The Purple Cloud
Part 5 out of 6
when I pointed to it, she ran to the kitchen, returned with some chopped
wood, and very cleverly lit it. And there for several hours I sat that
night, reading (the first time for many years): it was a book by the
poet Milton, found in a glazed book-case on the other side of the
fire-place: and most strange, most novel, I found those august words
about warring angels that night, while the storm raved: for this man had
evidently taken no end of pains with his book, and done it gallantly
well, too, making the thing hum: and I could not conceive why he should
have been at that trouble--unless it were for the same reason that I
built the palace, because some spark bites a man, and he would be
like--but that is all vanity, and delusion.
Well, there is a rage in the storms of late years which really
transcends bounds; I do not remember if I have noted it in these sheets
before: but I never could have conceived a turbulence so huge. Hour
after hour I sat there that night, smoking a chibouque, reading, and
listening to the batteries and lamentations of that haunted air,
shrinking from it, fearing even for the _Speranza_ by her quay in the
sequestered harbour, and for the palace-pillars. But what astonished me
was that girl: for, after sitting on the ottoman to my left some time,
she fell sideways asleep, not the least fear about her, though I should
have thought that nervousness at such a turmoil would be so natural to
her: and whence she has this light confidence in the world into which
she has so abruptly come I do not know, for it is as though someone
inspired her with the mood of nonchalance, saying: 'Be of good cheer,
and care not a pin about anything: for God is God.'
I heard the ocean swing hoarse like heavy ordnance against the cliffs
below, where they meet the outer surface of the southern of the two
claws of land that form the harbour: and the thought came into my mind:
'If now I taught her to speak, to read, I could sometimes make her read
a book to me.'
The winds seemed wilfully struggling for the house to snatch and wing it
away into the drear Eternities of the night: and I could not but heave
the sigh: 'Alas for us two poor waifs and castaways of our race, little
bits of flotsam and seaweed-hair cast up here a moment, ah me, on this
shore of the Ages, soon to be dragged back, O turgid Eternity, into thy
abysmal gorge; and upon what strand--who shall say?--shall she next be
flung, and I, divided then perhaps by all the stretch of the
trillion-distanced astral gulf?' And such a pity, and a wringing of the
heart, seemed in things, that a tear fell from my eyes that ominous
She started up at a gust of more appalling volume, rubbing her eyes,
with dishevelled hair (it must have been about midnight), listening a
minute, with that demure, droll interest of hers, to the noise of the
elements, and then smiled to me; rose then, left the room, and presently
returned with a pomegranate and some almonds on a plate, also some
delicious old sweet wine in a Samian cruche, and an old silver cup, gilt
inside, standing in a zarf. These she placed on the table near me, I
She looked at the book, which I read as I ate, with lowered left
eye-lid, seeking to guess its use, I suppose. Most things she
understands at once, but this must have baffled her: for to see one
looking fixedly at a thing, and not know what one is looking at it for,
must be very disconcerting.
I held it up before her, saying:
"Shall I teach you to read it? If I did, how would you repay me, you
She cocked her eyes, seeking to comprehend. God knows, at that moment I
pitied the poor dumb waif, alone in all the whole round earth with me.
The candle-flame, moved by the wind like a slow-painting brush,
flickered upon her face, though every cranny was closed.
"Perhaps, then," I said, "I will teach you. You are a pitiable little
derelict of your race, you know: and two hours every day I will let you
come to the palace, and I will teach you. But be sure, be careful. If
there be danger, I will kill you: assuredly--without fail. And let me
begin with a lesson now: say after me: 'White.'"
I took her hand, and got her to understand that I wanted her to repeat
"White," said I.
"Hwhite," said she.
'Power,' said I.
'Pow-wer,' said she.
'White Power,' said I.
'Hwhite Pow-wer,' said she.
'Shall not,' said I.
'Sall not,' said she.
'White Power shall not,' said I.
'Hwhite Pow-wer sall not,' said she.
'Prevail,' said I.
'Fffail,' said she, pronouncing the 'v' with a long fluttering
'Pre-vail,' said I.
'Pe-vvvail,' said she.
'White Power shall not prevail,' said I.
'Hwhite Pow-wer sall not--fffail,' said she.
A thunder which roared as she said it seemed to me to go laughing
through the universe, and a minute I looked upon her face with positive
shrinking fear; till, starting up, I thrust her with violence from my
path, and dashed forth to re-seek the palace and my bed.
Such was the ingratitude and fatality which my first attempt, four
nights since, to teach her met with. It remains to be seen whether my
pity for her dumbness, or some servile tendency toward fellowship in
myself, will result in any further lesson. Certainly, I think not: for
though I have given my word, the most solemnly-pledged word may be
Surely, surely, her presence in the world with me--for I suppose it is
that--has wrought some profound changes in my mood: for gone now
apparently are those turbulent hours when, stalking like a peacock, I
flaunted my monarchy in the face of the Eternal Powers, with hissed
blasphemies; or else dribbled, shaking my body in a lewd dance; or was
off to fire some vast city and revel in redness and the chucklings of
Hell; or rolled in the drunkenness of drugs. It was mere frenzy!--I see
it now--it was 'not good,' 'not good.' And it rather looks as if it were
past--or almost. I have clipped my beard and hair, removed the earrings,
and thought of modifying my attire. I will just watch to see whether she
comes loitering down there about the gate of the lake.
* * * * *
Her progress is like....
* * * * *
It is nine months since I have written, on these sheets, those words,
'Her progress is like....' being the beginning of some narrative in
which something interrupted me: and since then I have had no impulse to
But I was thinking just now of the curious tricks and uncertainties of
my memory, and seeing the sheets, will record it here. I have lately
been trying to recall the name of a sister of mine--some perfectly
simple name, I know--and the name of my old home in England: and they
have completely passed out of my cognizance, though she was my only
sister, and we grew up closely together: some quite simple name, I
forget it now. Yet I can't say that my memory is bad: there are
things--quite unexpected, unimportant things--which come up in my mind
with considerable clearness. For instance, I remember to have met in
Paris (I think), long before the poison-cloud, a little Brazilian boy of
the colour of weak coffee-and-milk, of whom she now constantly reminds
me. He wore his hair short like a convict's, so that one could spy the
fish-white flesh beneath, and delighted to play solitary about the
stairs of the hotel, dressed up in the white balloon-dress of a Pierrot.
I have the impression now that he must have had very large ears. Clever
as a flea he was, knowing five or six languages, as it were by nature,
without having any suspicion that that was at all extraordinary. She has
that same light, unconscious, and nonchalant cleverness, and easy way of
life. It is little more than a year since I began to teach her, and
already she can speak English with a quite considerable vocabulary, and
perfect correctness (except that she does not pronounce the letter 'r');
she has also read, or rather devoured, a good many books; and can write,
draw, and play the harp. And all she does without effort: rather with
the flighty naturalness with which a bird takes to the wing.
What made me teach her to read was this: One afternoon, fourteen months
or so ago, I from the roof-kiosk saw her down at the lake-rim, a book in
hand; and as she had seen me looking steadily at books, so she was
looking steadily at it, with pathetic sideward head: so that I burst
into laughter, for I saw her clearly through the glass, and whether she
is the simplest little fool, or the craftiest serpent that ever
breathed, I am not yet sure. If I thought that she has the least design
upon my honour, it would be ill for her.
I went to Gallipoli for two days in the month of May, and brought back a
very pretty little caique, a perfect slender crescent of the colour of
the moon, though I had two days' labour in cutting through bush-thicket
for the passage of the motor in bringing it up to the lake. It has
pleased me to see her lie among the silk cushions of the middle, while
I, paddling, taught her her first words and sentences between the hours
of eight and ten in the evening, though later they became 10 A.M. to
noon, when the reading began, we sitting on the palace-steps before the
portal, her mouth invariably well covered with the yashmak, the
lesson-book being a large-lettered old Bible found at her yali. _Why_
she must needs wear the yashmak she has never once asked; and how much
she divines, knows, or intends, I have no idea, continually questioning
myself as to whether she is all simplicity, or all cunning.
That she is conscious of some profound difference in our organisation I
cannot doubt: for that I have a long beard, and she none at all, is
among the most patent of facts.
* * * * *
I have thought that a certain _Western-ness_--a growing modernity of
tone--may be the result, as far as I am concerned, of her presence with
me? I do not know....
* * * * *
There is the gleam of a lake-end just visible in the north forest from
the palace-top, and in it a good number of fish like carp, tench, roach,
etc., so in May I searched for a tackle-shop in the Gallipoli
Fatmeh-bazaar, and got four 12-foot rods, with reels, silk-line,
quill-floats, a few yards of silk-worm gut, with a packet of No. 7 and
8 hooks, and split-shot for sinkers; and since red-worms, maggots and
gentles are common on the island, I felt sure of a great many more fish
than the number I wanted, which was none at all. However, for the mere
amusement, I fished several times, lying at my length in a patch of
long-grass over-waved by an enormous cedar, where the bank is steep, and
the water deep. And one mid-afternoon she was suddenly there with me,
questioned me with her eyes, and when I consented, stayed: and presently
I said I would teach her bottom-angling, and sent her flying up to the
palace for another rod and tackle.
That day she did nothing, for after teaching her to thread the worm, and
put the gentles on the smaller hooks, I sent her to hunt for worms to
chop up for ground-baiting the pitch for the next afternoon; and when
this was done it was dinner-time, and I sent her home, for by then I was
giving the reading-lessons in the morning.
The next day I found her at the bank, taught her to take the sounding
for adjusting the float, and she lay down not far from me, holding the
rod. So I said to her:
'Well, this is better than living in a dark cellar twenty years, with
nothing to do but walk up and down, sleep, and consume dates and Ismidt
'Yes!' says she.
'Twenty years!' said I: 'How did you bear it?'
'I was not closs,' says she.
'Did you never suspect that there was a world outside that cellar?' said
'Never,' says she, 'or lather, yes: but I did not suppose that it was
_this_ world, but another where he lived.'
'He who spoke with me.'
'Who was that?'
'Oh! a bite!' she screamed gladly.
I saw her float bob under, and started up, rushed to her, and taught her
how to strike and play it, though it turned out when landed to be
nothing but a tiny barbel: but she was in ecstasies, holding it on her
palm, murmuring her fond coo.
She re-baited, and we lay again. I said:
'But what a life: no exit, no light, no prospect, no hope--'
'Plenty of _hope_!' says she.
'Good Heavens! hope of what?'
'I knew vely well that something was lipening over the cellar, or under,
or alound it, and would come to pass at a certain fixed hour, and that I
should see it, and feel it, and it would be vely nice.'
'Ah, well, you had to wait for it, at any rate. Didn't those twenty
years seem _long_?'
'No--at least sometimes--not often. I was always so occupied.'
'Occupied in doing what?'
'In eating, or dlinking, or lunning, or talking.'
'Talking to your_self_?'
'To whom, then?'
'To the one who told me when I was hungly, and put the dates to satisfy
'I see. Don't wriggle about in that way, or you will never catch any
fish. The maxim of angling is: "Study to be quiet"--'
'O! another bite!' she called, and this time, all alone, very agilely
landed a good-sized bream.
'But do you mean that you were never sad?' said I when she was
'Sometimes I would sit and cly,' says she--'I did not know why. But if
that was "sadness," I was never miserlable, never, never. And if I
clied, it did not last long, and I would soon fall to sleep, for he
would lock me in his lap, and kiss me, and wipe all my tears away.'
'Why, what a question! he who told me when I was hungly, and of the
thing that was lipening outside the cellar, which would be so nice.'
'I see, I see. But in all that dingy place, and thick gloom, were you
never at all afraid?'
'Aflaid! _I_! of what?'
'Of the unknown.'
'I do not understand you. How could I be _aflaid_? The known was the
very opposite of tellible: it was merely hunger and dates, thirst and
wine, the desire to lun and space to lun in, the desire to sleep and
sleep: there was nothing tellible in that: and the unknown was even less
tellible than the known: for it was the nice thing that was lipening
outside the cellar. I do not understand--'
'Ah, yes,' said I, 'you are a clever little being: but your continual
fluttering about is fatal to all angling. Isn't it in your nature to
keep still a minute? And with regard now to your habits in the
'_Another!_' she cried with happy laugh, and landed a young chub. And
that afternoon she caught seven, and I none.
* * * * *
Another day I took her from the pitch to one of the kitchens in the
village with some of the fish, till then always thrown away, and taught
her cooking: for the only cooking-implement in the palace is the silver
alcohol-lamp for coffee and chocolate. We both scrubbed the utensils,
and boil and fry I taught her, and the making of a sauce from vinegar,
bottled olives, and the tinned American butter from the _Speranza_, and
the boiling of rice mixed with flour for ground-baiting our pitch. And
she, at first astonished, was soon all deft housewifeliness, breathless
officiousness, and behind my back, of her own intuitiveness, grated some
dry almonds found there, and with them sprinkled the fried tench. And we
ate them, sitting on the floor together: the first new food, I suppose,
tasted by me for twenty-one years: nor did I find it disagreeable.
The next day she came up to the palace reading a book, which turned out
to be a cookery-book in English, found at her yali; and a week later,
she appeared, out of hours, presenting me a yellow-earthenware dish
containing a mess of gorgeous colours--a boiled fish under red peppers,
bits of saffron, a greenish sauce, and almonds: but I turned her away,
and would have none of her, or her dish.
* * * * *
About a mile up to the west of the palace is a very old ruin in the
deepest forest, I think of a mosque, though only three truncated
internal pillars under ivy, and the weedy floor, with the courtyard and
portal-steps remain, before it being a long avenue of cedars, gently
descending from the steps, the path between the trees choked with
long-grass and wild rye reaching to my middle. Here I saw one day a
large disc of old brass, bossed in the middle, which may have been
either a shield or part of an ancient cymbal, with concentric rings
graven round it, from centre to circumference. The next day I brought
some nails, a hammer, a saw, and a box of paints from the _Speranza_;
and I painted the rings in different colours, cut down a slim
lime-trunk, nailed the thin disc along its top, and planted it well,
before the steps: for I said I would make a bull's-eye, and do rifle and
revolver practice before it, from the avenue. And this the next evening
I was doing at four hundred feet, startling the island, it seemed, with
that unusual noise, when up she came peering with enquiring face: at
which I was very angry, because my arm, long unused, was firing wide:
but I was too proud to say anything, and let her look, and soon she
understood, laughing every time I made a considerable miss, till at last
I turned upon her saying: 'If you think it so easy, you may try.'
She had been wanting to try, for she came eagerly to the offer, and
after I had opened and showed her the mechanism, the cartridges, and how
to shoot, I put into her hands one of the _Speranza_ Colt's. She took
her bottom-lip between her teeth, shut her left eye, vaulted out the
revolver like an old shot to the level of her intense right eye, and
sent a ball through the geometrical centre of the boss.
However, it was a fluke-shot, for I had the satisfaction of seeing her
miss every one of the other five, except the last, which hit the black.
That, however, was three weeks since, and now my hitting record is forty
per cent., and hers ninety-six--most extraordinary: so that it is clear
that this creature is the _protegee_ of someone, and favouritism is in
* * * * *
Her book of books is the Old Testament. Sometimes, at noon or afternoon,
I may look abroad from the roof or galleries, and see a remote figure
sitting on the sward under the shade of plane or black cypress: and I
always know that the book she cons there is the Bible--like an old
Rabbi. She has a passion for stories: and there finds a store.
Three nights since when it was pretty late, and the moon very splendid,
I saw her passing homewards close to the lake, and shouted down to her,
meaning to say 'Good-night'; but she thought that I had called her, and
came: and sitting out on the top step we talked for hours, she without
We fell to talking about the Bible. And says she: 'What did Cain to
'He knocked him over,' I replied, liking sometimes to use such idioms,
with the double object of teaching and perplexing her.
'Over what?' says she.
'Over his heels,' said I.
'I do not complehend!'
'He killed him, then.'
'That I know. But how did Abel feel when he was killed? What is it to be
'Well,' said I, 'you have seen bones all around you, and the bones of
your mother, and you can feel the bones in your fingers. Your fingers
will become mere bone after you are dead, as die you must. Those bones
which you see around you, are, of course, the bones of the men of whom
we often speak: and the same thing happened to them which happens to a
fish or a butterfly when you catch them, and they lie all still.'
'And the men and the butterfly feel the same after they are dead?'
'Precisely the same. They lie in a deep drowse, and dream a
'That is not dleadful. I thought that it was much more dleadful. I
should not mind dying.'
'Ah!... so much the better: for it is possible that you may have to die
a great deal sooner than you think.'
'I should not mind. Why were men so vely aflaid to die?'
'Because they were all such shocking cowards.'
'Oh, not all! not all!'
(This girl, I know not with what motive, has now definitely set herself
up against me as the defender of the dead race. With every chance she is
'Nearly all,' said I: 'tell me one who was not afraid--'
'There was Isaac,' says she: 'when Ablaham laid him on the wood to kill
him, he did not jump up and lun to hide.'
'Isaac was a great exception,' said I: 'in the Bible and such books, you
understand, you read of only the best sorts of people; but there were
millions and millions of others--especially about the time of the
poison-cloud--on a very much lower level--putrid wretches--covetous,
false, murderous, mean, selfish, debased, hideous, diseased, making the
earth a very charnel of festering vices and crimes.'
This, for several minutes, she did not answer, sitting with her back
half toward me, cracking almonds, continually striking one step with the
ball of her outstretched foot. In the clarid gold of the platform I saw
her fez and corals reflected as an elongated blotch of florid red. She
turned and drank some wine from the great gold Jarvan goblet which I had
brought from the temple of Boro Budor, her head quite covered in by it.
Then, the little hairs at her lip-corners still wet, says she:
'Vices and climes, climes and vices. Always the same. What were these
climes and vices?'
'Robberies of a hundred sorts, murders of ten hundred--'
'But what made them _do_ them?'
'Their evil nature--their base souls.'
'But _you_ are one of them, _I_ am another: yet you and I live here
together, and we do no vices and climes.'
Her astounding shrewdness! Right into the inmost heart of a matter does
her simple wit seem to pierce!
'No,' I said, 'we do no vices and crimes, because we lack _motive_.
There is no danger that we should hate each other, for we have plenty to
eat and drink, dates, wines, and thousands of things. (Our danger is
rather the other way.) But _they_ hated and schemed, because they were
very numerous, and there arose a question among them of dates and wine.'
'Was there not, then, enough land to grow dates and wine for all?'
'There was--yes: much more than enough, I fancy. But some got hold of a
vast lot of it, and as the rest felt the pinch of scarcity, there arose,
naturally, a pretty state of things--including the vices and crimes.'
'Ah, but then,' says she, 'it was not to their bad souls that the vices
and climes were due, but only to this question of land. It is certain
that if there had been no such question, there would have been no vices
and climes, because you and I, who are just like them, do no vices and
climes here, where there is no such question.'
The clear limelight of her intelligence! She wriggled on her seat in her
effort of argument.
'I am not going to argue the matter,' I said. 'There _was_ that question
of dates and wine, you see. And there always must be on an earth where
millions of men, with varying degrees of cunning, reside.'
'Oh, not at all necessalily!' she cries with conviction: 'not at all, at
all: since there are much more dates and wine than are enough for all.
If there should spling up more men now, having the whole wisdom,
science, and expelience of the past at their hand, and they made an
allangement among themselves that the first man who tlied to take more
than he could work for should be killed, and sent to dleam a
nonsense-dleam, the question could never again alise!'
'It arose before--it would arise again.'
'But no! I can guess clearly how it alose before: it alose thlough the
sheer carelessness of the first men. The land was at first so vely, vely
much more than enough for all, that the men did not take the tlouble to
make an allangement among themselves; and afterwards the habit of
carelessness was confirmed; till at last the vely oliginal carelessness
must have got to have the look of an allangement; and so the stleam
which began in a little long ended in a big long, the long glowing more
and more fixed and fatal as the stleam lolled further flom the source. I
see it clearly, can't you? But now, if some more men would spling, they
would be taught--'
'Ah, but no more men will _spling_, you see--!'
'There is no telling. I sometimes feel as if they must, and shall. The
tlees blossom, the thunder lolls, the air makes me lun and leap, the
glound is full of lichness, and I hear the voice of the Lord God walking
all among the tlees of the folests.'
As she said this, I saw her under-lip push out and tremble, as when she
is near to crying, and her eyes moisten: but a moment after she looked
at me full, and smiled, so mobile is her face: and as she looked, it
suddenly struck me what a noble temple of a brow the creature has,
almost pointed at the uplifted summit, and widening down like a
bell-curved Gothic arch, draped in strings of frizzy hair which anon she
shakes backward with her head.
'Clodagh,' I said after some minutes--'do you know why I called you
'No? Tell me?'
'Because once, long ago before the poison-cloud, I had a lover called
Clodagh: and she was a....'
'But tell me first,' cries she: 'how did one know one's lover, or one's
wife, flom all the others?'
'Well, by their faces....'
'But there must have been many faces--all alike--'
'Not all alike. Each was different from the rest.'
'Still, it must have been vely clever to tell. I can hardly conceive
any face, except yours and mine.'
'Ah, because you are a little goose, you see.'
'What was a goose like?'
'It was a thing like a butterfly, only larger, and it kept its toes
always spread out, with a skin stretched between.'
'Leally? How caplicious! And am I like that?--but what were you saying
that your lover, Clodagh, was?'
'She was a Poisoner.'
'Then why call me Clodagh, since _I_ am not a poisoner?'
'I call you so to remind me: lest you--lest you--should become
'I am your lover already: for I love you.'
'Do I not love you, who are mine?'
'Come, come, don't be a little maniac!' I went. 'Clodagh was a
'Why did she poison? Had she not enough dates and wine?'
'She had, yes: but she wanted more, more, more, the silly idiot.'
'So that the vices and climes were not confined to those that lacked
things, but were done by the others, too?'
'By the others chiefly.'
'Then I see how it was!'
'How was it?'
'The others had got _spoiled_. The vices and climes must have
begun with those who lacked things, and then the others, always seeing
vices and climes alound them, began to do them, too--as when one rotten
olive is in a bottle, the whole mass soon becomes collupted: but
originally they were not rotten, but only became so. And all though a
little carelessness at the first. I am sure that if more men could
'But I _told_ you, didn't I, that no more men will spring? You
understand, Clodagh, that originally the earth produced men by a long
process, beginning with a very low type of creature, and continually
developing it, until at last a man stood up. But that can never happen
again: for the earth is old, old, and has lost her producing vigour now.
So talk no more of men _splinging_, and of things which you do not
understand. Instead, go inside--stop, I will tell you a secret: to-day
in the wood I picked some musk-roses and wound them into a wreath,
meaning to give them you for your head when you came to-morrow: and it
is inside on the pearl tripod in the second room to the left: go,
therefore, and put it on, and bring the harp, and play to me, my dear.'
She ran quick with a little cry, and coming again, sat crowned,
incarnadine in the blushing depths of the gold. Nor did I send her home
to her lonely yali, till the pale and languished moon, weary of
all-night beatitudes, sank down soft-couched in quilts of curdling opals
to the Hesperian realms of her rest.
So sometimes we speak together, she and I, she and I.
* * * * *
That ever I should write such a thing! I am driven out from Imbros!
I was walking up in a wood yesterday to the west--it was a calm clear
evening about seven, the sun having just set. I had the book in which I
have written so far in my hand, for I had thought of making a sketch of
an old windmill to the north-west to show her. Twenty minutes before she
had been with me, for I had chanced to meet her, and she had come, but
kept darting on ahead after peeping fruit, gathering armfuls of
amaranth, nenuphar, and red-berried asphodel, till, weary of my life, I
had called to her: 'Go away! out of my sight'--and she, with suddenly
pushed under-lip, had walked off.
Well, I was continuing my stroll, when I seemed to feel some quaking of
the ground, and before one could count twenty, it was as if the island
was bent upon wracking itself to pieces. My first thought was of her,
and in great scare I went running, calling in the direction which she
had gone, staggering as on the deck of some labouring ship, falling,
picking myself up, running again. The air was quite full of uproar, and
the land waving like the sea: and as I went plunging, not knowing
whither, I saw to my right some three or four acres of forest droop and
sink into a gulf which opened to receive them. Up I flung my arms,
crying out: 'Good God! save the girl!' and a minute later rushed out, to
my surprise, into open space on a hill-side. On the lower ground I could
see the palace, and beyond it, a small space of white sea which had the
awful appearance of being higher than the land. Down the hill-side I
staggered, driven by the impulse to fly somewhither, but about half way
down was startled afresh by a shrill pattering like musical hail, and
the next moment saw the entire palace rush with the jangling clatter of
a thousand bells into the heaving lake.
Some seconds after this, the earthquake, having lasted fully ten
minutes, began to lull, and soon ceased. I found her an hour later
standing among the ruins of her little yali.
* * * * *
Well, what a thing! Probably every building on the island has been
destroyed; the palace-platform, all cracked, leans half-sunken askew
into the lake, like a huge stranded ark, while of the palace itself no
trace remains, except a mound of gold stones emerging above the lake to
the south. Gone, gone--sixteen years of vanity and vexation. But from a
practical point of view, what is a worst calamity of all is that the
_Speranza_ now lies high-and-dry in the village: for she was bodily
picked up from the quay by the tidal wave, and driven bow-foremost into
a street not half her width, and there now lies, looking huge enough in
the little village, wedged for ever, smashed in at the nip like a frail
match-box, a most astonishing spectacle: her bows forty feet up the
street, ten feet above the ground at the stem, rudder resting on the
inner edge of the quay, foremast tilted forward, the other two masts all
right, and that bottom, which has passed through seas so far, buried in
every sort of green and brown seaweed, the old _Speranza_. Her steps
were there, and by a slight leap I could catch them underneath and go up
hand-over-hand, till I got foothold; this I did at ten the same night
when the sea-water had mostly drained back from the land, leaving
everything very swampy, however; she there with me, and soon following
me upon the ship. I found most things cracked into tiny fragments,
twisted, disfigured out of likeness, the house-walls themselves
displaced a little at the nip, the bow of the cedar skiff smashed in to
her middle against the aft starboard corner of the galley; and were it
not for the fact that the air-pinnace had not broken from her heavy
ropings, and one of the compasses still whole, I do not know what I
should have done: for the four old water-logged boats in the cove have
I made her sleep on the cabin-floor amid the _debris_ of berth and
everything, and I myself slept high up in the wood to the west. I am
writing now lying in the long-grass the morning after, the sun rising,
though I cannot see him. My plan for to-day is to cut three or four logs
with the saw, lay them on the ground by the ship, lower the pinnace upon
them, so get her gradually down into the water, and by evening bid a
long farewell to Imbros, which drives me out in this way. Still, I look
forward with pleasure to our hour's run to the Mainland, when I shall
teach her to steer by the compass, and manipulate liquid-air, as I have
taught her to dress, to talk, to cook, to write, to think, to live. For
she is my creation, this creature: as it were, a 'rib from my side.'
But what is the design of this expulsion? And what was it that she
called it last night?--'this new going out flom Halan'! 'Haran,' I
believe, being the place from which Abraham went out, when 'called' by
* * * * *
We apparently felt only the tail of the earthquake at Imbros: for it has
ravaged Turkey! And we two poor helpless creatures put down here in the
theatre of all these infinite violences: it is too bad, too bad. For the
rages of Nature at present are perfectly astonishing, and what it may
come to I do not know. When we came to the Macedonian coast in good
moonlight, we sailed along it, and up the Dardanelles, looking out for
village, yali, or any habitation where we might put up: but everything
has apparently been wrecked. We saw Kilid-Bahr, Chanak-Kaleh, Gallipoli,
Lapsaki in ruins; at the last place I landed, leaving her in the boat,
and walked a little way, but soon went back with the news that there was
not even a bazaar-arch left standing whole, in most parts even the line
of the streets being obliterated, for the place had fallen like a house
of dice, and had then been shaken up and jumbled. Finally we slept in a
forest on the other side of the strait, beyond Gallipoli, taking our few
provisions, and having to wade at some points through morass a foot deep
before we reached dry woodland.
Here, the next morning, I sat alone--for we had slept separated by at
least half a mile--thinking out the question of whither I should go: my
choice would have been to remain either in the region where I was, or to
go Eastward: but the region where I was offered no dwelling that I could
see; and to go any distance Eastward, I needed a ship. Of ships I had
seen during the night only wrecks, nor did I know where to find one in
all these latitudes. I was thus, like her 'Ablaham,' urged Westward.
In order, then, to go Westward, I first went a little further Eastward,
once more entered the Golden Horn, and once more mounted the scorched
Seraglio steps. Here what the wickedness of man had spared, the
wickedness of Nature had destroyed, and the few houses which I had left
standing round the upper part of Pera I now saw low as the rest; also
the house near the Suleimanieh, where we had lived our first days, to
which I went as to a home, I found without a pillar standing; and that
night she slept under the half-roof of a little funeral-kiosk in the
scorched cypress-wood of Eyoub, and I a mile away, at the edge of the
forest where first I saw her.
The next morning, having met, as agreed, at the site of the Prophet's
mosque, we traversed together the valley and cemetery of Kassim by the
quagmires up to Pera, all the landscape having to me a rather twisted
unfamiliar aspect. We had determined to spend the morning in searching
for supplies among the earthquake-ruins of Pera; and as I had decided to
collect sufficient in one day to save us further pains for some time, we
passed a good many hours in this task, I confining myself to the great
white house in the park overlooking Kassim, where I had once slept,
losing myself in the huge obliquities of its floors, roofs and
wall-fragments, she going to the old Mussulman quarter of Djianghir
near, on the heights of Taxim, where were many shops, and thence round
the brow of the hill to the great French Embassy-house, overlooking
Foundoucli and the sea, both of us having large Persian carpet-bags, and
all in the air of that wilderness of ruin that morning a sweet, strong,
permanent odour of maple-blossom.
We met toward evening, she quivering under such a load, that I would not
let her carry it, but abandoned my day's labour, which was lighter, and
took hers, which was quite enough: we went back Westward, seeking all
the while some shelter from the saturating night-dews of this place: and
nothing could we find, till we came again, quite late, to her broken
funeral-kiosk at the entrance to the immense cemetery-avenue of Eyoub.
There without a word I left her among the shattered catafalques, for I
was weary; but having gone some distance, turned back, thinking that I
might take some more raisins from the bag; and after getting them, said
to her, shaking her little hand where she sat under the roof-shadow on a
She did not answer promptly: and her answer, to my surprise, was a
protest against her name: for a rather sulky, yet gentle, voice came
from the darkness, saying:
'I am _not_ a Poisoner!'
'Well,' said I, 'all right: tell me whatever you like that I should call
you, and henceforth I will call you that.'
'Call me Eve,' says she.
'Well, no,' said I, 'not Eve, anything but that: for _my_ name is Adam,
and if I called you Eve, that would be simply absurd, and we do not want
to be ridiculous in each other's eyes. But I will call you anything else
that you like.'
'Call me Leda,' says she.
'And why Leda?' said I.
'Because Leda sounds something like Clodagh,' says she, 'and you are
al-leady in the habit of calling me Clodagh; and I saw the name Leda in
a book, and liked it: but Clodagh is most hollible, most bitterly
'Well, then,' said I, 'Leda it shall be, and I shan't forget, for I like
it, too, and it suits you, and you ought to have a name beginning with
an "L." Good-night, my dear, sleep well, and dream, dream.'
'And to you, too, my God give dleams of peace and pleasantness,' says
she; and I went.
And it was only when I had lain myself upon leaves for my bed, my head
on my caftan, a rill for my lullaby, and two stars, which alone I could
see out of the heavenful, for my watch-lights; and only when my eyes
were already closed toward slumber, that a sudden strong thought pierced
and woke me: for I remembered that Leda was the name of a Greek woman
who had borne twins. In fact, I should not be surprised if this Greek
word Leda is the same word etymologically as the Hebrew Eve, for I have
heard of _v's_, and _b's_, and _d's_ interchanging about in this way,
and if _Di_, meaning God, or Light, and _Bi_, meaning Life, and Io_v_e,
and Iho_v_ah and Go_d_, meaning much the same, are all one, that would
be nothing astonishing to me, as wi_d_ow, and veu_v_e, are one: and
where it says, 'truly the Light is Good (_tob, b_on),' this is as if it
said, 'truly the Di is Di.' Such, at any rate, is the fatality that
attends me, even in the smallest things: for this Western Eve, or Greek
Leda, had twins.
* * * * *
Well, the next morning we crossed by the ruins of old Greek Phanar
across the triple Stamboul-wall, which still showed its deep-ivied
portal, and made our way, not without climbing, along the Golden Horn to
the foot of the Old Seraglio, where I soon found signs of the railway.
And that minute commenced our journey across Turkey, Bulgaria, Servia,
Bosnia, Croatia, to Trieste, occupying no day or two as in old times,
but four months, a long-drawn nightmare, though a nightmare of rich
happiness, if one may say so, leaving on the memory a vague vast
impression of monstrous ravines, ever-succeeding profundities, heights
and greatnesses, jungles strange as some moon-struck poet's fantasy,
everlasting glooms, and a sound of mighty unseen rivers, cataracts, and
slow cumbered rills whose bulrushes never see the sun, with largesse
everywhere, secrecies, profusions, the unimaginable, the unspeakable, a
savagery most lush and fierce and gaudy, and vales of Arcadie, and
remote mountain-peaks, and tarns shy as old-buried treasure, and
glaciers, and we two human folk pretty small and drowned and lost in
all that amplitude, yet moving always through it.
We followed the lines that first day till we came to a steam train, and
I found the engine fairly good, and everything necessary to move it at
my hand: but the metals in such a condition of twisted, broken, vaulted,
and buried confusion, due to the earthquake, that, having run some
hundreds of yards to examine them, I saw that nothing could be done in
that way. At first this threw me into a condition like despair, for what
we were to do I did not know: but after persevering on foot for four
days along the deep-rusted track, which is of that large-gauge type
peculiar to Eastern Europe, I began to see that there were considerable
sound stretches, and took heart.
I had with me land-charts and compass, but nothing for taking
altitude-observations: for the _Speranza_ instruments, except one
compass, had all been broken-up by her shock. However, on getting to the
town of Silivri, about thirty miles from our start, I saw in the ruins
of a half-standing bazaar-shop a number of brass objects, and there
found several good sextants, quadrants, and theodolites. Two mornings
later, we came upon an engine in mid-country, with coals in it, and a
stream near; I had a goat-skin of almond-oil in the bag, and found the
machinery serviceable after an hour's careful inspection, having
examined the boiler with a candle through the manhole, and removed the
autoclaves of the heaters. All was red with rust, and the shaft of the
connecting-rod in particular seemed so frail, that at one moment I was
very dubious: I decided, however, and, except for a slight leakage at
the tubulure which led the steam to the valve-chest, all went very well;
at a pressure never exceeding three-and-a-half atmospheres, we travelled
nearly a hundred and twenty miles before being stopped by a head-to-head
block on the line, when we had to abandon our engine; we then continued
another seven miles a-foot, I all the time mourning my motor, which I
had had to leave at Imbros, and hoping at every townlet to find a whole
one, but in vain.
* * * * *
It was wonderful to see the villages and towns going back to the earth,
already invaded by vegetation, and hardly any longer breaking the
continuity of pure Nature, the town now as much the country as the
country, and that which is not-Man becoming all in all with a certain
_furore_ of vigour. A whole day in the southern gorges of the Balkan
Mountains the slow train went tearing its way through many a mile of
bind-weed tendrils, a continuous curtain, flaming with large flowers,
but sombre as the falling shades of night, rather resembling jungles of
Ceylon and the Filipinas; and she, that day, lying in the single car
behind, where I had made her a little yatag-bed from Tatar Bazardjik,
continually played the kittur, barely touching the strings, and crooning
low, low, in her rich contralto, eternally the same air, over and over
again, crooning, crooning, some melancholy tune of her own dreaming,
just audible to me through the slow-travailing monotony of the engine;
till I was drunken with so sweet a woe, my God, a woe that was sweet as
life, and a dolour that lulled like nepenthe, and a grief that soothed
like kisses, so sweet, so sweet, that all that world of wood and gloom
lost locality and realness for me, and became nothing but a charmed and
pensive Heaven for her to moan and lullaby in; and from between my
fingers streamed plenteous tears that day, and all that I could keep on
mourning was 'O Leda, O Leda, O Leda,' till my heart was near to break.
The feed-pump eccentric-shaft of this engine, which was very poor and
flaky, suddenly gave out about five in the afternoon, and I had to stop
in a hurry, and that sweet invisible mechanism which had crooned and
crooned about my ears in the air, and followed me whithersoever I went,
stopped too. Down she jumped, calling out:
'Well, I had a plesentiment that something would happen, and I am so
glad, for I was tired!'
Seeing that nothing could be done with the feed-water pump, I got down,
took the bag, and parting before us the continuous screen, we went
pioneering to the left between a rock-cleft, stepping over large stones
that looked black with moss-growths, no sky, but hundreds of feet of
impenetrable leafage overhead, and everywhere the dew-dabbled profusion
of dim ferneries, dishevelled maidenhairs mixed with a large-leaved
mimosa, wild vine, white briony, and a smell of cedar, and a soft
rushing of perpetual waters that charmed the gloaming. The way led
slightly upwards three hundred feet, and presently, after some windings,
and the climbing of five huge steps almost regular, yet obviously
natural, the gorge opened in a roundish space, fifty feet across, with
far overhanging edges seven hundred feet high; and there, behind a
curtain which fell from above, its tendrils defined and straight like a
Japanese bead-hanging, we spread the store of foods, I opening the
wines, fruits, vegetables and meats, she arranging them in order with
the gold plate, and lighting both the spirit-lamp and the lantern: for
here it was quite dark. Near us behind the curtain of tendrils was a
small green cave in the rock, and at its mouth a pool two yards wide, a
black and limpid water that leisurely wheeled, discharging a little
rivulet from the cave: and in it I saw three owl-eyed fish, a finger
long, loiter, and spur themselves, and gaze. Leda, who cannot be still
in tongue or limb, chattered in her glib baby manner as we ate, and
then, after smoking a cigarette, said that she would go and 'lun,' and
went, and left me darkling, for she is the sun and the moon and the host
of the stars, I occupying myself that night in making a calendar at the
end of this book in which I have written, for my almanack and many
things that I prized were lost with the palace--making a calendar,
counting the days in my head--but counting them across my thoughts of
She came again to tell me good-night, and then went down to the train to
sleep; and I put out the lantern, and stooped within the cave, and made
my simple couch beside the little rivulet, and slept.
But a fitful sleep, and soon again I woke; and a long time I lay so,
gradually becoming conscious of a slow dripping at one spot in the
cave: for at a minute's interval it darkly splashed, regularly, very
deliberately; and it seemed to grow always louder and sadder, and the
splash at first was 'Leesha,' but it became 'Leda' to my ears, and it
sobbed her name, and I pitied myself, so sad was I. And when I could no
longer bear the anguished melancholy of its spasm and its sobbing, I
arose and went softly, softly, lest she should hear in that sounding
silence of the hushed and darksome night, going more slow, more soft, as
I went nearer, a sob in my throat, my feet leading me to her, till I
touched the carriage. And against it a long time I leant my clammy brow,
a sob aching in my poor throat, and she all mixed up in my head with the
suspended hushed night, and with the elfin things in the air that made
the silence so musically a-sound to the vacant ear-drum, and with the
dripping splash in the cave. And softly I turned the door-handle, and
heard her breathe in Asleep, her head near me; and I touched her hair
with my lips, and close to her ear I said--for I heard her breathe as if
in sleep--'Little Leda, I have come to you, for I could not help it,
Leda: and oh, my heart is full of the love of you, for you are mine, and
I am yours: and to live with you, till we die, and after we are dead to
be near you still, Leda, with my broken heart near your heart, little
I must have sobbed, I think; for as I spoke close at her ears, with
passionately dying eyes of love, I was startled by an irregularity in
her breathing; and with cautious hurry I shut the door, and quite back
to the cave I stole in haste.
And the next morning when we met I thought--but am not now sure--that
she smiled singularly: I thought so. She may, she _may_, have heard--But
I cannot tell.
* * * * *
Twice I was obliged to abandon engines on account of forest-tree
obstructions right across the line, which, do what I might, I could not
move, and these were the two bitterest incidents of the pilgrimage; and
at least thirty times I changed from engine to engine, when other trains
blocked. As for the extent of the earthquake, it is pretty certain that
it was universal over the Peninsula, and at many points exhibited
extreme violence, for up to the time that we entered upon Servian
territory, we occasionally came upon stretches of the lines so
dislocated, that it was impossible to proceed upon them, and during the
whole course I never saw one intact house or castle; four times, where
the way was of a nature to permit of it, I left the imbedded metals and
made the engine travel the ground till I came upon other metals, when I
always succeeded in driving it upon them. It was all very leisurely, for
not everywhere, nor every day, could I get a nautical observation, and
having at all times to go at low pressures for fear of tube and boiler
weakness, crawling through tunnels, and stopping when total darkness
came on, we did not go fast, nor much cared to. Once, moreover, for
three days, and once for four, we were overtaken by hurricanes of such
vast inclemency, that no thought of travelling entered our heads, our
only care being to hide our poor cowering bodies as deeply and darkly as
possible. Once I passed through a city (Adrianople) doubly devastated,
once by the hellish arson of my own hand, and once by the earthquake:
and I made haste to leave that place behind me.
Finally, three months and twenty-seven days from the date of the
earthquake, having traversed only 900 odd English miles, I let go in the
Venice lagoon, in the early morning of the 10th September, the lateen
sail and stone anchor of a Maltese _speronare_, which I had found, and
partially cleaned, at Trieste; and thence I passed up the Canalazzo in a
gondola. For I said to Leda: 'In Venice will I pitch my Patriarch tent.'
But to will and to do are not the same thing, and still further
Westward was I driven. For the stagnant upper canals of this place are
now mere miasmas of pestilence: and within two days I was rolling with
fever in the Old Procurazie Palace, she standing in pale wonderment at
my bed-side, sickness quite a novel thing to her: and, indeed, this was
my first serious illness since my twentieth year or thereabouts, when I
had over-worked my brain, and went a voyage to Constantinople. I could
not move from bed for some weeks, but happily did not lose my senses,
and she brought me the whole pharmacopoeia from the shops, from which to
choose my medicines. I guessed the cause of this illness, though not a
sign of it came near her, and as soon as my trembling knees could bear
me, I again set out--always Westward--enjoying now a certain luxury in
travelling compared with that Turkish difficulty, for here were no
twisted metals, more and better engines, in the cities as many good
petrol motors as I chose, and Nature markedly less savage.
I do not know why I did not stop at Verona or Brescia, or some other
neighbourhood of the Italian lakes, since I was fond of water: but I
had, I think, the thought in my head to return to Vauclaire in France,
where I had lived, and there live: for I thought that she might like
those old monks. At all events, we did not remain long in any place till
we came to Turin, where we spent nine days, she in the house opposite
mine, and after that, at her own suggestion, went on still, passing by
train into the valley of the Isere, and then into that of the Western
Rhone, till we came to the old town of Geneva among some very great
mountains peaked with snow, the town seated at the head of a long lake
which the earth has made in the shape of the crescent moon, and like the
moon it is a thing of much beauty and many moods, suggesting a creature
under the spell of charms and magics. However, with this idea of
Vauclaire still in my head, we left Geneva in the motor which had
brought us at four in the afternoon of the 17th May, I intending to
reach the town called Bourg that night about eight, and there sleep, so
to go on to Lyons the next morning by train, and so, by the Bordeaux
route, make Vauclaire. But by some chance for which I cannot to this
hour account (unless the rain was the cause), I missed the chart-road,
which should have been fairly level, and found myself on mountain
tracks, unconscious of my whereabouts, while darkness fell, and a
windless downpour that had a certain sullen venom in its superabundance
drenched us. I stopped several times, looking about for chateau,
chalet, or village, but none did I see, though I twice came upon railway
lines; and not till midnight did we run down a rather steep pass upon
the shore of a lake, which, from its apparent vastness in the moonless
obscurity, I could only suppose to be the Lake of Geneva once again.
About two hundred yards to the left we saw through the rain a large
pile, apparently risen straight out of the lake, looking ghostly livid,
for it was of white stone, not high, but an old thing of complicated
white little turrets roofed with dark red candle extinguishers, and
oddities of Gothic nooks, window slits, and outline, very like a
fanciful picture. Round to this we went, drowned as rats, Leda sighing
and bedraggled, and found a narrow spit of low land projecting into the
lake, where we left the car, walked forward with the bag, crossed a
small wooden drawbridge, and came upon a rocky island with a number of
thick-foliaged trees about the castle. We quickly found a small open
portal, and went throughout the place, quite gay at the shelter,
everywhere lighting candles which we found in iron sconces in the rather
queer apartments: so that, as the castle is far seen from the shores of
the lake, it would have appeared to one looking thence a place suddenly
possessed and haunted. We found beds, and slept: and the next day it
turned out to be the antique Castle of Chillon, where we remained five
long and happy months, till again, again, Fate overtook us.
* * * * *
The morning after our coming, we had breakfast--our last meal
together--on the first floor in a pentagonal room approached from a
lower level by three little steps. In it is a ponderous oak table
pierced with a multitude of worm eaten tunnels, also three mighty high
backed chairs, an old oak desk covered still with papers, arras on the
walls, and three dark religious oil paintings, and a grandfathers clock:
it is at about the middle of the chateau, and contains two small, but
deep, three faced oriels, in each face four compartments with white
stone shafts between, these looking south upon shrubs and the rocky edge
of the island, then upon the deep blue lake, then upon another tiny
island containing four trees in a jungle of flowers, then upon the shore
of the lake interrupted by the mouths of a river which turned out to be
the Rhone, then upon a white town on the slopes which turned out to be
Villeneuve, then upon the great mountains back of Bouveret and St.
Gingolph, all having the surprised air of a resurrection just
completed, everything new washed in dyes of azure, ultramarine, indigo,
snow, emerald, that fresh morning: so that one had to call it the best
and holiest place in the world. These five old room walls, and oak
floor, and two oriels, became specially mine, though it was really
common ground to us both, and there I would do many little things. The
papers on the desk told that it had been the _bureau_ of one R.E. Gaud,
'_Grand Bailli_,' whose residence the place no doubt had been.
She asked me while eating that morning to stay here, and I said that I
would see, though with misgiving: so together we went all about the
house, and finding it unexpectedly spacious, I consented to stop. At
both ends are suites, mostly small rooms, infinitely quaint and cosy,
furnished with heavy Henri Quatre furniture and bed draperies; and there
are separate, and as it were secret, spiral stairs for exit to each: so
we decided that she should have the suite overlooking the length of the
lake, the mouths of the Rhone, Bouveret and Villeneuve; and I should
have that overlooking the spit of land behind and the little drawbridge,
shore cliffs, and elmwood which comes down to the shore, giving at one
point a glimpse of the diminutive hamlet of Chillon; and, that decided,
I took her hand in mine, and I said:
'Well, then, here we stay, both under the same roof--for the first time.
Leda, I will not explain why to you, but it is dangerous, so much so
that it _may_ mean the death of one or other of us: deadly, deadly
dangerous, my poor girl. You do not understand, but that is the fact,
believe me, for I know it very well, and I would not tell you false.
Well, then, you will easily comprehend, that this being so, you must
never on any account come near my part of the house, nor will I come
near yours. Lately we have been very much together, but then we have
been active, full of purpose and occupation: here we shall be nothing of
the kind, I can see. You do not understand at all--but things are so. We
must live perfectly separate lives, then. You are nothing to me, really,
nor I to you, only we live on the same earth, which is nothing at all--a
mere chance. Your own food, clothes, and everything that you want, you
will procure for yourself: it is perfectly easy: the shores are crowded
with mansions, castles, towns and villages; and I will do the same for
myself. The motor down there I set apart for your private use: if I want
another, I will get one; and to-day I will set about looking you up a
boat and fishing tackle, and cut a cross on the bow of yours, so that
you may know yours, and never use mine. All this is very necessary: you
cannot dream how much: but I know how much. Do not run any risks in
climbing, now, or with the motor, or in the boat ... little Leda ...'
I saw her under-lip push, and I turned away in haste, for I did not care
whether she cried or not. In that long voyage, and in my illness at
Venice, she had become too near and dear to me, my tender love, my dear
darling soul; and I said in my heart: 'I will be a decent being: I will
turn out trumps.'
* * * * *
Under this castle is a sort of dungeon, not narrow, nor very dark, in
which are seven stout dark-grey pillars, and an eighth, half-built into
the wall; and one of them which has an iron ring, as well as the ground
around it, is all worn away by some prisoner or prisoners once chained
there; and in the pillar the word 'Byron' engraved. This made me
remember that a poet of that name had written something about this
place, and two days afterwards I actually came upon three volumes of the
poet in a room containing a great number of books, many of them English,
near the Grand Bailli's _bureau_: and in one I read the poem, which is
called 'The Prisoner of Chillon.' I found it very affecting, and the
description good, only I saw no seven rings, and where he speaks of the
'pale and livid light,' he should speak rather of the dun and brownish
gloom, for the word 'light' disconcerts the fancy, and of either pallor
or blue there is there no sign. However, I was so struck by the horror
of man's cruelty to man, as depicted in this poem, that I determined
that she should see it; went up straight to her rooms with the book,
and, she being away, ferreted among her things to see what she was
doing, finding all very neat, except in one room where were a number of
prints called _La Mode_, and _debris_ of snipped cloth, and medley.
When, after two hours, she came in, and I suddenly presented myself,
'Oh!' she let slip, and then fell to cooing her laugh; and I took her
down through a big room stacked with every kind of rifle, with
revolvers, cartridges, powder, swords, bayonets--evidently some official
or cantonal magazine--and then showed her the worn stone in the dungeon,
the ring, the narrow deep slits in the wall, and I told the tale of
cruelty, while the splashing of the lake upon the rock outside was heard
with a strange and tragic sound, and her mobile face was all one sorrow.
'How cruel they must have been!' cries she with tremulous lip, her face
at the same time reddened with indignation.
'They were mere beastly monsters,' said I: 'it is nothing surprising if
monsters were cruel.'
And in the short time while I said that, she was looking up with a
'Some others came and set the plisoner flee!' cries she.
'Yes,' said I, 'they did, but--'
'That was good of them,' says she.
'Yes,' said I, 'that was all right, so far as it went.'
'And it was a time when men had al-leady become cluel,' says she: 'if
those who set him flee were so good when all the lest were cluel, what
would they have been at a time when all the lest were kind? They would
have been just like Angels....!'
* * * * *
At this place fishing, and long rambles, were the order of the day, both
for her and for me, especially fishing, though a week rarely passed
which did not find me at Bouveret, St. Gingolph, Yvoire, Messery, Nyon,
Ouchy, Vevay, Montreux, Geneva, or one of the two dozen villages,
townlets, or towns, that crowd the shores, all very pretty places, each
with its charm, and mostly I went on foot, though the railway runs right
round the forty odd miles of the lake's length. One noon-day I was
walking through the main-street of Vevay going on to the Cully-road when
I had a fearful shock, for in a shop just in front of me to the right I
heard a sound--an unmistakable indication of life--as of clattering
metals shaken together. My heart leapt into my mouth, I was conscious of
becoming bloodlessly pale, and on tip-toe of exquisite caution I stole
up to the open door--peeped in--and it was she standing on the counter
of a jeweller's shop, her back turned to me, with head bent low over a
tray of jewels in her hands, which she was rummaging for something. I
went _'Hoh!'_ for I could not help it, and all that day, till sunset, we
were very dear friends, for I could not part from her, we walking
together by vor-alpen, wood, and shore all the way to Ouchy, she just
like a creature crazy that day with the bliss of living, rolling in
grasses and perilous flowery declines, stamping her foot defiantly at
me, arrogant queen that she is, and then running like mad for me to
catch her, with laughter, _abandon_, carolling railleries, and the
levity of the wild ass's colt on the hills, entangling her loose-flung
hair with Bacchic tendril and blossom, and drinking, in the passage
through Cully, more wine, I thought, than was good: and the flaming
darts of lightning that shot and shocked me that day, and the inner
secret gleams and revelations of Beauty which I had, and the pangs of
white-hot honey that tortured my soul and body, and were too much for
me, and made me sick, oh Heaven, what tongue could express all that deep
world of things? And at Ouchy with a backward wave of my arm I silently
motioned her from me, for I was dumb, and weak, and I left her there:
and all that long night her power was upon me, for she is stronger than
gravitation, which may be evaded, and than all the forces of life
combined, and the sun and the moon and the earth are nothing compared
with her; and when she was gone from me I was like a fish in the air, or
like a bird in the deep, for she is my element of life, made for me to
breathe in, and I drown without her: so that for many hours I lay on
that grassy hill leading to the burial-ground outside Ouchy that night,
like a man sore wounded, biting the grass.
What made things worse for me was her adoption of European clothes since
coming to this place: I believe that, in her adroit way, she herself
made some of her dresses, for one day I saw in her apartments a number
of coloured fashion-plates, with a confusion like dress-making; or she
may have been only modifying finished things from the shops, for her
Western dressing is not quite like what I remember of the modern female
style, but is really, I should say, quite her own, rather resembling the
Greek, or the eighteenth century. At any rate, the airs and graces are
as natural to her as feathers to parrots; and she has changes like the
moon; never twice the same, and always transcending her last phase and
revelation: for I could not have conceived of anyone in whom _taste_ was
a faculty so separate as in her, so positive and salient, like smelling
or sight--more like _smelling_: for it is the faculty, half Reason, half
Imagination, by which she fore-scents precisely what will suit
exquisitely with what; so that every time I saw her, I received the
impression of a perfectly novel, completely bewitching, work of Art: the
special quality of works of Art being to produce the momentary
conviction that anything else whatever could not possibly be so good.
Occasionally, from my window I would see her in the wood beyond the
drawbridge, cool and white in green shade, with her Bible probably,
training her skirt like a court-lady, and looking much taller than
before. I believe that this new dressing produced a separation between
us more complete than it might have been; and especially after that day
between Vevay and Ouchy I was very careful not to meet her. The more I
saw that she bejewelled herself, powdered herself, embalmed herself like
sachets of sweet scents, chapleted her Greek-dressed head with gold
fillets, the more I shunned her. Myself, somehow, had now resumed
European dress, and, ah me, I was greatly changed, greatly changed, God
knows, from the portly inflated monarch-creature that strutted and
groaned four years previously in the palace at Imbros: so that my manner
of life and thought might once more now have been called modern and
All the more was my sense of responsibility awful: and from day to day
it seemed to intensify. An arguing Voice never ceased to remonstrate
within me, nor left me peace, and the curse of unborn hosts appeared to
menace me. To strengthen my fixity I would often overwhelm myself, and
her, with muttered opprobriums, calling myself 'convict,' her
'lady-bird'; asking what manner of man was I that I should dare so great
a thing; and as for her, what was she to be the Mother of a world?--a
versatile butterfly with a woman's brow! And continually now in my
fiercer moods I was meditating either my death--or hers.
Ah, but the butterfly did not let me forget her brow! To the south-west
of Villeneuve, between the forest and the river is a well-grown gentian
field, and returning from round St. Gingolph to the Chateau one day in
the third month after an absence of three days, I saw, as I turned a
corner in the descent of the mountain, some object floating in the air
above the field. Never was I more startled, and, above all, perplexed:
for, beside the object soaring there like a great butterfly, I could see
nothing to account for it. It was not long, however, before I came to
the conclusion that she has re-invented _the kite_--for she had almost
certainly never seen one--and I presently sighted her holding the string
in the midfield. Her invention resembles the kind called 'swallow-tail'
* * * * *
But mostly it was on the lake that I saw her, for there we chiefly
lived, and occasionally there were guilty approaches and _rencontres_,
she in her boat, I in mine, both being slight clinker-built Montreux
pleasure-boats, which I had spent some days in overhauling and
varnishing, mine with jib, fore-and-aft mainsail, and spanker, hers
rather smaller, one-masted, with an easy-running lug-sail. It was no
uncommon thing for me to sail quite to Geneva, and come back from a
seven-days' cruise with my soul filled and consoled with the lake and
all its many moods of bright and darksome, serene and pensive, dolorous
and despairing and tragic, at morning, at noon, at sunset, at midnight,
a panorama that never for an instant ceased to unroll its
transformations, I sometimes climbing the mountains as high as the
goat-herd region of hoch-alpen, once sleeping there. And once I was made
very ill by a two-weeks' horror which I had: for she disappeared in her
skiff, I being at the Chateau, and she did not come back; and while she
was away there was a tempest that turned the lake into an angry ocean,
and, ah my good God, she did not come. At last, half-crazy at the vacant
days of misery which went by and by, and she did not come, I set out
upon a wild-goose quest, of her--of all the hopeless things the most
hopeless, for the world is great--and I sought and did not find her; and
after three days I turned back, recognising that I was mad to search the
infinite, and coming near the Chateau, I saw her wave her handkerchief
from the island-edge, for she divined that I had gone to seek her, and
she was watching for me: and when I took her hand, what did she say to
me, the Biblical simpleton?--'Oh you of little Faith!' says she. And she
had adventures to lisp, with all the _r_'s liquefied into _l_'s, and I
was with her all that day again.
Once a month perhaps she would knock at my outermost door, which I
mostly kept locked when at home, bringing me a sumptuously-dressed,
highly-spiced red trout or grayling, which I had not the heart to
refuse, and exquisitely she does them, all hot and spiced, applying
apparently to their preparation the taste which she applies to dress;
and her extraordinary luck in angling did not fail to supply her with
the finest specimens, though, for that matter, this lake, with its old
fish-hatcheries and fish-ladders, is not miserly in that way, swarming
now with the best lake trout, river trout, red trout, and with salmon,
of which last I have brought in one with the landing-net of, I should
say, thirty-five to forty pounds. As the bottom goes off very rapidly
from the two islands to a depth of eight to nine hundred feet, we did
not long confine ourselves to bottom-fishing, but gradually advanced to
every variety of manoeuvre, doing middle-water spinning with
three-triangle flights and sliding lip-hook for jack and trout, trailing
with the sail for salmon, live-baiting with the float for pike, daping
with blue-bottles, casting with artificial flies, and I could not say in
which she became the most carelessly adept, for all soon seemed as old
and natural to her as an occupation learned from birth.
* * * * *
On the 21st October I attained my forty-sixth birthday in excellent
health: a day destined to end for me in bloodshed and tragedy, alas. I
forget now what circumstance had caused me to mention the date long
beforehand in, I think, Venice, not dreaming that she would keep any
count of it, nor was I even sure that my calendar was not faulty by a
day. But at ten in the morning of what I called the 21st, descending by
my private spiral in flannels with some trout and par bait, and
tackle--I met her coming up, my God, though she had no earthly right to
be there. With her cooing murmur of a laugh, yet pale, pale, and with a
most guilty look, she presented me a large bouquet of wild flowers.
I was at once thrown into a state of great agitation. She was dressed in
rather a frippery of _mousseline de soie_, all cream-laced, with
wide-hanging short sleeves, a large diamond at the low open neck, the
ivory-brown skin there contrasting with the powdered bluish-white of her
face, where, however, the freckles were not quite whited out; on her
feet little pink satin slippers, without any stockings--a divinely pale
pink; and well back on her hair a plain thin circlet of gold; and she
smelled like heaven, God knows.
I could not speak. She broke an awkward silence, saying, very faint and
'It is the day!'
'I--perhaps--' I said, or some incoherency like that.
I saw the touch of enthusiasm which she had summoned up quenched by my
'I have not done long again?' she asked, looking down, breaking another
'No, no, oh no,' said I hurriedly: 'not done wrong again. Only, I could
not suppose that you would count up the days. You are ... considerate.
'Perhaps.... I was going to say ... you might come fishing with me....'
'O luck!' she went softly.
I was pierced by a sense of my base cowardice, my incredible weakness:
but I could not at all help it.
I took the flowers, and we went down to the south side, where my boat
lay; I threw out some of the fish from the well; arranged the tackle,
and then the stern cushions for her; got up the sails; and out we went,
she steering, I in the bows, with every possible inch of space between
us, receiving delicious intermittent whiffs from her of ambergris,
frangipane, or some blending of perfumes, the morning being bright and
hot, with very little breeze on the water, which looked mottled, like
colourless water imperfectly mixed with indigo-wash, we making little
headway; so it was some time before I moved nearer her to get the par
for fixing on the three-triangle flight, for I was going to trail for
salmon or large lake-trout; and during all that time we spoke not a word
Afterwards I said:
'Who told you that flowers are proper to birthdays? or that birthdays
are of any importance?'
'I suppose that nothing can happen so important as birth,' says she:
'and perfumes must be ploper to birth, because the wise men blought
spices to the young Jesus.'
This _naivete_ was the cause of my immediate recovery: for to laugh is
to be saved: and I laughed right out, saying:
'But you read the Bible too much! all your notions are biblical. You
should read the quite modern books.'
'I have tlied,' says she: 'but I cannot lead them long, nor often. The
whole world seems to have got so collupted. It makes me shudder.'
'Ah, well now, you see, you quite come round to my point of view,' said
'Yes, and no,' says she: 'they had got so _spoiled_, that is all.
Everlybody seems to have become quite dull-witted--the plainest tluths
they could not see. I can imagine that those faculties which aided them
in their stlain to become lich themselves, and make the lest more poor,
must have been gleatly sharpened, while all the other faculties
withered: as I can imagine a person with one eye seeing double thlough
it, and quite blind on the other side.'
'Ah,' said I, 'I do not think they even _wanted_ to see on the other
side. There were some few tolerably good and clear-sighted ones among
them, you know: and these all agreed in pointing out how, by changing
one or two of their old man-in-the-moon Bedlam arrangements, they could
greatly better themselves: but they heard with listless ears: I don't
know that they ever made any considerable effort. For they had become
more or less unconscious of their misery, so miserable were they: like
the man in Byron's "Prisoner of Chillon," who, when his deliverers came,
was quiet indifferent, for he says:
"It was at length the same to me
Fettered or fetterless to be:
I had learned to love Despair."'
'Oh my God,' she went, covering her face a moment, 'how dleadful! And
it is tlue, it seems tlue:--they had learned to love Despair, to be even
ploud of Despair. Yet all the time, I feel _sure_ flom what I have lead,
flom what I scent, that the individual man was stluggling to see, to
live light, but without power, like one's leg when it is asleep: that is
so pletty of them all! that they meant well--everly one. But they were
too tloubled and sad, too awfully burdened: they had no chance at all.
Such a queer, unnatulal feeling it gives me to lead of all that world: I
can't desclibe it; all their motives seem so tainted, their life so
lopsided. Tluely, the whole head was sick, and the whole heart faint.'
'Quite so,' said I: 'and observe that this was no new thing: in the very
beginning of the Book we read how God saw that the wickedness of man was
great on the earth, and every imagination of his heart evil....'
'Yes,' she interrupted, 'that is tlue: but there must have been some
_cause!_ We can be quite _sure_ that it was not natulal, because you and
I are men, and our hearts are not evil.'
This was her great argument which she always trotted out, because she
found that I had usually no answer to give to it. But this time I said:
'Our hearts not evil? Say yours: but as to mine you know nothing,
The semicircles under her eyes had that morning, as often, a certain
moist, heavy, pensive and weary something, as of one fresh from a revel,
very sweet and tender: and, looking softly at me with it, she answered:
'I know my own heart, and it is not evil: not at all: not even in the
very least: and I know yours, too.'
'You know _mine!_' cried I, with a half-laugh of surprise.
'Quite well,' says she.
I was so troubled by this cool assurance, that I said not a word, but
going to her, handed her the baited flight, swivel-trace, and line,
which she paid out; then I got back again almost into the bows.
After a ten-minutes I spoke again:
'So this is news to me: you know all about my heart. Well, come, tell me
what is in it!'
Now she was silent, pretending to be busy with the trail, till she said,
speaking with low-bent face, and a voice that I could only just hear:
'I will tell you what is in it: in it is a lebellion which you think
good, but is not good. If a stleam will just flow, neither tlying to
climb upward, nor over-flowing its banks, but lunning modestly in its
fated channel just wherever it is led, then it will finally leach the
sea--the mighty ocean--and lose itself in fulness.'
'Ah,' said I, 'but that counsel is not new. It is what the philosophers
used to call "yielding to Destiny," and "following Nature." And Destiny
and Nature, I give you my word, often led mankind quite wrong--'
'Or _seemed_ to,' says she--'for a time: as when a stleam flows north a
little, and the sea is to the south: but it is bound for the sea all the
time, and will turn again. Destiny never could, and cannot yet, be
judged, for it is not finished: and our lace should follow blindly
whither it points, sure that thlough many curves it leads the world to
'Our God indeed!' I cried, getting very excited: 'girl! you talk
speciously, but falsely! whence have you these thoughts in that head of
yours? Girl! you talk of "our race"! But there are only two of us left?
Are you talking _at_ me, Leda? Do not _I_ follow Destiny?'
'You?' she sighed, with down-bent face: 'ah, poor me!'
'What should I do if I followed it?' said I, with a crazy curiosity.
Her face hung lower, paler, in trouble: and she said:
'You would come now and sit near me here. You would not be there where
you are. You would be always and for ever near me....'
My good God! I felt my face redden.
'Oh, I could not _tell_ you...!' I cried: 'you talk the most disastrous...!
you lack all responsibility...! Never, never...!'
Her face now was covered with her left hand, her right on the tiller:
and bitingly she said, with a touch of venom:
'I could _make_ you come--_now_, if I chose: but I will not: I will wait
upon my God....'
'_Make_ me!' I cried: 'Leda! How make me?'
'I could cly before you, as I cly often and often ... in seclet ... for
'_You_ cry in secret? This is news--'
'Yes, yes, I cly. Is not the burden of the world heavy upon me, too? and
the work I have to do _vely, vely_ gleat? And often and often I cly in
seclet, thinking of it: and I could cly now if I chose, for you love
your little girl so much, that you could not lesist me one minute....'
Now I saw the push and tortion and trembling of her poor little
under-lip, boding tears: and at once a flame was in me which was
altogether beyond control; and crying out: 'why, my poor dear,' I found
myself in the act of rushing through the staggering boat to take her to
Mid-way, however, I was saved: a whisper, intense as lightning, arrested
me: 'Forward is no escape, nor backward, but _sideward_ there may be a
way!' And at a sudden impulse, before I knew what I was doing, I was in
the water swimming.
The smaller of the islands was two hundred yards away, and thither I
swam, rested some minutes, and thence to the Castle. I did not once look
* * * * *
Well, from 11 A.M. till five in the afternoon, I thought it all out,
lying in the damp flannels on my face on the sofa in the recess beside
my bed, where it was quite dark behind the tattered piece of arras: and
what things I suffered that day, and what deeps I sounded, and what
prayers I prayed, God knows. What infinitely complicated the awful
problem was this thought in my head: that to kill her would be far more
merciful to her than to leave her alone, having killed myself: and,
Heaven knows, it was for her alone that I thought, not at all caring for
myself. To kill her was better: but to kill her with my own hands--that
was too hard to expect of a poor devil like me, a poor common son of
Adam, after all, and never any sublime self-immolator, as two or three
of them were. And hours I lay there with brows convulsed in an agony,
groaning only those words: 'To kill her! to kill her!' thinking
sometimes that I should be merciful to myself too, and die, and let her
live, and not care, since, after my death, I would not see her suffer,
for the dead know not anything: and to expect me to kill her with my own
hand was a little too much. Yet that one or other of us must die was
perfectly certain, for I knew that I was just on the brink of failing in
my oath, and matters here had reached an obvious crisis: unless we could
make up our minds to part...? putting the width of the earth between
us? That conception occurred to me: and in the turmoil of my thoughts it
seemed a possibility. Finally, about 5 P.M., I resolved upon something:
and first I leapt up, went down and across the house into the arsenal,
chose a small revolver, fitted it with cartridge, took it up-stairs,
lubricated it with lamp-oil, went down and out across the drawbridge,
walked two miles beyond the village, shot the revolver at a tree, found
its action accurate, and started back. When I came to the Castle, I
walked along the island to the outer end, and looked up: there were her
pretty cream Valenciennes, put up by herself, waving inward before the
light lake-breeze at one open oriel; and I knew that she was in the
Castle, for I felt it: and always, always, when she was within, I knew,
for I felt her with me; and always when she was away, I knew, I felt,
for the air had a dreadful drought, and a barrenness, in it. And I
looked up for a time to see if she would come to the window, and then I
called, and she appeared. And I said to her: 'Come down here.'
* * * * *
Just here there is a little rock-path to the south, going down to the
water between rocks mixed with shrub-like little trees, three yards
long: a path, or a lane, one might call it, for at the lower end the
rocks and trees reach well over a tall man's head. There she had tied my
boat to a slender linden-trunk: and sadder now than Gethsemane that
familiar boat seemed to my eyes, for I knew very well that I should
never enter it more. I walked up and down the path, awaiting her: and
from the jacket-pocket in which lay the revolver I drew a box of Swedish
matches, from it took two matches, and broke off a bit from the plain
end of one; and the two I held between my left thumb and forefinger
joint, the phosphorus ends level and visible, the other ends invisible:
and I awaited her, pacing fast, and my brow was as stern as Azrael and
She came, very pale, poor thing, and flurried, breathing fast. And
'Leda,' I said, meeting her in the middle of the lane, and going
straight to the point, 'we are to part, as you guess--for ever, as you
guess--for I see very well by your face that you guess. I, too, am very
sorry, my little child, and heavy is my heart. To leave you ... alone
... in the world ... is--death for me. But it must, ah it must, be
Her face suddenly turned as sallow as the dead were, when the shroud was
already on, and the coffin had become a stale added piece of
room-furniture by the bed-side; but in recording that fact, I record
also this other: that, accompanying this mortal sallowness, which
painfully shewed up her poor freckles, was a steady smile, a little
turned-down: a smile of steady, of slightly disdainful--Confidence.
She did not say anything: so I went on.
'I have thought long,' said I, 'and I have made a plan--a plan which
cannot be effective without _your_ consent and co-operation: and the
plan is this: we go from this place together--this same night--to some
unknown spot, some town, say a hundred miles hence--by train. There I
get two motors, and I in one, and you in the other, we separate, going
different ways. We shall thus never be able, however much we may want
to, to rediscover each other in all this wide world. That is my plan.'
She looked me in the face, smiling her smile: and the answer was not
long in coming.
'I will go in the tlain with you,' says she with slow decisiveness: 'but
where you leave me, there I will stay, till I die; and I will patiently
wait till my God convert you, and send you back to me.'
'That means that you refuse to do what I say?'
'Yes,' said she, bowing the head with great dignity.
'Well, you speak, not like a girl, Leda,' said I, 'but like a full woman
now. But still, reflect a minute.... O reflect! If you stayed where I
left you, I _should_ go back to you, and pretty soon, too: I know that I
should. Tell me, then--reflect well, and tell me--do you definitely
refuse to part with me?'
The answer was pretty prompt, cool, and firm:
'Yes; I lefuse.'
I left her then, took a turn down the path, and came back.
'Then,' said I, 'here are two matches in my grasp: be good enough to
_Now_ she was hit to the heart: I saw her eyes widen to the width of
horror, with a glassy stare: she had read of the drawing of lots in the
Bible: she knew that it meant death for me, or for her.
But she obeyed without a word, after one backward start and then a brief
hovering in decision of thumb and forefinger over my held-out hand. I
had fixed it in my mind that if she drew the shorter of the matches,
then she should die; if the longer, then I should die.
She drew the shorter....
* * * * *
This was only what I should have expected: for I knew that God loved
her, and hated me.
But instantly upon the first shock of the enormity that I should be her
executioner, I made my resolve: to drop shot, too, at the moment after
she dropped shot, so disposing my body, that it would fall half upon
her, and half by her, so that we might be close always: and that would
not be so bad, after all.
With a sudden movement I snatched the revolver from my pocket: she did
not move, except her white lips, which, I think, whispered:
I stood with hanging arm, forefinger on trigger, looking at her. I saw
her glance once at the weapon, and then she fixed her eyes upwards upon
my face: and now that same smile, which had disappeared, was on her lips
again, meaning confidence, meaning disdain.
I waited for her to open her mouth to say something--to stop that
smile--that I might shoot her quick and sudden: and she would not,
knowing that I could not kill her while she was smiling; and suddenly,
all my pity and love for her changed into a strange resentment and rage
against her, for she was purposely making hard for me what I was doing
for her sake: and the bitter thought was in my mind: 'You are nothing to
me: if you want to die, you do your own killing; and I will do my own
killing.' And without one word to her, I strode away, and left her
I see now that this whole drawing of lots was nothing more than a farce:
I never could have killed her, smiling, or no smiling: for to each thing
and man is given a certain strength: and a thing cannot be stronger than
its strength, strive as it may: it is so strong, and no stronger, and
there is an end of the matter.
I walked up to the Grand Bailli's _bureau_, a room about twenty-five
feet from the ground. By this time it was getting pretty dark, but I
could see, by peering, the face of a grandfather's-clock which I had
long since set going, and kept wound. It is on the north side of the
room, over the writing-desk opposite the oriels. It then pointed to
half-past six, and in order to fix some definite moment for the bitter
effort of the mortal act, I said: 'At Seven.' I then locked the door
which opens upon three little steps near the desk, and also the
stair-door; and I began to pace the chamber. There was not a breath of
air here, and I was hot; I seemed to be stifling, tore open my shirt at
the throat, and opened the lower half of the central mullion-space of
one oriel. Some minutes later, at twenty-five to seven, I lit two
candles on the desk, and sat to write to her, the pistol at my right
hand; but I had hardly begun, when I thought that I heard a sound at the
three-step door, which was only four feet to my left: a sound which
resembled a scraping of her slipper; I stole to the door, and crouched,
listening: but I could hear nothing further. I then returned to the
desk, and set to writing, giving her some last directions for her life,
telling her why I died, how I loved her, much better than my own soul,
begging her to love me always, and to live on to please me, but if she
_would_ die, then to be sure to die near me. Tears were pouring down my
face, when, turning, I saw her standing in a terrified pose hardly two
feet behind me. The absolute stealth which had brought and put her
there, unknown to me, was like miracle: for the ladder, whose top I saw
intruding into the open oriel, I knew well, having often seen it in a
room below, and its length was quite thirty feet, nor could its weight
be trifling: yet I had heard not one hint of its impact upon the window.
But there, at all events, she was, wan as a ghost.
Immediately, as my consciousness realised her, my hand instinctively
went out to secure the weapon: but she darted upon it, and was an
instant before me. I flew after her to wrench it away, but she flew,
too: and before I caught her, had thrown it cleanly through two rungs of
the ladder and the window. I dashed to the window, and after a hurried
peer thought that I saw it below at the foot of a rock; away I flew to
the stair-door, wrung open the lock, and down the stairs, three at a
time, I ran to recover it. I remember being rather surprised that she
did not follow, forgetting all about the ladder.
But with a horrid shock I was reminded of it the moment I reached the
bottom, before ever I had passed from the house: for I heard the report
of the weapon--that crack, my God! and crying out: 'Well, Lord, she has
died for me, then!' I tottered forward, and tumbled upon her, where she
lay under the incline of the ladder in her blood.
* * * * *
That night! what a night it was! of fingers shivering with haste, of
harum-scarum quests and searches, of groans, and piteous appeals to God.
For there were no surgical instruments, lint, anaesthetics, nor
antiseptics that I knew of in the Chateau; and though I knew of a house
in Montreux where I could find them, the distance was quite infinite,
and the time an eternity in which to leave her all alone, bleeding to
death; and, to my horror, I remembered that there was barely enough
petrol in the motor, and the store usually kept in the house exhausted.
However, I did it, leaving her there unconscious on her bed: but _how_ I
did it, and lived sane afterwards, that is another matter.
If I had not been a medical man, she must, I think, have died: for the
bullet had broken the left fifth rib, had been deflected, and I found
it buried in the upper part of the abdominal wall. I did not go from her
bed-side: I did not sleep, though I nodded and staggered: for all things
were nothing to me, but her: and for a frightfully long time she
remained comatose. While she was still in this state I took her to a
chalet beyond Villeneuve, three miles away on the mountain-side, a
homely, but very salubrious place which I knew, imbedded in verdures,
for I was desperate at her long collapse, and had hope in the higher
air. And there after three more days, she opened her eyes, and smiled
It was then that I said to myself: 'This is the noblest, sagest, and
also the most loveable, of the creatures whom God has made in heaven or
earth. She has won my life, and I will live.... But at least, to save
myself, I will put the broadest Ocean that there is between her and me:
for I wish to be a decent being, for the honour of my race, being the
last, and to turn out trumps ... though I do love my dear, God
And thus, after only fifty-five days at the chalet, were we forced still
* * * * *
I wished her to remain at Chillon, intending, myself, to start for the
Americas, whence any sudden impulse to return to her could not be
easily accomplished: but she refused, saying that she would come with me
to the coast of France: and I could not say her no.
And at the coast, after thirteen days we arrived, three days before the
New Year, traversing France by steam, air, and petrol traction.
We came to Havre--infirm, infirm of will that I was: for in my deep
heart was the secret, hidden away from my own upper self, that, she
being at Havre, and I at Portsmouth, we could still speak together.
We came humming into the dark town of Havre in a four-seat motor-car
about ten in the evening of the 29th December: a raw bleak night, she,
it was clear, poor thing, bitterly cramped with cold. I had some
recollection of the place, for I had been there, and drove to the quays,
near which I stopped at the _Maire's_ large house, a palatial place
overlooking the sea, in which she slept, I occupying another near.
The next morning I was early astir, searched in the _mairie_ for a map
of the town, where I also found a _Bottin_: I could thus locate the
Telephone Exchange. In the _Maire's_ house, which I had fixed upon to be
her home, the telephone was set up in an alcove adjoining a very stately
_salon_ Louis Quinze; and though I knew that these little dry batteries
would not be run down in twenty odd years, yet, fearing any weakness, I
broke open the box, and substituted a new one from the Company's stores
two streets away, at the same time noting the exchange-number of the
instrument. This done, I went down among the ships by the wharves, and
fixed upon the first old green air-boat that seemed fairly sound, broke
open a near shop, procured some buckets of oil, and by three o'clock had
tested and prepared my ship. It was a dull and mournful day, drizzling,
chilly. I returned then to the _mairie_, where for the first time I saw
her, and she was heavy of heart that day: but when I broke the news that
she would be able to speak to me, every day, all day, first she was all
incredulous astonishment, then, for a moment, her eyes turned white to
Heaven, then she was skipping like a kid. We were together three
precious hours, examining the place, and returning with stores of
whatever she might require, till I saw darkness coming on, and we went
down to the ship.
And when those long-dead screws awoke and moved, bearing me toward the
Outer Basin, I saw her stand darkling, lonely, on the Quai through
heart-rending murk and drizzly inclemency: and oh my God, the gloomy
under-look of those red eyes, and the piteous out-push of that little
lip, and the hurried burying of that face! My heart broke, for I had not
given her even one little, last kiss, and she had been so good, quietly
acquiescing, like a good wife, not attempting to force her presence upon
me in the ship; and I left her there, all widowed, alone on the
Continent of Europe, watching after me: and I went out to the bleak and
dreary fields of the sea.
* * * * *
Arriving at Portsmouth the next morning, I made my residence in the
first house in which I found an instrument, a spacious dwelling facing
the Harbour Pier. I then hurried round to the Exchange, which is on the
Hard near the Docks, a large red building with facings of Cornish
moor-stone, a bank on the ground-floor, and the Exchange on the first.
Here I plugged her number on to mine, ran back, rang--and, to my great
thanksgiving, heard her speak. (This instrument, however, did not prove
satisfactory: I broke the box, and put in another battery, and still the
voice was muffled: finally, I furnished the middle room at the Exchange
with a truckle-bed, stores, and a few things, and here have taken up
I believe that she lives and sleeps under the instrument, as I here
live and sleep, sleep and live, under it. My instrument is quite near
one of the harbour-windows, so that, hearing her, I can gaze out toward
her over the expanse of waters, yet see her not; and she, too, looking
over the sea toward me, can hear a voice from the azure depths of
nowhere, yet see me not.
* * * * *
I this morning early to her:
'Good morning! Are you there?'
'Good morning! No: I am there,' says she.
'Well, that was what I asked--"are you there"?'
'But I not here, I am there,' says she.
'I know very well that you are not "here,"' said I, 'for I do not see
you: but I asked if you were there, and you say "No," and then "Yes."'
'It is the paladox of the heart,' says she.
'The paladox,' says she.
'But still I do not understand: how can you be both there and not
'If my ear is here, and I elsewhere?' says she.
'Yes!' says she.
'A specialist!' says she.
'A heart!' says she.
'And you let a heart-specialist operate on your ear?'
'On myself he operlated, and left the ear behind!' says she.
'Well, and how are you after it?'
'Fairly well. Are you?' says she.
'Quite well. Did you sleep well?'
'Except when you lang me up at midnight. I have had such a dleam ...'
'I dleamed that I saw two little boys of the same age--only I could not
see their faces, I never can see anybody's face, only yours and mine,
mine and yours always--of the same age--playing in a wood....'
'Ah, I hope that one of them was not called Cain, my poor girl.'
'Not at all! neither of them! Suppose I tell a stoly, and say that one
was called Caius and the other Tibelius, or one John and the other
'Ah. Well, tell me the _dleam_....'
'Now you do not deserve.'
'Well, what will you do to-day?'
'I? It is a lovely day ... have you nice weather in England?'
'Well, between eleven and twelve I will go out and gather Spling-flowers
in the park, and cover the salon deep, deep. Wouldn't you like to be
'Why should I? I prefer England.'
'But Flance is nice too: and Flance wants to be fliends with England,
and is waiting, oh waiting, for England to come over, and be fliends.
Couldn't some _lapplochement_ be negotiated?'
'Good-bye. This talking spoils my morning smoke....'
So we speak together across the sea, my God.
* * * * *
On the morning of the 8th April, when I had been separated thirteen
weeks from her, I boarded several ships in the Inner Port, a lunacy in
my heart, and selected what looked like a very swift boat, one of the
smaller Atlantic air-steamers called the _Stettin_, which seemed to
require the least labour in oiling, &c., in order to fit her for the
sea: for the boat in which I had come to England was a mere tub, though
sound, and I pined for the wings of a dove, that I might fly away to
her, and be at rest.
I toiled with fluttering hands that day, and I believe that I was of the
colour of ashes to my very lips. By half-past two o'clock I was
finished, and by three was coasting down Southampton Water by Netley
Hospital and the Hamble-mouth, having said not one word about anything
at the telephone, or even to my own guilty heart not a word. But in the
silent depths of my being I felt this fact: that this must be a 35-knot
boat, and that, if driven hard, hard, in spite of the heavy garment of
seaweed which she trailed, she would do 30; also that Havre was 120
miles away, and at 7 P.M. I should be on its quay.
And when I was away, and out on the bright and breezy sea, I called to
her, crying out: '_I am coming!_' And I knew that she heard me, and that
her heart leapt to meet me, for mine leapt, too, and felt her answering.
The sun went down: it set. I was tired of the day's work, and of
standing at the high-set wheel; and I could not yet see the coast of
France. And a thought smote me, and after another ten minutes I turned
the ship's head back, my face screwed with pain, God knows, like a man
whose thumbs are ground between the screws, and his body drawn out and
out on the rack to tenuous length, and his flesh massacred with pincers:
and I fell upon the floor of the bridge contorted with anguish: for I
could not go to her. But after a time that paroxysm passed, and I rose
up sullen and resentful, and resumed my place at the wheel, steering
back for England: for a fixed resolve was in my breast, and I said: 'Oh
no, no more. If I could bear it, I would, I would ... but if it is
impossible, how can I? To-morrow night as the sun sets--without fail--so
help me God--I will kill myself.'
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