The British Barbarians
Part 2 out of 2
same in general principle," Bertram answered warmly. "Your girls
here are not cooped up in actual cages, but they're confined in
barrack-schools, as like prisons as possible; and they're repressed
at every turn in every natural instinct of play or society. They
mustn't go here or they mustn't go there; they mustn't talk to this
one or to that one; they mustn't do this, or that, or the other;
their whole life is bound round, I'm told, by a closely woven web
of restrictions and restraints, which have no other object or end
in view than the interests of a purely hypothetical husband. The
Chinese cramp their women's feet to make them small and useless:
you cramp your women's brains for the self-same purpose. Even
light's excluded; for they mustn't read books that would make them
think; they mustn't be allowed to suspect the bare possibility that
the world may be otherwise than as their priests and nurses and
grandmothers tell them, though most even of your own men know it
well to be something quite different. Why, I met a girl at that
dance I went to in London the other evening, who told me she wasn't
allowed to read a book called Tess of the D'Urbervilles, that I'd
read myself, and that seemed to me one of which every young girl
and married woman in England ought to be given a copy. It was the
one true book I had seen in your country. And another girl wasn't
allowed to read another book, which I've since looked at, called
Robert Elsmere,--an ephemeral thing enough in its way, I don't
doubt, but proscribed in her case for no other reason on earth than
because it expressed some mild disbelief as to the exact literary
accuracy of those Lower Syrian pamphlets to which your priests
attach such immense importance."
"Oh, Mr. Ingledew," Frida cried, trembling, yet profoundly
interested; "if you talk like that any more, I shan't be able to
listen to you."
"There it is, you see," Bertram continued, with a little wave of
the hand. "You've been so blinded and bedimmed by being deprived of
light when a girl, that now, when you see even a very faint ray, it
dazzles you and frightens you. That mustn't be so--it needn't, I
feel confident. I shall have to teach you how to bear the light.
Your eyes, I know, are naturally strong; you were an eagle born:
you'd soon get used to it."
Frida lifted them slowly, those beautiful eyes, and met his own
with genuine pleasure.
"Do you think so?" she asked, half whispering. In some dim,
instinctive way she felt this strange man was a superior being, and
that every small crumb of praise from him was well worth meriting.
"Why, Frida, of course I do," he answered, without the least sense
of impertinence. "Do you think if I didn't I'd have taken so much
trouble to try and educate you?" For he had talked to her much in
their walks on the hillside.
Frida did not correct him for his bold application of her Christian
name, though she knew she ought to. She only looked up at him and
"I certainly can't let you take my nieces to Exeter."
"I suppose not," he replied, hardly catching at her meaning. "One
of the girls at that dance the other night told me a great many
queer facts about your taboos on these domestic subjects; so I know
how stringent and how unreasoning they are. And, indeed, I found
out a little bit for myself; for there was one nice girl there, to
whom I took a very great fancy; and I was just going to kiss her as
I said good-night, when she drew back suddenly, almost as if I'd
struck her, though we'd been talking together quite confidentially
a minute before. I could see she thought I really meant to insult
her. Of course, I explained it was only what I'd have done to any
nice girl at home under similar circumstances; but she didn't seem
to believe me. And the oddest part of it all was, that all the time
we were dancing I had my arm round her waist, as all the other men
had theirs round their partners; and at home we consider it a much
greater proof of confidence and affection to be allowed to place
your arm round a lady's waist than merely to kiss her."
Frida felt the conversation was beginning to travel beyond her
ideas of propriety, so she checked its excursions by answering
gravely: "Oh, Mr. Ingledew, you don't understand our code of
morals. But I'm sure you don't find your East End young ladies so
"They certainly haven't quite so many taboos," Bertram answered
quietly. "But that's always the way in tabooing societies. These
things are naturally worst among the chiefs and great people. I
remember when I was stopping among the Ot Danoms of Borneo, the
daughters of chiefs and great sun-descended families were shut up
at eight or ten years old, in a little cell or room, as a religious
duty, and cut off from all intercourse with the outside world for
many years together. The cell's dimly lit by a single small window,
placed high in the wall, so that the unhappy girl never sees
anybody or anything, but passes her life in almost total darkness.
She mayn't leave the room on any pretext whatever, not even for the
most pressing and necessary purposes. None of her family may see
her face; but a single slave woman's appointed to accompany her and
wait upon her. Long want of exercise stunts her bodily growth, and
when at last she becomes a woman, and emerges from her prison, her
complexion has grown wan and pale and waxlike. They take her out in
solemn guise and show her the sun, the sky, the land, the water,
the trees, the flowers, and tell her all their names, as if to a
newborn creature. Then a great feast is made, a poor crouching
slave is killed with a blow of the sword, and the girl is solemnly
smeared with his reeking blood, by way of initiation. But this is
only done, of course, with the daughters of wealthy and powerful
families. And I find it pretty much the same in England. In all
these matters, your poorer classes are relatively pure and simple
and natural. It's your richer and worse and more selfish classes
among whom sex-taboos are strongest and most unnatural."
Frida looked up at him a little pleadingly.
"Do you know, Mr. Ingledew," she said, in a trembling voice, "I'm
sure you don't mean it for intentional rudeness, but it sounds to
us very like it, when you speak of our taboos and compare us openly
to these dreadful savages. I'm a woman, I know; but--I don't like
to hear you speak so about my England."
The words took Bertram fairly by surprise. He was wholly
unacquainted with that rank form of provincialism which we know as
patriotism. He leaned across towards her with a look of deep pain
on his handsome face.
"Oh, Mrs. Monteith," he cried earnestly, "if YOU don't like it,
I'll never again speak of them as taboos in your presence. I didn't
dream you could object. It seems so natural to us--well--to
describe like customs by like names in every case. But if it gives
you pain--why, sooner than do that, I'd never again say a single
word while I live about an English custom!"
His face was very near hers, and he was a son of Adam, like all the
rest of us--not a being of another sphere, as Frida was sometimes
half tempted to consider him. What might next have happened he
himself hardly knew, for he was an impulsive creature, and Frida's
rich lips were full and crimson, had not Philip's arrival with the
two Miss Hardys to make up a set diverted for the moment the
nascent possibility of a leading incident.
It was a Sunday afternoon in full July, and a small party was seated
under the spreading mulberry tree on the Monteiths' lawn. General
Claviger was of the number, that well-known constructor of
scientific frontiers in India or Africa; and so was Dean Chalmers,
the popular preacher, who had come down for the day from his London
house to deliver a sermon on behalf of the Society for Superseding
the Existing Superstitions of China and Japan by the Dying Ones of
Europe. Philip was there, too, enjoying himself thoroughly in the
midst of such good company, and so was Robert Monteith, bleak and
grim as usual, but deeply interested for the moment in dividing
metaphysical and theological cobwebs with his friend the Dean, who
as a brother Scotsman loved a good discussion better almost than
he loved a good discourse. General Claviger, for his part, was
congenially engaged in describing to Bertram his pet idea for a
campaign against the Madhi and his men, in the interior of the
Soudan. Bertram rather yawned through that technical talk; he was a
man of peace, and schemes of organised bloodshed interested him no
more than the details of a projected human sacrifice, given by a
Central African chief with native gusto, would interest an average
European gentleman. At last, however, the General happened to say
casually, "I forget the exact name of the place I mean; I think it's
Malolo; but I have a very good map of all the district at my house
down at Wanborough."
"What! Wanborough in Northamptonshire?" Bertram exclaimed with
sudden interest. "Do you really live there?"
"I'm lord of the manor," General Claviger answered, with a little
access of dignity. "The Clavigers or Clavigeros were a Spanish
family of Andalusian origin, who settled down at Wanborough under
Philip and Mary, and retained the manor, no doubt by conversion to
the Protestant side, after the accession of Elizabeth."
"That's interesting to me," Bertram answered, with his frank and
fearless truthfulness, "because my people came originally from
Wanborough before--well, before they emigrated." (Philip, listening
askance, pricked up his ears eagerly at the tell-tale phrase; after
all, then, a colonist!) "But they weren't anybody distinguished--
certainly not lords of the manor," he added hastily as the General
turned a keen eye on him. "Are there any Ingledews living now in
the Wanborough district? One likes, as a matter of scientific
heredity, to know all one can about one's ancestors, and one's
county, and one's collateral relatives."
"Well, there ARE some Ingledews just now at Wanborough," the
General answered, with some natural hesitation, surveying the tall,
handsome young man from head to foot, not without a faint touch of
soldierly approbation; "but they can hardly be your relatives,
however remote. . . . They're people in a most humble sphere of
life. Unless, indeed--well, we know the vicissitudes of families--
perhaps your ancestors and the Ingledews that I know drifted apart
a long time ago."
"Is he a cobbler?" Bertram inquired, without a trace of mauvaise
The General nodded. "Well, yes," he said politely, "that's exactly
what he is; though, as you seemed to be asking about presumed
relations, I didn't like to mention it."
"Oh, then, he's my ancestor," Bertram put in, quite pleased at the
discovery. "That is to say," he added after a curious pause, "my
ancestor's descendant. Almost all my people, a little way back, you
see, were shoe-makers or cobblers."
He said it with dignity, exactly as he might have said they were
dukes or lord chancellors; but Philip could not help pitying him,
not so much for being descended from so mean a lot, as for being
fool enough to acknowledge it on a gentleman's lawn at Brackenhurst.
Why, with manners like his, if he had not given himself away, one
might easily have taken him for a descendant of the Plantagenets.
So the General seemed to think too, for he added quickly, "But
you're very like the duke, and the duke's a Bertram. Is he also a
The young man coloured slightly. "Ye-es," he answered, hesitating;
"but we're not very proud of the Bertram connection. They never did
much good in the world, the Bertrams. I bear the name, one may
almost say by accident, because it was handed down to me by my
grandfather Ingledew, who had Bertram blood, but was a vast deal a
better man than any other member of the Bertram family."
"I'll be seeing the duke on Wednesday," the General put in, with
marked politeness, "and I'll ask him, if you like, about your
grandfather's relationship. Who was he exactly, and what was his
connection with the present man or his predecessor?"
"Oh, don't, please," Bertram put in, half-pleadingly, it is true,
but still with that same ineffable and indefinable air of a great
gentleman that never for a moment deserted him. "The duke would
never have heard of my ancestors, I'm sure, and I particularly
don't want to be mixed up with the existing Bertrams in any way."
He was happily innocent and ignorant of the natural interpretation
the others would put upon his reticence, after the true English
manner; but still he was vaguely aware, from the silence that
ensued for a moment after he ceased, that he must have broken once
more some important taboo, or offended once more some much-revered
fetich. To get rid of the awkwardness he turned quietly to Frida.
"What do you say, Mrs. Monteith," he suggested, "to a game of
As bad luck would have it, he had floundered from one taboo
headlong into another. The Dean looked up, open-mouthed, with a
sharp glance of inquiry. Did Mrs. Monteith, then, permit such
frivolities on the Sunday? "You forget what day it is, I think,"
Frida interposed gently, with a look of warning.
Bertram took the hint at once. "So I did," he answered quickly.
"At home, you see, we let no man judge us of days and of weeks, and
of times and of seasons. It puzzles us so much. With us, what's
wrong to-day can never be right and proper to-morrow."
"But surely," the Dean said, bristling up, "some day is set apart
in every civilised land for religious exercises."
"Oh, no," Bertram replied, falling incautiously into the trap. "We
do right every day of the week alike,--and never do poojah of any
sort at any time."
"Then where do you come from?" the Dean asked severely, pouncing
down upon him like a hawk. "I've always understood the very lowest
savages have at least some outer form or shadow of religion."
"Yes, perhaps so; but we're not savages, either low or otherwise,"
Bertram answered cautiously, perceiving his error. "And as to your
other point, for reasons of my own, I prefer for the present not to
say where I come from. You wouldn't believe me, if I told you--as
you didn't, I saw, about my remote connection with the Duke of East
Anglia's family. And we're not accustomed, where I live, to be
disbelieved or doubted. It's perhaps the one thing that really
almost makes us lose our tempers. So, if you please, I won't go
any further at present into the debatable matter of my place of
He rose to stroll off into the gardens, having spoken all the time
in that peculiarly grave and dignified tone that seemed natural to
him whenever any one tried to question him closely. Nobody save a
churchman would have continued the discussion. But the Dean was a
churchman, and also a Scot, and he returned to the attack,
unabashed and unbaffled. "But surely, Mr. Ingledew," he said in a
persuasive voice, "your people, whoever they are, must at least
acknowledge a creator of the universe."
Bertram gazed at him fixedly. His eye was stern. "My people, sir,"
he said slowly, in very measured words, unaware that one must not
argue with a clergyman, "acknowledge and investigate every reality
they can find in the universe--and admit no phantoms. They believe
in everything that can be shown or proved to be natural and true;
but in nothing supernatural, that is to say, imaginary or non-
existent. They accept plain facts: they reject pure phantasies.
How beautiful those lilies are, Mrs. Monteith! such an exquisite
colour! Shall we go over and look at them?"
"Not just now," Frida answered, relieved at the appearance of
Martha with the tray in the distance. "Here's tea coming." She was
glad of the diversion, for she liked Bertram immensely, and she
could not help noticing how hopelessly he had been floundering all
that afternoon right into the very midst of what he himself would
have called their taboos and joss-business.
But Bertram was not well out of his troubles yet. Martha brought
the round tray--Oriental brass, finely chased with flowing Arabic
inscriptions--and laid it down on the dainty little rustic table.
Then she handed about the cups. Bertram rose to help her. "Mayn't
I do it for you?" he said, as politely as he would have said it to
a lady in her drawing-room.
"No, thank you, sir," Martha answered, turning red at the offer,
but with the imperturbable solemnity of the well-trained English
servant. She "knew her place," and resented the intrusion. But
Bertram had his own notions of politeness, too, which were not to
be lightly set aside for local class distinctions. He could not
see a pretty girl handing cups to guests without instinctively
rising from his seat to assist her. So, very much to Martha's
embarrassment, he continued to give his help in passing the cake
and the bread-and-butter. As soon as she was gone, he turned round
to Philip. "That's a very pretty girl and a very nice girl," he
said simply. "I wonder, now, as you haven't a wife, you've never
thought of marrying her."
The remark fell like a thunderbolt on the assembled group. Even
Frida was shocked. Your most open-minded woman begins to draw a
line when you touch her class prejudices in the matter of marriage,
especially with reference to her own relations. "Why, really, Mr.
Ingledew," she said, looking up at him reproachfully, "you can't
mean to say you think my brother could marry the parlour-maid!"
Bertram saw at a glance he had once more unwittingly run his head
against one of the dearest of these strange people's taboos; but he
made no retort openly. He only reflected in silence to himself how
unnatural and how wrong they would all think it at home that a
young man of Philip's age should remain nominally celibate; how
horrified they would be at the abject misery and degradation such
conduct on the part of half his caste must inevitably imply for
thousands of innocent young girls of lower station, whose lives he
now knew were remorselessly sacrificed in vile dens of tainted
London to the supposed social necessity that young men of a certain
class should marry late in a certain style, and "keep a wife in the
way she's been accustomed to." He remembered with a checked sigh
how infinitely superior they would all at home have considered that
wholesome, capable, good-looking Martha to an empty-headed and
useless young man like Philip; and he thought to himself how
completely taboo had overlaid in these people's minds every ethical
idea, how wholly it had obscured the prime necessities of healthy,
vigorous, and moral manhood. He recollected the similar though less
hideous taboos he had met with elsewhere: the castes of India, and
the horrible pollution that would result from disregarding them;
the vile Egyptian rule, by which the divine king, in order to keep
up the so-called purity of his royal and god-descended blood, must
marry his own sister, and so foully pollute with monstrous
abortions the very stock he believed himself to be preserving
intact from common or unclean influences. His mind ran back to
the strange and complicated forbidden degrees of the Australian
Blackfellows, who are divided into cross-classes, each of which
must necessarily marry into a certain other, and into that other
only, regardless of individual tastes or preferences. He remembered
the profound belief of all these people that if they were to act in
any other way than the one prescribed, some nameless misfortune or
terrible evil would surely overtake them. Yet, nowhere, he thought
to himself, had he seen any system which entailed in the end so
much misery on both sexes, though more particularly on the women,
as that system of closely tabooed marriage, founded upon a broad
basis of prostitution and infanticide, which has reached its most
appalling height of development in hypocritical and puritan
England. The ghastly levity with which all Englishmen treated this
most serious subject, and the fatal readiness with which even Frida
herself seemed to acquiesce in the most inhuman slavery ever
devised for women on the face of this earth, shocked and saddened
Bertram's profoundly moral and sympathetic nature. He could sit
there no longer to listen to their talk. He bethought him at once
of the sickening sights he had seen the evening before in a London
music-hall; of the corrupting mass of filth underneath, by which
alone this abomination of iniquity could be kept externally decent,
and this vile system of false celibacy whitened outwardly to the
eye like Oriental sepulchres: and he strolled off by himself into
the shrubbery, very heavy in heart, to hide his real feelings from
the priest and the soldier, whose coarser-grained minds could never
have understood the enthusiasm of humanity which inspired and
Frida rose and followed him, moved by some unconscious wave of
instinctive sympathy. The four children of this world were left
together on the lawn by the rustic table, to exchange views by
themselves on the extraordinary behaviour and novel demeanour of
the mysterious Alien.
As soon as he was gone, a sigh of relief ran half-unawares through
the little square party. They felt some unearthly presence had been
removed from their midst. General Claviger turned to Monteith.
"That's a curious sort of chap," he said slowly, in his military
way. "Who is he, and where does he come from?"
"Ah, where does he come from?--that's just the question," Monteith
answered, lighting a cigar, and puffing away dubiously. "Nobody
knows. He's a mystery. He poses in the role. You'd better ask
Philip; it was he who brought him here."
"I met him accidentally in the street," Philip answered, with an
apologetic shrug, by no means well pleased at being thus held
responsible for all the stranger's moral and social vagaries. "It's
the merest chance acquaintance. I know nothing of his antecedents.
I--er--I lent him a bag, and he's fastened himself upon me ever
since like a leech, and come constantly to my sister's. But I
haven't the remotest idea who he is or where he hails from. He
keeps his business wrapped up from all of us in the profoundest
"He's a gentleman, anyhow," the General put in with military
decisiveness. "How manly of him to acknowledge at once about the
cobbler being probably a near relation! Most men, you know,
Christy, would have tried to hide it; HE didn't for a second. He
admitted his ancestors had all been cobblers till quite a recent
Philip was astonished at this verdict of the General's, for he
himself, on the contrary, had noted with silent scorn that very
remark as a piece of supreme and hopeless stupidity on Bertram's
part. No fellow can help having a cobbler for a grandfather, of
course: but he need not be such a fool as to volunteer any mention
of the fact spontaneously.
"Yes, I thought it bold of him," Monteith answered, "almost bolder
than was necessary; for he didn't seem to think we should be at all
surprised at it."
The General mused to himself. "He's a fine soldierly fellow," he
said, gazing after the tall retreating figure. "I should like to
make a dragoon of him. He's the very man for a saddle. He'd dash
across country in the face of heavy guns any day with the best of
"He rides well," Philip answered, "and has a wonderful seat. I saw
him on that bay mare of Wilder's in town the other afternoon, and I
must say he rode much more like a gentleman than a cobbler."
"Oh, he's a gentleman," the General repeated, with unshaken
conviction: "a thoroughbred gentleman." And he scanned Philip up
and down with his keen grey eye as if internally reflecting that
Philip's own right to criticise and classify that particular
species of humanity was a trifle doubtful. "I should much like to
make a captain of hussars of him. He'd be splendid as a leader of
irregular horse; the very man for a scrimmage!" For the General's
one idea when he saw a fine specimen of our common race was the
Zulu's or the Red Indian's--what an admirable person he would be
to employ in killing and maiming his fellow-creatures!
"He'd be better engaged so," the Dean murmured reflectively, "than
in diffusing these horrid revolutionary and atheistical doctrines."
For the Church was as usual in accord with the sword; theoretically
all peace, practically all bloodshed and rapine and aggression: and
anything that was not his own opinion envisaged itself always to
the Dean's crystallised mind as revolutionary and atheistic.
"He's very like the duke, though," General Claviger went on, after
a moment's pause, during which everybody watched Bertram and Frida
disappearing down the walk round a clump of syringas. "Very like
the duke. And you saw he admitted some sort of relationship, though
he didn't like to dwell upon it. You may be sure he's a by-blow of
the family somehow. One of the Bertrams, perhaps the old duke who
was out in the Crimea, may have formed an attachment for one of
these Ingledew girls--the cobbler's sisters: I dare say they were
no better in their conduct than they ought to be--and this may be
"I'm afraid the old duke was a man of loose life and doubtful
conversation," the Dean put in, with a tone of professional
disapprobation for the inevitable transgressions of the great and
the high-placed. "He didn't seem to set the example he ought to
have done to his poorer brethren."
"Oh, he was a thorough old rip, the duke, if it comes to that,"
General Claviger responded, twirling his white moustache. "And so's
the present man--a rip of the first water. They're a regular bad
lot, the Bertrams, root and stock. They never set an example of
anything to anybody--bar horse-breeding,--as far as I'm aware; and
even at that their trainers have always fairly cheated 'em."
"The present duke's a most exemplary churchman," the Dean
interposed, with Christian charity for a nobleman of position.
"He gave us a couple of thousand last year for the cathedral
"And that would account," Philip put in, returning abruptly to the
previous question, which had been exercising him meanwhile, "for
the peculiarly distinguished air of birth and breeding this man has
about him." For Philip respected a duke from the bottom of his
heart, and cherished the common Britannic delusion that a man who
has been elevated to that highest degree in our barbaric rank-
system must acquire at the same time a nobler type of physique and
countenance, exactly as a Jew changes his Semitic features for the
European shape on conversion and baptism.
"Oh, dear, no," the General answered in his most decided voice.
"The Bertrams were never much to look at in any way: and as for the
old duke, he was as insignificant a little monster of red-haired
ugliness as ever you'd see in a day's march anywhere. If he hadn't
been a duke, with a rent-roll of forty odd thousand a year, he'd
never have got that beautiful Lady Camilla to consent to marry him.
But, bless you, women 'll do anything for the strawberry leaves. It
isn't from the Bertrams this man gets his good looks. It isn't from
the Bertrams. Old Ingledew's daughters are pretty enough girls. If
their aunts were like 'em, it's there your young friend got his air
"We never know who's who nowadays," the Dean murmured softly. Being
himself the son of a small Scotch tradesman, brought up in the Free
Kirk, and elevated into his present exalted position by the early
intervention of a Balliol scholarship and a studentship of Christ
Church, he felt at liberty to moralise in such non-committing terms
on the gradual decay of aristocratic exclusiveness.
"I don't see it much matters what a man's family was," the General
said stoutly, "so long as he's a fine, well-made, soldierly fellow,
like this Ingledew body, capable of fighting for his Queen and
country. He's an Australian, I suppose. What tall chaps they do
send home, to be sure! Those Australians are going to lick us all
round the field presently."
"That's the curious part of it," Philip answered. "Nobody knows
what he is. He doesn't even seem to be a British subject. He calls
himself an Alien. And he speaks most disrespectfully at times--
well, not exactly perhaps of the Queen in person, but at any rate
of the monarchy."
"Utterly destitute of any feeling of respect for any power of any
sort, human or divine," the Dean remarked, with clerical severity.
"For my part," Monteith interposed, knocking his ash off savagely,
"I think the man's a swindler; and the more I see of him, the less
I like him. He's never explained to us how he came here at all, or
what the dickens he came for. He refuses to say where he lives or
what's his nationality. He poses as a sort of unexplained Caspar
Hauser. In my opinion, these mystery men are always impostors. He
had no letters of introduction to anybody at Brackenhurst; and he
thrust himself upon Philip in a most peculiar way; ever since which
he's insisted upon coming to my house almost daily. I don't like
him myself: it's Mrs. Monteith who insists upon having him here."
"He fascinates me," the General said frankly. "I don't at all
wonder the women like him. As long as he was by, though I don't
agree with one word he says, I couldn't help looking at him and
listening to him intently."
"So he does me," Philip answered, since the General gave him the
cue. "And I notice it's the same with people in the train. They
always listen to him, though sometimes he preaches the most
extravagant doctrines--oh, much worse than anything he's said here
this afternoon. He's really quite eccentric."
"What sort of doctrines?" the Dean inquired, with languid zeal.
"Not, I hope, irreligious?"
"Oh, dear, no," Philip answered; "not that so much. He troubles
himself very little, I think, about religion. Social doctrines,
don't you know; such very queer views--about women, and so forth."
"Indeed?" the Dean said quickly, drawing himself up very stiff: for
you touch the ark of God for the modern cleric when you touch the
question of the relations of the sexes. "And what does he say?
It's highly undesirable men should go about the country inciting to
rebellion on such fundamental points of moral order in public
railway carriages." For it is a peculiarity of minds constituted
like the Dean's (say, ninety-nine per cent. of the population) to
hold that the more important a subject is to our general happiness,
the less ought we all to think about it and discuss it.
"Why, he has very queer ideas," Philip went on, slightly hesitating;
for he shared the common vulgar inability to phrase exposition of a
certain class of subjects in any but the crudest and ugliest
phraseology. "He seems to think, don't you know, the recognised
forms of vice--well, what all young men do--you know what I
mean--Of course it's not right, but still they do them--" The
Dean nodded a cautious acquiescence. "He thinks they're horribly
wrong and distressing; but he makes nothing at all of the virtue of
decent girls and the peace of families."
"If I found a man preaching that sort of doctrine to my wife or my
daughters," Monteith said savagely, "I know what _I_'d do--I'd put
a bullet through him."
"And quite right, too," the General murmured approvingly.
Professional considerations made the Dean refrain from endorsing
this open expression of murderous sentiment in its fullest form; a
clergyman ought always to keep up some decent semblance of respect
for the Gospel and the Ten Commandments--or, at least, the greater
part of them. So he placed the tips of his fingers and thumbs
together in the usual deliberative clerical way, gazed blankly
through the gap, and answered with mild and perfunctory
disapprobation: "A bullet would perhaps be an unnecessarily severe
form of punishment to mete out; but I confess I could excuse the
man who was so far carried away by his righteous indignation as to
duck the fellow in the nearest horse-pond."
"Well, I don't know about that," Philip replied, with an outburst
of unwonted courage and originality; for he was beginning to like,
and he had always from the first respected, Bertram. "There's
something about the man that makes me feel--even when I differ from
him most--that he believes it all, and is thoroughly in earnest.
I dare say I'm wrong, but I always have a notion he's a better man
than me, in spite of all his nonsense,--higher and clearer and
differently constituted,--and that if only I could climb to just
where he has got, perhaps I should see things in the same light
that he does."
It was a wonderful speech for Philip--a speech above himself; but,
all the same, by a fetch of inspiration he actually made it.
Intercourse with Bertram had profoundly impressed his feeble
nature. But the Dean shook his head.
"A very undesirable young man for you to see too much of, I'm sure,
Mr. Christy," he said, with marked disapprobation. For, in the
Dean's opinion, it was a most dangerous thing for a man to think,
especially when he's young; thinking is, of course, so likely to
The General, on the other hand, nodded his stern grey head once or
"He's a remarkable young fellow," he said, after a pause; "a most
remarkable young fellow. As I said before, he somehow fascinates
me. I'd immensely like to put that young fellow into a smart hussar
uniform, mount him on a good charger of the Punjaub breed, and send
him helter-skelter, pull-devil, pull-baker, among my old friends
the Duranis on the North-West frontier."
While the men talked thus, Bertram Ingledew's ears ought to have
burned behind the bushes. But, to say the truth, he cared little
for their conversation; for had he not turned aside down one of the
retired gravel paths in the garden, alone with Frida?
"That's General Claviger of Herat, I suppose," he said in a low
tone, as they retreated out of ear-shot beside the clump of
syringas. "What a stern old man he is, to be sure, with what a
stern old face! He looks like a person capable of doing or ordering
all the strange things I've read of him in the papers."
"Oh, yes," Frida answered, misunderstanding for the moment her
companion's meaning. "He's a very clever man, I believe, and a most
Bertram smiled in spite of himself. "Oh, I didn't mean that," he
cried, with the same odd gleam in his eyes Frida had so often
noticed there. "I meant, he looked capable of doing or ordering all
the horrible crimes he's credited with in history. You remember, it
was he who was employed in massacring the poor savage Zulus in
their last stand at bay, and in driving the Afghan women and
children to die of cold and starvation on the mountain-tops after
the taking of Kabul. A terrible fighter, indeed! A terrible
"But I believe he's a very good man in private life," Frida put in
apologetically, feeling compelled to say the best she could for her
husband's guest. "I don't care for him much myself, to be sure, but
Robert likes him. And he's awfully nice, every one says, to his
wife and step-children."
"How CAN he be very good," Bertram answered in his gentlest voice,
"if he hires himself out indiscriminately to kill or maim whoever
he's told to, irrespective even of the rights and wrongs of the
private or public quarrel he happens to be employed upon? It's an
appalling thing to take a fellow-creature's life, even if you're
quite, quite sure it's just and necessary; but fancy contracting to
take anybody's and everybody's life you're told to, without any
chance even of inquiring whether they may not be in the right after
all, and your own particular king or people most unjust and cruel
and blood-stained aggressors? Why, it's horrible to contemplate.
Do you know, Mrs. Monteith," he went on, with his far-away air,
"it's that that makes society here in England so difficult to me.
It's so hard to mix on equal terms with your paid high priests and
your hired slaughterers, and never display openly the feelings you
entertain towards them. Fancy if you had to mix so yourself with
the men who flogged women to death in Hungary, or with the
governors and jailors of some Siberian prison! That's the worst of
travel. When I was in Central Africa, I sometimes saw a poor black
woman tortured or killed before my very eyes; and if I'd tried to
interfere in her favour, to save or protect her, I'd only have got
killed myself, and probably have made things all the worse in the
end for her. And yet it's hard indeed to have to look on at, or
listen to, such horrors as these without openly displaying one's
disgust and disapprobation. Whenever I meet your famous generals,
or your judges and your bishops, I burn to tell them how their acts
affect me; yet I'm obliged to refrain, because I know my words
could do no good and might do harm, for they could only anger them.
My sole hope of doing anything to mitigate the rigour of your cruel
customs is to take as little notice of them as possible in any way
whenever I find myself in unsympathetic society."
"Then you don't think ME unsympathetic?" Frida murmured, with a
glow of pleasure.
"O Frida," the young man cried, bending forward and looking at her,
"you know very well you're the only person here I care for in the
least or have the slightest sympathy with."
Frida was pleased he should say so; he was so nice and gentle: but
she felt constrained none the less to protest, for form's sake at
least, against his calling her once more so familiarly by her
Christian name. "NOT Frida to you, if you please, Mr. Ingledew,"
she said as stiffly as she could manage. "You know it isn't right.
Mrs. Monteith, you must call me." But she wasn't as angry, somehow,
at the liberty he had taken as she would have been in anybody
else's case; he was so very peculiar.
Bertram Ingledew paused and checked himself.
"You think I do it on purpose," he said with an apologetic air; "I
know you do, of course; but I assure you I don't. It's all pure
forgetfulness. The fact is, nobody can possibly call to mind all
the intricacies of your English and European customs at once,
unless he's to the manner born, and carefully brought up to them
from his earliest childhood, as all of you yourselves have been.
He may recollect them after an effort when he thinks of them
seriously; but he can't possibly bear them all in mind at once
every hour of the day and night by a pure tour de force of mental
concentration. You know it's the same with your people in other
barbarous countries. Your own travellers say it themselves about
the customs of Islam. They can't learn them and remember them all
at every moment of their lives, as the Mohammedans do; and to make
one slip there is instant death to them."
Frida looked at him earnestly. "But I hope," she said with an
air of deprecation, pulling a rose to pieces, petal by petal,
nervously, as she spoke, "you don't put us on quite the same level
as Mohammedans. We're so much more civilised. So much better in
every way. Do you know, Mr. Ingledew," and she hesitated for a
minute, "I can't bear to differ from you or blame you in anything,
because you always appear to me so wise and good and kind-hearted
and reasonable; but it often surprises me, and even hurts me, when
you seem to talk of us all as if we were just so many savages.
You're always speaking about taboo, and castes, and poojah, and
fetiches, as if we weren't civilised people at all, but utter
barbarians. Now, don't you think--don't you admit, yourself, it's
a wee bit unreasonable, or at any rate impolite, of you?"
Bertram drew back with a really pained expression on his handsome
features. "O Mrs. Monteith!" he cried, "Frida, I'm so sorry if
I've seemed rude to you! It's all the same thing--pure human
inadvertence; inability to throw myself into so unfamiliar an
attitude. I forget every minute that YOU do not recognise the
essential identity of your own taboos and poojahs and fetiches with
the similar and often indistinguishable taboos and poojahs and
fetiches of savages generally. They all come from the same source,
and often retain to the end, as in your temple superstitions and
your marriage superstitions, the original features of their savage
beginnings. And as to your being comparatively civilised, I grant
you that at once; only it doesn't necessarily make you one bit more
rational--certainly not one bit more humane, or moral, or brotherly
in your actions."
"I don't understand you," Frida cried, astonished. "But there! I
often don't understand you; only I know, when you've explained
things, I shall see how right you are."
Bertram smiled a quiet smile.
"You're certainly an apt pupil," he said, with brotherly gentleness,
pulling a flower as he went and slipping it softly into her bosom.
"Why, what I mean's just this. Civilisation, after all, in the
stage in which you possess it, is only the ability to live together
in great organised communities. It doesn't necessarily imply any
higher moral status or any greater rationality than those of the
savage. All it implies is greater cohesion, more unity, higher
division of functions. But the functions themselves, like those of
your priests and judges and soldiers, may be as barbaric and cruel,
or as irrational and unintelligent, as any that exist among the most
primitive peoples. Advance in civilisation doesn't necessarily
involve either advance in real knowledge of one's relations to the
universe, or advance in moral goodness and personal culture. Some
highly civilised nations of historic times have been more cruel and
barbarous than many quite uncultivated ones. For example, the
Romans, at the height of their civilisation, went mad drunk with
blood at their gladiatorial shows; the Athenians of the age of
Pericles and Socrates offered up human sacrifices at the Thargelia,
like the veriest savages; and the Phoenicians and Carthaginians, the
most civilised commercial people of the world in their time, as the
English are now, gave their own children to be burnt alive as
victims to Baal. The Mexicans were far more civilised than the
ordinary North American Indians of their own day, and even in some
respects than the Spanish Christians who conquered, converted,
enslaved, and tortured them; but the Mexican religion was full of
such horrors as I could hardly even name to you. It was based
entirely on cannibalism, as yours is on Mammon. Human sacrifices
were common--commoner even than in modern England, I fancy.
New-born babies were killed by the priests when the corn was sown;
children when it had sprouted; men when it was full grown; and very
old people when it was fully ripe."
"How horrible!" Frida exclaimed.
"Yes, horrible," Bertram answered; "like your own worst customs. It
didn't show either gentleness or rationality, you'll admit; but it
showed what's the one thing essential to civilisation--great
coherence, high organisation, much division of function. Some of
the rites these civilised Mexicans performed would have made the
blood of kindly savages run cold with horror. They sacrificed a man
at the harvest festival by crushing him like the corn between two
big flat stones. Sometimes the priests skinned their victim alive,
and wore his raw skin as a mask or covering, and danced hideous
dances, so disguised, in honour of the hateful deities whom their
fancies had created--deities even more hateful and cruel, perhaps,
than the worst of your own Christian Calvinistic fancies. I can't
see, myself, that civilised people are one whit the better in all
these respects than the uncivilised barbarian. They pull together
better, that's all; but war, bloodshed, superstition, fetich-
worship, religious rites, castes, class distinctions, sex taboos,
restrictions on freedom of thought, on freedom of action, on
freedom of speech, on freedom of knowledge, are just as common in
their midst as among the utterly uncivilised."
"Then what you yourself aim at," Frida said, looking hard at him,
for he spoke very earnestly--"what you yourself aim at is--?"
Bertram's eyes came back to solid earth with a bound.
"Oh, what we at home aim at," he said, smiling that sweet, soft
smile of his that so captivated Frida, "is not mere civilisation
(though, of course, we value that too, in its meet degree, because
without civilisation and co-operation no great thing is possible),
but rationality and tenderness. We think reason the first good--to
recognise truly your own place in the universe; to hold your head
up like a man, before the face of high heaven, afraid of no ghosts
or fetiches or phantoms; to understand that wise and right and
unselfish actions are the great requisites in life, not the service
of non-existent and misshapen creatures of the human imagination.
Knowledge of facts, knowledge of nature, knowledge of the true
aspects of the world we live in,--these seem to us of first
importance. After that, we prize next reasonable and reasoning
goodness; for mere rule-of-thumb goodness, which comes by rote, and
might so easily degenerate into formalism or superstition, has no
honour among us, but rather the contrary. If any one were to say
with us (after he had passed his first infancy) that he always did
such and such a thing because he had been told it was right by his
parents or teachers--still more because priests or fetich-men had
commanded it--he would be regarded, not as virtuous, but as feeble
or wicked--a sort of moral idiot, unable to distinguish rationally
for himself between good and evil. That's not the sort of conduct
WE consider right or befitting the dignity of a grown man or woman,
an ethical unit in an enlightened community. Rather is it their
prime duty to question all things, to accept no rule of conduct or
morals as sure till they have thoroughly tested it."
"Mr. Ingledew," Frida exclaimed, "do you know, when you talk like
that, I always long to ask you where on earth you come from, and
who are these your people you so often speak about. A blessed
people: I would like to learn about them; and yet I'm afraid to.
You almost seem to me like a being from another planet."
The young man laughed a quiet little laugh of deprecation, and sat
down on the garden bench beside the yellow rose-bush.
"Oh, dear, no, Frida," he said, with that transparent glance of
his. "Now, don't look so vexed; I shall call you Frida if I choose;
it's your name, and I like you. Why let this funny taboo of one's
own real name stand in the way of reasonable friendship? In many
savage countries a woman's never allowed to call her husband by his
name, or even to know it, or, for the matter of that, to see him in
the daylight. In your England, the arrangement's exactly reversed:
no man's allowed to call a woman by her real name unless she's
tabooed for life to him--what you Europeans call married to him.
But let that pass. If one went on pulling oneself up short at every
one of your customs, one'd never get any further in any question
one was discussing. Now, don't be deceived by nonsensical talk
about living beings in other planets. There are no such creatures.
It's a pure delusion of the ordinary egotistical human pattern.
When people chatter about life in other worlds, they don't mean
life--which, of a sort, there may be there:--they mean human life--
a very different and much less important matter. Well, how could
there possibly be human beings, or anything like them, in other
stars or planets? The conditions are too complex, too peculiar, too
exclusively mundane. We are things of this world, and of this world
only. Don't let's magnify our importance: we're not the whole
universe. Our race is essentially a development from a particular
type of monkey-like animal--the Andropithecus of the Upper Uganda
eocene. This monkey-like animal itself, again, is the product of
special antecedent causes, filling a particular place in a
particular tertiary fauna and flora, and impossible even in the
fauna and flora of our own earth and our own tropics before the
evolution of those succulent fruits and grain-like seeds, for
feeding on which it was specially adapted. Without edible fruits,
in short, there could be no monkey; and without monkeys there could
be no man."
"But mayn't there be edible fruits in the other planets?" Frida
inquired, half-timidly, more to bring out this novel aspect of
Bertram's knowledge than really to argue with him; for she dearly
loved to hear his views of things, they were so fresh and
"Edible fruits? Yes, possibly; and animals or something more or
less like animals to feed upon them. But even if there are such,
which planetoscopists doubt, they must be very different creatures
in form and function from any we know on this one small world of
ours. For just consider, Frida, what we mean by life. We mean a set
of simultaneous and consecutive changes going on in a complex mass
of organised carbon compounds. When most people say 'life,'
however,--especially here with you, where education is undeveloped--
they aren't thinking of life in general at all (which is mainly
vegetable), but only of animal and often indeed of human life.
Well, then, consider, even on this planet itself, how special are
the conditions that make life possible. There must be water in some
form, for there's no life in the desert. There must be heat up to
a certain point, and not above or below it, for fire kills, and
there's no life at the poles (as among Alpine glaciers), or what
little there is depends upon the intervention of other life wafted
from elsewhere--from the lands or seas, in fact, where it can
really originate. In order to have life at all, as WE know it at
least (and I can't say whether anything else could be fairly called
life by any true analogy, until I've seen and examined it), you
must have carbon, and oxygen, and hydrogen, and nitrogen, and many
other things, under certain fixed conditions; you must have liquid
water, not steam or ice: you must have a certain restricted range
of temperature, neither very much higher nor very much lower than
the average of the tropics. Now, look, even with all these
conditions fulfilled, how diverse is life on this earth itself, the
one place we really know--varying as much as from the oak to the
cuttle-fish, from the palm to the tiger, from man to the fern, the
sea-weed, or the jelly-speck. Every one of these creatures is a
complex result of very complex conditions, among which you must
never forget to reckon the previous existence and interaction of
all the antecedent ones. Is it probable, then, even a priori, that
if life or anything like it exists on any other planet, it would
exist in forms at all as near our own as a buttercup is to a human
being, or a sea-anemone is to a cat or a pine-tree?"
"Well, it doesn't look likely, now you come to put it so," Frida
answered thoughtfully: for, though English, she was not wholly
impervious to logic.
"Likely? Of course not," Bertram went on with conviction.
"Planetoscopists are agreed upon it. And above all, why should one
suppose the living organisms or their analogues, if any such there
are, in the planets or fixed stars, possess any such purely human
and animal faculties as thought and reason? That's just like our
common human narrowness. If we were oaks, I suppose, we would only
interest ourselves in the question whether acorns existed in Mars
and Saturn." He paused a moment; then he added in an afterthought:
"No, Frida; you may be sure all human beings, you and I alike, and
thousands of others a great deal more different, are essential
products of this one wee planet, and of particular times and
circumstances in its history. We differ only as birth and
circumstances have made us differ. There IS a mystery about who I
am, and where I come from; I won't deny it: but it isn't by any
means so strange or so marvellous a mystery as you seem to imagine.
One of your own old sacred books says (as I remember hearing in the
joss-house I attended one day in London), 'God hath made of one
blood all the nations of the earth.' If for GOD in that passage we
substitute COMMON DESCENT, it's perfectly true. We are all of one
race; and I confess, when I talk to you, every day I feel our unity
more and more profoundly." He bent over on the bench and took her
tremulous hand. "Frida," he said, looking deep into her speaking
dark eyes, "don't you yourself feel it?"
He was so strange, so simple-minded, so different in every way from
all other men, that for a moment Frida almost half-forgot to be
angry with him. In point of fact, in her heart, she was not angry
at all; she liked to feel the soft pressure of his strong man's
hand on her dainty fingers; she liked to feel the gentle way he was
stroking her smooth arm with that delicate white palm of his. It
gave her a certain immediate and unthinking pleasure to sit still
by his side and know he was full of her. Then suddenly, with a
start, she remembered her duty: she was a married woman, and she
OUGHT NOT to do it. Quickly, with a startled air, she withdrew her
hand. Bertram gazed down at her for a second, half taken aback by
her hurried withdrawal.
"Then you don't like me!" he cried, in a pained tone; "after all,
you don't like me!" One moment later, a ray of recognition broke
slowly over his face. "Oh, I forgot," he said, leaning away. "I
didn't mean to annoy you. A year or two ago, of course, I might
have held your hand in mine as long as ever I liked. You were still
a free being. But what was right then is wrong now, according to
the kaleidoscopic etiquette of your countrywomen. I forgot all that
in the heat of the moment. I recollected only we were two human
beings, of the same race and blood, with hearts that beat and hands
that lay together. I remember now, you must hide and stifle your
native impulses in future: you're tabooed for life to Robert
Monteith: I must needs respect his seal set upon you!"
And he drew a deep sigh of enforced resignation.
Frida sighed in return. "These problems are so hard," she said.
Bertram smiled a strange smile. "There are NO problems," he
answered confidently. "You make them yourselves. You surround life
with taboos, and then--you talk despairingly of the problems with
which your own taboos alone have saddled you."
At half-past nine one evening that week, Bertram was seated in his
sitting-room at Miss Blake's lodgings, making entries, as usual,
on the subject of taboo in his big black notebook. It was a large
bare room, furnished with the customary round rosewood centre
table, and decorated by a pair of green china vases, a set of wax
flowers under a big glass shade, and a picture representing two
mythical beings, with women's faces and birds' wings, hovering over
the figure of a sleeping baby. Suddenly a hurried knock at the door
attracted his attention. "Come in," he said softly, in that gentle
and almost deferential voice which he used alike to his equals and
to the lodging-house servant. The door opened at once, and Frida
She was pale as a ghost, and she stepped light with a terrified
tread. Bertram could see at a glance she was profoundly agitated.
For a moment he could hardly imagine the reason why: then he
remembered all at once the strict harem rules by which married
women in England are hemmed in and circumvented. To visit an
unmarried man alone by night is contrary to tribal usage. He rose,
and advanced towards his visitor with outstretched arms. "Why,
Frida," he cried,--"Mrs. Monteith--no, Frida--what's the matter?
What has happened since I left? You look so pale and startled."
Frida closed the door cautiously, flung herself down into a chair
in a despairing attitude, and buried her face in her hands for some
moments in silence. "O Mr. Ingledew," she cried at last, looking up
in an agony of shame and doubt: "Bertram--I KNOW it's wrong; I KNOW
it's wicked; I ought never to have come. Robert would kill me if he
found out. But it's my one last chance, and I couldn't BEAR not to
say good-bye to you--just this once--for ever."
Bertram gazed at her in astonishment. Long and intimately as he had
lived among the various devotees of divine taboos the whole world
over, it was with difficulty still he could recall, each time, each
particular restriction of the various systems. Then it came home to
him with a rush. He removed the poor girl's hands gently from her
face, which she had buried once more in them for pure shame, and
held them in his own. "Dear Frida," he said tenderly, stroking them
as he spoke, "why, what does all this mean? What's this sudden
thunderbolt? You've come here to-night without your husband's
leave, and you're afraid he'll discover you?"
Frida spoke under her breath, in a voice half-choked with frequent
sobs. "Don't talk too loud," she whispered. "Miss Blake doesn't
know I'm here. If she did, she'd tell on me. I slipped in quietly
through the open back door. But I felt I MUST--I really, really
MUST. I COULDN'T stop away; I COULDN'T help it."
Bertram gazed at her, distressed. Her tone was distressing. Horror
and indignation for a moment overcame him. She had had to slip in
there like a fugitive or a criminal. She had had to crawl away by
stealth from that man, her keeper. She, a grown woman and a moral
agent, with a will of her own and a heart and a conscience, was
held so absolutely in serfdom as a particular man's thrall and
chattel, that she could not even go out to visit a friend without
these degrading subterfuges of creeping in unperceived by a back
entrance, and talking low under her breath, lest a lodging-house
crone should find out what she was doing. And all the world of
England was so banded in league with the slave-driver against the
soul he enslaved, that if Miss Blake had seen her she could hardly
have come in: while, once in, she must tremble and whisper and
steal about with muffled feet, for fear of discovery in this
innocent adventure. He held his breath with stifled wrath. It
was painful and degrading.
But he had no time just then to think much of all this, for there
sat Frida, tremulous and shivering before his very eyes, trying
hard to hide her beautiful white face in her quivering hands, and
murmuring over and over again in a very low voice, like an agonised
creature, "I couldn't BEAR not to be allowed to say good-bye to you
Bertram smoothed her cheek gently. She tried to prevent him, but
he went on in spite of her, with a man's strong persistence.
Notwithstanding his gentleness he was always virile. "Good-bye!" he
cried. "Good-bye! why on earth good-bye, Frida? When I left you
before dinner you never said one word of it to me."
"Oh, no," Frida cried, sobbing. "It's all Robert, Robert! As soon
as ever you were gone, he called me into the library--which always
means he's going to talk over some dreadful business with me--and
he said to me, 'Frida, I've just heard from Phil that this man
Ingledew, who's chosen to foist himself upon us, holds opinions and
sentiments which entirely unfit him from being proper company for
any lady. Now, he's been coming here a great deal too often of
late. Next time he calls, I wish you to tell Martha you're not at
home to him.'"
Bertram looked across at her with a melting look in his honest blue
eyes. "And you came round to tell me of it, you dear thing!" he
cried, seizing her hand and grasping it hard. "O Frida, how kind of
Frida trembled from head to foot. The blood throbbed in her pulse.
"Then you're not vexed with me," she sobbed out, all tremulous with
"Vexed with you! O Frida, how could I be vexed? You poor child!
I'm so pleased, so glad, so grateful!"
Frida let her hand rest unresisting in his. "But, Bertram," she
murmured,--"I MUST call you Bertram--I couldn't help it, you know.
I like you so much, I couldn't let you go for ever without just
saying good-bye to you."
"You DON'T like me; you LOVE me," Bertram answered with masculine
confidence. "No, you needn't blush, Frida; you can't deceive
me. . . . My darling, you love me, and you know I love you. Why
should we two make any secret about our hearts any longer?" He laid
his hand on her face again, making it tingle with joy. "Frida," he
said solemnly, "you don't love that man you call your husband. . . .
You haven't loved him for years. . . . You never really loved him."
There was something about the mere sound of Bertram's calm voice
that made Frida speak the truth more plainly and frankly than she
could ever have spoken it to any ordinary Englishman. Yet she hung
down her head, even so, and hesitated slightly. "Just at first,"
she murmured half-inaudibly, "I used to THINK I loved him. At any
rate, I was pleased and flattered he should marry me."
"Pleased and flattered!" Bertram exclaimed, more to himself than to
her; "great Heavens, how incredible! Pleased and flattered by that
man! One can hardly conceive it! But you've never loved him since,
Frida. You can't look me in the face and tell me you love him."
"No, not since the first few months," Frida answered, still hanging
her head. "But, Bertram, he's my husband, and of course I must obey
"You must do nothing of the sort," Bertram cried authoritatively.
"You don't love him at all, and you mustn't pretend to. It's wrong:
it's wicked. Sooner or later--" He checked himself. "Frida," he
went on, after a moment's pause, "I won't speak to you of what I
was going to say just now. I'll wait a bit till you're stronger and
better able to understand it. But there must be no more silly talk
of farewells between us. I won't allow it. You're mine now--a
thousand times more truly mine than ever you were Monteith's; and I
can't do without you. You must go back to your husband for the
present, I suppose,--the circumstances compel it, though I don't
approve of it; but you must see me again . . . and soon . . . and
often, just the same as usual. I won't go to your house, of course:
the house is Monteith's; and everywhere among civilised and
rational races the sanctity of the home is rightly respected. But
YOU yourself he has no claim or right to taboo; and if _I_ can help
it, he shan't taboo you. You may go home now to-night, dear one;
but you must meet me often. If you can't come round to my rooms--
for fear of Miss Blake's fetich, the respectability of her house--
we must meet elsewhere, till I can make fresh arrangements."
Frida gazed up at him in doubt. "But will it be RIGHT, Bertram?"
The man looked down into her big eyes in dazed astonishment. "Why,
Frida," he cried, half-pained at the question, "do you think if it
were WRONG I'd advise you to do it? I'm here to help you, to guide
you, to lead you on by degrees to higher and truer life. How can
you imagine I'd ask you to do anything on earth unless I felt
perfectly sure and convinced it was the very most right and proper
His arm stole round her waist and drew her tenderly towards him.
Frida allowed the caress passively. There was a robust frankness
about his love-making that seemed to rob it of all taint or tinge
of evil. Then he caught her bodily in his arms like a man who has
never associated the purest and noblest of human passions with any
lower thought, any baser personality. He had not taken his first
lessons in the art of love from the wearied lips of joyless
courtesans whom his own kind had debased and unsexed and degraded
out of all semblance of womanhood. He bent over the woman of his
choice and kissed her with chaste warmth. On the forehead first,
then, after a short interval, twice on the lips. At each kiss, from
which she somehow did not shrink, as if recognising its purity,
Frida felt a strange thrill course through and through her. She
quivered from head to foot. The scales fell from her eyes. The
taboos of her race grew null and void within her. She looked up at
him more boldly. "O Bertram," she whispered, nestling close to his
side, and burying her blushing face in the man's curved bosom, "I
don't know what you've done to me, but I feel quite different--as
if I'd eaten the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil."
"I hope you have," Bertram answered, in a very solemn voice; "for,
Frida, you will need it." He pressed her close against his breast;
and Frida Monteith, a free woman at last, clung there many minutes
with no vile inherited sense of shame or wrongfulness. "I can't
bear to go," she cried, still clinging to him and clutching him
tight. "I'm so happy here, Bertram; oh, so happy, so happy!"
"Then why go away at all?" Bertram asked, quite simply.
Frida drew back in horror. "Oh, I must," she said, coming to
herself: "I must, of course, because of Robert."
Bertram held her hand, smoothing it all the while with his own, as
he mused and hesitated. "Well, it's clearly wrong to go back," he
said, after a moment's pause. "You ought never, of course, to spend
another night with that man you don't love and should never have
lived with. But I suppose that's only a counsel of perfection: too
hard a saying for you to understand or follow for the present.
You'd better go back, just to-night: and, as time moves on, I can
arrange something else for you. But when shall I see you again?--
for now you belong to me. I sealed you with that kiss. When will
you come and see me?"
"I can't come here, you know," Frida whispered, half-terrified;
"for if I did, Miss Blake would see me."
Bertram smiled a bitter smile to himself. "So she would," he said,
musing. "And though she's not the least interested in keeping up
Robert Monteith's proprietary claim on your life and freedom, I'm
beginning to understand now that it would be an offence against
that mysterious and incomprehensible entity they call RESPECTABILITY
if she were to allow me to receive you in her rooms. It's all very
curious. But, of course, while I remain, I must be content to
submit to it. By-and-by, perhaps, Frida, we two may manage to
escape together from this iron generation. Meanwhile, I shall go up
to London less often for the present, and you can come and meet me,
dear, in the Middle Mill Fields at two o'clock on Monday."
She gazed up at him with perfect trust in those luminous dark eyes
of hers. "I will, Bertram," she said firmly. She knew not herself
what his kiss had done for her; but one thing she knew: from the
moment their lips met, she had felt and understood in a flood of
vision that perfect love which casteth out fear, and was no longer
afraid of him.
"That's right, darling," the man answered, stooping down and laying
his cheek against her own once more. "You are mine, and I am yours.
You are not and never were Robert Monteith's, my Frida. So now,
good-night, till Monday at two, beside the stile in Middle Mill
She clung to him for a moment in a passionate embrace. He let her
stop there, while he smoothed her dark hair with one free hand.
Then suddenly, with a burst, the older feelings of her race
overcame her for a minute; she broke from his grasp and hid her
head, all crimson, in a cushion on the sofa. One second later,
again, she lifted her face unabashed. The new impulse stirred her.
"I'm proud I love you, Bertram," she cried, with red lips and
flashing eyes; "and I'm proud you love me!"
With that, she slipped quietly out, and walked, erect and graceful,
no longer ashamed, down the lodging-house passage.
When she returned, Robert Monteith sat asleep over his paper in
his easy-chair. It was his wont at night when he returned from
business. Frida cast one contemptuous glance as she passed at his
burly, unintelligent form, and went up to her bedroom.
But all that night long she never slept. Her head was too full of
Yet, strange to say, she felt not one qualm of conscience for their
stolen meeting. No feminine terror, no fluttering fear, disturbed
her equanimity. It almost seemed to her as if Bertram's kiss had
released her by magic, at once and for ever, from the taboos of her
nation. She had slipped out from home unperceived, that night, in
fear and trembling, with many sinkings of heart and dire misgivings,
while Robert and Phil were downstairs in the smoking-room; she had
slunk round, crouching low, to Miss Blake's lodgings: and she had
terrified her soul on the way with a good woman's doubts and a good
woman's fears as to the wrongfulness of her attempt to say good-bye
to the friend she might now no longer mix with. But from the moment
her lips and Bertram's touched, all fear and doubt seemed utterly to
have vanished; she lay there all night in a fierce ecstasy of love,
hugging herself for strange delight, thinking only of Bertram, and
wondering what manner of thing was this promised freedom whereof her
lover had spoken to her so confidently. She trusted him now; she
knew he would do right, and right alone: whatever he advised, she
would be safe in following.
Next day, Robert went up to town to business as usual. He was
immersed in palm-oil. By a quarter to two, Frida found herself in
the fields. But, early as she went to fulfil her tryst, Bertram was
there before her. He took her hand in his with a gentle pressure,
and Frida felt a quick thrill she had never before experienced
course suddenly through her. She looked around to right and left,
to see if they were observed. Bertram noticed the instinctive
movement. "My darling," he said in a low voice, "this is
intolerable, unendurable. It's an insult not to be borne that you
and I can't walk together in the fields of England without being
subjected thus to such a many-headed espionage. I shall have to
arrange something before long so as to see you at leisure. I can't
be so bound by all the taboos of your country."
She looked up at him trustfully. "As you will, Bertram," she
answered, without a moment's hesitation. "I know I'm yours now.
Let it be what it may, I can do what you tell me."
He looked at her and smiled. He saw she was pure woman. He had
met at last with a sister soul. There was a long, deep silence.
Frida was the first to break it with words. "Why do you always
call them taboos, Bertram?" she asked at last, sighing.
"Why, Frida, don't you see?" he said, walking on through the deep
grass. "Because they ARE taboos; that's the only reason. Why not
give them their true name? We call them nothing else among my own
people. All taboos are the same in origin and spirit, whether
savage or civilised, eastern or western. You must see that now: for
I know you are emancipated. They begin with belief in some fetich
or bogey or other non-existent supernatural being; and they mostly
go on to regard certain absolutely harmless--nay, sometimes even
praiseworthy or morally obligatory--acts as proscribed by him and
sure to be visited with his condign displeasure. So South Sea
Islanders think, if they eat some particular luscious fruit tabooed
for the chiefs, they'll be instantly struck dead by the mere power
of the taboo in it; and English people think, if they go out in the
country for a picnic on a tabooed day, or use certain harmless
tabooed names and words, or inquire into the historical validity of
certain incredible ancient documents, accounted sacred, or even
dare to think certain things that no reasonable man can prevent
himself from thinking, they'll be burned for ever in eternal fire
for it. The common element is the dread of an unreal sanction. So
in Japan and West Africa the people believe the whole existence of
the world and the universe is bound up with the health of their own
particular king or the safety of their own particular royal family;
and therefore they won't allow their Mikado or their chief to go
outside his palace, lest he should knock his royal foot against a
stone, and so prevent the sun from shining and the rain from
falling. In other places, it's a tree or a shrub with which the
stability and persistence of the world is bound up; whenever that
tree or shrub begins to droop or wither, the whole population
rushes out in bodily fear and awe, bearing water to pour upon it,
and crying aloud with wild cries as if their lives were in danger.
If any man were to injure the tree, which of course is no more
valuable than any other bush of its sort, they'd tear him to pieces
on the spot, and kill or torture every member of his family. And so
too, in England, most people believe, without a shadow of reason,
that if men and women were allowed to manage their own personal
relations, free from tribal interference, all life and order would
go to rack and ruin; the world would become one vast, horrible
orgy; and society would dissolve in some incredible fashion. To
prevent this imaginary and impossible result, they insist upon
regulating one another's lives from outside with the strictest
taboos, like those which hem round the West African kings, and
punish with cruel and relentless heartlessness every man, and still
more every woman, who dares to transgress them."
"I think I see what you mean," Frida answered, blushing.
"And I mean it in the very simplest and most literal sense,"
Bertram went on quite seriously. "I'd been among you some time
before it began to dawn on me that you English didn't regard your
own taboos as essentially identical with other people's. To me,
from the very first, they seemed absolutely the same as the similar
taboos of Central Africans and South Sea Islanders. All of them
spring alike from a common origin, the queer savage belief that
various harmless or actually beneficial things may become at times
in some mysterious way harmful and dangerous. The essence of them
all lies in the erroneous idea that if certain contingencies occur,
such as breaking an image or deserting a faith, some terrible evil
will follow to one man or to the world, which evil, as a matter of
fact, there's no reason at all to dread in any way. Sometimes, as
in ancient Rome, Egypt, Central Africa, and England, the whole of
life gets enveloped at last in a perfect mist and labyrinth of
taboos, a cobweb of conventions. The Flamen Dialis at Rome, you
know, mightn't ride or even touch a horse; he mightn't see an army
under arms; nor wear a ring that wasn't broken; nor have a knot in
any part of his clothing. He mightn't eat wheaten flour or leavened
bread; he mightn't look at or even mention by name such unlucky
things as a goat, a dog, raw meat, haricot beans, or common ivy.
He mightn't walk under a vine; the feet of his bed had to be daubed
with mud; his hair could only be cut by a free man, and with a
bronze knife; he was encased and surrounded, as it were, by endless
petty restrictions and regulations and taboos--just like those that
now surround so many men, and especially so many young women, here
"And you think they arise from the same causes?" Frida said, half-
hesitating: for she hardly knew whether it was not wicked to say
"Why, of course they do," Bertram answered confidently. "That's not
matter of opinion now; it's matter of demonstration. The worst of
them all in their present complicated state are the ones that
concern marriage and the other hideous sex-taboos. They seem to
have been among the earliest human abuses; for marriage arises from
the stone-age practice of felling a woman of another tribe with a
blow of one's club, and dragging her off by the hair of her head to
one's own cave as a slave and drudge; and they are still the most
persistent and cruel of any--so much so, that your own people, as
you know, taboo even the fair and free discussion of this the most
important and serious question of life and morals. They make it, as
we would say at home, a refuge for enforced ignorance. For it's
well known that early tribes hold the most superstitious ideas
about the relation of men to women, and dread the most ridiculous
and impossible evils resulting from it; and these absurd terrors of
theirs seem to have been handed on intact to civilised races, so
that for fear of I know not what ridiculous bogey of their own
imaginations, or dread of some unnatural restraining deity, men
won't even discuss a matter of so much importance to them all, but,
rather than let the taboo of silence be broken, will allow such
horrible things to take place in their midst as I have seen with my
eyes for these last six or seven weeks in your cities. O Frida, you
can't imagine what things--for I know they hide them from you:
cruelties of lust and neglect and shame such as you couldn't even
dream of; women dying of foul disease, in want and dirt deliberately
forced upon them by the will of your society; destined beforehand
for death, a hateful lingering death--a death more disgusting than
aught you can conceive--in order that the rest of you may be safely
tabooed, each a maid intact, for the man who weds her. It's the
hatefullest taboo of all the hateful taboos I've ever seen on my
wanderings, the unworthiest of a pure or moral community."
He shut his eyes as if to forget the horrors of which he spoke.
They were fresh and real to him. Frida did not like to question him
further. She knew to what he referred, and in a dim, vague way (for
she was less wise than he, she knew) she thought she could imagine
why he found it all so terrible.
They walked on in silence a while through the deep, lush grass of
the July meadow. At last Bertram spoke again: "Frida," he said,
with a trembling quiver, "I didn't sleep last night. I was thinking
this thing over--this question of our relations."
"Nor did I," Frida answered, thrilling through, responsive. "I was
thinking the same thing. . . . And, Bertram, 'twas the happiest
night I ever remember."
Bertram's face flushed rosy red, that native colour of triumphant
love; but he answered nothing. He only looked at her with a look
more eloquent by far than a thousand speeches.
"Frida," he went on at last, "I've been thinking it all over; and
I feel, if only you can come away with me for just seven days, I
could arrange at the end of that time--to take you home with me."
Frida's face in turn waxed rosy red; but she answered only in a
very low voice: "Thank you, Bertram."
"Would you go with me?" Bertram cried, his face aglow with
pleasure. "You know, it's a very, very long way off; and I can't
even tell you where it is or how you get there. But can you trust
me enough to try? Are you not afraid to come with me?"
Frida's voice trembled slightly.
"I'm not afraid, if that's all," she answered in a very firm tone.
"I love you, and I trust you, and I could follow you to the world's
end--or, if needful, out of it. But there's one other question.
Bertram, ought I to?"
She asked it, more to see what answer Bertram would make to her
than from any real doubt; for ever since that kiss last night, she
felt sure in her own mind with a woman's certainty whatever Bertram
told her was the thing she ought to do; but she wanted to know in
what light he regarded it.
Bertram gazed at her hard.
"Why, Frida," he said, "it's right, of course, to go. The thing
that's WRONG is to stop with that man one minute longer than's
absolutely necessary. You don't love him--you never loved him; or,
if you ever did, you've long since ceased to do so. Well, then,
it's a dishonour to yourself to spend one more day with him. How
can you submit to the hateful endearments of a man you don't love
or care for? How wrong to yourself, how infinitely more wrong to
your still unborn and unbegotten children! Would you consent to
become the mother of sons and daughters by a man whose whole
character is utterly repugnant to you? Nature has given us this
divine instinct of love within, to tell us with what persons we
should spontaneously unite: will you fly in her face and unite with
a man whom you feel and know to be wholly unworthy of you? With us,
such conduct would be considered disgraceful. We think every man
and woman should be free to do as they will with their own persons;
for that is the very basis and foundation of personal liberty. But
if any man or woman were openly to confess they yielded their
persons to another for any other reason than because the strongest
sympathy and love compelled them, we should silently despise them.
If you don't love Monteith, it's your duty to him, and still more
your duty to yourself and your unborn children, at once to leave
him; if you DO love me, it's your duty to me, and still more your
duty to yourself and our unborn children, at once to cleave to me.
Don't let any sophisms of taboo-mongers come in to obscure that
plain natural duty. Do right first; let all else go. For one of
yourselves, a poet of your own, has said truly:
'Because right is right, to follow right
Were wisdom in the scorn of consequence.'"
Frida looked up at him with admiration in her big black eyes. She
had found the truth, and the truth had made her free.
"O Bertram," she cried with a tremor, "it's good to be like you. I
felt from the very first how infinitely you differed from the men
about me. You seemed so much greater and higher and nobler. How
grateful I ought to be to Robert Monteith for having spoken to me
yesterday and forbidden me to see you! for if he hadn't, you might
never have kissed me last night, and then I might never have seen
things as I see them at present."
There was another long pause; for the best things we each say to
the other are said in the pauses. Then Frida relapsed once more
into speech: "But what about the children?" she asked rather
Bertram looked puzzled. "Why, what about the children?" he repeated
in a curious way. "What difference on earth could that make to the
"Can I bring them with me, I mean?" Frida asked, a little tremulous
for the reply. "I couldn't bear to leave them. Even for you, dear
Bertram, I could never desert them."
Bertram gazed at her dismayed. "Leave them!" he cried. "Why, Frida,
of course you could never leave them. Do you mean to say anybody
would be so utterly unnatural, even in England, as to separate a
mother from her own children?"
"I don't think Robert would let me keep them," Frida faltered, with
tears in her eyes; "and if he didn't, the law, of course, would
take his side against me."
"Of course!" Bertram answered, with grim sarcasm in his face, "of
course! I might have guessed it. If there IS an injustice or a
barbarity possible, I might have been sure the law of England would
make haste to perpetrate it. But you needn't fear, Frida. Long
before the law of England could be put in motion, I'll have
completed my arrangements for taking you--and them too--with me.
There are advantages sometimes even in the barbaric delay of what
your lawyers are facetiously pleased to call justice."
"Then I may bring them with me?" Frida cried, flushing red.
Bertram nodded assent. "Yes," he said, with grave gentleness. "You
may bring them with you. And as soon as you like, too. Remember,
dearest, every night you pass under that creature's roof, you
commit the vilest crime a woman can commit against her own purity."
Never in her life had Frida enjoyed anything so much as those
first four happy days at Heymoor. She had come away with Bertram
exactly as Bertram himself desired her to do, without one thought
of anything on earth except to fulfil the higher law of her own
nature; and she was happy in her intercourse with the one man who
could understand it, the one man who had waked it to its fullest
pitch, and could make it resound sympathetically to his touch in
every chord and every fibre. They had chosen a lovely spot on a
heather-clad moorland, where she could stroll alone with Bertram
among the gorse and ling, utterly oblivious of Robert Monteith and
the unnatural world she had left for ever behind her. Her soul
drank in deep draughts of the knowledge of good and evil from
Bertram's lips; she felt it was indeed a privilege to be with him
and listen to him; she wondered how she could ever have endured
that old bad life with the lower man who was never her equal, now
she had once tasted and known what life can be when two well-
matched souls walk it together, abreast, in holy fellowship.
The children, too, were as happy as the day was long. The heath was
heaven to them. They loved Bertram well, and were too young to be
aware of anything unusual in the fact of his accompanying them. At
the little inn on the hill-top where they stopped to lodge, nobody
asked any compromising questions: and Bertram felt so sure he could
soon complete his arrangements for taking Frida and the children
"home," as he still always phrased it, that Frida had no doubts for
their future happiness. As for Robert Monteith, that bleak, cold
man, she hardly even remembered him: Bertram's first kiss seemed
almost to have driven the very memory of her husband clean out of
her consciousness. She only regretted, now she had left him, the
false and mistaken sense of duty which had kept her so long tied to
an inferior soul she could never love, and did wrong to marry.
And all the time, what strange new lessons, what beautiful truths,
she learned from Bertram! As they strolled together, those sweet
August mornings, hand locked in hand, over the breezy upland, what
new insight he gave her into men and things! what fresh impulse he
supplied to her keen moral nature! The misery and wrong of the
world she lived in came home to her now in deeper and blacker hues
than ever she had conceived it in: and with that consciousness came
also the burning desire of every wakened soul to right and redress
it. With Bertram by her side, she felt she could not even harbour
an unholy wish or admit a wrong feeling; that vague sense of his
superiority, as of a higher being, which she had felt from the very
first moment she met him at Brackenhurst, had deepened and grown
more definite now by closer intercourse; and she recognised that
what she had fallen in love with from the earliest beginning was
the beauty of holiness shining clear in his countenance. She had
chosen at last the better part, and she felt in her soul that, come
what might, it could not be taken away from her.
In this earthly paradise of pure love, undefiled, she spent three
full days and part of another. On the morning of the fourth, she
sent the country girl they had engaged to take care of the
children, out on the moor with the little ones, while she herself
and Bertram went off alone, past the barrow that overlooks the
Devil's Saucepan, and out on the open ridge that stretches with
dark growth of heath and bracken far away into the misty blue
distance of Hampshire. Bertram had just been speaking to her, as
they sat on the dry sand, of the buried chieftain whose bones still
lay hid under that grass-grown barrow, and of the slaughtered wives
whose bodies slept beside him, massacred in cold blood to accompany
their dead lord to the world of shadows. He had been contrasting
these hideous slaveries of taboo-ridden England, past or present,
with the rational freedom of his own dear country, whither he hoped
so soon with good luck to take her, when suddenly Frida raised her
eager eyes from the ground, and saw somebody or something coming
across the moor from eastward in their direction.
All at once, a vague foreboding of evil possessed her. Hardly quite
knowing why, she felt this approaching object augured no good to
their happiness. "Look, Bertram," she cried, seizing his arm in her
fright, "there's somebody coming."
Bertram raised his eyes and looked. Then he shaded them with his
hands. "How strange!" he said simply, in his candid way: "it looks
for all the world just like the man who was once your husband!"
Frida rose in alarm. "Oh, what can we do?" she cried, wringing her
hands. "What ever can we do? It's he! It's Robert!"
"Surely he can't have come on purpose!" Bertram exclaimed, taken
aback. "When he sees us, he'll turn aside. He must know of all
people on earth he's the one least likely at such a time to be
welcome. He can't want to disturb the peace of another man's
But Frida, better used to the savage ways of the world she had
always lived in, made answer, shrinking and crouching, "He's hunted
us down, and he's come to fight you."
"To fight me!" Bertram exclaimed. "Oh, surely not that! I was told
by those who ought best to know, you English had got far beyond the
stage of private war and murderous vendetta."
"For everything else," Frida answered, cowering down in her terror
of her husband's vengeance, not for herself indeed so much as for
Bertram. "For everything else, we have; but NOT for a woman."
There was no time just then, however, for further explanation of
this strange anomaly. Monteith had singled them out from a great
distance with his keen, clear sight, inherited from generations of
Highland ancestors, and now strode angrily across the moor, with
great wrathful steps, in his rival's direction. Frida nestled close
to Bertram, to protect her from the man to whom her country's laws
and the customs of her tribe would have handed her over blindfold.
Bertram soothed her with his hand, and awaited in silence, with
some dim sense of awe, the angry barbarian's arrival.
He came up very quickly, and stood full in front of them, glaring
with fierce eyes at the discovered lovers. For a minute or two his
rage would not allow him to speak, nor even to act; he could but
stand and scowl from under his brows at Bertram. But after a long
pause his wrath found words. "You infernal scoundrel!" he burst
forth, "so at last I've caught you! How dare you sit there and look
me straight in the face? You infernal thief, how dare you? how
Bertram rose and confronted him. His own face, too, flushed
slightly with righteous indignation; but he answered for all that
in the same calm and measured tones as ever: "I am NOT a scoundrel,
and I will not submit to be called so even by an angry savage. I
ask you in return, how dare you follow us? You must have known your
presence would be very unwelcome. I should have thought this was
just the one moment in your life and the one place on earth where
even YOU would have seen that to stop away was your imperative
duty. Mere self-respect would dictate such conduct. This lady has
given you clear proof indeed that your society and converse are
highly distasteful to her."
Robert Monteith glared across at him with the face of a tiger. "You
infamous creature," he cried, almost speechless with rage, "do you
dare to defend my wife's adultery?"
Bertram gazed at him with a strange look of mingled horror and
astonishment. "You poor wretch!" he answered, as calmly as before,
but with evident contempt; "how can you dare, such a thing as you,
to apply these vile words to your moral superiors? Adultery it was
indeed, and untruth to her own higher and purer nature, for this
lady to spend one night of her life under your roof with you; what
she has taken now in exchange is holy marriage, the only real and
sacred marriage, the marriage of true souls, to which even the
wiser of yourselves, the poets of your nation, would not admit
impediment. If you dare to apply such base language as this to
my lady's actions, you must answer for it to me, her natural
protector, for I will not permit it."
At the words, quick as lightning, Monteith pulled from his pocket a
loaded revolver and pointed it full at his rival. With a cry of
terror, Frida flung herself between them, and tried to protect her
lover with the shield of her own body. But Bertram gently unwound
her arms and held her off from him tenderly. "No, no, darling," he
said slowly, sitting down with wonderful calm upon a big grey
sarsen-stone that abutted upon the pathway; "I had forgotten again;
I keep always forgetting what kind of savages I have to deal with.
If I chose, I could snatch that murderous weapon from his hand, and
shoot him dead with it in self-defence--for I'm stronger than he
is. But if I did, what use? I could never take you home with me.
And after all, what could we either of us do in the end in this
bad, wild world of your fellow-countrymen? They would take me and
hang me; and all would be up with you. For your sake, Frida, to
shield you from the effects of their cruel taboos, there's but one
course open: I must submit to this madman. He may shoot me if he
will. . . . Stand free, and let him!"
But with a passionate oath, Robert Monteith seized her arm and
flung her madly from him. She fell, reeling, on one side. His eyes
were bloodshot with the savage thirst for vengeance. He raised the
deadly weapon. Bertram Ingledew, still seated on the big round
boulder, opened his breast in silence to receive the bullet. There
was a moment's pause. For that moment, even Monteith himself, in
his maniac mood, felt dimly aware of that mysterious restraining
power all the rest who knew him had so often felt in their dealings
with the Alien. But it was only for a moment. His coarser nature
was ill adapted to recognise that ineffable air as of a superior
being that others observed in him. He pulled the trigger and fired.
Frida gave one loud shriek of despairing horror. Bertram's body
fell back on the bare heath behind it.
Mad as he was with jealousy, that lowest and most bestial of all
the vile passions man still inherits from the ape and tiger, Robert
Monteith was yet quite sane enough to know in his own soul what
deed he had wrought, and in what light even his country's barbaric
laws would regard his action. So the moment he had wreaked to the
full his fiery vengeance on the man who had never wronged him, he
bent over the body with strangely eager eyes, expecting to see upon
it some evidence of his guilt, some bloody mark of the hateful
crime his own hand had committed. At the same instant, Frida,
recovering from his blow that had sent her reeling, rushed
frantically forward, flung herself with wild passion on her lover's
corpse, and covered the warm lips with hot, despairing kisses.
One marvellous fact, however, impressed them both with a vague
sense of the unknown and the mysterious from the very first second.
No spot nor trace of blood marred the body anywhere. And, even as
they looked, a strange perfume, as of violets or of burning
incense, began by degrees to flood the moor around them. Then
slowly, while they watched, a faint blue flame seemed to issue from
the wound in Bertram's right side and rise lambent into the air
above the murdered body. Frida drew back and gazed at it, a weird
thrill of mystery and unconscious hope beguiling for one moment her
profound pang of bereavement. Monteith, too, stood away a pace or
two, in doubt and surprise, the deep consciousness of some strange
and unearthly power overawing for a while even his vulgar and
commonplace Scotch bourgeois nature. Gradually, as they gazed,
the pale blue flame, rising higher and higher, gathered force and
volume, and the perfume as of violets became distinct on the air,
like the savour of a purer life than this century wots of. Bit by
bit, the wan blue light, flickering thicker and thicker, shaped
itself into the form and features of a man, even the outward
semblance of Bertram Ingledew. Shadowy, but transfigured with an
ineffable glory, it hovered for a minute or two above the spot on
the moor where the corpse had lain; for now they were aware that as
the flame-shape formed, the body that lay dead upon the ground
beneath dissolved by degrees and melted into it. Not a trace was
left on the heath of Robert Monteith's crime: not a dapple of
blood, not a clot of gore: only a pale blue flame and a persistent
image represented the body that was once Bertram Ingledew's.
Again, even as they looked, a still weirder feeling began to creep
over them. The figure, growing fainter, seemed to fade away
piecemeal in the remote distance. But it was not in space that it
faded; it appeared rather to become dim in some vaguer and far more
mysterious fashion, like the memories of childhood or the aching
abysses of astronomical calculation. As it slowly dissolved, Frida
stretched out her hands to it with a wild cry, like the cry of a
mother for her first-born. "O Bertram," she moaned, "where are you
going? Do you mean to leave me? Won't you save me from this man?
Won't you take me home with you?"
Dim and hollow, as from the womb of time unborn, a calm voice came
back to her across the gulf of ages: "Your husband willed it,
Frida, and the customs of your nation. You can come to me, but I
can never return to you. In three days longer your probation would
have been finished. But I forgot with what manner of savage I had
still to deal. And now I must go back once more to the place whence
I came--to THE TWENTY-FIFTH CENTURY."
The voice died away in the dim recesses of the future. The pale
blue flame flickered forward and vanished. The shadowy shape melted
through an endless vista of to-morrows. Only the perfume as of
violets or of a higher life still hung heavy upon the air, and a
patch of daintier purple burned bright on the moor, like a pool of
crimson blood, where the body had fallen. Only that, and a fierce
ache in Frida's tortured heart; only that, and a halo of invisible
glory round the rich red lips, where his lips had touched them.
Frida seated herself in her misery on the ice-worn boulder where
three minutes earlier Bertram had been sitting. Her face was buried
in her bloodless hands. All the world grew blank to her.
Monteith, for his part, sat down a little way off with folded arms
on another sarsen-stone, fronting her. The strange and unearthly
scene they had just passed through impressed him profoundly. For
the first few minutes a great horror held him. But his dogged
Scottish nature still brooded over his wrongs, in spite of the
terrible sight he had so unexpectedly evoked. In a way, he felt he
had had his revenge; for had he not drawn upon his man, and fired
at him and killed him? Still, after the fever and torment of the
last few days, it was a relief to find, after all, he was not, as
this world would judge, a murderer. Man and crime were alike mere
airy phantoms. He could go back now to the inn and explain with a
glib tongue how Mr. Ingledew had been hurriedly called away to town
on important business. There was no corpse on the moor, no blabbing
blood to tell the story of his attempted murder: nobody anywhere,
he felt certain in his own stolid soul, would miss the mysterious
Alien who came to them from beyond the distant abyss of centuries.
With true Scotch caution, indeed, even in the midst of his wrath,
Robert Monteith had never said a word to any one at Brackenhurst of
how his wife had left him. He was too proud a man, if it came to
that, to acknowledge what seemed to him a personal disgrace, till
circumstances should absolutely force such acknowledgment upon him.
He had glossed it over meanwhile with the servants and neighbours
by saying that Mrs. Monteith had gone away with the children for
their accustomed holiday as always in August. Frida had actually
chosen the day appointed for their seaside journey as the fittest
moment for her departure with Bertram, so his story was received
without doubt or inquiry. He had bottled up his wrath in his own
silent soul. There was still room, therefore, to make all right
again at home in the eyes of the world--if but Frida was willing.
So he sat there long, staring hard at his wife in speechless
debate, and discussing with himself whether or not to make
temporary overtures of peace to her.
In this matter, his pride itself fought hard with his pride. That
is the wont of savages. Would it not be better, now Bertram
Ingledew had fairly disappeared for ever from their sphere, to
patch up a hollow truce for a time at least with Frida, and let all
things be to the outer eye exactly as they had always been? The
bewildering and brain-staggering occurrences of the last half-hour,
indeed, had struck deep and far into his hard Scotch nature. The
knowledge that the man who had stolen his wife from him (as he
phrased it to himself in his curious belated mediaeval phraseology)
was not a real live man of flesh and blood at all, but an
evanescent phantom of the twenty-fifth century, made him all the
more ready to patch up for the time-being a nominal reconciliation.
His nerves--for even HE had nerves--were still trembling to the
core with the mystic events of that wizard morning; but clearer and
clearer still it dawned upon him each moment that if things were
ever to be set right at all they must be set right then and there,
before he returned to the inn, and before Frida once more went back
to their children. To be sure, it was Frida's place to ask
forgiveness first, and make the first advances. But Frida made no
move. So after sitting there long, salving his masculine vanity
with the flattering thought that after all his rival was no mere
man at all, but a spirit, an avatar, a thing of pure imagination,
he raised his head at last and looked inquiringly towards Frida.
"Well?" he said slowly.
Frida raised her head from her hands and gazed across at him
"I was thinking," Monteith began, feeling his way with caution,
but with a magnanimous air, "that perhaps--after all--for the
children's sake, Frida--"
With a terrible look, his wife rose up and fronted him. Her face
was red as fire; her heart was burning. She spoke with fierce
energy. "Robert Monteith," she said firmly, not even deigning to
treat him as one who had once been her husband, "for the children's
sake, or for my own sake, or for any power on earth, do you think,
poor empty soul, after I've spent three days of my life with HIM,
I'd ever spend three hours again with YOU? If you do, then this is
all: murderer that you are, you mistake my nature."
And turning on her heel, she moved slowly away towards the far edge
of the moor with a queenly gesture.
Monteith followed her up a step or two. She turned and waved him
back. He stood glued to the ground, that weird sense of the
supernatural once more overcoming him. For some seconds he watched
her without speaking a word. Then at last he broke out. "What are
you going to do, Frida?" he asked, almost anxiously.
Frida turned and glanced back at him with scornful eyes. Her mien
was resolute. The revolver with which he had shot Bertram Ingledew
lay close by her feet, among the bracken on the heath, where
Monteith had flung it. She picked it up with one hand, and once
more waved him backward.
"I'm going to follow him," she answered solemnly, in a very cold
voice, "where YOU have sent him. But alone by myself: not here,
before you." And she brushed him away, as he tried to seize it,
with regal dignity.
Monteith, abashed, turned back without one word, and made his way
to the inn in the little village. But Frida walked on by herself,
in the opposite direction, across the open moor and through the
purple heath, towards black despair and the trout-ponds at
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