The Country of the Blind, And Other Stories
H. G. Wells
Part 6 out of 9
conversed by means of such pithy but unprogressive axioms. At last he took
up his tale again.
"There was me," said the sunburnt man, "and a seaman named Jacobs, and
Always, the mate of the _Ocean Pioneer_. And him it was that set the
whole thing going. I remember him now, when we was in the jolly-boat,
suggesting it all to our minds just by one sentence. He was a wonderful
hand at suggesting things. 'There was forty thousand pounds,' he said, 'on
that ship, and it's for me to say just where she went down.' It didn't
need much brains to tumble to that. And he was the leader from the first
to the last. He got hold of the Sanderses and their brig; they were
brothers, and the brig was the _Pride of Banya_, and he it was bought
the diving dress--a second-hand one with a compressed air apparatus
instead of pumping. He'd have done the diving too, if it hadn't made him
sick going down. And the salvage people were mucking about with a chart
he'd cooked up, as solemn as could be, at Starr Race, a hundred and twenty
"I can tell you we was a happy lot aboard that brig, jokes and drink and
bright hopes all the time. It all seemed so neat and clean and
straightforward, and what rough chaps call a 'cert.' And we used to
speculate how the other blessed lot, the proper salvagers, who'd started
two days before us, were getting on, until our sides fairly ached. We all
messed together in the Sanderses' cabin--it was a curious crew, all
officers and no men--and there stood the diving-dress waiting its turn.
Young Sanders was a humorous sort of chap, and there certainly was
something funny in the confounded thing's great fat head and its stare,
and he made us see it too. 'Jimmy Goggles,' he used to call it, and talk
to it like a Christian. Asked if he was married, and how Mrs. Goggles was,
and all the little Goggleses. Fit to make you split. And every blessed day
all of us used to drink the health of Jimmy Goggles in rum, and unscrew
his eye and pour a glass of rum in him, until, instead of that nasty
mackintosheriness, he smelt as nice in his inside as a cask of rum. It was
jolly times we had in those days, I can tell you--little suspecting, poor
chaps! what was a-coming.
"We weren't going to throw away our chances by any blessed hurry, you
know, and we spent a whole day sounding our way towards where the
_Ocean Pioneer_ had gone down, right between two chunks of ropy grey
rock--lava rocks that rose nearly out of the water. We had to lay off
about half a mile to get a safe anchorage, and there was a thundering row
who should stop on board. And there she lay just as she had gone down, so
that you could see the top of the masts that was still standing perfectly
distinctly. The row ended in all coming in the boat. I went down in the
diving-dress on Friday morning directly it was light.
"What a surprise it was! I can see it all now quite distinctly. It was a
queer-looking place, and the light was just coming. People over here think
every blessed place in the tropics is a flat shore and palm-trees and
surf, bless 'em! This place, for instance, wasn't a bit that way. Not
common rocks they were, undermined by waves; but great curved banks like
ironwork cinder heaps, with green slime below, and thorny shrubs and
things just waving upon them here and there, and the water glassy calm and
clear, and showing you a kind of dirty gray-black shine, with huge flaring
red-brown weeds spreading motionless, and crawling and darting things
going through it. And far away beyond the ditches and pools and the heaps
was a forest on the mountain flank, growing again after the fires and
cinder showers of the last eruption. And the other way forest, too, and a
kind of broken--what is it?--amby-theatre of black and rusty cinders
rising out of it all, and the sea in a kind of bay in the middle.
"The dawn, I say, was just coming, and there wasn't much colour about
things, and not a human being but ourselves anywhere in sight up or down
the channel. Except the _Pride of Banya_, lying out beyond a lump of
rocks towards the line of the sea.
"Not a human being in sight," he repeated, and paused.
"_I_ don't know where they came from, not a bit. And we were feeling
so safe that we were all alone that poor young Sanders was a-singing. I
was in Jimmy Goggles, all except the helmet. 'Easy,' says Always, 'there's
her mast.' And after I'd had just one squint over the gunwale, I caught up
the bogey, and almost tipped out as old Sanders brought the boat round.
When the windows were screwed and everything was all right, I shut the
valve from the air-belt in order to help my sinking, and jumped overboard,
feet foremost--for we hadn't a ladder. I left the boat pitching, and all
of them staring down into water after me, as my head sank down into the
weeds and blackness that lay about the mast. I suppose nobody, not the
most cautious chap in the world, would have bothered about a look-out at
such a desolate place. It stunk of solitude.
"Of course you must understand that I was a greenhorn at diving. None of
us were divers. We'd had to muck about with the thing to get the way of
it, and this was the first time I'd been deep. It feels damnable. Your
ears hurt beastly. I don't know if you've ever hurt yourself yawning or
sneezing, but it takes you like that, only ten times worse. And a pain
over the eyebrows here--splitting--and a feeling like influenza in the
head. And it isn't all heaven in your lungs and things. And going down
feels like the beginning of a lift, only it keeps on. And you can't turn
your head to see what's above you, and you can't get a fair squint at
what's happening to your feet without bending down something painful. And
being deep it was dark, let alone the blackness of the ashes and mud that
formed the bottom. It was like going down out of the dawn back into the
night, so to speak.
"The mast came up like a ghost out of the black, and then a lot of fishes,
and then a lot of flapping red seaweed, and then whack I came with a kind
of dull bang on the deck of the _Ocean Pioneer_, and the fishes that
had been feeding on the dead rose about me like a swarm of flies from road
stuff in summer-time. I turned on the compressed air again--for the suit
was a bit thick and mackintoshery after all, in spite of the rum--and
stood recovering myself. It struck coolish down there, and that helped
take off the stuffiness a bit."
"When I began to feel easier, I started looking about me. It was an
extraordinary sight. Even the light was extraordinary, a kind of
reddy-coloured twilight, on account of the streamers of seaweed that
floated up on either side of the ship. And far overhead just a moony,
deep green blue. The deck of the ship, except for a slight list to
starboard, was level, and lay all dark and long between the weeds, clear
except where the masts had snapped when she rolled, and vanishing into
black night towards the forecastle. There wasn't any dead on the decks,
most were in the weeds alongside, I suppose; but afterwards I found two
skeletons lying in the passengers' cabins, where death had come to them.
It was curious to stand on that deck and recognise it all, bit by bit; a
place against the rail where I'd been fond of smoking by starlight, and
the corner where an old chap from Sydney used to flirt with a widow we
had aboard. A comfortable couple they'd been, only a month ago, and now
you couldn't have got a meal for a baby crab off either of them.
"I've always had a bit of a philosophical turn, and I daresay I spent the
best part of five minutes in such thoughts before I went below to find
where the blessed dust was stored. It was slow work hunting, feeling it
was for the most part, pitchy dark, with confusing blue gleams down the
companion. And there were things moving about, a dab at my glass once, and
once a pinch at my leg. Crabs, I expect. I kicked a lot of loose stuff
that puzzled me, and stooped and picked up something all knobs and spikes.
What do you think? Backbone! But I never had any particular feeling for
bones. We had talked the affair over pretty thoroughly, and Always knew
just where the stuff was stowed. I found it that trip. I lifted a box one
end an inch or more."
He broke off in his story. "I've lifted it," he said, "as near as that!
Forty thousand pounds' worth of pure gold! Gold! I shouted inside my
helmet as a kind of cheer, and hurt my ears. I was getting confounded
stuffy and tired by this time--I must have been down twenty-five minutes
or more--and I thought this was good enough. I went up the companion
again, and as my eyes came up flush with the deck, a thundering great crab
gave a kind of hysterical jump and went scuttling off sideways. Quite a
start it gave me. I stood up clear on deck and shut the valve behind the
helmet to let the air accumulate to carry me up again--I noticed a kind of
whacking from above, as though they were hitting the water with an oar,
but I didn't look up. I fancied they were signalling me to come up.
"And then something shot down by me--something heavy, and stood a-quiver
in the planks. I looked, and there was a long knife I'd seen young Sanders
handling. Thinks I, he's dropped it, and I was still calling him this kind
of fool and that---for it might have hurt me serious--when I began to lift
and drive up towards the daylight. Just about the level of the top spars
of the _Ocean Pioneer_, whack! I came against something sinking down,
and a boot knocked in front of my helmet. Then something else, struggling
frightful. It was a big weight atop of me, whatever it was, and moving and
twisting about. I'd have thought it a big octopus, or some such thing, if
it hadn't been for the boot. But octopuses don't wear boots. It was all in
a moment, of course.
"I felt myself sinking down again, and I threw my arms about to keep
steady, and the whole lot rolled free of me and shot down as I went up--"
"I saw young Sanders's face, over a naked black shoulder, and a spear
driven clean through his neck, and out of his mouth and neck what looked
like spirts of pink smoke in the water. And down they went clutching one
another, and turning over, and both too far gone to leave go. And in
another second my helmet came a whack, fit to split, against the niggers'
canoe. It was niggers! Two canoes full.
"It was lively times I tell you? Overboard came Always with three spears
in him. There was the legs of three or four black chaps kicking about me
in the water. I couldn't see much, but I saw the game was up at a glance,
gave my valve a tremendous twist, and went bubbling down again after poor
Always, in as awful a state of scare and astonishment as you can well
imagine. I passed young Sanders and the nigger going up again and
struggling still a bit, and in another moment I was standing in the dim
again on the deck of the _Ocean Pioneer_.
"Gummy, thinks I, here's a fix! Niggers? At first I couldn't see anything
for it but Stifle below or Stabs above. I didn't properly understand how
much air there was to last me out, but I didn't feel like standing very
much more of it down below. I was hot and frightfully heady, quite apart
from the blue funk I was in. We'd never reckoned with these beastly
natives, filthy Papuan beasts. It wasn't any good coming up where I was,
but I had to do something. On the spur of the moment, I clambered over the
side of the brig and landed among the weeds, and set off through the
darkness as fast as I could. I just stopped once and knelt, and twisted
back my head in the helmet and had a look up. It was a most extraordinary
bright green-blue above, and the two canoes and the boat floating there
very small and distant like a kind of twisted H. And it made me feel sick
to squint up at it, and think what the pitching and swaying of the three
"It was just about the most horrible ten minutes I ever had, blundering
about in that darkness--pressure something awful, like being buried in
sand, pain across the chest, sick with funk, and breathing nothing as it
seemed but the smell of rum and mackintosh. Gummy! After a bit, I found
myself going up a steepish sort of slope. I had another squint to see if
anything was visible of the canoes and boats, and then kept on. I stopped
with my head a foot from the surface, and tried to see where I was going,
but, of course, nothing was to be seen but the reflection of the bottom.
Then out I dashed, like knocking my head through a mirror. Directly I got
my eyes out of the water, I saw I'd come up a kind of beach near the
forest. I had a look round, but the natives and the brig were both hidden
by a big hummucky heap of twisted lava. The born fool in me suggested a
run for the woods. I didn't take the helmet off, but I eased open one of
the windows, and, after a bit of a pant, went on out of the water. You'd
hardly imagine how clean and light the air tasted.
"Of course, with four inches of lead in your boot soles, and your head in
a copper knob the size of a football, and been thirty-five minutes under
water, you don't break any records running. I ran like a ploughboy going
to work. And half-way to the trees I saw a dozen niggers or more, coming
out in a gaping, astonished sort of way to meet me.
"I just stopped dead, and cursed myself for all the fools out of London. I
had about as much chance of cutting back to the water as a turned turtle.
I just screwed up my window again to leave my hands free, and waited for
them. There wasn't anything else for me to do.
"But they didn't come on very much. I began to suspect why. 'Jimmy
Goggles,' I says, 'it's your beauty does it.' I was inclined to be a
little lightheaded, I think, with all these dangers about and the change
in the pressure of the blessed air. 'Who're ye staring at?' I said, as if
the savages could hear me. 'What d'ye take me for? I'm hanged if I don't
give you something to stare at,' I said, and with that I screwed up the
escape valve and turned on the compressed air from the belt, until I was
swelled out like a blown frog. Regular imposing it must have been. I'm
blessed if they'd come on a step; and presently one and then another went
down on their hands and knees. They didn't know what to make of me, and
they was doing the extra polite, which was very wise and reasonable of
them. I had half a mind to edge back seaward and cut and run, but it
seemed too hopeless. A step back and they'd have been after me. And out of
sheer desperation I began to march towards them up the beach, with slow,
heavy steps, and waving my blown-out arms about, in a dignified manner.
And inside of me I was singing as small as a tomtit.
"But there's nothing like a striking appearance to help a man over a
difficulty,--I've found that before and since. People like ourselves,
who're up to diving dresses by the time we're seven, can scarcely imagine
the effect of one on a simple-minded savage. One or two of these niggers
cut and run, the others started in a great hurry trying to knock their
brains out on the ground. And on I went as slow and solemn and
silly-looking and artful as a jobbing plumber. It was evident they took
me for something immense.
"Then up jumped one and began pointing, making extraordinary gestures to
me as he did so, and all the others began sharing their attention between
me and something out at; sea. 'What's the matter now?' I said. I turned
slowly on account of my dignity, and there I saw, coming round a point,
the poor old _Pride of Banya_ towed by a couple of canoes. The sight
fairly made me sick. But they evidently expected some recognition, so I
waved my arms in a striking sort of non-committal manner. And then I
turned and stalked on towards the trees again. At that time I was praying
like mad, I remember, over and over again: 'Lord help me through with it!
Lord help me through with it!' It's only fools who know nothing of danger
can afford to laugh at praying."
"But these niggers weren't going to let me walk through and away like
that. They started a kind of bowing dance about me, and sort of pressed me
to take a pathway that lay through the trees. It was clear to me they
didn't take me for a British citizen, whatever else they thought of me,
and for my own part I was never less anxious to own up to the old country.
"You'd hardly believe it, perhaps, unless you're familiar with savages,
but these poor, misguided, ignorant creatures took me straight to their
kind of joss place to present me to the blessed old black stone there. By
this time I was beginning to sort of realise the depth of their ignorance,
and directly I set eyes on this deity I took my cue. I started a baritone
howl, 'wow-wow,' very long on one note, and began waving my arms about a
lot, and then very slowly and ceremoniously turned their image over on its
side and sat down on it. I wanted to sit down badly, for diving dresses
ain't much wear in the tropics. Or, to put it different like, they're a
sight too much. It took away their breath, I could see, my sitting on
their joss, but in less time than a minute they made up their minds and
were hard at work worshipping me. And I can tell you I felt a bit relieved
to see things turning out so well, in spite of the weight on my shoulders
"But what made me anxious was what the chaps in the canoes might think
when they came back. If they'd seen me in the boat before I went down, and
without the helmet on--for they might have been spying and hiding since
over night--they would very likely take a different view from the others.
I was in a deuce of a stew about that for hours, as it seemed, until the
shindy of the arrival began.
"But they took it down--the whole blessed village took it down. At the
cost of sitting up stiff and stern, as much like those sitting Egyptian
images one sees as I could manage, for pretty nearly twelve hours, I
should guess at least, on end, I got over it. You'd hardly think what it
meant in that heat and stink. I don't think any of them dreamt of the man
inside. I was just a wonderful leathery great joss that had come up with
luck out of the water. But the fatigue! the heat! the beastly closeness!
the mackintosheriness and the rum! and the fuss! They lit a stinking fire
on a kind of lava slab there was before me, and brought in a lot of gory
muck--the worst parts of what they were feasting on outside, the Beasts--
and burnt it all in my honour. I was getting a bit hungry, but I
understand now how gods manage to do without eating, what with the smell
of burnt-offerings about them. And they brought in a lot of the stuff
they'd got off the brig and, among other stuff, what I was a bit relieved
to see, the kind of pneumatic pump that was used for the compressed air
affair, and then a lot of chaps and girls came in and danced about me
something disgraceful. It's extraordinary the different ways different
people have of showing respect. If I'd had a hatchet handy I'd have gone
for the lot of them--they made me feel that wild. All this time I sat as
stiff as company, not knowing anything better to do. And at last, when
nightfall came, and the wattle joss-house place got a bit too shadowy for
their taste--all these here savages are afraid of the dark, you know--and
I started a sort of 'Moo' noise, they built big bonfires outside and left
me alone in peace in the darkness of my hut, free to unscrew my windows a
bit and think things over, and feel just as bad as I liked. And Lord! I
"I was weak and hungry, and my mind kept on behaving like a beetle on a
pin, tremendous activity and nothing done at the end of it. Come round
just where it was before. There was sorrowing for the other chaps, beastly
drunkards certainly, but not deserving such a fate, and young Sanders with
the spear through his neck wouldn't go out of my mind. There was the
treasure down there in the _Ocean Pioneer_, and how one might get it
and hide it somewhere safer, and get away and come back for it. And there
was the puzzle where to get anything to eat. I tell you I was fair
rambling. I was afraid to ask by signs for food, for fear of behaving too
human, and so there I sat and hungered until very near the dawn. Then the
village got a bit quiet, and I couldn't stand it any longer, and I went
out and got some stuff like artichokes in a bowl and some sour milk. What
was left of these I put away among the other offerings, just to give them
a hint of my tastes. And in the morning they came to worship, and found me
sitting up stiff and respectable on their previous god, just as they'd
left me overnight. I'd got my back against the central pillar of the hut,
and, practically, I was asleep. And that's how I became a god among the
heathen--false god, no doubt, and blasphemous, but one can't always pick
"Now, I don't want to crack myself up as a god beyond my merits, but I
must confess that while I was god to these people they was extraordinary
successful. I don't say there's anything in it, mind you. They won a
battle with another tribe--I got a lot of offerings I didn't want through
it--they had wonderful fishing, and their crop of pourra was exceptional
fine. And they counted the capture of the brig among the benefits I
brought 'em. I must say I don't think that was a poor record for a
perfectly new hand. And, though perhaps you'd scarcely credit it, I was
the tribal god of those beastly savages for pretty nearly four months...
"What else could I do, man? But I didn't wear that diving-dress all the
time. I made 'em rig me up a sort of holy of holies, and a deuce of a time
I had too, making them understand what it was I wanted them to do. That
indeed was the great difficulty--making them understand my wishes. I
couldn't let myself down by talking their lingo badly, even if I'd been
able to speak at all, and I couldn't go flapping a lot of gestures at
them. So I drew pictures in sand and sat down beside them and hooted like
one o'clock. Sometimes they did the things I wanted all right, and
sometimes they did them all wrong. They was always very willing,
certainly. All the while I was puzzling how I was to get the confounded
business settled. Every night before the dawn I used to march out in full
rig and go off to a place where I could see the channel in which the
_Ocean Pioneer_ lay sunk, and once even, one moonlight night, I tried
to walk out to her, but the weeds and rocks and dark clean beat me. I
didn't get back till full day, and then I found all those silly niggers
out on the beach praying their sea-god to return to them. I was that vexed
and tired, messing and tumbling about, and coming up and going down again,
I could have punched their silly heads all round when they started
rejoicing. Hanged if I like so much ceremony.
"And then came the missionary. That missionary! _What_ a Guy! Gummy!
It was in the afternoon, and I was sitting in state in my outer temple
place, sitting on that old black stone of theirs, when he came. I heard a
row outside and jabbering, and then his voice speaking to an interpreter.
'They worship stocks and stones,' he said, and I knew what was up, in a
flash. I had one of my windows out for comfort, and I sang out straight
away on the spur of the moment. 'Stocks and stones!' I says. 'You come
inside,' I says, 'and I'll punch your blooming Exeter Hall of a head.'
"There was a kind of silence and more jabbering, and in he came, Bible in
hand, after the manner of them--a little sandy chap in specks and a pith
helmet. I flatter myself that me sitting there in the shadows, with my
copper head and my big goggles, struck him a bit of a heap at first.
'Well,' I says, 'how's the trade in scissors?' for I don't hold with
"I had a lark with that missionary. He was a raw hand, and quite
outclassed by a man like me. He gasped out who was I, and I told him to
read the inscription at my feet if he wanted to know. There wasn't no
inscription; why should there be? but down he goes to read, and his
interpreter, being of course as superstitious as any of them, more so by
reason of his seeing missionary close to, took it for an act of worship
and plumped down like a shot. All my people gave a howl of triumph, and
there wasn't any more business to be done in my village after that
journey, not by the likes of him.
"But, of course, I was a fool to choke him off like that. If I'd had any
sense I should have told him straight away of the treasure and taken him
into Co. I've no doubt he'd have come into Co. A child, with a few hours
to think it over, could have seen the connection between my diving dress
and the loss of the _Ocean Pioneer_. A week after he left I went out
one morning and saw the _Motherhood_, the salver's ship from Starr
Race, towing up the channel and sounding. The whole blessed game was up,
and all my trouble thrown away. Gummy! How wild I felt! And guying it in
that stinking silly dress! Four months!"
The sunburnt man's story degenerated again. "Think of it," he said, when
he emerged to linguistic purity once more. "Forty thousand pounds' worth
"Did the little missionary come back?" I asked.
"Oh yes! bless him! And he pledged his reputation there was a man inside
the god, and started out to see as much with tremendous ceremony. But
wasn't--he got sold again. I always did hate scenes and explanations, and
long before he came I was out of it all--going home to Banya along the
coast, hiding in bushes by day, and thieving food from the villages by
night. Only weapon, a spear. No clothes, no money. Nothing. My face, my
fortune, as the saying is. And just a squeak of eight thousand pounds of
gold--fifth share. But the natives cut up rusty, thank goodness, because
they thought it was him had driven their luck away."
MISS WINCHELSEA'S HEART.
Miss Winchelsea was going to Rome. The matter had filled her mind for a
month or more, and had overflowed so abundantly into her conversation that
quite a number of people who were not going to Rome, and who were not
likely to go to Rome, had made it a personal grievance against her. Some
indeed had attempted quite unavailingly to convince her that Rome was not
nearly such a desirable place as it was reported to be, and others had
gone so far as to suggest behind her back that she was dreadfully "stuck
up" about "that Rome of hers." And little Lily Hardhurst had told her
friend Mr. Binns that so far as she was concerned Miss Winchelsea might
"go to her old Rome and stop there; _she_ (Miss Lily Hardhurst)
wouldn't grieve." And the way in which Miss Winchelsea put herself upon
terms of personal tenderness with Horace and Benvenuto Cellini and Raphael
and Shelley and Keats--if she had been Shelley's widow she could not have
professed a keener interest in his grave--was a matter of universal
astonishment. Her dress was a triumph of tactful discretion, sensible, but
not too "touristy"'--Miss Winchelsea had a great dread of being
"touristy"--and her Baedeker was carried in a cover of grey to hide its
glaring red. She made a prim and pleasant little figure on the Charing
Cross platform, in spite of her swelling pride, when at last the great day
dawned, and she could start for Rome. The day was bright, the Channel
passage would be pleasant, and all the omens promised well. There was the
gayest sense of adventure in this unprecedented departure.
She was going with two friends who had been fellow-students with her at
the training college, nice honest girls both, though not so good at
history and literature as Miss Winchelsea. They both looked up to her
immensely, though physically they had to look down, and she anticipated
some pleasant times to be spent in "stirring them up" to her own pitch of
AEsthetic and historical enthusiasm. They had secured seats already, and
welcomed her effusively at the carriage door. In the instant criticism of
the encounter she noted that Fanny had a slightly "touristy" leather
strap, and that Helen had succumbed to a serge jacket with side pockets,
into which her hands were thrust. But they were much too happy with
themselves and the expedition for their friend to attempt any hint at the
moment about these things. As soon as the first ecstasies were over--
Fanny's enthusiasm was a little noisy and crude, and consisted mainly
in emphatic repetitions of "Just _fancy_! we're going to Rome, my
dear!--Rome!"--they gave their attention to their fellow-travellers. Helen
was anxious to secure a compartment to themselves, and, in order to
discourage intruders, got out and planted herself firmly on the step. Miss
Winchelsea peeped out over her shoulder, and made sly little remarks about
the accumulating people on the platform, at which Fanny laughed gleefully.
They were travelling with one of Mr. Thomas Gunn's parties--fourteen days
in Rome for fourteen pounds. They did not belong to the personally
conducted party, of course--Miss Winchelsea had seen to that--but they
travelled with it because of the convenience of that arrangement. The
people were the oddest mixture, and wonderfully amusing. There was a
vociferous red-faced polyglot personal conductor in a pepper-and-salt
suit, very long in the arms and legs and very active. He shouted
proclamations. When he wanted to speak to people he stretched out an arm
and held them until his purpose was accomplished. One hand was full of
papers, tickets, counterfoils of tourists. The people of the personally
conducted party were, it seemed, of two sorts; people the conductor wanted
and could not find, and people he did not want and who followed him in a
steadily growing tail up and down the platform. These people seemed,
indeed, to think that their one chance of reaching Rome lay in keeping
close to him. Three little old ladies were particularly energetic in his
pursuit, and at last maddened him to the pitch of clapping them into a
carriage and daring them to emerge again. For the rest of the time, one,
two, or three of their heads protruded from the window wailing inquiries
about "a little wicker-work box" whenever he drew near. There was a very
stout man with a very stout wife in shiny black; there was a little old
man like an aged hostler.
"What _can_ such people want in Rome?" asked Miss Winchelsea. "What
can it mean to them?" There was a very tall curate in a very small straw
hat, and a very short curate encumbered by a long camera stand. The
contrast amused Fanny very much. Once they heard some one calling for
"Snooks." "I always thought that name was invented by novelists," said
Miss Winchelsea. "Fancy! Snooks. I wonder which _is_ Mr. Snooks."
Finally they picked out a very stout and resolute little man in a large
check suit. "If he isn't Snooks, he ought to be," said Miss Winchelsea.
Presently the conductor discovered Helen's attempt at a corner in
carriages. "Room for five," he bawled with a parallel translation on his
fingers. A party of four together--mother, father, and two daughters--
blundered in, all greatly excited. "It's all right, Ma--you let me," said
one of the daughters, hitting her mother's bonnet with a handbag she
struggled to put in the rack. Miss Winchelsea detested people who banged
about and called their mother "Ma." A young man travelling alone followed.
He was not at all "touristy" in his costume, Miss Winchelsea observed; his
Gladstone bag was of good pleasant leather with labels reminiscent of
Luxembourg and Ostend, and his boots, though brown, were not vulgar. He
carried an overcoat on his arm. Before these people had properly settled
in their places, came an inspection of tickets and a slamming of doors,
and behold! they were gliding out of Charing Cross Station on their way to
"Fancy!" cried Fanny, "we are going to Rome, my dear! Rome! I don't seem
to believe it, even now."
Miss Winchelsea suppressed Fanny's emotions with a little smile, and the
lady who was called "Ma" explained to people in general why they had "cut
it so close" at the station. The two daughters called her "Ma" several
times, toned her down in a tactless, effective way, and drove her at last
to the muttered inventory of a basket of travelling requisites. Presently
she looked up. "Lor!" she said, "I didn't bring _them_!" Both the
daughters said "Oh, Ma!" But what "them" was did not appear.
Presently Fanny produced Hare's _Walks in Rome_, a sort of mitigated
guide-book very popular among Roman visitors; and the father of the two
daughters began to examine his books of tickets minutely, apparently in a
search after English words. When he had looked at the tickets for a long
time right way up, he turned them upside down. Then he produced a fountain
pen and dated them with considerable care. The young man having completed
an unostentatious survey of his fellow-travellers produced a book and fell
to reading. When Helen and Fanny were looking out of the window at
Chislehurst--the place interested Fanny because the poor dear Empress of
the French used to live there--Miss Winchelsea took the opportunity to
observe the book the young man held. It was not a guide-book but a little
thin volume of poetry--_bound_. She glanced at his face--it seemed a
refined, pleasant face to her hasty glance. He wore a little gilt
_pince-nez_. "Do you think she lives there now?" said Fanny, and Miss
Winchelsea's inspection came to an end.
For the rest of the journey Miss Winchelsea talked little, and what she
said was as agreeable and as stamped with refinement as she could make it.
Her voice was always low and clear and pleasant, and she took care that on
this occasion it was particularly low and clear and pleasant. As they came
under the white cliffs the young man put his book of poetry away, and when
at last the train stopped beside the boat, he displayed a graceful
alacrity with the impedimenta of Miss Winchelsea and her friends. Miss
Winchelsea "hated nonsense," but she was pleased to see the young man
perceived at once that they were ladies, and helped them without any
violent geniality; and how nicely he showed that his civilities were to be
no excuse for further intrusions. None of her little party had been out of
England before, and they were all excited and a little nervous at the
Channel passage. They stood in a little group in a good place near the
middle of the boat--the young man had taken Miss Winchelsea's carry-all
there and had told her it was a good place--and they watched the white
shores of Albion recede and quoted Shakespeare and made quiet fun of their
fellow-travellers in the English way.
They were particularly amused at the precautions the bigger-sized people
had taken against the little waves--cut lemons and flasks prevailed, one
lady lay full length in a deck chair with a handkerchief over her face,
and a very broad resolute man in a bright brown "touristy" suit walked all
the way from England to France along the deck, with his legs as widely
apart as Providence permitted. These were all excellent precautions, and
nobody was ill. The personally-conducted party pursued the conductor about
the deck with inquiries, in a manner that suggested to Helen's mind the
rather vulgar image of hens with a piece of bacon rind, until at last he
went into hiding below. And the young man with the thin volume of poetry
stood at the stern watching England receding, looking rather lonely and
sad to Miss Winchelsea's eye.
And then came Calais and tumultuous novelties, and the young man had not
forgotten Miss Winchelsea's hold-all and the other little things. All
three girls, though they had passed Government examinations in French to
any extent, were stricken with a dumb shame of their accents, and the
young man was very useful. And he did not intrude. He put them in a
comfortable carriage and raised his hat and went away. Miss Winchelsea
thanked him in her best manner--a pleasing, cultivated manner--and Fanny
said he was "nice" almost before he was out of earshot. "I wonder what he
can be," said Helen. "He's going to Italy, because I noticed green tickets
in his book." Miss Winchelsea almost told them of the poetry, and decided
not to do so. And presently the carriage windows seized hold upon them and
the young man was forgotten. It made them feel that they were doing an
educated sort of thing to travel through a country whose commonest
advertisements were in idiomatic French, and Miss Winchelsea made
unpatriotic comparisons because there were weedy little sign-board
advertisements by the rail side instead of the broad hoardings that deface
the landscape in our land. But the north of France is really uninteresting
country, and after a time Fanny reverted to Hare's _Walks_, and Helen
initiated lunch. Miss Winchelsea awoke out of a happy reverie; she had
been trying to realise, she said, that she was actually going to Rome, but
she perceived at Helen's suggestion that she was hungry, and they lunched
out of their baskets very cheerfully. In the afternoon they were tired and
silent until Helen made tea. Miss Winchelsea might have dozed, only she
knew Fanny slept with her mouth open; and as their fellow-passengers were
two rather nice, critical-looking ladies of uncertain age--who knew French
well enough to talk it--she employed herself in keeping Fanny awake. The
rhythm of the train became insistent, and the streaming landscape outside
became at last quite painful to the eye. They were already dreadfully
tired of travelling before their night's stoppage came.
The stoppage for the night was brightened by the appearance of the young
man, and his manners were all that could be desired and his French quite
His coupons availed for the same hotel as theirs, and by chance, as it
seemed, he sat next Miss Winchelsea at the _table d'hote._ In spite
of her enthusiasm for Rome, she had thought out some such possibility very
thoroughly, and when he ventured to make a remark upon the tediousness of
travelling--he let the soup and fish go by before he did this--she did not
simply assent to his proposition, but responded with another. They were
soon comparing their journeys, and Helen and Fanny were cruelly overlooked
in the conversation.. It was to be the same journey, they found; one day
for the galleries at Florence--"from what I hear," said the young man, "it
is barely enough,"--and the rest at Rome. He talked of Rome very
pleasantly; he was evidently quite well read, and he quoted Horace about
Soracte. Miss Winchelsea had "done" that book of Horace for her
matriculation, and was delighted to cap his quotation. It gave a sort of
tone to things, this incident--a touch of refinement to mere chatting.
Fanny expressed a few emotions, and Helen interpolated a few sensible
remarks, but the bulk of the talk on the girls' side naturally fell to
Before they reached Rome this young man was tacitly of their party. They
did not know his name nor what he was, but it seemed he taught, and Miss
Winchelsea had a shrewd idea he was an extension lecturer. At any rate he
was something of that sort, something gentlemanly and refined without
being opulent and impossible. She tried once or twice to ascertain whether
he came from Oxford or Cambridge, but he missed her timid opportunities.
She tried to get him to make remarks about those places to see if he would
say "come up" to them instead of "go down,"--she knew that was how you
told a 'Varsity man. He used the word "'Varsity"--not university--in quite
the proper way.
They saw as much of Mr. Ruskin's Florence as the brief time permitted; he
met them in the Pitti Gallery and went round with them, chatting brightly,
and evidently very grateful for their recognition. He knew a great deal
about art, and all four enjoyed the morning immensely. It was fine to go
round recognising old favourites and finding new beauties, especially
while so many people fumbled helplessly with Baedeker. Nor was he a bit of
a prig, Miss Winchelsea said, and indeed she detested prigs. He had a
distinct undertone of humour, and was funny, for example, without being
vulgar, at the expense of the quaint work of Beato Angelico. He had a
grave seriousness beneath it all, and was quick to seize the moral lessons
of the pictures. Fanny went softly among these masterpieces; she admitted
"she knew so little about them," and she confessed that to her they were
"all beautiful." Fanny's "beautiful" inclined to be a little monotonous,
Miss Winchelsea thought. She had been quite glad when the last sunny Alp
had vanished, because of the staccato of Fanny's admiration. Helen said
little, but Miss Winchelsea had found her a trifle wanting on the
aesthetic side in the old days and was not surprised; sometimes she
laughed at the young man's hesitating, delicate jests and sometimes she
didn't, and sometimes she seemed quite lost to the art about them in the
contemplation of the dresses of the other visitors.
At Rome the young man was with them intermittently. A rather "touristy"
friend of his took him away at times. He complained comically to Miss
Winchelsea. "I have only two short weeks in Rome," he said, "and my friend
Leonard wants to spend a whole day at Tivoli looking at a waterfall."
"What is your friend Leonard?" asked Miss Winchelsea abruptly.
"He's the most enthusiastic pedestrian I ever met," the young man
replied--amusingly, but a little unsatisfactorily, Miss Winchelsea
They had some glorious times, and Fanny could not think what they would
have done without him. Miss Winchelsea's interest and Fanny's enormous
capacity for admiration were insatiable. They never flagged--through
pictures and sculpture galleries, immense crowded churches, ruins and
museums, Judas trees and prickly pears, wine carts and palaces, they
admired their way unflinchingly. They never saw a stone pine or a
eucalyptus but they named and admired it; they never glimpsed Soracte but
they exclaimed. Their common ways were made wonderful by imaginative play.
"Here Caesar may have walked," they would say. "Raphael may have seen
Soracte from this very point." They happened on the tomb of Bibulus. "Old
Bibulus," said the young man. "The oldest monument of Republican Rome!"
said Miss Winchelsea.
"I'm dreadfully stupid," said Fanny, "but who _was_ Bibulus?"
There was a curious little pause.
"Wasn't he the person who built the wall?" said Helen.
The young man glanced quickly at her and laughed. "That was Balbus," he
said. Helen reddened, but neither he nor Miss Winchelsea threw any light
upon Fanny's ignorance about Bibulus.
Helen was more taciturn than the other three, but then she was always
taciturn, and usually she took care of the tram tickets and things like
that, or kept her eye on them if the young man took them, and told him
where they were when he wanted them. Glorious times they had, these young
people, in that pale brown cleanly city of memories that was once the
world. Their only sorrow was the shortness of the time. They said indeed
that the electric trams and the '70 buildings, and that criminal
advertisement that glares upon the Forum, outraged their aesthetic
feelings unspeakably; but that was only part of the fun. And indeed Rome
is such a wonderful place that it made Miss Winchelsea forget some of her
most carefully prepared enthusiasms at times, and Helen, taken unawares,
would suddenly admit the beauty of unexpected things. Yet Fanny and Helen
would have liked a shop window or so in the English quarter if Miss
Winchelsea's uncompromising hostility to all other English visitors had
not rendered that district impossible.
The intellectual and aesthetic fellowship of Miss Winchelsea and the
scholarly young man passed insensibly towards a deeper feeling. The
exuberant Fanny did her best to keep pace with their recondite admiration
by playing her "beautiful" with vigour, and saying "Oh! _let's_ go,"
with enormous appetite whenever a new place of interest was mentioned. But
Helen developed a certain want of sympathy towards the end that
disappointed Miss Winchelsea a little. She refused to see "anything" in
the face of Beatrice Cenci--Shelley's Beatrice Cenci!--in the Barberini
Gallery; and one day, when they were deploring the electric trams, she
said rather snappishly that "people must get about somehow, and it's
better than torturing horses up these horrid little hills." She spoke of
the Seven Hills of Rome as "horrid little hills "!
And the day they went on the Palatine--though Miss Winchelsea did not know
of this--she remarked suddenly to Fanny, "Don't hurry like that, my dear;
_they_ don't want us to overtake them. And we don't say the right
things for them when we _do_ get near."
"I wasn't trying to overtake them," said Fanny, slackening her excessive
pace; "I wasn't indeed." And for a minute she was short of breath.
But Miss Winchelsea had come upon happiness. It was only when she came to
look back across an intervening tragedy that she quite realised how happy
she had been pacing among the cypress-shadowed ruins, and exchanging the
very highest class of information the human mind can possess, the most
refined impressions it is possible to convey. Insensibly emotion crept
into their intercourse, sunning itself openly and pleasantly at last when
Helen's modernity was not too near. Insensibly their interest drifted from
the wonderful associations about them to their more intimate and personal
feelings. In a tentative way information was supplied; she spoke
allusively of her school, of her examination successes, of her gladness
that the days of "Cram" were over. He made it quite clear that he also was
a teacher. They spoke of the greatness of their calling, of the necessity
of sympathy to face its irksome details, of a certain loneliness they
That was in the Colosseum, and it was as far as they got that day, because
Helen returned with Fanny--she had taken her into the upper galleries. Yet
the private dreams of Miss Winchelsea, already vivid and concrete enough,
became now realistic in the highest degree. She figured that pleasant
young man lecturing in the most edifying way to his students, herself
modestly prominent as his intellectual mate and helper; she figured a
refined little home, with two bureaus, with white shelves of high-class
books, and autotypes of the pictures of Rossetti and Burne Jones, with
Morris's wall-papers and flowers in pots of beaten copper. Indeed she
figured many things. On the Pincio the two had a few precious moments
together, while Helen marched Fanny off to see the _muro Torto_, and
he spoke at once plainly. He said he hoped their friendship was only
beginning, that he already found her company very precious to him, that
indeed it was more than that.
He became nervous, thrusting at his glasses with trembling fingers as
though he fancied his emotions made them unstable. "I should of course,"
he said, "tell you things about myself. I know it is rather unusual my
speaking to you like this. Only our meeting has been so accidental--or
providential--and I am snatching at things. I came to Rome expecting a
lonely tour ... and I have been so very happy, so very happy. Quite
recently I have found myself in a position--I have dared to think----,
He glanced over his shoulder and stopped. He said "Demn!" quite
distinctly--and she did not condemn him for that manly lapse into
profanity. She looked and saw his friend Leonard advancing. He drew
nearer; he raised his hat to Miss Winchelsea, and his smile was almost a
grin. "I've been looking for you everywhere, Snooks," he said. "You
promised to be on the Piazza steps half-an-hour ago."
Snooks! The name struck Miss Winchelsea like a blow in the face. She did
not hear his reply. She thought afterwards that Leonard must have
considered her the vaguest-minded person. To this day she is not sure
whether she was introduced to Leonard or not, nor what she said to him. A
sort of mental paralysis was upon her. Of all offensive surnames--Snooks!
Helen and Fanny were returning, there were civilities, and the young men
were receding. By a great effort she controlled herself to face the
inquiring eyes of her friends. All that afternoon she lived the life of a
heroine under the indescribable outrage of that name, chatting, observing,
with "Snooks" gnawing at her heart. From the moment that it first rang
upon her ears, the dream of her happiness was prostrate in the dust. All
the refinement she had figured was ruined and defaced by that cognomen's
What was that refined little home to her now, spite of autotypes, Morris
papers, and bureaus? Athwart it in letters of fire ran an incredible
inscription: "Mrs. Snooks." That may seem a little thing to the reader,
but consider the delicate refinement of Miss Winchelsea's mind. Be as
refined as you can and then think of writing yourself down:--"Snooks." She
conceived herself being addressed as Mrs. Snooks by all the people she
liked least, conceived the patronymic touched with a vague quality of
insult. She figured a card of grey and silver bearing 'Winchelsea'
triumphantly effaced by an arrow, Cupid's arrow, in favour of "Snooks."
Degrading confession of feminine weakness! She imagined the terrible
rejoicings of certain girl friends, of certain grocer cousins from whom
her growing refinement had long since estranged her. How they would make
it sprawl across the envelope that would bring their sarcastic
congratulations. Would even his pleasant company compensate her for that?
"It is impossible," she muttered; "impossible! _Snooks!_"
She was sorry for him, but not so sorry as she was for herself. For him
she had a touch of indignation. To be so nice, so refined, while all the
time he was "Snooks," to hide under a pretentious gentility of demeanour
the badge sinister of his surname seemed a sort of treachery. To put it in
the language of sentimental science she felt he had "led her on."
There were, of course, moments of terrible vacillation, a period even when
something almost like passion bid her throw refinement to the winds. And
there was something in her, an unexpurgated vestige of vulgarity that made
a strenuous attempt at proving that Snooks was not so very bad a name
after all. Any hovering hesitation flew before Fanny's manner, when Fanny
came with an air of catastrophe to tell that she also knew the horror.
Fanny's voice fell to a whisper when she said _Snooks_. Miss
Winchelsea would not give him any answer when at last, in the Borghese,
she could have a minute with him; but she promised him a note.
She handed him that note in the little book of poetry he had lent her, the
little book that had first drawn them together. Her refusal was ambiguous,
allusive. She could no more tell him why she rejected him than she could
have told a cripple of his hump. He too must feel something of the
unspeakable quality of his name. Indeed he had avoided a dozen chances of
telling it, she now perceived. So she spoke of "obstacles she could not
reveal"--"reasons why the thing he spoke of was impossible." She addressed
the note with a shiver, "E.K. Snooks."
Things were worse than she had dreaded; he asked her to explain. How
_could_ she explain? Those last two days in Rome were dreadful. She
was haunted by his air of astonished perplexity. She knew she had given
him intimate hopes, she had not the courage to examine her mind thoroughly
for the extent of her encouragement. She knew he must think her the most
changeable of beings. Now that she was in full retreat, she would not even
perceive his hints of a possible correspondence. But in that matter he did
a thing that seemed to her at once delicate and romantic. He made a
go-between of Fanny. Fanny could not keep the secret, and came and told
her that night under a transparent pretext of needed advice. "Mr. Snooks,"
said Fanny, "wants to write to me. Fancy! I had no idea. But should I let
him?" They talked it over long and earnestly, and Miss Winchelsea was
careful to keep the veil over her heart. She was already repenting his
disregarded hints. Why should she not hear of him sometimes--painful
though his name must be to her? Miss Winchelsea decided it might be
permitted, and Fanny kissed her good-night with unusual emotion. After she
had gone Miss Winchelsea sat for a long time at the window of her little
room. It was moonlight, and down the street a man sang "Santa Lucia" with
almost heart-dissolving tenderness... She sat very still.
She breathed a word very softly to herself. The word was "_Snooks_."
Then she got up with a profound sigh, and went to bed. The next morning he
said to her meaningly, "I shall hear of you through your friend."
Mr. Snooks saw them off from Rome with that pathetic interrogative
perplexity still on his face, and if it had not been for Helen he would
have retained Miss Winchelsea's hold-all in his hand as a sort of
encyclopaedic keepsake. On their way back to England Miss Winchelsea on
six separate occasions made Fanny promise to write to her the longest of
long letters. Fanny, it seemed, would be quite near Mr. Snooks. Her new
school--she was always going to new schools--would be only five miles from
Steely Bank, and it was in the Steely Bank Polytechnic, and one or two
first-class schools, that Mr. Snooks did his teaching. He might even see
her at times. They could not talk much of him--she and Fanny always spoke
of "him," never of Mr. Snooks--because Helen was apt to say unsympathetic
things about him. Her nature had coarsened very much, Miss Winchelsea
perceived, since the old Training College days; she had become hard and
cynical. She thought he had a weak face, mistaking refinement for weakness
as people of her stamp are apt to do, and when she heard his name was
Snooks, she said she had expected something of the sort. Miss Winchelsea
was careful to spare her own feelings after that, but Fanny was less
The girls parted in London, and Miss Winchelsea returned, with a new
interest in life, to the Girls' High School in which she had been an
increasingly valuable assistant for the last three years. Her new interest
in life was Fanny as a correspondent, and to give her a lead she wrote her
a lengthy descriptive letter within a fortnight of her return. Fanny
answered, very disappointingly. Fanny indeed had no literary gift, but it
was new to Miss Winchelsea to find herself deploring the want of gifts in
a friend. That letter was even criticised aloud in the safe solitude of
Miss Winchelsea's study, and her criticism, spoken with great bitterness,
was "Twaddle!" It was full of just the things Miss Winchelsea's letter had
been full of, particulars of the school. And of Mr. Snooks, only this
much: "I have had a letter from Mr. Snooks, and he has been over to see me
on two Saturday afternoons running. He talked about Rome and you; we both
talked about you. Your ears must have burnt, my dear..."
Miss Winchelsea repressed a desire to demand more explicit information,
and wrote the sweetest, long letter again. "Tell me all about yourself,
dear. That journey has quite refreshed our ancient friendship, and I do so
want to keep in touch with you." About Mr. Snooks she simply wrote on the
fifth page that she was glad Fanny had seen him, and that if he
_should_ ask after her, she was to be remembered to him _very
kindly_ (underlined). And Fanny replied most obtusely in the key of
that "ancient friendship," reminding Miss Winchelsea of a dozen foolish
things of those old schoolgirl days at the Training College, and saying
not a word about Mr. Snooks!
For nearly a week Miss Winchelsea was so angry at the failure of Fanny as
a go-between that she could not write to her. And then she wrote less
effusively, and in her letter she asked point-blank, "Have you seen Mr.
Snooks?" Fanny's letter was unexpectedly satisfactory. "I _have_ seen
Mr. Snooks," she wrote, and having once named him she kept on about him;
it was all Snooks--Snooks this and Snooks that. He was to give a public
lecture, said Fanny, among other things. Yet Miss Winchelsea, after the
first glow of gratification, still found this letter a little
unsatisfactory. Fanny did not report Mr. Snooks as saying anything about
Miss Winchelsea, nor as looking a little white and worn, as he ought to
have been doing. And behold! before she had replied, came a second letter
from Fanny on the same theme, quite a gushing letter, and covering six
sheets with her loose feminine hand.
And about this second letter was a rather odd little thing that Miss
Winchelsea only noticed as she re-read it the third time. Fanny's natural
femininity had prevailed even against the round and clear traditions of
the Training College; she was one of those she-creatures born to
make all her _m'_s and _n'_s and _u'_s and _r'_s and _e'_s
alike, and to leave her _o'_s and _a'_s open and her _i'_s
undotted. So that it was only after an elaborate comparison of word with
word that Miss Winchelsea felt assured Mr. Snooks was not really "Mr.
Snooks" at all! In Fanny's first letter of gush he was Mr. "Snooks," in
her second the spelling was changed to Mr. "Senoks." Miss Winchelsea's
hand positively trembled as she turned the sheet over--it meant so much to
her. For it had already begun to seem to her that even the name of Mrs.
Snooks might be avoided at too great a price, and suddenly--this
possibility! She turned over the six sheets, all dappled with that
critical name, and everywhere the first letter had the form of an
_e_! For a time she walked the room with a hand pressed upon her
She spent a whole day pondering this change, weighing a letter of inquiry
that should be at once discreet and effectual; weighing, too, what action
she should take after the answer came. She was resolved that if this
altered spelling was anything more than a quaint fancy of Fanny's, she
would write forthwith to Mr. Snooks. She had now reached a stage when the
minor refinements of behaviour disappear. Her excuse remained uninvented,
but she had the subject of her letter clear in her mind, even to the hint
that "circumstances in my life have changed very greatly since we talked
together." But she never gave that hint. There came a third letter from
that fitful correspondent Fanny. The first line proclaimed her "the
happiest girl alive."
Miss Winchelsea crushed the letter in her hand--the rest unread--and sat
with her face suddenly very still. She had received it just before morning
school, and had opened it when the junior mathematicians were well under
way. Presently she resumed reading with an appearance of great calm. But
after the first sheet she went on reading the third without discovering
the error:--"told him frankly I did not like his name," the third sheet
began. "He told me he did not like it himself--you know that sort of
sudden, frank way he has"--Miss Winchelsea did know. "So I said, 'couldn't
you change it?' He didn't see it at first. Well, you know, dear, he had
told me what it really meant; it means Sevenoaks, only it has got down to
Snooks--both Snooks and Noaks, dreadfully vulgar surnames though they be,
are really worn forms of Sevenoaks. So I said--even I have my bright ideas
at times--'If it got down from Sevenoaks to Snooks, why not get it back
from Snooks to Sevenoaks?' And the long and the short of it is, dear, he
couldn't refuse me, and he changed his spelling there and then to Senoks
for the bills of the new lecture. And afterwards, when we are married, we
shall put in the apostrophe and make it Se'noks. Wasn't it kind of him to
mind that fancy of mine, when many men would have taken offence? But it is
just like him all over; he is as kind as he is clever. Because he knew as
well as I did that I would have had him in spite of it, had he been ten
times Snooks. But he did it all the same."
The class was startled by the sound of paper being viciously torn, and
looked up to see Miss Winchelsea white in the face and with some very
small pieces of paper clenched in one hand. For a few seconds they stared
at her stare, and then her expression changed back to a more familiar one.
"Has any one finished number three?" she asked in an even tone. She
remained calm after that. But impositions ruled high that day. And she
spent two laborious evenings writing letters of various sorts to Fanny,
before she found a decent congratulatory vein. Her reason struggled
hopelessly against the persuasion that Fanny had behaved in an exceedingly
One may be extremely refined and still capable of a very sore heart.
Certainly Miss Winchelsea's heart was very sore. She had moods of sexual
hostility, in which she generalised uncharitably about mankind. "He forgot
himself with me," she said. "But Fanny is pink and pretty and soft and a
fool--a very excellent match for a Man." And by way of a wedding present
she sent Fanny a gracefully bound volume of poetry by George Meredith, and
Fanny wrote back a grossly happy letter to say that it was "_all_
beautiful." Miss Winchelsea hoped that some day Mr. Senoks might take up
that slim book and think for a moment of the donor. Fanny wrote several
times before and about her marriage, pursuing that fond legend of their
"ancient friendship," and giving her happiness in the fullest detail. And
Miss Winchelsea wrote to Helen for the first time after the Roman journey,
saying nothing about the marriage, but expressing very cordial feelings.
They had been in Rome at Easter, and Fanny was married in the August
vacation. She wrote a garrulous letter to Miss Winchelsea, describing her
home-coming and the astonishing arrangements of their "teeny, weeny"
little house. Mr. Se'noks was now beginning to assume a refinement in Miss
Winchelsea's memory out of all proportion to the facts of the case, and
she tried in vain to imagine his cultured greatness in a "teeny weeny"
little house. "Am busy enamelling a cosy corner," said Fanny, sprawling to
the end of her third sheet, "so excuse more." Miss Winchelsea answered in
her best style, gently poking fun at Fanny's arrangements, and hoping
intensely that Mr. Se'noks might see the letter. Only this hope enabled
her to write at all, answering not only that letter but one in November
and one at Christmas.
The two latter communications contained urgent invitations for her to come
to Steely Bank on a visit during the Christmas holidays. She tried to
think that _he_ had told her to ask that, but it was too much like
Fanny's opulent good-nature. She could not but believe that he must be
sick of his blunder by this time; and she had more than a hope that he
would presently write her a letter beginning "Dear Friend." Something
subtly tragic in the separation was a great support to her, a sad
misunderstanding. To have been jilted would have been intolerable. But he
never wrote that letter beginning "Dear Friend."
For two years Miss Winchelsea could not go to see her friends, in spite of
the reiterated invitations of Mrs. Sevenoaks--it became full Sevenoaks in
the second year. Then one day near the Easter rest she felt lonely and
without a soul to understand her in the world, and her mind ran once more
on what is called Platonic friendship. Fanny was clearly happy and busy in
her new sphere of domesticity, but no doubt _he_ had his lonely
hours. Did he ever think of those days in Rome, gone now beyond recalling?
No one had understood her as he had done; no one in all the world. It
would be a sort of melancholy pleasure to talk to him again, and what harm
could it do? Why should she deny herself? That night she wrote a sonnet,
all but the last two lines of the octave--which would not come; and the
next day she composed a graceful little note to tell Fanny she was coming
And so she saw him again.
Even at the first encounter it was evident he had changed; he seemed
stouter and less nervous, and it speedily appeared that his conversation
had already lost much of its old delicacy. There even seemed a
justification for Helen's description of weakness in his face--in certain
lights it _was_ weak. He seemed busy and preoccupied about his
affairs, and almost under the impression that Miss Winchelsea had come for
the sake of Fanny. He discussed his dinner with Fanny in an intelligent
way. They only had one good long talk together, and that came to nothing.
He did not refer to Rome, and spent some time abusing a man who had stolen
an idea he had had for a text-book. It did not seem a very wonderful idea
to Miss Winchelsea. She discovered he had forgotten the names of more than
half the painters whose work they had rejoiced over in Florence.
It was a sadly disappointing week, and Miss Winchelsea was glad when it
came to an end. Under various excuses she avoided visiting them again.
After a time the visitor's room was occupied by their two little boys, and
Fanny's invitations ceased. The intimacy of her letters had long since
A DREAM OF ARMAGEDDON.
The man with the white face entered the carriage at Rugby. He moved slowly
in spite of the urgency of his porter, and even while he was still on the
platform I noted how ill he seemed. He dropped into the corner over
against me with a sigh, made an incomplete attempt to arrange his
travelling shawl, and became motionless, with his eyes staring vacantly.
Presently he was moved by a sense of my observation, looked up at me, and
put out a spiritless hand for his newspaper. Then he glanced again in my
I feigned to read. I feared I had unwittingly embarrassed him, and in a
moment I was surprised to find him speaking.
"I beg your pardon?" said I.
"That book," he repeated, pointing a lean finger, "is about dreams."
"Obviously," I answered, for it was Fortnum-Roscoe's _Dream States_,
and the title was on the cover.
He hung silent for a space as if he sought words. "Yes," he said, at last,
"but they tell you nothing."
I did not catch his meaning for a second.
"They don't know," he added.
I looked a little more attentively at his face.
"There are dreams," he said, "and dreams." That sort of proposition I
never dispute. "I suppose----" he hesitated. "Do you ever dream? I mean
"I dream very little," I answered. "I doubt if I have three vivid dreams
in a year."
"Ah!" he said, and seemed for a moment to collect his thoughts.
"Your dreams don't mix with your memories?" he asked abruptly. "You don't
find yourself in doubt: did this happen or did it not?"
"Hardly ever. Except just for a momentary hesitation now and then. I
suppose few people do."
"Does _he_ say----" he indicated the book.
"Says it happens at times and gives the usual explanation about intensity
of impression and the like to account for its not happening as a rule. I
suppose you know something of these theories----"
"Very little--except that they are wrong."
His emaciated hand played with the strap of the window for a time. I
prepared to resume reading, and that seemed to precipitate his next
remark. He leant forward almost as though he would touch me.
"Isn't there something called consecutive dreaming--that goes on night
"I believe there is. There are cases given in most books on mental
"Mental trouble! Yes. I daresay there are. It's the right place for them.
But what I mean----" He looked at his bony knuckles. "Is that sort of
thing always dreaming? _Is_ it dreaming? Or is it something else?
Mightn't it be something else?"
I should have snubbed his persistent conversation but for the drawn
anxiety of his face. I remember now the look of his faded eyes and the
lids red stained--perhaps you know that look.
"I'm not just arguing about a matter of opinion," he said. "The thing's
"If you call them dreams. Night after night. Vivid!--so vivid ... this--"
(he indicated the landscape that went streaming by the window) "seems
unreal in comparison! I can scarcely remember who I am, what business I am
He paused. "Even now--"
"The dream is always the same--do you mean?" I asked.
"Smashed and killed, and now so much of me as that dream was is dead. Dead
for ever. I dreamt I was another man, you know, living in a different part
of the world and in a different time. I dreamt that night after night.
Night after night I woke into that other life. Fresh scenes and fresh
happenings--until I came upon the last--"
"When you died?"
"When I died."
"And since then--"
"No," he said. "Thank God! that was the end of the dream..."
It was clear I was in for this dream. And, after all, I had an hour before
me, the light was fading fast, and Fortnum-Roscoe has a dreary way with
him. "Living in a different time," I said: "do you mean in some different
"No, to come--to come."
"The year three thousand, for example?"
"I don't know what year it was. I did when I was asleep, when I was
dreaming, that is, but not now--not now that I am awake. There's a lot of
things I have forgotten since I woke out of these dreams, though I knew
them at the time when I was--I suppose it was dreaming. They called the
year differently from our way of calling the year... What _did_ they
call it?" He put his hand to his forehead. "No," said he, "I forget."
He sat smiling weakly. For a moment I feared he did not mean to tell me
his dream. As a rule, I hate people who tell their dreams, but this struck
me differently. I proffered assistance even. "It began----" I suggested.
"It was vivid from the first. I seemed to wake up in it suddenly. And it's
curious that in these dreams I am speaking of I never remembered this life
I am living now. It seemed as if the dream life was enough while it
lasted. Perhaps----But I will tell you how I find myself when I do my
best to recall it all. I don't remember anything clearly until I found
myself sitting in a sort of loggia looking out over the sea. I had been
dozing, and suddenly I woke up--fresh and vivid--not a bit dreamlike--
because the girl had stopped fanning me."
"Yes, the girl. You must not interrupt or you will put me out."
He stopped abruptly. "You won't think I'm mad?" he said.
"No," I answered; "you've been dreaming. Tell me your dream."
"I woke up, I say, because the girl had stopped fanning me. I was not
surprised to find myself there or anything of that sort, you understand. I
did not feel I had fallen into it suddenly. I simply took it up at that
point. Whatever memory I had of _this_ life, this nineteenth-century
life, faded as I woke, vanished like a dream. I knew all about myself,
knew that my name was no longer Cooper but Hedon, and all about my
position in the world. I've forgotten a lot since I woke--there's a want
of connection--but it was all quite clear and matter-of-fact then."
He hesitated again, gripping the window strap, putting his face forward,
and looking up to me appealingly.
"This seems bosh to you?"
"No, no!" I cried. "Go on. Tell me what this loggia was like."
"It was not really a loggia--I don't know what to call it. It faced south.
It was small. It was all in shadow except the semicircle above the balcony
that showed the sky and sea and the corner where the girl stood. I was on
a couch--it was a metal couch with light striped cushions--and the girl
was leaning over the balcony with her back to me. The light of the sunrise
fell on her ear and cheek. Her pretty white neck and the little curls that
nestled there, and her white shoulder were in the sun, and all the grace
of her body was in the cool blue shadow. She was dressed--how can I
describe it? It was easy and flowing. And altogether there she stood, so
that it came to me how beautiful and desirable she was, as though I had
never seen her before. And when at last I sighed and raised myself upon my
arm she turned her face to me--"
"I have lived three-and-fifty years in this world. I have had mother,
sisters, friends, wife and daughters--all their faces, the play of their
faces, I know. But the face of this girl--it is much more real to me. I
can bring it back into memory so that I see it again--I could draw it or
paint it. And after all--"
He stopped--but I said nothing.
"The face of a dream--the face of a dream. She was beautiful. Not that
beauty which is terrible, cold, and worshipful, like the beauty of a
saint; nor that beauty that stirs fierce passions; but a sort of
radiation, sweet lips that softened into smiles, and grave gray eyes. And
she moved gracefully, she seemed to have part with all pleasant and
He stopped, and his face was downcast and hidden. Then he looked up at me
and went on, making no further attempt to disguise his absolute belief in
the reality of his story.
"You see, I had thrown up my plans and ambitions, thrown up all I had ever
worked for or desired, for her sake. I had been a master man away there in
the north, with influence and property and a great reputation, but none of
it had seemed worth having beside her. I had come to the place, this city
of sunny pleasures, with her, and left all those things to wreck and ruin
just to save a remnant at least of my life. While I had been in love with
her before I knew that she had any care for me, before I had imagined that
she would dare--that we should dare--all my life had seemed vain and
hollow, dust and ashes. It _was_ dust and ashes. Night after night,
and through the long days I had longed and desired--my soul had beaten
against the thing forbidden!
"But it is impossible for one man to tell another just these things. It's
emotion, it's a tint, a light that comes and goes. Only while it's there,
everything changes, everything. The thing is I came away and left them in
their crisis to do what they could."
"Left whom?" I asked, puzzled.
"The people up in the north there. You see--in this dream, anyhow--I had
been a big man, the sort of man men come to trust in, to group themselves
about. Millions of men who had never seen me were ready to do things and
risk things because of their confidence in me. I had been playing that
game for years, that big laborious game, that vague, monstrous political
game amidst intrigues and betrayals, speech and agitation. It was a vast
weltering world, and at last I had a sort of leadership against the Gang--
you know it was called the Gang--a sort of compromise of scoundrelly
projects and base ambitions and vast public emotional stupidities and
catch-words--the Gang that kept the world noisy and blind year by year,
and all the while that it was drifting, drifting towards infinite
disaster. But I can't expect you to understand the shades and
complications of the year--the year something or other ahead. I had it
all--down to the smallest details--in my dream. I suppose I had been
dreaming of it before I awoke, and the fading outline of some queer new
development I had imagined still hung about me as I rubbed my eyes. It was
some grubby affair that made me thank God for the sunlight. I sat up on
the couch and remained looking at the woman, and rejoicing--rejoicing that
I had come away out of all that tumult and folly and violence before it
was too late. After all, I thought, this is life--love and beauty, desire
and delight, are they not worth all those dismal struggles for vague,
gigantic ends? And I blamed myself for having ever sought to be a leader
when I might have given my days to love. But then, thought I, if I had not
spent my early days sternly and austerely, I might have wasted myself upon
vain and worthless women, and at the thought all my being went out in love
and tenderness to my dear mistress, my dear lady, who had come at last and
compelled me--compelled me by her invincible charm for me--to lay that
"'You are worth it,' I said, speaking without intending her to hear; 'you
are worth it, my dearest one; worth pride and praise and all things. Love!
to have _you_ is worth them all together.' And at the murmur of my
voice she turned about.
"'Come and see,' she cried--I can hear her now--come and see the sunrise
upon Monte Solaro.'
"I remember how I sprang to my feet and joined her at the balcony. She put
a white hand upon my shoulder and pointed towards great masses of
limestone flushing, as it were, into life. I looked. But first I noted the
sunlight on her face caressing the lines of her cheeks and neck. How can I
describe to you the scene we had before us? We were at Capri----"
"I have been there," I said. "I have clambered up Monte Solaro and drunk
_vero Capri_--muddy stuff like cider--at the summit."
"Ah!" said the man with the white face; "then perhaps you can tell me--you
will know if this was indeed Capri. For in this life I have never been
there. Let me describe it. We were in a little room, one of a vast
multitude of little rooms, very cool and sunny, hollowed out of the
limestone of a sort of cape, very high above the sea. The whole island,
you know, was one enormous hotel, complex beyond explaining, and on the
other side there were miles of floating hotels, and huge floating stages
to which the flying machines came. They called it a Pleasure City. Of
course, there was none of that in your time--rather, I should say,
_is_ none of that _now_. Of course. Now!--yes.
"Well, this room of ours was at the extremity of the cape, so that one
could see east and west. Eastward was a great cliff--a thousand feet high
perhaps, coldly grey except for one bright edge of gold, and beyond it the
Isle of the Sirens, and a falling coast that faded and passed into the hot
sunrise. And when one turned to the west, distinct and near was a little
bay, a little beach still in shadow. And out of that shadow rose Solaro,
straight and tall, flushed and golden-crested, like a beauty throned, and
the white moon was floating behind her in the sky. And before us from east
to west stretched the many-tinted sea all dotted with little
"To the eastward, of course, these little boats were gray and very minute
and clear, but to the westward they were little boats of gold--shining
gold--almost like little flames. And just below us was a rock with an arch
worn through it. The blue sea-water broke to green and foam all round the
rock, and a galley came gliding out of the arch."
"I know that rock," I said. "I was nearly drowned there. It is called the
"_Faraglioni_? Yes, _she_ called it that," answered the man with
the white face. "There was some story--but that----"
He put his hand to his forehead again. "No," he said, "I forget that
"Well, that is the first thing I remember, the first dream I had, that
little shaded room and the beautiful air and sky and that dear lady of
mine, with her shining arms and her graceful robe, and how we sat and
talked in half whispers to one another. We talked in whispers, not because
there was any one to hear, but because there was still such a freshness of
mind between us that our thoughts were a little frightened, I think, to
find themselves at last in words. And so they went softly.
"Presently we were hungry, and we went from our apartment, going by a
strange passage with a moving floor, until we came to the great
breakfast-room--there was a fountain and music. A pleasant and joyful
place it was, with its sunlight and splashing, and the murmur of plucked
strings. And we sat and ate and smiled at one another, and I would not
heed a man who was watching me from a table near by.
"And afterwards we went on to the dancing-hall. But I cannot describe
that hall. The place was enormous, larger than any building you have ever
seen--and in one place there was the old gate of Capri, caught into the
wall of a gallery high overhead. Light girders, stems and threads of gold,
burst from the pillars like fountains, streamed like an Aurora across the
roof and interlaced, like--like conjuring tricks. All about the great
circle for the dancers there were beautiful figures, strange dragons, and
intricate and wonderful grotesques bearing lights. The place was inundated
with artificial light that shamed the newborn day. And as we went through
the throng the people turned about and looked at us, for all through the
world my name and face were known, and how I had suddenly thrown up pride,
and struggle to come to this place. And they looked also at the lady
beside me, though half the story of how at last she had come to me was
unknown or mistold. And few of the men who were there, I know, but judged
me a happy man, in spite of all the shame and dishonour that had come upon
"The air was full of music, full of harmonious scents, full of the rhythm
of beautiful motions. Thousands of beautiful people swarmed about the
hall, crowded the galleries, sat in a myriad recesses; they were dressed
in splendid colours and crowned with flowers; thousands danced about the
great circle beneath the white images of the ancient gods, and glorious
processions of youths and maidens came and went. We two danced, not the
dreary monotonies of your days--of this time, I mean--but dances that were
beautiful, intoxicating. And even now I can see my lady dancing--dancing
joyously. She danced, you know, with a serious face; she danced with a
serious dignity, and yet she was smiling at me and caressing me--smiling
and caressing with her eyes.
"The music was different," he murmured. "It went--I cannot describe it;
but it was infinitely richer and more varied than any music that has ever
come to me awake.
"And then--it was when we had done dancing--a man came to speak to me. He
was a lean, resolute man, very soberly clad for that place, and already I
had marked his face watching me in the breakfasting hall, and afterwards
as we went along the passage I had avoided his eye. But now, as we sat in
a little alcove smiling at the pleasure of all the people who went to and
fro across the shining floor, he came and touched me, and spoke to me so
that I was forced to listen. And he asked that he might speak to me for a
little time apart.
"'No,' I said. 'I have no secrets from this lady. What do you want to tell
"He said it was a trivial matter, or at least a dry matter, for a lady to
"'Perhaps for me to hear,' said I.
"He glanced at her, as though almost he would appeal to her. Then he asked
me suddenly if I. had heard of a great and avenging declaration that
Gresham had made. Now, Gresham had always before been the man next to
myself in the leadership of that great party in the north. He was a
forcible, hard, and tactless man, and only I had been able to control and
soften him. It was on his account even more than my own, I think, that the
others had been so dismayed at my retreat. So this question about what he
had done re-awakened my old interest in the life I had put aside just for
"'I have taken no heed of any news for many days,' I said. 'What has
Gresham been saying?'
"And with that the man began, nothing loth, and I must confess ever; I was
struck by Gresham's reckless folly in the wild and threatening words he
had used. And this messenger they had sent to me not only told me of
Gresham's speech, but went on to ask counsel and to point out what need
they had of me. While he talked, my lady sat a little forward and watched
his face and mine.
"My old habits of scheming and organising reasserted themselves. I could
even see myself suddenly returning to the north, and all the dramatic
effect of it. All that this man said witnessed to the disorder of the
party indeed, but not to its damage. I should go back stronger than I had
come. And then I thought of my lady. You see--how can I tell you? There
were certain peculiarities of our relationship--as things are I need not
tell about that--which would render her presence with me impossible. I
should have had to leave her; indeed, I should have had to renounce her
clearly and openly, if I was to do all that I could do in the north. And
the man knew _that_, even as he talked to her and me, knew it as well
as she did, that my steps to duty were--first, separation, then
abandonment. At the touch of that thought my dream of a return was
shattered. I turned on the man suddenly, as he was imagining his eloquence
was gaining ground with me.
"'What have I to do with these things now?' I said. 'I have done with
them. Do you think I am coquetting with your people in coming here?'
"'No,' he said; 'but----'
"'Why cannot you leave me alone? I have done with these things. I have
ceased to be anything but a private man.'
"'Yes,' he answered. 'But have you thought?--this talk of war, these
reckless challenges, these wild aggressions----'
"I stood up.
"'No,' I cried. 'I won't hear you. I took count of all those things, I
weighed them--and I have come away."
"He seemed to consider the possibility of persistence. He looked from me
to where the lady sat regarding us.
"'War,' he said, as if he were speaking to himself, and then turned slowly
from me and walked away.
"I stood, caught in the whirl of thoughts his appeal had set going.
"I heard my lady's voice.
"'Dear,' she said; 'but if they have need of you--'
"She did not finish her sentence, she let it rest there. I turned to her
sweet face, and the balance of my mood swayed and reeled.
"'They want me only to do the thing they dare not do themselves,' I said.
'If they distrust Gresham they must settle with him themselves.'
"She looked at me doubtfully.
"'But war--' she said.
"I saw a doubt on her face that I had seen before, a doubt of herself and
me, the first shadow of the discovery that, seen strongly and completely,
must drive us apart for ever.
"Now, I was an older mind than hers, and I could sway her to this belief
"'My dear one,' I said, 'you must not trouble over these things. There
will be no war. Certainly there will be no war. The age of wars is past.
Trust me to know the justice of this case. They have no right upon me,
dearest, and no one has a right upon me. I have been free to choose my
life, and I have chosen this.'
"'But _war_--' she said.
"I sat down beside her. I put an arm behind her and took her hand in mine.
I set myself to drive that doubt away--I set myself to fill her mind with
pleasant things again. I lied to her, and in lying to her I lied also to
myself. And she was only too ready to believe me, only too ready to
"Very soon the shadow had gone again, and we were hastening to our
bathing-place in the Grotta del Bovo Marino, where it was our custom to
bathe every day. We swam and splashed one another, and in that buoyant
water I seemed to become something lighter and stronger than a man. And at
last we came out dripping and rejoicing and raced among the rocks. And
then I put on a dry bathing-dress, and we sat to bask in the sun, and
presently I nodded, resting my head against her knee, and she put her hand
upon my hair and stroked it softly and I dozed. And behold! as it were
with the snapping of the string of a violin, I was awakening, and I was in
my own bed in Liverpool, in the life of to-day.
"Only for a time I could not believe that all these vivid moments had been
no more than the substance of a dream.
"In truth, I could not believe it a dream, for all the sobering reality of
things about me. I bathed and dressed as it were by habit, and as I shaved
I argued why I of all men should leave the woman I loved to go back to
fantastic politics in the hard and strenuous north. Even if Gresham did
force the world back to war, what was that to me? I was a man, with the
heart of a man, and why should I feel the responsibility of a deity for
the way the world might go?
"You know that is not quite the way I think about affairs, about my real
affairs. I am a solicitor, you know, with a point of view.
"The vision was so real, you must understand, so utterly unlike a dream,
that I kept perpetually recalling little irrelevant details; even the
ornament of a bookcover that lay on my wife's sewing-machine in the
breakfast-room recalled with the utmost vividness the gilt line that ran
about the seat in the alcove where I had talked with the messenger from my
deserted party. Have you ever heard of a dream that had a quality like
"So that afterwards you remembered little details you had forgotten."
I thought. I had never noticed the point before, but he was right.
"Never," I said. "That is what you never seem to do with dreams."
"No," he answered. "But that is just what I did. I am a solicitor, you
must understand, in Liverpool, and I could not help wondering what the
clients and business people I found myself talking to in my office would
think if I told them suddenly I was in love with a girl who would be born
a couple of hundred years or so hence, and worried about the politics of
my great-great-great-grandchildren. I was chiefly busy that day
negotiating a ninety-nine-year building lease. It was a private builder in
a hurry, and we wanted to tie him in every possible way. I had an
interview with him, and he showed a certain want of temper that sent me to
bed still irritated. That night I had no dream. Nor did I dream the next
night, at least, to remember.
"Something of that intense reality of conviction vanished. I began to feel
sure it _was_ a dream. And then it came again.
"When the dream came again, nearly four days later, it was very different.
I think it certain that four days had also elapsed _in_ the dream.
Many things had happened in the north, and the shadow of them was back
again between us, and this time it was not so easily dispelled. I began, I
know, with moody musings. Why, in spite of all, should I go back, go back
for all the rest of my days, to toil and stress, insults, and perpetual
dissatisfaction, simply to save hundreds of millions of common people,
whom I did not love, whom too often I could not do other than despise,
from the stress and anguish of war and infinite misrule? And, after all, I
might fail. _They_ all sought their own narrow ends, and why should
not I--why should not I also live as a man? And out of such thoughts her
voice summoned me, and I lifted my eyes.
"I found myself awake and walking. We had come out above the Pleasure
City, we were near the summit of Monte Solaro and looking towards the bay.
It was the late afternoon and very clear. Far away to the left Ischia hung
in a golden haze between sea and sky, and Naples was coldly white against
the hills, and before us was Vesuvius with a tall and slender streamer
feathering at last towards the south, and the ruins of Torre dell'
Annunziata and Castellammare glittering and near."
I interrupted suddenly: "You have been to Capri, of course?"
"Only in this dream," he said, "only in this dream. All across the bay
beyond Sorrento were the floating palaces of the Pleasure City moored and
chained. And northward were the broad floating stages that received the
aeroplanes. Aeroplanes fell out of the sky every afternoon, each bringing
its thousands of pleasure-seekers from the uttermost parts of the earth to
Capri and its delights. All these things, I say, stretched below.
"But we noticed them only incidentally because of an unusual sight that
evening had to show. Five war aeroplanes that had long slumbered useless
in the distant arsenals of the Rhine-mouth were manoeuvring now in the
eastward sky. Gresham had astonished the world by producing them and
others, and sending them to circle here and there. It was the threat
material in the great game of bluff he was playing, and it had taken even
me by surprise. He was one of those incredibly stupid energetic people who
seem sent by heaven to create disasters. His energy to the first glance
seemed so wonderfully like capacity! But he had no imagination, no
invention, only a stupid, vast, driving force of will, and a mad faith in
his stupid idiot 'luck' to pull him through. I remember how we stood out
upon the headland watching the squadron circling far away, and how I
weighed the full meaning of the sight, seeing clearly the way things must
_go_. And then even it was not too late. I might have gone back, I
think, and saved the world. The people of the north would follow me, I
knew, granted only that in one thing I respected their moral standards.
The east and south would trust me as they would trust no other northern
man. And I knew I had only to put it to her and she would have let me
go... Not because she did not love me!
"Only I did not want to go; my will was all the other way about. I had so
newly thrown off the incubus of responsibility: I was still so fresh a
renegade from duty that the daylight clearness of what I _ought_ to
do had no power at all to touch my will. My will was to live, to gather
pleasures, and make my dear lady happy. But though this sense of vast
neglected duties had no power to draw me, it could make me silent and
preoccupied, it robbed the days I had spent of half their brightness and
roused me into dark meditations in the silence of the night. And as I
stood and watched Gresham's aeroplanes sweep to and fro--those birds of
infinite ill omen--she stood beside me, watching me, perceiving the
trouble indeed, but not perceiving it clearly--her eyes questioning my
face, her expression shaded with perplexity. Her face was grey because the
sunset was fading out of the sky. It was no fault of hers that she held
me. She had asked me to go from her, and again in the night-time and with
tears she had asked me to go.
"At last it was the sense of her that roused me from my mood. I turned
upon her suddenly and challenged her to race down the mountain slopes.
'No,' she said, as if I jarred with her gravity, but I was resolved to end
that gravity and made her run--no one can be very grey and sad who is out
of breath---and when she stumbled I ran with my hand beneath her arm. We
ran down past a couple of men, who turned back staring in astonishment at
my behaviour--they must have recognised my face. And half-way down the
slope came a tumult in the air--clang-clank, clang-clank--and we stopped,
and presently over the hill-crest those war things came flying one behind
The man seemed hesitating on the verge of a description.
"What were, they like?" I asked.
"They had never fought," he said. "They were just like our ironclads are
nowadays; they had never fought. No one knew what they might do, with
excited men inside them; few even cared to speculate. They were great
driving things shaped like spear-heads without a shaft, with a propeller
in the place of the shaft."
"No, no, nothing of that sort. An alloy that was very common--as common as
brass, for example. It was called--let me see--" He squeezed his forehead
with the fingers of one hand. "I am forgetting everything," he said.
"And they carried guns?"
"Little guns, firing high explosive shells. They fired the guns backwards,
out of the base of the leaf, so to speak, and rammed with the beak. That
was the theory, you know, but they had never been fought. No one could
tell exactly what was going to happen. And meanwhile I suppose it was very
fine to go whirling through the air like a flight of young swallows, swift
and easy. I guess the captains tried not to think too clearly what the
real thing would be like. And these flying war machines, you know, were
only one sort of the endless war contrivances that had been invented and
had fallen into abeyance during the long peace. There were all sorts of
these things that people were routing out and furbishing up; infernal
things, silly things; things that had never been tried; big engines,
terrible explosives, great guns. You know the silly way of these ingenious
sort of men who make these things; they turn 'em out as beavers build
dams, and with no more sense of the rivers they're going to divert and the
lands they're going to flood!
"As we went down the winding stepway to our hotel again in the twilight I
foresaw it all: I saw how clearly and inevitably things were driving for
war in Gresham's silly, violent hands, and I had some inkling of what war
was bound to be under these new conditions. And even then, though I knew
it was drawing near the limit of my opportunity, I could find no will to
"That was my last chance.
"We did not go into the city until the sky was full of stars, so we walked
out upon the high terrace, to and fro, and--she counselled me to go back.
"'My dearest,' she said, and her sweet face looked up to me, 'this is
Death. This life you lead is Death. Go back to them, go back to your
"She began to weep, saying between her sobs, and clinging to my arm as she
said it, 'Go back--go back.'
"Then suddenly she fell mute, and glancing down at her face, I read in an
instant the thing she had thought to do. It was one of those moments when
"'No!' I said.
"'No?' she asked, in surprise, and I think a little fearful at the answer
to her thought.
"'Nothing,' I said, 'shall send me back. Nothing! I have chosen. Love, I
have chosen, and the world must go. Whatever happens, I will live this
life--I will live for _you_! It--nothing shall turn me aside;
nothing, my dear one. Even if you died--even if you died--'
"'Yes?' she murmured, softly.
"'Then--I also would die.'
"And before she could speak again I began to talk, talking eloquently--as
I _could_ do in that life--talking to exalt love, to make the life we
were living seem heroic and glorious; and the thing I was deserting
something hard and enormously ignoble that it was a fine thing to set
aside. I bent all my mind to throw that glamour upon it, seeking not only
to convert her but myself to that. We talked, and she clung to me, torn
too between all that she deemed noble and all that she knew was sweet. And
at last I did make it heroic, made all the thickening disaster of the
world only a sort of glorious setting to our unparalleled love, and we two
poor foolish souls strutted there at last, clad in that splendid delusion,
drunken rather with that glorious delusion, under the still stars.
"And so my moment passed.
"It was my last chance. Even as we went to and fro there, the leaders of
the south and east were gathering their resolve, and the hot answer that
shattered Gresham's bluffing for ever took shape and waited. And all over
Asia, and the ocean, and the south, the air and the wires were throbbing
with their warnings to prepare--prepare.
"No one living, you know, knew what war was; no one could imagine, with
all these new inventions, what horror war might bring. I believe most
people still believed it would be a matter of bright uniforms and shouting
charges and triumphs and flags and bands--in a time when half the world
drew its food-supply from regions ten thousand miles away----"
The man with the white face paused. I glanced at him, and his face was
intent on the floor of the carriage. A little railway station, a string of
loaded trucks, a signal-box, and the back of a cottage shot by the
carriage window, and a bridge passed with a clap of noise, echoing the
tumult of the train.
"After that," he said, "I dreamt often. For three weeks of nights that
dream was my life. And the worst of it was there were nights when I could
not dream, when I lay tossing on a bed in _this_ accursed life; and
_there_--somewhere lost to me--things were happening--momentous,
terrible things... I lived at nights--my days, my waking days, this life
I am living now, became a faded, far-away dream, a drab setting, the cover
of the book."
"I could tell you all, tell you every little thing in the dream, but as to
what I did in the daytime--no. I could not tell--I do not remember. My
memory--my memory has gone. The business of life slips from me--"
He leant forward, and pressed his hands upon his eyes. For a long time he
"And then?" said I.
"The war burst like a hurricane."
He stared before him at unspeakable things.
"And then?" I urged again.
"One touch of unreality," he said, in the low tone of a man who speaks to
himself, "and they would have been nightmares. But they were not
nightmares--they were not nightmares. _No_!"
He was silent for so long that it dawned upon me that there was a danger
of losing the rest of the story. But he went on talking again in the same
tone of questioning self-communion.
"What was there to do but flight? I had not thought the war would touch
Capri--I had seemed to see Capri as being out of it all, as the contrast
to it all; but two nights after the whole place was shouting and bawling,
every woman almost and every other man wore a badge--Gresham's badge--and
there was no music but a jangling war-song over and over again, and
everywhere men enlisting, and in the dancing halls they were drilling. The
whole island was a-whirl with rumours; it was said again and again, that
fighting had begun. I had not expected this. I had seen so little of the
life of pleasure that I had failed to reckon with this violence of the
amateurs. And as for me, I was out of it. I was like a man who might have
prevented the firing of a magazine. The time had gone. I was no one; the
vainest stripling with a badge counted for more than I. The crowd jostled
us and bawled in our ears; that accursed song deafened us; a woman
shrieked at my lady because no badge was on her, and we two went back to
our own place again, ruffled and insulted--my lady white and silent, and I
a-quiver with rage. So furious was I, I could have quarrelled with her if
I could have found one shade of accusation in her eyes.
"All my magnificence had gone from me. I walked up and down our rock cell,
and outside was the darkling sea and a light to the southward that flared
and passed and came again.
"'We must get out of this place,' I said over and over. 'I have made my
choice, and I will have no hand in these troubles. I will have nothing of
this war. We have taken our lives out of all these things. This is no
refuge for us. Let us go.'
"And the next day we were already in flight from the war that covered the
"And all the rest was Flight--all the rest was Flight."
He mused darkly.
"How much was there of it?"
He made no answer.
"How many days?"
His face was white and drawn and his hands were clenched. He took no heed
of my curiosity.
I tried to draw him back to his story with questions.
"Where did you go?" I said.
"When you left Capri."
"South-west," he said, and glanced at me for a second. "We went in a
"But I should have thought an aeroplane?"
"They had been seized."
I questioned him no more. Presently I thought he was beginning again. He
broke out in an argumentative monotone:
"But why should it be? If, indeed, this battle, this slaughter and stress,
_is_ life, why have we this craving for pleasure and beauty? If there
_is_ no refuge, if there is no place of peace, and if all our dreams
of quiet places are a folly and a snare, why have we such dreams? Surely
it was no ignoble cravings, no base intentions, had brought us to this; it
was love had isolated us. Love had come to me with her eyes and robed in
her beauty, more glorious than all else in life, in the very shape and
colour of life, and summoned me away. I had silenced all the voices, I had
answered all the questions--I had come to her. And suddenly there was
nothing but War and Death!"
I had an inspiration. "After all," I said, "it could have been only a
"A dream!" he cried, flaming upon me, "a dream--when, even now--"
For the first time he became animated. A faint flush crept into his cheek.
He raised his open hand and clenched it, and dropped it to his knee. He
spoke, looking away from me, and for all the rest of the time he looked
away. "We are but phantoms," he said, "and the phantoms of phantoms,
desires like cloud shadows and wills of straw that eddy in the wind; the
days pass, use and wont carry us through as a train carries the shadow of
its lights--so be it? But one thing is real and certain, one thing is no
dream stuff, but eternal and enduring. It is the centre of my life, and
all other things about it are subordinate or altogether vain. I loved her,
that woman of a dream. And she and I are dead together!
"A dream! How can it be a dream, when it drenched a living life with
unappeasable sorrow, when it makes all that I have lived for and cared for
worthless and unmeaning?
"Until that very moment when she was killed I believed we had still a
chance of getting away," he said. "All through the night and morning that
we sailed across the sea from Capri to Salerno we talked of escape. We
were full of hope, and it clung about us to the end, hope for the life
together we should lead, out of it all, out of the battle and struggle,
the wild and empty passions, the empty, arbitrary 'thou shalt' and 'thou
shalt not' of the world. We were uplifted, as though our quest was a holy
thing, as though love for one another was a mission...
"Even when from our boat we saw the fair face of that great rock Capri--
already scarred and gashed by the gun emplacements and hiding-places that
were to make it a fastness--we reckoned nothing of the imminent slaughter,
though the fury of preparation hung about in puffs and clouds of dust at a
hundred points amidst the grey; but, indeed, I made a text of that and
talked. There, you know, was the rock, still beautiful for all its scars,
with its countless windows and arches and ways, tier upon tier, for a
thousand feet, a vast carving of grey, broken by vine-clad terraces, and
lemon and orange groves, and masses of agave and prickly pear, and puffs
of almond blossom. And out under the archway that is built over the
Piccola Marina other boats were coming; and as we came round the cape and
within sight of the mainland, another little string of boats came into
view, driving before the wind towards the south-west. In a little while a
multitude had come out, the remoter just little specks of ultramarine in
the shadow of the eastward cliff.
"'It is love and reason,' I said, 'fleeing from all this madness of war.'
"And though we presently saw a squadron of aeroplanes flying across the
southern sky we did not heed it. There it was--a line of little dots in
the sky--and then more, dotting the south-eastern horizon, and then still
more, until all that quarter of the sky was stippled with blue specks. Now
they were all thin little strokes of blue, and now one and now a multitude
would heel and catch the sun and become short flashes of light. They came,
rising and falling and growing larger, like some huge flight of gulls or
rooks or such-like birds, moving with a marvellous uniformity, and ever as
they drew nearer they spread over a greater width of sky. The southward
wing flung itself in an arrow-headed cloud athwart the sun. And then
suddenly they swept round to the eastward and streamed eastward, growing
smaller and smaller and clearer and clearer again until they vanished from
the sky. And after that we noted to the northward, and very high,
Gresham's fighting machines hanging high over Naples like an evening swarm
"It seemed to have no more to do with us than a flight of birds.
"Even the mutter of guns far away in the south-east seemed to us to
"Each day, each dream after that, we were still exalted, still seeking
that refuge where we might live and love. Fatigue had come upon us, pain
and many distresses. For though we were dusty and stained by our toilsome
tramping, and half starved, and with the horror of the dead men we had
seen and the flight of the peasants--for very soon a gust of fighting
swept up the peninsula--with these things haunting our minds it still
resulted only in a deepening resolution to escape. Oh, but she was brave
and patient! She who had never faced hardship and exposure had courage for
herself--and me. We went to and fro seeking an outlet, over a country all
commandeered and ransacked by the gathering hosts of war. Always we went
on foot. At first there were other fugitives, but we did not mingle with
them. Some escaped northward, some were caught in the torrent of peasantry
that swept along the main roads; many gave themselves into the hands of
the soldiery and were sent northward. Many of the men were impressed. But
we kept away from these things; we had brought no money to bribe a passage
north, and I feared for my lady at the hands of these conscript crowds. We
had landed at Salerno, and we had been turned back from Cava, and we had
tried to cross towards Taranto by a pass over Mount Alburno, but we had
been driven back for want of food, and so we had come down among the
marshes by Paestum, where those great temples stand alone. I had some
vague idea that by Paestum it might be possible to find a boat or
something, and take once more to sea. And there it was the battle overtook
"A sort of soul-blindness had me. Plainly I could see that we were being
hemmed in; that the great net of that giant Warfare had us in its toils.
Many times we had seen the levies that had come down from the north going
to and fro, and had come upon them in the distance amidst the mountains
making ways for the ammunition and preparing the mounting of the guns.
Once we fancied they had fired at us, taking us for spies--at any rate a
shot had gone shuddering over us. Several times we had hidden in woods
from hovering aeroplanes.
"But all these things do not matter now, these nights of flight and
pain... We were in an open place near those great temples at Paestum, at
last, on a blank stony place dotted with spiky bushes, empty and desolate
and so flat that a grove of eucalyptus far away showed to the feet of its
stems. How I can see it! My lady was sitting down under a bush resting a
little, for she was very weak and weary, and I was standing up watching to
see if I could tell the distance of the firing that came and went. They
were still, you know, fighting far from each other, with these terrible
new weapons that had never before been used: guns that would carry beyond
sight, and aeroplanes that would do----What _they_ would do no man
"I knew that we were between the two armies, and that they drew together.
I knew we were in danger, and that we could not stop there and rest!
"Though all those things were in my mind, they were in the background.
They seemed to be affairs beyond our concern. Chiefly, I was thinking of
my lady. An aching distress filled me. For the first time she had owned
herself beaten and had fallen a-weeping. Behind me I could hear her
sobbing, but I would not turn round to her because I knew she had need of
weeping, and had held herself so far and so long for me. It was well, I
thought, that she would weep and rest, and then we would toil on again,
for I had no inkling of the thing that hung so near. Even now I can see
her as she sat there, her lovely hair upon her shoulder, can mark again
the deepening hollow of her cheek.
"'If we had parted,' she said, 'if I had let you go--'
"'No,' said I. 'Even now I do not repent. I will not repent; I made my
choice, and I will hold on to the end.'
"Overhead in the sky flashed something and burst, and all about us I heard
the bullets making a noise like a handful of peas suddenly thrown. They
chipped the stones about us, and whirled fragments from the bricks and
He put his hand to his mouth, and then moistened his lips.
"At the flash I had turned about...
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