
was. 'And he, too, is human, and knows love and grief and illusion, like
me,' I mused. A few yards further on the engine-driver and stoker were
busy with coal and grease. 'Five minutes hence, and our lives, and our
correctness, and our luxury, will be in their grimy hands,' I said to
myself. Strange world, the world of the _train de grand luxe_! But a
world of brothers! I regained my carriage, exactly, after all, as the
inhabitants of Torquay regained theirs.
Then the wondrous self-contained microcosm, shimmering with gilt and
varnish and crystal, glorious in plush and silk, heavy with souls and all
that correct souls could possibly need in twenty hours, gathered itself
up and rolled forward, swiftly, and more swiftly, into the wide, gray
landscapes of France. The vibrating and nerve-destroying monotony of a
long journey had commenced. We were summoned by white gloves to luncheon;
and we lunched in a gliding palace where the heavenly dreams of a railway
director had received their most luscious expression--and had then been
modestly hidden by advertisements of hotels and brandy. The Southern
flowers shook in their slender glasses, and white gloves balanced dishes
as if on board ship, and the electric fans revolved ceaselessly. As I was
finishing my meal, a middle-aged woman whom I knew came down the car
towards me. She had evidently not recognised me.
'How do you do, Miss Kate?' I accosted her.
It was the younger of Vicary's two maiden sisters. I guessed that the
other could not be far away.
She hesitated, stopped, and looked down at me, rather as the negro had
'Oh! how do you do, Miss Peel?' she said distantly, with a nervous
simper; and she passed on.
This was my first communication, since my disappearance, with the world
of my London friends and acquaintances. I perceived, of course, from
Miss Kate's attitude that something must have occurred, or something must
have been assumed, to my prejudice. Perhaps Frank had also vanished for a
time, and the rumour ran that we were away together. I smiled frigidly.
What matter? In case Miss Vicary should soon be following her sister, I
left without delay and went back to my coupe; it would have been a pity
to derange these dames. Me away with Frank! What folly to suppose it! Yet
it might have been. I was in heart what these dames probably took me for.
I read a little in the _Imitation of Christ_ which Aunt Constance had
meant to give me, that book which will survive sciences and even
Christianity itself. 'Think not that thou hast made any progress,' I
read, 'unless thou feel thyself inferior to all ... Behold how far off
thou art yet from true charity and humility: which knows not how to be
angry or indignant, with any except one's self.'
Night fell. The long, illuminated train roared and flashed on its
invisible way under a dome of stars. It shrieked by mysterious stations,
dragging furiously its freight of luxury and light and human masks
through placid and humble villages and towns, of which it ignored
everything save their coloured signals of safety. Ages of oscillation
seemed to pass. In traversing the corridors one saw interior after
interior full of the signs of wearied humanity: magazines thrown aside,
rugs in disorder, hair dishevelled, eyes heavy, cheeks flushed, limbs in
the abandoned attitudes of fatigue--here and there a compartment with
blinds discreetly drawn, suggesting the jealous seclusion of love, and
here and there a group of animated tatlers or card-players whose nerves
nothing could affect, and who were incapable of lassitude; on every train
and every steamer a few such are to be found.
More ages passed, and yet the journey had but just begun. At length we
thundered and resounded through canyons of tall houses, their facades
occasionally bathed in the cold, blue radiance of arc-lights; and under
streets and over canals. Paris! the city of the joy of life! We were to
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